Category Archives: NFL

2017 NFL Player Rankings: Top 10 Running Backs

For a very long time, having the best running back meant having the best offensive weapon in the league. Now, the position has changed. The importance of a running game began to diminish. Nevertheless, there are backs in the NFL that simply change the game. Whether you believe in the value of having a playmaker in the backfield or not, the guys on this list could mean the difference between a win or loss on any given Sunday. Here are the top 10 running backs in the NFL heading into the 2017 season.

Honorable Mention

Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints

2016 Stats: 205 car, 1,043 rush yds, 6 TD, 46 rec, 341 rec yds, 4 TD

This may be a surprise for some of you, especially when you realize that Adrian Peterson didn’t make the list. The truth is Mark Ingram has been pretty consistent when he is healthy. In an offense that focuses almost all of its attention on the passing game, Ingram is coming off his first career 1,000-yard season. In fact, Ingram finished fifth in the NFL in yards per attempt, racking up 5.09 yards per carry.

Of course, this season, he will have one of the greatest running backs in NFL history joining him in the New Orleans backfield, which could mean one of two things. One, after getting rid of Brandin Cooks and adding AP, the Saints could be shifting more attention to the run game. As a result, more opportunity to shine would be eminent. Or two, Ingram is going to suffer from the addition of Peterson, ultimately surrendering the starting position. Only time will tell.

Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

2016 Stats: 278 car, 885 rush yds, 6 TD, 43 rec, 327 rec yds

Last season was not a good one for anyone in a Rams uniform, especially Todd Gurley. After exploding onto the scene in 2015, Gurley’s sophomore season was a bust. He did have to deal with his fair share of distractions between moving to L.A., Hard Knocks, and All Or Nothing. On top of that, there was plenty of drama surrounding rookie quarterback and number one overall pick Jared Goff, not to mention the firing of head coach Jeff Fisher.

Innovative, offensive coach Sean McVay is in charge now, and I suspect Gurley will be put into a position to shine in this offense. I’m calling it now, Todd Gurley will be off the honorable mention and back onto this list next season.

10. Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins

2016 Stats: 260 car, 1,272 rush yds, 8 TD, 27 rec, 151 rec yds

Jay Ajayi burst onto the scene in 2016 with a flurry of 200-yard games in the middle of the season. He helped rookie head coach Adam Gase and the Miami Dolphins secure a playoff spot for the first time since 2008. Ajayi finished fourth in the NFL in rushing yards in 2016.

This season was looking promising for Miami before Ryan Tannehill went down in training camp. The Dolphins quarterback is now forced to have season-ending knee surgery. Miami’s solution? Smokin’ Jay Cutler. I do have to say that Cutler looked pretty impressive in his lone season under Gase. Nevertheless, Cutler will need to ease his way into the starting role, so Ajayi will most likely be the focal point this season.

9. Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders

2014 Stats (Last full season w/ SEA): 280 car, 1,306 rush yds, 13 TD, 37 rec, 367 rec yds, 4 TD

Breaking news, the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas. Somebody tell Marshawn Lynch that because the Oakland native is back in the game and ready to light the Bay on fire. After a year off of football, Lynch decided to come back for another shot at a ring.

Lynch completes an already stacked offense led by star quarterback Derek Carr. Lynch joins a dominant receiving core that includes Pro Bowlers Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. Most people have high expectations for Marshawn, but realistically, it will be an uphill climb for a guy whose been out of the game an entire season. Regardless, Oakland is stacked and poised for a Super Bowl run in 2017.

8. Devonta Freeman, Atlanta Falcons

2016 Stats: 227 car, 1,079 rush yds, 11 TD, 54 rec, 462 rec yds, 2 TD

The NFL’s highest paid running back is coming off an impressive 2016 season that he almost capped off with a Super Bowl win. After making back-to-back Pro Bowls, it’s about time people stop acting surprised about Freeman’s skills on the field.

The only thing holding Freeman back from putting up the kind of stats that the top guys on this list put up is the fact that he is a part of the most lethal backfield in football. It’s a blessing and a curse, but it is most certainly one of the reasons Atlanta made a Super Bowl run last season. As long as Tevin Coleman continues to take touchdowns away from Freeman, he will remain low on this list.

7. Jordan Howard, Chicago Bears

2016 Stats: 252 car, 1,313 rush yds, 6 TD, 29 rec, 298 rec yds, 1 TD

The one shining spot in an otherwise disappointing season for the Bears was their rookie running back Jordan Howard. He finished second in the NFL in rushing, despite not starting until week 4 of the season. A change at quarterback and an extreme weakness at wide receiver means that Howard is going to be the bell cow this season.

Chicago could be in for another long season, but with Pro Bowlers Kyle Long and Josh Sitton on the offensive line, I expect Howard to put some more ridiculous numbers in 2017. Although after looking at their schedule, I see a possible 2-14 season on the horizon.

6. Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

2016 Stats: 254 car, 997 rush yds, 10 TD, 41 rec, 419 rec yds, 2 TD

Melvin Gordon continues to battle injuries early in his career, but when he is heathy, he looks like an All-Pro caliber back. His season was cut short in 2016, preventing him from reaching 1,000 yards for the first time in his career, coming up just three yards short.

The Chargers are moving to Los Angeles this season, and Danny Woodhead is no longer in town, so Gordon will be the feature back for all of 2017. With former college teammate and fullback Derek Watt leading the way, I expect Gordon to return to form this year.

5. DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

2016 Stats: 293 car, 1,287 rush yds, 9 TD, 53 rec, 377 rec yds, 3 TD

Murray has steadily become one of the best backs in the NFL on a yearly basis. After a historic season in Dallas, he had a rough follow up in Philadelphia under Chip Kelly. He has since rebounded in Tennessee with phenom quarterback Marcus Mariota.

The Titans are hoping to challenge for the AFC South this year, and Murray will have to continue putting up monster numbers in order for that to happen. One thing is for sure, he is an animal. Mark him down for 300+ touches again in 2017.

4. LeSean McCoy, Buffalo Bills

2016 Stats: 234 car, 1,267 rush yds, 13 TD, 50 rec, 356 rec yds, 1 TD

“Shady” McCoy has been a top-5 running back since his second year in the league in 2010. After an injury-ridden 2015, McCoy was back to form in 2016, notching his fifth Pro Bowl appearance. With fellow speedster Tyrod Taylor in the Bills backfield, there should be more fireworks to come in Buffalo.

Although surprisingly, Buffalo traded Sammy Watkins to the Rams, and then in a separate trade, received Shady’s former teammate Jordan Matthews. McCoy’s shiftiness and versatility makes him one of most elite weapons in football year-in and year-out.

3. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys

2016 Stats: 322 car, 1,631 rush yds, 15 TD, 32 rec, 363 rec yds, 1 TD

First, I’d like to start out by saying I do not condone or support this young man’s actions whatsoever. Nevertheless, he is an elite footballer and his absence will certainly hurt the Dallas Cowboys. In those first six games that Zeke will miss, the Cowboys play the Giants, Broncos, Cardinals, and Packers.

If the Cowboys can weather the storm, then I fully expect Elliott to bring the thunder when he returns to the field in week 8. He led the NFL in rushing yards as a rookie in 2016, and he finished third in rushing touchdowns for the 13-3 Cowboys.

2. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers

2016 Stats: 261 car, 1,268 rush yds, 7 TD, 75 rec, 616 rec yds, 2 TD

Bell wants to be paid as an elite running back AND a number two wide receiver. To be honest, he deserves it. Bell has over 4,000 rushing yards and over 2,000 receiving yards in four seasons in the NFL, despite missing extended time due to injuries and suspensions. He has caught 75+ passes in two of those four seasons and finished with more than 1,200 yards from scrimmage in three of four seasons.

The Killer B’s are set for another big season, assuming Bell signs the franchise tag and suits up for the Steelers in 2017. If he finishes in the top-3 on the team in receptions again, Pittsburgh is going to have a hard time not breaking out the check books next offseason.

1.  David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

2016 Stats: 293 car, 1,239 rush yds, 16 TD, 80 rec, 879 rec yds, 4 TD

The most elite weapon in the NFL is David Johnson, third year back out of Northern Iowa. He can run it, he can catch it, and best of all, he can score it. Over 2,000 yards from scrimmage, just shy of 400 touches, and 20 total touchdowns is an absolutely ridiculous statline. Johnson finished with 100+ yards from scrimmage in every single regular season game besides week 1, on his way to his first Pro Bowl and First Team All-Pro selection in 2016.

An aging Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald means that Johnson is going to be leaned on even more heavily in 2017. Not to mention, there isn’t much in the receiving core behind Fitz. Head coach Bruce Arians has already said that he plans on giving DJ 30+ touches a game this season. I expect him to finish with the best numbers among running backs. Dude is a beast.

2017 NFL Player Rankings: Top 10 Quarterbacks

The most important position in all of team sports in the quarterback. They touch the ball every single play and dictate what the team is going to do at every point throughout the game. If your team is going have success in today’s NFL, you must have an above average quarterback leading the way. Here are the top 10 quarterbacks heading into the 2017 NFL season.

Honorable Mention

Eli Manning, New York Giants

2016 Stats: 63.0%, 4,027 yds, 26 TD, 16 INT, 55.4 QBR, 86.0 RAT

Manning threw for 4,000 yards for the third consecutive season and led the Giants to an 11-5 record in 2016. With Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall leading the New York receiving core, I think it’s safe to say 2017 will be another impressive season for Eli… if he can avoid turning the ball over.

Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers

2016 Stats: 60.4%, 4,386 yds, 33 TD, 21 INT, 63.3 QBR, 87.9 RAT

Rivers finished 2016 with his fourth consecutive 4,000-yard season and eighth of his career, but the Chargers have only won nine games in the last two seasons. Injuries to key rookies Mike Williams and Forrest Lamp have already put a damper on their inaugural season in Los Angeles, but if Melvin Gordon and Kenaan Allen can stay healthy, Rivers and the Bolts could make a splash in the AFC West this season.

10. Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions

2016 Stats: 65.3%, 4,327 yds, 24 TD, 10 INT, 71.6 QBR, 93.3 RAT

Six consecutive 4,000-yard seasons and three trips to the playoffs in that span give Matthew Stafford just enough to sneak into the top-10 heading into 2017. He didn’t have the same overall numbers in 2016 as the top-tier guys on this list, but many still considered him an MVP candidate due to his NFL-record eight fourth quarter comebacks. In a division that’s been dominated by Green Bay for years and without a sustainable running game, it will be an uphill battle for Stafford as he tries to notch his first career postseason victory.

9. Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts

2016 Stats: 63.5%, 4,240 yds, 31 TD, 13 INT, 71.2 QBR, 96.4 RAT

Luck finished with an impressive 31 touchdown passes to 13 interceptions in 2016, but Indianapolis failed to dethrone the Houston Texans for the second straight season. Luck is 43-27 as a starter and hopes to reclaim the top spot in the improving AFC South in 2017. What was at most a two-team race for decades has become an open battle, as the Titans and Jaguars have significantly improved their rosters over the last few drafts.

8. Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

2016 Stats: 64.7%, 4,219 yds, 21 TD, 11 INT, 62.9 QBR, 92.6 RAT

Battling injuries and a depleted offensive line for most of the season, Russell Wilson was still able to lead the Seahawks to a fifth straight season of 10 or more wins. Due to an inability to run in 2016, Wilson finished with a career-high 4,219 passing yards. Seattle still has one of the best defenses in the league, and their quarterback is ready to utilize his many weapons including Doug Baldwin, Jimmy Graham, and newly-acquired running back Eddie Lacy.

7. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers

2016 Stats: 52.9%, 3,509 yds, 19 TD, 14 INT, 54.0 QBR, 75.8 RAT

Cam Newton had a pretty awful year in 2016, after a phenomenal MVP season and trip to the Super Bowl in 2015. Nevertheless, the guy is still a freak athlete with all the tools to be the best quarterback in the league at any moment. The only problem is he keeps getting banged up and lacks the consistency of the top guys on this list. A healthy Kelvin Benjamin, catch-machine Greg Olsen, and first round draft pick Christian McCaffrey have Newton and the Panthers poised for a huge rebound year in Carolina.

6. Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders

2016 Stats: 63.8%, 3,937 yds, 28 TD, 6 INT, 60.6 QBR, 96.7 RAT

Derek Carr’s MVP campaign came to a halt in 2016 when he suffered a broken fibula in a week 16 victory against the Colts. The Raiders have been an irrelevant franchise for years, but the recent selections of Carr, Khalil Mack, and Amari Cooper have boosted them to championship contention. Of course, there are a lot of off-the-field distractions that could hinder the progression of this young team with the announcement that the team would be moving to Las Vegas, but the signing of Marshawn Lynch has sparked excitement for the potential of a Super Bowl trip while the team still calls Oakland home.

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers

2016 Stats: 64.4%, 3,819 yds, 29 TD, 13 INT, 67.4 QBR, 95.4 RAT

With all the talk about Big Ben possibly retiring after the 2017 season, the Steelers are quietly putting together their best roster in recent memory. Of course, the Killer B’s grab most of the attention, but the young defense led by Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree gives Pittsburgh a lot to be excited about. The truth is as long as Roethlisberger is suiting up for the Steel Curtain, they will be a threat in the AFC. I expect a monster season out of the two-time Super Bowl Champion.

4. Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

2016 Stats: 69.9%, 4.944 yds, 38 TD, 7 INT, 83.1 QBR, 117.1 RAT

Last season was full of the ultimate rise and fall for Atlanta star quarterback Matt Ryan. The 2016 season began with Ryan leading the Falcons to the number one overall offense in the NFL, and it ended with him being named Most Valuable Player following his 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The magic continued as the Falcons stormed their way through the NFC and took a commanding 28-3 lead over the Patriots in Super Bowl 51. Well, you all know how that game ended, and now, Matt Ryan and the Falcons are trying to pick up the pieces before they have to face one of the most competitive divisions in football. A return to the Super Bowl is a long way away when you are playing in the ultimate worst-to-first division, and every team has the ability to make a run.

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

2016 Stats: 70.0%, 5,208 yds, 37 TD, 15 INT, 70.5 QBR, 101.7 RAT

There is not enough to be said about what Drew Brees has been able to accomplish in the NFL. Last season was his third consecutive season leading the NFL is passing yards and the seventh time in his career, and he did it while completing 70 percent of his passes. The only problem is the Saints have finished with a losing season three years in a row and four of the last five. I don’t blame that on Brees though, because it’s hard to score 40 points per game, and that’s pretty much what he has to do with that defense in New Orleans. Sure, he gets paid A LOT, but he is also going to do down as one of the greatest passers of all time. He will be a first ballot Hall of Famer, and as he nears 40, he still remains among the best in the game. With the addition of Adrian Peterson in the backfield, the offense should be more balanced and the team could make a splash in the extremely tough AFC South that accounts for three players on this list.

2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots

2016 Stats: 67.4 %, 3,554 yds, 28 TD, 2 INT, 82.8 QBR, 112.2 RAT

At this point, it’s hard to dispute Tom Brady as the GOAT, and his comeback win in Super Bowl 51 will go down as the greatest comeback in sports history, but he is not the best quarterback in the game today. He finished 2016 with 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions despite missing the first four games due to suspension. He led the Patriots to a Super Bowl without their best pass-catcher (Gronkowski), and he seems to find success with anyone who steps on the field (i.e. James White, Chris Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell). Now he has Brandin Cooks and a healthy Gronkowski to add to his weaponry, so I expect to see New England back in the AFC Championship game next year.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers

2016 Stats: 65.7%, 4,428 yds, 40 TD, 7 INT, 78.2 QBR, 104.2 RAT

Aaron Rodgers could be the best quarterback in the NFL and the most underrated quarterback in the NFL at the same time. What this guy is doing on an annual basis is absolutely unreal. If the Falcons didn’t burn out the light bulbs on all the scoreboards in the NFL last season, Rodgers would have won his third MVP award. Forget the fact that he threw 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, but he led the Packers to six straight wins to sneak into the playoffs, then proceeded to beat the hottest team in the NFL in the New York Giants and the top team in the NFL in the Dallas Cowboys to set up an NFC Championship matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.

Right now, Rodgers ranks 11th all-time is passing touchdowns with 297. At the same time, he has only thrown 72 interceptions in his career. To put that into perspective, every quarterback that has thrown 300 touchdowns has reached that mark with at least 100 interceptions to their resume. I think it’s safe to say that Rodgers will not throw 28 interceptions before he tosses three touchdowns in 2017. If he has a monster season, he could pass up five more people (Elway, Roethlisberger, Rivers, E. Manning, Tarkenton) on the career touchdowns list, all of which have more than double the amount of interceptions. Oh, and let’s not forget that he didn’t play in his first three seasons, sitting behind Brett Favre.

Rodgers has a 99-52 overall record with the Packers, making the playoffs in all but his first season as starter in Green Bay. Yet another year without a solid running game awaits him in 2017, but I suspect the Packers will be in the conversation about Super Bowl contenders again this winter.

Paul Schaum

Dan Rooney: The True Meaning of a Champion

Art Rooney founded the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1933, and the “Steel City” began its quest to become a football town. Little did we know at that time, the Rooneys would not only transform the city of Pittsburgh, but they would change the way that football organizations were run forever.

Dan Rooney, Art’s son, began working for the Steelers in 1955 after graduating from Duquesne University. Dan’s professionalism, intelligence and ability to lead allowed his father to pass off control to him in the 1960’s. As President of the Steelers, Dan quickly turned the franchise into a perennial playoff contender.

In 1974, he helped assemble one of the best draft classes in NFL history including Hall-of-Famers Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann and Mike Webster. The very next year, Pittsburgh won its first of four Super Bowls in six years (1975, 1976, 1979, 1980). Quarterback Terry Bradshaw and the “Steel Curtain” defense are still widely regarded as one of the best teams in NFL history.

Rooney, who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 2000, had an impact that stretched far beyond the 110 yards from end zone to end zone. He was a man who cared more about his community than the trophies in his trophy case, and that made him stand out among professional owners in his era. ESPN analyst and former Steelers running back, Merril Hoge talked about his former boss on Mike and Jamele’s The Six this afternoon. He mentioned that in 1989, when the city of Pittsburgh fell under some hardship and many of the steel mills began to close, Dan Rooney asked Hoge and another player to represent the team in an organization that he helped form. The organization is now known as the Highmark Caring Foundation, and it helps provide health insurance to the less fortunate youth of Pittsburgh. That was just one of the many philanthropic ventures that Rooney was a part of in an effort to better the Pittsburgh community off the field.

Arguably, the most important initiative that Rooney helped push forward is the Rooney Rule, an effort to bring equal opportunity to the NFL. This rule was implemented in 2003, while Rooney served as chairman of the NFL’s diversity committee. Under the Rooney Rule, NFL organizations needed to begin interviewing minority candidates for both coaching and front office positions. We saw this monumental initiative take an immediate effect on the league, as Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy and Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith became the first African Americans to face off in Super Bowl history in 2007. The Colts won, and Dungy became the first African American coach to win a Super Bowl.

Rooney passed of the presidency to his son, Art Rooney II, in 2003 and assumed the role of chairman of the Steelers. Of course, Pittsburgh went on to win two more Super Bowls in 2006 and 2009 to give them six total, which is still the most among NFL franchises.

Pittsburgh’s current head coach, Mike Tomlin, became the second African American coach to win a Super Bowl when the Steelers defeated the Cardinals in an instant classic in 2009.

Rooney was later appointed the United States Ambassador to Ireland in 2009 by President Barack Obama.

Dan Rooney passed away at the age of 84, but his legacy has been cemented in NFL history, in the Pittsburgh community and in the hearts and minds of football fans everywhere.

He was a true champion in every sense of the word.

Rest in Peace.

2016 NFL Division Predictions: AFC West

I was having a discussion in one of the sports groups I’m a part of on Facebook about which divisions have the best chance to send three teams to the postseason. There were two that I think have the potential to do that. The first division was the subject of my first “Division Prediction” article, the NFC North. The second division is the subject of this article, the AFC West.

Headed by the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos, the AFC West has two other teams that I believe could be participant in this year’s playoffs: the Kansas City Chiefs and, this isn’t a typo, the Oakland Raiders. I believe the Chargers could make that jump and be in the discussion next year and I’ll explain why later in the article. So, let’s get into it!

1. Oakland Raiders 11-5

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Rejoice, Raider fans! After 13 years without any postseason appearances, if this noob sports fan is correct, that drought will end this season. The Raiders took a step in the right direction last season, and after a very active and productive off-season, I think they take an even bigger step this season. Offensively, the Raiders are headlined by 3rd year quarterback Derek Carr, 2nd year WR Amare Cooper and a now elite offensive line that was beefed up in the off-season by GM Reggie McKenzie. Carr took a huge step forward in his 2nd season. He threw for 32 TDs to only 11 INTs and over 3,900 yards. Some of the credit for Carr’s step forward has to go to 2015 rookie WR Amare Cooper. The two reportedly built a bond quickly during training camp and it translated onto the field during the season. Cooper displayed a very polished skill set for a rookie as he went on to catch 72 passes for 1,070 yards and 6 TDs in his rookie year. The big surprise for the Raiders was the resurgence of WR Michael Crabtree, who led the team with 9 TD receptions. Latavius Murray proved to be a reliable runner in the backfield, rushing for over 1,000 yards. And the reason I believe this offense will take the next step will be the upgraded offensive line. The Raiders added the top offensive lineman in last year’s FA class, G Kelechi Osemele. Adding him to a line that already has Rodney Hudson, Donald Penn and Austin Howard gives the Raiders a line that may be the best of any team not named the Dallas Cowboys.

mack

Defensive is where the Raiders made their biggest splash in free agency. They added LB Bruce Irvin, CB Sean Smith and S Reggie Nelson. Irvin and my pick for 2016 Defensive Player of the Year, Khalil Mack, should give the Raiders a dynamic rush that will wreak havoc on offensive lines. A much improved secondary should help this defense take the next step and help the Raiders return to the postseason.

2. Denver Broncos 10-6

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Defense. A really, really good defense. That was the calling card of the Denver Broncos during their run to the franchise’s 3rd Super Bowl. Peyton Manning was a shell of his former self. He was so bad that the Broncos started QB Brock Osweiler for 4 games last season. Manning eventually got the starting job back and did enough to help the Broncos win it all. Now Manning is retired and Brock Osweiler signed a big deal with the Houston Texans. John Elway traded for Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez and drafted QB Paxton Lynch in the 1st round of the 2016 Draft. So going into the 2016 season, Denver has a QB situation that rivals that of the Cleveland Browns. But wait, are the Broncos still fine? With the way their QB’s performed last season and they still ended up winning it all, I say yes. After all, Mark Sanchez was in a similar situation with the Jets and played in 2 AFC Championship games. And I believe he is in a better situation now. DeMaryious Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are a formidable 1-2 punch at receiver. The offensive line is going to need to come together and improve quickly, seeing as Denver will most likely be a run-first team with the Sanchize at the helm.

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Defensively, Denver will still be among the best in the league, despite losing Danny Trevethan and Malik Jackson in free agency. The depth is there, and they have arguably the best defensive coordinator in the NFL, Wade Philips, calling the shots. The best secondary in the NFL will be intact for the upcoming season as well. With the question marks that Denver has on offense, their defense is without question still going to be good enough to get them back into the playoffs this season.

3. Kansas City Chiefs 10-6

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To call the Chiefs’ 2015 season a roller coaster would be a massive understatement.  They started out 1-5 and lost star RB Jamaal Charles for the season due to a torn ACL in a Week 5 loss vs. the Bears. Those first 6 weeks of the season couldn’t have gone any worse. Most teams would have packed it in and started planning for the off-season. What do the Chiefs do? They win their last 10 regular season games, beat the Texans in the Wild Card round, giving them their first playoff win in 22 years, and gave New England all they could handle in the Divisional Round. They finished the season with a franchise record 11-game win streak.Ending the season as strongly as they did should give this team plenty of confidence going into the 2016 season. Kansas City had a fairly quiet off-season. They resigned TE Travis Kelce, RBs Chandarick West/Spencer Ware and OT Eric Fisher. The team also designated S Eric Berry as their franchise player and signed QB Nick Foles. The strength of this team on offense will clearly be their RBs. With the return of Jamaal Charles along with the way West and Ware filled in for him last season gives the impression that Kansas City has quite possibly the deepest backfield in the NFL. WR Jeremy Maclin had a very solid 1st season with the Chiefs to the tune of 87 receptions, 1,088 yards and 8 touchdowns. He provided Kansas City with a much needed threat on the perimeter after the team’s WR’s failed to catch a TD in over a season before his arrival. One of the major deficiencies of the Chiefs’ offense is the severe drop off in WR talent after Maclin. Albert Wilson and De’Anthony Thomas are the projected 2nd and 3rd wide-outs on the team and neither will make any defensive coordinators lose any sleep. TE Travis Kelce put together a nice season himself, which didn’t come as a surprise given that Alex Smith targets his TE’s almost more than any QB in the league.

Chiefs

Most of the Chiefs core defensive players will be back (S Eric Berry is currently holding out). Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston will all be back along with 2015 Defensive Rookie of the Year Marcus Peters. I expect Berry and the Chiefs will come to a resolution on the holdout before the season so the Chiefs defense should be stout again this season. Kansas City is one of the more talented teams in the AFC and I expect the team be in the thick of the playoff hunt at season’s end.

4. San Diego Chargers 6-10

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The 2015 season for the Chargers left their fans wishing Agents Kay and Jay would arrive to their homes and deneuralyze them. The injury bug hit the Chargers harder than any team in the league, especially on offense. The offensive line and receiving corp was unrecognizable late in the season. Despite that, QB Philip Rivers still finished 2nd in the NFL in passing yards. As for the off-season, the Chargers just getting healthy was the biggest thing for them. They used the #3 pick in the draft on Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa, who is currently holding out from the team. Yes, a rookie, who isn’t a QB, who hasn’t played a down of NFL football, who has zero leverage, is holding out. Quite possibly the biggest joke of the offseason. Anyhow, as we were. The Chargers weren’t very active at all in free agency.  They signed two ex-Packers:  CB Casey Heyward to a 3-year contract and WR James Jones to a 1-year contract. They also added speedy WR Travis Benjamin. So, going into 2016, the Chargers have a fresh slate health-wise and improve upon a dismal 2015 campaign. Their offense is headed by Rivers, who I feel continues to be very underappreciated by fans around the league. In addition to Rivers, future hall of famer Antonio Gates continues to produce at a high level. Wide-outs Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin should give opposing secondaries plenty of problems with their blazing speed. On the offensive line, C Matt Slauson is one of the best at his position in the league. It’s the other 4 lawn chairs that are one of the reasons why I don’t think San Diego will be much better next season. While I expect San Diego’s offense to be good, they don’t have overall quality on the offensive line that could make them a great/elite offense.

Philip Rivers

Defensively, the Charger’s strength are their CBs led by Jason Verrett. Heyward left a crowded secondary in GB and will have a much more important role on the Chargers D. OLB Melvin Ingram turned in a solid season with 10.5 sacks. Outside of the three players I named, there isn’t much to write home about. They have by far the worst defense in the division and could very well have one of the worst in the league. Even if healthy and if they get another great season from Philip Rivers, the Chargers just have too many holes on both sides of the ball to be a threat this season.

kyle

Kyle Miller

Huge Bucks, Packer, Brewer, Predator and Badger fan. But above all, just a lover of sports in general. Can’t wait to bring you some sports articles from a serious, yet humorous, perspective.

 

 

 

 

2016 Division Predictions: NFC North

It’s almost that time of year. The time friends and family become enemies and foes. Where Sunday’s full of get togethers consisting of grilling, drinking beer and watching football with those you cherish becomes a weekly tradition until February. For most people, football season starts Week 1 of the regular season, but for the die-hards like myself, it starts with the Hall of Fame game. And since the NFL season starts Sunday (for me at least), I feel that it’s time to start predicting how each division will potentially play out this season. And to kick off my “Division Predictions” series, I’ll begin with the division in which my beloved Green Bay Packers reside; the NFC North.

Last year, the division came down to the final weeks of the season. The Vikings marched into Lambeau in Week 16 and beat Green Bay in their house for the first time since Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau in 2009 (the two teams did tie in 2013).

For the Detroit Lions, it was a tail of two seasons. They started the season 1-7 then finished the season strong with a 6-2 record in the 2nd half, to ultimately finish 7-9 overall. The offseason was a heartbreaker for Detroit fans, but I’ll get into that more later.

The Chicago Bears had a very intriguing season. They finished 6-10 under first year head coach John Fox, but 7 of their 10 losses were by a touchdown or less. Fox definitely made them much more competitive last year, and that should give Bears’ fans optimism for the upcoming season.

And, without further ado, here are my predictions for the NFC North in the 2016 season.

1. Minnesota Vikings 13-3

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It is in my DNA to hate the Vikings, but I can’t help but admire and applaud the team that they have built. Since hiring head coach Mike Zimmer in 2014, the Vikings have improved every year, specifically on defense. The Vikings have gone from 30th in points allowed to 5th during Zimmer’s tenure. With the talented, young pieces they have (especially on defense) and quite possibly the most complete coaching staff in the NFL, I expect them to improve yet again this season. There may not be a more complete, talented defense in the league, and with one of the best defensive minds in the NFL, head coach Mike Zimmer, running the show, it could very well be the best in the entire NFL next season. The Vikings only had 4 defensive starters that weren’t drafted or signed as an undrafted FA (NT Ninvel Joseph, CB Terrence Newman, DT Tom Johnson, S Andrew Sendejo). Anthony Barr, Everson Griffin, Linval Joseph and Harrison Smith are the headliners on this talented defense and should make a huge impact again next season.

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Offensively, the Vikings look to be improved as well. They drafted the best WR prospect in the Draft in Laquan Treadwell to give QB Teddy Bridgewater another weapon on the outside to pair and create a solid tandem with 2nd year WR Stephon Diggs. And then there’s that cyborg in the backfield named Adrian Peterson, who doesn’t seem to age and is still running at an elite level. I do think we will be seeing a transition from Adrian Peterson being the focal point of the offense to Teddy Bridgewater being the man withing the next few season.

2. Green Bay Packers 12-4

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The Packers had a very, ummmmm, inconspicuous season last year. They lost their No. 1 WR Jordy Nelson to a torn ACL in the 1st quarter of the first preseason game. Despite that, they came out of the gate hot, starting the year 6-0 before sputtering in the 2nd half of the season and finishing 10-6. Even during the hot start, the offense never seemed right without Jordy. Opposing teams didn’t have to worry about anyone taking the top off of the defense, and the Packers’ offense wasn’t as explosive as we’ve become accustomed to. The Packers brought back a familiar face in James Jones, who started the season off hot but became essentially a non-factor later in the year. Randall Cobb never took over as a go-to receiver. Davante Adams was a disaster for the most part. Ty Montgomery showed some promise, but his season was cut short due to injury as well. Eddie Lacy was the Rosie O’Donnell of RB’s. A lot of this lead to some trust issues between QB Aaron Rodgers and this WR corp.

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Defensively, Green Bay showed some much needed improvement, especially in the secondary. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix took another step forward, while two rookies, Demarious Randall and Quentin Rollins, both put together impressive rookie campaigns. Veterans Sam Shields and Morgan Burnett were solid as well. DE Mike Daniels earned himself a $40 million contract extension for his solid play. The big question for the Packers entering this season will be the LB corp. Julius Peppers is going be used in more of a limited role due to his age, which means someone will have to step up at the OLB position. Rookie Blake Martinez will reportedly be the starter at ILB, and Clay Matthews will be back outside. With Nelson back and Lacy 150 lbs lighter, the Packers’ offense should be back to normal. On defense, it’ll be up to the front 7 to bring the heat and give this talented secondary chances to get turnovers.

3. Chicago Bears 9-7

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As I stated before, the Bears were competitive last season for the most part. And if you look at John Fox’s two previous coaching tenures, the Panthers and Broncos, his teams made significant leaps in the 2nd year with him at the helm. With the moves the Bears made this offseason, especially on defense, I see that happening again. The Bears addressed their LB corp in free agency. Chicago signed tackling machine Danny Trevethan (for a bargain) from the Super Bowl champion Broncos, reuniting him with Fox. In addition to Trevethan, the Bears signed Colt LB Jerrell Freeman to a team friendly deal. The Bears front 7 looks like it will be very good going into the season, which will help the not-so-good secondary. Outside of CB Kyle Fuller and Adrian Amos, the Bears’ secondary doesn’t have much to write home about.

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Offensively, the Bears retained TE Zach Miller, who impressed last season, even with now New England Patriot Martellus Bennett playing as the No. 1 TE. WR Kevin White will be looking to see his first snap as a pro this year after his rookie season ended before it started last year due to injury. Alshon Jeffery also caught the injury bug last year, only appearing in 9 games. But in those 9 games, he showed that he is a legitimate No. 1 option for QB Jay Cutler. Despite all of the criticism Jay gets, he put together a fairly solid season by Jay Cutler standards throwing for 3,600 yards, 21 TDs and 11 INTs. With both of his top receivers healthy and Zach Miller proving to be a solid pass catching TE, Cutler has the weapons to put together an even better campaign this year. RB Jeremy Langford showed flashes in place of Matt Forte last year but didn’t show enough to be a premier back. However, he should get a majority of the touches at RB given the lack of other options at the position. The Bears definitely improved this offseason, and given John Fox’s track record and defensive smarts, I see the Bears being in the hunt for a WC spot at the end of the season.

4. Detroit Lions 5-11

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Like I said before, it was a tale of two seasons for the Lions last year. They finished the year hot, and that’s the last good thing that happened to them. Lions’ fans experienced de ja vu of Barry Sanders’ early retirement when WR Calvin Johnson hung up the cleats this offseason. Now, quarterback Matthew Stafford will have to adjust to life without the guy who’s been his No. 1 target for his whole career. The Lions signed Marvin Jones to pair with Golden Tate, but outside those two, there isn’t anything that will make defensive coordinators cringe. The Lions’ offensive line isn’t formidable at all. Detroit was extremely high on RB Ameer Abdullah going into last season, but he didn’t live up to the hype.

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With the return of LB DeAndre Levy, Detroit’s strength appears to be their front 7. Fellow linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Bynes both put together very impressive 2015 seasons. Ezekiel Ansah, who will be the cornerstone on the defensive line for years, and Haloi Ngata will provide some solid pressure up front. Much like the Bears, the Lions are fortunate to have a good front 7 because their secondary, outside of Darius Slay, isn’t very good. While Detroit has some very good playmakers on defense, they don’t have the depth on that side of the ball. Their offense without Megatron is going to be their Achilles heal this season. I don’t trust Stafford at all without Megatron, and there isn’t enough quality caliber playmakers to make his life any easier.

 

Next up, the AFC North.

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    Kyle Miller

Huge Bucks, Packer, Brewer, Predator and Badger fan. But above all, just a lover of sports in general. Can’t wait to bring you some sports articles from a serious, yet humorous, perspective.

Heat, Pads and Training Camp.

‘Tis the season that we’ve all been waiting for. Football is back. It’s only training camp, but most NFL fans have been waiting for this week for the past month. After the NFL Draft, free agency and OTAs, there finally seems like an “offseason” in the NFL.

Training camp is the beginning for every team, coach and player. Coaches on the hot seat set the tone trying to save their jobs. Players are fighting to ultimately make the final 53-man roster. But I’m here to give you my top 3 stories leading into training camp for the entire NFL.

Story #3: Who is running with the first team offense as quarterback for the New York J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets?

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According to reports, Geno Smith is the quarterback for the Jets, but I won’t rule out Ryan Fitzpatrick returning and tossing the pigskin to his buddies Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker. Everyone remembers Smith as a below-average QB for the Jets that threw 21 interceptions as a rookie. But before he was robbed of his starting spot by a right hand from IK Enemkpali, he and Fitzpatrick were battling for the starting spot. Let Smith gain some momentum in camp, Fitz re-signs, then we’ll have a nice position battle at the most important spot in the NFL.

Story #2: What will the Browns do with Josh Gordon once reinstated?

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Josh Gordon met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell about his reinstatement, but he cannot officially be reinstated until August 1, contingent on passing a drug test. Unfortunately, a task so easy can be made very difficult by Gordon. During his second season, Gordon reeled in 87 receptions for a league-leading 1,646 yards and 9 touchdowns. If he does officially become reinstated, it will be interesting to see what the Cleveland Browns decide to do with Gordon. Having drafted wide receivers Corey Coleman (R1), Ricardo Louis (R4), Seth DeVale (R4), Jordan Payton (R5) and Rashard Higgins (R5), the Browns, who are now under new head coach Hue Jackson, are trying to quickly rebuild with new and young talent, and could understandably not want the distraction that Gordon brings. Do they trade Gordon for draft picks or hold onto the very productive but always suspended wide-out?

Story #1: Will the league’s best defensive player, J.J. Watt, be ready for week one of the regular season?

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J.J. Watt has reportedly undergone back surgery for the second time in a one-year span to repair a herniated disc. My message to Watt… take your time, recover fully, and come back when your closest to 100%. You can’t make the playoffs in September, but the Texans sure as hell won’t make the playoffs if Watt isn’t playing in December.

Training camp is finally here. Sit back, enjoy the heat, pads cracking and most likely the fists flying within the first week of camp. Football is back!

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   Alex Calles

Graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater with a major in Journalism and a minor in Advertising. Huge football junkie that enjoys reading and writing about college and professional football. Currently resides in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The Year of Rain: The end of the longest droughts in sports

Any and every sports fan knows about the end to Cleveland’s historic title-less drought by now, but that makes me wonder… what other droughts could be ending in the near future?

Before LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers completed an unprecedented comeback from being down 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, the city of Cleveland, Ohio had gone 52 years without tasting victory. The drought is over, and the city’s sports teams are feeling it. The Indians own the longest winning streak in the league this season and are leading the American League Central Division.

Before we look into what curses could be broken and the droughts that can be ended, let’s reminisce about some of the other feats that have been accomplished this year so far.

How about we start with the sexiest of all accomplishments? “Big Sexy” Bartolo Colon hit his first home run of his 19-year career on May 7, 2016. At 42 years old, Colon became the oldest player in MLB history to hit his first home run. As a result, the sports world went nuts with memes, t-shirts and all sorts of “Big Sexy” products. Someone even simulated a season of MLB: The Show in which all of the players on the game were Bartolo Colon.

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The Villanova Wildcats won their first men’s basketball national championship since 1985. It took one of the best games in NCAA history and a buzzer-beating three-point shot by Kris Jenkins to end the 31-year drought.

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In 2015, the Kansas City Royals also ended a 31-year drought by defeating the New York Mets to win the World Series for the first time since 1985.

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A lot of fans have been experiencing the thrill of ultimate victory for the first times in their lives. Let’s see if we can predict what other fan bases will be joining them.

We start with four baseball teams, who are all among the best records in the majors, and all have a chance at bringing home the championship in 2016.

Chicago Cubs

The Cubs have quickly become one of the best teams in Major League Baseball after taking the traditional route of building from ground up. Most sports fans know of or have heard of the “Curse of the Billy Goat.” The North Side drought is the longest in professional sports. Let’s just say your great grandparents have not seen the Cubs win the World Series. It has officially been 107 years since the North Side claimed the title.

On the bright side, they made it all the way to the NLCS in 2015 and have one of the best records in the majors in 2016. The Cubs started blazing hot in 2016, getting off to a 46-20 record in the first few months of the season. They have cooled off since then, but many people still have the Cubs as the World Series favorites.

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Can you imagine what the city of Chicago will look like if the Cubs win it all? Chicago Fire: the Sequel… too soon?

Cleveland Indians

Not surprising that the Indians would have one of the longest droughts in professional sports, considering the entire city had gone 52 years without a title.

The Indians have gone an astounding 67 years without winning the World Series. If only they could just find the next Willie Mays Hayes and Ricky Vaughn to lead them all the way.

But… the Cavaliers has given something to the city because the Indians now own the best record in the majors after rifling off 14 wins in a row following the Cavs magnificent title run.

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If the magic continues, this drought could end as well… leading the way for the Browns to complete the sweep.

HAHAHA I’m kidding. I doubt that RG3rd string can lead a team to the Super Bowl.

Texas Rangers

After all of the success that Ron Washington in Texas, it is hard to believe that the Texas Rangers have never won a World Series in franchise history. The franchise began in 1961, placing the drought at a long 55 years.

With star players like Nolan Ryan among the all-time Rangers greats, one would think that they would be able to win at least one title.

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Nevertheless, they are among the best teams in baseball. They have a legitimate ace in Cole Hamels leading the way. It would not be out of the realm of possibility to see this drought end in 2016.

Washington Nationals

Before they were the Washington Nationals, they were the Montreal Expos. The Expos were not a very successful franchise; however, since they have moved to the nation’s capital, they have had some very competitive teams. They have also had some epic collapses including last season, when they gave up a large division lead to the New York Mets and ended up missing the playoffs all together, adding to the franchise’s 44-year drought.

Despite last year’s debacle, the Nationals have a championship caliber team in 2016. They lead the defending NL Champion Mets in the NL East, and they also have the reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper.

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Washington D.C., who is tied for the title-less longest drought among sites with at least three major pro teams, may be a city of champions come October.

And finally… a man’s sport. Just kidding. Have you ever tried to hit a 100 mph fastball? Good luck!

Arizona Cardinals

The pride and joy of the desert has not won a Super Bowl, or even a championship since moving to Arizona. They were established in 1920 as the Chicago Cardinals and were eventually moved to St. Louis before ending up in the Southwest.

All the moves didn’t matter, as the team has not won a championship in 67 years.

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With veteran Carson Palmer behind center, swagmaster Bruce Arians at the helm and the “No Flight Zone” on defense, the Cardinals are looking to improve on their NFC Championship loss in 2015. Tyrann Mathieu is healthy this time around, so look for Arizona to make a run at the title in 2016.