Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NFL Week 3 Awards: Eli Manning Bests Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles

There's never a dull moment in the NFL.

Week 3 featured some huge upsets. A few big streaks ended, there were final second and overtime wins and there were even two safeties scored.

With so much going on it was tough to tell who really shined through (and who blew it).

With that in mind here are the awards for the best and worst from Week 3 in the NFL.

MVP of the Week

Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders

After the game McFadden talked about coach Hue Jackson’s philosophy of being a bully on the field, and McFadden showed that he is fully buying into that as he dominated one of the best run defenses in the league on Sunday.

McFadden became only the third player to rush for 100-plus yards against the Jets since Rex Ryan took over as head coach in 2009, as he rushed for 171 yards and two touchdowns in the Raiders ten-point victory over the Jets. He outran the Jets offense himself, as their entire team only ran for 100 yards total.

Honorable Mentions: Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens; Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants; Dan Bailey, K,Dallas Cowboys

Bust of the Week

Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

All the talk during the week was about whether Vick would play or not because of a concussion. Well maybe he shouldn’t have.

Only 176 yards passing. Zero touchdowns to one interception. Three fumbles, although they were all recovered by the Eagles. An early exit from the game because of a hand injury. And the team lost.

Could anything have gone worse for Vick? Is he starting to break down under immense pressure of being the $100 million man?

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots; Willis McGahee, RB, Denver Broncos;New York Jets defense

Surprise of the Week

Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants

Manning had two touchdowns and two interceptions coming into the game. He had been very inconsistent at quarterback, missing his passes, getting sacked and turning the ball over. Talk had started whether the Giants would be better off getting the No.1 draft pick and taking Andrew Luck.

Going against the Philadelphia Eagles and their much-hyped secondary, not much was expected from Manning.

Then he went and had a phenomenal game: 70-percent completion percentage, 254 yards, four touchdowns, 145.7 quarterback rating, and ZERO turnovers of any kind.

Who knew he had it in him?

Will this upcoming week start a new, successful trend for Manning? Or was this just a one-week fluke?Either way he was a big surprise in Week 3.

Honorable Mentions: two safeties scored (one by the Bengals, the other by the Panthers); Detroit Lions 20-point comeback; Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City Chiefs

Disappointment of the Week

New England Patriots

The loss to the undefeated Bills in Buffalo isn’t the bad part. Or even that the Pats had won 15 consecutive games against the Bills; every streak eventually comes to an end.

It’s everything about how they lost that is disappointing, well, at least for the team and all its fans.

New England gave up a 21-0 lead to start the game. They blew a 24-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter. Tom Brady threw four interceptions. The defense didn’t create a single sack.

Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski had great games and deserved a win for their efforts. But the Patriots went back to their old ways, failing in the fourth quarter of games.

It’s not time to hit the panic button yet, but this was not a good day for the Patriots at all.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Miami Dolphins; Philadelphia Eagles; Atlanta Falcons

Rookie of the Week

Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens

His first three receptions of his career? All touchdowns.

Smith, filling in for the injured Lee Evans, had three touchdowns all in the first quarter, putting the Ravens up 21-0, dictating the pace of the game. It was all Ravens on the scoreboard and they were going to do it by gaining a lot of yards on offense.

Smith finished the game with five receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns.

The Rams secondary will never forget watching Smith run past all of them.

Honorable Mentions: Dan Bailey, K, Dallas Cowboys; Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers; Julio Jones,WR, Atlanta Falcons

Tough Luck

Kenny Britt, WR, Tennessee Titans

The Rutgers-alumnus was having the best start to his career. He had 17 receptions, 289 yards and three touchdowns.

He was clearly emerging as a true No.1 wide receiver for the Titans, a position they’ve been lacking at the past couple of years and although many thought Britt had great potential, he hadn’t lived up to it until this season. New quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has gone as far to say that Britt is the best player on the Titans roster.

Then he tore his ACL and MCL. And now he’s out for the season.

Not only will he miss a season of development, but it seriously hurts the chances of the Titans to surprise a lot of people and win the AFC South. Currently they’re tied for first with a 2-1 record, but with Chris Johnson struggling and a lack of wide receivers stepping up that offense could seriously stall.

Honorable Mentions: Minnesota Vikings; Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots; Rob Gronkowski, TE,New England Patriots

Photo Credits.
Eli Manning: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

Sunday, September 25, 2011

NFL Week 3 Picks: Buffalo Bills to End 15 Game Skid Against New England Patriots

It’s only Week 3 and there are some huge divisional matchups already.

The NFC East dukes it out against each other with the Giants looking to get revenge against the Eagles after last year’s fourth quarter meltdown and the Redskins look to remain undefeated and at the top of the division against their archrivals, the Cowboys.

In the AFC East both the Patriots and Bills are 2-0 when they will square off so something will have to give. Can Buffalo overcome 15 straight losses to New England and remain undefeated?

The NFC South will see Atlanta travel to Tampa Bay. Who will be the steadier and more consistent quarterback, Matt Ryan or Josh Freeman? And who will be the bigger workhorse on the ground, Michael Turner or LeGarrette Blount?

And finally in the NFC North there will be a rematch of last season’s NFC championship game between Green Bay and Chicago, which is always a slugfest.

I have my opinion on who will come out on top. Who do you think will win these games and the rest of the Week 3 matchups?

Houston (2-0) at New Orleans (1-1)

The Texans’ defense and their legitimacy as a playoff contender will be put to the test against the Saints high-powered offense.

Drew Brees always seems to come up big in crucial moments, especially at home, where the team has lost only five total games since 2009. And Brees has a ridiculously large collection of weapons in his arsenal that he can use.

New Orleans wins.

New York Giants (1-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)

Michael Vick was severely banged up last week. But he has been cleared to play.

Working in his advantage is the barrage of injuries the Giants have on the defensive-side of the ball. DE Osi Umenyiora is out and CB Prince Amukamara is questionable. Linebackers Jonathan Goff and Clint Sintim are on injured reserve and their replacements are still in an adjustment period this early. DE Justin Tuck missed the first week and Mathias Kiwanuka missed time in the preseason.

If guys were healthy this defense would be able to get to Michael Vick enough to make him uncomfortable, especially considering how bad the Eagles’ offensive line is. But the Giants are far from healthy, let alone playing well right now.

Philadelphia wins.

Jacksonville (1-1) at Carolina (0-2)

Cam Newton has done well so far in his debut NFL season, but last week against the Packers he showed that he wasn’t quite ready to be the go-to-guy on the Panthers. His three interceptions proved costly as Green Bay scored 23 straight points to come back from being down 13-0.

What Carolina needs to do more of is run the ball. Not only does Newton lead the team in rushing yards, but he’s also first in rushing attempts.

If the Panthers DeAngelo Williams better (who they just resigned to a nice contract this offseason—time to earn your paycheck!) than Newton won’t be forced to try and win the game single handedly. His stats won’t be as good, but the record will improve. And that’s obviously more important.

Carolina wins.

New England (2-0) at Buffalo (2-0)

The Patriots have won 15straight against the Bills. However, this Bills team is pretty strong and to prove that they are a competitive team, this will be the time they finally end the streak thanks in part to home field advantage.

The Patriots will be without tight end Aaron Hernandez, and they released Dan Gronkowski so that leaves them with only one tight end. They have plenty of other options, evident of their No. 1 ranked passing offense, but don’t think the Hernandez injury takes away a wrinkle from that offense.

The Bills can offer something good here though. They have scored the most point in the NFL so far this season (the Patriots aren’t too far behind though to give credit where it is due). The Bills are tied for the biggest point different. Buffalo also has almost half the penalties the Patriots do and 74 fewer penalty yards.

The Patriots pass defense is 31st in the league, so the Bills will be able to pass when they need to and can fight in a shootout. But the biggest help to them will be the running game. They have the top ranked rushing offense, at 193 yards per game and Fred Jackson leads the NFL in rushing yards. So not only will the Bills be able to pass against the Pats defense but they can run the ball, hold onto possession and keep Tom Brady and the Pats prolific offense off the field for good stretches of time limiting the damage they can do.

It’ll be a shootout, but for this game the Bills will at least temporarily end their terrible streak against New England.

Buffalo wins.

Miami (0-2) at Cleveland (1-1)

Since last season Miami is a putrid 1-10 at home. That being said, that also means they are 6-2 on the road. It doesn’t make any sense and they won’t be a good playoff team with that kind of home record but that’s the way things are right now and an away game against a mediocre Browns team could be the trick to earn Miami its first win of the season.

The Dolphins offense is doing well, currently ninth in the league in passing and eighth in rushing. They just need to put the ball in the end zone.

Miami wins.

San Francisco (1-1) at Cincinnati (1-1)

The Bengals did some good things last week against the Broncos, but there was a big distraction this week. On Wednesday police seized 2.5 pounds of marijuana from wide receiver Jerome Simpson’s home. Also present—although he denies taking part in any illegal activities—was tackle Anthony Collins.

Add this to Cedric Benson’s three-game suspension and the Bengals are in a lot of trouble. They continue to have off-field issues with the law and that does take a toll on the team’s play on the field.

San Francisco wins.

Denver (1-1) at Tennessee (1-1)

Even with Chris Johnson only rushing for 77 yards in two games, the Titans’ offense looks good. Matt Hasselbeck looks very good throwing the ball this year and Kenny Britt has been beastly the first two weeks of the season.

Britt has 271 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s two games and is finally living up to some of his potential. He could have another good game against an inconsistent and unimpressive Broncos team.

Tennessee wins.

Detroit (2-0) at Minnesota (0-2)

Even with a 120 yard, two touchdown performance from Adrian Peterson and 220-plus passing yards and no turnovers from Donovan McNabb the Vikings still couldn’t win. They still couldn’t beat the Buccaneers even though they held a 20-10 advantage with 9:41 remaining in the game.

The Lions are one of the hottest and most talked about teams in football right now. They’re fun to watch.

Detroit wins.

Baltimore (1-1) at St. Louis (0-2)

The Ravens should’ve beaten the Titans last weekend, but three turnovers helped to make the Ravens look like they came into the game overconfident. Two of those three turnovers were Joe Flacco interceptions.

The Ravens were also 3-10 on third downs, and the later the game got with the Ravens still behind the more they needed to throw. Flacco completed only 47-percent of his passes.

The point is the Ravens are at their best when they’re running the ball with Ray Rice. Lucky for them so far this season the Rams are last in defending the run, allowing 177.5 yards per game.

Baltimore wins.

New York Jets (2-0) at Oakland Raiders (1-1)

The Jets defense came up huge against the Jaguars in Week 2, picking off four passes and only allowing the Jags to score a total of three points.

The Jets have had their difficulty on offense, but the Raiders are 21st defending the pass and 27th against the run, giving New York a nice opportunity to finally get the offense going in a positive direction.

The Raiders couldn’t even stop the Bills, who many consider to be the third best team in the AFC East, behind the Jets.

New York wins.

Kansas City Chiefs (0-2) at San Diego Chargers (1-1)

The Chiefs have lost their two games by an average of 39.5 points per game. Safety Eric Berry is out for the season. And the only thing the Chiefs can do well---run the ball—has been severely jeopardized with the season-ending injury to Jamaal Charles.

The Chargers have Philip Rivers, Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates, Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews. They are also playing at home.

San Diego wins.

Arizona (1-1) at Seattle (0-2)

The cliché is that defense wins games. Yes, it is important to have a good defense, but technically you can’t win if you don’t put points on the board. And the Seahawks have a lot of trouble even moving the ball into field goal range, let alone scoring a touchdown.

Seattle is second-to-last in points scored (17), 28th in passing yards per game (144) and 32nd in rushing yards per game (47.5). Last week against the Steelers the Seahawks didn’t even get past the 50-yard line until the fourth quarter.

Arizona may struggle defensively, but how bad can the Seahawks really hurt them? The Cardinals at least have a nice offense going with Kevin Kolb, Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells.

Arizona wins.

Atlanta (1-1) at Tampa Bay (1-1)

It’s a big early season matchup of teams in the NFC South, and it could go either way.

Tampa Bay and Josh Freeman are incredible at leading comeback victories, but that could be difficult against the Falcons and workhorse running back Michael Turner.

The Falcons are ninth in the league in rushing yards per game (124) while the Buccaneers are 31st in the league in defending the run (156 yards per game allowed).

Tampa Bay gets off to slow starts, scoring only 13 first half points so far this season. If the Falcons do in fact enter the fourth quarter with a lead expect Turner to do a lot of damage to kill the clock.

Atlanta wins.

Green Bay (2-0) at Chicago (1-1)

The Packers bested the Saints, who then went and dominated the Bears. The Packers also beat the Bears two consecutive games and five out of the past seven match-ups between the teams.

Expect a big game from Aaron Rodgers and his stable of good receivers against the Bears secondary.

Green Bay wins.

Pittsburgh (1-1) at Indianapolis (0-2)

Pittsburgh shutout the Seahawks last week and didn’t even allow them to play on their side of the field until the fourth quarter.

The Colts are still without Peyton Manning.

Pittsburgh wins.

Washington (2-0) at Dallas (1-1)

Dallas’s injury list is insanely long right now and it features some very important players.

Wide receiver and Week 2 hero Miles Austin is doubtful with a hamstring injury and didn’t practice Friday. Counterpart Dez Bryant is doubtful with a quadriceps injury, didn’t practice Friday and missed Week 2 because of the injury.

The Cowboys rushing game has not been very good this season early on, ranking 31st in the league with only 54.5 yards per game. Worse news is that leading runner and starting running back Felix Jones is questionable with a shoulder injury.

And then there’s quarterback Tony Romo. His punctured lung has healed but he still has the broken rib. He wasn’t at practice Friday and is listed as questionable. It’s never a good sign though when you have an injury that prevents you from breathing.

If he does happen to play not only will he be without some of his playmakers, he’ll also be hurting in the protection area. Guard Derrick Dockery is out with a fractured tibia and center Phil Costa is questionable with a knee injury. A banged up offensive line means the defense will be able to get to Romo that much easier, and they have already said they’re going to target his ribs.

Washington wins.

Last Week: 9-7

Season: 19-13

Photo Credits.
Ryan Fitzpatrick: AP Photo/Ed Zurga

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Rafa Marquez At the Center of New York Red Bull's Problems

Many things have plagued the New York Red Bulls this season, who after finishing first in the East in 2010 are 7-7-15 and on the brink of missing the playoffs this season, despite the fact that the postseason was expanded to include 10 teams (out of the 18 in the league).

One of those things is the play, attitude and salary of centerback Rafa Marquez.
Don’t tell him that though.

The Red Bulls lost to Real Salt Lake on Wednesday 3-1, seemingly reaching their lowest point of the season. And dragging the team down with him was Marquez, who was responsible for the third goal when he did not stop the ball and let Fabian Espindola dribble down the middle of the field.

“I'm focusing on really performance at my highest level. That doesn't mean that the whole back line can perform at that same level, so that's a problem,” Marquez told reporters after the game. “I think this is a team game, and unfortunately there isn't an equal level between my teammates and I.”

Someone should tell him the boos from the Red Bulls fans every time he touched the ball were indeed for the captain of the Mexican National Team, not Tim Ream or Jan Gunnar Solli.

As a Designated Player, Marquez is making $4.6 million this season. He’s only played in 15 of the team’s 29 matches, mostly because of his commitment to his National Team. He plays well for Mexico. He’s played in 11 games for his country in 2011, made his 100th cap for the team and scored in this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, en route to winning the trophy.

When he suits up for the Red Bulls it’s a different story though.

He’s supposed to be the backbone of the defense and the veteran leader. However Marquez often looks passive and uninterested in the game at hand. He’s sloppy, no longer the crisp passer he was when he came over last season. He’s lazy. Too often the Red Bulls get beat by a player slicing down the middle of the field and on set pieces either because Marquez refuses to step to the ball or he does not pick up a man in the box. He also spends more time complaining to the referees than anything else.

To start the season he was relieved of corner kick duties, not hitting a good enough ball. Coincidentally enough the game after he was removed from that role the team scored off a penalty kick.

It’s gotten to the point where the team plays better without him.

Saturday in Dallas Marquez did not play and the Red Bulls got their first win since July 6, winning 1-0.

Then he’s back in the lineup in a home game against Real Salt Lake and they lose 3-1. Coincidence? I think not.

Marquez has been detrimental to the team on the field. And now his poor demeanor is showing up off the field and affecting the team’s play even more.

The veteran should know better. He should know nothing good comes out of publicly criticizing and bashing your teammates, especially when you’re a big part of the problem.

Marquez should be accountable for his actions both on and off the field. His play, his attitude and his comments deserve to be punished. That punishment can only be one thing at the very least: a benching.

And maybe without Marquez around the Red Bulls can get back to team play and winning. And they won’t need to waste $4.6 million on him.

Photo Credits.
Rafa Marquez: AP Photo/Rich Schultz

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

NFL Week 2 Awards: Miles Austin Has Huge Game for Dallas Cowboys

Big passes, clutch touchdowns and reckless tackles dominated the NFL in Week 2.

People are saying the NFL has become a passing league and some quarterbacks are continuously putting up gaudy numbers. But that also means that the wide receivers are reaping the benefits.

And in clutch situations the best quarterbacks have their go-to-guy, the one they have the upmost confidence in and can rely on to make the huge play.

There was plenty of great quarterback-to-wide receiver combinations that had big days.

Here’s the good, bad and ugly from Week 2.

MVP of the Week

Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys

The Monmouth University alumnus had a huge day propelling the Dallas Cowboys to their first victory of the 2011 NFL season.

Austin collected nine passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those touchdown passes came in the second half and from two different quarterbacks.

He made a fantastic play on the third touchdown, which brought the Cowboys within three points of the lead with 6:55 to go in the fourth quarter. He leaped in the air to make the catch and once the ball was in his hands he began falling to the ground. When it looked like he would be down at the three-yard line, Austin planted his foot before his knee hit the ground and lunged into the end zone.

Honorable Mentions: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots; Fred Jackson, RB, Buffalo Bills; Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions

Bust of the Week

Dunta Robinson, CB, Atlanta Falcons

Robinson must have some kind of secret vendetta against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Last season Robinson made a helmet-to-helmet hit against Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson, giving both him and Jackson concussions. He was fined $50,000 for the hit (Robinson appealed the fine and it was lessened to.

Sunday night Robinson lined up Philadelphia receiver Jeremy Maclin, going in head-first right into Maclin’s helmet, taking him out of the game for a few plays. Even though it was his second offense to the rule, Robinson was fined only $40,000 and received no suspension $25,000).

I’m not sure what’s the worst part of this situation: that Robinson doesn’t know how to tackle a guy without using his head, that head coach Mike Smith supported him, that Robinson didn’t learn from last year or that the NFL didn’t punish him worse for a second offense.

It’s a dirty play, it could hurt not only the guy getting hit but also the guy doing the hitting and it’s making the NFL’s policy look a bit like a farce.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Luke McCown, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars; Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City Chiefs; Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks

Surprise of the Week

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys

He can put up the numbers, we all know that. What we don’t know is what kind of grit Romo has, what kind of poise and clutch ability he has. Time and time again, Romo will find a way to lose the big game, to lose a close game. Turnovers in clutch moments have scarred his legacy thus far in his career.

Sunday, he did something different though.

Romo did not have a single turnover through the game’s entirety, not even in the game’s final and crucial moments. Instead Tony Romo led two scoring drives (one touchdown and one field goal) in the final 6:55 of the game to erase a 10-point deficit. On the drive that sent the game into overtime Romo completed five of six passes. Then in overtime he completed a 77-yard pass to Jesse Holley, who was tackled at the one-yard line before the Cowboys kicked a field goal to win the game.

Oh, and he did all this with a fractured rib.

Romo stepped up big time when many expected him to crumble and fail.

Honorable Mentions: Tennessee Titans; Washington Redskins

Disappointment of the Week

Baltimore Ravens

When the Ravens blew out the Steelers in Week 1 it was thought that it was a statement to the rest of the league that this was going to be the team to beat. Perennial playoff contenders the Ravens put the smackdown on their biggest rival and toughest competition for the division championship.

But the team did not come prepared to play the Titans. It seemed like one of those situations when a team just thinks they’re going to go into the game and wipe the floor with the opposition. The effort and execution weren’t there and the Titans put it to the Ravens.

Turnovers did nothing to help the Raves, throwing two interceptions and fumbling once. Joe Flacco had a bad game posting a 51.2 quarterback rating. And the secondary, something that has been a concern for the Ravens for the past few years, was picked apart by Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselback (30-42, 358 yards).
Proof that in this league you have to do more than just show up.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Jason Hill, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars; Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers; Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers

Rookie of the Week

Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

Yes, Cam Newton threw for 400-plus yards (432) for the second straight week and also rushed for another touchdown. But he threw three interceptions hurting the Panthers chances at a major upset in a game they led 13-0 early on.

Dalton followed up an abbreviated Week 1 debut with a very good game. He completed 66-percent of his passes, threw for 332 yards, had two touchdown passes and did not throw any interceptions.

Dalton completed at least two passes to seven different receivers, really trying to get everyone to have an impact on the game. And the Dalton and A.J. Green combination looked great, combining for 10 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown. He also got 136 receiving yards from Jerome Simpson.

The Bengals need to improve on third downs, where they went 1-11, but Dalton has the early makings of a very good quarterback.

Honorable Mentions: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers; A.J. Green, Cincinnati Bengals; Daniel Thomas, RB, Miami Dolphins

Tough Luck

Oakland Raiders

Forget that they blew an 18-point first quarter lead.

Forget that the Bills responded to a late-Raiders touchdown with seven points of their own with only 14 seconds left.

The Raiders still had a chance to win it. And they almost did. But as the saying goes, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. It’s just exactly how close they came to pulling off the victory that’s tough.

At their own 44-yard line Jason Campbell tossed the ball all the way into the end zone with no time remaining. Wide receiver Denarius Moore (who already had a 50-yard touchdown catch) caught the ball, but so too did Bills cornerback Da’Norris Searcy and the two came down to the ground each clutching the ball. The two wrestled on the ground for a moment, but Searcy pulled away with the ball.

Game over.

Honorable Mentions: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers; Darrelle Revis, CB, New York Jets, for not getting to match-up against Jacksonville Jaguars WR Jason Hill; Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles

Photo Credits.
Miles Austin: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Saturday, September 17, 2011

NFL Week 2 Picks: Michael Vick Will Be Victorious in His Return to Atlanta

Every week in the NFL is important. That being said, statistically speaking Week 2 can be huge for some teams.

If a team starts the season 0-2 their chances of making the playoffs is just above 12-percent. If they go 1-1 then those odds jump to over 40-percent.

Now take a look at some of the teams that lost in Week 1: Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Atlanta and St. Louis.

All those teams were heavy favorites to make the playoffs and possibly win their division. There’s even been talk of getting to the Super Bowl for those teams.

It’s early in the season and not even close for any of these teams to be hitting the panic button, but history shows that it’s important to get at least one victory in the first two weeks of the season.

How will those teams fare this week?

The biggest storyline, however, will be Michael Vick’s return to Atlanta. Vick lead’s his “Dream Team” back to where his NFL career began as well as where it all fell apart. Will Vick rise to the occasion, or will his emotions (and the Falcons pass rush) get the best of him?

Who do you think will win?

Kansas City (0-1) at Detroit (1-0)

The Chiefs were demolished at home in Week 1, a place they only lost at once last season. Now they have to go on the road against a team that was impressive on the road and will look to show their home crowd that this is not their ordinary Lions.

The big issue for Detroit all offseason was that they could contend IF Matthew Stafford was healthy all year. He showed in Week 1 why that is. He threw for 305 yards and had three touchdown passes to go along with a 118.9 quarterback rating. He did have an interception, but not totally his fault as it tipped off of his receiver.

The Chiefs were manhandled by Ryan Fitzpatrick last week, so it should be another big week for Stafford.

Detroit wins.

Oakland (1-0) at Buffalo (1-0)

The trend the past few seasons is that teams that West coast teams that have to travel across the country to the East coast and play in the 1 p.m. game do not fare well at all. Add to the Raiders woes that they played Monday night in the late game of the Monday doubleheader and that means they have less time to prepare and rest.

The Raiders’ play Monday night was also not terribly impressive. They got the win, so that’s good for them. But their three-point victory was done in most part thanks to Denver’s three turnovers, including a fumble by Kyle Orton with the Broncos at the Raiders’ 24-yard line.

Oakland had fewer yards gained, more penalties for more yards, a worse third down completion percentage and also gave up a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Meanwhile the Bills were incredibly efficient mopping up the field with the Chiefs. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a huge day and he should do well against an Oakland secondary that is not as tough to play against without Nmamdi Asomugha.

Buffalo wins.

Tampa Bay (0-1) at Minnesota (0-1)

It was a disappointing start to the season for both teams. There is much more upside to the Buccaneers however.

The Buccaneers are younger and they have better chemistry and continuity than the Vikings do.

Case in point: Minnesota boasts Donovan McNabb as its starting quarterback. He’s always been a great person who does a lot off the field. He’s a likable guy. And he’s done some great things on the football field as well. Sometimes he doesn’t get the credit that he deserves and instead gets more criticism than what’s fair. That being said, his age (34) is starting to show.

Last season with the Washington Redskins he was benched and was a part of an ugly media frenzy regarding his playing time. Lots of things were said but at the end of the day Mike Shanahan, who is known for getting the most out of his quarterbacks, came to the conclusion that McNabb couldn’t play for him.

Now in Week 1 McNabb hit an all-time low, throwing for only 39 yards and posting an ugly 47.9 passer rating.

Josh Freeman’s Week 1 wasn’t anything to write home about, but he at least threw for triple digits in yards. And he had a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter—the only score in the period—to bring the Bucs within a touchdown of the tie, so at least he had some fight in him.

Tampa Bay wins.

Chicago (1-0) at New Orleans (0-1)

Chicago was impressive in Week 1. And maybe they don’t get the credit they deserve. Much like last year they could play well and be successful this year but all you’ll hear pundits say is that they aren’t as good as their record is and that Jay Cutler is an inconsistent quarterback.

Still, are they as good as New Orleans is?

The Saints were tough luck losers to the defending- Super Bowl champs last week even though they put up an impressive offensive performance.

The defense will have to step up and not yield 42 points, no matter how good their offense is. But still with Drew Brees on the field, this team is a strong favorite to play in at least the NFC Championship game.

At home they’ll look to get out their aggressions from last week’s loss.

New Orleans wins.

Baltimore (1-0) at Tennessee (0-1)

The Ravens defense has heard people say that they are getting too old to be effective. And the unit has responded.

The Ravens picked off Ben Roethlisberger three times, made him fumble twice and limited Rashard Mendenhall to only 45 yards rushing and forced him to fumble the ball once as well.

What do you think they’ll do to Chris Johnson, who was a major disappointment with only 24 yards rushing against the Jaguars, and to the injury-prone Matt Hasselbeck?
Baltimore wins.

Cleveland (0-1) at Indianapolis (0-1)

Both teams were ugly in Week 1, but the Colts were uglier.

Kerry Collins, with only a couple weeks to work with the offense, fumbled twice and looked comically out of sorts with his new team after coming out of retirement. And still, he’s much better than the alternative (Curtis Painter).

It’s amazing to think of how valuable Peyton Manning really is. Time and time again he put the team on its shoulders when so many star players around him fell to injury; now with the shoe on the other foot his team cannot function, let alone pick him up.

It’s only one week, but the Colts also were bad on defense and couldn’t run the ball. These have been problems in the past, but they always had Peyton to save them.

Not anymore.

Cleveland wins.

Jacksonville (1-0) at New York Jets (1-0)

The defense was shaky early on, but the Jets pride themselves on their defense and that unit stepped up huge in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys.

They got a big game-winning 50-yard field goal from Nick Folk, something no Cowboy fan ever thought would happen.

The running game will need to step up for the Jets, but if their defense—which only allowed 64 rushing yards last week—can contain Maurice Jones-Drew the Jaguars offense offers little else and is not as dynamic as the Jets offense.

New York wins.

Seattle (0-1) at Pittsburgh (0-1)

Pittsburgh was embarrassed last week. No way they let that happen to them again, especially at home.

Take a look at the Seahawks: Tarvaris Jackson did not look good at quarterback, Sindey Rice did not play because of a shoulder injury and has been ruled out again and they ran the ball for only 64 yards.

This is all without mentioning how bad the special teams play was.

The odds are in the Steelers’ favor for a bounce-back game here.

Pittsburgh wins.

Arizona (1-0) at Washington (1-0)

Yes, the Cardinals did an awful job of defending Cam Newton. But this win wasn’t as bad as people make it out to be.

The Cardinals got great games out of Kevin Kolb (309 passing yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions in his Arizona debut), Beanie Wells (90 yards rushing and a touchdown) and Early Doucet (105 yards, one touchdown). If all these guys continue to perform at similar levels and you throw in Larry Fitzgerald this team may not be so bad.

The Cardinals defense did render the Carolina rushing game rather useless.

The Redskins capitalized on a number of the Giants’ mistakes. They played well but they’ll need the Cardinals to play similarly, and it’s tough to imagine anyone else playing as bad as New York did.

Arizona wins.

Green Bay (1-0) at Carolina (0-1)

It was the Cam Newton show for the Panthers last week and that’s all well and good. But he’s only one guy.

The Packers were the best overall team last year and they look even better this year with an impressive win over the Saints. And a lot of guys played big roles, not just one.

Green Bay wins.

Dallas (0-1) at San Francisco (1-0)

So Alex Smith had a 90.4 passer rating and didn’t turn the ball over?

There were multiple Ted Ginn Jr. sightings?

Frank Gore rushed for only 59 yards and no touchdowns, yet the 49ers still won?

Who is this team?

San Francisco was a pleasant surprise in Week 1.

Dallas was predictable.

A blown lead, a late collapse and a costly fourth quarter Tony Romo turnover? I’m feeling a bit of déjà vu.

San Francisco wins.

San Diego (1-0) at New England (1-0)

The Patriots haven’t lost a regular season home game since 2008. They have won four of the past five meetings against the Chargers.

And as good as Philip Rivers is, he didn’t just throw for 517 yards last week.

New England wins.

Houston (1-0) at Miami (0-1)

Houston did a great job against the Colts in Week 1. Derrick Ward and Ben Tate played very well replacing Arian Foster, who looks like he will return to action this weekend. The defense played well. Also, Matt Schaub is still hooking up with Andre Johnson.

The Texans still managed to lose the turnover battle though, with a lost fumble and two interceptions thrown.

The Dolphins played the Patriots tightly, but were no match against a clearly superior team. The defense underperformed (which might be too kind of an assessment) but the offensive skill players played well.

Chad Henne may have been forgotten about because of Tom Brady’s enormous game, but
Henne still threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns. He did throw an interception, but it was a toss-up at the end of the game in an attempt to get a long-scoring play to make the game tighter. He also lead the team in rushing yards and had a rushing touchdown.

Reggie Bush had a good night with 94 all-purpose yards and a touchdown, and Brandon Marshall was unstoppable. New England had a lot of problems matching up with Marshall as the receiver went off for 139 yards.

Miami got a bit predictable when throwing to Marshall, but Bush, Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano all played well enough to force Henne to trust his other options instead of jamming it down the field to Marshall.

Miami wins.

Cincinnati (1-0) at Denver (0-1)

Kyle Orton threw for 304 yards yet the home crowd still chanted for Tim Tebow, who is considered the third quarterback on the depth chart.

The Broncos bested the Raiders in yards, third down conversions and penalties but still lost.

Champ Bailey, Brandon Lloyd and Knowshon Moreno all ended up watching the end of the game from the sidelines.

None of that is good news for Denver.

For the Bengals, Andy Dalton has been cleared to play against the Broncos and is expected to start.

Cincinnati wins.

Philadelphia (1-0) at Atlanta (0-1)

It will be a pretty emotional game. The city of Atlanta loved Michael Vick. And they were heartbroken when his legal trouble brought his tenure there to an end.

The city has since rebounded with Matt Ryan and the team is doing well generally speaking, but Michael Vick is still the most entertaining player in the NFL. It seems like everyone wants a chance to play with him.

And he once was property of the Falcons.

The fans will have a little impact on the game, but the ball won’t be in their hands. It will be in Vick’s. And you have to imagine that he’s had this game circled for quite some time.

There shouldn’t be any animosity on Vick’s part towards the city of Atlanta or the Falcons’ organization, but one would think he would be incredibly excited to show off in front of his former team. He must be salivating at leading his star-studded team up against a side that got rocked last weekend.

We could all be in for a show.

Philadelphia wins.

St. Louis (0-1) at New York Giants (0-1)

All the years experience the Giants have on their roster, all the money their players make, all they talent they have, none of it means a thing anymore. Because this is a team that plays with zero heart.

Their quarterback makes so many mindless mistakes and turnovers and then pouts off the field. The running backs look rather uninspired. The defense is without its two best players and the team’s two real leaders. Special teams was, and has been the past couple of years, a disaster.

And the coach, in four seasons since their Super Bowl victory, doesn’t do anything about it. In fact, his demeanor and harsh personality probably only intensify the terrible attitude this team has.

It doesn’t matter how many players the Rams have to sit because of injury; the Giants need to prove that they’re going to at least show up for a game before anyone predicts them to win.

St. Louis wins.

Last Week: 10-6

Season: 10-6

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

NFL Week 1 Awards: Tom Brady is Best at Start of New Season

All the excitement of the start of a new season has passed, but the games did not fail to live up to the hype. The NFL is celebrated for its parity and unpredictability and there were plenty of surprises to be had.

Still, many of the regular top performers put up huge numbers in Week 1 making for a very entertaining start to the new season.

Who was the best of Week 1? Who was the worst? And who had the toughest breaks?

MVP of the Week

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

There were many great candidates, but Tom Brady got the job done in prime time Monday night. He set a franchise record with 517 passing yards. He had four touchdown passes and had only one interception and averaged 10.8 yards a completion, essentially getting a first down every time he threw.

Brady spread the love to all of his teammates, completing a pass to eight different receivers.

Also, every time the Miami Dolphins were able to muster up a score Brady lead the Patriots down the field with quick-strike answers. After Miami took almost eight minutes to score first the Patriots scored in about three minutes.

And he put the nail in the coffin when after the Dolphins failed to convert a fourth and goal Brady connected with Wes Welker for a 99-yard touchdown.

Whatever Brady did against Miami it was a success. There was just no stopping him whatsoever.

Honorable Mentions: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills; Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers; Brian Urlacher, LB, Chicago Bears

Bust of the Week

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers

For the first time ever Roethlisberger lost to a Joe Flacco-lead Ravens squad. And Roethlisberger certainly did his part to help Flacco out. He missed on 19 of his passes and for worse he threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles.

Whether it was just a bad day or he decided not to show up for the game, you cannot make those mistakes against the Ravens. They thrive on capitalizing on opponents mistakes and Roethlisberger should know that better than anyone.

It’s not solely Roethlisberger’s fault the Steelers lost, but he had a miserable game.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants; Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys; Pittsburgh Steelers Defense

Surprise of the Week

Cincinnati Bengals

Sure, the Browns aren’t Super Bowl-bound but the Bengals weren’t even supposed to win this game. Not only did they win but it was also a fourth-quarter comeback. And not only was it a fourth-quarter comeback but it was orchestrated by their backup quarterback, Bruce Gradkowski, who went 5-12 for 92 yards, a touchdown and zero interceptions.

Both big-time rookies got the monkey off their backs early with starting QB throwing a TD pass before he left with an injured wrist and WR A.J. Green caught his first TD pass of his NFL career. So both players will feel less pressure to score next time on the field.

Running back Cedric Benson, who many thought would see as many as nine or 10 guys in the box (probably a little hyperbolic), rushed for 121 yards on 25 carries including scoring the game-winning touchdown.

A good day for a team many predict to have a long, rough year.

Honorable Mentions: Ted Ginn Jr., WR, San Francisco 49ers; Buffalo Bills; Mike Tolbert, RB, San Diego Chargers

Disappointment of the Week

Atlanta Falcons

On the other hand, many people predicted the Falcons would reach the Super Bowl. They have their work cut out for them though after an 18-point loss to the Chicago Bears.

Usually a steady, consistant quarterback, Matt Ryan committed two turnovers (one interception and one fumble, which was returned for a touchdown).

Last season the Falcons were one of the league’s most disciplined teams in regards to penalties. However, against the Bears they committed more penalties (9-8) for more yards (65-56) than the Bears did.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions: Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans; Kansas City Chiefs; Donovan McNabb, QB, Minnesota Vikings

Rookie of the Week

Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

Love him or hate him (I think there are more of the latter) the kid did good work against the Cardinals. He didn’t get the win, but statistically he was phenomenal.
Newton set a rookie debut record with 422 passing yards. He had more touchdowns (two) than interceptions (one), which is a nice change of pace from Newton’s preseason. He also had 18 rushing yards and another score, meaning he accounted for all of Carolina’s scoring.

If the running game struggles like it did against the Cardinals and like it last season they may need Newton to play like this every week. So it was promising to see.

Also good to see for the Panthers’ sake was the chemistry Newton had with WR Steve Smith. Many expected Newton to go to TE Greg Olsen more frequently, but Smith had eight catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns. That already matches his TD total from last season. He also hasn’t had a 100-yard receiving game since Week 16 of 2009, and in the previous two seasons he’s only had two 100-yard receiving games.

Newton won’t put up these numbers every week, but it looks like he can play. And if he can continually hook up with Smith like this and reenergize his career, the Panthers could start climbing out of the NFL basement much faster than anticipated.

Honorable Mentions: Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers; Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals; Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Washington Redskins

Tough Luck

St. Louis Rams

It wasn’t bad enough that they had to play the much-critically acclaimed Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1. They not only lost the game but five starters left the game with injuries and they could not have been more important players as the Rams hope to win the NFC West this season.

QB Sam Bradford left in the fourth quarter with a bruised index finger on his throwing hand. RB Steven Jackson did not play at all after he scored the first touchdown of the game thanks to a strained quadriceps, and he is questionable for the game against the New York Giants next Monday. Both WR Danny Amendola (dislocated collarbone) and CB Ron Bartell (fractures in his neck) left the game and are out in Week 2.

Starting left tackle Jason Smith also didn’t last long due to a high ankle sprain.

Honorable Mentions: Indianapolis Colts without Peyton Manning, Players to miss the rest of the season because of ACL tears, New York Giants fans

Photo Credits.
Tom Brady: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NFL Week 1 Picks: Green Bay Packers Start 2011 Season With Successful Title Defense

Even with the NFL lockout earlier in the summer, did anyone really think that there wouldn’t be football?

This league is too popular and makes too much money for anyone to want to miss out on that cash cab. OTA’s were lost as was the Hall of Fame game, but now we’ve arrived at what really matters. It’s time for Philadelphia’s “Dream Team” to prove what their made of, to show that they won’t be the Miami Heat of the NFL.

Time for the Kansas City Chiefs to prove that 2010 wasn’t a fluke.

Time for the Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers to play up to the preseason hype surrounding their young teams with very bright futures.

Just thank goodness that the time for the latest Brett Favre comeback saga has passed.

New Orleans at Green Bay

It’s become a trend for the defending Super Bowl champions to defend their title in the new season with a Thursday night home game in Week 1. And for seven consecutive years, the defending champion has won its season opener.

The Packers won’t have an easy time here though. Both teams are figured to be major contenders in the NFC thanks in large part to their talent, a miniscule roster turnover and a familiarity with the coaching staff, the latter two becoming more important than ever after the shortened offseason.

Still, Green Bay is a Super Bowl team that gets even better by getting back their starting tight end (Jermichael Finley) and running back (Ryan Grant) healthy and back from injury.

It’s tough to go against history here.

Green Bay wins.

Atlanta at Chicago

The Falcons are a sexy pick to reach the Super Bowl this year. A lot of hype will surround rookie wide receiver Julio Jones, whom the Falcons traded five draft picks to select. A lot of people are excited to see what he can do alongside standout Roddy White.

Chicago reached the NFC Championship game last year, but there isn’t much confidence in them: case in point Jay Cutler leaving the championship game against the Packers with a sprained MCL. Many criticized him and his “willingness to win”, and that’s not to mention his great potential to turn the ball over.

Atlanta wins.

Cincinnati at Cleveland

No Carson Palmer for the Bengals. No Chad Ochocinco for the Bengals. No Terrell Owens for the Bengals. Could it all mean no wins for the Bengals?

The team will certainly have its work cut out for it this year in trying to be competitive. The team will be reliant on a rookie quarterback (Andy Dalton) and a rookie wide receiver (A.J. Green) to do much of the damage on offense, but it doesn’t look like there’s enough talent across the board for the Bengals to be a legitimate threat.

The Browns aren’t a super star-laden team either, especially at wide receiver, but Colt McCoy did a solid job last year in his rookie season and Peyton Hillis was a breakout star (although he’ll have to beware of the Madden Curse). This team stayed competitive last year and it looks like they’re a leg up on the Bengals right now.

Cleveland wins.

Buffalo at Kansas City

Kansas City surprised quite a few people last year when they won the AFC West and made the playoffs. With a great running attack headed by stud Jamaal Charles as well as having a solid defense, the Chiefs are being overlooked this year in favor of the more dynamic San Diego Chargers.

Buffalo may not have won a lot of games last season, but the late blooming of Harvard-alumnus Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback helped keep the Bills competitive and somewhat interesting to watch. He has some playmakers around him in wide receiver Steve Johnson and running backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. They could wind up being only a .500 team, especially playing a one of the tougher divisions in the NFL, but they’ll go down swinging.

Kansas City at home is just too tough a task. The Chiefs finished 7-1 at home in front of an extremely supportive fan base that only gets rowdier with every win.

Kansas City wins.

Philadelphia at St. Louis

Nobody has wanted the season to start more than the Eagles. It’s time for them to show off all their new toys (Nmandi Asomaugh, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown and Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie), not to mention some very good older ones (Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy). This was probably the most exciting team in all of football to watch in 2010, and this season should be no different.

St. Louis has some talent. Sam Bradford did well as a rookie, Steven Jackson has been a good running back for many years now and Mike Sims-Walker is a big improvement over anyone Bradford threw to last year.

Still, just look at the talent the Eagles have.

Philadelphia wins.

Detroit at Tampa Bay

It’s not the rivalry of Pittsburgh-Baltimore or the hyped up teams like the Jets and Cowboys, but Lions against the Buccaneers could be the most interesting matchup of the week.

Two teams loaded with exciting young players will square off. Josh Freeman has a lot of people talking in Tampa because of his pocket presence in 2010 but how will he fare with Ndamukong Suh chasing after him?

Matthew Stafford was a number one pick for the Lions, but will he ever stay healthy?
There’s a lot to like about these two teams and both have bright futures. The Lions look like they could be this year’s version of the Buccaneers: a young, up-and-coming team that surprises a lot of people and wins a lot more games than they have in years past.

Detroit wins.

Tennessee at Jacksonville

The best player on both teams in the running back, Chris Johnson for the Titans and Maurice Jones-Drew for the Jaguars. Both teams are also starting different quarterbacks than they did last year. The similarity ends there though, with the quarterback situations incredibly different.

The Titans brought in Matt Hasselback to start before rookie Jake Locker is ready. Hasselback is on his last legs and injuries have plagued him the last couple of seasons. He still knows how to run a team though and he might just even be an upgrade over the Vince Young/Kerry Collins platoon from last year.

The Jaguars, meanwhile, cut long-time starter David Garrard on Tuesday, making the Luke McCown the new No. 1. Cutting Garrard saved the team $9 million dollars but it won’t help them in the win column. He’s been in the NFL since 2004 (with the Jaguars the past two seasons) yet has only played in 16 games. There’s a reason for that.

Tennessee wins.

Pittsburgh at Baltimore

One of the biggest rivalries in football is on display in Week 1. The Steelers and Ravens are two smash mouth football teams and this game will not be any different.
For starters, will the Steelers have a Super Bowl hangover after losing the big game last year?

They’ve also had more off-field issues with their stars this year thanks to Hines Ward’s DUI arrest and James Harrison’s harsh words towards NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and team starting QB Ben Roethlisberger, amongst others, in a Men’s Journal article.

The Ravens went and added more pieces this offseason to add artillery to their offense. Lee Evans was brought in to be a downfield threat, Ricky Williams will be Ray Rice’s backup and Vonta Leach will be the new starting fullback and lead blocker.
Leach was a big reason for Arian Foster’s success last season and the Ravens hope he will make an similar impact on the already successful Rice.

Baltimore wins.

Indianapolis at Houston

Now is the time for the Texans to finally make good on that playoff push. They have flirted with postseason play in recent years but have ultimately come up short.
But with the Peyton Manning being inactive for the Colts indefinitely, the Texans could be the top team in the division.

They shocked the Colts last season in an opening week win when Arian Foster took advantage of a porous Colts run defense. Foster is questionable for this week’s game, but Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson still form an incredibly powerful combination in the air.

Houston wins.

New York Giants at Washington

Rex Grossman claims his Redskins can win the division. Their first test will be against the Giants, who while they aren’t an easy team to beat, they certainly aren’t the cream of the crop anymore in the NFC East.

Eli Manning claims that he’s just as good as Patriots QB Tom Brady. He’ll need to stop turning the ball over as frequently as he does to even make that statement not as much of a joke as it currently stands.

Still the Giants have more talent overall than Washington.

New York wins.

Seattle at San Francisco

The 49ers were preseason favorites to win the NFC West, however an 0-5 start doomed them. They still only finished a game worse than the division winning Seahawks.
Alex Smith leads San Francisco again, much to the dismay of Niner fans, but new head coach Jim Harbaugh is supposed to be a quarterback coaching guru, so there is hope for him.

Last season these two teams opened up against each other and the Seahawks put a beat down on the 49ers, 31-6. That was in Seattle however. In San Francisco in Week 14, San Francisco won the game 40-21 and Smith—returning as a starter after previously being benched—threw for 255 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.

San Francisco wins.

Minnesota at San Diego

Rejoice, the Brett Favre saga is over. It’s tough to tell if the Vikings are a better team though.

They still have Adrian Peterson. They lost receiver Sidney Rice. And in at quarterback comes Donovan McNabb. He’s been up and down the past few years, not terrible but not helping his team win many games either. He’ll have a good young running back to lean on this year though so that may help him.

San Diego is lead by Philip Rivers, one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Last year’s individual success throwing the ball was without Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates for most of the year and those two will be back in action this year starting in Week 1.

The Chargers missed out on the playoffs last year even though they had the No. 1 ranked offense and defense. They will be out for vengeance.

San Diego wins.

Carolina at Arizona

Rookie quarterbacks don’t tend to do well. No team with a rookie starting at quarterback has ever won the Super Bowl. And Cam Newton will have his work cut out for him with the Panthers who, even though they had only two wins all of last year, kept their roster mostly intact from last year.

Arizona gets Kevin Kolb in at quarterback. His sample size isn’t very big, but he’s had a little bit of success in the league and Larry Fitzgerald loves catching passes from him.

Arizona wins.

Dallas at New York Jets

Two years with Rex Ryan as their head coach (and Mark Sanchez as their starting quarterback) and the Jets have two trips to the AFC Championship game. They just haven’t won the division, gotten a bye in the first round, or made the playoffs. They need to get a bye to make the process a little easier on themselves.

Dallas should have a nice bounce-back season with a healthy Tony Romo leading the way and contend in the NFC East, but at the newly christened MetLife Stadium the fans will be going nuts for the Jets.

New York wins.

New England at Miami

Miami’s starting quarterback has been booed by the home fans in the preseason, their head coach was given an extension only after the owner tried to pursue a different coach while the incumbent was still under contract and the Wildcat, which made this team unique offensively, lost its top guy when the team let Ronnie Brown go. They also went 1-7 at home last season.

Oh, and they went 0-2 against the Patriots last year and lost the two games by a combined 58 points.

New England wins.

Oakland at Denver

Oakland won only eight games last year and lost its top receiver in tight end Zach Miller and its top defender in corner Nmamdi Asomugha.

Kyle Orton threw for 3,653 yards and only nine interceptions last season but many fans will still begging for Tim Tebow to start and he was on the trade block. He’ll be out to prove his value this season, to the Broncos or any other team.

Denver wins.

2010: 155-96

2009: 151-73

Photo Credits.
Aaron Rodgers: AP Photo/Mike Roemer

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Boston Blazers Suspend Operations, Leave a Hole in the Boston Lacrosse Scene

The professional lacrosse teams in Boston are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

The fact that one plays the field version of the game in Major League Lacrosse and the other was part of the indoor National Lacrosse League isn’t the only thing that separates the two teams.

Four days after the Boston Cannons won the MLL championship—their first in franchise history—management for the Boston Blazers announced that the team would suspend operations for the 2012 season. While not participating in the league, management will look for a place to relocate the Blazers for the 2013 season, in a local and national search.

In both leagues the Boston franchises were top draws. This past year the Cannons finished the regular season with a league-best record of 9-3 in addition to their championship. They had a total attendance of 51,971 and an average of 8,661 fans per game, both good enough for second-best in the six-team league.

The big draw for the Cannons is midfielder Paul Rabil, who is arguably the best lacrosse player in the world today and is also the most marketable. The Johns Hopkins alumnus and is a two-time MLL MVP.

Joining him on the field is local-product Max Quinzani, who grew up in nearby Duxbury, Mass. and was a familiar face to lacrosse fans playing his college ball at Duke.

The championship was long overdue for the Cannons, a member of MLL since the league’s inception in 2001. In the past two seasons the Cannons, although a favorite to win it all, lost in the semifinals both years. They’ve made the playoffs nine seasons out of 11 (including this season) however they only reached the championship twice, finally winning it all this year.

Watching Rabil lift the championship trophy was a joyous moment for Boston lacrosse fans. It is unfortunate for such a passionate fan base that darker winter days lay ahead.

In three seasons since joining the NLL, the Boston Blazers never were able to make it out of the first round of the playoffs, losing in round one all three years. Despite the lack of success in comparison to the Cannons the Blazers were still a big attraction in the league.

In the 2010 season they averaged 8,712 fans per game which was 51 more fans than the Cannons and an increase from the 2009 season, where the Blazers had an average attendance of 6,620 fans.

The Blazers made headlines last year when they added star power to their lineup. The team already had Dan Dawson, the 2009 league MVP, and All-Star goalie Anthony Cosmo. They then went out and acquired Josh Sanderson, an NLL veteran who eclipsed the 1,000 point mark this past season, and 2010 MVP and lacrosse legend Casey Powell.

Powell, Dawson and Sanderson—nicknamed “The Big Three”—all finished in the top three in voting for the league MVP in 2010 making it the first time in professional sports history that the top three candidates for league MVP one season were teammates the next.

Expectations were high and ultimately the team disappointed, unable to break .500 during the regular season (8-8) and not winning a championship. Fans still came out and supported the team however and were excited to see what would happen in 2012 when the players would have even greater chemistry after playing a full season together.

The Blazers fans now face a lose-lose situation, in addition to missing out on the upcoming NLL season.

A major reason for the team’s financial woes is because they rented space from the TD Garden (where the Celtics and Bruins play) at a high cost but did not see any of the money made off of parking and concessions. So team president and general manager Doug Reffue will conduct a six-month search to evaluate potential new venues that are more economically beneficial to the team.

The search could mean that the team moves outside of the Boston or New England area all together. This would leave the fans with no team at all, which is never a happy thing.

The Blazers could also potentially stay local to Boston. However, while lacrosse fans would still have the team it wouldn’t be THEIR team, the one they made personal connections with so many players, the one that made headlines.

All players on the current roster will not be retained by the Blazers; rather they will go into a dispersal draft and spread around the league. That means no Dawson, who has been with the team all three years of its existence and been a fan favorite with his series of YouTube videos dubbed “The Danger Zone”.

That means no Powell, Sanderson, and Cosmo. They’d be without Kyle Rubisch, the team’s 2010 first round draft pick that was named to the NLL All-Rookie team last season.

The fans would also miss Kevin Buchannan, Greg Downing and Jack Reid, all prominent Blazers that also play for the Cannons.

It’s a better option than losing the team all together, but it won’t be the same.

So while the Cannons rejoice after finally lifting the trophy, the other side of Boston professional lacrosse will go dark with the long Boston-winter nights.

Happy days for Boston lacrosse fans have come to a stop in such an abrupt fashion. But maybe that will make them yearn for the Cannons even more come May and help them avoid the same fate as the Blazers.

2011 Boston Blazers Video Introduction from YouTube.

Photo Credits.
Dan Dawson: photo from the New England Lacrosse Journal, www.laxjournal.com
Paul Rabil: Larry French/Getty Images

Jozy Altidore Remains the Best Forward for the United States National Team

While the United States Men’s National Team failed to score against Costa Rica on Friday, Jozy Altidore—the starting striker whose primary job is to score goals—proved that he still is the top forward on the depth chart.

Under former head coach Bob Bradley Altidore was the starting forward—sometimes with a partner, other times alone—but due to a lack of goals with the national team and a lack of scoring and playing time at the club level many wondered how much longer that would last.

Some, albeit prematurely, labeled the 21-year-old a bust and longed for a better striker to come along.

Then came the emergence of Juan Agudelo. The 18-year-old scored two goals in his first three matches with the National Team. His energy and work rate when he entered matches brought the team’s play to another level and he exuded confidence. Many labeled him the next best thing, even though Agudelo has failed to score a goal in his past eight games with the United States.

While Agudelo is a promising prospect, Altidore, in his first game playing for new head coach Jürgen Klinsmann, showed that he is the better option up top for the time being.

Altidore has 39 caps compared to Agudelo’s 11 and the elder forward showed his age, experience and skill set are more valuable to the team than what Agudelo brings to the table, especially considering the sample of both players from the Costa Rica game.

Altidore likes to take on his opponents one-on-one from time to time, but he is at his best when he is playing as a target forward with his back to the goal. He is a very strong forward with broad shoulders. Defenders cannot outmuscle him. Altidore’s greatest goal of his career came against Spain in the 2009 Confederation’s Cup when he turned defender Joan Capdevilla off the ball and blasted a shot into the back of the net.

Against Costa Rica Altidore did a good job of making himself a target to his teammates and creating passing lanes. His ability to hold off defenders helped the team get more players involved in the attack. His passing was good and he linked up very well with his teammates, especially Brek Shea and Landon Donovan, which created a number of close chances.

Altidore was active and his presence helped other players get involved which made the U.S. very dangerous in the first half.

Agudelo came on as a second half substitute for Altidore, and although he played with much energy, like he usually does, the offense seemed to stall a bit.

As a lone forward it wasn’t all Agudelo’s fault. The defensive back four, Maurice Edu—the holding midfielder—and the rest of the midfield seemed to tire a bit causing a break in the transition and smooth passing from defense to offense.

Agudelo, however, has a smaller frame than Altidore and got pushed off the ball a bit, especially when the game grew more physical as it dragged on.

While Agudelo seems to have a good partnership with Shea—evident in the tying goal against Mexico in Klinsmann’s first game—his biggest fault is that he can become a bit individualistic.

Part of it is inexperience but Agudelo holds onto the ball for too long. His decision making isn’t always the best and he has a tendency to try and dribble his way out of trouble. This causes teammates to start standing and watching, draws more defenders to Agudelo and causes turnovers.

Agudelo still has his moments of brilliance and he is dangerous when he slips behind the defense. A partnership with Agudelo and Altidore would be one to watch and develop.

But at the current stages of the careers of both players Altidore is the guy who belongs at the top of the depth chart.

Photo Credits.
Jozy Altidore: AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Juan Agudelo: AP Photo/Alex Brandon