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 West Previews & Predictions

The real reason Osweiler may have left the division.

The real reason Osweiler may have left the division.

What is it about the Denver Broncos winning Super Bowls and having quarterbacks retire?? This of course wouldn’t mean as much had Brock Osweiler stayed around. Now they have Mark Sanchez and highly regarded 1st round pick Paxton Lynch. This time around there won’t be a Mike Shanahan brain fart going with untested Brian Griese over veteran Bubby Brister. Hopefully Coach Kubiak will opt for the veteran and bring his prized rookie along slowly.

However an autumn wind is billowing in from the west. Its always fun to watch a team as it starts growing before your very eyes. Khalil Mack, Derek Carr, and Amari Cooper headline a young star studded group out in Oakland. The question is will it grow to a point to challenge for supremacy in the AFC West this season??

raiderfanlogo2016 AFC WEST PREDICTIONS

Oakland Raiders 10-6 *

Kansas City Chiefs 9-7

Denver Broncos 7-9

San Diego Chargers 4-12

Most will scoff at the notion of the Raiders overtaking the Chiefs until you realize Alex Smith is still their starting quarterback. We have seen the best of his abilities and he will just keep you in ball games. At times he plays scared of throwing the football down the field. Jamaal Charles just made it off the PUP list but when will he gain his original explosiveness??  Now with LB Justin Houston returning from knee surgery also can we expect the same production there?? They were 11-5 with the 7th best defense in the NFL and OLB Tamba Hali is coming back from a broken thumb. This team will slide back in 2016.

Anderson will breakout n 2016.

Anderson will breakout n 2016.

In Denver the preseason has played out exactly as The Chancellor thought, no one is taking control at the quarterback position. Mark Sanchez’s penchant for turnovers has come back to haunt him in both preseason games. We still don’t have a starter named going into week 3 of the preseason. First rounder Paxton Lynch still needs grooming. He’s taken a few more sacks than you’d like but could become the starter by mid season if the offense sputters. His arm has shown zip. Now he needs to develop touch and throw the ball on time.

For a team that was 6-1 in games decided by 6 points or less the one thing they can ill afford is turnovers. Turning the ball over 3 & 4 times a game will get a defense in trouble. Even a #1 ranked defense. Go ask the ’85 Bears, 2000 Ravens and ’02 Bucs why they didn’t repeat. So expect Coach Kubiak to lean on RB CJ Anderson who should breakout with a 1,400 yard season. However the ball doesn’t bounce a team’s way 2 years in a row and QB instability will lead to 3 or 4 close losses this season.

Carr will lead Oakland to the playoffs in 2016.

Carr will lead Oakland to the playoffs in 2016.

It won’t be enough to hold off the growing Raiders under Coach Jack Del Rio. Look no further than the stunning development of Derek Carr. Last year’s performance (350 of 573  3,987 yds 32 TDs / 13 ints) marked him as an up and coming superstar and this will be the year he cements that notion. Both Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree are back as his main receivers along with 1,000 yard rusher Latavius Murray.

The improvement has to come from last year’s 22nd ranked defense. Defensive Coordinator Ken Norton Jr did get LB Bruce Irvin from Seattle this year and signed S Reggie Nelson to replace Charles Woodson. Both are coming from winning organizations which should provide veteran leadership to help a young team learn how to win. First round draft pick Karl Joseph has Nelson to groom him for the pro game.

Circle the week 6 match-up with Kansas City, where the Raiders could be sporting a 4-1 record against a 1-3 Chiefs team. The knockout blow that could ignite an AFC West Championship for the Oakland Raiders.

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

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

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Cliff Branch Belongs In The Pro Football Hall of Fame

John Madden once told NFL Films “Cliff Branch was so skinny when he walked his back pockets would fight.” Yet no one put fear in NFL secondaries when it came to getting beat deep during the 1970’s. When someone says close your eyes and picture the Oakland Raiders of the ’70’s, one of the first visuals you’d have would be Stabler launching a bomb in Cliff’s direction.

BranchBWDrafted out of Colorado in 1972, Branch was a football and track star in college. Oakland had been without a true deep threat since Warren Wells departure a few years earlier. His baptism by fire would come as he learned the game from Hall of Famer WR Fred Biletnikoff and going up against Hall of Fame CBs Willie Brown and Skip “Dr Death” Thomas in practice.

Going against those 2 big physical corners, Branch grew up in a hurry. When he was unleashed on an unsuspecting NFL as a 1st time starter in 1974, Branch blazed for 60 rec 1,092 yards and 13 TDs. Pedestrian by today’s standards until you realize he was 4th in receptions and led the league in yards and touchdowns.

It was the 1st of 4 straight Pro Bowl and All Pro seasons. He was the #1 weapon on a team that finished in no less than the AFC Championship in each of those campaigns. His best season capped off the Raider’s Super Bowl XI championship when he caught 46 passes for 1,111 yards and 12 touchdowns. Why was it his best? He led the league in TDs and was 2nd in yards losing to Roger Carr by 1 yard on arguably the most powerful NFL champion of the 1970’s.

One aspect of Branch’s game that makes him an all timer is how he played in big games. When everyone marveled at Hall of Famer Jerry Rice as he was breaking all time NFL post season records, whose records did you think he was breaking? When Rice caught 3 TDs in Super Bowl XXIV, he was breaking the Super Bowl record for touchdowns in a game when Branch set it with 2 against the Eagles in XV. When Branch retired after the 1985 season, he was the NFL’s All Time postseason reception (73) and yardage (1,223) leader before Rice broke them some 9 years later. He had broken the previous records set by fellow Raider WR Biletnikoff, who was now his coach.

However records and numbers only tell a part of the story. How much space did defenses give him in respect to his speed that opened up opportunities for Biletnikoff and Hall of Fame TE Dave Casper?? Do you realize he was the only skill player on all 3 Raider Super Bowl champions?? Against the Eagles in Super Bowl XV it was his 2 scores that broke the game open 21-3…winning it 27-10.

In Super Bowl XVIII when the Raiders held a precarious 7-0 lead over Washington it was Branch who blew that game open too. The Raiders first score was a blocked punt. In the 2nd quarter, a 35 year old Branch beat Anthony Washington and Darryl Green on a 50 yard bomb to put the silver and black in scoring position. A few plays later Branch scored from 14 yards out to give the Raiders a 14-0 lead. This took John Riggins out of the game and forced the Redskins to pass into the teeth of a secondary led by Vann McElroy, Lester Hayes, Mike Haynes, and Mike Davis. A 38-9 triumph won him his 3rd championship ring.

For his 14 year career he caught 501 passes for 8,685 yds and 67 touchdowns. His fellow receivers Biletnikoff and Casper have each made “The Hall.” This August his original quarterback, Ken Stabler will be enshrined posthumously. His original coach John Madden and the late Al Davis have both been enshrined. Once Tom Flores and Cliff Branch are voted in, it will close this chapter on Oakland /L.A. Raiders football.

**In 2016 the words from this article were used to induct Cliff into the Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame. Hopefully it will be the first on his way to Canton.**

Please 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 #21
Send letters to:
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Attention Joe Horrigan
2121 George Halas Dr NW, Canton, 
OH 44708

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For enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present to you Cliff Branch.

Legendary Days: Ken Stabler’s Last Great Comeback

A few short weeks ago we lost Ken Stabler and it was felt by football fans everywhere. In my article describing why he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I cited the great moments he had as one of the reasons. He had so many famous 4th quarter finishes they had nicknames: The Holy Roller, The Sea of Hands, and The Ghost To The Post to name a few. However the one most people forgot about was his last great comeback.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

Stabler celebrating a score in Super Bowl XI.

John Madden, Fred Biletnikoff were gone and many holdovers from the 70’s were being phased out in 1979. Tom Flores was now the coach and Oakland was about to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. Only the second time this had happened in 12 years. They traveled to New Orleans where both teams at 7-6, clung to fading playoff hopes.

The Saints had a shot at finishing with their 1st ever winning season. They had Pro Bowlers in QB Archie Manning, RB Chuck Muncie, TE Henry Childs, and WR Wes Chandler. Now on a Monday Night they were going to show the nation and the rest of the NFL they were to be taken seriously. They came out firing and took a 28-14 halftime lead on Oakland. The Raiders looked like an aging team as the Superdome was raucous from the 1st half heroics, then it got even louder early in the 3rd quarter:

…and just like that Stabler brought the Raiders back from 35-14 to the greatest comeback win in Monday Night history 42-35.  The Snake had gone 26 of 45 for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were thrown in the 4th quarter alone.  On a Monday night in December 1979, Stabler turned back the clock with an unbelievable performance.

RIP Kenny Stabler

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Ken Stabler Belongs In The Hall of Fame – HOF Edition

Originally Published 12, July 2015 w/ Postscript 9, May 2019

When it comes to who should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, most inductees are in for the stellar performance over their careers entirety. Others are in based upon producing some of the greatest moments in football history. A third definition in the eyes of the The Chancellor is “Can we talk about the era in which a player performed without his name coming up?”  Ken Stabler of the Oakland Raiders fits the bill in all 3 of these categories.

KennyStablerHere in Taylor Blitz Times we have chronicled the long time bias against former Raiders when it comes to enshrinement. Head Coach John Madden’s field general has yet to be elected to Canton. Stabler was a throwback QB who called his own plays and routinely led the Raiders into the playoffs during the 1970’s. Along with Fan Tarkenton, Roger Staubach, and Terry Bradshaw, these four ruled the 1970’s and arguably Stabler had the most legendary moments.

On December 23,1972 in the AFC Divisional Playoff in Pittsburgh, Stabler, whom Madden had been grooming since 1968, was the wild card needed to change the tide of a game down 6-0. Desperate for some offense, John Madden inserted a young, mobile Kenny “The Snake” Stabler in for an anemic Daryle Lamonica which produced immediate results.

On a last second desperation drive, the Raiders came scrambling downfield with a young quarterback in his first significant action in an NFL playoff game. At the Steelers 30 with less than 1:30 to go, Stabler avoided the Steel Curtain, took off and scored on a 30 yard TD run to give the Raiders their first lead of the game 7-6. “The Snake” had done it!! A hero was born!! There was bedlam on the Oakland sideline and with 1:13 to go began to make reservations for they would host the AFC Championship Game against the undefeated Miami Dolphins.

However this was overshadowed by The Immaculate Reception that happened 4 plays later. Then later that day Roger Staubach had his 1st famous comeback in a 30-28 win in San Francisco. Yet Oakland knew they had their quarterback of the future and he could perform in pressure situations. Like a young George Blanda, who had a magical run during 1970, the Raiders could depend upon Stabler’s heroics for years to come.

Over the next 5 seasons as the starter, Stabler guided the Raiders to the AFC Championship Game. An NFL record. He was a daring quarterback who was a true river boat gambler. This led to some interceptions but even more daring touchdowns. He was old school yet enjoyed wine, women, and song out in the nightlife. He still came in and put in his work and teammates respected him and would follow him anywhere.

In 1973 Stabler completed an unheard of 62.7% of his passes, for 1,997 yards 14 TDs and 10 interceptions. The Raiders won the AFC West and got revenge on the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 33-14 win in the playoffs. The Miami Dolphins, on their way to back to back championships, beat them in the ’73 AFC Championship 27-10. Take a wild guess who was there to get revenge in the 1974 AFC Divisional Playoff?

 

Stabler ended the Dolphin dynasty with the touchdown to Clarence Davis in what became known as The Sea of Hands. One of the most famous games in NFL history.

Although the Raiders lost the AFC Championship the next two years to the rival Steelers, they came back in’76 with a vengeance. They recorded a 13-1 record and sought revenge on those Steelers yet needed another “Snake” come from behind miacle win in the AFC divisional round to get there.

 

1977-01-17 CoverThe Raiders would go on to win the AFC Championship 24-7 over Pittsburgh, then Super Bowl XI over Minnesota 32-14. He had guided the Raiders to that elusive championship in an era when it seemed they would be destined to always be the bridesmaid. He had several great performances left but becoming a champion was the ultimate.

In defending that championship in 1977, Stabler guided Oakland to a record 5th straight AFC Title game in Denver. They fell short 20-17 in getting to Super Bowl XII. How much did that have to do with the fatigue from the 6 quarter epic, Ghost To the Post 37-31 victory over the Baltimore Colts 1 week before??

 

Stabler’s Raider career was filled with great highlights and one important Super Bowl championship. In 1976 he had one of the greatest season a QB could have. He went 194 of 291 for 2,737 yards 27 TDs and 17 ints and an astonishing completion rate of 67.7% and a 103.4 passer rating. Remember this is a guy who extolled the Raiders philosophy of pressure football while throwing the ball deep.

However Stabler’s career wasn’t a series of statistics. He was one of the NFL’s most visible and recognizable personalities. He did make four Pro Bowls, was voted NFL MVP in 1974, was All Pro twice, and led the league in touchdown passes on 2 occasions. Furthermore,”The Snake” also was voted to the 1970’s NFL All Decade Team and finished with 194 TDs and 222 interceptions. A trade to the Houston Oilers after the 1979 season ended his stint  in Oakland. However he did go out with a bang:

 

Before his retirement in 1984, he did play for the late Bum Phillips twice in Houston and with the New Orleans Saints. Yet it was the magic he deftly showed out in Oakland that should have him in Canton. You can’t even pick out the best quarterback/receiver combo from the 1970s. Was it Stabler to Cliff Branch who should be in the Hall of Fame?? Would it be Stabler to TE Dave Casper who is in “the hall”?? No…it has to be the obvious in Stabler to Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff…right?? If all of his receivers are in and being considered for the Pro Football Hall of Fame what does that make of the quarterback who helped get them there??

Unfortunately with his passing on Wednesday, we will have to lobby for Stabler to be enshrined posthumously.

For the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I present Kenny “The Snake” Stabler

RIP Ken Stabler (December 25, 1945 – July 8, 2015)

Epilogue: 9, May 2019 When going through the pics and remembering the 2016 enshrinement weekend at the Hall, it was an emotional weekend. During the Gold Jacket Ceremony, one of the “Grandsnakes” came on the stage to receive Stabler’s Hall of Fame crest. Not only did we give a standing ovation, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Not in the section I was in.

halloffamecrest.stablerIt was impossible to not think how great Kenny would have enjoyed that weekend. He would have shared it with his family and would have definitely included his grandsons to which he was most proud of in everything he did.

Having been to two of the last three ceremonies it’s the stories, the celebrating of a player and a family’s legacy to this great game, and the camaraderie reveling in the accomplishment. The Raider family was out in force and came far and wide to celebrate his enshrinement. Yet the elephant in the room is we all felt cheated out of hearing from the man himself.

chancellor.hall

I wore a Jerry Kramer jersey into “The Hall” then removed it to reveal a Stabler shirt I picked up after the Gold Jacket ceremony.

For the record I do wish the PFHoF presented Stabler’s family with a ring and gold jacket.

It was bittersweet however its better that Ken Stabler’s Hall of Fame legacy is in Canton where it belongs and no longer being debated.

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SUPER BOWL XVIII CHAMPION 1983 LOS ANGELES RAIDERS

When Marcus Allen broke out with that famous run for LA in Super Bowl XVIII, you knew Al Davis was going to go with something similar to the past two rings…anyway Raiders 38-9 over the Redskins. Tom Flores became a great coach with not only his second Super Bowl win in 4 years. He knocked off a defending champion that was 1 game away from being labeled a dynasty.

sbxviiiHow did the Raiders kill the defending Redskins like that?  Beating the Redskins yes but dismantling them like that?  It’s still baffling some 31 years later.  The highest scoring team in history only scoring 9 points?  NFL Films shows you and tells the story. Raiders defense, Raiders defense, Raiders defense!  John Madden called the game, what more could a Raider fan want?

What most fans don’t remember was going into the ’83 AFC Championship Game, the Raiders had been swept by their division rival Seahawks during the year.  So Seattle was a formidable foe.  The game had a weird feel to it because it was drizzly and grey.  I remember Marcus Allen playing with a black eye, swollen like a boxer.  They ran over Seattle 30-14 and rewrote history.

sbxviii32Had Lyle Alzado controlled himself, the Raiders could have won that game in the 1982 playoffs (loss to Jets 17-14) and could have won Super Bowl XVII.  How do we know this?  The Redskins (who won XVII) was exceedingly stronger in 83 and that beating the Raiders gave them was epic.

Easily the strongest team in Raiders history with a mixture of old pros and young players that made up the core of this team.  Two Heisman winners on offense with Jim Plunkett and Marcus Allen.  Old pros like Cliff Branch and Todd Christensen.  Greg Pruitt was brought in to return kicks and set a league record for punt return yards.

sbxviii3Really solid defense…Reggie Kinlaw dominated from nose tackle with Hall of Famer Howie Long, the late Lyle Alzado, Greg Townsend on the defensive line were hard to move on the point.  They had the heaviest set of inside linebackers in Bob Nelson and Matt Millen. At 250lbs. each could take on and shed guards if they had too.  Rod Martin and Ted Hendricks ( the U) were the outside ‘backers with a lot of range.  Mike Davis and Vann McElroy were really solid safeties.

This defense had no real holes and then we get to Lester Hayes and Hall of Famer Mike Haynes.  One on one coverage at its finest that culminated in this performance against the Redskins receivers.

Charlie Brown and Art Monk combined for 125 receptions for 1,971 yards and 13 TDs during the season. Hayes and Haynes held them to 4 rec. for 119 yards…60 came on one play. It reduced the highest scoring team in NFL history to 1 scoring drive in the 3rd quarter. The next year in 1984 they started to give up some passing yards.  Yet Super Bowl XVIII they were at their zenith.

sbxviii5Remember that whole NFC 13 straight Super Bowl wins (19-31) and NFC dominance talk back when?  It was really worse than that.  After Pittsburgh’s win in XIV, only the Raiders won for the AFC in XV and XVIII. So it was really (16-31) that the NFC dominated but could not beat the Raiders winning 15 of 17.  Talk about carrying the torch for the conference…

 

It was also the last championship won by the Raiders under Al Davis. An original AFL pioneer who remained a separatist at heart and on all of the Raider’s Super Bowl winning rings, used the AFL “A” and not the AFC “A”.

 

Long live the American Football League, as we lost a pioneer back in 2011 when Al Davis passed.  In 2010 I attended a game in the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum and the ghosts of all those great Raider moments played out as I looked around that stadium. I met many former Raiders at the game and just missed Coach Flores but definitely would have loved to have met Al Davis.

bdavisThis is dedicated to the memories of Al Davis, along with Al LoCasale, Todd Christensen, Lyle Alzado, Earl Leggett, John Facenda, and Charlie Sumner.

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