Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sports Spin Podcast presented by CFB Week 1 Review/ Week 2 preview

Josh Neighbors and Connor Jones discuss this past weekend's action in college football, and what it all means. Then, they break down next week's matchups and their playoff implications. They finish it off with some predictions. Click the link, download, and enjoy.

photo credit

NFC East Preview

-Addison Hunsicker
The 2013 NFC East crown came down to a week 17 matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. With no Tony Romo, Dallas had to find a way to win with Kyle Orton, which they did not do. Orton threw an interception to Brandon Boykin in the final minutes, and the Philadelphia Eagles captured the NFC East title, but their season would come to an end the following week with a loss to the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs. The Eagles had a breakout year in Chip Kelly's first NFL season as a head coach in 2013, with LeSean McCoy having another stellar year along with Nick Foles emerging as the team's starting quarterback. 

In Dallas, the Cowboys yet again disappointed their fans with a third straight 8-8 season, just missing out on the playoffs in the final week. Eli Manning's New York Giants started off 2013 with six straight losses, ending the year winning seven out of their last 10 games. And down in the nation's capital, Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins fell apart after starting 3-5, losing their last eight regular season games, finishing an abysmal 3-13. Who will win the NFC East in 2014 and find themselves in the playoffs? Let's take a look at how the four teams in the NFC East will fare in 2014.

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2013 Record: 10-6
2014 Projected Record: 10-6

The biggest story revolving the Eagles in the off-season was the release of DeSean Jackson. Despite the loss of Jackson, the Eagles still have pieces to work with at the wide receiver position in Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, along with Jeff Maehl and Ifeanyi Momah. Philadelphia also added Darren Sproles in the backfield to accompany LeSean McCoy, adding to their offensive threats. Even with all of the losses and additions, Chip Kelly will still have an explosive offense to utilize in 2014 with second year quarterback Nick Foles. In 2013, Foles had a record-breaking year, finishing with 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions, and will have a chip on his shoulder (no pun intended) in 2014 to prove that he is in fact a franchise quarterback in the National Football League. Foles will have to continue making smart decisions, taking care of the football, and having efficient games in the air with accurate passes for this upcoming season, and the Eagles will be in good shape to win the NFC East for the second straight year.

The centerpiece of the Eagles offense in LeSean McCoy will have the most to do with Philly's success in 2014. Last year, Shady McCoy had 2,146 yards from scrimmage on 366 touches, scoring 11 touchdowns. Even with the addition of Darren Sproles, McCoy will still see a heavy workload, and must produce at a high level for this Eagles team to have success. Chip Kelly's entire fast-paced offense revolves around McCoy being effective in the rushing and passing game. Sproles will be a nice touch in the backfield for screens, runs to the outside, and in the return game, but McCoy will still be the centerpiece. The Eagles offensive line returns intact, but right tackle Lane Johnson will miss the first four games because he violated the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, receiving a suspension. Jason Peters is a stud at left tackle to protect Nick Foles's blindside, while Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, and Todd Herremans round out the all-pro offensive line.

Question marks regarding the Eagles chances of repeating in 2014 as NFC East champions revolve around the defense. The defense will not be great, they will be average. Malcolm Smith should help to improve an Eagles secondary that ranked last against the pass in 2013, but an improved Eagles pass rush will ease the pressure off of the unproven secondary. Last year, Philadelphia could not get to the quarterback. Bill Davis will need first-round pick Marcus Smith along with Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, and Vinny Curry to cause havoc at the line of scrimmage in order for the Eagles to have success on the defensive side of the football. Should the Eagles only give up 23.9 points per game in 2014 like they did last year, the defense will put the team in a good position to make the playoffs once again. 

2. Washington Redskins
2013 Record: 3-13
2014 Projected Record: 8-8

If Robert Griffin III returns to 2012 form and puts his horrendous 2013 season behind him, the Washington Redskins will be the team that most challenges the Philadelphia Eagles for the 2014 NFC East crown. First year head coach Jay Gruden cannot afford to have his franchise quarterback go down with an injury or perform poorly, or else Washington will be in trouble. RGIII must stay in the pocket at all costs, and when he leaves the pocket to scramble with his legs on the ground, the former Heisman winner has to make smart decisions. He must avoid any contact by sliding on the ground in open space when being approached by an opposing defender, and by getting out of bounds when running up the sideline. Should RGIII play an effective 16 games for Washington this year, the 
Redskins will be a scary team to face because they have plenty of pieces alongside RGIII. 

Alfred Morris and Roy Helu provide excellent depth in the backfield with Morris being Washington's ground-and-pound back, and Helu using his receiving abilities on third down situations. With RGIII to likely little read option calls, Morris will have to run effectively through the tackles and along the outside in order for Washington to maintain their rushing attack. The biggest acquisition for Jay Gruden was the signing of DeSean Jackson after he was released by the Philadelphia Eagles. Jackson will provide RGIII with a speedy deep-threat that opposing defenses will have to respect. Along with Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, the Redskins will have an explosive passing attack if RGIII gets his act together in the pocket. 

The defensive side of the football will halt Washington from achieving much success in 2014. With no more London Fletcher to solidify the middle of the field, the Redskins will struggle to make key stops to get the football back into the hands of the offense. Signing Ryan Clark at safety and drafting linebacker Trent Murphy out of Stanford will not be enough to improve the Washington defense. Safety Brandon Meriweather is suspended the first two games of the regular season and cannot seem to avoid making an illegal hit when the time comes, only adding to the lists of issues for Jay Gruden on the defensive side. The Redskins will give up a lot of yards, and if RGIII along with the entire offense is good enough to put up points on a consistent basis, Washington will be able to contend for the division title. If RGIII goes down with an injury or does not produce, and the offense cannot consistently put up points to keep pressure on the opposing team's offense, then the Redskins will find themselves out of the division race before December comes around.

3. New York Giants
2013 Record: 7-9
2014 Projected Record: 6-10

In 2013, Eli Manning was very good at throwing the football to the opposing team, as he led the NFL in interceptions with 27. Along with Eli Manning and the passing attack being ineffective, the Giants also could not establish a running game of any sort. In the off-season, Tom Coughlin added Rashad Jennings and drafted Andre Williams out of Boston College to help with the rushing attack in 2014. Even with the additions of Jennings and Williams, New York will still have a horrific time on the ground due to Eli Manning's struggles in the air. With a poor offensive line, Eli may not even be able to set his feet and throw the ball this year, and will be rushed by opposing defenses a majority of the time. When Manning gets time to throw, he has a hard time being accurate with his passes. 

Eli does have Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and first-round draft pick Odell Beckham Jr., but those three will not be enough to combat Eli's inconsistent accuracy, a non-existent running game, and an inferior offensive line. Luckily for the Giants, they have a solid defense that will keep them in games. They ranked in the top 10 in least amount of yards allowed per game in 2013, and only surrendered 23.9 points per game. The secondary is solid and the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will help the Giants improve their pass defense, and the front seven should be serviceable enough to provide an adequate rush defense. Overall, 2014 will be a season of turnovers along with an ineffective offense for New York, and the Giants' defense is not elite enough to make up for the anemic offense. 

4. Dallas Cowboys
2013 Record: 8-8
2014 Projected Record: 5-11

The Dallas Cowboys will be the laughing stock of the NFL in 2014. Jerry Jones has done nothing but fill the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in the off-season, preparing to lead his team to yet another disastrous season. Jones released DeMarcus Ware in March, but he did lock-up place kicker Dan Bailey for seven years, so at least the Cowboys will not have to worry about their kicking game for a while. With no DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee's torn ACL in OTAs made an even bigger impact to the already obliterated Dallas defense. Defensive end Anthony Spencer is hurt and will not be ready for the start of the regular season, and cornerback Orlando Scandrick is suspended four games for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy. The Cowboys could possibly have the worst defense in NFL history in 2014, and if they do not, they will certainly be close.

The only reason why the Cowboys will win games is because of their offense. With Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Jason Witten as weapons for Tony Romo, along with DeMarco Murray and a solid offensive line, Dallas will be able to put up points. The problem is, they will have to put up points on every single possession, because their defense will be so horrible. Jason Garrett will have to utilize DeMarco Murray more than he did last year, and the Cowboys should not have a problem putting up points in the majority of their games. But then, the fourth quarter will arrive. Every week there is something new with the Cowboys on how they will blow that specific game. Whether it is a Tony Romo interception, a drop by a receiver, a fumble by a running back, or a complete collapse by the defense, the Dallas Cowboys will find a way to lose week in and week out. Tony Romo does get too much heat for the Cowboys' mediocre seasons, and he will have an elite season once again in 2014. Despite Romo and the offense producing, the defense will be too horrendous for the Cowboys to be anywhere near the top of the NFC East this year.

Division Awards

MVP: Robert Griffin III - His performance will decide the fate of the Washington Redskins this season. If he does well, the Redskins will contend for the NFC East title. If he does poorly, Washington will not reach the playoffs for a second straight year.

Offensive Player of the Year: LeSean McCoy - Shady McCoy is the centerpiece of one of the most explosive offenses in football. He will get his touches, yards, and touchdowns en route to yet another spectacular season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Prince Amukamara - The Giants need their defense to be solid for them to win games, and Amukamara will make sure that is the case.

Rookie of the Year: Jordan Matthews - With the release of DeSean Jackson, the Eagles will need Matthews to step up to replace the lost production.

The NFC East will ultimately be a two team race between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. In the end, Philadelphia's high-powered offense and average defense will be too much for the Redskins to catch with their questionable quarterback in Robert Griffin III and deficient defense. Nick Foles will prove himself to be a franchise quarterback in 2014, and LeSean "Shady" McCoy will make sure that the Philadelphia Eagles fly to the playoffs as NFC East division champions. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sports Spin Podcast presented by College Football Week 1 preview

Connor Jones and Josh Neighbors preview the first week in college football, including #21 Texas A&M's trouncing of #9 South Carolina. They also discuss the other happenings in the world of sports. Click on the link below, download, and enjoy!
Photo credit USA today sports

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

NFC West Preview

-Ben Greer

The NFC West is arguably the most talked about division in all of football, consisting of intense coaches, tremendous talent, a plethora of trash-talking, and of course, the defending Super Bowl Champions. Heading this prestigious conference are the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, who had two of the three best records in all of football last year at 13-3 and 12-4. With these powerhouses sitting at the top, it is easy to forget about the great 10-6 season that the Arizona Cardinals had this past year. Bringing up the rear are a not too shabby St. Louis Rams team, who at 7-9 helped the NFC West obtain the best record in football at 42-22. However, 2014 is a new year with new transactions, new contracts, and more experience for the up-and-coming young stars of the division. Let’s dive in, shall we?

St. Louis Rams

We embark on our quest for enlightenment with last year’s bottom feeder, the St. Louis Rams. The Rams were a team searching for an answer last year, and they found one in running back Zac Stacy, who had a breakout 2013-2014 season, helping the Rams have a somewhat respectful season. Looking to 2014-2015, Jeff Fisher will be looking to make some noise, and emerge among the powers of the NFC West. Despite slight disappointment last year, this year, the team may be ready to make a push.

Biggest Concern

I have serious doubts when it comes the Rams’ secondary. While there may be talent amongst the secondary, it is an extremely young one, with seven new defensive backs including four rookies. Headlining this group of rookies is Lamarcus Joyner out of Florida State. If they want to have any chance of competing in this league full of up and coming quarterbacks, they are going to have to be able to hold their own in the secondary, and let their defensive line control the game.

Biggest Strengths

The biggest strength for the Rams is being able to control the trenches. The Rams really worked hard on strengthening their O-Line as they drafted OT Greg Robinson second overall. In addition, they resigned LG Roger Saffold, who alongside Robinson and former number one overall pick Jake Long, should be able to create ample holes for emerging star Zac Stacy and former Auburn rookie Tre Mason. The Rams running game will be their focus on offense, as they have all the pieces necessary to be able to produce a dynamic running attack.
On the other side of the ball, the defensive line is loaded with talented veterans. To help strengthen an already strong core group headed by Chris Long, Michael Brockers, Kendall Langford, and Robert Quinn, the Rams signed veteran Alex Carrington from the Bills, and they additionally drafted Aaron Donald from Pittsburgh, who led the NCAA in tackles for loss last season. The defensive line will have to be able to halt the running game, and control the dynamic quarterbacks of the West, in order to help an otherwise suspect defense.

Keys to Success

The defenses in the NFC West are elite; they are arguably the best in the game. The Rams defense is solid, but not up to the same level as the rest of the division. As a result of this, they will have to be able to develop into a legitimate dual-threat offense. Sam Bradford was on track for his best season yet before his season came to a halt with a season ending injury. Nevertheless, the former Sooner is on the hot seat in my opinion, as he needs to be able to deliver this season if he wants to remain a starting quarterback in this league. The running game will be the main aspect of their offense, but in order to open up Stacy and Mason, Bradford needs to utilize big play threats Tavon Austin and free-agent signee, Kenny Britt. If St. Louis can emerge as a dual-threat offense, they may have a shot at contention with the top of the division.


The Rams are close, but at the end of the day I don’t see them making the hurdle to elite just quite yet. Their depth worries me, and teams should be able to pass the ball with ease against their lacking secondary. Their offense will be tough to stop, but not tough enough in the end.

Arizona Cardinals

Next, we head west to Arizona. The Cardinals successful 2013-2014 was overlooked despite a surprising 10-6 year. Much like the Rams, the Cardinals found an answer least year in a breakout running back, Andre Ellington. Bruce Arians is in his second year at the helm ,and with Ellington back and pieces surrounding him, we will see if the Cardinals can make the final leap to the playoffs.

Biggest Concern

My biggest concerns for the boys from Zona are the linebackers and the defensive line. The linebacking core took a huge hit in the offseason as Karlos Dansby signed with the Browns, and Daryl Washington is suspended for the year as a result of marijuana usage. Come on Daryl, you’re better than that. The Cardinals are stuck now with unproven Kevin Minter and veteran Larry Foote who is past his prime and unable to play a full game.
Dansby and Washington were monumental in the Arizona pass rush, and without them, quarterbacks just might have too much time when they face the Cardinals. Calais Campbell and John Abraham were successful last year, but Abraham is now 36 years old and unable to perform consistently at a high level. Linemen Matt Shaugnessy and Darnell Dockett are solid defenders against the run, but when I look at the Arizona front seven, I see a group who is just hanging on. As soon as someone goes down with an injury, the rush defense and pass rush is going to be in serious trouble.

Biggest Strengths

The areas of in which the Cardinals can count on are their receivers and their secondary. Although Larry Fitzgerald had a somewhat disappointing 2013-2014, he is still one of the top five receivers in the league, and can carry an offense single-handedly. Pun intended. In addition, Michael Floyd emerged last year as a reliable threat, and with the signing of big-play Ted Ginn, the receivers from Arizona will be a serious force to be reckoned with. If one of the many young Tight Ends can emerge as a consistent threat, the Cardinals passing attack may be a serious threat.
The Cardinals secondary can sometimes be overlooked because of the defense up in Seattle, but the Cardinals have a remarkably good secondary. This secondary is anchored by star Patrick Peterson, who just signed the largest contract among active DBs. On the other side is everyone’s favorite Honey Badger, Tyrann Mathieu, who grew into the lockdown defender the Cardinals knew he could be. Moreover, the Cardinals brought in Antonio Cromartie, who, when at full health, is another lockdown corner. To replenish the safety position after the loss of Yeremiah Bell, the Cardinals drafted Deone Bucannon out of Washington State who should be able to step in right away.

Keys to Success

It is absolutely vital that the Cardinals can once again establish their running game for a multitude of reasons. Carson Palmer is entering some of his last years, and although he will not be able to do anything spectacular, he will be able to produce with the talented receivers he has. However, Ellington needs to take a lot of pressure off of Palmer with the running game. If the Cardinals can run the ball, they will be able to control the clock and control the game which will keep their aged defense off the field as much as possible. The secondary is young, energetic, and will not have a problem with playing lots of snaps, but the front seven is a completely different story. The linemen and linebackers are full of veterans who are capable of high performance, but their snaps need to be limited. I believe the Cardinals will be able to establish this mandatory running game, as the offensive line is young, but full of potential. One of their biggest signings was left tackle Jared Veldheer who will play a huge role in the Arizona offense.


I like what the Cardinals have done this offseason, but I honestly think this year will be a step in the wrong direction. Their secondary is deadly, and their defense has lots of potential, but I have fear that Ellington will not be able to produce like he did at the end of last year. The depth on offense worries me, along with Carson Palmer’s old age and his tendency to throw interceptions. This team can contend, but they are not quite good enough.

San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers are coming off a successful season, where they fell just one play short of the Super Bowl. Their season began with an inconsistent Colin Kaepernick, but as the season progressed and Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree got healthy, Colin hit his stride, and the 49ers found themselves in the playoffs, just short of the division winning Seahawks. Led by intense coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers are going to be hungrier than ever.

Biggest Concern

The 49ers are coming off a very successful defensive season, but it will not come as easily this year, as there are many question marks in the secondary. With the loss of Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, and Donte Whitner, San Fran will be searching for answers in Chris Culliver and Tramaine Brock. Although both guys have some experience, neither of them can be relied on all-season. They brought in cornerback Chris Cook and safety Antone Bethea, but again, neither can be relied on to lock anyone down.

Biggest Strength

I see the 2014 49ers biggest strength as their offense. Kaepernick will be hungry after last season’s bitter conclusion, and he will finally have a full season with all of his weapons healthy. With Crabtree and Vernon Davis anchoring the receiving core, they negated the loss of Mario Manningham by signing Brandon Lloyd and Stevie Johnson, who will help take some of the pressure off of Davis and Crabtree down the stretch.
Additionally the running game should be at full strength as they return a veteran offensive line, and fighter, Frank Gore. However, as a result of Gore’s age being a risk going into the season, the 9ers drafted underrated Buckeye running back Carlos Hyde, who, in my opinion, is an NFL-ready tailback.

Key to Success

The key to success for the 49ers this year will be their front seven on the defensive side of the ball. This aspect of the game has been the anchor of this team in the past, and if they want to take down the Seahawks, they are going to have to be even stronger this year. They will have to do without Aldon Smith for an undetermined amount of time because of his numerous legal problems. The rest of the core is still around, but the two players who are question marks or Navarro Bowman after his gruesome ACL, MCL injury. In addition, the man who will be playing for Aldon while he is out is second year player Corey Lemonier, who will need to overachieve in order to keep this San Francisco defense a powerhouse.


The San Francisco 49ers were a great football team in 2013, but they could not make the leap over the Seahawks because they had a few areas that needed reinforcement. This offseason, they have gotten the reinforcement and then some. Their offensive depth is off the charts and while there may be some question marks on the defensive side, they return enough of the core to have a lockdown D, and in my opinion, to make a Super Bowl run.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks and the Legion of Boom are coming off an incredible Super Bowl season where at times they were as dominant as a team can be in professional sports. With some more question marks than there were last year, it will be very interesting to see if the Seahawks can reach the promise land once more.

Biggest Concern

The biggest concern for me has to be the running game. While Marshawn Lynch is one of the hardest runners in the NFL, his style of running can only be effective for a certain amount of years before it starts wearing on him. The Seahawks have heavily relied on him in the past, and he is reaching a point in his career where he may be prone to injury. To make matters worse, there are many holes in the offensive line, and with the loss of Breno Giacomini and the injury prone Russell Okung, Lynch may be taking more hits than he can handle.

Biggest Strength

Even with the losses of Red Bryant, Brandon Browner, and Walter Thurmond, the L.O.B will be back in full force this year. Headed by everyone’s favorite Richard Sherman, the secondary will still be strong, with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor making noise in the passing game. Also, the Seahawks return all of their linebackers in Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Malcolm Smith, who will be sure to cause plenty of havoc in the middle. Rushing the passer should not be a problem either as Michael Bennett, Brandon Mebane, and Cliff Avril will be causing nightmares for quarterbacks everywhere.

Key to Success

The key to success for the Seahawks is going to be Russell Wilson and the passing game. Russell will enjoy the luxury of getting Percy Harvin back from injury, but this comes at the cost of losing his former top-target Golden Tate. When Wilson isn’t finding Harvin, he will be forced to look elsewhere to Jermaine Kearse, Zach Miller, and others. With Marshawn Lynch not being able to carry as much of the load this year, Wilson will need to be able to shoulder more responsibility, and take the reigns of the offense.


The Seahawks will be a playoff team undoubtedly again, but I see some holes in the defense that worry me a little. The depth is not there on the offensive side at any position, which is very worrisome to me in such a physical division. Wilson will have by far his best year, and the defense will be stout, but I do not see this Seahawks team as a Super Bowl Champion.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

AFC West Preview

The AFC West division dominated the American Football Conference during the 2013 season, with three of its teams clinching a spot in the postseason.  The Denver Broncos headlined the division, earning the #1 seed in the playoffs and a win in the Conference Championship game.  The Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers fought their way into the playoffs as well, receiving the #5 and #6 wildcard seeds respectively.

Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos spent their offseason setting themselves up for another Super Bowl run.  They addressed weaknesses in every phase of their defense, adding pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, and safety TJ Ward.  The addition of these three pro-bowl players will strengthen the 

Denver defense that ranked 19th in the NFL last year in yards allowed per game.  The Broncos suffered losses to both their offense and defense during the offseason.  The team lost breakout wide receiver Eric Decker and running back Knowshon Moreno during free agency.  They cut future hall of fame cornerback and Broncos veteran Champ Bailey to free up CAP space as well.

Coming off the best season of his career, Peyton Manning is preparing for another run to the playoffs.  Wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker headline the strong core of offensive weapons.  Many people believe that the key to the Broncos’ offense this year will be second-year runningback Montee Ball.  He is now slotted as the teams’ full-time starter and will make an impact in expanding the offense and opening up holes for the passing game through the middle of the field.

Prediction: The improved Broncos defense and dominant offense heads into the 2014 NFL season in the hopes of improving its stellar 13-3 record from last season.  I believe that the best-case scenario for the Denver Broncos this season would be a 14-2 record, a division title, and a #1 seed in the playoffs.  However, with the improvement of so many other teams in the conference, the Broncos could see themselves falling to 12-4 or 11-5 and having to fight a close battle for the AFC West division crown.

Kansas City Chiefs
The second best team in the division last season was the Kansas City Chiefs.  The team gained the first wildcard slot in the postseason after finishing with an 11-5 record.

The team’s focal point was clearly its defense.  It finished the regular season with 47 sacks and 21 interceptions.  The defensive roster remains very similar after the offseason.  The only two major losses to their squad were cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson.  Kansas City added to its already vaunted pass rush by drafting linebacker/defensive end Dee Ford in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

The Chiefs suffered key hits to their offensive line during free agency, losing tackle Brandon Albert and guard Geoff Schwartz.  They will rely on second year player and 2013 first-overall pick Eric Fisher to slide into the left tackle position and lead the team’s offensive line.

Prediction: After taking a few hits on both sides of the ball, I believe the Kansas City Chiefs will fail to improve on their 11-5 record from last season.  Unless the defense can carry the team even more so than they did last year, the Chiefs look to be about an 8-8 or 9-7 team.

San Diego Chargers
The San Diego Chargers finished as the AFC’s #6 seed in the postseason and the 3rd best team in the AFC West.  They finished with a 9-7 record and capped their year off with a playoff win in the Wildcard Round against the Cincinnati Bengals.  

The team stayed very quiet during this year’s offseason, the only major signing being cornerback Brandon Flowers to strengthen their secondary.  The Chargers also addressed this position during the draft, selecting Jason Verret in the first round.

Led by quarterback Philip Rivers, the Chargers’ offense had a strong year last season.  Keenan Allen broke out as a star wide receiver in his rookie year and will be relied on as the team’s number one option in the passing game.  Runningback Ryan Matthews is also coming off the best year of his 4-year career, and is primed to have an even stronger season rushing the ball behind the Chargers’ solid offensive line.

Prediction: I believe that the Chargers will perform even stronger than they did last year, winning 10 or 11 games and clinching a wildcard spot yet again in the postseason.  If the defense can hold its own, the sky is the limit for the Chargers once they begin the postseason.

Oakland Raiders
Perhaps the busiest team in the NFL in this year’s offseason was the Oakland Raiders.  After finishing just 4-12 last year, the Raiders went on a spending spree signing veteran players in free agency.

On defense, the team added defensive end Justin Tuck, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, and cornerback Carlos Rodgers.  The Raiders also utilized their first round pick on a defensive player and selected linebacker Khalil Mack.  Oakland not only addressed its defense, but also its offense, which failed to produce consistently last season.  Matt Schaub and Maurice Jones-Drew were brought in to be the starting quarterback and running back respectively.

Prediction: I believe that Oakland has a strong chance to improve on its 4-12 record from last season.  With the addition of many new veteran players, the Raiders will probably win 5 to 7 games this year and although seeing improvement, still fall short of the playoffs.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

AFC North Preview

-Rob Wedge
photo credit
If the past is prologue, recent history of AFC in general suggests that the winner of the AFC North will represent the conference in the Super Bowl XLIV in Glendale, AZ. Here’s the history:  since the NFL went to a four-division format in 2001. The Pittsburgh Steelers have won six AFC North Division titles, appeared in five AFC championship games, won 3 of them, and capitalized with two Super Bowls. The Baltimore Ravens have won four AFC North Division Championships, appeared in three AFC Championship games, and won Super Bowl XLVII. The Cincinnati Bengals have won three division titles, but have not won a playoff game and the Cleveland Browns made one playoff appearance as a Wild-Card in 2002. 

So what can we expect from a division which returns three head coaches, but adds a new offensive coordinator in Baltimore, new coordinators on both sides of the ball in Cincinnati, and (yet another) staff overhaul (and quarterback change) in Cleveland ( America’s Factory of Sadness)? Stability on a coaching staff and at the quarterback position are the two most important factors to a successful football team, which could mean the Pittsburgh Steelers and their six Super Bowl rings could be poised to rebound from consecutive 8-8 seasons with a vengeance. 

1st Place – Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4)
photo credit
Back-to-back 8-8 seasons have Terrible Towel wavers nervous. So do the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jericho Cotchery (combined 113 receptions, 1342 yards, and 16 TDs). They were hit even harder defensively losing Larry Foote, Brett Keisel, LaMarr Woodley, and Ryan Clark. However, the Steelers still have a two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback under center. The newest additions to the Steelers receiving core, wily veteran Lance Moore and the polished Markus Wheaton, will look to provide the same level of output as Sanders and Cotchery. Add those weapons to fantasy stud Antonio Brown (a former sixth round pick and two-time Pro-Bowler who caught 110 passes for 1499 yards), Le’Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, and potential rookie sensation/speed demon Dri Archer... The Steelers could have a pretty prolific offense on their hands this upcoming season. 

Barring injuries (always a big if at the confluence of the Alleghany, Monongohela, and Ohio Rivers), the Steelers offense should be the third best team in the AFC – after Denver and New England. If the first quarter battle(all starters) between Buffalo and Pittsburgh this Saturday night is an indicator, it could be a long season for defenses facing this revamped Steelers attack.

Warren Sapp has been calling Pittsburgh’s defense “old and slow” for years. This offseason, Kevin Colbert and the front office set out to remedy that situation. Insert Ryan Shazier and his 4.4 speed at the “mack” position in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense along side of Lawrence Timmons at the “buck”,  the Steelers may have two of the best sideline to sideline defenders who can drop into pass coverage in the league. Jason Worilds was a revelation at Left Outside Linebacker during the second half of last year making LaMarr Woodley and his huge contract expendable. Jarvis Jones should be improved in his second year, and the addition of Peezy (Joey Porter) to the coaching staff should make all of these guys better. Up front, Cameron Heyward is on the verge of becoming a dominant player while Steve McClendon, Cam Thomas, and Stephon Tuitt should be solid as rotational players. The team may also bring back Brett Keisel for one last ride along that defensive front. In the secondary, Mike Mitchell is a  speedy new addition who should help cover for Troy Polamalu’s gambles. The only weakness may be at the cornerback position where Ike Taylor continues to get older and the Steelers continue to wait for Cortez Allen to show his potential that he flashed at the end of the 2012 season. 

The special teams should be good again. Dri Archer, LeGarrette Blount, and Antonio Brown should be explosive in the return game again. Shaun Suisham has shown his strength over the last four years and just signed a new four year contract. The only question mark is at punter, but that should be addressed before the team suits up for its first contest with the Cleveland Browns on September 7.
With a soft opening schedule – Cleveland at home, at Baltimore (without Ray Rice) on Thursday night, at Carolina (without quality wide receivers), Tampa Bay at home, at Jacksonville, at Cleveland again, and Houston (without a quarterback) at home on a Monday night, the Steelers could be 6-1 and brimming with confidence before the tougher part of their schedule kicks in. Since 2003 your AFC Super Bowl quarterbacks in order have been Brady, Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, Brady, Roethlisberger, Manning, Roethlisberger, Brady, Flacco, Manning. It’s time for #7 to lead the Steelers to ring #7 and to get his contract at the level of Flacco and Dalton – especially since he is clearly the best quarterback in the division. 

2nd Place – Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) (Wild Card)
Marvin Lewis is the longest tenured coach in the AFC North and the second-longest tenured head coach with the same team in the NFL (after Bill Belichick). Since joining the Bengals to start the 2004 season, he has led the Bengals to five playoff appearances, no small feat in a division with perennial contenders like the Steelers and Ravens. However, he still does not have a playoff win, and he enters the 2014 season without offensive coordinator, Jay Gruden and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. Hue Jackson should step into Gruden’s role seamlessly and possibly improve the offense while Paul Guenther is less well-known on the defensive side of the ball. 

Offensively, the Bengals should be solid once again. Andy Dalton has proven himself to be a solid game manager in his three years in the league and the team has rewarded him for leading the team to playoff appearances in his first three years with an incentive-laden six-year $115 million dollar contract. His line protects him upfront and AJ Green is an unstoppable force on the outside. The one-two punch in the backfield of Benjarvus Green-Ellis and speedy Gio Bernard should provide balance to the office and tight ends Jermaine Grisham and Tyler Eifert should continue to contribute to the passing game. However, the injury to Marvin Jones may slow the Bengal offense a bit in the early season as the Bengals can expect all kinds of bracket coverages for AJ Green until a solid number two receiver appears. 

Defensively, the Bengals are stacked at all three levels. Geno Atkins, when healthy is the best defensive tackle in football, combining incomparable power and speed with terrific instincts to make quarterbacks and running backs lives a living hell. The linebacking corps is led by Vontaze Burfict, a former undrafted free agent who has surpassed expectations in his two years in the NFL and should continue to improve. The Bengals possess the best secondary in the AFC North and possibly the AFC. They have nine defensive backs who are solid NFL players. Leon Hall, when healthy, can lock down one side of the field, and rookie Darqueze Dennard should provide help on the other side. Reggie Nelson and Taylor Mays can lay big hits across the middle, and Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick provide great nickel and dime help when teams go to three and four-wide receiver packages. 

Assuming he has recovered from his December broken jaw, Kevin Huber is solid in the punting game and Mike Nugent just keeps kicking field goals. In the return game, Gio Bernard and Brandon Tate should continue to set the Bengal offense up with excellent field position. 
Roger Goodell and the NFL’s schedule makers haven’t done the Bengals any favors. They open at Baltimore and face what should be improved Atlanta and Tennessee squads at home, get an early bye and then travel to New England and Indianapolis on October 5 and October 19. They also close with Denver and at Pittsburgh. The Bengals may be a better team on the field in 2014, but a tougher schedule could give them problems that will make repeating as AFC North Champions impossible. 

3rd Place Baltimore Ravens (8-8)
Since joining the Ravens in 2008, John Harbaugh has never had a losing season and has been to the playoffs five times. He has a Super Bowl ring and has appeared in three AFC Championship games. He has a Super Bowl winning quarterback at his disposal. Ozzie Newsome is one of the best GMs in football, and a rabid fan base that supports the team. So, why the dour prediction? While the Bengals wear stripes, the Ravens should have changed to striped uniforms in the offseason, with five players getting arrested, the most celebrate of which being Ray Rice who will miss the first two games because of his domestic violence suspension. This is a team in turmoil which is battling injuries, inflated expectations, and a tough schedule.

On the offensive side of the ball, Jim Caldwell has been replaced with Gary Kubiak and his two tight end zone blocking running scheme. Last year, Ravens backs averaged less than three yards per carry and they will be without their top back for the first two games. The aging Steve Smith joins a receiving corps with great speed and bad hands. Hopefully, his passion and energy will improve that position group. The problem for the Ravens’ offense rests in the hands and decision-making of Joe Flacco, though. Simply, he holds the ball too long and makes too many mistakes to be an upper echelon quarterback. Last year he threw 19 touchdowns, but 22 interceptions. While he did not lose any fumbles last year, he has fumbled 14 times in his five year career – often at big moments. He had one great ride to a Super Bowl XLVII victory, but the body of work does not merit the contract and should make fans of purple and black nervous.

On defense, the Ravens defense allowed 4.6 yards per rushing play when DE Arthur Jones was not on the field. Arthur Jones is now an Indianapolis Colt.  Terrell Suggs is still a top-tier player and Haloti Ngata can dominate games, but their run defense and pass rush must improve in 2014. The Ravens drafted Timmy Jernigan and CJ Mosely to improve their front seven and those two should help, but the back end should remain a target for opposing passers. LarDarius Webb is coming off his second ACL injury, Jimmy Smith was one of the five arrestees, and Matt Elam and Terrence Brooks are unproven at the safety positions. 

The special teams might be the best offensive weapon for the team from Charm City. Justin Tucker was automatic in 2013 making 38 out of 41 field goals in 2013, including a 61-yarder to win a Monday night game in which the offense failed to score a touchdown. Sam Koch is a solid punter and Jacoby Jones continues to impress in the return game – if Mike Tomlin stays out of his way.
2014 will be another 8-8 year for the Ravens. Their offense will struggle and the schedule is tough. The Ravens should fatten up on the three weaker teams from the AFC South, but struggle with divisional contests against the Bengals and Ravens while their star running back serves his (light) two-game suspension. Road dates at New Orleans, Miami, and Indy outside of the division could prove tough. San Diego was an improved team in 2013 and should continue to improve. If the Ravens are on the wrong end of an upset or two, as there always are in the NFL, they could be in line for back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

4th Place – Cleveland Browns (6-10)
Out with Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner, and Ray Horton, and in with Mike Pettine, Kyle Shanahan, and Jim O’Neil. Owner Jimmy Haslam, when not defrauding the federal government, has shown himself to be an impatient head coach as he moves to this third new coaching staff in the last three years. The Browns have experienced significant front office turnover in that same period. Simply, this is an organization that is the model of what not-to-do in the NFL. 

There is talent in Cleveland. When not suspended, Josh Gordon is the best wide receiver in football. Unfortunately, he will miss the 2014 season because of a drug suspension. Ben Tate was solid in Houston as a back and Jordan Cameron is a first-tier tight end. On the offensive line, Joe Thomas and Alex Mack are two of the best at their respective positions in the NFL. But, winning in the NFL requires stability at the quarterback position. Brian Hoyer has been an understudy to Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, and is 3-1 as a starter. However, he has only started four NFL games in five previous NFL seasons with four different teams. He has been given the nod over Johnny Manziel, but looking at the Browns schedule, it appears Manziel could have the job by week 5.  Miles Austin and Nate Burleson projected as the starting wide receivers and Kyle Shanahan calling the offense. Things are not looking up for the Browns offense. 

Defensively, the Browns lost D’Qwell Jackson and TJ Ward and replaced them with the aging Karlos Dansby and the oft-suspended and controversial Dante (w)Hitner. In the secondary, Joe Haden is a dominant force at one corner and Justin Gilbert projects well at the next level. The Browns’ defensive problems are along the front seven in their base 3-4. Billy Winn, Ahtyba Rubin, and Desmond Bryant are uninspirational front 3. Barkevious Mingo disappointed as a rookie and the Browns overpaid for Paul Kruger in his first run at the other outside linebacker position. Craig Robertson is also un-inspiring in the middle, and Karlos Dansby is entering his eleventh season. 

On special teams, Billy Cundiff is a journeyman in the kicking game and Spencer Lanning is a mediocre punter. There are no threats in the return game with Travis Benjamin leading that motley crew. 

Simply, Cleveland is called the “Factory of Sadness” for a reason. If Johnny Manziel gets a chance to play, that may put some fannies in those cold seats in the “Mistake by the Lake,” but sadly for Browns fans, they can expect one more losing season – their twelfth in fourteen seasons since returning to the NFL in 1999. 

Sports Spin Podcast Presented by

Josh Neighbors and Connor Jones discuss the divisional races with MLB analyst Josh Chodor. They talk the decline of the Tigers and Athletics as well as who should win the MVP awards.
Connor and Josh then discuss the latest news in the football world including Brian Hoyer, RGIII, Braxton Miller, and what to expect from the new playoff system in college football. Click on the link, download and enjoy!

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

AFC East Preview

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I will sum up the AFC East in one sentence. The New England Patriots and 3 other teams that might threaten for the six seed, but probably won't get it. As long as Tom Brady puts on the Patriots uniform the division title will remain in Foxboro, Massachusetts. That being said, there are a few noteworthy aspects about this division. Let's go team by team and evaluate their outlook for this season. We begin with the division champs.

New England Patriots:
Danny Amendola injured. Aaron Hernandez saga. Rob Gronkowski injured. That's who went down for the Patriots last year on offense. What was left for Tom Brody? Kembrell Thompkins, Julian Eddleman, Zach Sudfeld, and a stable full of average running backs. The result, another (13-3) season for the Pats. Offensively, they lost LeGarrete Blunt, that's just about it... And Gronk is back so Tom Brady will have another great season and probably be responsible for rectifying Brandon LaFell's career.

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On defense, they essentially stacked the secondary by adding a healthy Darelle Revis and super bowl champion Brandon Browner. You know these two are just stoked to be in a division where they get to go up against Geno Smith, EJ Manuel, and Ryan Tanehill twice. 

Prediction: Their schedule has tough games on it but there is no stretch of games that seem particularly treacherous. At worst, the Pats will win 11 games. At best, I honestly believe they could win 14 games because there isn't a game on that schedule they can't win. I think they go13-3, I love this Pats' team.

Miami Dolphins: This team is so damn mediocre. They are not worthy of the title "the Dolphins". Dolphins are a wonderful part of marine life. This team should be renamed the Miami Tilapia. Tilapia is a pretty bland tasting fish. But, if you put some seasoning on there it is a pretty serviceable fish that I will partake in as part of a balanced meal. Ryan Tanehill is the tilapia of quarterbacks. Lamar Miller is the tilapia or running backs, so is new addition Knowshon Moreno. Joe Philbin is the.... you get the point. This team is so mediocre, there isn't anything to really talk about.

Prediction: Worst case scenario, 7 wins. Best case scenario, 9 wins. What I am Really trying to say is that they will finish a boring 8-8.

New York Jets: Rex Ryan is coaching for his job which means he needs to pick the quarterback who he thinks can stave off his firing which has felt inevitable for the last year. Geno Smith and Michael
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Vick haven't made the decision an easy one displaying some very uninspired play so far this preseason. Even though the Jets are (2-0) Smith has thrown for 0 touchdowns and tossed a pretty awful interception against the Cincinnati Bengals this past weekend. Michael Vick threw for a touchdown in the Jets outing against the Bengals, going 5/9 for 70 yards. While Vick has played somewhat better (against backups) the Jets will go with Smith. If Rex wants to keep his job, he should go with Vick, he's a proven winner and has the ability to extend plays because nobody in this receiving core besides Decker is great at getting open.

In all honesty, it doesn't matter because the Jets' only consistently useful skill player is Eric Decker. But hey they got a declining Chris Johnson, so that should be fun! The Defense still looks very good, but the offense will be so bad that it really doesn't matter.

Prediction: Worst case scenario, 4-12. Best case, 8-8, but only if Vick plays and Rex Ryan gets fired! I know Geno went 8-8 last year, but it was a fluke. I think they finish right at 6-10, and on a positive note Rex Ryan gets fired!

Buffalo Bills: The Bills could actually contend for a playoff spot, the only problem is I don't know who will be playing for them by week 5. EJ Manuel played pretty solid last season, but battled injuries going (4-6) as a starter. CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson are a fantastic combo, it showed last season. The duo combined for 2,400 yards of total offense last season and combined for 12 total trips to the end zone accounting for just below 40% of the teams total touchdowns. The Bills drafted Sammy Watkins out of Clemson (who left their last preseason game with an injury) and Manuel will benefit from having him around as an explosive deep threat Finally, like I've said a thousand times, a QB who is getting his feet back under needs to have a solid security blanket, and Scott Chandler is exactly that. He lead this Bills in receptions and yards last season and is poised to once again provide stability for the Bills while establishing the middle of the field.
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Defensively, the Bills got a new coordinator in ex-Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz. Linebacker Kiko Alonso is out for the season and that's the biggest problem the Bills face heading into this season. They finished 2nd in sacks and interceptions last year, but finished 28th in rushing yards allowed per game... That is no bueno! Marcel Dareus and Kyle Williams will have to hold the line up front as this Bills ailing linebacking core lead by Brandon Spikes, is known for their ability to defend against the pass.

Prediction: With the whole ownership thing still up in the air, Doug Marrone's squad might have to deal with some uncertainty. That being said, the 6 seed in the AFC is wide open and it would not surprise me one bit if they got it. That being said, I could see this team going completely the other way with a key injury or two because depth is an issue at most positions. Worst case scenario I say is 6-10. Best case scenario, 9-7 and they grab a playoff spot. I believe they will finish at 8-8 and barely miss the postseason.