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NFL 2010/11 Playoffs: Wild Card Round

The NFL second season is upon us and like the rest of the sports blogging world, it’s time for me to make my useless predictions based on practically nothing at all.

New Orleans @ Seattle

The Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions, but haven’t always played that way this season.  The finished 11-5 (6-2 on the road).  They’re on the road to play the 7-9 NFC West champ Seattle Seahawks.  At first glance, this looks like a road blow-out for the Saints.  They had no problem handling the Seahawks in the Superdome in week 11 winning 34-19.  Things are much different, however.  The Saints are very thin at running back and having to play a vastly over-confident Seahawks team in their home nest will prove to be quite a challenge for Drew Brees and the Saints.  All that aside, the Seahawks finished 7-9 for a reason.  I think the raw talent of Brees along with the coaching acumen of Peyton and Williams gives the Saints a win in a close game.  SAINTS

New York Jets @ Indianapolis

This is a tough one to call.  The Jets are playing strong and Mark Sanchez settled down more as the regular season wound down, despite his late season injury.  For the Colts, all you have to say is Peyton Manning.  These aren’t the same old Colts.  Indy has fallen back to the pack and Manning has shown he is human after all.  I was thinking Jets for a while, but now I think the Colts front 7, and the home crowd, harass the still young Sanchez into making just enough mistakes for the Colts to pull this one out.  COLTS

Baltimore @ Kansas City

Baltimore was my preseason pick to make the Super Bowl this year (Minnesota was my NFC pic).  I’m not sure if they can still go all the way, but I think they can go on the road and handle the Chiefs.  The Ravens, always known for their great defense, has become much more balanced.  Kansas City has definitely shown improvement under head coach Todd Haley, but they’ve benefited from playing in a relatively weak AFC West division.  Despite hosting the game in the notoriously loud Arrowhead Stadium, the Ravens talent, experience and drive should carry them to a first round victory.  RAVENS

Green Bay @ Philadelphia

Probably the toughest game to call.  Green Bay finished the season on a very strong note.  Aaron Rodgers is playing his best football.  But so is Michael Vick.  Despite the quality of the guys under center, this game will be won or lost in the trenches.  Whichever defense can put more pressure on the opposing quarter will win the game.  Vick is very banged up and Clay Matthews is worthy of Defensive Player of the Year honors.  This will be a very close game.  The Eagles have ridden Vick for most of the season.  I think the Packers defense harasses him just enough to give Rodgers a chance to win the game.  PACKERS


The NFL Coaching Carousel 2011

I want to take a look at the comings and goings in the NFL coaching world to date.

First, the easy ones.

John Fox (Carolina Panthers). Saw it coming, as did the entire world, and probably a few worlds we haven’t discovered yet.

Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati Bengals). It would be a major shock if he kept his job.  Decision is supposed to be made on Tuesday (1/4/11).

Leslie Frazier (Minnesota Vikings). I called it, but not a hard one to make.  He deserved it and keeping him was the right move for the Vikings at the right time.

Eric Mangini (Cleveland Browns). I admit I didn’t make this call, but I did think about it. Mike Holmgren came in a year ago and decided to keep Mangini around for the 2010 season.  I thought the Brownies showed a little progress this year.  They still have a ton of holes on their roster.  Hardly Mangini’s fault.  However, he has a overall coaching record of 33-47 and a .413 winning percentage with the NY Jets and the Browns.  This fall under the category of, “You’ve had your chance, now please step to the back of the line.”

On the fence.

Jeff Fisher (Tennessee Titans). He has one year left on his contract.  That’s usually enough for an owner to eat if he wants a guy out the door.  Bud Adams is taking his time, and maybe letting Fisher dangle a bit.  My guess is that Adams has been putting feelers out to see who might be interested before he pulls the trigger.  Maybe Adams will keep Fisher just long enough so that all the other prime coaching vacancies will be filled.  Clearly, Fisher would be very high on the list of many owners looking for a fresh face on their sideline for the coming season.  It’s also clear that there has been some friction between Adams and Fisher the last couple of seasons, mainly over the handling of Vince Young.  Gee, an owner being spiteful to a coach?  That’s never happened before.

Tom Cable (Oakland Raiders). Ok.  So Tom Cable was the bottom of the barrel when he was hired to manage dysfunction central, also known as the Oakland Raiders.  Al Davis was going through coaches like a fat guy goes through napkins at an all-you-can-eat bar-b-que rib joint.  Despite Cable’s own indiscretions, he’s brought a glimmer of respectability to this once proud franchise.  The team is finally starting to move in the right direction, partially from playing in the volatile AFC West, and Al Davis wants to make a change.  Unless he has some hot-shot coaching candidate hiding under his desk, I don’t see who he can get who will be better than Cable.  No one thinks Tom Cable is going to bring a Superbowl to Oakland, but Al needs to give Cable at least one more year to clean that pig up before he looks for someone better willing to dance with it.

Eric Studesville (Denver Broncos). Don’t get too comfortable.

Jason Garrett (Dallas Cowboys). All indications are that Jason Garrett will be named the permanent head coach of the Cowboys.  Not the way I saw it going down, but it’s not a bad move either.  Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, invested a lot of  time and money in Garrett and Jason showed he has what it takes.  My problem is with Jones and his handling of the Rooney Rule.  Jerry has all but said Garrett will be the coach, but umm, he needs to interview a few black guys first before he makes it official.  What a farce!!  I’m not going to debate the merits of the Rooney Rule right now, but Jerry Jones is clearly disregarding it and his token efforts to “abide” by the rule is distasteful and weak.

Tony Sparano (Miami Dolphins). I didn’t think Sparano was on the hot seat, but his fins have clearly underachieved.  Bill Parcells hired the little known Sparano.  Parcells then proceeded to shuffle to the chairs on the deck and decided he didn’t want to be in Miami anymore.  Sparano was left with a rag-tag roster and new Dolphins owners want to clean house.

Jim Tomsula (San Francisco 49ers). Clearly a place-holder.  The 49ers are going after Jim Harbaugh, HARD!  Harbaugh has a lot of choices, including staying at Stanford.  If San Fran doesn’t land him, they’ll be scrambling and will probably settle on a coordinator, someone from the offensive side of the ball.  One thing for sure, it won’t be Tomsula.

Staying put.

Tom Coughlin (NY Giants). A good non-call by the Giants owners. Coughlin has really changed his style. He won a Super Bowl for the G-Men just a few short years ago.  Injuries and free-agent departures left too many holes in the team.  Coughlin is a good fit for this team and to a man, the players like and respect him.

Jack Del Rio (Jacksonville Jaguars). The Jags showed a little life this season.  Maurice Jones-Drew had a MVP-type season, but didn’t have enough gas in the tank to carry the team all the way to a division title and a playoff berth.  Late season injuries to MJD and QB David Garrard were just too much to overcome.  Wayne Weaver gave his long-time coach a one year reprieve and a win or else ultimatum.

Gary Kubiak (Houston Texans). This one is a head-scratcher.  The Texans is clearly a talented team on both sides of the ball.  Kubiak had been the coach for 5 seasons.  His record is 37-43 and a .463 winning percentage.  I wouldn’t have given him one more year, but then again, I don’t have a billion some dollars to piss away like Bob McNair does.  There’s something to be said for maintaining stability.  There’s also something to be said for enough is enough.


2010 Atlanta Falcons: Not Your Father’s Dirty Birds

The most overlooked team in the NFL this season has to be the currently 12-2 Atlanta Falcons.  In the NFC, everyone’s focus seems to be on former Falcon Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles.  Without a doubt, the Eagles are a good team and Vick is a strong candidate for league MVP.  The struggles of the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins are getting more press than the leaders of the NFC South division.  And that’s just the way the Falcons want it.

The 2010 Falcons are not a fluke.  Since 2003, this was was a team whose identity and fortunes rested on the shoulders of one player, Michael Vick.  He was a quarterback like no one had every seen before.  His legs helped him excel in the position more than his arm did.  However, it was his extreme error in judgment off the field that would ultimately change the entire Falcons make-up and propel them to being a current Superbowl favorite.  During the 2007, Vick was convicted of running a dog fighting ring.  Their head coach, Bobby Petrino, a college coaching demigod, abruptly quit after only one season.  Falcons owner, Arthur Blank, decided a wholesale change was needed.  He was left with no choice but to release Vick.  The entire episode may have been a public relations nightmare for the Atlanta organization which has struggled for credibility for almost it’s entire existence, but it was Blank’s next decision that would truly set the wheels in motion for their current success.

Blank looked to the league’s most successful franchise and hired the New England Patriots Head of College Scouting, Thomas Dimitroff, to be his next General Manager.  Who?  Exactly!  Dimitroff was charged with cleaning house.  He applied his skill at evaluating player talent and selected Mike Smith to be the team’s next head coach.  Smith, the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars, had not been at the top of very many team’s coaching prospects list, but Dimitroff recognized that the Jags had had a very strong defense since Smith was in charge on that side of the ball.  From his time in New England, Dimitroff also knew that ultimately, defense wins championships.  However, with the exception of the ’85 Bears and the ’00 Ravens, it takes more than defense.

Dimitroff and Smith went into their first draft knowing they needed to find someone to handle the ball under center.  The 2008 NFL was utterly devoid of any recognizable quarterback talent.  With the third pick overall, they selected Matt Ryan out of Boston College.  Who?  Exactly!  Ryan was the first QB picked and only one of two quarterbacks picked in the entire first round (Joe Flacco picked #13 by the Baltimore Ravens).  Ryan had an average career at BC, not known as a college quarterback factory, but he did throw for over 4500 yards with 31 TD’s and 19 picks in his senior year.  Dimitroff and Smith had one more move to make.  Their first crack at free agency, they took a gamble on the seldom used back-up to NFL MVP LaDainian Thomlinson, Michael Turner.  Now all they needed was a little time for the chemistry to develop.

It didn’t take very long.  The on-field triumvirate of Smith, Ryan and Turner meshed immediately and the Falcons finished the 2008 season with an 11-5 record and their first playoff appearance in four years.  The playoff party ended early when they lost a heart-breaker in the first round to the eventual NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals.  Dimitroff was named by Sporting News as the NFL Executive of the Year.  First year head coach Mike Smith won NFL Coach of the Year while Matt Ryan won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.  Michael Turner proved he was a sleeping giant while in San Diego as he rushed for one yard shy of 1700 in his first chance as a team’s starting running back.  2009 was a bit of a set-back year for the Falcons.  Ryan struggled a bit with the sophomore jinx.  Turner missed 5 games due to a sprained knee.  The entire team had to deal with the 2009 team of destiny, the New Orleans Saints.  The Georgia birds finished with a respectable 9-7 record.  The year wasn’t a total loss.  Dimitroff took another gamble.  This time, pulling the trigger on a trade that got them aging future Hall of Fame tight end Anthony Gonzales.

This year, everyone is healthy.  After an opening day road loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Falcons go 12-1 and after 15 weeks, the team sits atop the NFC Conference and is poised to secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Matt Ryan has thrown for over 3300 yards and a mind-numbing 25 TD’s with only 9 picks.  Turner has rushed for 1256 yards and is sporting impressive 4.2 yrds/att.  Gonzales has shown that he still has some gas in the tank.  You would think that with a 12-2 record, the Falcons would be in the upper echelon of league offensive and defensive team stats.  However, Atlanta sits at 12th on overall team offense and 15th in overall team defense.  This tells me two things.  They’re a balanced team.  The other thing this tell me is that they haven’t played very many good teams.  Their 12 wins have come against teams with a combined record of 67-87.  They have a huge game at home against the Saints and a home final against the lowly Panthers.  I think the Falcons will finish with a 14-2 record, tying their franchise best, and a first round bye in the playoffs.  I believe Atlanta is the favorite to go to their second Superbowl appearance with only their old friend Michael Vick and the Philadelphia Eagles standing in their way.  If Coach Smith can tighten up his defense and Ryan and Turner can continue to play at a Pro Bowl caliber level, the birds should be flying high.


Coaching Hot Seat

As the 2010 NFL season winds down, I want to take a look at which NFL coaches may be looking for a new job when the season ends.  Right now, we have 3 “interim” Head Coaches getting an early audition for a 2011 job; Eric Studesville in Denver, Jason Garrett in Dallas and Leslie Frazier in Minnesota.  It seems like 3 in-season firings is above average, but I think you can count on at least 4 more being asked to turn in their whistles and play sheets.

There will be a race to see who’s the first one out the door when the season ends.  John Fox, in Carolina, already has one foot out the door.  He’s a lame-duck coach, a rarity on it’s own, and will probably finish with a 1-15 record for this season.  It’s clear a change needs to be made, but not all the blame for the Panther’s current state of affairs should fall on Fox’s shoulders.  The quality of the roster has been on a steady decline and putting all your eggs in the Jake Delhomme basket set the team back for at least 3 years.  I’m not sure if you’ll see Fox jump into another coaching job right away.  I think he takes a year off and maybe take a studio job.  The Panthers need to clean out the litter box and start fresh.

Following Fox out the door will be Marvin Lewis, another lame-duck coach.  After finally guiding his team to a division title and a playoff birth last season, his team pulled a Minnesota Metrodome and collapsed under the weight of it’s own ego.  Frankly, I’m surprised he lasted this long.  Dysfunction has been this team’s M.O. under his tutelage.  The acquisition of Terrell Owens was supposed to push this team over the top.  Instead, we found out that a healthy Carson Palmer can’t lead his team with the weapons at his disposal and Lewis can’t coach his way out of a paper bag.  I can’t believe I’m going to write this, but the Bengal fans deserve better.  A new head coach and maybe some guy named Cam Newton will be the tonic this team needs to finally be a consistent contender.

When an owner says publicly that EVERY aspect of the organization will be examined at the end of the season, that pretty much is the kiss of death for the guy wearing the head coach’s hat (pssst!  2 owners have said the recently!).  The freak show in Tennessee known as Vince Young will cost Jeff Fisher his job at the end of the season. Yes, the longest tenured coach in the NFL will be looking for a new job, but there is no one who thinks he’ll be looking for very long.  Fisher is a well-liked and well-respected coach.  He has had a good record in Houston/Tennessee, but no Superbowls and only one appearance in the big game.  This is strictly an instance where a change will be good for everyone involved.  Fisher will have his pick of job openings and like Tony Dungy when he was let go in Tampa, Fisher will want a good opportunity for quick success.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the Denver sideline when the 2011 season begins.

Speaking of Denver, Studesville is just a place-holder.  Broncos owner, Pat Bowlen panicked when he realized he made a mistake hiring a very young and inexperienced Josh McDaniels.  Bowlen has big expectations for his team and an ego to match.  He’s Ofer 2 on recent coaching decisions (firing Shanahan and hiring McDaniels) and does NOT want to strike out with the next move.  Bowlen will be looking for a big name and (see above) there may be a one available.

Guess what?  Jason Garrett will NOT be the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys after this season.  Jerry Jones recently made the comment the he wants to take his time in deciding who his next coach will be.  Sorry Jason.  Let me see if I can read between the lines here.  Jerry plans on throwing a boat-load of money at Bill Cowher until he can convince him to come to Dallas.  Cowher was wooed by a number of teams prior to the 2010 season, including the Buffalo Bills.  Rumors were rampant that Bill was interested in coming out of retirement, but only for the right opportunity.  Everyone thought the right opportunity was going to be in Dallas (I wasn’t the only person who thought Wade Phillips wouldn’t last as Cowboys head coach) so Cowher stayed off the sidelines and in front of the camera.  My guess is that there have been little birds chirping in Jerry Jones’ ear telling him Cowher may be interested.

I think of the three current “interim” head coaches, Leslie Frazier will be the only one to stick with his team.  Frazier has been a head coaching bridesmaid for a few years now.  He finally got his chance to sit in the big chair.  He’s familiar with the organization and the players like him.  The Vikings have greatly under-achieved this year mainly due to injuries but they’re a good team with lots of talent.  Vikings owner, Zygi Wilf, does not want, or need, to rock the boat too much, especially with Favre FINALLY going permanently into retirement!

The surprise coaching move, or maybe not such a surprise, will be the firing of Gary Kubiak in Houston.  Yes, he signed an extension that takes him through the 2012 season, but he got that for the slight glimmer of hope his team showed last season, and despite the team’s early season success this year, the Texans collapse will lead to Kubiak being shown the door.  Look for a jilted Jason Garrett moving down the Texas highway and settling down in Houston.  That team is loaded with talent on both sides of the ball and Garrett’s coaching acumen will suite him well there.

Let the coaching roulette game begin!


Bills’ Draft Option

So the Buffalo Bills finished week 13 of their 2010 NFL schedule with their 3rd win of the season.  This rockets the team up to 28th place in the league and if the season ended today, they would be drafting 5th.  Ever since the Bills went Ofer the first half of the season, the locals have been salivating over the chance of maybe drafting Andrew Luck.  With every meaningless win, the dream of getting our next Jim Kelly fades just a little bit more.  But does it have to?

I think the Bills have two viable options here.  If not Luck, how about Cam Newton?  Yes, I know there is baggage there.  Ok.  A lot of baggage.  Does that preclude him from being an outstanding quarterback?  It didn’t prevent him from winning the Heisman Trophy.  To the best of my knowledge, they don’t give that out to just anyone.  Now, I’m not saying he’s better than Luck.  What I’m saying is that he may be a pretty good consolation prize.  Or, perhaps one of those teams drafting ahead of us may think he’s better than Luck.  Let’s take a look at what teams are drafting ahead of the Bills as of today.

The Carolina Panthers are drafting first.  I don’t think that changes anytime before April ’11.  First off, they’ll have a new coach in place by then (that will be the subject of another post).  They drafted Jimmy Clausen last year, but I don’t think he’s really impressed a lot people so far.  The Panthers, like many bad teams drafting high, have a lot of needs on both sides of the ball.  Do they draft the best player available (Luck), their biggest need, or trade out for more pics?  I think with the new coach, they move out for more pics.

The Cincinnati Bengals draft second.  I don’t see them moving from this position.  That team was on the bus weeks ago.  I also see them being a prime candidate of drafting a QB.  The Carson Palmer experiment is over in Cincy.  I think the Marvin Lewis era is also over.  Despite who’s making the calls on draft day, if he’s available at #2, I see them picking up Newton.  He seems to be a better fit.  They have enough offensive weapons that they don’t need a quarterback to “manage” games for them.  They need a slinger to get the ball down field with some accuracy.

Number 3 on the draft board is the Detroit Lions.  At this point, I don’t think Luck or Newton is available and the Lions already have their quarterback of the future, if he can just stay out of the training room.  The Lions need help on the offensive line and a running back.  I’m not sure who the name is, but he won’t have QB after his name.

Now for a surprise at the number 4 spot, the Denver Broncos.  I don’t even know where to begin with this trainwreck.  They certainly don’t need a quarterback.  I think you’ll see Tim Tebow give Kyle Orton a run at the starting position next season.  I think Denver is on board to take one of the prime defensive line studs.  That, and a new coach, should turn that team around real quick.

What should the Bills do?  They have MANY needs.  They need a quarterback.  Or do they?  Fitzpatrick has been playing pretty well since he took over for Trent Edwards.  However, like many Bills followers, I don’t think he’s our future.  The Bills need a star at the QB position and I’m convinced there are 2 available this year.  If the Bills stay put at #5, I’m certain they will not get Luck or Newton.  I don’t think the Bills should mess around this year.  They should be aggressive and creative and trade first round picks with Carolina and select Luck, and if Luck decides to stay at Stanford for another year, grab Newton.  Oh, I’m not done yet!  I believe it’s very possible, by trading and swapping 2011 and 2012 lower round picks, to get 2 first round picks this year.  Crazy you say?  Let’s see, the Bills cobbled double first round picks in 2009 and still managed to get 8 guys that year.  They did it again in 2006 and got 9 players total that draft!  In 2004, the got themselves 2 first round picks, Evans and Lossman.

This is not an impossible task.  All you need is a GM with the balls and brains to get it done!

May 2018
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