chicago bears

The Jay Cutler Problem

A little word association to start off: First thing that comes to mind when I say “Jay Cutler”. Hold that thought.

Jay Cutler is a pretty unique guy. His advocates will pretty universally agree that he comes off as a douchebag and does himself no favors with media or otherwise. The detractors will at least usually concede that he has phenomenal physical tools and wins a whole lot of games. There are surely radicals on either side that will tell you he is a saint or will tell you he is trash beneath comparison to Matt Cassel. If you have no opinion on Jay Cutler, your opinion probably goes back and forth. This is more or less the norm with Cutler and we h;ave settled into a really nice groove of being able to go back and forth on him as a quarterback while universally condemning his attitude. Generally speaking, I have no issue with this. We remember Ty Cobb as a great baseball player and a hall of fame asshole. T.O. will likely shoulder a similar legacy. This is nothing new. But with both of these players we can acknowledge their great play and also acknowledge that they might not be the ideal role model for children. However, with Cutler, we can’t get past his public perception and facial aesthetics. In our appearance over substance era, hating Jay Cutler has become a perfect microcosm of a cultural ill.

Amazingly, Jay Cutler may be less popular than possums or cancer.

Jay Cutler has a phenomenal arm. No one argues this. Those who dislike him as a quarterback take issue with his decision making, and this is a completely fair assessment. It is particularly fair against the rival Packers who seem to have his number. The general dividing point on Cutler is how much we should account for his offensive line. His critics say he needs to adapt to the line in front of him and that it is no excuse. Others (myself included) think that when given time, Cutler is elite and his bad decision making stems largely from his lack of time in the pocket. This has been a huge part of Tom Brady’s success over the years. While I certainly think the offensive line problem is a substantial one, I am not trying to sway your opinion on Cutler’s decision making. It is a little flawed, and we can agree to disagree on its cause. We can even agree to disagree that maybe part of this decision making issue has to do with how many offensive coordinators he has been with over the years. We can write that all off and just look at his performance week to week.

Over the past two-plus years, Jay Cutler has started 30 games. He has had a passer rating over 95 fourteen times, and a passer rating under 70 eleven times. Those are both pretty substantial numbers. In those good (statistical) games, Cutler has been sacked 30 times for an average of 2.15 sacks/game. There were a few 4 and 5 sack games in that sample size too. In the bad games, Cutler has been sacked 48 times, which works out to 4.4 sacks/game. This includes, among other high totals, the 9-sack game vs the Giants. This bad games stat also requires a bit of an asterisk. These “bad” games include quite a few wins in which Cutler was sacked 2 times or fewer (5-6 W-L record in those games, and sacked twice or fewer in 4 of those). Looking up and down the stat-sheet doesn’t tell us how many of his picks were pressured or what have you, but there is a pretty strong correlation between Cutler’s protection and performance. This doesn’t solve any argument, but only goes to show that when given protection, he is a very good and effective quarterback.

In another statistical breakdown, we find that Cutler appeared to be a douchebag in 30 of those 30 games, though it may be 28 or 29 depending on whose indices you use. This narrative has probably been the dominant one in Cutler’s career. When he tore his MCL, he was labelled a quitter. When he yells at teammates, he is just being a prima donna. His body language gets more attention than just about any sports figure I have seen in years. It appears he can do nothing right.

This should all be a nice big warm blanket to worried Bears fans. Everything is ok because Cutler’s tangibles are great and his intangibles aren’t necessarily his fault! Yet intangibles matter, at least a bit. I’m not going to sit here and tell you intangibles can replace tangibles, because they can’t. But if players in the Bears locker room have the same perception as the media (I doubt this), then there is a serious issue. More than any other sport, belief in your leaders and faith in winning matters. Why? Because if you are going to go put your body and livelihood on the line, you’d best believe in the guy next to you. Buying into the coach is important in basketball, clubhouse chemistry at least carries SOMETHING in baseball since you spend months on end with the same 25 guys, but football is different. With the nature of injuries in the sport, with the non-guaranteed contracts year to year, and for many players, week-to-week, if you don’t believe in your guys, you are not going to put it all on the line and, generally speaking, you are probably not going to win a bunch of games. It is clearly more complex than this, but on some basic level, this is undeniably true.

I will say that I do not see Cutler’s personality as an issue, and that the Bears are a damn good football team year after year with him at QB. The hypothetical issue I mentioned above doesn’t seem to be at play here. But the fact that it is even a possibility that Cutler’s talent could be trumped by not giving off the right vibes is astounding. More incredible than all that is that this seemingly absurd idea being is central narrative with Cutler.

As a side dish, this is not only fair, but interesting and insightful. It serves as a great talking point about leadership, different leadership styles and our public and cultural perception of people and athletes. Yet even after a masterful game against a pretty good Dallas defense, the first talking point is Cutler walking away from his offensive coordinator for about three seconds, then Tice coming up and talking to him while standing. What did we say when Brady yelled at Bill O’Brien or Andy Reid got into it with a D-Lineman (in the preseason no less)? “These things happen in football”. When Cutler did it? “What the hell is he doing”. I am beating a dead horse and I know that. Give the man his credit for his phenomenal skills and then, if you so desire, critique his attitude or body language or whatever.

Remember your word from the word association at the beginning? If you needed any persuading from this column at all, the word was probably asshole, douchebag or something of the sort. Try your best to change that, if only by moving it to the second word because Jay Cutler is one hell of a quarterback haunted by a random intangible he likely can’t control.

NFL Wrap and Playoff Preview

Wow, it has been a while. I have a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in, no foreplay needed to warm you up, right? I will stop that example right there too, so let’s get to it! College Football rant: Batter up! Or “Hike” if we are being sport-specific.

College Football

Ohio State fans must cringe everytime they watch Newton. That was supposed to be what Pryor could do.

 

The NCAA is a joke. How can anyone get behind a system where the schools lose money (on non big bowl games), the NCAA makes boatloads of money, the players play for free, and the NCAA gets to make enormous profits off it and the players? AJ Green gets 3 games right away for selling a signed jersey and Ohio State’s best players get to play in the bowl game? Oh, I’m sure it had nothing to do with the NCAA wanting to make more money and not wanting bowl game ratings to drop. I do not even have anything wrong with the NCAA pursuing profits, but stop acting like it is about the students when it clearly isn’t. I get that football is one of very few varsity sports that makes money, and schools need it to keep others afloat. but the whole system is pointed toward NCAA profit, not anything else. Why is the Sugar Bowl on a Tuesday night when most kids are going back to school? I am sure it is for the student’s best interest. Just like how there were no Bowl Games Sunday. The student-athletes missing school is nowhere near as important as not competing with the NFL, huh? I am all for the kids enjoying their bowl game, but do they care about what kind of ratings the game gets.

So you ask why I don’t like college football? Because the NCAA is full of s&%#, and I haven’t even gotten to the BCS yet, or how your season is essentially over the second you lose 3 games. There is no chance of getting attached to players either since they leave after four years. I just cannot get behind it, and yes, part of that surely has to do with my Fighting Irish not being good right now.

Ok, time for a BCS rant now that I am on a roll. I brought this up last year, but I am going to bring it up again. 6 team playoff. Use the current 5 BCS bowls as the platforms. 1 and 2 seeds get a bye, and the other four play the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl (rotating which these are every year). Then the winners move on to face the #1 and #2 BCS-rated teams in the same format as the NFL (lowest remaining seed vs #1). That takes care of the Rose and Fiesta Bowls, and you get 2 teams left for the National Championship. That works to a T. Keeps the money-making bowl system, and gives the people what they want. As for the other bowls, organize them into little post-season tournaments using the bowl system just like with the BCS. Someone tell me why this wouldn’t work.

Oh, and the BCS worked perfectly this year (except thinking Michigan State was good), so it’s not that the ranking system doesn’t work, but that certain changes need to be made to bring in more fans.

By the way, Oregon 41, Auburn 35. Book it.

The NFL

Carolina Panthers

No Luck for Carolina.

 

Pretty horrendous season for a team that seemed to have quite a few pieces. I do not even know how to put a positive spin on it. It looked like they were going to take Andrew Luck with the #1 overall pick, but now will likely replace Julius Peppers by taking DaQuan Bowers out of Clemson. Remember when the Texans took Mario Williams and their reasoning had to do with how they had to put pressure on Manning? Given the QBs in the NFC South, the same logic could be used here. The Panthers front office actually might be a little relieved given that they no longer have to give up on Jimmy Clausen, though given the beatings he keeps taking thanks to his line, they may have to hire him a live-in chiropractor. It also remains to be seen who replaces John Fox, and what direction that takes the team. I suspect it will be a boring-but-solid hire that can set them up for future success. Don’t give up on Jimmy Clausen yet, just get him an offensive line. I may have had higher expectations than I should have, but I think it is hard to give out a grade other than an F for the season they just had.

Season Grade: F

Denver Broncos Nick Fairley. Lock it in. Fits their need to bolster and rejuvenate defense, and he is a total monster, so why not. I am not sold on the Tebow era moving forward, but I like plenty of other parts of the team like the young, talented offensive line, most of the skill position players on offense, and think they are just a few defensive pieces from getting back to respectability. I am not sure who will coach, but the cupboard is not bare. Overall, not much was expected of this team. They played pretty well for short stretches of the year, and I think they can be solid moving forward and can’t be too heartbroken about the season given the expectations going in.

Season Grade: C-

Buffalo Bills

I am praying for you, Buffalo. Praying you don’t make the same mistake as you made last year and go for the flashy option (AJ Green in this case) over the meat and potatoes option of a guy in the trenches. We saw how the CJ Spiller pick worked. It didn’t and by no fault of Spiller’s. I like Patrick Peterson/Prince Amukamara, though I have admittedly not seen any of them play too much this year. Come on Buffalo, you can do it. Given Ryan Fitzpatrick’s emergence and some very solid performances, this was actually a somewhat productive year for the Bills, just not in the wins column,

Season Grade: C

Fantastically Awful. More on him later.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

During the days when we though Luck was in the draft, this seemed like a somewhat obvious pick. Now, it is a little more clouded but not so different. They have a slew of defensive line options that they should jump on, but as DaQuan Bowers will probably go #1 now, Robert Quinn is the most likely option.. His pass rushing should help out their already-solid corners and start what ought to be a new era of Bengals football.. That just makes a lot of sense if you ask me (and you did by visiting the site). I also think they should aggressively shop Carson Palmer as a necessity. I do not know about anyone else, but I LOVE the idea of them trading to get Kyle Orton. That just seems like a perfect fit to start the Orton-Benson-Shipley-Gresham era. I think it could be a good one. We will see if the Bengals can swing it. Given the expectations, there is only one grade we can give here.

Season Grade: F

Arizona Cardinals

If Larry Fitzgerald was the GM, I am pretty sure he would take Ryan Mallett, but Marcell Dareus would fit nicely into their 3-4 and Mallett or Gabbert could still be there a bit later. I could also see them taking one of the athletic defensive ends and making him an OLB in their 3-4. I wouldn’t be surprised to see someone trade up to grab AJ Green or someone here, but the Cardinals will likely try to move back if they are after Mallett or Gabbert. A part of me still thinks that they will try to trade for Carson Palmer and continue Arizona’s trend of bringing in old and somewhat washed up veterans and assuming it will work. Get it done, Arizona, and help us all prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that Carson Palmer is done. I am also somewhat disappointed that the Cardinals did not realize their inability to pass earlier and turned to Tim Hightower and Beanie Well’s Styrofoam Corpse  to carry the offense. Not too much was expected, but when you give Derek Anderson two separate chances at quarterback, you can’t be too disappointed with any grade.

Season Grade: D

Cleveland Browns

The big question in Cleveland right now is if Eric Mangini should have been fired. On the one hand, this team made fantastic progress this year, had a solid defense, could run the ball, and beat the Patriots and Saints. However, two straight 5-11 seasons is hardly getting it done and Holmgren is really the key here more than Mangini. Regardless, I think the team showed some serious improvement up until those last few weeks when they have been putrid. I am talking like worse than Sex Panther in Anchorman.

In an earlier column, I wrote that the Browns were about 5 pieces away from being really good. A WR (preferably a top flight guy or possession receiver), rush LB for their 3-4, a safety/extra secondary guy, and a TE if easily available. Well, time to address the first of those problems with AJ Green. This just seems like a great fit, and despite Green’s weak NCAA suspension, he seems like a good kid who will not turn into Braylon Edwards. I think this is a shoe-in pick unless they moveback a little and take him then. Perfect match. Solid building season for the Browns with some brown skid marks toward the end.

Season Grade: C+

San Francisco 49ers

Mallett? Gabbert? McNabb? One of the Smiths? None of those sound particularly appealing frankly, but one of them is going to have to be the answer at least for a year. I wouldn’t be shocked by a trade-down here either, but maybe they decide Robert Quinn or Stephen Paea is worth the pick here, and I think they are. It is just hard to justify anything but a QB given the 49ers season, so while both of those players are very solid picks, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them trade down.

Why? Why did we think Alex Smith could win a division? Why did we assume he would manage to not submarine the entire 49ers season? I have no idea, but they still were NFC West favorites and finished 3rd in the division. The grade seems clear. The D- over F is only because we should not have assumed Alex Smith could win a division.

Season Grade: D-

Tennessee Titans

Is this too early for Julio Jones? Maybe a little. More likely is going for another defensive guy like Adrian Clayborn or Janoris Jenkins, but Julio wouldn’t be the worst idea. Anyway, this was really not a good season for the Titans. I am not sure what was a realistic expectation for them, but given the Fisher/Young disharmony, Chris Johnson’s struggles, and epitomizing mediocrity in a mediocre division , few would call this Titans season a real success. Kenny Britt was a nice find, but otherwise this team just stagnated this year and the rot is starting to show. I think the TItans were right to choose Fisher over Young, but I am not sure if the Titans have what it takes to really challenge the Colts in the division regardless.

Season Grade: C-

Dallas Cowboys

If Nate Solder is still around, then the Cowboys should probably just pounce on him, but there might be slim pickins for the Boys. They need secondary help, but it looks like the top 3 CBs (Peterson, Prince, and Jenkins) might be gone at this point and Solder will likely be the pick if they decide to keep the pick. Jason Garrett is the wrong man for the job, but it looks like he will get it regardless. He is disillusioned about Tony Romo’s role, and about his offense as a whole, and making him head coach will not fix any of that.

Season Grade: F

Washington Redskins

Shanny did a surprisingly horrible job this year.

 

This has Julio Jones written all over it and if not then Justin Blackmon. You know why? Because Anthony Armstrong ain’t cuttin it. Chris Cooley has revealed himself as being a bad player (stats aside), and they are going with Rex Grossman. A QB is an option too, but I am not sure how good any of the QBs in this draft are. Blaine Gabbert? Ryan Mallett? Jake Locker? No thanks at this high a  pick. Frankly, there are just a lot of problems here. I wouldn’t blame them for just cleaning house and starting over, but I doubt it happens with Snyder in the Owner’s Box.

This was a promising season turned sour for the Skins and frankly I am not sure what to make of them, just as was the case throughout the year. They have very little to look forward to on offense, and are old. They have a coach who just alienated their new old QB and their entire season could be summed up in the word “disharmony”. Even with that they jumped out to a decent start before falling apart. They just did not quite pass.

Season Grade: D+

Houston Texans

I have been very hard on the Texans for many years. It isn’t because I hate them, ro because I want them to fail, it is because they have so much talent. Matt Schaub is very good, Andrew Johnson is the best receiver in football, Arian Foster is a very very good RB, they have a great offensive line, and Mario Williams, Brian Cushing, and co. are fantastic. I am hard on them because I am sick of seeing it all wasted for any variety of reasons. It used to be mental weakness, but this year it was just the secondary. I think they trade up to get one of the best 3 CBs, but if not, they could settle on another DE to go alongside Mario Williams.

I think Wade Phillips is a horrible idea for this team too. I do not like the idea of moving Mario Williams to OLB and making him change such a good thing, and they were fine against the run anyway, they just need better players in the secondary. Do not fix the parts of the defense that work just for the hire.

Frankl,y I am hard on this team because I want them to challenge my Colts. For years the Colts have skated to the playoffs because they just knew how to beat the other three teams. Every year the other teams would show promise and then fold at exactly the moment the Colts wanted. The Texans have all the talent to stand up to the Colts and drive them to be better, yet they never do and it drives me crazy. I am sorry, Texans fans, I am hard on you because I want you to be better. You should have fired Kubiak and brought in someone tougher and you were right to fire Frank Bush. I am not sure if the players were all playing hard for Kubiak or not, but it is time for him to go. Maybe bring Jeff Fisher back to Houston? Discretionary change is the name of the game. Please fix the right parts.

Season Grade: C-

Minnesota Vikings

The F word will not appear in this section. I sort of like the idea of Cam Newton here but it is probably a pipe dream for that many QBs to go at this point. Gabe Carimi on the line maybe? Anthony Costanzo on the line? Nope, I talked myself into Newton. Newton, Harvin, Peterson, Rice. I can’t turn back now, it needs to happen. AND they don’t have to pay him under the table! Granted the defense was bad this year for good portions, but I think Newton just fits. My initial reaction is that a northern team wouldnt take a risk on a player like that, but when you think about it, Culpepper, Harvin, Peterson, and Moss were never the hearty and safe options. The franchise takes risks and I would LOVE to see this one happen.

Ok, I will use the F word once. Why did Favre want to go to Minnesota so badly? Because he heard Sterger (“Regrets” backwards) and co. would be on the Sex Boat on Lake Minnetonka. Boom, roasted. Again, the only reason this isn’t an F is because we shouldn’t have expected F-word to be so good again.

Season Grade: D-

Detroit Lions

Jake Delhomme is about to get Suh'd.

 

The Lions would have won the NFC West by two games if they would have played in the division. That is the kind of progress they made, and they did it without their franchise QB Matthew Stafford and with chronic injuries to Jahvid Best. I was on the bandwagon all year and do not plan on getting off. The guys they would like (top 3 CBs and another good lineman) are probably gone at this point, so I think they will either try and trade up, or just trade down and accumulate picks. The scary thing is that the Lions do not even need the high pick so badly. They are pretty close to set, apart from that secondary guy so this is not so bad. I love me some Lions Kool Aid. Watch out NFC North. I am predicting a 2nd NFC North place finish and a winning record.

Season Grade: B

St. Louis Rams

Ever seen a retard hump a doorknob? Too clichéd. I suggest we change it to “ever seen a Rams player make a catch when it matters”. If there was any doubt in your mind about the OROY (and there shouldn’t have been) then that game should have clinched it. Look at what he is working with! They are awful and he had a great year! He is that rare #1 pick Qb that pans out just as well as they could have hoped and they have got to be ecstatic. They lost Donnie Avery to injury, and they lost other receivers so they are not so lost at receiver as it seems, but this wouldn’t be the worst place to take Justin Blackmon or take a tackle and admit their mistake with Jason Smith from a few years ago. This season as a great one for Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams, and their grade shows it. More deserving than Seattle without a doubt.

Season Grade: A

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins really outdid themselves this year. Not only did they continue their M.O. of disappointing, but they did it while going 1-7 at home and 6-2 on the road. But wait, there’s more! They frequently abandoned the running game early in games, showed a consistent lack of discipline in the secondary, and while Vontae Davis actually emerged as a really good corner, the team as a whole was likely brutal for its fans.

As far as the draft is concerned, there are a few directions they could go. Obviously, this is a defense-heavy draft, but Mark Ingram could possibly go here if they decide they want to get younger at RB. I am not sure if there are any CBs they really want here, but if one falls, you can bet on the Dolphins grabbing him. One of those OLBs might go here as well, but my money would be elsewhere. Tricky spot for the Dolphins right now, and this offseason could o a long way towards determining their future.

Season Grade: B-

Jacksonville Jaguars

It would be a little harsh to call him "Hack Del Rio" but the clock has almost hid midnight for Jack Del Rio.

 

Jack Del Rio needs to go, but he will stick around for at least another year. If you were a Jags fan, and every year the expectation is 8-8 with a fairly unimpressive roster, are you happy? 8-8 is nothing to laugh at, but they are doing themselves no favors being complacent. I originally thought they would be going after a WR here, but I am a believer in Mike Thomas, MSW and Marcedes to hold down the receiving corps, so we have to look elsewhere. They do need secondary help, but maybe the easiest way to help the secondary is by getting more pressure on the QB. As we have said about 50 times, this is a defensive draft, so seeing them go with a defensive lineman wouldn’t be all that surprising. The other option would be an offensive lineman, but the Jaguars are just not a team whose needs are abundantly available right now. Very subtle needs in general.

For the record, my opinion on Del Rio is completely independent of their failure to win the division this year. This is about his body of work with the team, not about his good year this year. Something about the AFC South keeps coaches around.

Season Grade: B+

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders will draft whichever player runs the fastest 40, so that is taken care of. Tom Cable will likely be out, and it brings us to one of the real themes of this offseason. Shouldn’t there be a way for fans to fire the owner? Mike Brown has killed the Bengals for years, Al Davis has been hamstringing the Raiders for a decade, Dan Snyder is getting pretty good himself, and Jerry Jones remains just a little too handsy with him team. If not fire the owner, then at least remove his personnel decision-making abilities?

Regardless, the Raiders were pretty respectable this year, and it looked like they even had a cohesive identity this year with that running game and some solid defensive performances. I would have said they needed an offensive lineman, and they still might, but it is hard to argue with their results running this year, so maybe they just need to re-tool the secondary or something. I would still bet on the offensive line pick, but who knows with the Raiders.

I humored you by acting like the Raiders have a first round pick just to talk about their needs, but guess what? The Patriots have their pick. Thanks, Crypt Keeper Davis.

Season Grade: B+

San Diego Chargers

How do you sum this up? They had the #1 offense. They had the #1 defense. They missed the playoffs. Was it all on the special teams? Was it Norv Turner’s fault? Was it just a little bad luck? Was it legendary unclutchness? What the hell happened? I blame Turner first, but that is largely just because I think he is a bad coach and do not really have a ton of basis for that based on this year. Was it all the negative energy generated by Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson? Was it the lack of a running game? I have no clue. I think they should fire Turner, keep Ron Rivera at just about all costs, and find a new leader. Norv ain’t cuttin it.

As far as the draft, would it be cruel to suggest they draft a special teams player? Yes? Alright, um, maybe grab a corner to go with Cason? Maybe just get deeper? Trade the pick?

Season Grade: C

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This season was literally beyond reproach for the Bucs. I cannot imagine any Bucs fan who would be genuinely unhappy with how the team played this year. Josh Freeman really is Big Ben minus rape even though it is getting clichéd to say that, Mike Williams was outstanding, leGarrette Blount didn’t star alongside Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale, and everyone seemed to step up before the injuries. The improvement across the board was astounding and Raheem Morris is my pick for coach of the year because frankly I think he did the most coaching. I don’t think BB or Haley did that much coaching, but I think Morris made a huge difference. Not sure about their needs, but this was a great season despite the playoff miss. Can’t even think of a negative thing to say about them really.

Season Grade: A

New York Giants

This is a tricky one. A lot of people had them struggling this year (not me, I had them at 10-6. It was one of my few good predictions) but they really underachieved. The Philly game was an obvious mess-up, but with all those turnovers all year long, they just could not keep their pistol pointed away from their foot. Eli was atrocious for big stretches of the year, and evidently none of the Giants backs took notes from Post-Fumbilitis Tiki because it looked like they were trying to carry around a wet bar of soap all year. 10-6 is good. 12-4 was very possible. This Giants season will be remembered for forgotten opportunities, but good for them for not firing Tom Coughlin. He wasn’t the one turning the ball over.

Season Grade: B

The Playoffs

First of all, we are not talking Seahawks football. Sorry, just not happening.

Secondly, the other five NFC teams all have a shot at winning the conference without a doubt. The Packers might be the longest shot entirely because of injuries, but I do not think anyone would be shocked beyond belief if they made it to the Super Bowl. The Bears are probably next least likely, but that is entirely because of Jay Cutler’s decision making, not because of the team as a whole. it is wide open.

Thirdly, the AFC is not nearly as open as it looks. You will think I am a homer for saying this, but I think it is clearly true. The Patriots only fear one team in the AFC, and that is the Colts. If the Chiefs, Ravens, Jets, or Steelers play the Pats in New England, the Pats are cleaning the floor with them. The Colts are the only team in the AFC with a shot at stopping the Patriots.

I don't know about anyone else, but I would gladly back the redcoats against this nunty.

 

So we have two very difference scenarios here. In the NFC, it is wide open and every team has some clear flaw. The Seahawks are a flaw all by themselves, the Eagles are depending on a fragile man and Andy Reid’s time management, the Packers have no running game, the Saints just do not have the magic from last year and they need it, the Bears have a mistake-waiting-to-happen at QB, and the Falcons just lack that thing that makes you really believe in them. After losing to the Saints in the Georgia Dome, some of the allure is gone there, and they are not on too much more solid ground than anyone else.

A random note (confirmed via consultation with a friend): The nickname “Matty Ice” will haunt Matt Ryan his entire career can keep him from being elite. Seriously, do you fear someone going by “Matty”? Or someone that sounds almost liek “Vanilla Ice”? Do you know what I think when I hear Matty? I think “Maddie”, and not even the one from True Grit because that one was spelled “Mattie”. Does Tom Brady have a lame nickname? Manning? Brees? Rivers? No, none of them have nicknames. This will ensure that the Falcons do not win a Super Bowl with him as a major piece.

But allow me to discuss why the Colts are the only team that can challenge the Patriots in the AFC. First off, Peyton Manning owns Rex Ryan like the Yankees owned Pedro, except Rex Ryan isnt a little pitcher with ungodly stuff. I wouldn’t say Ryan put his foot in his mouth (joke intended) talking about how it was personal about Manning, I jsut don’t think it will matter. If the Jets beat the Colts, it will be because their offense excels, not because the defense stymies them. However, this statement concerns more than just the Jets game. The Colts have quietly shut down MoJo Drew, Chris Johnson, and Darren McFadden the last three weeks, and have been outstanding defensively for long stretches. The Tennessee game was really their first slip up, and it was against a division rival who you expect to give you a good game. Also keep in mind that when the Colts played the Pats, they ere missing Gary Brackett, who is like the anti-Woodhead. He blows players like that up because he is one of them, and that will frustrate the Pats greatly when they suddenly are not getting 5 extra yards after contact. Secondly, the Colts have been running the ball like crazy, and it has made all the difference. Being able to run the ball not only makes the Colts more balanced in general, but makes it much harder for Bill Belichick to gear his defense toward Manning.

Why are these things that the Colts have that are unique to them and not the other quality teams? Joe Flacco does not scare the Patriots at all. Neither does the diminished Ravens secondary. The Chiefs without Weis is a big deal too, and they were never likely to beat the Patriots anyway. The Steelers got annihilated by the Patriots because they have one major threat on offense and tend to get away from the run (though I would make them 3rd most able to beat the Pats). The Jets buried the game ball, but not the fact that the Pats now have their number.

Not your typical Manning season, but the team is on a roll.

 

NFL to the Colts: Help us Peyton-Wan Kenobi! You’re our only hope!

Sorry, I had to.

But what does that make my pick? I am taking the Eagles in the NFC. Why? Why not. I do not think Vick can stay mistake free the entire team, but I just do not trust any NFC team. The winner is coming from the AFC. And in that AFC? I am taking the Patriots and it will not be close. They will beat everyone without breaking a sweat and make up for the 18-1 season by really earning this one. They deserve it. What? I’ve never heard of something called a reverse jinx. And sarcasm isn’t something I do. Patriots 44, Eagles 20.

Overall Picks

Colts over Jets, Chiefs over Ravens (though I am shaky on it without Weis)
Patriots over Chiefs, Steelers over Colts
Patriots over Steelers

Again, please take these AFC picks with a grain of salt as the last thing I would do is pick my own team and risk jinxing them.

Saints over Seahawks (closer than you think), Eagles over Packers (the power of a rested Vick)
Eagles over Bears (I trust Cutler less than Andy Reid), Saints over Falcons (the bounce back from the Seahawks game)
Eagles over Saints (In a poorly played squeaker)

And yes, the Eagles could easily lose to the Packers in the first round. Just one of those years.

Patriots over Eagles

Also, I have historically been awful at picking the playoffs, so don’t put any money on my opinions here.

Awards and Some Fun

MVP: Tom Brady. You could go with “best player best team”. You could go with “best stats”. You could go with “holy crap he has played better than anyone this year and it is pretty undeniable”. They all work.?
Honorable Mention: Michael Vick, Roddy White, Peyton Manning

Defensive Player of the Year: Julius Peppers. Quietly a gigantic impact and unblockable just like the good old days in Carolina.
Honorable Mention: If this was Most Valuable Defensive Player, I would go with Ed Reed and Ndammukong Suh, but it is DPOY. Cameron Wake gets my “favorite new defensive player” award, but again, that is not the award. The HMs here is Clay Matthews

OROY: Sam Bradford. See above, and there is just no one else in his league.
Honorable Mention: Mike Williams (TB),  LeGarrette Blount, Aaron Hernandez/Rob Gronkowski (NE)

DROY: Ndammukong Suh. Because no one else was close. He is the 2nd best D-lineman in the league right now (Haloti Ngata).
Honorable Mention: Devin McCourty is a distant second, and third is almost as distant.

Coach of the Year:  Raheem Morris. See above.
Honorable Mention: Belichick, Todd Haley

Comeback Player of the Year: Michael Vick. No one else was close to the point I am not giving honorable mention.

NFL Man of the Year: Andre Johnson. Video below.

The All-Clowns Team

Yup, we are making a team for the Clowns. In this case, it is not the players who are clowns so much, but because these are players who were once good and now are done. Sort of like you if you have settled on a career as a clown. The important thing to remember is that these players were good at one point, but now suck, so the career scrubs are out. Say bye to these guys. And yes, they are partial lists because I don’t have time to think up guys on both sides of the ball, but don’t let that stop you, dear reader.

QB: Carson Palmer (CIN-captain)
RB: Clinton Portis (WAS)
RB: LaDanian Tomlinson (NYJ)
WR: Randy Moss (NE/MIN/TEN)
WR: Chad Ochocinco (CIN)
TE: Chris Cooley (WAS)
T: Ryan Diem (IND)
G: Leonard Davis (DAL)
C: Andre Gurode (DAL)

Reserves: Donovan McNabb, Thomas Jones, Felix Jones (placed here due to fantasy football bitterness), Reggie Wayne (not really, but declining fast), Hines Ward (probably was done for a few years now really).

All OTC Team

This one is for all my guys. They aren’t the best players in the league, and they are all from the middle-class, but they are good and people need to know about it. Admittedly I started to run out of guys and had to go a little more name-brand at times.

QB: Kyle Orton (DEN). Josh Freeman was a close second, but give me Captain Neckbeard/ Kyle The Bottle.
RB: Joseph Addai (IND). Tough yardage is his middle name and an amazing blocker and good receiver. Underrated.
RB: LeSean McCoy (PHI). He is one of those guys that would be borderline elite on most teams, but on Andy Reid’s team, he is just underrated. He can do it all.
WR: Anquan Boldin (BAL). A tough guy that will block and go across the middle, but he can also finesse you. Always underrated in Arizona, and Flacco just isn’t that good.
WR: Legedu Naannee (SD). More than a slot receiver.
WR: Davone Bess (MIA). He is playing the slot for me and will be my leading receiver if I have my way. My favorite random NFL player. It’s not close.
TE: Jimmy Graham (NO). I was looking for a guy who could block a little more, but I will settle for the extremely athletic TE.
OL: Too hard to single out one guy on each O-Line.
DE: Cameron Wake (MIA), Tamba Hali (KC). Love the motors on both of them and they are a menace.
DT: Eric Foster (IND), Ahtyba Rubin (CLE). Fiesty, solid, and good.
OLB: James Anderson (CAR), Geno Hayes (TB). Fast, good tacklers, and underrated.
MLB: London Fletcher (WAS). Gary Brackett Sr. Gotta love him.
CB: Jerraud Powers (IND), Brandon Flowers (KC). Good ball-skills and good cover-skills.
SS: Malcolm Jenkins (NO). Converted corner making the transition very well from what I have seen.
FS: Antoin Bethea (IND). I realize I am heavy on Colts here, but he clearly belongs on the list.

Head Coach: Jim Schwartz (DET). I was going to take Tomlin, but we all know how good he is.
OC: Mike Mularkey (ATL). Watch out, he is about to leave the underrated ranks for the overrated ranks.
DC: I am running a 4-3 with this team, but I want Crennel/Mangini to do it. Screw it, I am just going to act like they run a 4-3.
Special Teams Coach: Just kidding, no favorite special teams coach.

Ok, here’s the point.This team is probably a borderline playoff team on paper, but there are good players to be found out there if you look around a little. Granted, Anquan Boldin and Percy Harvin might be a bit hard to pick up, but they are players who have much more than meets the eye and are worth a look.

So is everything covered? All those loose ends tied up before heading to Spain? It has been a great year and I regret not getting to cover the playoffs, but a great college experience looms. Do not give up on us and we will be back before you know it.

 

The Clowns are going further out of town. A live report from the Bernabeu? Keep your fingers crossed.

 

 

NFL Week 11 The Thanksgiving Binge Edition

Well, it took 11 weeks, but I now understand every team in the NFL. I may not get them all right, but I can at least predict what they will do on a somewhat weekly basis. I can even document it as I went 11-4 against the spread, and on two of them (Raiders @ Steelers, and Texans @ Jets), I reasoned against myself with what actually happened before taking the wrong side. Too bad I didn’t put any money on it. But, this whole understanding is important for another reason: the playoffs. That is right, I am about to make projections for something that will not happen for another couple months, and those those projections will be based on things that are almost guaranteed to change in those months. Isn’t journalism great?

Happy Turkey Day!

The best part is I can go ahead and guarantee these predictions because I know that no one will A) remember what I wrote in November about the playoffs, and B) no one will hold me accountable. Is it the online format that takes away the principle of accountability or is there just something inherent about blogs that lets you write off outlandish statements as just being that person stating their opinion as fact? I don’t know, but I love it.

So while we are going to lay out the rankings as usual, we are going to have some playoff talk at the bottom about what it takes to win a Super Bowl and which teams have it. I usually have some wiggle room for interpretation of the rankings, but for the most part, I am entirely convinced that these teams belong where they are. Let’s get to it.

Just a warning: this article exceeds 6,500 words. Sorry, I was in the binge-spirit of Thanksgiving. Feel free to skip around, but we have significant information on every team.

32. Carolina Panthers

This is the worst team in football, bar none. I actually liked the effort for most of the game against the Ravens, but they clearly did not have a shot. Mike Goodson might let them deal/waive DeAngelo Williams (no, seriously) and save some cash while they figure out what they are going to do with their team. They do not have any quarterbacks they like on their roster, they only have one wide receiver they actually like, and a handful of individual defensive players they like that just cannot execute the scheme at all. I am truly astounded at how bad they have been, and despite my occasional hysterics, I am not astounded at this level often.

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31. Cincinnati Bengals

I am not sure what the Bengals Fail de Gras was in this game. Was it blowing a 28-7 lead? At home? Against the Bills? After showing pretty well against the Colts? All I can say for Bengals fans is that they should be happy about the local blackout, because few things are as brutal as watching Ryan Fitzpatrick significantly outplay Carson Palmer and letting a 1-8 team shut you out in the 2nd half. Before this next little tirade, I need to clarify that I am usually not in favor of rash decisions or cutting players/firing coaches mid-season for performance.

If you are going to get stuffed by Buffalo Bill, this is not the worst thing. Also as threatening as the Bengals.

With that said, Marvin Lewis should be fired. Carson Palmer should be benched, but then they could not trade him or even dream of it. I could see the Cardinals biting. Jordan Palmer should be cut for being related to Carson Palmer. Paul Alexander (Offensive line/asst. head coach) should be fired. Bob Bratkowski (Offensive Coordinator) should be fired. Kyle Caskey (Offensive Quality Control, whatever that is) should be fired. Hell, just his title is a fire-able offense. Andre Smith should be cut even though he is on Injured Reserve. He isn’t injured he is obese and has no work ethic. Bengals GM Mike Brown needs to be fired above all else. I know they were 10-6 last year. I know they were good. But I also know that what I am seeing on the field is the ultimate in players not buying into the scheme, coaches not doing their jobs correctly, and fans not being able to stand it.

Last year there were two things you knew for sure about the Bengals: they would run the ball, and they would be tough, especially on defense. 49 points to Buffalo, and a season full of not running the ball later, I think the offensive coaches have gone completely insane. The defensive line has been a letdown too, and things just need to change.

It is time for a new era in Cincinnati. An era that does not depend on egomania, low character guys (looking at you Tank Williams and TO in particular), and constant media flurries. They do not have to hire Tony Dungy, install baptismal showers and hire a personal priest/minister for every player, but they need to undo what happened this year, and that unfortunately means starting over since they cannot turn the clocks on Carson Palmer back 5 years. This regime has run its course. Start now while your fans will still appreciate that you are in touch with reality.

And think, I am not even a Bengals fan. If there are any Bengals fans readers out there, let us know by emailing outtatownclowns@yahoo.com. I would love to hear the horror stories.

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30. Arizona Cardinals

I am fairly sure they will bite on Carson Palmer, if dangled. Just saying. Anyway, what is there to say about the Cardinals? Derek Anderson’s numbers in mop up time probably looked good enough for Bidwell to want to extend him, but I hope for Cardinals faithful (all 9 of you) that they do not buy into The Cockroach. Why the cockroach, as I dubbed him on Twitter at one point? You just cannot kill him. He always finds a way to get back on the field and make things worse. However, he is far from their only problem. It is getting to be that time where Cards fans admit they whiffed on the Beanie Wells pick almost as badly as the Colts whiffed on Donald Brown. Hakeem Nicks anyone? The defense has been bad, but I will not even hold this week against them as no one wins in Kansas City. The team is just awful. I think the most telling thing is that the team seemed noticeably less dangerous with Larod Stephens-Howling was out. Can there be a surer sign you are a bad team? I think not. Look at the bright side, there is a quality draft pick coming. Well, as long as you pick a quality player.

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29. Denver Broncos

The y have been plagued by inconsistency lately, but more so, they have been plagued by Knowshon Moreno’s injury and being unable to stop anyone on defense. They actually started with some serious promise, but all that promise is gone and the only things they really have to look forward is ruining a division rival’s playoff chances, getting Dumervil back next year and adding that big piece (possibly) through the draft. The Tebow experiment is actually going well in Denver, in the sense that Orton has played well enough they they have not needed Tebow and can let him grow, but it is absolutely imperative that fans realize how well Orton is playing and do not call for Tebow before it is time. This team is not THAT far away, they just need to revamp the defense and get a go-to-guy on offense.

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28. Minnesota Vikings

The Wicked Old Childress is gone!

Monday was a great day for Vikings faithfu. They no longer need to hide their kids and hide their wives (and husbands cuz they rapin everybody out here. LINK HERE), the child molester impersonator is gone. I was making Wizard of Oz jokes last week, but I should have saved it for this. He is not necessarily the worst X and O coach around, but he is a demotivational poster all by himself. I would hire him as my offensive coordinator, but never as my coach. Frankly, they are a better team than this, but good luck trying to convince me to pick them for the rest of teh year. Their QB is an artifact, their defense has been way worse than it should be, and there is just discord all around this team. Seriously, when was the last time you heard of a team’s players saying “I hate the coach” WHILE HE WAS EMPLOYED??? And then he calls out Percy Harvin, their best player for much of the season, for not working hard enough? Bye bye Vikings.

I love the Leslie Frazier hire and I think they will make strides under him, but they have a tough schedule upcoming and they may not show the progress on the field. The Tavaris Jackson Era needs to restart soon for the good of the franchise. It is not like this is Green Bay where they cared about his legacy, he is a rental, right? Get Tavaris in there.

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27. St. Louis Rams

They are much-improved, but they cannot win the on road. If they are at home, they are a legitimate team to pick, but on the road, you can count on them to lose close games. Think Tampa. Think San Francisco. They are really not a bad team and they ahve been ravaged byinjuries but let’s call it baby steps. I love Sam Bradford, I love the defense, I even love how Steven Jackson has stayed healthy. However, they are not quite tehre to really make moves.

Steve Spagnuolo deserves Coach of the Year consideration, but not the award, for all he has done. That defense has been one of the quiet successes of the year.

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26. Seattle Seahawks

And so the NFC West hate goes on. You know why I had such a good week this week picking games? I picked specifically against NFC West teams. I mean Saints -11.5 over the Seahawks is one thing, but Bucs +3.5 over 49ers,  Chiefs -8 over Cards, and Atlanta -3 over St. Louis were all fairly easy picks. I realize one of them is going to the playoffs, but that does not mean that they are in the top half. The Seahawks, like the Rams cannot win away from home, except against the mediocre 7-3 Bears. They are clearly decent, but they are not good. I don’t even care if tehy make the playoffs. I am serioulsy just relieved to have not seen them all year. I sense they would be brutal to watch.

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25. San Francisco 49ers

They got housed in their own house by Tampa, but that is not really that big of a deal. I still think they are the best team in that division, but they are clearly not a good team. A good team doesn’t turn to Troy Smith as its savior. Ever. I can see them making a push, but only if that push is followed by a satisfying plop and a flush. I mostly am just putting them above the Seahwaks on principle, but they are not good either. Moving on.

On the bright side, you will not have to read about the NFC West the rest of this column.

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24. Buffalo Bills

Somebody break up the Bills! Two straight wins and fairly impressive showings in each. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, and Steve Johnson create an offensive chimera (sentence never before written), and while the defense is not good. they did shut the Bengals in the second half. Can I go ahead and pick them to beat the Pats or Jets down the stretch just for fun? Bottom line is that they are on their way up, and if I did not have a chubby for the next team up, they would probably go above them.

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23. Detroit Lions

I been lovin’ me some Detroit Drank all season and somehow putting them at #23 counts as being on the bandwagon. They have dropped their last two to the Bills and Cowboys, but both seemed to be supernautral situations (Bills avoiding 0-16 fears and Cowboys proving Garrett loyalty) and I cannot hold that against the Lions. The big question for them going forward is if Matthew Stafford can stay healthy and if they can add those one or two pieces needed to really make this team a playoff contender. They are going to be a lot of people’s sexy (and inaccurate) Super Bowl pick at the beginning of next year, but they have earned at least some accolade after their showing this year.

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22. Cleveland Browns

They have made great strides this year, but they are not quite there. They have played everyone close this year, and that is a huge success for them, but there is a huge difference between being able to play close games and win close games. I think we should know this by now with the Browns as they have lost just about every close game they have played this year. Now, if you are looking for betting advice, they are usually safe to cover, but if you are looking for them to win, you will end up disappointed. I love Peyton Hillis, and I think Colt McCoy can be their guy going forward, but they are about 4 pieces away from being legitimate. Those pieces are a large possession WR (such as Greg Childs out of Arkansas in the upcoming draft), a playmaking safety (plenty of those around these days), a lockdown (or semi-lockdown) corner, and maybe a rush linebacker to get a little more pressure on the QB. That is really, really reasonable to ask of a franchise going forward. I expect 8-8 next year assuming the schedule is reasonable and no one significantly regresses. Lots of reason for excitement down the road, but they are just not a team that can win games right now.

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21. Houston Texans

Say it with me everyone! THE TEXANS JUST FIND WAYS TO LOSE GAMES!!!!!!!!! God, I would hate me if I was a Texans fan, but at this point I do not think anyone can really dispute it. We know there is talent on that team, but they just find ways to lose. Sometimes it is the lack of mental toughness, sometimes it is the horrendous pass defense, and sometimes it is Sage Rosenfels trying to hurdle defenders and getting helicoptered, but it is always something. Shame on me for buying in after beating the Colts (a game they geared their entire offseason towards) and coming back against the mediocre Redskins in week 2. They are the same old Texans. Gary Kubiak, walk the plank.

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20. Dallas Cowboys

The Boys will be just fine for the rest of the season. Whether or not Cowboys fans should be genuinely excited by this, I do not know, but it is something. They will run efficeint offense and play just enough defense to beat most teams, but they still have a tough schedule remaining so they are still completely dead. I am not sure if this Garrett resurgence is real or just a phenomenon, but I am willing to pick them as long as they keep playing like they did against the Lions. They were not very good, but they were good enough, and that is what you can expect for the rest of the year. Tony Romo should not bother coming back this year, and I am not just saying that because I have Kitna on my fantasy team. There is no reason for him to come back until next year, so why rush it?

I am on record stating that Garrett will fail as a head coach. I am going to stick to it and I think history will ultimately back me on it, despite this hot start.

19. Tennessee Titans

Speaking of overhyped Titans, TA-DA! So much for that big Randy Moss acquisition, right? At least they don’t have quarterback issues, right? At least Bud Adams and his coach are on the same page, right? This repetition is getting annoying, right? Right. Well regardless, I have no option but to simply write them off as pretenders at this point even though they are only one game out in the South and will have plenty of games to catch up (they play the Colts twice). However, nothing screams “WE ARE DONE” more than losing to the Down-to-their-3rd string Dolphins and losing to the Redskins. And they were supposed to be the sleeper pick…

Before I lay this out, here are the criteria for VY’s next tteam. They cannot be a team with a top pick (they would rather draft), they have to have serious present/future issues at QB, and they must seem like a place that would make a move for him (i.e. you cannot see a team like the Jags making a move for him, can you?).

Top 5 most likely destinations for Vince Young:

Where will he run now?

1) Arizona Cardinals- They need him, they already had Matt Leinart, so why not grab the other floppish QB from that draft class, and you can just see him in that uniform, right?

2) Minnesota Vikings- Favre will be gone (probably), they have zero faith in Tavaris, and Leslie Frazier might want a new QB for his new regime. I can see this one happening without a doubt.

3) Seattle Seahawks- Pete Carroll knows first-hand what the kid can do, and call me crazy, but I could see Vince Young, Marshawn Lynch and Receiver-to-be-named-later being a solid offense if they have a good defense behind them.

4) Cincinnati Bengals- I would not bet on this one, but I could see Palmer getting traded (to Arizona in particular) and the Bengals making a move on Young with some of the pieces they get for Palmer.

5) Miami Dolphins- Again, I would not bet on this, but is it so hard to imagine the Fins jumping ship on Henne and going with Yougn, the running game, and Brandon Marshall? It wouldn’t surprise me all that much.

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18. Oakland Raiders

Why so low? 1-4 on the road. However, I still have a hard time finding things to really dislike about their team. They can guard you man to man on the edges most of the time, they can run the ball both efficiently and for boatloads of yardage, and they get big plays out of the passing game, which is really all they need it for. The brewing QB debacle could prove problematic, but otherwise I am high on this team. I realize I have them pretty low, but 14-19 are all pretty even right now. The parity is pretty big at the top of the league, but it is equally big in that 14-19 range.

I will gladly accept an honorary seat on the Raiders bandwagon under two conditions. One, it does not require me ot pick them for the playoffs; and two, I do not have to sit next to Al Davis of Tom Cable.

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17. Miami Dolphins

Normally, the big problem in Miami is getting the team to stop underperforming, but right now it is just about health. Losing Henne and Pennington is one thing, but losing about 3 big pieces on defense is a huge deal for a team that is not elite on either side of the ball. Perhaps even more amazing is that Ronnie Brown is not among the walking wounded (yet), and that maybe Tyler Thigpen isn’t a bad option. Maybe he finally convinces the coaches to run the ball. You know, like they did successfully all last year. They handle the hyped Titans the week Moss arrives, but can’t handle the Bears at home on Thursday? Normally you could write it off as the same old Dolphins, but it is really all about those injuries. Regardless, they are dead for the playoffs, and who knows if their effort will start to reflect that.

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16. Washington Redskins

Average team, average logo

They don’t win pretty. Hell, they barely even win ugly, but they do win, and they get credit for that.  I think the Redskins might just be the most average team in the league. They do not win or lose by much (except for that absolute cremation at the hands of Michael Vick), they play above average, unspectacular defense, they have rotating tailbacks you have not heard of (Keiland Williams, anyone?), mediocre QB where the fans think he is better than he is, and wide receivers who are fast and lack route-running. Can you think of anything more average than that? 5-5 works too. They are capable or beating anyone, losing anyone, and doing it at home or on the road. Average is really just the word for the Washington Redskins.

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15. Kansas City Chiefs

So I still like the Chiefs, but can I PLEASE see something out of them on the road? I mean they play aat Arrowhead and look like a playoff team, then go on the road and need mop up touchdowns to make the score look respectable against the Broncos? What the heck, KC? Maybe they just need their Gates BBQ for pre-game meals or something because they are really just two different teams depending on where the game is being played. However, they are good enough to be way up here while the Rams are way down the list because there is something I can (almost) absolutely count on with them. They will run the ball well, and they will play tough, effective defense every week and that is enough for me. They are a very solid and quality team but unimpressive away from home. I mean at least they tend to play fairly well on the road, even if they do not win. That is all I can really ask of this young team for now.

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14. Chicago Bears

How does humble pie taste? I don’t know, I refuse to eat it on the Bears. Why are they 7-3? Why? They lost to the Seahawks at home! They barely survived the Lions in week 1 (calvin Johnson vs The Ground) and they have beaten up on bad teams, or caught teams at the right time (like Miami on a short week with a 3rd string quarterback and a depleted secondary) and all of a sudden they are 7-3. HOW??? Their only really quality win was over Green Bay when they were heading into their mini-tailspin, and other than that they have feasted on the junk teams.

Who doesn't like real bears?

Ok, let’s just TRY to look at this objectively. Imagine the average NFL team. You can use the Skins if you want since I just called them that, but imagine the average. How do they do in each game? My prediction is next to the team, but feel free to put your own prediction in.

vs Det W
@ Dal W (given how they were playing at this point)
vs GB   L
@ NYG  L
@ Car   W
vs Sea   W
vs Wash  Toss Up
BYE
@ Buf in Toronto  W
vs Min   W
@ Mia   W (given injuries)

8-2/7-3 …

Seriously, is there anything about being 7-3 against that? Look, Chicago, you have given us a lot of things over the years. Deep dish, a host of  world-class musicians and athletes, and a great city in the Midwest, but don’t give me any lip about your team. They are garbage. They might make the playoffs, and they might be able to win a playoff game because they play good defense, but stop telling me they are good. 7-3 means something. But it doesn’t mean what you think it means.

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13. Jacksonville Jaguars

Maybe it is time we take the Jaguars seriously. I mean the second we do it, they will go away so maybe it is for the best.nGarrard is due for a stinker even worse than the one he had in the second half against Cleveland, and the defense has to give out at some point,, but when? Like the Redskins, they are not a great team, but they know how to win games, and clichéd though it may be, there is no doubt that it is a huge factor in being able to make a push for the playoffs. Just ask the Texans. But are they lucky or good? A little of both, but that does not mean they are not good. I am not worried about them taking the division crown from my Colts, but I would not be shocked to see them hang in there either, so I am going to stick with them at 13.

I can never tell if Jack Del Rio is doing a good job or not. Should I be impressed he has this team where it is, or should I be critical of him for not doing it every year and letting his team slump every other year? Should he stay on because the Jags are ok with all this or should they dump him and take a risk on someone else? No clue. If you are reading this, help me out Jacksonville fans. Assuming you are real. I have no idea if there are actually Jaguars fans.

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12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

He thrives in crunchtime

Who are you and what have you done with the Bucs? When did Raheem Morris become a quality coach? When did Punchy Blount and Cadillac Williams become a quality duo? When did Josh Freeman become Ben Rapethlisberger minus the rape? When did this team learn how to win close games? At this point, the Bucs players probably do not even know, but they are still sitting at 7-3 and will be fighting it out with the Bears for that final playoff spot unless the Giants figure it out quick.

The only thing that really keeps me off this bandwagon is the incredible comfort of their schedule. Let’s do the same thing we did with the Bears. How does an average team do against this schedule:

vs Cle W
@ Car W
vs Pit L
BYE
@ Cin W
vs NO L
vs StL W
@ AZ W
@ Atl L
vs Car W
@ SF W

That is exactly what they have done. Do we know they are much above average? Not really. But they have been great late in games and that counts for a lot in this league. Bears fans probably hate me right now for making the same case for both teams and hating on the Bears. C’est la vie.

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11. San Diego Chargers

Here come the Fightin’ Norvs, as usual. The Chargers are that kid who shows up late to whatever he is going to (slow start), is a gigantic douche about it (Rivers), but then is so much fun that you kind of forget he was late until the party is almost over (late season surge) and he pees himself on the dance floor (Chargers playoff failures). Suddenly you remember why you didn’t like hanging out with him.

Right now, they are clearly doing the Dougie like John Wall on the dance  floor (in some pseudo-reality where that is cool), and they are winning, but do not let it influence you down the road. They have one last big roadblock this week in the Colts before they are officially the division favorite, but I a still sticking to my prediction of a 7-0 finish to the year post-bye week. However, all those drinks the Chargers downed while being cool the second half of the season have to go somewhere. Exit stage left/boxers/down their jeans. The only question remaining is who they do it against. My early money is on them to beat the Steelers/Ravens in wild card week, let everyone think they are amazing, and then crash out against the Pats or something. It is hard to find a real disappointment for them with so many good playoff teams. I am sure they will do just fine on their own.

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10. Indianapolis Colts

Before we talk about the team, we should probably talk about that Colts-Patriots game. The most important player for the Colts never changes, however, apart from Peyton Manning, the guy who could have  helped the Colts most was Gary Brackett.  The tackling was a serious issue for the Colts and Brackett does not miss the tackles that Angerer missed. He would have been huge.

Who knew?

With that being said, the Colts played that game without Bob Sanders, Melvin Bullitt, Gary Brackett, Clint Session, Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai, and Mike Hart. During the game, they lost another backup safety, Austin Collie, and Antoine Bethea. They lost by 3 to a team that many call the best in the league. In a place Tom Brady has won 25 straight games. Think about that. Blair White and Jacob Tamme were two of the bigger targets for Peyton Manning, and they lost to the Patriots on the road by 3. And you want to argue Manning-Brady?

That last drive had to have every Patriots fan soiling themselves. Before the pick (created by getting pressure on Manning for the first time in 8 minutes), Manning was ready to score 3 touchdowns in 8 minutes against a team that is supposed to be the best in the league? Regardless, the Colts are just fine as long as they keep getting healthy and use this loss as a learning experience. If the defense realizes that the second half is what they have to do every half, and that they cannot afford to let Manning win them every game. If they take this loss as a challenge, they can still be a title contender, but they need to learn from this game.

It was the most excruciating regular season loss in a long time, but it is not even top 5 as far as excruciating losses. The regular season is just not a huge deal. For me, it goes the Super Bowl, the Scifres/Sproles game,  the Vanderjagt game, the Billy Volek game, and any Patriots game, in that order.

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9. New York Giants

If they do not figure out their turnover problem, they will miss the playoffs. Period.  They have all the  talent and scheme in the world, but if they cannot stop trying to gift wrap games for people, they will be done. I like all the pieces they have, although they are accumulating injuries quickly, but turnovers could end up being the thread that completely unravels the quilt when pulled on.

From that side, the Giants are pretty simple to pin down, but from other angles, the Giants are incredibly interesting. I cannot think of too many players who have made a bigger jump than Hakeem Nicks this year. He is absolutely frightening  and although I have not seen him much, I think he can be a Roddy White type down the road.  They have their possession guy in Steve Smith, Eli Manning is putting together another very nice year, and Ahmad Bradshaw is really as good as he looks. What don’t they have? I mean every team could use a shutdown corner, but even without one they are a pretty impressive team all around. If they figure out the turnover issue, they can make a run in the playoffs. If they do not figure it out, they will miss the playoffs.

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This says it all


8. Green Bay Packers

Here is why Aaron Rodgers is not an elite QB. When Jermichael Finley got hurt, my confidence in Aaron Rodgers went way down. More importantly, he has not played as well since he went out. The point? One of the special things about elite quarterbacks is that your confidence in them does not drop when they are missing pieces. Aaron Rodgers has been significantly more turnover-prone since  Finley’s injury, and that is a big deal for his elite status.

However, Rodgers aside, the Pack is playing great right now. They are almost to the point of being back to where we projected the pre-season, but there is just something about them that leaves you a little uneasy. They clearly have the talent and requisite pieces to make a playoff run, but there is just something (other than Mike McCarthy) that makes you uneasy about their long-range chances.

All that being said, few teams are playing as well as the Packers.

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7. Pittsburgh Steelers

How fast can I get lukewarm about a team? When it comes in the form of not being able to win big games at home (vs New England) and not being able to control your emotions in a blowout against the Raiders, the answer is pretty fast. I have a few issues with the Steelers, but my main issues are that they abandon their running game, and they seem to play badly in crunchtime. They also seem to have a suspicious lack of close game experience that really shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is hard to really trust them in the playoffs when they have not felt the heat to some extent in the regular season. I could accept putting them higher, but I have six teams I genuinely like more.

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6. Baltimore Ravens

The more you watch this defense with Ed Reed vs without Ed Reed, you realize how important he is. Without him, they were barely able to turn teams over and became a fairly standard and unintimidating defense, but with him they are back to running picks back like it is no big deal. It really cannot be overstated. This defense is back to where it was last year, which is to say it is very good, though not what it was back in the glory days.

The offense is another story. It is scary, but maybe not the kind of scary that it could be. The receiving corps is next to impossible to defend, and the Rice-McClain backfield is hard to shut down. Together, the offense should be just about unstoppable. However, Joe Flacco is the key part. If he plays up to the level of his teammates, the Ravens can beat anyone. If he plays to his level for most of this year, the Ravens are vulnerable to just about everyone and could find themselves on the couch come late January.

He is ultimately the reason the Ravens are not my Super Bowl pick. If you put Mark Sanchez, Matt Ryan, or Kyle Orton (QBs of a similar echelon) at QB for this team, I would probably pick them, but as it is, I cannot.

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Here comes the running game!

5. New Orleans Saints

What made the Saints of last year different from the Saints of years before that? They ran the ball and their defense created turnovers at exactly the right moment. This year, they have gone almost completely without running backs, and yet they are 7-3, the defense is playing great ball, and Brees has been as good as ever considering everyone knows he is going to be throwing it. What is not to like here? I continue to expect the Saints to be the experts’ pick to win the NFC going into the playoffs because we have yet to see them at full strength.

The interesting thing will be seeing them play on Thanksgiving tomorrow. Dallas is far from an easy game right now, and this could just be a game that the Saints lose from the situation. The Cowboys are playing well right now, home teams have a marked advantage in Thursday games, and with Reggie Bush just coming back now, it might just be too soon for them to be back on the same page. If they can win that game, then it could be a sign of things to come for the defending champions.

They have what it takes, but I cannot pick them.

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4. New England Patriots

Ugh. First off, congrats to them on winning that game. Every team needs to win games they barely deserve to win, and my hat goes off to the Pats for gutting it out. However, a Super Bowl contender does not let its arch rival almost score 21 points in 8 minutes to come back. Ever.

But here is the worst thing. They remind me of the Saints from last year. They have a defense that gives up way too many yards, and is not rated highly, but steps up in big moments. They have a running game that is vastly underrated and is a big part of their success. They have an outstanding quarterback surrounded by reliable receivers who will not necessarily strike fear, but will do their job well. They even have the great offensive line that does not even let defenses touch their quarterback. They just seem the same, and I hate it as a Colts fan. I do not want to think about the Saints, let alone the Patriots.

But ho-hum the Pats are 8-2 and virtual playoff locks. Home-field would be huge given their home record, but it is not a necessity for their success like the team below. I could see them hoisting the Lombardi trophy, but I would just hate to see it. Hate.

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3. Atlanta Falcons

Can I see something out of them against a quality road team please? If they get the #1 seed in the playoffs, they will win the NFC. Not a doubt in my mind. If they have to play a road playoff game, they will lose. Still not a doubt in my mind.  I take serious issue with ESPN ranking them #1 when they do not really have any big road wins, but we might have to wait til the Super Bowl to see them in a road game against a good team. They have a game in Tampa Bay, but apart from that their big games (including this week vs the Packers) are all at home. I look forward to the prospect of betting against the Falcons in a Super Bowl, but I wish we could see them tested before then because they are a very likable team and a team that is deserving of a title.

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2. Philadelphia Eagles

Raise your hand if you want to face the Eagles right now. Me either. Stop Vick. Stop Desean Jackson. Stop the blitzes. Stop Shady McCoy. Stop trying to stop them and just hope they have an off day. It seems like the only person who can really stop them is Andy Reid, and that seems pretty plausible.

Frankly I do not see too many reasons they cannot make a playoff run. Vick has sneaky playoff experience (win @ Lambeau, & has played in an NFC Championship Game) too, so it is not like their star QB is going to be completely starstruck in the playoffs either. I want to see them get a little scarier on defense before I pick them to win the Super Bowl, but they aare a candidate without a doubt. They are by far the scariest team in the league right now.

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Make no mistake, he has a big mouth

1. New York Jets

Before I tell you why they are my Super Bowl pick, let me justify their #1 ranking. I am not forgetting about their implosion against the Texans, but I give huge credit for finding ways to win games. They clearly have a pretty good defense,  and they clearly have a good running game, but Mark Sanchez has been a revelation this year. I mean I am still trying to get used to the idea of him being a good quarterback, but these last few weeks, he has won the team games rather than being an obstacle to overcome. That was supposed to be their weakness coming into the season, and what is it now? Focus? Do you think they will have a hard time focusing in a playoff game? Me either. TO me, they are just the best team out there. Would I be more comfortable with it if they had not let the Texans back in? Yeah, but they fact that they have won just about every close game this year is big.

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PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS

I have the Jets because they have a QB who can win them games, but is not absolutely necessary to win the game. In other words, they have a lot of different ways to beat you. Running, passing, defense, special teams, they have it all. They can be front runners, comeback artists, or grind it out winners, and that goes a long way. If the Falcons get home-field, I have the Jets beating the Falcons in the Super Bowl, but if the Falcons have to play a road game, give me the Packers or Saints.

I still have the Jets, Patriots, Colts, Ravens, Steelers, Chargers in the playoffs in the AFC, but in the NFC, I am about ready to replace the Giants with the Bucs, but that remains a tossup. Atlanta, Green Bay, New Orleans, and NFC West Punching Bag #1 are in.

Enjoy some Thanksgiving football, and remember to binge eat responsibly.

Sneak Peek:

NE -6.5 over DETROIT
Cincinnati +9 over NYJ (Changed morning of game)
NO -3.5 over DALLAS (but it will be close)

Ferrells and Fallons: Week 11

By: Matt Kroeger

This Sunday’s game between the Colts and Pats has me predictably over-the-top excited. I am, SHOCKINGLY, a Colts fan. This is the game you clear you see on the schedule at the beginning of the season and clear your calendar for. It is always a dramatic game, one full of history. The Patriots are our mortal enemies and have been over the course of my lifetime. There are many, many fighting points between the two groups: Manning vs. Brady (the biggie), undefeated seasons, Spygate, passing records, Super Bowl rings, intense playoff games, Marvin Harrison’s inexplicable shooting, injuries (this year at least). What this all boils down to is a serious rivalry between two sports families, a rivalry that leads me to type the following sentences: I hope Brady gets his face smashed into the grass on Sunday. I hope he throws five interceptions and fumbles the ball away another three times. I hope Peyton torches that defense for six TDs…in the first half. I hope Belichick cries. I hope Wes Welker gets his bell rung by our third-string safety. I hope a Pats fan gets arrested for running onto the field only to be dragged off on a stretcher because Jeff Saturday pancakes him. I hope Tony Dungy is positively elated with that creepy smile of his on Sunday Night Football, while Rodney Harrison appears noticeably pissed off, leaving Dan Patrick to clumsily break the tension and awkwardly segue into a commercial break.

Now some might think those statements are horrible. “Why would you wish so much malice on them!” It’s nothing personal (well, sort of). It’s just the nature of sports. It’s a rivalry. That’s what you do. I wouldn’t hold it against Patriots fans if they felt the same way about me, just like I would expect them not to hold those comments against me. We can despise each other’s teams while still respecting the competition. Rivalries are what make sports infinitely more entertaining.

But here’s what I really wanted to get at. No one in the sports media openly shows their personal fandom. Reporters, writers, anchors…none of them have a team. Or at least they don’t show it. Rooting for your team is what makes sports so fun, yet these media types are told to remain completely objective and neutral. I understand the rationality for it, but c’mon! Have an opinion! Instead, they all act like Sports is a Biology textbook that they need to study intently before a final exam. Everything is analytical and watered down. There’s no passion.

I want to know who these guys are cheering for. One thing that makes ESPN writer Bill Simmons so interesting is that he openly admits his fan biases. No one holds it against him because he still retains a fair, objective point of view. In fact, I respect him more. He EMBRACES the fan side of it–something you never see anywhere else. Now, I’m not saying that all media members need to go crazy and channel their inner Lou Holtz by blindly supporting their team at all times (that wouldn’t make you a true fan anyway). I just want to see why you’re watching the game to begin with. I still want all the fair and balanced analysis, but when something great or disappointing or surprising or whatever happens for YOUR team, let’s see some emotion. I don’t think that is too much to ask.

Ferrells:

Yes, this Troy Smith.

QB: Troy Smith (SF). The former Heisman-winner has put up back-to-back 115+ QB rating games, and more importantly, won both of them. San Franciscans (and Mike Singletary) rejoice! Finally, a competent QB! I had a soft side towards Alex Smith, but when you need to make a change, you need to make a change.  I liked the fact that that Troy threw for 356 yards and 1 TD last week on only 28 passes. I like that he is mobile. I like that he is under control (no picks). The Bucs are great against the pass statistically, but I think their record is a little misleading. Six wins against Cleveland, Carolina (twice), Cincy, St. Louis, and Arizona. Those five teams have a combined record of 13-32. They’re hanging tough and shocking the world, but I wouldn’t let my expectations get carried away for them.

Other options: Michael Vick (PHI), Kyle Orton (DEN), Tom Brady (NE)

(Last week: Eli Manning vs. DAL…33-48, 373 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT)

RB: Jamal Charles (KC). Charles sort of slips under the radar sometimes, but he is averaging six yards per carry. That is freaking impressive. And he catches balls out of the backfield. Somehow Charles only has three total touchdowns. He may match that number this week alone against the Cardinals. The Cards are 28th against the run and are just miserable all-around, yet they have three wins and are still in the division race. Remarkable. These guys need to draft a quarterback desperately. But back to Charles: it shocks me that Haley doesn’t give him more opportunities. I guess that’s the downside of a tandem-back strategy.

Other options: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (NE), Cedric Benson (CIN), Felix Jones (DAL)

(Last week: Foster vs. JAC…15 rush, 56 yds, 1 TD)

WR: Greg Jennings (GB). Jennings has been on fire the past four weeks: 25 grabs, 368 yards and 3 TDs. Interestingly, he’s reverted back to elite receiver status only after his teammates went down with injuries. Can we really say that he is elite, then? Regardless, I wrote on Ducks that I felt like this was Favre’s last game as he will either be a) injured, b) benched for poor performance during a blowout, or c) benched for week 12 after a loss that nudges the Vikings out of playoff contention. Either way, I like the Packers’ players’ fantasy odds this week, sort of like a milder version of the Eagles’ performances in week 10.

Other options: Dwayne Bowe (KC, who I owe an apology for doubting earlier in the year), Jacob Tamme (IND), Malcom Floyd (SD)

(Last week: Mike Wallace vs. NE…8 catch, 136 yds, 2 TD)

Fallons:

QB: Jay Cutler (CHI). Dolphins are sixth against the pass and are at home, plus Cutler is unpredictable. And don’t think that o-line fixed itself in two games; the Bears played the Bills and Vikings, both of which are bad teams. So there.

Other candidates: Peyton Manning (IND), Brett Favre (MIN), David Garrard (JAC)

(Last week: Flacco vs. ATL…22-34, 215 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT)

"You da man, Big Ben!"

RB: Rashard Mendenall (PIT). This is a major blow to my fantasy team. Ben Roethlisberger is single-handedly crippling my team, and he isn’t even on it. I was afraid this would happen. The Steelers looked like a dominant team before he got there. They ran the ball, and they ran it WELL. Mendenhall was piling up yardage, and the team was controlling the ball. They went 3-1 pre-Ben, and probably should’ve gone undefeated.

Now? The Steelers have gone 3-2 since Ben’s return, but they lucked into the Dolphins win. Still, Mendenhall is slowly being fazed out of the offense; Ben is the primary focus on offense now. After a brutal loss to the Patriots, my question is: why not stick with what works? Run the ball. Instead, Tomlin is channeling his inner-Wade Philips and allowing the quarterback to overshadow a successful running game. Sucks for me.

Other candidates: Ronnie Brown (MIA), Matt Forte (CHI), Brandon Jackson (GB)

(Last week:  Gore vs. STL…22 rush, 87 yds, 1 TD, 3 catch, 67 yds)

WR: Mike Williams (SEA). What a great story…that I have to sour. I love that he has reincarnated himself in Seattle under his college coach and worked his way back on the field in a big way. Eleven catches for 145 yards last week is nothing to scoff at. The problem I have with Williams, though, is that he has had three great games this season, but the other six have been HORRIBLE showings (look it up). He is inconsistent. Whether that inconsistency is a result of Hasselbeck’s play or not doesn’t change the fact that he isn’t a steady fantasy option. Plus, those three breakout games came against crappy defenses (Arizona twice and Chicago). I think the Saints are going to shut him down again this week.

Other options: Pierre “Slippery Fingers” Garcon (IND), Kevin Walter (HOU), Roddy White (ATL)

(Last week: Santana Moss vs. PHI…3 catch, 28 yds)

Ferrells and Fallons: Week 4

My world has been rocked to its very core. In the recent SNL season premiere, Amy Poehler’s monologue involved a wacky anxiety dream that included a nervous

If Sanchez is really a good QB, then maybe, like Kevin Garnett said, anything is possible.

breakdown, a polar bear, and……… Jimmy Freaking Fallon. I feel like I’m in a similar nightmare, one where Mark Sanchez actually proved his performance against the Pats was not a fluke. I don’t know what to do with my life.

I’m only half-joking. The Sanchize has bee the epitome of a Fallon for this column, but apparently he’s decided to watch Anchorman and get a few pointers. Along with the usual suspects, Sanchez has performed as well as anyone.

How do we handle this news? Optimistically. He’s shown in consecutive weeks that he can perform well. Feel free to use him with caution, because he could revert back to Dirty Sanchez status at any moment.

Ferrells:

QB: Matt Schaub (HOU). Schaub had a bad week against the Cowboys on the surface due to the score and his interceptions. But if you look closely, he had a good completion percentage despite being harassed by the Cowboys pass rush (mostly DeMarcus Ware) for 4 sacks. I don’t see the same amount of harassment coming from the Raiders nor do I see the men in silver and black stopping any facet of the Texans offense. This is still one of the best teams in the league, despite the week 3 loss.

Other options: Giant Testicle (SD), Donavan McNabb (WAS), Jay Cutler (CHI)

(Last week: Favre vs. DET…23-34, 201, 1 td, 2 int)

RB: Ricky Williams (MIA). This week 4 matchup between the Dolphins and Patriots is going to play out, coincidentally, like the movie Rocky IV. In this scenario, I have Ricky playing the role of Rocky, the Patriots defense is Drago, and the Soviet Union is every Pats fan. Also, it’s entirely possible injury-prone Ronnie Brown will get knocked out of this game at some point, thus making him the perfect Apollo Creed. Actually, it’s more fitting if the Buffalo Bills are Apollo Creed, who are the amiable division rivals with the Fins and lost a crushing game to the Pats last week. So let’s go with that: Rocky/Ricky/Dolphins wants to avenge the death of Creed/Bills, who lost his life in a recent fight with the heartless Drago/Pats.

"IF HE SPIES, HE SPIES"

Drago dominates the early part of his match with Rocky, but eventually the tides turn in Rocky’s favor (here is where Ricky will take over). The Soviet fans turn on Drago for struggling (sounds like Pats fans right now), and Drago gets fed up and nearly strangles his trainer, saying he only fights for himself (an obvious reflection of the rift with the players/Brady getting mad at Pats fans for leaving early). You know the rest: Rocky defeats Drago and essentially ends the Cold War. I doubt Ricky will end any wars with his big plays, but I’m sure fans everywhere will have to respect the 2-1 Dolphins now, myself included.

Other options: DeAngelo Williams (CAR), Maurice Jones-Drew (JAC), Shonn Greene (NYJ)

(Last week: Turner vs. NO…30 rush, 114 yds, 1 td, 2 rec, 11 yds)

TE: Vernon Davis (SF). I am riding this Niners bandwagon when everyone is going to jump off. I don’t care if they have stunk up the joint like Jack Black after a huge dump. Either this thing is going to miraculously jump back on the tracks, or I’m going to go down with it in a fiery crash. Maybe they will replace Alex Smith or make a change with the offensive coordinator issues, but I see this offense getting their stuff together this week versus Atlanta. The Falcons gave up a ton of passing yards against the Saints. Now I know comparing Smith and Brees is like comparing apples and sex, but for some insane reason, I predict the offense having a big week and Vernon being a big contributor.

Other options: Eddie Royal (DEN), Dallas Clark (IND), Mario Manningham (NYG)

(Last week: Garcon vs. DEN…injured, didn’t play. I sincerely apologize for this one. I should have waited for the injury report. If it’s any consolation, the same analysis could have applied to Austin Collie, who had a monster game.)

Fallons:

Vick will be a Fallon this week. I guess every dog has his day. Too soon?

QB: Michael Vick (PHI). The guy has played about as well as you could ask for. And with the way David Garrard’s been playing, could Kevin Kolb end up in Jacksonville? Vick has looked that dominant, granted against not-so-stellar teams. He will be faced with his first real test this week when he goes up against Washington. The Skins defense looked bad against the lowly Rams, but Vick has to show his weaknesses at some point right? Two full games of game tape should come in handy for Mike Shanahan as he comes up with a game plan to stop Vick. Or am I just grasping at nonexistent straws?

Other options: Mark Sanchez (NYJ), Joe Flacco (BAL), Matt Ryan (ATL)

(Last week: Giant Testicle vs. SEA…29-53, 455, 2 td, 2 int)

RB: Matt Forte (CHI). The Bears are for real, I guess. Matt Forte isn’t, though. I don’t like him at all as a fantasy option, especially this week against the Giants. I am overlooking the fact that the Giants are playing more like Gnats as of late, but nonetheless, I still have questions for this Bears team. It seems improbable that they will keep the momentum going, doesn’t it? Jay Cutler has to show his mortality sometime. This is a risky choice in Forte, but I’d stay away.

Other options: Peyton Hillis (CLE), Cedric Benson (CIN), Darren McFadden (OAK)

(Last week: B. Jackson vs. CHI…7 rush, 12 yds, 4 rec, 27 yds)

WR: Calvin Johnson (DET). I made this choice for two reasons: 1. the Packers corners will lock onto Megatron all game, and 2. if Jahvid Best can get going on the ground again, that means less chances for Johnson to shine. Plus, Megatron hasn’t gotten more than 56 yards in any of the first three games. Chalk it up to a bad QB, but the numbers don’t lie.

Other options: Anquan Boldin (BAL), Reggie Wayne (IND), Hines Ward (PIT)

(Last week: CAR Smith vs. CIN…3 rec, 22 yds)

NFL Week 3

There are 3 teams that are still 3-0, and few would have guessed them coming into the season. Hell, I had them on a combined 16 or 17 wins for the season with the Chiefs taking 7 of those. Shows you what I know, right? Well we have plenty to cover entering week 4, and not all of it concerns the undefeated, so strap in and get ready for some NFL action coming your way right…………………….NOW.

The Undefeated

Let me start by saying that two of these teams are fortunate to be undefeated. The Bears got away with one against the Lions and were the benefactors of 6,000 Green Bay penalties, and the Chiefs deliberately start Matt Cassel at quarterback every week. I know, they must not have seen him play. All kidding aside, all three teams have impressed so far and none more so than the Steelers. Apart from the Falcons, they have not really been tested, but behind a fantastic defense and Rashard Mendenhall, the Steelers are probably the best team in football right now. Please read those last two words (right now) because they are a HUGE qualifier. They will not be the best team heading into the playoffs, but right now no one is better.

Next on my list of most impressive at the Kansas City Chiefs. Their new stadium is one of a very small number of brand new home fields that still gives the home team an advantage. We are quickly learning that one thing you cannot do is bet against this team at home, though I might have to make an exception when they host the Colts in two weeks. The running game has been good, and the defense has been outstanding under new coordinator Romeo Crennel (yes, that Romeo Crennel) who was always better suited for coordinating than coaching. I think the Chiefs have a legitimate shot at winning the AFC West, but they are going to need some help and they are going to have to fend off the Chargers who always charge (pun not intended, but inevitable) in November and December. They have a shot, but I would definitely not bet on them to win it despite the fact that I did expect a breakout season from them.

The least impressive of the undefeateds (not a bad thing at all), is the Chicago Bears. Jay Culter has looked magnificent in Mike Martz’s offense thus far, and the defense has been great (notice a theme?). The Calvin Johnson catch and Packers penalties aside, the Bears have really impressed me in all phases of the game. I still think they are a few injuries from completely unraveling, but until those injuries come, there is no reason that defense cannot keep them in every game and no reason the offense and special teams can’t find a way to win. I am still picking the Packers in the division, but with the Vikings in near free-fall, I think this could easily be a playoff team.

Ranking time! Note that teams are not listed in order within their groups.

The Outhouse (Ranked 32-26)

Occupied by these teams

And we turn from the penthouse to The Outhouse. And I’m not talking about the structure, I am talking about the contents. Its inhabitants? Buffalo, Cleveland, Carolina, and the entire NFC West. Buffalo started Trent Edwards in week 1. He is no longer on their roster. Cleveland actually showed signs of life against Baltimore, but then again, so would I if the previous owner of your team who sold the entire city out and moved the team to Baltimore still owns the Ravens. Hey God, what did Cleveland do to you? The Panthers are way worse on defense than any of us would have believed and the Jimmy Clausen era got off to an early start. At least Carolina fans know he can take a pounding. He practiced it for three years at Notre Dame. I am going to get sick of talking about the NFC West. Correction: I AM sick of talking about the NFC West, and we are only 3 weeks in. San Francisco should win the division, but the problem is that they are a crappy team away from home and just in general sometimes. And that they are 0-3. The Seahawks are mid-rebuild and might still win the division with table scraps at 7-9 or 6-10. The Rams are incredibly bad and STILL have a shot at the playoffs this year in some sort of planetary alignment with a Rookie QB, wide receivers most teams would cut, and a running back who is due to miss the rest of the season starting around week 8. Then we have the Cardinals, who are supposed to be relying on their defense and the running game, but whom almost lost to Oakland at home and might drive Larry Fitzgerald to suicide, or at least Dancing with the Stars. Yes, ladies and gents, one of these teams is going to make the playoffs. Here’s the twist. None of these teams should want to make the playoffs. If they are making it at 6-10, that would be good for a top 10 draft pick probably, which could pay dividends down the road. The team that makes the playoffs gets bumped to the 20s and will likely not get the playmaker it needs. We might have a race for the bottom and draft pick in the NFC West, however, in this race for the bottom and draft pick, the producers do not win for getting lower prices, everyone loses because we have to watch one of these teams play a playoff game.

Realistically, a few of these teams could be ranked higher, but I did not feel the need to make them feel better about themselves. Go to the corner, NFC West.

The Toilet Seat (25-23)

If the group directly below this in terms of quality is The Outhouse, then this group is the toilet seat. In other words, it is in the neighborhood, just not down with the muck yet. Don’t worry, it will get there. To be fair, a few of the NFC West teams might be more suited for a spot here, but I am not going to ease up on them when they are consistently a weak division. The teams perched majestically on this porcelain throne are the Lions, Jaguars, and Raiders.

If they drop any lower, they'll be sunk and will get flushed.

The Jaguars are probably the worst among these, as after their respectable performance against Denver, they got blown out two weeks in a row. David Garrard has resembled something between Jabba Hutt, except without the Rancor. He is dangerous, but when you think about it he is pretty laughable and could not really hurt you if you do not help him out. He has been that laughable fat fool the last two weeks and the Jaguars are really just not good enough to overcome any serious mistakes he makes. They are probably closest to the bottom of these teams.

The Lions cannot really be blamed for their Toilet Seat status. With Matthew Stafford, I think they win that Bears game, and they would have a much better shot at the other teams without Shaun Hill giving the lions an uphill battle. However, the defense has been bad enough to earn them this label and it does not get much easier. That schedule is brutal and they could easily find themselves sitting on the 4-12 we had them projected at even though we felt they were better than their record.

The Raiders are just a case all their own. They already dropped Jason Campbell at QB, but still should have beat Arizona last week on the road. The defense has seemed alright and Bruce Gradkowski has been pretty good in most of his fill-in stints. However, the Raiders have come to define unclutch, and Sebastian Janikowski is no exception. You know it is bad when you see the Raiders tied in the red zone with 20 seconds left and you remain unconvinced they will win the game, and they usually make you feel smart for not being sure. Not a very good team, but they have a shot at surprising the Texans this week. Things are not nearly as bleak as they seem in Oakland. Though things are pretty bleak for Al Davis. Maybe there is a connection between the two.

The Upset Stomach (22-20)

Is it about to be a trip straight to the Outhouse, or is it just hunger for that next win? Yes, in this bathroom-oriented NFL Recap, the Upset Stomachs are not a positive, but they are not necessarily a bad thing. The bottom line about these teams is that the jury is still out. They could easily end up on in the Toilet Seat group, or the next group up.

Washington Redskins- Are they as good as they looked against the Cowboys and Texans in the 1st half? Are they as bad as they looked int he 2nd half against Houston or against St. Louis? I would lean toward the latter as Clinton Portis has had a hard time finding running room and the Redskins aerial targets are about as talented as Keenan from SNL (not very good, in case you didn’t get that one). Joey Galloway is the 2nd WR. Yes, that Joey Galloway. I have a feeling they are going to get ripped apart against Philly and it will start a nice spiral out of control in Mike Shanahan’s 1st season.

He needs to right the ship before he is thrown overboard.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers- I am almost a semi-believer in this team, but at the same time I know that they secretly suck. Josh Freeman has looked pretty good so far except for the Steelers game, and no one is looking good against them so far. The defense has proven pretty respectable, but let’s not forget that the two wins they have are against two teams (Browns and Panthers) with a combined 0 wins. They have a bye this week so the jury will remain out for another week.

New York Giants- Is this the Super Bowl winning team that had discipline issues that then turned it around, or is this just a team in disarray. I personally do not think Tom Coughlin can pull that off again and I think the Giants’ season could very easily start to spiral downward. I still like all their skill position guys and I think the defense is alright, but they are just doing so many stupid things right now that it is hard to pick them to succeed. I thought they had the look for an NFC East favorite after week 1, but it also turns out that Carolina is not good. The jury is out, but I think this team is going to struggle.

The Change-Up

No, this is not a division, this is where I can’t make bathroom references any more because they are fairly decent teams. However, since we have only covered 13 teams, and I like the idea of splitting the league in half, so we have one more group dedicated to two teams I love to hate on.

The Carlos Zambranos (19-17)

This one goes out to Big Z for one big reason. He was never really that good (one year with a sub-3 ERA, but he always got credit for being one of the best pitchers in baseball, at least around Chicago. Accordinly, these teams are not that good, but people like to get on these bandwagons for no real reason.

San Diego Chargers- When will we learn? They are a genuinely bad team in the first month of the team. Not an underachieving team. A BAD team. They still are without holdouts Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson, they are missing Ryan Mathews, seem incapable of putting up a fight on the road, and ar entirely too dependent on Antonio Gates to really be successful. They will probably end up winning the division because their division is pretty weak, but they are really not that good. They will get better as they always do, but let’s not get carried away and call them a really good team.

Dallas Cowboys- Oh, my favorite punching bag, I am glad to have you back. They came out and beat the Texans because they had to, but they will almost certainly disappoint when they are needed. Felix Jones is suddenly incompetent along with the offensive line and the stupid penalties continue to kill them. They too may end up winning the division because it lacks an elite team, but there is not really any way of knowing for sure yet. A big part of me hopes they fall flat on their face so I can point out how bad a coach Wade Phillips is, how bad a coordinator Jason Garrett is, and how every ounce of hype they get is undeserved, but that will probably not happen. Notice how both these teams so far have had truly laughable head coaches?

Minnesota Vikings- Once again, mix a laughable head coach with chemistry issues and age and you get a Zambrano team. Brett Favre is still not really on the same page as his receivers and while the defense has been fairly good, they are probably not elite. If Favre gets things straight and Sidney Rice comes back in the right state of mind in week 8, then they can fight with the Bears for the Wild Card, but otherwise, they could have some issues. The hype on this team, which has a grandfather (literally) for a QB was unreasonable and they have the stench of a crash-and-burn candidate.

These teams are not necessarily worse than those ranked ahead of them, but I have a hard time putting wildly inconsistent teams up with the consistently above average teams.


These 3 are like the Mount Rushmore of Sucking

The Bengals Group (16)

Cincinnati Bengals- I had to really fight the urge to not put them much lower in these rankings. Carson Palmer is playing some of the worst football of his career, the running game is not clicking like it needs to, and the defense is not quite as good as it used to be. They still clearly have the quality, and more time together as a team should cure much of what ails them, but they are just not that good right now. They are just good enough to escape the Zambrano teams, but not really good enough right nwo to go much higher.

Yup, they got their own division for that. Not a good distinction, but it is something, no?

The Anthony Morrows (15-12)

In the right situation (like NJ) he coudl be good. Same for these teams.

These are the teams that could actually be pretty solid in the right situation and could pull off a playoff run with a few breaks.

Chicago Bears- Much has been made of the fact that the Bears could easily be 1-2, but the bottom line is that they are 3-0. The defense is legitimately good and the offense has been fairly efficient so far even though it has hit some definite rough patches at times. I am not sure if this team is genuinely good or just genuinely lucky, but when it comes to looking at the team on the field and wondering if it will win, who cares. They should be able to continue to get wins moving forward even though they are not necessarily that great.

Kansas City Chiefs- We already talked about them, so we will keep this brief. They are not a good team, but they are a great home team, and that is worth something in a somewhat easy AFC West. The defense is solid, the special teams are explosive, and the offense, Matt Cassel aside, is somewhat workable. This team can win the West, but they will need some help.

Denver Broncos- Call it my Colts Kool Aid, but I liked what I saw out of the Broncos last week. Part of the reason I liked it was because they functioned exactly like I said they would in my preview. I thought they could move the ball just fine on offense even without Brandon Marshall (how does 476 passing yards for Kyle Orton sound?), but when it came down to crunch time, they did not have anyone they could go to and be sure they would succeed. It showed as 4 trips to the red zone ended in 6 points and a 14 point loss. They are a pretty solid team, but they do not have anyone to take the last shot, to use a basketball term. If they can keep the game from getting to a point like that, they will be fine. Otherwise, they will find themselves on the unlucky side of the score line too often.

Miami Dolphins- They seem to be perennially disappointing but I have liked what I have seen out of them so far. They had that game against the Jets, but they just managed to throw it away, courtesy of Will Allen’s lack of concentration on 3rd down and his inability to look for the ball on that final pass interference call. They are actually moving it pretty well through the air, which will serve them well against New England, and the defense has been improved, although not that great so far. They could end up being pretty good, or they could end up being just alright like usual.

The Samson and Delilah Teams (11-10)

The problem jsut sticks out like a sore thumb

These teams are Samson, but while wearing a hat that reads “Cut my hair”. In other words, these teams are pretty good, but seem to just have an obvious flaw they will fight all year.

Baltimore Ravens- I am not sure if their clear flaw is the offense or defense, but seems that on any given day, it is bound to be one of them. They just gave up 140 yards rushing to Peyton Hillis. Yes, the 3rd best Arkansas RB in his draft class. Other times, like against Cincinnati, Joe Flacco turns into Joe Ballast and succeeds in sinking the team. Perhaps the Samson does not work so perfectly for them, but they are clearly a team that has not put it all together on any one day so far. i still think they are really good, just not as good as they should be.

New England Patriots- Defensive mastermind Bill Belichick is not looking very happy right now. That is technically a fact since he never looks happy, but even more so now that the defense is so bad. They let Mark Sanchez beat them in week 2, and nearly let Ryan Fitzpatrick bring Buffalo back against the Pats. Ron Jaworski continues to point out how teams are shredding their zone defenses, but I am not sure if they have the chops to go man-t-man either. This is a potentially fatal flaw for the Pats.

Houston Texans- This label was almost entirely named for them. They are a pretty damn good offensive team with balance and toughness. They are perhaps the worst pass defense in the league. They just get absolutely gashed with a fairly scary regularity, and it got so bad on Sunday that they could not even stop Mr. Washed-Up, Roy Williams. They are really really good, except for that one glaring flaw that could cost them a shot at winning the division and will cost them at least a couple games down the line. Ironically, they are not in this next group, which is also named for them.

The Matt Schaubs (8-5)

Once upon a time, Matt Schaub was a backup in Atlanta to Michael Vick. Everyone would say “Oh yeah, Matt Schaub could lead an NFL team and be a good QB”. The amazing part was that they were right. It NEVER works like that. The backup is always a backup for a reason and when you try to turn him into your franchise guy, it just does not work. Except in cases like that. These teams are right up there and part of us knows that they are that backup that really can’t get it done, but they keep showing otherwise on the field.

Sanchez has looked THIS good the last few weeks.

Tennessee Titans- Can I believe in Vince Young? Probably not. But they win and do it regularly, so until I see otherwise, I am going to keep picking the Titans to succeed. Yes, the blurbs are getting shorter because we are above 3200 words.

Atlanta Falcons- The defense remains a concern, but it still looks like a definite playoff team to me. Especially in an NFC where very few teams are asserting themselves. Let’s see if Matty Ice can put a few starts like his last one together or if he goes back to throwing picks too often.

New York Jets- Frankly, I am still getting used to the idea of Mark Sanchez being a potentially good QB. It very well may pass and open the door for the Pats or Dolphins to take the division, but right now the Jets are clearly the best team. I do not especially think the Jets will win this division, but I have to give them credit for beating their two rivals in the division and doing it with offense in addition to the defense.

Philadelphia Eagles- Michael Vick is the MVP right now. He has given their running game life (both through his legs and distracting the defense while LeSean McCoy runs wild), is making DeSean’s Jackson’s haters look foolish (like me this year, though I loved his chances before the season last year), and most importantly winning games. I am not entirely sold on their defense yet, but the Eagles might even be the favorites in the NFC East if a few things happen, and they are big ifs. IF Michael Vick stays healthy and consistent, they will be good, and IF the defense shores up, they could be very good.

The Early September Yankees (4-2)

These are the teams that we know are really good and are just getting settled in sort of with solid 2-1 starts. They are not in full out juggernaut mode, but they will get there.

Indianapolis Colts- Peyton Manning is off to his best statistical start of all time, Austin Collie looks like a Pro Bowler, the defense is suddenly stopping the run (and not the pass, but don’t get me started on that right now), and everything seems alright with no undefeated teams in the AFC South. They will be contenders once again, and that should surprise no one. Expect a close one against the Jaguars this weekend, but that is only because they always play the Colts tough.

New Orleans Saints- They have hit a few speed bumps, but they should be just fine going forward, Greg Williams is continuing to prove people like me wrong that say the defense cannot consistently create turnovers, and as long as they are getting turnovers, they should be just fine defensively. If not for Garrett Hartley’s chunked chip shot, the defending champs are 3-0. Yes, the same kicker who hit all his long field goals in the Super Bowl. God won that Super Bowl for the Saints, not the players. No, I’m not bitter, why do you ask?

Green Bay Packers- They embarrassed themselves on Monday night doing their best Cowboys impression and throwing the game away with stupid penalties, but are still the favorites up north. They could really use Al Harris, but they can make due in the mean time. They will be there down the stretch without a doubt.

THE BEST TEAM RIGHT NOW (#1)

The Pittsburgh Steelers

Again, please read the “Right Now” part of the title. They will be getting Big Ben back after this week and as long as Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith stay healthy, they should be considered the favorites in the AFC North. They have to prove themselves this weekend against Baltimore, but I think they will pull it out and solidify themselves as the team to beat in that division. Again, we already talked about them, so we are going to cut it short here and let you get to your College Football watching this Saturday morning.

Enjoy!

Pigskin Pick’em: September 25th

Root for my picks to be right if for no other reason than avoiding a history lesson.

I am in a NFL pool in which you pick the games every week. Given my performance in this column last week, you would think I did poorly. However, I went against most of my own advice and did pretty well. I know. You are welcome. What can I say, I had a bad week, and I was due for one after that impossibly good 5-0 start. The good news is that we have way more options to pick from this week and we will not have to re-hash the Bengals, Ravens, Patriots and Jets again. I feel like there is a joke to be had here concerning Brady’s hair, Ray Lewis’ history with limo drivers, and Braylon Edwards’ drunk driving charge, but I will leave that to you.

The college slate is much-improved this week as well. We have a top-ten matchup and a Smurf Turf Showdown in Boise to pick instead of reaching for a game like Iowa vs Arizona. Did you know that Iowa has not won west of the Rockies since 1984? I clearly did not know that either. Anyway, on to the picks, and I promise they will be better this week. If they aren’t, then I will start my next Picks column by telling everyone they can “eat cake”, letting readers storm the Bastille, and just other things about the French Revolution.

No one wants that.

Before I derail my own column, let’s get to the picks, and make it quick because I am getting very close.

(1) Alabama vs. (10) Arkansas

I am on record of saying that few things are harder than winning a road game in conference. This is especially true in the SEC. My theory is that the seats in SEC stadiums are closer to the field and it makes it harder to hear, and that when you combine this with the copious drinking involved with the fans and their rabid love for football, it just enters a level of its own.

Mallett will get hammered by the Alabama D

That is all good and well, but the really good teams still take care of clearly inferior competition on the road. Arkansas did that with Georgia last week, but just barely. That is a team they should not have to come back against. They seemingly did everything they could to lose that game for about 3 quarters before turning it on and beating the Bulldogs like they should. To put it simply, I have zero confidence in Arkansas. Ryan Mallett is good, but the defense is not, and I think the Razorbacks are just not quite ready to make a big move.

It does not help that Bobby Petrino is not a very good motivator. The whole “we are Goliath” thing was just a bad idea. I get the idea that he is trying to instill confidence and get them thinking that they should win this game, but every single player (I hope) in that locker room already knows that Goliath loses. I get wanting to be the big kids on the block, but using Goliath when everyone knows that Goliath dies is a bad idea.

Alabama is the better team, and while Arkansas will probably jump out in front, I like the Tide to roll in what looks like a down year for the SEC. Florida is not good, Georgia is not good, LSU is mediocre, and so on. Just not a good year for the SEC and it gives Alabama definite hopes of going undefeated despite that tough-looking slate of games. Of course, they could be weaker too. We will see.

Alabama 31, Arkansas 23

I am not sure which game to pick next. I do not think anyone is picking Oregon State so it seems a less worthy game to pick, and South Carolina vs. Auburn and West Virginia vs. LSU is not very exciting either. Let’s move to the NFL and get an upset for our second college game.

Atlanta Falcons vs. New Orleans Saints

Matty Ice can't handle the Cajun spice

This one has postseason implications written all over it. Atlanta is coming off a drubbing of the Cards and is probably much better than we thought after that fiasco in Pittsburgh. On the other side, the Saints have really struggled against two teams that do not look very good right now. The offense has put up 39 points (2 fewer than the Falcons put up against Arizona alone, and the team just has not looked good so far. I think that most people will be taking the Falcons to win this game and that it will be the beginning of some struggles in N’awlins.

Not so fast. The Superdome provides a legitimate home field advantage and while the Falcons have been outstanding at home under Matt Ryan/Mike Smith, they have really not been that great on the road. The Saints are definitely stumbling a bit, but they can still handle their business at home. Atlanta is getting too much buzz to come out and put a beating on the defending champs at home.

Atlanta Falcons 24, New Orleans Saints 27

I love this picture of Wade for the same reason I love the picture of Norv Turner doing this. Just sums them up.

Dallas Cowboys vs. Houston Texans

This is going to be one hell of a game to watch. It might cost the defensive coordinators their jobs (or in Dallas’ case, it might cost everyone their job), but it is going to be a great game to watch. The Cowboys secondary looked pretty bad against Chicago and the Texans Secondary has given up 800 yards through the air so far. I smell a good ol’ fashioned Texas shoot out.

I have a history of picking both of these teams to fall on their faces throughout the year and they traditionally come through for me. However, someone has to win this game and for once it seems like the game really matters. Dallas faces the apocalypse of mankind if they lose (or so you would think listening to the press and people around the organization) and the Texans still are out to prove they are legit and did not just build their entire season around that first game and then luck out with bad play-calling by Washington. It should be a shootout and a game that both teams are genuinely hungry for.

However, one team wants it more. Imagine a genie comes down and tells a homeless man and an average guy that they have to fight. If the homeless guy wins then he gets a home, a job, and unlimited food for the rest of his life. If the other guy wins, he gets to sleep with the celebrity of his choice, gets free beer for the rest of his life, and gets a ticket to the next Super Bowl. Who ya got? Gimme the homeless guy. Why? Because he NEEDS that, the other guy just wants that.

Neither of these teams is homeless, but the Cowboys clearly NEED this game. The Texans can start 2-1 and it not be a big deal, but if the Cowboys fall to 0-3, heads roll. Teams, and people, do things when backed into a corner and I think the Cowboys win this shoot out because they have no other choice. It helps that they took some responsibility for their failures after last week and I think the Cowboys come out and win this so we can all go back to picking them and being disappointed.

Dallas Cowboys 38, Houston Texans 35

Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears

He looks THRILLED to be there.

Coming into the year, I had the Bears at 4-12. I’m not afraid to admit it. They have a brutal schedule, a much-improved division, and injury-prone guys at key positions. That is not a recipe for success. But right now, they are healthy, the offense is working even without a good offensive line, and the defense is back to being the Monsters of the Midway. The Packers, on the other hand, have been pretty good so far, and though they have not really been tested so far, this should be a good barometer. They are clearly very talented, but this is a road game against a team that is playing very good football right now. If this game was in Lambeau, I would not hesitate in picking the Pack to bash the Bears. However, playing this game in Chicago is a game-changer. This game was already a battle for division supremacy (at least early supremacy) and I think the Packers can be attacked through the air. Al Harris is still out, and while the Packers will be able to get after the QB more effectively than Detroit or Dallas, I am not sure if it will be enough. I picked the Packers to win the Super Bowl this year, but that does not mean there will be bumps along the way.

I am secretly afraid of picking the Bears here. They got lucky against the Lions with Shaun Hill playing the second half, and beat an uninspired Dallas team in their second game. There are so many reasons I should just take the Packers and make the Bears prove to me that they are real, and the fact that the Packers can get after the QB scares the crap out of me if I am a Bears fan. This may not be as good a game to watch as Cowboys-Texans, but it is going to be one hell of a game.

I came into the column picking the Bears. I almost talked myself out of it by telling myself that the Packers pass rush is going to make the Bears’ offensive line look awful. Um………

Packers 16, Bears 17

But don’t hold me to it.

UPSET SPECIAL

Honestly, not many options in the NFL this week, so we are going to college for the upset. I mean unless you would really like for me to talk about Raiders vs Cardinals…

Notre Dame over (16) Stanford (-5)

Yeah, call me a homer. I like the Irish to protect their house as Stanford comes rolling in to give us what has got to be the highest combined tuition and highest combined IQ of any relevant game this weekend. The Irish pass defense has actually been pretty good so far, but the only guy I really trust is Gary Gray. However, Andrew Luck will be without his top receiver for the game so the secondary should get a break there. The Irish ground game should show up again and be able to fuel the Irish “onward to victory”.

Just a few reservations about this pick

  • The fact that Stanford is missing their top WR is nice, but it always seems like a nobody steps up and kills Notre Dame every week. I can hear new-guy Mike Mayock drooling over how good Stanford’s 3rd string WR is from here as he racks up 150 yards. Calm down, Mike. He isn’t that good, he is just that good against Notre Dame.
  • Even without Toby Gerhart, it looks like the Cardinal can still run the rock. They are 14th in the nation at running the ball, but I am not sure what to read into that. They have been blowing people out, so are those stats padded by running the ball for much of the second half? Are they legitimately that good? What is it? We will find out on Saturday.
  • The line of Stanford being favored by 5 just seems too high. Am I missing something about a west coast team flying out to Notre Dame and an up-tempo offense? Stanford has played no one so far and they are still favored by 5 on the road?

Irish eyes will be smiling.

Stanford 24, Notre Dame 30


Last Week: 1-4
Season: 6-4
Upset Special: 1-1

Keep in mind I should be around .500 since they are games that people are actually debating> No one is picking the Ravens v Browns here.

Pigskin Pick’em: September 18th

Not to toot our clownish horn too much, but last week was a smashing success for our Pigskin Pick’em as we nailed all 5 games we picked, including the KC over SD upset (ARTICLE HERE). 5-0 is a nice place to be. However, that really just means you can expect me to go around 1-4 this week. Maybe 2-3 if I’m lucky. But that’s half the fun, because if I was right every time, I wouldn’t really bother watching the games because I wouldn’t have to prove my omniscience (please put some clothes on). So let’s get to the somewhat weaker slate of games for the week so we can put fears of my omniscience to rest.

(9) Iowa Hawkeyes vs. (24) Arizona Wildcats

After running the option in Remember the Titans, Sunshine went on to play QB for Arizona.

How do I put this lightly… The college football games this week are going to be worse than American Idol without Simon. There are almost no good games to even pick from to watch, let alone pick, so we are just going to do the one college game this week and cut our losses. It will get better, but we are stuck with a Saturday full of disappointment for now. However, we appear to have a dandy in the desert as the Hawkeyes head to Tucson to take on 24th ranked Arizona. The result? The Big Ten proving it really does not suck like people out west and down south like to think. The Hawkeyes are a well-drilled team with a QB who almost never loses in Ricky Stanzi, a running back who produce (regardless of who it is, they ALWAYS have a good RB), and a defense that hits harder than Ivan Drago. Arizona will obviously try to spread it out and like Nick Foles jab at the defense, but I do not think the Cats have the speed or route-running to get open for Foles to get it to them. I think the result is a lot of forced throws, and thus, a lot of turnovers for Arizona, and nothing kills an upset bid faster than turnovers.

Iowa 26, Arizona 14

With our shortage of college games, that means we are picking 3 NFL games before our Upset Special. Unfortunately, it seems the teams that played intriguing games week 1 are back at it again. Once again, we will be covering the Pats, Jets, Bengals and Ravens, and while that is less than ideal, I want to pick the games that people are most likely to disagree on instead of gracing you with the knowledge that Green Bay will beat Buffalo, or boring you to death talking about the KC vs Cleveland game.

New England Patriots vs. New York Jets

The Jets need this game like Tyrone Biggums needs crack. Maybe worse. Their offense was horrendous against the weakened Ravens, their defense was penalty-prone, and they just seemed to make dumb plays over and over (I’m looking at you Dustin Keller). The Pats on the other hand, dismantled the Ravens in winning 38-24, and it wasn’t that close. Has all the makings of a classic “We Need It More Than You Do” game for the Jets and a “Rest On Your Laurels” game for the Pats. BUT. Do you really think a Bill Belichick coached team can rest on its laurels? I don’t think so. I do not think the Jets running game will be as incompetent as it was against Baltimore, but I also know that Bill Belichick is going to make Mark Sanchez beat him if the Jets are going to win. There is no way that happens. None. Do not expect the Pats to go out and score 30 points, because the Jets defense is still really good, but the Jets offense is going to need to score a TD or 2 to keep up and I think they will fall behind and be forced to the air. The Pats are the pick.

Patriots 21, Jets 10

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Whenever you think he is done, he isn't. He was great in the Jets game.

Many have been saying that you do not pick a team that played in an emotional Monday Night game the following week. My rule is that you do not pick a defense that just got exposed and an offensive line that couldn’t block anyone to beat a team that is more talented than they are. Therefore it should come as no surprise that I am picking the Ravens here. The Ravens faced the best defense in the league last week, and going into the season it looked like they would face another good one in Cincinnati, but I am not so sure that is the case. The Patriots absolutely shredded that secondary, and the Ravens have enough weapons to do the same. Add in the fact that the Ravens are way more physical up front than the Pats and I could see the Bengals just getting mauled by the running game and the passing game not needing to thrive. The Bengals showed an inability to run the ball against the Patriots and they will not run the ball against Baltimore either. They will once again get forced to the air, where they put up good stats, but did not do any of it until garbage time. The Ravens will win this game. I would say they would win by a lot, but I do think they will be a little tired and Cincy will bounce back enough to make it seem respectable.

Baltimore 24, Cincinnati 17

Alright, we are fairly short on interesting teams playing interesting games this week, and the two NFL games we picked this week are the exact same teams as we talked about last week, so let’s throw a pick against the spread in there to keep it interesting.

Chicago Bears (+7.5) vs. Dallas Cowboys

Oh, the Cowboys. Eternally talented. Eternally inept. The Bears defense looked just good enough to force Tony Romo to throw it 35 times (we went over this HERE). The Bears offense, on the other hand, while still completely useless when it matters (like 1st and Goal on the 2), looked almost respectable. The Bears are not winning this game because Dallas will pressure the QB relentlessly, but I think that Dallas -7.5 line is way too high. Gimme da Bears over da underachievers.

Chicago 16, Dallas 21


Upset Special (Underdog by around 5 points picked to win)

Yup, I used this picture again. Why? Because it is a clown. What do clowns have to do with upsets? Stop asking questions.

I am not looking forward to writing this section this week. There were plenty of options, but the one that really stuck out to me kind of felt like a smack across the face. It was such an inviting game to pick as an upset, and yet it goes against every rule about overreacting to week 1. Part of me is picking it as the upset in hopes that it will jinx the team I am picking to win, but part of me really thinks that it is going to happen. The underdogs clearly have what it takes to pull it off. A brutal rushing attack, a defense with a pass rush, and a QB good enough to beat a mediocre defense when he has to.

Drumroll please, though you probably already know where it is headed…

New York Giants vs. Indianapolis Colts

Will Eli be Cain or Abel?

Ugh. The Giants have a big, strong offensive line, and I am really just sort of at a loss for what to say about the Colts run defense. I really hope it is just the zone blocking like some of the analysts said, but what if it wasn’t. What if the D-line was just getting manhandled? What if the LBs are good, but can’t handle offensive linemen getting to the second level immediately because they are using TEs to block Robert Mathis? The Colts will be screwed. Of course, Colts-screwed is different than most-teams-screwed because they have Peyton Manning. Last week, the Colts gave up around 250 yards rushing. 250. And they had very few offensive possessions (they routinely have the fewest in the NFL due to teams trying to play keep-away with Manning). And up until Austin Collie caught a pass down the middle, got popped, and lost the football, the Colts were right in that game. They were getting annihilated on defense, and the offense was getting on the field twice a quarter, and they were right in it. Amazing in one sense, but awful news on the other.

The Giants clearly have what it takes to beat the Colts. Eli can pick Cover 2 apart all day, and the running game can take care of the rest. The defensive line will indubitably be able to get pressure on a rusty and sieve-like Colts O-line. The only concern I have as far as the upset pick (or to phrase it differently, “the big hope I have as a Colts fan”), is that the Colts have a way of bouncing back, and as I said, the Colts were right in that Texans game despite getting mauled, until that fumble. But if Garcon keeps dropping the ball, the offensive line keeps playing matador, and the defense can’t stop anyone, then the Colts are going to be on the train to 0-2ville.

However, I should make it perfectly clear I like the Giants a lot this year, and would go as far as to pick them to win the NFC East if Dallas does not figure it out soon. They have the pieces to beat the Colts, and if they execute well enough, they can do it. It hurts me to do it, but…

Giants 31, Colts 27

Season Record: 5-0
Last Week: 5-0
Upset Special: 1-0

NFL Power Rankings, Review, and Predictions

NFL DIVISION PREVIEWS

NFC West Preview
AFC West Preview
NFC South Preview
AFC South Preview
NFC North Preview
AFC North Preview
NFC East Preview
AFC East Preview

Unless you have been living in an OTC shell the last few weeks, you have doubtless seen some of our NFL Previews, looking at every team and projecting their record for the season. You probably saw a few teams (like the Bears, Lions, and Dolphins) with curious projected records and thought to yourself “there is no way the Dolphins are 6 games better than the Bears or Lions”. Well, you are right. When we project records, we have to look at the schedule, not just at how good we think a team is. I think the Lions are good enough to win 7 games this year, but with their schedule, it could be hard to hit that mark. Same goes for the Bears, but you add to it that I am projecting Mike Martz and Lovie Smith to clash, something completely off the field, and the win total looks unexpectedly low. Well, this is my chance to make my stand on which teams are the best, regardless of what their projected record is.

Same goes for the players who could push their team over the top, or sink their team. Some guys may be better than others, but not get a chance to shine given their circumstances on a team. That is why we have a separate section to make sure that the truth comes out about players, and their success is not falsely attributed to talent around them or vice versa.

Another thing you should keep in mind when reading is that the NFL is unpredictable. EVERY year there are 5 new playoff teams, and it is just impossible to project that looking at a roster. I am not willing to downgrade a team that looks great for an upset just because I need to have an upset. If a team looks like they are on the rise, like the Chiefs this year, I am willing to give them a bump, but not necessarily a bump to the playoffs. My predictions WILL be wrong, There is no doubt about it. It is just a matter of projecting these teams’ seasons to the best of my ability. I only have 2 new playoff teams this year and there will probably be more. a 5-11 team last year will probably win 9 games, but I can’t pick it out. The NFL is unpredictable, so keep that in mind when reading the previews and these rankings.

But, without further ado, I give you the NFL Power Rankings, Review, and predictions.

Power Rankings (Preseason)

Please note, this is not a projection of how they will do in the playoffs, just who is the best right now, before any games have been played. The Playoff business comes later.

1. Indianapolis Colts (OTC Projected: 13-3, Winner AFC South)
2. Green Bay Packers (OTC Projected 13-3, Winner NFC North)
3. Baltimore Ravens
(OTC Projected: 13-3, Winner NFC North)
4. Dallas Cowboys (OTC Projected: 12-4, Winner NFC East)
5. New Orleans Saints (OTC Projected: 11-5, Winner NFC South)
6. New England Patriots (OTC Projected: 10-6, Winner AFC East)
7. New York Jets (OTC Projected: 10-6, 2nd in AFC East)
8. Minnesota Vikings (OTC Projected: 11-5, 2nd in NFC North)
9. New York Giants (OTC Projected: 10-6, 2nd in NFC East)
10. Atlanta Falcons (OTC Projected: 10-6, 2nd in NFC South)
11. Cincinnati Bengals (OTC Projected: 10-6, 2nd in AFC North)
12. San Diego Chargers (OTC Projected: 10-6, Winner AFC West)

This is where the cutoff for the playoffs should be, but the top 12 cannot make it since division winners matter. And yes, I realize I have a ton of teams going 10-6. Most of them probably will not end up at exactly that number, but I am sticking to my projections so far.

13. Houston Texans (OTC Projected: 9-7, 2nd in AFC South)
14. Carolina Panthers (OTC Projected: 8-8, 3rd in NFC South)
15. Tennessee Titans (OTC Projected: 9-7, 3rd in AFC East)
16. San Francisco 49ers (OTC Projected: 9-7, Winner NFC West)
17. Miami Dolphins (OTC Projected: 10-6, 3rd in AFC East)
18. Philadelphia Eagles (OTC Projected: 8-8, 3rd in NFC East)
19. Kansas City Chiefs (OTC Projected: 7-9, 2nd in AFC West)
20. Pittsburgh Steelers (OTC Projected: 6-10, 3rd in AFC North)
21. Chicago Bears (OTC Projected: 4-12, 3rd in NFC North)
22. Detroit Lions (OTC Projected: 4-12, 4th in NFC North)
23. Denver Broncos (OTC Projected: 5-11, 3rd in AFC West)
24. Seattle Seahawks (OTC Projected: 7-9, 2nd in NFC West)
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (OTC Projected: 6-10, 4th in AFC South)
26. Arizona Cardinals (OTC Projected: 6-10, 3rd in NFC West)
27. Oakland Raiders (OTC Projected: 5-11, 4th in AFC West)
28. Washington Redskins (OTC Projected: 5-11, 4th in NFC East)
29. St. Louis Rams (OTC Projected: 3-13, 4th in NFC West)
30. Cleveland Browns (OTC Projected: 3-13, 4th in AFC North)
31. Buffalo Bills OTC Projected: 3-13, 4th in AFC East)
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
(OTC Projected: 3-13, 4th in NFC South

Explanation Time

In their natural habitat, the Lions and Bears will be better than their record.

Naturally, I will not be explaining all my projections, as that is what the actual previews are for. However, I think there are some rankings in there in need of explanation.

21. Chicago Bears (OTC Projected: 4-12, 3rd in NFC North)
22. Detroit Lions
(OTC Projected: 4-12, 4th in NFC North)

In all honesty, I probably just gave them too many losses in the preview, but their schedules are brutal, and they are not that great of teams. However, I would take either team over any of the teams below them, despite their low projection. They will both probably get more than 4 wins. For that reason, I have no issues putting them above a team with 7 wins and several with 6.

14. Carolina Panthers (OTC Projected: 8-8, 3rd in NFC South)
17. Miami Dolphins (OTC Projected: 10-6, 3rd in AFC East)

The win disparity does not mean the Dolphins are better. The Dolphins get a somewhat easier schedule than the Panthers this year, so they get more wins, but why do I have a team with quarterback questions above a team with a potential rising star at QB? I think the Panthers are a pretty damn good team this year, especially if that offensive line can stay healthy. The beauty of the Panthers is that they do not need big things from the QB position, and all they really need is for him to manage the game. The Dolphins also have more off-the-field issues to sort out, and I would pick the Panthers head-to-head at a neutral site every time.

23. Denver Broncos (OTC Projected: 5-11, 3rd in AFC West)
24. Seattle Seahawks (OTC Projected: 7-9, 2nd in NFC West)

The big thing here is that I projected the Seahawks while they still had TJ Houshmandzadeh, and without him, I would drop them to only winning 5 games. I probably under-projected the Broncos as well, so given that, this makes a fair amount of sense. I just really think the NFC West sucks.

Review

Here are the Division winners and Wild Cards, as projected during our previews by record. Power Ranking is listed as PR.

AFC

Maybe it is just my Colts bias, but Peyton Manning has been the most valuable player for about 7 years.

1. Colts (13-3) PR: 1
2. Ravens (13-3, virtual tie) PR: 3
3. Patriots (10-6) PR: 6
4. Chargers (10-6) PR: 12
WC 5. Jets (10-6) PR: 7
WC 6. Bengals (10-6) PR: 11

Dolphins out with 10-6 record.

NFC

1. Packers (13-3) PR: 2
2. Cowboys (12-4) PR: 4
3. Saints  (11-5) PR: 5
4. 49ers (9-7) PR: 16
WC 5. Vikings
(11-5) PR: 8
WC 6. Giants (10-6) PR: 9

Falcons out with 10-6 record.

Playoff Predictions

AFC

Wild Card Week: Jets over Chargers, Patriots over Bengals
Divisional Playoffs:  Ravens over Patriots, Colts over Jets
Conference Championship: Colts over Ravens

The Colts just own the Ravens, and I think the Ravens just have the right combination to beat the Pats. I think the Pats would beat the Colts if they met in the playoffs, but it looks like they will avoid each other. This is really a situational pick more than an absolute pick, but it is early, and I am a Colts fan, so those are my excuses.

NFC

He is not quite as good as people are making him out to be, but his numbers will be through the roof.

Wild Card Week: Vikings over 49ers, Saints over Giants
Divisional Playoffs:  Packers over Vikings, Saints over Cowboys
Conference Championship: Packers over Saints

I am not necessarily huge on the Packers bandwagon, but I think this sets up pretty well for them to make a run at the Super Bowl. Are they the best team in the NFC? Yeah, I think so, but I am not quite sure if they are really Super Bowl ready. Consider it a situational pick rather than an absolute pick.

Super Bowl: Packers 31, Colts 27

Individual Awards

AP Offensive Player of the Year: Aaron Rodgers
AP Defensive Player of the Year: Darrelle Revis (now that he is signed, and now that teams are throwing it more, fewer LBs will win)
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Ryan Mathews (No Vincent Jackson and lack of another guy to be the every-down back gives Mathews the advantage. Honorable Mention: Jahvid Best, Dez Bryant, Golden Tate [without TJ])
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Eric Berry (Similar logic applies here as it did to Revis above. Honorable Mention: Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Wilson- if he can get on the field enough)
Comeback Player of the Year: Wes Welker (This is a tricky award to deal with. Do they consider Wes Welker a comeback because he had knee surgery, or not a comeback because he played in almost every Patriots game last season? What do they go on? For that reason I went with Welker because I think he will count for the award, even though it is a sort of wishy-washy decision if he is making a “comeback” or not.)
Coach of the Year: Todd Haley (It either goes to a team with like 14 or 15 wins or one that overachieved. I think Mike McCarthy of the Packers has a very good shot at it as well, but I am going with the Chiefs head man for the award)
MVP:
Peyton Manning (Call me a homer. He is far from a shoe-in here, and if I was a betting man, I would have put my money on Aaron Rodgers at 12:1, but I am sticking with the most valuable player instead of the player with the best statistics. Honorable Mention: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Chris Johnson).

One last thing…

For Thursday: Saints 34, Vikings 24

Ready, set....... Coming soon: GO!

NFC North Preview

Just a brief word about this division before I get started. I like most of these teams this year, but they have a less-than-kind schedule and their improvements may not show up in the standings. Naturally, some improvements will, but just because I have your team at 4-12 does not mean I think they are only one game better than the Bills or Browns. Yes, that was directed at you, Chicago.

P.S. This article will not use the F Word. You will see what I mean.

1. Green Bay Packers     OTC Projected Record: 13-3

Ever since #4 left, things have been going Green Bay's way.

Calling Card: Passing Game
Weakness: Offensive Line
Franchise Player: Aaron Rodgers

Last year, the Green Bay Packers were everyone’s sleeper. With their new 3-4 defense and a rising star at quarterback, they made a lot of sense as a team to sneak up on people and make a run beyond the first round of the playoffs. However, things did not get off to a good start for the Pack. The offensive line was a sieve, the defense did not learn the 3-4 especially quickly, and, to add insult to injury, that old QB was in Minnesota tearing it up. However, as the year went on, the 3-4 started to stick, and the Packers were suddenly a team that no one wanted to play. That is about where we stand this year with the Packers. They have a fast, mean defense, an offense to rival any offense in the league, and no more sleeper label. The Packers are favorites in the NFC North.

Offense

Aaron Rodgers is headed for elite quarterback status beyond fantasy ranks, but there is more to this offense than Rodgers. The Packers quietly seem to construct a respectable running game every year, and they got a steal in the draft in Brian Bulaga to give the offensive line some much needed help. Greg Jennings is still the most popular Jennings in Wisconsin (over Brandon) and Donald Driver is still solid enough to hold down his deal with Time Warner Cable and haul in Rodgers’ passes. Add Jermichael Finley to the mix at tight end, and the Packers really do not have a weakness on offense. I went ahead and listed the offensive line as a weakness as Bulaga has yet to prove anything, but I think you can tell by my projected record that I think the offensive line will hold this year.

Defense

A new anchor at the center of the Green Bay defense.

Last year gave a glimpse of what Dom Capers wanted to turn this defense into. Going into year 2, I expect the metamorphosis to be complete. They lost Aaron Kampman, but lately it seems like the easiest thing to find is a fast linebacker who can rush the quarterback off the edge. They also have B.J. Raji (remember him? Highly touted DT out of Boston College?) healthy now to help clog the middle and push the offensive line back into the quarterback’s face. They finished in the top 5 in defense last year, but they lacked consistency at times, like the 503 yards passing they gave up to Big Ben in Pittsburgh. Year 2 means fewer wrinkles to fix and more consistency. This is a championship caliber defense.

Special Teams

Mason Crosby is as solid as anyone can be kicking in conditions bordering on arctic for half the year, and the return game is solid, though not explosive, with Will Blackmon. Don’t expect anything wild out of them, just solid.

Overview

The Green Bay Bandwagon is filling up fast, and while I am hardly the only one to like the Packers this year, I feel I am not without reason in picking them to finish with such a good record. I am not sure if they are ready for a Super Bowl run, but there is little doubt in my mind that they will have a chance to prove their worth in the playoffs. Hopefully for the Cheeseheads, someone can block a rusher in overtime.

2. Minnesota Vikings     OTC Projected Record: 11-5

-Insert Child Molester Reference Here-

Calling Card: Offense
Weakness: Head Coach
Franchise Player: Adrian Peterson

The Vikings had yet another offseason filled with news about a 40 year old QB who decided to return. However, there is way more to talk about with this team than him right now. Sidney Rice will miss about half the season after hip surgery, the QB has to try and replicate the best statistical season of his career, and a relative shortage of young guys to step in and fill voids. It will be hard for the Vikings to repeat their performance from last year.

Offense

This team is still incredibly talented on offense, but they seem to be guys on their down side rather than upside. Their QB is from the Mesozoic Era, their RB, while an elite talent, has fumble issues, their leading WR (Rice) is out for 8 weeks, their rookie stud from last year has had more migraine scares (Harvin), and no one on that offensive line is getting younger. Now all these guys are very good players, and should have good seasons, but last year, they all had great seasons. Even Visthante Shiancoe had a great year, cashing They were a juggernaut last year with those great years, and it is very much up in the air if they can repeat any of those performances. Now 11-5 is still very good, but it is a clear sign that they are no longer a lock to blow division opponents out and run roughshod over everyone. Definitely an offense on its down side.

Late breaking as I write this, the Vikings have acquired Greg Camarillo from the Dolphins. I like it a lot for him, but he doesn’t offer the same things as Rice. Javon Walker is a joke.

Defense

One of the funniest men in the NFL. Remember his joke about a "Schism" being an STD? Good stuff. Long live the mullet.

The defense is a little bit different. They are full of veterans who are still very solid, especially up front with the Williams Wall, Jared Allen, and Ray Edwards. The Williams Wall is getting a bit old, but it still is good enough to clamp down and clog up the line like one of their arteries. Edwards plays Robin to Jared Allen’s Mullet Batman, but everything up front is solid for the Vikings. They did lose a bit of their luster last year as teams started to run the ball on them, but they should still be able to be a very good run defense even if they are no longer the best. The secondary is not great on its own, but with the pressure of the front 4, they are more than fine. The linebackercorps is solid too with standouts Chad Greenway and EJ Henderson being the main attractions. They are not as good as they once were, but they are still plenty good to shut down the mediocre teams and limit most of the good teams. They will have problems with the really good offenses, but who doesn’t? I like the defense more than the offense, but it is clearly not what it used to be.

Special Teams

As long as Harvin can avoid looking into the sun and it triggering a migraine, he should be a gamebreaker in the return game, and the Vikings kicking and punting seems to be solid every year.

Overview

Brad Childress will kill this team. I haven’t seen a main piece of a group so spineless since calamari. He plays second fiddle to his quarterback, has little to no respect in the locker room, and still looks like a child molester. Low blow? Maybe, but I am not backing off the statement. He will cost this team, though the offense’s upcoming struggles will certainly not help.

3. Detroit Lions     OTC Projected Record: 4-12

Calling Card: None
Weakness: Defense
Franchise Player: Matthew Stafford

I really like the Lions this year. Their schedule does not. Their division is very tough, they have to play the NFC and AFC East (both of which are very good), and some of their more winnable games come on the road. This is a team for the future, but with this schedule, they are not a team for the present just yet. They will be watchable; they might even be a C+ team, but it will not show up in the win column.

They do not have a calling card yet, but they are going to be a quality passing team this year and Jahvid Best should be a nice shot of life to the offense. No calling card yet.

Offense

The offense should be good this year, but not quite enough to make up for the defense. Matthew Stafford’s rookie year looked a lot like Peyton Manning’s and Calvin Johnson is still a freak so it follows that they should be pretty decent through the air. I even like Nate Burleson’s chances of being a very solid #2 in the offense. However, they have more than that with Jahvid Best, the Barry Sanders-esque RB out of Cal. They even have Brandon Pettigrew, the 2nd year athletic TE out of Oklahoma State, to hold the safety in the middle of the field. I can’t believe I’m saying this many good things about the Lions, but I think their offensive line can even be on the verge of respectable this year with a few guys getting some key experience last year.

Consider me firmly on the Lions’ offensive bandwagon.

Defense

The House of Spears takes Detroit.

Different story here. Ndamukong Suh is a beast and should help immediately, but there are just problems here that he cannot fix. Like coverage. The secondary, even with veteran Dre Bly, gets torched every year but little seems to change back there. They did add some young pieces to the secondary, but they still might get torched more often than they do the torching. Consider it, like the entire defense, a work in progress.

Special Teams

Not much to say. Not the best special teams.

Overview

I like the growth of this team, but it will not show up in the win-loss column. Jim Schwartz has the team heading in the right direction, but between their opponents and a defense still progressing, the Lions may be in line to get another high draft pick while still being solid on the field.

4. Chicago Bears     OTC Projected Record: 4-12

Calling Card: Defense
Weakness: Consistency
Franchise Player: Right now, none

This joke makes itself

Before Chicago collectively shouts me down about this, allow me to explain. Just like Detroit, the Bears have a very difficult schedule this year. They also had serious offensive line issues last year and decided a good way to fix this would be to bring in an offensive coordinator who has the QB sitting in the pocket until he grows a beard. This offensive coordinator also prizes QBs who make good decisions, and dislikes using tight ends. Could you pick a less perfect team for Mike Martz than the Chicago Bears? We have a lot to talk about with the Bears, but you might not like it, Chicago.

Offense

Cutler is still talented. He also still makes bad decisions, and still has no protection. Bad news. Matt Forte had a bad year last too, and while some of that can be pinned on the offensive line, not all of the blame can be placed there. Cutler didn’t throw to him, he couldn’t run effectively, and he drove many fantasy owners to suicide. I do like Devin Aromashodu as a breakout guy, but that is largely as the main target in Martz’s offense, not necessarily because he is the best WR on their roster. Devin Hester is still a playmaker, but I just can’t get excited about anything in this offense.

One example of fantasy football helping us understand regular football right here. Many feel that Martz will ignite the Bears offense and get them throwing down the field productively. However, as Matthew Berry has taken to pointing out, the Bears already threw the ball 4th most in the NFL last year. How much more can they really throw, and how much more effective can they really be with the same bad offensive line another year toward the retirement home.

Oh, and the Over/Under on Mike Martz undermining Lovie Smith is Week 10.

Defense

On paper, this defense is solid. However, the stalwarts on the defense like Urlacher might spend more time on the training table than on the table. Hell, he is already hurt, imagine what happens when he starts playing real games. The addition of Julius Peppers is very nice on paper, but I sense that once the Bears make their race to the bottom like a cheap-labor dependent economy (high-brow there, apologies if it didn’t make sense). He is still a fantastic defensive end, but there is a reason he has not had an elite season in a while. I like it on paper, but the papers change with injuries, and the Bears do not have answers.

Special Teams

A good point for the Bears. Hester may not have run one back in a while, but the field position he gets them purely by being on the field is huge. I think the Bears should stick him back in the kickoff return game. Danieal Manning is good, but I doubt teams kick to Hester if he is out there so he should not be too tired. Play some mind games, Chicago. Good unit.

Overview

Again, much better than their record, but not a good team. Lovie Smith might get fired in season (though we think this every year), and Mike Martz/Mrs. Doubtfire is not a good thing for Chicago. Bear down, Chicago Bears fans. Things are going to get worse before they get better. If they get better…