Monday, May 21, 2012

Three Most Competitive Divisions

     For the next several months or so, the NFL will not be catching many headlines, largely in part due to the tabloids, who would much rather talk about the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup then a football season in it's least active time frame. However, there is a lot of unfinished business left to be done, such as the signings of rookies or reaching agreements with star free agents. The NFL Report will be writing it's third installment of "The Three", this time discussing the three most competitive divsions in all of football. Please feel free to comment, or like us on Facebook at!

AJ Green
1. AFC North: Within the past decade, the AFC North has always been dominated by the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers. From time to time, Cleveland may put up a fair fight against these two powerhouses, but it is short lived. Last season, however, the Cincinnati Bengals (thanks to a highly successful draft) went from 4-12 in 2010, to 9-7 in 2011. The team depended on rookie stars AJ Green (left) and Andy Dalton, both first round picks. The Bengals defense improved tremendously as well, and over time this young team will flourish into one of the league's best. The Pittsburgh defense is beginning to age, yet it managed to rank 1st overall by the end of December. The Steelers should be optimistic for the 2012 season, after picking up two spectacular offensive linemen in David DeCastro and Mike Adams. Wide receiver Antonio Brown had a breakout season last year, and it should be interesting to see if he can stay consistent. Similar to the Steelers, Baltimore defenders are getting old, and before long the veterans will be non existent. Luckily, there is still gas left in the tank, and it will be another 3 or 4 years until the Ravens need to adjust. In the draft, Baltimore added linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who should be able to make a slight impact on the defense. Cleveland is a few years away from being a competitive team, but Trent Richardson should be a decent replacement for Peyton Hillis.

2. NFC North: It seems like just yesterday, the Detroit Lions became the worst team in NFL history thanks to a 0-16 record back in 2008. Following the winless season, the Lions were below .500 in both 2009 and 2010. One of the many problems in that span was in part due to a hole in the quarterback position. Though they drafted Stafford in '09, he dealt with injuries throughout the year and into next season. In 2011, however, Mathew Stafford played all 16 games and lead his team to a 10-6 record, earning them a spot in the playoffs as the number five seed. His spectacular statistics were out shined by the fabulous team in Green Bay, led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Up until Week 15, the Packers were undefeated, but after a loss to Kansas City, they finished off the year 15-1. The year previous, Green Bay defeated Pittsburgh to win their 4th Super Bowl in the organization's long and storied history. The Packers remain the powerhouse of the NFC North, but Detroit will be a great matchup against Green Bay. The Chicago Bears were one of the bigger disappointments in 2011, for their record dropped from 11-5 to 8-8, completely missing out on that season's playoffs. Jay Cutler may not be a star in Chicago, but the Bears have done their best to improve their quarterback by adding Brandon Marshall. The Bears had a highly successful draft, where they selected defender Shea McClellin and wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey. The Bears defense has always been top-notch, and 2012 has the potential to be a great season for Chicago. As for the Minnesota Vikings, they are several years away from becoming one of the league's best. Christian Ponder is young and lacks experience, but offensive lineman Matt Kalil will be a nice blocker. Their pass rush ranked first overall last season, all having to do with star defensive end Jared Allen. Though I have always said a great running game does not win championships, having Adrian Peterson certainly does not hurt the Vikings in anyway. I expect Green Bay to win the division title, but the fight for second will be one of the more interesting headlines come 2012.

3. NFC South: This off season, no story has been more shocking then that of the Saints bounty scandal. As soon as Roger Goodell and the National Football League confirmed these rumors, many important figures in the Saints organization were suspended. Now that New Orleans is in a state of chaos due to the loss of Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis, the NFC South should be a much closer division. Atlanta has become a top contender since Matt Ryan was drafted back in 2008, but last season was somewhat of a disappointment. The Falcons offense is top notch, and is the reason why Atlanta's record back in 2010 was 13-3. Though the Falcons missed out by not owning a first round draft pick, they still managed to recruit center Peter Konz, a spectacular new addition to an already excellent offensive line. The defense struggles from time to time, Atlanta is the best possible contender against New Orleans. Carolina appears to be in great shape after yet another nice draft, and they should be led by sophomore quarterback Cam Newton. Linebacker Luke Kuechly deserved to be taken 9th overall, and his skills will contribute to a more improved Panthers defense. Last but not least, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Tampa Bay had an off year last season, finishing the season 4-12. However, the Bucs were eager to sign several free agents on the market, and they were successful in doing so. On April 13, the Buccaneers signed Pro-Bowl wide receiver Vincent Jackson, and just 24 hours later picked up guard Carl Nicks. These two new additions have given a new life to Tampa Bay football, and they will try to make the playoffs for the first time since coach Jon Gruden won the division title in 2007. The investigation has rattled not only New Orleans, but the NFC South, and these suspensions will open the gate for other contenders to win this division's title.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Three Teams to Watch Out for In 2012

     Arguably the greatest part of each and every NFL offseason is the draft, where three days are spent in front of the television, watching the big names in college football start off their pro career. For the past few months, experts have been comparing this year's two top prospects--Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. RGIII may have won the Heisman over Luck last December, but the Stanford quarterback managed to earn the number one spot in the NFL draft. For many teams, the draft will be the difference between a shot at the playoffs, or yet another average season. Now that all seven rounds have been completed, it is time to look forward several months and predict the sleeper teams of 2012.

Stephon Gilmore
1. Cincinnati Bengals: The Cincinnati Bengals had what many would call a breakout season in 2011, all thanks to their incredible group of rookies. Top picks AJ Green and Andy Dalton helped resurrect a struggling organization, whose record improved from 4-12 to 9-7, earning them a spot in the playoffs. However, the team as a whole is still young, and has yet to mature. Clearly, the Bengal organization relies a lot on their youth, which is why the draft is so important for Cincinnati. When entering 2012, the Bengals found themselves with 2 first round picks and in need of a replacement for corner back Jonathan Joseph. With the 17th pick in the draft, Cincinnati drafted Alabama corner back Dre Kirkpatrick, a fabulous all-around defender. The Bengals ranked 9th overall in passing yards allowed, and Dre Kirkpatrick should further improve this statistic. Four picks later, the Bengals decided to give away their spot to New England in return for 27th overall and a pick in the third round (93rd). Cincinnati needed to draft an offensive lineman who could protect quarterback Andy Dalton and newly-acquired rusher Benjarvus Green-Ellis. The Bengals decided to draft guard Kevin Zeitler with their second first-round pick, a decision I am not satisfied with. Guard Cordy Glenn of Georgia was still on the board, and is a much better blocker who deserved to be taken in the first round. Hopefully, Zeitler will be a nice fit for such an up-and-coming organization. One of the best picks for Cincinnati came in the second round, where they took defensive tackle Devon Still of Penn State. Many believed Still would be a first round pick, but somehow he managed to slip all the way back to 53rd overall. The one thing Cincinnati should try and do before the season starts is acquire a wide receiver like Braylon Edwards through free agency. Assuming Dalton and Green can stay healthy, this young team has the potential to win it all next season.

2. Carolina Panthers: After one of the best rookie performances in NFL history, Cam Newton is entering his second season, and will look to earn a playoff spot in 2012. The sophomore quarterback threw for a whopping 4,051 yards, 21 passing touchdowns and 14 rushing touchdowns. Assuming this future superstar can repeat last season's performance, the Panthers should be in decent shape. Though Carolina's quarterback had a spectacular rookie season, the Panthers finished the year with a 6-10 record. The main reason behind such a mediocre season? Defense. The Panthers ranked 24th in passing yards allowed, 25th in rushing yards allowed, and 25th overall in sacks. With the 9th pick in the draft, Carolina needed a spectacular player capable of resurrecting a defense. No one is a better fit than inside linebacker Luke Kuechly of Boston College. In his junior year, Kuechly won all different types of prizes, ranging from the Dick Butkus Award to a spot on the All American team. His combine times put him in an elite group of players, and clearly Kuechly deserved to be taken 9th overall. Not only did the Panthers have a successful draft, but they helped their offense by adding running back Mike Tolbert. Their running corp, consisting of DeAngelo Williams, Jonathon Stewart and Mike Tolbert, might be the best in all of football. The NFC South powerhouse (New Orleans Saints) is in a state of chaos, leaving an open door for Carolina. Offense should not be a problem next season, but the biggest concern will be on the defensive side of the ball. If the defense manages to play well, Carolina should earn a spot in the playoffs.

3. Buffalo Bills: One of the biggest headlines this offseason was the signing of Mario Williams, a defensive end who will be playing for Buffalo next season. Though he missed 11 games due to injury in 2011, Williams still managed to record 5 sacks on the year. Super Mario has become the highest paid defender in the league thanks to a 6 year, $96 million contract with $50 million guarunteed. The Bills also added another defensive end to the roster, free agent Mark Anderson. Last season, Anderson recorded 10 sacks with New England, and he should be a great new addition to the Buffalo Bills. The 6-10 Bills were looking to improve their offense through the draft last April, and had a successful result. Buffalo spent their 10th overall pick on corner back Stephon Gilmore, even though an offensive lineman seemed like the better decision. However, when it came time for them to use their 41st overall pick, gaurd Cordy Glenn was still on the board. They ended up taking Glenn, and then a wide receiver from NC State in the 3rd round. The Bills must play New England twice next season, along with games between San Francisco and Houston. Otherwise, Buffalo has one of the easier schedules in the NFL. Running back Fred Jackson will be returning next year after an injury sidelined him for 6 games in 2011. CJ Spiller was an excellent replacement last season, and he should get more carries in 2012. Buffalo started off the year 3-0, but by week 9 they began playing sloppy on both ends of the football. The defense has made major strides this offseason, and the main question is if the offense can improve as well. New England has basically locked up the AFC East, but the Bills have a shot at earning their first playoff spot via wild card since 1999.