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2014 NFL You’re The Man Power Rankings — Week 2

Matt Cassel, Kendall Langford

LOS ANGELES — An exciting and thrilling Week 1 in the National Football league with lots of expectedly surprising results has been overshadowed this week by the Ray Rice domestic violence situation, including Monday’s video release by TMZ, Rice’s termination from the Ravens and suspension from the league, and multiple reports that the league office had seen the video months ago before levying a verdict on Rice’s playing future. None of that has anything to do with the first installment of my season-long You’re The Man Power Rankings, except the football part. I don’t know what’s going to come of this independent investigation either, but one thing I do know, is that Week 2 begins tonight. And we need to find out who’s the man. Let’s get to it.

32.) St. Louis Rams (2014 record: 0-1; last week ranking: 26) It wasn’t bad enough that Sam Bradford was lost for the year with a preseason injury, but Shaun Hill goes down in Week 1 and his status is up in the air for this Sunday.

31.) New York Giants (0-1; 30) — Eli Manning lead the league in interceptions in 2013 and after one week he’s tied for the lead this season. I’m guessing he’ll finish in the top 3 in picks again when it’s all said and done in 2014; should be a long year in the Meadowlands.

30.) Jacksonville Jaguars (0-1; 32) The Jaguars have proven after one week that they’re good enough to build a 17-point lead against a tough opponent on the road, and just Jacksonville enough to blow said lead and lose by double digits.

29.) Oakland Raiders (0-1; 29) Derek Carr proved that he has the goods to be a starting quarterback in the NFL, it’s just too bad he plays for the Raiders and has to endure what should be a long season.

28.) Cleveland Browns (0-1; 28) Only the Browns could fall behind by 24 points, climb back into the game and make you think they’d pull off the win only to lose in the most Cleveland way; but hey, at least Brian Hoyer finished the game in one piece.

Tony Romo

27.) Dallas Cowboys (0-1; 21) Wait, yeah, Tony Romo just threw another interception. Awesome. It’s bad in Dallas right now but at least Jerry Jones didn’t get slapped with a sexual assault lawsuit this week … oh. You can’t spell disaster without a Big D.

26.) Washington Redskins (0-1; 20) Robert Griffin III could be amazing in Jay Gruden’s offense, except it’s probably maybe not really a good quarterback, most likely potentially.

25.) Buffalo Bills (1-0; 31) I don’t know if Buffalo’s win last week says more about them or their opponent’s lackluster home performance, but E.J. Manuel and others looked completely opposite than they showed in the preseason and that’s a good thing.

24.) Kansas City Chiefs (0-1; 7) Of all the Week 1 teams that laid an egg, none bigger was the one laid in Kansas City and by their newly minted quarterback Alex Smith making most question whether 2013 was a fluke.

23.) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-1; 14) The Bucs bandwagon is a little less crowded as we head into Week 2 than it was a few days ago and Josh McCown looked every bit his age and showed why he’s been a career backup.

22.) Baltimore Ravens (0-1; 17) It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better for the Ravens. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Jay Cutler

21.) Chicago Bears (0-1; 12) There were reports that earlier this summer in Las Vegas the Bears were 6:1 to win the Super Bowl; guessing that is climbing by the minute after an embarrassing showing in the opener against Buffalo.

20.) Houston Texans (1-0; 25) Top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is lost for upward to 6 weeks with a knee injury but J.J. Watt more than made up for his absence and Ryan Fitzpatrick was competent in a season-opening win.

19.) New York Jets (1-0; 23) Expectations are low with the Jets and it doesn’t help that they struggled to beat the Raiders at home, but at least Geno Smith looked like an actual starting quarterback.

18.) Arizona Cardinals (1-0; 19) If someone can explain to me why Larry Fitzgerald wasn’t targeted by Carson Palmer until the fourth quarter then I’ll put the Cards higher up on this list.

17.) Carolina Panthers (1-0; 15) Derek Anderson hadn’t started a game in the NFL since 2010 and went out and posted a 108.7 passer rating and led the Panthers to victory; no one thought that was happening Week 1.

16.) Tennessee Titans (1-0; 27) A strong season’s start by the Titans, who went on the road and dominated the Chiefs in all facets of the game, giving credo to those pundits who said Tennessee could be a surprise playoff team.

15.) San Diego Chargers (0-1; 11)  It was nice of the Chargers to go all Chargers on Monday night and play great for three quarters and then remember they were on national television and disappear in the fourth.

14.) Minnesota Vikings (1-0; 24) Probably the surprise team of Week 1, the Vikings showed a renewed sense of competitiveness in a loaded NFC North; new head coach Mike Zimmer has the defense opportunistic and flying around.

13.) Atlanta Falcons (1-0; 22) Atlanta is looking to buck the Hard Knocks jinx and showed a glimpse of its 2012 self with a strong division win to start the year; Matty Ice set a career high in passing yards and his dynamic receiving duo backed up that claim.

Calvin Johnson

12.) Detroit Lions (1-0; 18) Calvin Johnson is good. Like really good. Like good enough to render Matthew Stafford’s terrible mechanics and backwards hat wearing moot.

11.) Philadelphia Eagles (1-0; 10) Nick Foles Philadelphia honeymoon is officially over after his three-turnover performance in the first half Sunday, but thankfully for him, he got it together and pulled out the victory or it would’ve been a rough week on the Philly sports talk show circuit.

10.) New England Patriots (0-1; 3) Great for one half, absolute dung storm for the second is no way to begin the season, so much so that Tom F’n Brady shaved his beard immediately after the game. He means business.

9.) Miami Dolphins (1-0; 16) Look out, your first place Miami Dolphins! Great fortitude in the second half, the defense looked strong, offensive line was solid and Ryan Tannehill made enough plays to get it done. Strong run game also helped.

8.) Green Bay Packers (0-1; 5) Look, the ’85 Bears could’ve played the Seahawks on Thursday night and gotten boatraced, so I’m not judging Aaron Rodgers and the Packers too harshly.

7.) New Orleans Saints (0-1; 4) Drew Brees led the Saints offense to a floatload of points but the defense couldn’t stop the Falcons and looked like the Saints D of old.

6.) Indianapolis Colts (0-1; 6) Andrew Luck needed to wait until his team was down a couple of scores before he started playing, that’s just what he does, and he nearly pulled the Sunday night upset.

5.) Cincinnati Bengals (1-0; 9) Bengals fans were calling for Andy Dalton’s job over the summer and then he goes out on the road and beats a division rival while throwing for 300 yards; good start.

4.) Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0; 8) Everyone was waiting to see how this new up-tempo offense was going to work for Ben Roethlisberger & Co. and boy did it work, to the tune of 365 passing yards and a TD; there’s more to come here.

3.) San Francisco 49ers (1-0; 13) Dallas is a wreck, so I won’t give the 49ers too much credit, but Colin Kaepernick looked good throwing the ball and operating the offense, which was a concern after a shaky preseason.

2.) Denver Broncos (1-0; 2) Peyton Manning was on his game. Julius Thomas caught a bunch of touchdowns. The Broncos defense looked formidable in the face of another Andrew Luck comeback. Par for the course.

Russell Wilson

1.) Seattle Seahawks (1-0; 1) The Champs looked like The Champs in the opener and forced a lot of people to change their Super Bowl pick. I still have them going. They’re that good.

Falcons Get Tough on Ep. 1 of ‘Hard Knocks’

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LOS ANGELES — Sports fans today are more informed than they’ve ever been. Information about your favorite team is everywhere: legit league and team websites, fan blogs, Twitter, you name it. If you want to know what your favorite player is eating or doing at a given moment, check their Instagram or wait for TMZ to have a report later that night. It’s a blessing and a curse, living in this know-it-all-the-second-it-happens time that we do. But there is once place that exists, a lone Fortress of Information Solitude where everything walks in but nothing seeps its way out, where what happens there, truly stays there: the NFL locker room.

Save for once a year when one team volunteers to allow HBO’s hidden and very public cameras to film every punching player, coaching quarrel and ridiculously resilient rookie for its duration of training camp. The result is annually the best show on television. It’s the access today’s sports fan can’t get anywhere. It can scour the internet and follow every beat writer on Twitter until there is nothing left to click and scan, but it won’t ever know the details of a very real conversation Falcons head coach Mike Smith had with five-year defensive tackle Piera Jerry, who up and announced his retirement near the end of the first week and didn’t have a clue of what he was going to do next.

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Yes, the Atlanta Falcons are the featured team on this year’s “Hard Knocks,” and if it wasn’t clear right from the opening video montage of Smith screaming over guys popping each other in a fully padded Day 1 practice, then over the course of the entire 60 minutes you figured out the coaching staff wants the Falcons players to put to bed the notion their physicality is how you say, lacking.

“You’re tough if you play this game,” Smith said in the coaches meeting room, as if trying to convince himself his players have what it takes to stand up and be physical this season, “and we got tough guys.”

This theme of being tough and smart and physical played throughout the entire episode with repeated clips of guys battling at the line of scrimmage for the play and then immediately head-slapping each other and talking tons of trash well after the whistle and usually until they had to be separated by teammates. It got rather old relatively quickly for my taste as it seemed ramped up for the show. Whenever a team featuring Osi Umenyiora claims to be tough, you know it’s B.S. And I know this because last year during the first NFL GameDay Morning meeting I mentioned the two-time Super Bowl winning defensive end’s name as a reason the Falcons defense might be improved and Warren Sapp immediately looked at me, his eyes got very wide and he said, “WHAT!?!” like I insulted the very spirit of the game. “Ain’t so soft tissue in this room, boy,” he said. It was then I realized you never, and I mean ever, bring up Osi’s name in front of Warren Sapp.

Inevitably what happens each year on “Hard Knocks” is you head into the season not really caring about the team in focus, but after a couple episodes find yourself cheering for a particular rookie or enamored with a foul-mouthed assistant coach. Last season on the Bengals it was Giovani Bernard and Mike Zimmer who fit the bill, this time around it appears Falcons rookie running back Devonta Freeman, and offensive line coach Mike Tice and linebackers coach Bryan Cox who’ll be in the spotlight in that regard. One of the most amusing segments of this first episode was a cut-up of Freeman looking for an apartment somewhere in Atlanta and safety William Moore telling us about, and playing with his kids, inside his mansion, which featured not only an indoor pool with a waterfall but a palm tree. Also indoors. While Freeman was marveling in what appeared to be a relatively pedestrian 4×6-foot walk-in closet, Moore, who signed a five-year, $29.5 million contract a year ago, was showing the world his shoe closet which contained every Air Jordan sneaker ever made. Ever. Of Air Jordans.

Freeman, in what was probably the greatest single scene in the history of “Hard Knocks,” then rode in a golf cart back to his car saying how blessed he was while taking a sip from a Capri Sun.

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Do I think this is going to be an interesting season of the Emmy-award winning show? Good question. It was a rather uninspiring first episode. I was pleasantly surprised with how much Matt Ryan was shown, as well as Roddy White, who will probably come away as the biggest TV star when it’s all said and done. If you’ve followed him at all on social media or seen him on NFL Network’s Top 100 show any of the last two years, that’ll come as no surprise. He has a big mouth and it was clearly on display this first go-around. I particularly enjoyed him dropping a line I’m going to now use: that’s the difference between eating steak and still eating Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Other episode highlites:

– Flowerly Branch, where the Falcons team headquarters is located, is the name of a city that could only be located in The South.

– Rookie linebacker Tyler Starr’s fiance Megan Wheeler may have overtaken Lauren Tannehill has the hottest WAG in the history of “Hard Knocks,” and overall it was a fantastic episode for player’s better halves. Harry Douglas’s wife, a Miss Georgia International (whatever that means) and tight end Bear Pascoe’s wife were both getting it done. Also, respect for getting calf roping and hay farming in this episode, HBO. Mad respect.

– Speaking of Harry Douglas (I never miss an opportunity to write out his full name), what a strange dude. The women’s deodorant didn’t bother me as much as him being really anal and clean about packing. And that giant white teddy bear in his room. Bizarre.

– Devin Hester is on the Falcons? Who knew.

– Steven Jackson opened an art gallery in Los Angeles and I didn’t get the invite? My Hollywood swag is wearing off. Anyway, some of the pieces looked pretty cool, I’ll admit. Though let me ask you all this, which was more surprising: Terrell Owens finding a way to get himself back on camera for a few seconds or Jackson getting hurt during the first week of practice? Tougher answer than you think.

– Why is Jacques Smith messing with Jake Matthews? That just seems like a terrible idea.

– I think we should do the before/after photos with NFL Network employees. On second thought, maybe we shouldn’t.

– It’s safe to say we all could have learned a thing or two if we just played high school football with Byran Cox.

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– Am I the only one who had no idea Kroy Biermann’s wife is that chick from Real Housewives? Also, no surprise it was low-cut shirt night in the Biermann household this week. Can’t wait to see what she wears for episode 2. And how on earth does he meet this broad to begin with? He’s some hick from Montana.

– The TV producer in me loved the end credits payoff of the earlier shot of Steven Jackson being pissed that someone had “taken” his room only to be revealed it was Matt Ryan, who unknowingly threw is stuff in there because he was first to show up.

– Thomas Dimitroff might have the best hair in football. He definitely is in a neck-and-neck running for Best Wearer of a Visor with South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

– First audio cut of the show was Atlanta rapper T.I.’s “Go Get It.” I’m really curious to see how they’ll use the bountiful music choices during this season. No doubt Ludacris makes an appearance. Also hoping for a Magic City segment. (look it up if unfamiliar)

Death Of An NFL Warrior

Seemingly always with a smile, Junior Seau took his own life Wednesday at his home in Oceanside, Calif.

LOS ANGELES — When athletes and celebrities die I’m always conflicted. Most often, the news is tragic (see Houston, Whitney), as it is when any life ends too soon, but in nearly all cases I didn’t know the person. I sympathize for their families, but their loss only affects me on a superficial level, as I can no longer enjoy what it is that made their family member famous in the first place. If it’s someone in the sports world, it’s the joy I get in watching them play, reading their perspectives or listening their commentary. If it’s an entertainer, it’s enjoying their movies, music or prose.

Superficial relationships. Their death hardly impacts my daily ongoings aside from pausing to reflect on what their life meant in mine. When Michael Jackson died in June of 2009, my buddy VA and I did a podcast about his music and how he’d be remembered, same when the wrestler “Macho Man” Randy Savage passed nearly a year ago. They were important to us at one time, so we stopped to think back.

Wednesday’s news was different. I learned of the death of NFL legend Junior Seau stopped at a red light, scrolling Twitter. I found it strange he was the top trending topic in Los Angeles because he hasn’t been in the news for a while now, but I guess I should’ve known what I was about to find out; Twitter’s killed more people than polio.

Seau was in good spirits at the USC Spring Game just a little more than two weeks ago.

TMZ, our nation’s leading breaking-news source (for better or worse), said that Seau had died in an apparent suicide; a gunshot would to the chest, in his Oceanside, Calif. home Wednesday morning. The website, which has enjoyed remarkable success in the last four years (since it was the first to report the death of Michael Jackson) publishing literally anything you can think of regarding the ultra-famous and self-glossed so, was first to report the news. It said Seau sent text messages to his ex-wife and three children Tuesday night and they responded as they would without concern. Police later said he was found by his girlfriend and that reviving efforts were unsuccessful.

NFL Network and ESPN held off on reporting the news until they had confirmation, which came later in a statement from the San Diego Chargers. Getting it right is more important than being first. I applaud them. Putting Seau’s crying mother on live television, however, was irresponsible and classless. No rating could ever justify taking advantage of her grief.

No. 55 was one of those NFL players who seemed to have more fun that he should on the field.

But the death of Seau is troubling and sad for so many reasons. He played 20 years in the NFL, made 12 straight Pro Bowls, led the Chargers to the Super Bowl and will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Being “Junior Seau, NFL linebacker” defined who he was. He was a warrior. He was the leader of his men. He was the best. Being away from that world was not easy for him, I’m guessing. Though he never appeared on the injury report as suffering from one, I’d assume he suffered numerous concussions as well as injuries, and undoubtedly, depression.

We’ll never know if that led to him taking his own life, but he’s part of a troubling trend in recent years. Seau becomes the third former player to commit suicide in the last year-plus, and the eighth member of the 1994 Chargers to have passed away unexpectedly. This post-playing depression is real and needs to be addressed. I’d venture to say that’s why Roger Goodell came down as hard as he did in the Saints Bounty scandal — four players were suspended Wednesday for their part, including Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season, joining Saints coach Sean Payton on the outside looking in this year — and will continue to push for player safety, much to the dismay of James Harrison.

I had a text conversation with a friend of mine this afternoon and it was pretty telling for this day and age. He’s two years older than I and we’re both fanatics of all sports. “Sad day to be a sports fan man. Things need to change,” he said. I responded in agreement but he went on. “Never imagined myself feeling or saying it, but maybe it’s not worth it. Supposed to be entertainment. Maybe I’m getting old, but doesn’t seem worth it, knowing the degrees of damage it causes. Crazy.” I wrote, “I may never let my kid play football,” to which he said, “Nope.”

None of us want to see this game reduced to aggressive flag football, but we can’t have any more days like Wednesday. If it can happen to a consummate pro like Junior Seau, Number 55, then it’s happening to many, many more and that’s a problem. A major one. I played football growing up and in four years of high school I only remember blacking out once after a hit – it was scary and on film you can see me stumble back to the huddle. I had the chance to play Division III but didn’t want to; the potential wear and tear on my body wasn’t worth it, and I was realistic in that I’d be little more than a tackling dummy for a couple years. I’m glad I made the choice I did.

My lasting image of Seau will be a big smile, a haircut I always found strange and that enormous, exuberant, fist punch into the air he would make in the backfield after a punishing hit on a would-be play maker. Not only was he an incredible player but he did so much for the San Diego community with his charitable causes. It was touching to read the accounts of Mike Silver and Jim Trotter, national sports writers who knew him well through their years covering the league.

A man who gave everything on the field, Junio Seau, couldn’t move after losing in Super Bowl XLII.

He never won a Super Bowl title, coming oh-so close with the Patriots in 2007 and we can only hope that he’ll be a champion in death, this being a wake-up call for the entire NFL family.

That’s something I wouldn’t feel conflicted about.