Salary Cap: When Do You Say When??

Let’s see if we have this right…. All Pro Tight End Jimmy Graham is up for free agency and if he’s franchised, he wants the money of a wideout, not that of the position he plays. Where does that logic come from?? Welcome to the lunacy that can be NFL free agency. For a team that has just $5.1 million of cap space, are the New Orleans Saints about to overpay for Jimmy Graham??

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Graham looks to hold the Saints hostage with free agency looming.

Now that the Saints are coming off their first season with Rob Ryan as Defensive Coordinator, they made it to 4th in total defense and 14th against the run. Yet the Saints let go of longtime defensive leader Jonathan Vilma and dangle starters Will Smith, CB Jabari Greer, and both Safeties Roman Harper, and Malcolm Jenkins for other teams to sign.

All this for a Tight End that disappeared in 2 games against Seattle last year?? He had a combined 5 catches for 49 yards. The Panthers and 49ers had success against Graham also. The Saints will have to rebuild their defense instead of gaining strength from the continuity they established last year.

That’s too much money for a player that can be taken out of the game by a stout defense.

Sure he caught 86 passes for 1,215 yards and 16TDs but now they won’t have money to field a legitimate defense. At the top of the conference sit the best defenses since the early 2000’s. So how is a Tight End worth $40 million, who is taken out of the game by tough defenses going to improve the Saints??

Stay tuned…

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NFL Wild Card Week: New Orleans Saints v Philadelphia Eagles

Now as we move on to game two of the National Football League’s playoffs, where the New Orleans Saints travel outside to The City of Brotherly Love. The first thing that jumps out at you is how poorly they have played on the road this year (3-5) and how they haven’t won a road playoff game in their history. Every pundit is talking about the battle between Drew Brees and Nick Foles.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

Nick Foles can come of age with a win against the Saints.

The bigger issue is the Eagles field the NFL rushing champion in LeSean McCoy while Pierre Thomas is out for the Saints. Brees and the offense needs some balance in this game. They have passed the football 68% of the time on offense. That doesn’t win road games and especially doesn’t win playoff games. If Mark Ingram can step up the Saints have a chance to win this game.

However Sean Payton won’t want to stay with the running game long enough to keep the Eagle offense out of rhythm. Drew Brees will have to carry the load as he throws 50 times on a windy night. Now would be a good time for the defense to force Foles and McCoy into a few turnovers to steal momentum from the Eagles.

Problem is Nick Foles has played as well any quarterback in the NFL this season. All the Eagles have to do is stay balanced and they should win this game. Mark Ingram will have the chance to leave his imprint on this game, however he will have to show some toughness as he takes hits going into the second half. Especially in the cold. The Eagles defense should make him turn it over late and secure a solid win 30-17.

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Protecting The Quarterback: A Knee Jerk Reaction

Remember when Jack Lambert was quoted “Quarterbacks should wear skirts.” back in 1975?? Well with another rule change or two they may actually be doing that. What happened yesterday was a complete travesty that could wind up derailing the season for the San Franciso 49ers.

Drew Brees is about to be sacked by Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers.

Drew Brees is about to be sacked by Ahmad Brooks of the 49ers.

Toward the end of yesterday’s game between the Niners battle with the New Orleans Saints, the game had boiled down to a critical third down. San Francisco had played a brilliant game on the road and were about to put on the finishing touches on what would have been a 20-17 win. Up until the moment of the hit, the Niners had held Drew Brees to just 200 yards passing the entire game.

It was 3rd and 2 from the San Francisco 35. Brees takes a Pistol snap and takes the equivalent of a seven step drop when Ahmad Brooks levels him. The ball comes out and Patrick Willis recovered back at the 48 with 3:17 to go. The first substantial drive of the fourth quarter by the Saints had been squashed and the Niners could run out the clock in a quiet Superdome….right?? Well there was a flag on the prescription turf.

Brooks was flagged for hitting Brees in the head.  Replay clearly showed that he hit him across the chest causing a fumble.

Brooks was flagged for hitting Brees in the head. Replay clearly showed that he hit him across the chest causing a fumble.

Unecessary roughness was called on Brooks indicating he had hit Brees in the head. During the call we heard the ref describe “attacking the neck of the quarterback”. The Saints retained possession and thanks to the 15 yard penalty were in position to tie the game with a field goal, changing the momentum.

The turn of events led to the Saints, thanks to the penalty were in field goal range to tie the game. Then the subsequent change of momentum stymied San Francisco’s last drive and  New Orleans last second kick to win it 23-20. A travesty had occurred with the Niners losing that game. You didn’t go away feeling the best team won, you felt something else. The Niners hadn’t been cheated like that since the 1983 NFC Championship Game.

The over-protection of quarterbacks is at an all time high and it’s ruining the game of football. On the play in question Ahmad Brooks came storming around the strong side and hit Drew Brees high but with his arm and shoulder across the chest. Because Brees wasn’t ready for it and didn’t brace himself causing a whiplash effect doesn’t make it a penalty. Brooks didn’t hit him in the head nor did he use his in making the tackle. Now thanks to a terrible call, the defending NFC Champions may not make the playoffs with a 6-4 record. They now have 3 conference losses and tie breaker advantages to several teams.

If this is a roughing the passer penalty, I'm from Mars.

If this is a roughing the passer penalty, I’m from Mars.

Quarterbacks are playing the game of football too. Personally, I like seeing quarterbacks knocked about, it’s one of the reasons you’re reading the Taylor BLITZ Times and not the Taylor Long Pass Times. We here understand the necessary measures but this is getting ridiculous. Thanks to the knee injury suffered by Tom Brady in week 1 of 2008, a falling lineman can’t do so into the legs of a quarterback. The league always had a rule where if the defender was reaching to knock down a pass and hit the helmet, it’s a penalty. Now the referee is worried that Brooks hit Brees in the neck when replay showed clearly he didn’t. Never knew a quarterback’s neck was off limits. By the time we put in quarterback hook slides and such….Jack Lambert was 100% right. Not only should they wear skirts, they should take off their shoulder pads and helmets also.

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Top Ten Quarterbacks Going Into 2013

NFL_Logo_NewWhen you’re outlining the play of NFL quarterback, you have to assess how the player will do going into the given season based upon performance and relative age. Will the quarterback break down during the season if he’s older?? What will be his prospects based upon the receiving talent coming into the new year.

The Chancellor of Football bases his analysis on a multitude of things. How does the quarterback fare statistically and is he still in his prime?? With Robert Griffin III just coming back from serious knee surgery, we left him off of this list. Everyone has their opinions and without further adieu here is ours.

Honorable Mention. Matt Schaub – Houston Texans: This has been a model quarterback in the regular season over the last 5 seasons, 3 of which he threw for more than 4,000 yards. His listing here is he has yet to gain a signature win in the playoffs. At 31 years of age we may have seen the best of Schaub who’s prime is passing with each day. This season is going to make or break his career in Houston where it’s Super Bowl or bust with an aging team.

Colin's 181 yard rushing performance was a transcendent performance.

Colin’s 181 yard rushing performance was a transcendent performance.

10. Colin Kaepernick -San Francisco 49ers: Now the knock on him is he hasn’t played a complete season as a starting quarterback. It doesn’t matter, you can’t underscore the performance he had in last year’s playoff run. The Pistol formation and the read option is a part of the NFL as it evolves into a space game.

Clogged lines of scrimmage is a thing of the past outside of obvious goal line and 3rd or 4th and shorts. Kaepernick proved last year he developed touch on his intermediate passing game and learned to exploit Vernon Davis during the playoff run. This year will be a set back season with the loss of Michael Crabtree. Could pass for 3,000 and run for 1,000 with a healthy season. You can’t coach speed…he breaks containment…good bye.

9. Joe Flacco – Baltimore Ravens: When you come through a post season with 1,140 yards 11 touchdowns and no interceptions, it’s hard not to anoint a quarterback among the league’s elite. Not so fast. He only completed 59% of his passes in the regular season which is what he had as a percentage in the playoffs. His security blanket in Anquan Boldin is running routes 2,000 miles to the west. This will have an affect on Flacco coming into 2013.

Think back to every tight situation the Ravens were in, who did Flacco turn to? He turned to Boldin where he hadn’t in years past. See pass to Lee Evans at the end of 2011 AFC Championship Game. Think back to last year’s Super Bowl when the 49ers made it to 31-29. Flacco had a key third down where he needed to keep the Niner’s offense off the field: Who did he go to even with tight coverage?? Boldin. He fought for the ball and a key first down. According to ESPN, he completed 62% of his passe attempt to Boldin and only 48% of his passes to every other Raven.

It took him nearly 5 years to develop a trust for Boldin in key situations. So where do we go from here?? He does have Jacoby Jones and Torrey Smith to throw to but how bad will he miss Boldin. Today Jones fails the conditioning contest as the Ravens reported to training camp. Does he turn back into the dink and dunk quarterback throwing outlet passes to Ray Rice or keep throwing down-field?? This will be a season of growing pains early on for him and why he’s 8th on this list.

Mannung delivered in year one as the Broncos finished 13-3 in 2012.

Mannung delivered in year one as the Broncos finished 13-3 in 2012.

8. Peyton Manning -Denver Broncos: In the twilight of his career, he had one of his greatest statistical seasons in 2012. However a closer look at his play down the stretch and against teams in particular, lowered his ranking. His season mirrored that of the Broncos overall, they feasted on a lot of patsies to pad their stats. In the last five weeks of the season, he faced the Chiefs twice, Oakland, Baltimore, and Cleveland or the teams that were 12th (twice), 32nd, 20th, 17th, and 25th against the pass. Not a strong group as the team went 5-0 down the stretch. The only reason the 2-14 Chiefs pass defense wasn’t rated lower (12th), they were a team that had given up at that point of the season, were behind and opponents weren’t passing.

Yet if you look at his play against the five playoff teams faced, two of his worst outings were in this pack. He threw 3 interceptions losing in Atlanta, and 2 more in a 31-23 win against Cincinnati. Still he’s a Super Bowl caliber quarterback in the early part of the season and the AFC West will be better prepared for Manning 2.0. His arm may give out late on him again and he’s had some issues with his neck and arm this off-season. He’s never been that good in cold games and if the Broncos did make it to this year’s Super Bowl, good luck with the weather in New Jersey.

7. Matt Ryan-Atlanta Falcons: ‘Matty Ice” has grown every single year in the NFL and is this season’s version of Joe Flacco. He finally won his first playoff game and has had numerous 4th quarter drives as well. He had to lift his Falcons with a playoff comeback against the Seahawks in the final stanza as well. Last year he completed a whopping 68.6% of his passes for 32 touchdowns. One problem he has is he disappears in the middle of games which necessitates the need to come from behind. If he can make it to Super Bowl XLVIII, this list definitely gets revamped.

Center Max Unger was an All Pro and protected Russell Wilson like The Hope Diamond.

Center Max Unger was an All Pro and protected Russell Wilson like The Hope Diamond.

6. Russell Wilson- Seattle Seahawks: One of the biggest beneficiaries to RGIII when it comes to this list is Wilson. After all his team did beat Washington in the playoffs and took a late 28-27 lead against the Falcons in the divisional round, and appeared headed to the NFC Championship Game as well. However folks that want to talk about Andrew Luck and RG III, forgot that it was Wilson who had the best rookie QB season in NFL history. Not only did he tie Peyton Manning’s 1998 record of 26 TDs thrown, he only had 10 interceptions as compared to the 28 Manning threw. All this while throwing for 3,118 yards and rushing for 489 yards and another 4TDs. He also has Percy Harvin to run after the catch for him at least 65-70 times coming up. He could be Super Bowl bound this year also.

5. Ben Roethlisberger -Pittsburgh Steelers: The quarterback that is always left out of the conversation when you talk about the NFL’s best signal callers. One might look at this list and say Big Ben was only 7-6 as a starter last year. Yet those same pundits forget that the Steelers put in a new offense, one he didn’t favor. Yet in that crucible he still completed 63% of his passes for 26 TDs and only 8 interceptions. Uh…excuse me those TD and interception numbers were the second best of his 9 year career. What do you think he’ll do as an encore now that he has a running game with the arrival of LeVeon Bell??

Brady will be pointing out more than protections and who is the "Mike" linebacker in 2013.

Brady will be pointing out more than protections and who is the “Mike” linebacker in 2013.

4. Tom Brady -New England Patriots: It’s hard to believe but Brady could have and should have fallen farther on this list. No time in NFL history has a high ranking offense (#1) returned with 91% of their starters gone. We’re in uncharted waters here. However the Patriots drafted him two dynamite receivers in Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce. Yet it remains to be seen how they’ll develop. The same can be said of the prospects of Gronkowski returning from multiple surgeries. Will Danny Amendola live up to the $31 million contract as well?? Odds are 2 of the 4 will come through but that would mean a drop from an offense that has scored over 500 points in 3 straight years.

Could you imagine The Greatest Show on Turf going into a new season and Kurt Warner didn’t have Isaac Bruce, Tory Holt, Az Zahir Hakim, and Marshall Faulk?? That is the only equivalent to what Brady faces going into the 2013 season. Why?? This was the only other team that scored 500 points in 3 successive seasons. Brady has played well with other receivers but remember last year the offense went back to Wes Welker once the tight ends were in the infirmary. Welker is in Denver now…so we shall see.

3. Drew Brees- New Orleans Saints: The Saints are coming off a year where Brees had to overcome Head Coach Sean Payton enduring a season long suspension. Now he gets his confidante back yet loses his Pro Bowl LT Jermon Bushrod in free agency to the Chicago Bears. They did retain WR Marques Colston but they found themselves over the cap and couldn’t help their $100 million quarterback out much.

The Saints face what all Super Bowl champions wind up facing. You try so hard to field the team that won the Super Bowl in ensuing years, that you forget to make adjustments to all the moves opponents are making to knock you off. So while they kept WR Marques Colston, in comes CB Darrelle Revis and S Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay.

This illustrates how Brees will stay down a notch in 2013 like he did last year. He threw for 19 interceptions as he tried to rally the Saints from deficits his defense gave away. With 5,177 yards and 43 touchdowns this should be the #1 quarterback. With the flux on the line, better defenses within the division, and porous defense, he’s going to throw more interceptions than he should and keep him 3rd on this list.

If Rodgers continues at this pace, his career statistics could be staggering.

If Rodgers continues at this pace, his career statistics could be staggering.

2. Aaron Rodgers -Green Bay Packers: You’re looking at the game’s statistical anomaly in Rodgers. Do you realize he’s only thrown 14 interceptions vs 84 touchdowns over the last two years?? Only Drew Brees has stayed on such an extended run of excellence. Last year Rodgers completed an astonishing 67.2% of his passes for 4,295 yards. So why just a number two ranking??

The first is Rodgers is a tremendous quarterback as long as the Green Bay Packers have a lead. When others get in front he doesn’t bring them from behind. The same can be said if a defense knocks he and the Packers offense off of their timing early, they stay a bit off pace the rest of the game. Take a look at their losses to the San Francisco 49ers to bookend the season. In week one, the Niners jumped on top 16-7 in Lambeau before halftime. It took until 6:00 to go in the game before the Packers saw the endzone in a 30-22 loss. In the playoff loss they fell behind 24-21 and couldn’t muster a touchdown for nearly the entire second half. By then the 49ers were on cruise control 45-24.

Sure it can be harsh using a comparison for Rodgers against the eventual NFC Champion 49ers, but Russell Wilson clobbered them 42-13 on Sunday Night Football. Eli Manning danced over them 26- 3 in Candlestick. You want to believe you are the best you need to prove you can beat the best and Rodgers’s Packers fell short of that in 2012.

Last year Rodgers and the Packers lost 5 times, each to a  team that made the playoffs, while going 1-2 against quarterbacks on this list. The lone win?? A 28-27 win over Brees and New Orleans. Now Donald Driver retires and Rodgers favorite target of the last four years, Greg Jennings, signs with the hated Vikings. There is some speculation the team may move Jermichael Finley as well. This will be a new year for him now with a few rookie linemen protecting him also. He’s number one on a lot of lists….just not at the Taylor Blitz Times for all we just pointed out to you.

Eli Manning's late game heroics make him the best in the NFL today.

Eli Manning’s late game heroics make him the best in the NFL today.

1.Eli Manning-New York Giants: Our CEO lobbied loudly for Eli to be the number one quarterback on this list. Yet like we offered up front, this isn’t a lifetime achievement award but we are talking about a two time Super Bowl MVP. What separates Eli from his contemporaries is how he’s at his best against the highest level of competition, and his performance at the end of games. So you forgot that Eli and the Giants routed future NFC Champion San Francisco 26-3, routed Drew Brees and his Saints 52-27, and head slapped the Packers 38-10 last year. That’s #2 and 3 on this list he beat head to head in 2012.

Last year’s Pro Bowl status was actually cemented in week 2, when he threw for 245 yards in the fourth quarter to bring the Giants back to win 41-34. He finished with 510 yards passing & came within 44 yards of Norm Van Brocklin’s 62 year old record of 554. One of the NFL’s oldest records.  The Giants scored 25 4th quarter points. Yikes!

In that game, the nerves of steel he flashed on two Super Bowl winning drives before, was on full display and has won over some critics. Five weeks later, Eli was behind late in his first high profile game against RGIII’s Redskins, and he struck again. Down 23-20 with 1:27 left, the Giants were pinned to their own 20 yard line. Where other quarterbacks are conservative with their throws trying to get into field goal range, Manning struck a thunderous blow by going 77 yards for the winning touchdown with a bomb to Victor Cruz. Ballgame!! He caught the safety cheating up and applied a sword to the heart. The New York Football Giants are never out of a game with Manning at the helm. They came from behind 3 times last year.

Others don’t realize how durable he is. He hasn’t missed a game in 8 years and now he has been to the last two Pro Bowls. His best receiver Victor Cruz just signed a $46 million contract keeping him in New York along with WR Hakeem Nicks. He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback in his prime and he will win a 3rd Super Bowl for the Giants within the next 3 years. Possibly this year in his own stadium. Do you realize he’s the only quarterback in the top 5 of this list who returns with his top receivers intact?? What will this list look like next year??

So that’s it… Our 2013 list…

Epilogue: Ron Jaworski picks Eli 8th in his selection going into 2013. Absolutely the dumbest analysis I have heard in nearly a decade. Just a year removed from his second Super Bowl ring I offered this in the Giants 2012 team preview — “Get used to it Giant fans, Manning is like a great “B” student. He will stumble on some assignments but he’s a great test taker and comes through in the end. Do you realize Manning is now 7-1 in postseason games away from the Meadowlands? He now has postseason wins over an 18-0 Patriot team in Super Bowl XLII, and an upset over a 15-1 Packers team in last year’s playoff.  He is the only quarterback in NFL history to defeat 5 postseason foes with records of 13-3 or better.  No one even comes close to that.”

Since he’s not the sexiest player in some sportswriters eyes, no one is talking about the fact he could possibly become the first quarterback in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl in his own home stadium. This isn’t the Cowboys and Tony Romo hoping against common sense two seasons ago when the big game was in Dallas. We’re talking about a two time Super Bowl MVP who could tie Joe Montana if he gets there and captures that award again. Recognize greatness when you see it…and don’t give him the ball for a final drive within striking distance either.

Next: Top ten running backs going into the 2013 season

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Huge Quarterback Salaries: Feast or Famine

nfl-logoWhen the final gun went off at the end of Super Bowl XLVII, the first item up for business for the Baltimore Ravens was to work out the long term deal for Joe Flacco. General Manager Ozzie Newsome inked his quarterback to a lucrative 6 year $120.6 million deal. With that in mind, the Green Bay Packers are on the verge of an even bigger contract for Aaron . Which brings up the question: Are these huge quarterback salaries worth it?? Have they translated into Super Bowl wins??

When we’re talking about these over the top contracts we’re not talking about the contract where a back-up or a player is trying to resurrect their career like Drew Brees was in 2005. We’re talking about the $80 – 100 million plus contract extensions to lock up a quarterback long-term. Every GM beams with the quarterback in the photo-op, but are they crippling their own franchises??

Peyton Manning was an icon in Indy.

Peyton Manning was an icon in Indy.

The one that comes to mind first is Peyton Manning. He came into the league in 1998. By the end of 2003 he played out his rookie contract and was given the franchise tag in 2004. He then went on to sign a 7 year $98 million contract that made him the highest paid player in 2005 with a cap cost of $17.766 million for 2006. The fall-out?? Say good-bye to franchise all time leading rusher Edgerrin James via free agency that very same year. However the Colts did make it to Super Bowl XLI later that season but one of the issues had been with so much money tied to the offense, they couldn’t sign any key defensive free agents to get to a championship sooner. They weren’t the same type of team when they took on the New Orleans Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. Gone was a superstar in wideout Marvin Harrison, replaced by lessor talents in Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. It’s a miracle they made it to that title game.

When you look at the other fall-out they lost several defensive starters in that same 2004 year in Cornerback David Macklin, Cornerback Walt Harris, and Linebacker Marcus Washington. Fortunately they had Cato June and S Bob Sanders who were already on the roster to replace them. However June, the leading tackler on the championship ’06 team, signed a free agent deal with Tampa before 2007 and Sanders career was derailed by injuries.

Yet with another contract looming he was franchised again in 2011. Had a deal not been reached he would have counted $23 million against the cap that year. But a deal was reached on a new 5 year deal worth $90 million that back-loaded money so he only counted $18 million against the cap. Having learned from previous years Manning cited he wanted the Colts to be able to retain other players. By 2010 they were an average team. They were 10-6 only because of his brilliant play. It wasn’t the 20th ranked defense that had given up 388 points (81 more than the AFC Champion ’09 squad). It wasn’t leading rusher Donald Brown (who?) that ran for 497 yards and 2 touchdowns. So when his neck injury hit, the entire house of cards collapsed as they went 2-14 and had to purge the team including Manning.

Brady is a 3 time Super Bowl champion.

Brady is a 3 time Super Bowl champion.

Of course you can’t mention Manning without bringing up Tom Brady. In 2008 the Patriots were coming off their 18-1 season where they had lost Super Bowl XLII. They had signed budget priced free agents in Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Donte Stallworth the year before and became a juggernaut. His contract has been extended multiple times to offer cap space yet he’s still counting nearly $13.8 million against the cap this year where originally he was going to count $16-18 million before. Notice the Patriots have signed only middle of the road free agents over the last few years. So it was surprising they signed WR Danny Amendola to a $31 million deal.

However a closer look at it and you noticed they haven’t had any other high-priced free agents come in and help him get that fourth Super Bowl win. Even receivers Chad Ochocinco and Brandon Lloyd were marginal free agents at best. The defense has totally been purged and Bill Belichick has a young defense that has had some growing pains. They did make it to Super Bowl XLVI but lost to the Giants and Eli Manning for a second time. They don’t have the cap space to sign quality free agents yet remain close but no championships.

In 2010 he signed a four-year extension worth $72 million to relieve cap space then in February of this year re-worked it to a 3 year $27 million extension. He thought the latest move would keep Welker in town. When it didn’t he was upset about it. Yet it was the back and forth between he and Peyton Manning who would be the highest paid players have crippled their teams in other areas. The real reason they didn’t win it in 2007 and 2010 were pedestrian defenses. They were the Achille’s Heel that showed up in the waning minutes of  Super Bowl XLII when Eli Manning started his drive.  Let’s face facts , in 2011 when they lost Super Bowl XLVI they were 31st in the NFL in overall defense. Gone were Richard Seymour and Asante Samuel who had made plays for them. In 2007 they were at least 4th in defense but weren’t pressed in games since they were ahead by so many points.

Romo is the newest member of the $100 milion club.

Romo is the newest member of the $100 milion club.

Now wait…wait this just in *Walter Cronkite voice* “The flash making it official, Jerry Jones has just signed quarterback Tony Romo to a 6 year deal worth $108 million.” They get some immediate cap relief but who else have they signed with any merit?? Exactly. Now don’t forget we’re a week or two removed where Aaron Rodgers will not discount double check a contract worth $120 million. The sticking point will be how much is guaranteed?? $60-65 million??

You’ll note before last season the New Orleans Saints signed Drew Brees to a 5 year $100 million contract. Yet who have they signed to shore up that porous defense that ranked dead last allowing 440 yards per game and gave up 454 points for the season?? They’re supposed to be competitive in a division that has Tampa improving and Atlanta fresh from a birth in the NFC Championship?? The Chancellor doesn’t think so.

Yet you look around, Manning’s Broncos and Brady’s Patriots seem like the only teams that are favored to be contenders. Over in the NFC it’s the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, and the Atlanta Falcons who are the favorites. The Giants and Eli Manning’s $90 million contract and the aforementioned Aaron Rodgers and the Packers seem to be on a tier below. In fact it was Colin Kaepernick (4 yrs / $5.2 million) and money spent on a better team that ousted Green Bay 45-31 in last year’s divisional round. Now that they’re going to sign Rodgers to his mega deal, they can only keep Clay Matthews yet Charles Woodson and receiver Greg Jennings are now gone.

The league will come to realize this yet it’s hard to see teams not overpay for the best at their positions. The Tony Romo signing is baffing since he has only 1 playoff win in 7 years. Yet when he faced the Redskins and Robert Griffin III (4yrs /$21 million) for the NFC East Title he came up short as he has in big games since ’07. $108 million for a perennial 8-8 quarterback??

What we’re seeing here is a changing of the guard. You have the teams with all their money tied into elite quarterbacks facing young counterparts with smaller contracts on more complete teams. We hadn’t even brought up Andrew Luck and the Colts yet either. Joe Flacco signs his huge deal and watches all his teammates walk out the door as Peyton Manning once did. Each team has to do what is right for them but these contracts are crippling the rest of the roster. The only big money quarterback to win a Super Bowl was Eli Manning and even his Giants have not been in that top-tier of contenders. The NFL is catching on and in another 2-3 more years of watching this, you’ll know who the teams that will be the contenders. Find the team with the young quarterback with money spent on defense. The Atlanta Falcons and Matt Ryan are at that tipping point.

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NFL Week 8: NFC South- Shipyards

Doug Martin exploded onto the NFL scene last Thursday night.

When viewing the vessels of a shipyard, we see units that are being built initially or those that are retooling for an endeavor that requires additional equipment. In some instances like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the ability to navigate choppy waters has become easier with the addition of a new outboard engine in the form of rookie RB Doug Martin. Up until last week’s game against Minnesota, the offense was rudderless depending on a passing game that moved the ball in fits and starts. Bouyed by Doug Martin’ dynamic performance (135 yd rushing / 79 yds rec.) their offense rolled throughout in a dominating 36-17 performance. http://www.nfl.com/voting/players-air-and-ground/2012/REG/8?module=HP11_content_stream_voting_fedex#playerId:0ap2000000085516

In their last two games, Martin has gained 336 yards of total offense and scored 3 touchdowns. Something was discovered 3 weeks ago during the team’s bye week. Head Coach Greg Schiano must have been hit in the head and mistaken his young running back for Ray Rice, whom he coached in college. In that time he has turned to his rookie runner more and the team has averaged 34 points per game ever since as compared to 20.5 over the first four weeks. Undoubtedly the game is slowing for Martin who has adjusted to the speed of the NFL. With back to back games coming against the struggling Raiders and Chargers, who just lost to Cleveland (seriously?), this team could be 5-4 and winners of 3 out of 4 before they take on Carolina and Atlanta in pivotal divisional match-ups. If any of you have been following the feud between the Bucs and Atlanta, you will not want to miss that game.

Before we go there, lets take a look at the standings:

South Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Atlanta Falcons Falcons 7 0 0 1.000 201 130 3-0 4-0 1-0 3-0 W7 5-0
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Buccaneers 3 4 0 .429 184 153 2-2 1-2 1-1 2-4 W1 2-3
New Orleans Saints Saints 2 5 0 .286 190 216 1-2 1-3 1-1 1-3 L1 2-3
Carolina Panthers Panthers 1 6 0 .143 128 167 1-3 0-3 1-2 1-6 L5 0-5

Leaving the shipyard and headed for uncharted waters sail the Atlanta Falcons. What has been interesting over the last two months is how few want to recognize them as the best team in the NFC or the NFL for that matter. The key to becoming a champion in the NFL is winning the close games. Especially those against lesser teams who are hard to get up for, or in last week’s match-up with the Philadelphia Eagles, a wounded dangerous team desperate for a win. Over the last few years, games of the latter category gave the Falcons problems. This time they came out with purpose and were up on the Eagles 24-7 before Andy Reid’s team knew what hit them.

Michael Turner helped the Falcons control the tempo of the game with 24 carries.

Even more remarkable was the fact in 13 seasons, Reid’s team were 13-0 coming off of bye weeks. Although the Falcons have a 3 game lead in the division, they took this road game very serious and set the tone from the outset. Philadelphia’s big name secondary was lit up by Julio Jones who had 5 receptions for 123 yards and scored from 63 yards out. Matt Ryan was 22 for 29 for 263 yards and 3TDs and is having an MVP type season. Do you realize Matt Ryan had a career high 29 touchdown passes last year yet is on pace for 39 this season??

This was a big road win that showed how this team and coaching staff is maturing. Pundits and fans have scoffed at their early playoff exits of the last few years but this team is playing with a gritty resolve not seen in previous seasons. Last week’s game against the Eagles was the type of game the Falcons would inexplicably not show up. Exhibit A: Last year during the second half they could solidify themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, yet lost a game to the Houston Texans and were swept by the New Orleans Saints in a five week stretch. Those could have been confidence building wins yet left the team doubting itself. That doubt showed in the 24-2 ouster in the playoffs by the world champion Giants.

However this year we have Exhibit B: They held off Peyton Manning and the Broncos in a Monday night thriller 27-21. They knocked back a Washington Redskin team which is a mirror image of who they once were 24-17 and now this win. These wins against quality teams are those that have you believing in yourselves by season’s end. Especially when you can step on a team that desperately needs a win and you perform that feat on the road. Naysayers will conclude they haven’t played other top-tier teams but that isn’t the Falcons issue. Just keep winning games and building confidence for the playoffs. Food for thought?? Once upon a time, there was a Miami Dolphin team that went 14-0 in the regular season and won the Super Bowl. They only beat 3 teams that year with a winning record…so don’t listen to the idiot pundits who miss this.

Now we have to talk about Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Looking at their record the quarterback is the first to get the blame when truth be told, Newton has given the team four 4th quarter leads this season. The fact their defense keeps letting the team down is what everyone is missing. Nevermind the frustrated press conferences of Cam Newton. Head Coach Ron Rivera may be sunk if his team gives up any more 4th quarter leads. It may be in the Panthers best interest to pick up a receiver before the trade deadline to help open up the offense. With Steve Smith (35 rec. 589 yards/ ZERO TDs) they have a good mid-range receiver. They need someone to blow the top off the defense to back the safeties back from the running game. Everyone knows the Panther offense can be defensed 20 yards and in. Once they can get a deep receiver this could open up the offense both running and passing. They still have time to right the ship…they just have some work to do.

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Wild Card Week: Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints

Don’t you just love this time of year?? The chase is over for most NFL teams while the elite are gearing up for the real race to Super Bowl XLVI. Tonight’s game between the Detroit Lions and the NFC South champion Saints is shaping up to be a dandy. The league has celebrated Drew Brees and his record breaking 5,476 yards passing this season, yet no one is hailing Matthew Stafford for his 5,038 yard season. http://www.nfl.com/stats/player In his first full season as a starter, Stafford completed 63.5% of his passes for the aforementioned yardage, 41TDs to only 16 interceptions. Do you realize that in the last 3 games he’s thrown for 1,284 yards 12 TDs and only 2 interceptions?? One of those was a desperation heave at the tail end of the 44-41 season finale against the Green Bay Packers. The bottom line is he’s improved as this season has concluded and comes into this contest red hot.

He is throwing to Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, who had a tremendous season, finished with a 244 yard receiving performance in the finale against the Packers. That performance propelled Megatron ot overtake Wes Welker for the league lead in receiving yards with 1,681. What has been impressive with these two has been the fearlessness shown in the 4th quarter. The 98 yard drive on the road in Oakland in week 16 featured a 45 yard bomb to Johnson with less than 2 minutes on the clock. Even the finale against the Packers, Stafford threw for his 5th touchdown and what was thought to be the game winner, with less than 2 minutes to go in that one.

Standing in their way on the Bayou are the Saints, just one year removed from being Super Bowl champions. Drew Brees and the Saints have come down the stretch on fire. They are in the midst of an 8 game winning streak and scored over 40 in their last 3 contests. Yikes!! Something has to give. One major loss is the fact the Saints have to go into the playoffs without Mark Ingram. In a single game scenario Darren Sproles can fill the void but can he carry the load through the playoffs. At least Pierre Thomas is still there and is one of the best running backs on screen passes in case they can’t run effectively.

Both teams come in deficient on the defensive side of the ball ranking 23rd (Lions) and 24th (Saints) respectively. However there is a huge discrepancy between the two when it comes to forcing turnovers. The Saints have only forced an anemic 16 turnovers for the season where the Lions have forced 34. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/det/2011.htm How will the Saints respond if they find themselves in a tight contest after cruising for the past 6 weeks?? What happens if Drew Brees gets off to a slow start or if the Lions force a few turnovers early?? Can the Saint defense do anything to turn the game around if this happens?? By the way Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter have to deal with Megatron… Can they??

To win the Lions have to force a few early turnovers and get ahead of the Saints. The Lions learned to win on the road early this year with the twin twelve point comebacks in Minnesota and Dallas in the 4th quarter. Even the last week of the season we witnessed valor in their 44-41 loss to the Packers. Stafford threw for 520 yards and came within 22 yards of the all time record set by Norm Van Brocklin in the early 50’s. In the playoffs you win with stars and the Lions have several in Stafford, Megatron, and Ndamukong Suh. To win the Saints need Will Smith, Roman Harper, and Jonathon Vilma to have spectacular games. In this one, the Lions are ripe for the upset. We just don’t believe in the Saints defense.

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