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2013 NFL Predictions: Division Winners, Super Bowl Champs, Individual Awards and League Leaders 8

Posted on August 21, 2013 by Andy Larmand

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It’s almost here, but if you weren’t excited enough about the NFL returning in a couple weeks, here are a few more reasons. It’s time to make some predictions that will inevitably have clear cut outomes and boggle the minds of some while sparking some pretty intense debates. I think I have them all right, though. Here are my picks for all eight division winners, the four Wild Card teams, each conference’s championship matchup, the Super Bowl, league leaders and major award recipients.

AFC East (2): Patriots – Nine straight division titles when the team has been quarterbacked by Tom Brady? Yeah, make it 10 for New England. While they undoubtedly will be transitioning on the field this season, they are still fairly high above the other three teams in the division. Plus, their quarterback never runs into butts.

AFC North (4): Bengals – Get used to hearing “Dalton to Green” and get used to seeing the Bengals in the postseason (even if it is just for one game) for the third straight year. Cleveland will probably finish fourth.

AFC South (3): Colts – The Colts made an unbelievable turnaround in 2012 and it seems to me they are not done improving. Eleven wins last season was good, but I see them hitting at least 12 this year, including making a push to overtake the Texans late in the year with a huge win over them in Week 15.

AFC West (1): Broncos – Obviously. This one will probably be the biggest division win by any team this season. I say 14-2 for Denver with San Diego the closest to them at 7-9. Welker…and Decker…and Thomas might play a role in their success as well. Read the rest of this entry →

Who Will Be 2013’s Surprise Teams in the NFL? 16

Posted on July 28, 2013 by Dean Hybl
With head coach Sean Payton back on board, Drew Brees and the Saints will look to return to the top of the standings in 2013.

With head coach Sean Payton back on board, Drew Brees and the Saints will look to return to the top of the standings in 2013.

Every season one thing you can count on in the NFL is that there will be teams that you expect to do well that will struggle and there will be teams that are expected to be bad, but will make a run toward the playoffs.

In the world of online football betting, everyone is trying to figure out which teams will be the surprise teams for the upcoming season because as all who do follow the NFL are aware from past history that there will be some.

Last season four teams that had posted losing records the previous season made the playoffs and there are many seasons when five or more such teams have made the leap.

As we look toward 2013, the question is which teams can do what the Colts, Seahawks, Redskins and Vikings did last season? Here is a look at some of the top contenders to rise from the ashes:

New Orleans Saints – 2012 Record: 7-9

It may not really be fair to include the Saints on this list. After all, they were 13-3 in 2011 and played the 2012 season with their head coach suspended and under the cloud of “Bountygate”.

With Sean Payton back on the sidelines and Bountygate now a distant memory, it would be of little surprise if the Saints are back in the playoff hunt in 2013.

Another distraction entering the 2012 season was the contract status of quarterback Drew Brees and with that no longer an issue, you can expect him to be back to his Pro Bowl best.

The Saints had a generally quiet off-season with their biggest acquisition being new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. He will have a tough task making the New Orleans defense a playoff caliber unit as they allowed the most yards and second most points in the league last year.

While the offense will certainly be potent and probably good enough to get New Orleans back above .500, the defense must be better if the Saints want to make a deep playoff run.

Kansas City Chiefs – 2012 Record: 2-14

Following a 7-9 campaign in 2011 the Chiefs were a popular pick to take the next step in 2012. Unfortunately for them, the next step proved to be over a cliff as they posted the worst record in the NFL. Read the rest of this entry →

One Career Ends And Another Is Born: Super Bowl XLVII Storylines 0

Posted on February 05, 2013 by Andy Larmand
Ravens receiver Torrey Smith celebrates on the field of the Superdome following Super Bowl XLVII.

Ravens receiver Torrey Smith celebrates on the field of the Superdome following Super Bowl XLVII.

The good news? Super Bowl XLVII had just about everything one could have asked for in the final professional football game for 213 days. It featured a pair of brothers facing off against each other, an icon of a generation going out on top, an energizing rookie quarterback, a jaw-dropping halftime show, an intentional safety, a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and one 33-minute power outage. Not to mention a furious comeback in the second half that fell just short of making it the greatest Super Bowl ever played.

The bad news? It’s the final football game for 213 days. It was a great one though.

As always, we have a lot to get to in the last edition of the weekly NFL storylines being that this was the final game of the 2012-13 season. I’d just like to thank God for giving me the fingers to type this with. God is so great.

Joe Flacco, Super Bowl XLVII MVP, tied the all-time record with 11 touchdown passes in a single postseason in the first Super Bowl since 2002 without either Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning. Only he and Joe Montana have ever accomplished that. All five quarterbacks to ever throw eight-plus touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs have won the Super Bowl. Ray Lewis is going out on top if you haven’t heard. After 12 seasons, Lewis won his second career title. It is the longest span between titles by any player in NFL history. Baltimore has won four straight against the 49ers, outscoring them 103-50. San Francisco lost its first Super Bowl in their history and Baltimore improved to 8-1 all-time as the No. 4 seed in the playoffs. They also improved to 2-0 all-time in Super Bowls (won Super Bowl XXXV in 2000). When they won it all in 2000, they were the No. 4 seed as well and the last two Super Bowl champions have been the No. 4 seed in their respective conferences. The previous two meetings between these two teams featured a total of two touchdowns; this one had six.

Baltimore finished the regular season with a record of 10-6. In each of the last three seasons, the eventual Super Bowl champion finished the regular season with no better than 10 wins (Packers with 10 in 2010, Giants with nine last season). The NFC had won three straight Super Bowls before the Ravens win. The last AFC team to win a title before this was the Steelers in 2008. With 65 points being scored in the Super Bowl, the total from this postseason grew to 571, which broke the previous record of 530 set in 1995. No. 2 seeds had been 4-1 in their last five Super Bowl appearances before the 49ers’ loss. With Flacco winning MVP, six of the last seven Super Bowl MVP’s have been quarterbacks. Only Santonio Holmes in 2008 won the award as a non-quarterback. Baltimore became just the second team to ever win a championship after leading the league in penalty yards during the regular season (1974 Steelers). After 19.5 sacks in his first 13 games, Aldon Smith hasn’t recorded one since. In the Super Bowl, he had no sacks and made just two tackles. Six games are the longest he has ever gone without a sack.

No NFL team had ever even reached the Super Bowl after ranking 15th or worse in both total defense and total offense during the regular season. The Ravens were the first and they won it all. Flacco has no interceptions in his last 195 pass attempts. With a second-quarter interception of Colin Kaepernick, Ed Reed tied the all-time record with his ninth career postseason interception. Baltimore improved to 11-5 in road or neutral playoff games in their history, the best win percentage of any NFL franchise. The 49ers had 15 former first-round picks on their roster for the Super Bowl to the Ravens’ eight, but Baltimore beat them anyway. With his first-quarter TD catch, the fourth for him this postseason, Anquan Boldin tied the amount he had in the regular season. Kaepernick was able to set the record for the most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single postseason with 264. He came up just two yards shy of tying the all-time record for rushing yards by a quarterback in the Super Bowl as he finished with 62, but did have the longest ever TD run by a quarterback in the big game with his 15-yarder.

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Family Reunion In New Orleans And The Rest Of The Championship Weekend Storylines 0

Posted on January 22, 2013 by Andy Larmand
Super Bowl XLVII is set. The Ravens will take on the 49ers in the Superdome.

Super Bowl XLVII is set. The Ravens will take on the 49ers in the Superdome.

The good news? The Super Bowl is now less than two weeks away. The bad? It is the last NFL game until next September. On the second-to-last meaningful weekend of football, four teams – three that were there last year – fought for the right to travel to New Orleans and play in Super Bowl XLVII.

The 49ers and the Ravens would come out on top after the Falcons couldn’t hold a big lead and the Patriots couldn’t produce a single point in the second half. What do the two winners have in common? They are coached by a pair of brothers – who will be facing off in the Super Bowl with a pair of quarterbacks who have never been there before.

It wasn’t a good day for the high seeds and home teams as both the Patriots (28-13) and Falcons (28-24) saw their respective seasons come to a close.

For the first time ever, the San Francisco 49ers have reached the Super Bowl as the conference’s No. 2 seed with a comeback from 17 down against the Falcons in Atlanta. They will be making their sixth ever appearance in the big game and are 5-0 so far. Matt Ryan threw for 396 yards while posting a 114.8 passer rating – both franchise playoff records – but his three touchdowns were accompanied by one big interception to Chris Culliver late in the game. His record fell to 34-7 in his career at home. Colin Kaepernick didn’t have nearly the game he had last week as he ran the ball just two times for a total of 21 yards and threw for 233 and a touchdown. Coming into the game, Atlanta had allowed 8.9 yards per rush to quarterbacks in 2012. Kaepernick averaged 10.5 yards on his two carries. His passer rating of 127.7 topped Ryan’s, though, as he helped San Francisco to become the first team to reach consecutive conference championship games with two different starting quarterbacks since the Redskins did it in 1986-87. This was the first time since the Falcons migrated from the NFC West in 2002 that they have fallen to the ‘Niners. They have only won two playoff games in a season once – in 1998 (the only year they made the Super Bowl).

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Win Or Go Home: NFL Wild Card Weekend Storylines 0

Posted on January 08, 2013 by Andy Larmand

There were only four football games on TV this weekend – two on Saturday and two on Sunday. But, thats okay. It’s the playoffs! Someone really should have told Andy Dalton, though as some unfortunate quarterback play stole the spotlight on Saturday.

PLAYOFFS?! Jim Mora, made famous for his rant at a press conference in 2001, is getting gained on by Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis as the coaches the two with the most playoff losses without any wins (Mora: 0-6, Lewis: 0-4).

The Bengals and Texans kicked off Wild Card Weekend for the second straight year on Saturday afternoon in a rematch of last year’s Wild Card game and the first playoff game of  Matt Schaub‘s career (was injured last season). Houston won last year’s game and they won this one too, though it was ugly, 19-13. The game was the fourth rematch in the Wild Card round from the previous year in history and all four times the team that had won the first one has won the second one. In an ugly first half, the only touchdown that was scored was a Leon Hall interception return for Cincinnati, but they trailed 9-7 at the end of two thanks to some very sloppy play. The Bengals were the first team with negative passing yards in the first half of a playoff game since 2006. Dalton had -6 yards through the air in the half. It was the fourth consecutive game with a defensive TD for the Bengals and their first interception return for a touchdown in the postseason since 1973. A.J. Green had no catches or targets in the first two quarters of the game. Cincinnati has not won a playoff game since 1990 and also fell to 0-6 on the road all-time in the postseason. Dalton finished with just 127 yards on 14-of-30 passing.

Both Owen Daniels and Arian Foster were huge for the Texans, who have now won a playoff game in consecutive seasons. Daniels finished the game with nine receptions for 91 yards and Foster finished with 140 yards and the team’s only touchdown as he became the first running back to ever rush for 100 yards in each of his first three career playoff games. His 425 rushing yards in those games are also good for the most by a player in his first three career postseason appearances. Shayne Graham made all four of his field goal attempts in the game. Houston still has a chance to become only the second team to win the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season 1-3 or worse. Schaub nearly doubled Dalton’s passer rating (83.4 to 44.7) as the veteran came out on top in this one. Jermaine Gresham caught just two passes for seven yards and had two drops bounce off his hands. The Texans will head to New England to take on the Patriots in a rematch of their Week 14 game on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. Houston lost the contest 42-14.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggled hearing the play calls in noisy Reliant Stadium and struggled even more in executing them as Cincinnati's season is done.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggled hearing the play calls in noisy Reliant Stadium and struggled even more in executing them as Cincinnati’s season is done.

A couple hours before kickoff, Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder determined his injured elbow was not going to allow him to play in the game against the Packers. Joe Webb, who hadn’t thrown a pass this season, got the start and became the first quarterback in NFL history to start a postseason game after not attempting a pass in the regular season. He was the first QB to start a playoff game with only one career win on his resume since Kelly Holcomb in 2003. With all that going against them, it was never really close after the Packers scored 24 unanswered points to win, 24-10, and earn a rematch with the 49ers next week. Dalton may have felt a little better as Webb threw for just six yards in the first half of this game. Adrian Peterson ran for just 99 yards in the game on 22 carries and failed to become just the second 2,000-yard rusher to win a playoff game in the same season. No rushing champion has run for 100 yards in a playoff game since Edgerrin James did in 2000.

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Season In Review: 32 Storylines From The 2012 NFL Regular Season 0

Posted on January 03, 2013 by Andy Larmand

It’s been a good one and I’m sure I speak for everybody when I say we’re all sad to see it go, but the 2012 NFL season has provided us with exciting finishes, triumphant record-breaking performances, comebacks, winning streaks, losing streaks and of course, replacement officials. Disappointments, pleasant surprises, rookies leading their teams to the playoffs and unspeakable tragedy have all left their marks on the past 17 weeks as well.

Here are 32 of the biggest stories – one about each team – from the 2012 regular season of NFL football.

Ryan Lindley watches as Janoris Jenkins (left) scoots into the endzone, returning another Arizona pass for a touchdown.

Flew into a wall: Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley watches as Janoris Jenkins (left) scoots into the endzone, returning another Arizona pass for a touchdown.

Arizona Cardinals (5-11, 4th in NFC West): Normally, when you lose nine games in a row, that’s the biggest story of the year. That was not the case for the Arizona Cardinals this year, however. Following the rib injury to starting quarterback Kevin Kolb in Week 6, things went from bad to worse in the desert as the Cards spiraled from a 4-0 first place team all the way to the bottom of the NFC West. Arizona’s quarterbacks, John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and Brian Hoyer, were three big reasons why. In that time frame, they combined to go 1-9 and throw 18 interceptions to just three touchdowns. A five-game stretch even resulted in Lindley throwing more touchdowns to opposing teams via interception returns (four) than he threw to his own receivers (zero). A few of the trio’s passing highs included 74, 72 and 64 yards. It probably didn’t help that All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had just 20 catches for 213 yards and no touchdowns in the final seven games of the season. Either they will trust that Kolb will return healthy next season or one would think they spend their first-round pick this spring on a competent quarterback. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt was fired by the team on ‘Black Monday.’

Atlanta Falcons (13-3, 1st in NFC South): The Falcons went 13-3 in 2012 and locked up their second straight No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, but that’s not really news – at least not until they actually do something in the playoffs. Matt Ryan improved his home record to 33-4 in five NFL seasons, but that wasn’t even the biggest thing, in my opinion. For the sixth consecutive season, Roddy White played in all 16 games (hasn’t missed a game in his eight-year career) and put up what would seem like Pro Bowl worthy numbers. He did not make it, however, but teammate Julio Jones did. White had 13 more catches and 153 more yards than Jones on the season. Interesting. In fact, White has finished out of the top 10 in receiving yards just once in the last six seasons (2009). In the last six seasons, he has ended up ninth, eighth, second, 13th, fourth and eighth in the NFL in receiving. He has gone to just three Pro Bowls, however, including one due to an injury of another player. The biggest story out of Atlanta this season may just be the fact that one of the most productive receivers in the league from year to year was snubbed from the Pro Bowl after once again bringing that consistent level of exceptional play. Should he be mad? Yes.

Baltimore Ravens (10-6, 1st in AFC North): It was kind of a tale of two seasons for the AFC North champion Ravens. They began the year 9-2 and were in the driver’s seat in the division as well as in good position in the hunt for a first-round bye. Then came injuries, however. Already without Pro Bowl defensive lineman Terrell Suggs, All-Pro Ray Lewis tore his triceps in Week 6 and was out for the rest of the regular season. In Week 7 against Houston, Suggs would return. Their success in the last few seasons shows the importance of those two players to the team. As if the Lewis wasn’t bad enough, cornerback Lardarius Webb tore his ACL in the same game and he, too, was lost for the year. Lewis is slated to make his return this weekend, but without these three players all on the field in the second half of the year, Baltimore went from a 9-2 team to one with an average 10-6 record. Should they face an early exit in the playoffs, these injuries will have likely given them their death sentence as the up-and-down offense can’t really be counted on.

Buffalo Bills (6-10, 4th in AFC East): As one of the most disappointing teams of 2012, the Buffalo Bills were projected by some to be contenders in the AFC East and perhaps even make the playoffs. That illusion was quickly lost, however, after the team began the year with a 3-6 start, including a 48-28 loss to the Jets on Opening Day. They finished 6-10 at the bottom of the division for the fifth straight year. Buffalo has missed the playoffs in 13 consecutive seasons. Of the six teams that they did beat on the year (the Chiefs, Browns, Cardinals, Dolphins, Jaguars and Jets), not one of them had a winning record. In fact, they had a combined record of 27-69. The defense, which was supposed to be solid with the addition of Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus in his second year, gave up 45-plus points four times on the season as the Bills finished 31st in the league in rush yards against, allowing 145.8 per game. C.J. Spiller did have a solid season as he finished eighth in the league with 1,244 rushing yards, but a knee injury to Fred Jackson really ended up hurting the offense, which finished 19th in the league in total yards. Buffalo fired head coach Chan Gailey on Monday.

Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles this season, but the Panthers still finished below .500.

Rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly led the NFL in tackles this season, but the Panthers still finished below .500.

Carolina Panthers (7-9, 2nd in NFC South): For the third straight year the Panthers finished under .500, but for the second straight year they had a dynamic rookie on the field with them. As the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft, linebacker Luke Kuechly not only led the team in tackles, but he led the entire league. He finished the season with 164 while also picking off two passes, recovering three fumbles and deflecting eight passes for the 10th-ranked defense in Carolina. He was not selected to the Pro Bowl, however. Kuechly was so impressive that he may have even slightly overshadowed the sophomore season of Cam Newton, who was just the third quarterback ever to lead his team in rushing yards in a season. With the two of them as their foundation, the future looks bright in Carolina if they can build around them. They could return to the playoffs as early as next year for the first time since 2008.

Chicago Bears (10-6, 3rd in NFC North): You can have a good beginning. And you can have a good end. But if you don’t have a good middle, most of the time, success is not on the horizon. The Chicago Bears found this out the hard way in 2012 as they became just the second team since 1990 (out of 53) to miss the playoffs after starting a season 7-1. Unfortunately for them, they lost five of their next six before finishing the season with two straight wins, but by then, it was too late. Jay Cutler‘s injury had a bit to do with it, but ultimately the offense they put out on the field could not get it done in the second half of the year as they averaged just 17.3 points per game in the final eight weeks of the season. Chicago has now missed the playoffs in five of the last six seasons with their only playoff run ending in the NFC Championship Game to the eventual champion Packers two years ago. Head coach Lovie Smith was fired on Monday in a very surprising move that could ultimately result in more bad than good for the team.

Cincinnati Bengals (10-6, 2nd in AFC North): The Bengals are going to the playoffs for the seconds straight year behind their talented second-year playmakers Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. Green really made a leap in his second year as he finished 10th in the league in receiving yards (1,350), tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns (11) and seventh in receptions (97) while making his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He even had a stretch early in the season in which he caught a touchdown pass in nine consecutive games. His 84.4 yards per game also cracked the top 10 in the league. As the team’s biggest name on the offense, Green continued to put up monster numbers even when drawing the best coverage schemes from opposing defenses. His 164 targets in 2012 were tied for fifth in the league behind five of the best receivers of this generation. Green came up seven catches shy of breaking the record for the most receptions by a player in his first two NFL seasons as Cincy opted to rest most of its starters in their season finale. He has a chance to be the most productive receiver in Ohio since Chad Johnson.

Cleveland Browns (5-11, 4th in AFC North): In a backfield that featured two rookie starters in quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson, the Cleveland Browns were not able to avoid a second straight last place finish in the AFC North, but did win one more game than they did last year (four) if that’s any consolation. Richardson broke Jim Brown‘s franchise record for most rushing yards in a season by a rookie with 950 and also scored 12 total touchdowns. He started every game he appeared in and went over 100 yards three times before being forced to miss the team’s final game with an ankle injury. Weeden also missed the season finale with a shoulder injury. In 15 games at quarterback, he was 297-of-517 passing for 3,385 yards and threw 14 touchdowns. If both of them can come back healthy next year and the Browns can put some other pieces of the puzzle together, they look to be able to contend in the tough AFC North in 2013. Head coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert were both fired by the team on Monday.

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      Tony Oliva

      Cuba is known for producing great baseball talent and there has arguably been no one from the island better than the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month.

      Before injuries cut short his Hall of Fame worthy career, Tony Oliva was one of the best hitters in baseball and combined with Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Harmen Killebrew to make the Minnesota Twins a perennial American League contender during the late 1960s.

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