Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Are You Ready For Some Football...Predictions?

It's football season which means I do weird things like spend the entire night breaking down the 2013 NFL schedule in order to predict the outcome of every game played. So, here you go. No need to watch the actual season.  Just read below to find out exactly how each team will perform. Now your Sundays are free to cruise outlet malls and do yard work.  I think I just sarcastically figured out why the NFL is so popular in our country.  It is the excuse for not doing yard work or cruising outlet malls.  Football is back. Here are my guesses.

NFC East

1. Washington Redskins (10-6) Division Champions
2. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)
3. New York Giants (9-7)
4. Philadelphia Eagles (3-13)

Most intriguing game: Redskins at Giants week 17.  Down to the wire as the division tends to be.

Sure bet: Growing pains for the Eagles, especially with Jeremy Maclin injured.

Biggest question mark: Can Robert Griffin III stay healthy?

Hot seat: Jason Garrett. The division is up for grabs with three teams capable of taking it.  Cowboys have been odd man out too many times lately.  No matter what you think, it really isn't Tony Romo's fault and Jerry Jones won't fire himself.

Team Notes

Washington Redskins: Without a healthy RGIII, it's third place for the Redskins.

Dallas Cowboys: An easy early schedule will put them in the drivers seat, but can they finish?  History says no.

New York Giants: Could win the Super Bowl, could miss the playoffs.  Such is life for a two time Super Bowl winner.

Philadelphia Eagles: They should be fun to watch even though they will assuredly stink. Will they look like an NFL version of the Oregon Ducks?  Who's the QB?

NFC West

1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4) Division Champions
2. San Francisco 49ers (12-4)* Wild Card
3. St. Louis Rams (7-9)
4. Arizona Cardianls (4-12)

Most intriguing game: Seahawks at 49ers week 14.  I think they'll need three tiebreakers to determine the division.

Sure bet: 49ers and Seahawks will both make the playoffs.

Biggest question mark: What will Carson Palmer's impact be on the Cardinals?  I mean, what will Carson Palmer's impact be on Larry Fitzgerald in terms of his fantasy production?

Hot seat: Sam Bradford

Team Notes

Seattle Seahawks: How bad is Percy Harvin's injury? Could be a game changer.  Can Russell Wilson improve on his rookie season?

San Francisco 49ers: Colin Kaepernick has to stay healthy.  With Michael Crabtree out, Anquan Boldin will play a huge role. Rumors of Vernon Davis playing receiver after his production dropped with Kaepernick running the offense.  That would be fun to see.

St. Louis Rams: Coaching and defense will once again keep the Rams competitive.  The offense is too young to be a true threat.

Arizona Cardinals: Lots of talent but no identity.  Could be Palmer's last try.

NFC North

1. Detroit Lions (11-5) Division Champions
2. Green Bay Packers (10-6) Wild Card
3. Chicago Bears (9-7)
4. Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

Most intriguing game: Vikings at Packers week 12.  Greg Jennings returns after bad mouthing Aaron Rodgers in a game that will have playoff implications.

Sure bet: The division will be a four horse race until late in the season.

Biggest question mark: Can the Lions finally put together a complete season?  It seems like their time.

Hot seat: Jim Schwartz. Like I said, it seems like their time.  He's driving the the ship.

Team Notes

Detroit Lions: Too much talent to miss the playoffs again, injuries withstanding.

Green Bay Packers: A pair of rookies hope to revive a dormant running game.  How good will Aaron Rodgers be? Do we still expect an MVP?

Chicago Bears: Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Minnesota Vikings: As long as Christian Ponder is the quarterback the Vikings will not be a threat.

NFC South

1. Atlanta Falcons (12-4) Division Champions
2. New Orleans Saints (9-7)
3. Carolina Panthers (9-7)
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)

Most intriguing game: Week 1 Falcons at Saints. Great way to kick off the season.

Sure bet: Atlanta runs away with a very competitive division.  I just realized how one sided I think the cross conference matchups will be.

Biggest question mark: Will the reemergence of Sean Payton bring the Saints back to prominence?  Before Bountygate the Saints were thought of as Super Bowl contenders.

Hot seat: Ron Rivera.  It was a strange hire from the start.  I guess if Cam likes him...

Team Notes

Atlanta Falcons: Super Bowl or bust. What will Steven Jackson bring to the table?

New Orleans Saints: Can an offensive head coach reinvigorate a terrible defense?

Carolina Panthers: Make or break season for the entire coaching staff.  No room for regression.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They've got some flashy names but lack credibility in a division this tough.

AFC East

1. New England Patriots (10-6) Division Champions
2. Miami Dolphins (6-10)
3. Buffalo Bills (6-10)
4. New York Jets (2-12)

Most intriguing game: None

Sure bet: Worst division in the NFL

Biggest question mark: Who will Mark Sanchez play for next year?

Hot seat: Rex Ryan. Go ahead and pack your bags.  Remember, any team would be lucky to have you as their defensive coordinator.  Leave that head coaching stuff alone for a couple of seasons.

Team Notes

New England Patriots: Should've been the year they finally miss the playoffs, but they will win their crappy division instead.

Miami Dolphins: Work in progress.  Sort of like the Buccaneers last season.

Buffalo Bills: They won't be pushovers, but they won't be very good either.  You know, just like the last thirteen seasons.

New York Jets: "...should die of gonorrhea and rot in hell." "What do you know? They're little footballs." Ace Ventura is the only person who can properly express my feelings for the Jets.

AFC West

1. Denver Broncos (12-4) Division Champions
2. San Diego Chargers (8-8)
3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)
4. Oakland Raiders (4-12)

Most intriguing game: Broncos at Cowboys week 5.  There's not a division game worthy of the "intriguing" label.

Sure bet: Raiders, once again, make the rest of the division feel good about themselves.

Biggest question mark: Can Andy Reid and Alex Smith transform a talented roster in their first year together?

Hot seat: It should be Phillip Rivers, but there's no such thing as a hot seat in San Diego.  Just a comfortable 72 degree seat that sometimes isn't fully in the shade.

Team Notes

Denver Broncos: A runaway AFC favorite, but injuries to the offensive line might make life harder than expected in Denver.

San Diego Chargers: This team has been stuck in neutral since losing to the Jets in the 2009 playoffs.  One of the least fun teams to root for in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs: New coach, new quarterback and a plethora of first round draft picks.  The Chiefs are on the rise, but it's a rise from the doldrums, that's a long climb.

Oakland Raiders: Goodbye, Carson Palmer. Hello, Matt Flynn.  Do you know what you signed up for?

AFC North

1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) Division Champions
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8) Wild Card
3. Baltimore Ravens (7-9)
4. Cleveland Browns (7-9)

Most intriguing game: Week 7 Ravens at Steelers.  Will it have the same feel in a weakened year for both franchises?

Sure bet: We're going to be forced to watch way more of this division than we'll want to.

Biggest question mark: Will the Ravens even make the playoffs after winning the Super Bowl?

Hot seat: Brandon Weeden. The Browns didn't learn much from Chris Weinke.

Team Notes

Cincinnati Bengals: It's a great year to be the Bengals, the only divisional foe that didn't regress is the Browns.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Big Ben will earn his money if he can keep the Steelers competitive.

Baltimore Ravens: One Super Bowl was enough to ruin the next seven seasons.  Flacco forever and no money to pay anyone else. Yay!

Cleveland Brown: Honestly, they're a quarterback away from winning the division.

AFC South

1. Houston Texans (10-6) Division Champions
2. Indianapolis Colts (9-7) Wild Card
3. Tennessee Titans (7-9)
4. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-15)

Most intriguing game: Colts at Texans week 9.

Sure bet: I will get annoyed when the Texans are on every week in Austin.  That means I get to see Jacksonville and Tennessee twice a year.  Awesome.

Biggest question mark: Will the Jaguars win a game?  It's the NFL, so I'm sure they'll win one game.  I got them beating the Titans in week 16.

Hot seat: Jaguars franchise.  Someone's going to Los Angeles. Thank God for the Chargers that the Jaguars exist.

Team Notes

Texans: Out of division schedule is as difficult as divisional schedule is easy.

Colts: I'm not convinced last year wasn't a fluke.  Double digit wins is very unlikely with 49ers, Broncos and Seahawks on the schedule. They still might make the playoffs since the AFC is terrible.

Tennessee Titans: Seven wins might be a generous prediction.  Jake Locker has a few more developmental years coming.

Jacksonville Jaguars: How is Chad Henne backing up Blaine Gabbert?  It's tough to find a Jaguars topic.

NFC Champions: Atlanta Falcons
AFC Champions: Denver Broncos

Super Bowl Champions: Atlanta Falcons

Saturday, July 27, 2013

How Much Pressure is on Sam Bradford?

Football season is here.  It cannot be ignored any longer.  August is on the doorstep making the Oklahoma Sooners first game a month a way.  One month away.  For me, it is a time of awakening.  The person I refer to as Football Blake has been hibernating since January.  Like man becoming wolf, I too will transform in the coming months.  I know this change will occur.  I look forward to it.  But, like Wolfman, losing control is both exalting and terrifying.

Who will I become 6 p.m., August 31st?  Will the superstitions eat me alive or will the Sooners play well enough to keep me mentally stable?  Will my neighbors think I'm a profane, raving lunatic, or will I keep it together?  Will my car survive the road trips this season?  Will I resist temptation to cook tailgate food on a weekly basis (not off to a good start as the kick off menu ideas list has 15 entries already).  Will I bounce back from a tragic season of fantasy football?  Will the Chargers force me to root against them?  Will my weeks be ruined by poor football?

Will Sam Bradford be on the hot seat this season?  That is what I wish to focus on today.

The answers to the previous questions are as follows in order: Football Blake, Yes/No, Yes/No, Maybe, No, Yes, Yes, Yes. 

Bradford is my favorite football player.  At least I want him to be.  He is similar to Blake Griffin in my rooting hierarchy because there is a ceiling on how excited I can get.  I have chronicled my issues with Griffin in previous posts, but Bradford presents me with similar challenges.

For starters, no matter how good Bradford is, the St. Louis Rams will not be great offensively.  He has the youngest group of receivers in the NFL, his offensive line has a lot to prove and Steven Jackson is gone.  Jackson was the team leader.  He was the veteran the locker room looked to for leadership the same way Baltimore Ravens players looked  to Ray Lewis.  He also was an effective runner that kept defenses honest.  Even the most hardcore NFL fans probably couldn't name a single running back on the Rams roster today.

Bradford is entering his 4th season as a starting quarterback.  This will be the first season he won't have to learn a new offense.  In 2010 Bradford won offensive rookie of the year and was within a game of the playoffs one year after the Rams finished 1-15.  That progress earned offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur the Cleveland Browns head coaching job.  Bradford spent most of the 2011 season injured and the Rams went 2-14 with the worst offense in the NFL.  That decline earned the entire coaching staff a pink slip as the Rams brought in Jeff Fisher. Under the third new offense in three years Bradford and the Rams improved to a still mediocre 7-8-1.  A great improvement, indeed, but Bradford lacked dazzle.

That brings us to 2013.  The Rams still don't have a single proven receiving commodity.  There are high hopes for first round draft pick Tavon Austin and tight end acquisition Jared Cook, but not a single proven threat on the roster.  So just to refresh, no receivers and no running backs.  Throw in an offensive line with a proclivity for giving up sacks and you've got a challenging year ahead offensively.

The NFC West has become top heavy with San Francisco and Seattle boasting loaded rosters and exciting young quarterbacks.  They are stacked on defense and surrounded their quarterbacks with proven veterans at all the skill positions.  It is extremely unlikely that three teams  from the same division could make the playoffs.

Bradford still has three years and lots of money left on his contract so he won't have job security issues this season, but fans and management alike are looking for Bradford to breakout.  Nine wins would be a triumph of a season for the Rams.  The best they can hope for is 3-3 within the division.  The roster is still a year or two away from truly competing.

While I fully expect the Rams to be mediocre again, I don't expect it will be Bradford's fault.  He simply doesn't have the weapons.  I know what you're thinking, "it's a shoddy carpenter that blames his tools..."  I understand.  I also believe that will be the reaction of management and Rams fans. That is why I am concerned for Bradford's future.  The Rams were a horrible franchise before he was drafted and instantly breathed life into the team.  That early success led to unrealistic expectations as did the instant success of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick, and Russell Wilson. Patience is a nearly non-existent virtue among NFL faithful, but that's exactly what St. Louis needs.  A playoff appearance is not in the cards this year.

What fans need from Bradford is a sign of improvement.  Moving beyond a game manager and making plays that end up on Sportscenter.  He should get plenty of chances to put the ball in the air with the uncertainty of his run game.  Who really knows?  I am not convinced that Fisher hired the right offensive coordinator.  Aside from his last name, I can't understand what credentials Brian Schottenheimer has.  His last job was developing Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets offense.  How'd that work out?  He's been widely criticized for not taking the reigns off Sanchez and hopefully he will not repeat that mistake with Bradford.

When Bradford was drafted, I thought his ceiling was Tom Brady and his floor was David Carr.  He is closer to Carr than Brady currently.  With coaching and surrounding roster playing such a huge factor in the life of a quarterback, Bradford has another uphill climb this season.

If the Rams are smart they'll stay patient.  If they do get tired of him, I know a certain running back in Minnesota who would welcome him with open arms.  In fact, that's actually what I hope happens.  Screw playing well this season.  Let's hope the Rams and Vikings underachieve until they reunite Bradford and Adrian Peterson.  Now that would be fun.


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