Legendary Days: Doug Martin Hits The Oakland Raiders With a Record 251 Yard 4 TD Performance

If we take you back to the beginning of this decade we didnt have the college football playoff and there was an argument for teams that were the equivalent of college basketball’s mid majors. Did the Boise St Broncos and TCUs of the world belong with college football’s elite??

The Chancellor of Football was wrapped up in the same argument and touted Boise St belonged. It was an argument for their team, competition they faced and the players themselves. SEC loyalists would scoff their players were better and how Boise didn’t belong even though they were 6-0 against top ten competition between 2007-2010.

Going into the 2011 season the argument got even louder as Taylor Blitz Times and The Chancellor produced this article: 2011 Heisman Campaign – Doug Martin of Boise St. The argument took off on Facebook & Twitter where Doug Martin would be a better pro running back than Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson then starring at Alabama. Or at least from this historian/talent evaluator’s view.

Martin didnt fulfill his promise with an injury filled senior season and Ingram also struggled rushing for 474 yards 5 TDs as a rookie. Yet 2012 would be different. Ingram would be versed in the pro game and start to make his move and Martin was healthy headed for the draft.  Once Mike Mayock of NFL Network came out and stated Martin was the most NFL ready back a lot of talk died down.

Hadn’t The Chancellor of Football proclaimed that more than a year earlier??

The Buccanneers learned to entrust Doug Martin with the football in his hands as the lead horse.

Once Martin became the 1st round selection of the Bucs and in the same division as Ingram the stage was set. However Martin’s rooke season began with fits and starts. A flash here and there but hadn’t put a whole game together and then came week 8.

In a national televised Thursday night contest Martin put it together with a 29 car. for 135 yards and 1 TD performance. He also had to 3 receptions for 79 yards and another score. The 2-4 Bucs upset the 5-2 Vikings and the league took notice of Martin.

Those that doubted his ability to play on this level had all shut their collective mouths for this was a strong performance. We hadn’t seen anything yet as the Oakland Raiders and their 12th ranked run defense was the recipe for a historic performance:

Once the dust settled, Martin had set the Bucs all time single game rushing record with 251 yards and 4 TDs. He scored on runs of 45, 67, 70, and 1 yards all in the 2nd half. Yikes! Had Adrian Peterson not broken the NFL’s All Time rookie single game yardage mark with 296 in 2007, Martin would have broke it with this 2012 performance.

If you include his 1st carry of the 4th quarter, the 70 yard TD, Martin had 10 carries 213 yards and 3 TDs in 16:00 of football. He was staring the NFL’s single game rushing record (296 yards) in the face with 9:00 left in the game. Highlights on NFL Redzone and cut ins around the country showed Martin just destroying the Raiders.

As for that original argument The Chancellor had waged with SEC loyalists backing Ingram ended that afternoon loudly. Martin would go on to a Pro Bowl season with a career best 1,451 yards 11TDs. Ingram finished with 602 yards and 5 TDs.

After a few injury filled seasons Martin bounced back with a 1,402 yard season in 2015 when he finished 2nd in the NFL in rushing… again to?? Adrian Peterson. His signature game in that season was a 27 carry 235 yard performance against the Eagles in 2015.

martin.rankd33in2016He had injuries during his career but the flashes he showed were some of the best in NFL history. The game against Oakland was the signature game of his career. If he could have avoided the injury bug…

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Hardy Nickerson Belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame

When most sportswriters chronicle a franchise’s turning point its usually attributed to the hiring of a coach or a number one draft pick QB who goes on to a Hall of Fame career. One where the culture of an organization completely shifts as the team has a pivotal player & focal point to build around. Enter Hardy Nickerson.

Most try to equate the turnaround with the drafting of Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks when the direction was set in motion several years before these two Hall of Famers were drafted in ’95.

Let’s take you back to the early 1990’s Tampa was a desolate outpost no one wanted to play for. It was a rudderless franchise that had just finished 1992 having set an NFL record with their 10th straight double digit loss season.

The culture was so demoralized just 8 years before 1st round draft pick Bo Jackson refused to play for Tampa. He elected baseball instead. USFL refugee Steve Young was so disheartened with the situation he only played 2 seasons. After a 3-16 record as the starter in ’85 and ’86, Young asked owner Hugh Culverhouse to allow him to leave. His trade paved the way for a Hall of Fame career out in San Francisco and the chance to draft ’86 Heisman winner Vinny Testaverde.

Testaverde toiled in Tampa for six seasons, never winning more than 6 starts and exited in the first season of free agency for a backup assignment in Cleveland. Yet before the door shut Hardy Nickerson was the first big free agent to sign on and step through.

Nickerson became the centerpiece of Defensive Coordinator Floyd Peters’ 4-3 at Middle Linebacker and a terror was set loose. He became a sideline to sideline tracker and hit everything in sight. In ’93 he led the NFL in tackles with a team record 214 while making his 1st Pro Bowl and voted 1st team All Pro. It was only the 4th time a Tampa Bay defender was voted to the Pro Bowl in Hawai’i and the 2nd all pro selection since the team’s inception.

His play was so dominant he broke the team season tackle record in a week 15 win over Chicago. There were still 3 games to go in 1993! So his 1st season ended with 214 tackles, recorded a sack, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and had an interception.

Or think of it like this… he recorded 96 more tackles than his Hall of Fame teammate Derrick Brooks (118) recorded in ’02 when he was NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Chew on that for a second…

He brought an intensity that was infectious and the Bucs began to stand and fight with their foes instead of conceding defeat. In 1993 Nickerson and the Bucs weren’t highly ranked but held 4 teams to 10 points or less. A Taylor Blitz defensive staple. To match this total,  not including season finales where teams and the Bucs had packed it in… you have to go back 6 years to 1988 to tally 4 teams held to 10 or fewer covering a year time period.

Earlier in his career he shared the inside linebacking duties in the Steelers 3-4. Yet now he became the successor to Mike Singletary’s Middle Linebacker throne in the old NFC Central. Over the next 7 years Nickerson averaged 119 tackles 2 forced fumbles every year as he led his young teammates in to battle as they chased the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North who had become league champion.

From that point on the organization geared their personnel decisions on teaming Nickerson with blue chip defensive talent. Gone were the high profile offensive players that turned the “Yucs” into the laughing stock of the NFL. Replaced by one forged of grit and toughness that thrived on the visceral edge of football. This culiminated with the 96 draft and twin #1 selections Derrick Brooks & Warren Sapp along with promoting SS John Lynch up from special teams.

The season opener in ’97 saw the seminole moment Nickerson’s defensive mates had grown to match his intensity and tenacity. Perennial power San Francisco came to Tampa and were hammered 13-6 as Steve Young was sacked and knocked from the game by Sapp. He returned a few quarters later where Nickerson sacked him again along with his 6 tackles on the game. Brooks had 10 tackles and Sapp finished with 2 1/2 sacks.

With playmakers all over the field in Tony Dungy’s new “Tampa 2” Nickerson’s stats took a hit. Yet in ’97 he recorded his 2nd highest career total with 147 tackles, the 1 sack and 2 forced fumbles. Hardy made 2 different All Pro teams while being named to the 1st unit and made the 3rd of his 5 Pro Bowl appearances.

However had he made the ’95 Pro Bowl he would have finished on the last 5 straight Pro Bowl teams to finish the 90’s with 6 overall.  Yes Ken Norton and Jesse Tuggle were great that year but…

  • Nickerson – 143 combined tackles, 1 1/2 sacks 3 forced fumbles 3 fumble recoveries
  • Ken Norton – 96 combined tackles, 1 sack, 1 ff, 3ints for 2 TDs (same game)
  • Jessie Tuggle – 152 combined tackles, 1sack, 1ff, 3ints

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny Norton…. sigh..  yet this is what the players voted and he was on a #1 defense in San Fran that year. This catapulted Norton’s profile that year and Nickerson was robbed.. I meant snubbed. Yet I digress

The ’97 Bucs finished 3rd in defense and made the playoffs for the first time in 15 years where they lost to the Packers. Ushering in the era where the Bucs finished in the top 3 in both 98 and 99.

Unfortunately ’99 was the last season for Nickerson with the Bucs. Although he was 34 he finished with 110 combined tackles, 1/2 sack, 3 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions. He made his 5th and final Pro Bowl. His final game in Tampa was the NFC Championship where the Bucs held The Greatest Show on Turf to 11 points and held a 6-5 lead in the 4th quarter.’

Nickerson left Tampa after that stellar defensive performance and played for both Jacksonville and Green Bay before retiring.

Yet the men he helped usher in defensive excellence with went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII a few years later. Once the final minutes counted down the first two members of the Tampa Bay family I thought of were former head coach Sam Wyche and Nickerson. It was the late Wyche who signed Nickerson and set him loose in his defense.

For his career Nickerson made All Pro 4 times, the Pro Bowl 5 times and was a member of The All Decade Team of the 1990’s. Do you realize he is the only true Middle Linebacker on the all decade team?

Where Heisman Trophy winners Vinny Testaverde, Bo Jackson, and Hall of Famer Steve Young failed to change the culture of the organization, Nickerson succeeded. The relative wealth and fortune of the franchise changed from the moment he took the field.

Name a better and more consistent Middle Linebacker from the NFC side of the ledger from the 1990’s?? I’ll wait here

His signing at the advent of the 1st season of true free agency (1993) you have to think of his signing as important as Reggie White in Green Bay. It resurrected a franchise and led to Super Bowl triumph ultimately.

To see his number isn’t retired nor in the Buccaneer Ring of Honor is a complete travesty. The relative wealth and prestige took off the moment Nickerson signed on and they should have a statue out front. Well one place this historian believes he should be is in Canton.

For induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame I present to you Hardy Nickerson.

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The Chancellor’s past articles advocating for players to be inCanton prio induction:

 

With Kevin Greene after the Induction ceremony.

Kevin Greene

 

 

Terrell Davis

 

“Hey big guy!” The laughs at the Hall of Fame party were priceless.

Jerry Kramer

Randy Moss

Andre Reed

Edgerrin James

Ken Stabler

Cris Carter

Robert Brazile

 

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Met Robert Brazile after the Gold Jacket Dinner. Great time.

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2019 NFC South Previews & Predictions: Chasing Ghosts

With the season underway it’s time to take a look at the NFC North where the most loaded division in the conference exists. In the last 10 years, 3 of the teams representing the NFC in the Super Bowl have come from here. The Saints in XLIV, the Panthers steamrolled to Super Bowl L and the Falcons are still reeling from the comeback they gave up in LI. Last January many felt the most egregious non call in NFL history prevented a 4th with seconds to go in the NFC Championship Game.

The Saints have said they have gotten over the debacle of the NFC Championship….have they?? What about the Minneapolis Miracle on the last play of the ’17 NFC Divisional loss to the Vikings?? Not since the Cleveland Browns of the late 80’s have we seen an NFL team so snake bitten with bitter endings in playoff games.??

2019 NFC North Predictions

  1. New Orleans Saints 11-5*
  2. Atlanta Falcons 10-6**
  3. Carolina Panthers 8-8
  4. Tampa Bay Bucs 5-11

The most competitive divsion in football just solidified with Julio Jones inking a 3 year extension which will keep him in Atlanta. The beauty is he stayed in the fold working and he and Matt Ryan should be firing away from the start of the season. However Deion Jones needs to return to form and their defense has to improve from a ranking of 28th.

Will Vic Beasley ever return to his 2016 All Pro form when he had 15 1/2 sacks and terrorized the division?? Matt Ryan has to get the Falcons leads and over the last 2 years he hasn’t had the rushing attack of the Super Bowl season of 2016. He’s been mired in games where he has been forced to throw to bring the Falcons back in games.

Can Freeman carry the load in ’19?

Last year the rushing attack plunged to 27th after dipping to 13th in 2017. Ever since the loss of Kyle Shanahan’s playcalling (’16) and Tevin Coleman’s departure (’17) and Freeman’s injury, Atlanta has left that defense on the field and they’ve suffered too many breakdowns.

Matt Ryan has to become the QB that can overcome play deficiencies and deliver. He has to be able to take over games when the attack is sputtering. Might not be fair but as a Super Bowl franchise quarterback, he has to held to that standard. This is Matt Ryan’s 12th season he isn’t a kid anymore and has to take over in games that mean something for Atlanta.

In Carolina and Tampa each will be held back by their quarterbacks and could both be looking for new ones next April. Since this game has been founded nothing has derailed a quarterback’s career like shoulder injuries. Cam has been recovering since off season surgery and hasn’t looked right.

Will Carolina develop other weapons to take the heat off McCaffrey.

His delivery was always a problem but earlier in his career he could power the football with his shoulder strength. He hasn’t developed throwing on time where he doesn’t have to and loft over the underneath coverage. Newton throws a lot of interceptions to Linebackers undercutting his routes.

Newton has been hesitant to let the football go and the offense relies way too much on Christian McCaffrey. Without the threat of attacking defenses downfield McCaffrey is an easy key and will be worn down by season’s end. Carolina has an aging defense that will short circuit their best efforts as Newton learns to trust the system and throw on time. He also can’t run and accumulate punishment on it either. This is a recipe for disaster as most of the Panther’s offense revolves around Newton running and throwing.

As for Winston and the Bucs… they brought in the QB whisperer in Bruce Arians. The question is will Jameis Winston pick up on the nuances of reading defenses and delivering the football on time to all of his receivers?? Winston is locked in on TE Cameron Brate but he has to be able to complete all his throws… deep digs, posts, post corners and get the ball out on time. Much like Newton he tries to gun the ball in late and sees a lot of interceptions by defenders cutting under his routes.

jameisIt’s one of the reasons DeSean Jackson connected with Ryan Fitzpatrick last year and emerged as a deep threat for Philly in game 1. However 2 of the Bucs former head coaches are on the Falcons coaching staff where Raheem Morris and Dirk Koetter are employed.  Tampa is in another coaching rebuild and will struggle. Tampa will struggle as will their quarterback. Will Winston make improvements to the point Tampa picks up his 6 year option?? Or will he fall by the wayside where the Buccaneers officially enter the Jalen Hurts sweepstakes??

The Chancellor of Football thinks it will be the latter.

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Will Jon Gruden Be Successful In This Stint in Oakland??

It’s a question that begs to be asked seeing Gruden has been away from an NFL sideline since the end of the 2008 season. Most people amid the hoopla of his rehiring in Oakland forget he was let go after a 4 game losing streak knocked his Buccaneer team from the playoffs.

Now it has to be acknowledged Gruden was successful in his 1st tenure in Oakland. The Silver & Black posted a 40-28 record from 1998-2001 where they made the playoffs in the last two seasons. His Raiders built on the momentum of a 41-38 defeat of the Chiefs in an overtime season finale that knocked KC from the playoffs.

Over the next two years he built upon signing veterans who played in the West Coast system in RB Charlie Garner and WR Jerry Rice. Gruden and journeyman QB Rich Gannon had fashioned a short to intermediate passing game which pushed Gannon into the upper echelon of signal callers as the new decade dawned.

Although the Raiders made the postseason for the first time since 1990, then owner Al Davis struggled with Gruden over the offensive philosophy of the team. Davis still wanted the downfield passing approach he had helped pioneer with the Raiders since the 60’s. The problem was he didn’t have “The Greatest Show on Turf” Rams receivers nor Mike Martz passing attack he fancied. Davis watched as over in the NFC the Rams and Vikings 1998-2000 were setting league records throwing it deep and making it to Super Bowls.

Everyone had been telling Davis for years the game had passed him by and his system of football was dead. Yet he kept seeing Tory Holt, Isaac Bruce, and Randy Moss and kept envisioning Cliff Branch going deep and wanted it. So the inner struggle within the organization began.

Another struggle that started to surface in the 2001 season was tension between Gruden and some of his veteran players. His “Chucky” act was seeming to wear thin in a veteran laden locker room. That pushy constant grimmacing play to the camera demeanor and personality was coming off phony. To casual fans it wasn’t but long time football observers knew what they were watching. Go back and check the press clippings as the ’01 Raiders limped to the finish with a 3 game losing streak and lost the chance at homefield advantage as they had in 2000. Their reward?? You guessed it… a fateful trip to snowy Foxboro, Massachusetts. “The Tuck Rule” a playoff loss and Gruden became the first coach in modern history to be traded.

All of this was masked when the Buccaneers went on to win Super Bowl XXXVII. Gruden inherited a defense that turned in one of history’s finest performances allowing just 196 points and scoring 9 defensive touchdowns. With all that accidental scoring Gruden’s 2002 Bucs (346 points) barely outscored Tony Dungy’s 2001 Bucs with 324. They did have better play calls in the playoffs but Tampa had grown up and matured and it was just their time.

Ironically for Gruden’s ego and “Chucky” persona he has struggled with strong personalities over extended periods of time. Once the euphoria of the Super Bowl in Tampa  faded they were a struggling 4-6 team the following season when this happened.

Remember a few other run ins with DE Simeon Rice along with finally deactivating Johnson? Now we fast forward with a Gruden 15 years older and he is going to get along with and manage millenials who have their own voice through social media?? Yeah right. Ask middle management America how that is going all across the country. Its the only reason we saw Gruden release P Marquette King when all accounts considered it a surprising release in the middle of June. Has he met outspoken DE/LB Bruce Irvin yet?? He was the first Seattle defender who openly questioned Pete Carroll’s goal line decision after Super Bowl XLIX.

For all his QB guru persona while on ESPN what is lost is how poorly his quarterbacks performed after Rich Gannon. Brian Griese, Tim Rattay, Chris Simms, Bruce Gradkowski, Luke McCown, then a retread Jeff Garcia and Brad Johnson. Yes he won the Super Bowl with a steady but unspectacular performance not turning the ball over. Yet Johnson was gone within 3 years. Somehow he is thought of as this great QB whisperer. He has one in Derek Carr and hopefully he can help him reach his full potential. Gruden doesn’t do well with young signal callers. Check his record.

Raider fans are praying this is going to work but we’ll see how long this “Chucky” scenario will last. Retread coaches rarely see success in their second tenures to the level of their first stop. Time will tell but The Chancellor of Football doesn’t see it happening.

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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 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.