Category Archives: Sports

2018-2019 NFL Power Rankings: Week 1

1. Vikings (W 24-16 vs. SF)

What we learned: If not for the grand introduction of Sean McVay, Mike Zimmer would have won Coach of the Year in 2017.

Mike Zimmer is one of the best coaches in football and the defensive scheme he has made in Minnesota is still causing the best of the best problems. That should tell you something.

What we learned again: Minnesota, as advertised, has the most complete roster in the NFL, including the league’s best defense.

They’re my pick to win this year’s Lombardi. They finally got their upgrade at quarterback in Cousins, Cook returns from injury, Diggs and Thielen are one of the strongest receiving duos in the league and Minnesota’s defense, as mentioned above, is nasty.

2. Rams (W 33-13 @OAK)

What we learned: Rams-Vikings is a solid bet for the NFC Championship game.

Honestly can’t say I learned much from the Rams pummeling the ghost of Chucky. On the other hand, the Rams are a really good football team and seem to be the only thing that can get in their way.

What we learned again: The Rams won the offseason.

In case you somehow forgot, the Rams have gone all in on this season, acquiring multiple talent veterans to bolster their roster. They are stacked at every spot.

3. Eagles (W 18-12 vs. ATL)

What we learned: The Eagles are not fully reliant on their quarterback, demonstrating once again why their team is loaded.

As I stated pretty thoroughly in my quarterback breakdown piece, overpaying your quarterback will destroy a franchise and the proper usage of funds saved by a quarterback on a rookie deal can completely turn a franchise around. Exhibit A: Philly.

What we learned again: The Eagles should absolutely not rush Wentz back.

The Eagles have shown they can win playoff games and Super Bowls with Nick Foles at quarterback. Putting their franchise savior in any potential danger whatsoever for meaningless regular season games (let’s be honest, Philly’s making the playoffs regardless) would be beyond stupid. I’d rather lose a game than risk injuring The Book of Wentz.

4. Patriots (W 27-20 vs. HOU)

What we learned: The Patriots could start your neighbor at receiver and still win.

Funny joke, but is it also possibly true? Going into their game against Houston, New England had three receivers on their active roster: Phillip Dorsett, Chris Hogan and Cordarrelle Patterson. Didn’t matter. Another win. Just signed Browns bust Corey Coleman. If anyone can revive his career, it’s Tom Brady.

What we learned again: Tom Brady is still defying time just fine.

Looked fine on Sunday. 277 and three scores. Brady will do Brady things.

5. Jaguars (W 20-15 @NYG)

What we learned: The Jaguars defense will return to the top 10.

Not much to add to this other than they gave up only 15 to a talented group of position players and Saquon Barkley, minus one breakout run, was contained.

What we learned again: The team’s offense is heavily reliant on one Leonard Fournette.

The team has little trust in Bortles to win them a game and for good reason. Fournette will be treated like a bell cow once again this season. Unfortunately for Jacksonville, he went and got injured in week one. If he misses substantial time, I expect the Jag offense to struggle. Sorry, but T.J. Yeldon is not Leonard Fournette.

6. Chiefs (W 38-28 @LAC)

What we learned: Patrick Mahomes is better for the Kansas City offense than Alex Smith.

The Chiefs already knew and most analysts already did but if there was any doubt about whether Mahomes’ arm strength was a huge factor in the Chiefs decision to move from Smith, that doubt has been eliminated. A four-touchdown debut was impressive.

What we learned again: Tyreek Hill is fast.

Said it in my sports report this week: Hill is a certified number one receiver now. His route running has improved since his appearance. If you haven’t, suggest you just watch some of the Chiefs tape from week one. It was quite something.

7. Falcons (L 18-12 @PHI)

What we learned: Julio is back.

Julio had a down campaign in 2017. I expected him to bounce back this season. Had a nice start.

What we learned again: The Falcons still suck in the red zone after a whole offseason to find a solution.

Steve Sarkisian, ladies and gents.

8. Giants (L 20-15 vs. JAC)

What we learned: Saquon Barkley is going to struggle this year.

Perhaps I’m extrapolating something that isn’t there, but hard to look at Barkley’s stat sheet on Sunday and be impressed. One amazing run, yes, but other than that? Nothing. Guess offensive lines are important after all.

What we learned again: Ben McAdoo should never be allowed near a football team at any level again.

The Giants are far better than their 2017 record suggested and McAdoo is why that’s the case. Losing to Jacksonville by 5 is a win for New York. They’re going to contend for a wild card this year.

9. Packers (W 24-23 vs. CHI)

What we learned: Aaron Rodgers is Superman.

Don’t think I need to add anything here.

What we learned again: The Packers are massively overrated.

Remove Rodgers from this team and it goes straight to the john. This team couldn’t float last year without Aaron and they weren’t gonna float against Chicago on Sunday night if he didn’t return. I hate putting the Packers in the top ten this week. They don’t deserve it. Mr. Rodgers was just so miraculous that it feels wrong not to give him a tip of the hat.

10. Bears (L 24-23 @GB)

What we learned: The Bears have a chance to repeat as a top-ten defense.

Last year Chicago was 10th in total yardage, seventh against the pass, 11th against the run and ninth in points against. They added Khalil Mack.

What we learned again: Khalil Mack is the best outside linebacker in the league.

Yes, better than Von Miller. Bears hit the jackpot on this one.

11. Texans (L 27-20 @NE)

What we learned: Houston is healthy.

Finally. Imagine the carnage that could be created with Watt and Clowney on the edge.

What we learned again: Deshaun Watson is not a finished product yet.

A player with tremendous upside made some costly mistakes. Still, a seven-point loss in Foxborough is a win for most organizations.

12. 49ers (L 24-16 @MIN)

What we learned: Jimmy Garroppolo is not elite yet.

Quarterbacks are able to show how good they are when they play defenses like Minnesota. Under 50% completion and three picks on Sunday.

What we learned again: The 49ers have a nice foundation in place and Shanahan knows what he’s doing.

Sadly, Shanahan’s Super Bowl debacle will follow him his entire career. He’s still one of the brightest minds in the game and they are a franchise moving in the right direction, though Jimmy G’s absurd contract could put the brakes on the train.

13. Chargers (L 38-28 vs. KC)

What we learned: The Chargers defense might be a weak spot.

Is the Chargers defense that bad or is Mahomes that good? We’ll have to wait and see.

What we learned again: Despite almost no media attention, Rivers is still playing quite well at an old age.

Football experts have talked about how much longer Brady, Rodgers, Brees, Ben and Eli are going to play and seem to repeatedly overlook Rivers. In addition to being a great fantasy signal caller year in and year out, Rivers continues to keep the Chargers relevant.

14. Jets (W 48-17 @DET)

What we learned: Starting Darnold was the right move.

For the record, I am completely against starting rookie quarterbacks in most cases. We’ve seen more that a couple quarterbacks’ careers end prematurely because they weren’t ready. Darnold looked ready.

What we learned again: Todd Bowles is the most underrated coach in the NFL.

The Jets did all they could to tank their roster last year and Bowles still kept the ship afloat. He’ll do more than keep it afloat this year.

15. Broncos (W 27-24 vs. SEA)

What we learned: Keenum is serviceable, likely not a long-term starter.

The Broncos gave Keenum a solid contract, one that gives him money he never had the chance to get previously while also not putting the money chests in a strait jacket. He had three touchdowns and three picks on Sunday.

What we learned again: Von Miller will lead the way.

Von Miller had three sacks and two forced fumbles against Seattle, bad offensive line or not. He’s still good. We’ll have to see if the Broncos defense follows suit this year.

16. Buccaneers (W 48-40 @NO)

What we learned: Ryan Fitzmagic is back.

It was the best game of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s career and while I sadly didn’t get to watch his performance live or in its entirety, the highlights were quite something. Whether Fitzpatrick is Fitzmagic or Fitztragic, he’s always entertaining.

What we learned again: DeSean Jackson’s not dead yet.

Jackson has never been the same player since leaving Philadelphia but has continued to be a deep threat. He’s still a playmaker.

17. Panthers (W 16-8 vs. DAL)

What we learned: Norm Turner and the offense didn’t have the greatest start.

Dallas had essentially a secondary of freshmen last year. Yes, the Carolina receivers aren’t threatening but this was a game you’d like to see Cam pour it on. Didn’t happen. I’m not going to discredit the Cowboys front seven but I expected more from Carolina.

What we learned again: Panthers still have one of the best front sevens in football.

Have been for a few years and still are. Kuechly is still the league’s best mike.

18. Ravens (W 47-3 vs. BUF)

What we learned: The Ravens gave Flacco all the weapons this offseason.

If he performs like he has the last few years, he’s gone and it’s on to the age of Lamar. Week one was against one of the worst the NFL has to offer. Let’s try to contain our excitement.

What we learned again: The Ravens defense is still strong.

Yes, some new faces have moved into the linebacker spots but a lot of these young additions are performing well. Weddle and Tony Jefferson are one of the best safety combos in the league.

19. Bengals (W 34-23 @IND)

What we learned: The offense is improved.

Who could have known that having an offensive line probably would have helped the team last year?

What we learned again: Marvin Lewis is still coaching the Bengals.

You’d think they would have fired the guy for incompetence or for even a fresh direction but no, Marvin Lewis is still there.

20. Steelers (T 21-21 @CLE)

What we learned: Ben Roethlisberger is at the end of the road.

I think we knew it last year but Ben is closer to the twilight stage of his career than football fans would care to admit. He looked plain awful on Sunday and I still don’t know how the guy didn’t get benched.

What we learned again: The Steelers window is closing.

The Steelers, at their best, are always known for their stout defense. That is not the case right now. The defense is bend don’t break and each year looks closer to breaking. Ben is nearing the end. I don’t care what he says. He doesn’t have five years left. They are talented on the offensive line and have one of the best position groups in the league but the years of Peyton, Ben and Brady owning the AFC are over.

21. Seahawks (L 27-24 @DEN)

What we learned: Russell Wilson is Seattle’s savior.

Not a lot of reasons to watch this team. The offensive line is still among the league’s worst and I still don’t know what Seattle was thinking drafting a back in the first round. Doug Baldwin has gone down with injury. Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham are gone. We’ve seen Wilson do his fair share of theatrics. He’ll have to do more than that if Seattle’s gonna make the postseason.

What we learned again: Earl Thomas needs paid.

Given the depth of the defense, unsure why Seattle is hesitating to pay this man. Sometimes, you don’t pay the man. This isn’t one of those times. You lose Thomas and this defense will morph into a turnstile.

22. Saints (L 48-40 vs. TB)

What we learned: Drew Brees can still throw footballs.

Last year was not Brees’ strongest year but I don’t think there were many people concerned about his production this year. If there were, they are likely silenced now.

What we learned again: The Saints are back to their old ways.

I talked about it in my quarterback breakdown last week. The Saints defense has never been consistently good during the Sean Payton era. I am on the record as saying Sean Payton and Mike McCarthy are the two most overrated coaches in professional football. The defense got cooked all day by Tampa Bay. Was Fitzmagic excellent? Of course, but some of those scores were simple blown coverages deep. Looks like we’re back to trying to outscore teams again.

23. Redskins (W 24-6 @ARI)

What we learned: The Redskins are not definitely going to finish at the bottom of the division.

It is the solid bet but given how bad Dallas played, they could fight for third.

What we learned again: Adrian Peterson is a Hall of Famer.

On Sunday, AP surpassed 12,000 yards and 100 career rushing touchdowns. I’ve been an AP fan his entire career. I’m hoping he has a few games left in him.

24. Browns (T 21-21 vs. PIT)

What we learned: Myles Garrett is the most valuable player in Cleveland.

Jarvis Landry may be the most talented player but Garrett is far and away its most valuable. He was blowing past tackles repeatedly on Sunday and recorded two sacks and two forced fumbles. Cleveland, a team that hasn’t given a player a long-term extension since who knows when, should definitely give this guy all the money.

What we learned again: Baker Mayfield will start this season and Hue Jackson should start packing.

Tyrod Taylor is a serviceable quarterback but looked off on Sunday. Had some simple misthrows in the flats and was mostly unimpressive. Hue is on the way out because his team had six takeaways and still couldn’t win. Unsure how much more Hue needs to fail at his job before he’s finally given the ax.

25. Cowboys (L 16-8 @CAR)

What we learned: The Cowboys will have a front row seat at the NFL Draft.

They may be just outside the top ten but it’s hard to see Dallas being that far off. The team struggled to get past midfield let alone score. The front seven for the Cowboys is strong enough to win them some games but a lack of game planning Sunday was evident.

What we learned again: Cowboys management took a huge L this offseason and wasted a year of Dak’s rookie contract.

Losing Witten to retirement was inevitable. Cutting Dez was the right move. His best days were behind him and he was no longer meeting the value of his signing price. These were the additions Cowboys management made to replace that production: Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin and third-round pick Michael Gallup. Given the immense savings they got from those former two moves, the Cowboys had to reinvest those funds into the receiving core. They did not and teams are not going to respect those players. They’re going to stack the box and Elliott is going to struggle at times because of it. Dallas will be without center Travis Frederick for likely the whole year. Rather than build around their proclaimed franchise starter, they’ve left him in the cold.

26. Dolphins (W 27-20 vs. TEN)

What we learned: Ryan Tannehill’s receivers this year are DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Danny Amendola.

Good luck with that.

What we learned again: The Dolphins are the epitome of treading water.

Funny pun, but really unsure what they’re going for here. Looks like a tanking to me but other times looks they’re trying. Either way, looks like the bottom of the AFC East.

27. Titans (L 27-20 @MIA)

What we learned: Derrick Henry has not been given the keys to the backfield.

Dion Lewis and Henry had about a 50-50 split on Sunday, so if you drafted either of them and expected something else, oops on you.

What we learned again: Marcus Mariota is likely not a franchise quarterback.

Year two was nice: 26/9 touchdown/interception split and nearly 3,500 yards. For a quarterback who’s not known for his arm, that’s great. Last year? 13/15 and a 79.3 rating.

28. Colts (L 34-23 vs. CIN)

What we learned: Andrew Luck is back to throwing footballs.

I’m a Luck fan myself and seeing him throwing footballs again was glorious.

What we learned again: The Colts still suck.

Turns out the return of your franchise quarterback is not enough to make your team not suck. Indy went and blew a 14-point lead on Sunday.

29. Raiders (L 33-13 vs. LAR)

What we learned: Derek Carr can be cut in 2019 for $7.5 dead cap.

After winning my MVP award for the 2016 season (28-6 TD/INT and all the fourth-quarter comebacks), Carr took a clear step back last year and did not get off to a great start this year. I wouldn’t say cutting Carr is absolutely the right move at this moment but if Carr plays like he did last year, I think you have to consider it.

What we learned again: The Raiders are the dumbest team in football right now.

You traded Khalil Mack.

30. Lions (L 48-17 vs. NYJ)

What we learned: The Lions were not prepared and that reflects on their coach.

They were apparently so unprepared that it’s been reported that Stafford, instead of using code, started yelling “screen” at his own teammates to change the play.

What we learned again: The Lions still don’t know what running is.

You’d think after all these years they’d learn something. Guess Detroit’s gonna Detroit.

31. Cardinals (L 24-6 vs. WAS)

What we learned: The Cardinals will have a front row seat for the 2019 NFL Draft.

David Johnson is the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Arizona. We shouldn’t forget about Larry Fitzgerald either but often times a receiver is only as good as his quarterback. The Cardinals are gonna be bad and the only reason to watch them, aside from watching Fitz’ retirement tour and DJ’s return, is seeing if Rosen comes to play.

What we learned again: Sam Bradford is one of the most overrated players in the history of professional football.

Once again, Bradford spent most of a season on injured reserve and once again he got paid during free agency and once again he sucked in the first game of a season. I wonder how many times this carousel of madness goes around before someone finally cuts the cord.

32. Bills (L 47-3 @BAL)

What we learned: The Bills will have a front row seat for the 2019 NFL Draft.

All of those offseason moves foreshadowing a grand tanking have finally come to fruition. What Sean McDermott now has in Buffalo is bare bones. The team lost three starters from their offensive line last year which means Shady McCoy will struggle to do much of anything and that’s if he isn’t put on the exempt list before that. Buffalo was 31st in passing last year and look like a strong candidate to repeat in that category.

What we learned again: Nathan Peterman is not an NFL quarterback.

I’m unsure what the line is between having a job and not having a job in the NFL but whatever that line is, Peterman has carpet bombed it. Trading McCarron looks like a poor decision right now, though who knows how much better McCarron really is.

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Tim Sports Report for 2018 NFL Week 1

Top 5

  1. LB Khalil Mack Sack, FF, FR, INT, TD @GB in first half

Quite possibly the greatest game ever played by a defensive player putting on a new uniform for the first time. Nice going, Oakland!

2. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 21/28 for 417, 4 TDs, 156.3 passer rating, 12 carries for 36 yards, TD @NO

Fitzmagic might be back. I nearly took the Saints for eliminator before remembering the ghost of Ryan Fitzmagic and boy, did he put on a show. Fitzmagic had six career games with four touchdowns and his first with five came this past Sunday. For those keeping track, Mr. Winston has two games with four or more touchdowns, the same amount of games in which he has thrown four or more interceptions since coming into the league.

3. WR Tyreek Hill 7 receptions for 169, 2 TDs, return TD @LAC

Tyreek Hill has evolved from playmaker to certified WR1.

4. WR Michael Thomas 16 receptions for 180 yards, TD, Fmb vs. TB

Michael Thomas, at this rate, might keep Brees from retiring for another five years. Hard to leave professional football when you have this guy on your team.

5. RB James Conner 31 carries for 135, 2 TDs, Fmb, 5 receptions for 57 yards (192 scrimmage yards) @CLE

Beating cancer is but only one saga of James Conner’s story. Sunday was a heartwarming tale of not just an athlete but a person battling through adversity and excelling at the highest level. Had it not been for a costly fumble that cost his team momentum and served as the turning point in the contest, he would have been higher on this list.

Worst of the Worst

5. TEN@MIA sets record for longest-game in NFL history at seven hours, eight minutes due to delays.

Watching any portion of football that Blaine Gabbert is playing in probably already feels agonizing. Imagine how long this game must have actually felt for anyone that stuck around for the whole thing.

4. Lions give up 31 points in third quarter to Jets and first-time starter Sam Darnold.

Giving up 31 points in one quarter to any team is a rather large L. Giving that total up to an offense led by a rookie quarterback? Well, that’s….something. Matt Patricia has given up 89 points in his last two games.

3. Falcons fail to score from goal line five times against Eagles.

I’m sure Steve Sarkisian knows more about football than I do. With that said, a team with as high-powered an offense as the Falcons going 0-5 (yup, Philly gave them a free play, too) from the goal line is inexcusable if not borderline laughable. Matt Ryan also seems incapable of throwing touchdowns to Julio Jones anymore.

2. PIT@CLE

We’re only one week through the NFL season and Steelers @ Browns is already a strong contender for worst game of the 2018 season. No one likes to see a tie in the NFL but this game was rampant with such gross mismanagement and on-field incompetence that it felt like a mercy when the clock finally hit zero. Roethlisberger had three interceptions and two fumbles and Tyrod Taylor was sacked seven times and had more than a few missed throws.

  1. QB Nathan Peterman 5/18 for 24, 2 INTs, 0.0 passer rating @BAL

You will likely never see a game where a quarterback ended with a ZERO passer rating ever again. The NFL won’t do it but they should enshrine the jersey he wore for this game in the Hall of Fame.

Steelers Recap

I honestly hate to have to talk about this game at all. As I mentioned above, it’s a contender for worst game of the 2018 season. Big Ben picked up where left off at the beginning of last year: looking like he came out of a retirement home. Three interceptions and two fumbles against the Browns defense is pitiful, plain and simple. Are the Browns improved? Of course. Does that mean he has an excuse? Absolutely not. Only two players impressed me on Sunday: James Conner, who squeaked into the top five, and T.J. Watt, who had 10 tackles, three sacks and blocked what would have been a game-winning field goal for Cleveland.

Week one went about as bad as it could go for Pittsburgh. Home against Kansas City means they have every opportunity to bounce back. Starting 0-2 with their back half of the schedule upcoming might prove too big a hurdle to hop over. Still, I simply can’t bet on this team based off that performance. I’ll take Kansas City and hope I’m wrong.

Game of the Week: Patriots @ Jaguars

A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game should be a trailblazer. I’m actually leaning Jacksonville in this game but that is fully dependent on Fournette’s status. No Fournette and it’s hard to see Jacksonville winning this game. On the other hand, if New England’s defense plays like last year, maybe not. As of now, taking Jacksonville.

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Matt Ryan and the Quarterback Conundrum

“You need a great franchise quarterback to win a championship” might be the most popular fallacy in professional sports. It is paraded by media pundits, analysts, broadcasters and fans alike. The position is likely the most worshipped in the arena of athletics and not by a close margin either. Quarterbacks are automatically leaders of their team regardless of overall performance or character and all victories and defeats are brought to their doorstep. In exchange for this undeserved attention, franchises throw bank vaults at them, which is not sound financial strategy. Franchises are hamstrung by disastrous quarterback contracts regularly, a problem that they themselves are responsible for manifesting. We saw a new one occur this summer.

The Falcons signed 33-year-old Matt Ryan to a five-year deal with an annual average value (AAV) of $30 million, including $100 million guaranteed. A reminder that the current salary cap number for teams is 177. Starting in his age 35 season, Ryan will have a cap hit above $30 million for the final four seasons of the deal, meaning Ryan will take up a penny under 17% of the team’s finances.

To give that type of money to a player that isn’t even the most valuable athlete on his own offense is financially irresponsible. Matt Ryan is the Andy Dalton of the NFC but with more talent. Dalton will never win an MVP award or have the ceiling that Ryan has, but it’s also true that Ryan, like Dalton, has made a career of chucking the football to a top-five receiver. Colin Cowherd did a segment on this last year. Matt Ryan and Andy Dalton had virtually the same season in 2017, the season after Matt Ryan led an air strike on NFL defenses. Look at the stats comparison if you remove Ryan’s MVP season:

In nine seasons (minus MVP), Ryan averages 7.29 yards per attempt, 64% completion, 24.7 touchdowns,13.2 interceptions and a passer rating of 90.5.

In seven seasons, Dalton averages 7.21 yards per attempt, 62.8% completion, 23.9 touchdowns, 13.3 interceptions and a passer rating of 88.7.

Eerily similar numbers, eh?ill

I’m a Matt Ryan fan myself and follow Atlanta but this is a contract that will hamstring the franchise from reaching another chance at a championship. Investing that much into one player simply isn’t smart business.

If we take a look at 2017 cap hits, we’ll find that 13 of the top 20 highest cap hits belonged to quarterbacks. Of those 13, take a guess how many made the playoffs. 13 is nearly half the league and we’re probably talking about the best guys at their position. If quarterback is truly the most valued position, it’s probably high. At least seven, right?

Four. The answer is four.

  1. Joe Flacco tops the list at $24.5 million and threw for barely 3,000 yards, only 18 TDs to 13 INTs, and had a yards per attempt average of 5.72 (32nd).
  2. Carson Palmer. Arizona paid 37-year-old Carson Palmer $17.5 million ($24 million cap hit) to play six and a half games and produce old man numbers during them. *Vomits off stage
  3. Kirk Cousins performs at an above-average level (over 4,000 yards, 27/13 TD/INT) on yet another franchise tag ($23.9) and the Redskins go nowhere.
  4. Matt Ryan ($23.75) makes the playoffs with a rich Atlanta roster before they implode on their final play of the divisional round against the Eagles. If you’re just now reading, Ryan is rewarded with the richest contract in NFL history.
  5. Aaron Rodgers ($20.3) predictably breaks after getting slammed to the turf repeatedly with no offensive line help. Packers have no team past Rodgers and detonate.
  6. Ryan Tannehill ($20.3) considers himself a doctor and decides not to get surgery on a knee injury following the 2016 season. He promptly tears it before the 2017 preseason. Rest in peace, Miami. Hopefully you can find a better quarterba-Jay Cutler?!
  7. Cam Newton ($20.16) continues his trend of attending the playoffs every other year. He ends the regular season with a completion percentage of 59.1 and 22 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. Not exactly super, though he did run for 754 on a 5.4 clip.
  8. Poor Eli. ($19.7) Young Eli’s receiving core is murdered and Eli is left throwing the ball for the remainder of the year to chicklets Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram. Left tackle Ereck Flowers impersonates a chew toy and his coach becomes a dark hole sucking all kinds of garbage into the orifice on his face. 3-13.
  9. The Colts front office is still dealing with the repercussions of not protecting their franchise quarterback who took them from winless to 11-5 in his rookie year. Cheer up, Indy. Maybe Andrew Luck ($19.4) will throw a football again this decade. *chatter off-screen. Wait, he threw a football?! He played in a preseason game?! Indy, you might be back in business!
  10. Drew Brees ($19) throws for a little over 4,300 yards, his fewest in over a decade, and only 23 touchdowns, his fewest since 2003. Sean Payton finally figures out that putting a defense on the field might be a formula for success. And look! They found running backs, too! What an insane carriage of ideas. Too bad about the Minneapolis Miracle, huh?
  11. Big Ben ($18.2) spends the first half of the season looking like he just came out of a nursing home, completing a smidge over 61% and throwing 10 touchdowns to nine picks in his first eight games. Ben gets his act together for the second half, the Steelers go 13-3 and then go full Steelers and blow a playoff game to Jacksonville in which they give up 45 points to Blake freaking Bortles. Ben, to his credit, threw for 469 yards and five tuddies in that game.
  12. Rivers ($18) finishes second in the league in passing (4,515 yards) and throws 28 touchdowns to 10 picks. However, the Chargers can’t find anyone who can kick a field goal at the beginning of the season, losing them two games in the final seconds. They also started 0-4 to miss out on a playoff spot. It’s 2018 and Philip Rivers has twice as many kids as he does playoff wins in his 14-year career.
  13. Sam Bradford? Oh, Jesus, seriously? Yup, the china doll of the NFL had an $18 million cap hit. Say what you will about Bradford, he gets paid an enormous amount of money to spend time on injured reserve every year. Don’t worry, the Cardinals didn’t learn a damn thing from Palmer. They gave Bradford $20 million to spend a year on their IR.

If you look further, you’ll find only six of the top 20 highest cap hits for quarterbacks made the playoffs. Those other seven names?

  1. Alex Smith ($16.9) has a career year only for Kansas City to go full Kansas City in the playoffs and blow an 18-point lead in yet another home playoff game.
  2. The first year of Matt Stafford’s megadeal only brings a $16.5 cap hit, but with Detroit still not knowing what a running back is, the Lions predictably miss the playoffs again. Cheer up, Detroit. This season Stafford’s cap hit jumps to $26.5.
  3. After an MVP-caliber season, Derek Carr ($15.7) returns from injury to play average football, throwing for just under 3,500 and a touchdown-interception split of 22/13. Next season, his cap hit jumps to $25.
  4. The Cincinnati front office learns you need an offensive line to play football. Andy Dalton ($15.7) gets sandwiched all season and the Bengals look to be worse than Cleveland this upcoming campaign. The Bengals could cut Dalton and start McCarron, oh wait.
  5. Russell Wilson ($14.6) is a one-man offense behind an offensive line that’s still garbage and a defense that is losing cohesiveness. Our franchise quarterback looks far less important when his defense can’t stop DeShaun Watson from turning them into a fajita. Seattle will spend the offseason dismantling the Legion of Boom. At least they drafted a lineman…in the fifth.
  6. Mike Glennon (man, this one didn’t age well, huh?) takes his $14 million cap hit behind and sits it on the bench behind novice Mitchell Trubisky. Money well spent!
  7. Tom Brady ($14.0) does Tom Brady things, wins MVP, takes team to Super Bowl. Give that man all the money.

If you look at production, you could argue most quarterbacks weren’t even the best player on their own team this past season. The list of signal callers who were is rather short:

Rivers, Smith (this one is debatable given Hunt led league in rushing), Brady, Stafford, Wilson, Wentz, Cousins. Only three (Smith, Brady, Wentz) made the playoffs.

A team built around a quarterback is not a guaranteed victory for front offices, even if that quarterback delivers in effectiveness. Rivers has been an above average quarterback nearly his entire career and has only four playoff wins to show for it. Teams seem to forget that building around said quarterback is vital and if you devote too much of your deposit box to them, it’s difficult to do that.

Other teams simply don’t build for some reason. The idea Aaron Rodgers has made only one Super Bowl is inexcusable. Maybe if Green Bay could’ve looked at a stat sheet years ago and realized defensive coordinator Dom Capers was disastrous in big games and the running game was dwindling, they could have changed that. Instead, Cheeseheads are left watching Green Bay get ousted too early in the playoffs or seeing how incompetent their coaching staff/team really is when Rodgers is taken out of the picture. Green Bay is an example of what goes wrong when you get a franchise quarterback and then don’t do anything of substance after that. A team this fully reliant on one player is doomed for failure (See Indy, and God bless Detroit if Stafford ever misses a season.)

At this point, Green Bay and Detroit are carbon copies of each other. Green Bay has seen its death grip on the NFC North slip away to a more complete roster in Minnesota. Rodgers will get an extension and stay in Green Bay (called it) and then Matt and Aaron will try to throw their teams to victory single-handedly for the remainder of their careers while Minnesota finally discovers the formula to playoff success and makes an appearance in a Super Bowl. Giving Kirk Cousins a fully-guaranteed contract is risky but a necessary signing if the Vikings want to get over the hump. Also, the team isn’t putting its entire body weight on Cousins’ shoulders and has shown it can win with a backup quarterback and runner on the field for a majority of a campaign. Imagine the level of lethality this team can reach with a healthy Cousins and Dalvin Cook. Also, Cousins contract is only three years, so if the signing doesn’t go as planned, Minnesota can move on to another option without putting their piggy bank in a vice grip.

Football is a team sport, not a quarterback one. Complete teams win championships, not quarterbacks. That is not to say a team can’t win a championship with a great quarterback. Great quarterbacks have been winning titles for a while but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a plethora of examples where they did it by themselves. The great John Elway couldn’t win one without Terrell Davis’ help. Dan Marino went on a historic passing tear in his sophomore season, won MVP and took his team to a Super Bowl before getting pounced on by the 49ers dyansty. He never got to another one.

It’s actually far easier to find a team who carried a quarterback to a Super Bowl: 2015 Broncos, 2006 Steelers, 2003 Bucs and let’s not forget about Trent Dilfer and the 2000 Ravens.

Teams predicated on quarterback success often falter in big moments because it’s difficult for one man to do it all. Look at the Colts with Andrew Luck. Drafted first overall by a winless team, he took Indy to 11-5 and a wild-card game. The next season, he advanced them to the divisional round and the year after that to the AFC Championship game, one of the most impressive starts to a career in quite a while. He was given a massive extension, which he had earned and which was the right move for the franchise. Problem is, during all these playoff runs, Indy management had done little to build the team around Luck. In 2013, they drafted defensive end Bjoern Warner, a bust. In general, the entire class was a robust failure. In 2015, they reached for receiver Philip Dorsett, a receiver that didn’t play out his rookie deal with Indy he was so unwanted. Their second choice, cornerback D’Joun Smith, played a total of five game for the Colts. At one point, general manager Ryan Grigson blamed Andrew Luck’s extension for his inability to put together a competent defense.

This claim was complete nonsense. These were their defensive rankings, beginning during Luck’s rookie year:

Yards/Pass/Rush/PPG

2012 26th 21st 29th 21st

2013 20th 13th 26th 9th

2014 11th 12th 17th 16th

2015 26th 24th 25th 25th

2016 30th 27th 25th 22nd

 

You’ll notice the year they were passable, in 2014, is the year they made it to the AFC Championship game, once again, on the shoulder of one Andrew Luck. Without Luck, we’ve seen what the Colts are: garbage. Quarterbacks hide a team’s flaws. They don’t cure them.

Drew Brees has had a similar problem with the Saints. A player of his caliber should have made it to more than one Super Bowl by now.

Look at those defensive rankings!

Yards/Pass/Rush/PPG

’06 11th 3rd 23rd 13th<—-Nice start!

’07 26th 30th 13th 25th<–Straight to garbage, huh?

’08 23rd 23rd 17th 26th<–Not trying anymore?

’09 25th 26th 21st 20th<–We have Brees! What is defense?

’10 4th 4th 16th 7th<——Got to be a Super Bowl here, right? No? It was the ’09 season?

’11 24th 30th 12th 13th<–Nice PPG! Lose to a better defense in the 49ers.

’12 32nd 31st 32nd 31st<-Here’s where it gets a lot of fun.

’13 4th 2nd 19th 4th<—–Good defensive year lost due to running into Legion of Boom.

’14 31st 25th 29th 28th<–Back to not trying again, I see.

’15 31st 31st 31st 32nd<–Sean Payton is a great coach!

’16 27th 32nd 14th 31st<-Why run on this team when we can throw them into oblivion?

’17 17th 15th 16th 10th<-Minneapolis Miracle time!

Imagine what the Saints’ reputation would be if Drew Brees didn’t throw for 4,500 nearly every year during his time in New Orleans. Remove Brees from Louisiana and Payton doesn’t have a job in three years, maybe less, and Saints fans’ only respite is watching who they pick with their top-five slot in the draft. People aren’t kidding when they call Brees the heart of New Orleans. If he wasn’t there, New Orleans would be a corpse.

 

Sadly, Rodgers, Luck and Brees have seen their careers mostly wasted to this point. Rodgers and Brees are likely going to visit Canton and yet they both have only one Lombardi. Luck still has time to change his fortunes if he can ever get his shoulder to operate again. I’m rooting for it, even if the Colts franchise clearly doesn’t deserve him.

Stafford also belongs on this list. Not a Hall of Fame talent, but a gunslinger who has deserved better. Detroit wasted the prime years of Stafford to Calvin, including taking one of the greatest receivers to ever play the game into a winless season and so much turmoil that Megatron would rather not play football than continue to play in Motor City. The last time the Lions were tenth or better in rushing, Barry Sanders was playing football. Let’s see how the Lions have done since then.

’98 10th<—–Man, that Barry dude is so good. Hope he never retires. *Immediately retires

’99 28th<—–It will take us some time to recover from the loss of Barry.

’00 20th<—–See, improvement! We’re gonna be fine.

’01 28th<—–Oh, God. 2-14. Hope this doesn’t happen again any time soon.

’02 29th<—–We’re gonna be fine. Joey Harrington is the future!

’03 32nd<—-Man, we’ve spent four of five years in the bottom five in rushing. Starting to miss Barry, now. Receiver Charles Rogers at number two will help us though!

’04 19th<—–Roy Williams looks like an elite receiver. Kevin Jones is the savior of Detroit!

’05 26th<—–It’s just a sophomore slump for Kevin. He’ll be fine.

’06 32nd<—-Oh geez, we need some help. How about Brian Calhoun! *tears ACL, ends career

’07 31st<—–Look, we’ve gone from 3-13 to 7-9. We’re on the verge of greatness!

’08 30th<—–Oh, God. A winless season. Where did it go wrong? We better get Calvin some help. He looks pissed.

’09 24th<—–Matt Stafford is a generational talent. Stafford to Calvin is gonna be one of the greatest connections in pro football history.

’10 23rd<—–Suh is a tank and Jahvid Best is a phenom. The days of not having a running game are finally behind us.

’11 29th<—–We made the playoffs for the first time since Barry! We got Mikel Leshoure! We are bound for great-(demolished by New Orleans).

’12 23rd<—–10-6 to 4-12 was quite a fall but Ryan Broyles is the best receiver college football has ever seen. We’ll finally have another option for Matt!

’13 17th<—–Reggie Bush is gonna become the GOAT for us. This is the team to break the streak!

’14 28th<—–We haven’t won a playoff game since 1991. We’re finally gonna (Cowboys crush Motor City dreams 24-20).

’15 32nd<—-Last in rushing again? Geez, starting to think this might be the problem. Oh, no. We made Calvin quit, too?

’16 30th<—-We got Nebraska star Ameer Abdullah! The streak will finally… *placed on season-ending IR.

’17 32nd<— *flips table, exits stage left

12 times in the bottom five in the last 20 seasons and seven times in the bottom three in the last 15. Gross mismanagement, plain and simple.

 

Build around your team. There’s more to the game then quarterbacks.

Teams with quarterbacks on their rookie deals are the easiest to manage because they don’t have the money invested in their signal caller. Look at the Eagles. Wentz had a cap hit of a little over $6 million in 2017 and was my MVP for the season. In addition to the incredible value they got from his performance, they allocated their savings in the trenches and now have a top-five offensive and defensive line.

Dak Prescott’s entire rookie deal will cost the Cowboys less than $3 million, savings they’ve invested in Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick. Extensions for these three stalwarts wouldn’t have been possible if Dak had Jimmy Garoppolo’s 2018 cap hit of $37 million.

And let’s say, for sake of argument, that Dak ends up being average over the course of his deal. (In 2017, Dak threw for 3,324 and a 88.6 rating (16th), regressing from a rookie year that made him a candidate for offensive player of the year.) It still would be a win for the organization because they now have three regular All-Pro players locked on their roster.

Deshaun Watson has a cap hit of $6 million and if he performs like he did during his unfortunately short rookie year, the team will have a serious shot at a playoff run by the end of his rookie contract.

This is how you build a football team. You want to be the 49ers and go mad spending on an unproven commodity? Be my guest. You’re gonna have a hard time building a roster. Yes, that quarterback might bring you out of the swamps of depression but one player will have a hard time pulling you out of the quicksands of mediocrity. You want $30 million quarterbacks? Go for it. Just know history and the numbers aren’t on your side.

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One Team, One Jersey: Buffalo Bills

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

Following the sad exposition that was talking about the Oakland Raiders before the new regime, we now move to the desolate tundra of Buffalo, a franchise that has also been mired in mismanagement for decades. Before this past season, the Bills last playoff game was in 1999 when Doug Flutie was quarterback. Yes, this Doug Flutie.

To be honest, I used to have a Doug Flutie Bills jersey that I sadly outgrew and it’s one I’d like to bring back to the collection. He was a fan favorite in Buffalo and as we all know, completed one of the greatest upsets in sports history. I always felt that Flutie had been slighted because of his stature and took that to heart, that people diminish you for things that are inconsequential to your ability. I’d respect a Flutie jersey but for this series, we need to pick someone current.

Buffalo has made a habit of building their roster through free agency for years and so picking a jersey for the Bills will be no easy task. There was Drew Bledsoe, T.O., Kyle Orton, Percy Harvin, Charles Clay and Kelvin Benjamin.

While the Bills have had some blunders in the draft as well (J.P. Losman, E.J. Manuel, John McCargo, Aaron Maybin),  the ones that they did hit on they’ve repeatedly decided not to keep, such as Marshawn Lynch, Donte Whitner, Paul Posluszny, and more recently, Stephon Gilmore, Marcell Dareus, Cordy Glenn and Ronald Darby. They actually have a propensity to trade away players selected with high draft picks.

Those last moves I mentioned had to be done to help start this new rebuild, but it is a story we’ve seen before and fairly recently with Buffalo as well. Historically, teams that don’t draft well in the NFL don’t do well and teams that build their teams through free agency on a regular basis don’t do well either.

The Bills have seemingly given up on the franchise player. They shouldn’t. It got them this guy.

With few franchise players to choose from, LeSean McCoy is the obvious choice. The six-time Pro Bowler spent three of those years in Buffalo, but McCoy spent most of his career in Philly and I myself still view him as an Eagle. He has not lost a step since he was traded for linebacker Kiko Alonso during Chip Kelly’s demolition of the Philly roster. Man, that trade was a doozy for Philly, wasn’t it?

He’s been the lead man on one of the most imposing ground games in football and remains the same slippery runner that he was when he was drafted out of Pittsburgh in 2009. By the way, what an awful draft class 2009 was.

The deciding factor, for me, is that McCoy might be the best running back the Eagles ever had. He currently holds the franchise record for rushing yards. So, as of now, that takes McCoy off the table.

Perhaps no jersey embodies the Buffalo Bills as well as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Watch some lowlights and you might come to grasp a morsel of the type of torture that Bills fans have had to go through. Fitzpatrick was a serviceable quarterback in Buffalo and as I wrote years back, he was improving at the time.

Jokes aside, it really is hard to find a jersey on this team because of the insane amount of roster turnover. Linebacker Preston Brown had 281 tackles in his last two seasons but left for Cincinnati. As I said earlier, Darby and Dareus are gone and left tackle Cordy Glenn wasn’t an exceptional tackle before being traded to Cincinnati. Tyrod Taylor played most of his career in Baltimore and wouldn’t have been eligible anyway. That leaves us with only two real options.

Five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kyle Williams is the longest tenured Bill, having been with the team for his entire 12-year career. As I believe I mentioned before, I have a lot of respect for a player who stays with one franchise and does all he can for the betterment of the team. Players like these also become staples of their community and childhood idols.

Tre’Davious White was one of the strongest rookies last season, starring as a number one corner for Buffalo. Someone that looked more geared for a slot position did better than expected on the outside but whether his production is sustainable is still a question mark. White doesn’t have the same burst or speed that got Marshon Lattimore a Defensive Rookie of the Year. He didn’t demonstrate the explosiveness in college to be able to play strong off coverage, but Tre’Davious White is the future in Buffalo.

My pick: Tre’Davious White. My jersey: Home Blue.

Image result for tre'davious white jersey free use

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One Team, One Jersey: Oakland Raiders

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

Since Rich Gannon’s MVP season in 2002, the Oakland Raiders have been one of the most dysfunctional franchises in professional sports. Randy Moss’ tenure in black was a disappointment. So was Carson Palmer’s.

In the five seasons following their Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay, Oakland accrued a record of 19-61. The Black and Silver wouldn’t have another winning season until 2016. During that span, the Raiders were 63-145.

It was a historic level of incompetence, not just for Oakland, but for the NFL. Looking at their draft boards, the sight doesn’t get any prettier.

In 2000, they spent a first-rounder on a kicker. Let that sink in.

In 2004, they drafted tackle Robert Gallery second overall. After being talked up as one of the best offensive lineman to come out of college in years, Gallery would fail to make a Pro Bowl and struggle with sacks during his entire career.

In 2007, they drafted JaMarcus Russell, likely the biggest bust in NFL history, ahead of the receiver known as Megatron, Joe Thomas and Adrian Peterson. In 31 games, Russell threw for a little over 4,000 yards, 18 touchdowns and 23 interceptions, was sacked 70 times and fumbled on 25 occasions. He constantly dealt with conditioning issues, eventually ballooning to 290 pounds going into minicamp, and it was released after his NFL career that he struggled with an addiction to codeine.

In 2008, they drafted two-time Heisman finalist Darren McFadden, a running back that never became the franchise player they had hoped for. McFadden broke the 1,000 yard plateau twice in his 10-year career, once with Oakland. During his tenure, he dealt with lingering issues, including an ongoing case of turf toe.

In 2009, they spent the seventh overall pick on speedster Darrius Heyward-Bey, ending perhaps the worst back-to-back-to-back first round selections in the history of the NFL. Heyward-Bey was drafted purely because of his speed and that speed did not aid his route running technique. In his four years in Oakland, Heyward-Bey registered 140 receptions for 2,071 yards and 11 touchdowns.

But the streak would continue. In 2010, they drafted Alabama linebacker Rolando McClain, a Butkus award winner and national champion. McClain never proved to be an elite linebacker, eventually going on a Facebook rant talking about how much he wanted out of Oakland. He had a brief resurgence in Dallas before violating the league’s substance-abuse policy multiple times and earning an indefinite suspension. During his time in the spotlight, he built quite the rap sheet, including a codeine addiction, third-degree assault, reckless endangerment, discharging a firearm inside city limits, menacing, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, providing an officer with false ID, firearm and drug charges and possible arson.

So after being drafted in the second round of 2014 by Oakland, Derek Carr was already shadowed by the past of his older brother, David. Drafted first overall in 2002 by the newly-formed Houston Texans, David Carr never became the franchise stalwart he was supposed to become.

It’s worth noting how weak the 2002 draft was. Of the 32 first-rounders, only 10 would make a Pro Bowl. Of the 261 picks that year, only 20 made it to Hawaii in their careers. Of course, there were productive players that never made it to a Pro Bowl, such as Deshaun Foster, who led Carolina in rushing for many years, eventually becoming the franchise record holder, and Deion Branch, who was Brady’s top target for a few seasons and a Super Bowl MVP.

Overall, though, 2002 was a bad draft and so to label the elder Carr a bust seems a tad unfair. He had no offensive line as the franchise set league records for sacks allowed (He was sacked a belittling 76 times his rookie season). The truth remains that David was one of the most disappointing top picks in league history and for that reason there was a bit of ho-hum when Derek Carr was drafted as one of the early selections in the second round. It seemed doomed to end the same way for the Raiders.

It did not.

After an MVP-caliber season in 2016, Carr looked like a franchise quarterback, pulling off late game-winning touchdown drives on a weekly basis. Sadly, what looked like a team geared for a serious playoff run fell short in the wild card round to Houston. Carr suffered a broken fibula in the second-to-last week in the season and did not get to start that game, but in his best season, Carr finished with just under 4,000 yards, a 63.8 completion percentage, 28 touchdowns to six interceptions and a passer rating of 96.7.

Up to this point, Carr’s career has progressed in a similar path to Andrew Luck’s. His team heavily relies on him and the distance he can carry that team with define his legacy as a franchise quarterback. Unlike Luck, however, he has a dominant receiver in Amari Cooper, one of the best offensive lines in the league and one of the league’s most dominant predators in Khalil Mack. General manager Reggie McKenzie has given Carr all the tools he needs to succeed and it’s now up to him to turn his own talents and those around him into a championship contender. After a disappointing 6-10 season coming off a contract extension that made him one of the highest-paid players in the league, McKenzie has now swapped Michael Crabtree for longtime Packer receiver Jordy Nelson and brought in coach Jon Gruden. Anything short of a playoff win in 2018 would be a disappointment for the Black Hole.

Jordy Nelson and Amari Cooper make arguably the best receiver duo in the NFL, which should make for a lethal air raid. Amari Cooper became the first rookie receiver in Raiders history to notch 1,000 receiving yards in 2015 after being drafted fourth overall. He was dominating NFL prospects in college and has continued to do so at the professional level. But he also had a disappointing 2017, totaling only 48 receptions and 680 yards. How Carr and Cooper perform these next two years will determine if the AC/DC connection will be one of the most productive quarterback-receiver mashups in Raider history or if it will be another reminder of high draft picks that never meshed the way ownership hoped.

Remove the blitzkrieg taking place on the offensive side of the ball and you have a lone wolf seemingly keeping the defense from imploding. Khalil Mack might be the league’s top edge rusher and years into his career has not run into a wall he can’t speed past or bull over. He is a wrecking ball for opposing defenses.

He won Defensive Player of the Year in only his third season and has piled over 40 sacks and 300 tackles thus far in his career. He’s the most valuable player to the defense and it’s a unit that holds on by a thread year after year, routinely near the bottom third in most defensive categories. In 2016 during his DPOY season, the Raiders had 25 sacks, fewest in the NFL. The last time Oakland allowed under 5,600 yards was 2010, when the Raiders were tenth in the league in yards allowed with 5,165. If they want to be a true contender, getting a capable defense to back up that rapid fire offense is the way to do it and they won’t accomplish that without Mack. Better get that extension taken care of quick.

Carr is a nice story, Cooper has the traits of a top-tier star but Khalil Mack is a gridiron terrorist.

My pick: Khalil Mack. My jersey: Color Rush Silver.

Image result for khalil mack color rush jersey, free use

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Time to Take The Bell Down

Image result for leveon bell poster free useI’m done.

We all should be.

There’s only so much nonsense you can take before the phrase “I’ve had it up to here” should be utilized.

Le’Veon Bell has reached that point.

On the off-chance you’re still living under a rock in 2018, Le’Veon Bell is a professional football player, specifically, a running back, in the National Football League who plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He’s very accomplished, carries superior talent and has become possibly the best in the world at what he does and so has asked to be paid as such. So far so good.

I, as well as most, completely sympathize with someone’s efforts being rewarded. We want to see our work and time appreciated and for us to be compensated as such. That is perfectly reasonable.

If you haven’t followed Bell’s saga because you’ve been under that rock, here’s a synopsis:

  • Bell is drafted in the second round of the 2013 NFL draft, the second back taken off the board.
  • Bell suffers a mid-foot sprain in his second preseason game, missing the first three weeks of the season. Despite that, Bell breaks legend Franco Harris’ rookie franchise record for yards from scrimmage (1,259).
  • Bell has a stellar 2014, finishing second in rushing yards and scrimmage yards behind DeMarco Murray, leads all backs in receiving and earns his first Pro-Bowl nod. Bell hyperextends his knee in the final contest of the regular season, missing the playoffs.
  • Bell is arrested with then-teammate LeGarrette Blount on DUI and marijuana possession charges. He’s suspended two games.
  • Bell’s 2015 season ends after suffering a torn MCL.
  • Bell sleeps through an alarm and misses a third drug test, which ends in another suspension, this time for three games.
  • Bell suffers a groin injury late in divisional round, leaving him mostly inactive for the Steelers’ championship loss against New England.
  • In 2017, Bell is named to his third Pro Bowl and amasses nearly 2,000 scrimmage yards.
  • Days before the team’s playoff match with Jacksonville, Bell says he would consider retiring if the Steelers placed the franchise tag on him for a second consecutive campaign. The previous offseason, Bell turned down a five-year contract that would have paid him an annual average value, or AAV, of 12. It included 30 million for his first two seasons and 42 for his first three, an unprecedented evaluation for a running back. Even Adrian Peterson’s extension back in 2011, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, had an AAV of 9.6. Bell turned down 12.

There are a couple of things you should take note of in the above section:

  1. Le’Veon Bell is good at running back.
  2. Le’Veon Bell has disciplinary issues.
  3. Le’Veon Bell has an injury history.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s take a look at some headlines:

“LE’VEON BELL REPORTEDLY WANTS $17 MILLION A YEAR”

“LE’VEON BELL WANTS TO BE PAID AS TOP RB AND NO 2 WR”

“LE’VEON BELL WANTS $17 MILLION A YEAR FROM STEELERS LIKE ANTONIO BROWN”

 

I wish I could say I laughed when I saw these. I really do.

I didn’t.

You see, reader from under the rock, Le’Veon Bell has an ego.

That’s fine. He’s Le’Veon Bell. He’s really good at running back.

However, I’m talking about Le’Veon Bell’s ego. Le’Veon Bell’s ego is huge. Le’Veon Bell has been surrounded by people who tell him he’s God’s gift to the world.

This is also fine. Parents tell this to their children every day before they send them off to school, usually to try to give them a much-needed boost of confidence but ostensibly because they have no idea how to parent. They figure if they make them confident, everything will fall into place.

Bell is a product of what happens when this parenting technique goes horribly wrong. Le’Veon believes himself to be so talented that he rationalizes he should be paid as two different people, both a top running back and a two-spot receiver, but also believes he’s worth as much as the league’s best pass catcher, Antonio Brown. Now, reader under a rock, feel free to google Antonio Brown on YouTube to get to know the guy a little bit. I actually talked about him in my One Team, One Jersey series, where I talk about each football team and decided what jersey I would want from that team. (Insert shameless plug here).

Despite the fact that one more slip-up in the drug department could warrant a long-term suspension and Bell’s struggle to play a full 16-game spread, both of which are rather large red flags, Bell thinks he’s worth $17 million a year.

 

Rather than mock Bell for another couple paragraphs, I’m gonna give him the benefit of the doubt. It’s what any sportswriter or fan should do. Let’s take a look at the evidence and give the guy a fair trial, shall we?

Let’s take a look at salary cap figures, just to get an idea of how good Le’Veon thinks he is.

Prior to this offseason, the largest cap hit for any running back in the league was LeSean McCoy at 8.95. Even after all of the signings this spring, Jerick McKinnon’s 2018 cap hit is 10.5 after signing a four-year, $30 million deal to become the starting tailback of San Francisco. His AAV? 7.5. A reminder that Bell is asking for 17.

The highest AAV for a running back is 8.25. That number belongs to Devonta Freeman, who in August signed a five-year extension for $41.25.

A reminder: Bell wants an AAV of 17.

In 2018, only two backs will have an AAV of 8 or more: Freeman and standout LeSean McCoy. Add McKinnon and you get the only three who are making more than 7 per. Le’Veon Bell will play on the franchise tag and will make $14.5, meaning he’s making more than double the pay of almost every running back in professional football. If he had signed that extension, that five-year, $60 million offer, Bell would be making more than double what every running back in the league is making with the exception of the three above plus Leonard Fournette, Ezekiel Elliott and Lamar Miller. (Fournette and Elliott are still on their rookie deals.)

For context, learner under the rock, the running back market has not increased over the last few seasons. It is cemented in stone at this point that only the very best running backs see close to no depreciation once they hit 30. Backs touch the ball more than any player other than a quarterback and take a lot of punishment because of it. Due to that, most backs are out of the league once they near or surpass 30 years of age. Only the gridiron gods can keep their game together and even then, sometimes those generational talents begin to fade away.

This is why Bell wants paid so much. He knows what we all do: his career will end before most other athletes from his draft class because of the position he plays.

With that said, Bell wants double the next guy. His latest evaluation of $17 million AAV means he believes he’s worth double any back in the NFL. It takes an extraordinary amount of arrogance to make that claim, but it’s only arrogance if it’s not true. So let’s find out if it is.

 

In five seasons, Bell has amassed 5,336 yards rushing and 2,660 yards receiving for a net total of 7,996. He’s accomplished this in 62 games for a per game average of 128.96 yards, a statistic that Bell has paraded around a number of times to prove his worth. That 128.96 is one of the best numbers in NFL history, currently at the top of the list, though many, including me, doubt that number’s sustainability. Hall of Fame players have seen similar numbers in their early years before seeing their numbers teeter off on the back-end. The great Jim Brown is right behind Bell at 125.5 and not only did he play in a less organized era when football was still very rudimentary, Brown retired at 29. We never got to see his play diminish. Even Barry Sanders, who retired at 30, posted 118.9 in his career, an incredible achievement that hasn’t come close to being duplicated. The closest are Terrell Davis and Adrian Peterson, who posted 113.9 and 112 respectively.

It is hard for any analyst to look at the players on this list, all of the greats, and believe the argument that Bell is greater than all of them.

Let’s pretend for a moment he is. Let’s compare him to some of the other younger talents in the NFL.

Taking a look at a player’s first few years, the same as Bell’s career length at this juncture, should give us an idea of how comparable or incomparable he is.

 

Le’Veon Bell 62 games, 62 started 5,336/2,660/7,996/128.96/128.96 (rushing/receiving/total/yards per game/yards per game started)

Devonta Freeman 61 games, 43 started 3,248/1,582/4,830/79.18/112.33

LeSean McCoy 74 games, 60 started 5,473/2,127/7,600/102.73/126.66

Frank Gore 73 games, 60 started 5,561/1,841/7,402/101.40/123.37

 

Adrian Peterson 73 games, 66 started 6,752/1,170/7,922/108.52/120.03

LaDainian Tomlinson 79 games, 79 started 7,361/2,292/9,653/122.19/122.19

Edgerrin James 65 games, 65 started 6,172/2,019/8,191/126.02/126.02

 

If we look at three comparable players from his current era, we see Bell’s numbers are comparable to even someone like Frank Gore, who during his early years played in the garbage fire that was San Francisco. While Bell’s receiving numbers are higher than any player’s on this list, there have been players who have done more on the ground in recent years and some by a wide margin. An additional five to ten yards simply doesn’t make you worth double the next guy. It’s just basic economics.

I also compiled a list of three Hall of Famers (James should get in sooner rather than later) and you’ll see his numbers are comparable.

“Wait, how can even Devonta Freeman, who hasn’t done anything crazy special in his career, still be putting up numbers in the same ballpark as LT? And how did Frank Gore average a little under five yards less in his first five years than Le’Veon Bell?”

Honestly, it’s because the difference between a very good and great running back often aren’t chasms apart. While the game has evolved away from the run game, the best backs in the league can still get it done. Look no further than LeSean McCoy, who has made a great career into a possible Canton trip. Look no further than Edgerrin James, who put up Bell-level production while Peyton Manning was performing surgery on NFL defenses. Look no further than Frank Gore, who played with a new offensive coordinator literally every season and still put up Pro-Bowl level numbers.

Le’Veon Bell has been gifted a top-five offensive line, Hall of Fame quarterback and the best receiver in football.

Frank Gore played with Antonio Bryant and pre-resurrection Alex Smith.

Hell, if we take out Gore’s rookie year, when he started only one game and show just his second through fifth seasons, when he started every game he played in, his stat line looks like this:

Frank Gore 59 games, 59 started 4,953/1,700/6,653/112.76/112.76

112 yards per game behind the San Francisco 49ers line of the mid 2000’s is incredible value. A player of Bell’s talent is almost expected to mimic those numbers behind a great offensive line.

For transparency’s sake, what if we needle some of these stats down to make a more accurate sample size.

LeSean McCoy 58 games, 56 started 4856/1819/6,675/115.09/119.20

At 115 yards per game, McCoy was at a per game average slightly behind Barry Sanders, yet was only paid $8 million in AAV. Why is that? Let’s take a closer look.

 

McCoy, in 2017, put up 1,586 yards from scrimmage. That means McCoy was paid $4,886.51 per yard by cap hit. Not a bad pay-day.

Todd Gurley won Offensive Player of the Year last season, accruing 2,093 yards. Still on his rookie deal, that means Gurley was paid…$808.24 per yard?

This, lad under the rock, is called the salary cap.

You see, to make the playing field fair, the suits instituted a salary cap, meaning there was a limit put in place to what a team could spend on its players. This led to a more competitive board and to new philosophies regarding team building. One of those philosophies is not spending a bazillion dollars on one player.

When it became apparent how difficult it was to find an excellent passer, teams assigned higher value to that position, the same way that teams starting pouring money into the left tackle spot after Lawrence Taylor killed Joe Theismann. (You probably don’t get that reference. Sorry. Here’s a link.)

So when teams started to find their running backs slowing down and coupled that with the evolution of pass-happy offenses, executives, and therefore the market, determined the running back position was less valuable.

In the 2016 season, Aaron Rodgers piled a total of 4,797 yards during a year in which he was paid $12.6 million, which means $2,626.64 per yard. By cap hit? $4065.04. For those who struggle with math, $4,065 is less than $4,886. Don’t worry. Bell’s number figures to be a lot higher than that.

 

A base salary of $17 million in 2018 would put him sixth in the NFL in AAV behind Kirk Cousins’ new deal, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, DeMarcus Lawrence and Ezekiel Ansah. (It’s worth noting that Lawrence and Ansah are also playing on the franchise tag this upcoming season.)

Not only that, if Bell made $17 million in cash in 2018, that would put him one spot outside the top 25 highest-paid players in the NFL, a majority of which came from this most recent offseason. (If you don’t know, human under the rock, the offseason is when teams pay exorbitant prices to get players to join their team). McKinnon’s new signing will earn him $12 in 2018, good for 62nd in the league in total net earnings. To get to the next back, you have to scroll for half of your lifespan all the way down to 246, where LeSean McCoy’s $6.325 sits.

Which means, using our math skills, that Bell is looking to make nearly triple what LeSean McCoy is making despite averaging about ten more yards a game on a far better offensive unit.

I guess you have to ask yourself: Is ten more yards worth an additional $11 million?

No. No, it’s not.

Is it worth the additional $9 million in AAV Bell is looking for?

No. No, it’s not.

At 1,946 scrimmage yards last year at the figure Bell wants, he would have been paid $8,735.87 a yard by cap hit. Why would anyone pay nearly $9,000 a yard when they can get the same production for less than $5?

Yes, third-down yards carry more value. Yes, fourth-quarter yards carry more value. Sadly, I don’t have the resources to look at those numbers. Given the numbers at our disposal, is it possible Bell is worth that much more than the next guy?

No. No, it is not.

This isn’t rocket science, my new friend. It’s basic math.

It’s now come to my attention that you probably don’t understand that expression. My apologies. Will have to get to that later.

To make matters worse, Bell has picked up a shovel and started digging his own grave with social media, accusing fans and the media of painting him as a villain. It was one of the most tone-deaf uses of social media yet displayed in 2018. No one was bashing Bell’s performance. They were tortured by his unabated greed. As one media member commented, “Look down, Le’Veon. You’re the one holding the paintbrush.”

Le’Veon has not only made his tenure with the Steelers continuing beyond this season as improbable as a lottery winner, he’s also tarnished his reputation and image by decrying those who believe his numbers to be inaccurate, even if they are, factually, inaccurate. General annoyance with his antics has turned into the type of frustration a parent has when they’re forced to watch their child ignore their advice and run their head into a wall. I’m completely done with Le’Veon and so is much of this city. Annoyance has transformed to rage and now dissolved into complete apathy. I don’t care about Bell and I can’t wait when he’s off this roster.

I hope you’ve enjoyed escaping from under the rock, my new friend. The only one that’s still under there now is Le’Veon.

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Tom Wilson: The Mask the NHL Refuses to Take Off

In 2018, nearly all of professional sports is dealing with a crisis. The NFL has a domestic violence culture that continues to persist, a general ambivalence to head trauma and then there’s the whole restricting the players’ rights thing (see anthem protests circa 2017). FIFA has been drowning in corruption for years and only now appears to be gasping for air. Major League Baseball has got past the steroid era but now is dealing with fans not being present in the stands and commissioner Rob Manfred is desperate to speed up the game. The NBA has done a great job marketing itself and has no PR problems of note. Bravo, NBA.

The NHL’s problem has been an ongoing one. They, too, have a concerning lack of interest regarding head trauma, but there’s might be even more lethal than the NFL’s.

The year is now 2018. None can say they don’t know the full implications of repeated head trauma. The safety of the athletes is far more important than it once was. The game is quicker. The audience has become more attuned to the sport. They know good hockey when they see it and they know garbage hockey when they see it as well (looking at you, Buffalo and Edmonton).

As the audience has grown in intellect and stature, the league has sought to meet the demands of its audience, installing 3-on-3 overtime to make for a more exciting spectacle.

Audiences have agreed the days of thug hockey are over. The days when people saw value in a dude elbowing another dude in the chops is over. It’s not safe. It’s dangerous.

The league, like every other organization run by rich white men, has dragged their feet on changing. They would just prefer the world continue as it were and the steady stream of green continue its way into their vaults. That’s not how life works. It evolves and that evolution is one of the most sacred things about life. You can adapt with it or be left behind.

The enforcers, those once idolized brawlers, have slowly been pushed out of the sport but some linger.

Tom Wilson, likely the dirtiest player in professional hockey, is a prime example. His penchant for headshots is well-known. Yet, Mr. Wilson remains.

In Game 2 of the Pens-Capitals playoff series, Wilson delivered one of those trademarks to the skull of Brian Dumoulin, who crumbled to the ice. Wilson was not penalized and did not even receive a phone call from the NHL’s department of player safety.

Despite his history, the NHL decided to let Wilson go on bail. Wilson was eager to repay them.

In Game 3, Wilson left his feet and drove his shoulder into the face of Penguins’ forward Zach Ashton-Reese, who suffered a broken jaw and a concussion. The referees got together and decided it was a clean check. Wilson returned to the bench with a smile.

In what world is that type of result legal? Why, the NHL, of course.

The NHL has a problem, a large problem, if its umpires and executives in Toronto watch a guy get decapitated on national television and don’t think it should be penalized. There is a grave danger in allowing that type of behavior to persist and the result of letting that behavior live was on full display Tuesday night. Blood was on the ice and Ashton-Reese had a caved-in skull.

The NHL’s current disciplinary rule dictates that the league cannot take a player’s history into effect when viewing whether or not a hit was illegal or not. In the case of Tom Wilson, he simply has a history of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, that place specifically being with a part of his body driven into another man’s brain center. To not take his past into account would be like giving a chronic abuser bail after allegedly committing another act of domestic assault. It is your job to decide, not if he’s guilty, but to decide if the public is at risk if you let him leave your supervision. The NHL decided Tom Wilson, a man with his own film roll of headshots, wasn’t a danger to society. We all got to see the result of their mistake.

In addition to making a common sense change to the way they view disciplinary action, it might be a good idea if the department of player safety wasn’t run by someone who didn’t give a fluff about player safety during his career. Making George Parros the head of the department of player safety is like making a renowned Soviet spy the head of the FBI. It is exactly that type of person that you don’t want in that room.

Lastly, might want to look at how four referees on the ice witness a hit like that and think that’s a legal play.

At the same time, I don’t know if I can fully blame the refs. They don’t know what mask the NHL is wearing anymore.

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One Team, One Jersey: Kansas City Chiefs

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

While not eligible for this series, Jamaal Charles was one of the best running backs in the NFL during the early 2010’s. Behind a stout defense, Jamaal Charles was essentially a one-man offense while Kansas City went through a carousel of quarterbacks ranging from Matt Cassel to Kyle Orton to Brady Quinn. The team also struggled at the receiving position during that time frame. Charles was it, which sadly meant a heavier workload that no doubt led to his injuries.

I’ve always been a fan of long-tenured players and Charles was a mainstay in Kansas City for nine seasons. The ninth running back taken in a strong running back class in 2008 (Darren McFadden, Jonathan Stewart, Felix Jones, Rashard Mendenhall, Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Kevin Smith), Charles became a four-time Pro Bowler in Kansas City and currently owns the league record for yards per carry at 5.4. I can respect a Charles jersey.

Linebacker Derrick Johnson, the man in the middle of those trench wars on defense, was a key contributor to the unit that kept the Chiefs from falling into complete obscurity and irrelevance. Another franchise staple, Johnson spent 12 seasons with Kansas City, earning four trips to Hawaii himself and amassing nearly 1,100 tackles.

Recently departed Marcus Peters won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 and since entering the league, has led the NFL in interceptions. He’s one of the game’s most prominent young corners and will look to add to that legacy in Los Angeles alongside perennial Pro Bowler Aqib Talib.

I’m sure some will ask why Tyreek Hill wasn’t near the top of this list. He certainly meets the definition of playmaker and Kansas City showed he could be a regular contributor on offense in 2017 as they moved him to the top receiver spot.

Hill is still a raw talent when it comes to his route tree and release but his speed is unmatched. He’s an energizing player to watch in that sense because he can dominate opponents in a way football fans are not used to seeing. Usually, players are outmatched because of a player’s perfection of their craft (see Brady). There are also times though where an athlete is leaps and bounds ahead of their peers and is manipulating them physically (see my comments on Antonio Gates in my last chapter). It’s hard to be on the same playing field when your opponent has reached an athletic bar you simply can’t ascend to. Hill’s speed is one of those bars that few players attain.

If Hill is molded by his coaches and graduates to another level when it comes to the fine details of his position, such as his route tree, release, situational awareness and play recognition, he could become an elite receiver. Until then, he’s on the edge of brilliance but carries with him a lethal combination of big-play ability and momentum shift prowess.

As for a jersey consideration, the reason he fell to the fifth round was because he punched his pregnant girlfriend in the belly and proceeded to put her in a chokehold.

That’s just not someone I’m gonna support. This country, in 2018, still has a significant domestic violence problem and while I always hope those who fall into that hole become better people, it’s not a name I’m gonna wear on my back and parade around.

Speaking of better people, Eric Berry is an inspiration not just to the gridiron faithful but to those who’ve battled and continue to battle cancer. Just like James Conner battled at the University of Pittsburgh and became the best-selling jersey in the NFL during his rookie year with the Steelers, Eric Berry is someone you can fight alongside.

Berry has had three seasons cut short due to injury (torn ACL, cancer diagnosis, Achilles tear) but made the Pro Bowl in all five of his complete seasons.

Travis Kelce was taken in the third round in a strong tight end class (Tyler Eifert, Zach Ertz, Jordan Reed). In the same way that the Chiefs never had an offense outside of Charles during his early years, KC never had a legitimate receiving threat until Kelce arrived. In 2014, his first full season, he was surrounded by Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery, Albert Wilson and Jason Avant. Jeremy Maclin and draft pick Chris Conley came the following season but defenses knew who the number one target was.

This gave Kelce more targets and no doubt turned him into the elite tight end we know today. He’s made three Pro Bowls and has had over 80 receptions and 1,000 yards receiving in his last two expeditions. He’s right up there with Gronk and Greg Olsen.

Alex Smith, the leader of this tribe, had a strong 2017 to finish his career in Kansas City, compiling career highs in passing yards (4,042), touchdowns (26) and passer rating (104.7). For many years, it looked like Alex Smith, a first overall pick in 2005, was going to be a draft bust. In the toxic and ever-changing environment of San Francisco, Smith saw a new coordinator on a yearly basis and struggled to stay afloat as other quarterbacks, such as Aaron Rodgers in that same draft, put up historic production. After five seasons of bottom-of-the-league efficiency, Smith fell in sync with coach Jim Harbaugh and put together two playoff runs, helping his team to a Super Bowl appearance.

After the emergence of Colin Kaepernick, Smith was traded to Kansas City where he has spent the last five seasons. While not eligible for this series, I could understand why a sports fan could get behind a redemption story like Smith: someone who was viewed as a franchise savior, was slaughtered by mismanagement and opposing defenses ruthlessly for years but stuck with it, showed promise, and finally became the quarterback he was expected to be.

For me, Smith has always been a game manager, and I mean in that in the most complimentary way possible. He’s played safe with the ball, made logical decisions and won games by playing games like chess. That is not the most entertaining way to play quarterback. He’s not an exemplary athlete who can do things like Rodgers nor is he a master strategist like Brady or a stat-piling monster like Brees. He’s never been an elite quarterback and has never been a player who can put his team over the top by himself. He’ll have the chance to prove me wrong in Washington, who doesn’t have a great supporting cast and hasn’t found a consistent starter at running back since they let Alfred Morris walk, but for me, a quarterback that will live on in the history of professional football is one that could carry teams and Alex Smith is not in that category.

Kareem Hunt and one of the most impressive running back classes in recent memory (Fournette, McCaffrey, Cook, Mixon, Kamara) lit up NFL highlight reels.

Justin Houston had a 22-sack scorched earth campaign in 2014. Since coming out of Georgia in 2011, Houston has become one of the league’s most-feared pass rushers. In his first four seasons, including that 22 monstrosity, Houston registered 48.5 sacks. Since signing his contract, Houston has struggled with injuries but we know what the man can do when healthy.

There are a lot of big names on this team but Eric Berry, at his current pace, is a Hall of Fame safety. That potential, coupled with his cancer battle and the adversity he’s faced in battling injury, leaves me thrilled at the idea of a Berry jersey. #BerryStrong

My pick: Eric Berry. My jersey: Home Red.

Image result for eric berry home jersey free use

 

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One Team, One Jersey: Los Angeles Chargers

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

The 2004 quarterback class was one for the ages as franchise stalwarts Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger all went in the first round. (Poor J.P. Losman was also taken in the first round by the Bills.)

All three have aged well and Rivers has been no different. Over his 14-year NFL career, Rivers, along with Eli and Ben, has thrown for over 50,000 yards and 300 touchdowns, putting all three in the top ten of each category. All three have the chance to be Hall of Famers but there’s a notable difference between them: Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning have each won two Super Bowls. Philip Rivers hasn’t been to one.

That monkey has been on Rivers’ back for a long time and will be for the rest of his life. That’s what happens when you’re drafted alongside talented stars that also play your position. You will always be compared to them, no matter how unfair it is that you are judged by someone else’s merits rather than your own.

Roethlisberger is a probable HOFer for moments like the final drive in Super Bowl 43 or the back-to-back games he threw six touchdown passes or the multiple playoff wins he has. Eli is a possible HOFer for moments like the Tyree helmet catch that dethroned the undefeated Patriots. Rivers is unlikely to get into Canton because he doesn’t have that moment.

That’s not to say the guy isn’t a good player. He’s breached 4,000 yards nine times in his career and owns nearly every Charger passing record.

But it’s also difficult to overlook the 2006 season, when the then San Diego Chargers went 14-2 with Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield and couldn’t win even one playoff game with home-field advantage. Also, Tomlinson won MVP and Offensive Player of the Year during that run, just as a friendly reminder.

It’s hard to overlook the Chargers falling short in the AFC Championship the following year to New England, although I do give Rivers a ton of credit (Rivers played the game with a torn ACL).

In the 2008 season, Rivers led the Bolts to their third consecutive AFC West title before dropping yet another contest in the divisional round, this time to the Steelers.

In 2009, after a 13-3 campaign, Rivers and San Diego left defeated in their first playoff game again, this time to the Mark Sanchez-led Jets.

Rivers has spent six of the last seven years on the couch come playoff time and don’t worry, the one game he did get to, he lost.

Look, I have nothing against Rivers. He’s a talented quarterback and still one of the better ones in the NFL. The Chargers haven’t made it to the playoffs solely because of Rivers. There are plenty of other factors at play.

The fact remains: 4-5 in the playoffs. Zero AFC Championship wins.

That just doesn’t scream Hall of Fame.

Is there a chance he gets in? Sure. He’s still been one of the most prolific passers of his generation, but he’s not Ben, Brady, Brees, Peyton, Rodgers or even Eli. He’s just not a good bet.

He’s still fun to watch. He’s still a gunslinger. He’s still elite. He’s just not tier one, top-of-the-game elite.

Neither is his number one receiver, Keenan Allen. After a strong rookie season (Fun fact: At the time, only five receivers in NFL history had more receiving yards their rookie year than Allen’s 1,046), Allen suffered a broken collarbone, lacerated kidney and torn ACL in back-to-back-to-back years. He performed great this past campaign, winning Comeback Player of the Year. He’s a constant target for Rivers who will pad his stat sheet with receptions (one of five players with over 100 catches last year), run a full route tree (His 13.7 ypc was in the upper third for receivers) and has the vision to make plays in the open field (His 458 yards after catch ranked him fifth among wideouts).

Remove this past year and the game to game consistency that you look for number one receivers to produce isn’t there. He’s a capable route runner but ran a 4.7 at the combine. He was recovering from a knee sprain that year and admitted he wasn’t 100% for Indy, but ran a 4.56 dash his senior year of high school, which isn’t out of this world speed for a receiver. While he’s 6’2″ and can make vertical plays, he doesn’t play an aggressive style like Demaryius or, more appropriately, like DeAndre Hopkins does. He prefers to out-finesse defenders than out-muscle them. He’s got the cut ability to do that.

He is athletic enough to torture defenses who don’t have either agile corners or experienced defenders (12 recs vs BUF, 11 vs DAL, 10 vs CLE). When he has to play top-end corners, such as Aqib Talib in division-foe Denver, he struggles to take over games the way we are used to seeing top end flights do. In two games against Denver this season, Allen compiled 5 catches for 35 yards and 3 for 41.

There are a lot of other factors at play. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or funding needed to go over additional game tape and count his matchups against man versus zone and do even more stat-crunching than I’ve already done. You also have to consider the team’s game plan that week and the in-game situation at that moment.

Overall, Allen is a great receiver in fantasy football. He’s a reliable option for an experienced and still physically-gifted quarterback and is in a scheme that allows him a high volume of targets. For that reason alone, he can be counted on for five receptions a game and a solid yards after catch bonus on a week-to-week basis. As a receiver, Allen is an above average talent that has never seen his potential fully nurtured due to injury and it’s prevented him from joining the ranks of AB, Julio, Green and Odell.

Melvin Gordon, the stud from Wisconsin, still has the breakout speed that commands respect. Even now, defenses are still trying to force him to the inside and still he is able to make it work. You saw it in college, you saw it in 2016 and you saw it this past schedule. He hasn’t peaked yet though and I want to see what the next stage of his progression looks like before I buy in, which leaves me to discuss the player I just can’t pass up.

Antonio Gates is one of the best tight ends in NFL history and when you consider he never played a down of college football, well, that just speaks to the amount of athleticism this guy has. Imagine being so physically gifted that you could pick up something at the last possible second and be better than people who had been doing that thing for their whole lives. Everyone around you has spent countless hours perfecting their craft and you’ve made them look like boys among a behemoth who just learned the rules of the game. That’s frightening.

When you say the phrase “red zone threat,” I think Antonio Gates. Dude is too big and too strong. You could make the argument he was the one that started bringing basketball stars to the game of football.

He’s one of only ten players in NFL history to amass 100 touchdown catches and he’s currently 30th in receiving yards.

Melvin Ingram is a solid edge rusher. Joey Bosa is a technically-refined player that has some more hurdles to go through. Jason Verrett is a capable corner.

Antonio Gates? He’s a freak and worth my jersey spot for the Chargers.

My pick: Antonio Gates. My jersey: Home Blue.

 

Image result for antonio gates home jersey free use

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One Team, One Jersey: Denver Broncos

With the beginning of a new year comes the beginning of a new series. I’ve spent hundreds of hours (not an exaggeration) enthralled in game film sessions, reading player profiles, scrounging through stat sheets and scanning the histories of all the NFL franchises. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Welcome to One Team, One Jersey.

As a jersey collector and connoisseur, I am constantly expanding my repertoire and so I thought I should probably expand my search to all the teams of pro football. Buying every jersey I want would be too expensive though. Picking one for each team is reasonable and so became the idea that is One Team, One Jersey.

If you could only have one jersey from each NFL team, who would it be? There are a few ground rules:

The player you choose must have played for that team more than any other AND must have been on that team’s roster during the 2017 season.

Aside from that, it’s up to you what you prioritize: character, statistical production, championships, a combination of the three. Your call.

Who will you choose?

The Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl 50 is the obvious choice for this list. Texas A&M’s Von Miller is one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL. As we saw in that historic game, Miller has tremendous speed off the edge. In that spectacle, he was on another gear, it seemed. He could not be stopped. It was one of the most impressive postseason performances I’d ever seen. The game was in his hands and everyone else was just a piece in what seemed destined to happen.

Not to be cliché, but Miller was a man amongst boys. Carolina boasted what analysts were calling a supreme offense and the Denver defense, despite being excellent for much of the season, was not given much respect going into the game. That quickly changed. Cam Newton wasn’t just flustered. He was a man in a box for most of the game and Von Miller made the box, glued the box and supervised the box to make sure it stayed shut.

I started watching Super Bowls when I was 7. The event that was watching Tom Brady and the Patriots upset the 14-point favorite St. Louis Rams was the first one I got to witness. Since then, I’ve seen offensive studs take over games and I’ve witnessed defensive units save games but up until Super Bowl 50, I never saw a defensive player manipulate a contest to such an absurd extent. Von Miller seemed to have the game under lock and key. That’s not to say the game was out of reach for Carolina from the start, but as the game progressed, a simple fact became more and more apparent: Von Miller was too fast. Von Miller was more super than anyone else on that field and he was coming for his ring.

Following a surreal experience like that, Miller signed a long-term deal that handed him $70 million guaranteed, a deal he more than earned. In 2018, Miller would have had a cap hit of $22.4, the second-highest cap hit among defensive players (Suh had the third overall highest cap hit in the league at $26.1 before getting cut by the Dolphins) and the ninth-highest in the league (The Broncos and Miller agreed to restructure his contract and backload his deal, dropping his cap hit to a more manageable 9.7). He has the talent level to make even this mammoth deal look team friendly but he hasn’t shown it the last two years. The Broncos haven’t been the same since that Lombardi ceremony and Miller has been unable to make many highlight reel plays to take over games the way I’ve seen he can. That stutter in production leaves me a tad concerned with how much of an overall impact he can consistently make.

Still, Miller is a six-time Pro Bowler and has 83.5 sacks only seven years into his career. In the history of the NFL, only 32 players have 100 career sacks and Miller should join the exclusive list sooner rather than later.

Denver sports perhaps the best corner duo in the league in Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. Talib isn’t eligible for One Team, One Jersey, as he has played most of his career with Tampa Bay. He’s made a career of being a corner for hire and while certainly talented, off the field issues leave me distancing myself from him anyway. I have a hard time putting on a jersey of a man who found a way to accidentally shoot himself, among other things.

Chris Harris Jr. is the other half of the equation and is good enough to be a number one corner himself. For a span of over two seasons, Harris didn’t allow a touchdown. Talk about a shutdown corner. In my eyes, he’s one of the most underrated defensive players in the league. I don’t think people realize how good he is. A lot of that is the defensive bubble he’s in. As long as Denver sports a significant pass rush and employs Talib, people will overlook Chris Harris Jr. I’d gladly start him as a number one corner without any hesitation and maybe in the future we’ll get to see his resume expand to being “the guy” for an NFL franchise. Until then, Chris Harris Jr. is the best number two corner in professional football. (Talib was traded to the Rams in free agency, meaning Harris Jr. will get his shot.)

Since we’re talking about the Broncos, we need to talk about Tim Tebow. Tebowmania took the world by storm in 2011, creating the Tebowing gesture and an incredibly loyal fan base. Was Tebow a great quarterback? No. Tebow’s throwing motion had been severely maligned by his baseball career. His ability to read defenses was average at best. Compared to the other guys on the field, Tebow sometimes looked out of place, like a regular joe trying to hold it together next to professionals.

There was some otherworldly element that seemed to surround him though, something that couldn’t be quantified by science or rationalized by statistics. He could be dreadful for most of the game but when the game came down to the wire, something magical would happen. You never felt out of it with Tebow. He was an underdog despite two college championships and a Heisman at Florida. He was doubted despite his passion, criticized without attention paid to his will to win. He had an aura about him that simply made him mesmerizing, almost magnetic to the sport’s followers. Even those who weren’t devoted to the sport of football began to follow the quest of Tebow.

It was so easy to buy in, to root for the underdog. Tebow had six fourth quarter comebacks that year. Despite all the evidence that told you it shouldn’t, you knew it was gonna happen again. You could feel the momentum swing and man, was it strong.

Tebow wasn’t a prima donna, nor was he an exceptional athlete, but he was insanely entertaining to watch without ever doing anything uncharacteristic to become so. It was the way he kept fighting on. Tebow showed the world, more than anything, how far will and heart can get you. Evidently, pretty far.

Every general manager in America would love someone who played an entire game like Tebow played in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t the clutch gene. I still don’t know what it was. It was a mystical force, some element we haven’t discovered perhaps. All the cards just seemed to fall his way.

Truthfully, despite all of the talent still on Denver’s roster, I’d rather have a Tebow jersey than any other, even Von Miller. In addition to his performance on the field, Tebow is a helluva role model, which pretty much seals the deal for me. It would be a rare jersey that would carry nostalgia into my collection.

However, Tebow doesn’t meet the rules so we’re gonna have to pick someone else.

Going off the feel-good story angle, Demaryius Thomas.

Thomas’ mother and grandmother were sent to prison for crack distribution when he was a kid. He was dealt a bad hand. He overcame it. I admire that.

Demaryius Thomas was one of the key contributors to the highest-scoring offense in NFL history and has demonstrated his skillset in the years following that record year. After beginning his career at Georgia Tech, who ran the triple option and never fully realized the talent they had on the outside, Thomas’ first two seasons were beset by injuries. Then Peyton came to town and Demaryius reached his final form. While Demaryius isn’t in the conversation for top five receivers in the NFL, he is an all-around receiver who can play physical at the line or play off the corner and go speed for speed. In that way, Georgia Tech helped mold Thomas’ playing style.

As explosive a player as Von Miller is, he was suspended for violating the substance abuse policy in 2013 for reportedly trying to cheat a drug test. Especially since that was at the beginning of his career, that’s always stuck with me and put a stain on his performance, at least for me. That’s why I’m going Demaryius.

My pick: Demaryius Thomas. My jersey: Bronco Orange.

Image result for demaryius thomas orange jersey free use

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