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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.

The Browns' Midweek Report, Week 15: Manziel, Midgets, and Making the Playoffs

Well folks, Johnny Manziel is going to make his first NFL start on Sunday at 1:00 pm ET when the Cincinnati Bengals come rolling into town. And I’m not really sure what to expect.

On the one hand, I could see Manziel exploding and leading the Browns to a decisive victory, leading to complaints from our rather ungrateful fan base about how Manziel wasn’t played against the Colts (which, by the way, was the correct decision by Mike Pettine) and how with him we would be much closer to getting into the playoffs. Or Manziel could drop a big deuce, leading to questions about whether the Browns need to consider getting another QB this offseason. Or Manziel could just be mediocre as the Browns defense either wins the game or doesn’t quite do enough to make up for the meh offense it’s been paired with. Honestly I could see any of these three things happening, but I have no idea which to expect. If I was asked to put money on what his performance would be, I would abstain. I’m just much too unsure about what Manziel will actually be capable of doing.

Apparently though, Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis isn’t anywhere close to as uncertain as I am:

In an interview earlier this week, Lewis declared that he didn’t need to bother worrying about who the Browns QB was this weekend, seeing as even if it was Manziel, “you’ve got to go defend the offense, you don’t defend the player…particularly a midget.”

My first reaction to this: “Ha, that’s freaking hilarious!!”

My second reaction to this: “Ohoho, I really hope Manziel makes Lewis eat those words”

My third reaction to this: “Damn, Marvin Lewis is kind of an a**hole. A somewhat funny, somewhat ballsy one, but still an a**hole.”

But then I read a reaction by ESPN The Magazine writer David Fleming on how Lewis’s comment was extremely calculated, and I kind of grew a new bit of respect for the Bengals HC. Don’t get me wrong, I’d still love to see him and his team get absolutely crushed by Manziel and the Browns this weekend, but I am finding that I have to admit that he is a very smart guy. As Fleming puts it:

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is an old defensive coordinator and he knew exactly what he was doing when he trolled [Manziel] on the radio by making fun of his size. He’s a rookie who hasn’t done anything yet except sell a lot of candy bars. NFL defenders are absolutely dying to be the first one to cleanly de-cleat him. So Lewis wants him to have Little Man Complex and feel like he has to prove how tough he is by staying in bounds or taking on a linebacker. Why? Because he knows the odds behind those collisions favor the defense and he’s banking on [Manziel] not being a big enough man to show a little discretion and back down in order to fight another day.

If that was the goal behind his statement, then props to Lewis. That was very well played sir. Hopefully it doesn’t payoff.

And now on to the playoffs:

That loss to the Colts obviously hurt the Browns. Badly. A one point loss is painful to watch, definitely when your team is winning up until the last 30 seconds or so. And definitely when they had numerous opportunities to put the game out of reach. The loss itself knocked the Browns chances of making the playoffs down to about 4.5%, according to stellar statistician Nate Silver and his website FiveThirtyEight. So what exactly needs to happen for the Browns to be in, and who do we all need to root for over the next three weeks?

Well first off, the Browns need to win out. That means victories against the Bengals, Panthers, and Ravens, all of whom are playing for their playoff lives as well. And that would actually put is in a fairly good position to grab the last wildcard spot. Too illustrate this, let me show you the situations of other teams still in the hunt:

Bills (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Green Bay, at Oakland, at New England. I would say it is quite realistic to expect them to drop at least two of those. I don’t see them beating Green Bay this weekend, and New England will likely be still playing for home field advantage come Week 17, so I would expect them to probably drop that one as well. On top of that, Oakland has been playing surprisingly well lately, so that game could potentially be close as well. At best, I see them maybe pulling out two wins, but a 9-7 record isn’t going to be good enough to make the playoffs this year, so I think we can pretty much rule them out.

Chargers (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City. The Chargers arguably have the toughest schedule of all the teams remaining in the hunt. However, if they can manage to secure just two wins, they are almost guaranteed the 5th seed in the playoffs, barring the Ravens winning out and the Bengals winning at least two more games, in which case we would likely see every AFC North teams except the Browns in the playoffs. Anyway, I think the Chargers should be able to handle what has looked like a completely defeated 49ers squad. However, the two divisional games will both be tough. The Broncos are the Broncos, and Arrowhead stadium is Arrowhead stadium, not to mention the Chiefs are still playing for the playoffs as well. I’m guessing the Chargers lose this weekend to the Broncos, but top a Chiefs team that has yet to throw a touchdown to a wide receiver. Philip Rivers should be able to outplay Alex Smith handily, and if the Chargers score more than 21 points, this game is probably out of reach for the Chiefs. Expect to see the Chargers playing in January.

Chiefs (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Oakland, at Pittsburgh, San Diego. For the Chiefs, the road is rocky. They were unable to beat Oakland earlier this season, although they should easily handle them at home. And then it would really come down to which Pittsburgh team shows up. I’d put my money on the Pittsburgh team of late though, and if that is the case, the Chiefs will most definitely not be able to go into Heinz Field and emerge with a victory. However, if they did, it would come down to their season finale against the Chargers, the winner of which end a rivals season while propelling themselves into the playoffs. If the Chiefs do win their next two, that Week 17 matchup is going to be real real fun to watch.

Texans (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Indianapolis, Baltimore, Jacksonville. They should win their season finale, but the other two will be real fights. A win against the Colts in a stadium where they have never won before seems a tad bit out of reach, despite how well the Texans have been playing of late. As for the Ravens game, both teams will be playing for their playoff lives, and I see the Ravens coming out on top, if only by a touch. Two losses will knock the Texans way out of the picture, so I’m not too worried about them or any potential tiebreaker they would have over the Browns either.

Dolphins (7-6): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at New England, Minnesota, New York Jets. Their only real obstacle, at least on paper, is the Patriots. If they somehow manage a win in Foxborough, then they suddenly have the easiest path to January football. The Vikings and Jets are both handleable, especially at home. However, with the way the Dolphins have looked the past two weeks, they aren’t going to come close to topping the Pats, which will probably end up putting them on the outside looking in come the end of the season.

Steelers (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati. Unless they go full Pittsburgh against a sub-mediocre NFC South team, they are in the lead to win the AFC North. They should beat the Chiefs at home, and in a high pressure situation, I don’t expect to Andy Dalton to outplay Ben Roethlisberger. Welcome to the #4 seed in the playoffs, Pittsburgh.

Bengals (8-4-1): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: at Cleveland, Denver, at Pittsburgh. I mean, they are obviously going to lose to the Browns this weekend. And the Denver game is in primetime on Monday night, so there is another loss. And, as I mentioned above, I think the Steelers will win that matchup. The Bengals are going from first place going into Week 15 to last place at the end of the season. Sorry Marv.

Ravens (8-5): Their remaining schedule reads as follows: Jacksonville, at Houston, Cleveland. Again, obviously going to drop that Cleveland game. Other than that, they beat Jacksonville, and probably Houston. Just a note here, if Houston does win this weekend against the Colts, we as Browns fans are rooting for the Ravens against Houston, as painful as that may be. A 10-6 Browns beats the Ravens on tiebreakers, but loses to Texans on tiebreakers.

Overall though, as long as the Browns win out and the Dolphins, Bills, and Texans each drop one, which is very realistic, the Browns are playing in January. And that is pretty damn awesome. So let’s get excited folks. The season isn’t over quite yet.

Prediction: Browns ? – Bengals 20 (as noted above, have no idea what to expect)

11-on-11: Put Me Out of My NFL Missouri

Show me state, eh?

Rumor has it that a suburban St. Louis town is going to hear from a Grand Jury about a relatively controversial incident, but we’re not going there. Across the state, the Royals were in the playoffs for the first time, and we came very near getting an all-Missouri World Series, but Giants from the left coast swooped in and stomped on all championship dreams from Branson to Effingham. At least baseball fans have some decent barbeque to eat this winter.

Speaking of the state missing out on things, Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium was initially slated to be the site of this season’s Super Bowl, which was ultimately awarded to the dome named after the University of Phoenix in Glendale, Arizona. While both the Rams and Chiefs have been to the big game twice apiece as residents of Missouri, they’ve each only come away with one victory and I’m sure fans will agree they’d prefer to see their team win the damn game than to see their stadium host it.

Last year, the part of New Jersey that hosts the New York professional football organizations also hosted the champions of the AFC and NFC. On Sunday, the state of Missouri had the honor of hosting the reigning AFC Champion and the defending champions of the World. Unlike Rocktober or whatever MLB Marketing renamed the tenth month of the year, teams from time zones west of the Central Standard, did not get their pound of flesh from Abraham Simpson’s favorite state.

Game I Anticipated Most

The best thing about Brady versus Luck is that it’s not Manning versus Luck. The Colts have turned the page and they’re writing a new chapter with a new character; dare I say a potentially better character? Meanwhile in New England, it’s business as usual. The Patriots have one or two big names on both sides of the ball, but quite a few anonymous figures that make big plays at the right times.

Gray

This week and arguably this season, the unknown figure has gone by the name Jonas Gray. In my former life as a College Football guy, I vaguely recall Gray getting a few touches at the school in South Bend, Indiana, but there was nothing remarkable about him then. His last season with the Fighting Irish was under Brian Kelly, but he was recruited to Notre Dame by Bill Belichick’s old buddy Charlie Weis. He’s now played in 4 NFL games, all this season, but he ran for 199 yards in New England’s 42-20 win over a decent Indianapolis team.

Not All Thursdays Are Created Equal

Thursday night football has been a target of ridicule in 2014, but it was worse early in the year when the average margin of victory was in the high 20s and low 30s. In every sense of the phrase, they were “throw-away” games. Things got better when you put division rivals on the field in games that meant something towards who we’ll see on Saturdays and Sundays in January, but close scores don’t always make for decent watching.

If you like kickers, last Thursday offered a game for you. The highlight of the evening for you kicker-lovers came on Dan Carpenter’s 46-yard shot, which put the visiting Bills up 9-3 in Miami. The Dolphins managed a 3rd quarter touchdown and were awarded an additional 2 points for Kyle Orton’s intentional grounding ways, helping them cling to a 12-9 lead entering the game’s final 15 minutes. A Miami touchdown and field goal represented all of the fourth quarter scoring and the Bills headed back to Buffalo with a notch in the L column after a 22-9 defeat.

Musical Clocks

Losing is one thing, losing track of time is a different story altogether. Viking head coach Mike Zimmer went as far as to say, “Clocks here are bullshit”, after not having the time remaining made available to them in the second half of their 21-13 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday. Can you really blame the clock operators at Soldier Field for giving the Bears a little aid? Chicago had given up at least 50 points in each of their last two outings, both losses.

Watt The Hell

In the NFL, there are certainly times you don’t like hearing your number called. If you’re an offensive lineman, it means you’ve been penalized. If you’re a defensively lineman, it could be much of the same, unless your name happens to be JJ Watt. I’ll give him this much credit; he’s done more than Redskins linebacker/GEICO commercial guy to earn the publicity.

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns

In the Texans 23-7 win over the Browns in Cleveland, the giant man from Wisconsin gave Browns’ right tackle Mitchell Schwartz fits all day, hence aggravating quarterback Brian Hoyer and the Cleveland fans in the process. In his day job, on the defensive side of the ball, he made three tackles for loss, registered a single sack, recovered a fumble, and hurried Hoyer all day. Moonlighting as a tight end, he split out from his standard spot as a tight end and caught the first touchdown pass of Ryan Mallett’s NFL career. You could see it coming before the ball was snapped when he drew one-on-one coverage from Browns linebacker Chris Kirksey.

11 Men Will Be Just Fine

Seattle fans will tell you about how important their 12th man is in an effort to pat themselves on the back for the success their team has had at the place they demolished the Kingdome for. It has a name, but it’s one that is constantly changing, so we simply refer to it as House of SeaChicken. They’re still pretty good up in Washington state, where they haven’t lost more than one game in a season at home since 2011.

KCFans

Sunday, they had to go to Arrowhead. And while I’m sure the fans didn’t make it easy on Russell Wilson when the SeaChickens had the ball, the 11 men on the field are to be praised for stuffing Marshawn Lynch on 4th-and-1 late in the fourth quarter. The two men who carried the ball for the Chiefs, Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis, put in work on Sunday, picking up 169 yards on the ground and combining for all three touchdowns in a 24-20 win over the defending Super Bowl champs.

What’s Wrong With Denver?

In some weeks, the Broncos can do no wrong, but get them out of the Rockies and away from the pot dispensaries, and all bets are off. Everyone beats the Jets and the Raiders, regardless of venue, but after that, the fighting Elways are 0-3 away from Sports Authority Field. In their previous road defeats, Manning and company put up 20 in Seattle and 21 in New England, but the Rams held them to a single touchdown in their 22-7 loss in the dome on Sunday.

You don’t want to freak out too much about a 7-3 team dropping a game in a season where the playoffs and a Super Bowl run are inevitable, but Emmanuel Sanders future is in doubt with a concussion and the Broncos are very much the walking wounded right now.

Credit the Rams Kenny Britt for making the most of his 4 catches. The former Tennessee Titan hadn’t done much in nine games before Sunday’s action, but he picked up 128 yards against Denver, 63 on his first quarter touchdown to put the Rams up 10-0. The second half belonged to Greg Zuerlein, who solely owned the second half scoring with kicks of 22, 55, and 53. He scored 16 of the game’s 29 total points. Hope you bet the under in this one.

Who is randy for Randy?

Do yourself a favor and watch Nebraska play the next couple of weeks, specifically #4 on the defensive side of the ball.  Randy Gregory could be the guy for Oakland at #1, unless they really think Marcus Mariota is that much of an upgrade from Derek Carr.  PS: I do not.

There’s a possibility that Gregory returns to Lincoln for his senior year, and no matter what his college coach says, it’s not going to happen.

Randy-Gregory

Acutal Worst Game

A year ago today in Houston, the Raiders won a game. They failed to do that in San Diego on Sunday, or any other time in the last 365 days, and they fell to 0-10 on the year. It doesn’t get much worse than a 13-6 game that includes Oakland, but I’m sure the Chargers will take it.

Dirty Laundry Award

Nothing special or devastating about this week’s most penalized team, Tampa Bay, who was penalized 11 times for 111 yards in their 27-7 win over the Redskins at FedEx Field. What’s remarkable is Kansas City’s 3 penalites for 6 total yards, that’s 5 yards for Ron Parker’s illegal use of the hands, a half-the-distance yard on Mike McGlynn for a false start on his own 2, and negligible yardage was marked off when the Chiefs false started on the next snap.

For The Degenerates

Pittsburgh is headed to the Music City to rebound from their wet fart against the Jets last week. Somehow, the Titans beat the Chiefs in Week 1, and then squeaked one out against Jacksonville in Week 6. They’re not a very good football team. I say Pittsburgh covers the 6 and a half, but this one stays under the 46 because Tennessee won’t score enough to put it over.

Random, Perhaps Unimportant

Nice play by Joe Haden to take a touchdown away from Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins. That’s what fans expect to see from their $60M shutdown corner.

Haden

Now, the Packers look weird in their Acme throwbacks always, but seeing Julius Peppers wearing any Packers jersey is strange to me.

The Lions caught the Cardinals sleeping at the wheel when Jeremy Ross picked up a ball batted out of the endzone by their punt coverage team and ran it back to mid-field, but the officials bailed the home team out, saying Arizona “possessed” the ball inside the five. I call bullshit.

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How are Carolina and Atlanta both this bad? Both entered Sunday’s game in Charlotte seeking their fourth win in Week 11 of the season. Neither team ran the ball very well on Sunday, and these quarterbacks just aren’t good enough to win with their arms, if they don’t get the requisite ground support.

I no longer believe the Eagles are among the NFC’s elite. On the strength of their 53-20 victory over Philadelphia on Sunday in Wisconsin, I appoint the Packers to join the Cardinals on that plane.

Cross me off the list of believers in this year’s 49ers. The Giants aren’t very good this year, and San Francisco doesn’t appear to be much better. Consider the window of opportunity to be closing in Northern California.

Shame on the Saints fan who stole the ball from the female Bengals fan at the Superdome. Just because Good Andy Dalton comes to the Bayou and smokes your team by 17 points doesn’t mean you can abandon all decency.

11-on-11: A Blank Slate in the NFL

There’s something to be said for a fresh start. No baggage, no preconceived notions, just what you see is what you get.

As I prepare to take on the NFL on a weekly basis once again, I will be doing so with a few tech toys to assist me, not the least of which would be my iPad. So many songs, so many memories, and so many pictures, including screenshots to freeze football games at one moment in time, all gone. My friend and pro-Apple guy Dan suggested I restore everything from “The Cloud”. Well, I don’t trust the cloud; we saw how Lando did Han when he put his faith in Cloud City’s head honcho, and I don’t do well enough in the cold to take risks like that. So, everything is gone, but I see it as a purge of the clutter and I’m happy to have a clean slate.

After a 1-2 start, Aaron Rodgers told the fans to R-E-L-A-X and the Packers have climbed back into the thick of things in the NFC North (photo credit: Miami Herald)

Six weeks into the NFL’s 2014 season, a look around the league would reveal plenty of organizations that would love to just reboot what’s happened to them this fall and go back to August, maybe even May if you’re a draft geek. The thing is, there’s still time, with 11 weeks of regular season football remaining, to bounce back. That might not be the case if you’re Jacksonville, Oakland, or Tampa Bay with a combined record of 1-16, but for others with an uphill climb ahead of them, say hello to the sherpa before you head for the summit.

What I Anticipated Most

Not everyone can play in the game of the week, we get that. We need someone to play Jacksonville and Oakland every week, but I don’t early await the kickoff of those games. Division match-ups always come with a bit of appeal, even in Nashville, where the Titans would host the laughable Jaguars of Jacksonville in an AFC South contest. However, there’s a bit more appeal in Buffalo, where the upstart Bills battled Brady and company for first place in the AFC East, the Browns looked to defeat Ben Roethlisberger for just the second time in his 11-year career, the Vikings hosted the Lions, and our night-cap on Sunday featured the Giants in Philly.

I went with the game under the lights in the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles have played very well at home and entered the weekend with the league’s #2 offense. The G-Men decided to play a six-game pre-season, but have taken three straight, all by double digits, since coming out of the gate at 0-2. It was all a matter of which Giants team would show up.

Victor Cruz will miss some time with a torn patellar tendon, suffered in the Giants 27-0 loss in Philadelphia on Sunday night (photo credit: USA Today)

Let’s just say, “Bad Giants,” and be done with it. These guys are going to be without Victor Cruz now, and it doesn’t get any easier. The Eagles knew they needed this, since Dallas didn’t let the 12th man take them down in the Northwest, and their 27-0 victory in the Northeast was a statement on Sunday. Something we should not understate, the up-in-the-air status of Darren Sproles means a lot to the value of the stock of one Shady McCoy, and also to the interest of Philadelphia being legitimate contenders in the NFC.

Thursday Is My Garbage Day

It’s the same everywhere. Friday morning, you turn on the radio and the voice you hear is frustrated with yet another lopsided affair in the NFL. Suddenly, there’s too much NFL and we don’t need it every night of the week. It’s not fair to the away team and they aren’t cognizant of player safety.

Maybe there’s some merit to all of that, but it’s only “My Garbage Day” because that’s the day the city sends the trucks to my neighborhood to haul away our weekly refuse. With Peyton Manning gone for rockier mountain pastures, Colts at Texans promised a little more intrigue, given how up everyone was on Houston’s 3-2 start. If there was any one hope for this game, it would be to buck the trend of dreadful Thursday Night Football.

Andrew Luck and the Colts didn’t come prepared to oblige, going up 24-0 in the first quarter and leading the locals into a countdown to the Astros Opening Day in 2015. They didn’t put this one on ice until D’Qwell Jackson fell on a Ryan Fitzpartick fumble just inside the two-minute warning to give the visitors from Indianapolis the 33-28 victory and a 4-2 record on the season. Jackson was not the only former Cleveland Brown with a 4th quarter takeaway on Thursday night. On the Texans previous possession, with the Colts up by 5, Houston receiver Andre Johnson basically caused his own fumble in the midst of a catch-and-run, arguably close to field goal range, which former Brown Mike Adams picked up.

The play was subject to review, so we got to hear Jim Nantz excitedly talk about making a football move and CBS officiating consultant Mike Carey was damn sure it would be overturned. It was not, but it’s always fun to hear the conviction in their voices when they’re sure they’re right. One thing that they might be right about is that this game featured two MVP candidates. We saw a lot of them too, considering Andrew Luck and his Colts’ offense dominated time of possession, but even in defeat, Texans defensive lineman JJ Watt is a force to be reckoned with. In victory, Luck got to be the hero, completing 25 passes for a big chunk of yards and trio of scores, but it was Luck and rookie center Jonotthan Harrison’s unforced error on the shotgun snap that gave us the highlight of the night…for Watt.

If the voters want to get cute with the award, look for JJ Watt to get some serious consideration for the MVP. Last night’s was his third touchdown of the season, and perhaps the most impressive because he followed fat-man protocol, falling on the ball, but since he was untouched, he propped himself up and galloped 40 yards to paydirt, which made it a 1 possession game early in the fourth quarter. You know a lineman is special when the play-by-play knows he’s going for his third touchdown before he even crosses the goal line. Watt sacked Andrew Luck twice, doubling his season total in the category to 4 thru 6 games.

House of Sea Chicken

It is the belly of the beast, a structure of loudness where the Seahawks simply don’t make a habit of losing. Before the Cowboys took care of business in Seattle on Sunday, the defending World Champs had only dropped one contest in two-plus seasons in their own house.

How about Rolando McClain’s interception of  last pass attempt to put the game on ice for the Cowboys? McClain, the #8 overall pick in the 2010 draft did his share of winning for Nick Saban at Alabama, but it’s been some pretty tough sledding for the former Crimson Tide linebacker since he was initially drafted by the Raiders.

McClain has twice retired from the game, though he is only 25 years old. He once cited a fear of being the next Aaron Hernandez as a reason to walk away from the game, but the Cowboys took a chance on his comeback. Even if there’s nothing after this for McClain, a moment like that is good to see if I’m a fan of his.

Rookie Mistakes

Speaking of the Raiders, it looked like they might actually get it done on Sunday, but looks can be deceiving. This is a franchise that hasn’t held anything sustainable in the way of quarterback play since Rich Gannon was on the payroll. They’ve tried every which way to fill the void; Carson Palmer was coerced out of retirement, Terrelle Pryor came to them via the always-reliable Supplemental Draft, and Matt Flynn was the hot-handed back-up available via trade from Seattle in 2013.

Once upon a time, the Raiders spent the #1 overall pick on a guy named JaMarcus Russell, and we were quick to find out it would wouldn’t go well. Plenty of time has passed, as has long-time organizational patriarch Al Davis, since 2007, and by 2014, it was finally time to try drafting another guy. Derek Carr did not go in the first round, but at #36 overall, many will classify him among the top quarterbacks taken last May. Arguably, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles, who put up decent numbers in the Jags’ 16-14 loss to the Titans, was at the head of the rookie class before play on Sunday, but Carr’s 4 touchdowns at home against the Chargers were something of a statement.

Don’t tell anyone, but the San Diego Chargers are 5-1 with a win over Seattle in their back pocket. There might be something real going on there.

Departure of the Mack

Alex Mack gives the Cleveland crowd the thumbs up as he is carted off the field in the Browns 31-10 win over Pittsburgh. (photo credit: Bleacher Report)

Browns fans couldn’t have been too happy to witness a dreadful first quarter, one that saw the home team down 3-0, a score that could have, quite frankly been worse. The Browns figured it out, a couple of 2nd quarter touchdowns gave them a 21-3 halftime lead that would hold for the better part of the second half and go final at 31-10. It was Cleveland second win over the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger’s 20 career starts against them.

If there’s any gloom to be found in Cleveland, after a win over their rivals, it resides in the scene of Pro-Bowl center Alex Mack being carted off the field after a broken leg. Mack hadn’t missed a snap in his 85 career starts for the Browns, before being injured on rushing playing in the second quarter. In an act that demonstrated the leadership role Mack plays on this team, many of the defensive leaders came to Mack’s side as he was being carted away. That’s a moment that might create an identity for the Browns and give further meaning to Mike Pettine’s “Play Like a Brown” motto.

I’m In Town To Play The Dolphins, You Dumb-Ass

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XBCJajAF4w

I don’t care if the Farrelly Brothers dropped subtle little clues throughout There’s Something About Mary, but Brett Favre had no business making that cameo.  Also, since I figure the Packers are in town to play the Dolphins about once every eight years, I figured I’d check the annals of modern football history to see what’s happened since Mary Jensen rejected Pack-Man for the stalker from Rhode Island.

In the Packers most recent visit to Miami, Favre led the Packers past the Joey Harrington-led ‘Fins by a count of 34-24.  In the only other contest between the two in South Florida, Jay Fiedler led the home team past the visitors from Wisconsin 28-20 in 2000.  On Sunday, the visiting Packers won for just the second time ever in Miami, with their dramatic come-from-behind 27-24 victory.

Who Wants the Gurley Man?

An early candidate for Sunday’s worst game would have been Baltimore’s record-setting performance in Tampa Bay on Sunday. How this Buccaneers team won in Pittsburgh is beyond me, but they are worse than their winless counterparts and time should reveal that. Given the latest news on Todd Gurley and the league’s overall tendency not to jump at running backs early in the draft of late, you probably shouldn’t slot the Georgia running back in that top draft slot, but my money is on Tampa Bay assuming that position. It was 35-10 with 14 minutes left in the second quarter, and went to 48-17 at the gun, thanks to the Ravens taking their foot off the gas early. Even if the Ravens are good, and their 4-2 record suggests they might be, that wasn’t an acceptable first half of football in South Florida.

Actual Worst Game

There was a game that involved the Jaguars and the Titans, one where Charlie Whitehurst was a starting quarterback, and that wasn’t bad enough to get the week’s worst game honor. There is a need to discriminate, as we don’t take too kindly to games that fail to produce a winner in these parts. Though both teams in Sunday’s Panthers-Bengals match-up knocked home token opening-drive of OT field goals, they stalemated the remainder of the extra period and wrecked the standings in their respective divisions with a 37-37 tie. Cincinnati kicker Mike Nugent could have salvaged it on the final play of overtime from 36 yards out, but he shanked it.  Congrats to the Carolina Panthers and Cincinnati Bengals for playing the week’s Actual Worst Game, edging out some stiff competition.

I’ll bet you Bengals fans won’t be too happy with him on Monday.

Dirty Laundry Award

Cardinals Head Coach Bruce Arians said on Friday that he honestly had no idea who his starting quarterback would be Sunday. Our Sunday afternoon broadcast on FOX, called very well by Dick Stockton and Brady Quinn, by the way, revealed that Day 1 starter Carson Palmer would be the man in Arizona’s 30-20 over Washington in Glendale, Arizona. The game wasn’t the slam dunk for the Cardinals that many might have expected against the struggling Redskins, who came to the desert with a 1-4 record.

Of course, the Cardinals didn’t make it easy on themselves, committing a league-high 14 penalties and surrendering 108 yards in the process. Kirk Cousins and the Washington offense were awarded 5 of their 21 first downs by way of penalty, so that is something the Cardinals are going to want to avoid doing in the future.

For the Degenerates

Somewhere in the hype for how great the NFC West is, we allowed ourselves to get really excited about St. Louis. No one wants to deny the personnel is there, and like the 49er teams of four or five years ago, there just need to do some things for the talent to translate to victories on the field. The Rams aren’t there yet, not with this bunch. San Francisco is giving 3 and a half, but even though the Rams have been known to play better on the prime time stage, I’m taking the Niners and the OVER, which is 44 on the site I’m using.

Random, Perhaps Even Unimportant

Anyone want to argue this isn’t a passing league any more? With 10 carries for 26 yards, Fred Jackson was the game’s leading rusher in Buffalo’s 37-22 loss to New England.

Having a kicker that is reliable is so critical, as some teams have learned in this first part of the season, but the Cardinals are having no such problem. In his rookie season out of Clemson, Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzano has been true on all 14 of his attempts to start his career, including 3 makes to give his team a comfortable cushion against Washington in a 10-point win.

Three points and 212 yards of total offense is all you’re going to be able to hope for in Minnesota, if the best you’re going to do in the ground game is Jerick McKinnon’s 11 carries for 40 yards.  Norv Turner isn’t doing his rookie quarterback any favors running the ball just 18 times in the Vikings 17-3 defeat at home against Detroit.

Funny that Aaron Rodgers would get away with the “fake spike” play to Davaunte Adams to set up the game-winning touchdown for a 27-24 win in Miami.  It was Miami quarterback Dan Marino who made that very trickery famous.

There might be some things to knock about the Denver Broncos this season, but it certainly can’t be depth on offense, despite the departures of Knowshon Moreno and Eric Decker.  In their 31-17 win over the Jets on Sunday, the usual suspects did their work, but Ronnie Hillman doesn’t often jump off the stat sheet, except he does when he runs for 100 yards like he did in New Jersey.

Looking ahead to Week 7, I think we’re back to garbage on Thursday night.  Barring anything crazy, the Patriots should take it to the Jets in Foxboro, as Tom Brady will continue to prove one bad Monday Night Football does not equal diminishing a skill-set.  I think the Chiefs go to San Diego ready to play against the quietly good Chargers in the CBS late game next Sunday.

Obviously, the big deal game is in prime time on Sunday night, where it belongs, and San Francisco at Denver should be a treat.  One thought that strikes first when I see that one on the schedule is that it will mean a lot more for the 49ers than the Broncos.  The Broncos know they’re playing for January, and as long as they take care of the AFC West head-to-head, then these inter-conference games don’t carry a lot of weight.  That’s not true for the Niners, who need every win they can get in what promises to be a tight division race in the NFC West.

 

WMU Football: 2014 Schedule Preview and Predictions

Ok, 1 more time, I must revisit last years abysmal 1-11 season for the Western Michigan Broncos.  Yes, Coach P.J. Fleck’s first year wasn’t very successful, including losing his first 8 games straight and barely squeaking by U-Mass for the lone Bronco victory.  The worst drumming of 2013 came at the hands of Big10 powerhouse Iowas 59-3 while the Broncos were also pounded by Mac foe Buffalo 33-0 (thankfully neither Iowa nor Buffalo land on the WMU schedule in 2014!).   They played some very close games as well, losing 35-32 in OT to Eastern Michigan and 27-22 to hated rival Central Michigan.  The Bronco’s also hung strung in the season opener vs.  Michigan St. losing 26-13 against the eventual Rose Bowl champion.  Coming in on the opposite end of the spectrum as the MAC division champs, Bowling Green finished 7-1 in the MAC, and 10-2 overall enroute to a MAC East division title then defeating undefeated N. Illinois in the MAC Championship game before losing to Pittsburgh in the Little Ceasar’s Bowl.  N. Illinois tore through the MAC going 8-0 while having a perfect 12-0 regular season.  Getting heavy national media attention and speculation as to whether the Huskies undefeated season deserved a BCS bowl bid when unfortunately for them they promptly showed they didn’t belong with the top dogs losing the MAC Championship game to Bowling Green in an epic upset.  N. Illinois did beat Big10 powerhouse Iowa along with Purdue in the incredible undefeated run.  Both schools will look to repeat and both return strong teams in 2014 while several other schools will be in the mix perhaps producing a new MAC Champion and definitely making for an exciting season!
After researching a half-a-dozen preseason polls and rankings as well as season projections, the national consensus leaves the Broncos ranked approx. 119th overall in the country and finishing 5th in the MAC West division.  The best predicted record came in at 4-7 (ESPN) while the worst was 2-10 (collegefootballpoll.com).  All of the research agrees as well as the websites that Bowling Green will not only repeat as East division champs but also as MAC Champions.  The West however, is much more up for grabs as Toledo got a little more support than N. Illinois while Ball St. also received some nods for the top spot in the West.  The powerhouses in the MAC for 2014, at least based on paper and recent history, appear to be (in no particular order): Bowling Green, N. Illinois, Toledo, Akron, and Ball St.  That being said, anything can happen and until the ball is snapped it’s all just hypothetical and educated guessing.  Talent and experience are major factors as well as difficulty of schedule that play a part in a teams overall success.  Here’s the Broncos 2014 schedule:
8/30  @Purdue        10/18  @Bowling Green
9/13  @Idaho           10/25  Ohio
9/20   Murray St.      11/1    @Miami(OH)
9/27   VA Tech         11/15   Eastern Mich.
10/4    Toledo            11/22  @Central Mich.
10/11  @Ball St.        11/28   N. Illinois
 
As you can see with a quick glance, the Bronco’s schedule is no cake walk.  The non-conference is 50/50 with 2 powerhouses and 2 D-2 schools, but the MAC portion is brutal as WMU matches up with 4 of the 5 MAC powerhouses previously mentioned.  That’s 6 tough, tough match-ups out of 12 games right off the bat.  Thankfully, the other 6 are fairly winnable, albeit there’s never any guarantee’s and that goes both ways as the Bronco’s could upset any one or more of the teams most consider them to lose too.  This is what makes sports, and college football in particular, such great entertainment!  Not only do the Broncos have a tough schedule, they play 5 of their first 7 games on the road and have just 5 games at home overall.  Good teams have to be able to perform and win on the road as well as in front of the home crowed and unfortunately in this writer’s (and most’s) opinion, the Bronco’s aren’t quite there yet in 2014.
Starting Week 1 on the road vs. a Big10 team in Purdue, the Bronco’s will definetly see their first huge test of the season.  Despite the Boilermakers having a matching 1-11 record in 2013, I think the Bronco’s youth and inexperience will cost them in a close game in a very hostile environment 24-21, a much closer game than most will think.  Week 2 take WMU to Idaho, another 1-11 finisher in 2013, and Coach P.J. Flecks 2nd career victory as the Bronco’s learn alot from the Purdue game and put forth a solid effort winning 38-21.  In their first home game of 2014 the Murray St. Racers come calling after finishing 6-6 in last years Ohio Valley Conference, the DIV. 2 Racers will fall victim bad to the Broncos losing 42-14 and giving Coach Fleck his first ever winning record as head coach at 2-1.  ACC powerhouse Virginia Tech lays in waiting as the Bronco’s travel again in week 4 only to be brought back down to earth running into a Top 25 ranked, Hokie buzzsaw and losing 35-13.  Despite returning to home sweet home for week 5, the Toledo Rockets visit Waldo Stadium and while putting forth a valiant effort in their conference opener, WMU loses a heartbreaker late 24-20 to the 2014 MAC West division champs.  Hitting the road again in week 6, the Broncos head to yet another MAC stud in Ball St.  One of several MAC West champions favorites, the Cardinals handle the Broncos 38-28 in front of their home crowd.  Sticking with our theme, WMU tours another MAC powerhouse’s campus, taking on MAC East defending champ and 2014 repeating MAC Champion the Bowling Green Falcons.  Predicted by many besides myself to repeat as MAC Champion, Bowling Green is reportedly even better and deeper than in 2013 and defeats the Bronco’s 42-17 thus dropping a 3rd straight game and bringing them to a disheartening 2-5 overall.  Keep you chins up though Bronco fans as week 8 is Homecoming at Waldo Stadium and the Ohio Bobcats are the enemy with a 6-6 finish in 2013.  WMU ends their 3-game slid with a 34-20 convincing victory and a happy homecoming as well as the Broncos first conference win of 2014.  Week 9 finds our Bronco’s back on the road with a trip to the only team worse than WMU in 2013, the Miami of Ohio Redhawks.  With a sparkling 0-12 record in 2013 the Redhawks have an entirely new coaching staff (which we know takes time to develop).  Western handles their business with a 27-7 victory that proves to be their biggest winning deficit of the season.  Going back to Kalamazoo in week 10, the Bronco’s take on in-state rival Eastern Michigan who happens to be predicted to finish 6th behind WMU in the West division for 2014 after finishing 2-10 in 2013.  Coach Fleck earns his first career 3-game winning streak as the Broncos get revenge on the Eagles for last years 35-32 OT loss, winning 38-24 and briefly (SPOILER ALERT) evening up their record at 5-5.  With two games to go, on the brink of bowl qualification, fate is in their own hands, 1 more win makes it a successful season….
Unfortunately week 11 brings a trip to hated in-state rival Central Michigan who is returning 16 starters and as much as it pains me to say defeats the Broncos 27-21 in a crushing loss for fans and players alike.  Still hurting from the CMU loss, and with bowl game hopes fading rapidly, MAC powerhouse and defending West division champs N. Illinois come to Waldo Stadium in the season finale.  Despite N. Illinois losing stud QB Jordan Lynch and S Jimmie Ward to the NFL, a nationally televised game will get the best of the young Bronco’s who lose to the Huskies 31-17.  N. Illinois made one of, if not the most impressive run in MAC history going 12-0 in their 2013 regular season and won’t feel the same pressure the younger, unexperience Bronco players inevitably will especially with the bowl hopes hanging in the air.
All in all, I see the Broncos finishing 5-7 overall and 3-5 in the MAC.  I sincerely wish I could confidently say they’ll do better than that but with an extremely young, inexperienced, albeit highly talented roster, there’s just too big a learning curve to think Coach Fleck and his staff can find more success any quicker.  Again, anything can happen, they could roll over their whole schedule and win a MAC championship.  Or repeat last years failure, or worse…  I believe however, change breeds change and the changes have been made by Coach Fleck to be successful.  It comes down to how long it takes for those moves to become effective.  I honestly believe the Broncos are going to surprise alot of teams and people and most likely myself as well!  I can’t wait for the season to start and to see what happens with this exciting new squad.  Stay tuned as I preview in more depth the Broncos opening game next week from out here in MAC land!!
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Player Spotlight: WMU's Corey Davis

corey davis
Despite a disheartening 1-11 finish to the 2013 football season for the Western Michigan University Broncos, there was a bright spot, a star in the making named Corey Davis.  Davis plays WR for the Broncos and resembles a young “megatron” using his 6’2” frame and 205lbs. of muscle to sky over defenders and bring balls in.  Hailing from Wheaton, ILL, only a few clicks west of Chicago, Davis overcame the odds and a rough childhood to come to WMU as a freshman in 2013 after being named All-Conference and All-Area while playing High School ball at Wheaton-Warrenville South H.S.
Corey Davis took the MAC by storm his freshman season averaging just over 14 yards per catch and 85.5 yards per game.  Earning freshman All-American honors from the FWAA and College Football News and also earning the nod for the 2nd-Team All-MAC Offensive squad.  Davis was named MAC freshman of the year while breaking WMU freshman receiving records for: Receiving yards- 941, Receptions- 67, and 100-yard games with 5.  Davis also tied the single season freshman TD record with last year’s MAC freshman of the year Jaime Wilson with 6, he also played WR for the Bronco’s but has since transferred elsewhere (unfortunately for Bronco fans).  The award set a MAC record for 7 freshmen of the year awards (WMU Football) meanwhile no other MAC school has more than 5.  It also set a record for winning back-to-back freshman of the year awards for a 2nd time in school history also being the only MAC school to ever do so.
Davis’s career best performance came during WMU’s lone win of 2013 at UMASS.  Yanking in 10 balls for 154yds and 2 TD’s Davis willed his team to a thrilling 31-30 victory.  He led all freshmen in the FBS in receptions, receiving yards, TD’s, receiving yards per game, and 100-yard receiving games in 2013.  Davis finds himself on the preseason watch list for the coveted “Biletnikoff Award” for best WR and is 1 of only 5 sophomores in the country receiving this respect and admiration.
corey davis Clearly entering the 2014 season Davis will be playing a major role in the Bronco’s offense while continuing to rack up numbers in a year that holds promise for a turnaround.  The sophomore shares his tenure with head coach P.J. Fleck whose “Row the Boat” theme to coaching will need a serious overhaul in its 2nd season.  A star in the making like Davis is a great first step to keep from “Rocking the Boat” in 2014.  Davis’s first opportunity to shine comes at Purdue University in WMU’s season opener on August 30th.  The Bronco’s did land a nationally televised game vs. N. Illinois on November 28th.  This will give Davis a chance to show NFL scouts and the rest of the world what he’s capable of against his home-state rival.  The game also happens to be the last game of the year and some records may be at stake if Davis can continue his success.  All signs point to Davis being the next big NFL player to be drafted out of WMU and personally I can’t wait to sit back and watch what the kid can do in the mean time!  I’m rooting for the feel-good success story all the way.  Good luck to Corey Davis on his 2014 season. You can follow him on twitter @ c_davis_81.  Stay tuned for more on the Bronco’s from the land of the MAC!

Homeless Football Player Finds Home at Boise State

At 6’3’’ and 280 pounds, previously-homeless Boise State defensive tackle Antoine Turner will be a substantial addition to a historically hard-nosed Bronco defense in 2014. If you watch any of his game tape from Fullerton College you’ll be able to see that he has all the physical attributes to be a staunch run stopper and dogged pass rusher. He’s got quick feet and a knack for knifing through offensive lines and disrupting backfields of opposing offenses. You can see he’s got a motor that will not quit – you’ll see him making plays downfield, never giving up when a play seems dead, and generally wrecking absolute havoc in his wake. He’s scrappy and possesses a never-give-up attitude, even when his back is pressed up against a wall.

Turner_Fullteron

But not long ago, Turner found himself at the precipice of losing those fumes that kept him going – his dream to play college football and then in the NFL. At one point, he was flunking out of college. He lost his job at the local Laundromat. His family was broken and he lost his mother to cancer 17 years prior. Then, he was kicked off the Fullerton College football team. He spent his nights sleeping on a steel picnic table at a park in Anaheim, CA where he lost 70 pounds because of malnutrition and contemplated ending his own life right then and there. But it only took a small spark to rekindle his inner flame.

He met a fellow Fullerton student named R’Mya, who allowed for Turner to house with her and her family for the time being. That student is now Turner’s girlfriend and plans to attend college with him at Boise State this fall. Turner was also, somewhat surprisingly, given a rare second shot to play for Fullerton by head coach Tim Byrnes.

This time, he wouldn’t let the opportunity slip away.

Turner tore up the line of scrimmage last season at Fullerton with 34 tackles, 6 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, and an interception. He has used his second chance as a way to revitalize his entire life with a hard reset. Now he’s a promising young defensive tackle for one of the top college teams in the Northwest, complete with a full-ride athletic scholarship.

Turner_streets

While he has yet to find a home and continues to sleep in motels, hotels, and any facility that puts a roof over his head, Turner knows the odds are increasingly pointing in his favor.

“I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor,” is how Turner sees it, “I want to inspire people. Perseverance is a big word for me. You control whatever you want to do in life.”

Turner still has a lot to prove, much more to himself than to anyone else. “Even if I get the food and I get the place to sleep I still have this planet on my shoulder that I have to get off. It’s not a chip, it’s a planet.” This is a man that realizes only he has the power to control his future and understands it can all be undone in an instant. He was only 12 years old when he saw this first-hand, as Hurricane Katrina ripped through his family’s home in New Orleans.

Antoine Turner is a rare type of player. He acknowledges the repercussions of failure, accepts that life is often unfair, and once came dangerously close to falling into the abyss of irrelevance. He has since turned his life completely around and will use his unique resolve and determination for the orange and blue this fall.

That’s not a good sign for opposing offensive lineman. Turner and the Broncos open the season in the Georgia Dome against Ole Miss on August 28th  (on ESPN at 8 p.m. EST).

Who Do Sports' Fans Cheer For When Their Teams Are At Home?

Mike did a fantastic job laying out 5 underplayed Super Bowl story lines yesterday.  The one angle that I believe he overlooked is described in the article title:  who should fans pull for when their teams are not involved?  Or perhaps more importantly, should fans care about a game that their favorite team is not involved with?

Continue reading Who Do Sports' Fans Cheer For When Their Teams Are At Home?

Three Things I Know About the NFL After Week 11

If you were to ask me how my picks went this week, I’d just shrug. Kind of like Atlas, but without any weird political undertones. Why? Because being .500 is shrug-worthy. I’m also .500 for the season as a whole. I’d be really angry about that if it weren’t for those awful two weeks I had earlier in the season. (AWFUL. So awful that I just started another beer)

Player Safety is Confusing

I’m not going to spend my time here rehashing horse-collar tackles, complaining about late hits, or even calling the current incarnation of the NFL a little girl’s game that is so gentle now pads may not even be needed.

No, I’m going to wonder why something so seemingly common sense, so easy to figure out, is still something that the NFL doesn’t mandate; the Kevlar lined football helmets.

Head hunting (and head leading) Steelers linebacker James Harrison wears a Kevlar helmet. So does Miami Dolphins running back Daniel Thomas. Sunday, Steelers safety Ryan Clark donned the Kevlar helmet against the Ravens and it made him feel so comfortable that he spent the game leading with his head. Again.

So here’s my question about the Kevlar headgear; if it’s so fantastic, why doesn’t the NFL mandate the new helmets for everyone? If Roger Goodell is so concerned with player safety, shouldn’t the NFL mandate the use of Kevlar to “reduce the rick of concussive and sub-concussive blows” to protect the players? There has to be a good reason, right?

There isn’t one. I promise. What would keep the NFL from spending a few extra bones per helmet if it would mean potentially saving players from long-term, debilitating injuries? Oh. I bet I know.

It doesn’t work.

As athletic trainer and Concussion Blog author Dustin Fink wrote on Wednesday: “We need to remember that concussions are mainly a result of acceleration, deceleration, rotational, and angular forces. Linear forces, where CRT is proven to attenuate, is low on the list of concussion culprits. There is no way this product can attenuate the most troublesome forces that create concussions.” ~ From Slate.com’s NFL 2012

You heard right. Way to go NFL. You’ve made up a product that you can slap on players that think they need help to make them feel invincible so they can go out and never think to take any extra precautions. You guys are the best.

The NFC is Better Than the AFC

But not for the reason that you think.

I think the tops of the divisions could beat each other on any given Sunday. The Patriots, Ravens, Texans and Broncos could all beat the Giants, Bears, Packers, Falcons or 49ers right around half the time. But the bottoms of the divisions… ugh.

The AFC bottom feeders are so bad that the world’s most terrible argument is rearing its ugly head; that a college team could ever beat an NFL team. First, NO. Second, the Jaguars and Chiefs certainly aren’t helping the NFL’s cause with their combined 2-18 record. And the Browns can’t beat their way out of a paper bag. And the Raiders. And Titans. Good God, the Jets and Dolphins have managed four wins while being completely dysfunctional.

The NFC’s basement? I’d take the Lions, Eagles, Redskins, Cardinals or Rams over any of the .500 or below AFC teams. I’d give points, tease them and take the over in every match up. The two conferences could make some good games among their division leaders, but it’s the middle and bottom of the conferences that really make the NFC head and shoulders better than the AFC.

Picking Upset Super Bowl Teams is More Fun Than Really Picking Super Bowl Teams

I know full well that I’m too heavy for the limb that I’m climbing out on right now, but I have my Super Bowl teams picked. The Broncos are going to beat the Falcons. You heard it here first, and probably only. The injury to Willis McGahee won’t even deter me from picking Peyton Freaking Manning to troll the NFL and bag another Super Bowl MVP award.

What are your upset Super Bowl teams? (Comments, guys, comments. ↓)



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Three Things I Know About the NFL After Week 9, Division Prediction Edition

My picks looked pretty good this week. Sitting here before the Monday Night Football Eagles and Saints face-off I already have 10 wins booked against the spread. So there’s a pretty good chance that these three things are actually right this week.

THEY’RE RIGHT EVERY WEEK.

This week’s Three Things are going to be only one thing and a ton of things all at once. I’ll be making my (mostly because of bye weeks) mid-season NFL playoff predictions.

The Mid-Season Playoff Predictions

NFC North Winner

Chicago Bears

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it about 35,000 times; I don’t like Jay Cutler. The Bears defense has convinced me that my ever-deteriorating feelings toward Cutler don’t amount to a hill of beans when picking Chicago to maintain their lead in the NFC North. 17 interceptions, 11 fumble recoveries and 7 touchdowns after 8 games is the kind of thing that you only see in video games.

NFC South Winner

Atlanta Falcons

I’m as guilty as everyone else who is somehow not respecting the Falcons enough. The Falcons have been the sexy pick to contend for a Super Bowl so many years in a row that the hip thing lately is to think that they’ll blow it eventually. Atlanta won’t.

Matt Ryan is completing 68% of his passes, Michael Turner is averaging 4 yards per carry and Roddy White AND Julio Jones are both averaging over 15 yards per catch with 10 and 11 20+ yard receptions respectively. In other words, holy offense, Batman.

NFC West Winner

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers aren’t quite as invincible as we once thought they were, but good coaching and a soft schedule will keep San Francisco on top of the West. It also doesn’t hurt to lead the league with 168 rushing yards per game.

NFC East Winner

New York Giants

The NFC East should be dominated by the Giants the rest of the season. The rest of the division is as dysfunctional as the family that would have happened if Ted Bundy and Roseanne would have had TV divorces and got remarried to each other to create big Brady-like Married with Roseanne TV series.

Arguing about what players would fit which cast roles will be fun, but I’m pulling rank and making Jerry Jones the creepy neighbor.

NFC Wild Cards

Green Bay Packers

Seattle Seahawks

The Packers offense has finally woken up, and I’ve finally woken up to this Seahawks team. We were all waiting for Green Bay to be good, but Seattle is over-achieving on defense and Marshawn Lynch is going beast mode all over the NFC West.

AFC North Winner

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Ravens are becoming a shell of their former selves just as the Steelers are coming into their own. You can’t convince me that Ben Roethlisberger likes Todd Haley’s game plan, but the two offensive leaders are learning how to coexist. Being a top ten defense isn’t bad, either. There aren’t many squads out there that can get out to early leads and still only give up 174 passing yards per game.

AFC South Winner

Houston Texans

Do I believe in the Texans as a Super Bowl contender? Probably not. But I believe the Texans are head and shoulders above the fray in the AFC South. Arian Foster running the rock and a top five defense make it possible for Matt Schaub to play without worrying his every mistake will lead to losses.

AFC West Winner

Denver Broncos

Turns out that Peyton Manning fella is pretty good, huh? The Broncos have the most weaknesses out of all my division winner predictions, but they’ve got Manning and eight more games that they’ll be favored to win to close out the season.

AFC East Winner

New England Patriots

The Patriots top five offense is finally balanced. Stevan Ridley is providing 4.8 yards per carry to give Tom Brady a jab to go with the knockout right cross that Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski provide.

AFC Wild Cards

Baltimore Ravens

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts and Ravens are meeting in the Wild Card spots going different ways. The Ravens will regress enough to give the AFC North up to the surging Steelers while the Colts will ride Andrew Luck‘s big time arm past a tough finishing schedule to explode onto the scene.