June 5, 2013

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NFL Talk

By: Matt Bowen

Face it—it’s never too soon to talk about the NFL. The thoughts of the upcoming 2013 NFL season are starting to invade NFL fanatics’ minds. Yes, we’re only a few days into June, but it’s been three months since Super Bowl XLVII. That means we have exactly three months to go until the 2013 season kicks off on September 5. Some may say that we’re in the doldrums of the offseason, but this is just the beginning. It only gets better from here.

With that being said, let’s talk football.

Here are the top five headlines weighing on everyone’s mind this offseason:

Will RG3 Be RG3?

After his injury last season, will RG3 be the same player this year?

Any true NFL fan is currently holding their breath hoping that Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will return healthy. The knee injury he suffered in the playoffs was gruesome to watch. The nausea that ensued when reality and doubt set in still exist today.

He’s the future—a prototype never before seen on an NFL field—the complete package.

Will he be okay?

Something tells me that he’ll be just fine—RG3 is a remarkable athlete.

Let’s hope he’s “ready for some football” on September 9 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.

Can the Indianapolis Colts Return to the Playoffs?

The Indianapolis Colts took the league by storm last year when they defied the odds and made the playoffs. Then rookie quarterback Andrew Luck proved to be the truth, but can he avoid the sophomore slump?

Having tasted winning in 2012, the Colts grew leaps and bounds and impressed all as they won games they probably shouldn’t have. One adjustment this is season will be to new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Former OC Bruce Arians is now head coach for the Arizona Cardinals. All Luck did under the tutelage of Arians in 2012 is set a rookie record with 4,374 passing yards.

Luck has the intelligence to absorb a new system quickly. The only question that remains is will the Colts return to the playoffs?

Will Wes Welker be the “It” Factor for the Denver Broncos?

The Denver Broncos were seconds away from the AFC Championship game last season before a Baltimore Ravens bomb sent them packing.

After shaking off the rust, quarterback Peyton Manning looked like Peyton Manning by season’s end. All the Broncos needed heading into the offseason is some added offense and there was no better find than Wes Welker.

Will Welker be the difference? Are the Broncos now “locks” for a Super Bowl appearance? Along with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, can the Broncos have three 1000-plus yard receivers?

Something tells me Manning and Welker are out for revenge. Watch out!

How Good Will the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens Play?

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens look to avoid the Super Bowl hangover this season.

The Ravens took the league’s top prize last season and without a doubt will look different this season. Out are Anqaun Boldin (49ers), Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and Ray Lewis (retired)— and Ravens fans have to be wondering what their team will be like without three of their best. The Ravens still have a solid squad, but are they contenders?

The 49ers face the most pressure of any team this season. Having been so close the ultimate prize, can they get over the hump this season? Colin Kaepernick is now the man and expectations have never been higher. If there’s one team that’s built to win it all it’s the Niners, but will they do it?

Numerous Other Questions Scattered on Our Minds:

Can the Cincinnati Bengals win a playoff game?

Will Adrian Peterson eclipse 2,000-plus yards again?

Will Mike Wallace be the boost the Miami Dolphins need?

Can Calvin Johnson break his own single-season receiving record of 1,964 yards?

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers make the playoffs?

Are the New England Patriots at the end of an era?

Is this the year for the Atlanta Falcons?

What will unfold for the New York Jets?

Are the Seattle Seahawks the NFL’s best team?

April 25, 2013

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New York Jets Face a Make-or-Break Draft

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NFL Draft is set for April 25 in New York City and the New York Jets face the most pressure. There are certain teams in sports who are constantly surrounded with drama. Right now, the Jets are the “It” team in this category.

Yes, it’s easy to argue against that point because they play on the world’s largest stage, but the Jets are really good at being a three-ring circus right now. Things undoubtedly started to escalate last offseason when the team signed quarterback Mark Sanchez to a hefty contract extension. That was it–Sanchez was the “Sanchize” quarterback. His contract is worth $58.25 million over five years and a guaranteed $20 million in 2012-13. He was now the guy.

The New York Jets and Mark Sanchez face a make-or-break season in 2013.

Wait.

Then the team traded for Tim Tebow just a few short weeks later.

Hundreds of hours of media speculation later and Tebow attempted a whopping eight throws last season.

The Jets finished a dismal 6-10 in 2012 and were outscored by 94 points.

What now? How does the franchise reinstall faith in their faithful? How do they repair stability from top to bottom? How do they turn their situation into something positive?

Well, the team made a bold move last and traded cornerstone cornerback Darrelle Revis last week to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Although sidelined in 2012 with an ACL injury, the Bucs rolled the dice and gave the Jets the No. 13 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.

Yes, Revis is as good as they get, but it’s a bit less drama for the Jets. It’s a start.

Now holding the No. 9 and No. 13 pick in the first round, it’s time for the Jets to start gaining some traction. It’s time for some positive attention.

Face it, they’re vested to both head coach Rex Ryan and quarterback Sanchez for 2013, they’ve made their bed and they will sleep in it.

Now, they must make the right moves in the draft to deflect all the negativity.

So, who do they take?

New GM John Idzik needs to make a good first impression to the fans, who want nothing more than a return to relevance. Believe it or not, Revis was a good move.

Depending on which style of players are left on the board when their time come the Jets may be best off trading down.

Think of the St. Louis Rams in 2012 when they traded the No. 2 overall pick to the Washington Redskins for who turned out to be Robert Griffin III. While the Redskins got the best of the deal in year one, the Rams got four picks, including three first-round choices in return.

True, the Jets don’t have a No. 2 overall pick, rather Nos. 9 and 13. Also, there is not a RG3 caliber player in this year’s draft. But, if the team were to trade down for both picks they could get potentially four to six picks for the future.

If nothing is sticking out like a sore thumb, be conservative and trade down. If someone can’t be passed on, consider him a steal.

It’s time to think big picture for the Jets. There is no quick fix. Whichever path they choose to travel, little-by-little they can rebuild.

Radio City Music Hall will be filled with crazed Jets fans screaming J-E-T-S Jets! Jets! Jets! as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces the team’s decisions. Only after his announcement s will the hometown fans announce their verdict.

The future of the franchise lies in the balance of the first round. Jets fans, keep your fingers crossed.

December 19, 2012

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Why the NFC East is the Best Division in All of Sports

By: Matt Bowen

Excitement and suspense fills our NFL imagination’s as the 2012 season once again comes down to the wire. With so much at stake during the final two weeks across the league, the tightest playoff race belongs to the tumultuous NFC East.

Last season, the NFC East winner was decided in a Week 17 matchup between the Cowboys and Giants.

Every sports fan, whether they like it or not, knows the NFL is No. 1 when it comes to media coverage and generated revenue. At the top of the food chain is the NFC East, a division that holds four of the most popular teams in all of sports. It may seem odd that the Dallas Cowboys belong to a division with three east coast teams, but the Cowboys are larger than life—a smaller media market simply wouldn’t suffice for Dallas. Joining the biggest thing in Texas are the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.

Like last season, this year will be decided in Week 17. The Cowboys and Giants met in 2011’s final week for a winner-take-all showdown which crowned the victor the divisional champion and granted them a ticket to the playoffs. History tells the rest of the story as the Giants took the game and eventually the Super Bowl.

This season has been no different as the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants all have an 8-6 record heading into Week 16. The Eagles may be out of the running, but Philly fans are as faithless as they come. At the moment, the Redskins are on top, but there’s plenty of football left to be played.

Heading into this season, the defending Super Bowl champion Giants were the runaway favorite, the Cowboys were in a must-win situation and the Redskins weren’t expected to win the division, but were optimistic thanks to the acquisition of rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III.

Now, the Giants are coming off a 34-0 drubbing by the Atlanta Falcons, the Cowboys have won 5-of-6 and the Redskins, led by not one but two rookie quarterbacks(Kirk Cousins being the other) have won five straight and control their own destiny.

Week 16 pits the Redskins against the Eagles, who would like nothing more than to spoil the party. The Cowboys go up against the New Orleans Saints, who are only 6-8, but thanks to quarterback Drew Brees are as dangerous as they come. And finally, the Giants face the Baltimore Ravens, which is a desperate game for both sides.

If both the Redskins and Cowboys win in Week 16, this would set up a virtual win-and-in situation in Week 17.  Nothing screams playoff football like a playoff game in the final week of the regular season. Like last season, every football fan in the world will be glued to their television to see who exactly makes it to the postseason party.

This is why the NFC East is the best division in sports. As much as every sports fan may dislike that this division seems to get all of the attention, they sure do put on a good show. Enjoy the theatrics as sports history unfolds before our very eyes.

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.

November 28, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

Most NFL division races are all but over but the wild card spots are a different story. By my count, there are 11 teams still fighting for those four spots. But what they all really care about is where they fall in my power rankings.

1 Houston Texans (10-1)Houston has won five straight for the second time this season. If they can make it six, they could lock up the AFC South title.

2 Atlanta Falcons (10-1) Atlanta dealt a huge blow to the playoff hopes of a division rival by beating the Bucs. They can do it again this week by beating the Saints.

3 San Francisco 49ers (8-2-1) — So far so good for Kaepernick. Of course, it helps when your defense puts up as many points as you do.

Even without Alex Smith at QB, the 49ers are still ranked high in the Power Rankings.

4 Baltimore Ravens (9-2) — Arch-rival Pittsburgh comes to town Sunday. Baltimore can knock the Steelers down for the count in the AFC North with a victory.

5 New England Patriots (8-3) – They have scored 190 points in the last four games. Can the Patriots offense be stopped?

6 Denver Broncos (8-3) – The Broncos weren’t their best in Kansas City but still won their sixth in a row. They have been outscored in the 4th quarter in just one game all season.

7 Chicago Bears (8-3) — The Bears made Jay Cutler look like an MVP when they played without him in San Fransisco. After losing six starters to injury against the Vikings, he might have to be the MVP for the Bears to win the NFC North.

8 New York Giants (7-4) – Looks like the bye gave the Giants a much needed rest. A win over the Redskins on Monday night would come close to locking up the NFC East.

9 Green Bay Packers (7-4) – That was an ugly performance against the Giants. The Packers still control their fate in the NFC North with four divisional games still to play.

10 Seattle Seahawks (6-5) – Losing both starting cornerbacks to a four-game suspension would be a serious blow to a team that is tied for the second wild card spot.

11 Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) – Another loss to the Ravens would put the Steelers’ playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. Will Roethlisberger be able to play?

12 Cincinnati Bengals (6-5) – Three straight wins have Cincinnati back in the playoff hunt. They’ll need to make it four straight this week with some tough teams to close the season.

13 New Orleans Saints (5-6) – They may have to win out to earn a wild card spot. That will be tough with road games at the Falcons, Giants, and Cowboys ahead.

14 Dallas Cowboys (5-6) – The Cowboys already beat Philly. They better do it again or they can kiss the postseason goodbye.

15 Indianapolis Colts (7-4)Luck and company have won five of six and are in great shape to earn a wild card spot.

16 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5) – Heading into a meeting with Peyton Manning isn’t the best time to have a cornerback suspended. It could prove costly on Sunday.

17 Minnesota Vikings (6-5) – As if losing three of four isn’t bad enough, the Vikings have the Packers and Bears in the next two weeks.

18 Washington Redskins (5-6) – You think people in Washington are thankful for RGIII? They will be if he gets them back in the NFC East race with a win over the Giants on Monday.

19 Detroit Lions (4-7) – After three losses in a row, the Lions are probably out of it. They have too much talent to be 4-7.

20 Arizona Cardinals (4-7) – Could they go from 4-0 to 4-12. It’s starting to look like it.

21 New York Jets (4-7) – The Jets were outscored 21-0 in less than a minute against New England. That was the worst 52 seconds I can remember. Maybe ever.

22 St. Louis Rams (4-6-1) – They played the Niners to a draw in San Fransisco. Can the Rams do better this week at home?

23 Tennessee Titans (4-7) – Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer’s firing could be a sign of more to come for the disappointing Titans.

24 Miami Dolphins (5-6)Miami stayed in the wild card discussion by beating Seattle. They won’t stay there with the Patriots and 49ers up next.

25 Carolina Panthers (3-8) – Nice Monday Night Football debut for Cam Newton. The Panthers could have a nice finish with three weak AFC West teams left to play.

26 San Diego Chargers (4-7) – Goodbye Norv Turner. Goodbye playoff hopes. Antonio Gates looks old.

27 Buffalo Bills (4-7) – The Bills aren’t getting much return on all the money the spent in the off-season.

28 Philadelphia Eagles (3-8) – The Eagles are the most disappointing team in the NFL.

29 Cleveland Browns (3-8) – They forced eight turnovers against the Steelers. The Browns are making progress.

30 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-9) – Could Chad Henne take the job from Blaine Gabbert for good?

31 Oakland Raiders (3-8) – The losses are piling up quickly in Oakland. They aren’t even competitive right now.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (1-10) – The Chiefs have a pretty good defense. All they need now is an offense.