Spoiler Alert: Week 3

Before the picks, some random thoughts and reckless speculation leading up to the Week 3 games…

» Like a lot of other people, I was high on the Cardinals’ chances of making the playoffs this year…until defensive stars Daryl Washington and Darnell Dockett were removed from the equation. Just three weeks into the season, though, Arizona is on precipice of something even the most bright-eyed optimists didn’t foresee: A two-game lead over both Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West race before the end of September. If the Cards can win at home against the Niners and get some help from Peyton & Co in the C-Link (not likely, but certainly realistic), Arians’ gang would be in the catbird seat…while the defending champs and their arch nemesis from the Bay would be 1-2 apiece. (And if the Rams at home against Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco would share the basement.)

» So far, so great for the Mike Pettine era in Cleveland. Not only did the Browns dump the Saints in Week 2, but — if it weren’t for the Steelers successfully completing a fourth-quarter fake punt while the two teams were tied — Cleveland might 2-0. As it is, the Browns have a great chance to keep the good times rolling ’til Josh Gordon returns after the team’s tenth game. Between now and then, only the game at Cincy seems like a sure loss, while seven other of those games look imminently winnable. This Sunday Cleveland hosts the Ex-Browns themselves (aka The Baltimore Ravens), who may only have staved off the reality of a mediocre roster with an emotional, must-have performance against Pittsburgh two Thursdays ago.

» Make no mistake, though: the Bengals are the best team in the AFC North.

» Matter of fact, the Bengals might be the best team in the AFC period. They certainly have the most talent 1-through-21…but the world will remain cynical until the ginger-haired fella playing the sport’s most important position proves he can do it in January.

» Remember when the Steelers “retired” Bruce Arians back in early 2012? Good thing the fashion maven turned down the gold watch in favor of putting the OC headset on over his Kangol for Indy that fall. Over the last two-and-a-half years, all he’s done is steer the Colts and their rookie QB to the playoffs (while head coach Chuck Pagano dealt with cancer), then nearly got the Cards to January with a double-digit wins, including handing Seattle its only home loss since Russell Wilson got to town. Forgive the hyperbole, but if he completes the feat this year and gets Arizona to the postseason, Arians will deserve — and receive — accolades as one of the game’s top three or four head coaches. Not bad for a retired coordinator.

» Dave’s Told You So from Week 2: As I predicted, the Bears went in to brand-new Levi’s Stadium and acid-washed the Niners. And as I predicted, Jay Cutler led the way with four touchdown passes. Point being, you really oughta be pickin’ up what layin’ down.

» Saints fans shouldn’t be overly concerned about their team’s 0-2 start: Sean Payton’s guys still have eight games left in the SuperDome, where they’re almost as unbeatable as the Hawks are in the C-Link. They oughta be 3-2 (after beating MIN, DAL & TB) when they head to the bye.

» Then again … The Saints might be in some real trouble. After that bye, they enter a rugged, gimme-free stretch of games running over the next 1- weeks: at DET; GB; at CAR; SF; CIN; BAL; at PIT; CAR; at CHI; ATL. Great as they are at home, New Orleans will have to be downright Super in the Dome against three 2013 division winners to go along with four legitimate road tests. Bottom line: These two need to work out their differences A.S.A. and P.

» Sunday’s game in Foxborough features the Tuck Rule rematch … reason enough to offer up this N-if-L about how things might’ve gone for Tom Brady and Co. if the call had gone against that night in the snow.

» Of course Devin Hester belongs in the Hall of Fame. He’s the best return man in the history of the game. But while the voters await his eligibility, they oughta consider the candidacy of Buffalo’s longtime special-teams ace, Steve Tasker … who’s also regularly described as the best ever at his particular area of expertise.

» As apocalyptically embarrassing as everything was for the Bucs on Thursday Night Football, those jersey numbers were still the ugliest part.

Alright, let’s get to the games …

Warning: Do NOT continue reading if you don’t want to know the final scores of the Week 3 games.

(1-0 this week; 8-8 last week; 17-15 on the season)

BUCS 19
FALCONS 27

B. Rainey: 20-110 yds, TD
J. Jones: 7 rec, 130 yds, 2 TDs

COLTS 24
JAGS 17

H. Nicks: 3 rec, 65 yds, TD
C. Henne: 2 INTs

TITANS 10
BENGALS 17

K. Wright: 5 rec, 84 yds, TD
G. Bernard: 14-88 yds, TD; 5 rec, 65 yds

CHARGERS 24
BILLS 20

K. Allen: 4 rec, 90 yds, TD
M. Williams: 3 sacks

PACKERS 38
LIONS 34

A. Rodgers: 28-38, 425 yds, 4 TDs
M. Stafford: 27-39, 400 yds, 3 TDs

RAVENS 13
BROWNS 16

J. Flacco: 3 INTs
J. Manziel: 9-yard TD run

TEXANS 21
GIANTS 23

A. Johnson: 5 rec, 120 yds, TD
E. Manning: 19-25, 300 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs

COWBOYS 24
RAMS 28

D. Murray: 16-65 yds, TD
Z. Stacy: 22-130 yds, 2 TDs

SKINS 28
EAGLES 45

D. Jackson: 3 rec, 60 yds
S. McCoy: 18-120 yds, TD; 4 rec, 48 yds, TD

RAIDERS 14
PATRIOTS 31

D. McFadden: 15-112, TD
S. Ridley: 14-115, 2 TDs

VIKES 3
SAINTS 45

T. BRIDGEWATER: 7-10, 120 yds
B. COOKS: 8 rec, 130 yds, 2 TDs

CHIEFS 22
DOLPHINS 24

D. Bowe: 5 rec, 100 yds, TD
B. Hartline: 6, 80 yds, TD

NINERS 26
CARDS 17

C. Hyde: 11-90 yds, TD
M. Floyd: 5 rec, 85 yds, TD

BRONCOS 24
SEAHAWKS 33

P. Manning: 35-45, 360 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
R. Sherman: 65-yd INT TD

STEELERS 27
PANTHERS 29

L. Bell: 170 yds/scrimmage, TD
K. Benjamin: 4 rec, 75 yds, 2 TDs

BEARS 22
JETS 16

B. Marshall: 4 rec, 80 yds, TD
C. Ivory: 16-98 yds, TD

Enjoy the Week 3 games! I hope your team wins (unless they’re playing my team).

Follow Dave Dameshek on Twitter @Dameshek.

Spoiler Alert: Week One

Warning: Do NOT continue reading if you don’t want to know the results of the rest of Week One’s games.

(1-0 on the season; 171-98 last season)

PATRIOTS 30

DOLPHINS 24

R. Gronkowski: 4 rec, 63 yds, 2 TDs

M. Wallace: 1 rec, 13 yds

JAGUARS 24

EAGLES 37

T. Gerhart: 24 carries, 88 yds, TD

J. Maclin: 3 rec, 97 yds, tD

VIKINGS 21

RAMS 23

C. Patterson: 5 rec, 128 yds, TD

J. Jenkins: 58-yd INT TD

RAIDERS 20

JETS 28

Carr: 312 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs

Smith: 290 yds, 2 TDs

BROWNS 17

STEELERS 19

B. Hoyer: 282 yds, 2 TDs, 1 INT

J. Jones: 2.5 sacks

BENGALS 20

RAVENS 23

G. Bernard: 18 carries, 112 yds, TD; 3 rec, 40 yds

J. Flacco: 324 yds, 2 TDs, 2 INTs

SAINTS 38

FALCONS 28

B. Cooks: 4 rec, 98 yds, TD; 27 rush yds

J. Jones: 5 rec, 122 yds,

TITANS 21

CHIEFS 19

K. Wright: 130 yds, 2 TDs

J. Charles: 17 carries, 92 yds, TD; 4 rec, 50 yds

SKINS 17

TEXANS 24

A. Morris: 20 carries, 64 yds

HOU D: 6 sacks, 2 INTs

BILLS 21

BEARS 31

S. Watkins: 3 rec, 50 yds, TD

A. Jeffrey: 6 rec, 114 yds, TD

NINERS 37

COWBOYS 35

F. Gore: 18 carries, 100 yds, TD

D. Bryant: 10 rec, 160 yds, 2 TDs

PANTHERS 13

BUCS 23

D. Williams: 13 carries, 47 yds

V. Jackson: 4 rec, 110 yds, TD

COLTS 34

BRONCOS 40

R. Wayne: 7 rec, 88 yds, TD

J. Thomas: 4 rec, 60 yds, 2 TDs

GIANTS 16

LIONS 31

V. Cruz: 5 rec, 90 yds

R. Bush: 78-yd TD rec

CHARGERS 30

CARDINALS 23

P. Rivers: 390 yds, 3 TDs

M. Floyd: 4 rec, 105 yds, TD

Good luck to your team this weekend. I hope they win…unless they’re playing my team.

 

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Division-by-division All-Pro teams

Lemme get this straight, Edd Barker of Manchester, England: You’d like me to spend time during this week’s celebration of the USA contemplating who’d win a fictional playoff in which divisional rivals team up like “The Avengers”?

Great!

I gotta think me answering a pro football-related Twitter question sent from the UK is precisely what George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and their white-wigged pals had in mind two-and-a-half centuries ago. (Right?)

Thanks for your tacit agreement.

And with that, we’re off like a musket shot on Bunker Hill. First, with some discussion of the subject with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano, and NFL.com’s Adam Rank and “Handsome” Hank Hodgson on the latest Dave Dameshek Football Program.

Now let’s get down to business. The NFL Network’s twin beacons of research/general pigskin knowledge, JJ Territo and Bill Smith, and I have formed a hastily assembled blue-ribbon panel to cobble together the starting 11 players on offense and defense for each division. No doubt some fans won’t like the omission of certain names. (I can already hear Seahawks wonks raging at the selection of Colin Kaepernick over Russell Wilson.) My suggestion: Get over it.

A few other quick notes: We’ve eschewed the fullback position in favor of adding a third wide receiver to each offensive lineup. (Sorry, old schoolers: If you haven’t heard, it’s a passing league … and besides, it’s more fun this way.) You’ll also see we’ve put the defenses into either 4-3 or 3-4 formations based on what we feel best suits the available talent. Additionally, please note we’ve skipped the special teams. Yeah, yeah, all three phases of the game are important. Then again, there’s a grilled wiener and several beers waiting for me — you can do it if you’re sufficiently upset by the grievous oversight.

And now, behold the teams, assembled in ascending order of strength:

070313-Brady-Williams

8. AFC EAST

Coach: Bill Belichick

OFFENSEQuarterback: Tom Brady
Running back: C.J. Spiller
Wide receivers: Stevie Johnson, Mike Wallace, Santonio Holmes
Tight end: Rob Gronkowski
Offensive tackles: D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nate Solder
Guards: Logan Mankins, Richie Incognito
Center: Nick Mangold
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Mario Williams, Cameron Wake
Defensive tackles: Vince Wilfork, Kyle Williams
Outside linebackers: Jerod Mayo, David Harris
Inside linebacker: Dannell Ellerbe
Cornerback: Antonio Cromartie, Stephon Gilmore
Safeties: Devin McCourty, Jairus Byrd

Number of players by team …
Bills: 6
Dolphins: 4
Jets: 5
Patriots: 7

Analysis: Brady notwithstanding, the offense is pretty crummy. And the defense might be even worse.

070313-Luck-Watt

7. AFC SOUTH

Coach: Gary Kubiak

OFFENSEQuarterback: Andrew Luck
Running back: Arian Foster
Wide receivers: Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne, Kenny Britt
Tight end: Owen Daniels
Offensive tackles: Duane Brown, Eugene Monroe
Guards: Wade Smith, Andy Levitre
Center: Chris Myers
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Robert Mathis, Antonio Smith
Defensive tackles: J.J. Watt, Cory Redding
Outside linebackers: Brian Cushing, Pat Angerer
Inside linebacker: Paul Posluzny
Cornerback: Johnathan Joseph, Vontae Davis
Safeties: Ed Reed, Michael Griffin

Number of players by team …
Colts: 6
Jaguars: 2
Texans: 11
Titans: 3

Analysis: One man — even one as good as J.J. Watt — does not a defense make. Likewise, one team’s roster does not make for a great divisional squad, and the AFC South is too dependent on the Texans’ best players.

070313-Manning-Flowers

6. AFC WEST

Coach: Andy Reid

OFFENSEQuarterback: Peyton Manning
Running back: Jamaal Charles
Wide receivers: Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Dwayne Bowe
Tight end: Antonio Gates
Offensive tackles: Ryan Clady, Brandon Albert
Guards: Louis Vasquez, Geoff Schwartz
Center: Nick Hardwick
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Dwight Freeney, Tamba Hali
Defensive tackles: Tyson Jackson, Corey Liuget
Outside linebackers: Von Miller, Justin Houston
Inside linebacker: Derrick Johnson
Cornerback: Brandon Flowers, Champ Bailey
Safeties: Eric Berry, Eric Weddle

Number of players by team …
Broncos: 6
Chargers: 6
Chiefs: 10
Raiders: 0

Analysis: Neither unit lacks for big-time playmakers, but the collective team likely gets pushed around by more physical divisions.

070313-Griffin-Ware

5. NFC EAST

Coach: Tom Coughlin

OFFENSEQuarterback: Robert Griffin III
Running back: “Shady” McCoy
Wide receivers: Dez Bryant, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz
Tight end: Jason Witten
Offensive tackles: Jason Peters, Trent Williams
Guards: Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans
Center: Phil Costa
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul
Defensive tackles: Jay Ratliff, Fletcher Cox
Outside linebackers: Ryan Kerrigan, Anthony Spencer
Inside linebacker: Sean Lee
Cornerback: Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne
Safeties: Antrel Rolle, Kenny Phillips

Number of players by team …
Cowboys: 9
Eagles: 5
Giants: 5
Redskins: 3

Analysis: A fascinating cupboard of offensive talent, yes … but the worst secondary of the eight divisions is the team’s undoing.

070313-Brees-Kuechly

4. NFC SOUTH

Coach: Sean Payton

OFFENSEQuarterback: Drew Brees
Running back: Doug Martin
Wide receivers: Julio Jones, Roddy White, Vincent Jackson
Tight end: Jimmy Graham
Offensive tackles: Donald Penn, Jordan Gross
Guards: Carl Nicks, Jhari Evans
Center: Ryan Kalil
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Charles Johnson, Osi Umenyiora
Defensive tackles: Gerald McCoy, Jonathan Babineaux
Outside linebackers: Sean Weatherspoon, Lavonte David
Inside linebacker: Luke Kuechly
Cornerback: Darrelle Revis, Asante Samuel
Safeties: Dashon Goldson, Thomas DeCoud

Number of players by team …
Buccaneers: 7
Falcons: 7
Panthers: 4
Saints: 4

Analysis: Even the galaxy of stars on offense won’t put up enough points to offset the relatively mediocre defense.

070313-Rice-Haden

3. AFC NORTH

Coach: Mike Tomlin

OFFENSEQuarterback: Ben Roethlisberger
Running back: Ray Rice
Wide receivers: A.J. Green, Torrey Smith, Antonio Brown
Tight end: Heath Miller
Offensive tackles: Joe Thomas, Andrew Whitworth
Guards: Marshal Yanda, Kevin Zeitler
Center: Maurkice Pouncey
DEFENSE (3-4)Defensive ends: Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins
Defensive tackles: Haloti Ngata
Outside linebackers: LaMarr Woodley, Terrell Suggs
Inside linebacker: Lawrence Timmons, Vontaze Burfict
Cornerback: Joe Haden, Ike Taylor
Safeties: Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark

Number of players by team …
Bengals: 6
Browns: 2
Ravens: 5
Steelers: 9

Analysis: Running against this defense figures to be a near-impossible challenge for any team, and Roethlisberger relishes the rare opportunity of playing behind a terrific o-line.

070313-Peterson-Matthews

2. NFC NORTH

Coach: Mike McCarthy

OFFENSEQuarterback: Aaron Rodgers
Running back: Adrian Peterson
Wide receivers: Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall, Greg Jennings
Tight end: Kyle Rudolph
Offensive tackles: Jermon Bushrod, Matt Kalil
Guards: Brandon Fusco, T.J. Lang
Center: John Sullivan
DEFENSE (4-3)Defensive ends: Jared Allen, Julius Peppers
Defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh, Henry Melton
Outside linebackers: Clay Matthews, Chad Greenway
Inside linebacker: Stephen Tulloch
Cornerback: “Peanut” Tillman, Sam Shields
Safeties: Harrison Smith, Glover Quin

Number of players by team …
Bears: 5
Lions: 4
Packers: 4
Vikings: 9

Analysis: The NFL’s best players at three offensive skill positions (QB; RB; WR) and a fearsome pass rush (Allen and Peppers and Matthews? Eek!) are undermined ever so slightly by the shoddy o-line.

070313-Fitzgerald-Willis

1. NFC WEST

Coach: Jim Harbaugh

OFFENSEQuarterback: Colin Kaepernick
Running back: Marshawn Lynch
Wide receivers: Larry Fitzgerald, Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree
Tight end: Vernon Davis
Offensive tackles: Joe Staley, Russell Okung
Guards: Mike Iupati, James Carpenter
Center: Max Unger
DEFENSE (3-4)Defensive ends: Chris Long, Darnell Dockett
Defensive tackles: Justin Smith
Outside linebackers: Aldon Smith, Daryl Washington
Inside linebacker: NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis
Cornerback: Patrick Peterson, Richard Sherman
Safeties: Earl Thomas, Donte Whitner

Number of players by team …
49ers: 10
Cardinals: 4
Rams: 1
Seahawks: 7

Analysis: The NFC West wins thanks a shutdown defense and a rugged offensive line that’ll brutalize all comers. Congratulations, coach Harbaugh — you’re No. 1! Let’s shake on it. Kudos to the NFC in general. Based on our conclusions, all conferences are not created equal. The debate on which division is most dynamic even drew enthusiasm from my friends at the Around the League blog, who kibitzed on the topic in a juicy email chain.

And thus completes our completely hypothetical project. In a little more than two months, we’ll have real football to occupy our minds and hearts. In the meantime, happy Fourth of July, everyone!

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Eight best Super Bowl XLVIII matchup possibilities

The good news is summer has arrived. The better news is the start of the 2013 NFL season is less than 90 days away. While we wait, some of us are biding our time with fun little distractions like the NBA and/or Stanley Cup playoffs … but always looking to spin it forward to pro football.

However things turn out between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs, you can be sure David Stern and ABC television execs are relieved the conference runners-up, the Memphis Grizzlies and Indiana Pacers, aren’t still playing. Over in the NHL, the league was no doubt pleased with a final that includes 1/3 of the “Original Six,” not to mention a final four that also included the defending champion Los Angeles Kings and the star-laden Pittsburgh Penguins.

As promised, it leads us to this question: which NFL conference championship games and ensuing Super Bowl would be the most captivating to us fans in February of 2014? I’m glad I asked …

Patriots_v_49ers_130610

This was the most popular reply after I tweeted for suggestions (follow Dave on Twitter @Dameshek) … and it’s a tough one with which to argue. On the AFC side, it’s the last prime-time showdown (probably) between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the two guys who defined pro football’s first decade in the new millennium. The NFC title game features Round 3 of the NFL’s newest “best rivalry.”

Every Super Bowl comes with pressure, but for these teams — who’ve combined to lose the last two Super Bowls and who’ve both played two straight conference championship games — another loss in the big game would be positively devastating.

Broncos_v_Giants

In the AFC, it’s not quite Darth Vader vs. Obi-Wan Kenobi or Aaron Rodgers vs. Brett Favre (seeing as how those rivals were in the same place at the same time), but Peyton Manning v. Andrew Luck — in the Dome Peyton Built, no less — would be pretty compelling stuff. In the NFC, the Jints face yet another brutal title game on the road as they pay a visit to Soldier Field to face one of 2013’s most potent offenses in snowy Chicago.

If you think two brothers coaching against each other in the big game caused a ruckus, imagine what’d happen if the Brothers Manning went head to head for all the marbles. Sure, seeing it in their hometown last year might’ve been even better, but Peyton (and his one ring) visiting Eli (and his two rings) with the Lombardi on the line wouldn’t be too bad.

Jets_v_Giants

Forget the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium — it’d be trumped by the events in the same joint two Sundays prior, when both the stadium’s residents host the championship games on the same day. Throughout the concourses and parking lots, potbellied guys in blue No. 56 jerseys and green No. 12 jerseys would be high fiving one another while just this once, Mike Lupica would be accurate in portraying New York as the only place that matters.

Two weeks’ worth of cracks about New York’s football teams playing each other in New Jersey notwithstanding, Eli vs. The Sanchise Geno Smith shooting it out for bragging rights would be fun for fans in the five boroughs and beyond.

Colts_Redskins

Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning waging war a mile high to become king of the AFC mountain is the stuff of Shakespeare (assuming the Bard digs pigskin), while Michael Vick — the forefather to this generation’s running QBs — takes on RG3.

Fans couldn’t complain about a Broncos-Eagles Super Bowl, but we can’t miss the opportunity to see sophomore superstars Luck and Griffin go head to head.

Steelers_v_Cowboys

For those fans who follow the game’s history, this would be the ultimate final four. On the AFC side, the six-time Super Bowl champion Steelers and thrice-victorious Raiders resuscitate their 20th-century postseason rivalry, while in the NFC another Dallas-San Francisco title-game chapter is written for the first time since Troy Aikman and Steve Young.

A showdown between the Steelers and the five-time champion Niners, arguably the NFL’s two greatest Super Bowl-era dynasties, would be great, but better still is the fourth Super Bowl installment of Pittsburgh and Dallas (the NFL’s version of Celtics-Lakers) battling it out — again — for the Lombardi. By late Super Sunday, the Steelers would have seven rings, or the Cowboys would have a sixth.

(By the way, Ben Roethlisberger vs. Tony Romo trumps any soap opera or reality show imaginable.)

Vikings_v_Bills

If that last final four was for the league’s “haves,” this one’s for the “have nots” — specifically, some of the longest-suffering fanbases in the NFL. (Sorry, Arizona Cardinals fans, we only have four spots.) On one side, we have Cleveland visiting Buffalo, the home to some of pro football’s most loyal fans; and in the NFC, two North foes tangle in the Vikes’ dome, which has been rendered exponentially better by the football gods on the eve of the game when a blizzard breaks the baggy roof and dumps 10 inches of fresh powder on the field.

In MetLife, it would be the Vikings (0-4 all time in the Super Bowl) against the Bills (0-4 in Super Bowls) — not exactly a legendary showdown, but the teams and their fanbases — accustomed to chilly conditions — are a perfect fit in what could be a frigid event. By NFL rules — and moral decency — someone has to win … even if the final score is 5-4.

Ravens_v_49ers

The defending champs have to go on the road to play the AFC’s most complete team, while the Niners pay a visit to the toughest place in the NFL for a visiting team to win.

What, you didn’t enjoy the last Super Bowl? It had everything: Big plays, an exhilarating comeback attempt, and a convenient (albeit extended) bathroom break in the third quarter. In other words … Harbowl II!

Chiefs_v_Eagles

The 2013 offseason (and AFC East) champion Dolphins visit Arrowhead Stadium, in the same city that on Christmas Day of 1971 Miami and Kansas City played the longest game in NFL history. The NFC title is a rematch of the teams in the 1960 NFL Championship Game, this time with the game’s best QB going against Chip Kelly’s revolutionary offense.

Andy Reid going against the Eagles about an hour away from Philly would be nice … and would extend the Christmas holiday with the green-and-red color scheme. You might have noticed we didn’t take the opportunity to match the Chiefs and Packers, which would be a rematch of the first Super Bowl … but that one’s better saved for the golden anniversary Super Bowl game in the 49ers’ new stadium, especially since it’d pit former San Francisco QB Alex Smith against Bay Area kid Aaron Rodgers.

That’s still two years away, though. We’ve still gotta figure out the best matchups for February of 2015 in suburban Phoenix.

The 2013 Pro-Shek-tions: Offseason edition

pro-shek-tions-2-130515-blog

“I don’t think they’re going to be able to run (Colin Kaepernick) like that. He takes one good hit, there goes their season.” — Green Bay Packers defensive end Datone Jones.

Out of the mouths of babes.

What does Colin Kaepernick have in store for an encore to his sensational 2012 season? (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

What does Colin Kaepernick have in store for an encore to his sensational 2012 season? (Tony Avelar / Associated Press)

Before we write off the Green Bay rookie’s remark as a bit of youthful exuberance, though, let’s harken back six months ago to those halcyon days of November of 2012. Kaepernick, having replaced the incumbent Alex Smith earlier in the month, was dominating defenders around the NFL. Same goes for rookie phenoms Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. Cam Newton, after stumbling out of the gate in his second season, got his groove back in Carolina. The dawn of a new day had arrived. By any name, the run/read/pistol/spread option was revolutionizing pro football before our eyes … or at least we thought it was until a large percentage of curmudgeonly experts told us it was just a fad the league’s defensive coordinators would solve in the offseason.

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, the offseason has arrived, which naturally begs the question: How’s it going, defensive coordinators? Have you figured out how to negate — or at least marginalize — the spread option?

The answer to this question naturally goes a long way toward determining who’ll thrive come September. Those who believe in the endurance of the spread option likely favor the 49ers or Seahawks to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII next February. Those who think it’s a Wildcat-level gimmick are probably leaning toward the Packers or Falcons.

Fact is, here in May, no one knows the answer. Not Colin Kaepernick, not the defensive coordinators, not even Datone Jones. In other words, the only option is reckless speculation, or for our purposes today, “The Pro-Shek-tions.” Yes, it’s time to share my updated picks for the teams and their seeds for the 2013 AFC and NFC playoffs, the accuracy of which I absolutely, positively guarantee*.

*Unless my internal devil’s advocate – Devil’s Dameshek – changes my mind before Week One.

AFC

1. Houston Texans — Are they the conference’s best team? No, but they’re close. Alright, so they looked a little out of their depth in Foxboro last January, but remember: that divisional-round loss to the Pats was the first road playoff game (and second playoff game overall) in Matt Schaub’s entire career. Now he’s got some seasoning and rookie DeAndre Hopkins, who might be the first Texans WR not named Andre Johnson worthy of the opposing secondary’s attention.

Devil’s Dameshek: Seasoning a flank steak won’t turn it into a filet mignon. Know what I mean, Schaub?

2. Denver Broncos — Between Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs and the Norv-less San Diego Chargers, the West won’t be the same cakewalk it was last season. Then again, Denver didn’t exactly stand pat themselves. Wes Welker and Montee Ball are nice adds to an already high-functioning offensive machine, and DT Sly Williams might prove to be a late-first-round steal.

Devil’s Dameshek: There’s a reasonable chance Peyton Manning plays like a 38-year-old man with a bum neck. There’s an even better chance Welker performs like most free agents who leave New England (read: not very well). There’s an excellent chance the defense regresses with an over-the-hill Champ Bailey and without Elvis Dumervil.

3. Cincinnati Bengals — The Ravens-Steelers rivalry might get the headlines in the North, but make sure you read the fine print. The Bengals are now the division’s (and maybe the conference’s) most talented team. The offense can grind it out old-school behind a stout o-line, or shoot it out with A.J. Green (the upper-middleclass man’s Calvin Johnson) and a gaggle of electric young playmakers. Oh, yeah, and Mike Zimmer’s underrated defense is even deeper and nastier than it was a year ago.

Devil’s Dameshek: It’d be the height of irony if the one thing that kept this team from achieving its full potential is a big-armed QB like, oh … I don’t know … Carson Palmer.

Bill Belichick shows his style during a recent rookie camp. (Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

Bill Belichick shows his style during a recent rookie camp. (Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

4. New England Patriots — The emperor has no clothes. Well, alright, he has clothes — they’d just look more appropriate on a hobo. Either way, Emperor Belichick’s mojo seems to be on the fade. The defense does a fine job of turning the ball over, but it plainly hasn’t been good enough over the last few postseasons against the likes of Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and even Mark Sanchez. I was sure the 2012 return of a long-absent running game would make the difference in tight playoff games. I was wrong. Tom Brady — a.k.a. the truly indispensible figure in the Pats’ remarkable run — will be good enough to win the East again, but it’ll be tight.

Devil’s Dameshek: Like his pal Peyton, Brady has benefitted from playing in a crummy division most of his career. That won’t be the case in 2013 with the improved Dolphins and Bills, and even the Jets, who give the Pats (at least) one tough game every season.

5. Kansas City Chiefs — Don’t be swayed by sour Philly fans: Andy Reid knows how to coach, especially when it comes to quarterbacks. After making guys like A.J. Feeley and Kevin Kolb look like viable starters, how can anyone doubt what Reid will do for a first-overall talent like Alex Smith … especially with a nice collection of skill position guys and an upgraded o-line? On the defensive side, the cupboard is full of fancy pieces like Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers, Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry. Take note, denizens of the Mile High City: Winning the West might not be like climbing a mountain, but it’s more of an uphill fight now that KC’s biggest weakness — Romeo Crennel — has rolled away.

Devil’s Dameshek: The Branden Albert melodrama goes off the rails; Eric Fisher moves to the left side and fails. (Rick Reilly’s not the only person who knows how to rhyme!)

6. Miami Dolphins — As our Around The League pal Dan Hanzus put it, “If Jeff Ireland is done for, at least he’s going out like Tony Montana.” Yes, the Fins’ GM has pushed all his chips into the middle of the table, and it says here the gamble will yield a wild-card berth. At least. But for all the offseason moving and/or shaking, the most important acquisition came in the previous draft when Ireland took Ryan Tannehill, who’ll build on what would’ve been a Rookie of the Year-worthy season had 2012 not been the all-time greatest QB class.

Devil’s Dameshek: The big-ticket moves are undermined by a dicey o-line and secondary.

Close, but no cigar …

Tennessee Titans. Tough leaving the Titans out of the playoff mix, but one too many analysts have told me Jake Locker just isn’t accurate enough to make the offense consistent. Baltimore Ravens. Ozzie Newsome filled the holes as well as can be expected, but the Ravens will find out what the Steelers learned in 2012: A lack of locker-room leadership makes the post-season a bridge too far. Indianapolis Colts. Andrew Luck is gonna make Darrius Heyward-Bey look like a seventh-overall pick, but there are just too many questions about that defense. Pittsburgh Steelers. Mike Tomlin’s “next man up” rhetoric is inspiring, but a franchise that eschews free agents in favor of drafting well has to, y’know, draft well.  Every one of Pittsburgh’s ’08 picks has now either washed out or moved on.  So, yeah, not well.

NFC

1. San Francisco 49ers — One near-Super Bowl visit, one near-Super Bowl win, and one gutsy midseason QB change. It’s only been two seasons, but Jim Harbaugh might be the best coach in the NFL. The players are good, too. In fact, they might collectively be the best in the NFL. The dominance of the defense is old news. The offense is newfangled dynamism. Imagine the nightmare of game-planning against Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, Mario Manningham, Frank Gore and LaMichael James. Oh, yeah, and that Kaepernick fella, who might be the only NFL player capable of outrunning one of his football-shaped fastballs. Like every other team, the Niners lost some players at key positions in the offseason. Unlike almost every other team, they seem to have upgraded themselves at those positions.

Devil’s Dameshek: Best in the NFL?! They aren’t even the best in their own division (and the Rams ain’t bad, either).

Aaron Rodgers can at times display great facial hair, but always possesses an accurate arm. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

Aaron Rodgers can at times display great facial hair, but always possesses an accurate arm. (Julio Cortez / Associated Press)

2. Green Bay Packers — Swoon over the callow purveyors of the spread option all you want. Wax poetic about the greatness of Brady and Peyton if that’s your thing. I’ll take Aaron Rodgers, who’s been better than the league’s second-best QB for so long it’s become something most of us take for granted. Not Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson, though. They finally took at least a little of the weight off of Rodgers’ shoulders with the threat of a running game in the persons of rookies Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin. And don’t look now, but that defense continues to add intriguing pieces every offseason.

Devil’s Dameshek: Have you seen their schedule? Road games at San Francisco, Baltimore, Cincy, Dallas and the N.Y. Giants. Home games against Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Philly and Washington. Yikes.

3. Atlanta Falcons — The Saints were my pick to take the South a couple months ago, but I’m now giving it to the reigning champs thanks to the return of Tony Gonzalez, the signing of Osi Umenyiora, the drafting of two cornerbacks in the first two rounds, and the Saints’ hiring of Rob Ryan to fix the crummy D. Borderline Hall of Famer Steven Jackson is an upgrade from Michael Turner, which oughta open up things even more those twin No. 1 WRs.

Devil’s Dameshek: Performing like they did in 2012 will not be enough for the Falcons to win a much-improved South in 2013. Revis!

4. New York Giants — I’d flip a coin, but it’s only got two sides and all four teams could win the East. (The previous statement applies to every season until otherwise notified.) My Cowboys optimism has dimmed after a draft that did little to fix defensive soft spots. The Redskins’ defense will be better, but we don’t know yet about RGknee. The Eagles are intriguing, but the starting QB might change six times before the regular season arrives. That leaves the Giants, whose continuity has to be worth something, right?

Devil’s Dameshek: What continuity? Umenyiora, Ahmad Bradshaw and Kenny Phillips are gone, and the team still hasn’t inked Victor Cruz! Forget flipping a coin. Anybody have a dreidel with the emblems of the NFC East teams on it?

5. Seattle Seahawks — Depending on a Seattle fan’s perspective, it’s either exciting or frustrating to think the ‘Hawks are talented enough to win any division in the NFL … with the possible exception of the one they’re in. Let’s take the glass half-full side: Last January the team was a play away from an NFC Championship showdown against the 49ers, who they’d dominated just a few weeks prior. Now they’ve added Cliff Avril and Antoine Winfield to the defense and Percy Harvin to the offense? It’d be downright unfair … if San Francisco hadn’t specifically countered those moves with Anquan Boldin and Nnamdi Asomugha. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say the two teams are aware of their rivalry.

Devil’s Dameshek: Russell Wilson and Co. had to pull too many fourth-quarter miracles last year. (You might recall a certain specious Hail Mary, to name one.) Those things have a way of balancing themselves out.

6. St. Louis Rams — Think you had it tough last year, Dolphins fans? Rams lovers have been lamenting the lack of targets for Sam Bradford since Ryan Tannehill was a college wide receiver. Lament no longer, St Louis. Now with the addition of two ‘eers (West Virginia, that is) named Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey. More exciting (at least for Jeff Fisher and all lovers of great defense), the Rams have high-pedigree talent at all three levels.

Devil’s Dameshek: Bradford’s 2010 ROY proves to be the anomaly; Snead eyes a new QB in 2014 draft.

Close, but not cigar …

New Orleans Saints. Darren Sproles is nice and all, but it’s time for Mark Ingram to provide tough yards in tight second-half games to limit other teams’ snaps against what figures to be another mediocre-to-bad defense. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That all-world secondary, the talented defensive front, and a strong running game make the Bucs relevant, but Josh Freeman needs to make ‘em a winner. The South is suddenly a tough division in which to do that. Carolina Panthers. Speaking of the South, the Panthers defense is looking less atrocious all the time, but when is Cam Newton gonna get a wide receiver besides Steve Smith already? Detroit Lions. The good: There’s lots here for a Lions fan to like. The bad: There’s lots here to make a Lions fan shudder. The ugly: Jim Schwartz isn’t proving he’s the guy to mold the clay into a winner.

So … how’d I do? Agree or disagree with my pro-Shek-tions? Speak now or … don’t. Either way.

2013 NFL playoff seedings: Why wait?

Blog-Shek

Last night, I came across this tweet from NFL.com’s “Handsome” Hank Hodgson on my timeline.

Welp … close enough for me! Let’s face it: The confetti’s been swept, the parade is over, and Ray Lewis is playing a leisurely game of Mahjong (probably.)

Point is, the 2012 season is in the rearview mirror. Teams, players and prospective players have already turned their focus to next season. So while those guys set their draft board, practice Wonderlic tests, and prep their answers to questions about fake girlfriends, I say it’s high time we get to the business of doing what we do best: Recklessly speculating about the future. Specifically, it’s time to share the first installment of the 2013 NFL Playoff Projections — or Pro-SHEK-tions, if you please.

Be forewarned, Baltimore Ravens fans: No past achievement “they’re the champs ’til someone beats ‘em” jive here. The following is how I believe things will stack up in January of 2014, regardless of where they finished this past season. They say the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and — as of Monday morning — no one has done anything. (Well, except the New York Giants … who proved the veracity of the aforementioned cliché by cutting Ahmad Bradshaw, the guy who scored the Super Bowl-winning TD 53 Sundays ago.)

So here they are, the seedings for the 2013 NFL playoffs, the accuracy of which I absolutely, positively guarantee*.

*Unless I change my mind.

AFC

1. Houston Texans — They’ll be on a mission to finish stronger than they did in 2012; loads of talent on both sides of the ball and the AFC South isn’t exactly a juggernaut division.

2. Denver BroncosThose “easiest strength of schedule” projections are based on last season’s records, but Andy Reid’s Chiefs and Mike McCoy’s Bolts will both be more competitive in ’13. Still, Peyton Manning is a regular-season winning machine, and will do enough to claim the West again.

3. Cincinnati Bengals — Ironically, the biggest question mark is Marvin Lewis; if 2012 first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick catches on, Mike Zimmer’s defense could be (even more) dominant; Andy Dalton is barely above average, but has a young and talented receiving corps, led by the sublime A.J. Green.

4. New England Patriots — Hey, Bill Belichick, that knocking you hear is the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills. If that o-line can’t hold up, the Pats’ drop from the top will come sooner than later.

5. Kansas City Chiefs — The preseason QB battle here will be interesting, but KC fans shouldn’t wring their hands if Matt Cassel winds up with the gig. Remember, he won the division just two years ago. Otherwise, this collection of dynamic guys is gonna take off with Reid, who’ll be coaching with a chip on his shoulder.

6. Miami Dolphins — That’s right, I just typed it! While other rookie QBs (rightly) got more attention, Ryan Tannehill had a nice, little season while throwing the ball to one of the NFL’s lousiest groups of pass catchers. Mike Wallace and/or Greg Jennings and/or Dwayne Bowe will change that in 2013. And that defense is legit.

Close, but not cigar

Baltimore Ravens (the dreaded Super Bowl hangover plus a still-aging D equals a step back); Indianapolis Colts (Andrew Luck is great; the defense is not); Pittsburgh Steelers (the o-line has a chance to be fantastic, but lots of questions almost everywhere else); Buffalo Bills (love the coaching moves, but need an upgrade at QB to be a threat in the AFC East).

NFC

1. Green Bay Packers — Aaron Rodgers remains the best quarterback in the world and the defense has added some nice pieces to the puzzle. They play in a division in which the one-man Vikes and elderly Bears figure to fall back in 2013. The key to making a Super Bowl run will be fixing that dreadful offensive line.

2. San Francisco 49ers — It doesn’t matter if it’s Colin Kaepernick, Alex Smith or Dameshek under center, the Niners’ o-line is dominant enough to keep this team relevant. The good news is that John Harbaugh’s younger brother has the most complete team in the league. The bad news is that this team is in one of the league’s toughest divisions. (Remember when the NFC West was a punchline?)

3. New Orleans Saints — Not thrilled with the hire of the overrated Rob Ryan as coordinator of a shaky defense, but is there any chance Sean Payton and Drew Brees don’t look at the 2013 season as the opportunity to reap their vengeance on all who dare get in their path?

4. Dallas Cowboys — In a league of trends and copycats, it feels like it might finally be Tony Romo’s turn to follow in the footsteps of Eli Manning and Joe Flacco and get over the hump. They’ve got plenty of dynamic players, but of course, that’s never been the issue. If they can just beef up Romo’s protection (easier said than done, I know … but I’m a glass half-full guy), Jerry’s ‘Boys will make their long-awaited return to relevance.

5. Seattle Seahawks — Much like the Niners, with whom they now have the NFL’s “next great rivalry” (sorry, Steelers and Ravens, you had a good run at the top), the ‘Hawks are loaded just about everywhere you look. Even if Russell Wilson suffers a sophomore slump, a great defense, o-line, and the highly underrated Marshawn Lynch are enough to steady any team.

6. St. Louis Rams — In 2011, when everyone was picking them to win the division, I told you they’d start 0-5 … and they did. In 2012, when everyone was picking them to stink, I told you Jeff Fisher would right the ship and get ‘em winning … and he did. In fact, Fisher’s team went 2-1-1 against the 49ers and Seahawks. Sam Bradford has slipped through the cracks, but he’s still a young, big-armed guy who’s main problem has been the lack of viable pass catchers to target. If/when Les Snead addresses that this offseason, Chris Long, Janoris Jenkins, and the rest of the Rams will be ready to step up in the brutal NFC West.

Close, but not cigar

Atlanta Falcons (2012’s No. 1 seed out of the playoffs? Those two WRs are tough to stop, but they’re mediocre elsewhere. Plus, the NFC South will be greatly improved, with Cam Newton’s Carolina Panthers ready to bust out and Doug Martin’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers looking to build on some legitimate glimmers of hope in the middle of 2012); Detroit Lions (they’ll finish second in the NFC North, but outside the playoffs); New York Giants (Hakeem Nicks would be one of the five best WRs in the NFL if he could ever stay healthy … but he can’t); Chicago Bears (Marc Trestman has a detailed plan in place, but how is he gonna replace Brian Urlacher and other aging pieces?).

So … how’d I do? Agree or disagree with my Pro-SHEK-tions? Speak now or … don’t. Either way.

Shek List: Merry Pigskin Eve

(Associated Press)

A few thoughts here on Pigskin Eve, the most wonderful time of the year…

Cowboys at Giants oughta be a good one Wednesday night, but I’m more excited for the blessed return to the ritual of Football Sundays.  March Madness, the NBA Playoffs, and college football’s rivalry games are all terrific.  Old-school sports writers may still wax poetic about Major League Baseball’s opening day, but make no mistake: here in the 21st century – from the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans, in our homes – pro pigskin is the true national pastime, and Football Sunday is the defining event for American sports fans.

I got lucky when the Football Gods assigned me my rooting interest back in the late ‘70s.  I was born into a Pittsburgh home in the ‘70s, which meant I got to grow up during the latter years of the Steelers’ dynasty.  When the schedule offered a game on the banks of the Three Rivers, my father, sister, uncles and I headed to the stadium for the latest 60-minute chapter of AFC Central-style ground-and-pound football.  When the Steelers were on the road, my mother and I would pick up warm bagels on Murray Avenue on the way back from Sunday School before meeting an extended collection of relatives and friends at our house to watch the game.  It’s where we communed – and where we still commune whenever we’re together.  It hardly makes a difference if the Steelers are in the midst of a vintage season or a mediocre one.  The game provides an opportunity to sit together in one place for a few hours, a chance to catch up, look back, and to feel lucky that we aren’t from Cleveland.

At 10am this Sunday, I’ll watch football at my place in LA with my three-year-old son.  I’ll have a bagel, and I’ll complain it isn’t as good as the ones on Murray Avenue.  He won’t understand when I tell him the rules of the game, or why we’re rooting for the team in black-and-gold, or how Pop-Pop, Aunt Amy, Uncle Mike & Uncle Scott are all watching back in a distant land called Pittsburgh.  Someday, though, he’ll know our team gives us a touchstone, a way to connect with people who live far away.  Some people have church.  Billy Crystal, George Will, and Ray Kinsella have baseball.  Us?  We have NFL football.

  • Bad news for Jerry’s ‘Boys: since the NFL Kickoff game started using the defending Super Bowl champs as hosts in ’04, the home team is 8-0.
  • Last week, I predicted a Packers/Patriots Super Bowl.  But after a conversation I had with – NAMEDROP ALERT – Willie McGinest the other day, I’m switching my AFC pick to the Texans.  The health of the Matt Schaub/Andre Johnson battery is always a concern, but McGinest – who I’m guessing knows more about the Patriots than I do – expressed grave concerns about the state of New England’s o-line.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: more than any other QB this side of Peyton Manning, Brady must be kept clean to be successful… and at least according to McGinest, Nate Solder and a less-than-100% Logan Mankins are gonna struggle to make that happen.  Don’t worry, though, Packers fans: I still say your team will win it all.  Unless LeRoy Butler calls me to say I’m wrong.
  • You know what people don’t talk about enough?  The fact that 21 years after the Lions drafted him, Jason Hanson is still alive & kicking in Detroit.  He was a second-round pick out of Washington State in the spring of 1992, two years before Ryan Leaf arrived for his freshman season in Pullman.
  • Cost-saving suggestion for the Rooney Family: the Steelers should draft LSU QB Zach Mettenberger to be groomed as Ben Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement.  17 letters in both their surnames, the last syllables of which are identical.  Just think of the sewing manpower the organization will be spared.  Speaking of which, Mettenberger has to wear #7.  As a bonus, he looks like he’s good.
  • USC looked scary against Hawaii on Saturday… but they’re the ones that oughta be frightened about the latest allegations against the program.  Look on the bright side, though, at least Joe McKnight turned out to be ‘The Next Reggie Bush’ in one way.
  • South Beach-less Matchup of the Week: Brandon Marshall vs Vontae Davis.  As first pointed out by my podcast pal, Handsome Hank (@NFLUKHank), the last time these two played a meaningful game, they were both wearing Dolphin aqua.  Now they’ll spend 2012 separated by 186 miles on I-65… except this Sunday.  It’s gonna be interesting to see how they match up after going against each other in practice the last couple years.  (For the record, I’ll take Marshall.)
  • Bart Scott says this season’s Jets D may be the best in franchise history.  I don’t agree with him, but just in case he’s right, Rex & Co really oughta address that awful “Gang Green” nickname.  C’mon, fellas.  You can do better than comparing yourselves to a physical ailment.  There’s a reason why the Rams D doesn’t call itself “St. Loupus”.  (I could’ve also gone with “Hepatitis-Seahawks”, but I’m too classy for that.)

With all that being said, the time for words is through.  Let’s kick 2012 off already.  May your team go undefeated this season… unless they play my team.  Merry Pigskin Eve to us all…

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The Shek List: Jake Locker is gonna be big

(Associated Press)

Time for another reminder why you can’t spell ‘ADD’ without DD…

• The football world is expressing stunned appreciation today for another fine showing by Andrew Luck, as though the Stanford grad has had a horseshoe placed in one his orifices. How ‘bout we stop dropping our jaws over rookie QBs playing well? It was an anomaly when Danny Marino dominated from the get-go 30 years back, but Newton, Dalton, Roethlisberger, Ryan, Flacco, Bradford, and even Vince Young have made rookie success pretty commonplace these days. I’d suggest the old-school guys who yammer about QBs needing four years of seasoning DVR some 21st-century football games, but they’re probably still using VHS.

• He’s not a rookie, but Jake Locker is gonna have a big 2012. Just like his regional counterpart 400 miles away in Charlotte, Locker has a huge arm and is a rugged, lightning-fast runner. Unlike Newton, Locker’s gonna win a lot in his first full year under center. Here me now, believe me later: The Titans are going to the playoffs.

• I hate to be a bummer – what with this being the time of year when every NFL fan theoretically has hope for his team to go to the Super Bowl – but I have a hunch/recurring nightmare the Patriots already have the AFC locked up. Believe me, it disgusts me to type those words as much as it hurts your eyes to read ‘em, but facts are facts: Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Gronk are four of the division’s six best pass catchers (and maybe the four best period – sorry, Santonio & Stevie); 2011’s woeful defense can’t help but be better with playmaking additions at all three levels; and Tom Brady, like most of the all-time greatest athletes, is at his best with a chip on his shoulder… so after another late Super Bowl loss to Chip Manning’s Giants, we can expect Mr. Bundchen to be gangbusters in 2012.

• Oh yeah, and the Pats also have a cupcake schedule. Two tough out-of-division road games vs. the Ravens & Titans, three tough out-of-division home games vs. the Niners, Texans, & Broncos, and… that’s it. The AFC East stinks. The Dolphins are junk, the Tebows are meh, and the Bills might – might – be good, but how scary can they really be with Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB? (Answer: not very.) It’ll be an upset if New England is anything worse than 13-3.

• NFL head coaches oughta be sweating out what happens in New Orleans this season. If the Saints go 13-3 without Sean Payton, he and his peers will become the equivalent of a Malibu beach house: a nice luxury if you can afford it, but not exactly essential.

• One caveat to all my Pats’ hype: the play of new left tackle Nate Solder, who’s taking over for the retired Matt Light. That’s a lot of pressure on the second-year kid from Colorado. Unlike Rodgers & Roethlisberger, but like his pal Peyton, Brady needs to stay clean to be effective.

• Speaking of Denver’s new QB, he’s prominently featured in the latest edition of ‘The N-if-L’, alternate reality for pro football as animated by the talented fellas from Bindledog. Have a look, won’t you? http://davedameshek.nfl.com/2012/08/16/n-if-l-what-if-elway-hadnt-skipped-out-on-the-colts/

• If I’m gonna be a self-promotional heel, I may as well go all the way. Please also check out ‘The Uniform Monitor’s 122 of 2012: Ranking The Teams in America’s Four Major Sports Leagues’.

• By the way, even if Solder fails, he and RT Sabastian Vollmer – both of whom are 6’8” – have gotta win the award for tallest pair of bookends in NFL history, no?

• More good news for Solder, Vollmer, and their o-line colleagues: they should be especially adept at pass-blocking since they can devote 100% of their attention to it. If my analysis is correct, the 2012 Pats have a great shot at becoming the first team in NFL history to run the ball zero times in a season.

• In response to charges he was the driving force behind the Red Sox players’ recent attempted mutiny, new Met Kelly Shoppach told reporters over the weekend, “Nothing I did yesterday does anything for today, and that’s going to be my stance for the rest of my life. ‘What am I going to do today? Yesterday’s gone. It ain’t gonna do (expletive) for me today.’ That’s my philosophy on life.” Awesome. If only OJ, Sandusky, and every convicted murderer had tried that defense, I’m sure they’d be free men today. Terrific lesson for the kids, Kelly.

• Wrapping up the conversation I had a couple days ago on the Dave Dameshek Football Program with Adam Rank and ‘Around the League’ scribes Dan Hanzus & Marc Sessler, here’s my list of the ‘Funniest Sitcoms Ever’:
1. The Simpsons
2. Cheers
3. The Larry Sanders Show
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm
6. Arrested Development
7. Seinfeld
8. (tie) The Office [UK]; The Office [US]
9. All in the Family
10. 30 Rock
11. Louie
12. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
13. The Jeffersons (Season One)
14. Three’s Company

• Don’t miss Adam Rank and me on the latest Rich Eisen Podcast (RichEisen.NFL.com). Along with some spirited fantasy football conversation, Rich & I engage in a Chris Berman-off.

• If you like impressions more expertly executed, take a look at one of the ten funniest things I’ve ever seen: Steve Coogan & Rob Brydon in a Michael Caine-Off in “The Trip.”

Hope to see you in NYC for Fantasy Draft Week this Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. More details here. Until then, I bid you… good day.

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These college football programs can’t turn talent into wins

(Associated Press)

“Battleship.” “Rock of Ages.” And coming this weekend: “The Watch.” Yes, this summer has once again supplied us with a bounty of star-studded bombs to prove the old adage about the sum not always equaling its parts.

Of course, you don’t need to fork over 10 bucks for a crummy Ben Stiller movie to know that. Just wait a few weeks for college football, which has more than its share of teams with rosters that feature future NFL stars, but somehow still manage to drown in the sea of mediocrity.

Boosters of programs like Alabama, Oklahoma, Ohio State and Southern California aren’t able to relate to what I’m talking about. Their teams are college football’s equivalent of “The Avengers:” superhuman stars who always win in the end. If you’ve ever watched the University of Texas blow out Rice, you know why there are more Longhorns than Owls in the NFL. The recruiting classes at Texas — along with those of their aforementioned fellow juggernauts — annually rank in the nation’s top 10, and not coincidentally, those teams always finish the season ranked in the top 10 (at least when they’re not on probation). Cynicism aside, their success makes sense.

It only gets confusing when you look at the teams with more future NFL players than BCS appearances. These programs are great at grooming blue-chippers for paying gigs at the next level, but somehow struggle to turn all that talent into wins against Temple, James Madison or Montana State. Let’s call it the Stiller Syndrome to honor the reigning champ of A-list ensemble eyesores like “Tower Heist,” “Night At The Museum” and those inexcusable Fockers sequels.

So, which college football teams suffer from the most severe cases of Stiller Syndrome? I’ve poured over the last 10 years looking for the ugly combination of tell-tale symptoms, including: quantity of a school’s alumni currently in the NFL, the quality of said current NFLers, and a less-than-impressive winning percentage. Here’s my top five:

* Warning: the following might cause severe depression and nausea for fans of these teams.

North Carolina

Record the last 10 years: 54-69
Current NFL players: 37
Noteworthy players:
Julius Peppers, DE, Bears
Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants
Jeff Saturday, C, Packers
Robert Quinn, DE, Rams
Greg Little, WR, Browns
Quinton Coples, DE, Jets
Zach Brown, LB, Titans
Jason Brown, C, Rams
Vonnie Holliday, DE, Cardinals
Gerald Sensabaugh, S, Cowboys
Connor Barth, K, Buccaneers
T.J. Yates, QB, Texans

Bottom line: In Peppers, the Heels have (at least) one future Pro Football Hall of Famer … but zero BCS appearances. Coples, Quinn, and Holliday are three more first-round picks from UNC’s defensive line. Say what you want about their Tobacco Road rivals, but at least Duke stinks because their players stink. What’s Carolina’s excuse?

Maryland

Record the last 10 years: 67-58
Current NFL players: 34
Noteworthy players:
Vernon Davis, TE, 49ers
D’Qwell Jackson, LB, Browns
Domonique Foxworth, CB, Ravens
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Raiders
Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens
Randy Starks, DE, Dolphins
Josh Wilson, CB, Redskins
Madieu Williams, S, 49ers
Bruce Campbell, OT, Panthers
Shawne Merriman, LB, Bills
Shaun Hill, QB, Lions
Nick Novak, K, Chargers
Jared Gaither, OT, Chargers

Bottom line: Former head coach Ralph Friedgen satisfied his appetite to fill his roster filled with future NFLers. So, it’s hard to figure why he couldn’t coach them to gobble up cupcakes like Middle Tennessee State.

Pitt

Record the last 10 years: 74-51
Current NFL players: 29
Noteworthy players:
Darrelle Revis, CB, Jets
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals
Shady McCoy, RB, Eagles
Andy Lee, P, 49ers
Jabaal Sheard, DE, Browns
Clint Session, LB, Jaguars
Jason Pinkston, G, Browns
Jon Baldwin, WR, Chiefs
Antonio Bryant, WR, Seahawks
Henry Hynoski, FB, Giants
Shawntae Spencer, CB, Raiders
Jeff Otah, OT, Jets

Bottom line: No other college program — not ‘Bama, not USC, no one — can make a case for producing the best NFL player at four different positions (RB: McCoy; CB: Revis; WR: Fitzgerald WR; P: Lee). Rather than making a bad pun about the how the Panthers’ inexplicable mediocrity in the laughable Big East has been “the pits,” I’ll just say they stink. If you don’t believe me, dig up some video of them getting humiliated by Alex Smith and the Utes — Alex Smith! — in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl.

Illinois

Record the last 10 years: 44-77
Current NFL players: 31
Noteworthy players:
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Patriots
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints
David Diehl, G, Giants
Corey Liuget, DE, Chargers
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers
Brandon Moore, G, Jets
Vontae Davis, CB, Dolphins
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Texans
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions
Jon Asomoah, G, Chiefs
Martez Wilson, LB, Saints
Neil Rackers, K, Redskins
Arrelious Benn, WR, Buccaneers
AJ Jenkins, WR, 49ers
Jeff Allen, G, Chiefs
Tavon Wilson, S, Patriots
Steve Weatherford, P, Giants
Tony Pashos, OT, free agent

Bottom line: Like the Florida Gators before them, this team got Zooked (as in: great recruiter/horrible former head coach Ron Zook). With just one BCS appearance (an 49-17 embarrassment at the hands of USC in the 2008 Rose Bowl) and a record 33 games under .500 over the last 10 years, the Illini belong in remedial classes.

Boston College

Record the last 10 years: 84-45
Current NFL players: 22
Noteworthy players:
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Titans
Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers
B.J. Raji, DT, Packers
Chris Snee, C, Giants
Dan Koppen, C, Patriots
Mathias Kiwanuka, LB, Giants
Anthony Costanzo, OT, Colts
Marc Columbo, OT, Dolphins
Jeremy Trueblood, OT, Buccaneers
Mark Herzlich, LB, Giants
Antonio Garay, DT, Chargers
Gosder Cherilus, OT, Lions

Bottom line: Last year’s Super Bowl featured four of the above Golden Eagles. The last 10 years’ worth of BCS games featured no Golden Eagles. Inexcusable.

Handsome Hank’s Supplemental Mock Draft

As mentioned on DDFP 75, our favorite Dolphins fan has now taken on a new task in the world of NFL Football. His NFL Europe and NFL.com background makes Handsome Hank the perfect lead analyst for the “2012 NFL Supplemental Draft” coverage here at The Dave Dameshek’s Football Program. So without further ado, we present to you the very first mock draft from the NFL’s (unofficial) Supplemental Draft Superintendent. 

Hank – Here’s my first supplemental mock draft. I’m still working through film study of these studs, so my supplemental mock draft 2.0 (a #DDFP exclusive) could be very different. I’m hearing whispers of a fifth-round trade too, which I have included here.

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