Ravens

AFC North Draft Grades

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Pittsburgh Steelers 
The Steelers went about their business this draft as usual, but with more holes than we are used to seeing. They lose Mike Wallace, Jamie Harrison, and they have been lacking a quality running back. They added toughness and playmaking at Harrison’s spot, by drafting Georgia Bulldog standout Jarvis Jones. Many were pushed away after his pro day, but he was coming off an injury but he is a guy that fits the Steelers tough, hard-nosed culture. Markus Wheaton form Oregon St., will provide a possible slot threat and a guy who can take a five yard under route, for a big gain. I really like the pick up of  Le’Veon Bell because he has never been seriously injured in college, which has plagued the Steelers recently, and he is a workhorse. He is a big guy, again like Jones, and very tough and  a hard nosed runner. Shamarko Thomas is an enforcer at safety but lacks ideal height for a defensive back (5’9″). However, kid has a tremendous grit after losing both parents in college and now has his six siblings to look after, he will  definitely be someone to root for. Landry Jones could be the possible predecessor of Big Ben but he maybe counted on early due to Roethelisberger  consistently being injured throughout the season. Hawthorne adds value for them as a corner and look for them through rookie free agency to help out the aging secondary.
Overall Grade: B

Matt Elam

Baltimore Ravens
Many were left confused when the Super Bowl champion Ravens decided to let the perceived successor of Ray Lewis’ spot in the middle, Dan Ellerbe and playoff standout, Paul Kruger leave for other teams during free agency. Bernard Pollard was also released in the off-season. To make matters worst, they traded Anquan Boldin to the 49ers and lost future Hall of Famer Ed Reed to the Texans. They did however, resign quarterback Joe Flacco to what was the top contract for any quarterback in the league, until Aaron Rogers contract extension this weekend ($40 million /year). To fill the void of Reed, they drafted Matt Elam, an undersized but heavy hitter at safety who displayed play making abilities that they will miss without Reed. They followed that pick with a great choice in grabbing Arthur Brown from K-State. A sideline to sideline guy, who can make plays in the backfield and in the passing game. They add nose tackle Brandon Williams and fullback Kyle Juszczyk who will likely replace Vonta Leach. They do pick up a Boldin type of player in FCS WR Aaron Mallette. A big bodied wide out with great quickness and strong hands, but he will not beat most NFL corners deep.
Overall Grade: B+

Cleveland Browns
The Browns were without many choices this draft, as they only had 5 picks in this year draft. They did pick up Barkevious Mingo from LSU who has the potential to be a premier pass rusher. However, former head coach Les Miles listed him, and numerous other LSU players, as troublesome and reluctant to work hard everyday. He will have to be consistent to be productive in the NFL. They pick up a cornerback in Leon McFadden who will start outside, but is better suited as the nickel. Fighting Irish safety Jamoris Slaughter, provides depth depth, and value as a sixth round pick. He is more comfortable playing in the box, then covering bigger TE’s and quicker receivers.
Overall Grade: B-

Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers went about their business this draft as usual, but with more holes than we are used to seeing. They lose Mike Wallace, Jamie Harrison, and they have been lacking a quality running back. They added toughness and playmaking at Harrison’s spot, by drafting Georgia Bulldog standout Jarvis Jones. Many were pushed away after his pro day, but he was coming off an injury but he is a guy that fits the Steelers tough, hard-nosed culture. Markus Wheaton form Oregon St., will provide a possible slot threat and a guy who can take a five yard under route, for a big gain. I really like the pick up of  Le’Veon Bell because he has never been seriously injured in college, which has plagued the Steelers recently, and he is a workhorse. He is a big guy, again like Jones, and very tough and  a hard nosed runner. Shamarko Thomas is an enforcer at safety but lacks ideal height for a defensive back (5’9″). However, kid has a tremendous grit after losing both parents in college and now has his six siblings to look after, he will  definitely be someone to root for. Landry Jones could be the possible predecessor of Big Ben but he maybe counted on early due to Roethelisberger  consistently being injured throughout the season. Hawthorne adds value for them as a corner and look for them through rookie free agency to help out the aging secondary.
Overall Grade: B

AFC North Expectations

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Expectations for the AFC North

Pittsburgh Steelers –  The Steelers will have high expectations this year because they should to go to the playoffs be a Super Bowl contender.  The Steelers recently hired Todd Haley, former Chief head coach, as the offensive coordinator.  Haley should have great success with the young wide receiving core and should have more success running the ball this year.  The only concern I have with the Steelers is the age of the defense, which is the oldest defense in the NFL. While the defense is dominant when healthy, injury was a problem last year.

Prediction 12-4 

 Cleveland Browns –  As usual, the expectations for the Browns will be very low this season.  If the Browns can get to 7 wins they should be extremely happy with their progress.  The Browns will most likely  start Brandon Weeden at quarterback who will be a 28 year old rookie.  My concern for Weeden is, who will he throw the ball to.  The Browns have a promising rookie wide receiver in Greg Little, but he shows inconsistency when catching the ball.  Trent Richardson, their rookie running back should help take the load off Brandon Weeden.  The Browns have a promising young nucleus of players, but their youth will show this year and prohibit them from being a great NFL team.

Prediction 5-11

Baltimore Ravens –  The Ravens will be the best tem in the AFC North this year and will be a Super Bowl contender.  The Ravens have both an explosive offense and a stout defense.  The only concern I have with the Ravens this year is how they replace Terrell Suggs. Suggs was lost for the season with a torn achilles. If Courtney Upshaw, the rookie OLB can replace Terrell Suggs, the Ravens could be the best team in the NFL.

Prediction 13-3 

Cinncinatti Bengals – The Bengals have a great young nucleus of players that are ready to compete now.  They have a great young quarterback in Andy Dalton and a go to wide receiver in A.J. Green.  The Bengals also have a great young defense that ranked 7th in the NFL in total yards given up.  However, the Bengals are going to have a tough time competing in this division.  The Bengals still will make the playoffs this year, but their Super Bowl window is just starting to open and they should be a dominant NFL team for the next decade.

Prediction 10-6

Connor Willsey 

AFC, NFC Championship Game Predictions

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I’ve got to get something off my chest. My last predictions had some flaws in them, and I apologize. Regardless, I still have four of my six predictions alive, and 4/6 equals 2/3 which is two times 1/3 which happens to be the number of predictions Blase got right in last weeks round of playoff games (Boom). Because of this, I strongly advise you to read this over Blase’s predictions. So, for this round of playoff games, I thought I’d bring in my expertise and give you a proven experts opinion on these games.

Patriots vs. Ravens, Sunday 3:00 pm

This game has quite the odd vibe to it. On one hand, you’ve got the Patriots who had an extremely impressive win against the Broncos and on the other, you’ve got the Ravens who struggled to get by the Texans who was quarterbacked by T.J. Yates. Based on conventional wisdom, one should conclude that the Pats should win, but conventional wisdom is often predictable and under thought. So, I compare the thoughts of the average sports fan with my thinking.

Conventional thinking: Wow, this is not going to be a game. God’s nephew vs. T-Sizzle? T-Sizzle, wait a minute, isn’t that Taylor Swift’s rap name? I mean God’s nephew did make the Mile-High Messiah look like Harold Camping (the guy who predicted the world was going to end last May), so Brady will probably make Flacco look like some hillbilly with a hideous Fu Manchu… oh wait. On top of all that, they’re playing in Foxboro, which makes the Ravens chances of succeeding similar to Charles Barkley’s chances of losing weight. The only thing shocking about this matchup is that the Patriots are only 7 point favorites. This will be a blowout.

Dear Joe Flacco, please shave, from all the viewers who don't want to gauge their eyes out watching the game this weekend. Photo from: baltimoresun.com

My thinking: Wow, this is going to be a great game. God’s nephew vs. T-Sizzle… Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Cheeseburger (Ngata’s nickname for Terrence Cody) and, of course, Ray Rice. Brady has put this team on his back for so long that he probably has some form of chronic back pain that I’m sure one of the Ravens’ defensive menaces will bring out by the end of the game. The Pats may be 13-3 this year, but they haven’t beaten anyone with a winning record all year (even the Broncos finished 9-9). They only played two playoff teams  (besides the Broncos, but their hardly considered playoff caliber) during the regular season (Giants and Steelers) and lost them both. Also, their defense is awful. People (including Ed Reed) have been giving Flacco beef all week for his inability to score against the Texans last weekend, when really no one has been able to score on the Texans all year. The Texans have given up the 4th fewest points all year only behind the Ravens, Steelers, and 49ers, and only 12 points more then the Ravens. I still don’t think the Ravens will light up the Patriots offensively, but I can easily see them scoring over 30 points which will be more then the Ravens are going to give up to the Pats.

Ravens-24 Patriots-20

49ers vs. Giants, Sunday 6:30 pm

What’s not to like about this matchup. Two premier franchises, each led by two back-to-back #1 overall draft picks, going head to head in one of the most historic stadiums around today with stellar defenses on both squads. Just thinking about it gives me a quarter-chub, and if you think that’s weird, you’re right. As you may know from reading my previous article, I have been on the Giants bandwagon for quite some time now, and when I should be saying, “Told you so,” I’m saying  “Get me off this bus.”

Last weekend, I sat down to watch the Packers-Giants game in my basement and something felt really out-of-place. It was a similar feeling to watching Two and a Half Men with Ashton Kutcher instead of Charlie Sheen. I knew something was up and then when the Packers kicked that onside kick in the second quarter, it all clicked. The 15-1 Packers, and #1 seed in the NFC, were playing like they were underdogs. Onside kicks in the second quarter are only acceptable in two situations: a) you’re trying to surprise a team that has been called better then you by everyone all week(i.e. the Saints vs. Colts in the 2010 Super Bowl) or b) you’re clinically insane (there are still no examples of this occurring in the NFL). After doing some research, I figured out that Mike McCarthy isn’t insane and that the Packers were the favorites in the game, so it wasn’t any of those situations. But I thought some more and can now say that the Packers kicked an onside kick because Mike McCarthy is kind of insane and people were kind of saying the Packers might lose. As a result, the Giants were able to beat the former world champions without much of an effort. To most, this was a very convincing win, but to me it just didn’t seem right.

The 49ers, on the other hand, had a very impressive win last weekend. Alex Smith finally looked like the Steve Young that everyone expected him to be as the #1 draft pick back in 2005. On top of that, they beat the Saints, the team that I predicted to win the Super Bowl. Going in to the playoffs, we all knew that the 49ers could play defense. All they needed to become Super Bowl contenders was solid play from Alex Smith, and I saw more than that last week.

In the end, I think the 49ers win this game because of the other Smiths, Justin Smith and Aldon Smith on the defensive line. These two feed of the success of the secondary and likewise for the secondary. If the secondary, lead by sudden stud in Carlos Rogers, is blanketing the Giants receivers, you know one of the Smiths will get to Eli, whereas if the Smiths apply pressure on Eli, their secondary is more then capable then picking off a hurried throw. Because of this, I give the edge to the 49ers.

49ers-20 Giants-17

Chris Caffrey

What to Watch: Handling Devastation

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The moment was surreal. Aaron Rodgers had a wide open Jermichael Finley. And when I say wide open, I’m talking as open as my Cadillac windows on a summer day (my air conditioner is broken so the windows are ALWAYS open); I’m talking as open as the Taco Bell drive thru at midnight. Finley was open. But Finley seemed to decelerate and Rodgers threw an errant pass, the ball hit the ground. At that moment I knew. I knew the Packers were going to lose.

Cue the pity music. I’m sure if someone was videotaping me (It’s not like anyone would, but hypothetically speaking) I looked like one of those abandoned or abused animals in those “donate to our cause” commercials– you know, the ones that make you feel really bad about sitting on your comfy couch and enjoying those chocolate chip cookies. My eyes were glossy: glossy, but no tears. I thought about the season, all the good times: the rise of the Discount Double Check move, Rodgers’ historic season, and Jordy Nelson’s emergence. Those memories didn’t help me though; they only made me feel worse. I felt like a hungry teenage male who simply wanted Chick-Fil-A, drove all the way to Chick-Fil-A, and then realized it was Sunday. I was drowning in a sea of sadness.

(Remember the music is still playing)

But there was a chance to help me, all you had to do was call or text my phone, and unlike the animal shelters, I wouldn’t even take your money. I just needed some comfort. Sadly, instead of encouragement, I was greeted at the end of the game by texts asking me, “What happened to your Packers dude????”(Seriously? How am I supposed to know?)

Although the Packers are out of the playoffs, the playoffs (and all sports in general) continue and so does my quest to identify and predict the best games of the week. Last week was filled with sadness, but now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

This time I didn’t have a Muscle Milk, and my intuition is feeling strong.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots,  Sun. Jan 22, 2:00 pm

Ah, such an interesting matchup. My heart wants the Ravens to win. I mean who wouldn’t want the Ravens to win after what Belichick and Brady did to Tebow last week. And who can stand the ranting maniac that is Skip Bayless? After debating Terrell Suggs on his show, I’m sure Suggs has Skip’s annoying voice saying “the Ravens defense is too old” on a loop playing in the back of his head. Every play, he’ll probably see a little visual picture of Skip and will proceed to pop the next guy who will get in his way. So, I see Terrell Suggs having a big day. After that, I don’t have much faith in the Ravens. I don’t understand how anyone could.

Suggs graduated from Ball So Hard University with a master's in being a badass. Picture from: larrybrownsports.com

Yesterday, my colleague and I placed a ten dollar bet on this game. I had the Patriots. I couldn’t believe it. So, I asked him all the usual questions when referring to bets.

“You’re not betting doll hairs are you?”

“No”

“What about monopoly dollars?”

“Nope, straight up, ten bucks.”

“Then why are you doing this, you know the Patriots are going to win.”

“Because I hate when people like you are overconfident.”

And that’s the exact reason, why I’m scared about this game. I’m almost 99% sure the Patriots will beat the Ravens. The Ravens are 4-4 on the road, Brady is coming of one of the best performances by a quarterback in the playoffs, and the killer Tight end tandem of Hernandez and Gronk is the coolest thing the NFL has seen since the forward pass. But something tells me that the Ravens will put up a good fight and might event pull off the upset. In the end, though, Brady and Belichick will be returning to the Super Bowl, leaving Terrell Suggs with countless nightmares of Skip Bayless and the Patriots offense.

Patriots-31 Ravens-17

New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers, Sun. Jan 22, 5:30 pm

Man, was I wrong about the 49ers. Their stifling defense was a pure joy to watch. I think after watching the whole game, I saw two missed tackles, which in today’s NFL game is like saying I saw Bill Belichick smiling or DeSean Jackson not whining—it’s unheard of. As for the Giants, see the above intro to get my reactions on the game.

The two quarterbacks in last week’s games both proved their respective doubters wrong. Now, for this game, it will be how they handle the success they experienced last week. And for this category, I like Eli, simply because he has had success (I’m sorry to say this, but I don’t think Alex Smith has ever experienced success in the NFL. Ever). What stuck out to me about Manning’s game last week was his ability to convert on third and long situations, which, when playing the 49ers defense, will occur frequently. If Manning can replicate last week’s success in those situations the Giants will be able to gut out a win, and set up the classic everyone remembers from four years ago Giants vs. Patriots.

Giants-21 49ers- 17

(5) Missouri at (3) Baylor, Sat. Jan 21, 1:00 pm

This game has serious Big 12 Title implications on the line and also will have National ranking implications as both teams are in the top 5. As I see it, this is the ultimate battle of size vs. speed. The Baylor Bears average height for their starters is almost 77.5 inches, while Missouri’s is less than 75.6 inches. To put that into perspective, Missouri is 303rd in the nation in average height. But what they lack in height, they make up for in speed. Missouri guards can be streaky shooters, but with a hostile crowd in Waco, Texas if Missouri doesn’t come out hot, they’ll have a hard time recovering. And so far, with my Big 12 picks, I’ve been riding the home teams, and I’m not stopping until I see evidence to suggest otherwise. Baylor wins in a shootout

Baylor-85 Mizzou-81

(7) Kansas at Texas, Sat. Jan. 21, 3:00 pm

Kansas is coming off a huge win against Baylor with great performances from Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. It seems like the win woke up the sleeping giant that is all KU fans. There was a nice serenity to not having to hear KU fans claim their team is “the greatest ever even in a down year.” Please, Kansas fans give it a rest; let’s wait until March to start claiming Kansas is “the best team ever.” Unfortunately, I don’t think these KU fans will quiet down anytime soon, as Kansas will beat a struggling Texas team that recently lost to Kansas State earlier in the week. Although, I said, I wasn’t going to pick against the home team, for this game, I see Kansas winning.

Kansas-70 Texas-62

 And if you have more time, these are some other great games to check out also.

College Basketball

Indiana State at (18) Creighton, Sat. Jan 21, 2:00 pm– The Missouri Valley should be given some serious attention with many quality teams. Doug McDermott is a legitimate player of the year candidate for Creighton and is fun to watch.

(1) Syracuse at Cincinnati, Mon. Jan 23, 6:00 pm– Since the lost and brawl to Xavier, Cincinnati has gone 7-1. This can be a serious threat to Syracuse’s potential perfect season.

(13) Indiana at Wisconsin, Thurs. Jan 26, 8:00 pm– If you’re a fan of slow, grind- it- out- games, Wisconsin is your team of choice. Indiana has beaten Kentucky and Ohio State, but Wisconisn will be tough to beat at the Kohl Center.

NBA

Indiana at LA Lakers, Sun. Jan 22, 8:30 pm- The young Indiana Pacers have suprised NBA experts while the struggling Lakers have been riding on the wearisome shoulders of Kobe Bryant. This can be a big statement game for either team.

LA Clippers at LA Lakers, Wed. Jan 25, 9:30 pm-Battle for LA, part II.

Blase Capelli is 4-5 for his predictions. He hopes to break .500 after this week.

Blase Capelli