Tag Archives: Cam Newton

Jarrett Stidham, Welcome to Auburn

I was in Tampa, Florida when I got the news that Cam Newton had chosen Auburn as the school where he would take his formidable football skills. My wife and I were in town for the 2010 Outback Bowl which would pit my Auburn Tigers against the Northwestern Wildcats.

Typically, I don’t follow recruiting with the passion and fervor that many college football fans do. I do keep a close eye on it, but I don’t have time to worry about a high school player’s stats, 40 time, strength numbers, film clips, etc. Cam Newton was an exception.

I was bug-eyed at all of the info I was getting on Newton. He was 6’6”, 250, with a cannon for an arm and he could run like a deer. Then I watched his video highlights. I watched them again. It was very difficult to contain myself.

And, with the offensive line, skill players, and a defense that would feature Nick Fairley, amongst many others, coming back at Auburn, my expectations soared.

11-1! That was one of the first things that popped into my mind. I thought going undefeated was a possibility, but accomplishing a task of that order is tough, indeed, in the SEC West.

Later, in the spring of 2010, we were attending the Wanee Music Festival at the Spirit of the South Music Park in Live Oak, FL. I was strolling across the field where the main stage was set up. A voice, out of nowhere, shouted, “War Eagle!” I must have had on something with an interlocking AU on it or another form of Auburn identification.

I quickly looked around, and seated in lawn chairs near me, were two male Auburn students. We exchanged further greetings and began to discuss the high hopes for the Tigers in the upcoming 2010 season.

One of the young men worked in the banquet facilities at the Auburn Hotel and Convention Center and he told me about a conversation he had with Gus Malzahn, who was then the offensive coordinator on the Plains, when Gus was a guest at a holiday season fête at the hotel just before Cam signed with Auburn.

They were chatting about the upcoming 2010 football campaign and the possibilities of this Auburn team. During the course of the conversation the young man asked Gus, “What if we get Cam Newton?” Gus replied without hesitation, “We go to Atlanta.”

You know the rest of the story.

When JUCO quarterbacks wind up at Auburn, good things happen. Championships happen.

Gus also inherited a JUCO quarterback, in his first year at Auburn under Gene Chizik, from the Tommy Tuberville era. That was Chris Todd.

Todd was a Kentucky native who was recruited from Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. All he did in 2009 was set the Auburn single season-record with 28 touchdown passes and wound up with 2,612 yards, a 60.4 completion percentage, and a QB rating of 145.7. He threw only six interceptions.

Malzahn was named the head coach at Auburn in December of 2012 and soon added another JUCO quarterback to his roster. That was Nick Marshall, a Georgia native, who was then playing for Garden City Community College which is also in Kansas.

Marshall led Auburn to within 13 seconds of a BCS National Championship in his first year, 2013. In two seasons he passed for 4,508 yards and rushed for 1,866. He was voted team MVP in 2013. Here is the complete skinny on his time with the Tigers.

John Franklin III was next in the succession of JUCO signal callers. A Florida native, Franklin played at East Mississippi Community College and enrolled at Auburn in January of this year. He is on the current roster. Find his data here.

And that brings us to… Jarrett Stidham, the 5 star Baylor transfer. He could very well be a game-changer. I expect him to be, just like Newton and Marshall before him.

If you are an Auburn fan, or even follow college football at all, you are familiar with Stidham’s route to becoming an Auburn Tiger. He was enrolled at McLennan Community College, in Texas, but did not play football this year.

Stidham is the type of dual-threat quarterback that thrives so well in Malzahn’s system. The sky should be the limit with him behind center. His info.

Now, if you are a fan of Auburn, don’t run out and make reservations for Atlanta just yet…ohhhhh,  on second thought, go right ahead and do just that.

Auburn and JUCO transfer quarterbacks are a matches made in football heaven.

Hokies’ Justin Fuente Proved He Was Last Year’s Best Hire

Now that the season is over, I can confidently say that Justin Fuente is my pick for best head coaching hire after last season. The Virginia Tech Hokies have become (somewhat) relevant this season and that isn’t just a fluke.

The Hokies finished the regular season at 9-3, winning the ACC Coastal Division. Granted, winning the ACC Coastal is about the equivalent of winning the SEC East these days. But I’ll get to my SEC East comparison. Virginia Tech then went on to lose in a pretty close game to Clemson at the ACC Championship in Orlando.

Virginia Tech beat UNC, Miami, Pitt, Duke, Notre Dame and a few other opponents. Who did it lose to? Virginia Tech’s three regular season losses were to Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Syracuse is the least excusable loss of the three. And you can blame the Tennessee and Georgia Tech losses almost entirely on turnovers.

In fact, I was at that Tennessee game. I remember just how sloppy it was. Virginia Tech outgained Tennessee by 70 yards, had the ball for two and a half minutes longer and had five more first downs than Tennessee did. But because of the Hokies’ five turnovers (and the Vols’ one), they fell to Tennessee in what turned out to be a bit of a rout.

Virginia Tech outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards and had ten more first downs than the Yellow Jackets did. But Virginia Tech lost by ten points after giving up four turnovers. Georgia Tech only gave up one.

The Syracuse game is a bit of a different story. The Hokies only had one more turnover than the Orange did. But Syracuse quarterback channeled his inner Lamar Jackson and had 311 yards passing as well as 106 yards on the ground.

Aside from these three hiccups, the Hokies really did have a great season under first-year head coach Justin Fuente. Transfer quarterback Jerod Evans may not have been a Cam Newton, but he did what Fuente needed him to do. He racked up over 3,000 passing yards and also led the team in rushing yards.

Compare this to last season when Virginia Tech finished in a tie with Duke for fourth place in the ACC Coastal and you’ll see why I’m impressed. The Hokies, in one year, went from being 4-4 in conference play and unranked to being 6-2 in conference play and ranked somewhere in the Top 25 depending on which rankings you look at.

Just like it was miraculous for Jim McElwain to take the Florida Gators from 4-4 in the SEC to 7-1 last season, it was nearly miraculous for Fuente to do what he did with the Hokies this season. And just like I was anxious to see what McElwain would do this season, I’m very anxious to see what Fuente could do next season.

Now, I know he won’t be the national coach of the year. Some other coaches had even more success this season on a national level. But Fuente’s ACC Coach of the Year honor is well deserved. And of course I think calling him the best first-year head coach for a program is equally well deserved. Heck, I almost wish Florida had held out another year so we could have gotten Fuente instead.

What Fuente did for the Memphis Tigers football program in his four years there was incredible. And it seems like he’s on track to make equally incredible strides with his Hokies.

So here’s to you, Justin Fuente. You may not have the same name recognition as some of these other coaches, but you are truly a coach to keep our eyes on over the next few years. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see you repeat as division champions, just like McElwain did in the SEC East. In fact, I may even be rooting for you to join that club.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Kristen Botica

Why Lamar Jackson Will Undoubtedly Win the Heisman

The Heisman race this year has been more competitive and talked about than in recent years because of the amount of standout athletes that have taken their talents to the next level in college football. While all the contenders have their cases as to why they should win, at the end of the day there is one man who stands above all the rest: Lamar Jackson.

Lamar Jackson is a freak of nature, and no one else can be compared with him, not this year, not last year and not for many more years to come. Statistically speaking he is a literal record breaker, both at the FBS level and at the university level. After the game against Boston College Jackson now becomes the first player in UofL history to break 1,000 yards rushing at the quarterback position. He has also broken the total offense record at UofL previously set by Teddy Bridgewater. With 47 touchdowns on the season and one regular season game left plus a bowl game, Lamar could be on pace to come close to the FBS record for most touchdowns in a single season set by Colt Brennan in 2006 with 63. If we do a little math that’s averaging eight touchdowns per game to tie the record. For most quarterbacks it would be a crazy number but with the talent of Lamar Jackson anything is possible.

These last two games and next week’s game also play a huge factor for Lamar’s Heisman chances because all three of these teams have winning records going into their games with Louisville, Wake Forest and Houston are already bowl eligible with Kentucky needing just one more win (over Austin Peay) to get there. This is important because out of the nine teams that UofL has played already only two are bowl eligible and one of those (Clemson) was a loss.

So, with these last two games and next week’s game coming up against teams who are above .500 (Kentucky should be 6-5 after this weekend) this will prove to be Louisville’s toughest stretch of games so far. Lamar may have not had the most dominating performance against Wake Forest but 145 yards passing and 153 more on the ground and a touchdown is still a decent performance against the 44th ranked defense in the nation. The real test for Jackson was against the 9th ranked Houston defense last night. Jackson ended with 211 yards passing and 33 more rushing as well as a touchdown in the hopes of all but solidifying his Heisman campaign.

To put this all in perspective let’s look at another dual-threat Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel. Manziel had 5,116 yards for his 2012 Heisman winning season and 46 touchdowns. On the other hand, Lamar Jackson, with one game left in the season, has 4,476 yards and 47 touchdowns. That means that, with one game left this season, Lamar already is responsible for more toushdowns than Manziel, even if he may fall just short of Manziel’s total yardage. If that’s not enough then why not look at another similar quarterback, Cam Newton? Newton had 4,369 yards and 51 touchdowns for his Heisman-winning season. So with one game left Lamar would need four more touchdowns to tie Newton’s number and is already ahead of Newton in total yards.

In conclusion, Lamar Jackson’s season has been by all standards incredible and a pleasure to watch. Unless some monumental collapse were to happen in this last game, Jackson is still the front-runner for the Heisman and will stay that way all the way to the ballots, even without a shot at a national title.

 

Photo: Wikimedia

Sorry Hokies, the Battle at Bristol Won’t Be Much of a Battle

I have waited two long years for this game—the Battle at Bristol. And now that it’s here I’m just ready to watch my Tennessee Volunteers run circles around the Virginia Tech Hokies. Run circles…at a NASCAR track…get it?!

I’ve been waiting for a while to get this off my chest. I hate to break it to you, Virginia Tech, but having Justin Fuente won’t just magically turn you into last year’s Memphis Tigers team. And no, Jerod Evans is not the next Cam Newton. Calm down.

Virginia Tech seems like just another wannabe SEC team to me. You hire Justin Fuente after a 37-24 upset over SEC West power Ole Miss. You bring in a junior college quarterback who is most often compared to Cam Newton. I see what you’re doing, but it’s not going to work. You’re like the cheap knockoff version of an SEC team that you’ll find being sold on a street corner in New York City. You look good from a distance, but once you get close enough you’re just another mediocre ACC football team.

And speaking of being a mediocre ACC team, when was the last time you won a championship trophy? No, the ACC Conference Championship doesn’t count. I’m talking about a national title. Spoiler alert: the answer is never. Another acceptable answer would be: in your dreams.

See, I just can’t relate to that. I was raised in East Tennessee in the heart of Vol Country. I may have been too young to know what was happening, but the Vols did win a championship—a national one—in my lifetime. While life as a Volunteers fan has been a little turbulent since then, I can rest easy knowing I’m lucky enough to not be a Hokie fan.

But enough about history, let’s talk about now. I’m sure Virginia Tech fans were licking their lips watching the Vols struggle against Appalachian State last weekend. But if you ask the experts at CBS, they’ll tell you that the Mountaineers are actually ranked ahead of the Hokies. No, I’m not joking. They have Appalachian State ranked 39th and Virginia Tech ranked 50th.

So now you might be resorting to something like, “Well the Vols looked awful and they’re lucky they won that game anyway.” I don’t want to hear it. The Hokies played a mediocre FCS team last weekend and struggled in the first quarter and even the beginning of the second quarter. Virginia Tech only won 36-13. Excuse me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to beat an unheard of FCS team by a lot more than 23 points. There is absolutely no room to talk about last weekend’s football game for the Vols against a tough FBS team. At the end of the day, Tennessee got a win that was at least as good as Virginia Tech’s win, when you consider the opponents.

As a Vol fan, part of me is honestly glad that last week was a real struggle for Tennessee. There have been ridiculously high expectations for the Vols this offseason and with good reason. But if Tennessee hadn’t been humbled prior to this matchup in the Battle at Bristol, I think the Hokies could’ve taken them by surprise. Now that Tennessee knows its weaknesses, has seen them on game film, and can address them, there will be no element of surprise for the Hokies on Saturday.

Saturday is going to be about just one thing: the talent playing out on that football field. Virginia Tech may have their own knock-off Cam Newton and some good targets for him on offense, but the Vols have more. Tennessee returns 17 starters from last year’s team, a team that finished at No. 22 in last year’s final AP poll. Head coach Butch Jones has a loaded offense behind Josh Dobbs, Jalen Hurd, and Alvin Kamara. And unlike the Hokies, they also have a loaded defense. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Derek Barnett, and Cam Sutton are just a few of the players that come to mind when I think of that good ole SEC defense.

Virginia Tech fans, I’m glad we could get your hopes up with that mess of a football game we played last weekend. But I hope you spend the entire day in Bristol tailgating very hard so you don’t have to hold onto any painful memories of what this Tennessee team is going to do to you.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Bristol Motor Speedway

The NFL Combine: A Story of Hot Moms and Self-Identifying as a Cat

Do you know what time of the year it is? That’s right. It’s NFL Combine season.

The Combine gives college football players the opportunity to prove how many repetitions they can do on the bench press, how fast they can run the 40-yard dash and how fast they can run the three-cone drill. These are just some of the highlighted events that the prospective NFL players get to prove their worth in.

I find the Combine to be a boring spectacle that is used as an attempt at a standardized athletic test. Do you know what I prefer as a means of evaluating would be NFL talent? Actual football games.

My preference is to watch the Joey Bosas and the Reggie Raglands of the world prove their worth on the football field. All of a player’s strengths and weaknesses can be found on the field and are preserved in the countless hours of film that the players find themselves on. A large portion of that film is available to all of us bloggers and even more is available to NFL general managers.

So why is there a need for exercises like the three-cone drill? That’s easy. NFL general managers are essentially risk-averse gamblers.

I get it. Drafting college athletes and signing them to multi-million dollar, multi-year contracts is risky. But here’s the thing – there are no sure bets. There are no sure small bets or large bets. There are just bets.

Once a player has performed for their college team, and more often than not their Senior Bowl types of teams, a general manager should have all of the information they need to make a confident but not fool-proof assessment of whether a player fits their needs on the football field. But like I said, general managers are risk-averse gamblers and the old three-cone drill somehow acts as a safety blanket.

All of the hopeful NFL draft picks that participate in the Combine also take part in interviews. Look, none of us actually like interviews. Whether you’re applying to be a fry cook or the 15th Vice President of your local bank, interviews suck. And you know why they suck? They suck because more often than not we’re asked some ridiculous question that has little to do with the job we desperately want to be hired for. If you’re like most of us, and not a football player, you’ve probably been asked some version of this question – How many golf balls fit in a school bus?

Here are some of the more memorable questions asked at the 2016 Combine:

Spare me the psycho-babble when I ask my follow up question: Why do these questions or questions like them mean anything?

That’s right, they don’t mean anything. And if you think they do, well, remember what I said – Spare me the pyscho-babble.

My favorite response to questions of these sorts was from Cam Newton. Here is what Newton was asked:

Essentially, did he see himself more as a person who drinks milk out of a saucer and arches his back when touched? Or did he look at himself as someone who lets his tongue hang out and drools all over the place and chases after a frisbee?

Newton answered this question the way that I would want to and that was by telling the psychologist that it wasn’t a relevant question because he was a human being. Well done Cam. That answer deserves a retro-active dab.

While I am clearly impressed with how Newton chose to handle the question, the psychologist was less than impressed and used Newton’s answer to diagnose him as a person that has issues with authority.

Maybe Newton has issues with authority and maybe he doesn’t, but the reality of the situation is that it didn’t matter how he answered this question or how any of the players answer questions such as this. The person asking the question will always find a problem with the answer.

So I don’t care how fast a player runs around three cones, I don’t care if a player finds his mom attractive and I don’t care if a player is able to self-identify as a cat. What I do care about is how well a player performs in actual games.

And one more thing. Don’t even get me started on the Wonderlic.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SMerenbloom.

*Featured image courtesy of youtube.com

Lingering Thoughts on a Super Bowl Sunday

I have to be honest, it’s been awhile since my last confession post.  The hiatus was not without its reasons, notably fatigue.  Another championship, another year without a dog in the fight.  They tell me I had one in June, and they’d be right about my hometown, but I don’t even know how many NBA Finals have been played.  With the Super Bowl, it’s in your face.  Fifty of them, and we’re not even forced to translate an L into a number this year; thanks Super Bowl marketing folks.  Fifty without a participation for trophy for the Cleveland Browns1To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s., but I digress…

I don’t know if I just made this up in my head, or if I actually heard it somewhere, conversation of a Buffalo/Baltimore swap between divisions in the AFC.  With apologies to Toronto and Tampa Bay, that gives you the best pieces of the American League East in a football division.2I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.  That’s not even what excites me, beyond the idea of not getting mandatory Ravens twice a year, it’s the fire you’d get in that part of the world if the Browns, Bills, and Steelers are all good at the same time.  I don’t imagine Steelers fans would miss the purple, and I don’t much care if Bengals fans have an opinion on the subject.

Calvin Johnson is walking away from football, walking away from the Detroit Lions.  This sounds familiar.  I’m sorry Lions fan, just because I suffer, don’t think I forget what you also go through.

Nothing like something awful at the end to ruin what was nice.  49-15 is going to sting in Arizona, especially if the follow-up is more indicative of a hangover than a mission.  Locally, I’ve heard them compare the season after, between this year and the Super Bowl, and again, the quarterback’s age limits the openness of the window.  There’s also something to be said for what Kurt Warner can do on the big stage, versus what Carson Palmer has shown ails him in the moments of truth.

On to the Super Bowl…

Look, I’m white.  I was once labeled by a giant Polish teammate for being as white as they come on a pretty culturally diverse high school football team.  I deserved the tag, having grown up in the suburbs.  I didn’t exactly absorb the inner-city, but I walked some of the same streets and breathed the same air as the lifers, though my time within the city limits was short.  I’d go as far as to say that in a blind-study, I’m one big, steaming pile of privilege.  Knowing that, I am not bothered by Cameron Newton, and really think we should all be past the fear of a black planet quarterback.

I caught the 30-for-30 on the Bad Boy Pistons on ABC a few weeks ago.  First of all, I miss that NBA, the game where you knocked people down when they came at you.  Second, Isaiah Thomas said something silly about Larry Bird, and then he followed it up with sillier stuff.  Frankly, I think Isaiah is very likeable, and at the end of the day, outside the heat of the moment, he knew there was more to Bird than being some kind of Great White Hope.  That’s one of those incidents you look at retroactively, and think about the circus that would have become of a sound byte like that in 2016.

So, if Cam was white.  Same skillset, same celebratory tactics, same philanthropic efforts.  Wait, what was that last part?  We were so distracted by his devilish dancing and mock-selfie-taking obnoxiousness, not to mention the outrageous act of giving away footballs to children, of all people, that we haven’t acknowledged the good things the man does when the cameras aren’t rolling.  If Cam was white, he’d be more of a deity, but perhaps the power of what he represents wouldn’t speak the volumes that they do.

The game is the game, and the sociological issues aren’t the game, but someone once told me not to stare at the TV and tell you it’s not on.  It’s an exciting time to be alive, and let me qualify this by saying that I’m far from a bleeding-heart type; we have reporters of sport revealing their sexual preference without incident, women coaching men at the highest level of professional sports, and we may be on the brink of our most prominent black quarterback to lead his team to a Championship.

If I’m Doug Williams or Russell Wilson, I take no shame in playing a different role as the starting quarterback than Newton.  Not every championship is built the same way; I’d be proud to be a champion, no need to distinguish myself by race or football role there.  I don’t recall either player trying to be the bad guy, and that seems to be the assertion with Cam.  If that’s part of being the hero, to be rebellious, you have to let him spread his wings and say the things he wants to say when he wants to say them.  Just a word of advice, it’s difficult to play the moral clause when defending lack of championships on the barstool.

Manning.  There’s no right point of view on him.  I’ve long believed him to be the better quarterback, when it came to him and Tom Brady, but the wins are the wins.  In a team sport, measuring a player by team wins (even guys like Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson) is a fair approach, though it might seem unfair in a lot of cases.  Manning didn’t get it done when he probably should have, and as likeable as he tends to be, my sadistic entertainment value seems move more favorably when Archie’s kid falls apart.

The thing is, he’s so much better than Eli.  Everyone know that, even Giants fans, but Eli got it done…twice.  Two for two, not two for four.

Peyton Manning’s decision to go to Denver aggravated me.  The opportunities in San Francisco and Arizona just seemed too obvious.  Then again, I would have preferred to see him retire, having worn a Colts uniform his entire career.  He made a good argument for moving on the different pastures the last couple of seasons.

Gary Kubiak has quietly been part of just about every era of the Broncos’ success, going back to my childhood.  He held the clipboard while Elway drove, he held the football as Karlis kicked it somewhere near the vicinity of the goal pasts in OT, and he held a spot on Mike Shanahan’s staff when the organization took home its first two and only two Lombardi trophies.  He coached in Houston and Baltimore, proving there was more to Kubiak than just being in the right place at the right time, and it seemed like a natural add to upgrade from John Fox.

Fox won a playoff game with Tebow.  He took the Panthers to their only prior Super Bowl.  He was an integral part of a Giants team that reached the Super Bowl between the reigns of Parcells and Coughlin.  He’s got Chicago on the right track.  Don’t read too much into his former employers doing quite well without him.

This year’s Broncos arguably stumbled their way to 12-4.  They were lucky not to lose to the Browns in Cleveland.  Peyton Manning looked either broken or incapable, and Brock Osweiler looked well and appeared to have Wally Pipped his Hall of Fame mentor.  They learned balance, and they learned to let the defense win games and stay out of the way.  These curses turned out to be blessings.

Carolina playing without Kelvin Benjamin all season.  Subtract D’Angelo Williams from the running game.  Seventeen wins, one meaningless loss.  We should have taken you more seriously, Panthers.  How were we supposed to know that?  I just came around to how dumb it is to refer to him as Scam Newton last October.

Carolina has its stars, and you know their names by now.  Josh Norman, hopefully known nationwide for more than the dust-up with Odell Beckham Jr., him you know.  Luke Kuchely is the leader of that defense, and even if you weren’t fully aware of him coming out of Boston College, you should know him by now.  Thomas Davis had his arm in a sling the last we saw him; it’s okay to believe in next man up, but the injured linebacker is active and expected to start on Sunday evening.

Denver’s secondary and Carolina’s receiving corps will be an interesting matchup, but I think the way the Broncos run the ball in the second half dictates how this game winds up looking in the books.  I have no desire to see Elway or his lifelong lieutenant Kubiak raise a trophy, but that’s how I see it going.  For that entire region on the east coast, known as Carolina, I hope I’m wrong.

…and if Cam Newton wins and finds a way to take down White Supremacy in the process, the way Rocky ended the Cold War, I’d find that to be a mutually-desired result for the majority of us.

   [ + ]

1. To be fair, there were three they weren’t eligible for, due to not not fielding a team for some odd reason in the mid-90s.
2. I know, I know, it’s not the same.  ESPN and CBS trying to make it so doesn’t make it so.  Jets-Patriots is often a fun game, but Yankees-Red Sox it is not.

Auburn: To Be Or Not To Be… Consistent

The 2015 regular season is now in the books for the Auburn Tigers. It was a disappointing one, but the problems and inconsistencies did not begin on September 5, 2015, when Auburn played Louisville in the Chick-fil-a Kickoff Game. They began, at a minimum, on November 8, 2014, when Auburn played Texas A&M at home. At least that’s when the problems reared their ugly head.

Since that fateful afternoon on The Plains the Tigers’ record stands at 7-10. The SEC record is far, far worse. It stands at 2-9. 2-9!!! Chew on that for a moment. Two and NINE.

Prior to kickoff on January 6, 2014, when Auburn was about to play Florida State for the final BCS National Championship,  everything appeared to be bright and “Rose-y”.

Since then, and in the aftermath of The Tigers’ gallant, but sobering, loss in the 2015 Iron Bowl… not so much.

Even the most pessimistic of Auburn fans could not see coming what has, since, transpired.

That would be a 14-11 overall record and 6-10 in the SEC.

I have mentioned before, in this slot, that the 2015 edition of the Auburn Tigers is not ‘2012 Deux’. Obviously. But let’s hope they respond to adversity as the 2012 team did in 2013.

The 2015 group that left EVERYTHING on the field this past Saturday is to be commended for a great effort against what appears to be the best team in the country. The “best team in the country?” did have able assistance from an acutely inept Tom Ritter SEC officiating crew. No holding calls? Seriously? Look at the tape.

That’s not the first time that Ritter and his gang of blind mice have been accused of being less than efficient. The groans and complaints on Mr. Magoo’s gang resonate loudly, from Columbia to Gainesville to Baton Rogue to Knoxville, each and EVERY autumn.

http://www.foxsports.com/college-football/story/alabama-tennessee-sec-officiating-replay-review-102514

But that is not the point. Alabama was the better team and they deserved to win. Good for them.

And Florida, don’t think that you have a snowball’s chance in the bowels of Hades in the SEC Championship Game, you don’t. Not that you haven’t overachieved and had an SEC East best season, you  have.

But there is not a remote possibility the the SEC powers-that-be are going to stand by twiddling their thumbs and allow their best shot at a Natty go by the wayside. They won’t.

Alabama has a very, very good football team and has every opportunity to become a great one. They could. They should beat the Gators, handily, under any circumstances.

But you can bet that if, somehow, the SEC Championship Game turned out to be a nail-biter, that the crimson and white could very well get close, and/or, questionable calls.

No, this is not sour grapes. This is the reality in which Auburn and the other twelve SEC participants live. I have watched it with my own eyes for the past fifty-five years. “If you need a yard against Alabama, you’d better get three.” That, according to Pat Dye.

And, let me reiterate, The University of Alabama has an excellent football team and I consider them the premier program in the country. They have the most talent and the best head coach in college football today.

I congratulate them on that and I wish them good luck in the future.

I digress.

Let’s get back to the Auburn Tigers and the reality of the universe in which the Tiger faithful live here on December 1, 2015.

But first we will take a look at the Auburn program since Pat Dye retired in 1992. (And Dye’s record in HIS final two years were 5-5-1 in 1991 and 5-6 in 1992).

Terry Bowden

1993  11-0

1994  9-1-1

1995  8-4

1996  8-4

1997  9-3

1998  1-5

(Bill Oliver went 2-3 after Bowden’s departure in the ’98 season)

Tommy Tuberville

1999  5-6

2000  9-4

2001  7-5

2002  9-4

2003  8-5

2004  13-0

2005  9-3

2006  11-2

2007  9-4

2008  5-7

Gene Chizik

2009  8-5

2010  14-0

2011  8-5

2012  3-9

Gus Malzahn

2013  12-2

2014  8-5

2015  6-6 ( to this point)

So, what’s the take on all that?

There have been some good years, some very good years, some great years, and some phenomenal years (’93, ’04 & 2014). But the one thing that stands out to me is inconsistency. Auburn simply has not been able to put together consistent stretch runs as it did, however briefly, during the Pat Dye Era when they won 4 SEC Championships from 1983-1989. ’87-’89 saw them win three-in-a-row.

Up and down and mediocre has BEEN the consistent theme.

Auburn is going to have to somehow develop that consistency that has eluded them over the past twenty plus seasons. How do they do that?

Well, you start with recruiting. Recruiting has been quite good for the past five or six classes but it does appear that they have whiffed on a few prospects that were hoped to be dynamic and impactful players. And two of those players were quarterbacks, Kiehl Frazier and Jeremy Johnson.

That hurts. It really hurts.

Again, I’ve quoted this before, Pat Dye (yes, quoting him again and with good reason) once said that, “It all starts at quarterback.” It does. And missing, for whatever reason, on that critical position has been, IMHO, one of THE most damning issues Auburn has had in attempting to put together a great program that wins consistently.

Certainly there have been other issues such as developing players, injuries, and just plain bad luck, but much of the problem in 2011, 2012, and 2015 was the play at the quarterback position. And Auburn is, at some point, going to have to recruit AND develop quarterbacks and not keep bringing in JUCO talent. The best they have done, lately, is with Cam Newton and Nick Marshall… JUCO players.

So what about defense?

I think Auburn has their man in Will Muschamp. The defense has begun to really turn it around under his leadership. They are communicating much better. They are tackling much better. And they are playing with that ferocious intensity that you would have expected them to develop under Muschamp.

The defense really got after it in the Alabama game. The overall effort in the Iron Bowl was superb. I think the team really grew up this past Saturday. Now, going into bowl season, they truly have something to build on as they approach the 2016 season.

2016 will be a pivotal year. Make no mistake about it. Gus Malzahn, and his staff, might or might not be coaching for their jobs in the next campaign. I hope they are not. But if the team does not show marked improvement next season there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Of that, you can be sure.

6-6. 2-6 in conference play. Last place in the division. What team would you have attributed those stats to prior to the 2015 season? Vanderbilt? Kentucky? Mississippi State? It sure as hell would not have been the Auburn Tigers.

But, I have faith in Gus Malzahn. I have faith in Will Muschamp (No, I don’t believe he’s going anywhere). And,  I have faith in the players that will return in 2016. They became men in the Iron Bowl.

Also, there is some great looking talent coming in the next recruiting class. That group may wind up as another top ten class.

I can see the pieces falling in place for Auburn, much as they did prior to the 1993 and 2004 seasons.

No, I’m not suggesting that the 2016 Auburn Tigers will go undefeated. But next season could go a long way in propelling the program toward consistency that is long, LONG overdue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Than A Friday: A Pedestrian Day of Football

The future is awesome; I think we’ve established that as fans.  You can watch every game, and basically every time slot gives you options.  The internet gives you a voice, and the time saved by technology actually provides the layman with that precious commodity of time to put knowledge behind that opinion.

Here’s an opinion.  Perhaps, we’ve met the point of critical mass or boiling point, or whatever, when it comes to being overwhelmed by things.  On Thanksgiving Day, we’re offered three NFL games and usually big-time College Football showdown involving the University of Texas.  Granted, two of those professional games are going to be home games for the Lions and Cowboys, so buyer beware on the excitement over those contests.  Texas was a better game when A&M was involved, but why would I get hung up on something like that?

It’s an honest question.  I have no skin in the game with the institutions of higher learning in Austin or College Station1While I’m at it, what happens in Norman, Stillwater, Waco, Fort Worth, or anywhere else in Big 12 Country mean much to me either., but I’m somehow predisposed to believe this game lacks an “it” factor, sans the Aggies.  Under Kevin Sumlin, Texas A&M is a far cry from the style of play they exhibited as a Big 12 member, and frankly, Texas is currently a name-brand program without the name-brand results.

It’s football on a Thursday night, and I wasn’t watching by accident.  After a slow first quarter, I sent a text to a colleague that said spending my Thanksgiving evening watching that Texas Tech-Texas clash2With the option of watching a Bears-Packers game looming. felt too much like work.  Not a minute passes, and I’m watching the second coming of the Immaculate Reception3Only, this one didn’t hit the ground..  Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant found himself in the right place at the right time after an apparent interception by Holton Hill; only, Grant’s teammate Devin Lauderdale turned into a defender and jarred the ball loose, and Grant took it 65 yards for the score.

As an encore, Texas responded with this 91-yard jaunt by Chris Warren III.

I’m well aware that there’s potential intrigue at every turn, and I enjoyed every bit of awesome that Texas Tech and Texas would yield in the Red Raiders 48-45 victory at the home of the Longhorns.  Still, I remember when football was every bit as much of the pageantry of Thanksgiving as the bird in the oven.  You didn’t care that you were getting crummy Detroit and Dallas games, you watched.  You know you watched?  Because it didn’t happen very often.  Football on a Thursday, then more on Sunday; why would you even care that you were watching Mike McMahon?

The answer is now, it’s because now happened.  By the way NFL, thanks for not troubling any AFC teams for their services today.  Seriously though, if you had things to do, are you going to fight with loved ones over seeing the 4-6 Eagles and 3-7 Lions?  You should probably do the things you don’t want to do for other people, and get your lazy on with Cam Newton getting points in Dallas.  The thing is, I know I’m going to get plenty more Cam, and we should talk about Kuechly and Norman more with that Panthers squad, and unless interrupted by divine intervention, FOX is going to give me a lot more Cowboys4The Cowboys 3-8 record be damned!, so there’s nothing unique to draw me away from the dinner table, but still, I watch.

The night game is easy.  Classic rivalry, and the Bears have shown much more than a faint pulse lately, while we’ve micro analyzed the Packers and torn apart their their losses.  I don’t know what it was, but that game got second screen treatment on this Turkey Day.  Maybe I’m not ready for College Football to end, and had to cram in that Big 12 game that doesn’t affect the big picture.  Maybe I’m as burnt out on the Packers as I previously stated I am on the Cowboys.

I might just need things to be moved around a little.  Getting A&M back to Austin would help.  Rotating the Cowboys and Lions out of the daytime slots on Thanksgiving Thursday might be something to think about.  

Maybe I’m just getting old, but sports are fun.  I’m thankful to have them in my life.

   [ + ]

1. While I’m at it, what happens in Norman, Stillwater, Waco, Fort Worth, or anywhere else in Big 12 Country mean much to me either.
2. With the option of watching a Bears-Packers game looming.
3. Only, this one didn’t hit the ground.
4. The Cowboys 3-8 record be damned!

More Than A Friday: The Hot Dog-Sandwich Conundrum and Other Things That Aren’t

It was only a matter of time.  I like discussing the trending topics, and I like food.

I am almost ashamed to admit it, but I’ve been drawn into the conversation, just about every time that it’s come up.  Is a hot dog a sandwich?

The short answer from my point of view is that it’s not.  I feel you can take that tubesteak meat, slice it long-ways and place the pieces diagonally across a slice of white bread, put your mustard, relish, cucumber, and sauerkraut or whatever, put another slice of white on top and call it a sandwich.  However, the traditional hot dog, regardless of toppings, the one that comes in a bun, that’s just a hot dog.

The non-sandwich designation isn’t exclusive to the frank.  Frankly, it’s more about the bread and whether it’s one unit that holds it together or two.  Really, it doesn’t matter what you put in that bun; it’s not going to be sandwich, whether it’s a brat, a Polish, or an Oscar Meyer weiner.  The more compelling question starts with the hamburger, because if you replace the hamburger patty with fish or fowl, it’s quite blatantly a sandwich.  And, if you take that burger patty, and put it between two slices of rye or sourdough with melted cheese, you have yourself a patty melt, which is absolutely a sandwich.

We’re scratching the surface here; what about wraps, pitas, tacos, and certain deserts?  Let’s get your weekend started with the legitimacy of things around the world of sports.

Connor McDavid, the Ham & Cheese

For selfish reasons, I was devastated by the news of the #1 overall pick in last summer’s draft sustaining a significant injury.  McDavid’s Edmonton Oilers visit my hometown Arizona Coyotes next Thursday, and yours truly acquired tickets for the affair.  Now, I’m just watching an early-season tilt between two sub-par teams in the Western Conference.  There’s no question about the sandwich status of chopped ham and American Cheese, it’s just been a while since I’ve had it and it will be a while before we see The Next Big Thing on the ice in the NHL.  “What have you done for me lately?” doesn’t apply to McDavid’s situation…yet.

Chicago Bulls, the Gyro

Just because the Greek man in the apron behind the bar, the one that makes a tzatziki sauce that is to die for, calls it a sandwich, it is not a sandwich, not by my standards.  Look, I understand lazy Americans don’t often think of all the applications of that gyro meat and assume that shaved cone of lamb meat is going to come in a pita, and usually with fries on the side, but there’s more to the menu at your typical Mediterranean grill.  In the same way, when we say “whoever comes out of the East”, we mean the Cleveland Cavaliers.  Yes, we saw what happened on Opening Night at the United Center, but think about how far down the list you’d have to go to get to gyro when someone asks what kind of sandwich the should get.  Now replace “gyro” with “2015-16 Bulls” and “sandwich” with “Eastern Conference favorites”.

 

Carolina Panthers, the Pulled Pork

In the same way that the Vinegar-based barbecue of the Carolina region gets overlooked in favor of its Kansas City or Texas counterpart, there’s not a lot of respect going around for “Riverboat Ron” Rivera, Cam Newton, and the Carolina Panthers, but they’re as legitimate as anything going in the NFL right now.  Sean McDermott has Luke Kuechly on the defensive side of the ball, but that unit is as impressive as anything I’ve seen east of the Rockies.  Yes, that offense misses Kelvin Benjamin like dry ribs miss sauce, but there’s no questioning how Newton is the smoke that makes the meat taste so good.  Whether it’s shoulder or butt, this is undeniably a sandwich, and the #1 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft is undeniably a solid MVP candidate this season.

Big 12 Football, the Footlong Hot Dog

A hot dog is not a sandwich, and a winning team that doesn’t play passable defense in Division I College Football is not a juggernaut.  Did you just win a game 70-53?  Well, I’m a lot less impressed by the 70 than I am disgusted by the 53.  If Texas Tech is giving you hard time, while you wait for your offense to get back on the field, it’s fair to say that LSU and Stanford are going unequivocally ruin your day.  Bigger is not always better, and no non-sandwich becomes a sandwich when you make it bigger.  C’mon people!

tcuTxTech

Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony, the Club and the Big Mac

I haven’t seen a lot of the Knicks, but I’ve seen enough of Melo over the years to understand his popularity, though I question the hype behind his game.  The guy is a great scorer, and I enjoy watching his bad team play in more Games of the Week than they deserve, but I wouldn’t want to do it 82 times a year, in the same way I don’t need to eat a Big Mac a couple times a week.  He doesn’t pass or think about his team, like most of us don’t think about the extra bun Mickey D’s puts on their signature menu item, but the extra bun still somehow matters.  The club, with turkey and bacon, is a little more complete, a little better for you, and actually a sandwich.  You wouldn’t order either on a date, but you could make a lot more arguments for the extra bread on the club, like it was a 7’3″ stretch-five with legitimate perimeter ability.  You wouldn’t fries with that, but a side of pasta salad seems fitting if Phil Jackson can find it for him the Big Apple.

New England Patriots, the Steak Sandwich

It’s messy and you can’t get it everywhere, but I honestly can’t think of a better sandwich.  I’ve had this opinion for a long time, and while there’s been a crappy skirt steak that doesn’t get the job done, every now and again, it’s certainly a go-to.  It takes the right amount of fire1Bill Belichick and the right amount of seasoning2Tom Brady, even if you don’t put it between the greatest pieces of bread, but that just makes for a good steak.  The weapons the Patriots currently have in Dion Lewis, Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola seem to be the perfect starch to accompany an always reliable protein.  You can argue how ultimately unhealthy New England is for the league in the long-term, but it’s enjoyable to watch them play football in the moment.

Kansas City Royals, the Ice Cream Sandwich

What if there was a guy that legitimately drove a windowless white van and took random kids wherever they wanted to go, perhaps satiating their sweet tooth for the ride?  This could only happen in a world where the parents would trust this guy, sight unseen, to have their child’s well being in mind the whole time and not allow them to overindulge on the sweets.  Of course, the assumption is that world doesn’t exist, so nothing like that could happen, even if the guy driving the van is named Ned Yost.  In today’s world of Major League Baseball, you need the long ball and the dominant starting pitching; stealing bases and small-ball, in general, is just a way to get a late-inning run when you need it.  That’s not supposed to be how you win World Championships.

And the sandwiches, don’t forget the flippin’ sandwiches; it’s supposed to be bread, not fried chicken3We didn’t include the KFC Double Down here, but we’d go with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Sure, get fat and happy now, but remember you’re going to spend some time paying for it or cookies4If we were including Oreos, I’d go with the Houston Astros, a JV version of what the Royals have done. that sandwiches the meat together for clean eating with your hands.  Don’t tell that to Ned Yost, who could be the most notorious man driving the ice cream truck since Big Perm, I mean Big Worm.

The Royals broke all the rules.  You’re supposed to have meat and/or vegetables, or something from a jar?  Cheese is the only acceptable dairy?  Well, here’s some ice cream, so the lactose intolerant5New York Mets need not apply!  In a very “Life is short, eat dessert first” kind of way, the Royals decided that starting pitching an early-inning offense would supplement their bullpen and late-inning heroics.

You don’t think you want that, but you need that in your life.  That’s why these sandwiches are kept in freezers by the cash register, because you don’t plan to buy them, but your impulses entice you to do so.  And you don’t care that it’s just crappy cookies and ice cream, it’s the sandwich you wanted the entire time.

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1. Bill Belichick
2. Tom Brady
3. We didn’t include the KFC Double Down here, but we’d go with the Chicago Blackhawks.  Sure, get fat and happy now, but remember you’re going to spend some time paying for it
4. If we were including Oreos, I’d go with the Houston Astros, a JV version of what the Royals have done.
5. New York Mets

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.