What to expect from the Regular Season Opener

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08/28/09

Photo credit: Keith Allison

Author: Joey Carr

For nearly 6 months, the fans of the NFL have waited desperately for the talks of Deflategate and free agency to come to a halt. We’ve endured numerous preseason injuries, holdouts, and arrests and now all we’re looking for is some real, genuine, exhilarating football to be played. And now, at long last, that wait has come to an end. The Patriots play host to the Steelers tomorrow night on the biggest stage since the Super Bowl, and the energy is going to be like nothing we’ve seen before.

Tomorrow, in most people’s minds, is going to be more than a game. It’s going to be a celebration for Patriots Nation, who gets to see their team raise its 4th Super Bowl banner in 15 years. The New England faithful also get to see their quarterback, Tom Brady, play with more fire and anger than ever before. Fresh off a win in court against Roger Goodell and the NFL, expect to see an entirely different Tom Terrific. However, this game isn’t just about Brady. The Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the more consistent teams in the league since the early 2000’s, and plan to keep that persona alive with a stacked offense led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and Le’veon Bell. Bell is suspended for tomorrow’s game unfortunately for Pittsburgh, making newly acquired running back DeAngelo Williams the prime starter for the Steelers. The Terrible Towel’s also don’t have the services of their starting center, Maurkice Pouncey, which is a fairly significant loss up front since the last time the team lost him they went 8-8. Also, the Pittsburgh defense is something to keep a close eye on tomorrow night. Long-time defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau left for Tennessee, leaving the Steelers D with a big question mark on it. It’ll be interesting to see how Belichick and the Pats take advantage of the weaknesses of Pittsburgh’s defense and which part of it they will target the most. However, Steel City isn’t the only defense with questions surrounding it. New England lost some key members on defense this past offseason-Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, and Brandon Browner- and even though people within the Patriots organization feel like they’ve gained enough pieces to help minimize those losses, it’ll be fascinating to see if New England did indeed get their defense to where it was last year. Malcolm Brown, drafted 32nd overall, will try to fill the enormous shoes of longtime Patriot Vince Wilfork, which won’t be an easy task by any means. Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown will attempt to keep the Pats secondary a strong point, also not an easy task with Antonio Brown on the field. But an extremely strong linebacker corps could help overcome some of the defense’s weaknesses.

A key matchup that many people are going to be looking forward to watching is Antonio Brown vs. Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler. Brown is debatably the best receiver in the NFL, boasting lightning quick speed and terrific hands. Butler is a somewhat proven player who is being thrust into the Patriots number one cornerback spot, previously filled by Darrelle Revis. Last year, Butler proved himself to be a reliable defensive back but can he be the player the Pats need him to be? Antonio Brown will determine that when they line up across from each other tomorrow at Gillette Stadium. Brown is definitely one of the hardest players in the

league to cover, and Butler’s skills will be pushed to the absolute max tomorrow night when he tries to defend him.

All in all, tomorrow could turn out to be one of the best games of the season. Two AFC powerhouses battling it out under the lights on Primetime television promise a hard fought and intense game. Big Ben and Antonio Brown are not an easy tandem to stop, but it seems like the Patriots D is up for the challenge. Tom Brady takes the field as the starter for New England for the 14th straight time and never has he had a bigger chip on his shoulder. With versatile weapons Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, and a trio of pass-catching running backs, the Steelers D should expect to have their hands full. This game should go down to the wire with both teams matching up nicely, making for an epic and memorable season opener.

Prediction: New England 27 Pittsburgh 20

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Jameis Winston must improve as an overall passer but the tools are there:

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Photo credit: Kevin Thomson

Author: Jon Kuzma

Jameis Winston looked shaky as a passer in preseason action for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking much more comfortable with his feet. The rookie quarterback out of Florida State often relied on his running skills when the play broke down in preseason action, which is not a good sign for him in terms of his progression as a quarterback. Quarterbacks at the NFL level must be able to trust their reads and have a quick release before the defensive pressure gets to them. Jamies was evading the pressure by rolling out and buying time, or scrambling to the edge during plays. The first thing he must further develop is that ability to sit in the pocket and deliver all of the throws downfield. He never had a problem like this at the collegiate level and it was odd to see him developing these habits now as a pro. Despite all of that criticism, he did score two touchdowns rushing so you can’t completely knock him for those efforts. It’s just that 0 touchdowns and 2 interceptions passing wise over those 4 preseason games is not the production that will elevate the Buc’s in the regular season. The team is depending on Winston to step up and live up to that role as franchise savior. He has big time weapons in Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson that depend on an adequate quarterback to deliver the ball to them. Winston has all the tools as far as size, accuracy, and arm strength go. Now he has to put it all together on the field. To be fair he is still a rookie, but the Buc’s need him to grow up right now in order for them to have the success they’d like. If Winston can become that player they will be a force in the NFC South for years to come.

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Rams would be smart to be patient with Todd Gurley:

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Photo credit: Ken Thomson

Author: Jon Kuzma

Todd Gurley was one of the most electrifying players in all college football last year. He is clearly a big part of the St. Louis Rams future and that is why they chose to go with Gurley with the 10th overall pick in the 2015 draft. At the time Gurley was selected he was still recovering from a an ACL tear that he had sustained during his time at the University of Georgia. While a running back hadn’t been selected in the first round since the 2012 draft, the Rams selected Gurley despite the fact he was recovering from that knee injury. The commitment showed their beliefs in Gurley as a player. It also was a sign of how far medicine has advanced in sports. Since just two decades ago an ACL tear meant the end of a player’s career. In the preseason the Rams suited Gurley up before a few games but didn’t play him in the actual games. When watching him take hand offs in pre game warm ups in full pads vs the Colts. Gurley looked tense in and out of his cuts. His knee didn’t seem to have the strength to give him that fluent motion as a runner when planting and accelerating. In order for Gurley to be anywhere near the player that he was in college football last year. He will have to be playing at optimal health. That is why the Rams should be patient with Gurley and make sure he is indeed 100% healthy before putting him back on the field. Clearly he is going to want to get back on the field as soon as possible, so he can get back to what he does best. It’s up to the Rams medical staff to do their due diligence and make sure that is at the proper time. Gurley will have to play at an even higher level than what he was playing at last year to have success at the pro level. Sometimes rehab can push athletes to new heights in terms of their athletic abilities. So maybe Gurley will benefit from those rehabilitation sessions, and be able to regain that speed and quickness which made him so effective last season. Regardless it’s in the Rams best interest to be patient with the rookie.

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Teams Ready To Be In The 2015 Playoff Hunt:

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Photo credit: Joe Bielawa

Author: Joey Carr

Going into the 2015 regular season, a good majority of the teams that muddled in mediocrity in 2014 are ready to dive into the playoff race this time around. Whether it was acquiring big names in free agency or filling some glaring roster holes, several teams that finished around .500 are now set to threaten the division leaders and throw a cog into the 2015 playoff picture.

When talking about .500 teams, the first team that usually comes to mind is the squad down in South Beach, the Miami Dolphins. They have always been a somewhat dangerous team to play, home or away, but have not been able to solidify themselves as real threats in years past. Enter Ndamukong Suh and a revitalized and richer Ryan Tannehill. Suh has the ability, alongside Cameron Wake, to transform the Miami run defense, which ranked 24th in the league in 2014. A quarterback’s worst nightmare is someone as quick and powerful as Wake coming from the outside with someone as forceful and aggressive as Suh attacking the inside. With the pass defense already solidly established, ranking 6th in the league last year, the Miami defense looks like a force to be reckoned with. The Dolphins also boast Ryan Tannehill, a quarterback that put up impressive numbers a year ago, throwing for over 4,000 yards and tossing 27 touchdowns. However, a quarterback needs receivers, and Miami once again, like in 2013, brought in new targets instead of keeping the old ones (with the exception of Jarvis Landry). They traded Mike Wallace, a downfield threat, but brought in Greg Jennings, an older player who looks to revive his career. They also traded for Kenny Stills, a true speedster and proven pass catcher. With a new crop of receivers, a shiny new defense, and a stable running game, the Dolphins are primed to turn some heads this year in the AFC.

Switching conferences, the team in the NFC that seems equipped to be in the hunt for a playoff spot is the Minnesota Vikings. The Purple and Gold suffered a tough loss last season losing Adrian Peterson due to child abuse charges, which blew any chance they had at the playoffs. However, AP is back and he has a new quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. The second year man out of Louisville took over for Matt Cassel early in the season last year and never looked back, leading the Vikings to a 7-9 record. He struggled at times, as most rookies do, but put up respectable numbers, throwing for just under 3,000 yards and tossing 14 touchdowns. However, he also threw 12 interceptions, but that number should go down with a deadly run game, which Adrian Peterson brings back for the Vikes. Rushing for over 2,000 yards just a couple years ago, Peterson looks to be fully healthy this year and has a chip on his shoulder, which should make him even tougher to bring down, presenting a bona fide problem for the opposing defense. With a stingy defense led by linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive back Xavier Rhodes, the Mike Zimmer led Vikings are itching to climb up the NFC ladder.

Another notable team that made a big splash in free agency and the draft is the St. Louis Rams. In years past, a great defense has been wasted due to the mediocrity and instability at quarterback. Sam Bradford was supposed to be the guy to lead the Rams to the promise land when he was drafted first overall back in 2010. However, several injuries later, St. Louis and Philadelphia swapped quarterbacks, landing the Rams Nick Foles and shipping Bradford up to Philly. Foles is a proven reliable QB, earning himself a trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013 after posting a 27-2 touchdown to interception ratio. With Foles at the helm, the Rams really needed a stable and dynamic running back, which they got with Todd Gurley in the draft. The true definition of a workhorse at Georgia, the Rams got just what they needed to transform the St. Louis offense. Although he was out for most of the preseason, Gurley looks ready to go by Week 2, and should present a problem for defenses that stand in his way. The one part of the Rams team that is established is the formidable run defense that is headed by Robert Quinn. The former first round pick is one of the best defensive ends in the league, and can singlehandedly change the outcome of a game. After acquiring proven QB Nick Foles and obtaining Todd Gurley in the draft, the Rams might finally be ready to make some noise in a crowded NFC West.

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Jason Pierre Paul returns to the New York Giants after fireworks accident:

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Photo credit: Mike Morbeck

Jason Pierre Paul is a promising defensive end for the New York Giants. After five seasons of successfully wreaking havoc on opposing team’s quarterbacks, Paul was met with a new challenge in life. The pass rusher was enjoying his fourth of July like most American’s do. Lighting off fireworks and celebrating our nation’s independence. That is when everything took a strange twist for Pierre Paul. One of the fireworks that Pierre Paul was lighting off, exploded in his hand causing the player to sustain serious injuries to his hand. The explosion would leave J.P.P with major damage to his thumb and index finger. The injury was so bad that doctors had to amputate Pierre Paul’s right index finger. While personally it was a major set back for the former University of South Florida alum, professionally it doesn’t seem like the end for his career. He returned to the Giants today and took a physical with the team. Doctors stated that he might be able to get by this season by wearing a cast while playing. A good sign that Pierre will have a legitimate shot at getting back on the field and contributing to the G-Men. Believe it or not when the accident happened the New York Giants withdrew a 50 million dollar contract offer they had presented to Pierre Paul. Now that he will likely be back with the team there is no telling how substantial Pierre Pauls next contract will be. Yet you have to expect he is just happy to be continuing his football career. When a life altering event like this happens many times players will come out more grateful than they entered that moment. Similar to how Chris Johnson being involved in that horrible shooting a couple year ago gave him more perspective on life. The fact is J.P.P is probably coming back, and ready to put this horrible off-season behind him. While the offer the Giants submit this time around will almost certainly be less. Pierre Paul will still be a great addition on the field performance wise. He also will be one NFL’s best comeback stories this year if he can have success.

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Eric Fisher is demoted by the Chiefs:

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Photo credit: Jason Craven

The 2013 1st overall draft pick taken in the first round Eric Fisher was demoted recently by the Kansas City Chiefs. Fisher who was the most promising prospect in the whole 2013 draft had sputtered out of the gate in his first 2 years of NFL action. After signing a 22.1 million dollar guaranteed contract with a 14.5 million dollar signing bonus Fisher seemed to underachieve time and time again for the Chiefs. The team was looking for a franchise cornerstone type left tackle when they drafted him. Instead they got a player who in just three seasons was demoted to the right tackle position. People in the Chiefs organization can’t be happy that they are paying an under producing player that much money. Also Fisher just doesn’t seem to fit into Andy Reid’s system. Reid even made Fisher switch positions last season and play right tackle instead of left as well. The Left Tackle position being more notable for an offense because it is typically protecting the backside or “blind side” of right handed NFL quarterbacks. The switch showed Reid’s lack of confidence in Eric Fisher’s ability to protect Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith. With more talent coming to Kansas City such as Jeremy Maclin, and Ben Grubbs the Chiefs wanted to have more cohesion offensively. This clearly meant that the former Central Michigan standout Eric Fisher had to be dropped from the starting left tackle position. With the NFL being a win now or you’re fired type of league, Reid’s success couldn’t be left in a player’s hands that he couldn’t trust. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for Eric Fisher. Will he be eventually left go by the Chiefs? Or will the team just keep him as a right tackle for the remainder of his contract which runs until 2016? The other possibility could be that Fisher learns from this and makes the necessary adjustments to become an effective left tackle. Maybe someday he will be able to regain his starting spot. For the time being however, he will have to make do with the team’s other tackle position.

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What Tebow being cut does to his career:

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Photo credit: Todd Shoemake

Author: Joey Carr

If you go to Google and type in the letter T, the third result that pops up on the search bar might surprise you, or it might not. The name that pops up is current free agent quarterback Tim Tebow, who was unexpectedly cut by the Philadelphia Eagles on September 5th. The former Florida Gator quarterback has been making headlines ever since he led Florida to a 13-1 record and won the 2009 National Championship, where his Gators defeated Sam Bradford’s Oklahoma Sooners. He then entered the NFL Draft in 2010, getting selected by the Denver Broncos with the 25th overall pick. He took over for the team after the 6th game of his second season, leading them to their first AFC West Title and playoff win since 2005, often needing late game heroics to accomplish his victories. At the time it seemed like Tebow might actually be on the fast track to being a starter in the NFL. Fast-forward to today, and Tim Tebow’s once bright future in football is now in question for the third time.

There aren’t many more polarizing figures in sports than Tim Tebow himself. Whether it’s people commenting on his outspoken religious beliefs, his throwing motion, or the infamous “Tebowing” celebration, there is never a dull moment when talking about the former Gator. However, he has always kept a positive attitude about everything that happens to him. From his glorious college days to jumping around from team to team in the NFL, his persona has not changed. But after being cut for a third time and having this stint with the Eagles go fairly well, where does Tim take his career now? Many have suggested that he go to the Canadian Football League, where he can showcase his athleticism a lot better than he could being a backup quarterback. The only problem with this route is that Tebow has stated numerous times that he wants to keep chasing his dream of playing in the NFL. Not to be negative, but that dream hasn’t worked out thus far for Tim. He started off pretty successful with the Broncos, going 8-5 (including playoffs) as the starting QB. And no one can forget the overtime thriller that saw Tebow complete a pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play and having Thomas take it to the house 80 yards, winning Tebow his first playoff game. However, “Tebowmania” took a major blow after being demolished by the Patriots in the AFC Divisional game a week later. He was subsequently traded to the Jets after the Broncos acquired Peyton Manning in free agency, and after one turbulent season with New York was released. He then signed with the Patriots the next year for a brief preseason stint but was again let go as they trimmed their roster down to 53. After realizing he needed to step away, the former Heisman trophy winner took on a new challenge in the TV broadcasting world, becoming an anchor for the SEC Network. Getting ready for his third year as a broadcaster, the pearly gates opened and Chip Kelly came beckoning and gave Tebow the chance he had been waiting 2 years for: a chance to play in the NFL once again. Many thought that the Eagle’s high-tempo and unconventional offense would be a perfect fit for the non-traditional quarterback that Tebow is, and for a while it seemed like the stars were aligning for the former Florida standout. Third string quarterback Matt Barkley was traded to Arizona, leaving Tebow and Mark Sanchez as backups to Sam Bradford. It was almost certain he would now make the cut. However, Tebow was once again cut, and this time it had to sting.

Being cut is never easy, especially for someone who had such high hopes entering training camp and the preseason. But this is the National Football League, and coaches can’t keep someone on the 53-man roster because of their history and background. Tim Tebow is again a free agent and for now, his football career remains in jeopardy. Will he go to the CFL? Will he get another shot next season? Will he get picked up during the week before the season begins? These questions are unclear but one thing is clear: being cut will not deter Tim Tebow from chasing his dream.

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Terrelle Pryor makes the Browns and completes transition to WR:

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Photo credit: Erik Drost

Author: Jon Kuzma

Terrelle Pryor has been a big name athlete for much of his life. There were reports coming out about him when he was a teenager at Jeannette high school in Pennsylvania. That high profile reputation followed him to thee Ohio State University where Pryor would star for Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes. After a Rose Bowl M.V.P type career at Ohio State Pryor would go take on the National Football League. With the confidence of being a big-time athlete his entire life, Pryor would surely tackle his next task of being an NFL quarterback. That’s where things got a little bit rocky for Pryor. The throws and mental aspect of the game are very very tough in pro football. Defenders are bigger, stronger, and faster than they ever were in the past. Guy’s also put a target on high profile athletes almost wanting to knock them down a notch as well. Pryor ended up struggling, and while most people struggle in life at one point or another. Pryor did the thing anyone with strong character would do. He never gave up. After realizing he couldn’t make a roster as a quarterback. Pryor decided to offer his talents in other ways to NFL teams. At 6’4 240 pounds Pryor had the perfect height to make the transition to N.F.L wide receiver. He also boasted at 4.38 forty yard dash which seemed even more promising. However there are many skills that go into becoming an N.F.L receiver. Reading the defense, sitting in soft spots of the coverage, or even high pointing the football are all examples of skills in that position. Apparently Terrelle Pryor showed enough promise in those attributes to impress the Cleveland Browns. They announced their roster today and Terelle Pryor is indeed a member of their football team. Showing with perseverance nearly anything is possible. He should be an exciting story for the dog pound all seasons.

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A toast to Jarryd Hayne: A pro football player

 

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Photo credit: Tim Napazzi

Jarryd Hayne overcame all of the obstacles that prevented him from making the transition from the world of rugby to pro football. The San Francisco 49ers notified Hanye today that he would indeed be apart of the Niners 53 man roster. A move that was expected by many around the league but you never know with these type of situations at the end of the day. Hayne apparently did enough in his preseason efforts to win over first year head coach Jim Tomsula. Anyone who observed those preseason matches acknowledged that Hayne was outstanding in those four games. Putting up a combined 175 rushing yards on 25 carries over four games. What stands out most in Haynes highlights are the ability to make defenders miss on tackles. Hayne usually uses a jab step one way to set up a defender and then uses his superior running vision to cut the other way pass the defender. Almost Barry Sanders esque although it’s not quite fair to use those two names in the same sentence just yet. Hayne will have to continue this success in the regular season to keep pushing the envelope for his career. While he is still likely behind Reggie Bush, and Carlos Hyde. It’s hard for a coach to allow a guy with this kind of big play capability to sit on the bench for a long time. Maybe at first his role will be limited to just punt returning and a 3rd down running back role. Or maybe Hayne will do the unthinkable again and supplant the other Niners running backs. At this point there is no ruling this guy out of anything. The two time rugby player of the year made an NFL football team without ever playing football. If anything deserves a toast that is it. Congrats Jarryd Hayne you deserve it.

 

Who will have a better season Sam Bradford or Nick Foles?

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Photo credit: Matthew Straubmuller

Author: Jon Kuzma

Here is tough question for the upcoming football season. Reflecting back on the Nick Foles for Sam Bradford trade who is going to walk away the real winner? With many people coming out and praising Foles it makes you wonder if Chip Kelly made the right move? However on the opposite end of the spectrum Chip Kelly’s system is a proven success. Sam Bradford hasn’t looked to shabby in it either, in preseason action he went 13 of 15 for 3 passing touchdowns in his limited time. Bradford was praised by Kelly for his accuracy, quick release, and sound decision making. That seems to be transitioning well into Kelly’s offense as Bradford has been excellent thus far. How long will that last though? The preseason game against the Raven’s Bradford looked timid on the field after Sugg’s hit him with a questionable hit at the time. Even though Bradford was actually caring out a fake and it was a clean hit, the play clearly rattled Bradford and it’s something to keep an eye on in the future. Can Bradford battle through the adversity and rally this team late in the playoffs when the pressure is on? Only time will tell. Back to Foles it feels like the Rams got their guy in this swap. Many around the Rams facility have been saying they believe in Nick Foles. He has also received some notable praise for his leadership and how he always commands the team. Also going the extra mile in terms of being a positive force in the locker room. The guy has NFL quarterback size standing 6 feet 6 inches tall, and it’s safe to say he overachieved in Philly going to a Pro Bowl in 2014. It’s clear Foles has big time potential and even though Sam Bradford is succeeding right now. At the end of the day it feels like Foles is the more promising NFL prospect. All that matters is who produces more this season however and only these two players can determine that outcome.

 

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