2016 AFC Predictions

As the 2016 NFL season is about to kickoff we need to gaze into the crystal ball and see who will make it to Super Bowl LI. The very first impulse is to look in on the defending champions. However when you’re replacing a retired legend at quarterback there has to be a void in the leadership and make-up of the Denver Broncos. Its one of the reasons Taylor Blitz picked the Oakland Raiders to win the AFC West.

For the 1st time in more than a decade true optimism has hit the AFC East with Tom Brady’s 4 game suspension. Will he come back rested or rusty as he can’t practice with the team either?? The league will get a brief view of what life will be like without Brady as Jimmy Garoppolo heads under center. He has a Sunday Night opening date on the road in Arizona, then 3 home games as Belichick will dial back the game plan to keep his reads manageable.

Brady should return to guide the Patriots to an AFC East championship with a 10-6 record. The last division title for the Bill Belichick / Tom Brady era.

NFL: Preseason-Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh SteelersAFC North Champs: Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5**

AFC South Champs: Houston Texans 10-6

AFC East Champs: New England Patriots 10-6

AFC West Champs: Oakland Raiders 10-6

Wildcards – Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars

The team to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LI in Houston Texas?? The Pittsburgh Steelers

Head Coach Mike Tomlin has the most explosive player at WR in Antonio Brown and RB with LeVeon Bell. Ben Roethlisberger will make his 4th trip to the Super Bowl this February and his grit will see Pittsburgh through the first 3 games while Bell serves a suspension.

One of the hallmarks of the Steelers will have to return to make the trip to Houston, and that’s defense. They don’t have to be Blitzburgh or The Steel Curtain II. If they can rise from the NFL’s 22nd ranked unit to a top 15 defense that can come up with timely stops, they will be in Houston.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

The Chancellor & Super Bowl LI Trophy at the Hall of Fame.

Who do you have in the AFC??

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2016 AFC North Previews & Predictions

Burfict returns however S Reggie Nelson has moved on.

Burfict returns however S Reggie Nelson has moved on.

The last time we looked in on the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers were embroiled in an epic playoff battle with the Cincinnati Bengals when the unexpected happened… Vontaze Burfict sealed what looked like the first playoff win of the Marvin Lewis era. Then a Jeremy Hill fumble while trying to run out the clock opened the door, and a few senseless defensive penalties allowed the Steelers to steal an 18-16 win.

These two antagonists renew acquaintances in week 2 in Pittsburgh and a few questions arise. Will the Steelers be able to move the ball on the ground with LeVeon Bell serving a 3 game suspension?? Can QB Andy Dalton get that signature win vs. a top AFC contender??  Have the Bengals learned from last year’s meltdown in January??

2016 AFC North Predctions

steelerimage1. Pittsburgh Steelers 11-5 **

2. Cincinnati Bengals 11-5 *

3. Baltimore Ravens 6-10

4. Cleveland Browns 4-12

Cincinnati has a tough beginning to their season with 4 of 6 on the road which includes trips to Pittsburgh in week 2, and to New England in week 6. How New England fares during Brady’s 4 game suspension dictates how desperate the Patriots could be for a win. Typically these are the games Andy Dalton always seems to lose. Will 2016 be different?

bell2Speaking of suspensions, the Steelers will be without LeVeon Bell for the first 3 weeks of the season. The only AFC team they play in that stretch will be against the Bengals. So they have time to catch Cincinnati with a slow start. They’ll have to run the ball with DeAngelo Williams and rely on Ben Roethlisberger (319 of 469 for 3,938 yds 21 TDs/ 16 ints) and Antonio Brown.

Last year Brown came in 2nd to Cam Newton for the Taylor Blitz Times MVP for 2016. With 136 receptions for 1,834 yds and 10 TDs, he was within reach of both NFL records for receptions and yards. He’s quick in and out of his cuts and has the speed to get deep. Barring injury he’ll have a similar season with the added attention in Bell’s early season absence

With age catching up to Adrian Peterson, Bell is arguably the best back in the NFL when he’s healthy and will be rounding into shape as the Steelers make their playoff push.

The Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns will definitely be on the outside looking in. The Ravens will have Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith to lead them into battle on both sides of the ball. However the Ravens struggle to run the football and Joe Flacco will be coming off of major knee surgery himself. Before his injury he was playing like the east coast version of Alex Smith and checking the ball down too much. Now with him possibly being gun-shy expect more of the same.

One intriguing story to watch is the resurrection of Robert Griffin III and Terrelle Pryor in Cleveland. Head coach Hue Jackson has mentored a series of NFL quarterbacks to successful seasons. This could be a perfect storm of coaches and players all having something to prove and the ability to get it done. If Josh Gordon stays with the team, this could be fun to watch. It will come to fruition in 2017 not this year. However they will be a competitive team to watch offensively.

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AFC Wildcard: Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers

When you talk about the Bengals when the season began, everyone would scoff “wait til’ the playoffs.” That held true for the team and certainly Andy Dalton. Now here we are again and Dalton has his thumb in a cast. The Bengals have to place their hope on back-up AJ McCarron.

giovanniAlmost 10 years to the day that Kimo Von Oelhoffen knocked Carson Palmer out of the 2006 wildcard, again they get to face a back-up in the playoffs.  Ironically Pittsburgh knocked out Dalton late in the regular season.  Now they are missing DeAngelo Williams who injured his ankle in the season finale.

Can AJ McCarron throw caution to the wind and look long for AJ Green (86 rec. 1,297 yds 10 TDs). Pittsburgh’s defense is 21st overall and 30th against the pass. In previous playoff games Dalton played way too cautious. They need to run solid between the 20s with Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill and take their shots for touchdowns when they get in close. No Dalton playoff checkdowns. McCarron needs to be daring.

One of the NFL's most electrifying players.

One of the NFL’s most electrifying players.

The shifting point is the loss of DeAngelo Williams. He had more than adequately replaced LeVeon Bell with 997 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. The full dimension Steeler offense that streaked down the stretch now has questions. Can RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (who?) keep the Bengal defense honest? Cincinnati’s defense is 7th against the run and 20th against the pass.

In this game Ben Roethlisberger is going to be the difference. He challenged Martavis Bryant (50 rec. 765 yds and 6 TDs) and we’ll see how he responds. With 2 Super Bowl rings and a 3rd appearance, Roethlisberger’s mettle is what you can hang your hat on. Bryant needs to come up big because the Bengals will be paying most of their attention on MVP candidate Antonio Brown. With 136 rec. 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns, he has to be the focal point of the Bengals coverage schemes.

In the end… you have to go with Big Ben and that passing game in a 27-24 game. It will be close but the Steelers will win.

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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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Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

Taylor Blitz Times new logo!!

2013 Pittsburgh Steelers Preview – A New Generation

Of the new stadiums, Heinz Field is more intimidating than Three Rivers Stadium. Fans are closer to the field without the huge walls. makes for great theater.

Of the new stadiums, Heinz Field is more intimidating than Three Rivers Stadium. Fans are closer to the field without the huge walls. makes for great theater.

Was it just our CEO or did the NFL playoffs just seem strange last year without the Pittsburgh Steelers involved?? Since the hiring of Bill Cowher in 1992, the Steelers have only missed the playoffs 6 times. The 3-4 defense he installed is still there and regime change was seamless when Mike Tomlin succeeded him. They may be the best team in football when it comes to drafting specific talents to fit their schemes, especially on defense. When was the last time this team blew it with a defensive player taken in the draft??

Over the next few seasons this team will have to replace the most successful group of defenders since the original Steel Curtain. Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and James Farrior have already moved on. The day will soon come to replace Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, and Casey Hampton as well. Sounds daunting until you realize Greg Lloyd, Jason Gildon, Joey Porter, Kevin Greene, Carnell Lake, and Rod Woodson once played here and were adequately replaced.

The most remarkable aspect of all these transitions is the fact the defense hasn’t had a drop off in production during all this time. In a season where defensive leader Farrior was let go, Palamalu missed 9 games, and Harrison 3, this team still finished #1 in defense overall. Only allowing 275.8 yards per game. So when you see 1st round selection LB Jarvis Jones, or 4th round pick S Shamarko Thomas, you get the feeling these guys will stick and define a new era in Pittsburgh Steeler defensive football.

Is there another Super Bowl trip in Big Ben's future??

Is there another Super Bowl trip in Big Ben’s future??

Quarterback: One thing that was reported this summer was the comment that Ben Roethlisberger wants to finish with more championships than Terry Bradshaw. It looks like that will be the only way he’ll get the respect from a historical standpoint that his play alone hasn’t fostered. Has there been a more under celebrated 3 time Super Bowl starter?? Last year while learning a new offense he finished with 3,265 yards while completing 63.3% (284 of 449) of his passes. He also finished with 26TDs thrown to only 8 interceptions for a career low 1.8% interception rate. What would he have done with a better rushing attack??

Will Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley adjust his offense to take better advantage of Roethlisberger in the vertical game as well?? In some instances, the Steeler passing game was too controlled.  With such a big mobile quarterback, the Steelers should run more waggles and half roll-outs to take advantage of his size. The more they can pass from run formations the better off this passing offense will be. So they definitely need a return effort from their running game. Roethlisberger is entering his 10th year and can take the hits throwing vertically. He’s a team leader and once Haley starts trusting him more to go downfield this offense can push the envelope. Last year the Steelers played it too close to the vest on offense. They need this to return to championship form. Especially with a Super Bowl quarterback in his prime at the helm.

A physical back with quick feet. Bell should be a hit in Pittsburgh.

A physical back with quick feet. Bell should be a hit in Pittsburgh.

Offensive Backfield: Management made a statement in not re-signing Rashard Mendenhall and drafting Le’Veon Bell in the 2nd round. He will be given every opportunity to start and his style of play suits what the Steelers want to do. Isaac Redman (410 yards / 3.7 yd avg) and Jonathan Dwyer (623 yards / 4.0 avg) are still in house but are thought of more as reserve talent more than starters.

Another player brought in that could provide dividends on 3rd downs is the signing of LaRod Stephens -Howling, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. He can also contribute on special teams. However Bell, out of Michigan State, fits the physical profile of a Steeler running back. He has patient but quick feet. A lot like Emmitt Smith, he can make moves in space but it’s his timing that sets up his blocks. His inclusion with Stephens-Howling gives this position an upgrade to playoff quality.

This is the season Antonio Brown comes of age.

This is the season Antonio Brown comes of age.

Receivers: Why did the Steelers bring back Plaxico Burress?? Teams aren’t going to be fooled by an old, tall, bad route runner near the goal line. Everyone knows he’s in there for a post corner or fade route only. In the middle of the field he’s not effective and telegraphs an offenses true intentions when they are down close. What they need is a bookend to Antonio Brown who should have his best season in 2013.

The other reason will be the return to more two tight end alignments with the signing of Matt Spaeth.   Pro Bowl Tight End Heath Miller (71 rec. /816 yds / 8 TDs) will combine to be one of the league’s best TE tandems. Miller can be moved away from the line and allow for multiple receiver looks without opponents platooning nickel packages. More room for Brown and himself to operate underneath. This group is average going into camp and if Brown breaks out like we think, they can be a playoff caliber group.

Offensive Line: Curiously this team didn’t draft any linemen yet signed 6 to bring in to camp. Only Mike Golic Jr. was an offensive tackle with the rest being Guards or Centers. They have to commit to the run after allowing 37 sacks last year and had Steeler quarterbacks hit an additional 67 times. We say quarterbacks because they got Ben knocked out of 3 games. Either run the ball more effectively or protect the passer better, the Steelers look to go with the first option. They do look to get younger with the release of G Willie Colon.

This feast or famine approach could come back to haunt them if they fall behind in games or if they don’t get the push to improve in the running game. Last year the Steelers were 26th in rushing with 1,537 yards with a 3.7 yard average. That is not Steelers football! Only 9 teams had more than the 16 negative rushing plays to the strong side in 2012. A detriment to a power rushing team and you can only fool opposing teams passing on 3rd and short so much. Steeler football is sic ’em not slick ’em. They have to get back to pounding on the line of scrimmage and drafted the back to help. Until we see this take fold this group is below average. They should have drafted a blue chip prospect here last April.

Defensive Line: This is an unsung group when it comes to a defensive line in the NFL. The reason the Steelers finished #1 in defense starts with Casey Hampton eating double teams. You cannot move him off the point of attack and behind him linebackers are scraping, gaming, and blitzing. The number one rule to a 3 man line is the Nose Guard has to be able to eat double teams, triple teams and no one has done it better in the last 20 years. Fellow line-mate ends Brett Keisel (46 tackles / 4.5 sacks) and Ziggy Hood (42 tackles /3 sacks) are passing knowledge to third year player Cameron Heyward, Keisel’s heir apparent. They have signed several linemen to come to camp but these four guys are the main reason this line and defense is Super Bowl quality.

Steeler coaches will teach him a little more body lean coming off the corner.

Steeler coaches will teach him a little more body lean coming off the corner.

Linebackers: The heart and soul of the Steelers as an organization are the linebackers. Enter Jarvis Jones. His inclusion provides a two fold plus for Dick Lebeau’s charges. He should be NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year for the freedom he’ll have playiing next to Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons. Foote led the team with 113 tackles while gathering 4 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. However Timmons had 106 tackles, 6 sacks, 3 interceptions, and 2 forced fumbles along with 2 defensive touchdowns. These numbers could be higher but this group plays downhill on the offenses side of the ball forcing teams to punt. No one is better stocked at Inside Linebacker.

There is far too much for teams to focus on once we talk about LaMarr Woodley than to turn their attention to Jones. In the early portion of the season, watch for teams to slide the line or back to chip on Woodley. The Chancellor thinks Jones will burst out of the blocks and have a strong September. At 6’2 245 lbs, he’ll play taller than James Harrison and can redirect passes with those long arms. Another plus that Harrison couldn’t do. Don’t think we’re downplaying the loss of Harrison, but with five to six inches of reach he can knock down passes when he doesn’t get to the quarterback. Lets ask a question: When hasn’t the Steelers linebacking corps been Super Bowl quality?? This should be the AFC’s best group and Woodley repeats 2012, he will be replaced in 2014.

Get ready for another hitter to clobber folks in Heinz Field.

Get ready for another hitter to clobber folks in Heinz Field.

Secondary: The final phase of introducing the next generation of Steeler defenders will come with the development of Shamarko Thomas. At 5’9 217 lbs, running a 4.3 40?? Two things are going to happen.One he is going to be decking receivers left and right or he’ll swoop in for interceptions by the bushel. The only reason he slipped to the 4th round is the belief by many teams the position has been minimized by teams favoring the short passing game. This guy was an All Big East performer and should fit right in with a rough defense. Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are back and will be great mentors for him. Everywhere you look on this defense, there is a blue chip player that doesn’t have to produce right away. In future years this will benefit the Steelers greatly.

One issue is the advanced age of Polamalu and Clark at 31 and 34 respectively, they have already missed a combined 13 games in the last 3 seasons. Now that Thomas is on the scene they can get him some valuable playing time if either are lost for a significant amount of time this season. At cornerback, this team has been able to get away with marginal talent. Thanks to the overall front seven’s ability to stop the run, blitz and force quick passes from their opponents, these guys just need to tackle. They rarely have to cover for long or once receivers go inside, the active linebackers clog most of those lanes. However one interception between Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis combined is terrible. They did defense 36 combined passes but now it’s time to take a look at getting younger. They signed DeMarcus Van Dyke and will give a look to 5th round selection Terry Hawthorne out of Illinois. They did bring back William Gay but if you see him, one of these two didn’t develop fully. Because of the cornerbacks, this group is just average. They need to start the transition on the corners as they have everywhere else on this defense.

Crazy Steeler fan's alternate helmet.

Crazy Steeler fan’s alternate helmet.

Overall: The Steelers offensive line has to perform to return this team to the playoffs. Their biggest nemesis in the division this year is the Cincinnati Bengals and their heavy pass rush. Now throw in James Harrison’s assisting with Steeler personnel strengths and weaknesses in their camp and there is more to worry about. Last year the Bengals were 2nd in the NFL in sacks with 52 to begin with. The Ravens improved their rush with the signing of Elvis Dumervil and the Browns brought in hard working Paul Kruger to get after the passer. This team needs to run the ball and maintain leads.

This will be the last season for Polamalu and Ryan Clark as the season will take it’s toll on these two. Expect the team to find out what they have in Shamarko Thomas as the lumps mount up on the aging safety duo. Last year alone they missed 8 games combined and they’re not getting any younger. Jarvis Jones should battle for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year as teams gear themselves to stop Lawrence Timmons and Lamarr Woodley. Two of the new generation Steelers are in place on defense and Bell provides spark on offense. It won’t come to fruition until a little more help arrives in 2014. This year’s Steeler team will go 9-7 in a transition year.

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Is The 2004 NFL QB Draft Class The Best Ever?

Eli Manning has two rings….were they better than the 1983 class?

With 3 members of the great quarterback class of 1983 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, at first glance you might say no. Until you realize the class of 2004 has 4 Super Bowl rings won between Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Not only are they in the prime of their careers but you have to include Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub and Phillip Rivers as well. Many pundits have the Houston Texans as an AFC favorite to make this year’s Super Bowl and Phillip Rivers has made the AFC Championship along with a couple of Pro Bowls. How do they stack against the great classes of the past??

Well for starters this class didn’t have to live up to the expectations of the class of 1999. Remember that group? Donovan McNabb, Duante Culpepper, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Cade McNown were the hot quarterbacks anointed to challenge the class of 1983 yet came up woefully short. Couch, Smith, and McNown were out of the league within 5 years. Culpepper had some big seasons culminating with an NFC Championship visit in 2000 and had his best season in 2004 with 4,717 yards and 39 TDs. After that he was a journeyman playing for several teams.

As for Donovan McNabb, he was the face of the Philadelphia Eagles and led them to 4 straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance. He played with distinction for well over a decade and was a Pro Bowl quarterback 6 times including 5 straight years (2000-2004). For his career, he threw for 37,726 yards and 234 touchdowns while crossing the 3,000 yard threshold in 8 different seasons. Yet no Super Bowl victories. The class of ’99 only had 1 Super Bowl appearance.

Which brings us to the hallowed class of 1983. Dan Marino, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Todd Blackledge, Ken O’Brien, and Tony Eason were the signal callers who were going to dominate pro football for the next 15 years. They did….well kind of. With all of them going to the AFC, the next decade worth of drafts were slanted to pass protecters, specialist linebackers who defensed the pass better than the run along with receivers, and cornerbacks to cover them. The AFC took to the air as their earthbound counterparts in the NFC were rooted in the ground with power running schemes and more stout physical defenses. As the decade wore on each of the class of 83 started making their way to the Super Bowl. One after the other they went down in Super Bowls XIX- XXVIII in 10 straight games. Only after the Denver Broncos built John Elway an NFC team did the class of ’83 finally win two Super Bowls. Four of them reached the Super Bowl and three of them made it to multiple Super Bowls. While Elway, Kelly, and Marino rewrote the record books: Were they better than the ’04 class??

Big Ben has had playoff heroics that are either equal or surpass those of John Elway

The biggest issue the newer quarterbacks face is perception. The media fawned over John Elway being the prototypical quarterback (6’3, blonde hair, golden arm) that he rarely faced detractors until his Super Bowl losses. Sportswriters of the time lauded Marino for his cool in the face of a blitz, and Kelly for his toughness. Roethlisberger, because of a few off field incidents, is rarely thought of in high regard when it comes to writers who romanticize the game’s players. His scrambles and daring play are every bit as good as John Elway’s and has won more games for the Steelers than most can keep count. Where Elway had The Drive (Elway’s 98 yard drive to tie the 1986 AFC Championship Game) Roethlisberger led a last second drive culminating with a last second touchdown throw to win Super Bowl XLIII with :42 seconds left. We hardly hear of it talked about in the air of Elway’s drive when Big Ben’s was greater because it won a Super Bowl. Why?? Talk about playoff heroics… What about the 3rd and 19, 58 yard bomb to Antonio Brown with 2:00 left in the 2010 playoff with the Ravens?? It led to the game winning score and another Super Bowl visit. Others in that instance would have played for overtime. Yet where is the coverage of his daring or a nickname for either of these moments??

Did we say last second drives to win Super Bowls?? Well Eli Manning has two. Not only did he take down an undefeated Patriot team in 1 Super Bowl (2007), he proved it wasn’t a fluke with an encore performance in the 46th edition. Where Elway won one conference championship game with a last minute drive on the road, Eli has done that twice now in Green Bay and San Francisco in overtime. He has become the NFL’s all time winningest quarterback in the playoffs with 8 wins away from home, he set the record for road wins in a season with 11. Then what may go down as one of the defining games of his career happened last Sunday. After throwing 3 interceptions early in the game to put his Giants in a hole, Eli comes back with 240 yards passing in the 4th quarter alone in beating Tampa Bay 41-34. The Giants scored 25 points in that final period as Manning threw for 510 yards overall. He came within 45 yards of the all time record of 554 set by Norm Van Brocklin in 1950.

Comparing these two classes is one-sided in the favor of the ’04 group when it comes to Super Bowls. The latter group is 4-1 in the big game where the ’83 group was 2-10. Where John Elway was the winningest quarterback in NFL history at one time, folks are slow to notice Roethlisberger is approaching 100 with a total of 84 right now. To further tilt matters this group is in it’s prime and how many Super Bowl visits are in the near future when we include Matt Schaub and possibly a Phillip Rivers (both are 2-0 to start 2012). As of right now there are 3 busts in Canton from the earlier group but this one is better and hasn’t come close to finishing their run yet. They need to get the respect their elders did concerning their on-field heroics.

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