Tag Archives: NFL

Looking Inside the JLBSports Crystal Ball: 2013 NFL Predictions Sure To Go Wrong

The NFL seems to just roll along, completely undaunted by the winds of change. Last week they agreed to shell out $765 million over 20 years as part of a class action concussion lawsuit. Compared to the $9.5 billion in revenue the “non-profit” NFL took up Madison Avenue in 2012, and the original $2 billion that the players originally wanted, that figure is a drop in the bucket to make the concussion headache quiet down for now. In an attempt to leave no survivors behind, the NFL even pressured ESPN to pull out of an upcoming PBS Frontline piece on concussions. Given that ESPN CEO John Skipper lives off of Roger Goodell’s tit, it’s no surprise that ESPN threw their journalistic responsibility to the wall for the sake of business.

Last year, I wrote about how the morality of football should be called into question. I stand by that, but it’s unreasonable to think that the NFL will ever change their ways. They’ll continue to throw money at the problem just for the sake of saving face and keeping the media pressure to a low simmer, because they can afford to do so. What’s $10 million to donate to concussion and head injury research to them? Nothing! Now nobody can charge them of totally ignoring the issue like they did for 30 years—they’re paying for “answers.” And if Congress and the insurance companies muster up enough public guilt to somehow force the NFL to change the rules of the game or risk being shut down? Something tells me that the right people will have their palms greased. The biggest obstacle to progressive change in this country is conservative money, and the NFL has plenty of that. The NFL is a behemoth which is about to host a Super Bowl in New York City—the thing about these massive forces of business is, when they get rolling and the money is seemingly unlimited, they won’t stop for anyone. Not for Junior Seau’s family, not for a PBS piece, and not even for Congress. The money is just too good.

With that, let’s jump into what we’re projecting for this NFL season. But first, you have to give credit where credit is due. While a Packer victory over the Texans was the popular Super Bowl pick around here last fall, Greg bucked the trend and correctly predicted a Ravens-49ers Super Bowl. Not only that, but he picked the Ravens too. I sure hope he threw some money on that forecast bet.

*denotes wild card team

JUSTIN’S PICKS:

NFC EAST
Giants

NFC NORTH
Packers

NFC SOUTH
Falcons
Buccaneers*

NFC WEST
Seahawks
49ers*

AFC EAST
Patriots
Miami*

AFC NORTH
Cincinnati

AFC SOUTH
Texans

AFC WEST
Broncos
Chiefs*

SUPER BOWL PICK: Seahawks over Broncos (21-17)

Looking around the AFC, this might be the weakest the division has been in years. Everything is relative to their NFC neighbors, and for the first time in recent memory, I’m not all to impressed by what the AFC’s elite are stacking this season. Yes, the Ravens just won the Super Bowl, but I’m expecting them to regress this season. The Patriots’ defense and wide receivers are a concern, but that has rarely ever slowed down Tom Brady. I just don’t think, given how random the NFL playoffs can breakdown in some years, that the Belichick-Brady reign has another Super Bowl title left in them. The Broncos are a much stronger team, and with Peyton Manning at the helm, they’re in more than capable hands. In the NFC, it’s a dogfight between the 49ers and Seahawks right now. The Packers, Giants, and Falcons will always hang around given their previous winning seasons and quarterback play, but nobody in the NFL is touching the talent and physicality out west. If Percy Harvin can find the field by the end of the season, the Seahawks are my surefire Super Bowl pick.

GREG’S PICKS

NFC East:
Giants

NFC North:
Packers

NFC South:
Saints
Panthers*

NFC West:
Seahawks
49ers*

AFC East
Patriots

AFC North
Bengals
Steelers*

AFC South
Texans

AFC West
Broncos
Chiefs*

SUPER BOWL PICK: Giants over Broncos, 38-35

Yes, I excluded the Ravens from the Playoff Picture. While I believe their defense is more talented than what it was last year, there have been too many changes in personnel since Super Bowl XLVII for me to include them. Still, thanks for making me look like a genius last year, Baltimore. Anyway, expect parity this season. A lot of these teams are evenly matched, and in this league, anyone truly can beat anyone. This year, look for trends from last year to be reversed: The Redskins have the toughest schedule in the league and will miss the playoffs, as will the Cowboys, with Jason Garrett being fired at season’s end. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have an easy schedule, a competent QB and Head Coach Fat Andy, who will lead them to a wild card spot. The Colts last year were 7-1 in games decided by 7 points or less; I expect that record not to be matched this season. The Panthers, on the other hand, finished 1-7 in the exact same games; expect that mark to improve as they snatch a wild card berth.

In the AFC Championship Game, Houston will travel to Denver, where they will lose late on a Matt Prater 55 yard field goal. The Giants are gonna win the NFC East, win their home playoff game against the Panthers, somehow silence the Saints in New Orleans and set up a rematch of the 2007 NFC Championship Game, which will have the exact same outcome of a Giants victory. The Giants will play in their road whites in MetLife in a Manning Bowl Super Bowl in New York, which will probably cause ESPN to die from autoerotique asphyxiation. With the home crowd backing them, the Giants will win Super Bowl XLVIII at home, equaling the Dallas Cowboys and becoming the first team to win a home Super bowl in the process, which will result in Eli locking up a spot in the Hall of Fame as well as Jerry Jones committing suicide.

The Jets and Geno Smith: How a Trainwreck Led to This

As an avid fan of the NFL and comedy, I’ve always kept my eye on the New York Jets. It’s not that I hate the Jets—if anything, as a New York Sports fan, I want them to win because I have many friends who are Jets fans. But I also find it equally enjoyable to watch them constantly fuck up, and boy, when the Jets fuck up, they do it in GRAND fashion.

I could probably do a three-hour stand-up routine based solely around the New York Jets. From their horrible draft picks to their lunatic fringe fanbase and even their consistently horrid play on the field, I could probably make a living off of the failure of the Jets if I put the time or effort into it. For the time being, however, this column is the best I can do.

Over the last 18 months, the Jets have made a series of fuck-ups that are right up there with any series of fuck-ups in the franchise’s long, storied history of fucking up. Where did it all begin? Well, after the Jets finished the 2011 season at 8-8, failing to make the playoffs off the back of two successive AFC Championship Game appearances, in conjunction with the cross-town New York Giants winning their fourth Super Bowl, Head Coach Rex Ryan and General Manager Mike Tannenbaum evaluated the squad at the time to find out what went wrong. Obvious problems? Franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez had regressed in his third season in the league, completing 57% of passes in an offensive system that revolved far too much around him throwing the football.

Upon sticking their nose in the stats and the tape, the Jets looked at other possible options they could pursue at QB instead of Sanchez, eventually coming to the conclusion that, unless they signed free agent Peyton Manning (which was unlikely), that keeping Mark Sanchez would probably be the best option for 2012. So the Jets hierarchy went to Mark Sanchez and said something along the lines of, “We believe in you, you’re our starting QB next year, and there’s no need to worry about losing your job.” After saying that, they continued to pursue Manning in free agency.

That would turn out to be a massive mistake by the Jets front office that would come back to bite them in the ass, because Mark soon found out that the Jets were pursuing Manning and that they had held meetings with him after they had assured him that he would be the Jets starter next season. As such, when Manning went to the Broncos, the Jets had not only lost out on Peyton, but they had also demoralized their current starting QB. So, what did the Jets do to show that they had confidence in Mark? They made their second mistake: they gave him the contract extension. 3 years, $19.5 million guaranteed. At the time, he was higher paid than Aaron Rodgers.

If you don’t get how stupid this move was, here’s the analogy: Imagine this being a marriage between a wealthy husband (The Jets) and his wife (Mark Sanchez). The Jets, by telling Mark Sanchez that they believed in him and that he would be their starter next season, basically renewed their vows to Mark Sanchez, specifically including the words “I will not cheat on you” in those vows. Meanwhile, at the same time, said husband discovered that a supermodel he had ties with (Peyton Manning) had just recently divorced and was now on the market. Despite renewing his vows, the husband chased after the supermodel. They texted. Pictures were exchanged. Tubesocks were ruined. Dinners happened. The husband was spotted running by someone that his wife knew, and word subsequently got back that her husband tried to cheat on her. As such, when the husband was confronted by his wife after being unsuccessful in cheating on her, clearly hurting her feelings, his response was to go on a second honeymoon despite clearly not loving her.

With Sanchez getting this contract in mid-March, this should’ve been the end of it all. But it wasn’t, because on March 22nd, the Jets made their third mistake, and this would undo any showing of confidence that they gave Mark Sanchez with that new contract: they traded for Tim Tebow.

Trading for Tim Tebow was, bar none, the stupidest mistake they could possibly make. Tim Tebow had just come off a season where he had taken the NFL by storm and developed an even greater cult following than what he had in college. He was one of the most recognizable names in all of football, and he would now be the backup behind a QB with an already fractured confidence.

Sim through the 2012 season. Mark Sanchez had no confidence, played abysmally after Week one, ran into Brandon Moore’s ass on National TV against the Patriots in the Thanksgiving Night Game, got replaced in the middle of the game by Greg McElroy the following week, and the Jets ended up finishing the season at 6-10, their first losing season since 2007 (the year before they traded for Brett Favre). Sanchez played in 15 games, starting them all, throwing 13 TDs and 18 interceptions, regressing dramatically from the year before.

General Manager Mike Tannenbaum got fired after the season was over and was replaced by John Idzik. Rex Ryan, much to the chagrin of some Jets fans, is still in his job despite failing to make the postseason two years in a row. Looking to start fresh and improve a lackluster defense, the Jets used their two first round picks on defensive players in the 2013 draft. And then, early in the second round, the Jets selected West Virginia QB Geno Smith, projected by many to be a Top 5 pick, but instead fell to the second round because he was perceived by many to be a standout of a poor QB class.

With the selection of Geno Smith, the Jets have made it clear that the leash on Mark Sanchez is going to be very tight for the 2013 season. If I were a betting man, I would guess that Mark Sanchez would start the first two games of the regular season, home against Tampa Bay followed by the Patriots at Foxborough four days later on that Thursday night, and then, barring a 2-0 start to the season, he will be replaced by Geno Smith, who would start week 3 at home against the Buffalo Bills, having ten days to prepare with the first team and get acquainted to his role as the starter.

Despite that, I honestly believe that the Jets have made a mistake in drafting Geno Smith, and think that he will suffer after he plays one or two games. The problem with Geno Smith in college was that he didn’t have a running game to help him at West Virginia. He also didn’t have a defense. He started off the season 5-0, winning those shootouts against Texas (48-45) and Baylor (70-63) and appearing to be a sure-fire Heisman Trophy winner. He beat those five teams by simply outscoring them. And then, out of nowhere, the Mountaineers went to Texas Tech and got hammered 49-14. How did it happen? Simple: Texas Tech played 8 in the backfield specifically to take away Geno Smith’s passing lanes. They didn’t blitz the whole game, nor did they deviate from their 8-man zone. This could’ve easily been countered by West Virginia if they had a decent running game, but alas, they did not. This game exposed Geno and West Virginia. The result? A five game losing streak as coach after coach realized that stopping Geno Smith was an easy task. To be honest, Geno Smith’s stats were probably inflated by the Big 12 defenses that he faced. If that West Virginia team had played in the SEC, they’d have probably finished 3-9 and Geno Smith would’ve gone un-drafted.

Why do I bring that up when talking about the Jets? Because the Jets are worse off than West Virginia. They don’t have a running game. They have some receivers for him to throw to, but they’re not gonna be able to protect him all that well. The only saving grace that Geno might have is that the Jets defense will be able to keep him in games, but that won’t matter if he’s gonna be given the keys to yet another one-dimensional offense. It’s worth asking: if John Idzik was so desperate to draft a new QB, why didn’t he wait a year for Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez to fail again, be able to fire Rex and get a Head Coach in that he liked and that he could work with in the next NFL draft, which will have a much better class of QBs to choose from? They failed to properly hit the reset button on an expensive, aging, and inefficient roster accompanied by a lame duck coach. They entire team is a sunk-cost at this point.

The fact of the matter is this: the Jets have made some horrible decisions in the past 18 months when it has come to the QB position. Selecting Geno Smith, in my opinion, is just the latest installment of that long sequence of fuck-ups the Jets have made. But hey, who am I to crucify them? I get to watch another year or two of that garbage! Hell, if anything, this is a victory for us all. So let’s just sit back, relax, and enjoy the greatest comedy on American TV: The New York Jets.

Follow Greg Visone on Twitter @njny

NFL Fans Who Hate The EPL, In Fact, Do Exist In London

Two Sundays ago, I spent my first Super Bowl outside of the United States. It felt a bit sacrilegious to spend America’s Greatest Holiday in a country where they call NFL football “that elbow and rugby thing,” and refer to it as “armored egg chase.” Everywhere outside of the United States, and especially in England—the birthplace of association football—”football” is the beautiful game played exclusively with feet, not with hands and helmets.

For the first Super Bowl in four years, I didn’t have a vested interest in the game. I had no bets wagered, the Giants weren’t there to root against, my Packers weren’t there to root for, and the Drew Brees wasn’t there playing with all of post-Katrina New Orleans on his back. Still, with a considerate 11:30 PM kick-off time in London and no class until 2 PM the next day, I ventured out to the University of London’s bar for their Super Bowl party.

On the walk to the bar, I noticed that every single pub I passed (it was a half hour walk, and given that there’s at least one pub per block on London, I must’ve passed at least 3,000 pubs) was open and advertising “the Big Game.”

At UL’s bar, I expected a handful of Raven and 49er fans, a small sect of Americans wanting to watch the Super Bowl just to attain a sense of American normalcy in a foreign country, and nothing more. It was late. Kids had class the next morning. The half-time show would be on YouTube the following morning. It’s just the NFL. To my surprise, half of the bar was full of British NFL fans, all cloaked in NFL apparel, and NYU students were aplenty. Never underestimate the drawing power of a Ray Lewis speech and a Beyonce performance.

ray

383529396815311762_5951579

British NFL fans are nothing new to me. At my first Packers game at the old Giants Stadium a few years ago, I met some British Packer fans in the parking lot. With the expansion of NFL broadcasts overseas over the past twenty years, they had watched Brett Favre’s Packer teams dominate the mid-90s, and had adopted the Pack as their own, despite not even knowing where Green Bay was on the map.

I get the Packer connection. It’s a historic franchise that has produced winning seasons for the past two decades. It’d be the American equivalent of picking Manchester United as your favorite team. When there’s no natural connection, you fall in love with the consistent winner.

What didn’t make sense was the group of British NFL fans wearing Donovan McNabb, Mark Sanchez, Roy Williams, Tom Brady, and Eli Manning jerseys in the heart of London. The jerseys could’ve been just a novelty. When I go to MLS games at Red Bull Arena, it’s common to see American fans wearing whatever soccer jersey they happen to own to the game. The Red Bulls could be playing the Houston Dynamo and you’d still see about 30 Lionel Messi jerseys around the stadium. To these fans, wearing any soccer apparel to says, “Hey, we’re here because we know something about the sport.” In actuality, they probably know very little about the MLS, and could probably name only five European soccer players, but they know Messi. It’s a shame that Mark Sanchez was the finest representative the NFL had to offer for one British NFL fan.

At the bar, the NFL Brits noticed my Liverpool jersey. Worse, they saw that Joe Allen, the much lamented midfielder, was the name printed on the back of it. I should’ve known to not wear that shirt in public. It was only a matter of time until the crows came out to give me a hard time.

Here’s how the conversation went down, edited for appropriateness (you can probably guess where the warm beer-fueled expletives came in):

“Ey mate, are you a real Liverpool fan or a joke?”

“What? Why?”

“Well you’re wearing your crap club on yer chest with the name of a midget Welshman on the back.”

“5 European Cups, and 18 Leagues, that’s what we call history. Anyway, you have a JETS jersey on. You’re a disgrace to my city, the NFL, sports fans who grew up with a pre-sensationalist SportsCenter, and TMZ.”

“What’s a ‘European Cup’?”

Pause.

I had just encountered a Londoner wearing a Mark Sanchez jersey who knew enough about Liverpool to insult me but not enough about international soccer to know about the European Club Championship… WHERE WAS I?

After further conversation and a round shared with his mates, I learned that these guys actually hated the English Premier League, and only had anecdotal knowledge of their national sport through their friend’s Twitter rampages. Mr. Sanchez has a friend who’s a Liverpool fan, so the “midget Welshman” name was fresh in his mind. They admired the physicality of American football as opposed to European soccer’s divers and whiners.

Going around the table, I got to know the background stories behind these NFL Brits. Mr. Sanchez started following the Jets after a visit to New York two years ago, at the peak of the Rex Ryan era. The lad wearing the Tom Brady jersey picked the Patriots because he’s a history student and thought the Patriots’ Minuteman logo from the 90s looked cool—ironic, considering, well, you know, these Minutemen blasted his ancestors back across the Atlantic en route to Independence. The Cowboys fan had read about Tony Romo dating Jessica Simpson in the tabloids (“She has great knockers,” according to my new friend), and started tuning in every Sunday night to Cowboy games.

They couldn’t afford to make it out to the NFL In London annual games at Wembley, but those games are “the third biggest day of the year” according to one NFL Brit. The two days above in his pecking order of grand occasions: the Super Bowl and Christmas.

These were all very random roads to fandom fueled by either whims or pop culture references, but all backed up by an exceptional knowledge of the game. These fans knew the difference between a 3-4 and 4-3 defense, wondered how Kaepnerick and the 49ers’ pistol offense would fair against a strong Ravens front 7, and lamented the fact that European sports didn’t have a hard salary cap like the NFL did. Any novel reader of the game could dissect a 4-3 defense, but these guys actually knew the difference between a “hard” and “soft” salary cap. They were practically Sport Management majors!

Eventually, I left their table to participate in matters concerning Beyonce, but these fans had genuinely impressed me. I’d be hard pressed to find well-versed soccer fans at a World Cup party back in the States.

Before leaving, I asked them whether they’d like an NFL team in London one day. A resounding “YES!” was blurted in my direction. Roger Goodell, I just found your first 6 season ticket holders for your future London franchise. Finding 85,994 more to fill Wembley every Sunday shouldn’t be so hard now.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Injured Players vs, Concerned Coaches: Who Should Get the Final Say?

Most NFL fans watched in disbelief on Sunday as the Washington Redskins, leading the Seattle Seahawks 14-0 at home after the 1st Quarter of their Wild Card Playoff Game, pissed the lead away and lost 24-14, being dominated in the final three quarters.

What dominated the headlines was Robert Griffin III staying in the game despite being visibly injured, limping after a bad fall late in the first quarter. While he did throw a TD on the following play to make it 14-0, it was obvious that the entire complexion of the game changed with his injury. Kirk Cousins started warming up in anticipation, ready to replace the dynamic QB who took the NFL by storm over the course of his rookie season.

Having watched a lot of RGIII this season, I’ve constantly asked myself: “How in God’s name do you stop this guy?” When he’s healthy, RGIII is one of the scariest players a team can face. I’ve never seen the read-option be so successful in the NFL, and RGIII deserves nothing but praise for how he executes it. I came to the conclusion after the Redskins beat the Giants 17-16 in early December that the only way you could stop him is by injuring him. Unfortunately, that’s now happened twice this season. The second time around, however, the Redskins were too slow to react and pull him out before it was too late.

I watched the game with a friend who didn’t know much about football, and when RGIII started limping, I said to him, “they gotta take him out or they’re gonna be in trouble.” My reasoning was that his athleticism was now so hampered that he’d have to be a pure pocket passer, which would play right into the hands of the Seahawks Defense. With their ferocious pass-rush and hard-hitting secondary they’ve neutralized many pocket QBs over the course of this NFL season (see: Aaron Rodgers).

Not only was RGIII neutralized, but the entire Redskins offense was neutralized, and the Seahawks got back into the game. The score was 14-13 by the end of the half, and, inevitably, the Seahawks took the lead in the 4th, and went on to win 24-14, knocking out RGIII late in the game.

Fans on social media and sports journalists were outraged at the decision of Head Coach Mike Shanahan and the Redskins’ team doctors, including the world-renowned Dr. James Andrews, for allowing him to stay in the game. When Redskins Head Coach Mike Shannahan was asked why he kept RGIII in, he claimed that RGIII told him, “there’s a difference between being injured and hurt, and I can guarantee you I’m not injured.” Shanahan trusted his player and let him stay in the game. The decision backfired, however, and, not only did the decision end the Redskins’ season, but it probably has put the health of their young franchise quarterback in jeopardy.

This has raised an interesting debate about whether or not a coach should listen to an injured player who insists he’s healthy enough to play or take the matter out of the player’s hands and sit him. This debate has been around for years in different formats, where the player is dealing with a concussion or hamstring issue or whatnot.

I’ve been thinking about it for years, and I’ve come to the conclusion that every decision when it comes to this matter is case-specific. On one hand, only the player himself knows whether or not he is healthy enough to play, and when it comes down to it, he should be the one to decide whether or not he is healthy enough to play. Every player is a competitor, and it is their natural instinct to be on the field fighting for their team at all costs, and every competitor believes that they are the best person at their position for their team and that they will do whatever is necessary to stay on that field.

However, sometimes that can take the form of hubris, and a player who claims he’s healthy when he really isn’t can harm the team and further harm himself by continuing to play. This is what happened with RGIII, and it is the responsibility of the Head Coach and team doctors to tell the player that he cannot continue if it is obvious that he is struggling and not physically capable to do what he does best. RGIII’s athleticism and running ability is a pivotal role of what makes him so tough to play against: He’s Michael Vick with a more accurate arm. By keeping him on the field, the Shanahan and the Redskins’ medical staff failed to take control of the situation and do what was best not only for the team, but for RGIII himself. The Redskins averaged less than 2 yards per play after his early injury, and failed to score the rest of the game—leaving him in hurt himself and the team. In the end, Shanahan is the head coach, and an authority figure over RGIII—he should communicate with the medical staff to make a decision for the player. Now, there’s been a discrepancy as to whether Shanahan actually consulted Dr. Andrews on RGIII’s injury (Shanahan says Dr. Andrews cleared him, while Dr. Andrews said he never examined him), but as the head coach, that accountability lies with Shanahan.

What really baffles me in this case is why didn’t the Redskins pull him when they had prepared for this scenario during the NFL Draft? They knew that RGIII was culpable to injury because of the way he played the game, and they drafted Kirk Cousins in the 4th Round to have a capable backup when RGIII did go down. It’s not often that a team would use a 4th round pick on drafting a 2nd QB, especially after mortgaging their 1st round picks for the next few years for the opportunity to move up in the draft to take RGIII. They had limited picks after the trade to draft RGIII, but took another QB with a 4th round choice anyway. They knew that all running QBs break eventually, and having a handcuff for RGIII was more important than any other position. RGIII is the franchise QB, the future of the franchise that the Redskins traded three first round picks and a second round pick to acquire, and he’s still a rookie. Yes, winning a playoff game is very important, but they had a gameplan in place for when, not if, WHEN, RGIII went down, and they deviated away from that gameplan and have potentially ruined their most important asset in the process. That is what is so baffling about the Redskins handled this.

While I’m all for RGIII continuing to play and feeling okay, Mike Shanahan and the Redskins team doctors failed him, their franchise, the fan base, and the entire city of Washington D.C. by allowing him to stay on the field. In a city where superstar Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg was controversially shut down near the end of the season to preserve his young and newly reconstructed elbow to protect his future at the cost of winning in the present, the Redskins demonstrated a reckless disregard for their player’s career, and their franchise’s future success. They not only lost the game against the Seahawks, but they risked their future as well.

Any coach or player will tell you that they’d prefer one Super Bowl win and nine years of losing as opposed to ten years of success but no championships. On Sunday night, Shanahan was going for that golden ticket by leaving RGIII in the game—a decision that was wrong for the immediate and long-term success of the Redskins.

Follow Greg on Twitter @njny

Overreaction Mondays: The Replacement Refs Era Comes To An End (Hopefully)

“I think it’s getting to a point where it’s pretty horrendous, and it’s an embarrassment.”—Drew Brees

1) 1972 Gold Medal Men’s Basketball game.
2) Armando Galarraga blown perfect game.
3) The Monday Night Football Replacement Ref game.

What do all of these games have in common? They make up the top three biggest travesties in American professional sports. The first cost the United States a Gold medal against the Soviet Union the height of the Cold War, the second was a downer for everyone in baseball, and the third will go down as the moment Roger Goodell was finally caught with his pants down. Between the NFL’s concussion cover-up, Bounty Gate (which is looking more and more like Goodell’s Bounty Hunt), and the Replacement Refs Era, Goodell may be on the worst streak of any American sports commissioner ever.

Going into the season, I honestly didn’t think much of the Replacement Refs. Peyton Manning, the non-Quarterback controversy with the Jets, and Chad Johnson’s wife were the only big training camp story lines, so I chalked up any qualms about the Replacement Refs to a slow news cycle in the NFL. Just good ol’ sensationalizing by the TMZ faction of the sports media. [Editor’s note: Greg warned all of us of this impending doom during Week 1.]

The old refs were pretty bad, so how bad could their picket-fence crossing counterparts be? After all, we spend hours upon hours every weekend lamenting their calls, and claiming that we can do better. This is a job that apparently any fan can do better, right? The Replacement Refs, however, are so bad that it actually somehow puts the old ones on a pedestal. This is the only instance in sports history (to my knowledge) that the regular officials of a sport, who are generally despised and blamed viciously (and often unfairly), are actually being revered, held to a higher standard, and genuinely missed. After the infamous Ed Hochuli call in 2008, I didn’t think that NFL officiating could get any worse, but it did.

It took three weeks, but the Replacement Refs finally blew a game. It’s not like there were a few bad calls that may or may not have actually influenced the outcome of the game. Wins and losses are created throughout the course of the game—it’s usually impossible to seriously chalk it up to one play and say the game was won or lost there. Coaches never ever point to one particular play as the reason why a game was decided. But in Roger Goodell’s NFL, we can finally point to one play.

On the last play of the Packers-Seahawks game on Monday Night Football, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a hail mary into the end zone. A touchdown would win them the game, and anything else would end it in favor of the Packers. Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate shoved Packers cornerback Sam Shields to the ground (no offensive pass interference was called), and Packers safety M.D Jennings caught Wilson’s pass for an interception (he should’ve swatted it down though). Tate fought with Shields for the ball, but it looked more like Jennings caught the ball and Tate caught Jennings. It was a clear incompletion on the field, and even clearer in replays. That was Jennings’ ball.

And then this happened:

One official signaled for an incompletion, and the other signaled for a touchdown. The next time the old refs head to the bargaining table with the NFL, all they have to do is slip Roger Goodell this photo in a manila envelope, and he’ll cave. That one snapshot is the defining moment of the Replacement Ref Era in the NFL—the moment two officials called the game the opposite way, and ultimately got the call wrong, even after reviewing the touchdown. Not only did they look foolish making the call on the field, but they even got the call wrong after having a chance to correct it. This is exactly why they NFL added automatic reviews for every touchdown scored. A safety-net was put in place by the Rules Committee to prevent this, but the Replacement Refs somehow managed to slice that net into pieces. Refs get calls wrong on the field all the time—Replacement or not, they mess up. The missed call on the review was more inexcusable than the call on the field, because they had every chance to fix their error.

But never mind all of the horrible calls on both sides of the fence throughout the course of the game. Russell Wilson’s interception was overturned on a soft roughing the passer call, Greg Jennings got blindsided running his route, Jermichael Finley got mugged all night, and Charles Woodson got away with everything against the Seahawks wide receivers. A total of 24 penalties were called tonight, and every drive seemed to go like this:

Play, play, flag, play, punt.

For 3.99999 quarters, the game was dry, uneven, and frankly boring. Every Packers drive featured Aaron Rodgers getting killed, and every Seahawks drive was a Marshawn Lynch three and out show, all aided by flags thrown left and right. (I hope this game doesn’t overshadow what was a bad performance by the Packers on offense and a worse play-calling job by Mike McCarthy. We’re still waiting for this offense to look like 1/4 of what it was last year.) The “play, play, flag, play, punt” drive formula wasn’t exclusive to this game either—NFL games are 10 minutes longer this year thanks to increased penalty calls and general confusion from the Replacement Refs. Games not only feel slower, but they actually are slower.

Goodell better not even THINK about fining Packers lineman T.J Lang for this.

Tonight was a watershed moment in NFL history. It was the night that the NFL’s Stalin got egged by his Replacements Refs, and finally had his ego popped. The NFL will be better for what happened tonight (the only way to go is up once rock bottom is hit, right?), but for it to come at the cost of my Packers doesn’t make any Packer fan feel any better. The Packers are now martyrs, but their loss will not be in vain.

The Seahawks were celebrating their “12th man” tonight to honor the great home crowd and community they have in Seattle, but who knew that their 12th man was wearing zebra stripes instead of a lime-green Nike jersey? The players now know, and they’re not fucking around anymore. Your move, Roger.

He’s mad.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

Overreaction Mondays: It’s Only Week 1

Even though I spent 1400+ words lamenting the sport of football, I was pleased to see it back yesterday. I don’t go to church, so NFL Sunday afternoons are the sermons I observe. Being stuck in the NYC market, I have to watch whatever Giants or Jets game is on, meaning I’m stuck with either A) Seeing how many packages Tim Tebow can get involved in while $20 million worth of Mark Sanchez wrestles with a defensive back on the outside, and B) Watching the Giants play horribly until Week 16.

Thankfully, my Packers were on national television against the 49ers, which was by far the toughest matchup for any Week 1 team. The Packers defense got ran off the field physically and mentally, but still made enough stops to make this a game the Packers should’ve won at home. Their defense was good enough for them to finish 15-1 last year because they led the league in interceptions, but against a 49er team that doesn’t turn the ball over on offense, they were never going to win that side of the ball. Unfortunately, 1 yard runs from Cedric Benson (Aaron Rodgers ended the game as the Packer’s leading rusher), and an extremely prepared 49er defense took away the Packer’s big play-action strikes. Rodgers averaged 6.9 yards per completion yesterday, well-below his 8.2 YPC average, and way lower than the 9.25 mark he threw up during his 2011 MVP campaign. I’m chocking this one up to a bad matchup. I’d rather have the Packers play this way Week 1 rather than see them play this same game Week 14.

The Year of the Quarterback continued on too—with every week, it seems like this’ll become the Decade of the Quarterback. 9 quarterbacks threw for over 300 yards, Michael Vick had 56 attempts, Robert Griffin III averaged 12 YPC, and Matthew Stafford is now on pace to throw for 5,500 yards. Looks like the Roger Goodell NFL to me.

Every division except for the NFC West has stellar quarterback play in some regard, but the AFC East may have the most interesting story lines. Even though every sports media outlet is determined to talk Tim Tebow into the Jets starting job, I’m not so sure it’ll happen. If 2011 Mark Sanchez goes out there week-to-week, Tebow will be starting by Week 8, but I think Sanchez is now in “Fuck You” mode this season. Beyond the 3 touchdowns and 70% completion percentage against an expensively assembled Bills defense, Sanchez is definitely playing with a major chip on his shoulder. After the Jets flirted with Peyton Manning, they handed Sanchez a contract extension because his feelings were hurt. Even after that, they still had the nerve to trade for Tim Tebow. Contract extension aside, Sanchez was probably the most disrespected incumbent starter this offseason. Shouldn’t that hurt his pride? Doesn’t he not want to be second-guessed, and not want to be reduced to Tebow’s helmet-boy? Not only as a quarterback, but as a competitor, that should light a fire under his ass. That Bills performance wasn’t just a win to relieve a media-fabricated quarterback controversy, but a genuine personal statement game, even if it didn’t feel like it. Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tannehill seem eager to anoint Sanchez as the best AFC East quarterback not named Tom Brady, but I think Sanchez will earn that spot, and not gain it by default.

Here’s to Tom Brady’s bloody nose and the subsequent 3-minute segment on SportsCenter (why did Adam Schefter have to come in and play plastic surgeon with Chris McKendry?), and here’s to Sanchez vanquishing his Tebow demons.

Or maybe this is just an overreaction. But hey, it’s only Week 1.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

The Morality of Football: Why It’s Wrong

In my early teenage years, I played a ton of pickup football. My friends and I all love the sport, but we were all either too small for organized teams or preferred getting clunked with baseballs instead of bludgeoned with pads and helmets.

One Sunday afternoon, we played with a mixture of kids—at 15, I was the oldest and biggest, and I was out there tackling kids as young as 11. During that game, I played quarterback to make my height advantage in receiving nonexistent, and I played safety on defense to prevent me from tackling the smaller kids as often. Playing quarterback was great—chucking 20 yard passes to pre-teen kids with wheels was fun. Playing safety, however, ended up being dangerous.

On one pass over the middle, I dove from my safety position to tip the ball and break up the completion. Mid-air, I collided head to head with the intended receiver, an 11 year old who weighed 90-nothing pounds and wasn’t even five feet tall. His entire right eyebrow had ballooned and turned an ugly black and blue, and his forehead had a 4 inch gash. He looked like he had been beaten senselessly in a bar fight, or been mauled by a pitbull. I was unscathed. A bag of ice and an advil was all I needed—he needed a visit to the ER.

The collision had fractured whatever bone is right above the eye, and he needed a dozen stitches. But for him, that wasn’t the worst part. It was August, and Pop Warner football was beginning. Doctors said he’d never be able to play football again, as the eye fracture was too severe.

I felt horrible. In an absolutely meaningless game of backyard football, my reckless dive had cost this kid his football career. It’d be naive to think that he had a chance of being a professional football player, or even a decent high school player, but that accident took away his ability to ever enjoy the game ever again.

It’s been nearly four years since then, and my attitude towards the sport of football has changed significantly. Four years ago, I was riddled with guilt that this kid wouldn’t be able to play. Today, I wonder if maybe I’m more of a hero than a villain. Is it possible that I actually saved a few years of this kid’s life by injuring him enough to take away organized football?

In 2009, Malcolm Gladwell equated football to dogfighting in The New Yorker. It was the first time I heard about “tau,” and it was the first time concussions and head injuries were put to the forefront of football discussion. Gladwell shed light on a deadly issue that’s been slowly infecting the game for decades—a problem that’s now steamrolling to court. Over 3,000 former NFL players are currently suing the NFL and helmet maker Riddell, claiming negligence and the withholding of information linking head trauma and brain injuries to football.

In the past two years, there’s been a disturbing amount of former NFL players committing suicide. People—even athletes committing suicide is nothing new, but the unique situations of these suicides makes them different. Former NFL players Dave Duerson, Junior Seau, and Ray Easterling all shot themselves, with the former two shooting themselves in the chest, and the latter killing himself after suffering from years of dementia. Duerson and Seau both shot themselves in the chest so their brains could be studied by Dr. Ann McKee, the neurologist who was the focus of Gladwell’s 2009 piece and a more recent feature on Grantland.

Dr. McKee studies the brains of ex-athletes and veterans to help understand the health problems that repeated blows to the head can cause. She’s focusing on how chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) occurs in the brains she dissects, and the deeper she digs, the stronger evidence she’s finding between football and brain damage. It’s not one decisive hit to the head or concussion that’s leading former NFL players to develop CTE—it’s the thousands of smaller hits that build up over years of play. Players aren’t getting knocked into vegetable status immediately, but instead have tau proteins accumulating in their brains. Tau is formed in the brain through these thousands of hits and concussions, and it kills brain cells, causing victims to have dementia, memory loss, aggression, or depression—all symptoms of CTE.

CTE isn’t an automatic death-wish for all—not every player is going to end up like Seau or Easterling. Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw has admitted that he doesn’t use stats when analyzing the NFL for CBS, because he suffers from short-term memory loss, likely due to his years of quarterbacking. Retired tight end Ben Utecht, who now enjoys a second career as a singer, doesn’t remember entire sets he’s performed. Whether these former players will develop dementia or Alzheimers later on in life is unknown, but for players in their early 30s like Utecht, the lingering impact of their playing days is swift and troubling.

Football is coming to a head this decade. Dr. McKee’s research continues to grow in scope and influence—the NFL just gave her center $1 million in funds with no strings attached. Earlier this week, they gave the National Institute of Health a $30 million donation—the largest in league history—to fund brain injury research. Roger Goodell has been accused of downplaying, or even hiding the facts of the matter, but he’s finally wising up (it’s about damn time though). The NFL just wants answers. The players want answers. We want answers.

As the dangers of the sport become more known, I, along with many other Americans, will not stand for it. And if fans won’t accept it, then Congress will eventually follow suit too. Congress waged war on performance-enhancing drugs in sports last decade—brain-injuries will surely be the next crusade. Just last month, the insurance company Travelers sued the NFL to avoid paying for defense from the aforementioned player suit. We’re coming close to a day when insurance companies won’t take the risk with any level of organized football, because there are too many long-term health problems associated with the sport. The idea that the sport may become uninsurable is a greater threat to its existence than Congress, the Players Association, scientists and health professionals, or critics.


Dr. McKee testified before Congress in 2009.

Today, the NFL is the richest and most popular professional sports league in the world. NFL games are always the highest rated television programs every year, and its players are international icons. The most woeful franchise in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns, was just sold for a remarkable $1 billion. All 32 franchises are in the Top 50 of Forbes richest sports teams. The league and the sport itself is peaking right now. Every peak, however, has a valley, and head-injuries will be that valley for the sport. The game will have to change, but when it’s inherently violent, no good solution is on the horizon. (Let’s not get into any potential rule changes.)

Every year, it’s becoming harder and harder for me to watch football. I love football, but the morality of it is simply too much to bear. It’s ethically irresponsible of me to root, cheer, and pay for football players to do their job when I know that they’re literally killing themselves on the field. It’s just not right. It’s easy to not think about this now when the sport is so popular, and no players I’ve grown up loving are babbling madmen in wheelchairs, or in a room somewhere pondering what to do with a loaded gun. It’s not pleasant to think that my favorite player, Aaron Rodgers, might kill himself in 20 years after falling into a CTE induced depression, but it’s a legitimate concern I have now. I don’t want my boyhood idols to have a lesser quality of health than me just because I wanted to see them make the next play. It’s become cliche to call football players “gladiators,” but that comparison has never been more accurate. In grand, circular stadiums, men are killing each other for our own entertainment, and their personal status.

Junior Seau was the first player I saw play who killed himself. He was only 43. Although he might have had other problems that lead to his decision to take his own life, it’s not a coincidence he preserved his brain in his suicide for science. For people of my generation, Seau’s death will be the turning point, because he was still playing as early as 2009. Memory of his heroic play in the modern NFL for the Patriots dynasty is still fresh—it causes his death to linger more. When Seau’s mother is crying in front of the media, yelling to God to “take me, take me, leave my son,” I can no longer ignore what football is doing to people on a humanistic and a medical level.


This hurts to watch every time.

The sport of football is wrong. If that makes me a liberal extremist who is overreacting, then I dare you to watch that video Seau’s mother again. I will still lovingly watch my Packers this year, and maybe even attend a few games, but the same joys I once had from the sport are dead. To me, it’s no longer an innocent, good-natured activity. It’s no longer wholesome entertainment. It’s endorsed barbarism in the 21st century. If my continued fandom makes me a hypocrite, then fine—it’s not up to me to enact change. It’s up to the powers that be to put player health over wealth, and for parents to prevent their kids from playing. I stopped one kid from playing thanks to a head-injury—hopefully he won’t be the last to value his well-being over sport.

Follow Justin on Twitter @jblock49

First Round Football Farce

The NFL season has finally arrived, and every team has their own set of expectations. Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck lead the pack of the newest draft picks meant to bring their respective teams, as well as themselves, into football glory. As the first two picks in last April’s NFL draft, both have the weight of their cities on their shoulders. Given the history of the draft and how these high draft picks generally faired, it’s confusing as to why there is so much emphasis put on how well a player did in college and how he was drafted. It’s common knowledge that dominant college football performance by far doesn’t mean dominant professional performance. So why do we even care?

Ryan Leaf was destined for greatness. After a strong showing in high school, he enrolled at Washington State University, not a particularly strong football school, and proceeded to an amazing three season with the Cougars. He played in 32 games for the Cougars, starting 24 of them. His junior year, he averaged 330.6 yards passing per game and threw for a then Pac-10 conference record 33 touchdowns. He also helped the Cougars defeat the Washington Huskies 41-35 for the first time in Husky Stadium since 1985. Leaf ended the school’s 67-year Rose Bowl drought and helped bring the Cougars their first Pac-10 championship in school history. The Cougars would go on to lose the Rose bowl to Michigan, the eventual National Champions.

After this amazing performance, Ryan Leaf stated that he intended to forgo his senior season at Washington State and enter the NFL draft. Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning were slotted to be the number one and two top draft picks in 1998. You couldn’t go wrong with either one. Initially wanted by Indianapolis, Ryan Leaf failed to appear for an interview with the team, and thus the colts drafted Peyton Manning with their first pick, while with the second pick the San Diego Chargers picked Leaf. Both were scouted as essentially worry free picks, so both teams felt they had won in the draft. Leaf was stated after he was drafted “I’m looking forward to a 15-year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl and a parade through downtown San Diego.” This would statement would mark the beginning of one of the worst careers by a top 5 draft pick in NFL history, if not the worst. In four seasons, Leaf appeared in 25 games, making 21 starts. He completed 317 of 655 passes for 3,666 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. He ended his career with a quarterback rating of 50. While not nearly as bad as this career, there have been numerous first round picks that have had a similar fate: JaMarcus Russell, Courtney Brown, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Roy Williams, Charles Rodgers, Mark Sanchez, David Carr and possibly Sam Bradford. The list could go on.

My question is, why is there so much emphasis put on where in the draft a person is placed, given the history of draft busts? There have been great players that have come out later in the draft—Tom Brady is the prime, but not normal, example of arguably one of the best players to play the game being drafted late in the draft (he was drafted 6th round, 199th pick). He was thought to be a fringe professional that might be a decent backup. The Patriots literally found a diamond in the rough. Jay Ratliff, Troy Brown (another Patriot), Matt Hasselbeck (drafted same year as Leaf), Marques Colston, Donald Driver, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe are just the top few of the many late round draft picks that rose to prominence. Kurt Warner could be placed in the same category because he wasn’t even drafted! All these players went on to  have amazing careers when everyone felt they weren’t worth a first round pick.

I understand that it’s nearly impossible to determine how a player is going to fair once they go pro—their performance in college is the only the only thing to go by. You go by their potential to transition from college football to professional football. I get that. But, there has been research done that gives an idea of when it’s best to pick certain positions as well as an idea of the chances that a position will be a benefit or a bust. According to a Grantland article by Bill Barnwell, there is a little over a 50% chance that the QB you draft will deliver good value and have a respectable career in the NFL by his fifth year in the league—the lowest chance of any position in the NFL. The research is 60% in favor of a running back being successful within his first five seasons in the league. The tight end position provided the most stable chance of getting a good career out of a draft pick, with around an 87% success rate in the first five years. The research is essentially stating that as the importance level of the player goes down, his chances at success go up. As for when to pick positions, the QB and RB positions are again the worse positions to fill by far. Outside of the first round, both positions lose their overall potential value drastically after each round. The WR position holds up pretty well until after the second round, when proceeds to bomb in value as well. Again, as the overall importance level drops, the overall bang for your buck seems to go up, with TE’s holding their value the longest over the course of the draft. Hardly a pleasing set of numbers for a general manager with important holes to fill. It’s just interesting to see how much importance is still put on draft placement. There is absolutely no guarantee that a player will be worth anything once they go pro, especially at QB and RB. So why all these ridiculous bonuses and guaranteed money for a player that can’t guarantee anything about their performance?

A perfect example of how I feel about high draft picks that haven’t played is when Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said that RG3 is simply “Bob Griffin” until he proves himself in the NFL. That is exactly how these picks should be treated. You haven’t proven shit, so your not shit until you do. Instead, Andrew Luck is Peyton Manning’s replacement (which he’ll never be, Peyton Manning is the best quarterback the NFL has seen since Joe Montana and I’ll debate that with who ever wants to lose) and Robert Griffin III is going to take the Redskins out of the doldrums of the NFL (which we’ve all heard before). Why can’t we just be realistic about these players? Yes, they were good/great/amazing in college, but that doesn’t mean shit anywhere else?! As a Lions fan, I know how great it is to have a high number one draft pick. Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, and Mike Williams all haunt me to this day. While Calvin Johnson is absolutely amazing, it took more than just a great receiver to get the Lions winning again. So while having a great new draft pick is great and could help put a positive outlook on a team, it doesn’t mean anything until they prove something. As Cam Newton and Panthers will tell you, even having a number one draft pick instantly work out doesn’t mean that you team will be great.

I know that being drafted in the first round means that you have the most potential to succeed in the NFL, and that’s why it’s so important. At the same time though, it’s only potential! So why can we just treat as just that, potential? These aren’t the conquering heroes that every analyst and remote control general manager make them out to be. They are potentially a key piece of a puzzle that has to come together to make a great team. And as for Reggie Bush’s career (or insert any number of other great picks that haven’t lived up to the hype) can attest to, potential can only get you so far.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelPakkala

Looking Inside the JLBSports Crystal Ball: NFL Predictions Sure To Go Wrong

For me, this has been the quickest NFL offseason ever. At this point last year, my Green Bay Packers were the reigning champs, and I squeezed every second I could out of that. Hell, last season my team was undefeated up until mid-December—I held my balls in the face of every other fan for almost ten whole months. It’s been different this year though. After the Packers laid an egg against the Giants, Linsanity bridged the gap between the Super Bowl and the NBA playoffs, and before I knew it, the Olympics rolled around to preoccupy every second of my sporting fandom. A family vacation even helped to bridge the small gap between the Olympics and the start of the English Premier League. There’s been no sporting lull at all! Sure the Little League World series ate up the last few weeks of August, but that’s what Chopped on the Food Network is for. If I’m going to watch a competition, damn right it’s going to involve food and not 12 year olds.

Alas, the kids are back at school, and stores aren’t selling bermuda shorts anymore—it’s officially football season America. With the start of the NFL season tonight, the JLBSports staff put together our official predictions that are sure to go 110% wrong. The Cardinals have a better shot at a wild card spot than us getting these totally right. But hey, that’s the fun of it all. When things go wrong, it usually makes for good television. How do you think reality TV works? Here are our staff predictions for the best reality show in the world: the NFL.

–Justin

*denotes wild card team

JUSTIN’S PICKS:

NFC EAST
Giants

NFC NORTH
Packers
Bears*

NFC SOUTH
Saints
Falcons*

NFC WEST
49ers

AFC EAST
Patriots

AFC NORTH
Ravens
Steelers*

AFC SOUTH
Texans

AFC WEST
Chargers
Broncos*

SUPER BOWL PICK: Packers over Texans (35-28)

The world seems to assume that the New England Patriots will run away with the AFC, and they should. During the greatest passing expansion in NFL history, the Patriots have the NFL’s 1A quarterback in Tom Brady. You can’t win a Super Bowl anymore without a top-tier passing attack. I think Eli Mannning and New York Giants proved last year that good quarterbacks are possible of making that elite leap in the postseason (Aaron Rodgers did the year before), and you need to be able to play a little defense when it matters most. The Patriots had one of the worst defenses in football last year, but it can only get better with 1st round pick Chandler Jones providing some much needed pass rush. That being said, the Houston Texans are entering their second year under Wade Phillips’ 3-4 defense, and outside of the Steelers and Ravens mauling everyone in the AFC North, they had the best defense in the AFC last year. Week 14 in New England could decide the top seed in the AFC, and it’ll give everyone a sample of how the Texans can handle a great team in cold weather. I think good crunch time defense and a healthy Matt Shaub will be the difference come January. Expect Shaub to make that elite leap in the playoffs this year.

(I have to get this off my chest too: If Ryan Tannehill doesn’t end up being the worst quarterback in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins will overtake the New York Jets in that division, leaving Gang Green in last. ESPN and the New York media will sensationalize the shit out of Tim Tebow to get him to be the starter by week eight. Things aren’t looking good when Darrelle Revis is already saying this about their quarterback situation: “You’ve got to do what’s best for the team, and I don’t know if we’ve been wise in that department.” You can’t make this stuff up folks.)

GREG’S PICKS:

NFC EAST
Giants
Eagles*

NFC NORTH
Packers
Bears*

NFC SOUTH
Falcons

NFC WEST
49ers

AFC EAST
Patriots

AFC NORTH
Steelers
Ravens*

AFC SOUTH
Texans

AFC WEST
Broncos
Chargers*

SUPER BOWL PICK: Ravens over 49ers (13-10)

I had a tough time choosing the NFC East winner. I really hate looking like a homer, but I’ve had a change of heart about the Philadelphia Eagles’ chances the last couple days. I think Vick will be healthy towards the end of the season and enable Philadelphia to go on a run before losing to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. In the AFC, I really didn’t wanna choose the Denver Broncos to win the division because I’d appear to be on the Peyton bandwagon, but their defense is so good that I expect them to do very well. That being said, I think the Baltimore Ravens will finally get their revenge on the New England Patriots for last year’s traumatizing end to the AFC Championship Game, setting up the all-Harbaugh Super Bowl that the media wanted last year. The big game in New Orleans will showcase two of the finest defenses in the league, but Joe Flacco and the Ravens will come out on top, with all his doubters finally quieted until the end of time.

MICHAEL’S PICKS:

NFC EAST
Eagles
Cowboys*

NFC NORTH
Packers

NFC SOUTH
Panthers
Saints*

NFC WEST
49ers

AFC EAST
Patriots

AFC NORTH
Steelers
Ravens*

AFC SOUTH
Texans

AFC WEST
Chargers
Broncos*

SUPER BOWL PICK: Packers over Texans (26-17)

The NFC South and West are by far going to be the most fun to watch this season. As long as the Carolina Panthers can give more support to Cam Newton in the passing game, they have the most explosive offensive package in the division and arguably in the NFC. The Seattle Seahawks are on the right track, but it seems to be coming together faster for the San Francisco 49ers, so I gave it to them. The Green Bay Packers win the NFC North for reasons that don’t need explaining if you’ve been watching football. Though my Detroit Lions will contend, I don’t think they have the running game that they need to make a Super Bowl run. They’ve an elite passing attack, but last season was Matthew Stafford’s first healthy year in the league, and that team is in big trouble if his injury-bug returns.

Follow the entire team on Twitter @JLBSportsTV