Sunday, September 25, 2011

College Football Rankings Week 5

I had LSU as No. 1 last week and apparently AP voters have followed suit after the Tigers notched their third consecutive impressive win of the season. Is it too early to discuss an all-SEC BCS championship game? If LSU's only loss in the regular season is to Alabama, and the Crimson Tide finish the regular season undefeated, then those two teams should meet in the title game. The SEC is the best conference in the country and there's no reason to think this couldn't happen.

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Boise State
5. Stanford
6. Oklahoma State
7. Wisconsin
8. Virginia Tech
9. Nebraska
10. Clemson
11. Florida
12. South Carolina
13. Oregon
14. Baylor
15. South Florida
16. Texas
17. Michigan
18. Georgia Tech
19. Arkansas
20. TCU
21. Illinois
22. Iowa State
23. West Virginia
24. Texas A&M
25. Florida State

Sunday, September 18, 2011

College Football rankings week 4

LSU deserves to be No. 1 because no team has a pair of wins as impressive as the Tigers' victories over Oregon and Mississippi State.

1. LSU
2. Oklahoma
3. Alabama
4. Boise State
5. Stanford
6. Wisconsin
7. Virginia Tech
8. South Carolina
9. Arkansas
10. Nebraska
11. Oklahoma State
12. Florida
13. Oregon
14. Baylor
15. West Virginia
16. Clemson
17. Florida State
18. South Florida
19. Texas
20. Illinois
21. Michigan
22. Texas A&M
23. TCU
24. Iowa State
25. Georgia Tech

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

2011 NFL Predictions

NFC North
1. Packers
2. Lions
3. Bears
4. Vikings
I don't understand why the Bears would take away Jay Cutler's center, tight end and third-down back in a single offseason and give him Roy Williams in return. The Lions could be a playoff team but Matthew Stafford has to stay healthy. I have a hunch Donovan McNabb is not the answer in Minnesota.

NFC East
1. Eagles
2. Cowboys
3. Redskins
4. Giants
The Eagles made for the most entertaining offseason with all of their high profile acquisitions. But will there be strong chemistry in their lockerroom? An injury to Vick would be devastating. The "rebuilding" Cowboys could be a sleeper team this season. The Giants' preseason injuries will doom them, but I would never write off a Tom Coughlin team. I'm not sold on post-Elway Mike Shanahan, so let's see what he can do with, ugh, Rex Grossman.

NFC South
1. Saints
2. Buccaneers
3. Falcons
4. Panthers
Every year a team that missed the playoffs the previous season becomes a contender. The Bucs are my pick to do so this season, and they knock the Falcons from their mantle. The Saints made all the right moves to fill the holes on their roster and Drew Brees is a proven winner. I think Cam Newton will be a star in the NFL and probably win some games he has no business winning, but there will be painful growing pains too.

NFC West
1. Rams
2. Cardinals
3. Seahawks
4. 49ers
The recipe for overcoming the lockout-shortened offseason is having a returning head coach and stability at quarterback. In this unpredictable division, the Rams are the only team with both of those categories in order. Arizona could make it a tough race, but I think it may take Kevin Kolb time to settle in. The Seahawks are a bizarre team, but their question mark at quarterback is impossible to ignore. I can't wait to see what Jim Harbaugh can do as a pro coach, but I wonder if he won't regret passing on the Michigan job.

Wild Card: Buccaneers and Cowboys
Champions: Packers

AFC North
1. Steelers
2. Ravens
3. Browns
4. Bengals
The Bengals seem like a team that should an over/under for wins of 0.5. There's no reason not to pick the Steelers here, and I wonder when the Ravens will finally go over the hill. Pat Shurmur could be a great coaching hire in Cleveland and I have faith in Colt McCoy, but that team surely needs time to develop.

AFC East
1. Patriots
2. Bills
3. Jets
4. Dolphins
I'm calling this as the season the Jets implode, the Rex Ryan act grows old and the team misses the playoffs. The Patriots, on the other hand, seem hellbent on returning to glory, what with their risky veteran acquisitions like Albert Haynesworth. The Bills are an intriguing team and I like how they improved their defense. The Dolphins round up the best overall division in football.

AFC South
1. Texans
2. Jaguars
3. Colts
4. Titans
All this talk about Peyton Manning's neck injury has focused on whether he'll play in the opener at Houston, but maybe the better question is if he'll ever be the same player? Ask Sterling Sharpe what neck injuries can do to you. Houston has seemed on the brink for about three seasons and, with their backs against the wall and their coach's job on the line, this is the year they finally break through. The Jaguars made a bizarre move to cut their veteran quarterback just a few days before the season. The Titans have a new coach, uncertainty at quarterback and their star player coming off a holdout. If they can overcome all that and contend, I'll be amazed.

AFC West
1. Chargers
2. Chiefs
3. Raiders
4. Broncos
The Chargers have the talent, but can they overcome their proverbially under-achieving coach? I think so, as I'm picking them to reach the Super Bowl (again!). The Chiefs capped off a pitiful preseason by losing their starting tight end for the season and their starting quarterback perhaps for the opener. The Raiders and Broncos are two sides of the same under-whelming coin.

Wild Card teams: Ravens and Bills
Champs: Chargers

Super Bowl Champs: Packers

2011 Green Bay Packers preview

I'm just another biased Packers fan but at first glance this seems to be a team capable of winning the Super Bowl, again.

The Packers are blessed with a young star quarterback, playmakers at key positions on both sides of the ball and outstanding depth at almost every position. There are question marks for sure, especially along the offensive line.

But the most logical reason why the Packers won't win back-to-back Super Bowls just might be the mere fact that no team has been able to do so in nearly a decade. Besides the sheer difficulty of winning consecutive titles, there's also the uncertainty brought on by the lockout that ended just before training camp.

The lockout might have negated one of the Packers' greatest advantages, which is developing young players through their offseason program

Still, it's hard to analyze the roster and not find optimism heading into the season. Most of the key contributors from the Super Bowl team are in place, along with the return of injured starters Jermichael Finley, Ryan Grant and Morgan Burnett.

I'm going to pick the Packers to win it all because I still see a team with a chip on its shoulder. Last season, despite its ultimate glory, saw the Packers lose too many games as they struggled to even qualify for the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers still hasn't won a division title or a home playoff game as a starter.

If the 2011 season sees fewer injuries and a better running game, this could be a special season with two or fewer regular season losses.

Aaron Rodgers is an MVP caliber player and Matt Flynn is one of the top backups in the league. Obviously an injury to Rodgers would be nearly impossible to overcome, but Flynn seems like a capable NFL starter. Rodgers has been very good, but I believe he has a "special" season in him and maybe this is the year where he approaches 40 touchdowns with 10 or fewer interceptions.

Running back
Ryan Grant enters the season atop the depth chart but his backup, emerging James Starks, may be the better fit for the run and gun offense. Starks is the better receiver and the more explosive player. Still, it's nice to have Grant back following his season-ending injury last season. Rookie Alex Green may not get the ball much early on, but he seems to have the potential to excel in the offense. The Packers only carry one fullback, but it's do-everything John Kuhn, who is a solid blocker, receiver and short yardage option.

Wide receiver
The Packers might have had the best receiving corps in the league before x-factor Randall Cobb was taken in the second round of the draft in April. Greg Jennings, like Rodgers, has put together an excellent career, but he's yet to achieve greatness. Maybe this is the season he does so. Elder statesmen Donald Driver is on the downside of his career, but Jordy Nelson and James Jones may still have their best football ahead of them. Nelson was stellar in the Super Bowl and Jones seems perpetually on the brink of breaking out.

Tight end
Jermichael Finley has the talent to be the best tight end in the league, but does he have the durability to live up to his potential? That's the $40 million question heading into this season. Behind Finley is a quarter of utility men and prospects including Andrew Quarless, special teams demon and kamikaze blocker Tom Crabtree and rookies Ryan Taylor and D.J. Williams. At first glance it might seem foolish to keep five tight ends, but the top three are sure to contribute and the rookies could be very good players down the line.

Offensive line
This is the unit that gives Packer fans the most cause for concern. Chad Clifton is coming off a shaky preseason in which he looked truly over the hill during the team's long no-huddle drives. T.J. Lang takes over for reliable, if unspectacular, Darren Colledge, who never missed a game during his pro career, at left guard. Scott Wells and Josh Sitton are outstanding and under-rated, while Bryan Bulaga appears to be a possible 10-year starter. But behind the top five players, the depth is thin and unproven. If Evan Dietrich-Smith, Marshall Newhouse or rookie Derek Sherrod are forced into extended action, it could mean the undoing of a special season.

Defensive line
Mike Neal may be the x-factor of the defense, as he takes over for Cullen Jenkins at defensive end. Neal's problem isn't his ability, it's his durability, and he enters the season with yet another injury. B.J. Raji is continuing his rise, but I worry the team relies on him too much due to poor depth and I wonder if he could wear down as the season progresses. Ryan Pickett looks to return to his natural nose tackle position. He's been a great find since he came to Green Bay in free agency, but he's got 11 years in the league and durability has to be a concern. The depth is a huge question mark with veteran Howard Green, who was a difference maker down the stretch but is blatantly out of shape, joined by unproven and unestablished young players in Jarius Wynn and C.J. Wilson.

Clay Matthews nursed his annual hamstring injury this preseason but enters the season on the brink of superstar status. He's proven to be a one-man wrecking crew but he's prone to nagging injuries. A season-ending injury to Matthews might take any Super Bowl aspirations with it. A.J. Hawk returns as the quarterback of the defense alongside bruising Desmond Bishop. It'll be interesting to see what Erik Walden, a midseason pickup last year, can do now that he's earned the starting job. Frank Zombo starts the season with a fractured shoulder blade, but he is someone who coaches were clearly planning to rely on this season. Rookies D.J. Smith, Vic So'oto and Jamari Lattimore all showed serious promise in the preseason. Robert Francois is the top reserve behind Hawk and Bishop.

Freelancing playmaker Charles Woodson was in a sling the last time he played in a game that counted. In the preseason, he showed his ability to rush the quarterback on blitzes and pester opposing receivers. All-pro safety Nick Collins returns with all-pro-caliber cornerback Tramon Williams. Coaches seem to fawn over Morgan Burnett, returning from torn knee ligaments, but he was shaky in the preseason. Sam Shields' ascension as the team's nickel back was amazing a season ago, considering he'd barely played cornerback before. But Shields was certainly one player who would have benefited from the offseason program and it's right to worry about him hitting a sophomore slump. Behind the top five defensive backs, depth is a question mark with inconsistent Jarrett Bush, Pat Lee and sturdy Charlie Peprah leading the way. Rookie M.D. Jennings defied the odds and made the roster, while gifted fourth-round pick Devon House is hurt to start the season.

Special teams
The Packers finally invested in their special teams this offseason. Besides locking up kicker Mason Crosby with a long-term contract, general manager Ted Thompson added at least three players whose primary value is on coverage units in rookies Taylor, Lattimore and Jennings. Cobb has the potential to be Green Bay's best return man since Desmond Howard. Punter Tim Masthay was an essential component in the Packers' wins over the Bears and Jets last season.

Serious injuries to Clay Matthews or Aaron Rodgers would probably derail the season, but that's true of most contending teams and their top players. If we take major injuries out of the equation, this roster is capable of running away with the NFC North and playing for another Super Bowl title.