Saturday, February 11, 2012
Tampa Bay Bucs
Key Free Agents: RB LeGarrette Blount (Exclusive Rights), WR Preston Parker (Exclusive Rights), DE Michael Bennett (Restricted), RB Earnest Graham, G Jeremy Zuttah, LB Geno Hayes, CB Ronde Barber, CB Elbert Mack, S Sean Jones
The Bucs DT's were so ineffective following the injury to Gerald McCoy that they brought in the useless Albert Haynesworth (pictured to the right) and started him his first week with the team. Their gaping holes at this position contributed heavily to their lack of success in run defense, allowing 156.1 yards per game on the ground (32nd in the league). Even with McCoy returning next season, they could use another talented young player here to stabilize the position. Picking 5th in the draft, there may not be a player worth taking at DT, so they may have to wait until later in the draft or free agency.
Another CB Opposite Aqib Talib
Ronde Barber is now 36 years old and his best days are behind him. EJ Biggers is the most logical starting replacement on the roster, but he seems more suited for the nickel corner role. Taking a top line corner with the 5th pick in the draft makes sense because LSU CB Morris Claiborne should be available when they draft there. Since Talib is widely considered to be a "shut down" corner, solidifying the 2nd corner position would greatly strengthen the Bucs pass defense.
Depth at Linebacker
Continuing with the defensive theme, the Bucs could use at least two more warm bodies at linebacker. Geno Hayes is a free agent, and Quincy Black might be more effective in a reserve role. They could also use a backup for impressive rookie Mason Foster at MLB. Their offense is far from spectacular, but the Bucs and new coach Greg Schiano need to devote a large majority of their resources this offseason to the defensive side of the ball.
Key Free Agents: LB Dan Connor, WR Legedu Naanee, TE Jeremy Shockey, G Geoff Hangartner, DE Antwan Applewhite
Major injuries to key defensive starters at LB to Thomas Davis (3rd ACL tear- Career most likely over) and Jon Beason caused the Panthers struggles early in the season to stop anyone on the ground, but the defensive tackles did not help their cause by allowing opposing RB's to easily reach the second level. With no one stepping up to solidify the position, Head Coach Ron Rivera mainly platooned players attempting to keep fresh options on the field. The Panthers invested two 3rd rd picks last year on Defensive Tackles (Fua and McClain), but neither player showed the ability this year to be elite run stoppers at this level (although they still could be). Many draft experts are suggesting that the Panthers will take a DT with their first pick; however, Carolina might be better served using that pick at another position and acquired a veteran through free agency. Chargers' free agent NT Antonio Garay (pictured to the left) played for Ron Rivera for two season and that familiarity could benefit both Garay and the Panthers. Either way, the issue must be addressed this offseason.
Another Weapon at WR for Newton
For Cam Newton to develop more as a passer, the Panthers will need to surround him with stronger weapons at WR. The offensive line is widely considered one of the stronger units in the league (even with injuries to Jeff Otah), and Cam Newton can obviously extend the play with his legs when pressure does break down. With Steve Smith approaching the end of his illustrious career and Brandon LaFell proving to be just a marginal NFL starter, securing a potential big play wide receiver through the draft or free agency would be a logical move for the franchise. The Panthers should use one their first two selections to secure one of the top receivers on the board. Alshon Jeffrey would be a logical, local selection in the first round. He has great size and the potential to be a Calvin Johnson type of player who can stretch the field and also catch jump balls in the red zone. If Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, or Mohamed Sanu slip to their pick in the second round, any one of those players would be terrific options as well.
The injuries mentioned earlier to Beason (shown to the right) and Thomas Davis certainly effected the Panthers season from a win/loss standpoint. OLB James Anderson performed admirably in their absence, but MLB Dan Conner and OLB Jordan Senn were forced into starting roles that they weren't equipped to handle. With Beason returning next year at MLB, that only leaves Thomas Davis' vacated OLB position to fill this offseason. If they could lure Erin Henderson away from Minnesota or draft someone like Lavonte David out of Nebraska with their second round pick, the team could dramatically progress in their efforts to overcome the heartbreaking nature of Thomas Davis' absence from the team.
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Friday, February 10, 2012
Key Free Agents: DE John Abraham, DE Kroy Biermann, WR Eric Weems, WR Harry Douglas, CB Brent Grimes, LB Curtis Lofton, C Todd McClure, CB Kelvin Hayden, S Thomas DeCoud, S James Sanders
Resign Several Key Players
The Falcons most important task this off-season is to resign several essential players who are unrestricted free agents. 6 of their top 9 tacklers on defense are currently unsigned, including starters John Abraham, Brent Grimes, Curtis Lofton, and Thomas DeCoud. The Falcons might be better off letting Abraham walk because of his age (33) and high price tag, but Lofton and Grimes are crucial to their defensive success. 2011 Pro Bowl Special Teamer Eric Weems must be resigned as well, as he is one of the best special teams players in the league. Kroy Biermann would be a great replacement in the starting line-up at DE in place of Abraham, plus Biermann has incentive to stay in Atlanta because his wife is on the "Real Housewives of Atlanta" on Bravo. WR Harry Douglas should remain with the team as well in the 3rd-WR role. Without a first-round draft pick, their offseason will hinge on their ability to resign their crucial free agents.
Run-Blocking on the Offensive Line and an every-down RB to replace Turner
The Falcons ranked 21st in the league in yards per rush at 4.0 and they ranked 17th in rush yards per game at 114.6. The Falcons season hinged on two key games: The OT loss at Home to New Orleans, and the Playoff loss at the Giants. In both of these games, the Falcons failed to convert on critical 4th down plays of less than a yard. The failure on these plays ruined their season. The o-line simply did not create holes for the Falcons running game to get to the second level, and when they did, RB Michael Turner was incapable of breaking long runs. Turner's nickname of "Burner" from his college days at Northern Illinois is now simply ironic. He is approaching 30 and the Falcons need to address the running back position in this coming draft. Quizz Rodgers was a great pick up last season, but he is not the every down back Atlanta needs to replace Turner. The offensive line needs to get better as well. Adding a right guard who can block effectively in the running game through draft or free agency would benefit the Falcons greatly next season.
For two consecutive years in the playoffs, the Falcons' pass defense has failed to limit the opposing offense in the passing game. Against Green Bay in 2010, Aaron Rodgers embarrassed nickel corner Chris Owens, and last year against the Giants, starting CB Brent Grimes missed the game and Kelvin Hayden and Owens could not adequately replace him. Adding a strong nickel corner and either a safety or dime corner would help solidify the secondary against the NFC's pass-heavy offenses.
New Orleans Saints
Key Free Agents: QB Drew Brees, WR Marques Colston, WR Robert Meachem, G Carl Nicks, CB Tracy Porter
Figure out the WR Position
The Saints have two key FA's at WR in Colston and Meachem, and they must first decide what to do with these two players. Should they lose one or both players via free agency, they will need to acquire a big target at receiver for Drew Brees (who will almost assuredly remain a Saint). Colston is especially significant to their offensive success, and if he leaves, the Saints will need to address the WR position early in the draft. Here is a list of the Top 10 prospects at WR from January.
Outside Linebacker Help
Scott Shanle and Jo-Lonn Dunbar did not produce at an above-average level this season as the Saints starting OLB's. Shanle is now 32 years old, and while Dunbar, Jonathan Casillas, and Martez Wilson are moderately capable young players, the Saints should look to upgrade the position through the draft or free agency.
Pass Rushing Defensive Ends
Despite their defensive desire to bring extra pressure on the QB, the Saints recorded only 33 sacks this past season, tied for 19th in the league. Their leading sacker last year was Safety Roman Harper with 7.5, and their d-line was only responsible for 16.5 sacks on the year. At the very least, they should add a 3rd-down pass rushing specialist to generate better pressure on passing downs from the defensive front. They have several young players at the position that are yet to produce, so the Saints should look to fulfill this need through a veteran in free agency.
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Thursday, February 9, 2012
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Chad "Ochocinco" Johnson was born to be an entertainer. Even though he didn't get to realize his NFL dream this past Sunday by becoming a world champion, he still holds a special place in the hearts of many Bengals fans. He had a tumultuous NFL career in Cincinnati, and it became increasingly interesting when sometime during the 2007 and 2008 seasons he decided to change his last name to "Ochocinco." It was a play off of his number and his then-recent affinity to soccer.
Despite the fact that the name is incorrect Spanish ("Ochocinco" translates to "eight five," not "eighty-five"), Chad used this as a major marketing ploy, building his persona on and off of the football field. It began with him coming out during pregame warmups in a jersey with the last name Ochocinco during the 2007 season. Quarterback Carson Palmer playfully ripped it off of his back, likely to avoid some sort of league fine. Even though Chad legally changed his name to "Ochocinco", he had to wait a full season to have Reebok issue actual jerseys with the "Ochocinco" name on them, otherwise he would have had to personally eat quite a bit of money.
We saw a big change in Chad this season with the New England Patriots, both on and off of the football field. Now, he's making another big change--Chad claims he'll be changing his name back to Johnson this summer.
It's the second time in a little over a calendar year that Chad has let everyone know that he'll be changing his name. Though when he says something on Twitter, you know that it's pretty official.
@Ochocinco- Take them down, i'll be Johnson on july 4th RT @RudyDaGreat1: I just notice I got bout 5 @Ochocinco jerseys signed sitting on the wall
We'll see if Chad finally sticks to his word about this, but it would make his career come full-circle. It's not totally clear why he's changing his name back--music video station VH1 assumes it's because of his upcoming wedding to Evelyn Lozada. I'm sure that a lot of people will also probably point to "The Patriot Way" and/or his career seemingly coming to an end in the near future.
If you still have your "85 Johnson" jersey buried somewhere deep in your closet or garage, it may be safe to dig it back out of retirement.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
The potential trade of Dwight Howard threatens to shift the entire balance of power in the 2012 NBA season. Whatever team acquires the elite inside force (if he is in fact traded) immediately enters the short list of NBA title contenders. As recently as last week, Dwight switching teams this season appeared to be a near certainty, with Howard criticizing his teammates effort in a 2nd-half collapse against Boston. This afternoon, however, Magic owner Richard Devos proclaimed "I don't want to trade him," introducing the possibility that Howard remains in Orlando for the remainder of the season. This statement, though, remains in stark contrast to Howard's public stance that he wants to be traded during this season. If he were to be traded, Howard has listed 5 teams that he would be willing to play for: Dallas, New Jersey, LA Lakers, LA Clippers, and Chicago. So the question remains, where will Dwight Howard finish the season?
Stays in Orlando
Although Howard appears to be packing his bags in Orlando, the comments of owner Richard Devos (pictured to the right) make his return to Orlando a potentiality. The problem with this scenario is Howard's unlikelihood to resign with the team after this season. Losing a player of his caliber through unrestricted free agency without receiving relatively comparable assets in return can doom a franchise for years to come. This fact alone makes the trading of Howard an absolute necessity. Chance- 7%
Regardless of where Howard would like to play, the team in question needs to have trade-able assets for the Magic to receive in return. The Mavs only have one valuable asset to trade in young point guard Rodrique Beaubois. Their core players are all above 30 and highly paid, thus of little value to the Magic. Beaubois alone is not nearly enough to secure Superman. Dallas' only hope is for a 3-team trade involving a team willing to acquire veteran, expiring contracts. Chance- 5%
The Nets certainly have more trade pieces to offer than the Mavs. The most discussed trade piece (although I believe he is massively overrated) is young big man Brook Lopez. His perceived potential (although misguided) to be an All-Star caliber Center makes his inclusion in a Howard trade logical. Other potential trade pieces include rookie swingman MarShon Brooks, reality douche Kris Humphries, defensive stalwart Sundiata Gaines, forward Damion James, and sharp-shooter Anthony Morrow. They have the pieces to make a run at Howard, but other teams have better situations and potential assets. Chance- 18%
Like Dallas, the Lakers have a largely above 30 roster, meaning they don't have many valuable assets; however, they do have two major assets that could appeal to the Magic front office: Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. The Lakers have shown more willingness to unload Gasol than Bynum, but the Magic would most likely insist upon Bynum's inclusion in this trade. The Lakers could potentially secure Howard for Bynum straight up with a few players added in to balance out the salaries. Bynum is the most valuable potential asset any team has to offer individually, making the Lakers a major player in the Howard sweepstakes. There is the possibility, however, that Howard would insist upon going to a team with a younger nucleus. Kobe and Pau don't have that many good years left in their career. Chance- 30%
From Howard's perspective, this would be an ideal destination because he would have the opportunity to win multiple titles with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. The biggest question for the Clippers is can they compete with the Lakers and Bulls from a trade-able assets perspective. DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe would have to be included, but not many other players have much value or potential that the Clips would be willing to deal. If the Clippers were intelligent, they would offer Blake Griffin for Howard straight up as Howard is the markedly better player in every facet of the game, but trading their second-year star seems unlikely. Chance- 10%
The Bulls offer the best combination of a young nucleus and valuable trade pieces to satisfy both Howard and the Magic. The most likely player to be included in a Howard deal is Joakim Noah. His age and ability to defend and rebound makes him the most necessary piece in a potential deal. The Bulls also have valuable young pieces in Omer Asik, Ronnie Brewer, Taj Gibson, and Luol Deng to offer the Magic in return. No other team has this kind of depth to offer Orlando in exchange for their franchise player. These multiple potential trades and Howard's probable interest in playing with Derrick Rose make Chicago the most likely destination this season for the greatest big man in the game. Chance- 30%
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In typical English fashion, the national soccer team is in disarray just four months before it enters the biggest soccer tournament in Europe as it’s without a captain and a manager. John Terry had the captaincy stripped from him on Feb. 3 by the English FA and that action led to the resignation of manager Fabio Capello (pictured to the right) on Feb. 8. The FA didn’t consult with Capello when it punished Terry and he didn’t agree with that or the fact that he was left with no captain while preparing for Euro 2012.
Terry, who is the captain of Chelsea, has been charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers in an English Premier League game back in October. Terry is scheduled to go to court over the issue on July 9, but the European Championships take place from June 8 to July 1 in Poland and Ukraine. The FA didn’t want Terry to lead the squad while there was a legal issue hanging over his head, but Capello stood up for him by telling Italian television station RAI that he should be presumed innocent until found guilty.
Capello met with the FA on Feb. 8 and they both decided it would be best if he stepped down from his position. He was supposed to guide the team through the Euro 2012 event and retire at the end of it after four years on the job. Ironically, Capello decided himself to strip Terry of the English team’s captaincy in 2010 when the player was accused of having an affair with the girlfriend of his England and Chelsea teammate Wayne Bridge. However, it turned out it was just a former companion of Bridge’s and Terry was given the captain’s armband back by Capello.
David Bernstein, chairman of the FA, said Capello made the right decision to resign and the organization thanked him for his work with the national team and wished him luck in the future. In another coincidence, Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp, who was favored to take over from Capello after Euro 2012, was found not-guilty of tax evasion by a London court approximately the same time Capello was handing in his resignation.
After Capello quit, many national team members posted Twitter remarks saying they liked Capello, but hoped the next manager would be English. Capello, an Italian, was just the second foreigner to hold England’s managerial job with Sweden’s Sven Goran Eriksson being the first. Many fans and people in general felt Capello had a good point when claiming that Terry shouldn’t be punished until he's proven guilty, but the FA didn’t see it that way and was angered that he made his feelings public. Some experts even claimed Capello, who formerly managed Roma, Real Madrid, Juventus, and AC Milan, breached his contract by sticking up for what he believes in.
Capello’s record with England was 28 wins, six losses, and eight draws. Redknapp is still favored to take over the job, but there are several other candidates such as Stuart Pearce, Guus Hiddink, Jose Mourinho, Alan Pardew, and even David Beckham. Pearce is the manager of England’s Under 21 team and will also coach the Great Britain team at this summer’s Olympics in London. It’s been reported that Pearce and Sir Trevor Brooking will manage England when they take to the field against Holland on Feb. 29.
The fluky nature of the NFL and luck needed to win a title was never more evident than this season. Any number of teams could easily have hoisted the Lombardi trophy besides the Giants, but several games intertwined to create the situation necessary for them to win. Below is a list of the 10 most important games this season in determining the champion and the "what if" moments surrounding each game.
10) Week 3- NY Giants 29 - Philadelphia 16- The Eagles only finished one game back of the NFC East division title this year despite their major struggles this season. Had they won this game, they would have won the division and the Giants would have missed the playoffs. Entering the 4th quarter of this contest, the Eagles led 16-14 before the Giants reeled of 15 unanswered points for the come-from-behind victory. The Eagles outgained the Giants 376-334, but lost the turnover margin by 3 in this early home game that turned out to be integral to their season.
9) Week 10- Houston 37 - Tampa Bay 9- For those of you wondering why this seemingly meaningless game is on this list, this was the game that Houston lost Matt Schaub for the season. Houston had the potentially best team this year behind their strong running game and elite defense. Two key injuries, Schaub and Mario Williams, derailed their chances for success in the playoffs. Before Schaub's injury, the Texans looked like a guarantee for a first-round bye because of their 6-3 record and easy remaining schedule. Once Schaub and subsequently Matt Leinart were lost for the year, the Texans didn't have the offensive balance under rookie TJ Yates to succeed in the playoffs.
8) NFC Divisional Round- San Francisco 36 - New Orleans 32- This was probably the game of the year strictly from an entertainment perspective. The popular, idiotic analysis of the Giants late in their playoff run is that they were the "hottest team in the NFL." More astute NFL observers indicated that the Saints won 8 straight to end the regular season, including an easy win over the Giants. Should they have won this game, the Giants would have had to return to New Orleans and face a Saints team on a 10-game winning streak in a loud dome, meaning the Saints would have been in the Super Bowl.
7) NFC Wild Card Round- Denver 29 - Pittsburgh 23 (OT)- The elimination of Pittsburgh by the Tebow-led Broncos had more significance for the Patriots than the Giants (obviously). New England basically had two byes because the Broncos had no legitimate shot of beating the Pats in New England. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, played the Patriots well in a 25-17 home win earlier in the season. They could have potentially knocked off the Pats, changing the Giants Super Bowl match-up. The Demaryius Thomas TD reception in OT (pictured to the right) sealed the Steelers fate.
6) NFC Divisional Round- NY Giants 37 - Green Bay 20- Defeating the 15-1 Packers in such a convincing way was a truly impressive result for the Giants. The Hail Mary before half that gave the Giants a 10-point lead heading into the locker room was the defining moment of this contest. New York then cruised in the 2nd half to victory, thanks in large part to a +3 TO margin.
5) Week 15- Kansas City 19 - Green Bay 14- This was a disastrous game for the Packers season not only because it ruined their undefeated campaign, but offensive lineman Bryan Bulaga and Derrek Sherrod both went down with injuries during this contest. These injuries plus those of Chad Clifton and Greg Jennings (despite Clifton, Bulaga, and Jennings playing in the Giants game) severely hindered the Packers offensive production and chances against New York.
4) Week 14- NY Giants 37 - Dallas 34- Another "what if" game in the NFC East. Dallas needed to win only one of the two meetings this year against the Giants to win the division and eliminate them from playoff contention. In this meeting, Dallas led 34-22 with 5:41 left in the 4th quarter, only to squander the lead with a few missed opportunities and poor clock management. Yet another game this year where fortune was squarely on the Giants side.
3) AFC Championship Game- New England 23 - Baltimore 20- Both Super Bowl squads benefited from favorable circumstances surrounding this game. New England was fortunate here to advance to the Super Bowl thanks to a botched Billy Cundiff field goal attempt that would have sent the game to OT. The Giants benefited from New England's win because star TE Rob Gronkowski injured his ankle (pictured to the right), making him a glorified decoy in the Super Bowl. In retrospect, Gronkowski's lack of health for the final game was the major deciding factor in determining the victor.
2) NFC Championship Game- NY Giants 20 - San Francisco 17 (OT)- A terrific game that was decided by a Kyle Williams fumble in OT. Neither team could move the ball effectively in the overtime session, but once Williams fumbled, the Giants simply needed to set up a Tynes field goal for victory. Like most of the season, the Giants earned the victory because they were able to protect the ball better than their opponents.
1) Super Bowl- NY Giants 21 - New England 17- The Giants benefited in the season's final game from the critical injury to Gronkowski, but also several lucky breaks and bounces. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks both fumbled after receptions, only to have one nullified by an unrelated penalty and one to squirt 5 yards away straight to the Giants. On multiple occasions, Pats receivers had opportunities to make huge catches that would have sealed victory as well. Gronkowski's tipped ball for an Int to Blackburn early in the 4th and Welker's miss-timed jump later (pictured to the right) in the period both would have secured the victory for New England; instead, the Giants gained possession and marched down field for the game-winning touchdown.
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Tuesday, February 7, 2012
In the wake of Super Bowl XLVI, everyone seems to be focused on how the game has affected the legacies of the two quarterbacks. This prompted me to consider my list of the greatest to ever play, and also the guys who don't yet have the resume to be on here but who I think one day just might.
8. Otto Graham - Otto Graham was Tom Brady before we had Tom Brady. He was just a winner and a clutch performer. He played 10 seasons, and took the Browns to 10 championship games, winning seven, making him the closest thing the NFL has had to Bill Russell