December 17, 2017

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: Believe it or not, the Cardinals are still in the playoff hunt – now granted they still need the Falcons and Lions to lose both games but they are alive. Though there was some talk that coach Ken Whisenhunt’s job could be in jeopardy early in the season, this finish would seem to indicate that his job is safe…..Speaking of job’s that are safe, QB Kevin Kolb is still considered the Cards starter even though he has been outplayed by John Skelton while he has been dealing with a toe injury and a concussion. The Cards believe Kolb will be fine as soon as he gets an entire off-season with the team.

Atlanta Falcons: The Falcons will clinch a playoff berth with one more win and can still win the division if they win their last two games and the Saints lose both. Now you may think that is farfetched and while I admit it is unlikely, the Falcons do play the Saints on Monday night, and next week the Falcons have a gimme game versus Tampa while New Orleans will play Carolina. It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility, the problem though is that both of the Saints remaining games are at home. It is hard to see them losing twice in the Superdome.

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens certainly laid an egg versus the Chargers last week, but still control the AFC North thanks to the Steelers loss to the 49ers…..How far the Ravens will go in the playoff might be directly proportionate to how well QB Joe Flacco plays. He has been the definition of inconsistency and certainly needs the help that RB Ray Rice can provide. The running game will open up things in the passing game, especially for WR Torrey Smith who can get behind any safety.

Buffalo Bills: With the emergence of RB C.J. Spiller, what will the Bills do next season with Fred Jackson? Jackson was leading the league in rushing when he went down for the season but Spiller is showing that he might be able to handle the full-time role as well. It’s a good problem to have, especially in today’s NFL where having two solid RBs seems to be a must…..The way QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has played since signing his big contract, one has to wonder if the Bills will cut bait and go in a different direction next season, especially before his bonus kicks in.

Carolina Panthers: If the Panthers can build a defense next season, at least an average one, and add another receiver or two to their current crop, they could be a team to watch…..QB Cam Newton should only get better and the NFC South should be a fun division to play in for years to come.

Chicago Bears: What a disaster this season has been for the Bears. They were well on their way to a playoff spot before losing QB Jay Cutler to a broken thumb and RB Matt Forte to a knee injury. QB Caleb Hanie has just been terrible and cost the Bears any chance they had at a playoff spot…..Josh McCown will start for the Bears versus the Packers on Christmas night and he will do so without WR Johnny Knox who is out for the season after suffering a back injury last week.

Cincinnati Bengals: You have to hand it to WR A.J. Green. He suffered a third-degree separation of his shoulder during the game last week but continued to try to play. The man has heart. His status for this week is unknown as the Bengals need to win out to have a shot at making the playoffs, something that looked like a definite about a month ago. It won’t be easy as they play the Cardinals this week, a team with an outside shot at the playoffs, and then the Ravens who will probably need the game to clinch the AFC North.

Cleveland Browns: We’ve all heard the hoopla surrounding the concussion suffered by QB Colt McCoy and how the Browns handled it. Well, McCoy still has concussion symptoms and Seneca Wallace is likely to start once again…..The NFL did change their concussion protocol once again as there will be a concussion specialist assigned to each team who will be in the booth to make sure that any player who is being treated by the medical staff will be looked at for a possible concussion.

Dallas Cowboys: Here is the situation for the Cowboys and their hopes of winning the NFC East, if they win their last two games versus the Eagles and Giants, they win the division, if the Giants lose to the Jets on Saturday and the Cowboys beat the Eagles later that day, it’s over, if the Giants and Cowboys both lose Saturday, than the Cowboys can clinch with a win over the Giants in Week 17, the Cowboys can also clinch the wild card with a win Saturday, loss in Week 17 if the Falcons lose twice, and the Cardinals lose once, fun fun fun…..RB Felix Jones is dealing with a hamstring injury, should come as no shock as Jones has never been able to stay healthy for any long period of time, Sammy Morris could get more carries than usual, and if the Giants win at 1pm Saturday, Dallas would have very little to play for at 4pm, and may rest Jones for what would be a winner take all game in Week 17.

Denver Broncos: Well QB Tim Tebow finally lost another game, sooner or later the magic run was going to end, but the Broncos are still in good shape and with the Raiders collapsing Denver is still the odds on favorite to win the division, Tebow has gotten better, should be interesting to see what a full off-season can do for him as Broncos GM John Elway announced this week the Tebow will be with the team next season.

Detroit Lions: The Lions are also on the verge of clinching a playoff spot and one win will do, they don’t have much of a running game, and their defense has major holes, but that passing game seems to get more dangerous each and every week as QB Matthew Stafford gains more and more trust in WR Titus Young…..The running game is still a problem as Kevin Smith is still hobbled by an ankle sprain, he will more than likely start this week, question is, can he finish?

Green Bay Packers: Although the Packers won’t have an undefeated season, the loss might be the best thing for them, they are a banged up team suffering two more losses to their offensive line during the game, we all know their defense isn’t very good, if they can’t protect QB Aaron Rodgers and allow them to score at will, than this season may not have a magical ending…..Rodgers has taken some heat for an off week in their loss to the Chiefs in Week 15, but truth is his receivers dropped at least a half-dozen passes, the biggest culprit being TE Jermichael Finley who has had a problem with the drops all year.

Houston Texans: The Texans look like a team that just may be running out of gas, losing a starting QB in Matt Schaub will do that as you can’t keep settling for field goals instead of touchdowns, be surprised if they weren’t one and done in the playoffs…..WR Andre Johnson could certainly help the offense but he won’t play in Week 16, there is a chance however that he could play in Week 17, but once again there could be very little incentive to play him in the final game of the season, his health for the playoffs is much more important.

Indianapolis Colts: Not only will there not be an undefeated team this season, but their won’t be a winless team either as the Colts finally managed to outscore an opponent…..RB Donald Brown had a big game including an 80 yard romp to ice the game late in the 4th quarter, he may be the front-runner to be Colts number one back next season…..Speaking of next season, the Colts are no longer a shoo-in to get the number one pick, which would alleviate all the problems of what to do with QB Peyton Manning…..Speaking of Manning, the Colts announced that he won’t practice with the team for the remainder of the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars: You have to love the season RB Maurice Jones-Drew is having with virtually no passing attack, not sure why defenses don’t put 8-9 guys in the box, not like they have to worry about QB Blaine Gabbert beating them over the top…..

Kansas City Chiefs: What a game by the Chiefs last week in handing the Packers their first loss, coach Romeo Crennel deserves credit for turning this team around, perhaps he will have a chance to get the top job on more than an interim basis next season…..The Chiefs are actually still alive for the division title, now they have to win both and have Denver and Oakland lose both along with San Diego losing at least one of two, but they do play the Raiders this week and Denver next week, so there is a chance.

Miami Dolphins: Whoever is the new head coach of the Dolphins next season will have an interesting dilemma, what to do with RBs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas?, Bush has proven this season that he can indeed handle the every down role and rush the ball between the tackles while Thomas has yet to prove much of anything, that being said Thomas is the bigger back and he was drafted to be the lead back, probably a good problem to have, but a problem none the less…..WR Brandon Marshall has had a solid season, but it would’ve been so much better if he would stop dropping TD passes, that was two more last Sunday.

Minnesota Vikings: RB Adrian Peterson teased fantasy owners last week by only rushing the ball 10 times, he did get 60 yards on those carries but in the end he may have cost quite a few owners in the playoffs, that being said fantasy owners only have themselves to blame as Minnesota was going to be very cautious with their franchise player, and with New Orleans and QB Drew Brees in town, there was very little chance that Minnesota was going to be able to keep the game close in the second half and not have to abandon the running game.

New England Patriots: With Texans losing last week the Patriots now have the first seed in the AFC, and if they win their last two games will have home field advantage throughout the playoffs, course playing in New England hasn’t helped the Pats in the playoffs the past couple of years…..The Pats defense has been abysmal all season and losing their best pass rusher, DE Andre Carter, for the year due to a quad injury certainly won’t help matters any.

New Orleans Saints: The Saints could finish anywhere from the number two seed to the number five seed depending on how they finish up, they need the 49ers to lose one of their last two games and win out in order to get the two seed and a first round bye, but if they lose out and Atlanta wins out, the Falcons would win the division and the Saints would play the NFC East winner in the first round…..I know QB Aaron Rodgers is almost a shoe in for the MVP but Drew Brees is going to deserve some serious consideration for the year he is having, and the he and the Saints may be the biggest obstacle towards Green Bay going back to the Super Bowl.

New York Giants: Wow, how can the Giants lay an egg in an important division game versus the Redskins?, they just came out flat, QB Eli Manning has taken quite a bit of heat for having a terrible game that included multiple interceptions, but he didn’t get any help from his receivers, specifically Hakeem Nicks who dropped two sure touchdown passes…..Has Osi Umenyiora played his last game for the Giants?, he is still dealing with a sprained ankle and unlikely to play this Saturday versus the Jets, and if the Giants lose, than it would seem unlikely that he would play it what would be a meaningless game for the Giants in Week 17.

New York Jets: The Giants weren’t the only team who didn’t show up last week as the Jets were also lambasted by the Eagles in what was an important game, like Eli Manning, QB Mark Sanchez also wasn’t given much help, as WR Santonio Holmes fumbled one reception that directly led to an Eagles TD, and then had a pass go right through his hands that led to another Eagles TD…..Holmes eventually scored a TD that made the score 28-10 Philly, he then went on to celebrate by standing on the football while doing an Eagle flap, a celebration that instantly drew a flag, a flag that Holmes admitted to later he knew was coming, good to see he cares about the team and not himself, seems to me it would’ve been the perfect time to bench him and send a message, but instead Rex Ryan said he supported his player publicly, not surprised, players take after their coaches and Ryan is out there to say the least.

Oakland Raiders: The Raiders looked like they had turned things around last week versus Detroit after a couple of disastrous road games only to fall apart in the second half when they forgot that WR Calvin Johnson is a really good receiver and you may want to cover him, they aren’t out of the AFC West hunt yet, but another poor outing and their season is done…..RB Darren McFadden is done for the season although the Raiders have yet to admit it, his loss seems to have triggered their downfall, just a big part of their offense.

Philadelphia Eagles: Who would’ve thought the Eagles would still have a chance to win the NFC East and make the playoffs at this point in the season?, now they still need a small miracle but stranger things have happened, it’s a shame it took them so long into the season to figure things out, but if they were able to sneak in, they would be a team that no one wants to play.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I don’t blame the Steelers for letting QB Ben Roethlisberger play Monday night, although he was hobbled, with the Ravens losing earlier in the day the Steelers had a chance to take over the top spot in the AFC, this week however is a different story, they can beat the Rams with or without Ben, but won’t go far in the playoffs without him, time to let him rest for a couple of weeks and get that ankle healthy.

San Diego Chargers: The Chargers are once again going on their late season run, more than likely though it’s a little to little, little to late for both the Chargers season and coach Norv Turner…..The Chargers offense is hitting on all cylinders as the Bolts have fixed their offensive line problems, which has opened bigger holes for RB Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert and also given QB Phillip Rivers time to find his receivers down the field.

San Francisco 49ers: How far can the 49ers go in the playoffs?, as things stand now they will likely play the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs, not the best matchup for SF as their weakness is against the pass, something New Orleans does quite well, although not as well on the road as they do at home, 49ers could be one and done as well…..LB Patrick Willis still isn’t practicing after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury, 49ers may be playing it safe with Willis, wanting to make sure he’s as close to 100% as possible going into the playoffs.

Seattle Seahawks: The Hawks are another team with an extremely outside shot at the playoffs, although they play the 49ers on Saturday which could put those hopes to an end…..The most interesting thing about this game is that RB Marshawn Lynch, who has been one of the hotter backs in the league, will be going up against the SF defense, a defense that has yet to allow a rushing TD all season, drama…..Problem for the Hawks is the way to beat the 49ers is through the air, and QB Tavares Jackson seems to be losing target to throw to each and every week, not they he would inspire confidence anyway.

St. Louis Rams: The Rams season can’t come to an end soon enough and this season may be the last for coach Steve Spagnuolo and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Rams will be someone else’s mess next season, a mess that may include the first overall pick in the draft if the Colts could win another game, a pick they could get a bounty for as they already have a franchise QB in Sam Bradford, quite a few needs could be filled.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Talk about a team that has packed it in, the Bucs are the definition…..They have been terribly disappointing this season as QB Josh Freeman, WR Mike Williams, and RB LeGarrette Blount have all taken some serious steps back, the blame could fall on head coach Raheem Morris who at the very least will be forced to make some changes on his staff and may actually be out of a job…..CB Aqib Talib was placed on IR, ending his season. so things are only going to get worse in the TB secondary.

Tennessee Titans: Hard to believe the Titans gave the Colts their first win last week, a loss that may keep the Titans out of the playoffs…..Things may not get much easier for the Titans this week as RB Chris Johnson is hobbled and is once again not at his best, and QB Matt Hasselback seems to be feeling the effects of a long season as he has not been able to finish the last two games.

Washington Redskins: You have to hand it to the Redskins, they haven’t given up on the season, they gave the Cowboys and Patriots a run for their money in the past couple of weeks and then upset the Giants, possibly ending their season last week, perhaps there is a future for this team after all.

Bills 38, Raiders 35

Hello again! The Raider Guy has returned.  Yesterday, the Raiders traveled across the country to take on the Buffalo Bills.  This is a rivalry that goes all the way back to the days of the American Football League.  In recent years, when these teams have met, it has always been a close battle.  The game yesterday was no exception.

For most of the first quarter, the game looked like a chess match. Neither team could do much with the ball and the most exciting play was a 34-yard run by Bills running back Fred Jackson.  After a Brian Moorman punt, the Raiders took over at their own 29 with a little under four minutes to go in the period.  Some good running by Darren McFadden moved the Raiders to the Buffalo 37 as the first quarter came to an end with the score tied at zero.

On third and three, Raider quarterback Jason Campbell hit rookie receiver Denarius Moore for a 20-yard gain.  Moore got the start because the Raider’s top three receivers were inactive due to injuries.  After McFadden had two more carries for seven yards, Campbell hit a wide open Chaz Schilens at the Buffalo one yard line.  Three plays later, Michael Bush powered into the end zone to give the Raiders the lead.  Sebastian Janikowski made the extra point and it was 7-0 Raiders with 11 minutes to go in the half.

After the obligatory Janikowski touchback, the Bills took over at their own 20.  On third and ten, Buffalo’s quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was intercepted by Stanford Routt and the Raiders took over at the Buffalo 34.  Campbell hit Derek Hagan for a gain of 17 and then hooked up with fullback Marcel Reece for a gain of five down to the Buffalo 12.  Three straight runs by McFadden got the Raiders into the end zone once again as McFadden took it in from five yards out.  Janikowsi made the point after and that put the Raiders on top 14-0.

With eight minutes to go in the half, Buffalo took over at their own 20.  Trailing by 14, Fitzpatrick took to the air and hit Roscoe Parrish for 16 and Stevie Johnson for 19 on consecutive plays.  The Bills mixed in some short runs by Jackson and on second and three from the Raider 25, inserted return man/receiver Brad Smith in the wildcat formation.  Smith took the snap and ran for a first down down to the Raider 16.  From there, Fitzpatrick put one up for Stevie Johnson in the end zone, but his pass was tipped by Raider linebacker Rolando McClain in the back of the end zone.  The drive stalled at the seven and the Bills settled for a short field goal by Rian Lindell which made the score 14-3 with just over two minutes to go in the half.

After Raider return man Nick Miller returned the kickoff to the 18, the Raiders went to work.  Campbell hit McFadden for 16 yards and then hit Moore on a bomb that took them down to the Buffalo 23.  Raider head coach Hue Jackson called timeout with 1:39 remaining.  Michael Bush took the next carry straight up the middle for a gain of 22 and was dragged down at the one.  With plenty of time left and with a first and goal at the one foot line, the Raiders took another timeout. This would allow Buffalo to get the ball back with over a minute remaining.  On the next play, Campbell took the ball in from the one and Janikowsi made the point after to make the score 21-3 Raiders with 1:22 remaining.

Trailing by 18, the Bills had a decent amount of time to move the ball.  Some quick completions to Stevie Johnson and Donald Jones, and a 15-yard penalty on Tyvon Branch for unnecessary roughness moved the ball into Raider territory.  Fitzpatrick then hit Jackson for 12 and David Nelson for nine to bring the Bills closer to the end zone.  After a pass intended for Johnson was dropped, the Bills had to settle for a field goal attempt.  Lindell’s 39-yard attempt was tipped by Tyvon Branch and fell short.  At the half, the Raiders led by a score of 21-3.

The Bills got the ball first to start the second half.  The Raiders had the momentum and were hoping to force the Bills to go three and out. That didn’t happen.  After a 17-yard pass interference call on Raider cornerback Chris Johnson, Fitzpatrick ran to the right for 13 yards.  C.J. Spiller ran for seven and Fred Jackson finished the drive off with a 43-yard run.  Lindell’s extra point was good and the Bills closed the lead to 21-10.

After another horrific kick return by Nick Miler, the Raiders took over at their own 14.  The Raiders could feel the momentum swinging and they needed a score on this drive.  On third and nine, Campbell hit Derek Hagan for a gain of 10 and a crucial first down.  Then, on another third and long, Campbell found tight end Brett Myers for another first down.  After another third down conversion, the Raiders moved the ball into Buffalo territory.  But on second down, McFadden fumbled and it was pounced on by Danny Batten of the Bills.

The spark caused by the Fred Jackson touchdown was now turned into a flame of hope as the Buffalo defense forced a turnover.  Spiller got the call on the first play of the drive and got 12 yards.  Fitzpatrick hit Johnson for nine and Smith ran for 11 out of the wildcat formation.  Spiller ran for seven more down to the Raider seven yard line.  From there, Fitzpatrick hit Johnson again for a touchdown.  Lindell’s kick was good and the Raider’s lead was trimmed to 21-17.

After a very quick three and out by the Raiders, the Bills took over at their own 31 with 2:30 to go in the third quarter.  Fitzpatrick continued to torch the Raider’s secondary and get his passes off quickly.  He hooked up with Johnson again for gains of 13 and 11 yards.  Fred Jackson got the call and ran for a gain of 29 down to the Raider 16.  From there, the Raider defense finally got to Fitzpatrick and Matt Shaughnessy sacked him for a seven yard loss.  However, the sack didn’t count as Raider linebacker Rolando McClain was called for illegal contact.  That moved the ball to the Raider 11. From there, Fitzpatrick hit tight end Scott Chandler for a gain of ten.  Jackson finished the drive with a one yard run.  The Raiders didn’t think that Jackson scored and challenged the play.  That resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for challenging an unchallengeable play.  The penalty was enforced on the kickoff and Raider fans around the world were relieved to know that they would be spared the pain of watching Nick Miller return another kickoff.  The touchdown call stood and Lindell made the point after.  The 18-point lead the Raiders once had was gone.  The Bills led 24-21.

With 14:10 to go in the fourth quarter, the lead was gone, but the Raiders weren’t dead yet.  Campbell went to work and hit Moore for ten yards and Hagan for 25 more.  After a short run by McFadden, Campbell found Hagan again for a gain of nine to the Buffalo 43.  Then a little trickery was inserted as Moore ran a double reverse down to the 18.  Short runs by McFadden and Bush led to Campbell completing a 12-yard pass to McFadden for a Raider touchdown.  Janikowski split the uprights and the Raiders once again had the lead, 28-24.

The Bills took over at their own 20 with 9:18 to go in the game.  Once again, the Raiders could not stop the Bills as Fitzpatrick found Nelson for 15 and Spiller ran for 26 yards down to the Raider 39.  The Bills continued to mix up the runs and passes on this drive to keep the Raiders off balance.  Fitzpatrick hooked up again with Johnson and moved the ball to the eight.  A holding call on cornerback Chris Johnson moved the ball to the four.  Jackson was stuffed for a two-yard loss on first down, but on second down, Fitzpatrick found Chandler for a touchdown to give the Bills the lead.  Lindell made the point after and the Bills led 31-28.

With just under five minutes to go in the game, Nick Miller tried to run back a kickoff from three yards deep in the end zone.  This time, he stumbled and was brought down at the Raider 12-yard line.  Campbell connected with McFadden and Reece to move the ball close to midfield.  Then on first and ten at the 50, Campbell put up a deep bomb for Denarius Moore.  Moore leaped in between two defenders and brought the pass in for a 50-yard touchdown.  It was truly a thing of beauty.  Janikowski made the point after and the Raiders led 35-31. But, with the defense playing so badly, I was very concerned that the score came too quickly.

The Bills took over with 3:41 to go in the game.  On the first play of the drive, cornerback Chris Johnson was flagged for another penalty.  This time it was pass interference for 14 yards.  They dinked and dunked their way to midfield and moved the ball deep into Raider territory.  The Raider defense stiffened and had a chance to win the game as they forced the Bills into a fourth and short at the 24.  But Fitzpatrick completed a 9-yard pass to Jones to keep the drive alive.  After two incomplete passes, Fitzpatrick found Nelson for a 9-yard gain and it was fourth down again.  All the Raiders had to do was stop them on the next play and they would leave Buffalo with a win.  As badly as they played in the second half, they still had a chance to rise up and make a play to win the game.  That didn’t happen.  Fitzpatrick found Nelson WIDE OPEN in the end zone to give the Bills the lead.  Lindell’s kick was good and the Bills led 38-35 with 14 seconds left in the game.

With 14 seconds on the clock, the Raiders had the ball at their own 20. Campbell hit Moore in stride across the middle for a gain of 24. Campbell called timeout with six seconds remaining.  The next pass was overthrown and that led to the last play of the game.  Campbell heaved up a Hail Mary that was intercepted by Da’Norris Searcy.  That gave the Bills a 38-35 win.  After the game was over, the officials reviewed the final play. Nine minutes later, referee Mike Carey made the announcement to an empty stadium that the call was upheld and that the ball was intercepted.

Now that was a tough pill to swallow.  The Raider defense dropped several interceptions, missed assignments and the pass rush was nonexistent.  They allowed the Bills to score a touchdown on every drive in the second half.  It was pretty obvious at halftime that the Bills made adjustments and the Raiders didn’t.  Fitzpatrick had all the time in the world to find open receivers and completed 28 of 46 for 264 yards with three touchdowns and one pick.

Fred Jackson scored two touchdowns. He and Spiller ran through some huge holes for some very big gains.  Combined, they had 180 yards on 19 carries.  About the only good thing I can say about the defense was the interception by Stanford Routt.  That’s it.  All the rest was pure garbage.  Chris Johnson and Rolando McClain both had horrible games and there were countless missed tackles.  The term “garbage” also applies to the kickoff returns.  With Jacoby Ford out with a hamstring injury, Nick Miller was the next man up and he did a terrible job.  Get well soon, Jacoby! You are terribly missed!

The bright side was the offense.  Campbell had three starting receivers (Louis Murphy, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Jacoby Ford) and starting tight end (Kevin Boss) out for the game and he still did a great job.  Campbell completed 23 of 33 for 323 yards with two touchdowns and one pick.  He seems to have total command of the offense.  Big time props also go to the offensive line for not allowing a sack and no false starts in a very hostile environment.

It also looks like the Raiders have a solid deep threat in Denarius Moore.  He’s not the fastest guy on the team, but he has great hands and amazing leaping ability.  Moore hauled in five catches for 146 yards and a touchdown.  Not bad for a fifth round pick out of Tennessee, huh?  Darren McFadden also had a good game with 72 yards on the ground, 71 yards receiving and two touchdowns.

Next week, the New York Jets fly out to Oakland for the Raider’s home opener.  They destroyed the Jaguars yesterday by a score of 32-3 and will be looking for another win.  If the Raider defense plays the way they did in the second half against the Bills, the Jets will have an easy win.  Raider’s defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan better insert one hell of a game plan to stop Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes and the rest of the Jets.  Until then, take it easy.

The Raider Guy

All Out Blitz

Arizona Cardinals: Not that this should come as a shock to anyone, but RB Ryan Williams was officially placed on IR this week…..The Cardinals may be paying the price now for trading away CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as Greg Toler’s knee sprain may force the team to bring along 1st round pick Patrick Peterson faster than the team would like…..QB Max Hall will miss the season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

Atlanta Falcons: WR Julio Jones is my pick for offensive rookie of the year in the NFC…..The reason I make that statement, QB Matt Ryan threw the ball an amazing 42 times last week. That’s unheard of in the preseason. The Falcons seem to be trying to make a statement to opposing teams: don’t load up at the line of scrimmage to stop the run or you will get burned by the passing game. RB Michael Turner has to like this as the safeties can’t play too close to the line of scrimmage anymore.

Baltimore Ravens: WR Lee Evans was still in a protective boot earlier this week, but the injury is still not considered serious and he should be good to go for Week One…..Coach Cam Cameron came out this week and stated that tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta are pretty much running neck and neck for the starting job. Dickson is a much better athlete and has the higher upside, but needs to display that upside on a more consistent basis before he is handed the starting job.

Buffalo Bills: Linebacker Shawn Merriman looks to be ready to play in Week One. Merriman can certainly help the pass rush if he’s healthy, but he can’t seem to remain so for any length of time…..RB Fred Jackson was upset last week for not knowing what his exact role is in the offense. He did receive the start last week and is the odds on favorite to begin the season as the starting back with CJ Spiller playing more of a 3rd down role and being lined up in the slot on occasion.

Carolina Panthers: I believe the Panthers are going to be an improved team over last season. It is hard not to be, but they are still going to be lucky to win 10 games. I still believe they would benefit by having a veteran quarterback tutor Cam Newton who has looked awful throwing the ball so far this preseason…..Fantasy wise, it will be next to impossible for me to draft any Panther in re-draft leagues.

Chicago Bears: RB Chester Taylor looked like he was going to be released this week. He was told as much, but the injury to Marion Barber gave him a reprieve–although that may be short lived…..I have the Bears third in the NFC North…..LB Lance Briggs may have three years left on his contract and be north of 30 years old, but he still wants a new contract and may demand a pay raise if he’s not given one.

Cincinnati Bengals: We learned earlier today that QB Carson Palmer had a face to face meeting with GM Mike Brown in late July about his situation. Palmer is still demanding a trade. However, he could really force the Bengals hand by reporting to camp late this week or next, thus forcing the Bengals to either pay him or trade him…..RB Cedric Benson elected to serve his 20 day prison sentence immediately instead of during his bye week. He will only be required to actually serve seven days, so he should be ready for Week One.

Cleveland Browns: Each and every week I’m more impressed with QB Colt McCoy. Once again, he’s never going to be a stud who puts up big numbers, but he has the look of a QB who will do whatever it takes to get the job done…..RB Montario Hardesty is finally starting to look healthy after tearing his ACL last season. He has the talent to be a starting back, which will give the Browns a strong 1-2 punch between himself and Peyton Hillis.

Dallas Cowboys: I was a little bit surprised by the release of C Andre Gurode this week. Gurode can still play but Dallas didn’t think he was worth the five plus million he was owed in salary…..By cutting Gurode, Dallas is now a little over $11 million under the salary cap. Remember, the dollar amount a team is under the salary cap this season, it can be added to next season’s cap. So even though Dallas may not have been big players in the this year’s free agent crop, don’t expect the same next season…..The release of Gurode also means that Dallas’ offensive line went from old and slow to extremely young and athletic. If QB Tony Romo can withstand the hits he is going to get, he will have a big season.

Denver Broncos: DE Elvis Demervil looks to be fully recovered from last year’s surgery. He and first round pick Von Miller should give the Broncos a pass rush that has to be game planned for by the opposition…..QBs Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn are still battling for the backup job to start the season. One has to wonder, if and when the Broncos are out of playoff contention, will they decide to make a switch to Tebow just to see what he can do, regardless of how well Orton is playing.

Detroit Lions: The reason I picked the Bears for third in the north is that I’m hopping on the Lions bandwagon and predicting a second place finish for them. Granted though, this all depends on QB Matthew Stafford and RB Javhid Best remaining healthy–two big ifs…..Best has already had a problem this preseason with a concussion suffered early on. He is expected to play in the last preseason game and be ready for Week One.

Green Bay Packers: TE JerMichael Finley won’t play in the final preseason game due to an ankle injury, but this injury is not considered to be serious and he should be good to go for Week One…..WR Randall Cobb returned to practice this week. Cobb has plenty of talent, but he will make the most noise for the Packers on special teams as they are loaded at WR…..Speaking of WRs, Donald Driver had a cortisone injection in the same foot he injured in the Super Bowl. It would seem to be a red flag to me. Have to think that Driver will slowly be phased out of a starting role as the season rolls along.

Houston Texans: RB Arian Foster’s hamstring injury has to worry fantasy owners. He was considered to be a top three back heading into the season, and now some believe he could miss up to a month. Of course, Foster and the Texans deny that he will miss any time, but one would have to think he won’t be at full speed and could re-injure the hamstring at some point during the season…..If you do draft Foster, better grab Ben Tate as his handcuff.

Indianapolis Colts: QB Peyton Manning was taken off the PUP this week, but still won’t play in the final preseason game. He is still questionable to play in Week One. Without Manning, the Colts are a bad team. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a team so reliant on one person…..Fantasy wise, Manning would scare me. I couldn’t take him as one of my top five QBs anymore, but top eight is not out of the question.

Jacksonville Jaguars: RB Rashard Jennings was seen on crutches this week after suffering a knee injury. Jennings was expected to become more than just a backup to Maurice Jones-Drew this season. The Jags don’t want to abuse MJD, but if this injury is serious than Jones-Drew may get more carries per week than first thought…..RB Fred Taylor signed a contract with the Jags Thursday for the sake of retiring as a Jaguar.

Kansas City Chiefs: WR Jonathan Baldwin is running routes but not catching passes yet as he still has pins in his thumb after his fight with RB Thomas Jones…..I have the Chiefs finishing second in the AFC West this season. Not because they are not a better team than last season, but because I don’t believe the Chargers will have as many problems on special teams as they did last season. Chiefs will battle the Jets for that final wildcard spot.

Miami Dolphins: RB Daniel Thomas has aggravated the Dolphins coaching staff so much that he may no longer be the main ball carrier for the team. Reggie Bush could get more touches than first thought. Don’t be surprised if the Dolphins reverse their thinking. However, the more Bush touches the ball, the more likely he is to get hurt…..QB Chad Henne has actually looked good so far this preseason. This is a make or break year for Henne. Perhaps the light bulb has finally turned on for him.

Minnesota Vikings: I’m not sure anyone in the NFL was happier for the contract that RB Chris Johnson received than Adrian Peterson–cha ching…..Speaking of Peterson, he’s not expected to come off the field in passing situations anymore. He is in store for a massive season and should be the first RB off the board in fantasy leagues.

New England Patriots: WR Wes Welker injured his neck making a tackle last week. Although he doesn’t remember the play, he doesn’t have a concussion. Once again, he should be good to go for Week One…..RB Kevin Faulk still isn’t fully recovered from ACL surgery and is likely to begin the season on the PUP list…..WR Brandon Tate has not impressed this season and could be the odd man out in the Pats WR corps.

New Orleans Saints: K Garrett Hartley will miss at least the next six weeks with a hip injury. Jon Kasay has been signed to take over the kicking duties…..I like the Saints again this season, but also believe they finish behind the Falcons in the NFC South…..Big things seem to be expected from WR Lance Moore this season, but don’t forget he has a nagging groin injury and RB Darren Sproles will also take some of the snaps that would’ve previously gone to Reggie Bush.

New York Giants: In order for the Giants offense to work this season, WR Mario Manningham is going to have to have a good season to take the defensive pressure off of Hakeem Nicks. Not to mention QB Eli Manning is going to have to play better and limit his mistakes…..Third round pick WR Jerrel Jernigan, who was the leading candidate to take over punt returns, blew that opportunity with four fumbled punts versus the Jets Monday.

New York Jets: K Nick Folk won the kicking battle over Nick Novak…..WR Plaxico Burress and QB Mark Sanchez clearly weren’t on the same page in last week’s game versus the Giants. This is clearly a work in progress…..Jets finish behind the Patriots in the AFC East.

Oakland Raiders: TE Kevin Boss has yet to practice since injuring his knee a couple of weeks ago. He’s questionable to play in Week One…..QB Terrelle Pryor reportedly scored a seven on the Wonderlic Test. That’s incredibly low. The test has nothing to do with his ability to play football, but does show you that he is probably not the sharpest pencil in the box.

Philadelphia Eagles: WR Steve Smith is unlikely to play in Week One, and could miss most of September. This is why the Giants didn’t sign him…..WR DeSean Jackson could be the next player on the Eagles to sign a big contract after the Eagles rewarded QB Michael Vick with a $100 million contract this week.

Pittsburgh Steelers: LB James Harrison is still not at 100% after undergoing off-season back surgery and may get fatigued as games get into the fourth quarter during the regular season…..Due to the foot injury that has cost WR Emmanuel Sanders a good portion of training camp, Antonio Brown may be the Steelers 3rd WR to open the season.

San Diego Chargers: TE Antonio Gates practiced all week and will be ready to go for Week One….. The Chargers offense looks explosive and could put up a bunch of points week in and week out…..They are going to win the AFC West…..I love the trio of QB Phillip Rivers, WR Vincent Jackson and TE Antonio Gates, not to mention the RB duo of Mike Tolbert and Ryan Matthews–just scary.

San Francisco 49ers: RB Frank Gore also signed a new contract this week. It’s good that he received a lot of upfront money because that offensive line is going to get him killed…..As good a preseason as Kendall Hunter has had, he still hasn’t passed Anthony Dixon on the depth chart…..WR Michael Crabtree is still not practicing at full strength and is unlikely to play in Week One.

Seattle Seahawks: The signing of TE Zach Miller is all the more important now with the loss of John Carlson for the season with a torn labrum…..The Seahawks are still going to roll with Tavares Jackson as their starting QB even though the offense has looked abysmal so far this preseason and Charlie Whitehurst has outplayed him…..RB Marshawn Lynch has an ankle injury that will keep him from playing this week but he is expected to play in Week One.

St. Louis Rams: LB James Laurinaitis is still battling a pectoral muscle that he injured in the early days of camp and may not be at 100% when the regular season starts…..The Rams signed WR Mark Clayton to a one-year contract this week but he still might begin the season on the PUP. He is still recovering from a torn patellar.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs remind me of the Chiefs in that they may be a better team this season but it won’t show in their record. Not to mention, it certainly doesn’t help playing in the same division with Atlanta and New Orleans…..RB Earnest Graham is expected to be the Bucs third down back this season, at least at the beginning…..TE Kellen Winslow hurt his ankle in his preseason debut last week. It didn’t look to be a major injury, but the Bucs haven’t talked much about it this week.

Tennessee Titans: Everyone in Tennessee had a big sigh of relief today when RB Chris Johnson finally signed his new contract and reported to camp. The Titans don’t have the best of offenses to begin with, and without Johnson it would be non-existent…..More good news for the Titans, WR Kenny Britt is feeling close to 100% and expects to be so before the season opener.

Washington Redskins: I know RB Tim Hightower has had a great camp and is climbing up fantasy draft boards, but does anyone really think it’s going to last all season. What happens when he starts to fumble the ball or the Shanahans want to see what rookie Roy Helu can do? Plus the Skins don’t have a QB and teams may sell out to stop the run…..S Laron Landry has injuries to his Achilles and hamstring, but isn’t expected to miss more than a couple of games at this point in time.

 

Hopes and Wishes for the 2011 Buffalo Bills

Now that the millionaires and billionaires have finally finished sorting out the nickels and dimes of their $9 billion dollar dispute, we fans can get back to business. Let free agency and fantasy football madness begin! I’m from Buffalo and a lifelong Bills fan. I am still cheering them on even after all the early years of futility, the devastation of “Wide right!”, four straight Super Bowl losses, and additional futility and mediocrity of recent years. As the 2011 season begins, some random hopes and wishes for my team have come to mind and I thought I would share them. So here goes…

I wish the Bills had changed their uniforms earlier; the 2002-2010 design was absolutely hideous. The new uniforms are reminiscent of the ones worn from 1975-1983. Joe Ferguson’s red helmet is gone and the classic white helmet is back and the dark blue jersey has been changed to royal blue. They went with a more basic old school design and it’s cool.

I hope Freddy Jackson is allowed to carry the load in the backfield. He has earned it, totaling 1,989 rushing yards the past two seasons, while averaging over 4 yards per carry. He’s proven to be a reliable receiver as well, hauling in 77 receptions and 586 yards during that time. Last season he posted a career high 7 TDs. Given the opportunity he has produced, even with a lousy line in front of him. With an improved line this season, he could put up some superb numbers.

I wish we had a better situation at QB. Ryan Fitzpatrick is serviceable at best and inexperienced Brian Brohm and Levi Brown are the other QBs waiting in the wings. Currently only Fitz and Brown have contracts. GM Buddy Nix stated during the pre-draft process that they didn’t feel the need to draft a QB because they plan to pick up help via free agency, focusing on at least one veteran to back up Fitz. A quick look at the QBs on that free agent list and there’s not a whole lot to get excited about.

I hope Marcell Dareus is the second coming of Bruce Smith or Fred Smerlas.

Along with the new uniforms, the playing surface at The Ralph just got a makeover as well. A plush new synthetic field turf called A-Turf® Titan has been installed with the Bills’ new color scheme. It looks great! The product description claims it delivers consistent playability, superior durability and is the toughest on the market. I hope that refers to the Bills too.

I wish I had gone to more than one Bills home game during my years growing up in Western New York. But at least that one game was a great one. It was against the Jets in 1979. Jerry Butler caught 4 TDs in a wild come from behind win. Buffalo was behind 24-12 late in the second quarter when Joe Ferguson connected with Butler for a 75 yard TD that began an exciting rally (Butler had already caught a 5 yard TD earlier). Ferguson found Butler again early after halftime for another big play. This time a 74 yard TD to go ahead 26-24. Later the hot duo connected once more on a 9 yard TD play. Fred Smerlas added a 13 yard fumble return for a TD and Joe Shipp caught a 13 yard TD from Ferguson. The score was 46-24 after a missed PAT. The Jets did manage to score a late TD but time ran out and the game ended in a 46-31 victory for the Bills. Rich Stadium, as it was known back then, went insane!

I wish 7th round pick Michael Jasper wasn’t such a long shot. At 6’4″ and 375 pounds, he is surprisingly athletic, has a 32″ vertical jump, long jumps 9’5″, can dunk a basketball, and bench press over 500 lbs. Check out this YouTube video of him training: www.youtube.com/watch?v=vyWFh3Lp5u8. The thought of this behemoth on the defensive line with Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams makes me giddy.

It’s been almost 8 months since the game against the Steelers last season. Man, I wish Stevie Johnson had caught that ball. Afterwards he said he will never forget dropping what would have been the winning TD in overtime. I hope he doesn’t and is out to make up for it by exceeding his stellar breakout campaign last season. He finished last season with 82 receptions, totaling 1,073 yards and 10 TDs. I also hope he concentrates on doing his job and not tweeting and coming up with TD celebrations. Just catch balls Stevie, just catch balls.

Final thoughts…I hope our defense develops an identity, the offensive line somehow catches lightning in a bottle, Fitzpatrick proves me wrong, and we improve significantly from last season. And if not, I hope we at least take both games from Miami. Let’s Go Bills!!!