Archive for the ‘San Francisco 49ers’ Category

Big game for Foles - and I think he will shine

Big game for Foles – and I think he will shine

Having become a dad for the second time the week before Christmas, writing posts for my blog has not exactly been top of my list of priorities. Still I hate watching the NFL playoffs without making a few predictions.

I have enjoyed watching NFL RedZone on my wife’s Ipad, but when it came to the crunch I was not going to miss the opportunity to watch the NFL playoffs live so I got a one-month subscription to Sky Sports to view the games, starting tonight with the Kansas City Chiefs at the Indianapolis Colts.

AFC Predictions

Wild Cards
Chiefs 31-21 Colts – MVP Jamaal Charles with 180 all purpose yards and two tds
Chargers 17-27 Bengals – MVP Andy Dalton with 3 td passes

The Chiefs may be the visiting team but they have too much class overall, and they will expose the Colts offensive line. The Chargers backed into the playoffs thanks to a missed field goal by Ryan Succop. My prediction for the AFC at the start of the season was the Bengals and I am not going to change my mind. Look for Luck to get picked off at least twice.

NFC Predictions 

Wild Cards
Saints 27-38 Eagles – MVP Nick Foles 4 td passes
49ers 26-24 Packers – MVP Colin Kaepernick with 250 yards passing and 50 rushing

The biggest upset in my eyes is the home team Eagles beating the Saints. Yes Philly will be at home but the Saints are high octane all the time. This simply has to be a game where over 60 tital points will be scored. Nick Foles will play with no fear and will take risks that more experienced playoff quarterbacks will not. The Niners know how to navigate the choppy waters of the playoffs and they have the defensive quality to hang with the Packers. Aaron Rodgers will again play hard but this time I just think the 49ers will get a big enough lead that the Packers will not be able to claw it back late.

 

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.

For the first time ever, the NFL will be playing two games in London during the 2013 season. On September 29th, the Pittsburgh Steelers will face off against the Minnesota Vikings, while on October 27th, the San Francisco 49ers will take on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite both teams having plenty of games beforehand, here is a preview of how those two games should play out.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Minnesota Vikings
As far as being competitive, this should be the better of the two games at Wembley Stadium this season. The Vikings are coming off a playoff season, and they feature the reigning MVP and fantasy football superstar Adrian Peterson on their team as well. Although the Steelers struggled in 2012, they have won a pair of Super Bowl titles in recent memory and they look to get back in contention again this season. This will be the first time either team has made the trip to Europe, so this should be the more anticipated game. The Steelers have gained quite a following worldwide thanks to their multiple Super Bowl rings, and Peterson is one of the biggest stars in the NFL today. When it comes to the game, the Vikings actually have the chance to be even better in 2013. Last season, Peterson had to carry the offense, but with a more mature Christian Ponder and the addition of Greg Jennings, Minnesota should have a balanced offense. Their defense is also stellar, but so is Pittsburgh’s. That means that London fans will probably see a low-scoring affair. Take the Vikings to come away with the victory though.

Prediction: Minnesota Vikings 17-14

San Francisco 49ers vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Even though this will be the 3rd trip for the 49ers over to London, many of the players will be making their first trip ever. However, the 49ers have plenty of other advantages when it comes to playing the Jaguars. Last season, the two teams basically had opposite years. The San Francisco 49ers made it to the Super Bowl, while the Jaguars struggled to win the few games they did. Although Jacksonville was able to obtain some young talent heading into 2013, this should be a game the 49ers win. Fans of defense will love the 49ers, and they might have the best defense in the NFL this season. Of course, they also have plenty of offensive firepower, headlined by Colin Kaepernick at quarterback and Frank Gore getting most of the carries on the ground. If Jacksonville is going to challenge, they will need some of their young talent to step up and gain momentum going into this game. Luke Joeckel and Jonathan Cyprien, their top two picks, should step in right away and provide value, but neither one of them play glamorous positions. The Jaguars lack star power, which could hurt the attendance numbers somewhat, but the appeal of the 49ers will make up for it.

Prediction: San Francisco 27-10

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?

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?