Mack and Irvin are ready to unleash havoc on opposing quarterbacks:

Photo credit: Joe Robbins / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Oakland Raiders have two terrific pass rushers in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin. Mack had five sacks in a single game last year and showed why he was highly coveted coming out of the 2014 Draft. Mack was so dominant in 2015 he finished second in the league in sacks with 15 on the year. That was only topped by JJ Watt with 17.5 sacks, so that lets you know just how good of a player Khalil Mack truly is. This guy has a thousand different ways to beat opposing offense lineman and is as good as anyone right now in the league at rushing the passer. The Raiders weren’t content with just Mack either. They decided to go out this off-season and add another pass rusher to make their defense that much more potent. Eventually Oakland signed Bruce Irvin away from the Seahawks and Irvin is quite the pass rusher himself. Irvin finished the 2015 season 5.5 sacks and will do a great job of providing additional pressure next to Mack. Irvin has had 22 sacks over his 4 year career so you know you’re going to get those 5 sacks a year from him. That was good enough for the Raiders and together the tandem will help give the Raiders the best chance to win the AFC West in a long time. Expect to see Mack and Irvin both firing into offensive backfields on special blitz packages that send both players. That would be overwhelming for opposing offensive lineman and it’s going to be a nightmare on quarterbacks. You can almost certainly guarantee that the Raiders will have a defender in the qb’s face on every play and that is such a huge asset to have for a football team. In today’s era pass rushers are worth their weight in gold and luckily for the Raiders they have two players who can make some magic happen. Expect Oakland to be a much improved team in 2016.

Charity of the day: Wounded Warrior Project

Go donate! www.woundedwarriorproject.org

It was a rough day for the Buffalo Bills:

Photo credit: Brett Carlsen

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Buffalo Bills had a rough day today losing both Shaq Lawson and Sammy Watkins to injuries. Lawson is undergoing shoulder surgery and will likely miss some regular season games in 2016. That is tough news for the Bills who had high expectations for Lawson hoping he would elevate the team’s defense. With Mario Williams leaving Buffalo in the off-season Lawson was supposed to come in and pick up the slack left by Williams. Now it appears he will be sidelined for a portion of the regular season and it’s not how the Bills envisioned the beginning of the Shaq Lawson era. Defensively the team will have to find other ways to come up with that lack of production and Rex Ryan can’t be too happy about losing Lawson. That wasn’t the only frustration Ryan had to face today either. The team also lost Sammy Watkins for a short period of time due to a broken bone in the receiver’s foot. That setback will keep Watkins out of action until training camp begins and while Watkins should be back for the regular season. The injury still limits the number of reps that Watkins could of got in off-season workouts. Which will ultimately keep the receiver from progressing. The team is very thin at the receiver position outside of Sammy Watkins and they need every little bit of production that they can get from this guy. To have him out action during mini-camp and away from the team will certainly hurt the Bills and it’s really just a case of bad luck for Buffalo. These kind of things happen in the NFL and we will see how well the Bills respond to the adversity. They have one of the most talented teams they’ve had in awhile, now it will be about overcoming these challenges and getting the most out of the other 51 guys in that locker room. The AFC East is a tough conference but with Tom Brady being suspended the first 4 games of the season. This will be the best chance the Bills have had to win that division since the Wade Phillips era. It will be up to Rex Ryan to put this day behind him and do everything in his power to shape a brighter future.

Charity of the day: Wounded Warrior Project

Go donate! www.woundedwarriorproject.org

The Colts will have a tough time reclaiming the AFC South:

Photo credit: Joe Robbins

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Indianapolis Colts have been a powerhouse in the AFC South for a long time but all of that came to an end last season when the Texans claimed the division. Part of that was due to Andrew Luck being banged up for most of the year but even beyond that the Colts are starting to slip talent wise. The team saw former Tight End Coby Fleener skip town for New Orleans in free agency and after he left Fleener questioned the Colts effort during the 2015 season. While talent being down will almost guarantee losing in the NFL, not giving effort is a whole other kind of failure. If you’re a professional athlete and you aren’t even willing to go out there and compete bad things are going to happen for your football team every time. The Colts put a lot of pressure on Chuck Pagano last season for under performing but truthfully the front office hasn’t got the job done either. That lack of quality decision making from Colts brass has caused morale to drop and part of that ripple effect is players lacking motivation to play for Indianapolis. That is why the Colts are trending downward and why the future isn’t looking as bright as it once did for the Colts. The team also failed to address their lackluster defense properly as well. While adding Patrick Robinson will help the secondary, the team finished 26th overall defensively and will need a significant overhaul. The offense was even worse in 2015 finishing 28th. However you know the offense is going to improve from having a healthy Luck back. The Colts should of came up with a good plan of action to address the defense in the draft. Yet when the time came the team went offensive with Ryan Kelly hoping Luck will lead the team back to AFC South supremacy. What the Colts forgot to realize is defensive wins championships in football and the team will not be able to reclaim the AFC South title in 2016 because of lack of effort on the defensive side of the ball. It’s the whole organizations fault collectively as well, even though we all know they are going to make Chuck Pagano the scapegoat. It’s a sad situation for Indy and don’t expect it to get better in 2016.

Charity of the day: Firefighters Charitable Foundation

Go donate! www.ffcf.org

Taking the pressure off DeAndre Hopkins in Houston:

Photo credit: Brett Carlsen / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Houston Texans did everything they can to give DeAndre Hopkins a supporting cast around him. For the Texans that meant drafting Will Fuller and Braxton Miller to help avoid Hopkins from being doubled teamed. When you add in the Texans quarterback will be Brock Osweiler things are certainly looking better for the Texans offense. Hopkins was one of the best pass catchers in the league last season and the Texans desperately needed another wide receiver to contribute to those efforts. Now the Texans are hoping they will have two other players who can contribute to their passing game. Fuller was excellent at Notre Dame recording back to back 1,000 yard receiving seasons, while Miller was slowly emerging into a productive wide receiver. Now the Texans are hoping to use all 3 players in 3 wide receiver sets to create spacing on the field. That would mean teams will have to do extra coordination to stop the Texans big 3 in the passing game. Production wise this could go either way for Hopkins, he could improve from the other threats around him or he could regress due to less balls thrown his way. The Texans are hoping that those 3 players will mesh and the teams offense will improve on their 19th ranking that they finished with in 2015. It’s clear talent wise the team is much improved at the quarterback and receiver position. Now it’s about coming out and executing in games. Sometimes teams are very talented on paper but don’t fulfill that potential because they don’t sync in and play like a sound unit. Don’t expect that to be the case with the Texans however, Bill O’ Brien has slowly improved this team since he has got to Houston. It feels like he is the right guy for the job and the Texans will do everything they can to repeat as AFC South champions in 2016. Expect DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller, and Braxton Miller to be a big reason they do so.

Charity of the day: Firefighters Charitable Foundation

Go donate! www.ffcf.org

The Redskins believed improving their defense would give them the best chance for success in 2016:

Photo credit: Al Bello / Getty Images Sport

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Washington Redskins won the NFC East and went to the playoffs in 2015 and in order to top that performance the team needed to get better defensively. The Redskins front office understood this and that is why we seen the team add Josh Norman as the big off-season acquisition. Norman is an elite level corner who will make passing against the Redskins much tougher. Norman can break on throws as good as anyone in the NFL right now and he will give the Redskins a huge boost in the secondary. That wasn’t the only defensive move the Skin’s made though, they also made sure they got their fair share of defensive players in the draft as well. The team drafted 3 straight defensive players with the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th round picks (Washington didn’t have a 4th round pick). Which included Su’a Cravens from the University of Southern California who was a terrific football player and should be able to help the Redskins at some linebacker position. Coach Gruden has stated that Cravens will likely play inside linebacker for the team, so we will see how well he transitions to that position and what kind of contributions he can make to Washington’s defense. With the Cowboys landing Ezekiel Elliot Cravens will be needed to help keep Dallas and the other NFC East teams in check. Gruden and the rest of the coaching staff believe Cravens can do so and that is ultimately why Cravens finds himself in D.C. Another notable player the Redskins drafted was Kendall Fuller in the 3rd round. Kendall Fuller is from the prestigious Fuller family which now has their 4th son playing in the National Football League with Kendall. The pedigree is certainly there for Kendall Fuller and expect him to play a lot like his brother Kyle Fuller who plays for the Chicago Bears. That would be a good player to pair along with Josh Norman and you can begin to see why the Redskins put such a priority on defense this off-season. The team is hoping they can be a true contender in the 2016 postseason and with these moves they very well might be. This is the best the Redskins have been talent wise since Joe Gibbs era.

Charity of the day: Center for Victims of Torture

Go donate! www.cvt.org

Can Ryan Tannehill become elite in 2016?

Photo credit: Joel Auerbach

Author: Jon Kuzma

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had an impressive season in 2015. He recorded 24 touchdown passes and only 12 interceptions. Those efforts were good enough to put Tannehill in the category of good quarterbacks but if he wants to join the elite group with guys like Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Tannehill will have to throw for more than 30 touchdowns and at least 4,500 passing yards. That would be the first step in proving that he is an elite level quarterback and after he achieves that he should work on doing it consistently year in and year out. That is what makes the best quarterbacks in the league the best. That ability to come out and make it happen every game. For the quarterback position that means throwing for 300 yards almost every single game. Tannehill was able to achieve that feat 6 times in 2015. Keep an eye on whether or not he can top six games of 300 passing yards in 2016 and if he does you at least know Tannehill is progressing. The Dolphins success hangs on Tannehill’s shoulder because it takes an elite level quarterback to win when you get deep in the postseason. There are rare circumstances where a lackluster quarterback has won the Super Bowl but that means the other positions on the team were stacked talent wise. You can tell Tannehill wants to improve his game, now it’s about having that breakout season and really solidifying himself. New coach Adam Gase will certainly try mold  Tannehill into that top tier quarterback but it’s up to Tannehill to complete the transition by putting in the work. The Dolphins could have a worse quarterback so you can’t really hate on this guy but the fans in Miami are expecting him to take that next step in 2016. We will see if Ryan Tannehill rises to the occasion.

Charity of the day: American Brain Tumor Association

Go donate! www.abta.org

Aaron Donald: dominant in the trenches

Photo credit: Michael Thomas

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Los Angeles Rams got a terrific player when they drafted Aaron Donald in the first round of the 2014 Draft. Donald was a an All-American for the University of Pittsburgh before his pro career and widely considered one of the best defensive tackles in the country. No one could of predicted just how good Aaron Donald would be at the pro level though. Donald has recorded 20 sacks in his 2 year professional career and averaging 10 sacks a season will earn you a reputation quickly in the National Football League. Donald has so many ways to beat opposing offensive lineman, it seems like on every snap he is in the offensive backfield. He also has an unusually quick spin move for an interior defensive lineman that he uses to punish blockers with. It’s that awareness on the field combined with Donald’s superior athletic ability that makes him one of the premier defensive tackles in the league. Now with the Rams moving to Los Angeles it will be up to Donald to take his act to Hollywood and continue to do what he has always done on the field, simply dominate. An example of how good Aaron Donald can be when he dominates is the game he played against the Detroit Lions last season. Donald finished that game with 5 tackles and 3 sacks. When you get that kind of production upfront from one player, it makes everyone else’s job easier around Donald. The Rams head to LA without James Laurinaitis, or Chris Long so it will be up to Donald to have his best year of football to ensure the Rams start off on the right foot LA. Jeff Fisher knows he has a special player in Aaron Donald and his leadership will also be essential to the Rams success. If this guy can come out and set the tone for the Rams, it will set a good precedent for this football team. Expect him to do so because Aaron Donald is one of the best in the business.

Charity of the day: American Brain Tumor Association

Go donate! www.abta.org

Gronkowski’s dominance earned him the 2017 Madden cover:

Photo credit: Doug Pensinger

Author: Jon Kuzma

Rob Gronkowski has been absolutely dominant on the football field over the duration of his 6 season career. So dominant that the people at Electronic Arts decided that Gronkowski should be on the cover of the 2017 edition of Madden. Gronkowski has been stellar on the football field recording 5,555 career receiving yards and 65 career touchdowns. Those statics put Gronkowski on pace to be one of the best tight ends to ever play the game of football and don’t be surprised if he ends up in the Hall of Fame someday. Gronkowski’s 2015 performance which included 1,176 receiving yards and 11 touchdown receptions is what actually notched Gronk the video game cover though. He was great in 2015 and the Madden franchise wanted to capitalize on Gronkowski’s marketability. It’s reported that Gronkowski will earn a little less than $500,000 for being on the cover and Electronic Arts is hoping that Gronkowski can put together one of his best seasons ever in 2016 to help optimize sales. Betting on Gronkowski is a good move because he has only had less than 10 touchdown receptions once in his 6 seasons and he is about as automatic of a player that you’re going to find. Gronkowski will have to overcome the loss of Tom Brady for four games but you have to think that he will still be able to put up a touchdown every other game in Brady’s absence. That will give Gronkowski 12 games with Brady to get 8 touchdowns and post yet another season of 10 touchdown receptions. That should be enough to please E.A Sports and continue Madden’s legacy as the best sports video game to ever exist. Football fans have to be happy for Rob Gronkowski and if there is a guy who will defy the “Madden curse” it’s certainly Rob Gronkowski. Gronk very well might end up as the best tight end to ever play the game and the cover is an award Gronkowski certainly deserves. When it’s all said and done it’s just another accolade for the Patriots tight end.

Charity of the day: Huntington’s Disease Society of America

Go donate! www.hdsa.org

Can the Chiefs take the next step in the postseason?

Photo credit: Jamie Squire

Author: Jon Kuzma

The Kansas City Chiefs overachieved last season making it all the way to the AFC divisional round. Now with another off-season under Head Coach Andy Reid’s belt the team will try to take that next step and do whatever they can to get to that Lombardi Trophy. The Chiefs signed Travis Kelce to a contract extension to make sure their key tight end doesn’t skip town. The team also franchise tagged Eric Berry to keep one of their better defenders in the mix. There weren’t any marquee free agent signings from other teams, but that is always how Reid does business. He prefers to build through the draft and promote from within. That is why Reid’s players respect him so much because ultimately Coach Reid does a great job of looking out for his players best interest. The result of that philosophy is Reid’s teams always have great team morale and outstanding team chemistry. Which is why the Chiefs overachieved last season and ultimately why Andy Reid has continuously overachieved as a head coach. In the draft the Chiefs traded out of the first round in exchange for 3 draft picks (2nd, 4th, and 6th). That allowed the team to get a couple extra players during the draft which will help contribute in 2016. As far as player selection goes, the Chiefs continued to address the trenches like Reid always does. The team took a defensive tackle with their first pick in the draft (2nd round, 6th pick) and that player was Chris Jones out of Mississippi State. Smith can come in and add a boost to that Chiefs defensive line and will certainly result in more pressure for the team’s defense. The team also selected 3 cornerbacks in the draft hoping that one player can be paired along with Marcus Peters. Clearly the Chiefs’ front office thought the position was a serious need for the team and that is why we seen them take a shot at the cornerback position in the 2nd, 4th, and 6th round. Overall it’s clear the team is trying to take that next step by adding a surge of youth to their team. The Chiefs believe they can take young talents and mold them into effective football players and that strategy allows Kansas City to avoid taking any gambles on overpriced free agent. It’s worked this far but it’s hard to say how much ground the Chiefs have gained in the AFC playoff picture. You have to take a “wait and see” approach with the Chiefs because nobody thought they’d be as good as they were last year. They easily could be better or they easily could regress. A lot of factors go into those final results and really the thing that is most key is whether or not the team can stay healthy. Still you have to like this team’s chances in the AFC West. The Raiders are much improved, but you still have to give the edge to the Chiefs or Broncos. With the Broncos losing some key players though it might be the Chiefs division for the taking.

Charity of the day: Huntington’s Disease Society of America

Go donate! www.hdsa.org

Marcus Mariota must become tougher in order to thrive in the National Football League:

Photo credit: Al Pereira/ Getty Images Sport

Photo credit: Jon Kuzma

The Tennessee Titans did a great job of landing their franchise quarterback when they drafted Marcus Mariota 2nd overall in the 2015 Draft. The former Ducks quarterback was a big time player at Oregon and his efforts led him to receiving the Heisman Trophy which is given out to the best player in college football. Those past accomplishments put him all over the Titans radar and they wasted no time when it came to selecting a player off the board in that 2015 Draft. Now after one season in the league and reflecting back on Mariota’s play, it’s clear Marcus Mariota has to make a few adjustments moving forward to ensure he can become a successful football player at the professional level. The main weakness Mariota has to address is simply getting tougher. Mariota was very effective as a passer throwing for 19 touchdowns and 91.5 passer rating. However Mariota only played in 12 games and was often sidelined by injuries he sustained while playing for Tennessee. Part of the reason Mariota was injured and out of action for 4 games was the fact that he was sacked 38 times last season. It seemed like every time Marcus Mariota dropped back last season he was being hit or a defender was in his face. That really made it difficult for him to have success and the Titans addressed that problem by drafting Jack Conklin out of Michigan State in the 1st round of the 2016 draft. That protection upfront will certainly help Mariota and the Titans also added two running backs this off-season to take pressure of their quarterback as well. With all of these pieces in place the last thing that needs to happen is Mariota has to simply get tougher. He has to understand that he will take some punishment playing in this league and sometimes being a leader in the NFL means having some grit and playing through those physical setbacks. The guy is good at being a vocal leader and rallying the troops verbally but he now needs to step up and show he can do it physically. That means being on the field for every snap, and understanding he is going to take bumps and bruises along the way. If Mariota can do that then there are no limits on the things he can achieve in the National Football League. If not he will continue to be a flashy player who is brittle and can’t stay on the field. 2016 will be a great way to assess Mariota’s durability and see if he can withstand the grind of being a pro football player. 16 games is the goal for Mariota.

Charity of the day: International Peace Institute

Go donate! www.ipinst.org

1 162 163 164 165 166 213