313 NFL Awards: Week 2, 2012.

What a week of football and we’re only 2 weeks into the season. Just the tip of the iceberg my friends. A roller coaster start like many NFL seasons before.

Preseason predictions are already proven wrong, ideas of what was supposed to happen are long gone and new ideas on what could happen are forming. However, don’t count on anything just yet. No need to put 1k on the Niners for a SB win. Geez. Calm down, climb down from the roof, take a deep breath and maybe put some pants back on because you’ve still got 15 more weeks of this grey-hair producing NFL season to go.

And with that, here are my prestigious Week 2 NFL Awards.

QB of the Week:

Eli Manning, New York Giants.

Wow. Way to rebound son. You ever think about playing basketball?

The younger Manning was awful in the first half of the game vs. the Bucs, throwing 3 picks and struggling to get anything going offensively. Here we go again Giants fans thought as week 1, Eli was also sub-par vs. the Cowboys in the season opener.

But something at halftime vs. the Buccaneers must have clicked. Maybe something was said, maybe he just likes to idle the machine for a while before he can finally put it into drive. Either way fans rejoiced as he produced numbers in one half of football that most would take 60 minutes to produce and helped pave the way for an outstanding comeback win to lead his team to a 1-1 record before their Thursday Night game in Charlotte vs. the Panthers.

For the record, he finished with 510 yards passing, 3 TDs (to go with his 3 picks) and a passer rating of 89.5, with a 60.8 completion rate. In the 2nd half alone, he threw for 295 yards, tying for the eighth most in NFL history and coming up 3 yards short of Phil Simms’ club record. An impressive 80-yards in 4 plays won the game for the Giants, which featured a 2pt conversion for backup RB Andre Brown. The duo of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz helped Eli, combining for 21 catches, 378 yards, 18.0 yards per catch & 2 TDs.

Offensive Player of the Week (Other than a QB.. and someone not named Manning):

Reggie Bush, RB, Miami Dolphins.

Wait.. did I just write that? Reggie Bush?!

Yep, Reggie Bush. The same Reggie Bush that we all thought was nothing more than a scat-back, change of pace back, pass-catching back, punt returning/kick returning special-play-making back. Not an every down back like he showed on Sunday. What is this crap? Is 2012 really coming to an end, because he can carry the ball more than 12 times a game in a starters role? Well.. we’ll have to wait and see about that but one thing is clear, he certainly proved for one game at least, that he has it in him to be what he believes he can be: A starting RB in the NFL who can rush for 1k yards.

He helped Miami to a pivotal win in an AFC home opener over the Raiders, finishing with 26 touches for 172 yards and 2 TDs, including a 60 yard TD run. With a 6.6 ypc average, if he can produce the kind of explosiveness like he showed on Sunday for 20+ carries, it will alleviate pressure from rookie QB Ryan Tannehill and help keep the opposing defence honest. Add in his ability in the screen game, and you have a RB like Matt Forte. How his knee holds up over the course of the season, depending if he carries it 300+ times, will be the real test as well.

Many running backs have tried and failed to hold down the starting role as a NFL RB.. but for week 2, he certainly looked like the player that was drafted 2nd overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. I for one, will jump on his bandwagon if he proves me and the rest of the NFL wrong.

Honourable Mentions: Marshawn Lynch, Danny Amendola,CJ. Spiller, Hakeem Nicks.  

Defensive Player of the Week:

Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay Packers.

Those golden locks are flowin’.

The former Defensive Player of the Year had a monster night on Thursday Night Football vs. the Chicago Bears. What a start The Machine is off to in 2012. 2.5 sacks in week 1, 3.5 sacks against Jay Cutler to go with 7 tackles (4 solo) and constant pressure that rattled Cutler enough to force him into 4 interceptions and more excuses. Matthews is one of only 6 players in NFL history to record 6 sacks or more in the first two games of the season, and he is the only player to do it twice. With DJ Smith making his presence felt as the other OLB, the Packers may have the player they’ve been looking for to help Clay. If teams double Matthews they’ll have Smith to answer for, making the Packers D a scary force for teams to game plan against. At his current pace, Matthews has his sights on the single season sack record and most likely, another Defensive Player of the Year award.

Special Teams: Adam Jones, CB/PR, Cincinnati Bengals.

Pacman packs a punch against the Browns.

The former electrifying and controversial CB is still around, just for those who haven’t heard his name in a while. Blast from the past maybe, but the guy is still playing ball and provides solid depth for the Bengals secondary. After much turmoil, it’s clear he’s found a home and in week 2, he helped the Bengals to a W over the Browns by returning the first Cleveland punt 81 yards for a touchdown.

2 minutes into the game and the Browns were setting up to punt. Jones caught the ball at the 19 and as soon as he caught it, he evaded one Browns defender. Then he started up field and sidestepped about 4 Browns defenders before cutting to the sideline, all the while weaving around other Browns. By the time Jones was at the 50 yard line, he was home and the crowd was on their feet as Jones looked like the player the Titans drafted in the first round many years ago. As he crossed the goal line, he threw the ball into the stands, jumped onto the goalpost and hugged the padding like hugging an old friend he hadn’t seen in 10 years.

Say what you will about his past, but the guy knows how to make plays when the ball is in his hands and he has some room to move.

Coach of the Week: Ron Rivera

Carolina Love to Chico for his Week 2 W over the Saints.*

I know, I know. Of course, I could put any of the 16 winners from the weekend here. But I won’t. Not yet. The Panthers haven’t won a home opener since it seems forever and haven’t beaten the Saints* since 2009. Going into week 2, the Panthers were looking at an 0-2 start if they played the way they did in week 1 vs. the Buccaneers. Had they lost, they would’ve gone into week 3 with a short turnaround and potentially gone 0-3 and before you know it, season is pretty much over in September. Not many teams get to the Super Bowl or even playoffs after 0-2, let alone a 0-3 start.

But the Panthers took care of business, thanks largely to head coach Ron Rivera and his coordinators of Rob Chudzinski and Sean McDermott. The offense was able to get its mojo back, lead on the ground by Cam Newton with 71 yards rushing. Along with DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart both gaining 50+ yards on the ground, all 4 of the Panthers running threats of Newton, Williams, Stewart and FB Mike Tolbert, were able to score. On the day, the Panthers totalled 219 rushing yards and look to continue that on Thursday Night Football vs. the visiting Giants.

On defense, the Panthers were able to slowly strangle Drew Brees, pressuring him, disrupting him and forcing him into 2 interceptions; one of those a pick 6 to Panthers safety Charles Godfrey. The Panthers shut TE Jimmy Graham down in the 2nd half and held WR Marques Colston to 1 reception, late in the game. The only success Brees had was checking down to RB Darren Sproles, who finished with 10 receptions. The defence was able to help the offense take advantage of the field position and with the running game and read option working like a well oiled machine, the Panthers controlled the game at their tempo, keeping Brees on the sideline, worrying about where he was going to get hit from next. If the Panthers can consistent play solid D, the unit and team will go places.

Goat of the Week:

The NFL and their continuing effort to wreck the game’s integrity.

I could also put the replacement referee crew of week 2’s games here but I won’t because the referees themselves aren’t at fault. They’re doing the best they can, under extreme pressure and unbelievable circumstances where they just can’t keep up with the speed of a NFL game. Embarrassing for all to watch, if the NFL doesn’t feel red faced from MNF alone and the debacle that was the 3 & 1/2 hour game, then I don’t know what will force them to do something.

Honourable Mentions:

Jay Cutler. Stop pouting and take it like a leader and man should. Enough with the excuses.  

Josh Morgan: Seriously. You throw a football at a guys groin in front of the referee late in the game and exactly.. what were you thinking? How old are you again? And how are you not cut yet?!

Rookie of the Week:

Who needs Luck to get his first win?

Congrats rookie. Luck lead the rebuilding Colts to a 1-1 record with a win over the Vikings, throwing for 221 yards on 20/31 passes, 2 TDs and no picks for a passer rating of 107.5. It was Adam Vinateri that clinched the winner with a 53 yard FG, with 8 seconds left but it was the new face of the Indianapolis franchise that steered the new-look Colts to the W. After Minnesota had tied it up thanks to a 6 yard Kyle Rudolph score, Luck marched the Colts 45 yards in 23 seconds, with back to back 20-yard completions before drawing the defence off-side, and then spiking the ball. On a day when we wondered what RG3 would do, I was wondering what Luck would do and as luck would have it, the rookie certainly didn’t look like a player who had been drafted 1st overall in April. Most impressive was his ability to allude defenders and still be poised to make the play. Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see which rookie QB fares better.

Quote of the Week:

Ray Lewis, on the passing of NFL Films legend Steve Sabol.

“I think young kids in this business … really need to understand the impact that Steve Sabol had. We lost a great pioneer a few days ago with Art Modell and now lose another one. These men had a vision to do something great. The beautiful thing about what they were doing is it wasn’t for them, they had a vision to expand our league to expand our game and to expand our brand.”

When Ray speaks, I listen. Kids of today, take note.

Upset of the Week:

Cardinals over Patriots, at Foxboro.

Quiz question for $200: When was the last time the Patriots lost a home opener? 2002. Bonus round. What year is it currently? 2012. Show them what they’ve won Doug.

That’s right, a fantastic upset in Boston. And what a bit of a snore-fest it was to begin with. New England QB Tom Brady struggled and the Cardinals did their usual thing of not scoring. Both defences were holding their own and looked to be a New England win after Cardinals RB Ryan Williams fumbled in the crucial stages of the 4th with the Pats recovering the fumble with 1 minute to play. However, TE Rob Gronkowski was called for holding on a Danny Woodhead 30 yard TD run. New England were able to gain 6 yards before Brady spiked it where the Pats would settle for the FG try. And that’s when kicker Stephen Gostkowski shanked the 42 yard attempt; his first missed FG of the day after going 4/4. The Cardinals had escaped victorious by 2 points and Ryan Williams breathed a sigh of relief. In all honesty, he could’ve gone in my GOAT column, and so could’ve Gostkowski.. but both teams made so many bad plays it’s hard to just pin it on the one mistake.

Disappointing Team of the Week:

Dallas Cowboys.

I expected better from you. Actually, not really. But I should’ve known better than to tip you. Kudos to the Hawks though, for taking care of business. Couldn’t be happier for Wilson and Lynch in Seattle, as well that fearsome defensive backfield.

Top Plays of the Week:

Eric Wright, Pick 6 vs. the Giants.

Bucs DB Eric Wright’s pick of Eli Manning’s pass with 20 seconds remaining in the first half was impressive enough as he caught the bullet from Manning from about 5 yards away. From there, it’s like watching a Div 1 player go against a Div III team as Wright makes some incredible moves to get down the sideline and score.

Tom Crabtree, Fake FG Reception vs. the Bears.

It was Thursday Night Football and both teams were struggling to get anything going offensively. Enter, Tom Crabtree. Backup TE. With punter Tim Masthay holding for kicker Mason Crosby, Masthay would take the snap and shovel pass to Crabtree who took it from the left guard to the right tackle, straight up and the gut of the Bears D for a 27 yard TD that would spark the Packers into a beating of Jay Cutler’s Bears.

Honorable Mentions: Eagles TE Brent Celek for his ‘white-men-CAN-jump’ leap over Ravens safety Ed Reed, Reggie Bush’s impressive 23 yard TD run & Bengals WR Andrew Hawkins’ 50 yard TD catch and evade vs. the Browns.  

(For more “Plays of the Week”, click here to go to NFL.com.)

Hardest Hit of the Week:

Golden Tate on Sean Lee, Seahawks vs. Cowboys.

Boom. Cowboys Sean Lee gets layed out by a WR. ..Wait, what?

WR takes out a LB. Golden Tate, take a bow. Hines Ward would be proud. That’s how I want my WR’s to block when or my Panthers RBs are running up-field. Way to help the team and fire up the crowd. Lights out.

Headline of the Week:

NFL Films President Steve Sabol Passes Away

Worst-Play-of-the-Week:

Phantom PI Call on Steelers DB Ike Taylor.

Seriously. How?

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap1000000062826/What-were-the-refs-calling

Ryan Clark comes in to lay Santonio Holmes out over the middle, like an safety should. The hit is clean, Taylor makes no contact and in fact loses Holmes before Holmes makes the catch and then proceeds to fall backwards, courtesy of Clark. It doesn’t take much for these replacement referees. Apparently asking for a penatly now results in the request being granted. Either way, you Mr. Ref get the Worst Play of the Week.

That’s it for Week 2 of the NFL Season already. Hard to believe but week 3 is just around the corner as we look towards Thursday night’s blockbuster NFC clash of the New York Giants visiting the Carolina Panthers.

Stay tuned for my preview of that game and more.

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Remembering Steve Sabol: NFL Films Storyteller

Let me be clear. If there’s one thing that you read today, let it be this:

Steve Sabol is the reason why you watch the NFL.

Steve Sabol

Steve Sabol, co-founder of NFL Films passed away Tuesday, aged 69.

You may argue that it was your dad who introduced you to the game, maybe you fell in love with the game through playing it in school or heck it may have even been Madden 2003 with Marshall Faulk gracing the cover.

Ultimately though, it was Steve Sabol who reached out through that TV and pulled you into the game, where you stood for the first time with wide eyes, unable to take your eyes off the poetry in motion that was unfolding before you.

Steve Sabol wanted people to “See the reality, not as an instant replay but rather as a motion film.” It was this kind of vision and creative genius that along with his father, helped revolutionise sports broadcasting and the way that we saw the game.

Today we mourn the loss of Steve Sabol, who passed away at the age of 69; 2 weeks shy of his 70th birthday after an 18 month battle with brain cancer.

However, although we mourn the loss of the loss we should also celebrate the life of the long-time president and mastermind of NFL Films. And what a life it has been for the brilliant cinematic mind of Sabol, who was undoubtedly the heart beat of NFL Films.

In an interview (as seen in Peter King’s SI column on Sabol here) Sabol spoke of his life and legacy.

“So they talk about heaven, and I don’t know what is waiting for me up there. But I can tell you this: Nothing will happen up there that can duplicate my life down here. That life cannot be better than the one I’ve lived down here, the football life. It’s been perfect.”

Perfect indeed. Just like the product he produced on film. There wasn’t a detail Steve would miss. A lineman’s taped up hands covered in mud, blood dripping from a broken nose. The smallest detail, helped paint the picture for the story he wanted to tell and we’ll never see someone like Sabol again; that much is certain.

His genius, his artistry and vision with the camera, his talent with the sound, writing, directing, editing.. it all helped transform what we see before us on Sunday. For more than half a century, he put his heart, his soul into NFL Films and he created a legacy that will always be remembered.

To better paint the picture of the man, here is a perfect clip from the very network that wouldn’t be possible without Steve’s decades of countless work.

http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-videos/0ap2000000063280/Remembering-Steve-Sabol

Steve, as an art history major at Colorado College and an All-American running back, was able to entwine the 2 seamlessly, as if it was something that had always gone together. But up until NFL Films, America had not known such storytelling, especially in relation to sports.

It was the 1962 Championship Game, Packers vs. Giants at Yankee Stadium. Steve’s father Ed, who had founded Blair Motion Pictures, had won the rights to film the game, at a cost of $3,000.

Steve recalled the moment he received a call from his father, after winning the bid. “I see from your grades that you’ve been doing nothing but playing football and watching movies,” Sabol told his son. “But that makes you uniquely qualified for this new position I have in mind.”

Steve took the field on that blistery, cold day as a cameraman. The elements were so strong, team benches blew over during the game and cameramen from TV networks had to defrost their lenses with bonfires in the dugouts. One cameraman suffered frostbite. It was truly a horrid day, but a beautiful beginning as the birth of NFL Films. It was the game that impressed then NFL Commissioner Pete Rozell, who asked the owners of the NFL to purchase Ed Sabol’s company. It was then, that NFL Films was born, co-founded by Ed and Steve.

Jim Taylor

From there the Sabol’s brought in Sam Spence to compose the iconic NFL Films soundtracks that would play over the clips of legendary running backs charging towards the camera in slow motion or players standing on the sidelines, the cold air visible through their facemask. On top of Spence, the team added John Facenda – the man with the voice of silk. As Ed Sabol said, he could make reading a shopping list sound like the Declaration of Independence. To NFL fans, he is known as “The Voice of God.” Facenda’s soothing baritone voice was the perfect match for the dramatic nature of the footage he narrated.

And it was Facenda himself who famously read a poem written by Steve Sabol. Titled, “The Autumn Wind” which described the Autumn weather of the football season, it’s also known as the “Battle Hymn of the Raider Nation.”

http://www.nfl.com/videos/a-football-life/09000d5d8235036b/A-Football-Life-The-son-the-sound-the-symphony

(If watching those clips I’ve linked above doesn’t give you goose bumps, nothing in the NFL on Sunday will.)

The way in which Ed and Steve worked together as a team, was remarkable. But it was Steve, who helped innovate and orchestrate the footage. He would chronicle characters, deftly describe a play with slow motion, convey emotion with a composition as well as humour, just like a Hollywood film; just like a storyteller would.

“We see the game as art as much as sport,” Steve Sabol told The Associated Press when his father was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.

People were only watching football. Then Steve came along with his eye for detail, his love of film, football, art and with a work ethic and passion that no one could match, he moulded a product that helped teach us about the game, more so than anyone else ever could.

He introduced slow motion and reverse angle replays, close up shots of players. There was the close up shot of the pigskin in the air (labelled “Tight as a Spiral” shot.) There were microphones on players, coaches, along the sidelines to pickup the sounds of the game as well as sideline chatter. NFL Films also featured the home team’s radio broadcast dubbed over the film, as the radio commentators tended to convey more passion.

With the dramatic orchestra soundtrack by Spence, the deep voice of Facenda (and later Harry Kalas) it was like combining ballet and football onto the small screen.

Sabol also helped us take the game less seriously and help show it for what it was.. a game. We were able to laugh at football (and at first, made coaches scorn as the footage made them “look like chumps”) with the Follies series, which debuted in the late 60s and was proven to be a popular staple of the NFL Films product.

No doubt, Sabol leaves behind a legacy.

Commissioner of the NFL Roger Goodell released this statement on the passing of Sabol:

“Steve Sabol was the creative genius behind the remarkable work of NFL Films. Steve’s passion for football was matched by his incredible talent and energy. Steve’s legacy will be part of the NFL forever. He was a major contributor to the success of the NFL, a man who changed the way we look at football and sports, and a great friend.”

 A true icon, Steve wanted to be the best. Master his art. In his own words, he wanted to “bring an understanding, to something that has already been seen; to bring creative treatment, to reality.”

What started as a father’s dream, became a reality because of his son. I for one am thankful for Steve, Ed and the NFL Films team that pioneered the way we see football. Without their hard work, their talent, leadership and brilliance, I believe the NFL would not be as popular as it is in 2012.

Throughout his career, Steve has won over 40 Emmy awards himself for writing cinematography, editing, directing and producing. NFL Films as a company, has won over 100 Emmys since its 1962 establishment.

Steve and Ed both received the Lifetime Achievement Emmy from the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 2003 & Ed Sabol, was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year as a contributor to the game.

I  would love to see Steve in there posthumously, as he is above any other player in deserving such an honour and should be right there with his father. I believe the NFL would put him there in a heartbeat, but that will be up to the Pro Hall of Fame committee to decide what’s best for the man who embodied exactly what ‘A Football Life’ is.

Steve is survived by his wife Penny, his son Casey, his parents Audrey and Ed, and his sister Blair. Rest in Peace.

If you love reading up on Steve or NFL Films and want to read some other fantastic articles on those very subjects, here’s a few links worth checking out: 

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2012/writers/peter_king/09/18/steve-sabol/index.html?sct=nfl_t12_a0

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1165530/1/index.htm

http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2012/03/26/Champions/Sabol.aspx

http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap1000000063659/article/the-nfl-world-reacts-to-passing-of-steve-sabol?module=HP11_hot_topics

 Enjoy.

Steve is back to being Steve again.

Credit: Carolinahuddle.com

I love Steve Smith.

I have been one of his biggest fans ever since I started following football & the Carolina Panthers as a teenager. He is actually part of what drew me to the Panthers. And for that alone Steve, I thank you.

Smitty, as he is known to many, has intrigued me since day 1 & still, every Sunday he amazes and leaves myself & others, in disbelief. Every Sunday, he brings it. Every play, he gives his 110% with the same fierce, fire, intensity and determination that makes him one of the most dangerous wide receivers in the league today. On any given play, he can turn a defense inside out.

He is electrifying, mesmerizing, a freak in a league of athletic monsters. He is passionate, he has swagger and he wears his heart on his sleeve as we’ve come to learn and respect. He is often outspoken, always great for a quote or a sound bite. He yaps, but he backs up his talk with his on-field play. He is definitely not someone you’d want to cross the wrong way but also, one of those guys you’d want with you walking down a dark alley at night for protection.

At 32, he is on the downside of his career yet here he is, leading the NFC in receiving yards with 918 receiving yards, 2nd in the NFL only to Wes Welker after the bye week. He has 46 receptions for a 20 yard per catch average and 4 receiving TDs to go along with his average of 114.8 yards a game. He has been revitalized by rookie sensation Cam Newton, after having Jake Delhomme and numerous band-aid QBs throw to him over his career. Finally, after Delhomme he has a QB that can get him the ball and put in a position where he can make a defense hurt with one move. He can run any route, crossing over the middle daring the defense to lay a lick on him (only making him madder, which if you ask DeAngelo Hall, Fred Smoot or any CB in the league, never ends well) or a smoke screen pass that turns into a 20 yard gain, stiff-arming defenders along the way or, the deep ball which Smith has caught a lot of this season with 4 catches over 40 yards and 19 catches over 20 yards.

After a nightmare season in 2010 with another rookie QB throwing to him, as well as Matt Moore, the Panthers struggled and stalled, and so did Smith’s season. Many though Smith had lost a step, was done and on the verge of leaving town with him almost being traded. Smith ended up with 46 catches for 554 yards and 2 TD’s. This season to date, he has the same amount of receptions, almost double the yards and double the TDs. No doubt 2011 will be a big rebound season and will land him a nomination for Comeback Player of the Year – an award he’s already won once after breaking his leg in 2004-05, only to win the triple receiving crown the following season.

Many believe that had Steve Smith had Tom Brady throwing to him (or any elite QB), he’d be a Hall of Famer right now. Maybe, but I also believe that his career in Carolina has served him well and made him a better player. Had he been in New England or Indianapolis, he may never have seen the 2005-06 season that he did, becoming one of the many few WRs in NFL history to win the triple crown of receiving. (Most yards, most receptions and TDs in a season.) Smith is on his way to becoming a Hall of Famer, but he’ll need to hit a few marks and check off a few boxes before then.

Already, his season is getting praise, much due to the play of QB, one who can feed him the ball and put him a position to make a play and do his thing. And the media is taking notice of all that. Outlets and websites are talking about his possible Hall of Fame entrance one day, and SI’s Peter King has him on the Mid-season All Pro team at WR along with Wes Welker & Calvin Johnson. He’s probably not the only one. No doubt, he’s well on his way to another Pro Bowl and probably numerous other awards. But it’s not new to Smith and it won’t be the last time he grabs the spotlight for his work on field.

Smitty is currently ranked 37th in career receiving yards in NFL history with 9,802 yards.  There are currently 5 active players are ahead of him: Hines Ward, Derrick Mason, Reggie Wayne, Chad Ochocinco and Falcons TE and future Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez. None of those players except Gonzalez is a lock to make the Hall.

If Smith wins a Super Bowl ring, it’ll be heavily taken into consideration by the panel. Wayne and Ward both have rings, Mason has consistently put up steady numbers but has always been under the radar as a top WR and Ochocinco’s career was similar to Smith’s until the past few seasons where his career has appeared to stall and his career is all but on the downside. This group of players is in the category of “Almost.. but needs more work.” Give each of these players a few more seasons to check off criteria boxes and they may move up the future Hall of Famers list.

With Cam Newton at QB, Smitty has already said in numerous interviews that he wants to play another 3 or 4 years and with the way he takes care of himself, he definitely could. With Newton throwing to him, he could continue to post 1000+ yards for the next 4 or so years, potentially adding on 4,000-5,000 yards to his career numbers. Those kind of numbers will move him past 10,000 yards and up the list of already enshrined/future Hall of Fame players. Even if he moves to the slot, the connection that Smith and Newton have will continue to grow in the future seasons.

After QB Jake Delhomme, Smith struggled to connect with new QBs who came in to fill Jake’s shoes. Matt Moore, Jimmy Clausen and a host of other 3rd string fill-ins who played QB while the injured and the just plain awful QBs who were supposed to be ‘the future’ instead made the Panthers decide to draft Newton 1st overall. The connection and relationship Smitty and Jake had on and off the field, was almost like man-love. A tough ask, it wasn’t until Newton came in this offseason that the old man and the new guy started to get along like a house on fire. So far, the bond that has been made has been special, reminiscent of the Jake-Steve connection that lead Carolina to a couple of playoff appearances including Super Bowl 38. The connection of fiery, angry, passionate, chip-on-the-shoulder Smith and Jake, the gunslingin’ country boy from Louisiana who made his way into the league in similar fashion to Kurt Warner, from NFL Europe and backup to starter in a Super Bowl.

Now it’s Cam and Steve and so far, the results speak for themselves. An uncanny duo, one would think before the season started that perhaps Newton’s favorite target would be a TE or a slot receiver. But the rookie made a connection with 89 often and early, with the 2 working out during the summer. One thing that impressed Smith of Cam was his work ethic and his up-bringing; the support from his father Cecil – something coach Ron Rivera has praised often too of the young QB. Both players are similar, yet so different. Smith is 5-9, Newton is 6-5 but is probably closer to 6-6 and they’re birthdays are 1 day apart in May; Smith is May 12, Newton is May 11. Both want to win and are the face of the franchise. Both have that hunger, that drive; the work ethic. They both have their haters, but they also have a very large following. If the rest of the team can improve and get it together in the next couple of seasons, look for Newton and Smith to be the next big duo in the NFL, leading the way and helping Smith become a legit Hall of Fame candidate.

Right now though, Smith is on track to break Jerry Rice’s single season receiving record of 1848 receiving yards. No doubt, he’ll have some stiff competition from Welker who is also having an outstanding season with New England. Smith has to get 930 yards in the back end of the season while Welker only needs 60 yards less. The Patriots offense has struggled at times this season & if they really get going, watch out. However, they’ll be playing in severe weather conditions later on in the season which could hurt Welker’s chances. The Panthers however will be mainly around in the south and in domes, helping Smith’s chances. Another factor could be that the Panthers defense isn’t the greatest, so if they get behind in games, it will make the offense have to air it out and games could turn into a shootout, which again helps both Newton & Smith’s yards. Good news for fantasy players this season if you have either Brady & Welker or Newton & Smith.

Smith could potentially, hit 2000 yards if he increases his current pace of 100 plus yards per game to at least 135.25 over the next 8 games. He already has 7 100 yard receiving games this year, but will need to turn those 100 yard games into 150, 180 yard games if he has any chance of hitting 2k yards. He’ll probably have to have a 200 yard game at some point, or at least a few 160-180 yard games to close the gap. Rice had a huge game when he had 14 catches for 289 yards vs. the Vikings in ’95, helping him hit the 1,848 yards he had for the record-making season. While it may sound out of reach & realistically it probably is, it does say something about the current trend in the NFL with so many QBs and WRs putting up big numbers & having 2 great receivers on track to come close or even maybe surpass the great Jerry Rice and his single-season record.

But this season should come as no surprise to you if you know the Steve Smith story. Fact is, there’s not much more I can tell you that will surprise you. Just in case you don’t know the full story, here’s a brief recap of one of the most underrated wide receivers in the NFL.

Drafted in the 3rd round out of Utah, the 5 foot 9 wide receiver came into the league as a returner, a specialist and his and the legend was born the first time he touched the ball in the NFL, as he took it back the other way for a 99 yard TD return in the Metrodome vs. the Vikings. That rookie season, he made the Pro Bowl as a returner.  As soon as Panthers GM Marty Hurney drafted him, they knew they had something special. It wasn’t until a few seasons later when he began to develop into a wide receiver, that the fruits of labor began to show. Soon, he was a #1 receiver. With Jake Delhomme at QB the Panthers would make a trip to the big dance in 2003-04, with Smith’s play at WR along with Panthers legend, Muhsin Muhammad and veteran wide receiver Ricky Proehl (now an offensive assistant with the Panthers). Smith helped his status as an elite WR when he caught a beautifully thrown TD pass from Delhomme in Super Bowl 38 vs. the Patriots and went on to have a monster game. His legend actually began in the Divisional Playoffs a couple of weeks earlier vs. the Rams, when Smith caught a 69 yard TD pass from Delhomme in double OT, the play famously dubbed “X-Clown” where Smith can be seen, arms outstretched as he ran into the endzone.

Following the huge 2003-04 season, Smith then went onto suffer a broken leg in week 1 action vs. the Green Bay Packers, ending his season for 2004-05. Muhsin Muhammad went onto having a fantastic year in Smith’s absence, however Smith more than made up for it in 2005-06 when he helped the Panthers reach the NFC Conference Championship, leading the NFL in all receiving categories and getting All-Pro and Pro Bowl nominations as well as co-Comeback Player of the Year (with LB Tedy Bruschi.) From there his legend grew and grew. A top fantasy stud, he continued to have solid seasons in ’06, ’07 and then had another breakout season in 2008 as he helped steer the Panthers back to the playoffs. Following that he had solid seasons until 2010 as he had his worst statistical season and the Panthers went 2-14.

And then 2011 happened and we sit here, talking about Smitty as a possible Hall of Fame candidate & for Panthers fans like myself, it’s a great thing to see 89 dominating again. We know the story, we know the journey. We know his talent level and what he’s had to overcome. His incidents, his past. We felt sorry for him, having to go through last season as we all felt it. We don’t blame him asking for a trade. But then you see the kind of player he is, the kind of teammate he is to the rookie QB and even though the team only has 2 wins in 2011, Smith is back and having fun. He’s going out there, making plays as if he’s just a kid playing some ball in the park. The competitive fire still burns and like it’s been said before, Newton has been a fountain of youth for Smith who is still troubling defenses who now can’t commit 2 or 3 guys to Smith because of the threat of Newton who can hurt you with his arms or legs. Now it’s a different offense and it’s one that is tailor-made for Smith and if he keeps on doing what he’s doing and putting up astronomical numbers and helping Carolina win along the way, then we couldn’t be happier as fans of the Panthers and of Smith.

During the last game vs. the Vikings, Smith had a controversial and costly holding penalty against him as Newton scrambled to get the ball into the endzone. The Panthers were driving, down by 3 and needed a FG to tie it. Smith blocked a defender, before running to take out another as Newton dove, trying to break the plane of the endzone. He was called on the first block, a hold. The Panthers eventually settled for a FG, a 31-yard chip shot only to have Olindo Mare shank it wide. The Panthers lost and Smith gladly vented to the media afterwards about the call. In a few words he said, “..for a 70-year-old man gimping down the field, I guess that’s what the ref saw.”

Classic Steve. Classic 89. That’s the bottom line.

As far as I’m concerned, Smitty has given a lot to this team and will continue to do so. As a veteran and a leader, I for one applaud him for telling it like it is & frankly, he can say whatever he wants to say. We need guys like him, keeping us on our toes and being blatantly honest in a league full of political correctness and pussy-footing. If every guy had the fight, the tenacity the passion and love for this game that he does, the game would be in a better place. He only wants the right calls made and he knows the referees missed a call there that should’ve been put down to a football play. Just let them play, in those instances. But hey, that’s football in 2011 and we’ll agree to disagree. Removing my homer glasses for a second, we can’t really sit here and say that Smith should’ve made it a legal block. As a professional football player, he’ll tell you until the day he dies that that was a legal block & he’s probably right.

But like I said, that’s Steve Smith for you. As long as he is yapping and getting angry – doing what he does best with that swagger of his every Sunday, then all you can do is watch and enjoy the rollecoaster ride of emotions that he’ll take you along for.

Who knows how many fights Steve Smith has left in him. Who knows how many yards, how many seasons he has left. All we know is that he is a damn good football player who is underrated, under appreciated and has been since he was drafted into this league.

He’ll still carry the chip on his shoulder, even when he stands up there at Canton as his bust is unveiled. He’ll still carry the chip, because people love to hate on 89. But he’s used to it. He’s used to getting back up after a big hit from a LBer after he crosses over the middle, spinning the ball celebrating a first down. He’s used to owning DBs and LBs, literally knocking them on their rear as he continues to show that he has one of the nastiest stiff-arms in the NFL. He is used to it all, even after 11 NFL seasons.

That’s just Steve Smith in a nutshell. Chip on the shoulder with that swagger, used to showing the doubters wrong, used to putting on a show every Sunday.

And for that alone; for that entertainment that you provide us Steve, I once again thank you.

From every Panthers fan worldwide, we thank you for being you, for being special and for giving us your all, for giving us hope for the future.. for giving us greatness.

I for one can’t wait to see how the rest of 2011 turns out for Smitty. But watch closely because it may just be record-breaking.

Panthers Game Grades & Notes – Week 8

Carolina Panthers (2-6) vs. Minnesota Vikings (1-7)

Bank of America Stadium, November 30th 2011.

Overall Offense: B

The Panthers had a solid game plan under offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and managed to score 21 points through the air, however several key penalties and a string of 3 & outs in the 2nd, allowed the Vikings back in the game, rather than keeping Adrian Peterson on the sidelines which would have helped out a shotty defense. The Panthers offense did a good job holding the ball for 28 minutes, had a nice 50% 3rd down efficiency rate and were able to make some big plays at key moments. However, they didn’t quite score enough and made too many mistakes for the grade to be any better than a B.  

Quarterbacks: B

Cam Newton had an outstanding game against a tough Vikings defense. He threw for 290 yards and 3 TDs with no interceptions for a QB rating of 117.6, including a nice pass to Brandon LaFell on 4th down, gaining 44 yards on the play as they drove to tie the game in the 4th quarter. He added 53 yards on 6 carries including a 24 yard scamper in the 3rd quarter. However amongst the good, Newton was sacked 3 times and lost the ball twice on fumbles.

Running Backs: C

Jonathan Stewart & DeAngelo Williams continue to be an efficient duo, capable of either having their own big day out or helping Newton move the chains. On this day, they were merely helping move the chains with Stew gaining 49 yards on 13 carries and DeAngelo rushing for 26 on 7 attempts. Combined, they only managed 3.8 ypc and although they look explosive at times, the offense needs more balance & Double Trouble need more carries. If they can do that, Cam will have less on his shoulders & the Panthers can control the clock and game more. Steve Smith also added a nice end around play for 12 yards, in which he owned Cedric Griffin via a nasty stiff arm.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B

3 passing TDs from Newton: 2 to TE’s and 1 to Steve Smith. What a day to be a Panthers receiver. Shockey finally got his 1st TD as a Panther vs. the Vikes on a 1 yard pass – his only reception for the day.  Not wanting to have Greg Olsen feel left out, Newton hit Olsen on a streak, straight down the middle for a 39 yard TD catch, totaling 73 yards for the day on 4 receptions. Smith continues to be a threat every time he touches the ball, having another big day with big plays, catching 7 balls for 100 yards, including a nice catch and run 22 yard TD. However despite the good, Legedu Naanee and Smith had key holding calls that would’ve changed the game and apart from LaFell’s 44 yard 4th down catch, the supporting cast of receivers didn’t do much.

Offensive Linemen: D

The offensive line had a forgettable day out. While they kept Newton clean for most of the afternoon, they allowed 3 sacks including 2 key fumbles (that they were unable to recover both times) that allowed the Vikings back in the game. Tackle Jordan Gross, in All-Pro form, was beaten twice on one play by DE Jared Allen. First for the sack, then on the recovery of the ball. The Panthers line also failed to open up holes for the Panthers RB duo of Stewart and Williams, only averaging 3.8 ypc on the ground. Penalties also killed the Panthers, an area that the line and the team in general needs to clean up over the next few weeks.

Overall Defense: D

The Panthers scored a D, because they simply allowed the Vikings to run over them in the 2nd half. Defensive coordinator Sean McDermott had a good plan and in the 1st half, it was executed well, holding RB Adrian Peterson. But through the defenses and offenses fault, the D stayed on teh field too long as the game wore on and holes opened up for the Vikings offense, allowing Peterson and rookie QB Christian Ponder to control the game. Although the Panthers did a good job pressuring Ponder and forcing several mistakes, in the end they couldn’t stop the Vikes offense enough to keep the lead. Signs of improvement are little consolation for this D.

Defensive Linemen: B

The defensive line was one of the bright spots for the D, helping keep Ponder in check and helping to hold Peterson to only 86 yards on the ground, with a 15 yard TD run being the longest allowed. The combination of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy again gave the Vikes offensive line fits, with Johnson racking up another sack & 2 more QB pressures, along with rookie Terrell McClain. Hardy didn’t have a sack, but knocked the ball down once, almost picking off one of those. The front 4 disrupted Ponder enough into mistakes, and played lights out at times, forcing the Vikings to go 3 & out 7/14 times. Honorable mention to DE Antwan Applewhite, played a solid game and has been playing well for a while.

Linebackers: D

The Vikings had the Panthers linebackers running around all day and although they kept the Vikings offense in check in the 1st half, they eventually grew tired and cracks appeared. LB Omar Gaither had a solid game and had to play more once LB Thomas Williams went down with a neck injury early in the game. Gaither finished with 7 solo tackles and a sack, James Anderson added 7 tackles with 4 solo stops, and Dan Connor only made 2 stops. The group was out of position at times, especially when they were sucked up in blocks on Adrian Peterson’s screen pass TD in the 2nd quarter. The LBs also couldn’t stop Peterson at the goal line, allowing him to rumble in for a 9 yard run, and couldn’t stop Percy Harvin from scoring up the middle in the 1st. Toby Gerhart was also popping off nice runs (26 on 5 carries) until he went out with an injury – a relief for the defense at that point. The LBs (and safeties) had trouble containing Ponder’s safety valves of TE’s Visanthe Shiancoe & Kyle Rudolph who picked up some nice gains that helped the Vikings keep the ball moving. Overall, this group is hurting and more injuries are just wearing on this group and the defense.

Secondary: C

The secondary didn’t have a bad day compared to the linebackers, especially Captain Munnerlyn. Munnerlyn was everywhere, on special teams he was covering kicks like a demon and on D, he helped contain the Ponder passing attack. He had a key strip of Percy Harvin inside the 10, wrestling the ball from Harvin’s grip and showing the tenacity you know coach Ron Rivera loves. He also added a sack on a blitz, jumping Ponder from behind. Safety Sherrod Martin had a game to forget, all over the place and not in a good way. He couldn’t wrap Peterson up at the goal line, allowing him to spin out of the tackle and score. Charles Godfrey had 9 stops and several good ones on RB Peterson. Chris Gamble struggled against Percy Harvin at times, especially in the 4th when he missed a tackle on Harvin that kept the Vikes drive alive to get the game-winning FG.  Overall, the unit held the key guys in Ponder 18/28 for 236 and Harvin to 58 yard on 4 catches, however the Vikes were efficient enough to get enough points to win. The Panthers could’ve done with defensive back Darius Butler, who had to miss the game to be with his daughter, who had open heart surgery. (She’s expected to make a full recovery.)

Overall Special Teams: F

When the game starts out with a 78 yard kickoff return by the Vikings and ends with a missed 31-yard FG attempt by Olindo Mare, the unit is headed for a F – no matter what they do in between. Panthers kick returner Kealoha Pilares fumbled twice, recovering both and didn’t do much else in returning the ball. Armanti Edwards fielded the ball well and picked up minimal yards on punt returns. The kick coverage team forced the ball inside the 10 a couple of times, helping out the D with field position and punter Jason Baker had a solid day, not making any glaring mistakes.

Overall Coaching: C

Coach Ron Rivera has this group in the right direction, no doubt. They’ve been competitive in every game, taken it to some of the better teams in the leagues and for a young group with several key injuries, they’re doing better than a lot of people originally thought. This game was winnable, as were a few earlier in the season. But that’s the mark of a young team. Penalties, errors.. things that good teams eliminate so in that same situation, they win rather than come away with an ‘almost win.’ Against the Vikings, the Panthers had a good gameplan on both sides and were able to execute for the most part. After the 2nd half, the Vikings controlled the game on both sides and without that lull in the 3rd, the Panthers probably would’ve won the game. Small things, finishing drives rather than go 3 & out – are marks of a young team. The D was on the field way too long in the 2nd half (another mark of a young team & a patchwork D) and no doubt the Panthers need some help at LB and possibly another DB, whether late this season or next season. The Panthers are yet to play a complete game, with special teams being the main problem this time around. Overall, hard to criticize the coaches except when Rivera decided to end the 1st half and let the clock run out, rather than try a FG (which in the end, would’ve tied the game & changed the outcome.) Execution is the main problem with this group, and the Panthers have the bye week to work that and any other kinks out before Tennessee in week 10.

Game ball:

Cam Newton: Played an almost mistake free game, was poised in the pocket, used his legs and helped move the chains and put points on the board. Leads from the front, helps Smith get his 100 and drove the team down the field in the final seconds, doing all he could to help get a win.

Stats: 22/35 for 290 yards, 3 TDs, O interceptions, 117.6 QB rating & 6 carries for 53 yards and 2 fumbles.

Goat of the Week: Olindo Mare: It should never come down to one play where the blame is laid upon just one guy, but it’s kind of his job. From 31 yards out, usually it’s a money kick. A chip shot. Almost an extra point attempt. One play is all the Panthers needed him to execute, and he choked – handing the Vikings a win rather than a chance to win in overtime, and dropping the Panthers to 2-6, heading into their bye week.

Stats: 0/1on field goals, 3/3 on extra points, 3 touchbacks.

Next up for Carolina: Bye week.

Sound FX: Ron Rivera and the Panthers:

Rivera loves him some Cam Newton. And when I say love, I mean l-o-v-e. Here

2 Minute Drill: Week 7 in Review:

What a weird and ‘off’ week it was in the NFL in week 7 action. But that’s the NFL for you. Any given Sunday, shit can happen. Or maybe it was simply a case of a lot of players had their attentions elsewhere.. maybe say, on the release of Battlefield 3? I would say the probability of that is 94%. I would also say I’m not qualified to make probability assessments, as my math teacher will tell you.

Story of the week was no doubt the Kansas City D shutting out the Raiders & Tim Tebow coming back vs. Miami after 55 minutes of crappy, un-NFL play.

Time to huddle up, and get this game winning drive going before week 8.

1st and 10 at the 20: What does this Tebow thing mean for the Broncos? No doubt he played well in the final 5 minutes, but it also leaves more questions than answers. He and the offense sucked for 55 minutes before getting lucky thanks to a variety of factors – the Dolphins D, great playcalling, and of course, luck. Not taking anything away from him, but he was hardly the hero people are making him out to be; any person who watches football would recognize that. You play hard for 60 minutes and things go your way.

How about those Chiefs? Or should I say, how about Carson Palmer & Kyle Boller, showing how not to play QB. Sheeesh. What a fail. But give credit where credit is due. The Chiefs have turned their season around. Initially, they were headed for a top 5 draft pick next April. Now, if they win on Monday Night Football vs. the Chargers, they’ll be tied for the lead in the AFC West. Their D shut the Raiders out last week and they haven’t allowed a point since the second quarter against Indy in Week 5. Pretty good for a team with this guy as coach..

Catch along the sidelines, out of bounds, 20 yard gain. Arian Foster is carrying the Texans. The kid is insane. No doubt, fantasy players will be picking him #1 or #2 in fantasy league next season. 100 yards on the ground and 100 receiving yards? Wow. This isn’t college, that’s not supposed to happen. But it did vs. the Titans as they killed them 41-7. Meanwhile, on the opposite sideline last week, CJ only rushed 10 times for 18 yards. He’s at 2.9 ypc this season, looks bad and despite his Oline, just isn’t playing good right now. But at least he got paid, right?! Right now, CJ2K is a prime candidate for our “Check the Carton Award” for ’11.

2nd down, 1 minute left, ball at the 50 yard line. How ’bout those Lions? First Shake Gate, now Ankle Gate. What is going on? Surely a gate salesman must be making a killing off the Lions weekly headline-stealing ways. 2 home losses, maybe the road will provide some redemption this week as they travel to the gateless Colorado wilderness to take on Tebow.

Think the Bucs are the NFL’s favourite team to embarrass on an international stage? The whipping boy, if you will. The Bucs are 0-2 across the pond. There was 35-7 slapping that the Pats gave them back in 2009 and then in week 7, they got bent over and given a reach around by Cutler and Bears. Think Raheem Morris & QB Josh Freeman are looking forward to never seeing Big Ben and Wembley ever again? It would probably serve them well to either avoid the trip altogether or learn how to win consistently like the Packers do.

Speaking of the Packers, no doubt they’re the best team in the NFL. Undefeated since about week 16 of last season, they’re on a roll like a fat kid rollerblading down a hill in San Francisco. Aaron Rodgers is well on his way to Peyton status, putting up impressive numbers and even cornier commercials. Watch your back Peyton.. oh wait, you can’t turn around because of the neck thing.. that’s right. My bad.

1st down, ball on the 40, 50 seconds left. Vikings rookie QB Christian Ponder looked more like a seasoned vet in his first start vs. the Packers last week, and faces another test vs. the Panthers stingy pass defense & fellow rookie QB Cam Newton.  He was one of 6 different QBs starting last week, and was one of the more impressive ones of the pack. His numbers don’t tell the full story (13/32 for 219 yards, 2 TDs & 2 picks) but it’ll only be a matter of time before he has the city of Minnesota fully behind him, much like the rookie QB on the opposite sidelines this week in Newton.

So that was a painful showing on MNF, for the players, coaches and everyone watching. Lists were being created about “Better things to do than watch MNF” and in the end, it was Del Rio’s men who outlasted the Ravens. The Jags won on the back of Josh Scobee’s leg and some good D that forced Joe Flacco to struggle. Although, it wasn’t just him putting the ball on the ground. Maurice Jones-Drew dropped and fumbled the ball more times than he had yards and Flacco couldn’t get a 1st down until the 2nd half. If Flacco doesn’t turn it around, he’s a real candidate for the “313 Check the Carton Award for 2011.”

With the Pro Bowl voting underway, the game and selection process is as irrelevant to actual play of players during the season as ever. Years ago, you knew if a guy went to 7 Pro Bowls, he was good. Now, an overrated lineman and household name RB like Chris Johnson will get selected, even though they don’t deserve to, snubbing a more worthy & deserving candidate. Early candidates for the popularity contest include Steve Smith, Wes Welker, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson, Matt Forte, Arian Foster and that’s not even getting into the defensive players. But guessing who goes right now is as silly as the voting process itself where voting should be done at seasons end.

3rd down, ball on the 30, 30 seconds. Think Curtis Painter is making Bill Polian and Jim Isray’s job easier about firing Jim Caldwell. Or maybe Isray should fire Polian for such shitty GM work. Just goes to show that building around 1 player all these years, never quite works out well in the end. No doubt the Colts have good players, but without their QB to operate the machine, the machine and system have fallen apart. When the Saints can hang 63 points on a NFL-caliber team like the Colts, is it saying more about the Saints ability to score or is it saying more about the Colts problems?

The Chargers screwed a W against the Jets with Plaxiglass nabbing 3 TDs, the Panthers could get on a 3 game winning streak, the Bills head to Toronto this week for more fun, Big Ben is ballin’ with a worn down Steelers team and..

TOUCHDOWN. Now onto our weekly awards.

313 Week 7 Awards:

So another week is again done & dusted as we hit the halfway point of the 2011-12 season. Before we jump onto week 8, here’s a quick recap on week 7 NFL action. What we liked, and what we didn’t like so much. (This is a quickened version of what will hopefully come a weekly roundup, earlier during the week.)

Offensive Player of the Week:

DeMarco Murray, RB – Dallas Cowboys

Anytime a guy can just come off the bench, put his helmet on the right way and then proceed to scamper for a franchise-best 253 yards, breaking Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith’s team record.. it’s a pretty good day and definitely award-worthy. Murray did just that in week 7 vs. the Rams, with a 91 yard TD run on his first carry of the game. Blame the Rams, credit the Cowboys and Murray.. whatever way you look at it, spin it or dissect it; it’s an impressive outing. Congrats DeMarco.

Defensive Player of the Week:

Brandon Flowers/Kansas City Chiefs D

You could argue that it’s all about individual performances that should go here but I have the blog so nah nah eat my shorts. The Chiefs D shutout the Raiders, a divisional foe and intercepted the Raiders 6 times on the day, harassing the Raiders offense with new QB Carson Palmer AT the Black Hole. Hard to do at home, at all let alone on the road in a hostile environment. But they did, and Flowers ended up with 2 picks (1 for a pick 6) on the day, shutting down the Raiders vertical passing game and adding 3 tackles on the day. An honourable mention to Chiefs LB Derrick Johnson, for his 13 tackle effort in helping the Chiefs shutout the Raiders. A couple of huge plays lead by Johnson in the 2nd quarters, thwarted the Raiders only real chance to score. A fantastic group effort.

Special Teams Player of the Week:

Red Bryant, DE – Seattle Seahawks.

Big Red gets the award this week, after showing up big time on Sunday in a loss to Cleveland. Look like his big offseason finally paid off. Blocked field goals are a rarity in the NFL, so when it happens twice some recognition needs to be shown to the big guy who got it done for his team (as much as possible without playing RB.) Bryant blocked a 24 yard chip shot and a 48 yarder, as well as adding 4 tackles, a half sack on D as well as an ejection for getting into it with Browns TE Alex Smith. Quite the eventful outing for what Hawks fans have dubbed a recent draft “bust.”

Coach of the Week:

Gary Kubiak, Houston Texans.

You could put Ron Rivera here, you could put Todd Haley here or even Jack Del Rio for his team’s gritty win on Monday Night Football, whilst being on the hot seat and most likely, the chopping block. But it was Kubiak against the Titans who enjoyed a nice offensive outing on the back of Arian Foster. A 41-7 win over the division rival Titans and the Texans look set to enjoy a playoff berth and maybe some postseason success, with the Colts, Jaguars and Titans falling behind the times in the AFC South and the Texans reaping the benefits.

Rookie of the Week:

Cam Newton, QB – Carolina Panthers

Once again, I could put a few young guys here. There are a few rookies deserving, Von Miller in Denver, Murray in Dallas and Ponder in Minnesota making his debut. But this week, it was again Cam Newton who lead the Panthers to  their 2nd victory over the Redskins, earning himself this award and the Panthers game ball. While statistically he wasn’t eye-popping, he still managed to throw for 256 yards for a TD, completing 78.3% but also (and this is a big also) rushing for 59 yards and 1 TD. On one of those rushes, he managed to avoid the entire Redskins defense after being flushed out of the pocket, and turn it into a gain of 25 yards before stepping out of bounds. With his feet doing the talking, he managed to still ignite Steve Smith and help the Panthers put up 33 points on the day.

Headline of the Week:

‘Blame Sparano for Tebowmania.’

 Quote of the Week:

“Glad to report my genitalia are in stable condition and expected to make a full recovery!”

– Packers lineman TJ Lang, tweeting after the game. Lang was stomped in the groin area by Vikings defensive end Brian Robson during an altercation.

Not-So-Great-Play of the Week:

Curtis Painter, QB, Colts.

Painter will probably be blamed for a lot of things.. the firing of Caldwell, the extended period of time that Peyton is out for, World War 3, Tim Tebow, Jersey Shore, constant world hunger and Fergie. But one thing he does deserve, is a down right slap upside the head for this play:

http://www.nfl.com/videos/auto/09000d5d8236989f/Painter-fumbles-snap

HE TOOK A SNAP TO THE FACE. TO. THE. FACE.

At least if you’re going to fumble the ball, make it worth while. Do what David Carr used to do.. run around in your own endzone for a while before going into turtle mode or do what Romo does when he fumbles.. tries to run with it before blaming the rookie centre. Come on Curtis, you’re better than that. You’re making Peyton upset and when Peyton gets upset, he makes more commercials. Noooo!

Surprising Team of the Week:

Jaguars defeating Baltimore on Monday Night Football

Disappointing Team of the Week:

The Lions Losing to the Falcons. I really, really, really don’t like Atlanta.

Bust of the Week:

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

And so that’s it for another week of awards and accolades. Now it’s onto week 8 of NFL action. Good luck to all your teams this week! Until next time, keep it crispy.

 

Carolina Panthers (1-4) at Atlanta Falcons (2-3) Preview:

Almost. Almost, but not quite.

One or two plays is all it takes in the NFL. A couple of plays here and there and a young team could be 4-1 rather than 1-4. But that’s the difference between the good teams in this league and the rebuilding ones that are still developing their team.

Not quite good enough, not quite ripe enough is how you can describe the Carolina Panthers season to date. A young team, hanging in games but not quite there yet. Not experienced enough to close out those close games, to finish drives and to put teams away.

And while they’re 1-4, there’s hope. Little consolation to the Panthers players and fans, but after going 2-14 last season with a QB carousel and numerous big questions looming over this team, the way Cam Newton and new head coach Ron Rivera have breathed life back into the team and the city of Charlotte, is something that must not be taken lightly.

When Ron Rivera was first hired and he put together his staff, I was excited. My thoughts were, it would take a couple of off-season’s to get this team turned around, from a John Fox team to a Rivera team. Players have to shake what they know and inhale a whole new system, a new philosophy and way of playing football. The X’s & O’s are basically the same, but it’s the way the team carries itself, the mindset, along with the roster – getting that to Rivera’s liking that would take it’s time.

No need to look any further than my good friend, the Detroit Lions. Look at where they’ve come from. A couple of seasons under Jim Schwartz and some solid offseasons of free agency and drafting and they’re sitting at 5 & freakin’ 0. The Motown is dancin’ in the streets and for good reason. That gives me hope, that a team that was once 0-16 or a team that was 2-14 can turn it around and get back to being a great, consistently good football team that fans will want to come and see, each and every Sunday. It just takes time. The team needs to gel, become experienced so in the redzone, they can put up 6 instead of 3. In the 4th quarter, they can comeback from 14 down to win by a TD. Less penalties, less coaching errors.. better play all around. Sharper, smoother; a well oiled machine.

The Panthers aren’t there yet. They’ve shown signs of a young team that should be capable in the future. For the most part, they’ve done as well as can be expected with a rookie head coach, quarterback and a defense full of band-aid players. They’ve done well to revitalize veteran All-Pro wide receiver Steve Smith, forgotten for a couple of seasons, now once again relevant as one of the best WRs in the game. He was always good, he just needed help getting the ball delivered. The Panthers have done well to produce 2 solid DE’s who through 5 games, have 9 sacks combined. It’s like Peppers and Rucker on the edge again (which I love.. all starts in the trenches.) The middle of the line has been the problem, with 2 rookies starting and other serviceable guys rotating in there. The linebackers and secondary have been hit hard by injury and have held their own against top passing offenses like Green Bay & New Orleans, despite giving up chunks of yards. They’ve done well to stay in games, but once again.. not good enough. And don’t even get me started on special teams play this season. However, like all areas as the season progresses.. improvement is showing.

This week the Panthers take their fantasy football road show into rival Georgia, down the I-85. The Panthers hope to finally put a complete game together of offense, coaching, defense and special teams against a struggling 2-3 Atlanta Falcons team.

This game should be a fantastic game. 2 dangerous teams, the Falcons coming off a home loss against the Packers and the Panthers coming off another close loss against another division rival in the Saints. Realistically, the game could go either way. The arm wrestle could come down to a field goal, rather than a shootout. Both offenses may struggle, or both defenses may fail. Always an entertaining game, let’s break it down a little more closely:

The quarterback situation for both teams is intriguing. Matty “Ice” Ryan’s ice has melted into a pool of murky, smelly (typical for the area) watery goo this season. With the tag of being overrated around the league, Ryan has struggled immensely this season, already throwing 6 interceptions (tied for 4th in the NFL with Carolina’s Newton), throwing 196 times (3rd in the NFL behind Drew Brees & Tom Brady) and only completing only 61.2% of his throws. With a QB rating of 79.9, he’s been sacked 14 times (tied for 6th, along with Eli Manning & Phil Rivers) and only has 13 plays of over 20+ yards – most to receiver Roddy White, who is tied for 2rd in the NFL in receptions with 32. Overall, not exactly a balanced offense, with star RB Michael Turner only getting the call on 84 carries, for an average of 4.3ypc. The Falcons have put 104 (20.8, ranked 19th) points on the board against opponents this season, but have allowed 130 points (26ppg, ranked 24th.)  No doubt, the Falcons could’ve won a few more games had the offense clicked, had there not been some key injuries and had Roddy White’s hands not been made of stone. (See, game vs. Bucs, week 3.)

On the injury front, the Falcons will be missing veteran lineman Todd McClure and rookie WR Julio Jones who is due to miss with a jamstring injury. (Not a typo, will let you think about that one.) They’ll also be missing star defensive end John Abraham, who’s out with a knee injury and no doubt would have been a thorn for the rookie Cam Newton.

But so far, everything Newton has faced, every defense he has seen (some good ones, including Capers’ Packers D, Gregg Williams dirty Saints D & Del Rio’s D in Jacksonville) the rookie has taken in stride and won the battle numerous times, even if the war itself wasn’t won in the end. An impressive start and unheard of, the Panthers QB who is gaining a cult-like following not only in Carolina but all over the US, is playing well above his age and expectations. What’s even more impressive is despite his multiple 300 & 400 yard games, he just wants to play football & win.

This week, he’ll face a Falcon D that ranks 24th in yards allowed per game, a passing D that is allowing 294.2 yards passing per game (ranked 28th) and a rushing D that has given up an average of 89.2 yards per game on the ground (6th in the NFL). The key for the rookie will be to help establish the run, get the D playing the run so later in the game, the pass is opened up with the safeties playing closer to the line of scrimmage, because of the run.

No doubt Panthers offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski will want a balanced offense as we’ve seen (except for the first few games, in which the Panthers went pass-happy) to keep the Falcons guessing. The Panthers need to control the time of possession and convert on 3rd down – something they’ve been improving upon, but need to get better in. Drew Brees and the Saints last week, showed the Panthers first hand last week how you do it on 3rd down. Keep your D rested, tire the other D out and keep a guy like Matt Ryan and Michael Turner, cold on the bench. Basic football principals that just need to be executed.

Coming into this game, the Panthers offense has done a complete 180 degree turn, ranking 5th in the NFL with an average of 428.2 total offense per game, scoring 23.2 point a game, good for 15th in the NFL. Throwing to Smith, early and often while still establishing the running game is key for Carolina. Good things happen when you give your key players the touches and feeding Williams, Stewart, Smith & TE Greg Olsen early and often, should pay dividends for the Panthers, if their D can keep up with their offense.

Key matchups for Carolina in this game:

QB Cam Newton vs. Falcons defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder

Going into this week 6 matchup, both QB’s have similar stats. Newton has shown great poise in the pocket as well as being able to make plays with his feet when he’s needed to. He’s passed for 1,610 yards so far – best for 4th in the NFL, on 194 attempts (completion percentage of 58.2) with a QB rating of 84.3 (ranking 15th in the league). Although he only has 7 TDs to go with his 6 interceptions, he’s also scored 5 TDs with his feet already. That will be a factor for the Falcons defense, and what kind of looks they’ll show. Do they keep a spy on him ala what the Panthers did in ’05 vs. Michael Vick, do they commit to the pass knowing they’re capable of stopping the run or do they force him to beat their D with his arm? If I were Newton, I’d be liking the challenge of trying to beat this D with his arm. Bring it on, throw it over CB Dunta Robinsons way and move the chains. Can Newton eclipse the 400 yard mark yet again? Although that would be awesome, if he has to throw it 35 times a game, that usually means the running game isn’t working which makes the offense one dimensional in which case, the Falcons suddenly have the advantage of knowing.

RB DeAngelo Williams/Jonathon Stewart vs. LB Curtis Lofton 

Only recently have the Panthers been able to get their running game on the move. Last week, DeAngelo Williams broke the century mark for the first time this season and scored on a 69 yard QB option play. The Panthers finally looked balanced, driving up and down the field in trying to keep up with Brees and the Saints. If the Panthers can have continued success on the ground and get chunks of yards on 1st and 2nd down, it’ll ease the load on rookie QB Newton and keep the Falcons off the field, so long as they can convert on 3rd down. And while most of the attention has been on Williams this week, Stewart is making his presence felt in other parts of the offense, having already had a 100 yard game earlier in the year; however, that 100 yard game was receiving yards. With Stewart the go-to back on passing downs in both pass-catching and blocking, the Panthers have a dual threat, not only on the ground but also in the passing game. Both backs can be elusive in the screen game and out in the flats, making life a little more difficult for the Falcons linebacking duo of Curtis Lofton and Sean Weatherspoon. Both LBs are having solid years and lead a Falcons D stout against the run. This week will be another big test, as the Panthers are just finding their feet in the running game and could potentially explode if not contained early on.

WR Steve Smith vs. CB Dunta Robinson

Other than Calvin Johnson & Wes Welker, no WR is hotter in the NFL right now. Smith has been given a legit QB to get the ball to him, with Smith 2nd in the NFL in receiving yards with 609 yards, with  27 receptions and 3 TDs to date. This week, he faces a prime matchup that favours the ever passionate Smith. CB Dunta Robinson has been thrown to 27 times with 21 completions and his partner in Brent Grimes, thrown to 26 times with 14 completions. No doubt, Smith will get doubled. If the run game can have success and the TE’s can get in the game early, look for that safety to worry less about Smith, leaving Smith one on one with Robinson or Grimes – a dangerous move if you’re Atlanta’s defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder. Either way, Smith will be a factor as a target or a decoy.

DE Charles Johnson vs. OT Sam Baker

Charles Johnson has more than earned his big pay check that he earned this offseason. Going into week 6, he has a sack in every game (12 sacks in his last 12 games) & is a constant threat, pressuring and harassing quarterbacks. Along with the Panthers other starter at DE, Greg Hardy, the Panthers pass rush continues to improve. Look for the Panthers to have some more success against a shaky Falcons offensive line that has given up 14 sacks already this season. The Panthers D must be licking their chops, knowing what kind of success they could potentially have if they execute. Either a sack or some turnovers would suffice, just so long as QB Ryan stays off the field, along with his battered offensive line.  Look for a TE or a double team to possibly come over to Baker’s side to help seal the edge to give Ryan more time in the pocket to find his WRs downfield.

CB Chris Gamble vs. WR Roddy White

Looking at tape this week & watching some of the numerous drops Roddy White has had this season, Panthers CB Chris Gamble must be loving the thought of how good he might have it come Sunday. No doubt, the WR dropping a few here and there will make his life easier but at any time, White is a threat and could find his hands this week. Gamble still has to do his job and to date, has had an exceptional season shadowing some of the league’s best WRs. If he can shutdown White and keep Ryan’s target to TE Tony Gonzalez, that will help the Panthers D not have to worry about one less threat, as they’ll no doubt have their hands full with Gonzalez over the middle and RB Michael Turner churning out some solid yardage also, this season. The Panthers D ranks 15th in passing defense, giving up an average of 231 yards per game. If the Panthers can keep Ryan to 150-200 yards with a TD and a few turnovers, the offense should be able to take over and capitalize.

As the players take to the field for another divisional matchup in a few hours time, no doubt it will be a game added to the history between these 2 clubs. Coming into this week, the Falcons historically hold the edge over the Panthers with a 20-12 lead since Carolina came into the league in ’95. Both teams are looking to rebound, having a less than ideal start to the season, Carolina losing 3 straight now, the Falcons coming off a big loss against the Packers, it will be a fun game for Falcon & Panther fans alike.

The key to this game, what it all comes down to in the end is QB play – stating the obvious. Ryan has looked less than sharp; unable to make the plays he did in seasons past and the rookie sensation Cam Newton – an unknown to the Falcons, stealing the spotlight and looking to get the offense balanced, consistent and on their way to hopefully, their 2nd win of the year and the start of a streak.

Big plays are key for the Panthers. They’ve turned this offense around from a boring season last year to an explosive, high scoring offense this season, lead by Smith & Newton. If they can take advantage of the Falcons less than solid D, they’ll force Ryan to have to make plays with his arm, rather than have their O pound away with Turner which is what they’ll aim to do early. The Falcons O, will want to control the game with Turner and take advantage of the Panthers soft run D. The Panthers run D has been average, getting gashed for big yards in 4 out of the 5 games they’ve played. If Atlanta can keep their offense on the field and Cam Newton off the field, it’ll make things exceptionally hard for the Panthers to try and score with less plays. Playing from behind is the last thing Carolina needs right now.

Both teams would prefer to hold the ball, win the time of possession battle and keep their opposing offenses on the sidelines but one team. We should see a heavy dose of run early from both teams, maybe a few exchanges of punts and a real slog fest. I expect a lower scoring game for both teams, as both sides are evenly matched. It will be an arm wrestle, but in the end I see Carolina prevailing 24-17 with Newton throwing 2 TDs and DeAngelo Williams scoring on the other one. I expect a big day from Panthers WR Steve Smith and Falcons RB Michael Turner, but I expect Ryan to turn the ball over, helping the Panthers get a lead early and sitting on it, forcing the Falcons to win on the back of Ryan.

NFL Players: Nicest vs. Meanest, Who Wins?

Sports Illustrated recently polled 287 players and 272 players respectively, on who were the meanest and the nicest players in the NFL today. Before we check out the results, considering there are 15 on each poll, imagine 2 teams of nice vs. evil, good vs. bad, going head-to-head in a Pro Bowl-type match. (Well, not the Pro Bowl because no one cares about that game but some form of exhibition game.) That begs the question though, who would win, mean or nice?

Would the nice team be so friendly, it’d mess with the mean guys heads and psych them out or would the mean players be way too mean and beat the crap out of the nice guys?

The majority of the nice players are on offense, full of QBs, RBs & WRs. Conversely, it’s quite a contrast to what the majority is on the Mean Team. Mainly defense, especially linebackers and linemen. Wonder why? Maybe because it’s what they do – be the aggressor, the attacker; even if a few do take it a little too far at times.

Funnily enough, one team had the 2 top ranked (or polled) players. Pittsburgh Steelers – James Harrison & Troy Polamalu. Weird and kind of suspicious.

So, do nice guys always finish last? Or do mean guys finish last because they keep getting penalized?

I’ll let you think about that, but in the meantime here are the results:

Meanest:

1. James Harrison – Pittsburgh Steelers

The often outspoken linebacker was quoted in the infamous “Hitman-Men’s Journal” article as saying, “If that man (NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell) was on fire and I had to piss to put him out, I wouldn’t do it. I hate him and will never respect him.” Numerous hard hits (giving him the name “Hitman”, incidents on & off the field have caused this linebacker numerous All-Pro honours, a DPOY award in ’08 and a bad ass rep, to go nicely with his 2 rings.

2. Ray Lewis – Baltimore Ravens

The heart & soul of the Ravens for so long, he killed a guy. (And it wasn’t Dustin Keller..)

3. Ndamukong Suh – Detroit Lions

Half man, half beast. Some say he only eats the flesh of college kids, others say he line dances with the elderly every Wednesday night. All Jake Delhomme knows it that it hurts to get your helmet twisted by Suh. Some will say he’s dirty, some will say he plays hard. Either way, don’t piss him off & don’t challenge him to a line-dance-off. It won’t end well for you.

4. Richard Seymour – Oakland Raiders

You saw what he did in that Pats-Raiders game in week 4 right?

Nuff said. He plays hard, he plays with passion. See: Suh. (Above.)

5. Richie Incognito – Miami Dolphins

Originally drafted by the Rams, he’s a nasty kid to play against. Frequently ranks as one of the dirtiest players to play against. He’s been known to headbutt players, chop block, abuse officials & often gets fined by the league for his play. Protect the eyes, because he’ll come after you and probably snack on your ear at halftime.

6. Terrell Suggs – Baltimore Ravens

Something about these Rex Ryan taught players that have a common link. Either way, Suggs is one bad ass mutha. Whether he’s wearing a mean shirt poking fun at Steelers or sacking your grandmother, don’t make eye contact with him.

7. Harvey Dahl – St. Louis Rams

Known to push the limits, even after the whistle, most guys don’t like to play against him. He’ll get under your skin and in your face.. literally. Plays hard, blocks late in plays.. good player to have on your team, annoying player to play against.

8. Hines Ward – Pittsburgh Steelers

Some call him dirty, some call him a classic WR who likes to get in there and help his team with the run blocking. He takes cheap shots, but for the most part he’s a hard hitting WR who plays hard, pushes the limits and is a player you’d hate to face but love to have on your side. Much like a few of these players on the list.

9. Laron Landry – Washington Redskins

Hard nosed, built, hard hitting safety who’s still making a name for himself with hits like this, game in & game out:

10. Olin Kreutz – New Orleans Saints

From the Bears comes Kreutz. A veteran of multiple awards who gained some street cred for breaking the jaw of fellow OL Fred Miller back in’05 during an off-field incident. It only takes one incident and your whole image can be changed/marked for your career.

11. Jared Allen – Minnesota Vikings

The Cowboy himself is a wild animal. He loves to hunt, was a roadie for Motorhead when he was younger, once blindsided Johnny Knoxville in Jackass 3D, loves to sack QBs and he’s a blue collar boy from Texas who likes his mane longer than most. With the handlebar mo, he rocks the Metrodome and opposing QBs with his determination, his high-energy motor and his sometimes borderline dirty play. He walks the line, and that’s what makes him great. One of the best DE’s in the game, he’s entertaining to watch and a pain in the ass if you’re playing against him.

12. Steve Smith – Carolina Panthers

One of the few offensive players on the list (which says a lot) Smitty carries a chip, plays with passion & uses every pound of his body to make plays. His competitiveness & fire is what makes him the great player he is, sometimes that fire can ignite and get out of hand and his teammates (twice) can cop it or the other team can. Just last week, he took care of Malcolm Jenkins by the face mask..

Players have taunted him, before and during the game & it never ends well. A fired up Smith is what the Panthers like, and what opposing teams fear.. and yet they still do it. Hard not to like the little guy. Just don’t call him little to his face.

13. Jerome Harrison – Detroit Lions

Unless he’s related to James, not sure why he’s on here. (Unless Lions fans just wanted to win at something.. hah, can’t use that joke anymore. Fail.)

14. Cortland Finnegan – Tennessee Titans

Fancypants is just on here because he “scuffled” with Andre Johnson. He’s more of a bitch than a mean player.

15. Shawne Merriman – Buffalo Bills

Not as bad ass in recent times (mainly due to unproductive/injury-plagued seasons), but the guy has the nickname “Lights Out” for a reason. Still a threat to cause some pain on the field, if not off the field, even if he is ‘roided up most of the time. Either way, he’s scary to look at & he probably cut someone off in traffic once which makes him mean.

Nicest:

1. Troy Polamalu – Pittsburgh Steelers

He has nice hair. It’s soft. A mean guy doesn’t have soft hair.

2. Drew Brees – New Orleans Saints

I don’t get why he is on here. He cured cancer? No. He played QB in a city that had a hurricane. Oh ok.. cool story.

3. Peyton Manning – Indianapolis Colts

If the NFL had a version of the Lady Byng Trophy for Gentlemanly Conduct and Nice Play, he’d probably get it every season. That and he plays for the Colts, was coached under super nice guy Tony Dungy and makes awesomely ridiculous (and lots of them) commercials. Some may call him a douche, but they’re most likely Pats fans.

4. Larry Fitzgerald – Arizona Cardinals

He’s quiet, humble & he’s smart. A good choice for the list. Plus he gives to charity which although a lot of players do, he seems less douchey about it and more horse-like.

5. Matt Hasselbeck – Tennessee Titans

I don’t know why he’s on here. I think players just named QBs of small-town football teams. Maybe because he’s bald & everyone felt sorry for him?

6. Tim Tebow – Denver Broncos

Yeah.. is he really that nice?

7. LaDainian Tomlinson – New York Jets

One of the great RB’s of our generation, he’s a quiet and humble man beneath that famous dark visor & helmet and lets his play on the field do all the talking. Have to admire athletes like him, a refreshing change from what we see when guys like Chad Ocho Cinco & Terrell Owens yap it up, steal the spotlight. Unselfish is what is when you keep your mouth shut. No mouthing at the officials, no chirping at the other team, just go out and play football.

8. Tom Brady – New England Patriots

He’s Tom Brady, not Tom Cruise. I find that just because he’s a QB, doesn’t make him nice. I’m sure he’s frightened small children before. I’m sure of it.

9. Jeff Saturday – Indianapolis Colts

Maybe it’s because he’s a centre, maybe it’s because he’s a Christian, maybe it’s because he was coached under Dungy, or maybe it’s because he plays with Manning. Personally, I think the reason he’s so nice.. how can you NOT like a guy with those eyes..

10. Nnamdi Asomugha – Philadelphia Eagles

Aso is a great corner, but an even better philanthropist. Off the field, he spends most of his time helping in education and in the community. He has the Asomugha Foundation, aimed at providing shelter for orphans and widows in need in Nigera as well as teaming up with selected students across the Bay Area and taking them on tours to colleges across the country. He’s a regular guest at the Clinton Global Initiative. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinton_Global_Initiative)

His list of community service and accolades in trying to make the world a better place are too long to list here, but he’s a good guy. He may not be the nicest person on the field, but he’d be up there and as soon as the pads come off, you know he’s out there helping provide to others what they’re not as fortunate to have as he is.

11. Aaron Rodgers – Green Bay Packers

Why isn’t Rodgers #1? Srsly. This is a guy I’d have a beer with.

12. Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions

A quiet achiever in the NFL, much like Pavel Datsyuk with the Red Wings. CJ is an underrated player in the league (much like Datsyuk) and yet is one of the league’s best at what he does, in a freakish, I-can’t-believe-he-just-did-that-OMG-my-pants-are-wet-and-on-my-head-where-did-I-put-my-finger-it-smells kind of way.

13. Tony Romo – Dallas Cowboys

Really? Hah.. nice joke guys. Who’s at 14.. seriously?

Is he on here because he almost married Jessica Simpson?

14. Donovan McNabb – Minnesota Vikings

He has a nice smile and apparently smells like apricots. Apart from that, he had to put up with the T.O saga and didn’t smash T.O in the face, even when everyone else would’ve turned a blind eye if he did. He put up with Vick and Kolb coming in & basically taking his job from him in Philadelphia & all with a smile and no trash talk, taking it in stride. Then he survived the benching in DC, only to move to Minny where he’s no doubt copping more crap and all this & he’s still a really nice guy. Hard not like a guy who just won’t quit & just won’t let all that get to him.

15. Brian Dawkins – Denver Broncos

Former team mate of McNabb, Brian Dawkins is a long time vet, long time good guy. Has been nominated for the Walter Payton Award of the Year & after Dawk signed with the Broncos in ’09, an Eagles employee who was a ‘gate chief’ at Lincoln Financial Field was fired by the Eagles after he posted on his Facebook page expressing his disappointment in the Eagles. Dawk announced that he would give his two allotted game tickets for the Eagles-Broncos game to the guy, saying, “I felt it would be a good thing, to reach out to that individual and just let him know how much I appreciate it.” Classy guy, future HoFer no doubt.

So there we have it. 2 contrasting lists, 15 very different players of different levels.

Personally, I think getting 2 teams like this together, to compete against each other is genius. There’s a movie plot in here. Evil vs. good, angels vs. demons.. who doesn’t love a good face-off?!

Considering this idea would never reach Goodell’s desk (unless I mail the proposed blueprint & slip it inside his birthday card) here is an idea worth sharing if you have the time. Potentially go into Madden, create 2 teams, add these players in, simulate the game between the 2 & see what happens..

I know, it’s borderline insane. And I know this is way too much analysis for a fluff piece, but I might as well get some ludicrous ideas into your mind while you waste your time reading this blog, like how the uniforms could be that of red and black for mean, white on white for nice. Halo on the helmet, horns on the other.

Now that, that would be cool.

So what say you? Agree/disagree with some of these selections? Would you add in any other players or take some out, on your own list?

Let us know!

Sources:  

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/mul…ontent.12.html

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/multimedia/photo_gallery/1110/nfl.poll.nicest.player/content.15.html

NFL Tips: Week 6

So, we’re back again with more TIPPING! (Say it like: “TIMMY!”). Some interesting match-ups this week, as well as some downers. From last week, I missed on 4 (same as week 4). My misses were Kansas City, Oakland, Tampa Bay & Seattle. Let’s get crackin!

Carolina at Atlanta: I’m loving this match-up. Falcons coming off a loss to the Packers and before that a 2 point win against Seattle. This game has upset written all over it. The Panthers held their own against the Saints last week, and would’ve won if it wasn’t for poor defense on New Orleans final drive.

Prediction: Carolina 24, Atlanta 23

Indianapolis at Cincinnati: That’s it! I give up on the Colts. They lost to Kansas City after looking so promising against Tampa. Although Tampa was destroyed last week, so who knows? Cincinnati’s quietly winning games, with a 3-2 record.

Prediction: Cincinnati 28, Indianapolis 21

San Francisco at Detroit: Detroit’s coming off a solid Monday Night Football win against Chicago. San Francisco’s coming off an absolute hammering over Tampa Bay. If you had’ve told me that this would be the game of the week in week 6, I would’ve laughed, realised the Lions would destroy the 9ers, then laugh again. Despite my preconceived beliefs, this’ll be a goody.

Prediction: Detroit 27, San Francisco 24

St. Louis at Green Bay: Yes, the 0-4 Rams go to Lambeau to take on the might of the 5-0 Packers. This game’s decided before the kick-off, just based on their records.

Prediction: Green Bay 49, St. Louis 17

Buffalo at New York: I’m honestly not sure what to make of this game. The Giants lost the game with bad passing to the Seahawks and the Bills just got past the Eagles. It all points to a Bills win, but they did lose to the Bengals, so who knows.

Prediction: Buffalo 31, New York 28

Jacksonville at Pittsburgh: Jacksonville never should’ve let go of David Garrard. Sure, he wasn’t a top 10 QB, or even top 15, but he won the games! Now they have a rookie in Gabbert, heading to Pittsburgh to get man-handled by the Steelers. Good luck, kid!

Prediction: Pittsburgh 37, Jacksonville 13

Philadelphia at Washington: OK, seriously, can people get off the Eagles bandwagon? The team is horrible. Now they go into Washington to take on the NFC East leading (lolwut?) Redskins. I just don’t see the Eagles winning this game, seriously. The Redskins defense is just too stout and could injure Vick for the 39304583048023820402804830 time this season. I know the Redskins offense isn’t the best, but the Eagles poor linebackers should make it easy for whoever Shanahan picks as his RB to get good yardage and some scores.

Prediction: Washington 21, Philadelphia 10

Cleveland at Oakland: I knew I should’ve tipped Oakland last week! They played well for their owner, and he would’ve been damn proud of it, too. This week they take on the Browns, who as I mentioned last week, are straight up pretenders with bad wins. Run DMC goes crazy to make up for last week and gets them a good victory.

Prediction: Oakland 28, Cleveland 14

Houston at Baltimore: Houston lost to a spirited and highly motivated Oakland last week, and now they take on one of the toughest teams this season in the Ravens. Baltimore had the bye last week, so have had 2 weeks to plan for this game. They get the win, eeeeeeasily.

Prediction: Baltimore 38, Houston 24

Dallas at New England: Yet another overrated game, by the ridiculously biased US media. The Cowboys stink and the knowledgeable NFL fans know it. Hell, the knowledgeable Cowboys fans know it! Pats looked alright last week, even though the Jets put up a bit of an effort. Brady will go nuts this game, though.

Prediction: New England 28, Dallas 7

New Orleans at Tampa Bay: This game looks simple on paper, Saints win big, but there’s probably more to it. Tampa Bay’s coming off a huge loss to the 49ers, 45 points type huge and the Saints are coming off a last drive win against the Panthers. I’m tipping the Saints, but a Bucs upset definitely wouldn’t surprise me.

Prediction: New Orleans 17, Tampa Bay 16

And then there were two…Whoever decided these two primetime games should be relocated to a different position.

Minnesota at Chicago: I support these two teams in other sports, but no one cares about that. The Bears are coming off a loss to the Lions, where Cutler was under constant pressure and couldn’t catch a break, despite playing well. Minesotta is coming off a win (FINALLY!) over the Cardinals, where AP scored 3 TD’s in the 1st QUARTER(!). I’m tipping the Bears, but like the previous game, Minnesota winning wouldn’t surprise me, just because of their D-Line and, of course, AP.

Prediction: Chicago 21, Minnesota 20

Miami at New York: Another overrated AFC East game, you say? Why yes! The two worst teams in the AFC East face off for no enjoyable reason. This must just fit in with the NFL policy of “East team in primetime every week”. Anyway, enough bitching. The Dolphins suck and are leading the race for Andrew Luck, with good odds to win it. The Jets showed some signs last week, but still aren’t AFC Championship material. Sanchez will blow, as usual, but will still win the game, cause Miami’s QB is even worse.

Prediction: New York 14, Miami 10

313 Week 4 Awards

So another week is already in the books, and what an interesting week it was. Before we begin week 5 today, here’s a quick recap on week 4 NFL action. What we liked, and what we didn’t like so much. (This is a quickened version of what will hopefully come a weekly roundup, earlier during the week.)

Offensive Player of the Week:

Aaron Rodgers, QB – Green Bay Packers

A big week of big QB play, but it was the reigning Super Bowl MVP who took it to a whole ‘nother level at Mile High Stadium in Denver. 6 total TDs, including 2 rushing & over 400 yards passing. Just another day at the office for the stud QB who’s looking better and better each game. With Peyton Manning out for a while, the title for sheriff is going to be a wrestle between Brady & A-Rod.

Defensive Player of the Week:

Lardarius Webb, CB/Haloti Ngata, DT – Baltimore Ravens

I split this award because of the day they had making Mark Sanchez’s day complete and utter poo. With an already thin secondary, the Ravens with Ngata up front managed to upset Sanchez into completing only 11 of 35 passes, forcing the Jets O to sputter and turn over the ball, which Sanchez ended up doing 4 times (3 times for defensive TDs) none more important than the game-winning TD, a Lardarius Webb interception which he took back 73 yards for the score. Who needs offense when your D can put up points for you?!

Special Teams Player of the Week:

Devin Hester, WR/KR/PR – Chicago Bears.

As soon as Carolina Panthers punter Jason Baker had followed through on his punt, the whole of Soldier Field knew it was a bad idea. The punt was an Australian rules-style punt, chosen poorly and executed even worse by Baker. Down the throat of Hester it went and before you could blink, Hester was gone 69 yards for his 11th career punt return for a TD, surpassing the previous holder Eric Metcalf. (Hester also had a 73 yard kickoff return, just to add to his impressive day.)

Coach of the Week:

Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers.

I could put Lions coach Jim Schwartz here, as the Lions did have an impressive win over the Cowboys but I believe Harbaugh had the better day, outcoaching Eagles coach Andy Reid and rallying his Niners to a 20-point comeback W against the Eagles potent offense. With the win, the Niners sit atop the NFC West standings at 3-1 & things seem to be turning around in the Bay City.

Rookie of the Week:

Cam Newton, QB – Carolina Panthers

I could put a few young guys here, no doubt. And without bias, statistically the Panthers QB had the most impressive day. He threw for 374 yards, one touchdown with one interception, and rushed for 35 yards and two scores in a 34-29 loss to the Chicago Bears. What’s more phenomenal than his stats to date is his ability to compete at a pro level, so well and so early on. He has poise in the pocket, has the awareness to keep his eyes downfield and despite being a threat on the ground at Auburn, has not relied on his legs to do all the talking but rather his arm, which has helped rebirth Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith, making the 2 one of the newest and biggest threats in the NFC.

Headline of the Week:

Al Davis Passes Away at 82

Quote of the Week:

“I’m glad the third-best wide receiver on the Cowboys is on our team.”

-Lions coach Jim Schwartz, sending one right back to the Cowboys and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan who added fuel to the fire before the game, stating that he thought when asked about Lions WR Calvin Johnson, “We work against better WRs (in Bryant & Austin) in practice.” Oh snap!

Not-So-Great-Play of the Week:

Ronnie Brown, RB, Philly.

-At the goal line and trying to pound it in for a score, Ronnie Brown did what most would deem unthinkable. In the midst of being tackled to the ground, Brown attempted to throw the ball (to what looked to be to nearby FB Owen Schmitt) but failed miserably. The Niners recovered the fumble & we were all left scratching our heads. “Hey Ronnie, it wasn’t a wildcat play.”

Surprising Team of the Week:

Niners beating Philadelphia.

Disappointing Team of the Week:

Bills losing to Cincinnati.

Top 5 Plays of Week 4:

Pierre Garcon – 87 yard TD vs. the Bucs on MNF.

Vincent Jackson – Out stretches for the catch, gets up & scores.

Devin Hester – Goes 69 yards for the punt return TD.

Calvin Johnson – Out-leaps 3 Cowboys defenders and still comes down with the TD catch.

Dwayne Bowe –  Cassel finds him down the sideline, dodges defenders & takes it the distance.

Now onto Week 5! 

Game on!

Ohio University Marching Band Party Rocks

I love the song Party Rock Anthem by LMFAO.

So anything to do with that song, I’ll generally like. I mean who doesn’t love to shuffle?

Everyday, you’re shufflin’. Go out to pick up the morning paper off the front lawn in boxers, a Red Wings t-shirt and you hear that song.. can’t help but shuffle. (Much to your neighbor’s amusement as more than your dance skills reveals itself.)

In the supermarket, trying to decide between beef and chicken in your stir fry.. song booms over the PA and pretty soon you’re shufflin’ into the dairy aisle thinking about some of that sweet custard later on tonight.

So naturally, when the Ohio University Marching Band performs the hit by LMFAO, it’s worth checking out and when I did.. I was not dissapointed at all.

Check out the moves.. and in sync. Amazing. Epic. All you need to do is hear the response from the crowd to know that they had scored a big touchdown on that play.

Well done Ohio University. You have mine and many other’s attention now.

Maybe the NFL should take a leaf out of the NCAA’s book, or at the very least look into an idea like this, rather than showboating old, washed-up performers (*cough* Madonna *cough*) that no sane person would want to see.

(Other than Bruce Springsteen & Prince, which were 2 fantastic half time shows. Kudos NFL for getting 2 out 6 or so right.)

Enjoy.

The 313 Things to Watch: NFL Week 4 Edition

Welcome to our 1st installment of what will be a weekly edition of “The 3-1-3 Things to Watch” feature. Every week, I’ll feature 7 “things to watch items.” Why 7? Because 3+1+3 = 7. Duh.

Week 4 in the NFL and we have 3 undefeated teams and 5 very, very defeated teams sitting at 0-3.

As usual, we’ll be watching our teams face off and hope for a W. But on a NFL-wide scale, here are some other notes and headlines that might be of interest to keep an eye on this weekend.

1. Can the Eagles offensive line keep Vick’s uniform crinkle-free?

After the game in week 3, Eagles QB Michael Vick, frustrated with being knocked around vs. the Giants, let it all out at the post-game press conference by “critiquing” the way the referees officiated the game, before later offering an apology of sorts to the officials and going back on what he said about getting hit after he’d released the ball. Either way, it’ll be interesting to see if the VP of Officiating Carl Johnson & his crew listened & if his offensive line mates took it upon themselves to make sure that no defender even got the chance for a late hit on Vick. Even though suffering a broken hand in the loss vs. the rival G-men, Vick plans to play. You can bet your house Reid will make sure there’s more protection there than a Presidential appearance at a Condom Expo in Mexico.

2. The Rivera Show Returns for revenge to Solider Field

While he might not say as much, former Bears defensive coordinator, now Panthers head coach  Ron Rivera had this game marked on the calendar as soon as the schedule was released. Rivera was fired from Chicago, although technically he was ‘not rehired’ by Bears head coach Smith in favour of linebackers coach Bob Babich, despite an outstanding unit that ranked as one of the best under Rivera. You can bet that Rivera will be more than ready to taste the sweet, sweet tears of Smith, as will Panthers tight end Greg Olsen who was traded by the Bears this offseason, after seeking a trade. Relationships were stretched and the Panthers have benefited from the move with OIsen becoming one of rookie QB Cam Newton’s primary targets in offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s offense. With both the Panthers and Bears standing at 1-2, this game is vital to each team’s season. (Heading into week 5 is a lot easier at 2-2 than 1-3, as Captain Obvious points out.)

3. Can Roddy White overcome his stone hands vs. the Hawks?

Going into week 4, Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White leads the NFL in dropped passes with 4, including a huge late, game-changing drop vs. the Bucs in week 3. QB Matt Ryan found White and would’ve had a clear path to the endzone had his hands not been made of brick. While White is known as one of the better WRs in the NFL, he certainly needs to work on the one stat that will keep him from being a great receiver. Although he led the NFL in receptions last season with 115, he only dropped 3 passes. Can he rebound vs. the Seahawks? There should be plenty of opportunities for himself and Ryan to make some plays, it’s just a matter of if he can hang onto the ball long enough to complete those plays. Week 4 is the perfect time for White to turn things around.

 4. Can the Pats D do a 180 degree turn and match their offence?

In week 1 action vs. Miami, QB Tom Brady (with his long locks flowing in the wind) threw for 517 yards and 4 TDs, including the memorable 99 yard TD pass to Wes Welker. Week 2, he threw for 423 in another W. Then came Buffalo. With Brady leading his team 21-10 into halftime, it all was looking like a 3-0 start for the Patriots. Then came the halftime adjustments from Buffalo and the major LOLFAIL from the Patriots D. There are major problems with the Pats D, no doubt. To date, they’re giving up 468.7 yards per game. All you had to do was listen to Boston sports talk back radio after the game last week to know that the hot topic was defence (& Tom Brady’s luscious hair. Meow). Enter, the Oakland Raiders. The Raiders are looking rejuvenated under Hue Jackson, with Darren McFadden leading the NFL in rushing after 3 weeks. How will Bill Belichick contain Run DMC when the Pats D missed some big opportunities in wrapping up Bills RB Fred Jackson, late in the 4th quarter last week. It’s concerning, and it’s just one of the many questions in this game including, how will former Pats Super Bowl winning defensive lineman Richard Seymour play going against his old team for the first time since getting traded? Another question is, who will get more TDs and touches? Welker or Run DMC? Either way, it’s an underrated matchup worth checking out in week 4.

5. Romo’s Ribs: Meet Ndamukong Suh

I can just see it now. Romo drops back (with one of the few non-fumbled snaps) and as he plants his foot, he scans the field. As he looks, completely unaware, Lions defensive tackle and man beast Ndamukong Suh has beaten his man. Boom. Romo is down, Suh lays a vicious hit that we’ve all seen before and all that is left is Romo laying on the turf yelling, ” NN DAM U KONG!” (Had to do it, I’m sorry.) Anyway, last week it was DeAngelo Hall talking trash about Romo’s ribs. This week, Suh has been quoted as saying, “That’s not my style. If I’m coming in from that side and I accidentally hit it, then so be it. That’s not my problem. That’s not my issue to deal with. I’m going to continue to play. I’m not planning on putting my helmet in his ribs or anything of that sort. I’m going to go after the ball. The ball is the most important. That’s the only thing that can really hurt you.” Suh is licking his chops, even if it is to get into the head of centre Phil Costa & QB Tony Romo to cause a few miscues. No doubt, it’s a matchup to watch for and a game that is definitely game of the week. The Lions face their toughest test yet (you can read Ash’s write up on the game here) and no doubt, it will be a game that will answer a lot of questions for both teams.

6. The Jared Allen Bowl

What a game. Two 0-3 teams going head to head, Jared Allen facing off against the team that traded him.. will the Vikings blow ANOTHER halftime lead? Talk about must-watch-TV. In all seriousness, something has to give this weekend, for one of these 2 teams. Both 0-3, both having 2 very different seasons so far. During the week, Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe blamed the shortened preseason for the Chiefs start slow start. (Read here, via Yahoo Sports’ Doug Farrar.) He could’ve put it on injuries, but put it down to “lack of timing”. Ok Dwayne. We’ll just see if the defending AFC West champs figure out a way to get things moving, finally. With the Vikings coming to town however, that train might take a little longer to depart, especially with the Cowboy himself bearing down on QB Matt Cassel, trying to once again show the Chief’s Clark Hunt and then GM Carl Peterson, what a mistake they made when he traded Allen back in the offseason of 2008.

 7. Ryan faces off against the Purple Machine he built

I could probably put a few other items here. Curtis Painter facing off against the Bucs on MNF. Ryan Fitzpatrick going against his former team the Bengals after 3 fantastic wins. Or even asking the question of why several RBs in this league have gone MIA. But instead, I’ll choose to focus on a great matchup. The overrated Jets and their head coach Rex Ryan travel to Baltimore for the 1st time since Ryan landed the head gig in NY. This will be a game worth watching featuring 2 teams who are emotional and highly physical; funnily enough, 2 characteristics of Ryan. There will be a lot of grudges facing off in this game. Rex Ryan, Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard and recently, Derrick Mason are all former Ravens who wouldn’t mind a nice bit of payback in their former home stadium. But it’s not just the Ravens D and all the familiar faces that will be playing, that will be a key to watch this week. The Ravens offense has exploded in 2011, with Joe Flacco throwing a career best 389 yards vs. St Louis last week in a 37-7 trouncing, thanks to a little help from new fantasy waiver-wire pickup Torrey Smith. Smith is a legit concern for the Jets D.  If he consumes the coverage of Revis Island, it can potentially leave some other opportunities open for Flacco to expose Ryan’s current D that he’s created in New York. You can bet that when this game is all said and done, it will be bittersweet for a few players and leave a bad taste in a few others.

So that’s it for this week’s edition.. our first edition. Remember to keep an eye on these few story lines during this fine Sunday afternoon of pigskin watchin.’ Until next week, good luck and enjoy.

Panthers LB Davis Not Planning On Retirement Just Yet

Per the National Football Post, Carolina Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis has said that he’s not done yet in the NFL.

“”And for those of you who have asked, NO way am I going to retire.” 

 

“Met with Dr. Andrews today. He doesn’t see a reason why I wont be able to play next season. Having surgery in the a.m.”

 

-Thomas Davis, via his twitter account.

Davis is scheduled to go under the knife on his right knee for the 3rd straight season after tearing his ACL in week 2 action vs. the Green Bay Packers in the Panthers home opener.

Just a week after seeing team mate and the heart and soul of the Panthers defence, linebacker Jon Beason go down with a torn Achilles in the season opener at Arizona, Davis is standing his ground and plans to go through the rehabilitation process and line up for the 2012-13 NFL season.

But the team that Davis will be lining up for, remains the biggest question of all, after the question of whether or not he can come back and stay healthy – the biggest concern for Carolina.

Davis, 28, recently signed a 5 year, $36.5 million dollar contract extension this offseason however, the Panthers protected themselves with an $8 million signing bonus guarantee – if such a thing were to happen again. They can cut ties with Davis in 2012 by not exercising the bonus on the third day of the next league year. The alleged five-year deal was actually a one-year, $8 million deal. The Panthers are most likely to release Davis unless a re-worked contract can be agreed upon and some insurance and linebacker is brought in. In that case, the starting job at weak side linebacker will be one position to watch coming into next season’s training camp.

On the field and when healthy, Davis can be game changing. He was having a Pro Bowl year in 2009-10 before injuring his knee for the first time. A former safety drafted out of Georgia, he made a name for himself in his rookie season when former Panthers head coach used Davis in a “spy” role on the Falcons QB, Michael Vick. The Panthers went onto contain Vick and win the game, Davis and the defence being the main reason why. After playing one season at safety, Davis made the move to linebacker the following season and has been a phenomenal, ever-improving player and fan favorite ever since.

Source:

http://www.nationalfootballpost.com/Thomas-Davis-says-hes-not-retiring-after-3rd-ACL-replacement.html