December 19, 2013

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Predicting 2013 NFL Award Winners

By: Matt Bowen

With the playoffs three short weeks away let’s have some fun and predict the 2013 NFL award winners. While the season is still in the balance for plenty of teams, let’s be bold and take an educated guess. The final two weeks may sway some votes, but we have a good idea of how things will pan out. One thing is for certain, the NFL definitely didn’t disappoint this season—the final two weeks along with the playoffs will be as exciting as ever.

Keep these players in mind when the awards are doled out at the end of the season.

Coach of the Year

This is a tight race, but there’s clearly one winner.

There were eight head coaching changes heading into this season, and it can be easily argued that every new coach met or exceeded their expectations. Last year the following eight teams won a combined 41 games—headed into Week 16 this year these teams have a combined 56 wins.

The Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers all got new head coaches in 2013.

Hats off to all the men in charge, but the award goes to Andy Reid in Kansas City. The Chiefs were a dark horse Super Bowl team in 2012 before the won only two games and earned the No. 1 pick in the draft. This year Reid has tapped into their talent and the Chiefs currently have 11 wins. They may not win their division but a playoff appearance in a given. The Chiefs are explosive and a blast to watch.

Defensive Player of the Year

Defensive studs are often put on the back burner because they don’t score touchdowns. Not here, the men in the trenches get the acknowledgement they deserve.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint who is precisely the best defensive player, it’s not hard to find an answer. Many men are worthy of the award, but the Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis takes the prize. His 16.5 sacks currently lead the league, and the Colts are once again going to make the playoffs.

What’s most remarkable about Mathis is his age—at 32 Mathis is an “old man” amongst the league’s new hybrid athletes on the defensive side of the ball. Still, Mathis is the best at his craft and a great leader on a rather young Colts defense. Cheers to you, Mr. Mathis.

Breakout Player of the Year

This award goes to the guy who doesn’t have a chance at 2013 NFL MVP, but his breakout season may earn him the grand award in the near future.

The argument can be made for both of these players but in the end only one can win. Both of these guys are receivers who have made tremendous strides toward stardom this season. The deciding factor ultimately comes down to team wins.

Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns currently leads the league is receiving yards with 1,467 and also has nine touchdowns. He has quickly become one of the most dangerous men in the game. If the Browns ever find a quarterback and running game Gordon may make a run a 2,000 yards in a single season. Right now, his team only has four wins. He’s 22 years old and has all the talent in the world. He’s had a troubled past, but should he leave his problems behind him the sky is the limit.

In the end, the 2013 Breakout Player of the Year goes to Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears. The Bears currently lead the NFC North and control their own fate in terms of a playoff berth.

Jeffery is currently seventh in the league in receiving yards with 1,265. He has seven touchdowns and 80 catches. He’s the perfect complement to teammate Brandon Marshall and has hands like magnets.  Jeffery is only 23 years old and appears to be a Windy City staple for the next decade. Because of Jeffery the Bears are multi-dimensional and have a chance at a deep Super Bowl run. All he does is make highlight reels.

Rookie of the Year

Let’s be honest—today’s NFL is not made for rookies. There’s a steep learning curve that takes many highly touted prospects and puts them in their place—the bench. Last year may have been an exception due to the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson but reality has struck once again in 2013.

To be a standout rookie in the NFL you have to be something special. Right now, only three guys come to mind the rookie debate pops up. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon deserves mention—the Bucs were terrible before he earned the starting job. Being a rookie quarterback isn’t easy, especially when you don’t start the season as the No. 1. The Bucs started 0-8 but have since won 4-of-6. For that they have hope for the future. Give the NC State alum a full offseason as the main man, and positive results will come.

Zac Stacy of the St. Louis Rams has been a bright spot in an up-and-down season for the franchise. The team was searching for a running back to win the job for weeks and found one in Stacy. The rookie from Vanderbilt has 854 yards on 202 carries and six touchdowns. He’s a real bruiser and looks like he’s made a name for himself in the NFL. Considering he only had one carry before October, Stacy has been a welcomed surprise. Because of him, the Rams will be a sleeper in 2014. He’s a real workhorse.

Look no further than Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers for NFL Rookie of the Year. The rookie out of Alabama looks like this generation’s Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. Lacy has 248 carries for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns. Right now the Green Bay Packers control their own destiny and when quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns from injury they’ll become the most feared offense in the NFC. Lacy makes them dangerous, the kid is a juggernaut.

MVP

So, who’s the NFL’s most valuable player this season? Let’s keep this short and sweet for there will be much debate to come.

Nick Foles deserves a mention for his work turning around the once underachieving Philadelphia Eagles.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are always in the conversation as they should be. Manning will end up breaking the all-time touchdown record in a season of 50 set by Mr. Brady, he currently has 47 but is he the hands down MVP? No.

Outside the quarterback position, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is the most dangerous player in the game. He’s can’t be guarded—his physical stature is not really fair to his opponents—but even he missed the top spot.

Heck, even Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker deserves a vote—all that guy does is split the uprights.

This year’s NFL MVP is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Correct, Wilson only has 3,077 passing yards, which ranks him No. 17 in the league. But it’s not his arm that is most valuable, it’s his mentality. He’s thrown 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions, completed 64.7 percent of his throws and has run for 508 yards on 89 rushes.

He doesn’t make many mistakes and only runs when it’s the right choice. His team is currently 12-2 and lethal at home. Right now the Seahawks seem a lock for the Super Bowl.

He’s special.

So special that the Texas Rangers drafted him in the recent Rule 5 MLB draft—he hasn’t played baseball in some time yet everybody wants a piece of Russell Wilson. He can seemingly do no wrong.

He’s got a million dollar smile and is priceless on the field. Wilson for MVP—no doubt.

August 15, 2011

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Are the Eagles the NFL’s Version of the Miami Heat?

By: Anson Whaley

When the final buzzer sounded on the 2010-11 NBA season, basketball fans across the globe celebrated wildly as the Dallas Mavericks defeated the Miami Heat in six games. Sure there was a contingent out there (particularly in Miami) that felt differently, but the majority of NBA fans were happy to see the underdog Mavericks win the title.

The Philadelphia Eagles aren’t quite as hated, though – mostly because football is not nearly the individualized sport that basketball is. In basketball, much of the game is broken down to one-on-one matchups and football is more of a team sport. That fact makes it far easier for a single player to dominate a game. However, there are some parallels that can be drawn between the Heat and the Eagles.

Chief amongst them is the fact that both franchises have a polarizing figure leading the way. Miami has Lebron James and Philadelphia now leans on quarterback Michael Vick. Vick became a controversial figure after being jailed for his involvement in a dogfighting ring and while he’s slowly making his way back into the good graces of fans, there is still a large segment of the population that simply won’t root for him. James, of course, did not end up in jail, but his television special in which he announced he was going to the Miami Heat made him unpopular over the past season.

The main reason the Eagles may be hated on a Heat-esqe level is because of the large amount of stars they’ve added since last season. Things officially kicked off when they traded backup quarterback Kevin Kolb to the Arizona Cardinals for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Rodgers-Cromartie is a player that can help the Eagles’ secondary right away and in trading Kolb, they let go of a player who likely wouldn’t have seen much time on the field (barring an injury to Michael Vick, of course). Another splash was made when they signed free agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha – perhaps the top defensive player on the market. The Eagles then followed that up with several more signings, highlighted by the pickups of 1,000-yard rusher Ronnie Brown and 1,000-yard receiver Steve Smith. Brown will backup Lesean McCoy and Smith will be the No. 2 receiver behind Desean Jackson, but both could play integral roles on this year’s team.

Another wildcard in the offseason was the acquisition of quarterback Vince Young. Young, once considered one of the brightest young quarterbacks in the NFL, certainly isn’t expected to start. But should the scrambling Vick become injured, he gives Philadelphia an experienced backup who will have plenty of weapons at his disposal should he need to step in and play. Young has struggled over the past few seasons playing for the Tennessee Titans, but he didn’t have the talent around him that he does now. Even if Vick doesn’t get hurt over the course of the season, Young could also play a part in some trick plays that would utilize a bit of his extreme athleticism.

There’s also the fact that Philly fans are, well, Philly fans. They have a strong reputation for being a bit too hard-nosed and are often the derision of other sports fans. This is, after all, the fanbase that once booed Santa Claus. Santa Claus!

Really, when you think about it, the Eagles aren’t so much Miami Heat as they are New York Yankees or Boston Red Sox. They didn’t round up three of the best players in the league, but they did manage to secure about a half dozen key pickups this offseason that will greatly strengthen the team at various positions. Either way, though, the Eagles will face lots of opposition from fans outside of Philadelphia.

May 2, 2011

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Late-Round NFL Draft Pick Steals

By: Anson Whaley

With all due respect to the NBA and NHL playoffs, the NFL Draft was the premiere sporting event of the weekend. It’s a chance for teams to not only build for the future, but in some cases, find players capable of stepping in to contribute immediately. The most attention is paid to the early rounds of the event, but there are always some diamonds in the rough found late in the draft.

Here’s a look at the top ten steals (selected in the fifth round or later) over the past twenty years:

Honorable Mention – WR Joe Horn (1996 5th Round Pick)

As one of the premier wide receivers in the early part of this decade, Horn racked up more than 6,000 yards from 2000-2004 with the New Orleans Saints. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and ended his career with 58 touchdowns.

10. QB Matt Cassel (2005 7th Round Pick)

Cassel wasn’t given a chance to play immediately, backing up some guy named Tom Bradyin New England. But with Brady’s injury, Casselshowed he learned plenty with the Patriots. He joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 and was a Pro Bowler last season. With wide receivers Dwayne Boweand the recently-drafted Jon Baldwin, Cassel could have another big year in 2011.

9. QB Marc Bulger (2000 6th Round Pick)

After 2006, Bulgerwas developing into one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, coming off of a 4,000-yard Pro Bowl season with the St. Louis Rams. But a lack of production since then caused the team to look elsewhere, drafting rookie Sam Bradfordlast season. Bradford has now become the starter while Bulgeris looking for another job. He could resurface this year with the Arizona Cardinals or another team in need of a veteran.

8. WR Keenan McCardell (1991 12th Round Pick)

McCardell is one of the more underrated receivers in recent memory. His 11,373 yards are good for 24th all-time among receivers. Part of that is due to his longevity, playing 16 seasons, but McCardell was legitimately a very good receiver, hitting the 1,000-yard mark five times over his career.

7. WR Marques Colston (2006 7th Round Pick)

Colston accumulated more than 1,000 yards in four of his first five seasons and is one of the best young receivers in the NFL. He already has 40 receiving touchdowns and playing alongside quarterback Drew Brees, will put up big time numbers by the end of his career.

6. RB Michael Turner (2004 6th Round Pick)

An argument can be made that Turner should be higher on this list since he’s one of the best running backs in the game. But I don’t expect him to keep up the kind of monster production he’s had in the past three seasons, when he rushed for nearly 4,000 yards. Still, he’s another example of why teams wait to select running backs in later rounds.

5. (tie) QB Marc Brunell (1993 5th Round Pick)

In case you hadn’t noticed, Brunell is still playing at the age of 40. Seems like he’s been in the league forever … mostly because he has. All jokes aside, even though he’s now a clipboard holder for the most part rarely seeing any game action, Brunell was an excellent starting quarterback for many years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s amassed over 32,000 passing yards in his career, good for 30th in NFL history, and is a three-time Pro Bowler.

5. (tie) QB Matt Hasselbeck (1998 6th Round Pick)

Hasselbeckis still enjoying a great NFL career and has been a three-time Pro Bowler. His 29,000+ passing yards are good for ninth on the all-time active quarterback list and at 35, he still has time to add to those impressive numbers. Hasselbeck’s play has deteriorated a bit (as evidenced by the 34 interceptions he’s thrown the past two seasons), but he is still a very capable starting signal caller.

3. LB Zach Thomas (1996 5th Round Pick)

I know, I know – he’s the only defensive player on this list. The fact is that there have simply been far more offensive gems in later rounds. Still, the Miami Dolphins found a good one in linebacker Zach Thomas. He established himself as one of the most dominant middle linebackers of his era with more than 1,100 tackles. He even threw in 20 ½ sacks and 17 interceptions for good measure in his 12-year career.

2. Terrell Davis (1995 6th Round Pick)

Davis’ seven-year career was uncharacteristically short due to injuries, but he had three consecutive 1,500-yard seasons, including 1998 when he rushed for 2,008 yards. Davis was also a two-time AP Offensive Player of the Year and is an annual finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Oh yeah … and helping John Elwaywin two Super Bowls doesn’t hurt, either.

1. Tom Brady (2000 6th Round Pick)

If you look up late-round NFL Draft steal in the dictionary, Brady’s mug would undoubtedly show up – and for good reason. He is a two-time league Most Valuable Player, six-time Pro Bowler, and most importantly, has led the New England Patriots to three Super Bowls. Case closed.