Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Pro Bowl Rosters Announced: Who was Snubbed?

The same thing happens each and every year. The rosters are announced and there's an uproar about players who get left off the rosters and players who shouldn't have been named to the roster in the first place.

It's unavoidable. So many people have differing opinions, not to mention there are often more superb and deserving players than there are roster spots. In fact, I think that's the problem every year. Not that undeserving players made the cut, but that there aren't enough spots to honor every player that had a great season.

But, either way I'm going to be discussing the players that I think should have made it over the players that I don't think should have been honored. Sorry, but that's just the way I'm running things around here. I guess you could say I have so much fun doing this. So here we go!

First off, I would like to congratulate the 49ers and Patriots who are sending eight players to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii (Ravens and Packers each sending seven), and the two rookies named to the first team–Cincy WR A.J. Green and Denver LB Von Miller. Congrats to Hall of Fame-bound Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis for joining an elite group as top 10 players with most Pro Bowl selections (his 12th career selection).

One more congratulations goes out to New York Giants' defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul for making it on the roster in his second career year. Even more impressive may be the fact that he made it despite not being on the fan ballot (which counts for 33% of the vote). Nicely done, Mr. Pierre-Paul.
But not all his well in the world of the NFL's Pro Bowl talk. This year the NFC has had a great group of linebackers (insider/middle to be more specific) and only so many roster spots. But with several deserving players that aren't necessarily all that well-known, it looks like the Pro Bowl continues to be more of a popularity contest–just like any other All-Star game in professional sports.

San Fran's NaVorro Bowman, St. Louis' James Laurinaitis and Green Bay's Desmond Bishop were all borderline Pro Bowlers, but names such as Patrick Willis and Brian Urlacher received the edge, simply because of their name, in my opinion.

Another unfortunate act was that Detroit's emerging star, quarterback Matthew Stafford (4,518 yards, 36 TDs, 96.6 QBR) was left off the roster. Dallas' Tony Romo (3,895 yards, 29 TDs, 102.2 QBR) was as well, but this wasn't the fault of voters, it was due to the simple fact that many have over-performed but not everyone can be honored. Despite great statistical seasons they were simply outplayed and outproduced by Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Eli Manning. Although I would have taken Stafford over Manning. But I wont get in to all of that right now.

However, I don't believe that Victor Cruz, one of Manning's targets in New York, was outperformed by NFC WRs Steve Smith, Larry Fitzgerald and Greg Jennings. Cruz, one of my candidates for Breakout Player of the Year, was third among receivers in yards (1,358 on 76 receptions), tied for ninth with eight receiving TDs and averaged 17.9 yards a catch. His YPC number is better than Larry Fitzgerald's, Roddy White's and tied with Steve Smith's. Another receiver who could've been considered as well is GB's Jordy Nelson, who caught 12 TDs and put up an 18.7 YPC average.

I could go on all day with these snubs, but biggest of them all, may be Washington's linebacker London Fletcher. Fletcher leads the NFL in combined tackles (solo and assists combined) with 163. Of course there were several others that were playing at his level or beyond, but what gets me is that he's been a consistent producer his entire 14-year career (1,239 tackles, 34.5 sacks, 18 INTs, 17 FF, 3 defensive TDs with Bills, Rams and Skins) yet has been named to just two career Pro Bowls, as an injured reserve.
It baffles me. The man has played 11 straight complete seasons, not missing a single game due to injury, or anything, since his rookie season with St. Louis in 1998. He was 23 and he started just one game because he wasn't the team's starter. He's the epitome of success and production.

All the other snubs in this year's Pro Bowl aren't comparable to a career full of snubs in Washington's Fletcher. Of course the Skins fans are currently in an uproar, but despite the notion that may lead one to believe they are complaining for the fact that not a single Redskins has been named to the NFC roster, you really can't blame them for being upset. He's been overlooked quite often in his rock-solid career.

It was just recent when Fletcher was finally recognized for his consistency (named to Pro Bowl roster in '09 and '10). Before then, nada. But, don't worry, Fletcher. You have the support from at least one other talking head that isn't a Redskins fan: me. Keep doing your thing out there, I'm sure your fans in D.C. will still love you regardless.

To avoid blabbering on and on I will simply list a couple more of my snubs below, and if any cares to further expand on them I will gladly do so in the comment section. This topic can get a bit heated, and could go on and on and on...


AFC: Reggie Bush/MIA RB, Aaron Hernandez/NE TE/H-back, Brian Cushing/HOU ILB, D'Qwell Jackson/CLE ILB, Brandon Flowers/KC CB

NFC: Matt Ryan/ATL QB, Marshawn Lynch/SEA RB, Steve Hutchinson/MIN G, Ndamukong Suh/DET DT, Sean Witherspoon/ATL ILB

Note: Some of these so-called snubs could still be called on by the league to fill in for a player who drops out of the game due to injury, or some other reason. So there's still hope!

Another note: Don't forget that all of these stats and numbers don't include the entire season, because this debate is taking place with one weekend of regular season games still to be played.

Photo credit
Victor Cruz: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
London Fletcher: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

Brees Continues Quest Towards Immortality

The New Orleans Saints (12-3) clinched the NFC South division title with its 45-16 victory over the playoff-bound Atlanta Falcons on Monday night. The victory wrapped up Week 16's slate of games, and also put signal caller Drew Brees one step closer to Hall of Fame immortality.

Prior to the game, Brees was a mere 305 yards away from breaking Dan Marino's 27 year old single-season passing yards record. At approximately 10:35 PM ET Brees, his team already up by a score of 38-16 with under three minutes to play, threw a nine-yard strike to running back Darren Sproles for a touchdown, extending the large lead.

The pass put Brees at 5,087 yards on the year, eclipsing Marino's total (5,084) by three yards. The most miraculous part of this feat? Well, actually there are two points that I would like to bring up: 1) Brees still has one game remaining in the season to extend the new total and 2) Brees is now the only quarterback in NFL history to put up two 5,000 yard passing seasons in a single career (5,069 in 2008).

Now, the record seems to be tarnished a bit–by experts and fans alike–because of the rule changes involving receivers and defensive backs, and the pass-happy offenses in the game today. But personally, I don't think that takes away from his accomplishment at all.

Yes, it's true that New England's Tom Brady will likely exceed 5,000 this year as well, making him the third different quarterback in history to do so. But you still don't see too many other quarterbacks in pass-heavy offenses pulling this feat off in today's game, do you? Hall of Fame-bound quarterback Peyton Manning has exceeded 500 passes in his career on 11 different occasions (600 once) and has yet to reach 5,000.
The likes of Brees, Brady and Manning have revolutionized the way the football is thrown in modern offenses, and I truly don't think it's fair to penalize him for his era. Brees, Brady, Manning and Brett Favre are in a class of their own, and there wont be too many other quarterbacks out there like Brees, who has accomplished so much despite his stout 6'0'' frame.

Brees, who was named to his sixth career Pro Bowl 11th career season on Tuesday night, has three All Pro selections (2006, '08, '09), two NFC MVP awards (2008, 2009), an AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year award (2008), AP NFL Comeback Player of the Year award (2004), Sportsman of the Year award (2010) a Lombardi trophy (XLIV) and a Super Bowl MVP–all to his name.

His spot at No. 9 on the all-time passing touchdowns list (276) and No. 12 on the all-time passing yards list (40,353) shows me that he has already proven he belongs in a class with the elite, and he very well could improve on that by the end of the playoffs if he's able to make a run at another Lombardi trophy for his city.

You judge a quarterback on his ability under the spotlight, and that's another aspect that Brees has continued to excel in: the playoffs.

In seven career postseason games (including one with San Diego in 2004, and Super Bowl XLIV w/ New Orleans), Brees has posted a near perfect stat-line, with a quarterback rating over 100.

Brees in the playoffs: 4-3 record; 189/285, 66.3%, 2,052 yards, 15 TD, 2 INT, 102.0 QBR
His win-loss record isn't anything spectacular, but his worst game of the seven was a game in which his Saints gave up 39 points to Chicago and he had to face the top defense in snowy Soldier Field. He threw for 354 yards and two touchdowns, his one interception came at a price but lets face it, he didn't get much help in that one.

Brees steps his game up when his team needs him the most and I think the only thing that would stop him from getting into Canton (if he was to retire right this second) is a lack of sufficient evidence. And by that, I mean it's not quite enough stats and individual wins for him to be inducted ahead of others.

Give him another solid year or two and he will undoubtedly be a shoo-in for first ballot. He's something special, and I think his two seasons of 5,000 yards passing, despite his pass-happy playing era, should be more than enough for immortality.

Congratulations, Mr. Brees. Although I'm not so sure his record is quite as untouchable as Marino's was, lasting nearly 30 seasons.

Photo credit
Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Week 16 Picks: Holiday Special!

What could be better than Christmas eve? A full day of football on Christmas eve, of course! Week 16 action kicked off with the Indianapolis Colts upsetting the AFC South champion Texans, 19-16, capturing its second win of the season.

Saturday afternoon's games consist of several great matchups, many of which play a huge role in deciding the seeding for the postseason. Not to mention the NFC East and AFC West divisions, both of which are still up for grabs in these final two weeks of the regular season.

Here are my picks for Saturday's games, and Sunday night and Monday night's games as well.

Sidenote: One last thing, if I'm unable to post again before Sunday then Happy Holidays to my readers! I fully intend to post again before then, but just in case...

Saturday December 24, 2011

Ravens over Browns...No Colt McCoy again this week, so I think it's safe to say Baltimore can rest linebacker Ray lewis if need be, and not have any trouble winning out to capture the North title. Even if Joe Flacco decides to no-show against another team with a losing record.

Broncos over Bills...A win here for Tebow, one week off the biggest loss of his career against New England, would wrap up the AFC West for the Broncos. This would be one of the biggest mid-season comebacks we've seen in years, and would make for quite a story–I can assure you.

Panthers over Bucs...Last week rookie quarterback Cam Newton took another step towards the coveted Offensive Rookie of the Year award in an upsetting victory over the Texans. I think his quest will continue against the disappointing Bucs.

Bengals over Cardinals...Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton is another great 2011 NFL storyline. A win this week, and a New York Jets' loss (I'm not banking on that happening, but anything is possible) would put them in great position to capture the sixth-seed in the AFC playoffs the following week against Baltimore.
Chiefs over Raiders...No McFadden for the eighth straight game, and Kansas City is coming off its biggest win of the season against the once-undefeated Packers.

Patriots over Dolphins...Like Baltimore, New England is looking to solidify a first round bye in the playoffs and a victory this week over Miami woud put them one step closer to that and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

Jets over Giants...This is a matchup that needs to be settled on the field, and not in the press room (*cough cough* Rex Ryan *cough cough*), although I do believe Ryan's Jets will back up that talk this week against a Giants team that has suffered a lot of injuries to key players.

Steelers over Rams...Smart move on Pittsburgh's part, resting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (high left ankle sprain) and starting veteran backup Charlie Batch instead. But, on the other sideline second-year Sam Bradford is battling injuries of his own. Kellen Clemens will be tossed in the mix against Pittsburgh, starting the game against Pittsburgh. Look out, Kellen.

Titans over Jaguars...Mike Munchak has stated that he is sticking with veteran Matt Hasselbeck in this week's must-win matchup with Jacksonville, rather than rookie Jake Locker who played half of last week's loss against Indy. If Tennessee (7-7) doesn't win this game they can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

Redskins over Vikings...Unfortunately this game doesn't have any sort of playoff implications, both teams are simply playing for pride these last two weeks of the season. The Skins are the hotter team (and by "hotter," I mean they are 2-8 in last 10 weeks), so I'll take them over the hapless Vikes. Looks like Minnesota's losing streak will extend to seven games.

Lions over Chargers...San Diego needs a victory and a prayer, however all the Lions need is a victory to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. At 9-5, Detroit can practically smell the postseason. All they need to do is stick it to Philip Rivers and the Bolts for 60 minutes, and I think Ndamukong Suh can take care of that.

Cowboys over Eagles...Ah, yes, the game of the week. This game not only effects Philly and Dallas, but also the Giants as well. If Dallas wins, which I believe will happen because I don't believe in the Tony Romo/December curse, then we will be set-up to witness a NY/DAL showdown the following week for all the marbles: the NFC East crown. What a great two weeks of football.
'Hawks over Niners...One of the top defenses in the game, in fact I would go as far as saying that I believe the Niners own the best all-around defense in the league, but I am going to go on a limb and call the upset. Seattle has quietly crept up to .500, winning three straight and five out of the last six. At 3-1 in the division (just like SF) I think they have a shot as long as they protect the football. Lose and they are out of playoff contention, though. Win or die time in Seattle.

Sunday December 25, 2011

Packers over Bears...Once you're done unwrapping all your presents and eating dinner with the family you can turn your attention to the Sunday night game. Prior to the season this matchup was sure to be a great one, although looking at it now it's not nearly as exciting. Green Bay has already lost the perfect season and Chicago, without Cutler, has benched Caleb Hanie and will be starting Josh McCown. But we do, however, have a great "win or go home" scenario for the 7-7 Bears.

Monday December 26, 2011

Saints over Falcons...THIS is the prime-time matchup we'll all be waiting for this weekend. Drew Brees is just 305 yards shy of surpassing Dan Marino's single-season passing yards record of 5,084 (1984 season). Brees will likely be coming out and throwing right away, so I expect New Orleans to jump ahead early, handing Atlanta its sixth loss of the year and putting its playoff hopes on hold another week.

Photo credit
A.J. Green: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
DeMarcus Ware: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why Pittsburgh Should have Sat Roethlisberger

Monday night's showdown featured two of the top defenses in the league, and two playoff-bound squads.

In the previous week's 14-3 victory over Cleveland, Pittsburgh's starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle sprain on his left leg. He was listed as questionable and named a game-time decision the week leading up to the San Fran road game.

About an hour before kick-off, it was announced Roethlisberger would, in fact, start the game.

Now, I can certainly understand why head coach Mike Tomlin made the decision to start him, don't get me wrong. With Baltimore's devastating loss to San Diego the night before, Pittsburgh had a chance to take the outright division lead with a hard-fought victory over the West-winning Niners.

So yes, Roethlisberger would give the Steelers their best shot at moving the ball down the field and putting points on the board. But if you had gotten to take a look at Ben during pre-game warm-ups, there was no way you could've received a positive vibe.
The pre-game show, ESPN's Monday Night Countdown, showed the viewers a few glances of Roethlisberger warming up, throwing some balls, and he could not move laterally without wincing in pain. If you aren't familiar with Roethlisberger's playing style then you may not think it's too big of a deal, but it is.

He somehow comes out and plays fantastic while beat up on several occasions, but when he has to stand still in the pocket and can't avoid a 300-pound lineman from slamming him from the turf: you have a huge problem on his hands.

Not only did Pittsburgh fail to get in to the end zone (lost to SF 20-3), but Roethlisberger single-handedly allowed San Francisco to win this game. Ben threw 3 interceptions and fumbled the ball away once to give the offense four total turnovers. He was not accurate, many of his 44 pass attempts were errant, and he was beat up by SF's front 7 all night long (8 QB hits, 9 PDs, 3 sacks).

Without All Pro backer Patrick Willis in the lineup, SF's linebackers still managed to rough Ben's day up and force him in to those turnovers.

Again, Ben's successful because he can move around, avoid the rush, and make plays outside of the pocket. He uses his large frame and nimbleness (for his size, at least) to his advantage and because of that he is able to hold on to the ball longer and let his receivers get open.

Minus his mobility, it's much tougher for Ben to make plays. I'm not saying that Charlie Batch is a mobile quarterback, but if he had been in the game Pittsburgh could have opened the passing game up a little more.
San Francisco was well-aware that Pittsburgh will struggle in the pass game with Ben not at 100%, so they keyed in on the run game and shut them down. The top rushing defense in the game (1,001 yards, 0 TD, 3.3 YPC), San Francisco didn't have much trouble limiting Rashard Mendenhall and Co., stopping the PIT rushing attack to 84 yards on just 19 carries.

Playing from behind a majority of the game, Roethlisberger was forced to throw the ball 44 times (completed 25 of those for 330 yards). Sure, Roethlisberger's statline looks decent because of the yardage he put up, but that's solely the result of having to pass nearly 75% of the time.

Bottom line: Pittsburgh wasn't able to finish drives on offense, turned the ball over four times and SF scored 13 points off those turnovers. San Francisco looks like the team to beat in the NFL right now, playing solid on all ends: capable rushing attack, offense that doesn't turn the ball over often and smash-mouth, shutdown defense.

There was no reason for Roethlisberger to start that game in his condition (considering they have already clinched a playoff spot), let alone remain in the game late in the fourth quarter after his third INT of the game. There have been reported rumors that he could sit the rest of the regular season. Whether or not they are true, let's just hope he doesn't hurt his ankle anymore than it already is.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Paul Sakuma (both)

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Week 15 Picks: Make or Break for the Playoffs

Technically the playoffs haven't started yet, but playoff football started a couple of weeks ago. Three teams have clinched spots (Green Bay, New Orleans and Houston), but the rest still have three weeks to play good football.

Lucky for us, we get to witness the 10 or 12 more teams fight for their right to play in the second season for the remaining three weeks.

Here's who I believe will win each matchup today, (and tomorrow).

Sunday December 18

Dolphins over Bills
Buffalo has taken quite the fall after starting off 2011 with a strong performance. Since starting off 5-2, the Bills have lost 6 straight and fallen to 5-8. Depressing, but maybe not quite as depressing as Miami's 0-7 start. Since then, however the 'Phins have gone 3-2.

Seahawks over Bears
Caleb Hanie isn't exactly the Jay Cutler replacement that Chicago was hoping for. In five games, Hanie has thrown just two touchdowns compared to six interceptions, 502 yards and has put up a quarterback rating of 48.6. Completing about half of his pass attempts, the Bears offense has struggled to put point up on the board (13 combined in past two games).
Texans over Panthers
Sit the starters? Psh, that's not how Houston does it. How are they going to sit their third string quarterback anyways? They may have already captured the AFC South, but that doesn't mean they are necessarily just going to fold in the regular season. It shouldn't be a problem handling the 4-9 Panthers. Let's just hope they don't lose T.J. Yates to injury, too.

Titans over Colts
At this point, I'm kind of rooting for a winless season from Indianapolis. It'd make a very interesting story, woudn't it?? I know that Peyton Manning wouldn't enjoy that too much, but at least it's something that he can't control.

Packers over Chiefs
Everyone expected last week's Green Bay matchup to be quite close, but they ended up hanging Oakland an embarrassing 46-16 loss instead. If anyone thinks this week will be any different, they have a huge surprise coming their way.

Saints over Vikings
Adrian Peterson should be back–only because he doesn't want to let his fantasy owners down though, of course. But just because AP is likely to break out with 120 yards and a pair of touchdowns doesn't mean the Vikings will upset the playoff bound Saints.

Giants over Skins
Washington is another team with a fast start who has since cooled off. In the last five weeks the Redskins have gone 1-4 while the Giants are coming off a 37-34 victory over the division-leading Dallas Cowboys (8-6 after last night's 31-15 win over Tampa Bay).

Bengals over Rams
Cincy is on a two-game losing streak, but they are fighting for their playoff hopes and must win out just to have a shot at catching New York (Jets) and Pittsburgh. At 7-6, the Bengals have struggled to beat inter-division rivals Baltimore and Pittsburgh (2-3 in AFC North). Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has a strong future though.
Lions over Raiders
Personally I'm not completely sold on Carson Palmer's return to football. But he has time to further prove himself to me, just maybe not this season. At 7-6, the Raiders are fighting for their playoff chances as well, I just don't think they'll have much success in the final three weeks. As for Detroit, they are in great position, especially after this win today.

Browns over Cardinals
One of the games with absolutely zero playoff contention. Arizona will be without quarterback Kevin Kolb, who has proven himself as one of the biggest busts in this year's free agency period. I would like to hope that Peyton Hillis can finally have a successful day against this Cardinal defense, but we'll see.

Patriots over Broncos
I'm sold on the "winning" of Tim Tebow, just not against a team of New England's capability. Tebow has managed to pull off victories against teams because his defense has kept him in the games, but against a team of New England's level I'm just not sure they can keep up with Brady and Co. for three-plus quarters. Minnesota, without Peterson, put up 32 on Denver...can they really keep the Pats to anything less than that? I highly doubt it.

Jets over Eagles
Philly is done. New York, however, are fighting to keep their one-game lead over the second Wild Card spot. So I would like to think that they are a little more motivated to win this game over the Eagles, who have checked out of this season weeks ago. Or so it seems, at least.

Ravens over Chargers
They are 3-3 on the road, but that doesn't mean much in this instance. San Diego is 2-3 over the last five games, and at 6-7 I don't see them in the playoffs. It would take a miracle. But as for Baltimore, if they win it would put them one game closer to a division title.

Monday December 20

Niners over Steelers
Whether or not Ben Roethlisberger plays, the Steelers are doomed in this one. Obviously if he does play he wont be 100%, and if he doesn't, then Charlie Batch will be the starter and Pittsburgh is likely to struggle doing anything in the passing game. Pittsburgh (10-3) is a playoff team, but they wont be clinching anything this week.

Photo credit
Caleb Hanie: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Steven Jackson: Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Dallas Looking to Make Statement Saturday Night vs. Tampa Bay

On the verge of falling out of the NFC playoff picture, the Atlanta Falcons got back in the thick of things with a convincing 41-14 Thursday night win over the struggling Jaguars, improving to 9-5 on the season.

Tonight, in the season's first Saturday night matchup, the Dallas Cowboys are looking to make a similar statement on the road against the 4-9 Buccaneers.

Tony Romo, as we are all well-aware, has a history of falling apart in the month of December. This year has been no exception as his 'Boys are riding a two-game losing streak with back-to-back defeats to Arizona and NFC East counterpart Giants.

Sitting at 7-6 (2-4 on the road), Dallas is tied atop the East with the Giants–well, not quite, New York owns the tiebreaker. So if Jason Garrett expects to make a playoff push they will need to win out, including a victory over New York (Week 17) to clinch the division.

Over the last two weeks, Romo has played great according to the box score. He hasn't turned the ball over and threw for a combined 620 yards and five touchdowns, but did not receive much help from the rest of his team.
Against Arizona, Dallas averaged under four yards per carry (75 yards on 20 carries) and allowed five sacks of Romo. Against New York, the offense did its job in putting up 34 points on the board, but the defense struggled to put pressure on Eli Manning up front and allowed 400 yards through the air as well as 37 points. New York scored 15 points in the final three minutes of the game to complete a late 12-point comeback.

I've heard numerous arguments against Romo over this two-game stretch and I don't quite understand how you can solely put the blame on him. Yes, I would agree to a certain extent that he doesn't always show the strongest leadership abilities on the field, but he orchestrated two quick scoring drives late in the game–one from 80 yards, and one from 49. Dan Bailey missed what would have been a game-tying 51 yard field goal with under a minute to play to end the game for Dallas' offense.

How can this possibly mean Romo is to blame for Dallas' two-game skid? He has played near-perfect football, protecting the ball and getting his offense in the end zone time after time while his defense gives up 56 points over that span.

Even just "looking at the box score" would do Romo justice. You can avoid actually watching the game and instead checking the numbers and you can basically get the whole story. Now, I'm not saying that's what I did, because I did actually watch him play. I'm just saying the box score explains everything and it's tough to argue against his four-touchdown, 321 yard, 141.3 QBR game against New York.
As for tonight against Tampa Bay, I don't think he'd have any trouble continuing his recent success through the air. Tampa Bay is ranked 27th against the pass in terms of yardage, in the bottom five in rushing yards allowed and has allowed the most (19) touchdowns on the ground as well. So even without rookie DeMarco Murray the 'Boys are expected to have great success on the ground tonight. Felix Jones racked up 106 yards against NY last week, and I would expect a heavy dosage again tonight.

This means it will be tough for Tampa to make Dallas' offense one-dimensional. Big day offensively for the Cowboys, I can feel it.

My Prediction: Dallas 31, Tampa Bay 10

Photo credit
Tony Romo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
LeGarrette Blount: Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Houston Makes History, Poised for Playoff Run

The Houston Texans made franchise history this past Sunday in a couple of different categories.

Not only did rookie quarterback T.J. Yates–in his second career professional start–lead Houston on a last-minute, game-winning scoring drive to come from behind and defeat the Cincinnati Bengals 20-19, but he also happened to lead the 10-3 Texans to its first-ever playoff appearance.

The victory, and Tennessee's 22-17 loss to New Orleans shortly afterwards, allowed Yates' Texans to clinch the AFC South division for the first time since entering the league as an expansion team in 2002.

After what seemed to be a long 13 weeks, constantly battling numerous injuries to key players, the 2011 Texans have finally reached a milestone the previous nine Texans teams failed to do. And the scary part about it may in fact be that they could make a deep run in the postseason.

Without All Pro outside linebacker Mario Williams, Houston's leading sacker over the last four seasons, who has been out of the lineup since being placed on the injured reserve on October 10 (pectoral), the Texans' defense has yet to lose a step.
As a defensive unit, Houston is currently ranked No. 1 in total yardage allowed (3,574), fourth in scoring (16.0 PPG), third in passing yards (2,385), t-third in passing TDs (13), fourth in rushing yards (1,189), t-third in rushing TDs (6) and t-fifth in turnovers forced (25).

That's top six in each of the eight statistical categories that I believe are most vital in having a successful defensive unit. One that would be durable enough, with overall talent across the board, to make a run at a championship. We've seen teams with great defenses win championships without a very strong quarterback before, and I think this squad is capable of repeating history.

Just think: '85 Bears, '00 Ravens, '07 Giants. They all had quarterbacks that played average football–at best–all season, but thanks to strong support from the running game and history-making defenses (Da Bears and Ravens) were able to hoist the Lombardi trophy at the end of the season.

'85 McMahon: 56.9%, 2,392 yards, 15 TD, 11 INT, 82.6 QBR in 11 starts
'00 Dilfer: 59.3%, 1,502 yards, 12 TD, 11 INT, 76.6 QBR in eight starts
'07 Manning: 56.1%, 3,336 yards, 23 TD, 20 INT, 73.9 QBR in 16 starts

The difference between these teams and other teams, not just the Super Bowl championship, was the fact that they relied more heavily on the running game than the arm of their passer. Not to mention, of course, a great defense that helped pull off some improbable wins in some cases (*cough, cough* Giants over Pats in 2007 Super Bowl *cough, cough*).

What has impressed me so far in Yates' first two starts is not that he has thrown spectacular passes in tight coverage, because he hasn't really had to do much of that quite yet. Rather, it's that he's been protecting the football and limited the turnovers to a minimal. Other than his two lost fumbles and one interception over the last two weeks, Yates has shown he has the leadership to rally the team around him.
Just three turnovers in two games for a guy that was practically thrown overboard in to a pond of sharks, being a rookie quarterback with minimal experience and all, is pretty impressive I'd say.

If Yates can continue to protect the ball and simply manage the game we could be seeing more record-breaking performances from this team in the coming weeks. I have yet to even mention that he threw 44 passes in this past weekend's victory–Houston's franchise-record seventh straight.

Arian Foster, Ben Tate and Derrick Ward lead one of the NFL's most potent rushing attacks. Foster's 957 yards and eight TDs leaves him on the verge of his second consecutive 1,000-yard, double-digit TD season–he led the league in both categories last season as a second-year pro.

Speaking of second-year pro, backup Ben Tate, playing his first complete season after missing all of last year due to injury, has added 820 yards and three TDs on the ground. Tate, carrying the ball 146 times this season, has put up a yards per carry average of 5.6, which is the best in the league.

So even without Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Schaub (2,479 yards, 15 TD, 6 INT, 96.8 QBR in 10 starts), backup quarterback Matt Leinart (57 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT on 13 pass attempts), All Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson (31 Rec., 471 yards, 2 TD in six starts) on offense, this team has the ability to drive down the field and put points up on the board via the run game.

And on defense? Well, it looks like they have been doing just fine without Williams' 192 tackles, 53 sacks and 11 forced fumbles since his '06 rookie season. Linebackers Connor Barwin (career-high 9.5 sacks) and rookie Brooks Reed (6.0 sacks) have stepped it up in replace of Williams. With 36, Houston currently has the sixth-most QB sacks in the league and continue to turn the ball over often.

Houston has the right formula, and is easily the team to beat in the AFC right now. It will be a joy for any football follower to finally get to witness the Texans in the playoffs this year.

Photo credit
T.J. Yates: Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Brooks Reed: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Q&A Session with 11-time Pro Bowl guard Larry Allen

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to have about a 10 minute conversation with former Dallas and San Francisco's All Pro guard Larry Allen about his NFL career, what he did to keep up with the younger guys and about his Super Bowl pick this year.

Here's how the conversation went:

All-out Blitz: Hey Larry, how are you?

Larry Allen: I'm doing good, Ben.

AB: Good to hear, let me just get right into it. (new interactive website) is a great way for fans and players (past and present) to keep in touch with one another. What has been the biggest upside in you joining the site, and where do you see it going in the future? Do you have any ideas of how they can improve the site and add to the experience?
LA: I actually just signed up for it a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know too much about it right now, I’m just trying to get the hang of it. But so far I think it’s a great site for players and fans to keep in touch.

AB: You played 14 pro seasons (197 starts) at one of the more physically demanding positions. What was the key to staying healthy and having such a long career?
LA: The weight room and eating healthy are the two key things. I think they were the main things I did to stay around for so long.

AB: You will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2013. When voted in, which do you think would be a bigger deal to you: winning a Super Bowl, being inducted in to the Hall or being voted as the 95th best player in NFL history by NFL Network?
LA: They’re obviously all great accomplishments, but I think I will say Hall of Fame would be most important to me.
AB: Which players did you enjoy watching play growing up, and do you have any favorites in the game today?
LA: I grew up watching Tony Dorsett Roger Staubach and Jackie Slater...I grew up in LA as a Cowboys fan. I really like how Jason Witten, Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant and Demarcus Ware have been playing this season. They’ve done a great job.

AB: Did you ever pride yourself in being one of the strongest players in NFL history?
LA: Oh yeah, definitely. That was one of my greater individual accomplishments I think.

AB: What was the toughest part about the transition from college to the pros?
LA: I think the speed of the game and the crowd. I came from a small school so there was only a couple thousand at my games. Then I came to the NFL and there were much bigger crowds.

AB: Do you still closely follow the NFL? If so, who do you think will be playing in the Super Bowl?
LA: Yes, I do. As long as the Cowboys get there I will be happy. If they make it to the Super Bowl I will hopefully be in attendance.
AB: Thank you very much for your time, Mr. Allen.

This is now the third interview I have been fortunate enough to conduct with a former NFL player. For the other two–former Super Bowl champion safety Steve Atwater and current BAL assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington–can be found in the archives.

There will likely be more to come in the near future, so be sure to check back for additional interviews with current or former players/coaches.

Also, as of Thursday December 22nd I will be co-hosting an NFL podcast with former fullback Fred McCrary (played 10 NFL seasons w/  PHI, NO, SD, NE, ATL and SEA). It can be heard on, or I will likely be posting it here on the blog as well. More details to come in the next few weeks, hopefully. Thanks!

Note: I do not own the above photo, no copyright infringement intended

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Week 14: Teams on Brink of Playoff Berths

Two teams–Green Bay and San Francisco–clinched their respective divisions with victories last weekend. This week's slate of games play a huge role in the playoff hunt.

Scenarios for Week 14:

*New Orleans can clinch the NFC South with a win and an Atlanta loss.

*Houston can clinch the AFC South with a win and a Tennessee loss.

*New England can hold a three-game lead in the AFC East with a win and a New York loss.

*Baltimore can re-gain the AFC North lead (due to tiebreaker over Pittsburgh) with a win.

*Denver can take sole possession of the AFC West with a win and an Oakland loss...and vice versa.

*Even if New York, Cincinnati, Tennessee and Oakland (all currently 7-5 and in the Wild Card hunt) pull off a victory tomorrow, the Steelers (10-3 after Thursday night's hard-fought victory over Cleveland) would still hold a strong two-game lead in the AFC Wild Card race.

*In the NFC, Detroit, Chicago and Atlanta are in a dog fight for the Wild Card spots. All sitting at 7-5, things could get interesting this weekend.

Here are my picks for tomorrow's games:

Ravens over Colts...Even without Ray Lewis on the field, Baltimore's smash-mouth defense are likely to tear Indy's offensive attack apart.

Falcons over Panthers...I'd love to see Cam Newton continue his strong case for the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award, but against a playoff-hungry Falcons in town that doesn't seem likely.

Texans over Bengals...Having T.J. Yates start just his second career game against a scrappy Bengals squad scares me a little, but as long as Yates protects the football like last week his running game should do the heavy lifting.

Lions over Vikings...Even if Adrian Peterson ends up playing tomorrow, he wont be 100%. Detroit's defense–even without Ndamukong Suh on the field–can contain a banged up Peterson long enough for Matt Stafford to put up some points on Jared Allen & Co.

Bucs over Jags...Josh Freeman's shoulder seems to be slowly healing and he could suit up for Tampa Bay tomorrow. I think it's about time for them to snap that nasty six-game losing streak against a rebuilding Jaguars franchise.

Dolphins over Eagles...Vick is back for Philly but Miami (4-8) is one of the hottest teams in the league right now, winning four out of the last five weeks (the loss was a one-point defeat to Dallas on Thanksgiving). Over that span, Matt Moore has helped the offense put up 30 or more points on three different occasions.
Jets over Chiefs...Battling injury all season long, Kansas City has virtually been knocked out of playoff contention at 5-7, needing a miracle to end the season with four victories to get in the postseason. New York is trying to catch New Enland in the East and is in need of a victory here.

Saints over Titans...This loss would pretty much ruin Tennessee's chances at capturing the division title if Houston also wins (like I'm predicting). I just don't think the defense has what it takes to stop NO's Drew Brees, and Matt Hasselbeck doesn't have the firepower to keep up in a shootout.

Patriots over Skins...Inconsistent play at the quarterback position has been the Achilles heal of the Washington Redskins all season. Tom Brady is bound to have a big game against Washington's defense with targets such as Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski.

Niners over Cardinals...Alex Smith's revitalized career after five disappointing seasons in San Fran has been one of 2011's nicest surprises. Smith's campaign for 2011 Comeback Player of the Year award will continue against the Cards. If they get a big lead early on it wouldn't surprise me if coach Harbaugh sat the starters in the second half.

Broncos over Bears...I'm a believer in Tim Tebow's ability to win. He's obviously not a pocket passer, or even much of a passer at all. His accuracy is lacking and his ability to see down the field has shown weaknesses. But he's the leader Denver has been missing for years now, and they finally have a winner in Tebow.
Packers over Raiders...Carson Palmer seems to think he's going to be able to go out and keep up with Aaron Rodgers in a possible shootout. Sorry, Carson, but I don't think so. Not only is Rodgers the best signal caller in the game right now, but he also has one of the strongest supporting casts in the league.

Chargers over Bills...San Diego has suffered some heartbreaking losses over the last few weeks, and Buffalo has lost five straight games now. Both at 5-7, SD and Buffalo are both fighting for pride right now and San Diego seems the more liklier team to pull out a much-needed W.

Giants over Cowboys...The G-men have won four of their last five and the 'Boys are in their usual December free-fall–1-4 over that span. A Giants victory would put them at first place in the East with a 7-6 record...Dallas would be a close second (also 7-6, but NY owns tiebreaker).

Monday night game: Seahawks over Rams...Possibly one of the most boring primetime match-ups of the season, these two teams were fighting for the division around this time last year. This year? Seattle finds themselves at 5-7 (3-3 at home) and St. Louis at 2-10 and the very bottom of the West. Marshawn Lynch has been one of the few bright spots in Seattle, and I am suspecting an outstanding performance from him in the run game.

Photo credit
Matt Moore: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Julius Peppers: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Thursday, December 8, 2011

2011 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Race: Miller vs. Peterson

On the offensive side of things there are numerous players in the running for the Rookie of the Year award this season. On defense? Not so much.

At the current moment I think there are really only two players that have a legitimate shot at winning the award, but it wont be as easy to pick a winner as we might think. In fact, I think it may end up being a tougher decision picking between Denver linebacker Von Miller and Cardinal cornerback/punt returner Patrick Peterson than it will be picking out an Offensive winner.

I'll show you how the two stack up and then I'll let you decide for yourself. I may add in my own opinion as well, but I don't think we could go wrong either way in this case..

Von Miller, Denver Broncos LB–2nd overall pick

2011 stat-line: 58 total tackles, 10.5 sacks, 3 FF, 4 PD

In just 11 starts–he missed one game due to a thumb injury that he is currently trying to recover from–Miller has racked up 10.5 sacks, good enough for a fourth-place tie with Jason Pierre-Paul on the league leaders list. Miller is one of the sole reasons Denver's defense has stayed alive in games, allowing Tim Tebow to lead the offense to victory towards the end of the fourth quarter.
Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals CB/PR–5th overall pick

2011 stat-line: 52 total tackles, 2 FR, 11 PD, 2 INT; 559 PR yards, 4 TD

Peterson is as flashy as they come in this year's rookie class. He's most effective as a punt returner but he has made an impact at corner, as well, racking up the sixth-most tackles (52) on the team, picking off two passes and knocking down 11 balls. But, of course, when he gets his hand on the ball in the punt return game Peterson is money. On 32 returns this season he has racked up the most yards (559) and has tied the single-season record with 4 TDs, which was set by Chicago's Devin Hester in 2007.


Ryan Kerrigan, WAS LB--55 total tackles, 6.5 sacks, 4 FF, 4 PD, 1 INT

Kerrigan has brought production to the Skins defense, as you can clearly tell from his 12-game numbers, but I don't think he's shown the leadership and flashy-ness in order for him to knock out Miller and play-making Peterson for the award.

My Winner: I would love to see Miller win the D. ROY this season, but I think because of his flashy returning and the idea that he could still break Hester's record in the final four games of the season I believe that the voters will choose Arizona's Peterson. Both very well-deserving of the award, though.

Photo credit
Peterson: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rodgers isn't only one Impressing: Other MVP Candidates through 13 Weeks

Definition of Most Valuable Player, according to wikipedia: an honor typically bestowed upon the best performing player or players on a specific team, in an entire league, or for a particular contest or series of contests.

Based off the above statement, here are the players most likely to capture the award this season.

Aaron Rodgers, Packers QB

I don't think there's any doubt who the leader of the Pack (no pun intended, I promise) is at this point–it's Rodgers. Through 12 games, Rodgers leads the league in touchdowns (37), quarterback rating (125.3) and completion percentage (70.6%). He has thrown just five picks all season, is third in passing yards (3,844) and has attempted far less attempts than NE's Tom Brady and NO's Drew Brees. Rodgers is basically a lock to win the award, but it's nice to take a look at the other candidates as well.

Drew Brees, Saints QB

To avoid having three quarterbacks on the ballot, I chose Brees over New England's Tom Brady for the simple fact that Brees' completion percentage is right on par with Rodgers' (70.4) and he has just as many touchdowns as Brady with almost the exact same quarterback rating. Brees, Brady–you can't go wrong with either of the two. But, Brees, who has attempted the most passes in the league, is the only quarterback with over 4,000 yards. As you can see, Brees is the Saints offense.
LeSean McCoy, Eagles RB

McCoy is the only consistent part of the Philadelphia Eagles this season. Despite poor effort from his teammates, McCoy has already set a career-high in rushing yards (1,134, three shy of league-leading rusher Maurice Jones-Drew) and touchdowns (12) in his third professional season. With a 5.3 yards per carry average on 215 carries, McCoy has proved he's the best back in the league. On top of his success on the ground, he has made quite the impact in the passing game too, catching 42 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns. There are only a handful of running backs that make a bigger impact in the passing game than McCoy.

Calvin Johnson, Lions WR

Much like McCoy, Megatron is well on his way to setting career-highs in all of the major statistical categories. The 6'5'' wideout started the season on a record pace, scoring 9 TDs through the air in his first five games of the season. He has since cooled off, getting in to the end zone just three times in the past seven games, but has accumulated over 1,000 yards and double-digit touchdowns over the course of his 12 games. His 91.0 yards per game (five 100-yard games) is good enough for second in the league, too.
Rob Gronkowski, Patriots TE

A tight end has never won the AP NFL MVP award, but if anyone has a shot at changing history for the position I think it's Gronk. He's not the top target for Brady, but he's certainly been the most productive. In 12 games the second-year player has tied the record for most receiving touchdowns by a TE, 13, and has set the record for total TDs by a tight end with 14 (one was considered a rushing touchdown). Wes Welker may get the majority of the looks, but Gronk's 14.3 yards per catch average and 9 red zone TDs shows he's one of the most productive receivers this season. He doesn't stand a chance against Rodgers and McCoy in the MVP race, but he's sure as hell putting up a fight.

Unfortunately, I didn't find a defender having a good enough season to be considered for Most Valuable Player. Plus they historically are not given the award–last to win it was LB Lawrence Taylor in 1986.

I guess that's what the AP Defensive Player of the Year award is for, huh?

Note: I do not own either of the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Suh, Palmer, Giants Among Hot Topics in Week 13 Action

The Eagles kicked off Week 13 with yet another disappointing performance, in what could be argued as a game that DeSean Jackson & Co. "gave up" against Seattle. With their playoff continuing to diminish, the East will likely come down to Dallas (7-4) and New York (6-5).

As for the remainder of Week 13, we could see our first playoff team clinch a playoff berth as the Packers look to capture its 12th win of the season. One more victory would give Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay the first playoff spot between both conferences. Unless, of course, New York's Eli Manning has anything to say about that, as his Giants will square off with Rodgers' Packers at 4:15 PM ET.

Here are the rest of Week 13's headlines, including the who, what, where, when, why and how of each..

Suh's appeal denied, will miss two games

Detroit's top defensive player, second-year defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, will serve a two-game suspension after smashing the head of a Green Bay Packer lineman, and then stomping on him, during a brush-up on Thanksgiving day. His appeal was denied by the league, and he will miss Sunday night's game against New Orleans, and the following week against Minnesota.

Early Saturday morning Suh was reported to have been involved in a one-car crash after hitting a telephone pole. He, and his two passengers, were luckily Ok after the crash.

Palmer looks to make playoff run with Oakland

Oakland's acquisition of veteran quarterback Carson Palmer is looking like the move of the year as the Raiders currently ride a three-game win streak heading in to Sunday's matchup with Miami. Over the three-game span, Palmer has thrown for 764 yards, 3 TD, 2 INT with a completion percentage of 65. Not a bad stat-line for a guy who started off his first two appearances with six interceptions. Palmer is finally looking comfortable in a Raider uniform, and once Darren McFadden returns from injury things will only get better from there.
Quarterback carousels continue around the league

Oakland and Denver may have fixed problems at the quarterback position–for now at least–but there are plenty of other teams that are either struggling to find a permanent fix or just plain having injury problems.

In Houston, first it was losing Matt Schaub for the year, then Matt Leinart the very next week. Now it's all up to rookie T.J. Yates to keep the Texans in the playoff hunt. The signings of Jake Delhomme and Kellen Clemens seems to just be a way of Houston helping to guide the rookie Yates. T.J. will make the start and we will quickly learn whether or not he can lead this offense to the franchise's first-ever division crown.

Chicago's Caleb Hanie made his first career start against Oakland last week as he completed 50% of his passes and threw three INTs in a 25-20 loss. This week he will be playing Kansas City's 12th-ranked pass defense.

Speaking of Kansas City, we may get the chance to see a little bit of Kyle Orton in a Chiefs uniform as well. Tyler Palko will make the start, but head coach Todd Haley has hinted towards a possible Orton appearance sometime during the game, so we'll see what happens in the Windy City.

Dalton vs. Newton for OROY award

Two rookie quarterbacks have certainly impressed me enough to be in contention for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award this season. Unfortunately only one of them is in position to lead his team to the promise land in 2011, and that's Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.

Dalton has made the post-Palmer transition rather easy with his vet-like play, with over 2,500 yards and 16 TD passes through 11 games this season and his Bengals are third in the AFC North with  a 7-4 record.

As for Cam Newton, his 3,000 yards and 22 total TDs (12 passing, 10 rushing) and 81.1 QBR has only been enough for two Carolina victories so far this season. Newton's stats are stacked, and may make him look like a better candidate, but his 14 INTs and team record may hold him back. As far as leadership and production goes, Dalton has Newton trumped. My vote would go to Dalton in Cincinnati.
Game Picks:
Titans over Bills
Bears over Chiefs
Falcons over Texans
Raiders over Dolphins
Broncos over Vikings
Patriots over Colts
Steelers over Bengals
Panthers over Bucs
Jets over Skins
Ravens over Browns
Cowboys over Cardinals
Packers over Giants
Niners over Rams
Saints over Lions
Chargers over Jags

Game-day injury updates

Tampa Bay's quarterback Josh Freeman (shoulder) is likely to be a game-time decision for Sunday's game against the Panthers.

St. Louis' quarterback Sam Bradford (ankle) is most likely a game-time decision on Sunday

Arizona's quarterback Kevin Kolb (toe) is expected to start

Cleveland's running back Montario Hardesty (calf) is questionable for Sunday

Minnesota's Adrian Peterson (ankle) will miss his second straight game

New York Giants' running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) is listed as questionable and will be a game-time decision for Sunday

New York Giants' WR Mario Manningham (knee) is expected to sit out Sunday

Baltimore's linebacker Ray Lewis (foot) is questionable for Sunday, he has already missed two consecutive games for the Ravens

Denver's rookie linebacker Von Miller (thumb) is questionable for Sunday, but I would expect him to play

Tennessee's linebacker Barrett Ruud (groin) will not play on Sunday

Washington's safety LaRon Landry (groin) will not play Sunday

Also ruled out: Peyton Manning (neck) of course, Darren McFadden (foot), Miles Austin (hamstring), Denarius Moore and Jacoby Ford, Chad Clifton (hamstring), Osi Umenyiora (ankle), Mark Herzlich (ankle), A.J. Hawk (calf)

Photo credit
I do not own either of the above images. No copyright infringement intended.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

TNF: Eagles Playing for Pride

Including tonight's bout between the 4-7 Philadelphia Eagles and the 4-7 Seattle Seahawks, each team in the league has just five games remaining on its schedule. That means it would take one colossal collapse from the 7-4 Dallas Cowboys in order for Philadelphia to be in contention for the NFC East crown.

As for Seattle, they could be on the brink of elimination with a loss to the Eagles in tonight's Prime-time Thursday matchup. To be exact, all it would take is a loss and a San Francisco victory (against the cellar-dwelling St. Louis Rams) on Sunday for the Niners to capture the NFC West division.

For Philadelphia, one of the top disappointments in 2011, this game probably doesn't mean much. It's guys like DeSean Jackson who worry me. It has appeared as though they have lost the will to win games and given up on this season, especially after watching Jackson drop pass after pass in last week's 18-point loss to New England.

Losers of three of the last four games, Philadelphia has had trouble keeping their heads up. And why shouldn't they? They have been without starter Michael Vick since November 13 and can't even win a game in their own stadium (1-5 on the year).
Though the Seahawks are on the brink of elimination from playoff contention, I think they have more to play for in this game. Two reasons for my thinking: 1) Seattle did not have high expectations heading in to the season, unlike the Eagles 2) Seattle is playing in front of its home crowd and still may be a little hungry after last week's six-point defeat to the Skins.

Philadelphia, on the other hand, has been distracted for weeks now and just haven't been able to find their rhythm. Whether you blame it on Vince Young's lack of experience with this offense, or an under-performing defense, I think it's safe to say Andy Reid's reign as Eagles' head-man is winding down to a close. At least it should be, anyways.

The glory days of three consecutive NFC Championship game appearances with Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook leading the way are in the rearview mirror and long gone. I think it's time for owner Jeffrey Lurie to say goodbye to the Reid era as well. If he does so, it would be the move of the year. If he doesn't, I think it's safe to say there will be plenty of upset Eagle fans by season's end.

Game note: Vick is out, and Vince Young will make his third start of the season for Philly. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is also out for tonight, and RB LeSean McCoy was listed as questionable although he is expected to start.

Game Prediction: Seattle pulls away with this one, 21-10, sending the Eagles' season spiraling down even further than it was before.

Photo credit
VY: Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hope for the Future: Jaguars Enter Full Re-build Mode

It's been four years since the Jacksonville Jaguars have made a playoff trip, and even longer since they've put up back-to-back winning seasons. In fact, the Jags have had just two winning seasons (2005 and 2007) since 2000.

Majority owner Wayne Weaver, who has owned the team since the very beginning when he bought the expansion franchise in 1995 after making big bucks off his shoe store chains, had a great start with Jacksonville.

He hired fiery and eccentric Tom Coughlin, then 49, to lead the newly formed franchise as a first-time head coach. Coughlin began his tenure by taking offensive tackle Tony Boselli No. 2 in that year's draft and simply building his team around the 6'7''/324 pound beast.

Boselli, five-time Pro Bowler in seven professional seasons, helped protect left-handed gunslinger Mark Brunell on their way to four playoff appearances in the franchise's first five years of existence, including two trips to the AFC Championship game in 1996 and '99.
But since the dismissal of Coughlin following the 2002 season, the Jaguars just haven't seemed to be the same. The hiring of Jack Del Rio was a great decision, but he was unable to take the Jags the distance.

The Rebuilding Process Starts...Now

It all started with the drafting of 22-year old Univ. of Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the 10th overall pick in this past April's draft, the franchise's quarterback of the future.

The Jacksonville rebuilding process took two more steps on Tuesday with Wayne Weaver firing Del Rio and selling the team to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan.

Earlier today yet another step was taken towards a fresh start as interim head coach Mel Tucker prepares for the Jags upcoming matchup with San Diego on Monday night. Tucker, who will be considered for the full-time job after he completes the remainder of the five games on the 2011 schedule, is still the team's defensive coordinator as well. Other possible candidates for the job–according to rumors–have been swirling around the 'net and includes Dallas Cowboys' defensive coordinator Rob Ryan.

Former Baltimore Ravens head coach and Super Bowl champion Brian Billick has reportedly been ruled out by, who quoted Billick in saying "They're looking for young and cheap, and I'm neither."
Well, there goes that idea. There's no reason for me to believe that former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher would be interested seeing as he has already repeatedly stated it will take a team 'ready to win now' for him to return to coaching. I really don't see him leaving his job with CBS to take over the hapless Jaguars in this stage of their rebuilding process.

Rob Ryan would be a great option, but I think (depending on how well his 'tryout' goes, of course) that Jacksonville will stay in-house and hand Tucker the permanent gig once the season is finished and in the books.

But only time will tell.

Jaguars franchise by the numbers:

Seasons: 17 (1995-present)
Head coaches: 3 (Tom coughlin and Jack Del Rio)
Starting quarterbacks: Mark Brunell, Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, Blaine Gabbert
All-time regular season record: 136-131
Pro Bowlers: 20
All Pros: 4
Playoff appearances: 6 (last appearance was '07)
Playoff record: 5-6
Highest-ranked offense: 3rd (1997)
Highest-ranked defense: 1st (1999)
First draft pick in team history: OT Tony Boselli

Note: I do not own either of these images. No copyright infringement intended.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Week 12 Game Picks

Week 12 action is already well underway following the Thanksgiving day triple-header which featured a close game between Miami and Dallas, who is fighting for the NFC East crown, and the "Harbowl" between two playoff contending teams–Baltimore and San Francisco.

Sunday Nov. 27

Falcons over Vikings
Minnesota will be without Adrian Peterson and Matt Ryan is on a hot streak.

Bengals over Browns
This will make three consecutive division matchups for Cincinnati, I think it's about time they win a division game.

Panthers over Colts
Cam Newton picks up his third win as the starter of a professional team as Indy remains winless.

Texans over Jaguars
Lucky for Houston, Matt Leinart's debut as the starter will come against the 3-7 Jaguars (2-3 over last five games)
Jets over Bills
After a 4-1 start, the Bills have dropped four of its last five games, including a 35-8 defeat against the three-win Dolphins last week.

Rams over Cards
It appears as though John Skelton will start over Kevin Kolb once again today. I expect a solid day from St. Louis' defense against Skelton.

Bucs over Titans
Despite the injury, Matt Hasselbeck is expected to start for Tennessee. This worries me a bit, and after breaking out with 107 yards and a touchdown last week, I expect another big day from TB's LeGarrett Blount

Raiders over Bears
Cutler is gone, and Caleb Hanie is in for Chicago. Carson Palmer has finally found his rhythm for the Raiders and this is their chance to break away from the rest of the AFC West, with a victory over the 7-3 Bears.

Seahawks over Redskins
The Skins have now dropped six in a row, and I don't think there's any way to stop Washington's free-fall from here.
Patriots over Eagles
Despite poor pass defense, the Patriots remain one of the tougher opponents in the AFC, and with inconsistent defense from Philadelphia through 10 games, I don't think there's any stopping Belichick and Co. today.

Broncos over Chargers
I wouldn't say I'm completely sold on Tebow, but with an inconsistent Philip Rivers under center and a Denver defense that has kept Tebow in games I think the Broncos can pull this one off on the road.

Steelers over Chiefs
Attempting to keep pace with Baltimore in the North, Pittsburgh will need to effectively protect Ben Roethlisberger from KC's Tamba Hali. But with Tyler Palko making another start (despite Kyle Orton signing), I don't think the Steelers will have too much trouble putting the Chiefs away early.

Monday Nov. 28

Saints over Giants
New York is a contender in the NFC East, but New Orleans has finally hit their stride this season and is 4-0 at home.

Byes: None

Photo credit
MJD/Schaub/Johnson: Bob Levey/Getty Images
Grossman: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivals

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thanksgiving: A day for Giving thanks, Turkey and Football

Thanksgiving day is here, meaning it's time to give thanks for your family and friends, eat plenty of great, home-cooked food and sit back and relax while watching some NFL football.

When Thanksgiving day rolls around each year it usually means it's time for teams to get down to business and start thinking about a late-season run to the playoffs, and this season is no exception. The Packers are still streaking, riding a 16-game win streak (including playoffs) and heading in to a division matchup with the 7-3 Detroit Lions. This will be the first time in years that this game will have actual meaning.

The Lions are hungry, and I can hear them knocking on Green Bay's door. I'd absolutely love to call a Turkey Day upset of the Pack today, but I just don't see it as plausible.
The Packers have averaged 35.5 points a game this season and I don't think Matt Stafford will be able to keep up With Aaron Rodgers, even on his home turf. Green Bay puts up 30+ points on Ndamukong's Suh defense, keeping the game out of reach of Detroit. Green Bay wins 31-21 (much closer than usual, at least right?).

The second matchup of the day, Miami at Dallas (4:15 PM ET), is reminiscent of the two teams' 1993 Turkey Day classic in which Dallas defensive lineman Leon Lett botched a Miami missed field goal (blocked by Dallas), giving the Dolphins a second chance in kicking the game-winner. The second attempt was good as time expired, giving the Dolphins the 16-14 victory.

Both teams are riding three-game win streaks (Dallas 4-1 in last five), but I think Tony Romo and the Cowboys have more to lose in this one. The Dolphins began the season 0-7 and are pretty much out of playoff contention at the bottom of the AFC East. Dallas, however, has a share of the NFC East lead at 6-4 and are in the middle of a playoff race.

Dallas has recently been very successful on Thanksgiving, winning four out of the last five seasons with victories such as 24-7 in '09, 34-9 in '08, 34-3 in '07 and 38-10 in '06. I'd like to think Dallas has the edge once again this year. Matt Moore's recent success can't last forever, DeMarcus Ware should have a big day against him, in fact. Dallas 28, Miami 10.
Harbaugh Bowl

The 2011 Thanksgiving Day finale of the triple-header features two brother head coaches–Baltimore's John Harbaugh and San Francisco's Jim Harbaugh.

Not only does this game feature the two brother's battling it out, but it's also a matchup between two of the top defenses in the league with above average signal callers (Smith has been playing that way this season, anyways) and scary rushing attacks.

The two teams are extremely even when it comes to overall talent, but I give the edge to the 9-1 49ers. Like I said in my previous post, San Francisco is the best team in the league right now. Hard-nosed defense and a top 10 rushing attack has defined the Niners all season long.

The offense has turned the ball over the least in the league, and the defense has forced the most turnovers in the league. That's what I like to call a recipe for success, and not only that but Baltimore may be without its leader on defense for the second straight week (Ray Lewis' status is still uncertain as of two hours ago).
San Fran wins 24-14, giving the younger of the two brother's the chance to bask in the glory of beating his older brother on the gridiron.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone and their families, enjoy the games!

Photo credit
Matthews and Woodson: Getty Images
Murray: Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Harbaugh brothers:

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Biggest Surprise of 2011: How 49ers Stack up against the NFL's Defending Champs

Heading in to September the NFC West was supposed to belong to St. Louis, who had an up-and-coming young offense led by second-year quarterback Sam Bradford and veteran running back Steven Jackson.

The Rams were one game away from a playoff berth after losing a Week 17 match-up against the Seattle Seahawks for the division title. Bradford (3,512 passing yards, 18 TD, 15 INT, 76.5 QB rating in 2010), the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year, was supposed to head in to the off-season and improve his game greatly for 2011.

Then, the lockout happened.

What does he do this season? Throw just five TD passes, five interceptions, get sacked a league-high 31 times with a 1-7 record as a starter, all while battling an ankle injury. Utter disappointment in St. Louis ensues as the Rams find themselves at the very bottom of the West with a 2-8 record.

High hopes for Arizona this season as well, as All Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald finally got that quarterback he's been waiting for (since Kurt Warner's retirement at least) in multi-million dollar man Kevin Kolb. Another disappointment as he's put up a 1-7 record as starter and thrown 8 TDs and 8 INTs. He, too, has sustained an injury to his foot and missed some time (out of lineup since 10/30).

Seattle, who captured a playoff win last season as the first-ever team to win a playoff game with a losing record in the regular season (7-9), lost veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck to the Tennessee Titans over the off-season and I really didn't expect much from Pete Carroll's Seahawks with an inconsistent offensive attack led by former Viking Tarvaris Jackson.
Seattle and Arizona find themselves in the middle of the pack at 4-6 and 3-7, respectively. That leaves us with one more team in the West, the San Francisco 49ers.

Much like Seattle, I didn't see much coming from the Niners in 2011 after they brought in former Stanford Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh's brother. The drafting of Colin Kaepernick in the second round of April's draft hinting towards a rebuilding process.

No one expected Alex Smith, who was labeled a "Draft bust" after five sub-par seasons as the 49ers' starting quarterback, to prove his worth in the league in 2011. But that's exactly what he has done through 10 games this season.

San Francisco's 9-1 record is the second-best in the entire NFL this season, behind only the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers (10-0). One may argue that they are in one of the weaker divisions so they have an "advantage," or "their schedule is easy." But those arguments are just excuses that San Fran's critics have been using.

Yes, the rest of San Francisco's division is only a combined 13-21, but only two of its 10 games have come against division opponents. And yes, San Francisco's opponents have put up a combined losing record of 47-53, but if you compare that to Green Bay's schedule (41-59) the Niners get the edge.

If that doesn't convince you that San Francisco isn't all that far from being the top team in the league, take a look at this:

GB: 1st in points (355), 4th in total yards (4,065), 3rd in passing yards (3,049), 1st in passing TDs (31), 21st in rushing yards (1,016), 15th in rushing TDs (8), 3rd in turnovers (10)

SF: 7th in points (256), 20th in total yards (3,225), 27th in passing yards (1,883), 21st in passing TDs (13), 6th in rushing yards (1,342), 8th in rushing TDs (9), 1st in turnovers (9)

It's obvious Green Bay has the edge in the passing games, with MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers tearing up opposing secondaries with career numbers. But the rest is much closer. San Francisco has one of the game's scariest backs, Frank Gore, who is a dual threat in both the passing and running game, and Alex Smith has thrown just four interceptions this season (least in the league).

It looks even better for San Francisco when it comes to the defense, led by LBs Patrick Willis and one of the league's top tacklers NaVorro Bowman.

GB: 15th in points allowed (212), 30th in total yards (3,918), 31st in passing yards (2,893), 24th in passing TDs (18), 12th in rushing yards (1,025), 7th in rushing TDs (6), 4th in turnovers (22)

SF: 1st in points allowed (145), 8th in total yards (3,231), 23rd in passing yards (2,492), 16th in passing TDs (14), 1st in rushing yards (739), 1st in rushing TDs (0), 1st in turnovers (26)

In all, San Francisco is by far the most dangerous defense in the entire league, not just when compared to the Packers.

Most will say the Packers are the best team in the league considering they haven't lost a game yet, but I would tell those people that the Pack may be by far the best offense in the league, but they are not the best overall team in the league.

That title will belong to the 49ers until proven otherwise. Putting up points is obviously the object of the game of football, and the Packers do that better than anyone, but stopping the opposition from getting in to the end zone is just as important. And the 49ers haven't allowed a single rusher to score in 10 games, and only 14 total touchdowns have been scored against San Francisco in 2011. So far this season, only two teams (3-7 Jaguars and 2-8 Rams) have failed to get in to the end zone at least 14 total times.

Quite a feat, I must say, and though the 49ers will face a huge obstacle tomorrow night against the 7-3 Baltimore Ravens, I think they will pass the test. Joe Flacco has been inconsistently producing, and San Fran has been playing tougher defense than Baltimore this season–shocker, I know. Not to mention future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis may not even be on the field for the Ravens this week.

Moral of the story (you heard it here first), the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers are the best OVERALL team in the league, not the 10-0 Green Bay Packers.

Photo credit
Harbaugh: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Bowman: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Possible Destinations for former Bronco Kyle Orton

Yesterday's release of Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton has garnered a lot of free agency talk around the league. And with the deadline to snag him off waivers (4 PM ET) quickly approaching, he could find a new team real soon.

Here are a few teams who may be interested, and why they would find the need to pick him up..

Chicago Bears 7-3

It's likely starter Jay Cutler (surgery on fractured thumb) will miss the rest of the regular season, so if they want to make a playoff run they will need a quarterback to manage the game and minimize turnovers. As of right now that will be backup Caleb Hanie's job. Hanie took over for an injured Cutler in the NFC Championship game last winter, coming within a touchdown of taking the Bears to the Super Bowl (13/20, 153 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT). But minus that game, Hanie has just 14 career pass attempts in three seasons. Probability: 65/35
Kansas City Chiefs 4-6

Like Chicago, Kansas City has lost its starter for the season (Matt Cassel) and is in the middle of a division race in the AFC West–just two games behind the leader. This past week was the first game Kansas City was without Cassel, and Tyler Palko (25/38, 236 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT) was making his first career start in a 34-3 loss to New England. With one of the toughest remaining schedules in the league, Kansas City may need some extra help at quarterback from a proven veteran such as Orton. Probability: 70/30

Houston Texans 7-3

Houston seems an unlikely destination, although I think it would be a great move on the franchise's part. Matt Schaub was just placed on the season-ending injured reserve as the Texans hold a two game lead in the AFC South. They may not need Orton, but I'm not sure I would trust Matt Leinart with the offense at this point. It's Houston's division to lose, but picking up Orton may solidify the franchise's first playoff appearance in its history. Probability: 50/50

Miami Dolphins 3-7

Miami has won three straight games with Matt Moore under center after starting the season 0-7 and in the middle of the "Suck for Luck" campaign. Over that three-game span Moore has thrown for 200+ yards twice, and thrown six touchdowns with just one interception. They are a possible fit for Orton, but as of right now I think they will finish the season with Moore and make a move for a quarterback over the offseason. Probability: 20/80
Indianapolis Colts 0-10

There is still no timetable for Peyton Manning's return, and obviously the Colts are already out of contention for a playoff spot so I don't think Indy would want to put out the money for Orton if it's only temporarily. But if they suddenly decide they would like the 29-year old Orton to be Manning's succeeder then this would be their chance to make a move. Probability: 30/70

Arizona Cardinals 3-7

Kevin Kolb has been one of the league's most disappointing off-season signings, and he may not even be the team's starter in 2012. John Skelton has gone 2-1 as the team's starter this season, and I have a feeling he may end up getting a few more starts before the regular season is finished. Orton is a long-shot in Arizona, as well, but that doesn't necessarily rule him out of the running for Arizona's next starter. Probability: 20/80

Best fit: Chicago

It's the best fit for Orton to return to Chicago, but they already seem pretty set on Hanie replacing him.

Most likely team to sign: Kansas City

Palko is their best choice at starter according to the roster, but an Orton signing (and keeping him in-division) would make a great fit and give Kansas City's passing attack a huge boost.

This just in: Houston signed former New York Jet Kellen Clemens. Looks like Houston's 50/50 chance just went down to 10/90.

Photo credit
Cutler: Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Painter: Scott Boehm/Getty Images