At last, our long national winter is over. FOOTBALL IS BACK! NFL training camps opened up in 32 American cities this week, and provided story after story worth batting around on the FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST. FootballSickness.com’s Ryan Burns and Sen Sogah know you’re depending on them to break it all down for you, and they won’t let you down. They talk about big stories around the NFL, introduce new nominees for the HALL of SICKNESS, drop some fantasy tidbits, and even cover some quality college football items. The SICKNESS PODCAST reverts to its natural weekly state from here on out, and the camp-opening edition has a little extra goodness for you. The only thing left to do is to GET YOUR HELMET ON!!!
If you’ve been following at all, you know by now that we here at the Sickness like to do our analysis a little differently. Rather than feigning expertise we don’t actually possess, or trying to convince you that we are able to see the future (read: giving each team a letter grade for a draft from which not a single player has set foot on the field yet), I like to sift through the myriad selections and give you my favorites at each position. I’m taking both “value” (as subjectively assessed by yours truly) and team need into account. This isn’t necessarily the best player chosen at each (or any particular) position. Rather, these are the Sickness Approved choices. Draft picks who I think will look like relative steals at their respective draft positions when we look back on this selection party three years hence.
I was impressed again this year with what I view as the overall improvement in draft process around the league. I think most teams got it right more often than not. It used to be we’d have a handful of dreadful drafts to pan at the end of the weekend. Now, almost nobody was totally out of left field with their choices. Most teams seem to understand their needs, and have learned through organizational pass-down or simple trial-and-error that choosing to address those needs over selecting the best football players on the board is an almost surefire ticket to misery. As such, fewer glaring errors stand out. The teams that we know have always done it well are still doing it well (Eagles, Steelers, Patriots, just as a few examples, killed it this year), and even some long-questioned draft flubbers- most notably the Cincinnati Bengals, who had arguably the most impressive draft in the league- are nailing it down. For an NFL draft fan, this was a captivating weekend.
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Never mind Raymond; Everyone loves Luck and Griffin, and they’re both in what I consider to be perfect spots. Luck will be in an offense that tears up the middle of the field and takes its shots. Griffin will be killing people on play pass and stretch boots, throwing bombs to freak athlete wideouts in what should eventually be an explosive attack in DC. But departing momentarily from the obvious, I think the Seahawks’ third-round “gamble” for Wilson was a stroke of genius. When I watch Wilson play, I see the rare exception to the Short Quarterback Postulate. My case is supported by Wilson’s A+ athleticism and strong arm, his collegiate production, his ability to pick up two different systems and win, his evident leadership and communicative skills, and the simple fact that he had fewer passes batted down than Luck, Griffin and Tannehill (among others). As many have noted, he played behind the nation’s tallest line at Wisconsin, the ball comes out high and he’s outstanding at finding the necessary throwing lanes. Wilson has long been Sickness Approved, and the time he will have to absorb Darrell Bevell’s version of the West Coast should allow him to get to the business of competing with Matt Flynn for a longer-term commitment in a year or two.
BJ Coleman, Green Bay Packers (7/243): You will hear this name again in three or four years when Ted Thompson parlays him into a high draft pick. Mark it.
LaMichael James, San Francisco 49ers (2/61): Have fun catching this guy on the counter after Frank Gore beats you down for three quarters. A perfect fit for all involved.
Michael Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7/212): I also love Doug Martin, for whom the Bucs traded back up into the first round, but to land Michael Smith so late in the draft was a stunner to me. Smith has home run speed.
Reuben Randle, New York Giants (3/63): Eli gets yet another toy. One of the “fallers” that most surprised me, Randle has good size, speed and athleticism and falls into a perfect position as a depth option behind Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and company for the Super Bowl champs.
Devon Wylie, Kansas City Chiefs (4/107): If he stays healthy, Wiggles has all-pro upside as a slot receiver. It could get explosive with Bowe, McCluster, Moeaki, Wylie and Charles on the field all at once. Have fun with that, AFC West.
Marvin Jones, Cincinnati Bengals (5/166): Jones was well-known and much ballyhooed among the draft community for the past several months. There’s a reason. High-grade body control and stick-um hands. Not to rip the QB play at Cal, but Jones could have put up ridiculous numbers in other offenses, if you know what I’m sayin’.
Coby Fleener, Indianapolis Colts (2/34): For all the obvious reasons.
David Paulson, Pittsburgh Steelers (7/240): As I look at this list, it seems a bit Pac-heavy, but I really do like a lot of these fits. Paulson fits the fine tradition of under-appreciated Steelers tight ends. It will be interesting to see how they employ him under Todd Haley.
Micheal Egnew, Miami Dolphins (3/78): Huge and fast, Egnew could fall into the category of tight ends whose college coaches either didn’t know what to do with them or just weren’t willing to significantly change their offenses to feature them in a Belichick/Payton fashion. That the Dolphins drafted him in the third round, and before any wide receiver, indicates an intention to join those ranks relatively soon.
Mitchell Schwartz, Cleveland Browns (2/37): Some called this a reach. I can only assume none of them saw a single game played by either the Cal Bears or the Cleveland Browns in the fall of 2011. He’ll have growing pains, but this is a huge upgrade at a position of major need.
Cordy Glenn (2/41), and Zebrie Sanders (5/144), Buffalo Bills: Buddy Nix, I salute you. Building what should in time be one of the best defenses in the NFL with Mario Williams and two fine corners, Nix also added these potential future bookends. At worst, Glenn should be a standout guard with flexibility to kick outside. The Bills have done some damn fine work the past couple off-seasons, and imagine how it’s going to look if CJ Spiller breaks out as many expect?
Matt Kalil, Minnesota Vikings (1/4): They traded down for extra picks and added what I suspect will be a top 10 left tackle. Great stuff.
David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers (1/24): Are you kidding me with this? Nobody between, say, 15 and 23 wanted to pull one of the best interior offensive line prospects in years off the board before he fell into the Steelers’ lap? How do they do this every year, you ask? Easy: they just keep drafting good players. Sooner or later, a great one for one of your only needs accidentally jumps into your shopping cart. For previous examples, see Roethlisberger, Ben and Woodley, Lamarr.
Brandon Brooks, Houston Texans (3/76): He’s 350 pounds of mobility, and will fit in beautifully in the Texans’ zone scheme. When he gets moving, he’ll be faster than most guards in the league. Nice little nasty streak on him, too.
Kelechi Osemele, Baltimore Ravens (2/60): He had the ability to play left tackle in college, and will soon be an upgrade on much of their line.
Peter Konz, Atlanta Falcons (2/55): The draft’s best center doesn’t come off the board until 55? Rough year for centers. But Atlanta happily plucked him up and filled a position of need.
Phillip Blake, Denver Broncos (4/108): The new Jeff Saturday!
Vinny Curry, Philadelphia Eagles (2/59): So, let me get this straight. They led the league in sacks a year ago. They’re running Trent Cole and Jason Babin out there…and they’re going to add Vinny Curry to the mix? Is this even allowed? Can I get a ruling?
Jared Crick, Houston Texans (4/126): Crick’s drop to the fourth round was as big a surprise to me as any other in the draft. He’s (Mayock alert!) scheme-versatile and can kick inside on passing downs. A player that so many talked about as a first rounder not long ago is too talented to ignore in a defense that keeps looking more and more fun for Wade Phillips to play with.
Andre Branch, Jacksonville Jaguars (2/38): Just a real fine all-around player who creates leverage well, beats guys off the line often enough, and plays with good balance. A quality addition to that Jags D-line.
Devon Still, Cincinnati Bengals (2/53): Often projected as a first-round pick, Still and earlier choice Dre Kirkpatrick should help satisfy Marvin Lewis. You did notice his pre-draft comment, did you not, about the team having “neglected the defense” recently? Well, no more.
Alameda Te’Amu, Pittsburgh Steelers (4/109): I give up- the draft is obviously rigged for the Steelers. Te’Amu is just a perfect, big, strong fit for the Steelers’ front.
Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles (1/12): And Fletcher Cox, too? OK, I take it back. The draft is rigged for Pennsylvania.
Melvin Ingram, San Diego Chargers (1/18): Perhaps my favorite defensive prospect in this draft. Call him an OLB or a DE, but make sure you call him a baller. I suspect a dozen or so teams will be kicking themselves in two or three years.
Courtney Upshaw, Baltimore Ravens (2/35): Again. Are you kidding me? And all of a sudden, this pick got much more important with the bad news on Thursday. It’s like someone knew T-Sizzle was going to go down (a huge blow to both the Ravens and fans of high-motor physical football). Another guy who could be a LB or DE depending on your look.
Terrell Manning, Green Bay Packers (5/163): Explosive athlete who can do everything needed from the position in the Packers’ 3-4. It may take some time, but I see an eventual starter. Props to Brendan Leister for pointing him out to me.
Mychal Kendricks, Philadelphia Eagles (2/46): The Eagles absolutely killed this draft, and no better evidence exists than their 2nd round scores of Curry and Kendricks.
Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots (1/25): Belichick stuns everyone and moves up twice in the first round, scoring perfect fits for his improving defense. Gotta love it. Hightower joins the long line of fantastic Hoodie LB’s.
Janoris Jenkins, St. Louis Rams (2/39): Yes, the red flags were apparently abundant. But have you seen the tape? He shut down AJ Green. He shut down Julio Jones. (Perhaps you’ve heard of them.) The only things he didn’t shut down while in the SEC were his libido and penchant for chronic indulgence. And, being real…the only issue that concerns me there if I’m an NFL executive is the potential for suspension. Bottom line, Jenkins is a top-15 talent. If he can be properly guided, he’s going to be a star. Great gamble by Les Snead and Jeff Fisher.
Brandon Boykin, Philadelphia Eagles (4/123): Sen Dog was PUMPED for this pick, and rightfully so. With the depth they have at the position, Boykin can put his playmaking skills to use early as a dime, and take his time developing.
Jamell Fleming, Arizona Cardinals (3/80): One of my favorite defensive players in college football, Fleming should eventually form a nice pair with last year’s first-round pick, Patrick Peterson.
George Iloka, Cincinnati Bengals (5/153): At 6’3″, 225 Iloka is what I imagine most safeties are going to look like soon. As in, they have bodies of smallish outside linebackers and the speed and athleticism to keep up with the new breed of tight end in the NFL.
Mark Barron, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1/7): Again- they traded back and landed a fantastic player at a position of need. Clearly, they noticed Jimmy Graham.
Hard to believe the draft has come and gone, but there you have it. The 2012 All-Sickness NFL Draft Team. Who’d I miss? Which were your guys? Let me know below or on Twitter @FtblSickness. And to finish, a sheer guess at the #1 overall pick in a year…naaaaah. Check the podcast. We did it there.
Few utterly meaningless exercises engender more amusement, hysteria and rage than the mock NFL draft. Everyone has their concrete ideas of what will happen, they study their brains out, deciphering proper slotting according to how they view a particular prospect, team need and/or evaluation method, and finding just the right fit at each spot…and then it all goes completely to hell at pick 3. Seriously, nobody knows anything beyond the first couple of picks. In part, this is because at this time of year in the NFL, misinformation is king, and we’re all having ungodly amounts of smoke blown up our collective wazoo. Even those guys with the flawless hair on TV don’t have great success picking who will go where. And don’t even get me started on trying to predict trades. Remember how Shanahan and the Redskins were going to move up for or select one of the many first-round-ready quarterbacks in last year’s draft? Yeah. They took Ryan Kerrigan at 16. Meanwhile, my mock at the top is way too similar to many others, meaning there’s no chance it happens this way because we all fell for the smoke. Got it? Good.
For this Sickness 2012 Mock, there will be a couple of simple ground rules. First: no trades. I’ll mention where appropriate when I think trades are likely or at least more plausible, but that’s it. I’m not trying to go insane attempting to predict the whims of NFL executives. I’m guessing strictly based on my wholly amateur opinion of (1) prospect value and (2) team need and/or history. Second, I try and take into account what a team’s schemes are, and not just throw guys to a team because they need someone at a given position. There’s no point mocking a 3-4 OLB to the Eagles, for example. Different teams are looking for different things, and while I don’t pretend to understand every minute detail of most teams’ philosophies, just know that some marginal thought has gone into the thing. Third, I’m making the traditional guesswork prediction, and then telling you what I would do were I in charge of each team. Full disclosure: I’m not even pretending I have any idea what most of them actually will do. Lastly: we’re here to have fun. I know some of these make no sense. Have you tried this nonsense?!? Mock me all you wish. My skin is thick and my helmet is on!
1. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Guesswork Prediction- Andrew Luck, QB (Stanford). Throw me in with the lot who consider him the most complete, non-speculative, outstanding prospect since John Elway. Luck provides a decision-maker with the comfort of knowing his pre-snap read, adjustment and anticipatory skills have already been tested at an NFL level. A superior athlete in his own right, Luck has the stature to hang in the pocket and shed sacks and the ability to make huge plays outside the pocket and running with the football. The Colts go from one once-in-a-generation QB to the next. They’ve already told us so.
If I Were GM: Luck.
2. WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Robert Griffin III, QB (Baylor). Another foregone QB conclusion, and easily the story to watch going forward in the NFL for 2012. If he becomes what the Redskins obviously expect him to given the haul they gave up to get him, he will be a transformative figure in NFL history. Kick your feet up. Watch. Enjoy. Unless you’re a defensive coordinator. In which case, ready thyself. Watch that zone boot. Watch the play-action off the stretch look. Good luck.
If I Were GM: RGIII. (Technically, since I’m a Browns fan, maybe I’d take Matt Kalil here and let Grif fall to 4. Heh. (Damn it.))
3. MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Matt Kalil, OT (USC). Rumors of trade possibilities are heating up in all corners as of this writing, and nothing would surprise me. The Rams originally held the keys to the draft, but have long since removed that suspense by making the Griffin trade weeks before the draft. As a result, the Vikes have their choice of a franchise left tackle or an elite corner. As it so happens, they are in desperate need of both in this new passing NFL, and either would be a perfectly reasonable choice. But Kalil not only carries additional premium because he protects the QB’s blind side and has NFL bloodlines, he’s generally considered the superior prospect. This shouldn’t be a tough card for the purple to turn in, but if they don’t take Kalil, heads’ up…because the draft is about to get really interesting.
If I Were GM: Kalil. (Sickness First Commandment: Protect Thy Quarterback.)
4. CLEVELAND BROWNS: Trent Richardson, RB (Alabama). I go back and forth daily between Richardson, Justin Blackmon and Morris Claiborne, each of whom I think would be an excellent fit. But ultimately, the Browns need to do two things if they are to live with Colt McCoy for even one more season (as it appears that they might). First, they must shorten the game. Second, they must score more touchdowns. Richardson will help with both. And while I’m not arguing about the general devaluation of the RB position (See the fine piece here by Shawn Siegele), I think exceptions to most rules exist, and Richardson is one to that “rule.” (Many call this stupid. I call it betting against the house. Again, if I can get LeSean McCoy or Ray Rice production at #4…am I bumming that hard?) If Richardson isn’t there, I would guess a trade down or Blackmon.
If I Were GM: Richardson.
5. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: Morris Claiborne, CB (LSU). In this scenario the Bucs end up with the draft’s top corner and a potential top-flight starter at a key position (especially in a division inhabited by Drew Brees, Matthew Ryan, Cam Newton and friends). They might be interested in Justin Blackmon, but in my view Claiborne is the better prospect. He plays one of the premium positions, and he’s ready to step in and do the job for which he’ll be drafted on day 1. There’s one other reason: the Bucs have gotten far too old and too non-law-abiding in recent years. This will help re-set the course of the Bucs’ ship.
If I Were GM: Claiborne.
6. ST. LOUIS RAMS: Fletcher Cox, DT (Miss. St.). A lot of noise about this one, which makes me wonder. But Cox is a heck of a talent. And I do seem to recall Fisher having outstanding defensive lines in Tennessee.
If I Were GM: Justin Blackmon. I’d be thinking about trading up to 3 for Kalil, because Sam Bradford ain’t making that new-CBA, slotted rookie money. No, sir. I’ve got big cash in Sammy B, I’m committed to him, and I need to make damn sure I keep division foes like the San Francisco Smiths, the New Orleans…well…y’know…and the sometimes dominant Seahawk front four off his ass. If Kalil is here (and there is a chance), I’d pull that trigger. Otherwise, I’m equipping him with my favorite of the top receivers.
7. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Stephon Gilmore, CB (South Carolina). The Jags seem like as good a bet for a trade as any team in the top 10, so let’s get that out there. Maybe the Jets come up for a Melvin Ingram, or someone else antsy for a corner or offensive tackle. But here, they’re stuck. Wideout is certainly a major need, so Blackmon and Floyd would have to be on the radar. But I still think those corners and pass rushers get pushed up the board, and the Jags could use one of each. Alfie Crow and Peter King beat me to the Stephon Gilmore call (and undoubtedly with infinitely more actual information at hand), but I feel no need to be original here.
If I Were GM: Melvin Ingram. I’m just a believer and think he fits anywhere. I’m probably crazy.
8. MIAMI DOLPHINS: Ryan Tannehill, QB (Texas A & M). I honestly have no idea here. Just riding the wave. (Tannehill & Grudes.)
If I Were GM: Probably Tannehill. But I’d be nervous as hell. Blackmon and Floyd would be my other options.
9. CAROLINA PANTHERS: Quentin Coples, DE/DT (North Carolina). Like I said, these guys get pushed up the board. Butch Davis may be known for a lot of things, but let’s not forget that one of them is coaching up quality D-Linemen, and knowing talent at these positions. Coples has plenty. Questions about his motor and tendency to play too upright are totally valid, but so are observations of his considerable ability. Freakishly athletic and versatile enough to play inside or out, someone is going to find Coples well worth the gamble sooner rather than later.
If I Were GM: Michael Floyd. Cam is a special passer, and I like Brandon LaFell a lot. But I also know that Steve Smith can’t play forever and Floyd has dominant potential. I’d take him…then I’d go defense the rest of the draft.
10. BUFFALO BILLS: Justin Blackmon, WR (Oklahoma St.) First, a note: I could see the Bills trading up for someone like Kalil or taking Tannehill if he fell this far. But since I’m not predicting trades…Blackmon would be fantastic opposite Stevie Johnson. Ryan Fitzpatrick would know exactly how to work the ball to Blackmon and to utilize the Oklahoma State star’s Dr. Octopus-like catch radius and aggression for the football. He’s also a nightmare in the open field and often takes more than one small man to bring down. Most mocks have him going higher, and with good reason. But I think there’s a chance he falls with a perception that he is not quite the elite athlete that, say, AJ Green and Julio Jones were a year ago (they went 4 and 6, respectively).
If I Were GM: Again. Melvin Ingram. He’d look nice behind that devastating D-line they’re building. Or book-ending it on certain downs.
11. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: David DeCastro, G (Stanford). I had Dontari Poe in here, but I just can’t bring myself to do it. He doesn’t dominate on tape despite his fantastic measurables and combine workout. Plus, DeCastro is a surefire decade-long starter on the interior line and will help grind out yards with Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis pounding through the holes.
If I Were GM: DeCastro.
12. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: Melvin Ingram, DE/OLB (South Carolina). Finally. Coach Pete gets a new toy.
If I Were GM: Ingram. Was that not clear?
13. ARIZONA CARDINALS: Reily Reiff, OT (Iowa). The Cardinals have to protect whomever their quarterback will be, this year and in the future.
IF I Were GM: Floyd. I’m in the minority, but I don’t see Reiff as a surefire left tackle, and would have a tough time taking him here as a result. And Fitz desperately wants Floyd. This would fit.
14. DALLAS COWBOYS: Mark Barron, S (Alabama). All the consensus picks, like the Cowboys taking a defensive back here, make me uncomfortable. It’s just too easy. But they do need ‘em. Badly. Of course, Adam Schefter guaranteed on Wednesday that Barron won’t make it to this slot, so…
If I Were GM: Dre Kirkpatrick. It’s simple. He’s Sabanized and corners are more important to me.
15. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Michael Brockers, DT (LSU): Sen Dog assures me the Eagles’ biggest issue is up front on defense and that he’d be enthralled with the addition of the big DL from LSU. Good enough for me.
If I Were GM: Luke Keuchly. They desperately need the upgrade. Of course, it’s at least 50/50 he’s gone before this pick.
16. NEW YORK JETS: Courtney Upshaw, LB (Alabama): Smoke, noise, rumors, innuendo…and none of it about Tebow or feet in general. One well-placed rumor had the Jets interested in trading way up for Trent Richardson. I have a real hard time seeing that, but I don’t have a hard time seeing the Jets moving around. GM Mike Tannenbaum has made that a regular practice, and I half expect him to be selecting 8 or 10 spots earlier here. But Upshaw would fit beautifully into Rex’s 3-4 and is a quality thumper.
If I Were GM: Upshaw or Dontari Poe. Poe’s got questions, but Rex has a way with those guys and there aren’t many of “those guys” on the planet.
17. CINCINNATI BENGALS (FROM OAK): Luke Keuchly, LB (Boston College). As I mentioned above, I think in real life he’s gone by here. I just don’t know to whom, and in this particular scenario, he’s still sitting here for the Bengals to pluck up. Marvin Lewis was quoted just this week as saying they’ve “neglected the defense.” Let’s go ahead and assume that gets rectified in the first round.
If I Were GM: I’d go with Kirkpatrick first, but they get him anyway here and I can’t in good conscience just keep letting Keuchly fall. This is madness.
18. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: Cordy Glenn, OL (Georgia). The Bolts have been devastated up front with injuries and surprise retirements. Glenn is a big, athletic, versatile plug-and-play guy.
If I Were GM: Glenn. I loved Rumford Johnny’s pick of McClellin here, but I think the OL is a huge need.
19. CHICAGO BEARS: Michael Floyd, WR (Notre Dame). They’d be beyond lucky to get him here and to pair him with Brandon Marshall. Jay Cutler is an immensely talented quarterback who, in my view, started to make the leap into the upper echelon with outstanding play throughout 2011. Add another monster weapon and start doing some real damage to the rest of the NFC North.
If I Were GM: Floyd or Reiff.
20. TENNESSEE TITANS: Nick Perry, DE (USC). Still raw, but a rare athlete at a premium position with a nose for the QB and the power to bring him down when he gets there.
If I Were GM: In all honesty? Janoris Jenkins. Huge risk. But it’s #20, not #2.
21. CINCINNATI BENGALS: Dre Kirkpatrick, CB (Alabama). I’ll be stunned if the Bengals don’t come out of the first round with a new corner one way or another.
If I Were GM: Kendall Wright. Put him opposite AJ Green and watch the points roll in.
22. CLEVELAND BROWNS (FROM ATL): Reuben Randle, WR (LSU). It’ll be interesting to see whether they like Brandon Weeden enough to take him this early despite his advanced age (and if they take Blackmon at No. 4, they might just do that), or whether they look to a less obvious position like rush end. But I think it’s probably a wide receiver or a new right tackle. Several popular choices exist for the wideout spot. I think Reuben Randle makes a ton of sense here, and I hear they’ve got this batch of WR’s all pretty closely ranked.
If I Were GM: Randle. I’d be highly tempted to take Janoris Jenkins, but my team is still too young and developing. I’m a big believer in Reuben Randle.
23. DETROIT LIONS: Whitney Mercilus, DE (Illinois). Lead the nation in sacks, and would have a good chance at early production with guys like Suh, Fairley and Avril eating up blocks. Can learn on the job with the depth currently in place. And the Schwartz wants to destroy QB’s. All makes good sense to me.
If I Were GM: Tough call for me. Since I don’t trust their RB’s to stay healthy? I might look at a quality all-around back like Doug Martin of Boise St. here.
24. PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Kevin Zeitler, OG (Wisconsin). I have to think Ben is tired of getting demolished back there, and you know with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley in town they’re going to show a renewed commitment to Steeler football and the effective running of the football. Zeitler is a quality player that addresses both of these issues, shoring up the interior of that offensive line.
If I Were GM: Dont’a Hightower. Just seems like a Steeler to me.
25. DENVER BRONCOS: Devon Still, DT (Penn St.) Or maybe Dontari Poe. Or even a running back. But the Broncos must help the middle of that defensive line. I tore them up for not taking Dareus last year (though Von Miller was clearly an outstanding choice), and would do so again if they fail to address what I think is their biggest need.
If I Were GM: Still.
26. HOUSTON TEXANS: Kendall Wright, WR (Baylor). There seems to be a decent amount of disagreement as to what echelon of player Wright is, but he’s a first-rounder in my book. Couldn’t care less about his timed speed, as the tape shows me he knows how to use whatever he’s got to manipulate and destroy db’s. Tough to square up after the catch, a fine route-runner, and sure-handed. Would fit nicely opposite Andre Johnson and give the Texans that #2 that they’ve been looking for for so long.
If I Were GM: Wright or Poe.
27. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (FROM N.O.): Chandler Jones, DE (Syracuse). Leaning on my man Rummy, here, and I like Jones a good bit. The Patriots are impossible to predict. I certainly didn’t have them targeting those two rookie RB’s last year. And I fully expect them to trade at least one of these late first rounders.
If I Were Gm: I’d just defer to Belichick. Heh.
28. GREEN BAY PACKERS: Shea McClellin, DE/OLB (Boise St.) Long before he became fashionable with well-known and outstanding draftniks like Greg Cosell, my man Brendan Leister was going crazy telling me how good this guy was. The more Boise video I watched, the more I could see why. Explosive, fantastic get-off, and one of those tough, fundamentally sound Broncos studs. Someone will be exceptionally pleased to get him, and he’d be an insanely good fit opposite Clay Matthews III.
If I Were GM: McClellin.
29. BALTIMORE RAVENS: Dont’a Hightower, LB (Alabama). “Oh, hey. Looky what we found here. A perfect fit for our aging defense.” – Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome.
If I Were GM: I’m a Browns fan. I’d let the Ravens’ pick expire. (Nope. Still not over it.)
30. SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS: Coby Fleener, TE (Stanford). Yes, they have Vernon Davis, and he’s a monster. But perhaps youv’e noticed a team or two looking to run multiple TE threats out there? Plus we’ve got the Harbaugh connection. If Kendall Wright were still available, I’d have done that.
If I Were GM: I might gamble on Stephen Hill of Georgia Tech here. Crazy fast and appears to have every tool in the box. Just didn’t get enough run in that triple option at GT to know for sure.
31. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Janoris Jenkins (CB) Northern Alabama. If anybody can afford to gamble, it’s the Hoodie. Jenkins dominated while in the SEC. Bill likes Florida guys. That’s all I’ve got.
If I Were GM: Jenkins. You bet’cha.
32. NEW YORK GIANTS: Bobbie Massie, OT (Mississippi State). I think the Giants are going to be pleased with just about anything that falls into their lap at 32, and Massie is a big stud OL with major upside. They can take their time and develop him, possibly into the LT of their future.
If I Were GM: Lamar Miller. A fun, luxurious replacement for the Tiptoe Bandit and a fine complement to/insurance for Ahmad Bradshaw. I doubt they’d do it, though.
Post Script: Thank the Gridiron Gods this is over for another year. The Mock Draft is exhausting and infuriating. Enjoy your draft weekend, everyone!
The NFL Draft Sickness season continues with another special episode featuring one of the top draft writers around, Mr. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. Matt joins us to talk in depth about the draft, who should and shouldn’t go where, who should stay home (looking at you, Kellen Moore), and gives us a taste of what real scouting life is like. We’re hitting the draft and hitting it hard, so…GET YOUR HELMET ON!!
So. How many of you spent last weekend watching college-aged men doing speed, agility and explosiveness drills for hours on end? Yeah, us too. Let’s discuss. FootballSickness.com’s Ryan Burns and Sen Sogah review all the highs and lows of the NFL’s official offseason meat market, bat around the likely RGIII scenarios, look at the end of an era in Pittsburgh, and do a little free agency overview. It is the offseason but we’re between the lines, so GET YOUR HELMET ON!
Is a new Bay Area reign setting in? The Raiders and Niners both had impressive victories against playoff contenders, serving notice to the rest of the league that they intend to be dealt with. Some preseason favorites are in danger of folding early, and as usual a number of surprise teams sit near the top of the standings. It’s why we keep on watching so feverishly. That’s the Sickness. And this week’s review is titled for a man who had the Sickness something fierce. As a native southern Californian who grew up in the 80′s, I’ll remember Mr. Davis (as even some Oakland fans who never met him refer to him) for a lot of things, but the biggest one is this: the man loved football. He loved business and competition (litigation?) too, but he was always a football guy first. That’s what I liked about him. Rest in peace, Al.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 25, HOUSTON TEXANS 20: Three simple words: Just Win, Baby! Al Davis would no doubt be proud of his boys for finding a way to do just that on an emotional Sunday that found even me donning silver and black for the day. The Raiders forced Matt Schaub to drop back 51 times, as the Texans missed the game-plan advantage that is Andre Johnson. This Oakland team is for real, make no mistake about it. They didn’t unleash Darren McFadden with any devastation. They won with good tough defense, a balanced attack, and the leg of Sebastian Janikowski. Mr. Davis’ first round kicker made three field goals of 50 yards or better on the afternoon as the Raiders picked off a big AFC road win. Another Al headscratcher, Darius Heyward-Bey, hit for 99 yards on the day. Meanwhile, the hits just keep on coming for Houston, who may have lost Super Mario Williams for a significant period to a torn pec.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 48, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 3: Let’s all welcome the Niners back to official relevance, shall we? To say I’m impressed would massively understate the matter. They threw and landed early haymakers and then just pummeled the Bucs into submission. San Francisco dominated from start to finish, out-rushing a normally physical and run-heavy Tampa squad 213 yards to 86 (125 by Frank Gore) and winning the turnover battle 3-1. That’s how each of these teams are built to win, but only Coach Harbaugh’s Niners put it on display this week. At 4-1, the Niners are in the driver’s seat in the NFC west and has in-conference wins over both Philly and Tampa, who now have to chase them for any wild card contention.
BUFFALO BILLS 31, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 24: Michael Vick played a dominant game, but could buy neither a break nor decent protection as the Eagles fell into “let’s not turn this into the 2010 Cowboys, please” territory. Eagle fans like our man Sen Dog were no doubt employing numerous household items as projectiles early and often, as Vick passes found new and creative ways to locate Buffalo defenders. The Philly QB threw for 315 yards and rushed for another 90, but it wasn’t good enough as the suddenly game-for-anyone Bills rebounded from last week’s tough loss in Cincinnati. And Sen’s criticism of his Iggles as the least physical team in the NFL isn’t exactly ringing hollow. Fred Jackson put up almost 200 combined rushing and receiving yards. It’s about time we stop calling Jackson things like “underrated” and “under the radar” and instead refer to his as awesome. Consider that standard operating procedure around here from now on.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 30, NEW YORK JETS 21: Tom Brady keeps doing his thing, and the Patriots join the Bills at 4-1. But the most impressive part of the Patriots’ win was the final drive, as they took Rex’s ground-n-pound style to him with a heavy dose of BenJarvus Green-Ellis (136 yards and 2 TD), chewing up clock and leaving the Jets no chance to tap that miracle bottle they seem to keep on hand for just such occasions. The Jets are 2-3, but we’ve seen this before. I’ll wait and see. And I should mention: Shonn Greene really stood out in this one. He seemed to be running with greater comfort and decisiveness, translating into a number of explosive bursts up the middle. If this team is to turn it around, Greene needs to be a big part of it.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 29, DENVER BRONCOS 24: John Fox ceded to the laws of nature and pulled Kyle Orton in favor of Tim Tebow. I’m tired of defending my rather unscientific conclusion that Tebow gives them the better chance to win. I don’t care that Kyle Orton is a more polished NFL QB. From the minute they put him in last year, the offense had more energy. It just looked different, and though that may make Johns Elway and Fox uncomfortable, I credit Fox for making the switch and taking a chance. What did/does he have to lose at this point? Not much. Worst case scenario, they draft some quarterback from Stanford #1 overall. As their GM could tell you, things could be worse. Meanwhile, nice of the bolts to make it interesting. That 4-1 is not the prettiest of things, and they’d better play better if they want to hold off Oakland in the AFC West.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 28, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 24: The Colts almost got that first one as the Curtis Painter Experience took a more positive turn for once. Painter threw two more touchdowns to Pierre Garcon. The Colts had it for a minute, there. Alas, it was not to be. Matt Cassel played his best game of the season, throwing for four touchdowns (2 to Dwayne Bowe), and Jackie Battle stepped up with 119 yards rushing. The key takeaway here, though, is to remember that these two teams were playing each other, and that neither offers particularly stiff competition for most other NFL squads on a weekly basis. Too many huge injuries for both.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS 34, ARIZONA CARDINALS 10: Alright, Leslie Frazier. I see you! You are hereby re-hired on a one-week trial basis after Adrian Peterson gets 29 carries, rushing for 122 yards and three first-quarter touchdowns to lead the Vikings in an early knockout of the apparently punchless Cardinals. You know, it’s amazing: you give All Day the ball all day, and good things just happen.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 38, TENNESSEE TITANS 17: You didn’t really think the Steelers were going to let a one-dimensional, under-talented Titans squad come in and set fire to their whole season, did you? The Pittsburgh Steelers just know how to win, and don’t you forget it.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 36, NEW YORK GIANTS 25: Just before he was lost to a shoulder injury in the third quarter and replaced by Charlie Whitehurst, I was all set to write a “shame on all of you Tavaris-bashers” post. Then Whitehurst went out and things pretty much continued. Marshawn Lynch remains an uncomfortable proposition for any would-be tackler, and Sidney Rice is makes a big difference. Someone named Doug Baldwin went off. And the Seahawks won. This was typical of those games that make it difficult to take the G-Men too seriously. You know what I mean.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS 30, CAROLINA PANTHERS 27: Cam Newton remains entirely impressive, from the strong arm to the pocket poise to the threat he poses in the run game. He seems totally non-plussed, almost as though he was born to do this. Newton and the Panthers presented yet another tough afternoon, this time for the division-foe Saints. It wasn’t enough to beat Drew Brees (359 yards, 2 TDs), Jimmy Graham (8 rec/129 yards) and the Saints, who are built to last every week and all season long. Brees led an 80-yard drive, going 8/9 and hitting Pierre Thomas in the flat for the winner, answering Newton’s touchdown to Greg Olsen with a little over 12 minutes to play. The Saints should be happy with a tough road win within their own division. Nobody is walking out of Charlotte with an easy W in 2011.
CINCINNATI BENGALS 30, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 20: You know how I know Andrew Dalton is going to make it in the NFL? He throws it to AJ Green a lot. Sometimes, the test is just that simple. Great quarterbacks know that even when a play isn’t there, playmakers need to be given an opportunity to make them. It’s the beauty of the position- in a position of complete control, the optimization of your game demands- at the moments of highest pressure- that you relinquish it and trust your teammates. There is no way to control it all, because the best laid plans of offensive coordinators and quarterbacks will at times become the signing bonuses of defensive coordinators and pass rushers. Green caught 5 balls for 90 yards and a touchdown, and so far is doing nothing to dispel the “next Megatron” noise people were putting on him during the draft silly season. Green is super smooth. In retrospect, I think Denver should have taken him number 2. (That one’s for my brother, the Broncos fan.) As for the Jags, I think they could learn a lot by looking up the coast to Carolina. Let your rookie big man get out there and sling it. He’s got great safety valves in dual Bruins Marcedes Lewis and MJD, both of whom are very good in pass protection and the receiving game. Mike Thomas can stretch the field. You still need that impact guy, but imagine how nice it would be for Blaine Gabbert to understand how he fits in when you get him in April. What’s the worst that can happen?
Enjoy the Monday Night Fun, everybody. Lions in a tight one.
Burns and Sen Dog are back to talk NFL, and you can imagine how salty the Dog is this week after yet another Iggles debacle. Burns is excited about his 2-1 Browns, but more for the future. Not yet delusional on the Cleveland front. Everything from week 3 is covered, the games from week 4 are broken down and picked, and you get the usual Sickness Style. You know you want some. Right about…now-ish. What say you go GET YOUR HELMET ON!!!
BUFFALO BILLS 34, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 31: Like I was saying: don’t sleep on the Bills. Pretty please. Any further questions? Yes, you in the back? (Exasperated sigh.) Alright. One more time. No, this isn’t a fluke. Yes, the Bills are good now. Yes, we’re all somewhat surprised it’s happening like this. No, it’s not totally out of the blue. Chan Gailey has always been around prolific offenses, and it’s no accident. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Fred Jackson and Stevie Johnson all showed us signs of this last year. Add a couple of strong draft picks, luck into some free agent production and get a fortuitous bounce or two? Voila! You’re 3-0 and the darlings of the AFC. Now is when it gets interesting. As for the Patriots? They’ll be back. My question on them, though: are they giving up so much yardage as acceptable collateral damage from the decision that Tom Brady and the offense are their best chance to win most weeks? Because if it’s the other thing, I have a few more questions.
GREEN BAY PACKERS 27, CHICAGO BEARS 17: This game showed me a couple of things. One, I take it all back. The Bears are exactly who I thought they were. I can’t believe I let myself be fooled by the season-opening win against the Falcons (who evidently have problems of their own). Two, Jermichael Finley is a huge distinction between the Packers and everyone else. Still, Chicago: Feel free to at least try to cover him. The Packers are 3-0 and on their way once again. The Bears are reeling, and if they’re not, they absolutely should be. I’ll just keep beating the drum here: you must protect your quarterback much better than that to have any hope of winning what matters. I’ll wait.
CLEVELAND BROWNS 17, MIAMI DOLPHINS 16: The Dolphins dominated time of possession 37:51 to 22:09, but it was the last 3:23 that proved the difference. Colt McCoy led an exciting 80-yard drive that erased his own rough performance and any hopes the Dolphins had of kidding themselves into believing they were a playoff contender. McCoy missed some big throws and made some ill-advised ones, but appeared calm and collected down the stretch, dropping an absolute dime to Mohammed Massaquoi to win it. The Browns’ D kicked in with another five sacks (they’re now 2nd in the NFL. I know!) I don’t know whether Chad Henne is that bad, but I do think he and Brandon Marshall don’t see the field the same way. It’s interfering with the offense because you absolutely have to try to get the ball to Marshall, and Henne seems unable to do so with any consistency. Either that, or there is a pattern building with former Browns and new Dolphins offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Not sure yet. All in good time.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS 13, CINCINNATI BENGALS 8: Evidently it was not Jim Harbaugh’s plan to Suck for Luck. Let’s not forget the Niners play in the division that just saw Sickness division favorite Arizona lose at Seattle 13-10, so a 2-1 start is equal parts good fortune and fool’s gold. I don’t think the Bengals are this bad, but they’re doing a lousy job proving it. Aside: I kind of hope Mike Brown doesn’t get a chance to ruin Andrew Luck.
TENNESSEE TITANS 17, DENVER BRONCOS 14: Tennessee is showing a stronger defense than I anticipated, and Matt Hasselbeck (300 yards for the second straight game) is showing that he can still play and has the fire to do so. Unfortunately for the Titans, they were gut-punched by the injury gnome, who took the hatchet to budding superstar wide receiver Kenny Britt’s ACL. Expect more of Jared Cook, but that’s a not an easily-absorbed loss. Still, they can be buoyed by the fact that they have not yet unleashed Chris Johnson. Let’s hope he regains his freakiness, because he looks hesitant to me so far this season. Meanwhile, the issue in Denver remains what it is. We’re sure Tebow can’t go 24/39 for 173 and 2 TD’s, right? (I’m kidding. I think.)
SAINTS 40, TEXANS 33: Yep, that sounds about right. I think it’s safe to say that the Houston Texans can put that coffee down now (coffee is for closers, after all). Big win for the Saints at home in a barnburner that played out pretty much like we called it last week.
DETROIT LIONS 26, MINNESOTA VIKINGS 23: Those following along know I fired Leslie Frazier via Twitter before the game was over. And I’m serious. Some things are just as obvious as this to me: You do not give the ball to Toby Gerhart on a critical, game-clinching 4th and 1. You give it to Adrian Peterson. Furthermore, Adrian Peterson does not carry the ball a mere 17 times in any game you lead, at any time, by a score of 20-0. He carries it 27, at the absolute least. Were I Zygi Wilf (alas, Vikings fans, I am not), I would have proceeded to the field of play immediately, demanded Mr. Frazier’s headset and keys, and had the Viking ride him out of that dome on his Harley. That simply cannot happen at the NFL level, and the Minnesota media was rightly all over it. Frazier was appropriately contrite, but come on, man. That’s three games in a row you’ve lost a double-digit lead. You have the most devastating runner in the game. Make them beat him. Detroit? Still ballin’. All systems go. Plenty of room for growth, but 3-0 has to feel awfully good in the Motor City.
CAROLINA PANTHERS 16, JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 10: Parts of this game were played in monsoon-like conditions, the Jags’ lone touchdown came on a clever but desperate heave from midfield, and Cam Newton gets his first win as a starter. That’s all I have to say about that.
NEW YORK GIANTS 29, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES 16: …And so the hype train found itself derailed. Questions and criticisms abound this week in Philly, starting with: “What will be done to protect the quarterback?” Michael Vick took shot after shot again, and though his post-game criticisms sounded like they were about the officiating, I think our man Sen Sogah is right when he says they might just as well have been directed at the Eagles’ coaches. It wasn’t working on the other side of the ball either, as new toy Nnamdi Asomugha was beaten by Victor Cruz for a score. And this just in: if they’re isolating Brandon Jacobs on a sideline route against you, you’re the problem, Casey Matthews. Kudos to the Giants for identifying and exploiting the issues. Also, I’m again impressed with how Perry Fewell manages to create chaos and havoc for the opposing offense no matter what personnel he’s got. That dude can coach.
OAKLAND RAIDERS 34, NEW YORK JETS 24: Darren F. McFadden! 19 carries for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns reeks of explosiveness, in a good way. McFadden made short work of the noisily talented Jets defense, which couldn’t keep up with the Silver and Black all day. This version of the Raiders is talented all over the field, going six deep at receiver with young, speedy talent and mixing in just enough Michael Bush and Taiwan Jones to keep you honest. Don’t look now, but Jason Campbell is not embarrassing himself. They also have one of the nastier defensive fronts in football, with Richard Seymour still leading the way. Meanwhile, the Jets look nothing like what Rex professes to want his team to look. They can’t ground and pound it with Shonn Greene, and they’re throwing it far more than running it as a result. Mark Sanchez isn’t quite ready for that role, yet, but he’s being forced into it, and behind a patchwork offensive line that is now missing Nick Mangold. And on defense, they’re not as nasty. They’ve got some issues, but let’s also remember that the Jets finish strong. I suspect they’ll be fine.
BALTIMORE RAVENS 37, ST. LOUIS RAMS 7: We’ll be breaking out the DONE stamp for the Rams this week. The secondary is a disaster, and they clearly aren’t all on the same page in Josh McDaniels’ offense yet. What’s worse, there’s rumor-mongering afoot, with tales of dissent between GM Billy Devaney and Coach Spags. Bad things, man. The Ravens looked like the team that pasted the Steelers opening week. Torrey Smith showed off the crazy speed and caught three touchdowns for a big breakout performance. Pretty sure they didn’t need to make that Lee Evans trade. But why in the world were all the starters still in and why were the Ravens throwing deep up 30? Whatever the point was, I’m not sure it was worth it.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 20, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 17: Say whatever you want about the Chargers, but remember: this is the kind of game they usually lose at this time of year, so perhaps this constitutes progress. Those in San Diego questioning Philip Rivers should have their heads examined. No, he hasn’t played lights out ball, but he’ll be fine. Rough patches happen, and they’re 2-1. Relax. And hey, since the Chiefs decided to break their perfect non-attendance streak for 2011 by actually showing up for this division matchup, a trouncing wasn’t in the cards. That’s the best I got, Chiefs fans. It’s going to be a long year.
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 13, ARIZONA CARDINALS 10: Such is the quality of football in the NFC West that the entire division scored only nine points more than the Buffalo Bills this weekend. And only three more than the New Orleans Saints. And it was not a bye week for any of them.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 16, ATLANTA FALCONS 13: Of all the teams that have surprised me thus far, none has done so in a more disappointing fashion that the Atlanta Falcons. I was so excited to watch what should be a highly explosive offense compete with the likes of New Orleans and Philadelphia for the title of “scariest NFC offensive unit,” but right now the Falcons are scary for all the wrong reasons. Granted, they’ve had a tough opening schedule travelling to the Bears and Bucs and hosting the Eagles. But it looks like the expectations or the new plan have caused them to somewhat forget who they are at heart. A team must always reflect it’s coach’s personality. The yin and yang must be in sync. Under Mike Smith, the Falcons have been a physical, pound-it-right-at-you offense led by Michael Turner’s dominant rushing and Roddy White’s unstoppable possession receiving. But the run game hasn’t been quite what we’re used to, and the pass game looks discombobulated. I wonder if they’ve hit a bit of an identity crisis as they try to absorb all the new talent and get it running together. I still think they’ll be just fine, but they’d better get their quickly because it’s a tough division they’re playing in. A point that was no doubt hammered home by a loss to the Bucs, who despite showcasing a number of flaws are now 2-1 and doing it again. Raheem Morris knows how to get the most out of his guys, and Josh Freeman is cool in the big moments. You can’t go in there lightly or you’ll learn what the Falcons just did: the Bucs will find a way.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 23, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 20: The Steelers definitely have issues up front on offense, as Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney harassed Big Ben all night. Even scarier for Pittsburgh, they were unable to line up and play old school Steelers football against a Colts defense that is well known for being unable to stop the run. If you can’t run the ball, and you can’t protect your quarterback, well…you’re in Barney. But, of course, they’re the Steelers, and the Pittsburgh Steelers just know how to win. And so they did. Winning, meanwhile, is something the Colts may struggle to do even once this season. Evidently, without Peyton Manning the whole thing just goes completely to crap. They’re built to build leads on his brain and arm and protect it with the pass defense. They won’t build any leads with Kerry Collisn or Curtis Painter, or Brody Croyle or anyone else they bring in to work out. This is going to get ugly. Frankly, I’m just excited to see whether they’re willing to pass on Andrew Luck. (Hint: They shouldn’t be.)
Several outstanding divisional matchups dot this week’s calendar, and we know those teams hate each other. The return of DeSean, the Bears and Packers, and even (cough) Seattle and Arizona have something to offer. My apologies for the late post this week- lots of mental debating here. Good luck this week, and may all your real and fantasy teams dominate.
HOUSTON TEXANS AT NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Hide the women and children, because we’ve got an old-fashioned shootout on our hands. Sure, you can show me that stat about the Texans being the top-ranked pass defense in the NFL through two weeks. First, I’ll remind you that two weeks is a meaningless sample size, at least in my view, when it comes to evaluating an NFL team. Then, short of having persuaded you on that point, I’ll just tell you: “I don’t care.” Look, Houston is playing a better brand of ball on D, there’s no question. But they have not been tested to the degree they will be by even a Colston-less Saints attack. The Colts (sans #18) and the Dolphins are not the New Orleans Saints, who are a beast of a matchup for anyone and even tougher at the SuperDome. Which isn’t to say that the Texans don’t present a fairly similar challenge, coming in 2-0 as they do and riding some strong momentum. But they’re going to have to prove that they’re ready for the big boy table. No time like the present, and this is the perfect opportunity. I’ll be watching several factors closely in this game. First is the big, physical Saints defensive front, and how they deal with an outstanding Texans O-Line that is proficient in both the run and pass games. Second, it appears from here that the Saints will be without the Jonathan Vilma Bruise Explosion at their Mike position, a significant loss no matter how you slice it. Vilma is the leader of that defense and hasn’t missed a start since coming to New Orleans. Third, each team has questions in the secondary that will be tested by the explosive offenses in this one. And, for you fantasy folks, the Arian Foster/Ben Tate split will remain on radar. It should be a fantastic game, and one I expect to come down to the wire. Ultimately, I prefer Drew Brees to Matt Schaub, the Saints are at home, and the Texans still have to show me. SAINTS 31, TEXANS 27.
GREEN BAY PACKERS AT CHICAGO BEARS: This game has been a tough guy brawl in recent years, with last year’s NFC Championship Game no exception. But to me, the analysis comes down to one simple fact: the Chicago Bears apparently refuse to properly protect their quarterback via the offensive line, and until they do, I struggle to choose them to win over a team as complete as there is in the NFL. Even at home, and even though they have done so regularly enough. But Cabe Carimi’s injury just underscores what I was saying all offseason: the Bears needed to do a lot more than just add one draft pick to that sieve of an offensive front. The Saints proved it last week, as they damn near feasted on Jay Cutler’s bones at midfield after the game. Madman Martz can tell me all he wants about getting the ball out quickly and using his running backs as safety valves (and a fine safety valve Matt Forte makes, though I’d argue that he’s better as a workhorse), but the more I see his quarterbacks get creamed, the more I think he’s just being stubborn and trying to recreate something that cannot be recreated (i.e., the Greatest Show on Turf). As much as I love that nasty defense the Bears run out there every week, I can’t help but figure that Clay Matthews and his friends are going to set up shop in the Chicago backfield and destroy all of Martz’s well-meaning plans when Chicago’s offense is on the field. And nasty though they may be, the Bears aren’t just going to line up and cold-stop the Aaron Rodgers Variety Hour, which looks to be in fine form early in 2011. Still, it’s a huge rivalry as well as a big intra-divisional and intra-conference game, so to some degree all logic may be thrown out here. The team that makes fewer mistakes will win. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I suspect that will be the Pack. PACKERS 24, BEARS 20.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS AT BUFFALO BILLS: Admit it. You’re surprised to find the Bills coming into this one at 2-0. An opener at Arrowhead and week 2 tilt against a tough, talented Raiders squad didn’t exactly scream “hot start” before things kicked off, but after watching the Bills pile on the points I’m not entirely sure we should be surprised. Chan Gailey has long since proven his ability to take just about any quarterback (Tyler Thigpen, anyone?) and put up quality numbers with creative game-planning and a modicum of offensive weaponry. Only in Buffalo, I’m fairly sure at this point that his quarterback (Ryan Fitzpatrick) is pretty damn good, and that Fred Jackson, CJ Spiller, Stevie Johnson, David Nelson, Scott Chandler, Roscoe Parrish (unfortunately lost to injury) and friends constitute more than a mere modicum of ability. Don’t get caught napping in 2006- this Bills team can play. They’re still not deep or talented enough on the whole to be competing for what remains a very tough division, but at the same time they’re going to be no fun for anyone, including the Patriots. The Hoodie, Handsome Tom and the fellas come in an identical 2-0. Well…maybe not identical. They’ve run absolutely roughshod over their first two opponents, both of whom have strong defenses and one of whom is my pick to meet them back in the AFC Championship Game. But if Brady is going to put up nearly 1,000 yards passing every two games- as he did weeks 1-2 vs. Miami and San Diego- then we’ll be back here in January again asking if they can go 16-0. The Bills will hang tough well into this one, and they almost always seem to give New England a tough time. But the Patriots should prevail, as usual. PATRIOTS 38, BILLS 27.
NEW YORK GIANTS AT PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: When last we visited this matchup, Tom Coughlin was staring in total mystification at his punter, who had (in obvious total contravention of his coach’s instructions) just made what the whole world knew before it happened would be a fatal mistake if it did: He had punted the ball to DeSean Jackson with the game on the line. In fact, a moment or two before the play, I actually tweeted something like: “Do NOT punt this ball to DeSean Jackson. I’m telling you. Don’t do it.” Roughly 10 seconds and a bobble later, D-Jack was dancing into the end zone with one of the more thrilling and impactful victories in recent NFL memory. No doubt the G-Men will be looking to atone for that loss, but it’s a tall order, even with Michael Vick questionable after concussing himself on his own lineman’s shoulder last week. Despite the injury, Vick is expected to play, and that does not bode well for a Giants defense that has been decimated by injury, already losing several starters for extended periods, including their leading tackler and corner from a year ago in Terrell Thomas. The losses in the secondary, I have to think, are simply too much for New York to absorb against the weapons-laden attack of the Philly offense, who can throw any number of quality receivers at you and keep you off balance with a strong running game. In fact, the running game is so strong I remain baffled as to why it isn’t used a tad more frequently. Shady McCoy is the truth, and Ronnie Brown’s minimal carries thus far have been productive. I know explosion is the name of the game these days, but I have to hand it to our resident Eagles fan Sen Sogah- more balance is called for, generally. But here, I expect the DeSean Jackson/Jeremy Maclin combo to be more than the Giants’ backups in the secondary can handle, and though their formidable pass rush should certainly have Andy Reid and Vick’s full attention, I have to assume they will be able to thwart it successfully enough with their outstanding screen game and Vick’s mobility. Oh, and the other side of the ball, Eli must look to that Philly secondary like the road runner used to look to a starving Wiley E. Coyote in the throes of hallucination: a big, succulent turkey. Eagles in a romp. EAGLES 31, GIANTS 17.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS AT DALLAS COWBOYS: First things first: the Cowboys should win this game. But if NFL football were built on a foundation of should, a lot of things we know happened wouldn’t have. I’m just going to rip the band-aid off here: I’m taking the Redskins. They’re running the ball very well, Rex Grossman is doing plenty to recommend him, the receivers are killing defenses on crossing routes, the defense is stuffing the run and getting after quarterbacks, and they just look like a team with a lot of confidence and self-belief. That goes a long way. Dallas, on the other hand, has looked like a team just barely holding it together. Coming from ahead to choke at the Jets and barely scraping by the Niners in the first two weeks, the Cowboys have left me totally unsure of them. It remains true that their talent matches up well with just about anybody in the NFL, but a lot of that talent is banged up (Tony Romo and Dez Bryant chief among them), the defense is still learning what Rob Ryan wants, and absolutely nothing has been totally crisp yet. This is the kind of game that has confounded them in recent years and, in short, I see nothing that leads me to believe it won’t this Sunday. And I know I’m not crazy, because looking around at the real experts I’m far from the only one making this call. Sooner or later, Tony Romo is either going to have to convince us all he’s not fatally flawed when it matters most, or Jerry Jones is going to have to make a decision we know he doesn’t want to have to make. And DeMarcus Ware can say over and over again that this might be the best defense he’s played on, but until I see this team put together a 60-minute contender-worthy performance, they simply aren’t one. The Redskins 3-0? Believe it. REDSKINS 24, COWBOYS 23.
ATLANTA FALCONS AT TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS: A tough start to the 2011 schedule continues for the Falcons, as they follow a trip to Chicago and a hosting of Philly by travelling down to Tampa to take on the young, talented Bucs. Divisional superiority is up for grabs in the NFC South, as New Orleans, Atlanta and Tampa Bay all have reason to feel they can be the one (to say nothing of Carolina, whose addition of Cam Newton must certainly have them figuring they can get in on that discussion sooner rather than later). This is one of those games you need to have an eye on if you want to know how the league is really going to shake out this year. The Falcons looked infinitely better on offense week 2, as they ground out a nice home win against the Eagles. Still, it was far from a polished performance, as Matt Ryan was regularly harassed, Roddy White saw only 4 targets, and the Eagles offense moved the ball freely. In retrospect, it seems to me that only the early Michael Vick exit stands between the Falcons and 0-2. Maybe I’m wrong and they would’ve found a way to win regardless, and I would be remiss in not properly crediting the Atlanta defense for some of that. But Atlanta has plenty to clean up, and they’re playing a squad against whom cleanup is a fairly tricky thing. The Bucs play a game that capitalizes on their opponents mistakes. They’re not usually blowing people up. They’re playing sound, smart football and giving Josh Freeman opportunities to win games in the fourth quarter, a task at which it turns out he’s fairly adept. He proved it again last week at Minnesota. That Bucs offense hasn’t yet gotten rolling, but if I’m them the first thing I noticed from last week’s ATL-PHI box score was LeSean McCoy’s 5.3 yards per carry. I expect the Bucs to play good, old-fashioned Buc-Ball this weekend, pounding LeGarrette Blount on the ground in an effort to keep a potentially explosive Atlanta offense off the field and wearing the Falcon defense down to give Freeman that fourth quarter chance yet again. As for the Falcons, I’d like to see them make a statement here. They’ve already crossed the self-proclaimed Super Bowl contender bridge by making the Julio Jones trade and shelling out for Ray Edwards. The Falcons’ offseason tells us they think they ought to dominate the Bucs. Here’s their chance. Rolling over Raheem Morris’ squad, of course, is easier said than done. But I have a hunch the Falcons are hitting a stride, whereas the Bucs are still very much still in the process of putting it all together. FALCONS 27, BUCS 20.
NEW YORK JETS AT OAKLAND RAIDERS: Hot dog, anyone? Last time the Jets flew out to Oaktown, Mark Sanchez got caught red-handed mowing down a frankfurter on the sidelines. A small infraction, and frankly one that would likely have been smiled (giggled?) upon were Sanchez merely wearing the Silver and Black. This time, both teams come into this one in a position to be all business. The Jets just put a thumping on the Jags, and the Raiders are coming off an excruciating loss at the hands of the Bills (and, some might suggest, the NFL schedule-makers) in Orchard Park. A year ago, this one would have been an obvious Jets win to me. No more. The Raiders are going to be a very tough out for the Jets. The Oakland defensive front will- not might- will be a huge struggle for what is now a makeshift Jets offensive line, especially if all-world center and the captain of that line, Nick Mangold, isn’t ready to go. Richard Seymour, Lamarr Houston, Matt Shaugnessy and friends create all kinds of problems for every O-Line they play, and the Jets have had plenty of trouble already in that area. They’re not able to just line it up and pound people in the run game they way we know Rex Ryan would like to. Shonn Greene’s breakout season is still a thing of future legend, and the pass protection in front of Mark Sanchez has been spotty to say the least. And while Dustin Keller and Santonio Holmes are both dangerous and reliable targets, Sanchez will have very little time to find either against an aggressive Raiders’ front 7. On the other side of the ball, Oakland is quietly putting together a nice little attack. Darren McFadden is the closest thing to unstoppable this side of Adrian Peterson, and truthfully, he’s superior in the pass game. McFadden is big, slippery and crazy-stupid fast. Michael Bush is as good a 2nd back as there is in the league, and the Raiders are absolutely loaded with speed and ability outside, though they’ll be missing some of it this week as Jacoby Ford remains sidelined by a hamstring. But Denarious Moore made his presence known last week at Buffalo, and Oakland has several other receivers capable of hurting you. The key is Jason Campbell. He’s been very effective thus far, but this Jets defense is a different kind of test, and I have to assume they’ll pressure Campbell into some mistakes. I’m excited to see how this one turns out. I’ll take the Jets in a close one, but do not be even an iota surprised if the Raiders handle this one at home. JETS 23, RAIDERS 20.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AT CAROLINA PANTHERS: This one has all of a sudden become a battle between rookie 1st-round quarterbacks, and that’s reason enough to be watching it closely. Frankly, Cameron F. Newton has been giving you reason enough all by his lonesome, though some of you still haven’t noticed yet (or are at least a little slow to belief). I expect another big passing game from Cam, if only because the Jags are reasonably tough against the run and pretty mediocre in the secondary. They surely don’t have anybody to check Steve Smith, and not enough pass rush to cause a guy as athletic and capable of escape as Newton much concern. Cam’s put up over 400 yards in each of his first two games. If he does it again, we’re going to have to start finding new superlatives. And he’s doing this without the benefit of what I assumed would be a relatively strong running game behind DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart and a strong O-Line. Of course, Stewart caught a slew of balls out of the backfield last week, so it may just be that we’re seeing more of those New NFL trends in Chud’s offense. The Panthers are going to be competitive all year long, but they can’t afford any more losses on the defensive side of the ball, where two of their three outstanding starting linebackers are already gone. That should allow Jaguars youngster Blaine Gabbert to find some level of comfort this week as he makes his first NFL start. A few weeks overdue, the Jags are nevertheless doing the right thing for both Gabbert and their franchise by getting him in there now. Yes, it might cost you a shot at a division this year, but given the way Houston is playing and the likelihood that even a fortuitous division title would end in a first-round drubbing, getting your de facto franchise QB some experience ASAP makes the most sense of the available decisions. As a football fan with no particular loyalties here, I’m hoping for a whole bunch of footballs in the air. I’ll give the home team and the more experienced (heh!) quarterback the slight edge. PANTHERS 27, JAGUARS 23.
BALTIMORE RAVENS AT ST. LOUIS RAMS: Something tells me we’re going to break out the DONE stamp on the Rams much earlier than many thought and certainly earlier than I hoped. Take a look at their schedule for the next several weeks. The Rams are a pretty good football team, but they’ve got holes, and a big one if Big Steve doesn’t get right in a hurry. Ravens: I’ll say it again. Show me something this time and sweep the leg. RAVENS 28, RAMS 17.
MIAMI DOLPHINS AT CLEVELAND BROWNS: This should be a fun football game, and the Dolphins should be playing with plenty of desperation. After two tough losses to offensive juggernauts New England and Houston, I have no doubt they are pleased to see the traditionally punchless Browns on this weekend’s calendar. But it would be a mistake to simply circle the game as a W. First of all, Miami isn’t good enough to be circling anybody right now. His big numbers against the Dolphins and apparent improvement notwithstanding, he is still missing way, way too many critical throws and the Dolphins’ offense isn’t good enough elsewhere to make up for average quarterback play. Brandon Marshall has been better than last year, but dropped the kind of touchdown a guy like Brandon Marshall should catch last week and has appeared at times to have trouble staying on the same page with his quarterback. A bright spot last week was rookie RB Daniel Thomas, who quickly erased pre-season concerns and the talk of Reggie Bush-as-feature-back and put up 100+ on the ground. The surprise here, to me, is that I’m not seeing the kind of dynamic play on defense that I expected from the Dolphins this year, and it just may be that they’re very solid and not great. Other than Cameron Wake, there’s not a truly elite player on the defense, and they’ll be missing key players this week with Karlos Dansby and Vontae Davis banged up. Expect Ben Watson and Evan Moore to give Miami fits in the middle of the field, and Peyton Hillis is trouble for just about everyone. And against what is the 29th-ranked pass defense (according to the stats for the Home League- I’m nothing if not scientific), Cleveland needs to hope like hell that someone at wide receiver starts to step up as a legitimate threat. Greg Little remains my best bet based on the eyeball test and the fact that he’s leading the Browns WR’s in snaps, if not targets. On defense, the Browns adjusted the D-Line last week, moving rookie DE Jabaal Sheard back to the left end where he played in college, and it paid immediate dividends against the now-hapless Colts. Better for Sheard this week that his side is not the one patrolled by Jake Long, who figures to keep the Browns’ already meager pass rush at bay. Still, I like the middle of the Browns’ rapidly improving line to clog things up much better than Houston’s did last week against Daniel Thomas, and will be keeping on eye on Brandon Marshall vs. Joe Haden whenever it happens. Haden has been positively outstanding the first two weeks, but Marshall’s his toughest test yet. Most likely, it comes down to the quarterbacks, and I like Colt McCoy at home a little more than I like Chad Henne on the road. Call me crazy. BROWNS 24, DOLPHINS 23.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS AT CINCINNATI BENGALS: The Taylor Mays Bowl! Should be thrilling. Actually, I’m struggling somewhat to hype this one up. I’ll be interested to see how the Andy Dalton-AJ Green combination continues to develop, as so far they both appear perfectly ready for the challenge of the NFL. I’ll be interested to see if Jim Harbaugh can get his team to play as well on the road as they have at home. I’ll be interested to see if the Niners can finally start moving people off the ball on offense. I’ll be interested to see if the Bengals can rebound from a loss to a team they probably think they should have rolled in the Broncos. And I’ll be excited to see all of this via Short Cuts, because there’s no way I’m spending three hours on this one. BENGALS 23, 49ers 20.
ARIZONA CARDINALS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS: If this were in Arizona I’d be taking the Cardinals by a wide margin, because so far the Seahawks look totally ineffectual to me. Part of it is that they’re missing guys and still figuring it out on offense. The defense hasn’t been utterly awful. But it’s not exactly the ’85 Bears, either, if you know what I’m saying, and the idea of Brandon Browner shadowing Larry Fitzgerald is scaring absolutely nobody, especially Larry Fitzgerald and Kevin Kolb. The Cards aren’t great on defense, but the Seahawks’ O could be the cure. They do get Sidney Rice this week, as he’ll make his Seahawks debut. I’m on record as having some faith in Tavaris Jackson once this offense is settled and fully manned, but I have to concede that weeks 1 and 2 have done very little to bolster that view. So far, so bad. And if they can’t do something meaningful against Arizona, you’re going to find me lumping them in with the Lucksters. CARDINALS 27, SEAHAWKS 20.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: My deepest condolences to Colts fans for what is about to happen. But if you think the Indy O-Line had trouble with the Browns’ defensive front, you’re in for a bit of a surprise on Sunday. I didn’t see one redeeming aspect to the Colts’ play against Cleveland, and I don’t see how it should improve much against a far superior Steelers squad. Freeney and Mathis should have some success getting to the QB if given an opportunity against that set of backups the Steelers run out there at tackle, but the bottom line is that the Colts are very much built to be playing from ahead. That ain’t happening against the Steelers. Big day for Rashard Mendenhall and company here as the Steelers will roll over an undersized, overmatched Colts team. STEELERS 30, COLTS 6.
DETROIT LIONS AT MINNESOTA VIKINGS: The Lions have scored 75 points in two games. They have speed and play-making ability all over the field. They look like a focused, hungry bunch. The darlings of the preseason, they have lived up to the hype so far, and then some. If I’m Minnesota (and frankly, I’m glad I’m not these days), this game calls for a steady diet of Adrian Peterson. The Vikings must make it a priority to keep that explosive Detroit offense off the field, because with the way they’re aging and slowing on the defensive side of the ball, they can’t possibly stop the Lions. It’s not like the Silver Crush, as Coach Schwartz so famously dubbed his defense this season, has played perfect football. They still have some struggles to deal with in the secondary, and they can be run on a bit. Plus, let us never forget the Rule of Gridiron Desperation. This early in the season, nobody is willing to concede that they’re already playing for mere respect (even if Sen Dog and I are holding the DONE stamp over their heads, as we are with the Vikings). The more desperate team has to be given some added weight in a key divisional matchup like this. The Vikes know if they lose this game, any 2011 hopes are pretty much dashed and they will likely be in full rebuild mode for the foreseeable future. As such, they will be playing like there is no tomorrow. Unfortunately for them, I think tomorrow may be asking too much. LIONS 31, VIKINGS 23.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS AT SAN DIEGO CHARGERS: We broke out the DONE stamp on the Chiefs for this week’s FOOTBALL SICKNESS PODCAST, and I see no reason to think this one will be any prettier than the first two. If Antonio Gates isn’t right it’ll be slightly more challenging for the Chargers, but Philip Rivers is going to shred that Chiefs D regardless, and Matt Cassell will have no fun against what looks to me like an extremely fast Bolts’ defense. CHARGERS 34, CHIEFS 13.
DENVER BRONCOS AT TENNESSEE TITANS: A week ago, this looked like a likely week 3 suckfest between two teams headed nowhere. Now, after Denver’s solid home win over the Broncos and the Titans’ handling of the previously strong-looking Ravens, perhaps we…never mind. I can’t do it with a straight face. Look, I was certainly impressed with that Titan defensive performance against Baltimore. They were outstanding in coverage and the pressure caused Joe Flacco to make a lot of bad throws. But I’m convinced after re-watching it that a substantial part of that was just that Joe Flacco was making bad throws. The more surprising aspect of that game was Matt Hasselbeck shredding the Baltimore defense and making money off those Ravens turnovers. Matthew H appears to agree rather nicely with Kenny Britt. His willingness to let a big, fast, talented athlete just go get it shows a veteran’s understanding of how the game must be played today as well as the moxie to et it done. That should be the recipe here again, as the Broncos will come into town with a beat-up defense, a beat-up receiving corps and Kyle Orton under center (still the right choice for them, unfortunately). Oh, and they should feel free to unleash Chris Johnson. Any time now. TITANS 24, BRONCOS 17.