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.

January 31, 2013

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Super Bowl XLVII Predictions

By: Matt Bowen

Super Bowl XLVII is now just days away, which leaves fans to ponder how many pounds of nachos they’ll serve up to their friends and what exactly will transpire in the big game in the Big Easy.

Making predictions is half the fun when it comes to the Super Bowl. NFL fans know that most of the iconic Super Bowl moments have come unexpectedly, and there will no doubt be a few of those this year.

Let’s get to it:

Jacoby Jones Will Take the Opening Kickoff Back for a Touchdown

The Baltimore Ravens acquired Jacoby Jones in the offseason primarily to be an instant threat in the return game. Jones hasn’t disappointed this season as he returned two kicks and a punt for touchdowns.

He’s also a viable weapon as a No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Terrey Smith. Just ask the Denver Broncos if Jones is a difference maker. They seemingly forgot about him in their Divisional Round playoff matchup as he marched into the end zone after a bomb from quarterback Joe Flacco that sent the game to overtime.

Here’s the kicker—Jones is a native of New Orleans, and he’ll be more than ready to steal the show. With his blood flowing early, he’ll start the game off with a bang.

Alex Smith Will Make an Appearance

The San Francisco 49ers made a bold move this season when they benched then starting quarterback Alex Smith for second-year man Colin Kaepernick.

Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft was finally beginning to look like a No. 1 pick. He was coming off arguably the best game of his career, going 18-for-19 for 232 yards and three touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8.

Just when it was looking like Smith had solidified himself, a concussion knocked him out of Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams and inevitably changed the course of his career.

In came Kaepernick, who undoubtedly optimized the Niners offense and propelled them to the Super Bowl.

So, this is the end of Smith, right?

Wrong!

He’ll make an appearance in the Super Bowl and even throw an 18-yard touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh knows he has to pack a bag full of tricks if he’s to beat a veteran Ravens defense. Smith will be one of those tricks, and he’ll make the most of it. On the first possession of the second half, Smith will make his mark.
Justin Tucker Will Kick the Longest Field Goal in Super Bowl History

The Baltimore Ravens made some noise this preseason when they tapped rookie Justin Tucker from the University of Texas to be their place kicker this season.

Tucker proved he’s the man for the job, going 30-for-33 on the season and even notching four field goals longer than 50 yards.

The Super Bowl record for longest field goal is a 54-yarder from Steve Christie of the Buffalo Bills against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII.

Tucker will top that by booting a 56-yard field goal with 3:13 left in the third quarter. He’ll show the world just why the Ravens made a great choice when they chose him.

Randy Moss Will Walk the Walk

In case you haven’t heard, Randy Moss has named himself the “Greatest of All Time” during media day at the Super Bowl this season.

Considering he’s a member of the San Francisco 49ers, that’s a bold statement.

Although his career numbers don’t compare to Hall of Fame 49er Jerry Rice’s, Moss will make a big impact in the Super Bowl. Love him or hate him, he’s really good.

It’s long been known that Moss shows up when he wants to, and, considering it’s the Super Bowl, he’ll be open for business.

The Ravens will have their hands full trying to keep track of receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Moss will slip by the secondary for an early second quarter touchdown. Don’t be surprised when he is booed after reaching the end zone.

In the end, he’ll have four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Joe Flacco Will Stamp Himself as Elite

Why there’s still a debate to whether Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is elite or not beats me.  All the guy does is win.  Sure, it may not always be pretty, but a win is a win.

Flacco will be a free agent in the offseason, but don’t expect him to leave Baltimore—he’s there to stay.  Taking Super Bowl MVP honors will certainly boost his pocketbook during bargaining.

He may not be the flashiest quarterback, but he’ll have a Super Bowl ring to show off.

In his MVP performance he’ll go 22-for-30 with 301 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning drive that will end in a Ray Rice 12-yard screen pass touchdown.

Final Score: Ravens 24, 49ers 20

October 12, 2011

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NFL Predictions: Week 6 Fantasy Picks

By: Rick Jarrell

Fantasy Football Predictions: Week 5 Recap

I’m not sure what’s going on with the New York Jets. They held up pretty well against the New England Patriots, only losing by nine points, but I’m surprised they didn’t run more. Sure the Patriots’ secondary is suspect, but slowing the game down and playing good defense was the Jets bread and butter. Super Bowl hopefuls I just don’t see.

Where I missed on Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson, I hit on Alex Smith. The 49ers crushed the Tampa Bay Bucs 48-3, with Smith tossing 3 TD and 0 INT. The offensive explosion did not include Michael Crabtree, though, recording only a couple catches for 36 yards.

Oh and Nick Novak kicked five field goals. That’s a solid pick for a kicker, albeit lucky. But when your fantasy team begins to tank, you take what you can get.

Fantasy Football Predictions:  Week 6

Dallas & New England

It feels like a cop out to just select two offenses, but this match up has high scoring written all over it. Expect Tom Brady and his receivers to have a big game, as well as Tony Romo and his crew. Brady doesn’t discriminate when it comes to his receivers, so who knows who will be his favorite target for the week. If you’re looking to pick someone up, go after Aaron Hernandez, their second tight end who gets first tight end receptions, or Chad Ochocinco, who has disappointed fantasy owners so far, but has to score at least a few times this year, right?

Michael Bush

The Oakland Raiders face my Cleveland Browns this Sunday, which I fully expect to result in personal dismay. The Brownies can’t stop the run, and Darren McFadden has become the top tier player the Raiders expected him to be when he was drafted in the first round a few years ago.

But unless your league-mates have been in a cave, he’s not on your waiver wire. Chances are Michael Bush isn’t either, but I have him on many of my teams, and it’s always a toss-up whether he should play or not. This week he’s a good play in a likely blowout of the Browns. The Raiders will run the ball a ton, and Bush will get the goal line carries.

Ryan Grant

Speaking of the running game, the Green Bay Packers go up against one of the worst run defenses in the league in the St. Louis Rams. They’re also one of the worse defenses in general, so Aaron Rodgers should have a big day. But eventually they’ll pull out to a big league and run the clock down. Grant splits carries with James Starks, but Grant is technically the starter and incumbent, although he missed all last year due to injury.

For whatever reason, I’ve noticed Grant go undrafted and stay on the waiver wire in many leagues. He’s definitely not what he was two years ago, but he’s a good value play if you’re desperate for a running back.

October 7, 2011

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NFL Predictions: Week 5 Fantasy Picks

By: Rick Jarrell

Last week was very kind to fans – the games were exciting and, for the most part, concluded in rather predictable fashions. Most of the games, other than the Bengals win over the Bills and 49ers win over the Eagles, had outcomes you would expect. And even those two, in hindsight, make a lot of sense. But despite the predictability, there were a lot of entertaining games on, the Detroit Lions‘ comeback over the Dallas Cowboys likely the best of them all.

Tony Romo, one of my fantasy studs of the week, managed to only play one half and put up 300 yards and 3 TDs. But at halftime, the towel boy locked Romo in a storage closet and took his jersey, throwing three picks resulting in two touchdowns and a devastating loss in the second quarter. Still a decent fantasy play despite the turnovers, but wow.

McNabb performed well, too, especially compared his recent performances. 200 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT is acceptable for a back up if you needed it. The Vikings still lost, but it seems like that’s going to be a consistent trend this year.

On to the Week 5 Fantasy Studs…

Alex Smith

For many fantasy owners, the beginning of bye weeks has snuck up quicker than anticipated. All of my teams, for example, have been annihilated by the Week 5 buys, including both of my quarterbacks – Romo and Rex Grossman (I try to synchronize my teams for simplicity). Luckily I’ve snagged a decent replacement in Alex Smith.

Smith led the Niners to victory Sunday with a solid 200 yards and 2 TD game. The Eagles, who allegedly have a deadly secondary, actually have superior cornerbacks and holes at safety and lineback, which Smith was able to exploit with Vernon Davis at tight end.

This week, they face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who aren’t exactly shutting down teams. Will Smith put up 40 points for you? No. Did I just accidentally type “Will Smith?” Yes. But another solid 20 point outing is likely in store, which is all you can really ask for in a back up.

Note: I’ll also be starting Michael Crabtree in hopes he will finally play a full game and finally show some of the talent touted when he was coming out of college.

Shonn Greene & LaDainian Tomlinson

The New York Jets have looked much worse than anticipated this year on the shoulders of Mark Sanchez, who did a pretty good Tony Romo impression Sunday night. But their match up with the New England Patriots this weekend provides a very good match up for the Jets, who in the past, have played well and beat the high flying offense. The Patriots’ defense is suspect at best, but can produce big plays with their dynamic corners. The run defense, however, gives up big yards. Look for the Jets to keep the ball on the ground, out of Sanchez’s hands, and in the arms of Green and LaDainian Tomlinson.

Nick Novak

That’s right, I’m suggesting a kicker. In reality, kickers don’t matter much. When they put up big numbers, it’s unpredictable, and your energy is best served on other matters – fantasy football and otherwise. Which makes it even more irritating that the first bye week, my kicker is out. Not a big deal, but it’s annoying. So my strategy on the waiver wire to pick up whoever is playing Denver in hopes they nail a 50 yard field goal. This week, that’s San Diego’s Nick Novak. Denver’s Matt Prater would work, too, but he isn’t very accurate.

August 22, 2011

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Top Ten Fantasy Football Drafting Tips

By: Anson Whaley

The NFL lockout’s over and with the season about to begin, here are ten tips to keep in mind when drafting your fantasy football team.

10. Never take a Kicker or Defense until the Late Rounds: Kickers in high-scoring offenses will produce points for sure, but it’s much better to add another quality skilled NFL player in the sixth or seventh round than to burn that pick on an ‘idiot’ kicker (Thanks, Peyton – I’ll never forget that one). There are always several good options left in the free agency pool and while you don’t necessarily have to wait until your final pick, you should avoid drafting one in the middle rounds. The same can be said for defenses. You may even prefer to switch your defense from week to week to take advantage of good matchups (i.e. Playing against the Buffalo Bills’ offense = gold mine).

9. Don’t Draft Based on Last Year’s Stats: While it’s fine to use last year’s numbers as a guide, they can’t be relied upon solely for your analysis in drafting. Sometimes the losses of seemingly minor NFL players such as blocking fullbacks change teams drastically and could mean that running back you’ve been watching won’t be as successful.

8. Avoid Taking Too Many Players from One Team: Even if it means potentially passing on what may be a slightly better player, it’s a good idea to limit yourself to two players from one NFL team. The Packers may be a great team, but drafting Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Grant, and Greg Jennings is probably the worst idea since the Houston Astros 1980s rainbow-colored unis. Not only will you have to deal with a potential loss during Green Bay’s bye week, but anytime their offense stumbles during the season, it could mean another automatic defeat.

7. Draft Based on Your League: It’s always a good idea to draft personnel depending on the rules in your league, so make sure you’re paying attention to them. Someone like Reggie Bush who’s a dual threat out of the backfield is obviously more valuable in a point-per-reception league. Or if you’re in a league where accumulated yardage doesn’t count, you’ll want to target players with only high touchdown possibilities.

6. Target Several Players Immediately after Your Pick: This rule is especially true for online drafts that run on a timer. Your pick will come up sooner than you think and poor planning can result in a hurried, or even wasted, pick. Don’t turn into the Minnesota Vikings – be ready. Immediately after your selection, highlight at least five players you’d like to take next and use your time to rank them. There’s a good chance that one or even several will be taken by then, but by planning ahead of time, you can ensure that you’re ready when your team is on the clock.

5. Avoid Listening to Too Many ‘Experts’: I like Yahoo’s Brandon Funston and ESPN’s Mel Kiper’s just as much as the next guy, but the more analysts you listen to, the more confused you’ll get. These guys aren’t perfect and often have conflicting opinions. The best thing to do is to use them for compiling groups of players you like at each position and make the final pick based on your own knowledge. Just because Kiper isn’t follicly-challenged doesn’t mean that he’s always right.

4. Limit Rookie Draft Picks: Sure, there are plenty of NFL rookies that can impact your team positively. But for every Adrian Peterson there are five Michael Crabtrees. Facts are facts – most rookies won’t play as much as projected and even if they do, that doesn’t mean they’ll be successful. Not only is the speed of the NFL on another level, but first-year players have plenty to worry about. Trust me, Cam Newton is not the key to your fantasy football team reaching the playoffs.

3. Overvalue quarterbacks and tight ends: This is one rule that’s a bit debatable, but I’ve seen too many good teams destroyed by mediocre quarterbacks. Invest in a good one in the first two or three rounds and your team should be better for it. There are only a few elite ones (Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers, Ryan Leaf to name a few), so you’ll need to act fast. It’s also worth targeting the top tight ends in the early middle rounds since there aren’t many that are capable of finding the end zone regularly.

2. Stockpile skill players (WR, RB, QB): Many owners will make a mistake in thinking their team is fine because they’ve got capable starters at all positions, but you can never have enough skill players. For one thing, you’ll need to worry about injuries and bye weeks. Plus, they’re always good trade bait and you can move them for other needs you may have down the line. If your quarterback goes down, it will be much easier to strike a deal for someone’s quality backup. So instead of picking up the league’s best kicker in the seventh round, take a third running back or wide receiver.

1. Leave emotion at the door: Just as that was Brad Pitt’s first rule in poker in Ocean’s Eleven, it should be made so in fantasy football. You should never pick up or avoid a player based on how you feel about them or their team personally. If you’re a Steelers fan, make the sacrifice and you don’t pick up Tom Brady who happens to be on the board in the fourth round, you’ve made a huge mistake. And just because you have a Texas Longhorns Ricky Williams jersey in your closet, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should take him with your first pick. Or second, third, fourth, or …

Well, you get the picture.