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.

May 1, 2013

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2010 NFL Draft Winners

By: Joe Williams

It’s been nearly a week since Mr. Irrelevant was selected in the NFL Draft. That’s plenty of time to figure out which teams improved and which ones blew it. But that seems like a lot of work and judging by last week’s mock draft, I could be wrong about these picks. I’ll take the easy road again this year and see who the winners were in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Eric Berry lead a great Draft class for the Chiefs in 2010.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle hit five of its first six picks and all five of those players are now starters on one of the best and youngest teams in the league. The Seahawks added Russell Okung at left tackle, Earl Thomas at free safety, Golden Tate at wide receiver, Walter Thurmond at cornerback and Kam Chancellor at strong safety. They also picked up Anthony McCoy who is still on the roster as a backup tight end.

San Francisco 49ers

It should be no surprise that one of last year’s Super Bowl participants makes this list. In the 2010 draft the 49ers picked up Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati who are starters on the offensive line. Navorro Bowman starts at linebacker on one of the best D’s in the league and Anthony Dixon is still on the team playing fullback.

New England Patriots

In this draft the Patriots picked up six players currently on the roster and transformed Tom Brady’s offense from very good to very scary with the addition of two pass catching tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Punter Zoltan Mesko and defenders Devin McCourty, Brandon Spikes and Brandon Deaderick were also part of this draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

The 2-14 Chiefs are on this list too? Yep. Eric Berry (strong safety), Dexter McCluster (receiver), Javier Arenas (cornerback), Jon Asamoah (guard) and Tony Moeaki (tight end) is a pretty strong draft class. The Chiefs have talent, but have been plagued with injuries and poor quarterback play.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are consistently one of the best drafting teams in the league and 2010 was no exception.

Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, Jonathan Dwyer and Antonio Brown are all contributors on offense and Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester provide depth on defense.

Denver Broncos

This draft marked the beginning and the end in Denver. It was the beginning of putting together one of the best teams in the league today, but it also was one of the biggest nails in the coaching coffin of Josh McDaniels. He drafted Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker who are now part of the best receiving trio (with Wes Welker) in the league. Zane Beadles, J.D. Walton and Eric Olsen have all contributed on the offensive line. But of course the story of this draft is the trade up to pick Tim Tebow. It was a controversial pick and ultimately was a big part of McDaniels getting fired. Once McDaniels was gone, the Broncos had one magical season with Tebow before dumping him on the Jets and signing Peyton Manning.

St Louis Rams

The jury is still out on this one. They took Sam Bradford with the first pick in the draft and he has been a decent NFL quarterback. But it has been a couple years now and we will see if Bradford can take the next step and solidify himself as the Rams starter for the next 10 years of if the Rams start looking for the next guy to take his spot.

December 18, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

A lot changed in the NFL in Week 15. Fans in Washington, Minnesota and Dallas saw their playoff hopes improve dramatically. And if you are rooting for Baltimore, Tampa Bay, New York Giants, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh or the New York Jets…your hopes either took a major hit and/or are gone all together. Here’s how I have them ranked with two games to go.

1 San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) — As the Nature Boy Ric Flair always said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” The Patriots were at the top last week and the 49ers went into New England and won. San Fransisco is now “The Man.”

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers haven't given up on this season.

2 Atlanta Falcons (12-2) — Talk about making a statement. If anybody wants to get to New Orleans, they are going to have to go through Atlanta.

3 New England Patriots (10-4)Tom Brady was on the verge of one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. But the Patriots couldn’t finish it off and likely cost themselves a playoff bye.

4 Houston Texans (12-2)
— One more win ought to be enough to lock up home-field advantage in the AFC. It won’t be easy with the Vikings and Colts both fighting for wild card spots.

5 Denver Broncos (11-3)
– The Broncos may be the biggest winner of week 15. Home wins over the Browns and Chiefs will clinch the No. 2 seed and a first round bye.

6 Green Bay Packers (10-4) – The NFC North champs have won eight of nine and have their sights set on the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first round bye.

7 Seattle Seahawks (9-5) – After putting up 108 points in the last two weeks the Seahawks are one win away from getting into the playoffs (probably) and have an outside shot of stealing the NFC West from San Fransisco.

8 Dallas Cowboys (8-6) – Somehow the Cowboys got off the mat and won five of six. If they can make it seven of eight they should be NFC East champs.

9 Baltimore Ravens (9-5) — Remember when the Ravens were on the verge of earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs? A desperate New York Giant team could give them a fourth straight loss and make the Ravens at Bengals in week 17 for the division title.

10 Washington Redskins (8-6) – Five straight wins have the Redkins at the top of the NFC East. A win at Philly this week will set up a huge week 17 showdown with the Cowboys.

11 Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) – The Bengals can make the playoffs with a win in Pittsburgh. A loss makes things very interesting.

12 New York Giants (8-6) – Did the Giants just sneak in an extra bye week? Sunday’s game in Baltimore is a must win.

13 Indianapolis Colts (9-5) – The Colts should have no trouble with the Chiefs this week. A win should keep them from having to go to New England in the first round.

14 Minnesota Vikings (8-6) – If the playoffs started today….with Houston and Green Bay left on the schedule, they have started for the Vikings.

15 Chicago Bears (8-6) — Wins in Arizona and Detroit won’t be enough to get the Bears in the playoffs. They need help.

16 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7) – Despite losing four of five, the Steelers can make the playoffs by winning the last two games. Their reward for doing so? Probably the Patriots.

17 New Orleans Saints (6-8) – This season cannot end fast enough for the Saints now that they are out of playoff contention.

18 Carolina Panthers (5-9) –  Don’t be surprised if the Panthers finish 7-9. This is one team that hasn’t quit.

19 St. Louis Rams (6-7-1) – If everyone in front of them loses, a win would give the Rams something to play for in week 17.

20 Miami Dolphins (6-8) – Surprisingly, the Dolphins still have hope. They must beat Buffalo and hope the Steelers beat the Bengals to go into week 17 with a chance.

21 Tennessee Titans (5-9) – Is Jake Locker the future for the Titans? I’m not sure they know the answer.

22 New York Jets (6-8) – The Jets looked more like a team playing for the top pick in the draft than a playoff spot on Monday night.

23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
– That 41-0 beat down ensured the Bucs won’t have to worry about making a trip to the frozen tundra in January.

24 Arizona Cardinals (5-9) – Nice win for the Cards. With the Bears and 49ers coming up, they were looking at a 12-game losing streak to finish the season.

25 Detroit Lions (4-10) – The Lions are a candidate for most disappointing team of 2012. They could lose their last eight games.

26 Cleveland Browns (5-9) – You heard it here first. Cleveland makes the playoffs in 2013.

27 Buffalo Bills (5-9) – Maybe the Bills are the new Redskins? Let’s see if they try to win the off-season for the second year in a row.

28 San Diego Chargers (5-9)
– The window in San Diego is officially closed. Time to rebuild.

29 Oakland Raiders (4-10) – The Raiders haven’t allowed a point in five quarters.

30 Philadelphia Eagles (4-10) – Eagles are headed for 4-12 with two playoff hungry opponents remaining but they would love to knock the Redskins and Giants out of the race.

31 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) – GM, Head Coach, quarterback and even franchise location are question marks? That’s not good.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-12) – The Chiefs appear to be a lock for 2-14 and the first pick in the draft.

December 11, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

There are three weeks left in the NFL regular season and we know who four of the 12 playoff teams will be.

15 teams are still in the hunt for the other eight spots, leaving 13 teams that should already be looking to 2013. Where does your team sit?

Tom Brady and New England are the new #1 in the NFL Power Rankings.

1 New England Patriots (10-3)Brady and Belichick are at it again. New England is going to be scary in January and probably February.

2 Atlanta Falcons (11-2) — Oops. The Falcons put it on cruise control a bit early. They still need at least one more win to lock down the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

3 San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) — You’ve got to feel for Alex Smith. Especially with a potential Super Bowl preview coming up Sunday night in New England.

4 Houston Texans (11-2) — Sunday’s game against the Colts just got a whole lot bigger. One more loss and Houston could have a big problem.

5 Denver Broncos (10-3) Manning is making a strong case for MVP. A win in Baltimore could get the Broncos a first round bye.

6 Baltimore Ravens (9-4) — Their last four games have been decided by three points. This week is a must-win if the Ravens are going to have a first-round playoff bye.

7 Green Bay Packers (9-4) – The Packers are now alone in first place in the NFC North and winning in Chicago on Sunday would give them another division title.

8 Seattle Seahawks (8-5) – Did Pete Carroll have a flashback to his USC days and think he needed to run up the score to gain style points?

9 New York Giants (8-5) – There is no margin for error in the NFC East and the Giants must go to Atlanta and Baltimore in the next two weeks. The defending champs could miss the post season.

10 Chicago Bears (8-5)Jay Cutler needs to get healthy quick and have a big game on Sunday or the Bears will be watching the playoffs on TV.

11 Dallas Cowboys (7-6)Pittsburgh comes to town this week in a meeting of two teams desperately needing a win. Dez Bryant could be out with a broken finger.

12 Indianapolis Colts (9-4) – Is this all Andrew Luck? This team was horrendous last season.

13 Washington Redskins (7-6) – The Skins are 4-0 since their bye week and have stormed back into the NFC East race. The question is whether RGIII can be RGIII with an injured knee.

14 Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) – Beat the Eagles, Steelers and Ravens and you’re in the playoffs. That’s a tall order.

15 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) – Do they want to make the playoffs? Didn’t look like it when they were down 27-3 to a bad San Diego team.

16 Minnesota Vikings (7-6) – That was a big win over the Bears. The Vikings need another win this week at St. Louis because they finish with Houston and Green Bay.

17 St. Louis Rams (6-6-1) – A three-game winning streak for the first time since 2006 has the Rams in playoff contention. Three more wins may not be enough though.

18 New York Jets (6-7) – The Jets were left for dead on Thanksgiving, but two straight wins has them in the hunt with three winnable games remaining.

19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) – Allowing two touchdowns in the last four minutes to lose against the Eagles is going to haunt the Bucs while they are watching the playoffs at home.

20 New Orleans Saints (5-8) – It was really just a matter of time in New Orleans. Not even Drew Brees can overcome the issues they have had.

21 Detroit Lions (4-9) – There is too much talent on this team to be 4-9. The Lions just can’t find a way to win. Something’s missing.

22 Carolina Panthers (4-9) – Where has that Panther team been all season? It’s a little late to be showing up for the party.

23 Tennessee Titans (4-9) – The Titans are just the latest fourth quarter victim of Andrew Luck. I’m sure they are looking forward to another decade of that.

24 Miami Dolphins (5-8) – The Dolphins competed against the Patriots and 49ers in the last two weeks, but it is clear they are not on that level.

25 Buffalo Bills (5-8) – The defense has improved but it has been a disappointing season in Buffalo.

26 Cleveland Browns (5-8) – The Browns are 5-3 in their last eight and still mathematically alive in the playoff hunt? Who knew?

27 Arizona Cardinals (4-9) – U.G.L.Y. Cardinals got no alibi. From 4-0 to 4-12? Yikes.

28 San Diego Chargers (5-8) – Big changes coming in San Diego for 2013. Nobody is safe.

29 Philadelphia Eagles (4-9) – Nick Foles could be the starter in 2013 after that come-from-behind win against the Bucs, but Philly fans are probably complaining that he cost them a higher draft pick.

30 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) – Not much to be positive about in Jacksonville right now. At least the weather is nice.

31 Oakland Raiders (3-10) – There was hope when Oakland landed Carson Palmer, but some things never change. The Raiders losing seems to be one of them.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-11) – The Chiefs lead the race for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft…in large part because they are -22 in the turnover battle.

October 4, 2012

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Top 3 NFL Surprises Through the Quarter Mark of the Season

By: Matt Bowen

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

IS RG3 the biggest surprise of 2012 so far?

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

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

RG3 is the Truth

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

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

The Minnesota Vikings are Looking Good

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

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

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

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

The Arizona Cardinals are 4-0

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

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

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

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