Posts by The Sports Quotient

2016 CFP National Championship Roundtable

Greetings, sports fans! The moment has finally arrived. We have the two best teams going at it, Alabama and Clemson, in what should hopefully be an exciting matchup. Below, writers Christopher Paschal, Brian Peel, Peter Rosston, Geoffrey Hammersley and I discuss various topics surrounding this game and give our predictions. Enjoy!

1. Is this the championship

Greetings, sports fans! The moment has finally arrived. We have the two best teams going at it, Alabama and Clemson, in what should hopefully be an exciting matchup. Below, writers Christopher Paschal, Brian Peel, Peter Rosston, Geoffrey Hammersley and I discuss various topics surrounding this game and give our predictions. Enjoy!

1. Is this the championship game that you predicted before the season began?

Christopher: I never made any official predictions, but I was pretty confident Clemson would be here. My other pick was Ohio State. I thought that the Buckeyes had an easy enough schedule and enough talent to make it. Their loss to Michigan State was a surprise to me. And honestly, I believe Ohio State would have played a much better game against Alabama than the Spartans did. It certainly would have been tough to play a worse one. That being said, I’m not at all surprised that Alabama made it. The loss against Ole Miss made things interesting, but an early loss is always better than a late one.

Brian: I don’t think anyone really predicted an Alabama-Clemson National Championship in the preseason mostly because Clemson came into the year ranked 12th in both the AP and coaches polls. Clemson has defied almost everyone’s expectations all year such as last week when they were an underdog to Oklahoma according to Las Vegas, and we know how that turned out. Alabama of course is always a popular pick to go all the way and even after their early season hiccup against Ole Miss, there was very little doubt they would be playing for their third championship in five seasons. So no, I certainly didn’t predict this would be the National Championship matchup, but I think few can argue against this being the best game we could have gotten.   

Peter: My short answer is no, this is not the game I predicted, and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who saw this game coming. On the other hand, if you had told me at the beginning of the season that these two teams would be playing for the National Championship, I would not have called you crazy. Coming into the season, Alabama and Ohio State were the popular picks to make it, and honestly, I’m a little shocked that Ohio State didn’t even end up in the Playoff given the immense amount of talent they had. Coaching goes a long way in college football, and Saban and Swinney are two of the best out there, so with the teams they have, it’s not a surprise that they are coaching on Monday for a National Championship

Geoffrey: I thought Alabama was going to make it back to the championship game, but I didn’t expect Clemson to be joining the Crimson Tide in Phoenix. If anything, Ohio State was my viable candidate to be in the championship game against Alabama. However, after watching the Buckeyes go through the motions for 10 weeks, and then get upended by Michigan State in late November, I’m not surprised they didn’t get to the playoff. I thought Oklahoma and Michigan State were playoff teams – but didn’t expect both of them to get rolled in their respective games.

2. Has Clemson earned enough respect to be taken seriously as a national contender for now and in the future?

Christopher: I still can’t figure out why no one believes in Clemson. Being undefeated is no small feat. They have possibly the best athlete in the country under center in Deshaun Watson, along with great playmakers around him on offense and a solid defense. What is it going to take for people to take Clemson seriously? They have wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina, and a thrashing of Oklahoma (who was the favorite in that game). There’s not much more you can do to prove your case. To me, they should be among the most feared programs in the country by now.

Brian: All year long Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has been making it clear that the idea of “Clemsoning” or the Tigers choking in a big game is a thing of the past. Well Clemson will be playing for the National Championship on Monday, they are undefeated, and have beaten some of the most storied programs in college football in 2015…yeah I think they have earned enough respect. The most important thing Swinney has done to take Clemson to the next level is recruit. The Tigers are now built like an SEC team on both lines and with a seemingly endless supply of skill players combined with maybe the best player in the country in Deshaun Watson, Clemson is here to stay for the long haul.

Peter: Clemson is absolutely set up to be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Although this is really their first time on the national stage, they have won at least 10 games in every season since 2011. During that time, they were playing second-fiddle to Florida State, so no one ever really paid attention to them. Early this season, people were complaining that the only reason they were undefeated was their level of competition was low and many thought they would end up like last year’s Florida State. However, wins over Notre Dame, Florida State, North Carolina and most recently Oklahoma, the Football Power Index favorite to win it all, have appeared to change people’s opinions of Clemson. As for the future, Clemson has a Top 10 recruiting class coming in next year. Don’t sleep on the Tigers, they are for real.

Geoffrey: That’s a good question. They beat Notre Dame in a hurricane-esque rain, and cruised their way past the ACC. On a seriousness scale, I would put them at a solid 7/10 – with 10 being most serious. I feel as if the Clemson debate this year is a lot like the Florida State debate held last year. Beat ‘Bama and I’ll take them seriously from here on out. If anything, they have to hang with Alabama if they want to stay in the national title conversation for next year.

David: I believe that they have. One of the biggest criticisms that the Clemson Tigers had faced in the past was that they lost games they absolutely had no business losing. For example, in 2013, they were the third-ranked team and were playing the fifth-ranked Florida State Seminoles. The game was played in Clemson’s home stadium, Memorial Stadium. Not only did Clemson lose, they got destroyed in their own house by a score of 51-14. Now with that said, that is in the past and Clemson is a completely different team now. They beat four Top 10 teams this year and have not lost to an unranked team since 2011. Clemson has earned my respect and I hope that they have earned everybody else’s as well.

3. Do you believe that there’s a chance Nick Saban moves on from Alabama if his team wins?

Christopher: In short, no. Nick Saban is Alabama and Alabama is Nick Saban. He already tried moving to the NFL and it didn’t go very well. He’s better suited for college football, and I don’t see him wanting to move to another school. He is firmly rooted at Alabama, always in national title contention. There’s not another school out there with an open position where he could immediately have the same success. He’s living the good life right now, why change things?

Brian: This conversation comes up every year and every year it is the same result. No, I don’t think there is any chance Nick Saban will move on to the NFL despite how immensely successful he has been at the college level. Saban recently said how making a move to another team, be that NFL or college, is not just about him but about his family as well. Now I know coaches say stuff like this all the time, but Saban isn’t exactly a young, up-and-coming coach anymore. He will be 65 in October and has laid his roots down in Tuscaloosa probably for the rest of his career. Not to mention, Saban’s dictatorship style of coaching doesn’t really fly in the NFL when you are dealing with adults that have been playing the game for almost their entire lives. Just look at what has happened with Chip Kelly.  

Peter: I would be shocked if Nick Saban left for the NFL. In two seasons with the Dolphins, Saban finished with a 15-17 record before returning to college football to coach in Tuscaloosa. If Saban chose to go, many NFL teams would clamor for his help, but there would still be uncertainty. He would take over a subpar team and be forced to rebuild, a process that he has never really been forced to go through. By staying in Alabama, Saban knows he will have strong job security and top recruits will still come filing in to load his roster with talent. Remember, Saban did not get fired from the Dolphins, he chose college football over the NFL, and I don’t see him changing his mind given his three (potentially four) titles in seven years.

Geoffrey: The Nick Saban leaving window was shut after the annihilation of Michigan State. If he would’ve lost that game, then I could see the delusion of the fan base wanting him out. Now, Saban controls when he leaves. What he has done for Alabama is nothing short of remarkable, and I can’t see him leaving a place where he has helped lead to four championship games in a decade.

David: I do not think there is. I know that’s widely speculated, but let’s face it; Nick Saban is Alabama football. He is everything that epitomizes the culture of that football team. Let’s not forget the fact that his first stint in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins did not turn out so well. Obviously, there are coaches who get another chance in the NFL and make the most of it, like Pete Carroll. However, Nick Saban is a much better fit for college because he is a control freak. Everything has to be done his way. That is the thing about college sports. You do not have to worry about star players calling the shots. Because of that, you have a lot of free reign over your team when it comes to decision making, who makes the roster, and who has to sit out a game.

4. What are the keys to victory for each team?

Christopher: For Clemson, the obvious answer is to stop Derrick Henry. Bama’s gameplan revolves around feeding Henry the ball. By stopping him, they can force Jake Coker to win the game with his arm, something I’m not sure he’s fully comfortable doing. Clemson also has the 5th ranked passing defense in the country, so they should be able to keep Coker in check.

For Alabama, its holding Wayne Gallman. Gallman isn’t a premier back, but he creates the change of pace from Deshaun Watson. If Gallman has a good game, it allows Watson to play more freely and be more aggressive in the passing game. If Alabama were to stop him, it forces Watson to do more. Watson is at his best when he is playing freely and not under a lot of pressure. By stopping Gallman, Alabama can put the pressure on him. 

Brian: In order for Clemson to win the game, there are a few things they need to take care of. On offense they need to establish enough of a run game to keep the Alabama front-seven from pinning their ears back and getting after Watson on every second-and-long or third down. Against Oklahoma, Watson was used on a ton of designed runs, and I don’t think that will be successful against Alabama, so they need to be able to use running back Wayne Gallman effectively or establish their short passing game. Defensively, it will probably come down to slowing down Derrick Henry. That being said, Michigan State held Henry to only 75 yards rushing and still lost 38-0 because of how well Jake Coker played. 

How has Alabama lost football games in the past 3-4 seasons? It has been against athletic quarterbacks that have spread them out and made plays in open space. Watson might be the best quarterback the Crimson Tide have faced since Johnny Manziel, so in order to win their first title since 2012, they need to contain Watson in the pocket and make plays in the secondary. On the other side of the ball, it will all fall on Coker’s shoulders again, but really that might not be such a bad thing anymore. After an up-and-down start to the year, Coker has been very good down the stretch, throwing seven touchdowns with no interceptions and hitting on 74% of his passes in the Tide’s last four games.     

Peter: For Clemson to win, they need to come in with the mindset that if Alabama wins, it will be because of Jacob Coker and not Derrick Henry. I know this sounds a little ridiculous considering Coker is coming off a game against Michigan State where he went 25-of-30 for 286 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. However, Coker has only thrown more than 35 passes in a game once this season–during Alabama’s only loss of the season to Ole Miss. He threw fewer than 20 passes in 10 of Alabama’s 13 regular season games. It is clear that Alabama prefers to win using the ground and pound of Derrick Henry, so if Clemson wants to win this game, they need to force Alabama to resort to Plan B and then hope Coker does not have a repeat performance of the Cotton Bowl.

Alabama will win if they can control the pace of the game. The one thing Alabama does not want to do is get involved in a shootout. The fewer possessions that they have to stop Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman and the fewer possessions Watson and Gallman have to try and crack the exotic schemes Kirby Smart will throw their way, the better off Alabama will be. Alabama needs to establish the passing game early so Clemson cannot stack the box against Henry, and then feed Henry to keep the clock rolling. Alabama has the better all-around athletes, so as long as they play a mistake free game at the rate they want, they should be fine.  

Geoffrey: For Alabama, the game plan is to feed Derrick Henry. If he gets over 150 on the ground, you might as well start inscribing “Crimson Tide” on the trophy. He wears defenses down, and helps open up the passing game. 

For Clemson, they have two keys to the game. First, they need to stop Henry. Doing that, they have a better chance of walking out of University of Phoenix Stadium with their first title since 1981. Second, they can’t play conservative; the way you beat Alabama is by taking risks. Four down territory starts at midfield, and they need to convert on fourth down when the time comes. Much like what Ohio State did last year in the Sugar Bowl against the Crimson Tide, the Tigers have to throw everything they got, or risk getting trampled in the national spotlight.

David: For Clemson to win this game, they have to be able to figure out how they’re going to use their running game against Alabama’s uber-talented front seven. I know the obvious answer should be to stop Derrick Henry. But, you know, that Jake Coker guy is a pretty good quarterback. Derrick Henry did not play poorly in the game against Michigan State. He just didn’t have the typical game that we’re used to seeing from him. Coker proved that he could win a game with his arm if needed. Alabama’s front seven is by far the best in the nation and it really isn’t close. They have shut down numerous 1,000-yard rushers. If Clemson wants to have a chance in this game, co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott are going to have to find a way to expose the front seven’s weakness and exploit it through an in-your-face rushing attack. 

For Alabama, they are going to have to figure out how to contain Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. With how dominant Alabama’s defense has been in recent years, they are not without weaknesses. Alabama has a tendency to struggle against mobile quarterbacks. Last year, against Ohio State in the playoffs, they had no answer for quarterback Cardale Jones who was able to utilize both his arms and legs to lead the Buckeyes to an upset victory. Deshaun Watson was a lethal weapon for Clemson this year. He was the only player to have 3,500+ yards passing and 800+ yards rushing. In Alabama’s recent three championship wins, they have not faced a quarterback with nearly the same caliber as Watson. This is going to be by far their toughest test.


5. Who do you think is going to win?

Christopher: This game centers around the Alabama defense against the Clemson offense, and I think Clemson just has too much firepower. Sure the ‘Bama defense is fantastic, but they haven’t faced a player like Watson yet. The Crimson Tide is only the 17th best passing defense, which means that Watson should get his looks in the passing game. I think it stays close for three quarters, but Clemson pulls away a little when ‘Bama starts having to throw the ball more. 

Final Score: Clemson 34, Alabama 24

Brian: Ten years ago, maybe the best National Championship in college football history was played when Vince Young led Texas to an improbable 41-38 victory over a USC team that had won 34 straight games. To me, this Alabama-Clemson matchup has a chance to be just as good. Both teams are playing such great football right now and in many ways their styles seem to contrast, but if you look closer, they really aren’t that different. Both teams have explosive playmakers and bring a nasty, physical, and aggressive defense to the table.

My guess is this game will all come down to the play of Watson, a player that has combined to score 43 touchdowns and accumulated 4,731 total yards this season. If Watson goes off for 400 plus yards and scores three touchdowns, I don’t see any way Clemson loses the game because Alabama is not a team that can really win in a shootout. Well, all that being said, I think Alabama wins because they are going to make it very hard on Watson to find any space to make plays. Alabama’s front-seven will be too much for the Tigers to handle and the Tide’s offense will make just enough plays to come away with the close win. 

Final Score: Alabama 27, Clemson 24

Peter: Alabama is the favorite in this game, and they come in expecting to win. On the other hand, Clemson will relish the underdog role. They have gotten used to tuning out all of the naysayers. The elite matchup in this game is the offense of Clemson against the defense of Alabama. Both of those units are incredibly good, and they will both play well.

Therefore, I think this game will come down to the Alabama offense against the Clemson defense, specifically the Alabama passing game versus the Clemson secondary. The Crimson Tide have a freshman phenom in Calvin Ridley as well as reliable receivers in ArDarius Stewart and Richard Mullaney. Clemson has been fantastic against the pass, ranking fifth in passing yards against per game. But arguably the best quarterback they have faced all season is DeShone Kizer of Notre Dame. Coker will be a big step up from that.

Finally, special teams tend to get overlooked in game previews, but you cannot ignore the effect of Cyrus Jones, who has four punt return touchdowns on the season and had a potential fifth called back for a penalty. Both teams have had amazing seasons and both deserve to be playing for the National Championship, but I just have a feeling Nick Saban’s experience coaching in the big game will lead Alabama to a close come-from-behind victory.

Final Score: Alabama 31, Clemson 30

Geoffrey: Dabo Swinney knows what it takes to stop Alabama. However, do they have the means of doing it. Stopping Henry is easier said than done, and converting big plays will come down to progressions made in the moment, not something you can study for. I think Alabama is too much to handle at this juncture, and they showcased what they are made of against Michigan State. Clemson will hang for a quarter, or maybe a half, but they will ultimately get the doors blown off the proverbial hinges by Saban, Henry and the rest of the Crimson Tide.

Final Score: Alabama 41, Clemson 16

David: These are both fantastic teams. They are the best teams in the nation and one of them will earn bragging rights afterwards. Deshaun Watson and Derrick Henry are both fantastic athletes and will likely be the best players for their respective teams. Now it’s time for my prediction. I do think this is going to be a good game for the most part. But, I think Alabama will pull ahead in the end. I believe Alabama’s front seven will pressure Watson all game by forcing him to make unnecessary throws. Derrick Henry rushes for 155 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Crimson Tide to their fourth national championship in seven years.

Final Score: Alabama 35, Clemson 22


Do you agree with our predictions? Give us your predictions in the comment section below!

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SQ College Football Playoff Panel: The Calm Before the Storm

Up until now, the rankings that have been put out by the AP and USA TODAY Coaches Poll have been meaningless. Sure, they give us a picture of where teams stand, but Tuesday will reveal what rankings really matter: the top 25 as decided upon by the College Football Playoff selection committee. These rankings will ultimately

Up until now, the rankings that have been put out by the AP and USA TODAY Coaches Poll have been meaningless. Sure, they give us a picture of where teams stand, but Tuesday will reveal what rankings really matter: the top 25 as decided upon by the College Football Playoff selection committee. These rankings will ultimately decide who gets to play for college football’s biggest prize.

With that being said, here at SQ, we’ve put together a panel of some of our best college football writers to discuss the teams, issues, and players leading up to the final selection of the top four teams for the College Football Playoff. Here are the panel’s thoughts before the rankings are released.

Last year’s initial College Football Playoff outcome was surprising to say the least. With that being said, do you expect this year to have as much hype surrounding it as the first rankings are revealed?

Geoffrey Hammersley: Not as much as last year, but there will be hype. We will find out how much the committee likes Ohio State, a team that has struggled to find their identity for a better part of the season, and how they view the Baylor/TCU dynamic. Last year, Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, and Ole Miss were the top four teams. The SEC-dominance narrative isn’t here this year, but there is still intrigue as you could make a case for any of the top eight teams to be included in the playoff.

Alex Koslow: I have to disagree with Geoff–I think this year may be more hyped than last year. Last year, there were five or six teams who could legitimately say they had a shot, while this year any team in the Top 10 right now could make it. The only reason I say that is that so many teams that are in the Top 10 still play each other, which could create chaos for the selection committee.

Ohio State plays Michigan State, Baylor plays TCU, Stanford or Notre Dame could make an appearance after they play, and Alabama against LSU could determine the SEC West winner. So much could happen right now. A one-loss team could easily make it into the Top 4.

Brian Peel: I think it will be a different type of hype, as I agree with Alex that the selection process will be more intriguing because there might be as many as eight teams deserving a shot by early December. The hype surrounding the actual games should be similar to last year because, simply put, it is exciting to watch good football teams play each other with a championship on the line.  

Sean Berger: Brian, you bring up a good point. This season has a different feel to it. Not one team has proven themselves to be that true No. 1 that’s head and shoulders above the competition. As Geoff notes, the SEC-dominance narrative is not present, last year’s national champion, Ohio State, has looked questionable at times, and smaller schools like Memphis and Houston are on the doorstep of breaking through. There will be hype, as most people want to know where everyone stands; however, I think people know that these rankings are likely not to be the same as the final one in December.

As it currently stands, the College Football Playoff is limited to four teams. Is that enough? Or should the Playoff be expanded to more teams?

Geoffrey: The playoff system will expand when conflict arises. Like any good system, why fix it if it isn’t broken? The CFP isn’t broken, yet. We’ll get an eight-team playoff a few years after 1) Notre Dame gets in and causes either the Big Ten/SEC/Pac-12 to miss a spot or 2) a mid-major gets in and gets thumped in the first semifinal game or 3) a 2007 scenario occurs where anybody in the top 10 has a legitimate case to be included.

Alex: I said it last year, and I’m sticking with it–the CFP needs to be Top 8 teams. There’s always going to be controversy; that’s unavoidable. With the BCS, arguing between No. 2 and No. 3 was the big debate. Now with the CFP, No. 4 vs. No. 5 is the big debate. With four teams, a team or two is going to get spurned, like we saw last year with TCU and Baylor. Of course, the new debate will be between the eighth and ninth spot, but that be between a one-loss team and a two-loss team which makes it a little easier to decide.

Brian: As a fan of college football, of course I want to see the field expanded to eight teams, but that’s probably a lot easier said than done. There are so many logistics and details that go into the making of these things, and you have to remember how long it took just to get a four-team playoff.

Will it take as long to expand the playoff as it did to create it in the first place? Probably not, but you have to think that potentially adding another game to a college student’s schedule won’t make some schools happy. Going back to the original question, yes, I want to see more teams because there is such great parity in college football every year.

Sean: For now, four is enough. Eventually, the Playoff will expand to either six or eight teams, but as it stands, four is a good starting point. It creates more drama and also a barrier to entry that isn’t easy to overcome. Whenever you have a product that’s in high demand and in short supply, you create a buzz that makes people want more. Keeping the number of teams at four is a smart move for the NCAA for the next couple seasons.

Is there any chance that a non-Power Five team could sneak into the College Football Playoff when all is said and done?

Geoffrey: Low key, Houston has the best shot. Tom Herman has a national championship pedigree as an offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes–that could play a role if Houston continues to steamroll past everyone. Especially if the Power 5 conferences cannibalize themselves in November, Houston has the best chance–but they would still be a long shot.

Alex: Like Geoff said, Houston, and I’d even say Memphis as well, have the best shot at getting in from a non-Power Five conference, but they won’t. They just don’t play a schedule that makes me think they can compete with the likes of Ohio State, Baylor, or Clemson. I’d rather take a one-loss Alabama or Stanford than an undefeated Houston or Memphis.

Brian: If Temple can run the table, I believe they would deserve a look if a team like Alabama and a few other one-loss teams slip up again. An undefeated Temple team would have beaten Penn State, Notre Dame, Cincinnati, Memphis, and potentially Houston. That is highly unlikely to happen, but if it does, they would have the best shot of any Group of Five team. Don’t forget the Toledo Rockets either. (Was written before Temple’s loss to Notre Dame on 10/31).

Sean: Both Memphis and Houston should be considered dark horses to reach the College Football Playoff. Justin Fuente has done wonders since taking over the Memphis program and has them ranked in the top 15 in the AP Poll for the first time ever, and Tom Herman is using the magic he had at Ohio State to turn Houston into a surprise contender. However, if I had to choose one of these teams, I would go with Houston, simply because their path to the Playoff is a lot easier than the one Memphis has to go through.

Do you think that this could be the year the College Football Playoff sees two teams from the same conference finish in the top four?

Geoffrey: Absolutely. In the BCS Era, we saw LSU-Alabama play in a rematch in 2012, shutting out Okie State. In 2006, Ohio State and Michigan came close to a rematch in the title game. With the playoff field, there is a good chance we’ll see two teams from the same conference get in. I don’t see both Baylor and TCU getting in because the Big 12 doesn’t has a championship game.

The best shot, this year at least, is for Ohio State and Michigan State to both represent the Big Ten. Picture this: Michigan State sits at No. 4 or No. 5, while the Buckeyes sit at No. 1; a Sparty loss by less than a touchdown allows them to still be in the picture, if that’s their only loss of the season.

Alex: It could happen, but it won’t. If it does happen, Baylor and TCU have the best shot at going together. I’d love to see a TCU-Baylor rematch in the CFP. Unfortunately, they play each other late in the season, and the loser will probably drop too low to comeback in a week. Ohio State and Michigan State won’t make it together because, again, they play each other late, and it will also determine the BIG 10 East division, allowing the winner to play an extra game. 

Brian: I don’t see it happening unless a few current one-loss teams lose again. The losers of the TCU-Baylor and Ohio State-Michigan State games will likely fall behind the likes of Stanford/Notre Dame or Alabama if those teams win out, not to mention a few lower-ranked undefeated teams like Oklahoma State and Iowa. 

Sean: Of course it could happen. Will it happen? I don’t think so, but there are a couple possibilities in which it could. If TCU’s only loss is to Baylor, or vice versa, and both teams are playing extremely well, there’s a chance the committee could take both. Likewise, the same could happen with Ohio State and Michigan State or LSU and Florida. As Geoff notes, we did see two teams from the same conference play in the national title game not too long ago, so I won’t rule two teams from the same conference being placed in the Playoff.

Which four teams do you think will be atop the rankings when the initial College Football Playoff ranking is released?

Geoffrey: For me, it will be 1) Ohio State 2) LSU 3) Clemson 4) TCU. The bye week doesn’t hurt the Buckeyes stock as No. 1. LSU and Clemson is a toss up, but they are definitely in the initial batch. With Baylor losing quarterback Seth Russell, they will have a tough time staying in the hunt for a playoff spot. I think TCU overtakes them for that reason when next week rolls around. 

Alex: Right now, based on current performance, which is what the committee said its basing it on right now, I have to go with 1) Ohio State 2) Baylor 3) Clemson 4) LSU. TCU right now is my next one, and it’s very close with LSU. It’s possible that Baylor and Clemson could be flipped, especially with the way they destroyed Miami. Either one of these teams could lose in the coming weeks, and we could be looking at four completely new teams.

Brian: Depending on this week’s performances I think it will be 1) Ohio State 2) Baylor 3) Clemson and 4) TCU. The only team I see being hurt by the bye week is LSU only because TCU played so well again on Thursday. Baylor might also be at risk because of voter’s hesitancy regarding Seth Russell’s injury. 

Sean: Well at least we can all agree that Ohio State will be the No. 1 team when the rankings are released. But, from No. 2-4, we’re all different. As things currently stand, the rest of my top four are as follows: 2) Baylor 3) Clemson 4) LSU. Baylor has been lights out, while Clemson has been really impressive lately, and LSU is the only SEC team without a blemish on its record. There’s a chance TCU sneaks in ahead of LSU, but I think the committee will put the Tigers ahead of them, based on the tests that the team has survived thus far.

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SQ NFL Power Rankings: Week 6

1 (1)

New

New England Patriots

The "Tom Brady Vengeance Tour" is a real thing, and Brady hasn't been shy in bringing headliners Rob Gronkowski and

1 (1)

New

New England Patriots

The “Tom Brady Vengeance Tour” is a real thing, and Brady hasn’t been shy in bringing headliners Rob Gronkowski and Dion Lewis with him along the way. In a 30-6 romping of the Cowboys in Dallas, Brady threw for 285 yards and two TDs, and is the only starting quarterback in the NFL that has yet to throw an interception. The Patriots head to Indianapolis for Sunday Night Football, and after “DeflateGate,” don’t expect Bill Bellichick and Co. to take the foot off the gas if New England is ahead late. (Tyrell W)

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Green

Green Bay Packers

Well, now we know one thing…Aaron Rodgers is human. Rodgers ended his incredible streak of not throwing an interception at home with 587 pass attempts. The Packers continue to look like the best team in the NFC, but this week it was because of the defense. Green Bay was able to force four interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and three sacks en route to a 24-10 victory of the Rams. (Dan R)

3 (4)

Cincinnati

Cincinnati Bengals

As it turns out, Dalton isn’t red-haired. It has been determined that his actual hair is stained red from the blood he spilled in the Bengals’ improbable comeback last week against the Seahawks. Down 24-7 in what could have been classified as yet another devastating Cincy defeat, Dalton showed the traits expected of a quarterback in his position. With the aiding of the Bengals defense, Dalton led his team to 20 unanswered points. At the start of the fourth quarter, Cincinnati’s win probability sat at a lowly 1.4%. Instead, the Bengals are 5-0 and proving to the rest of the NFL how well-balanced this roster is. (Nick C)

4 (3)

Denver

Denver Broncos

With Oakland threatening to pull ahead in the fourth quarter, the Bronco D stepped up & Chris Harris Jr. delivered a crucial pick-six. Peyton Manning has seven INTs and only six TDs thus far. But Denver’s D looks good enough to carry this team deep into the playoffs. (Dominic K)

5 (5)

Atlanta

Atlanta Falcons

Scrapping by a pesky Redskins team, the Falcons keep feeding it to Devonta Freeman, who has gone from the “1B” to Tevin Coleman‘s 1A in the first two games to being second in the league this season in carries with 93, behind only Matt Forte (102). Rather than slowing down, Freeman’s YPC has increased every single game this season, from 1.8 in Week 1 to 5.7 last week. (Cory R)

6 (6)

Arizona

Arizona Cardinals

After suffering a setback in Week 4 against the Rams, the Cardinals returned to their “score 40+ points and blow out the opposing team mode,” and man-handled the Lions. The funny thing is, the Lions barely had the football and only ran a total of 45 offensive plays. The big difference was the Arizona defense forcing six turnovers. A trip to Pittsburgh will serve as a big test for the Cardinals, especially if Ben Roethlisberger is able to suit up. (Bobby E)

7 (8)

Carolina

Carolina Panthers

Coming out of their bye, the 4-0 Panthers travel to Seattle to face easily the deadliest of the 10 current 2-3 teams. There was just one touchdown between these two teams when Carolina hosted the Seahawks last year in a defensive-controlled game that yielded a 9-13 loss. The week off did come at the right time for captain of the defense Luke Kuechly though, who will return after missing the past three games. (Cory R)

8 (7)

Seattle

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle put up an extremely good fight, and really gave the game away to the Cincinnati Bengals. Now it was a well-matched game, but given that the Seahawks were up 24-7 at the half, they should have come out of Cincy with a win. Cincinnati held the football 10 minutes longer and converted on more first downs than Seattle’s up and down offense. A home game against the undefeated Panthers will be a good one to keep an eye out for in Week 6. (Bobby E)

9 (9)

Indianapolis

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts have won three straight after a disappointing 0-2 start, but all three came against the pitiful AFC South. Andrew Luck has missed back-to-back games, but 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck has put on somewhat of a show, especially against the Texans when he posted a 107.4 QB rating. Luck is practicing again and will potentially start against the undefeated Patriots. He is 0-4 against them in his career, including playoffs. (Josh C)

10 (12)

New

New York Giants

After two devastating losses to start the season, the Giants are in sole possession of first place in the NFC East. Eli Manning is on track to set career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, and passing touchdowns and to earn his first division title since 2011. (Austin T)

11 (13)

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Steelers

Le’Veon Bell is back to being the most dynamic running back in the NFL, and in his three games this season, he’s already Pro Football Focus’ second-ranked RB with a rating of 9.6. Michael Vick gutted out a win on the road against a tough San Diego team with Bell providing the walk-off spark to keep Pittsburgh squarely in the AFC North race. Ben Roethlisberger is slowly set to return, and as long as Vick can continue to do just enough to win, the Steelers will be a better team for it. (Nick C)

12 (10)

New

New York Jets

Head coach Todd Bowles finds himself at 3-1, and with the confusing Redskins coming to MetLife Stadium, don’t be surprised to see the Jets’ defensive line feast on Kirk Cousins. Washington’s offensive line is graded as PFF’s eighth-worst unit in passing situations, and for New York, the return of DT Sheldon Richardson will provide a much-needed injection of normality. Richardson will be eager to make his presence known, which is not ideal for Cousins. (Tyrell W)

13 (11)

Minnesota

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings had a week off to prepare for the Jamaal Charles-less Chiefs. With Adrian Peterson having a week to rest his body, I look for the Vikes to run the ball often. If Minnesota can protect Bridgewater and consistently get a push from the offensive line, we may be seeing them move up in the rankings. (Dan R)

14 (14)

San

San Diego Chargers

The Chargers found a way to lose this heartbreaker, and it may cost the Bolts a playoff berth. Although San Diego generally outplayed Pittsburgh, a pick-six and an 80-yard pass kept the Steelers alive until the end. The Bolts still must improve their D-line and O-line play. On the bright side, the Rivers to Gates connection is as strong as ever. (Dominic K)

15 (16)

Buffalo

Buffalo Bills

The Bills continue to be very up and down, but luckily for Rex Ryan, it’s mostly been up. Lighting rod Tyrod Taylor has been a very steady presence as a first-time starter, but an MCL injury has his Week 6 status up in the air. If he is unable to play, EJ Manuel will be thrown into the fire. Manuel, who threw for 348 yards, 4 TDs and a QB rating of 146.9 in the preseason, should be able to ride the ship until Taylor is off the mend. (Tyrell W)

16 (23)

Philadelphia

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles are starting to look scary on offense, especially after their 39-point effort against the Saints. The key is keeping pressure off of Sam Bradford. The Eagle’s offensive line is on pace to allow only 22 sacks, a career low for Bradford. That number should stay low if the Eagles hope to keep this momentum going and keep Bradford on the field. (Austin T)

17 (15)

St.

St. Louis Rams

Granted, the Rams lost by 14, but it was another extremely solid effort. Defensively, St. Louis did what no defense had done against Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau Field since December 2012: force an interception. Not only that, but the Rams did it twice. This one was on Nick Foles, as he really struggled against the Packers defense. A home game against the Browns may be exactly what Foles needs to get back on track. (Bobby E)

18 (17)

Dallas

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas is in panic mode. Since Tony Romo broke his collarbone, the Cowboys’ offense has generated a measly 18 points per game and the defense is allowing 32 points a game. A big reason for this negative differential is the lack of success on fourth down. Under Weedent, the Cowboys are converting just 25% of their third downs. The Cowboys are hoping now that Matt Cassell can do better and they need it fast. (Austin T)

19 (18)

Kansas

Kansas City Chiefs

The good: Kansas City’s 29th-ranked defense (by DVOA) finally looked good. The bad: The Chiefs blew a 17-3 lead to Chicago at home. The ugly: Jamaal Charles’ brutal ACL injury. Kansas City’s season is over, and that’s a shame. (Dominic K)

20 (22)

Washington

Washington Redskins

Washington may not be good enough to compete for a Super Bowl, but this is a talented team with multiple ways to win. In the loss to Atlanta, Washington relied a tough defense to keep the team in the game. While this team benefited from two field goal misses, Washington held Atlanta’s high powered passing attack to its lowest total on the season. If Kirk Cousins can play more consistently, this team will play spoiler all season long. (Austin T)

21 (21)

Oakland

Oakland Raiders

The Raiders lost again, but there were positives nonetheless. First, the defense allowed a season-low 16 points versus Denver, with no offensive TDs for the Broncos. Charles Woodson turned back the clock with two picks on Manning. And the Raiders were seriously only a couple plays from beating Denver. Perhaps the Raiders can finish second in the AFC West? (Dominic K)

22 (19)

Baltimore

Baltimore Ravens

Week-to-week, the Ravens have steadily been free-falling in our rankings, and for good reason. QB Joe Flacco has been failing to close out games, but most surprising, the defense hasn’t looked anything like the unit the NFL is accustomed to. Having surrendered the eighth-most yards and eighth-fewest takeaways, Baltimore is hoping to see an improvement in the franchise’s identity. But at 1-4, it may be too little too late. (Nick C)

23 (28)

Cleveland

Cleveland Browns

How about Josh McCown? Though the Ravens have been perhaps the biggest disappointment in the NFL this year, McCown and the Browns went into a scathing atmosphere and showed which team was tougher. TE Gary Barnidge has gone from under-utilized blocker into a 20 catch, 319 yard, and three TD outburst in his last three games. Cleveland’s secondary has been good enough to bail out a disappointing defensive line, but nonetheless, the Browns are 2-3, as head coach Mike Pettine’s toughness continues to rub off on his team. (Nick C)

24 (30)

Chicago

Chicago Bears

Without his two best wideouts and a depleted line, Jay Cutler led the Bears to a comeback win in Kansas City. If Cutler can play mistake free football, Chicago’s coaching can drastically improve this team in becoming a contender. Chicago’s defense has risen to the challenge so far this year giving up 304.6 yards per game, ranking 4th in the NFL. (Dan R)

25 (27)

Houston

Houston Texans

Houston is 1-4, but has a soft spot in its schedule coming up with games at Jacksonville and Miami, and at home against Tennessee. If the Texans want any chance to contend for the AFC South title, they need to capitalize on this opportunity. Houston still has not scored more than 21 points in a game this season, and its defense has not been strong enough to make its puttering offense viable. That must change going forward, or the Texans will be looking at a top-five draft pick in 2016. (Josh C)

26 (25)

Tennessee

Tennessee Titans

The Titans had that game against Buffalo. They should be 2-2 and half a game out of first in the AFC South. But Tennessee couldn’t hold on at the end, and that’s got to sting. The Titans have a mixed-bag schedule going forward, playing many teams with sub-.500 records in addition to a couple teams that are currently undefeated. Marcus Mariota is averaging 255 yards, two touchdowns and less than one interception per game as a rookie, which is great. He’ll need to keep it up to keep the Titans competitive. (Josh C)

27 (20)

New

New Orleans Saints

The Saints defense is tied for 29th in points allowed per game at 28.6. They’ve had winning records in four of the last six years, but all those winning season’s defenses allowed less than 22 PPG, whereas each of the losing season allowed more than 26. The lack of offensive weapons is getting the headlines, but the defense has similarly been troubled so far this season. (Cory R)

28 (26)

Miami

Miami Dolphins

Heading into their matchup with the Titans fresh off a bye, the Dolphins will quickly show if former head coach Joe Philbin was the organization’s kryptonite, or if this team is simply a model of ineptitude. Rated as PFF’s 4th-worst offense and 9th-worst defense, Miami has been given the chance to start over with Dan Campbell, a coach whose demeanor is a complete reversal from Philbin. (Tyrell W)

29 (32)

Tampa

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have got the same number of wins as last year’s NFC Champion Seahawks, but they’ve played only one team with more than one win (Carolina) and they lost. After asking Jameis Winston to throw it 43 times against Carolina, they shielded their rookie signal caller by giving Doug Martin 24 carries to Winston’s 19 pass attempts in a long overdue home win against Jacksonville. (Cory R)

30 (31)

San

San Francisco 49ers

Well, at least the 49ers can say they put a bigger effort into Sunday night’s game. San Francisco came just short in a heartbreaking loss against the Giants, but to give credit where it’s due, Colin Kaepernieck looked a lot better. Kap threw no interceptions and looked more crisp and sharp with the football. Even though making the playoffs this season now seems like a long-shot, the Niners can look to get on track against a struggling Ravens team. (Bobby E)

31 (24)

Detroit

Detroit Lions

The Lions stay winless as Stafford’s play earns him a benching. Stafford has thrown eight interceptions in the first five games this year as the defense let up 42 points to Arizona. Detroit seems to be having the most disappointing year out of all 32 teams after a playoff appearance a year ago. (Dan R)

32 (29)

Jacksonville

Jacksonville Jaguars

A disappointing Jags loss has sent them to the bottom of our power rankings this week. Despite Blake Bortles‘ four-touchdown game, Jacksonville’s defense was not able to hold Tampa Bay in check, and it cost them. The run defense was carved up by Doug Martin, allowing 5.1 yards per carry. The Jags cannot allow this kind of gashing again, or else wins could be hard to come by. (Josh C)

Read More 2299 Words

SQ NFL Power Rankings: Week 7

  

 

  RK (LW)

1 (1)

New

New England Patriots

The Patriots suffered a bit of a scare as the up-and-down Colts made things interesting in Indianapolis, but a big day from

  

 

  RK (LW)

1 (1)

New

New England Patriots

The Patriots suffered a bit of a scare as the up-and-down Colts made things interesting in Indianapolis, but a big day from LeGarrette Blount saved the day for the Pats. Blount’s 93 rushing yards was his highest total since Week 3 of the 2014 season. A home game against the streaking New York Jets will be an interesting matchup for the Pats, but expect them to come out firing. (Bobby E)

2 (4)

Cincinnati

Cincinnati Bengals

Week to week, it seems a new hero on offense emerges for QB Andy Dalton and the Bengals. In Cincy’s most recent outing against the Bills, WR Marvin Jones took advantage of Buffalo cornerbacks for 95 yards on nine catches, including a miraculous TD run and catch. The Bengals continue to look like one of the NFL’s most well-rounded teams, and at 6-0, Cincy has the pedal to the floor over the rest of the AFC North. (Nick C)

3 (2)

Green

Green Bay Packers

Similar to the undefeated Patriots, the Packers were caught in a close matchup. Thanks to the inability of Philip Rivers and the Chargers from scoring a touchdown from three yards out on four attempts, Green Bay was able to escape. Time-of-possession and total yards were dominated by the Chargers, but ultimately the turnover difference and small penalty discrepancy were enough to separate the two teams. Heading into the bye week 6-0, the Packers are feeling good. (Bobby E)

4 (8)

Carolina

Carolina Panthers

Doubters be gone? The Seahawks haven’t been their dominant selves this season, but it’s time to start believing that this 5-0 Panthers team is a legitimate NFC threat. Their defense is tied at the top with a +6 turnover differential, and Cam Newton was PFF highest graded quarterback last week (tied with Philip Rivers). (Cory R)

5 (3)

Denver

Denver Broncos

Another week, another win, and another awful game from Peyton. The Broncos might be the ugliest 6-0 team I’ve ever seen. But their defense is having a 2005 Bears-esque season, with four defensive touchdowns already. If this keeps up and Manning cuts out the interceptions, the Broncos may be the team best suited to take down New England. (Dominic K)

6 (5)

Atlanta

Atlanta Falcons

A five fumble nightmare, three of which were lost, struck the Falcons on the short week. Looking all out of sorts, the Falcons managed to lose by 10 despite outperforming the Saints offense in every other regard (7.1 YPC to the Saints’ 2.5!). It’ll be a tuneup week against the bottom-dwelling, Mariota-less Titans this week. (Cory R)

7 (13)

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Steelers

Michael Vick‘s ineptitude and Landry Jones‘ stellar play against the Cardinals makes you wonder why the Steelers catapulted Vick ahead of Jones upon his arrival. Jones, in relief duty, threw for 168 yards and two TDs, both to Martavis Bryant. Jones’ understanding of the offense didn’t outshine his execution. He is getting the start against the Chiefs, the NFL’s 7th-worst passing defense, though a trip to Arrowhead in his first NFL start should make Pittsburgh just a bit uneasy. (Nick C)

8 (6)

Arizona

Arizona Cardinals

The streaky Cardinals are starting to look like the Arizona team we’ve seen the last couple years: a good team, but not good enough. In the games they’ve won, they’ve racked up 30+ points (40+ in 3/4 games). The remedy is easy to tell: the offense has to be consistently great. The defense put forth its worst effort of the season against an injury-decimated Steelers (no Big Ben or Vick), yet still failed to play well enough. Carson Palmer needs to step it up, as he’ll get just that chance against a surprisingly struggling Ravens team. (Bobby E)

9 (10)

New

New York Jets

J-E-T-S, JETS JETS JETS! A 4-1 start has Jets fans feeling hopeful about this team. Ryan Fitzpatrick is making strong strides and finding a strong connection with Brandon Marshall, while Chris Ivory is quickly developing into a top NFL back with another big rushing effort. Back to back 140+ yards in the last two games, and Marshall’s four consecutive games of 100+ receiving yards has Jets fans excited about their offense. Can they compete with the Patriots high-powered offense? We’ll see in Week 7. (Bobby E)

10 (9)

Indianapolis

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts failed to upset the Patriots at home, but for the first time in the Andrew Luck era, Indy remained competitive and avoided the blowout. It didn’t help them in our rankings this week, but it will hopefully help establish a standard by which the remaining games of the season will be played. The Colts still have a great chance to make the playoffs based on the division in which they play, and once you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. (Josh C)

11 (7)

Seattle

Seattle Seahawks

Back-to-back tough losses to elite teams make you wonder whether the Seahawks are on the wrong end of the stick, or simply not a good NFL team. Sitting at 2-4, Seattle needs to evaluate what the team needs to do better. Whether it’s third down efficiency (4-14 last week), or having more of a balanced attack, something needs to change. A trip to San Francisco may be exactly what the Seahawks need. That is unless the 49ers decide to play spoiler and blacken Seattle’s postseason chances. (Bobby E)

12 (11)

Minnesota

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings continue to show themselves as one of the most mysterious teams in the NFL. They lost to the low-caliber 49ers in Week 1, but since then have only suffered one other loss which was by three points to the Broncos. Their wins haven’t been very impressive either, but being the 2nd ranked defense at 16.6 points/game isn’t too shabby. Another game against the Lions may send Minnesota to a 4-2 record. (Bobby E)

13 (23)

Philadelphia

Philadelphia Eagles

DeMarco Murray has struggled through injury and a lack of touches in Chip Kelly’s offense. But when given the opportunity, Murray took a season high 22 caries for 109 yards and scored on a powerful 12-yard run to seal the game in the third quarter. If the defense can keep up this kind of pressure and Murray plays like he did, Philadelphia might be back on track for the division lead. (Austin T)

14 (14)

San

San Diego Chargers

Could any other team get 503 passing yards in a game and lose? Could any other QB besides Philip Rivers rip into the Packer secondary for 59 minutes, only to miss a wide open Danny Woodhead for the tying score? That’s two consecutive backbreaking losses for San Diego, a team that needs to win those games to snag a wild card playoff berth. But when your defense allows a league-worst 5.4 yards/rushing attempt, the entire team suffers. (Dominic K)

15 (12)

New

New York Giants

The offensive line for the New York Giants took a beating on Monday night. Eli was sacked three times and the offense generated only 81 rushing yards. The defense did it’s job generating four turnovers, but after the opening drive, the Giants never made it back to the redzone. After looking so good for four weeks, this is a huge step back. (Austin T)

16 (16)

Buffalo

Buffalo Bills

Buffalo has been one of the most intriguing teams in the league. They have statement wins in Weeks 1 and 3 and barely beat the Titans in Week 5, but have lost to the Patriots, Giants, and Bengals in relatively close games. The Bills are an extremely average team if you look at every category both offensively and defensively. Taking the next step can be easily achieved on both sides of the football against the Jaguars this upcoming week. (Bobby E)

17 (15)

St.

St. Louis Rams

Fresh off a bye week, the Rams get a tasty matchup with the streaky Cleveland Browns. St. Louis has dropped four games this season, but all have been relatively close. It’s up to Nick Foles and the offense to step up and lead the Rams, as the defense has really done it’s job all season long limiting teams to 24 points or less (aside from Week 1’s high scoring win). St. Louis ranks dead last in total offensive yards, yards per game, total points, and points per game. This week’s matchup is exactly what they need. (Bobby E)

18 (17)

Dallas

Dallas Cowboys

A much-needed bye week stops the bleeding for now, but Dallas has a tough test again traveling to New York. The Cowboys need Matt Cassell to hand the ball off and convert on third down. The last time Cassell faced the New York Giants was in 2009 and he threw for 127 yards with a 47% completion rate and two touchdowns in a loss with the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s going to have to do better than that if the Cowboys are going to stay in contention. (Austin T)

19 (26)

Miami

Miami Dolphins

After losing three straight games, we finally got a glimpse of the Miami Dolphins we were expecting this season. A route of the Titans isn’t something to flaunt, but there were many positives to take from this game. The emergence of Lamar Miller and dedication to handing him the football was one takeaway, as he finished with 113 yards on 19 carries. Can Miami continue its success? A matchup with Houston could go either way for them. (Bobby E)

20 (20)

New

New Orleans Saints

When you rush the ball 32 times, it usually means you’re doing something right. Getting 81 yards to show for that many attempts? Not so much. Despite facing the Falcons top run defense, the Saints are going to need production from their backfield to sustain the offense, especially this week when it’ll mean keeping the ball out of Andrew Luck’s hands. (Cory R)

21 (21)

Oakland

Oakland Raiders

Don’t look now, but the 2-3 Raiders are 2nd place in the AFC West! Up next is an intriguing divisional tilt in San Diego. Look for Latavius Murray to have a nice afternoon, and for the Raiders to be frisky once again. This team is on the rise, and a win propels them into the playoff conversation. (Dominic K)

22 (22)

Washington

Washington Redskins

As Kirk Cousins goes, Washington goes, and Sunday’s performance was the worst all season. Cousins completed less than 60% of his passes, and threw his 7th and 8th picks. For comparison, Cousins has 27 interceptions in the 20 games he has played. RGIII only threw 20 interceptions in his 37 games. I know you can’t risk guaranteeing Griffin’s contract but, yeesh, Washington will continue to struggle if Cousins is at the helm. (Austin T)

23 (31)

San

San Francisco 49ers

A win, finally. Beating the Ravens at home isn’t the biggest achievement, but it’s something worth smiling about. The biggest takeaway in this one that resembles the 49ers offense in one stat is Colin Kaepernick‘s average completion yardage. Throughout the season Kap had failed to exceed eight yards per game, but on Sunday he averaged almost 13 yards! If he can keep this aggressive passing mentality against the Seahawks, the 49ers could shock some people and knock off Seattle. (Bobby E)

24 (27)

Houston

Houston Texans

For the first time this season, the Texans scored more than 21 points, and they won the game because of it. The Jaguars may not be a strong opponent, but Houston needs any win it can get at this point. A trip to Miami will serve as an interesting test for both teams. The two teams have been inconsistent all season long, so this one will be a toss-up. (Bobby E)

25 (30)

Chicago

Chicago Bears

The Bears tried. And they failed. Despite sending the game into OT, Chicago just didn’t have enough left in the tank. A big failure in Chicago’s offense was the efficiency of Matt Forte‘s rushing. Averaging 2.88 yards per carry will not get the job done in this league, especially for a team like the Bears who rely on Forte so much. A bye week may be rightfully placed for this team. (Bobby E)

26 (28)

Cleveland

Cleveland Browns

Josh McCown did his best to withstand the high-pressured Denver pass rush, but in the end, the Cleveland offense was unable to make the critical play. Though the Browns didn’t come away with a possible season-changing win, the results were encouraging. Cleveland’s NFL-worst run defense (based on PFF grades) heads to St. Louis, and will be tasked with trying to stop rookie sensation Todd Gurley. Expect rookie NT Danny Shelton and the rest of the Browns’ defense to either rise above or be exposed. (Nick C)

27 (18)

Kansas

Kansas City Chiefs

These are dark days for the Chiefs offense. So dark, in fact, that the Steelers head to Arrowhead as three point favorites with Landry Jones at QB. But hey, at least the Royals are looking good! (Dominic K)

28 (32)

Tampa

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Coming out of the bye, hopefully Jameis Winston worked on his chemistry with Mike Evans, whom he’s hit on just 13-of-33 targets so far. They can boast a .500 record (!) with a win in Washington this week. Their defense has quietly allowed the 5th fewest yards per game. (Cory R)

29 (19)

Baltimore

Baltimore Ravens

Another test failed for the Ravens. QB Joe Flacco has come out publicly saying he has yet to transition into OC Marc Trestman’s offense, and with no reliable receiver besides Steve Smith Sr. to lean on, his job becomes that much tougher. The Baltimore defense made Colin Kaepernick look better than he is, as short-lived star Jimmy Smith has garnered the worst PFF grade among Ravens’ cornerbacks. A Monday night matchup with the Cardinals awaits, and it could get very ugly very quickly in the desert. (Nick C)

30 (24)

Detroit

Detroit Lions

The first win of the season finally came for the Detroit Lions. After suffering heart breaks week after week, the ball was on the Lions side at the end of this one. Matthew Stafford was a monster, as his four touchdown and one interception effort was clearly his best game of the year. Stafford posted a quarterback rating 117.7, 34.2 higher than his previous best this season. Can he continue his success against the Vikings? It may be difficult, but he’ll have his home-crowd to support him. (Bobby E)

31 (25)

Tennessee

Tennessee Titans

Marcus Mariota may miss multiple games with a knee injury, which means the Titans may simply be playing out the schedule going forward. With Mariota, they have a chance, however small, to win the weakest division in football. Without him, they may not win another game. (Josh C)

32 (29)

Jacksonville

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville’s loss to the Texans drops them back down to the bottom of our rankings. The Jags have shown great promise at times this year, but there has been no consistency, and that’s what’s killing their chances. Blake Bortles must continue to improve and lead this young offense. He has the talent to do so. (Josh C)

Read More 2300 Words

College Football Week 5 Roundup

Greetings, SQ fans. We hope you enjoyed this weekend of college football as much as we did. Also, please welcome our newest contributor, Tyler Endebrock! That being said, let's dig into our Week 5 roundup:

1. Which team had the most impressive win?

Tyler: I gave the other writers some grief last week for talking about

Greetings, SQ fans. We hope you enjoyed this weekend of college football as much as we did. Also, please welcome our newest contributor, Tyler Endebrock! That being said, let’s dig into our Week 5 roundup:

1. Which team had the most impressive win?

Tyler: I gave the other writers some grief last week for talking about the Florida Gators so much in the Week 4 Roundup. This week, however, I am going to eat some crow because the most impressive win was the Gators’ 38-10 drubbing over the Ole Miss Rebels. These were the same Rebels that marched into Tuscaloosa and beat Alabama. Once Ole Miss came to The Swamp, they were boat-raced by the Gators. 

Will Grier is starting to look like the real deal, the defense is nasty, and the whole team seems to be clicking under new head coach Jim McElwain. The offense looked elite against one of the most hyped-up defenses in the nation, and the team undoubtedly got help from the crowd. Combine all of this and the Gators had one of the more impressive wins of the entire season. If they can keep this pace up, watch for them to win the SEC East, and maybe even make it to the playoff.

Andy: Not only did Alabama completely wallop Georgia between the hedges, they did it in flood conditions. The Tide’s 24-3 lead at halftime was a result of pouring it on very quickly in the first half, combined with an incredible defensive showing. The biggest positive of this performance was seeing QB Jake Coker look like someone who could lead a playoff team, throwing for 190 yards, one TD, and adding a score on the ground. Derrick Henry has proven to be reliable in the backfield, but with Coker playing well, the Crimson Tide will truly be a force to be reckoned with come the playoffs.

Robert: I’m going to split this award between two Big Ten squads: Michigan and Northwestern. The Wolverines blanked the Maryland Terrapins 28-0, giving Michigan its second straight shutout win. And, the Wildcats gave up just 173 total yards to the Minnesota Golden Gophers en route to the team’s first Big Ten shutout victory in 20 years. 

Northwestern and its top-ranked defense (7.0 points allowed per game) head to Ann Arbor to take on the Wolverines’ second-ranked defense (7.6 points allowed per contest). The over/under might be zero for this game, and I’m going with the under.

Sean: After being left for dead, Arizona State came out and put up a heck of a performance against UCLA on the road. Mike Bercovici looked like the QB that had shown flashes of brilliance last season, throwing for 273 yards, two touchdowns, and adding a score on the ground. The Sun Devils defense rebounded nicely after giving up 42 points last week to USC, holding UCLA to just 23 points. 

They made it difficult for the Bruins to get anything going by shutting down the run game, allowing just 62 rushing yards on 28 carries. A win like this could be exactly what Arizona State needs to get back on track and back into the race for the Pac-12 title.

David: I will go with the Alabama Crimson Tide. After getting upset by Ole Miss for the second straight year, many outsiders began to question whether Alabama could keep up their dominant run. They were underdogs against Georgia (rarely will you ever see ‘Alabama’ and ‘underdogs’ in the same sentence). Big mistake. Never count out a Nick Saban-coached team, ever. Alabama came into Athens, Georgia and clobbered the Bulldogs 38-10, and reminded everyone that they’re still the team to beat in the SEC. 

2. Which team had the most disappointing loss?

Tyler: The Nebraska Cornhuskers take this “award” for their loss to the unranked Illinois Fighting Illini. This is the third game this season where the Huskers held their opponent scoreless in the first half, but the “Heart Attack Huskers” nearly gave one of those games away, and ended up actually doing it in this one. Up 13-7 on third and 7 with 55 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, the Nebraska coaches decide to pass the ball instead of run it, while Illinois had no timeouts. 

The pass fell incomplete, and because of swirling winds that reached speeds over 30 miles per hour, the coaches decided against a 45-yard field goal. The fourth down call was another pass, which also fell incomplete. Had the coaches ran the ball on third and 7, Illinois would have only had about 10-15 seconds left to march down the field, but instead, they had 51 seconds. 

A 50-yard pass and multiple pass interference penalties later, the Fighting Illini scored on a one-yard touchdown pass, and hit the PAT to win. Poor playcalling and awful time management cost the Huskers the win. Husker quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw the ball 31 times, completing only 10 of those passes. 

On a violently windy day, where Nebraska successfully averaged 5.5 yards per rush, fans and media pundits everywhere questioned the offensive gameplan of the Husker coaching staff. The decision to pass the ball so often, combined with time mismanagement, drops the Huskers to 2-3 on the season, and gives them the most disappointing loss of Week 5.

Andy: The UCLA bubble has finally popped. The Bruins, led by true freshman phenom Josh Rosen, had a very disappointing night on offense, converting only 3-of-14 on third down, and gaining 342 yards. Rosen threw for 280 yards, two TDs, one INT, and earned a pedestrian 37.5 QBR. The Sun Devils offense showed up when it had to, due to a brilliant showing on defense. The first score of the game was a safety from UCLA’s 13 yard line, and the Sun Devils never surrendered the lead. Moving forward, the Pac-12 will likely be one of the most interesting conferences to follow with a surplus of high-powered teams.

Robert: Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish held Clemson’s star QB Deshaun Watson to just 97 yards passing and outgained the Tigers 437-296, yet fell to the Tigers 24-22. Notre Dame allowed 14 points in the game’s first six minutes thanks to sloppy defense and a 15-yard punt. 

In inclement weather, Clemson loaded the box because Notre Dame Coach Brian Kelly consistently tried to run the ball on the early downs, instead of allowing QB DeShone Kizer to air it out. The Tigers benefited from four Irish turnovers. Both teams looked like legitimate playoff contenders, but Notre Dame returned home from Memorial Stadium with nothing but a missed opportunity for a marquee road win.

Sean: What else can go wrong for Texas? Apparently a lot more than what has gone wrong already. A 50-7 loss to TCU pretty much sums up exactly how this season has gone so far the Longhorns. The Texas offense was abysmal yet again, and didn’t even get on the scoreboard until there was 5:14 left in the game. 

For a coach who’s supposed to be a defensive whiz, Charlie Strong certainly did not have an answer for TCU. Giving up 604 yards of offense to any team is never a good sign, and Strong better hope for forgiveness or a quick turnaround because his seat is getting pretty hot right about now.

David: The Ole Miss Rebels had high aspirations, especially after beating Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Unfortunately, they ran into a strong and determined Gator team and were destroyed 38-10. Quarterback Chad Kelly was harassed all night as he was sacked four times, lost two fumbles, and threw an interception.

3. Offensive Player of the Week

Tyler: Leonard Fournette continues his ridiculous season, but everyone expected him to put up gaudy numbers against Eastern Michigan’s defense, which ranks last in the nation in rushing. So, instead of giving him Offensive POTW, I’m going to give it to Ezekiel Elliot. He was there for the Ohio State Buckeyes when they needed him, rushing for a career-high 274 yards on only 23 carries. 

He provided the spark that the Buckeyes needed when he pulled off touchdown runs of 55, 65, and 75 yards, after enduring a tough first half against the Indiana Hoosiers. Without Elliot’s electrifying runs, the Buckeyes likely would have lost this game, which makes his performance even more important.

Andy: While Zeke did put on a great show against Indiana, my pick is Fournette. LSU was having some trouble with the unranked Eastern Michigan Eagles, only leading 20-14 at halftime. On the first play of the second half, Fournette broke a 75-yard run to give the Tigers a two score lead. 

His average per game is now 216 yards, and he is on pace for 2,376 yards. Sanders’ rushing record of 2,628 yards is within reach, Fournette just needs to turn on the afterburners a little more. LSU’s first game against McNeese State was cancelled due to inclement weather, and having one fewer game could keep Fournette out of the record books.

Robert: For his unique performance, I have to give this award to UNC quarterback Marquise Williams. The Tar Heels’ do-it-all player threw for 134 yards on 13 for 24 passing, rushed for 148 more on 15 carries, and even caught a pass for 37 yards. Williams led UNC in all three categories while scoring three touchdowns (two on the ground, one on his reception), as the Tar Heels shocked a quickly fading Georgia Tech team 38-31.

Sean: Trevone Boykin, for me, really got back to showing why a lot of people were so high on him to win the Heisman this season in his performance against Texas. Boykin threw for 332 yards, recorded a passer efficiency rating of 183.96, and lit up the endzone five times through the air (the second time in three games that he’s done that). If TCU’s defense isn’t able to keep pace, at least Boykin is making sure the offense continues to get into the end zone. 

David: I agree with Tyler. Ezekiel Elliot put the Buckeyes on his back with 274 rushing yards and three touchdowns. It was his first 200+ rushing yard performance this season. Indiana was giving Ohio State quite a scare. Unfortunately for them, the Buckeyes have Elliot, and they do not.

4. Defensive Player of the Week

Tyler: Here’s another answer where it is hard not to pick a Florida Gator (yes, I was awarded my degree from UF, but I do not consider myself a Gator fan. I promise there is no bias from me here.) Antonio Morrison played lights-out for the Gators against Ole Miss. The senior linebacker posted 16 tackles (five solo), with 3.5 tackles for loss, including half a sack. 

When the third-ranked team in the nation comes into your stadium and you play a vital role in holding them to only 10 points, it is very difficult for anyone to not realize how well you played. And that is precisely what Morrison did.

Andy: The nod has to go to Antonio Morrison. Anytime a player has 16 tackles against a Top 25 offense, you know they had a truly special performance. Florida’s walloping of Ole Miss is a major topic this week because of how strong they looked on offense, but holding the Rebels to 10 points is just as big of an accomplishment, and Morrison was a major part of that.

Robert: Michigan middle linebacker Desmond Morgan had nine tackles (five solo) and an interception in the Wolverines’ dominating win over Maryland. Morgan, a fifth-year senior who was granted eligibility due to medical hardship after missing the team’s final 11 games in 2014, has been instrumental in limiting Michigan’s opponents to just 184 total yards of offense per game. Morgan spearheads this mighty Michigan defense that ranks in the top five nationally in nearly every defensive category.

Sean: I’m just going to give this to the Florida Gators defense overall. Ole Miss could not get anything going down in the Swamp, and Chad Kelly found himself on the ground way too many times. The Gators registered 11 tackles for loss (four sacks), five pass breakups, four QB hurries, and two forced fumbles. 

Antonio Morrison led the charge with 16 tackles and Vernon Hargreaves III notched another interception. People expected a defensive shootout in this game, but Florida’s defense delivered and only gave up 10 points. By far, this is one of the best defensive performances from any team all season.

David: Antonio Morrison was everywhere for the Gators. His 16 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, and half a sack paved the way for a dominant defensive performance against the Ole Miss Rebels. Before the season even began, Morrison had doubts because of an injury that he had suffered. With this performance, he has erased all doubts. 

5. Freshman of the Week

Tyler: I tried to find someone else who was more impressive than Will Grier, but I could not, so I have to give yet another award to the Gators. The kid played with the flu against the No. 3 team in the nation, but it did not faze him one bit as he finished 24 for 29 with 271 yards and four touchdowns. 

All four touchdowns came in the first half, where he posted a 206.8 quarterback rating. The “landshark” defense of the Ole Miss Rebels failed to show up, and Will Grier exploited them for the best game of his young career. You have to go all the way back to Chris Leak in 2005 to find a Gator quarterback that threw for four touchdowns in one half. I swear, I would not be giving all these Gators awards if they had not played a top-five team. 

However, I think I set myself up for this by giving grief to the writers for last week. As I said in my award for most impressive win, I am eating crow for my comments about Gator bias. This team is legitimate, and they are led by one of the best freshman quarterbacks in the country.

Andy: While Grier went off and had an insane statsheet, I’m going to give this award to Minkah Fitzpatrick. The true freshman DB had a blocked punt recovered for a touchdown, to put Alabama up 17-3 in the first half against Georgia. The play was an integral part of the Tide’s roll over the Bulldogs.

Robert: TCU’s Kavontae Turpin had just six catches on Saturday against Texas, but they went for 138 yards and four touchdowns. The speedy Turpin – who is just 5 foot 9 and 155 pounds – clearly cannot be defended in man coverage by linebackers, which will be an issue for all of TCU’s opponents. The Horned Frogs just have too many offensive weapons, and Turpin will be a tough cover for every defense the team faces.

Sean: You have to give this one to Grier. The first-year QB used the momentum he built in the comeback win against Tennessee and poured it into the game against Ole Miss. If he truly was suffering from flu-like symptoms, I’m sure Gator fans wouldn’t mind him being sick for every game if he can perform like that. 

He showed excellent command of the offense, and threw for over 270 yards for a second straight game. We saw that he could be accurate in his first game against New Mexico State, but he’d been a bit sloppy until this past week, completing 82.8% of his passes. The Gators have something special with Grier, and if he can continue to improve, he could get some hardware at the end of the season.

David: Will Grier, despite having the flu, not only started, he completely picked the Ole Miss defense apart. He had 271 passing yards, completed 83% of his passes, and threw four touchdowns in the first half (becoming the first Gator quarterback to accomplish that since Chris Leak in 2005). He built off of his clutch fourth-quarter performance against Tennessee to have the game of his life. For the first time since the Tebow years, Florida might finally have a quarterback.

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SQ Heisman Power Rankings: 1st Edition

Welcome to the first ever SQ Heisman Power Rankings. Now several weeks into the season, our writers have conducted a roundtable to put forth their takes on the frontrunners for college football's most prestigious award. The five players in the rankings are: Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Trevone Boykin, Nick Chubb and Chad Kelly.

As you will see

Welcome to the first ever SQ Heisman Power Rankings. Now several weeks into the season, our writers have conducted a roundtable to put forth their takes on the frontrunners for college football’s most prestigious award. The five players in the rankings are: Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, Trevone Boykin, Nick Chubb and Chad Kelly.

As you will see throughout the rankings, our writers disagree on where each player ends up. For example, one may say he ranked a player at number 4, and the actual ranking came out to number 2. That is all part of the fun.

These rankings will be updated every week and will more than likely shuffle through a handful of players. In fact, an honorable mentions section is at the bottom of the page, so look out for those guys to make a leap in the upcoming weeks.

How the Scoring Works

Each of the writers was asked to rank the top 5 current Heisman contenders from 1-5. This 1-5 ranking was then used as a points system. I tallied up how many points each athlete got and ranked them based upon their total. The lower one’s total is, the higher on the rankings he is. 

Without further ado, here are the SQ Heisman Power Rankings heading into Week 4:

1. Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU 6 points (unanimous #1)

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

19 carries 228 yards 3 touchdowns vs. Auburn

47 carries 387 yards 6 touchdowns this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: After Fournette singlehandedly massacred the Auburn defense last Saturday, he’s been a story across the country. He showed a lot of promise at the end of last season and everybody was expecting him to break out this year. Well, it’s safe to say he has. Through two games, against two SEC opponents, Fournette is averaging over 8 yards per carry. At this rate, he can finish the regular season with over 1700 yards and nearly 30 touchdowns. I have a good feeling that it’s within reach.

Geoff Hammersley: Leonard Fournette is the man everyone is chasing right now. After a 3 TD performance against Auburn, he looks like the toughest running back to bring down in the country. If he can keep up this kind of production throughout the season, he has a good chance to be a finalist – at a minimum.

Alex Koslow: Leonard Fournette almost singlehandedly tore up an Auburn defense that was supposed to be much improved with the help of new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. In only two games, his rushing numbers put him in the top 15 for rushing yards and top 10 for touchdowns. Barring a setback, Fournette will be headed to New York for the Heisman presentation.

Robert Hess: Fournette is an absolute monster. When you go off on an, albeit struggling, Auburn defense for 228 yards and three scores, you are going to vault to the top of the Heisman power rankings.

David Street: Is there any team that can stop Leonard Fournette right now? Mississippi State couldn’t and neither could Auburn. Fournette unleashed his full potential against the Tigers as he absolutely tore their defense apart with 228 rushing touchdowns and three touchdowns. He’s looking like the best running back not just in the SEC, but in the nation.

2. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia 13 points

Jeremy Brevard / USA Today Sports

21 carries 159 yards 2 touchdowns vs. South Carolina

56 carries 468 yards 4 touchdowns this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: Nick Chubb has not disappointed since becoming Georgia’s starter. He ended last year as arguably the best back in the SEC and has since continued to prove his worth. Chubb is also averaging over 8 yards per carry and is on a similar historical pace as Fournette is right now. It’s going to be a race between those two for the Heisman.

Geoff Hammersley: Staying in the SEC, I have Georgia’s Nick Chubb at second. Chubb is speedy, at that’s a big reason for his 468 total yards on the ground this season. As Georgia and LSU go about their respective seasons, the eye-test might be the only differentiating factor between Fournette and Chubb.

Alex Koslow: What more can you say about Chubb? He took over for Todd Gurley last year and has looked like a Heisman candidate ever since. With 11 straight games of 100+ rushing yards Chubb is almost a lock to be a finalist. The only thing that could hinder Chubb is Georgia using sophomore Sony Michel more. We could possibly see Fournette and Chubb in the SEC Championship game, which could determine the Heisman winner.

Robert Hess: Chubb is performing well, but Georgia has posted wins against weaker competition. The Georgia RB does have a superb 8.4 yards per carry, so he and Fournette will be duking it out for the top spot.

David Street: Nick Chubb is still a beast. He rushed for over 100 yards for the 11th straight game.

3. Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss 22 points


Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

18-33 362 total yards 4 touchdowns vs. Alabama

47-73 965 total yards 12 touchdowns 1 int. this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: If Leonard Fournette is the talk of the nation right now, Chad Kelly is the runner up. Ole Miss has been lighting opponents up and it’s mostly thanks to Kelly. The Rebels put up 43 points against Alabama, in Tuscaloosa. Chad Kelly accounted for over half of the team’s offense that night. He’s quickly making a case for himself as the best quarterback in the country.

Geoff Hammersley: Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly comes in at number four on my list. A breakout game against Alabama, especially this early in the season, can give anyone Heisman momentum. Kelly fired four touchdowns against perennial powerhouse Alabama, including a quintessential Heisman moment TD that came off a bad snap and a tip by an Alabama defender. If Kelly can guide Ole Miss to a 10-win season, he will be a real contender to walk away with the trophy in December.

Alex Koslow: Chad Kelly’s rise to fame reminds me a little Johnny Manziel’s. Everyone knew about Kelly coming into the year, but wasn’t sure what he was really capable of showing. He put up big numbers in the games leading up to Alabama, and like Manziel, in the spotlight against the Tide he rose to the occasion. Kelly impressed fans and the hype is now building for him to be considered as a serious Heisman candidate. Alabama’s defense was supposed to be one of the best in the country and Kelly tore them up with four touchdowns.

Robert Hess: Chad Kelly impressed by putting up 4 (three through the air, one on the ground) touchdowns in Ole Miss’ win in Tuscaloosa. However awesome he was, albeit on only 54.5% passing, he faced two ridiculously poor defenses in weeks one and two. If Ole Miss can stay undefeated, expect Kelly’s name to stay in the picture.

David Street: Chad Kelly came into a hostile environment and passed the test with flying colors. He led his Ole Miss Rebels to an impressive victory over the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa with 341 passing yards and three touchdown passes.

4. Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU 23 points

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

21-30 504 total yards 6 touchdowns 1 int vs. SMU

65-99 1133 all purpose yards 12 touchdowns 3 ints this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: Trevone Boykin has been underwhelming at best this season. Maybe this is due to us expecting too much out of him. Boykin burst onto the scene last season, establishing himself as one of the flashiest guys in the NCAA. Ever since his struggles against Minnesota, his reputation has been hurt, even though he’s already totaled over 1000 yards and double digit touchdowns. It’s going to take a quality performance against a tough Big 12 team to move Boykin back up the list.

Geoff Hammersley: I have Trevone Boykin in fifth. Even though Boykin tore through the SMU defense, the quality of his opponents comes into question. Like last week, Boykin will stay in my top-5, but will only move up if he can recreate the numbers he’s had thus far against Oklahoma or Baylor.

Alex Koslow: Boykin was my preseason favorite to win the Heisman. A dual-threat QB who can put up big numbers and light up the scoreboard, what’s not to love? From his start against Minnesota, Boykin has yet to meet the expectations I had for him. He’s still putting up stellar numbers, but with running backs taking center stage, Boykin is falling back.

Robert Hess: Trevone Boykin will remain in this conversation until the season ends. He is putting up RG3-like numbers and similarly suffers from being on a team with a porous defense. Boykin will have to keep slinging and keep his INT numbers down if he intends to stay in the Heisman picture.

David Street: Trevone Boykin had a very solid game against SMU with 504 total yards of offense and six total touchdowns. He is lower on my list because the other contestants have faced slightly better competition. TCU’s offense is looking like a juggernaut and Boykin is powering the engine.

5. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State 26 points

Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

23 carries 108 yards vs. Northern Illinois

61 carries 331 yards 4 touchdowns this season

What Our Writers Thought:

Erik Weiss: Ezekiel Elliott’s slip in the rankings is mostly due to Ohio State’s mediocrity this year. Yes, they’re still the number one team in the country, but they barely escaped a Northern Illinois team that they should’ve beaten by 40. Elliott himself has played well, but not at the same level as Fournette and Chubb.

Geoff Hammersley: Since I already have running backs going no. 1 and no. 2, I might as well make it three deep. Ezekiel Elliott from the Buckeyes is my no. 3 man right now in the Heisman race. Even though Ohio State has shown a lackluster offense in their last two games, Elliott has still been able to produce. Remember, Elliott broke off an 80-yard TD against the Hokies, and has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in every game this season. He has just as many touchdowns as Chubb, and has only about 60 fewer yards than Fournette.

Alex Koslow: Ezekiel Elliott, the forgotten player. Elliott was supposed to build off his final three games last year, but everything coming from the Buckeyes has been about the quarterbacks. Elliott is still in the top 25 in rushing yards, but has yet to meet the expectations everyone had for him coming into the season. If Ohio State can’t figure out their quarterback position and keeps winning, it will be because of Elliott. That should be enough to at least bring his name up in Heisman conversation.

Robert Hess: Zeke is a Heisman candidate because he’s on the nation’s #1 team. At “only” 5.4 yards per carry, I don’t think he belongs in the top 5 quite yet, but he’ll get there.

David Street: Ezekiel Elliot, by his standards, has not been overly impressive. He has still been very, very good but so far, we just haven’t seen that Elliot-esque type game yet like last year. He rushed for 108 yards against a very underrated Northern Illinois team but failed to register a touchdown. With Ohio State’s struggles at quarterback right now, they need to feed Elliot the ball more and let him go off.

Honorable Mentions

Although you did not see these guys on this week’s list, keep a close eye on them throughout the season:

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

26 carries 219 yards 1 touchdown vs. BYU

58 carries 511 total yards 3 touchdowns this season

Erik Weiss: Paul Perkins is a guy to watch out for. Yes, we already have three backs in the top 5, but Perkins is quietly knocking on the door. Last game, he ran for 219 yards against a stout BYU team. Perkins is a big play waiting to happen for the Bruins, as he’s averaging nearly 8 yards per carry this season and has reached the end zone 3 times. If UCLA continues to win and Perkins continues to put up big numbers like he did against BYU, he’ll be in the top 5 soon enough.

Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State

Matthew Emmons, USA TODAY Sports

2 tackles 1 interception returned for 41-yard touchdown vs. NIU

12 tackles 2.5 sacks 1 interception 1 touchdown this season

Geoff Hammersley: The one guy I have on the outside looking in is a defensive player. Darron Lee from the Buckeyes has been a force, and has been a big factor in the team’s past two wins. Lee is one of the defensive leaders on the team in terms of sacks, and housed an interception last week against Northern Illinois.

Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State


John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

15 carries 54 yards vs. Boston College

64 carries 476 yards 5 touchdowns this season

Alex Koslow: My outsider that I feel should be brought up in the conversation is Dalvin Cook at FSU. Cook is second in rushing yards and top 20 in touchdowns. The level of competition could be the reason no one mentions Cook. His first two games were against Texas State and South Florida and he gained 422 yards. The first good defense the Seminoles faced was BC and Cook only managed 50 yards. If Cook can carry the offense and perform well against quality opponents, his name should rise in the conversation.

C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame


RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

22 carries, 198 yards, 3 TDs against GT

59 ATT, 451 yards, 4 TDs, 7.6 YPC

Robert Hess: Prosise (5th in the NCAA in rushing yards) deserves to be on Heisman ballots because he’s allowed the Notre Dame offense to remain potent despite losing their starting signal caller in Malik Zaire.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

32/38 572 total yards 6 touchdowns vs. Tulsa

74/110 1201 total yards 14 touchdowns this season

David Street: One player who is not on this list but I believe will be very soon is Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. The junior lit up Tulsa’s defense with 487 passing yards and four passing touchdowns on 32/38 passing. He also rushed for 85 yards and two touchdowns. Mayfield has been very productive for the Sooners and is currently in the top five in the nation for passing yards.

Tune in next week for the second edition of SQ Heisman Power Rankings!

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NFL Pythag Model: Power Rankings and Win Projections for the 2015 Season

After what seemed like an eternity, football is back. Tailgates and flat-screens will now make Sundays the best day of the week.

During the seven month NFL offseason, armed with far too much free time and nothing good to watch on TV, a good chunk of my time went toward predicting how good each NFL team would be

After what seemed like an eternity, football is back. Tailgates and flat-screens will now make Sundays the best day of the week.

During the seven month NFL offseason, armed with far too much free time and nothing good to watch on TV, a good chunk of my time went toward predicting how good each NFL team would be in 2015. One thing led to another, and the end result was a pretty cool statistical model built using a combination of Google Spreadsheets and R.

It is called the Pythag Model because the foundation of the model is a formula derived by one of the pioneers of sports analytics, Bill James, called the pythagorean expectation. It uses margin of victory in previous performances to analyze the true strength of a team and how often they will win in the future.

The model has a few holes that will leave the final results vulnerable to significant error. The holes are:

Projecting a rookie QB is quite difficult, and for that reason there is considerable margin for error in the ranking of the Bills, Buccaneers, and Titans.

Jason Pierre-Paul and Aldon Smith are both dynamite edge rushers and are invaluable assets when on the field. How much either will play this season is not yet clear.

Attempting to evaluate rookie coaches is even more difficult than doing so for rookie QBs, so teams with first year head coaches also will have a large margin for error.

Now to the good stuff. Listed below are power rankings and win projections based on the Pythag Score (PS) generated from the model. The higher the PS, the greater the chance a team wins in a theoretical matchup with a neutral opponent.

Pay more attention to the PS than to the team ranking, as two teams may be far apart in ranking but close in PS, particularly in the 12-20 range. The win projections are calculated by adding up the percent chance to win each game for the entire season so they are in decimal form. The Vegas O/U are courtesy of bovada.lv. Don’t consider any projection within two games of the Vegas line significant enough to act upon. 

Power Rankings:

1. Denver Broncos – Pythag Score (PS): 0.806

Vegas O/U (Vegas): 10 Wins

Pythag Win Projection (Pythag): 10.4 Wins

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Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

With a healthy Peyton Manning under center, the Broncos are the most complete team in the NFL. The defense is elite, maybe the best in the league. CB Chris Harris Jr. CB Aqib Talib, LB Brandon Marshall, EDGE Von Miller, EDGE DeMarcus Ware, and DE Malik Jackson are all above average at their position.

The addition of G Evan Mathis will help shore up the interior of the offensive line and help in the running game, but the key on offense will be rookie LT Ty Sambrailo. If he can protect Peyton’s blindside well enough to keep him healthy, the Broncos are the 2015 Super Bowl favorites. 

2. Seattle Seahawks – PS: 0.781

Vegas: 11 Wins

Pythag: 10.7 Wins

Kam Chancellor holdout aside, this team is still as stacked as ever. Adding TE Jimmy Graham is a big plus, but losing C Max Unger in the trade to get him will further weaken an interior offensive line that was already among the league’s worst. If the offensive line can hold up and they get Chancellor signed, a third Super Bowl trip in a row could be in store for Seattle.

3. New England Patriots – PS: 0.746

Vegas: Not available due to game on Thursday night (odds to beat PIT were 64%)

Pythag: 11.4

It wouldn’t be the NFL if the Patriots weren’t in Super Bowl contention. The offense will be exceptional once again and while the defense will be good, New England will miss Darrelle RevisTom Brady, Bill Belichick and company should have no trouble making the playoffs against a relatively easy schedule. 

4. Baltimore Ravens – PS: 0.708

Vegas: 9 Wins

Pythag: 10.6 Wins

The Ravens are good year-in and year-out primarily due to the magnificent work done by GM Ozzie Newsome in the draft and free agency. The roster is always stocked with young talent and 2015 is no exception. 

Joe Flacco will lead a serviceable offense driven by a strong line. The defense will be a classic Ravens defense and wreak havoc on opposing backfields. With a few good breaks they could find themselves in the Super Bowl.

5. Green Bay Packers – PS: 0.646

Vegas O/U: 11 Wins

PWP: 10.2 Wins

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in football. The Green Bay offense will be top-notch as long as he is under center. Jordy Nelson‘s season ending injury hurts, but what is equally concerning is that four different starting offensive lineman have been injured at one point or another in training camp. That being said, the defense is decent and you can never count out Aaron Rodgers.

6. Indianapolis Colts – PS: 0.640

Vegas O/U: 11 wins

PWP: 11 wins

Andrew Luck is still improving and is already one of the better QBs in the NFL. Locked and loaded with a full arsenal of pass catching weapons, Luck is the early favorite to lead the league in passing. The interior offensive line is poor, but LT Anthony Castonzo is a stud and RT Jack Mewhort showed some positive signs last season. 

The defense, led by All-World CB Vontae Davis, is still not quite good enough for the Colts to be considered a top five team. The regular season schedule is incredibly easy and should allow for a monster season from Luck and the Indianapolis offense. 

7. San Diego Chargers – PS: 0.603

Vegas O/U: 8 Wins

PWP: 10 Wins

The first real surprise on the list is the San Diego Chargers. Phillip Rivers is getting old, but is still a top 10 QB. The Chargers have depth at RB (not a huge Melvin Gordon fan but Branden Oliver and Danny Woodhead are both quality players), a solid O-Line and a quietly impressive group of pass catchers (Keenan Allen, Stevie Johnson, Malcom Floyd, Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green). If CB Jason Verrett, CB Brandon Flowers and S Eric Weddle can stay healthy, the defense will be good enough for the Chargers to steal a wild card spot.

8. Minnesota Vikings – PS: 0.600

Vegas: 7.5 Wins

Pythag: 10.1 Wins

Add Adrian Peterson to a Vikings team with a promising young QB (Teddy Bridgewater) and an up-and-coming defense and you get a top-10 NFL team. If Teddy can build upon a strong finish to his rookie season and the wheels don’t fall off the injury wagon, the Vikings are a playoff team in 2015. Their schedule isn’t easy, but the Vegas Over/Under of 7.5 wins is far too low.

9. Pittsburgh Steelers – PS: 0.589

Vegas: Not available due to Thursday night game (odds to beat NE were 36%)

Pythag: 9 Wins

Image title

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ben is surrounded by arguably the most explosive group of skill position players in the league in Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. The offensive line is a quality group but will miss C Maurkice Pouncey for at least half the season.

The Pittsburgh defense is a work in progress and will keep the Steelers from being elite in 2015. They won’t be the worst unit in the NFL, but they will be lucky if they finish as league average.

10. Dallas Cowboys – PS: 0.573

Vegas: 9.5 Wins

Pythag: 10 Wins

Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and the league’s co-top offensive line (Cleveland Browns have the other top OL) should have no trouble scoring points in 2015. The defense won’t be quite as imposing. 

Losing CB Orlando Scandrick for the year to a torn ACL was a huge blow to an already porous secondary. The Cowboys could outplay this ranking if DE Greg Hardy returns to his 2013 form and EDGE Randy Gregory and EDGE Demarcus Lawrence can generate a pass rush.

11. Philadelphia Eagles – PS: 0.562

Vegas: 9.5 Wins

Pythag: 10.1 Wins

One team out of the Eagles and Cowboys will win the NFC East while the other will likely claim a wild card spot. The Eagles have one of the lightest schedules in the league and their easy schedule is why they are projected to win slightly more games than the Cowboys despite a lower PS. 

Sam Bradford is still somewhat of an unknown. Chip Kelly offenses can succeed with almost anyone at QB so the Eagles can survive if Bradford gets injured again and Mark Sanchez has to take over. 

The front seven is loaded while the secondary is still not where it needs to be despite adding CB Byron Maxwell in free agency. The front office must be regretting trading CB Brandon Boykin to the Steelers after seeing their would-be slot corner, rookie 6th round pick JaCorey Shepherd, tear his ACL later in training camp. Ultimately, if Sam Bradford can showcase the talent that got him selected 1st overall the Eagles will win the division.

12. Kansas City Chiefs – PS: 0.539

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 9 wins

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The health of NT Dontari Poe is the key to the Chiefs season. The offense will be a classic Alex Smith-led offense. The defense must carry the load and Poe holds the Kansas City defense together. 

He had back surgery roughly two months ago and has recovered much faster than was expected. Poe is considered probable to play in the Chiefs Week 1 matchup with the Houston Texans. A full 16 games from Poe will likely mean a season above .500 for the Chiefs.

13. New Orleans Saints – PS: 0.529

Vegas: 8.5 Wins

Pythag: 10.2 Wins

If it weren’t for Drew Brees, the Saints would be among the worst teams in the league. Luckily for Saints fans Drew Brees is still a top 5 QB. The Saints face the leagues easiest schedule according to opponents average Pythag Score. The most highly ranked team they face all season is the Colts, and they play the Jaguars, Redskins and Titans once and the Falcons and Buccaneers twice.

The defense isn’t going to be good, but as long as Brees, OT Zach Strief, and OT Terron Armstead stay healthy the offense will put up points. DE Cameron Jordan was recently involved in an off-field incident that could potentially result in legal ramifications, though he will likely not be suspended. The Saints need him rushing the passer to win the NFC South.

14. Carolina Panthers – PS: 0.520

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 9.9 wins

The season-ending injury to Kelvin Benjamin is less of an issue than the injuries to defensive lineman Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short and Charles Johnson. None appear to be overly serious, but if one or two miss extended time this ranking will be too high. If the Panthers utilize Cam Newton‘s running ability more in 2015 it could help offset their deficiencies at WR and OT and lead them to another NFC South title.

15. Buffalo Bills – PS: 0.508

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 9.6 wins

The Buffalo defense is littered with above average starters. Barring injuries to multiple key guys and the Bills could have the #1 defense. Rex Ryan will have a lot of fun calling plays on Sundays. 

Tyrod Taylor is the X-factor for the Bills. If he can play at a league average level, the Bills will make the playoffs. If he plays like a career backup, they could go 6-10. If the Bills get Tyrod out on the bootleg 5-8 times per game and he runs for a first down on third down every now and then, the Bills could be a wild card team in the AFC.

16. Detroit Lions – PS: 0.498

Vegas: 8 wins

Pythag: 8.1 wins

The Detroit defense will not be as dominant as it was in 2014 after losing both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. On the bright side, Lions DC Teryl Austin is a tremendous defensive coordinator and has suitable replacements for Suh/Fairley in Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker.

Matthew Stafford is supremely talented from a physical standpoint, but so far in his career hasn’t shown the ability to consistently take care of the football. If Matthew Stafford cuts down on his interceptions the Lions could make a run at the playoffs.

17. Cincinnati Bengals – PS: 0.488

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 8.1 wins

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Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The clock is ticking for Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. If he doesn’t lead them to the playoffs both he and Marvin Lewis will likely be gone. 

The talent is abundant on offense. Top five offensive line, A.J. Green and Marvin Jones on the outside, Tyler Eifert at TE and Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard in the backfield. The offense should put up points. 

The defense has some talent but will likely be slightly below average unless Vontaze Burfict comes back healthy and returns to his 2013 form. Their schedule does them no favors, and as a result the playoffs are unlikely for the Bengals.

18. Miami Dolphins – PS: 0.481 

Vegas: 9 wins

Pythag: 8.8 wins

Ryan Tannehill has plenty of weapons to throw the ball to, but the guys protecting him up front may not be able to give him enough time. The Dolphins desperately need LT Branden Albert to stay healthy. Coming off a torn MCL and ACL, his health is a huge question mark. 

Ndamukong Suh, Cameron WakeBrent Grimes and Koa Misi should keep points off the board and be an above average defense, but this team’s season hinges on its offensive line.

19. Cleveland Browns – PS: 0.452

Vegas: 6.5 wins

Pythag: 7.2 wins

Josh McCown was downright terrible last year in Tampa Bay. However, the Bucs had no semblance of an offensive line and literally did not have an offensive coordinator. In Cleveland he will be playing behind potentially the best offensive line in the league and will have plenty of time to throw. He won’t revert to his incredible 2013 form, but should be better than he was in 2014. The Browns front seven is decent while the secondary is elite. They should be better than most expect in 2015.

20. Atlanta Falcons – PS: 0.437

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 8.6 wins

Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Desmond Trufant are a special trio. The issue is the talent around them. Vic Beasley is going to be very good, but he’s a rookie so its not fair to expect too much right away. The Falcons’ schedule is among the easiest in the league based on opposing PS and it could allow them to sneak into the playoffs.

21. New York Jets – PS: 0.426

Vegas: 7.5 wins

Pythag: 7.9 wins

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Up to this point in time Ryan Fitzpatrick has been a better QB than Geno Smith, so the locker room fiasco may have actually been a blessing in disguise. The defense will be solid with the addition of Darrelle Revis, but the offense won’t move the ball efficiently enough to make a run into the playoffs. 

22. New York Giants – PS: 0.420

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 7.3 wins

Losing LT Will Beatty for at least six games is a huge loss for a team that was already weak at offensive tackle. Rookie 1st round pick Ereck Flowers will man the blind side while journeyman Marshall Newhouse will likely play RT (unless the coaches wise up and slide Geoff Schwartz out to tackle). 

Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie form as good of a CB duo as there is in the NFL, but the question marks at safety and linebacker will keep the Giants defense from being formidable in 2015.

23. Arizona Cardinals – PS: 0.418

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 6.4 wins

Out of all 32 teams, this ranking surprised me the most…at first. After investigating further it makes sense. Carson Palmer is a quality NFL QB when he’s on the field but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy the past few seasons. He will be playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league and staying upright will be easier said than done.

On the defensive side of the ball Calais Campbell is a stud up front. In the secondary the Cardinals have Patrick Peterson, who should improve after getting a handle on his diabetes, and Tyrann Mathieu, who is returning from injury. Outside of those three and a few others, the roster is as barren as there is in the league. Bruce Arians will have to work some serious magic to get this team to the playoffs.

24. San Francisco 49ers – PS: 0.414

Vegas: 7 wins

Pythag: 6.2 wins

The defections the 49ers suffered this offseason have been well documented. Despite all of the losses they’ve suffered, there are still quality players on the roster. Colin Kaepernick is solid, NaVorro Bowman is back and they still have Joe Staley at LT. The playoffs are unlikely, but things will have to go very wrong for them to end up among the league’s bottom dwellers.

25. St. Louis Rams – PS: 0.409

Vegas: 8 wins

Pythag: 6.8 wins

The Rams defensive line is as good as it gets and is led by one of my personal favorite players, Aaron Donald. Adding Nick Foles at QB is a solid addition, but he is not going to carry them to the playoffs by himself. The roster is still a few years away from being deep enough to be a true contender.

26. Houston Texans – PS: 0.355

Vegas: 8.5 wins

Pythag: 6.7 wins

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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

J.J. Watt is unquestionably the most valuable non-QB in the league. If only he had more help. DeAndre Hopkins is a player to keep an eye on, but other than him, the Texans are short on star players. Arian Foster is fantastic when he’s healthy, which unfortunately isn’t often. Brian Hoyer isn’t the worst QB in the league, but he’s too close to the bottom for the Texans to be contenders in 2015.

27. Chicago Bears – PS: 0.349

Vegas: 7 wins

Pythag: 5.8 wins

The Bears have the ability to outperform this ranking if the new coaching staff can maximize all of the talent on the roster. Lamarr Houston, Pernell McPhee and Jared Allen comprise a solid group of pass rushers and Kyle Fuller should improve in his second season. The safeties and interior defensive line appear to be problematic.

If Jay Cutler improves, Kyle Long moves to tackle and both Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal stay healthy, the offense could be quite effective. Jeffery has dealt with a calf injury for the past month and the odds that he plays 16 healthy games looks slim at this point. Eddie Royal also missed time in camp due to a hip injury. After Jeffery and Royal the depth at WR is nonexistent. Head Coach John Fox, Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase and Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio have some work to do, but the roster has potential.

28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – PS: 0.320

Vegas: 6 wins

Pythag: 5.5 wins

The Bucs will go as far Jameis Winston takes them. If he plays well, they could contend in the NFC South. If he doesn’t, they could have the #1 pick again in next year’s draft. He will have his work cut out for him with WR Mike Evans suffering from a hamstring injury and LT Demar Dotson out for at least the first eight games. 

The defense has three bright spots: DT Gerald McCoy, LB Lavonte David, and CB Alterraun Verner. The defense, other than the impressive trio, is unimpressive. The coaches would be smart to start Bradley McDougald at safety. He has far more upside than the other options currently on the roster. The Bucs should play as many young guys as possible and build for the future.

29. Tennessee Titans – PS: 0.264

Vegas: 5.5 wins

Pythag: 3.9 wins

Like the Buccaneers, the Titans are depending heavily on Marcus Mariota right away. DT Jurrell Casey is a star in the making and is the key cog in what will be a solid front seven. Outisde of the defensive front seven there isn’t a lot to get excited about. If Mariota shows promise in 2015, the season will be considered a success.

30. Oakland Raiders – PS: 0.250

Vegas: 5.5 wins

PPW: 2.8 wins

Derek Carr was not very good in 2014. Even when accounting for some potential improvement he still doesn’t project to be a league average QB in 2015. Amari Cooper will help move the ball on offense and Rodney Hudson is a nice addition on the interior of the offensive line, but there’s little reason to think the Raiders offense will be above average in 2015.

Khalil Mack is everything to the Raiders that the Texans wanted in Jadeveon Clowney. He’s an absolute force on the edge and gives the Oakland defense a fighting chance every Sunday. Combine Mack with Justin Tuck and Aldon Smith and you have what may be the best group of edge rushers in the league. The secondary and linebackers are what will hold the Oakland defense back. 

Unfortunately for Raider Nation, Oakland faces an incredibly difficult schedule. Wins will be hard to come by in 2015.

31. Jacksonville Jaguars – PS: 0.243

Vegas: 5.5 wins

Pythag: 3 wins

As bad as Derek Carr was last year, Blake Bortles was worse. He’s had a nice preseason, but had a nice preseason last year too. He can’t get much worse, but he has a lot of work to do before he is a top 20 QB. Allen Robinson is a nice weapon at WR, but other than that the offense isn’t scaring anyone.

There are a few promising pieces on defense (DL Sen’Derrick Marks, EDGE Ryan Davis, CB Aaron Colvin), but on the whole the defense is deficient in too many areas to keep opponents out of the end zone on a regular basis. The Jaguars did a nice job in the draft this year in rounds 2-6 so the future is looking bright in Jacksonville.

32. Washington Redskins – PS: 0.228

Vegas: 6.5 wins

Pythag: 2.1 wins

The Redskins win the Most Dysfunctional Team Award in a landslide for 2015. The RG3 saga is a complete mess as is the roster itself. New GM Scot McCloughan made some quality free agent pickups this offseason (CB Chris Culliver, DT Stephen Paea, DT Terrance Knighton) but the cupboard was bone dry when he got to Washington. 

Read More 3767 Words

The SQ NFL Power Rankings: Week 1

   RK (LW)

1 (1)

New

New England Patriots

Well, Tom Brady is back, and he's essentially taking over the same offense he led to a Super Bowl win. The real difference from last season's Patriots squad is

   RK (LW)

1 (1)

New

New England Patriots

Well, Tom Brady is back, and he’s essentially taking over the same offense he led to a Super Bowl win. The real difference from last season’s Patriots squad is going to be the totally different defense: Darrelle Revis took his talents back to the Jets, Vince Wilfork signed with the Texans, and Brandon Browner signed with the Saints. I don’t expect the Patriots to be able to stop most teams, but I don’t expect many teams to stop the Patriots either. I mean, they do have Gronk. (Tyrell W)

2 (2)

Seattle

Seattle Seahawks

Adding Jimmy Graham was the biggest change on the offensive side of the ball for Seattle, and Graham’s role on the offense remains a huge question mark that will have to be addressed as the season moves along. Defensively, the core remains the same, but will the production continue? (Bobby E)

3 (3)

Green

Green Bay Packers

Even without Jordy Nelson in the lineup, the Packers are still a Super Bowl contender. Anytime you have Aaron Rodgers as your quarterback, you have a chance to win. If the offensive line can protect Rodgers and the defense can create turnovers, the Pack will be bringing the Lombardi trophy back home. (Dan R)

4 (9)

Indianapolis

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts offense only got better this offseason with the additions of Frank Gore, Andre Johnson, and Philip Dorsett. The big concern is whether the defensive line has enough depth now that Arthur Jones is out for the season. (Josh C)

5 (5)

Denver

Denver Broncos

We’ll learn a lot about the Broncos during their first three games (v. BAL, @ KC, @DET). This may the Broncos’ last season as a Super Bowl contender for some time, so Manning, C.J. Anderson, and the Denver defense must start quickly. (Dominic K)

6 (4)

Dallas

Dallas Cowboys

Losing Murray will hurt, but this team was a catch away from a rematch with the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Championship game. The offensive and defensive lines will be great, with help on the way when Greg Hardy returns. This team is still loaded, and the playoffs are definitely there for the taking. (Austin T)

7 (14)

Philadelphia

Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia’s crazy offseason will finally be put to the test, as Chip Kelly shipped out LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin, but brought in DeMarco Murray and Sam Bradford. The Eagles are taking a huge gamble on Bradford’s health, but could have one of the top offenses in the league yet again. (Austin T)

8 (7)

Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Steelers

Gone is former DC Dick LeBeau, the mastermind behind a decade of defensive dominance in Pittsburgh. His protege Keith Butler moves up from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator, and is unlikely to stray away from the foundation LeBeau cemented. Star RB Le’Veon Bell’s two-game suspension should be no more than a blip on the radar for a high-powered offensive attack, as QB Ben Roethlisberger should have no issue building off last year’s seventh-best scoring offense. A young defense will be the key for a first-year coordinator, and expect to see the Steelers improve on that side of the ball as the year goes on. (Nick C)

9 (13)

Baltimore

Baltimore Ravens

Though Joe Flacco looked comfortable in Gary Kubiak’s offense, new OC Marc Trestman has vowed he won’t change much in terms of scheme and balancing runs with play-action pass. The Ravens defense gets Jimmy Smith back, and added veterans CB Kyle Arrington and S Kendrick Lewis in an attempt to limit bigger downfield plays. Overall, Baltimore is as sound a football team as any in the NFL, and a playoff berth is once again a strong possibility. (Nick C)

10 (8)

Cincinnati

Cincinnati Bengals

QB Andy Dalton got paid top-dollar this offseason (six-year/$96M), meaning his 0-4 postseason record will need a bump in the win column in order to serve what has been one of the NFL’s most consistent franchises since 2011. Expanded roles for RB Jeremy Hill and TE Tyler Eifert should help ease Dalton’s burden. An aging secondary may prove costly, but young CB Dre Kirkpatrick showed flashes of the first-round talent the Bengals have hoped to see since 2012. Like the Ravens and Steelers, the Bengals just don’t have any discernible holes to keep them out of playoff discussion. (Nick C)

11 (11)

Arizona

Arizona Cardinals

The running game has to be the biggest question mark heading into the season for Arizona. Will Andre Ellington be able to lead the Cardinals, or will Carson Palmer have to throw 40 times again? (Bobby E)

12 (17)

Miami

Miami Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins hit the jackpot this offseason by signing Ndamukong Suh to a six-year/$114 million deal, making him the highest paid defensive player in NFL history. The Dolphins also bolstered the offense by giving QB Ryan Tannehill more options by signing Greg Jennings and Jordan Cameron. Additionally, the Dolphins traded for wide receiver Kenny Stills and drafted DeVante Parker. Parker has been injured during the preseason, but I expect him to replace the departed Mike Wallace as Tannehill’s primary red zone target once he returns. (Tyrell W)

13 (15)

Kansas

Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs have upgraded at WR by acquiring Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant, and their defense figures to be stingy again. But the Chiefs have a brutal early-season schedule, making their Week 1 game at Houston a must-win. (Dominic K)

14 (26)

Minnesota

Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings have by far the biggest increase in their power ranking, and for good reason. Adrian Peterson having a year off should put scare into opposing defenses’ eyes, and the evolution of Teddy Bridewater has become apparent. If the defense can find its rhythm, Minnesota can give the Packers a run for the NFC North title. (Dan R)

15 (10)

San

San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers figure to be in playoff contention deep into December once more. I don’t think the Bolts can compete for a division title, but the offense has major potential now that Melvin Gordon has a functional line to run behind. (Dominic K)

16 (6)

Detroit

Detroit Lions

The Lions have the biggest drop in ranking out of all 32 teams. Losing the big man in the middle in Suh definitely hurts Detroit. But, if Calvin Johnson can stay healthy and the dual threat of Bell and Abdullah can perform, then the sky’s the limit for the Lions. (Dan R)

17 (16)

Atlanta

Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons, at 17, are our highest-ranked team in the NFC South. They’ve turned the backfield over to a pair of younglings, including rookie starter Tevin Coleman, who hopefully can help Matt Ryan out despite a projected poor offensive line. (Cory R)

18 (12)

Houston

Houston Texans

Houston proved last year that a defensive superstar can only take you so far when your QB play is mediocre at best. The biggest challenge facing the Texans in 2015 will be getting consistent QB play. Without it, Houston fans will be waiting at least another year for a return to the playoffs. (Josh C)

19 (21)

New

New York Giants

There’s no denying that Eli Manning has not fit well into Ben McAdoo’s system over the past few years. But add in a healthy Odell Beckham Jr, and Eli is suddenly closer to Peyton. The defense still has many question marks, but the Giants could be rising up our rankings very soon. (Austin T)

20 (20)

Buffalo

Buffalo Bills

Rex Ryan has a plan and sticks to it no matter what. Build a fantastic defense, rely on a strong running game, put your faith in a suspect QB and make lots of headlines in the media. The Bills made a big splash in trading for LeSean McCoy in the offseason. If McCoy can return to his 2013 form where he rushed for 1,607 yards, then the Bills can compete for second place in the division. Plus, I trust McCoy running the ball more than I trust Tyrod Taylor throwing it. (Tyrell W)

21 (23)

New

New Orleans Saints

Look below the Saints in the rankings, and it’s slim picking in terms of QB play. Set to establish the run with Mark Ingram even more this season, Drew Brees may see less of the national spotlight than he’s accustomed to. (Cory R)

22 (24)

St.

St. Louis Rams

Take it how you want it, but the Rams now have Nick Foles under center. With Todd Gurley being eased back onto the field, is St. Louis looking to take another year “off” before making a playoff run next season? (Bobby E)

23 (18)

Carolina

Carolina Panthers

The NFC South champs for a second consecutive season (albeit with a 7-8-1 finish last year), these Panthers again will be putting their offensive deficiencies all on Cam’s shoulders, with a somehow worse receiving corps and backfield than he had last year. (Cory R)

24 (25)

Chicago

Chicago Bears

The Bears start their season off against their hated rivals the Packers, who have owned them the past few years. The entire defense, as well as the offensive line, are huge question marks coming into the season. Can first year coach John Fox right the ship and bring back tradition for the Bears? (Dan R)

25 (19)

San

San Francisco 49ers

In the last couple of years, San Francisco has done a perfect 180, leading the team to the bottom fourth of SQ’s league rankings. Can Colin Kaepernick turn the team around, or is he far from that elite status? Can the 49ers defense exist with its key losses? (Bobby E)

26 (29)

New

New York Jets

Maybe Geno Smith getting sucker-punched was the best thing that could have happened for the Jets offense. The offense in the preseason seemed to not have too much trouble moving the ball with Ryan Fitzpatrick taking snaps under center. I don’t expect Fitzpatrick’s luck to last, because outside of Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, the rest of the o-line are not reliable. If the Jets expect to make any noise this season, they will have to be led by their defense. (Tyrell W)

27 (28)

Oakland

Oakland Raiders

Like their divisional peers, the Raiders made upgrades at the WR position with Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper. Unlike those peers, the Raiders will be lucky to win six games. (Dominic K)

28 (22)

Cleveland

Cleveland Browns

Starting Josh McCown at quarterback is the safe move for head coach Mike Pettine, but McCown’s limitations as a passer will hold back an offense that lacks any punch at the skill positions. The Browns defense will continue to thrive, even more so with rookie DT Danny Shelton, but Cleveland’s hopeless offensive attack is likely to take another step back. Expect Johnny Manziel to be given the keys to a Browns team that falls out of playoff contention early in the year. (Nick C)

29 (31)

Tampa

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Instead of starting the season off with McCown, they’ve got the No. 1 pick in Jameis Winston to go with an impressive duo of Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson at wideout. Suddenly intriguing, can the Bucs become relevant again? (Cory R)

30 (30)

Jacksonville

Jacksonville Jaguars

There were times during the preseason when Blake Bortles and the Jaguars offense clicked. Whether that will translate to the regular season remains to be seen. Until they prove otherwise, the Jags will remain near the bottom of our power rankings. (Josh C)

31 (32)

Tennessee

Tennessee Titans

A new era for Tennessee began in May when the Titans selected Marcus Mariota instead of trading the No. 2 pick for a large return. Now that they have their guy, will the Titans finally turn the corner, or will the turmoil continue in Tennessee? (Josh C)

32 (27)

Washington

Washington Redskins

Was there any team that had a worse offseason than Washington? Jay Gruden obliterated RGIII in the preseason, RGIII told everyone that he has to believe he is the best quarterback in the league, Dan Snyder didn’t support releasing RGIII, then Snyder did, and then finally RGIII was benched in favor of Kirk Cousins, a quarterback with a 2-7 record as a starter. This is the side show folks, move along. (Austin T)
Read More 1857 Words

2015 Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet Guaranteed To Lead You To Playoffs

Fantasy football is back. Money and bragging rights are squarely on the line.

To those unfortunate souls who have already drafted and ended up with Jordy Nelson, I feel your pain. I own both Nelson and Aaron Rodgers in a keeper league.

For everyone who has drafts yet to come, your

Fantasy football is back. Money and bragging rights are squarely on the line.

To those unfortunate souls who have already drafted and ended up with Jordy Nelson, I feel your pain. I own both Nelson and Aaron Rodgers in a keeper league.

For everyone who has drafts yet to come, your secret weapon is here. I have assembled a list of the top 150 fantasy players for the upcoming season based on performance over the last two to three seasons, projected volume for this season, and health during the preseason. If utilized properly, these rankings are sure to land you a spot in the playoffs.

There have been many injuries this preseason that are factored into my rankings even though the player who suffered the injury is not out for the season. I’ve documented injuries to both offensive and defensive players this preseason, and the full list of injuries can be found here. If you see that there are injuries missing, please let me know so I can update the list (@mrosekNFL).

Rather than discussing all 150 players, many of whom are ranked similarly to the general public opinion, I felt this article would be more useful if instead I focus on players that I am high or low on relative to their current ADP on ESPN and Yahoo. The link to my full big board with position rankings can be found here. These rankings are for standard scoring leagues.

Before getting into the players I’m buying/selling, I must emphasize that drafting is all about value, and value is determined by how the other owners in your league view a player. 

I’m fully aboard the Stevie Johnson bandwagon, but only because I can get him for a cheap price. If his ADP spiked to the mid 40s tomorrow, I would no longer be on the bandwagon. However, his current ADP resides between 130-170, depending on the site, which I am more than happy to take advantage of. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I am much lower on LeSean McCoy than many seem to be, but if he falls into the 30s, I’ll take a chance on him. I am selling him because of where he is being valued, not because of how I think he will perform in a vacuum.

It is also important to remember that where you rank a player is not equivalent to where you would end up taking them. If you have the 20th pick, the odds that the 19 picks before you align perfectly with the top 19 players on your board are very slim. 

To project where you would actually take a player based on their rank, my general rule is to add 20% (multiply the rank by 1.2). If you have a player ranked at 20, you can reasonably expect to take that player if he falls to 24.

Now, on to the guys who are going to decide fantasy leagues this season. All ADP values are as of Aug. 28, 2015.

Buying:

RB Jeremy Hill: 11 (my rank) // Projected Draft Slot (PDS = my rank * 1.2): 13

ESPN ADP: 18  // Yahoo ADP: 14

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Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

After the consensus top five RBs (Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch, Le’Veon Bell, Eddie Lacy, and Adrian Peterson), there are few sure things at the RB position. Hill has as good of a chance to finish as a top ten RB as anyone after the top five guys, and for that reason I have him 11th overall. 

Hill’s ranking is just as much about his offensive line as his talent as a player. The Bengals offensive line was one of the league’s best last season, led by LT Andrew Whitworth, Pro Football Focus’ top graded OT. Cincinnati drafted O-Lineman in both the first and second round to add to an already stout line. 

Gio Bernard will be involved, but this is Hill’s show. He will get enough touches, especially near the goal-line, to be the consistent starting RB in the lineup you need to win your league.

WR DeAndre Hopkins: 21 // PDS: 25

ESPN: 35 // Yahoo: 33

With Andre Johnson now in Indianapolis, Hopkins is the unquestioned WR1 in Houston. He’s going to be catching passes from Brian Hoyer and potentially Ryan Mallett, so his QB play will be less than optimal. 

Despite the lackluster QB options the Texans possess, the future is bright for Hopkins. He is by far the best pass catcher on the Texans’ roster and a good bet to finish among the league leaders in targets. He was targeted 127 times last season and is sure to absorb some of Johnson’s 147 targets.

In 2014, Hopkins averaged almost 10 yards per target (1,210 yards on 127 targets). He could easily surpass 150 targets next season if he stays healthy. The upside is there. If you go RB early, Hopkins is a low-end WR1 option that you can get with your third, and maybe even fourth pick, depending on league size.

WR Jordan Matthews: 28 // PDS: 34

ESPN: 39 // Yahoo ADP: 41

Matthews is in a similar situation to that of Hopkins. The Eagles’ WR1 from 2014 (Jeremy Maclin) is now on a different team (Chiefs). Maclin was targeted 143 times last season, while Matthews was targeted 103 times.

Matthews is slated to be the new WR1 in Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense and should receive a decent chunk of Maclin’s targets. He does some of his best work in the slot and subsequently won’t always put up huge yards per catch averages. What he will do is score touchdowns in one of the fastest-paced offenses in the league.

Among WRs who saw at least 50 targets in 2014, Matthews finished ninth in the NFL in touchdowns per target. His 6’3, 215 lb frame allows him to be a dangerous red zone threat. Philly will still run the ball, but Matthews will put up points in 2015.

TE Travis Kelce: 35 // PDS: 42

ESPN: 58 // Yahoo: 49

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John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

Kelce is a freak. He has athleticism that is rivaled only by Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham at the TE position, which he used to average 7.5 YAC/reception last season, an incredible number considering Gronkowski averaged only 5.6. 

The Chiefs’ offense is never going to be a fantasy goldmine, but Kelce doesn’t need it to be. He just needs the ball. With Anthony Fasano no longer a Kansas City Chief, 2015 will be a breakout year for Kelce. 

RB Ameer Abdullah: 37 // PDS: 44

ESPN: 82 // Yahoo: 84

As you get later into the ADP numbers, kickers and D/ST start to pop up due to the limited length of 8 team drafts. This flaw in the ADP rankings has inflated Abdullah’s ADP a bit. With that being said, Abdullah is an absolute steal where he is being taken.

At the 2014 NFL Combine, Abdullah showcased mind-blowing short area burst and quickness. Abdullah’s 3-cone, jumps and shuttles were off the charts, and it shows on tape. His ability to make defenders miss in tight spaces is already among the NFL’s best. 

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mockdraftable.com

Some have compared him to Cincinatti Bengals RB Giovani Bernard, but that might be selling Abdullah a bit short. Both were drafted in the second round, and Bernard was better in the 10- and 40- yard dash at his combine, but the explosiveness and agility Abdullah possesses are matched by few players in the NFL.

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Joique Bell is still in Detroit, and his presence is depressing Abdullah’s ADP. Bell may steal touches from Abdullah to start the season, but this situation seems destined to play out how the RB situation did last year in Cincinatti. Bernard started the year as the RB1, got hurt, and then talented second round pick Jeremy Hill took his opportunity and ran with it.

Bell has had more surgeries than I can count, and Abdullah is a special talent. As long as he doesn’t fumble (my biggest concern of his coming out of college), Abdullah’s primary hurdle to fantasy dominance in 2015 is the Detroit Lions’ coaching staff. Take him as your RB3 with confidence.

RB Doug Martin: 53 // PDS: 64

ESPN: 80 // Yahoo: 99

There are several kickers and D/ST listed above Martin on the yahoo.com ADP list, so 99 may not be an accurate indication of where he is actually being drafted. Even if it significantly lower than 99, Martin is still a good value on both sites.

Martin lost weight this offseason, something that almost always benefits an RB. In losing weight, he may not absorb hits quite as well, but he will be more shifty and won’t get hit as much or as hard.

The Buccaneers drafted two offensive lineman in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Donovan Smith and Ali Marpet both appear ready to help improve what was one of the worst units in the league in 2014. Combine an improved line with one of the league’s easiest schedules (the NFC South is going to be the worst division in the NFL again), and 2015 is shaping up as a bounce-back year for the Muscle Hamster.

RB Duke Johnson: 71 // PDS: 85

ESPN: 115 //  Yahoo: 125

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Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Johnson is the leading rusher in University of Miami (FL) history. Yes, you read that right. To put it lightly, Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West are place-holders. Johnson has missed some time in camp due to a hamstring injury, and the injury forced me to move him down my board a bit, but this job is Johnson’s to lose as long as he’s healthy. 

The Browns have one of the top offensive lines in the league. LT Joe Thomas, LG Joel Bitonio and C Alex Mack are as good of a threesome as any in the NFL. The holes should be there in the running game, and Johnson is by far the best pass-catching RB on the Browns roster.

Even though he’s playing in a mediocre offense, the opportunity to grab a potential starting RB as late as Johnson is going is a no-brainer.

Update: Duke Johnson suffered a concussion last night (8/29) in the Browns third preseason game. Due to the unfortunate setback I moved him down to 88th overall.

WR Anquan Boldin: 72 // PDS: 86

ESPN: 120 // Yahoo: 106

Boldin is the definition of a solid WR2. Boldin doesn’t have the highest ceiling in the world, but also has one of the highest floors. It could be coming soon, but Boldin has been so good the last few years that it’s difficult to imagine much fantasy regression in 2014. 

Torrey Smith is now a 49er, but Michael Crabtree and Stevie Johnson no longer are. Boldin should see at least as many targets as he did in 2014 (131) and could easily see more, given the 49ers will likely be playing from behind a lot in 2015. You can load up on RBs early knowing you can snag Boldin later.

TE Tyler Eifert: 77 // PDS: 92

ESPN: 131 // Yahoo: 122

Eifert is a talented player who hasn’t yet had the chance to fully showcase his ability at the NFL level. In 2013, he was overshadowed by the presence of Jermaine Gresham, and last year, he only played one game due to injury.

Gresham is now an Arizona Cardinal, and the TE snaps are Eifert’s for the taking. He should see a healthy volume of targets in 2015 and easily outperform his ADP. If you can’t get your hands on Gronk, Kelce, Jimmy Graham, Greg Olsen or Martellus Bennett, take Eifert.

WR Stevie Johnson: 79 // PDS: 95

ESPN: 170 (max number) // Yahoo: 130.4

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Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Out of all the players on this list, Johnson may be my favorite deep sleeper for the 2015 season. He was extremely efficient last year in San Francisco but only played 305 snaps. He is now locked in as the co-WR1 with Keenan Allen in San Diego. 

Many would call Johnson the WR2 in San Diego. After breaking down Johnson’s and Allen’s statistics over the past two seasons, it appears as though Allen and Johnson are actually quite close in skill level. 

That’s not to say that Allen’s established chemistry with QB Phillip Rivers won’t lead to him having better numbers than Johnson in 2015, but I’d much rather have Johnson in the late rounds than Allen in the 45-55 range. Knowing Johnson (among a few others on this list) will be available late can allow you to pass on WRs early and ensure you come away with enough depth at RB.

RB Ronnie Hillman: 83 // PDS: 100

ESPN: 138 // Yahoo: 118

This pick is all about upside. The RB in a Peyton Manning-led offense is always put in a position to succeed, and Hillman is the clear backup to C.J. Anderson. Hillman has been praised for his work in practice and the preseason as of late, and if Anderson gets hurt or does not perform, Hillman will be an extremely valuable fantasy asset.

WR Eddie Royal: 84 // PDS: 101

ESPN: 133 // Yahoo: 117

Royal sustained a minor hip injury in practice this week, which forced me to drop him a few spots on my board. Despite the injury, I love Royal this year. Brandon Marshall is now a New York Jet, and Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White are both dealing with injuries. 

Royal has played with Jay Cutler before and has drawn rave reviews in camp. Yet again, efficient WR changing teams are underrated. It happens every year. Last year it was Golden Tate and Jeremy Maclin. This year its Royal and Stevie Johnson.


Honorable Mentions:

RB Arian Foster: 42 (my rank)  

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Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Foster suffered a serious groin injury this offseason that required surgery. The outlook on Foster’s injury is not quite as bad as was initially believed, and his ADP is rising as a result. If Foster can get healthy in time for the fantasy playoffs, he will be an invaluable asset. If you can get him in the mid 50s, take him.

TE Martellus Bennett: 55 – Bennett would be on the list above, but his ADP isn’t far behind where I have him ranked. I’m buying Bennett for the same reasons I’m buying Eddie Royal, and Royal is currently nicked up, which further adds to Bennett’s value. Bennett should be targeted heavily all season long and has a very realistic chance to finish as a top five TE.

WR Allen Robinson: 62 – Robinson was a favorite of mine coming out of Penn State and is a physical presence on the outside at 6’3, 210 lbs. He injured his foot last season and was only able to play 10 games. 

Foot injuries are not to be taken lightly, and it’s certainly possible he may suffer another lower leg injury next season. If A-Rob is able to stay healthy for a full 16 games, he should have a big season as the clear WR1 on the Jaguars. Julius Thomas has missed a significant portion of camp with a broken hand which should free up more red zone targets for Robinson.

RB Ryan Mathews: 70 – Mathews should see six to 10 touches a game even when DeMarco Murray is healthy and be the rare handcuff who has standalone value. If Murray goes down, Mathews will be a fantasy force. Take him as your RB3/4.

RB Khiry Robinson: 107 – Sean Payton likes to involve multiple RB when he has more than one healthy back, and Khiry Robinson is one of two currently healthy Saints’ RB. C.J. Spiller underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on August 14th and should be ready for Week 1, but his health is a question mark. If Robinson does manage to gain a significant share of the workload, he will be a viable RB3/FLEX candidate.


Selling:

RB LeSean McCoy: 26 // PDS: 31

ESPN ADP: 15 // Yahoo ADP: 19

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Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

McCoy wasn’t efficient last year in the Eagles’ offense, so there’s little reason to think he will improve in the anemic Buffalo offense. While Rex Ryan has stated publicly he wants to give Shady plenty of touches, McCoy has suffered multiple injuries this offseason and has missed a significant amount of practice time. Don’t pay for the McCoy from 2013. He is a different player now and should be evaluated as such.

RB Melvin Gordon: 48 // PDS: 58

ESPN ADP: 31 // Yahoo ADP: 41

I wasn’t as big of a Gordon fan coming out of college as many were, including the San Diego Chargers. I had him ranked as the fifth best RB in the class behind Todd Gurley, T.J. Yeldon, Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah.

Montee Ball, Ron Dayne, P.J. Hill and many others were able to put up big numbers in the Wisconsin offense and were disappointments in the NFL. Gordon has more physical talent than any Wisconsin RB to enter the NFL in my lifetime, but the trend is concerning. Gordon has the tendency to stop his feet at the line of scrimmage, is regularly stuffed for little or no gain and isn’t great at catching the ball or in pass protection.

Danny Woodhead is back healthy and is an excellent pass-catcher, while Branden Oliver is a solid player in his own right. There’s a very good chance Woodhead and Oliver command a significant portion of the RB workload in San Diego next season. If that ends up the case, I’d rather not be the one who spent a pick in the 30s on Melvin Gordon.

WR Julian Edelman: 69 // PDS: 83

ESPN: 41 // Yahoo: 55

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Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Julian Edelman has been a reliable WR2 over the past few years, and his ADP reflects that valuable consistency. Unfortunately for Pats fans, Edelman has been sidelined for much of camp with an ankle injury. 

Bill Belichick never has (and never will be) forthcoming with injury-related information, so the severity of Edelman’s injury is uncertain. Regardless, Edelman’s absence is concerning. Combine the injury with the possibility that Tom Brady may miss the first four games, and you get a player who is being overvalued, particularly on ESPN.

WR Davante Adams: 76 // PDS: 91

ESPN: 54 // Yahoo: 110

Adams’ Yahoo ADP doesn’t appear to reflect the Jordy Nelson injury, while the ESPN ADP does. Personally, the mid-50s is too rich for my liking. Adams will absorb many of the targets Nelson would have seen, and his ADP has spiked for good reason. I moved him up my board as well, but in the public eye he has passed many receivers who are far more talented. 

For example, Adams has passed Jarvis Landry in ADP on ESPN. Landry is a superior player and in all likelihood will receive a similar number of targets. Playing in the Packers offense is certainly enticing, but only to a point. 

If Adams falls, take a chance on him. Don’t be the guy to reach for him.

Update: Randall Cobb left Saturday’s preseason game with a shoulder injury. By all reports the injury is a minor one. If the injury ends up being more serious than initially believed, move Adams up 15-20 spots.  

WR Vincent Jackson: 129 // PDS: 155

ESPN ADP: 59 // Yahoo ADP: 70

Jackson’s ADP is about right…if it were 2012. He is coming off one of the worst seasonsof his career and is the clear WR2 in a below-average offense. 

Take a chance on a younger, higher upside WR2 in a better offense (Terrance Williams, Marvin Jones) before you take V-Jax. Depth at RB is far more valuable than adding V-Jax as a WR4/5. He is still draftable, but only at the right price.

WR Roddy White: 150 // PDS: 180

ESPN: 94 // Yahoo: 82

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Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

White falls into the same boat as Jackson. He’s a WR2 (at best) on his team in the twilight of his career, and his health seems to be declining by the day. White had his knee drained multiple times over the past few months and just recently had elbow surgery. GM Thomas Dimitroff and the Falcons’ front office know White is fading, drafting Justin Hardy and signing Leonard Hankerson as insurance. Take White as a late round flier and nothing more. 

Honorable Mention:

RB Matt Forte: 16 (my rank) – Forte didn’t make the list above because I still think he can be a useful fantasy player when taken with realistic expectations. However, people who are taking him at his 11th overall ADP on ESPN are likely to be disappointed next season. 

Forte has played significantly more snaps (2658) than any other RB over the past three seasons (2012-2014). The next closest RB is LeSean McCoy (2393), and we saw how that turned out last season. 

To make matters worse, Marc Trestman is no longer calling plays in Chicago, so Forte is bound to see regression in the pass-catching department. I’ll take him if he falls into the early 20s, but I’ll pass on Forte before then.

Read More 3530 Words

Running Backs Still Rule Fantasy Football

Over the last few seasons, the NFL has transitioned into a pass-first league in part due to rule changes allowing less contact between defensive backs and wide receivers. The change in offensive philosophy has resulted in some believing that the fantasy value of quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends are higher than ever. This notion couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the

Over the last few seasons, the NFL has transitioned into a pass-first league in part due to rule changes allowing less contact between defensive backs and wide receivers. The change in offensive philosophy has resulted in some believing that the fantasy value of quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends are higher than ever. This notion couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the shift in play-calling is actually increasing the fantasy value of running backs.

As teams pass the ball more, there are more serviceable WR/TE to be found on waivers and more depth than ever before. As teams run the ball less, there are collectively less RB touches to go around and less quality fantasy players at the position. For this reason, it is rare for a second-string RBs to have legitimate fantasy value, while second-string WRs are consistently productive fantasy players (i.e. Randall Cobb).

Because there are fewer desirable options and less depth at RB than at other positions, elite RBs are the most valuable assets in standard fantasy football. There is a larger fantasy point differential between an elite RB and a replacement level running back than there is between an elite QB, elite WR, elite TE and a replacement level player (RLP) at that position. 

This point differential can be referred to as PAR (points above replacement). The more PAR a player provides, the more valuable that player is to your team. A replacement level player (RLP) can be defined a number of different ways. The best way to describe a RLP is a player that you already have on your bench or could acquire with little difficulty through waivers or trade. 

For this example, I’ll define an RLP for a ten team, standard-roster league (1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 FLEX, 1 K, 1 D/ST). Assuming that four teams start a RB at Flex, four start a WR at FLEX and two start TE (the number of that position in the starting lineup multiplied by two) and account for some teams being stacked at certain positions, replacement level players can be defined as the following:

  • QB – QB13 (Ten in starting lineups, two quality backups)

  • RB – RB28 (20 in starting lineups, four at FLEX, three quality backups)

  • WR – WR28 (20 in starting lineups, four at FLEX, three quality backups)

  • TE – TE15 (Ten in starting lineups, two at FLEX, two quality backups)

To quantify how many PAR an elite player at each position provided last season, we recorded the point differential between the third overall scorer and a RLP at QB, RB, WR and TE for all fantasy relevant weeks (1-16) of the 2014 season. 

Due to injury, matchup or other reasons, normally solid players are not startable some weeks whereas normally mediocre players are occasionally great options (i.e. Knile Davis when Jamaal Charles went down last year.) By analyzing replacement level production on a week to week basis we can get a better idea of what the depth of the player pool was like at that moment in time. This is why its important to look at replacement level production from each week of the season rather than the player who finished as the RB28 for the season.

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

For purposes of comparing what is considered elite to a RLP, the third highest scoring player at each position is a better indicator than the first overall scorer. Looking at the top scoring player in a given week at each position can be misleading because there will always be outliers at the top of any numerical distribution (i.e. Jonas Gray scoring 43.9 points in Week 11). Analyzing the third overall player gives a more accurate depiction of reasonable expectations for an elite player (i.e. Jamaal Charles scoring 27.8 points in Week 11 as the RB3). 

The following data pertains strictly to leagues with a standard lineup (1 QB/2 RB/2 WR/1 TE/1 FLEX) and a standard scoring system. If your league starts two QB then elite QB will provide more PAR than the numbers below. Same goes for WR if your league starts three WR.

All of the following numbers are the average of the weekly point totals produced by the player who happened to be the QB3, RB28, etc. that week. All stats are courtesy of fantasypros.com. 


2014 Weekly PAR:

QB3 Avg (per week): 26.39 pts // QB13 Avg (per week): 17.03 pts // Avg PAR (per week): 9.36 pts

RB3 Avg: 23.46 pts // RB28 Avg: 7.36 pts // Avg PAR: 16.1 pts

WR3 Avg: 21.96 pts // WR28 Avg: 8.91 pts// Avg PAR: 13.05 pts

TE3 Avg: 14.53 pts // TE15 Avg: 5.83 pts // Avg PAR: 8.69 pts

These numbers show that high-level production from RB is going to give you more of an advantage over your opponent on average than similar production from every other position. Elite WR production is also important and WR should be prioritized over QB and TE.

While it is important to analyze replacement level production on a weekly basis, there is far less turnover at the top of each position group. As a result, comparing the average weekly production of the player who finished last season third overall at each position to a RLP at the same position will give us further insight as to which position provides the most value. 

Below is a compilation of the PAR provided by the third overall player for the 2014 season. The positional value trend remains the same.

2014 Season-Long PAR:

QB3: Russell Wilson – Weekly Avg: 20.5 Pts // QB13 Avg: 17.03 Pts // Wilson’s Avg PAR per Week: 3.48 Pts

RB3: Marshawn Lynch – Weekly Avg: 16.6 Pts // RB28 Avg: 7.36 Pts // Lynch’s Avg PAR per Week: 9.24 Pts  

WR3: Demaryius Thomas – Weekly Avg: 14.4 Pts // WR28 Avg: 8.91 Pts // Thomas’ Avg PAR per Week: 5.49 Pts

TE3: Jimmy Graham – Weekly Avg: 9.1 Pts // TE15 Avg: 5.83 Pts // Graham’s Avg PAR per Week: 3.27 Pts

No matter how you slice it, elite RB are the most valuable fantasy commodity. WR provide more value than TE and QB, but Marshawn Lynch was still markedly more valuable than Demaryius Thomas last year.

The main takeaway here is that when you only have to start one player at a position each week (QB/TE), there are plenty of serviceable options available on waivers or through trades. When you have to start two players at a position each week (RB/WR) and also count on that position to fill your flex spot, quality fill-ins are much harder to come by. 

How to Incorporate PAR and RLP Into Your Fantasy Strategy

One interesting implication of analyzing players through the scope of PAR is that it ends with the conclusion that players who drop in the draft due to being perceived as injury-prone are often underrated. Arian Foster and Rob Gronkowski are two examples. Both have had their fair share of injuries over the years but have produced at an elite level when healthy.

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Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

When analyzing an injury prone player, it is crucial to remember that if Foster or Gronk get hurt, you’re not going to take a zero at that spot for the week. You’ll plug in a RLP or a quality backup and hope for the best.

When Gronk/Foster are in the lineup, they have the potential to explode any given week and provide the almighty PAR that will lead you to victory. In 2014, Arian Foster scored the fifth most fantasy points (235.5) among RB in standard leagues. However, he was second in fantasy points per game (18.1) in the 13 games in which he did play. 

After adding replacement level production (7.36 points) for the three games in which Foster missed last season to his 2014 fantasy point total (3 games x 7.36 points = 22.08 pts + 235.5 pts = 257.08 pts), he was actually the fourth most valuable RB behind only Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray and Le’Veon Bell. Factoring in replacement level production shows that Foster was actually more valuable than Matt Forte (244.6 pts in 16 games) in 2014 despite accumulating less total points. 

Foster’s groin injury is not a minor one and will rightfully drop him down draft boards. However, I’m absolutely open to taking him in the middle rounds and I currently have him at 52 on my big board. Foster may not play until the middle of the season, but I’ll gladly store him on IR and hope he regains enough health to get on the field and run behind the Texans’ solid offensive line. 

To roughly estimate where you would take a player based on where he is ranked on your board, my rule is to add 20%. For Foster, this means look at taking him in the early 60s (52 x 0.2 = 10.4 + 52 = 62.4). This rule accounts for the fact that you’re almost never going to take your 49th ranked player with your 49th pick because other owners will always take players earlier than you feel they should.

I’m more than willing to risk a pick in the 60s on a running back who could be a crucial piece for a playoff run. It could come back to bite me, but that bite won’t hurt nearly as bad as watching a healthy Arian Foster crush me in the fantasy playoffs.

Now, back to Gronk. TE in general don’t score at an overly high rate, but Gronk is the exception to that rule. Despite only playing one TE in most leagues, he can still provide significant PAR when he is in the lineup.

He averaged 12.3 fantasy points per game (fppg) in 2014, a whopping 2.7 fppg more than the TE2 last year (Antonio Gates – 9.6 fppg). The difference between the #1 and #2 QB, RB, and WR was 0.2, 0.4, and 1.2 fppg respectively. For that reason, Gronk is still an extremely valuable fantasy commodity this year and I currently have him 7th overall on my board.

Drafting RB and Maintaining RB Depth

Elite running backs and running back depth in general are still the key to success in fantasy football. In standard leagues with a 16 player roster, you should have a minimum of five RB on your team at all times and preferably 6-7. 

There is no reason to have more than one K or D/ST, so that’s two spots. You really only need one QB but sometimes you might need a backup for a bye week, so QB can count for two. The same rule for QB applies to TE, so we can also allot TE two spots. 

That’s six spots that you should allot to non-RB/WR. That leaves ten spots for WR and RB. If you have enough RB depth to start one at FLEX, there is no reason to carry more than four WR on your team. There are replacement level WR on waivers deep into the season. The RB waiver crop dries up much more quickly. 

As long as you draft multiple RB and pay attention to the waiver wire, you should always have three RB to fill out your RB and FLEX spots. If you have any RB left over, you can always trade with an RB-needy owner.

Don’t necessarily pass on a stud WR or even stud QB or TE in favor of a middling RB. Owning an elite RB is the best way to win a standard fantasy football league and that you should organize your big board accordingly. 

If you are in a league where the objective is not to get last place, then the strategy changes a bit. Going WR at the top may be a more effective strategy for playing risk-averse due to injury concerns with RB. If your goal is to win the league and there is no difference between finishing second or last, drafting RB early and often will give you the best chance to come home with the trophy. 

I’ll release my full fantasy big board next weekend and analyze players I am particularly high or low on relative to general public opinion. If you have questions about where I have certain players ranked or about anything football related, feel to reach out on twitter @mrosekNFL.

Good luck next season, and make sure you’re not the guy desperate for RB come Week 4.

Read More 2126 Words

SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #24 Stanford

As the college football season draws nearer, the college football staff at SQ has put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today's focus is on #24 Stanford.

Team: Stanford

SQ

As the college football season draws nearer, the college football staff at SQ has put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #24 Stanford.

Team: Stanford

SQ Ranking: 24

2014 Record: 8-5

Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked

Head Coach: David Shaw (5th year)

Key Arrivals: WR Trent Irwin, CB Frank Buncom IV, DE Brennan Scarlett

Key Departures: RB Kelsey Young, CB Wayne Lyons, OT Andrus Peat, SS Jordan Richards

Previewing the Stanford Offense: Going into 2015, Stanford’s offense will have to see improvement from its running game if it’s going to compete for a PAC-12 title. For the first time since 2007, the Cardinal failed to produce a 1,000-yard rusher, which seemed to put more weight on the shoulders of QB Kevin Hogan.

Hogan, who is entering his third season as the team’s starter, took great strides in becoming a much more accurate passer towards the end of last season, completing 71 percent of his passes over his last six games. He’ll need to continue that trend, especially if the Stanford running game under-performs as it did last year. 

Look for Stanford to use a committee of running backs this season with sophomore Christian McCaffrey and seniors Remound Wright and Barry Sanders all getting plenty of carries. McCaffrey is likely to get more touches after putting up a stellar freshman campaign, averaging 7.14 yards per carry on 42 attempts.

Previewing the Stanford Defense: The offense may be a work in progress, but Stanford’s got the defense pretty much figured out after having one of the most dominant units last season. Nearly impenetrable, the Stanford defense allowed just 16.4 points per game (2nd nationally) last season, while giving up just 282.4 yards per contest (3rd nationally).

The Cardinal are largely inexperienced up front on the line with two-thirds of the presumed starters playing in a combined 11 games last season. However, the line will get a boost from Cal transfer Brennan Scarlett who should fill the remaining defensive end spot.  Defensive back will also be an area of inexperience for the Cardinal this season as well. After the departure of four key players in the position group, the team will rely on a pair of players who previously played other positions: former QB Dallas Lloyd and WR Kodi Whitfield.

There’s no question that the linebackers will be the heart of the defense this season. An explosive pass-rushing duo of outside linebackers – Kevin Anderson and Peter Kalambayi – will create pressure that will drive opposing QBs insane. Leading tackler Blake Martinez, who recorded 102 tackles in 2014, returns to fortify the middle, along with Kevin Palma.

Three Key Games: 

1. Stanford at USC, September 19th – A field goal in the final two-and-a-half minutes of the game gave USC the 13-10 edge last season, a game that Stanford wishes it could have back after missing two field goals of its own. This early road test will make for a great game as the last two contests between these two teams have been decided by a combined six points, with USC emerging as the victors in both matches.

2. Stanford vs. Oregon, November 14th – If Stanford is going to get back to the PAC-12 Championship Game, it’s going to have to find a way to beat Oregon. As over-matched as Stanford looked last season, the series has been pretty even over the past seven years, although Oregon holds a 4-3 advantage. Oregon was the only team to score more than 30 points against Stanford’s defense last season, so you can bet the Cardinal will want revenge.

3. Stanford vs. Notre Dame, November 28th – One of the most entertaining rivalries to watch in college football will be on display once again this season as the Fighting Irish travel to take on the Cardinal. Last season, Notre Dame came away with a last-minute victory as then QB Everett Golson found TE Ben Koyack in the back of the endzone on fourth and 11. If that’s not enough to get Stanford motivated, then I’m not sure what is.

Final Analysis: Things are looking up for Stanford this season. The offense played really well down the stretch last season and should improve this season now that the team has found some footing in the run game. Although the defense has been the backbone of this team for quite some time now, there are some questions on this side of the ball, but you can trust David Shaw to get those ironed out.

Overall, Stanford should have another solid season, even though it probably won’t lead to a PAC-12 title. Be that as it may, the Cardinal will be able to muster out at least nine wins and finish in the top-15 or top-20. Stanford is still a ways off from competing for a national title, but don’t be surprised if this team gets off to an impressive start. 

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Should You Expect A Better Geno Smith In 2015?

SQ's AFC East preview gets to the heart of the matter for the New York Jets in 2015: "Will Geno Smith finally make the leap?" The answer to this question will affect the Jets' organizational strategy and the landscape of that division for the next few seasons, at least.

SQ’s AFC East preview gets to the heart of the matter for the New York Jets in 2015: “Will Geno Smith finally make the leap?” The answer to this question will affect the Jets’ organizational strategy and the landscape of that division for the next few seasons, at least. Can you expect a better Geno Smith in 2015?

Less than a year ago, Football Perspective published a piece entitled “How Long Does It Take Great Quarterbacks to Break Out?”  This miniature study examined the best 42 QBs to enter the league since 1970 and determined, to paraphrase, that it only takes two years. Through two years, the piece said, only four of the 42 great quarterbacks produced below average passing numbers. Importantly, these four also were drafted by bad teams.

So what about Geno Smith? He’s started in the NFL for two years, and his numbers are decidedly below average. Pro-Football Reference has him ranked 31 of 34 and 37 of 38 in ANY/A (adjusted net yards per pass attempt) for 2014 and 2013, respectively. He’s been in the bottom five of the entire league for traditional quarterback rating and QBR both seasons. And worse yet, he’s had one of the five highest interception percentages each year. His advanced stats are plainly atrocious, but they don’t necessarily mean Smith is the problem. He could be like the four exceptions (Bradshaw, Aikman, Testaverde, Brees), with his teammates dragging him down. 

Either of these realities hurts me as a Jet fan. But one lets Gang Green hope for better days with an improving starter (bad team), and the other forces the Jets to get a new quarterback (bad Smith). Which is it? And let’s hope it’s not both.

The Football Perspective piece judges team quality by record. For example, Drew Brees posted below average numbers his first two years, but this under-performance can be attributed to the 1-15 Chargers who drafted him. The Jets were 6-10 when they drafted Smith, went 8-8 his rookie year, and then plummeted to 4-12. On face, the records don’t bode well for Smith. A decline from .500 football to four wins largely falls on the quarterback’s shoulders, at least in the minds of fans and most analysts. We can go beyond the wins and losses, however. To determine if the team or Smith is the problem, let’s isolate the factors most directly impacting quarterback play: offensive line and wide receiver performance.

In 2013, the Jet offensive line ranked 27th in the league. Its adjusted sack rate, at 8.4%, was considerably higher than the league average. In 2014, the performance was also poor, if slightly better. Ranked 25th, the offensive line permitted the sixth-most tackles for a loss. In both years, the Jets had the 13th most sacks and 12th most QB hits allowed. Of all the Jet offensive linemen, only Center Nick Mangold finished 2014 with a positive grade from Pro Football Focus. All in all, these numbers amount to one not-so-shocking point of summary: the O-line, an incredibly important asset for a quarterback, was one of the worst in the NFL in 2013 and 2014. 

As for the receiver corps, the Jets again left a lot to be desired. Bleacher Report ranks the New York wideouts 25th in the league, even with the addition of Brandon Marshall. Last year, only Eric Decker finished among the top forty receivers, pulling down 74 receptions for almost 1,000 yards at a catch rate of 64.9%. The second best receiver on the team was Jeremy Kerley, who caught only 38 passes for 1 TD. In 2013, Kerley led the team in receiving yards at 523, while a waning Santonio Holmes had 456. It’s fair to say that the NYJ receiver corps gave Smith very little to work with during his first two years. 

Before any conclusions can be drawn about Smith and the Jets from these disappointing numbers, we have to take a look at one more thing: the hope at the end of 2014. In the last four games, after an abysmal 35.7 quarterback rating the week before, Smith earned an 87.4, 88.2, 83.9, and a very impressive 158.3. These performances represented more patience from Smith and strong efforts from the O-line. The Jets rushed for over 100 yards in these games, while Smith only threw two picks. Under these circumstances, the Jets had a serviceable quarterback. 

Going into the 2015 season, Jet fans have to confront a bittersweet reality: the players around Smith have been very bad, and Smith himself was, at best, below-average. That’s bitter, but the sweetness comes in the form of hope. Despite the rule of thumb provided by Football Perspective’s study, it is not fair or wise to write Smith off yet. As proven by the statistics, the Jets were too bad in 2013 and 2014 to give him a fair shake.

2015 will provide Smith with better weapons and, ideally, an offensive line that prevents pressure. With these two weaknesses improved, Smith will finally have the tools to succeed; one should expect solid play (a la the last four games of 2014). If the O-line continues to permit pressure, though, the Jets will find themselves losing and unable to evaluate their most important asset, the quarterback.

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Fix It: No Standing PAT

This article is part of my “Fix It” series. Each article in the series examines one problem facing the NBA or NFL and offers a potential solution. Please feel free to comment with your own ideas on how to fix the problem.

Your heart is pounding as the professor hands back the exams. You tightly close your eyes

This article is part of my “Fix It” series. Each article in the series examines one problem facing the NBA or NFL and offers a potential solution. Please feel free to comment with your own ideas on how to fix the problem.

Your heart is pounding as the professor hands back the exams. You tightly close your eyes as he drops it on your desk and walks past you. You finally muster up the courage to peek just enough to notice a red “94” at the top of the page. “What a relief!” you remark as you open your eyes. And that’s when you see it: a big fat ‘F’, right below the “94.”

The Problem

The Chicago Bears ranked dead last in the NFL last season with a 94.3% conversion rate on extra points. The average was 99.5% and only six teams finished below 100% – and there was no curve! The purpose of competitive sports is to separate oneself from the competition, but the Point After Touchdown is clearly failing to cause any separation.

Additionally, the extra point does not carry a whole lot of value. It is worth just one point. So even if you do manage to miss one, it is rarely going to affect the outcome of the game. 

Here is a chart detailing all eight missed extra points from the 2014 Season:

Week Kicker Team Opponent Result
1 Kai Forbath Washington Redskins Houston Texans L 6-17
3 Shayne Graham New Orleans Saints Minnesota Vikings W 20-9
6 Robbie Gould Chicago Bears Atlanta Falcons W 27-13
8 Dan Carpenter Buffalo Bills New York Jets W 43-23
11 Mason Crosby Green Bay Packers Philadelphia Eagles W 53-20
14 Jay Feely Chicago Bears Dallas Cowboys L 28-41
14 Mason Crosby Green Bay Packers Atlanta Falcons W 43-37
14 Greg Zuerlein St. Louis Rams Washington Redskins W 24-0

None of those games were decided by a single point. In fact, only one was decided by even a single possession. Some of these games were huge blowouts. In other words, we have to be lucky to have a season in which even one game is impacted by a missed PAT.

The relative lack of impact of the PAT has relegated it, in the eyes of fans, to an opportune time to answer the call of nature, rather than a play with any entertainment value. Last season, the average game featured a total of 4.64 touchdowns; it’s safe to assume that few fans are drinking nearly enough water or beer to take advantage of quite so many bathroom breaks!

A much more exciting play is the two-point conversion. Not only is it worth twice as much as the PAT, but it actually resembles the typical football play that NFL fans obviously love to watch.

Unfortunately, the two-point conversion is quite rare in the NFL. This past season there were exactly 59 such attempts in the 256-game regular season, or one per 4.3 games. Teams were successful on 28 of them, or 47.5% – less than half the rate of the extra point. The extra point is therefore both the safer and more valuable play on average, giving teams no incentive to go for two in any but the most extreme of circumstances.

The Solution

Luckily, the NFL has already addressed one of the problems this offseason. Starting in 2015, a new rule will be in place to move the location for extra points back to the 15-yard line, instead of the two. While kickers will likely still make the vast majority of extra points (likely close to 95%), these kicks will no longer be essentially automatic.

It remains to be seen exactly how much the change – which will result in 32 or 33-yard attempts – will alter the success rate of PATs or incentivize teams to go for two. However, the NFL will likely continue to adjust the distance in future seasons until they find one which they believe is appropriate. At the very least, this is a good start.

Unfortunately, this does not change the fact that extra points are currently worth too little to consistently effect games.

Simply making the PAT worth an additional point is not an option. This would result in the two-point conversion being a more difficult way to achieve the same result, rendering the play completely useless. In order for teams to ever consider the “two-point conversion,” it would have to be worth twice as much as the PAT, or four points. This would allow for the possibility of touchdown plays being worth ten points total – more than three times that of a field goal. In order to prevent teams from abandoning the field goal, it would have to be upped to four points. Now that everything is worth more, we are back to the original problem of the extra point being almost worthless.

A much better option is to force teams to wager a point when kicking the PAT. In other words, a missed PAT would result in the touchdown play being worth merely five points, while a make would earn seven. This fix strikes the magical balance of making the kick more important while also encouraging teams to choose the alternative.

But why stop there? This is not going to prevent fans from using the facilities, checking their fantasy teams, clipping their toenails, or doing just about anything but watching the game during the time between touchdown and kickoff.

Rather than having teams attempting a bunch of boring extra points, we should have them take one super exciting one. Under this plan, teams will decide whether they want to go for two immediately after they score a touchdown. If they do choose to go for two, they will receive six points and will then attempt the conversion right away. All of that follows the current procedure exactly.

However, if they select to take the PAT, they will be awarded only five points. There will then be commercials, followed by the kickoff. During the two minute warning in the second half, each team will attempt a single kick. If the kick is successful the team will receive two points for every touchdown they scored for which they did not attempt a two-point conversion. Otherwise, they will receive nothing.

Any extra point attempted after with fewer than two minutes remaining in the second half will immediately follow the touchdown. The last two minutes of close games are already filled with intense drama, and there is no reason to alter them.

Combining the extra points will not drastically affect the probability that the kick will be made (assuming the kicker is not significantly affected by pressure), nor the average number of points accumulated from all of the extra points.

However, it will make the average NFL game a lot more electrifying. There would no longer be the need for such a prolonged break between a touchdown and the ensuing kickoff. More importantly, this format would give teams who are behind by multiple possessions in the fourth quarter extra hope for a comeback.

The NFL has made some positive changes this offseason, and it deserves a solid grade. However, the NFL needs to adopt the proposals above if it wants a big fat ‘A+’.

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SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #25 Boise State

It's mid-July and that means college football season is right around the corner. Here at SQ, we're all about getting our readers informed and giving them great analysis. With that in mind we've put together our own top-25 college football rankings and will preview each of those teams over the next few weeks. Today the

It’s mid-July and that means college football season is right around the corner. Here at SQ, we’re all about getting our readers informed and giving them great analysis. With that in mind we’ve put together our own top-25 college football rankings and will preview each of those teams over the next few weeks. Today the countdown starts with #25 Boise State.

Team: Boise State

SQ Ranking: 25

2014 Record: 12-2

Finish in AP Poll: 16th

Head Coach: Bryan Harsin (2nd year)

Key Arrivals: QB Brett Rypien, S Kameron Miles, RB Kelsey Young

Key Departures: QB Grant Hedrick, RB Jay Ajayi

Previewing the Boise State Offense: Boise State returns nine starters to an offense that led the Mountain West in scoring last season, averaging 39.7 points per game. However, it’ll be missing the two key components that accounted for most of the scoring – 92.4 percent of the offensive touchdowns, in fact – as QB Grant Hedrick was lost to graduation and dynamic RB Jay Ajayi has departed for the NFL. Adding on to that is the fact that the team has changed offensive coordinators once more, promoting TE coach Eliah Drinkwitz to the position.

The starting QB job is still wide open between sophomore Ryan Finley and four-star true freshman Brett Rypien, who’s one of the Broncos’ highest rated recruits ever. Finley saw limited action in a backup role last season, tossing two touchdown passes and throwing for 161 yards. As far as replacing Ajayi, Boise State will look to go with more of a committee approach. Sophomore Jeremy McNichols is likely to get a bulk of the carries, while Stanford transfer Kelsey Young and junior Devan Demas are likely to be in the mix as well.

Whatever direction the Broncos decide to go in with these two positions, they will be surrounded by other talented players. The new QB will be protected by two all-conference offensive linemen in Marcus Henry and Rees Odhiambo, and will have plenty of highly skilled pass catchers. Tight end Jake Roh and WR Shane Williams-Rhodes each return to help the rookie QB after receiving all-conference honorable mention honors.

Previewing the Boise State Defense: If there’s one thing the Boise State defense excels at, it’s creating disruption in the backfield. From getting after the quarterback, to taking down runners before they could cross the line of scrimmage, the Broncos’ defensive front is a penetrating force. It was a force that last season ranked in the top-six nationally in both sacks (47) and tackles for loss (109).

Pressuring the quarterback will again be a strength for Boise State as the team’s sack leader from a season ago, DE Kamalei Correa, returns. Correa notched 12 sacks, good for eighth on the national scale, and also racked up 19 tackles for loss which put him at 15th in the nation. He won’t be alone as DT Elliot Hoyte returns to the line after putting up 3.5 sacks of his own last season.

One of the advantages of having a defense that is able to get into the backfield with ease is forcing QBs to get rid of the ball earlier than they want to. And forcing a QB’s hand too soon creates interceptions, which Boise State is no stranger to. The Broncos forced 22 interceptions in 2014 and bring back a duo that racked up 13 of its own in FS Darian Thompson and CB Donte Deayon.

The combination of a strong defensive front seven and defensive backs that are some of the best ball hawks in the country will make for a formidable defense.

Three Key Games:

1. Boise State vs. Washington, September 4 – That’s right, former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen heads to his old stomping grounds in the season opener. This game can provide for a huge opening statement for the Broncos as they look to get off on the right foot by beating a PAC-12 opponent, just as they ended last season by beating Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. Both Washington and Boise State have something to prove in this game and it’ll make for a great game to kick off the 2015 season.

2. Boise State vs. BYU, September 12 – Last season Boise State got past BYU fairly easily, racing out to a 41-16 lead at the half, and eventually beating the Cougars 55-30. But BYU was without QB Taysom Hill, who before he was lost for the season against Utah State looked like a dark horse candidate for the Heisman. This time Boise State will have to stop Hill as he returns to lead BYU and finish what he started last season.

3. Boise State vs. Air Force, November 20 – Boise State lost only two games last season, and one of those losses came against Air Force in a game that the Broncos’ literally gave away. The Air Force defense forced Boise State to turn the ball over seven times in that contest, forcing two fumbles and five interceptions. Needless to say it was not a pretty sight to see. This game could have division title implications being played so late in the season.

Final Analysis: Going 12-2 under a new head coach last season was certainly a surprise that not many expected so suddenly. Now in 2015, the team looks like it could be poised for a similar run. A loaded September schedule featuring Washington, BYU and Virginia will put Boise State to the test, but the team should be able to come away with two wins out of the three contests.

Though there are still questions on the offense, the Broncos should still be able to put up plenty of points and compete for another conference title. This team could easily go 12-2 again, while winning the Mountain West title and advancing to another New Year’s Six berth. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise, especially if the team can get things going early.

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2015 Division Preview Series: AFC East

This is part one of our eight-part division preview series. I will pose two questions per team, one about offense and one about defense, and then predict each team's 2015 record and final standing within the division. Tune in each Sunday for a new part of the series!

 

Buffalo Bills (9-7 in 2014, 2nd

This is part one of our eight-part division preview series. I will pose two questions per team, one about offense and one about defense, and then predict each team’s 2015 record and final standing within the division. Tune in each Sunday for a new part of the series!

 

Buffalo Bills (9-7 in 2014, 2nd in AFC East)

Will LeSean McCoy live up to his new contract?

The Bills gave McCoy a five-year, $40 million contract, which, when broken down by average, seems reasonable. McCoy will be the fifth-highest paid running back in terms of average salary, but his guaranteed salary is $26.5 million, which is not nearly as excusable.

The percentage of guaranteed money in McCoy’s contract is the highest of any running back on a veteran contract, and the amount of guaranteed money is second only to Adrian Peterson, who signed his current contract back in 2011. Still, this would not necessarily be a bad thing, were it not for the fact that McCoy is coming off a down year.

McCoy’s 2013 season was fantastic, as he racked up 1,607 rushing yards, 539 receiving yards 11 total touchdowns and only one turnover, all the while averaging just over 100 yards per game on the ground. Unfortunately, his 2014 campaign saw his numbers diminish in nearly every category. McCoy’s most drastic drops in output came in receiving yards (down 71 percent) and touchdowns (down 54 percent). His total yards from scrimmage also dropped (31 percent), and he had four turnovers. His overall rating from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) also fell dramatically, from 26.8 in 2013 to -9.3 in 2014.

In order for McCoy to live up to his big, new contract — and for the Bills to make the playoffs — he will need to put up 2013 numbers again. Another 2014 will not cut it.

How will Rex Ryan further elevate Buffalo’s defense?

Buffalo’s defense was pretty great in 2014. That is not really up for debate. The unit finished fourth in both yards and points allowed, and third in takeaways. The pass defense was especially dominant, coming in third, behind Seattle and Kansas City.

Bringing in the defensive-minded Ryan as the team’s new head coach makes sense, but what can he realistically do to make the Bills’ defense that much better?
The 2014 Bills ran a 4-3 defense and were one of only two teams — the other being the Lions — to do so consistently, according to ESPN. Ryan typically runs a hybrid 3-4, which is far more common, though he claimed in January that he will run neither a 3-4 nor a 4-3. How well and how quickly the defense adapts to Ryan’s scheme, whatever he calls it, will determine how far this team can go.

Ryan has had no shortage of success defensively throughout his career, and he has even more talent on this Bills team than he did on last year’s Jets team. One thing seems to be certain: the Bills defense will be a fun unit to watch.

Prediction: 10-6, 2nd in AFC East

The Bills made a good move by going out to get a great running back in McCoy. He pairs well with Ryan’s ground-and-pound offensive approach, and he should take pressure off either Matt Cassel or EJ Manuel, whoever ends up starting. If Ryan can make the defense even better than its 2014 counterpart, the Bills can and will make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.

 

Miami Dolphins (8-8 in 2014, 3rd in AFC East)

Will Ryan Tannehill continue to improve now that the team has committed to him financially?

Tannehill is now the seventh-highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, annually, and is under team control through 2020. He often flies under the radar in the loaded QB class of 2012, but he has been the third-best QB of that draft, ahead of Robert Griffin III and behind Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Tannehill has improved statistically in each of his three pro seasons, most impressively raising his completion percentage by 8.1 points in just two years. One thing that separates him from the rest of the 2012 QB class is his lack of a playoff appearance.

Miami has an opening, however small, thanks to the Tom Brady suspension. While the Dolphins will not play a Brady-less Patriots team — regardless of whether his suspension is reduced — they have a chance to pick up serious ground in the division race. Four of Miami’s first five games come against teams that finished 2014 under .500, and two are against Buffalo and the New York Jets. Tannehill needs to be the leader of the offense if the team is to take full advantage of Brady’s suspension.

He has weapons now, including wide receivers Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings and DeVante Parker, and it is time to take advantage of them. 2014 was Tannehill’s first 4,000-yard season, and he needs to do even more in 2015 in order to take the Dolphins to the next level. He needs somewhere in the range of 4,500 yards and 30 touchdowns to make that leap.

Can Ndamukong Suh prove he is worth nearly $20 million per year?

Miami’s defense was nothing special in 2014. The unit was a bit above average in yards allowed and takeaways and a bit below in points allowed. The lackluster output led the Dolphins to go out and land the biggest fish of the free-agent class, Suh, who joined the team on a six-year, $114 million with nearly $60 million guaranteed, good for the largest contract for a defensive player in NFL history. Suh was an absolute force in Detroit for the first five years of his career, and now he looks to replicate that in South Beach.

But how on Earth can Suh make a mark worthy of franchise QB money? No one is questioning Suh’s overall value — he ranked third among DTs in PFF’s 2014 rankings — but how can he prove he is worth almost $2.5 million per year more than J.J. Watt? In short, he can’t. Watt is underpaid, as insane as that sounds, and Suh is not a more dominant player than Watt is. In terms of value in a vacuum, Suh is not worth the same as Tannehill or Watt, but teams overpay in free agency; that is just the reality. What Suh can do to maximize the value of his contract: disrupt offensive lines, reach double-digit sacks for the second time in his career and stay on the field by avoiding unsportsmanlike behavior. That might be the best for which Miami can ask.

Prediction: 9-7, 3rd in AFC East

If Tannehill can continue his trend of improving every year, Miami could be in play for its first winning season, and playoff spot, since 2008. He needs to have a truly breakout year, instead of just slowly getting better, and he has weapons in the receiving corps to help him do just that. Suh needs to be a leader on defense and help improve a unit that did nothing special last year. If the team can get off to a fast start and take advantage of Brady’s suspension, Miami could do more than just hang around at the end of the regular season.

 

New England Patriots (12-4 in 2014, 1st in AFC East)

Will Jimmy Garoppolo shine in Brady’s absence, however long it ends up being?

The result of Brady’s appeal has not yet been announced, but it seems likely that he will miss some amount of time, which means Garoppolo will be making his first career start this year. We have not seen much from Garoppolo — he played in six games as a rookie, completing 19 of 27 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown — but that fact that he has been learning from both Brady and Bill Belichick makes his debut that much more anticipated. Throw in the fact that Brady backups tend to play well in New England, and it is easy to see why there may be unfair expectations placed on Garoppolo before he even takes his first snap as a starter.

Brady has always been good at getting more out of his receivers than they might provide a lesser QB. Garoppolo will have a couple solid targets in tight end Rob Gronkowski and receiver Julian Edelman, but beyond that, the receiving corps is lacking. The running game is not as solid as it used to be, either, with Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley both leaving in free agency. An experienced QB could make do with this supporting cast, but a green passer like Garoppolo could understandably struggle in such a situation. That is not to say that he cannot eventually become a great QB; it just is not fair to assume that he can stand in for Brady without a loss in production.

How will the secondary hold up without cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner?

Belichick is nothing if not inventive with his secondaries, but making this unit serviceable may be one of his biggest challenges yet. The insane drop-off from the Revis-Browner CB duo to Logan Ryan and Justin Green cannot be exaggerated. Keeping free safety Devin McCourty was huge, but it did nothing to solidify the sideline coverage, and McCourty can hardly be everywhere at once.

To answer the question, I am not sure the secondary can hold up. I would not be completely surprised to see Edelman making a cameo or two back in the secondary, as he did a couple seasons ago. I believe that Belichick will get the secondary playing as well as it can, but that may not be enough to fend off AFC East receivers like Brandon Marshall, Sammy Watkins or DeVante Parker.

Prediction: 11-5, 1st in AFC East

The Patriots have won at least 12 games every season since 2009, but I think this could be the season that streak ends, especially if Brady’s suspension sticks at four games. The combination of a crumbling secondary and an inexperienced backup QB taking the reigns just reeks of an overall drop-off for the team. Could the Patriots still win 12 or more games? Absolutely. Will they make the playoffs for the seventh-consecutive year? Almost certainly. Will they win the division for the seventh-straight year? That seems less certain. Buffalo, Miami and the New York Jets are all making strides, and one of those teams could leapfrog New England while Brady sits. I am still picking the Patriots to win the East, but I would not be too surprised if Buffalo or Miami won it instead.

 

New York Jets (4-12 in 2014, 4th in AFC East)

Will Geno Smith finally make the leap?

Time is running out for the former second-round pick out of West Virginia, who has struggled to find his place in the NFL. Smith has a career completion percentage of 57.5 and has thrown nine more interceptions than touchdown passes through two years. Some thought the Jets might select Marcus Mariota in May’s draft, but when he went off the board second overall to the Tennessee Titans, that possibility went out the window. The Titans’ decision may have saved Smith’s pro career. Now Smith needs to take advantage of that opportunity by becoming a leader on offense and making the leap to deserving NFL starter.

Smith is 11-18 as a starter, and he only occasionally shows the skills necessary to be a starting QB in the NFL. In 29 starts, just two — at Atlanta in 2013 and at Miami in 2014 — netted him a quarterback rating in the triple digits, the latter a perfect 158.3. With the acquisition of Marshall from the Chicago Bears, Smith now has two solid receivers, the other being Eric Decker. He also has a committee of running backs at his disposal, including Chris Ivory, former Patriot Ridley, and former Ram Zac Stacy. The Jets defense and run game should be able to support Smith in a way that keeps him from being the focal point. He needs to step up and develop consistency, and the team can really take off.

How quickly can Revis and Antonio Cromartie fix the Jets secondary?

In a word: probably. Last year, without Revis or Cromartie, the Jets finished 14th in passing yards allowed. In 2012, the last year both were on the team, the Jets finished second in that category. After a disastrous 2013, Cromartie improved in 2014 as a member of the Arizona Cardinals and now has a chance to reunite with the last CB to bring out the best in him. Maybe the best part about Revis’ return is that Dee Milliner will not be starting anymore. That alone will really help the secondary out.

Prediction: 7-9, 4th in AFC East

With Revis Island back in New York (well, New Jersey, technically), the Jets have a distinct advantage over opposing offenses, which will especially help them out in divisional play. If the ground game can get going offensively, and if Smith can find some consistency, the Jets have a chance to make a big improvement on their 2014 record. I am not ready to predict a playoff spot for Gang Green, but an eight-win season actually would not surprise me.

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Judge Rules NCAA Owes Athletes $60 Million in Lawsuit

A U.S. judge ruled Friday that the NCAA and EA Sports owe student-athletes $60 million for use of their likenesses in video games. 

The class-action lawsuit was initiated in 2009 by a group of football players who felt their likenesses were being used in NCAA Football video games published by EA Sports. The series never

A U.S. judge ruled Friday that the NCAA and EA Sports owe student-athletes $60 million for use of their likenesses in video games. 

The class-action lawsuit was initiated in 2009 by a group of football players who felt their likenesses were being used in NCAA Football video games published by EA Sports. The series never used names or pictures of athletes, but the usage of information such as height, weight, facial structure, skin tone, hometown and past statistics were enough for the judge to determine a violation had occurred. 

U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken approved the settlement to any student-athletes whose likeness appeared in NCAA Football and Basketball video games over the history of these series. This case kept the games off shelves since 2013, in order to avoid further violations. 

The case allows an individual to claim a maximum of $7,026, and they must do so by July 31st. 

With the NCAA constantly under fire for rights of student-athletes, especially in the “pay for play” discussion, this is a major win for student-athletes who may seek further compensation in the future. No word yet if the NCAA is planning an appeal. 

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Pre-Season NFL Draft Watch: Quarterbacks

The prospects within the specific categories are not listed in any particular order

Top Tier


Cardale Jones, Ohio State

It may be hard to believe that a player who has just three starts under his belt is in line to be an first round pick. But Jones has mobility and the best arm

The prospects within the specific categories are not listed in any particular order

Top Tier


Cardale Jones, Ohio State

It may be hard to believe that a player who has just three starts under his belt is in line to be an first round pick. But Jones has mobility and the best arm strength in this class hands down. And by no means is he a raw thrower, showing generally good accuracy and decision making in his limited reps. However, he must show drastic improvement in his footwork, pocket presence and touch going forward.

Connor Cook, Michigan State

Like Jones, Cook has a great arm, but he also boasts some more nuanced traits. He makes a ton of NFL caliber throws at the college level and shows good accuracy in making those throws. His pocket presence is also very good, and he is willing to take a hit to complete the pass. On the other hand, his decision making is not spectacular and his accuracy, while good, can be inconsistent at times.

Sleepers and Mid Round


Christian Hackenberg, Penn State

Simply by looking at the numbers, Hackenberg seems to have greatly regressed in his sophomore season. This was due in large part to a terrible supporting cast at Penn State both at receiver and on the offensive line. But what really prevents Hackenberg from being listed as a “Top Tier” player is his accuracy, which can look amazing one play and horrific the next. If he can improve in that aspect, Hackenberg’s arm strength, footwork, pocket presence and mobility make him first round caliber.

Jared Goff, Cal 

Goff is a player who can make a big jump with a strong 2015. The most immediate tool that stands out is his arm strength, giving him the ability to make almost any throw on the field. Goff is generally a very good decision maker and shows good pocket presence to move around as the play breaks down. His accuracy is good but not great.

Gunner Kiel, Cinnciniati

A former top-rated quarterback recruit out of high school, Kiel left Notre Dame after he failed to beat out Everett Golson. Kiel boasts a great arm and some really good accuracy, though it can really suffer when he takes shots down the field. His delivery is a little unorthodox, and he needs to build on his pocket presence along with his decision making.

Best of the Rest

Cody Kessler, USC

Trevone Boykin, TCU

Everett Golson, Notre Dame

Chuckie Keaton, Utah State

JT Barrett, Ohio State

Josh Dobbs, Tennessee

The Vol’s starter from last season has some intriguing tools and is worth following during the 2015 season. Dobbs is a highly mobile, big-armed passer. His decision making was usually pretty sound, but his touch and accuracy are two big components of his game that need to be developed.

Kevin Hogan, Stanford

Hogan’s delivery does not feature as much of a windup as it used to, but it is still not as compact as some other passers in this group. While making very few throws at Stanford due to the offense, Hogan is a sound decision maker and is pretty accurate in the short and intermediate areas of the field. His arm strength is below average.

Dak Prescott, Mississippi State

Travis Wilson, Utah

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Why J. J. Watt Is Everyone’s Favorite Player

After being drafted 11th overall by the Houston Texans in the 2011 NFL Draft (amid boos by fans in attendance), J.J. Watt has surpassed all the naysayers’ expectations. Since coming out of the University of Wisconsin four years ago, Watt has quickly become arguably the most formidable defensive threat in the league. 

After being drafted 11th overall by the Houston Texans in the 2011 NFL Draft (amid boos by fans in attendance), J.J. Watt has surpassed all the naysayers’ expectations. Since coming out of the University of Wisconsin four years ago, Watt has quickly become arguably the most formidable defensive threat in the league. 

His numerous accolades back up this reputation: he won two AP Defensive Player of the Year awards (his first in 2012 and his second in 2014), became the first player in NFL history to record over 20 sacks in two seasons, and was voted as the best player in pro football by his colleagues in the league.  

Besides these tangible accomplishments, Watt has emerged as the opposing team’s biggest concern in every game. The three-time Pro Bowler had an incredible 2014 season, with stats that give Texans fans a lot to look forward to in 2015. Watt, who stands 6’5” and weighs around 295 pounds, recorded 78 tackles and 20.5 sacks over 16 games. 

While great athleticism usually carries a great number of detractors, this is not the case with Watt. The rest of the football world looks upon him with respect and awe, not only as a result of his prowess on the field, but also due to his actions off of it.   

Elite professional athletes are celebrities in their own right, and thus their social lives are dissected and documented accordingly. As a result, though it is unfair, the legacies of many players are built upon their in-game performance, but then diminished due to their negative relationship with the media.   

For example, Bill Russell is revered for winning 11 NBA championship rings in 13 seasons on the Boston Celtics, but he is equally notorious for his deplorable attitude towards his fans. He did not attend his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 1976, and also was not present when the Celtics retired his jersey number (6) in 1972. Though the city and Russell have since arrived at a reconciliation of sorts, Russell still avoids visiting Boston.  

It is much harder to find a player who has mastered the Xs and Os as well as the art of public relations. The fact that J.J.Watt fits this elusive mold elevates him from star player to future legend. Like the NBA’s Stephen Curry or MLB’s David Wright, when Watt makes headlines, it is not because he was caught canoodling with a Kardashian or because he accidentally shot himself in the leg. It is either a result of another record-breaking, highlight reel-making game, or a result of his pure personality shining through an off-the-field event.  

When a player of Watt’s caliber takes time out to help a fan with her birth announcement, it doesn’t appear to be publicity stunt or a calculated PR move. On the contrary, it proves that classiness, combined with a bit of quirk, goes a long way. It also reminds fans that, despite the pedestal athletes are put on, a player can rise above egocentrism and petty controversies and show the world that getting nervous in the presence of Jennifer Aniston is inevitable.

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Top 10 Coaches In College Football

The players are the ones on the field executing the plays. The coaches are the ones telling them what to execute. Every good team needs good players. But, more importantly, every good team needs a good coach. Who are the top 10 coaches in college football? Let's find out!

10. Mark Richt-Georgia Bulldogs: Mark Richt has done

The players are the ones on the field executing the plays. The coaches are the ones telling them what to execute. Every good team needs good players. But, more importantly, every good team needs a good coach. Who are the top 10 coaches in college football? Let’s find out!

10. Mark Richt-Georgia Bulldogs: Mark Richt has done an excellent job with the Georiga football program since he became its head coach. He has guided them to a 136-48 regular season record with nine double-digit winning seasons, a 78-34 SEC record, and a respectable 9-5 record in bowl games. He has not won a national championship as the coach of the team, and while some Dawgs fans may be getting impatient with that, Richt is the best man for the job and deserves to stay where he is.

9. Chris Petersen-Washington Huskies: In his first season with the Huskies, Petersen went 8-6. That doesn’t sound too impressive. The reason why Petersen is on this list is for the extraordinary job he did as the head coach of the Boise State Broncos. In his eight seasons there, he guided them to an insane 92-12 regular season record a 5-2 bowl record. You might be thinking “Big deal, Boise State did not have much competition to deal with.” While that may be true, one can never forget the team’s improbable victory over automatic qualifier Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl. The Broncos became just the second non-automatic qualifer to play in and win a BCS bowl game (the 2004 Utah utes were the first). In addition, Petersen has won the Paul “Bear” Bryant award for coach of the year in 2006 and 2009, making him the only two-time recipient of the award.

8. Mark Dantonio-Michigan State Spartans: Michigan State has become one of college football’s elite teams lately and it’s in large part thanks to Dantonio. He has guided them to a solid 75-31 regular season record and after a slow start in bowl games, the team has now won four straight. He has been recognized as the Big Ten Coach of the Year twice, in 2010 and 2013.

7. Gary Patterson-TCU Horned Frogs: Patterson, just like Petersen, has spent a majority of his career coaching a non-automatic qualifying team. Just like Petersen, Patterson was able to guide his team to a victory over an automatic qualifier in a BCS bowl as the Horned Frogs defeated the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2011 Rose Bowl. The Horned Frogs moved from the Mountain West Conference to the Big 12 Conference in 2012 and while they got off to a slow start in their new conference, going 7-6 and 4-8 in their first two years respectively, they came out firing the very next year with a 12-1 record and a final ranking of 3 in the AP rankings.

6. Gus Malzahn-Auburn Tigers: As stated in my previous article, Malzahn might be the best offensive mind in the country and he has a plethora of offensive talent to work with. In his first year as the head coach of the Tigers, he immediately changed the culture of the team as he guided them to a 12-2 record and a national championship appearance, just one year after they posted a 3-9 record with zero SEC victories. Thanks to Malzahn, Auburn is back to being one of the country’s most feared teams.

5. Bob Stoops-Oklahoma Sooners: Bob Stoops has been nothing but consistent since he became the head coach of the Sooners. He has not had one losing season as the coach and has guided them to 12 double-digit winning seasons and a national championship victory in 2001. He also guided them to the 2009 national championship where they eventually lost to the Florida Gators.

4. Les Miles-LSU Tigers: “The Mad Hatter” has done an excellent job as the head coach of the Tigers, guiding them a 103-29 regular season record, two national championship appearances, and one national championship victory. In his 11 seasons as the coach, the Tigers have been in the top 3 of the ultra-competitive SEC West standings 10 times.

3. Jimbo Fisher-Florida State Seminoles: Fisher has done a fantastic job as the head coach of the Seminoles. He has guided them to a ridiculous 58-11 regular season record, two undefeated regular seasons, a playoff appearance, and a national championship victory. Say whatever you want about his ability (or inability) to handle off-the-field issues, but there is absolutely no doubt that the man can coach. 

2. Nick Saban-Alabama Crimson Tide: When you talk about the two best coaches in the nation, Nick Saban’s name is usually brought up. The man has turned Alabama into a football powerhouse since he became the head coach. His most notable work was guiding them to three national championships in a four-year span. The model of consistency that Saban has instilled in his team has made them one of college football’s elite.

1. Urban Meyer-Ohio State Buckeyes: Urban Meyer is the best coach in the nation, and at this point it shouldn’t even be a question. His overall regular season record as a head coach is an astounding 142-26. He guided the 2004 Utah Utes to a victory over the Pittsburgh Panthers in the Fiesta Bowl (as mentioned before, the 2004 Utes were the first non-automatic qualifier to ever play in and win a BCS bowl game), the 2008 Florida Gators to a national championship victory, and just recently led the Buckeyes to a national championship victory. His work with the 2014 Buckeyes was by far his most impressive. The Buckeyes entered the season without their starting quarterback Braxton Miller. Some time later, their second-string quarterback J.T. Barrett went down, giving third-string quarterback Cardale Jones control at the helm. Jones went 3-0 as the starter with victories over Wisconsin in the Big Ten national championship, Alabama in the college football playoff semi-final, and Oregon in the national championship. You’re not supposed to win a championship with your third-string quarterback but Ohio State was able to do it. It was arguably the best coaching job in college football that we have ever seen.

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Will Demarco Murray Succeed In Philly?

Anybody can run well in Dallas.

Demarco Murray was the latest product of the running back machine that is the Cowboys, who have an offensive line so powerful they are commonly accepted to be the best position group in the NFL. We're talking about four first-round picks, all young and still ahead of their prime

Anybody can run well in Dallas.

Demarco Murray was the latest product of the running back machine that is the Cowboys, who have an offensive line so powerful they are commonly accepted to be the best position group in the NFL. We’re talking about four first-round picks, all young and still ahead of their prime playing years, all together on the same team. Behind this mass of human blockage, any RB in the league could look good (even Trent Richardson). 

There’s no question that Murray, a graduate out of Oklahoma originally drafted by the Cowboys in 2011, has some serious running chops. His college stats show how dominant he was even before going to Dallas. Murray tied Adrian Peterson’s freshman record for rushing touchdowns with 15, and set the all-time Oklahoma records for touchdowns (65), all purpose yards (6,718), receiving yards for a running back (1,571), and kickoff return average (27.6). Murray is impressive in raw statistics too, with a 40-yard dash time of 4.40 seconds and broad jump of 10 ft 4 in. There’s no question about it, he’s a real athlete, and he’ll be a good running back no matter where he goes.

That’s not the point, though.

The question is whether Murray can stand out on his own, given the opportunity to prove himself without the aid of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins, Dallas’ big front men. Chip Kelly’s offense is entirely different from that of Scott Linehan, and in many ways it will play to Murray’s strengths. Fast-paced, with an emphasis on speed and intelligence, Kelly is hoping that Demarco will be able to slide right into his plans for a Philadelphia championship team in the coming years. The spread offense style in particular will be helpful to the speedy Murray, and it will give him plenty of room to work with. In previous years we saw how this worked for LeSean McCoy, who dominated whenever he got a few yards in front of him to work with. For sure, everybody in Philly is excited to see what Murray will be able to do, and how quickly he’ll be able to adapt to the new style of offense.

Not everything will be sunshine and rainbows during the transition, though. Anyone who paid attention to the Eagles last year will remember their offensive linemen injury woes. They didn’t play a single game in 2014 with all of their starters on the line, and often had to play with only three of their best guys. Just let that statistic sink in for a moment. 0 for 16. Lane Johnson started the issues with a four game suspension, and as soon as he got back star center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis fell to injuries (sports hernia and a knee injury, respectively). To make matters worse, Todd Herremans fell to a bicep injury at the end of the season, and played some pretty ugly games while suffering through the pain.

In total, they tried out seven different starting rotations, pulling on a total of 10 players to fill the five spots on the line. LeSean McCoy suffered at the hands of this inconsistency, running for 288 yards less than he had the previous year. They allowed 49.0 sacks to their opponents, way beyond of their goal of 22 set at the beginning of the season (this would’ve been the Eagles franchise record). philly.com

Demarco won’t have to do it alone, at least. In the backfield with Murray will be Ryan Mathews, an acquisition from the Chargers, and Darren Sproles, the Eagles powerhouse specialist who lit the special teams game on fire with his dynamic punt returns. The combination of these men, now dubbed the “Legion of Zoom”, poses possibly the biggest threat of any backfield in the NFL, and with Bradford coming in off of an injury plagued stretch in his career, Chip Kelly will most certainly lean on these three men to put the offense on their backs. The majority of the offense’s production will most likely come from the run game. Not to be doubtful of Bradford or the wide receivers, but the talent has been diminished for sure since the departure of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson. 

So what does this all mean?

Demarco Murray’s success will hinge on a few factors, including the health of the offensive line and the success of Bradford as a long ball threat, but for the most part, it looks as though he has another big season in his future. There’s a perfect storm in Philly that’s been brewing ever since Papa Chip took over the squad, and I think this year could be the beginning of a major breakout. Murray will have another great offensive line to run behind, and although they don’t quite rival the squad in Dallas, they are a force to be reckoned with. If Bradford can be a good enough player to alleviate some of the pressure on the run game and keep teams honest, then Murray will have the perfect opportunity to chase down McCoy’s single season rushing record (1,607 yards). Mathews and Sproles will provide him with the critical relief he may need, and they will play an integral role as well in the success of the Eagles franchise. 

Legion of Zoom, ready to take off.

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Three Reasons Why Odell Beckham Jr. Will Regress In 2015

The man, the myth, the legend. 

Odell Beckham Jr. shattered all expectations last year after posting 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games, earning him a Pro Bowl spot and the Associated Press's Offensive Rookie of the Year award. His miraculous catch (shown below) against the Cowboys led to his

The man, the myth, the legend. 

Odell Beckham Jr. shattered all expectations last year after posting 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns in only 12 games, earning him a Pro Bowl spot and the Associated Press’s Offensive Rookie of the Year award. His miraculous catch (shown below) against the Cowboys led to his jersey being hung in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. 

 

SB Nation

                                                                        SB Nation

Beckham has been lauded for having the second-best rookie season in the Super Bowl era and some have gone as far as to claim he is the 32nd best player in the NFL. These accomplishments helped make Beckham a young celebrity, including encounters with sports stars LeBron James and David Beckham, the honor of being selected as the cover of EA Sports’ “Madden NFL 16” video game and sponsors ranging from Nike to Trojan Condoms.

Beckham is facing great expectations going into the 2015 season, with many believing the sophomore wide receiver will exceed his level play of last year by playing a full season. However, others believe Beckham will suffer through a “sophomore slump” after facing such early success. Let’s take a look at a few of the reasons some people aren’t buying the hype: 

The History of Rookie WR’s with 1,000 Receiving Yards

Beckham joined the exclusive group of rookie wide receivers achieving 1,000 yards, a group that includes the likes of Randy Moss and Anquan Boldin. Players who are a part of this group can often expect to have long, productive careers in the NFL, with only a few becoming busts. However, many of these receivers experienced a minor slump in their second year. Sports research engine PointAfter plotted the follow-up seasons of the 12 other receivers to debut with 1,000-yard campaigns on the graphic below:

Of the twelve receivers, only four (Randy Moss, A.J. GreenMarques Colston and John Jefferson) managed to gain more yards in their second season. Part of this decline can be explained by the injury bug affecting these receivers: eight of the receivers combined to miss a total of 33 games in their second year.

A possible reason for this could be that second year players are still adjusting to the physicality of the game. Wide receivers are usually not as injury-prone as other positions, such as running back and offensive linemen,who experience hard contact every play. However, these receivers are still adjusting from a 12-game schedule to a 16-game schedule and are playing against bigger, faster and stronger defensive backs than they did in college.

Beckham started only 11 games in 2014, and with a hamstring injury currently limiting his ability to practice, it is reasonable to be concerned whether Beckham will be able to take part in training camp and the preseason come August. 

The Hamstring Injury

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TheNYPost.com

In late May, Beckham felt a slight twinge in his right hamstring while running sprints. As a precautionary measure, the New York Giants decided to rest the receiver during mini camp in order to let him focus on healing his hamstring. It felt like déjà vu for Beckham, who experienced a similar hamstring injury last year which forced him to miss training camp, the preseason and the first four games of the 2014 season. 

Hamstring injuries are tricky for players, as hamstrings are responsible for providing much of the power and hip extension one experiences while sprinting. Hamstring injuries are often hard to treat, and overzealous players who take to the field too soon can expect a re-injury rate of up to 50 percent. 

As frustrating as he has described it, waiting patiently seems to be Beckham’s best option to return to playing with the team. When asked if the wide receiver would be ready for training camp starting on Jul. 30, the Giants head coach, Tom Coughlin, stated that “He just continues with whatever the plan is for them in the training room. He’s been running, but most of it’s been straight ahead. He’ll maneuver into the cutting and so on and so forth. He feels better, but he needs to feel a whole lot better.”

The Return of Victor Cruz

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NJ.com

Coming into the 2014 season, Victor Cruz was expected to be the Giants’ No. 1 wide receiver, easing Eli Manning into the West Coast offense implemented by new offensive coordinator Ben Mcadoo and mentoring young receivers Rueben Randle and Beckham. But after going down in Week 6 with a knee injury, Cruz left a void at the receiver position. Beckham filled that role well, averaging 8.5 targets and 123.3 yards per game in the 10 games after Cruz was injured. 

Cruz has been reported to be recovering well from his injury and is expected to be ready to go when training camp starts on Jul. 30. The same cannot be said for Beckham, whose situation is still up in the air with the Giants coaching staff. 

Cruz’s return most likely means reduced targets for Beckham. All four wide receivers who exceeded their 1,000 yard rookie performance experienced an increase in targets in their sophomore year. Ben Mcadoo’s West Coast offense prioritizes route running in wide receivers, an area of the game both Cruz and Beckham excel at. The West Coast Offense typically distributes targets evenly among receivers, prioritizing efficient short passes over creating mismatches. This, along with the quiet emergence of Rueben Randle towards the end of last year, gives reason to believe Beckham will experience a drop in targets, and as a result, a drop in production. 

Odell Beckham Jr. faces great expectations going into 2015. At only 22 years old, he is already being heralded as one of the best players in the game. However, expectations of him maintaining his level of play are unrealistic for the upcoming season because of the amazing level he was at in 2014, injury concerns and a probable decrease in targets. But if he manages to post another excellent season, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s shocked the NFL.

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The Irony Of The Redskins Trademark Case

About two week ago, the U.S. District Court upheld the previous court's cancellation of the Redskins trademark after ruling in favor of a lawsuit brought forth by a group of Native Americans.

Although the Redskins have already stated that they plan to appeal again and believe that they will be successful in that appeal, this is

About two week ago, the U.S. District Court upheld the previous court’s cancellation of the Redskins trademark after ruling in favor of a lawsuit brought forth by a group of Native Americans.

Although the Redskins have already stated that they plan to appeal again and believe that they will be successful in that appeal, this is still a fairly significant ruling and a victory for those advocating for the team to change its name.

The movement may have just picked up some momentum as the Obama administration had just a few days before said that they would not support or allow the Redskins to build a new stadium on federal land without them first changing their team name.

So while those on board with the Skins changing their name start to celebrate, let me leave them, and you, with this: the recent ruling by the federal court may end up doing more harm than good to the Native Americans, at least in the short-run.

Just take a second to realize what the ruling does. What it means is that now anyone can sell merchandise or use the Redskins name and logo as it is no longer protected by trademark law.

Daniel Snyder has already made it clear that he does not intend on changing the name. I doubt that he will ever have an epiphany and begin to think that using the name Redskins is wrong and needs to be stopped. The only way that he will change the name is if the league forces him to do it or if his pocketbook does.

Source: thebiglead.com

There are only two ways this thing plays out. The less likely one is that after the ruling nothing really changes: no one starts selling Redskins merchandise, which would otherwise cut into Snyder’s profits. Two, and the more likely scenario, is that they do. At that point Snyder would need to make a business decision on whether the loss of sales is enough to make him re-brand the team to secure a new trademark.

And that is what is terribly ironic about the whole ruling. The only way that the Redskins change their name is if more people start to profit off it. Cheaper memorabilia would be available for purchase with the increased competition from firms that can now use the logo, which would lead to an increase in total Redskins merchandise sales. And for those that think the name is harmful to Native Americans, this certainly puts them in a tough spot with more of the hateful merchandise out on the market.

Those that support the name-change will thus need to advocate for an act that will cause more short-term harm than good. This seems hypocritical, and a consequence that many may not consider when supporting the court’s decision to pull the Redskins’ trademark. Basically, this ruling is a no-win situation for both sides. Both sides should be upset by what could be to come in the future.

This name-change situation has been very heavily media driven and very scapegoat-ey (for lack of an actual word). Other teams with questionable names or logos, like the Cleveland Indians’ Chief Wahoo, have more or less been left alone, and America has turned their attention towards the Skins.

Source: blackathlete.net

Many are quick to jump down the throats of Skins fans that don’t want the name changed and are quick to call them bigoted. That’s probably not a fair assessment to make of Skins fans. Personally, I can say that I never even thought of the racial undertones of the Redskins’ name until it became a big deal about three years ago, and that probably holds true for most Skins fans as well.

But none of this really matters. Frankly I don’t think mainstream America’s opinion matters in this case. I think the only thing that matters is what Native Americans think. I don’t think it’s anyone’s job to tell Native Americans whether they should be offended or not.

In an often-cited 2004 survey, 90% of Native Americans did not mind the name. Now the methodology of that survey is very questionable; the poll was done by phone, which means that many Native Americans in rural conditions were not given a chance to express their opinions. In addition to that, the sample size was only 768 persons who self-identified as Native American. Anything under 1,500 should make one pause and think before buying in to the results of a public poll.

However, while the survey methodology is flawed and outdated, I only cite it to suggest that the issue is more nuanced than one would initially think. The fact that the percentage of Native Americans apathetic to the name was 90% rather than something a little lower shows that the issue is not just black and white. It shows that some support or have no problem with the name and that more research needs to be done.

Now some of you may be of the opinion that if 10% find it offensive, then it should be changed. I can’t disagree with that because that’s your opinion. However, I am not quite sure what the correct threshold should be.

I don’t think that a minority of people being offended should necessarily overrule the majority that is accepting of a certain thing. Some may feel that a larger threshold for offense should be considered. Some might think the threshold should be lowered. There is simply no “right” threshold that everyone will agree on.

All I mean to point out is that when choosing one’s own specific threshold make sure to consider the viewpoints of those being offended, but also balance those opinions to make sure that the wants of the few don’t necessarily wash out the wants of the many.

A lot has been covered here. There are other good pieces of literature on the Redskins name-change situation as the debate has rolled on. Monday Morning Quarterback writer Jenny Vrentas wrote an excellent piece on the situation and makes some points in favor of changing the name, that I myself have not made in this piece.

At the end of the day, Native American tribes should be calling the shots here and not anyone else. And those that have an opinion are welcome to have it, even welcome to share it, but it shouldn’t mean a thing in the court of public action. And for those of the opinion that the name should be changed and were cheering the recent ruling, you might want to consider that the consequences for the group being “offended” might outweigh any long-term benefits.

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Cowboys, Dez Bryant Agree to 5-Year, $70M Deal

The Dez Bryant saga is set to beat the franchise-tag deadline buzzer, as the Cowboys and their superstar receiver are in agreement on a new contract.

Bryant has reportedly agreed to a new 5-year, $70 million deal with $45M guaranteed. In regards to guaranteed money, Bryant will be second to only Calvin Johnson, who is currently promised $48.75M. 

The Dez Bryant saga is set to beat the franchise-tag deadline buzzer, as the Cowboys and their superstar receiver are in agreement on a new contract.

Bryant has reportedly agreed to a new 5-year, $70 million deal with $45M guaranteed. In regards to guaranteed money, Bryant will be second to only Calvin Johnson, who is currently promised $48.75M. 

Despite early off-the-field issues, Bryant has made major strides in avoiding further trouble, becoming one of the NFL’s most-feared outside threats. Since 2012, Bryant has averaged 91 catches, 1,311 receiving yards, 13.7 TDs, while leading the NFL with 16 TD grabs a year ago. 

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Patriots, K Stephen Gostkowski Strike 4-Year, $17M Agreement

It was never an easy task to replace Adam Vinatieri, but Stephen Gostkowski has gone above and beyond the call of kicking duty. After being franchise-tagged this spring, Gostkowski has officially agreed to a new 4-year, $17.2M deal. 

Gostkowski became the Patriots' all-time leading scorer, surpassing Vinatieri last season, while leading the NFL with 73 made

It was never an easy task to replace Adam Vinatieri, but Stephen Gostkowski has gone above and beyond the call of kicking duty. After being franchise-tagged this spring, Gostkowski has officially agreed to a new 4-year, $17.2M deal. 

Gostkowski became the Patriots’ all-time leading scorer, surpassing Vinatieri last season, while leading the NFL with 73 made field goals from 2013-14. Gostkowski has a career 86.8 FG%, including a 93.6 FG% the past two years. 

New England’s 2006 4th-round pick will be the second-highest paid kicker in terms of total contract value, behind only Dallas’ Dan Bailey (22.5M). 

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Demaryius Thomas, Broncos Beat Franchise Tag Deadline with $70M Deal

With only minutes to spare before the 4 p.m. ET franchise tag deadline, the Broncos have inked freakishly athletic wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to a 5-year, $70M contract. 

Thomas' deal is identical to Dez Bryant's agreement with the Cowboys, though Thomas' guaranteed money falls slightly lower at $43.5M compared to Bryant's $45M. 

The former Yellow

With only minutes to spare before the 4 p.m. ET franchise tag deadline, the Broncos have inked freakishly athletic wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to a 5-year, $70M contract. 

Thomas’ deal is identical to Dez Bryant’s agreement with the Cowboys, though Thomas’ guaranteed money falls slightly lower at $43.5M compared to Bryant’s $45M. 

The former Yellow Jacket will receive $35M in guarantees over the first two seasons of his new deal, while his $43.5M total guarantee is third-most among receivers behind Calvin Johnson and Bryant. 

The Broncos most formidable outside presence has 99 catches, 1,494 receiving yards and 11.7 touchdowns over the past three seasons, including three-consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. 

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Chiefs Extend LB Justin Houston to $101M Deal

The Kansas City Chiefs deadly pass-rush combination of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston has quickly become one of the NFL's more explosive duos. Today, Houston inked a record-setting deal that will keep the self-dubbed "Sack City" attack in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

Hours before today's 4 p.m. ET franchise tag deadline, Houston and the Chiefs

The Kansas City Chiefs deadly pass-rush combination of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston has quickly become one of the NFL’s more explosive duos. Today, Houston inked a record-setting deal that will keep the self-dubbed “Sack City” attack in Kansas City for the foreseeable future.

Hours before today’s 4 p.m. ET franchise tag deadline, Houston and the Chiefs agreed to a 6-year, $101M contract extension, the biggest contract in the history of the Chiefs and for a NFL linebacker. 

Houston will be given the second-highest guaranteed money ($52.5M) in regards to defensive players in today’s NFL, behind only Miami’s Ndamukong Suh ($59.95M). 

Houston led the NFL with 22.0 sacks in 2014, only a 0.5 sack shy of Michael Strahan’s single-season record of 22.5 set in 2001. In his career, the 2011 3rd-round pick has averaged 49.5 tackles, 12.1 sacks and 1.8 forced fumbles in his four seasons, having only missed four games. 

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NFL Preseason Power Rankings


1. Green Bay Packers

I don't want to seem biased here, but Green Bay has a lot of upside this year. The offense is bringing back every starter from last year and the defense boosted the secondary with a first and second round pick. This may be the year.

2. Seattle Seahawks

Seattle


1. Green Bay Packers

I don’t want to seem biased here, but Green Bay has a lot of upside this year. The offense is bringing back every starter from last year and the defense boosted the secondary with a first and second round pick. This may be the year.

2. Seattle Seahawks

Seattle finally has a great receiving threat in Jimmy Graham. My problem is that Russell Wilson has yet to sign the big contract. Seattle either needs to get the man under contract or capitalize on him now.

3. New England Patriots

New England should have the top spot. However, I don’t believe Brady will be starting the first few games of the season. Without Brady, and with a much weaker secondary, the New England Patriots find themselves the third most powerful team in the NFL.

4. Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis is at this weird stage in their NFL existence where they are not elite but they are more than just good. The defense continues to be a problem for the Colts, so Chuck Pagano is on the hot seat after a string of weak playoff performances.

5. Denver Broncos

The Broncos bolstered the defense, but that has not been the issue. Peyton Manning was a shell of himself last year and will struggle even more with the absence of Julius Thomas. Denver’s window for a Super Bowl is closing.

6. Dallas Cowboys

Dallas made their offensive line even better than last year, if that was somehow possible. Greg Hardy will come off his suspension at some point as well. Losing DeMarco Murray and his 1845 rushing yards will be missed. I don’t think McFadden can produce across a whole season.

7. Arizona Cardinals

This team was on the verge of a Super Bowl run if any one of their quarterbacks could have stayed healthy for more than ten games. They will be a fully recovered team on both sides of the ball, which will allow these red birds to finally fly.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers were yet another team derailed by injuries last season. They could’ve won the Super Bowl if Le’Veon Bell had been healthy for the later part of the season. That being said, it will be a more difficult road to the postseason without Dick LeBeau leading the defense.

9. Baltimore Ravens

The players that the Ravens kept were key to making a return to the playoffs. They did lose some stars on both sides of the ball though in Torrey Smith and Haloti Ngata. The Ravens will be hard-pressed to find an easy game in the AFC North.

10. Kansas City Chiefs

I like the Jeremy Maclin pick up a lot because: 1. the Andy Reid connection and 2. it fills what might be the most glaring position need in the NFL. The Chiefs defense also promises to continue it’s steady rise into the elite class of play.

11. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals progress as Andy Dalton does, so they continue to be a dominator of the weak and a pretender against real playoff competition. The truth is, Cincy didn’t do anything substantial to make themselves much better than last year’s team.

12. Detroit Lions

The Lions are rising back into the playoff ranks. I like what Jim Caldwell did with the team last season, and I think with a fully healthy Calvin Johnson, they can be even better. With tough losses across the defensive line though, the heart of the Lions might have just been ripped out.

13. San Diego Chargers

The Chargers would be higher, but the loss of Antonio Gates through the first few games is going to be a real missing element in that offense. With a new running back though, San Diego might finally be able to make a playoff run (HA!).

14. Carolina Panthers 

The Panthers are another team, like the Lions, that are just continuing to flourish at the right time. They made the playoffs last year in a terrible NFC South, and have the defense to make an honest run at a championship. The offense just needs to finally find a groove behind Cam Newton.

15. Houston Texans

The quarterback situation is still……. crap. At least the defense still has JJ Watt, and that’s what is important. Maybe if Watt took some snaps under center, the Texans would be back in the playoffs.

16. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins haven’t done anything wrong this off-season. They won the Suh lottery. The only problem is that they lost Mike Wallace, and didn’t really find an answer for that position to help Ryan Tannehill’s continued development.

17. New York Giants

With the potential loss of JPP, or at least a lowered ability of play, the defense once again becomes the concern with the New York Giants. Hopefully, a second year in McAdoo’s system will help Eli limit the turnovers.

18. Philadelphia Eagles

I don;t like the downgrade at quarterback. I don’t like the trade of Shady McCoy for a linebacker. The Eagles made a series of weird moves that continue to make them the most interesting little project the NFL has to offer its fans.

19. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings will be a better team. Bridgewater will improve, especially with the new receivers the team brought in. Adrian Peterson will return, and that will at least add another dimension of offensive for teams to gameplan around. Beware the Vikings. 

20. Buffalo Bills

Rex Ryan will be a good coach for the Bills. He will bring defensive intelligence and charisma to a city that deserves good football. I just hope he knows what he is doing at the quarterback position, otherwise all the effort will be wasted.

21. New Orleans Saints

I don’t think trading away your best offensive weapon to one of your conference’s best teams is a good strategy for winning. That being said, the defense is better and the Saints used early draft picks on the offensive side, so they are on the right path to a playoff comeback. 

22. St. Louis Rams

The Rams may finally have the quarterback that the franchise has searched for since Kurt Warner. That may not be the case, but at least they solved the Sam Bradford problem with ease and something to show for it. The Rams just need to continue to grind and build their young team under Jeff Fisher. 

23. New York Jets

The Jets had the best off-season in the NFL if you ask me. However, they still have plenty of question marks at quarterback. Not to mention, the loss of Sheldon Richardson will hurt their defense, even if it is just slightly.

24. San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have fallen off the face of the Earth. Two years ago, it was a prime destination for NFL free agents. Now, it is where players go to spontaneously retire. The 49ers are going to continue their slide from last year.

25. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons still have problems with the defense and offensive line. However, the draft gave them a chance to rebuild somewhat. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are still there though, so at least this team can be entertaining, if not good.

26. Cleveland Browns

The Browns are just the NFL sad sacks. Even when a season shows some potential, it always ends up crashing and burning for Cleveland. They drafted well though, and made some strategic free agency pickups, so there is some hope for the Browns.

27. Oakland Raiders

The Raiders are going to be good… in like three years. Let Amari Cooper and Derek Carr get acquainted with each other first. Khalil Mack will also continue to rise up the charts of NFL stardom. The future is your’s, Raider fans.

28. Washington Redskins

This is just a bad situation to be in. The quarterbacking is a joke and the defense is the punchline to an even worse joke. The only thing that makes this team better than the next team is that they can abandon their quarterback.

29. Chicago Bears

The Bears are stuck with that slob, Jay Cutler. He continues to mope his way through his NFL career and still has nothing to show for it. The Bears defense may be slightly better under Del Rio, but turnovers are the problem.

30. Jacksonville Jaguars

I think Blake Bortles will continue to develop nicely. I don;t know about the rest of the team, but at least Bortles will continue to get better. Too bad about Fowler, though.

31. Tennessee Titans

The Titans will be bad because they need time to develop their quarterback. At least they have an offensive line to put in front of their rookie. The defense could use some work next.

32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs will not be good. I have seen that team in person, they have one of the worst offensive lines I have ever seen. Good luck out their your first season Jameis, you’re going to need it.

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Seven Numbers The Redskins Must Improve In 2015-16

Several Washington Redskins have expressed their high expectations for the 2015-16 season. But like any 4-12 team, they have a list of problems begging to be addressed this offseason.

Here are seven metrics the Redskins must improve and the corresponding offseason moves the team has made that point them in the right direction.

1) Net passing yards per attempt

When Redskins quarterbacks stayed upright,

Several Washington Redskins have expressed their high expectations for the 2015-16 season. But like any 4-12 team, they have a list of problems begging to be addressed this offseason.

Here are seven metrics the Redskins must improve and the corresponding offseason moves the team has made that point them in the right direction.

1) Net passing yards per attempt

When Redskins quarterbacks stayed upright, they were pretty efficient. Excluding plays that ended in a sack, Washington averaged 8.2 yards per pass, which was fourth in the league and better than prominent passing offenses like Denver and Indianapolis. But when you factor in sacks, that number decreases to 6.0 yards per attempt. Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy were sacked a combined 58 times, second-worst in the NFL.

Tight ends and running backs need to do their part in pass protection, and QBs need to get rid of the ball sooner. However, the most improvement must come from the O-line. Washington used three of its ten draft picks on offensive linemen: tackle Brandon Scherff (first round, fifth overall), guard Arie Kouandjio (fourth round) and center Austin Reiter (seventh round). They also signed tackle Takoby Cofield, who went overlooked in the draft.

2) Rushing attempts

The top rushing offenses averaged about 31 attempts per game in 2015. The Redskins averaged 25 attempts per game, good for 21st in the NFL.

Washington needs to run the ball effectively. Third-round draft pick Matt Jones will help shoulder some of the load. A “big boy,” as head coach Jay Gruden describes him, the running back stands at 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds and will be a threat to defenders. Veteran Alfred Morris returns with three 1,000+ yard seasons under his belt. The team is also switching from a zone-blocking offense to a power-heavy offense, which Morris says is “right up my alley.”


3) Third down conversion

Washington converted 31.5 percent of third downs, which put them at 30th in the league. That’s only better than Tennessee and Cleveland– not the best of company. The best third down teams in the league – New Orleans, Green Bay and Dallas – convert about 50 percent of the time. But third down conversions are more about timing, especially near the end zone. In 34 third-down snaps in the red zone, the Redskins gained an average of 1.5 yards per play and scored three touchdowns (8.8 percent conversion rate).The rest of the NFL averaged 2.85 yards per play and converted a touchdown 23 percent of the time.

The team brought in Bill Callahan from Dallas as offensive coordinator. Callahan has studied offenses for 35 years, 16 of those with NFL teams. Improving play in there d zone is one of Gruden’s major focal points heading into training camp. A majority of mini camp involved 11-on-11 and seven-on-seven end zone efficiency drills.

4) Defensive yards per play

The Redskins gave up 5.8 yards per play, 26th in the league. That number was worse on third down, where the ‘Skins fell to 29th, allowing 6.8 yards. And guess what?When opponents gain yardage, they move closer to the red zone. That’s why opponents scored 27.4 points per game against the No.30 Washington defense.

Joe Barry, who spent the last five seasons as linebackers coach in San Diego, was brought in as defensive coordinator. The line was upgraded with the additions of Terrance Knighton, Stephen Paea and Ricky Jean Francois. Then Chris Culliver, Dashon Goldson and Jeron Johnson were signed to improve the secondary. Although DeAngelo Hall was unable to participate in OTAs and minicamps with a torn Achilles heel, he used the offseason to mentor a young group of defensive backs.

5) Opponent passer rating

This may not be the most accurate way to analyze a pass defense, but a number this bad deserves attention. The average passer rating against Washington was 108.3, worst in the league by a long stretch. This means the average quarterback facing the Redskins had a higher passer rating than Ben Roethlisberger (103.3), Peyton Manning (101.5), Tom Brady (97.4) and Drew Brees (97.0).

Washington’s new strength and conditioning coach, Master John Kim, is a seventh-degree black belt who has worked with eight different NFL franchises. As a pass rush specialist, he incorporates martial arts into drills to help defensive linemen work their hands, feet and hips while avoiding opponents and tracking the ball.

6) Turnovers

The Redskins’ 31 turnovers ranked third-worst in the league. Their takeaway-giveaway differential was -12, also third-worst. The teams with the best differential and fewest number of turnovers? New England, Green Bay and Seattle. You see where I’m going with these comparisons.

Another one of Gruden’s major points of interest is improving the turnover differential. He says this begins with the defense forcing more fumbles and interceptions. During this summer’s offseason practices, defenders are being trained to go after the ball every time it hits the ground, even after incomplete passes.

7) Penalties


Unnecessary and avoidable penalties were a dagger for a team that already struggled with production. The ‘Skins lost 1,130 yards to penalties last season, which was second worst in the league. Most of the Redskins’ league-leading144 penalties were false starts (22) or holding (17) calls.

Callahan stresses the importance of discipline and eliminating mental errors. He makes linemen run laps around the field during practice when they jump offsides. Kim’s training will help with the holding issue.

What do you think about these numbers? Leave a comment below.

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Why I Traded For Adrian Peterson

Opinions about Adrian Peterson's fantasy value in 2015 are all over the place. Many doubters cite the fact that he is 30 years old, an unforgiving benchmark in the running back world. Others are wary of the fact that he's played in only one regular season NFL game in the last 22 months. 

Despite these

Opinions about Adrian Peterson’s fantasy value in 2015 are all over the place. Many doubters cite the fact that he is 30 years old, an unforgiving benchmark in the running back world. Others are wary of the fact that he’s played in only one regular season NFL game in the last 22 months. 

Despite these concerns I am fully aboard the Adrian Peterson bandwagon. Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Marshawn Lynch, and AP are at the top of most draft boards, and they currently compose my top five. I’ve had each of them first overall at one point or another, but as of now I have Charles first overall. Arian Foster and Jeremy Hill could make a run at this group when all is said and done. 

AP isn’t the safest pick of the group, and for that reason he won’t end up in my first overall spot. However, I still believe he is an elite NFL running back and a much safer pick than many perceive him to be. 

As long as Peterson has been on the field he’s been productive. He has scored double digit touchdowns in all seven NFL seasons in which he has played in more than one game. In what is essentially a contract year (the next two years of his contract are not guaranteed), I would rather bet on AP than against him.

Opportunity is just as important to high-level fantasy performance as talent, and AP should see plenty of touches in 2015. Minnesota has little incentive to limit his workload next season if he proves to be effective. He will likely move on from Minnesota after the 2015 season given the turmoil between the two parties this offseason. If the Vikings want to let AP walk after he endures a heavy workload (i.e. Demarco Murray this offseason) they can. 

AP could catch more passes in 2015 than he traditionally has in his career. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner has frequently involved his running backs in the passing game throughout his career. Peterson has never derived much of his fantasy value from the passing game. A bump in receptions would be huge for Peterson’s fantasy value. 

The Vikings offense should move the ball consistently in 2015 and put AP in position for goal-line touches. Teddy Bridgewater improved down the stretch in 2014 and should carry that momentum into his sophomore season. 

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image: usatoday.com

He will have more weapons at his disposal in 2014 with the addition of WR Mike Wallace. Wallace is the deep threat the Vikings need to keep defenses from stacking the box. WR Charles Johnson is also another player to watch who could have a nice year and keep teams from focusing too intently on AP. 

The thought of acquiring Adrian Peterson was extremely enticing, and I was lucky enough to trade for him about a month ago. He had not yet reported to Vikings camp, and this led to the price tag being lower than it would likely be today.

To give proper context as to the value of the players involved in the deal, I need to explain the rules of the league. It is a keeper league, which means you can retain players on your team from season to season. The keeper rules are explained below.

  • 10 Team Keeper/Dynasty League

  • Lineup: 2 QB/2 RB/2 WR/1 TE/2 FLEX/1  K/1 D/ST

  • Standard Scoring

  • A player drafted in rounds 1-5 must be kept in rounds 1-5 the following season. If you only keep three players in this range, they would have to be kept with your first, second, and third round pick.

  • A player drafted after rounds 1-5 can be kept in that same round the following season. That player must be kept a round earlier than they were originally drafted in their second keep year. The player must be kept in rounds 1-5 in the third keep year and every following year the player is kept.

  • You must keep a player in your top 5 picks if you were not the first owner to touch that player in the previous season. This includes trades and players who were previously dropped to waivers.

  • Only eight players total can be kept.

  • All draft picks are tradeable.

Below are projections of who I would have kept and who the person I traded with likely would have kept prior to the trade. 

My Keepers:

1st-3rd round: QB Andrew Luck, QB Aaron Rodgers, WR Jordy Nelson 

4th-5th: Two out of WR T.Y. Hilton, RB Alfred Morris and RB Justin Forsett 

8th: TE Greg Olsen 

16th: WR Jordan Matthews         

His Keepers: 

1st-5th: QB Peyton Manning, RB Jamaal Charles, RB Adrian Peterson, RB DeMarco Murray, QB Tom Brady

17th: RB Dan Herron

After some intense negotiations, the deal was done. Here’s how it went down:

I receive: RB Adrian Peterson

I trade: WR T.Y. Hilton, RB Alfred Morris, 9th Round Pick

I gave up two consensus top 30-35 players (Hilton and Morris) and a 9th round pick (will be 89 overall) for Adrian Peterson. In a league with two flex spots, depth matters. At first it wasn’t an easy decision to part with two of my key players. That hesitation vanished when I realized I had been looking at this trade the wrong way. 

I would have had to use my 4th and 5th round picks to keep Alfred Morris and T.Y. Hilton. To keep Adrian Peterson I will only need to use my 4th round pick. By liberating my 5th round pick, I can keep Justin Forsett instead of releasing him to the draft pool. 

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image: baltimorebeatdown.com

Forsett started 2014 as a relative unknown but finished the season as the eighth overall RB in standard leagues. I wasn’t planning on keeping Forsett following the 2014 season. I thought the Ravens would let him walk in free agency.

To my surprise and delight, the Ravens re-signed Forsett to a three year, $9 million dollar deal. Forsett is going to have the pleasure of running behind one of the better offensive lines in the NFL and could have a big year catching passes in new Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman’s system. 

Bears RB Matt Forte caught 102 passes last season with Trestman calling plays. That was good for 4th among all players in the NFL. Forsett is no Forte, but Forsett’s ADP will certainly be higher than the 49th pick, the pick I would get if chose not to keep him. If he can produce at an RB2 level I will be happy with the decision to keep him. 

With this in mind, lets re-examine the trade when factoring in that I get to keep Forsett. 

I Get: Adrian Peterson, Justin Forsett

He Gets: Alfred Morris, T.Y. Hilton, 9th round pick

I love my end of this trade. When I started to break down AP’s prospects for the upcoming season, I saw a player who is a safe bet to finish as a top 10 running back and who has a very high ceiling if he stays healthy. I don’t see the same level of security or upside in Hilton or Morris. 

That’s not to say Hilton or Morris couldn’t both produce at a high-level. They were both consistent performers last season and are ranked in ESPN’s top 30. I just don’t see either player being elite next season.

Indianapolis added WR Andre Johnson in free agency and drafted WR Phillip Dorsett in the 1st round. Andrew Luck will now have the deepest group of pass-catchers in the NFL in my opinion: T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, Phillip Dorsett, 2014 3rd round pick WR Donte Moncrief, TE Coby Fleener, and TE Dwayne Allen. For a 5’10 receiver who isn’t going to catch a lot of red zone touchdowns, my concerns about Hilton’s usage made him expendable to get AP. 

Washington took Matt Jones to serve as their 3rd down back and replace Roy Helu. Morris has been one of the most consistent running backs in the league over the past three years, but he is extremely touchdown dependent and offers next to nothing in the passing game.

I like that the Redskins drafted an offensive lineman in the 1st (Brandon Scherff, Iowa) and 4th Round (Arie Kouandijo, Alabama) and their line should be a bit better than it was last year. The limited upside is the biggest issue for me and allowed for the inclusion of Morris. 

When accounting for the fact that I get to keep Forsett by making this trade, the deal is a no-brainer. Last offseason I traded a 7th round pick for DeMarco Murray (whom I have since traded) in this league. I’m hoping I can hit lightning in a bottle again with this trade. 

The biggest lesson to be learned from this trade is that in keeper leagues, you must factor in the draft pick required to keep an extra keepable player when you acquire more players than you give up in a pre-draft trade. This can drastically change the evaluation of a trade offer, both for better and worse.

Last but not least: 

If your league doesn’t trade, you’re doing it wrong. 

For updates on all things NFL, follow me @mrosekNFL

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Started From The Bottom

In a sample space as minuscule as sixteen NFL games, there are bound to be statistical outliers--teams that were unusually lucky or unlucky by certain measures over the course of the season. It is the unavoidable curse of football. No matter how good the players are or how well they are coached, the team is at

In a sample space as minuscule as sixteen NFL games, there are bound to be statistical outliers–teams that were unusually lucky or unlucky by certain measures over the course of the season. It is the unavoidable curse of football. No matter how good the players are or how well they are coached, the team is at the mercy of the bouncing will of an oblong sphere. 

These teams often find that this remarkable luck, good or bad, is often unsustainable due to the statistical tendency of regression to the mean. Over a large enough sample, statistics subject to randomness (e.g. fumble recovery, record in close games, etc.) approach an even 50% rate. In this article, we will take a look at teams that significantly under-performed in these areas of randomness, likely to see their luck improve. For some of them, normalized performance in these areas might mean the difference between a winning or losing record, or even making or missing the playoffs.


Record in Games Decided by 7 Points or Fewer

Teams’ records in one-score games gravitate towards .500, so any squad that loses an inordinate number of them might hope to get some of those wins back the following season. Perhaps outside of having an excellent time-wasting run game, luck and intangibles like “grittiness” are the clearest deciding factors in one-possession games. Below are the NFL teams who had a winning percentage below .400 in such games:

Team Record (W/L) Win Pct
New Orleans Saints (3-5) .375
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-2) .333
Baltimore Ravens (2-4) .333
Houston Texans (2-4) .333
Atlanta Falcons (2-4) .333
New York Jets (3-6) .333
Oakland Raiders (2-5) .286
Tennessee Titans (1-4) .200
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8) .111
New York Giants (0-3) .000
Chicago Bears (0-4) .000

Most of these teams could have really used the one or two wins that would have brought them to .500 in one-score games. Had the Texans closed out at 3-3 instead of 2-4, they would have finished 10-6, a wild-card-worthy record. The same goes for the Saints: if they had pulled out the victory in just one of those five losses, they would have finished 8-8 on the season, good enough for the division crown in the putrid 2014 NFC South. 

Speaking of the NFC South–my goodness, Bucs. Of Tampa Bay’s 16 games, nine came down to a single possession. This reveals two things about the Buccaneers: (1) their fans are probably still in pain from having their hearts broken so many times, and (2) their league-worst 2-14 record is probably far from representative of their true talent level. Regardless of how well QB Jameis Winston plays in his rookie year, Tampa is a big candidate to improve, simply because they will not fare as poorly in close games next year.

While the Buccaneers are the most dramatic case, if you see your favorite team in that table, you might have an extra couple of wins coming your way in 2015.


Fumble Recovery Percentage

Even the most agile, observant player cannot jump on a loose ball if it lands in an opponent’s lap. Fumble recovery almost entirely comes down to luck, which creates an interesting dynamic given how impactful a turnover can be during a game. Again, since the chances of recovering a fumble should hover around 50%, the teams grabbing loose balls at a significantly lower rate could see fewer turnovers, more takeaways, and maybe more wins.

Team Recovery Pct
Cleveland Browns 44.74
Chicago Bears 44.19
Oakland Raiders 42.55
Pittsburgh Steelers 42.50
New Orleans Saints 37.84
New York Giants 36.96
San Francisco 49ers 32.43

Unlike with one-score games, which might lend themselves somewhat to ability (just ask Andrew Luck and his career 18-4 regular season record in those games), players have virtually no control over whether they are the ones at the bottom of the pile. Therefore, there is good news around the corner for teams in this table, especially the bottom three.


Strength of Schedule

It is not quite accurate to call a difficult slate of games “unlucky” in the same way as losing a fumble is unlucky, but analyzing strength of schedule in 2014 (and projected SOS for 2015) gives us another metric to predict improvement. Below is the more difficult half of schedules; each of these teams faced opponents with a collective winning percentage above .500.

Team Opp Win Pct
Tennessee Titans .506
San Diego Chargers .512
Kansas City Chiefs .512
Miami Dolphins .512
New York Giants .512
Jacksonville Jaguars .514
New England Patriots .514
Buffalo Bills .516
Denver Broncos .521
Arizona Cardinals .523
Seattle Seahawks .525
San Francisco 49ers .527
Chicago Bears .529
St. Louis Rams .531
New York Jets .543
Oakland Raiders .570

Obviously, this is not quite enough information. These teams had tough roads, but not all will get a reprieve in 2015. All the teams from the NFC West appear on this list by virtue of playing in a tough division, which does not change, and they play the NFC North and AFC North next season, each with at least two teams that will give them some trouble. Eight of these sixteen teams will see a significantly easier projected schedule (sorted from smallest to largest difference in SOS):

Team 2014 Opp Win Pct 2015 Opp Win Pct
Miami Dolphins .512 .492
Oakland Raiders .570 .545
Buffalo Bills .516 .486
New York Giants .512 .478
New England Patriots .514 .477
Jacksonville Jaguars .514 .463
New York Jets .543 .488
Tennessee Titans .506 .435

Each of these differences is significant but will clearly help some teams more than others. The Raiders, for example, still have an opposing winning percentage over .500, going from the hardest schedule in the league to the 7th-hardest — not exactly cause for celebration. The Patriots, meanwhile, face an even easier schedule one year after going 12-4 and winning the Super Bowl. Square up AFC East!

Tennessee once again find themselves on the right side of these stats; they did not have an exceedingly difficult schedule in 2014 but now get the 7th-easiest projected slate this season by virtue of playing the Jaguars twice, the Browns, the AFC East, and the NFC South. You could not do much better custom designing a schedule for a rookie QB.


Estimated and Pythagorean Wins

The last big predictive stat we will use here tries to more accurately understand a team’s talent and how many wins they would merit under normal circumstances. If either of these measures indicates a win total higher than a team’s actual wins, then we know that squad to be better than their record would suggest. Pythagorean wins is a relatively simple calculation, judging an appropriate number of wins based on point differential. Estimated wins (from FootballOutsiders.com) “emphasizes consistency as well as DVOA in the most important specific situations: red zone defense, first quarter offense, and performance in the second half when the score is close. It then projects a number of wins adjusted to a league-average schedule and a league-average rate of recovering fumbles.” I limited the teams in this table to those with six wins or fewer, or those with the most room for improvement–that is the cutoff where you really begin to see some disparity between real wins and estimated/Pythagorean wins.

Team Actual Wins Est. Wins Pyth. Wins
Atlanta Falcons 6 7.2 7.1
New York Giants 6 7.0 7.5
St. Louis Rams 6 6.1 7.1
Chicago Bears 5 6.4 4.9
New York Jets 4 5.9 4.8
Washington Redskins 4 4.4 4.5
Jacksonville Jaguars 3 3.3 3.6
Oakland Raiders 3 4.8 3.1
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 2 4.1 4.4
Tennessee Titans 2 4.0 3.3

Notable disparities between estimated and Pythagorean wins–the case with the Jets and the Bears–make prediction difficult. Both agree that Gang Green was better than 4-12; while they had the score differential of a 4.8-win team, estimated wins puts them closer to six wins. The Bears, meanwhile, did slightly better than their Pythagorean expectation.

On the more straightforward side, 2015 might hold some good tidings in the form of regression to the mean for teams like the Falcons, Giants, and Titans, each of whom under-performed their win total by at least a win by both stats–the Bucs underachieved by at least two wins in each. 

If at any point in this article you saw your favorite team, congratulations! However, it seems some teams were particularly unlucky, and in several areas, they are. In no particular order, the preseason picks for Most Improved: Atlanta Falcons, New York Giants, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Tennessee Titans.

Wish them and all other teams luck in the 2015 season; everyone needs some of it.

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Carolina Panthers 2012 NFL Draft Rewind

Grading Rubric

Players drafted: Seven

Players drafted still on the roster: Five

First round pick: Luke Kuechly ILB, Boston College

Notable Late round pick/UDFA: Josh Norman P, Wisconsin

 

One cannot begin to break down the Panthers 2012 draft without talking about first round selection, Luke Kuechly.

Although inside

Grading Rubric

Players drafted: Seven

Players drafted still on the roster: Five

First round pick: Luke Kuechly ILB, Boston College

Notable Late round pick/UDFA: Josh Norman P, Wisconsin

 

One cannot begin to break down the Panthers 2012 draft without talking about first round selection, Luke Kuechly.

Although inside linebacker may not be the most glorious position, Kuechly has dominated since entering the league by putting up ridiculous tackle totals and becoming a force in both the pass and run games. He has racked up two Pro Bowl selections in the process. Grade: Four

Second round pick, guard Amini Silatolu from Midwestern State, has seen his playing time steadily decrease over his career due to injuries, logging career lows in games played in 2014. Grade: One

Frank Alexander, a fourth round defensive end from Oklahoma, showed little promise in his rookie season but has struggled to see the field due to two violations of the league’s substance abuse policy. Grade: one

Another fourth round pick, Joe Adams, a receiver from Arkansas, failed to make the Panthers roster his rookie season and has bounced between the CFL and NFL over his pro career. Grade: zero

Fifth round corner Josh Norman from Coastal Carolina has been the Panthers’ starting corner for most of the last few seasons. In 2014, although he did miss a few starts, he still recorded career highs in pass deflections and picks: Grade: Five

Brad Nortman, a Wisconsin punter selected in the sixth round, has been the Panthers starting punter each of the last three seasons. Grade: Two.

Carolina’s final round selection was seventh round safety DJ Campbell from Cal. He wold spend one year in Carolina and is now with Arizona, his fourth team. Grade: 0

The Panthers did find a gem in UDFA tackle Nate Chandler from UCLA. For his first two seasons Chandler was a valuable reserve and in 2014 he started a career high eleven games. Grade: Five

Total Grade: 18

By all accounts, this draft is a great haul and meets all the check marks. Hit on first round player, find multiple late round starters, find valuable depth pieces, even hit on a UDFA, Carolina did it all in this draft.

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FSU Suspends RB Dalvin Cook Indefinitely After Being Accused of Battery

Earlier today, it was reported by ESPN that the state attorney's office in Tallahassee issued a warrant for the arrest of Florida State star running back Dalvin Cook, after he was accused of punching a 21-year-old woman in the face multiple times outside a bar last month.

Now, a statement from the school says, "Florida State Athletics announced

Earlier today, it was reported by ESPN that the state attorney’s office in Tallahassee issued a warrant for the arrest of Florida State star running back Dalvin Cook, after he was accused of punching a 21-year-old woman in the face multiple times outside a bar last month.

Now, a statement from the school says, “Florida State Athletics announced today the indefinite suspension of sophomore Dalvin Cook from the football team following a misdemeanor battery charges. Athletics will have no further comment at this time.”

This comes after former FSU quarterback De’Andre Johnson was kicked off the team earlier this week when a video surfaced of him punching a women in the face at at a bar.

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War Eagle: Why the Auburn Tigers Should be Looked at as Serious National Championship Contenders

Question: Can a team that just came off a disappointing 8-5 record bounce back and win the national championship? 

The answer to that is absolutely. When is the last time a team won the national championship after winning fewer than nine games the season before? The 2010 Auburn Tigers won the national championship after posting an 8-5

Question: Can a team that just came off a disappointing 8-5 record bounce back and win the national championship? 

The answer to that is absolutely. When is the last time a team won the national championship after winning fewer than nine games the season before? The 2010 Auburn Tigers won the national championship after posting an 8-5 record in 2009. That is the exact same record they had in 2014. So, why should these Auburn Tigers be looked at as serious national championship contenders? 

Well, for starters, have you seen their new quarterback? His name is Jeremy Johnson and he is set to wow the War Eagle faithful. In two seasons as Nick Marshall’s backup, he threw for 858 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions while completing well over 70% of his passes. His most impressive performance was a first-half start against Arkansas in the 2014 season, when went 12/16 (75%) and threw for 243 yards with two touchdown passes. 

In addition, he also has the perfect quarterback body as he stands at 6 feet 5 inches and weighs 240 pounds. As Auburn’s likely starter, he should thank the guys that he’ll be playing behind. Auburn will boast one of the best offensive lines in the country. In 2014, they allowed Nick Marshall to be sacked just 14 times. The returning starters on the offensive line (Devante Danzey, Avery Young, Alex Kozan, Braden Smith, Shon Coleman, and Austin Golson) will contribute to Johnson’s protection. 

Who will be Johnson’s weapons? 2014 team receiving leader Sammie Coates has moved on to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Thankfully, second-leading receiver D’Haquille Williams is returning. In 2014, Williams had 45 receptions for 730 yards and five touchdown catches. He had four 100-yard receiving games, all of those coming against bowl teams (Arkansas, Kansas State, Mississippi State, Alabama). With Johnson throwing to him and Coates’ departure leaving him as the top option, Williams’ production could be even better. 

Who will provide the attack on the ground? Jovon Robinson will most likely be Auburn’s starting running back. He’s never started a game at Auburn, but the team seems to be confident in him. 

“He’s really good at setting guys up, and maybe he won’t make them completely miss, but he’ll force them to arm tackle, and he’ll break it easily because of his size and his strength,” quarterback Sean White said about the 232-pound runner. Robinson won the NJCAA national offensive player of the year in 2013, rushing for 2,387 yards (a junior college record) and 34 touchdowns. He is the nation’s number 1 junior college transfer and should contribute greatly to the team’s hurry-up, no-huddle offense. 

The best part about all of this is that they are led by arguably the best offensive mind in the country in head coach Gus Malzahn. Malzahn served as Auburn’s offensive coordinator from 2009-2011. In 2010, he was instrumental in Cam Newton’s success. Newton became the first player in SEC history to throw for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. He was also the 3rd player in NCAA FBS history to throw and run for 20-plus touchdowns in a single season. 

With Newton at the helm, Auburn went on to win the national championship. Malzahn won the Broyles Award that year as the nation’s top assistant coach. After a one-year stint at Arkansas State, he made an immediate impact as Auburn’s new head coach in 2013 as he guided them to a 12-2 record and a national championship appearance. This was just one year after Auburn posted a 3-9 record with zero SEC victories.

Okay, you get it. Auburn should have an awesome offense. They have a QB who possesses size and throwing ability, quality – albeit unproven – weapons at receiver and in the backfield, and a head coach with an elite offensive mind. But what about their defense? After all, doesn’t defense win championships? How did Auburn’s defense do in the 2014 season? 

In 2014, Auburn was 80th in the nation in passing defense and 44th in rushing defense. They allowed 26.7 points per game, which was 63rd in the nation. So obviously, Auburn’s defense wasn’t particularly good. Why will they improve this season? 

Will Muschamp, that’s why. Auburn’s new defensive coordinator should have a huge impact on the Tigers. Say what you want about the man when it comes to his head coaching abilities. As Florida’s former head coach from 2011-2014, the offense under Muschamp was terrible. But one thing no one can deny is that he can coach defense.

The defense, however, was great. Under Muschamp, Florida ranked 9th, 6th, 5th, and 4th in total defense, respectively. Before becoming Florida’s head coach, Muschamp was the defensive coordinator for the Texas Longhorns from 2008-2010, where they had nation’s fifth best defense in both 2009 and 2010. Prior to that, he was actually at Auburn from 2006-2007 and guided their defense to the sixth best in the nation in his final season there. There’s a reason why defenses under Muschamp are always very good. It’s because he is a no-nonsense guy who expects nothing but the absolute best from you. 

If you can’t execute, you can’t play,” Muschamp says. And he means it. 

So who does Will Muschamp have on defense that he can utilize? Last season’s leading tackler Jonathan Ford is returning. He was 10th in the SEC with 94 tackles. He also recorded three interceptions and one forced fumble. Cassanova McKinzy is also returning. He was second on the team in tackles with 91 (14th in the SEC) and had one interception and one forced fumble. 

In addition, Auburn is bringing in defensive end Byron Cowart, the number 1 recruit on ESPN’s 300 rankings. The incoming freshman should impact Auburn’s defense immediately. 

“He already possesses NFL size, and he’s very strong at the point of attack, so he’s that rare player who fits into the SEC right away from a physical standpoint,” national recruiting writer for Bleacher Report Sanjay Kirpalani said. Cowart is a member of Auburn’s seventh-ranked 2015 recruiting class (according to Rivals from Yahoo Sports) and its most vital piece by far. 

Get ready, folks. The Auburn Tigers are coming. They’re loaded on offense, should have a vastly improved defense,and quite possibly have the most stacked coaching staff in the nation. Now, I am not saying that they are going to win it all. What I am saying, however, is don’t be surprised to see them improve on last season’s 8-5 record to chase a national championship. It should happen, and it will happen. 

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Greg Hardy’s Domestic Violence Suspension Reduced to Four Games

New Dallas Cowboy signing Greg Hardy has had his suspension reduced from 10 games to four. The decision was made by NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson upon appeal. Hardy's original suspension stemmed from a domestic violence charge in 2014.

Hardy's girlfriend Nicole Holder alleged that he had threatened to kill her and beaten her repeatedly. Hardy

New Dallas Cowboy signing Greg Hardy has had his suspension reduced from 10 games to four. The decision was made by NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson upon appeal. Hardy’s original suspension stemmed from a domestic violence charge in 2014.

Hardy’s girlfriend Nicole Holder alleged that he had threatened to kill her and beaten her repeatedly. Hardy was convicted by a judge later that year. He appealed that decision, seeking a jury trial. At that point Holder stopped cooperating with authorities and the charges were dismissed. 

Hardy was signed by the Cowboys earlier this offseason, with the cloud of a possible domestic violence suspension over him. He had his breakout season the year before in 2013 with the Carolina Panthers, recording 15 sacks and 59 combined tackles. The next season he missed all but one game as a result of his domestic violence charges.

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The Mighty ‘M’ And The Magical Swoosh

There are only two ways a relationship can end: in death, or in a breakup. That's it.

In 2007, Michigan left the Nike brand in favor of Adidas -– and for a legitimate reason: they got more money. In fact, the Adidas deal was the largest for any collegiate school at the time in the United States.

It wasn't

There are only two ways a relationship can end: in death, or in a breakup. That’s it.

In 2007, Michigan left the Nike brand in favor of Adidas -– and for a legitimate reason: they got more money. In fact, the Adidas deal was the largest for any collegiate school at the time in the United States.

It wasn’t your fault Nike, maybe Michigan wanted to see other people brands

While Michigan rocked the Adidas logo on their uniforms, their first year with the three stripe brand left about nine stripes in the loss column. The second year with Adidas (and with Rich Rodriguez at the helm) saw the Wolverines miss another bowl game.

Maybe it wasn’t the Adidas brand’s fault for the Wolverines struggles. Rich-Rod implemented the spread-offense in Ann Arbor –- which traditionally saw the pro-style attack under Lloyd Carr –- and it didn’t work. Ryan Mallett left the program for Arkansas, and wide receivers Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington bolted for the NFL Draft after Rodriguez became head coach. Combine departures with inexperienced players, and you have a formula for a train wreck of historical proportions. 

However, is it a coincidence that Michigan, who (at the time) hadn’t recorded a losing season since 1967, began a new era with Adidas with two losing seasons in a row? 

Trick question. There are no coincidences o_O. *puts on tinfoil hat*

Michigan did make it to the Gator Bowl in Rich-Rod’s last season, but got blown out of Jacksonville by way of a 52-14 beat down. 

Athletic Director Dave Brandon proceeded to fire Rodriguez and hire Brady Hoke. Spoiler alert: Rodriguez went to Arizona, and built a powerhouse that could compete for a Pac-12 title, and Hoke failed to meet expectations as Rodriguez’s successor.

If this was a trial, Rodriguez and Hoke would be found not guilty for the downfall of Michigan, while the jury is still deliberating if Brandon should be found guilty for tanking the program. 

But there is still one party left to be tried: Adidas. A case of the wrong logo at the wrong time? Maybe it was one too many throwback/alternate jerseys for the Wolverines? 

Unfortunately, the court of public opinion will always win. No matter if you’re innocent, you will be crucified by the public if they think you are the problem. When Michigan became a fragment of its former self, some people blamed the move to Adidas. It gets worse when you watch your nemesis, Ohio State, win the National Championship wearing the Nike swoosh while you sit at home thinking about how to be relevant again.

The search for relevancy went from being a light-through-a-pin-hole to blinding soon after the Buckeyes hoisted the championship trophy in Dallas on January 12th. Michigan hired Jim Harbaugh in the hope he can pick up the pieces and turn the Wolverines back into National Championship contenders. 

Then this happened.

See Nike, it wasn’t your fault 

Michigan re-signed with Nike and made a bunch of money in the process. The Block ‘M’ carries weight, but even more so when it shows signs of winning. With Harbaugh (who’s had a track record of success) it seems obvious that Michigan will win. It may take a year, but improvement year-in and year-out is almost a guarantee. 

People remember the Nike Michigan as a winner. Worse case scenario: we go to the Outback Bowl. Best case: pack up the family, we’re going to a Rose Bowl! 

With Adidas, if Michigan just got to a bowl game, that was reason for celebration. It shouldn’t be that way, though. Take it from a Buckeye: a bad Michigan is bad for everybody (especially the Big Ten). Ohio State-Michigan has lost its pop, and became a fizzle at best after the 2006  “Game of the Century” meeting in Columbus. Rivalries are suppose to be slugfests every year, not blowouts. Harbaugh can make Michigan a power again, all while wearing the magical swoosh.

As I said before: relationships can only end in two ways. This time around, we saw the breakup of Michigan with Adidas.

More importantly, we saw the death of Michigan football being average.

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Implications Of The Washington Redskins Court Ruling

On Wednesday night a Virginia federal judge upheld the ruling that declared the cancellation of the Washington Redskins trademark registrations, effectively rendering their entire set of logos, images, and names public property. Their reasoning for the withdrawal of rights was that the name and imagery was found "offensive" and "disparaging" to the Native American population. Of course, Washington will continue

On Wednesday night a Virginia federal judge upheld the ruling that declared the cancellation of the Washington Redskins trademark registrations, effectively rendering their entire set of logos, images, and names public property. Their reasoning for the withdrawal of rights was that the name and imagery was found “offensive” and “disparaging” to the Native American population. Of course, Washington will continue to exhaust every appellate option, and through the legal battle they will maintain their rights, but this ruling has effectively set in motion a necessary and vital change to their football team’s branding that will play out over the next few years.

This ruling does not affect the rights of the team to use the logo, but it does stop them from being able to regulate who can. Without a trademark on the material, anybody will be able to produce Redskins gear, Redskins merchandise, and Redskins promotional materials. The business of the team will be greatly diminished, and unless they change their name and branding, the Redskins will face a truly bleak future as a franchise. Without the ability to control the market of their team’s goods, their income will rapidly decline and their finances will suffer, possibly to the point of bankruptcy.

Team owner Dan Snyder has declared he will “never” change the name, and will continue to fight this in every way possible. An understandable notion, yes, because a complete rebranding is not only expensive, but is also a very obvious sign of defeat, not to mention a killer blow to the team’s public standing. This organization has held the name since 1933, back when they called Boston home and played alongside the Red Sox in Fenway Park, and despite many changes of locale, the team has kept the same title ever since. Snyder knows that the ruling will not come into effect until every appeal has been completed, so he has years to figure this out. The last thing he and the front office want to do is roll over and concede to the shifting public opinion. 

So what’s going to happen now?

As Snyder has hinted at, not very much for the next few years. Though this ruling is a huge step in the right direction for those who believe the name is offensive, and will likely be a day people look back at as a turning point, the legal quagmire ahead will ensure nothing happens immediately. Snyder is fighting a losing battle, but that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to wage it as vehemently as ever until the bitter end. Redskins President Bruce Allen has declared that,

“[All members of the Redskins organization] are convinced that we will win on appeal as the facts and the law are on the side of our franchise that has proudly used the name Washington Redskins for more than 80 years.”


U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee’s decision is a huge ruling, and in collaboration with the previous ruling by the Federal Trademark Trial and Appeal Board it represents the biggest blow to the Redskins organization since the first Native American activists, led by Suzan Shown Harjo, began petitioning for the team to change their logo in 1992. Lee’s ruling thwarted the argument that this was a First Amendment violation by citing a Supreme Court ruling in June banning license plates in Texas bearing the Confederate Flag. This makes the Redskins’ appeals increasingly difficult, but not impossible.

Snyder continues to fight a losing battle. Credit: USA Today

Washington will continue to pursue the rights to their name for years, even if they have to get more creative with their arguments. They have tried to prove that the term “redskin” is not an insult, but rather a means to honor Native Americans, and that they are perpetuating a positive image through their branding. 

What implications does this have for the NFL?

This is another blow to the already damaged public opinion of the NFL. From the drawn out cases of Ray Rice and Ben Rothlisberger, to the cheating scandals of the Patriots, and the arrests of people like Aaron Hernandez, the NFL has had a rough couple of years to say the least. The last thing they want is a drawn out public battle over a racist moniker, yet that seems to be exactly what they are getting. Due to protection laws, all legal costs for the Redskins are covered by the league itself, so they will be implicitly linked with the Redskins fight to the very end. 

The NFL needs this to be over with as soon as possible. If it can be settled and moved out of focus, it would benefit the league greatly. They continue to expand and improve television ratings, but the larger viewership just means more scrutiny on the players and the league. Last year’s Superbowl was watched by a league record 114.4 million viewers (an all time television record). Advertisement costs rocketed to $4.5 million for a 30 second slot. With the entire nation watching, Roger Goodell wants nothing more than a reset this year, without the controversy and strife. 

So there it is. The Redskins appear to be on a path towards the inevitability of change, despite how much they want to retain the antiquated name of a 20th century program. Though it may be 5, 10, or 20 years before we eventually see the results of this ruling, Washington will get there eventually. This double punch to Snyder’s organization is just one more step towards progress, and it is becoming clearer by the day that he’s fighting a losing battle. Now it’s only a matter of time.

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Is Andrew Luck Elite?

Entering the fourth season of his NFL career, Andrew Luck has amassed a sufficient sample size of statistics and tape for people to analyze. Yet there still remains a discrepancy about where he ranks among the NFL's elite quarterbacks.

While most wouldn't doubt Luck's immense potential, there are still some who believe he is a step behind elite quarterbacks such

Entering the fourth season of his NFL career, Andrew Luck has amassed a sufficient sample size of statistics and tape for people to analyze. Yet there still remains a discrepancy about where he ranks among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

While most wouldn’t doubt Luck’s immense potential, there are still some who believe he is a step behind elite quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and even his predecessor Peyton Manning. 

With expectations at an all-time high for the Indianapolis Colts this offseason, and a massive contract extension on the horizon, now seems like a good time to analyze if Luck is truly among the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.

What do the Statistics Say?

Year Pass
TDs
INTs   CMP %    
 YPA     
Pro Football Focus
Grade
Pro Football
Outsiders’ 
DVOA
ESPN’s Total QBR
2013 23 (15th) 9 (22nd) 60.2% 
(19th)
6.7 
(20th)
14.3 
(12th)
4.6% 
(16th)
62.0
(8th)
2014 40
(1st)
16
(6th)
61.7% 
(20th) 
7.7 
(7th)
13.0 
(9th)
9.2%
(11th)
63.8
 (11th)

*Rankings are shown in parenthesis.

The table shown above statistically analyzes the last two years of Luck’s career. You might be asking why does 2013 matter when we’re trying to determine what type of quarterback Luck is right now?

Well, I’m glad you asked. The NFL has a relatively short schedule compared to other sports, and suffers from small sample sizes with only 16 games to look at from year-to-year.

You wouldn’t say Teddy Bridgewater is a better quarterback than Philip Rivers, just because statistically he played better than him the last five games of the season. Past performances matter; it helps us eliminate fluky seasons (I’m looking at you, Josh McCown).

USA Today Sports

The first thing that pops out when analyzing the table are the significant increases in touchdowns, interceptions and yards per attempt from 2013 to 2014.  These increases could have direct correlations to an increase in pass attempts and more specifically deep pass attempts, and Luck just becoming more confident as a passer.

The 40 touchdowns Luck threw in 2014 are a huge plus in his favor; there’s no denying his ability to put points on the scoreboard. This was especially prominent in the red-zone, where Luck improved substantially from his 2013 campaign and emerged has one of the NFL’s best in this regard, throwing 25 touchdowns to one lone interception.

Now the interceptions are an interesting topic to discuss because usually those who believe Luck doesn’t belong in the elite discussion will bring up the 16 interceptions as evidence against him. And while this is a discouraging figure, it’s not as significant as it seems.

Luck’s career interception percentage of 2.4% is actually the ninth lowest of all time. This puts him ahead of notable quarterbacks such as Drew Brees, Joe Montana and Manning. Now these interceptions do show up on tape as lapses in judgement from time to time, but Luck’s interception percentage proves that it’s not as frequent an issue as it is made out to be.

Luck’s completion percentage is concerning, but it doesn’t take into account things out of a quarterback’s control like dropped passes, which Luck’s receivers led the league in. Pro Football Focus has a Quarterback Accuracy Percentage that tries to eliminate these types of factors, and while his percentage increases substantially to 73.3%, this still puts his rank at 16th compared to the other quarterbacks for the 2014 season.

Another reason for his completion percentage could be the amount of deep passes Luck attempts and also just the sheer amount of pass attempts in general, but there’s only so many excuses you can make.  If we were keeping score, this would definitely be a minus against Luck.

Interestingly enough, the advanced statistics, shown underlined, place Luck’s rank in about the same range performance-wise, right around 9-12.  Furthermore, you will notice that Luck has mostly improved, by numbers or ranking, in those three categories.

The conclusion you’d make by analyzing the advanced statistics is that it seems to agree with the assessment that Luck is a step behind the elite quarterbacks in the NFL.

USA Today Sports

You probably wouldn’t put Luck in the elite echelon of quarterbacks by analyzing the table. The most appropriate spot would probably be either just inside or outside the top-10. 

However, analyzing statistics is a subjective process no matter how much you yell about your favorite player’s Pro Football Focus Grade.

Nick Foles set the record in 2013 for the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history, but if you even mentioned him in an elite quarterback discussion, well then you were probably an Eagles’ fan.

Numbers are useful, but they don’t tell the whole story; that’s why it’s important to watch these quarterbacks in action.

So What Does the Tape Say?

  • Luck has the ability to throw into tight windows.

This first clip shows Luck complete a 28-yard over the shoulder fade; Naturally, Luck puts it in a perfect spot for wide receiver Reggie Wayne to make the catch.

This is one of the most difficult throws in the NFL, but Luck has the ability to squeeze throws into the tightest windows.  

  • Still not convinced? Here’s a couple more examples of Luck doing just that in the video below.

The statistics say Luck has average accuracy, but by analyzing his tape you come away impressed by the sheer ease he displays at making even the most difficult throws. Exceptional accuracy is what separates the upper echelon of quarterbacks in the NFL and with his above average-arm strength, Luck is right up there with them in this regard.

  • Luck has above-average arm strength.


Luck’s arm strength isn’t to the level of a Matthew Stafford or Jay Cutler, but make no mistake about it; Luck can make all the throws, and he isn’t afraid to throw the deep ball.

Luck led the league in passes of 20 yards or more, and coupled with the touch Luck has on the football, it’s easy to see why.

  • Luck has the athleticism to make plays with his feet and the awareness to know when to use them. 


In the video above you see Luck have the awareness and athleticism to scramble to the outside for a touchdown.

This play highlights something very underappreciated about Luck: his ability to know when it’s appropriate to take off. Many might not consider this a valuable trait, but when you watch a quarterback like Colin Kaepernick, who will run if his first target isn’t open, you appreciate Luck’s ability to attack opponents in this way.

Luck is one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the NFL, and he knows how to give defenses headaches with his ability to take off only at the most effective times.

  • Luck is a progression passer that can read the whole field.

While watching the video above you see Luck going through all of his progressions. There are five wide receivers available for Luck to throw to on that play, but he successfully read the coverage and made the right decision to run.

Luck can ruin a defense’s day by slicing through coverages.

  • Luck has great pocket movement and toughness.

In the clip above, Luck evades two pass rushers while doing a great job of keeping his eyes down-field and throwing a strike to wide receiver T.Y. Hilton for a positive play.

Not many quarterbacks show this type of athleticism to evade defenders, while simultaneously remaining confident enough to make an accurate pass. Since the start of his NFL career Luck has had to deal with a mediocre offensive line, so his success has been predicated on his ability to make plays with defenders in his face.

Luck isn’t afraid to stand tall in the pocket and take a hit, and this is a testament to the toughness he displays on the field. In terms of NFL quarterbacks, Luck is as tough as they come. Need more evidence? Luck has consistently been one of the most abused quarterbacks in the NFL since the start of his career, and he has yet to miss a start.

Luck’s pocket movement has evolved into the best in the NFL, and this, coupled with his ability to stand tall in the pocket amid pressure, adds for a dangerous combination for defenses.

  • Luck has the ability to make jaw dropping plays.

When you combine all of the attributes mentioned (above-accuracy, athleticism, arm strength, great pocket movement, and toughness) you get a quarterback who is capable of making unbelievable plays like the ones in the video above.

The only other quarterback who is comparable to Luck in this regard is Rodgers, and that’s high company to be placed with. So while other quarterbacks might appear to be ahead of Luck statistically, Luck is leaps ahead of these same quarterbacks on tape.

The Verdict:

Mark Twain once said, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” And this seems to embody the argument against Luck being elite perfectly. The statistics don’t begin to tell the whole story about Luck’s exceptional ability as a quarterback.

Point blank: There are only a handful of quarterbacks in the NFL that can do what Luck does regularly on a football field, and that is what makes him elite.

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Rams select LT Isaiah Battle in 5th round of supplemental draft

The St. Louis Rams selected former Clemson left tackle Isaiah Battle in the fifth round of the NFL supplemental draft Thursday.

Battle is the first player taken in the supplemental draft in three years. The most recent was wide receiver Josh Gordon, whom the Cleveland Browns selected in the second round in 2012.

The St. Louis Rams selected former Clemson left tackle Isaiah Battle in the fifth round of the NFL supplemental draft Thursday.

Battle is the first player taken in the supplemental draft in three years. The most recent was wide receiver Josh Gordon, whom the Cleveland Browns selected in the second round in 2012.

The Rams’ selection of Battle means that the team will forfeit its fifth-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. St. Louis now holds only five picks in the 2016 draft — the fewest of any team — including three in the first two rounds.

According to ESPN, Battle left Clemson to enter the draft because he has “some family matters to address, with a child due this summer.”

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The NFL’s Five Least Watchable Offenses

Let's face it, folks: offenses clicking on all cylinders are fun to watch. Touchdowns are more exciting to most fans than a solid defensive play, and while we all love a nail-biting defensive battle from time to time, shootouts are generally more fun.

Quarterbacks making perfect throws, running backs finding the hole and juking undersized

Let’s face it, folks: offenses clicking on all cylinders are fun to watch. Touchdowns are more exciting to most fans than a solid defensive play, and while we all love a nail-biting defensive battle from time to time, shootouts are generally more fun.

Quarterbacks making perfect throws, running backs finding the hole and juking undersized corners out of their shoes and receivers making highlight-reel catches pull us all from our seats to cheer or scream as necessary.

This list does not include those offenses.

Granted, this is not a list of necessarily the worst units in the league, because schaudenfruede exists and sometimes complete and utter failure can be entertaining; this is a list of the simply unwatchable. The boring, grass-growing-level units who couldn’t inspire excitement if they lit fireworks into their own faces (sorry, Jason Pierre-Paul).

To make this list, a team needs to be uninspired and mediocre at its best, and downright miserable at worst. 

Shall we?

5. Washington

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Oh, Robert Griffin III. We fondly remember your Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012, when you lit up the league with both your arm and your legs, making thrilling play after thrilling play and leading your team to its first playoff appearance in five years. Deep bombs, epic rushing from fellow rookie Alfred Morris and some inspired play from Pierre Garcon on the outside made Washington fun to watch week in and week out.

Now?

Not so much. Griffin has been hobbled in every season since, looking nowhere near the same as that magical year (much like fellow OROY winner Sam Bradford, not coincidentally).

The rushing attack has been solid, if not flashy. Morris barely cleared 1,000 yards last season on a pedestrian 4.1 YPC.

The passing attack was…interesting, at least, in that between Griffin, Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy the “Washington Quarterback” put together a 66.5 completion percentage, 4,461 yards and 18 TDs, but also took 58 sacks.

Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton? Exciting.

Eli Manning to Odell Beckham, Jr.? Thrilling.

Colt McCoy to Santana Moss? Snooze.

The team made no significant offseason moves on offense, and lost fan favorite Roy Helu to free agency, meaning the loss of the team’s primary third down back. If Griffin can come close to his 2012 form, this team will perhaps make some noise in the NFC East.

But honestly, what are the chances?

4. Houston Texans

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Houston fans, this is the face of your most successful rostered quarterback. Let that sink in for a moment.

Remember, we’re talking about offenses now, not defenses or teams as a whole. Want to switch to Red Zone when a team is driving on Houston’s defense to see how J.J. Watt ruins someone else’s lifelong NFL dream? You’re certainly not alone.

However, as of this writing Watt has not made any moves toward taking over under center, and (as far as I know) he’s only human.

Arian Foster is still incredible, and incredibly enigmatic, sure, but he’s the lone bright spot among this group of “who?”

The team lost franchise hero and all-time leading receiver Andre Johnson to a division rival; Johnson finally apparently got sick of his career’s best signal-caller being That Guy Who Took Over Matt Schaub’s Body That One Season Who Was Definitely Not The Real Matt Schaub. Hoyer and fellow one-time Tom Brady backup Ryan Mallett are competing for the starting job. Foster’s backup is a guy named Alfred.

Quarterbacks not named Ryan Fitzpatrick managed about a 55 percent completion rate, 835 yards and four TDs over the four games they played (Case Keenum and Ryan Mallett).

Other than Foster, who inevitably will hit the injury list at some point during the season, who are you watching on this team unless they’re taking up a spot on your fantasy roster? 

3. St. Louis Rams

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Shaun Hill, the Great Old Hope. While Hill is no longer a member of the Rams, and they are my team, I must be pragmatic here. The Rams and Texans are in the same boat, but St. Louis lacks even a Foster-esque star on the entire offensive side.

Around the NFL’s Chris Wesseling called the Rams offense “probably the worst in the league,” citing a patchwork offensive line, rookie and underwhelming running backs and a no-name group of wide receivers.

As a Rams fan, I cannot dispute these points. Nick Foles, the new sheriff in town under center, struggled mightily last season in Chip Kelly’s “quarterback-proof” offensive system before injuring his shoulder. I wouldn’t be surprised if the opening day offensive line included one of Jeff Fisher’s brother’s cousin’s bartenders. Todd Gurley will most likely open the season on the PUP list and Tre Mason is no one’s pick to light it up after averaging only 63.8 YPG last season (leading the team, by the way). The presumptive WR1 is Kenny Britt, who no one has heard from since 2010. 

Tavon Austin, presumably the most “exciting player” on this offense, has looked more lost in the system than your mail-order bride’s green card since being drafted, and will work for his second offensive coordinator in three years who won’t be able to get him the ball effectively.

Expect 13-10 games involving the Rams more often than not, so feel free to do the dishes or replace your home’s insulation during their prime-time games.

2. Jacksonville Jaguars

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Blake Bortles has 11 touchdowns to his name. He was sacked 55 times last season. The Jaguars’ offense, both rushing and passing, only scored 24 touchdowns last season. Half of NFL passing offenses scored more.

Who’s the starting running back? Toby Gerhart? Newly-drafted rookie T.J. Yeldon? Storm Johnson? Does it matter?

Who’s their WR1? Allen Robinson, but you wouldn’t know that if A) you don’t play fantasy football or B) I didn’t tell you.

While Jacksonville’s defense and another year under coach Gus Bradley might make the team more competitive, even adding Julius “Got To Play With Peyton” Thomas can’t generate a single spark of interest in this godforsaken North Florida wasteland.

1. Cleveland Browns

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Did you know there’s a website called FactoryofSadness.co? It’s a real site, unfortunately, but that nickname for Cleveland is actually a thing that exists.

Now, Cleveland’s top-billed ranking on this list is assuming Josh McCown takes over the starting duties for the entire season. If Johnny Rehab gets under center, good or ill, this team immediately becomes appointment television.

McCown, on the other hand, was (apart from that weird, Twilight Zone-ish streak in Chicago) an absolute dumpster fire last season. He completed 56 percent of his throws, matched 11 scoring throws with 14 interceptions and was sacked 36 times in 11 games, good for a 35.71 QBR (out of 100). This, remember, was with serious talent at the receiver position in rookie standout Mike Evans and stalwart veteran Vincent Jackson.

But whom does McCown “get” to throw to in Cleveland, you may be wondering?

Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe!

You might remember Bowe as the WR1 for an offense who failed to throw a single touchdown pass to a wide receiver last season

Hartline, meanwhile, has never scored more than four times in a season and has never topped 76 receptions.

Is the running game better? Sure, perhaps. Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West and rookie Duke Johnson (who may be the most entertainingly-named three-headed backfield in the league) won’t be lighting up highlight reels anytime soon, though, and a grind-it-out, cloud of dust attack to try and minimize McCown’s awfulness makes for depressing television.

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Why the NFL Drug Policy Makes Sense

The National Football League is a very flawed organization with tons of issues that need improving. In just the past year, we've seen flip-flopping and shady discipline issues with several high-profile athletes. We also have continuous mishandling of players' health, with the league sweeping under the rug of acts related to concussions, pain killers, and other player health

The National Football League is a very flawed organization with tons of issues that need improving. In just the past year, we’ve seen flip-flopping and shady discipline issues with several high-profile athletes. We also have continuous mishandling of players’ health, with the league sweeping under the rug of acts related to concussions, pain killers, and other player health issues.

It is probably fair to say that the NFL gets it wrong more than it gets it right. However, when thinking about the NFL drug policy, if you take a step back, you’ll see that the NFL has it right.

Within the past week, big name players such as San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, New York Jets defensive end Sheldon Richards, and Dallas Cowboys linebacker Rolando McClain have been suspended for breaking league policies.

Gates was suspended four games for testing positive for a banned substance under the NFL’s performance enhancing drug policy. Richardson and McClain were suspended four for games as well, but their discipline fell under the substance abuse policy.

The similar length of suspensions as well as the similar period of time has created a false equivalency among the public. Many people have taken to comment boards and written about how it is absurd that an offense such as smoking weed (now legal in 23 states medically and in five recreationally) and taking PEDs garner the same penalty from the league.

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Many will say that weed is no more harmful than alcohol and that the nation is becoming more accepting of marijuana use. Both of those statements are arguably correct. Scientific studies comparing the effects of alcohol and marijuana have been conducted and for the first time ever, a majority of persons (53%) believe that marijuana should be legalized.

And while both of those statements may be correct, they aren’t what matter when you consider the position that the NFL is in as a business. The NFL needs to do what is good for their brand and good for their wallets.

Let’s start with the idea that marijuana legalization is becoming more widely accepted. Although 53% of people are on board, that number still means that 47% of people aren’t. And even some of the people that think that, logically, marijuana should be legalized, do not condone the use of it. I am one of those very people.

When you’re running a business such as the NFL, you want to be sure not to alienate your customers. It is unlikely that people will stop watching the NFL because players aren’t allowed to smoke marijuana. However, it is likely that people will stop watching if they view the players who partake in such actions as thugs. Even though that perception is completely inaccurate and for their age group and gender, NFL players actually commit less crimes than the general public, this is still the image that surrounds some NFL players. A league full of savvy businessmen like the NFL knows that players using marijuana may reinforce that stereotype.

One suggestion I’ve heard is to let teams handle penatlies on a team by team basis. But that would just lead not no one enforcing it as it would put them at a competitive disadvantage against more relaxed teams in the case of free agency. The NFLPA would also likely take issue with the unequal treatment of players.

When you also consider the fact that the NFL is an employer and many, many, many other employers also drug test and punish employees for partaking, it makes a lot of sense as to why a business that is heavily exposed to the public would want to discourage this behavior.

Now your response to all of this might be, “well, that may all very well be true, but cheating is much worse. It ruins the integrity of the game and the punishment should be more severe than the use of marijuana.”

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However, when you think about it, heavily punishing cheating athletes is bad for the on-the-field product. The NFL wants bigger, faster, and stronger players who can recover quickly from suspension. And, even if they catch a guy cheating, the league would want to get him back on the field as soon as possible because, at the end of the day, people pay to see him play. There is public pressure to condemn bad behavior or at least make it seem like you are deterring bad behavior, but there is less incentive to give guys very lengthy suspensions if the league can lose money from suspending their stars.

Finally, some say that the MLB comes down much harder on PEDs and their fans don’t seem to care. This is true, and in fact, their fans want to see the cheaters punished. But this took a while. The MLB brand has been associated with steroids and cheating for the past several decades and only now are they addressing the problem. It has forced them to take a hard stance against the behavior.

As of now,  you can argue that it is counter-intuitive for the NFL to take aggressive action against PED users, if there isnt more outcry from fans about the offenders. It may not be fair, but the NFL is a business, and as of now, they are doing the right thing with respect to the substance abuse and banned substance policies.

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NFL, Tottenham announce 10-year deal to play games in new London stadium

The NFL has announced a 10-year agreement to play at least two games per year at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium in London, which is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in 2018. The new stadium will have a capacity of roughly 60,000.

Pro Football Talk reports that this does not

The NFL has announced a 10-year agreement to play at least two games per year at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium in London, which is currently under construction and is scheduled to open in 2018. The new stadium will have a capacity of roughly 60,000.

Pro Football Talk reports that this does not mean the end of games at Wembley Stadium, where the NFL has played its London games since 2007.

Both Tottenham’s official website and the NFL UK website released a statement regarding the new deal:

“The state-of-the-art stadium, due to open in the summer of 2018, will feature a retractable grass field with an artificial surface underneath that would be used for NFL games. This innovative field will add greater flexibility in the scheduling of games, with the NFL having its own playing surface for games held at this venue. This field will be multi-use and capable of hosting other sporting, entertainment and community events.”

The NFL has long discussed permanently placing a franchise in London, and this deal expands the possibilities of where that team might play its home games.

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Federal judge orders cancellation of ‘Redskins’ trademark; team may appeal

A federal judge has ordered the cancellation of the Washington Redskins’ federal trademark on the team name, ruling in a 70-page decision that the name may be offensive to Native Americans.

This is the third blow against the team’s federal trademark after the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the United States Patent and Trademark

A federal judge has ordered the cancellation of the Washington Redskins’ federal trademark on the team name, ruling in a 70-page decision that the name may be offensive to Native Americans.

This is the third blow against the team’s federal trademark after the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the United States Patent and Trademark Office voted to cancel the team’s federal trademark in June 2014.

The team has argued that the cancellation is an infringement of free-speech rights and that the government should not judge whether or not the name is offensive.

Washington may appeal the decision all the way to the Supreme Court if it desires, and it still holds trademarks on the state level. The cancellation of the trademark does not prevent the team from profiting off the name.

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Will Robert Griffin III Return To Form in 2015?

With 6 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, down by 7 to the Seattle Seahawks, he turned to recover a poor snap and it was over. The hope and optimism remaining in FedEx Field, the strength of Griffin's knee, gone.

Playing on a sprained LCL, RGIII embodied the warrior mentality by remaining on the field to help

With 6 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, down by 7 to the Seattle Seahawks, he turned to recover a poor snap and it was over. The hope and optimism remaining in FedEx Field, the strength of Griffin’s knee, gone.

Playing on a sprained LCL, RGIII embodied the warrior mentality by remaining on the field to help his team in the wild-card game. He put himself at risk for further injury because he knew that he was still the best option under center.

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Although the Seahawks went on to win the game, the more important issue in Washington was the health of the franchise quarterback. It was later revealed that the former Baylor Bear had tears in his ACL and LCL, a significant setback for the young signal caller.

After this injury, Griffin has been unable to sustain the success he had during his rookie year, due to both his own poor performance and the disfunction of the franchise.

The “sophomore slump” hit Robert Griffin III hard, as Washington was just 3-10 with him under center during his second year, prompting Mike Shanahan to bench Griffin for Kirk Cousins. There was tension between the quarterback and coach throughout the season, thus the decision was not surprising, despite Griffin’s health and ability to play.

Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Obviously Shanahan and the franchise had to move apart because the benching of Griffin could only hurt the young talent. Taking him away from games in which he could have continued to develop and try to gain momentum going into the next season was not in the best interest of the organization or player, just adding on to the awkward relationship.

There are no excuses for his poor play, but the difficulties with his coach in addition to coming back from injury made it arduous for RG3 to find the groove he had the season prior. 

Going into his third season, Griffin looked to return to his explosive form with a fresh coaching situation as Jay Gruden took over, as well as having a big-play talent in DeSean Jackson to sling the deep ball to.

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However, another season did not go to plan as he injured his ankle in Game 2 of the regular season against the Jaguars, forcing him to sit out 6 weeks, to return only in Week 9. Although the season went off its proverbial tracks, all was not lost, as after being benched for Colt McCoy after three straight losses, Griffin impressed as he replaced an injured McCoy in a loss to the New York Giants, throwing for 236 yards and 1 TD.

Being named starter for the last two games of the regular season, he began to remind everyone why he was the second overall pick, as he threw for 220 yards against the Eagles and 336 against the Cowboys, scoring a passing and rushing touchdown in the final regular season game. This flash of electrifying play, in addition to a year learning with Jay Gruden and gaining chemistry is extremely encouraging for the 2015-16 season.

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Although Griffin has been unable to produce consistently for Washington in the past two years, his rookie year was still phenomenal and shows only the beginning of his potential. Throwing for 3200 yards with a 20 to 5 touchdown to interception ratio, Robert Griffin III showed that he obviously has the talent to excel at the NFL level. 

Also, through the injuries, it is easy to forget that his completion percentage in his third year actually increased from his rookie year, going from 65.6 to 68.7 percent, even during a season in which he could not stay on the field to gain momentum and had an incapable offensive line, as he was sacked 33 times.

Being completely healthy, and having a year under his belt with his head coach, the young gunslinger will look to show in 2015 that spending the second overall pick on him, as well as the organization not straying and remaining supportive during the tribulations of his young career, was an extremely valuable decision long-term for the franchise.

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Buffalo Bills 2012 Draft Rewind

Grading Rubric

Players drafted: Nine

Players drafted still on the roster: Four

First round pick: Stephon Gilmore, CB South Carolina

Notable late round pick/UDFA: None

Buffalo opened the draft by selecting South Carolina corner Stephon Gilmore. In three seasons, reviews about Gilmore have been mixed. He posted good numbers in his rookie

Grading Rubric

Players drafted: Nine

Players drafted still on the roster: Four

First round pick: Stephon Gilmore, CB South Carolina

Notable late round pick/UDFA: None

Buffalo opened the draft by selecting South Carolina corner Stephon Gilmore. In three seasons, reviews about Gilmore have been mixed. He posted good numbers in his rookie year but has been hampered by injuries and although he is a solid player, has not been the shutdown corner Buffalo expected at the tenth overall pick. Grade: 2

In the second round, the Bills landed a steal in Georgia offensive tackle Cordy Glenn, who seemed to be poised for a first round selection. Since taking over as the team’s offensive tackle in 2012, Glenn has missed just three games, all in his rookie season. He hasn’t won many accolades but still locks down the position. Grade: 1

NC State receiver, and third round pick, TJ Graham spent two seasons in Buffalo putting up marginal numbers and is now part of the Jets. Grade: 0

Fourth round linebacker Nigel Bradham from Florida State, played sparingly in his first two years but was great this past season in filling in for an injured Kiko Alonso. Expect him to do big things now that Alonso is gone. Grade: 2

Fellow fourth round pick, LSU corner Ron Brooks, has been a steady reserve defensive back for all three years in Buffalo. Grade: 1

Zebrie Sanders, a fifth round offensive tackle from Florida State, missed his entire rookie year due to injury and was cut prior to the 2013 season. He now plays in the CFL. Grade: 0

TCU linebacker Tank Carder, another Buffalo fifth round choice, didn’t make it through training camp and has been a backup linebacker and special teamer for the Browns since. Grade: 0

Sixth round guard Mark Asper, also failed to make the Bills roster out of training camp. He has been with six teams in three seasons in the NFL. Grade: 0

The Bills’ final selection in 2012 would be kicker John Potter from Western Michigan. Potter would serve as the team’s kickoff specialist for half a season. He has failed to win a starting kicker job on three other teams during his NFL tenure. Grade:0

Total score: Six

With about half the picks from 2012 paying dividends for the team, the Bills are right on track with the league average. Still, there does not appear to be a game changer in this group. Yes, starters are hard to come by so Glenn, Gilmore and Bradham shouldn’t be overlooked, but at the moment it is unclear if any will emerge as the best at their respective position. 

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The Big Ten Is Back

One of the first songs played in the movie Evita has Antonio Banderas singing loudly about the life of Eva Perón. The song is called "Oh What a Circus" and, while it starts out detailing the good things Perón did, it quickly spirals into all the things she did or didn't do in the latter stages

One of the first songs played in the movie Evita has Antonio Banderas singing loudly about the life of Eva Perón. The song is called “Oh What a Circus” and, while it starts out detailing the good things Perón did, it quickly spirals into all the things she did or didn’t do in the latter stages of her life.

In a way, that song could be used to describe the Big Ten until last year. All the great things the conference was able to do – house arguably the greatest rival in college football with Ohio State and Michigan, be part of the Rose Bowl, keeping all the schools together during the realignment shifts – were met with the cacophony of media pundits declaring the Big Ten as the weakest of the power conferences.

To a degree, the pundits were right. 

In the latter stages of the BCS era, the Big Ten struggled mighty in postseason play. Ohio State lost two national championship games – while being the only representative from the Big Ten to play in that game since the turn of the century – and Michigan was gradually sliding down a slippery slope that dumped them into the abyss missed expectations.

After Florida demolished Ohio State in the 2007 BCS Championship Game, everything became an SEC world. The SEC ran the table up until Florida State escaped the 2014 BCS Championship Game in Pasadena, Calif. Even then, the SEC was arguably the top conference in the land.

Florida jump started the SEC dynasty, at the expense of the Big Ten (photo: Toledo Blade)

Even though Ohio State won a title in 2003 (while knocking down mighty Miami) and Michigan was a contender for what seems like an eternity, people all of a sudden had short term memories. 

And then last year happened.

Ohio State – who had their championship hopes put on life support after a surprising loss to Virginia Tech at home– found a way into the National Semifinal at the Sugar Bowl, and downed Alabama. Then the Buckeyes tore apart an Oregon Ducks team that was quarterbacked by Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. 

Michigan State, who lost to both the Buckeyes and Ducks, wound up in one of the “New Year’s Six” bowl games, and pulled off a wild victory against Baylor. Actually, wild is an understatement. The Spartans blocked a Baylor field goal late to help cap off a 21-point fourth quarter comeback to win the game 42-41. 

Michigan State helped the Big Ten shake off the postseason jitters by beating Baylor (photo from MLive.com)

Then you have Wisconsin. The Badgers were rocked 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game by Ohio State, yet rose up in the Outback Bowl to beat Auburn 34-31. 

Post season collapses are a thing of the past for the Big Ten. Like anything –winning, losing, playing Coldplay’s Viva la Vida on repeat– you go through trends. Some are more prominent than others. 

For the Big Ten, it was perpetual letdown after perpetual letdown every postseason. But, they’ve outgrown it and, with Jim Harbaugh coming, it won’t be long until Michigan claws their way back into the championship picture. 

This season brings high hopes and expectations for the Big Ten. Something that wasn’t  said that much before the start of 2014.

Then again, it’s a whole different era for the Big Ten. This is a Big Ten that wins in the postseason.

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Gator Fans, Be Patient. The Time Will Come.

Who could ever forget the Florida Gators' glory years from 2005-2009, when we fans witnessed two national titles? We had a coach who instilled a ferocious attacking offense and a quarterback who utilized it perfectly.  Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow were the perfect duo, as their success on the field left Gator fans extremely spoiled and,

Who could ever forget the Florida Gators’ glory years from 2005-2009, when we fans witnessed two national titles? We had a coach who instilled a ferocious attacking offense and a quarterback who utilized it perfectly.  Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow were the perfect duo, as their success on the field left Gator fans extremely spoiled and, in the end, wanting more. 

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Surely, they were going to go for the repeat in the 2009 season. after winning it all the previous year. But instead, those hopes were crushed as the Alabama Crimson Tide demolished the Gators in SEC championship game. After that, Tebow graduated, the Gators had a mediocre season, and Meyer left the program. 

Along came Muschamp who was considered one of the top defensive coordinators in the country. As the new head coach, he did fulfill one expectation: make Florida a tough defensive squad. There’s nothing wrong with having great defense. How did the offense do? Well, let’s just say what we saw on the field under Muschamp was a lot different than what we saw under Meyer, and overdependent on a decent, but not great run. They did have an 11-game winning season, which was basically dependent on a strong defensive unit and clutch kicking. The offense, other than a pretty good running game, was pretty much non-existent and that price was paid in the end. The Gators were picked to play in the Sugar Bowl and were expected to blow out their opponent, the Louisville Cardinals. What happened instead was an interception on the first throw that led to Louisville scoring the game’s first touchdown and an eventual shocking victory. 

It left a bitter taste in Gator fans’ mouths. “How could that happen? We’re Florida! We’re supposed to win everything!” 

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That season was proven to be a fluke. Florida posted a 4-8 record the next season, with the low point being a shocking loss to Georgia Southern. It was the first time that the Gators ever lost to an FCS opponent. At that very moment, the Gators became the laughing stock of college football–and rightfully so. 

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Florida had a slightly better season the next year, though it still wasn’t great by any means. The offense was still terrible and there was just very little fight in a lot of the games. Their mediocre record, along with the inept offense, eventually led to Muschamp’s firing. The defense was always great under him. But the lack of offense did not help. 

Through it all, Gator fans quickly learned a very harsh lesson: just because you’re on top does not mean you will stay there forever. Eventually, you’re going to have to come down and you will suffer the reality of being mediocre. No wants to go through it, but that’s just how it is in sports. In some cases like Duke basketball, it feels like forever. But nothing lasts forever. So be thankful for the glory years and look back on them proudly when they end. 

The Meyer and Tebow era, as mentioned before, left Gator fans extremely spoiled. We witnessed a great run. We thought our team could be invincible forever. We were caught in the moment and didn’t even consider that our team would fall back when they left. We didn’t want it to happen. We refused to believe it would happen.But it happened. And in the end, it humbled us. Well, it humbled me at least. I learned to appreciate those glory years even more. What a heck of a ride that was. 

Enter the Jim McElwain era. So far, as what happens on the field has yet to be seen, McElwain has proven that he knows how to recruit. He brought in a very solid recruiting class which brought the Gators up around 70 spots in the recruiting rankings. The highlights of that recruiting class were the signings of the top OT recruit in the nation in Martez Ivey and the second best DE recruit in CeCe Jefferson. Those signings don’t automatically make the Gators contenders. What they do is indicate a bright future for the program. 

No one knows how the Gators will do in 2015 and it’s absolutely unfair to expect McElwain to just turn them into title contenders in his first season. This is a roster that, while decent, still has a lot of work to be done. The potential is there, though, we just have to be patient and hopefully our patience pays off. 

Remember though, in the end, it’s always great to be a Florida Gator!

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Jets’ DT Sheldon Richardson Suspended First 4 Games of 2015

The 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Sheldon Richardson has become one of football's most dominating 3-4 defensive ends. Unfortunately for Richardson and the Jets, his presence in the middle of Todd Bowles' defense will be absent for the first four games of the new season.

The NFL announced Richardson's four-game suspension today, a

The 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Sheldon Richardson has become one of football’s most dominating 3-4 defensive ends. Unfortunately for Richardson and the Jets, his presence in the middle of Todd Bowles’ defense will be absent for the first four games of the new season.

The NFL announced Richardson’s four-game suspension today, a result of his violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Richardson will be available for training camp and the preseason, though he will be sidelined for the first games, including matchups with the Browns, Colts, Eagles and Dolphins. 

The former Mizzou Tiger was rated as Pro Football Focus’ 2nd-best 3-4 DE a year ago, behind only J.J. Watt. The Jets released the following statement on Richardson’s behalf:

“I apologize for letting down my family, teammates, this organization and the fans. However, words aren’t enough. This is something that can only be addressed by how I handle myself from this point on. I don’t want this to take away from what the team is trying to accomplish. While I won’t be there at the start of the regular season, I will do whatever I can to support my teammates until I’m able to return to the field.”

As good as Richardson is, the Jets are comfortably set along the defensive line, with Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, who many believed to be the best prospect in the 2015 draft. Williams, who wasn’t expected to be starved for playing time, will be expected to have an even larger role in the Jets’ defense in Richardson’s stead.

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Why Saints Fans Should Be Relieved Tom Benson Is Mentally Competent

Tom Benson is mentally competent. 

At least, he is according to Judge Kern Reese, who ruled on Jun. 18 that the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner was capable of operating and would retain control over both franchises. Benson was taken to court by his daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc. The three filed

Tom Benson is mentally competent. 

At least, he is according to Judge Kern Reese, who ruled on Jun. 18 that the New Orleans Saints and New Orleans Pelicans owner was capable of operating and would retain control over both franchises. Benson was taken to court by his daughter, Renee Benson, and grandchildren, Rita and Ryan LeBlanc. The three filed the lawsuit in January, when Benson announced he was cutting ties with his would-be heirs with plans to leave full ownership of the Saints and Pelicans to his wife of 10 years, Gayle Benson. This ruling has positive implications for Saints fans for three reasons.     

First, this ruling ensures head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis will remain with the team. Payton requested a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave the Saints if Loomis leaves. It is believed that Payton wanted to include this poison pill in order to avoid dealing with Rita LeBlanc

As long as Loomis is there to handle Rita LeBlanc and provide a buffer for Payton, the head coach should not worry about being distracted by the front office. Loomis has been reported to be one of Gayle Benson’s closest advisors and has continuously expressed support for her management of the team. Loomis is not likely to remain with the team if Rita LeBlanc takes over, and the team would lose an excellent general manager who has consistently managed to save the Saints from salary cap doom while bringing in premier free agents, such as Jairus Byrd and C.J. Spiller. 

Furthermore, the ruling allows Gayle Benson to completely inherit the team. The metamorphosis of Tom Benson is not unlike that of Ebenezer Scrooge. When Hurricane Katrina hit the city of New Orleans, Benson threatened to move the team to San Antonio, where several of his car dealerships and other business ventures are located. Gayle managed to convince Tom to keep the team in New Orleans, and after the Saints’ miraculous 2006  season, he completely committed to remaining in the Big Easy.

Tom followed Gayle’s lead and began financing philanthropic projects to help rebuild the city, and fired his granddaughter and supposed heir, Rita, after reports of her skipping work and neglecting her place in the organization surfaced. Gayle has surrounded herself with a team of advisors, ranging from Loomis to the President of the Saints organization, Dennis Lauscha. Saints players have lauded Gayle for her frequent appearances at practice and for emulating “everything Tom Benson has done with the franchise.”

Finally, Reese’s decision keeps the organization out of Rita LeBlanc’s control. Rita LeBlanc has reportedly gone through thirty personal assistants in the last six years, and has a reputation for dragging out projects that should have been completed in a short amount of time. Her former assistants have claimed that she was often missing from the office and compared her to Miranda Priestly, the villainous editor of Lauren Weisberger’s book, The Devil Wears Prada. 

Tom Benson writing LeBlanc out of his will is his attempt to avoid the obstacles other teams have faced when an entitled family member takes over the team. One team that fits this description is the San Francisco 49’ers. Jed York, current 49’ers CEO and operating head of the franchise, replaced former head coach, Jim Harbaugh, this past offseason. Fans criticized the move, as Harbaugh was primarily responsible for bringing the team from mediocrity to back to back NFC Championship games. Benson changing his will is a smart move to avoid mismanagement of the team. 

The judge’s decision culminates a six month controversy between members of the Benson family and allows Payton and Loomis to focus on the issues on the field. While it is unclear if Benson’s daughter and grandchildren will appeal the decision, fans should be assured hat the team is in good hands when the Saints come marching in this fall. 

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Braxton Miller to Stay at OSU

The saga surrounding the Ohio State quarterback situation seems to garner endless stories, no matter the time of year. Early Wednesday, Braxton Miller said that next week he would shed more light on his playing situation.

Miller, who just graduated this past spring, is eligible to transfer to any NCAA program and play immediately due

The saga surrounding the Ohio State quarterback situation seems to garner endless stories, no matter the time of year. Early Wednesday, Braxton Miller said that next week he would shed more light on his playing situation.

Miller, who just graduated this past spring, is eligible to transfer to any NCAA program and play immediately due to his student status. Given the crowd in Urban Meyer’s QB room, many have speculated that Miller should take his talents elsewhere.

The redshirt senior is coming off of shoulder surgery that sidelined him for the whole 2014 season, which opened the door for J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones to lead the Buckeyes to a championship. A healthy Miller would give Meyer three very different, very talented options under center, but it might be too much for playing time considerations.

Miller seems to be rehabbing well, though shoulder health will obviously remain a concern moving forward.

Despite Miller’s “next week” teaser, ESPN’s Joe Schad reported today that Miller is going to remain a Buckeye

The Ohio State QB race will be one of the most intriguing stories moving forward, and all eyes will be on Columbus as the Buckeyes attempt to repeat their national championship. It appears that, at least for now, they will do so with Braxton Miller still on the roster. 

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Bulls Sign Dunleavy to Three-Year Contract

Despite reports of LeBron James wanting the guard for himself, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. will instead return to Chicago and challenge the Cavaliers again for the Eastern Conference crown. 

Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Bulls reached a 3-year, $14.4 Million deal with the former Duke guard. The deal includes

Despite reports of LeBron James wanting the guard for himself, Mike Dunleavy, Jr. will instead return to Chicago and challenge the Cavaliers again for the Eastern Conference crown. 

Yahoo! Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Bulls reached a 3-year, $14.4 Million deal with the former Duke guard. The deal includes a partial guarantee in the final year.

Dunleavy averaged 9.4 PPG last season, though he missed about a month with an ankle injury. His 40.7% rate beyond the arc was the 3rd best in his career, indicating this 34-year old might have a few good years left in the tank. 

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