Tagged with "Draft"
Sports Friday with Hal: NFL Playoff Madness
Category: FEATURED
Tags: NFL Football Free agency draft news notes

Merry Christmas one and all!

 

The NFL is entering the final week of the 2014 regular season this weekend with a few big games to be played and a number of teams playing for pride and some trying to just stay healthy this week. There are teams who had \little hope for the season from the pre-season on, teams praying for a miracle season, and teams underachieving.

 

Going into the weekend, ten of the twelve playoff spots have been clinched already. But outside of New England (home field advantage and & bye week clinched), no one else knows where and when they are playing. Seattle could have a division title and first round bye, but they could be going on the road as a wildcard. Ditto the Detroit Lions. The Broncos--once the prohibitive AFC favorite--needs help to get a bye and the number two seed.

 

This week the league manipulated the schedule to try and have as many inter-divisional games in order to set-up “winner take all” games and keep the nation interested this weekend. Sometimes there are important match-ups, sometimes not so much.

 

The Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers have a great NFC North matchup with the best offense in football facing off against one of the best defenses (Seattle is still out there...no one is calling any defense better than the Seahawks right now). Both teams are 11-4 going into the game and is the marquee game on Sunday. Winner gets a bye and first place. The loser hits the road as a wildcard team.

 

On Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals face off. If Pittsburgh wins, they take the AFC North and host a playoff game next week. If they lose, they are thrown back to the wildcard mix with San Diego and Baltimore. The Bengals would steal the second seed in the AFC with the win and a miracle Denver loss. Denver is rooting for the Steelers so that if they take care of business against 3-12 Oakland, they can give Peyton Manning a week off before the playoffs.

 

In the NFC South, the New Orleans Saints seemed to be the favorites but managed to flush away their chances in a weak NFC South even after a 4-4 start to the season. Instead, a 2-5 record down the stretch saw the Saints in a must-win in week sixteen against Atlanta where they failed to compete and play a meaningless game against Tampa Bay on Sunday.

 

Atlanta and Carolina--both teams under .500--face off amazingly for the chance to win a division title and host a playoff game. Winner in. Loser out. No ifs, ands or buts...a seven win team will be in the playoffs and only Philadelphia (nine wins and a meaningless matchup against the New York Giants) can really have the right to complain.

 

The Chargers need to win to get in. AFC West division rivals the Kansas City Chiefs, on the outside looking in, would love to dash those dreams. Kansas City has some hope, but need to beat San Diego and have Baltimore and Houston lose to Jacksonville and Cleveland. Baltimore wins and San Diego loses and they are in with Pittsburgh/Cincinnati in the AFC North.  A Houston win over the Jaguars and losses by San Diego and Baltimore push them in where some quarterback has to face J.J. Watt in the first round.

 

In the NFC West, Seattle wins (or loses and Arizona loses) and gets a first round bye. A Seattle win over the eliminated Rams and a little help from the Redskins against Dallas gives them homefield throughout as the #1 seed.  There are so many permutations for the top two seeds with Dallas, Arizona, Seattle, Green Bay, and Detroit that the weekend is just crazy. Whoever inexplicably loses could have a tough road through the playoffs.

 

Among the meaningless matchups include the Bears and Vikings in the NFC North, Saints and Bucs, and the Patriots against the Bills and Jets against the Dolphins in the AFC East. The Patriots are locked in, everyone else is going home. Buffalo and Miami are trying to have a winning season as is Houston as all three were expected to be playoff contenders this year.


 

Sports Friday with Hal: Turkey Day Edition
Category: FEATURED
Tags: NFL Football Free agency draft news notes

The traditional NFL Thanksgiving Day games have come and gone and as usual the early games combined with tryptophan from the turkey consumption, alcohol (for some), or maybe a family member’s boring stories and left America snoring on the couch once again. It was a pair of blowouts as Detroit spanked the Bears 34-17 while dinner was on the table, and as the eyelids grew heavy in the afternoon the Philadelphia Eagles stomped the Dallas Cowboys 33-10 in the one-sided battle for first place in the NFC East.

 

With the Lions winning, the Packers have extra motivation for Sunday when they face New England in the marquee match-up of the week. A loss to the red-hot Patriots puts the Pack back in a tie with the Lions for first place in the NFC North. Two hot teams with great quarterbacks and explosive offenses. The most entertaining part may be simply seeing a rejuvenated cornerback Darrelle “Revis Island” Revis face off against Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson, and Randall Cobb. That is the game-within-the-game right there: If Revis and company can slow the mighty Packers passing attack it may be all the Patriots need to go to historic Lambeau Field and pull off a big win on the frozen tundra.

 

Speaking of first place, the Denver Broncos face off against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. The Broncos lead the Chiefs (and pesky San Diego Chargers) by just one game in the standings. The Broncos have lost two of their last three and were fortunate to win at home against Miami last week. The Dolphins have improved by leaps and bounds on offense but are still just outside the playoff picture right now due to the Chiefs and Chargers a game better. The Chiefs blew out the Patriots in September on Monday Night Football in week four, then lost to San Francisco before ripping off five wins beating the Chargers, Rams, Jets, Bills, and an emotional home win over Seattle. Of course, on Thursday they then lose to Oakland which had gone a full year (November 17, 2013 to November 20, 2013) without winning a game.

 

The Chiefs lost star safety Eric Berry to a season-ending non-football injury reported to potentially be a lymphoma--a cancerous mass found in his chest . At this time, further testing is being done, but there is still nothing definitive. Only 25, Berry is a leader of the defense and a great player. Obviously, this is an important personal issue that transcends football.

 

The final Thanksgiving Day game was the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers. Both are looking up at an Arizona team that is 9-2, but looks like they could finish 10-6. Seattle is having the usual Super Bowl malaise as their free agents get picked over, every team has them circled on the schedule, and the injuries pile up. It seems to just be the way the NFL goes with the long, grueling season and off-season. Both the ‘hawks and 49ers are underachieving a bit, but play each other twice in the next three weeks. The Seahawks face Philadelphia and Cardinals before closing out versus the Rams. It seems likely the ‘hawks will still finish with 11 or 12 wins and top the NFC West.

 

The 49ers have an interesting issue with head coach Jim Harbaugh as they still seem uncertain if he will return in 2015. He has had great success getting the 49ers back into the championship contender mix, but his act is wearing thin. He has been linked to just about every high profile head coaching job in the college ranks, and NFL teams will line up for his services if he becomes available.

 

Arizona plays the NFC South leading Atlanta Falcons in a battle of division leaders in week 13 though both are unlikely to win their division. The Falcons are just 4-7 and still have match-ups versus the Packers, Steelers, and Saints before facing the Panthers in week 17. A 5-11 finish should leave them out of the playoffs. The Cardinals have a two game cushion but face the Chiefs, Rams, Seahawks, and 49ers to close the season. Going 1-4 the rest of the way is conceivable.

 

An under-the-radar game is Buffalo versus the Browns. These two former laughingstock franchises are both in position to make a playoff run still. The Browns are 7-4 and the Bills are 6-5. The Browns just got wide receiver Josh Gordon back and add a huge playmaker to an already strong offense. The Bills have built around a great defense and with Kyle Orton at quarterback have settled down an offense that seemed stuck in neutral with top running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson (who is back at last) out. Who would have thought a week thirteen Bills-Browns match-up could have potential playoff implications for both teams.

 
Sports Friday with Hal: The Drive to Be Number One
Category: FEATURED
Tags: NFL Football Free agency draft news notes

 

 

The race is on in the NFL...no, not the playoffs, the number one draft pick.

 

OAKLAND RAIDERS - 0-10

Oakland is trying to get out of the competition sitting at 0-10 but they played against division rival Kansas City after I posted this and if they were ever going to upset a good team, the over-confident, full-of-holes Chiefs team would be a great win. WIth three games to prepare and coming off an emotional win over the Super Bowl Champs last week, the Chiefs are dysfunctional enough to blow it against the scrappy Raiders on the road.

Otherwise the Raiders have St. Louis, San Francisco, the Chiefs in KC, Buffalo, and then in Denver. Denver could be a week seventeen snoozefest as the Broncos could shut-down their starters if they have a playoff seed locked up. Oakland has made the right moves running with rookie quarterback Derek Carr and bringing in former Packers wide receiver James Jones. Moving on from the wash-out veteran running backs Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden will help as well.

On defense, the team has not been horrible, as veteran Justin Tuck has helped and rookie Khalil Mack is already one of the best linebackers in football. The secondary needs some talent, but this team is too talented to be 0-10. They should have won in week one versus the Jets, week three versus New England, week six versus San Diego, and were competitive against the Browns in week eight, the Seahawks in week nine, and against the Chargers last week.

 

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS - 1-9

The Jags were supposed to take a step forward in 2014. Whoops. Personally, I expected to see more improvement on defense. Veteran defensive end Chris Clemons came over from Seattle and has been a flop. From a star Super Bowl performance to getting blown off the line of scrimmage on a regular basis. Sen’Derrick Marks has improved and veteran Red Bryan (another former Seahawk) has helped.  The lack of pressure up front exposes the secondary, which just has not been good enough.

On offense, they just plain lack playmakers. The emergence of running back Denard Robinson makes up for the washout of Toby Gerhart. Former Broncos guard Zane Beadles has helped on the o-line and Luke Joeckel is slowly rounding into a professional tackle. Rookie guard Brandon Linder has impressed as well. Blake Bortles may be the answer, but the team has to live with his struggles. The goal in the draft needs to be an impact wide receiver as Robinson, Hurns, Shorts, and Lee are a collection of #2 and #3 receivers without a number one (Justin Blackmon’s immaturity and idiocy continue to haunt the Jags) .

 

NEW YORK JETS - 2-8

The Jets are a team stuck in a bad spot. The general manager, John Idzik, wants nothing more than to dump grandstanding, loud-mouth, self-promoting head coach Red Ryan--in fact, he wanted him gone before last season and after last season and was overruled by owner Woody Johnson. Johnson LOVES Sexy Rexy...Idzik, who was a key player in building Seattle into a championship team, wants to bring in his own head coach and run the team his way. The Jets were 6-8 last year and won two meaningless games at the end of the season against two teams that had given up already (Cleveland and Miami) and Woody decided 8-8 was good enough for Rex.

The Jets have been horrible. They eked out a win in week one against Oakland and inexplicably caught an overconfident Steelers team last week. They’ve benched quarterback of the future Geno Smith for Michael Vick and traded for perpetual headache Percy Harvin. Having already signed free agent wide receiver Eric Decker and drafted athletic tight end Jace Amaro to add to breakout running back Chris Ivory, the Jets cannot blame the offense for everything now.

Of course the defense is not what it once was. The secondary went from the best in the NFL in 2011 with Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis to simply the most dreadful. The Jets have two studs on defense with defensive tackles Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson and a lot of duds and “Rex’s Guys”. First round draft pick Dee Milliner is Ras-I Dowling (Patriots fans will appreciate the comparison) and former first round draft pick Quinton Coples (picked by the Jets instead of Syracuse product Chandler Jones--who has become a beast in rival New England) has taken a big step backwards.

The Jets are still a mess. Rex is gone. Time to blow it up and start over. This team SHOULD be gunning for the number one pick instead of the coach and general manager trying to out-maneuver each other.

 

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS - 2-8

The Bucs are rebuilding and making no bones about it. New head coach Lovie Smith is trying to bring a new attitude and new look to a franchise that missed the mark on the last rebuilding effort. Four of their last six games are against potential playoff teams with Cincinnati, Detroit, Green Bay, and the Saints to play.

Tampa is coming off a big win over Washington (sorry Giants and Washington fans, three wins are too many for the number one pick) with quarterback Josh McCown taking advantage of rookie wide receiver Mike Evans and his explosive talent. Vincent Jackson is a decent possession receiver at this point of his career. If Doug Martin was ever healthy again, the running game could be a big complementary piece for Evans and the passing game.  Whether McCown (or Mike Glennon) is the answer at quarterback is yet to be seen (I say neither are!).

Lovie Smith has old friend Leslie Frazier installing the defense and there have been hiccups. The roster needs to churn some still as there are players who do not fit and the Bucs need a lot of work to do still. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is a stud in any defense. Free agent import Michael Johnson has been a disappointment. Third-year linebacker Lavonte David is a potential star. Alterraun Verner has proven to be a good fit for the defense but safeties Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron have been disappointments.

The Bucs have a tough road to the top pick, but should have some competitive games against some good teams to test their roster and make hard decisions.

 

TENNESEE TITANS - 2-8

The Titans opened the season with an impressive victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. Sorry, that is about it for highlights. They beat the Jaguars in week six (barely).  They were competitive a few times (Washington, Cleveland, against the Steelers last week), but this team is clearly rebuilding. They have a solid coach in Ken Whisenhunt and a very good defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

The Titans have the Eagles, Texans, Giants, Jets, Jags, and Colts to play. There are probably too many winnable games there to end up with the top pick, and the offense showed some life Monday night against the Steelers. Rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger is a better option than “Clipboard Jesus” Charlie Whitehurst and Jake Locker just cannot stay healthy. Rookie running back Bishop Sankey looks like a keeper as the second-round draft pick has continued to show slow and steady improvement.

On defense, defensive end Jurrell Casey is a building block for the future. Ropati Pitoitua is an unknown, but productive lineman as well. Beyond Derrick Morgan the team needs an influx of talent. Strange how the Titans had no use for Akeem Ayers who has been a valuable addition for New England. In the secondary, Michael Griffin has yet to take the next step but cornerback Jason McCourty is solid. Second-year cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson has improved steadily after a delayed start as a rookie last year.

The Titans are on the right track. They should improve steadily this year and next and could go on a nice little run to end this season and build confidence for the future.

Sports Friday with Hal: AFC East Theories
Category: FEATURED
Tags: NFL Football Free agency draft AFC East

The NFL was kind enough to schedule a Thursday Night Football game between two of the poor sisters of the AFC East, Buffalo and Miami. Both teams have struggled with consistency and both have 5-4 records and are tied for second in the division behind New England who is 7-2. Once again the fan bases in the AFC East are looking at quarterback Tom Brady having an MVP caliber season and head coach Bill Belichick putting together a strong defense as they once again look like a favorite to go deep in the playoffs.

 

Since 2001, the division has been in a stranglehold of the Belichick and Brady led New England Patriots. The Patriots have won the division every season save for 2002 and 2008. In both seasons the Patriots still tied for the division lead in victories but missed the playoffs on tie-breakers. Also, 2002 was Brady’s second season as a starter and 2008 was when he played just one quarter of football being sidelined the entire season with a knee injury.

 

In Buffalo, the Bills are still lamenting the end of the Marv Levy era in the late 1980s and early 1990s where the Bills went to (and lost) four consecutive Super Bowls and were an almost automatic double-digit winning team. Since Wade Phillips was run out of Western New York following the 2000 season that saw him run the Levy machine into the ground, the Bills have topped .500 just once when they won nine games in 2004.

 

The Bills have finished 7-9 or worse every season since that nine win season. They have run through head coaches looking for a winner starting with Philips (1998-2000), Gregg Williams (2001-2003), Mike Mularkey (2004-2005), Dick Jauron (2006-2009). Chan Gailey (2010-2012), and now Doug Marrone (2013-present). With five wins through nine weeks, this is the most successful team in Buffalo in a decade.

 

The Dolphins have been struggling as well since having Don Shula and Jimmy Johnson running the team from 1970 to 1999. Dave Wannstedt had four winning seasons and two trips to the playoffs carrying on the Jimmy Johnson plan after Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Marino retired. Replacing Marino has been Quixotic quest as Jay Fiedler, A.J. Feeley, Gus Frerotte, Joey Harrington, Cleo Lemon, Chad Pennington, Chad Henne, and Matt Moore (among others) failed to pick-up the Marino mantle. Miami is pinning their hopes on 2012 first round draft pick Ryan Tannehill to become their quarterback of the future.

 

Miami tried everything to turn around the franchise, even bringing in Bill Parcells to lead the football operations. They tried college coach Nick Saban in one of the biggest disasters in turning over a franchise to a coach who belongs in college (see Washington and the Steve Spurrier disaster in 2002). Parcells led them to the playoffs in 2008 where they lost in the Wild Card round (again, no Tom Brady that year) and since then they have won 7, 7, 6, 7, and 8 games. In head coach Joe Philbin and Tannehill’s third season together the Dolphins are hoping they begin making strides.

 

In New York, the Jets came the closest to knocking the Patriots off the top of the division. After Bill Parcells tried to leave the Jets to Belichick in 2000 and Belichick instead resigned as “HC of the NYJ” and bolted to the Patriots. After a year of Al Groh in 2000, Herm Edwards had some productive season making the playoffs three times before the team bottomed out with four wins in 2005. The Jets raided the Patriots and stole the “Man-Genius” Eric Mangini where they immediately won ten games before losing in the Wild Card round in 2006.

 

Two more less than stellar seasons led to importing the brash and arrogant Rex Ryan from the Baltimore Ravens. He brought an aggressive and blitzing style of play to a franchise in desperate need of someone who “wasn’t brought in here to kiss Bill Belichick’s Super Bowl rings”. The Jets reached the AFC Championship in the first two years of Ryan’s tenure (making the playoffs as a Wild Card both times), but since the 2011 season the Jets are 24-34 without making the playoffs. The 2011 season was the last time the Jets scored more points than they allowed and are 2-8 through ten weeks of 2014.

 

The three AFC East teams are all in various phases of building and re-building. All three have spent high draft picks on quarterbacks in the past three years as the Dolphins spent their top ten pick in 2012 on Tannehill, the Bills invested their 2013 first round pick on E.J. Manuel, and the Jets spent a 2013 second round draft pick on Geno Smith. Smith and Manuel are sitting on the bench a year and a half in after flaming out as starters and have been replaced by veteran re-treads Michael Vick and Kyle Orton.

 

What is most striking is the way all three teams have suffered by focusing on their own short-sighted views being stuck in the AFC East. All three franchises have invested heavily in the running game and the defensive line. Curious.

 

The Dolphins brought in running backs Mike Gillislee and Knowshon Moreno and spent draft picks on Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller. The Jets brought in Mike Goodson, Chris Ivory and Chris Johnson from other franchises while drafting Joe McKnight and Bilal Powell. The Bills invested a first round draft pick on C.J. Spiller and found diamond in the rough Fred Jackson. They also traded for Bryce Brown from Philadelphia and Anthony “Boobie” DIxon from San Francisco.

 

The Dolphins have edge rushers Olivier Vernon, Dion Jordan (#3 overall pick in 2013), and Cameron Wake with big bodies Earl Mitchell, Jared Odrick, and Randy Starks inside. The Bills have edge rushers Jerry Hughes and Manny Lawson to go with big pocket pushers Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Mario Williams. The Jets invested first round picks in defensive tackles Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson to join big run stuffer Damon Harrison. They have edge rushers Jason Babin, Calvin Pace and first round draft pick Quinton Coples.

 

All three teams have invested heavily in the running game and in a defensive line capable of generating pressure without having to blitz. Hmmmm. Sounds the game plan the New York Giants used in two Super Bowls to upset the heavily favored Patriots. A sound plan to invest that way to beat New England, but not so great at winning enough games to make the playoffs. Or win a Super Bowl.

 

Are the Jets, Bills, and Dolphins trying to beat the Patriots twice a season or win the Super Bowl? To me, it looks like they are looking to beat New England and struggling without a balanced defense and strong passing attack.

 

Getting beat repeatedly by the same team for a decade and a half can be frustrating, but it does not need to be an obsession. This obsession is stagnating three teams that could be playoff contenders with a better plan instead of all falling into the same trap.

 

Belichick wins again.

 
Sports Friday with Hal: NOVEMBER NFL NOTES
Category: FEATURED
Tags: NFL Football Free agency draft news notes

 

Happy Friday, Gabbers!

 

Do I want to talk about Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, the representative scumbags of the NFL? No, the child abuser and wife beater are no news I want to talk about other than one small point: Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome is either a man of virtue and honor or wants to get fired in Baltimore. How many team executives directly contradict their owner who signs their paycheck, their team President who is their direct supervisor, and NFL Czar Commissioner Roger Goodell?

 

No one, that’s who. Newsome has continually stood by his statement that he was not lied to and was told by Rice that he had struck his then fiancee. In today’s NFL, it is nice to see one league member able to not spit out the company line as written out for him by the league and speak the truth. Maybe the Ravens will reward Newsome for telling the truth by letting him go (it’s what owners usually do when their employees don’t play CYA--cover your ass--as instructed), but remember Ravens: Ozzie Newsome got his start in the NFL from who? Yup, then Cleveland Browns head coach Bill Belichick. Let him go and guess where he likely ends up!

 

The Ravens have completely rebuilt their defense over the past two years after future Hall-of-Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed retired. Baltimore missed the playoffs last season and are 5-4 this season not because of their defense.  Last year the defense folded and an 8-6 record and first place turned into 8-8 and on the outside, but let’s face it: $20 million dollars for Joe Flacco has been an anchor for the offense.  Flacco had more interceptions than touchdowns last year and his consistent inconsistencies have hampered the offense to date. His lack of accuracy on the short and intermediate routes have killed the Ravens offensive drives all season.

 

Of course, the Ravens defense lost a key player as cornerback Jimmy Smith is out for the year after it was determined he needs foot surgery. Originally not thought to be too serious, he is done for the year. Smith is easily the best player in the Ravens secondary, so the loss is huge. Lardarius Webb and Dominique Franks just do not have the cover skills and big play ability of Smith.

 

*

 

Speaking of General Managers, amazingly, despite being set-up to fail by his General Manager John Idzik, Jets head coach Rex Ryan is still somehow in charge in New York despitee a 1-8 start. The only Jets win has been against the Raiders in week one. That could cost them come draft time.  

 

The Jets put up some valiant efforts against Chicago, Detroit, Denver, and New England losing close games before they quit on the season in week 8 against the Bills. The team lost its heart when they lost a heartbreaker to New England 27-25 in week seven. The Patriots gave them the game playing with no energy, enthusiasm or interest. Somehow, the Jets--in what is their Super Bowl--blew the game. The Jets did not show up last week in Kansas City, but in their defense it is tough to garner enthusiasm when Michael Vick is your starter.

 

It is a question of WHEN Ryan is fired now, not IF. That said, why keep him around? He’s worn out his welcome. His defense has been decimated. The Jets went from the best secondary in football with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie a few years ago to a collection of street free agents.

 

The offense gave up on quarterback Mark Sanchez who is now in position to put Philadelphia back in the playoffs after a stellar relief performance for the Eagles last week looking better than starter Nick Foles running the Chip Kelly offense. He certainly looked better than Geno Smith and Michael Vick in New York, that is for sure.

 

*

 

OK, all done here for the week. I have a long weekend so I will be sure to raise a glass to salute my pal here on Thursday, Old Harry, on his retirement from the rat race. Salut!

 

And be sure to check out the always entertaining StorminNorman over here next door ----->

 

Have a great weekend, all!

 
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