4 In, 4 Out

   With the first round of the NFL playoffs in the books, it is clear that we know very little.  I went 2-2 in my predictions, with the Boys and Jets holding strong defensively and the Pack and Pats doing exactly the opposite.  Regardless we are through the terrible first round of the playoffs and into the meet of the post-season, the divisional round.  Here’s where the stars shine, the big gamers have the big games and the favorites come out.  But with one round behind us, we have some room to reflect on the teams who are walking home.

 

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, WC Loss to NYJ 24-14)

  The Bungles bungled again.  Despite having a great defense all year and a big time run game, the Bengals couldn’t get it done when it mattered most, and the blustering Rex Ryan gets to make headlines with his bravado. Cedric Benson had an amazing game and capped a comeback of some note.  Against the best defense in the post-season, Benson ran for 169 yards, 1 touchdown and 8.0 yards per carry, those are some significant numbers.  In fact, Benson’s performance was the best by a single runner against the Jets all year, with only Maurice Jones-Drew’s 24 for 123 and a touchdown being the only comparable performance.  And while Cincinnati’s injury plagued defense let up a lot of yardage to Dustin Keller on two big pass plays, they performed as can be expected elsewhere.  Against that Offensive line, holding Green to just over 120 yards was a victory.  Unfortunately, all of that was undone.

 I have watched Carson Palmer for years, and this was the worst single game by the former Trojan I have ever seen.  Palmer was jumpy in the pocket, and was sacked 3 times.  When he did get time, which happened more often then New York wanted, Palmer overthrew his receivers. Almost every throw he made against New York went high.  And high passes are dangerous passes.  Eventually Revis made a play on one of them and got the pick.  Meanwhile Chad Ochocinco was unimpressive, and the other receivers were either injured or doing their best Braylon Edwards impressions.  Oh, and Shayne Graham has been banned from the Queen’s City.

What Does it Mean?

  The Bengals put together a solid defense despite injuries.  It looked like the hiring of Marv Lewis finally paid dividends.  If DC Mike Zimmer and HC Marvin Lewis are able to recreate that defense, and have Baltimore and Pittsburgh stumble down the stretch, they could be back.  More likely the Bengals will take a step back and until they improve the receiving corp, and build up youth on the offensive line, Ciny will be the Jacksonville of the AFC North.

New England Patriots (10-6, WC Loss to Bal 33-14)

  It may be the loss of Wes Welker which put them in a funk, but it was the poor performance of the offensive line and defensive mid-field that cost the Patriots their chance at another title this decade.  Ray Rice and Willis McGahee combined for 42 rushes and over 200 yards.  The usually studly combo of Mayo and Wilfork were unable to hold the Ravens in check.  The Pats rush defense ranked about as well as it did in 2008, midranked and unimpressive. On the other side, the Patriots ranked 12th in rush offense.  But how much of that was true run power and how much of it was fear of Wes Welker and Randy Moss is difficult to tell.  Kevin Faulk, Laurence Marony and the lot make for a solid group, but its not Chris Johnson.  Add in the consistent pressure that Tom Brady and Matt Cassel have faced since the Super Bowl (although the Pats allowed only 18 sacks all season) against top opponents and you have an offensive line with some question marks.

  At the end of the day, what matters to Belichick is defense.  Despite having a very good defense (top 15 in yards on the ground, air and in scoring) the Patriots never seemed to gel, and completely fell apart in the playoffs, the exact opposite of the usually situation. Why this happened, how this happened and what it means is the real question facing the Patriots today.  Outside of the loss to New Orleans, the Patriots never really lost big, until the playoffs.

What Does it Mean?

 What it means is that in New England, there are some concerned faces.  Fact is, the Patriots are loaded with draft picks going into the off-season, including 3 2nd round picks.  They have a lot of young talent on defense, outside of the defensive line, and have a probably top 5 pick.  With improving teams in New York and Miami, the Pats will need it.  Regardless, the Pats have shown a chink in the armor and Tom Terrific is no longer unbeatable.

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5, WC Loss to Dal 34-14)

  The Iggles came crashing down with back to back big losses to the Dallas Cowboys.  At this point Phily fans should be a little concerned.  Although Kevin Kolb has shown his skills this season, McNabb is getting old and Michael Vick (despite the big play) is not the future.  The run game was non existent, with a total of 13 total rushes, compared to 35 for the Cowboys.  Meanwhile the Eagles O-line let McNabb get sacked 4 times and hit another 9 on top of that.  Yes, a lot of that came down to injuries, but overall the Eagles offense was absolutely controlled by the Dallas front 7.  And when the Cowboys turned the gas off, the Eagles offense still flustered about and was unable to make any sort of headway.  For a team who had a record breaking offensive performance to come out and score a total of 14 points in two games against a well known divisional rival is a pathetic finish to a disappointing season.  And that doesn’t even bring up the defense.

  The Eagles defense, individually, is full of very good players.  The rotating door at MLB hurt, as did the loss of Jim Johnson and Brian Dawkins. The unit as a whole was 12th in yardage, but 19th in points allowed. It was 17th against the pass, but the 9th ranked defense against the run.  This defense wasn’t bad, but at times inept.  It couldn’t seem to find its stride, despite having loads of sacks and run stuffs.  Something just did not click, and that loss of a click cost the Eagles any shot at a post-season run.  Perhaps it was injuries, perhaps it was playcalling, it was certainly something that allowed the Cowboys to take control of the line of scrimmage and dominate the Eagles in back to back games.

What Does it Mean?

  At the moment the Eagles are at a crossroads.  Their have a lot of age in some positions, but a lot of youth in others.  It appears that the skill position players have finally been found in Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson.  The offensive line is loaded with talent thanks to free agents and the acquisition of Jason Peters from Buffalo, but McNabb is getting up there in age, and if Kevin Kolb bolts for a starting gig elsewhere, the Eagles could be in some serious trouble in the near future.

Green Bay Packers (11-6 WC Loss to Ari 51-45)

  When you lose one of the greatest games in post-season history, you don’t have a lot to be sorry for.  But the fact is, I called it.  I never thought the Green Bay defense was as good as it statistically said, and with the mediocre offenses they faced for most of the season I had a feeling it was going to come crashing down.  Now, I picked Green Bay because I thought they would outperform the Arizona offense, and I was wrong.  But defensively, the Packers only faced 4 top 20 offensive units (by yards) all year, Minnesota, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Dallas (I am not counting Arizona due to the lack of effort by the Cardinals in the regular season finale) and they went a combined 3-2 against the four.  Fact is, that defense suffered the same thing every 4-3 to 3-4 swap does, it’s just not as good as it looks. 

  Meanwhile on the offensive side of the ball, the Packers were nearly flawless.  Aaron Rodgers moved the ball amazingly well, despite being under the gun.  When a team jumps out to a 17 point lead, the trailing team tends to become one sided.  The Pack ran decently, with only 7 fewer rushes than their season average of 27 per game.  But when push came to shove, the Packers O-line fell down on the job.  The Cardinals averaged 2 and a half sacks per game all year, the Packers allowed 5 in the game. It was fitting that the Packers O-line failed when it mattered most, given that the Green Bay O-line had been doing that all year. 

What Does it Mean?

  The Packers are set up to be the best team in the NFC North next season.  With Favre’s age, Cutler’s inadequate play and Detroit being, well, Detroit, the Packers are standing at the top of the pile.  But they seriously need defensive help, youth in the corner position and a lot of O-line help.  If Aaron Rodgers is going to survive to have three 4,000 yard seasons, he’s going to need something up front to stay on his feet.

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Playoff Predictions

Dallas 24-20 Minnesota- The Cowboys defense holds the Vikings on the final drive for a big win

Arizona 31-34 New Orleans- Shootout in the Super Dome comes out for the home team.

New York 13-27 San Diego- Philip Rivers goes off on a Jets defense that underperformed against Cincy

Baltimore 17-20 Indianapolis- Last second missed field goal by the Ravens lets Indy walk out a winner.

What We Learned… Week 2

Previously on “What We Learned”

First let me say that I am not the type of writer to hide from my mistakes.  So, lets begin Week 2 by looking back at Week 1.  First off:

1.  Jay Cutler has a lot of work to do.

Its difficult to say I got this one wrong.  He did some work, cut down on the mistakes and gave his team the position to win the game against the defending Super Bowl champs.  So I’ll chalk that one up as a correct assumption.

2. The Patriots are not going 16-0

Patriots- 9, Jets 16

3. The Titans are in it for the Long Haul.

While divisional games are always wonky, its two weeks in a row that the Titans defense has underperformed when it mattered most.  And after watching the Texans get battered by the Jets, I had no reason to assume they would bounce back against a ferocious Titans defense.  And so I benched Matt Schaub in my fantasy league.  Yeah, not so much.  The Titans could be in for trouble if they dont shape up.

4.  The Browns are not as bad as they were a year ago.

They are worse :S

5. Philadelphia is the best team in the National Football Conference

I maintain that with a healthy McNabb, this team is the team to beat.  But given that McNabb can’t stay healthy, it looks like that mantle has fallen to the Saints.

Record: 2-3 (Not a bad kickoff to the season)

Upsets: Obviously I did not expect all 4 upset picks to be accurate, but 2 came true (Baltimore, hardly an upset and New England).  Upsets I missed: Houston over Tennessee and Chicago over Pittsburgh.

Lock: No Surprises there, got that one right.

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Now on to What We Learned From Week 2:

5 Things We Learned

1. The Giants are Not Going to Miss Plax

Despite their poor performance at the end of last season, the Giants do not lose their top dog spot due to the recent incarceration of their previous #1 receiver Plaxico Burress.  Despite having no run game (3.7 ypc) and a defense like a sive but for big plays (251 yards rushing by the Boys), Eli Manning won a football game.  Eli has, for years, lived in the shadow of New York’s vaunted run game and defense.  Tiki Barber and Michael Strahan loomed over him like the Empire State Building, eclipsing any achievement.  But it appears that Eli has finally arrived.

With a slew of under-experienced receivers, Eli orchestrated a late drive to win against a wild Dallas squad playing in the Palace of Football.  Mario Manningham and Steve Smith the Younger combined for 20 receptions, 284 yards and 2 Touchdowns.  All of this without a “big play” receiver to take away the safety coverage over top.  Now, this is perhaps a quality of playing a rapidly questionable Dallas defense, but still, with no run game and a victory on the line, Eli took his team and won the game.  That is the sign of a Franchise Quarterback.

2. The Ravens are the Best Team in the NFL.

With the Colts looking sluggish at times (despite their heroics in Miami), the Steelers getting punched in the mouth by the Bears, the Saints giving up 22 points to Kevin Kolb and the Vikings not playing anybody, the Ravens are the top of the pack.  As much as it pains me to say it, I was wrong about Joe Flacco and his receiving corp.  I thought the sophmore slump was inevitable, but thus far the Ravens look unstoppable.  With their defense and that offense, this team is the presumptive (way way too early) Super Bowl favorite from the AFC.

Flacco is currently on pace for 4o touchdowns (not happening), 16 interceptions (probably not having) and nearly 4,000 yards (not likely).  However, does 3,400 yards, 28 touchdowns, 12 interceptions sound too unreasonable?  And with a refreshed Willis McGahee and a rejuvinated (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldY2pInMyR4) Ray Lewis, who can honestly stop this team?    Now, i’m not going to crown them 16-0 yet, but with a Steelers O-line like that, and the Ravens defense flying around as it is, it seems to be a big time point in the Baltimore camp.  The only point to worry about, the Ravens have allowed the 23rd most points of any team through two weeks.  Although most of that has been in special teams, its still a worrysome number.

3. The Packers defense is not elite.

at least, not yet.  The Packers came out hot in week one, taking the ball away from the Bears a lot.  But hidden behind that defensive performance was a lot of yards given up on the ground and through the air.  Then against a team which struggled to score against a confusing Denver defense, the Pack let up 31 points.  Carson Palmer scored 4 touchdowns on his own and Cedric Benson put up a buck 41 on the ground.  Benson has a career average of 3.7 yards per carry, but put up a 4.9 ypc average against the Pack.  Green Bay sits at mediocre in the defensive rankings, not where they wanted to be when they made the 3-4 switch.

  Many people thought that the struggling Packers defense would be boosted by the presence of Dom Capers and the 3-4.  I was not, and am still not, one of those people.  The 4-3 to 3-4 transition is a difficult one, and with aging corners and safeties battling injuries, it becomes even more difficult.  And if not for the offensive collapse of Jay Cutler, we could be talking about the 0-2 Packers right now.  With Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Jay Cutler in Chicago and Megatron in Detroit, the Packers are in an offensively loaded division.  If the defense continues to be shaky, don’t expect the Packers to be playing in January.

4. The Denver Broncos are unknown, and fraudulent.

  The Broncos won week 1 by the grace of immaculate receptions, a tipped pass into the hands of Brandon Stockley running into the endzone untouched.  Without that play, Orton is throwing for 156 yards and a 72.9 rating.  One accident and it goes up to 100.7.  Beyond that, it was all Cincinnati, who managed a bucket load of points on Green Bay.  However, the win gave McDaniels some breathing room going into the home opener despite a poor showing of offensive firepower and the virtual dissapearance of Denver’s best weapon in Brandon Marshall.  Then, in week 2 the Broncos (aided by the bad snap of first round center Alex Mack) put up a meager 10 points in the first half against the Browns before blowing the doors open in the second.  So, is Denver back?

  The answer is no.  They may end up 3-0 to start the season (due to the inconsistent Bengals, the terrible Browns and the out of sync Raiders) but with 8 straight games against .500+ teams over the next 9 weeks and games against Indy and Phily to round out the last 4 weeks, the Broncos are going to get destroyed.  They may end the season at 8-8 but they will limp to it.  The defense is still a big question mark, and the offense has not yet been challenged.  Their cheif playmaker is non-existent and their offensive line is not as sturdy as it has been in the past.  With all of that in mind, does anyone really think the Broncos go 10-6 or better against the likes of Dallas, new England, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Diego?

5. The Saints are the 2005 Bengals.

  Remember back in 2005 when Cincinnati finally climbed the mountain and reached the playoffs?  They had a semi-decent run defense and scoring defense and a pretty bad pass defense that managed a lot of turnovers.  And if not for the Steelers knocking Carson Palmer out of the post-season who knows how far they could have gone.  Well right now the Saints have an unstoppable offense based soley upon their Quarterback, a semi-decent run and scoring defense and a pass d that can create turnovers but little else.  Now, if Drew Brees stays healthy, who knows how long they’ll run.  The Saints will continue to be a dominant force and baring injury will win the AFC South.

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The Big 5 and the Little 5

1. Baltimore (2-0): Best combo of offense and defense thus far.

2. Minnesota (2-0): With perfect games like Favre just had, its hard to pick against Minnesota.

3. New Orleans (2-0): Nigh unstoppable on offense, mediocre on defense.

4. Philadelphia (1-1): I maintain that a healthy McNabb beats New Orleans

5. Atlanta (2-0)/New England (1-1): The winner of this game proves a lot next week.

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5. Jacksonville (0-2): After blowing the Indy game, they laid an egg against a fitful Arizona.

4. Kansas City (0-2): Down 2 in division with a pathetic performance against Oakland.

3. Cleveland (0-2): Cleveland has the best first half defense in the league, worst in the 2nd.

2. St. Louis (0-2): Against a sloppy Washington, the Rams looked sloppier.

1. Detroit (0-18)

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Upset Alert

1. New York Giants (2-0) @ Tampa Bay (0-2)

  The Giants are rolling into Tampa Bay well aware that they are the better team.  Eli is coming off a huge performance aganinst the Big D, while Tampa is coming off a failed performance in their first ever trip to Buffalo.  However, there is more to this game than that.  Tampa is a 9 win team from a year ago who has some offensive fire power.  Against good defenses in Buffalo (held New England for 3 quarters and Dallas which shut down New York’s run game.  The Buccs have compiled over 500 yards passing and Leftwhich has more touchdowns than picks thus far.  And if Cadillac can explode againt the Giants, New York could be in for a serious suprise on the road in Tampa.

2. Cleveland (0-2) @ Baltimore (2-0)

   Unlikely, but nutty things happen in rivalry games.  Baltimore is supremely confident and may be caught looking forward to a big game against the Patriots in week 4.  With the Browns against a wall, desperate for a win and Brady Quinn in serious need of a good game, Cleveland could be a prototypical “Trap Game” for Baltimore.  The Ravens’ weakness is their special teams, so a big game from Josh Cribbs and Phil Dawson (of the “Bounce” fame) would be a necessity if the Browns want to sneak one in on the Ravens at home.

3. Denver (2-0) at Oakland (0-2)

  The Raiders are another team, like Cleveland, playing against a divisional rival with nothing to lose.  The Broncos seemingly have nothing to lose.  McDaniels is now assured after two wins that his way is the correct way, and that all the moves he has thus far made will pan out.  Meanwhile Tom Cable is under seige.  Failures at Quarterback, defensive collapses and mistakes are going to haunt him all season if he doesn’t shape up soon.  Starting 0-3 could end the Cable Era before it really begins, and he can’t allow that to happen.  After nearly doing it to the Chargers and the Chiefs, I think the Raiders could very well get their first divisional win this weekend.

4. Washington (1-1) at Detroit (0-2)

 The “sexy” pick for an upset.  But given Washington’s offensive performance and Detroit’s, who can be surprised.  It could come down to a shootout in the Motor City, winner being the team who gets the ball with 2 minutes left.

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Stone Cold Lock

  Jacksonville at Houston- The Texans right now are rolling off a huge confidence building victory over their rivals in Tennessee last week.  The Jags meanwhile are on the ropes, and while they are a desperate team (and therefore dangerous to pick against) they just don’t have the defense to keep Andre Johnson in check.  Derrelle Revis did it, but he also kept Randy Moss contained.  As good as Mathis is, he is not going to be able to shut down Andre Johnson by himself, meaning that already suspect defensive line will be left on an island.  I expect big things out of Steve Slaton this week as the Texans handle the Jaguars at home for a big win to go 2-1, with two division wins.

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Matchups to Watch

1. Jim Zorn vs Jim Schwartz- One coach who has been an epic failure in the redzone against a defensive guru looking for his first stand.  This one could decide the fate of Jim Zorn in Washington.

2. Peyton Manning vs. Kurt Warner- Two old dog QB’s battling it out through the air to overcome their pathetic defenses.  Winner will be the man who audibles at the line the most.

3. Tennesse Running Game vs. New York Jets Defense- The premier matchup of the week in my book, watching the Titans batter themselves against the Jets wall of defense will be an exciting matchup and could well determine if the Titans have any shot at the playoff this year.

4. Jay Cutler vs. Ken Lucas- With their starting corner out, the Seahawks will call upon Ken Lucas to keep Jay Cutler from unloading on them.  If I’m Seattle I am very very worried about this matchup. 

5. Pittsburgh v. Cincinnati- Are the Bengals for real? We’ll found out.

What We Learned Week 1

Each Week I will attempt, sometime on Tuesday, to review the week that was in the NFL.  Hopefully I can shed some light on how I see things which played out and what it means on the rest of the NFL season.  It will be an education in what we learned in the previous week’s action, including 5 revelations we discovered in the week 1, my top 5 and bottom 5 teams, as well as 4 teams which should be on upset watch and 1 team which will be a stone cold lock to win.  Then to finish it off I’m going to give you 5 battles I can’t wait to see in the week to come.

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5 Things We Learned

1.  Jay Cutler has a lot of work to do.

      Bears fans put a lot of faith into the arm and leadership of one Jay Christopher Cutler.  So much in fact that they were willing to trade two first round picks, a 3rd and their starting quarterback to the Denver Broncos to get him.  At the time many (including for the sake of transparency, myself) thought the move would finally deliver the Bears a quarterback who could put them in contention.  He had the arm, the mobility, the presence.  Yes, he was a bit immature, but so was Phillip Rivers in his early years.  Still, with a speed demon like Hester, and a run game and defense to die for, what wasn’t to like? 

  Well, against the newly implemented 3-4 defense, maned by ancient corners and unknown pass rush, there was a lot not to like.  The Packers picked off Jay Cutler 4 times, and Cutler threw half a dozen more ducks that the Pack failed to pick off.  Sure, one of those picks was a one-in-a-million interception on a blown screen, but the rest were just terrible throws.  Cutler needs to cut down on the mistakes, and he needs to do it fast.  Jerry Angelo, Lovie Smith and Ron Turner’s jobs depend on it.  The upcoming schedule gets harder before it gets easier with games against the furious defense of the Steelers (although minus Troy Polumalu) and at my sleeper team Seattle.  If the Bears are 0-3 through that stretch, the damage might be unfixable.  And if that happens, heads will roll.

 

2. The Patriots are not going 16-0

   The last full game before last night that we saw was Tom Brady leading his team against the New York Giants at a shot at immortality.  But after a brutal performance by the New York Giants Defensive line, and then an unfortunate injury against the Chiefs (not a defensive powerhouse itself), Tom Brady was left on the sideline.  Now, he has lead his team to a 4th quarter come behind victory just like old times.  However, in the process his team gave up 24 points and a 3 quarter lead to a team which fired its Offensive Coordinator less than 2 weeks ago.  Meanwhile Brady was battered 6 times, sacked once and picked off by a defensive lineman.  The run game was herky-jerky at best and the offense just looked ‘off’.  And then came the killer, Jerod Mayo, one of the bst young ILB’s in the game went out with an injury.  All in all, it was not the 2007 Patriots all over again.

  But the Patriots won, and extended their streak to 12 against Buffalo.  So all is good right?  Wrong.  The fact of the matter is, the Patriots went 16-0 on a miraculous series of games, and with a good bit of luck from the rest of their division.  In 2007, the Bills, Jets and Dolphins combined for 12 wins.  In 2008 the three teams combined for 27 wins.  You don’t get over twice as many wins because one Quarterback goes down.  No, the Bills, Jets and Dolphins all improved from 2007 to 2009, and New England will not escape the conference play without a loss.  The Pats also have to deal with games at San Diego, at the upstart 49′ers, vs the Steelers, at Qwest and at Indianapolis.  Obviously New England’s not losing all, or likely most of those games.  But certainly it is very probably that the Pats drop one or two games in that stretch.  Regardless, 16-0 is not like to happen again.

 

3. The Titans are in it for the Long Haul.

  I’ll tell you right now, Tennessee is my sleeper pick for the Super Bowl from the AFC.  Yes, they lost to the Steelers, but play that game another 9 times and I’d wager a 5-5 record.  The 10-13 OT thriller in Pittsburgh was an epic game which featured two of the best defenses in the league.  The Titans held a usually decent Pittsburgh rush offense to 1.6 yards per rush.  In other words, to get 100 yards, the Steelers would have had to run the ball 63 times.  Meanwhile, until the epic collapse in the 4th quarter, Big Ben was held in check.  The defense was in control despite losing Albert Haynesworth and Jim Schwartz (although his replacement certainly showed some hesitation late in the game which may have cost them the win).

  The only thing that got the Steelers the win was that Pittsburgh luck.  For most teams, a fumble at the 5 yard line leads to a loss, but not in Pittsburgh where the OT coin flip went to the Steelers, along with the win.  All that aside, the Titans look ready to blast this division wide open.  The Colts and Jaguars looked sluggish and the Texans just looked plain bad.  If not for an insane interception by Troy Polomalu, Collins would have had an excellent game.  The young receiver Britt looks to be a find, and the running game is back in force.  The 320 yards of offense that Tennessee put up was almost 100 more than the Steelers gave up per game last season.  And it only gets easier from there, with only 4 games against playoff opponents from last season.  The Titans could be one of the hottest teams going into December with games against Arizona, St. Louis and Miami in the last half of the year.

 

4.  The Browns are not as bad as they were a year ago.

  Cleveland rode into the season on a 6 game stretch without an offensive touchdown and with a 4th string Quarterback taking snaps from center.  In game 1 of the 2009 season, the Browns started a rookie center against the best defensive tackle combonation in the league and came out in one peice.  They didn’t win, but that was in no small part thanks to the wonders of Adrian Peterson.  But still, for 3 quarters they held the Vikings, a Super Bowl favorite, in check.  The defense played its mind out in the first half, and the offense was at least passable.  It all came to a head in the 4th when Brady Quinn, the annointed one, connected with Robert Royal to end the scoreless streak.  The Browns lost by14, but still made it a game until the 4th quarter.

  The left side of the offensive line in Cleveland, Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach and Alex Mack, may develop into the best left side in the NFL (Jared Allen’s stat line: 1 tackle, 0 sacks), and the team is loaded with young talent.  Josh Cribbs is the best special teams player in the league.  Braylon, Massaquoi and Robiskie all have a lot of potential and could develop into a very good receiving corp.  D’Qwell Jackson and Eric Wright are young playmakers, and the new defensive scheme even get Kamerion Wimbley involved in a legitimate pass rush.  All together they make up a pretty solid corp of young players.  Now what remains to be seen is if Brady Quinn can put it all together, and Eric Mangini can develop them into a better-than-average team, something Cleveland hasn’t seen in over 10 years.

 

5. Philadelphia is the best team in the National Football Conference

  It may be a stretch, but I think its true.  Watching the Eagles (when healthy) pummel the Panthers to the tune of a 38-10 victory over the NFC South Champion Carolina Panthers.  No doubt Phily was aided by the embarrasing performance of Jake Delhomme, but the defense was all over the field.  One of the best running attacks in the league was shut down, and Steve Smith kept in check, all of this despite McNabb having only 79 yards passing.  The Eagles dropped 185 yards rushing on the Panthers and milked the clock.  Meanwhile, the Panthers couldn’t get to McNabb but twice, and only got one hit on the mobile QB before he finally succumbed to a rib injury in the endzone on his touchdown run.  The question now becomes, what next?

  The next game is against the Saints, and if Phily wins (if somehow McNabb comes back to health), they will have a free shot at 6-0 before the New York Giants.  Frankly, the Eagles at this point should be favored to win all but maybe, just maybe, 3 games this season.  If the Iggles can put together a few winning runs, they should be playoff pound.  And as we saw last year once they are in, they are dangerous.  All of this doesn’t even include Michael Vick or Jeff Garcia, two playoff quarterbacks now on Phily’s roster, or the development of Shady McCoy.  Right now, if the team stays healthy, there is no question in my mind that Phily will be the #1 seed in the playoffs come december.

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The Big 5 and the Little 5

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0): Super Bowl Champions until someone beats them

2. Philadelphia Eagles (1-0): Best team in the NFC as of week 1.

3. New England (1-0): Tom Brady is unbeaten in regular season play since December 10th, 2006

4. Minnesota (1-0): Run the ball, stop the run, that is all that is needed.

5. New Orleans (1-0): Drew Brees could have another near-record setting season.

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5.  Carolina (0-1): Yes it was only one loss, but its clear that Delhomme is done.

4.  Cincinnati (0-1): My sleeper wild card team goes down to my predicted worst team in the league.

3. St. Louis (0-1): Not a good start for the Spags era, but a brighter future is ahead.

4. Houston (0-1): The national bandwagon just lost a wheel.

5. Detroit (0-17)

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 Upset Alert

1. New England @ New York

   As much as Patriots fans want to believe that the locker room material will give them the edge, I would say its the opposite.  New York has a lot on the line in this game.  Mark Sanchez has to prove he can face a competent defense, the defense needs to shut down a high powered offense and Rex Ryan needs to put his money where his mouth is.  Its at home, giving the Jets an edge, and New York has everything on the line.  After failing to secure a playoff berth last season, these guys know that a national embarrasment will only set their playoff quest back another season.  New England has confidence, but the threat of a 3-4 pass rush battering Brady and Jenkins clogging up the middle will be one heck of a hill to climb.  This could be a very close matched game, or Brady could just unload, one way or the other there will be fireworks.

2. Baltimore @ San Diego

  The Chargers, at home against an East Coast team, should be the favorite, but I wouldn’t wager on it.  Baltimore’s offense exploded on the Chiefs (it was KC) and their defense kept the Chiefs in check but for special teams plays.  Meanwhile San Diego looked sluggish and clumsy against the Raiders, and the defense couldn’t do much to keep J-Roc in limbo.  Against Joe Flacco, another strong armed QB with an even better offensive line, the Chargers could be in for some serious work.  Darren Sproles is the type of back who can make Baltimore look silly, but with that linebacking corp and pass rush its going to tough sledding getting the W, despite being at home to an “inferior” team.  It should be a close one, if Phillip Rivers plays his best game all year.

3.  New York Giants @ Dallas

  The Cowboys will be unveiling the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium, but thats not why New York needs to be on the ready.  Right now the ‘Boys are on the ropes.  They beat Tampa, but it was Tampa. Meanwhile their playcalling has come under scrutiny, their stadium has been ridiculed and their owner fined.  They are a team in a corner with very few escape routes, and a win over their rivals from up north would be a huge feather in the cap of a very bare Wade Phillips.  The Giants meanwhile handled the Redskins, and have to be thinking that they wont be challenged until week 6.  The opportnity to overlook a lesser opponent often leads to defeat.  The Cowboys have nothing to lose, if they win, they get an upset.  If they lose, they lose to a better team.  And a team with nothing to lose in a rivalry game is always a team you want to be weary of.

4. Arizona @ Jacksonville

  The Jaguars held Peyton Manning to moderate success for much of the game this weekend, and kept it close in a 12-10 loss to the most successfull regular season team in the league.  Now they face another high-powered offense which is coming off a home loss to a rival.  The Cardinals could fall into the Super Bowl trap and go down 0-2 before heading into a big game against the Colts in week 3.  If Arizona looks too far ahead, they could be hit in the face by a team which can’t afford to lose.  If Jacksonville slips to sub .500, Jack Del Rio is likely gone.  A coach on the hot seat often finds a way to win games he shouldn’t otherwise win (see Jim Hasslet with the Rams in 09, or Romeo against the Giants on MNF with the Browns).  If Jacksonville can control the sidelines and limit Warner to short passing, they can win this one and pull off a big upset in week 2.

~

Stone Cold Lock

Minnesota over Detroit- Adrian Peterson will put up another 2+ TD, 150+ yard game against the worst run defense in the league, and with the amount of speed on the Vikings offense, I can’t see this team not winning against a hapless Detroit squad.  Meanwhile the Williams wall will force Matt Stafford to try and win the game, and while he should have decent numbers, I can’t see him willing this team to victory.  Not yet.

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Matchups to Watch

1. Knowshon Moreno v. Cleveland Defense- The Browns D-line was a sive against the Vikings, lets see if they can shape it up to stop the rook out of Georgia.

2. Matt Ryan v. Carolina’s Secondary- McNabb got 2 passing touchdowns and a rushing score, what will Ryan get? And Tony Gonzolez should have a breakout performance agianst safeties who will be too busy playing the run to shut down the middle of the field.

3. Mark Sanchez v. Bill Belichick- If you don’t think B Squared is salivating at the idea of confusing and confounding a highly touted rookie quarterback, then you are dreaming.  Sanchez meanwhile will have the opportunity to prove himself against a real defense, good luck rook, and welcome to the NFL.

4. Jay Cutler v. Pittsburgh- Green Bay got 4 picks, how many will the Steel Curtain get?

5. Samurai Mike v. Jim L. Mora- Two Coach of the Year sleepers in my book, as both will have vastly improved teams.   The show down should be a deciding one in the run for the NFC West crown.

~~

 

And that is what we learned in week 1 of the NFL Season.

Fallen From Grace

At the end of the Super Bowl, as the confetti rains down and the champions celebrate.  And for two men the moment means very different things.  One player knows tht all the money, all the work and all the fame have finally Sexy Rexycome to result in something, a Championship ring.  For the other, fate is unknown.  With the news that Sexy Rexy Grossman has signed with the Houston Texans as their third string quarterback we may have seen one of the hardest falls for a Super Bowl starting quarterback in the history of the NFL (and certainly within the last decade).  From Conference Crown to obscurity, the fate of many a starting Super Bowl Quarterback has been less than steller.

  There are four tiers of Super Bowl losing Quarterbacks in my mind: The Over-The-Hillers, the Repeat Offenders, the Winners and the Losers.  Each category has some famous names and no doubt each group has its own range of success and failure.  Starting with the loser of Super Bowl I (Len Dawson) to the loser of Super Bowl XLIII (and Super Bowl XXXVI) Kurt Warner, I have ranked the history of the NFL from those who fell from grace.

* Represents an active player

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The Winners

  Obviously any list of Super Bowl Losers as to start with the Super Bowl winners.  Players like Brett Favre, Roger Staubach, and most famously John Elway all lost Super Bowls, some of them lost as many (or more) than they won.  But one day each player got over the hump, and for that they get to top our list.

1. Roger Staubach- Captain Comeback lost Super Bowl 10 to the Roger StaubachPittsburgh Steelers.  However, he already had one ring on his finger, and would win a second one only two years later.  Staubach became the symbol of the Dallas Cowboys, and took a pretty mediocre franchise and turned it into a Power House, and in the process created the aura of America’s Team.

2. Tom Brady*- As winner of Super Bowls 36, 38 and 39, Tom Brady became one of the all time great winning quarterbacks.  But unlike Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Troy Aikman or Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady has a loss on his record.  After leading the ho-hum offenses of the New England Patriots to breathtaking wins over the Rams, Panthers and Eagles, Brady managed a measly 14 points as the Spy-Gate-less Patriots lost to the New York Giants.

3. John Elway- After the drama of the Drive, and the excitement of the Fumble, came the failurs of Super Bowls 21 and 22.  In Super Bowl 21, Elway led his team in Rushing (27 yards) and Passing (304 yards).  But against Bil Parcells, Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms (who played the greatest game of his life), he had no chance.  Two Super Bowl losses later, John Elway finally reached the mountain top, winning two Super Bowls.

4. Brett Favre- New York and (maybe) Minnesota aside, Brett Favre will always be remembered as one of the greatest Quarterbacks to ever play the game.  And unlike the man who owned all the great records that Favre broke, Brett won a Super Bowl (#31).  With a great defense and superb special teams, Brett piloted the Green Bay Packers and head coach Mike Holmgren to a Super Bowl win.  And while Favre played a superb game in the very next year, he was unable to beat TD, Sharpe and Elway in Super Bowl 32.

5. Bob Griese- Another two time winner, and the Quarterback of the Undefeated Miami Dolphins, Bob Griese overcame a loss in Super Bowl VI only to go on and win two back to back Super Bowls, three trips and two wins in a row for the Dolphins as Bob Griese helped establish Don Shula as one of the all time great coaches. 

6. Len Dawson- The Greatest Quarterback you never remeber, Len Dawson Len Dawsonwas the very first man to quarterback a losing team in the Super Bowl.  Dawson had the unfortunate luck of running into Bart Starr and the Lombardi-led Packers dynasty which brought us Title Town, USA.  3 years later however, Dawson would win his own Super Bowl over the Minnesota Vikings and land up in the Hall of Fame as the greatest Quarterback the Kansas City Chiefs ever had (not counting those on rent from San Fran).

7. Kurt Warner*- Bag-Boy made good, Kurt Warner filled in for the injured Trent Green and took the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl over the Tennesee Titans (by one inch).  And he followed it up with a back to back MVP performance, taking the Rams to the Super Bowl again only to lose #36 to the above mentioned Tom Brady.  Warner now has a shot at the Hall of Fame, despite having lost twice in the biggest game of his life.  Warner took the Arizona Cardinals to their first ever Super Bowl 8 years later, only to watch his defense let him down when it mattered most.

6. Joe Theisman- Before his infamous injury, Joe Theisman was a back-to-back Super Bowl Quarterback as well as a league MVP.  Leading the Redskins to victory in Super Bowl XVII, and then to a loss in XVIII, Theisman joins Favre as a Quarterback who only went to two big games, and split them down the middle (Until 2008 Warner was also on this list), who knows what could have been for Theisman, whose career was cut short by the gruesome injury on Monday Night Football.

The Repeat Offenders

  The second group of Quarterbacks on our list were the guys who never won a Super Bowl but made a darn good showing of it in their careers.  From Dan Marino’s record breaking numbers to Fran Tarkenton’s back breaking interception, the following QB’s could never be called losers, despite never winning.

Dan Marino7. Dan Marino- The greatest Quarterback to never win one, poor Dan Marino is constantly reminded by his on-air cohosts of his lack of a ring.  Dan Marino was, and still remains the greatest Quarterback I’ve ever seen play.  Despite never having the great teams of the 49′ers or Cowboys, Marino put up unheard of numbers.  He was the youngest QB to reach 100, 200 and 300 touchdowns, and was involved in the two highest passing yardage games in history.  Despite all of this, he only reached the Super Bowl once, and lost it to Brett Favre.

8. Jim Kelly- Jim Kelly and the K-Gun Bills of Thomas and Reed went to an unheard of 4 Super Bowls in a row.  Unfortunately for fans of the Great White North, the Bills lost all four.  Never has a great QB come so close to being one of the all time greats only to fall 4 games short.  Unfortunately for Kelly, he had some pretty bad games in the Super Bowl (Against Washington for example) and perhaps if he had upped his game just a bit, he’d be in the top bracket.

9. Fran Tarkenton- Another repeat performer who made 3 trips to the Super Bowl and won an MVP award in the process.  Fran was the Quarterback for the Purple People Eaters, the great Minnesota Vikings teams who couldn’t get over the hump and in the end, despite being a 9 time Pro Bowler and Hall of Famer, never won a ring.  Super Bowls 9, 10 and 12 will forever haunt Minnesota fans, as will a fate sealing interception thrown to the Oakland Raiders.

10. Daryle Lamonica- The Mad Bomber of Oakland led his upstart Raiders to an AFL title and was one of the great gunslingers of all time.  Later overshadowed by Ken Stabler, Lamonica can certainly make a case for the 2nd greatest QB in Oakland history.  Lamonica went to two Pro Bowls and holds the 2nd greatest winning percentage amoung Quarterbacks (behind Otto Graam), but forever he will be associated with coming up just a little short in Super Bowl 2.

11. Craig Morton- Before Kurt Warner, Craig Morton was the only QB to start in the Super Bowl for two different teams, but unfortunately for Morton, he never won one.  Morton lost Super Bowl 5 with the Cowboys, and then Super Bowl 12 against his old team (and replacement Roger Staubach).  Morton started for the Cowboys and Broncos for well over a Decade and was one of the great players of his era, overshadowed however by even better field generals.  Unfortunately Morton had a tendancy to turn the ball over too much and that contributed to his place on this list.

12. Donovan McNabb*- In my opinion, McNabb has secured his place as the greatest Quarterback in Philadelphia’s history.  Sinc his arrival in Phily, the Donovan McNabbEagles have been to the playoffs 7 times, and reached 5 conference title games and a Super Bowl.  All that is keeping him from the all time great status (and likely a ticket to Canton) is that ellusive ring.  But imagine, McNabb has been to all these title games and won all these matches without ever having a franchise WR to stretch the field (except for the T.O. experiment, which got the Eagles to the Big Game).  And with another 3-5 years left, McNabb could move his way up this list in no time.

13/14. Ken Anderson/Boomer Esiason- Another set of players who took their teams to unprecedented heights before falling in the face of one of the all time greats, Anderson and Esiason took the Cincinnati Bengles away from the days of the Bungles and into the limelight.  Anderson did it in 1981, and Esiason in 88, and while both put up a fight neither could overcome the Montana led 49′ers and their two teams lost the Super Bowl by a score each.  But beyond their one trip to the Big Game, neither quarterback was ever able to win big and have become lost in the era of the Quarterback.

15. Steve McNair- Steve McNar and the Tennessee Titans came 1 yard short of taking theSuper Bowl into overtime, and spent years with the Oilers/Titans making plays with almost no one around him.  With McNair and running back Eddie George, the Titans went 96-80 and had two 13 win seasons.  But unfortunately the Titans were only able to climb to the top once, and there they met one of the greatest offenses the NFL has ever seen in the Greatest Show on Turf.  McNair went on to pilot the Ravens to the playoffs before injuries brought his physical career to an early end.

The Over the Hillers

  These guys never really had a chance to prove what they could do after losing the big one.

  16. Rich Gannon- Injuries struk Gannon at the end of his career which ended with statistical success despite the woeful nature of the post-Super Bowl Raiders.

 17. David Woodley- Not a great quarterback, but solid enough to take his team to the Super Bowl before being benched in favor of the young stud from Pitt, Dan Marino.  Woodley would play in Pittsburgh, but by the time of his Super Bowl his career was on its last legs.

 18. Billy Kilmer- Continued to head the Redskins after their loss, but his career climaxed in the Super Bowl and peetered away shortly afterwords.

The Losers

 Although some of these guys still have years left, its clear that their best is behind them, and with only a Super Bow loss on their records, many of these players will be forgotten heroes of flash in the pan teams who never made it past the door at the Super Bowl.

19. Jake Delhomme*- Delhomme has had an up and down caree to match his up and down franchise.  While he has had moments of amazing play, he has also had terrible and inexcusable moments in his career.  And unfortunately for Delhomme, Tommy John Surgery does little to help rebuild your career.  Still, with Steve Smith and a two headed running back comittee on the field, its entirely possible that Delhomme will break into the “Repeat Offender” categories, despte his kicker’s best attempts at ruining his big game.

Matt Hassy20. Matt Hasselbeck*- Matt Hasselbeck has long been one of the best and most fun guys to watch on the field, and a fiery competitor who brought his all whenever he could.  But because of the teams he faced in the division, his Seahawks will always be looked at as an unexciting and sub-par Super Bowl losing squad.  Yes, Hasselbeck did what no other Seahawks QB had done before, but with injuries and age piling up, its unlikely that he will continue to produce at a high level, especially with 5th string receivers starting.

21. Chris Chandler- Best kown for who relaced him, Chandler was a very good quarterback for a few years in Atlana, but was unfortunately never going to be given the chance to be a franchise defining figure.  He helped pull an overachieving Falcons team into the Super Bowl, but just two seasons later he saw himself taded in favor of the playmaker Michael Vick, and the rest as they say is history.

22. Stan Humphries- Stan Humphries did something Dan Fouts never could, he started a Super Bowl.  And while he was a very good quarterback for a few years, he was never anything more than good.  He put together numerous resectable seasons following his loss in Super Bowl 29, but he never really broke out again, and the Chargers have never been back to the big dance.

23. Ron Jaworski- Jaws, like Humpries, Hasselbeck and Delhomme took a good career and had one great season that took him to the Super Bowl where he lost to a superior team.  He like many on this list will be remembered as one of the good ones, but never as one of the great ones.

24/25. Kerry Collins*/Tony Eisen- When ok Quarterbacks meet all-time defense (85 Bears, 00 Ravens), bad things happen.

26. Vincent Ferragamo- Vince took a promosing career to Canada for money, and ended up washing out in only a matter of years (and was terrible in the Canadian football league).  All of his failuers came following his dash to gold after the loss by the Raiders in Super Bowl 14.

27. Drew Bledsoe- Another good Quarterback who will be overshadowed forever by his successor, Bledsoe benefited from great coaching and solid teammates and managed to bring the Patriots within a game of a World Championship before Tom Brady and Bill Belichick took them over the top.  Despite all his other games, he will always be remembered for his injury.

28. Earl Morrell- Morrell was never supposed to start for the Colts in Super Bowl 3, and he never really started after it either.  He followed Don Shula to Miami but never performed to the level of his lead, Johnny Unitas.

29. Neil O’Donnell- A pretty good QB who played his worst game on the biggest stage and tore the heart out of thousands of Steelers fans who curse his name to this day.

30. Rex Grossman*- Piloted a surprise team to the playoffs and into the Super Bowl (on the brain of Brian Urlacher and the speed of Devin Hester), and was named the Bears starting quarterback a year later. But injuries and poor play left him on the bench and now he’s battling for a back up role against a quarterback who ran out of the endzone for a safety without being pressured last season.

27. Joe Kapp- After his loss in Super Bowl 4, Joe Kapp went to the Boston Patriots and had 3 touchdowns to 17 interceptions and ended his career.  And that performance ends out list of infamy.

kapp

Michael Vick Working With The Humane Society ?

Michel Vick has been released from jail and will continue his sentence at home. Although this man has really damaged his image, and the lives of many dogs, he is still a human. Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle said Tuesday he recently met with Vick at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kan., and that Vick said he wants to work with the group once he is out of federal custody. Billy Martin, one of Vick’s attorneys, said Vick requested the meeting.

Vick and dog

Now don’t get me wrong Vick has a lot to make up to everyone but at least give him a chance. There are many people out there that have done much worse. 23 months in jail is a big chunk of life that he will never get back. But the big question is will he play in the NFL again? He will but the what the real questions are, when , and with who? Will he be suspended? Yes he will most likely be suspended. Will the fans give him a chance? Can Vick even play? All questions that need to be answered, and will be. What we see now is a man that wants to change, strike that, has to change. I think he will. Vick is on thin ice, and he needs to proceed with caution every step he takes will be analyzed and inspected. He must know this, and if he doesn’t, I guess we will all find out soon. Check out the video below.

Graduated Grades

Eric Shelton

The Steal of the Panthers 2005 draft

  Many media outlets like to give out grades in the days following the draft, associating the selected players with the designated needs of each team.  Teams like New England and Philadelphia have been given their A’s andA-’s, while the Oakland Raiders helped set the curve by bringing up the rear with an F.  But go back and look at the draft grades foor 2005, where the Carolina Panthers were praised, despite the fact that the only playmakerleft from 2005 is Thomas Davis, their first round pick.   And so, we are reminded of the futility of grading a draft the week it happens.  We are not alone in this understanding, but for TSS’s blog I’ve decided to approach grading the draft based upon the success and failure of 5 years ago.  The great drafts have gone to the Super Bowl, won MVP’s andbeen resigned to long term deals.  The poor drafts have flared out, been cut, or washed up on some other team’s depth chart.  My grades are based upon the level of production compared to where they were drafted.  For example: A Top 10 pick should be a pro bowler, while a 6thround draft pick can be judged a success if they are even in the league.  So, without further audeu, the Grades for the 2004 NFL Draft, five years later.

Grade: A+ to A-

  The San Diego Chargers: Grade- A+

Eli the Charger   The Chargers came into the 2004 NFL Draft with the knowledge that the #1 overall pick, Eli Manning, would not sign with them.  Andthey also knew that the New York Giants desperately wanted Peyton’s baby brother.  With that knowledge in mind, the Chargers went to work.  They got their franchise Quarterback (Phillip Rivers), a very good 3-4 Defensive End (Igor Olshansky), their kicker (Nate Kaeding), their starting OLB (Shaun Phillips) and Center (Nick Hardwick).  The Chargers also picked up some key players on the second day with Michael Turner and Shane Olivea in the 5th and 7th.  The Chargers easily came away with the best class in the 2004 season.

  Arizona Cardinals: Grade- A+

   The Arizona Cardinals Super Bowl run of 2008 was completely based upon the success of their draft in 2004.  Larry Fitzgerald was selected 3rd overall after the Rivers-Manning Fiasco, and has become one of the best receivers in the game (and put together the best post season by a receiver ever).  At 33 in the 2ndround the Cards selected Karlos Dansby.  Their eventual defensive surge was completed with the 3rd and 5thround picks (Darnell Dockett andAntonio Smith).  Alex Stepanovich, Nick Leckey and John Navarre all failed to land starting roles in Arizona for long, and none are with the Cardinals.  But with 4 key starters coming from the draft, it is clear that the 2004 class was a key building block to the new heights Arizona reached in 2009.

New York Giants: A-

  With Eli Manning, a Super Bowl MVP, Chris Snee, a key member to the Super Bowl offensive line, and Gibril Wilson in the 5thround, the New York Giants made key additions to their team in 2004 which led to the Super Bowl ring in 2007.  The Giants take a bit of a hit because they traded a lot to get Eli, but he has since proven the trade to be worthwhile.  The rest of the draft ended up being nothing but depth and practice squad fodder, but the three starters were key members to a Super Bowl run, and that gives you an A regardless of the cost.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers: Grade- A-

  The Steelers picked up their franchise QB at 11 with Big Ben coming out of Miami (of Ohio).  But after Roethlisberger, the rest of the 2004 draft was a huge dissapointment.  Still, credit where credit is due, a franchise Quarterback is worthy of an A Grade all on his own.  Ricardo Colclough washed out at Corner, and Max Starks (despite his huge pay day) has been a mediocre at best offensive tackle.  The rest of the draft is gone with the wind, unknown depth and practice squad players who never really made an impact on the two Super Bowl runs the Steelers have made since.

 

Indianapolis Colts: Grade B+

  The Colts used their first pick on a small safety out of Iowa named Bob Sanders.  Now a defensive player of the year

That's Right... Jim Sorgi on the field

That's Right... Jim Sorgi on the field

and a contributer to the 2006 Super Bowl, Bob Sanders at 44 was a steal.  Ben Hartsock a TE was a contributor but never really came out as a top tier receiving weapon.  Gilbert Gardner and KendyllPope came next. both OLB’s are gone and neither really made an impact.  In the 4th, the Colts selected Jason David, who was a contributing Corner but never a play maker, while in the 5thround the Colts drafted Jake Scott.  Von Hutchins and Jim Sorgiare both backups who, drafted where they were in the 6thround, were very good picks.

Chicago Bears: Grade- B+

  The Bears made some key pick ups, and selected some members of their 2006 Super Bowl run who are still on the squad today.  Tommie Harris is the marquis player of the draft, going at 14 overall.  Their 2ndroundpick, Terry Johnson, was a waste, but 3rd round receiver Bernard Berrian continues to be a very viable #2 receiver for the Vikings.  Craig Krenzel performed adequately for a late 5thround pick, but the rest of the 2nd day went without notice.

St. Louis: Grade- B

  Steven Jackson at 24 was a huge steal, and was the first running back taken in the draft.  Jackson teamed up with Marc Bulger in the last Playoff run before the two coaching changes since.  After Jackson, the draft becomes unimpressive with Tony Hargrove out of the league and most of the 2nd day being long gone.  Brandon Chillar was selected in the 4thround, and has been another key element to a dissapointing St. Louis squad.  But with Jackson at the front (much like the Pittsburgh draft), you can’t discredit this class.

New England: Grade- B

  The Pats draft class began with a Bang and ended with a Wimper.  Vince Wilfork, the Rock upon which Bill Belichick’s Vince Wilforkchurch of defense has been constructed, was selected 21st overall.  But after Wilfork, the bottom fell out.  Ben Watsonwas serviceable, but never great.  Marquise Hill could have helped turn the class aroundbefore his tragic death.  The rest of the class, forgotten about including such highs as Guss Scott, P.K. Sam and Christian Morton.

New York Jets: Grade- B

  The Jets had a draft full of mediocre talent, andwhen half your players are decent, your grade is a B in my book.  At the top of the draft came 4-3 MLB Johnathan Vilma, who would still be in New York if not for the Eric Mangini era.  Jerricho Cotchery and Adrian Jones in the 4thwere both solid picks, with Erik Coleman in the 5th becoming a great selection, and in the 7thround, future New York Giants running back Derrick Ward was selected out of Ottawa.

Washington: Grade- B-

  The Redskins selected two key starters out of 4 picks.  Sean Taylor was on his way to becoming one of the best safeties in the league before his murder, and Chris Cooley has been a reliable target for Jason Campbell, and will contibue to be an important element to the Washington West Coast Offense.  The other two picks, Mark Wilson and Jim Molinero (in the 5th and 6th) are relative nobodies who did not contribute to this class much at all.

 Oakland Raiders: Grade- B-

  Yes, there was a time whent he Oakland Raiders had more than 5 draft picks and actually used some of them for solid players.  Robert Gallery was a great pick, if waaaay to high and then used in the wrong position.  At Guard, Gallery is solid.  Jake Grove out of Virginia Tech is a solid center, andStuart Schweigert in the 3rd round was a decent pick up, who if not for injuries and poor coaching could have developed into a solid starting safety.  The rest of the draft was unimpressive, but with two solid offensive linemen at the top of the draft, a better coached team could have turned this into one of the better classes.

New Orleans: Grade- C+

  Will Smith was selected 18th overall, and has become a key member of a problematic defensive unit in New Orleans. Will Smithand Devery Henderson has been a very solid #2 receiver for years.  Now that the Saints have re-stabalized from the Jim Haslett era, we can really see the impact of the 2004 Draft.  These two picks help left a mediocre draft into a solid one, with Mike Karney bringing up the rear in the 5thround and providing another contributing special teamer.  Courney Watson and Rodney Leisle have not been usefull picks, and Watson in particular in the 2ndround was a bit of a dissapointment.

Cincinnati Bengals: Grade- C+

 Chris Perry was a bust among busts, but after him there were a series of great picks.  MadieuWilliams in the secondround, Landon Johnson in the 3rd, Robert Geathers and Stacy Andrews in the 4th were all huge selections.  Without Perry bringing down this class, the Bengals could have had one of the better classes of the draft.  Keiwan Ratliff, the 49th overall pick at Corner Back, failed to make an impact in the league as well, but the sheer success of the 2nd day makes this a tolerable draft in the long run.

Carolina Panthers: Grade- C

  The Panthers selected Chris Gamble in the first, and he made this class.  Michael Gaines, Drew Carter and Keary Colbert (7th, 5th and 2nd round picks) all contributed to the Panthers and other teams, but none really developed into top tier players.  Still, the selection of a very solid corner at the tail end of the draft makes the 2004 class for the Panthers at least a feasible one.

Tampa Bay: Grade- C

 The Buccsselected Michael Clayton in the first round, andhas produced far below the level most would have wanted.  But he still plays for the team which drafted him, a feat of note in this first round.  Marquis Cooper has been a journeyman backup for half the league, andWill Allen has shown flashes of being a very good 3rd round pick.  However the rest of the Tampa Class were non-entities who wafled around and never contributed, bringing about an average year for the Buccs.

Cleveland: Grade- C

  Kellen Winslow, when healthy, was the best young Tight End in the game.  Unfortuantely he injured his knee in the Kellen Winlsow Jrfirst pre-season game of his career, then crashed his motorcycle in year 2.  But years 3 and 4 were solid, and Winslow earned himself a trip to a Pro Bowl in 2007.  Sean Jones was a solid safety for 4 years before being allowed to walk by the Manginiregime.  Beyond the two at the top, the rest of the draft was fillers anddepth who never made it in Luke McCown (now in Tampa with Winslow), and Joe Echemandu being the more bizarre highlights of the class.

Seattle: Grade- C-

  The Seahawks picked up a solid wall of flesh in Marcus Tubbsin the first round, as well as vastly under-achieving players in the 2nd and 5th (Michael Boulware and D.J. Hackett).  Sean Locklearwas a very good 3rd round pick, but the draft itself is less than thrilling.  Neither Tubbs nor Locklearhave really become the tops of their positions, even on the team itself.  But bothare solid depth players, just like D.J. Hackett has been in his journeyman career throughout the league.

Tennesee: Grade C-

 The Titans drafted a starting defensive lineman for Cincinnati, a starting defensive lineman for Carolina, a starting defensive lineman for Miami and a series of scrubs.  If Travis Laboy, Antwan Odom, randy Starks and the rest of them would have stayed in Tennessee, this would be an A.  But with all that decent talent leaving for other teams, andthe failure of first round Tight End Ben Troupe, this is a particularlly underwhelming draft class for the usually spot on Tennessee Titans.

Miami: Grade C-

  Will Poole, Rex Hadnot and Vernon Carey highlighted a very successfull backup class for the Miami Dolphins.  Bubt none turned into stars or big name playmakers.  Derrick Pope in the 7th, Tony Pape in the 6th and Tony Bua in the 5th never really made it onto the field, and help give the Dolphins a slighlty below average class in 2004.

Buffalo: Grade C-

  JP Losman highlighted this class at pick 22, and now he can’t even buy his way into a QB competition.  Lee Evans has Lee Evans been an amazing pick up, but he was the only thing that saved this otherwise empty squad from obscurity.  also int he line up, Tim Anderson, Tim Euhus, Dylan McFarland andJonathan Smith.  Names unfamiliar to anyone outside of the city of Buffalo, and probably unknown to most inside the city as well.

 Houston: Grade- C-

  The Texans selected franchsie Corner Back Dunta Robinson, who has been an on and off star in the defensive secondary.  Jason Babin had potential but never lived up to it, the same with Vontex Duff andGlenn Earl.  Beyond those first four selections (including Babinin the first round 17 spots after Robinson) the draft was forgettable.  The key here has been inconsistency, with Dunta being its posterchild.  If Robinson can continue in form and play like the Franchise Player he is, this could bump up to a solid C.

Philadelphia: Grade- D+

  Shawn Andrews was selected 16th overall and has been a very good offensive lineman.  None of the other players did anything in this league.  Including 2 fourthround picks, 2 sixes and a wopping 3 7thround picks.  Not a one of them every ammounted to much in their NFL careers.

Detroit: Grade- D+

  Roy Williams was never the Wide Receiver the Lions hoped for, but he was productive.  Kevin Jones couldn’t stay healthy, and Teddy Lehman in the 2nd was an “ok” linebacker.  But he’s the only player from the 2004 class still on the squad.

Atlanta: Grade- D

  DeAngello Hall was a special talent, but his attitude and talent never allowed him to reach his potential withthe Falcons.  Then he was paid a lot of money for 6 months of work in Oakland before traveling to Washington to replace Shawn Springs.  Michael Jenkins has been a consistent dissapoinment, with the rest of the class being cut or lost to practice squads anddepth charts.

Dallas: Grade- D

Julius Jones  Julius Jones started this draft at pick 43, a solid running back for the Cowboys who was sent abroad due to the deep group of runners the Cowboys now have (Barber being the new leader).  Patrick Crayton, usefull and talented but never great, came out of the 7thround and was clearly one of the best picks of the 2004 draft.  Unfortunately for the Cowboys, everyone between 43 and 216 was a wasted pick, and none of them contributed.  OT Jacob Rogers was cut in 2006, and was an epic failure as a 2ndround pick.

San Francisco: Grade D

  Rashaun Woods was a huge bust at 31, but Justin Smiley, Shawntae Spencer and Isaac Sopoagaall contributed to depth and as backups.  Andy Lee was a great punter, but for a draft which included 10 picks, this San Fran draft was greatly dissapointing, Derrick Hamilton andWoods, both supposed studs at receiver, ended up flopping horribly and hurt the San Francisco receiving corp for the better part of the last 5 years.

Green Bay: Grade- D-

  Ahmad Carroll was a potentially amazing pick, who got totally burned like a bad peice of toast.  He busted, and took the rest of the class with him.  The only thing that saved this group was Corey Williams, who’s 6thround selection was eventually turned into a 2ndroundpick from the Cleveland Browns.

Baltimore: Grade- D-

  Dwan Edwards, the Defensive Tackle out of Oregon State, is still a solid member of this great defense, but Devard Darlin?  Josh Harris?  Clarence Moore?  None of these guys ever did anything in the league, and it is unquestionable that the offensive failures of the 2004 (and other) drafts eventually cost Brian Billick his job in Baltimore.

Minnesota: Grade- D-

  Kenechi Udezewas their first round pick, and he contributed to a level, but has never been the real force the Vikings hoped for.  Mewelde Moore was perhaps the best pick of the draft, that should tell you just how poor the 2004 year was for Minneosta.

Kansas City: Grade- D-

  Jared Allen saves this from an F, as he netted them a slew of picks and has become the best young defensive End  in the league.  Every other pick of the draft was terrible.

Denver: Grade- F

D. J. Williams, Tatem bell, Darius Watts, Jeff Shoate, Matt Mauck, Bradlee Van Pelt.  All names on the Denver Draft Board in 2004.  Yeah, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Shanny got fired.

5 Questions

With Day One of the 2009 NFL Draft behind us, the first glimpse at what the next season has in store has appeared.  With each selection, (or for those of you in Dallas, each missed selection) the future of all 32 teams becomes clear.  But with every draft there are risers and fallers, players who are picked out of the blue, and players whose stock plummets through the floor.  And in each case, and with every pick, questions and criticisms emerge.  As we try to make sense of the puzzle, and grade the wild rat race we call the Draft, new images appear with visions of our newly acquired players hoisting the Lombardi and planning their trips to theme parks in Orlando.  But before we drop the banner and celebrate our World Championship, we have a season to play.  And going into that season, here, in my mind, are the five key questions which remain following the first 64 selections of the 2009 NFL Draft.

Question 1: What Was Josh McDaniels thinking?

The New NFL Whipping Boy

The New NFL Whipping Boy After endearing himself into the hearts and souls of all Denver fans by exiling star Quarterback Jay Cutler, Josh McDaniels continued to win friends and influence people during the draft.Sitting, as they did, with two first round picks this year and two firsts next year, the Broncos were poised and ready to rebuild their ravaged defense which hasn’t been respectable since the end of the Elway era. Instead, after some wheeling and dealing, they ended up with 5 picks in the first two rounds, including Seattle’s Second round pick (in return for their first in 2010) and Pittsburgh’s 2nd round pick (#64). That is all well and good, 5 key defensive players would be enough to take a bad 4-3 and turn it into a solid 3-4. 

  But like a tourist in Vegas, McDaniels became lost in the pretty lights and exciting names lit up around the war room and began to make some startlingly unexpected moves. The first came right out of the gate at pick#12.  With the two Brians (Orakpo and Cushing) sitting on the board at 12, it was clear that the Broncos were going to add some muscle to their woeful defensive linebacking corp, the key to a 3-4 defenses. But no, as the Commissioner approached the pedestal, it became apparent something was amiss. And for a moment, everyone knew what Robert Baker felt like in 1996 (Robert Baker Video). The Broncos got bit by the Bulldog.  Knowshon Moreno joins an already crowded backfield at pick #12, with TE Richard Quinn (he of the 125 career receptions) joining a decent Tight End group. Defense End/OLB Robert Ayers was a smart pick at 18, but two defensive backs in Alphonso Smith and Texas Tech Darcel McBath(Ask me if I knew who he was before today) were a little bit bizarre. With ILB Rey Maualuga and the big man Ron Brace still on the board, there seemed to be smarted picks for a rebuilding 3-4 defense. Now, with a Denver fan base already riled up and looking for blood, one has to wonder if the honey moon period for young McDaniels has already closed. This may be a case of a man whose lack of experience in leading men on the field could come back to bit the over-eager Denver Broncos in the rear, just like Uga.

Question 2: Darrius Heyward-What?

With the 7thoverall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, the Oakland Raiders select: A little known speedy Wide Receiver who The Newest Oakland Raideris like Braylon Edwards without the hype.  Being a fan of the ACC, I saw more of Heyward-Bey in action than most people.  Watching him torch ACC opponents for only 5 touchdowns his senior year, before being shut out in the Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl against that powerhouse program in Nevada, made me really want to see this kid go high. Heyward-Bey is the definition of a workout Warrior, someone whose combine numbers and ‘40 time made him into something he is not.  Heyward-Bey clocked an obscene 4.3 ‘40 and looked the striking image of Usain Bolt.  And like Bolt, Heyward-Bey can’t catch a cold.  Questionable hands and concerns about his ability to play at the NFL level follow him into an organization with concerns about its leadership and ability to cultivate talent. The Oakland Raiders, ever the running gag, went ahead and drafted the (at best) 3rd receiver on the board, passing on more stud-muffiny men like Michael Crabtree and Jeremy Maclin. But for better or worse, Heyward-Bey will become J-Roc’s#1 target on the field. With the decrepit Javon Walker and the MIA Ronald Curry as his #’s 1 and2 last season, Russel was forced to find Johnnie Lee Higgins to move the ball.  This is the same Lee Higgins who, according to Wikipedia: “also returned punts for touchdowns in back to back games, both leading to one of his signature, lighthearted end zone dances.” When you are known as much for your “lighthearted” touchdown celebrations as your ability to catch the ball, you may be in trouble. Regardless, the Raiders decided early that they needed an improvement to their receiving corp. But with Heyward-Bey as their pick, they could have just announced their decision at 4:00 pm (EST) and no one would have bothered to stop them. Heyward-Bey in Oakland could, potentially, be a stud. But he had no business being the #1 receiver taken with this class.

  Now a franchise which has, along side Cleveland and Detroit, become the laughing stock of the NFL, took yet another step in the wrong direction.  If this becomes the signature draft pick of the Tom Cable era, we could be in for another diatribe filled press conference in 8 months.  How WR coach Sanjay Lal uses Heyward-Bey could go a long way to deciding his future, but as of right now it looks like the Black Hole swallowed another player who’s only strength is his ability to run 40 yards straight forward.

Question 3: What will the Bears and Cowboys Do?

Remember, He was Fire by Buffalo  The Dallas Cowboys and Chicago Bears had a pretty easy time of it in the 2009 NFL Draft. Chicago traded its #1 (19) to the Denver Broncos for Jay “A1C” Cutler before trading their 2nd round pick to Seattle (Pick #49), while the Cowboys traded their 1st (#20) to Detroit for Roy Williams and their 2nd(#49) to Buffalo. Combined they made a grand total of zero picks in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. While financially responsible, and perhaps smart given the weakness of the draft class, it can’t look good to their respective fan bases, or to their warm-seated coaches. Wade Phillips, having not won a Super Bowl in his first two seasons, has come under fire for his inability to take the Cowboys to the next level. And after the Browns took Mohammad Massaquoi with the 48th pick the Cowboys were unable to select any of the first day receivers. So instead of drafting a safety to replace the now departed Roy Williams, the Cowboys traded down and out of the first day entirely. Now the two teams with the most exciting off-seasons outside of the Mile High City are faced withsome interesting questions.

  This draft is considered historically weak, especially in depth. Neither Chicago nor Dallas is likely to pick up a starting player in 2009, and Chicago doesn’t have a first in the 2010 draft either. Going into 2009, the Bears and Cowboys will be forced to use the 24 opening day starters currently on their roster. No new receivers for Jay Cutler, no replacement for T.O. If things fall apart for either team, there could be some hell to pay. The Draft is the get out of jail free card, with players getting a free pass during their first two years and coaches getting to point to the future.  For Chicago and Dallas, the future is now, and the seats of Wade Phillips and Lovie Smith are going to be awfully hot if they don’t win.

Question 4: Are the Lions Reloaded?

The #1 Overall Pick in the 2009 NFL Draft With the news that Matthew Stafford and the Lions had come to terms

The #1 Overall Pick in the 2009 NFL Draft

The #1 Overall Pick in the 2009 NFL Draft

(rumors have it Stafford took a significant cut to his original numbers) on a 41.7M 6 year deal to become the face of the Detroit Lions franchise.  The strong armed Stafford will be bombing it deep to Megatron for years to come.  The parallel I first saw, Daunte Culpepper to Randy Moss.  Now, if the Lions can build a defense to back up the new kid on the block, the Lions will be in a great position going into 2009 and more importantly, 2010.  And that’s why I was baffled by the rest of the day for Detroit. 

   The Lions have a plethora of decent receivers after their stud #1 Calvin Johnson.  So, they went out and drafted the best Tight End in the class, Brandon Pettigrew.  Meanwhile players like Peria Jerry and Michael Oherwere still on the board.  Then, in round 2, they drafted Louis Delmas, the Safety out of Western Michigan.  A solid pick, but what about that woeful defensive line? Or the gaping holes at linebacker?  Fili Moala andClay Matthews were both begging to be picked early in the 2ndto fill some serious needs in this terrible run defense, but the Lions passed on both.

  I am nervous for Detroit for a few reasons.  One, Stafford will be playing in 2009, make no mistake.  He will beat out Culpepper, because he will stay healthy.  And when you write a paycheck that size, you make it earn its money.  Daunte Culpepper doesn’t put butts in the seats, but Matthew Stafford will.  I also think Stafford is just a better Quarterback than anyone on the roster.  He will make some boneheaded plays andsome bad throws, but he will do it with an absolutely beautiful spiral.  The question is, how will he stand up to the absolute abuse he is going to take?  The Lions Offensive Line is not good, and ask Tim Couch or David Carr how it feels to be on a rebuilding franchise with no offensive line.  One is eager to never see the field as a backup in New York and the other is suspended for trying to make a come back with Steroids.  Expect the Lions to dig into the linebacking corp andthe move towards building those lines in 2010.  But for 2009, the Lions will have to hire some high class athletic trainers to keep Stafford in one piece.  But with three more picks (Just traded to them by the New York Jets at 10:09 AM, EST) the Lions could do some serious damage in prospect players who can build a team around this young, 6 foot 2, 225 quarterback with a laser-rocket arm.

Question 5: The Q and the BrayBray?

boldin-edwards
Who Flinches First?

The Browns and Cardinals were deep in the midst of a series of rumors regarding their “disgruntled” receivers, Anquan Boldin and Braylon Edwards.  Both young, physically gifted receivers are fighters, the big targets who go out and grab the ball and don’t care about the pain.  Between Philadelphia andNew York, it appeared that the NFC East would just trade away its entire first day to pick up the two big baddies from teams who got beat by Pittsburgh last season.  But as the day rolled around, both Q and Braylon were still on their respective teams.  Boldin is still going to suit up across the field from Fitzgerald, and Braylon will still stretch the field for Brady Quinn.  Andin my view, both teams made the right decision.

Braylon and Anquon both want new contracts, or so some rumors say.  Both teams are in relatively good cap shape (If that even matters in 2 years) and both teams need their stud receivers to stay happy and stay in town.  Both teams became better by passing on the trade offers.  But what happens as the season rolls around?  If both receivers take the trade rumors to heart and begin to see the greener pastures in other towns, we could have two young T.O.’s on our hands.  If however, the coaching staffs are able to turn those rumors into proof of their real value, both could come back refreshed and eager to prove their worth for a new big contract.  It will be the most interesting result of the 2009 draft, and watching how the saga plays out will keep all of us entertained for many months to come.  And with another 4 rounds and hundreds of picks still on the docket, who knows what questions we will have come Monday.

What Will The Seahawks Do With The 4th Pick In The 2009 Draft

Oh yes football fans its the eve of the draft. Just like Christmas for us football “NFL” junkies. The draft is the first yard marker to the upcoming football season and if your a big fan like I then your about to crawl out of your skin in anticipation for the new season. This draft there is and interesting dynamic with the 4th pick.

Hasslebeck Got Milk Photo

Hasslebeck Got Milk Photo

Matt Hasselbeck’s injury situation got worse. It isn’t so much a sore right knee as it is a bulging disk in his back that Hasselbeck was diagnosed with before the regular season began. The back problem is affecting a nerve in Hasselbeck’s lower back, coach Mike Holmgren said, and is also creating a weakness in Hasselbeck’s leg that brought on the knee injury. Hasselbeck has been going to Los Angeles to see a medical specialist .

mark-sanchez Now on the flip side in the last week Mark Sanchez “USC QB” has gained a lot of value. In fact some NFL Network anilists have been touting for him to be the #1 pick. Now I wouldn’t go that far but a #4 pick for a team that needs a new franchise QB well I can see that. Sanchez says : “There is a lot of speculation on where I’m gonna go (Big Sigh) I’m the last one to know”. Sanchez stats speak loudly for him against top 10 teams he is the best QB in the draft. The NY Jets are currently working feverishly to get up to the #4 pick and bring him in to replace the epic fail known as Brett Favre. Can they do it ? We will find out real quick. If the #4 pick isn’t Sanchez everyone below will be getting a steal in this draft. Help support TSS and check out the 2009 Draft Pick Jerseys!