Tag Archives: Le’Veon Bell

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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One Team, One Jersey: Pittsburgh Steelers

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 Pittsburgh Steelers have always been known for their stellar defense and in the middle of those defenses were exceptional linebackers: Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Greg Lloyd, James Farrior, Joey Porter. In recent years, the Steelers have spent a couple first round draft choices trying to find their next star in the middle. Ryan Shazier looked to be one of them before suffering a scary injury. If Shazier is ever brave enough to step on a football field, there’s no guarantee he’ll ever be the same. He was one of the fastest linebackers I’d seen in quite a while and showed enough promise that he deserved a nod on this list.

Bud Dupree has yet to do anything spectacular for me, although he did kill a guy in a playoff game. Rest in peace, Matt Moore.

T.J. Watt, brother of infamous J.J. Watt, had a promising rookie season, though I’d like to see more before taking his jersey under serious consideration.

As good as T.J. was this year, he was not the rookie that impressed me the most. USC product JuJu Smith-Schuster has big play ability and is an absolute blast of entertainment. He’s had quite a few enjoyable touchdown celebrations and has become a town favorite, interacting with fans in the heart of the city and creating his own YouTube platform. His Twitter is hilarious (if you don’t follow him, strongly recommend) and as the youngest player in the NFL, he reminds us how fun football is supposed to be. He’s still a kid but carries himself well, something I hold a lot of respect for. I’ve never purchased a rookie jersey. I often wait to see how an athlete’s career progresses before I fully get behind them but JuJu has a lot of character. It’s easy to want to root for someone like that.

There is one other linebacker we haven’t discussed yet. While his tenure with the Steelers is likely over, James Harrison was on the Steelers roster in 2017. Harrison has become one of the greatest undrafted athletes to ever play professional football. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 2008, the first undrafted player to ever win DPOY. That season he registered 101 tackles and a franchise-record 16 sacks, though his most memorable play of the year didn’t come until the postseason. He built a reputation for an incredible motor, his workout regimen and disciplinary issues. During his career, Harrison accrued hundreds of thousands in fines for helmet to helmet shots and late hits. Despite it, Harrison was a Pittsburgh favorite because like the Grim Reaper or the Terminator, Harrison was a bad man on the turf, one that could be truly terrorizing. People loved him for it. In addition to five Pro Bowls and two Super Bowl rings, Harrison also owns the franchise sack record. He’s been on the decline these last few years but his legacy is one worth remembering. Sometimes you buy a jersey for what that player is then. Sometimes you buy a jersey for what that player was and James Harrison was one of the best edge rushers in the NFL for a time.

Of all the players on the Pittsburgh defense the last few seasons, one player has more value than any other. Cam Heyward, since entering the league out of Ohio State, has been a regular figurehead for the black and gold. In four full seasons as a starter, Heyward has recorded 31.5 sacks, including 12 this past season, earning him his first Pro Bowl nod.

The Steelers also have the killer B’s to consider: Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.

Bell is a literal bell cow for Pittsburgh. He’s a playmaker in the backfield and his patient style of running paired with superior field vision leads to quite the highlight reel. At times, he looks like the best back in the NFL. He might be.

He has a unique style that analysts can’t help but gush over and his versatility is one of his greatest assets.

He also has off the field issues, such as drug suspensions and talking about getting a new max contract or retiring hours before a playoff game, to pair with a history of season-ending knee injuries. He values himself at 15 million a year, more than twice what the current highest-paid running back makes (LeSean McCoy had the highest cap hit among tailbacks in 2018 at 8.9. DeMarco Murray had the highest base salary at 6.25) and yet he reportedly turned down a two-year, $30 million contract extension last year. He also turned down a three-year, $43 million offer. Given his injuries and disciplinary history, 13-15 million a year is a boatfull for Bell, but Bell thinks he’s worth quarterback money, an offer no team in the NFL will pay him. That isn’t what the market is for running backs. Devonta Freeman’s new contract came with a base salary of 8.25. Between Bell’s irrational contract demands and a propensity for poor decision making off the field, I have a hard time picking that jersey. As talented as he is, I will be thrilled when he’s out of Pittsburgh.

Antonio Brown, a sixth-round selection out of Central Michigan, is a straight-up superstar. He’s one of the fastest receivers I’ve ever seen and has the field vision of a returner. Asking any corner to execute man coverage against him is simply unfair. The best in the game struggle with Antonio. Sometimes double coverage even looks insufficient. He’s the best route runner in the league, makes crisp cuts and has the elusiveness of a Barry Sanders. He’s had more than 100 receptions in each of the last five years and a minimum 1,284 yards in all five as well. In 2015, Brown caught 136 passes, the second most receptions in a single season behind Marvin Harrison’s 143 in 2002. He’s currently the highest-paid receiver in the NFL and he should be. He’s on pace to surpass Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Hines Ward as the best receiver in Steelers history and routinely accomplishes athletic feats that leave you questioning if you should be in awe or shock. For much of 2017, Brown was in the running for MVP.

Finally, Big Ben Roethlisberger has made a career in the black and gold and will likely get a chance to pair that with a trip to Canton. Over the years, gridiron fans have gotten to see a player evolve. Early in his career, Ben took a lot of punishment but also had the ability to shuck some of those sacks and extend plays. Following that turn came the age of a vertical offense with Bruce Arians, exploiting the advantage that is Ben’s deep ball. Over these last few years, we’ve gotten to see Ben settle into a pocket passer role. Watching him evolve and progress through each stage of his career has been something.

He’s likely better than Terry Bradshaw, making him the greatest center man in the franchise’s history.

He’s had some moments that will live on in football lore, like this and this.

However, Roethlisberger was accused multiple times of sexual assault early in his career, something I can’t ignore.

James Harrison would be a great pick. He personifies the grit and toughness of Steelers football. I really am a big fan of JuJu these days. What a kid.

That said, the choice is easy.

Antonio Brown is one of the most talented athletes I’ve ever witnessed and has always been a privilege to behold. Teammates constantly describe him as the hardest worker on the team. He’s a true competitor first. When he does stuff like this, it’s hard not to get hyped. At his current pace, it’s likely we’re watching a Hall of Fame player. He’s got charisma, flair and a great sense of humor. He loves the camera and can’t help but be theatrical in front of it. He plays the game like a kid. He’s having fun and it’s impossible for me not to want to sign up for that.

My pick: Antonio Brown. My jersey: Home Black.

Image result for pittsburgh steelers brown 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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Tim Sports Report for 2015 NFL Week 5

Top 5

  1. Cincinnati vs. Seattle game

2. QB Andy Dalton 30/44 for 331 yards, 2 TDs, INT, 95.9 passer rating, 7 rushes for 18 yards, TD vs. SEA

3. RB Thomas Rawls 23 for 169 yards, TD vs. CIN

4. RB Doug Martin 24 carries for 123 yards, 2 TDs, 3 receptions for 35 yards, TD vs. JAC

5. RB Devonta Freeman 27 carries for 153 yards, TD vs. WAS

Worst of the Worst

5. QB Matt Ryan 24/42 for 254 yards, 2 INTs, Fmb, 55.1 passer rating vs. WAS

4. QB Matt Stafford 20/32 for 188 yards, TD, 3 INTs, 50.0 passer rating vs. ARI

3. Seahawks blow 17-point 4th quarter lead vs. CIN. According to Trey Wingo, teams had lost 427 straight games when down at least 17 in the fourth quarter.

2. QB Peyton Manning 22/35 for 266 yards, 2 INTs, 62.3 passer rating vs. OAK

  1. QB Nick Foles 11/30 for 141 yards, TD, 4 INTs, 23.7 passer rating vs. GB

Steelers Recap

The Steelers vs. Chargers game showed us one thing: Le’Veon Bell is the man. Yes, it showed us that Michael Vick needs to retire, that the Steelers offense is nowhere close to the same without Ben and that the defense has been great when all’s said and done, but when you need someone to turn to, Bell should be the go-to guy. A huge win over one of the better quarterbacks in the league, although a depleted Chargers o-line helped a lot.

Game of the Week: Panthers @ Seahawks

This is the game proved which team was for real.

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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 14

Top 5

1. QB Derek Carr 22/28 for 254 yards, 3 TDs, 140.2 QBR vs. SF

2. RB Le’Veon Bell 26 carries for 185 yards, 2 TDs, 6 receptions for 50 yards, TD vs. CIN

3. WR A.J. Green 11 receptions for 224 yards, TD vs. PIT

4. WR T.Y. Hilton 10 receptions for 150 yards, 2 TDs, Fmb vs. CLE

5. WR Julio Jones 11 receptions for 259 yards, TD vs. GB

Worst of the Worst

1. QB Colin Kaepernick 18/33 for 174 yards, TD, 2 INTs, 5 sacks, 54.4 QBR vs. OAK

2. 49ers lose to Raiders

3. QB Brian Hoyer 14/31 for 140 yards, 2 INTs, 31.7 QBR vs. IND

4. QB Peyton Manning 14/20 for 173 yards, 2 INTs, 56.9 QBR vs. BUF

5. Eagles held to 139 total yards vs. SEA

Steelers Recap

I didn’t watch much of last Sunday’s game because I didn’t expect a win. Pittsburgh disappointed vs the Saints and the game was at home, only irking more further. Cincinnati was on the rise and Pittsburgh was on the decline. However, Le’Veon Bell certainly was not, putting up 41 fantasy points in standard leagues with the stats I listed above, earning the number two spot on my top five this week. A playoff spot is still in the cards, but the team’s losses to poor teams may get the better of them this year. It’s against the Falcons this week, who nearly pulled off a comeback against the hottest team in the league, the Green Bay Packers, so don’t be surprised if the game is close. It’s a must-win for Pittsburgh so I’m taking them, but don’t be blown away with Matt Ryan’s Falcons leave with a win.

Game of the Week: Cowboys @ Eagles

It’s the only game this week that pops out to me and it’s a game that matters in the NFC playoff picture. I’m rooting for the Cowboys to miss the playoffs again, #MerryDALmiss, and after the Cowboys were throttled at home, I’ll take the Eagles this time.

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Tim Sports Report for 2014 NFL Week 13

Top 5

1. QB Ryan Fitzpatrick 19/27 for 358 yards, 6 TDs, 147.5 QBR vs. TEN

2. WR DeAndre Hopkins 9 receptions for 238 yards, 2 TDs vs. TEN

3. RB Le’Veon Bell 21 carries for 95 yards, TD, 8 receptions for 159 yards vs. NO

4. WR Calvin Johnson 11 receptions for 146 yards, 2 TDs vs. CHI

Set record as fastest receiver to 10,000 yards in just his 115th game.

5. QB Drew Brees 19/27 for 257 yards, 5 TDs, 140.0 QBR vs. PIT

Worst of the Worst

1. Raiders demolished 52-0, commit five turnovers vs. STL

2. Giants allow two fumble returns for touchdowns, lose to Jaguars after 21-0 lead.

3. The Bears on Thanksgiving. They have one of the best running backs in the NFL and they handed him the ball five times for six yards. Nearly every other play was a screen pass because of their poor pass protection and Cutler struggled to complete a pass he had to throw more than five yards.

4. Panthers allow two blocked punts returned for touchdowns vs. MIN

5. QB Colin Kaepernick 16/29 for 121 yards, 2 INTs, 36.7 QBR vs. SEA

Steelers Recap

When I saw fantasy guru Matthew Berry had Drew Brees on his hate list for last Sunday’s game, I chuckled to myself. This year hasn’t been Brees’ best year and he hasn’t put up the stats we’re using to seeing from him, but the hate list? The Pittsburgh Steelers are exceeding the expectations I had for them in my pre-season review but they still lost to the Buccaneers and the Jets, two of the worst teams in the NFL. Had they won those games, a playoff spot would almost be a certainty. Instead, they faltered in two easily winnable games and now are on the outside looking in. Berry was also putting his faith in the Steelers secondary, which by this point, has been given photo credit for a team picture posted next to the word “inconsistent” in this year’s Webster’s dictionary. Some of the defense is too young and inexperienced to be able to make the big plays required of them and some are too seasoned to compete at the level they were once capable of. I picked the Steelers to win a game they should have won, yet I wasn’t surprised they lost. They have struggled against aerial teams this year and in past years and will continue to struggle until they start drafting a corner or safety in the first round of the draft.

William Gay is the team’s best corner despite the hate Steelers’ fans give him. Ike Taylor is done in Pittsburgh at the end of the year. Cortez Allen is not worth half the five-year, $26 million contract we signed him to in September. Brice McCain has been probably the worst of the bunch aside from a pick-six against Jacksonville, consistently getting beat short and down-field again and again. Shamarko Thomas has potential but is struggling to adapt to the Steelers scheme, leaving undrafted free agent Antwon Blake as our only other true corner. Blake has made some great plays on special teams and in pass coverage and I would be very surprised if he isn’t moved up the depth chart at the start of next season.

The fact I’m already talking about next season is the attitude I have towards the Steelers right now. I’m still a huge fan and have hope for a playoff spot but I’m more disappointed in the fact that they lost to Tampa Bay and New York then I am impressed that they beat the Texans, Colts and Ravens in back-to-back-to-back weeks. True playoff contenders don’t lose to Josh McCown/Mike Glennon and Geno Smith. The team has a lot of potential, they just keep falling short of coming out the other side of the tunnel.

The Steelers have won three of their last five games in Cincinnati but the team always struggles in the jungle. Ben has averaged 242 yards passing during that stretch. The Steelers haven’t won a game in Cincinnati where they scored less than 20 points since 2004 when they won 19-14, so if the offense doesn’t come to play, don’t expect a win. Ben had probably his worst performance of the season last week against the Saints and whether that is because of an injured hand or not doesn’t make any difference. I got to take the Bengals at home.

Game of the Week: Seahawks @ Eagles

The Eagles defense is terrible, but is it worse than the Seahawks offense? And can Mark Sanchez lead his team past a Seahawks defense that’s back on track? Should be a thriller, but if it’s a blowout, it’s probably a Seahawks win. I refuse to put my faith in a USC quarterback in tough games.

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Tim Sports Report for 2014 NFL Week 11

Top 5

1. Eight RBs had over 100 yards this week, five over 150 and two over 200. Also, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon set the NCAA record for rushing yards in a single game (408), proving the point he’s been trying to make all year: running backs still matter.

2. WR Mike Evans 7 receptions for 209 yards, 2 TDs vs. WAS

Evans (21) is the youngest player ever to have a 200-yard receiving game and the first rookie with seven catches for 100 yards and a TD in three straight games.

3. RB Jonas Gray 37 carries for 201 yards, 4 TDs vs. IND

4. RB Jamaal Charles 20 carries for 159 yards, 2 TDs, Fmb vs. SEA

5. RB Le’Veon Bell 33 carries for 204 yards, TD vs. TEN

Worst of the Worst

1. Steelers’ safety Mike Mitchell goes ballistic on Twitter. I wrote a post about this.

2. RB LeGarrette Blount walks off the field in the middle of the game vs. TEN

3. QB Eli Manning 22/45 for 280 yards, TD, 5 INTs, 36.6 QBR vs. SF

4. QB Robert Griffin III 23/32 for 207 TD, 2 INTs, 73.3 QBR vs. TB

5. NFC South Standings: Atlanta 4-6, New Orleans 4-6, Carolina 3-7, Tampa Bay 2-8

Steelers Recap

Overall, the Steelers’ performance on Monday night was frustrating. The offensive fluidity fans had seen just a few weeks ago was gone. The team looked uncoordinated and unorganized. The fact that the Steelers had to come back to win this game was exactly the opposite of what Steelers nation wanted to see on Monday. They, like myself, wanted to see a dominant win against a struggling team. Instead, the Steelers gave the Titans boatloads of confidence going into their next game, while Tomlin needs to start re-evaluating the team depth chart and playbook. Le’Veon Bell and the offensive line were excellent during the second half but against the Titans front seven I think it’s important not to give them too much credit. The fact that Bell ran for over 200 yards and we still almost lost is pretty sad. This bye week could not be more well-timed. They need a break to recuperate some players but they also need to silent these off-the-field issues immediately. Mitchell’s tirade was a catastrophe on so many levels and I’m very happy they cut Blount almost instantaneously, but his actions need to be a reminder to the whole team that this is a team effort and if you’re not happy with your role, then get off the field.

Game of the Week: Dolphins @ Broncos.

I have the Broncos for this game but the Dolphins are surging and looking like a top-ten team right now. Their defense is excellent as I expected and if it weren’t for the lack of play-makers on offense, this team could probably threaten New England. It’s important Denver get’s back on the right track after dropping two of their last three. Expect a close one and don’t be surprised if an upset occurs.

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Tim Sports Report for 2014 NFL Week 9

Top 5

1. QB Ben Roethlisberger 25/37 for 340 yards, 6 TDs, Fmb, 136.3 QBR vs. BAL

First QB in NFL history to throw for six touchdowns in consecutive weeks. Sets record for touchdown passes in consecutive games (12). Most fantasy points by a quarterback in back-to-back weeks (79).

2. QB Tom Brady 33/53 for 333 yards, 4 TDs, INT, 97.4 QBR vs. DEN

3. WR Jeremy Maclin 6 receptions for 158 yards, 2 TDs vs. HOU

4. RB Mark Ingram 30 carries for 100 yards, 2 TDs vs. CAR

5. WR Antonio Brown 11 receptions for 144 yards, TD vs. BAL

Worst of the Worst

1. QB Cam Newton 10/28 for 151 yards, INT, Fmb, 39.4 QBR vs. NO

2. QB Philip Rivers 12/23 for 138 yards, 3 INTs, Fmb, 31.0 QBR vs. MIA

3. Jaguars allow two consecutive punts to be blocked vs. CIN

4. QB Colin Kaepernick loses two fumbles, including on last-second quarterback sneak for what would have been the go-ahead score vs. STL

5. Seahawks squeak past Raiders 30-24 despite 3 Oakland turnovers

Steelers Recap

Here are some fun stats: Ben Roethlisberger is second in passing yards (2,720) and completion percentage (68.3) this year. He’s also third in touchdowns (22) and QBR (110.6) and fourth in yards per game (302).

Le’Veon Bell is third in rushing yards (711) and has 47 receptions for 433 yards, giving him 1,144 all-purpose yards this year, third in the league.

Antonio Brown is second in all-purpose yards. That’s correct. Two of the top three players in all-purpose yards play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Brown leads the league in receptions (71), targets (103), receiving yards (996), and first downs (44). He’s also second in yards per game (110.7) and fourth in catches of 20-plus yards (14).

At his current pace, Brown is set to have 1,771 yards, which would be good for fourth in NFL history. Only Calvin Johnson in 2012 (1,964) and Jerry Rice (1,848) and Isaac Bruce (1,781) in 1995 would have more.

After going 1-2 during their easiest stretch of the season (L 27-14 vs. TB, W 17-9 @ JAC, L 31-10 @ CLE), the Steelers playoff hopes appeared to be shouldered onto the Week 7 home match-up against the Texans. The Steelers played their best game of the year and won 30-23. “They played great, but there is no way they’ll beat the Colts,” I said. Ben and the Burgh proved me wrong again, winning another superb home game 51-34. To top it all off, the Steelers decimated the Ravens 43-23 to split the season series.

If the Steelers beat the Jets on Sunday, they will hold sole possession of first place in the AFC North and the third-seed in the AFC because they beat Indianapolis, the projected winner of the AFC South. Their stat line (4th pass, 12th rush, 20th vs. the pass, 11th vs. the rush) is impressive and they are averaging 27.6 points per game, good for 7th in the league.

At this point of the season, not only are the Steelers far better than I expected, they are a solid playoff contender if they continue their current play. If they continue to execute the way they’ve been executing and continue to get consistent pressure on the quarterback, this team should be able to win at least four more games at minimum, especially with the Jets, Titans, Falcons, and struggling Bengals on the schedule. Let’s go Steelers!

Game of the Week: Panthers @ Eagles

Cam Newton was pathetic last game and the Eagles have lost Foles for a substantial amount of time. Can *cough* Mark Sanchez *cough* keep the team together or fail as he’s always done when the team’s looking to him to lead? This game will be a good first test for Sanchez. With that said, I think the Eagles are the better team, even if Sanchez falters yet again.

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Tim Sports Report for 2014 NFL Week 7

Top 5

1. QB Peyton Manning 22/26 for 318 yards, 4 TDs, 157.2 QBR vs. SF

Breaks Favre’s 508 TD record

2. QB Russell Wilson 23/36 for 313 yards, 2 TDs, 110.1 QBR, 7 carries for 106 yards, TD vs. STL

First player to throw for over 300 yards and run for 100 yards in the same game

3. Steelers score 24 points in 2:54 (21 in 1:13) in second quarter vs. HOU

4. WR Demaryius Thomas 8 receptions for 171 yards, 2 TDs vs. SF

5. RB Le’Veon Bell 12 carries for 57 yards, 8 receptions for 88 yards, TD vs. HOU

Sets Steelers record for most yards from scrimmage in player’s first two seasons.

Worst of the Worst

1. Bengals shutout vs. Colts, 0-2-1 and outscored in 107-54 in last three games.

1/13 on third down, 54 plays for 135 yards (2.5 ypp) 10 3-and-outs, punted franchise-record 11 times

2. Seahawks lose to third string QB, third string RB and second string RB tops receptions in Rams win.

3. QB Brian Hoyer 16/41 for 215 yards, INT, Fmb, 46.3 QBR vs. JAC

4. QB Blake Bortles 17/31 for 159 yards, TD, 3 INTs, 40.3 QBR vs. CLE

5. Bills lose Spiller, Jackson to injury

Steelers Recap

I went to the Steelers game on Monday and it started the way I feared it might, with Arian Foster gouging the Steelers defense with 102 yards in the first quarter and the Texans jumping to a 13-0 with 7:16 remaining in the second quarter. The Steelers looked pretty bad, but as I noted to one of my friends in the stands, all the Steelers needed was a big play: a sack, a big run, anything to give the Burgh some momentum. After a Suisham field goal and a Texan 3-and-out, Roethlisberger escaped a sack and screened it to Bell, who ran for a 43-yard gain. The very next play, Big Ben found their fourth-round pick, WR Martavis Bryant, in the end zone for his first touchdown of the season. The ensuing kickoff was bobbled by the Texan returner and left the Houston with poor field goal position. On the second play, Foster fumbled the ball and Antonio Brown threw, yes, threw, a touchdown pass to Lance Moore. The next Houston offensive possession, a deflected pass wound up in the hands of Brett Keisel and RB Le’Veon Bell scored on the next play.

It was a demonstration of how deadly the Steelers can be if they execute. The last three minutes of the second quarter was some of the best Steelers’ football I’ve seen in a while. Despite how well they played, they face the second-best team in the league right now, the Indianapolis Colts. Got to side with Luck on this one.

Game of the Week: Eagles @ Cardinals

Both teams are 5-1 and with the Cowboys on a hot streak, the Eagles have to keep pace if they want to win the division. The Cardinals have a good defense but their pass defense has been one of the worst in the league, a huge surprise for many. Going to take the pass-heavy Eagles.

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