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2017 NFL Preview: 5 Bold Predictions 0

Posted on September 09, 2017 by Dean Hybl
One big question for 2017 is whether Marshawn Lynch can regain his past Beast Mode greatness after sitting out 2016.

One big question for 2017 is whether Marshawn Lynch can regain his past Beast Mode greatness after sitting out 2016.

The 2017 NFL season got off to an interesting start on Thursday night when the defending champion New England Patriots gave up three fourth quarter touchdowns in a 42-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

As we kickoff the full schedule Sunday, below are five bold predictions for the season as well as my picks for the playoffs and Super Bowl.

1. The 1972 Miami Dolphins Can Pop The Champagne Now – Based on some of their off-season moves, some thought that ten years after their undefeated regular season the New England Patriots might be poised for another run at perfection.

Well, that thought didn’t last long. The Chiefs exposed the New England defense and the offense showed that the losses of receiver Julian Edelman to injury and running back LeGarrette Blount to the Philadelphia Eagles are harder to replace than might have been expected.

While there are several other teams with talented rosters, including the Oakland (soon to be Las Vegas) Raiders, Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons, no team looks good enough to be a legitimate threat to perfection.

What may be in jeopardy this season is the 0-16 mark that has been achieved only once, by the Detroit Lions in 2008. While the Cleveland Browns, who went 1-15 last season, appear to be better and will probably win 3-4 games, the New York Jets could be a threat for dubious perfection. They have unloaded a number of talented veterans from their 5-11 team from last season and could struggle every week in 2017.

2. Ezekiel Elliott Will Struggle – After a Federal Judge granted the request by the NFLPA for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the implementation of a six-game suspension for running back Ezekiel Elliott, it looks like the second year running back for the Dallas Cowboys could play the entire 2017 season.

Last year Elliott took the NFL by storm as he led the NFL in rushing with 1,631 yards while helping the Cowboys to a 13-3 record.

His off-season has not been as smooth. Elliott has been involved in a number of off-the-field incidents during his brief career and that culminated with a six game suspension from the NFL in August.

Though Elliott may avoid missing time due to the suspension in 2017, it doesn’t mean that the off-the-field issues will not be a distraction. Many players throughout NFL history have been unable to repeat great rookie seasons without the added pressure of the national media spotlight that Elliott has endured in recent weeks and will likely see throughout the season.

While having the great Dallas offensive line will certainly help, it would not be a surprise to see Elliott’s numbers decline a bit in 2017. Read the rest of this entry →

Original Patriot: Gino Cappelletti 1

Posted on September 03, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Gino Cappelletti

Gino Cappelletti

In recognition of the start of football season, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is one of the original stars for the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.

In many ways, Gino Cappelletti epitomized the early years of the American Football League. While the NFL was becoming more specialized and tougher to break into, the AFL provided former college stars with a new place to play and its “wild west” mentality allowed players to contribute in a wide variety of ways. Read the rest of this entry →

Super Bowl LI: Brady Leads Patriots March Through Atlanta 0

Posted on February 05, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Tom Brady joins Charles Haley as the only players in NFL history to win five Super Bowls.

Tom Brady joins Charles Haley as the only players in NFL history to win five Super Bowls.

For the first 45 minutes of Super Bowl LI, it looked like the young gun Atlanta Falcons weren’t just going to win their first Super Bowl, but were going to embarrass the New England Patriots in a way that hadn’t happened since they lost Super Bowl XX to the Chicago Bears. However, a funny thing happened on the way to the end of the Patriots dynasty.

Trailing 28-3 midway through the third quarter, the Patriots dug deep and showed their greatness on both offense and defense on their way to scoring 31 straight points to win 34-28 in the first Super Bowl ever decided in overtime.

With the victory, quarterback Tom Brady joins Bart Starr as the only quarterback to win five NFL Championships and the only one with five Super Bowl victories (he joins Charles Haley as the only players with five Super Bowl titles). Head coach Bill Belichick now joins Vince Lombardi and George Halas as coaches with five NFL Championships and is the only one with five Super Bowl wins as a head coach.

Much like when the Green Bay Packers needed a final memorable drive to overcome a deficit to defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the Ice Bowl to claim their fifth NFL title, the Patriots needed some late miracles to claim their fifth title.

However, while Starr needed just one late drive to win, Brady and the Patriots had to score on their final five possessions to claim their championship.

Though he struggled early, Brady proved in the second half that he is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. He finished the game completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards and two touchdowns.

After the Falcons scored early in the third quarter to take a 28-3 lead, Brady led the Patriots on scoring drives of 75 yards, 72 yards (field goal), 25 yards and 91 yards to send the game to overtime. They then marched 75 yards in eight plays to win the game. Brady passed for all 91 yards in the tying job and 63 yards in the final winning drive. Read the rest of this entry →

Super Bowl LI: Can the Falcons Penetrate the Patriot Defense? 0

Posted on February 03, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Will Roger Goodell have to give the Super Bowl LI trophy to Tom Brady?

Will Roger Goodell have to give the Super Bowl LI trophy to Tom Brady?

While the media has focused much of their pre-Super Bowl conversation on how awkward it will be if Roger Goodell has to hand the Vince Lombardi Trophy to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, the real question is whether the highest scoring offense in the NFL can continue their magic against a New England defense that was ranked first in the NFL in scoring defense.

Considering that the Patriots allowed their opponents to score fewer than 20 points 13 times this season, including each of the last five games, while the Atlanta Falcons offense has scored at least 28 points for eight straight weeks (and 14 times this season), something has to give.

Dating back to their first of seven Super Bowl appearances in the Belichick-Brady era against the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots have generally been successful in grounding a high-flying offense. Only the Carolina Panthers with 29 points and the Seattle Seahawks with 24 have been able to exceed 21 points. Ironically, the Patriots were able to win both of those games.

However, not since facing the “Greatest Show on Turf” have the Patriots faced a team with the offensive firepower of their upcoming opponent. Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the rest of the Atlanta offense have been a matchup nightmare all season.

Ryan is the likely NFL MVP after passing for 4,944 yards and 39 touchdowns with just seven interceptions. Jones had a 300-yard receiving game against the Carolina Panthers and caught 83 passes for 1409 yards despite missing two games with injuries.

Since dropping a 29-28 contest to the Kansas City Chiefs on December 4th in a game that was decided on a defensive extra point return, the Falcons have stepped their offensive production up to an even higher level. They have averaged 39 points per game in winning their last six games and have exceeded 40 points three times. Read the rest of this entry →

AFC Championship Preview: Shooting For Lucky Number 7 2

Posted on January 21, 2017 by Dean Hybl
Tom Brady is looking to make his record seventh Super Bowl appearance.

Tom Brady is looking to make his record seventh Super Bowl appearance.

The AFC Championship Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots is a drive for number seven for both teams.

A victory over the Steelers would give New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady their record seventh Super Bowl appearance as a head coach and quarterback. If Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers prevail, they will be one step closer to earning the Steelers a record seventh Super Bowl Championship.

Though New England’s 14-2 regular season record is far superior to the 11-5 mark of the Steelers, the Pittsburgh squad that will be on the field Sunday is not the same team that New England defeated 27-16 in week seven.

Since a four-game losing streak dropped their record to 4-5 after a 35-30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on November 13th, the Steelers have been virtually unstoppable. They have won nine straight games, including playoff victories over the Dolphins and Chiefs.

Though Roethlisberger is often overlooked in the conversation about the best quarterbacks in football, he is still a dynamic passer (3,819 yards, 29 touchdowns in 14 games) who has won three AFC Championship Games and two Super Bowls. Having the best running back in football, Le’Veon Bell, and the one of the best wide receivers, Antonio Brown, certainly does not hurt the Pittsburgh offense.

While the offense has certainly been important for the Steelers recent success, the defense has also been a key. After allowing 27 or more points four times in the first nine games, the Steelers have allowed that many only once in the last nine games. They have allowed 28 total points in their two playoff wins.

The defense will have its greatest test in some time against Tom Brady and the Patriots. The Patriots have scored at least 34 points in each of their last three games and have reached the 30 point mark on nine occasions this season. Read the rest of this entry →

2016 NFL Preview: Will Defense Rule Again? 0

Posted on September 05, 2016 by Dean Hybl
Few would be surprised if the NFC Championship again comes down to the Carolina Panthers against the Arizona Cardinals.

Few would be surprised if the NFC Championship again comes down to the Carolina Panthers against the Arizona Cardinals.

Despite all the talk that an NFL team must have a top-level quarterback and offense to be competitive, the reality is that 11 of the 12 playoff teams in 2015 (all except for the Washington Redskins) ranked in the top half of the league in scoring defense.

The Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos were especially reliant on their defense as they finished 19th in the NFL in scoring offense, but allowed the fourth fewest points in the league.

Whether the Broncos can repeat that pattern in 2016 will certainly be put to the test as their offense could struggle. With Peyton Manning making TV commercials (and cupcakes) and Brock Osweiler off to the Houston Texans, the Broncos are giving the quarterback duties to former 7th round pick Trevor Siemian, who has played in one NFL regular season game and is yet to throw a pass in an official game.

The defending NFC Champion Carolina Panthers also had a great defense in 2015 (ranked 6th in points allowed), but they also had the best quarterback in the league and scored an NFL-best 500 points. If Cam Newton continues to play at an MVP level and the defense can overcome the loss of All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman, look for them to again be the team to beat in the NFC.

Below are five additional interesting storylines to follow in 2016:

Has the Window Closed for the Green Bay Packers?
Since winning Super Bowl XLV following the 2010 season, the Green Bay Packers have made five straight playoff appearances, including a 10-6 record a year ago. However, with the exception of the 2014 season when they had the Seattle Seahawks on the ropes in the NFC Championship Game, they have been unable to get past the divisional playoff round.

With 32-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers entering his ninth season as the starter and other key veterans closing in on the latter stages of their careers, the Packers may be nearing the point where their chances to win another championship in the near future are narrowing.

There was a time when it seemed that Rodgers had his pick of great offensive weapons. However, last season the preseason loss of Jordy Nelson exposed a lack of receiver depth and Rodgers seemed to be a victim. He posted the lowest completion percentage of his career and the fewest passing yards of any full season since he became the starter in 2008. His 92.7 quarterback rating was also the lowest of his career.

After being sacked only 28 times in 2014, Rodgers hit the dirt 46 times a year ago, which could have contributed to his struggles. It will be crucial for the Packers to shore up the offensive line and give Rodgers more time to work his magic.

With Nelson back this season and Eddie Lacy looking for a rebound season after struggling with his weight a year ago, it will be interesting to see if Rodgers returns to the top of the league statistically or if he will continue a slight decline.

Last year the Green Bay defense ranked 12th in points allowed, sixth in passing defense and 21st in rushing defense. While Green Bay’s success is generally dependent on Rodgers and the offense, they will go only so far if the defense struggles.

Will the Cincinnati Bengals Ever Win a Playoff Game?
The Cincinnati Bengals have reached the playoffs in six of the last seven seasons, including the last five in a row. However, each trip has concluded with a loss in the wild card round and most of the losses haven’t even been close. Read the rest of this entry →

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  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Original Patriot: Gino Cappelletti
      September 3, 2017 | 6:54 pm
      Gino Cappelletti

      Gino Cappelletti

      In recognition of the start of football season, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is one of the original stars for the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots.

      In many ways, Gino Cappelletti epitomized the early years of the American Football League. While the NFL was becoming more specialized and tougher to break into, the AFL provided former college stars with a new place to play and its “wild west” mentality allowed players to contribute in a wide variety of ways.

      Read more »

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