Processing the NFL’s crazy 24 hours

Everyone new that the start of the new league year was sure to bring some fireworks. I don’t think anyone saw that coming though. We are only a little over 24 hours into the 2015 NFL league year and the chaos is only now beginning to subside. We saw the Seahawks land the highest paid tight end in history. Darrelle Revis rejoined his old team for a small fortune. The Eagles continued to wheel and deal under Chip Kelly. Even Ryan Fitzpatrick changed teams (wait that happens pretty much every offseason). Time to take a second look at some of the teams involved in the fray after the dust has started to settle.

Winners:
This does not mean these teams won free agency, which, according to Michael Schottey of Bleacher Report, may not really matter. Either way, these are the teams who are in the best shape following the first day of signings.

Seattle Seahawks: No matter what you give up, getting arguably the best tight end in the NFL is a good deal. The Seahawks did give up All-Pro center Max Unger and their first round pick, but centers tend to be easier to replace than tight ends and with an historically week tight end class scheduled to hit the NFL next year, this was a good move. The Seahawks really need to work to rebuild that offensive line as both Unger and Carpenter are in new homes heading into next year. Still, for the defending NFC champions, this makes Russell Wilson even more deadly. Bringing in Cary Williams as a nickel corner doesn’t hurt either.

New York Jets: It is hard to look at the Jets and not think that this team looks infinitely better than it did on Sunday. The Jets have shelled out a lot of picks and money to do so but New York has made major strides in its rebuilding process. The secondary immediately becomes one of the best in the league signing Revis and Buster Skrine. The offense looks a lot better with the addition of Brandon Marshall. James Carpenter could prove to be an asset as well. The Jets were also smart to release Percy Harvin rather than give him the $10.5 million he was due. Bringing in Ryan Fitzpatrick is an upgrade over Geno Smith, especially under Chan Gailey. There is still more work to be done but the change is drastic.

St. Louis Rams: Sam Bradford and his mega contract is gone. In return, the Rams now have Nick Foles suiting up. Both of these players are coming off of injuries but you would have to imagine that Foles is in much better shape. Bradford tore his ACL for the second straight season while Foles broke his collarbone. The Rams also managed to avoid giving up anything more than a fourth round pick this year. They might potentially lose a second rounder next year if Foles meets certain criteria but as a Rams fan, I am much happier having Foles as my prospective starter.

Losers

Philadelphia Eagles: On one hand, I look at the Eagles defense and I am impressed with how much better it looks now. Signing Byron Maxwell, Walter Thurmond and trading for Kiko Alonso will do that for you. However, I flip to the offensive side of the ball and I cringe. The Eagles are now without their starting quarterback, running back or leading receiver from a season ago. Pair that with Todd Herremanns leaving for Indianapolis and the Eagles have a lot of holes to fill. Signing Ryan Matthews could be the answer at running back but he is very injury prone, as is new quarterback Sam Bradford. Chip Kelly has taken the couple of questions surrounding Philadelphia and multiplied them ten-fold.

Denver Broncos: The Broncos did not make any splash signings and no one really expected them too. But the players they let walk away really hurt. Denver lost starting tackle Orlando Franklin to the division rival Chargers. Terrance Knighton also informed the Broncos that he would not be returning next year. Couple those two departures with Julius Thomas signing with Jacksonville and suddenly the Broncos are down three starters from 2014. With Nate Irving and Rahim Moore still unsigned, the Broncos could lose a few more starters before free agency is all said and done.

Indianapolis Colts: Indy has spent a combine total of $64.2 million on four players. The average age of those four players is roughly 32. These players all have big names but none of them are likely to make the impact the Colts are paying for. Andre Johnson is not going to return to Pro Bowl form any time soon. Neither is Frank Gore. Kendall Langford is a nice addition to the defensive line but pairing Trent Cole across from Rasheed Mathis give the Colts one of the oldest starting outside linebacker duos. With better players available, the Colts could have found a way to spend this money a little more wisely.

Free agency is far from over but after the first day or so of player signings, mixed with all of the crazy trades, this how the league appears to be trending. Some other things to note would if Oakland lands DeMarco Murray, the free agent class suddenly looks much better. New England will once again sit out on over spending for free agents, but don’t be surprised to see a trade involving the Patriots to surface. Lastly, the Saints have actually set themselves up fairly well for the coming future but their moves in the coming days will dictate whether or not this can continue to be a successful offseason. I will definitely be back with more in the coming days as more agents begin to sign.

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Reflecting on Super Bowl XLIX

Two days removed now from what was probably the best game all season long in the NFL, it is time to look back on all that went on during the Super Bowl. Tom Brady walked away with his fourth ring and third MVP title. Bill Belichick etched his name in history as only the second four-time Super Bowl champion coach. His counterpart Pete Carroll is likely the most hated man in Seattle right now, potentially only behind his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. There is a lot to discuss from the big game so let’s get rolling.

First, let’s talk about the MVP award for a minute. Tom Brady played well during Sunday’s big game but he was not the player deserving of that accolade. Brady had a great game with over 300 yards and 4 touchdowns but he had two drive-killing interceptions. One was at the goal line costing New England a touchdown and the other set up the Seahawks for an easy field goal. Brady caused a 10-point swing by trying to force the ball into tight windows. Brady also missed on a couple of throws where he had open receivers. The MVP of that game for the Patriots was Julian Edelman. He had 9 receptions on 12 targets for 109 yards. The Pats’ wide receiver was a nightmare in open space for Seattle’s secondary. He also scored what ended up being the game-deciding touchdown. He even had a carry for 7 yards. Edelman was likely the most versatile player on the field and definitely the best one for New England.

Time to get to what everyone is talking about though. Only seconds remaining in the Super Bowl and the clock still winding, the Seahawks have the ball at the goal line on second down. Everyone in the stadium, including the defense, was expecting a running play. Instead, Russell Wilson dropped back and threw a slant to Ricardo Lockette. Malcom Butler flashed in to blow up the play and snagged the football in the process. Everyone was shocked. The Seahawks, with Marshawn Lynch, the best short-yardage runner in the NFL, decide not to run the football. Looking at it from a coach’s standpoint, the passing play made sense. Seattle had two timeouts left and wanted to use as much clock as possible. Carroll says the plan was to run it with Lynch on third and fourth down. Running it every time was not possible with the way the clock was moving. I understand Carroll’s rationale. However, I would have run the ball. You are at the goal line with a big back only needing three feet to earn another Super Bowl championship. I think that the Seahawks would have been wiser to run on second down. I think Lynch would have scored based on how he had been running on that drive. Even if he doesn’t, that is when you call a timeout and huddle up to discuss your options about how to proceed. I know Carroll was trying to plan ahead but I think he overthought the situation and got too cute with his play calling.

What ensued after that sequence was understandable as well. The Seahawk’s defense was floored by the play call. Richard Sherman couldn’t believe it. The defense was very emotional walking on to the field. That still does not excuse what Bruce Irvin did on the ensuing play. There was a bit of a scuffle and Irvin came flying in throwing punches. I know where the guy was coming from but taking a swing at the opposing team with 25 seconds left in the game does not fly. Irvin was ejected and will probably see a fine coming his way. I think the league should go as far as to suspend him for next year’s season opener. His reaction was classless and unwarranted. I know why he did it, but that does not justify his actions.

All in all, that was one of the best games in football I have seen in a long time. I ranked it as the second most thrilling Super Bowl of all time just yesterday. While there are no more games to be played until August (and none that people will watch until September), the NFL will still be busy for the next few months. The league will be on Peyton-watch; the combine starts two weeks from today; free agency begins in early March; early April means pro days for athletes entering the draft and then, of course, the draft is the first weekend in May. Plenty of football related action still going on so we don’t need to get too depressed yet. It’s after the draft when we will have no idea to do with ourselves. What a season in the NFL. Here’s hoping the next one comes as fast as possible.

Super Bowl XLIX preview

It all ends here. Tonight the Seattle Seahawks will take on the New England Patriots in the biggest game of the NFL season to decide who will be crowned champion. The Seahawks are looking to become the first team to win back to back Super Bowls since the 2003-2004 Patriots. The current Patriots enter the game looking to win their first Lombardi trophy since they won 11 years ago. This should be another great matchup tonight with the best defense in the league squaring off with the best offense. We saw this script before, in last year’s big game, but this one should be very different.

Last year’s blowout saw a team get absolutely dominated in every aspect of the game. I don’t think we will see that tonight. I actually expect Russell Wilson to struggle again, much like he did in the NFC Championship game against Green Bay. The Packers’ defense is good, but New England’s is better. Their front seven is an above average group, capable of getting to the quarterback. The Pats finished tied for thirteenth in sacks this season. The strength of this unit though is the secondary. They finished the year with three more interceptions than Seattle’s vaunted group. This defense in total ended up with 25 takeaways this season. They also had the best turnover margin this season behind only Green Bay. Bill Belichick is a defensive mastermind. If Wilson had four interceptions against the Packers, it could be scary how many he might end up with when he is throwing at Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner.

The other thing that makes New England intimidating is their versatility on offense. Everyone knows that Tom Brady and his receivers can light it up. Danny Amendola has started to look like he has found his footing this postseason and Julien Edelman continues to be the Pats’ jack-of-all-trades. Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright make this team scary from the two tight end set. Brady might be up against a very talented defense, but he will have his opportunity to pick out his matchups. But what really sets this Patriots team apart from last year’s Broncos is when the Seahawks want to drop into coverage, Brady can hand the ball off to a one man wrecking crew by the name of LeGarrette Blount. He shredded the Colts defense last week to the tune of 148 yards and three touchdowns. He is a powerful runner that has a knack for getting stronger as the game goes on. It almost reminds you of another bruising running back who plays in the Pacific Northwest.

For as good as Blount can be, Marshawn Lynch is even better. Lynch has been the model of consistency for Seattle this season, racking up yards whenever they need him to. Playing against the Packers two weeks ago, Lynch rattled off 157 yards on only 25 carries. That is over six yards per attempt. New England’s rush defense was pretty solid this season. Playing against the Colts though, Daniel Herron ripped off over 50 yards on only 10 carries. Lynch is a more talented runner than Herron and that could spell trouble for New England. The Seahawks struggled two weeks ago when Wilson tried to make too many plays with his arm. When Seattle reverted to feeding Lynch the ball, the momentum completely switched and Pete Carroll’s team began dominating the game. If Seattle finds some early ground success with Lynch or even Wilson, it will keep Brady on the sideline and protect the Seahawks from needing to attack the most dangerous part of the Patriots defense.

Even when Brady does take the field though, he is going to have to note the location of a couple different players on every down. Richard Sherman is not someone you want to test very often. Newly crowned MVP Aaron Rodgers found that out the hard way. Brady’s security blanket is usually Gronk but he will be matched up with the best safety in the league in Kam Chancellor. Brady also has to keep in mind that when he drops back he will have Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett working to collapse the pocket. He also cannot get to comfortable hanging the ball in the air because the ball-hawking, speed demon named Earl Thomas will go and get it. That isn’t even including K.J. Wright or Bobby Wagner either. The Seahawks’ defense was the best in the NFL for a reason. They only allowed 186 passing yards per game this season and 82 yards rushing. Those both rank in the top three in the NFL. New England could end up winning the turnover battle, but they will have a very tough time moving the ball.

This is going to come down to who can control the clock more. Both teams can capably run the ball, but Seattle’s rushing attack offensively and rushing defense are elite while New England’s are simply above average. Brady might be one of the best Super Bowl quarterback’s the league has ever seen. He has a 93.8 rating total and has thrown 9 touchdowns to only 2 interceptions in his previous 5 appearances. I just do not think the Patriots will be able to bottle up the Seahawks’ running game. That means Brady will be forced to pass and that will definitely give Seattle the edge. The Seattle defense is hard to beat and while offense wins games, defense wins championships. The Seahawks will be back to back champions, winning 28-21.

Top five most devestating Super Bowl losses

Last night’s game was exciting and captivating until the very end. If you sat through it all you were even treated to an on field brawl with some punches thrown. The Seahawks had every right to be emotional though. They came one yard from clinching their second consecutive Super Bowl title when Russell Wilson had his pass intercepted by cornerback Malcom Butler. It was one of the most gut wrenching ends to a game ever. Here are the top five most devastating Super Bowl losses of all time.

#5 Super Bowl XXIII 49ers 20 Bengals 16
This is one of the most famous Super Bowls of all time. Joe Montana was a class act throughout his career but this game solidified his nickname “Joe Cool”. With just over three minutes left in the game, down by three. Montana led his team 92 yards, picking apart the Bengals defense on the final drive. He hit wide receiver John Taylor in the endzone with just 34 seconds remaining on the clock. The Bengals could not believe that they came that close. This last minute decision left Cincinnati quarterback to famous say, “I guess I’m not going to Disney.” The folks from Disney, who were waiting for the game to end to film their annual commercial, left Esiason immediately in pursuit of Montana following the game. The Bengals saw their first Lombardi trophy stolen from then as Montana walked away with his third ring.

#4 Super Bowl XXV Giants 20 Bills 19
This game was a thriller until the very end. New York played this game with its back up quarterback due to Phill Simms’ season ending injury at the end of the regular season. The Giants had the odds stacked against them. The Bills led early in the game 12-3 and looked in control. The Giants eventually look a 17-12 lead before a Thurman Thomas run gave Buffalo stole it back for Buffalo. The Giants ate up the majority of the clock in the fourth quarter, driving 74 yards on 14 plays. New York came up three yards short though and had to settle for a field goal making the score 20-19. The Bills drove 61 yards in the closing seconds to set up a 47-yard field goal. Scott Norwood famously missed the game-winning try wide right and the Giants won their second Super Bowl in franchise history

#3 Super Bowl XLII Giants 17 Patriots 14

What makes this game so heartbreaking is what was on the line for the Patriots. New England entered the game undefeated looking to become the first team in history to finish the season 19-0. The Patriots were also 12-point favorites in the game. No one gave the Giants a prayer of winning this one. And in the end, it took a prayer for New York to win the game. Eli Manning and David Tyree made the most improbable and famous play in Super Bowl history when Tyree pinned the football to his helmet to secure a huge catch with the game on the line. This set up Manning to find Plaxico Burress in the endzone with only 35 second on the clock. The Giants pulled off the greatest upset in Super Bowl history in spectacular fashion.

#2 Super Bowl XLIX Patriots 28 Seahawks 24
This might have been crazy but this is not number one. The Patriots looked all but beaten last night. Seattle had the ball on the one-yard line with less than 30 seconds to play. Rather than hand the ball off, Seattle called a slant to wide receiver Ricardo Lockette. Malcom Butler made probably the best defensive play in recent Super Bowl memory picking off Russell Wilson at the goal line. The Patriots ended up completing the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history. It is easy to say what if at the end of the big game but this one will have question marks surrounding it forever. The Seahawks were one yard away from a second Super Bowl victory in as many years. They weren’t the first team to end up that way.

#1 Super Bowl XXXIV Rams 23 Titans 16
This game wins simply because of how the last play actually happened. The Titans trailed in this game to the “Greatest Show on Turf” 16-0 in the third quarter. They roared back to tie it at 16 all. Rams’ quarterback Kurt Warner hit Isacc Bruce on a long touchdown to regain the lead. Tennessee got the ball back at their own 12-yard line with only 1:48 remaining in the game. Titans’ quarterback Steve McNair drove his team all the way down to the 10-yard line with only six seconds remaining and no timeouts left. He dropped back and hit Kevin Dyson in stride at around the four. Rams’ linebacker Mike Jones hit Dyson and hung on to his leg. Dyson spun and extended the football but was only able to reach the one-yard line. The Titans came only a yard short of forcing overtime and forever will be remembered for being those three feet short of a chance to win the Super Bowl.

Championship Sunday picks

The divisional round of the 2015 playoffs went just about according to plan. All of the top seeds coming off their byes won, except Denver. So now, we have a rematch of the first game of the season, this time with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The other game features one quarterback trying to prove he is worth his high draft spot, the other is trying to cement his spot as the greatest quarterback in history. It is the final four in the NFL and now it is time to breakdown who is heading to Arizona and who is heading home.

Green Bay will travel to Seattle this weekend where Russell Wilson and the Seahawks will host Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in a grudge match. The Seahawks once again have home field advantage in this game as they did in Week 1 against the Pack. Seattle rolled through Green Bay that time around, thrashing the Packers 36-16. The Packs’ rushing attack sputtered against the Seahawks run defense back in September, managing a meager 80 yards on the ground on 21 attempts and Marshawn Lynch rumbled for 110 yards and 2 touchdowns in that match up. Seattle will once again look to win the battle in the trenches and force an apparently hobbled Aaron Rodgers to make all of the plays. One major hit to the Seahawks is the absence of Percy Harvin in this game. Seattle’s offense has adjusted and compensated since he has left but in that first meeting he accounted for 100 yards of offense and caught every pass thrown his way. He clearly gave the Packers some problems and he will not be able to pose any of those now from his couch in New Jersey. Another new factor is Packers’ rookie Devonte Adams arrival as a huge threat. His 7-catch 117-yard performance, which included a touchdown, will be something Pete Carroll and his staff factor into today’s game plan. This game also features likely the best passing offense in the league against arguably the best secondary in the NFL. The scary thing for the Packers is that the Seahawks’ defense has actually gotten better down the stretch of the season. Seattle hasn’t allowed more than 17 points to a team since Week 11 against Kansas City. When all is said and done though, I think the Packers will break that streak. Between Rodgers, Adams, Eddie Lacy, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, not to mention anyone of a number of role players, this offense can score. I would not be surprised to see Green Bay spread out the Seattle defense and then find their matchups to exploit. Wilson and Lynch will power this team for a while on the ground but in the end, a lack of a prominent passing game will be the Seahawks downfall. Packers hang on 27-24.

Meanwhile, Andrew Luck will be looking to show that last week was not a fluke and that he has officially arrived in the NFL if he can carry the Colts to their first Super Bowl appearance since 2009 against the future Hall of Famer in Tom Brady. If Brady wins, he will start the most Super Bowls by a player ever. Since 2004, this will mark the sixth time the Patriots meet the Colts in the playoffs. The rivalry is unparalleled to any other in the NFL as these two teams have so much hate for each other. Even if the Manning-Brady rivalry no longer exists between these two teams, Luck is more than up to the task of carrying on the legacy. You always think these games could go either way or that these two should be evenly matched but in reality, Brady has had Indy’s number. In his career, the former Michigan man is 12-4 against the Colts. These two teams played earlier this season and New England once again displayed their dominance over Indianapolis in a 42-20 romp. The key in that game was Jonas Gray’s 200 plus yards rushing and 4 touchdowns. Since that game, Gray has not carried the ball more than 12 carries or registered 65 yards in a game. Indianapolis was also unable to find any sort of ground game in that matchup. Indy struggled its way to 19 yards on 16 carries that night. However, the Colts managed 99 yards against a top-flight Denver defense last weekend. If Indy can find a way to get a rushing attack rolling, they could be scary and pose a real threat to New England. The reality is though that New England will not let that be possible. The strength of the Patriots defense is their secondary. Scoring early will mean that the option to run the ball will be almost out of the question for Indy. Luck is a great young quarterback but it is not enough to overcome New England’s multifaceted offense. Pats come away with a win in this one 34-24.

Those are my Super Bowl picks. Green Bay will clash with New England out in the desert two weeks from today in what should be an amazing battle of two great quarterbacks and offensive assets galore. Both of these games this weekend should be exciting but in the end, the two savvy, veteran signal callers will come out on top of the class of 2012’s finest. My players of the week: Randall Cobb for Green Bay and Brandon Browner for New England. Should be a great day of football. Let me know where I went wrong or if you think these games are going to end differently.