Archive for the ‘NFL Playoffs’ Category

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…………………..

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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?

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?

 

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by Lawrence Vos

When the 2012 season began there certainly was no thought in my head that I would be witnessing the dawn of a new dynasty, from a team that I grew up idolising.

I predicted the Houston Texans to finally rise to the occasion and win a Vince Lombardi Trophy. I even went as far as to say they would beat the Detroit Lions in said game.

The Lions were their typical basement dwelling selves, and the Texans got knocked out in the final eight by a fading Patriots team.

When the Baltimore Ravens shutout the New England Patriots in the second half of the AFC Championship I was one of millions of neutrals to punch a proverbial fist in the air.

Not having to suffer another four hours of Tom Brady’s smug mug, and his puppet master the evil Emperor Belichick was one of the true delights of a truly remarkable NFL season.

Perhaps the most remarkable performance of the season was San Francisco 49ers second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick single-handed destruction of the Green Bay Packers in the NFC divisional playoffs.

To then somehow defy ridiculous odds, a longer shot than a bullet fired from Mars, we have two brothers, both head coaches in the NFL, both facing each other in the Super Bowl.

So, to the game, which mercifully pits two teams in the big dance who have never faced each other at this stage, and who have both not reached the Super Bowl for over a decade.

Baltimore Ravens path to the Super Bowl

My feeling was that a year ago when former Buffalo Bills wide receiver Lee Evans dropped a Joe Flacco pass in the end-zone against the Patriots in the AFC Championship that the drop was the last chance for the current Baltimore Ravens team to reach their second Super Bowl for the next ten to fifteen years.

Their defensive captain Ray Lewis had already cemented his place in history and lifted a Super Bowl, so when he tore his triceps and was not projected to return until the playoffs I just thought the Ravens were going to personify their leader on the field and limp into the night like a wounded bird with a broken wing. Instead they have fought far harder than I or any non Ravens fan thought possible.

The whole ‘Wild Card entry reaches the Super Bowl’ is no longer such a rare occurence,  The New York Giants did it only last season. The Ravens run actually bears a remarkable resemblance to the Giants in that they won a home Wild Card game and then they beat the number one and number two seed on the road.

This is not the same Ravens team that sent chills down the spine of the teams they played, as this season they allowed over 420 yards five times in the regular season and twice in the playoffs. They also leaked 150+ yard rushing yards in five games.

What mattered was their playoff performances where the rushing yards allowed has gone down during each playoff performance.

San Francisco 49ers path to the Super Bowl 

The 49ers followed a similar playoff rout to the Ravens, having suffered a painful NFC Championship loss to the Giants a year ago.

When their coach decided that veteran quarterback Alex Smith was no longer good enough to remain the number one there were plenty of cynics, myself included. I believe in redemption and thought Smith, who was 6-2-1 when pulled, was enough of a game manager to get the Niners to the big dance. He remains the 49ers quarterback rating leader for 2012.

Coach Harbaugh’s call to install Colin Kaepernick as the signal caller was brave, and proved to be the edge that the 49ers needed for a deep playoff push.

What made the 49ers turn from a wannabee to a conference champion was not Kaepernick alone, it was a monster offensive line, a workhorse gritty Frank Gore at running back and a defense that man for man is superior to the Ravens defense.

Kapernick said of Gore just today: “He’s a great player. He’s a great leader. He’s a workhorse. He’s going to do whatever it takes to win and we need Frank Gore to be Frank. That will be good enough on Sunday. I think you can put Frank in any offense and he will be successful. He’s the type of running back that can adapt. He can do anything we need him to do. I think that’s why he has been doing so well.”

The 49ers defense had four first team All-Pro’s on defense (the REAL judge of excellence) linebackers Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman along with safety Dashon Goldson, compared to zero first team Ravens.

Part Two of my preview will look at breaking down some of the key match-ups.

The most underrated starting players in the Super Bowl

The most underrated starting players in the Super Bowl

The argument is that the quarterback position is the toughest in all of professional football.

You have to know an offense inside out, have to read a defense quicker than a bionic word scanner and spend time avoiding gentlemen bigger, faster (and no disrespect) uglier than you for sixty minutes a game.

Big deal – you get to front the Pepsi adverts, go home every night to a beautiful model and a pile of money higher than a busted meth cook house.

The real men have no necks, no fear and no chance of much glory, but without them their teams are simply not the same.

Ladies and gentlemen introducing Bruce Miller and Terzell Vonta Leach, the two starting fullbacks in Super Bowl XLVII.

In the combined 161 regular season games played by Miller and Leach they have ran the ball 33 times for 96 yards – an average of just under three yards a carry.

No exactly prime time production, but their primary objective is not to partake in the noble art of carrying the pigskin, they are there to clear a path, like a snow-plow lumbering through a 20ft drift.

Let’s look at the stats for the lead tailbacks production with Leach and Miller as the fullback on the field:

Leach

2004 (as a Packer) Ahman Green 1,163 rushing yards 7 touchdowns and a trip the Pro Bowl

2005 (as a Packer) Samkon Gado 582 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns

2006 (as a Packer and Texan) Ron Dayne 612 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns

2007 (as a Texan) Ron Dayne 773 yards rushing and 6 touchdowns

2008  (as a Texan) Steve Slaton 1,282 yards rushing 9 touchdowns

2009 (as a Texan) Steve Slaton 437 yards rushing (no Texan back played all 16 games)

2010 (as a Texan) Arian Foster 1,161 yards rushing 16 tds and a trip to the Pro Bowl and voted an All Pro

2011 (as a Raven) Ray Rice 1,364 yards rushing 12 tds and a trip to the Pro Bowl

2012 (as a Raven) Ray Rice 1.134 yards rushing 9 tds and a trip to the Pro Bowl

Miller

2011 (as a 49er) Frank Gore  1.211 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns and a trip to the Pro Bowl

2012 (as a 49er) Frank Gore  1.214 yards rushing and 8 touchdowns and a trip to the Pro Bowl

That’s 11 seasons sacrificing their bodies for colleagues to go to the Pro Bowl six times. Now Leach has been recognised for the outstanding man-beast that he is, with three consecutive Pro Bowl and All Pro (the real mark of talent) call-ups in the last three seasons.

Miller on the other hand has helped Frank Gore to the Pro Bowl last season and this season, but has not been given any individual recognition by voters.

When you sit down next Sunday to the biggest show on earth (on turf) pay a thought to Miller and Leach. They may not touch the ball once between them, but they will likely lay a hit that will win one of their teams the Vince Lombardi Trophy.