February 20, 2014

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5 NFL Teams Who Need to Make a Splash in Round 1

By: Matt Bowen

With the 2014 NFL Combine happening February 22-25 in Indianapolis the NFL hits full throttle once again. The Combine signifies that the 2014 NFL Draft is right around the corner. This is the time that all 32 NFL GMs begin to sweat. Critical decisions are to be made.

While many may see the combine as players in shorts and t-shirts simply running around, it’s anything but. NFL dreams are on the line. GMs are watching. Make a lasting impact now and your name will be called in May.

To no one’s surprise the quarterback position will be under the microscope in Indy during the Combine. Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and others will fill the board come draft day. Although there may not be an elite quarterback in this draft this year’s class is certainly better than 2011’s class. As far as elite goes, that remains to be seen as only time will tell.

Eric Fisher

The Chiefs made Eric Fisher the #1 pick in 2013. Who will go #1 in the 2014 NFL Draft?

Some teams will get the QB fever and reach for what they hope is a winner. Keep in mind that many teams are hungry for their franchise signal caller but quarterback is not the only position. Which team will be bold and pass on a quarterback for something else?

The following teams, whether searching for their quarterback of the foreseeable future or a  playmaker at another position have to make a splash in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft. Making the wrong moves may forever doom their respective franchises.

No. 5: Houston Texans

This is a no brainer, but it must be mentioned. The No. 1 pick in the NFL draft comes with pressure. The Houston Texans could do one of three things—draft Jadeveon Clowney, draft the quarterback which they deem the best, or trade the pick.

Once Clowney dismantles the competition at the Combine and topples the likes of Twitter by the end of February 25 the pick will be an easy one. Everyone will be talking about this kid from South Carolina. His combination of size, speed and strength is something unfathomable. At 6’6”, 275 lbs. he says he’ll run a 4.4 40-yard-dash at the Combine. If he does that there will be talks of “best ever” even before he sports an NFL jersey.

By this time next week the Texans will have made up their mind.

No. 4: San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers own the 30th selection in the first round but the heat is on. After all, the Niners have to contend with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

The Seahawks appear to be going nowhere anytime soon and the 49ers have to keep up. It can be argued that these are the two most dangerous teams in the NFL but speculation and proof are two separate things.

The Niners are motivated to reach the summit—their Super Bowl window is now. Expect San Francisco to select a sturdy wide receiver in Round 1.

No. 3 Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans sit in a curious position in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL draft. With pick No. 11 the team could go in any direction.

New head coach Ken Whisenhunt is a quarterback kinda guy and he’s going to give Jake Locker a chance. With that being said, it may be in their best interest to draft a quarterback with their first pick. Locker hasn’t proven himself yet and the Titans could catch an acute case of the QB fever.

A guy like Derek Carr of Fresno State or Zach Mettenberger from LSU may intrigue them just enough to pull the trigger. Even if Locker doesn’t convince the Titans brass he’s their number one his younger predecessor would have time to learn. On the other hand, the demand is high on these kids and they would be valuable trade bait should Locker pan out. This would bring interest from other teams around this time next season. A healthy quarterback with a year of NFL experience is a coveted commodity. It seems like a win-win for the Titans.

Pay attention to the Titans—their decision could shake up the rest of the draft.

No. 2: St. Louis Rams

Conveniently enough the St. Louis Rams have the No. 2 overall pick, but that’s not why this draft is so important for them. They also have the No. 13 pick in the first round.

Thanks to the trade with the Washington Redskins for Robert Griffin III in 2012, the Rams own the No. 2 pick. They will draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins out of Clemson and all will be right in the world. Combined with Tavon Austin the Rams will have two explosive receivers.

The team still believes in quarterback Sam Bradford and will spend their No. 13 pick on protecting him. Expect the Rams to select the best offensive lineman available and with possibly five quarterbacks being selected before that pick, the lineman pool should be rich.

The Rams are a team on the brink of greatness, but must protect Bradford. Let’s hope their No. 13 pick is a Week 1 starter.

No. 1: Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are currently upside down. The front office is in disarray but better days are ahead.

The 2014 NFL draft is where it all starts. With two picks, No. 4 and No. 26 in the first round the team has to knock it out of the park.

They can’t repeat what they did in 2012. That year they also had two picks in Round 1. They took running back Trent Richardson at No. 3 and quarterback Brandon Weeden at No. 22. They acquired the No. 22 pick by trading their 2011 No. 6 pick to the Atlanta Falcons for who turned out to be Julio Jones.

Fittingly enough their second pick this year will be at No. 26—they acquired that by trading Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts early in the 2013.

The Browns need a quarterback and everything points to them selling the farm for Manziel. If a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have the No. 3 overall pick threaten to take Manziel the Browns may cough up the No. 26 pick. Manziel would light a fire in Cleveland the city hasn’t seen since some guy named LeBron roamed the court. He would sell tickets and more importantly reinstall the faith.

If Manziel doesn’t fall into Cleveland’s lap the Browns have to make hay with the best available. The future of the franchise is at stake. Regardless of what happens the Browns will be the most talked-about team in the league leading up to the draft.

June 5, 2013

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NFL Talk

By: Matt Bowen

Face it—it’s never too soon to talk about the NFL. The thoughts of the upcoming 2013 NFL season are starting to invade NFL fanatics’ minds. Yes, we’re only a few days into June, but it’s been three months since Super Bowl XLVII. That means we have exactly three months to go until the 2013 season kicks off on September 5. Some may say that we’re in the doldrums of the offseason, but this is just the beginning. It only gets better from here.

With that being said, let’s talk football.

Here are the top five headlines weighing on everyone’s mind this offseason:

Will RG3 Be RG3?

After his injury last season, will RG3 be the same player this year?

Any true NFL fan is currently holding their breath hoping that Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will return healthy. The knee injury he suffered in the playoffs was gruesome to watch. The nausea that ensued when reality and doubt set in still exist today.

He’s the future—a prototype never before seen on an NFL field—the complete package.

Will he be okay?

Something tells me that he’ll be just fine—RG3 is a remarkable athlete.

Let’s hope he’s “ready for some football” on September 9 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.

Can the Indianapolis Colts Return to the Playoffs?

The Indianapolis Colts took the league by storm last year when they defied the odds and made the playoffs. Then rookie quarterback Andrew Luck proved to be the truth, but can he avoid the sophomore slump?

Having tasted winning in 2012, the Colts grew leaps and bounds and impressed all as they won games they probably shouldn’t have. One adjustment this is season will be to new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Former OC Bruce Arians is now head coach for the Arizona Cardinals. All Luck did under the tutelage of Arians in 2012 is set a rookie record with 4,374 passing yards.

Luck has the intelligence to absorb a new system quickly. The only question that remains is will the Colts return to the playoffs?

Will Wes Welker be the “It” Factor for the Denver Broncos?

The Denver Broncos were seconds away from the AFC Championship game last season before a Baltimore Ravens bomb sent them packing.

After shaking off the rust, quarterback Peyton Manning looked like Peyton Manning by season’s end. All the Broncos needed heading into the offseason is some added offense and there was no better find than Wes Welker.

Will Welker be the difference? Are the Broncos now “locks” for a Super Bowl appearance? Along with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, can the Broncos have three 1000-plus yard receivers?

Something tells me Manning and Welker are out for revenge. Watch out!

How Good Will the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens Play?

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens look to avoid the Super Bowl hangover this season.

The Ravens took the league’s top prize last season and without a doubt will look different this season. Out are Anqaun Boldin (49ers), Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and Ray Lewis (retired)— and Ravens fans have to be wondering what their team will be like without three of their best. The Ravens still have a solid squad, but are they contenders?

The 49ers face the most pressure of any team this season. Having been so close the ultimate prize, can they get over the hump this season? Colin Kaepernick is now the man and expectations have never been higher. If there’s one team that’s built to win it all it’s the Niners, but will they do it?

Numerous Other Questions Scattered on Our Minds:

Can the Cincinnati Bengals win a playoff game?

Will Adrian Peterson eclipse 2,000-plus yards again?

Will Mike Wallace be the boost the Miami Dolphins need?

Can Calvin Johnson break his own single-season receiving record of 1,964 yards?

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers make the playoffs?

Are the New England Patriots at the end of an era?

Is this the year for the Atlanta Falcons?

What will unfold for the New York Jets?

Are the Seattle Seahawks the NFL’s best team?

September 11, 2012

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2012 NFL season in preview (Part 2)

By: Joe Williams

Welcome back to the NFL season in preview. If you missed the first half last week you can check it out here before you read part 2.

Could the 2012 season end with Andre Johnson and the Houston Texans as Super Bowl champions?

Nov. 2

Terrell Owens announces on Twitter that he will rejoin the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League for the 2013 season.

Nov. 7

The NFL announces that an agreement has been reached with the officials. The replacement referees will work one more week before NFL officials return to the field.

Nov. 11

4:05 p.m.: After getting an extra week of preparation during the bye, Tim Tebow makes his first start for the New York Jets but gets fined for violating the NFL uniform policy when he takes the field shirtless.

Nov. 12

Ben Rothlisberger tells reporters that he “probably has a concussion or something” but it won’t keep him from playing against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football.

Nov. 14

Jennifer Lopez (part owner of the Miami Dolphins) announces that she hasn’t been able to stop judging people since leaving American Idol and is going to begin attending the Dolphins practices so she can critique “everything and everyone.”

Nov. 18

Ben Rothlisberger tells reporters that “surgery is for wimps” and he will go against his doctor’s advice and play against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football.

Nov. 22

The New York Jets drop their third straight game, this time to the rival New England Patriots. The offense has 11 turnovers in the last three weeks.

Nov. 26

My fantasy team clinches a playoff spot. Yours has been eliminated from playoff contention. Better luck next season.

Nov. 29

At halftime of the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons game, news breaks that an unidentified NFL player is now dating a Kardashian.

Dec. 1

The San Diego Chargers enter December at 8-3.

Dec. 2

One of the top quarterbacks in the NFL goes down with a season-ending injury. There could not be worse news for my fantasy team.
A man files a lawsuit against the New York Jets, claiming the team cost him a “large sum of money” when they removed him from the stadium for selling apple and lime flavored pastries called “Timovers.”

Dec. 3

Brett Farve holds a press conference to announce he has “five or six” wins left in him for any teams who need to replace their starting quarterback heading into the playoffs. He also lets it slip that he, Roger Clemens and Allen Iverson have a bet to see who can get on the field and stay in the headlines the longest after their skills have eroded.

Dec. 10

The Houston Texans knock off the undefeated New England Patriots. Every team now has at least one loss.

Dec. 15

The NFL announces that their contract with league statisticians has run out and an agreement cannot be reached…therefore the statisticians have been locked out. The games will go out without any stats being recorded. This ruins championship week in all fantasy leagues.

Dec. 23

RGIII breaks Cam Newton’s rookie passing yardage record.

Dec. 30

After a terrible December stretch, the San Diego Chargers finish the season at 8-8 and miss out on the playoffs.
The New Orleans Saints clinch a playoff spot. During their post-game celebration, Saints players credit the success to the team camaraderie that was developed when they all got “Roger sucks” tattoos during the bye week.
Randy Moss makes it through an entire season without becoming a disruption in the 49ers’ locker room.

Jan. 20

The Houston Texans complete the sweep and beat New England for the second time, this time for a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Green Bay Packers get revenge for the season-opening loss and knock off the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.

Feb. 3

The Houston Texans win the first Super Bowl in franchise history.

June 8, 2012

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Where Will Ochocinco End Up?

By: Junior

With news coming out yesterday that Chad Ochocinco was released by the New England Patriots, speculation has started on where the wide receiver could end up next year. It has been a rough year for wide receivers in the NFL. Terrell Owens has been unable to land with a team, Hines Ward retired maybe a bit earlier than he wanted to, and now Chad Ochocinco needs to find a home. So which teams could be interested in the former Pro Bowl wide receiver?

Could Chad Ochocinco and Trent Richardson be teammates next season?

Houston Texans

If the Houston Texans have interest in Ochocinco, you would have to think they would be the favorites. The team on my list with the best chances of making it to the playoffs this season, Chad went to the Patriots in the hopes of winning a Super Bowl.  The Texans made the playoffs last year and might see Ochocinco as the WR they have been looking for to free Andre Johnson of constant double teams.

Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo Bills have some precedent with this type of signing, having picked up Terrell Owens in 2009. The Bills started off last season with a 5-2 record before eventually ending up 6-10. That fast start, with the free agency addition of Mario Williams and the drafting of Stephon Gilmore could be enough to entice Ochocinco. The Bills don’t have much in the WR department outside of Stevie Johnson, so Ochocinco could be a solid addition to their offense.

Cleveland Browns
This might be a long shot, but the Cleveland Browns desperately were looking for a WR going into the NFL Draft, and while they came out with a new QB and RB, they still are thin at wide receiver. The Browns aren’t considered likely candidates to make a big playoff run, but with a revamped offense, Ochocinco could be a missing piece to a rebound season.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins lost their #1 receiver in Brandon Marshall during the off-season, when they traded him to the Chicago Bears. They may find Ochocinco to be too much of a distraction for their team to gamble on, but they could definitely use the help. Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill could use some help with targets to throw to and there aren’t many WR’s of Ochocino’s caliber available on the free agent market.

St. Louis Rams

Sam Bradford is a solid young QB on a pretty awful St. Louis Rams football team. With WR’s Danny Amendola and Brandon Gibson as his wideouts, you have to think Bradford would welcome Chad Ochocinco to the offense. Jeff Fisher has taken a gamble on an older receiver before, having acquired Randy Moss while he was the head coach of the Tennessee Titans. I am not sure Ochocinco would go to a team that has struggled like the Rams have, but right now, his options are limited.

May 21, 2012

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Kerry Wood Retires

By: Anson Whaley

With the abrupt retirement last week of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher Kerry Wood, baseball lost one of the great flamethrowers of his era.

Is Kerry Wood comparable to Nolan Ryan?

Wood’s career didn’t turn out exactly as he probably thought it would, though. As a rookie in 1998, he burst onto the scene after recording 20 strikeouts in a game against the Houston Astros, tying a major league record set by Roger Clemens. Dominant performances like that helped him win the Rookie of the Year Award. That success didn’t last long, though, as Wood sat out the entire 1999 season due to an elbow injury and consequently had the famous Tommy John surgery. It could be argued that injury actually cost him two full seasons as he had a subpar 2000 in trying to get back on track.

Wood came back healthy in 2001 and in ’01 – ’03, put together three of his best seasons including his all-star 2003 campaign when he struck out a league leading 266 batters. But over the next few years, he struggled again with injuries and in 2007 became a full time relief pitcher. Having earned about $40 million in salary by that time, he could have easily ridden off into the sunset and called it a career. Instead, he chose to reinvent himself.

In 2008, he became an all-star for the second time – this time as a closer. Over 2008 and 2009, Wood was one of the best in the business in the National League, compiling 54 saves. He also had one of the best strikeout to innings pitched ratios in baseball, fanning 147 batters in only 102 innings. After a rough start in 2010 with the Cleveland Indians, he was traded to the New York Yankees and was the definition of a shutdown reliever. Helping the Yanks to the ALCS, Wood posted a microscopic 0.69 ERA in 24 games.

All of this isn’t to suggest that he was even close to a Hall of Fame player. Wood never won 15 games as a starter or had an ERA under 3.00. Further, even in his best seasons, it would be relatively easy to find a significant amount of pitchers that were more successful.

Also, for all of his talent, Wood struggled wildly with his control at times. He had the equivalent of approximately six full seasons as a starter, but he twice led the league in hit batters and twice finished in the top ten in wild pitches. He also ranked in the top ten in walks allowed four times.

Hall of Good? Maybe. Hall of Fame? Absolutely not.

Wood is frequently compared to another modern-day flamethrower – Roger Clemens. But though he tied Clemens’ record for strikeouts in a nine-inning game, he was actually more similar to Nolan Ryan. When he was on his game he was difficult to beat, but he was never considered the greatest pitcher during his time in the majors. Wood was king of the strikeout (he actually finished his career as the active leader in strikeout/nine innings ratio with more than ten strikeouts), but simply not the pitcher Clemens was.

Still, Wood had one of the best fastballs we’ve ever seen and at the height of his career, was a remarkable player. Few pitchers can successfully become an all-star starter and closer of the course of their careers, but Wood was one such player.