July 3, 2013

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5 NFL Teams That Will Surprise in 2013

By: Matt Bowen

With both the NBA and NHL crowning their champion in the recent weeks, sports fans are in dire straits. Correct, MLB is entering the meat and cheese portion of its season, but it’s not enough. Simply put, we need more. When it comes to sports we can never get enough.

Besides beloved baseball, what are we left with?

In comes creeping the oh-so-infectious NFL. It’s been months since the last NFL action. Honestly, if there were 52 Sundays in an NFL season, that still wouldn’t be enough. Admit it, you’re excited for football—you’re ready for it to invade your life once again.

Will the Detroit Lions return to the playoffs in 2013?

With that being said, let’s forecast who the top five surprise teams will be in 2013.

Kansas City Chiefs

Wow—2012 was a year to forget for the Kansas City Chiefs organization. It was a season brought them the overall No. 1 pick.

While it’s always nice to have top choice, it usually means that team owned the worst record in the entire league. This was true for the Chiefs as they only managed two victories. This year promises to be better for the Chiefs.

New to town are both head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith. This is enough to give the Chiefs faithful hope. It’s safe to say that the franchise is starting with a clean slate. Look for running back Jamaal Charles and wide receiver Dwayne Bowe to torment the opposition this season—both men welcome the team’s changes with open arms.

Things are beginning to look up in Kansas City.

Miami Dolphins

Young quarterback—check.

Positive free agent noise—check.

Round 1 draft splash—check.

New logo—Yup.

Right now, it seems as if the Miami Dolphins can do no wrong. Let’s not forget they toyed with the playoffs last year too. They won seven games when they were written off in the preseason. One may be asking, “How are they considered a surprise this year if they were last?”

It’s because the Dolphins still aren’t taken seriously. Well, the time for that poor notion of thought to subside is now.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill now has a viable receiving threat in free agent acquisition Mike Wallace. The team also rolled the dice and traded up to take defensive end Dion Jordan at No. 3 in the first round of the NFL draft. Look for him to cause havoc in the near future.

The Dolphins X-factor resides in their running game. Young backs Lamar Miller and rookie Mike Gillislee will be uber-flashy out of the backfield this season. Both are sleepers in fantasy mode, but neither should be forgotten about.

Great things are on the horizon in Miami.

Cleveland Browns

Really? The Cleveland Browns?

You’re eyes are not playing tricks on you—the Browns are a serious threat to all who cross their path this season.

The team did a magnificent job recruiting talented coaches in the offseason. New head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner will do nothing but good for the young Browns offense.

Quarterback Brandon Weeden will benefit most from the experienced coach staff. Running back Trent Richardson will reap the benefits of a bolstered passing game. The team plays in the ultra-competitive AFC North, but will be a real spoiler this season.

A new day is upon us in Cleveland.

Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions make the list simply because they could surprise either way. The sad part about that last comment—lifelong Lions fans are accustomed to losing.

Truly, this is a make-or-break season for the front office along with head coach Jim Schwartz. A single playoff appearance in 2011 just won’t cut it. After a decade of torture due under ex-GM Matt Millen’s grand scheme, the fans need a winner.

The team is obviously loaded with talent, but must execute smart football for a complete 60 minutes 16 times this season.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford can always lean on wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but not as much as he has in the past. Stafford throws the ball too much and the unbalanced offense is known to all. The offseason addition of running back Reggie Bush could be the perfect fit, but only time will tell.

If the defense shows up when it counts and can hold a lead the Lions will win double-digit games. If not, the outcome will be all too familiar.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty of reason to believe in Detroit.

St. Louis Rams

Hey, the St. Louis Rams have a great head coach in Jeff Fisher, so wining shouldn’t come as a surprise. Fisher and fans expect to win, but that doesn’t mean outsiders see them as predators.

The Rams surprise this year because quarterback Sam Bradford proves that he’s a franchise quarterback. The 25-year-old shot caller will have a definitely good season this year. Since Fisher has come to town the team has acquired a ridiculous amount of speed in the receiving corps. Also, the addition of monster tight end in Jared Cook this offseason will help Bradford in the red zone.

The running game could be a sore spot in the offensive attack. For this, expect offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to stuff the game plan with multiple packages that keep opposing defenses off balance.

Just like the Cleveland Browns in the AFC North, the Rams will throw a real wrench into the plans of the favored NFC West teams this year.

December 5, 2012

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Things to Watch Down the Stretch of the 2012 NFL Season

By: Matt Bowen

With less than a handful of weeks left in the 2012 NFL season, the playoff picture begins to become clear and individual records start to become threatened. This season is no different as fans everywhere will be glued to their televisions until the waning seconds of the season as history will be made.

Could RG3 become the first rookie to ever lead the league in quarterback rating?

The current climate in the playoff picture is far from clear, meaning that every snap counts, ensuring fans excitement until zeros read across the clock in the final game of Week 17. Right now, there are 22 teams still in contention for the playoffs and even the teams who are out of the picture thrive on playing the spoiler for the fortunate ones.

The AFC has more separation than the NFC in terms of sure bets for playoff locks, but anything goes with only four games remaining for most teams. The teams that execute well, avoid mistakes and strike it lucky by winning the war of attrition will be rewarded. Right now the Cincinnati Bengals are 7-5 and  have the best shot of getting invited to the party, but the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets still have a shot at 5-7. Things may not be too bright for those teams, but crazier things have happened.

The NFC is where things are the most interesting. 12 teams still have hopes of making the playoffs and right now only one team, the Atlanta Falcons, are a sure bet. Three teams that are also in at the moment, the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Chicago Bears all have four losses. The Seattle Seahawks are currently the caboose at 7-5 while the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings are nipping at their heels at 6-6.  The St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints still cling to the dream with five wins a piece. The battle in the NFC will go down to the wire and be a delight for all football fans.

On an individual level, there are a few guys that are must-see TV the rest of the way.

First of all, watch rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III whenever you can, it’s simply a must. Luck is going to break the rookie record for passing yards and already has five comeback wins while RG3 is as efficient as they come. Both kids are phenoms—Luck is more of a gunslinger at the moment and RG3 just doesn’t make many mistakes. Right now the Redskins rookie has a quarterback rating of 104.6, which ties him with the Denver Broncos‘ Peyton Manning and is only .4 away from the league leader, Aaron Rodgers. A rookie has never earned the highest rating and that is something a rookie may never do again. The maturity of both RG3 and Luck is something this league has never seen.

Can you believe that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing with only four weeks remaining?

Me neither, but Peterson’s 1,446 yards thus far are 308 more than Marshawn Lynch, who is currently second in the NFL. Face it, Peterson won’t be caught and believe it or not, he’s going to flirt with 2,000 yards. Right now he’s on pace for 1,928 rushing yards, but he’s had six, yes six straight games with 100-plus yards. He may not surpass Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 yards in 1984, but the 2,000-yard plateau has only been eclipsed six times in history. Considering Peterson had major knee surgery in January, one can’t help but root for him. He has to average 138.5 in the final four games but considering that he’s averaged 157 yards/game over his last six, the landmark isn’t out of reach yet.

There’s a pair of teammates in Detroit that may both make history by season’s end. While the Lions season has been a disappointment, quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson are something special. Stafford’s 3,742 passing yards currently lead the league and he’s on pace for 4,989. That’s dangerously close to 5,000 yards, which he accomplished last season. Stafford is one of only four quarterbacks to ever reach that number and if he has a second-straight season reaching that golden mark, he would become the first quarterback ever to do it in back-to-back season.

Stafford’s teammate and go-to-guy, Johnson is on track to break some ridiculous records. Currently he’s had five consecutive games with at least 125 receiving yards. A sixth-straight game would put him in a class all by himself. Something else that could set Megatron apart from the field is the fact that he’s on track to have the most single-season receiving yards in NFL history. He currently has 1,428 yards and is on pace for 1,904, which would put him past NFL legend Jerry Rice, who set the record in 1995 with 1,848. Once a record thought never to be broken, Johnson is ready to smash it. This is something that can’t be ignored. Although the Lions may not be in the hunt, Johnson sure is.

October 17, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

The NFL season is really beginning to take shape now and parity is running rampant. Everyone has at least one win. Only Atlanta has yet to suffer defeat. Half the teams are at or within one game of .500. Here’s how I have them stacked up:

1 Atlanta Falcons (6-0) — Matty Ice does it again. Ryan led the Falcons on another game-winning drive to remain perfect. Nobody else in the NFC has more than 4 wins.

2 Baltimore Ravens (5-1) — The Ravens survived a late surge from the Cowboys but could be in trouble after injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb.

The Kansas City Chiefs haven't started the season the way their fans had hoped.

3 Houston Texans (5-1) — It was the wrong time to face an angry team from Green Bay but next week may be the best time to take the Ravens.

4 New York Giants (4-2) – The Giants showed why they are the reigning NFC champs in San Francisco. They can create some separation in the NFC East with wins over Washington and Dallas in the next two weeks.

5 San Francisco 49ers (4-2) – The NFC West won’t be as easy as we thought. Next three games all within the division.

6 Chicago Bears (4-1) – Nobody talks about this team but with the Lions, Panthers and Titans coming up, the Bears could easily get to 7-1.

7 New England Patriots (3-3) – Brady has got to be fuming after the Pats blew a 13-point fourth quarter lead in Seattle.

8 Denver Broncos (3-3) – The miracle in San Diego could propel this team to division champs come December. Nice way for Denver to enter the bye.

9 Seattle Seahawks (4-2) – One of the biggest surprises so far this year. Big test next week in S.F. with division lead on the line.

10 Green Bay Packers (3-3) – That was the Green Bay team we expected to see all season Sunday in Houston. Have they righted the ship?

11 Arizona Cardinals (4-2) – Interesting matchup of surprise teams coming up with the Cardinals visiting Minnesota.

12 New York Jets (3-3) – The Jets are this years Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde team. Which one shows to to face the Patriots?

13 Dallas Cowboys (2-3) – Cowboys should be desperate for a win against Carolina with Giants, Falcons and Eagles coming up next.

14 Minnesota Vikings (4-2) – Huge game for the Vikings this week. They need to get their wins now with four games against Bears and Packers to come.

15 Washington Redskins (3-3) – The Redskins should be pleased if they can get to 4-4 with trips to the Giants and Steelers up next.

16 Detroit Lions (2-3) – The offense showed up just in the nick of time. Dropping to 1-4 would have severely hampered any remaining playoff hopes.

17 Philadelphia Eagles (3-3) – Changing defensive coordinators may help but it won’t matter if Michael Vick keeps giving the ball away.

18 San Diego Chargers (3-3) – That second half meltdown against the Broncos could be the difference in the AFC West at the end of the season.

19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3) – A 38-10 win is a nice way to come off your bye week. Let’s see how Tampa Bay does against an opponent coming off its bye this week.

20 Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3) – The Steelers have a few extra days of rest heading into a big divisional game in Cincinnati. A loss puts Pittsburgh in a big hole.

21 New Orleans Saints (1-4) – The upcoming trip to Tampa is a must win for Brees and company with Broncos, Eagles and Falcons after that.

22 St. Louis Rams (3-3) – St. Louis will have a hard time getting out of the NFC West cellar. Packers, Patriots and 49ers are the next three. Can you say 3-6?

23 Cincinnati Bengals (3-3) – Blowing that fourth quarter lead against Cleveland could be very costly for the young Bengals.

24 Buffalo Bills (3-3) – The Bills need a win against Tennessee with road games in Houston and New England coming after the bye.

25 Miami Dolphins (3-3) – The Dolphins play very tough on defense. That will keep the rookie quarterback in a lot of games.

26 Oakland Raiders (1-4) – The Raiders looked pretty good but couldn’t close the deal in Atlanta. Schedule gets easier now.

27 Tennessee Titans (2-4) – Nobody gave them a shot to beat Pittsburgh. A loss in Buffalo on Sunday will make the playoffs a longshot.

28 Indianapolis Colts (2-3) – Terrible showing against the Jets. Luckily, Browns are up next.

29 Cleveland Browns (1-5) – Played the Ravens and Giants tough and then beat the Bengals. Browns making progress.

30 Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) – The Jags have had a long time to dwell on the beat down from Chicago. How will they respond coming out of the bye?

31 Carolina Panthers (1-4) – The Panthers haven’t won in a month. That’s an eternity in NFL time.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (1-5) – The Chiefs have to be the most disappointing team of the season. The schedule doesn’t get any easier either. Long season ahead.

October 10, 2012

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5 NFL Games To Watch in Week 6

By: Junior

With the sixth week of the NFL season kicking off tomorrow, we take a look at the biggest games coming up on the schedule. Five weeks into the season, we are finally starting to understand which teams are making moves for the playoffs and which are already falling out of the hunt. These five match-ups in Week 6 should go a long way in helping us figure out which teams belong in each category.

The Giants and 49ers rematch in Week 6 could hold playoff implications down the road.

Green Bay at Houston

After a 15-1 season last year, there are few records as shocking as Green Bay’s. At 2-3 on the season, they now head to 5-0 Houston to try and start making their way back to the top of the NFC North. If they can’t, a previously unthinkable 2-4 start would give Chicago and Minnesota a nice cushion atop the division.

NY Giants at San Francisco

A rematch of last season’s NFC Championship game will help us find out where the Giants rank this season. Currently tied for the NFC East lead with Philadelphia, the Giants need a big win to show they aren’t having a Super Bowl hangover this season. While San Francisco is 4-1 and looks to be on its way to the postseason again, they are tied with Arizona for the division lead and need to stick with the underdog Cardinals, who could get a win this week against the struggling Bills.

San Diego at Denver

The AFC West is up for grabs, but the Chargers have possession for the time being. This is a perfect opportunity for Peyton Manning and the Broncos to take possession and start to make their run for the division title. The Manning-era is off to a bumpy 2-3 start, but a win going into the bye week could be what Denver needs to get on track. If the Chargers win, they too would be going into a bye, but with a nice lead in the division.

Baltimore at Dallas

Baltimore has looked impressive so far this season and many people are predicting a deep run in the playoffs for the Ravens. Dallas has been inconsistent so far this season, and a win over the Ravens could be the statement they need to make a run coming out of their bye week. If Baltimore wins, they will be 5-1 heading into a HUGE game against the Texans. This game could be a turning point for both teams.

Detroit at Philadelphia

After making the playoffs last season, the Lions have started out 1-3. Coming off of a bye week, they face a Philadelphia team that is 3-2 despite having quite a problem with turnovers. If the Lions want to climb out of the NFC North basement, this game seems like a must-win. For the Eagles, a win keeps them atop the competitive NFC East heading into their bye week.

August 29, 2012

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NFC Preview

By: Joe Williams

The NFC is the definition of parity. Since the 2001-2002 season, 13 teams have made an NFC Championship Game appearance. Eight teams have played in the last four. Only the Cowboys, Redskins and Lions haven’t been there in this century. Will an NFC team reach the game for the first time in this millennium this season? I said it would happen last season and the 49ers proved me right (even though that isn’t the team I had in mind.) It’s pretty much the only thing I had right about the NFC so I’m going to press my luck and say that it happens again this year.

Will the Packers be returning to the Super Bowl this season?

NFC EAST

Once again, the Washington Redskins win in the offseason. But this time it’s because they moved up in the draft and picked Robert Griffin III to build the franchise around instead of overpaying for big-name free agents. And once again, someone else will win the division. But it won’t be the defending Super Bowl champs in New York. I picked the Philadelphia Eagles last year and it took them 12 games to get their act together. Philadelphia won its last four games and I believe they keep the momentum going to a division title. The heat is on in Dallas as the playoff win drought continues. Tony Romo is going to need better protection and more weapons to stay healthy. I say the Cowboys and Giants will be in a battle for the final wild card spot that won’t be decided until week 17.

Division winner: Philadelphia

NFC NORTH

It’s going to be a long season for Viking fans. Barring quarterback injuries, Green Bay, Chicago and Detroit will all be in the playoff hunt. Meanwhile, Minnesota is rebuilding. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are still the class of the North and will be looking for redemption from last year’s playoff loss to the Giants. Detroit gets better every year and could make a deep run if the defense gets better. The Bears will be much more dangerous after bringing in Jay Cutler’s favorite target from his days in Denver in Brandon Marshall and worked out a new deal for Matt Forte (if the offensive line can keep Cutler off his back). The Bears visit Detroit in week 17 and the winner will move on to the playoffs.

Division winner: Green Bay

NFC SOUTH:

The Saints were mere seconds away from hosting the NFC Championship Game last season. Letting the 49ers go 85 yards in less than two minutes was the beginning of the end for this team. From the Drew Brees contract mess to the Bountygate scandal, there couldn’t be much worse of an offseason. That’s too much to overcome in such a competitive NFC. This leaves the door open for Atlanta in the South. The Falcons have plenty of weapons. They just need to put it all together. In Carolina, the Panthers should continue to improve along with Cam Newton but they are at least a year away from contending. It’s anybody’s guess what we will see in Tampa Bay. The Bucs went from a 10-6 finish in 2010 to losing 10 straight and 4-12 in 2011.

Division winner: Atlanta

NFC WEST

Thanks for nothing St. Louis. The Rams were by far my worst pick last season. I’m off the bandwagon but at least they know who the quarterback is going to be. Seattle just made a surprising announcement that rookie Russell Wilson will be the starter over their big-money free agent signing Matt Flynn. That could change with a rough start. In Arizona, the starter hasn’t even been named yet. Considering what they gave up to get him, Kevin Kolb needs to win the job. If he does, he will have a good defense to help him, but the Cardinals aren’t in the playoff class. San Francisco made a huge improvement last year and could be even better this year with the additions of Mario Manningham and Randy Moss at the receiver position.

Division winner: San Francisco

Wild Card winners: Dallas, Detroit

NFC champion: Green Bay