Tag Archives: Anquan Boldin

“NFL Divisional Playoff Roundup”

Can my Preseason Super Bowl Pick pull off the unthinkable and shock the Patriots in Foxborough? LaDainian Tomlinson (pictured above) will be a key to the Jet's success on Sunday.

Our very own Wesley Kaminsky has already given his predictions for this weekend’s slate of NFL games.  Now it is my turn.  Last week had some great football games, highlighted by the shocker in Seattle.  Marshawn Lynch’s run was arguably the greatest rushing attempt I have ever witnessed in my life.  After making a play like that, you had to believe that destiny was on Seattle’s side.

This week the matchups appear to be even better.  Lets take a closer look. Continue reading

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“NFL Week 4 Predictions”

Future Hall of Fame Linebacker, Ray Lewis (pictured above), looks to lead his Ravens to a big time road victory over bitter divisional rival, Pittsburgh.

 After this week, most teams will be done with a fourth of the games already.  Boy does time fly by.  But this is the time of year where many of the pretenders start to get weeded out and the contenders show that they are in fact the real deal.  

There are 3 teams that are currently still undefeated.  Those teams are the Chicago Bears, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.  I have none of these teams making the playoffs and they are truly demonstrating how amazing the parity in the NFL can be. 

After 3 weeks in the pick’em challenge, the scoreboard reads: 

TheSportsKraze:  30                                    CV3:  28 

TheSportsKraze Picks

49ers at Falcons:  An underachieving San Francisco team versus an Atlanta team that is flying high after a big win over the defending champs.  Conventional wisdon would say to pick the Falcons in this one.  The Falcons have ridden a phenomenal offense, that features one of the game’s best rushing attacks to first place in the NFC South.  The 49ers have been very Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde like, showing glimpses of a playoff caliber team at times.  If this game was on the west coast, I will give the 49ers a chance.  The 49ers were the “it” pick in the NFC West.  Sadly they will fall to 0 and 4 with a 10 point loss to the Falcons. 

Bengals at Browns:  The Battle of Ohio.  Always a fun game where the stats get thrown out the window.  The Cincinnati offense has looked anemic and many have been calling for a quarterback change, or at least, re-evaluation.  Fortunately for Cincinnati, they are taking on a Cleveland team that is winless for a reason.  They have not gotten the job done from an offensive or defensive standpoint.  Well the Who Deys have owned this series throughout the Marvin Lewis era and I expect a similar outcome on Sunday.  Look for the Bengals to move to 3 and 1 with a 13 point victory against an overmatched Cleveland squad. 

Jets at Bills:  I will admit the Bills surprised me with their effort against New England last week.  They showed some guts and even dare I say, moxy (whatever that is).  But it will not be enough against arguably the best team in the AFC.  The Jet’s stats are misleading due to a horrible offensive performance in Week 1.  Mark Sanchez is finally starting to look more comfortable out there as is the Jets rushing attack.  And good luck to Buffalo in putting up points against these outstanding Jet’s defense whether Revis plays or not.  Buffalo sports the worst overall offense in the League thus far for a reason.  Look for the Jets to run away with this one on the road by 13. 

Seahawks at Rams:  Two teams that each pulled off surprise victories in Week 3.  Seattle has looked very solid in 2 of their 3 games, while St. Louis appeared to finally awake from a preseason hangover against the Redskins.  Do I think either of these teams are serious playoff contenders?  Not really.  But anybody has a shot in the very weak NFC West, that the Seahawks are currently leading.  Neither of these teams rank too well offensively or defensively from a stats standpoint.  But I see the Seahawks demonstrating some poise down the stretch and following the lead of their veteran Matt Hassleback to their 3rd victory of the season.  It will be close, but a costly Bradford interception down the stretch will help Seattle prevail by 3 on the road. 

Broncos at Titans:  An underachieving Broncos team heads to the music city to take on a Tennessee team that has had 2 awesome games, and one against Pittsburgh that they would like to forget.  Though Denver has been solid against the run this year, it will not be enough to stop Chris Johnson and Co.  Look for CJ to be the difference in this game as Tennessee saves face at  home with a 7 points victory. 

Lions at Packers:  The Try’n Lions head to Lambeau to take on the Cheeseheads.  The Packers are coming off of a heartbreaking Monday Night loss to their bitter rival, Chicago.  I feel bad for Detroit is all I have to say.  I would not want to play arguably the most talented team in the League, coming off of a loss on the road.  Though Detroit has had a legitimate chance to win 2 of their 3 games, they have not faced off with a team that has an offense like Green Bay.  The Lions have one of the worst defenses in the League and struggle to stop the run or pass.  Look for Aaron Rodgers to light up the scoreboard as the Packers come out with a vengeance.  This one will be a laugher with the Packers coming out on top by 17. 

Ravens at Steelers:  One of the best rivalries in football here.  The Edgar Allen Poes head to Heinz Field looking to gain back a throne that many expected them to hold atop the AFC North.  The Steelers have shocked everyone, including myself, by starting out 3 and 0 without Big Ben.  This Steelers’s team has looked solid, living on their phenomenal defensive unit.  Pittsburgh’s offensive unit may be ranked dead last in the NFL, but they are also 1 of only 3 undefeated teams heading into Week 4.  The big question mark for a Baltimore team that many expect to possibly win the AFC was their cornerback position.  Well the Ravens are the top rated team against the pass in the NFL.  So they are doing something right.  I see Joe Flacco continuing to demonstrate his ability to make big plays with Anquan Boldin, as the Ravens steal a very close one on the road.  The Ravens will have just a little bit more offensive firepower in this matchup of two of the game’s best defensive units.  I got the Ravens by 1. 

Panthers at Saints:  Sorry Carolina.  Things are about to get worst as you head to Bourbon Street.  This is a similar scenario to which the Lions find themselves in this week.  Playing a very talented team coming off of their first loss of the season on the road.  Good luck.  Drew Brees and the Saints, even though their offense is ReggieBushless, will put up some numbers.  And their defense will feast on whatever young quarterback Carolina puts out there.  New Orleans may not possess a running game, but their aerial attack is one of the best in the game.  Carolina corners better make plays when opportunities are presented to them, unlike they did last week, or this game will be over fast.  I got the Saints by 14 at home. 

Colts at Jaguars:  Peyton Manning heads down to Jacksonville.  The Jags have looked terrible since Week 1.  And they have a major issue in this matchup.  They do not stop the pass.  And they are going up against Peyton Manning, possibly the greatest pocket passer of all time.  Pick your poison in this one.  All directions put to the Jaguars losing a game that shouldn’t even be close to Indy.  I got the Colts by 10 in this one. 

Texans at Raiders:  Houston finally got their wake up call.  The Cowboys took Houston “Back to life, back to reality.”  Well this week, they come back to a good reality.  As they match up with a pretty abysmal Oakland team.  Now I will admit Oakland’s D has been pretty solid so far.  But they also have not faced top-tier offenses like Houston has.  If Oakland clogs the run, look for Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub to hook up early and often.  If Oakland decides to not stack 8 in the box, look for Arian Foster to have a field day.  Either way, Oakland does not possess the horses to score enough points to keep up with the Texans exciting offensive attack.  I got Houston by 13 on the road. 

Redskins at Eagles:  This is quite possibly the most exciting matchup of the week.  Mentor vs Mentee.  Speed vs speed.  Righty vs Lefty.  You name it, the VickNabb show will be fun to watch.  Sadly for Washington though, they do not possess the overall team yet to compete with an Eagles squad that has gelled very quickly.  Now when these two teams match up again on Monday Night Football in November, it will be a completely different story.  But Donovan and this offense have not clicked in any way yet, and will not be able to put up enough points to support a defense that will struggle all day to contain the most athletic player in football.  It will be close, but I got the Eagles by 6 at home. 

Cardinals at Chargers:  Two teams that have surprised for different reasons are matchup up in San Diego.  The Cardinals are an unexpected 2 and 1, while the Chargers have surprised many with a rough 1 and 2 start.  Well the Chargers always start off the year slow.  This is a pick me up game where they get the ball going.  Look for Phillip Rivers to put up some big numbers and lead San Diego to a much-needed victory at home. This will begin a winning streak for the Chargers as they head into a very easy stretch on their schedule. Chargers by 7  in this one. 

Bears at Giants:  Da Bears looked awesome Monday Night.  The Giants on the other hand continued to disappoint and show their lack of consistency.  I got the Bears behind their phenomenal run defense taking care of business on the road and moving to 4 and 0.  Eli will have to have a big day in the air for the Giants to have any prayer.  And I just do not see it happening this week.  Bears by 6 on the road. 

Patriots at Dolphins:  What a great Monday Night Game folks.  Two bitter divisional rivals, looking to make an early statement.  These are two very different teams.  New England lives and dies on their vaunted aerial attack which features Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker.  The Dolphins really survive on a very solid defense led by Jason Allen and Yeremiah Bell.  Monday Night Football Games are very tough to predict in that the underdog commonly walks away the victor.  But for some reason, I expect Brady, who always performs well on the big stage, to lead the Patriots to a huge divisional victory by 1 on the road.  Patriots by 1. 

CV3’s Picks:

There is a distinct possibility that there could be 5 winless teams left in the NFL after week 4. Will those teams fight for a win to avoid the embarrassment of being winless? Also, there are some upset opportunities with the Raiders and Bills looking to shock some teams that are considered on their way to the elite class. Should be an interesting week to watch.

 Falcons over 49ers by 3- If we are following a trend here it is time for San Fran to play well this week. Even if they do, they will still have to overcome a good-looking Atlanta team at home. I take the chances of the Falcons playing well over the chance of San Fran coming out like they did against the Saints.

Packers over Lions by 10- Green Bay should trample the Lions at Lambeau. The Pack has proved that their D is strong and they will eliminate the mistakes made last week against Da Bears. Best should be in the line-up this week but he will be limited by the backers in green and yellow.

Jets over Bills by 8- I want to say the Bills are going to upset the Jets after competing with the Pats last week but I don’t think it is going to happen. The one way it could happen is if the Bills can pressure Sanchize. Again, I don’t think this will happen but I would love to see the J E T S go down this week to a 0-3 team.

Rams over Seahawks by 5- Seahawks have lost the last 16 of 19 on the road. Rams are energized this year with Bradford running the show. Look for them to impress the home crowd.

Titans over Broncos by 3- Chris Johnson is scary but so is Denver’s #1 passing offense. Kyle Orton can have a big day against the Titan’s secondary starting a rookie in place of an injured corner. I still have to go with the Titans because in the NFL you still have to be able to run the ball and the Broncos have too much trouble on the ground. 

Steelers over Ravens by 1- Everyone knows that this will be a low scoring SLUGFEST. If you do not like defense, do not watch this game but you will see some of the hardest hits all season during this game. Steelers take this round at home in this fight.

Saints over Panthers by 14- Notre Dame sucks, so does Jimmy Clausen. Saints win! (Take that BK) 

Colts over Jags by 7- These two seem to play each other tough. In their last 5 match-ups the winning team has won by 7 points or less. This one swings in favor of the Colts with Peyton’s boys clicking. 

Texans over Raiders by 10- The Raiders will prove to be a big match-up problem for Houston. With the Best corner in the league limiting Andre the Giant to 5 catches and 94 yards in their last three meetings, the Texans will need to find another way to get the job done. Either Houston clicks and blows through Oakland or they lose in an upset caused by one the NFL’s top defenses.

Chargers over Cardinals by 7- Phillip Rivers and Antonio Gates. As long as these two are still on the field Sunday, San Diego will win the game.

Eagles over Redskins by 6- Michael Vick. 

Bears over Gmen by 9- The Bears offense is catching up to its D. The Giants lost last week at home, look for it to happen again with a pass happy Bears team rolling into town. Don’t kick it to Devin Hester, Gmen. Then maybe you have a chance.

Patriots over Dolphins by 3- Another Monday night thriller is ahead of us with an emerging team taking on the perennial Goliath in the division. The Patriots offense will be too difficult to stop and they will disappoint Miami fans who think they can hang in the division. Sorry Dolphins, you’re number 3, the first two spots are taken.

Bengals over Brownies by 8- D’Natti is making a trip to Cleveland, who will not win a championship in any sport in the foreseeable future. Zimmer will smother the Browns on offense and the Cleveland fans will still remain without hope for their Browns, Cavs and Indians. Hopefully Cincinnati fans get to see some life from Carson Palmer who hasn’t clicked with his new weapons at tight end and receiver yet. WHO DEY

So there you have both my and CV3’s picks.  A lot of very good matchups mixed in with some very lopsided looking affairs.  But the NFL is always unpredictable and fun.  Upsets are inevitable. It is very hard to pick which ones they will be. 

Enjoy the games folks. 

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze. 

-TheSportsKraze 

“Too Good to Be True?”

Joe Flacco (pictured above) and the Ravens gutted out a major Week 1 victory on the road against the highly touted New York Jets. Will Flacco play better next week against AFC North rival, Cincinnati?

  At the end of  Week 1 the Pick’em challenge scoreboard reads: 

TheSportsKraze:   8                      CV3:  9 (realize Chad picked the Ravens to win by 1 last night) 

The marquee matchup of this Week 1 of football was the Monday Night Showdown in New York between two big time contenders in the AFC, the Jets and the Ravens.  Both of these teams are considered favorites not only within their respective divisions, but in the conference as a whole.  Each team had outstanding off seasons, bringing in key acquisitions to squads that already made the playoffs last year.  The Jets picked up Antonio Cromartie, LT, and Jason Taylor.  While the Ravens brought in two big time receivers in TJ Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin.  There is one major concern though in my eyes that could hold both of these teams back from Super Bowl glory…  

Isn’t there a show called Monday NFL Quarterback?  Last night was not an example.  

Mark Sanchez was absolutely horrific last evening.  Now I realize the Jets are generally a run first team.  A team that likes to play old school, smash mouth football.  Winning games with a strong rushing attack and superb defense.  And that is fine, even though the League is in the midst of the pass happy era.  A team could still win with an average passing game if they had a superb defense and rushing attack.  Well the Jets without question have the tools defensively.  I mean wow did they put on a show last night.  But how about the former USC Trojan in the pocket?  

Sanchez went 10 for 21 for 74 yards.  This is not pee wee football.  This is the NFL.  A quarterback should be throwing for nearly 74 yards a quarter.  Now I realize that he was playing against the vaunted Ravens defense and all of jazz.  But Mr. GQ was playing in front of a big time home crowd with many weapons at his disposal such as Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Shonn Greene.  He also has former Steelers number 1 receiver, Santonio Holmes at his disposal (hopefully soon).  Also, I realize that Mark is still just in his 2nd year.  Maybe he could be entering the Sophomore slump?  Well not really, considering he did not have a big time rookie year, so it would not be considered a slump.  My one major suggestion for Sanchez is to start throwing to his tight ends more.  I realize that Dustin Keller let him down on last night’s big 4th down play late in the 4th quarter in one of the most bonehead plays I have ever seen.  But give the guy a break.  He had just been summoned by Ray Lewis, the ultimate hitmaker.  A reliable tight end is a young quarterback’s best friend.  Sanchez better improve fast, or this team will not have a prayer at making a run deep into the playoffs.  They will be able to survive on their defense in most games, but against tough contenders like the Ravens, Sanchez will have to perform better than last night.  

Now speaking of young quarterbacks.  The Ravens have a young gun of their own at the helm in Joe Flacco.  Now I will admit, I was thoroughly disappointed by the former Delaware stud last evening.  When you look at Joe, you just feel like he has the look of a big time NFL quarterback.  He possesses that  big time NFL “swagger,” for lack of a better term, which is so hard to explain to somebody who is not a fan of the game.  Last night, Flacco went 20 of 38 (which isn’t horrible), for 248 yards.  He did throw an interception as well.  Now, by no means, was Flacco as bad as Sanchez.  But I along with most football fans hold higher expectations for Joe.  We expect him to do more out there each week than Sanchez.  Partially because he has to with an aging Ravens defensive core.  And in all seriousness, this guy has arguably the most weapons around him of any QB in the League.  He has 2 big play receivers in a Anquan Boldin (now a big play guy and no longer a possession) and Derrick Mason.  He has the 2nd best possession receiver in the game at his disposal in TJ Houshmandzadeh (after Wes Welker).  Todd Heap is a very seasoned tight end who has always been a major threat in the passing attack.  Plus he has a monster 3 headed rushing attack to fall back on in Rice, McGahee, and McClain.  The guy has no excuses.  And sure his team escaped last night against a very tough team on the road.  For this team to make a Super Bowl run, he will have to play much better.  I recommend Flacco develops a deep bond with his new possession guy in TJ Houshmandzadeh and continues to work on his chemistry with tight end Todd Heap.  

Both of these quarterbacks have the luxury of playing on teams with big time defenses and solid rushing attacks.  But in today’s game, you have to at least demonstrate a mediocre passing attack to advance deep into the playoffs.  Who would you rather have at QB, Flacco or Sanchez?  Which of these teams could make a run to the big game?  

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.  

-TheSportsKraze  

“Ravens Could Fly High”

As a Bengal, TJ Houshmandzadeh was a bitter rival of the Baltimore Ravens. Now could he be the final piece in helping the Ravens capture their first Super Bowl Title since January of 2001?

 In breaking NFL News yesterday, the Ravens made another major acquisition at the wide receiver spot.  They picked up one of the best possession receivers the League has to offer.  One of the toughest wide outs in the League.  A guy who has a distinct familiarity with the AFC North.  A man who has a very recognizable pony tail.  The man with the longest last name in the game (tied with Big Ben).  None other than the former Oregon State, Cincinnati Bengal, and Seattle Seahawk’s star, TJ  Houshmandzadeh (14 letters). 

And boy was this a major pick up for Baltimore, who recently saw off-season acquisition, Donte Stallworth, go down with a broken foot.  It is truly amazing to me how much the look of a team can change during the course of a decade.  In the year 2000, Baltimore not only sported the well-known and highly acclaimed drug wire, but they also sported quite possibly the meanest, baddest, and best all around defense of all time.  Records were set, and the reputation of this unit was just flat-out scary.  And even though the Ravens over the past few years have developed a better and more reliable offense each year, they have still always been known as a defense first team.  Well that is all about to change.  Talk a about an off-season makeover.  

The Ravens possibly sport the most dangerous offense in the AFC North now, and maybe even the League (hard to say until we see them in action).  They have the prototypical NFL Pocket Passer in Joe Flacco.  They have an outstanding 3 headed (not your normal 2 headed) attack in the back field, made up of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and big boy, Le’Ron McClain.  And now they have quite possibly the best receiving unit in the League with the newly acquired vet, in TJ Houshmandzadeh.    They have Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and TJ.  Plus they have when healthy, one of the League’s most consistent tight ends over the past 10 years in Todd Heap.  Can the offensive line hold up?  Michael Oher, Mr. Blindside himself, continues to show great progress.  Ben Grubbs has progressed at guard.  And Matt Birk is a very savvy and dare I say intelligent (Harvard grad) Center.   The offensive line is always the real question when discussing the fate of most offensive units in the NFL.  But there are not too many teams that can say they sport the weapons at the skill positions on offense that the Ravens have.  Lastly, offensively, they have a very solid back up quarterback in Marc Bulger.  If Flacco were to go down with an injury, they have a QB who has been in the League for 10 years and a starter for 7 of them.  A guy who though he has declined over the past few years, provides the Ravens with an opportunity to still make the playoffs if their starter goes down.  Now how many teams can confidently say that if their starting quarterback were to go down early in the year, that they could ride their backup to a playoff appearance?  I will give you a hint, not many. 

Now defensively, the Ravens are not what they once were.  And out of the teams that appear to be contenders, they probably have the most glaring weakness of anyone.  They have no proven cornerbacks!  And in a division that has teams like the Bengals, with some major big play receivers, this could hurt.  But they do still have a great linebacking unit led by future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.  They have a solid D line, and of course Ed Reed (who will be back by Week 6 or 7), holding down the safety spot. 

But back to the addition of TJ.  Joe Flacco is now entering his 3rd year in the NFL, and his 3rd year as a full-time starter.  What are the 3 keys to any quarterback’s success in this League?  An offensive line that can protect him and give him time to get the ball out.  A strong rushing attack that keeps the defense honest.  And a sure handed possession receiver.  Well with the addition of TJ, at least of two of those keys to success are taken care of (O-Line appears solid, but is always a question with any team).  Flacco has been able to work with solid receivers such as Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, but he has never had a guy who is as tough and sure handed as TJ.  This guy has had 70 or more catches for 6 consecutive seasons.  He has a total of 5 fumbles in his 9 year career (as a receiver).  The guy gets you yards flat-out.  Come 3rd down, the Ravens are going to be very happy they signed this guy.  The real question is can TJ fit in with Ray Lewis and the boys in the locker room? 

It has been somewhat undocumented, but there have always been rumors of TJ not being the most well liked guy behind the scenes in the locker room.  Honestly, I do not see this being a problem in that the guy appears to be in a win now mode, as are the Ravens.  Not to mention the Ravens have Ray Lewis patrolling the locker room and making sure all the guys are on the same page.  With this major acquisition yesterday, the Ravens could be flying high this season.  The magic for Baltimore starts next Monday in a date with the New York Jets. 

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze. 

-TheSportsKraze 

“AFC North Preview”

How will the arrival of Anquan Boldin in Baltimore and another number 81 in Cincinnati affect the AFC North this year?

Welcome to perhaps the most brutal conference in the NFL.  Or at least the most physical.  These teams are generally tough both on and off the field.  Most off-seasons, you hear a lot of press about what these players are doing with their spare time and normally it is not good news.  You ever hear the saying, “No news is good news?”  Well the AFC North does not believe in that saying.  This is a division with great rivalries, great players, and great fans.  Many say Pittsburgh, or “Shitsburgh” as many Cincinnatians like to say, possesses the best fan base in American sports.  All I have to say is, there is no love lost in the rivalries of this very unpredictable and talented division.

AFC North: Bengals, Browns, Ravens, Steelers (alphabetical order)

Cleveland Browns (4th place):  It seems like the Browns have been inhabiting the cellar for some time now.  In actuality, they have resided in this position every year but 2 since the year 2002.  So there is quite a familiarity with always looking up at their rivals in the standings.  And this year will be no different for a town where things continue to get worse.  The Indians have been god awful the past few years.  Their “King” and savior Lebron James, just jumped ship and added insult to the wounds by having a 1 hour special to make the “Decision,”  and the Browns continue to struggle.  Also lets not forget that winters in Cleveland are awful.  But this team truly does not have much to bring to the table.  They had the worst offense in the League last year for a reason.  They had a passing attack that reminded me of watching a high school team (averaging 129 yards per game).  This year they will have a new QB in Jake Delhomme, who can hopefully rekindle the fire a little bit.  Also their rushing attack will rely squarely on the shoulders of Jerome Harrison and the rookie out of Tennessee, Montario Hardesty.  Now Harrison is not terrible, nor was Cleveland’s rushing attack last year.  But this was partly because they ran the ball so much.  Also on the offensive side of the ball, much will be expected of Mohamed Massaquoi and Joshua Cribbs.  Massaquoi had a few big games last year, and has the talent to be a big play receiver.  But does this really sound like an offense that will be able to score against the likes of the Ravens, Bengals, or Steelers?  On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns are nearly just a bad.  This unit will depend heavily on a hopefully healthy Shaun Rogers, a hopefully healthy D’Qwell Jackson, and the always fun to watch Eric Wright in the secondary.  With the arrival of TO in Cincy and Boldin in Baltimore, Wright along with his buddies in the Cleveland secondary may actually need some Pepto Bismal.  Lastly, realize the best play the Browns have is on their special teams.  No team in the League possesses a threat like Joshua Cribbs in the return game.  This may be the Brown’s only hope to steal some games in the brutal AFC North.  As many in Cincinnati say, “If it is Brown flush it down.”  Well the Browns sadly are going to be down, and are in for another long season.

Pittsburgh Steelers (3rd place):  Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the best run franchises in professional sports will go a second consecutive year without tasting the postseason.  It is not that the Steelers are even so bad, it’s that the Bengals and Ravens will be very tough this year.  When talking about Steeler football, defense always comes to mind right away.  And this team does have a rough a tough defensive unit.  They are one of the top run stopping teams in the League, but do struggle with defending against the aerial attack at times.  James Farrior and James Harrison continue to get better with age it seems like.  Troy Polamalu, when healthy is one of the League’s best.  And Ryan Clark is becoming more and more well-known around the League for his bone shattering hits.  But the flash of the secondary cannot hide its inability at times to defend against the pass.  Big hits only can get you so far in this League.  Guys like Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, Troy Polamalu, and all the recently drafted rookies in the secondary could make or break this team down the stretch.  Can Pittsburgh prevent the big play?  Offensively this team has a major issue before the season even starts.  Big Ben Roethlisberger, their quarterback and leader, will miss at least the first 4 games, and possibly more.  This will hurt.  It would not have been as big of a blow in the past, since the Steelers were always a smash mouth running team.  But they have turned into a pass first offense along with most of the NFL.  Can Dennis Dixon make sure the Steelers do not dig themselves another early season whole this year?  Because believe me, the Ravens and Bengals will be too tough to allow Pittsburgh to dig out of a massive early year deficit.  Is Rashard Mendenhall ready to carry the load as the featured back?  How many more solid years does Hines Ward have left?  The loss of their top receiver Santonio Holmes hurts, and it will be interesting to see if young guns Mike Wallace and Limas Sweed are ready to step up.  Pittsburgh will be a good team this year and win probably 6 to 8 games, but they will not be good enough to make the playoffs.  There are just too many question marks on both sides of the ball.

Baltimore Ravens (2nd place):  The bad boys out of Baltimore will make the playoffs for a 3rd consecutive year.  And though they would prefer to win the division, they will still be a tough out as a Wild Card.  This team has had a fantastic off-season and finally look to have the tools of a top-notch offensive squad.  So the Ravens will finally have a very tough offense to compliment their always tough defense.  Defensively, it is the same story it has been for the better part of a decade.  They stop the run better than anybody, rarely ever giving up 100 rushing yards in a game.  Ray Lewis, the future Hall of Famer, and possibly the best linebacker of all time continues to perform even at the ripe age of 35.  They also feature a very strong safety tandem in Dawan Landry and Ed Reed.  Plus Terrell Suggs, along with Ray Lewis may be the best linebacking duo in the League (even though Ray is 35).  But the corners have been a question the past couple of years, and may be the only minor flaw on this otherwise awesome team.  Can Domonique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, and David Carr defend the likes of the Bengal’s outstanding trio of big play receivers?  These matchups will probably determine who wins the AFC North.  So strap in for some excitement there.  There is also the Ravens now revamped offensive side of the ball.  Joe Flacco, looks to be a quarterback that will continue to win in this League for some time.  And now he has some great weapons to throw to in Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and Donte Stallworth.  He also still has the former ASU standout, Todd Heap to throw too.  Also the Ravens possess one of the best rushing attacks in the entire League.  Between the up and coming Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and big boy Le’ron McClain, defenses beware.  These guys are no fun to deal with.  And with the look of a team that should really be able to throw the ball downfield, teams will not simply be able to just key on the vaunted Raven’s rushing attack.  Look out for the Ravens in 2010, as they look to go deep into the playoffs.

Cincinnati Bengals (1st place):  Who Dey Nation has been celebrating for the past couple of days.  The TO Show has arrived in Cincinnati to add to an already solid receiving corps.  This team, which was one of the League’s best in running the ball last year should now be able to throw deep with authority.  They have 3 big play receivers in Owens, Ochocinco, and Bryant.  Not to mention the surehanded Andre Caldwell to act as a possession guy, and Jermaine Gresham at tight end.  Also they have one of the League’s best running backs in Cedric Benson.  Carson Palmer has a heck of a team to work with offensively.  Be ready to witness the Carson Palmer of 2005 all over again. Redemption will be so sweet for the former USC standout.  The Bengals on the defensive side of the ball last year, behind the tutelage of Mike Zimmer, became one of the League’s elite.  Do not expect that to change this season as guys continue to get healthy.  The Bengals were extremely efficient at stopping both the run and the pass.  The cornerback tandem of Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph is now known around the football stratosphere as one of the League’s elite.  Really for the Bengals, there are two question marks.  First of all is Carson ready to start playing like an elite quarterback again(which I think he is)?  And secondly, can the Bengals get healthy at safety and defend against a team like the Ravens, who have so many weapons?  With the Bengals, as with any team around the League, the big challenge is to stay healthy.  But this is by far the deepest and most talented team Marvin Lewis has ever had in Cincinnati.  Look for this team to have a big time year and play deep into the postseason.

So there you have.  The AFC North will be brutal as usual and will be represented in the playoffs by both the Bengals and Ravens like last year.  The only real question in this division is can the opposing secondaries handle the deep threats of the Bengals and Ravens?  We will begin to find out come September.

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

-TheSportsKraze

“NFC West Preview”

See any resemblance to Joe Montana or Steve Young? Well Alex Smith is ready to lead the 49ers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

The NFC’s version of the Wild Wild West has not been the most glamorous conference in recent memory.  In fact, they have not sent 2 teams to the playoffs since 2003.  They also have not had more than one team with an above 500 record since 2003.  So generally, you have one team do solid, another team do around 500, and the other 2 just finish absolutely abysmal.  This year appeared like it could be different.  It appeared that there could possibly be 2 teams with a fighting chance to make their way into the playoffs.  That was until Arizona lost their quarterback to retirement and one of the best receivers to the Ravens (Kurt Warner and Anquan Boldin). 

NFC West: Cardinals, Rams, Seahawks, 49ers (alphabetical order)

St. Louis Rams (4th place):  The Rams had a nightmarish season last year.  And though I think they will do better than one win this season, I do not see them finding themselves out of the division cellar just yet.  Sure they drafted a very talented quarterback in Sam Bradford.  And sure they have an outstanding running back in Stephen Jackson.  But really what else is there?  I mean Albert Pujols cannot suit up for this squad.  This squad featured one of the worst passing games I have ever seen in recent memory.  And to think, we are only 10 years removed from the “Greatest Show on Turf.” Guys like Donnie Avery and Laurent Robinson must step up and provide the rookie Bradford with some targets.  Sure Stephen Jackson is a great guy to have for rookie Sam Bradford to hand the ball off too.  But the NFL has become a pass first League.  You cannot win without some sort of passing attack.  The Rams, unfortunately, are going to struggle in this department all year.  The Rams defense is not to amazing either.  In fact, it looks to be on its way to a horrific year.  I guess a team that goes 1 and 15 generally is not too strong in many areas.  James Laurinaitis will have a ton of weight put on his shoulder to anchor the defense.  He is no longer a rookie and will be expected to be the engine that makes the defense go.  But other than that, there is not a whole lot of promising prospects on this defense.  I do think they will finish better than 1 and 15, but not much.

Seattle Seahawks (3rd place):  Rainy Seattle will once again fail to make the playoffs for the first time since 2007.  This team features both a sub par offense and defense.  Matt Hasselbeck is a very savvy veteran that really just does not have much to work with.  Sure TJ Houshmandzadeh is a great possession receiver, but the loss of Nate Burleson hurts.  Golden Tate, the outstanding receiver out of Notre Dame will be expected to produce from Day 1.  He will be expected to be a big play guy similar to a Steve Smith type of mold (lots of pressure on the little guy).  This team cannot survive simply with Houshmandzadeh.  I mean this team does not have much of a rushing attack.  Justin Forsett and Leon Washington are not necessarily gamebreakers.  Maybe Washington will surprise some people and start to really produce, but I wouldn’t count on it.  Then you look at the Seahawks on the other side of the ball.  And there really isn’t a whole lot of star power to look at.  Who will step up?  Nobody really knows.  The main thing Seattle has going for them is the arrival of former USC Head Coach, Pete Carroll.  Now normally coaches do not do so hot going back and forth between the League and College in any sport.  But this guy has been running a professional program for years now.  Plus he had 15 years of “official” professional coaching experience before he arrived in Trojanville.  Just ask USC what they think about it.  Maybe he could get this team to come somewhere near 8 and 8?  I would say it is highly doubtful they win 8 games, but who knows, it could happen.

Arizona Cardinals (2nd place):  This is a team that probably lost the most of any team in this division.  They lost a big time number 2 receiver in Anquan Boldin.  They lost a big time quarterback in Kurt Warner.  And with Kurt and Anquan, goes a major part of the high-flying attack that has carried the Cardinals for the past couple of years.  This is a team that has lived and died on the pass reminiscent of the way many college teams play today.  They had a rushing attack that did not even average 100 yards a game.  Yet they advanced to the playoffs?  Go figure.  Times have really changed.  Offenses have slowly but surely turned into pass first teams all around the League.  I mean the Cardinals do have 2 decent running backs in the massive Chris “Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower.  But neither of these guys get many opportunities in this pass happy Cardinal’s offensive scheme.  If Steve Breaston does not emerge as a big time number 2, Arizona’s offense could collapse in that teams will double on Fitzgerald and the passing attack will die.  And this does not even get me started on Matt Leinart.  The man came into the League with so much upside but has vastly underachieved.  This year will be his chance.  There is also a defensive side of the ball.  And the Cardinals are not too good at defending.  They like to play shootout style games where they score a ton of points, and give up lots of points.  A way that you can tell this team has struggled defensively is players like  Adrian Wilson and Antrel Rolle are 2 of the top 4 tacklers on the team.  These guys both play in the secondary.  So I feel like this team will probably win 6 to 8 games.  But there have been too many losses on the offensive side of the ball for them to outscore all of their opponents and their defense does not appear too promising on paper.

San Francisco 49ers (1st place):  Yes, this is the year we have all been waiting for.  The 49ers long awaited return to the playoffs.  There were the Joe Montana days.  Then the Steve Young days.  Now there are the..Alex Smith days?  You better believe it.  This team has not gone over .500 since 2002.  Well that all changes this year.  There will be a changing of the guard, or at least a retro look in the West.  With the 49ers back on top.  This team has been knocking on the door for a few years now and is ready to come inside. The 49ers have a solid defense that is led by in my eyes the best linebacker in the game, Patrick Willis.  You should have heard of this guy already, but if you have not, he is here to stay.  They also have the veteran leadership of a linebacker that has been around the block in Takeo Spikes.  This team boasts arguably the best linebacking core in the League.  They also have a solid secondary led by former Pro Bowler Nate Clements, and the veteran Mark Roman.  So expect this team to be ranked among the League’s elite on the defensive side of the ball.  And on offense, this team looks to improve from a dismal showing last year.  They will be led by a young group in Alex Smith, Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree, and Josh Morgan.  These guys are all young, but ready to show that they are entering the primes of their careers.  Also do not forget about the always dangerous Ted Ginn Jr.  This team will not be one of the League’s elite offensively, but you better believe that they will put on a much better performance than last year as they begin to gel and enter the primes of their careers.  Hopefully the 49ers can keep this core group on the offensive side of the ball together for years to come.  San Francisco will return to the playoffs for the first time in 8 years.

So there you have it, a changing of the guard in the NFC West.  A return to the old.  The 49ers are back and look poised to be solid for the next few years with a relatively young group.

Stay tuned for the next edition of TheSportsKraze.

-TheSportsKraze