5 Biggest Surprises Of the NFL Season

Every season is filled with surprises.  Games that are surprisingly won or surprisingly lost.  Teams that catapult to the top of the standings when no one dreamed it possible.  Solid teams that plummet to the bottom of the standings in spite of their talent and previous accomplishments.  The NFL can be as unpredictable as the weather and that is one of many reasons why we love it so much.  Here are five of the biggest surprises of the season in my opinion.  They are in no particular order.

1.  The New York Jets have won three of their first six games.  Who would have guessed, other than Coach Ryan, that the NFL’s most dysfunctional team would win three games in the entire season?

2.  The Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-4 and in last place in the AFC North.  That means that even the Cleveland Browns are ahead of the Steelers.  It has been decades since the Steelers had a season like the one unfolding this year.  Even their own quarterback declared them the worst team in the NFL.  Ben has obviously not seen the Jaguars play.

3.  The Kansas City Chiefs are undefeated at 6-0!  We all knew that Andy Reid was a good coach, but undefeated as we approach the halfway mark?  C’mon man, that is an awesome turnaround for any team.  I will be cheering for the Chiefs to continue.  Their good fans deserve it.

4.  The New York Giants are 0-6 and look awful.  We love the Manning family and any member of the Manning family gets a pass for just about anything, but one has to wonder just how long Eli can milk his family’s street cred.  Even more vulnerable is head coach Tom Coughlin’s job in the wake of six straight losses.  Really?  The Giants 0-6?  See #1 above for additional insight.

5.  The #5 biggest surprise is a tie between the 1-4 Falcons and the 1-4 Redskins.  Both teams have suffered catastrophic injuries which certainly will put the brakes on any season.  The Falcons have lost their entire receiving corps and the Skins are trying to rehab their quarterback.  But injuries aside, no one in Atlanta or DC thought that they would be at 1-4.

Stay tuned as more surprises are sure to come!

Mike Buckamneer

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Ten Things That You Can Count On In Every Bengals Game

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There’s an old saying that claims that death and taxes are the only two things in life that are truly inevitable.  I disagree.  I have faithfully cheered for the Cincinnati Bengals for my entire life, or at least since being old enough to watch, play, and understand the sport.  While I do not consider myself a football “expert” by any stretch of the word, I do feel as though I am qualified to speak intelligently on the historical accomplishments and blunders of the Bengals.  I was there during the 1990’s, so I’m using the word “blunders” graciously!

So here is my list of ten things that you can count on to happen in every Cincinnati Bengals football game.

10.  A disproportionate amount of off-tackle running plays.

The Bengals are not known for their offensive creativity.  In a passing league, Marvin Lewis remains an “old school” smash mouth coach.  Expect to see Ben Jarvus Green Ellis go off-tackle for two yards over and over again.  Here’s hoping that the addition of Gio Bernard will change things in time.

9.  In nearly every game the Bengals are good for at least one turnover in critical situations.  For example, Andy Dalton threw an interception today against the Bills just outside the red zone.  In their season opener loss to the Bears, Mohammad Sanu fumbled inside the red zone resulting in the potential loss of much needed points.

8.  The Bengals defense will have their opponent on a 3rd and 17 only to allow an 18 yard pass for a first down to sustain a scoring drive.  Seen it more times than I can count.

7.  The Bengals opponent will get the ball near the end of the first half with a full field between they and the endzone.  Lax defense will allow the team to march 60-80 yards in less than 90 seconds to give up a throw away field goal or touchdown which almost always comes back to haunt them later.

6.  Not everything is negative in Bengal Land.  In every game you can count on the Bengals looking absolutely brilliant on a series or two.  This sounds like a positive but, in fact, it is a negative because we see what they have the potential to be if they could only overcome their inconsistency.

5.  The inability to smell blood in the water and put a team away.  It’s common for the Bengals to play well for 2-3 quarters and have their opponent on the ropes only to allow an amazing comeback that results in a dramatic Cincinnati loss.  (Please see both of the Bengals last minute Super Bowl losses as proof)

4.  That leads to me to my next point which is that the Bengals opponent will always make a run regardless of the score.  Even in games that they do win we often see them give away a big lead only to win a nail biter (see today’s victory in Buffalo as evidence.)

3.  The Bengals have the unique ability to make a rookie or untested veteran look like a Hall of Fame player.  Again, just visit today’s game in Buffalo.  Injuries forced the Bills to call a quarterback off the practice team earlier this week.  One would think that such inexperience would result in a blow-out win for the Bengals, but one would be wrong!

2.  The Bengals frequently play up or down to the level of their opponents.  Last week the Bengals played the Patriots well and notched a big win.  They played like a serious play-off caliber team.  Today against the Bills, and earlier in the season against the Browns, they played down to the level of two clearly inferior opponents.  In the process they lost to the Browns and nearly lost to the Bills.  Great teams always the games that they are supposed to win.

1.  And the number 1 thing that you can always count on during a Bengals game is asking yourself, “Why do I root for this team?”  It can be hard to be a Bengal fan and you can expect a great deal of second guessing of your allegiance to a team that more often than not leaves you scratching your head and asking, “Why?”

The Mount Rushmore of NFL Quarterbacks

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Photo courtesy of angelslanding.com

Due to the current government shutdown any visits to The Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota are forbidden.  On the bright side, the sports version of Mount Rushmore never closes.  Let’s load up the kids and head for football’s Black Hills.

Four larger than life granite faces of former U.S. Presidents are carved into the granite of Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota.  The sculpture is a memorial to the leadership of these Commanders-in-Chief and the contribution they made to our great nation.

History tells us that the decision to depict Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, and Lincoln was not without controversy.  Apparently, the decision of which four Presidents to be depicted was a matter of intense debate. In like manner, there is typically great debate surrounding the selection of athletes to the sporting Mt. Rushmore’s.

With that said, let’s consider a Mt. Rushmore of NFL Quarterbacks.  Let the debate begin!

My personal choice for the Mount Rushmore of NFL quarterbacks (all-time) are as follows:  Joe Montana – Bret Favre – Peyton Manning – Tom Brady.  Apologies to Johnny Unitas, John Elway, and Dan Marino among others.

Mike Buckamneer

Week 5: NFL Top 5 Power Rankings – Mike Buckamneer

After five weeks there are three teams that remain undefeated.  The Broncos, Saints, and Chiefs sit atop the standings and power rankings headed into week 6.  Statistically, teams that start 5-0 have a 90% chance of making the playoffs and a 40% chance of making the Super Bowl.  Those are numbers that make the folks in the Rockies, the Midwest, and the Bayou very happy!

Here is my Week 5 power rankings.  Don’t agree?  Leave a comment and let me know about it.

1.  Denver Broncos   5-0

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Peyton Manning is absolutly insane right now.  Barring a catastrophic injury to #18 the Broncos are going to cruise.  Don’t forget… Von Miler is coming back soon too!

2.  New Orleans Saints   5-0

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Drew Brees is a tremendous quarterback and team leader.  Add to that, Coach Sean Payton is back at practice every day.  The Saints have raised some eyebrows in this remarkable resurgence.

3.  Kansas City Chiefs   5-0

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Coach Andy Reid has made believers out of many NFL fans who expected the Chiefs to continue sputtering.  The only negative for the Chiefs right now is that they play in the same division as the Broncos.  I would like to see the Falcons send Tony Gonzalez back to KC to help his former mates contend for a championship.  That would be a fitting end to a certain Hall of Fame career.

4.  Indianapolis Colts   4-1

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Andrew Luck has played like he has 15 years experience under his belt.  The only thing that is keeping the Indy fans from crying over the loss of Peyton Manning is Andrew Luck.  In a few more years Peyton will be modeling for his Hall of Fame bust and Andrew will still be lighting up NFL defenses.  The Colts have insured that they will have a top-tier QB under center for nearly 30 years.

5.  Seattle Seahawks   4-1

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Yes, they lost to #4 Indy last week, but the ‘Hawks are still a great team who look to be a force deep into the NFC playoff picture.  Pound for pound, and inch for inch, Russell Wilson is as good a QB as there is in the NFL.  If the ‘Hawks can remain healthy they will be hard to beat.

No Clowning Around

Jadeveon Clowney, arguably the best player in college football, chose to back out of Saturday’s game against Kentucky, claiming that he had a rib injury.  In the wake of that decision many outsiders have questioned the legitimacy of the injury.  Barring a catastrophic injury, Clowney is expected to be the first pick in next year’s NFL draft.  Simply put, Jadeveon Clowney has millions of reasons for remaining healthy.  The young man stands to make a lot of money if he is picked number one in the Spring.

Only Jadeveo Clowney knows if he is truly hurt or not.  Many have found it suspicious that Clowney himself and not a trainer or doctor informed Coach Spurrier that he could not play.  Not to mention that the disclosure came so close to kick-off.

In a post game interview Coach Spurrier gave the impression that he was not in support of Clowney’s decision, but he has since changed his tune.  In fact, earlier today he praised Clowney to the point of crediting him with the invention of sliced bread.  It sounded like the typical waffling that comes after controversial remarks are made.

I don’t know if he is hurt or not, but as a fan of his ferocious defense play I now have some concerns.  If he is concerned that an injury will hurt his draft stock then simply say so and leave the team.  I get that and who wouldn’t be concerned?  Millions of dollars are on the line and I can respect such a concern.  But have the wherewithal to say so if that is what you are worried about.  What happens when an undesirable NFL team selects him in the draft?  Will the mysterious injury reappear preventing him from suiting up for the Jags?  Any time a football player uses the leverage of taking himself out of the game I become suspicious.

Jadeveon Clowney will long be remembered for one of the greatest, if not the greatest play, in college football history.   But now I’m afraid he may also be remembered as the player who quit on his current team for a bigger payday in the future.  He is a tremendous player and I hope to see him in opposing backfields next Saturday.

Mike Buckamneer

What If…

In hindsight, was starting a pitcher who missed most of the season, in a one game, winner take all, playoff, really a good decision?  The Reds sent staff ace Johnny Cueto to the mound in last night’s Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.  From the start it was obvious that Cueto did not have his best stuff, not did he have the command of the strike zone typically demonstrated by a team’s #1 starting pitcher.

It was clear from the start that any of the Reds other starting pitchers would have been a better choice.  Cueto pitched behind in the count and it didn’t take long for the Pirates to touch him up.  If not for the great defense of Todd Frazier the game could have been out of hand by the 3rd inning.  As it was, it got out of hand soon enough, and the Reds hopes for advancing evaporated in the hostile environment of PNC Field.

On the flip side, the Pirates are the feel good story of the season.  Their faithful fan base has been deprived of a playoff appearance long enough and they deserve to enjoy their team’s success.  Not only that, but the Steelers have the good folks of Pittsburgh mourning an 0-4 start and a declaration by Big Ben that they are the worst team in the NFL.  I know this is a baseball story, but how much does a Cincinnati sports fan have to love hearing the Steelers starting QB make such a pitiful claim?  So Pirate fans, “Go enjoy your moment because the Cardinals are waiting to cut the celebration short!”

Back to the dugout before we wrap this post up…  Another winter of “what if’s?” await the Reds.  What if Joey Votto had hit like an MVP is supposed to hit?  What if the Reds gad started Latos or Bailey?  What if Ludwick had been the power hitter everyone had hoped he would be?  What if Walk Jockety had made the trade to put them over the top?  What if…

Mike Buckamneer

My Week 4 Top Five Power Rankings

1.  Denver Broncos   4-0

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There is really no debate on this selection.  Peyton Manning is playing at an insane level of greatness.  I doubt that the Broncos will go 16-0 because it is just too hard, but if any team can in 2013 it’s this team.

2.  Seattle Seahawks   4-0

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The Seahawks engineered a great comeback win against a potential Super Bowl opponent in the Houston Texans.  Look for Russell Wilson to lead his team to the NFC Championship and possibly beyond.

3.  New Orleans Saints   4-0

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The return of Sean Payton has paid immediate dividends for the Saints.  They look solid at home and should give the Falcons all they can handle in the NFC south.

4.  New England Patriots   4-0

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Gronk is getting healthy and the Patriots are still the Patriots.  Expect a solid season where they can win any game and go deep in the playoffs.

5.  Kansas City Chiefs   4-0

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OK.  No one saw this coming.  Andy Reid has turned things around at Arrowhead quicker than anyone could have imagined.  Will it last?  Only time will tell, but for now, the Chiefs are in the top five.

Mike Buckamneer

T-Sizzle Makes Utterly Moronic Claim

In a recent television interview with ESPN’s Lisa Salter, Baltimore Ravens linebacker, Terrell Suggs, made a moronic statement alleging that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell conspired against the Ravens by engineering a power outage designed to rob Baltimore of their game leading momentum In last year’s Super Bowl.

Really?  Let’s file that claim with other “brilliant” statements such as, “Miley Cyrus is a good role model for kids.”  “The government shutdown won’t really happen.”  And “Amazon.com is ‘Mom and Pop’ company that’s sure to fail.”  T-Sizzle’s claim is as ridiculous as it is wrong.

Why would Commissioner Goodell want to risk the ratings drop that such a delay could create?   Why would he invite such embarrassment  on the NFL?  Why would he want to diminish the great story of Ray Lewis possibly winning a Super Bowl in his final season?  Why T-Sizzle, why?

I’m all for a good conspiracy theory but this one is really weak.  Better yet, it is so weak that it is utterly non-existent.  Suggs can play football and no one questions his on the field ability.  One has to be fairly smart and coachable to play football in a league where the playbook reads more like rocket science.  I’m sure that Terrell is an intelligent man, but c’mon T, this was not your brightest moment.

Mike Buckamneer

Peyton Manning Flirts With History

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I wonder if those who witness historic events realize the importance of those events in the moment?  In some cases, I’m sure that they do.  On the other hand, I imagine that history often unfolds right before our clueless eyes.  Heads-up football fans lest we risk the latter.

Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are flirting with a truly epic season.  We are just one-fourth of the way through the 2013 season and Manning has already achieved a number of records.  After four games Manning has broken Brett Favre’s record of 23 NFL games with at least four touchdown passes – Manning now has 24.  He also broke Kurt Warners record of 14 touchdown passes through 4 games – Manning has 16.  Add to that, Manning has tied Milt Plum’s (Browns) 1960 record of 16 touchdown passes with no interceptions thrown.  And all while leading his team to a perfect 4-0 record atop the AFC West Division.  At this rate, Peyton Manning may even replace Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and Breaking Bad in the battle of trending Google searches for 2013!

Seriously, Peyton Manning is unstoppable right now.  And to think, the Indianapolis Colts thought he was through!  Well, Peyton Manning is not through and he is showing the world that he can do a lot more than sell pizzas.  If you like football it’s time to wake up because history is happening in Mile High Stadium and history is wearing #18.

Mike Buckamneer

Guess What Time It Is?

I like Marvin Lewis.  A lot.  I like the professional way in which he has represented the Bengals over the years.  I like the way he has reached out to players in personal distress and seen many of them turn their lives around.  I like the many contributions he has made to his community.  Coach Marvin Lewis has exemplified likability and loyalty which are two character qualities that go a long way with owner Mike Brown and the Cincinnati fan base.

However, there comes a time when NFL coaches need to win football games.  That time has come for Marvin Lewis and the Bengals.  We all know what a tremendous man Coach Lewis is.  He has proven himself in those areas, but its time to win.

Yesterday’s loss is clearly on Coach Lewis and his staff.  The Bengals are are a clearly superior team to the Cleveland Browns.  Many have predicted the Bengals to play in the Super Bowl, or at least go deep into the play-offs.  They have added tremendous talent on both sides of the ball.  They have drafted well and made key free agents acquisitions.  They have a quality team that is loaded with talent and ability.

So why does such a talented and superior team line-up against a struggling opponent and play as poorly as the Bengals played yesterday?  Coaching.  Preparing a team to play well and demanding that from your players is squarely on the head coach.  And it appears that Marvin Lewis, as likable as he may be, simply cannot get his team fired up enough to beat an inferior opponent with a quarterback making only is second start in the NFL.

The Bengals were not just defeated yesterday.  They were manhandled.  The high powered offense that supposedly makes defensive coordinators lose sleep was totally silenced by the Browns defense.  The Bengals ferocious defensive front allowed a rookie quarterback to play like a Hall of Famer.  No passion.  No emotion.  No determination to win, and that is on the head coach.  Perhaps losing has become acceptable to an organization so familiar with it.

If it were not for a double fumble and a crazy, fortuitous bounce at the end of the Bengals-Packers game the team with such a high ceiling would be 1-3 right now.  With the Patriots next on the schedule don’t expect winning to get any easier in the near future.

I like that I like you Coach Lewis, but the time has come to win.

Mike Buckamneer