Friday, September 30, 2011

Double Coverage: Week 3

1. Youth League Restrictions


Though we primarily cover the NFL on this blog, it is at its heart about football generally, and the first topic I'd like to discuss today is this article I read earlier about the Arkansas Wilson Intermediate Football League imposing a scoring restriction, named the "Madre Hill rule," on 11-year-old Demias Jimerson. Apparently, the running back's scoring was getting so out of hand that the other kids on the field were beginning to lose interest. WIFL Commissioner Terri Bryant said that "Jimerson is going to score almost every time he touches the ball."

The article does note that Jimerson knows when he reaches the 7th Grade, no more restrictions will be applicable. But I don't quite see the difference that being in 7th Grade or 6th Grade makes in terms of the eligibilty of restrictions. The whole concept of holding a talented player back doesn't sit well with me. Instead of trying to punish the kid at the front of the group, why don't they encourage the kids at the back to catch up? He should be an inspiration and a drive to work harder, not held back so that he doesn't disengage the other children.

Especially in a sport as competitive as football, slowing kids down for exceptional talent will do nothing but harm them in the long run. When he's trying to get a scholarship and then trying to get drafted, he's going to be up against other exceptional players who were never held back. And the message it sends to the other kids -- basically, "we are doing this to help you because otherwise you wouldn't be able to play at his level." It's just a bad situation, all around.


This seems to me like a misguided attempt at fairness. The thought that holding back one kid in order to keep the other kids "involved" in the game seems ludicrous to me. I agree with Michelle that the idea of holding one talented child back and not giving him every opportunity to play and stretch his abilities is absurd. I would think that, as a coach, I would encourage my players to have the opposite approach: don't just wait for the point in the game where this kid isn't playing anymore - instead, use it as an opportunity to challenge the defense and give them a real test. Don't shortchange one kid because the rest can't keep up. Use it as a learning tool, a chance to see that these are the types of players you'll see later on in your football careers. Sometimes, you meet a guy you just can't stop. But that doesn't mean the league should institute a rule that prevents them from trying every chance they get.

Sure, the rule has several provisions built in, such as his touchdowns don't count only if he's scored three times in the game already and his team is ahead by 14 or more. But no such rule is in effect in high school, college, or the NFL. Why should an intermediate youth league build up kids' expectations to believe that such a rule will always be there to help them out? If the kid has scored on you three times already and the team is up by more than 14 points, the damage is done. Most likely, you're gonna lose. In making this rule, though, the league gives Jimerson all of the power. They have played him up to be supernatural, some sort of unstoppable football god. Instead, they should give Jimerson every attempt to hone his skills, and the defense every opportunity to prove they can stop him. Even if he has already gashed them more than anyone else.

2. Are refs actually not doing enough to protect Vick?

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Well, Vick has since apologized for his comments, saying that he has nothing but "respect for the referees and their decisions" and we won't hear him "complain about it no more." I'm still struggling between whether his comments were appropriate and useful, or just another example of what former ref Mike Pereira has said about the Eagles: they complain more than any other team.

Lucas doesn't necessarily agree from me that Vick's comments stem from some sort of insecurity about his character or belief that people are more prone to discriminate against him. That's not the exact claim I'm making, per se, but I think inherent in Vick's claims is an assertion that refs are more fair to other QBs than to him, and therefore, some sort of unequal treatment accusation. In that respect, I think Vick needs to let his time on the field do his speaking, and stop getting himself into more trouble with his unchecked tongue. I do believe that Vick's comments are taken more seriously than other QB's. Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. among others, have made some incendiary comments lately, but the press just loves to jump all over Vick.

In terms of Vick's actual claim: that he isn't getting enough calls from the refs, I disagree with what Andy Reid said, which is that the refs can't treat Vick like a running back when he runs with the ball. Actually -- that's exactly what they can do, and mobile QBs like Vick, Roethlisberger, and Rodgers take the chance of whenever they run getting hit by defenders as hard as they'd like, except of course if they slide. If Vick doesn't want to slide, he has to accept that he's going to get more hits. That's just the way it is.

Ultimately, I think this whole issue has spawned a bigger problem that Pereira identified. Now, if Vick gets more calls the refs are going to look as though they were "bullied" into giving them, and if he doesn't, the complaints are going to continue. Ultimately, he needs to be aware of when he's playing like a QB and when he's playing like an RB and expect the flags to fly accordingly.


This is one where you have to look at the stats. As I pointed out in my MVPs and LVPs post, the Eagles lead the NFC East in roughing the passer calls over the past two years. Former NFL vice president of officiating, Mike Pereira (an extremely outspoken Vick critic this week), pointed out that Vick ranks 9th on the list of NFL quarterbacks that drew the most roughing the passer penalties in the past 19 games, ahead of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but behind such stellar quarterbacks as Jason Campbell, Colt McCoy, and Jay Cutler. Yes, it is tough to referee for a guy like Vick. He moves in and out of the pocket so much that it may be hard for officials to see if he is in front or behind the line of scrimmage, and guys are running after him so fast that it may be difficult for them to stop once he's thrown the ball. That doesn't excuse late hits, but if you look at the stats above, it seems like Vick has been getting plenty of calls in his favor. 

Honestly, Vick pointed out that, if you look at the game tape, he is on the ground after every play. But as I said before, I don't think that's the refs fault. For better protection, he needs to look to the weak Eagles offensive line. But I've already made my case for that. Realistically, all that Vick has done is make all referees who call future Eagles' games targets for criticism, as stated (correctly, I believe) by Pereira. If they call penalties against opposing defenses, it'll seem like Vick's comments forced their hand. If they don't call a lot, it'll seem like they're trying to punish Vick. It seems like a lose-lose situation. So Vick may have gotten what he wanted: referees will certainly pay closer attention to Eagles' games, though I'm not sure that it'll be for the right reasons.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

MEP of the Week: Week 3

This week's MEP is one of those players that absolutely doesn't get the respect he deserves. Granted, when your division includes Greg Jennings, Donald Driver (Matt Forte, if they moved him over to the position permanently), it's hard to make a name for yourself at receiver, but Calvin Johnson is absolutely on fire. He's good at what he does -- and he looks good doing it, too. 

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Johnson, along with Pettigrew, definitely carried the Lions' O in Week 3 against the Vikings, averaging almost 10 yards per carry. Think about it this way: while rankings aren't everything in this game (as the 10-6 Super Bowl Champ Packers can tell you), the Lions currently share a 0-3 record with the Pack. One may clearly be the better team, but at the end of the day, if the Lions win just one more game than the Pack due to any number of reasons (injuries on Green Bay's end and Johnson on Detriot's are certainly a couple), they will be at the top of a division of which, for many many years, they clung to the bottom.

If anyone has seen How I Met Your Mother, you know about Barney's theory of "The Cheerleader Effect." Sometimes, a group of [in Barney's case, women, for my purposes, football players] are really attractive (I mean, hello, a sea of shoulder pads and eye black?), but then when you take each of them separately, not so much. I sort of think the inverse is happening with Calvin Johnson. He's a really great player surrounded by...a lot of not-really-that-great-players (but, yes, yes, I'll admit that seems to be changing), so it's easy to overlook how talented he really is. 

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But as any fantasy player (including Lucas, who happens to have him) will tell you, Johnson is an invaluable addition to any team -- fantasy or otherwise. I think he's a big reason behind the Lions' sudden pendulum swing, and maybe with his help the Lions can just secure themselves a Wild Card in this year's playoffs...

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

MVPs and LVPs: Week 3


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Buffalo Bills (The entire team, special distinctions go to Ryan Fitzpatrick and the defense):

I said last week that it might be time to start thinking that these guys are for real. This week definitely asserts that. As a Patriots fan, this game was hard to swallow, and it will be a long time before I forgive Chad Ochocinco for dropping that likely TD pass late in the fourth quarter, but I have to hand it to the Bills, they looked really impressive. It takes a lot to come back from a 21-0 lead, especially against the Patriots, but Ryan Fitzpatrick did just that, throwing for 369 yards, 2 TDs, and 2 INTs to overtake and beat the Patriots 34-31, along with some phenomenal help from Fred Jackson, David Nelson, Stevie Johnson, and the rest of the Bills offense. It also takes a special defense to make Tom Brady look foolish, and the Bills picked him off 4 times, matching his total number of interceptions for the entire 2010 season (although much of that was Brady's fault). It was a well-played game by the Bills, who are now 3-0 and 1st in the AFC East, ahead of both the Patriots (2-1) and Jets (2-1), and was an exhilarating game to watch.

Torrey Smith (WR, Baltimore Ravens):

Another hard game to swallow for me, as Torrey Smith's amazing performance came at the expense of a 37-7 drubbing of the Rams. As a rookie, Torrey Smith had not made much of an impact as a member of the Ravens offense during the first two games of the season. In fact, before Sunday, he had never made a catch during a regular season game; Lee Evans had taken over the number two spot across from Anquan Boldin and occupied the speed receiver slot very nicely. Yesterday, though, Evans was inactive, and Smith made his presence known to the rest of the NFL. Smith caught 5 passes for 152 yards, the first three of which were all touchdown passes for 74, 41, and 18 yards, a total of 133 yards on TD passes alone. I liked Smith coming out of college, but never expected him to perform like this so early. I don't think the Ravens did either. If Smith can continue this kind of production, the Ravens may have found one of the most potent and explosive receivers in the NFL for years to come.

Darren McFadden (RB, Oakland Raiders):

I have to say, part of this comes from me having McFadden on my fantasy team. I was considering not playing him, since he was up against the Jets tough run-stopping defense, and playing Ahmad Bradshaw instead, as the Eagles defense seemed like a better matchup. I decided to play McFadden; in hindsight, I should have played both of them (and not Michael Turner instead of Bradshaw), but McFadden in particular had a beast of a day. He ran for 171 yards on 19 carries against the Jets defense for 2 TDs - that's an impressive day against any defense, but especially against one of the premier run defenses in the league. The Raiders won the game 34-24, but the real story here for me was McFadden. He currently leads the league in rushing yards with 393 after 3 games and has 84 yards receiving on 11 catches, and Mike Silver of Yahoo Sports makes a case that McFadden might be proving himself to be the best running back in the NFL not named Adrian Peterson. With the way other backs in the NFL are performing, it sure looks that way.

Calvin Johnson (WR, Detroit Lions):

Who would have thought that both the Bills and the Lions would be 3-0? I'm not exactly sure how it happened, but Detroit sure looked like a playoff-caliber team Sunday, coming back from a 20-0 deficit against the Vikings to win 26-23 in overtime. But the real player of the game was Johnson. He caught 7 passes for 108 yards and the only 2 TDs of the game for the Lions - he also caught a great catch that put the Lions in position to kick the game-winning field goal in OT. It seemed that whenever Matthew Stafford wasn't sure what to do, he would just throw it in Johnson's general direction and know that he would come down with a catch. It was a great win for the Lions, a horrible defeat for the Vikings (that's their third game in a row that they've lost after leading in the first half), and the Lions won for the first time in Minnesota since 1997.


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Minnesota Vikings (The entire team - no special distinctions):

It really makes one wonder when this statistic is thrown out: the Vikings have now become the fifth team in NFL history to blow three straight leads of 10 points or more. The only team to do it twice? The Minnesota Vikings. I thought the Vikings would be last in the NFC North this year, but this is sad. The Vikings are now 0-3, and there isn't much for them to do; a lot of people are pointing to the declining skills of Donovan McNabb as the cause, but even though he isn't looking good, there is plenty of blame to be placed on both sides of the ball. All they can really do now is pick themselves back up and hope that next week turns out better, because right now, things don't bode well for the rest of the Vikings' season.

Antonio Cromartie (CB, New York Jets):

I'm not saying the loss to the Raiders was Cromartie's fault. A lot of it had to do with the Raiders (especially McFadden) just playing really darn well. But after his monster game last week against the Jaguars, I had hoped the days of the bumblin'-stumblin' Cromartie were behind him. Instead, Cromartie was making mistakes all over the place - forcing penalties, flubbing kick returns, and just generally getting dominated by the Raiders. Darelle Revis is one of, if not THE, best corners in football, but a team is only as good as its weakest link. Cromartie needs to help support the Jets secondary (and especially Revis) by, at the very least, not making silly errors.

Tom Brady (QB, New England Patriots):

After two straight weeks on my MVP list, it's hard to put Brady here. But after his game against the Bills, it's hard not to. He threw 4 INTs, one of which was returned for a TD - that's equal to the total number of interceptions Brady threw throughout the entirety of last year (during the regular season). If you discount the interceptions, Brady had a good game (30 of 45 for 387 yards and 4 TDs). Much of the Bills' comeback win had to do with Buffalo playing great, but it's hard to believe that the Pats would have lost if it had not been for Brady's mistakes.

Philadelphia Eagles Offensive Line:

For a few seconds here, I'm gonna weigh in my thoughts on Michael Vick's comments about "being on the ground constantly." It was directed at officials (a quick tidbit: the Eagles have been the recipient of more roughing the passer penalties in the past two years than any other team in the NFC East - just sayin), but it also should be a shot at his offensive line. Despite their best efforts to upgrade, the O-line in Philly just looks shoddy and slow. They had four false starts in the last game alone, and have allowed Vick to be sacked 4 times in 3 games, not to mention all the times he's been hit after releasing the ball. They flailed in short yardage situations Sunday - when it's your job to move a defensive lineman just a yard off the ball so that the runner can get through, and you can't even do THAT, you have a serious problem. Vick has a right to be frustrated after getting a concussion, hurting his hand, and getting knocked down on almost every play. He's just pointing the finger at the wrong guys.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

MEP of the Week: Week 2

I think Lucas is going to be upset if Tom Brady is not my Week 2 MEP, especially since he asserted that he should have been my Week 1 MEP. I guess I'm just rolling with the assumption that Tom Brady will just keep on keeping on this way all season, so I can have him as my choice of MEP for any week. 

Of course, if he ends up dropping the ball halfway through the season (horrible pun least it's more polite than the other expression that popped into my head), I can still put him on my MEP list because, I mean, he's Tom Brady. Have you ever seen him?

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That's just for me. The eye black gets me every time. 

To prove to everyone once and for all that I lead with my head and not with my heart, I am selecting for my Week 2 MEP another quarterback, but one that I actually have never liked all that much. It's not that Tony Romo probably isn't a nice guy. I've just always felt like he was a little overrated (win a Super Bowl and then we'll talk), and I mean, he did break up with Jessica Simpson the night before her birthday. I don't care how you feel about Jessica Simpson (and I can't say I'm a fan), that's just RUDE. 

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I also think that Romo exists in a distinctive category for me of QBs I don't like much more as a representative of and reflection of the team for which they play, unlike the QBs I don't like just for being themselves (that distinction goes to Eli, mainly, and Big Ben. Sometimes Cutler, though I waffle on that because I'm a nice person and I guess maybe as a Packers fan I currently feel a little guilty for hating the Bears). I mean, I know the Cowboys are "America's Team" and all, but then again I was never a six-year-old boy (shocking, I know), so I didn't have that inherent fascination with the Cowboys from a young age. 

However, heroic displays of football bravery are always a win in my book, and they don't get much better than Romo's last Sunday afternoon. Any QB who withstands an injury that forces him to leave the game and then makes his way back to save the day always scores some points. But it turns out that Romo broke a rib and punctured a lung. And yet back he came, and in full swing, finding Jesse Holley (another pretty awesome story) for a 77-yard pass. 

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Of course, I guess Tony Romo isn't technically eligible, having just married Candice Crawford (and becoming brothers with Chase Crawford...weird). But you know what I mean. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

MVPs and LVPs: Week 2


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Tony Romo (QB, Dallas Cowboys):

With a complete turnaround from last week (where Romo found himself on my LVP list), Romo played a very impressive game Sunday, leading the Cowboys to an overtime comeback win against the 49ers. Not only did Romo rack up good stats (20 of 33 for 354 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INTs), but he answered everyone who questioned his toughness and leadership ability after last week (myself included) by coming back at the end of the third quarter when the Cowboys were down 24-14 and playing with two fractured ribs and a punctured lung from an injury he suffered just before halftime. Miles Austin was dominant with three TD catches, and everyone is raving about the wonderful story of Jesse Holley, but Romo gets the nod for me from this game. We'll see if he can keep this up whenever he comes back from his injury (be it next week or in a few weeks), but for now, he showed everyone who doubted him just what the Cowboys see in him in what could turn out to be a career-defining performance.

Buffalo Bills (The Entire Team - special distinctions go to Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson):

Maybe it's time to finally think that the Bills are for real. Even after last weeks' impressive beatdown of the Chiefs, I was still doubtful that the Bills could really be that successful on the field - I was thoroughly convinced that game was a result of the Chiefs' poor defense (which it was, and more on that later). But their 38-35 comeback win over the Raiders was probably the best game I saw all weekend (only rivaled by the Atlanta-Philly game Sunday night), and I can honestly say that I was on the edge of my seat the entire 4th quarter. After being down 21-3 at the half, Buffalo came back with a vengance, and trailing 35-31, Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Bills on an intense drive that ended with a 6-yard TD pass to receiver David Nelson on 4th down with 14 seconds left in the game. Fitzpatrick went 28 of 46 for 264 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT, one week after going 17 of 25 for 208 yards, 4 TDs, and 0 INTs, and Fred Jackson ran for 117 yards. I'm still unsure if this new face of the Bills will stick around (especially next week against New England), but it's hard not to be impressed after the first two weeks.

Detroit Lions (The Entire Team):

The fact that the Lions have won their first two games doesn't surprise me: it's the manner in which they've done it. One week after beating the Buccaneers, the Chiefs were absolutely wrecked by the Lions in a 48-3 blowout. It was the biggest margin of victory in Lions' franchise history. Matthew Stafford went 23 of 39 for 294 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT, and the Lions defense forced three interceptions of Matt Cassel and six turnovers in the game. It was all-out utter domination, and it puts the Lions as one of three teams in the NFC that has a 2-0 record (along with the Green Bay Packers and...Washington Redskins??). Although that doesn't hold much water now in terms of what could happen later in the season, if the Lions keep playing the way they are now, it's hard not to see them in the playoffs in some capacity.

Tom Brady (QB, New England Patriots):

How do you follow up a game in which you threw for a franchise-record 517 yards, 4 TDs, and 1 INT? Brady showed everyone the answer by continuing to play out-of-this-world on Sunday against the Chargers, going 31 for 40 (a 77.5% completion percentage against last week's 66.7%) for 423 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs, on the way to a 135.7 QB rating (the best possible rating is 158.3, and last week Brady put up a 121.6 rating). Currently, for the season, he is 63 of 88 for 940 yards, 7 TDs, and 1 INT. He was phenomenal against a Chargers defense that actually played very well against him, and there wasn't much the Chargers could do against him that they didn't already do. He just looked unstoppable.


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Luke McCown (QB, Jacksonville Jaguars):

This week showed the return of the Luke McCown I know and love. I was fairly surprised when the Jaguars were able to beat the Titans last week (especially after seeing the Titans impressive win over the Ravens this week). But this week, it looked like McCown was a two-year old playing against pros. He had only 6 completions and 4 INTs against the Jets for a QB rating of 1.8. Compare that to Brady's. McCown was just disturbingly bad. I'm sure Jack Del Rio had his reasons for releasing David Garrard, but if I were him, I'd be rethinking that decision right now. Also, it means that Jaguars fans will (and should) once again start clamoring for Blaine Gabbert, their QB of the future according to Del Rio, to become the starting quarterback. Maybe the future is right now for Gabbert and Jags, because I don't really see any other options for them.

Kansas City Chiefs (The Entire Team - special distinctions go to Matt Cassel and Todd Haley):

The past two weeks have been just one horrible thing after another for the defending AFC West champions. Not only did they lose to Buffalo last week by a margin of 41-7, they were decimated by the Lions Sunday, losing 48-3. That means, in the first two weeks of the season, the Chiefs have been outscored 89-10. That is just awful. And after losing safety Eric Berry last week for the season due to an ACL tear and TE Tony Moeaki before the season even began, premier running back Jamaal Charles is now out for the season, also with an ACL tear. Charles had a breakout season last year, leading the league in yards-per-carry with 6.4 yards, and coming in second to Arian Foster in overall rushing yards with 1,467. QB Matt Cassel, who only threw seven interceptions during the entirety of last season, threw three against the Lions and one against the Bills against only 1 TD pass in both games combined. Essentially, things can't get a whole lot worse for the Chiefs. A lot of people in KC are calling for the firing of head coach Todd Haley. After only two games, with key injuries that weren't his fault, I think that's a little premature (even if he is doing a terrible job this season). But one thing is for sure: for the Chiefs, something needs to change, and fast.

Reggie Bush (RB, Miami Dolphins):

Just last week, Dolphins head coach Tony Sporano said that their plan was to give Bush the ball at least 20 times per game for the rest of the season. This week, Bush only got six touches for 18 yards (as well as one catch for 3 yards) against the Texans before rookie Daniel Thomas stepped in and ran away with 18 carries for 107 yards. If Bush wants to become a bigger part of this Miami offense, he's going to have to step up and be able to put up some good yards, or Thomas will become the feature back sooner rather than later.

Indianapolis Colts (The entire team, especially the offense):

Wow. I thought about putting Peyton Manning in the MVPs section both this week and last week, simply because this new Colts team is showing just how lost it is without Manning. After being broken last week by the Texans, the Colts showed nothing new against the Browns in a 27-19 loss. It's sad that the Colts have gotten to the point where everyone EXPECTED them to lose to the Browns. It looks as though, without the return of Manning, the Colts are destined to be at the bottom of the AFC South totem pole. I read an article yesterday that proposed that the Colts go out and try to get Brett Farve, as a last minute attempt at some wins and/or dignity. While I don't think that begging Brett Farve to play for you is any way to restore dignity, and I don't agree with the idea, I do think that one sentiment of the proposal rings true: what do the Colts have left to lose?


Friday, September 16, 2011

Double Coverage: Week 1

After Week 1, who will finish as the worst team in the league?

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This is a tough one. There are just so many options. When it comes down to it though, I see the Denver Broncos as this years' worst team. There are just too many issues for them not to be. Yes, they fixed a few of their defensive problems from last year by drafting Von Miller and Rahim Moore, and they still have a great receiver in Brandon Lloyd. But the pass-happy days of Josh McDaniels are gone, and in his place is John Fox, the coach who was just fired for leading the worst team in the league last year (and yes, I'm aware that much of that had to do with bad QB play), who's used to having at least a few decent running backs to work with from his days in Carolina. Look at what he has now: Knowshon Moreno and Willis McGahee. Based on past production, not exactly the ideal backfield. Granted, Fox is more of a defensive guy, and talent-wise, I think they've really spent time and improved on that side of the ball. I'm just not sure if they can execute. Also, it's already Week 1, and the team already looks battered and bruised from just the first game. Champ Bailey, the team's number 1 CB, Elvis Dumervil (DE), Brandon Lloyd, and Moreno all haven't practiced in the past few days, and the odds are that many of them will be out for next week, if not longer.
And we've haven't even gotten to the best part yet: as the Broncos' like to call it, the "Tim Tebow thing". First off, I'll just start out by saying that it's a real problem when your fans are chanting, at the first home game of the year, for the third-string QB to come out and play. When fans are clamoring to buy billboards to express their discontent with not seeing Tebow in the game, I think you have a real disconnect between your fans and your team, and as much as people don't seem to want to say it, that makes an impact on a team. The fans say Tebow. The players say Kyle Orton. Orton is serviceable, but I don't think he's the type of QB that will take a team to the playoffs. I don't think Tebow is either. Orton looked sloppy and slow leading the Broncos' offense on Monday (sacked 5 times, 24 of 46, 1 interception and 1 fumble), but I don't think Tebow could have done much better. Tebow needs a lot of coaching before he can play at an NFL caliber level, no matter what accomplishments he had in college. I don't think it's impossible for him to get there (after all, Tebow is know for his tremendous work ethic, which I give him a lot of credit for), but it will take a lot of time, and I'm not sure that Fox, Elway, or any of the other Bronco personell will be willing to put in a lot of effort on a player that won't give them the immediate results they need. Either way, with McDaniels gone, Orton's production will decline since he'll no longer be passing the ball on every down, and Tebow lost his biggest supporter in Denver. All in all, the Broncos' QB situation is a mess, and that's going to lead to disaster on the field, no matter the talent or coaching staff that surrounds them. After everything that has happened during the offseason - Denver dangling Orton as trade bait, promising the job to Tebow, and then pulling the old switcheroo after they realized he was nowhere near ready - Denver is no longer an environment that breeds trust among a team, its coaches, or its fans. But, maybe drafting Andrew Luck will finally give the coaches, teammates, and fans someone to unify them, because that seems to be the direction that they're heading in.


We could start off this discussion by pointing out that a study (yes, a real one) has found that the Kansas City Chiefs are the worst-looking team. No, I don't mean they're going to have the worst season...I mean they are apparently the ugliest team in the league.  (FWIW, the Bills are apparently the best...I guess we see now that looks don't always get you success.)

I think Lucas makes some great points about the Broncos, and I think this whole question is confounded by one big variable -- that being, of course, Andrew Luck. We can't really talk about the worst teams in the league with the typical considerations (talent, coaching, money), because we have this nebulous gray area: the possibility that one of any teams might deliberately tank their season in order to win the Luck lottery. I could see a number of teams pulling this, including the Broncos, the Colts (we'll discuss that later), and the 49ers. But I almost don't want to give that motive credit, because it's a real shame to throw a season for a higher draft pick. My first instinct tells me Browns, but with the first half of their season consisting of meetings with the Colts minus manning, the Titans, the Raiders, the Seahawks, the 49ers, and the Bengals... they might be able to do some magic with their record. The Bengals, another contender in the worst season contest, have a similar first half.

So I'll be a little more old school here and throw my weight behind the Panthers. I'll touch on Newton in greater depth in our next topic, but I'm going to put a lot of weight on difficulty of season. Before their Bye Week, the Panthers have fallen to the Cards and are meeting the Packers, the Bears, the Saints, and the Falcons. That's a season that could make the top teams cry, and it doesn't include their two post-Bye meetings with the Bucs, who I think will have a strong showing this year, and their closer against the Saints. Their only hope might be found in...

After his stellar Week 1 performance, is Cam Newton is the real deal?

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Cam Newton was great in his rookie debut. There's no doubt about that. But the question still remains for me: will Newton continue to look this good, or was the Cardinals defense really that bad? Passing for over 400 yards and 2 TDs in your first pro game is extremely impressive. But the Cardinals were in the bottom third of defenses last year, and I think Newton will struggle against better defenses; unfortunately for him, he's got two (arguably three) in his own division. It's going to be a tough year. He showed some rookie jitters in the final quarter when he couldn't get a drive going, forcing the team to punt to Patrick Peterson, who took it to the house for the game-winning touchdown (which was definitely not his fault). Little issues like that happen and are to be expected. But I think the great thing about Newton for the Panthers is that he gives them hope. In a locker room filled with a bleak outlook all of last year, it has to be nice for the Panthers and their fans to finally have something (or someone) to put their faith in. Newton showed the world that he can beat up on poor defenses, and that he's ready to try his hand at the NFL. 

But unfortunately, I don't think that optimism will last for long - believe it or not, Newton will struggle this year (maybe for a few years to come), and I'm still not thoroughly convinced that he has what it takes to make it in this league long-term. One good performance does not a career make; even Chad Henne has had his 400+ yard games, and I think almost everyone would agree that he is not a great NFL QB. For now, though, Cam Newton has at least done what he needed to do: he has given the Panthers the spark they need to start believing again.


I'll be the first to admit I came off the draft and into this season a little less impressed with Newton, and I was genuinely surprised that he managed to throw 422 yards with 2 touchdowns. The interception hurt him, but it was still an impressive rookie debut, no doubts. Here's my issue with Cam Newton: let's say he stays at that level. I don't think he will, but let's just say. Those numbers might get him through his matchups against Rex Grossman or Kerry Collins, but he has still got to go up against Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler, Drew Brees, Matt Ryan. Even Matthew Stafford and Donovan McNabb could give him some trouble. 

I think it really comes down to what Lucas said. In a way, Cam Newton has already done the most important thing he could do for the Panthers. He's given them something to build on and a hope for their future seasons. I think he and Jeremy Shockey could be a great team. I just don't see it all happening with such a tough season and with Newton being so fresh. 

With Peyton Manning injured, what should the Colts' long-term plans be?

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The one thing it's easy for the Colts to do in this situation is panic. My heart goes out to the Manning, as neck injuries can be scary for players, but I think even if he sits out the season, Manning will be back next year guns ablaze. I've read lots of articles this week that suggest the Colts' plan is to tank the season, draft Andrew Luck, and then either release Manning, no matter what shape he's in, or sit Luck behind Manning for a year and then trade Peyton away. I personally don't believe that to be the case. If that's the Colts' plan, they wouldn't have signed Kerry Collins - that's a good chunk of money just to watch the team lose, and they could've implemented that plan successfully with the guys they already have. Collins is still good for a few wins. People also need to remember that this is Peyton Manning we're talking about; the guy is arguably the best to ever play the game. If I were the Colts, I would take a still-recovering Manning over a rookie QB any day, and if Manning is able to play, he'll play. The only way I see Manning not playing next year (or even for the next few years) is if he is physically unable to do so. The Colts also just signed Manning to a $90 million, 5 year contract before the start of the season, and I know it has a bunch of clauses in it that will let the Colts out if they deem it necessary, but it's hard for me not to see the Colts wanting Manning to play (if he can) so they can see some return out of that investment. The big thing the Colts need to do is keep an eye on his recovery as the season progresses and evaluate his condition once the season is over. Without knowing all of the facts, the Colts can't make an accurate plan for the future of the franchise, and there's no need to purposefully do poorly this year if you don't need to.
The other thing that this whole mess highlights is the poor forward thinking of the Colts. They had no real backup, and no plans for any sort of post-Manning era. It's almost as though they thought Manning was untouchable and immortal (although, since he has started every game since he was drafted, I can see why they thought so). Even though it won't be Luck, the Colts need to take a QB in next years' draft, and use whatever time Manning has left to train and mold the rookie. That much should be certain. But until more is known about Manning's status later in the year, speculation and rash thinking is pointless, and the Colts need to avoid panicking for the sake of their future.


Here's my $.02 about player injuries, in general. My first thoughts in these situations are always with the player, and then only second do I think about team implications. And, somewhat tangential but completely necessary side rant, NEVER do I think about fantasy implications. I can't remember the last time I was so upset as I was when I saw, last year when Rodgers was out with his concussion for the game against New England, how many people were winky-whining about the implications for their fantasy teams. These injuries completely alter athletes' careers, and by default, their entire lives. I was incredibly disappointed with Bob Costas' halftime report / spectacle about Peyton Manning, in which he said that though Manning has led the league in talent, sportsmanship, and character for 13 seasons, his "window may now be closing." As Lucas pointed out, it sounded like he was writing his obituary. I just found it incredibly inappropriate that just because Manning might be out for 13 games, what he's accomplished in 13 seasons goes into question. 

That being said, the Colts are in a bind. They've absolutely put all their stock in Manning, and until now, perhaps not wrongly so. Unfortunately, even if they didn't intentionally try to throw this season, they very well may still come close to it -- it's not going to be easy. But there's no reason why they can't expect Manning to have a healthy handful of years in front of him, and while they do need to do something about their backup QB now...I absolutely don't think going for Andrew Luck (and then even potentially having an Alex Smith situation on their hands) is the answer. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

MEP of the Week: Week 1

I thought about titling this post "Michelle's MEP of the Week," but I had a few reservations about that. The first was, I like things that are catchy and clean, and that sounded a little wordy. The second was, well, if you guys couldn't figure out that I was writing these posts, and not Lucas...I meannnn...we'd have a bigger problem on our hands. 

Also, if you couldn't figure it out, MEP stands for "Most Eligible Player." 

So, not to have a post full of disclaimers, but this one merits a big one. Because my MEP of the Week for Week 1 just so happens to be my favorite person of all time, Aaron Rodgers. 

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I know some of you are crying foul. "Of course Michelle would have her favorite QB, future husband, and love of her life as her Week 1 MEP. She'll probably have him as her EVERY Week MEP." And to that I say, nay. 

Let's be real for a second. YES, Aaron is the future father to my children. YES, I'm so obsessed with him that it makes Lucas a little uncomfortable. But let's look at the facts. 

FACT. Aaron Rodgers is a returning Super Bowl Champion. 

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FACT. Aaron Rodgers looks great with a milk mustache. (Unfortunately, I'll be the first to admit he looks somewhat sketchy with a real one.)

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FACT. He criticized Mark Sanchez's rather unfortunate photo spread in GQ magazine. Some might call him snarky or petty, but I think he's just saying what we're all thinking. Rodgers is an athlete before he's a celebrity, and imho, Sanchez is a celebrity before he's an athlete. So Rodgers spoke his mind, just like his recent responses to the media's criticism of him not holding team-only preseason workouts. Drew Brees held a gazillion, and we all watched the same season opener, amirite? Quote: "I mean, could we have started any faster and scored any more points tonight?" Well, he possibly could have had the showing Tom Brady had this week, but we'll save those comparisons for the Super Bowl. 

FACT. I don't care if you're a Packers fan or not. Aaron Rodgers is an elite quarterback with an astounding sense of motivation, and one of the league's most exciting rising stars to watch. His impressive post-Super Bowl performance shows that maybe that chip isn't totally off his shoulder, and maybe it never will be.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MVPs and LVPs: Week 1


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Aaron Rodgers (QB, Green Bay Packers)/Drew Brees (QB, New Orleans Saints)
-It's tough to say here who deserves the player of the game award from this one. Granted, the Packers came out on top, but I still maintain that it was the Packers' defense that won that game (although the offense was outstanding); had it not been for the fumble on the Saints' first drive and the goal-line stop at the end of the game (both great plays), the Saints could have stayed in this one and maybe pulled out a W. Regardless, both quarterbacks played absolutely great, and ended up with similar stats (Rodgers went 27 of 35 for 315 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs, while Brees went 32 of 49 for 419 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs). It was incredible to watch both of them at work, and honestly, I couldn't not put both of them in this post in some capacity. This was one of my favorite games to watch this weekend, and thanks to it, I still think that both of these teams will see each other again in the NFC Championship game.

Cam Newton (QB, Carolina Panthers)
-I'm still unsure if Cam Newton will turn out to be a great quarterback in the NFL in the long term, but I have to admit, he was really freaking impressive against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. He went 24 of 37 for 422 yards, had 2 TDs passing, 1 rushing TD, and just 1 INT in his first NFL game ever, breaking the record for first-game rookie passing yards set by Peyton Manning. Although this might become a question of "Is Cam Newton really that good, or is the Cardinals' defense really that bad", it's hard to argue with play that good. I didn't see it during the preseason, and I'm still skeptical that he can keep it going (especially against the Packers next week), but Newton finally showed flashes of why the Panthers picked him Number 1 overall in the NFL draft.

Baltimore Ravens Offense and Defense (distinctions go to Haloti Ngata, Joe Flacco, and Ray Rice)
-That game was just all Ravens, all day. They completely and utterly dominated the Steelers, forcing seven turnovers, including 3 interceptions and 2 fumbles from Ben Roethlisberger on the way to a 35-7 beatdown. Ngata especially was disturbingly good on the defensive side of the ball. But as dominant as the Ravens defense was, their offense was far more dynamic than they have been against the Steelers in the past. Joe Flacco played the best game he has ever had against the Steelers, throwing for 224 yards and 3 TDS to a 117.6 passer rating. Ray Rice also ran all over the place with 107 yards rushing and 42 yards receiving. The Steelers, who were completely smothering last year, looked lost, and this game definitely shifted the balance of power in the AFC North to the Ravens.

New York Jets Defense
-I'll admit it, I thought the Jets D would take a slight decrease in production this year. But they looked great on Sunday, playing with emotion and power to make a phenomenal comeback against the Cowboys on Sunday. With a little over 9 minutes left in the game, down 24-10, the Jets D forced Tony Romo to fumble the ball on the Jets 2-yard line. The Jets scored to bring it within a touchdown, and a blocked Cowboys punt a few minutes later by Joe McKnight was run back for TD to tie the game. But it was the interception by Darrelle Revis that sealed the Cowboys fate, as it stopped the Cowboys from going down the field, and helped to put the Jets in position to kick the game-winning field goal with 32 seconds left in the game. If the Jets can keep this up for the rest of the season, they're gonna have a great year.

Tom Brady (QB, New England Patriots)
-It gives me great personal pleasure to put this in here, but c'mon, after the way Brady played on Monday night against the Dolphins, he deserves it. Brady was out of control, throwing for a career-high 517 yards (a team record) and 4 TDs. This included a 99-yard TD pass to Wes Welker. 517 yards is off the charts, and even though he threw his first regular season interception in 358 passes (an NFL record), he played like last years' MVP.

Tony Scheffler (TE, Detroit Lions)
-Because this celebration, after a TD against the Bucs, is awesome.


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Ben Roethlisberger (QB, Pittsburgh Steelers)
-This is not often said about Big Ben, but this game almost might have been better had he not shown up. Sure, he threw for 280 yards and 1 TD, but any time a QB throws 3 INTs and loses 2 fumbles, no matter how good the defense is (and again, the Ravens' defense was outstanding), he deserves to be on this list. I don't think he'll stay in this funk, but it was a poor way for the Pittsburgh offense to start.

St. Louis Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
-Yes, I am a St. Louis fan, and it hurts me to put this here. But I almost put the St. Louis Rams in general, due to the massive amount of injuries they sustained in the first game of the season. But seriously, Rams receivers? SERIOUSLY? Even after looking good in the preseason, the Rams passing game couldn't get anything going against the Eagles, and before you say anything about how good the Eagles' defense is, I have one word: drops. Drops, drops, drops. No one could hold on to the ball. In fact, the only Rams receiver who made any sort of impact all day was Danny Amendola, who is now out indefinitely due to a dislocated elbow. Brandon Gibson showed flashes of decency near the end of the game, but someone (Lance Kendricks? Mike Sims-Walker?) needs to step up and actually grab the football, or the Rams are done. The only silver lining from this game was that Cadillac Williams proved to be a wise pickup for the rushing game, getting 91 yards rushing and 49 yards receiving once Steven Jackson left the game after scoring a 47-yard TD on the first Rams offensive play of the game. If Jackson needs to sit next week against the Giants, at least the Rams have Williams to lean on. And at least the Giants looked terrible this weekend.

Donovan McNabb (QB, Minnesota Vikings)
-Not much to say here. I was expecting at least a decent showing from McNabb after leaving Washington for the Shanahan-free pastures of Minnesota. But he threw for only 39 yards. With a longest pass of 12 yards. No way the Vikings are going far if McNabb keeps playing like that.

Tony Romo (QB, Dallas Cowboys)
-Granted, the Jets defense played really well, but with a 14 pt lead in the 4th quarter, a veteran QB like Romo should know to make better decisions. For instance, take care of the ball if you're going to try to pound it in to the end zone. Or, on a possibly game-winning drive, don't throw towards the guy who is arguably the top cornerback in the NFL. Hopefully he learns from this, or the Cowboys are in for a long season.

Kansas City Chiefs' Defense
-The Bills played really well, but any defense that allows a team to score 41 points on them (especially the Bills), and allows Ryan Fitzpatrick to go 17 of 25 for 208 yards and 4 TDs, is just sad. Losing safety Eric Berry for the season with a torn ACL was just an extra kick in the crotch.

NFL Kickoff Return Rules
-Most people, myself included, thought that the new kickoff return rules were essentially the end of the kickoff return in the NFL. But three kickoffs were taken to the house this weekend (Percy Harvin of the Vikings, Ted Ginn of the 49ers, and Randall Cobb of the Packers), including the record-tying 108 yard return in the opening game by Cobb. This won't continue, but what a great way to show the fans that kickoffs can still be an exciting part of the game.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gameday Recipe: Buffalo Chicken Tenders

One of my favorite things about fall and football is getting together with my boys and cooking them some outrageous food. I also like that football (along with holidays, good news, bad news, weekends, going to the movies...) gives me an excuse to make and then consume delicious food without penance. But Lucas and I are on our own this year, with the five suitemates we watched all the games with last year scattered across two continents. 

Thus, I'm going a little overboard to compensate. It's the right thing to do. 

First recipe up of the day is a must-have: buffalo chicken tenders.

A couple weekends ago, under the guise of being healthy, I tried to make baked buffalo chicken tenders with panko. Naturally, they just didn't do it for me. So I've gone back to my tried-and-true, lightly crispy, pan-fried tenders.

Start by cutting some skinless, boneless chicken tenders up into small strips. Sometimes I do them popcorn-sized, but for today, we're doing strips.

In a small bowl, combine some flour (I use whole wheat ... it doesn't have any calories or carbs, didn't you know?), cornstarch, salt, pepper (lots of pepper), cayenne pepper, and if you have some on hand, paprika.

What you do next depends on a. your level of laziness, and b. how quickly kickoff is approaching. I can't tell you the amount of times I've burned myself, dropped pans of dip, burnt mac and cheese, and generally wreaked havoc in my kitchen because I was about to miss the opening kick. Don't be like me. Leave yourself plenty of time!

(It probably helps if you happen to like: cooking and are apathetic to: football, but I promise you, it just won't taste the same.)

So, you have one of two options: you can create an egg wash by mixing together a whole egg and about a tsp of water, and then brush this over the chicken before tossing it in the flour mixture. Sometimes I just throw the chicken in there, and the only real problem that creates is that when I put it in the skillet, a lot of the flour mixture tends to fall off. But having the oil get very hot (on low heat) helps, and the egg wash does too. I

Just do what feels right.

Take your egg-bath chicken or your naked chicken and toss in the flour mixture to coat thoroughly. Heat up about a 1/2 inch of oil (I use canola ... sometimes I use olive, and then I cry because I've just wasted approximately $3 worth of oil to make something that isn't even healthy anyway) over medium-low heat and let it get nice and hot. Toss in your chicken and cook until golden brown on all sides, and place in a bowl covered with aluminum foil to keep warm.

When the chicken's all done, take some Frank's Red Hot and drizzle it in the bowl. Then serve it up with some celery and blue cheese!

In other news:

1. Fox NFL Countdown universally selected Green Bay to take the Super Bowl, and Casey Matthews is getting his first moments of playtime. Today is a good day.

2. Lucas and I are watching Eagles @ Rams first today (followed by Steelers @ Ravens and Cowboys @ Jets), and while Lucas is sobbing tears of joy at seeing his boy Sam Bradford back in action and trying to put me in his Rams shirt, I'm urging Vick, my fantasy QB, to get me on the board. Whooops.....

3. Living on the west coast during football season is weird, ya'll. Eating buffalo chicken tenders at 11am seems extremely inappropriate... but it just feels so right.


Friday, September 9, 2011

Ridiculously Early Playoff Predictions: AFC Edition

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Let's shift in the other direction and take a look at the AFC teams that I think are postseason bound this year:

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AFC East: New England Patriots

-Again, more full disclosure: I'm also a big Pats fan. But they've won this division 8 times in the last 10 years, and it's hard to bet against them, at least during the regular season. I like the addition of Chad Ochocinco to the offense, and if he can cut down the shenanigans and get in sync with Tom Brady, I think he can be a huge weapon in the Patriots' arsenal as a big receiver to complement Wes Welker and Deion Branch. Rookies Shane Vareen and Stevan Ridley will bring a new dimension to the running game, and the defense is looking better in the preseason in their biggest area of need last year: pass rushing. I'm still not completely convinced Albert Haynesworth is exactly what the team needs, but all of the other defensive free agents Belichick brought in are certainly helping so far. The Jets are spotty, and even though I still see them reaching the playoffs again with a wild card spot, many of their wins last year came against losing teams in the fourth quarter or overtime. It remains to be seen whether or not Plaxico will be able to be consistent and replace the departed Braylon Edwards, and both Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene need to step up and lead the team. Plus, they lost several key defensive players by cutting funds in the hunt for Nnamdi (Jason Taylor and Shaun Ellis come to mind), and that's going to come back and hurt them late in the game, even though I do think they'll continue to be one of the more dominant defenses in the league. The Dolphins need to find a suitable QB (maybe David Garrard, anyone?) before they can make the necessary push to contend in this division (or Chad Henne needs to step up, but I don't think he's the long term answer), and the Bills, though admirably better last year than previous years, still don't have a chance to make the playoffs this year. Lo and behold, the Patriots will win again, and move on to the postseason once more.

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AFC North: Pittsburgh Steelers

-It's hard to bet against the reigning AFC champion Steelers here. They looked good last year, and if the preseason is any indication, the defense looks to be headed for another monster year, and Ben Roethlisberger looks poised to pull off another big one. The question mark/difference maker in this division, though, will be the performance of the Baltimore Ravens. I like the Ravens this year. A lot. I really do. Joe Flacco looked good in the preseason, and I really like the addition of Lee Evans on the outside; it gives Flacco another deep threat, and takes the pressure off of rookie Torrey Smith to perform and produce right now as a number 2 wideout. The defense is still good, but aging, and they need to win now before they lose Ray Lewis and other key defensive players in the next few years. The Ravens were so close last year, and all they needed (and still need to do) is overcome that last hurdle: beating the Steelers. I see the two teams splitting their matchups this year, but ultimately, the Ravens will come up one game short in the division, and the Steelers will take the title. Don't despair, Ravens fans; I still have the team getting into the playoffs by taking the second wild card slot, and good things are coming their way later. Other teams in the I even have to mention the Bengals and Browns? Actually, I like the Browns, especially Colt McCoy, and maybe in a few years they'll have what it takes to contend in this division. But right here, right now, they're still in rebuilding mode, and it's tough to see them beating either the Ravens or Steelers with a new scheme, a new head coach, and no big weapons in the passing game. And the Bengals - without Carson Palmer or Ochocinco, their chances take an immediate nosedive, and they're currently the frontrunners in my book for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes (unceremoniously given to the worst team in the league), even though I do like Andy Dalton. Sorry Bengals fans. Just the way it is.

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AFC South: Houston Texans

-This may seem like the popular pick, but this is the Texans year. Right. Now. This is it. The past few years, when everyone said it was their year: BULLSHIT. This is the time. And it has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Matt Schaub is my fantasy football QB. But seriously, this division seems like it's the Texans for the taking at this point. They've improved their defense significantly during the offseason (I especially like the addition of J.J. Watt) to the point where they will be at least adequate, and the Andre Johnson-Matt Schaub connection looks primed to explode. Even if Arian Foster declines in production from last year, I think the team has enough good depth in their backfield to overcome any sort of dip. Plus, take a look at the rest of the division. Let's be real: the Colt's aren't anything without Peyton Manning, Kerry Collins will not be a serviceable Band-Aid to mask their offensive issues, and the losses of Bob Sanders and Clint Session will be felt on the defensive side. With Manning undergoing cervical fusion surgery yesterday and expected to miss 2-3 months, if not the whole season, I see the Colts battling with the Titans for the number 2 and 3 spots in the division. The Titans still have Chris Johnson, but their defense still needs some work, especially in the pass rush department (the loss of Jason Babin hurts), and they need time for Jake Locker to develop into their QB of the future. Matt Hasselbeck still has some gas left in the tank, but I don't think it'll even be close to enough for a playoff run. As for Jacksonville, David Garrard may not have been the answer at QB, but Luke McCown certainly isn't, and Blaine Gabbert needs a season or two to grow before he can take a swing at being their franchise quarterback. As good as their new defense may be, the offense still needs a lot of improvement (even though they do have Maurice Jones-Drew). I see the Jags falling to last place in the division, and Jack Del Rio being out of a job halfway through the season.

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AFC West: San Diego Chargers

-Yes, that's the guy that is going to lead the Chargers to the playoffs this year (this picture was too funny not to put here). It's tough not to call this one for the Chargers. They were number 1 in overall offense and defense last year, but were plagued by terrible special teams play which kept them from the postseason. They fixed that by bringing in a new special teams coach, and I think those issues will be a thing of the past this season. Couple that with the new faces on defense (Takeo Spikes, Corey Liuget) that ought to light a fire under the front seven, and the fact that Phillip Rivers will have his three favorite targets (Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson, and Malcom Floyd) together again, while last year he was the league leader in passing yards who also threw 30 TDs to 13 interceptions and had a QB rating of 101.8 without all three of them on the field at the same time, makes me think the Chargers are in for a good year. I feel like the Kansas City Chiefs winning the division was a fluke - not that they're not good, or that their season last year was a one-time thing. I have them repeating their 10-6 record, but I think this year that won't be good enough to finish ahead of the Chargers or make it into the playoffs. As for the Raiders and Broncos, I think both should consider just a winning record to be a huge victory, but both teams have too many holes to fix before they can make a serious run at the postseason.

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AFC Wild Cards: Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets
(On a side note, I'm sorry, I just can't/refuse to put a picture of Mark Sanchez here. I just won't. So instead, you get Ray Lewis, who I can only imagine is doing his best Incredible Hulk impression, and Darrelle Revis.)

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AFC Championship Game: Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots

-This is it: potentially my boldest pick of the day. Despite all odds, I think that both of these teams will overcome their playoff performance-anxiety issues and face each other in one of the toughest AFC championship games to date. I see Joe Flacco finally stepping up in the postseason and winning the wild card and divisional rounds on the road (or just the divisional round, if they happen to topple the Steelers and win the North), while Tom Brady will lead the Patriots out of their recent postseason funk. Patriots offense against the Baltimore defense seems like a difficult matchup, and honestly, I had a tough time deciding who would win this one. But I think ultimately Brady and the Patriots' passing game will overload the Baltimore secondary, the newly upgraded Patriots pass rush will force Flacco to throw the ball before he's ready, and the Pats will eek by with a late 4th quarter win. The Patriots will return to the top of the AFC heap, and despite the Ravens' best efforts, they will move on to the Super Bowl to face the Saints.

AFC Champions: New England Patriots

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Super Bowl XLVI: New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints

-This is another toughie to figure out. The picture above kinda says it all: two teams with elite quarterbacks and slightly above average secondaries will turn this game into a passing frenzy. Both teams enter this one with a bit of a chip on their shoulders (I know what you're saying, these are two elite teams, what do they have to prove? Just hear me out.): both teams will be looking to prove that their early eliminations from the playoffs last year were flukes, and that they deserve to be perennial contenders for the Lombardi Trophy. New Orleans, for instance, will do whatever it takes to make people forget this:

(If you want to laugh for 3 minutes, watch this video).

But here is where I have to listen to reason, and not my heart (as a Pats fan), and think of my journalistic integrity. As much as it pains me to say it, I think New Orleans' superior running game and pass defense will prove to be too much for the Pats; despite the best efforts of Brady, Belichick and Co., and even with their improved front seven, the Patriots will fall, and the Saints will rise to claim the Lombardi trophy for the second time in three years in an extremely close game.

Super Bowl XLVI Winner: New Orleans Saints

That's it for predictions until Week 8 or so (where I'm sure I'll come back and change my picks in many of these categories). From that point on, I'll be posting my playoff predictions each week until the end of the regular season.

Update: Yes, I saw last night's Packers-Saints game, and the Pack looked stellar right out of the gate. That being said, my picks remain the same. Brees and Rodgers had almost the same stats (Rodgers had a slightly higher completion percentage, Brees threw for more yards (419), and both had three touchdowns and no interceptions). It really came down to the fumble on the Saints opening drive, and the final play on the game (when Brees is having a stellar game, maybe try throwing the ball from the one yard line with no time on the clock?). Had those not happened, it might have been a totally different outcome. But hindsight is 20/20. It was a great game (Randall Cobb gets my MVP of the game award), and well played by both teams. I still think those two teams will see each other in the Championship game, and my gut says the Saints will take that one, though I wouldn't be surprised or shocked if the Pack won that game as well. We'll see what the picture looks like in a few weeks.