January 31, 2013

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Super Bowl XLVII Predictions

By: Matt Bowen

Super Bowl XLVII is now just days away, which leaves fans to ponder how many pounds of nachos they’ll serve up to their friends and what exactly will transpire in the big game in the Big Easy.

Making predictions is half the fun when it comes to the Super Bowl. NFL fans know that most of the iconic Super Bowl moments have come unexpectedly, and there will no doubt be a few of those this year.

Let’s get to it:

Jacoby Jones Will Take the Opening Kickoff Back for a Touchdown

The Baltimore Ravens acquired Jacoby Jones in the offseason primarily to be an instant threat in the return game. Jones hasn’t disappointed this season as he returned two kicks and a punt for touchdowns.

He’s also a viable weapon as a No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Terrey Smith. Just ask the Denver Broncos if Jones is a difference maker. They seemingly forgot about him in their Divisional Round playoff matchup as he marched into the end zone after a bomb from quarterback Joe Flacco that sent the game to overtime.

Here’s the kicker—Jones is a native of New Orleans, and he’ll be more than ready to steal the show. With his blood flowing early, he’ll start the game off with a bang.

Alex Smith Will Make an Appearance

The San Francisco 49ers made a bold move this season when they benched then starting quarterback Alex Smith for second-year man Colin Kaepernick.

Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft was finally beginning to look like a No. 1 pick. He was coming off arguably the best game of his career, going 18-for-19 for 232 yards and three touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8.

Just when it was looking like Smith had solidified himself, a concussion knocked him out of Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams and inevitably changed the course of his career.

In came Kaepernick, who undoubtedly optimized the Niners offense and propelled them to the Super Bowl.

So, this is the end of Smith, right?

Wrong!

He’ll make an appearance in the Super Bowl and even throw an 18-yard touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh knows he has to pack a bag full of tricks if he’s to beat a veteran Ravens defense. Smith will be one of those tricks, and he’ll make the most of it. On the first possession of the second half, Smith will make his mark.
Justin Tucker Will Kick the Longest Field Goal in Super Bowl History

The Baltimore Ravens made some noise this preseason when they tapped rookie Justin Tucker from the University of Texas to be their place kicker this season.

Tucker proved he’s the man for the job, going 30-for-33 on the season and even notching four field goals longer than 50 yards.

The Super Bowl record for longest field goal is a 54-yarder from Steve Christie of the Buffalo Bills against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII.

Tucker will top that by booting a 56-yard field goal with 3:13 left in the third quarter. He’ll show the world just why the Ravens made a great choice when they chose him.

Randy Moss Will Walk the Walk

In case you haven’t heard, Randy Moss has named himself the “Greatest of All Time” during media day at the Super Bowl this season.

Considering he’s a member of the San Francisco 49ers, that’s a bold statement.

Although his career numbers don’t compare to Hall of Fame 49er Jerry Rice’s, Moss will make a big impact in the Super Bowl. Love him or hate him, he’s really good.

It’s long been known that Moss shows up when he wants to, and, considering it’s the Super Bowl, he’ll be open for business.

The Ravens will have their hands full trying to keep track of receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Moss will slip by the secondary for an early second quarter touchdown. Don’t be surprised when he is booed after reaching the end zone.

In the end, he’ll have four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Joe Flacco Will Stamp Himself as Elite

Why there’s still a debate to whether Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is elite or not beats me.  All the guy does is win.  Sure, it may not always be pretty, but a win is a win.

Flacco will be a free agent in the offseason, but don’t expect him to leave Baltimore—he’s there to stay.  Taking Super Bowl MVP honors will certainly boost his pocketbook during bargaining.

He may not be the flashiest quarterback, but he’ll have a Super Bowl ring to show off.

In his MVP performance he’ll go 22-for-30 with 301 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning drive that will end in a Ray Rice 12-yard screen pass touchdown.

Final Score: Ravens 24, 49ers 20

September 14, 2011

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NFL Comeback Performances Expected in Week 2

By: Rick Jarrell

The long awaited first week of NFL football met expectations, as usual. The lockout appears to have hit defenses and special teams hard, allowing for high scoring performances and thrilling kickoff returns. As always, a few surprise performances were recorded. It’s great for fans all around – it adds extra excitement to the game and entices us to think maybe this is the year. But in the coming weeks, most teams will be brought back to Earth (or rise back above it). The following NFL Week 1 performances were, in my mind, likely flukes.

Baltimore Ravens Thrashing of the Pittsburgh Steelers

This was the most surprising result of the weekend. Although the Steelers were not favored by much, the large majority of analysts were picking the Steelers to dominate the division. They didn’t miss a step last year despite star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being suspended the first six games, and are returning the majority of the team – why wouldn’t they?

Despite the thrashing, and believe me, I enjoyed it, don’t expect the Steelers to struggle the whole year. Throughout the last 10 years, even with internal and external forces seemingly working against them, Pitt has not let it slow them down. Remember that last Super Bowl run? Before they railed out 6 wins in a row to finish the regular season, odds were strongly against them. Don’t count them out now…

Washington Redskins Hold On vs. the New York Giants

We’ve seen this one before, both from Rex Grossman and in Washington, DC. Grossman will have great games like this – he did it a bunch in Chicago and helped lead the Bears to the Super Bowl. But in between these 300 yard, 2 TD games comes 250 yard, 1 TD, and 3 INT games.

He’s inflating the expectations of Skins fans across Redskin nation. As a DC native, I’ve seen this many times. Somehow, despite low expectations coming into the season, the Skins will jump to a 2-0 or 3-1 start and raise the hopes of fans. But eventually, the performance bubble pops and they end up missing the playoffs. Mike Shanahan has the team on the right track, but with the Philadelphia Eagles heavy Super Bowl favorites and the Dallas Cowboys, despite Monday’s game, poised for a comeback season, I don’t see this being the year.

Cincinnati Bengals Comeback Win vs. the Cleveland Browns

Wow, what a game. And I don’t mean that in a good way, not in any direction. I convinced myself, a Browns fan, that the stars may be aligning for a surprise playoff run this year. An easy schedule, progress from last year, and trust in Mike Holmgren seems like a dynamic trio. But Sunday was ugly. Eleven penalties, seven in the first six minutes, dropped passes, and the icing on the cake: a botched defensive play – where the defense did not even get set – that allowed the Bengals to score what would be the winning touchdown. Still can’t believe it.

But now that I’ve recovered, I realize this performance was likely (i.e. hopefully) a fluke. A first year coach and a young team was likely (i.e. hopefully) giving into first game jitters. While I do think the Bengals have a good young team with Andy Dalton, who played surprisingly well for a rookie QB before he left with an injury, and A.J. Green, they’re clearly in a rebuilding phase. The Browns basically gave them this game. So my playoff hopes are still in tact – Cleveland doesn’t play a sure-fire great team until Week 13. Here comes an 10-1 start!

May 2, 2011

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Late-Round NFL Draft Pick Steals

By: Anson Whaley

With all due respect to the NBA and NHL playoffs, the NFL Draft was the premiere sporting event of the weekend. It’s a chance for teams to not only build for the future, but in some cases, find players capable of stepping in to contribute immediately. The most attention is paid to the early rounds of the event, but there are always some diamonds in the rough found late in the draft.

Here’s a look at the top ten steals (selected in the fifth round or later) over the past twenty years:

Honorable Mention – WR Joe Horn (1996 5th Round Pick)

As one of the premier wide receivers in the early part of this decade, Horn racked up more than 6,000 yards from 2000-2004 with the New Orleans Saints. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and ended his career with 58 touchdowns.

10. QB Matt Cassel (2005 7th Round Pick)

Cassel wasn’t given a chance to play immediately, backing up some guy named Tom Bradyin New England. But with Brady’s injury, Casselshowed he learned plenty with the Patriots. He joined the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009 and was a Pro Bowler last season. With wide receivers Dwayne Boweand the recently-drafted Jon Baldwin, Cassel could have another big year in 2011.

9. QB Marc Bulger (2000 6th Round Pick)

After 2006, Bulgerwas developing into one of the premier quarterbacks in the NFL, coming off of a 4,000-yard Pro Bowl season with the St. Louis Rams. But a lack of production since then caused the team to look elsewhere, drafting rookie Sam Bradfordlast season. Bradford has now become the starter while Bulgeris looking for another job. He could resurface this year with the Arizona Cardinals or another team in need of a veteran.

8. WR Keenan McCardell (1991 12th Round Pick)

McCardell is one of the more underrated receivers in recent memory. His 11,373 yards are good for 24th all-time among receivers. Part of that is due to his longevity, playing 16 seasons, but McCardell was legitimately a very good receiver, hitting the 1,000-yard mark five times over his career.

7. WR Marques Colston (2006 7th Round Pick)

Colston accumulated more than 1,000 yards in four of his first five seasons and is one of the best young receivers in the NFL. He already has 40 receiving touchdowns and playing alongside quarterback Drew Brees, will put up big time numbers by the end of his career.

6. RB Michael Turner (2004 6th Round Pick)

An argument can be made that Turner should be higher on this list since he’s one of the best running backs in the game. But I don’t expect him to keep up the kind of monster production he’s had in the past three seasons, when he rushed for nearly 4,000 yards. Still, he’s another example of why teams wait to select running backs in later rounds.

5. (tie) QB Marc Brunell (1993 5th Round Pick)

In case you hadn’t noticed, Brunell is still playing at the age of 40. Seems like he’s been in the league forever … mostly because he has. All jokes aside, even though he’s now a clipboard holder for the most part rarely seeing any game action, Brunell was an excellent starting quarterback for many years with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He’s amassed over 32,000 passing yards in his career, good for 30th in NFL history, and is a three-time Pro Bowler.

5. (tie) QB Matt Hasselbeck (1998 6th Round Pick)

Hasselbeckis still enjoying a great NFL career and has been a three-time Pro Bowler. His 29,000+ passing yards are good for ninth on the all-time active quarterback list and at 35, he still has time to add to those impressive numbers. Hasselbeck’s play has deteriorated a bit (as evidenced by the 34 interceptions he’s thrown the past two seasons), but he is still a very capable starting signal caller.

3. LB Zach Thomas (1996 5th Round Pick)

I know, I know – he’s the only defensive player on this list. The fact is that there have simply been far more offensive gems in later rounds. Still, the Miami Dolphins found a good one in linebacker Zach Thomas. He established himself as one of the most dominant middle linebackers of his era with more than 1,100 tackles. He even threw in 20 ½ sacks and 17 interceptions for good measure in his 12-year career.

2. Terrell Davis (1995 6th Round Pick)

Davis’ seven-year career was uncharacteristically short due to injuries, but he had three consecutive 1,500-yard seasons, including 1998 when he rushed for 2,008 yards. Davis was also a two-time AP Offensive Player of the Year and is an annual finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Oh yeah … and helping John Elwaywin two Super Bowls doesn’t hurt, either.

1. Tom Brady (2000 6th Round Pick)

If you look up late-round NFL Draft steal in the dictionary, Brady’s mug would undoubtedly show up – and for good reason. He is a two-time league Most Valuable Player, six-time Pro Bowler, and most importantly, has led the New England Patriots to three Super Bowls. Case closed.