For those of you who are interested, I wrote a lengthy “preview” of sorts on today’s Cincinnati at Houston Wild Card matchup for The Sports Headquarters. I mainly discussed how the Bengals have just ended a long depression by posting their second consecutive winning season for the first time in 30 years, and what needs to happen for them to end a 21 year skid without a single playoff win. You can find the entire article right here. Just want picks? I’ll do that here. I went 10-6 in the final week of the regular season and wrapped up the regular season with a 161-94-1. Four games this weekend as eight teams try to keep hope alive:
Cincinnati at Houston – Bengals
Minnesota at Green Bay – Packers
Indianapolis at Baltimore – Ravens
Seattle at Washington – Redskins
With one game remaining in the first week of the NFL Preseason schedule, here are five areas of concern that carried over from last season and stood out this past weekend:
Cleveland’s run defense:
Friday night against the Lions – a team whose top running back is currently sidelined with concussion concerns – the Browns were gashed for 198 rushing yards and six yards per carry. Cleveland’s weakside linebackers and defensive ends were caught over-committing on numerous occasions, allowing for Detroit’s running backs to cut back time and again for big gains. In the first quarter, with starters in the game for much of the time, the Browns allowed 43 yards on nine attempts (4.8 yards per carry) and a touchdown. They allowed a staggering 6.5 yards per carry the rest of the way. Starters Phil Taylor and Chris Gocong are sidelined for part or all of the season with major injuries, and Scott Fujita is facing a possible three-game suspension. D’Qwell Jackson, Ahtyba Rubin and Frostee Rucker missed Friday’s game with injuries as well. There were already concerns about depth on Cleveland’s front seven. Against Detroit, the team’s “depth” was eviscerated for three quarters by the likes of Keiland Williams and Joique Bell. This has to be a little disconcerting to the Cleveland coaching staff.
Cincinnati’s running backs:
Last season, the Bengals finished 27th in the league in yards per rush attempt, with lead running back Cedric Benson matching the team average with 3.9 yards per carry. In the offseason, Cincy attempted to upgrade with the younger BenJarvus Green-Ellis, a back who averaged just 3.7 yards per carry a year ago. Friday night against the Jets, Green-Ellis rattled off one 12 yard run, but managed just ten total yards on his other six carries. Some might want to credit the Jets’ first team defense for this performance; but Bengals backups weren’t any better against second and third stringers. Brian Leonard, Aaron Brown, Cedric Peerman, and Daniel Herron combined to carry 23 times for 61 yards – an average of 2.7 yards per rush. Perhaps things will improve once Bernard Scott returns from a hand injury, but that view would be optimistic to say the least. Last season Scott averaged just 3.4 yards rushing on 112 carries. With such a punchless running attack, the Bengals appear to be putting a lot of eggs in the Andy Dalton basket – a risky proposition considering his performance down the stretch last season.
St. Louie’s offensive line:
While trading the second overall pick in the 2012 draft netted the Rams a couple of future first rounders and Janoris Jenkins, it also meant that the Rams were passing on the draft’s top offensive tackle, Ryan Kalil. The Rams traded back a second time, to number 14, and selected DT Michael Brockers ahead of guys like David DeCastro and Riley Reiff. In the second round they passed on offensive linemen Mitchell Schwartz, Cordy Glenn, and Jonathan Martin to name a few. In fact, St. Louis didn’t select an offensive lineman until the fifth round. Clearly, the team’s new regime was either not sold on any of those players, prioritized team needs differently, or both. But the Rams were among the league’s worst pass protecting teams last season. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford was sacked 36 times in just ten starts. On Sunday, St. Louis allowed the Colts, a team in the process changing defensive schemes, to get consistent pressure and limit them to under three yards per run attempt. The right tackle combo of first round bust Jason Smith and Chiefs’ cast-off Barry Richardson looks especially troublesome. Jeff Fisher and company may someday prove that their draft strategy was the right one, but for now it looks like another low octane season is in store for Bradford and the offense.
The Jets’ quarterback and right tackle situations:
The curious choice to trade for Tim Tebow is well documented. But even if he was truly acquired to backup Mark Sanchez (he wasn’t) New York’s quarterback position is in a state of flux. On Friday night in one quarter of play, Sanchez completed four of six passes for just 21 yards – fewer than four yards per attempt – and was sacked twice. Tebow followed by completing four of his eight attempts for 27 yards and one of the worst interceptions of the weekend. The pass was so poorly timed and underthrown that it took a diving attempt by rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict to scoop it off the turf. Tebow wasn’t sacked, but the Jets’ porous line forced him into a couple of crowd-pleasing scrambles. As a result, Tebow finished the game as the team’s leading rusher. The Jets’ running backs, meanwhile, averaged just 3.5 yards per rush on 22 attempts. Yes Cincinnati’s defense is stingy (eighth in the league last season in yards allowed per rushing attempt), but if the Jets plan on establishing the pass at all, their line will need to do a much better job protecting Sanchez and opening running lanes for their stable of mediocre backs.
The Cardinals are one of two teams that have already completed two preseason games, and their quarterback situation looks like a train wreck. Kevin Kolb and John Skelton are competing for the starting job, but Kolb is just two for nine passing with an interception and a passer rating of 0.0. Skelton has barely been better, as his 39.2 rating is lower than a passer who throws an incomplete pass on his only attempt (39.6). Third stringer Richard Bartel has the team’s only passing touchdown, but has been sacked seven times. And rookie sixth rounder Ryan Lindley, who leads the team with 166 pass yards, has completed just 50% of his throws and averaged just over five yards per attempt (oh, and he’s thrown a pick as well). Considering that Larry Fitzgerald somehow managed over 1400 receiving yards on this team last year, the Hall of Fame might as well just go ahead and prepare his bust right now.
The other day, I kicked off this “Fun with stats” series with the AFC East, discussing, among other things, some potential buyer’s remorse for the Bills and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and some buyer beware for fantasy football owners regarding Reggie Bush. Next up is the AFC North:
There was just something about Ohio last season for Ravens running back Ray Rice. In his two visits to the Buckeye state last year, Rice piled up 395 rushing yards, averaged 7.5 yards per carry and found the end zone three times. Again, that was in just two games. In six other road games, Rice ran for just 279 yards on 4.4 yards per carry and just one rushing TD. It’s easy to explain Rice’s Ohio success against the Browns, who finished 30th in the league in rushing yards surrendered. But Cincinnati finished 10th in the same category, and Rice gashed them for 191 yards in Week 17.
Steelers receiver Mike Wallace was expected to attract some attention as a restricted free agent this offseason, but nobody was willing to pony up the cash or the draft pick it would have taken to get him in a new uniform. Perhaps the lack of interest was due to Wallace’s reportedly high monetary demands, or maybe it was because statistically he wasn’t Pittsburgh’s top receiver for more than half the season. In the team’s final ten games, Wallace accounted for 39 catches for 581 yards and 14.9 yards per catch. Meanwhile, Antonio Brown became the new go-to guy, racking up 51 receptions for 846 yards and an average of 16.6 yards per catch. Wallace did score four touchdowns to just two for Brown; but it’s still hard to see how that type of production would justify number one receiver-type kablingy.
If things go according to plan in Cleveland, Colt McCoy won’t see the field this year. Not for the Browns, anyway. But there is still a faction of fans and media who feel that McCoy somehow got a raw deal. In his 21 career starts, the Browns have gone 6-15. But it gets worse. In 2011, against AFC North opponents, McCoy went 0-4, completed just 48.6% of his passes and averaged just 5.3 yards per pass attempt. In his career, McCoy is 0-8 against the division, with 9 TD passes to 13 interceptions. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that the Browns are moving on to a new quarterback.
Cincinnati fans have a right to be excited about their young team. With rookie QB Andy Dalton at the helm last year, the Bengals were a surprise participant in the playoffs. But a closer look at the numbers suggest that there may be some growing pains ahead. Cincy went 0-8 (counting their playoff loss to Houston) against playoff teams in 2011, and Dalton cooled after a hot start. In the season’s second half, and one playoff game, Dalton completed just 56.1% of his passes, threw 8 TDs against 9 interceptions, and led the team to a 3-6 record. It won’t be a huge shock if 2012 is a slight step back before the Bengals become true contenders.
It’s about that time. A little over nine months ago, I produced my first 2012 NFL Draft-related post: a look at “under the radar offensive prospects.” There have been a googolplex of mock drafts written since then. Hell, I’ve done three myself. The first one came back on November 9th, 2011, when I though that Landry Jones, Manti Te’o, and Johnthan Banks might make themselves eligible for selection. I wrote my second mock while on Christmas vacation, before Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Burfict sabotaged his own draft stock. My last stab in the darkness happened just before the free agency floodgates opened. There, I predicted (incorrectly) where Peyton Manning and Mario Williams would sign as free agents. The “nut” to my “blind squirrel” arrived a couple of days later, when my prediction of a Redskins/Rams trade for the number two overall pick (and, in effect, RG3) came true. These mocks are a lot of guesswork. It’s educated guesswork, but guesswork nonetheless. It almost feels futile, knowing that there will be five or six impossible-to-predict trades that will muck everything up. Along with the wheeling and dealing, there are always a few surprise choices; like Christian Ponder and James Carpenter a year ago, and Tyson Alualu and Tim Tebow the year before that. Trades are tough, and I don’t want to get into all that. Trying to sift through the smoke that teams like the Vikings and the Jaguars are putting out is too much to process. But surprise picks? That’s what makes these things fun. Even the most “accurate” mock drafts only get ten or so player/team or player/pick matches right, so why not try to throw some spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks?…
A weekend trip to visit my in-laws afforded me the opportunity to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio for just the second time. My first trip came back in 2001, when the 22-year-old version of me capped the day off by purchasing a bright orange Cleveland Browns jersey with the name “Brown” stretched across the back. Brown, as in “Courtney Brown.” As in the first pick of the 2000 NFL Draft. So promising, those times. A few years later though, and Brown was off the team, his jersey relegated to a storage bin somewhere in a closet. It’s been a long time now, and with a few hours to kill before the Final Four tipped off last Saturday, my father-in-law and I made the short trek down I-77 to stroll through football history and take some pictures along the way…
Happy New Year to all! All 16 NFL games are today, leading up to an all day college bowl game binge tomorrow. An 8-8 Christmas weekend makes me 154-86 on the season. For what it’s worth, that means I am tied with Mike Golic. Very quickly, here are the Week 17 picks:
Green Bay @ Detroit – My guess here is that the Green Bay starters will get some rest today – Lions
San Francisco @ St. Louis – The Niners could rest their starters and still win this game – 49ers
NY Jets @ Miami – The Jets need a win and some help if they are going to sneak into the playoffs once again – Jets
Chicago @ Minnesota – Terrible to hear that Adrian Peterson suffered such a severe knee injury last week. I hope he comes all the way back, but that is the type of injury that can really cut a career short – Vikings
Buffalo @ New England – The Pats still need a win to guarantee them home field advantage throughout the playoffs – Patriots
Carolina @ New Orleans – The Saints need a win and a Niners loss to clinch the two seed in the NFC, so there is still something to play for. On another note, I think a lot of fantasy football players would like to join me in saying, “Screw you, Sean Payton! You could have pulled Brees with the game in hand and let him break the record this week, ya bastard.” – Saints
Washington @ Philadelphia – The Eagles have probably done just enough lately to not get Andy Reid fired – Eagles
Indianapolis @ Jacksonville – Like I said last week: Andrew Luck to the Colts is far from a guarantee. A win here and a Rams loss will push the Colts to the number two overall pick – Colts
Tennesee @ Houston – Good thing the Texans clinched the AFC South when they did – Titans
Tampa Bay @ Atlanta – The 2011 Buccaneers are the 2008 Cleveland Browns. They both went 10-6 the year before, narrowly missed the playoffs, then fell to 4-12 the following year. If Raheem Morris is fired soon, it will only add to the similarities – Falcons
Baltimore @ Cincinnati – A lot at stake here. The Ravens need a win to clinch the AFC North, while the Bengals can lock up a playoff spot with a win. Should be a good one – Ravens
Pittsburgh @ Cleveland – The Steelers need a win if they’re going to have a chance at a division title. Side bet: James Harrison spears someone. Happens every time these teams play – Steelers
Kansas City @ Denver – Is Kyle Orton really going to knock the Broncos out of the playoffs? – Chiefs
San Diego @ Oakland – The Chargers seemed to have a hard time getting motivated before they were eliminated from the playoffs. I’m not sure that playing spoiler will be enough reason for them to show up – Raiders
Seattle @ Arizona – In 2010, this game would have been for the division title. Today, it’ll be hard to convince either team not to mail it in – Seahawks
Dallas @ NY Giants – This is the one true “winner take all” matchup of the week. Actually, the Giants could still “take all” with a tie – Giants
I’m off to a 2-0 start this week, bringing my overall record to 138-72. Here is a quick rundown of the rest of the Week 15 action…
Miami @ Buffalo – I suppose Buffalo is favored here because they are at home. Or maybe because Miami just fired its coach. Either way, I disagree. The Dolphins are playing better football right now – Dolphins
Seattle @ Chicago – Still no Jay Cutler or Matt Forte for the Bears. This is rough way to wind down a once promising season – Seahawks
Carolina @ Houston – I picked Houston to win the AFC South, so it’s not that I am surprised by their success. It’s that I am surprised that they have won in spite of all the big injuries they’ve suffered all year. T.J. Yates has me believing – Texans
Tennessee @ Indianapolis – I can’t wait to see what Indy does with that number one overall draft pick - Titans
Green Bay @ Kansas City – Romeo Crennel is coaching and Kyle Orton is starting at QB. How many Chiefs fans saw that coming? – Packers
Cincinnati @ St. Louis – This is just the type of game that the Bengals have been winning all year – Bengals
New Orleans @ Minnesota – I wish Adrian Peterson would just keep resting so that I could continue to get big fantasy production from Toby Gerhart. Seriously, AD. Just shut it down. Thanks – Saints
Washington @ NY Giants – Say what you want about Eli Manning, but the guy has won a Super Bowl and he is having a phenomenal season. He might throw for 5000 yards this year – Giants
Detroit @ Oakland – I don’t think a lot of Raiders fans are happy about that Carson Palmer trade right now – Lions
Cleveland @ Arizona – Hilariously, this game will feature Seneca Wallace and John Skelton at quarterback – Cardinals
NY Jets @ Philadelphia – Vegas still believes in Philly apparently. Last I checked, they are three point favorites. I gave up on them a while ago – Jets
New England @ Denver – Something, something, something,TIM TEBOW – Patriots
Baltimore @ San Diego – I get why CBS didn’t want to swap out the Brady vs. Tebow game. But I would have rather seen that on Sunday night than this matchup. Not that this is bad at all. It’s just not Brady vs. Tebow. Still, this game has intrigue and I think San Diego is about to surprise a few people – Chargers
Pittsburgh @ San Francisco – I will call it right now: if Alex Smith is still their QB next year, the Niners will be the 2012 version of the Chiefs or Buccaneers – Steelers