This is the first installment of NFL Lucubrations
in 2011, and most likely the only one.
Ain't That A Kick In The Head
Ndamukong Suh is a throw back player stuck in a sad time in the NFL, otherwise known as the Goodell Valley. First he got screwed out of the Heisman Trophy, and award that is supposed to go to the best player but goes to the most popular quarterback, running back or wide receiver, two years ago.
He destroyed NFL offenses in his rookie season in 2010, quickly gaining respect and fear from his opponents. Suh hits hard and often, thus drawing critics who have been brainwashed by Goodell to worship just the offensive side of the football.
Suh isn't producing as much this year, most likely the infamous sophomore jinx being the culprit, but he is still producing at a good rate. He isn't going to match last years tackles and sacks totals, and that will be helped by the fact he is going to serve a two game suspension for stomping an opponent out of frustration on Thanksgiving.
Part of the frustration is the fact that the Detroit Lions defensive line has not met expectations this season. Suh, the 2010 Defensive Rookie of the Year, was surrounded by more talent than he had ever played with before. He is spending his second season lined up next to Corey Williams, but the veteran is having maybe the worst season of his eight-year career.
Defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril have combined for 13 sacks so far, but they have offered little in run support with just 37 tackles. Linebackers Justin Durant and Stephen Tulloch were two veterans signed as free agents before this year, but the duo has only 107 combined tackles. Pat Angerer, of the Indianapolis Colts, and Pro Bowler London Fletcher, of the Washington Redskins, have at least that many tackles by themselves.
Detroit used their first round draft pick this year on defensive tackle Nick Fairley, only to get just six tackles in six games so far. Dreams of this unit being Detroit's second "Fearsome Foursome" have not come about, with Suh and Fairley reminding no one of the great Roger Brown or Alex Karras in the 1960's.
Suh plays with a mean streak, one that recalls historians of "Mean" Joe Greene of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Greene, a member of both the pro and collegiate Hall of Fame's, also was the Defensive Rookie of the Year as a defensive tackle. Suh may not match the streak of 10 consecutive Pro Bowls to start out his career like Greene did, but there are other similarities between the pair.
Like Suh, Greene hated to lose and would often explode if frustrated. During a game against the Cleveland Browns in 1975, Greene repeatedly kicked the opposing center in the groin. "Mean Joe" would also bat the ball away from centers during games where his team was losing.
Not only does he own four Super Bowl rings as a player, he has earned two more as a coach and consultant since retiring. A two-time winner of the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award, there are few players in the history of professional football more respected and beloved.
Yet Suh is getting scorn for the same types of actions. Matt Slauson, a guard for the New York Jets, went to reporters to let them know he did not like Suh while the two were teammates at the University of Nebraska. Slauson then tried to say few of his fellow Cornhuskers liked Suh as well, yet not one of those teammates have corroborated these claims.
Some think Slauson's real issue is that he spent most of his time under performing in an injury-riddled collegiate career, which caused him to drop all the way to the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Others believe the cause of his ire was from being thrashed around by Suh continuously in inter-squad scrimmages during practice.
Slauson and others believe Suh's foot stomp of Evan Dietrich-Smith of the Green Bay Packers was not unintentional, which Suh initially claimed it was. The star defensive tackle later apologized for the incident, but still garnered a suspension because he currently is carrying the tag as the dirtiest player in football.
Most of the media, many who never have played football or sports of any kind, claim Suh crossed the line of sportsmanship. While that may hold some truths, the game of football is bereft with emotions that can sometimes be borderline psychotic. As the legendary Jack Tatum, a Pro Bowl safety, once said, " I like to believe my best hits borderline on felonious assault".
That attitude of the game has been castrated by Goodell and rules he has invented like "putting too much weight on the quarterback". It is a game biased in offense and geared to carry the quarterback, one where defenses are now merely temporary obstacles at best.
After the incident on Thanksgiving, reporters were quick to run and get quotes from current and former players. Yet these came from offensive players, men who are basically the enemy of the defense. An outraged is expected from these types.
Playing in an atmosphere as antiseptic as a hospital, the modern defender must watch now only how high, low, or hard he hits a player holding the ball. They must engage an offensive lineman with kid gloves because blockers today are allowed to extend their arms and basically hold on each play, making it extremely difficult for a defender to get near the football.
Suh will have to go the rest of his career carrying the burden of an unjust label that comes from him playing the game with passion. He may have the respect of those who paved the NFL path to get get this game a multi-billion dollar empire, but Suh now has to carry the ire of the current leadership intent on making the game plush and cozy for quarterbacks and other offensive players.
This isn't his first fine, and it may not be his last suspension. If it is, we may soon see a docile Suh playing out the string of his career for a paycheck, something often witnessed in the game today, instead of striving for greatness.
Greatness that has made men like "Mean Joe" Greene and others some of the most recognizable and respected people in all of sports. If Suh wants to attempt to match that type of success, people like Roger Goodell need to get off of his back and let the man play this child's game with all of the zest he can muster. True gridiron legends are made by the man, fans and game, not meddling bores sitting in a posh office on Park Avenue in New York City.
Losing Isn't For Everyone
Cleveland Browns star Josh Cribbs was recently lamenting how he has experienced just 38 victories in the 107 games he has played with the club since joining them in 2005. With a new coach this season, his third with Cleveland, the results have been pretty much the same as they have been his entire NFL career.
The 2007 season was the best the Browns have had in his time there, where they went 10-6. Not only is it the only winning season he has experienced, but Cribbs also made the first of his two Pro Bowls that year after leading the league in all-purpose yards, kickoff return yards, and an average of 30.7 yards per kickoff return.
After setting a NFL record with eight touchdowns via kickoff returns in 2009, his last Pro Bowl year, Cribbs' production on special teams fell off in 2010. He has had a resurgence this year, but he is not satisfied because the new kickoff rules have made opportunities lessen for him.
He doesn't just return kicks or punts, but he is also does a bit of everything on offense. Cribbs was a quarterback in college, so Cleveland has had him rush the ball 121 times and toss 12 passes with them. He is also a productive pass catcher who is used in multiple wide receiver sets. Cribbs has snagged 88 passes so far, but his role has increased in the offense this year and he already has a career high mark in receptions with 29.
Despite the fact he is tired of losing, Cribbs will most likely spend 2012 in Cleveland. His contract will expire after that year, but the market for 30 year old return men may not be as desirable in the free agent market as he may hope.
Yet Cribbs harkens back memories of other legendary Browns return specialists. Men like Eric Metcalf, Greg Pruitt, Dennis Northcutt, Gerald McNeil, Hall of Famers Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly are just a few greats who spent years exciting Browns fans through the years.
Some will say this current Cleveland franchise isn't the same one that ties into the fantastic Browns teams that won eight championships between 1946 and 1964. That team went to Baltimore in 1996 and became the Ravens. This version of the Browns was born in 1999 and has had just two winning seasons since.
This may not be the Browns that sent 16 men to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but the fans of Cleveland's Dawg Pound just want a few more wins. It is refreshing to see a guy like Cribbs, a real leader of the team, say what is obvious.
It is also heartening for Browns fans to know they have players whose desire to win is that immense. Many men have been in Cribbs situation of being with a franchise in an era of losing, but there are also many stories where perseverance was later paid off by championship victories.
It will take some time for team president Mike Holmgren to show results in his attempt to rebuild the team, but Cribbs realizes his window as a productive player shrinks with each contest that passes by. The team is young, but there has been sporadic signs in 2011 that the Browns will improve sooner or later.
Sooner is not soon enough for Cribbs, so Cleveland can expect him to fight until the end. It has been what Cribbs has done since he joined the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
Blame The Coach For My Tears
Many Philadelphia Eagles fans have called for the firing of Andy Reid, the winningest head coach in franchise history, for years despite the fact his teams have won 122 out of 202 games since he was hired in 1999. That rage in helped by the fact the Eagles haven't won a championship since 1960.
Reid even has a winning record in the playoffs, but his teams only reached the Super Bowl once. He smoothly transitioned the squad from the Donovan McNabb Era last year, but the squad has hit a few bumps this season despite spending millions in the free agency market.
When fans saw the Eagles load their roster with Pro Bowlers like Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cellen Jenkins, Vince Young, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Ronnie Brown, everyone expected the team to be headed for at least a division title in the NFC East. Many saw a Super Bowl ahead, which included yours truly.
But it hasn't worked out that way. Much like many other teams in professional sports history that doled out millions of dollars and got undesirable results, the Eagles have fallen flat on their faces in 2011. Things have fallen so far that Philadelphia was dealt their eighth loss already after getting stomped 31-14 by a young and rebuilding Seattle Seahawks team that has spent this season struggling themselves.
Owner Jeff Lurie is known for his loyalty, so there is hope he won't bow to a few fickle fans who starve for a trophy despite not knowing much about the game. Reid has made a few gambles that ended up being mistakes, like putting Juan Castillo in charge of the defense after the assistant had worked the offensive side of the ball the last 16 years with the team.
Trying to fill the shoes of Jim Johnson has been impossible since the guru died of cancer in 2009. Sean McDermott was fired after replacing Johnson, but he quickly found work with the Carolina Panthers. Yet fans need to realize the defense of 2011 is about the same as last year as far as yards and points allowed.
With the addition of Asomugha, Bryant, Babin, Rodgers-Cromartie, as well as retaining Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, fans expected a huge improvement. The offense is also scoring four points less per game than they did last year, which reflects on Reid.
Quarterback Michael Vick, the man who replaced McNabb, looks like a $100 million mistake. He still remains injury-prone, but he has also regressed from last year when he looked like he finally adjusted to passing in the pocket. Young, who has filled in a few times after Vick went down, has also played erratically in his place.
Brown played so poorly that the Eagles looked to trade him weeks ago. But it isn't just the money Lurie has tossed that has hurt this team. It is the cash he hasn't yet passed out that ultimately became an issue.
DeSean Jackson had made two Pro Bowls in his previous three years with the team. An all-purpose wide receiver, the diminutive Jackson has been a threat catching, running, or returning punts for Philadelphia.
With his output, Jackson wanted a raise in pay. Lurie and his staff seemed more inclined to discuss this after 2011, considering the owner spent a fortune in free agency. Since this moment, Jackson has been a petulant child more inclined to be clubhouse cancer rather than a productive player.
What is confusing about his behavior is the fact Jackson went to the prestigious University of California, Berkeley., a school noted for their scholastic endeavors. All Jackson has done is lower his value with his behavior, so he wont be getting the cash he once sought.
Reid might catch the blame of Jackson's histrionics by some, but the coach has been trying to appease an ego while trying to get his 2011 to learn how to win. It is a juggling act that has not fared well for the team.
Coaches like Jack Del Rio have been fired already, even though that head coach was destined for this result after the owner forced him to cut his starting quarterback to save money. Men like Norv Turner and Tony Sparano should soon follow him to the unemployment line once this season concludes.
But Reid deserves a better fate. Some will say his players laid down on him this year, which should necessitate a change, but the unfamiliarity of a roster loaded with stars might need more time to gel. A squad in need of a real training camp, something the NFL was not afforded this year because of the players lockout.
After all of his productive years of service, Reid deserves one more season. A real season where he is afforded time to instill his philosophies into the newcomers, and possibly get rid of some distractions.
Every head coach is hired to be eventually fired because nothing lasts forever in the NFL other than legacy. Fans of Philly might be tough critics, but what is one more season to a group that hasn't seen a trophy in over 40 years?
Punches Hurt At Any Age
Many know how Canadian Football Hall of Famers Joe Kapp and Angelo Mosca brawled a week ago at a luncheon to discuss a cheap shot Mosca put on a teammate of Kapp's during a title game in 1963. Many may not know that the history of these men have NFL ties that still reverberate today.
When Kapp was drafted in the 18th round of the 1959 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins, he basically was forced to the Canadian Football League because the Redskins never even bothered to contact him. Kapp is Hispanic and the Redskins were the last NFL team to integrate in 1962.
He was coaxed to join the Calgary Stampeders by legendary general manager Jim Finks. Two seasons later, he was traded to the B.C. Lions for four players, soon turning the team into a winner.
Leading them to the Grey Cup in 1963, the Lions faced Mosca's Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Mosca, whose nine Grey Cup appearances is a record, was a defensive tackle who was known as the meanest man in the CFL.
Kapp had a teammate named Willie "The Wisp" Fleming, a star halfback who would later be inducted into Canadian Football Hall of Fame himself. Fleming, who still holds the record for the longest play from scrimmage in CFL history, was tearing up the league during this time. Not only is Fleming the first 1,000-yard rusher in Lions history, he averaged 9.7 yards per carry in 1963.
Fleming went out of bounds after a carry, Mosca barreled into the prone player and knocked Fleming out of the contest. The Lions lost that game, but got revenge the following season by defeating Hamilton in the Grey Cup.
Kapp joined the NFL in 1967, thanks to Finks. Several franchises wanted his services, including teams in the American Football League, but Finks worked out a deal where his Minnesota Vikings waived a little-used halfback named Jim Young so that the Lions could sign him. Young would spend the next 13 seasons with the Lions and be named to the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.
Despite spending just three years with the Vikings, Kapp's Vikings made the first playoff appearance in franchise history. He made the Pro Bowl in 1969 and led Minnesota to the last NFL Championship Game ever. After winning that game, the Vikings went on to Super Bowl IV before losing to the Kansas City Chiefs of the AFL.
He had played that year without a contract, thanks to an option in his contract. Despite having tied a record by tossing seven touchdowns in a single game, the NFL would not allow teams to contact the free agent until late September of 1970.
Kapp signed with the Boston Patriots, which caused the team to give the Vikings a pair of first-round draft picks, and struggled with a team that had just two wins that year. The newly renamed New England Patriots then drafted Heisman trophy winner Jim Plunkett, who also happened to be a quarterback with Hispanic heritage, and turned Kapp away at their facilities when he reported to camp.
After deciding to retire after that encounter, he spent the next decade acting in television and movies. He returned to football in 1982 by becoming the head coach of the University of California, his Alma mater.
Not only is he the last coach to lead Cal to the Rose Bowl, Kapp oversaw his squad make "The Play". This is when the Golden Bears lateraled the ball five times on a kickoff return as the clock expired to defeat rival Stanford University.
After being fired in 1986, Kapp went back to the CFL in 1990 and became the general manager of the Lions. Though he he lasted just 11 games on the job, Kapp was the man who brought star quarterback Doug Flutie to the CFL.
Yet with all of that success, he did not forget what Mosca did to Fleming in 1963. Kapp was close with the halfback and had coaxed Fleming out of retirement in 1968 to try to play with Minnesota. Mosca became a Hall of Fame professional wrestler after he retired from the gridiron.
The popular video of Mosca swinging his cane and Kapp pounding his fists has been seen by many. Some have dubbed it a "geezers brawl" because both men are 74 years old. Yet there is much more respect to be had than humor.
These men played the game for passion, not cash. They had successes beyond that time, but the passion surely still burns in souls not nearly as withered and damaged as their bones. It beckons to the heart as to why a true football fan loves the game, as well as to past participants as to why they played it.
No one is calling for a re-match, but no one wants or expects these gridiron greats to ever lose their love for their teammates, fans, or the game itself. We need more of this passion to touch us all.
Yoooooooo! Dis iz 7thStoneFromTheSun again. OK, I struck out in da afternoon games las weak and only went 7-6
. I is now 104-67 overall. I knead two dew better dis time cuz it iz holidaze time.
Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I got dis sneeky feelin da Panthers will win hear, cuz da Bucs just have let down demselves in 2011. Dey mite rebound dis weak,but I tink Cam will get er dun.
27 Buccaneers 24
Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots
Da Pats are in da middle of a run dat will sea dem win dere final eight games. I tink dat defense gets dem bounced from da playoffs, but a 13-3 record will look good.
34 Colts 20
Denver Broncos @ Minnesota Vikings
Da Teblow legend continues, but it is more an indictment of da crappy fundamentals of da NFL today. It is revoltin a NFL defense can't stop an option quarterback who can't throw da ball at all. Da Broncos defense is da reel savior of da teem.
17 Vikings 14
Tennessee Titans @ Buffalo Bills
Both teems 2011 playoff hopes iz on life support, but da Bills showed me a little sumfin las weak. I tink dey will build off dat big victory las Sunday.
28 Titans 24
Oakland Raiders @ Miami Dolphins
Da Raiders iz cummin off a big win las weak,while da Dolphins are just playin four pride. Oakland kneads two seel da deel by winnin games like dis.
27 Dolphins 21
Atlanta Falcons @ Houston Texans
Game of the Week
Houston rules dere divishun wif a too game leed, but dey got quarterback issuez and is stuck havin two start a third-string rookie. Dey even went too a retirement community and brought Jake Delhomme back to be da reserve.
Da Texans will knead to rely on dere excellent runnin game and underrated defense two win hear. Lawrence Vickers, an excellent blocking fullback, mite miss da game and put more stress on Arian Foster and Ben Tate two be big.
Atlanta has been incunsistent and mediocre all yeer. But dere run defense is ranked second best in da NFL in yards alloud. Wif a rookie Texans quarterback expectin to see eight or nine defenders in da box Sunday, Atlanta will need to refrain from giving up big plays while controlling the line of scrimmage.
Da Falcons offense has not been as good as expected dis yeer, mainly because quarterback Matt Ryan has played poorly much to often. Halfback Michael Turner, just 52 yards away from 1,000 rushing yards, will need to be big against a Texans defense that is the best in the NFL in yards alloud and happens to bee forth best in rushin yards given up.
Who wins da line of scrimmage will prevail hear. Atlanta is a game behind New Orleans in da NFL South, so dey must stay pace. Dis iz why I iz rollin wif dem hear.
23 Texans 14
Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Dese teems faced each other too weaks ago, wif Pittsburgh winning by a touchdown in a very closely contested battle. Even tho da Steelers gained more yards and had one less turnover, Cincinnati took it two dem.
I expect a replay really, but da Bengals are a game behind da Steelers in da AFC North and a loss hear will drop them in the Wild Card playoff quagmire with such average teems like da Jets, Broncos, and Titans.
I tink it goes to da wire.
21 Bengals 17
New York Jets @ Washington Redskins
Yeah, Mark Sanchez was a mistake to draft. Yeah, Rex Ryan ran his toe sucker much two much as his teem true frailties was exposed. Yeah, dis average teem only gets press cuz dey iz in New York.
Still, dey are very much in da AFC playoff race and should beet Washington two stay adrift in it. Dese too teems have faced each other just nine times before, and da Jets only win over da Redskins was a 3-0 barn burner in 1993.
23 Redskins 21
Kansas City Chiefs @ Chicago Bears
A battle of backup quarterbacks who knead a good rushing attack and defense too win. Da Bears.
24 Chiefs 10
Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns
Da Ravens have had a habit of playin down to lesser oppossition in 2011, while da Brownies almost pulled off a big upset over da Bengals las weak. PLUS da Dawg Pound will never forgive Art Modell and will have extra venom four Baltimore.
24 Browns 17
Dallas Cowboys @ Arizona Cardinals
Now dat da Cowboys sit alone on top of da NFC East, dey knead to win deez type of games to stay dere.
27 Cardinals 17
Green Bay Packers @ New York Giants
Remember las weak how I told ya'll da Jints defense would get steamrolled by da Saints? What do yous tink da Pack iz gunna do? Capeesh?
35 Giants 20
Saint Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers
At da beginning of dis seesun, most taught da Rams would be 9-2 and da Niners 2-9 now. Dat iz why dey play da games.
27 Rams 14
Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints
I was one of dem who had Detroit goin two da playoffs dis yeer, but a loss hear will have dem drop another notch down on da ladder. Da Saints have to get dis two stay ahead of Atlanta in da NFL South.
I expect a high scoring affair, but I tink da Saints just got a few more weapons. If Detroit runs da ball well, dey got a shot.
38 Lions 31
San Diego Chargers @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Da Jags fired dere head coach dis weak, somethin da Chargers should have dun two dere head coach befour dis yeer even began. Why San Diego hasn't canned Norv Turner yet iz a question I have asked since 2009.
31 Jaguars 17
1. Green Bay Packers
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
4. New Orleans Saints
5. San Francisco 49ers
6. New England Patriots
7. Houston Texans
8. Dallas Cowboys
9. Atlanta Falcons
10. Oakland Raiders
11. Cincinnati Bengals
12. Chicago Bears
13. Detroit Lions
14. New York Giants
15. New York Jets
16. Tennessee Titans
17. Denver Broncos
18. Buffalo Bills
19. Philadelphia Eagles
20. Washington Redskins
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
22. Seattle Seahawks
23. San Diego Chargers
24. Kansas City Chiefs
25. Arizona Cardinals
26. Cleveland Browns
27. Carolina Panthers
28. Jacksonville Jaguars
29. Miami Dolphins
30. Minnesota Vikings
31. Saint Louis Rams
32. Indianapolis Colts
Welp,dat iz dat. I knead to get da fuck outta hear two do sum xmas shopping cuz yous alls knows dat dis goomba has a lot of hunnys to spread da mistletoe on in da cummin weeks. As dey say in Ol' Mexico= A.M.F.
I love good, hard-nosed football. I love players that wear their hearts on their sleeves and play with a passion that equals or surpasses their skills on the football field. As a fan, I live for watching a player leave it all out on the field, making sure that they deliver the kind of performance that both their team and the fans deserve.
What I cannot stand is when a player allows that fire and that passion to overwhelm common sense, pushing them from the ranks of the hard-nosed to the bull-headed.
Before today’s action, I was willing to give Ndamukong Suh of the Detroit Lions the benefit of the doubt. I was ready to believe that Suh, like Pittsburgh’s James Harrison, was just a player who played the game all-out, in the old-school manor where hitting was meant to deliver a message. I was even willing to believe that Suh was being vilified by Commissioner Goodell’s mission to sugar coat the NFL with lollipops and roses.
After watching his antics on Thanksgiving versus the Packers, I am no longer help captive under that delusion.
As you likely also saw, Suh flipped a lid during the 3rd Quarter against Green Bay. If you didn’t the video is linked above. After tussling Packer’s lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith, Suh not only forced Smith’s head to the ground three times, but then stomped on the lineman’s arm once he got to his feet, earning himself an immediate ejection and turning what would have resulted in a field goal opportunity into a touchdown two plays later. Ultimately, it was the turning point in the game, allowing the Packers to turn a 7-0 halftime lead into a 21-0 advantage before Detroit could get their head on straight again.
Suh’s decision to put his own maturity issues ahead of the success of the team was blatantly stupid. Goaded into the action or not, Suh needs to understand his place as a leader on a young team on the rise. The defense revolves around his ability to plug the line and put constant pressure on the opposing quarterback. None of that means a thing if he’s in the locker room stripping off his gear because his hot head got the best of him and earned him an early shower while he team was fighting in one of the most important games of their season. Now, as his team is entering the playoff push and looking to capture its first berth since 1999, the possibility of a Suh’s suspension looms over them and they have to hope that the Bears, Giants, or Falcons fall on their faces.
Furthermore, Suh’s actions come just weeks after meeting with Goodell about playing within the confines of the rules. Goodell is not going to look at Thursday’s actions as a sign that he’s learned anything. He’s going to see a player who has no respect for the safety of the other players on the field and thus deserves to sit a few games in order to figure it out some more. Goodell is not going to want to hear that Smith dragged him into it, or even that he is sorry and it won’t happen again. Goodell is going to want to teach Suh a lesson and from where I am sitting, it looks like it needs to be a harsh one.
This needs to be the turning point in Suh’s career. He needs to sit back and review what happened today and find a way to still carry that fire, without letting it smoke out his common sense.
Or if he prefers, he can continue to sit on the bench with an open wallet. It’s his choice.
New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks
Pros : Pete Carroll has to be a viable candidate for Coach of the Year. Sure, winning the NFC West was no great feat in 2010, but no one expected Seattle to win many games even with a pretty weak schedule.
With his left tackle struggling with ankle injuries all year, his veteran quarterback again missing time with injuries, and a team near the bottom of the league on both sides of the ball, it is amazing that a team that is thought to be years away from completing a rebuilding job could host a playoff game.
New Orleans did very well for a team holding the banner of defending champions despite having several key injuries most of the year. They lost running backs Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush for large chunks of year, as well as tight end Jeremy Shockey. Rookies Chris Ivory and Jimmy Graham played so well that the Saints ship kept sailing smoothly.
While the defense wasn't as opportunistic as last year, they were stellar. New Orleans ranked fourth in yards allowed this season. While they intercepted just nine balls this year, they did force 23 fumbles. That is just two less than in 2009.
Cons : Seattle does nothing well. The quarterbacks have tossed six more interceptions than touchdowns, and their leading rusher has just 573 yards in the second worst running game in the league. Though rookie Earl Thomas and the unexpected return of Mike Williams were very nice stories, there aren't many areas of the football field to get excited about for Seahawks fans.
New Orleans also does not have a good running game, ranked 28th this year. Thomas and Ivory are now gone because of injury, leaving it up to a bunch of unknown entities. Some might expect Bush, but he has never been an effective running back. His game is catching passes and kicks. Quarterback Drew Brees has chucked 22 interceptions this year, which is twice as much as last year.
What To Watch For : Seattle needs the special teams to win this, something the unit has done before for the team. This won't be a smash mouth game, because neither team is worth much on the ground. Expect them both to go to the air often.
The defense will have to win this one, because the pass rush and secondary will be tested often. These two teams met at New Orleans just before Thanksgiving, and the Saints walked away with a 15 point victory behind Brees four touchdown passes and 99 yards from Ivory. Seattle managed just 58 yards on the ground in 18 attempts.
Expect similar results on the scoreboard.
Saints 34 Seahawks 17
New York Jets @ Indianapolis Colts
Pros : The Jets can run the ball pretty good at times. They will feed LaDanian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene often, passing only when there are too many defenders in the box. Though the Jets are far from great passing the ball, Mark Sanchez showed some improvement in 2010.
The defense is stifling, giving up the third least yards in the league and sixth least amount of points. While they only picked off 12 passes in 2010, New York did have 40 sacks and force 23 fumbles.
The Colts being here speaks of quarterback Peyton Manning's greatness. As his team crumbled around him from injuries, Manning played catch with anyone who could suit up. He had one rough patch in 2010 where he tossed 15 interceptions in about a month, but he was mostly solid the rest of the season and just added to his legacy.
Cons : Tomlinson hasn't had an effective running game since the fifth week of the year, and Greene hasn't had a 100-yard rushing game since the fourth week. When the pair is ineffective, the Jets get in trouble trying to rely on Sanchez. Sanchez is a system quarterback who needs a good ground game to simplify things. Factor in his injured arm, New York will be in very big trouble if the Colts stop the run.
Stopping the run has been an issue for the Colts this year. They are the 25th worst team on yards allowed on the ground. They also struggle mightily to run the ball, where they rank 29th. The recent return of two veterans hurt much of the year return just in time for this game.
What To Watch For : The Jets need to ground and pound the Colts. Not only does this keep Manning off the field, but the Jets offensive line is much bigger than the Colts smallish defensive line. A good running game will especially help New York in the fourth quarter.
Indianapolis goes as Manning goes, but the return of halfback Joseph Addai could be vital. Addai is not only the best running back the Colts have, but he is also able to catch the ball. Though the Jets have four good cornerbacks, the safeties are questionable. Manning will try to exploit this weakness by throwing to the tight ends and backs.
Many expect this game to go to the wire. It is a rematch of the 2009 AFC Championship, and these teams haven't seen each other since then. Both have a lot to prove here, especially the Jets. Head coach Rex Ryan has talked Super Bowl all season to the media or anyone who would listen.
While there may not be many turnovers in this game, any made could end up being the difference between winning and losing this game.
Jets 27 Colts 24
Baltimore Ravens @ Kansas City Chiefs
Pros : While Ray Rice carries the offense, the defense continues to carry the entire Baltimore franchise. Though the pass defense isn't as solid as it has been in the past, the run defense is the fifth best in the NFL. Baltimore has also allowed the third least amount of points. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been inconsistent with his accuracy, but he has more weapons to throw to and threw only 10 interceptions.
Kansas City loves to run the ball, and they do it well. They have the top rated running game in the NFL and have been near that spot all season. Though the passing attack is underrated in the shadow of the running game, Kansas City typically goes as far as halfbacks Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones take them.
The Chiefs defense is also underrated. Their pair of Brandon's at cornerback, Flowers and Carr, have defended an impressive 37 balls combined. Rookie safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis appear to have very bright futures.
Cons : The Ravens secondary was having issues until Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed returned. He covers a lot of mistakes made. If Rice isn't going good, his reserves have not stepped up and performed like they have in years past. This forced Flacco to try to force things, and that has generally not caused a positive result.
Kansas City shocked the NFL world not only by winning the AFC West, but by winning it so early. They have the 30th ranked passing attack, yet they did throw a minuscule eight interceptions in 2010. They have won with good balance on defense while a good offensive line has led the way on offense. They have just one good receiver threat in Dwayne Bowe, so rookie tight end Tony Moeaki will need to be big Sunday because Bowe will face a double-team all day.
What To Watch For : Kansas City has to run the ball. Baltimore would like to as well, but they have four good receivers and a top-notch tight end if forced to throw. The Chiefs have a good run defense, but it isn't on the level of Baltimore's. Yet against top runners like Frank Gore, Maurice Jone-Drew, Chris Johnson, and Steven Jackson, they have up 43, 47, 58, and 67 yards respectively. Yet they are vulnerable, as the 161 and 106-yard efforts by Denver's Knowshon Moreno showed this year.
If Rice is stopped, Willis McGahee or Le'Ron McClain must pick up the slack. There is a question if the Chiefs have enough defensive backs for the Ravens as well. Rookies like Javier Arenas should get tested.
Baltimore is a veteran team that knows how to win a playoff game. That might make the difference here.
Ravens 23 Chiefs 20
Green Bay Packers @ Philadelphia Eagles
Pros : While tossing for nearly 4,000 yards and 28 scores, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has only 11 interceptions. He has done this with such an anemic ground attack that he is second on the team in rushing.
The Packers were absolutely devastated by injuries this season, but that did not prevent them from giving up the second fewest points in the NFL with the tenth highest scoring offense. The defense was fifth best in yards allowed, whole the offense was ninth best in yards gained.
Philadelphia's season started scary. They traded legendary quarterback Donovan McNabb so Kevin Kolb could start. Kolb was knocked out in the first game of the year, which happened to be against Green Bay. Michael Vick, a year removed from the disgrace on imprisonment, came to the rescue by playing the best football of his life.
Vick tossed just six interceptions while tossing 21 scores, over 3000 yards passing, over 600 yards rushing, and scoring nine more times. He is a front runner for Comeback Player of the Year, and he probably will get several MVP votes as well. He has three excellent weapons to throw to, and Philadelphia has a 1,000-yard running back to lean on.
The coaches on both sidelines have starred all year. While Mike McCarthy and Andy Reid deserve major kudos, the assistant coaches have also been stellar. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg might be the best at what they do in the NFL today. Vick's progress and the defensive excellence of Green Bay can be attributed to these men.
Cons : Green Bay struggles to run the ball, relying very heavily on Rodgers. Though the young quarterback has carried the load, he did suffer two concussions because he takes so many hits from handling the ball so often. Halfback Brandon Jackson needs to step up in the playoffs.
Philadelphia can score, they are the third highest scoring offense in the NFL in 2010. Defense is their issue. This inconsistent unit is ranked 21st in points allowed as well as 15th in both rushing and passing yards allowed. They haven given up 24 or more points in 11 games this year.
What To Watch For : The quarterbacks are in the spotlight here, but the running game could hold the key. If Jackson or Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy get 100 yards, their team should win. If neither do anything, expect Rodgers and Vick to gun it out.
The best defense should prevail here.
Packers 30 Eagles 24
Your 2010 NFL All-Rookie Team :
Quarterback : Sam Bradford, Saint Louis Rams
He gets this spot easily, yet almost by default.
Jimmy Clausen, of the Carolina Panthers, was second amongst rookies with 299 passing attempts in a mostly horrid season for the youngster. Cleveland's Colt McCoy could have had this slot, but he was unable to stay healthy when called upon.
Bradford threw for 3,512 yards and 18 scores against 15 interceptions. He accomplished this on a team that was hit hard by injuries to their wide receiver corps. The Rams won three games total in the previous two seasons combined, but Bradford led them to seven victories this year while taking every snap.
Yet he came up real small when Saint Louis needed him most.
In their regular season finale against Seattle, where the winner would grab the AFC West title and get into the playoffs, Bradford couldn't get his team into the end zone against a very bad Seahawks defense. While throwing an interception on 36 attempts, he gained just 155 yards on 19 completions.
Next season will be one to watch for Bradford. Not only should all of his receivers be healthy, the Rams may draft him a few more weapons for the sake of depth at the least. His future is looking decent so far, ask Saint Louis fans who never expected to see their team get so close to a playoff berth in 2010.
Running Back : LeGerrette Blount, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
While having a long, strange trip on the gridiron, Blount has excelled on the field on every level. After two 1,000-yard seasons in junior college, he went to Oregon University and promptly gained over 1,000 yards in 2008. He missed the 2009 season after punching an opponent in the first game of the year.
The NFL was skeptical of Blount's ability to control his anger, so no one drafted him for the 2010 season. The Tennessee Titans signed him as a free agent, but cut him on the last day of preseason after signing a veteran linebacker to add depth on defense. His highlight was a training camp fight, which is an extremely common occurrence, after having his helmet ripped off in a drill.
Tampa Bay signed him right away, but didn't actually play Blount until the third game of the season. After 10 carries for 30 yards in his first two games, the Buccaneers began to give him the ball more in week seven.
He had four games of over 100 yards, but never carried the ball more than 26 times and had just three games of 20 or more carries. His biggest game may have come against Seattle, where he ran for a career-best 164 yards that was the most rushing yards in a single game by a rookie in 2010.
Blount is the only rookie in the 2010 season to rush for over 1,000 yards, getting 1,007 total. He wasn't used much in the passing game, catching just five balls all year. His six rushing touchdowns were the second most by an NFL rookie, and he averaged five yards per carry.
Blount was not only a big reason why the surprising Bucs won 10 games this year, but he can maybe be viewed as a savior to the young team. Tampa Bay had issues at the halfback position before he took over. Cadillac Williams is a veteran best used in the pass game, and the rest of the group is unproven. Injuries hit the position hard, and fullback Earnest Graham's 20 carries this season was the third most on the team.
Though the quarterback crazy media might push Bradford as Offensive Rookie of the Year, Blount is the most deserving of this award in 2010. Unfortunately his past might be held against him when the votes are tallied.
Running Back : Chris Ivory, New Orleans Saints
The defending champion Saints came into 2010 expecting to use Pierre Thomas, Lynell Hamilton and Reggie Bush as their ball carriers. In training camp, the undrafted Ivory impressed the coaches and made the squad after Hamilton suffered a season-ending injury in a preseason game.
Then Thomas and Bush got hurt with the type of injuries that let them contribute little to the team this season. Ivory was called up in the third game of 2010 and became the primary carrier in a backfield where he split carries with veteran Ladell Betts and others.
His career-best total of 23 carries was the only time this season where he had more than 15 carries, but the lack of touches did not prevent him from rushing for 100 yards twice. One was a 158-yard explosion against the Buccaneers.
Ivory missed two games and had just 14 carries in the last month of the season. Part of the reason was a foot injury, yet Thomas and Bush had also returned to start touching the ball more often.
Despite all of this, the 716 yards Ivory rushed for are the second most by a rookie this year. Yet he caught just one ball all year. As the Saints go in the playoffs, Ivory might get used in short yardage situations even though he led the team in rushing yards and scores at a 5.2 yards per carry average.
He bailed a Saints team out of trouble by coming out of virtually nowhere this year, and his impact could be a big reason the Saints get to defend their championship.
Wide Receiver : Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The NFL has had three guys named Mike Williams play wide receiver, and there are three players in the league now with the name. But no other Mike Williams had a bigger year than the rookie in Tampa Bay.
Despite a promising start to his career in college, Williams was suspended in 2008 and quit football after seven games in 2009. This caused him to drop to the fourth round of the draft before the Buccaneers snagged him.
He scored in his first NFL game and kept going. Catching a ball in every game this year from a second-year quarterback learning the game himself, Williams led all rookies with 65 receptions for 964 yards and 11 touchdowns.
He accomplished this by being a good route runner with the ability to get deep. With a long of 58 yards, Williams averaged 14.8 yards per catch on the season on a young receivers corps. He also outperformed second round pick Arrelious Benn, who had 25 catches himself this season.
The future looks very bright for the young Buccaneers. As the kids get older and learn the game better, they have a good chance of winning more than the 10 games they won this year. Mike Williams should be right in the middle of this surge.
Wide Receiver : Jordan Shipley, Cincinnati Bengals
When Cincinnati drafted Shipley in the third round, there was a question of how much playing time he would get. The Bengals starting receivers, Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, demand the ball often and create chaos when they feel slighted. Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell are a pair of third-year players the team is excited about, and Jermaine Gresham is a tight end drafted in the first round.
Shipley still found a significant niche on the team. His 52 receptions were the second most by all rookie wide receivers, and 30 catches were good for first downs. Though he missed one game due to a concussion, he had two receptions of over 40 yards. Only three rookies had one more.
Dez Bryant of the Cowboys deserves mention, but he didn't have to fight for passes to get thrown at him like Shipley did. Bryant still had less receptions and first downs, but did score three more times than Shipley did.
Owens is as good as gone, and Ochocinco may follow now that Simpson and Caldwell showed what they could do after the geriatric loudmouths decided not to play the last two games of the year. Shipley will probably stay in his third down slot role, but he certainly was much more productive this year than many expected.
Tight End : Ron Gronkowski, New England Patriots
Though Gronkowski shared snaps with fellow rookie Aaron Hernandez and veteran Alge Crumpler, his 10 touchdown receptions are the most by any rookie tight end and the second most by any rookie. His 11 receptions of 20 yards or more was also the second most by any rookie in 2010, and his 30 first down catches is also second amongst all rookie tight ends.
The 13 yards per catch he got in 2010 leads all rookie tight ends with 14 or more receptions. His 42 receptions are the fourth most by rookie tight ends in a season where many excelled. Hernandez had 45 himself while Kansas City's Tony Moeaki had 47 and Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham led the way with 52 this year.
Gronkowski's 546 receiving yards were just 10 less than Moeaki, the leader amongst rookie tight ends this year. Besides Gresham, Moeaki and Hernandez, several other rookie tight ends had excellent seasons. Jimmy Graham of the Saints, Andrew Quarless of the Packers and Michael Hoomanawanui of the Rams all were important members of their teams.
Gronkowski's brothers, Dan and Chris, also play in the NFL. While there are several to pick from at this position, none that can be called the wrong selection, I chose him because of the total impact of his catches.
Though he split time, Gronkowski made the most of every opportunity. Whether it was stretching the seam, moving the chains or putting points up on the board. It has to make Patriots happy knowing they have two excellent youngsters at this position for the next several seasons.
Offensive Tackle : Rodger Saffold, Saint Louis Rams
Exciting things are happening in Saint Louis, and maybe the offensive tackle slots are the most fun to watch.
The Rams drafted Jason Smith with the first overall draft pick in 2009, then moved him to the right side so Saffold could man left tackle. Both players are 6'5" and 306 lbs and athletic. Saffold has played so well that NFL general managers have said they regretted passing on him in the draft.
Though the Rams dumped a bunch of money into their rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, it will be up to Smith and Saffold, who protect Bradford's blind side, to keep him upright and injury-free to earn his keep.
Offensive Tackle : Trent Williams, Washington Redskins
With a nod to San Francisco's Anthony Davis and Green Bay's Brian Bulaga, Williams has fought through a difficult year of nagging injuries and poor blocking by his teammates.
Though he missed just two games, he was dinged up most of the year. The Redskins were in huge trouble when perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels suffered a career-ending injury last season.
Williams stepped in right away and quickly proved he has Pro Bowl ability, hopefully manning the position for many years to come.
Guard : Mike Iupati, San Francisco 49ers
Iupati showed 49er fans right away why he was a first round pick. He started every game and showed tremendous ability at left guard. He also has the ability to play offensive tackle.
Though the Niners struggled on offense in 2010, Iupati was not the reason. He generally wins his blocks, especially while run blocking.
He and Anthony Davis were drafted in the first round this year to help the offensive line. They started every game and have given San Francisco no reason to regret drafting either one.
Guard : John Jerry, Miami Dolphins
This third round draft pick earned a starting job in the beginning of the season for two games until he was replaced for four games. He was reinserted into the lineup in week eight and stayed there the rest of the season.
At 6'5" 328 lbs., Jerry is a mammoth guard who the Dolphins hope can help them for many seasons to come. He has gotten off to a pretty good start thus far.
Center : Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh drafted Pouncey to start, and he has done so all 16 games. The Steelers brass loves him so much that they are even mentioning him in the same breath as Hall of Famer, and Steelers legendary center, Mike Webster.
High praise indeed, and nothing more can be added in superlatives after that.
Defensive Tackle : Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
The runaway winner of the 2010 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Suh led all rookie linemen with 66 tackles and 10 sacks. He also found time to intercept a ball and return it 20 yards, defend four passes and score a touchdown off of a fumble recovery.
Suh is a huge reason why the Lions, who on two total games in the previous two years, won six games this year and lost seven by 27 total points. Detroit finished 2010 strong with four straight wins, giving hope that the playoffs are not far away for a franchise that hasn't reached that level since 1999.
When they do, Suh will most likely be leading the way.
Defensive Tackle : Tyson Aluala, Jacksonville Jaguars
Alualu was second amongst all rookie defensive tackles with 38 tackles and 3.5 sacks. He was one the few consistent Jaguars on an otherwise anemic Jacksonville defense.
He was also durable, playing in all 16 games. Jacksonville now has young defensive tackle duo in Alualu and Terrance Knighton that they hope can one day be at least as effective as John Henderson and Marcus Stroud were earlier this decade when the pair went to multiple Pro Bowls.
Defensive End : Lamarr Houston, Oakland Raiders
Not only did Houston lead all rookie defensive ends with 39 tackles, but he led all rookies with two fumble recoveries. He also chipped in five sacks and forced a fumble.
The youngster has the ability to line up anywhere along the line of scrimmage for Oakland. He earned the starting job at left defensive end immediately and was only shut out without a stat in one game all year.
He gives the Raiders a reason to be excited for their future.
Defensive End : Carlos Dunlap, Cincinnati Bengals
No one has ever questioned the talent Dunlap possesses. Yet, after a disappointing college career that also had issues off of the field, most questioned his work ethic. He dropped to the second round of the draft over this before the Bengals tabbed him.
He was brought along slowly at first, not playing in four of the first five Bengals games, then eventually spotted in certain situations before earning more snaps. He turned it on in the 12th week, getting 8.5 of his 9.5 sacks in the final six games.
His 9.5 sacks led all rookie defensive ends and was the second most by any rookie. If he can keep up his current pace, the Bengals have a future superstar. The only question is if he can keep his head and heart into the game.
Outside Linebacker : Koa Misi, Miami Dolphins
Misi might not get a lot of notice because his bookend, Cameron Wake, had a great year that put him in the Pro Bowl, but the second round draft pick has done well himself.
He leads all rookie outside linebackers in sacks with five, and his 41 tackles are the third most amongst rookie OLBs. He has also forced two fumbles and pounced on a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown.
At 6'3" 251 lbs., Misi is a excellent physical specimen for the strong side linebacker slot. He hits with tremendous force, yet has the athleticism to run down opponents.
Wake, though 28 years old, is in his second NFL season after an amazing journey that led him through the CFL at one point. He and Misi could be quite a force for several years to come.
Middle Linebacker : Rolando McClain, Oakland Raiders
McClain has shown why he was a first round draft pick this year. His 85 tackles are the second most by any rookie middle linebacker, just three behind the leader. He also has half a sack, an interception, and seven defended passes.
The Raiders defense wasn't great this year, especially against the run. McClain, along with safeties Tyvon Branch and Michael Huff, were extremely busy all year. Too often having to tackle opponents that had already gained several yards.
This is an area Oakland needs to fix for 2011, but they can depend on McClain being there to stop the run regardless.
Pat Angerer of the Colts deserves mention because he led all rookie middle linebackers in tackles, and Darryl Washington of Arizona also deserves mention.
Outside Linebacker : Kavell Conner, Indianapolis Colts
Many NFL fans may not realize that Conner leads all rookie outside linebackers in tackles. His 57 tackles are 15 more than the next rookie OLB.
He was almost an afterthought when drafted in the seventh round. After sitting out the first game, he had five tackles in the second week before doing nothing until week 10.
Since then, he has been on a tear, getting 52 tackles in the last eight weeks. It was a huge help to a Colts team that has defensive linemen who cannot stop the run, as well as the fact the linebacker corps was besieged by injuries as the season progressed.
Conner is not asked to blitz or even defend against the pass, but he has been a much-needed tackling machine for the Colts when opponents run the ball.
Strong Safety : T.J. Ward, Cleveland Browns
The Kansas City Chiefs Eric Berry, with his 92 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions, 13 defended passes, and a touchdown, will certainly get some Rookie of the Year votes.
Ward, however, led all NFL rookies with 123 tackles. He also picked off two balls and defended 12 passes. Cleveland struggled this season, and part of the reason was their mediocre offense.
The defense was decent, ranking 13th in points allowed. Ward and fellow rookie Joe Haden give the team hopes for the future after excellent rookie years. Haden led the team with six picks and his 24 defended passes was tied as the most by all rookies.
Ward was the run stopper the team needed this year, and Cleveland will look to bolster their front seven in the off season to help him. If this is accomplished, Ward can help out on the pass more.
The Browns expect great things from their young secondary, and Ward is an important piece to that equation.
Free Safety : Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks
It really is no surprise Thomas gets this slot, most expected he would before he was even drafted. Not only did his five interceptions lead all rookie safeties, but his 75 tackles led all rookie free safeties.
While his 12 defended passes show the ability has Thomas against the pass, his 64 solo tackles also show how sound a hitter he is in technique.
Philadelphia's Nate Allen, Tampa Bay's Cody Grimm and the Chiefs Kendrick Lewis all showed their excellent abilities this season, but Thomas was head and shoulders above all rookies at free safety.
He is a huge reason the Seahawks made the playoffs, and Seattle fans can get ready to see Thomas do more as his career goes along.
Cornerback : Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
The Patriots knew coming into this year that they had a young secondary with a bright future, and their 2010 first round pick quickly led the way.
McCourty, whose brother Jason plays cornerback in Tennessee, started immediately and soon was the star of the secondary.
His seven interceptions and 24 defended passes led all rookies, and his 82 tackles was the second most by all rookie cornerbacks. With the other cornerback slot on the Patriots struggling all season, McCourty stepping up was a big boost that helped New England procure the best record in the 2010 season.
If Darius Butler ever plays to his potential, he and the rest of the secondary in New England (McCourty, Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather) could star for years ahead. Even so, the future of McCourty alone is very bright by itself.
Cornerback : Alterraun Verner, Tennessee Titans
It can't be easy to try to bookend a Pro Bowler, but Verner did a fine job teaming up with Cortland Finnegan.
After sitting on the bench the first two games this year, Verner was called upon due to starter Jason McCourty's injury. He posted five games of double-digit tackles, including a streak of four games to close the season.
His 101 tackles led all rookie cornerbacks, and he showed he was much more than a sound tackler by picking off three passes and defending 14 passes. He also forced a fumble and led all rookies with two fumble recoveries.
When McCourty got healthy, he could not regain his starting job because of the job Verner did.
It has to make Titans head coach Jeff Fisher happy knowing he has three good cornerbacks on his roster, especially with a rookie like Verner so readily available in run support while performing so well against the pass.
Kicker : Clint Stitser, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have employed the only two rookie kickers this year. Aaron Pettrey was the other, and he lasted two games. Stitser replaced him for the last five games of 2010. He missed one field goal in eight attempts, including a career long of 47 yards, but missed two of 10 extra point attempts.
Punter : Zoltan Mesko, New England Patriots
Though his 58 punts are the second most by a rookie this year, 14 less that Matt Dodge of the Giants, his 14 forced fair catches led all rookies and his 19 punts inside the 20-yard line was just one less than Dodge. Dodge has 35 punts returned for 535 yards and two scores, as opposed to the 179 yards allowed on 25 returns by Mesko.
While the 44.8 yards per punt average by Dodge led all rookies, Mesko averaged 43.2 and his 38.4 net average was the best by all rookies that outdistanced Dodge and Robert Malone of the Buccaneers by several yards.
Kick Returner : Marc Mariani, Tennessee Titans
Oakland's Jacoby Ford, who returned three kicks for touchdowns, surely deserves mention here, but Mariani was selected to the Pro Bowl and averaged over a yard more per return on seven more attempts.
He led the NFL in combined kickoff and punt return yards, and was second in the NFL in kick return yards. Mariani's 1,859 yards off kickoff and punt returns are the 18th most in NFL history. He led the NFL in kick returns, and was second in combined kickoff and punt returns.
Not only did his 60 returns for 1,530 yard and 42 returns of 20 or more yards lead all rookies, but his four returns of 40 or more yards tied Ford as the most amongst rookies. His 25.5 yards per return average was also the most by any rookie with 22 or more returns.
Besides Mariani and Ford, rookies like the Redskins Brandon Banks, Buffalo's C.J. Spiller, Jacksonville's Deji Karim and Baltimore's David Reed also stood out as kick returners this season.
Yet it was Mariani who led the way of this excellent class, as his Pro Bowl nod certainly indicates. He scored once on both a kickoff and punt return this year as well.
Punt Returner : Brandon Banks, Washington Redskins
Mariani might be able to claim this slot too, considering he averaged 12.2 yards on 27 returns.
Banks, however, averaged 11.3 on 38 attempts and led all rookies with six returns of 20 yards or more. He also fair caught seven less balls than Mariani, despite being five inches shorter and 41 pounds lighter.
The diminutive Banks also averaged 25.1 yards on 46 kick returns, including a 96 yards return for a score. The undrafted rookie was third in the NFL with 431 punt return yards, which led all rookies.
Though he had a few punt returns for touchdowns called back by penalties, the 271 return yards he got in week eight set a Redskins record. He also found time to block a field goal attempt by Adam Vinatieri, even though he stands 5'7" and weighs 149 lbs.
One word to describe Banks is fearless, but exciting also works. He gives Washington a special teams weapon they have lacked since the legendary Brian Mitchell left the team after 1999.
As a new year squirts out Father Time's loins, an old relic gets dug up out of desperation. The 2010 regular season of the NFL concludes on Sunday, a perfect time to lament and cherish it with some POINTLESS PONDERING that lovingly holds and nurtures life the same way Lorena Bobbitt did with her husbands manhood.
Last week we heard Terrell Owens, a resident NFL psycho, do his annual Adolph Hitler impression where he blamed everyone but himself for the woes of the Cincinnati Bengals. He had been to busy mentoring Chad Ocho Cinco on a weekly television show that probably carries an audience of less than 100.
Owens decided to tell everyone he gave up because everyone around him is inferior. His peon came out this week saying the same thing. While the Bengals might be the biggest disappointment of the 2010 season, winning four games a year after winning the division, it really is amazing no one saw this coming if they claim they had not.
Their season was doomed the day they signed Owens to a contract. Cincinnati already had been dealing with the boorish stupidity of Ocho Cinco, a drama queen who once punched a coach in the face during halftime of a game, but signing Owens just said they preferred to lose by singing this loser. T.O. is easily the biggest idiot the NFL has seen the last decade.
Marvin Lewis should lose his job on this decision alone, gambling two clubhouse cancers were going to play well as a duo instead of tap dancing on a bunch of lies and monikers as they led the team to losses. Not only did this decision kill that special bond the locker room shared last season, but it destroyed the offense on the field too.
Carson Palmer is the quarterback who seems to have lost 65% of his arm strength over an arm injury a few years ago. He also has a roller coaster relationship with Ocho Cinco, and he certainly saw Owens call quarterbacks losers, homosexuals, and other pearls from his lunatic wisdom. He wrongly decided to look for harmony by force feeding the two big mouthed geezers at the expense of the offense's flow.
While the demonic duo did grab 139 passes and 13 scores, neither averaged more than 13 yards per catch. The inability to stretch the defense was probably more frustrating to the aging egomaniacs than the team losing weekly. The best passing weapons the team had, two rookies, took a back seat all year and halfback Cedric Benson was not as effective as last year due to less touches per game in order to appease a pair of over the hill psychopaths.
While they probably keep Ocho Cinco, cutting Owens is much needed. Cincinnati scored a season high 34 points last week mostly because the old receivers sat on the bench, proving they are probably a better team without either player.
Was anyone really shocked that Roger Goodell yet again defiled the NFL last week? Who didn't see it coming? He tried to claim there was no proof that Brett Favre harassed anyone, and tried to compare it to sexual harassment at the workplace. Of course he had this view, because Goodell grew up in an ivory tower his Senator dad provided and never left. He's never had to work a day in his life, and further alienates the working man by showing how soft in the head he is too.
If anyone at any other work place had texted a female coworker pictures of him exposing himself and masturbating in between of demands for sex "because I'm Brett Favre dammit", they would have been immediately suspended or fired. Even if a few weeks away from collecting a gold watch at a retirement home like Favre is.
Not in Roger Goodell's NFL, a league now committed to castrating defenses, performing fellatio on quarterbacks, pretending to care about player safety to get a players agreement contract signed, and spitting on the legacy of a league that has meant so much to millions of people. Knowing Favre was finally retiring after this season, Goodell purposely dragged his heels under the guise of mulling over the obvious facts.
The reality is that Favre was given a pass because of fear from Goodell for a guy who has made the NFL lots of money and has some media outlets in his pocket. If a sweaty lineman had done any of the things Favre did, he would have met immediate suspension. Knowing the drama queen Goodell is, it most likely would have been a lifetime ban so the commissioner could flex his fake, flabby muscles while proclaiming he was keeping the NFL free of scum bags.
Yet he left his favorite scumbag alone. Who knows what other women he has harassed since, or still may be? Women in the age area of his daughters. Who really knows how vile and despicable Favre is because Goodell and Favre's media buddies will never report it.
Yes, it is good that Brett Favre is finally gone. As predicted, he ended his career like Y.A. Tittle and other Hall of Fame quarterbacks on the field by playing one too many seasons. Yet he found a new niche for himself along the way. Long known as a selfish man, he went overboard this year and even had his own agent tired of the act. He might go into Canton with little said about how poorly his career ended both on and off the field, but many hope his victim steals some of that thunder by taking Favre to civil court.
Long the headline grabber for all of the wrong reasons, it would be fitting karma to see him experience some negativity at the apex of his career.
Most NFL fans like to predict how a season will go before it starts, and yours truly is not any different. I did quite poorly, but decided to pay the piper by reviewing things.
1. Dallas Cowboys
Dallas decided to start their season ignoring the run play on offense, and it bit them hard. The defense looked old and overmatched often too. After firing head coach Wade Phillips as the scapegoat, offensive coordinator Jason Garrett finally decided to run the ball. Too late. Hopefully owner Jerry Jones gets a better coach than Garrett in 2011.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
Philly won the NFC East with some players they knew what to expect from and one that shocked them. Instead of Kevin Kolb leading the charge at quarterback, Michael Vick had the best year of his career and could very well win NFL Comeback Player of the Year as well.
3. New York Giants
The Giants are a strange bunch. After a poor start to their season, many were calling for the firing of head coach Tom Coughlin. This was retracted after the Jints went on a winning tear and led the division. They are playing poorly again now, so Coughlin has his back to the wall once more.
4. Washington Redskins
The team is a mess, as well as the oldest in the NFL. Mike Shanahan will need time to prove what is the method behind his madness. Washington appears to be many years away from being consistently competitive again.
1. Green Bay Packers
Losing halfback Ryan Grant was a crushing blow, but the team lost loads of players and somehow stayed in the playoff hunt. Good defense can take a team a long way, and the Packers have one of the best in the league despite losing so many valuable players. Probably the best work defensive coordinator Dom Capers has done in his fine career.
2. Minnesota Vikings
Pat Williams came back to this? Too bad the fine defensive tackle retires on such a sour note as the Vikings are a loss away from last place. Let the rebuilding on this old team begin immediately.
3. Detroit Lions
I said the Lions would improve and win five games this year. Detroit goes for six on a very winnable game Sunday. It is obvious how good the kids have gotten, and no one should be shocked if they are in the playoff hunt in 2011.
4. Chicago Bears
I wasn't a fan of the Bears blockers, receivers, except Johnny Knox, and defensive backs. While blocking is still an issue, receivers like Devin Hester have improved. The defensive secondary has done a decent job, but that is mostly thanks to a ferocious pass rush.
Defensive ends Julius Peppers, who should get several votes for NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and Israel Idonije have nearly identical numbers in sacks and tackles. This pair of 6'7" monsters give Chicago a luxury few have.
1. New Orleans Saints
Defending an NFL title is hard, but the Saints have done a great job so far. No one wants to face them in the playoffs.
2. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta has been a nice story in 2010, holding the best record for several weeks. They are a smart bunch who hit you with a well balanced attack.
3. Carolina Panthers
Even worse than I thought, this team needs to draft great the next few years. Some think they want quarterback Andrew Luck, showing how much faith they have on the current group of signal callers that they employ.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Every season has a "Cinderella Team". Tampa Bay was just that for the NFC. Young quarterback Josh Freeman has Bucs fans excited about the future, and the kid does seem to have a knack on how to win already.
1. San Francisco 49ers
Head Coach Mike Singletary was fired a few days ago because the Niners are in last place. He didn't draft quarterback Alex Smith, but that is a big part of the reason Singletary is gone.
2. Arizona Cardinals
I thought Derek Anderson would experience a rebirth with a fine group of Cardinals receivers, showing his 2007 Pro Bowl form. He was lousy, being benched by a pair of rookies throughout the year. The only question left for Arizona is if to blow up the roster and rebuild or try one more time to duplicate their 2009 magic.
3. Seattle Seahawks
Give Seattle credit, even if they play in the lousy NFL West. No one could have seen them get so close to making the playoffs. Pete Carroll deserves a few votes for Coach of the Year.
4. Saint Louis Rams
They might win the division with seven wins, but it still counts big for a franchise that won three total games the previous two seasons. The reason for the improvement has been defense.
1. New England Patriots
Many saw this coming.
2. New York Jets
The Jets still are alive in their quest to support all that Super Bowl talk.
3. Miami Dolphins
Quarterback Chad Henne has a rough year, so some now wonder if he is the future. But they need a young running back now that Ricky Williams retires after Sunday.
4. Buffalo Bills
The team played well for a month, but they appear to be many years away from playing well for a longer period of time.
1. Baltimore Ravens
The Ravens are tied for first place in spite of erratic play from quarterback Joe Flacco.
2. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals prefer to being the Bungles. What a disastrous season they had in 2010.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers
Overcoming a four game suspension of the starting quarterback to begin the year, Pittsburgh is in first place with a lot of help from an excellent defense.
4. Cleveland Browns
It appears Eric Mangini's final day as a head coach in the NFL is this Sunday.
1. Indianapolis Colts
How Peyton Manning made this happen after a bunch of injuries was excellent. Maybe one of his finest accomplishments ever.
2. Houston Texans
A very disappointing Season that could cost head coach Gary Kubiak his job. Their best story was halfback Arian Foster.
3. Tennessee Titans
Halfback Chris Johnson did not duplicate last years performance, but Vince Young had a lot to do with that by quitting on the team again. Big changes are needed in Tennessee, but getting a franchise quarterback may prove difficult.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars
One the best stories in 2010 for the NFL, thanks to the MVP caliber play of halfback Maurice Jones-Drew. It probably saved the job of head coach Jack Del Rio for at least one more season.
1. San Diego Chargers
A miserable head start to their season, combined with holdouts and having a horrible head coach, did the Bolts in early. They need to get a coach interested in getting his players be their best.
2. Oakland Raiders
Oakland improved on offense, but were held back by a bad head coach.
3. Denver Broncos
They had a really bad season. It led to the firing of the head coach. There were a few bright spots with the play of wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, a leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, and quarterback Kyle Orton.
4. Kansas City Chiefs
Good running back performance, as well as excellent blocking, led the Chiefs to a AFC West crown this season. Their quarterback, Matt Cassell, did not turn over the ball much, and the defense was led by a young and exciting secondary.
This team was not only the Cinderella of 2010, but one of the best stories all year too.
Super Bowl XLV
@ Green Bay
Most Valuable Player : Tom Brady, New England Patriots
- Who else will win this? Maurice Jones-Drew is worthy and Michael Vick might get a few votes, but Brady should have this.
Offensive Player of the Year : Adrian Peterson, Minnesota
- Peterson surely had a year worthy of winning, but his team lost too much and AP still fumbles too often. He might get a few votes.
Defensive Player of the Year : Patrick Willis, San Francisco - With 128 tackles, six sacks, and two forced fumbles, Willis was great this year. Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews III should get more votes than him.
Offensive Rookie of the Year : Jermaine Gresham, Cincinnati
- Gresham caught over 50 balls and has a bright future. Quarterback Sam Bradford might get it if the Rams win their division. Redskins receiver Anthony Armstrong came out of nowhere to average almost 19 yards on 42 receptions, but is a dark horse at best.
Defensive Rookie of the Year : Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions
- The clear winner. Third on his team in tackles, his nine sacks leads all rookies. He is a huge reason the Lions are much improved.
Coach of the Year : Mike McCarthy, Green Bay Packers
- He will get a lot of votes for keeping his team in the playoff hunt despite massive amounts of injuries to his roster. He did a great job.
Week 17 Picks :
Miami Dolphins @ New England Patriots
New England wants to keep momentum while getting out healthy. Tom Brady might wrap up his MVP trophy here.
Patriots 31 Dolphins 20
Minnesota Vikings @ Detroit Lions
Detroit might win their sixth game Sunday, a feat not all expected because of recent struggles of the past. They will play hard, no matter what the outcome is.
Lions 24 Vikings 20
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
If the Ravens want to win their division and get a first-round bye in the playoffs, they must win this game first before hoping for help. Marvin Lewis might be coaching his last game with the Bengals.
Ravens 28 Bengals 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ New Orleans Saints
The Bucs had a surprising season, and you just get the feeling they will give it all they got Sunday. The Saints need this if they are to have a shot at home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Saints 27 Buccaneers 20
Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets
Buffalo can't wait to go home and the Jets will play hard.
Jets 24 Bills 10
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Browns
Mike Holmgren didn't hire Eric Mangini, but he will fire him after Sunday.
Steelers 27 Browns 17
Oakland Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City wants to get out this game healthy. Tom Cable's career as a NFL head coach should end Sunday.
Raiders 16 Chiefs 13
Carolina Panthers @ Atlanta Falcons
Carolina goes into this knowing head coach John Fox is fired, but they axed their 2010 season long ago.
Falcons 34 Panthers 10
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers
Game of the Week
Chicago already owns the NFC North crown this season, as well as having obtained a bye in the playoffs. Green Bay would need a lot of help to sneak into the playoffs if they lose, but go in with a win. This is the oldest rivalry in the NFL, and the Bears would love to out Green Bay just so they don't face them again until next year.
While Green Bay has no running game, they are dangerous with an excellent defense and a passing game that can be explosive. While Chicago has nothing to play for here, it is hard to see Lovie Smith having them lie down. The Bears head coach would love to keep their winning momentum going.
Packers 23 Bears 21
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers
The loser of this one owns sole possession of last place in the NFL West.
Cardinals 27 49ers 21
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
Hopefully the Chargers players lay down on this one since neither team is playing for anything. Denver fired their head coach, something San Diego should have done two years ago. The players could send a strong message upstairs by laying an egg here. Only Norv Turner would lose leading a team in the top-five on both offense and defense in the NFL. Plus, it adds to the Tim Tebow legacy that has grown so quickly the past few weeks.
Broncos 27 Chargers 24
Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts
Jim Caldwell deserves some Coach of the Year votes. His team is about to win their division despite not being very good. It helps, of course, to have Peyton Manning constantly bailing out a very leaky ship.
Colts 31 Titans 17
Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
Kevin Kolb started 2010 as the Eagles starting quarterback, yet his finishing the year as one was not quite the journey he had in mind. He will show he is one the best backups in the league today, cementing the idea Philadelphia needs him on their roster next season.
Eagles 34 Cowboys 20
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
Jacksonville had a season that probably saved the career of head coach Jack Del Rio and their franchise by selling out all home games. They should finish 2010 strong.
Jaguars 30 Texans 24
New York Giants @ Washington Redskins
Washington might be trying to look at the positives of benching Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman last week, yet it should be noted the Redskins played a team that has struggled on defense all year. The Giants, who really need this win, are a truer test of the abilities of Grossman.
Giants 37 Redskins 16
Saint Louis Rams @ Seattle Seahawks
Real simple : winner takes the NFC West crown. You know Seahawks fans will be pumped for their surprising team, so the young Rams defense needs to win this so halfback Steven Jackson can attack the third worst defense in the NFL with frequent touches.
Rams 23 Seahawks 20
LaRon Landry, Safety, Washington Redskins
Landry is currently playing the best safety in the NFL.
Almost on pace for 160 tackles this year, he has 39 right now.
But the quantity itself isn't the only impressive part, it is the quality. He is hurting people with bone crunching shots that are a technician's dream because of the beauty he displays each time.
He is called the "Boom King," and for good reason.
He isn't just playing on Pro Bowl level right now, he is playing the best safety the Redskins have seen since Hall of Famer Ken Houston retired.
Brandon Lloyd, Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos
Since he was drafted in the fourth round of the 2003 draft by the San Francisco 49ers, Lloyd's career might best be described as "injury-prone journeyman" or "unlucky."
The Broncos are his fourth team in eight seasons, years spent frustrating his employers with tantalizing talent unfulfilled.
After 105 catches and 13 scores in three years for the Niners, Lloyd had caught 59 balls until this season.
Now he is second in the NFL in yards receiving with 454 on 25 catches.
If he can finally stay healthy an entire season, something he hasn't accomplished since 2005, the NFL Comeback Player of the Year award will have his name engraved on it.
Lawrence Timmons, Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers
When Pittsburgh drafted Timmons in the first round of the 2007 draft, people envisioned another pass rusher off the edge like Steeler legends Greg Lloyd, Jason Gildon, Mike Merriweather, Joey Porter, Kevin Greene, and many more.
Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau, another of a long line of great Steelers defensive coordinators behind Bud Carson, Woody Widenhofer, George Perles, Tony Dungy, Rod Rust, Dom Capers, and Jim Haslett, had other plans.
After grooming him as a reserve for two years, Timmons was installed into the inside linebacker slot last year, and he came up with 77 tackles and seven sacks in the 14 games he played.
This year he had piled up 47 tackles in the Steelers four games, harkening memories of Steelers great Chad Brown. Brown was a Pro Bowler, who once racked up 119 tackles as an inside linebacker before moving outside, and getting a career high 13 sacks in his last season at Pittsburgh.
Timmons is not a huge player, and probably could be a sack artist if Pittsburgh asked him to be. However, they prefer this tackling machine inside to help one of the leagues very best defenses shut down the run game.
Zach Miller, Tight End, Oakland Raiders
Not to be confused with the Jacksonville Jaguars tight end with the same name, this Zach Miller surprisingly slipped in the 2007 draft into the Raiders' laps during the second round.
He has increased his receptions totals each season played, and is on pace to continue that trend.
After 11 catches last Sunday, he has 22 so far.
Not just a fine receiver, Miller is also an excellent blocker.
People do not talk about him much because he plays in the same conference as Antonio Gates, Dallas Clark, Todd Heap, and others.
Yet this might be the year Miller finally gets a Pro Bowl nod.
Thomas DeCoud, Safety, Atlanta Falcons
This free safety has quietly become the glue of the Falcons secondary.
With the ability to play either safety slot, this 2008 third-round pick won the starting job last year and racked up 68 tackles, two sacks, three interceptions, forced two fumbles, and defended seven passes.
This year he has a pick and 19 tackles.
With the addition of veteran Dunta Robinson at cornerback through free agency, DeCoud no longer has to attempt to cover so many mistakes of a young secondary like last year.
Keep your eye on him this season.
Danny Amendola, Wide Receiver, Saint Louis Rams
Though he caught 106 passes in his senior year at Texas Tech, and was compared to Tech great and Pro Bowler Wes Welker, no one drafted Amendola in 2008.
He signed with the Dallas Cowboys and spent the year on their practice squad.
In 2009, he started the season on the Philadelphia Eagles practice squad before the Rams grabbed him.
He rewarded St. Louis by leading the NFL in kickoff returns and yards, placing sixth in punt return average, and catching 43 passes.
Still, Rams fans worried quarterback Sam Bradford, the first pick of this year's draft, would not have anyone to throw to that could be effective.
Amendola has quieted those critics somewhat so far with 21 catches, including an absolutely fantastic one-handed catch in last Sunday's victory over Seattle.
He is second on the team in receptions by one to Mark Clayton, Bradford's favorite target. Clayton has been a pleasant surprise himself after being acquired in a trade following five mostly disappointing years with the Baltimore Ravens.
Amendola is not a deep threat, averaging well under 10 yards per catch in his career, but he is ultra quick and runs precise patterns. All he does is catch everything thrown his way.
Ndamukong Suh, Defensive Tackle, Detroit Lions
When Suh was drafted by Detroit with the second pick of this year's draft, everyone figured it would be awhile before he was heard from again on a franchise struggling so mightily.
Though the Lions are still searching for a win this year, they are the best win-less team seen in quite awhile and their fans have to be happy with the growth of the young squad.
Even though they lost their starting quarterback to injury in Week 1, they have taken the Bears and Packers to the wire.
Rookies like Jahvid Best have been excellent additions, but none are more important than Suh.
He is fifth on the team in tackles, quite an accomplishment for a defensive tackle, which each opponent keys on weekly.
He also has three sacks, which leads the team and is 14th-best in the NFL. It is also the most by a NFL defensive tackle.
He is putting together a season that might be the beginnings of a Hall of Fame career.