Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Week 9 Takeaways

The ninth week of NFL action wasn't short on entertainment. By the way, did anyone else know the Cleveland Browns are 5-3? Anyway, here are some takeaways from Week 9 of the NFL season.

The Patriots sit atop the AFC... for now: The New England Patriots dismantled the Denver Broncos in what could end up being the difference in who gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Whoa, whoa, there's still seven weeks left in the regular season and the Patriots -- who are now on their bye week -- have a tough seven remaining games on their schedule (at IND, DET, at GB, at SD, MIA, at NYJ, BUF). Meanwhile, Denver's remaining schedule looks like this (at OAK, at STL, MIA, at KC, BUF, at SD, at CIN, OAK). Now, who do you think has the better chance of winning more games from this point on? If these two teams meet in the playoffs, which looks destined to happen, it could very well come down to who's the host and who's the visitor. The Patriots are the best in the AFC, but it may not be that way for very long.

Ben Roethlisberger: When I look at Big Ben's performances in each of the past two games all I can say is wow. Against the Colts in Week 8 his stat line was: 40-49, 82 percent completions, 522 yards, 6 TDs. Last night against the Ravens: 25-37, 68 percent completions, 340 yards, 6 TDs. Most importantly, they came in winning efforts. It's not a coincidence that rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has emerged over the past two games, as he's played a large role in his quarterback's gaudy numbers. Still, Roethlisberger, in his 11th season, isn't mentioned by the media or sportscasters when they discuss the elite quarterbacks, but he certainly belongs in the conversation.

The AFC North: If someone had told me, prior to the season, that after the first nine games of the season the that all four teams in the AFC North  would be over .500 I would have scoffed at such a prediction. Yet, that's where the division stands. The Bengals, Browns, Ravens and Steelers all sport winning records -- no other division can say that. Of course, the Browns are the big surprise, as many (including myself) didn't expect very much from them this season. Cleveland will receive a huge boost come Week 12 when star receiver Josh Gordon returns from his suspension.

Injuries: The Eagles placed two starters, linebacker DeMeco Ryans and guard Todd Herremans, on season-ending injured reserve, while starting quarterback Nick Foles is expected to miss 4-8 weeks after suffering a broken collarbone against the Texans. Other notable names who left Sunday's action due to injury: Arian Foster (HOU), Troy Polamalu (PIT), Rolando McClain (DAL), Andre Smith (CIN), Lamar Miller (MIA), Nate Irving (DEN), Kareem Jackson (HOU), and Tyrone Crawford (DAL).

*Team schedules and standings courtesy of CBS Sports 
**Player statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference
***Injury news courtesy of Rotoworld

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Dallas is For Real

   I can't believe how well the Dallas Cowboys are playing this season. The organization once dubbed, "America's Team," sits at 5-1 after going into a hostile environment in Seattle and defeating last year's Super Bowl champion Seahawks. I more or less mocked the Cowboys in the offseason, not expecting them to contend for their division, let alone the NFC. Well, they've proven me and many other sports analysts and talking heads dead wrong, sending a clear message to the other 31 teams: Their for real.

   The defense, considered to be the team's Achilles heel entering the season, has found new life under new defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. A unit that lost the likes of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher to free agency and the cap casualty, and star linebacker Sean Lee's season was lost before it even began. But there has been consistency from the defense and players are stepping up their game to fill the voids of those lost. Players like Rolando McClain, labeled a bust and retiring at the age of 23, he was a mere afterthought before joining the Cowboys this offseason and his career has been revitalized.

   Let's not forget, of course, the success of fourth-year running back DeMarco Murray. The former 2011 third-round draft pick is running like a man possessed. According to Pro-football-reference, Murray leads the league in carries (159), rushing yards (785) and rushing touchdowns (6). With Murray's injury history -- he's never played a full 16 game regular season -- one can't help but wonder if the 25-year old will be able to hold up at this rate. Tony Romo is playing well, although he still seems slowed at time by his back, the same back he had surgery on this past offseason. The offensive line has played well, particularly in the running game, but the trench warriors will be a man down after Jerry Jones announced right tackle Doug Free is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a foot injury. The team must be feeling pretty damn good with where they stand and it's not farfetched to think they could be 9-1 heading into their Week 11 Bye. Their next four games go like this: home games against the Giants, Washington, and Cardinals and then they go on the road to face the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. The toughest game is obviously their match up against a very good Arizona Cardinals team but after the Cowboys went on the road and beat Seattle, they should be able to beat any team in the league. I'm not crowning them Super Bowl Champions or anything, although it's not beyond the realm of possibility. All I'm saying is look out everybody, the 'Boys are back in town and they're a force to be reckoned with.

Injury Roundup: Week 6

Sorry for my absence for the past few weeks, my attention has been heavily focused on school and I haven't had as much time as I'd like to focus my attention on my blog. But, what an exciting and interesting season! Last week a number of teams lost significant players to injuries. Here's a list of some of the names we saw go down in Week 6:

Jerod Mayo- The New England Patriots saw several key players leave the game on Sunday, one of them was starting linebacker Jerod Mayo. The signal caller on defense and a team leader, Mayo's season is over after suffering a knee injury against Buffalo. The Pats have lacked depth at linebacker since the offseason and now they'll pay the price. Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins are going to have to step up big time.

Victor Cruz- Adding insult to injury, the Giants were shut out by their division rival Philadelphia, and lost their best offensive player in the process. Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon and had to be carted off the field, he was visibly distraught. This is a huge loss for the Giants, and rookie Odell Beckham Jr. will see a lot more targets and a lot more pressure coming his way as the season goes on.

Alex Mack- The Cleveland Browns' offensive line has been the key to offense's success and against Pittsburgh the unit lost one of it's best players, center Alex Mack. The six-year veteran, who signed a five-year, $42 million contract this past offseason, suffered a broken leg and is expected undergo surgery and miss the rest of the season. Due to the talent on Cleveland's offense line, I don't expect them to fall apart.

Stevan Ridley- Another Patriot whose season is over. Ridley tore his ACL and MCL against Buffalo and the Patriots lose a key part of their offense. The remaining running backs are Shane Vereen, Brandon Bolden, and James White. Vereen is a shifty, change of pace back with a great hands. James White is similar to Vereen, but hasn't seen any meaningful playing time this season. Bolden is the closest thing the team has to Ridley, but he lacks the ability to give consistent production. Ridley is in the last year of his contract and I think he's played his last snap in New England.

Darren Sproles- According to reports, Philadelphia could be without running back Darren Sproles -- who suffered a knee injury against the Giants -- for several weeks. The Eagles currently have no healthy backs behind starter LeSean McCoy, so expect the team to activate Matthew Tucker from the practice squad or sign a free agent.

Other injuries- Patrick Willis (SF), Dee Milliner and Brian Winters (NYJ), Knowshon Moreno (MIA), Doug Free (DAL), Byron Maxwell (SEA), Tramon Williams and Sam Shields (GB), and Armonty Bryant (CLE).

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Injury Roundup: Week 3

We saw some teams lose some key players last week, here's the latest:

Injured Reserve:

Stephen Tulloch- The Detroit Lions lost their starting middle linebacker and defensive leader to a torn ACL, an injury he suffered in celebration of a sack. His reliability and veteran presence on the field will be hard to replace, but I predict that Tahir Whitehead (Tulloch's replacement) will have success, and ultimately keep the job from here on out.

Danny Woodhead- One week after starting running back Ryan Mathews suffered a knee injury that would sideline him for at least the next 4-5 weeks, the Chargers lost another running back. The versatile and reliable Danny Woodhead suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Buffalo last week. The Chargers' backfield is in disarray, with Donald Brown now thrust into the starting spot. Fortunately for the Chargers, they're going up against the Jaguars this week.

Dennis Pitta- Pitta's season is over after he dislocated a hip in the Ravens' Week 3 victory over the Browns. From the outside, this looks like a crucial blow to the Ravens' offense. But, really, it's not that significant. Two veterans signed this offseason, Owen Daniels and Steve Smith, have proven to be reliable targets for Joe Flacco and their presence will cushion the loss of the team's starting tight end.

Tyvon Branch- For the second consecutive season, Tyvon Branch's season ends prematurely. Last year, the Oakland Raider's safety was placed on IR two weeks into the season, this year it's three. Branch is a good player, and has been with Oakland since the team drafted him in 2008. Veteran journeyman Usama Young will take over the starting safety spot next to Charles Woodson.

Matt Cassel, Brandon Fusco- The Vikings lost two starters for the rest of the season, placing quarterback Matt Cassel and starting right guard Brandon Fusco on injured reserve. The real damage is done by the loss of Fusco -- who had just signed a 5-year $25 million contract extension with the team -- his value will be evident once fans see the play of his replacement, Vladimir Ducasse. As for Cassel, well let's just say his time as the starting quarterback in Minnesota is up, and the Teddy Bridgewater Era has begun.

*Injury and contract news courtesy of NFL.com  

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Week 2 Recap

1. The Seahawks are mere mortals on the road. Much has been made of the Seattle Seahawks and how talented they are, and rightfully so; they're arguably the best team in the league. With that being said, they're noticeably less intimidating and impressive when they don't have their home fans to crank up the noise. The Chargers beat the Seahawks 30-21, with veteran tight end Antonio Gates (whom I wrongly accused of being on the back end of his career and ready to pass the torch to his backup) lighting up the Seahawks' defense for 96 yards and three touchdowns. If Seattle doesn't clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs, they're chances at a Super Bowl take a dramatic hit.
2. Injury roundup: Another week, another handful of players succumb to injury. The Bears have lost starting cornerback Charles Tillman for the rest of the season, the veteran suffered an injury to his right triceps, while the Giants also lost a cornerback, Walter Thurmond, for the season with a pectoral injury. Other notable players who left the field in Week 2 -- who will miss some time -- due to injury: Jamaal Charles (KC), Mark Ingram (NO), Ryan Mathews (SD), Robert Griffin III (WAS), A.J. Green (CIN), Rod Streater (OAK), Jon Beason (NYG), Arthur Jones (IND), and Knowshon Moreno (MIA).
3. The Giants suck. The G-Men lost at home to an Arizona Cardinals team that started backup quarterback Drew Stanton. Keep in mind this was Stanton's first regular season start since 2010! They've won the Super Bowl after starting 0-2, but it just isn't a possibility this season. Eli Manning, and the Giants' offense as a whole, looks atrocious. The defense and special teams units are playing like crap. But hey, at least they'll get a high draft pick next year. As Bleacher Report's Matt Miller tweeted, "Giants fans are going to LOVE Leonard Williams next season. #Top5Pick." 
4. Two talented Patriots need to step up. Wide receiver's Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell were highly touted free agent acquisitions and both players are vastly underachieving. Amendola is earning $6.8 million this season and LaFell $3 million. The Pats overpaid for Amendola to begin with, but the fact remains that his performance has been underwhelming and considering this is his second year in the offense, he should be making far more of an impact. LaFell is probably still trying to learn the ins and outs of the offense and working on his chemistry with Tom Brady; hopefully that happens soon.
5. The Vikings' brass fails to make a statement. The Vikings deactivated All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson from Sunday's game against the New England Patriots in the wake of his indictment on a charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Peterson hit his son with a switch as a form of discipline, leaving marks on the 4-year-old. The Vikings' front office could have made a statement that these types of abusive behaviors will not be tolerated by deactivating Peterson until a verdict was reached -- his day in court will take place October 8th, according to NFL.com Wire Reports. But, yet again, we see that the NFL is no different than any other successful business in that money trumps all else, and decisions aren't made based on what's morally right. UPDATE: The Vikings have placed Peterson the Exempt List/Commissioner's Permission List, meaning he must remain away for all team activities until his current legal situation comes to a close. This means nothing. The team's decision makers made this choice due to the backlash from the public when news broke that Peterson was going to be allowed to play in Week 3. The Vikings organization, and the Nation Football League as a whole, have lost any and all credibility.

*Injury news courtesy of  NFL.com

Sunday, September 14, 2014

What to Watch For: Week 2

Week 2 began on Thursday night, as the Baltimore Ravens annihilated a division foe, the Pittsburgh Steelers, 26-6. There's still fifteen games on the slate, fourteen today and one tomorrow night. There's bound to be an upset or two, and you know some very good, very impactful players are going to suffer an injury; it's inevitable. I don't want to be a Negative Nancy, so here's what to watch for in Week 2!

1. Who will be 2-0, Miami or Buffalo? One week after upsetting better competition, the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills square off, fighting for the best record in the division. These two teams surprised people with their performances in Week 1, and this should be a hard-fought, exciting game. Who would have thought?
2. The Minnesota Vikings offense sans Adrian Peterson. The Vikings host the New England Patriots today and will be without their best player-- running back Adrian Peterson. According to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com, Peterson has been deactivated from this week's contest after he was arrested and indicted on charges of child endangerment on Thursday. On a pure-football note, the Vikings' offense is in trouble.
3. The Atlanta Falcons' receivers versus the Cincinnati Bengals' cornerbacks. Matt Ryan was on fire against New Orleans last week, torching the Saints' defense for 448 yards and three touchdowns. This week, the Bengals will provide a more formidable opponent. I'm looking to see how the Falcons' wide receivers -- Julio Jones, Roddy White, Harry Douglas, and Devin Hester -- fare against the Bengals' cornerbacks -- Terence Newman, Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Darqueze Dennard.
4. Aaron Rodgers's rebound. After opening the season against last year's Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and failing to bring their A-game, or even their B-game for that matter, the Green Bay Packers, and particularly quarterback Aaron Rodgers, are going to come out firing against the New York Jets today. They were embarrassed by the Seahawks and are looking to get that bad taste out of their mouths. Rex Ryan's defense may be in for a long afternoon.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Week 1 Recap

The first week of the 2014 regular season is officially behind us, and the action didn't disappoint -- unless your team lost. I'm going to recap some of the things from the opening week that stood out to me the most.

1) Remember: We're only one week into the season, and it's a long season. So, don't overreact -- although that part is pretty much inevitable -- to what transpired in Week 1. There's still a lot of games left to play.
2) The Patriots' offensive line is a glaring weakness. What I saw in the New England's Week 1 loss against the Dolphins was an offensive line that was abused by Miami's front four. Led by Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, the Dolphins' defensive line applied constant pressure on Tom Brady and the Patriots' offensive line looked like worse than it's looked it years. As the season continues, I expect this unit to begin to mesh and improve. Because if they don't, it hurts the Pats' chances of making a deep playoff run.
3) J.J. Watt is worth every penny. The Houston Texans signed defensive end J.J. Watt to a 6-year contract extension worth $100 million, the largest contract ever signed by a defensive player. And, like he's done since he entered the league in 2011, he showed the world why he deserves to be the highest paid defender in the game. He was active throughout the game versus Washington, recording one sack, one pass defended and also recovered a fumble. He is a once in a generation kind of player.
4) Injuries abound. Just one week in and already several key players have been lost for the season. Some of the players include: Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito (KC), Robert Mathis and Cam Johnson (IND), Zach Brown (TEN), Danell Ellerbe (MIA), Nick Hardwick (SD), Evan Mathis and Allen Barbre (PHI), and Mike Jenkins (TB).
5) Josh McCown is a journeyman. Josh McCown did a great job with the Chicago Bears last season when he was called upon after Jay Cutler got hurt. He played exceptionally well and looked like a starting caliber quarterback. But, it was a fluke. In my opinion the 35-year-old is a backup quarterback. The talent and weapons on this Buccaneers' offense are just as legitimate as the ones he played with in Chicago last season. Am I judging him too quickly, considering it's just one game into the season? Perhaps. Only time will tell.
6) The Jaguars have a bright future. An up and coming team with good mix young talent and veteran leadership, led by a General Manager and Head Coach who are moving them in the right direction. And in last Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, it showed. The up-tempo Eagles' offense was stifled by the Jaguars' defense for a while, but Philly came back to win by a two touchdown margin. Jacksonville's performance showed reason for their fans to be excited, though.

*Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference
*Injury news courtesy of CBS Sports