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Ravens win big over Steelers; previewing Sunday’s games

9-12

The Ravens have been in a non-stop spotlight for several days now. The cameras, the reporters and the unwanted attention stemmed from Monday, and i’m sure that I don’t need to talk about why. But interestingly enough, none of the attention that the pro football team in Baltimore has received involves football. Only in the sense that the “How will the Ravens respond?” questions became endless. Theories and predictions about whether or not this would be a bad thing were hot topics in most sports circles. Pointless in my opinion. It was going to be Baltimore, and them only, who would ultimately decide how they would perform after a circus-like week. The Ravens put distractions aside last night and with their rout over the Steelers, they let everyone know that football is the only thing on their minds. After losing their opening game to the Bengals, the Ravens were in need of a division win and they got one last night, controlling the game in the second half and putting a Steelers’ comeback out of reach. Joe Flacco had a couple of touchdown passes to TE Owen Daniels (pictured above) and the rest was left to the foot of kicker Justin Tucker. Baltimore didn’t jump off the page with lots of spectacular plays (Steve Smith had a couple) but they didn’t make any mistakes. That’s something the Steelers can’t say, who doomed three drives with costly turnovers. Just as Ben Roethlisberger was mounting another drive, either he or one of his teammates turned the ball over. Now both teams are 1-1 and looking up at Cincinnati. Baltimore has the upper hand right now but I have a feeling these two teams will be battling pretty close to each other for most of the season.

So what’s in store for Sunday? Plenty of interesting games and things to watch out for. What sticks out at me is that there are several good teams who have a good chance of starting their season off with two losses. The Patriots are in Minnesota this weekend, and I could very much see the Vikings taking that game after how good they looked last weekend. But was it more that the Rams are bad? That’s the thing about week 2: there’s no need to overreact to a week 1 peformance. Still, the Vikings-Patriots game should be a good one. The Saints are Cleveland as Drew Brees and co try and bounce back. And for the Browns, the Johnny Football watch continues. The Chargers are getting the Seahawks at home, should be a nice battle for both teams. The Packers are getting the Jets and all signs point to a massive game from Green Bay, who are on 10 days rest and very eager to get their first win. The day ends with the Bears in San Francisco in what should be a pretty great game. It’s impossible to tell how good the 49ers are after going against my Cowboys and their defense. But the game of the day goes to, well, there are two games that stand out to me. I really want to pay attention to the Falcons in Cincinnati and the Lions in Carolina. Particularly, two good offenses (Det and Atl) against two good defenses (Cin and Car) as all these teams will try and make a statement on Sunday. Game to avoid on Sunday? Without a doubt, the Jaguars in Washington.

If betting were legal here where I live, I’d take the Packers (-8.5) against the Jets and the Falcons (+5.5) against the Bengals.

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2014 NFL season preview: AFC North

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A division, once dominated by the clashes between the Steelers and Ravens, now belongs to the Bengals and their one-and-done status in the playoffs. Can Cincinnati finally get over that bump they have faced for three straight seasons? The Ravens are the most recent of the teams to see success but multiple on (and off) the field issues have plagued them since their Super Bowl run just two seasons ago. Pittsburgh is usually the model franchise around the league but health and questions about whether or not their defense needs to revamp will determine a lot for them. What about the Browns? Cleveland will always be the butt of jokes when it comes to the AFC North but with some new changes and a fresh head coach, can the Browns make big improvements? Interesting division to try and figure out.

Cincinnati Bengals: Another year for the Bengals and another year where the franchise will be solely judged on how well they do once they reach the playoffs. Barring a drastic injury to one of the big players, Cincinnati will once again end up around 10 or 11 wins and reach the postseason. The only difference this season is that the pressure has mounted in a big way now that quarterback Andy Dalton got his big extension. But can the young QB step his game up? Dalton has a big weapon (AJ Green) and a rising RB (Giovanni Bernard) to help continue his solid performance, but nothing will matter unless he improves his play when it matters most. That’s really what it’s going to come down to for the Bengals this season. Get through the regular season in the similar fashion of years past. I expect them to win the division but it will forgotten if they don’t win at least one playoff game.

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers’ season will hinge on a few big factors. First of all, how will the defense adapt to the changes that have been made both this season and last season? Troy Polamalu can’t continue to be the deciding factor this far into his career. The next two factors go hand-in-hand but are separate. How well will the offensive line protect Ben Roethlisberger? Injuries always occur but more specifically, the offensive line of the Steelers seems to lose a man every single weekend. The next factor is who, aside from Antonio Brown and Big Ben, will step up on offense. The running backs (Bell and Blount) dealt with off the field issues not too long ago but seem to have moved past it. Here’s a nice tip for the Steelers: don’t start the season 0-4 if you plan on making the playoffs this season. Adapting to changes will determine how well above .500 this team finishes.

Baltimore Ravens: The term “Super Bowl hangover” was said over and over last season with the Ravens. But how accurate of a description was it for Baltimore? Well, the way they start this season is going to give everyone a look at what this team is about. The Ravens revolve around their big-money elite quarterback Joe Flacco, who has been wildly disappointing since signing his big contract. I really like the signing of Steve Smith and their “all in” approach with various other acquisitions. If the passing game can carry the offense under their new coordinator, then the stink coming off their running game won’t be as much of an issue. Once Ray Rice gets back from his suspension (an absurd length) then they continue to figure out what’s going on with the run game. Cautiously optimistic about this Ravens team and I feel that they can compete for the division title.

Cleveland Browns: The Browns are the Browns. Every season they seem to catch news for the wrong reasons and this year is no different. Their star receiver Josh Gordon is appealing his season-long suspension and that will hang over the team for pretty much the entire season. Another big moment came when Brian Hoyer was named the starting quarterback with none other Johnny “money dance” Manziel holding the clipboard right behind him. This isn’t the boldest of predictions but don’t worry, Johnny Football will play this season and will eventually be the starter before week 17 rolls around. Just wait until the Browns’ underrated defense isn’t able to bail them out of a below-.500 record and the fans start chanting Manziel’s name over and over. Growing pains for this team but, despite their record, Cleveland will be a solid team this season.

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Ravens edge out the Lions; ranking the top 5 teams in the NFL

Lions vs. Ravens

Who says that you need touchdowns to win a game in the NFL? On the road and trying to stay in the driver’s seat for a wild card spot, along with an outside shot at the division, Baltimore was able to do so. The Ravens jumped on Justin Tucker’s back (leg) as he made six field goals, including a 61-yard for the go-ahead score in the final minute. Is there any doubt that he swung thousands of fantasy leagues last night and the few weeks past? Tucker has been on fire lately and John Harbaugh’s decision to let his kicker attempt from 61 yards was the right call. The Ravens offense looked very stale at certain points but they did enough to get in range for field goal after field goal. The first quarter was all Detroit, getting an early touchdown but from there, things just didn’t click on offense. Weird to say that when the Lions have the kinds of weapons that they do. Stafford’s three interceptions are glaring on the stat sheet but the Lions shot themselves in foot multiple times in the game. A dropped pass here, a bad penalty given up there. Joe Flacco was quite opposite of that, not dominating the stat sheet but instead limiting his mistakes while doing just enough for Baltimore to get into field goal range. It was a very important victory for Baltimore, needing to win against the Lions because their next two games will both be tough. With a bit of luck this coming weekend, they could be in position to play for the division title against Cincy when week 17 rolls around. The Lions loss gives the division back to the Bears but with a favorable schedule, they could be back on top as soon as this coming weekend. It’s just the silver lining because losing four of your last five is not the way a team wants to head into the final two weeks with the playoff hopes on the line.

Interesting weekend for some of the top teams in the NFL. Five division leaders (Broncos, Patriots, Bengals, Saints and Eagles) all lost their games this weekend. The stakes were a bit higher in the AFC, where none of the teams just mentioned were able to take advantage of the results. But despite those losses, are the Broncos and Patriots BOTH among the best five teams in the league. Unfortunately for Brady and co, their injury plagued team doesn’t make the cut this time around. Seattle is the clear #1 once again, dominating on the road this past Sunday en route to securing the top seed in the conference. After the Seahawks, it gets a bit complicated because the argument is how to rank established record versus positive momentum in the past few weeks. Denver is coming off a loss but because they hold the tie breaker over the Chiefs (the hottest team in the conference), the Broncos get the edge there. The same goes for the Saints, coming off a puzzling loss and going into Carolina this weekend. I’m giving the edge to the Panthers as the second best team in the conference because despite not owning the tie breaker over New Orleans, they still control their own destiny. The winner of that massive game this weekend will all but seal their spot for a second seed in the conference along with a first round bye. Right, in order, i’d say it’s: Seahawks, Broncos, Panthers, Chiefs and Saints. That does leave out the 49ers, a team firing on all cylinders but because they lose tie breakers to both the Saints and Panthers, they don’t make the cut this time. It’s going to be crazy watching all of the best teams in the league sort each other out in the last couple of weeks. The only downside to that previous sentence is that, as stated, there are only two weeks left in the regular season. Let’s just enjoy these last two precious weeks as much as we can.

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Leftovers from Thanksgiving Day’s slate of NFL games

Oakland Raiders v Dallas Cowboys

It’s always a good day when we can enjoy lots of Thanksgiving food (whatever time every person does it) while having football on the TV for the entire time. I don’t know if we hit the 12 hour mark last night but football fans were pretty close to have 12 straight hours of football. Minus the hour or so of pre-game and halftime shows. The day started off with the Lions and Packers, an NFC North rivalry that goes back a long time but just doesn’t have the same impact without Aaron Rodgers. Back up Matt Flynn was over matched the entire game, sacked 7 times while only throwing 139 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. Credit to the Lions defense as well because they had as big of an impact on this game as some of the best defenses in the league. On offense everything was clicking with Detroit, from top to bottom. Matt Stafford had a couple of turnovers to begin the game (one going back for a score) but towards the end of the second quarter, everything was smooth sailing for the Lions. Megatron was Megatron and their combo running game of Reggie Bush and Joique Bell really brought the offense to another level, much more balanced. Not that anyone felt different but every week confirms that Aaron Rodgers means more to the Packers success than probably any other team in the league. Right now it’s uncertain if he’ll return next week. Now the Lions are back in the driver’s seat for the division as they await this Sunday’s results.

Our second helping of the day featured an odd game between the Cowboys and Raiders. It’s odd because on the very first play of the game the Raiders caused a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. So we’re 12 seconds into the game and the Raiders are up by a touchdown. Things continued to favor the Raiders for rest of the half, doing all the right things on offense. Sure, the Cowboys defense is among the worst of the league but it’s not like the Raiders offense had been lighting it up. At halftime the teams completely switched and the Cowboys nearly dominated the second half from start to finish. The Raiders made things interesting late in the game by getting within one score but without any of their timeouts, it was difficult for Oakland to get the plays they needed. DeMarco Murray led the way in terms of stats (3 rush TDs) but it was a combination of different players on the Cowboys offense that engineered their drives. The Raiders on the other hand didn’t do well against the Cowboys halftime adjustments, showing little signs of what they had done in the first half. Another bad season for the Raiders as they look at making changes and the coming draft. The Cowboys, like the Lions, take hold of the division lead as they await results. Quick shout out to Selena Gomez for looking good during the halftime show.

Things wrapped up in Baltimore with the heated rival Pittsburgh Steelers in town. Normally this is a must watch for any football fan but this season the teams aren’t doing as well as we’re used to. Did they still provide from of the same hard-hitting entertainment? There were some big hits to go with a few scuffles but there were also a lot of odd occurrences. The game came down to an unsuccessful two-point conversion but from the botched field goal to Mike Tomlin’s on the field interference, it was a weird game. But a win is a win and for Baltimore, it keeps them alive in the heated race for the second wild card spot in the conference. All the white keeping the pressure on the Bengals, who are in San Diego this weekend, for the division lead. It was maddening to watch how long it took Pittsburgh to get some offense going, not being able to find the scoreboard until halfway through the 3rd quarter. An offense that looked so good the past couple of weeks sputtered out of the gate and played catch up the entire game. It’s not the type of game that the Steelers want to play when they’re fighting to stay alive for a spot in the postseason. On a side note, the league is looking into Tomlin’s interference on that kick return.

Anyone else riding the Buccaneers (-8) in Carolina this weekend? The Panthers are on a big streak right now but it’s not a streak where they blow teams out as of late. This is a completely different Bucs team from the one the Panthers beat handily about a month ago. The Bucs are playing solid football and I see them keeping it close in Carolina on Sunday.

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Manning’s huge night leads Broncos past Ravens in opening night

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The weather delay might have been the reason that Peyton Manning got off to a slow start but once he got going, there simply wasn’t a way to stop his barrage of TD passes. I predicted yesterday that the Ravens, despite being significant underdogs, would be able to keep it close for the entire game. And for a half, it certainly looked that way. The Ravens were pretty effective in containing Manning’s targets to keep the damage minimal and went into the locker room up by a field goal but that all changed during the 3rd quarter. Manning began to find his receivers, especially Wes Welker in the 3rd and from there it was a night of historic proportions. Manning’s 7 TD night ties the NFL record for most in a single game as he led the Broncos to the first victory of this season. It’s been 44 years since a QB last did what Manning did last night. So big ups to him and anyone who has him as their fantasy QB. Yes, that includes myself so thank you Peyton Manning. And for the Ravens it was simply a combination of their offense not having enough balance (lack of touches for Rice) and their inability to contain Manning’s pass attack. It was the worst loss on the opening game by the defending Super Bowl champion. Back to the drawing board for Baltimore.

While that was a great appetizer for this weekend, it’s certainly time for the main course that comes in about 48 hours. There are some great games on Sunday. Aside from the Cowboys-Giants game come prime time, the games i’m looking forward to the most are the Bengals at Bears, Falcons at Saints and of course the Packers in San Francisco to take on Bryan’s 49ers. I’m slightly on the Bengals bandwagon. I don’t think they’ll reach 12 or 13 wins but I really feel that they can win their division. I also want to see the launch of the Bears’ annual hot start. Falcons at Saints just has so much potential for a high-octane, classic shootout. As far as the Packer-49ers game does, well, much doesn’t need to be said. Two of the best teams in the conference going at it early after their playoff game last season in which the Niners and Kaepernick dominated Green Bay. The revenge factor will definitely be in play. I’m also really interested to see how the 49ers offense will deal with the Crabtree loss and how well other teams have adjusted to the read-option. Games to avoid on Sunday? Well, anything involving the Jets, Raiders or Jaguars is a safe bet to stay away from. Luckily there are enough good early games to help us with that.

As far as the Cowboys go, i’m more optimistic than most. Most people are predicting another 8-8 season for my Boys but I think this season will be different a i’m looking at a division title with a 10-6 record. It remains to be seen that things will change but beating the Giants in Cowboys Stadium (what’s at&t?) on a Sunday night game is the way to start a season of success. Happy football season everyone! Enjoy the games.

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Getting ready for the 2013 NFL season

9-5

It’s been a terrible offseason for myself. In terms of being really prepared for what’s to come this year and getting ready for the season to begin. Real life has gotten in the way over and over so unfortunately i’m not entirely prepared as much as I should be but i’ve crammed all week like i’m back in college, drinking redbull and everything. That’s not the most effective way to prepare for a season but it’s better than nothing. Alas, that’s my personal business and doesn’t matter because ladies and gentleman, football is BACK! Man, it feels so good to say that. I’ll say it again: NFL football is back! After the dregs of summer sports where most fans only care about their baseball team or the random grand slam happening around tennis, finally football begins. In approximately 7 hours and 30 minutes, the Ravens will take the field in Denver to face off against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The latest betting lines that i’ve seen show the Broncos as a 7.5 point favorite. Reasonable but at the same time, it seems a little high. I feel that the Broncos can score enough to win the game but their lack of pass rush (Von Miller) is going to allow the Ravens make some big plays to keep themselves in the game and cover the line. Aside from tonight’s game, there’s much to be excited about. Here are some of my burning questions:

What will be the teams that regress and the teams that improve?

It happens every season. The six teams that make the playoff for each conference are the never entirely the same in the next season. I’m not sure what the exact stat is but I think at least two from each conference change from season to season. Even though the NFC is very exciting, I think the obvious regression teams are the Vikings and the Redskins. Many people think the Vikings had a bit of luck last season and their schedule this season is much tougher. Adrian Peterson will no doubt have another monster season but will the rest of offense be able to keep up? The Redskins are the other candidate simply because RG3’s knee is still a question and because of how competitive the NFC East is from season to season. So if those teams are out, who’s in? The Saints are poised for a big season after their head coach returns. I like their chances of making the postseason because of their offense but their defense is still a big question so we’ll have to see happens. And the other team that joins the playoff festivities appears to be whatever team wins the NFC East. Since 2004, no team has won that division two years in a row so it’s definitely up for grabs.

Now it gets a bit trickier on the side of the league because while the NFC is very top heavy, the AFC really does feel like lots of teams can win this conference. I’d consider the Texans, Broncos and Patriots as locks for the playoffs in the AFC. But from there i’m struggling to figure it out because I think the North is up for grabs, mostly between the Bengals and Ravens. So maybe while they battle for the division, the other teams grab the wildcard. Will their record be good enough? We’ll have to wait and see. Now, the bandwagon for the Colts regression is absolutely full right now as everyone feels they’re going to take a step back. On the other side, the same amount of people are riding the Chiefs as the team that will greatly improve and make the postseason come winter time. If I had to pick one i’d say it’s more likely that the Chiefs improve and make a run for the postseason. Big upgrade at head coach, their quarterback will finally be at least average (Is anyone happier than Dwayne Bowe this season) and the overall look of their team looks great.

Those are just some of the few thoughts of this season. Tomorrow i’ll have some more predictions and a closer look at the week-to-week match-ups for Sunday but for now, let’s enjoy tonight’s action between the Ravens and Broncos as we embark on a new season of (hopefully) great NFL action. Good look to all the teams but especially to my Dallas Cowboys!

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What would you do with a $120 mil contract? Joe Flacco went to McDonald’s.

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Now that can be a little deceiving in that I don’t mean that he went there and spent nine-figures all at once, i’m pretty sure you’d have to buy hundreds of locations to achieve that. Joe Flacco was just a couple hours into his brand new six-year, $120.6 million deal with the Ravens and the QB was seen in the drive-thru at a local McDonald’s. What did the elite quarterback order? 10 piece McNugget meal, fries and an unsweetened ice tea. Now, i’m not a “mickey d’s” person myself, I prefer the likes of Whataburger when it comes to fast food but if the quarterback wants to eat, let him eat what he pleases. Flacco doesn’t appear to be the type of person that’s going to let a Super Bowl MVP or a shiny new contract go to his head, at least for now it doesn’t. Even though he signed the new contract, many NFL fans and experts immediately began the debate of whether or not Flacco deserves that kind of money.

When using the word “deserve” in any sort of debate or conversation, there are lots of gray areas and thus lots of different stances that can be taken. Do I think Flacco deserves that kind of money? Yes, Flacco deserves a max contract after a great playoff run that eventually led to a Super Bowl victory as much as any other top tier quarterback. Remember, there are only seven starting quarterbacks in the NFL that have a championship and it’s not easy to get on that list no matter how talented the team around the QB is. Chances are that he’s not going to see the entire amount of his contract but for now he’s received a $29 million signing bonus with another $52 million guaranteed over the life of the contract going forward. It’s almost certain that the final couple of years will be restructured to have more flexibility in spending on other players but for now Flacco deserves this max deal and should enjoy it.

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Ravens defeat 49ers in a memorable Super Bowl XLVII

Super Bowl XLVII - Baltimore Ravens v San Francisco 49ers

Now when I mean “memorable” like I did in the title, i’m talking purely from a football standpoint. Let’s set aside the abundance of non-football shenanigans that surround the big game. Most of the time during commercials I was busy checking Twitter for football related reactions so the only one I remember seeing is the “Leon Sandcastle” one but it was excellent. I didn’t see much of Beyonce (am I the only one who did a beer run?) but apparently she killed it so congratulations to her. It ended up being football heavy for me, just how I prefer it. Here’s what stood out the most for me:

A lot of people predicting the game pointed out that things would start out slow for the 49ers once again due to their inexperience and it’s pretty much exactly what happened. The Ravens looked like a veteran team with offensive firepower that had their eye on the prize. It was all Ravens the first half, led by the ELITE play of Joe Flacco (3 TDs) and all of a sudden the game looked like it was going to be a blowout in favor of the Ravens. The Ravens continued their momentum with a TD off a kickoff return and the game looked over until, well, the all mighty black out. The black out was probably the greatest time to ever be on Twitter as a sports fan.

Conspiracy theories were being tossed around during the wait. Clearly the stoppage of play was going to favor the 49ers, giving them time to take a breath and figure out what was going on while halting the momentum of the Ravens. For a while it looked like the teams had literally switched, the Niners having a furious rally to get within one score late in the 3rd quarter. The game got even closer on a Kaepernick TD halfway through the 4th and when it looked like the Niners were going to score to take the lead, the Ravens held on to force a turnover on down. The final play on the drive for the 49ers had some controversy because of an apparent hold but it’s still questionable whether or not the pass was close enough to be caught either way.

It was a game not of two halves but one of post and pre-black out. Ravens win 34-31 and the story lines among the team are plenty. Can Joe Flacco finally be labeled as “elite”? Yes, he was the best quarterback last night and the best throughout the playoffs. Now he has the hardware to back it up. I know it’s tough right now but 49ers fans shouldn’t be too down because they have a very young and talented team that will contend for a spot in the Super Bowl for a long time to come.

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