Chill on Dak Prescott

Everyone just relax. No seriously, take a deep breath and stop calling him the second coming of Tom Brady. The NFL world has exploded over the past month as Dak Prescott tortured NFL defenses during the preseason. His emergence in his first three preseason games was impressive, but not indicative of anything.

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Prescott is a fourth round pick from Mississippi State. (Wikimedia Commons)

To start with, it was three preseason games where he played about half of each one. None of these games count for anything. Prescott also played most of the second game against Miami’s backups on defense. Defenses aren’t sending full blitz packages, coverage schemes are still being implemented and top defensive stars likely aren’t even playing. So yes, while the performance was impressive, it has to be taken with a grain of salt.

Looking past that, Prescott was never going to touch the field in the regular season unless Tony Romo got injured. This was not a quarterback competition. Romo is in no danger of losing his starting job once he is fully healthy. One day we might see Prescott as the preferred starter under center, but it won’t be until Romo retires or leaves Dallas.

And even when we do see him play, we don’t have any guarantee that he will put up the same video game-like numbers we saw during the preseason. Odds are, he will be outplayed by his New York counterpart Eli Manning. Prescott’s sample size is tiny and that should be a red flag to anyone proclaiming him as the next great quarterback. This article I found today from CBS Sports is already calling Prescott a future Super Bowl-winning passer. He hasn’t played a snap of a regular season game yet!

And what even more people seem to forget is that this is Tony Romo we are talking about. The same guy who was an MVP candidate in 2014 and lead Dallas to the divisional round of the playoffs. You know, Romo, who has over 34,000 career passing yards and 247 career touchdown passes, both franchise records. This is the same team that Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach played for I will remind you. Tony Romo is right on the cusp of being a Hall of Famer. His numbers are better than those of Staubach and Aikman who are both in Canton. You don’t just kick your Pro Bowl quarterback to the curb because a rookie has a couple of impressive preseason games.

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Romo is out several week with a broken bone in his back. (Wikimedia Commons)

This article is not just so I can hate on Dak Prescott. In fact, with the pieces that are around him, I do think Prescott has a bright future. He has shown flashes of brilliance, shows that he has most of the physical tools to play the position at a high level and he is on a team with a recipe for him to be successful. Between that stellar offensive line and fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott, Prescott has some nice pieces to grow with and compliment him. Hopefully, by the time he takes over as the starter, (if we reach that point) the Cowboys will have found another receiver to either aid or replace Dez Bryant.

Prescott will be under center Sunday for Dallas as they take on the Giants. New York had the worst statistical defense in the league a year ago, so this might be the perfect way to east him into regular season football. But even if does have a great game against the Giants, let’s hold off on anointing him a Hall of Famer until maybe he finishes his first season in the pros.

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Quarterback Carousel Continues to Spin

What a whirl it has been already on the quarterback carousel in the NFL. We got a really early taste this year before the season even began when Geno Smith had his jaw broken by a teammate in the locker room. That thrust Ryan Fitzpatrick into the starting role and the Jets have opened their season 2-0.

Drew_BreesWeek 2 dealt some serious blows to the stability of the quarterback position across the league. Drew Brees played all of Sunday’s game against the Bucs but he may miss next week with a bruised rotator cuff. That would place journeyman Luke McCown into game action for the first time since November of 2011. That isn’t exactly reassuring for the Saints but Verizon has to be thrilled. Believe it or not this actually affects Mark Ingram more than anyone else. The former Heisman winner has never had the chance to be a feature back in an offense but if Brees cannot play or is limited, the focus quickly shift to him to deliver. And he will need to deliver fast because the Saints are 0-2. Panic Level: Moderate

Jay_CutlerIn the Windy City, the Bears are already in free fall and Jimmy Clausen is set to retake the starting role, if only temporarily. Jay Cutler has a hamstring injury that Chicago has said will keep him out at least two weeks. Clausen filled in for Cutler last year after the latter got benched. He was passable, tossing two touchdowns but also throwing a pick. The more concerning thing is that he actually sustained an injury in that game last year, forcing Cutler back into the lineup. If Clausen were to go down, Chicago would really be in trouble then. The last quarterback on the roster is youngster David Fales from San Jose State. If he has to start for the Bears, this team will be in full scale crisis mode. Panic Level: Low (they can’t be much worse).

Tony_RomoDallas ended up taking the brunt of the pain from the losses this week. Tony Romo fractured his left collarbone, which will keep him out for the next eight weeks. The Cowboys have already begun handling his loss. They placed Romo on the short-term IR and traded for veteran Matt Cassell as a reserve option if now-starter Branden Weeden struggles or suffers an injury himself. Neither quarterback is much good but they are both serviceable, which is the best Dallas could hope for as they try to ride out the storm. Despite losing Romo, the Cowboys could still hold the division lead when he comes back based on how poorly the rest of the division has played. However, with Dez Bryant also out for probably a similar time frame, things in Big D are shaky. Everything is bigger in Texas, including the panic that should be surrounding this team. Panic Level: High

Johnny Manziel

I am starting to wonder if the Browns are afraid of success. After nearly reaching .500 last season, Cleveland made a number of questionable veteran acquisitions, including Josh McCown. They needed a quarterback for sure but not many pegged McCown as their savior. McCown entered the season as the starter but a nasty hit in the season opener left him with a concussion. In stepped the polarizing Johnny Manziel. He was far from perfect or even polished but he was productive. Posting to three touchdowns to just one interception in roughly seven quarters of relief work isn’t bad. The four fumbles are definitely concerning but Manziel has regularly kept plays alive and made something out of nothing. He isn’t throwing for a ton of yards but his is picking up a lot of yards when he does throw. He has been electric and exciting, something Cleveland has not had in a while, but the Browns maintain that once McCown is healthy, he will get his job back. I know I initially advocated against it, but after two weeks, I would like to see some more Johnny Football. They won too in Week 2, which is definitely a positive. A game against the Raiders could be winnable as well and would be a really good test for the young Manziel. Cleveland fans should actually start to panic if their original starter is in fact healthy, oddly enough. Panic Level: Moderate

Who does Dallas turn to now?

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The Cowboys have not announced a return date for Bryant and have said that it is a week-to-week evaluation.

When things go bad, you hope they just don’t get worse. Well things just got a lot worse for the Cowboys. Dallas just entered crisis mode.

Week one saw Dallas’ leading receiver Dez Bryant suffer a major foot injury that required surgery. Bryant, who just signed a five-year $70 million contract this offseason, is rumored to miss anywhere from 6 to 12 weeks with the injury. The number seems to be up in the air.

That was catastrophic for the Cowboys. Bryant accounted for 1,320 yards and 16 touchdowns a season ago. That loss was not ideal but then the unthinkable happened.

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Romo’s timetable for return has not been established yet.

He dropped back, he turned to scramble and he lost the ball. He then received a crushing hit that drove his left shoulder into the ground. Tony Romo didn’t get up for a while after that. The Dallas medical staff charged onto the field. Romo eventually walked off under his own power, holding his arm gingerly.

It looked bad and it is no doubt that Romo will miss some extended time. He has been officially diagnosed with a broken left clavicle. No timeline has been set yet but when Romo broke his right clavicle a couple of years back, he missed 10 weeks of the season.

Dallas cannot afford to lose Romo for 10 weeks this year. That paired with the injury to Bryant is going to cripple this offense for the most part. The offensive line is still great and the combo of Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar can lead the running game but the passing game is as good as dead. Brandon Weeden is the only other quarterback the Cowboys have on the roster at the moment. That is far from a reassuring thing.

Brandon Weeden
Weeden (left) is a veteran who could bridge the gap until Romo’s return but has been uneven in his appearances.

Weeden in his career has been mediocre at best. He started his career in Cleveland, but that was short-lived as his reputation for committing turnovers lost him the job. In 28 career games, Weeden has 28 interceptions and 12 fumbles. That is not exactly reassuring for your starting quarterback. It is hard to say those days are behind him either. He played great in relief of Romo but in the only game he started last season, Weeden threw two interceptions, fumbled once and completed only 55 percent of his passes.

Even if Jerry Jones and the Dallas coaching staff thinks Weeden is the man for them to start next week against Atlanta, they are going to need to sign another quarterback. Someone needs to back up Weeden next weekend.

Matt Flynn is among the names that will float out. He has had some success as a starter in Green Bay and could be a good back up. Kyle Orton is officially retired but Dallas could coax him off his couch. He has a lot of experience as a spot starter all over the league and actually played for the Cowboys as recently as 2013. One last option that might appeal to Dallas would be bringing Dustin Vaughn back. He was signed by the Cowboys in 2014 as an undrafted free agent so he has some familiarity with the team already and looked good at times in the preseason.

The Cowboys brought in Brice Butler already from the Raiders at receiver and will continue to rely even more heavily on Terrance Williams. I already mentioned the running backs. Dallas will need to work hard to establish the run early and often going forward. With all of the options they have at running back, which will eventually include Christine Michael, Dallas should be able to alternate them to keep everyone fresh and have a solid ground game.

Despite being 2-0, Dallas has to feel like it is in a major rut at the moment. Losing your top receiver and starting quarterback in a two-week span is not something many teams are able to overcome. Looking past the Atlanta game, the Cowboys have a winnable game against the Saints before hosting the defending Patriots. Following its bye, Dallas heads to New York for a rematch with the Giants. Then the Seahawks visit Big D. That is a very tough slate for the Cowboys.

Dallas could find a way to weather the storm but that is unlikely. With the Cowboys sliding, and both Philly and New York sitting at 0-2, Washington suddenly seems to be in a good spot. This division is an absolute toss-up the rest of the way.

If Dallas has any hopes of finishing on top of the pile, it needs to find a couple of new offensive weapons. Bryant and Romo will eventually be back but until then, Dallas will have a tough time making ends meet.

Assigning NFL Honors

The fourth annual NFL Honors ceremony is a week from tonight in Phoenix, Arizona. The ceremony is a big publicity event that the NFL has modelled similar to the Grammy’s or Oscar’s announcing all of the various award winners for the season. Like all award shows, there are tons of celebrities and a comedic personality hosting the show, this year being Seth Meyers. The real reason fans tune in though is to see who has been given the big awards for the year. Here is who I think should take home this year’s batch of trophies.

AP Most Valuable Player: Tony Romo, Cowboys
This has been one of the most difficult to determine MVP races in a few years. My pick this year though has to be Romo. The Cowboys’ quarterback finished the year with the best completion percentage, highest yards per attempt average and top passer rating. He did all of this while battling through a tough back injury that plagued him throughout the season. Romo also took care of the ball throwing only nine interceptions. What really validates Romo as the MVP was his five game winning drives, which tied for the league lead. He led the Cowboys to their first playoff berth since 2011 as well. He was the best player in the league this year.

AP Coach of the Year: Bruce Arians, Cardinals
If I had told you that the Cardinals were going to win the NFC West this year back in September, you would’ve laughed at me. While they did not win it, only losing on a tiebreaker with Seattle, they finished tied for the best record in the league and made the playoffs despite losing the first two quarterbacks on their depth chart. That is a testament to the hard work of Arians. His team managed 12 wins this year despite having one of the most banged up offenses in the league. The Cardinals defense was simply incredible in some games this season and Arizona’s coach found some creative ways to move the ball offensively. Even when backed up against a wall, he succeeded. There is no doubt that Arians was the best coach in football this year.

AP Offensive Player of the Year: LeVeon Bell, Steelers
You can argue DeMarco Murray all you want, but when you play behind the road grading line that he had this year, you should do well. Plus the guy fumbled it five times this year. Meanwhile, Bell never fumbled the ball on any of his 290 carries or 83 receptions. Bell also averaged the same number of yards per carry so it stands to reason that he could have had Murray’s same production if had the same number of attempts. What really sets Bell apart is his versatility; he was a threat on the ground and through the air. Bell finished only 46 yards from scrimmage behind Murray, despite having 73 fewer touches. Bell was impressive and effective on his way to being the best offensive player in the league.

AP Defensive Player of the Year: J.J. Watt, Texans
This one is absolutely no contest. Watt was far and away the best player on the defensive side of the football this season. He finished the season with over 20 sacks, the most tackles by a defensive lineman and the most pass deflections by a defensive lineman as well. He was a disruptive force yet again with his big play ability, scoring two defensive touchdowns, one on an interception and one on a fumble recovery. Watt showed a knack for forcing turnovers as well with his four forced fumbles and five recoveries. It is not set in stone, but this is the most sure thing at the NFL Honors ceremony.

AP Offensive Rookie of the Year: Odell Beckham Jr., Giants
And he only needed 12 games to do it. He could even make a case as the best overall receiver this season. Beckham had over 90 catches, 1300 yards and 12 touchdowns. Every single one of those totals ranks in the top 10 for the NFL this season. The Giants’ rookie also had the most receiving yards per game by any player in the league. He also had the highlight reel catch of the decade thus far. No one deserves the award more than the New York wideout and I think he will walk away with it next Saturday.

AP Defensive Rookie of the Year: C.J. Mosely, Ravens
People are clamoring for Khalil Mack here but I think Mosely had the better season. The Ravens linebacker racked up 133 tackles this year, good for seventh in the NFL. He also had 3 sacks, 2 interceptions and a forced fumble. He became the backbone of a stout Baltimore rush defense allowing the fourth fewest rushing yards per game. He was also named a Pro Bowler, the first Ravens rookie ever to be named one. Considering Ray Lewis played for this franchise, that is downright impressive.

AP Comeback Player of the Year: Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
You have to look at Gronk and wonder, “Wait he was hurt last year?” The Patriots tight end looked fairly fluid with how he moved around the field this season. His credentials for the award speaks for itself. He finished with the fourth most receptions, the most receiving yards and tied for the most receiving touchdowns among tight ends. He made some spectacular catches and proved once again that he is a very solid blocking tight end. Gronk roared back to life this year and should be awarded for his triumphant comeback.
Those are all of the top awards. There are several other ones to be named that night but these are the ones that are the most talked about. So now, I want to know if I got them right. Let me know what you think.

Determining the NFL MVP

Week 17 concludes the NFL season tomorrow and usually by this point, we all have a good sense of who the league MVP will be. For example, last year it was obvious that Peyton Manning would be named the most valuable player following his record-breaking performance where he topped the single season passing yards and passing touchdown records. Manning is still in the mix this year but it definitely not as clear-cut. I figured it would be fun to have a breakdown of some of the candidates for this year’s award.

We will stick with the reigning MVP from a year ago and start with Manning. The Broncos quarterback began the season right where he left off in the previous one (well minus the Super Bowl) and looked like he was on his way to his sixth MVP award. He averaged 305 yards and 3 touchdowns per game over the first seven he played. Then the Broncos visited New England and Peyton had his worst performance of the season at that time. In the seven games since the trip to Foxboro, Peyton has averaged only 269 yards and 2 touchdowns per game. Those are still good numbers, but they do not scream MVP either. Not to mention after throwing only three interceptions in the first seven games, he has thrown 12 in his last eight appearances. Sure Manning is still in the conversation but I do not think he is a legitimate contender this season. He does have a game against Oakland tomorrow, which he beat up to the tune of 340 yards and 5 touchdowns, but I do not think he will repeat the performance.

To another former league MVP, Aaron Rodgers might have the best chance to win this year’s trophy. He has been nothing but efficient so far this year, save two games in New Orleans and Buffalo. Rodgers got off to a “rocky start” or about as rocky as it ever gets for the Packers’ quarterback. Rodgers only has two games this year where he has thrown two interceptions. He has never thrown more than that all year and only has five in total on the season. Rodgers has also been the focal point of an offense that averages the second most points per game behind only the Patriots. The Packers’ game against Detroit tomorrow could be crucial to his MVP chances. He struggled the first time he played the Lions throwing for only 162 yards and 1 touchdown in a loss. Putting up a good performance against one of the best defenses in the league could cement Rodgers as the front-runner for the award.

It is time to look at the surprise of this year’s MVP race, Tony Romo. If I had told you this time last year that Romo would be a top candidate for this year’s award, you would have laughed at me. Romo has had a very good campaign though and has lead what many felt was a talent deprived Dallas Cowboys team to an 11-4 record so far this year. The things that stand out for Romo are his league leading completion percentage (70.3) his league leading yards per attempt (8.49) and his league leading quarterback rating (114.1). The things that hold Tony back are his yards per game average of 243, which ranks 18th in the league and the existence of Demarco Murray. Murray has rushed for the most yards in the league by over 400, which puts a bit of a damper on Romo’s campaign for most valuable player with teammate who has stolen a lot of the spotlight and offensive production. Still, Romo has a great touchdown to interception ratio (4:1) and has been stellar in the month of December. I think heading into the final week of the season, Romo is Rodgers’ greatest competition for the award.

We have a defensive player on this list as well. J.J Watt is having a season to remember, mainly due to the highlight reel has put on which includes two defensive scores and three offensive touchdown catches. Watt has been great though on the defensive side of the ball. He has recorded the most tackles by a defensive lineman this year, tied with Jason Pierre-Paul at 72. The Texans’ superstar also ranks second in sacks, just a half sack behind the league leader with 17.5 on the year. Watt also has the most pass deflections by a defensive lineman with ten. He has additionally racked up three forced fumbles and a league-high five fumble recoveries. The issue is that Watt has not done enough to even guarantee that his team will be in the playoffs. It is hard as a defensive player to make such a huge impact that you can carry your team. Watt definitely has my vote for defensive player of the year but I do not think he will be the league MVP.

I am including one darkhorse candidate as well who has not really garnered much media attention as an MVP option but I think he deserves to be in the conversation. LeVeon Bell has been the most complete back in the NFL this season. He rushed for over 1300 yards, caught 77 passes for 774 yards and scored 11 total touchdowns. His 1341 rushing yards rank second only behind Demarco Murray. His 77 receptions are tied for 21st among all players, not just running backs, and are the most by any back. His 774 receiving yards also rank second only behind Matt Forte among running backs. His 4.8 yards per carry land him third among players with more than 200 attempts. Bell also has not fumbled the ball this season. So, the guy never turns the ball over and he has generated more yards from scrimmage than any other player except Murray, by only 35 yards mind you. Bell racked up over 225 yards of offense and accounted for 3 total touchdowns the last time he met the Bengals. If he can even come close to reciprocating those numbers, he has a chance at being in the conversation for MVP.

There are other players you can make cases for in the MVP race, (most notably Tom Brady or Murray) but these are the ones I think have the best chance to win it. It will be interesting to see how Week 17 affects this tight race. I am curious to know who you think should be the MVP. Feel free to comment and tell me why. Enjoy watching on Sunday.