Earl Thomas is as good as ever heading into his 7th season of action:

Photo credit: Otto Greule Jr

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Seattle Seahawks have a special player in free safety Earl Thomas. Thomas is such a dynamic playmaker in the Seahawks defense and plays a huge role in the team’s defensive success. Thomas is usually used in over the top coverage allowing him to play in deep halves or deep thirds coverage. That allows him to read the play and react quicker than most players in the league. Thomas had 5 interceptions in 2015 and those are big time numbers for a safety. Recently Thomas dropped in the NFL Network’s Top 100 ranking from 21st to 66th which rates the best players in the NFL. However that drop only came because the Seahawks have regressed as a team. Earl Thomas is still playing at a very high level and when you are coming off a 5 interception season your rating should never go down. Not to mention Earl Thomas has 21 interceptions over the course of his 6 season career. So this is a guy who gets it done year in and year out and has the ability to change games for his defense. He does that by consistently getting his hands on the football and creating turnovers for his team. Nobody is better at the tip drill than Earl Thomas either. Anytime a football gets tipped in the air you can almost guarantee Earl Thomas is going to come down with it. When you watch his tape you are amazed by how many times a teammate tipped it up and Earl Thomas snatched it out of the air to finish the play for the Seahawks’ defense. That just goes to show the awareness that Thomas has and he would be a big time player on any team in this league. The Seahawks have a player in Earl Thomas who cleans up a lot of mistakes made by the players in front of him and he was crucial during the Seahawks Super Bowl run. If Seattle wants to keep that defensive edge they’ve had for so long they need Earl Thomas to be at his best and you know he prepares himself better than most. That would lead you to believe he will continue to play at a high level for at least 3 more seasons and expect Thomas to be an x-factor again in 2016.

Charity of the day: Cancer Research Institute

Go donate! www.cancerresearch.org

Blake Bortles will transition into a flat out superstar in 2016:

Photo credit: Bob Levey / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a great leader in quarterback Blake Bortles and he will only continue to get better in 2016. Bortles was tremendous last year throwing for 4,428 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. That kind of production is already big time and when Bortles comes out and plays even better in 2016, the transition to full out superstar will begin for Blake Bortles. Next will be the endorsement deals, and the commercials but remember Bortles is receiving those opportunities because he is that good of a football player. The Jaguars knew Bortles was a special player and that is why they selected him with the 3rd pick overall in the 2014 Draft. However Bortes might even exceed the expectations the Jaguars had selecting him that high. Last year this guy was as good as anyone in the Nation Football League. Now coming into his 3rd season of action Bortles will be even more aware and will also have a better understanding of what it takes to succeed in this league. When you add in that Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns will have another year of experience under their belt as well, you begin to see why things are looking up for the Jags. In order for the team to make the postseason they will have to beat out the 2015 division champs in the Houston Texans and the team will have to outperform the up and coming Tennessee Titans. Not to mention Andrew Luck is back healthy next year but if the Jaguars come together and all their pieces pan out. The future is bright for the Jacksonville Jaguars and a lot of that has to do with Blake Bortles. He is the cornerstone of the franchise and all this good momentum started with him. Expect him to have a stand out season this year.

Charity of the day: Firefighters Charitable Foundation

Go donate! www.ffcf.org

Rob Ryan and Sean Payton are still at odds with each other:

Photo credit: Chris Graythen

Author: Jon Kuzma

It appears the bond between Rob Ryan and Sean Payton has been severed forever. Rob Ryan recently had an interview with Monday Morning Quarterback’s Jenny Vrentas where he went off on a tangent about the the Saints’ defensive woes the past two seasons. Apparently Ryan felt that the Saints defense was put in place to emulate the Seattle Seahawks’ defense. Ryan didn’t agree with that approach but rather than undermine the head coach, he decided to go with it. That resulted in the Saints finishing last in the league the last two years. Ryan stated that while he was disappointed with the results “that wasn’t his defense.” Also stating that he should of stepped up and voiced his concern with the scheme rather than going along with it. Ryan even blamed himself for not stepping up and saying what needed to be said. That lack of action certainly hurt the Saints and eventually led to Rob Ryan’s departure from New Orleans. Now that Rob Ryan has signed with his brother in Buffalo he also has talked about what went bad personnel wise in Louisiana. Ryan said that when the Saints signed free agent Jairus Byrd they wanted to put him in the deep middle of the defense. Similar to how the Seahawks use Earl Thomas in the deep middle third of their defense. That has resulted in 1 interception from Byrd over the last two seasons and really wasted his talents as a playmaker in that particular defense. Byrd had 9 interceptions in his two seasons before heading to New Orleans so you can see how that was a huge regression. So it’s clear Ryan and Payton never seen eye to eye during their time in the Big Easy and now they have bad blood between the two. Coaching is all about incorporating everyone’s views and philosophies into the mix to build a better team culture. These two instead butted heads time and time again and now they will be rivals forever it appears.

Charity of the day: Operation Homefront

Go donate! www.operationhomefront.net

Upgrades all across the board have the Saints looking much improved:

Photo credit: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The New Orleans Saints struggled in 2015 but they had a great off-season and look much better talent wise heading into the 2016 season. After finishing 7-9 last year the Saints knew they had to shake things up a bit in order to be competitive. That meant letting go of the team’s all time receiving leader in Marques Colston and moving forward with a plan for the future. That plan included signing Coby Fleener away from the Indianapolis Colts and drafting Mike Thomas in the second round out of Ohio State. Fleener recorded 491 yards and 3 touchdowns last season and should pair nicely with Drew Brees. While Thomas was one of the better receivers in all of college football recording 9 touchdown receptions. He will also be a huge boost to Brees and the passing game and offensively you have to like some of the moves that New Orleans has made. On the defensive side of the ball the team drafted Sheldon Rankings with their first round pick to solidify their defense. Rankins was outstanding for the Louisville Cardinals and he finished his collegiate career with 18 sacks. The Saints believe that Rankins can be disruptive force upfront for their team and they hope those skills that made him so good in college translate over to the professional level. In order to add more depth to that defensive front the Saints also drafted David Onyemata in the 4th round of the draft and signed Nick Fairley in free agency. Those moves are supposed to provide depth to the Saints defensive line and it’s clear they wanted to improve their defensive trenches. The roster upgrades bode well for the Saints future and we will see if they can make some improvement in the tough NFC South. At the end of the day though you have to like that this team is taking steps in the right direction. They need to keep building on the good momentum.

Charity of the day: American Brain Tumor Association

Go donate! www.abta.org

Kelvin Benjamin is on the road to recovery:

Photo credit: Jonathan Ferrey / Getty Images

Author: Jon Kuzma

Kelvin Benjamin recently practiced for the first time since tearing his ACL last season during training camp. The Panthers somehow managed to still get to the Super Bowl without Benjamin and that is a testament of how talented their team truly is. You have to wonder though if the Panthers could of done a better job in Super Bowl 50 if Kelvin Benjamin was healthy and on the field. That would of gave the Panthers a big time receiver and a much better chance at succeeding. Benjamin recorded 1,008 receiving yards and 9 touchdowns in 2014. He was undoubtedly the Panthers number 1 receiver that year and was a very dynamic player on the edge of the Panthers’ offense. Having Benjamin in the mix makes life on Cam Newton easier because Newton understand he can trust Benjamin when in a time of need. When the play is breaking down and Newton is scrambling for his life, that is when Kelvin Benjamin and Cam Newton can link up and keep Panther drives alive. Having this guy back in the fold for Carolina will be huge and the team has to be very happy about seeing him back on the practice field. It’s the first step of his recovery and expect him to get back into game shape as the OTA’s and training camp practices take place. You would love to see Kelvin Benjamin on the field for the Panthers season opener but it’s all about taking it slow and making sure Benjamin is healthy first and foremost. The last thing you want to do is rush him back and irritate the knee again. This guy is a key piece to the Panthers future and they need him in the mix for the long haul. Bottom line though you have to be happy for Kelvin and we would all like to see him doing well. He is a great player and last year his season was taken away from him. It will be awesome to see him back on the field doing what he does best.

Charity of the day: American Brain Tumor Association

Go donate! www.abta.org

Crafty veteran: Dwight Freeney is still getting it done despite his old age

Photo credit: Norm Hall / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

Dwight Freeney is one of the best pass rushers to ever play the game of football. The former first round draft pick of the 2002 Draft has been to the Pro Bowl 7 times in his career. Recording an impressive 119.5 sacks over the course of his 14 year career. Now after having an impressive 2015 season with the Arizona Cardinals, where Freeney registered 8 sacks. Freeney now is looking for a new home for the 2016 and has visited with the Bengals. While no deal came out of that meeting in Cincinnati that isn’t the only team interested in Dwight Freeney’s efforts. Apparently the Atlanta Falcons plan on bringing Freeney in for a work out and that is another potential destination for the 36 year old sack master. The Atlanta Falcons could use Freeney’s potential 8 sacks a year and the team could probably get him for a cheap price now that he is on the tail end of his career. This is a guy who has a great motor when you let him come off the edge of the defense. Whether that is at the defensive end position in a 4-3 package or a blitzing outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense it doesn’t really matter. Just let Dwight Freeney line up on the edge of your defense and eventually this guy will wreak havoc. He had couple down years while playing with the Chargers but Dwight Freeney really improved his stock last season with the Cardinals. When he is playing at a high level like he did in 2015 great things are going to come for the defense. Truthfully you’d like to see this guy wind up back in Arizona after what he did there last year but we do know he has been shopping his talents to other teams. We will see where Dwight Freeney signs and you know football fans are going to be rooting for old man Freeney next season if he does end up on a roster.

Charity of the day: Children’s Defense Fund

Go donate! www.childrensdefense.org

An unhealthy Tyler Eifert could spell disaster for the Cincinnati Bengals:

Photo credit: Andrew Weber

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Cincinnati Bengals have an emerging star in Tight End Tyler Eifert and the team has to be concerned with his lingering ankle injury. After leaving the Pro Bowl in a walking boot Eifert has been having a hard time bouncing back and because of that Eifert has decided to undergo surgery. That could put Eifert out for the beginning of the season and if the ankle doesn’t heal properly it could eventually put his season in question. Now doctors are optimistic that the Bengals tight end will only be sidelined for three months, but you never can predict when Eifert will be ready to go. After Tyler Eifert heals he will then have to strengthen that ankle until it’s strong enough to make cuts and pivots in a game environment. Athletes typically build up that strength during OTA’s and the off-season program but with Eifert being hurt he will miss out on those repetitions. That could ultimately cut into his production for the 2016 season when he does return to the field. Now don’t get it confused, Eifert is an A list talent in the league right now. However the injury and those lack of reps in training camp could cause number 85 to have a down year. That ultimately would be a huge letdown for the Bengals because they count on Eifert to be a big part of their offense. The team will have to get the job done early on in the year expecting very little from Tyler Eifert. Then hopefully if everything goes according to plan he can return during the middle of the season  or the end of the season and give that much needed boost. If the Bengals can get back to the postseason that is when Eifert is the most valuable. If the Bengals want to win they need all their players on the field late in the year. Last year they lost Andy Dalton during the postseason and they will need both Dalton and Eifert on the field and playing at a high level to make a Super Bowl run. Marvin Lewis has to be frustrated with the news of losing Eifert but in the NFL you have to expect the worst and hope for the best. We will see how long Tyler Eifert is sidelined for and it will be a huge factor for the Bengals in 2016.

Charity of the day: Center for Constitutional Rights

Go donate! www.ccrjustice.org

The Houston Texans are waiting around for Jadeveon Clowney:

Photo credit: Ronald C. Modra / Sports Imagery

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Houston Texans committed a lot to Jadeveon Clowney when they drafted him first overall in the 2014 Draft. Clowney was a premier pass rusher at South Carolina and the Texans hoped those skills would translate over to the professional level. That process hasn’t been as smooth as the Houston Texans would like and now after two seasons of NFL action Clowney has just 4.5 sacks to show for his efforts. Pairing Clowney up next to JJ Watt seemed like a promising move for the Texans in 2014, but you have to wonder if the team would go a different route if they were allowed to redraft the 2014 Draft? With Khalil Mack in that same draft class, it’s a no brainer now that he would have been a much better fit with Watt than Clowney would have. So that just goes to show how much Clowney’s stock has dropped two years after the Texans selected him number 1. Plenty of football insiders thought he was the best player on the board but then an injury and lack of production changed all that. While it might be too early to completely write Clowney off because he has plenty of football left in his career. It’s still not a good start to what was supposed to be an immediate impact career defensively for the Houston Texans. The Texans were sold that this was a 10 sacks a year kind of guy and now after two seasons he has less than half of that. The physical tools are clearly there for Clowney but now it’s about staying healthy and putting it altogether when he is on the field. That is something he has rarely done and you know the Texans front office is alarmed by the lack of production on Clowney’s behalf. It’s a make or break year for Jadeveon Clowney, or he might find himself on the roster hot seat when his contract ends in 2017.

Charity of the day: Center for Constitutional Rights

Go donate! www.ccrjustice.org

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Ryan Fitzpatrick reiterates that he is playing in 2016:

Photo credit: Brett Carlsen / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

Ryan Fitzpatrick was on SiriusXM NFL Radio recently and made it clear that he does plan on playing football in 2016. There were some questions on whether or not Fitzpatrick would play after contract negotiations with the Jets and his agent stalled out. Fitzpatrick made it clear he will play somewhere in 2016 and hinted that it was about getting paid for the value he provides to the team. After throwing for 31 touchdowns in 2015 you’d expect Fitzpatrick to be paid on par with someone of similar production. To compare how well Fitz played last year, you have to look at the group of players who also threw for 31 touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers is the name that sticks out most and that just goes to show how good Ryan Fitzpatrick has gotten at the quarterback position. To be in the same class last season as Aaron Rodgers is good company. There are also a list of other quarterbacks in the league that produced significantly less than Fitzpatrick in 2015 who make much more money. Fitzpatrick outperformed Sam Bradford, and Jay Cutler last year and both players made over 3x what Fitzpatrick made in 2015. Now with the Jets offering Fitz $8 million a year, it’s still too low for Ryan Fitzpatrick to accept and you have to side with Fitzpatrick on this one. Aaron Rogders makes around $22 million a year and while you can’t quite pay Fitzpatrick that if you’re the Jets. He still should be north of the $14 million mark per year and whether you want to make that a long term deal or a short term deal is up to the team that signs him. With Fitzpatrick being a little bit older in age you probably would want to offer him a two year contract and reassess him after that duration.

Look this guy has earned his money and now it’s time for some team to pay him. Fitzpatrick might have benefited from having big time receivers in Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker but when push comes to shove the guy can flat out play. It’s now or never for the Jets when it comes to re-signing Fitzpatrick and we will see if the Jets make the right move and pay him.

Charity of the day: Doctors Without Borders USA

Go donate! www.doctorswithoutborders.org

How will the Patriots fare with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm?

Photo credit: Thomas B Shea

Author: Jon Kuzma

The New England Patriots find themselves in unknown territory entering the 2016 season with Tom Brady being sidelined by suspension. In order to overcome that setback the team will have to get the most out of back up quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo who will serve as the team’s starter for the first four games. Garoppolo was one of the best quarterbacks in college football in 2013 even though he played at the Football Championship Subdivision level. Garoppolo who played at Eastern Illinois shattered all of Tony Romo’s records at the school and won the Walter Peyton Award in his final season, which is given to the best offensive player in the FCS. Now after sitting behind Brady for two season Garoppolo will look to guide the Patriots to the best start possible. The team will open the season in Arizona against the Cardinals which will be a very tough match up. The Cardinals pass rush has really taken the next step this off-season and that could give fits for Garoppolo if the Patriots aren’t careful. Truthfully the Cardinals made a lot of big time moves and it will be tough for the Patriots to beat them without Brady. In the second week of action the Patriots will face the Miami Dolphins who are led by new Head Coach Adam Gase. We aren’t sure how the new leadership will affect the Dolphins but New England should be able to pull this game out. The Patriots are the better football team and there is no reason Garoppolo shouldn’t be able to get the job done against Miami. In week 3 the Patriots will play the Houston Texans and this match up is tough to measure. The Texans have made some big time upgrades and it’s yet to be determined how much of an impact those moves will have. This game could go either way but expect the Patriots to win this one was well. Finally the Patriots will finish the Jimmy Garoppolo stint against the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo has improved greatly under Rex Ryan but it’s still a game the Pats can win. Don’t expect it to come easy though and if Buffalo does end up coming out on top, don’t be surprised. It will be tough for the Patriots to finish 3-1 with Garoppolo calling the shots but that is exactly what the team should aim for.

Charity of the day: Doctors Without Borders USA

Go donate! www.doctorswithoutborders.org

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