Tag Archives: joe flacco

One Team, One Jersey: Baltimore Ravens

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 NFL was introduced to the Baltimore Ravens in 1996 when Art Modell decided to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. All Browns records and their history was left behind in Cleveland and the Ravens were considered an expansion team. With that categorization, the Ravens became one of the most successful expansion teams in sports history. Their first ever draft picks were left tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis. The two Hall of Famers had 24 Pro Bowl seasons combined, giving Baltimore the framework from the beginning of a contender.

Since the Ravens’ induction into the NFL, Baltimore has won two Super Bowls and 15 playoff games. It takes some expansions teams five or six years just to be competitive. Baltimore has achieved these heights in 22 seasons. They may be one of the younger franchises in the league, but Baltimore has come to play more often than not and their youth has put a chip on the team’s shoulder, the type of motor that attracts fans.

It was difficult to pick a jersey for Cincinnati and Cleveland. There are plenty of options in the stronghold of Maryland.

For example, it would be unfair to make this list and not include Marshall Yanda, who made six consecutive Pro Bowls beginning in 2011. He was named the top guard by Pro Football Focus in ’14, ’15 and ’16. If that doesn’t demonstrate how dominate he’s been in the trenches, I’m not sure what does.

The team is lacking on offense, but a 2008 first-rounder from Delaware is still behind center. Joe Flacco had one of the greatest playoff runs in NFL history in 2012, tying Montana’s record with 11 touchdowns and zero interceptions in the same postseason. He’s played in some rather large postseason contests. He’s gathered playoff victories on the road.

The argument goes, and I believe it to be the right one, that many of those playoff victories came on the back of an elite defense, not on the shoulder of a quarterback named Joe. He’s made big throws in big moments, but the Ravens did not beat the Patriots because Flacco outdueled Brady.

In his ten-year career, Flacco has thrown for 25 touchdowns only twice and broached the 4,000 yard plateau once. He’s the best quarterback Baltimore has ever had and that earns him sentimentality points and a spot in Ravens lore, but in actuality, he was never elite, nor extraordinary. Not the type of player you buy a jersey for.

For years, he’s been one of the game’s most overrated signal callers and one historic postseason doesn’t diminish that argument the same way Josh Gordon leading the league in receiving yards doesn’t mean he’s an otherworldly talent. Success is temporary and professional athletes are expected to reach it from time to time. Those who reach it regularly are elite and they reach these heights on their own merits. Brady never won MVPs because his defense was top-five. Peyton didn’t set passing records because Ray Lewis was phenomenal at playing middle linebacker. Joe Flacco isn’t in the same realm as these two legends and you can argue it if you want, but he’s not. He’s had a passer rating above 90 twice. He’s serviceable for the most part, although these past three seasons have been difficult to watch considering his Zeppelin of a contract. Ten years after his career is over, Ravens fans will remember the name with pride but football fans will remember the Mile High Miracle and the 2012 Super Bowl and think of that one great year he had. There’s a reason that’s the case.

Besides, Baltimore has always been known for its staunch defense and so it only feels right to pick a player on that side of the field.

Brandon Williams is quite the presence at defensive tackle.

CJ Mosley has proven to be a fine successor to new HOFer Ray Lewis in the middle, making three Pro Bowl rosters.

Jimmy Smith has been close to a top-ten corner for a majority of his career. He’s not quite a tier one star, but is a reliable player that can go one-v-one against most receivers.

There’s still one big name we haven’t mentioned, one of the most dominant edge rushers of the last 20 years.

There were three elite players on the Ravens’ defenses of the 2000s: Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. In my eyes, Suggs should be in the Hall. He played with a ferocity and aggression that personified the Ravens grit and tenacity and plays with that same motor today.

Suggs is one of only 37 players to win Defensive Player of the Year, a true honor for a terrorizing player. He also holds the Ravens franchise records for sacks (125.5) and forced fumbles (29) by wide margins. Those 125.5 sacks put him 17th on the all-time quarterback takedown list.

He was unanimously named Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2003 after setting a franchise rookie record with 12 sacks. He’s a seven-time Pro Bowler and a Super Bowl champion.

Routinely voted as one of the most hated players in the NFL, Suggs also carries the charisma of a performer, often putting opponents on edge with sack dances. Maybe he’s dirty, maybe he’s passionate. Maybe he just shows no mercy. Whatever it is, ain’t no one ever doubt his effort or his compete level. No one looks forward to playing that guy. That hostility, that grit, personifies the Ravens.

My pick: Terrell Suggs. My jersey: Home Purple.

Image result for terrell suggs home jersey free use

 

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2017-2018 NFL Preview: AFC North

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

GET: CB Joe Haden, WR Justin Hunter, CB Coty Sensabaugh, DE Tyson Alualu, TE Vance McDonald

LOSE: TE Ladarius Green, WR Markus Wheaton, RB DeAngelo Williams WR Sammie Coates, CB Justin Gilbert, QB Zach Mettenberger, TE David Johnson, CB Senquez Golson

RE-SIGNS: WR Antonio Brown, RB Le’Veon Bell, OT Alejandro Villanueva, LB James Harrison, LB Vince Williams, QB Landry Jones

DRAFT: 1st round: OLB T.J. Watt, Wisconsin     2nd round: WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC     3rd round: CB Cam Sutton, Tennessee     RB James Conner, Pittsburgh     4th round: QB Josh Dobbs, Tennessee     5th round: CB Brian Allen, Utah     6th round: LS Colin Holba, Louisville     7th round: DE Keion Adams, Western Michigan

SUMMARY: An offense as dominant as the Pittsburgh Steelers is hard to stop and with nearly all of those pieces coming back in 2017, it’s hard to see that dominance waning. Pittsburgh was seventh in total yardage (5th pass, 14th rush) but could still use improvement in a vital category: points per game. Last year, they were tied for tenth with Buffalo (yes, that Buffalo) with 24.9 ppg.

Why is that? A very good question. In eight home games last year, the Steelers scored 226 points, an average of 28.3 per home game. Across a whole season, that would rank them third in the league in points per game, ahead of New England, Green Bay and Dallas. On the road, that total dropped to 173, a 21.6 average. If they played like that over the course of 2016, that would have ranked them 20th in ppg, tied with Detroit and narrowly ahead of Baltimore, a team with much less firepower. As any football expert can tell you, Roethlisberger has struggled on the road these last few years, which bodes poorly for the Steelers when they face weaker competition on the road this year, such as Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis. However, it also bodes well for them at home, when they face playoff-caliber teams like Minnesota, Tennessee and Green Bay. If the Steelers defense plays as well as they did last year (20.4 ppg, 10th-best; 38 sacks, ninth) and continue their bend-don’t-break philosophy, the Steelers look like a strong Super Bowl candidate in the AFC and one of two teams that have a roster capable of topping powerhouse New England.

Bell, Brown and Bryant all look like fantasy picks with high upside this year.

SCHEDULE     PROJECTED RECORD: 10-6

Week 1: @CLE   Week 2: vs. MIN   Week 3: @CHI   Week 4: @BAL   Week 5: vs. JAC   Week 6: @KC   Week 7: vs. CIN   Week 8: @DET   Week 9: BYE   Week 10: @IND   Week 11: vs. TEN   Week 12: vs. GB   Week 13: @CIN   Week 14: vs. BAL   Week 15: vs. NE   Week 16: @HOU   Week 17: vs. CLE

BALTIMORE RAVENS

GET: FS Tony Jefferson, WR Jeremy Maclin, CB Brandon Carr, OT Austin Howard, OL Tony Bergstrom, CB Brandon Boykin, RB Danny Woodhead, TE Ben Watson

LOSE: RT Ricky Wagner, LB Zachary Orr, LB Elvis Dumervil, DT Timmy Jernigan, OL John Urschel, TE Dennis Pitta, CB Kyle Arrington, C Jeremy Zuttah, RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, TE Crockett Gillmore

RE-SIGNS: NT Brandon Williams

DRAFT: 1st round: CB Marlon Humphrey, Alabama     2nd round: OLB Tyus Bowser, Houston     3rd round: DT Chris Wormley, Michigan     OLB Tim Williams, Alabama     4th round: G Nico Siragusa, San Diego State     5th round: T Jermaine Eluemunor, Texas A&M     6th round: S Chuck Clark, Virginia Tech

SUMMARY: The injury bug has hit Baltimore hard. Promising corner Tavon Young tore his ACL during OTAs and will miss the season. RB Kenneth Dixon and LB Albert McClellan are other notable contributors who will start 2017 on injured reserve. You’ll see unproven names along the offensive and defensive line, including 2013 sixth-rounder Ryan Jensen at center, tackle James Hurst, 2015 third-rounder Carl Davis, 2016 second-round linebacker Kamalei Correa and 2016 fifth-round linebacker Matthew Judon. The Ravens draft class is likely to see action on the field sooner rather than later, especially corner Marlon Humphrey, a likely nickel corner and Tyus Bowser, who will force pressure on the edge.

Last year, Joe Flacco threw the pigskin 672 times, one fewer than NFL-leader Drew Brees. Despite that, Joe threw only 20 touchdowns, a number that must increase if Baltimore wants a chance at a playoff spot. His 6.42 yards per attempt was 27th in the league last year, though this is likely due to the scheme offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has implemented, an attack predicated on the short passing game (Flacco threw within five yards of the line of scrimmage on 56.8 percent of his passes, second-most behind chronic drag route addict Sam Bradford). Regardless, Flacco’s numbers weren’t pretty. An 83.5 passer rating was good for 24th last year. Even Trevor Siemian managed an 84.6.

We can make all the jokes about whether Flacco is elite but what is becoming a concern based on fact is Flacco’s bloated contract is punishing the Ravens right now on and off the field. Flacco had a cap hit of $22.55 last year and that number will continue to go up until 2021. One historical Super Bowl run is not worth sinking your team for the next seven years. Injuries are a concern, but can only be blamed so much.

On the positive side, it seems heavily unlikely that Flacco manages less than 25 this year with the addition of Jeremy Maclin and the return of a hopefully fully recuperated Breshad Perriman, who needs to show once and for all why the Ravens spent a first round pick on him back in 2015. It would also be great if Baltimore could get a running game (averaged 91.4 per game last year, 28th) which would surely help them put more points on the scoreboard (21.4 ppg last year, 21st).

Baltimore’s defense has to copy their numbers from last year, but improve on their pass defense  (8th total yards, 23rd pass, 4th rush, 18.9 ppg). Those numbers will be hard to duplicate with youngsters on the starting roster, but is doable. All these things have to come together for them to win a postseason bid and even more would have to happen for them to dethrone Pittsburgh, though a win at home against the Steelers is a virtual certainty.

Mike Wallace is the best fantasy pickup this year from Baltimore. With Maclin now drawing attention from the slot, Wallace’s 14.1 yards per reception, which was already 24th in the league last year, could go higher.

SCHEDULE     PROJECTED RECORD: 8-8

Week 1: @CIN   Week 2: vs. CLE   Week 3: @JAC   Week 4: vs. PIT   Week 5: @OAK   Week 6: vs. CHI   Week 7: @MIN   Week 8: vs. MIA   Week 9: @TEN   Week 10: BYE   Week 11: @GB   Week 12: vs. HOU   Week 13: vs. DET   Week 14: @PIT   Week 15: @CLE   Week 16: vs. IND   Week 17: vs. CIN

CINCINNATI BENGALS

GET: G Andre Smith, LB Kevin Minter, CB Bene Benwikere

LOSE: OT Andrew Whitworth, G Kevin Zeitler, LB Rey Maualuga, OT Eric Winston

RE-SIGNS: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, WR Brandon LaFell, RB Cedric Peerman

DRAFT: 1st round: WR John Ross, Washington     2nd round: RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma     3rd round: DE Jordan Willis, Kansas State     4th round: DE Carl Lawson, Auburn     WR Josh Malone, Tennessee     DT Ryan Glasgow, Michigan     5th round: K Jake Elliott, Memphis     C J.J. Dielman, Utah     6th round: LB Jordan Evans, Oklahoma     CB Brandon Wilson, Houston     7th round: TE Mason Schreck, Buffalo

SUMMARY: I have the same problem with Cincinnati that I’ve had with them for going on three years now: they don’t have a number two receiver. A.J. Green might be one of the most undervalued players in this league. They had a real chance to not only win a playoff game but contend for a championship a few years ago, but the lack of help in the passing game cost them both of those accolades. Cincinnati should have held onto Mohammed Sanu, who demonstrated his ability during Green’s absence, but as Cincy has come to do, they let another opportunity slip through their fingers. Let’s not forget Marvin Jones played for that team as well.

This year, they went heavy on the offensive side of the ball in the draft, selecting speedster John Ross and Tennessee pass catcher Josh Malone. We’ll see if that adds up to anything. An interesting stat: Dalton was a below-average deep passer, ranking 21st in the league with a 38.3 accuracy percentage. Ross’ big-play potential is fully reliant on Dalton bettering that ranking this year.

The Red Rifle wasn’t guns blazing last year either. After his best year in 2015, in which he had a career best 66.1 completion percentage, an 8.42 ypa, 25/7 touchdown-interception ratio and a 106.3 passer rating, second to only Russell Wilson, he imploded, throwing a measly 18 touchdowns last year. Trevor Siemian threw 18 last year.

Dalton’s performance also occurred behind a strong offensive line that lost two key cogs in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler this offseason, putting only more pressure on Dalton to perform.

The front office, clearly not excited about Jeremy Hill sitting in the bottom 10 in yards per attempt (2015: 3.6 ypc, third-worst. 2016: 3.8 ypc, t-10th) drafted another shady character to add to the toxic duo of Vontaze Burfict and Adam Jones (honorable mention: Josh Shaw): Joe Mixon. Giovanni Bernard is likely to stay involved on passing downs while Hill is a short-yardage resort.

The defense is the biggest concern with this team. It hasn’t been the same since Zimmer’s departure to Minnesota after the 2013 season, minus the 2015 season, when the team outpaced expectations. In 2014 and 2016, Cincy was 20th and 21st against the rush. They weren’t much better against the pass in those years either (20th and 17th). They also haven’t gotten consistent pressure on opposing offenses (last in sacks in ’14 (20), 19th in ’16 (33)). They were eighth in points against last year, but the dam is cracking and if you thought last year was a flood, wait until you see what happens when that dam breaks.

On a positive note, Dalton’s likely to improve on 18 touchdown passes. A.J. Green remains the player to have in Cincinnati for fantasy. Bernard is likely to be nice in PPR leagues and if you’re willing to take a risk on Eifert’s injury history, he could provide a nice payday. Behind a revamped offensive line, I’m unlikely to add Mixon and I think the stats above demonstrate why you should avoid the Cincinnati defense.

SCHEDULE     PROJECTED RECORD: 6-10

Week 1: vs. BAL   Week 2: vs. HOU   Week 3: @GB   Week 4: @CLE   Week 5: vs. BUF   Week 6: BYE   Week 7: @PIT   Week 8: vs. IND   Week 9: @JAC   Week 10: @TEN   Week 11: @DEN   Week 12: vs. CLE   Week 13: vs. PIT   Week 14: vs. CHI   Week 15: @MIN   Week 16: vs. DET   Week 17: @BAL

CLEVELAND BROWNS

GET: CB Jason McCourty, S Calvin Pryor, G Kevin Zeitler, WR Kenny Britt, C J.C. Tretter, WR Sammie Coates

LOSE: WR Terrelle Pryor, G John Greco, CB Joe Haden, C Cameron Erving, QB Brock Osweiler, TE Gary Barnidge, LB Demario Davis, K Cody Parkey, QB Robert Griffin III, WR Josh Cribbs

RE-SIGNS: RB Isaiah Crowell, G Joel Bitonio, LB Jamie Collins, LB Christian Kirksey, P Britton Colquitt

DRAFT: 1st round: DE Myles Garrett, Texas A&M     S Jabrill Peppers, Michigan     TE David Njoku, Miami     2nd round: QB DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame     3rd round: DT Larry Ogunjobi, Charlotte     4th round: CB Howard Wilson, Houston     5th round: OT Roderick Johnson, Florida State     6th round: Caleb Brantley, Florida     7th round: K Zane Gonzalez, Arizona State     RB Matthew Dayes, North Carolina State

SUMMARY: The Cleveland Browns, for the first time in a while, will be an interesting team to watch. New management at the top (GM Sashi Brown, Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta) have given Cleveland the type of intrigue and publicity they desperately need. They showed some of their wits when they accepted the tragedy of a contract that Brock Osweiler carried with him and a second and sixth round draft choice from Houston as a “Thank you for getting rid of this embarrassment,” all in exchange for one of Cleveland’s fourth rounders. The Browns, who have endless cap space, then simply cut Osweiler before the beginning of the year but had picks to show for it.

Their draft went well, selecting Myles Garrett, hybrid safety Jabrill Peppers, Miami product David Njoku and Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer. Kizer has earned the starting job going into Week 1 and now, after all Cleveland has done, they have to hope he doesn’t flounder like the 27 other quarterbacks before him.

Among high points for this season sits running back Isaiah Crowell. If Cleveland has had anything the last few years, it’s been a stout offensive line and it’s only gotten stronger with the addition of G Kevin Zeitler. Crowell was great last year, maintaining a clip of 4.8 ypc, a top-ten average. Expect Crowell to surpass his 198 carries last year as Cleveland puts together a dangerous running game.

Kizer will likely face early struggles with Kenny Britt as a number one target opposite Corey Coleman, only leading to more opportunities for Crowell. Teams that have a poor run defense, such as Cincinnati (21st), Indianapolis (25), and Chicago (27th), will struggle with Cleveland this year. I expect more surprises from Cleveland than blowouts.

If I haven’t mentioned it enough, Crowell’s a great fantasy pickup. As in RB1 status.

SCHEDULE     PROJECTED RECORD: 5-11

Week 1: vs. PIT   Week 2: @BAL   Week 3: @IND   Week 4: vs. CIN   Week 5: NYJ   Week 6: @HOU   Week 7: vs. TEN   Week 8: vs. MIN   Week 9: BYE   Week 10: @DET   Week 11: vs. JAC   Week 12: @CIN   Week 13: @LAC   Week 14: vs. GB   Week 15: vs. BAL   Week 16: @CHI   Week 17: @PIT

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2015-2016 NFL Preview: AFC North

I’m finally back to school and that means it’s time to begin the long-awaited NFL preview! I’m also adding fantasy advice in these previews so they’ll be longer than usual. Let’s get to it!

AFC NORTH

BALTIMORE RAVENS

GET: S Kendrick Lewis, CB Kyle Arrington, QB Matt Schaub

LOSE: CB Aaron Ross, CB Antoine Cason, WR Torrey Smith, WR Jacoby Jones, DE Pernell McPhee, DT Haloti Ngata, S Darian Stewart, TE Owen Daniels, DT Terrence Cody, QB Tyrod Taylor, RB Bernard Pierce, C Gino Gradkowski

RE-SIGNS: CB Lardarius Webb, DE Chris Canty, RB Justin Forsett

DRAFT: 1st round: WR Breshad Perriman, UCF     2nd round: TE Maxx Williams, Minnesota     3rd round: DT Carl Davis, Iowa     4th round: DE Za’Darius Smith, Kentucky     RB Buck Allen, USC     CB Tray Walker, Texas Southern     5th round: TE Nick Boyle, Delaware     G Robert Myers, Tennessee State     6th round: WR Darren Waller, Georgia Tech

SUMMARY:

Baltimore had a solid 10-6 season and no results from last season jump out to me as unusual. Despite it being such a quiet season for their star quarterback, Flacco actually had his best statistical year since 2010, surpassing his last three seasons in all categories, including completion percentage (62.1), passing yards (3,986), touchdown-interception ratio (27:12), QBR (67.0) and passer rating (91.0). Was it a great season for Joe in actuality? I would say probably not. Most of his stats are bloated due to the team’s early struggles at the running back position and the big plays we’re used to seeing from Flacco weren’t as apparent. With that said, I wouldn’t be concerned with Flacco. I got stuck with him in one of my fantasy leagues and I’m not too worried about the guy. No, he’s never thrown more than 27 touchdowns in a season and no, he’s not known for consistency, but I would argue last year was consistent and you should expect a similar season this year despite the reductions at receiver. The loss of Torrey Smith won’t hurt as much as people think, nor am I worried about Flacco’s outlets. Steve Smith Sr. would be a good receiver to take a flyer on in fantasy although I would avoid rookie Breshad Perriman. Especially in the AFC North, I would avoid rookie receivers altogether. You can find better options elsewhere.

The component that will determine the offense’s success, however, is Justin Forsett. The relative unknown managed an insane 5.4 yards a carry. Only Lamar Miller (yes, LAMAR MILLER), Jeremy Hill and Jamaal Charles averaged five or more yards a carry. That’s an exclusive club and one Forsett relished in. His 1,266 yards was fifth-most in the league and second-best in the AFC behind the Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell and led the league in rushes of over 20 yards with 17. Behind one of the best offensive lines in football, Forsett’s breakout season last year shouldn’t have been blown up as much as it was and while many are concerned he’s a one-hit wonder, I do not share that concern. I saw potential from Forsett when he was in Houston and he relished in the spotlight. Forsett should be a solid back this year in fantasy, even with the departure of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

The Ravens’ defense, with both subtractions and additions, should be fine and remain hazardous for opponents as usual and with John Harbaugh at the helm, I have to think Baltimore is the favorite to win the division.

There are some things that could derail the train, however. Baltimore got swept by Cincinnati last season, a Bengals team that was actually weaker than it has been in the past so that cannot happen this year, especially considering the AFC North’s dangerous schedule. The Ravens were 23rd against the pass last year, something that must improve, especially when their front seven was an elite fourth against the rush. The onus, like with the Steelers, is on the secondary, but I have more faith in the Ravens defense right now then I do the Steelers. Finally, it’s crucial injuries don’t plague this team on offense. The Ravens’ depth at running back and receiver is desert thin and I don’t know if they’ll be able to hold the reins to the division if the bug plagues them. The Ravens front seven on defense, it’s disgusting how good they are, but can they carry a hobbled offense on their back if they have to?

SCHEDULE     PROJECTED RECORD: 10-6

Week 1: @DEN   Week 2: @OAK   Week 3: vs. CIN   Week 4: @PIT   Week 5: vs. CLE   Week 6: @SF   Week 7: @ARI   Week 8: vs. SD   Week 9: BYE   Week 10: vs. JAC   Week 11: vs. STL   Week 12: @CLE   Week 13: @MIA   Week 14: vs. SEA   Week 15: vs. KC   Week 16: vs. PIT   Week 17: @CIN

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

GET: RB DeAngelo Williams, CB Brandon Boykin

LOSE: OLB Jason Worilds, S Troy Polamalu, CB Ike Taylor, DE Brett Keisel, CB Brice McCain, WR Lance Moore, WR Justin Brown, TE Michael Palmer, RB Ben Tate

RE-SIGNS: QB Ben Roethlisberger, LB James Harrison, LB Arthur Moats, S Will Allen, TE Matt Spaeth, DE Clifton Geathers, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, LS Greg Warren

DRAFT: 1st round: OLB Bud Dupree, Kentucky     2nd round: CB Senquez Golson, Ole Miss     3rd round: WR Sammie Coates, Auburn     4th round: CB Doran Grant, Ohio State     5th round: TE Jesse James, Penn State     6th round: DT L.T. Walton, Central Michigan     DE Anthony Chickillo, Miami     7th round: S Gerod Holliman, Louisville

SUMMARY: Last year’s big three (Ben, Bell, Brown) destroyed defenses like Fox destroyed the Fantastic Four in this year’s superhero dud. Roethlisberger had the best statistical year of his career, throwing for a league-leading 4,952 yards. His average of 8.15 yards per attempt, 67.1 completion percentage and 103.3 passer rating were good for third in the league. Aside from setting plenty of personal and franchise records, Roethlisberger has solidified his position as a top-five quarterback and was paid as such this offseason with an enormous five-year, $99 million extension. Is Ben worth the money? Definitely. Do I like the contract? No. Ben is a top-five quarterback right now, that’s non-debatable. However, the Steelers have a troubled history with salary cap issues and Ben’s $17.2 million cap hit this season and obnoxious $23.95 million cap hit next season is a cause for concern, especially when it comes time to re-sign Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

Speaking of Antonio Brown, he had a legendary year in 2015, racking up 129 catches, the second-most receptions in a season ever behind Marvin Harrison’s 143 in 2002. He led the league with those 129 catches and 1,698 yards, shattering his own franchise record of 1,499 yards set in 2013. Brown was also second in targets with 182 and caught 13 touchdowns so if you want a great fantasy receiver in the first round, take Brown. The wheels on the Brown go round and round.

Finally, but certainly not least, Le’Veon Bell was a monster last year. Bell ended the year with 1,361 yards rushing, an impressive 4.7 clip and also became an elite receiver, catching 83 passes for 854 yards. Le’Veon Bell is the best all-around back in the league with those stats and if you don’t pick up Brown or Ben, pick up Bell for fantasy. You can’t go wrong with any of these players.

Those stats led to an incredible 11-5 season for the Steelers that few expected, including three consecutive huge wins against Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore. However, as there always are, there were some head scratchers. Before that win streak, the Steelers lost to Tampa Bay, beat Jacksonville by eight and got destroyed by Cleveland 31-10. Let’s not mention the Steelers’ humiliating loss to the Jets 20-13.

The defense, however, was not LeBeau’s finest escapade and it’s sad that it was his last in Pittsburgh. The Steelers’ pass defense was 27th last year and allowed 30 touchdowns, one of the worst secondary units in football. Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu missed much of the season and could not be counted on when they got on the field. Mike Mitchell had a terrible inaugural season. William Gay and Antwon Blake were the lone highlights. Luckily, the front seven was top-ten, finishing sixth against the rush, led by Lawrence Timmons and Cam Heyward.

Looking to this season, the Steelers have a lot to prove. The epidemic known as Cortez Allen’s hand-eye coordination will be starting at cornerback and with Senquez Golson out for the year, the trade for Brandon Boykin was paramount. Young Shamarko Thomas and the awful Mike Mitchell will be starting at safety. The front seven has to carry this team. While I still disagree with the Steelers taking Bud Dupree instead of Alabama safety Landon Collins, the linebacking core for the Steelers is now incredibly deep.

With all that said, the Steelers’ schedule this season is far too difficult for a team as weak in the secondary as the Steelers are to succeed in the long haul. Last year was quite a sight to see, but I doubt it’ll happen again.

SCHEDULE     PROJECTED RECORD: 8-8

Week 1: @NE   Week 2: vs. SF   Week 3: @STL   Week 4: vs. BAL   Week 5: @SD   Week 6: vs. ARI   Week 7: @KC   Week 8: vs. CIN   Week 9: vs. OAK   Week 10: vs. CLE   Week 11: BYE   Week 12: @SEA   Week 13: vs. IND   Week 14: @CIN   Week 15: vs. DEN   Week 16: @BAL   Week 17: @CLE

CLEVELAND BROWNS

GET: WR Brian Hartline, DT Randy Starks, WR Dwayne Bowe, CB Tramon Williams, QB Josh McCown, QB Thad Lewis

LOSE: CB Buster Skrine, TE Jordan Cameron, DT Ahtyba Rubin, QB Brian Hoyer, OLB Jabaal Sheard, WR Miles Austin, G Paul McQuistan, K Garrett Hartley

RE-SIGNS: DE John Hughes, WR Marlon Moore

DRAFT: 1st round: DT Danny Shelton, Washington     C Cameron Erving, Florida State     2nd round: OLB Nate Orchard, Utah     3rd round: RB Duke Johnson, Miami     DT Xavier Cooper, Washington State     4th round: S Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern     WR Vince Mayle, Washington State     6th round: CB Charles Gaines, Louisville     TE Malcolm Johnson, Mississippi State     TE Randall Telfer, USC     7th round: ILB Hayes Pullard, USC     CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon

SUMMARY: Guys, I have huge news! The Cleveland, (yes, you read that right) Cleveland Browns are starting to look like a football team. It’s only taken two decades, but I think they could compete in the SEC now. Hell, the Browns could have made the playoffs last year. They started 7-4. I’d be surprised if half the city of Cleveland didn’t fall over dead from a heart attack or something. They’d probably never seen the AFC North standings read Cleveland at the top. However, it’s okay, Cleveland. You still suck, because your football team managed to choke every single one of the last five games, miss the playoffs and finish in the bottom of the division, AGAIN. It’s honestly humorous and at the same time, pathetically pitiful. Just wow.

With all that said, Cleveland really did look leagues better than they did in the past. They creamed Pittsburgh 31-10 in the middle of the season and you know what? I wasn’t even mad. They deserved to win that game. Dare I say it, they looked like a professional football team. I can’t believe those words came out of my mouth while discussing the Cleveland Browns.

Cleveland accumulated 12 draft picks this offseason, so a genuine round of applause for that front office. Now, let’s give an equally genuine round of applause for what they did with them. The Browns’ secondary was great last year, eighth-best in the league but their defense against the rush was dead last. Give the Browns credit for addressing that, drafting Shelton and Cooper in the first and third round, respectively and another young linebacker in Nate Orchard. They also signed DT Randy Starks from Miami to provide some guidance to the rookies. They grabbed a running back to add a section to the spin-the-wheel-and-see-who-you-get backfield and hopefully one of them emerges as a real starter behind yet another one of the best offensive lines in football. The AFC North is full of them. Any Cleveland fan that was upset with the Browns draft is a moron, so heed them no quarter.

The receiving corps as well as the quarterback situation needs a lot of help. A large part of that is that Josh Gordon is probably one of the dumbest players and people in football. You had one job, Gordon. Stay away from weed. Why the Browns didn’t trade him after his first suspension is beyond me. They could have gotten another first rounder out of him. Without him, two new additions are expected to start at receiver, Brian Hartline of Miami and Dwayne Bowe of Kansas City. Neither blows minds and neither is worth a fantasy pickup. In fact, let me just end my fantasy advice real quick right here: if it’s not the Cleveland defense, stay away from anyone on Cleveland. Even if the running back situation is sorted out, I think it’s unlikely they have a breakout season and it’s doubtful McCown or Manziel do either. Once again, it will be up to the secondary to hold the fort and if the front seven can be average up front, the Browns could very well pass the Bengals, who are trending down harder than Nicolas Cage’s acting career. I’m taking the gamble they do.

SCHEDULE     PROJECTED RECORD: 6-10

Week 1: @NYJ   Week 2: vs. TEN   Week 3: vs. OAK   Week 4: @SD   Week 5: @BAL   Week 6: vs. DEN   Week 7: @STL   Week 8: vs. ARI   Week 9: @CIN   Week 10: @PIT   Week 11: BYE   Week 12: vs. BAL   Week 13: vs. CIN   Week 14: vs. SF   Week 15: @SEA   Week 16: @KC   Week 17: vs. PIT

CINCINNATI BENGALS

GET: DE Michael Johnson, ILB A.J. Hawk, WR Denarius Moore, QB Josh Johnson, TE Rob Housler, DT Pat Sims

LOSE: OT Marshall Newhouse, CB Terence Newman, TE Jermaine Gresham, G Mike Pollak, DE Robert Geathers, WR Greg Little, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, S Taylor Mays

RE-SIGNS: LB Rey Maualuga, RB Cedric Peerman, OL Eric Winston, WR Brandon Tate

DRAFT: 1st round: OT Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M     2nd round: OT Jake Fisher, Oregon     3rd round: TE Tyler Kroft, Rutgers     OLB Paul Dawson, TCU     4th round: S Josh Shaw, USC     DT Marcus Hardison, Arizona State     5th round: TE C.J. Uzomah, Auburn     6th round: S Derron Smith, Fresno State     7th round: WR Mario Alford, West Virginia

SUMMARY: Last year, I picked the Bengals to win the division and in my playoff preview, I said the following: “What really pisses me off is that the Bengals are one step away from being the best. If only they would draft a receiver in the first round.”

That still holds true now because this team still needs that receiver and last year’s season is a testament to that. Not only did Dalton lose his cool without Green in the lineup, recessing in every statistical category except completion percentage, but without the Bengals’ star receiver, the team at times looked like a discombobulated mess leaning on a rookie running back named Jeremy Hill. The LSU star thrilled, but could not carry the team nor should he have been expected to. This team has plenty of talent and year after year it goes poorly coached and Marvin Lewis, who has been with the team since 2003, has still been unable to get Cincinnati a playoff win. The longest playoff drought in the NFL belongs to the Bengals, not the Browns. If that’s not unsettling, I don’t know what is. Who knows why the Bengals continue to ignore their most vital need, a wideout, draft after draft. Let’s ignore that the Bengals, in the last two seasons, have taken two receivers in the draft, one in the sixth and one in the seventh. Let’s ignore that the Bengals learned diddly-squat about their receiver depth this past season because, again, they decided they only needed one receiver and decided to take that receiver in the seventh round. Let’s ignore the fact that the Bengals spent their first and second-rounder on tackles when their offensive line remains one of the strongest in the league so the need isn’t really there, nor was the need dire that they draft a tight end with one of their third round picks. Let’s ignore Marvin Lewis’ inability to coach in the playoffs time after time after time after time after time after time (he’s 0-6 now). Whatever.

At this point, the Cincinnati Bengals should just start ignoring everything. Ignore your needs, continue to build insane depth at positions that fall third or fourth on the check list and leave your main priorities unaccounted for year after year. If I was A.J. Green, I’d be livid. He’s made some insane plays and has carried this team without complaining for years now. Help a brotha, out. This is coming from someone who isn’t a Bengals fan, either. I’m a Steelers fan through and through, yet any real fan can look at an organization as misguided and negligent as the Bengals and become engulfed in a need for moral justice because no fans, not even Cleveland fans, deserve such incompetence from their franchises and the fact that such a thing is still a problem is as sad as it’s ever been. It’s 2015, we have technology, statistical analysis, endless Benjamins and then some and the Bengals still can’t figure out how to win a playoff game.

The loss of Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator proved to be a bigger blow to the team than I thought it would be. Cincinnati fell to 20th against the pass and the rush last year after a concrete fifth in both categories in Zimmer’s last year. When you look at the depth the Bengals have on defense, perhaps the lone project they’ve managed to not fall behind on, it’s criminal this team fell below 15th in any defensive category let alone 20th. Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Vontaze Burfict, Vincent Rey, Rey Maualuga, Leon Hall, Darqueze Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick does not equate to a 20th-ranked defense on any planet and it’s a sad sign the team went so poorly coached last year.

But cheer up, Bengals fans, because Marvin Lewis is still here to practice mediocrity and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther is returning to take a top-ten defensive lineup and let them run loose and wild like sheep on a prairie.

With no additions that truly matter on offense, franchise quarterback Andy Dalton trending down and the coaching staff being allowed to stay despite their obvious ineptitude, Cincinnati should look forward to keeping that egregious playoff streak going because this team ain’t going anywhere fast. Unless you’re drafting Hill or Green, run from Cincy like the plague.

SCHEDULE     PROJECTED RECORD: 6-10

Week 1: @OAK   Week 2: vs. SD   Week 3: @BAL   Week 4: vs. KC   Week 5: vs. SEA   Week 6: @BUF   Week 7: BYE   Week 8: @PIT   Week 9: vs. CLE   Week 10: vs. HOU   Week 11: @ARI   Week 12: vs. STL   Week 13: @CLE   Week 14: vs. PIT   Week 15: @SF   Week 16: @DEN   Week 17: vs. BAL

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Tim Sports Report for 2014 NFL Week 16

This one is really late and I apologize. Week 17’s will be out tomorrow as well as a regular season recap. Get ready for the playoffs!

Top 5

1. QB Russell Wilson 20/31 for 339 yards, 2 TDs, 122.9 QBR, 6 carries for 88 yards, TD vs. ARI

2. QB Ryan Tannehill 35/47 for 396 yards, 4 TDs, INT, 118.8 QBR vs. MIN

3. WR Odell Beckham, Jr. 8 receptions for 148 yards, 2 TDs vs. STL

4. RB Frank Gore 26 carries for 158 yards, TD vs. SD

5. TE Zach Ertz franchise-record 15 receptions for 115 yards vs. WAS

Worst of the Worst

1. 49ers drop to Chargers after 21-point lead

2. Colts smashed 42-7 vs. DAL

3. QB Joe Flacco 21/50 for 195 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs, 41.7 QBR vs. HOU

At one point, 4/22 for 80 something yards.

4. QB Peyton Manning 28/44 for 311 yards, 2 TDs, 4 INTs, 61.8 QBR vs. CIN

5. QB Andrew Luck 15/22 for 109 yards, 2 INTs vs. DAL

Steelers Recap

Despite the narrow win the box score may give those who didn’t watch Sunday’s game against the Chiefs, it was one of the Steelers’ best games of the year. The offense may have struggled against one of the best defenses in the league, accumulating only 282 total yards of offense, but the steel curtain came to play, limiting one of the league’s best running backs to 29 yards rushing and forcing a fumble. Six times the Chiefs entered the red zone and they left with four field goals, a fumble and a failed fourth down conversion. This defensive highlight was only more impressive when you consider that the Chiefs were second in the league in red zone touchdown percentage coming into the game. The Steelers are 7-2 since losing to the Browns and dropping to 3-3 in October.

In my week 13 Steelers Recap, I said I was disappointed with the team this year because of their lackluster play against substandard opponents. As we’ve been saying in Pittsburgh for the last three seasons, the outcome of Sunday’s game usually doesn’t depend on who we’re playing. It depends on which Steelers’ team decides to show up.

This season has been one of the most stressful seasons of Steelers football that I’ve watched but looking at the blooming talent the team has right now, including the B3 attack of Ben, Bell and Brown, the Steelers look to have a bright future right now, especially with the Bengals poor season this year.

The Steelers will win on Sunday night and will clinch the division. And they did by the way.

Game of the Week: Lions @ Packers

Week 17, aside from finalizing playoff spots, is the least exciting week in football, leaving for few big games. However, the Lions were looking to hold on to a NFC North division title and Aaron Rodgers is probably this year’s MVP. It was a game to watch, but as always, the Lions choked in December and the Packers maintain their dominance of the division.

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Tim Sports Report for 2013 NFL Week 14

Top 5

1. QB Jason Campbell 29/44 for 391, 3 TDs, 116.3 QBR vs. NE

2. QB Josh McCown 27/36 for 348 yards, 4 TDs, 141.9 QBR vs. DAL

3. RB LeSean McCoy 29 carries for 217 yards, 2 TDs vs. DET

Set franchise record for single-game rushing

4. QB Drew Brees 30/42 for 313 yards, 4 TDs, 124.4 QBR vs. CAR

5. WR Marques Colston 9 receptions for 125 yards, 2 TDs vs. CAR

Worst of the Worst

1. QB E.J. Manuel 18/33 for 184 yards, 4 INTs, 7 sacks, 31.2 QBR vs. TB

2. Lions fumble 7 times, lose 3, allow 28 4th quarter points to lose to Eagles

3. Patriots win after bad pass interference call, onside kick recovery vs. CLE

4. QB Joe Flacco 28/50 for 245 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs, 64.2 QBR vs. MIN

5. Redskins destroyed at home 45-10 vs. KC

Steelers Recap

The Steelers had one of the best comeback wins in the history of the franchise…only to have it taken away because Antonio Brown had stepped out of balance short of the endzone. I’m not going to lie, everyone on my dorm floor was screaming their lungs out and running up and down the hall, only to return to our rooms to see the replay. I felt like part of my soul died on that play, it was such a tragedy. That play, to an extent, was a visual representation of the Steelers’ season this year. There have been huge wins against the Ravens and Lions, and then there have been the huge disappointments, against the Raiders and the Vikings, and overall, it feels like we missed our chances by that much. The AFC is weak right now, and the fact that we were even in the conversation for a playoff spot is a testament not to how lucky we are, although some credit could go to that, but to how well our team battled adversity this year. After starting 0-4, plenty of my friends said the Steelers would go 4-12, but I refused to believe it. My Pittsburgh pride stood strong and while not entirely objective, I felt it was unfair to count them out just yet. We went 5-2 afterwards, beating the Ravens and Lions at home, despite disappointing losses to the Raiders and Patriots. This has not been the best season for the Steelers, but I’m proud of them for not giving up when the door of future opportunity was teasing them to do so.

Two tough losses against the Ravens and now the Dolphins has the Steelers on the backs of their heels and three must-win games up ahead. The Bengals in Pittsburgh is possible, but I don’t see it happening. Andy Dalton finally got back on the horse this past week against the Colts after struggling in his past couple games and the Bengals defense is still top-10 if not higher. I’m going to have to pick the Bengals in this one, but you can bet I’ll be rooting for the Burgh all day.

Game of the Week: Ravens @ Lions

The Ravens are fighting for the wild-card spot while the Lions try to hold off the Bears for the NFC North title. The Lions looked terrible in Philly, although I think that is partly because their passing attack was hampered by the Hoth-like weather. The Ravens, however, have no excuse for their pitiful performance against the Vikings, one that required a last second touchdown to win. Flacco has looked terrible this year after signing his lucrative contract. Rice hasn’t been much better, so I’ll take the Lions yet again in my game of the week.

 

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Tim Sports Report for 2013 NFL Week 4

Top 5

1. QB Drew Brees 30/39 for 413 yards, 4 TDs 144.5 QBR vs. MIA

Threw for 400 yards for 10th time, 2nd-most all-time behind Dan Marino (13)

2. QB Philip Rivers 35/42 for 401 yards, 3 TDs, INT, 120.3 QBR vs. DAL

3. QB Peyton Manning 28/34 for 327 yards, 4 TDs, 146.0 QBR vs. PHI

16 TDs in first 4 games most in NFL history

4. TE Tony Gonzalez 12 receptions for 149 yards, 2 TDs vs. NE

5. RB Reggie Bush 18 carries for 139 yards, TD vs. CHI

Worst of the Worst

1. QB Blaine Gabbert 17/32 for 179 yards, 3 INTs, 30.6 QBR vs. IND

2. QB Joe Flacco 25/50 for 347 yards, 2 TDs, 5 INTs, 46.4 QBR vs. BUF

3. QB Ryan Tannehill 22/35 for 249 yards, TD. 3 INTs, Fmble, 57.9 QBR vs. NO

4. QB Jay Cutler 27/47 for 317 yards, 2 TDs, 3 INTs, Fmble, 65.6 QBR vs. DET

5. QB Andy Dalton 23/42 for 206 yards, INT, Fmble, 58.2 QBR vs. CLE

Steelers Recap

The Steelers lost to the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday in London 34-27. The Steelers were 3/6 in the red zone and failed to force a turnover for the fourth consecutive game. I’ll be honest when I say I was disinterested with this game in the middle of the third quarter. I still watched, but I was only half watching and it was because I knew the Steelers were going to lose…again. The Steelers didn’t play bad offensively. There were a lot of positives to take away from Sunday’s game. For example, rookie Le’Veon Bell had 16 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns in his debut. The problem was the same as it had been for the previous three games before it: the Steelers didn’t make big plays and they let the other team make them.

In the Titans game, RB Isaac Redman fumbled on the TEN 5 yard line which was then recovered by the Titans. Later in the game, Ben threw an interception, which the Titans then took down the field for a touchdown. Big plays: TEN-2 PIT-0

Against Cincinnati, the Steelers had a 3-0 lead and Ben completed a 34 yard pass to TE David Paulson to get the Steelers into the redzone, only to watch Paulson get stripped by CB Adam Jones. The Bengals went on to score a touchdown and a field goal on their next two possessions and the Steelers never recovered. Big plays: CIN-1 PIT-0

After the Bears scored a field goal on their first drive, Ben fumbled the ball on the third offensive play for the Steelers. The Bears go on to get two touchdowns on their next two possessions. Ben throws a pick-six to give the Bears 7 more points and RB Felix Jones fumbles the ball on the opening second half drive and the Bears score again. Oh, and let’s not forget about Julius Peppers’ fumble return for a touchdown. Big plays: CHI-4 PIT-0

Then the Vikings game they allow a 70 yard touchdown catch to WR Greg Jennings and later on a 60 yard touchdown run from RB Adrian Peterson. Take away those two big plays: Steelers win the game 27-20. The defense was nowhere to be found on Sunday and so the Steelers lost again. The Steelers’ problem is not one that requires a brainiac to figure out. The Steelers need to take advantage of chances, make the big plays, and stop turning the ball over while getting some takeaways of their own. It’s not that difficult.

Game of the Week: Texans @ 49ers

Both teams have met unexpected adversity in the first four weeks of the NFL season. This is the chance for both teams to show they’re for real.

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