Archive for the ‘NFL Fantasy’ Category

The NFL truck in Victoria Square, Birmingham, England.

The NFL truck in Victoria Square, Birmingham, England.

It’s not every day that you take your train commute to work in the West Midlands of England and find a giant NFL branded truck parked outside your place of work, but that’s what happened to me this morning in Birmingham city centre.

I knew the NFL were touring the Midlands and the South of England, but have to admit I forgot what day they were coming to Brum (as it is affectionately known by local residents).

I walked past the truck before 9am this morning, and waited until my lunch break before coming out to see what the NFL had in store for the workers and shoppers in Birmingham.

Gotta love getting close to Vince

Gotta love getting close to Vince

The highlight for me was to see the Vince Lombardi Trophy (for the third time). It was situated in a perspex cabinet inside the truck, watched over eagerly by a rather large and burly security guard. I had my picture taken with the trophy, and also the lady taking the pictures took a few extra for me using my own iPhone.

This truck was at Wembley a few weeks ago for the Vikings v Steelers game, but at that time there was a one-hour queue to get the picture. Much better that I could just walk straight up the steps today and get within inches of the famous silver-mounted ball.

Denard Robinson, the Jaguars rookie signed this helmet

Denard Robinson, the Jaguars rookie signed this helmet

Along with the trophy was a signed Jacksonville Jaguars helmet, also in a perspex case. The helmet was signed by rookie OW (offensive weapon) Denard Robinson. As a huge NFL fan I was tickled that it was Robinson’s signature, as I had drafted the former Michigan quarterback in both of my 55 man roster fantasy leagues.

Colin Kaepernick signed a ball. He played in his first Superbowl earlier this year.

Colin Kaepernick signed a ball. He played in his first Superbowl earlier this year.

There was also a ball in the truck display, this one a San Francisco 49ers branded ball signed by its Superbowl losing quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The two pieces of memorabilia were on display to pre-promote the Jaguars upcoming ‘home’ game at Wembley against Kaepernick’s 49ers, taking place later this month. Unfortunately I will not be there as the budget only allows me to attend one NFL game in London a year, and I would always select seeing Adrian Peterson over Maurice Jones-Drew. Sorry Mo-Jo, I still love your little legs.

I was disappointed that there was not that much to do, and the freebies handed out by the NFL were ok, but not amazing. They gave out Football 101 guide books which I have to say are a cracking introduction to the NFL for new fans. I also helped myself to a couple of sets of under-eye stickers that were NFL branded.

IMG_2192There were no NFL players there when I attended (not that I expected anyone apart from maybe a retired or injured player), instead the NFL All-Star cheerleaders were there, probably wondering why they were performing to about 50 men with iPhones held aloft.

They were offering signed pictures of themselves, which was a nice touch, but I did not recognise any of them and did not really want a signed picture of some random women, who for all I know could be the American equivalent of a Pineapple Dance troupe.

IMG_2203There was a rather bemused DJ spinning some cheesy tunes, and a few inflatable NFL displays where you could throw a pass or try a kick, but they were a bit undermanned and looked a bit unwelcoming with no sponge or turf floor around them.

Overall a half-hearted effort by the NFL to try and spread the message about the greatest sport on the planet. I would have made sure schools were invited to take part and had some flag football displays, not just cheerleaders. Also some spot-prize giveaways would have been good, as would have been an ex-player or coach.

IMG_2197Don’t get me wrong it was special to see the Vince Lombardi trophy in the city I work in, but more could have been done to get the message across that this sport will soon (by 2020) have an NFL franchise situated this side of the pond.

Time for my annual guess at a Super Bowl winner - this time the luck winner is the Atlanta Falcons

Time for my annual guess at a Super Bowl winner – this time the luck winner is the Atlanta Falcons

Forget the calls for a three-peat or for ‘one for the thumb’, there is always something special about an NFL franchise winning its first ever Super Bowl.

In my lifetime I have seen (live on tv in England in the early hours of the morning that is) seven teams with their inaugural Vince Lombardi Trophy;

  • New York Giants (1987) – first of four
  • Denver Broncos (1998) – first of two
  • St Louis Rams (2000) – only title
  • Baltimore Ravens (2001) – first of two
  • New England Patriots (2002) – first of three
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2003) – only title
  • New Orleans Saints (2010) – only title

Now I am not including the 2007 Indianapolis Colts in this list as they were the Baltimore Colts who were winners back in 1971.

So why the lengthy reminiscence? Well I am convinced we are going to add another new team to the first-time trophy club this upcoming season.

NFL FAN IN ENGLAND’s 2013 NFL 2013-14 SEASON PREDICTIONS

NFC East – Washington Redskins

NFC West – San Francisco 49ers

NFC South – Atlanta Falcons

NFC North – Detroit Lions

NFC Wild Cards – Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks

NFC Championship – Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons

NFC Representative – Atlanta Falcons

AFC East – New England Patriots

AFC West – Denver Broncos

AFC South – Houston Texans

AFC North – Cincinnati Bengals

AFC Wild Cards – Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs

AFC Championship – Cincinnati Bengals @ Houston Texans

AFC Representative – Cincinnati Bengals

Super Bowl XLVIII winner – Atlanta Falcons

Super Bowl MVP – Matty Ice Ryan – QB Atlanta Falcons

Offensive Player of the Year – Colin Kaepernick QB San Francisco 49ers

Defensive Player of the Year – Luke Kuechely LB Carolina Panthers

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Eddie Lacy RB Green Bay Packers

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jon Bostic ILB Chicago Bears

NFL MVP – Aaron Rodgers QB Green Bay Packers

Comeback Player of the Year – Darelle Revis CB Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Coach of the Year – Marvin Lewis – Cincinnati Bengals

Most Improved Team – Kansas City Chiefs

Biggest Disappointment Team – Toss up between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Atlanta Falcons were so close last season to reaching their second Super Bowl last season that they could almost taste the promised land. This was with a starting running back that was slower than a snail without an agenda.

Now the Falcons have Steven Jackson in the backfield, admittedly no rocket launcher, but certainly a huge upgrade with soft hands and a ‘win it all now’ attitude following a decade in St Louis that many consider wasted.

Future Hall of Fame tight-end Tony Gonzales is back for a Balboa-esque ‘one last shot’ at a title, having finally shaken the playoff win monkey off his back last season.

I know that defense wins championships and the Falcons defense is certainly no ’85 Bears vintage, but they have the playoff experience, the hunger and a nice blend of veteran experience (DE Osi Umenyiora and CB Asante Samuel) youth (rookie starting CB Desmond Trufant) and those with experience who are not household names but play hard (LB Akeem Dent and DE Kroy Biermann).

It’s hard to equal the talent of Atlanta’s number one and two wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White.

The biggest problem for the Falcons is quality of depth. If one ore more of the big names goes down with injury then this will have a huge effect on the team being able to get a 13-3 regular season record. If they remain fully fit and can get a bit of luck, then the likes of the 49ers and Seahawks will be beatable.

The trend for multi-dimensional quarterbacks will not go away this year, and studs like Russell Wilson, RG3 and Colin Kaepernick will make lots of headlines, but you don’t win conference championships with wideouts like Golden Tate, Josh Morgan or Jon Baldwin.

Joe Flacco went from lukewarm to boiling hot in the playoffs last year, I think that Matt Ryan can do the same, and having the feeling of being a touchdown away from a Super Bowl will have been on his mind for the last nine months.

I raise my glass of  (Matty) Iced (Georgia) Peach to my Super Bowl XLVIII paper champions the Atlanta Falcons.

Cue the ridicule…………………..

My picture of former #1 overall pick Carson Palmer playing in Miami in 2012.

My picture of former #1 overall pick Carson Palmer playing in Miami in 2012.

The last time i tried to do a Mock Draft (in 2012) I think I got about three or four picks correct and one player matched to the right team but at the wrong slot.

This time around I’m not going to make a fool of myself and hazard a big ol’ bunch of guesses, considering     the only college game I have any clear recollection of watching was the BCS title game.

To be fair to myself I have done a fair whack of reading about this year’s class of college athletes, from news sites to going on candidates college team websites.

This draft class by most estimations is a bunch of duds. That is if you believe what cynical reporters say. The fact of the matter is that they are just bitter that they cannot predict the order of who will go where, as there are no Andrew Luck or RGIII’s sitting there amongst the cream of the crop.

It’s true not many offensive linemen are used to front up national advertising campaigns, but they do something far more important, they win teams football games, and winning in January helps you get to a Super Bowl.

So what if there is not a big bunch of quarterbacks and running backs projected to go in the top ten (or even 20 to 30) teams in need of improving or even dragging themselves back from the brink need to build by getting quality offensive and defensive linemen.

This draft is rich in big bodies, newly sculpted big bodies, ones that look like walking oak trees. Bulk is on it’s way out and being replaced by athletic, toned and nimble men who eat right, train hard and are highly intelligent.

2013 may not go down as a classic for big names and big buzz, but the moves made on Thursday and Friday may be the ones that turn around the fortune of a franchise. Just ask the St Louis Rams. Their two trips to the Super Bowl may have featured a once in a lifetime group of skill players such as Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and Isaac Bruce, but without the blocking of Orlando Pace I would say that we would not have seen Dick Vermiel lift a Lombardi Trophy.

I’ll be fast asleep when round one takes place, but I do have a day off work to pour over the first round selections on Friday morning.

The first 32 picks will include plenty of twists and turns I am sure, with teams jockeying to move up and down, making any kind of predicting absolutely futile.

My advice, just sit back, crack open a beer and enjoy the draft unfolding in front of you. With all media partners agreeing to not spoil the pick announcements with ‘green room’ coverage the moment big ginger G goes to the podium will be both entertaining and surprising.

If the Redskins want to make my day they could always try and trade up into the first, but regardless it will be a fun event and   one I will watch plenty of highlights of on Friday morning.

 

Anyone following North American sport cannot fail to acknowledge the NCAA College basketball tournament, where it is all about surviving in order to move on.

Unlike the debacle that is the current NCAA College football post-season, the basketball post-season is at least simple to follow. It is a simple knockout tournament. You win you stay alive. You keep winning you get to the ‘final four’ and then a chance to lift the shiny trophy.

The NFL have tried to capitalise on this wave of ‘bracketology’ discussions by launching their own knockout competition to decide the greatest ever NFL play.

With the parallel timing of the ‘final four’ NFL plays and the ‘final-four’ NCAA College Basketball games it’s all about getting to the final this weekend.

I am a little saddened that the final four NFL plays are dominated by modern-day plays; Marshawn Lynch running ‘beast-mode’ (2011); DeSean Jackson’s game winning punt-return touchdown (2010); Troy Polamalu’s ‘over-the-top’ tackle (2010). The remaining play is from 1988, Steve Young’s insane run through the entire Minnesota Vikings defense, and it is without doubt the best of the four (in my eyes).

If I had it my way I would have made the top 64 plays far more eclectic, with one play from every year over the last 64 seasons.

So where would I go with my top plays of all time? It’s a tough call and I don’t know the order quite yet, but here I go with some of my personal favourites…

  • Leonard Marshall forcing a fumble by Joe Montana in the 1991 NFC Championship game. I was 17 at the time and thought Joe Montana was invincible. That single play knocked the stuffing out of ‘Joe Cool’ and it was five Giants field-goals that gave the visiting team the win.
  • Darrell Green’s punt-return in the 1987 Divisional playoffs. Withe the scores tied 14-14 and a minus 10 wind-chill factor Green picked up a punt around midfield and ran it back for a score. Green had been playing cornerback all game and even tore his own rib cartilage half-way through the return after hurdling over a wannabe tackler.
  • Eli Manning’s 10 yard touchdown run at Wembley in 2007. For the 81,176 fans at the first ever regular season NFL game played in England it was the realisation of the dreams of fans like myself, who fell in love with the sport at a very young age but never even imagined they could see real NFL teams in a real NFL regular-season game. Manning’s scramble and the whole game may have been soggy and scrappy, but right there and then the NFL had truly ‘touched-down’ in England. 
  • Santana Moss’s 70 yard touchdown catch in 2005. Under four minutes left, down 13-0 and in Texas, Redskins wideout Moss caught not one but two bombs delivered by Mark Brunell. The second, a 70 yard catch, was the winner and helped his team to make it into the playoffs (later in the season).

More to come soon, but what do you think so far?

#83 Brandon Myers - some shrewd business for the New York Giants

#83 Brandon Myers – some shrewd business for the New York Giants

With NFL Free Agency 2013 calming down somewhat (unless you are the Baltimore Ravens) it’s time to reflect on some of the key moves.

Now most pundits will focus on the impact of Wes Welker moving from the New England Patriots to the Denver Broncos or the ‘Fax-Gate’ scandal that saw the Baltimore Ravens snag Elvis Dumervil.

Myself, having played a season in England for the Crawley Raiders II as a tight-end, I want to spend some time looking at some of the Free Agency movement involving this position, and look at some very early projections for those who have moved and those who have inked deals in the past month to remain with their current team.

Before looking at some of the deck shuffling it’s worth reflecting on the rise of the importance of the tight-end.

We have witnessed the evolution of a two tight-end set from the old-school two tight-end set of five or so years ago when the Kansas City Chiefs would deploy Tony Gonzales as a real weapon and Jason Dunn as essentially a sixth offensive lineman to the almost unstoppable combination of New England Patriots duo Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (when both are fit).

I’m unable to do more than guess here but it sure feels that proportionally the number of catches made by the tight-end position on all 32 NFL teams has risen over the past five years. The majority of NFL teams have factored in the tight-end as a core offensive weapon and not a secondary or dump-off target for a quarterback looking for a cheap completion on a busted play.

So here are my top five tight-end free agency moves (in no particular order):

#1 – Brandon Myers – Oakland Raiders to New York Giants

I had the privilege of seeing Myers play live against the Dolphins just six months ago and despite not being anywhere near a household name he was the most reliable target for Carson Palmer. Myers deserves a bigger, brighter stage and there is no better place than the Big Apple to show what you are made of. After 32 catches in his first three seasons Myers pretty much exploded onto the scene in 2012 with 79 catches for 806 yards. Big Blue fans love a hard working reliable tight-end – names like Mark Bavaro and Jeremy Shockey are pretty hard to live up to, but Myers has the skills to settle in immediately. Eli Manning will be happy that he has a safe pair of hands to throw to as he looks to get the Giants back into the postseason.

2013 prediction – 75 catches for 750 yards and 7 tds

#2 – James Casey – Houston Texans to Philadelphia Eagles

Casey was woefully misused by the Houston Texans as a hybrid fullback and despite only 66 career catches, and similar to Myers, he enters his fifth NFL season with a huge opportunity to make a big impact with his new team. That team, the Philadelphia Eagles has a new coach, a new philosophy and a quarterback who is returning for his fifth season in the home of Rocky Balboa. this equates to the ‘land of opportunity’ for Casey, much like the ‘line’ given to Rocky by that greasy haired promoter.

2013 prediction – 57 catches 520 yards and 5 tds

#3 – Delanie Walker – San Francisco 49ers to Tennessee Titans

Without doubt an unsung hero on his old team, Walker had a habit of coming up with big catches in big situations. Having spent seven seasons on the West Coast, Walker never had a real chance to shine, providing a support role to Vernon Davies over every one of the past seven seasons. With Jared Cook’s locker not even emptied Walker will be hoping to slot in as a starter. It’s quite a rare situation to be a backup tight-end for seven seasons before moving into a starting role. Walker is the kind of player you root for, but Jake Locker is a significant downgrade on Colin Kaepernick. Walker will not be going back to a Super Bowl anytime soon with the Titans, but he should have his best career statistical output in 2013.

2013 prediction – 48 catches for 580 yards and 3 tds

#4 – Dustin Keller – New York Jets to Miami Dolphins

When you are being targeted by Mark Sanchez, and have a backup who is better known for kneeling down than throwing a forward pass then being able to escape that situation must be like a breath of sweet Florida sunshine air. Talking of Florida sunshine that is exactly where Keller is now plying his trade as a Miami Dolphins starter. Keller will replace, and upgrade the play of Anthony Fasano. Now Keller was injured for half of 2012, but he is not known as injury prone. He has averaged 48 catches a season over five years, but he has been held back by average to poor quarterback play. In Miami Ryan Tannehill was the forgotten man as other 2012 rookie quarterbacks such as Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck commanded the headlines. Keller and Tannehill need to set up a strong bond in camp, and if they do it could mean very good news for Fish fans.

2013 prediction – 66 catches for 670 yards and 5 tds

#5 – Jared Cook – Tennessee Titans to St Louis Rams 

Potential is a funny old word. To me its a way of saying expectations being unfulfilled. A bit like the career so far of Jared Cook, all 6 ft 5 inches of him. Cook has again been let down by some average quarterback play and some bad play-calling. In St Louis he will need to work alongside Lance Kendricks. Both had almost identical stats in 2012, so something will have to give. I think Cook will get around 65% to 70% of the tight end targets from Sam Bradford. The Rams are going to be intriguing to watch in 2013 with a new look backfield and the marauding Cook exploiting any safety coverage mismatches.

2013 prediction – 65 catches for 740 yards and 4 touchdowns

Other notable moves include Tony Gonzales remaining at the Atlanta Falcons for one more shot at a Super Bowl, and Martellus Bennett (Giants to Chicago Bears) which could work if Jay Cutler realises that there is actually another offensive target aside Brandon Marshall.

There is also the rather low-key saga of where current Washington Redskins tight-end Fred Davis will end up in 2013 – Buffalo, New York or back in D.C being the three main contenders.

How do you rate your teams tight-end depth and would you have liked to have seen one of my top five free-agent tight-ends joining your team?

Please - no more doubt(hy) in the Redskins secondary

Please – no more doubt(hy) in the Redskins secondary

Drafting the saviour of your team, winning your division and having three players in the same defensive position play in the Pro Bowl, all in the same season, should be cause for celebration for Washington Redskins fans.

But scratch under the surface and you have yourself a team that has its anointed deity currently recovering from major surgery, last actually won a playoff game in 2006, and has already lost one of its Pro Bowl linebackers to Free Agency (special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander, picked up by the Arizona Cardinals).

The Redskins 10-6 record was a lot to do with leading the entire NFL in team rushing, and a lot to do with an extremely underrated offensive line, especially center Will Montgomery and Guard Kory Lichtensteiger – hardly household names, but without their consistency there is no way Alfred Morris gains a remarkable 1,613 yards as a rookie.

Robert Griffin III (RG3) – the other rookie Redskins sensation – well to put it bluntly, the NFL’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, was a complete sensation, some of his performances transcending that of any mortal NFL rookie. Problem was, after a nasty but not malicious hit by eventual Super Bowl winning Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, it turned out that Griffin’s  mythological status was not going to perpetuate into the playoffs.

Talking of playoffs if the Redskins have a post-season bogey team, well more like a mutated Fungus the Bogeyman the size of a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, it is the Seattle Seahawks. With only six playoff performances in the past twenty seasons, and two wins in that span, three of four Redskins post-season dismissals en-route to the big dance have been courtesy of the Seahawks.

The most recent playoff loss to the Seahawks will forever be remembered for the ‘questionable’ decision made by Redskins two-time Super Bowl winning (with the Denver Broncos) head coach Mike Shanahan to start an unhealthy RG3. The fact of the matter was that even if RG3 lasted a full 60 minutes the Washington defense would have remained porous. Conceding 380 yards of offense against a team led by another rookie quarterback (Russell Wilson) will never get you to a conference championship game.

This is where the Redskins need to draft wisely and draft defense. This is how I would like the Redskins to draft with their seven picks, minus of course a first round pick which they gave to the St Louis Rams for the honour of grabbing RG3 as the second overall pick last year.

Redskins 2013 NFL Draft slots (as it stands March 26 2013) and positions of need

Round 2 – No. 21 – 51 overall – Cornerback or safety – a day 1 rookie starter
Round 3 – No. 32 – 85 overall – Cornerback or safety – a day 1 rookie backup
Round 4 – No. 22 – Wide receiver – a slot WR to take over from Santana Moss in 2014
Round 5 – No. 21 – Outside linebacker – special teams ace and hard hitter not necessarily a pass rusher
Round 5 – No. 29 (from New England) – tight end/h-back who could get playing time as a rookie
Round 6 – No. 23 – Cornerback prospect with return skills
Round 7 – No. 22 – Defensive lineman prospect with tentacle arms

The Skins may well bring back veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall at a reduced salary cost, but this is only papering over the cracks. When you enter a season with safety Reed Doughty as your longest tenured defensive back (8 seasons with the team) then you know you are in big trouble.

Doughty may be a D.C fan favourite for his pluckiness, call it the Charlie Brown factor (not to be confused with former Redskins Super Bowl winning wide receiver who also went by the name Charlie Brown) but this is a player who has two career interceptions in 92 NFL games played, one every 46 games.

With Josh Wilson regularly burnt in the second half of the season the Redskins have not had anything near a defensive backfield wow factor since Sean Taylor was laying wood harder than a lumberjack on crack. Taylor (R.I.P) has been gone from the Washington secondary over five years now, but there has not been anyone to even come close to shining his shoes in terms of quality.

Yes former Redskins safety Laron Landry was a very high pick and did a decent job, but the fact of the matter was he did not make the Pro Bowl in five seasons in Washington, and he is now on his third team in three seasons, having just signed with the Indianapolis Colts. It grinds my gears to think that he somehow became a Pro Bowl player in 2012 with the New York Jets, but the validity of those selected to the Pro Bowl is a giant joke as we all know (how else is Jeff Saturday chosen).

The Redskins have had their hands tied behind their backs in 2013 Free agency because of supposedly abusing the way they managed contract signings during the ‘non-cap’ 2010 season. This is a team that has learnt that big names does not equate to big amounts of wins, but their signings so far have been primarily looking after their own (with the regretful exception of losing Lorenzo Alexander and likely Fred Davis the team’s top tight-end) and some relatively low-key pickups – Jeremy Trueblood the monster sized offensive tackle, fellow tackle Tony Pashos (a 32-year-old former Clevaland Brown – yuk) and E.J Biggers the cornerback.

At the time of writing Biggers is penciled in as a starting cornerback,  a guy who has never started more than 75% of games in his four seasons in Tampa Bay and has 0, yes 0 career interception return yards in his NFL career.

The Redskins need a corner and a safety that can start as rookies, but with no first round pick this will be a pretty steep hill to climb to make happen in 2013.

This situation with an inexperienced backfield does sound scary, but I am reminded of the 1981 San Francisco 49ers, a team that started three of four defensive backs as rookies (cornerbacks Ronnie Lott, Carlton Williamson and safety Eric Wright).

Now I am not saying the Redskins will find the next Ronnie Lott in the second or third round of the 2013 NFL draft, but any situation that removes Reed Doughty from the Washington secondary has to be a positive one.

Who do you think the Redskins should target early in the draft?

Greg is heading to Wembley in six months

Greg is heading to Wembley in six months

Last season the Minnesota Vikings relied so heavily on Adrian Peterson their second year quarterback Christian Ponder looked like he had forgotten the art of the forward pass.

So when the Seattle Seahawks signed the Vikes best receiving weapon at the start of Free Agency, WR Mr Percy Harvin, the situation got even uglier.

I was with a sense if relief that Minnesota did find a rapid replacement in the shape of Super Bowl winning wideout Greg Jennings.

The Vikings also signed former Patriots and Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. Hardly the headline news, but putting him and Ponder in a head to head battle will mean whoever gets the starting gig will be playing extra hard as they will want to keep that starting role.

Jennings will be familiar with the purple uniform having faced off against the Vikings twice a year for the past seven seasons during divisional game-play.

Greg, a former Western Michigan Bronco, is one of only ten football players from that college to be drafted into the NFL in the past 20 years. Other Broncos to gain some degree of fame in the NFL include tight-end Tony Scheffler (also drafted in 2006) and Jason Babin the defensive end (selected in the first round in 2004).

Jennings had 17 100+ games in college, second all time on his college team to NFL 2012 draft pick Jordan White (21 games).

Jennings becomes the biggest named wideout in Minnesota since Randy Moss. He will be hoping to get back on track with a 1000+ yard season, following an injury filled 2012 in Green Bay, where he has his worst output both by catches and yardage.

The two time Pr0-Bowler has already registered three 1100+seasons and two 900+ seasons, along with three 100+ yard playoff games and a two-touchdown performance in helping the Packers to win Super Bowl XLV against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It will be the Steelers that Jennings will face again when the Vikings travel to London in September as part of the NFL’s first ever double dose of regular season football outside of America.

Of the two London games (Steelers @ Vikings and San Francisco 49ers @ Jacksonville Jaguars) on paper the Vikings game looks to be the most competitive, and was quicker to sell out.

Fans like myself (thanks to a Christmas gift from my beautiful wife) will be chomping at the bit to see the likes of Peterson and now Greg Jennings as they take on the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only team to win six Super bowls.

Both the Vikings and the Steelers will be hoping for string drafts, with some rookies that can make an immediate impact. Both teams need to improve their secondary, especially at cornerback. The Steelers lost the under-rated Keenan Lewis and the Vikings let veteran Antoine Winfield go.

With Greg Jennings looking to become not only a leader on the field, but also in the locker room, it will be fascinating to see what other pieces of the jigsaw the Vikings pick up en-route to the start of the 2013 season.

What other needs do YOU think are the most pressing for the Vikings?

S-Jax - will he be be the man to finally get the Falcons back to the Super Bowl?

S-Jax – will he be be the man to finally get the Falcons back to the Super Bowl?

It’s been a crazily busy week as 2013 Free Agency in the NFL has been in full effect.

Starting with some big wide-receiver moves, including Wes Welker (going from catching bass from one Hall of Fame quarterback to another) and Mike Wallace moving to the Florida sunshine, its been tough keeping up with all the moves.

One team that I think has been a big winner is the Atlanta Falcons.

The NFC Championship losers just two months ago, they grabbed the best free-agent running back on the market in the form of veteran punisher Steven Jackson.

Jackson has been a loyal servant to the St Louis Rams, whilst the talent around him has been pretty atrocious over the past decade.

Jackson came into a Rams team that was fresh from two Super Bowl appearances, but has been about as competitive as Mother Teresa in the time he has been there.

Like Barry Sanders, Jackson was the brightest shining star on a team of grubby meteors (always descending), so to be picked up by a team that was less than a touchdown from the Super Bowl will be one almighty relief for him. S-Jax will be a significant upgrade on the chunky thighed plodder Michael Turner, and he will provide a formidable backfield partner to third-year back  Jacquizz Rodgers.

Rodgers has not had the chance to prove himself as a three-down back, and wont get the chance now Jackson is signed, but he is a great receiver in the backfield with 74 catches in his first two seasons in the NFL.

In addition the Falcons persuaded future Hall of Fame enshrinee Tony Gonzales to come back for one more season.

There are some excellent tight-ends available in the 2013 NFL Draft, and the Falcons may pick one up as the heir-apparent in Round Two or beyond, but to have Gonzo back, with his 70-90 catches is going to have Matt Ryan smiling.

Atlanta have also re-signed safety William Moore and offensive linemen Garrett Reynolds and Sam Baker. No superstar names here, but keeping your own garden tidy is always important if you want to grow sweet smelling roses.

With the free-agency market showing  few signs of slowing down we can expect more movement this weekend, and I will be spending time reviewing every move.

A few of the quieter free-agency moves, beyond those taking place in Georgia, that have caught my eye  include:

  • Lorenzo Alexander (LB) Washington to Arizona – Alexander is not a household name, nor a starter even, but he went to the 2013 Pro Bowl as a demon special teams tackler. The Redskins could not afford him because of salary cap penalties, but they will miss him for sure. In Arizona he will get the chance to start at outside linebacker, but I doubt he will become a Pro Bowler again in the desert.
  • James Casey (TE/FB/HB) Houston to Philadelphia – Casey moves from a Texans team where he should have featured as a 50-60 catch tight-end, but instead was used as a fullback. In Philly he should be moved all over the field and could have a huge 2013 being the safety blanket for Michael Vick in new head coach Chip Kelly’s explosive offensive scheme.

More free-agency commentary to come, after I get a decent coffee.

Yes I do have a sweet tooth.

Yes I do have a sweet tooth.

Just about 7 hours to go until kickoff in NOLA as it is affectionately known and everything is in place.

Everyone has Super Bowl traditions I am sure, and I have to confess I am no different.

Ever since I watched my first Super Bowl (XXI Giants beating Broncos in 1987) I have always done the following:

– Bought a can of Pepsi, a bag of peanut M and Ms, a Snickers (back in the day called a Marathon) and a bag of Beef crisps. Back then in the 80’s Beef crisps were common place, nowadays they don’t exist so I have replaced them with Doritos and added some toffee popcorn.

– I will move the sofa from it’s normal position to right in front of the tv, lining up some small tables in front of me with the food and drink so I don’t miss a second.

– Most importantly I make sure I book the Monday off work. I am sure there are millions who simply report in sick to manage the late night and a potential hangover, but I don’t drink much but do need some sleep.

– I put on a few bets, see my previous blog post.

A few things have changed. With a 16 month old daughter I cannot listen to the game loud on surround sound, instead I have a wire that links my earphones to the back of the tv.

Also here in England we have two channel choices when it comes to watching the Super Bowl tonight. BBC HD with no adverts and the cult (carefully spelt) Mike Carlson, or Sky HD with former Eagles fullback Cecil Martin (who has the biggest hands I have ever seen). I think I will record both and watch the game on the BBC tonight, after all we don’t get the legendary American adverts.

Now all I have to contest with is clearing enough room on my Sky+ box to record both channels.

For all 49ers and Ravens fans I hope your team wins, as for the neutrals I hope the game is played in the spirit of many recent Super Bowls, and that we have a close game, full of twists and turns, and maybe the crowning of a new hero.

The party will begin in my household around 7pm when I put our daughter to bed. Time for the potato skins and jalapeno poppers to go in the oven, and for a chilled Bud to make its way down my parched throat.

To all NFL fans around the world enjoy Super Bowl XLVII as it is a long long time until competitive football returns to our screens.

And if you see anyone kissing their bicep on the bus or the tube tomorrow morning during the commuter rush then you can simply wink back!

 

My sneaky first touchdown bet - rookie Lamichael James

My sneaky first touchdown bet – rookie Lamichael James

I’m not normally a betting man. In fact I only venture into the bookies twice a year, once for the Grand National and once for the Super Bowl.

I have had a few big Super Bowl winning payouts, but really any gambling undertake is simply for fun and I expect to win nothing.

I’ve put on five bets this year with only four that’s can possibly reap rewards.

Most Valuable Player

Michael Crabtree (20-1) 49ers wide receiver. Crabtree is very clearly Colin Kaepernick’s number omen target and Ravens cornerbacks are good but not All Pro standard. Wide receivers have won MVP awards in recent memory, and whilst it’s all about the quarterback, Crabtree has been a true crutch for three months. I have to laugh as I got 20-1 on Friday, just checked online Saturday night and Crabtree is now 16-1 with the same firm.

Ed Reed (66-1) Ravens safety. This is my outside bet for sure. Ray Lewis already has an MVP award, so if the Ravens D pull it out the bag it could be Reed who does the biggest damage. Reed is a turnover monster, and say he gets two interceptions, one being a pick=six then this could be a reality. Unlikely, but hey if you don’t speculate you certainly won’t accumulate.

First Touchdown Scorer

Frank Gore (7-1) 49ers running back or Lamichael James (25-1) 49ers running back. Now sods law says that because I have bet on either the number one or number two San Francisco running back to score first that either the Ravens take the opening kickoff and return it for a touchdown or Colin Kaepernick scores on the ground first himself. The first td scorer really has no true science to it, as there are far too many things that could happen. I have gone 49ers ground game because I rate the 49ers offensive line as one of the top units in the NFL. If the Niners try to establish the run early they will give the rock to Gore, who is capable of 8 carries in a single drive. Rookie James, the former Oregon Duck, has chosen the right time to be injury free and has some major grease in his wheels. Fantasy football fans hate touchdown vultures, those players who come in for the score after the rest of the team has left body parts on the field in an energy sapping drive, arise sir Lamichael James flying through the air like a vulture*/duck* (*=delete as applicable).

Winning margin

Now this may offend any Ravens fans, so apologies in advance, but I have gone for the 49ers to win by 13-18 (7-1). My actual score prediction is 31-17 to the 49ers. My rationale for this score is as follows. I see the first half being cagey with both teams trying to establish the run and get the tight-ends involved to get outside linebackers a bit spooked into contemplating the virtues of prolific blitzing. I have it 17-10 to the 49ers at half-time on the back of a Gore run and something like a Delanie Walker or Bruce Miller catch.

I then have the 49ers defense coming out of the locker room having learnt how to contain the Ravens deep passing, getting an early third quarter Flacco interception. From there 24-10 behind a second Gore run. Flacco to then make it interesting with a big drive of his own ending in an Anquan Boldin score. I then see Kaepernick and the ball control offense putting the nail in the coffin mid-way through the final period with an Anthony Dixon plunge. Flacco to mount a late comeback but turn the ball over again.

OK this is all in my head and about as likely to happen as Alex Smith throwing the winning score in double overtime, but betting is no science, its a bit of fun, and win or lose it always makes my Super Bowl viewing that bit tastier, alongside my big ol’ bowl of toffee popcorn and peanut M and M’s.

Anyone else got any predictions?