Week 1 in review

Finally…football is back!

The 2011 NFL season kicked off last Thursday night with the past two Super Bowl Champs (2009: Saints, 2010: Packers) facing off against each other. This game really set the tone for the 2011 season. It was a fast-paced, high-scoring and high-energy football game.

Aaron Rodgers came out and struck quickly in the first quarter with thee TD passes. After trailing 28-17 at halftime, New Orleans got off to a slow start but battled back to bring the score to 34-42 in the fourth quarter. Brees led the Saints down the field with one last drive to try and tie the game. With only seconds remaining the Saints tried to pound the ball across goal line with rookie RB Mark Ingram, only for him to be denied as the final seconds came off the clock. Green Bay won, 42-34, in what may be a playoff preview.

The first Sunday in 2011 turned out to be a great one. There were so many great match-ups and new players with new teams to watch. There were a few games and a few players that stood out this week:

Carolina Panthers @ Arizona Cardinals

This game featured two teams with new quarterbacks and some questions to answer. It was the debut of the number one overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, Cam Newton. Newton squared off against Kevin Kolb who was traded to the Arizona Cardinals once the lockout was lifted. This game was a back and forth battle that was ultimately decided by an 89 yard punt return by Cardinals CB (fifth overall pick) Patrick Peterson.

Newton finished the day completing 24 of 27 passes for 422 yards and threw 2 TD and 1 INT. His favorite target was none other than long time Panther Steve Smith, who reeled in 8 catches for 178 yards and caught both of Newton’s TD passes.

Arizona won the game, 28-21, but Newton showed that he can play QB in the NFL and should be exciting to watch for the remainder of the 2011 season. Not to mention it gave the Panthers faithful some hope for the future.

Dallas Cowboys @ New York Jets

The Sunday night game featured the New York Jets hosting the Dallas Cowboys. With the game under the national spotlight, the J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets showed their resolve and came from behind to win late, 27-24.

The Cowboys came out with something to prove as second year WR Dez Bryant nabbed 3 balls for 71 yards a TD. Dallas was on top 7-0 after the first quarter until Sanchez got things working and found TE Dustin Keller in the end zone for a TD.

At the half the Cowboys still lead 10-7, but there was a whole half of football left.

When the second half started, Dallas was driving down the field and Romo threw up a 36 yard pass to WR Miles Austin who was being covered by CB Antonio Cromartie. Both players were jockeying for possession of the ball in the end zone and then an official signaled a TD rather than a touchback, even though it appeared that both players possessed the ball (NFL rule states alternate possession goes to the offensive player).

The Jets responded with a field goal and sent the game into the fourth quarter with the Cowboys up 17-10. Dallas drove down the field once again, capping off the drive with a Felix Jones 1 yard rushing TD, pushing their lead to 24-10.

Being that it was the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01, the New York Jets would not go down without a fight.

Sanchez led the Jets down the field and delivered a 26 yard TD pass to newly added WR Plaxico Burress (who has not played an NFL game in 3 years). The Jets retained some hope as the score stood at 24-17, and they forced the Cowboys to punt.

Jets special teams coach Mike Westhoff drew up a phenomenal play as third string RB Joe McKnight came untouched down the middle of the line and blocked the Cowboys punt which was scooped up by Isaiah Trufant and returned 18 yards for a TD. MetLife Stadium erupted with energy as the Jets tied the game in the fourth quarter.

After Dez Bryant had an outstanding first quarter, the Jets decided to send him to Revis Island for the rest of the game where Bryant had his feet up and a cold drink in his hand, just relaxing. Revis held Bryant to no catches for the rest of the game. Revis said that he sometimes gets bored because no one throws his way (which is mostly why he had zero interceptions last year).

On 1st and 10 at the Dallas 41 yard line, Romo was trying to drive his team down the field for a fourth quarter victory until he forced a pass to Bryant which was intercepted by the one and only Darrelle Revis. This set up a game winning 50 yard field goal by former Cowboys kicker Nick Folk (how’s that for revenge?).

In the end it was a great game to watch as the first NFL Sunday came to a close on such a significant and meaningful Sunday in American history.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Baltimore Ravens

Sunday, bloody Sunday. This is the biggest, baddest, nastiest rivalry in the NFL. These teams flat out do not like each other and have built up a huge dislike for one another over the years. Since 2008, the Ravens and Steelers average difference in score has been four points (now that’s what I call close). The Ravens have often been on the losing end of those games, and struggle to put the Steelers away when Roethlisberger is at the helm.

Well…not this Sunday.

The Ravens came out and absolutely dominated. There really is no other word for what Baltimore displayed at home vs. Pittsburgh on Sunday. The Ravens set a new franchise record, forcing seven turnovers. They also recorded four forced fumbles (two by Terrell Suggs alone to go with his three sacks) and three interceptions (two by Ed Reed and one by Ray Lewis).

Not only was the Ravens defense on fire but the offense was electric was well. Joe Flacco was 17 of 29 for 224 yards and threw 3 TDs while Ray Rice rushed 19 times for 107 yards and 1 TD (he also had 4 catches for 42 yards and a receiving TD).

M&T Bank was rumbling all day with energy as Baltimore put a good old fashioned whooping on the Steelers. The 35-7 final score was the Ravens’ biggest margin of victory over Pittsburgh in franchise history (+28). If all that wasn’t enough, punter/place holder Sam Koch jogged into the end zone untouched on a designed fake PAT two point conversion scramble in the third quarter.

We talked about this game all pre-season and it lived up to the hype (at least for Ravens fans). This was an all-around great game by the Ravens, which has set the tone for their 2011 campaign.

Offensive Player of the Week: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

  • 32/48, 517 yards, 4 TDs, 1 INT, QB Rating 121.6
  • 1 rush, 3 yards
  • Tied NFL record for longest pass TD (99 yards)

Defensive Player of the Week: Brian Urlacher, MLB, Chicago Bears

  • 10 tackles (6 solo), 1 TFL, 1 INT, fumbled recovered for 12 yard TD
  •  33 years old and still a dominating MLB in the NFL

Quote of the Week: Ron Jaworski, MNF Football on Chad Henne’s pass

Ron Jaworski “SH*T, you have to get rid of this ball. Just a split second quicker.” This was in reference to QB Chad Henne throwing a delayed and overthrown pass to WR Brandon Marshall in the end zone. I personally don’t have a problem with Ron’s comment on the play. He wasrelaxed and commentating on the game and happened to slip up. Of course he apologized for his comment as some were outraged (over the “S” word…come on, really?). Keep doing your thing JAWS! We love it!

New Section: This year I have a new weekly section called “Ouch” just read along:

  • Donovan McNabb is on pace to pass Tom Brady’s week 1 passing yardage total in week 15…OUCH
  • San Diego Chargers kicker Nate Kaeding tears his ACL and is out for the season in the opening kick-off vs. the Vikings…OUCH
  • The Houston Texans whoop the Indianapolis Colts 34-7 (Colts held scoreless until 9 minutes remaining in the the 4th quarter)…OUCH

As Week 1 of the NFL (which spanned from Thursday night until early Tuesday morning) is now officially in the books, we love the season we have thus far. We cannot wait to see what week 2 has in store. Thanks for reading and check back soon!

-Rob

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Is Grossman worth it?

The news broke today that Rex Grossman is going to start at quarterback for the Redskins in their Week 1 match-up versus the Giants.

Personally, I think Grossman is the better choice (over John Beck), considering his playing experience (especially within Mike Shanahan’s system).

However, that doesn’t mean the Redskins are in good shape. Even with an improved running game, they are still likely headed for a fourth place finish in the NFC East. The Eagles and Cowboys both improved their personnel, and the Giants (although banged up already) still have Super Bowl winning experience.

The Redskins brought in defensive linemen Barry Cofield (former Giants DL) & Ryan Kerrigan (16th overall pick in the 2011 draft) to help improve a defense that was ranked 31st in the league last year. Alongside veterans such as London Fletcher, DeAngelo Hall and LaRon Landry, their defense will certainly improve.

Still, what will they do on offense? Tim Hightower has been a nice story during this pre-season, but they will need Grossman to make plays on his own, and get them out of tough situations.

Can Grossman do that? I’m not so sure.

Donovan McNabb was that playmaker, but he was traded to Minnesota on July 27.

The only reason you should trade someone with McNabb’s resume’ is if you firmly believe in his back-up. Either that, or something went on behind the scenes that got to Shanahan so much, it caused him to jettison McNabb and give the reigns to a player who hasn’t proven his ability to carry an NFL team.

Why would Shanahan put his team in a position like that? There’s no way he can argue that Grossman or Beck has performed better than McNabb (I’ll address that argument shortly). It makes me believe his ego (and maybe McNabb’s, too) got in the way too often, causing them both to want nothing more than to part ways.

We may not know the answer to why Shanahan really got rid of McNabb for a long time, if ever. All we can do now is analyze the move, and see if the right choice was made.

First of all, the Redskins were compensated with two draft picks in exchange for trading McNabb (a late-round pick in 2012 and a 2013 pick, contingent upon McNabb’s performance this year).

In that aspect, the compensation isn’t bad.

But teams that trade for draft picks do so if they have depth at the position. In other words, if they feel they can afford a certain amount of residual in performance by the back-up, they will trade the starter for draft picks.

So, since the compensation the Redskins received for McNabb wasn’t that special, the Redskins front office must really believe in either Rex Grossman or John Beck.

Well, that is a strange theory, considering how it took them until six days before their season opener to name a starter. In other words, if you’re sold on someone, you don’t make them prove their worth and risk injury in a pre-season position battle.

Secondly, McNabb’s accomplishments are clearly greater than either Grossman’s or Beck’s (see chart below).

Games started Regular season record (winning pct.) Post season record (winning pct.) Completions/Attempts Completion pct. Yards TD INT Rush Yards Rush TD
McNabb 155 97-57-1 (62.5%) 9-7 (56.2%) 3,076/5,218 58.9% 36,250 230 115 3,400 28
Grossman 34 20-14 (58.8%) 2-2 (50%) 598/1,104 54.2% 7,081 40 40 95 3
Beck 4 0-4 (0%) N/A 60/107 56.1% 559 1 3 12 1

source: profootballreference.com

Still not convinced? Check out the comparison between McNabb’s and Grossman’s Super Bowl performances:

Completions/Attempts/Completion pct. Yards TD INT Run support Result
McNabb(SB XXXIX) 30/51 (58.8%) 357 3 3 Brian Westbrook (45 yards) L, 21-24 (Patriots)
Grossman (SB XLI) 20/28 (71.4%) 165 1 2 Thomas Jones (112 yards) L, 17-29 (Colts)

source: nfl.com

There you are. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, McNabb is a better quarterback than either Grossman or Beck. Yes, many of McNabb’s successes came in his earlier years. But when statistical evidence like that is so overwhelming in McNabb’s favor, you go with him.

Or, in Washington’s case, you’re giving “the keys to the car” to Grossman, who barely beat out an unproven, vastly inexperienced Beck (averaging one start per NFL season).

Then again, it makes sense for the Redskins to do this. After all, they signed Albert Haynesworth to a $100 contract, knowing how problematic he could be.

Week 16 in Washington is when McNabb and the Vikings are scheduled to go to Washington and face Grossman and the Redskins. With McNabb’s luck, he will probably be having a great season, then get injured or make a turnover late, costing the Vikings the game.

But in my opinion, however the 2011 season ends for the Redskins, it will cause them to regret trading Donovan McNabb.

Thanks for reading.

-Mike

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Packers pull out last-second win as Peyton watches from sideline

The Green Bay Packers scored a touchdown, and converted a two-point conversion, an onside kick and a 50-yard field goal in the last 35 seconds to beat the Colts, 24-21.

Veteran quarterback Kerry Collins was signed this week in case Peyton Manning isn’t ready to play in Week 1. Collins didn’t play tonight, which left Curtis Painter with the opportunity to showcase his talent in hopes of winning the backup quarterback position.

Painter and the Colts got the ball first, but despite a couple solid runs from Joseph Addai, the Indy offense stalled.

Although Green Bay’s first drive resulted in a 3-and-out, their second drive would prove to be much more efficient.

Aaron Rodgers directed a 10-play, 81-yard drive, mostly without a huddle and from the shotgun. The drive resulted in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Rodgers to TE Jermichael Finley.

Early in the second quarter, the Packers were threatening to score another touchdown, after Rodgers hit WR Donald Driver for a 12-yard gain on 4th-and-8. However, a 3rd down sack by the Colts’ pro-bowl DE Dwight Freeney forced Green Bay to settle for a 26-yard field goal.

Things got worse when Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri missed a 39-yard field goal attempt late in the first half. But with 5:33 remaining in the first half, Painter recognized a broken coverage, and hit a wide-open Reggie Wayne in-stride, for a 57-yard touchdown.

After a 36-yard pass to Pierre Garcon, Painter connected with WR Chris Brooks for a 7-yard touchdown with 26 seconds remaining in the first half.

At halftime, the Colts led the Packers, 14-10. Painter was 11/21 for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns (93 of those yards came on two passes).

Rodgers halftime stat line was more impressive, even though his team was trailing. Last year’s Super Bowl MVP completed 19/23 passes (82.6%) for 204 yards and 1 touchdown. He was also sacked four times by the Indianapolis defense.

Green Bay turned up the pressure in the third quarter, sacking Indianapolis quarterbacks twice, once by Vic So’oto (who caused a fumble, which was recovered by Jarius Wynn) and again by Jamari Lattimore. So’oto and Lattimore were both undrafted rookie free agents.

Crosby added a 32-yard field goal with 8:35 remaining in the third quarter, making the score 14-13 in favor of Indianapolis.

When Graham Harrell entered the game for the Packers, he was facing a one-point deficit. What didn’t help his cause was when he threw an interception to Colts DB Mike Newton, who returned it 39 yards to the GB 3-yard line.

Dan Orlavsky wasted no time capitalizing on his third-string counterpart’s mistake, when he threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to David Gilreath on the very next play.

The Colts then led 21-13. As a matter of fact, after Painter’s touchdown pass to Brooks in the second quarter, they led for the next 29:51.

That’s when things got interesting.

Colts reserve DB Chip Vaughn was flagged for two penalties (unnecessary roughness, taunting) on back-to-back plays, giving Green Bay 30 extra yards on their second to last drive.

Then with 35 seconds remaining, Harrell scrambled around and completed an 11-yard touchdown pass to TE Ryan Taylor. Harrell found Taylor on the next play as well, for a successful 2-point conversion, tying the game, 21-21.

Perhaps in an effort to avoid overtime, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy called an onside kick, which his team recovered at their own 47-yard line.

Five plays later, Crosby hit the game-winning 50-yard field goal at the end of regulation.

Green Bay is now 2-1 in the preseason, and will play their final 2011 preseason game Thursday night at 8:00, when they host Kansas City.

Indianapolis falls to 0-3, and will wrap up this preseason with a trip to Cincinnati, Thursday night at 7:00.

Game notes

  • The Packers scored 11 points in the final 35 seconds of tonight’s game.
  • In week 3 of last year’s preseason, Indianapolis lost at Green Bay, 59-24.
  • Since 2005, the Colts have lost 25 of their last 29 preseason games (including their last 8 in a row).

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Madden 12: “Club 100”

EA Sports Madden 2012 is turning to Sportsnation to hold a voting session from August 22nd – 26th to give a chance for a few madden players to receive the very rare “100” rating in a certain category. We first saw this in Madden 2008 when a few players already had the 100 ratings such as: Devin Hester (speed), Champ Bailey (man coverage), Lorenzo Neal (impact blocking), Tom Brady (awareness), Reggie Bush (acceleration), Larry Allen (strength), Ladanian Tomlinson (elusiveness and juke move) and Peyton Manning (awareness).

Here are the categories and candidates for Madden 2012 “Club 100” voting

Speed: Chris Johnson, Desean Jackson, Jamaal Charles, Devin Hester, Jacoby Ford

Elusiveness: Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Danny Woodhead, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice

Throw Accuracy: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers

Spectacular Catch: Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Brandon Lloyd, Braylon Edwards

Hit Power: Clay Matthews, Patrick Willis, Ray Lewis, James Harrison, Rey Maulauga

My vote for each are as follows:

Speed: Desean Jackson

Elusiveness: Jamaal Charles

Throw Accuracy: Peyton Manning

Spectacular Catch: Calvin Johnson

Hit Power: Patrick Willis

Who would you vote for to be in “Club 100” ???

Make sure to check out Sportsnation Club 100 Voting Schedule to cast your vote!

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2011 AFC team breakdowns

Let’s get right into the AFC and what it will look like in 2011.

Best off-season move: San Diego Chargers re-signing WR Vincent Jackson (1 year, $11.9 million)

Let’s be honest, Phillip Rivers, whether you like him or not, is a great QB. Last year Rivers didn’t have many targets besides Antonio Gates. In fact, RB Darren Sproles lead the team in receptions with 59. Jackson only played five games where he caught 14 balls for 248 yards and no TDs. Other wide receivers, such as Malcom Floyd and Patrick Crayton were called upon to make plays and at times just couldn’t get it done. It didn’t help that their replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson (Ryan Matthews) was inured for most of the season, which lead to a more pass-happy offense.

Bringing Jackson back for a full season was a very important move for the Chargers. Being able to retain Floyd was huge for them as well. If the Chargers can stay healthy and focused, they will yet again be one of the dangerous teams in the AFC.

Worst off-season move: Tennessee Titans not working out a deal with RB Chris Johnson

I know the lockout affected everything with the NFL but the Titans franchise should have been working towards a new contract for their star RB Chris Johnson. Now yes, I think that Johnson wanting a contract that is comparable to a QB’s contract is RIDICULOUS. I just don’t understand how you let negotiations get this tangled. The Titans brought in veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck to start and to groom their first round draft pick Jake Locker. The only problem is the Titans don’t have any superior talent at wide receiver, which forces them to rely on Johnson and their run game more than they should (giving Johnson more leverage in negotiations).

NFL MVP Candidate: Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

It’s obvious the top two choices here are Manning and Brady but Brady gets the nod here because of a few reasons. The first being that Brady is healthy and ready to play. Manning who just had neck surgery is slated to return for the regular season but will be rusty without taking snaps in the pre-season.

The second reason is that Brady is already in a pass happy offense and just added WR Chad Ochocinco to an already dangerous receiving core that includes pro bowl WR Wes Welker, two-time Super Bowl champ Deion Branch, Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate (not to mention tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski).

My third and final reason for Brady repeating as NFL MVP in 2011 is that his team got better in the offseason, which should translate to wins. And any time your team wins, you’re that much closer to winning a major award.

Starting with their 2nd round draft pick (33rd overall), they selected CB Ras-I Dowling from Virginia. Their veteran CB Leigh Bodden will return after missing the entire 2010-11 NFL season. Then the Patriots shock everyone and go out and get cast-off DT Albert Haynesworth. Then just when we thought they were done they acquire DE Shaun Ellis from their divisional rival, the New York Jets.

Brady has a dangerous set of weapons at receiver, a great a offensive line, up-and-coming running backs, two talented tight ends and a solid defense. It is clear that Tom Brady has everything he needs (and more) to secure the NFL MVP candidate as long as he and his team can stay healthy and focused.

Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate: AJ Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals

When Green was at Georgia I was a huge fan of his. I really like his size, hands, athleticism and his ability to stretch the field while gaining yards after the catch. Honestly, the Bengals are not an elite team in the NFL right now especially since they just lost their face of the franchise, WR Chad Ochocinco and their starting QB Carson Palmer.

Green will be seeing a lot action right off the bat in the 2011 season. The Bengals are going to rely on Green to come in and make an immediate impact, which he has the ability to do. It will be a tough award to win for Green, especially with a fellow rookie at quarterback (Andy Dalton). But if they put in the hard work and keep working together to get better in a very tough AFC North division, it will pay off for them.

Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate: Jimmy Smith, CB, Baltimore Ravens

I didn’t pick Smith just because he plays for my beloved Ravens. The kid is 6’2”, 211 lbs. That type of size and speed mixed with the already tenacious and talented Ravens defense is a recipe for success. Smith has been running with the starters at practice and been reported to be playing great. The Ravens have struggled at the CB position the past few years. They currently have Pro Bowl DL Haloti Ngata, future Hall of Fame MLB Ray Lewis, future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed and Pro Bowl OLB Terrell Suggs.

What Baltimore needs on defense is a cornerback who can shut down receivers so they can do what they do best–generate a ferocious pass rush. Look for Smith to make a huge impact on the Baltimore Ravens defense this year.

Projected 2011 Season Standings

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens (11-5)

Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)

Cleveland Browns (7-9)

Cincinnati Bengals (4-12)

AFC South

Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

Houston Texans (10-6)

Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8)

Tennessee Titans (7-9)

AFC East

New England Patriots (14-2)

New York Jets (11-5)

Miami Dolphins (7-9)

Buffalo Bills (5-11)

AFC West

San Diego Chargers (13-3)

Kansas City Chiefs (9-7)

Denver Broncos (7-9)

Oakland Raiders (6-10)

Three “Must-See” Games of the Year

3. New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers, Sunday Oct. 23 @ 1pm (New Meadowlands Stadium)

  • If the N.Y. Jets are going to win the Super Bowl like Rex Ryan has proclaimed they will, they’re going to need to beat a team like the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers are coming into the season healthy and retaining many of their star players. This should be quite the battle.

2. New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts, Sunday Dec. 4 @ 8:20pm (Gillette Stadium)

  • This is one of the all-time epic AFC battles. This match-up has been back and forth for the past few years. It’s a battle between the two best quarterbacks of our time (Manning vs. Brady) squaring off head-to-head once again. Let’s see which powerhouse is the true top dog in the AFC this year.

1. Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday Sept. 11 @ 1pm (M&T Bank Stadium)

  • Sunday Bloody Sunday. This rivalry doesn’t get any dirtier. These teams flat out dislike each other and it’s always a 3 or 4 point game every time they play. We usually have to wait until mid-season to see this game but not this year. This will set the tone for each of these team’s 2011 campaigns. You do not want to miss this game.

If our predictions hold up, it’ll be the Patriots vs. the Packers in Super Bowl XLVI on 2/5/12 in Indianapolis.

We will see.

Thanks for reading.

-Rob

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2011 NFC team breakdowns

With week 1 of the 2011 pre-season underway, the NFL is officially back.

To get this year started, Rob and I are going to breakdown each conference, and tell you what we think each team’s records will be. We’ll also re-cap the best and worst off-season moves and we’ll tell you the top 3 games of the year.

First, here is my take on the NFC.

Best off-season move: Philadelphia Eagles signing CB Nnamdi Asomugha

This is obvious. The eagles were already a good defense. Now, pending chemistry, Asomugha can make them a very good defense. Even though the Eagles still have Asante Samuel, adding Asomugha could very well render opposing receivers like Hakeem Nicks, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant ineffective. Trent Cole is a premier pass rusher in the NFL. How do you make a pass rush better? Sign a lock-down cornerback.

Worst off-season move(s): The New York Giants’ handling of trades/free agents

First, the Giants cut Barry Cofield, who signed with the division-rival Redskins. Cofield has been a stout NT ever since entering the league, missing only one game in his first five years.

Thursday, after the Giants failed to re-sign him, WR Steve Smith signed with another divisional rival, the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2009, Smith caught 107 passes for 1,220 yards and 7 touchdowns, in addition to making the Pro Bowl.

Finally, they have yet to work out a deal to either re-sign or trade DE Osi Umenyiora. The Giants’ asking price was probably too high (reportedly a 1st round pick). Then they told Umenyiora he could seek a trade, and then the Giants rescinded that offer. Now they’re left with a big mess. Even if they did sign Umenyiora, Smith and Cofield, they would’ve likely finished third in the division at best. As it stands now, they better hope the Redskins don’t find their stride, or else they (the Giants) could be headed for last place in the NFC East.

NFL MVP Candidate: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers

Rodgers led the Packers to the Super Bowl after a season without his starting running back or his starting tight end. He put up all-time great numbers in the playoffs, winning every game on the road. Best of all, he won the Super Bowl MVP award after going 24/39 for 304 yards and 3 touchdowns and no interceptions…against the top-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers defense.

This season, both players Rodgers missed last year (RB Ryan Grant and TE Jermichael Finley) are healthy and look very impressive thus far in training camp. Rodgers also gained the services of rookie WR Randall Cobb from Kentucky, who shows solid quickness and good hands.

Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate: Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints

Ingram gives you little opportunity to doubt him. He plays hard all the time, and his production matches his effort. He will be a goal line threat for the Saints, and should get plenty of opportunity to shine. 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns are certainly in reach for Ingram.

Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate: Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals.

We had him rated as the #1 prospect in the 2011 draft, and he will get many chances to prove himself worthy of that acclaim in the NFC West.

Here is how I think each team in the NFC will finish in 2011 (I looked at every game for every team, instead of guessing a certain record. In other words, a Week 1 win for the Packers corresponds to a Week 1 loss for the Saints):

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

  • 9-7 (4-2), 2nd place in NFC East
  • #15 toughest schedule
  • #6 seed in the NFC playoffs

New York Giants

  • 6-10 (3-3), 3rd place in NFC East
  • #22 toughest schedule

Philadelphia Eagles

  • 12-4 (5-1), 1st place in NFC East
  • #15 toughest schedule
  • #2 seed in NFC playoffs (1st round bye)

Washington Redskins

  • 4-12 (0-6), 4th place in NFC East
  • #29 toughest schedule

NFC North

Chicago Bears

  • 9-7 (2-4), 2nd place in NFC North
  • #18 toughest schedule

Detroit Lions

  • 7-9 (2-4), 4th place in NFC North
  • #4 toughest schedule

Green Bay Packers

  • 14-2 (6-0), 1st place in NFC North
  • #13 toughest schedule
  • 1st seed in NFC playoffs (1st round bye)
  • Returning 21 of 22 starters from last season’s Super-Bowl-winning team

Minnesota Vikings

  • 8-8 (2-4), 3rd place in NFC North
  • #12 toughest schedule

NFC South
Atlanta Falcons

  • 10-6 (4-2), 2nd place in NFC South
  • #20 toughest schedule
  • #5 seed in NFC playoffs

Carolina Panthers

  • 4-12 (2-4), 4th place in NFC South
  • #1 toughest schedule

New Orleans Saints

  • 11-5 (4-2), 1st place in NFC South
  • #14 toughest schedule
  • #3 seed in NFC playoffs

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • 9-7 (3-3), 3rd place in NFC South
  • #19 toughest schedule

NFC West

Arizona Cardinals

  • 9-7 (4-2), 1st place in NFC West
  • #32 toughest schedule
  • #4 seed in NFC playoffs

San Fransisco 49ers

  • 7-9 (4-2), 2nd place in NFC West
  • #30 toughest schedule

Seattle Seahawks

  • 5-11 (2-4), 4th place in NFC West
  • #24 toughest schedule

St. Louis Rams

  • 6-10 (2-4), 3rd place in NFC West
  • #26 toughest schedule

Must-See Games of the Year

#3) Philadelphia @ Atlanta, 9/18/11, 8:20 pm., NBC

  • The Eagles/Falcons game will be between two teams who could play each other for the NFC championship (that was the NFC title game on 1/23/05). Michael Vick’s first game in Atlanta since he left the Falcons. Even in Week 2, this game will mean a lot.

#2) New England @ Philadelphia, 11/27/11, 4:15, CBS

  • A re-match of Super Bowl XXXIV, this could be a Super Bowl XLVI preview. Both teams have high-powered offenses and young, physical defenses. Who will blink first?

#1) New Orleans @ Green Bay, 9/8/11, 8:30 p.m., NBC

  • This is the first game of the 2011 regular season. It pits the last two Super Bowl champions against each other. I believe this game will be a preview of this year’s NFC Championship game (also in Green Bay). Both teams have won and drafted very well recently, and have future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks leading them. The NFL is certainly not saving the best for last this season.

Stay tuned for Rob’s breakdown of the AFC teams on Monday morning.

What do you think? Let us know! Also, be sure to follow us on twitter: @FastFootball1.

Thanks for reading.

-Mike

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Filed under 2011 Pre-Season

Ravens recent roster moves

With one week to go before the Ravens take the field in Philadelphia, players, coaches and fans are anxiously awaiting that first snap.

What is usually something most players don’t care for (a pre-season game) is now something they need, in order to make up for lost time. Although most starters won’t play much, it will be good for everyone involved to get back into the routine of game day operations.

It will be especially beneficial for Joe Flacco, as he will look to test his rapport with his new backs and receivers.

With the departure of Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Willis McGahee comes the opportunity for receivers Torrey Smith & Tandon Doss and tight ends Ed Dickson & Dennis Pitta to compete for starting jobs. Running backs Anthony Allen and Damien Berry will also compete for playing time as the backup to Ray Rice.

Mason and Heap combined for 101 receptions, 1,401 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. McGahee scored six touchdowns on only 114 touches last season.

Although the players that are being counted on to replace those veterans are young, they are very talented. They may experience trouble due to the lack of preparation with teammates due to the lockout.

The signing of fullback Vonta’ Leach should work well for the Ravens. Leach brings an intensity that yields results.

Last season, Texans running back Arian Foster led the league in rushing (1,616 yards) by almost 300 yards more than the next player, behind the blocking of Leach. Signing Leach to a three-year deal worth $11 million shows the Ravens like what he brings and thinks he’s an upgrade over Le’Ron McClain (signed with Kansas City yesterday).

Defensively, the Ravens cut Kelly Gregg and saw defensive back Josh Wilson (Washington) and Dawan Landry (Jacksonville) sign elsewhere. With the drafting of defensive tackle Terrence Cody (2010) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (#1 pick, 2011), in addition to the signing of strong safety Bernard Pollard, the Ravens have gotten younger at each of those positions.

Pollard joins Leach, coming from Houston to Baltimore. In 2009, Pollard was tied for eighth in the league in tackles among defensive backs (102). He was tied for third in tackles among defensive backs in 2010 (108).

All in all, the Ravens drafted well, were patient in free agency and upgraded their roster.

The true test comes on September 11, when the regular season starts in Baltimore, against the Steelers.

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Filed under 2011 Pre-Season