Monday, July 29, 2013


Johnny J

Last year's Super Bowl champs found a sense of urgency in the playoffs. Losing four of the last five games heading into January, Ray Lewis chose to inform his team that this was going to be his last season in the NFL. So how does everybody want to go out? As a champion of all champions. The Ravens rode the back of Lewis and he brought the Lombardi Trophy to the AFC North. I can just imagine how the other teams in the AFC division feels:
"Out of all teams, why them?" 
It shouldn't be a great feeling for the other teams in the NFL to see someone else hold the trophy, especially out of the AFC North. Teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Cincinnati Bengals are not real threats. Do the Browns have what it takes to make the playoffs behind second year quarterback, 29 year-old Brandon Weeden? This use to be the Steelers' division. Haven't heard from them since Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow" song came out three years ago. They look old and slow. Maybe they know something I don't know. The Bengals look like a promising team this season after making the playoffs in back to back seasons. I could have sworn head coach, Marvin Lewis was always in the hot seat. It's hard to let go of a coach when his team gets good at the right moments. On another note, the Ravens will have the toughest road back to the playoffs after the solid championship team became depleted this offseason. Throw that on top of tight end Dennis Pitta being out for the season.

The Cleveland Browns started last years season 0-5. It was safe to say they weren't going to make the playoffs one month into the season. They finished 5-11 overall, winning only once on the road. As we all know, you have to win in those tough environmental places to even be considered a playoff team. Can they turn it around in one season? The answer is no. They remind me of a team who uses their best player until they run them in the ground. No, I'm not talking about running back Darren McFadden, but running back Trent Richardson. The Browns ran the ball 40 percent of the time, but in order to win I think they need to increase that to 60 percent. This should be a running team and not a throwing team. Weeden is a betting man. He likes to try and force the pigskin into his over-covered receivers. "I bet you I can squeeze the ball inside three people around my receiver." That sounds like something he would say. The result is a QB with a 3.18 INT thrown percentage on passing plays, which ranked 27th in the league. Instead of  huddling around Weeden, they should look for Richardson and ask him what he wants them to do. Being ranked 24th in rushes per game is just not going to cut it. Feed the man, until the defense stops him. Then bring in play-action or throw check-down passes. Do not let Weeden let it fly past 20 yards.

Steelers where you at? This defensive team needs to have an offensive balance. The Steelers let wide receiver Mike Wallace walk in free agency as well as running back Rashard Mendenhall. Can you name an offensive player on this team besides "Womanizer"/"I'm always hurt" QB Ben Roethlisberger? I never have seen this quarterback as a super bowl champ, but he is (two-time champion to be exact--Ed). This slow, hard to bring down, injury prone, I hired body guards to protect me from being a "Womanizer," quarterback is getting slower every year. Last year, the Steelers missed the playoffs ("Playoffs? Playoffs! I'm talking about playoffs!) with a disappointing 8-8 record. Big Ben missed three games; It's reasonable, but when you lose the games you play on top of the ones you don't play, then it becomes a problem. They have Antonio Brown as the number one receiver on the depth chart and Emmanuel Sanders as the second option. Nothing like over the top, big play WR Mike Wallace on board, or even old reliable Hines Ward. This offense is going to miss that big haymaker, knock-out punch. They drafted running back Le'Veon Bell out of Michigan State. He is a decent pick, but since I'm a Wisconsin Badger fan, he is no Montee Ball. Tight end Heath Miller is an "ok" tight end. He is a great check down, third down source to haul it in, but this is a athletic, tightend game now. He is slow. I could probably power walk faster than his burst of full-speed. I still like the defense minus linebacker James Harrison. Time to rely on senior citizen Lamar Woodley. Good secondary though in Troy Polamalu, Ike Clark, and Ryan Clark. Maybe they'll win nine games this season.

The Bengals have given Marvin Lewis so many chances; they should just sign the man to a long-term contract and put to rest all of the hot seat rumors. I wouldn't want him to coach the Packers, but he is decent. He just always finds a way to lose close games. Its almost like the opponents coach always finds a way to out-coach him. But I like this team in this division. They are young and talented, and I mean talented. They have a reliable quarterback in Andy Dalton, who seems to be learning the pro level of football each year. I think they call that "developing". I will have to check on that a little later to get the right terminology. Anyway, the Bengals put some good weapons around him. To go along with stand-out, top-tier receiver A.J. Green, they still have pro bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham and they drafted Tyler Eifert in the first round, just in case Gresham might eventually move on after producing two pro bowl years in 2011 and 2012.(Yes drafting a tightend like Gresham in the first round is insurance, partner). The Bengals also drafted running back Giovani Benard to back up Ben Jarvis Green-Ellis. That is a nice 1-2 punch at running back. Someone who rarely puts the ball on the ground and someone who has fresh legs. A nice 2 piece combo. In this 4-3 defense, the Bengals have a good front four, in Carlos Dunlap, Domato Peko, Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson. That is what you call a pass rush, run-stuffing force. Between all of them, they had 212 tackles, 45 tackles for loss and 32 sacks. Now you add James Harrison to that group; this will be a top five defense to go with a top 10 offense.

The Ravens are in the rebuilding stage on both sides of the ball. They lost eight starters from their Super Bowl team. Instead of paying some of the people who deserve the money, they decided to pay fourth-tier quarterback Joe Flacco $120.6 million. The guy who is usually 10-24 in completion to passing attempts ratio. But he got lucky and won the Super Bowl MVP. Go figure! So with Ed Reed going to the Houston Texans and "I didn't spray Deer-Antler on my injured arm last year," linebacker Ray Lewis retired, the defense definitely looks a lot different now. They also still have Ray Rice, who is also locked up long-term for the Ravens. So rebuilding shouldn't be so hard now on the offensive side, but wait, they lost Pitta to a season-ending injury and they signed Visanthe Shiancoe hoping he fills the void. They traded Anquan Boldin which make this offense kind of one-sided. They have great receiver in Torrey Smith and a so so- receiver in Jacoby Jones. If this was a dance contest, Jones would be the top guy, but it's not and he is not a good route runner. The reason why these receivers wont work is because they both do the same thing. They're both deep-threat, down-the-field receivers. You need a deep-threat receiver, an over the middle receiver, and one who gets off the block and can also be a great route runner. Jones is a punt return specialist. He doesn't run great routes. The defense can play two deep shells on them to stop the downfield completions. That's if Flacco has the accuracy that day to even give his receivers a shot. The defense is still decent with Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty. They can get after the quarterback with Haloti Ngata, Ladarius Webb and Terell Suggs. I hope he is staying away from all basketball activities; We don't want another ACL injury. Oh they also drafted hard-hitting safety Matt Elam out of Florida. The defense is still good, but who is going to emerge as the voice of the defense now that Ray Ray called it quits? Of course, how can I forget...the coordinator.

With the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens having a top 10 defense; This division winner is going to have to bring an offense for lunch. Unless these defenses are scoring defensive touchdowns, the offense needs to do more than take pictures for the media. The Browns are still rebuilding so I expect them to be around five wins again this year. This is going to be a three-headed race, in which I believe the Bengals will win this division. They have young talents on offense, who should put up some points with a nasty defense that will be top five. The Steelers will come in second. If Roethlisberger stays healthy and this offense can move the ball down the field they can claim second. Antonio Brown has a lot to prove with him being the top dawg now. Neither the Steelers or Ravens have an offense, but the Ravens are in worse shape than the Steelers because they are one-dimensional. Ray Ray gets the ball and then Flacco just lobs it up to Jones or Smith since they both are deep threat receivers. They will find out the hard way when they can't score touchdowns. A solid third place for them. Wow, I picked the Bengals. Boy have times changed from top to bottom in the AFC North. The Steelers and Ravens behind the Bengals in 2013. Like rapper Drake says, "Started from the bottom, now we here."

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fourth & Forever: Previewing the NFC West

Johnny J

Rain or sun. Sun or rain. The NFC West is a division that is known for both. With two of the teams already projected to be at the NFC Championship game. Those teams are the San Fransico 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks. Talk about a one-two punch! The Seahwaks are ranked first and the 49ers are next in line at number two. I'll tell you which one of these sophomore quarterbacks will help their team win the division. Also in the NFC West, are the St. Louis Rams and the Arizona Cardinals. These two teams are in the rebuilding stages and are missing key components to even think about the playoffs.  One is missing a good quarterback and the other one is missing a lead back. One of these teams will come in last place and it's my job to tell you which one.

When you think of the 49ers, names like Joe Montana, Steve Young, and Jerry Rice comes to mind. Heck I'll even throw Terrell Owens in there, just because he might sue if I don't. Colin Kaepernick was just added to that list after leading his team to Super Bowl XLVII last year. Not bad for someone who took over the starting job in the middle of the season in only his second year. Now in his third year, he is looking to the future. No I'm not talking about him signing with the Miami Dolphins. But him getting a full season underneath that 49ers' helmet. Mobile quarterbacks are more vulnerable to getting hurt than pocket quarterbacks. They're running right toward the defense, while pocket quarterbacks sit in the pocket and picks the defense apart. Kaepernick needs to be good at both. We know he can run, but what about being a good passer? With two of their top receivers starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform-list (Pup-list)--Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham--others will have to step up. Players like Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis. Boldin is old and inconsistent and Davis, I heard, might move to wide receiver. Yes he is a mismatch with size, but he is mismatched with speed. So there is no help for Kaepernick, but old faithful, Frank Gore is still on the team. Another year is added for the nine-year veteran. He has to average more than 70 yards a game for this team to help Kaepernick or else the QB could find himself on the ground a lot--a coach's worst nightmare.Gore has only averaged approximately 70 yards per game the past three seasons.

The Seahawks have a solid squad. They have all three phases locked: Offense, defense, and special teams. Not to mention one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL. Loud is an understatement as they've always been at the top of the league in forcing false starts at home.The Seahawks have great, young talent in second-year quarterback Russell Wilson. He beat out projected starter Matt Flynn, who was shipped down the coast to Oakland. Wilson is also a mobile quarterback, but unlike Kap, Wilson has pocket awareness. His strength is knowing how much time he has before the pocket collapses and then committing to tucking the ball and running it or letting it fly. Oh, he has another weapon in versatile receiver, Percy Harvin, who can set up as a receiver or in the backfield. Did I mention he runs back kick and punt returns? He can put up enticing yards from scrimmage every year. Russell also has a beast running back. "Beast Mode," Marshawn Lynch, if healthy, can steam roll over people with his brute strength. Who hasn't heard of him yet? Then he is rewarded with a bag of skittles for his efforts. On the other side of the ball, the Seahawks have three people in the starting secondary over 6-3: Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, and Kam Chancellor. More like "Ball-hawks!" They either pick off the pass, bat it down, or draw a flag ("Fail-Mary" refs, where are you?). The flag rarely comes out. They were sixth in INTs. The Seahawks will win this division.

St. Louis might be the best third place team in the NFL. With a struggling quarterback in Sam Bradford and a running back who is not starter material, the Rams are playing for third place. Darryl Richardson has the job of filling former running back, Steven Jackson's shoes. Congratulation kid, you have been promoted. All you have to do is run the ball down the opponent's throat. Oh wait, you're not a power runner, you are more like a sprinter/open-field runner. A seventh round pick, he weights under 200 pounds. He will be hit and tackled for a loss at the line of scrimmage, consistently. That will continue to chew on Bradford's confidence, who I believe lost it when he signed his contract. Since he came into the league in 2010, he has been sacked a total of 105 times and has had 17 fumbles. Either the offensive line is terrible or the quarterback holds the ball for too long. I think both sides play a part. Receiver Danny Amendola was Bradford's best option until he broke his collarbone. After that he didn't have any other playmakers with good hands. When you lack confidence, you tend to hold on to the ball a second or two later, then you end up on the ground. Then they kept giving the ball to Jackson to try and figure something out. He did get over 1000 yards, but not because of the line. He used his strength and heart to help push the line. Draft pick receiver Tavon Austin should be a playmaker. He had 29 touchdowns and over 3000 yards receiving at West Virgina. I give this team third place, just because Jeff Fisher is a god coach with good instincts. A third place ribbon for your squad coach.

Do you remember when the Cardinals reached the Super Bowl in 2008, with aging quarterback wonder Kurt Warner? It doesn't seem that long ago, although with the Cardinals not reaching the playoffs since Warner retired in 2009, it does feel like a lifetime ago. They never recovered.  They tried to replenish the team by trying out seven quarterbacks since then. The've become the first team to lose 700 total games as a franchise last season. Carson Palmer will be the eighth quarterback starting for the red and white deserted--err--sorry, I mean't "desert team." Palmer has a good arm, but bad awareness for secondary defenders downfield. In other words, he throws a lot of INTs. He already had a change of scenery, so a fresh start isn't his problem, but it's his desire to play. Remember, he quit on the Bengals. Once a quitter always a quitter. He's not dedicated, although he does have a elite receiver in Larry Fitzgerald who rarely drops passes. In 2011 he dropped one pass in 150 targets. The man with the golden hands. Now with Rashard Mendenhall in the backfield. The Cardinals have a power runner who should help their 31st ranked offense this year. Mendenhall is not a flashy guy, but he does the dirty work that needs to be done. A number two receiver in sight? I don't see one, so this trigger happy turnover guy should be targeting Fitzgerald like Jay Cutler does Brandon Marshall. On the other side, their defense is decent. They have Pro Bowler, Darnell Dockett on the line. He is 31, but can still play at a high level. Then you have cheater violating the league substance abuse policy in Darryl Washington. When he comes back, he will definitely give that defense a spark. Oh the secondary is fully loaded. Cornerback Patrick Peterson and third round pick Tyrann Mathieu on the corners and Adrian Wilson and Kerry Rhodes super safety duo at the end of the defense. A lot of INTs, I say. Just stay away from the paraphernalia Mathieu.

So I expect to see the Seahawks back in the fold of going deep in the playoffs, unless they meet the Packers, which will result in a loss. I'm not really a big Pete Carroll fan, but he has a solid grip on this team. The team feeds off his energy and they produce. They run, run, until you stop the beast, then when you  look up it's  play-action time. That's how they get opponents to bite the run every time. Then comes the long bomb to receiver Sidney Rice. The 49ers will be fighting for a wild-card spot, just because they are going to get off to a slow start with no receivers. It will be great to see how these mobile quarterbacks will avoid injuries throughout the season. The Rams need to put playmakers around Bradford. He doesn't have anybody but rookie "I-need-to-prove-myself" Austin. I expect him to be sacked even more this season. Richardson is not the guy to replace Jackson. Their running game will go nowhere. The Cardinals' defense will keep them in games. Palmer is not the answer. Having a guy prone to turnovers is a slight upgrade over Kevin Kolb, who threw a total of 28 touchdowns and 25 INTs in two seasons for Arizona. That sounds like Palmer's numbers. Rain or sun. Sun or rain. The NFC West will be a battle of two teams.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


Johnny J

The NFC East use to be a dominant division in the 90's and early 2000's, with the Dallas Cowboys being "America's Team" and the Philadelphia Eagles actually played well under former head coach, Andy Reid. Since then, the Cowboys haven't been in many playoff appearances under quarterback Tony Romo. The funny thing is, they just gave him a fat contract, ($108 million) for someone who has only one playoff win under his cleats and hasn't been to a Pro Bowl since 2009. This brings us to the New York Giants who have been the more aggressive team in this division. The Giants don't catch people's eyes, but they sneak into the playoffs and even have two Super Bowls--XL11 and XVl. The Washington Redskins are the team to keep your third eye on. They made the playoffs for the first time since 2007 and won the division for the first time since 1999. The Redskins have young talent with a veterans' coach presence in Mike Shanahan.

With training camp approaching, the NFC East will finally get to answer questions that's been looming all off-season:

  • Will quarterback Robert Griffin lll be healthy enough to participate in camp and be ready for the season after coming off of a LCL and ACL injury? 
  • Who will be the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles? Michael Vick or Nick Foles, or long-shot rookie Matt Barkley? 
  • With receiver Victor Cruz finally happy with his $45 million contract, will receiver Hakeem Nicks make a statement for his big payday? 
  • Is second year running back David Wilson going to be the man in the back-field now that Ahmad Bradshaw is gone? 
  • Will Romo live up to that contract? 
  • Is this it for head coach Jason Garrett if the team doesn't make it deep into the playoffs? 
Owner Jerry Jones has a short leash when it comes to losing.

Griffin III was the most exciting, mobile quarterback to watch in football last year. Winning NFL offensive rookie for the month of September in 2012. In week six, he scrambled for a 76 yard touchdown run. The first quarterback to play that was born in the 90's.  The Redskins go as Griffin goes.  The team was 10-6 last season and I believe they can win 11 this year with a healthy Griffin. He is the future, he shouldn't be rushed back if hes not ready. Besides second year quarterback Kirk Cousins needs to show he can be more than a back-up on another team. He threw a 77 yard touchdown pass to Santana Moss in his first appearence in a loss. He brought the Redskins back in week 14 win against the Baltimore Ravens, scoring a touch-down in 29 seconds and converting on a quarterback sneak for the two-point conversion.  He's good under pressure. They also have a young reliable back in Doug Martin. He rushed for almost 1,400 yards in his rookie year. I expect more from the Boise State back. Even without a first round pick in this past draft, the Redskins should be playoff bound. The defense was solid, ranked ninth in stopping the run. They should be better with linebacker Brian Orakpo.

The Eagle hasn't landed because it hasn't taken off yet. I expect the Eagles to be much better on offense. They drafted a reliable left tackle in Oklahoma's Lane Johnson. That should help the sack and scrambling problem. They gave up a total of 118 sacks to oppossing teams. No quarterback is going to survive that. New head coach, Chip Kelly, hasn't decided on who the quarterback will be, but we all know its going to be Michael Vick. In Kelly's run happy scheme offense at Oregon, the Eagles will run the ball and that benefits Vick. He is a decent passer, but is more lethal in the open-field with the ball tucked in. Especially when you have a running back in LeSean McCoy, who is also a great runner in the open-field. Now include the option and the play-option...shaking my head. They will be a dangerous offensive team. Now on the other side of the ball. The Eagles released overpaid cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who didn't look like he knew his defensive assignments. Defensive end Jason Babin was another overpaid pick-up. He was released after 11 games as he only produced 5.5 sacks. The defense is now starting over, changing from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. They ranked 30th last season in stopping the run, so they brought in Isaac Soporga from the 49ers. He stands at 6-2 330 pounds. That should help plug the middle of the line.

Romo has to live up to his contract, simply by staying healthy and winning playoff games. I would say he is under pressure to win, but he has a $50 million gurantee contract. He is tied to the Cowboys for years to come. LOL! Sorry, I was just imaging him as the face of the Cowboys for the next several years. Romo has the weapons around him. He has good receivers in Dez Bryant and Miles Austin as well. Romo has 10 team records including nine games with 300 passing yards and the most touchdowns in a season at 36. It makes me think, what the heck did Troy Aikman do? Oh wait, he had Emmitt Smith. He has no pressure, but maybe the Cowboys should have waited on that contract so he can improve his game and prove himself. Running back DeMarco Murray, is a fanstay owner's dream--when healthy. That's his problem right there. He is injury prone and they won't win without a balanced offense. He has the record for a 10.1 average yard per carry, with more than 20 attempts for the Cowboys. This guy is so good finding holes. The key is how head coach Jason Garrett will manage this team in 2013 as he might be the only coach on the hot seat in this division before the season even starts. Once the highest paid offensive coordinator in football, he is now on the verge of losing his job. Nice promotion right? Oh, but wait: the Cowboys have come in third place in the NFC East three years straight under him.  I think this fourth year has to tell Jerry Jones if this is the right guy or not. The Cowboys are switching to a 4-3 defense. Did I mention they brought in Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator? The "Tampa 2," man! He uses speed over size and strength and he focuses on creating turnovers. I'm looking forward to see how he uses linebacker Sean Lee and pass rusher DeMarcus Ware. Will he still be the same dynamic player? Only time will tell.

The Giants are not a team that have heavy hitters, but they have good players that like to throw haymakers. The name Eli Manning doesn't blow you away, simply because hes not a top tier quarterback, but he somehow finds away to get the job done. His two Super-Bowl MVPs can vouch for him. Manning is the key to the Giants' offense, with an unknown running back in David Wilson, he will have to make this offense turn the corner. The Giants have a solid offensive line as Manning was only sacked 3.58 percent of the time. It ranked number one last season. With a good line comes good blocking and good running. Wilson looked good behind Bradshaw, but now he is the main carrier. He just needs to hold on to the ball because he does put the ball on the ground. Happy receivers are happy pass-catchers. It means when a receiver is happy, it shows in his production. Nicks didn't look happy last season. In 13 games, he had three touchdowns on 53 receptions. That is terrible numbers for a starter. Maybe he needs a bigger contract or a new team, but this year we will find out. I say the injury-prone receiver needs a change of scenery. On the other side of the ball, the defense will struggle simply because they will miss Jason Pierre-Paul who just had back surgery and will miss majority of the season. Also the line lost Osi Umenyiora to the Falcons. The defense starts up-front and without pressure, the opposing quarterback has time in the pocket. The defense will take a step back this season. The G-Men can't just rely on Subway Justin Tuck.

Who will win the NFC East? My gut says the Philadelphia Eagles, even though my gut isn't as big as it use to be. I just think Chip Kelly and that offense are going to be over-powering for teams. It's going to be hard to stop the run with McCoy and Vick. The defense is going to be better as well. They got rid of some under-performing players and are trying a new defensive scheme. The defense may be in a rebuilding state, but that offense is going to be really good.

The Redskins are going to be right there with the Eagles. A healthy dynamic duo in RGIII and Doug Martin are going to make defenses tired. If the defense can hold up, the Redskins are going to win a lot of close games. RGlll just has to find away to avoid a lot of big hits. If the quarterback goes down, so does moving the offense.

The Cowboys are going to come in third place, again. They spent too much on a quarterback who I believe has reached his peak. A good regular season quarterback, but under the bright lights hes trying to cover the lights with his hands instead of reaching for shades. I also don't know if I like DeMarcus Ware as a defensive end. It may take time to adjust in a stance with a great jump.

The Giants defense is missing key players and I have not seen suitable replacements. Unless someone steps up, they will be vulnerable and that will add to the list of Eli Manning having more fourth quarter comebacks. The Giants will be in shootouts the whole season. If you're not first you're last. Last sounds about right.

More NFL content is available here

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

FOURTH & FOREVER: Previewing the NFC South

Johnny J

The NFC South is a fantasy owner's dream. Why? Well it's because that division has a lot of players who put points up almost on a regular basis. I'm talking about players such as Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, and Cam Newton just to name a few. All good quarterbacks and they help other players on teams produce. So with that said, lets take a look on how these teams in the "dirty south" stack up against each got better. Will the addition of Steven Jackson, make the Atlanta Falcons unstoppable? The return of Sean Payton will definitely help after a one-year suspension for giving the okay to hurt opponents for money. I didn't even mention, "Revis Island" Darelle Revis making the trip to Buccaneer nation. Ron Rivera and the Panthers are relying on Cam Newton to help make them a playoff team. Coach Rivera needs you Cam! Think about his family!

Break it down for them Johnny!

Steven Jackson has arrived in Atlanta after they finally got rid of inconsistent running back Michael Turner. Although he did have a total of 11 touchdowns, he only averaged 3.9 yards a carry last season. So now with the highly anticipated Steven Jackson in the Georgia Dome, the running game will pick up. Jackson averaged a little more with 4.1 ypc and he ran for over 1000 yards last season. This will make quarterback Matt Ryan and the offense more dangerous, with wideouts Julio Jones and Roddy White looking up at 1000 yards receiving. Old man tight end Tony Gonzalez is still trucking along. A definite threat in the red zone. "Matty Ice" just became Matty Icier. The weapons, oh the weapons! On the other side of the ball, They released veteran defensive end John Abraham and replaced him with an end that has a couple of Super Bowl rings. Osi Umenyiora produced 75 sacks and 32 forced fumbles in nine seasons with the NY Giants.  I would say that's a good veteran swap. Although he can't stay healthy. But if he can stay on the field, he will definitely help that line. The secondary  is looking up as they still have cornerback Asante Samuel and they drafted Desmond Trufant out of Washington with the number 22 pick. Yeah, I know it's the Pac-12, but they were second in their conference in pass defense at 188.9 yards allowed.  I'm sure he had something to do with that.

The Panthers are looking to rebound after taking a step back  in quarterback Cam Newton's second year. Last season they scored 22.3 ppg and gave up 22.7. The defense is decent due to a few playmakers, but the offense needs to put points up on the board. They averaged 360.7 yards, but they fumbled the ball a lot. Between Newton and both running backs DeAngelo Williams and Johnathan Stewart they fumbled the ball a total of 14 times. They average 1.3 giveaways a game. They need to see a specialist on how to carry the ball and take hits without putting the ball on the ground. I do like tight end Greg Olsen, who had a great year for the Panthers, he had 843 yards receiving. The Panthers have to find good receivers. Steve Smith is old and I can't even remember the number two receiver, which means he is one drop away from being dropped. On defense, they gave up 22.7 points a game. It ranks 19th, so it is decent, but needs improvement. Linebacker John Beason is a tackling machine, at least he was in 2009 and '10. He missed all of 2011 and only played in four games last season due to injuries. If healthy, he can gobble tackles up like Pac-Man. Defensive end Charles Johnson is another one that is worth more than a quarter for a hit. His $72 million dollar contract proves it. The front end of the defense is solid, its just the back-end that is in question. They ranked 26th in INTs.

New Buccaneer Darelle Revis is coming off of a torn ACL injury, but looks to rebuild. "Revis Island," is in Tampa. When healthy, we know what this guy can do besides demand bigger contracts. He covers one whole side of the field by himself, without any safety help. He disrupts great receivers and has built a reputation on it. This was a smart move, as the Bucs ranked dead last in giving up 300 yards in passing, not to mention an average of three touchdowns a game. In other words, the defense sucks. Revis should help, but they need more from the linebackers and defensive line. Can you name one Pro Bowler on their defensive line? Exactly. Now on offense, this is John Freeman's contract year. I'm sorry I meant to say, "this is his last year." My money says he's gone because he is not a quarterback you build a team around. Besides his 10 fumbles last year and 36 total in four years, his QBR was best at 95.9 in 2010. It was 81.6 this past season. His accuracy was just over 50% and he threw 17 INTs. If I had to choose between him and Jay Cutler, I would want to know who the third string quarterback was. They do have a few weapons in wide receiver in Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin.  Martin is amazing, running for almost 1500 yards his rookie season. Not bad for a middle round pick-up. Rookie quarterback, Mike Glennon might eventually take over for Freeman. His numbers wont blow you away, but with the right coaching he can be a much more solid quarterback. Teams don't waste high draft picks on back-ups. WAKE-UP CALL!

Now for the Saints, who are looking to make the playoffs after missing it last season for the first time in four years. Sean Payton is now back at the helm for the Saints, who have I believe the best offense in the league. Even without Payton, the offense ranked third in points and first yards per play at 6.2. Anytime you have a great passing quarterback in Drew Brees, your team is definitely a trigger-happy team. The only team who might pass the ball on every first down. Coming off of a 43 touchdown and 19 int season, Brees is looking to continue finding his targets with the help of a sixth overall ranking offensive line. Yes, the Saints were terrible last year, but it was because of the defense. The offense did their job and the line held up, as Brees only got sacked 26 times compared to the Philadelphia Eagles gave up a total of 118 sacks. Tight end Jimmy Graham should be motivated after getting snubbed on the NFL Network's top 100 players of 2012. He only had 982 yards receiving and nine touchdowns. Nothing special. I didn't believe it when Baltimore's Dennis Pitta was on the list. Anyway, Graham will be the top tightend off the board in fantasy football. The Saints still do have a three-headed running game in Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Darren Sproles. Remember this is a passing team and they will see their few touches a game. A fantasy football owner's worst nightmare; a pick that doesn't produce. The defense gave up 28 points last season, ranked last in almost every category, points, yards per game and sacks. That should change with Rob Ryan as the new defensive coordinator, who is switching the defense from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. Expect players to feed off of Ryan's energy and Payton's presence.

The NFC South is a division that will be exciting to keep an eye on.  The Saints, Falcons and even the Panthers will be battling the whole year for the division crown. I don't see the Bucs being a good team this year. I just see those three teams fighting to make the playoffs. The NFC so it won't be an easy road to the playoffs. If you remember my ,"Falcon-Punched," story, it describes how, "Punks jump up to get beat down." Not this year's Falcon team. Oh the weapons, the weapons oh! Cam will do his best to help the Panthers and he can if him and the running backs put duct tape around them and the ball. They will be a good team. The Bucs are in a rebuilding process. They have very few weapons and a bad quarterback and defense. Even Revis is going to be throwing his hands up at times, screaming "new contract please!" The Saints' defense is still going to have to prove a lot. I can't see that defense being solid in their first transition of switching schemes. We know what the offense can do, maybe they'll just try to outscore everyone by putting up 40 point games. I can see that happening.

More NFL content is available here

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Creative Writing...First Chapter Posting

Hello everybody.  I am currently a writer who is trying to get my book published.  My manuscript is basically finished, but I would like to see if anyone would actually want to read it.  It deals with political and social problems.  It also blends animals with human characteristics, having a satire tone to it, meaning that the characters will be animals (literally).

For now, I will post/release chapters of my book periodically in this blog.  If you have any advice on how to get a work published or if you have tips for improving the chapter or novel, please comment.  Feedback would greatly be appreciated.  Please enjoy the prologue to this novel.
“Peace in our times,” is the widely used phrase in The Fat Cat’s empire.  Justice, equality, peace, and order spread throughout the land like a perfectly spread of butter on toast.  
            The history of this land is connected to its famed ruler, The Fat Cat.  Born into the cities’ many slums, he was a victim of the injustice and violence that plagued the city.  A young kitten in those days, he witnessed the social ills and the sufferings of poverty.  As he grew older, he learned that the city was being oppressed and ruled by power hungry animals.  They were the ones who divided the city into sections and each claimed their territory, sparking territorial wars, leaving many to suffer.  But The Fat Cat sought to change the city into a peaceful one, and began to conquer these territories and overthrow one ruler at a time until the only one left of the powerful animal rulers was the Big Dog himself.  Big Dog’s gang claimed the largest territory in the city.  Big Dog was said to have marked his territory on every spot of the city before he became ruler.  But his demise came when The Fat Cat and a new rival gang overthrew Big Dog together.  The Fat Cat and this mysterious rival gang decided to make peace, but eventually The Fat Cat absorbed the rival gang.  Many animal scholars debate the issue on whether it was either absorbed or conquered.  The victor always ends up writing the history, so no one will ever know for sure.  Nobody even knows The Fat Cat’s real name.  What is known about this new ruler is that he grabbed control of all of the cities’ resources, announced to the world that tuna is the new currency, set up strict laws, imposed taxes, and has placed strict laws in a lawless city.  In return, violent competition has disappeared and many who are in need of help are always aided by The Fat Cat’s many institutions.
Indeed, these were peaceful times.
                So it would seem that everyone was happy in this Utopian world that The Fat Cat has created.  But that was not the case with one cat.  This one cat, which sits everyday in the lap of his owner and constantly plots for ways of getting more power, is named Albacorcky.  He waits patiently for the time to grasp the power that The Fat Cat wields.  The owner feeds the cat, but his weight is constantly monitored.  He is groomed to perfection every day and is cared for along with Albacorcky’s other fellow cat roommates, but they are never spoiled.  He grows tired of living a house pet’s life.  Albacorcky’s hobbies are to climbs the top of the house and look towards the city ambitiously.  The wait for fame and power will come to an end.  His plots that will lead him to success and glory begin now.                     

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

FOURTH & FOREVER: Previewing the NFC North

Johnny J

The NFC North is becoming one of the toughest divisions in the NFL. All of the teams can be playoff contenders and with each of them getting better within the past year, this division can be considered up for grabs:

  • The Green Bay Packers have won the division title the last two years. Now with the help of a potential backfield, they can extend their streak to three. 
  • The Minnesota Vikings made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2009. With Adrian Peterson coming off a 2,000 yard season after a serious knee injury, the Vikings are looking very promising. 
  • The Detroit Lions have so much talent around them, but fell short of the playoffs. With the addition of Reggie Bush, I believe they can see the middle of January . 
  • The Chicago Bears fired Lovie Smith in hopes of returning to the promise land. With an aging defense and a contract year for quarterback Jay Cutler, this is a make or break year for the Bears.

As a Packers fan, I like the way the 2010 Super Bowl Champs are headed. They extended contracts for their best players on both sides of the ball, in QB Araon Rodgers and Linebacker Clay Matthews. Right now, they are the highest-paid players at their positions. In the offseason, defensive coordinator, Dom Capers and the rest of the defensive coaches went to Texas A&M to learn how to stop the read-option. Colin Kaepernick and the San Fransico 49ers ran that very effectively against the Pack as they made their way to Super Bowl XVLll. It still makes my stomach hurt. The Packers have a team who can compete for a Super Bowl every year thanks to GM Ted Thompson He added two good running backs, in Alabama prospect in Eddie Lacy in the second round and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin, the future mayor of Los Angeles. Alex Green, now third year running back out of Hawaii, had a team high 464 yards and a 3.4 average. That won't do. Defenses didn't respect the running game, as they played 2-deep shell safeties, concentrating more on Rodgers and the Packers' passing game. Eddie Lacy is going to require defenses to "RESPECT HIS GANGSTA!" With the Packers switching their whole offensive line to protect Rodgers' blindside, this offense should be unstoppable.

The Vikings are constantly picking up Green Bay throwaways. They signed wide receiver and former Packer Greg Jennings and Linebacker Desmond Bishop. Both have a lot to prove after being injured in 2012. Obviously, money is more important than winning, right Jennings? The Vikings are coming off a playoff year and look to build on that success. As long as Adrian Peterson is in the back-field, they should have been trying to build a team around him. They're starting to learn, I think. It just took them about five or six years and some areas on offense can still be questioned. Coach Leslie Frazier is trusting quarterback Christian Ponder who showed some growth in his second year, throwing for almost 3,000 yards and throwing 18 touchdowns. Plus his promising tight-end, Kyle Rudolph made the Pro Bowl in 2012 and even won the game MVP, so he was able to show off his game against the very best. Now if they can just get Ponder to get him the ball. With Rudolph, Jennings, and first round pick Cordarrelle Patterson (First Team All-SEC), this offense may have a promising passing game. With this being a contract year for defensive end Jared Allen, I'm expecting another big year from him after totaling 34 sacks the past two seasons. The Viking should be smart to extend him now, before someone else comes along. At the end of the day, they are just a playoff contender and nothing else. They show a lot of promise though.

The Detroit Lions missed the playoffs last year. It's hard to believe as they're equipped with a good, young passing duo in quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson.  Stafford has thrown over 10,000 yards in the past two seasons. Oh, and he has played in all 16 games the past two years as well (still, he throws like Tarzan and acts like Jane).  Johnson broke Jerry Rice's all-time record of receiving yards. He now holds the record at 1,964 yards. "Megatron" is an elite receiver as well as the the top receiver in fantasy football. He is definitely living up to being picked number two overall in the 2007 NFL Draft. Now with the addition of running back Reggie Bush, this should help keep defenses honest. As long as Kim Kardashian isn't in the building, he should be explosive. This offense is dangerous.  Bush is a three-down back. He runs, catches, and blocks. Now staying healthy, for him, is another issue, as he has battled knee, groin and fibula injuries. The only thing stopping the Lions are off-the-field issues. From possession of drugs to assault, there have been problems for the Lions, not to mention their play on the field. They also have one of the dirtiest players on the field in Ndamukong Suh. We won't talk about coach Jim Schwartz getting in the action with the controversial handshake between him and 49ers' head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Overall, this team can be a deep playoff contender, if they could only act like regular, upstanding citizens.

The Chicago Bears are looking to rebound after winning the division in 2010. They haven't made the playoffs since, which led to the firing of Lovie Smith and the hiring of new coach Marc Trestman. "In Trestman we trust." We'll see if the Bears' current practice of hiring cheap people in hopes of getting the job done actually works for them this season. If you remember, the Bears didn't even want to make the field conditions better for their own players at Solider Field. "I don't know what else to say. We complain about it all the time. I prefer playing on grass, but the Field Turf stuff is pretty awesome," said former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher. When your star player complains about field conditions, that's when you know the organization you root for is cheap. They just signed D.J. Williams for cheap after he failed a drug test, lost his starting job in Denver, and then got released. They expect this guy to replace Urlacher! (the Bears bought low on Williams if you ask me--Ed). Another one of those, "we'll see" moves. Trestman said that he may implement the read-option in the offense. That's one-way to get Cutler on the season-ending injury reserve list. Enough about the bad, here's the good. Matt Forte has to stay healthy. He is the focal point of the Bears' offense. Cutler has a great arm and his accuracy could be decent, but when you have a top five receiver in Brandon Marshall, you're going to get your numbers in a passing game. Well not in fantasy football, but you get your numbers (when it comes to Jay Cutler, not really--Ed). This is a make or break year for Cutler or he will be replaced. He has the talent around him, but the defense has to get younger. Julius Peppers, Charles Tillman, and Lance Briggs are all over 30. All I can say is this is a team fighting for the playoffs.

This season is going to be tough for the NFC North, as they play the AFC North and NFC East. The Lions have the second toughest schedule. The Packers have the sixth toughest and the Vikings have the 10th toughest. The Bears have the 16th toughest. Even though they have the easiest schedule out of the division, I really believe they are going to have a hard time winning games. I only see the Packers and Lions making the playoffs, with the Packers winning the division. Now with a running game, Rodgers should pick defenses apart. Just avoid the sacks my friend (51 in 2012). The Lions will make the Playoffs, just as long as they stay out of trouble. Suh needs to perform like he did as a rookie because he had 10 sacks, compared to just 14 the last two years. Help that offense secure wins.

Adrian "All-Day" Peterson will do his thing, but he needs help. Ponder has to be the one, to use that play-action to his advantage, because right now he doesn't get respect. If Bishop is healthy, that defense just got a whole lot better.

Finally, the Bears are very close to a rebuilding era. Cutler has to avoid being hurried out the pocket and stop throwing clumsy INTs. Forte will get his carries, just stay out of the training room during games. The defense is old, enough said. It maybe a long year for them.

More NFL content can be read here.

MORNING PLAYLIST: Wednesday the Third Edition

Felipe M

How cool is that?  There won't be another one until September--of 2014.  Here's what's on tap for this morning:
  1.  Murder by Death: "The Devil Drives"--In Bocca al Lupo (2006): 
    • "Everybody hopes that life is like a dancer's pirouette.  With grace we've dodged each conflict and decision that we met."
    • "Everybody tells themselves that they must be justified.  They do what they do because they're trying to get by."
    • "We've made mistakes that we can't chage, but there's still time to start again."
  2. Saves the Day: "Wednesday the Third"--In Reverie (2003): 
    • "Now as I lay by your side, would you tell me why everything has to be lies?"
    • "Wednesday the third was the night that you rambled alone in the frigid white light, like a leopard about to dig into trembling skin, with wind whipping your shins."
    • "Now as I lean to the side, I can see all the thoughts that you're trying to hide."
  3. The Gaslight Anthem: "Howl"--Handwritten (2012): 
    • "Does anything still move you since you're educated now?"
    • "The sound of the cars rushing the rain on the boulevard in this city by the sea that has always haunted me."
  4. The Gaslight Anthem: "Mulholland Drive"--Handwritten (2012): 
    • "Did you sleep last night and do you remember dreams?  Do I ever cross your mind and do you ever think of me?"
    • "But it scared you, love, to need someone, so you killed it all instead, but in the mist up on Mulholland, I could've sworn I heard you say..."
  5. Nada Surf: "Concrete Bed"--The Weight is a Gift (2005): 
    • "You've used up the easy streets and you lost your taste for treats."
    • "It's just another wish you wished in a very long list."
  6. Weezer: "El Scorcho"--Pinkerton (1996): 
    • "Goddamn you half-Japanese girls!  Do it to me every time."
  7. The Shins: "Turn a Square"--Chutes Too Narrow (2003):
    • "Even I don't know why I can't just stay the course, keep my hands on the wheel."
  8. Neutral Milk Hotel: "Holland, 1945"--In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998):
    • "The earth looks better from a star.  That's right above from where you are."
Very mellow playlist this morning, but somehow it fits the mood on a dreary, drizzly Chicago day.

Monday, July 1, 2013

MORNING PLAYLIST: Monday Morning Edition

Felipe M

What I'll be listening to this morning:

  1. Comeback Kid: "Wake the Dead"--Wake the Dead (2005): "Coming alive, something stirs inside, this isn't over yet.  Shake off the dirt, swallow regret."
  2. Atreyu: "At Least I Know I'm a Sinner"--Suicide Notes and Butterfly Kisses (2002): "My only solace is that one day judgment will come for the wicked, then we will see who burns."
  3. Poison the Well: "Ghostchant"--You Come Before You (2003): "How many times have you woken up in a stranger's arm?  Covered in gasoline as they hover above you with the match they ignite."
  4. Unearth: "The Great Dividers"--The Oncoming Storm (2004): "Take over the world, divide our home; does hate mean freedom?"
  5. Darkest Hour: "Oklahoma"--Hidden Hands of a Sadist Nation (2003): "Forced to fit inside a mold, living to dehumanize is going to take its toll."
  6. August Burns Red: "Poor Millionaire"--Leveler (2011): "Where is the life in the life you live? You are the poor millionaire.  Where is the life in the life you live?  A lifeless empire, a lifeless heir."
(All lyrics provided by plyrics or dark lyrics, depending on the brutality factor of the band).  


Hasan R

(Part II of Hasan's diary can be read here).

Pick 11, Philadelphia 76ers: Jrue Holiday is gone and they replace him with Michael Carter-Williams. Advanced metrics place Carter-Williams as a top guard in this draft and he provides Philly with size and a pure PG to throw lobs up for Noel. Throw in the 2014 first-round pick they also got (1-5 protected) and the 76ers came away with a killer haul and have set themselves up for a fantastic future rebuild.

Pick 12, Oklahoma City Thunder: Still reeling from losing James Harden, they need to find a sixth man who can play meaningful minutes behind Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Frankly, this team is pretty stacked and are smart at drafting so I trust their pick. Steven Adams is the announced pick and I’m ok with this. Adams is an athlete with tons of potential. Strong athlete combined with great size makes him a terrific defender, but needs to improve on the offensive side of the ball. Thankfully, offense is something OKC doesn’t suffer and provided that Adams can help them crash the boards and protect the rim would make him a good pick.

Pick 13, Dallas Mavericks: A TRADE! Mavs trade this pick to the Celtics for the no. 16 pick and two future second-round picks. The Boston Celtics in turn draft Kelly Olynyk, a stretch 4 who can catch the ball on the high post and drive to the basket. Definitely part of the rebuilding process for Boston, but by no means an impact pick.

Pick 14, Utah Jazz: Man, watching the draft is fun and exciting, but draining. There is so much dead airspace and ESPN scrambles to put it all together. But I wouldn’t have it any other way! Anyway, the Timberwolves select Shabazz Muhammad. Prolific scorer on the wings and a good shooters, Shabazz proves to be a good pick, especially this far down. Best part of his interview is the fact that he is being asked about the Wolves whilst wearing a Utah Jazz hat. Definitely a highlight in the draft.

Pick 15, Milwaukee Bucks: The Bucks select Giannis Adetokunbo. Whoa, try saying that three times fast. This dude can handle the ball, can shoot the 3 and has a crazy wingspan. Scouts peg him as not being NBA ready and we won’t really know if he can make the transition from Greece to the NBA. He will either be a home run or a bust, and we should know in a couple of years.