December 21, 2014

Each Team’s Best

Eighty years ago there was an NFL team named the St. Louis Gunners and their best player was Paul Moss. Doesn’t ring a bell? He probably doesn’t as the Gunners were not around too long and Moss never played in the NFL after 1934.

We know about Moss now thanks largely to Leatherhead Joe Williams who reached back into the black and white annals of America’s great game to remember the tall, talented player eight decades after his playing days and 15 years after his death.

The point is every great player is worth remembering, whether he played on the sandlots during the Great Depression or in the Super Bowl in front of billions. And so the following is a compilation of not every great player ever – we don’t have quite that much time – but the greatest player in the history of each NFL franchise, including some teams that, like the Gunners, have faded into history.

You might not agree with all of our choices, but we hope you enjoy remembering them.

 

Arizona Cardinals – Larry Fitzgerald, Wide Receiver

The Arizona Cardinals just might win the Super Bowl this season, which would be the team’s first Lombardi Trophy and first NFL title since 1947 when they were based in Chicago.

The Cardinals have had a challenging history, to say the least, struggling for fans during their years in Chicago, putting together some solid but unspectacular teams in St. Louis and continuing to be an also-ran for most of the nearly 30 years since they moved to Arizona.

Despite their often lackluster finish in the standings, the Cards have had a lot of great players including Charley Trippi and Ollie Matson from the Chicago days and Larry Wilson, Jim Hart, Dan Dierdorf and Roy Green who played in St. Louis. But our pick for the toughest bird of the bunch is a player who has blossomed in the desert and, even if he doesn’t lead the Cardinals to a Super Bowl victory, will still end up in the Hall of Fame one day: Larry Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald seems as if he’s played for the Cardinals forever. He joined Arizona in 2003 after a stellar career at the University of Pittsburgh and has been one of the NFL’s elite receivers ever since. As of this writing, Fitzgerald has 12,025 career receiving yards and 89 touchdowns. He has been selected to the Pro Bowl eight times and, if the Cardinals had managed to get the ball to #11 a little earlier in Super Bowl XLIII, he caught two TD passes in the fourth including the (temporarily) go-ahead 64-yard score in the final minutes, the Cardinals probably would have beaten the Steelers, instead of losing a heartbreaker.

Larry Fitzgerald, the man with the long hair and sticky hands, left his heart on the field that day six years ago and he continues to do that every Sunday. He has excelled on good teams and bad, no matter who’s throwing him the ball. He’s the best player in Cardinals’ history.

 

Atlanta Falcons – Jessie Tuggle, Linebacker

Leatherhead Matt Haddad says in nearly 50 years of football, one Atlanta Falcon flies highest:

The Atlanta Falcons began play in 1966.  They have had some good seasons, but they’ve never won a World Championship.  “Not a great history,” says Falcon diehard Chris “Bulldog” Harper.

The Falcons entered the league the same season the first Super Bowl was played.  They have made the Super Bowl one time: 1998, when they finished 14-2 and, for the NFC Championship, went to Minnesota and defeated a 15-1 Vikings teams that scored a then-NFL record 556 points in the regular season. “Jessie Tuggle was the heart and soul of that team,” said Harper.

Harper and his fellow Falcon diehard, Josh King, were asked separately: “Who’s the #1 Falcon of all time?”  Both of them picked Jessie “The Hammer” Tuggle.

Tuggle grew up in Spalding County, Georgia, and went to college at Valdosta State.  In his pursuit of professional football, the undrafted Tuggle never left home: In 1987, He signed as a free agent with the Falcons and played 14 seasons.  He became a full-time starter halfway through his second season (1988).  In the second-to-last game that season, the Falcons were down, 22-0, to the Rams in Los Angeles.  In the 4th quarter, Tuggle kept his team from getting shut out by returning a Cliff Hicks fumble 2 yards for a touchdown.  The Falcons lost, 22-7, on their way to a 5-11 season.

Tuggle made a similar play ten years later–in that unforgettable 1998 season.  In a Week 11 showdown at home against their archrival San Francisco 49ers with the Falcons up, 17-6, in the 4th quarter, Tuggle returned a Steve Young fumble two yards for a touchdown and a 24-6 lead.  The points proved valuable as the 49ers scored two touchdowns to pull within 24-19.  As they did so many times that season, the Falcons prevailed, 31-19.  The game was decisive in winning the NFC West over the 49ers, who finished two games behind the Falcons at 12-4.

Harper remembers Tuggle having success against Detroit Lions Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders–or at least more success against Sanders than most players had.  “I remember a game where Sanders faked out the camera man, and you couldn’t see where he was going,” Harper said. “Then you hear a BOOM ! ! !  And then you see Tuggle on top of Sanders.”

From 1987 to 2000, the 5′ 11″, 230-pound Tuggle played in 209 games, starting in 189 of them.  The Hammer made 100-plus tackles in 12 straight seasons–his first and last seasons were the only ones he didn’t.  He recorded a Falcons-record 2,130 career tackles, including an NFL high 1,293 from 1990-’99. Ever since the NFL began officially recording tackles on the late 1970s, Tuggle is the NFL’s all-time leader.

Tuggle recovered 10 fumbles and returned five of them for touchdowns.  He intercepted five passes and returned one for a touchdown.  He sacked the quarterback 21 times and deflected 37 passes.

Chris Harper recalls a game between the Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.  In December 1995, the 7-6 Falcons were up, 19-14, in the Georgia Dome, but the Saints were threatening late in the game.  Saints quarterback Jim Everett, needing to get a touchdown to win, threw the ball in endzone, but Tuggle intercepted and returned it 49 yards to preserve the victory.  The win proved vital to the Falcons’ finishing 9-7 and making the playoffs.

“Memories like that are priceless,” Harper said.

 

Baltimore Ravens – Ray Lewis, Linebacker

It is nearly impossible to discuss Ray Lewis’ career on the field without mentioning his troubles off the field. At least, we feel it’s inappropriate to not mention his troubles, though we realize some might feel differently.

We’ll try to be brief. Ray Lewis was accused of murdering two men in Atlanta in 2000. The charges were dropped, two others were charged and they were not convicted, either. Lewis, that same year, had probably his best season ever and led the Ravens, who had perhaps the greatest defense in NFL history that year, to a Super Bowl victory over the New York Giants.

Lewis, who joined the Ravens in 1996, the first year they played in Baltimore after leaving Cleveland and changing their name from the Browns, eventually made 13 Pro Bowls at middle linebacker, was first team All-Pro seven times, was a Super Bowl MVP for that victory over the Giants, was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and, in storybook fashion, closed his career by leading the Ravens to another Super Bowl victory, when the Ravens defeated the 49ers after the 2012 season.

Ray Lewis is now a network TV analyst, is regarded as jovial and insightful and is remembered as being one of the most ferocious, intense and greatest defensive players in NFL history and will probably be a unanimous choice for the Hall of Fame.

We recognize his greatness as a football player.

 

Buffalo Bills – Bruce Smith, Defensive End

When Bruce Smith was taken with the top overall pick out of Virginia Tech in 1985, the Buffalo Bills were thought of mostly as the team that O.J. Simpson used to play for. A few years later, the Bills would be known as an AFC dynasty and Smith was the player most responsible for this remarkable turnaround.

Bruce Smith registered six and-a-half sacks his rookie year then went on to record double-digit sacks in 12 of his next 13 seasons with the Bills, with the lone exception being 1991 when he was limited to just five games because of injury. Smith retired with 200 career sacks, still the most in NFL history.

And as the better Bruce Smith got, the better the Bills became. In 1988 Smith played in his second straight Pro Bowl and Buffalo made the playoffs for the first time since 1981. Smith would go on to reach 11 Pro Bowls and the Bills, in 1990, made the Super Bowl for the first time in team history.

We all know what happened. They lost. And, yes, the Bills would go on to lose three more Super Bowls in a row.

It was freaky, it was weird, and it was bad luck. The Bills had great teams but, once the Roman numerals started showing up, they faded. It wasn’t Bruce Smith’s fault. He led a tenacious defense that included such stalwarts as Cornelius Bennett and Darryl Talley while on the other side of the ball the Bills, coached by the venerable Marv Levy, had quarterback Jim Kelly, running back Thurman Thomas and a handful of other stars.

When the 6-4 Bruce Smith entered the league he weighed about 300 pounds. He quickly learned that to be mean, and more effective, he had to be lean, and so he dropped about 30 pounds and in his most dominant days he weighed around 265. There’s a story that Smith was so disciplined about keeping his weight down that once, seated next to a reporter eating peanuts, he asked for one and then picked it up, held it close to his nose and inhaled deeply, and then set it down because peanuts, yes peanuts, were not in his diet.

Bruce Smith smelled the peanuts four times in his days with the Bills but never got to take a bite. Here, Bruce, is a bag of piping hot peanuts from all of us at Leatherheads. Indulge. You are a Hall-of Famer and the greatest Buffalo Bill of them all.

 

Carolina Panthers – Steve Smith, Wide Receiver

After the 2013 season the Carolina Panthers felt that Steve Smith was too old. He is, after all, 35, which, in fairness, is like 112 in receiver years.

Memo to the Panthers: Big Mistake. It’s not a big mistake, necessarily, to let the greatest player in team history go but it is a fatal error to part ways with a player who can still bring it, no matter what his age, and Steve Smith who, a bit like Michael Jordan and many other great athletes plays better with a chip on his shoulder, is still getting it done with the Ravens.

But let’s go back to Carolina. The Panthers chose the 5-9, 185-pound Smith in the third round out of Utah in 2001 and he was All-Pro as a kick returner his rookie year. Over the next decade Smith became one of the few players to ever make the transition from returner to top receiver, and had 1,000 yards or more receiving seven times, a tally that would have been more impressive if not for injuries.

In 2003, #89 led the Panthers on their amazing playoff run, racking up more than 100 yards receiving in two of Carolina’s postseason victories along with two TDs and was also clutch in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots with four catches for 89 yards and a score.

In the 2005 playoffs, Steve Smith singlehandedly destroyed the Bears with 12 catches from Jake Delhomme for 218 yards and two scores, while also carrying the ball three times for 26 yards.

Steve Smith is fast, tough, nasty, and can flat-out catch. And run. He’ll probably play forever, the most pugnacious and accomplished (former) Panther of them all.

 

Chicago Bears – Walter Payton, Running Back

Leatherhead Bob Lazzari says that Walter Payton was “maybe the best football player I ever saw, combining speed, mental toughness, and an unmatched physical running style.  In addition, his modest nature, work ethic, and “team-first” approach may never be equaled by any NFL player.  There will never be another “Sweetness”, for sure–a man tragically taken from this world way before his time.  May he rest in peace.”

We agree with every word. But Bob’s words are as accurate as they are, for Bears fans, painful because, even 15 years later, it’s difficult for those of us who grew up watching Payton and loving the Bears to come to grips with the fact that Payton is gone.

But we are consoled with words describing another great Bears running back, Brian Piccolo. In the 1971 movie Brian’s Song, about Piccolo’s battle with cancer that would take his life at the age of 26, George Halas says Piccolo is remembered not for “how he died but how he lived. How he did live!”

When Payton broke Jim Brown’s all-time rushing record in 1984, he told reporters “the motivating factor for me has been the athletes who have tried for the record and failed and those who didn’t have an opportunity such as David Overstreet and Joe Delaney and Brian Piccolo…it’s a tribute to them and an honor for me to bestow this honor on them.”

That’s all we really need to know about Walter Payton. In the greatest moment of personal triumph in his career he did not glorify himself but rather reached out to those who died young and never got the chances he had.

Payton was an All-Pro, an MVP, a Super Bowl champ, the NFL’s all-time rushing champ at the time of his retirement and he also subbed at quarterback, was a team leader and a Chicago icon. Many football players were flashier, many won more titles. And maybe one or two were better.

But none had more class or grace.

Walter died young. He was just 46. He died with dignity. He played with courage and he lived with humor and kindness. He was, and always will be, the greatest Chicago Bear of all and those of us lucky enough to have seen him play are the better for it.

 

Cincinnati Bengals – Anthony Munoz, Offensive Tackle

Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman scores one for the “big uglies,” choosing an offensive lineman as the best player to ever wear Bengal stripes:

I will have to go off the glamour positions here as I select Anthony Munoz as the Bengals best player of all-time. Anthony played 13 dominating seasons for Cincinnati and was, in my mind and many others, the best offensive lineman ever in the NFL.

I remember watching him protect my second best player, Boomer Esiason’s backside on numerous occasions. And he is a template for younger players coming up to learn how to play the position from.

 

Cleveland Browns – Otto Graham, Quarterback  

Ronnie Foreman wears Bengal stripes as well as Cleveland’s Brown in choosing the best player in Brownies history:

As much as it pains me to go against the greatest running back of all-time in Jim Brown, I must go with the Browns greatest quarterback of all-time as their best player ever. That would be the old-timer named Otto Everett Graham, Jr.

The Browns were 114-20 with Graham playing quarterback. They made the playoffs for 10 straight seasons. They also won the championship seven of those ten seasons. Although his stats may not be as good as some of today’s modern era quarterbacks he was one of the top statistical QBs in his era and he dominated it.

 

Dallas Cowboys – Roger Staubach, Quarterback

If you were a football fan growing up in the 1960s and 1970s and you did not sometimes wish you were Roger Staubach there was something seriously askew with your brain and soul.

Roger Staubach was not just the quarterback for “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys; he was “America’s Quarterback” as his resume reads like something out of a Gil Thorp storyline.

Staubach was a star QB at the Naval Academy and won the Heisman Trophy in 1963. He was drafted by the Cowboys but instead served in the Navy, including a tour of duty in the Vietnam War before finally joining the Cowboys in 1969.

He became Dallas’ regular starter in 1971 and the Cowboys won their first Super Bowl. Staubach eventually led Dallas to the playoffs eight times and reached four Super Bowls with him as a starter, winning two of them.

In 1979 Staubach was still one of the league’s best players and had, at that time, the second highest passer rating in league history, but chose to walk away and has gone on to be a success in business and is one of the most respected players in NFL history.

Many people hated the Cowboys, but everyone loved Roger Staubach.

And Staubach could play. He is credited with 15 career fourth quarter comebacks and 23 game-winning drives. Staubach’s 1975 “Hail Mary” TD pass to Drew Pearson to stun the Vikings in the playoffs is considered one of the most clutch throws in playoff history.

Roger Staubach was cool, he was tough, he was a warrior, he was a winner and he was a gentleman. He was a Cowboy.

 

Denver Broncos – John Elway, Quarterback

Leatherhead Tony Williams doesn’t buck conventional wisdom when it comes to the Broncos:

As if this selection shouldn’t be obvious enough, but Elway is the greatest Bronco ever — distancing himself from other fellow Hall-of-Famers Floyd Little and Shannon Sharpe.

When Elway retired following the 1998 season, he was Top-5 in every meaningful statistical passing category for QBs, including tops in all-time wins, game-winning drives, and Super Bowl starts.

His final game is what every pro athlete dreams of — to not only win the championship, but also be named as the game’s MVP.

Elway is also arguably in the Top-5 discussion of all-time QBs, and if that’s not enough, he’s on the ascension of carving out a niche as one of the game’s best talent evaluators and personnel people.

 

Detroit Lions – Barry Sanders, Running Back

The Dallas Cowboys owned the top pick in the 1989 NFL draft and selected quarterback Troy Aikman. The Green Bay Packers were next and the debate in Wisconsin was whether they should take running back Barry Sanders or Offensive Tackle Tony Mandarich.

The Pack chose Mandarich. Ouch for them.

Sanders, the Heisman winner from Oklahoma State, was taken with the next pick by the Detroit Lions and ran his way into the Hall of Fame.

Sanders ran for 1,470 yards his rookie year and had more than 1,000 yards in each of his ten seasons. The 5-8, 230-pound hyper-charged atom ran with a frenetic, pinball style that drove defenses crazy, bouncing one way, zipping another and sprinting for the endzone.

Barry Sanders was hell on fire in a blue jersey. He went on to win four rushing titles and a league MVP and was one of the most entertaining players in NFL history.

Unfortunately for #20, the Lions could never quite build around him and, despite making five playoff appearances with Barry, the Lions never made it to the Super Bowl.

Some athletes stagger to the finish line of their career. Barry Sanders sprinted to it…then took of his shoes and threw them out. Sanders ran for 1,491 yards in 1998 then, at the age of 30, called it quits. Had he kept playing Barry Sanders almost certainly would have set the NFL all-time rushing record and might have even put it out of the reach of mere mortals.

But the whirling dervish enigma that was Barry Sanders decided it was time to sit. And so he did.

We must take a moment to say that when many NFL fans think of #20 on the Lions they think of Barry Sanders, whose number is retired. Others first think of Billy Sims, a terrific Lions running back whose career was cut short after just five years in 1984 because of injuries. If Sims had stayed healthy the Lions might not have struggled for the rest of the 80s and perhaps Barry Sanders would have become an icon somewhere else.

 

Green Bay Packers – Bart Starr, Quarterback

Leatherhead Bob Swick says that when it comes to the greatest player ever from the land of long winters and many Super Bowls, you have to go with a true “Starr.”

Bart Starr was a classic American quarterback of the 1960s who represented the best in the Green Bay Packers.  He was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls.  He had four Pro Bowl selections in his career.  He was the 1966 MVP award winner.  He is a member of both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Packers Hall of Fame.

Starr had a 9-1 playoff record playing for the Packers from 1956 to 1971 as a five time NFL Champion who came into his own under Coach Vince Lombardi. Starr was cool, calm and collected on the field, showing little emotion under some of the roughest defenses of that time period.

Bart Starr had it all and, in my opinion, out of all of the championship caliber players the Packers have produced since 1919, #15 is ranked #1.

 

Houston Texans – Andre Johnson, Wide Receiver

This year for the eighth consecutive year Andre Johnson has…made the Pro Bowl? No. Compiled 1,000 yards? No. Led the Texans to the playoffs? Wrong again.

For the eighth straight year Andre Johnson has treated at-risk children from child protective services in the Houston area to a Christmas toy shopping spree, letting these youngsters pluck whatever they would like off the shelves.

This year the spree cost “Santa” Johnson $16,266.16.

Andre Johnson is a good guy, and the best player in the Houston Texans’ brief history. He was selected by the Texans in the first round, third overall pick, in 2003, the second season of the Texans’ existence and he has been a shining light ever since.

Johnson, #80, has been voted to the Pro Bowl seven times, made All-Pro twice and has been one of the NFL’s most dependable targets even while often playing on dismal teams.

When Johnson retires someday his jersey should be retired immediately, not just for his outstanding play but his noble dedication to the franchise and service to the community. A few years from now the answer to the question of who the greatest player in Houston Texans history is the answer could very well be J.J. Watt.

But even if the Texans play another 100 years, it’s going to be tough to top Andre Johnson.

 

Baltimore Colts/Indianapolis Colts – Johnny Unitas, Quarterback, Peyton Manning, Quarterback

The man whom many think might be the best player in NFL history might not even be the best player in his own team’s history.

Are we talking about Johnny Unitas, or Peyton Manning?

Yes.

But we are only supposed to pick one so we shall do so, in our own sneaky little way.

Johnny Unitas was the greatest player in the history of the Baltimore Colts. Unitas was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the ninth round in the 1955 draft but, for some reason, couldn’t catch on with his hometown team, which went with Jim Finks and Ted Marchibroda instead.

So Johnny ended up with the Colts where he cracked the starting lineup in ’56 and then proceeded to become the definition of what it was to be an NFL quarterback for his generation and all generations.

Johnny Unitas (Even his name is cool. Maybe he should have been an astronaut) led the Colts to NFL titles in 1958 and ’59 and won Super Bowl V. He won three league MVPs and still ranks in the all-time top 20 in passing yards with 40,239. Just imagine if the crew cut, black hi-tops kid had played in today’s pass happy NFL.

Unitas’ last season with the Colts was 1972 and he played one season with the San Diego Chargers. (Think Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards) A decade after Unitas left the Colts, the team broke Baltimore’s heart by leaving for Indianapolis following the 1983 season.

In 1998 the Indianapolis Colts held the top pick in the NFL draft and had a tough time, or so we’re told, deciding whether to take Peyton Manning or Ryan Leaf.

They chose Manning.

Manning started every single game for the Colts for the next 13 seasons, they made the playoffs 11 teams, won Super Bowl XLI, Manning won four league MVPs, shattered virtually every meaningful NFL passing record and became the model of what a player, a sportsman and a citizen should be. He is the Cal Ripken/Julius Erving/Wayne Gretzky of the gridiron.

And he’s still going…for the Denver Broncos.

Johnny Unitas was the greatest Baltimore Colt ever, Peyton Manning was the best Indianapolis Colt ever. Andrew Luck had better hope the team moves again.

 

Jacksonville Jaguars – Jimmy Smith, Wide Receiver

It’s sometimes hard to remember, or even fathom, but there was a time when the Jacksonville Jaguars were good. And in their best days their best player was Jimmy Smith.

Smith joined the Jags in the team’s inaugural season of 1995 after being cast off from the Cowboys and made an immediate impact with three TD catches for a miserable 4-12 team.

Then, something weird happened. Things that aren’t supposed to happen. Jacksonville, and the Carolina Panthers, both became pretty good in 1996, the second year of both expansion teams’ existence, and Jimmy Smith helped lead the way for the Jags with 83 receptions for 1,244 yards and Jacksonville advanced all the way to the AFC title game, losing to the Patriots.

The Jaguars made the playoffs the next three years as well, including another conference championship loss after their 14-2 season of 1999 and Smith was the catalyst, averaging at least 78 receptions per season, peaking with 116 grabs in ’99.

Jimmy Smith remained Jacksonville’s top target for Mark Brunell and later Byron Leftwich every season until his retirement after the 2005 season, another playoff year for the Jags. He still holds virtually ever Jacksonville receiving record and is currently 19th on the league’s all-time receiving list.

Not bad for a kid from Jackson State who the Cowboys didn’t want.

 

Kansas City Chiefs – Otis Taylor, Wide Receiver

Our Matt Haddad says in more than 50 years of football there is certainly a “chief among Chiefs.”

The Kansas City Chiefs started playing in 1963, after getting established in 1960 as the Dallas Texans.  Their owner was Lamar Hunt, the founder and creative mind of the American Football League.  The Texans won the AFL Championship in 1962. However, it was clear that the competition for the fans and the bucks was hurting both the AFL Texans and the NFL Dallas Cowboys.

In 1965, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Cowboys in different battle: the race for a little-known wide receiver named Otis Taylor.  The Chiefs drafted Taylor in the 4th round out of Prairie View A&M; the Cowboys wanted to sign him as a free agent. Taylor chose Kansas City.

O-Taylor’s breakout season came in 1966, when he caught 58 passes for 1,297 yards (22.4 yards per catch) and 8 touchdowns.  The Chiefs won the AFL Championship, but they lost the first Super Bowl to the Green Bay Packers, 35-10.  Three years later–in the last season before the AFL merged with the NFL–the Chiefs finished the deal.

In the first round of the 1969 AFL playoffs, the Chiefs beat the defending World Champion Jets in New York, 13-6.  In the fourth quarter, Taylor set up the winning touchdown with a 61-yard catch to the 19-yard line–a play Taylor diagrammed on the sideline and urged Kansas City quarterback Len Dawson to call.

The Chiefs went on to Oakland, where they defeated the Raiders for the AFL Championship, 17-7.  Taylor’s 35-yard catch on third-and-14 was a major play in a 98-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown.

Then came Super Bowl IV–a game seen as a victory for every player in the AFL, as an AFL team defeated the NFL’s best for the second year in a row.  The Chiefs trounced the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, with Taylor’s 46-yard touchdown putting the game on ice.  That 1969 season has, to this day, been the Kansas City Chiefs’ lone World Championship.

As a kid in the late ’70s, I knew Otis Taylor as a great wide receiver.  I read about him in the books, and I had one of his football cards.  In 2011, I was surprised to learn Taylor was not in The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

From 1965 to ’75, he caught 410 passes for 7,306 yards (17.8 yards per catch) and 57 touchdowns.  He added three TDs on the ground, and he was a 4-time All-Pro.  His numbers, however, tell only a fraction of the story.

Otis Taylor was the complete package.  Taylor had size–6′ 3″, 215 pounds–and he had speed.  He had fine moves, excellent hands, and the ability to catch the ball in traffic.  Taylor was also a good blocker.

On the website “Tales from The American Football League,” Kansas City teammate and fellow wide receiver Chris Burford says Otis had “a zest for the game.”  AFL historian Jeff Miller says in his book, “Going Long,” that after the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win over the Vikings, “Otis Taylor cried for 15 minutes.”

Taylor spent his career in a run-first offense, and he played in the “bump and run” era–also known as the “bruise and batter” era.  Before 1978, defensive backs were allowed tremendous freedom to do what it took to keep a receiver from catching the ball.

In 1975, Cleveland Browns defensive back Clarence Scott, whose football cards I used to have, talked about the best wide receivers he had to cover.  Scott, who played 13 years in the NFL, said: “You’ve got the physical receivers, like Otis Taylor, who have great speed, but they’re also able to overpower defensive backs with their great size and strength.”

The ultimate accolade comes from Hall-of-Fame cornerback Herb Adderley, who won 6 NFL Championships with Green Bay and Dallas.  After the Packers beat the Chiefs in the first Super Bowl, Adderley said about Otis: “Taylor is the greatest wide receiver I’ve ever played against.”

Do you think today’s generation of football fans would not appreciate O-Taylor?  Think again.  “Sounds like a Calvin Johnson from yesteryear, ” says 21-year-old Eric Butler.  “Crazy to speculate how a guy like Taylor would perform in today’s NFL.”

 

Miami Dolphins – Dan Marino, Quarterback

Leatherhead Andrew Tuttle writes that when it comes to the history of South Florida football, one player stands tallest in the sunshine:

The best player in Miami Dolphins history is also one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.

Dan Marino set the bar for a passing attack long before the current rules enabled today’s throwers to achieve prolific passing stats year after year.

In his 1984 season, Marino produced an unheard of 48 touchdown passes and more than 5,000 yards passing, records that stood the test of time for two decades and have now been passed by several players.

One can only imagine what a Marino-led team with Mark Clayton and Mark Duper would accomplish in the modern era of the NFL.

 

Minnesota Vikings – Alan Page, Defensive Tackle

When you scroll through the list of the NFL’s MVP winners two names jump out: Lawrence Taylor and Alan Page, as they are the only two defensive players to ever win the honor. (Will J.J. Watt be the third?) (Oh, and let’s not forget Mark Moseley, the Redskin who in 1982 became the first, and probably last, placekicker to ever win MVP.)

The Vikings drafted Page out of Notre Dame (where he helped the Fighting Irish win a National Championship) in the first round in 1967 and Minnesota’s glory years followed. Page, 6-4, 245 pounds (he’d probably be a cornerback today) helped Bud Grant’s “Purple People Eaters” to their first-ever playoff appearance in 1968 and the Vikings would go on to become a playoff staple throughout the 1970s including reaching four Super Bowls…and losing all of them.

Page made the Pro Bowl nine times and, in 1971, was so dominant he was voted NFL MVP. In 1978, Page was cut by the Vikings and was picked up by the Bears where he continued to be an excellent player until his retirement after the 1981 season.

In 1979, Page became the first active NFL player to run a marathon. In 1987 he ran a 62-mile race. That same year he became an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Minnesota. In 1993 he joined the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Alan Page grew up in Canton, Ohio. As a high school kid he worked on a crew that built the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the very place where he was enshrined in 1988.

Tell your kids to be like Alan Page, the most valuable Viking of them all.

 

New England Patriots – Tom Brady, Quarterback

Leatherhead Mike Lynch chooses Tom Brady as the greatest player in the history of the New England Patriots and Brady, perhaps more so than any other player we’re celebrating, doesn’t really need a lot of space to make his case. We are nearly inclined to simply say that Tom Brady’s credentials are: “He’s Tom Brady.”

OK, here’s a bit more. Tom Brady has led the Patriots to five Super Bowls, winning three. He is a two-time league MVP and one of the highest rated passers in NFL history. He led the Patriots to an undefeated regular season in 2007 has set numerous passing records (some of which have now been broken) and done all of this while playing most of his games in blustery Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Tom Brady is considered by many to not only be the best quarterback of his era but maybe the best ever. He is smooth, he is cool, he is precise, relentless and he looks like he’ll play forever.

In the next life don’t we all want to be Tom Brady?

 

New Orleans Saints – Archie Manning, Quarterback

Before Peyton, before Eli, there was Archie.

The New Orleans Saints drafted Archie Manning with the second overall pick in 1971 and he joined a team that had only been in existence since 1967 and never had a winning record. In Archie’s 11 seasons with the “Aints” they didn’t get much better, never finishing above .500 and never making the playoffs.

Don’t blame #8. Manning was tops in the NFL his rookie year in getting sacked 40 times. The next year Archie was again brought down more than any other NFL slinger, 43 times.   He was tops (or bottom, you could say) again in ’75 with 49 sacks. In his decade with the Saints, Archie Manning was in the top ten in getting sacked nearly every year.

Despite constantly picking bits of turf from between his teeth, Manning still managed to have six seasons with a passer rating of better than 100 and he made the Pro Bowl in 1978 and ’79. For a decade, Archie Manning was the heart, soul and guts of a team that had no arms, legs or head.

Manning left the Saints for the Houston Oilers and finished his career with the Minnesota Vikings. We remember him at QB for the Vikes in his final season, 1984, when the Vikes went 3-13. It was a chilly October game against the Bears in Chicago and Manning, wearing a full facemask, was lucky to get out of Chicago alive as the Bears registered 11 sacks. Toward the end, Bears players were actually apologizing to the 35-year-old Manning.

Archie understood. To achieve true success in life you have to have talent, desire and luck. Archie had the first two. If he had the third maybe we would remember Peyton and Eli as Archie Manning’s kids, instead of Archie as their father.

 

New York Giants  – Lawrence Taylor, Linebacker

Leatherhead Joe Williams tackled the challenge of deciding the biggest Giant of them all, and here’s what he concluded:

In 90 NFL seasons, the New York Giants have had many great players. However, it is easy to pick the greatest player in the team’s history. Without hesitation, it is Lawrence Taylor.

Yes, there are many other team legends, including Tiki Barber, Roosevelt Brown, Harry Carson, Charlie Conerly, Frank Gifford, Mel Hein, Sam Huff, Eli Manning, Andy Robustelli, Phil Simms, Michael Strahan, Y.A. Tittle, Emlen Tunnell and many more.

Taylor stands out. He was one of the few players on defense in the history of the game who could take a game over. His combination of speed, power and ferociousness made him the most feared player during his playing days and possibly all-time. He revolutionized the linebacker position in terms of getting to the quarterback while teams created game plans to try to stop and avoid him.

L.T. made First-Team All-Pro in eight seasons, was selected to 10 Pro Bowls, was a three-time defensive player of the year and the 1986 MVP, the first defensive player to win it since 1971 when the Vikings’ Alan Page dominated. He sacked a quarterback 142 times.

I still remember his 97-yard interception return on Thanksgiving Day in 1982 like it was yesterday. He picked off a Gary Danielson pass in the fourth quarter to beat the Lions 13-6. Before he was done, the Giants became relevant again as a team to contend with which brought Giants fans their first two Super Bowl celebrations. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999.

Honorable mention: Mel Hein

 

New York Jets – Curtis Martin, Running Back

Leatherhead Andrew Tuttle revs up the J-E-T-S by choosing a quiet legend as Gang Green’s all-time best:

Joe Namath certainly deserves credit for bringing the New York Jets their first and to date only Super Bowl victory but Hall-of-Fame running back Curtis Martin is the franchise’s best player.

Martin left the New England Patriots after three stellar years to join the Jets continuing his dominance on the ground. He remained a Jet until his forced retirement after the 2005 season thanks to a bum knee but not before logging 10 straight years with more than 1,000 yards rushing.

In 2004, Martin became the oldest player, at 31, to win the rushing title and he finished his career with 14,101 rush yards, fourth in NFL history. A very reserved and highly respected player, New York retired Martin’s jersey in 2012.

 

Oakland Raiders – Kenny Stabler, Quarterback

Leatherhead David Boyce makes the case for quarterback Kenny Stabler as the greatest player to ever wear the fabled Silver and Black:

I decided to go with the player that made me become a Raider fan in the first place.  That player is quarterback Kenny “The Snake” Stabler.  I grew up in New York and had never even paid much attention to the Raiders until 1974.  The first time I saw them was in a playoff game against the Miami Dolphins.  I was familiar with the Dolphins and knew their team very well.  But there was something about that raucous crowd in Oakland.  Those people were crazy!  But what did it for me was the quarterback of the Raiders.  He was a lefty.  Being a lefty myself, I was instantly intrigued.  That game came down to the wire and with precious time left on the clock, Stabler ran to his left and, just as he was about to get sacked, he lobbed up a pass to the endzone where it was caught by running back Clarence Davis for the winning touchdown.  Despite the fact that there were several defenders in the area, Davis still managed to make the catch.  That game later became known as the “Sea of hands.”  It was just one of many games the Raiders played that were filled with drama.

Kenny Stabler was drafted in the second round of the 1968 draft out of Alabama.  The Raiders were pretty much set at the quarterback position as they had Daryle “Mad Bomber” Lamonica.  Stabler didn’t play a down in his first two years and was used sparingly until 1973.  In that year, he became the starter and remained the starter through the 1979 season.  In his seven years as a starter, Stabler threw for 18,234 yards, 145 touchdowns and 135 interceptions.  The best thing about having him at the helm was that the Raiders started winning on a consistent basis.  In his seven years as the starter, the Raiders compiled a record of 74-27.  But with all those wins, they still couldn’t get to the Super Bowl.  The team that usually stood in their way was the Pittsburgh Steelers.

In 1976, the Raiders finished with a 13-1 record.  They would squeak by the Patriots in the divisional playoffs and go on to defeat the Steelers in the conference title game, 24-7.  That meant after all those years of frustrating losses; they would finally get back to the Super Bowl.  Their opponent was the Minnesota Vikings and they were no match for the Raiders.  The ground game was running on all cylinders as they racked up 266 yards rushing.  Stabler had a good day as well, completing 12 of 19 for 180 yards and a touchdown.  The Raiders came away with an easy 32-14 win.

What I liked the most about Stabler was his ability to improvise.  He was always so calm and cool.  During a dramatic playoff game against the Baltimore Colts, Stabler called timeout, strolled over to the sideline to speak with head coach John Madden and said “The people are really getting their money’s worth today.”  Madden just rolled his eyes and told him to go back out there and get the win.  Naturally, he did what he was told.  He may not have had the strongest arm in the world, but he liked to throw deep as often as he could.  In those days, if you didn’t go deep, Al Davis wouldn’t let you play for him.  In addition to being accurate, he also had the ability to scramble out of trouble.  That’s what earned him the nickname “The Snake.”  As the pocket would collapse around him, he’d “slither” out of trouble and complete a pass.

Stabler said he read his playbook by the light of the jukebox.  He played hard and partied hard as well.  Another thing you have to wonder is how many games he played with a hangover.  Simply put, he liked to hang at the bar, chase girls and have fun.  He wasn’t going to let football run his life.  One of his famous quotes is “Just stay in the fast lane and keep moving.  You cannot predict your final day, so go hard for the good times while you can.”

In 1980, Stabler was traded to the Houston Oilers and he looked like a shadow of his former self.  In two years with the Oilers, he threw for 5,190 yards, 27 touchdowns and 46 interceptions.  The Oilers made the playoffs in 1980 and Stabler came back to Oakland in a different uniform.  He didn’t have a good day and the Raiders came away with a 27-7 win.  After the 1981 season, Stabler was on the move again.  This time, he was traded to the New Orleans Saints.  He spent three years there and didn’t have much success.  He played in 16 games and threw for 3,670 yards, 17 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.  If you total up his career stats, he threw for 27,938 yards, 194 touchdowns and 222 interceptions.  When asked about the interceptions, he said, “Well, most of those passes were tipped.  There’s nothing I can do about that.”

Despite all those interceptions, lots of people are clamoring for Stabler to be enshrined into the Hall of Fame.  I’d love to see it happen.  He made the game exciting and no matter how intense it got, he always remained calm.  All the great players that played with him said they were always confident that Stabler could get the job done.  My favorite quote about Stabler comes from Madden who said, “the bigger the situation, the calmer he got.  That was a great combination with me because I was just the opposite.  I was intense.  If everything were normal and we were ahead, he would get bored.  He had to have his ass to the fire to get focused on something.  That’s when he got really focused.  Instead of getting excited and tight, he’d stay calm.”

That’s the main reason I picked Stabler.  No matter how intense the situation was, he’d remain cool, calm and collected.  It was kind of like having James Bond under center.  He knew things were going to get intense, but he knew he had the ability to get the job done.  After he got the job done, he’d go out and have fun with his teammates.  Over the years, I have collected lots of Raider memorabilia and the centerpiece of it all is my autographed black #12 Stabler jersey.

 

Philadelphia Eagles – Reggie White, Defensive End

Reggie White won a Super Bowl with the Packers but he made his bones with the Eagles.

White was an All-American at the University of Tennessee and stayed in his home state to play two seasons with the Memphis Showboats of the USFL before joining the Eagles in 1985.

A 6-5, 291 pound lineman with the quickness of a linebacker, Reggie notched 13 sacks in 1985 and would go on to record double-digit sacks 12 times in his career and would retire as the league’s all-time sacks leader with 198 and is still second behind only Bruce Smith.

White anchored a dominant Eagles defense and made the first of his eight first team All-Pro teams and first of 13 Pro Bowls in 1986 and won his first of two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards in 1987. The Eagles, coached by Buddy Ryan and then Rich Kotite, were dynamic, tough and good. They had a winning record every year from 1988 to 1992 and reached the playoffs four times.

Alas, once in the postseason Reggie’s Eagles quickly got plucked, and were one-and-done every time. This is especially important to note because after the ’92 season White became a free agent when free agency was new to the NFL and White was the league’s top prize. He signed with the Packers for a then eye-popping four years and $17 million paving the way for other free agents. Today’s NFL millionaires have many people to thank; Reggie White is one of them.

White is considered one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play. Some believe the very greatest. Imagine a line with him, Bruce Smith, Joe Greene and Alan Page on it.

Sadly, this is a tough time of year to remember Reggie White. It was ten years ago, December 26, 2004, that this dominant player and NFL pioneer died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 43.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers – Joe Greene, Defensive Tackle

Leatherhead Karon Cook pulls back the Steel Curtain to reveal Pittsburgh’s greatest player:

I’m a Cali girl and a drill Instructor’s daughter, but I “grew up” with the Steelers.  Stay with me–my Dad’s from the ‘Burgh, he raised my brother and I exactly the same way: teaching us how to throw a perfect spiral, scoop up a grounder, as well as switch hit.  I credit this early education to my choosing the Sports Journalism field and falling in love with the Steelers!  Joe Greene is my pick for the best player in Steelers history.

Much has been written about Joe; here are ten facts, in random order, that you need to know:

 

  1. He was Chuck Noll’s first-ever draft choice in 1969 (that 1-13 Season gave no hint of what was to come).

 

  1. Joe Greene and Andy Russell were 2 of 5 players from that team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in SB IX.

 

  1. During the early ’70s, “Mean Joe” was one of the most dominant defensive players in the NFL.

 

  1. He earned five first-team All-Pro selections.

 

  1. Joe won two NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards.

 

  1.  He is a four-time Super Bowl champion (IX, X, XIII and XIV).

 

  1.  I consider him to be one of the greatest defensive linemen to ever play the game.

 

  1.  Joe Greene wore Black and Gold his entire career–from 1969 to 1981.

 

  1.  “Mean Joe” was part of the famous “Steel Curtain” defense–along with L.C. Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and Dwight White.

 

  1. Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987.

I realize these are just stats/facts about Joe, so I reached out to Andy Russell for this piece; I wanted something real, from a guy who was there.  In Andy’s words: Joe Greene was awesome–his strength, quickness, toughness and refusal to accept defeat were greater than I had ever seen. His first drill in training camp was the Oklahoma Drill (where an offensive lineman goes against a defensive lineman), trying to tackle a running back. It is a very difficult drill and usually the offensive player has the advantage because he knows the count, but Joe absolutely crushed his opponents (some of our best blockers–i.e. Ray Mansfield). He was clearly, in my opinion, the NFL Player of the Decade and certainly deserved the recent retirement of his jersey. I had the privilege to play with both players who have had their jerseys retired–Ernie Stautner and Joe Greene.”

People outside the Steeler Nation will remember Joe for his “Hey Kid, Catch!” spot for Coke. If you Google the best Super Bowl commercials of all time, it’s listed at #2.  Also, Joe came up with the phrase “One For The Thumb in ’81” … which was accomplished in 2005.  Now we’re looking at #7!  I’ll wrap this up by sharing a tweet from Brett Keisel: Can’t get our 7th trophy without picking up that 7th regular season W    #HereWeGo #Huntfor7    

Keep the Faith, Steeler Nation, and thanks Andy!  

 

San Diego Chargers – Junior Seau, Linebacker

For many years we thought we would never see another linebacker like Dick Butkus. Then, the football Gods gave us Junior Seau, a man whose very name (pronounced “Say-Ow”) meant he was born to hit people.

The Chargers drafted Seau with the fifth overall pick in 1990 and he spent the next 20 years pounding the opposition. Seau made the first of 12 straight Pro Bowls in 1991 and was first team All-Pro for the first of six teams in 1992.

Junior Seau combined ferocity with speed, strength and football IQ to become the league’s best linebacker of the 1990s and led the Chargers to new-found glory with playoff appearances in 1992, ’94 and ’95 and the franchise’s one and only Super Bowl appearance, a loss to the mighty 49ers, after that ’94 season.

The biggest reason the Chargers were in that Super Bowl was Seau’s heroics in the AFC Championship. Facing a formidable Steelers team on a cold January day in Pittsburgh, Seau went ballistic notching 16 tackles despite having a pinched nerve in his neck.

Over the years the Chargers have had Lance Alworth, Dan Fouts, LaDainian Tomlinson and now Philip Rivers. But Junior Seau was the best. He left the Chargers after the 2002 season and played three solid years with the Dolphins before joining the Patriots for four seasons, including helping the legendary 2007 team go 16-0 before a heartbreaking Super Bowl loss to the Giants.

Seau retired after the 2009 season and committed suicide in 2012 at the age of 43. Doctors later determined that Seau had suffered repeated head injuries as a player and was suffering from a degenerative brain disease that many NFL players have been afflicted with.

After Seau died more than 200 surfers paddled out into the Pacific Ocean near the linebacker’s home and joined a circle, chanted Seau’s name and slapped at the water for an hour. A peaceful tribute to a man who thrilled millions and left us far too soon.

 

San Francisco 49ers – Ronnie Lott, Cornerback/Safety

The San Francisco 49ers are known for offense and many say Joe Montana was the greatest quarterback to ever play (or was Steve Young maybe a little better?) and others say Jerry Rice was not only the best receiver in NFL history but might actually rate out as the very best player ever, regardless of position.

But we say that Montana was great, yes, but in a great system at the perfect time and we say the same of Young and yes, even Rice. They are all legitimate first ballot Hall-of-Famers but we say the greatest Niner of them all played on the other side of the ball.

Ronnie Lott was taken by the 49ers in the first round of the 1981 draft and started all 16 games at cornerback, intercepted 10 passes three of which he returned for touchdowns, helped the Niners to a 13-3 record and their first playoff appearance since 1972 and they went on to win their first Super Bowl. (Joe who?)

Lott made the first of ten Pro Bowls his rookie year and was also first team All-Pro for the first of six teams. Montana was the Golden Boy of those San Fran teams of the 80s, but Lott was its backbone. An adhesive cover man and a ferocious hitter, #42 made 49ers’ opponents know that while San Fran’s offense got the glory it was the defense that did the dirty work – and made the difference.

Lott was the defense’s heart at cornerback and also when he switched to safety in 1985, something that’s far tougher than it sounds. With Lott, the Niners won four Super Bowls in the 80s and became one of the league’s great dynasties. You can likely name a lot of offensive players from those teams but who stands out on defense? Ronnie Lott stood taller, hit harder, dug deeper and got it done more than anyone.

If Gary Fencik had been a bit faster he would have been Ronnie Lott. He wasn’t.

Joe Montana was cool, Jerry Rice was clutch, Ronnie Lott was tough. His left pinkie finger was crushed making a tackle in 1985. Surgery would have meant he would miss the start of the 1986 season. So Lott had the tip cut off. He led the NFL with 10 interceptions that year.

 

Seattle Seahawks – Steve Largent, Wide Receiver

       Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman recalls the early days of the Seahawks and says while the team has gotten better, they’ve never had a better player:

Some may disagree with my pick here but having watched him play personally, to me he is far and above any of the other Seahawks players that have graced the Seattle sideline. Others may pick a defensive or offensive lineman as their top choice but I am selecting, from the University of Tulsa, Wide Receiver Steve Largent!

Largent, originally drafted by the Houston Oilers, before being traded to Seattle in the preseason of his rookie year, spent his entire playing career with the Seahawks. He was a great player to watch through the 1980s as he teamed first with another great Seattle player, QB Jim Zorn and then with QB Dave Krieg.

By the time his career was up, Steve Largent led almost all NFL receiving categories, including 819 receptions, 13,089 yards, 177 consecutive games with a catch and he was the first player to reach 100 career touchdown catches. HOF 1995.

 

Cleveland Rams/Los Angeles Rams/St. Louis Rams – Merlin Olsen, Defensive Tackle

Merlin Olsen was humble, sweet and loveable.

Off the field.

Olsen is known to many as an announcer who was in the TV booth for many years including several Super Bowls, as a pitchman for FTD Flowers and as an actor on Little House on the Prairie and Father Murphy.

But during a football game there was nothing little about this 6-5, 270-pound tornado from Utah State and the only thing fatherly about him was the way he put others in their place. And if Merlin Olsen handed you flowers on the gridiron it was to put them on your grave.

A first round pick in 1962, Olsen made the Pro Bowl his rookie year and then every single season through 1975, only being left off during his final season, 1976.

Olsen played on the legendary Rams front four along with Rosey Grier, Deacon Jones and Lamar Lundy, the “Fearsome Foursome” which terrorized offenses every Sunday. The Rams were winners nearly every season with Olsen and enjoyed playoff appearances in 1967, ’69 and ’73 through ’76 including NFC title game losses in ’74, ’75 and ’76.

The Rams always fell short in the playoffs with Olsen, but imagine if they’d been able to break through and won a few Super Bowls. They were very close and if they’d made it, maybe Merlin Olsen would have some of those rings that now belong to Joe Greene and Randy White.

Merlin Olsen died in 2010.

He is in the Hall of Fame and his #74 jersey has been retired by the Rams and probably still gives quarterbacks nightmares.

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Warren Sapp, Defensive Tackle

For much of their existence the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been a bust, but Leatherhead Ronnie Foreman says one Buc not only was not a bust, he actually has a bust…in Canton:

If there is any doubt as to who is the best player in Tampa Bay Buccaneers history you can just put that thought away. And, if you ask him, he will tell you that himself! Perhaps the best defensive lineman of all-time, Warren Sapp took his talents from the University of Miami (FL) across the state to Tampa as the 12th overall pick in the 1995 NFL draft.

Sapp would go on to have nine great years in Tampa Bay to establish his self as the greatest Buccaneer of all-time. He ended up with 77 sacks while there, just short of the 78.5 by early Bucs star, Lee Roy Selmon.  HOF 2013.

 

Tennessee Titans – Eddie George, Running Back

The Tennessee Titans have been around since 1997, after moving from Houston where they were known for more than 30 years as the Oilers.

Eddie George played one season in Houston before moving north to become a Titan and remained a constant for nearly a decade. If you’re looking for consistency in a player you need look no further than Eddie George. A Heisman winner out of Ohio State, George’s yearly rushing totals his first five years in the NFL were 1,368; 1,399; 1,294; 1,304 and 1,509.

George was the size of a linebacker and bruised his way through the line week in and week out, finishing his career with an average of just 3.6 yards per carry but he was a rock, rarely fumbling and rarely getting caught for a loss.

He made the Pro Bowl in 1997, ’98, ’99 and 2000, the same year that he was first-team All-Pro.

The Titans were the best team in the NFL that 2000 season, playing a bruising style of football on both sides of the ball and going 13-3, only to lose a heartbreaking, freaky playoff game to the Baltimore Ravens. This, of course, was one year after the Titans came one yard short in the Super Bowl against the Rams.

Eddie George was almost a Super Bowl champ, almost a rushing champ, almost a legend. But he is second to none when it comes to remembering the Titans.

 

Washington Redskins – Sammy Baugh, Quarterback

Leatherhead Chip Greene says a “Slingin’” Sammy Baugh was the best Redskin of them all.

Baugh joined the Redskins out of TCU in 1937, the team’s first year in Washington after moving from Boston, and would be the backbone for Washington as a quarterback, defensive back, kick returner and kicker through 1952.

Baugh’s numbers are modest by today’s standards, finishing with 21,866 yards passing, 187 touchdowns and 203 interceptions. But, like most players from his era, he was versatile and Baugh was more versatile than most. He simply did it all: running, passing, kicking and defense and he was just about the best, earning first-team All-Pro honors four times.

And Baugh’s teams were nearly as good as him. He led Washington to the NFL championship game five times and they won it in 1937 and ’42.

“Slingin’” Sammy Baugh was a member of the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame class in 1963 and lived to see the NFL grow and change quite a bit, passing away in 2008 at the age of 94.

 

And just for fun:

 

Brooklyn Lions – Rex Thomas, Running Back

Leatherhead Joe Williams remembers the days when Lions roamed the borough of Brooklyn and chooses Rex Thomas as the Brooklyn Lions’ all-time greatest.

The Lions, led by coach Punk Berryman, played just one season in the NFL, 1926, played their home games at Ebbets Field, and went 3-8 and merged during the season with the competing AFL Brooklyn Horsemen.

Thomas was the star of the team and the franchise’s all-time leader in rushing yards (137), touchdowns (4), and points (25), and with four interceptions on defense.

The St. John’s University star and Oklahoma native played five NFL seasons. He unfortunately passed away in a car-truck accident in 1955.

Honorable Mention: Herm Bagby.

 

St. Louis Gunners – Paul Moss, Receiver

Joe Williams remembers the St. Louis Gunners who played one season, 1934, and had one player who topped them all:

The semi-pro team purchased the 0-8 Cincinnati Reds during the 1934 season and replaced them to play the final three games that year. A handful of Reds players joined the Gunners. In their first game they beat the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers) before dropping their next two games.

The best player for the Gunners was Paul Moss. He led the team with six receptions for 131 yards, plus scoring one of the three touchdowns in franchise history. His touchdown reception was a team-best 56 yards.

Moss was an All-American at Purdue in 1932. He played the 1933 season with Pittsburgh and led the NFL in receiving yards with 283 while finishing tied for fifth with 13 receptions.

He didn’t play football after the 1934 season. In 1935, he played minor league baseball with the Terre Haute Tots in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa League.

Paul Moss died in 1999 at the age of 90.

Honorable mention: Cy Casper.

 

Staten Island Stapletons/Stapes – Ken Strong, Halfback, Defensive Back, Kicker

Leatherhead Bob Swick recalls a memorable man on a forgotten team:

The Staten Island Stapletons/Stapes played in the NFL from 1929 to 1932. They did not do well, amassing a record of 14-22-9.

Their greatest player in my football opinion was Ken Strong. Strong was an all-NFL player in 1930 and ’31 for the Stapes. He was an incredible kicker at that time also.

Strong is obviously better known for his heroics on the Giants but he provided an anchor to the Stapes in their brief existence.

 

Houston Oilers – George Blanda, Quarterback

The Oilers are, technically, gone but they’re certainly not forgotten. Leatherhead Matt Haddad says the best Oiler of all time was a guy who nearly played for all of time:

George Blanda began his career with the Chicago Bears (1949-’58)–and was even a member of the old Baltimore Colts for one game in 1950, before rejoining the Bears.  In his time with the Bears, Blanda had some great moments, and a lot of his teammates considered him a top-flight quarterback.  However, his constant conflicts with Bears owner-coach and NFL founder George Halas sent him into football exile.

Blanda sat the 1959 season out, and he drove a truck.  According to Jeff Davis in his Halas biography “Papa Bear,” Blanda promised sportswriter Cooper Rollow he’d play football again soon.  Rollow didn’t know what on earth Blanda was talking about–and Blanda didn’t elaborate.  Blanda simply said: “There’s something going on that you don’t know about.”

A new football league was in the works–and one of the charter franchises would be the Houston Oilers.  The American Football League was launched in 1960, and Blanda was ready to play. Upon signing Blanda, Oilers general manager John Breen said, “He knows how to take a defense apart.”  For the season opener, the Oilers flew to the Pacific Coast, and Blanda took the Oakland Raiders defense apart with four touchdown passes.  The Oilers won, 37-22.

The 1960 Oilers went 10-4 and scored a league-high 379 points (27.5 points per game).  Houston hosted the first AFL Championship Game against the Los Angeles Chargers.  The seesaw battle saw Paul Lowe running wild for the Chargers and Blanda throwing 3 touchdowns for the Oilers.  George also kicked three extra points and a field goal and was named Player of the Game as the Oilers prevailed, 24-16.

A number of former Oilers reflected back on those years in Jeff Miller’s book on the AFL, “Going Long.”  Safety Jim Norton said, “George was brilliant at signal calling, audibling, one of the best signal callers of all time.” Offensive guard Hogan Wharton said, “This guy was a coach on the field.”

The 1961 season saw the Oilers go 10-3-1 and scored 513 points (36.6 ppg). That point total stood as a pro football record for 22 years.  Throwing for 3,330 yards and 36 touchdowns, Blanda was named the AFL’S Most Valuable Player as he led the Oilers back to the Championship Game.

The Oilers invaded the home turf of the Chargers, who now played in San Diego.  The contest was surprisingly low scoring, but for the second championship game in a row, Blanda accounted for all of the Oilers’ points. He kicked a field goal and an extra point, and he threw 35 yards to Billy Cannon for the game’s only touchdown.  The Oilers were Champs again, 10-3.

In “Going Long, ” All-Pro offensive tackle Al Jamison said: “George Blanda was probably the single most important factor in our winning those two championships.”

1961 turned out to be the last championship for both Blanda and the Oilers.  Together they lost the 1962 AFL Championship Game to the Dallas Texans. The 1967 Oakland Raiders, with Blanda as the kicker and backup quarterback, lost Super Bowl II to the Green Bay Packers.  The Oilers fielded some interesting teams over the next three decades, but they never made it back to the final game.

After 37 seasons (1960-1996), the Oilers moved to Tennessee.   They then played two transitory seasons as the Tennessee Oilers then began a new era in 1999 as the Tennessee Titans, with Nashville as their home base.

As for Blanda, he played his final 9 seasons (1967-1975) with the Oakland Raiders.  Upon retiring, Blanda had thrown for 26,920 yards and 236 touchdowns.  He scored 2,002 points.  In 1981, Blanda was inducted into The Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I just missed watching George Blanda play. As a kid in 1977, I started following pro football.  One of the first players I read about was George Blanda.  I remember thinking, “He played from 1949 to 1975?????” It still astounds me today.

 

-Karon Cook, Ronnie Foreman, Chip Greene, Matt Haddad, Terry Keshner, Mike Lynch, Bob Lazzari, Bob Swick, Andrew Tuttle, Joe Williams, Tony Williams

 

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  Well the axe fell on head coach Ken Whisenhunt on Monday.  Can’t really blame the Cardinals for wanting to change the direction of their franchise but also can’t blame Whisenhunt either.  It all comes down to the quarterback position, and the Cardinals don’t have one right now.  Is Kevin Kolb the answer?  The Cards didn’t seem to think so when they went after Peyton Manning in the off-season.  Makes you wonder if they think so now.

Atlanta Falcons:  Everything is set up nicely for the Falcons.  They have home field advantage once again in the NFC.  They don’t want to blow it this time around.  The NFC seems to be wide open with no truly dominant team, but a matchup in the second round against the Seahawks wouldn’t be a good thing.  Seattle has two really good corners to match up against WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones, and Marshawn Lynch may run all over that defense.  If Atlanta were to lose their first playoff game, they are going to be put in the same class as the Dallas Cowboys, can’t win the big one under this regime.

Baltimore Ravens:  Baltimore will play Indianapolis in the wildcard round of the playoffs.  probably not the greatest of matchups for the Ravens as Colts head coach Chuck Pagano is very familiar with the Baltimore team, having coached there for so many year.  The Ravens have looked like a shell of themselves this season.  Do they have a big game in them?  Possibly, but they need to have RB Ray Rice touch the ball 25+ times, take the pressure off of QB Joe Flacco, and the defense can’t let up the big play, put pressure on Colts QB Andrew Luck, he is still a rookie after all, he will make mistakes.

Buffalo Bills:  No big shock that head coach Chan Gailey and his staff were let go on black Monday.  Question now is, who takes over?  What does the new staff do with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick?  What do they do with RB Fred Jackson?  Even the owner, Ralph Wilson may have had enough as he has ceded control of the team to Russ Brandon.  Wouldn’t say the team is a mess, but they are not all that tidy and clean either.

Carolina Panthers:  Having a hard time wondering why everyone is penciling in QB Cam Newton in the number four spot in fantasy rankings for next season.  I like him as a top 10 but can’t put him above someone like Peyton Manning.  He’s in that next tier for me, would like to see Carolina surround him with a few more weapons as well.

Chicago Bears:  The Bears were yet another team to dismiss their head coach Monday as Lovie Smith was let go.  When you start off a season 8-1 and then fail to make the playoffs, well the writing is kind of on the wall, now isn’t it…..Wide receiver Brandon Marshall had 188 targets this season.  That’s almost 12 a game.  Bears have to find a complementary receiver next season or pray that Alshon Jeffery becomes that player.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Can the Bengals do this year what they couldn’t last year?  Beat the Texans in the playoffs.  Would seem unlikely.  The Bengals as a franchise have never won a road playoff game.  One has to believe that Houston will do all they can to take WR A.J. Green out of the game plan and force Cincinnati to find an alternate means of winning the game.  Do the Bengals have another way?  Their defense is good, front seven may be one of the best in the game, but can it be dominating enough to keep the score down?  Have a feeling this is a 20-17 type of game.

Cleveland Browns:  Pat Shurmur is done as head coach of the Browns.  I’m not surprised, a new owner usually does want his own personnel and that extends to the coaching staff.  Still believe the Browns are on the right path but they play in a rough division and will need a couple more productive drafts and free agent signings to compete with the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens…..First order of business should be getting RB Trent Richardson healthy.  Richardson admitted after the season that he played most of this season with broken ribs, ouch.

Dallas Cowboys:  The Cowboys are certainly disappointed with how their season ended.  They once again lost a win and get in game.  Granted it was on the road once again, but still, a disappointing loss none the less.  Quarterback Tony Romo had a miserable game anyway you look at it.  I know he played with a cracked rib and that didn’t help matters, but three interceptions, all of which look to be his fault, that just can’t happen.  Dallas will re-sign him, he’s still a top eight QB in the NFL, but they need to build a better supporting cast around him.  Specifically they need to address the offensive line, all three of those picks were on blitzes.

Denver Broncos:  From missing the entire 2011 season to the top seed in the AFC, pretty incredible season for QB Peyton Manning…..Are the Broncos the best team in the AFC?  They did play the easiest schedule, seemed to lose to every good team they faced, still though, don’t see anyone anxious to travel to Denver to play them…..Running back Willis McGahee can return from the IR if the Broncos make the AFC Championship game.

Detroit Lions:  Jim Schwartz is one head coach that has survived the chopping block and should continue to do so.  His contract still has a few years left on it which should allow him to get at least one more season to put things together in Detroit…..Schwartz did come out and say this week that there is still a place on the team for WR Titus Young.  A little surprising seeing as how the season ended with those two but probably the right thing to do as Young does have upside, but almost zero trade value right now.

Green Bay Packers:  Bewilders me how the Packers defense knows the run is coming, is playing the run, yet still gets gashed over and over again by Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.  That’s 409 yards he has gained against them in two games this season.  Packers defense can’t be looking forward to the third game Saturday night…..Cornerback Charles Woodson should finally make his return to action in this game…..WR Greg Jennings could be playing his last game in Green Bay.

Houston Texans:  What a terrible ending to the regular season for the Texans.  They peaked to early and stumbled to the end.  Not having a first round bye more than likely cost them any chance at reaching the Super Bowl this year, just don’t see them beating Denver and New England both on the road…..Head coach Gary Kubiak stated this week that the offense needs to get TE Owen Daniels more involved once again.  Against that Bengals defense, it might come down to the passing game as the front seven could make things difficult for RB Arian Foster.

Indianapolis Colts:  What a great game for the Colts last week.  Not only did they welcome the return of their head coach, Chuck Pagano, back to the sidelines, but they defeated a division rival, a rival that needed to win the game in order to secure home field advantage in the AFC…..The Colts still have issues, this is a young team now that will make mistakes, but they also can be fun to watch and will grow and get better because of what they went through this season.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  What is there to say about the Jaguars?  They picked the wrong year to bottom out and get a top two pick in the draft.  There is no franchise QB worthy of being picked in that spot.  Will they sign QB Tim Tebow if he is released by the Jets, maybe.  Is he worth it, probably not.  He will sell tickets and is probably better than Chad Henne or Blaine Gabbert, but is that really saying all that much?

Kansas  City Chiefs:  I think we all knew that head coach Romeo Crennel was going to get canned Monday, but it was a little surprising that general manager Scott Pioli wasn’t let go as well…..Andy Reid is being mentioned as a possible candidate for the job.  If he were to go there, does QB Michael Vick follow?  Reid certainly won’t live with Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel and like Jacksonville, there just isn’t an Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III to take with the first overall pick.

Miami Dolphins:  The Dolphins have already let it be known that they will be interested in Mike Wallace and/or Greg Jennings should they become available on the free agent market.  Jennings would seem to be the favorite as he is well known to head coach Joe Philbin from his time with the Packers.  Miami needs a number one receiver badly in order to continue the development of QB Ryan Tannehill.  Funny thing about Tannehill, he had an okay season, but if he were to come out this season, he’d be the top QB taken.

Minnesota Vikings:   What a season RB Adrian Peterson has had.  Can’t believe he is able to gash all of these defenses when they know the run is coming.  The fact that he is doing it with virtually no passing game and coming off of ACL surgery just adds to the lore…..Can the Vikings beat the Packers in back to back games.  Would seem unlikely, but they are built to win games on the ground outdoors in cold weather with AP.  Saturday night in Green Bay, supposed to be a balmy 24 degrees.

New England Patriots:  Is there anyone that really doesn’t want to see QBs Tom Brady and Peyton Manning hook up in the AFC Championship game?  I know I do…..Tight end Rob Gronkowski returned last week in a limited variety and caught a couple of passes, one for a TD.  With a week off thanks to the bye Gronk should be at full strength in the divisional round of the playoffs.

New Orleans Saints:  No big surprise that Sean Peyton will return as head coach of the team.  Eight million per year will keep him, the offense, and the fans pretty happy…..We’re hearing plenty of rumors that a few of the players believe defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo should be fired.  Apparently he didn’t mesh well with the players and we all know they didn’t perform for him.  Saints need to fix that defense or else next season will be another one where the offense will need to bail them out time and time again.

New York Giants:  The Giants went out with a bang this season, obliterating the Eagles on the final Sunday, but it wasn’t enough as the Bears victory over Detroit sent them packing for the off-season.  When the Giants watched the Cowboys and Redskins play Sunday night for the NFC East division crown, they had to be thinking  we are a better team than both.  Truth is, they probably are, but were so inconsistent that they played down to their level of competition…..Word came out Monday that WR Hakeem Nicks came back in about half the time that he should’ve from his knee injury, this does explain quite a bit…..DE Osi Umenyirora has more than likely played his last game in a Giants uniform.

New York Jets:  What a mess it is in Jets’ land.  The Tim Tebow experiment blew up in their faces.  It cost GM Mike Tannebaum his job, probably OC Tony Sparanos also.  Head coach Rex Ryan has survived for now, but he will be on the hot seat from training camp on next season…..The Jets need playmakers, anywhere and everywhere.  What will they do at quarterback.  Can’t really go into next season with Mark Sanchez as your number one.  They could be in a position to draft Matt Barkley out of USC, but his status has taken a huge hit this year.  Barkley may have cost himself millions by not coming out last year.

Oakland Raiders:  Terrelle Pryor did okay in his first NFL start.  Still not sure that he is the long term answer as a starter for Oakland, but a good backup is a possibility…..The Raiders have some cap problems, but nothing that can’t be fixed.  They need to fix the defense badly and an upgrade on the offensive line wouldn’t hurt either…..By firing their offensive coordinator the Raiders have admitted that a zone blocking scheme is not what’s best suited for RB Darren McFadden, then again with the amount of games he missed due to injury, the NFL may not suit him either.

Philadelphia Eagles:  Head coach Andy Reid is gone, will QB Michael Vick be next?  One has to think so but that also could depend on whether the new coach wants a veteran or a second year QB that the jury is still out on…..One has to believe that a new coaching staff will use RB LeSean McCoy next season more than Reid ever did, especially with Bryce Brown to back him up…..As mentioned earlier, wouldn’t it be kind of ironic if Vick ends up with Reid in Arizona, replacing Kevin Kolb once again?

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Will the Steelers franchise or re-sign WR Mike Wallace?  Probably not.  With Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders in the fold Pitt would seem to have more pressing needs than signing another high priced receiver…..What the Steelers end up doing at running back should also be interesting.  Who comes back out of Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer?

San Diego Chargers:  We all knew HC Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith were as good as gone, I’m a little bit surprised they aren’t interested in Andy Reid, but perhaps they want a new head coach rather than a recycled one…..Running back Ryan Matthews has to be one of the biggest busts this NFL season.  Think he had more broken clavicles than touchdowns…..Tight end Antonio Gates came on at the end of the season, but still think he’s going to fall off a cliff as far as production.

San Francisco 49ers:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick may not have any chemistry with TE Vernon Davis, making him pretty irrelevant in the passing game, but he certainly knows where WR Michael Crabtree is.  Crabtree and Kap could be quite the combination for years to come…..I truly have no problems with the 49ers signing another kicker as David Akers has struggled all season, but Billy Cundiff, really.  When did this guy become mister accurate?  Do you really want him making a game winning or tying kick in the fourth quarter?  Ask the Ravens how that worked out.

Seattle Seahawks:  Now I have Green Bay and New England reaching the Super Bowl, but if you were asking me to pick an undergo, Seattle would be it.  They match up pretty well against Washington.  They will run the ball with RB Marshawn Lynch, and there defense is good enough to keep RB Alfred Morris in check.  I also like their probable matchup against the Falcons should they win.  Cornerback Richard Sherman and company can cover WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White, and Atlanta has a poor run defense.

St. Louis Rams:  The Rams will look to improve their offensive line in the off-season.  They also need to find a true number one receiver and decide what to do with RB Steven Jackson.  Jackson can become a free agent in March but has stated that he would like to return to the team…..Kicker Greg Zuerlein started off looking like the second coming of Nick Lowery, but struggled as the season went along.  He ended up with a 70.1%, not good enough.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  What to think about the Bucs?  They looked good for about the first two thirds of the season before once again falling apart at the end.  Will they bring in a veteran QB to challenge Josh Freeman next season?  When his play fell off, so did the teams.  Head coach Greg Schiano also needs to fix the defense, a defense that looked terrible down the stretch outside of DT Gerald McCoy.  McCoy made his first Pro Bowl this season and could be a fixture in the middle of their defensive line until the next decade.

Tennessee Titans:  Wide receiver Kenny Britt believe he will be at full strength next season, good news for an offense that needs all the help they can get…..Running back Chris Johnson could be released by the team for cap reasons, but that is unlikely to happen.   Would also be good to see what Johnson could do behind an average to good offensive line…..For now it looks like Mike Munchak will remain as head coach, but he’s yet another HC that will be on the hot seat next season.

Washington Redskins:  Who would’ve ever thought the Redskins would win the NFC East after starting the season 3-6, just incredible.  The hit gold with QB Robert Griffin III but did even better with RB Alfred Morris.  Morris won’t win rookie of the year because of the seasons that Andrew Luck and RGIII had, but he is the MVP in fantasy leagues.  Morris was either drafted late or not at all in most leagues due to fantasy owners not trusting Mike Shanahan, but if you drafted him or claimed him off of waivers, you hit the jackpot.  Still think the Skins season comes to an end Sunday.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  Well RB Beanie Wells will more than likely play his last game with the Cardinals this Sunday.  His comments regarding playing for 31 other teams this Sunday may see to that…..The Cards are so desperate at quarterback that they are going to start Brian Hoyer this week.  Good luck to the offense going up against San Francisco this Sunday…..One piece of good news I suppose is that RB Ryan Williams stated this is the best he has ever felt,  not sure that means anything though.

Atlanta Falcons:  Big question for fantasy owners this week is how much playing time the likes of QB Matt Ryan, WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones, and TE Tony Gonzalez will get.  Head coach Mike Smith has stated that he is playing to win.  That’s all fine and good, but once an injury or two happens or the game dictates, you have to figure that Smith will pull his starters.  Falcons have nothing to play for and regardless of what commissioner Roger Goddell wants, no reason to risk your most important players in a game that just doesn’t mean anything.

Baltimore Ravens:  The Cowboys should send a big thank you note to the Ravens.  Once Dallas lost to New Orleans on Sunday they lost control of their playoff destiny.  They needed Baltimore to wake up and beat the Giants.  Baltimore had come off three straight losses.  Losses that led to the dismissal of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.  Well the Ravens woke up just in time not only to help the Cowboys, but to clinch the AFC North as well…..Linebacker Ray Lewis will be activated before Sunday, but won’t play, but will be available in the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills:  Been quite a bit of speculation about what the Bills will do with RB Fred Jackson next season.  Clearly they need to go with C.J. Spiller as the lead back.  Some think the Bills should just release Jackson.  Have no problem going with Spiller, but I’m not just releasing Jackson.  You should be able to get some value for him…..Ryan Fitzpatrick may not be the starting quarterback next season either.  At the very least he is going to face some competition for the job.

Carolina Panthers:  Like the Bills one has to think that either DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart won’t be back with the team next season.  Williams’ contract is the easier one to trade so he may be the more likely candidate to be dealt…..Linebacker Luke Kuechly has had an incredible rookie season, 151 tackles, wow.

Chicago Bears:  Does anyone remember that the Bears started this season 8-1?  Now they are on the verge of missing the playoffs unless they defeat Detroit Sunday and Minnesota losses to Green Bay, unbelievable.  Fair to wonder if head coach Lovie Smith could be dismissed if they miss the playoffs…..Matt Forte is dealing with an ankle injury and practicing on a limited basis this week, best guess is that he gives it a go Sunday.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Big win by the Bengals last week over Pittsburgh.  The Steelers and Ravens for that matter were the two teams in the AFC North they haven’t been able to beat.  You can cross Pittsburgh off that list, certainly a step in the right direction…..For those of you wondering who will be kicking for the Bengals this week, it’s still going to be Josh Brown as it looks like Mike Nugent may have suffered a setback in practice Wednesday.

Cleveland Browns:  Quarterback Brandon Weeden has had an okay rookie season.  The jury is still out on whether or not Weeden will be the franchise QB the Browns have been looking for, but that is more than likely a problem for a new coaching staff as Pat Shurmur is not expected to return…..Running back Trent Richardson has seen his yards per carry take a nosedive, now he’s still a franchise back, but he has taken a beating this season, should be even better next year.

Dallas Cowboys:  Pretty simple for the Cowboys, for the third time under QB Tony Romo, if they win their last game, on the road, against a division foe, they make the playoffs.  They failed miserably against the Eagles, lost last year to the Giants (although Romo was playing with a swollen thumb) and now get to take their chances against the Redskins.  Now everyone will blame Romo if they lose, but this defense is being held together by scotch tape and puts an enormous amount of pressure on the offense to outscore the opponent…..Running back DeMarco Murray may be more important to the Cowboys winning than Romo.  Dallas needs to keep their defense off the field as much as possible, and the way to do that is in the running game.

Denver Broncos: Is Denver the best team in the AFC?  Maybe, but the truth is there really is no great team in that conference.  Denver and New England do seem to be on a collision course however and I really want to see that….. A Broncos win Sunday assures them no worse than the second seed in the playoffs.  Look for Denver to play all their regulars at least until the game against KC is out of hand.

Detroit Lions:  Congratulations to WR Calvin Johnson for setting the record for most receiving yardage in a season.  You can look at this record in one of two ways.  Positive, teams knew there was only one true threat in the Lions aerial attack and would double if not triple cover Megatron, yet he would still get the ball.  Negative, the Lions were behind in most games by more than one score that it forced the team to throw over and over again in an attempt to get back in the game, thus the yardage added up.

Green Bay Packers:  The Packers really need to win this week and get that extra week of rest a bye would give them.  Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are banged up.  They are both practicing somewhat this week and should play Sunday, but could certainly use the time off to get back to 100%…..That extra week of rest would even mean more to CB Charles Woodson who still has yet to be medically cleared to play after breaking his collarbone earlier this season.

Houston Texans:  The Texans blew a chance last week against the Vikings to wrap up home field advantage in the AFC and are now forced to play their regulars against the Colts this week.  The Texans seem to be playing their worst football at an inopportune time and will need the advantage that comes with playing at home to advance deep into the playoffs…..Running back Arian Foster was taken out of the game last week with arrhythmia but has practiced all week and should be good to go Sunday versus the Colts.

Indianapolis Colts:  The Colts have an interesting dilemma this Sunday versus Houston.  They are locked into their playoff seeding but could still play spoiler to a division rival.  This game also marks the return of head coach Chuck Pagano to the sidelines, he has been out since late September with leukemia, so emotions will certainly be high for both the players, coaches, and fans.  Will they play their starters the entire game?  Have to think they will unless the game gets out of hand one way or the other.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  Running back Maurice Jones-Drew has been declared out for this week’s game.  This shouldn’t come as a shock, still don’t know why MJD wasn’t put on the IR weeks ago…..Wide receiver Cecil Shorts and RB Rashard Jennings were both put on IR this week, just a lost season for Jacksonville, and they still don’t have a franchise QB.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  Someone has to explain to me how a 2-13 team that is the odds on favorite to get the first overall pick in the 2013 draft can have five players selected to the Pro Bowl.  I’m one of those that believe this game should be done away with, certainly the voting system, really just a joke…..Assuming the Chiefs do get the number one pick in the draft, they will have some decisions to make, there is not a clear cut number one, and there certainly isn’t a QB that should be drafted first overall.

Miami Dolphins:  The Dolphins seem to have done an about face on RB Reggie Bush.  Earlier this season it seemed a foregone conclusion that Bush would go elsewhere in free agency but now we are hearing rumblings that the team will make an attempt to sign him.  Perhaps they are not all that thrilled with the idea of Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller taking over the running duties.  Thomas can’t stay healthy and just hasn’t done anything, and Miller is nothing more than a promising talent.

Minnesota Vikings:   Hard to believe the Vikings are in position to make the playoffs with a win Sunday over Green Bay.  With an offense that pretty much consists of RB Adrian Peterson left, AP right, and AP up the middle, they won’t go far even if they do get in…..Would really like to see AP get the all time rushing record, but unless he is able to rip off a couple of big runs, I don’t see how he will get enough carries to rush for over 200 yards, Green Bay is going to score points, and Minnesota may have to throw to keep up with them.

New England Patriots:  The Patriots may have beaten the Jaguars last week but QB Tom Brady still came down hard on the team for the performance, seems Brady doesn’t want the team to let the foot off the gas.  Probably not good news for the Dolphins this week as the game is still important for the Patriots, a loss by either Denver or Houston and New England could get a bye in the first round…..Tight end Rob Gronkowski is questionable at best to play this week, the Pats may just hold him out until the playoffs begin.

New Orleans Saints:  The Saints season is over for all intensive purposes but they are going out on a high note.  They shutout the Buccaneers, beat the Cowboys in overtime, and now will look to light up the scoreboard against the Panthers.  In fantasy leagues I’m starting all of my Saints this week…..RB Mark Ingram now has a touchdown in three of his past four games and seems to be getting more and more of the carries, although the team hasn’t forgotten about Pierre Thomas.

New York Giants:  Didn’t the Giants have a three game lead in the NFC East just a little while ago.  Now they need to beat the Eagles and have a slew of other games go their way just to make it as a wildcard…..Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks will more than likely miss the game because of his knee, a knee that really hasn’t been right all season long…..Ahmad Bradshaw should be healthy enough to at least split the rushing duties with David Wilson.

New York Jets:  Head coach Rex Ryan has been taking a ton of heat for starting Greg McElroy over Tim Tebow once he decided to bench Mark Sanchez.  Can’t really blame him though.  If he knows that Tebow won’t be with the team next season, then there really is no reason to play him this year, might as well see what McElroy can do.  McElroy won’t play this week however, seems he suffered a concussion last week on one of his 11 sacks, Sanchez get to go again.  Merry Christmas to the Buffalo Bills.

Oakland Raiders:  Quarterback Carson Palmer’s season came to a crashing end as he suffered broken ribs during the game against Carolina.  Matt Leinart and Terrelle Pryor will share the QB duties this week, yippee…..Defensive tackle Richard Seymour was put on IR with a hamstring injury.  He will be a free agent next season.

Philadelphia Eagles:  Just when you thought QB Michael Vick had played his last game in Philly, along comes a broken hand for Nick Foles and a chance for Vick to audition for a new team.  The Eagles better hope that Vick doesn’t get hurt, if he does, the Eagles will have to give him $3 million as a going away present…..Vick won’t have WR Jeremy Maclin to throw to as he looks unlikely to play due to a knee injury.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Never thought the Steelers were all that great a team, but still surprised they won’t be in the playoffs this season.  Steelers are also one of those teams that will have to cut a few players or restructure a few contracts as they will be way over the salary cap for next season…..Couple of other things the Steelers need to figure out before next season.  Repair the relationship between OC Todd Haley and QB Ben Roethlisberger, fix the OL, find a running game, and decide if you want to hand out a big contract to WR Mike Wallace.

San Diego Chargers:  Here is hoping whomever takes over the reins in San Diego can surround QB Phillips Rivers with a solid offensive line, this would also help RB Ryan Matthews as well…..For those of you wondering who is going to start at running back this week, with Ronnie Brown most likely to miss the game due to a hamstring injury, Curtis Brinkley looks like he could start for the bolts.

San Francisco 49ers:  Not sure why the 49ers came out so flat against the Seahawks last Sunday.  It was an important game as they could’ve secured a bye in the first round with a win against the Hawks and Cardinals this week.  Now they will need the Vikings to beat Green Bay…..Wide receiver Mario Manningham has been lost for the season due to a torn ACL/PCL, tough way to end your first season with a new team, could Randy Moss take on a bigger role in the playoffs than first thought?

Seattle Seahawks:  The Hawks received a last Christmas present on Thursdays when it was announced that CB Richard Sherman had won his appeal and won’t be suspended.  Sherman won on a technicality, seems the tester mishandled his specimen.  In other words, Sherman was lucky, very very lucky…..Now the Hawks more than likely won’t have a home game in the playoffs, but they may be the hottest team going in.  Not only do we know they have a really good defense, but there offense has become a threat as well, this will not be a fun team to play once the playoffs begin.

St. Louis Rams:  Rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins is making the most of his interceptions.  He has four on the season, and has returned each one for a touchdown.  He is making the Rams look pretty smooth for taking him in the second round of the 2012 draft.  He was a first round talent who only slipped to the second round due to some concerns about his personality.  Still think the Rams should’ve drafted Robert Griffin III though.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  The Bucs had better hope that the late season regression of QB Josh Freeman is just a blip on the radar and not a sign of things to come…..The Bucs seem to be set offensively with Freeman, RB Doug Martin, and WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, they need to spend a good deal of time however fixing the defense, specifically the secondary.

Tennessee Titans:  Have to wonder if head coach Mike Munchak will make it another season, owner Bud Adams is none to happy about how this season went…..Seems WR Kenny Britt is still having problems with his surgically repaired knee and will seek medical opinions after the season as to what is going on.  As of right now, more surgery is not expected.

Washington Redskins:  The Skins have won six straight games, a seventh would mean their first division title since 1999.  Amazing what QB Robert Griffin III has done for this team.  Also amazing what a good QB can do for an offensive coordinator.  Kyle Shanahan has gone from nepotism to genius in one short year…..RGIII did not look anywhere near 100% last week versus Philly.  His knee is obviously still bothering him.  Big a big boon for the Dallas defense if he can’t escape the pocket as easily as he normally would.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  The running game for the Cardinals has been dicey this season to say the least.  Beanie Wells had a solid 2011 season but his injury history sort of opened the door Ryan Williams to take over the starting job, but Williams himself was coming off rehab of his Achilles injury from last season.  Neither Williams nor Wells did much when handed the keys to the car, but that may be on the offensive line more than their talents and when both went out with injury it’s been Lerod Stephens-Howling who has taken over the starting role.  LSH has done well but could lose that job by Week 12 when Wells is eligible to be activated off of the IR.

Atlanta Falcons:  Atlanta does seem to be the most under publicized 8-0 team in recent memory.  I’m not sure why that is, perhaps not having an electric personality on the team contributes to this, but you just know they are going to play the lack of respect card…..The biggest question remaining for Atlanta will be winning a playoff game.  It is pretty much a foregone conclusion that they will win their division, but in the past two seasons they have been taken apart like a clock in the playoff by the eventual Super Bowl champion, first by Green Bay in 2010 and then the Giants last season.  All this work is for naught if they can’t get to at least the NFC Championship game this year.

Baltimore Ravens:  I’m not really impressed with any team in the AFC North.  The Ravens defense is a shell of its former self.  They should’ve lost to Dallas and almost found way to lose to Cleveland last week.  They play well at home but not so much on the road.  Starting to think Pittsburgh may take this division, looking forward to those two head to head meetings.

Buffalo Bills:  When are the Bills going to realize that they don’t have an over abundance of playmakers on their roster?  It’s time to give the ball to RB C.J. Spiller full-time and let him do his thing.  I feel bad for Fred Jackson, but he’s just not the player Spiller is…..WR Steve Johnson suffered a thigh injury during the game against Houston that definitely slowed his progress, he is however expected to play this week versus the Patriots.

Carolina Panthers:  The Panthers swore to everyone that they were going to make Jonathan Stewart the number one running back, well I guess that depends on what your definition of number one is.  Sure he is getting more carries than either DeAngelo Williams or Mike Tolbert, but is far from the overwhelming ball carrier in Sunday’s win versus Washington…..WR Steve Smith finally caught a touchdown pass last week…..On that touchdown run that Williams had last week, the officials actually blew the whistle when they thought he stepped out at the 17-yard line, yet still awarded him a TD.  Good to see the replacement referees weren’t the only ones making up rules as they went along.

Chicago Bears:  The Bears defense is scary.  Most opposing teams are generally worried about how to stop the opposing offense from scoring, but with the Bears you better figure out how to stop their defense and/or their special teams from scoring, just incredible so far this season…..Cornerback Charles Tillman may be in line for defensive player of the year, when was the last time we could say that about a CB…..Linebacker Brian Uhrlacher is looking better and better each and every week, another scary though for opposing offenses.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Tight end Jermaine Gresham had his biggest game of the season last Sunday, eclipsing 100 receiving yards.  Quarterback Andy Dalton could certainly use another big target to throw to…..Speaking of top targets for Dalton to throw to, WR AJ Green has caught at least one TD pass in seven straight games.

Cleveland Browns:  I know moral victories don’t mean very much in the NFL, but the Browns did show some heart in coming from back from a 14-0 early deficit against the Ravens to take the lead before falling late.  Still think the Browns are heading in the right direction, and give them a couple more drafts and/or free agent signings, and they could be ready to compete in the AFC North by 2014.

Dallas Cowboys:  The Cowboys managed to lose another close game last week.  This team seems to do just enough to lose each week.  Dallas committed no turnovers during the game but also didn’t cause any on defense.  They continue to drop passes, three of them actually, all on third down which would’ve extended drives.  On defense, they seem to come up small when it matters most, at the end of halves, just not a recipe for success.

Denver Broncos:  Peyton Manning has proven to everyone that he has fully recovered from his neck surgeries.  He is having another MVP like season.  What is even scarier is that he should get better and stronger as the season rolls along…..Everyone thinks about the Broncos offense, but that defense is also playing better now that LB Von Miller and  DE Elvis Dumervil are back up to speed.  This is a team that should be awfully dangerous come playoff time.

Detroit Lions:  I know everyone is panicking over WR Calvin Johnson only having one TD so far this season but remember, he has been tackled four times at the one-yard line, including last week, just bad luck so far…..Titus Young is really maddening for the Lions and his fantasy owners, just a week after it looked like he would finally be a big part of the offense he throws up a stinker versus Jacksonville, just so frustrating.

Green Bay Packers:  The Packers bye really couldn’t have come at a better time.  This team is turning into a MASH unit to say the least.  WR Greg Jennings is still out for a couple of weeks after undergoing surgery for a torn abdominal muscle.  The other starting wideout, Jordy Nelson, returned last week after being out with a groin injury, only to leave the game in the 1st quarter after twisting his ankle.  LB Clay Matthews is supposedly going to be out a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury and CB/S Charles Woodson is still out after breaking his collarbone.  That’s quite a few All-Pro players who are out of the lineup for Green Bay.

Houston Texans:  Game of the week has to be the Texans playing at the Bears on Sunday night.  DE J.J. Watt could have a big game against that Bears secondary.  Looking forward to that one…..TE Owen Daniels may not gather the headlines of the Patriots Rob Gronkowski or the Saints Jimmy Graham, but he’s putting up a nice comeback year.  He did have knee surgery a couple of years ago and it seems it took him a full season to recover, and right now he looks as good as he ever has.

Indianapolis Colts:  If the season ended today, boy would I be disappointed, the Colts would be in the playoffs, just incredible.  If Peyton Manning were to win the Super Bowl and be the MVP of the league the Colts wouldn’t be disappointed, they are that happy with Andrew Luck.  This organization is terribly fortunate to be able to have a franchise QB for 25-30 years…..The Colts are dealing with some injury issues as DE Dwight Freeney has an ankle problem and LB Robert Mathis a back injury, both look like they will play Thursday night versus Jacksonville however.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  Ugh, what can we say about the Jaguars.  Well, they are the only team in the NFL to be score on 100% of their trips in the red zone.  Of course there haven’t been all that many trips.  Good with the bad I guess.  RB Maurice Jones-Drew will not play Thursday versus the Colts, but could return for the Jags game in Week 11.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  What a mess the Chiefs are right now.  Funny thing is there were quite a few pundits who thought prior to the season that the Chiefs might have the best overall talent in the division, apparently now.  They do not seem to know how to use RB Jamaal Charles.  I know you want to protect your franchise player but not letting him touch the ball a minimum of 15 times a game just seems criminal to me…..Playing musical chairs at quarterback hasn’t helped any either.  Not that head coach Romeo Crennel has had much of a choice as it seems Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn have had a different injury each and every week.

Miami Dolphins:  Tough loss for the Dolphins last week, one that could come back to haunt them as they now lose a tiebreaker to Indianapolis.  Can’t believe I just wrote that.  Never would’ve believed coming into the season that Miami and Indy could be battling for a playoff spot, never…..One thing to keep any eye on, the last two weeks, RB Daniel Thomas has touched the ball more than Reggie Bush.  This could be something to keep an eye on in the future.  Bush is a free agent after the season and this could be the organizations way of finding out if Thomas can handle the full-time role.

Minnesota Vikings:   RB Adrian Peterson is having a fantastic season.  To comeback this strong and this quickly from reconstructive knee surgery is quite impressive.  He looks just as good as he always has, very impressed…..WR Percy Harvin considers himself doubtful to play Sunday after twisting his ankle in several places.  Harvin is a very good player but the way he is built, injuries are always going to be a concern, especially if the Vikings keep lining him up in the backfield.

New England Patriots:  The Patriots are coming off a bye and the most important question for them to answer is, have you fixed the defense, specifically the long pass plays.  If the Pats can just be respectable on defense, not great, just average, this team is going to be really tough to beat when it matters.  We all know Tom Brady and the passing game is great, but they also have a legitimate running game for the first time in many a year.

New Orleans Saints:  Could the Saints possibly get back into the playoff hunt?  They are certainly playing better but even though their defense looked like it dominated the Eagles on Monday night it still gave up over 400 yards.  Sure they battered Mike Vick, but in the end, not sure they can get the job done.  We’ll find out this week when Atlanta comes to town…..RB Darren Sproles missed the game last week with a broken hand and his timetable to return has gone anywhere from this weekend to out at least a month.  The good news is that in his absence, Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram, and Chris Ivory all looked capable of filling in.

New York Giants:  There’s a decent amount of panic here in Giants country concerning the offense.  QB Eli Manning is taking some heat for playing some subpar football over the past few weeks, some even believing he looks tired out there and needs the bye week to recuperate…..Safety Kenny Phillips is getting closer to returning, some even believing he could’ve played last week.  How the team gets his replacement, Steve Brown, on the field should be interesting.  Brown has been a huge playmaker for the team on defense.

New York Jets:  How long will the Jets wait until they give QB Tim Tebow a chance to start?  Isn’t this the reason they signed him, to help with the offense when it’s struggling.  Instead it seems other than fake punts they don’t know how to use his talents…..I think it’s safe to wonder if head coach Rex Ryan is living on borrowed time…..Back to Sanchez, also have to wonder if the Jets are regretting handing him that contract extension in the off-season.

Oakland Raiders:  This will come as shocking news, I know, but RB Darren McFadden is once again dealing with an injury.  This time he has a high ankle sprain that will keep him out of action.  Problem for Oakland is his backup, Mike Goodson, is also dealing with the same injury and both are unlikely to play this Sunday.  This will leave the running game in the hands of Taiwan Jones and Marcel Reece.  If I’m a fantasy owner, Reece is the player I’d want to run with.

Philadelphia Eagles:  For those of you calling for the benching of QB Michael Vick, stop it, it’s not going to happen, for several reasons.  First, coach Andy Reid is fighting for his job.  Putting in a rookie QB at this point in the season is certainly not going to save it.  He won’t make that move until Vick is either hurt or the Eagles are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention.  The other reason.  Vick is getting hammered behind an inferior offensive line.  If Vick can’t avoid the rush, what makes anyone think a less mobile QB can?  I know Troy Aikman got pounded when he was a rookie but I’m not sure the Eagles want to take the same path with Nick Foles.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Starting to look like it doesn’t matter who the Steelers start at running back, Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, or Jonathan Dwyer can all get the job done.  That being said in a fantasy league I wouldn’t want to start any of them this week, no telling who will be the main ball carrier come Monday night…..It’s not all rosy for Pittsburgh, WR Antonio Brown is almost certain to miss the game which means Emmanuel Sanders could be a sneaky play in fantasy leagues.

San Diego Chargers:  Like Andy Reid in Philadelphia, one has to believe it’s playoffs or bust for head coach Norv Turner.  Norv might help his cause if he would actually play RB Ryan Matthews a little more often.  Why they remove him on 3rd downs for Ronnie Brown is a huge question mark.  Matthews is by far the better player and it’s not like he can’t catch the ball…..WR Robert Meachem missed the last game with a hamstring injury but looks like he will suit up Sunday versus Tampa.  On paper this looks like a good matchup, but since QB Phillip Rivers doesn’t seem to trust him, you shouldn’t either.

San Francisco 49ers:  WR Mario Manningham used the bye week to recover from his shoulder injury and should be good to go Sunday…..Not that there was really any doubt, but QB Alex Smith is good to go this week as well.

Seattle Seahawks:  RB Marshawn Lynch didn’t practice Wednesday as he is dealing with back and wrist injuries, wouldn’t worry to much though as it would be a pretty big upset if he didn’t play Sunday versus the Jets….Speaking of the game, you just know that head coach Pete Carroll would love to stick it to his former team, not to mention his former QB in Mark Sanchez…..Just because WR Golden Tate had a big game last week doesn’t mean you should trust him going forward in fantasy leagues.

St. Louis Rams:  WR Danny Amendola looks to return this week versus the 49ers.  Not the best team to face in your first game back, but those who play in PPR leagues will have to think about activating him this week…..Still think not trading RB Steven Jackson at the trade deadline was a mistake.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  That was a fantastic game by RB Doug Martin last week.   If there were any doubts about how good he can be, he pretty much laid those to rest.  With his emergence the passing game could become even more dangerous.  Already QB Josh Freeman and WR Mike Williams are starting to look like it’s 2010 all over again.  This is turning out to be a dangerous team…..Back to Martin once again, so much for the loss of G Carl Nicks having a negative impact on the running game.

Tennessee Titans:  After what can only be described as a less than optimum performance by the Titans against the Bears last week owner Bud Adams came down hard on the team and organization.  If the team’s play doesn’t pick up, one has a feeling there will be some massive changes in the off-season…..Jake Locker is supposed to take over the starting QB job once again.  Whether or not Locker can be a franchise QB should be atop the owner’s to do list.

Washington Redskins:  Head coach Mike Shanahan took quite a bit of heat for his comments after the loss to Carolina last week.  The gist of the comments were that Shanahan knows the season is over and will use the rest of it to determine who will be on the team in the future.  That is actually the truth, just doesn’t go over well with the fan base…..It’s looking more and more like WR Pierre Garcon’s first season in Washington will be a bust.  Have to think he will undergo season ending surgery pretty much any day now.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  The Cardinals running game is going to be a guessing game each and every week.  Larod Stephens-Howling was the hot hand versus Minnesota last week, so he carried the rock more than William Powell, but that doesn’t mean LRS is the favorite this week to lead the team in carries, just that he may get first crack at the job…..You heard Minnesota state after the game that there plan was to stop WR Larry Fitzgerald and see if the Cardinals could create enough offense with a subpar running game and QB John Skelton throwing short passes.  It worked, and you have to wonder if upcoming teams on the Cards schedule are going to follow that exact same game plan.

Atlanta Falcons:  Looking forward to the game this week between Atlanta and Philadelphia.  Both teams are coming off a bye, both could be seen as favorites in the NFC.  Very curious to see how the Falcons will go about challenging the Eagles defense…..Do you think CB Asante Samuel  (former Eagle) has this game circled on his calendar?  Samuel is a very aggressive cornerback but has been known to bite on the double move, look for Philadelphia to try this a time or two with Jeremy Maclin and/or DeSean Jackson.

Baltimore Ravens:  The Ravens were absolutely hammered by the Texans last week.  This seems to be a team that doesn’t play all that well on the road.  Sure, there defense is banged up.  That’s not going to change, in fact, will probably get worse as the season rolls along.  Ravens should still be considered the favorite in the AFC North but have some issues to work through.  Not to quarterback Joe Flacco:  If you want to be considered elite, you need to play just as well on the road as you do at home.

Buffalo Bills:  Defensive end Mario Williams underwent a procedure Wednesday on his ailing wrist.  How long he will be out for is still in question.  Some believe he could be back at practice as soon as next week.  This team wasn’t playing good defense with Williams, scary to think what might happen without him…..The team is in a bit of disarray, with some players now calling out other players for not giving their all.  This is not going to end well.

Carolina Panthers:  You just knew that someone was going to take the fall after QB Cam Newton stated his frustration with the game plan after another close loss Sunday.  General Manager Marty Hurney was that person as he was fired.  Was it his fault?  Some of it, yes, but Newton has regressed this season and the team has failed to make the adjustment of teams taking WR Steve Smith out of the game.  The running game is still non-existent.  It still makes no sense that they signed RB Mike Tolbert in free agency when they already had Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams in fold, and don’t seem to know how to use any of them right now.

Chicago Bears:  We all talk about the 49ers, Seahawks, Texans, and Cardinals, but the best defense in the NFL may once again belong to the monster of the midway.  That unit is playing fantastic football right now and should only get better as LB Brian Urhlacher get closer to 100% as the season rolls along…..Quarterback Jay Cutler came out of the game for a play Monday night after getting sacked and landing on the football, he is expected to play this week but I would be worried that he could be hindered during the game.  He didn’t look good in the second half of the game and his throws certainly did not have his normal zip.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Before anyone takes the Bengals as serious contender in the AFC North, they are going to have to defeat the Ravens and Steelers, something they have not yet been able to do the past two seasons…..Teams are starting to game plan around WR AJ Green, they are going to force QB Andy Dalton to find a different way to beat them.  Now receivers Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns are nice player, but they aren’t game breakers.  A running game would help also, but no one is really afraid of Benjarvus Green-Ellis, he’s more of a bruiser than someone who is going to break a long run, and he may himself break down as the season rolls along.

Cleveland Browns:  Really believe the Browns did the right thing with RB Trent Richardson last week.  I know he was upset at only getting a handful of carries, but he didn’t do anything with those carries and I’m sure the coaching staff was thinking that he wasn’t quite recovered from his flank injury and that resulted in poor play.  Better to be safe than sorry with your franchise back, it’s not like they’re going to the Super Bowl or even the playoffs this season.

Dallas Cowboys:  The Cowboys probably saved their season with a victory over Carolina last week.  Now it wasn’t a pretty win, but an ugly win is better than a pretty loss.  Not thrilled with head coach Jason Garrett’s play calling once again.  Playing for a field goal rather than a game clinching touchdown is gutsy with a defense that has come up small in the past, but hey, it worked.  That being said he is going to have to open up the offense for the next few weeks as Dallas plays the Giants at home, before going on the road to Philly and Atlanta.  Lose all three and it’s over, win two of three and you’re set for a big finish to the season with five of your last eight games at home, lose two of three and you’re behind the eight ball with little room for error.

Denver Broncos:  The Broncos had a very uneventful bye week, which is a good thing.  They are in the driver’s seat in the AFC West, schedule isn’t that hard, and their division isn’t either…..This week should be fun however as New Orleans comes to town for a Sunday night affair.  Anyone want to guess how many points are going to be scored in this game?  Should be a blast to watch.

Detroit Lions:  What is wrong the Lions offense?  They played well enough on defense Monday night (shocking I know) to beat the Bears, but turnovers in the red zone cost them the ball game.  QB Matthew Stafford looks uncomfortable in the pocket.  Reminds me of someone who doesn’t want to get hit anymore.  Once again teams are taking Megatron out of the game, there is always a safety over the top.  They lose WR Nate Burleson for the season with a broken leg, Titus Young and Ryan Browles have to step up now or it’s going to get late early for Detroit.

Green Bay Packers:  Remember all those who were worried about QB Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense a couple of weeks ago?  Yeah, neither do I…..There is reason to be worried about WR Greg Jennings however.  He saw a specialist today to find out why his injured groin is taking so long to heal.  Not a good sign…..Receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb are reaping the benefit however of Jennings being out of the lineup.  Have to wonder if the Packers would try and trade Jennings or Jones had Greg been healthy…..Someone who is not healthy is CB Charles Woodson who will miss at least a month with a broken collarbone.

Houston Texans:  Have to love the way the Texans rebounded after getting smoked by Green Bay.  They took it out on Baltimore and have to be considered the favorites in the AFC to reach the Super Bowl at this point in time…..Tight end Owen Daniels is having a good season after having been forgotten about due to some injuries.  His success however and the great running game haven’t helped WR Andre Johnson put up big numbers yet.  Perhaps he isn’t the same player he used to be.

Indianapolis Colts:  You have to love that what has to be considered a design flaw at Lucas Oil Stadium (bright sunlight shining onto the field) probably helped the Colts beat the Browns last week.  Browns WR Josh Gordon had what looked like an easy touchdown pass within his grasp but ran into the sun part of the field (end zone) just as the ball came into his hands and dropped it.  Now he still should’ve caught it, but divine intervention may have been on the Colts side in this one.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  Had been wondering if the Jaguars should consider trading RB Maurice Jones-Drew before the deadline Tuesday due to the team not being in contention for the next couple of seasons.  Well that is all for naught now as MJD suffered a foot injury that will cost him to miss multiple games, eliminating his trade value.  Rashard Jennings is a must pick up in most fantasy leagues, especially if you had Jones-Drew on your roster…..The good news, I think, is that QB Blaine Gabbert will start this Sunday despite a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder.  Things might be different if QB Chad Henne had shown anything in relief.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  Like the Jags, the Chiefs are another team that is a complete mess.  Brady Quinn is actually going to start at QB over Matt Cassel.  You know you’re not getting the job done when Quinn is starting over you…..RB Peyton Hillis is practicing however this week and could possibly play Sunday, yippee.

Miami Dolphins:  After their bye week, the Dolphins are pretty much a completely healthy team.  They will need any and all the weapons they have if they want to stay competitive for the remainder of the season…..If there is one team that I think could make a big splash by the trade deadline, Miami would be it.

Minnesota Vikings:   The Vikings announced this week that RB Adrian Peterson will have no more restrictions for the rest of the season.  Could it be because he is the third leading the rusher in the NFL and looks like the player he once was.  Scary to think he might only get better as the weeks go by…..Christian Ponder had a terrible game behind center last week and some could say the Vikings won despite him.  Have to wonder if the Vikings will rely more on their running game from here on out.

New England Patriots:  The Patriots don’t seem to be the great team we thought they may be.  Quarterback Tom Brady seems to be a bit out of sync a little bit, making decisions he normally would’ve been.  The question is why?  The running game has played much better than expected, but could this be hindering Brady because he doesn’t throw enough?  Brandon Lloyd hasn’t been the big play threat at WR that the Pats were hoping for.  Wes Welker seemed to be in coach Bill Belichick’s doghouse to start the season, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have been banged up.  Perhaps things will get better this Sunday in jolly old England.

New Orleans Saints:  So much for the return of LB Jonathan Vilma helping the Saints defense.  This defense has more holes than any one player can fill.  It’s going to be up to the offense to outscore the opponents on most occasions, but that can be a daunting task.  They will need all of their weapons to be healthy and that starts with tight end Jimmy Graham.  Supposedly he is practicing this week and should be able to play Sunday night, but we thought that last week as well.

New York Giants:  The Giants are quickly emerging as one of the better if not best team in the NFC.  That being said, losing division games earlier this season to Dallas and Philadelphia means they can’t afford any slip ups.  A loss to the Cowboys this Sunday would mean they lose all tiebreakers with Dallas, not a good spot to find yourself in…..Victor Cruz has been a godsend to the Giants.  Where would they be without him?  It almost seemed against Washington Sunday that Cruz and QB Eli Manning just said enough of this, Cruz you go deep, I’ll find you, and we will put this game away.

New York Jets:  Mark Sanchez is a very hard QB to figure out.  He looks terrible one minute, great the next.  Must drive the Jets crazy.  Hard to take him out of the game though as you just don’t know when his next hot streak is going to hit.  Still though, I’m surprised the Jets haven’t used QB Tim Tebow more, especially down by the goal line…..Now that tight end
Dustin Keller is back fantasy owners should keep him in mind if they’re in a pinch during bye weeks.

Oakland Raiders:  The Raiders may have beaten the Jaguars, but RB Darren McFadden still hasn’t hit his stride only rushing for 50+ yards.  Could teams be taking him away?  Yes, but the passing game is performing well enough that he should have holes to run through, he’s just not hitting them.

Philadelphia Eagles:  We all know the stat by now, the Eagles are 13-0 coming off a bye week under head coach Andy Reid.  Have to expect their defense to play better, perhaps even perhaps as good as we thought they might coming into the season, they certainly should be more aggressive in getting to the quarterback.  Question is will the bye week help QB Michael Vick stop his little problem turning the ball over.  That is probably more the key to their season than the defense.  Might be nice to use RB LeSean McCoy near the goal line as well.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  Jonathan Dwyer had a real good performance in place of Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, rushing for over 120 yards in a win over Cincinnati, they may need him again this week as the Steelers backfield is still a bit banged up…..The Steelers/Redskins game this week has shootout written all over it.  The Skins defense is far from good and the Steelers D is living off of reputation…..WR Mike Wallace had a game to forget Sunday with no less than four dropped passes.  With a big contract in his future he better start to become a more reliable target for big Ben.

San Diego Chargers:  Looking forward to seeing how QB Phillip Rivers plays this Sunday after his horrible performance in the second half against Denver in their last game before the bye.  Still wonder if he is dealing with an injury or if his throwing mechanics, throws the ball like a shot put, have added to much wear and tear over the years…..The Chargers placed K Nate Kaeding on IR ending his season and more than likely his career in San Diego.  Nick Novak will take over the kicking role from here on out.

San Francisco 49ers:  Even though the 49ers won last week, tight end Vernon Davis was none to happy about being held without a reception.  It seems defenses are taking away his favorite routes and he would like to remedy that situation…..Critics are also starting to wonder if the continued insertion of QB Colin Kaepernick into the wildcat formation is hurting QB Alex Smith’s play.  Seems Smith has committed a couple of turnovers recently right after coming in for Kaepernick.  I can see why you would blame this on the wildcat, lack of flow and all, but then wouldn’t Smith also have a tendency to throw interceptions on the first pass attempt after his offense gets the ball back?

Seattle Seahawks:  Still think the Seahawks are going to be better in the long run with Matt Flynn at quarterback, he can just make throws that Wilson can’t…..Have to think wide receiver will be a number one priority next off-season for Seattle.

St. Louis Rams:  Mentioned earlier about Jacksonville possibly wanting to trade Jones-Drew before the trade deadline, couldn’t the Rams do the same thing with RB Steven Jackson?  Daryl Richardson looks good, and Jackson seems more than likely to test the free agent waters in the off-season…..Fantasy owners may want to take a look at QB Sam Bradford this week.  If the Jets Mark Sanchez and the Seahawks Russell Wilson can light up the Pats secondary, why not Bradford?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  Have heard quite a few complaints about the ruling that cost WR Mike Williams the tying touchdown last week.  For those that don’t know, Williams was pushed out of bounds by a Saints corner and since he was the first player to touch the ball, the TD was nullified.  It wasn’t a hard push by the CB, just enough to get Williams out of bounds.  Seems to me Williams or any other receiver for that matter should just be more aware of their surroundings.

Tennessee Titans:  Okay, RB Chris Johnson looked great last week, some might even believe he is back to being CJ2K, but keep this in mind, the Buffalo defense has been pathetic against the run all season, and although Johnson has another tasty matchup against the Colts this Sunday, he will then go up against Chicago, Miami, and Houston in three of their next four games…..QB Matt Hasselbeck will get at least one more start this week.  Can the Titans really go back to Jake Locker should Hasselbeck win again?  Fans certainly won’t be happy.

Washington Redskins:  Some people are actually saying that QB Robert Griffin III should be the MVP this season.  Backup folks, he’s only played seven games.  Everyone was ready to crown QB Cam Newton last year also.  Look how the sky has fallen once defenses figured him out.  RGIII is really good and fun to watch, but I’ll take QBs Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  Well we all knew it was just a matter of time until QB Kevin Kolb got hurt.  That offensive line is truly putrid.  Remember John Skelton was also injured.  The Cardinals are lucky in some ways that he is healthy enough now to return to the starting lineup just as Kolb is leaving it.  Question is, how long until Kolb gets hurt again?  As for those fantasy owners who were hoping that Lard Stephens-Howling could help the running game, apparently not.

Atlanta Falcons:  I know the Falcons are the only undefeated team left in the NFL, but I’m still not ready to declare them the best team in the game.  They have been pretty lucky to win the past few weeks.  Probably should’ve lost to Carolina at home if not for a mid-field Hail Mary that set them up for a game winning field goal.  Then they defeat Washington on the road after knocking QB RBIII from what was a very close game.  Last but not least they defeat the Raiders at home on a last second field goal.  Not one of these teams are anywhere near the best of the best.  True ugly wins are better than pretty losses, but right now Atlanta is either not as good at their record indicates, or they are playing down to their competition.

Baltimore Ravens:  Have to wonder if the Ravens would’ve rather taken a loss to the Cowboys last week and have a healthy LB Ray Lewis and CB Lardarius Webb for the remainder of the season than vice versa.  Game day I don’t believe the Ravens lose much with Lewis out, he’s nowhere near the same player he used to be and the run defense was certainly showing it.  They will miss his leadership however and is ability to motivate the troops.  He could convince his teammates to run through fire…..Webb however is a huge loss as he was one of the better corners in football.  Now the Ravens may have equal problems with the pass as well as the run.

Buffalo Bills:  The Bills answer to their logjam at running back is to have Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller alternate starting every two series.  Seems to me this was a better team with Spiller as the lead back…..Somehow despite all of the problems that the Bills have had they are still for the lead in the AFC East, along with every other team, at 3-3, perhaps this won’t be a lost season after all…..The wrist injury that DE Mario Williams has been complaining about seems to be a thing of the past as he finally has begun practicing in full.

Carolina Panthers:  Hopefully the week off will have allowed the Panthers time to fix their problems on offense.   We can harp on QB Cam Newton all we want, but of bigger concern should be the running game.  What has happened to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart?  Those of you hoping that LB Jon Beason would get back in the starting lineup this week had better think again, he has yet to practice this week.

Chicago Bears:  One team the bye week had to help was Chicago as it allowed RBs Michael Bush and Matt Forte to heal from their assorted injuries…..WR Earl Bennett will get back in the lineup now that Alshon Jeffrey is out, he could be a sneaky add in fantasy leagues, so might Devin Hester.  Quarterback Jay Cutler can’t throw to Brandon Marshall on every pass play…..The bad news for the Bears is that even with a bye week LB Brian Uhrlacher is still nowhere near 100% with his knee injury.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Everyone loves WR A.J. Green, rightfully so as he is quickly becoming one of the top receivers in the NFL, but what may be benefitting him most is the addition of Andrew Hawkins and Armon Binns.  Neither of those two may be great WRs, but they do give defenses something else to think about besides Green.  Even though the Lions have Calvin Johnson, their offense is struggling because no one else has stepped up thus allowing teams to take Megatron out of the game.

Cleveland Browns:  Running back Trent Richardson’s status for the game Sunday is still a question mark due to the flank injury but he is expected to play, however if he were to miss the game Montario Hardesty’s value take a huge jump…..Not a shock to see GM Mike Holmgren leave the team.  Whether it was voluntary or not really doesn’t matter, once a new owner took over, it was only natural that he would want to bring in his own people…..Holmgren seems to have set the team in the right directions.  Richardson looks to be a franchise RB, Josh Gordon may be the real deal at WR, and Brandon Weeden looks pretty good at QB.

Dallas Cowboys:  Dallas did a pretty good job of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory in Sunday’s game at Baltimore.  They dominated the Ravens in every part of the game yet lost.  Why might you ask?  A  kickoff returned for a touchdown.  A dropped two-point conversion by Dez Bryant.  Lack of any turnovers on defense once again.  Terrible clock management at the end of the game (think Arizona from last year).  There are no moral victories in the NFL.  This was a game Dallas needed an had to have, especially with their upcoming schedule.  One thing for sure, this week’s game at Carolina is almost a must win as the Cowboys have the Giants at home, than are at Atlanta and Philadelphia, need to go 2-2 at worst during this stretch.

Denver Broncos:  Any doubt about Peyton Manning’s ability to play this game has been pretty much put to rest these past few weeks.  He’s putting up fantastic numbers, and his comeback from a 24-point deficit Monday night to beat the Chargers was a thing of beauty.  His passes may not have the zip they once did, but he gets the job done…..Are the Broncos back to being the favorite to win the AFC West.

Detroit Lions:  Pretty sad news for the Lions and RB Javhid Best this week as it was announced that he won’t be able to play this season as he can’t pass his concussion test.  Hopefully the additional time off will allow him to play next season, better safe than sorry…..Is it me or does QB Matthew Stafford just not look like the same guy.  I know teams are taking away WR Johnson, but his accuracy has been terrible no matter who he is throwing to.

Green Bay Packers:  Aaron Rodgers certainly looked like the Rodgers of old last week as he ripped apart the Texans defense with six touchdown passes.  Those fantasy owners who gave up on him and traded low a week or two ago may certainly be regretting that decision now…..The Pack has announced that RB Alex Green will be the starter.  How quickly James Starks has fallen.  First he loses his job to Cedric Benson, and then can’t get it back once injury happens…..WR James Jones has played pretty good in the absence of Greg Jennings, but once Jennings does return he won’t see anywhere near the targets he is now.

Houston Texans:  Wouldn’t really panic if I was the Texans over the blowout loss to the Packers on Sunday.  Sure it was ugly watching Aaron Rodgers destroy your pass defense, but that happens, not like they had dreams of an undefeated season anyway.  The bright side is that now they get to play the Ravens, a team that has been gouged by the running game of the Chiefs and Cowboys.  Imagine what the Texans think they can do to them…..The Texans have also been making excuses as to why WR Andre Johnson is not having a better year.  Perhaps all of those injuries over the years have caught up to him, and he just isn’t the same player anymore.

Indianapolis Colts:  Don’t give up on RB Vick Ballard just yet.  Sure his numbers didn’t look all that pretty last week but the Colts were down in the game pretty quickly and had to abandon the running game…..The return of LB Robert Mathis to the lineup would be a big help as well, but that will have to wait at least another week as he is out until at least Week 8…..LB Pat Angerer could return this week, but Week 8 seems to be a safer bet there as well.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  Laurent Robinson, the big free agent addition at WR, still hasn’t passed his concussion test and is once again unlikely to play this week…..The Jags need to face the music here, they are a bad team, going nowhere, the remainder of this season should be about finding out what you have.  Specifically, is Blaine Gabbert the quarterback of the future.  Here is another idea, might want to trade RB Maurice Jones-Drew if you can get a good package for him.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  Should be fun times in KC.  Somehow they got destroyed last week in Tampa, not exactly a powerhouse team.  Now they have a QB controversy brewing between Brady Quinn and Matt Cassel, neither of which is a true starting QB, season is sinking real fast for the Chiefs…..Trade rumors are swirling around WR Dwayne Bowe.  Should come down to this if you’re the Chiefs.  Bowe is a good, not great receiver.  If you have no plans on re-signing him next season, than get what you can for him now.

Miami Dolphins:  Dolphins have to be ecstatic about how well QB Ryan Tannehill has played with virtually no weapons to throw to and a running game that has been stymied since Reggie Bush went off in Week 1.  This is a quarterback driven league, and finding a true number one is the most important thing in developing your organization into a contender…..The Dolphins are the team rumored to be interested in Bowe, but one has to wonder if they want to give up draft picks once again for a WR from the AFC West, didn’t work out so well last time.  Not to mention you would have to sign Bowe to the type of contract he wants.  You’re not giving up draft picks without signing the player to a long term deal.

Minnesota Vikings:   The Vikings come down to Earth a little bit after a beating at the hands of the Redskins last week.  This Sunday they have the offensively challenged Cardinals who are down to their third string running back and John Skelton at QB…..Will this be the week that RB Adrian Petersen scores a touchdown?  He doesn’t have one since Week 1, and admits that his ankle is feeling worse, not better.

New England Patriots:  How did the Patriots lose to the Seahawks last week?  Well, QB Tom Brady threw some ill timed interceptions and also intentionally grounded the ball at the end of the first half which automatically ran 10 seconds off the clock which cost the team a field goal attempt, and the defense, mainly the secondary gave up big play after big play.  One has to think coach Belichick will have fixed that problem this week.  Have a feeling the Pats put a big hurt on the Jets this week.

New Orleans Saints:  Linebacker Jonathan Vilma is trying his best to get on the field this week.  The Saints have until Saturday to take him off the PUP list.  This may be Vilma’s only game this season if commissioner Roger Goodell rules that the suspension will be upheld, suspension he handed down in the first place.  This is certainly headed back to court…..It is starting to look like TE Jimmy Graham may be forced to miss the game due to that ankle sprain, Dave Thomas could be a sneaky pickup in fantasy leagues.

New York Giants:  Big win by the Giants in San Francisco last week and even though their record stands at 4-2, they may be the best team in the NFC at this point in time…..WR Hakeem Nicks is still dealing with a knee problem and RB Ahmad Bradshaw may have the same foot injury that has plagued him in past seasons depending on who you listen to, so not everything is rosy, but if that front four on defense gets it going, it may not matter who is healthy with the exception of QB Eli Manning.

New York Jets:  Somehow the Jets won a game 35-9 against the Colts last week despite QB Mark Sanchez throwing for less than 100 yards, welcome to the 2012 season RB Shonn Greene…..Rumors abound this week that the Jets may use QB Tim Tebow at running back this week.  Probably not, but I have to wonder if Tebow’s best position might end up being tight end…..Cornerback Antonio Cromartie has been playing great and backing up his boast as the best CB in the league.

Oakland Raiders:  The Raiders put up a strong effort in a loss to the Falcons last week, but moral victories will only get you so far…..WR Denarius Moore could be a future star in the making…..Fantasy owners are banging their head about RB Darren McFadden.  Not much you can do, if you try and trade him you’re certainly selling low, might be a better buy high candidate.

Philadelphia Eagles:  Well the Eagles fired their defensive coordinator, Juan Castillo, this week.  Granted the defense hasn’t played up to expectations, but it would seem the offense has been the main culprit, not the defense, although the fact that the defense hasn’t been able to get to the QB has to be of utmost concern…..Good news is that WR Jeremy Maclin looks to be recovered from his hip injury and even if he isn’t, the bye week will make sure he is.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  The Steelers are running into problems at the running back position again.  Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman didn’t practice Thursday and will both be questionable at best to play Sunday.  Fantasy owners had better take note and make sure they have adequate replacements…..The lack of a running game could be good news for the passing game as they will be forced to throw the ball to score points, something they are very well suited for.

San Diego Chargers:  What happened to QB Phillip Rivers during the second half Monday night.  You can excuse the fumble, that happens, but four picks has to be of major concern especially when it looked like his ball floated a few times.  We pretty much excused all of the turnovers from Rivers last season as just a bad year and the possibility that he was dealing with an injury, but perhaps his arm strength just isn’t what it used to be.

San Francisco 49ers:  The 49ers put up a stinker against the Giants last week and probably aren’t wishing for a return engagement…..WR Randy Moss seems to be getting a little more involved in the offense, wonder if he is sort of being used as a Trojan Horse, doesn’t look all that threatening, but sooner or later breaks out to steal a victory.

Seattle Seahawks:  You have to hand it to QB Russell Wilson, just when it looks like he could lose his starting job to Matt Flynn he comes up with a big game versus New England, perhaps he will keep the job all year…..Does head coach Pete Carroll’s manner on the sideline bother anyone else, or is it just me?

St. Louis Rams:  I think we’re starting to see the reason why the Rams are letting RB Steven Jackson hit free agency next season.  Daryl Richardson looks pretty good and can also hit the big play now and then which is something Jackson may no longer be able to do…..Wonder if the Rams are starting to regret not taking QB Robert Griffin III with the second overall pick in the 2012 draft.  Sam Bradford is just not doing it for me.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  Running back Doug Martin owners can’t be happy that LeGarrette Blount could be his touchdown vulture…..It’s amazing what having a true number one receiver opposite him has done for Mike Williams, he actually looks like a good fantasy play again…..Da’Quan Bowers who tore his Achilles in May is back practicing with the team.  He’s unlikely to play this week, but his return may not be that far off.

Tennessee Titans:  It took WR Kenny Britt a few times but he finally caught that touchdown pass from Matt Hasselbeck last week.  Hopefully this is the breakout that all Britt owners have been waiting for…..Speaking of fantasy owners, what are they to do with running back Chris Johnson?  He’s only had two acceptable fantasy weeks this season, but you know the week you don’t start him, he’s just going to go off…..Hasselbeck, by the way, only needs two more TD passes for 200 in his career.  Quite an accomplishment.

Washington Redskins:  Guess RGIII didn’t have any post concussion problems, pretty much ran and threw all over the Vikings…..Is WR Pierre Garcon ever coming back?  He has an inflamed capsule underneath his toe and can’t seem to overcome it, certainly driving not only his fantasy owners crazy, but the Redskins as well…..Has to be surprising to those same two groups that TE Fred Davis hasn’t been a bigger part of the Skins offense.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  Not that the Cardinals were tearing it up on the ground anyway but losing RB Ryan Williams for the season right after losing Beanie Wells until at least late November is a crippling blow.  Those fantasy owners who are looking to claim either Lerod Stephens-Howling or William Powell shouldn’t expect big things, that offensive line is putrid, not like either one of these guys is the next big thing at running back…..QB John Skelton is said to be 90% healed, Kevin Kolb is still the starter, but if he were to falter, Skelton could get his job back.

Atlanta Falcons:  Are the Falcons the best team in the NFL?  Possibly, but they do seem to be the best team in the NFC, although they haven’t impressed the past two weeks as they squeaked by Carolina and Washington, but ugly wins are better than pretty losses…..Those football pundits who thought that RB Michael Turner had nothing left seem to be mistaken as Turner has looked good the past few weeks…..It’s to early to think about this, but if Atlanta doesn’t win a playoff game this year, QB Matt Ryan is going to be accused of not being able to win the big one.

Baltimore Ravens:  Well if QB Joe Flacco wants to be considered elite, he’s going to have to play just as good on the road as he does at home, that was a pretty bad performance at Kansas City last week…..How will Baltimore attack the Dallas defense this week?  Dallas is strong against the pass, average against the run, with the amount of mistakes the Cowboys have been making on offense, might be wise to play it close to the vest and just wait for them to turn the ball over.

Buffalo Bills:  Someone might want to tell the Bills that the 49ers team they played last week didn’t have QB Steve Young or RB Jerry Rice on it, that was 600 yards of offense they gave up…..C.J. Spiller still seems to be trying to recover from his shoulder injury of a few weeks back as he doesn’t seem to be the same explosive player he was early on this season…..The defense however should have a better time of it this week against a Cardinal offense that has issues of their own on offense.

Carolina Panthers:  Amazing what a difference a year can make for QB Cam Newton.  Not only is he being criticized for poor play, but also for his attitude on the sidelines during games.  Once again that should get better in time, but his poor play is due to teams taking WR Steve Smith out of the games, forcing him to look elsewhere.  Defenses did the same thing in the second half of last season, and the Panthers have yet to adjust.  Might be nice if the running game would pick it up also to take some of the pressure off.

Chicago Bears:  When was the last time a defense scored two touchdowns in back to back games, by the same two defensive players.  Linebacker Lance Briggs and CB Charles Tillman have pulled it off.  Shame they have a bye coming up this week…..Chicago has to love the shape their in this season.  Green Bay is having all sort of problems and could be 2-4 after this week.  Detroit can’t get their high flying offense off the ground, and I don’t think they are all to worried about the hot start that Minnesota has gotten off to.  Plus the bye week will allow them to get RBs Matt Forte and Michael Bush back to full strength.

Cincinnati Bengals:  I know Miami is an improved team, but if the Bengals want to be taken somewhat seriously, you can’t lose to them…..What has happened to RB Benjarvus Green-Ellis?  That was 13 whole yards he rushed for last week.  They will need him to pick it up now that there really isn’t anyone available to help out with the loss of Bernard Scott for the season…..Fantasy wise, QB Andy Dalton is someone to watch.  He can at least be a good bye week filler.

Cleveland Browns:  Wait, I think the Giants just scored another touchdown against the Browns defense.  CB Joe Haden will return this week after serving his four game suspension, doubt he will solve all of their problems on that side of the ball, but he will help…..Have to wonder why the Browns got cute in their game calling in the second half last week, having QB Brandon Weeden throw on a couple of 3rd/4th and short plays rather than run the ball with Trent Richardson.  Isn’t this why you took Richardson in the 1st round?

Dallas Cowboys:  The Cowboys are hoping the bye will help them solve their problems, but playing in Baltimore is more than likely not where you want to visit to figure out what’s wrong.  Baltimore hasn’t lost at home in what seems like forever, and Dallas has never defeated Baltimore anywhere…..The key to the Cowboys is the offensive line, protect Romo, open up holes for DeMarco Murray and all of the other problems go away…..Dallas has two punters on their roster (only team in the NFL that does) and both are hurt.

Denver Broncos:  Defensive end Elvis Dumervil had a slow start to the season, but has picked up his play of late with three sacks in his last three games.  If Elvis can be the same player he was before injury cost him the 2011 season, than the Broncos will have a pretty good 1-2 punch with him and LB Von Miller…..Peyton Manning’s deep ball still doesn’t look all that crisp, but who cares, for the second consecutive game he looked great in throwing for over 300 yards.

Detroit Lions:  Detroit is another team that needed the bye week to fix some problems.  Mainly problems on their offense.  What has happened to the aerial assault.  Seems teams are doing their best to take WR Calvin Johnson out of the game and force QB Matthew Stafford to find another way to beat them.  The Lions need either WR Titus Young or Nate Burleson to step up their game.  Would be a bonus if RB Mikel Leshoure can give them a true threat in the running game as well.

Green Bay Packers:  It’s understandable that the passing game would suffer a bit.  WR Greg Jennings has missed a good part of the season due to a groin injury he can’t seem to get over.  He’s likely to miss this week as well, but what has happened to WR Jordy Nelson?  James Jones seems to be the go to guy for QB Aaron Rodgers right now…..Running back Cedric Benson was put in the IR this week, but could return later this season, for now look at Alex Green and James Starks to share the rushing load.  This might not be a bad thing for Green Bay as both are better receivers out of the backfield than Benson.

Houston Texans:  Huge loss for the Texans on Monday when LB Brian Cushing was lost of the year when he tore his ACL on a questionable hit from the Jets Matt Slauson.  Slauson took out the knees of Cushing from the side on a block.  He is likely to hear from the NFL if they deem it an illegal hit.  The hit itself seems to be in gray area as far as chop blocks are concerned.  Question for me is this, why are chop blocks legal in any situation?  If we’re looking to protect the players, this should be removed from an offensive lineman’s arsenal.

Indianapolis Colts:  The Colts lost RB Donald Brown for 2-3 weeks Wednesday when it was announced that he will undergo knee surgery, look for Vick Ballard and Mewelde Moore to handle the load in his absence, LB Robert Mathis will also miss the same amount of time with a knee injury of his own…..In deeper fantasy leagues, if you’re looking for a WR don’t forget about Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  Wide receiver Laurent Robinson still hasn’t passed his concussion test and won’t play this week…..Have to wonder if the Jags are starting to wonder if Blaine Gabbert is their quarterback of the future or if they will have to be in the market for one in the off-season.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  The Chiefs’ fans have taken a beating this week, and rightfully so, after cheering when QB Matt Cassel went down with an injury last week.  That being said, Cassel is more than likely going to miss a game or two and possibly more as he was playing pretty badly anyway.  Brady Quinn will get a chance to start in his place and could keep the job with a good performance or two.  This may be Cassel’s last year in a KC uniform…..Might be nice if RB Peyton Hillis would play sometime soon, but he still isn’t practicing with that ankle injury.

Miami Dolphins:  Whereas a team like the Jaguars may not know if they have their QB of the future or not, Miami can be pretty sure that they do as Ryan Tannehill certainly looks like the real deal, imagine what he might do once he has a true number one receiver…..RB Daniel Thomas suffered another concussion last week, his second of the season, not a good thing for a player who has to lead with his head so often.

Minnesota Vikings:   Some people believe that WR Percy Harvin deserves some MVP consideration.  He’s having a very good year, but not sure I can go that far.  Adrian Peterson owners though have to be livid that he keeps getting running plays inside the 10 yard line…..It doesn’t look like the injury to WR Jerome Simpson will keep him out long.  He suffered a back injury that sapped the strength out of his legs.  There was some thought that he could miss a considerable amount of time, but now it looks like he could return this weekend.

New England Patriots:  Fantasy owners have to love the big numbers that RB Stevan Ridley is putting up, but they also have to be extremely worried what might happen to his playing time should he put the ball on the ground another time or two, especially with that offense and the fact that Brandon Bolden is running well also…..WR Brandon Lloyd has been okay so far this season, but not the big play guy we had envisioned when he signed with New England…..Tight end Aaron Hernandez could return to the lineup this week, just what this offense needs, another weapon.

New Orleans Saints:  Congratulations to QB Drew Breese for setting the record with 49 straight games with a touchdown pass, have a feeling though that in today’s NFL, this record won’t last forever…..WR Lance Moore missed the game with a groin injury, than TE Jimmy Graham injured his ankle early on, both contributed to Devery Henderson having a big game.  If I’m a fantasy owner I tap the breaks however, Moore and Graham should be healthy after the break which could lead to Henderson once again being nothing more than a deep threat.

New York Giants:  Hello RB Ahmad Bradshaw and welcome to the 2012 NFL season.  If he can become consistent and make defenses respect the running game as well as the passing game, look out, this offense will be extremely difficult to stop, but one thing to consider, the Giants three wins have come against Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and Carolina, not exactly the greatest defenses on the planet…..WR Hakeem Nicks missed another game due to the knee injury and while there are some rumors that it may be serious and possibly require surgery, he is listed as questionable to play Sunday against the 49ers.

New York Jets:  The Jets seem to have no idea how to use QB Tim Tebow.  He is only playing a handful of plays each game.  Now I’m not a big fan of Tebow, but the Jets have no running game, and next to nothing at WR.  They seem to know that Mark Sanchez isn’t the answer at QB and the season is circling the drain.  Wouldn’t now be the time to start Tebow?  He may not be the greatest passer, but he is a football player and might be able to move the offense in his own way, whether that’s running with the ball, passing it, or just being a decoy.  Seems they don’t really have anything to lose at this point in time.

Oakland Raiders:  Have to feel bad for the Raiders.  They don’t have a ton of talent on the field and are still down a few draft picks from past trades.  It could be quite a few years before they turn it around…..WR Darius Heyward-Bey who missed the last game (9/23) with a concussion, has been cleared to play this weekend.

Philadelphia Eagles:  All of the attention for the Eagles has been on QB Michael Vick and all the turnovers he has committed so far this season which is masking that the Eagles haven’t put as much pressure on opposing quarterbacks as what was expected coming into the season.  Where have you gone DEs Trent Cole and Jason Babin?…..Speaking of Vick, if you’re a fantasy owner of his, this has to be the weekend he goes off doesn’t it?  They are playing Detroit for crying out loud.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  The good news for the Steelers is that RB Rashard Mendenhall returned to the lineup last week and looked really good, this should allow the Steelers to be more balanced and even more dangerous on offense from this point forward…..The bad news is that S Troy Polamalu and LB Lamarr Woodley are out for the game Thursday due to injury, not that the Steelers will have much of a problem defeating Tennessee with or without these two players.

San Diego Chargers:  I can understand the need to punish RB Ryan Matthews and start Jackie Battle in Week 4.  You need to make a point and let Matthews know he has to be more careful with the ball, but to start Battle again this week just seemed petty.  Matthews did end up having a great game anyway and should be the starter from this point forward…..Can’t say I was shocked that WR Robert Meacham had a big game against his former team Sunday night, he had two touchdowns, and would’ve had a third, but he dropped it.

San Francisco 49ers:  Already talked about the 600 yards of offense the 49ers put up last week, 300 both in rushing and passing, just incredible…..Now not everything was rosy, QB Alex Smith did suffer a sprained finger on his throwing hand, but it looks to be a minor injury that won’t affect his availability for the game this weekend…..QB Colin Kaepernick has done a great job in limited playing time and once again looks like the QB of the future in SF, but that future is not now.

Seattle Seahawks:  The Seahawks defense gets another test this week as Tom Brady and the Patriots come to town.  Have a feeling the defense will play well, but not well enough to win as the offense just isn’t prepared to beat a team like the Pats yet.  Also wonder if Russell Wilson’s days as the starting QB are coming to an end.  Matt Flynn is getting healthy now and would seem to have a better chance at moving the offense than Wilson does.

St. Louis Rams:  Good news for the Rams this week is that RB Steven Jackson is not on the injury report this week bad news is that WR Danny Amendola will miss the next six weeks or so after suffering a shoulder injury last week.  Rams can’t afford this kind of hit to their offense, they don’t have much depth there to begin with, might be about time for TE Lance Kendricks to live up to his potential.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  What to make of the Bucs?  WRs Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are off to good starts.  Williams is certainly benefitting from no longer being the main guy.  The running game is solid with Doug Martin in the backfield, just be nice if the defense picked things up…..

Tennessee Titans:  So much for RB Chris Johnson turning things around.  He had another pathetic performance last week versus Minnesota, this offense will go nowhere until he can figure out how to turn things around…..WR Kenny Britt is another problem, he always seems to be hurt, and even when he does play, he doesn’t contribute much…..Of course we can’t leave out the QB position.  Jake Locker will miss the game Thursday, leaving Matt Hasselbeck behind center once again.  Good luck with  Pittsburgh Tennessee.

Washington Redskins:  I know running QBs are all the rage nowadays, and Robert Griffin III is no different, but just like last week, if he keeps running and taking hits, he’s going to miss some action, especially as the season goes on, he may be big for a human, 6’2″ and 215 lbs, but for a football player, that’s average size.  Learn to slide and/or go out of bounds and you will live to play another day.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  Arizona has to be the surprise team so far this NFL season as I don’t even think those fine folks living in the dessert would’ve have thought the Cards would be undefeated at this point in the season…..RB Beanie Wells was put on IR but could be recalled later in the season thanks to that new rule that allows teams to recall one player from IR during the season…..QB John Skelton is back practicing with the team, but won’t regain his starting job, not unless Kevin Kolb falters sometime in the future.

Atlanta Falcons:  Now the Falcons are a 4-0 team that shouldn’t surprise anyone.  We all knew the Falcons were good, how good remains to be seen, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter what they do in the regular season, only how they perform during the playoffs…..RB Michael Turner showed last week that the reports of his demise may have been greatly exaggerated as he had a huge game both running and receiving last week.  If he can make teams respect the running game, than Atlanta is about as close to unstoppable on offense as a team can be.

Baltimore Ravens:  The Ravens didn’t look all that impressive in beating the Browns last week, but not every game is going to look great, only matters that at the end, they won the game…..QB Joe Flacco certainly looks like an improved QB, WR Torrey Smith gives him the deep threat he needs to loosen defenses up, which opens up the underneath routes for Anquan Boldin, not to mention what it does for RB Ray Rice and the running game…..If LB Terrell Suggs is able to come back this season from his torn Achilles and be the player he always was, than look out as this team is going to be tough to beat.

Buffalo Bills:  So much for the Bills doing a massive upgrade on their defense during the off-season.   That’s twice this season that they have been shredded by teams in their own division, not a good sign…..What is a good sign was RBs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson returning in Week 4, the Bills may be forced to score quite a few points on offense to keep up with opposing teams if their defense doesn’t figure things out.

Carolina Panthers:  Sooner or later the Panthers were going to eat it by having QB Cam Newton continue to run the ball.  Newton ran the ball late in the fourth quarter and fumbled, had he held onto the ball he would’ve had a first down and the Panthers would’ve won the game, instead, the ball went back to Atlanta and Carolina ended up on the wrong end of a game winning field goal.  Isn’t this why you signed RB Mike Tolbert, for short yardage situations?

Chicago Bears:  The Bears put a beat down on the Cowboys on Monday Night Football.  For one game at least the coaching staff figured out how to protect QB Jay Cutler as Dallas didn’t get much pressure on the oft-maligned QB, thus allowing Cutler to carve up their secondary…..The return of RB Matt Forte was also a boost for the offense.  Forte is not 100% healthy yet from the ankle injury but still looked pretty good in big D.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Lions WR Calvin Johnson may be in a class by himself when it comes to ranking wideouts, but A.J. Green is gaining ground pretty quickly and with Armon Binns and Andrew Hawkins giving defenses something to worry about opposite Green, the sky may be the limit for the type of numbers he may put up this season…..Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden (Jon’s brother), will almost certainly be a head coach next season, he’s going to be an extremely hot assistant.

Cleveland Browns:  WR Josh Cribbs who was absolutely crushed by a hit in the Baltimore game last week, practiced Wednesday and should be good to play Sunday…..K Phil Dawson deserves some accolades as he kicked field goals of 51, 52, and 50 yards in the loss to the Ravens, thus becoming the first kicker to hit three FGs of at least 50 yards in length.

Dallas Cowboys:  Once again Dallas laid an egg in their loss to the Bears on Monday night.  Quarterback Tony Romo threw five interceptions and have been taking his fair share of the blame.  Some even coming out and saying he’s just not a good QB and the like.  Listen, is Romo a great QB, no, but he’s in the top 10 ten.  If the Cowboys were to release Romo after the year, there would be teams lining up around the block to sign him.  Dallas has plenty of problems, mental awareness, coaching, offensive line, safeties, pass rush, and special teams just to name a few.  In the end, this is an average football team, nothing more, nothing less.

Denver Broncos:  Rookie RB Ronnie Hillman is not a threat to take Willis McGahee’s starting job, but he did show the reason why Denver has high hopes for him, especially as a receiver out of the backfield, he could be quite a weapon for QB Peyton Manning on third downs…..Speaking of Manning, he renews his rivalry with the Patriots this week.  Anyone else surprised that this game wasn’t on Sunday or Monday night?

Detroit Lions:  What is wrong with this vaunted passing offense?  Fantasy owners have to be freaking out right now.  Stafford ‘s ADP (average draft position) was as the fourth QB overall, as high as a second round pick, but he’s certainly not rewarding his owners as of this moment.  The problem seems to be that defenses are doing all they can to take WR Calvin Johnson out of the game and as of now no other receiver has stepped up to force defenses to play it more straight up.  Titus Young has been a huge disappointment right now  Perhaps the bye week will give the Lions the time they need to figure things out.

Green Bay Packers:  By just about anyone’s count the Packers were screwed by the replacement officials in Seattle, but the regulars referees did them no favors last week either.  Quite a few calls were missed including an obvious fumble by the Saints Darren Sproles on a kick return.  Good thing they won the game…..Wide receiver Greg Jennings admits that he may need to shut it down for a little while to rest his injured groin, once again this will be a good time for James Jones to show what he can do.  Jones seems to have a personality disorder each game in that you never know if it will be the good Jones or the bad one that shows up to play.

Houston Texans:  Houston came out this week and said they wouldn’t mind if RB Arian Foster touched the ball 400+ times this season.  Wow, really.  Way to take care of your star player.  They won’t do this of course, even if they were crazy enough to consider it, they could have the division wrapped up by Week 12 and only be playing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs, plus Ben Tate is a pretty good RB in his own right and could certainly take some of the load off of Foster.

Indianapolis Colts:  Our best wishes go out to coach Chuck Pagano after he was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this week.  Pagano is expected to be away from the team for at least six weeks.  Sort of puts everything into perspective now doesn’t it…..As for the team, DE Dwight Freeney is back practicing and should be good to go Sunday versus Green Bay…..Linebacker Pat Angerer who has yet to play this season due to a broken foot could also return this week but probably not in a full-time role yet.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  Anyone banking on WR Laurent Robinson this week might want to look in another direction.  Robinson seems unlikely to play as he is still dealing with concussion symptoms…..As for their other receiver, Justin Blackmon, well QB Blaine Gabbert finally threw a few passes his way last week, but one has to believe that Blackmon won’t reach his full potential until the Jags get a true number one QB, and I’m sold that Gabbert is it.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  You know things are going bad for QB Matt Cassel when rumors are that Brady Quinn might replace him.  Quinn is no one’s definition of a starter in waiting…..Running back Jamaal Charles is proving that there is nothing wrong with his surgically repaired knee as he is putting up huge rushing numbers, there does however seem to be something wrong with his hands as he keeps putting the ball on the ground…..The other RB, Peyton Hillis seems unlikely to play Sunday as he is still recovering from an ankle injury, that move hasn’t paid off so far for KC.

Miami Dolphins:  Rookie quarterback certainly looked good last week, throwing for over 400 yards against what is considered to be one of the better defenses in the NFL.  He made his share of mistakes, but perhaps the Dolphins have indeed found their QB of the future…..Running back Reggie Bush returned after missing most of the Jets game with a knee injury, he admits to still being a little sore, but otherwise cam through the game unscathed.

Minnesota Vikings:   Another surprise team.  Adrian Peterson certainly looks like the RB of old, amazing what he has done so far this season.  When healthy, he is the best RB in the NFL…..The return of WR Jerome Simpson from suspension should open things up for both WR Percy Harvin and the running game as safeties will have to respect the deep ball, should help out QB Christian Ponder also.

New England Patriots:  So much for the Patriots offense not running on all cylinders, I think they just scored another TD against the Bills defense…..Things aren’t all rosy however as TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez failed to practice Wednesday.  Hernandez shouldn’t’ surprise anyone, but Gronk should be a concern.  That hip injury just isn’t going away…..Raise your hand if you knew who RB Brandon Bolden was before the game last week.  Just another reason Stevan Ridley owners can’t trust coach Bill Belichick.

New Orleans Saints:  Can’t say that I’m surprised about the Saints struggling to start the season, but that doesn’t mean I saw 0-4 coming.  Lets you know how much they miss coach Sean Payton…..Wide receiver Lance Moore didn’t practice Wednesday as he is dealing with a hamstring injury.  Moore is usually a reliable receiver for the Saints, but had a case of the drops last week in Green Bay…..The Saints running game has been abysmal so far this season, you have to wonder if they will activate Chris Ivory this week to see what he can do.

New York Giants:  The Giants have put themselves into a tough spot in the early going this season.  Sure they are 2-2, but both losses have come within the division.  Come tiebreaker time, that could be a huge problem…..Another problem for the G-men is the health of WR Hakeem Nicks.  He missed yet another game Sunday due to a knee injury.  Coach Tom Coughlin has stated that Nicks is moving better this week, but one has to wonder if this will be a season long issue.

New York Jets:  Where to start with the Jets?  Wide receiver Santonio Holmes is gone for the season after suffering a foot injury during the game Sunday.  In back to back games now the Jets have lost probably the two players they can least afford to lose in Holmes and CB Darrelle Revis.  Couple this with QB Mark Sanchez obviously regressing and one has to wonder how long before the circus that is Tim Tebow takes over behind center.

Oakland Raiders:  Raiders have a bye this week and it’s pretty good timing as they need to figure out a way to get their running game, and more specifically Darren McFadden going.  Hard to believe how bottled up he has been to start the season…..The week off should also allow WR Darius Heyward-Bey to recover from neck and concussion issues.

Philadelphia Eagles:  Not sure how the Eagles are 3-1, they could easily be 0-4, it is definitely better to be lucky than good…..Somehow WR Jeremy Maclin was held to only one reception for seven yards against the Giants on Sunday, he’s definitely not healthy…..Fantasy owners in IDP leagues have to be a bit disappointed with the tackle totals of LB DeMeco Ryans, only 21 so far.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  The Steelers will get a huge boost to their defense this weekend as both S Troy Polamalu and LB James Harrison could return to the lineup…..Running back Rashard Mendenhall is also expected to return to action as he has recovered from knee surgery, perhaps the Steelers will get the more balanced attack they are after now…..Question now is who will be the main backup behind Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer or Isaac Redman?  Dwyer seems to be the better player but Redman may be more suited for the role.

San Diego Chargers:  Head coach Norv Turner and the Chargers were definitely trying to send a message to RB Ryan Matthews that the fumbling has go to stop by playing Jackie Battle over him in certain situations last week.  The team hasn’t lost faith in Matthews, but Battle may have earned more playing time than first thought with his play, including the carries at the goal line…..So far free agent addition WR Robert Meacham has been a huge bust but one has to think if he is going to break out of it, this week would be the week.

San Francisco 49ers:  How impressive was QB Colin Kaepernick last week versus the Jets?  He performed the wildcat to perfection, looking like a true threat to QB Alex Smith should he falter at all…..The 49ers weren’t kidding when they said they were going to monitor the snaps for WR Randy Moss, he’s barely playing and has been a non entity so far this season.  Have to wonder if he is a volcano waiting to erupt, and I don’t mean with his play on the field.

Seattle Seahawks:  The play of QB Russell Wilson has regressed to the point where the Matt Flynn watch is on.  Flynn is recovering from tendinitis in his elbow and could be ready to start as early as next week should Wilson struggle again Thursday versus St. Louis…..Without RB Marshawn Lynch this offense is going nowhere fast.

St. Louis Rams:  Running back Steven Jackson is still dealing with a groin injury and may not be at full strength for quite some time but should still play…..WR Danny Amendola is dealing with an ankle injury but is also expected to play…..The Rams are getting better but not fast enough to make a dent in the NFC West this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  Fantasy owners had to be dismayed last week when RB LeGarrette Blount had a goal line carry for a TD last week.  Doug Martin looked to have a strangle hold on the job, but perhaps Blount has squeezed his way into more playing time…..Mike Williams is having a solid season at WR for Tampa, amazing what having Vincent Jackson on the other side can do for you.

Tennessee Titans:  Welcome back RB Chris Johnson.  The Titans may have lost yet another game last week, but Johnson did manage to show that he still can play after all…..Quarterback Jake Locker won’t be playing though as he got crushed, dislocating his non-throwing shoulder.  Matt Hasselbeck starts this week, not sure what happens next week, Locker will have to prove he can take a hit before getting back in a game…..Kenny Britt could return to action this week giving Hasselbeck a deep target to hit.

Washington Redskins:  Pierre Garcon looks to be fully recovered from his foot injury and should once again be the deep threat that QB Robert Griffin III needs…..RB Alfred Morris may finally end the Mike Shanahan curse at running back for fantasy owners, but the signing of Ryan Grant has to give fantasy owners some pause…..Don’t give up on TE Fred Davis yet, have a feeling the Skins are going to get him more involved in the offense as the season progresses.

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

All Out Blitz: NFL News & Notes

Arizona Cardinals:  Are the Cardinals for real?  Well their defense certainly is.  After shutting down the Seahawks in Week One, no one really gave them much credit as the Hawks don’t possess much of an offense, but shutting down the Patriots, now that is quite an accomplishment…..Things aren’t all rosy in Arizona though, WR Larry Fitzgerald only caught one pass for four yards, combine that with a lack of a running game and you don’t have an offense that is running on all cylinders.

Atlanta Falcons:  The Falcons had to temper their enthusiasm over a 2-0 start when RB Michael Turner was arrested for speeding and DWI after the game.  This is Turner’s first offense so he will more than likely only receive a fine and not a suspension…..Staying on Turner, he certainly looks like his best days are far behind him.  He has not only slowed down, but looks like he has aged about a decade in one off-season.  Sooner or later the Falcons are going to need a running game and they may just not have one.

Baltimore Ravens:  As good as QB Joe Flacco was last week, he couldn’t keep up the momentum versus the Eagles.  The Eagles turned the ball over quite a few times to the Ravens but the offense was unable to take advantage and the defense let up the game winning score late in the 4th quarter…..Have to wonder why when Baltimore had a 4th and 2 with under two minutes to play, that RB Ray Rice was not on the field.  Don’t they know that he is one of the best players in the game?

Buffalo Bills:  Running back Fred Jackson may be the new Wally Pipp.  He’s not getting his job back when he returns to action.  C.J. Spiller is just to good and gives the Bills a dynamic playmaker each and every time he touches the ball…..As for Jackson, he has lateral movement in his knee and won’t require surgery, could be back in action in early October.

Carolina Panthers:  Running back Jonathan Stewart could miss the game Thursday as he is dealing with a toe injury, DeAngelo Williams would certainly get a bump in fantasy leagues if Stewart is inactive…..WR Steve Smith is probably licking his lips at going up against the Giants secondary, a secondary that has been roasted in back to back weeks.

Chicago Bears:  Quarterback Jay Cutler has been raked over the coals for pushing one of his offensive lineman during the Green Bay game.  While Cutler was right to be upset and even to chew out the OL, to physically put your hands on someone can’t be tolerated.  That lineman could put Cutler over his knee and break him in two had he so chosen…..Running back Matt Forte apparently doesn’t have a high ankle sprain but is still highly unlikely to play Sunday, Michael Bush should fill in nicely though.

Cincinnati Bengals:  Running Back Bernard Scott has practiced in full all week and should be ready to backup BenJarvus Green-Ellis this week…..If you’re wondering who the second receiver is in Cincinnati behind A.J. Green, it seems to be Armon Binns.  Sure Andrew Hawkins had the highlight reel touchdown last week, but Binns was targeted quite a few more times.

Cleveland Browns:  Whereas RB Trent Richardson and QB Brandon Weeden didn’t look good in Week 1, they picked up their play dramatically in Week 2, perhaps easing fears about whether or not they can play at this level…..LB Scott Fujita has practiced all week and should be ready to make his season debut Sunday.  Fujita also angered the NFL by not showing up for his meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell concerning the bounty scandal, he may play this week, but odds are there is another suspension coming.

Dallas Cowboys:  What happened to the Cowboys against Seattle on Sunday.  They had 11 days to prepare for the game after an impressive victory over the Giants and played like they would beat the Seahawks just by getting off the plane.  Felix Jones fumbled the opening kickoff (why Jones still has a roster spot still remains to be explained) leading to a field goal, than Chris Jones had a punt blocked.  Just a terrible performance.  Throw in the fact that Seattle ran the ball down their throats and it should be interesting to see how Dallas responds this week in their home opener.

Denver Broncos:  One has to be a little bit worried about quarterback Peyton Manning after his performance on Monday Night Football versus Atlanta.  It’s not so much the three interceptions that should be a concern as the fact that his deep balls tended to float and lacked zip.  Peyton may not be all the way back yet, or perhaps his fastball has lost a few MPHs.  Problem is if opposing teams don’t respect the deep pass than they can play closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the running and short passing game.

Detroit Lions:  The Lions offense hasn’t been running on all cylinders at the start of the season.  What could be the problem?  Well for one, defenses seem to be doing all they can to take WR Calvin Johnson out of the game, forcing QB Matthew Stafford to hit one of his other receivers (Titus Young, Nate Burleson).  Neither one of them have stepped up to date.  The lack for a running game hasn’t helped any either, but perhaps that is one problem that can be solved to some degree with the return of RB Mike Leshoure from suspension this week.

Green Bay Packers:  The Packers are another high octane offense that hasn’t hit its stride yet.  As good a tight end as Jermichael Finley may be, he drops an awful lot of passes as has to be losing the confidence of QB Aaron Rodgers.  Rodgers also can’t be to thrilled with WR James Jones.  Jones cost Rodgers an interception last week by not running his route in front of the cornerback, instead he cut behind him, a cardinal scene for a receiver.  The return of WR Greg Jennings this week should help.

Houston Texans:  Are the Texans the best team in the AFC?  Quite possibly.  Their running game is second to none.  Arian Foster and Ben Tate make up the best running back duo in the NFL.  Tate could easily be a starter on most team but instead plays second fiddle to Foster.  The key to the Texans will more than likely be the continued health of QB Matt Schaub and WR Andre Johnson, and if the Texans ever find a competent receiver to play opposite Johnson, look out.

Indianapolis Colts:  Congratulation to QB Andrew Luck on his first career victory, the first of what should be many more to come…..LB Dwight Freeney still hasn’t practiced since suffering a high ankle sprain and isn’t going to play this week…..WR Austin Collie is once again practicing in full, but that was also the case last week before he suffered a setback and missed the game.

Jacksonville Jaguars:  First the good news, if you can call QB Blaine Gabbert being healthy and practicing good news.  He had to leave the game last week with a glute injury but seems healthy and should start Sunday versus Indianapolis.  Now the bad news, RB Rashard Jennings has not practiced this week and is unlikely to play Sunday, this should mean a healthy dose of Maurice Jones-Drew in the ground game, but remember fantasy owners, the Colts defense did shut down the Vikings Adrian Peterson  last week.

Kansas  City Chiefs:  Speaking of fantasy owners, they can’t be all that happy that RB Jamaal Charles hasn’t seen the field much in the first two games.  Seems like his knee is acting up a bit and the Chiefs are going to be very careful with their franchise player…..S Eric Berry also doesn’t seem to be 100% healthy as he only had five tackles through the first two games.

Miami Dolphins:  Perhaps RB Reggie Bush wasn’t just blowing smoke when he stated that his goal for the 2012 season was to lead the league in rushing.  Still doubt this is going to be possible as sooner or later defenses are going to stack the line of scrimmage to stop him, thus forcing rookie QB Ryan Tannehill to find someone to pass the ball to…..RB Daniel Thomas has been cleared to play this week after recovering from a concussion suffered in Week 1.

Minnesota Vikings:  Running back Adrian Peterson may not have had big numbers last week but at least he has proven himself to be completely recovered from the knee injury that ended his 2011 season prematurely…..DE Jared Allen has yet to record a sack this season….WR Percy Harvin has certainly developed into one of the better receivers in the NFL, a true threat to go all the way every time he touches the ball.

New England Patriots:  What is going on between coach Bill Belichick and WR Wes Welker.  Welker seems to be paying the price for not signing his franchise tender on time and complaining about the lack of a long-term contract.  Doesn’t make much sense that he is behind Julian Edelman on the wide receiver pecking order…..Like the Lions and Packers, the Patriots offense has also had its problems, this mainly seems to stem from the problem the offensive line is having in protecting QB Tom Brady.

New Orleans Saints:  Most thought that the suspension of coach Sean Peyton for the season would hurt, but not kill the Saints.  Well it’s starting to look like his loss is taking a bigger toll on the offense than first thought.  The play calling has been off and the offense has been far from consistent.  What may really be hurting the Saints is the lack of a speed receiver that can force safeties to respect the deep ball.  Devery Henderson used to be that player, but he is incredibly inconsistent and also has a knack of getting hurt.

New York Giants:  The Giants are dealing with quite a few injuries to some key offensive players.  RB Ahmad Bradshaw is dealing with a neck sprain that will force him to miss at least the game Thursday versus Carolina.  Andre Brown is likely to handle the bulk of the rushing duties as coach Tom Coughlin still seems hesitant in trusting rookie David Wilson.  WR Hakeem Nicks will also miss the game as he is dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired foot after being stepped on last week.  Before to much panic sets in, let’s remember the Giants defeated the Patriots last season during the regular season without these two.

New York Jets:  I’m not a big fan of QB Tim Tebow or the wildcat offense, but I was still asking myself last week during the Steeler game (a game the Jets lost 27-10) why Tebow didn’t play more.  He came in for three play which netted close to 30 yds, but then the Jets went back to Mark Sanchez.  If you’re not going to use Tebow in this situation, than why exactly did you trade for him?…..Cornerback Darrelle Revis (concussion)  has been cleared for contact and will play this weekend, tight end Dustin Keller (hamstring) probably won’t.

Oakland Raiders:  Who saw the Raiders being demolished by the Dolphins last week?  I didn’t.  This is going to be another long season for the silver and black…..LB Rolando McClain who suffered a concussion during the game Sunday, yet still finished the game, has been cleared to play this week.  HIs IDP owners can rejoice.

Philadelphia Eagles:  The Eagles may have become the first team in history to win their first two games by a point, but if they keep turning the ball over that’s going to change in a hurry.  Quarterback Michael Vick has thrown six interceptions and RB LeSean McCoy has fumbled twice leading the turnover parade.  What has to concern the Eagles most is Vick’s terrible decision making when under pressure.  He just seems to put the ball up for grabs.  Perhaps all of the hits he has taken over the years are adding up…..WR Jeremy Maclin had a hip pointer coming into the game then suffered a hip contusion during the game.  He didn’t kill fantasy owners as his one catch went for a touchdown however.  Maclin is unlikely to play Sunday but will more than likely be a game-time decision.

Pittsburgh Steelers:  The Steelers have a bye in Week 4 and while most teams may complain about an early bye it could be a good thing for Pittsburgh as it will give their offensive line some time to gel, plus get injured players like LB James Harrison, S Troy Polamalu, and RB Rashard Mendenhall back in the lineup at full speed, just in time to face the Ravens.

San Diego Chargers:  Something that can’t be a surprise to Saints observers is that QB Phillip Rivers doesn’t seem to have all that much faith in free agent addition WR Robert Meacham.  Meacham is the definition of a boom or bust player and right now most fantasy owners seem to be leaning towards the latter.  Perhaps these two will get on the same page as the season rolls along…..RB Ryan Matthews has been cleared for full contact and should play this week versus Atlanta.  This should certainly help the Chargers offense as now teams will have to respect the run game.

San Francisco 49ers:  Are the 49ers the best team in the NFL?  Hard to see where they’re not.  We all know their defense is lights out but it’s their offense that seems to have taken a big step up.  Now that offense led by QB Alex Smith isn’t going to light up the scoreboard, but it can also do more than just manage the game.  They can score points when they have to…..How long will it take before WR Randy Moss starts to complain about his playing time?  He was only on the field for 16 snaps last week, catching one pass, ticking time bomb if you ask me.

Seattle Seahawks:  The Seahawks had a great game plan against the Cowboys last week as they outcoached the boys on offense and defense.  They are an old school defense that believes in punching you in the mouth and seeing if you will respond.  Same with the offense as they will try and run the ball down your throat, even when you know what they are trying to do.  Sooner or later though they will have to score points and it remains to be seen if they can do so with Russell Wilson behind center.

St. Louis Rams:  For those who watched the Rams game last week it certainly looked like coach Jeff Fisher had benched RB Steven Jackson after he took a 15 yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after disagreeing with an official’s call, but the Rams are saying that Jackson was dealing with a tight groin.  This seems to be the truth as Jackson has yet to practice this week and his availability for the game Sunday is certainly in doubt…..QB Sam Bradford looks a 100 times better so far this season than last.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:  The addition of Vincent Jackson at wide receiver has certainly paid off early this season.  Not only has Jackson given QB Josh Freeman a true number one option to throw to but it has also put Mike Williams in a complementary role, a role he is excelling at right now…..As good as the offense played last week versus the Giants, that was over 500 yards passing the defense let up to Eli Manning.  Wow, the Giants have a good passing offense, but we’re not talking about the greatest passing team of all time.  Things don’t get much easier this week going into Dallas to play Tony Romo and his toys in the Cowboys home opener.

Tennessee Titans:  Things are a complete mess in Nashville.  RB Chris Johnson is blaming everyone but himself for his slow start, but he certainly looks like a completely different back since he signed the big contract and QB Jake Locker has gotten off to a really slow start to the season…..The good news is that WR Kenny Britt will return to a full slate of this week, perhaps his deep speed will open up some running lanes for Johnson.

Washington Redskins:  Anyone who saw the ending of the Skins/Rams game last week has to be a little surprised that WR Josh Morgan still has a roster spot at this point in time.  Morgan was the player who took a 15 yard penalty on the final drive by throwing a football at CB Cortland Finnegan after a play.  This penalty took the Skins out of field goal range (the Skins did try a 60+ yd fg that missed badly).

 

Feel free to follow me on Twitter, @georgekurtz

Leatherheads National Championship

The Leatherheads National Playoffs are our mythical national championship tournament in which our regular pollsters pick the winners of a bracket consisting of the teams in our regular season final top 16. Each pollster is allocated a fixed number of votes to spread across all the games, thus allowing them to place a heavier weight on the winners they have more confidence in. [Read more…]