Todd Christensen Belongs in The Hall of Fame

When Shannon Sharpe was inducted into “The Hall” back in 2011, pundits began to voice which of the new breed would be the next TE to get into Canton. Would it be Tony Gonzalez, Jason Witten, or Antonio Gates?? There is even outside talk of former Patriot Ben Coates as these were the dominant men at the position over the last 25 years. Uhhh… wait a minute… How did we get this far without mention of former  Oakland/L.A. Raider Todd Christensen??

A man once cut by the Dallas Cowboys found a home in Oakland and became one of the main targets in the heyday of the AFC West. The question that arises is how did we forget Christensen?? Was it the fact he was a specials teams player who didn’t start until his 4th year?? Or is this more bias against the late Al Davis’ Raiders??

In 1980 the NFL was marveling at the performance of future Hall of Fame TE Kellen Winslow in San Diego. When he burst onto the scene with 89 receptions, a record for Tight Ends at the time, for 1,290 and 9TDs. He became the measuring stick for all who would play his position especially with this only his 2nd season.

When he completed the ’81 season with 88 receptions only future Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome was anywhere near Winslow on the marquee. Or so pundits thought.

In 1981 after becoming the 1st defending Super Bowl champion to finish with a losing record (7-9) the following season, the Raiders had to make changes. The 1st is they moved to L.A. then drafted super back Marcus Allen then following an old Raider tradition, converted a former running back into a Tight End…. Todd Christensen. If you went back 2 decades before, the Raiders converted former Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon from RB to TE and sparked their run to Super Bowl II.

The ’82 Raiders had the NFL’s best record in a strike shortened season at 8-1, and Christensen finished 5th in receiving among TEs with 42 receptions for 510 yds and 4 TDs. Although the Raiders were upset 17-14 by the NY Jets in the AFC playoffs, a star was born.  The next year saw the Raiders cement the notion they had supplanted the Air Coryell Chargers as the best of the AFC West.

Every great player needs a signature game and in the 14th week of 1983 the Chargers were hosting the Raiders in a special Thursday Night telecast. To add to the excitement both Christensen and Winslow were on pace to tie or break Kellen’s TE record of ’89 receptions set in 1980. In front of a nationwide audience Todd proved his worth.

 

 

Buoyed by this great performance the Raiders propelled themselves to the AFC’s best record at 12-4. Not only did the Raiders go on to win Super Bowl XVIII, Christensen unseated Winslow as the game’s premiere tight end as the loss also ended the reign of “Air Coryell”. His 8 receptions 140 yards and 3 TDs completely outshone his Charger counterpart’s 4 catches for 30 yards. This was the difference between Todd’s record of 92 receptions to Winslow’s 88 to conclude ’83.

Los Angeles Raiders tight end Todd Christensen (46) blocks New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks (58) during a 14-9 Giants victory on September 21, 1986, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California. (AP Photo/NFL Photos)

As injuries slowed Winslow it was Christensen who went on to maintain Pro Bowl level of play through 1987 when he went to his 5th straight. One aspect of a Tight End is to remember the primary role is to be a blocker. In the ’85 campaign he helped pave the way for NFL rushing champion Marcus Allen who ran for 1,759 yards. The following season he broke his previous NFL record for TEs as he nabbed 95 balls for 1,153 yards and 8 scores.

He led the NFL in receptions in 1983 and 1986 for all receivers not just Tight Ends.

In an era with 2 other Hall of Fame TEs Christensen had the best peak years.

  • Christensen ’83-’86: 349 rec. 4,394 yards 33 TDs *5 Pro Bowls*
  • Winslow ’80-’83: 319 rec. 4,258 yards 33 TDs *4 Pro Bowls*
  • Ozzie Newsome ’81-’84: 296 rec. 3,626 yards 20 TDs *3 Pro Bowls*
  • *Career Pro Bowls listed*

Now to be fair, Winslow and Newsome’s years include the strike shortened ’82 stanza which only had 9 regular season games. However keep in mind Todd was on special teams as a long snapper, set 2 receiving records at TE and blocked for 1985’s MVP and rushing champion Marcus Allen. Then don’t forget one of those record setting season was for a world champion when they won Super Bowl XVIII 38-9 over Washington.

Keep in mind his record for receptions in a season at TE was tied once in 1994 by Ben Coates, yet stood for 18 years until Tony Gonzalez broke it in 2004. His record stood as long as Dan Marino’s TD record when you think of how long he held it.

This isn’t to take away from the 2 gentlemen in “The Hall” from the same position, but how can Winslow (inducted in 1995) and Newsome (inducted in 1999) be in and we don’t even hear Christensen mentioned?? Is it because he was a late bloomer who went on to star on the 3rd team he played for?? Is this more of the media bias against Al Davis’ Raiders who seem to come up on the short end when it comes to Hall of Fame consideration??

A part of this has to do with the Raiders moving from Oakland to Los Angeles and then back to Oakland in 1995. Those Los Angeles sportswriters didn’t honor the team and campaign for those players once the team went back up north. Many sportswriters campaign for players whom they lobbied for their team to draft originally and usually in the 1st round. His rocky path to Oakland through Dallas and New York is why he didn’t have that.

Yet they have/had a responsibility and shouldn’t have taken it out on those player’s legacies. I see these men all the time on talk shows over on ESPN when they have an obligation as history’s gatekeepers with their fellow writers and they have failed. They are why Todd, Head Coach Tom FloresLester Hayes, and Cliff Branch are on the outside looking in. It’s time to right these injustices.

Christensen deserves to be enshrined in Canton. Although we lost Todd, who passed in 2013, his family and Raider teammates should be able to share in that final honor.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you, Todd Christensen.

Dedicated in his memory: Todd Christensen (August 3, 1956 – November 13, 2013)

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An Overshadowed Classic: The 1966 NFL Championship Game

When you look back at the rich history of the Green Bay Packers, we focus squarely on the Lombardi era teams that won 5 NFL championships in the 1960’s. While the most iconic of these championships was The Ice Bowl for the 1967 title, a more gripping affair in the classic sense took place for the 1966 crown. While every championship has its importance this was the 2nd in a row which set the Packers up for the chance at winning 3 straight.

Bart Starr standing amidst a charging George Andrie (66) Bob Lilly (74) and the late Willie Townes (71) attempting a pass.

With the merger between the NFL and the AFL signed, each league would send their champion to play in a world championship game called the Super Bowl. While the sporting press sided with the traditionalist NFL there were revolutionaries who sided with the new guard if you will. The American Football League was established in 1959 and began play in 1960.

The new league had a flashier style of play and took to the air in a way that aside from the Baltimore Colts and Johnny Unitas, the rest of the NFL and traditionalists scoffed at. It was 3 yards and a cloud of dust over here. Evidenced by the perennial champion Packers’ signature play… the power sweep. If I were to tell you to close your eyes and picture the Lombardi Packers, the image of Jerry Kramer and Fuzzy Thurston leading either Jim Taylor of Paul Hornung would come to mind vividly.

The founder of the AFL was Lamar Hunt of Hunt Bros. Oil and a Dallas, Texas resident. He had been thwarted in an attempt to buy the St Louis Cardinals a decade previous and wasn’t taken seriously when asked about NFL expansion to Dallas. So once he started the American Football League with his Dallas Texans as a flagship team (now the Kansas City Chiefs), the NFL scrambled and put a team down in Dallas which was then named the Cowboys. Each began play in the 1960 season.

Over the next few years the AFL and NFL waged war for the top college athletes. The Cowboys took several seasons to learn how to win under the guidance of Head Coach Tom Landry. Yet in spirit because they had been borne out of expansion and were the new kids on the block, the Cowboys were AFL kindred spirits residing in the NFL. They had a new way of scouting and evaluating talent much like the AFL and although Coach Landry had been the defensive coach (the term coordinator didnt’ exist until 1967) for the New York Giants in the 1950’s, he pioneered several offensive formations and sets to undo the 4-3 he brought into prominence a decade earlier.

It took a few years to gain footing however Landry finally had a team that could challenge for the NFL Championship by the ’66 season. He would take on his old nemesis Vince Lombardi in The Cotton Bowl to decide who would go on to play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl I.

Why was Lombardi a nemesis?? Lombardi was the Offensive Coach (Coordinator) of the New York Giants in the 1950’s before moving on to Green Bay. His offense used to sharpen Landry’s defense and vice versa for a great Giants team.

Another side note to this iconic championship it was Dallas’ Tex Schramm who stepped across league lines with Lamar Hunt to discuss the merger in the 1st place. It happened at Love Field and they met at the Texas Ranger Statue. So not only were the establishment Packers going to Dallas for the championship, they wanted to give the traitorous Cowboys their comeuppance. When you think of the city of Dallas from a national perspective, keep in mind we are only 3 years removed from JFK’s assassination there….and Lombardi was a Kennedy Democrat

Into this cauldron Lombardi and his team stepped…

With Tom Brown’s desperation last second interception to conclude the ’66 NFL Championship, the Packers survived and were off to Los Angeles for Super Bowl I. Tom Landry would go on to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as one of the greatest coaches in history. His team wasn’t ready to carry the mantle of league champion yet but they would come back to win Super Bowl VI as the 1st of Landry’s 2 championships.

It was Vince Lombardi’s team who defended their ’65 NFL championship’65 NFL championship and would go on to win Super Bowl I. There they would defeat Kansas City to win their 4th overall league title. Now looking back they had to actually beat two upstarts to win it all originating from the city of Dallas to crown themselves as Team of the 60’s. This would be the last with the Hall of Fame backfield duo of Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung. It was quiet Bart Starr who elevated his play with a record 4 TD passes in he win down in Dallas. Out in L.A. he was even better carving up the Chiefs to win the 1st MVP of the very 1st Super Bowl.

Super Bowl I Trophy sits in the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame.

Another championship loomed in 1967 but it was the prime time finish of the ’66 championship at night that pushed the Packers into NFL lore.

As for the trophy won out in Los Angeles, The Chancellor visited it in the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame just two weeks ago.

Today this rivalry renews as the Packers are down in Dallas to take on the Cowboys in Jerry World. Hopefully this look back helps in explaining the rivalry began here which will enrich The Ice Bowl memories created a year later.

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Keep in mind we’re still campaigning to assist Jerry Kramer to get into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and you can help. Lend your thoughts as well by writing in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame to the address below. Please be respectful and positively lend your voice:

Please write & nominate #64
Send letters to:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Attention Senior Selection Committee
2121 George Halas Dr NW, Canton, 
OH 44708

 

2017 NFC Predictions

Well its that time of year again where we have to gaze into the crystal ball and see who will make it to this year’s Super Bowl in Minneapolis. A big swing to the NFC pendulum has to do with the pending suspension of Ezekiel Elliott. Will it happen?? When will it begin??

One of the biggest issues with the free agency era in the NFL are how flawed all the teams are. Even at the top every team has a hole they need to fill. Several teams have defenses and running games and struggle at the QB position. Others are centered on $100 million quarterbacks with a good set of receivers, yet have a send in the clowns defense and can’t run for 50 yards as a team on a consistent basis.

This leads to the b.s. misnomer “its a quarterback driven league.” No it is not… the model that has proven to get to the Super Bowl in the last 10 years has been to have a young QB on his 1st contract, a solid running game and above average defense. Even the Super Bowl L champion Broncos won it with running and defense and carried a fading Peyton Manning. I know… wrong conference but you get the gist…. yet I digress

2017 NFC Predictions:

NFC East Champs: New York Giants 12-4*

NFC South Champs: Tampa Bay Bucs 11-5

NFC North Champs: Green Bay Packers 10-6

NFC West Champs: Seattle Seahawks 10-6

Wildcards: Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings

NFC Champions: New York Giants

Most are going to bristle at the choice of the New York Giants but you watched them lose to Dallas with no Odell Beckham. The Giants know they have to work Brandon Marshall into the game and find a running back. New York has two things working for them. They have time and they may field the NFL’s #1 defense.

New York will field the best defense in 2017 barring injuries.

As The Chancellor foretold in the 2017 NFC East Preview: Do you realize the Giants are returning with last year’s 10th ranked defense, which held Dallas to 26 combined points, sweeping them in 2016?? Even though the Giants were 29th in offensive time of possession they were the NFL’s #3 defense against the run. Then they nabbed DT Dalvin Tomlinson in the 2nd round out of Alabama. This was a Giants strength not a statistic manipulated by scheme.

A lot of new energy will come from the NFC South with Cam Newton and the Panthers finding their 2015 rhythm on offense with super rookie Christian McCaffrey providing mismatches against defenses. Tampa Bay will make a move with Jameis Winston, a bounce back year from Doug Martin, and a boost from the NFL’s best 1-2 punch at linebacker with Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. Tampa might be a year away but each team will overtake the defending NFC Champion Falcons who will stagger through 2017.

Atlanta will be a case study as they decompress from the greatest collapse in Super Bowl history. Their battle in 2017 will be psychological.

The same can be said of the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers. As 2016 ended, we knew the weaknesses of both teams and neither addressed them in the offseason. Trying to recreate Marshawn Lynch with overweight Eddie Lacy is a complete mirage. The Seahawks still have a suspect offensive line that suffered a season ending injury to LT George Fant. They are right back to where they were… running by committee, Russell Wilson running for his life and depending upon a good no longer great defense. They’ll win 10 and lose early in the playoffs.

The Green Bay Packers have wasted the prime of Aaron Rodgers by not drafting or acquiring a sturdy dependable back. Or are they believing the mantra about a quarterback driven league?? Here we are in a new year and displaced WR Ty Montgomery is still running the football. Relying on gimmicks and Rodgers to scramble and make plays to save this team is a recipe for playoff flame-out again. They will beat the Detroits, the Chicagos, the Washingtons and NFL bottom feeders. They will be exposed against solid defenses in big games on the road by the divisional round of the playoffs.

Here at Taylor Blitz Times its about defense 1st however you have to bring some offensive continuity. Teams will shift their secondary attention to Beckham and open up the field for Eli and newly acquired wideout Brandon Marshall. New York’s “D” will keep them in games until they figure it out. Once the Giants get Beckham back and either acquire Adrian Peterson or develop their running game, it will be the Giants representing the NFC in Super Bowl LII.

Funny thing about football is all the misnomers most national pundits push through their agendas, they completely misinform the masses. So if it’s a passing league then answer this question: Which Super Bowl winning QB had the most passing yards in the season they won it all?? Try Eli Manning with 4,933 when he won Super Bowl XLVI with the league’s 27th best defense. 

What will he do with one of the league’s best??

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2017 AFC Predictions

Well we’re off and another NFL season is under way where we have to place predictions and previews into what Taylor Blitz Times crystal ball offers. For the most part the 2017 season has shaped up based upon watching players grow into their roles and there are a few draft picks that will make an impact.

As the season concluded last February, the world was treated to the 1st overtime in Super Bowl history. However it placed salve over an open wound as the Raiders had to enter the playoffs without Derek Carr, and the Titans losing their last 3 without Marcus Mariota. It gave a feeling of inevitability to the Steelers and Patriots meeting for the right to go to Super Bowl LI.

2017 AFC Predictions:

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots 12-4**

AFC West Champs: Oakland Raiders 12-4

AFC North Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5

AFC South Champs: Houston Texans 9-7

Widcards: Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens

AFC Champions: The Oakland Raiders

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One of the biggest acquisitions this year was the signing of Marshawn Lynch to ignite the offense and bring toughness to the team. His punishing running style and spirit will merge with reigning TBT Offensive Player of the Year David Carr to carry the Raiders through the west and beyond. Last year the Raiders were 6-1 on the road with David Carr with 4th quarter comebacks in 4 of those games. Had Carr been healthy for the playoffs they could have won in New England.

 

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2017 NFC East Previews & Predictions

Last year was unprecedented in NFL annals. Never before had we witnessed a team with a rookie QB (Dak Prescott) and a rookie RB (Ezekiel Elliot) lead a team to their division title. Elliot became the 1st rookie rushing champion (1,631 yds) since Edgerrin James in 1999. The Cowboys surprised many with a 13-3 record and a 1st round bye. The question is can the Cowboys repeat that performance now they have lost 2 members off The Great Wall II??

Keep in mind last year was the second time this line paved the way for the NFL’s rushing champion in the last 3 years. The last time The Chancellor can remember that happening dates back to the late 80’s with the LA Rams with Eric Dickerson and Charles White. That was so long ago the Rams left Anaheim, spent a generation in St Louis, and now returned to LA. RT Doug Free retired and LG Ron Leary signed with Denver.

With All Pro LT Tyron Smith an immovable object teams may flip their speed rushers against the Cowboys to go against La’el Collins. He’s taking over for Doug Free and is learning on the fly how to be an NFL tackle. Look for combo blitzes to the right probing for weakness in Collins. Also to see if a strong rush in Prescott’s face will cause him to pull the ball down disrupting the rhythm of their passing game.

Unlike any other unit in football, the offensive line has to learn to play together. Hence every unit practices their timing and explosion off the ball blocking on a 7 man sled. This could be a significant blow to Dallas offensive timing.

2017 NFC East Predictions

New York Giants 12-4**

Philadelphia Eagles 10-6

Dallas Cowboys 7-9

Washington Redskins 4-12

Do you realize the Giants are returning with last year’s 10th ranked defense, which held Dallas to 26 combined points, sweeping them in 2016?? Even though the Giants were 29th in offensive time of possession they were the NFL’s #3 defense against the run. Then they nabbed DT Dalvin Tomlinson in the 2nd round out of Alabama. This was a Giants strength not a statistic manipulated by scheme.

Casillas should be even better in his 2nd year in New York.

If they can get a stronger push inside, Olivier Vernon (8.5 sacks) and Jason Pierre Paul (7 sacks) should thrive crashing the pass pocket. This plays hand in hand with the Giants ability to cover with CBs Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie. New York could field a lethal defense in 2017.

Did you know the Illadelphia Iggles were in every game last year?? Of their 9 losses, 7 of those were decided by a touchdown or less.. including two 1 point losses. What about their 6-2 home record and 1-7 record on the road?? With so much attention on the Cowboys and Giants last year, this is a team waiting to surprise with a little improvement.

The Eagles gambled in letting go of DE Conner Barwin and selecting Derek Barnett out of Tennessee in the 1st round. They needed to make a move to add pop to the defense instead of just a steady unspectacular roster.What they lose in experience they gain in explosion. In fact the Iggles spent the 1st 3 draft picks to improve a defense that ranked 13th last year. Although they have to hold their breath that both rookie CBs Sidney Jones (2nd / Washington) and Rasul Douglas (3rd / West Virginia) have to fill the void of last year’s starters being let go.

Wentz looks like the real deal and will have a breakout 2017.

If Carson Wentz can develop into the QB this pundit believes he can, he will take a step up here in year 2. The signing of wideout Alshon Jeffrey gives him the big intermediate target to move the chains. Lagarrette Blount was supposed to come in and lend power between the tackles. However he may lose out to Wendell Smallwood as the starting RB and Darren Sproles is still a weapon on 3rd downs. The Eagles are steady and will win very boring grind it out games this season… TBT thinks 10 boring games at the most.

Which brings us back to Dallas where the unfair suspension of Elliott still stands at 6 games. What many Cowboy fans are forgetting is if this suspension stands he cannot be at practice or attend any meetings for over a month and a half. That is a bad combination when you’re missing 40% of last year’s line and your touches are limited in the preseason. He may not get in synch with the OLine until the last few games of the season.

Dallas is still rebuilding a defense which ranked in the middle of the pack at 14th and rookie DE Taco Charlton has flashed brilliantly this preseason. LB Jaylon Smith looks like he has fully healed from his gruesome knee injury. We’ve only seen Smith sparingly but he looks as explosive as he was with the Fighting Irish.

Right now Dallas just needs progress out of a completely revamped secondary. Too many questions to bank on this year. Coupled with the Elliot suspension and the additional pressure on being “the hunted” the Cowboys will lose more than double the games they did last year. It will be interesting to see how Dak Prescott fares now that defensive coordinators have a year of game film on him. What happens if he doesn’t have the NFL’s best running game to lean on this year?? It’s 2018 where this Super Bowl plan will have to manifest itself.

Right now the Washington Redskins are in disarray. How do you have Kirk Cousins complete 68% of his passes for 9,083 yards and 54 touchdowns in the last 2 seasons and let all his receivers go?? Not signing him to a long term deal then allowing 2 – 1,000 yd receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon go. By setting him up to prove himself again after jettisoning off his weapons, you set yourself up to fail and i cant see where Washington is going.

Which brings us back to the Giants from Gotham City. They are easily the most intact and proven defense in the division and Eli Manning is due for a bounce back year. The acquisition of veteran wideout Brandon Marshall, a veteran starving for a title in the twilight of his career, could be the grounding that diva Odell Beckham needs as the playoffs near. With 101 receptions 1367 yards and 10 TDs, Beckham is still the dynamic playmaker for this team, he needs to grow up and make the game the focus come January and not his antics.

Aside from veterans in Beckham’s ear  what is forgotten is Eli Manning is now the grizzled veteran QB in the NFC East. He has weapons and a defense that will keep him in close games all year where Eli can win them in the end. Keep in mind Manning has thrown for the most yards (4,933 yards) and had the lowest ranked defense (27th) when he won his last Super Bowl. This year he might have the NFL’s best defense and if he improves on his 4,027 yards 26Tds and 16 interceptions of a year ago, a Super Bowl trip to Minnesota could be in the making. Now many writers and pundits have come to this blog for years and we have told you several times about Eli. Just remember…The Chancellor kept telling you he would get a 3rd Super Bowl and this looks like the year.

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2017 NFC South Previews & Predictions

Last year the Atlanta Falcons won this division and broke a 3 year strangle hold the Panthers held over this division. With their coming up short in the Super Bowl as the Panthers had the year before, will they plummet this season?? Will the Panthers rebound with rookie weapon Christian McCaffrey providing a spark??

When 2016 concluded no offense looked more predictable than Cam Newton and the Panthers. A season after scoring a team record 500 points as one of the top scoring units in NFL history, they could only average 18 points as they went 2-3 in their final 5 outings.

Not only is McCaffrey an all around threat, he can break big plays in the open field where Jonathon Stewart and Tolbert struggled mightily last season. Those of us out west watched him break huge plays in all phases of the game in Pac 12 competition. With Newton, TE Greg Olsen, and WR Kelvin Benjamin, Christian should be a serious wild card on 3rd downs and spread formations. Will it be enough for Carolina to win their 4th division crown in 5 seasons??

 

2017 NFC South Predictions

  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 11-5*
  2. Carolina Panthers 10-6+
  3. Atlanta Falcons 7-9
  4. New Orleans Saints 5-11

In a division that sent 3 teams to the Super Bowl in the last 8 years which includes the last 2 consecutively, Tampa has taken their lumps and grown within the division. They are young and hungry & every time they take on a division rival they are playing teams who have made the NFL elite. So they know it’s in range. Last year they were 4-2 against their brothers in the NFC South and finished the season 6-2 over the 2nd half.

With the addition of DeSean Jackson and 1st round selection TE OJ Howard out of Alabama, Jameis Winston will have serious speed to stretch the field deep. Which should completely open up the intermediate areas where Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson thrive. It will back Safeties out of the box which would allow Doug Martin a superb chance at a bounce back year.

This is a big year for Martin who is in the 2nd year of a $36 million deal yet had an on again /off again season with only 429 yards and 3 touchdowns. He has been a Taylor Blitz Times favorite for many years and he has had 2- 1,400 yard seasons showcasing his talent. However Jacquizz Rodgers 560 yards and 2 scores flashed promise. Martin will get the chance as Rodgers is not an every down back. If he has another subpar season it will be his last in Tampa.

Quick question….how well did “Matty Ice” and the Falcons pick up the pieces after that meltdown in the NFC Championship in 2012?? Now they are supposed to do it after blowing a 28-3 lead in a Super Bowl??

Weren’t the waning moments of the 4th quarter where Matt Ryan made his bones over the last 9 seasons?? He is about to enter his 10th season and well into the latter half of his career. 2016 saw Ryan achieve career highs in completion percentage (69.9%), 4,944 yds, 38 TDs, and interception low of 7 along with a passer rating of 117.1. He will have to adjust to the loss of Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan. They were in a comfortable groove all year and will be tough to replicate with Steve Sarkisian.

The Falcons did have the NFL’s leading sack artist in Vic Beasley with 15 1/2 sacks, however upon further review you can see where the defense needs improvement. The Falcons finished with a ranking of 17th against the run. Not bad until you remember this team had several double digit leads that forced their opponents to take to the air. So going into 2017, opponents will look to run the football and keep Ryan and Julio Jones off the field. Call it good self scouting but the Falcons have to improve on their 25th ranking allowing 4.5 yards per carry as they did last season.

This team will suffer a hangover all year and it will be imperative to see how they react in the 2nd half when opponents seize momentum. They will see the ghosts of Super Bowl LI all year and will need to recover in 2018 once they see a shrink.

The New Orleans Saints and Drew Brees will have a long year. They brought in Adrian Peterson to split time with Mark Ingram however this team will struggle with their identity and took a big loss with WR Brandin Cooks going to New England.

So the NFC South in 2018 will go to the young, hungry and lethal Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They will have the best young LB crew with Kwon Alexander, LaVonte David, and LSU rookie Kendell Beckwith. The Carolina Panthers will make the postseason as a wildcard.