Tag Archives: Andrew Luck

The Colts’ Top Offseason Priority: Improve the Offensive Line

In professional football, the group of players who typically get the least amount of attention are the offensive linemen. Those players protect the quarterback and create openings for the running backs, so despite their lack of fanfare, those guys are extremely important to a team’s success.

A great example of how an offensive line can make or break a team would be the 2015 Indianapolis Colts. Going into the season, their offense was thought to be virtually unstoppable. They had Andrew Luck at quarterback, Frank Gore at running back, a bevy of talented receivers in T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.

There was just one problem…everyone forgot that in order for all these dynamic playmakers to do their job, they would need quality pass and run blocking. The offensive line couldn’t provide the help that the “skill position” players needed, and as a result, the Colts offense was, well, offensive in 2015.

The point has now been hammered home that having all that offensive talent means nothing if Andrew Luck is on his back, or Frank Gore has nowhere to run with the football. The Colts understand this, but what can be done to improve the team’s offensive line play?

The Colts fired a number of their assistant coaches this offseason, including offensive line coach Hal Hunter. The Colts hired former Miami Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin to replace him, with the hope that he can get more out of the group of linemen the Colts currently have on the roster. Philbin has a very good record as an offensive line coach, so this move has the potential to make a difference.

Indianapolis also needs to upgrade the talent on the offensive line. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is the Colts’ best lineman, but he had an off year in 2015 and will have to rebound. Left guard Jack Mewhort is young, but has shown he can do the job. Other than those two guys, the team’s group of offensive linemen is a bit shaky.

The Colts began the season with Khaled Holmes, Todd Herremans and Lance Louis filling the other three line positions. During this time, the team was also experimenting by moving Mewhort to right tackle. The line play in the first two games of the season was awful, so changes began to be made.

All sorts of combinations were tried, but the bottom line is that none of them worked nearly well enough. The Colts have a particular problem with the center and guard spots, and this has to be addressed if the team is to return to contender status.

One bright spot for the future of the Colts offensive line came late in the season with the insertion of rookie Denzell Goode into the lineup at right tackle. Goode still needs experience, but his solid play gave indications that he may eventually be the answer at right tackle.

So, if Indianapolis is in “win now” mode as they seem to be, they need to bring in at least one quality center and one quality guard to upgrade the talent in front of Andrew Luck. Continuity on the offensive line is always a big plus, but when you don’t have good enough players in place, you have to make changes. One would hope that with Joe Philbin as their coach, the offensive line will gel, even with some new faces in 2016.

An excellent offensive line can make even mediocre players around them look good, and conversely, a poor offensive line can make Pro Bowl players around them look bad. The Indianapolis Colts know all too well about the latter, and they intend to change that before the fall of 2016.

Colts Win, but the Real Fun is Just Beginning

A few hours after this piece was originally published, the Colts announced that both Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson had been awarded contract extensions that will run through the 2019 season. This couldn’t happen to a nicer guy in Pagano’s case (I am truly happy for him), but putting all feelings aside, read on for my take on how this should have gone down…

On Sunday afternoon in Indianapolis, the Colts won a football game. Had this contest had (realistic) playoff implications, this might have been a significant story. However, despite beating the Tennessee Titans with two quarterbacks who weren’t on the roster a week ago, the game was no more than a subplot.

Now that the 2015 season is officially over for the Colts, the real intrigue begins. The Colts went from Super Bowl contender to non-playoff team during the course of the 2015 campaign…it was a wild ride. Everyone seemed to have a hand in the underperformance that swept through the Colts franchise this season: players, coaches and management alike. The team had to deal with numerous significant injuries during the year, but make no mistake about it, the wheels were falling off long before the injury bug hit. Colts owner Jim Irsay has stated that he wants “multiple Super Bowls” while Andrew Luck is the team’s quarterback.

They seemed very much on track over the last three years, but this season was a major flop. The big question now is: what should be done about it? As of this writing, there was no official news from Colts Headquarters regarding the status of head coach Chuck Pagano. Since last week, sources have reported that Pagano will be relieved of his head coaching duties by the Colts at season’s end. If that happens as is widely believed, it will be in the best interest of the team going forward. Chuck Pagano is a quality human being and there is a lot to like about the man, but if the Colts are truly “all in” to make a run at the Super Bowl with this team, Chuck Pagano is not the coach who will lead them there.

You really hate to see bad things happen to good people, but the reality is that Pagano is an average NFL head coach, at best. With that order of business out of the way, let’s move on to the status of general manager Ryan Grigson. Multiple sources are reporting that Grigson’s job is safe for now, at least until the Colts hire a new head coach. If Irsay lands a “big name” guy to lead the troops next season, the thought is that the new head coach in that scenario will likely want input into personnel matters.

If so, Grigson will probably be fired, or offered a lesser role within the organization. What should happen?

Let’s not dance around the subject: Ryan Grigson is bad for the Colts, and should be fired. Grigson got far too much credit for the team’s turnaround when he came on board in 2012. Much of that turnaround was due to drafting QB Andrew Luck, who was regarded by most as the best quarterback prospect to come out of college since John Elway nearly 30 years earlier. Grigson has had numerous blunders during his tenure (trading for RB Trent Richardson and drafting LB/DE Bjoern Werner in the first round, for example). Even some of the moves that have worked out were not necessarily because of Grigson’s insight.

A prime example of this would be his drafting of Pro Bowl WR T.Y. Hilton in the third round in 2012. This fact seems to have been forgotten, but as Hilton was emerging as an offensive force, even Grigson admitted that when he drafted him, he did so with the notion that Hilton would be a good kick returner, and anything they got out of him otherwise would be a bonus. So, even some of Grigson’s good decisions were either no-brainers, or just plain lucky.

In terms of his approach, Ryan Grigson leaves a lot to be desired as well. He has a huge ego, and appears to be more of a ‘me’ guy than a ‘we’ guy. He has consistently overstepped his bounds as a GM, reportedly making decisions that are usually those of the head coach, such as who plays, how much they play and player discipline. Even though the potential dismissal of Chuck Pagano seems justified, his job was clearly made more difficult by his general manager’s antics.

Now that we have head coaching and front office vacancies in theory, should the Colts also look to make roster changes? Absolutely. In truth, there are probably more weaknesses on this team than there are strengths…perhaps a shocking statement made about a team thought of as “loaded” prior to the season, but accurate based on what we saw for 16 games in 2015.

The Indianapolis defense didn’t perform well this year. Pro Bowl CB Vontae Davis had an off year, but one would hope he can bounce back in 2016. The other starter at CB, Greg Toler, is talented but continues to play inconsistently…he’s also too injury-prone. The defensive line and pass rush need help, but the return (from injury) of promising rookie DE Henry Anderson will help those causes to a degree next season. The Colts finished the year a lowly 26th in total defense, so the production simply wasn’t there.

The Colts offense was an even bigger disappointment this past season. Yes, Andrew Luck missed nine games…but looking past that, there were many other issues at play. The offensive line struggled for most of the year, particularly in pass protection. WR Andre Johnson was supposed to be a key addition, but he was barely visible and looked like a shell of his former self (41 catches for 503 yards). RB Frank Gore was underutilized; he didn’t get a lot of carries and when he did, there were not many holes to run through.

Undoubtedly, there are problems in this organization at all levels. Stability is an important ingredient to success, but when you have the wrong people in place, change is necessary. There is a lot of work for the Colts to do this offseason, and that process begins today.

The Colts Maintain Their Pulse in Week 16

The battered and bruised Indianapolis Colts showed enough moxie this past Sunday afternoon to pull off an 18-12 win over the Miami Dolphins in Sun Life Stadium. This victory was anything but pretty, but the way this season has gone for Indianapolis (7-8), they’ll take a win of any kind…beggars can’t be choosers, after all.

This was a game that the Colts were very lucky to win. Miami, now 5-10 on the year, outgained the Colts by nearly a hundred yards offensively, but there were some key moments that completely erased that advantage.

Indianapolis QB Matt Hasselbeck threw a first quarter interception that was negated by a holding call on Dolphins CB Brent Grimes. Later in the quarter, Miami QB Ryan Tannehill tried to hit WR DeVante Parker on a fade route in the corner of the end zone, but Tannehill was picked off by Indianapolis CB Vontae Davis. In the third quarter, Tannehill threw an apparent touchdown pass, only to have it taken off the board when WR Jarvis Landry was called for offensive pass interference on the play.

These three plays alone created an 18-point swing in favor of the Colts, but there was one last prayer they needed answered to pull this one out.

The Dolphins had driven to the Colts’ 5-yard line with under a minute to play, poised to find the end zone and score a likely game-winning touchdown. Instead, Tannehill threw the ball on three straight downs, misfiring each time. The fourth down play never got off the ground, as a mistimed snap caused Ryan Tannehill to be engulfed by the Colts defensive line before having any opportunity to get the ball out of his hands…and that was all she wrote for Miami.

Colts RB Frank Gore essentially carried the offense, rushing for 85 yards on 15 carries, including a nifty 37-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Matt Hasselbeck was knocked out of yet another game, and third-stringer Charlie Whitehurst came in and did his job: he played unspectacular but mistake-free football.

Indianapolis’ much-maligned defense held down Miami’s rushing attack, and made enough plays against Tannehill and his receivers to keep the Colts in the game, although they did give up 329 passing yards on the day.

Miami did everything they could to give this one away, but the Colts did capitalize on the Dolphins’ errors, so Indianapolis does deserve some credit for being opportunistic.

Despite the victory, the Colts playoff chances are slim…the Houston Texans are responsible for that (they blew out Tennessee 34-6 on Sunday). Houston continues to hold a one-game lead over the Colts, and it would take a myriad of things to happen for Indianapolis to wiggle into the playoffs now.

This was a win the Colts badly needed. Even if the playoffs are out of reach, they needed this to gain some momentum and confidence. However, there’s a problem with the way the Colts deal with winning games like this.

There has been a pattern this season of head coach Chuck Pagano overreacting to his team’s victories. He gave an inspirational and emotional speech earlier this season after a come-from-behind win over the Titans. Yes, the Tennessee Titans. Pagano repeated this act after Indianapolis picked up the ‘W’ over a Miami team who was eliminated from playoff contention weeks ago.

Why is this a problem? It shows everyone how low the bar is set, and honestly, wreaks of desperation. There’s a saying in sports, “act like you’ve been there before.” Pagano acting like the Colts just won the Super Bowl each time they beat an also-ran is weak. He’s trying to convince his team that they accomplished something significant, and perhaps, hoping his boss (Jim Irsay) is fooled by this as well.

It’s not working, Chuck.

Jim Irsay’s goal is for the Colts to win multiple Super Bowls in the “Andrew Luck Era.” Surely he knows that will never happen with a head coach like Chuck Pagano. Pagano is a man of character and strength, and a very good NFL assistant coach…there’s a lot to like about Chuck Pagano. The simple fact is: he’s over his head trying to lead an NFL franchise to the Super Bowl, which is where the Colts want to go and believe they can go.

Yes, Indianapolis came out on top in this game. But, when you put it all in perspective, this victory rings very hollow.

The Sad Decline of the Indianapolis Colts Continues

It’s been a long time since we’ve heard the words “Super Bowl” and “Colts” in the same sentence. Looks like it’s going to be a lot longer before we hear it again.

The Houston Texans came into Lucas Oil Stadium and wrested the division lead away from the Colts by virtue of a 16-10 triumph on Sunday afternoon. The Texans (7-7) now hold a one-game lead over Indianapolis, who fell to 6-8 with two games remaining in the regular season.

For the third straight week, the Colts held an early lead before imploding. After trailing 10-0 in the first half, Houston scored 16 consecutive points to win their first ever game in Indianapolis (the Texans were 0-13 coming into this contest). The Colts had an unprecedented 16-game winning streak within the division snapped last week against Jacksonville; now they’ve lost two in a row against the AFC South.

The quarterback matchup in this game was not exactly one for the ages: backup QB Matt Hasselbeck going for Indianapolis, while Houston had to play their third-string signal caller, T.J. Yates. Neither quarterback played particularly well, and when Yates went down with a non-contact knee injury after scrambling late in the second quarter, things looked even worse for the Texans.

Enter Brandon Weeden, the former starting QB in Cleveland, but currently number four on the depth chart in Houston. Weeden was the hero in this one, coming off the bench to go 11-for-18 for 105 yards and a touchdown after Yates’ injury. Most importantly, Houston scored all 16 of their points with Weeden at the helm, as he gave the Texans the shot in the arm they needed after falling behind early 10-0.

The Colts offense was anemic, gaining a paltry 190 yards for the game. QB Matt Hasselbeck had a tough day in more ways than one, going 17-for-30 for only 147 yards, and feeling pressure and taking hits from the Texans’ defense all afternoon. Indianapolis RB Frank Gore ran hard, but had nowhere to go, averaging 2.8 yards on 16 carries.

Aside from Brandon Weeden’s heroics, Houston didn’t exactly light it up either. The Texans’ running game was mostly held in check, other than Alfred Blue’s 41-yard run in the second quarter, which didn’t actually lead to any points for Houston.

The turnover battle was even, but the Colts only lost fumble was a very costly one. Indianapolis was driving late in the fourth quarter, trailing 13-10, when WR Griff Whalen took a short pass from Hasselbeck and coughed it up after a good hit by Houston CB Johnathan Joseph…this effectively ended the Colts’ hopes.

Indianapolis did get the ball back one more time, only to have Matt Hasselbeck throw a deep interception on the first play of the drive when he “misinterpreted the angle” WR Donte Moncrief took on his route.

The last three minutes of this game continued what has been a pattern of late with the Colts – key moment, key mistake(s).

Now that the AFC South lead has vanished and a playoff berth is becoming unlikely, what do we make of the 2015 version of the Indianapolis Colts? It would be easy to blame this disappointing season on injuries, particularly when your star quarterback has missed significant time on the field…but that’s not why this team has underachieved.

It all starts with a flawed roster, a fact that was previously covered up by QB Andrew Luck’s emergence as an NFL star. Even he could not continue to perform at a high level with a struggling offensive line in front of him. Colts GM Ryan Grigson chose not to address the offensive line to any large degree in the offseason, and it’s coming back to haunt the team now. In general, Grigson has just had far too many “misses” in the draft and in free agency, and they’ve led Indianapolis to where they are now.

Another key issue is coaching. Chuck Pagano, the Colts’ head coach, has not proven to be a top-flight coach in either game preparation or motivation. Consistent errors such as penalties and turnovers, especially at crucial times, are the mark of a poorly-coached team. As the season has worn on, the team is also playing with less and less desire and enthusiasm.

What a difference in outlook from Week 1 to now. The Indianapolis Colts were a trendy pick to win the AFC Championship this season, now, they’ll have to finish strong and hope for some help just to barely make the playoffs – in a weak division. Unless something spectacular (and unexpected) happens, some heads are going to roll when this train wreck of a season is over.

Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers: a Postmortem

For the Indianapolis Colts, this past Sunday began with good news…they saw their two closest division rivals, Houston and Jacksonville, go down to defeat. The Texans fell in Buffalo 30-21, while the Jags lost a 42-39 shootout in Tennessee.

The good news continued as their game against the Steelers commenced, when Pittsburgh’s Jacoby Jones fumbled the opening kickoff, giving Indianapolis the ball at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line. Then, there was, well…the rest of the game.

The Pittsburgh Steelers sliced and diced Indianapolis en route to a 45-10 drubbing on Sunday night. The Colts were able to hang tough for most of the first half, holding a 10-6 lead late in the period. But from that point forward, the Steelers completely dominated play.

Pittsburgh (7-5) will likely need to earn a Wild Card berth to advance to the playoffs, and the way they played in this game, they absolutely looked the part of a playoff team. The Colts (6-6), by virtue of playing in the AFC South, continue to hold the division lead, despite this forgettable performance.

Last season, Pittsburgh handed Indianapolis a resounding defeat as QB Ben Roethlisberger threw for 522 yards and six touchdowns. Big Ben didn’t generate the same kind of numbers in the rematch, but that’s deceptive, to say the least. Roethlisberger was brilliant again, going 24-for-39 for 364 yards and four touchdowns.

Indianapolis played some zone coverage early in the game in an attempt to slow down the Steelers passing game, but it didn’t work. When they went back to man-to-man, you guessed it: that didn’t work either. The Colts had no answer for anything Big Ben and his offense wanted to do on this night.

To add insult to injury, RB DeAngelo Williams was just as effective against the Indianapolis defense, gaining 134 yards on 26 carries. Let’s not forget, Williams is filling in for injured starter Le’Veon Bell…it’s nice to have quality depth, isn’t it?

Did anything go well for the Colts in this contest? Not really. Their offense was almost as inept as their defense, although RB Frank Gore had a solid outing, given that there was very little room to run against a tough Pittsburgh rushing defense.

Indianapolis’ offensive line couldn’t buy any time for QB Matt Hasselbeck to find his receivers, which was key for both teams – Pittsburgh’s defense against the pass has been poor most of this season, so that was the Colts’ best chance to compete in this game, and they could never get untracked due to the poor protection up front.

The Steelers certainly look the part of a playoff contender, but where does this leave the Colts? Actually, this hapless showing doesn’t change much for this team. They are still battling to fend off Houston (and perhaps Jacksonville) for the division crown, still sitting in first place, in fact. So, Indianapolis is still in position to make a run at the playoffs.

The more important question may be: if the Colts do win the division, can they make any noise once they get to the playoffs?

The overall talent on the roster, particularly if QB Andrew Luck returns and plays to his potential, says yes. But upon closer examination, Indianapolis just has too many holes to be a solid Super Bowl contender. The offensive line has been shuffled around all season in the hopes of finding an effective combination, but they have mostly been a liability. One of the team’s big offseason acquisitions, WR Andre Johnson, has been invisible in this offense. The defense has shown promise at times, but injuries and inconsistent play have left them searching for answers as well.

A healthy and effective Andrew Luck can cover up a lot of deficiencies, but his ability to get healthy or play effectively are very much in question right now. It seems that Indianapolis has played with fire for years now, counting on their young quarterback to make everything “right.” What we are seeing now is what happens when the many weaknesses this team has are no longer being disguised by one dynamic player.

The Colts may very well end up winning the AFC South and playing in the postseason. However, unless a lot of things come together for this group at just the right time, they won’t be playing in January for very long.

Indianapolis Colts: State of the Union and Week 13 Preview

Going into the 2015 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts were considered a strong Super Bowl contender by virtually every media outlet. A strong 2014 campaign that ended with a loss in the AFC Championship Game, along with the additions of WR Andre Johnson and RB Frank Gore had pundits convinced that this team was ready to take the next step.

After 12 weeks, the ride has been anything but smooth for the 6-5 Colts. This season of promise began with a dismal loss in Buffalo. The following week, another disappointing performance resulted in a Monday Night Football defeat at the hands of the Jets, leaving Indianapolis with an 0-2 record, and a lot of questions.

The Colts finally broke through in a comeback win over Tennessee in Nashville, but QB Andrew Luck sustained injuries that would keep him out for the next two games. The Colts turned to backup QB Matt Hasselbeck, hoping he could keep the team’s head above water until Luck was ready to return. In one of the more inspiring stories of the NFL season thus far, Hasselbeck has done far more than anyone expected from a 40-year-old backup quarterback.

Hasselbeck won those two games as the starting QB, and after Luck returned and sustained further injuries that have returned him to the shelf, all Hasselbeck has done is come back in and do what he has done all season – guide Indianapolis to victories. Hasselbeck is now 4-0 at the helm of the Colts offense this season, and one could argue that he has been the team’s MVP to this point.

Indianapolis has suffered from a number of maladies that have led to their mediocre record after 12 weeks, injuries aside. When he was playing, Andrew Luck was having by far his worst NFL season. There is a great deal of debate as to why Luck has struggled, but it appears to be a combination of things. The offensive line played poorly in the first few games, which led Luck to have to hurry his reads. Coupled with the fact that the team was getting behind early in games, Luck had to take chances in an attempt to get the Colts back into games, and that was leading to more turnovers than touchdowns.

Some of the other factors holding Indianapolis back include a defense that has not performed well, and a great deal of drama with the coaching staff. There is friction between head coach Chuck Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson, and the offensive coordinator (Pep Hamilton) was fired earlier this season. None of this is a recipe for a Super Bowl contender, to be certain.

Despite everything, the Colts are currently in first place in the AFC South…playing in a weak division may be the key to a playoff berth for this underperforming group. If Indianapolis can win the division and sneak into the playoffs, this could be a dangerous team – their play of late has again given hints of that potential.

So, onto Week 13…what can we expect against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night? QB Ben Roethlisberger has been cleared to play after suffering a concussion against Seattle last week, but he will not face Andrew Luck, as he is still sidelined with abdominal injuries and a lacerated kidney. Statistically, the matchup looks like this:

Pittsburgh

Indianapolis

Offense: Overall

4

22

Offense: Pass

5

17

Offense: Rush

8

26

Defense: Overall

23

26

Defense: Pass

31

27

Defense: Rush

7

24

 

Pittsburgh’s offense is superior to that of the Colts in both passing and rushing. The Steelers are more vulnerable defensively, but they’re still a little better than Indianapolis overall. Pittsburgh’s rushing defense is solid; where they are weak is against the pass. Can Matt Hasselbeck exploit the Steelers DBs? That will likely be key to the Colts’ chances on Sunday night.

Both teams are fighting for a playoff spot, so the intensity/motivation should be high on both sides. The game will be played in Heinz Field, and frankly, the Steelers are just a better team, particularly with Andrew Luck (and his talent and comeback ability) on the sideline. The Colts will struggle to stop the Steelers offense, and the Colts will have a tough time running the ball, putting a lot of pressure on Matt Hasselbeck to make plays. It looks like Hasselbeck’s storybook run will end in Pennsylvania on Sunday night…he’s done a great job stepping in and guiding the Colts offense in Luck’s absence, but asking so much of him will finally catch up to Indianapolis in Week 13.

Christian Hackenberg: Hype Combined with an RGIII Trait

The start of the college football season is accompanied by an onslaught of NFL projections, positional rankings, and mock drafts.  It is fun in the beginning, becomes mundane and repetitive at about week 6, and gets interesting again during the final playoff push, conference championships, and bowl games as top players distinguish themselves from others.

Christian Hackenberg made headlines before stepping onto Penn State’s campus because he decided not to flee in the wake of NCAA sanctions stemming from the Jerry Sandusky scandal.  He was a 5-star recruit and, at the time, was the future of Penn State.  Fast forward a few years and Hackenberg’s career at Penn State has been relatively unremarkable outside of the hype and attention he gets by virtue of his powerful arm, supposed NFL potential, and 5-star recruit status.

In 2013 and 2014, his first two seasons at Penn State, Hackenberg threw for 2955 and 2977 yards, respectively.  He had a completion percentage of 58.9% and 55.8%, respectively.  While not horrible, in an era where college quarterbacks are putting up eye popping numbers, Hackenberg was putting up numbers that were quite pedestrian, especially for a player who some scouts were touting as a potential top NFL draft pick.

He has no weapons

Hackenberg supporters often use this defense when trying to rationalize his lack of production.  And they aren’t wrong.  He had Allen Robinson, a future 2nd round pick in the 2014 NFL draft and no other truly viable options.  After Robinson left for the NFL, he had DaeSean Hamilton (899 yards in 2014) and Geno Lewis (751 yards in 2014), players who had good receiving yardage, but accounted for a measly total of 4 touchdowns.

He hasn’t had a good offensive line

This phrase is another common Hackenberg defense.  And it seems fair.  Hackenberg was sacked a lot and has been given the pretty obvious nickname of “Christian Sackenberg” by some media members.  However, in a vacuum, sack numbers can be misleading.  The Washington Redskins’ quarterback odyssey involving Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy, and Robert Griffin III has shown the way that sack numbers are very dependent on the quarterback under center.  A quarterback who knows how to get rid of the ball quickly (Kirk Cousins) will take far fewer sacks than one who holds onto the ball too long (Robert Griffin III).  While Hackenberg has been the victim of his offensive line crumbling, he also falls into the Robert Griffin III category of holding onto the ball too long than

When compared to the holy grail of big-armed, pro style quarterbacks, Andrew Luck, Hackenberg falls astonishingly short.  In his 2010 campaign, the year before he went pro, Luck passed for 3338 yards, 32 touchdowns, and had a completion percentage of 70.7%.  That year, his top receiver was Doug Baldwin who had 857 yards and 9 touchdowns.  His next leading receiver was Ryan Whalen who accounted for 439 yards and 2 touchdowns.  Luck’s quarterback prowess allowed him to put up great numbers and be productive with a supporting cast that had similar to production to the players around Hackenberg.

It isn’t fair to declare someone a player a “bust” in college since players can make incredible strides in a year, but, at least for Hackenberg, it is fair to at least begin derailing, or for some people outright destroying, the notion that he is the next great NFL quarterback.  Top NFL quarterback prospects don’t have three week stretches where they throw only 1 touchdown, 4 interceptions, and can’t break the 200 yard mark against Indiana, Temple, and Illinois.  If you are not a believer in stats as they can be misleading, especially at the college level, his CBS scouting report states that he “has a bad habit of holding onto the ball too long and clamming up when the walls start to wear down….(he has) frenetic eyes which leads to flawed decision-making.”  Robert Griffin III has shown the world happens when a quarterback goes down the path of holding onto the ball too long and taking sacks; the fact that Hackenberg has the same trait without the same athleticism and escapability doesn’t bode well for Penn State or his NFL aspirations.

Monday Morning Breeze: Football in Week 9 (or maybe 10)

College Football Portion of the Program

Annoyingly, ESPN and every major media outlet brushed the dust from last year’s “Separation Saturday” graphic and proceeded to splash the tired phrase off the ears and eyes nationwide all day. I’m sorry on their behalf. By the way, I’d love if enterprising individuals in unhappy relationships took the liberty to use this “Separation Saturday” motif to their advantage, and necessary-but-difficult break-ups fell like oversized JENGA towers today, and every “Separation Saturday” from here on out. I love Love, though.

Despite the tread-worn SS being thrown around by talking heads like a damn pigskin at Thanksgiving, it did live up to the hype, delivering a number of Top 25 upsets and helping illuminate the probable roadmap for conference championships and ultimately, the playoff picture. Clemson proved it deserves the initial top spot in the CFB Playoff Ranking by beating FSU, Alabama showed the playoff committee’s prescience as they mercilessly whooped LSU, Oklahoma State kept the offensive pyrotechnics going and handily stunned TCU, and Michigan State suffered a reversal of fate, getting upset at Nebraska under the cloud of a potential officiating gaffe and another controversial ending.

Laterals, man. laterals. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the acronym “ILS”, but it means “Invisible Lat Syndrome” and refers to those dipshit dudes that walk around life like they have coolers stuffed under their arms because their backs/lats are so developed, but actually they’re just peacock-style inflating their upper body size. AKA “bowing up” as a scared individual does before a fistfight happens. Well, after the last two weeks of this college football season have unfolded we may have to consider inventing “VLS” or “Visible Lateral Syndrome”, referring to the damage done to fanbases of programs that’ve lost heartbreaking games on plays that involve ridiculous, lateral-induced defeats. The Satan of Sideways struck Duke during their last-second loss to Miami last week, and we thought it was an anomaly…until this week’s Arkansas-Ole Miss fantastic finish featuring, you guessed it, Lucifer’s Ludicrous Laterals.

College Football Link Dinks and Dunks of the Week

Mizzou FB team “athletes of color” boycotting current school president, won’t play until change made!?…Terrible news, as Miss. St. father/son football combo killed in car crash…First CFB Official Playoff Rankings released, and does Alabama deserve a spot in the top 4 (yes, now clear to all)…The rise of ND’s DeShone Kizer…At halftime of the USC-Arizona game, ESPN’s Danny Kannell referred to ‘Bama’s win over LSU as, “…a curb-stomp. You can’t really call it anything else.” While I agree Alabama forcefully defeated the Tigers, can we all agree using the phrase “curb-stomp” in any context is disgusting, especially when referring to a college football game, especially when we all know this horrifying moment from the racially charged movie “American History X” is what popularized the term.

College Game of the Week: #2 LSU vs. #4 Alabama

This game would decide much in the heated race for the beast that is the SEC West. Would LSU continue to run Leonard Fournette to the Heisman and Lesticles’ second National Championship? Or would ‘Bama continue to rebound from their early-season loss to Ole Miss (which looks even worse now) and keep rolling opponents enroute to another SEC title?

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Well, it was the latter. Alabama whooped LSU 30-16 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in a matchup of two of the top four teams in CFB’s initial Playoff Rankings. Bama’s D controlled LSU’s run game, Bama’s O rolled out a dominant, Derrick Henry-led rushing attack, and Saban skated off with another huge win over grass-eating Les-is-Less Miles. Three point summary:

Alabama Won the Trenches
There’s a man named A’shawn Robinson that roams the nose/D-tackle spot for Alabama. He’s nearly impossible to block, and, if you like, here’s a great feature on Robinson. He, along with the rest of Alabama’s O and D-lines, beat the hell out of LSU. This game boiled down to Alabama’s complete control of the line of scrimmage, which always determines these Tide-Tiger matchups. Roll Tide, for tonight.

Leonard Fournette Lost Heisman Ground
I hate that this is true, because I love Fournette and the transcendent beauty he’s brought CFB this year and LSU’s morbid passing game did nothing to help clear the box against the Tide, but this game did some damage to what was once his peerless Heisman campaign. In the game many billed as a battle of the backs in Fournette vs. Derrick Henry, Henry clearly came out on top. Fournette was stymied all day by ‘Bama’s fierce D-line, being held to a season-low 31 yards on 19 carries, well below his 193 yards/game average for the year. Henry meanwhile, bulldozed his way to 3 TD’s and 210 yards, looking unstoppable at times. With TCU’s Trevone Boykin throwing 4 picks and suffering his first loss of the year, the Heisman hierarchy was shaken up a bit this weekend. Now I’d say Henry’s near the top of the heap along with Clemson’s commander QB Deshaun Watson, Ohio State’s stud RB Ezekiel Elliot, and Stanford’s darting dynamo Christian McCaffrey.

Alabama Will Win the National Championship
It’s ridiculous to make predictions anytime, and especially this year given the crazy climate surrounding college football with controversy and madness now the norm, and no team rising head and shoulders above the rest, yet. It’s also silly to put the crown on Alabama’s head given their still-questionable QB Jake Coker and a defense that tends to doo doo in the bed versus spread teams, not to mention all the football that’s left to be played. But let’s get crazy. Let’s throw caution to the wind. ‘Bama just has the feel (and dominant running game, dominant line play, athletic D, competent QB) of a special team that was galvanized by their early-season loss to Ole Miss, and now’s on a mission. Preseason’s darling Ohio State has been building steam this year, but they still look nothing like the team that buzzsawed through last year’s playoff, and while Clemson appear to have gotten rid of their pesky penchant for dropping winnable games, I still don’t trust them. So I’m putting my neck out there and saying this: Ladies and Gentleman, Alabama will be your 2015 College Football National Champion.

At the End of the Day: CFB’s Top 25 Went this Way (All Rankings from College Football Playoff Poll)

#6 Baylor vs. Kansas State (Thursday, Nov. 6th)
Bears survive scare from Snyder’s frat ‘Cats, keep playoff dreams alive

#20 Miss. St. vs. Missouri (Thursday, Nov. 6th)
‘Dogs dump Tigers, Tigers Wish to Dump School President

#22 Temple vs. SMU (Friday, Nov. 7th)
Owls forget they’re supposed to lose to Dallas dudes, instead say “Who?” and bruise ‘Stangs

#10 Florida vs. Vanderbilt
Gators barely beat Vandy, clinch SEC East and keep Commodores least

#5 Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh
Kizer So Says, “Come with me!”, as the Irish stiff Pitt

#21 Northwestern vs. Penn State
We’ve reached the point in reality where it’s not surprising Northwestern beat Penn State. Bizarre.

#11 Stanford vs. Colorado
McCaffrey’s kid keeps rolling as Card roughs up Buffs

#25 Houston vs. Cincinnati
Cougars roast Bearcats, go searching for next young victims

#1 Clemson vs. #16 FSU
Dabo’s Dabos Dabo Wabo Seminoles, proving Dabo deserves to be top Dabo

#9 Iowa vs. Indiana
Hawkeyes keep playoff hopes alive, peck Hoosiers’ I’s out

#17 Michigan vs. Rutgers
Jim’s Joe’s smoke Red Knights

#8 TCU vs. #14 Oklahoma State
Cowboys shoot through swiss-cheese Frogs D, propelling OSU into playoff pic

#18 Ole Miss vs. Arkansas
More casual, late-game chaos brings Bielema’s Hogs rebelliously erotic joy, topping Mr. Ms. Miss

#23 UCLA vs. Oregon State
Bruins ruin OSU, leave it (losing) to Beavers

#13 Memphis vs. Navy
Midshipmen mush Memphis, dashing distant Playoff dreams

#7 Michigan State vs. Nebraska
Sparty falls from unbeaten ranks, skanked late by the Huskers and refs

#15 Oklahoma vs. Iowa State
Stoops’ Troops score sooner and later, smash Cyclones

#19 Texas A&M vs. Auburn
Tigers aggravate Aggies, A&M burned, upset

#12 Utah vs. Washington
Huskies a bit too “big-boned”, Utes race past Peterson’s Puppies

#3 Ohio State vs. Minnesota
Ezekiel 3:14 “Thou shalt never lose to Gophers Faux-Golden”…Bucks truck those with buck-teeth

#2 LSU vs. #4 Alabama
Bayside’s Bayou Bengals Bludgeoned by Alabama Man, Men

Duke vs. North Carolina
Tarholes dash Duke’s ACC dreams, demolish Devils

National Football League Portion of the Program

NFL Link Dinks and Dunks of the Week

Graphic photos of Greg Hardy’s alleged domestic violence victim surfaced this week, yet he plays on…Hardy was justly skewered (along with some other players/coaches) in these funny updated Madden RatingsFormer Raider charged with grisly murders in California…On the BRIGHTER SIDE, a nice piece on the ascent of Cam Newton.

NFL Quick ‘Cap Game of the Week: Green Bay at Carolina

Cam Can Cam Like Cam:Carolina jumped out to 27-7 lead at half, behind an unstoppable aerial attack and Cam Newtom playing like, well, superCam. The Panthers gave the Pack GB’s largest home deficit since 12/15/13

Thomas Davis SR is the Seniorest Sr.: TD Sr. had a number of nifty plays, including a nice, line-busting sack of A-Rod just before halftime and the game-sealing INT of A-Rod at the end. Davis SR is playing on his 16th ACL of the year, and why does Carolina seem to be the only breeding ground for guys tough/cool enough to use the SR tag on their last names, a la Steve Smith Sr. and now Mr. Davis Sr.?

Pack’s Second Half Comeback Squelched: GB scored quick in the 2nd half with a Rodgers-Cobb long TD pass early in the 2nd quarter leading to a furious rally in 2nd half to get it to 37-29. A-Rod drove Green Bay deep into Carolina territory late in the 4th quarter and, scrambling on 4th down and goal got picked by the man, THE SR Davis, to end the Pack threat and clinch Carolina’s best start ever. Is Carolina for real? It seems so, and their stranglehold on the NFC South is secure for now.

NFL Longer Lust Game of the Week 2: Denver at Carolina

This past week, Indianapolis fired their once-successful Offensive Coordinator, Pep Hamilton, due to the Colts’ early-season struggles on offense relative to the major investment (draft/free agency) the team made on that side of the ball in the offseason. It’s been spun in major outlets that this firing was largely a result of Andrew Luck’s ineffectiveness (injured ribs or not) so far this year, including MMQB’s own Peter King challenging Luck to step up and accept responsibility for being the reason Hamilton was fired, and questioning how Luck would respond in the face of such pressure.

It looked like Luck would have the toughest of times responding to a major shake-up on the offensive coaching staff facing a Denver Broncos D that was dominating the NFL so far. It looked like Luck was seriously suffering from some injury, whether it was the supposedly-kept-under-wraps rib injury or something else, as this year his typically picturesque form and performance had been relegated to rollercoaster status on a weekly basis. It looked like Peyton Manning’s sand-arm and the Elway Broncos would head into Peyton’s Old Oil Dome and dominate the Colts, keeping their undefeated record alive and sending the Horseshoes further into a tailspin, though remaining atop the weak-ass AFC South.

As it turns out, looks, and Luck, can be deceiving.  Colts win 27-24.  The game’s 3 pressure points:

Luck Don’t Throw No Wounded Ducks: It’s clear something’s been ailing Andy all season, and too see the media hop on his back lately has been interesting. Andrew Luck is a selfless beast that more often than not puts the Colts in a position to win. He may not be Peyton, but that’s a good and bad thing. This week, Luck and his new coordinator were on track early putting Indy up 17 through the first half and keeping things going well enough in the second to hang on for the win. Everyone else needs to get back on the Luck bandwagon; there’s plenty of neck hair to go around, keeping us all warm and entertained for the remainder of the year.

Last Game in Lucas Oil? Peyton Throws a Pretty Ball Too: Manning hit a bomb to Emmanuel Sanders early in the 3rd quarter to cut Indy’s lead to 17-14, and played well enough throughout. Emmanuel Sanders is impossible to cover, and Manning’s demise has been waaaaaay too overblown in the media this season. The man can still play, no matter how sad and old his face looked at the end of this one. However, in what may be his last game ever in the Lucas Oil Dome, Peyton suffered a surprising loss. In the end, that doesn’t mean to much as history holds Peyton as probably the greatest Colts’ QB ever, but it seemed refreshing and necessary for the young upstart Luck to get a win tonight, leading Indy into the near and distant future.

Peyton’s Path to History Paused: Mr. Manning finished the game just 3 measly passing yards shy of the all-time career passing yardage mark in NFL history. It would’ve been as fitting as a birthday suit for Peyton the Perfectionist to set one of the greatest records in NFL history in the home stadium of the team that drafted and reaped the rewards of Manning’s greatness for the majority of his career, before oddly jettisoning him because of concerns about his neck. However, due to a bizarre holding call late when Denver’s defense was called for the infraction defending an Indy FG kick, Peyton never got the final chance to get the mark in Indianapolis. Perhaps it’s better he’ll surely set the mark in his new home of Mile High, in Denver, next week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

NFL Hyper-Headline Roundup

Cleveland vs. Cincinnati
Bengals bust Browns’ balls as Manziel hits sixth ring of hell, oh well

https://vine.co/v/eLgY6OLwYH6

Denver vs. Indianapolis
Andy punts Peyton’s pursuit of all-time passing yards record, as Colts become first to beat Broncos

Atlanta vs. San Francisco
Niners’ new QB sets offense free, sinks Falcons further south in NFC

NY Giants vs. Tampa Bay
Coughlin’s Cadets Crush Winston’s Regrets

Oakland vs. Pittsburgh
Raiders fall short late, Big Ben goes on an injury date, and Steelers win slim at the end

Miami vs. Buffalo
Rex says “Interim heads roll” and controls ‘Fins, as Bills win

Jacksonville vs. NY Jets
Jets set Jags back to the days pre-hot tub, rub South Florida the wrong/right way

Tennessee vs. New Orleans
Marcus the Hawaiian leads Titanic Dicaprios to OT victory over the Saints which must fire Roby Ryan train

St. Louis vs. Minnesota
Vikings ram Rams into FG submission

New England vs. Washington
Brady’s Bunch Native American burns the Snyders

Philadelphia vs. Dallas
Eagles fly, Eagles fly, right by Big D’s dysfunction in OT on Sunday night’s football flight

Commercial Skewering and Randoms

Tweets I Sent Cuz Drinks

Weekly Fantasy Football Insight/Tips/Updates/XXX Advice

Andrew Luck is a Mystery

It started early.

 
In fact, it started the first time he ever took the field as an NFL quarterback. On Andrew Luck’s first five drives in the first half of his first career game, he passed for only 78 yards. Then he flipped a switch. Beginning with the sixth drive, on which he marched his team 59 yards in 38 seconds to set up a short field goal attempt to end the half, up to the game’s end, Luck passed for 231 yards to close his debut with 309.

 

When the switch was flipped on, Luck was a game changer. When it was off, he made Colts fans change the channel.

 

Luck continued flipping that switch on and off throughout his rookie season. He was almost like two totally different people: Bad Luck and Good Luck (c’mon, who doesn’t love a terribly obvious pun once in a while?) He completed only 54% of his passes, which was good for (or bad for) second worst among qualified starters just behind the incomparable Mark Sanchez. He also tossed 18 interceptions, second most in the league. That was Bad Luck (okay, okay I’ll stop). In his best moments he led the team to four fourth quarter comebacks and seven game-winning touchdown drives. His proclivity for inept play early in games followed by miraculous and inexplicable game-winning drives late was almost Tebow-like.

 
Luck continued on a consistent pattern of inconsistency in year two. He was often ineffective throughout large portions of games yet still managed another four fourth quarter comeback wins. This tendency of his level of play to drastically fluctuate during games crested during the team’s playoff game against Kansas City. The Colts were down 21 at the half then 28 after the Chiefs scored following a Luck interception on the third quarter’s first play. Somehow, some way, Andrew Luck transformed his game. The Colts scored 35 points in the second half as Luck led the team to one of the most improbable comebacks in NFL history.

 

In his third season, Luck seemed to have finally broken away from the bad or brilliant pattern. He topped the league in touchdown passes with 40, set a new career high in passing yards, and won two playoff games. Then they played the Patriots. And lost 45-7. Luck was awful in the game, completing just 36% of his passes for 126 yards.

 
This year he began anew. The New England game figured to be an aberration. Until it wasn’t. Season four has been a trainwreck for Luck. He is now 1-5 as a starter and has already thrown 12 picks. To make him look even worse, the 96 year old Matt Hasselbeck is 2-0 as starter this year in Luck’s absence.

 

To Luck’s credit, he has actually come up with a handful of his patented second half heroics. If he had managed to put up one more score in overtime against the Panthers I may not even be writing this right now. But he didn’t. And I am.

 

It’s all so confusing. What happened to Luck? Perhaps nothing happened; we were overrating him. Or maybe we were right to lavish him in praise and this is just a weird phase that he will snap out of soon. There have been many reports of Luck’s injuries so that is one possible explanation for his poor play this season. But the word has been that he was hurt in week 3 so that doesn’t explain his sub-par play in the first two games. It also doesn’t explain his inconsistency throughout his career. Maybe this is what Andrew Luck is as a quarterback: an erratic performer who is capable of thrilling comebacks, but doesn’t play at a superb level often enough to be considered one of the game’s true elites.

 

The one certainty with Luck is that there are a lot of uncertainties. Questions have swirled around him since his college days, like “is he the greatest quarterback prospect ever?” or “does he really think that neck beard looks good?” If he was supposed to be such a sure thing then why does he leave me feeling so unsure?

 

I see three basic mysteries with Andrew Luck.

1. Why is Luck so inconsistent?

2. Has he really carried the Colts as much as the narrative suggests?

3. Why isn’t he the subject of more ridicule when the team struggles?

 

The first one I already covered in briefly recapping his career to date. I don’t have an answer to this mystery, as I don’t have a definitive answer to any of these (hence the mystery). Still being a relatively young quarterback, he is likely still progressing. The inconsistencies are simply growing pains. He will either work his way through the struggles to become more dependable, or he will continue to tease us with his potential forever.

 

A common belief around the NFL in recent years is how impressive Luck has been in carrying a mostly dreadful supporting cast to 11 win seasons and playoff appearances. The staggering number of passing yards and comeback wins seem to support his belief. Everything added up. I was accepting of this belief too until Luck missed the first two starts of his career this season. It was then that the Colts won both games without Luck, I became dubious of the narrative, and began to explore this idea. Granted the two opponents (Jacksonville and Houston) were less than formidable, the team still won without the man who had allegedly been carrying them.

 

In Luck’s absence, Hasselbeck had been relegated to the role of game manager. His duties: execute precision pass plays, milk the clock, and avoid turnovers. By not doing too much, Hasselbeck led the team to consecutive victories. He didn’t try to carry the team, and it turned out that he didn’t need to.

 

Is it possible that Luck hadn’t been carrying the team all this time? If he had been trying to do so, maybe he didn’t need to. Maybe many of the deficits faced by the Colts were at least partially Luck’s fault. If he had learned that he didn’t need to force the issue and make big plays on every single possession, he could have avoided costly turnovers and left his team in positions that didn’t necessitate a big comeback.

 

I don’t mean to ridicule Luck too harshly—the guy has accomplished a great deal in the NFL already. 33 regular season wins and 3 playoff wins are impressive. But if the Colts are 1-5 with him and 2-0 without him then he clearly isn’t carrying the team.

 

Andrew Luck and Colts had huge expectations entering this season. They were viewed by many as legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Thus far they have completely flopped. With Luck playing not just poorly, but arguably as poorly as anyone quarterback in football (30th out of 32 in Total QBR), he should be receiving more blame. Instead fans, analysts, and players around the league are quick to mention his injuries, his porous offensive line, and struggling defense.

 

If any other star quarterback was playing this poorly, he would be put on the chopping block every week. Think back to early last season when the Patriots and Tom Brady were off to a slow start. People were saying Brady was done. He’s too old. Time for Garoppolo. Now, obviously those critics were wrong. Yet the point remains, Brady was criticized when the team struggled, and rightfully so. Luck should face the same blame. And he doesn’t because…
I’m not quite sure.

 

For all the uncertainty that comes with Luck, there is enough certain good to make him an effective player. With him, you have to take the good with the bad. He is going to keep grinding every week, battling for a playoff spot. The rest of us will watch, uncertain about what we will see. He is unpredictable. That’s the just the nature of Luck.

 

 

Do you want to tell Jared he’s wrong? Follow him on Twitter (@JaredAndrews3).  And make sure to like More Than a Fan on Facebook!

Rob’s 2015 NFL Season Predictions

It’s that time of year again, it’s time for football and I am back on More Than a Fan for a special NFL 2015 Season preview with my picks to win each division and my picks to advance to the Super Bowl round by round until we crown a winner at Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara. Before I do that, here are FIVE bold predictions for the season.

  1. THE AFC EAST HAS 3 PLAYOFF TEAMS: For years the AFC East has been looked at as a joke. But this season the talk of that could change as the Dolphins ad Bills are set to make noise and the Patriots now find themselves with some healthy competition.
  2. THE CARDINALS WIN THE WEST: Everyone is on the Seahawks bandwagon but what some fail to realize is despite what they are saying; the stress of two straight Super Bowl appearances will be their downfall. The Seahawks still make the playoffs but the division goes to the Cards this year.
  3. THE REDSKINS GET THE NUMBER 1 PICK: The Redskins are a joke and will prove how much of a joke they are by winning the number one pick by losing a majority of their games. The Only question is whether they go quarterback again.
  4. THE OAKLAND RAIDERS IMPROVE: Believe it or not, despite the record I have posted for them, I would not be the least surprised if they did significantly better. The Raiders have the pieces now for a foundation which we couldn’t say last season.
  5. THE RAMS AND RAIDERS MOVE BACK TO LA: You know it’s happening everyone. The Rams and the Raiders are both going to be in Los Angeles by this point next year. The only thing in the way of it happening are now both dead. Stan Kroenke has bought some land in Los Angeles and he intends to build a new stadium and the Raiders have no deal pending in Oakland. The only team that gets screwed here is the Chargers as they are forced to stay in San Diego with a fan base that knows they wanted to leave.
Peyton Manning gets one more shot and one more hope at a Super Bowl this season. (AP Images)
Peyton Manning gets one more shot and one more hope at a Super Bowl this season. (AP Images)

We’re going to start with each division and go from there starting with the AFC West.

AFC West

  1. DENVER BRONCOS 11-5: No surprise here. The Broncos win the division on the last day of the season by beating San Diego and advance to the playoffs for yet another season. They won’t be unstoppable this year but will be there when the postseason calls. Manning has enough left in the tank for a good run.
  2. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 9-7: The Chargers miss the playoffs by inches as they are eliminated in the final weekend in a loss to the Broncos. The Chargers have questions on both sides o the trenches and don’t know how well Melvin Gordon will be able to perform.
  3. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 7-9: The Chiefs don’t have the firepower or the depth to keep up with their western rivals. They will be able to steal a game from the Broncos but will not be able to handle their heavy workload which includes a showdown at Lambeau Field against the Packers, an opening week battle against the Texans and of course games with the Ravens, Steelers and the London battle with the Lions.
  4. OAKLAND RAIDERS 5-11: The Raiders will be better this season but still will struggle as they need more depth. I think the real story will have to do with whether they will be moving back to Los Angeles which almost looks imminent.

AFC North

  1. BALTIMORE RAVENS 11-5: The Ravens have probably the best balanced team in the AFC when they are firing on all cylinders. How their defensive backfield deals with pressure will determine how far they go but I have them sorting out the kinks and making a deep run.
  2. Joe Flacco is back to lead the Ravens to an AFC North title and another deep playoff run. (AP Images)
    Joe Flacco is back to lead the Ravens to an AFC North title and another deep playoff run. (AP Images)

    PITTSBURGH STEELERS 9-7: The Steelers will get eliminated from postseason contention on the last day of the season. Missing LeVeon Bell for the first two games will hurt as will a defense that is still young and inexperienced. Their offense will win a lot of games for them.

  3. CINICNNNATI BENGALS 7-9: They won’t lose in the playoffs this season because they won’t be there to lose in the playoffs this time. With a daunting schedule that features the NFC West and AFC West, winning games is going to be a challenge for a team that might be changing quarterbacks and possibly coaches by season’s end.
  4. CLEVELAND BROWNS 6-10: The Browns still don’t know where they are going. I can tell you exactly where they are going; another last place finish. With a pathetic offense and a defense that is going to get run all over, this team has some holes and it’s going to get exploited weekly.

AFC South

  1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 12-4: The Colts didn’t do much to shore up their run defense but did add depth to what is probably the best receiving core in football. With one of the best young quarterbacks in football in Andrew Luck, the Colts will be firing on all systems at all times. This Colts team is similar to the model of the Green Bay Packers where they utilize turnovers and an elite quarterback to win games. That will be the only way the Colts take the next step
    It's time for Andrew Luck to take the next step and that step is the Super Bowl. (Celebrity Networth)
    It’s time for Andrew Luck to take the next step and that step is the Super Bowl. (Celebrity Networth)

    this season. I see four losses all season; the Steelers, the Bills, the Dolphins and the Panthers.

  2. HOUSTON TEXANS 8-8: I wanted to pick the Texans as a trendy pick to win the division and make the playoffs but their quarterback and running back situation is so iffy. Brian Hoyer is not really a name you are going to talk about and Alfred Blue is a pretty mediocre backup for Arian Foster who is dealing with yet another groin injury. The Texans could easily be a great team and maybe even a Super Bowl Champion if even a decent or good quarterback like Joe Flacco was their quarterback. Sadly for them, they have to make do with what they have.
  3. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 5-11: The Jaguars are improving but losing their top draft pick to an injury for the entire season hurts and we are still not sure what Blake Bortles is going to be like. T.J. Yeldon looks like a solid future piece but will the line allow him any room to run. The Defense must get consistent on all levels.
  4. TENNESSEE TITANS 3-13: I don’t see Marcus Mariota succeeding at all. I want him to but I just do not see it happening especially with this team and the rigors of the NFL. The Titans have a long way to go before getting back to respectability.

AFC EAST

  1. MIAMI DOLPHINS 11-5: Surprise!!!! The Patriots do not win the division (they come close). A new and improved defense for the Dolphins does it along with a core of young receivers and an improved Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins also have a talented running back in Lamar Miller.
  2. Suh will be the main difference in Miami as the Dolphins emerge as division champions.  (AP Images)
    Suh will be the main difference in Miami as the Dolphins emerge as division champions. (AP Images)

    NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 11-5: Believe it or not, the last time the Patriots did not win the division this was their record and they were tied with the Dolphins who did win the division via tiebreaker. I’m not going to be predictable, I am taking a chance. The Patriots will lose five games and I will call them right here; the Bills, the Colts, the Broncos, the New York Giants and the Dolphins.

  3. BUFFALO BILLS 9-7: The Bills barely make the playoffs by an eyelash as good fortune finally swings their way. The Bills still are searching for a permanent quarterback and their schedule early is daunting as they face the Colts and Patriots.
  4. NEW YORK JETS 3-13: It’s a rebuild year in East Rutherford and the Jets have their work cut out for them if they want to contend in this division which contrary to popular belief is not soft.

 

NFC WEST

  1. ARIZONA CARDINALS 10-6: The Cards win the division that they should have won last season. There will be issues as always like pass blocking but the final game of the season (conveniently against the Seahawks) will crown a division winner. Carson Palmer needs to stay healthy the entire season for that to happen and this go round, I think he will.
  2. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 10-6: Some will think I am crazy for giving the Seahawks so many losses but take a look at their schedule. They face the AFC North and NFC North and also have games with the Panthers and Cowboys. Their first two games are road games against a team that did beat them last year (The Rams) and a team that should have beaten them (the Packers). The Hawks were very lucky to even be in the Super Bowl with their sloppy play in the NFC Championship game and will be lucky to make it back there again with everyone gunning for them.
  3. A full season by Carson Palmer will work wonders for the Cardinals as they win the NFC West. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
    A full season by Carson Palmer will work wonders for the Cardinals as they win the NFC West. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

    ST LOUIS RAMS 7-9: The Rams will be distracted all season with the rumors of coming back to Los Angeles. I expect the defense to be amazing and the offense to be inconsistent. A lot will hinge on the health of Todd Gurley who is already missing Week 1 against the Seahawks. The Rams will need to win a lot of games they usually lose. In this case, the losing record will be attributed to a division rival.

  4. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 5-11: The 49ers will win five games at the worst. Believe it or not, two of those five wins are going to come at the hands of the Rams. The 49ers lost more than a coach last season; they lost more than four star players. They lost something else along the way; they lost their heart. Like the old song ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco’, that is the perfect way to describe this team that seems to have trouble finding something and sticking with it.

NFC NORTH

  1. GREEN BAY PACKERS 12-4: The Pack are angry, real angry. They want what they feel is rightfully theirs. They won’t choke this time around. Green Bay intends to get the home field advantage and then they will beat the Seahawks this time around. Jordy Nelson is out for the season but the positive being that the Packers have depth and the best quarterback in football and this happened before the season giving them ample time to prepare.
  2. MINNESOTA VIKINGS 8-8: The Vikings will be improved but can Teddy Bridgewater take the next step? Adrian Peterson is back but if he the same beast he was before? The Vikings have a lot of questions to answer before they move into their beautiful new stadium next year.
  3. DETROIT LIONS 8-8: The Lions take a step back this year as the loss of Suh and Fairley will hurt but their offense will still be potent. They have to run the ball better and the drafting of Abdullah might help them get there.
  4. CHICAGO BEARS 5-11: John Fox is only one man and it’s going to take more than a man to solve this issue in Chicago.
Aaron Rodgers gets that second ring this season as the Packers get back to the Super Bowl. (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)
Aaron Rodgers gets that second ring this season as the Packers get back to the Super Bowl. (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

NFC SOUTH

  1. CAROLINA PANTHERS 9-7: The Panthers at least have a winning record this time around. They will be the first NFC South team to win the division three years in a row. There are still huge issues on the line and the loss of Kelvin Benjamin will hurt. I see them winning a lot with their soft schedule but also losing games they shouldn’t have any business losing.
  2. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 9-7: The Saints inch back to the playoffs with a 9-7 finish behind a rejuvenated Drew Brees and a solid albeit inconsistent defense. However, their shortcomings will simply be better competition as this is probably the last chance Brees has of winning another title.
  3. ATLANTA FALCONS 7-9: A poor defense will be their undoing but Matt Ryan will keep them in and win them a lot of games. They need to improve their run game and get off to early leads if they want to win more.
  4. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 6-10: The Bucs will be improved. They have talent but their depth is porous. One injury to a key player and they sink like a paper boat. Time will tell if Jameis Winston is a boom or a bust.

NFC East

  1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 11-5: Chip Kelly’s gamble pays off and the Eagles improve and make the playoffs as division champions. They also hook a 2 seed and get a first round bye. DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews form a solid backfield and enable the Eagles to prosper.
  2. NEW YORK GIANTS 9-7: The Giants improve thanks to Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. as well as an improved defense. The Giants do barely miss the playoffs thanks to tiebreakers thus missing the chance for another Super Bowl in the fourth year (they won it in 2008 and 2012).
  3. Cam Newton will lead the Panthers to a third straight division title but can he lead them to the Promised Land?  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
    Cam Newton will lead the Panthers to a third straight division title but can he lead them to the Promised Land? (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

    DALLAS COWBOYS 8-8: Say what you want about that offensive line but the running game also needs talent to make it work and the three men assigned to replace Murray don’t fit the bill. Tony Romo is amazing as a quarterback but even he cannot save a team that will give up big plays constantly. The Cowboys need to come out of the gate and be aggressive.

  4. WASHINGTON REDSKINS 3-13: The biggest joke in the NFL. The Redskins are so bad that they beat themselves.

PLAYOFFS

WILDCARD ROUND

  • Ravens Beat Bills
  • Patriots Beat Dolphins on the Road a week after losing to them in Week 17.
  • Cardinals Beat Saints
  • Seahawks Beat Panthers on the Road after losing to them at home during the regular season.

DIVISIONAL ROUND

  • Ravens Upset the Broncos in Denver avenging a Week 1 shellacking and knocking Denver out of the playoffs for the second time in four seasons.
  • Colts Beat Patriots finally knocking the Monkey off their back.
  • Packers Beat the Seahawks ending all talk of back to back to back Super Bowl appearances.
  • Chip Kelly's gambles will pay off and the Eagles will win the NFC East with a number 2 seed. (Matt Rourke)
    Chip Kelly’s gambles will pay off and the Eagles will win the NFC East with a number 2 seed. (Matt Rourke)

    Eagles Beat the Cardinals.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHES

  • Colts Beat the Ravens in the AFC Title Game at home and finally take the next step.
  • Packers Beat the Eagles getting back to the Super Bowl.

SUPER BOWL

My Super Bowl Pick is

PACKERS 31, COLTS 27: The Packers come full circle and win the Super Bowl an Aaron Rodgers takes home MVP for the second time. Andrew Luck is heroic but falls short as the Lombardi Trophy eludes him once again.