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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Former Oakland Raider Mike Davis Ready To Part With “Red Right 88” Football

It could have been borne from the comment about The Immaculate Reception football being worth a million dollars from the Football Life series. Or was it simply a scenario where a player has gained enough from a momento from his past?? Whatever the reason, in casual conversation former Oakland / LA Raider Mike Davis has decided to sell the football he has held since the Red Right 88 interception against the Cleveland Browns in the 1980 playoffs.

Mike Davis clutch interception in the 1980 AFC Playoffs saved the Raiders season.

Mike Davis clutch interception in the 1980 AFC Playoffs saved the Raiders season.

To understand the value of the ball you have to understand where it came from. It is from the single play that saved the Raiders season and propelled them to become the first wild card team to win the Super Bowl 3 weeks later. The entire story of Jim Plunkett wouldn’t have been complete without this play.

Head coach Tom Flores, whom we believe should be in the Hall of Fame, wouldn’t have been able to leave the shadow cast by John Madden without it. The 11-5 Cinderella Raiders were riding high after a wildcard win over the Houston Oilers 27-7. They had vanquished former Raider Kenny Stabler, whom they traded before the season. Now they were off to play the AFC Central champion Browns.

What is forgotten is how great the Cleveland Browns of that era were. In 1980 they were great throwing the football. In fact they were ranked 2nd only to the San Diego Chargers of Air Coryell fame. Quarterback Brian Sipe was the NFL MVP in 1980 and Head Coach Sam Rutigliano had just won his second straight Coach of the Year honor. Sipe threw for 4,132 yards 30 touchdowns with just 14 interceptions. Over the 1979 and ’80 seasons they had come from behind to win 14 times in the last 2 minutes. In contrast, Roger Staubach had 23 over his entire career to earn the nickname Captain Comeback.

So the football world was gearing up for an aerial AFC Championship between the Cleveland Browns and the San Diego Chargers. It was to be the changing of the guard from the grind it out Pittsburgh Steelers to the first conquerors of the new passing NFL set up by the rules in 1978 favoring such. The Chargers had vanquished the best defense in football in the Buffalo Bills in one AFC playoff 20-14 on Saturday. Now they awaited the Browns who would play an Oakland Raider team full of unknowns, with a journeyman quarterback and unknown coach on Sunday…

The Raiders escaped the confines of Cleveland Municipal Stadium and rode the wave of momentum into San Diego. They won the AFC Championship 34-27 for the right to play the Philadelphia Eagles for Super Bowl XV. All the while Mike Davis clutched the football that propelled his Raiders into NFL history. He would eventually win two Super Bowls with the team when they came back and dethroned the Washington Redskins in XVIII. There he made another iconic play when from his Strong Safety position blitzed sacking Joe Theismann. It was the final turnover and the famous visual of Theismann slowly walking off. His jersey, half pulled off exposing his shoulder pads and stained by field paint.

Yet it was the famous play in the 1980 NFL playoffs that altered the course of NFL history. NFL pundits were ready to crown Air Coryell as the sucessors to the ground oriented teams that dominated the 1970s. Accolades that were thrown around a year later when San Francisco and their passing offense made it to the top of pro football.

mikedavisfacebookSo what would this football be worth? To Oakland Raider fans?? To Cleveland Brown fans?? To a collector?? To the Pro Football Hall of Fame?? Mike’s question hit me like a ton of bricks and it took me a day to realize that football’s value. You can see a part of the conversation on social media to know that it’s true. You’re hearing about this for the first time.

The first thing Mike, we have to get that your ball appraised and possibly auctioned by one of the memorabilia auction houses. Here at Taylor Blitz Times, we would like to hear from Raider fans what it would be like to own a big piece of Oakland Raider history like this. The Chancellor of Football has an idea what the football would be worth. But lets hear from the professionals who appraise such things first.

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Follow up comment from Mike Davis: MikeDavis&I

The Chancellor with Mike Davis at at the 2015 draft party.

The Chancellor with Mike Davis at at his 2015 draft party.

All The Johnny Manziel Subterfuge

A few days ago I posed the question: If you change your mock draft for the 10th time, what’s the difference between that and talking in circles?? Pundit after pundit for weeks explained why they thought Manziel would fall in the draft. Well the Cleveland Browns made him a late first round pick and energized the franchise and fan-base.

manzielAfter months of speculation on where he’ll slip in the draft a funny thing happened. When you asked GMs what they thought about him, reviews were mixed. Yet when you asked defensive players who they least wanted to face of the incoming quarterbacks, Manziel topped that list by far. How much of it was smokescreen to get Johnny to fall to them at a specific draft position??

Former GM Charlie Casserly was his most vocal critic citing his being the most overrated player in the draft. This from a guy that drafted Heath Shuler & David Carr?? To quote Bill Belichick “When has Charlie Casserly been right?”

The consensus has always been to draft a 6’3 strong armed pocket passer. Yet the NFL is evolving. Didn’t we just watch a small mobile QB beat the pocket passer in Super Bowl XLVIII a few months back?? Colin Kaepernick came within a few plays of winning the ultimate game the year before that. There is more than one way to play the position and a new profile of how the position looks. You can offset a smaller quarterback with roll-outs, waggles, and spread formations. Drew Brees has been carving up the record books lately at 6’0, so what is everyone talking about??

More important…who cares??

The Browns needed Johnny Manziel as much as he needed them. He will have a chip on his shoulder from this entire draft ordeal and want to prove a point. Its the immeasurable qualities like the will to win, and the ability to inspire teammates that you can’t get from combines and pro days. Watching his best college performances against teams that were thought to be better than his shows fight. He’ll have plenty of those days with the Browns looking up to the AFC North and most teams from a talent standpoint. He’s wired psychologically to take that on. The Heath Shulers, David Carrs, Blaine Gabberts of the world were not.

Speaking of free agents Cleveland might attract....LeBron James sporting a Manziel jersey traveling with the Miami Heat.

Speaking of free agents Cleveland might attract….LeBron James sporting a Manziel jersey traveling with the Miami Heat.

Now the Browns can draw more attention from the upper echelon of free agents that will be available before the season begins. We still have a few rounds of the draft to go, but look for the Browns to make a move at receiver with the pending suspension of wideout Josh Gordon.

The Cleveland Browns relevancy begins now.  Just call him Johnny Cleveland!

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The Deal of 2013: Trent Richardson Traded To the Colts

Richardson has been dealt to Indianapolis.

Richardson has been dealt to Indianapolis.

The NFL is still buzzing over the Cleveland Browns trading away Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts. When this came across the wire yesterday our CEO recounted how heavy Brown’s brass attended the Texas A&M v. Alabama game last weekend. So naturally it brought about the question: What did Cleveland gain by making this trade??

For starters they get a #1 pick going into next April’s draft. Yet what does that say about this year??

The optimism of the Browns offense in the preseason disappeared as soon as the regular season dawned. They could only muster 10 points at home in a loss to the Dolphins.  In that game Richardson had 13 carries for 47 yards. However it was Brandon Weeden’s 3 interceptions that were the focal point of the loss.

The offensive woes continued in Baltimore where the team looked to bounce back against the Ravens. Now you have to remember this was a defense that was humiliated on national television as they gave up an NFL record tying 7 touchdown passes to Peyton Manning the week before. It was also on a Monday night, so the Ravens would appear to be vulnerable. Both in psyche and fatigue. Their performance in week 1 was so bad, that after holding Weeden to 227 passing yards in week 2, they’re still 25th in the league against the pass. Yet Richardson in another tightly contested contest, a 14-6 loss, was held to 58 yards on 18 carries. Something happened between these two games that convinced Cleveland brass they had seen enough.

Sure Richardson has been nicked and had injuries here and there but what running back doesn’t? We watched Ray Rice go down with a hip flexor in the same game and the Ravens have Bernard Pierce taking most of the carries there anyway. We don’t see the Ravens making moves regarding Rice do we?? So what gives??

Jim Irsay was quoted as saying they have to protect Luck better.

Jim Irsay was quoted as saying they have to protect Luck better.

Neither Brandon Weeden or Trent Richardson are players selected by the current coach /gm combo. New Coach Chudzinski wants to put his stamp on the team and two weeks into his new regime, he fields the league’s 28th best offense with a runner that has 105 yards rushing. That isn’t going to get it done anymore than Weeden’s 1TD vs. 3 interceptions. They had to make a move right now with the most trade-able commodity they had to draft the quarterback of the future. Weeden has 14 weeks 7 hours and 32 minutes to show he is the future of the Cleveland Browns. If not, watch for the Browns to draft a Johnny Manziel and bring in a #1 receiver to go with him.

The reality is the NFL and all teams function as a corporation. You acquire assets so that when it’s time for any liquidation, those assets still have worth. Ask yourself who would trade for a quarterback who is damaged goods psychologically like Weeden?? The Browns did what they had to do and with the performances of running backs drafted in the middle rounds lately (see Alfred Morris) and you realize they can duplicate Richardson’s performance for far cheaper. Sure this throws away the entire season for the Cleveland Browns but the question is: They are 0-2 now and lost to a Baltimore Raven team that was still staggering from a week one beatdown. How many wins were the Browns going to get with Richardson had he stayed??

When you have draft a quarterback number one you’re putting the franchise in his hands. Where Weeden is coming up short in Cleveland, in Indianapolis Andrew Luck seems like a decade long fit as the signal caller. Yet over the first two weeks of the season, the Colts are 27th in sacks allowed with 7 and 28th in quarterback hits allowed with 14.  Or they were on pace to allow 56 sacks and 112 hits on the quarterback. This would probably get Andrew Luck knocked out due to injury at that rate. In comes a runner that should provide more physicality than Ahmad Bradshaw, who only has 97 yards on the season. Luck is just behind him with  76 yards running for his life.

Trent Richardson reporting for duty with the Colts.

Trent Richardson reporting for duty with the Colts.

Now they get a power runner free from teams stacking 8 man fronts on him with a quarterback that can complete passes downfield.  Luck in return has a running threat that can keep defenses honest. This should workout well for the both of them. As for the fans of Cleveland?? Sigh!! Say goodbye to the competitiveness of the 2013 season. The Browns will likely use the draft picks on Johnny Manziel and a stud receiver. Why overpay for a running  back when so many are on the open market you can get in the 3rd or 4th rounds?? Only time will tell if they made the right move or not in the eyes of Browns fans. However in The Chancellor of Football’s eyes….brilliant move. Kill two birds with one stone.

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2013 AFC North Predictions

Admittedly we are a tad late on our NFL divisional predictions. On the eve of the biggest AFC North game for the Cincinnati Bengals for quite sometime, we have to go on record for how we think the AFC North will go. If you have followed our previews up to this time, Taylor Blitz was the first of the national pundits that had the Cincinnati Bengals going to the AFC Championship Game in a few months. https://taylorblitztimes.com/2013/04/16/2013-cincinnati-bengals-team-preview-slowly-building-a-winner/ That article was produced on April 16th, so we are talking before the unfortunate events with the Patriots and Aaron Hernandez. Before the suspension of Von Miller out in Denver. Right now the Cincinnati Bengals have a tremendous amount going for them, including returning the NFL’s 6th ranked defense.

The Cincinnati Bengals should be the best of the AFC North in 2013.

The Cincinnati Bengals should be the best of the AFC North in 2013.

2013 AFC North Predictions

1. Cincinnati Bengals 11-5 ##

2. Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7

3. Baltimore Ravens 7-9

4. Cleveland Browns 6-10

The only team to make it to the playoffs from this division this year are the Bengals. What we do know is Cleveland has improved on offense, if we’re talking about the preseason. They struggled against a rebuilding Ravens team that gave up an NFL record 7 touchdown passes to Peyton Manning in week 1. The Browns actually had scouts at the Texas A&M / Alabama game to scout Johnny Manziel who threw 5 touchdowns and scored 42 against the number one team in the nation.  Current QB Brandon Weeden has 14 more games to prove he is the future or his job is gone next off-season.

The Steelers are in the middle of a rebuilding year and need to indoctrinate several young players in the Pittsburgh mold.  Understand this record was before they lost signal callers Maurkice Pouncey, Center, and inside linebacker Larry Foote to season ending injuries. They may fall further than 9-7 but the rest of the division might be too weak to take advantage.

Which brings us to tonight. Former NFL commissioner Bert Bell coined the phrase “On any given Sunday” back in the 1950’s. Meaning that at any time a lessor team can take down one of the NFL heavies.  It’s amazing how that has been through the years. Yet one of the items we say around here is every champion has building blocks to their championship mettle. One mission for the Cincinnati Bengals tonight is to prove to the Steelers, NFL fans, teams and most importantly to themselves that they are the team that rules the AFC North. Nevermind their loss in week 1 it starts tonight.  That psychological building block to this team’s psyche begins in a few hours.  Their mission, should they choose to accept it….

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2013 AFC North Predictions

Now the season is off to a rollicking start, it’s time to finish up on our predictions for the course of the 2013 NFL season. One division that is going to see turnover at the top is the AFC North. It was long thought the Baltimore Ravens wouldn’t be the defense we had come to know with Ray Lewis, but to allow 7 touchdowns to Peyton Mannning?? Uh oh… might take some time for that defense to jell this season if they do at all. So who will win the AFC North and interrupt the hold at the top dominated by Pittsburgh and Baltimore the last 13 years??

The Cincinnati Bengals should be the best of the AFC North in 2013.

The Cincinnati Bengals should be the best of the AFC North in 2013.

2013 AFC North Predictions

1. Cincinnati Bengals 12-4 ##

2. Pittsburgh Steelers 9-7

3. Cleveland Browns 7-9

4. Baltimore Ravens 6-10

The last two years have been a dress rehearsal for the Bengals in the NFL playoffs. This year they will do some serious damage as a division winner. They return the 6th best defense in the NFL before you factor in the addition of James Harrison. They were second in the NFL with 52 sacks, 4th in touchdown passes allowed with 16 and added players to bolster both those numbers. Andy Dalton, in year 3, knows his team and this division and will know his way around the NFL playoffs as well.

The Steelers are in a short rebuilding phase and will have a few growing pains. However when you return with the #1 defense in pro football, you will be in a lot of games. The only issue is they don’t force turnovers like they used to. We also have to see how Mike Wallace’s absence holds back the passing game. With that defense and LeVeon Bell they will sneak close to the playoffs but will have to wait until 2014 to showcase what they can do.

The Browns are a much improved team but still can’t compete at the top of this division. Trent Richardson will dominate this year where last year he showed some flashes. They really looked good in the preseason but we have to see how they respond when real bullets start flying.

As for the Baltimore Ravens….sigh. We attended their funeral last Thursday when Peyton Manning baptized them with 7 touchdown passes. They were just caught in a vice when the offense went flat early in the third quarter. Yet the lack of leadership showed up when they couldn’t stem the tide. A season of growing pains awaits the Super Bowl champs.

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