November 27, 2013
The 2013 NFL season is nearing a close but there are plenty of questions yet to be answered. This year more than ever it seems that every game is a coin flip. Right now there are literally 26 teams still in playoff contention. This is great—every game from here on out will be a nail-biter. Here’s a list of the most crucial games during the final quarter of the season. Remember, each week will contain three categories; the heavyweight bout, the divisional battle and the hidden gem.
The Heavyweight Bout: New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks
Games don’t get bigger than this one. A potential NFC Championship Game in the making, both teams have a statement to make. Nothing like ending a holiday weekend with a cherry on top, Monday Night Football is not to be missed—Drew Brees and Russell Wilson will have their teams primed for a battle. Find time for this one.
The Divisional Battle: Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions
NFL fans can thank the Detroit Lions for this Thanksgiving tradition. The Lions provided football on Thursday before football was on Thursday. Hooray! Hey, there’s nothing like spending family time together watching the Lions and Green Bay Packers pummel one another. Here’s some added fuel to the fire—first place in the division is on the line. The Lions currently hold the top spot but the Packers want it badly. Another added bonus, we get to watch Calvin Johnson—who doesn’t like to watch greatness?
The Hidden Gem: Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles
These teams are both surprises this year and playing their best ball of the season right now. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer just may be the hottest in the league. He’s thrown for 733 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions the last two games. The Cardinals have also won four straight games.
The Philadelphia Eagles, led by the NFL’s leading rusher through Week 12 LeSean McCoy are also sizzling. Winners of three straight and coming off their bye week, there’s no time to lose momentum now.
Neither team will give an inch. Expect plenty of offense. Give this one a go.
The Heavyweight Bout: Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers
Few words need to describe this matchup between bitter divisional rivals. Remember when the Seattle Seahawks dismantled the San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2, 29-3?
The Niners do too, expect them to exact revenge.
The Divisional Battle: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints
Winners of seven straight, the Carolina Panthers are the hottest team in the league right now. The NFL is far from easy and the Panthers will travel to the Big Easy in Week 14. This is to prove that they’re the best team in their division.
The New Orleans Saints don’t plan on relinquishing their A1 status anytime soon.
Cam Newton is living up to the hype—his counterpart Drew Brees is the standard. Jaw-dropping action will occur.
The Hidden Gem: Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals
One week they look like outright champs, the next it looks like they don’t belong.
Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton have to find a way. The winner of this one will gain the confidence it takes to go all the way. They’ll also do some convincing.
This is a true make-or-break game for both sides.
The Heavyweight Bout: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys
Two iconic franchises, two franchise quarterbacks, playoffs lives on the line—this game has all the elements to be a classic.
Aaron Rodgers will have returned from injury and Tony Romo will be psyched to make a run for the coveted Lombardi trophy. These two guys may just combine for 800 passing yards.
Fun, fun, fun—please pay attention to this one.
The Divisional Battle: San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos
Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning on Thursday Night Football is a great start to Week 15. The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos have something to fight for as the Chargers are only 5-6 heading into Thanksgiving, but have a real punchers chance. Rivers has never performed so well and the Chargers are electric on offense.
Manning and the Broncos need little introduction, they’re the real deal.
The Hidden Gem: New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers
Believe it or not, the New York Jets are currently in the playoff hunt. Yes, even at 4-7 they have a shot. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has had his ups and downs, but the future is promising for him and the Jets.
The weak spot the Jets have this season is playing on the road. If they’re to make the postseason, they’ll have to head into Carolina and win. The Panthers defense, led by Luke Kuechley is one of the best in the league; don’t think they’ll let a rookie show them up.
Considering what’s at stake, this will be a good one.
The Heavyweight Bout: Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Chicago Bears are currently in a dogfight for the NFC North with the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. The Eagles are in the same situation in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
Both teams are currently 6-5 and not in the playoffs. Considering their divisions will be on the line, neither team can afford to lose. This game has smash-mouth football written all over it. Last team with the ball wins.
The Divisional Battle: New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers
See Week 14—the loser of that game will want redemption. The winner will want to claim NFC South supremacy.
Scary thing is they may meet again in the playoffs. Awesome.
The Hidden Gem: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens
Hey, the champs haven’t thrown in the towel quite yet. The Baltimore Ravens still have a pulse and are picking up steam down the stretch. Don’t cross-off Joe Flacco and Ray Rice because after all, they’re stars.
If they are to truly be playoff contenders, they’ll have to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. For them, it’s business as usual. They have yet to be their best and are still 8-3. That fact is downright frightening.
The Ravens must let it be known that they will defend what is rightfully theirs. A win in Week 16 will do just that.
If you think Week 17 was forgotten, think again. Sit tight, for it’ll have its own article. 16 divisional games—Wow!
Then, we’ll talk about playoffs.
April 29, 2013
NFL Draft: The popular NFL Draft was held over the weekend and it was, as usual, a big attraction. The true popularity of the league was on display as millions and millions tuned in over the three-day event. The NFL not only has the most popular on-field product in American sports, but has managed to nearly turn its draft into a national holiday. One of the big surprises was West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith falling to the second round. Smith, once considered a potential No. 1 overall pick fell and fell … and fell. But when it was all said and done, he landed in a pretty good spot with the New York Jets. Starter Mark Sanchez has fallen out of favor for a couple of years now and backup Tim Tebow is rumored to be released. Smith should have a chance to not only play in 2013, but win the starting job.
Russell Westbrook out for NBA Playoffs: The Oklahoma City Thunder caught an unbelievably tough break when starting guard Russell Westbrook went down with an injury in Game 2. He suffered a tear in his knee and will miss the rest of the season after having surgery on Saturday. Westbrook is often the subject of criticism for his questionable shot selection, but he still averages 23 points a game. And his seven assists and five rebounds per game make him one of the more complete point guards in the league. Once considered a team that could knock off the Miami Heat for their first NBA title, I’m not even sure OKC makes it out of the western conference now.
College football sets playoff system: College football and the BCS announced their plan for the new playoff system set to begin in 2015. Six bowl games will rotate sharing semifinal games – The Rose, Sugar, Fiesta, Orange, Chick-fil-A, and Cotton. Each year, two of those bowls will host the semifinal games while the other four will hold significant BCS-type games. The first title game in 2015 will be held in Cowboys Stadium. The real winner in all of this? The fans. Not only will there be a four-team playoff, but there will be two additional big time games. Currently, there are the four major bowl games and the BCS Championship. But now, there will be a total of seven major matchups. And in addition, the two semifinal games and the remaining four contests will be held during New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. Two tripleheaders over the holiday should give you plenty of reasons not to leave your couch.
Rick Pitino gets tattoo: Yes, this is real news … just go with it. Rick Pitino promised his Louisville Cardinals team he’d man up and get a tattoo if they could win the National Championship. That happened and Pitino didn’t back down. Here’s a picture of it. Not great, but not horrible, I suppose. And props to the coach for not going with a small one-inch tattoo on his ankle or something.
Aaron Rodgers signs new deal with Green Bay Packers: In a move that could keep their star quarterback in a Packers’ uniform for the rest of his career, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers signed a five-year, $110 million extension to remain with the franchise. If he plays out that contract, he would remain in Green Bay for the next seven seasons, through 2019. That would keep him in a Packers jersey until he’s 38. He could play longer, of course, but if nothing else, the bulk of his playing career should be in Green Bay.
UNLV plans Jerry Tarkanian statue: The Las Vegas Sun reported that UNLV is planning a statue for former head basketball coach, Jerry Tarkanian. Tarkanian, recently elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame, and the school have been on the outs for a while with the relationship mending a bit in recent years. And the coach had long been targeted by the NCAA for a variety of issues involving his teams. But wherever you come out on Tark, the one thing that can’t be debated is his ability as a head coach. He won more than 80% of his games and led UNLV to the 1990 National Championship.
January 4, 2013
Last offseason the organization brought in quarterback Matt Flynn to be the starter, a move that was promising but unproven. Bringing in a career backup quarterback to become the franchise cornerstone hasn’t had positive results of late in the NFL.
Draft day brought them a first-round pick in defensive end Bruce Irvin from West Virginia that caused Twitter to explode with laughter. The Seahawks got the last laugh as Irvin tallied eight sacks in his rookie campaign. His speed off the edge gives every team a dynamic they must have to be considered a winner.
Heading into training camp, the team had a three-way duel for the starting quarterback with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, the aforementioned Flynn and surprise rookie quarterback Russell Wilson from Wisconsin. Jackson was traded before the season even began and Flynn has only thrown nine passes all season long. It was Wilson who won the job outright and has made the most of his opportunity.
In a season that was touted as the best quarterback class to ever enter the NFL, Wilson is a major reason why. Sure, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Washington Redskins shot caller Robert Griffin III went Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2012 NFL draft, but it was Wilson who tied Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for touchdown tosses by a rookie with 26.
So, why is Wilson so good?
Because he doesn’t do much wrong, he makes smart plays and doesn’t try to be a hero on every snap. One would say he’s wise beyond his years. In comparison to Manning’s rookie season, Wilson has thrown just 10 interceptions all season while Manning chucked up a whopping 28.
Wilson’s mobility also helped in his success this season, knowing when to tuck-and-run while having the football IQ of when to get down and live to see another day. His solid 5.2 yards/carry on 94 runs with four touchdowns proves to be a viable weapon in his arsenal.
He doesn’t wow all the time, but his calm demeanor in the face of adversity is to be respected. Truth is he does just about everything right. His quarterback rating of an even 100 is evidence of this, which was good for fourth-best in the league this season behind Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, Manning and Griffin III.
Nothing helps a rookie like a proven, tough-as-nails veteran running back like Marshawn Lynch. “Beast Mode” is his nickname and he fits the bill. He finished with 1,590 rushing yards this season and has 2,794 in his first two full seasons in Seattle. Thanks to the balance that Lynch brings to the offense it must be a nightmare for opposing coaches to try to create a game plan to stop the Seahawks.
Not to be overlooked, the team has arguably the loudest fans in the league and their 8-0 record at home this season gives weight to this debate. The “12th Man” is impressive on a weekly basis.
Another reason why the Seahawks are so fierce is their ferocious defense. Yes, the team is currently riding a five-game win streak in which they’ve scored 193 points, but the defense has set the tone in every game and even contributed with four touchdowns during the streak.
The core-four members of the secondary, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have appropriately been dubbed the “Legion of Boom.” They wreak havoc on a play-by-play basis and are out to prove that they are the best in the entire league.
They will get their chance to show the football world just that when they travel to the nation’s capital to face the Washington Redskins on January 6, 2013 as the anchor game on Wild Card Weekend. This is a game of things to come for the NFL. This game guarantees to be a great matchup as these teams will be two of the best for years to come.
Wilson vs. RG3, Lynch vs. Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris, who set the all-time franchise record with 1,613 rushing yards this season, what more could fans ask for?
Just remember, the Seahawks are built to win now.
October 16, 2012
The Green Bay Packers started the 2012 NFL season with unfinished business. After a 15-1 2011 regular season campaign the Packers fell short of the Super Bowl. Wanting to amend things in 2012, their season didn’t start off the way they had planned.
The Packers looked sluggish; they looked out of sync and unseasoned. What exactly was different from a year ago?
Well, a few things for starters; gone was offensive mastermind Joe Philbin, who took the head coaching job with the Miami Dolphins in the off-season. In came Tom Clements, who was previously the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay for a number of years, but had only served as an offensive coordinator for a few years with the Buffalo Bills in the mid-2000s, which is hardly enough time to learn the ropes of calling the shots in the NFL.
Sure, it may be easy to say, “But Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback!” It still takes time to get your team in unison when making a change such as offensive coordinator.
Another change was that the Packers brought in veteran running back Cedric Benson to bolster their offense. Benson, who came to Green Bay after three-consecutive 1,000-plus yards on the ground, was said to be the difference maker this season for the Packers, who look to win their second Super Bowl in three years. After getting warmed up and providing some much added depth to the offense throughout the first five games this season, Benson fell to a foot injury that has him on the shelf until late in the season, if not the entire thing.
So, who do the Packers turn to now? The answer is simple—Rodgers.
After a plethora of injuries and being knocked down but not out, the Packers did the unthinkable in NFL Week 6, they took to the road and beat the previously undefeated Houston Texans by a score of 42-24.
What gave the Packers the jolt they’ve been looking for? I believe it was the offense in Rodgers’ hands. Knowing that the fate of the franchise rested on his shoulders, Rodgers turned up the intensity to MVP level. His 338 passing yards and six touchdowns, yes six, proves that the Pack are back. The fact that they embarrassed a highly touted Texans defense earns them even more props.
Sometimes elite athletes only respond when the pressure is solely on them. The Packers could have made many excuses as to why this year wasn’t their year, but Rodgers will have none of that. He showed us once again why he is the best quarterback in the NFL. Never mind his play between whistles, it’s his fearlessness and tenacity in the huddle that earns him respect.
Don’t look now but the Packers are 3-3, which is the same record when they went on to win the Super Bowl in 2010.
Green Bay is a special place in this world and its people and the Packers are the reason why. Rodgers embodies the mystical aura that makes that place extraordinary.
February 6, 2012
With the 2011 NFL season officially over, it’s time to wallow in our misery take a look back at the year. When you think of the top stories from this season, it’s easy to see that this was the year of the quarterback. Comparing players over eras is always a losing battle, but this season proved one thing – this is the most talent-rich time for quarterbacks in the league since the late 1980s when some guys named Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and John Elway were in their prime.
We may even look back someday and, gasp, think this crop was even better. Right now, the NFL has a slew of elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning (if he’s able to come back, that is). Then there are guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Michael Vick, Tony Romo, and Philip Rivers, who I’d slot below them. And there are also young guns that look like the next generation: Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, and even Tim Tebow, to name a few. The bottom line is that this is one of the best eras in the history of the game for passers.
Here are some of the key things I’ll remember from this season about the quarterbacks.
Tebow Time – If there’s one thing I’ll remember from this football season in general, it’s probably the way Tim Tebow was a lightning rod for both praise and criticism. I’m hard pressed to remember a football player that was as young as Tebow that was so polarizing. There are better quarterbacks to be sure, but the turnaround experienced by the Broncos was impossible to ignore. And the fact that he was able to not only get Denver to the playoffs, but help them win a game once they got there will only grow the legend. His success this season should buy him at least a little leeway next year if he starts slowly.
The Year of the Pass – So let me get this straight. Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 passing yards stood for nearly 30 years, but in 2012 it was broken by Drew Brees? And Tom Brady? And almost Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning? The fact that a record that lasted this long was broken by two players and approached by two others should tell you everything you need to know about the NFL these days – it’s a passing league … maybe more than it’s ever been.
Peyton’s Injury – It can be difficult to gauge just how valuable a player is until an injury, but we got a glimpse of that this year. How important is Manning to the Colts? The NFL’s new magazine, aptly named NFL Magazine, went as far as declaring him their 2011 Most Valuable Player … despite the fact that he didn’t take a snap all season. Personally, I think that’s going a bit far since by doing that, the magazine snubbed a lot of deserving players. But point taken.
Alex Smith Takes Strides – Smith, like Tebow, isn’t an elite quarterback. But after struggling mightily since he was drafted in 2005, he had a career year and was a few special teams gaffes from playing in the Super Bowl. It wasn’t the 3,000+ yards or the 60% completion rate that was all that impressive since he’s approached those numbers before. The reason Smith turned into a serviceable quarterback this year was because he limited his mistakes, throwing only five interceptions all season. Smith may never reach elite status, but if he’s able to continue playing at this same pace, the 49ers should be competitive for several years to come.
These Guys Can Play – It’s often said that it takes a while for rookie quarterbacks to find their footing. While that’s true most of the time, we saw a few first-year players look like seasoned veterans in 2011. Cam Newton had arguably the best rookie year ever for a quarterback, setting records for passing yards and total touchdowns. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton’s 20 touchdown passes were only one fewer than Newton’s and he also led the Bengals to the playoffs. Need an idea of how special the seasons were for both players? It was the first time in NFL history that two rookie quarterbacks were named to the Pro Bowl.
Eli Casts Off Peyton’s Shadow – Eli Manning had already won a Super Bowl, but most still considered him a lesser quarterback behind his brother, Peyton. That will still hold true in the eyes of many, but by winning a second championship, he’s no longer simply known as ‘Peyton’s little brother.’ Eli not only has two titles but is young enough that another one isn’t out of the question.