Posts Tagged ‘NFL’

The year 2021, the date Sunday January 10, the venue the Budweiser Wembley Stadium, London, England…….

LONDON JAGUARS ROAR INTO DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS WITH O/T WIN AGAINST THE DOLPHINS

by Lawrence Vos reporting from London

THIRTY years ago the London Monarchs won the inaugural World Bowl in front of 61,108 fans inside Wembley Stadium. 

Fourteen years ago the NFL packaged two teams to play the first ever regular season NFL game in Europe in front of 81,176 fans inside Wembley Stadium.

Tonight the NFL’s first ever non-North American based franchise, the London Jaguars, played and won their first ever Wild Card playoff contest in front of 87,263 fans inside Wembley Stadium.

History was made when seven year veteran quarterback A.J. McCarron led the Jaguars through the wind and rain of North London on an eleven play touchdown drive, climaxing in a three-yard dive into the end-zone from fellow draft class of 2014 team-mate Melvin Gordon. 

The mud-splattered ball that crossed the goal-line in Gordon’s right hand was found on the sideline, and within days it will be flown first-class to Canton, Ohio to sit proudly in a perspex cabinet in one of the modern era wings of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The 26-20 win against the visiting Miami Dolphins will go down in football folklore as the first post-season win for an NFL franchise based outside the United States of America. 

Before uprooting wholesale from Jacksonville, Florida, to the London Borough of Brent (just 12 months ago) the Jaguars had already etched their name into some significant post-season history books, as they, along with the Carolina Panthers, reached their respective Conference Championships just two seasons after inception. 

The Jaguars lost to the New England Patriots in the 1997 AFC Championship game. 24 years later and the Jaguars again travel to Massachusetts to face the three-time Super Bowl winners, this time two games away from competing for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. 

Said McCarron after prizing his grass-stained Gold and Teal helmet from his steaming but beaming head: “The fans kept us going in overtime, the noise was awesome, and I hope that they are already making travel plans for our game against the Patriots next week.”

……I could go on but hopefully you get the gist.

I think this my small curtain twitch into the future is going to be more than just a dream. There is no way the NFL goes from one to three regular season NFL games in the same season in the same city without some sort of master plan to move one of the current 32 franchises, lock, stock and smoking barrel from the land of Uncle Sam to the land of Auntie Beeb.

I have it fixed in my head that in 2020 the Jacksonville Jaguars will move to their new home across the pond and become known to the world as the London Jaguars.

There will be uproar (loud animal sounding pun intended) as Roger Goodell announces in the 2015 NFL AGM that the five-year plan to get an NFL franchise in London begins with immediate effect.

No doubt opinion will be divided in terms of this decision – ranging from being for the good of the NFL’s plan to take over the world to the other extreme that the state of the average Englishman’s teeth being that shoddy that players will not want to move continents to potentially risk dental hygiene distress.

No doubt the President and our Prime Minister will be involved in terms of the mainstream media’s desire to get non-sporting column inches filled with this story between now and 2020, but I don’t think any misquote or inappropriate audible by a political head of state will derail this particular locomotive.

Money talks, and there is no way that three NFL teams are giving up a home game in 2014 without being told that this is a long-term money spinner.

I think that moving a team over here, but keeping their original NFL nickname and identity, will be the level of compromise that will keep the Jaguars owner Shahid Khan happy.

Now all I have to do is get Mr Khan to confirm all of the above, for him to offer me a job on the communications staff of the London Jaguars and for me to persuade my wife to move the family to London.

Hell, if you don’t shoot for the stars then you end up shooting in the dark.

Everyone attending the Jaguars first ‘unofficial’ home game at Wembley Stadium tomorrow I hope you all witness a competitive and heartwarming game, and that most importantly you have a safe journey home.

It’s anticipated that there is a storm brewing over England on Sunday. If we end up with the Jaguars moving permanently to London in 2020, it could be the longest storm in North American sports history.

Bring on the thunder and lightning tomorrow (and I’m not talking about the resurrection of Ron Dayne and Tiki Barber).

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Birmingham Bulls players get ready for kickoff - taken by Lawrence Vos

Birmingham Bulls players get ready for kickoff – taken by Lawrence Vos

It’s only my second year being a dad, so to share my three favourite things on the planet on Father’s Day was a real treat.

My wife and daughter joined me for a local battle between the Birmingham Bulls and the Coventry Jets in my home town of Birmingham (UK).

It was great fun to see some live Britball, having not been to a domestic game for many many years.

The home team Bulls did not look good, with an overweight and slow quarterback, an anemic running game and a pass defense worse than my Washington Redskins.

The games opening score was around a 60 yard pass from Jets QB (#17) to wide receiver (#85). From then on until near to the half it was all Coventry.We only stayed for the first half as the 50 or so fans had to make the decision if they wanted to watch the game as it started to spit down. With a 1 year old daughter it was time to go, but to anyone who is in the UK you should check out some homegrown american football action.

Airing it out - the Jets live up to their name.

Airing it out – the Jets live up to their name.

The game had no entry fee and access to get right close up to the action. Hopefully if the weather improves I will be going back with the family and will make sure there is a full picnic and foldaway chairs.

Coventry Jets had no problem scoring in the first half.
Coventry Jets had no problem scoring in the first half.
#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?

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.

Gronk wont be playing in the Super Bowl regardless if the Pats win on Sunday

Gronk wont be playing in the Super Bowl regardless if the Pats win on Sunday

Five Super Bowl performances in the last eleven seasons is pretty remarkable, all led by the same quarterback and head coach combination is mind-bending.

Tom Brady, Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots franchise stand on the verge of a sixth Super Bowl berth in the last dozen seasons, which if they do succeed means they have represented their conference in 50% of Super Bowls since 2002.

They face a Baltimore Ravens team this weekend in  a rematch of last years AFC Championship, a game the Patriots triumphed 23-20.

The Ravens are now in their third conference championship in five years, hoping that it’s third time lucky.

There are many many storylines and matchups to look out for:

– Can Ray Lewis fire up his team enough or will his final NFL game be a heartbreaking defeat?

– Can the Patriots live without the man-beast Rob Gronkowski?

– Can the Ravens pull-off a third playoff win in a row against a fresher team who will have a huge home field advantage?

– Can the Patriots secondary live with the speed of Torrey Smith – will it be Aqib Talib marking Smith to leave Anquan Boldin to have a big game?

– Will there be a Ravens player do a ‘Lee Evans’ and drop a game winning touchdown?

I have to say I love the way the Pats have taken the two tight-end set into a different stratosphere, which is why it’s such a shame that Rob Gronkowski re-broke his arm last weekend and will next suit up in anger in about six-months. I do expect a big game from the ‘other’ tight-end Aaron Hernandez.

Regardless of Hernandez’s stat-line, or the lack of the Gronk, the Patriots are 60 minutes away from their eighth Super Bowl, and for me a seventh time watching those silver helmets take on an NFC opponent.

When you are a supporter of such a dominant team then you are hoping the Super Bowl performances are never-ending, but when you are a fan of one of the other 31 NFL teams you just hope that there are some new teams losing their Super Bowl virginity.

As a neutral it has been a lot of fun seeing the likes of the New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals reach (and in the first two cases win) a Super Bowl.

It’s not so much fun watching the same teams keep going back. The irony is not lost that we have the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL Championship as I grew up watching Joe Montana and Steve Young win three Super Bowls over a seven year stretch.

I do have very clear memories of the Ravens winning their only previous Super Bowl appearance, and likewise the Falcons somewhat flat performance against the John Elway led Denver Broncos in 1999.

As long as the Patriots are held out of this Super Bowl I really don’t mind who wins out of the 49ers and the Falcons. You have to love the dynamism of Colin Kaepernick and then the emotional high that would be experienced if Tony Gonzales the future Hall of Fame tight-end would get if he could somehow play his last game in the Super Bowl.

Just don’t think I can stomach another two-weeks of hype led by Tom Brady’s face and the grey face of Bill ‘the Emperor’ Belichick.

Come on Ray & Ray you wouldn’t want to let down your international admirers would you?

JJ Watt will be one eager beaver (well badger maybe) this weekend

JJ Watt will be one eager beaver (well badger maybe) this weekend

Eight to four this weekend, simple maths but the likelihood I predict all four NFL Divisional Playoff games correctly is the same as me solving a Rubix Cube in 3.98 seconds.

This weekend is the equivalent of   a Shakespeare Festival, full of comedy and tragedy, different acts, highlights and lowlights, but above all chock-a-block with awe-inspiring drama.

On the surface the eight remaining teams cannot look beyond this weekend, but the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Ray Lewis will be thinking two more wins and we are back in the final, the big dance, the Super Bowl.

Four contests and four mini previews below…

Texans @ Patriots

Fact #1 – the last time the New England Patriots won a Super Bowl was eight years ago. It doesn’t sound right but it is fact. For all their dominance the last time they picked up a Vince Lombardi Trophy was against Donovan McNabb’s Philadelphia Eagles in 2005. Fact #2 the Houston Texans have never played in a conference championship. The time is right for the Texans to cause a major upset in New England and this time around the Texans have a veteran starting quarterback and a fit number one wideout in Andre Johnson. The Pats have done what they always d0 – blow out the water about half the teams they play. They have also lost to the Cardinals, barely topped the Jaguars and were beaten by two current  NFC playoff teams (49ers and Seahawks). JJ Watt the Texans defensive end has been playing like a man possessed all season long, and will be after Tom Brady all day long. This game will come down to the team that can best run the ball. Both teams have quality passing games and lots of targets, but without a running game, any of the play action will be ineffective. Tight-ends will play a big part in this game, and I would not be surprised to see three tight-ends score Sunday (Hernandez, Gronkowski and Owen Daniels).

Texans to win 31-28 on a come-from-behind Arian Foster rushing touchdown.

Ravens @ Broncos

Fact #1 If I had a £1 for every column inch written about Peyton Manning’s neck I would have enough to buy one expensive scarf. Fact #2 this could be the last professional football game that Ray Lewis ever plays in. There is a distinctly eerie feeling that we could see a Manning Brothers consecutive Super Bowl win streak like we did in 2007-2008. Peyton has been Peyton all season – leading the Broncos from the front with accurate swift passing and a low number of turnovers. The Ravens are riding on the emotional wave that is Ray Lewis and his peacock display dance. Baltimore’s team has itself been peacock like, spending most of the season quietly winning where it needed to and then on occasion making big noise. Thing is a peacock is not a bird of prey, it uses its feathers to make a grand gesture that ultimately flatters to deceive. Too many times I have seen Ray Lewis amped up at the start of a big game only for his rallying cry magic to last about a quarter of football. Second chances may be the theme for this game, but the team to take home the bacon will be Denver. Knowshon Moreno has taken his second chance by the horns and will have a big game pounding the rock in between Manning dismantling a Baltimore secondary that simply is not a stud unit (Ed Reed is of course a legend but he cannot defend an offense on his own).

Broncos to win 33-19 on the back of Manning throwing three touchdowns.

Packers @ 49ers

We have a Super Bowl winning quarterback against a second year passer, who for all concerned is playing in his first real NFL season. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers has already got a ring. San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick has never played in the NFL playoffs before. This game is a case of momentum, and that belongs to the team from Wisconsin. The Packers have all of their wide receivers fit (Jennings, Jones, Nelson and Cobb) and even their tight-end Jermichael Finley is coming up with big plays after a sub-par regular season. The Niners can run the ball and play solid football behind the ever-reliable Frank Gore, and in the last few weeks we have seen glimpses of the rookie tailback LaMichael James who can return kicks and be a spark on offense. 49ers defense will play hard but without a fully fit defensive tackle Justin Smith the team will not be able to cope with a razor-sharp Aaron Rodgers. I expect this to be low scoring, and to some extent a scrappy game.

Packers 24-19 with James Jones getting two touchdown catches and Randall Cobb tormenting the Niners linebackers all game.

Seahawks @ Falcons

The Atlanta Falcons finished the regular season with the best record in the NFC, and have had a week to rest weary limbs, but due to their disappointing playoff pedigree in recent years they are listed as the upset special by many prediction prognosticators. The Seahawks are already playoff winners this season, but they fought against a Redskins team that had an injured quarterback and a very average defense. Atlanta have the rather huge monkey, well gorilla, to shake off their backs that equates to the fact their future Hall of Fame tight-end Tony Gonzales has never won a playoff game in his illustrious NFL playing career. It’s one of those statistics that seems completely bonkers, but is true. It is also a statistic I believe that will finally vanish on Sunday afternoon. The Falcons know what they have in front of them, a possible two home wins leading to a Super Bowl appearance. Big ol’ Michael Turner has slowed to a crawl but he still manages to collect six point bonuses (10 this season).  Roddy White and Julio Jones will be the difference in this game as they may be able to be man marked if one is on the field, but having both on the field has been near enough impossible to stop, even for the hulk like cornerbacks in Seattle. It will take a superhero effort from Matt Ryan and a relatively low-key Falcons defense but it will be possible.

Falcons to win 30-20 with Matt Bryant kicking three field goals – all when the mattered.

So I have a Texans @ Broncos and Packers @ Falcons conference championship round next week. Back before the season started I predicted the Packers and the Texans to be in the last four. Lets see if my ball gazing is any good……..(crystal variety only mind you!)

luckk Wild Card weekend is akin to being let loose in a Belgian chocolate factory. You get to taste the quality (8 of the NFL’s top 12 teams)and get to gorge (on four NFL games over two-days) but the bonus ball is that you don’t count the calories.

That’s not strictly true as I can pretty much guarantee that any NFL fan watching all 240 minutes of live playoff football will likely dine out on pizza and crisps and a few litres of suds.

All four games this weekend have great story lines  from what maybe Ray Lewis’s final NFL contest against a coach who has fought Leukemia to two of the most efficient rookie quarterbacks in NFL history facing each other in a venue that has not hosted a playoff game for 13 seasons.

Let me get straight into it and offer my predictions – with a soupson of insight.

Bengals @ Texans

The Texans sure know how to walk backwards dragging their bruised and battered limbs into the playoffs, having suffered a late regular season collapse, and instead of having a week off, have to face a very respectable Bengals team that have quietly returned to the post-season for a second consecutive year. Arian Foster will want to impress in what is Matt Schaub’s first ever playoff game. Talk is that the Bengals defense has done a very good job, but this game will come down to Houston’s defense shining on a national stage. J.J. Watt is an absolute beast and will get a couple of sacks and a forced fumble.

Texans to win 19-13

Vikings @ Packers

Weird one as the teams only met last week in Minny, with Adrian Petersen running so hard the Packers wished they had gone to a three-day New Year party starting on 29 December. I absolutely loved it when Packers WR Greg Jennings was asked this week if he enjoyed playing at Freezing Lambeau Field and he said that he would rather play in a dome – at last someone who is honest. This game will be heavily influenced by the fact it will be played in Green Bay, that and Aaron Rodgers will be hellbent on making a playoff run after last season’s debacle. Keys here will be Packs ability to establish a running game and Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder’s ability to stay upright. I say this gets ugly as AP fails to establish himself and is held under 100 yards rushing.

Packers to win 37-14

Colts @ Ravens

Forget all the emotional crap about Ray Lewis coming back from an injury to inspire the Ravens to a playoff run. This is not the time for a Ravens revival. People have forgotten how devastating the loss of cornerback Lardarius Webb was earlier in the season. The Colts have defied all the odds, going from 2-14 to 11-5. Andrew Luck (see pic) has slotted into the Indy QB position like a seasoned veteran, and done what other great quarterback have done – performed alchemy to turn the rest of the team from base metal into gold. An old Reggie Wayne and a young T.Y Hilton should not be enough to get a team 11 wins, but that is why the guy went #1 in the draft in 2012. Look for the Ravens to hold a lead for the majority of the game only for Luck to get the winning td or final drive that leads to the sealing field goal.

Colts to win 24-20

Seahawks @ Redskins – see my preview here

Stat Attack – my predictions for Wild Card stats leaders

Passing yards – Andrew Luck – Colts

Rushing yards – Alfred Morris – Redskins

Receiving yards – Andre Johnson – Texans