Sunday, August 31, 2014

Notre Dame's Season on the Rocks: A Fan's Take

Every year without fail, Notre Dame provides a veritable fount of college football controversy and excitement. They've mattered since the beginning of the game, and nowadays that gives the anti-Domers ammunition, as they use favorite terms like archaic and irrelevant. But love them or hate them, you're talking about them, so they're important. While we (you should know from the outset that I am a loyal fan of the Irish, through thick and, yes, thin) still don't mention the great debacle of January 2013, this is a team that, when one neatly glances over that briefest of hiccups on a very national stage, has looked stronger and stronger recently. Going into the 2013 season, everyone had high hopes. Everett Golson had struggled late, sure, but it was his defense who carried the team to a national championship berth anyways (a defense led by, that's right, Manti Te'o. It's almost hard to continue at this point, but I'll try). Regardless, he had matured, the defense looked strong, and everything was rosy, even after an egg laying of tremendous proportions against Alabama.

Then Golson cheated. I used to know all the details, but a mercifully selective memory has erased them from my mind. An academic infraction? Really? The enormous, money making machine that is college football is going to take a big hit because some 19 year old had someone else write his final paper on his favorite chapter of Harry Potter? But suspended he was, to be exact because of "poor academic judgement" on a test.
Golson was suspended for the entire 2013 season. 
This is the life of a Notre Dame fan. I do in fact recall my reactions when I heard of Golson's suspension. I raised my eyes to the heavens, quietly walked out my door, screamed briefly, and went for a walk. This was the season! The trend! The quarterback! The stars had aligned, until Golson was out, and Tommy Rees (don't ask) led the team to a respectable 9-4 record, with a final AP ranking of 20th. This was not the Notre Dame season of my dreams, nor anyone's. Meanwhile a tiny voice in the back of my mind was quietly asking me if I was happy that my team applied this sort of standard for a student-athlete, even to its most important player. I couldn't really decide.

Already at the end of that 2013 season, I recall looking forward to this upcoming one with considerable interest, ever the optimist. The SEC had been vanquished on the national stage. The rising sophomore class was the best recruiting class in the country when they were first enrolled. These men can certainly make a difference, most notably outside linebacker Jaylon Smith, Notre Dame's best defensive player already. There was and is a lot to be excited about for the upcoming Irish season.

But of course, as soon as my hopes were raised, with equal, almost pitiful suddenness they were dashed. This came with the news that wideout DaVaris Daniels and defensive captain KeiVarae Russell were to be suspended for the season, for yet another "academic violation." Thankfully, since then it appears that the suspension is temporary and a reinstatement is likely. But for now their eligibility is in some doubt, and if ultimately these two men do not play Notre Dame will not have a legitimate chance at a playoff berth-Daniels was second on the team in receiving yards last year (behind TJ Jones, now drafted by the Lions) and Russell was one of the best cornerbacks in the country.
Some met this with glee, others dismay, and others frustration. I was inclined to a healthy mix of the last two. But more than just fans of Notre Dame should be sad to hear that their season is in peril. A good Notre Dame team is good for college football. Call me a homer, but I can hopefully provide a decent argument for this. As I have clearly shown above, Notre Dame, probably more than any other large football program in the country, values its student athletes as just that. For most top 25 programs in the country, the notion of the student athlete is a myth of laughable scale. Of course there is plenty of "academic support" for football players in Southbend, and I am not saying that every member of the team takes legitimate classes and works hard in the classroom, but I am absolutely saying that Notre Dame is very committed to academic standards. This is unequivocally proven by their commitment to the suspension of key players. Certainly I can't remember many other players at any other big football schools being suspended for cheating on tests and papers. Ask yourself honestly if an SEC school would suspend its starting quarterback (for an entire season!), top receiver, and defensive captain in the course of two years for anything other than a felony. The discrepancy is astonishing.

In comparison, a recent 146 word paper written by a UNC football player reads as follows, with no editing on my part. Note the grammatical prowess on display.

On the evening of December Rosa Parks decided that she was going to sit in the  white people section on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. During this time blacks had to give up there seats to whites when more whites got on the bus. Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat. Her and the bus driver began to talk and the conversation went like this. “Let me have those front seats” said the driver. She didn’t get up and told the driver that she was tired of giving her seat to white people. “I’m going to have you arrested,” said the driver. “You may do that,” Rosa Parks responded. Two white policemen came in and Rosa Parks asked them “why do you all push us around?” The police officer replied and said “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.
The essay received an A minus, and it was the final and only grade for the class.  It was made scandalously public by a whistleblower who noted that UNC had created fake classes for its student athletes.

Most people can agree that this is wrong. Most can also say that some sort of academic standard should be imposed on student athletes, if we are to maintain the pretense of collegiate football. Notre Dame is the place that most quickly comes to mind when such arguments are made. A strong Notre Dame team means a strong year in college football. If you care to see college football preserved as it currently stands, in all its tradition and its history of the student athlete, an entirely different entity than any professional sport, you care to see Notre Dame succeed. Notre Dame's success proves, in effect, that the current college football model is effective. Without getting into the debate about payment or no payment (I'll do so at a later date) if you love college football then please, acknowledge some gratitude (however grudging) to the Fighting Irish for doing it right.
I rest my case, and Michigan sucks. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

2015 NBA Finals Prediction

          Last year the best team won the NBA Championship. This year, I predict the same will happen again. the San Antonio Spurs resigned all of their key players, and should stay atop the Western Conference until another proves that they can beat the defending champions. It is really hard to see that happening, as the Spurs have the defense, three-point shooting, strong bench play, veteran leadership and experience, and a core of proven winners who play incredibly well together for the best coach in the league.
          The Eastern Conference, on the other hand, has seen quite the mashup over the offseason, with the moving of LeBron James back home to Cleveland, and the balance of power shifting away from Miami to be more evenly spread out throughout the entire conference. The Cavaliers will be expected by many to win the conference, although the Bulls, Heat, and Wizards will have something to say about that. The Bulls have an incredibly talented roster, with a deep group of big men and some good young talent on the perimeter. They also have the former MVP of the league in Derrick Rose, who FINALLY seems to be healthy and ready to go. Although the injury-prone label certainly applies to him, if Rose is around when the playoffs start, that is all the matters and he is a true difference maker.

Spurs Predicted Lineup:

Tony Parker, PG
Danny Green, SG
Kawhi Leonard, SF
Tim Duncan, PF
Thiago Splitter, C

Key Reserves:

Manu Ginobili, SG
Boris Diaw, F/C
Marco Belinelli, SG
Patty Mills, PG
Kyle Anderson, G/F

Bulls Predicted Lineup:

Derrick Rose, PG
Jimmy Butler, SG
Mike Dunleavy, SF
Pau Gasol, PF
Joakim Noah, C

Key Reserves:

Taj Gibson, PF
Nikola Mirotic, PF
Kirk Hinrich, PG
Doug McDermott, SF

          Looking at these projected lineups, the Bulls have certainly enough talent to get them through the Eastern Conference, and have been together long enough with the same coach that they will gel immediately. The rookie Doug McDermott offers some intriguing possibilities for a team that is so strong defensively but last year needed other weapons on offense. With so much focus on Rose, McDermott should be able to thrive on the wing and put up some huge offensive numbers. The Spurs have a talented small forward of their own in Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who could very easily take the jump this year to become a league MVP candidate. He is an all-around talented player who will carry the Spurs this year in order to give their veterans some rest until the playoffs. The Spurs also have such depth on the bench that it seems impossible, even for Chicago and its solid role-players like Taj Gibson and Mike Dunleavy, for any other team to come out on top in a best-of-seven series.

Finals Prediction

Spurs over Bulls: 4-2

Friday, August 29, 2014

2015 Super Bowl Prediction

In our previous post, we stated that the New England Patriots and the San Francisco 49ers are the two teams that we think will play in the upcoming Super Bowl. Recently, the two teams have near identical track records in the postseason, where both New England and San Francisco have played in three consecutive AFC and NFC Championship Games, respectively. Both quarterbacks Tom Brady and Colin Kaepernick have played in a Super Bowl before, but while Kaep lost to the Ravens in his first and only appearance, Brady is 3-2 in the Super Bowl throughout his accomplished career. In an effort to provide a complete breakdown of this matchup, we will compare each aspect of the two teams' game, and giving the advantage to the superior team. By the end, we will give a prediction for the score of this game, thus crowning a champion of the 2014-2015 NFL season.

Quarterback: Colin Kaepernick is one of the most talented quarterbacks in all of football, and his incredible running ability adds a whole other dimension to his game; however, Tom Brady is a veteran in the NFL with plenty of experience in the postseason.
Advantage: New England Patriots

Running Back(s): The New England Patriots tend to rotate their young, inexperienced running backs throughout the season, so it is difficult to tell at this point in time who their starting running back will be in the Super Bowl. The 49ers have 31-year old running back Frank Gore behind quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but they also have rookie Carlos Hyde and speedy Oregon-alum LaMichael James who can be used in different situations.
Advantage: San Francisco 49ers  

Receiving Corp: Tom Brady struggled to grow accustomed to his relatively young, inexperienced group of receivers last season, a group that was also impacted by injuries. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is an absolute game changer for this Patriots' offense, and receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola are able to catch plenty of short passes throughout any given game. Yet the San Francisco 49ers have a plethora of receivers, with names like Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Brandon Lloyd, and Anquan Boldin on their depth chart.
Advantage: San Francisco 49ers

Offensive Line: New England's recent trade that sent All-Pro guard Logan Mankins left many fans scratching their heads, seeing how Mankins was a veteran blocker who had excellent chemistry with Tom Brady. While there is still other talent on this offensive line, it does not really compare to San Francisco group of O-linemen, quite possibly the best group in all of football.
Advantage: San Francisco 49ers

Front Seven: There is no doubt in my mind about which team has a superior front seven on defense. By the time the Super Bowl rolls around, five out of the seven defenders in San Francisco's front seven will have been named to an All-Pro team at some point in their careers. The Patriots can not match that accomplishment.
Advantage: San Francisco 49ers

Secondary: The New England Patriots now have one of the best cornerback duos in all of football after signing both Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis during this past offseason. San Francisco's two starting cornerbacks both played in all 16 games last season, but can not match the backfield seen in New England.
Advantage: New England Patriots

Coaching: Jim Harbaugh is 5-3 in the postseason since joining the San Francisco coaching staff three years ago, but his track record is nowhere near the likes of Bill Belichick. Belichick ranks third all time among coaches in both playoff games and playoff wins. There's a reason why the Patriots are always in the Super Bowl. Bill Belichick is that reason.
Advantage: New England Patriots


In the end, this game is certainly going to come down to the wire. The recent additions of Revis and Browner for New England leads me to believe that San Francisco's passing game will struggle early on; however, the Patriots have struggled historically to contain mobile quarterbacks, as we saw most recently when the Patriots lost to Cam Newton and the Panthers last year, but also relatively recent losses to Russell Wilson and the Seahawks, as well as Kaepernick and the 49ers two years ago. The running game may chip away at New England's defense over the course of the game. As we have seen before, though, Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense always seem to respond, especially if Rob Gronkowski is healthy. Coach Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady have been working together for more than 14 years, and the strong connection that these two men have formed over time is unlike anything else in football. They are now beyond driven to win this franchise its fourth Super Bowl in franchise history, which leads me to believe that New England will beat San Francisco this February in Super Bowl XLIX.
Patriots over 49ers 24-23

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Complete 2015 NFL Playoff Predictions

Wild Card Round

(3) Colts over (6) Jets: Andrew Luck, unlike New York's quarterback duo of Geno Smith and Michael Vick, has proven himself as a winner in the postseason with his comeback victory over the Chiefs. The Jets team as a whole is too young to beat Indy and this incredible passing game.

(4) Ravens over (5) Bengals: Just two years ago, Joe Flacco caught fire in the postseason to lead his team over the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Baltimore's passing game may have trouble early against a relatively stingy Bengals defense, but Cincy's horrendous record in the postseason under Marvin Lewis will continue into 2015.
(6) Packers over (3) Bears: Aaron Rodgers, a Super Bowl winning quarterback, has repeatedly proven himself when it comes to clutch situations, as seen when he defeated Chicago in Week 17 of the 2013 regular season. Ironically, we have them playing Chicago once again with the same result.

(5) 49ers over (4) Eagles: The 49ers have made it to three straight NFC Championship Games, and are quite possibly the most talented wild card team of the past 5 years. Philadelphia doesn't stand a chance, even with home field advantage.

Divisional Round

(3) Colts over (2) Broncos: The third year for quarterbacks is almost always a breakout year in the NFL. With Reggie Wayne coming back from injury, and Hakeem Knicks arriving from New York, Luck has the offensive weapons  needed to knock off the Denver Broncos in January.
(1) Patriots over (4) Ravens: The Patriots and Ravens by now are used to playing each other in the postseason, but the Patriots are clearly far more talented than the Ravens, especially with their two new cornerbacks in Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis. Tom Brady is bound for yet another AFC Championship Game.

(1) Seahawks over (6) Packers: In a neutral location, I believe the Green Bay Packers would be capable of beating Seattle during the postseason; however, seeing how the game is in Seattle, it will be extremely difficult for Aaron Rodgers to overpower the Legion of Boom on the road. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks offense will be able to put up plenty of points against a mediocre Packers defense.

(5) 49ers over (2) Saints: Colin Kaepernick is surrounded by plenty of weapons on offense, including Anquan Boldin, Frank Gore, and Vernon Davis. Jim Harbaugh will find a way to quell the damage done by Drew Brees and New Orleans' passing game, and the 49ers will be playing in their fourth straight NFC Championship Game.

Championship Round

(1) Patriots over (3) Colts: The New England Patriots remain undefeated against Andrew Luck during his time in Indy, yet with Luck bound to improve during the regular season, these games are going to get a whole lot more competitive. With Revis and Browner both on the Patriots' roster, Luck will have more difficulty finding his three most talented targets--Knicks, Hilton, Wayne--but as we've seen, this quarterback can find a way. Tom Brady is becoming more experienced with his young wide receivers, and hopefully, Rob Gronkowski will be healthy for playoffs. The Logan Menkins trade left some people scratching their heads, but the aging offensive lineman was traded for a draft pick and a little-known tight end Tim Wright. Wright had 54 catches as an undrafted rookie, so this could be one of Brady's favorite targets later in the year. In the end, we have Tom Brady advancing to the sixth Super Bowl of his career.

(5) 49ers over (1) Seahawks: These two teams are coming out of the same division, yet clearly, they are the NFC's most talented teams. A rivalry has been born recently between San Francisco and Seattle, seeing how they have two of the league's most stifling defenses and battle within the same division. Luckily, the San Francisco 49ers are expecting to get linebacker NaVorro Bowman by Week 7, so he will be in midseason form just before the postseason. Seattle's offseason losses will have a bigger impact on this team than people seem to think, where receiver Golden Tate has left for Detroit, while Red Bryant and Chris Clemons have left for Jacksonville. Jim Harbaugh will be on the hot seat if San Francisco is unable to make the Super Bowl yet again, but luckily for 49ers fans, we see San Francisco topping their division rivals for a spot in the "Big Game."

Prediction for the Super Bowl will arrive within the next few days

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2015 NFC Playoff Predictions

1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3): The defending Super Bowl Champions may still have A LOT of talent on their roster, but several relatively important players were lost this past offseason, such as Golden Tate, Brandon Browner, and Red Bryant. Yet with stars like Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson, and Percy Harvin on offense, as well as the entire "Legion of Boom" on defense (Sherman, Chancellor, Thomas), Seattle is surely in store for another deep playoff run.

2. New Orleans Saints (12-4): In his first full season back with the Saints since the bounty scandal, Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints went 11-5, thus finishing second in their division. Quarterback Drew Brees was one touchdown away from having three straight seasons with at least 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. The loss of running back Darren Sproles could potentially hurt both the rushing and passing game, but I'm sure this offense will find a way to survive. The defense has managed to gain cornerback Champ Bailey and safety Jairus Byrd in an attempt to prove the pass defense, so expect the Saints to be contenders once again.
3. Chicago Bears (11-5): Seeing how the Bears were unable to make the playoffs last year, it is pretty risky for us to have them finishing third in the NFC next season; however, this team is very well-rounded. Jay Cutler struggled to stay healthy last season, but assuming he can play at least 14 games, he has the chance to be an MVP finalist thanks to receivers Alshon Jeffrey, Brandon Marshall, and Santonio Holmes. Also, Matt Forte and the running game will be able to take some pressure off of their quarterback. The defense may have lost Juluis Peppers, but defensive ends Jared Allen and Lamarr Houston join Jay Ratliff on the defensive line. Chicago is a surely a sleeper team in 2014, possibly enough to make a run at the NFC Championship Game.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (9-7): While Philadelphia made a quick exit from the playoffs last season, the major storyline for Philly fans was the emergence of quarterback Nick Foles as one of the game's most efficient passers. Foles passed for 27 touchdowns with 2 interceptions, while running back LeSean McCoy also had a career year. The Eagles lost DeSean Jackson after he left for Washington, so it will be interesting to see how Foles is able to adapt to the loss. The main problem for the Eagles is clearly the pass defenses, which ranked last in the league in 2013. While the Eagles did manage to sign safety Malcolm Jenkins, this pass defense is bound to struggle into 2014.

5. San Francisco 49ers (12-4): For the third straight year in a row, San Francisco made an appearance in the NFC Championship Game, but Richard Sherman's tipped ball that turned into an interception late in the game resulted in a loss for the Niners. San Francisco still has a top 10 offense, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick, running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde, and wide receivers Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Vernon Davis, and Stevie Johnson. The defense has almost everyone returning, apart from Aldon Smith, who is awaiting a suspension. San Francisco may end up as the fifth seed, but they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

6. Green Bay Packers (11-5): The Green Bay Packers' receiving corp has gradually worsened over the past 5 years, where Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are the only two stars remaining; however, the Packers now have an excellent running game thanks to rookie running back Eddie Lacy. Defenses have struggled to shut down both Green Bay's passing game, pioneered by Aaron Rodgers, and their running game, which is how Lacy has managed to achieve such success. Green Bay's defense is slightly above mediocre, but things got even worse for Green Bay's defense by losing nose tackle B.J. Raji for the entire season. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

2014-2015 Fantasy Football Draft Do's and Don'ts

Football season is right around the corner, which means that Fantasy Football drafts are also right around the corner, which means that you are probably looking for an informed analyst to help with your draft strategy. Well... You've come to the right place. I'll be providing weekly fantasy football articles throughout the season and I guarantee that if you follow my advice you'll finish at the top of your league (disclaimer - fantasy football contains large amounts of luck and I have honestly no clue whether my insight will help your team or not). Before you can actually get to playing games, though, you need to have drafted a team, so here is my guide for your 2014-2015 Fantasy Football Draft.

Do - Draft a Running Back Very, Very High.
The running back position is extremely lacking in depth this year. After the first seven or eight there is a sharp drop, which is followed by another equally sharp drop around number 15. Simply put, if you don't pick up a running back in the first three rounds you are going to be living off of waiver-wire running backs, and that's not a very luxurious way to live. For those of you in two running back leagues, this advice is even more imperative - please pick a running back early.

Don't - Draft a Quarterback High (Unless His Name is Peyton Manning).
In my eight team league, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, and Jay Cutler are all still on waivers following the draft. With that much depth at the quarterback position, there is no reason for you to be reaching for Russell Wilson with your third pick when you can pick up a statistically similar quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, with one of your last picks. Obviously, if you find yourself at the end of the first round, Peyton Manning might be an alright pick, considering he will be by far the best fantasy quarterback this year, but outside of him there is no need to go quarterback early. Be patient.

Do - Proceed With Caution When Drafting a Tight End.
There is absolutely no denying that the tight end position has top end talent, but there are questions about how much of that talent there is. Jimmy Graham should be a first round pick, which makes sense, Julius Thomas will probably go in the third or fourth, and Vernon Davis and Rob Gronkowski will probably be off the board by the fifth round. After that, unless you find Jason Witten or Jordan Cameron oddly dropping to the tenth or eleventh rounds, I would recommend passing on those 12 or 13 rounders including the likes of Martellus Bennett, Greg Olsen, and Dennis Pitta. Instead, wait until you can pick up a guy like Zach Ertz or Jordan Reed in the 15th or 16th. The best case scenario would be to draft a tight end high, but if that's not possible, don't panic and reach on a mid-level tight end.

Don't - Go on Autodraft.
This is certainly the case every year, but it is even more so this year. Seeing as ESPN doesn't update their player rankings to keep up with injuries and suspensions, you may end up drafting Josh Gordon, Le'Veon Bell, Ray Rice, and Sam Bradford if you're unlucky enough. Outside of the obvious desire to avoid players who are going to miss significant portions of time, your team is just going to be better if you're the one drafting it. For example, I'd much rather have Peyton Manning over Eddie Lacy, but ESPN's fantasy rankings have Lacy ranked higher - bummer.

Do - Pick For Value Over Need.
Most leagues nowadays have at least three flex spots per team, so, even if you feel like you need to fill up that running back slot, if there aren't any top-tier backs available, snatch up that star wide receiver who managed to slide down the board a bit. Flex spots are just as important as other spots and should be treated that way when drafting. Additionally, trades will allow you to acquire players in positions of need after the draft and the additional talent that you managed to nab will help you in your bargaining.

Don't - Pick a Defense Before Eighth or Ninth Round (Not Even the Seahawks).
Defenses are a fairly hard thing to predict considering how many variables they have, so why would you waste one of your first few picks on something so questionable. A large part of what makes a defense perform well or not is the opposition - searching the waiver wire for defenses who are coming up against dismal offenses (the Jets and Jaguars were great for this last year) will often yield you pretty solid results, and you may even end up finding a defense that you end up keeping for the rest of the year (see: last year's Chief's defense).

Monday, August 25, 2014

2015 AFC Playoff Predictions

1. New England Patriots (12-4): Now that the Patriots have added cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, New England's pass defense has quickly become one of the most intimidating in all of football. While Chandler Jones and the New England pass rush ranked 5th in sacks, they ranked 22nd overall according to Football Outsiders in pass pressure, which will need to improve in 2014. Quarterback Tom Brady suffered from a dip in productivity last season while adjusting to his new group of receivers, but with injury-prone tight end Rob Gronkowski ready for Week 1, and the recent addition of Brandon LaFell from Carolina, Tom Brady is bound to do much better in 2014 now that he has more experience with this young receiving corp.

2. Denver Broncos (13-3): On paper, the Denver Broncos are the best team in all of football, seeing how they have the best quarterback, a plethora of talented wide receivers, and many big names on defense. While they may have lost receiver Eric Decker and running back Knowshon Moreno during the offseason, the Broncos still have Demaryius Thomas, Juluis Thomas, and Wes Welker to help their star quarterback. Denver also signed Pro-Bowlers Demarcus Ware, TJ Ward, and Aqib Talib to improve an already above-average defense. Expect Denver to be the number one seed in the playoffs for the third straight season.

3. Indianapolis Colts (12-4): Quarterback Andrew Luck may not have thrown for more more touchdowns or passing yards compared to his rookie season, but he certainly became more efficient. Luck's interception total dropped in half from 18 to 9, directly leading to a 10 point increase in his passer rating. Historically speaking, a quarterback's third season is the breakout year, and with the recent addition of Hakeem Knicks, as well as the return of Reggie Wayne, Indy's receiving corp is sure to be strong in 2014.

4. Baltimore Ravens (11-5): The Ravens managed to miss the playoffs by one game after winning the Super Bowl in 2012. Things got even worse for running back Ray Rice this past offseason. While Rice suffered from a severe decrease in productivity last season compared to 2013, he was then caught physically abusing his girlfriend on camera, resulting in a two game suspension. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for the most interceptions of his career, as well as throw the lowest passer rating since he joined the NFL; however, with with Denis Pitta returning from injury, and receiver Steve Smith joining this already talented receiving corp, Baltimore's passing game is sure to improve from last year.  

5. Cincinnati Bengals (9-7): Andy Dalton recently signed a 6-year extension with the Bengals, which means despite his lack of success in the postseason, the Bengals are willing to stick with Dalton into the future. Receiver A.J. Green may be the star of this offense, but running back Giovani Bernard emerged as a breakout star in 2013. With the return of tackle Geno Atkins on defense, as will as the addition of cornerback Darqueze Dennard via the draft, the Bengals are still talented enough to earn a spot in the playoffs, but a run to the Super Bowl is very unlikely.

6. New York Jets (9-7): The New York Jets making the playoffs is certainly a gutsy prediction, seeing how the Jets are 14-18 in the past two seasons. While we would like to see Michael Vick as the starter, Geno Smith still led this team to an 8-8 season last year, and he is bound to do even better alongside Chris Johnson and Eric Decker. The defense has plenty of young talent, particularly their defensive line nicknamed the "Sons of Anarchy." Sheldon Richardson managed to win Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013, and the defense as a whole certainly has a shot at propelling this team into the postseason.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Pre-season Heisman Watch List

With the AP top 25 just released, it appears that season is open on every possible college football analysis. With that in mind, I am inclined to present my Heisman watch list for the 2014 college football season. There are no real surprises on this list, but keep in mind that for two years running, the Heisman winner has been a freshman, so I give somewhere around a 60-40 chance that I have here given the winner.

Marcus Mariota: QB, Oregon
Mariota was the Heisman frontrunner for most of 2013 before fading down the stretch, suggesting he definitely has the potential to win the award. The athletic junior passed for over 3,600 yards last year and threw 31 touchdowns. Although he has to work on his consistency as a passer (3 games last season completing under 50% of his passes), he makes up for it with almost one rushing touchdown per game. The high powered spread offense around Mariota is of course enormously talented, and tailored almost perfectly to his skill set. Mariota will post Heisman numbers this season, but his campaign will hinge, as per usual, on big wins and big moments. He probably won't be able to win the Heisman if he loses a game, except a BCS playoff game.

Jameis Winston: QB, Florida State
"We strong:" They certainly are this year 
I don't think he'll repeat, but he'll come close. People tend now to forget just how exciting Winston was for all of last season, from the first game. With over 4,000 passing yards in a season and a national championship, he's definitely not the Messiah, but he can play football really well. He set freshman season records for the NCAA in passing yards and touchdowns (with 40, also an ACC single season record.) Winston will have great stats on a great team, behind what is probably the best offensive line in the country. In short, I don't have him first on this list simply because it would be a statistical anomaly.

Bryce Petty: QB, Baylor
Last year's first time starter dropped a casual 4,200 passing yards with 4 interceptions. Not a typo there. At the helm of a shiny and outrageous Baylor offense, which averaged 52.4 points per game, he went to a BCS bowl game and suffered a disappointing loss. Unfortunately, Petty's competition probably won't prove stiff enough to merit a Heisman award, but at one point his stats may speak simply for themselves. In a new stadium, with an upcoming team, Petty is definitely a player to watch this year.

TJ Yeldon: RB, Alabama
Yeldon isn't found close to this high on most lists, but most arguments against him hinge around one point: He has many talented backs behind him, and if his fumbling issues rear their ugly head early in the season, he may not get enough carries to fuel a Heisman campaign. This isn't really a legitimate argument, as that can be said about many players, regardless of depth chart. I hereby concede that yes, if Yeldon fumbles the ball a lot, he won't win a Heisman. That isn't rocket science, nor is it exclusive to the running back from Alabama. He is also vying for a national championship, which means a lot when considering this award. Ultimately, he will prove to be an offensive focal point for possibly the best team in the country, which screams Heisman candidate.
Count on seeing a lot of that this year. 

Brett Hundley: QB, UCLA
He moves, he passed for over 3,000 yards, he leads his team well, (a team which may be contending for the first time ever) and he isn't yet a finished product. He also has the strength of schedule to present the potential Heisman moment, notably against Oregon in week seven. All this means I'd be foolish not to put him on my list. While the hype was a little overdone last year, it wasn't that far off the mark. Definitely a player you'll hear a lot about this season, and in a great conference he should have his share of the limelight.

Dashing, there's no other word for it. 
My dark horse candidate has to be Maty Mauk, Missouri's quarterback for the second half of last season. Missouri was predicted to finish last in the SEC east at the beginning of last season, and instead behind Mauk they maintained a top 10 national ranking for several weeks, eventually reaching #5, and played in the SEC championship game after an 11-1 regular season. There they lost 59-42, but posting 42 points against Auburn's defense is a win when we're talking about Heisman potential. Although he isn't a topic of hot discussion, keep an eye on Mauk this season, as he finished up last season with an impressive win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.

Notable omissions:
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
"He's athletic, and they lost Aaron Murray so he'll get tons of carries." Both of these are true, but this is a distinctly lame argument. He was also injured last year, which allows people to point to his decent numbers and say they suggest greatness. He'll play well, but he won't win, or stay in the conversation late.
Braxton Miller: QB, Ohio State
Again, injuries shouldn't insert players into this conversation. He hurt his knee and as a result missed 3 games, but 2,094 passing yards, even over that a shorter interval, does not suggest a Heisman winner. Of course he runs well, and plays for a good team, but the prediction I have seen of 2,500 passing yards, 1,000 rushing yards and 40 combined TD's lies entirely outside the realm of likelihood, in my opinion. However that would probably win the Heisman this year.
Mike Davis: RB, South Carolina
Another great player who won't win a Heisman. Steve Spurrier will rely on him heavily this season, but he's coming off an injury last year, and didn't post spectacular numbers. He's definitely explosive, but we have to be wary of pointing to on field flashiness as a predictor of a Heisman award. He needs great numbers, and probably won't get them. I will say that of these three, I can most easily see Davis staying in the conversation late.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Andy Dalton Signs New Deal with Bengals

According to Adam Schefter, quarterback Andy Dalton has signed a new deal with the Cincinnati Bengals. This upcoming season was set to be the final season of Dalton's rookie contract; however, this new contract is set to be worth $115 million over the course of six years. Dalton passed for more than 4,000 yards last season, and his passer rating has increased within each of the past three seasons. The Bengals have made the postseason in each of the past three seasons, but Dalton and the Bengals remain winless in that span.