Who Am I?

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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NFL 2011 SEASON PREVIEW AFC NORTH



AFC NORTH PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH


1.      Steelers
2.      Ravens
3.      Browns
4.      Bengals



PITTSBURGH: BACK TO WORK

The last time we saw the Pittsburgh Steelers was them walking off the field in defeat to the Super Bowl XLV Champion Green Bay Packers.

The Steelers had gone through a lot in order to get to the Super Bowl. There was not having Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games of the season due to an off the field incident. The Steelers had to claw their way to the AFC North Division Title.

In the playoffs, Roethlisberger proved that he was clutch by sealing victories in the playoffs against the Ravens and the Jets with key passes late in the fourth quarter in both games.





Even though the Steelers had more rushing yards and total yards than the Packers did, the one factor in the game that did the Steelers in during the Super Bowl: turnovers.

Especially at inopportune times…



I do not foresee the Steelers having a Super Bowl hangover like many other franchises have had in the past after losing the previous season’s championship matchup.

It was revealed after the season ended that safety Troy Polamalu was playing with an Achilles injury. Polamalu is healthy coming into this season and that should pay big dividends for the Steelers. As shown in last season’s matchup at Baltimore, Polamalu has the ability to change a game.



While we are talking about sacks, the Steelers led the NFL in sacks last season with 48. Linebackers LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison contributed to 20.5 sacks of that total.

Even though Pittsburgh is known for defense, their offense at times gets overlooked. Wide receiver Mike Wallace has emerged as a playmaker and leads a veteran receiving corps that includes Jerricho Cotchery, Hines Ward, and tight end Heath Miller. Wallace was #7 in receiving touchdowns and top five in receiving yards. While the running game ranked 11th in the NFL, running back Rashard Mendenhall gained 1273 yards and scored 13 touchdowns. Both those ranked in the top ten among running backs.

While there are some concerns with the offensive line, tackle Willie Colon is coming back from tearing his Achilles tendon. The Steelers parted ways with Max Starks and Flozell Adams in order to make room for him. Roethlisberger’s size and scrambling ability is a nightmare for opposing defenses and can negate any problems that might appear for the Steelers’ offensive line.

Out of the gate, the Steelers start their AFC Title defense against the team that is trying to knock them off: at Baltimore in a Week 1 afternoon matchup. The Week 3 matchup in Indianapolis is intriguing because the Colts could have Peyton Manning back from off-season neck surgery that has taken more time to heal than expected.

In Week 8 and 9, the Patriots and Ravens visit Pittsburgh. The Steelers are looking to put a stop to New England’s recent three-game winning streak at Heinz Field. The last time the Steelers beat the Patriots in Pittsburgh was seven years ago during Roethlisberger’s rookie season. The following week, Baltimore comes to town. Even though this matchup occurs on 6 November, it will play a role in the AFC Playoff Picture.

After the Pittsburgh’s bye week in Week 11, the Steelers travel to Kansas City. The Chiefs are the last 2010 playoff team on their schedule. While it may look like the Steelers will have an easier stretch to close out their season, nothing is a given in the NFL. To be successful in this stretch and end up in the playoffs, the Steelers will focus on the opponent at hand and not score board watching.

The Steelers have the pieces in place in order to put the 2010 season behind them and focus on 2011.


BALTIMORE: A MAJOR ROADBLOCK IN THE WAY

For the second time in three seasons, the Ravens’ quest for another Super Bowl title has ended in Pittsburgh.

In last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff at Pittsburgh, the Ravens appeared to put the Steelers in their rear view mirror with a 21-7 halftime lead. Turnovers and questionable play calling resulted in the Steelers advancing and the Ravens’ season ending.



A drop towards the end pretty much sums up that game.



The Ravens made some changes in their offense during the off-season. Wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Derrick Mason along with tight end Todd Heap and running back Willis McGahee were released. The Ravens traded for Lee Evans from Buffalo and drafted Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss in order to increase their depth at the position. The Ravens have hopes that Smith will develop into a deep threat that they have been looking for. Anquan Boldin, who came to the Ravens via a trade with the Cardinals in 2010, caught 64 passes for 837 yards and 7 touchdowns last season, is looking to improve upon that performance this year.

The running game all but falls on Ray Rice’s shoulders but the Ravens picked up former Dolphins running back Ricky Williams in order to keep Rice healthy through the season. The signing of fullback Vonta Leach, who helped Arian Foster become the NFL’s leading rusher last season, might play a factor in increasing Rice’s rushing total.



Defensively, not much has changed for the Ravens. As shown in the clip above, the Ravens have playmakers on defense that can change a game at any given moment. It ranked in the top ten overall and number five in rushing yards given up. It is still a defense run by linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed. Lewis posted his eighth 100-tackle season and had two interceptions, one was returned for a touchdown.



Ed Reed, who is the Ravens’ franchise leader in interceptions with 54 and interception return yards with 1,438, last year led the NFL in interceptions with 8 and led the NFL in interception return yards with 183. The remarkable thing about Ed Reed leading the NFL in those categories is that he played in ten games. If there is one player who could make a run at Dick “Night Train” Lane’s record of 14 interceptions in the 1952 season (note: the NFL was a twelve game season back them), it is Ed Reed.

The success of the Ravens will depend on how their success against the Steelers. Baltimore will get their first crack at Pittsburgh in Week 1 at home as they look to avenge that playoff loss. Points will be at a premium when the Jets visit for the Week 4 Sunday Night matchup. The Ravens will be done with the Steelers on their regular season schedule in Week 9 when they travel to Pittsburgh. That game will have repercussions on not just the AFC North Divisional race, but AFC Playoff Positioning as well.

The Ravens will play and host the franchise’s first Thanksgiving Day game when the 49ers led by Coach Jim Harbaugh, the brother of Coach John Harbaugh, will visit Baltimore that night.

While three games among the final five involve two meetings with Browns and the season finale against the Bengals, Baltimore will host the Colts in Week 14, followed by a matchup in San Diego with the Chargers in Week 15.

As mentioned in the Jets’ preview, quarterback Joe Flacco is in a unique company that includes Hall of Famers Len Dawson and Roger Staubach. Flacco, along with Mark Sanchez, has won four road playoffs games. The top two NFL Career Passing Yards Leaders Dan Marino and Brett Favre have four road playoff wins total among them (Marino 1-6, Favre 3-7).

The Ravens would prefer to host a home playoff game in their quest to bring another Super Bowl Championship to Baltimore. They can achieve that goal by taking care of the Steelers in Week 1.


CLEVELAND: IT COULD BE WORSE…



OK… there may be some sprinkling of some lines from the movie Major League in my write up about the Cleveland Browns. If you are unfamiliar with the plot, it is a fictionalized account of the real life Cleveland Indians. The Indians (in real life) did not win an American League Pennant from 1954 until 1995. The last time the Indians won the World Series was in 1948. The movie, released in 1989, is clearly dated, but has it’s fare share of memorable lines and some actors who you are surprised to see in the film (Dennis Haysbert: played the President in 24, The Unit, sells you car insurance from Allstate).

Anyways, (SPOILER ALERT) it is your stereotypical worst-to-first storyline. They suck but have all kinds of characters that make you love them (Charlie Sheen, before he became “WINNING”, as the fastball throwing reliever who spent some time in the California Penal League). And of course the winning streak montage where they force a one-game playoff against the hated Yankees. And they beat the Yankees… Everyone is happy.

So… can the Browns go from worst-to-first in 2011?



In the off-season Cleveland fired Eric Mangini and hired Pat Shurmur who was the offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams last season. As their offensive coordinator, Shurmur is credited with improving the Rams in every major offensive category resulting in their turnaround from 1-15 to a playoff contender… OK, they finished 7-9, but they were in the NFC West. The Browns are hoping that Shurmur can duplicate what he did for Rams quarterback Sam Bradford with their quarterback Colt McCoy. Prior to his offensive coordinator job with the Rams, Shurmur was the quarterbacks coach for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2008.

Say… who was the quarterback of the Eagles during that time period…?

Donovan McNabb

He was pretty good…

If the last name Shurmur sounds familiar, it should. His uncle, Fritz, was the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers from 1994-98. During that time period, the Packers made the playoffs every year, were NFC Central Division Champs from 1994-97, won two NFC Championships, and one Super Bowl Title. The head coach of the Packers during that time is now the President of the Browns, Mike Holmgren.

Pat Shurmur is installing the West Coast Offense, and like Holmgren when he was coach for the Packers and Seahawks, is expected to serve as the team’s offensive coordinator as well. On defense, the Browns hired Dick Jauron as their defensive coordinator and will utilize the 4-3 scheme.



The Browns wanted to give Colt McCoy time on the bench during his first season with the Browns. However, injuries and ineffective play forced McCoy into the starter’s role. McCoy finished his rookie season with a 2-6 record, 1,576 yards passing, completed 60.8% of his passes, and threw 6 touchdowns vs. 9 interceptions.



In addition to his passing statistics, McCoy ran for 136 yards and scored one touchdown.



Running back Peyton Hillis was a surprise find for the Browns and fantasy football owners. A seventh round pick of the Broncos and arrived in Cleveland via trade, Hillis ran for a career best 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns. The rushing yards was good for seventh in the AFC and rushing touchdowns were good to place him in three-way tie for sixth place with Chris Johnson of Tennessee and San Diego’s Mike Tolbert. Another surprising find is that Hillis is in the top three among pass catching running backs. Running backs with more catches than Hillis: Ray Rice of Baltimore and the Texans’ Arian Foster.

There’s your reason why he made the cover of Madden 12.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/b/bc/Madden_12_official_cover.jpg

It should be noted that there is one aspect of the Browns that will suffer this season. Return specialist Joshua Cribbs may not get as many opportunities to return kickoffs due to the NFL moving the kickoff line from the 30-yard line up to the 35-yard line. In order to continue being a factor, Cribbs has been working at receiver.



I know, it’s from Major League II, but it gets the point across.

Last season the Browns showed they weren’t pushovers as many people thought they were. They achieved surprise dominating victories over the Saints and Patriots in back-to-back games. In games decided by 8 points or less, Cleveland was 3-7.

This year the Browns draw the NFC West which on one hand should help with some manageable games. On the other hand, they play against the AFC South where every team is loaded with at least one playmaker on each side of the ball. Three of the Browns first four games are at home. A 1-3 or even a 2-2 start is possible, but I would favor the former over the latter.

In Week 9, Colt McCoy returns to the state of Texas as a pro. Expect Reliant Stadium to have some McCoy jerseys in the stands… but not from his days in Cleveland, but when he re-wrote passing records at Texas. The following week, the Rams led by Sam Bradford, visit Cleveland. Not only did Bradford play for Oklahoma in college, but Bradford was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft while McCoy dropped to the third round and the aforementioned Shurmur’s previous employment with the Rams.

In the final five games, the Browns face the Ravens and Steelers each twice. The Browns could play spoiler to those teams’ playoff aspirations.



Some aspects will come together for the Browns in 2011 and there are some arguments that they could be a sleeper team this season. While there is a buzz about the Browns based on what has taken place during the pre-season, they need a full offseason in order to implement the effects of a new coaching staff. In addition, they need more talent in order to close the gap between the Ravens and Steelers. Another draft, making the right moves in the free agent market, and a year of implementing Shurmur’s system might close the gap between them and the top of the division.

Things are bad with the Browns, but… I’ll let this last video explain it.





CINCINNATI: THE RETURN OF THE BUNGLES

They’re baaaaaackkkk…..



The Bengals is a franchise that is in turmoil. During the off-season quarterback Carson Palmer demanded a trade out of town. He did not get a trade out of Cincinnati. Palmer asked to be released from his contract. The Bengals did not release him from his contract.

So, Carson Palmer retired from the NFL… Until it was recently reported that Palmer was going to try to report to the Bengals to collect a roster bonus.

If Palmer was to return to the Bengals, it is not going to be the same team that he snubbed.

Upon the lifting of the NFL Lockout and before the ink dried on the brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement passed by the players and owners, Chad Ochocinco was traded to the Patriots. Terrell Owens, who had another forgettable season in the NFL with another dismal team, is recovering from rehabbing his knee. We will know how Owens’s recovery is going… Not because an NFL team will sign him soon, but you can follow him in his reality program on VH1.



In this NFL Preview, that will probably be the first AND last mention of VH1.

To have any hopes of competing, the Bengals had cornerback Johnathan Joseph. They failed to re-sign him and now he is donning the uniform of the Houston Texans.

In the draft, the Bengals selected wide receiver A.J. Green from Georgia in the first round. The team expected that Green would be under the tutelage of veteran receiver Ochocinco, but again, he’s with another team.

Quarterback Andy Dalton from TCU was selected early in the second round to provide depth after an abysmal selection of backup quarterbacks that doomed the Bengals 2008 season when Palmer suffered an arm injury.

Well, Carson Palmer is no longer part of the Bengals plans. So that means Andy Dalton will have to take the helms. While Dalton won games at TCU, the surrounding talent level was much better there than what he has in Cincinnati.

It appears that the Bengals had a Plan A, but did not formulate a Plan B for when Palmer would make good on his threat to retire if the Bengals did not release him from the team.

75% of this situation falls squarely on the shoulders of Bengals GM Mike Brown. His father is the legendary Paul Brown, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame due to his coaching tenure with the Cleveland Browns and founded the Cincinnati Bengals. It appeared that earlier in the decade then Bengals were ready to shed their Bungles persona that they earned in the 1990s when they drafted Carson Palmer in 2003.

While they did get a consistent Pro Bowl quarterback in Palmer, the Bengals failed to surround Palmer with the talent level for the team to succeed much like what the Colts did with Peyton Manning, the Patriots with Tom Brady, New Orleans with Drew Brees, the Falcons with Matt Ryan, or the many other teams with franchise quarterbacks. Coaches can only do so much with what they are given, but it is up to the front office to provide the materials needed to build a team. The Bengals front office has not been doing that.

The transition from the Carson Palmer era will be rough, especially for this season. I would say that the over-under on the number of wins that the Bengals have in 2011 is at 4-1/2 wins. I am willing to take the under on that proposition. There is talk that the Bengals might repeat what the 2008 Lions did and not win a game at all.

The Bungles have returned. Expect the Bengals to have a top-three pick in the 2012 NFL Draft.



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