Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

Posts Tagged ‘Cleveland Browns’

Is the D Back in Denver?

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 21, 2009

Watch highlights of the Broncos-Browns game here.  (Content courtesy nfl.com)

20090921_010323_bronx I’ll preface the following remarks by saying that I am not booking a trip to Miami for the Super Bowl just yet.  I realize that fast starts don’t always mean season success.  The Broncos are 2-0 for the third straight year, which of course is much better than starting 0-2.  The caveat here is that the previous two seasons resulted in 7-9 and 8-8 finishes respectively with no sniff at the playoffs.  Last year’s collapse out of the division lead is still a very vivid memory, so everything is still being taken with a grain of salt.  Never mind the fact that the two victories so far have come against the two dreadful Ohio teams, the Bengals and the Browns (although I will point out the Bengals dropped 31 points on the Packers at Lambeau after the Broncos held them to just seven).  The Broncos may in any case be benefiting from their early schedule, but they are nevertheless 2-0.

Now good competition or not, the Broncos defense has been nothing short of outstanding the first two games.  They have allowed just 13 points in the two contests.  One of the biggest reasons is they are doing something they didn’t do last year: force turnovers.  Last year the Broncos were dead last in the NFL with a minus 17 turnover ratio.  Considering that stat it’s amazing they were even as good as 8-8.  This year through two games the Broncos rank second in the NFL at plus four.  Yesterday the Broncos cashed in two big fumble recoveries for an easy 10 points with a short field to work with.  The defense is being aggressive, actually getting pressure on the quarterback.  In game one they got Carson Palmer completely off his rhythm.   Yesterday the Broncos kept teeing off on Brady Quinn, getting four sacks alone from Elvis Dumervil, tying a franchise record dating back to 1990.  It’s too early yet to anoint this defense the second coming of the orange crush, but it seems very clear that this unit is much improved under defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.  The secondary in particular looks like night and day from last year.  Only Champ Bailey remains back there from last year, and the additions of Brian Dawkins, Andre Goodman, and the crop of rookies is making a huge difference.  The bottom line is if the defense keeps playing like they have the first two games, the offense may not need to score much to win.

Speaking of the offense, it sounds strange to say after a 21 point victory, but they left a lot on the table yesterday.  Start with two short field goals in the red zone on drives that could have been cashed in for touchdowns.  Add in two missed field goals, and there is a lot of room for this offense to score a lot more points.  Kyle Orton had another efficient day, even if his numbers were not spectacular.   If he keeps doing that the Broncos will be just fine, for they don’t need him to be flashy.  He did hook up with Brandon Stokley and Jabar Gaffney for two huge passing plays, so the potential for the big play is there even if his arm strength isn’t that of some other quarterbacks.  In the long run though the Broncos will need more from Brandon Marshall, who was very quiet for the second straight week (and on the sideline for much of the game), and Eddie Royal, who in the first two games has yet to put numbers resembling his outstanding rookie season.  The running game looked much better with Correll Buckhalter leading the way, and Knowshon Moreno looked better, even if he’s not quite 100 percent yet after suffering a preseason injury.

The rough stretch of the schedule is yet to come for the Broncos, but so far they can be pleased to be 2-0.  Some other quick thoughts:

– Congratulations to Shannon Sharpe, who was named to the Broncos Ring of Fame yesterday (I still can’t believe he parachuted into the stadium!!).  This honor is an obvious no brainer, as should his induction to the Hall of Fame in Canton.  I still think it’s ridiculous that he wasn’t inducted to the Hall in his first year of eligibility.

– It was good to see some actual crowd noise from the fans yesterday.   Invesco Field has resembled a library the past couple seasons at times, and it has still yet to resemble the old Mile High in any way.

– You can say what you will about the way Josh McDaniels handled the offseason, but right now he is 2-0 as a head coach, and that in the end is the only stat that counts for anything.

– I think the Browns might want to think about starting at Derek Anderson at quarterback soon if they want to salvage their season.  Brady Quinn looks lost and confused way more often than he should.

– The performance of the Broncos’ special teams is not to be overlooked in this game.  They completely shut down Josh Cribbs, arguably the best kick returner in football.

– I think the Broncos have another winnable game this week, as they are at the Oakland Raiders.  The Raiders look improved from last year as well, having won in Kansas City yesterday, but if the Broncos defense continues to play well they will have a good chance to win.  A 3-0 start would be impressive heading into the rigorous stretch of their schedule (Dallas, New England, at San Diego, at Baltimore, Pittsburgh).

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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

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Broncos Football on a THURSDAY???

Posted by mizzou1028 on November 6, 2008

I have to admit I can never get used to it when the Broncos, or any other NFL team, plays a Thursday game.  This is the fourth consecutive year the Broncos have drawn a Thursday contest (including two Thanksgiving Day games) and I still can’t get used to it.  I actually applaud the concept of getting more games on television for the fans, although I’m not sure NFL Network counts as a national broadcast at this point due to the fact numerous households still don’t get the channel.  At any rate, the Broncos face a very difficult task for numerous reasons: the short week, the fact they’re coming off a tough loss, the numerous injuries on both sides of the ball, and the travel on such a short timetable (to the eastern time zone to boot, where no pacific or mountain time zone team has won a game this season).  If that’s not enough, they get what is sure to be a raucous crowd at Cleveland Browns Stadium that will be excited for the debut of Brady Quinn.

My pick for the game is coming in a moment, but first a reminder that this is the first of a slate of Thursday NFL games every week for the rest of the season, so remember this if you are in an eliminator pool, have a fantasy lineup that needs to be set before the first kick, or even if you have players that may be involved in the game that you need to make a decision on.  In this space, I will offer a pick for each Thursday game before it kicks off, and then will follow up with the rest of the picks on Friday as normal.  So remember to look for the rest of my picks for week 10 on Friday, along with a recap of the Broncos and Browns.  

This is a very difficult game to pick because both teams are a mess.  The Broncos have no choice but to start Ryan Torain at tailback because no one else is left.  Andre Hall and Michael Pittman were placed on injured reserve this week, and Selvin Young won’t be 100 percent even if he plays.  The coaches do love Torain, but he didn’t look up to speed against Miami.  The Broncos also will likely still be without Tony Scheffler, who will take the extended time before the next game to try and get back in the lineup.  His absence has had a real adverse effect on the passing game.  Meanwhile, Denver’s defense took another hit with the news that leading tackler D.J. Williams will be out at least a month with a torn MCL.  This means no Williams and no Bailey (either of them).  Not to mention, the Broncos are sitting on a league worst minus 11 turnover margin in their past five games.  It can be argued that the Broncos are leading their division, but that carries no weight whatsoever for a team that has lost four of its past five games.  It actually came as a surprise to me to read today that the Broncos are just 20-20 in their past 40 games, and that frankly isn’t acceptable for us in Broncos Country. 

The Browns have finally made the long overdue decision to yank Derek Anderson in favor of Brady Quinn.  This is a move I have advocated for since the offseason, when Cleveland made the surprising decision to offer Anderson a 3 year $24 million contract, even though they had made a big investment in Quinn by making him their first round pick in 2007.  This season Anderson has been anything but great, ranking dead last among starting quarterbacks with a terrible 49.8 completion percentage.  While Anderson has been dreadful at times, Quinn is of course an unknown, having made just one appearance in mop up duty last year.  The timing of the decision to make the move to Quinn with such a short week to prepare also seems a little odd.  The Browns are coming off a loss to Baltimore in which they blew a 27-13 second half lead and watched the Ravens score 20 unanswered points to end the game.  Cleveland’s defense has struggled against the run this year, having given up 154 yards to rookie Ray Rice last week, allowing him to average 7.3 yards a carry.  The Browns’ 3-5 start is not what they were hoping for after knocking on the door to the playoff party last season.

Sometimes when you have two struggling teams going at it, it actually turns out to be a good game, and that could be the case here.  I really hope I’m wrong, but I think this game shapes up to be bad news for the Broncos in more ways than one.  I do think the Broncos will be able to run better than they did against Miami, and I also think Jay Cutler and the passing game will give a better effort.  I think the deciding factor will be the play of Quinn, and if he doesn’t panic in his first start, he will be guaranteed to find Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow open all night with the Broncos missing their top defenders.  Edwards against Dre’ Bly in particular makes me really nervous, with Edwards looking like he’s about to break out for a big game the way his numbers have been climbing the past few weeks.  If the Broncos can rattle Quinn early and maybe even force an early turnover, which they haven’t done all year, then they will be able to stay in the game and maybe even control it.  If they can’t, it will be another long night for the orange and blue.  I really want to pick the Broncos to bounce back, but the rational side of me tells me I can’t.  The short week, the trip east, the missing bodies, the lack of confidence, it will be too much for the Broncos to overcome.

The Pick: Cleveland 27 Denver 17 

I really hope I’m wrong…….

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That’s Why They Play the Game!

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 14, 2008

– Giants over Browns: This has mismatch written all over it.  The Giants are without question the best team in football through the first month, and they will be heavily favored in this one.  It’s a weekly theme, but the Giants continue to prove wrong all the so-called “experts” who picked them to miss the playoffs.  How on Earth could anyone have predicted them to miss the playoffs after taking a look at their soft early schedule?  Even without Plaxico Burress last week, they didn’t skip a beat at all as they destroyed Seattle.  Cleveland for whatever reason has yet to bench Derek Anderson in favor of Brady Quinn, even though the Browns only have a win this year because the Bengals gave it to them.  I hate to say I told you so, but the Browns are not a contender in any way, and continue to prove they were a big time fluke last year.  Think the Monday Night Football crew regrets selecting so many Browns games yet?

Ummm…yeah, so I clearly misfired on that one.  I promised at the beginning of the season I would be the first to admit my prediction errors, and here you go, that was a big one.  In my defense I wasn’t by any means the only one.  Eight of the nine pickers on espn.com picked the Giants.  (On the flip side, I did correctly predict Arizona’s win over the Cowboys, but that’s not the topic here).  It certainly seemed going in that the Giants had the best team in football by far, while the Browns had clearly struggled coming into the contest.  Sure, the Browns had the bye week to regroup and were playing in front of an enthusiastic home crowd, but the Giants had won 12 straight games away from Giants Stadium dating back to September of last year, including their miraculous playoff run, so it wasn’t like the crowd was going to adversely affect them.  I certainly did not expect Derek Anderson to save his job, which he did with a 301 yard, two touchdown effort.  I absolutely didn’t expect a breakout game from Braylon Edwards, who had been notably absent the first four games of the season for the Browns.  Most of all, I didn’t expect the Giants to implode the way they did.  Eli Manning in particular was not the same last night as he was early in the year, throwing several crucial picks at inopportune times. 

So what does all that mean in the grand scheme of things in the NFL?  For starters, it’s only one game so it’s difficult to ascertain whether that was one egg laid by the Giants or whether there is a larger concern for the defending champs.  Likewise, are the Browns back among the contenders, or did they just have everything going well for one night?  It’s the same theme every week but it bears worth repeating: the NFL season is such a roller coaster that things really do vary radically from week to week, making it difficult to predict the games, which in turn is what makes the league so great.  Who expected the Rams to beat Washington Sunday?  Sure, I said a Rams win wouldn’t be surprising, but I didn’t actually go out on a limb and pick them.  Did anyone really expect the Vikings to struggle in any way against Detroit, and would need a last second field goal to win?  How about the Falcons?  Show me anyone that thought they would start the year 4-2, and I’ll give you the oceanfront property I own in Wyoming for free, no questions asked. 

How about the games coming up this weekend? Cowboys-Rams looked like a guaranteed Dallas blowout victory a month ago, even two weeks ago.  Now?  The Cowboys are without Tony Romo (broken finger on his throwing hand), Pacman Jones (suspension), Terence Newman (sports hernia), and Felix Jones (hamstring).  Besides all the injuries, the Cowboys have lost two of three, and very nearly all three if not for a sloppy win against the winless Bengals.  Terrell Owens has been essentially shut down for three straight games, tallying just four catches for 36 yards in the loss to Arizona, and now will undoubtedly be petulant when he’s not getting downfield looks from Brad Johnson over the next month.  The Rams meanwhile are coming off a win and will be coming back home.  Granted, despite all that Dallas is still favored to win the game, but is it a gimmie in any way?  Absolutely not.

It will be needless to say interesting to see how things really do shake out at the end of the season.  I still think teams like the Jaguars, Chargers and Colts that are hovering around .500 will be major players in the AFC.  It will be interesting to see if Buffalo and Tennessee can keep up their fast starts in the AFC, or if Atlanta and Arizona can stay in the chase in the NFC.  Will the Cowboys fold? Are the Redskins for real?  What about the Broncos, will they be able to hold off San Diego?  Who are the real Patriots, will they end up being in the mix, or is their dynasty derailed for the time being?  Who will win the NFC North, where three teams currently sit 3-3?  For that matter, who will come out of the NFC South logjam, where every team is .500 or better?  The point is everything is up in the air, and that will ultimately make mine or anyone else’s predictions look like garbage at the end of the year.  The fact is it is most likely no one will end up being completely correct or close to it.  Even the winless Bengals and Lions are likely to shock somebody at some point, for there has NEVER BEEN an 0-16 team in NFL history.  So while I may have looked foolish with my pregame assessment of the Giants-Browns game, at least I still went over .500 for the week, which means i did better than 5 of the ESPN experts for the week.  Considering the state of the NFL these days, that doesn’t seem to be too bad at all.  Besides, if I really could pick the games that well, I wouldn’t be bothering to write about them here, and I would be enjoying my weekly fortune from Vegas.  Until I get that patent for the time machine approved, the teams of the NFL will just keep proving me and everyone else who doubts them wrong.

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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.

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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.

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