Will top teams fall on Halloween weekend?

Will Cam Newton and Auburn be the next no. 1 to stumble?

Going into the last weekend of October, four top 10 teams face stiff challenges away from home. If this week follows the trend of the last few, in which no. 1 has fallen, Halloween will be a nightmare for the top undefeated teams. With that being said, here goes my “attempt” to prove why Auburn, Oregon, Michigan St. and Missouri could all drop their first game.

Missouri at Nebraska
If Missouri can pull off the upset (they are eight point underdogs) they should be undefeated going into the Big 12 Championship. The Tiger defense is allowing only a shade over 13 points a game, but faces its toughest offense to date in Nebraska who is averaging over 38 a game. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is a big reason why the Huskers offense has been so potent. In week 6 at Kansas St. he ran wild the tune of 241 yards, a record for a Nebraska quarterback. And that’s saying something considering they’ve had guys like Tommy Frazier and Eric Crouch who perfected the option attack. Missouri is coming off an impressive win over then no. 1 Oklahoma, but playing on the road in Lincoln is a different platform. By the way, Missouri hasn’t beaten a ranked team on the road in over eight years.

The pick: Nebraska 35 … Missouri … 27

Michigan St. at Iowa

After narrowly escaping defeat against Northwestern last week, the Spartans may need a few more trick plays to get past a stingy Iowa team. Their most impressive win is at Michigan who have fallen off after an impressive start. It took a fake field goal in overtime to edge a bad Notre Dame team. Sparty does have an outstanding quarterback in Kirk Cousins, but Iowa’s defense should take away the run and make things one-dimensional for Michigan St. Is there a reason Hawkeye gunslinger Ricky Stanzi isn’t a Heisman candidate. Many people have Boise State’s Kellen Moore in their top 3. Comparing their stats, Stanzi is just a shade behind Moore in completion percentage and touchdown tosses. The other factor? Oh yea, Iowa plays in the third best conference in the nation as opposed to the WAC.

The pick: Iowa … 27 Michigan St. … 21

Oregon at USC

This is a “tricky” one to pick. You know what you’re going to get with Oregon. A fast paced offense with multiple threats. USC has the talent on defense to keep up with Oregon, or at least contain them. Duck running back LaMichael James is averaging a ridiculous 7.2 yards per carry. It appears as though losing Jeremiah Masoli (who I’ll get to later) hasn’t slowed down this offense one bit. USC quarterback Matt Barkley is having a very solid sophomore season. The Trojan offense is balanced and should be able to score on Oregon. The question is will it be enough? I just don’t see anyone slowing this Oregon machine down. USC has been too inconsistent this year. They’ll have to be hitting on all cylinders to pull off the upset.

The pick: Oregon … 38 USC … 31

Auburn at Ole Miss

The last time a no.1 ranked team came to Oxford was LSU in 2007. That Tiger team handled the Rebels with ease. Ole Miss historically plays Auburn close at home, but I’m not sure if a player of Cam Newton’s caliber has ever played at Vaught-Hemingway stadium in the past decade. Maybe Tim Tebow in 2007 was better. Either way the Rebels’ defense will have their hands full with an Auburn offense that rushed for over 400 yards a week ago against LSU. Who by the way were giving up less than 100 yards on the ground before Auburn dismantled them. Meanwhile the Ole Miss defense hasn’t exactly been spectacular giving up 32 points a game. Not quite the recipe for an upset. Or is it? You’d be hard pressed to find a no. 1 ranked team this late into the season only favored by seven to a 3-4 opponent. For Ole Miss to win Jeremiah Masoli will have to match Cameron Newton. Outside of defensive lineman Nick Fairley the Auburn defense is average at best. So the Rebels should be able to generate points. And while their defense has been porous at times, they have shown glimpses of being stout versus Kentucky for three quarters and at Alabama. The key for Ole Miss will be to avoid giving up the big play. Houston Nutt always seems to win a game his teams shouldn’t and after a long day in the grove (5 p.m. kickoff) the fans should be ready to go.

The pick: Ole Miss … 34 Auburn … 31

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What the Randy Moss trade means

Randy Moss returns to Minnesota where he was drafted in 1998.

The city of Minneapolis should and will be excited for the return of one of the greatest to ever wear the purple and gold. A certain city one state away will have mixed feelings. Not only did Minnesota acquire arguably the Packers most legendary player in Brett Favre, but the arrival of Randy Moss means Green Bay will have to square off twice this year against a man who has historically thrashed their secondary.

There may be no happier man in the league today than Brett Favre. In his final years at Green Bay Favre continually lobbied for Moss to be a part of his team. And now, as they both wind down their careers, the two future Hall of Fame players unite in the Twin Cities.

From a tactical standpoint, this is a great move for Minnesota. Anyone who argues otherwise is foolish. Moss’ ability to stretch the field vertically will open up the middle for guys like Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe. Not to mention Adrian Peterson should see more gaping running lanes because of safeties playing 15-20 yards from the line of scrimmage. The return of Sidney Rice in mid-season will easily give the Vikings the best receiving core in the NFL. The bottom line is this offense can be scary good by the time the playoffs role around.

On the flip side, Green Bay has to be feeling a bit down this morning. Their defense hasn’t progressed the way fans thought it would. And while Aaron Rogers is a skillful qb, he has yet to win a big game and has a knack for costly turnovers. Their offense has faltered in recent weeks as well after losing running back Ryan Grant for the season.

For New England, you would have to think they’re targeting another receiver to fill Moss’ downfield threat. Vincent Jackson makes a lot of sense in this scenario. The unhappy receiver from San Diego has been looking for a new home of late, and Bill Belichick is the perfect figure to handle a disgruntled player (see Randy Moss in 2007).

If the Patriots elect not to bring in another receiver I’m not sure Wes Welker will have the same success he has seen since Moss arrived in New England. It’s likely Welker will draw more double teams than ever with no apparent deep threat on the roster.

The move overall does not hurt the Patriots as much as it boosts the Vikings. In his best game thus far this year against the Jets, Moss’ team came up shorthanded.

Lost in all of this is how well the Vikings defense is playing this year giving up less than 13 points a game. Think some of the Minnesota players may be upset at the arrival of Moss? Think again. When Jay Glazer of Fox Sports first broke the story yesterday, Vikings players were dialing him up asking if the rumors of Randy’s return were real. Glazer responded with a firm yes, and the Vikings locker room came alive.

In terms of the deal itself, all Minnesota surrendered was a third round pick, which was less than what the Chargers were asking for Vincent Jackson. Circle October 31 on your calendar (no not because of Halloween). This is the date Moss returns to New England to face his old team. My guess is he will want to terrorize the Pats secondary.

NFL thoughts thus far

Unlike college football, in the NFL you typically know which teams are “for real” and which teams are just pretenders after a few weeks of play. However, four weeks into the NFL season many teams are still unproven. To me, the most shocking bit of news isn’t that Kansas City is unbeaten, but that they are the only undefeated team left in the league.

The Chiefs are 3-0, but they’ve really only beaten one playoff-caliber team in San Diego. If you look back at my NFL predictions, I have to take credit for projecting the Chiefs to be a sleeper pick. I love their young talent and speed on offense with Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster. However, the one problem I have with them thus far is that they are in the bottom third in time of possession. We’ll know if they are contenders after consecutive road trips at Indy and Houston.

Personally, I never thought Michael Vick would ever be an NFL starting quarterback again in this league. Through four weeks he’s proving me and many others wrong. It was easy to see why Andy Reid chose Vick to start over Kevin Kolb in Philadelphia. When Vick went out in the first quarter with a rib injury, the Eagle offense was stagnant the rest of the way.

It’s starting to make sense now why Vick can be so potent in Philly. Think of it this way; when he scrambles around in the pocket looking to throw (or take off downfield), what better duo can you have at receiver than that of Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Both of those guys are speedsters and perfect for a scrambling qb because of the separation they can get from opposing defenders. Toss in an all-purpose back like Lesean McCoy and a pro-bowl tight end in Brent Celek and that offense is now a bit more scary with Vick.

Contrary to Vick’s early success with the Eagles, it makes no sense to me why Minnesota didn’t make more of an effort to acquire receiver Vincent Jackson from the Chargers. The achilles heel thus far for the Vikes has been their inability to throw the ball downfield with Sidney Rice out until mid-season. The rumor was that San Diego was asking too much for the highly athletic receiver. If you’re Minnesota though you had to make more of a push for Jackson. It appears the Vikings offense is mediocre with an ailing Percy Harvin and without a legitimate number 1 target.

After serving four-game bans, Brian Cushing, Ben Roethlisberger, and Santonio Holmes return to help their respective teams. All three of which sit at 3-1.

The Texans desperately need Cushing to play at the same level he did a year ago as they are dead last in total defense through four games. The Houston offense should win them some games. However, as we saw against Dallas, if the offense stalls, then the defense will have to play better. Kareem Jackson has to improve at corner.
For Pittsburgh, 3-1 is a dream start. With the return of Roethlisberger they acquire a guy who knows how to win. That characteristic may be the biggest asset of any in this league. Rashard Mendenhall looks to be having a breakout season, and with Mike Wallace’s speed on the outside, the Steelers offense has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. Toss in an all-world defense and you have the formula for the best team in the league.

Although Michael Vick has surprised many people with his play so far, the biggest shock of all has to be Arian Foster of the Texans. The guy leads the league in rushing by more than 100 yards and is averaging a college-like 6.3 yards per carry. Now, my guess is Foster will not end up winning the league rushing title and his average will drop to somewhere around 5. With that being said though, the Texans don’t beat the Colts, and probably lose to either the Redskins or Raiders without the second year guy from Tennessee.

A big part of the Jets’ 3-1 start has been the play of Mark Sanchez. The success of this team will not depend on the play of their defense, but will fall on the shoulders of the young qb from SoCal. Through four games he has yet to throw an interception. A stat that is a huge leap from the 20 he threw as a rookie. Getting Santonio Holmes the rest of the season will boost this offense even more. Oh yea, has anyone seen the revive of Ladanian Tomlinson? This team can be scary good by season’s end.

I’m starting to like the trend certain AFC teams are going with. In particular I’m talking about the Steelers, Ravens, and Jets. They all have good quarterback play (the Steelers have a perennial pro-bowler in Roethlisberger). All have extremely stingy defenses. At the other skill positions on offense there isn’t all-world talent, but it’s well enough considering the play of the aforementioned positions. The bottom line is, with an excellent defense and a quarterback who can sling the ball around efficiently you don’t necessarily need all-pro receivers and running backs.

Other Notes

While there isn’t a clear-cut favorite to win the Super Bowl, Buffalo is clearly the worst team in the league.

The Bears are a very overrated 3-1. No quarterback will survive the season in Chicago if their O-line keeps playing the way it has.

Don’t sleep on the Chargers. They lead the league in total defense and have so much talent on offense.

If Dallas runs the ball more effectively they will be impossible to stop.

In terms of quality, the AFC is ahead of the NFC. It’s hard to find many title contenders in the NFC. The AFC is littered with them.

Special Note: Due to my busier schedule, I will be looking for people who would like to write about various topics. In particular a weekly college football column from various conferences etc. If interested shoot me a message on facebook.

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