Saturday, January 14, 2012

Did the Simpsons Predict the Patriots-Broncos Divisional Game?

So much for predicting this game a week ago, how about 20 years ago?  The Simpsons predicted this New England victory in 1992.  Although the final score was slightly off, 55-10, one has to wonder if Conan O'Brien had any inside information on the matter.

Feels odd writing a blog about the Simpsons, considering the show hasn't been popular or slightly watchable in about 10 years.  Having said that, at it's peak, it was one of the greatest animated shows of all time.

Saints-49ers First Half Anlaysis

Very even first half, and almost exactly what we expected.  The Saints are moving the ball at will, but they have had three costly turnovers.  The 49ers are letting their defense set up the offense, as they've done all year long.  Saints look poised right now, and they have scored 14 unanswered going into halftime to give themselves momentum.

One interesting note: the 49ers have been able to finish drives.  They have had superb field position all half, and they have turned a few drives into touchdowns, something they had struggled with all season.  There's no doubt that this was something Harbaugh emphasized all week.

The Saints haven't looked like the same team we saw last week against Detroit.  They have not been careful with the football, which is essential against a ball-hawking defense like San Francisco's.  If the Saints can take care of the football in the second half, it is their game.  If they can't, the 49ers will capitalize and steal this game.

A little controversy on that first Saints turnover, as it was clearly a helmet-to-helmet hit.  But the rule states that only helmet-to-helmet hits to defenseless players are illegal.  Since Pierre Thomas had established himself as a runner, it was, by definition, a clean hit.  Could've seen it go either way though.

One thing we have not seen this half is the strong leg of Andy Lee, who was supposed to be an X-factor in this game with his ability to swing field position.  Despite this, the 49ers have still controlled field position, which is a good sign for them.

The Saints have been moving the ball at will, but their one-dimensional offense will be dissected by the 49ers' coaching staff at halftime, and they will be able to scheme against it.  Their lack of ability to establish any sort of run game is going to hurt them if they are trying to close out this game.  We have seen the Saints' inability to close out games a few times this year, especially against the Falcons and Titans.  Because of that, I am sticking to my pick from earlier in the week, 49ers by 3.  It may be a bit higher scoring than 27-24, but I think the 49ers have looked like the stronger team in the first half.

I never thought I'd ever say this, but I think Alex Smith will get his first career playoff one.  Also, Goldson is one hell of a player.  Look for him to make another big play in the second half.

One last thing--the 49ers have been able to pressure Drew Brees, unlike the Lions last week.  Aldon Smith has made his presence known so far this game, and if he can keep it up, it will help this 49ers defense immensely.  If not, Drew Brees will pick apart this secondary at will, and it will be a long second half.  Obviously, I expect them to keep it up.

The Saints Come Marching Back

Drew. Brees.

The Saints take that 17-0 deficit in stride and come storming back with two scores to pull within a touchdown.

It doesn't matter how good your defense is when the Saints offense is on the field, but if the Saints continue to give points to the 49ers via turnovers, then they could lose another 17 just as quickly as they did in the first quarter.  We're witnessing right now why nothing beats NFL Playoff football.

49ers Take Early Lead

In a game where the #2 seed 49ers faced an underdog role at home versus the high-flying Saints defense, Jim Harbaugh's team has come out of the gates STRONG.  Led by one of the NFL's best defenses, an absurd turnover ratio, Harbaugh's bunch is setting the tone with smash mouth defense.

Drive one looked like it was a whole lot of Saints, but Donte Whitner made three hard-nosed plays - knocking Graham out of the drive, finishing off a Spoles run, and a huge 3rd down hit that forced a fumble to end the Saints drive.  Their defense completely shifted momentum, and two series later, Smith to Vernon Davis on a 49-yard touchdown puts the 49ers on top early.

The Saints experience and offense should have them rebound, but Candlestick is rocking early.

UPDATE: The 49ers Defense with another huge play as Dashon Goldson picks off a Brees pass and returns it to the Saints' 4 yard line. Crabtree in the endzone to go up 14-0.

Who is More Popular: The Black Mamba or The White Mamba?

I watched two NBA basketball games last night. The first, the Bulls-Celtics game, which the Bulls had control of nearly the entire game. The second, a Lakers-Cavs game where the Cavs made a furious comeback from an 18-point halftime deficit. Kobe Bryant, colloquially known as The Black Mamba, dropped 42 points, the third time in as many games that he has put up 40+ points. But over 3,000 miles away, The White Mamba, Kobe's racial counterpart, received the loudest ovation of the night, and from an away crowd, nonetheless. So it raises the question, is Brian Scalabrine, the bumbling journeyman, more popular than Kobe Bryant, arguably the greatest player of the last decade? I think the obvious answer is yes.

I've tried to pinpoint exactly why the general basketball-watching public has fallen in love with Brian Scalabrine, and I think it is for two reasons. First, the guy has a great personality, especially given his situation. He's almost considered a walking joke in the NBA, yet whenever he's called upon, he does his best to deliver. Coaches love him, but fans love him even more.

The more important reason, however, is that the White Mamba is the ultimate minority and underdog story that you can have in the NBA. He's a white, red-headed, Irishman, with a gut. With all the supreme athletes around him in the NBA, it's hard to believe that Scalabrine is still in the league, yet every year there's a coach, and usually it's Tom Thibodeau, that signs him as the last man on the bench.

Let's take a look at our favorite Scalabrine moments...

Men's Tennis- Australian Open Preview

by John Huffstetler

For many in the US, pro football dominates this weekend's sports viewing, but make sure to save time to watch the opening rounds of the Australian Open as well. Major question marks surround the sport's big three of Djokovic, Nadal, and Federer, leaving the door open for a first-time major winner to possibly emerge. In 2011, Novak Djokovic lost only two matches the entire year through the US Open for a record of 63-2. After unarguably the best stretch of tennis in history, Novak finished the year going just 9-5, with 2 defaults and suspicious losses to Kei Nishikori and David Ferrer (6-3, 6-1). Has he lost his form or was this simply a major championship hangover? Then there's Nadal and Federer. Both have stated that they will be taking some time off after the Aussie to rest. Federer, although he's played by far the best tennis of the three post-US, had to withdraw last week with a back injury. The heat in Australia should allow his back to stay loose during the match, but this injury still brings his immediate grand slam future into question. Nadal, like the Djoker, has just been off since the US, and many speculate that his health is in doubt as well.

If another contender, like an Andy Murray, were to emerge, this would be the time. How often are 3 dominant players in the world all playing below their level at the same time? So then, who are the other contenders? The aforementioned Murray is one. As spectacularly consistent as Murray has been in getting to the semis of majors, he looks lost once there. He made all 4 major semis this past year and only reached one final, losing in last year's Aussie in pathetic straight sets fashion to Novak. Outside of Murray, the next big threat to break through with a victory is Jo Wilfried Tsonga. The wildly talented, but inconsistent and oft-injured Frenchman put together a strong 2011 campaign, racking up 57 wins and reaching the semis at Wimbledon and the Quarters of the US. His ability is unquestionable, but his penchant for fluctuating between spectacular and enigmatic play have made him an entertaining also-ran accustomed to failing to win titles. Outside of these 5, it's hard to imagine anyone else taking this title. Young phenoms Alexandr Dolgopolov, Kei Nishikori, and Bernard Tomic could make a strong statement but they don't have the experience to win a major with this kind of depth and strength. Veterans David Ferrer, Tomas Berydch, John Isner, and Juan Martin Del Potro could also make deep runs, but the title will most likely end up in the hands of one of these 5. The bottom half of the draw is certainly more wide open than the top half with many dangerous players lurking there. Here are my Australian Open predictions from the round of 16 on.


Who will Reach the Round of 16

Top Half

1 Novak Djokovic- No brainer here. The toughest threat to Djoker is an aggressive, resurgent Radek Stepanek, but Novak should handle him easily.

23 Milos Raonic- Raonic missed time late last season (including the US open) because of a hip injury, but the young Canadien hard-court specialist showed his abilities in last year's Aussie Open, reaching the round of 16. He also won an impressive tune-up event in Chennai a few weeks ago, defeating a strong Janko Tipsarevic. I expect him to emerge through this section of the draw, where his biggest threats will be Andy Roddick and Robin Haase (who have to play each other first round).

9 Janko Tipsarevic- Tough section of the draw for Janko, with either Mikhail Youzhny or Richard Gasquet waiting in the 3rd round. I could easily see either player knocking him off but Janko is playing the best tennis right now and he has proven to be more match savvy than Gasquet. Youzhny seems to be on the tail end of his career but could still have one deep run left in him.

5 David Ferrer- A perfect draw for the gritty Spaniard to the round of 16. Last year's semifinalist will at least make it to this point. No one else is worth mentioning.

4 Andy Murray- Tough early draw for Murray this year, as he must play young American Ryan Harrison in the first round, followed by possible match-ups with Xavier Malisse, Ernests Gulbis, Alex Bogomolov, and Michael Llodra looming early. Despite the tough draw, Murray is too consistent for any of these players, despite their ability to attack his occasionally pushed groundstrokes.

19 Viktor Troicki- This section of the draw is wide open, but I expect Troicki to emerge. Gael Monfils, JC Ferrero, and others have a shot, but Troicki is the most consistent player in the group. Monfils now offically has the reputation for disappearing in majors, following a 2011 where he reached the round of 16 just once. Ferrero showed at the US that he can still be a factor in majors, but Troicki will prove to be the better player.

24 Kei Nishikori- I'll take a risk here and say that the young Japanese talent finally emerges in a major. He has racked up impressive wins in the last few weeks, having defeated Djokovic, Tomas Berdych, and Tsonga (twice). He will face a difficult draw, with Gilles Simon or Julien Benneteau awaiting in round 3. Either player could easily emerge from this section as well. Benneteau is playing terrific tennis right now, currently waiting to play the finals of the Aussie open tune-up in Sydney, and Simon is always a threat to reach the second day of a major. Like I said, a risk, but I like this young guys talent.

6 Jo Willy Tsonga- No doubts here and no one else is worth mentioning.

Bottom Half

8 Mardy Fish- Not much here for Fish to worry about in this heavy clay-courter section of the draw.

11 Juan Martin Del Potro- Florian Mayer could prove to offer some resistance to DelPo in this section, but this is another no-brainer. He will just continue to improve as he gets more reps and his fitness gets better. By the end of the year, he will be once again clearly entrenched in the top 5 in the world.

13 Alexandr Dolgopolov- This is a terrific section of the draw with Dolgo joining the veteran Fernando Verdasco and the emerging hometown hero Bernard Tomic. I expect Tomic to upset Dasco setting up a phenomenal 3rd round match-up of young phenoms with Dolgo emerging, much to the disappointment of the home crowd.

3 Roger Federer- Melzer can be tricky, but not on this surface against this man. Easy draw to the 16's for Fed.

7 Tomas Berydch- I don't necessarily trust Berydch, but he seems to have regained the form he exhibited on the hard courts early last year, losing in the quarters here to the Djoker. The best possible contenders to Berdych are the two tall, aggressive serve and volleyers in Stakhovsky and Kevin Anderson.

Marcos Baghdatis- Who dares to question Marcos at the Aussie Open! This is the tournament he lives for and he always gets tremendous fan support. 2011 was a rough year for him from a hard court perspective, but he played well last week in the tune-up in Sydney, reaching the finals. He will have to get through Stan Wawrinka in the 2nd round to make another Aussie charge, which is a large task, but Marcos always surprises here.

16 John Isner- The draw here is dangerous with David Nalbandian, Feliciano Lopez, and an aging but still scary Nikolay Davydenko, but Isner's game is too big right now for these players. If Nalby can get hot, he poses the stiffest threat.

2 Rafael Nadal- Rafa easily with no threats in this section.

Round of 16

1 Djokovic vs 23 Raonic- The Djoker in 3 tough sets.

9 Tipsarevic vs 5 Ferrer- This could prove to be the match of the tourney (if it happens) as both players have world-class fitness levels. Ferrer wins a tight marathon 5-setter.

4 Murray vs. 19 Troicki- Murray in 4. Troicki could give him a tough match and I expect Murray to enter this match-up having faced at least two tough opponents already. He will need to remain physically strong entering the second week and win some matches easily to have a shot at the title.

24 Nishikori vs. 6 Tsonga- Tsonga wins comfortably in 4. Nishikori has defeated Tsonga twice in the last few weeks, so Jo Willy's focus should not be a problem here.

8 Fish vs. 11 Del Potro- Hopefully, this match-up comes to fruition because it has the potential to be great. I will call for a continually improving DelPo to win this one in a tight 4 sets.

13 Dolgopolov vs. 3 Federer- Time for a change atop the sport and it starts right here. Dolgo pulls off the upset in 5 long sets using strong variety of play against an injured Federer. If this match-up occurs, the fitness level and shot-making ability of Dolgo would be too overwhelming for the match savvy great.

7 Berydch vs. Baghdatis- Berdych wins this one in 4 and the Aussie run for Marcos comes to an end (although it probably will end in round 2 if I'm being honest).

16 Isner vs. 2 Nadal- Not a great match-up for Rafa, since Isner can handle Rafa's high-arching top-spin (remember the 5-set scare in the 1st round of the French last year), but Rafa emerges in an ultra-tight 5-set match.


1 Djokovic vs. 5 Ferrer- Ferrer will make it entertaining, as always, but Novak remains on another level. Ferrer has a solid head-to-head record against the Djoker at 5-7, so he will push him, but in the end, Novak in 4.

4 Murray vs. 6 Tsonga- The classic match-up of offense (Tsonga) vs. defense (Murray) in this one. Most fans and analysts are praying for this duel; unfortunately for Murray, Tsonga will enter this match much fresher having faced the easier schedule. I expect Tsonga to win a tight 5-setter here.

11 Del Potro vs. 13 Dolgopolov- This would be another incredible match, but I think Dolgo's fitness would prove to be the difference as DelPo is still not fully back from his injury at this point. Dolgo in 5 after DelPo fades.

7 Berdych vs. 2 Nadal- Fitness is a huge part of success in the Australian Open because of the heat. If Nadal is healthy, he will win the is match because of his high fitness level. Rafa in 4.


1 Djokovic vs. 6 Tsonga- This would be another entertaining clash between arguably the best offensive player in the game in Tsonga and undoubtedly the best defensive player in Djokovic. Jo Willy has been successful against the Djoker in the past, winning 5 of their 9 match-ups including here in the semis two years ago; however, Novak has the 2-1 edge in major match-ups and his ability to track down would be winners will frustrate the wild Frenchman. Djoker in a tough 4.

13 Dolgopolov vs. 2 Nadal- This would be a favorable match-up for the veteran Nadal. Dolgo's game is predicated on moving better than his opponent and forcing them to move up and back using drop shots and angles. Nadal has dominated in two career meetings and I would expect more of the same here. Nadal in a comfortable 4.


1 Djokovic vs. 2 Nadal- How many times can a person say they've beaten Nadal 6 straight times! That's a testament to the high-level of play Novak reached in 2011. Throw out the matches after the US Open. It would be natural after the year Djoker had to cruise after the final major. He will be ready for this tournament and will once again be close to unbeatable. Novak in 4.

Winner- 1 Novak Djokovic

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Friday, January 13, 2012

NFC Playoffs: Is it the 49ers' Year?

Tough reason to pick a team, but when looking at the past ten years, ten different teams have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl.  They are the 2001 Rams, 2002 Buccaneers, 2003 Panthers, 2004 Eagles, 2005 Seahawks, 2006 Bears, 2007 Giants, 2008 Cardinals, 2009 Saints, and the 2010 Packers.  Since the Packers, Saints, and Giants have made the list, could it be the 49ers' year under rookie coach Jim Harbaugh?  Only time will tell.  The Packers look near unstoppable, as do the Saints, and the Giants are heating up at just the right time, but nobody seems to be talking about the 49ers.  Stranger things have happened, and we just might see the 2011 49ers become the 11th different team in as many years.

I think this streak is too good to end anytime soon, so we might see the clean sweep, 16-16.  So, blindly, I will pick the NFC representative for the next six Super Bowls.

2011 San Francisco 49ers
2012 Atlanta Falcons
2013 Detroit Lions
2014 Dallas Cowboys
2015 Washington Redskins
2016 Minnesota Vikings

There you go.  Place your bets today on the Vikes in 2016, and you'll be raking it in five years from now.

This is Why We Love the NFL

After Tim Tebow's heroics against the Steelers on Sunday, I was reminded why our country loves the NFL.  Every play matters, and everything can change on a given play.  It's hard to say that about any other sport.

So I got to thinking--why do we, collectively, love this game?  Is it because we created it? I think it's safe to say that football is America's new favorite pastime, but that can't be the reason.  We created hacky sack, too, but it doesn't have its own TV network.  So I put together a list, speculatively, as to why America loves this sport--here are the top 10 reasons.

10) Polarizing Figures- Whether you are willing to admit it or not, everyone finds a controversial character much more entertaining than the straight-laced types.  And love them or hate them, they will always make you "get your popcorn ready."  Randy Moss, Chad Ochocinco, and Terrell Owens have followed in the footsteps of the originator, Ickey Woods, and they have made showboating a necessary evil in the NFL.  While self-righteous announcers like Bob Costas and Joe Buck are disgusted by it, we as fans have come to expect these self-centered displays and, secretly, we love them.

9) Kickers- The guys with nothing to gain and everything to lose are a guilty pleasure of mine on Sundays.  Kickers have the most high-pressure job in the NFL, yet they are expected to make every kick.  Fans and coaches have such unreachable expectations for their kickers that they are inevitably set up to fail, and I love it.  While Adam Vinatieri will go down in history as one of the greatest clutch kicker of all-time, hundreds of his coworkers already have websites devoted to hating them.  The only thing left to do--maintain these unreasonable demands, for reasons like this..

8) The Annexation of Puerto Rico

Trick plays.  Coaches stay up for days at a time thinking of the perfect play, and most of the time they fail miserably.  But there are a few that don't fall flat on their face, and instead, they are forever ingrained in our minds.  Let's take a look at some of the best "trick plays" from this year.

7) The Oblong-shaped Ball

A football, more so than any other ball in sports, can bounce every which way.  Once that ball hits the turf, only the big guy upstairs knows where it will end up, but even he's not positive.  Some of the greatest plays in NFL history can be attributed to the shape of the football, including arguably the most famous play in NFL history...

6) Fantasy Football

Fantasy football is incredible.  It's as simple as that.  It makes every game interesting during the regular season, no matter who's playing.  Patriots up by 30 on the Redskins?  Maybe the LawFirm will break a run.  Browns playing the Rams?  Need the Browns D to put up 12 points.  It's almost to the point where, if you don't have a team in the playoffs, the NFL regular season is just as exciting, if not more.  That cannot be said about any other sport, especially baseball.

5) Tim Tebow
I had to throw him on this list because he's taking over football, and all signs point to the fact that he's either the second-coming or the anti-christ.  Everyone whose team is not in the playoffs is a Denver fan right now, and even some Patriots fans have been sucked in to the Tebowmania.  And my theory is, if Skip Bayless weren't around, Tim Tebow would be that much more popular.  But the fact that you have to listen to Bayless every Monday talk about how he was right and everyone else was wrong--it's infuriating.  Let Tebow be Tebow.

4) Quarterbacks

They are the face of your franchise, and their popularity hinges solely on their success.  Some people reading this, like myself, are going to say "I hate quarterbacks, what are you talking about?"  Well, that's because you pull for the Redskins.  But once we get RGIII this year, everything will change.  Also, there's not a player in the league right now who is easier to pull for than Cam Newton.  He will be the best in the league once Aaron Rodgers retires, if not sooner.

3) The Pick-Six

The fastest 14 point turnaround in sports.  There's nothing more exciting, or heartbreaking, when a quarterback throws that square-out and the cornerback breaks on the ball perfectly.  By the time you even know what's going on, it's already too late.  Matt Hasselbeck's overtime claim of "we want the ball, and we're gonna score"  immediately comes to mind...

2) The Super Bowl

The biggest game in the world, and it pretty much speaks for itself.  Nothing is more exciting than that final drive, and nothing is more nerve-racking than that final kick.  Super Bowl Sunday has become a national holiday, and if you don't watch the game you pretty much have nothing to talk about the next day.

1) Miracles

Just like every sport, miracles are why we keep coming back for more.  It seems as though we have the privilege of witnessing one about once every five years, but we never want to miss out on it.  My two favorites are below, and the Saints/Jaguars game is another reason why we love, or hate, kickers.

I get chills whenever I watch that Music City Miracle.  Wade Phillips should've started Doug Flutie that game, and he would've been the one with the last-second heroics.  Gotta love the NFL.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

2012 NFL Draft: Top Players by Position- Running Backs

by John Huffstetler

Because the nature of the position, every running back is overrated. RB's are glorified by flashy statistics and fantasy drafts but gain yards based on the success of the Offensive Lineman who block for them. That being said, this draft is loaded with versatile running backs that can contribute in the running game, passing game, and, in some cases, the return game. Several players have the potential to be great players in the league.


1) Trent Richardson- Alabama- He is a prototype every-down back with the ability to block and catch out of the backfield. As far and away the top running back in the draft, he will be a player many teams with RB needs take a hard look at early in the draft. He deserves consideration from the 20th pick on, but a top-5 pick would be foolish with the level of talent at other, more important positions.

2) David Wilson- Virginia Tech- Like Richardson, Wilson impressed from the moment he set foot on campus but couldn't get full-time work because of solid veterans ahead of him on the depth chart. This year, he finally had his chance to carry the ball full-time and he gained 1,709 yards rushing. He's shifty and elusive as a runner, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield (even though Beamer failed to use him enough in that role). He also has experience returning kicks. He would be a great pick late in the 1st round.

3) LaMichael James- Oregon- He's too small? He's the 5th best running back in the draft? Ridiculous. Great teams make a living drafting guys like James that are overlooked because of some irrelevant factor like his height. After Darren Sproles demolished defenses at Kansas St., teams passed on him for the same reason: he's too small. James will be a stud in the NFL because of his incredible versatility. The one question mark is his penchant for getting nagging injuries. If he stays healthy, someone will get a tremendous football player.

4) Chris Polk- Washington- Polk entered this year already established as a runner, but in previous years he had been overshadowed by standout QB Jake Locker. He handled the spotlight admirably, rushing for 1,488 yards, while also catching 31 passes for 332 yards. His size (222) and speed (4.48) combination is incredible and he shows the potential to be an elite, every-down back. His ranking here is more of an indication of the strength of the runners ahead of him than his weakness. He is late-first round quality and is projected to go in the 2nd round at this point.

5) Ronnie Hillman- SD St.- Hillman is a versatile, elusive runner with tremendous big-play capability. In a pro-style offense, he showed an aptitude for performing on running and passing downs. He might be the most underrated runner in the draft, currently grading as a 3rd-4th rounder, while his ability warrants a 2nd-round pick.

6) Isaiah Pead- Cincinnati- Pead has elite speed and elusiveness, but where he establishes himself as a strong NFL-caliber talent is as a pass catcher. He had 1,578 total yards this past season because of that ability to rack up yards through the air. His role in the NFL will be that of an elite 3rd-down back who excels in every aspect of the game.

7) Cyrus Gray- Texas A&M- Gray is yet another versatile back who can contribute in the passing game. His stats from college don't overwhelm because he always platooned with Christine Michael (which would also be his role in the pros). He is certainly not an every down back, but his ability to catch passes and run in open space gives him value.

8) Lamar Miller- Miami (Fl.)- Many sites have Miller graded out as the #2 running back in the draft, which is absurd. He had a great year statistically, but there are many red flags. His production tailed of toward the end of the season, averaging just 85 yards/game over the last 7. He also struggled as both a receiver and blocker on passing downs. He warrants a 3rd-4th round pick, but the late-first grade he is receiving right now is outrageous.

9) Bernard Pierce- Temple- Pierce is a big, bruising every down back who can consistently moves the chains. He has no ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and struggled when asked to step up in class (50 yards against Penn St.), but he managed to rack up significant yards behind a suspect offensive line. I tend to prefer versatile backs, but on pure between-the-tackles running, he might be the 2nd best in the draft.

10) Robert Turbin- Utah St.- He is a slightly lower version of Bernard Pierce. Read above.

Honorable Mention- Vick Ballard- Miss St., Doug Martin- Boise St.

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2012 NFL Draft: Top Players by Position- Quarterbacks

by John Huffstetler

Now that the college season has regrettably concluded, players are faced with the decision of whether to return to school or enter the NFL draft. This process is critical for teams looking for their next great player at need positions, and no position is more vital than the Quarterback spot. Unfortunately for those teams drafting outside the top 5, there isn't a whole lot of talent out there since Landry Jones and Matt Barkley decided to return to school. Here is a list of the top "draft eligible" players at QB for the upcoming draft.


1) Andrew Luck- Stanford- This is a no-brainer and deserves no further explanation. His potential is unlimited and he is the clear #1 player in the draft.

2) Robert Griffin III- Baylor- The athleticism alone warrants a high draft pick. Couple that with his fantastic TD/INT ratio (37-6) and his ability throw the deep ball with accuracy and you have to consider him a top 10 pick. He's the clear #2 QB in the draft, but taking him at pick #'s 2-4 might be a reach as there is better talent elsewhere on the board.

3) Russell Wilson- Wisconsin- Most sites have Wilson ranked much lower and I'm not quite sure why. His athleticism is unquestionable, having turned down the Colorado Rockies to enter the draft, and his 40-time rivals Robert Griffin's. He was also the highest rated passer in college football last year with a 191.8 QB rating and only 4 int to 33 td's. His size is certainly a question at 5 ft 11, but sometimes you just need to ignore those things and take the best player. He won't come off the board until possibly round 3, but whoever drafts him will be happy.

4) Nick Foles- Arizona- Before Arizona's season fell apart late in week 6 leading to the firing of head coach Mike Stoops, Foles was having an excellent senior season. In a tough 4-game stretch against Okla St., Stanford, Oregon, and USC, Foles completed 70% of his passes with a 9-2 TD/Int ratio. His completion % and TD/Int ratio have improved every year, despite the lack of talent on the roster this past season. Foles has the potential to be a solid starter in the league.

5) Brock Osweiler- Ariz St.- Although Osweiler had a questionable second half of the season, I still believe in his abilities. He's an imposing 6 ft 7 with a rocket arm, but has also shown the ability to put touch on his passes. With his massive hands he throws a tight spiral that's easy to catch. His TD/Int ratio wasn't great (26-13) but his numbers would have improved with a better offensive line. He seems to be positioning nicely as a 2nd or 3rd round pick and could blossom in to a fine QB.

6) Kellen Moore- Boise St.- I used to laugh at the thought of Kellen Moore playing football in the NFL, but he has definitely grown on me mainly because of his field awareness. His ability to manipulate the defense using his eyes to create space for his throws is spectacular. His stats at Boise are unquestionable, but his size and lack of speed slide him down the QB lists slightly. Like Russell Wilson, sometimes you have to ignore the measurables and just look at the success on the field and the awareness in the pocket to know that he will be a solid NFL player.

7) Brandon Weeden- Okla St.- If not for his age (28), Weeden would be the clear #3 QB in the draft. He has perfect size and consistently put up numbers at Okie St. But the age is a huge issue. Theoretically, he has 5-6 less years remaining in his career than the average NFL QB prospect. If you're looking for a franchise QB, that doesn't inspire you with confidence. I think he can perform at the pro level right away, however, which adds to his overall value.

8) Ryan Tannehill- Tex A&M- I have Tannehill graded lower than his projected 1st round pick for several reasons: 1) His QB rating was incredibly average at 56th in the nation, despite getting sacked only 9 times behind a strong offensive line, 2) His complete lack of big-time wins and his penchant for disappearing in the 2nd half of games shows a lack of "it" factor, and 3) He is inexperienced at QB and will need several years on the bench. The 1st round grades are outrageous and should be lowered dramatically, but he could still turn out to be a good QB after some time sitting and learning.

9) Kirk Cousins- Mich St.- Cousins is undoubtedly a solid QB, but he lacks that "wow" factor needed when considering drafting a QB high in the draft. There is no doubt that he is an efficient player who manufactures victories and can be a solid back-up in the league, but that's his ceiling. He won't win games for your team and he also won't lose them either. Although his ranking is too high, he certainly has a role in the NFL (see TJ Yates).

10) Aaron Corp- Richmond- If you recognize the name, it's because Corp was originally supposed to be the starting QB at USC in 2009 before an injury cost him the season. A then freshman Matt Barkley took over and never relented the starting job. He transferred to Richmond only to suffer another injury setback. He is certainly a risk, but the potential is there for Corp to be a terrific player. If some team takes a risk on him in the middle rounds of the draft, they could get a steal.

Honorable Mention- Dominique Davis- ECU, Chandler Harnish- NIll, Ryan Lindley- SD St., Case Keenum- Houston

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012 Mock Draft: First Edition

Now that the draft order, at least for the first 20 picks, is set, let's take a look at the possible selections by each team in the first round.  The draft brings with it a fair share of surprises, but we here at 11-on-11 will do our best to bring you accurate draft predictions up until draft day.  So, without further ado, here is the first of many 2012 Mock Drafts.

1)  Indianapolis Colts- Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford

Despite the fact that I am not ready to call Luck "the greatest quarterback ever," and I am not completely sold on him as a quarterback, he is the clear option at number 1.  It is looking more and more as though the Colts will draft Luck, but no matter who is picking here, they will take Andrew Luck with the first overall pick in this year's draft.

2)  St. Louis Rams- Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma State

The Rams will probably end up trading this pick to the Washington Redskins or the Cleveland Browns who will be very interested in Robert Griffin III, but I think the Rams will eventually select Justin Blackmon.  They were desperate for offensive weapons this year, and they led the league in drops by receivers.  A sure-handed, athletic receiver like Justin Blackmon could really open up the offense for Sam Bradford and company.

3) Minnesota Vikings- Matt Kalil, OT, USC

Matt Kalil is looking like the top Tackle prospect for the 2012 draft, and the Vikings main goal this offseason is to grab some players to protect Christian Ponder.  This one could change if Riley Reiff or Jonathan Martin make a move as the top tackle, but Matt Kalil is as solid as they come.

4) Cleveland Browns- Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama

While I wouldn't agree with taking a running back this high in the draft, the Browns are desperate for playmakers on offense.  I think Alshon Jeffrey would be the better pick here, but the Browns will have a huge void at running back with the departure of Peyton Hillis.  If Robert Griffin slips to 4, they will draft him, but I see the Redskins trading up to grab him.

5) Tampa Bay Buccaneers- Morris Claiborne, CB, LSU

The Buccaneers had a terrible defense last year, and they have needs at almost every position.  Grabbing a corner to team up with Aqib Talib would be an ideal place to start rebuilding this defense, and Morris Claiborne is a supreme talent that could replace Ronde Barber immediately.

6) Washington Redskins- Robert Griffin III, QB, Baylor

The Redskins would love to grab their quarterback of the future, Griffin, with the 6th pick, but I just don't see that happening.  Look for them to swap picks with the Rams, and Coach Mike Shanahan will be ecstatic to snag a quarterback with the accuracy and athletic ability of Griffin.

7) Jacksonville Jaguars- Alshon Jeffrey, WR, South Carolina

Alshon Jeffrey is the second best receiver in this draft class, and the Jaguars are desperate for some playmakers to surround Blaine Gabbert.  While most experts think Gabbert will be labeled a bust, we will have to see how he does next season with a big, athletic target like Jeffrey at his disposal.

8) Carolina Panthers- Quinton Coples, DE, North Carolina

With an explosive offense after the emergence of Cam Newton, the Panthers will look to the defensive side of the ball almost exclusively this draft.  Carolina was 25th in the league in sacks in 2011, and extra quarterback pressure could help out the secondary immensely.  Coples has already drawn comparisons to Julius Peppers, as they both went to UNC, and he could team up with Charles Johnson to form an electric pass-rush duo.

9) Miami Dolphins- Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama

Depending on who Miami's next coach is, this pick could vary as they could change defensive schemes.  But this team is already built to run a 3-4, and Upshaw would be a great replacement for the retiring Jason Taylor.

10) Buffalo Bills- Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa

The Bills get lucky here and scoop up an elite left tackle to protect Ryan Fitzpatrick's blindside.  This is definitely a need for Buffalo, and they should be very happy with the outcome.

11) Kansas City Chiefs- Devon Still, DT, Penn State

Just as Romeo Crennel did in New England when he drafted Vince Wilfork, I think he will want to beef up the interior of this line to shore up the defense.  The Chiefs have issues on the offensive side of the ball, but they won't be able to take a quarterback with this pick, so Devon Still seems to be the best available.

12) Seattle Seahawks- Michael Floyd, WR, Notre Dame

Floyd is another talented receiver in this draft class, and he could immediately give Tarvaris Jackson a favorite target out on the field.  Floyd is a polished receiver, and I expect him to be performing at a high level almost immediately.

13) Arizona Cardinals- Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford

Martin will be a rock on this offensive line for whomever is playing quarterback.  From Cardinal to Cardinals, he could be a dominant force on the Arizona line for a long time.

14) Dallas Cowboys- Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama

The Cowboys are desperate for help in the secondary, and they luck out by getting one of the top cornerbacks in the draft.  Kirkpatrick will be able to make an impact right away, and he was a part of arguably the greatest college defense of all time.

15) Philadelphia Eagles- Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College

The Eagles have to fix their linebacking core quickly, and Kuechly is the most NFL-ready linebacker in this class.  He is a sure tackler with a nose for the football, and he will be a mainstay in the Eagles' lineup for years to come.

16) New York Jets- Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State

Wayne Hunter got tossed around like a rag doll by opposing defensive ends this year.  The game against Denver, where he faced Von Miller, immediately comes to mind.  This problem needs to be addressed as soon as possible, and Mike Adams is a natural right tackle who could contribute very early on.

17) Cincinnati Bengals (from Oakland)- David Decastro, OG, Stanford

The Bengals could use some help on the line and at running back, but they will try to grab a running back in a later round, so they pick up Decastro here.  He should be able to take over at right guard for the Bengals in his rookie campaign.

18) San Diego Chargers- Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska

People argue that Dennard was actually the more talented of the two Nebraska cornerbacks last year, the other being Prince Amukamara.  While that may not be true, he is still a talented cornerback, and the Chargers could use help in the secondary.  This pick seems like a no-brainer.

19) Chicago Bears- Mark Barron, SS, Alabama

The Bears could use some safety help, and there won't be a receiver worth drafting left here, so I think they will go with Mark Barron.  Barron is very athletic, and he will be the ball-hawking safety that the Bears are looking for.

20)  Tennessee Titans- Brandon Thompson, DT, Clemson

Thompson is higher on most draft boards, and the Titans will realize that they are getting a steal and a filling a need with the 20th pick.  He's a perfect fit for the 4-3, and he will be starting from day one.

21) Cincinnati Bengals- Chris Polk, RB, Washington

I think the Bengals will want to go running back here, especially after the performance that Benson put on in the playoff game against Houston.  The decision is whether to grab Polk or Lamar Miller.  I like Polk as a better fit for the Bengals, fitting in as another bruising back in the AFC North.  He will be able to hold up against these tough defenses, and he will definitely find success in Cincinnati.

22)  Cleveland Browns (from Falcons) - Zach Brown, LB, North Carolina

The Browns stole this pick form the Falcons last year, and now they can add a strong linebacker to their top-10 defense in Zach Brown.  Brown should start immediately alongside D'Qwell Jackson, assuming he is still in Cleveland next season.  Browns personnel are hopeful that they will have Jackson back next season.

23) Detroit Lions- Janoris Jenkins, CB, North Alabama

The former Florida cornerback is flying under the radar as he was forced to transfer to North Alabama, but he is still a very talented cornerback.  The Lions have struggled in pass defense, and were exposed particularly last week against the Saints.  That game could've been very different if the Lions had been able to capitalize on a few errant throws by Brees, and a playmaker like Jenkins will make the most of these opportunities.

24) Pittsburgh Steelers- Donta Hightower, LB, Alabama

The Steelers could address a number of issues with this pick, but I think they will add to the interior of their defense by grabbing Hightower to help out alongside Lawrence Timmons.  James Farrior is getting older, and injuries are becoming a concern, so Hightower could be the perfect guy to step in when Farrior needs a break.

25) Denver Broncos- Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson

The Broncos could use a safety valve for Tim Tebow next year, and Allen is the perfect guy for the job. Assuming the Broncos don't feel the need to draft a quarterback (I hope they have learned that by now), this seems like a solid pick that fills a void on the offense.  The Broncos could also go running back here, which would leave them with Lamar Miller, but Allen is the best tight end in the draft, and he can run block.

26) New York Giants- Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State

The Giants have a chance to steal one of the most talented players in the draft here, as long as he can control his penalties and temper.  Burfict has speed and attitude, and the Giants linebacking unit seems to be lacking in both.  This pick just works.

27) Houston Texans- Nick Perry, OLB, USC

The Texans could add another piece to an already fierce linebacking crew.  I struggled mightily with this pick, and I think the Texans could easily go with a receiver or Jared Crick, but Perry fits the scheme and could take over for Connor Barwin in the near future.  If nothing more, he adds depth at an important position.

28) New England Patriots (from New Orleans)- Jared Crick, DE, Nebraska

The Patriots pick up Crick quickly, as he is perfect for the 3-4 and a relative steal at this point in the draft.  the Patriots should use both of these first round picks on the defensive side of the ball.

29) Baltimore Ravens- Peter Konz, C, Wisconsin

Matt Birk is old.  Really old.  The wheels are going to fall off at some point, so you might as well grab a quality center to learn under Birk for a year before he takes over the show.

30) San Francisco 49ers- Juron Criner, WR, Arizona

The 49ers could use a few more weapons for Alex Smith, and Criner would complement Crabtree nicely.  The 49ers could go a number of ways with this pick, but receiver seems the most logical.

31) New England Patriots- Whitney Mercilus, OLB, Illinois

Mercilus is an incredible name for a linebacker, and hopefully he will help the Patriots on their way to a merciless pass rush.  The Patriots are in dire need of some big, athletic linebackers who can get to the quarterback, and Mercilus fits that mold.

32) Green Bay Packers-  Lamar Miller, RB, Miami

You could say that the Packers don't have needs, but their running game has struggled with consistency this year, and Lamar Miller would offer them a fast running back with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.  Miller's receiving ability makes him a perfect fit for this pass-happy offense.

Check back in a few weeks for the second edition.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Your NFL Playoff Guide: Don't Jump on the Bandwagon Just Yet

The Saints and Giants looked nearly unbeatable in their wild card performances, and they have clearly bridged the gap between themselves and their divisional round opponents.  But many have decided, after Sunday's games, to jump on the bandwagons of these two teams, seemingly forgetting what we have seen from the 49ers and Packers all year long.  So, let's take a look at each divisional round matchup objectively, and try to get to the bottom of this mess.

New Orleans at San Francisco

This is a classic game of offense vs. defense.  New Orleans has looked like they've been playing Madden on Rookie in the last few weeks, while San Francisco hasn't turned the ball over in its last five games and boasts the premiere defense in the league.  Something's gotta give.  San Francisco's home-field advantage is going to be crucial, and they will be fired up as underdogs coming into the game.  New Orleans was bailed out a few times by Detroit's inability to make plays on defense.  There were several balls thrown that should've been intercepted, and San Francisco has had a knack for capitalizing on these mistakes all year.  Also, one has to take into account that New Orleans simply isn't the same team once they step foot outside of the Superdome.  If the 49ers can score early, they will win this game.  Look for Harbaugh to come out swinging against a weak New Orleans defense and the 49ers to capitalize on a few Saints' mistakes.

27-24 San Francisco

New York at Green Bay

This game is interesting, as we saw the same matchup just a few weeks ago in New York.  The Giants will be coming into this game with a lot of confidence, after beating up on the Falcons, but I'm not sure how much credit one can give them.  Certainly, keeping them out of the endzone was a feat, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who didn't think the Falcons were the weakest NFC team entering the playoffs.  Now, the Giants have to travel to Lambeau and play the Packers in an icy divisional matchup. I am expecting a good game for the first half, but I think the Packers will run away with this game in the second half, primarily due to their defense, which I expect to tighten up during the Playoffs.  Also, you can't underestimate two straight bye weeks, which have allowed the Packers to come into this game 100 percent healthy.  Give the Giants a lot of credit for having the audacity to "guarantee victory," but it's just not going to happen.  The comparisons to the 2007 Giants stop here.

31-17 Green Bay

Denver at New England

Denver played great on Sunday against the Steelers, and Tim Tebow, as usual, is the talk of every media outlet in the country.  These two teams faced off a few weeks ago in Denver, and the Patriots won pretty handily, although you could argue the game was closer than the score indicated.  Keep in mind, the Patriots have not beaten a team with a winning record this year, and they have not won a playoff game since their 18-1 season.  Also, the last time these two teams met in the playoffs was in 2005, and the Broncos won on a 100-yard interception return by Champ Bailey.  If that happens again, I am converting to Tebowism.  But as of now, I won't say that the Broncos will win this game, but the game will be close, and the Broncos will be right there in the 4th quarter.  Look for the Patriots to attack the sidelines just like the Steelers did, especially opposite Champ Bailey, and they will look to strike early, making Tebow play from behind.  If the Broncos can get out of the gates quickly, this is anybody's game.

28-21 New England

Houston at Baltimore

Baltimore is yet another team that is undefeated at home this year, and they have looked near unbeatable at M&T Bank Stadium.  But there is something about this Houston team that I saw during the game on Saturday, a supreme will to win.  This is Houston's first playoff appearance ever, and they are incredibly motivated and have a great defense.  Look for these two teams to slug it out on the ground, as both QB's are below-average, and it is really going to end up being anyone's game.  I'm looking for a young TJ Yates to play mistake-free football, while Arian Foster continues to run with power and confidence.  Don't expect Joe Flacco to throw for 300 yards this time, like he did in their previous meeting.  Whichever team can establish more of a running game to help out their questionable quarterback play will win this game, and something tells me that it's going to be the Texans.

20-16 Houston

No matter how these games sway over the weekend, football fans are in for a treat.  The beauty of these games: not a single one is a sure-fire bet.  But I can guarantee one thing--at least one of these games will end on a last-second field goal.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

National Championship Preview- #1 LSU vs. #2 Alabama

by John Huffstetler

Monday Jan. 8th 8:30 PM EST- LSU (13-0) (+2) vs. Alabama (11-1) O/U 40- While some critics believed Oklahoma St. belonged in this title game, the BCS National Championship undoubtedly matches the top two teams in the country. LSU was clearly the best team in the nation this regular season as the only undefeated team in the country while playing the 8th toughest schedule in the country. Their spectacular resume includes an OT road win against this #2 Alabama squad, a neutral site thrashing of #5 Oregon (probably the 3rd best team in the nation), a road beat-down of Orange Bowl winner West Virginia, a home thrashing of #7 Arkansas, and a 2nd half slaughter of #18 Georgia in the SEC title game. Before playing this final game, LSU already deserves the title. Unfortunately for them, to secure the title, they must once again beat a formidable Alabama squad.

While Alabama had a fine season, their schedule pales in comparison to LSU's. Their most impressive and only legitimate non-conference win came on the road against a suspiciously mediocre Penn St. squad. In conference, they avoided by far the two strongest teams from the East in South Carolina and Georgia, but did manage to easily beat solid Arkansas, Miss St., and Auburn squads. Although the results from the regular season don't compare to LSU's, Alabama is stronger from a YPP perspective, ranking 1st in defensive YPP, a yard better than everyone else in the nation (LSU 2nd), and 10th in offensive YPP (LSU 36th).

So why then did LSU have such a clearly better regular season if they are the weaker team statistically on offense and defense? Intangibly, LSU is as strong as any team in the country. They rank 14th in the nation in turnovers forced with their ball-hawking defense and they are #1 in the nation in giveaways, turning the ball over just 0.6 times per game. They also have possibly the best special teams of the 21st century. Punter Brad Wing lead the NCAA in net punting yards per kick at 41.61, and kicker Drew Alleman lead the nation in field goal conversion percentage at 94.12%. Further, they possess a formidable return specialist (and true Heisman trophy winner) in Tyrann Mathieu.

- The same edges in special teams, turnover margins, and QB experience exist for LSU from the 1st match-up. The only difference now is the game is neutral site (but in LSU's home state) as opposed to at Alabama. The balance of the universe depends on LSU winning the national championship. They have earned the title and they will get the win they deserve. Score- LSU 23-17.

Gambling Perspective- Play LSU +2
. It's an outrage that they are an underdog in this game. The only logical reason for this is Alabama's strength from a YPP perspective, but LSU played the tougher schedule and richly deserves financial support in this game. Slight lean over 40. Everyone expects a low-scoring affair like the first game, but these two defenses are terrific at setting up their offenses on a short field for easy points.

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