Reid Fischer's World of Rants

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Posts Tagged ‘Oakland Raiders’

Broncos’ Defense Strikes Again

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 28, 2009

Broncos Raiders Football In a lot of ways the Broncos game in Oakland today was a carbon copy of the one they played last week against Cleveland.  The Broncos played an outstanding defensive game, ran the ball very effectively, won the turnover battle, and ultimately earned a decisive victory against well, a team that should have beaten, beating the pitiful Oakland Raiders 23-3.  I’ll be the first to say that the Broncos once again benefited today from the schedule makers.  The Raiders are not even close to a contending team, so that does temper the kool aid drinking just a tad from those of us here in Broncos country.  However, a good team is supposed to take care of the bad ones, and that is what the Broncos have done so far this season.  (In fact, the opening road win against Cincinnati is suddenly looking very impressive being that the Broncos held them to just seven points).

As with the first two games, you once again need to start with the defense for the Broncos.  They got two more sacks from Elvis Dumervil, who has six so far through the first three games.  They forced three more turnovers, including two interceptions by JaMarcus Russell.  The first interception came early in the game after the Broncos failed on a fourth and goal from the one.  This pick helping swing momentum back to Denver and set up the first score, a touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall (more on him in a moment).  The second interception set up a field goal that made it 10-0.  The third turnover came on a crucial fumble recovery in the third quarter.  The Raiders had just recovered a Correll Buckhalter fumble and were driving for a score that would get them back in the game.  Darren McFadden took a toss right and was sprinting down the sideline for what looked like a score.  Suddenly, D.J. Williams came out of nowhere and leveled McFadden, knocking the ball free.  Brian Dawkins happened to be run out of bounds, but he had the presence of mind to establish both feet in bounds quickly, then pounce on the loose ball along the sideline.  Ultimately the Broncos were plus two in turnovers, and that proved to be very key in the victory.  Besides the turnovers, the Broncos also held the Raiders to just 137 total yards, including a mere 61 passing from Russell.  I don’t care who the opponent is, those defensive numbers are nothing short of terrific.  Consider that the Broncos are allowing a mere 5.3 points per game so far this season.

Offensively, a look at Kyle Orton’s numbers doesn’t indicate anything spectacular (13-23 for 157 yards and touchdown), but he once again managed the game well.  He avoided any interceptions for the third game in a row, and he added another win to his total as a starting quarterback.  He made some key throws at important times, and he continues to show good decision making abilities.  Amazingly, there was also a Brandon Marshall sighting.  The receiver who is now known for his attitude problem caught five balls for 67 yards and the team’s initial touchdown of the game.  Marshall made several good catches today, and for the first time this season actually played like he wanted to be out on the field.  He showed actual fire and it was clear watching him today that he was playing hard and playing to win.  The Broncos will need him to continue to play this way going forward.  This was critical today because Eddie Royal was held to just one catch for four yards and Brandon Stokley was nonexistent.  Ultimately though, the key for the Broncos offense is the running game, and it was again terrific today.  Correll Buckhalter rushed for 108 yards (averaging 7.7 yards per carry) and Knowshon Moreno added 90 yards and his first career touchdown.  This for Moreno despite the fact that he was questionable to even play with a groin injury.  The running game helped the Broncos get a 13 minute edge in time of possession, and that will continue to be a big key for the Broncos as their schedule toughens up in the coming weeks.

Some other observations:

– For the second straight week the Broncos offense left a lot of potential points on the board.  Besides coming up empty on the first drive after a failed fourth and goal, the Broncos twice settled for red zone field goals.  If the offense can start capitalizing on these chances, it could be scary for their opponents.  That being said, the Broncos must shore up this area and quick.

– The Denver offensive line did a great job once again.  The line held Oakland without a sack in addition to leading the way for the rushing attack.

– Jabar Gaffney has quietly been a good acquisition for the Broncos, catching four more passes today for 39 yards.

– I knew the game was being blacked out in Oakland due to a non sellout, but I didn’t expect the sea of empty green seats in the Oakland Alameda Coliseum.  Granted the Raiders haven’t exactly given their fans much of a product to watch, but at this rate it will interesting to see how long the East Bay can even support the Raiders at all.

– JaMarcus Russell is a huge disappointment.  Check that, disappointment isn’t a strong enough word, how about awful.  Right now he’s not even close to being a starting caliber quarterback.  The only reason he is still starting is because the Raiders aren’t about to go to Bruce Gradkowski.

– The schedule definitely gets tougher for the Broncos next week as they host Dallas.  That begins a stretch of five games that will tell us a lot more about this Broncos team.  Until then, they are 3-0, and that is the stat that matters at the moment.


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Broncos-Raiders Preview & Week 3 Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 25, 2009

It seems strange after the tumultuous offseason the Broncos have had, but they have a very legitimate shot to start the season 3-0.  Granted, this is largely because they are benefiting from a very friendly start to the season schedule wise, but nevertheless the Broncos so far have taken advantage of that.  Besides, I still maintain the week one win against Cincinnati was not a gimmie (more on the Bengals in my picks below).  Sunday at Oakland is another winnable game the Broncos need to take advantage of because the schedule gets a lot tougher very soon.

In recent years the Broncos have played very well in the Black Hole (let’s be honest here, who hasn’t).  Denver has won five of its past six meetings in Oakland, and overall the Broncos have won 9 of their past 12 games against the Raiders.  While the fans in Oakland certainly try to give the Raiders an intimidating home environment, this has simply not been the case.  In fact, things have gotten so bad in the East Bay that the game will be blacked out locally due to a non-sellout.  The Raiders are so desperate to sell tickets they are offering a free $100 gift card to a local grocery store with the purchase of two tickets.  That lack of support never inspires much confidence in the home team, but really it is more a reflection of the Raiders’ futility.  Oakland is the only team in the NFL to have a losing record in each of the past six seasons, and they appear to be on track to make it seven in a row.

Now, getting to the matchup, I am still trying to figure out how the Raiders managed to win in Kansas City last week.  JaMarcus Russell was awful, throwing for less than 150 yards, and managing to miss a number of open receivers in the process.  The running game was non existent, as both Darren McFadden and Michael Bush were held to less than 50 yards rushing.  No receiver caught more than two passes, and the leading receiver from a year ago, tight end Zach Miller, was held without a catch.  The Raiders have talent, but they are very young at every position offensively, especially wide receiver, where two rookies start: Darrius Heyward-Bey and Louis Murphy.  Strangely enough, Murphy has been by far the more impressive of the two in the first two games, despite being selected three rounds later than Heyward-Bey in April’s draft.  While the Raiders have under achieved so far this year for their talent, the fact is the talent is there and can beat you if you’re not careful.  Defensively, the Raiders have been very good, especially last week, in getting pressure on the quarterback.  The impact of Richard Seymour, acquired in trade from the Patriots right before week one, has been huge.  His presence has opened up everything for the defense.  The secondary has also been outstanding, with Michael Huff intercepting three passes already.  I also maintain that Nnamdi Asomugha is the best cornerback in the NFL.

The Broncos haven’t been spectacular offensively, but they have gotten the job done.  Kyle Orton has yet to throw a pick in two games, living up to his reputation as a quarterback who doesn’t make costly mistakes.  Orton hasn’t been flashy, but he has made the throws he has needed to make.  The Broncos do need more from Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal.  Marshall has seven catches through two games but has not even been close to his old self.  He was on the sideline for long stretches against Cleveland, and in the long run the Broncos are going to need him.  Royal has also been shut down the first two games while being bothered with an ankle injury.  He is expected to be healthy against the Raiders, but could end up drawing a bad matchup in Asomugha.  In this game, it will be critical once again for Brandon Stokley and Jabar Gaffney to step up, as both did with big games against the Browns.  The biggest key for the Broncos though is they need to run the football.  Correll Buckhalter and Knowshon Moreno split carries against Cleveland, and I would expect the same against Oakland.  Both were productive last week and will need to be against the Raiders to stay out of third and long, where the Raiders defense has freely blitzed opposing QBs so far.  Defensively, the Broncos have been nothing short of outstanding, allowing just 13 points in their first two games.  The Broncos also rank second in the NFL in turnover ratio at plus four.  If they can get pressure on Russell and slow down the Raiders’ running game, I definitely like their chances to keep that trend going at least for another week.

In the end I expect this to be just like the first two Broncos’ games: another low scoring defensive battle.  Both defenses have been very good in the first two weeks, while both offenses have moved the ball at times but not with any real consistency.  I think turnovers almost always decide games like this, and I expect the Broncos defense to be able to come up with one before Oakland’s will.  I think the Broncos will be able to run the ball just well enough, and I think their defense will be able to slow down Oakland’s speed.

The Pick: Broncos 20 Raiders 10

Now, the rest of the week three picks:

Last week: 10-6 Season: 23-9

– Bills over Saints: UPSET ALERT.  I know Drew Brees has been awesome the first two games.  I also know this will be in the wind in Buffalo.  I still think the Bills will be a player in December.  I like them at home in the upset.

– Chargers over Dolphins: This actually seems pretty shaky considering Tomlinson and Merriman are both banged up, but I think Rivers and Sproles will make enough plays at home.  Miami is quickly finding reality after last season’s surprise run.

– Patriots over Falcons: I went back and forth on this one for several minutes.  Something doesn’t seem right with the Patriots, while Atlanta has been very impressive.  This is the first road game for the Falcons however, and I think New England figures out a way to not lose two in a row.  Either way this should be a great game.

– Titans over Jets: The thought of Tennessee at 0-3 is nothing short of ridiculous, and thus I can’t pick anything else here.  The Titans are hopping mad after letting one slip away at home. and I sense a letdown for the Jets after their huge win over New England.

– Bengals over Steelers: UPSET ALERT.  Pittsburgh is without Troy Polamalu.  Besides that, the Bengals offense looked scary good in Green Bay while the Steelers have been unable to run the ball in either of their first two games.  Paul Brown Stadium will be rocking.  I like Cincinnati in the stunner.

– Ravens over Browns:  Baltimore by a lot.  Let’s move on to a more competitive game.

– Texans over Jaguars: Houston made a statement last week in Tennessee.  If Matt Schaub is throwing like that Sunday, Jacksonville is in real trouble.  The Jags should score some points with Maurice Jones-Drew leading the way, but I like the Texans at home.

– Eagles over Chiefs: Even if Kevin Kolb is starting for Philly, the Eagles won’t have any trouble outscoring the Chiefs in this one.  The Kansas City offense looked very lost with Matt Cassel last week, and it won’t get any better against the Eagles.

– Giants over Buccaneers: Byron Leftwich has actually looked good the first two games for Tampa, but the defense is awful.  Eli Manning and company keep proving they  should be no brainer playoff pick for everyone.  The Giants should win easily here even on the road.

– Bears over Seahawks: No Matt Hasselbeck, no chance for Seattle.  The Bears made a statement last week and should be able to do enough to get a road win here.  Expect a big game from Matt Forte.

– Lions over Redskins: UPSET ALERT.  The game will be blacked out in Detroit (more than 10,000 seats are still available), but I think the Redskins looked awful last week and only won because they were playing the much worse Rams.  This time, the Lions do just enough and finally remember what winning a game feels like.

– Packers over Rams: Speaking of the Rams, being at home isn’t going to help them much.  The Packers are fuming after losing one at home last week. Aaron Rodgers will have a field day here.  Start every Packer you have in fantasy this week.

– Vikings over 49ers: San Francisco is nice story at 2-0, but they aren’t going to get it done in the Metrodome.  Should be fun to watch with Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson, but in the end the Vikings defense is just stronger.

– Colts over Cardinals: This should be a very entertaining Sunday night game.  Kurt Warner proved last week he can still sling it, but in the end it is difficult to pick against Peyton Manning in a game like this.  The Colts have proven that it doesn’t matter who is hurt, and they will once again figure out how to pull out a squeaker.

– Cowboys over Panthers: Dallas gets another prime time showcase for the glitzy new stadium, this time on Monday night.  This time I think the Cowboys win in their new house.  The Jake Delhomme watch is still on in the Carolinas.

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AFC West Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on September 8, 2009

Once again teams listed in predicted order of finish.

9781. San Diego Chargers – Last year’s Chargers season would be a huge disappointment by the standards of most teams.  This sounds like a very strange statement considering they won the division, won a playoff game against Peyton Manning and the Colts, and gave the Super Bowl champion Steelers a very good game in the second round of the playoffs.  However, the Chargers had gone to the AFC title game the year before, came in with a roster virtually unchanged, and were expected to take a monster leap in the standings.  However, the Chargers really stumbled out of the gate, sitting at 4-8 through 12 games.  They did manage to win their last four games to finish 8-8, and were able to back into the division title thanks to an epic collapse by Denver.  The fact that the Chargers hosted the Colts in the playoffs despite finishing 8-8 says more about the current NFL playoff system than anything else.  This year, the Chargers are clear runaway favorites in what perhaps is the worst division in football.  The question is do they have enough to beat the NFL’s elite in the playoffs?

There is no question that there is plenty of offensive talent in San Diego.  How quarterback Philip Rivers didn’t make the Pro Bowl is beyond me.  His 34 touchdown passes were a franchise record and he led the league with a 105.5 quarterback rating.  The main knock on Rivers is that two of his 2004 draft classmates, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, have already won Super Bowls.  It is clear however that Rivers deserves to be mentioned among the elite of the league.  As long as he is around, the Chargers will have a good chance to be successful.  He does have a very good and very underrated group of receivers to throw to, including Vincent Jackson, who produced his first 1,000 yard season a year ago.  He lines up alongside Chris Chambers, who has thrived in the Chargers’ offense since coming over from Miami a few years ago.  The Chargers also have surprising depth in Malcolm Floyd and Legadu Naanee.  Oh, not to mention, Rivers can throw to the best tight end in football in Antonio Gates.  Gates was slowed at the beginning of last year due to a toe injury, but he did rebound toward the end of the season.  Now that he’s fully healthy this year, he should be in for a big season.  The running game is also arguably the most talented in the NFL.  LaDainian Tomlinson had a down year by his standards last year, finishing with 1,100 yards and missing the playoffs to a toe injury.  Tomlinson had his contract restructured during the offseason, so he will enter the season with a chip on his shoulder.  Tomlinson wants to prove that he is still the best back in football.  The Chargers also have Darren Sproles, who is definitely among the fastest backs in all of football.  The pairing of a healthy Tomlinson and Sproles will make the Chargers offense extremely dangerous, couples with the ability of Rivers under center.  The offensive line did have its struggles last season, but the Chargers elected not to make any changes.  This is a veteran group that knows it just needs to play to its ability.

Defensively the Chargers defense will be significantly improved from a year ago for a simple reason: the return of Shawne Merriman.  Merriman sat out most the season last year due to reconstructive knee injury, and his absence in the middle of the defense was definitely noticed in more ways than one.  Merriman is certainly one of the best linebackers in all of football, mainly because his his ability to get to the quarterback.  It does remain to be seen whether he still possesses the speed from before the knee surgery, but his leadership alone will be a tremendous boost in the locker room and on the field.  Shaun Phillips will play in the other outside linebacker spot, and he had 7.5 sacks last year.  The Chargers also used their first round pick on limnebacker Larry English of Northern Illinois.  The defensive line is anchored by veteran tackle Jamal Williams and end Luis Castillo.  Overall it is not a terrific group but it is capable of getting the job done.  The secondary has talent with cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer, and both will need to play a lot better than they did a year ago.  The Chargers’ pass defense ranked 31st a year ago, and that definitely needs to get better.

The Chargers’ special teams definitely has the talent to be the best in football.  Kicker Nate Keading is believe it or not second all-time in kicking accuracy in NFL history with an 86 percent success rate.  Punter Mike Scifers has one of the strongest legs in the NFL and he also has the accuracy to be able to pin teams inside the 20.  The return game is in amazing hands with Sproles, who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

There is no question that San Diego is an overwhelming favorite to win this division.  Talent wise I think they are very capable of making a deep playoff run.  This team returns largely intact from a year ago, and more importantly they are healthy The schedule is tough (they play the AFC North and NFC East) but the Chargers have the talent to play with those teams.  The question is will they play to their talent level?  We will find out.

2. Denver Broncos – I put the Broncos at number two in this division with a couple of asterisks.  One, this is weak division and someone has to finish second, even if their record is going to end up 6-10 or 7-9.  Second, I like new coach Josh McDaniels and I think he has a good system.  I also think the Broncos could surprise some people and win more games than everyone expects.  The Broncos surprised the entire league when they fired Mike Shanahan, and they shocked the NFL even more when they traded quarterback Jay Cutler.  (I have reviewed and analyzed that deal in several previous posts – basically I think it might not end up as bad long term for Denver as everyone thinks.)  They have also had to deal with the Brandon Marshall fiasco.  All this after they blew a three game lead with three games to play last season, and missed the playoffs altogether for the third straight year.

The offense has almost been completely revamped from a year ago.  This despite the fact they finished second in the NFL in yards.  What Coach McDaniels didn’t like is that the Broncos finished 16th in points.  When McDaniels acquired quarterback Kyle Orton in the Cutler trade, he did so because he legitimately feels that Orton is better decision maker than Cutler.  While Cutler put up flashy numbers a year ago, he did throw a number of red zone interceptions.  Orton has a reputation of being a good decision maker and not turning it over.  Broncos fans are nervous after his four preseason picks, but it is preseason.  The biggest question with Orton is the finger he injured in the third preseason game against Chicago, but he says he will be ready for the opener.  The receiving game could well hinge on whether Marshall gets his act together and decides to play.  Marshall has been suspended during the preseason because of his behavior.  Marshall is unhappy because he wants to be traded.  I am convinced however that Marshall will not be traded, so it will be up to him to play or not.  I think if he gets his head on straight and plays, he will be very productive in this offense, maybe enough to get a third straight 100 catch season.  The rest of the receivers are actually very good, led by second year wideout Eddie Royal, who should be productive with or without Marshall.  There is also good veteran depth with Brandon Stokley and new addition Jabar Gaffney, who came over from the Patriots.  Tight end Tony Scheffler is also a good receiving threat.  The other tight ends, Daniel Graham and second round pick Richard Quinn, are good red zone threats and excellent blockers.  The running game should have more stability this season, after the Broncos went through nine backs last year due to injuries.  Hence why the Broncos spent their first round pick on Knowshan Moreno of Georgia.  Moreno has speed to elude tacklers, plus enough bulk to run through them.  He can also catch out the backfield and is a good blocker.  In the Broncos’ run scheme, he might win offensive rookie of the year honors.  The Broncos also added Correll Buckhalter from the Eagles in free agency for depth, and are expecting a big second season from Peyton Hillis, who emerged in the second half of last season.  The offensive line is also excellent, and returns intact from a year ago.  Young tackles Ryan Clady and Ryan Harris should be around for a long time.

The defense was atrocious to put it mildly last season.  One of the emphases of new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is about forcing turnovers, an area in which the Broncos were among the league’s worst last year.  The Broncos did spend a first round pick obtained in the Cutler deal on defensive end Robert Ayers, who will be expected to bolster the pass rush.  He will likely start week one considering the lack of pass rush from the Broncos’ ends last year.  The nose tackle is still a question mark, and it’s a big one considering Denver will play a 3-4 under Nolan.  The linebackers have talent and speed, led by veteran D.J. Williams and pass rushing specialist Elvis Dumervil, who will be transitioning from defensive end.  The secondary has been completely retooled with the exception of shutdown corner Champ Bailey, who had a down year last year by his standards.  The Broncos will need him to return to his 2005 level of 10 picks.  The rest of the secondary will be led by hard hitting safety Brian Dawkins, who came over from the Eagles.  The Broncos also signed cornerback Andre Goodman and safety Renaldo Hill from the Dolphins.

Special teams is a bit of a question mark for the Broncos.  Kicker Matt Prater tailed off toward the end of the season last year, and Broncos fans are longing for the Jason Elam days.  He does have a very strong leg, hence why the new coaches are giving him a second chance.  Punter Brett Kern must also show more consistency from a year ago.  The return game is also really up for grabs.  Eddie Royal is the Broncos’ best returner, but Denver doesn’t want to risk injury to him in the return game.  Draft choice Alphonso Smith is also a distinct possibility.

Denver is a team that could just as easily finish 4-12 as 10-6.  If Moreno is the real deal, if Marshall plays and if the defense is better, this could be a surprise playoff team.  If Orton is a big time bust, Marshall is an attitude problem all year, and the defense continues to struggle, it could be a long first year for Josh McDaniels.  Time will definitely tell on this team.

3. Kansas City Chiefs – It is a major understatement to say that Kansas City needed a complete overhaul after last season’s disastrous 2-14 campaign.  The Chiefs defense was awful, surrendering 30 or more points seven times, including a whopping 54 to an average Bills attack at home.  The offense put up its share of numbers at times, but lacked any real playmakers in the passing game outside of Gonalez.  The Chiefs will have a very different look in 2009.  Gone are head coach Herm Edwards, General Manager Carl Peterson, and a host of veteran players including Gonzalez, whose trade request was accommodated by new management.  In are new coach Todd Haley, new GM Scott Pioli (architect of the New England dynasty), and new direction.  This team is clearly rebuilding, and the question is how competitive will they be?

The new direction starts at quarterback, where the Chiefs acquired what they hope is their signal caller for a long time to come in Matt Cassel.  Cassel was outstanding filling in for the injured Tom Brady in New England last year, and the Chiefs hope that Cassel will be able to translate that same success in a new environment and a new system.  Cassel is 6-4, and does have an above average arm, and the Chiefs are confident he will be good fit.  They are so confident that they rewarded him with a lucrative raise and contract extension before he’s even taken a snap for them.  If nothing else, it is reasonable for the Chiefs to expect more stability than the trio of Tyler Thigpen, Damon Huard and Brodie Croyle gave them a year ago.  One thing Cassel won’t have however is Gonzalez, and that means he won’t have the league’s best tight end to throw to like those three had.  Dwayne Bowe is the most talented of the receivers, and he is coming off an 86-catch season.  Bowe has the talent to be star, and he will be paired with Mark Bradley, who started to emerge toward the end of last year.  The Chiefs also signed veteran Bobby Engram as a free agent for depth.  There will be a noticeable dropoff at tight end with Brad Cottam the primary candidate to fill Gonzalez’ shoes.  The running game will once again be anchored by Larry Johnson, but he hasn’t been the same running the past two years since he suffered a foot injury in 2007.  Johnson was also not really a part of the offense last year, as the Chiefs went to a spread attack.  The spread is now gone, and Johnson is part of the offensive plan again, that is if his attitude doesn’t get in the way.  Jamaal Charles is ready to step in if Johnson continues to be ineffective.  The Chiefs do have a solid guard in Brian Waters, but the rest of the line is very young and very inexperienced, save for new addition Mike Goff from San Diego.

The defense has been revamped, highlighted by a new linebacking core.  Derrick Johnson is lone retainee at the position, but the former first round pick has yet to live up to expectations.  He will be joined by savvy veteran Mike Vrabel, obtained in the Cassel deal, and Monty Beisel from Arizona.  The Chiefs signed veteran Zach Thomas in the offseason, but released him in their last round of preseason cuts.  It seems clear that Thomas will retire, but the Chiefs were hoping to be able to count on his veteran leadership.  The defensive line is clearly a work in process.  The new regime is clearly not enamored with last year’s first round pick, Glenn Dorsey.  Dorsey played nose tackle last year, but the new regime feels like he’s too small for the position, so they’re trying him at right end this year.  The Chiefs also used this year’s first round pick on defensive end Tyson Jackson, a teammate of Dorsey’s at LSU.  Tamba Hali will be also be counted on to be able to rush the passer.  The secondary is also very young after the release of veteran cornerback Patrick Surtain.  Kansas City thinks Brandon Flowers is a shutdown corner, but the numbers from last year don’t back that up.

The Chiefs’ kicking game could be the most unreliable in the NFL.  Seventh round pick Ryan Succop appears to be the guy, but he missed a short field goal in the final preseason game.  Punter Dustin Colquitt is above average, and the return game could be highlighted by sixth round pick Quentin Lawrence of McNeesse State.  It seems like a long time ago that this return unit was feared with Dante Hall back there.

Kansas City is definitely in line for a rebuilding year, but they are starting to put the pieces in place.  This is another team that we don’t really know what to expect from, but I don’t see a playoff run in the cards.  .500 could be a possibility if they get a few breaks.

9514. Oakland Raiders – This organization is the biggest joke in the NFL.  I’m just saying that because I am a Denver guy, but it is very clearly a joke.  The ironic thing is this team actually showed more life after last year’s coaching change from Lane Kiffin to Tom Cable, even winning their final two games against Houston and Tampa Bay.  However, this offseason has been another illustration that this team just doesn’t know what it’s doing.  I think it starts with owner Al Davis, who still has his fingers in everything and for whom the game has long passed him by.  During training camp Cable seems to have actually punched one of his assistants.  Cue the Days of Our Lives music in Oakland.

The Raiders offense will once again be in the hands of JaMarcus Russell at quarterback, who has still yet to show the ability that made him the top pick of the draft in 2007.  Russell has good size and ability, but he has yet to put it together consistently.  His work ethic has really been questioned.  Perhaps that’s one reason why longtime veteran Jeff Garcia was brought in to challenge him.  Then again, Garcia didn’t make the team, so Russell will be on his own when the Raiders open the season against San Diego.  He’ll have a shall we say interesting set of receivers to throw to.  Javon Walker is the top receiver on the depth chart, even though he has battled numerous injuries in the past five years and is another guy whose attitude has not been stellar.  He will be paired with no names such as Johnnie Lee Higgins and Chaz Schilens.  The Raiders also inexplicably spent their first round pick on Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland, even though guys like Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin and Percy Harvin were available.  Heyward-Bey does have speed, always an Al Davis favorite, but was never dominant in Maryland.  In fact, he was barely above average in college.  I think the best receiving threat on the team is actually tight end Zach Miller, who has good hands.  He may be in line for a 75 catch season by default.  The running game actually has talent with last year’s first round pick, Darren McFadden, and the capable Justin Fargas.  So far McFadden has fit right in line with the Raider tradition of flash but no substance.  McFadden must have a better second year for the Raiders to justify their investment in him, and Fargas is actually expected to be the clear starter at the beginnning of the year.  The biggest addition the Raiders made is actually fullback Lorenzo Neal, who is one of the best in the business and for some reason can’t stick with a team.  The offensive line however is a disaster area waiting to happen, with a mix of washed up veterans and busts.

The Raiders defensive line can be symbolized by their expensive pairing of tackles.  Tommie Kelly signed one of the richest deals in NFL history for the position a year ago (even though he was coming off a torn ACL), and did not even come close to justifying the contract in 2008.  His counterpart, Gerard Warren, fits right in line with the Raider ideal of high draft picks who turn out to be busts.  Warren has talent, and has played well at times in Cleveland and Denver, but has largely been ineffective.  End Derrick Burgess is a good pass rusher, but he missed 8 games last year due to injury.  The linebackers are talented, led by Thomas Howard, who is very athletic and can make plays.  He will be the leader of an otherwise young group.  The secondary does feature Nnamdi Asomugha, who in my opinion is the best cornerback in all of football.  His counterpart, Chris Johnson, will be tested early and often, and must play well to avoid rendering Asomugha ineffective.

The special teams is actually an area of strength for the Raiders.  Kicker Sebastian Janikowksi and punter Shane Lechler both have very strong legs and are very accurate.  Justin Miller and Johnnie Lee Higgins, and perhaps even Heyward-Bey, do have the speed to make an impact in the return game.

In the end these will be the same old Raiders.  They do have talent at a number of positions with a lot of potential, but discipline and organization is a huge problem here as long as Al Davis is in charge.  Expect the Raiders to once again be among the league leaders in penalties and turnovers, and that will once again be their undoing.

Coming Next: the final division preview, the NFC West

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Thursday Night Football Pick

Posted by mizzou1028 on December 4, 2008

We’ve run into a busy week in the Fischer household, so we’ll have a quick pick here on tonight’s game, and the rest of the games will be selected tomorrow, we promise. 

Needless to say this is a big game in the AFC West.  The Broncos will certainly be watching closely because they will all but clinch the division if the Raiders pull the upset tonight, needing only a win Sunday against the hapless Chiefs in that case.  San Diego has got to rank as one of the biggest disappointments in the league at a seemingly unbelievable 4-8 (I still say Jacksonville is a bigger disappointment, but not by much).  The Chargers have won just one game since Oct. 12, and that was a one point win over Kansas City thanks to a Chiefs missed two point conversion at the end of the game.  Strangely enough, the Raiders actually have more wins in that span than the Chargers, having beaten the Jets on Oct. 19 and the Broncos two weeks ago. 

What is most surprising about the Chargers has been the down play of LaDainian Tomlinson, who clearly has not been the best back in football this season.  Granted, the troubles on the O-line have something to do with that, but the Chargers offense has not been near as explosive as in past years.  Likewise, their defense has struggled without Shawne Merriman.  Their loss to Atlanta last week was nowhere near as close as the score indicated.  If not for a defensive TD, the Chargers would have been blown out.  The Falcons dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and had a dominant edge in every stat category.  The Raiders are also coming off a loss to Kansas City in which the score seems close but in which the Raiders didn’t play up to their potential.  JaMarcus Russell has really struggled at the quarterback position, and the running game has also been non existent most games.  The Raiders defense however has actually played very well most games, and they do seem to step up and play to the level of their competition.

Two weeks ago against Denver, the Raiders completely shut down the Broncos passing game and were able to force turnovers.  Two weeks before that, the Raiders held Jake Delhomme to just 7 of 27 and forced him into four picks.  Call me crazy, but I think Philip Rivers is about to have a very long night.  If the Raiders can shut down San Diego’s running game, which is possible with LT not being himself, and if Rivers is forced to win the game for San Diego, he won’t be able to.  The Oakland secondary is very underrated and is actually among the best in the league, especially Nnamdi Asoumgua, who should absolutely be a Pro Bowler.  If the Raiders can force turnovers, their offense might just be able to take advantage of them and put up some points against the Chargers.

Either way, this game will definitely be ugly.  Personally I might just watch more of the Texas-UCLA college basketball showdown as ugly as this game could get.  Something just doesn’t seem right about San Diego.  The Chargers have been in desperation mode for a month and have not figured out how to win.  If it didn’t kick in by now, it probably won’t.  When these teams played in week four, Oakland had a 15-3 fourth quarter lead, and that was before the Al Davis-Lane Kiffin divorce.  I smell something fishy here.  I think the Chargers are done, and Norv Turner should be as well at the end of the season.  San Diego never should have fired Marty Schottenheimer, and their mistake is quickly coming home to roost.

The pick: Oakland pulls the upset.  Raiders 17-13

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Posted by mizzou1028 on November 24, 2008

Surely what I saw today was a bad dream.  I’m going to wake up from my nightmare any moment and realize that the Broncos-Raiders game hasn’t really kicked off yet.  I’m going to realize that the embarrassing 31-10 loss that I saw the Broncos suffer today will actually be reversed when I wake up.  Surely the Broncos really didn’t lose the turnover battle (again).  Surely they didn’t allow an 88-yard punt return touchdown to someone named Johnnie Lee Higgins right before halftime.  Surely Matt Prater didn’t actually miss two first half field goals.  Surely the Broncos’ red zone failures didn’t really come back to haunt them in the form of a lost fumble inside the Oakland five yard line on the first drive of the game.  I had to be hallucinating, was that really disgraced ex-Bronco Ashley Lelie ripping the ball away from Dre’ Bly and then later catching a touchdown pass while wearing the silver and black?  Was Eddie Royal really held to just 14 yards receiving?  Was Mike Shanahan really calling a running play on 3rd and 15 in Raider territory in the fourth quarter?  Were there really the thousands of Raider fans in the stands on Invesco Field that there appeared to be on TV?  I mean, that has to be a bad dream right?  The Broncos wouldn’t have allowed themselves to get embarrassed like that in an important division game right?

Truth is, the Broncos should be embarrassed for how they performed today.  It is unbelievable on so many levels that the Broncos still own a two game lead in the AFC West after giving that kind of performance, owing to the Chargers’ loss at home to Indianapolis (side note: how upset are Chargers fans right now after San Diego failed to take advantage of Denver’s collapse today?).  I will say that the Raiders deserve a ton of credit for their performance.  This is a franchise that in many ways became the official joke of the league after Al Davis dismissed Lane Kiffin, but Tom Cable has more less kept things from really falling apart.  The Raiders do after all have a win against the 8-3 Jets on their resume, and they also had fourth quarter leads against Buffalo, San Diego, and Miami, and they somehow held Carolina to one of the worst passing days in Panthers history.  The Raiders didn’t look like a 3-8 team today, and I’m sure Denver’s ineptitude had a lot to do with that, but the Raiders played with a lot of energy especially on defense.  I still say Nnamdi Asomugha is certainly a top three cornerback in the league, but he never gets credit because no one ever throws his direction.  I say he would be a multiple time Pro Bowler if he wasn’t a Raider.  He didn’t register a single tackle today, but his mere presence in the secondary disrupted Denver’s passing game, especially since the rest of the Oakland secondary did a good job too.  The Raiders also did a good job in the running game, especially on their final drive of the game, when they were able to kill off the last six minutes without Denver getting the ball back.  

That being said, the Broncos did not come out with the intensity you would expect of a big division game.  In retrospect, it should have been easy to see this coming earlier in the week when the players were saying things like, “We’re not concerned about the rivalry, we just want to win” or “They may be 2-8 but we can’t afford to overlook them”.  It used to be that the Broncos would be fired up for the Raiders whether they were 9-2 or 2-9, it never mattered.  Broncos Raiders used to always be the biggest game on the schedule.  Bad Broncos teams were capable of beating good Raiders teams and vice versa.  I suppose that was still true today, but the point is I got the impression watching the game today that the Broncos were treating it like any other game while the Raiders were fired up to play a big rival.  Oakland had a particular chip on its shoulder after getting waxed by the Broncos 41-14 in week one, and Denver seemed like it really had a letdown after two big road wins.  Even after the Broncos tied it at 10 in the third quarter, it still seemed like something was missing.  It even seemed as though the crowd was having a hard time getting into the game, which should never happen at a Broncos-Raiders game. 

The following sequence should in many ways sum up the Broncos ineptitude especially on offense.  It illustrates that even when the Broncos were given gifts (four Oakland penalties in this case), they got nothing out of it.  This was the last drive of the first half, after Higgins’ punt return gave Oakland a 10-3 lead:

    – 1st & 10 at DEN 26 (:59 seconds left): Oakland penalty, illegal contact – 5 yards

    – 1st & 10 at DEN 31 (:54): Jay Cutler incomplete deep to Eddie Royal – nearly intercepted

    – 2nd & 10 at DEN 31 (:48): Cutler short pass to Brandon Marshall, which he is able to turn into a 20 yard gain

    – 1st & 10 at OAK 49 (31): Cutler spikes ball, Oakland penalty – 12 men on field (declined), Oakland penalty – offsides (accepted)

     – 1st & 5 at OAK 44 (44): Cutler incomplete to Royal, completely blanketed by Asomugha, Oakland penalty – roughing the passer on Thomas Howard – 15 yards (I’ll be honest, this was not a good call, but the Broncos benefited)

     –  1st & 10 at OAK 29 (:22): Cutler runs up the middle for four yards on a designed keeper

     –  2nd & 6 at OAK 25 (:04): Cutler spikes ball, after the team stays in formation at the line of scrimmage for 10 seconds after getting set

     – 3rd & 6 at OAK 25 (:04): Matt Prater 43 yard field goal sails wide right

Now, to be fair, the Broncos were out of timeouts, and were probably thinking field goal upon starting the drive at their own 26 with a minute remaining.  They might have been thinking about even playing it safe and just not turning it over.  But, they got a gift of four Raiders penalties on the drive, including the roughing the passer that was at best questionable as it was not a late hit and Thomas did not go for Cutler’s head.  Nevertheless, the Broncos failed to turn this gift call into any points.  They were at the Raider 29 yard line with 22 seconds left.  Even with no timeouts, they had plenty of time to at the very least take a shot at the end zone or try a sideline pass or two to either get a closer field goal attempt or even try to get in position where you could more easily run a play that would allow you a shot at six points.  Instead, the Broncos called a designed run for Cutler to stay in the middle of the field, feeling confident that Prater could hit a 40-45 yarder.  After Cutler’s run, he was clearly in no hurry to spike the ball.  If the Broncos had called a sideline pass, say they even get 7-8 yards.  If such a play is run properly, it can be run in 7-8 seconds, so the Broncos had time to try two quick sideline routes.  Assuming the runner got out of bounds on both, the Broncos at the very least could have been looking at 30 yard try instead of a 40 yarder, which is a much higher success rate for any kicker.  It might have even given them time to try for the end zone.  I know Prater has been reliable most of the season, but he did miss a 47-yarder earlier in the game heading the same direction.  The Broncos wasted 30 valuable seconds where they had plenty of time for multiple plays to at the very least get closer for a higher percentage field goal attempt.

This is not to say that particular sequence decided the game by any means, I am merely using it as one example to show that the Broncos offense was not in sync most of the afternoon.  Here is a summary of the Broncos’ final three drives, starting right after the Raiders took a 17-10 lead with 5:26 remaining in the third quarter:

  – (starting at 5:26 3rd qtr) 3 plays, 0 yards, 47 seconds, punt (led to an Oakland TD)

  – (starting at 14:08 4th qtr) 3 plays, 2 yards, 34 seconds, interception (led to an Oakland TD)

  – (starting at 9:42 4th qtr) 8 plays, 42 yards, 2:55, turnover on downs

The last Broncos drive ended with 6:47 remaining in the game, which the Raiders were able to milk off the clock while running 10 plays. Overall, the Raiders held the ball for 15 of the game’s final 20 minutes.  Combine that second half time of possession dominance by Oakland with Denver’s two turnovers to Oakland’s none in the game, and you have a recipe for defeat by the Broncos.  

It is really important for the Broncos to put this one behind them immediately.  It seems strange, but even coming off this loss and sporting a 6-5 record, the Broncos still own a two game lead in the AFC West with five games to play.  Denver has a very difficult road game next week against the red hot Jets, who are coming off two huge wins including a rout of the previously unbeaten Titans today.  Denver in many ways seems to rise to the occasion when it’s assumed they have no chance, while falling flat when they’re expected to do well.  Denver has to hope that what happened today is an aberration, because they still are in the driver’s seat for the division title and a home game in the first round of the playoffs (that may not be a good thing, considering the Broncos have dropped three straight home games).  Their defense should a boost soon with the return of Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams, but the offense needs to get some consistency in a hurry.  In the meantime, I can still hold out hope that I’m about to wake up from my dream and the Broncos-Raiders game hasn’t really kicked off yet…….

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Week Five Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 3, 2008

One quick follow up on the Raiders mess before we get into the picks this week.  It is clearer than ever that Al Davis needs to go.  There has never been an owner in sports who has messed up an organization worse than he has.  Check out what former Raider Warren Sapp had to say about his time playing for the Raiders.  I’ll let that speak for itself.  We now have proof that Davis actually calls plays sometimes during games.  Al Davis needs to go.  He is bad for the game, and he is an embarrassment in every way. 

Last week: 8-5 (.615)  Season: 38-22 (.633)

– Cardinals over Bills: This pick may seem strange considering the Bills are one of just three undefeated teams coming into this week.  They have seized the opportunity Tom Brady’s injury has given them in the AFC East.  They have given two spectacular fourth quarter performances in the last two games, so they should continue to roll right?  The flip side says they have trailed the Raiders and Rams entering the fourth quarter the past two games.  Arizona is hungry, returning home after a two game east coast skid.  In spite of their defensive struggles last week, the offense is really lighting it up though putting up big numbers.  Both offenses should put up big numbers making this game a fantasy players’ dream.  The Cardinals are tough at home, and that will prove the difference as Arizona wins in a mini-upset. 

– Chargers over Dolphins: The Chargers overcame a slow start to beat the Raiders last week, and seem to be hitting their stride offensively.  Meanwhile, the Dolphins have had two weeks to congratulate themselves for killing the Patriots.  On the surface this seems like a recipe for a trap game.  The Dolphins seem like they should be dangerous at home, but it’s easy to forget how awful Miami looked against Arizona the week before their big game in New England.  San Diego is two plays away from being 4-0, and they feel like they have something to prove.  Miami will keep it close early, but a hunch says the Chargers pull away late.

– 49ers over Patriots: This is a very intriguing game.  We’re still not sure what the Patriots really have with Matt Cassel at quarterback, but they have now had a bye week to figure it out.  What we know is that Bill Belichick decided not to bring anyone else in, so he is sticking with Cassel for better or worse.  New England also has had two weeks to stew over the loss to Miami.  Meanwhile, the 49ers have been up and down the first four games, but will have a charged atmosphere at home.  The crowd will be in a particular frenzy because the Niners are retiring Steve Young’s number.  I’m definitely going against the grain on this one, but I have a feeling J.T. O’Sullivan and company will have offensive success at home, and that will be enough to bump off a Patriots team that doesn’t come close to resembling the one that threatened history last season. 

– Cowboys over Bengals: The line on this game is 17, which no doubt ranks it among the biggest lines in recent memory.  Dallas is angry after a home loss to Washington last week, and the offense should break out against Cincinnati’s more than porous defense.  Carson Palmer should be back under center for the Bengals, but will it really matter?  Then you have Chad Johnson’s latest antics.  Everything points to Dallas winning this game so easily it will be over before the first quarter is half over.  Then again, it seems like every time I say a game is going to be a mismatch it ends up being competitive.  Still, I can’t come up with any scenario where Dallas doesn’t win this game by at least two touchdowns.

– Ravens over Titans: Another surprise pick, and another undefeated team going down.  Tennessee has been terrific defensively its first four games, but Baltimore’s defense has been very stingy as well.  I will honestly be surprised if either offense is able to move the ball much in this one, so field position and turnovers will decide this game.  Baltimore has already won two home games they weren’t supposed to win (both of which I picked correctly, but that’s beside the point), so a hunch says they make it a perfect three for three at home in this one.  There is no question the Ravens at 3-1 would have to rank among the top surprises of the NFL season in the early going. 

– Colts over Texans: This is a must win game for both teams.  Indianapolis is 1-2 heading in and is already looking up at both Tennessee and Jacksonville in the division.  The Colts have not looked like themselves in the early going, but they also are coming off the bye week.  Houston gave a gutsy performance in a tough road loss to Jacksonville, and now finally gets to host its first game of the season (the first was wiped out due to Hurricane Ike).  This is a really hard game to figure.  Will the Colts be back to their form from the past several years?  Which Houston offense will show up, the one from the first two games, or the one from last week against the Jaguars?  I go with the Colts only because I would be very surprised if they continued to slump that badly after the bye week, especially with Peyton Manning under center. 

– Broncos over Buccaneers: This should be a great game with both teams coming in 3-1.  Brian Griese gets to go against Denver for the first time, and he will no doubt be motivated to give a good showing after getting run out of Mile High following the 2002 season.  Tampa Bay is coming off a big win against Green Bay, and is looking to keep pace in the NFC South.  The Broncos are also motivated after last week’s embarrassing performance at Arrowhead, and the offense will look to get back to putting 30 points on the board.  A tough chore against the Tampa D for sure, but keep in mind that Jay Cutler actually threw for a career high 361 yards last week in Kansas City, with both Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal going over 100 yards.  Home field advantage will be enough to lift the Broncos in a close game.  It’s doesn’t hurt for the Broncos that Mike Shanahan is 8-1 lifetime against Jon Gruden. 

– Panthers over Chiefs: I sense a big letdown for Kansas City after their first win in almost a year last week.  Yes, the Chiefs offense did break out last week, but something tells me John Fox has had his team focused on stopping Larry Johnson all week.  Carolina does have two offensive linemen out, which could cause some protection problems for Jake Delhomme, but the Panthers should still be able to move the ball very effectively, especially at home.  Carolina has quietly been one of the more impressive teams in the first quarter of the season, particularly with the return of Steve Smith.  This should be a relatively easy win for the Panthers.

– Giants over Seahawks: Seattle is starting to get some its receivers healthy, which is good news for Matt Hasselbeck, but going into Giants Stadium these days is still a difficult chore for any team, let alone with one that has as many flaws as the Seahawks.  The Giants are without Plaxico Burress, who is serving a one game suspension, but they still have enough weapons to move the ball effectively against Seattle’s defense.  A win here could potentially leave the Giants as the only undefeated team in the league.  Anyone else think Tom Coughlin would be privately chuckling at all the “experts” who predicted the Giants would miss the playoffs this year?  I still laugh when I think about how anyone could possibly have come to that conclusion about the defending champs, especially considering their less than difficult early season schedule. 

– Eagles over Redskins: This is the game of the week, if nothing else because there is no question the NFC East is the best division in football.  Philadelphia suffered a tough road loss at Chicago last week, and returns home to play a Washington team that stunned the Cowboys.  Washington has had an impressive turnaround after their sloppy season opening loss to the Giants.  It will be very tough for Washington to win two straight division road games, so Philadelphia gets the nod here, but it won’t be easy.  The health of Brian Westbrook is extremely important for the Eagles, for they will need him as the season wears on to stay efficient on offense. 

– Bears over Lions: Detroit fans have to be happy that Matt Millen finally got dismissed after seven years of ineptitude.  I’m not sure though that the firing of the embattled GM will really have any effect though until the offseason.  It’s not like a coaching change where players sometimes get fired up.  Chicago meanwhile is arguably two plays away from being 4-0, and their defense did enough to beat an excellent Philly team last week.  The Bears shouldn’t have much trouble winning this one at Ford Field.   

– Packers over Falcons: Aaron Rodgers’ injured shoulder could be a potential issue here for Green Bay, but it seems as though he’s going to play.  The Packers struggled last week against Tampa Bay’s tough defense, but they still had chances to win the game.  The Packers have lost two straight, but those losses have come against two of the better teams in the NFC.  Atlanta has yet to prove it can play well on the road, and the hunch is that trend will continue at Lambeau Field.  That being said, the Falcons gave a better than expected performance in the loss to Carolina last week, and they should continue to improve as the season goes along. 

– Jaguars over Steelers: The Sunday night game should be another smashmouth game where running and defense will carry the day.  Jacksonville has finally gotten its running game together, thanks in part to David Garrard’s ability to scramble when needed.  The Steelers suffered a big blow last week with the season ending injury to Rashard Mendenhall, so they will have to find other ways to move the ball against the Jaguars’ defense.  Jacksonville will get a lift playing at home, and that will be enough to lift them to victory in this playoff rematch.  Keep in mind the Jags actually beat Pittsburgh twice last year, and both wins came on the road. 

– Saints over Vikings: This should be an entertaining Monday nighter.  The Vikings schedule really eases up after this game, so if they could pull a surprise at the Superdome they could easily get back on track.  Thing is, this is also a big game for New Orleans.  The Saints offense has been among the best in the league in the early going, and that trend should continue with Deuce McAllister easing back into the offense.  The Saints know they need to win this game to keep pace in the NFC South, and the home crowd will give the Saints a life to win this game. 

BYE: Jets, Browns, Raiders, Rams

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Days of Our Lives in the NFL, plus Baseball Playoff Picks

Posted by mizzou1028 on October 1, 2008

I realize I am stating the obvious that the Oakland Raiders have been the NFL’s official soap opera for at least the last five years.  Is it possible to feel sympathy for a loathed division rival?  Is it possible the Raiders have become so bad and so embarrassing that it’s impossible to hate them anymore?  It’s certainly not possible to feel that way for Al Davis, who clearly doesn’t have the faintest clue how to run a team anymore.  As long he’s in charge, the Raiders will never again be even remotely good.  The almost comical part is how Davis deflects blame onto everyone but himself, and always has. 

Yesterday Davis dismissed Lane Kiffin, who it is very easy to feel sorry for after reading this letter Al Davis sent to him before their week two game in Kansas City.  Everyone knows Al Davis is an owner who is intimately involved in EVERY personnel decision, so it seems very hypocritical of him to pin the botched signings of Javon Walker and D’Angelo Hall on Kiffin, when everyone knows Davis pulled the trigger on the signings.  Especially in the case of Walker, it was obvious that was destined to fail.  He didn’t come to camp in shape, his personal life is a mess, and he’s coming off a second knee surgery in three years.  Yet, they guaranteed him $16 million.  How is that Kiffin’s fault?  That’s strictly on the owner.  It is equally comical that Davis is critical of Kiffin for not wanting to draft JaMarcus Russell, who has been anything but spectacular in his limited action this year and last.  (Anyone else think Davis misfired by not taking Adrian Peterson last year instead?  Yes, they got a good back in Darren McFadden this year, but that wouldn’t have been needed had they taken Peterson).  The point is, Al Davis has always made the final call on personnel decisions in Oakland, so it is very difficult to believe Davis that he has nothing to do with the organization being in the dumps. 

Why anyone would want to coach the Raiders is absolutely beyond me.  Kiffin is now the fourth coach fired by Davis since 2003.  That’s four coaches in four seasons (plus four games).  Um, anyone else think there is a pattern here that something is really wrong there besides the head coach?  The Raiders have no coaching stability since Jon Gruden left for Tampa before the 2002 season (is it coincidence his Buccaneers torched the Raiders in the Super Bowl the next year?).  Bill Callahan lasted two seasons, with the Raiders going absolutely in the tank in 2003 after the Super Bowl loss.  Norv Turner coached for two seasons before getting fired in 2005 after an awful 9-23 stretch over two seasons.  Then Art Shell lasted one year, finished a woeful 2-14, before Kiffin finished 4-12 last year and got fired after a 1-3 start this year.  The fact is Al Davis doesn’t allow his coaches to coach, despite what his letter to Kiffin may indicate.  There is a clear pattern here that his pressence is the problem in the Raiders organization. 

Now, this is not to say that game day coaching hasn’t been a factor in the Raiders’ slow start this year.  They blew a big fourth quarter lead in a loss at Buffalo, and then had a 15-0 lead against San Diego late in the first half before this sequence.  The resulting poor clock management resulted in a 76 YARD FIELD GOAL ATTEMPT.  Obviously, that’s insane that such a thing would even be attempted for several reasons, but that’s not really the point.  The point is the Raiders had a chance to extend their lead and didn’t, and ended up blowing a fourth quarter lead to the Chargers.  That being said, the pressure as head coach of the Raiders, and more specifically working for Davis, has to be stressful beyond belief.  The fact that something as crazy as a 76 yard field goal was even attempted is a reflection of the soap opera nature of the Raiders organization, and not specifically on Kiffin’s head coaching ability. 

There is some irony here, considering Davis fired Mike Shanahan as head coach four games into the 1989 season.  It is interesting to note that Shanahan lasted exactly as long as Raiders coach as Lane Kiffin: 16 games.  Davis is trying to say he fired Kiffin for cause so he doesn’t have to pay him, which is not surprising considering Davis still owes Mike Shanahan $250,000 that he has not paid to this day.  Shanahan has made Davis pay by routinely beating the Raiders during his tenure as coach of the Broncos, yet Davis has still not seemed to learn his lesson.  I am reasonably convinced that Kiffin will latch on somewhere in the league, probably not as a head coach right away, but he will get another opportunity to prove himself in the league.  It is quite clear that Kiffin being fired is not in any way a reflection of his head coaching ability.  The coach of the Raiders is essentially a yes man to Al Davis, who in spite of what he says, no doubt has his hand in the till in regards to key organization decisions, possibly right down to game plans.  As I say, why anyone would want to coach the Raiders is absolutely beyond me.  Anyone who takes that job is automatically destined to fail because Davis is running a joke of an organization.

As a side note, the Rams are not near as much of a soap opera as the Raiders, but their coaching change does not lack drama.  Scott Linehan angrily yanked Marc Bulger from the starting quarterback slot and gave it to Trent Green before the Buffalo game last week.  The Rams played hard, and actually had a lead going into the fourth quarter, but the Bills ended up pulling away.  Players said later they were upset with the Bulger benching, and it seemed like no one was on the same page.  Now, Jim Haslett has been installed as the interim head coach after Linehan was dismissed.  This despite Haslett being in charge of a defense that has surrendered 30 points every game so far this season.  Haslett has already re-instated Bulger as the starting QB, so it will be interesting to see if the drama continues in St. Louis.  Will either of these coaching changes make a difference?  Maybe, maybe not, but I am sure that Kiffin and Linehan will not be the last coaches to be fired this season. 


In spite of the fact that my Colorado Rockies reverted to their form prior to last year and flamed out well before September, I offer my picks for the baseball playoffs that begin today:

ALDS: Angels over Red Sox in five: The Angels were the best team in baseball during the regular season, and had everything clinched several weeks before the end of the season.  The Red Sox are not healthy. 

Rays over White Sox in four: Chicago has momentum, but they will have a letdown at Tropicana Field.  Tampa Bay’s surprise story continues, thanks in part to Carl Crawford’s return.

NLDS: Brewers over Phillies in five: C.C. Sabathia is the difference for Milwaukee as the Brewers bats outslug Philly in a high scoring series.

Cubs over Dodgers in four: The Dodgers benefited from the Manny Ramirez trade, but the Cubs have the pitching and the emotion of Wrigley in the first two games.

ALCS: Angels over Rays in seven: The Angels are deep, have a solid lineup, a terrific rotation, and a shut down bullpen.  Their experience is the difference against the young Rays.

NLCS: Cubs over Brewers in six: The Cubs owned the Brewers during the regular season, and that continues in the playoffs.

World Series: Cubs over Angels in seven: This would be one the best World Series matchups in a number of years.  The Cubs get it done because a 100 year drought seems long enough, and why not end it on a nice round number?

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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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The Glass is Half Full

Posted by mizzou1028 on May 2, 2008

I guess it’s not really a surprise that things came to such an abrupt end for the Nuggets and Avalanche this week.  The Nuggets at least gave something resembling effort in their final game on Monday night, and even though they didn’t win at least they seemed to have a desire to not go down quietly.  I still stand by what I said that changes need to be made in the offseason, although I am somewhat encouraged by George Karl saying he’s going to change his approach next season and be more demanding.  It will be interesting to see what direction the Nuggets take as they try to take that next step.  As much I want them to start by unloading Kenyon Martin, it is also realistic to say that no other team will want to absorb his ridiculous contract.  While the team’s quick exit is disappointing, it is better than the 11-71 days.  Hopefully with Karl’s new approach they can figure out what it takes to win a playoff series. 

On the surface it may seem like the Avalanche gave up last night as they got swept by Detroit.  To think I had (only very very briefly) contemplated shelling out $100 a seat last week to see the renewal of the Avs-Wings rivalry.  The Avs do get a pass in many respects for their quick exit against Detroit because they were after all missing half their team in game four.  Heck, just the Avs scratches on Thursday night would be a pretty darn good team.  I don’t think it’s at all a stretch to say that the series could have easily turned out differently if the Avs had a healthy Forsberg, Stastny, Smyth, Wolski and Svatos.  None of them were anywhere near the ice last night because of injuries.  It is also fair to say that Jose Theodore trying to play game one while battling the flu did nothing for his confidence the rest of the series.  That being said, the Avs were clearly not in the same league as Detroit.  The Red Wings were clearly the best team in the Western Conference all season and that has not changed in the playoffs.  It will be interesting to see what roster moves the Avs make this offseason, starting with Theodore, who does have a big contract.  It is hard to say whether or not he is the answer in goal because he did such a fabulous job in the first round against Minnesota and then did a complete 180 against Detroit.  I also hope that Joe Sakic elects not to retire and comes back for another season because he still is a terrific player and has a lot of hockey left in him.  The Avs took a step forward this season after missing the playoffs last year, and hopefully next year with a healthier roster they can take another step. 

I had promised some thoughts on the NFL Draft.  The pessimistic side of me is slightly annoyed that the rival Chiefs and Raiders seemed to clean up.  The Raiders scored a terrific running back in Darren McFadden, but it will be interesting to see if he actually helps them win more games.  The Raiders have certainly made a big splash with a number of their offseason moves, but it remains to be seen whether they have the leadership to make things work.  I still say the game has passed Al Davis by and that somehow all of their flashy new pieces will not fit together to make a puzzle.  As for the Chiefs, I am still trying to figure out how Glenn Dorsey fell into their lap at number five.  Dorsey seemed to be the unanimous choice for best player available, a defensive tackle who dominated the line of scrimmage at LSU and is expected to make an immediate impact in the NFL.  That steal highlighted what many seem to think is a great draft for the Chiefs.  As for the Broncos, most of the so called experts don’t seem to think they did as well.  While it may not have been a flashy draft, I think they did a good job drafting for need and filling holes.  Mike Shanahan seemed genuinely excited about this draft class, and while of course every coach is going to say they got the guys they wanted all along, Shanahan’s statements somehow seemed more believable this time.  For him to declare Ryan Clady the starter at left tackle from day one is unusual.  Shanahan is typically of the “let them come in and compete” mode.  That right there tells you how much Shanahan is sky high on Clady.  The pick made tremendous sense in the first round because the Broncos need to replace the retired Matt Lepsis at left tackle.  Not to mention Lepsis had a down year last year, so the Broncos want to be sure their franchise QB is protected.  Their second pick also made a lot of sense in Virginia Tech wideout Eddie Royal.  While the Broncos signed Keary Colbert and Darrell Jackson in the offseason and seem crowded at the position, Royal is a great pick because has the speed to make an impact as a kick returner.  The Broncos’ dead last ranking in starting field position had as much as anything to do with their 7-9 record last year.  Now, I’m not saying Royal is going to be Devin Hester, but if he can help the Broncos improve in that area, it will go a long way toward making them a better team.  I also love the selection of Arizona State running back Ryan Torian in the fifth round.  Torian slipped because of health issues, but if he can get healthy, he is the perfect fit the Broncos’ running scheme.  He’s a no nonsense runner and isn’t afraid to get tough yards late in a game.  With Mike Shanahan’s track record at finding running backs, there is no reason to suspect that Torian couldn’t be a huge steal in this draft.  

Truth be told though, the bottom line when trying to evaluate a draft is you can’t.  It will be minimum three years before we can go back and really evaluate how good or bad the Broncos or any other team did in this draft.  I remember hearing great things about Marcus Nash when the Broncos took him in 98, or hearing how George Foster was supposed to be the anchor at left tackle, or how Willie Middlebrooks was supposed to be the cornerback the Broncos were missing.   The draft is a small part in the overall picture of building a championship team, although it is becoming and more important to be able to find guys that will fit into your plans for many years so you don’t have to fill all those holes through free agency.  Call me crazy, but I am starting to get optimistic about the Broncos’ prospects in 2008, even if they still do need to find a kicker. 

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Adios Javon!

Posted by mizzou1028 on March 6, 2008

Good riddance, that’s what I said to myself after Javon Walker signed with the arch rival Oakland Raiders after getting released by Denver.  Has anyone ever received a higher reward for fading fast as Javon Walker?  Seriously, the guy ends up with a new five year contract worth $56 million, $16 million of which is guaranteed, after the year he’s had?  Then again this is the Raiders.  How on earth does Al Davis think he still knows what he’s doing?  First they shell out $50.5 million over five years to keep no name defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, and then they overpay for Walker, who had received interest from other teams, but wasn’t exactly getting his door knocked down? Sure there were other teams interested in Walker, but several reports indicated he hasn’t worked out at all since the end of the season, and there were questions as to whether he could pass a physical with any team because of his knee, which has now required two operations in three years.  The fact is the Broncos actually tried to trade Walker before they released him, but couldn’t find any takers. 

Mike Shanahan seemed like he had a steal two years ago when he acquired Walker for a second round draft pick from Green Bay.  Sure, Walker was coming off a knee reconstruction and had missed the entire 2005 season after injuring his knee in week one, but the Broncos were getting a playmaker.  It did actually work, well for one season anyway.  Walker showed the big play ability he was brought in for, catching 69 balls in 2006 for 1,084 yards and 8 touchdowns.  Looking beyond those numbers though, Walker pretty much carried the team by himself on offense, or does anyone forget he put up most of those numbers with the immortal Jake Plummer throwing to him?  

Things actually started okay last season too, as Walker caught 17 balls in the first two games alone, both Broncos wins, although he didn’t have any touchdowns.  Walker inexplicably was held to two catches for 10 yards in week three against Jacksonville and then did not take the field again until week 12.  During that time we kept hearing how things were week to week as far as his status, and there were reports of more trouble in the already reconstructed knee.   Walker was ready to return following the bye week against Pittsburgh, having missed two games, and looked ready to go in practice in that week.  Then the Friday before the game he’s down in Houston having a second surgery on the already reconstructed knee.  In the meantime, Brandon Marshall began to emerge as the top target for quarterback Jay Cutler.  Marshall in fact finished with a great year, finishing with 102 catches for for 1,325 yards and seven touchdowns.  Walker after he returned in week 12?  He was held without a catch in his return against Chicago, caught one ball for seven yards at Oakland, sat out against the Chiefs with further knee trouble, and caught a whopping six balls in the final three games of the season for less than 50 yards. 

Walker pretty much wrote his ticket out of Denver during his end of season press conference the day after the final game against Minnesota, saying that he wanted to be elsewhere and that he felt he should be the number one receiver.  It became clear that Cutler and Marshall developed a connection during Walker’s absence, and that if Walker wanted to come back in 2008 it would be in a so called number two role.  With the Broncos having as many needs to fill as they do, they clearly weren’t about to pay a $5 million roster bonus for a guy who didn’t want to be here, so it is clear why they let him go.  I’m certainly of the mind that if a player doesn’t want to be part of the organization, get rid of him.  Admittedly, Walker is very effective when healthy, and the Broncos will miss his big play potential.  That being said, if Marshall can continue to shine next season, and if free agent signee Keary Colbert turns out to be as good as advertised, the Broncos could actually be in decent shape.  I still find it very hard to believe that someone was willing give Walker that kind of contract when it’s unclear as to whether his knee will hold up for one season, let alone five.  The silver lining is that if this goes wrong as I suspect it will, the Raiders will be the organization to suffer.  I can’t think of a more deserving owner or franchise to get stuck overpaying for a receiver that’s not likely to hold up the length of the contract and will more than likely bring an attitude problem to the locker room.  I can’t wait to hear the reception Walker will get when the Raiders come to Denver next season.  I just hope that this doesn’t backfire on the Broncos and that Walker doesn’t regain his Pro Bowl level in Oakland.  Then again, it is the Raiders, so the odds are with them not knowing what they’re doing.  Odds are they’ll be able to add Walker to their list of free agent failures (see Brown, Larry). 

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