February 6, 2012

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2011: The Year of the Quarterback

By: Anson Whaley

With the 2011 NFL season officially over, it’s time to wallow in our misery take a look back at the year. When you think of the top stories from this season, it’s easy to see that this was the year of the quarterback. Comparing players over eras is always a losing battle, but this season proved one thing – this is the most talent-rich time for quarterbacks in the league since the late 1980s when some guys named Joe Montana, Dan Marino, and John Elway were in their prime.

We may even look back someday and, gasp, think this crop was even better. Right now, the NFL has a slew of elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Peyton Manning (if he’s able to come back, that is). Then there are guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Michael Vick, Tony Romo, and Philip Rivers, who I’d slot below them. And there are also young guns that look like the next generation: Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton, and even Tim Tebow, to name a few. The bottom line is that this is one of the best eras in the history of the game for passers.

Matthew Stafford could find himself rising up the quarterback rankings as quickly as he has the Lions improving.

Here are some of the key things I’ll remember from this season about the quarterbacks.

Tebow Time – If there’s one thing I’ll remember from this football season in general, it’s probably the way Tim Tebow was a lightning rod for both praise and criticism. I’m hard pressed to remember a football player that was as young as Tebow that was so polarizing. There are better quarterbacks to be sure, but the turnaround experienced by the Broncos was impossible to ignore. And the fact that he was able to not only get Denver to the playoffs, but help them win a game once they got there will only grow the legend. His success this season should buy him at least a little leeway next year if he starts slowly.

The Year of the Pass – So let me get this straight. Dan Marino’s record of 5,084 passing yards stood for nearly 30 years, but in 2012 it was broken by Drew Brees? And Tom Brady? And almost Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning? The fact that a record that lasted this long was broken by two players and approached by two others should tell you everything you need to know about the NFL these days – it’s a passing league … maybe more than it’s ever been.

Peyton’s Injury – It can be difficult to gauge just how valuable a player is until an injury, but we got a glimpse of that this year. How important is Manning to the Colts? The NFL’s new magazine, aptly named NFL Magazine, went as far as declaring him their 2011 Most Valuable Player … despite the fact that he didn’t take a snap all season. Personally, I think that’s going a bit far since by doing that, the magazine snubbed a lot of deserving players. But point taken.

Alex Smith Takes StridesSmith, like Tebow, isn’t an elite quarterback. But after struggling mightily since he was drafted in 2005, he had a career year and was a few special teams gaffes from playing in the Super Bowl. It wasn’t the 3,000+ yards or the 60% completion rate that was all that impressive since he’s approached those numbers before. The reason Smith turned into a serviceable quarterback this year was because he limited his mistakes, throwing only five interceptions all season. Smith may never reach elite status, but if he’s able to continue playing at this same pace, the 49ers should be competitive for several years to come.

These Guys Can Play – It’s often said that it takes a while for rookie quarterbacks to find their footing. While that’s true most of the time, we saw a few first-year players look like seasoned veterans in 2011. Cam Newton had arguably the best rookie year ever for a quarterback, setting records for passing yards and total touchdowns. Meanwhile, Andy Dalton’s 20 touchdown passes were only one fewer than Newton’s and he also led the Bengals to the playoffs. Need an idea of how special the seasons were for both players? It was the first time in NFL history that two rookie quarterbacks were named to the Pro Bowl.

Eli Casts Off Peyton’s Shadow – Eli Manning had already won a Super Bowl, but most still considered him a lesser quarterback behind his brother, Peyton. That will still hold true in the eyes of many, but by winning a second championship, he’s no longer simply known as ‘Peyton’s little brother.’ Eli not only has two titles but is young enough that another one isn’t out of the question.

November 16, 2011

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NFL Fantasy Predictions: Week 11

By: Rick Jarrell

What an off week for my Week 10 NFL fantasy predicitons. Sam Bradford nor Michael Vick produced like they should, MJD was solid with 100+ yards and a TD but did not explode as I expected, and Anthony Fasano recorded 60 receiving yards, which is good but not great depending on your fantasy situation.

Overall it was a strange week. Week 9 had a lot of upsets, so naturally Week 10 the favorites prospered the majority of the time.

On to this week’s NFL fantasy predictions…

Frank Gore                                    

LeSean McCoy didn’t explode like he should have against the Cardinals Sunday, but I maintain their run defense is lacking and Frank Gore should benefit this coming week.

Chad Ochocinco

He may have lost a step or two, but he has to score a few touchdowns this year, right? New England’s matchup against the beleaguered Kansas City Chiefs seems like a good opportunity to find the end zone. Ochocinco had a 50 yard reception against the Jets Sunday night that Tom Brady actually under threw. The Chiefs don’t have nearly the defense the Jets have, especially without top sophomore Eric Berry. Plus, Matt Cassel is likely out for the season. He’s not exactly lighting it up, but Tyler Palko is unproven, and will lead to the Chiefs defense  being on the field for the majority of the game.

Look for the Patriots offense to try and spread the ball around against the Chiefs this week.

Panthers Offense

I began to write Deangelo Williams and Jonathon Stewart, but remembered this is the Lions. Not only do they  have a poor rush defense, but a poor pass defense as well. They started off undefeated thanks to an explosive offense (see Stafford to Megatron). This game’s got shoot out written all over it.

Williams and Stewart have not been the dynamic duo of the past, but this is a good opportunity for them to regain form. There’s also a strong possibility the Panthers decide to let Cam Newton go wild, so Steve Smith and Greg Olsen are good plays here, too.

James Starks / Ryan Grant

The limelight is on Aaron Rodgers, and deservedly so. Hands down, he’s the MVP so far this season. But the Packers match up Sunday with the Bucs favors the ground game. Rodgers will get his, I’m sure. As I type this, they just went up 14-0 in the first quarter Monday night. It’s too easy.

For those looking for running back depth, Starks or Grant deserve a start this week. Tampa Bay has one of the worst run defenses in the league, and have in general underperformed the whole year.

Cleveland Defense

This team is an enigma. The run defense is absolutely horrible. Any team with a marquee back (other than Steven Jackson, for whatever reason) has ran all over them. But their pass defense is ranked first in the league in yards per game. A few factors should be considered. First, teams run the ball a lot because they can, so they pass less. Second, Cleveland constantly gets blown out, so there’s even more opportunity for the opponent to run the ball. Lastly, the Browns schedule has been easy, so the offenses aren’t exactly high octane.

The Jaguars fit into the latter of the above. Maurice Jones-Drew can explode, as I said before, but a rookie quarterback won’t fare well against the surprisingly good Browns defense. They don’t force many turnovers, but they also won’t allow many points either.

Plus, when you have Josh Cribbs as you’re return man, there’s always potential for him to break one off, and Jacksonville has a poor special teams defense.

November 11, 2011

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NFL Players are Fathead’s Top Sellers for (11/3 – 11/10):

By: Junior

It is past the halfway mark in the NFL season, and NFL players are dominating Fathead product sales. With NFL teams and fans rising and falling with their favorite NFL Players, it makes sense that all 10 of our top sellers came from the NFL this week. It is also not surprising that it all kicks off with 3 products from the 8-0 Green Bay Packers.

1. Aaron Rodgers – Home

Being the QB of an 8-0 football team I am sure has a lot to do with this. Being the Super Bowl Champion (as well as Super Bowl MVP) the previous year can’t hurt either. Having a funny commercial out at the same time? Well that’s just the icing on the cake. Put all of that together, and Rodgers having the top selling Fathead this week is a no brainer.

2. Aaron Rodgers

See above.

3. Clay Matthews – No. 52

As much as we would like to take sole credit for this with the great Clay Matthews Fathead commercial we have out right now, we know better. Matthews is one of the most feared linebackers (and Fatheads) in the game right now, and with a Monday night game coming up, his sales are only going to continue to rise.

4. Troy Polamalu / 5.  Troy Polamalu – Home

Steelers fans stocked up on Polamalu Fatheads as they geared up for their rivalry game with the Baltimore Ravens last week. So much so in fact that Troy was the 4th and 5th best selling Fathead. While a loss certainly spoiled Steeler Nation’s mood, they at least got to come home to a life size version of Polamalu.

6. Michael Vick

Eagles fans didn’t let a loss stop them from believing in the Eagles surge to make a comeback after stumbling out of the gate.  Winning 2 of their last 3, Michael Vick is leading the league with 8 YPC this season and is a large part of why Eagles fans still have faith. With Arizona coming to town this week, Eagles fans are hoping they have even more reason to believe.

7. Cam Newton

The front runner for NFL Rookie of the Year, Cam Newton is the face of the Carolina Panthers. Coming off of a 3 Touchdown, 0 Interception game last week, Newton looked good even in a Carolina loss. Panthers fans obviously couldn’t stand not to see Newton this weekend (Carolina’s bye week), hence the spike in sales for the rookie QB.

8. Clay Matthews Mural

See #3. This also could have spiked as a result of people being afraid to order the Clay Matthews #52 version due to the recent commercial. Just a theory.

9. Drew Brees Quarterback

New Orleans took a big step last week in securing the NFC South lead. With their win over Tampa Bay, they now shift to Atlanta, and a win there would give them a little more cushion in the division.  Saints fans geared up and made Drew Brees the 9th best seller this week. Having thrown 8 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions in his last 3 games, Drew Brees is getting New Orleans ready to make a run for the playoffs.  

10. Tom Brady

Nothing soothes the pain of a 2 game losing streak like the purchase of your QB’s fathead. With a big AFC East matchup this weekend with the Jets, New Englanders bought up Brady Fatheads so they could still be with Tom while the team is on the road. A win over the Jets would do a lot to calm Patriots fans fears, and possibly for Brady’s Fathead sales.

November 9, 2011

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NFL Predictions: Week 10 Fantasy Picks

By: Rick Jarrell

How about that Tim Tebow? The man can’t throw a spiral but he wins games. Oakland chose to take away the Broncos ground game and make them beat them in the air, and Tebow did. His performance completely blew up my prediction of a strong fantasy football game for each defense. I’d say I would never doubt him again, but his match up against the New York Jets in a couple weeks will likely be ugly.

The Texans dynamic duo in Arian Foster and Ben Tate ran over the Browns, as expected, and Matt Forte had a huge game, as expected, against the Eagles. The Packers are clearly the favorite to make it out of the NFC this year, but if the Bears continue to feed the ball to Forte and Jay Cutler limits his turnovers, watch out.

Now, let’s talk Week 10.

Sam Bradford / Rams Offense

The Rams have not made that jump to the next level most people expected. The Niners have surprised as the fill-in there. Having said that, Bradford is still going to be an elite quarterback one day, and this Sunday he’s going to show a glimpse of that future stardom.

The Browns have a relatively solid defense. Joe Haden is becoming a lockdown corner and TJ Ward plays a decent centerfield, but the team suffers from constant mental lapses (see the first game against the Bengals). The top passing defense in the league is coupled with one of the worst run defenses due to a suspect set of linebackers. The Rams should be able to pound the ball on the ground, setting up Bradford to play nicely for those desperate for a fantasy football signal caller.

Michael Vick

Arizona has one of the worst pass defenses in the league, and West coast teams never play well during 1:00PM games on the East coast. He didn’t have a great game against Chicago because Brian Urlacher and the gang was able to limit his impact on the ground. Every time Vick rolled out and went to turn the corner, someone was there. Without his legs, the field can’t open up for Vick to be effective in the air.

There’s no one on Arizona’s defense that can perform as well as the Bears did. Look for Vick to be able to exploit the Cardinal secondary, who traded their best corner to the Eagles in the offseason.

Maurice Jones-Drew

I really like MJD, but he’s a frustrating fantasy football player. He’ll go three weeks without a touchdown, and then explode for three the next week, and always finishes the fantasy football season as one of the top backs. If you could pin point his offensive explotions you’d be on easy street, assuming you have a good back up. But they tend to be unpredictable.

The Colts have the 3rd worst run defense in the league, and appear to be adopting the “Suck for Luck” plan. Their defense just doesn’t appear to be trying anymore. That’s a jackpot for a quick, explosive back.

Anthony Fasano

Need a tight end for your fantasy football team? Always look for a young (or bad) quarterback on a losing team and expect his tight end to prosper from check downs. Fasano could be a good play on Sunday.

Miami’s surprising offensive outburst likely won’t replicate itself against the Redskins this week, who boast a solid defense, but Matt Moore is usually good for a couple touchdowns (as well as interceptions).

November 2, 2011

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An Interview with Fran Tarkenton

By: Anson Whaley

(Editor’s note:  One lucky reader will WIN an autographed Fran Tarkenton Fathead!  Just leave a comment–along with a legit email address–on this article for your chance.  We’ll randomly select a winner at the end of the week.  Good luck!)

In the past decade, athletic quarterbacks like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb have gotten a lot of press, but before any of them, there was Fran Tarkenton. In the 1960s and 1970s, Tarkenton was arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. He led the Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances over his career, and he retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in completions, yardage, and touchdowns. We recently had a chance to catch up to Fran to ask him about a variety of topics including Tim Tebow, Monday Night Football, and his new fantasy football website FantasyFran.com.

Fathead Blog:  Many younger fans aren’t familiar with the AFL, but you were drafted in both the NFL Draft and the AFL Draft in 1961. Can you explain a bit how that happened and how you ended up signing with the Vikings instead of going to the AFL?

Fran Tarkenton:  There were two separate drafts for the two leagues, and you had to choose which league you were going to play in. I was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, an expansion franchise, in the NFL, and the Boston Patriots in the AFL draft. Minnesota offered me a $12,500 salary with a $3,500 bonus, while the Patriots offered me $15,000 with a $5,000 bonus. But I chose the Vikings because I had to prove to myself that I could make it in the big league. The NFL was certainly considered the dominant league at that time.

Fathead Blog: Soon after that, you played your first game. Most rookie quarterbacks struggle miserably, but you came out and threw four touchdown passes in your initial contest. We’re seeing a bit of that type of success with Cam Newton this season. How were you able to drastically shorten the adjustment period and become a contributor immediately? What’s the key to succeeding early on as a rookie quarterback?

Fran Tarkenton:  I had a coach who was a former quarterback himself in Norm Van Brocklin (who still holds the single game passing yardage record, and had won the NFL Championship with the Eagles as a player the year before). He was a brilliant offensive mind, and I learned from him. I listened to him, and I worked hard, and I used my brain. I learned and came to understand what I was supposed to be doing, and that helped me succeed right out of the gate.

Fathead Blog You were one of the first scrambling quarterbacks to have major success in the league. As the years have gone on, we’ve seen quite a few others – Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, and Steve Young, to name a few. Since you retired, who’s been the best you’ve seen?

Fran Tarkenton:  Michael Vick by far. He’s an athletic freak. The way he can just take off and run is amazing, and there’s nobody else really like him. Never in a million years would I expect the fastest player on the field in an NFL game to be a quarterback, but he is. When I scrambled, it was mainly to buy time to throw the ball downfield. Vick recently set the new record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and he’s only 31, because he’s able to pull the ball down and just take off.

Fathead Blog: Along those lines, Broncos’ QB Tim Tebow has been one of the most polarizing players in the league since he was drafted. Have you watched him play? Do you have any thoughts on him yet or is it still too early to tell in your opinion?

Fran Tarkenton:  I think Tim Tebow was a great college quarterback. But I’m not sure that he’ll be able to make it in the NFL. From what I’ve seen from his first few games, his ability to throw the ball is very questionable. Now that doesn’t mean he won’t succeed. He can prove me wrong and improve on his passing skills. He has all the other intangible things that you want from a quarterback, and I know he’s an incredibly hard worker. He’ll do everything he can to succeed, and I’m very curious to watch his career and see if he can do it.

Fathead Blog: Even as a great scrambler, you still were an incredible passer. Your 47,003 yards still rank 6th all-time. After you had some success it was probably easy to sell the idea of being a mobile quarterback, but was it ever difficult trying to convince coaches and other football personnel that it was possible to succeed with your style of play early in your career?

Fran Tarkenton:  All coaches want their quarterbacks to be able to make plays, put points on the board, and make first downs. Those are the measuring sticks. From the first game that I played, I was able to do that, and it’s like anything else: if you produce, you can play, but if you don’t they’ll get rid of you. My style of play drove the establishment nuts at the time, but the results were undeniable. The standard mold for a quarterback at the time was a big guy with a big arm who delivered the ball from the pocket. The scouting report on me was that I was small but slow, which, needless to say, didn’t fit the prototype. But football has always been measured by results, and people eventually learned to accept my style of play.

Fathead Blog: You once played in 71 consecutive games, spanning several seasons. It’s hard to do that at any position, but to do it as a quarterback is even more remarkable, in my opinion, because defenders are trying to knock them out of the game on every single passing play. What do you remember about that streak? Do you recall any of the injuries you played through to keep that streak going?

Fran Tarkenton:  I only missed 5 games my entire career because of injury. That was because I broke my leg against the Bengals in 1976. The other games I missed were because in the early years, we were so far out of the race that late in the season they would put in my backups to get them some playing time. I was able to avoid injury because I never took direct hits outside of the pocket. When I scrambled and ran, I had to learn to avoid big hits, because I got hit a lot early in my career playing for an expansion team. You have to avoid those hits to stay on the field, and I managed to avoid most of the big shots that knock players out of the game.

Fathead Blog: As a former Monday Night commentator, I’m curious about what you think of the current product. It’s obviously a different situation since the average consumer has hundreds of channels to pick from, but the broadcasting crew has changed so much over the years with guys like Dennis Miller, Tony Kornheiser, and Rush Limbaugh having come and gone fairly recently. It’s hard to build up a brand when the key personnel change so frequency. What are your thoughts on the show as it’s evolved over the years?

Fran Tarkenton:  I think Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, and Mike Tirico are great. This particular team has been together for a few years now, and I expect this team to stay together for a few more years. They work well together. It’s nice to have stability. Technology has changed so much, and the finished product is so much more polished and professional than when I was a part of Monday Night Football. They’re able to do things now that we couldn’t dream of doing then!

Fathead Blog: After retiring, you’ve had a number of successful ventures. Many athletes throw their names behind things, but you’ve been actively involved in those companies, including the recently launched fantasy football site, FantasyFran.com. Was going into business something you actively had your eye on as a player or did that desire come later?

Fran Tarkenton:  I didn’t wait until after I’d retired from football to go into business. I was starting up and running businesses the whole time I played. I actually got my first license to sell life insurance in 1959 for the Franklin Life Insurance Company. During my career, I did everything from life insurance to starting fast food chains to an industrial janitorial cleaning service!

Currently, I’m running a wide range of businesses, but my main focus is working with small business entrepreneurs and insurance professionals to make sure that they have all the tools they need to succeed. If anyone is interested in seeing what I have been up to, they can visit www.FranTarkenton.com.  FantasyFran.com is something we started doing for fun, because of how much I still love and watch football. We then realized that there was no place on the web for fantasy football players to get advice from people who’d been on the arena themselves! All the former players on the networks only give game analysis, not fantasy football. It’s something unique I could do, and have a lot of fun doing it! For 18 years, football was my profession, and it’s been my hobby ever since then. My outlook on the games and the players is one that I think is unique among all the voices out there.