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NFL Mid-Season Top Fives

I usually do a review at the NFL season’s midpoint.  Sometimes I’ll do a preview of things to come.  This year I thought a few random Top 5 lists might be the way to go.  So, here we go…

TOP 5 QUARTERBACKS

1. Aaron Rodgers GB – I hate putting him at #1 because I hate the Packers however you can’t argue with results.  The team is 7-0, he has thrown for 20 TDs and his QB rating is 125.

2. Tom Brady NE – Tom is always in the Top 5.  While the Pats have faltered a bit going into the midway point of the season, Tom should continue to produce with the help of WR Wes Welker and his dynamic duo at Tight End.

3. Drew Brees NO – He leads the NFL in yardage and at times makes this game look very easy.  Sunday night against the Colts was an indication of that.  He has been starting to turn the ball over a lot again but when you throw the ball 40 times a game you are going  to throw a few picks.

4. Matt Stafford DET – I am not sure he’ll be on this list by season’s end but he is on it now.  He has led his team to hard fought and come from behind victories and they’re off to their best start in several decades.  He is a bit banged up and the team is starting to look more human lately.

5. Eli Manning NYG – I have to give it up to Eli.  I am usually very critical of him but he is off to a great start.  He has only thrown 5 Ints and has a QB rating over 100.  He has taken this team on his back and made big plays all season.  As a team they are good but not great.  Eli makes them better and could guide them to a division title.

TOP 5 PLAYMAKERS

1. Aaron Rodgers GB – See above

2. Matt Forte CHI – Where would the Bears be without Matt Forte?  He has almost 700 yards rushing, 400 yards receiving and 3 TDs.  He is the Chicago Bears offense.

3. Adrian Petersen MIN – He is stuck on a terrible Minnesota team and has over 700 yards on the ground at the break.  He has held on to the ball for a change and put the ball in the endzone 8 times.

4. Calvin Johnson DET – The Autobot or Decepticon or whatever the hell he calls himself is “the stud” when it comes to receivers.  This guy makes Matt Stafford that much better.  10TDs at the break says it all.

5. Wes Welker NE / Steve Smith CAR – I was torn here so it is a tie.  Wes has been everything to Tom Brady.  He leads the NFL in receptions and 2nd in yards.  1st in yardage is Steve Smith with over 800 yards at the break.  That is quite the accomplishment for a WR on a bad team with a rookie QB.

TOP 5 BUSTS

1. Chris Johnson TEN – He has gone from the NFL’s top back to 35th in rushing yards with a 2.9 per carry average.  Tennessee is struggling this season but those numbers aren’t all their fault.

2. Sam Bradford STL – From rookie phenom to a total bust out.  He only has 3 TDs, 51% completion percentage, a QB rating of 72 and a team that hasn’t won yet.  Is it all his fault?  Hard to tell but Josh McDaniels is calling the plays.

3. Peyton Hillis CLE – This guy was supposed to be the Browns 1,500 yard battering ram.  He is more like the battered ram as he has missed time for a few different reasons, one being strep throat.  Really?  He only has 211 yards on the ground, 3.5 yards per carry and 2 TDs.

4. Andre Johnson HOU – Fair or not he is hurt again and you can’t produce from the sidelines.  When on the field he isn’t producing as he only has 25 catches for only 350 yards.  He only has 2 TDs and if Houston is going to contend they need production from Andre.

5. Josh Freeman TB – I could have gone a couple of different ways with the last pick but Josh and the Bucs were supposed to be floating to the top of the division, not the bottom.  Josh consistently misses open receivers, his mechanics are off and he has already thrown 10 interceptions.  His QB rating is a sad 73.1.

TOP 5 DEFENSES

1. Baltimore – They are only allowing 13.8 point per game.  With a team offense that has struggled all season they are keeping the Ravens in every game.  They also have 19 sacks, 13 forced fumbles and 3 TDs.

2. San Francisco – Who knew Harbaugh would have such a profound influence on the defensive side of the ball.  They are only allowing 16.2 points per game and sit a top the NFC West.  The Niners have racked up 17 sacks, 8 interceptions, 1 safety and a TD.

3. Cincinnati – The resurrection of the Bengals isn’t with their young TCU QB, it is with their stingy defense.  Like a switch the defense went from bad to good in one season.  They are only allowing 18.5 points per game, 14 sacks and under 280 total yards allowed per game.

4. New York (J) – The Jets have been and should continue to be a roller coaster team all season.  One thing that is pretty consistent is that stingy defense.  They have 18 sacks, 11 interceptions, 9 forced fumbles and 3 TDs.

5. Jacksonville – The roar is back in N.Florida.  They have only allowed 84 points with 14 sacks and 7 interceptions.

TOP 5 ON THE HOT SEAT

1. Andy Reid PHI – Many pre-season polls had the Eagles as the odds on favorites to win the NFC Championship and go to the Superbowl.  Currently they sit at 2-4 at the bottom of their division.  Can they turn things around, finish 10-6 and squeak into the playoffs?  It is possible but chances are slim.  Andy will be looking for work if they can’t manage more than 8 wins.

2. Steve Spagnola STL – He has certainly built a better defense.  It is improving but the offense has been incredibly inconsistent and riddled with injuries.  Is this unraveling Coach Josh McDaniels fault?  Partially, but if they can’t manage at least 6 wins (currently sitting at 0 wins), Steve will be let go.

3. Tony Sparano MIA – Tony is a fiery guy.  He is also a pretty good coach.  However, Miami is sitting at ZERO after playing the equally terrible Broncos to an overtime loss.  A coach needs to find a way to win a game like that.  The Phins have had chances to fix the offense and haven’t.  Perhaps this is more of a front office screw up but we know that if the GM goes, so goes the coach.  I can see that happening.

4. Ken Whisenhunt ARI – Ken and coaches told the GM they were a good QB away from being a playoff contender.  Well, they traded for Kevin Kolb and they sit at the bottom of an mediocre NFC West with 1 win.  If they can’t turn it around, show some progress and end up with 6 or 7 wins, look for ownership to clean house.

5. Lovie Smith CHI – Can we ever get Lovie off of the hot seat?  I don’t think so.  There is way too much talent on this team for them to struggle like they do.  It is how they are coached.  It is the scheme.  It is the lack of adjustments, poor use of time and lack of offensive knowledge.  If they finish in 2nd and get a wildcard spot his job will be safe.  If they finish .500 or less and miss than he could get the axe.

TOP 5 TO CATCH FIRE

1. CAROLINA – Their young QB will make mistakes but he is a playmaker.  Offensively this team ranks near the top of the league and the D is improving.  Not to mention they play softies in Minnesota, Tennessee and Indy.  I look for them to finish around .500.

2. CHICAGO – Despite Lovie being on the never cooling hot seat, I think the Bears are set up for a nice run.  They get the AFC West division along with Seattle, Philly and Detroit and what they get are 7 VERY winable ball games.  The Bears should be 10-4 when they get to their XMAS Day match up with the Packers.

3. JACKSONVILLE – I can’t see them making the playoffs until Gabbert gets a better feel for the offense and the speed of the pro game.  However, the running game is good and the defense is excellent.  There are 5 or 6 very winable games on the back end of this schedule.  The Jags should make a run in this poor division but my guess is they finish about 8-8 and just a game or two back of Houston.

4. DALLAS – After a tough loss to New England, the Cowboys pounded St. Louis in response.  Statistically they are a very good and balanced football team.  They have a 5 game stretch that includes Seattle, Buffalo, Washington, Miami and Arizona.  I look for Dallas to finish with 10 or 11 wins and possibly steal this division title from NY and a struggling Philadelphia.

5. FALCONS – Atlanta struggled early on and have rebounded nicely the last two weeks with wins over improving Carolina and Detroit on the road.  Offensively they are beginning to get things on track and I feel the defense will soon follow suit.  To that add games against Indy, Tennessee and Minnesota and this Falcons team should be neck and neck with New Orleans at the end of the season.

TOP 5 DUMP TAKERS

1. DETROIT –  They started 5-0 and that is great for Detroit fans.  That hasn’t happened in a very long time.  However the feeling here is the Lions bubble is about to burst.  Detroit can’t run the football and they can’t stop the run.  Teams are starting to tee off on an already banged up Stafford.  To that add games against Tebow’s Broncos in Denver, Chicago, Carolina, Green Bay, New Orleans, San Diego and Green Bay again and you have an 8-8 season at best.

2. TENNESSEE – I had hopes for this team as a dark horse in 2011-12.  Those hopes are totally dashed with the subpar performance of Chris Johnson.  The defense was shredded for the 2nd week in a row.  They do have Indy twice but the other games are Cincy, Carolina, Atlanta, Tampa, Buffalo, New Orleans, Jacksonville and Houston. There is no way these guys see 8 wins, more like 6 or 7.

3. GREEN BAY – Now, keep in mind, when I say this I still think they are going to the playoffs.  When you start 7-0 you have nowhere to go but down.  The Packers are very good in areas and look invinsible to the media, but keep in mind they beat New Orleans, Carolina and Minnesota by only one score and perhaps got a little lucky in a couple of those games.  The Saints game was almost a gift.  While they are throwing the ball all over the field they are still having problems running the football.  This could be bad for Rodgers if teams can start bringing more consistent pressure.  On the other side of the ball they can’t seem to stop teams from passing on them.  The problem there is they still have games against Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Eli Manning, Matt Stafford (twice), Josh Freeman, Matt Cassell and perhaps a more settled in Carson Palmer.  These are some big arms against a flimsy defense.  Despite this “slump” the Pack still go 12-4 and win the division but just by the hair of Rodgers chinny chin chin.

I can’t really find a #4 or #5 so I’ll go out on a limb and say San Diego and the NY Giants could run into some issues with their 2nd half schedules.  However I don’t think they’ll “dump” but I think they will struggle a bit.  San Diego should get into the playoffs and NY might struggle to make it if Dallas gets hot.

 

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Wild and Wacky NFL Season

The NFL season is drawing to a close and it has been very odd.  I would even say wild and wacky.

Who predicts Tom Brady missing the season, Chad Pennington finding a new lease on life in South Florida or the Seahawks and Browns taking a complete dump?  It has been extremely bizarre.  The Lions?  Ok, we all knew they sucked but 0-15?  How about veterans like Derek Anderson, Marc Bulger and Carson Palmer going from very good to suck in the matter of a season?   Brett a Jet and pushing for the playoffs while Aaron Rodgers has begun planning tee times.  Very strange.

A veteran running back like Edgerrin James is stuck behind 3 yards per carry Timmy Hightower.  A young stud like Darren McFadden can’t break 500 yards rushing for the season.  Willis McGahee, Willie Parker, Fred Taylor, Julius Jones, Reggie Bush, Brian Westbrook and Jamal Lewis won’t break 1,000 yards rushing this season either.  Matt Forte, Steve Slaton, Chris Johnson and Michael “The Burner” Turner have already broken 1,000 yards on the ground this season.  Anyone surprised that Turner has out-rushed LT this season?

The Giants are the #1 seed in the NFC and I think that is probably the only thing that has happened that hasn’t surprised anyone.  How they’ve done it might be a bit of a surprise.  Manning hasn’t set the record books on fire and Plaxico is a criminal with a hole in his leg.  They are doing it with a bad ass, two headed ground attack of Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward.  Hmmm?  I recall some fans earlier in the season saying that a tough D and ground game were the old fashioned way to win and that you had to have an all-out aerial assault to win in the modern NFL.  Well, I’m not going to call out these fans but I am pretty sure Drew Brees will be watching teams like New York and Tennessee from the comfort of his home.   Oooops.

The playoffs really are going to be bizarre though.  If New England squeaks in it will be without Brady and if they don’t it will be Miami or the NY Jets going to the post-season?  How about the very mediocre Bears making a late charge to the post-season?  And how about the Denver Broncos collapse and a 7-8 Charger team still in the hunt?  Really, is it just me or is the NFL more vanilla than ever?

Could we really stomach a Kyle Orton led Bears team playing the Dolphins in the Super Bowl?  Bears v. Dolphins in 1985 OK!  Today, not so much.  How about Atlanta v. San Diego?  Yuck!!!  

Here is hoping the NY Giants and Tennessee Titans, their respective conferences best teams all season, make it to the big game.  Both teams deserve it and will once again re-affirm my belief that great teams are still built around a power run game and aggressive, speedy defense. 

In closing, the reason we shouldn’t feel too bad for Tom Brady.

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NFL Draft Preview – THE RBs

One thing we know for sure is that outside of Darren McFadden there is no sure superstar in the bunch.  However this class is a pretty deep one and teams looking for help at that position shouldn’t panic this season.  Quality backs can be found this year as late as the 4th Round. 

#1 DARREN McFADDEN – Arkansas 6’1″ 213

This guy could be like Adrian Petersen was in his first season.  McFadden is that good.  He has speed, power and catches out of the backfield.  However he does run a little bit straight up and he’ll have to fix that.  He also had a few off the field issues so hopefully he will stay on the straight and narrow.  Oakland should take him with the 4th overall pick.

#2 RASHARD MENDENHALL – Illinois 5’10” 210

Two or Three other backs could be the next pick but I think Rashard will be the next best runner.  He has a solid all-around game and tremendous drive.  He is also a really good back out of the backfield.  He could go as early as #13 to Carolina, #14 to Chicago or as late as #25 to Seattle.  There will definitely be some teams looking to trade up to get him if Chicago and Carolina take a pass.

#3 FELIX JONES – Arkansas 5’11” 200

 

Felix is more than likely going to go to a team that features tandem backs.  He is known as a ‘home run hitter’ kind of a back.  He could break one open but he could look really average too.  He is an inside out runner with very little receiving skills.  And there is no telling how much of his stats were in mop up time.  However he performed well against some great run defenses (LSU 9 attempts 85 yards) and will get a look in the first round.  Dallas may take him at #22 but if they pass on him there Seattle might nab him at #25.

#4 JONATHAN STEWART – Oregon 5’10” 236

Stewart is a solid runner.  He is built like a tank and has very good speed for his size.  He is also a good blocker and receiver.  His only downside is the competition he has faced.  PAC-10 defenses (except for USC) are typically weak against the run.  However Jon is a tough runner with a good all around game.  He could sneak into the end of the 1st Round as a pick of the Packers or NY Giants.  He may also slip as far as the NY Jets in the 2nd Round. 

#5 Ray Rice

 

Ray may end up being the most productive back of this draft.  He is a three year starter that get better each year.  He is a tough kid who fought through injuries.  He also improved his overall game and became a very productive receiver in 2007.  He also scored 24 TDs on the ground in 2007.  Ray might go to his home town team the NY Jets in the 2nd Round but he could slip to the Bucs where he would fit in nicely with Warrick Dunn.

#6 JAMAAL CHARLES – Texas 5’11” 200

You can’t help but think Jamaal is doomed because Texas backs have been a bust in the NFL.  However he is a very fast runner.  He appears to a be a Reggie Bush “all or nothing” kind of a player.  If he bounces to the outside and has room he has a chance to take it to the house every single time.  Unfortunately he is a little light and will have a hard time bouncing anywhere in the NFL.  He also has issues fumbling and blocking.  Jamaal will go to Seattle in Round 2 or he slips all the way to the Lions or Texans in Round 3.

#7 KEVIN SMITH – Central Florida 6’1″ 211

Kevin has scary potential.  He rushed for over 2,5oo yards in only 14 games.  That is unreal.  He also had 242 yards receiving on the season.  He has above average speed, quickness and hands.  His downsides are minimal.  He had some injuries in 2005 and 2006 and he probably needs to add 10 to 15 pounds to his frame.  These should be huge issues and someone will find a great deal in Round 3.  He should go to the Lions, Cardinals or Texans.

#8 CHRIS JOHNSON – East Carolina 5’11” 194

 

Chris is a very fast running back.  He also has great hands and is a threat on special teams.  He is this year’s Devin Hester.  But don’t get me wrong, he’ll never be Devin Hester.  He is the closest thing to him in this draft though.  He had a break out year in 2007 but really didn’t do much to impress before that.  He probably ends up becoming a back-up, change of pace back and kick off return specialist.  He is also a 3rd Round pick to either Arizona, Detroit or Houston.

#9 MIKE HART – Michigan 5’8″ 200

The one thing you can say about Mike Hart is he is a leader.  He is also a solid 3 1/2 year performer (he was injured as a sophomore).  There is no mystery to this pick.  You are getting a kid that works hard, runs inside and out and will protect the ball.  He is a little small so he will need to add a few pounds.  He reminds me a little of Tim Biakabatuka.  He will make a football team but he won’t be a starter.  He could go in Round 3 to Detoit but he may slip to the end of that round to Chicago or Indianapolis.

#10 STEVE SLATON – West Virginia 5’9″ 193

Steve probably cost himself a round or two by returning to school.  His sophomore year was awesome and his junior year just OK.  He does have great speed and is a very dangerous runner.  He is also a fantastic receiver and some team might use him as a 3rd down back or in the slot.  He would be a heck of a weapon for Peyton Manning and the Colts at the end of Round 3 but he might slip to a lucky team like Rams, Chiefs or Jets in Round 4.

Sleepers – Matt Forte – Tulane, Tashard Choice – Georgia Tech, Alllen Patrick – Oklahoma, Kalvin McRae – Ohio

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