Tag Archives: Tom Brady

Third Time Wasn’t the Charm

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Mike Tomlin drops to 2-1 in AFC Championships after losing to the Patriots 36-17 in the ’16 AFC title game.

Steeler Nation has seen this horror film before. It’s a now a trilogy. And each one ends the same. Disappointing and embarrassing.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots thwarted another Pittsburgh Steelers trip to the Super Bowl 36-17.

The 4-time Super Bowl Champion QB carved the Black and Yellow defense for a postseason career high and franchise record 384 yards with 3 touchdowns. Chris Hogan ran free in the Steelers secondary to score 2 touchdowns while setting a Patriots franchise postseason record 180 receiving yards on 9 receptions. Julian Edelman also got loose for 118 yards on 8 catches, one going for a touchdown. The 298 combined receiving yards is the most by a duo in conference championship history.

The Pittsburgh defense that led the way to victory in many games during the 10-game winning streak going back to week 11 was no match for Brady’s offense. Coming into the game New England averaged 386.2 total yards per game. They went for 431 in the AFC title game. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler went back to a game plan that he implored at the beginning of the season; Bend, but don’t break. Those type of calls get you burnt. All season I’ve said that an elite quarterback would slice and dice that plan. Sunday night was that night.

Critics of Mike Tomlin, ahem… Terry Bradshaw, will use this game as an example of him not being an elite or a great coach because the lack of adjustments made.

From my vantage point the only adjustment they could’ve made would’ve been to play ball control offense, and that option went out the window in the first quarter when Le’Veon Bell injured his groin after only 6 carries for 20 yards. Had Bell been available, and been able to do even half of what he did in the Wild Card and Divisional rounds, that could’ve done the trick. The Steelers were 9-0 this season when he ran for 90+ yards. That’s because he eats clock, while also wearing down defenses, but mostly because it would’ve kept Brady on the sideline. He was also missed in the passing game, as New England was able to double team Antonio Brown who had a quiet 7 catches for 77 yards.

Still, Bell doesn’t play defense and that’s where this team was exposed once again like they were during their mid-season 4-game losing streak from weeks 6 thru 10.

Offensively, Ben Roethlisberger came to play going 31 of 47 for 314 yards with a touchdown and interception. But not many others with him. At one point in the first half, he completed a career high 13 consecutive completions. This was his moment to get payback on #12 and “The hoody” for the loss he suffered as a rookie 12 seasons ago, and he looked poised to take advantage of it. With Brown double teamed, Eli Rodgers (7 catches for 66 yards) and Jesse James (5 catches for 48 yards) made plays to keep drives moving. But key drops by Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton sucked the life out of promising drives.

The key turning point was Pittsburgh’s last drive of the first half. The 19-yard touchdown catch by James that would’ve brought the score to 12-17 was reversed when replay showed he was down at the one yard line, was followed by three unsuccessful plays that yielded negative 4 yards before Chris Boswell came in on 4th down to make a 23-yard field goal to bring the score to 9-17.

Had they got the touchdown and headed into halftime 13-17 after the extra point or 14-17 if they went for a 2-point conversion, with them getting the ball first to start the second half it would’ve been a different game. Instead they went three-and-out on their first second half possession, then proceeded to give up 19 unanswered points, and it was pretty much a coronation for New England as they broke a tie with the Steelers for most AFC title championship in NFL history with 9.

I honestly didn’t expect this. I thought this was the one. The one win to wipe away the pain from losing in 2004 and 2001 at Heinz Field. This one will be tough to digest. The last 9 weeks gave Steelers fans a sense of hope the Lombardi number seven was within reach. Tonight showed this team is probably a year or two away. I’ll have more on that later this week, because my final takeaway from this season is, 2016 may have been the dawn of a new Steelers dynasty.

When you’re an organization playing for World titles it’s hard to accept a 13-6 finish. But when you look at where this team was in mid-October, if you told me this would be the final result, I would’ve taken it after I laughed at you.

Next up, the offseason.

EXTRA POINTS

  • Sunday was the 11-year anniversary of the Steelers 2005 AFC Championship victory over the Denver Broncos.
  • Ben Roethlisberger started his 20th career postseason game, passing Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount and Franco Harris for the franchise record by an individual player. He also passed Bradshaw for most 300+ yard passing games in franchise postseason history.
  • On his third carry of the night, Le’Veon Bell passed Franco Harris (343) for most rushing yards in a postseason. He now has 357 yards in his first three playoff games.
  • This was the first playoff game since 2006 with no penalties in the first half.
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Will the Third Time be the Charm for Pittsburgh?

Tomlin is 2-5 vs. Belichick in the regular season. The AFC title game will be their first playoff meeting.

Here we are again. For the third time, the Pittsburgh Steelers will play the New England Patriots for the right to go to the Super Bowl. This time, the New England Patriots have the number one seed and home field advantage. A scenario the Steelers were in the other two times they met with the AFC crown on the line.

Those other two times, New England has beaten Pittsburgh. Each loss ended a sensational season by the Steelers that appeared to be destined to bring home another Lombardi trophy. 2001, the second seeded Pats defeated the 13-3 and number one seeded Steelers 24-17 in Heinz Field. That was the game Tom Brady was knocked out and Drew Bledsoe had to be dusted off from the bullpen to rescue the Pats. New England would go on to win their first of four Super Bowls in the 2000’s.

2004, Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season. The Steelers were 15-1 and the number one seed again. In the regular season, Pittsburgh defeated New England 34-20 and ended their record 21-game winning streak. Steelers Nation thought they finally had Brady and Bill Belichick’s number. But in the playoffs, the second seed Pats thumped them 41-27. Roethlisberger threw three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown by safety Rodney Harrison.

It feels like they have their number. Four of the last five times these two teams have played, Pittsburgh has lost. It’s payback time.

These aren’t the same Steelers the Patriots defeated in week seven 27-16. Ben Roethlisberger didn’t play that game due to injury. James Harrison wasn’t starting and wasn’t heavily used in the linebacker rotation. Bud Dupree was still on the injury list. Those rookies in the secondary, Sean Davis and Artie Burns were still inexperienced. And Brady had Rob Gronkowski in the lineup. Number 87 won’t be there Sunday.

What does that mean? As I sit here on Monday afternoon and write this, not much. But the Steelers defense that allowed 362 total yards, 127 rushing and two touchdowns to LeGarrette Blount, and 93 receiving yards and a touchdown to “Gronk” on that late October afternoon, is very much improved.

In this 9-game winning streak dating back to week 11, the defense allows 87.6 rushing yards per game and 230.6 passing yards per game. They’re also plus 7 in turnover margin. The D is the only thing anyone worries about when it comes to Pittsburgh, and in the divisional round against Kansas City, they showed they can be counted on to do their part and even win a game.

Offensively everyone knows Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley have the weapons to put up points with Brady and crew. After the divisional matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs where they only mustered 5 field goals, and went 0-4 in the red zone, Pittsburgh has several questions to answer. Can Big Ben minimize his turnovers? Will he get rid of the ball instead of trying to extend plays, risking taking sacks that put the offense behind the chains? Will they learn from the stalled drives against the Chiefs and give the ball to Le’Veon Bell and let him wear out the defense while eating time off the clock, keeping Brady on the sidelines?

The Steelers will likely need to score the 27 points per game they’ve been averaging in their win streak to pull off the upset. The defense will need to come up with that one turnover, or that key sack on third down to get the ball back for the Killer B’s.

This is it. Brady is nearing the end of his career. This will likely be Roethlisberger’s last, and best shot to get a major win over the four-time Super Bowl Champ and prove he belongs in the top of the elite QB conversation that so many times he’s mentioned in as an after thought.

This is also Mike Tomlin’s moment to get his critics, like Terry Bradshaw and a significant portion of Steeler fans, off his back. Legacies are at stake on both sides. I can’t see a more better way of alleviating the pain and frustrations this organization has caused Steelers Nation than celebrating an AFC Championship in their building, the same way they’ve ended so many promising seasons of ours. Third times gotta be the charm.

Kickoff is set for Sunday at 6:40 pm in Gillette Stadium.

EXTRA POINTS

  • The last team to win a playoff game without scoring a touchdown was the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, also in the divisional round, against the Baltimore Ravens. The next week, they played and beat the New England Patriots in the AFC title game, then went on to win Super Bowl XLI.
  • New England is making their 6th consecutive AFC Championship game.
  • The Steelers are making their 16th AFC Championship game appearance. That’s the most since the 1970 NFL-AFL Merger.

 

 

The New England Patriots Mt. Rushmore

Since the 2001 season, the Patriots have become the model franchise, not just in the NFL, but in professional sports.

The Patriots franchise have been the model of consistency since turn of the 21st century.

Since the 2001 season, the Pats have won four Super Bowls (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX), six AFC Championships (2001, 2003,2004, 2007, 2011, 2014), thirteen division titles, a 16-0 regular season, and made the playoffs thirteen times. Since 2005 they’ve won 134 games, the most of any franchise in that time span.

Overall in their 56 year history, they’ve won eight conference titles, 18 division championships and made the playoffs twenty-three times.

Their owner, Robert Kraft, easily would be on the Mt. Rushmore of team owners. But due to my criteria (see below)for this exercise I left owners out. So here is the Patriots Mount Rushmore. There shouldn’t be many surprises.

CRITERIA:

  • No owners, unless they were also coaches, and their place on this list is based on their contributions as coach. No General Managers or Personnel executives. Just those who directly affected the games on Sunday. I will make a separate list for those contributors soon.
  • Key contributors to the team’s history and success, not just fan favorites or box office draws.
  • Can you tell the franchise’s story without them? If no, they’re on the list.

Tom Brady (2000-Present) has four Super Bowl victories (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLIX), three Super Bowl MVP trophies, two NFL MVP trophies, two-time NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2007,2010), an eleven-time Pro Bowler, two-time 1st-team All-Pro (2007, 2010), and twice a 2nd-team All-Pro (2005,2015). He is the Patriots career leader in passing yards (58,028), passing touchdowns (428), and has the most wins in NFL history as a quarterback with a single team (172). Brady holds, or shares, thirty-two NFL career records, another fifteen NFL playoff records, and seven Super Bowl records. He’s also a member of the NFL 2000’s All-Decade Team.

Bill Belichick (2000-Present) has won four Super Bowls with New England–he has two more as Defensive Coordinator under Bill Parcell’s with the New York Giants. The “Hoodie” has the most wins as a coach in team history with 187. Three times he’s been named AP NFL Coach of the Year (2003, 2007, 2010) and he’s a member of the NFL 2000’s All-Decade Team.

Ty Law (1995-2004) is the franchises career leader in interceptions with 36, six of which he returned for a team record six touchdowns. The two-time All-Pro cornerback (1998, 2003) is also third in team history with 539 tackles. The five-time Pro-Bowl selection (1998, 2001-2003, 2005) also was a member of three Patriot Super Bowl winning teams (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX) and their AFC Championship winning team in 1996. In 1998 and 2003 he was award the NFL Alumni Defensive Back of the Year award, and he led the NFL in interceptions in 1998 and 2005. Law is a member of the NFL’s 2000s All-Decade team, the Patriots All-1990s, All-2000s, 50th Anniversary teams and the Patriots Hall of Fame. 

Adam Vinatieri (1996-2005) kicked two Super Bowl game-winning kicks (XXXVI, XXXVIII) for the Patriots and another to win an AFC Championship. If you don’t think he belongs on this list, just ask New England’s rival, the Buffalo Bills, about the importance of a excellent kicker in crunch time. When he finished his career with New England, he had kicked 18 game-winning field goals with less than one minute remaining, including the postseason. He left Foxborough as the Patriots All-Time Leading scorer with 1158 points. With The Pats, the 1996 undrafted free agent, made two Pro Bowls (2002, 2004), two 1st-team All-Pro teams (2002,2004) and was named NFL Alumni Special Teams Player of the Year (2004). He’s also a member of the NFL 2000’s All-Decade Team.

There you have it, the Pats Mount Rushmore. Agree or disagree Patriot fans? If you disagree, who should be on this list, Willie McGinest? Teddy Bruschi? I want to hear from you.

 

Top Current NFL Players From Each B1G Program 

The NFL preseason is underway…. thank goodness right? After the initial rush has worn off that football is back, I immediately calm down realizing it is meaningless football. But once the disappointment subsides, I began to enjoy watching the guys fighting to make the roster. I also enjoy listening for what school they hail from.

While the B1G has been much maligned for its lack of success against the likes of the SEC and Pac-12—before last season’s College Football Playoff—you can’t deny that the conference has produced some of the best Sunday players.

Here are the best NFL players from each B1G program.

Illinois – Vonte Davis (CB) Indianapolis Colts. Davis is the younger brother of San Francisco 49ers tight end and Maryland Alum Vernon Davis. The younger has stepped out of his big brother’s shadow and made a name for himself. In six seasons, the lockdown corner has picked off 17 passes and defended 70. He also has 289 tackles (256 solo). Vonte made his first pro bowl in 2014.

Indiana – Tracy Porter (CB) Chicago Bears. Porter was a Super Bowl 44 hero for the New Orleans Saints with a huge pick six on Peyton Manning. In his 8 year career he’s picked off 10 passes and scored on three of them. He adds 4 forced fumbles, recovering two of them, and collected 287 tackles (230 solo).

He’s bounced around the past few seasons. In 2015 he joined the Bears, his fifth team in as many seasons.

Iowa – Chad Greenway (LB) Minnesota Vikings. The former first round pick has 992 tackles (679 solo), 15.5 sacks, 8 forced fumbles, 11 fumble recoveries and 9 interceptions in his nine season since leaving the Hawkeye program.
Greenway has made two Pro Bowls (2011,2012) and was a Second-Team All-Pro in 2012.

Davis was the 6th pick of the ’06 Draft by the 49ers out of Maryland.

Maryland – Vernon Davis (TE) San Francisco 49ers. The older Davis brother on this list has hauled in 423 passes for 5,446 yards and 55 touchdowns in his nine season in the Bay. He’s a two-time Pro Bowler (2009,2013) and Second-Team All-Pro (2012). In 2009, his 13 touchdown catches tied for the NFL lead.

Brady was a backup on a National Champion and in an QB battle while in Ann Arbor.

Michigan – Tom Brady (QB) New England Patriots. Brady probably isn’t in the discussion for greatest quarterback in Wolverines history, which is probably why he was a sixth round pick. But, that’s ancient history now.

Brady’s the most accomplished player on this list. He’s four Super Bowl titles are tied with Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw for most by a QB in NFL history.

He’s captured three Super Bowl MVPs, two NFL MVP, ten Pro Bowls, two-time First-Team All-Pro (2007,2010), Second-Team All-Pro (2005), and a selection on the NFL 2000s All-Decade team.

Coming into his sixteenth season, he has 53,258 passing yards, 392 touchdowns, with a passer rating of 95.9

Michigan State – Le’Veon Bell (RB) Pittsburgh Steelers. After only two seasons he’s already in the discussion of best running back in the NFL.

The dual threat made his first Pro Bowl and earned his first, First-Team All-Pro selection in 2014 as the key of the Steelers high-powered Killer B’s offense along with Big Ben and Antonio Brown. 2014 saw Bell also collect the AFC Offensive Player of the Year and the FedEx Ground Player of the Year. He finished 2014 second in rushing yards (1,361) and led all running backs in receiving yards (854).

Minnesota – Eric Decker (WR) New York Jets. Decker was a relatively unknown as a Denver Bronco until Peyton Manning showed up in the Mile High City. Before the “Sheriff”, Decker was known as the receiver who caught one of Tim Tebow’s two complete passes in a 17-10 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2011 season.

With Manning, Decker flourished and earned a five-year 36.25 million dollar contract with the Jets.
He has career totals of 296 catches, for 4,032 yards and 38 touchdowns in five seasons.

Nebraska – Ndamukong Suh (DT) Miami Dolphins. By far the most feared interior defensive player in pro football. Suh disrupts both the passing and running games of opposing offenses.

At Nebraska, Suh terrorized the Big 12 and never played in the B1G. The Huskers came into the conference in 2011.

In his five seasons in the NFL he has been selected to the Pro Bowl four times (2010, 2012-2014), a four-time First-team All-Pro (2010-2011, 2013-2014), once a Second-team All-Pro (2012), the 2010 AP NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and the 2010 NFL Alumni Defensive Lineman of the Year.

Entering his sixth season he has 239 tackles (180 solo), 36 sacks, 1 safety, 1 interception, 2 forced fumbles and 15 passes defended.

Linebacker LaVonte David of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is a Husker alum who definitely deserves some attention, but he’s hast reached the level yet to bump Suh as best current Nebraska alum in the League.

Northwestern – Let’s be honest, Northwestern is known more for their academics, specifically their journalism program, than their football program. But, they do have fifteen guys representing on Sundays. 8 of them rookies, 2 have only one season of experience
So it’s no surprise they don’t have a notable alum making a name for himself in the NFL.

Mike Kafka (QB) of the Minnesota Vikings is known as a career backup QB. He’s played in only 4 games in his career, throwing only 16 passes, completing 11 of them for 107 yards a two interceptions.

Ohio State – Nick Mangold (OL) New York Jets. Mangold has been a starter in the Big Apple since he entered the NFL in 2006. In his nine seasons, he’s started every game he’s played (141). The center of the O-line is a Six-time Pro Bowler (2008-2011, 2013-2014), two-time First-team All-Pro (2009,2010), one-time Second-team All-Pro (2011)

I could also make a case for Donte Whitner (DB) Cleveland Browns. One of the hardest hitting defensive players in the League, Whitner has 775 tackles (561 solo), 11 interceptions, 2 touchdowns and 10 forced fumbles.

Whiter has also made three Pro Bowls (2012,2013,2014), and was a member of the 2012 NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers.

Penn State – Tamba Hali (LB) Kansas City Chiefs. Hali is one of the most feared pass rushers in the NFL, much like the man’s who shadow he plays in with the Chiefs, the late Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.

In nine seasons he has 512 tackles (392 solo), 79.5 sacks, 30 forced fumbles and 7 recoveries. Hali has made five Pro Bowls (2010-2014) and been a two-time Second-Team All Pro (2011,2013).

Purdue – Drew Brees (QB) New Orleans Saints. After an up and down start to his 14 year career—which included a nearly career ending shoulder injury—Brees has turned himself into one of premier quarterbacks in the League and a future sure-fire Hall of Famer.

Brees was All-B1G as a Boilermaker, and despite NFL scouts doubts, has become an HOF’er in New Orleans.

Brees has turned the New Orleans franchise from the Ain’ts to Champions winning Super Bowl 44 and the game’s MVP.
He’s made the Pro Bowl nine times, a First-Team All-Pro (2006), three-time Second-Team All-Pro (2008, 2009, 2011), two-time AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year (2008, 2011), and twice named NFC MVP (2008,2009).

Going into his fifteenth season in 2015, Brees has eight NFL records, passed for 56,033 yards, 396 touchdowns with a 95.4 passer rating.

Rutgers – Devin McCourty (DB) New England Patriots. McCourty was a key member of the Patriots secondary that helped New England win its fourth Lombardi Trophy.

McCourty was overshadowed by Darrell Revis and Brandon Browner last season, but he’s had a steadily productive career before teaming up with them for 2014. He has 388 tackles (296 solo), 17 interceptions, and 8 forced fumbles in his five-year career. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2010, and been a Second-Team All-Pro twice (2010, 2013).

Wisconsin – Joe Thomas (OL) Cleveland Browns. Arguably the best offensive lineman in the NFL Today. Thomas has never missed a game in his eight seasons, and has also played in over 7,100 consecutive snaps. Thomas has been a model of consistency and stability in a franchise that has been anything but.

He has been named to the Pro Bowl eight times (2007-2014), a five time First-Team All-Pro (2009-2011, 2013-2014), and a two-time Second-Team All-Pro (2008,2012).

With all do respect to notable Badger Alums, two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt of the Texans and Super Bowl Champion Russell Wilson—who actually spent most of his collegiate career at NC State—of the Seahawks, Thomas has the most longevity and is the more accomplished Wisconsin alum, at this moment.

Don’t Just Blame Pete

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Carroll accepts full blame for Super Bowl XLIV Loss. Courtesy: Getty Images

“There’s really nobody to blame but me…” Those were the words from Seattle Seahawks Head Coach Pete Carroll after his team lost Super Bowl XLIX 28-24 to the New England Patriots.

Everyone is blaming Carroll for not calling running back Marshawn Lynch’s number on the 1 yard line with 20 seconds left in the game and allowing Russell Wilson to throw a pass that was intercepted by the Patriots’ Malcolm Butler to seal the win. It’s being called “the worse play call in NFL history.” But that play is only where they lost the opportunity to win, they lost when their vaunted, proud—some say arrogant—defense gave up a 10 point lead in the 4th quarter.

The final stanza began with the Seahawks up 24-14 and looking like they were ready to pin their ears back and tee off on Tom Brady. They had already picked him off twice and had his top targets Edelman and Gronkowski pretty much in check.

How quickly things changed. #12 was 13-15 for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 4th—He finished 37-50 for 328 yards and 4 TDs. That’s why he left University of Phoenix Stadium with his fourth Super Bowl win and third Super Bowl MVP Trophy.

The Legion of Boom, the number one ranked total defense in 2014, that only gave up an average of 15.9 points per game, gave up a 9 play 68 yard touchdown drive and a 10 play 64 yard touchdown drive to lose their lead. Before Sunday night, no team in Super Bowl history had ever comeback from a larger deficit in the 4th quarter. They deserve their share of the blame.

There are several other plays Seattle could’ve made to seal their second consecutive Super Bowl victory. What if Jermaine Kerse doesn’t drop the 3rd down deep pass in scoring position with 1:12 left in the third quarter that let the Patriots defense off the field? What if Earl Thomas doesn’t get an unnecessary roughness penalty that gave the Patriots 15 free yards at the end of a short catch and run by Shane Vereen that put them in scoring position? What if the Seahawks turned both Brady interceptions into points?

There’s blame to go all around. Pete Carroll and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevel deserve theirs for the final play call, quarterback Russell Wilson his for throwing the pass. But as cornerback Richard Sherman said on the podium Sunday Night “everybody understands it didn’t come down to one play, there was a number of plays throughout the game we could’ve made and extended our lead and guys understand that…” That’s why the Seahawks aren’t Back to Back Super Bowl Champions.

2013 NFL Storylines to Watch

By weeks end, all 32 NFL teams will be back on the field in pursuit of the Vince Lombardi Trophy. With the anticipation mounting and the regular season still seven weeks away, here are the top storylines to ponder as you wait for kickoff.

Is This The Beginning Of The Demise Of The New England Patriots?

Courtesy: NOLA.com

Tom Brady has lost two of his top three targets from last season. Aaron Hernandez is in jail awaiting trial after being indicted on murder charges, Wes Welker is now one of Brady’s rival’s (Peyton Manning) key threats with the Denver Broncos. Don’t forget his top target Rob Gronkowski is on the mend from a broken forearm that has been broken twice and back surgery. Lastly, the entire organization seems to be underfire again after Hernandez’s legal troubles, as well as cornerback Alfonzo Dennard’s DUI arrest.

So who are the Patriots? We will learn this season. This will likely be the most scrutinized and challenging season since Spygate and the 2008 season when Brady tore up his knee on the first play of the season. However, until another team defeats them for the AFC East title they’ll always be the favorite, but their reign may end soon with the moves the Miami Dolphins have made bringing in wideout Mike Wallace from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe from the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. Can the Pats use some Tebow magic? I can’t believe I just said that, I won’t go there.

Will RG III, Be RG III?

Courtesy: ESPN.com

Sophomore slump isn’t even the biggest concern for last season’s Rookie of The Year. Coming off a gruesome knee injury in the NFC Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks, where both his ACL and LCL needed surgery in the offseason, many are wondering if Robert Griffin will make an Adrian Peterson comeback or be like other mere mortals who have taken close to a full year to return to form.

The NFC West, The NFC’s Best?

Courtesy: devianART.com

There was a time recently when this division was known by many as the NFC worst. The San Francisco 49ers will begin their season with Quarterback Colin Kaepernick having his first full training camp as the starter. The reigning NFC Champions are all in for not only a return to the Super Bowl, but winning it all. Shortly after losing to the Baltimore Ravens, they traded for wide receiver Anquan Boldin from the reigning Champs. At the time it was seen as just a shrewed move for insurance purposes, but after the leading receiver Michael Crabtree blew his ACL in the offseason, the Boldin move is now even more important. If they have any shot of getting to Super Bowl 48 in New York, Boldin will have to be Kaepernick’s go to guy like he was for Joe Flacco.

The Seattle Seahawks are much improved as well, adding triple threat wide receiver Percy Harvin to their arsenal after making a trade with the Minnesota Vikings. Quarterback Russell Wilson will come into the season with a full training camp as the starter after battling and beating out Matt Flynn last season. Wilson is expected to be better and lead an offense that is more high powered than last season’s when they surprisingly made it to the Divisional Playoff round.

The St. Louis Rams went 4-1-1 in the division. This will be their second year under Head Coach Jeff Fisher and are expected to be improved on offense, especially with the addition of do it all weapon Tavon Austin. The Rams will need to find an answer at running back after losing Stephen Jackson to the Atlanta Falcons.

The Arizona Cardinals shouldn’t be totally inept at the Quarterback position after bringing in former Pro Bowler Carson Palmer from the Oakland Raiders. Palmer should be able to jump start an offense that let their defense down after getting off to a 4-0 start in 2012. If he can regain any of his old form he had with the Cincinnati Bengals, he should be able to help wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald revitalize the offense.

The winner of this division could very well be the NFC representative in Super Bowl 48.

What Defending Champions?

Courtesy: Sports Illustrated/CNN

The Baltimore Ravens lost 9 starters from their Super Bowl winning team including Iconic leaders Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, as well as Danell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger; that’s just on defense. As mentioned previously, they traded wide receiver Anquan Boldin to their Super Bowl 47 opponent. Can we really call them the defending champions?! The AFC North which is widely regarded as the best division in the NFL looks to be headed for a down year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost key Receiver Mike Wallace to the Miami Dolphins, former Defensive Player of The Year James Harrison now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals, also the Steelers top ranked Defense from a year ago is another year older which has been the knock on them for the past three seasons. Don’t be surprised if this division will have a throwback to the late 1980s and come down to the battle of Ohio for the title.

Will Matt Ryan And The Dirty Birds Fly North For The Winter?

Courtesy: Atlanta Journal Constitution.com

Matty Ice and the Atlanta Falcons were 30 minutes away from representing the NFC in Super Bowl 47 before they collapsed to the 49ers. The Falcons have talked Tony Gonzales into postponing his time on the Hall of Fame clock for enshrinement, to return for a 17th season and another shot at an elusive Super Bowl. Running back Stephen Jackson brings his 10,135 rushing yards from St. Louis to the ATL to help balance out one of the best aerial attacks in the NFL. After winning his first playoff game in 4 season, it all falls on Matt Ryan. Can he be like Joe Flacco and EARN his place on the list of NFL elite QBs?

Rookie Quarterbacks

There is no Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson in this class. There was only one QB taken in the 1st round of the 2013 NFL draft. After last season’s class rivaled the one of 2004 with Eli Manning, Phillip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger, not many are expecting much from this group of signal callers. However, there will be plenty of intrigue from the group. Will Geno Smith end the Mark Sanchez era with the New York Jets? Will Buffalo’s EJ Mannuel justify being selected 16th overall by the Buffalo Bills? Most had him pegged as a third rounder, second rounder at best. If the Philadelphia Eagles struggle early in Head Coach Chip Kelly’s first season, will he pull Michael Vick and look to the future in Matt Barkley out of USC? Barkley was said to be headed towards being a #1 pick whenever he decided to leave So Cal before an injury and unexpected down senior season.

Dallas Cowboys

When is America’s team not a storyline? Tony Romo got paid this offseason to the tune of 6 years $108 million, $55 million guaranteed. The expectation is now he’ll have more of role in the offensive game plan. Jerry Jones raised eyebrows when he said Romo will have “Peyton Manning like” responsibilities. Can Romo in his 10th season, finally get over the hump and restore glory to one of the most glamorous positions in all of sports?

Records Are Made To Be Broken

Courtesy: NY Daily News

Last season Minnesota Vikings Running back Adrian Peterson did the unthinkable for everyone but him and returned from a gruesome knee injury at the end of the 2011 season to fall 9 yards short of Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record in 2012. AP is on record as saying he wants to rush for 2,500 yards this season, which will shatter Dickerson’s record of 2,106.

Courtesy: ESPN.com

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin “Megatron” Johnson overcame the EA Sports Madden cover jinx to break Jerry Rice’s single season receiving yards record that stood since 1988. Megatron is already predicting he’ll be the first to receive over 2,000 yards in a single season.

Good luck to both of them. Every Defensive coordinator will have 8 in the box against the Vikings and triple coverage against the Lions planned all season. Either way, i’ll be watching to see if they can come through on their predictions.

Ice Bowl, I Mean Super Bowl 48.

Courtesy: Football.ballparks.com

Most people are looking forward to the Super Bowl not because of who will be playing in it, but because of the elements the game could be played under. The big game will be played outside in a cold weather city for the first time when the AFC and NFC champions take the field in MetLife Stadium on February 2, 2014. In 2013, the temperature in the New York, New Jersey area on was 19 degrees on the same day. Will 2014 bring the same? Will a successful game in Super Bowl 48 open doors for other cold weather cities with outdoor stadiums like Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Chicago or Philadelphia to get a Super Bowl in the future?

My Predictions

I reserve the right to change this after the preseason before the opening game of week one. I’m confident in these picks barring MAJOR injuries.

Regular Season Awards:

Most Valuable Player: Quarterback, Matt Ryan (ATL)

Rookie of The Year: Running back, Monte Ball (DEN)

Defensive Rookie of The Year: Linebacker, Jarvis Jones (PIT)

Defensive Player of The Year: Linebacker, DeMarcus Ware (DAL)

Coach of The Year: Pete Carroll (SEA)

Division Winners:

AFC East: Miami Dolphins

AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC South: Houston Texans

AFC West: Denver Broncos

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys

NFC North: Green Bay Packers

NFC South: Atlanta Falcons

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks

Conference Championship Games:

NFC: Atlanta Falcons Vs. Seattle Seahawks. Winner: Atlanta Falcons

AFC: Houston Texans Vs. Denver Broncos. Winner: Houston Texans

Super Bowl 48: Atlanta Falcons vs. Houston Texans; Champion: Atlanta Falcons

Getting Tony Gonzales to return and signing Stephen Jackson will keep the continuity of the most high powered offense in the NFL. This is what Matt Ryan needs in addition to getting the playoff monkey off his back to lead this team to its first Super Bowl title. 15 years after their first and only Super Bowl appearance, the Dirty Bird returns to dance at the 50 yard line in the New Meadowlands.