October 4, 2012

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Top 3 NFL Surprises Through the Quarter Mark of the Season

By: Matt Bowen

Each NFL season is full of surprises, never disappointing fans hungry for action. Never a dull moment, the 2012 season is no different as teams and individual players’ true identities have now begun to show.

IS RG3 the biggest surprise of 2012 so far?

Albeit only four games in, that means there are only 12 left. The parity in the league is what fans should love best, as the cliché “any given Sunday” is 100 percent true.  Through four weeks of play, 10 teams have a 2-2 record and only three remain undefeated. This promises fans a tight race to the finish as this year’s competition will hold surprises until the waning moments of Week 17.

That being said, let’s check out the NFL top three surprises through the quarter mark of the season.

RG3 is the Truth

OK—so this may not be a surprise, but Robert Griffin III has looked like he’s in contention for NFL MVP this season. He’s already totaled eight touchdowns and has only thrown one interception. This tells one that he is wise beyond his years when it comes to handling pressure in the pocket.

He’s thrown for 300-plus yards twice and most importantly the Washington Redskins are 2-2. What speaks volumes in regards to RG3’s remarkable blend of skills and smarts is his completion percentage, which sits at 69.4. This kid simply can’t play enough as fans would be willing to pay to see him play seven days a week.

The Minnesota Vikings are Looking Good

Who would have bet that the Vikings would be on top of the NFC North after four weeks of the season? What’s even more surprising is that the Vikings are in it for the long haul. Led by Jared Allen, their defense is as good as any in the NFL. They’ll keep the Vikes in every game this season.

Thanks to the somewhat miraculous rehabilitation of running back Adrian Peterson after knee surgery, one of the game’s best is still looking like… well, the best. He may only have one 100-yard game so far, but the way he’s bouncing in and out of holes means nothing but trouble for opposing defenses the rest of the season. He’s truly electric.

The biggest surprise for the team is that second-year quarterback Christian Ponder is making the organization look smart to draft him 12th overall in the 2011 draft. He has thrown four touchdowns and zero interceptions to this point. His completion percentage of 68.3 is a great improvement over his 54.3 percent last season, telling us that he is really learning the offense and is becoming comfortable as a starting NFL quarterback.

Don’t be shocked when the Vikings make the playoffs this year. After all, let’s not forget about Percy Harvin, who has proven to be more than just a flash in the pan and has solidified himself a legitimate threat to find the end zone every time he touches the ball. Wow!

The Arizona Cardinals are 4-0

Before the season started, there was much talk about the Arizona Cardinals being the worst team in the NFL. Role reversal, after four games, they are the best.

Quarterback Kevin Kolb has downright gotten the job done, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is as good as ever and their defense has only allowed 61 points, which is tops in the NFC right now.

So, will the Cardinals suddenly plummet? Don’t plan on it. This team now believes in itself and won’t take no for an answer. Week 5 against the St. Louis Rams will be Thursday Night Football. A win then will give the team a 5-0 record with 10 days to rest and improve.

Momentum is a hard thing to halt in the NFL. The Cardinals are for real.

September 21, 2011

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Predicting the NFL Week 3 Fantasy Studs

By: Rick Jarrell

Like many media personalities, I’m going to take a stab at predicting which NFL players will have spectacular statistical performances this upcoming weekend. But unlike many media personalities, I’m going to predict the top five players in the league – Tom Brady, Adrian Peterson, Andre Johnson, etc – will have a great week. That’s a cop out. Anyone can do that. The following are my somewhat bold predictions for NFL Week 3 fantasy studs.

Rex Grossman

I’m still surprised the Washington Redskins didn’t decide to go with Jon Beck as their starting quarterback, but I digress. Grossman has shown flashes of the good and bad we saw during his Chicago Bears days. Mike Shanahan may be reeling in the gun slinger, creating a reliable starter, and the suspect Dallas Cowboys’ secondary provides a solid match up. Where Dallas’s secondary lacks, it’s run defense makes up for it, with playmakers on the defensive line, which leads me to believe the Skins will be even more inclined to take it to the air as much as possible. But I caution you, as always, Grossman will throw a pick or two on his way to a 400 yard game.

Rob Gronkowski & Chad Ochocinco

Gronkowski has already been tearing it up this year, with three touchdowns in two games, even while splitting time with fellow tight end Aaron Hernandez (often in two tight end formations). But now that Hernandez will be out the next 2-4 weeks, Gronkowski should benefit even more by being additionally targeted by Tom Brady.

But one man can only do so much. There has to be another benefactor, someone who hasn’t tallied as many receptions as normal on the team. Someone who’s very vocal, but strangely not the last two weeks. That man, of course, is Ochocinco. He’s crowded behind the aforementioned athletic tight ends and very Patriot-minded players Deion Branch, Wes Welker, and Julian Edelman. Even with Brady throwing for 500 yards a game, that’s a lot of love to spread around. Expect Ocho to benefit from Hernandez’s absence, possibly more than Gronkowski will.

The Entire San Diego Chargers Team

The Kansas City Chiefs surprised everyone last year by winning the division handily but have stumbled out of the gate this year. They lost their Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry in Week 1, and Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles in Week 2. Both to ACL injuries. Both are out for the year. Couple that with the wide perception the team would take a step back this NFL season, it will likely be a very long year for the team and their fans.

The beneficiary of the Chief’s misfortunes this week will be the division rival Chargers. Moving the opposite direction of the Chiefs, as they are widely perceived to have underperformed last year, stud quarterback Phillip Rivers should have a huge game against the depleted secondary. Who catches the ball the most – Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, Antonio Gates – is irrelevant, as it’s probable all three will have very favorable games for their fantasy owners.

Mike Kafka

That’s right, I said it – Mike Kafka. League rules state Michael Vick has to sit out at least one game after his concussion (at least I think those are still the rules). So unless they change the rules specifically for him, Kafka is the man for Philadelphia this Sunday. The former Northwestern quarterback is highly unknown, but I can tell you this – it seems no matter who the Eagles put in at quarterback, they still win. Donovan McNabb, AJ Feely, Kevin Kolb, Vick, and now Kafka, who went 7-9 after Vick’s departure this past weekend.

Don’t expect Kafka to turn into Drew Brees. Not even close. They’ll probably try to establish the run, with LeSean McCoy having a breakout season so far. But the Giants have a strong defensive line. They’re weak in the secondary. So in a situation where you’d think Andy Reid would limit pass attempts to below 20, it may actually eclipse 30.

I hope none of you drafted Peyton Manning and David Garrard and are already hounding the waiver wire. But for the few that exist, Kafka is a decent option. Assuming Grossman is unavailable, that is.

August 31, 2011

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Most Inspiring Sports Comeback Stories in Recent Years

By: Rick Jarrell

This week, Michael Vick signed a six year, $100 million extension with the Philadelphia Eagles. The electrifying quarterback definitely deserved a pay raise from the two year, $16 million he signed in 2010, despite his injury risk. This is the second $100 million contract signed by Vick, the previous with the Atlanta Falcons. But the real story here is Vick’s rise to extremely public rise and fall, only to rise again. The improbable nature of his comeback brings a few other sports icons that have climbed from rock bottom to stardom in recent years.

Michael Vick

If you watch Vick on the football field, it’s no wonder there is so much fuss over his talent. The speed of a receiver combined with the arm of a quarterback creates a dynamic one two punch never seen in the NFL. In retrospect, there should be no reason he would not rise to Pro Bowl status again after being sent to prison for conducting a dog fighting ring. His public image was severely damaged by his actions, but we’ve seen sports fans overlook person misconduct in exchange for performance on the field – why not Vick?

The more surprising aspect of Vick’s comeback was the roadblocks on the team he signed with. At the time he joined the Eagles, Vick was behind Donovan McNabb, the franchise quarterback for the past decade who lead the team to four straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl, and Kevin Kolb, a proven back up who was able to step up in McNabb’s absence, so well that he created a QB controversy in the city. But McNabb was shipped to the Washington Redskins before the 2010 season, and Kevin Kolb manage to get hurt. Vick stepped in, put up huge numbers, and Kolb as sent to the Arizona Cardinals this offseason. The wall he had to climb, even after he got out of prison, was immense.

Josh Hamilton

Hamilton was a top tier prospect drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays in 1999. The hot commodity signed a deal with a $4 million signing bonus, but ran into trouble in 2003. He began showing up late to practice and games in 2003, and was suspended at the beginning of 2004 for violating the league’s drug policy. Suffering from various drug addictions, Hamilton entered rehab and did not play professionally again until 2006. After being bought by the Chicago Cubs in the Rule 5 Draft, and sent to the Cincinnati Reds, Hamilton blew up – in a good way.

Hamilton had a great rookie year, losing out to only Ryan Braun for the Rookie of the Year award. The Reds traded him to the Texas Rangers before the 2008 season, and has been an All-Star caliber player ever since. Not to mention an inspiration for those who have battled drug addictions.

Chris Andersen

Although Andersen’s plot has been less chronicled than the above athletes, it is nonetheless remarkable. After going undrafted in 1999, Andersen began his career in the Chinese Basketball Association. He climbed his way to the NBA, joining the Denver Nuggets and appearing in the NBA Dunk Contest in 2004 and 2005. The high flying forward was then suspended by the league in 2006 for violating the substance abuse rules, citing “drugs of abuse” as the reason.

After nearly two years away, Andersen came back in 2008 to rejoin the Nuggets, helping the team reach the playoffs each year since then. The defensive stalwart, with his electrifying blocks and reliable rebounding, has become a fan favorite in Denver, getting loud cheers when he enters the game and commonly being referred to his nickname, the Birdman. Another encouraging comeback story.

August 30, 2011

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NFC Preview

By: Joe Williams

Unlike the AFC, NFC has been wide open over the last few years. Six different NFL teams have played in the last three conference title games. Can the Cowboys, Redskins, Lions, Vikings, Falcons or 49ers make it 11 teams in 11 years? I think so.

NFC EAST

Traditionally, Daniel Snyder and the Redskins win the offseason with big-name free agent signings and then the games begin and someone else wins the division. But this year, it has been the Eagles grabbing all the headlines and bringing in high profile players. Question: What do you get when you take an NFL team that went 10-6 last season and add Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rogers-Cromarti, Ronnie Brown, Vince Young, and Steve Smith? Answer: The NFC East champs. Washington still needs to figure who is going to play quarterback. Dallas and New York will be in the playoff hunt, but Philly has too much talent.

Division winner: Philadelphia

Will the Philadelphia Eagles come out ahead of the pack?

 

NFC NORTH

This ought to be one of the most compelling divisions in football. Green Bay is the defending Super Bowl champion and returns several players who were out with injury last year. The Bears won the division last year and hosted the NFC title game. How will they rally around Jay Cutler after his knee injury in the NFC title game? Detroit seems poised to make a playoff run if they stay healthy and Minnesota has Donovan McNabb as its new quarterback. Chicago visits Minnesota and Detroit will be in Green Bay in the last week of the season. Expect those games to be meaningful.

Division winner: Green Bay

NFC SOUTH:

I expect the South to be the most competitive division with three teams battling for the division crown all season long. Carolina should be better than the 2-14 team of last year, but the Panthers are another year or two away. The Falcons and Saints remain made the playoffs last year and have Super Bowl aspirations. Tampa Bay won 10 games and should be even better with another year of experience for a young NFL team. One or two of these teams is going to have its playoff hopes dashed in the last week of the season.

Division winner: Atlanta

NFC WEST

Year after year, the West is thought of as the weakest division in the league. However, no other division has had three teams in the Super Bowl in the last decade. Once again, nobody expects much from the West, so watch out for a surprise team to make a run come playoff time. It would be nice if the team that wins this division at least has a winning record this year though. Who will it be? When in doubt, go with the team that has the best quarterback. Kevin Kolb could prove to be that man, but until he gets a full season under his belt I’m going with Sam Bradford.

Division winner: St. Louis

Wild Card winners: Dallas, New Orleans

NFC champion: Atlanta

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.