August 30, 2013

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One Thing For Every NFC Fanbase in 2013

By: Matt Bowen

Football is in the air. With the 2013 NFL season just days away, every NFL fanbase has their collective fingers crossed for certain things to happen this season. While reality doesn’t forecast a Super Bowl victory for all 32 teams, improvements/expectations/excitement surrounds the league.  With that being said, here is one thing every NFC fan wants to see from their favorite team in 2013.

Arizona Cardinals:

Fans of the Arizona Cardinals are dying to see all-world athlete Patrick Peterson play on defense, offense, special teams. Cards fans are dying to see him period. Truth be told, every NFL fan should have a burning desire to see him. He’s simply something special.

Atlanta Falcons:

The Atlanta Falcons have one goal this season. Without raising the Vince Lombardi trophy at the end of the season, 2013 will be considered all-for-not. With the addition of running back Steven Jackson, the Falcons sure do look like favorites. Can Matt Ryan and Co. get the job done?

Carolina Panthers:

Can quarterback Cam Newton revert to his rookie for this season? That’s what’s going through the minds of all Carolina Panthers fans at this moment. Who will become the secondary outlet for Newton outside of wide receiver Steve Smith? The team is truly a wildcard this season.

Chicago Bears:

Is new head coach Marc Trestman the cure for all that ails the Chicago Bears this season? If he can put a smile on the face of quarterback Jay Cutler, watch out. The NFC North is up for grabs and will be one of the most competitive in all of football, but a thriving Bears offense could put an end to the debate.

Dallas Cowboys:

Just how good is wide receiver Dez Bryant? Hold on, because we’re about to find out. When he truly explodes this year expect him to break the likes of Twitter. He’ll be the pride of Dallas and reinstall faith in the faithful. Leading the league in receiving yards isn’t out of his grasp.

Detroit Lions:

Which team will show up? The 10-6 2011 squad, or the 4-12 2012 version? Lions fans are begging to know.  This weighs heavy on Lions fans—Calvin Johnson can’t do it all. Quarterback Matthew Stafford can’t be fairly judged when he doesn’t have a running game. Offseason acquisition running back Reggie Bush looks to be the answer on offense. Lions fans sure hope. The defense, well that’s another can of worms. The Lions will sink or swim this season, but they won’t tread water.

Green Bay Packers:

Who will be quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite target? Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson? Is Jermichael Finley finally ready to truly breakout? At least it’s a good problem to have.

Minnesota Vikings:

Will Christian Ponder mature as an NFL quarterback? He has the size and strength, now he just needs the touch. Having a running back like Adrian Peterson always helps a quarterback moxie, but the Vikings really need Ponder to keep opposing defenses off-balance by being consistent all season long. Something tells one that this kid has got what it takes, at least for now.

New Orleans Saints:

Just how much of an impact does head coach Sean Payton make? Remember, the New Orleans Saints head coach was suspended for the entire 2013 season, and his team paid for it dearly. Now back in the saddle, expect a thriving Saints offense once again.

New York Giants:

Will the Giants‘ receiving corps stay healthy? This is always a tough thing to deliberate over, but a valid concern. With a healthy Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, there will be plenty of dancing to do. Without, there won’t be much to write home about.

Philadelphia Eagles:

Just how good can quarterback Michael Vick be in new head coach Chip Kelly’s offense? This is a question we can’t wait to be answered.  Eagles fans expect highlight plays for days.

San Francisco 49ers:

Will quarterback Colin Kaepernick be as good as advertised? Last year he came on to light up the NFL. The 49ers intend on returning to the Super Bowl. In order to do so, Kaepernick will have to be just a touch better from last year.

Seattle Seahawks:

Can the Seattle Seahawks surpass the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West? This will be a highly debated topic all season. Be sure to tune into these affairs. Just in case you were wondering, quarterback Russell Wilson is the truth.

St. Louis Rams:

What strides can the St. Louis Rams take in year two of the Jeff Fisher regime? Good things are happening in St. Louis. They will indeed be one of the most electrifying teams in the entire league this year. Quarterback Sam Bradford will justify his No. 1 overall selection this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Can quarterback Josh Freeman get it done? He’s got a great running back in Doug Martin—now can he put it all together and help the Buccaneers win? The upper management won’t be afraid to pull the plug if he can’t.

Washington Redskins:

For Redskins fans, this one is easy—is RG3 okay? Will quarterback Robert Griffin III return to be his best? It will be fun to watch this unfold.

July 24, 2013

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Why NFL Training Camp is Exciting

By: Matt Bowen

It’s finally here—the 2013 NFL season is officially underway. NFL training camp has arrived!  Sure, one could argue that the NFL draft is really the beginning to each new season but that was months ago. The draft is almost a tease. Yes, we get to see our favorite teams select their newest editions but unfortunately we can only speculate how they’ll look on the field—until now.

There are a lot of questions surrounding the Patriots heading into the 2013 season.

So, why exactly is this so exciting? Because we live in an NFL-obsessed world, that’s why. It’s the same reason why there’s nine hours of preseason coverage a day—we love it, we soak it up and yet it leaves us desiring more.

Now is the time to get primed for the new season. It’s the time to show your pride, fine-tune your knowledge and master the league. Don’t be that person who only shows up on Sundays—be that person who lives and breathes all things football.

Here are the top stories to follow in training camp:

Will the New England Patriots Still Be the New England Patriots?

The perennial beasts of the AFC East have had one tumultuous offseason. Between injuries, departures and legal issues the team doesn’t look the same on paper. Before you write the Patriots off this season, remember that they still have football genius Bill Belichick calling the shots and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady under center. Despite the cupboard looking bare, something tells me they will find a way to win.

Quarterback Battles—Who Wins?

The Buffalo Bills, New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles all have quarterback battles heading into training camp. Who will win and earn the privilege to start the season as the No. 1 in Week 1.

The Eagles have an old battle rear its head again between incumbent Michael Vick and Nick Foles. With new head coach Chip Kelly in town, Vick seems to fit his style, but Foles is the better pocket passer at this time. This battle will go on far too long and leak into the season.

The Jets are in a pickle—what to do at the quarterback situation is a tough call right now. Veteran Mark Sanchez seems to have the odds against him. Rookie Geno Smith looks like he may end up as the winner of this battle, but it seems like both men will see action this season. Jets fans should expect a long season.

The Bills battle will be the most interesting this preseason. It’s a new day in Buffalo and new head coach Doug Marrone has invited quarterback controversy from day one. Out is Ryan Fitzpatrick, in is veteran Kevin Kolb and rookie EJ Manuel. While Kolb is familiar with competition to see the field, Manuel may have the edge—the Bills shook up Round 1 of the 2013 NFL draft by selecting Manuel. If he can pick up the speed of the NFL game, he’ll get the job.

How Will the Sophomore Quarterbacks Perform?

The NFL was blessed last season when a handful of viable signal callers earned their stripes. Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill all impressed last season, but will have to become outright leaders this season. Will these men continue their path to greatness?

Who Will Take the Ultimate Leap This Season?

Which players and teams will take the biggest leap this season? This is important to watch this preseason—which teams appear to be gelling the best?

Will it be Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears? Will Matt Ryan be able to take the Atlanta Falcons all the way? Will the Baltimore Ravens be shell-shocked by their 2012 success and offseason departures?

Those are just a few questions to be answered—it has begun, enjoy every last second of it.

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.

December 5, 2011

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Where Will Donovan McNabb End Up?

By: Anson Whaley

With news that Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Donovan McNabb was released by the team, several teams could be looking to add the potential future Hall of Famer to their rosters. No NFL team claimed the veteran through waivers, but that could have actually been the best thing to happen to him. McNabb will now be able to select his own destination (assuming there are interested teams, of course) and pick what he feels is the best opportunity.

Retirement, of course, is an option. Every NFL team could decide that they’ve seen enough of the 35-year old quarterback, and if he’s unable to find a suitable offer, his career could be over. But the chance clearly exists that he could end up with another franchise before that happens, and McNabb believes he still has plenty of good football left.

So where could Donovan go?

  • Houston Texans: Thinking short term, this is an NFL team that could potentially use McNabb’s services. The Texans sit atop their division at 9-3, but recently lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub to injury. They turned to T.J. Yates as their starter, but while Yates has done a reasonable job thus far, it’s hard to imagine how he might do as the season winds down and the pressure builds. With Schaub on injured reserve, a return for him isn’t likely. The Texans could get into the playoffs, but does Yates give them the best chance to win the AFC and get to the Super Bowl? And with proven weapons such as wideout Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster, McNabb wouldn’t even need to carry the team.
  • Chicago Bears: Chicago’s playoff footing isn’t quite as good as the Texans’ right now, but at 7-5, they’re tied for a Wild Card spot. The Bears didn’t get great play this weekend from backup Caleb Hanie, who’s filled in for starter Jay Cutler, who went down with a thumb injury. Playing against the Chiefs, Hanie completed only 11 of his 24 passes and threw a whopping three interceptions in a loss, showing his inexperience a bit.  The Bears had little offense and even worse is that star running back Matt Forte sustained a knee injury in the game. If Forte is out for any extended period of time, then it could be even more important that they get good quarterback play and McNabb might be able to provide that. He’s also played in Philadelphia and wouldn’t be affected by the cold weather in Chicago, meaning he could be an even more ideal fit.
  • Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys wouldn’t be looking at McNabb as a starter with Tony Romo firmly entrenched there, but he could be a suitable backup in case something happens to the star. Current backup Jon Kitna has had back issues and if you need further proof that Dallas is looking for another quarterback, look no further than the fact that they reportedly tried to make a claim on Kyle Orton, who was eventually taken by the Kansas City Chiefs. With Orton now out of play, the Cowboys didn’t put a claim on McNabb. But that doesn’t mean Dallas won’t still consider him if Kitna doesn’t seem like a viable option.
  • Buffalo Bills: This one’s a bit less likely, but McNabb could potentially end up in Buffalo. The Bills are still only two games out of playoff contention even with this weekend’s loss to Tennessee and could be looking for another quarterback. The Bills are only 5-7, but still aren’t out of the hunt and current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t helped the team with his play over the last five weeks (six touchdowns to seven interceptions). The only thing is that McNabb’s made it clear that his goal is to win a championship this season. And it would be hard to envision him going into Buffalo and learning a playbook this quickly … all for the slight possibility of even reaching the postseason. But the fact is that the Bills have now lost five games in a row and may turn to the veteran to help them salvage their season.

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.