NFL midseason thoughts

Peyton Manning has thrown a touchdown pass to six different players

Now that every team has played at least half their games, let’s recap…

Offensive MVP
Peyton Manning, QB Indianapolis – Put any receiver or tight end in no. 18’s arsenal and he finds a way to get them the ball. Manning’s completing 65% of his passes and has an outstanding four to one touchdown to interception ratio. The veteran quarterback is doing this while the Colts’ running game is averaging a meager 3.7 yards per carry.

Defensive MVP
Clay Matthews, LB Green Bay – Not a very tough pick here. The second-year guy out of USC has been terrorizing opponents in Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense. Even sitting out a game due to injury, Matthews leads the NFL in sacks with 10.5. He added to his impressive stat line last week by returning an interception for a touchdown against Dallas.

Offensive Rookie
Jahvid Best, RB Detroit – Hmm… it’s hard to find an offensive rookie lighting up the stat sheet. Dez Bryant has yet to surpass 100 yards receiving in a game. Sam Bradford is showing potential, but is in the bottom third of the league in passer rating. Best is on pace to have over 1300 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns and is a big reason the Lions offense can score with anyone.

Defensive Rookie
Ndamukong Suh, DT Detroit – Not bad to have two potential rookie awards on the same team. Suh is starting to come on strong for a Lions team that has a very bright future. Over the past three games he has four sacks including a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Did anyone see his PAT attempt last week against the Jets?

Biggest Surprise
Kansas City Chiefs – I thought this team would be very competitive with its young talent. But 5-3 at the half-way point? The Chiefs could easily be 7-1 as they had heartbreaking losses at Houston and Oakland. With San Diego playing well, the AFC West race is one to follow as the season ends. Todd Haley is a coach of the year candidate.

Biggest Disappointment
Cincinnati Bengals – For the sake of time and space I won’t mention Jerry’s team. Considering the Bengals were a playoff team last year, they have to be upset with a 2-6 start. After Cedric Benson’s career appeared to be revived, he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. Carson Palmer is one of the most overrated quarterbacks in the league. The lone bright spot? Ironically the guy who causes locker room drama is having a pro bowl type season. Yes, I’m talking about Terrell Owens who has 770 yards receiving to go along with 7 touchdowns.

Best Team
Pittsburgh Steelers – Tempting to put the Packers here, but I’ll stick with the best defense in the league and an offense that looks to be coming together with Ben Roethlisberger back. The stingy defense gives up less than 60 yards a game rushing. Rashard Mendenhall is one of the better running backs in the game. Receiver Mike Wallace leads the NFL in yards per catch at 23 a clip. Their only two losses are to Baltimore minus Roethlisberger and on the road at New Orleans. The remaining schedule is very favorable.

Worst Team
Buffalo Bills – Probably the least talented team in the league, it’s no surprise at the 0-8 start. However, they’ve had legitimate shots to win six of the eight games they’ve competed in. They appear to have two winnable games left on the schedule against Detroit and Cleveland. And with the effort the Bills put out each week I wouldn’t expect them to go winless. I hope Andrew Luck likes Buffalo because that’s where he’s headed in April’s draft.

Other rants

– Dallas should do everything in its power to draft cornerback Patrick Peterson of LSU.

– Brad Childress has absolutely lost it. He blew the Randy Moss deal, and is continually taking shots at Brett Favre.

– The Texans look to be headed down the same path. Great offense, no defense. Gary Kubiak’s in trouble if this team doesn’t make the playoffs.

– Has there ever been more parody in the NFL? Every division is up for grabs and about eight teams have a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl.

– Adrian Peterson (knock on wood) hasn’t fumbled this season.

The Randy Moss saga

Many opinions have been formed about Randy Moss over the past few days. But why should it surprise anyone? Moss’ temperament has been well documented throughout his career. Why else would he have fallen to the Vikings at number 21 in the 1998 draft? Lou Holtz has reiterated his thoughts on Moss calling him the greatest high school football player he’s ever seen. And while the stud receiver is not in his prime anymore, he is still elite.

Moss was his happiest in Minnesota when he had a mentor, Chris Carter. Which is why a few years after Carter’s retirement, Moss was dealt to the hopeless Raiders. Randy Moss is the type of player that has to play on a team with great leadership from a player (i.e. Carter) or coach (Bill Belichick). It’s no secret that Moss plays when he wants to. At the end of his first stint with Minnesota he literally walked around the field on called running plays. In a road game at Washington he again trotted off the field with less than a minute left in a one-possession game.

The media seems to think Moss was swiftly cut from the Vikings this week because of his tirade on a food catering service. This could not be further from truth. While the act itself was immature, you don’t release a hall of fame player because of it. If this was the case Moss would have been cut immediately after he virtually ran over a parking attendant in 2004.

Instead Moss’ comments regarding his “love” for the Patriots seemed to be the telling factor that he wasn’t happy in Minnesota. Randy could not have been in a better situation than he was at New England. He had the perfect coach, a star quarterback, and the team was winning. The biggest mistake wasn’t the Vikings releasing Moss, but Moss himself finding his way out of a Patriot uniform.

Minnesota should’ve known what they were going to get with Moss. Yes it’s nice to have safeties at an absurd 15-20 yards off the line of scrimmage to open up running lanes for Adrian Peterson. But to virtually use Moss as a decoy was brainless by Brad Childress. Can you really blame Moss for being unhappy back in purple?

I don’t know how Randy Moss will perform at Tennessee. I have no clue. What I do know is that Titan coach Jeff Fisher will keep him in line. The downside is Moss doesn’t have a capable quarterback to throw him the ball. Belichick and New England once again look like geniuses for stealing a third round pick from Minnesota. Now, the Vikings are reeling and head coach Brad Childress’ job looks in question.

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.

The evolution of the NFL

The cliche “defense wins championships” is fading faster than MLB ratings in the summer. Take a look at the last two decades of Super Bowl winners. The guys commanding their teams include names like Aikman, Favre, Elway, Warner, Brady, Manning, etc. With the exception of Baltimore in 2000 and Tampa Bay in 2002, the NFL title game has been decided because of superior play at the quarterback position.

A lot of experts are picking Baltimore to reach the Super Bowl this year. The reason isn’t because of their stingy defense. It’s because their offense upgraded enormously with the additions of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Not to mention they have one of the most versatile backs in the league with Ray Rice and a future all-pro protecting Joe Flacco, Michael Oher.

In examining last year’s qb ratings, the only team to make the postseason with sub-par qb play was the Jets. And they qualified for the playoffs based on the Colts resting their starters late in the regular season. People want to see offense.

Last night’s game between the Ravens and Jets was abysmal from an offensive standpoint. Yes New York has arguably the best defense in the league, but they will go nowhere if they can only manage six first downs a game, which was all they acquired in their season opener.

The Saints last year finished 26th in total defense in the NFL. Their opponent in the Super Bowl: Indianapolis, 18th. Again, defense doesn’t always win championships. There’s a reason Minnesota desperately persuaded no. 4 into returning for yet another year. Without him, the Vikes are a mediocre team. And with him, well I think we all saw last year how dangerous of a team they can be.

If you asked every single GM in the league if they’d rather have a pro-bowl quarterback or any pro-bowl player on defense, I guarantee they would take the former. It’s not rocket science to figure out why the two highest paid positions in the NFL are the quarterback and the man who protects him, left tackle.

The three-year period when the Rams were the most explosive offense in the league wasn’t because of Isaac Bruce or Marshall Faulk; but because of Kurt Warner. Larry Fitzgerald and Andquan Boldin weren’t the reason Arizona made a miraculous run to the Super Bowl. It was once again the play of the aforementioned Warner. The Giants’ heroics from 2007 were because Eli Manning played out of his mind in the post season.

Teams like the Lions, Browns, Raiders, and Bills have been terrible for the last seven years because of pathetic quarterback play.

Adrian Peterson may be the biggest freak in the league, but guys like Brady and Manning are worth double what he is because the shelf life of a quarterback is much longer than that of any other player in the league. Why do you think people are picking the Steelers to miss the playoffs this year? It’s not because their defense has fallen off. It’s because their star qb is missing for a few games.

I’m not saying a great defense can’t win you a ring. But without a star quarterback in this league your chances are slim to none.

Darrelle Revis saga continues

I don’t have a problem when athletes want more money for their talents. The Titans’ Chris Johnson had good reason to hold out from camp. However, unlike Darrelle Revis, Johnson wasn’t asking for astronomical figures. And unlike Revis’ team, Johnson’s Titans need him more than ever with Vince Young coming back. Not to mention a running back like Johnson is worth twice as much as even a talented corner like Revis.

I’m not arguing the fact that Darrelle Revis is the best corner in the game because he probably is. What I am arguing is that he shouldn’t be the highest paid corner in the league. Guys like Nnammdi Asomugha of Oakland and Champ Bailey of Denver are more valuable to their defenses than Revis is to his. Thus, they should be paid more because they’re worth more to their respective franchises. And why should the Jets fork over millions to Revis just because the Raiders are paying Asomugha so much?

Will the Jets be that much worse without Darrelle Revis?

The Jets have a stout defensive front and arguably the best core of linebackers in the league. Not to mention a defensive genius as their head coach in Rex Ryan. Trading for Antonio Cromartie and drafting Kyle Wilson in the first round also tells me that even Revis is an expendable talent.

Revis would be worth top dollar on a team that couldn’t rush the passer because he would have to cover for longer periods of time. Taking nothing away from Revis; but the fact that the Jets front seven gets to the quarterback frequently makes his job a bit easier.

In reality it’s hard to plead the case for a corner to make so much money in this league. The NFL now seems to be predicated on offense. You can’t win without a quarterback, which is why they will always be paid the highest. Followed by the position which protects their blind side, the left tackle. Then there’s the offensive skill players.

Defensively, a dominant pass rusher is far more potent than a lock-down corner. And the middle linebacker position is becoming more and more important as the cog of the defense. Finally we come to the secondary. Outside of Asante Samuel, the previous Super Bowl winning teams all lacked an elite corner. It’s just not as valuable a piece to a championship as Revis seems to think. I’d bet the average NFL fan couldn’t even name the starting corners for the Colts or the Saints. Get my point.

Don’t get me wrong, Darrelle Revis has the potential to be the best corner since Deion Sanders. But it seems to me that Rex Ryan and the Jets organization are holding their ground in this debacle. Which in turn makes me love the outspoken Ryan even more.

Former USC receiver gets another chance in NFL

In an era where big, physical wide receivers are a hot commodity in the league, Mike Williams is trying to revamp his career in Seattle. The former USC star and 10th overall pick of the 2005 draft is being given another opportunity to show his skills. The coach who is providing the chance to him is none other than his former college coach, Pete Carroll.

No one ever questioned his talent coming out of college. In his sophomore year versus Oregon St. he made one of the most spectacular catches of the season snagging the ball effortlessly one-handed in the back of the end zone. In the Rose Bowl that same season he lofted a beautiful touchdown to quarterback Matt Leinart. He was a finalist to Larry Fitzgerald for the Biletnikoff Award and a consensus first team All-American in 2003.

The mistake Williams made was declaring for the NFL draft after only his sophomore year of college. Just two years removed from high school he hired an agent, thus making it impossible for him to compete in collegiate athletics ever again. Like Maurice Clarett had tried to do a year earlier, Williams could not overthrow the system of having to remain in college for at least three years before entering the NFL draft.

Even sitting out a year of college, many scouts predicted Williams to be a top 15 pick. And at the time Detroit was known for taking receivers in the top 10 (Charles Rodgers and Roy Williams). During his rookie season with the Lions Williams was inconsistent and his slow 4.76 combine time proved to hurt his ability. He was subsequently traded prior to the 2007 draft.

After bouncing around to Oakland and Tennessee during 2007, Williams soon found himself out of an NFL uniform. The same Mike Williams who torched Pac-10 defenses for two seasons. The same one who was drafted in the top 10 despite missing an entire season of college.

Williams career appeared to be over for good. His weight was now around 270 (35 more pounds than when he entered the league) and his legacy seemed to be that of an NFL bust. However, after witnessing something on t.v. Williams decided it was time to turn his career around.

This past spring he was watching a show about NFL busts with his daughter. The whole time Williams was praying his name wouldn’t appear on the list. It didn’t, but the thought of himself being linked to such players scared him enough to lose 30 pounds this off-season and make a comeback.

After being signed to a contract with the Seahawks this past April, Williams is vying for a spot in the rotation.

“Mike is really coming around,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll after Sunday’s scrimmage. “And I’m excited for him and for us. It’d be nice to have a big guy like that who can contribute. He continues to do well.”

Williams won’t come in and be the teams No. 1 receiver. However, just as he did in college, Williams creates a mismatch for just about any corner he lines up against.

Mike Williams is one of those guys you pull for. He’s had zero off-field problems and had the desire to get back in shape this past spring to start his career over. While it will be virtually impossible for him to live up to his pre-draft expectations, he can contribute to a Seattle team that needs all the help they can get.

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