Saturday, September 29, 2012

Real Officials Make Return on Thursday Night Football; NFLRA Officially Approves New Labor Deal

Earlier this morning the NFLRA met and voted on the new labor deal which passed just prior to Thursday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and the Baltimore Ravens.

Fortunately, the deal was agreed upon on Wednesday night and allowed the regular officials to return to action Thursday night before the NFLRA even finalized the deal by voting on it. The vote on the new eight-year labor deal was made and approved by the officials this morning. Which means the end to the lockout was finally made official.

Week 4 got underway in rainy Baltimore two nights ago, as the now 3-1 Baltimore Ravens knocked off the feisty, yet winless, Cleveland Browns.
It was Cleveland's defense, led by linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, that kept the Browns in the game all the way through. Sacking quarterback Joe Flacco four times and picking him off once more, in addition to holding Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice to just 49 yards on 18 carries, allowed Cleveland to limit Baltimore's offense to just 23 points.

Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and his offense were forced to settle for three field goals and had two turnovers, therefore preventing any further damage than the team's 16 points. Weeden did look pretty solid on the team's final drive of the game.

Though the team failed to knot the game up at 23 in the end, Weeden drove the team 72 yards down the field on 10 plays. It took just over a minute and was helped out by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on Baltimore's Paul Kruger, but Weeden showed poise and patience in the pocket. His desperation pass to Greg Little fell to the ground as time expired, but I think Weeden managed to walk off the field with a bit more self-confidence after keeping it close against a defense of Baltimore's caliber.

But no matter what happened in the Cleveland/Baltimore showdown, we all knew that the return of the officials was going to steal the show on Thursday. And that they did.

In fact, they were basically given a standing ovation as they took the field prior to the start of the game. The National Football League is back, and it's integrity appears to have been restored after zero controversial calls were made. It's a great feeling heading in to Sunday's slate of games, isn't it?

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Wrath of the Coaches

left-New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick grabs a replacement ref's arm at the end of his hotly contested game with the Baltimore Ravens on Sept. 23, 2012. right-Washington Redskins coach Mike Shanahan voices his displeasure with an official in their Sept 16 game against the St Louis Rams.

After Week 3 of the NFL regular season, one thing is clear: the games are bordering on chaos under the officiating of replacement officials. The expected improvement as the weeks progressed has not happened. Instead, every week games are being poorly officiated with bad calls, missed calls, wrong penalty assessments and an overall failure to control the game. As expected, coaches have reacted, and not in a good way. Replacement officials have transformed many of those normally cool and stone-faced coaches on the sideline into red-faced, raving hotheads. Some of the more notable blow-ups include:

Bill Belichick - The Week 3 game between the New England Patriots and the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Sept 23, came down to a field goal. As time expired and with the score 30-28 Patriots, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker launched a 27-yard field goal that many thought missed wide right. But the ref signalled that it was good and the Ravens won 31-30. As the chaotic exit of players, officials and sideline personnel began, coach Belichick chased after a ref who was running off the field. As Belichick explained, he had questions regarding the last play and he was trying to get the ref's attention when he grabbed his arm. Today, Belichick was fined $50,000 for 'impermissable physical contact.'

Kyle Shanahan - In another Week 3 Sunday game, the Cincinnati Bengals led the Washington Redskins 38-31 with 7 seconds left in the game. With the Redskins on the Bengals 34-yard line, quarterback Robert Griffin III spiked the ball to stop the clock. On the same play, the refs flagged tight end Fred Davis for a false start. But here's where the fireworks began. After one official said that there would be a 10-second runoff because of the false start penalty, Cincinnati's coaches and players, thinking the game was over, began walking on the field. Since that is not the correct penalty, (should be 5-yards) Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan demanded a clarification from the refs and insisted that the game was not over. For this, Shanahan was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. Then the refs backed the ball up 20 yards (instead of 15) for that penalty. On the next play and  now at third-and 50, Griffin hurled the ball downfield for an incomplete pass. Time expired - Game over. Still upset over the rulings, Shanahan pursued the officials into the tunnel and apparently hurled a litany of profanities at them. Shanahan was fined $25,000 by the league on Tuesday, Sept 25.

John Harbaugh - At one point in the same game as Bill Belichick's transgression, Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh admitted that he bumped an official. His explanation was that he merely wanted to call a timeout and the officials did not hear or see him. The league has said they are investigating the incident.

John Fox and Jack Del Rio - After the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons game on Monday Night Football, Sept 17, both head coach John Fox and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio were recently fined $30,000 and $25,000 respectively. The game was constantly interrupted by long delays and reviews, and reviews of the reviews. Throughout the game, both Fox and Del Rio could be seen berating, intimidating and badgering the officials. According to ESPN analyst Adam Shefter, the NFL even called the Georgia Dome at halftime to get the message to Fox and Del Rio to tone down their behavior.

The past three weeks have seen numerous clashes between coaches and replacement officials. Even with fines and memos mandating better behavior from coaches, we can expect to see more dramatics as long as the replacements are officiating.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

NFL Statement Regarding the Controversial End of Monday Night's Game

It's all over the news, and not just ESPN and NFL Network. The National Football League and its replacement officials have hit rock bottom after the to last night's Packers vs. Seahawks primetime game.

Trailing 12-7, Seattle's rookie quarterback Russell Wilson threw up a desperation hail mary as time expired, which appeared to be intercepted by Green Bay's safety M.D. Jennings. The back judge ran over and signaled timeout, which would mean he's signaling a GB interception and touchback. However, the side judge signaled for a touchdown.

There was no conference between officials and it was ruled a Seattle touchdown, though there was no official call coming from the referee himself. After the call, Green Bay ran off the field in disgust after seeing the replay reveal that Jennings did, in fact, have the ball cradled against his body while Seattle's Golden Tate merely had two hands barely on the football.

The play was reviewed but referee Wayne Elliot apparently didn't find that anything was indisputable and the play stood as called. It took about 10 minutes for the Packers to get 11 guys back out of the locker room and onto the field to attempt the extra point.
If you were to ask my opinion on the ending, I must say that this was the most embarrassing ending to any NFL game I have ever seen. It felt as though you were watching a high school game. And the backlashing from Packer players, and other NFL players in general, on Twitter was severe last night.

As expected, Aaron Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy weren't too happy during their post-game press conferences. But I must give credit to Greg Jennings and a couple of other Packer players who were very classy following the defeat and didn't blame officials for the loss. That had to have been very tough after watching that unfold from the sidelines.

Here's the official statement the League came out with today, as they stated that the Seattle win will not be overturned after investigating further (they did admit that the officials missed a PI call on Tate that would have ended the game though):

In Monday's game between the Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks, Seattle faced a 4th-and-10 from the Green Bay 24 with eight seconds remaining in the game. 
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw a pass into the end zone. Several players, including Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate and Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings, jumped into the air in an attempt to catch the ball. 
While the ball is in the air, Tate can be seen shoving Green Bay cornerback Sam Shields to the ground. This should have been a penalty for offensive pass interference, which would have ended the game. It was not called and is not reviewable in instant replay. 
When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown. 
Replay Official Howard Slavin stopped the game for an instant replay review. The aspects of the play that were reviewable included if the ball hit the ground and who had possession of the ball. In the end zone, a ruling of a simultaneous catch is reviewable. That is not the case in the field of play, only in the end zone. 
Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review. 
The result of the game is final. 
Applicable rules to the play are as follows: 
A player (or players) jumping in the air has not legally gained possession of the ball until he satisfies the elements of a catch listed here. 
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3 of the NFL Rule Book defines a catch: 
A forward pass is complete (by the offense) or intercepted (by the defense) if a player, who is inbounds: 
(a) secures control of the ball in his hands or arms prior to the ball touching the ground; and 
(b) touches the ground inbounds with both feet or with any part of his body other than his hands; and 
(c) maintains control of the ball long enough, after (a) and (b) have been fulfilled, to enable him to perform any act common to the game (i.e., maintaining control long enough to pitch it, pass it, advance with it, or avoid or ward off an opponent, etc.). 
When a player (or players) is going to the ground in the attempt to catch a pass, Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 1 states: 
Player Going to the Ground. If a player goes to the ground in the act of catching a pass (with or without contact by an opponent), he must maintain control of the ball throughout the process of contacting the ground, whether in the field of play or the end zone. If he loses control of the ball, and the ball touches the ground before he regains control, the pass is incomplete. If he regains control prior to the ball touching the ground, the pass is complete. 
Rule 8, Section 1, Article 3, Item 5 states: 
Simultaneous Catch. If a pass is caught simultaneously by two eligible opponents, and both players retain it, the ball belongs to the passers. It is not a simultaneous catch if a player gains control first and an opponent subsequently gains joint control. If the ball is muffed after simultaneous touching by two such players, all the players of the passing team become eligible to catch the loose ball.

So the Seattle (2-1) victory will stand and the Packers will remain 1-2. The internet, mostly social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, have taken the replacement officials' mistakes pretty hard. Here are a couple of things I have come across so far:
 And post-game press conferences following last night's game:

Players have been all over Twitter with this one. Do you think commish Goodell will realize how bad it has gotten and do everything he can to get the real guys back out there? Personally I don't think we're even close to the end, which is really scary. You know it's bad when bandwagon and fair weather fans even realize it's getting ugly out there.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Week 3 in Perspective: Plenty of Sunday Action Despite Threats to Replacement Officials

The replacement officials have continued to struggle to maintain a reasonable game pace and avoid making critical mistakes. Yesterday's slate of games may have surpassed Week 2 in terms of butchered or missed calls.

Despite being warned by the National Football League prior to Sunday about harassing or "bullying" the officials, players and coaches all over have repeatedly made verbal threats. And in Bill Belichick's case following Sunday night's 31-30 loss to Baltimore, even made contact with one official.

Numerous calls involving player safety were missed, costing Matt Schaub a piece of his ear and sending Darrius Heyward-Bey to the hospital. Jim Harbaugh's 49ers were awarded extra challenges while Mike Shanahan's Redskins were unfairly penalized an extra five yards.

If this isn't enough proof that the regular NFL officials are well-qualified for the job and have done a spectacular job over the years, then I don't know what more to say. It takes a certain set of skills to officiate an NFL game and, clearly, you cannot just replace these guys with officials from the CFL, AFL and Lingerie Football League.

I understand the officials want more money, which the league does not agree with. But at this point, I don't think it matters how much you pay these guys, just get them back on the field as soon as possible. Unfortunately for coaches, players and fans, the league has shown that they are not in any hurry to get them back out there. Commissioner Roger Goodell knows that people will still be watching, but if the issue isn't fixed in the next couple of weeks he could start to see viewership drop. And drop fast.
Rant over.

Besides the blown calls and illegal hits from yesterday, there really was some good football played around the league. I believe that Week 3's action surpassed the previous two weeks of play, by far. Some players have continued to stay cold and disappoint while others have broken out from a slow start and turned heads.

Three Early Games Decided in Overtime

Three 1:00 p.m. (eastern time) games were not decided until the fifth quarter of play, in a (partial) sudden death format. The Kansas City Chiefs captured its first win of the season by upsetting the now 0-3 New Orleans Saints in OT, led by the speedy Jamaal Charles and his 233 rushing yards. Charles missed basically all of last season after injuring his ACL in a Week 2 match-up with Detroit. Charles showed he's back to full health by carrying a full load of 33 rushing attempts and adding a 91-yard rushing TD in the third quarter. The game was won by the foot of Ryan Succop, hitting a game-winning field goal from 31 yards late in OT. Chiefs win 27-24.
The Lions and Titans combined for 85 points and just over 1,000 total yards in their match-up in Tennessee. Despite running for just 59 yards as a team, the Titans' pulled out its first victory of the season by a score of 44-41 after Rob Bironas kicked the game-winner from 26 yards out in overtime. Sophomore quarterback Jake Locker, making his third career start as Tennessee's QB, had a career day throwing for 378 yards and 2 TDs with no picks. For Detroit, Matthew Stafford sustained an injury and was forced to leave the game. What did backup Shaun Hill, hailing from the University of Maryland, do in his place? Oh, he only completed 10 of his 13 passes for 172 yards and 2 TD passes with :18 to play in regulation. It's a shame Detroit lost after Hill's effort.

One of the most poorly played games of the day was a New York Jets/Miami Dolphins match-up in South Florida. The two teams combined for four turnovers and 20 penalties and Miami's Dan Carpenter missed two field goals, one being the potential game-winner in overtime. The game ended with Nick Folk kicking it in from 33 yards out with just over six minutes to play in the extra quarter. First-year Miami head coach Joe Philbin, however, shot himself in the toe by trying to ice Folk. Folk had his first attempt blocked by Miami, but Philbin had called the timeout before the ball was snapped, therefore giving Folk a second try. When you're given a second try, you can't miss. And Folk didn't, giving New York its second win of the season and dropping Miami to 1-2.

Dalton, Bengals knock off RGIII's Skins

Yes, I know, there was controversy towards the end of Cincinnati's 38-31 victory over Robert Griffin III and the 1-2 Skins, like I stated above. But that doesn't take away from one of the best games of Dalton's young career. His 328 yards and 3 passing touchdowns marks just the third time he's accomplished a 300-yard game in his 20 starts (regular and postseason). It was also the first time he's had back-to-back 300+ yard, 3 TD games. He was near flawless in a match-up with the Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan-less Skins defense. His favorite target, sophomore wideout A.J. Green had a big day as well (9 rec., 183 yards, 1 TD), sending a message to the other wideouts in the league. Green is here to stay. And apparently so is Dalton.
Bears' Defense Assists Cutler in 23-6 Victory

Sure, it would appear as though Jay Cutler redeemed himself after a relatively embarrassing performance against Green Bay last week. The reason for Chicago's victory, improving to 2-1 in the process, is pretty much because of a defense that forced two Sam Bradford interceptions and limited St. Louis' offense to 160 total yards and zero red zone trips. Bradford was unable to get anything going all game long against this Chicago defense, and Cutler's stat-line of 17/31, 183 yards, 1 INT isn't going to win over any of his fantasy owners. But it was enough to get the job done. That's all we can ask, right? No 7-sack game this week.

Spiller Goes Down, Choice Steps up in Buffalo Victory

C.J. Spiller had won over fantasy owners in the first two weeks of the season, filling the void for the injured Fred Jackson who was said to miss at least the first month of play this season. Well, another injury to a Buffalo running back occurred in yesterday's game with the Browns, as Spiller left the game with a left shoulder injury. At the time of the injury he only had four carries for 16 yards. Luckily another running back stepped right in as Tashard Choice ran for 91 yards on his 20 carries to help Ryan Fitzpatrick to a 24-14 victory over the Browns. Buffalo is now 2-1, but injuries continue to cloud up the backfield situation heading into next week's game with New England.

Romo Prevails vs. Bucs Despite Lack of Offensive Production

Tony Romo's Dallas Cowboys improved to 2-1, tying the Giants and Eagles for the NFC East lead, defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-10. But it wasn't pretty, on both sides of the field. Josh Freeman was limited 110 passing yards (10/28, 1 TD, 1 INT) and had a run game that managed just 3.0 yards per carry. Romo led Dallas on just one touchdown drive, capped by a DeMarco Murray 11-yard TD run in the first quarter. Other than that, both teams combined for five turnovers and six sacks. It didn't really appear to be spectacular defense, just poorly executed offensive drives. Both teams also finished for a combined 2-for-7 in the red zone. Neither lit up the scoreboard, or stat sheet in this match-up. Not sure which Cowboys team to expect this season, to tell you the truth.
Jones-Drew Leads Jags to First Victory

Ah, yes. Here's what we've all been waiting for. A big game from Maurice Jones-Drew. MJD held out of camp and preseason and clearly wasn't fully prepared for the first few weeks of the regular season, combining for 137 yards and 0 TDs in his first two games. But yesterday he broke out for 177 yards and a touchdown in Jacksonville's 22-17 victory over Andrew Luck's Colts. Luck was decent, throwing for 313 yards and a pair of TDs, but Blaine Gabbert's 80-yard bomb to Cecil Shorts with less than a minute to play gave Jacksonville the victory.

Vikings, led by Ponder, Stun 49ers

More controversy towards the end of this game was the main things that caught everyone's attention, but luckily Minnesota prevailed in the end despite coach Jim Harbaugh's two extra challenges that were basically conned from the referee. Sophomore quarterback Christian Ponder, much like fellow second year-men Locker and Dalton, looked very impressive throughout. Out-passing counterpart Alex Smith, Ponder got the job done with both his arm (2 TD passes to TE Kyle Rudolph) and his legs (23-yard TD run in 2nd qtr). Minnesota's defense stepped up as well, sacking Smith three times and forcing three more turnovers in the 24-13 victory. The controversy made no difference in the outcome of the game, luckily.

Big Ben Plays Near-Perfect Football, Stunned by Last-Second Janikowski GWer

Ben Roethlisberger had a career day in a 34-31 loss to the Oakland Raiders. Due to a lack of a running game (54 yards on 20 carries, 0 TD), Roethlisberger was forced to pass the ball 49 times, which is tied for the third-most of his nine-year career. Ben completed 36 of those passes for 384 yards and 4 TDs, with no interceptions. Oakland's Darren McFadden, finishing with 113 yards and a TD, ran for a 64-yard touchdown early in the game to knot the score at 7 apiece. But Oakland had never led until they tied the game at 34 following an Antonio Brown fumble and then hit the 43-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. Sebastian Janikowski used his leg to score the final six points of the game as the Raiders completed the comeback.
Cardinals, Kolb Improve to 3-0 by Shutting Down Vick's Eagles

The Eagles didn't have a shot from the very beginning of the game. Head coach Andy Reid even admitted he did a terrible job at preparing his team for the game. Arizona, one of the league's only undefeated teams left, sacked Vick five times throughout the four quarters and LeSean McCoy only touched the ball 16 times (13 rushes, 3 catches). Vick's two fumbles proved costly, one of which was returned 93 yards for an Arizona touchdown with six seconds to play in the first half. Kevin Kolb, of all guys, outplayed his former teammate Michael Vick as Kolb and wideout Larry Fitzgerald torched Philly's secondary all game. I almost want to say that Philadelphia is lucky the final score was only 27-6.

Atlanta Stays Winless After 27-3 Victory

San Diego was at home, and had running back Ryan Mathews (broke collarbone in preseason) back in the lineup, yet Matt Ryan's 3-0 Falcons were far too much for Philip Rivers and the Charger offense. Ryan threw for three more TDs, giving him a league-leading 8 for the season, spreading the ball out to eight different receivers in Atlanta's high-powered first half. Atlanta, in addition to Arizona and Houston, is one of three teams left that have yet to lose this season. With the way this passing offense has been playing, I think they could end up being the last to lose a game, too.

Peyton, Broncos Fall just Short of Comeback for Second Straight game

Peyton Manning's Broncos got off to another slow start against the 3-0 Texans, down 21-5 at one point during the second quarter. But two 4th quarter passing TDs to Brandon Stokley and Joel Dressen put Denver back in the game late, though the comeback attempt eventually failed. Peyton is not looking his regular form as a lot of his passes appear to be dead ducks, or just very loose spirals. It's disappointing not seeing his normal tight spirals thrown into very small windows, but we all know it'll take him some time to get back to full health. He'll be just fine.
Ravens Win Rematch in Controversy-filled SNF match-up

There's no doubt there were a lot of questionable calls, and a couple of critical no-calls as well in this game. In total, 24 penalties were called, adding up to 218 penalty yards (135 of them went against Baltimore). It was a long, yet still entertaining, game that featured two 300-yard passers in Tom Brady and Joe Flacco. Less than 24 hours after his younger brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith had a career game with six catches for 127 yards and 2 TDs. A very inspiring performance indeed, and it was capped off when Baltimore placekicker Justin Tucker hit a walk-off 27-yard field goal as time expired, to give Baltimore a 31-30 redemption victory. Once again, there was some question as to whether or not the FG was good, but it appeared to sail just over top of the right upright, meaning it was, in fact, three points and a win for the 2-1 Ravens.

Key Injuries:

Matthew Stafford, Detroit QB--hamstring. Status uncertain.

C.J. Spiller, Buffalo RB--shoulder. Will have MRI, likely to miss Week 4.

Reggie Bush, Miami RB--knee. MRI revealed no structural damage

Austin Collie, Indianapolis WR--ruptured patella tendon. Out for season.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, Oakland WR--concussion and neck strain. Released from hospital on Monday.

Adrian Clayborn, Tampa Bay DE--torn knee ligament. Out for rest of season.

Darrelle Revis, New York Jets CB--torn ACL, out for season

Monday Night Preview:

Packers at Seahawks

Seattle's rookie signal caller Russell Wilson is coming off his most impressive performance last week, a 27-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. With Marshawn Lynch taking the pressure off Wilson with his 122 yards and 1 TD, Seattle's offense scored 17 unanswered points to put the game out of the hands of the Cowboys.

In tonight's match-up, however, Seattle will need to give Lynch at least 30 carries. Against a team of Green Bay's caliber, Pete Carroll will need to establish the run early and keep with it. This will be Wilson's toughest match-up yet and will need to be comfortable. Normally I would say you'd need to attack, but in Seattle's case a conservative game plan is their best bet to beat the Packers.

After missing last week's game with a groin injury, Greg Jennings told ESPN's Lisa Salters that he will be playing tonight and he has been listed as active by the team.

My Prediction: Packers 35, Seahawks 14

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday Night Fun: Defending Champs Visit Newton's Panthers

I must admit, it's really nice having Thursday night games throughout the season. Seems to make the week pass by quicker. Week 3 kicks off tonight with the defending champion New York Giants visiting the 1-1 Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium.

Eli Manning and the Giants are coming off a stunning come-from-behind victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 41-34, on Sunday. A game in which Manning out-passed Tampa's Josh Freeman in the final quarter alone. His two passing TDs in the fourth were enough to erase a 24-13 halftime deficit and his nearly 250 fourth quarter passing yards gave him an eighth-most 510 for the game.

Unfortunately for the 1-1 G-Men, WRs Hakeem Nicks, RB Ahmad Bradshaw and T David Diehl have all been ruled out for tonight's matchup with Carolina's 11th-ranked defense (13th vs. pass, 28th vs. rush).
In Carolina's 35-27 victory over NFC South rival New Orleans Saints on Sunday, which some saw as somewhat of an upset, the offense ran for 219 yards and 3 TDs on 41 attempts. Led by sophomore quarterback Cam Newton's 71 yards, the team spread a majority of the carries between DeAngelo Williams (14) and Jonathan Stewart (11). Both backs ran for 50+ yards and Williams added a 3-yard third quarter touchdown.

Though Stewart (toe and ankle) will be a game-time decision tonight, the Panthers' run game isn't likely to back down against New York's 16th-ranked.

The No. 1 aspect in tonight's game to watch is without a doubt the quarterback showdown between the visiting Eli Manning and Carolina's Cam Newton. Both former No. 1 draft picks, this is surely the match-up to watch.

But, the bottom line here is that I believe the Panther offense will prevail, despite the idea that Stewart likely wont play much even if he is active. Eli without Nicks (10 catches, 199 yards, 1 TD last week) will be tough against a defense that has allowed just two touchdowns through the air thus far this season.
My prediction: Carolina 28, New York 21

Bold Predictions:
*Eli throws 2 INTs
*Cam Newton throws for 250 and runs for another 80; 2 pass TDs, 1 rushing
*Giants held to under 100 yards on the ground
*Jon Beason records another 10 tackles (did so in Week 1 vs. TB)
*New York Giants D: ZERO sacks against Newton

Interesting stat: Cam Newton has thrown for 2 INTs this season, Eli Manning has thrown 3 INTs. All five of those interceptions have come against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Week 2: Replacement Officials Aren't the Only Ones Riding the Struggle Bus

Week 2 of the NFL season has been wrapped up and, to be honest, the National Football League is having the worst start to a season in the past decade or so.

With the continuation of the NFL officials' holdout, the replacement officials suited up for another week of action, much to the dismay of fans and experts everywhere. Due to the limited amount of NFL-level training that these officials have received, these guys are doing everything they possibly can to provide the NFL their services.

Unfortunately, these services are not going over well if players, coaches and fans. If I were to take a ballpark estimation, I would likely say there's been between three or four blown calls a game this past weekend. Week 1 seemed to go smoothly considering the circumstances the replacement officials are in, but this week it's gotten a bit out of hand.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has seemed to focus more on the Saints' bounty scandal (met with Jonathan Vilma yesterday and Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove earlier today) rather than focusing on reaching a new deal with the real officials.

It's sad, if you ask me. The actual officials make probably around $8,000 a week and are looking for a raise, but Goodell and the NFL don't seem to wanna work out a deal that gives them a couple thousand more bucks.
With the league making billions, and Goodell making millions, I'm pretty sure they can afford to raise the pay. In fact, Goodell himself could pay them straight from his pocket and still be making millions each year.

The fans clearly are not happy one bit with this situation and, if Goodell knows what's good for the league and himself, he would be doing everything in his power to get the real guys back out there. A couple more weeks of this, and fans may actually start boycotting games. What does that mean? Less money for the league.

I hate to break it to Mr. Goodell, but he's doing this to himself.

Anyway, I think it's time to get off that subject and start digging in to this past weekend's games. It's not just the officials that are having a hard time, quite a few teams and players struggled this past weekend. Instead of focusing on the good (which is what I usually do), I'm going to take this time to highlight the negative things that have taken place. It sounds terrible, I know. But it's gotta be done at some point.

Cutler's 4 INTs, 7 sacks vs. Packers

Not only was Jay Cutler the first quarterback to be sacked seven times and throw four interceptions in Week 2 against the Packers for the first time since 2002, but he also made a vital mistake while on camera: he shoved his teammate LT J'Marcus Webb. Earlier today Cutler admitted that he regrets doing so while also saying he wished to have seen more fire from him.

Looking back at the film and highlights, it certainly wasn't any one specific who is to blame for the struggles. As a team, the offense failed to move the ball and Cutler held on to the ball a little longer than he should have on a couple of occasions. If this offense is going to win some games this season, they will need to communicate and play together. Thursday night's 23-10 loss was a little embarrassing and probably shouldn't have even been that close of a game in the end.
Patriots miss last-second field goal, fall to Arizona

Arizona's defense owned Brady in this one, that's all there is really to say. Sure, he threw for 300 yards on the day but he also struggled in the red zone (1/3) was sacked by Arizona's defense four times. New England was forced to settle for five field goal attempts but only managed four of them as Stephen Gostkowski failed to convert a 42-yarder with a minute to play. The frustrating part for New England is the fact that Danny Woodhead had scored on a 30-yard touchdown five plays prior but Rob Gronkowski was called for holding, nullifying the potential game-winning touchdown.

The missed field goal allowed the Cardinals to improve to 2-0 in its first game with Kevin Kolb (15/27, 140 yards, 1 TD) as the team's starter in 2012.

Despite 2-0 record, Philly's turnover woes continue

For the second consecutive week, the Philadelphia Eagles pulled away with a one-point victory as a result of a late scoring drive. Quarterback Michael Vick came off a four interception Week 1 game against the Browns by throwing for two more against the Baltimore defense. In total, the Eagle offense has committed nine turnovers in two games. Vick threw nearly 60 passes in the first game but, luckily for the Eagles, head coach Andy Reid gave running back LeSean McCoy more touches this past weekend and the Eagles defense bailed out Vick late in the game.

In both games, Philly controlled the game clock by nearly 10 minutes and saw a lot of time on the field. The 25 carries for McCoy against Baltimore may be the reason, and if they would like to continue to win the close games it's all up to the run game.

Saints fall to 0-2

First, they were victimized by Robert Griffin III in his first career start, allowing him and his Washington offense to put up 40 points and out-dueling Drew Brees. Second, division rival Carolina ran all over them with 219 yards and 3 TDs on 41 carries en route to a 35-27 victory. It appears as though the absence of head coach Sean Payton is having a larger effect on the team than we anticipated.

Drew Brees has struggled as well, much to the dismay of interim coach Aaron Kromer. In two games, Brees has completed just over half of his passes for 4 TDs and 4 interceptions. Hopefully having the Kansas City Chiefs enter the Superdome this Sunday will help ease the pain.
Josh Morgan's actions cost Skins the game

Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan made the biggest bone-head play of the season...and it's only Week 2. On a potential game-tying or game-winning drive, Morgan made a seven-yard catch on 3rd & 8 and, after being tackled, was subtly shoved by Rams' cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Now, we all know Finnegan is known for being a dirty player and doing things such as this. Morgan even knew and acknowledged this earlier last week. Yet Morgan let him get in his head anyways, as he threw the ball at Finnegan and cost the Skins a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Of course the Skins ended up out of field goal range and failing to convert on fourth down, thus ending the game and giving the Rams a 31-28 victory. What an awful way to lose a ballgame and I don't think head coach Mike Shanahan and Morgan's fellow teammates will let him live this one down any time soon.

Tennessee's run game struggles

Three seasons removed from his historic 2,000 yard season and Pro Bowl running back Chris Johnson is having the worst start to a season in his five year career. Through its first two games, Tennessee is 0-2 and the offense has totaled just 58 yards on 26 carries against New England and San Diego, which comes out to an average of 2.2 yards per carry. Over these two games, the team has also scored just 23 points and no TDs on the ground.

If that's not something that makes you shake your head in shame, then I don't know what does. To make matters worse, Chris Johnson was the first running back I selected in my league's fantasy draft this season. Ouch.

Manning throws 3 INT in opening quarter, falls 27-21

Watching last Sunday night's prime time matchup that featured Peyton Manning's return made me think he would be able to just step right in and dominate the opposition like the old days, despite him saying he still wasn't at 100%. Well, clearly he (Peyton) was right when he said it's going to take a lot of work to return to full form. In his first eight pass attempts last night he had three interceptions, which were all pretty much due to him overthrowing his intended target.

I must admit, Denver's MNF loss to Atlanta, 27-21, was one of the worst games I've seen from Manning in quite a while, and he even almost ended up coming out on top in the end. Many of his passes were as ugly and wobbly as Cutler's on Thursday. It appeared as though he had quite a few dead ducks in his arsenal.
Gabbert throws for 53 yards in 27-7 loss to HOU

Remember how Blaine Gabbert was supposed to break out and establish himself as a passer in Jacksonville this season? Well, people have already forgotten all of that talk and we are just two weeks in. He managed just 53 yards on 7/19 passing against Houston's stingy defense on Sunday. His average per pass was a lowly 2.8 yards. Even against Houston's tough defense, there is no reason any quarterback in this league should be putting up numbers like that.

Ok, well, now that I've give you nightmares by highlighting the bad from this weekend, I guess I'll take a few paragraphs to highlight some good things as well...

*C.J. Spiller continues to shine for Buffalo, filling in for the injured Fred Jackson. In the Bills' 35-17 victory over Kansas City, Spiller ran for 123 yards and 2 TDs. More good news in Buffalo, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is the only starting QB left that has yet to be sacked through the first two games.

*Rookie Andrew Luck threw for 224 yards and 2 TDs and captured his first victory in the NFL as his Colts improved to 1-1 thanks to a 23-20 victory over Minnesota. Kicker Adam Vinatieri kicked a game-winning 53-yard field goal with :08 to play.

*Reggie Bush has shown he can be a No. 1 back with his 172 yards and 2 TDs against Oakland. Rookie Ryan Tannehill's 200 yards and one TD led the way for Miami as the Phins defeated the Raiders 35-13.

*Can't go without highlighting Eli Manning's 510 passing yards, tied for 8th-most in a single game. Ever. Not only that, but Eli led his G-Men to a come-from-behind 41-34 victory over Tampa Bay. Remember all that fourth quarter success he had last season? Well he threw for 2 TDs and nearly 250 yards in the fourth on Sunday. Outrageous.

*Russell Wilson looked pretty solid against Dallas' defense, putting up 27 points with the help of 122 yards rushing and a TD from Marshawn Lynch. Wilson attempted just 20 passes, completing 15 of them, as Pete Carroll took pressure off Wilson by running the ball 41 times for 182 yards and a TD. It appears as though that was the perfect combination for rookie Wilson.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Key Late-game Inactives

Unfortunately (for you, the readers) I have been pretty busy this weekend and was unable to give an official preview of the early (1 p.m. ET) games today. This could have put a damper on your fantasy lineup this weekend because well, lets face it, I'm sure you were looking for some advice on who to start and who to sit. In addition to injury updates, of course.

I will obviously be looking back at today's games with more depth in the near future, but for now I must say that there are quite a few key injuries for today's late-game. This could have a heavy impact on your favorite team, or your fantasy team. So read on, and pay close attention.

There are only four games that kick-off shortly, yet somehow there are at least five star players that have already been ruled inactive for their respective games. Here's a brief rundown.

Pierre Garcon, Redskins (foot)

Robert Griffin III's favorite target injured his foot last week in the Skins' upset of the Saints. He was limited in practice on Thursday and Friday, not having practiced fully since Wednesday, and was listed as questionable on the team's official injury report. Aldrick Robinson will start in place of Garcon.

James Harrison, Steelers (knee)

Harrison, recovering from knee surgery about a month ago, will sit out in this afternoon's match-up with the New York Jets. The surgery wasn't anything serious, but it'd be a good idea to be safe and make sure he's 100% recovered before throwing him back in there. Chris Carter is expected to start at LB for James.
Troy Polamalu, Steelers (calf)

Polamalu has had trouble staying healthy and on the field the past couple of seasons and it appears as though 2012 may be no different. In a Week 1 loss at Denver, Polamalu strained his right calf and had not participated in practice. Ryan Mundy will make the start in his place. It will be interesting to see how Pittsburgh's defense fares against New York without two of its biggest playmakers on the field.

Darrelle Revis, Jets (concussion)

Revis, founder and President of Revis Island, suffered a mild concussion in New York's beat down of Buffalo last week. Kyle Wilson will start for Revis today, though I don't think this is anything for Jets' fans to be too concerned about. It was a "mild" concussion and sitting out this week is likely due to the new(ish) rules about concussions. Better safe than sorry.

Dustin Keller, Jets

Revis isn't the only Jet starter to be inactive today. Much like the opponents in today's match-up (Pittsburgh), the Jets will sit two key starters due to injury. Keller, 1 catch for 7 yards last week, injured his hamstring and sat out Thursday's practice after suffering soreness. With Stephen Hill's breakout game last week, I'm not so sure Mark Sanchez will miss Keller too much.
Antonio Gates, Chargers (rib)

Having not played a full season since 2009, and only four games last season, this year was supposed to be Gates' comeback season. Uhh, maybe not? Gates hurt his ribs in last Monday's Week 1 finale against the Raiders. He and the San Diego coaching staff were hopeful that he'd play after he was limited in practice on Friday, but it was recently announced he'll be inactive for the game.

Ryan Mathews, Chargers (broken collarbone)

Mathews is another guy who was expected to experience a breakout season in 2012. Mathews, however, broke his collarbone on his very first carry of the preseason on August 9. Still recovering, I wouldn't expect Mathews to miss too much additional time after today's game.

All seven injuries will surely impact outcomes today. Crazy to think this many injuries have been sustained before Week 2 even got underway.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Thursday Night Football: League's Most-Storied Rivalry Renewed

Yet another first for the 2012 NFL season tonight, as tonight marks the first Thursday Night Football matchup of the season. And it's only Week 2.

One of the great moves, in my opinion, for this season is the fact that primetime Thursday football takes place throughout the entire season rather than mid-to-late in the season like previous seasons.

The 0-1 Green Bay Packers, led by reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers, will play host to the 1-0 Chicago Bears tonight (on NFL Network) as the National Football League's fiercest and most-storied rivalry renews.
In 182 all-time regular season meetings, the Bears currently hold a 91-85-6 series lead. The teams have only met twice in the postseason, however, and that series is tied at 1-1. The first-ever meeting between the two teams came on November 21, 1921, back when the Bears were named the Chicago Staleys. According to, the "Staleys" won that game 20-0 and virtually owned the rivalry early on, winning seven of the first 10 match-ups.

As of late, the Chicago/Green Bay rival has been dominated by the green and gold, posting a 7-2 head-to-head record, including a 21-14 NFC Championship victory, since the start of the 2008 regular season.

Now that we have a bit of background information on the league's oldest rivalry, it's time to get on with business. Chicago defeated the Indianapolis Colts 41-21 on Sunday in rookie Andrew Luck's pro debut. The Packers on the other hand, were shocked at home by the NFC runner-ups from last season in San Francisco, 30-22.
Green Bay lost just one regular season game all of last year, but all of a sudden in the first week of play they find themselves sitting at 0-1. Clearly no one is going to be panicking after one week of a 16-game season, but if anyone wants this game more, it's the Packers.

Despite the news that Pro Bowl wideout Greg Jennings (groin) will not be active tonight, I believe the Packers will win on its home turf at Lambeau Field. My prediction: Chicago 21, Green Bay 35

Enjoy tonight's game!

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Key to Eagles Success: Less Vick, More McCoy

Week 1 nearly turned disastrous for the Philadelphia Eagles, who narrowly escaped with a victory. Leading 10-3 at the half, Philadelphia blew the lead by surrendering 13 unanswered points in the third and fourth quarters.

It wasn't until quarterback Michael Vick threw for a four-yard touchdown to third-year tight end Clay Harbor with just over a minute to play that the Eagles finally re-took the lead for good. The Eagles may have gotten the eventual W, but in the end the Browns may have gotten more out of this one.

Cleveland's rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden struggled all the way through, completing just 12 of his 35 pass attempts for 118 yards and four interceptions. But considering it was his first NFL start and he received little support from the running game, led by fellow rookie RB Trent Richardson, this was expected.

Philadelphia's offense controlled the game clock, running for 150 yards on 30 attempts and possessing the ball for nearly 36 minutes of play. Despite his 317 yards and 2 TD passes, Vick had one of the worst passing games of his career. Setting a career-high in attempts, with 56, Vick completed just 52% of his passes and tossed four interceptions to Cleveland defenders, including one of which went for a touchdown.

What's most confusing about the game is the fact that Vick threw so many passes while All Pro running back LeSean McCoy carried the ball just 20 times throughout the game. Last season's fifth-ranked rushing offense was extremely effective with its 30 total carries, averaging five yards per carry. Vick's career yards per pass attempt sits at just over seven yards, while he managed just around 5.5 Y/A Sunday against Cleveland's 24th ranked pass defense.

So what went wrong for Philadelphia's offense, and why did they manage just 17 points against a team that ranked third-to-last in scoring offense last season and threw four picks? Simple. The Eagles used too much of Vick, and not enough McCoy.
There are numbers that prove my theory.

Last season, McCoy ran the ball more than 20 times in a game on five separate occasions. He ran for 100 or more yards in four of those games and scored six touchdowns on the ground as the Eagles posted a 4-1 record. In the remaining of McCoy's 15 games last season, he ran the ball under 20 times and recorded just two 100-yard games but, more importantly, Philadelphia managed just a 3-7 record over that span.

Sure, McCoy scored more times on the ground (11) in games in which he received less touches, but overall he was much more productive when comparing yards/game and TDs/game.

>20 carries: 118 yards, 1.2 TDs per game
<20 1.1="1.1" 71.9="71.9" carries:="carries:" game="game" i="i" per="per" tds="tds" yards="yards">

How Andy Reid and his coaching staff has yet to realize this and put this into effect, A.K.A. give McCoy more carries, is beyond me. I'm sure they have realized it and maybe are just too stubborn to take the ball out of Vick's hands and into the 24-year old back's hands.

But I will not stop here. No, I have just a bit more findings to share with you concerning Vick's poor passing day against the Browns. From what I've seen, Vick is actually the opposite of McCoy. He's most effective in smaller doses.

In his eight seasons with Atlanta and Philadelphia, Vick has never thrown more than 50 passes in a single game, which is exactly why this puzzles me so much. Over his career he has passed 40+ times just eight times (including Sunday) and has posted a record of 1-6-1 in those games. Another interesting stat of Vick's is that Sunday was also just his second career 4 interception game, the other coming last October against the Bills, a game in which he attempted 40 passes.

His TD/INT ratio in those eight games sits at 12/14 with a completion percentage of a mere 55. Clearly he has proved ineffective and the results haven't been in his favor when receiving a considerable amount of attempts per game. Other quarterbacks in pass-heavy offenses such as Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and even Ben Roethlisberger can handle a large workload (in terms of pass attempts/game) and still be effective. But that's just not Vick's style.
His career record as starter, when you take away those eight games, is 54-31. Since taking over the starting role for Philly at the beginning of the 2010 regular season, Vick's record is 16-9. Taking away any games in which he threw for 40+ passes and his record as the Eagles' starter stands at 15-5.

He's 2-4 in the postseason during his career, but 2-0 in postseason games in which he doesn't throw an interception. As quarterback, mistake-free football is vital. And, though it isn't quite evident in his postseason history (hasn't thrown 40+ in a postseason game before), Vick's team, whether it was in his Falcon days or his current Philly days, has the best shot of victory when he's passing between 20 and 30 times.

And McCoy is most effective when he receiving more than 20 carries a game. So why, exactly, has Reid and Co. chosen to ignore this interesting finding? Well, that's beyond me. Does anyone really know what goes on inside of his head?

McCoy's career-high in attempts per game is 30, and that number has been reached just one time. But I'd expect him to see 30+ on numerous occasions this season. He should've reached that feat this past Sunday actually, considering the Eagles held a lead for nearly the entire third quarter of play.

McCoy ran the ball just five times in the third while Vick attempted 12 passes, two of which were intercepted by Joe Haden and L.J. Fort. Reid should have come out of the halftime break pounding the ball with McCoy to run down some clock. With a 7-point lead, why wouldn't you?

Anyways, maybe Reid will get it right eventually. If he wants to improve to 2-0 this weekend he will absolutely need to find the right mixture (30+ touches for McCoy; >40 attempts for Vick). Baltimore's defense––two turnovers forced, four sacks in 44-13 victory over Cincinnati Sunday night––will not be taking it easy on Vick and this offense. And why should they?

McCoy will need to see the ball early and often in order to be successful against a team such as Baltimore.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Night Preview: Two Division Rivalries Set for ESPN Doubleheader

As if yesterday's slate of action couldn't get any better. Tonight, ESPN will continue its relatively new tradition of airing a double-header on the first Monday night of the season. The best part about that is it will include two division rivalries.

The first game, set to kick-off at 7 p.m. eastern time, will be between the Cincinnati Bengals and my AFC representative in SB XLVII––the Baltimore Ravens. Now, it isn't the fiercest rivalry in the AFC North, that obviously belongs to BAL/PIT, but it still always makes for a great matchup.

Second-year quarterback Andy Dalton will lead his Bengals offense, complete with new starting running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, into Baltimore to face Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. One of the top defenses in the game, it will be a tough matchup for the Bengals, who ranked 18th in overall offense just last season.
Some "experts" may have Cincinnati in the playoffs this season as a wild card team, but I kind of felt this team was a bit overrated last season. At 9-7 last year, there's no way they'll manage to get in the playoffs this season if they repeat that performance. Of course I'm only previewing tonight's game, not how the two seasons will go for these two teams (that's already been done).

This will be Joe Flacco's first shot at proving he can lead this team to the big one, and I think he'll come through against Cincinnati's defense. Baltimore wins this one tonight, 28-17.

As for the night cap of the doubleheader, set to kick-off at approximately 10:15 p.m. eastern time, is between the Chargers (8-8 last season, just missing the playoffs) and the Raiders (also 8-8 last season). Philip Rivers is another signal caller who is trying to prove he can win the big games when it matters as he leads his Charger offense into Oakland's black hole for primetime.
With San Diego's unproven starting running back Ryan Mathews (broken collarbone) rule out for tonight's game, it will be the veteran Ronnie Brown, a former Dolphin, who will get the start.

I don't see the running game for San Diego having a huge effect on the outcome, but I believe Rivers and his arm will be enough to trump Oakland's Carson Palmer on his own turf. San Diego wins 21-10.

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Sunday Recap: RGIII Leads Long List of Impressive Performances

When the Washington Redskins gave up three draft picks (first rounders in 2013 and 2014 and second rounder in 2012) just to move up four slots and select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick, I was very skeptic.

Throughout the offseason, in fact, I have admittedly been skeptic of this move by the Redskins front office. There's no doubt Griffin is a great quarterback who will be a solid professional, and was the second-best QB in the 2012 draft class. I just didn't see how giving up three high draft picks would allow the Skins offense to succeed immediately.

Would they be able to build a potent offense around him without those two first round picks in 2013 and 2014? That was my biggest question.

But after watching Griffin tear New Orleans' defense a new one (albeit without defensive captain Jonathan Vilma) yesterday afternoon, throwing for 320 yards and two TDs with guys such as Pierre Garcon, Aldrick Robinson and rookie running back Alfred Morris as the offense around him, RGIII has me second guessing myself.

No one is more excited than Washington fans, who have struggled at the quarterback position for years, maybe even a couple of decades. The Skins have not had a capable quarterback since at least Mark Rypien and Doug Williams in the late '80s and early '90s. It's been long overdue for the people in D.C., and maybe. Just maybe. Griffin and Mike Shanahan's Redskin offense can defy my criticism and compete in the East this season. Although, it's just one game, and I will continue to stand by my statement (that Washington will sit in last place by season's end) until RGIII further proves himself.
Griffin trumped the remaining rookie quarterbacks yesterday, by far. Andrew Luck, who's supposed to be the most pro-ready, quarterbacked the Colts to two scoring drives but threw three picks in a 41-21 loss to Chicago's Jay Cutler. Luck did manage to top 300 yards and put the ball into the end zone (four-yard TD pass to Donnie Avery in the fourth), but Luck only managed to complete 23 of his 45 pass attempts and never really demonstrated poise in the pocket and a strong throwing arm.

Chicago's stout defense ate him up for three sacks and a lost fumble, in addition to those three picks. For Luck, it was certainly a forgettable game, as it was for the other three rookie signal callers: Ryan Tannehill, Brandon Weeden and Russell Wilson.

Tannehill, the No. 8 overall pick of the Dolphins, was stuck with an unfortunate situation much like Luck, facing a very tenacious Houston defense. Tannehill really didn't stand a chance, being sacked three times and intercepted three additional times in a 30-10 defeat on the road.

Weeden, Cleveland's 28-year old No. 22 overall pick, had a showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles and, despite a porous performance under center (12/35, 118 yards, 4 INTs) fell just short of upsetting Michael Vick's Eagles. Vick threw four interceptions himself, so of course Weeden got a little help from the defense in this one, but even if the Browns had pulled off a victory, Weeden's four interception day would still not be anything to celebrate.
The fifth and final rookie quarterback to suit up for his respective team this weekend was Seattle's Russell Wilson, who was taking on the Cardinals. Arizona, in a 20-16 victory, had a little quarterback trouble of their own with starter John Skelton coming down with what has been announced a "low ankle sprain" (timetable for return is unknown). Kolb was forced to take over as he went 6/8 for 66 yards and a TD.

Wilson was a little less impressive than Kolb in his pro debut for Seattle, looking uncomfortable in the pocket and erratic with some of his passes. He finished the day by completing just 18 of his 34 pass attempts with one touchdown and an interception. The numbers proved to look better than Weeden's four interceptions, but he still certainly has some things he can improve on heading into his Week 2 matchup with Denver's defense.

Lets just get right down to it, the rookie quarterbacks (aside from Griffin, who didn't show much weakness against New Orleans), have a little bit of work to do before this weekend.

As for the rest of the NFL, there are teams that came right out of the tunnel and proved to all of us critics that the preseason doesn't mean squat. Just look at New York, for instance. The Jets scored just one touchdown in all four of its preseason match-ups. What did they do yesterday afternoon against Buffalo? Oh, no big deal, Mark Sanchez just rocked Buffalo's secondary for 266 yards and three TDs in a 48-28 beatdown.

It was a total team effort, too, as Shonn Greene ran for 94 yards and a TD while the defense picked Ryan Fitzpatrick off three times––Antonio Cromartie returned one of those 40 yards for a touchdown.

Jacksonville showed us that they aren't just going to lay down for any teams. They may not have come out winners, but second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert put up a career-high 260 yards and 2 TDs, taking the Vikings to overtime before falling 26-23 on a Blair Walsh 38-yard field goal.

Other things that caught my attention on Sunday:

*Patriots revamped defense
I mentioned this in my season preview, you know the fact that Bill Belichick went out and upgraded on defense by selecting Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower in the first round. Well, it's already starting to pay off. Hightower recorded five tackles, one of which went for a loss and recovered a fumble for a six-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Who forced the fumble? Jones did, of course. Patriots defeated Tennessee on the road 34-13.

*Manning is back in the record books
Not only did future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning make an impressive Bronco debut in his return to action, defeating the Steelers 31-19 by throwing for 253 yards and 2 TDs. But he also happened to be just the third quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 touchdowns, joining the greats Brett Favre (508) and Dan Marino (420). That's quite a club, I'd say.

*Ryan, Falcons plan on sticking around
The South has been all about Drew Brees' Saints and Cam Newton's rookie performance last season. People seem to be forgetting about the Falcons. Well, in yesterday's 40-point performance against Kansas City, Ryan has grabbed the spotlight once again, throwing for 299 yards and 3 TDs. Clearly he doesn't want us to forget about good old Atlanta.

*Niners trump Rodgers, Packers
In what I thought to be the game of the week, the Alex Smith-led 49ers managed to hand Green Bay its first loss of the season, 30-22. Just remember that the Pack lost one game all of last season. Once again, Smith went mistake-less (threw just five interceptions all of last season) and the Niner defense, looking to prove last season wasn't just a fluke, limited the Packers to just 45 yards on the ground.

*Arizona's QB carousel continues
It was bad enough that the overpaid Kevin Kolb struggled throughout the preseason and lost his starting role to John Skelton. But now, Skelton has suffered a low ankle sprain and may miss a game or two. Can Arizona and All Pro wideout Larry Fitzgerald ever catch a break on offense? The good news: they defeated Seattle anyways.
*Panthers struggle on the ground; fall to Tampa
It sure was an ugly one in Tampa Bay yesterday. Not only did Cam Newton throw two interceptions, but Carolina just couldn't get anything going on the ground. With Jonathan Stewart out, DeAngelo Williams got the start but carried the ball just six times for -1 yards. In total, Carolina ran the ball 13 times for 10 yards. TEN. That is not a typo. Tampa dominated the time of possession, holding the ball for nearly 38 of the 60 minutes of play, yet they still only managed a 16-10 victory. This game should have been a blowout according to the numbers Carolina put up. Ugly game for both squads.
- - - - -

We still have two more games this evening, a double-header on ESPN. First game will be between AFC North rivals Baltimore and Cincinnati, with the winner being the downright leader of the division (Browns and Steelers both lost). The second game is between AFC West rivals San Diego and Oakland.

Hopefully I'll be able to get a quick MNF preview up in a few minutes. Stay tuned!

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Last-Minute Preview (4 of 4): Postseason Seedings and Predictions

You've been waiting long enough. With the first full Sunday of action beginning tomorrow, I thought it was finally time to complete my four-part "Last-Minute Preview" series. Here they are, my 2012 postseason seedings and playoff picks.


1. Baltimore Ravens
2. New England Patriots
3. Houston Texans
4. Denver Broncos
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
6. Tennessee Titans


1. Green Bay Packers
2. San Francisco 49ers
3. Dallas Cowboys
4. Carolina Panthers
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Chicago Bears

Wild Card Round

Texans defeat Titans
Steelers defeat Broncos
Cowboys defeat Bears
Saints defeat Panthers

Divisional Round

Ravens defeat Steelers
Texans defeat Patriots
Packers defeat Saints
49ers defeat Cowboys

Conference Championship

Ravens defeat Texans
Packers defeat 49ers
Super Bowl XLVII (in New Orleans, LA)

Packers defeat Ravens

MVP: Aaron Rodgers––No. 2 of his eight-year career

Joe Flacco falls just short of proving to everyone he can win the big one. Strangely enough, the way my seedings and picks have come out, there are a couple of rematches from last season's playoffs: Steelers/Broncos, Ravens/Texans, and of course we (according to me, anyways) will get to witness yet another classic Steerlers vs. Ravens playoff battle.

This will be the first playoff meeting in which the Ravens actually manage to edge the stingy Steelers. It;s short-lived, however, as the Packers and it's pass-heavy offense trumps the Ray Lewis-led Baltimore squad in New Orleans.

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Another Note: My Week 1 picks for tomorrow have been posted in the "Picks" tab.

Last-Minute Preview (3 of 4): Regular Season Awards

Who will be the big surprise this season? Can Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady capture another MVP award? How about the rookies, will RGIII and Andrew Luck live up to the hype while taking over teams with disastrous 2011 campaigns?

Well, here's the answer to a couple of the above questions with my 2012 Regular Season Awards (with a couple additional awards/superlatives thrown in at the end). It's the third of four parts to my season preview.

MVP: Arian Foster
Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers (had to pick someone other than Foster)
Defensive Player of the Year: Patrick Willis
Breakout Player: Stevan Ridley/Dez Bryant
Comeback Player of the Year: Peyton Manning
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Justin Blackmon
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Whitney Mercilus
Coach of the Year: Gary Kubiak

Additional awards

Most disappointing performance: Tim Tebow
Best Player on a new Team: Peyton Manning/Mario Williams

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Another Note: My Week 1 picks for tomorrow have been posted in the "Picks" tab.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Last-Minute Preview (2 of 4): NFC Division-by-Division Outlook

Here's preview article No. 2 of four: The NFC side of things.

The season officially kicked off last night with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants opening up NFC East division play.

Here's how the rest of the NFC East will play out...oh and also the NFC North, South and West as well, if that tickles your fancy.

East: Dallas Cowboys

I have been toying with the idea of Manning and his defending champs making a repeat at the East this season, but even before I predicted New York to defeat Dallas last night (which they didn't) I made the bold decision to pick Romo and his Cowboys to take the division this year. As I've stated before, Romo really is a great quarterback. His numbers show that, he just hasn't had the playoff success he'd hope for just yet. But neither has Matt Ryan and he's never been seen as a terrible quarterback. Romo stepped up and showed he can come up clutch last night. He has the tools on offense to put points on the board week-in and week-out, with receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant (plus Ogletree, who I'm not sold on like everyone else seems to be after one great game). DeMarco Murray's return brings a potent rushing attack back to the offense as well.

Led by DeMarcus Ware's two sacks last night, Dallas stepped up the defense and forced a couple of Victor Cruz drops while limiting New York to just 269 total yards and 17 points. Making upgrades in the secondary with Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne taking over the corner roles, Dallas' 23rd ranked pass defense looks to be taking strides at improving this season (7th against run).

Competition will be stiff in the East, with the exception of Washington. Everyone seems to be convinced that the Colts and Skins will both be immediate title contenders now that they have Luck and RGIII on their side. Not the case. The Skins do have a great defense, a defense that ranked 13th overall last season. But the offensive side of the ball is nowhere near where it needs to be in order to compete with Dallas, New York and Philly this season. The Giants will be playoff contenders with virtually the same team as last season, while Philadelphia and Washington see similar fates as last season. I'm not buying into a bounce-back season from Michael Vick unless he takes better care of his body on the field. Washington just barely fails to reach .500 in 2012.

North: Green Bay Packers

I'm completely convinced that the Packers can somehow improve on its 15-1 regular season from last year. Yes, that means that perhaps 16-0 could be possible for reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers and his offense. Why not? Last season the Pack ranked third in passing offense and Rodgers only seems to get better with each passing year. The run game, however, was an embarrassing 27th in '11. That's why the front office brought in the once-troubled Cedric Benson (three consecutive 1,000 yard seasons) to take over the starting role at running back. When Rodgers isn't throwing bullets to Pro Bowlers Greg Jennings, Donald Driver and fantasy stud Jordy Nelson, Benson will be bowling over defenders.

The defense was top three in the Pack's Super Bowl run two seasons ago before taking a step back last season and becoming a sort of 'kryptonite' for the team––if there's such a thing for a 15-1 team. Once again, though, Green Bay made a bold decision, selecting six defenders with its eight draft picks in April. Former USC Trojan Nick Perry will complement All Pro Clay Matthews III on the outside while B.J. Raji and Charles Woodson/Tramon Williams continue to patrol the middle and backside of the line of scrimmage, respectively. The playmakers are all there for the defense, it's just a matter of keeping it all together each week.

Much like the East, the North division has three teams that will be in the middle of the playoff hunt and the fourth, Minnesota, may not be as far behind as we may think. The Jay Cutler/Brandon Marshall reunion may be quite the crowd pleaser in Chicago, but it will be the defense that will keep the Bears in the middle of the Wild Card hunt. In Detroit, all eyes will be on Matthew Stafford and Madden cover boy Calvin Johnson, but the lack of a run game may be the weakness of the Lions that could prevent another playoff run. Minnesota's fans have been anticipating Adrian Peterson's return for months now and at this point I'm just hoping he can return to his 1,700 yard form from 2008 (doubtful).
South: Carolina Panthers

This is without a doubt the stunner of my division previews and I'm sure you're thinking I'm crazy for this one, but hear me out..I'm a firm believer in Cam Newton as a quarterback, and do not believe a "sophomore slump" is headed his way. Improving four games from 2010, the Panthers are clearly on the way up and after Newton's record-breaking 4,000 passing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns as a rookie, I'd like to think he can keep that balance between pass/run and not turn into a bigger version of Michael Vick. Perhaps more of a Randall Cunningham? Remember, he was a solid passer in terms of accuracy and (a little) a rookie. With maturity and leadership, he could turn this team around as early as this season. Not to mention he's got a healthy DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart back.

Last season Carolina's defense was atrocious (28th overall; 24th vs. pass, 25th vs. run, 26.8 PA) and often cost the team ballgames simply because of a lack of limiting the other team's offense and forcing turnovers. Or perhaps it was a result of a lack of leadership on the field. With middle linebacker Jon Beason out for the entire season, Carolina really didn't have anyone to lean on when the defense was on the field. Well, he's back and the front office has made some upgrades, including drafting Luke Kuechly with the No. 9 overall pick. Leadership and depth could go along way to return the defense to at least a middle-of-the-pack unit this season.

Sure, New Orleans would be the easy pick to win the South. But I like to be bold every once in a while. The Saints have a great offense, clearly, but the defense has taken a hit as well as they coaching staff following the whole Bounty Scandal this off-season. They will need an interim for the interim head coach for six games this year. Head coach Sean Payton will be out the entire season while Joe Vitt is gone for six games. That's gotta have some sort of effect on this squad. Not enough to keep them out of the playoffs, however, and I believe it may be the Falcons that will be fighting for their playoff lives coming out of the South this season. For Tampa, it will take much more than Josh Freeman proving himself as an NFL quarterback to come out alive in this division.
West: San Francisco 49ers

Possibly the easiest division to predict a winner out of both the NFC and the NFC. It's tough to positively tell whether or not Alex Smith's breakout 2011 campaign wasn't a fluke, but there's no way he'll come out this season and go back to his old self. With head coach Jim Harbaugh leading the way, San Francisco's offensive attack will be top five in the conference. I believe the No. 1 reason for the offensive success last season, especially late, was that Smith didn't turn the ball over, neither did the rest of the offense. Ten. Just 10 times last season. That's four less turnovers than the No. 2 Packers in that category. If you're protecting the ball that well, you're going to win games whether or not your defense is tops in the league.

Luckily for San Francisco though, they also just so happened to be the No. 1 overall defense on the way to a 13-3 regular season record and a division title, five games ahead of the second place Cardinals (8-8) in the West. The offense didn't turned the ball over while the ball-hawk defense did the opposite, and that's force turnovers. No. 2 in scoring defense and tied for first in turnovers, the Niners destroyed opponents in all aspects, leading a once-huge draft bust in Alex Smith (19-31 career record as starter prior to 2011) into nearly a Super Bowl hero. Falling just short of a Super Bowl appearance last winter, the Niners have a shot at redeeming themselves in 2012.

This division, exactly like the way last season turned out, will not even be close unfortunately. Both Seattle and Arizona, despite naming rookie Russell Wilson and John Skelton as starters respectively, still have quarterback issues and a lack of offensive production will destroy any chance of beating out San Fran for the West title. As for St. Louis, they are currently in rebuild mode under new head coach Jeff Fisher, so I feel they will be irrelevant. All things are pointing towards a Niners, Cards, 'Hawks, Rams finish, in that order obviously.

Well, that just about wraps up my division previews. Both conferences have been completed, although I have yet to reveal my playoff seedings and match-ups. Sorry, but you'll have to wait just a tad bit longer for those (either later tonight or tomorrow). In addition to my regular season awards, which are sure to blow your mind––or maybe you know just as much as I do??

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