Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Posts Tagged ‘Cincinnati Bengals’

Wild Card Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on January 8, 2010

I do plan to break down the disaster that was the Broncos’ season soon.  Frankly it is still hard to fathom falling from 6-0 to 8-8, a collapse that is more painful in many ways than those of 2006 and 2008.  Thus I need a little more time to compose my thoughts on the season and the mess that it became, but I should be ready to post sometime next week.  In the meantime, I will never miss the NFL playoffs regardless of whether the Broncos are in it or not, and this weekend we have what I think are four very intriguing games, and I think you can make a good case for either team in all four contests.  This is further compounded by the fact that three of the four games are rematches of games we saw in week 17, which is just crazy.  I know it’s happened before where teams have met in the first round of the playoffs after squaring off in the season’s final game, but I never remember more than one meeting at a time, let alone three rematches in the same weekend.   Now on to our wild card selections. 

Last week: 12-4   Final regular season record: 169-85 (.665)   Hey, roughly two out of three games correct, not bad!

– New York Jets @ Cincinnati Bengals: Last week the Jets demolished the Bengals 37-0.  I have read countless accounts from those who believe Saturday’s game will be more of the same.  I am going to come right and say that I disagree vehemently with those accounts.  Let’s be clear about something: Cincinnati made no attempt whatsoever to win that game.  Yes, they did play Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco during the first half, but the game plan was obviously very vanilla because the Bengals knew they would be playing the Jets again in a much more meaningful contest the next week and didn’t want to reveal anything that they were planning to do offensively.  The Jets knew they had to win in order to make the playoffs, so of course they came out guns blazing and went all out to win, even knowing they would see the Bengals again in the playoffs.  The Jets defense was outstanding, holding Cincinnati to an astounding seven yards of total offense in the first half, but again we can’t read anything into that because we know the Bengals weren’t trying. 

We also know that the Jets have not played against a team actually trying to win for two weeks now, because they got the benefit of the Colts waving the white flag in the third quarter the week before.  The week before the Colts game, the Jets looked listless in a 10-7 home loss to Atlanta, a team that will be watching the playoffs on television this year.  The two weeks prior to that the Jets beat Buffalo and Tampa Bay, two of the league’s dreads.  So really it has been awhile since the Jets have been presented with quality competition.  The Bengals meanwhile have dealt with the tragic death of receiver Chris Henry, but nearly stunned red hot San Diego on the road toward the end of the season.  The Jets are  clearly coming into the game with more momentum, and I am on record saying that does count for a lot, and the Bengals are coming in with none being that they tanked last week’s game, so from that standpoint the Jets do have an advantage there.  However I do think in this case the Bengals didn’t show all their cards and they will have something ready for the Saturday that the Jets may not be ready for.

Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since 1990, so the Bengals fans have been waiting for something to celebrate for a long time.  Paul Brown Stadium will be rocking, and that should give the home team a tremendous lift and boost of confidence.  This should not be underestimated as an important X fact0r in this game.  I know home field advantage doesn’t mean as much as it used to, but in this case I have a feeling the Bengals will benefit from the support of their crowd that is dying to enjoy playoff success.  As for the matchup, we have a rookie quarterback on the road in Mark Sanchez, and while the Jets have won five of six heading into the postseason, Sanchez’ numbers have not been that terrific (he only threw for 63 yards last week), while the Bengals have Carson Palmer, who is eager for a playoff performance that will make everyone forget his only other playoff appearance, in which he got hurt on the first series and the Bengals lost to Pittsburgh in 2005.  I also think the Bengals have considerably more talent at receiver, and while Mr. Ochocino could very well have a tough time with Derrelle Revis (the best corner in the NFL), I think Palmer will have no qualms about spreading the ball around to other targets.  Then, I have a feeling we’ll see a huge play from Ochocinco late in the game.  I know he has a tough matchup with Revis, but I don’t see any way Chad doesn’t show up in front of the home crowd on football’s biggest stage.  I think both teams are capable of running the ball well with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, but I give the Bengals an overall edge offensively because of the passing game. 

The bottom line on this game is frankly it wouldn’t be a shock if it went either way.  The Jets have the momentum, while the Bengals have the home field and the advantage of not revealing their game plan last week.  I think from a defensive standpoint, the Bengals will be much better prepared than last week having seen what the Jets will throw at them, and in particular Cincinnati will have a chance to come up with ways to contain Brad Smith.  Benson didn’t play last week, so he should be fresh and ready to go, allowing the Bengals a chance to control the clock with the running game.  I think both teams will put some points on the board, but I just think the Jets are way too cocky and overconfident.  (When your coach says you should be the Super Bowl favorite and you’re the five seed, that’s being way too overconfident).  I think the Jets are about to get punched in the mouth being that they are playing a real team trying to win for the first time in two weeks.  I also think the Bengals will be motivated to show up and will win a close one.  Cincinnati 27 NY Jets 24

Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys: Last week the Cowboys shut the Eagles out 24-0 in a game where both teams were playing hard and trying to win, because the winner got the NFC East title and the right to have this game at home.  In the Eagles case, they blew a shot at a first round bye, so they are limping in, while the Cowboys are red hot, having won three in a row, including shutouts in each of their past two games.  Dallas in fact swept the regular season series against the Eagles, so a lot of cards are falling in Dallas’ direction heading into this one.  The Eagles have also been flashy at times this season but every once in awhile have been plagued by inconsistency.  Believe it or not the Cowboys have not won a playoff game since 1996, so patience could be wearing very thin in Big D if the Cowboys don’t win this one, leading to speculation that Wade Phillips might not be retained if they lose.  On the flip side the Eagles have experienced big time playoff success in the early rounds under Andy Reid, so winning a road game in the first round is old hat for them.

There is an adage that it tough to beat a team three times during the regular season, so that might be the biggest thing working against the Cowboys here.  I would be really surprised if we saw a repeat of what transpired in week 17 simply because the Eagles coaches are sure to make corrections and adjustments, and while the Cowboys do have the momentum coming in, it seems in this case that Dallas might be the team with more pressure on themselves here.  Before the week 17 game I expected offensive fireworks on both sides and that a fourth quarter turnover could well decide the game.  In spite of the blowout last week, I’m still expecting Saturday night’s game to be high scoring on both sides and a very entertaining affair.  We have good quarterback play on both sides with McNabb and Romo (who is playing the best football of his career), good receivers on both sides led by DeSean Jackson and Miles Austin, and a good running game from teams thanks to Marion Barber and the duo of Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. 

I think the difference in this game will be which defense is more up to the task of slowing down the other team’s offense.  That being the case I give the edge to the Cowboys because in the past they have succeeded in slowing down San Diego (holding them to 20 points, even though the didn’t win the game), the Saints and the Eagles.  The play of the front seven, led by DaMarcus Ware, has been particularly outstanding.  Philadelphia surrendered 24 points to a Denver team that struggled offensively much of the season, so it seems like they are a little more vulnerable there heading in.  I think the Eagles will show up better than last week, and they will make some big plays and put some points on the board, but in the end I think the Cowboys will be able to put up a few more points, and they will be lifted by a raucous crowd in the first playoff game at their new stadium.  Dallas 30 Philadelphia 24. 

Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots: This is the only game of the weekend that is not a rematch of a week 17 contest, but they did square off in week four, with New England winning 27-21 in Foxboro.  This was a terrific game in which both teams had over 300 yards of total offense, and it ended with the Ravens driving in the final seconds and Joe Flacco missing a wide open Mark Clayton on fourth down.  The Patriots come into this game having suffered a devastating injury with the loss of Wes Welker last week.  The loss of Welker is huge for the Patriots because he is the league’s best slot receiver and creates lots of matchup problems for opposing defenses.  The encouraging thing for New England is that replacement Julian Edleman had over 100 yards receiving against Houston after Welker went down, so in typical fashion the Patriots may not skip much of a beat if Edleman continues to play well.  Reports also indicate that Tom Brady is playing through injured ribs, but Brady has played through pain before and played very well, so that injury is not near as much of a factor.  As for the Ravens, they still have an outstanding defense, although there have been games this year in which they have surrendered points against high scoring offenses (especially Minnesota and Green Bay).  Baltimore beat up on weak opponents in December (Detroit, Chicago and Oakland) so it will be interesting to see how they play against a step up in competition on Sunday.

The key for the Ravens if they want a chance to win this game is they will need to run the ball to be effective, and I think they will be able to do that.  Ray Rice had 103 yards on just 11 carries in the week four meeting, so it is pretty obvious that Rice will be a big part of the Ravens’ game plan.  Baltimore also has to be encouraged by improved play of late from Willis McGahee over the past few weeks, so if they can get a balanced running game going with both backs, that could prove to be a devastating combo for opponents in the playoffs.  If the running game is working, it will take a lot of pressure off Joe Flacco and not put him in positions where he needs to be flashy and big up big numbers for the Ravens to win.  If the running game is stalled, the pressure may too much for Flacco to overcome.  Defensively, the Ravens are still very good, and as long as they still have Ray Lewis in the middle, I’m not going to say for sure that any team is guaranteed to light them up in the playoffs. 

New England is a good position for the simple reason that they have Brady, who has had more playoff success than anyone else in the NFL.  Even if he is playing hurt, Brady is still someone I would not want to see on the other sideline if I was a defensive coordinator.  Even without Welker, he still has plenty of weapons to throw to, including Randy Moss.  Moss took some heat last month for some bad games, but I think he will show up in the playoffs, especially since he knows the Patriots really need him without Welker.  The Patriots have defined playoff success for much of the decade, and during the playoffs have been virtually unbeatable at home.  For this reason alone it makes it very difficult to pick against Belichick and company, injuries or no injuries.  New England may have had their woes on the road this season, but they still proved to be very tough at Gillette Stadium, so it is clear that it is one of the more formidable home field advantages in the NFL.

I think this will be a game very similar to what transpired in week four, a back and forth affair with the lead changing hands several times.  I think the Ravens will have success on the ground and the Patriots will be able to move the ball through the air.  Any number of little things could end up deciding this game: a dropped ball, perhaps a fumble, maybe a decision on whether or not to go for it on 4th and 1.  This is a wild card game that has the feel of a later round matchup.  The stat that really surprised me is that the Ravens have never beaten New England, ever.  Baltimore is 0-5 against the Patriots.  I know the Patriots at home in the playoffs is about as safe a bet as there has been in the NFL playoffs, but something I can’t put a finger on doesn’t seem right about this year’s group.  I pick Baltimore in the upset not because of the Welker injury, but because I think the Ravens are a sleeping giant capable of bucking the trend of playoff road teams in Foxboro.  The Ravens won two playoff road games last year, so there is no reason they can’t do it again.  Baltimore 24 New England 20. 

Green Bay Packers @ Arizona Cardinals: Another rematch of a blowout from week 17, with the Packers rolling 33-7.  The game last week was meaningless for both teams, but the Packers elected to play hard and try to win, while the Cardinals tanked the game, electing to rest their starters and hold back their game plan for the playoff rematch.  The game ended up being costly for Arizona in more ways than one, as the Cardinals lost receiver Anquan Boldin and star corner Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie with injuries.  Neither has been declared out for the playoff rematch on Sunday, but it’s safe to say that neither will be at 100 percent if they do play.  It will be interesting to see how Sunday’s game unfolds, because Green Bay looked like a very dangerous team last week, and the Packers have indeed been playing well throughout December, with their only loss coming on the last play in Pittsburgh.  The Cardinals have really been up and down all year, so for them it could depend on which team ends up showing up.  It’s hard to get a read on them last week considering Matt Leinart was in most of the game at quarterback.  In a way, the Cardinals are limping into the playoffs exactly the same way as last year, and we know they caught fire, so it’s possible that could happen again.

This has the potential to be a high scoring game considering the quick strike offensive ability of both teams.  As long as Kurt Warner is throwing to Larry Fitzgerald (and the Cardinals hope Boldin), the Cardinals have the opportunity for the big play at any time.  Aaron Rodgers has also had a tremendous season, and has done the unthinkable, which is make Packers fans forget about Brett Favre.  Rodgers has managed to buck the trend of replacing a legend quarterback, and for him to have experienced the success he has so far under those circumstances is nothing short of incredible.  While Greg Jennings and Donald Driver may not have the pizzazz of Fitzgerald and Boldin, they have been every bit as productive.  I think Green Bay does have a pretty big edge in terms of being able to run the football for the Cardinals have really struggled with Tim Hightower and Beanie Wells, although Wells started to come on in the second half of the season.  Defensively, neither team jumps off the page, but whichever one can win the turnover battle will go a long way toward deciding this contest.

I think like the other week 17 rematches, we should definitely see a much more competitve game than we did last week.  I think the Cardinals have an advantage in terms of not having tipped their hand as far as strategy, but the Packers clearly have more momentum heading into the game and are definitely healthier.  I think Aaron Rodgers still feels like he has a chip on his shoulder and something to prove, and while the Cardinals have much of the same group that made their Super Bowl run last season, they are going to need a dramatic kick in the rear to get jump started again this playoff year.  Also, it’s not the Cardinals have much of a home field advantage.  Phoenix is a city made up of people from other locations, especially in the winter, and legions of opposing fans are very common at University of Phoenix Stadium.  Factor in that the Cards have actually been a much better road team this year than at home, and that the Packers could well be the best non division winner still in the running in either conference, and I’ll take the Packers to win on the road in what feels like the biggest slam dunk of the weekend (My apologies to Mike McCarthy in advance for the jinx).   Green Bay 34 Arizona 21.

Advertisements

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Sometimes Being Lucky Counts Too

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 14, 2009

Watch the Broncos-Bengals highlights Here.  (Content courtesy of nfl.com)

StokleyI have to admit right up front, I thought the Broncos had lost the game with 27 seconds remaining.  There didn’t seem to be much hope that they would get a quick drive going, even just to get into field goal range, considering they were starting on their own 13 yard line.  Granted, they were only down one, and a field goal would win it, but even that seemed like a very tall order indeed.  After all, the offense only had six points.  Kyle Orton had barely thrown for 150 yards.  The running backs collectively had less than 60 yards.  The Bengals were sure to play a defense that would guard against sideline throws and the big play.  The Broncos only had one timeout.  There just didn’t seem to be anything at all that would indicate the Broncos were about to snatch a road win to open the season.  In fact my thought was how unfortunate it was that a great effort by the new look Broncos defense was about to fall by the wayside because the offense couldn’t score a touchdown.

These thoughts were not alleviated on the first play of the drive when for a split second I thought that Orton’s pass had been picked off by Jonathan Joseph.  Fortunately for the Broncos, Joseph’s foot was out of bounds.  Still, this did not inspire any confidence, for it was now clear that the Broncos would need every ounce of luck and then some to pull this one out.  The crowd at Paul Brown Stadium could sense it too, that the Bengals were about to escape with a hard fought win in a low scoring game.

Then came the inevitable deep throw by Orton.  The Broncos had no other options, they had to throw it deep and hope that somehow one of their receivers would come down with it.  Orton’s pass perhaps not surprisingly  found an area with more white Bengals jerseys than blue Broncos jerseys.  In an effort to intercept the pass, Cincinnati’s Leon Hall tipped it up in the air (a big no no for a defensive back, you ALWAYS knock the ball down!).  As the ball twirled in the air, the odds were still against a Bronco coming down with it.  Even if he did, the clock was ticking, and the Broncos would still need another play or two to get into realistic field goal range.   Suddenly, the ball somehow falls into the waiting arms of Brandon Stokley, who somehow is not surrounded by any Bengals.  Next thing anyone knows, he’s taking off running and no one is chasing him.  I ceased to believe what my eyes said I was seeing, for Stokley ran untouched to the goal line, then had the presence of mind to take more time off the clock by running alongside it, before crossing it to give the Broncos the lead.

Needless to say, this play will likely be the highlight of the year for the Denver Broncos no matter what else happens in 2009.  To win the game on an 87-yard touchdown in the final seconds when all seemed lost, well that automatically goes in the archives for any team.  This is the type of win that could really boost the Broncos going forward.  Considering the Broncos host Cleveland next week and then travel to Oakland, they could well start the season 3-0 before they head into the rigorous part of their schedule.  For the Bengals, this could have a devastating impact on their season, for they will have to quickly overcome the shock of such a defeat.  It doesn’t help them that they must go to Lambeau Field to play the impressive looking Packers next week.

This is not to say that one game makes the season for either Denver or Cincinnati.  The Broncos still have a lot of questions.  Will Brandon Marshall be an impact player this year? (He had four catches for 27 yards in the opener).   Will Knowshon Moreno post better numbers than the 19 yards he got yesterday?  Is the lack of point production a sign of things to come under the Kyle Orton led offense, or do we give him the benefit of the doubt that his finger is not yet fully healed?  Is yesterday’s performance by the Denver defense an indicator that the Broncos unit is much improved, or was yesterday a poor performance by the Cincinnati offense?  (The Bengals did have seven dropped balls yesterday).  Lots of questions still remain in week one, but at least for now there is optimism again in Broncos country.  If nothing else, yesterday’s amazing play by Stokley will go down as one for the ages in Broncos’ history.

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

AFC North Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 28, 2009

Once again, teams listed in predicted order of finish:

1. Pittsburgh Steelers – The Steelers have certainly been the standard for NFL franchises over a large part of their history.  They have won two of the past four Super Bowls (a league high six total) and seem built for big time success again this year.  Pittsburgh returns largely intact from last season’s championship club, which is fitting for a franchise that seems to symbolize stability in the NFL.  The Steelers also remember 2006, when they missed the playoffs they year after winning the Super Bowl.  They vow to not let that happen again.

The Steelers’ offense returns virtually identical to last year, and that’s bad news for NFL defenses.  The Steelers attack can really be defined by their game winning drive in the Super Bowl last year against Arizona.  Ben Roethlisberger showed everything you would want in a quarterback.  He showed ability to make plays with his feet out of the pocket and avoid critical sacks.  He showed he is willing and able to take a pounding, which not only allows him to be durable and not miss time due to injury, but also allows him to extend plays many quarterbacks won’t.  Even when he scrambles out of the pocket, Roethlisberger is willing to wait that split second longer for a receiver to get open even if it means taking an extra hit at the end of the play.  Roethlisberger has won Super Bowls in his first four years in the league, and the scary part is he can still get even better with experience.  He also has good targets to throw to in veteran Hines Ward and the speedy Santonio Holmes, along with his favorite red zone target, tight end Heath Miller.  Shaun McDonald was also signed from Detroit to provide depth.  The running game might also be even better than last year with the return of Rashard Mendenhall.  The first round pick of ’08 was shelved for the season in week four last year with a broken shoulder.  Mendenhall will join the very capable Willie Parker and should improve a running game that believe it or not ranked just 23rd in the NFL last season.  The fact the Steelers won it all with that stat is incredible, and they should benefit from a better running game this year.  The Steelers offensive line isn’t regarded as a top unit in the league and certainly isn’t flashy, but the entire line returns intact and continuity is never a bad thing.  Besides, they obviously got the job done well enough for the team to win the Super Bowl.

The defense did sustain two losses in linebacker Larry Foote (now with Detroit) and cornerback Bryant McFadden (gone to Arizona).  The Steelers do however still boast a sure top five defensive player in linebacker James Harrison, who turned the Super Bowl in Pittsburgh’s favor with a 100-yard interception return TD.  The defensive front seven also boasts other good talent in nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive end Aaron Smith and linebacker James Farrior.  The Steelers also added more depth in the draft, selecting defensive end Ziggy Hood from Missouri in the first round.  His 6-3, 300 frame should fit right in with the Steelers’s smashmouth philosophy.  The secondary is also still very solid, anchored by Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu.  Cornerbacks William Gay and Deshea Townsend will need to step up to offset the loss of McFadden.

It is also surprising to realize that the Steelers really played musical chairs at punter last season (not that they needed one too often), but Daniel Sepulveda is back to take that job again after undergoing ACL surgery last season.  Kicker Jeff Reed is among the best in the business and has learned how to handle to tricky kicking conditions at Heinz Field, especially in the open end of the stadium.  The Steelers do hope that third round draft choice Mike Wallace of Ole Miss can emerge as a capable kick returner, but Mewelde Moore can handle those duties as well.

I say the Steelers are as close to a lock as you can get to returning to the playoffs.  They have shown over the years they can stand up to tough competition, they can win on the road, and they know how to win.   Factor in that they are still motivated, and the Steelers should repeat as division champs.

2. Baltimore Ravens – The Ravens bounced back last year to make the AFC title game, even though the had a rookie coach and a rookie quarterback.  The fact that both of those positions had changed tells you that things weren’t so good the year before.  The Ravens have a solid veteran presence in other areas, which helped them overcome a 2-3 start.  At one point Baltimore had won seven out of eight games, and they won playoff road games at Miami and Tennessee.  However, the Ravens were 0-3 against the Steelers, including the AFC title game loss.  Baltimore knows that in order to take the next step, they need to learn how to beat Pittsburgh.

The Ravens have always been known as a defensive team, and that’s still the identity and strength, but the offense also proved they could score points last year.  Quarterback Joe Flacco shocked almost everyone in his rookie season, Flacco showed good ability to read defenses, has a strong arm, and an ability to make plays with his feet.  He is the only signal caller to win two road playoff games as a rookie, and also posted a solid 90.2 quarterback rating, which is among the best ever for a rookie.  With another year of experience, Flacco could be even better this season.  He is also pleased to have veteran receiver Derrick Mason back for another season.  Mason retired during the offseason, but it wasn’t long before he changed his mind and said he got the itch to play one more season.  He’ll be paired with the talented Mark Clayton, who along with tight end Todd Heap gives the Ravens an underrated group of receivers for Flacco to find.  The running game should also be a strength of the team, for Willis McGahee is showing a renewed attitude after a disappointing season last year in which he rushed for under 700 yards.  Ray Rice showed lots of flash as a rookie last season, and could prove to be a good compliment to McGahee.  The odd man out could be Le’Ron McClain, who was actually Baltimore’s leading rusher last year, but he has been getting more work at fullback and could be limited to goal line duty.    The offensive line did a great job last season, and the Ravens feel they have fortified it with the addition of first round pick Michael Oher of Ole Miss, and the signing of center Matt Birk from Minnesota.

The Ravens’ defense has consistently been a top three unit for virtually the entire decade, and there isn’t much reason to think it won’t be terrific again.  Linebacker Ray Lewis could be a future Hall of Famer, and his enthusiasm and intensity trickles down to the entire defense.  Terrell Suggs is a terrific pass rusher, and the Ravens also have good push on the edge with Trevor Pryce and Haloti Ngata.  The front seven will feel the loss of Bart Scott to the Jets, but they hope that some of that void can be filled by second round pick Paul Kruger of Utah.  The secondary is still very good with ballhawking safety Ed Reed leading the way.  The Ravens also have veteran corners in Samari Rolle and Fabian Washington, and they hope new addition Dominique Foxworth will add depth as well. The Ravens defense should be stingy again, but age could be a concern for this veteran group.

The Ravens lost veteran kicker Matt Stover to free agency, so they will go with an unknown in Steve Hauschka.  Punter Sam Koch is solid, the Ravens hope the return game will be solidified with the addition of the speedy Chris Carr from Tennessee.

Baltimore certainly has the talent to return to the playoffs.  The defense will keep them in every game and the veteran leadership is always a plus.  They do will face stiff competition in the AFC, and age and injuries could catch up with them.  The key coud well be the play of Flacco in his second season at quarterback.

3. Cincinnati Bengals – It has been 19 years since Cincinnati has won a playoff game.  The Bengals have long been a symbol for league futility, except for their division title in 2005.  Even then, they stubbed their toe in a home playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers.  Since then, the Bengals have not come close to achieving their potential, especially with all the talent they have had on offense.  Fans are getting restless, games may not sell out this year, and last year’s 0-8 start only made things worse.  The good news for Bengal nation is they did win their final three games last year, and hope may be coming.

For starters, Carson Palmer is back under center.  Palmer missed most of last season with an elbow injury.  Palmer managed to avoid offseason surgery, and the Bengals hope he will be back to his old self.  Palmer is quite possibly the most accurate deep passer in the league, and he is outstanding in the pocket.  There is no question in my mind that Palmer is a no brainer top 5 QB when healthy, and his presence should spark something in the Bengals’ offense.  The Bengals did lose start wideout T.J. Houshmanzadeh to Seattle, but they still have Chad Ochocinco (I really want to type “Johnson” but the dude actually changed his name legally).  I believe that Ochocinco has a renewed attitude this year and something to prove.  He wants to prove he is not a me guy and that he can really help the team win.  The Bengals also replaced Houshmanzadeh by raiding the Jets for Laveranues Coles.  Coles is still very capable, and paired with third wideout Chris Henry, the passing game has the potential to be very dangerous as it was in ’05.  The Bengals also found a very pleasant surprise in their running game last year in Cedric Benson.  The former top five pick from the Bears has found new life in the Queen City, and could be in line for another good year if defenses are concerned with stopping the passing attack.  The Bengals do have issues along the offensive line, losing Stacy Andrews and Levi Jones in free agency, and as of yet have not signed their first round draft pick, tackle Andre Smith from Alabama.  The selection of Smith with the sixth overall pick was a curious one indeed being that he missed most of the scouting combine and showed very questionable attitude during the pre-draft period.  Oh, and he was woefully out of shape too.  Now he is embroiled in a lengthy holdout.  It is imperative that the Bengals get good play from the line so they can keep Palmer healthy.  Right now, that is a question mark.

The Bengals did make an effort to beef up their defense in the offseason.  They signed defensive tackle Tank Johnson away from Dallas, and while he has had character issues in the past, the Bengals hope he will benefit from the fresh start.  They are desperate after getting just 11 sacks from their down linemen last season.  The Bengals also addressed linebacker in the draft for the second straight year, tabbing USC linebacker Ray Maualuga in the second round.  I thought Maualuga was clear first round talent, so the Bengals appear to have gotten great value there.  Paired with last year’s first round pick Keith Rivers, The Bengals’ linebackers appear to be on the way up.  The Cincinnati secondary also benefited from the Cowboys’ overhaul, as safety Roy Williams also signed with the Bengals.  Cincinnati does have decent corners in Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph, so Williams’ presence should help .  Overall, the Bengal D should be at least somewhat improved this season.

Kicker Shayne Graham is one of the best in the league.  The Bengals think so much of him they used their franchise tag on him.  Fifth round draft pick Kevin Huber is projected to be the starting punter, so that area could end up being an adventure for the Bengals.  Unknowns Andre Caldwell and Antonio Chatman will handle the return duties.

Cincinnati is trying to rebuild.  They seem to have added some good pieces and with Palmer healthy there should be some improvement.  This is not a playoff team yet, but they might be moving back in the right direction.

4. Cleveland Browns – The Browns fell back to Earth last year after a surprise run in 2007 that almost had them in the playoffs.  Last year the team took several steps back thanks to a quarterback controversy that still lingers and a six game losing streak to close the season in which they didn’t score a single offensive touchdown and got shut out in their final two contests.  Not surprisingly, this cost Romeo Crennel his job as head coach.  He was replaced ironically by fellow former Patriots assistant Eric Mangini.

The Browns still do not know who will be under center week one against the Vikings.  Last year Derek Anderson had the job at the start of the season only to lose it to Brady Quinn in November.  Neither one performed well, and now the competition is still open through the preseason.  It had seemed to be Quinn’s job for good when he got it last year, being that he was Cleveland’s first round pick in 2007, but he performed so poorly that it opened the door back up for Anderson.  Neither player has done enough to gain an edge yet in preseason, so this could be shaping up to be another year of musical chairs at the position for the Browns, and that is never a good thing.  The Browns do have a very talented wideout in Braylon Edwards, but he can’t do it all by himself.  Second round picks Brian Robiskie of Ohio State and Mohamed Massoquoi of Georgia will be counted on heavily to contribute, as will journeyman wideout David Patton and tight end Steve Heiden.  The running game could also be a question mark, even though Jamal Lewis still has the talent to be an outstanding tailback.  Lewis still rushed for over 1,000 last year, but he didn’t have a single 100-yard game.  It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Jerome Harrison got more carries as the year went on.  The offensive line is a mixed bag, for left tackle Joe Thomas has made two Pro Bowls, and Eric Steinbach is solid alongside him at guard, but the line will be anchored by rookie center Alex Mack of California.  Mack was the team’s first round draft pick, and will need to learn under fire quickly.

The defense will definitely have a new look.  Mangini brought along a staggering six players from his old defense with the Jets to Cleveland (Eric Barton, David Bowens, Kenyon Coleman, Abram Elam, C.J. Mosley and Hank Poteat).  For those keeping score at home, that’s that’s two defensive ends, two linebackers, one cornerback and one safety.  None of those players is exactly a household name among football fanatics, and it’s not like the Jets defense was that great at stopping people last year. Mangini obviously sees something he likes to bring them all over, or perhaps he just doesn’t want to deal with the unfamilar.   The new additions will join defensive tackle Shaun Rodgers, who was Cleveland’s big ticket free agent signing before last season.  The linebackers took a big hit with the retirement of Willie McGinest and the departure of Andra Davis to Denver in free agency.  Needless to say, the entire Browns defense still looks like a need area.

The special teams might be the one strength of the team.  Kicker Phil Dawson and punter Dave Zastudil are both very reliable, and Josh Cribbs might well be the most excting kick returner in the NFL.  Cribbs is so dangerous that he’ll be counted on to set the offense up in good enough field position that they won’t have to do much to score.

A rebuilding year is definitely in the cards for the Browns.  There are just too many need areas to expect a good year.  At some point they need to get the quarterback situation figured out, and that is the first step.  This team is very young.  If they can show improvement throughout the year, they might be able to at least have something to look forward to in 2010.

Coming next: the NFC North

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Thursday Night Football Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 20, 2008

This week’s Thursday NFL game definitely isn’t the most compelling matchup on the schedule in week 12.  In fact, it is in question what will be on the most amount of time in my house tomorrow night.  It’s not as if Steelers-Bengals is the only option I have to choose from.  I could choose to watch a very compelling college basketball doubleheader instead (Duke-Southern Illinois followed by UCLA-Michigan in the 2K Sports Classic).  Nevertheless, Steelers-Bengals is football, and thus I will at the very least be looking in on the game.  Let’s be frank though, it’s not as if this game requires much brainpower to make a selection.  The only questions here are margin of victory for the Steelers and will the game still be interesting enough to watch in the third quarter?

Cincinnati strangely enough actually does not have a loss in November, owing to their surprise win over Jacksonville, the bye, and their stellar non-loss to Philadelphia.  It seems fitting that the Bengals were involved in the NFL’s first tie in six years, being that they have grossly underachieved all season.  The Bengals were a mess from the get-go in large part thanks to Chad Johnson’s antics over the summer.  His open desire for a trade and unwillingness to report to camp had to be a distraction, plus his theatrics over legally changing his last name to Ocho Cinco had to take away from his focus on the field.  Carson Palmer’s injury and the flameout of Rudi Johnson (now in Detroit) didn’t help the offense either.  Cincinnati has shown effort in recent games, and they do have one bright spot in T.J. Houshmanzadeh (who is among the league leaders in receptions), but they have really bottomed out after their playoff appearance three years ago.  The fact that the Bengals (like the Eagles as well), ended up involved in a tie and couldn’t figure out a way to win that game speaks volumes about how much they’ve struggled this season.  

Pittsburgh on the other hand is coming off a big win over San Diego, one in which they had to fight to the end.  Despite two recent losses at home, the Steelers still sit at 7-3, and in 2nd place in the AFC.  The Steelers defense will not allow the Bengals to get anything going on the ground (especially after a less than stellar 47 yard effort from Cedric Benson last week), and they will harass Ryan Fitzpatrick all night.  Pittsburgh’s offense has not lit up the scoreboard, but they should be able to move the ball in this game with Willie Parker, and Hines Ward always steps up big against the Bengals.  The Bengals certainly remember his wicked block in the first meeting, and while they may say they’re motivated, it would really surprising if they try to be physical with Ward in the rematch, because that is a battle they will not win if they try.  Ben Roethlisberger has been toughing it out with a bum shoulder, and he will have to play through the pain again on a short week.  If Willie Parker runs effectively though, Roethlisberger will not be asked to do a lot to have to win this game.

Did I mention the game is at Heinz Field?  At night?  With a loud crowd?  Pittsburgh has a one game in the division now, and they want to keep it that way.  The Steelers schedule really beefs up down the stretch, including road games at New England and Tennessee, plus a home tilt with Dallas, so Pittsburgh knows they can’t afford to give this one away.  A win keeps the Steelers in bye position.  Cincinnati is playing for pride.  The Steelers blasted Cincinnati 38-10 on the road in the first meeting and they will do it again.  

The Pick: Steelers 31 Bengals 13.  It will not be compelling by the middle of the third quarter

*One caveat: the first two Thursday night games were upsets by the away team in wildly entertaining fashion.  There could be some Thursday night voodoo I’m unaware of that is causing this.  If Cincinnati wins, book the away team for every Thursday game the rest of the way.

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Week Four Picks Footnote

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 28, 2008

***One change one hour before kickoff***:

– Browns over Bengals: Carson Palmer is out with an elbow injury, which means Ryan Fitzpatrick is now the starter.  I don’t know about you, but this should clearly mean bad news for the Bengals offense.  Cleveland still does not have the look of a contending team, but Ryan Fitzpatrick under center for Cincinnati?  That more than negates Cincy’s home field edge.  Cleveland wins what is easily the dud game of the year, not just the week.

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Week Two Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 12, 2008

This NFL season is certainly shaping up to be very intriguing on a number of fronts.  Could we possibly have a playoffs that doesn’t include New England OR Indianapolis?  It could be possible if Matt Cassel proves to be no Tom Brady and the Colts take too long to get it together after their disastrous week one effort.  Are the Jets the new favorite in the AFC East, or is Buffalo for real?  Are the Steelers ever going to get their due for being consistently good?  Is the Bears defense back to the level of two years ago?  Who is going to win the awful NFC West?  It’s only one week into the season, and a number of my season picks are threatening to blow up in my face already.  I keep telling myself it’s still early, but it is possible that my AFC Super Bowl pick may not be all its cracked up to be. I still think Jacksonville’s defense will not allow them to be a disappointment.  Was I nuts to pick the 49ers to win the NFC West?  I still maintain they’ll be a surprise by the end of the year.  Was I drinking the Kool-Aid on the Minnesota hype?  I still think they have a team that is scary talented.  Am I underestimating Aaron Rodgers? I have to admit he looked very good in week one.  We’ll see if he can maintain it over the long haul.  Are the Chargers in trouble without Shawne Merriman?  Or is that wishful thinking on my part?.  It did seem like someone forgot to tell them the season started for three quarters against Carolina.  Speaking of the Panthers, are they once again a contender in the NFC? That offense could really come alive when Steve Smith returns from suspension in week three.  How praytell did the Falcons win a game, let alone dominate? I reserve judgement until I see them against someone other than Detroit.  

At least I got a few things right in week one.  The Cowboys dominated on the road.  The Browns looked lost and confused.  The Giants looked dominant like you would expect a defending champ to be.  The Bengals REALLY stink, or did you see Joe Flacco score on a 38-yard touchdown run while jogging through the Bengals defense? The Seahawks looked horrible on the road.  Brett Favre can still play a little.  Donovan McNabb looks poised for a big season.  The Raiders are a mess akin to Days of Our Lives as usual.  The Broncos offense could be scary good.  Or maybe that’s wishful thinking.  Perhaps that was more the Raiders are awful.  

One thing I know, this could be a season unlike any other.  Or maybe it will be just like any other.  For 11 consecutive seasons, there have been at least five teams in the playoffs who did not qualify the previous year.  With the exception of the 2006 Seahawks, the Super Bowl loser has missed the playoffs every year since 2000.  Even at that the Seahawks only made it past the first round the next year thanks to Tony Romo’s butterfingers.  Here are the numbers:

2000 New York Giants – Lost Super Bowl XXXV
2001 New York Giants – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2001 St. Louis Rams – Lost Super Bowl XXXVI
2002 St. Louis Rams – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2002 Oakland Raiders – Lost Super Bowl XXXVII
2003 Oakland Raiders – 4-12 record, no playoffs

2003 Carolina Panthers – Lost Super Bowl XXXVIII
2004 Carolina Panthers – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2004 Philadelphia Eagles – Lost Super Bowl XXXIX
2005 Philadelphia Eagles – 6-10 record, no playoffs

2005 Seattle Seahawks – Lost Super Bowl XL
2006 Seattle Seahawks – 9-7 record (made playoffs, 2nd round exit)

2006 Chicago Bears – Lost Super Bowl XLI
2007 Chicago Bears – 7-9 record, no playoffs

2007 New England Patriots – Lost Super Bowl XLII
2008 New England Patriots – ??????

This does not bode well for the Patriots in light of Tom Brady’s injury.  I know, I picked the Patriots to return to the AFC title game, but I also said they were done if Brady went down.  It will be interesting to see if the Patriots continue the trend of Super Bowl losers struggling the next year.  On one hand, it is hard a fathom a team threatening history one year and missing the playoffs the next year.  On the other hand, the Patriots missing the playoffs this year would be right in line with what the NFL is about much of the time. I still shudder when I think of the Broncos going 6-10 in 1999 after winning back to back Super Bowls and being favored to compete for a third.  After all there is the old cliche “On any given Sunday……”   Now on to the picks.

Last Week: 9-7

– Jaguars over Bills: I have to admit I really struggled with this one.  The Bills dominated Seattle last week, and the Jaguars look like they could be in trouble.  Still, I can’t picture the Jaguars 0-2, especially with Jack Del Rio having a week to drill discipline into his team before the home opener.

– Cardinals over Dolphins: Surprise stat of the week: the Cardinals actually went 6-2 at University of Phoenix Stadium last season.  The Cardinals at 2-0 would rank among the season’s early surprises, but it would be an even bigger surprise if Chad Pennington had a big day against what is becoming one of the league’s most underrated secondaries.

– Jets over Patriots: Brett Favre’s home debut in New York puts an extra charge into this one, plus the Jets would just love to stick it to the Patriots in the wake of Spygate last year.  I have a feeling Matt Cassel will find the road to be much more daunting than Gillette Stadium.  Oh, and he doesn’t have the luxury of facing the Chiefs.

– Titans over Bengals: No Vince Young for Tennessee, but it won’t matter.  There are high school teams that tackle better than Cincinnati’s defense.  The Bengals offense looked a little confused too last week.  Carson Palmer under 100 yards passing?  The Marvin Lewis watch begins in Cincinnati.  I say 75 percent he’s axed before the year is over.

– Steelers over Browns: Pittsburgh will run away with the AFC North.  The Browns proved last week that they are a ways from the elite against Dallas.  This one will be competitive due to the rivalry factor, plus an emotional under the lights home crowd in Cleveland, but the Steelers are the class of the division and they will prove it.

– Vikings over Colts: Chalk this one up as the most intriguing game of the week for me.  Is this an elimination game of sorts already?  The Colts cannot be confident heading into the loud Metrodome after getting shelled at home in their opener.  Minnesota needs Tarvaris Jackson to show that potential we keep hearing about, but the Vikings defense will follow the Bears blueprint and harass Peyton Manning.  Peyton, meet Jared Allen.  Good luck.  The Colts at 0-2? It seems beyond crazy, but it might just happen.

– Broncos over Chargers: Denver’s confidence is sky high after destroying the Raiders on the road, plus Brandon Marshall is back.  If D’Angelo Hall couldn’t cover Eddie Royal one on one, how are the San Diego corners going to handle him and Marshall?  The Chargers pass rush will really miss Merriman, plus Antonio Gates is hobbled.  The Broncos might allow a high rushing day for LT, but their offense will be enough to win a shootout and enjoy a large lead in the AFC West.  San Diego at 0-2? Seems really crazy, but it just might happen.

– Chiefs over Raiders: Dud game of the week.  The rivalry is nasty enough that the game could actually be fun to watch, but these are two of the worst teams in the league.  The Chiefs are reportedly having trouble selling out Arrowhead for this game, which tells all you need to know about the state of football these days in Kansas City.  Still, the Raiders are a mess in every way, and Larry Johnson will run for enough to get KC a rare W.  

– Giants over Rams: The G-men’s biggest challenge will be overcoming a 10-day layoff after opening the season with their Thursday night win over Washington.  St. Louis was maybe the worst team in week one, so there is nowhere to go but up.  This seems like it could be a trap game for New York if the Rams’ offense wakes up (Torry Holt 1 catch for 9 yards last week – are you kidding me?).  Still, the Giants should be able to rely on their championship experience and pull out a win.

– Saints over Redskins: New Orleans will really miss Marques Colston, who is out 4-6 weeks.  Still, Drew Brees has enough targets for the team to score offensively.  The Redskins looked like they didn’t know which end was up offensively last week.  If that continues, New Orleans will win a low scoring affair.

– Bears over Panthers: This should be a great game.  Both teams pulled shockers in week one, so it’s hard to say which of these teams is better right now.  The Panthers are without Steve Smith for another week, so that gives an edge to the Bears defense.  Chicago won on the road during their Super Bowl run two years ago, and the hunch is they’ll find a way to pull out this one.  This one really could go either way though.

– Packers over Lions: Aaron Rodgers played well last week in the spotlight, and the Packers look like they have a statement to make.  Detroit? The Lions should be embarrassed losing to Atlanta.  Home field advantage won’t help the Lions if they keep playing like that.  This won’t exactly be a difficult road environment for Green Bay’s young signal caller.

– Buccaneers over Falcons: Brian Griese gets the start for Tampa so that gives slight pause.  Still, the Falcons aren’t playing Detroit anymore.  Matt Ryan could be in for a rude awakening this week against Monte Kiffin’s defense.  Tampa Bay almost stole one last week and could be just good enough to make things interesting in the NFC South.  On a side note, I am kicking myself that I didn’t rank Michael Turner higher in fantasy this year.  He could have some big games this year even though he’s playing for the Falcons.

– Seahawks over 49ers: Seattle is still really banged up, and I really want to pick the upset.  Thing is, Seattle has a tremendous home field advantage, and there is no reason to back San Francisco on the road right now after the way they played last week.  Besides, Matt Hasselbeck has got to play better this week doesn’t he? This could be a really sloppy game.

– Texans over Ravens: This game has been moved to Monday night due to Hurricane Ike, which makes it the first Monday night game in Texans history.  Even though it won’t be nationally televised,that’s enough for me in this toss-up matchup.  Baltimore’s defense is still good, but I still want to see Joe Flacco on the road.  Houston is a much better team than what they showed last week.

– Cowboys over Eagles: This too will be a fantastic game.  In a way it’s a shame one of these teams will have to start the year 1-1.  I like the Cowboys in what should be a raucous atmosphere for their home opener, on a Monday night no less.  Still, the Eagles pose a big challenge.  The sway factor will be a monster game from Terrell Owens, eager as always to show Andy Reid and company they did him wrong.

Posted in football | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »