I see my Falcons have gotten a lot of love lately, is this their year, and what do you see as their biggest weakness,(other then the d-line which we all know about.)

Here are the next-season results for the last NFC Championship Game losers:

  • 2012: 49ers, 11-4-1, lost Super Bowl
  • 2011: Bears, 8-8, missed playoffs
  • 2010: Vikings, 6-10, missed playoffs
  • 2009: Eagles, 11-5, lost in first round
  • 2008: Packers, 6-10, missed playoffs
  • 2007: Saints, 7-9, missed playoffs
  • 2006: Panthers, 8-8, missed playoffs
  • 2005: Falcons, 8-8, missed playoffs
  • 2004: Eagles, 13-3, lost Super Bowl
  • 2003: Eagles, 12-4, lost NFC Championship Game
So that’s an average record of 9-7. Odds are, 2013 is not their year, but 10-6 would not be unreasonable. Biggest weakness is either the age of the team or Roddy White’s Twitter feed. Keys for Atlanta in 2013?
  • Staying healthy
  • Getting Matt Ryan a better nickname
  • Giving Tony Gonzalez the name of Ray Lewis’ deer antler spray provider
  • Greg Schiano remaining Tampa Bay’s coach 
At the 22nd pick, the Atlanta Falcons have traded up with the St. Louis Rams to take Cornerback Desmond Trufant out of Washington.
Previously, the Falcons have traded up for WR Julio Jones and we’ve all seen how that’s worked out for them. At this point, the Falcons are just fine tuning their team and adding more defense definitely doesn’t hurt.

At the 22nd pick, the Atlanta Falcons have traded up with the St. Louis Rams to take Cornerback Desmond Trufant out of Washington.

Previously, the Falcons have traded up for WR Julio Jones and we’ve all seen how that’s worked out for them. At this point, the Falcons are just fine tuning their team and adding more defense definitely doesn’t hurt.

Strange Week, and now, Football

by @steven_lebron

Strange week, if we’re putting it mildly.

Fake girlfriends created through real lies, a celebrated cyclist comes clean (kind of) making “Did you watch Oprah last night” an acceptable water cooler conversation for sports fans in offices across the world. And, well, that’s about it really.

So it’s kind of nice to get back to the regular schedule programming of football, and no big deal, just two games for a chance at the Super Bowl.

In Atlanta, the proverbial monkey is off Matt Ryan and Mike Smith’s back, no thanks to the strangest (there’s that word again) last two minutes of a playoff football game I can remember. There’s now playoff wins on the resumes of the quarterback and coach, and yet, who exactly is picking the Falcons at home this week?

Hard to imagine the court of public opinion not backing the San Francisco 49ers after Colin Kaepernick turned the Green Bay Packers defense into a Rookie settings Madden blowout. The 49ers have been here before, before as in last year. Prior to Kyle Williams’ personal nightmare, you’d have to go all the way back to 2002, and reference names like Jeff Garcia, Terrell Owens and Garrison Hearst to remember their last playoff appearance.

Back to back NFC Conference Championship appearances signifies progress, a return to better years for the storied franchise, but in a league where dominance is more or less a year to year thing, this game feels important for the 49ers too. It’s easy to look at the core on defense, the promise of Kaepernick and say that there’s still years of contending to come. It’s harder to actually realize that future potential. Instead, this is as good an opportunity at winning it all as any. When is that not true?

Over in New England, no big deal, just a sixth Super Bowl appearance for Tom Brady if the Patriots win, and a few more weeks of the Ray Lewis farewell tour if the Ravens can get revenge on what is a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. No Lee Evans or Billy Cundiff this time around — although ESPN gave them a great profile this week — just a chance for guys like Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith to elevate themselves into a different stratosphere. It’s what playing in the Super Bowl does to players.

And so, with no idea whether I’m picking with my head or heart, or caught in so many web of lies this week that the truth seems harder to see, I’m going to go with the 49ers because I know that Eugene Robinson is thinking the same, just so no one brings this up again.

And in New England. I think the Ravens find a way to get it done.

See you at the Harbaugh Bowl.

What does everybody else think?

Matt Bryant was happy to make the game-winning kick against Seattle, and even happier that guard Mike Johnson didn’t jump directly on top of him.
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Matt Bryant was happy to make the game-winning kick against Seattle, and even happier that guard Mike Johnson didn’t jump directly on top of him.

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

"I wanna get you in the Georgia Dome on the fifty yard line While the Dirty Birds kick for t’ree”
- Ludacris Falcons placekicker Matt Bryant

"I wanna get you in the Georgia Dome on the fifty yard line
While the Dirty Birds kick for t’ree”

- Ludacris Falcons placekicker Matt Bryant

Seahawks at Falcons: In Search Of…

by @steven_lebron

What has changed about this Falcons team since two years ago, when they had a similarly impressive regular season and failed to keep up with Rodgers’ Packers in the post-season?

Or what has changed since last season, when the Falcons went on the road to play the Giants in the first round and fittingly, dropped a deuce (the Falcons score a safety only in the game) and were embarrassed in consecutive post-seasons.

Sunday’s game is the answer, or at least the start of the answer. For the Falcons to even think about Super Bowls and championship rings, they need to win a playoff game first.

We’ve heard this offense advertised as the best in the league before, everything sounds a bit familiar. The Falcons remind me of Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb’s Eagles, in that it took Philadelphia so many years to get out of the NFC after so many trips to the Conference Finals.

At some point, when you put yourself in a position to host playoff games against inferior opponents, it has to tip the other way, right?

But how inferior are the Seahawks? They showed me a lot last week with their win at Washington, maybe we should stop referring to Russell Wilson as a rookie and just enjoy the ride, and perhaps this defense is an elite unit.

But really, this game comes down to Atlanta. Can we say this is the most important game in franchise history? If they come up short this weekend, it’s going to be an especially long off-season for the Falcons. It would also be their third such off-season in a row.

I think they get over the hump this week.

Falcons win 34-14.

What does everybody think?

6-0!

6-0!

Winners and Losers - Week 3 Sunday edition
Wait, was that Justin Tucker field goal good or what? The refs will review and get back to you tomorrow. 
Can we sum up the NFL so far with this: the Cardinals are 3-0, the Saints are 0-3 and the best team after two weeks in the league lost at Minnesota.
Don’t look now, but we might be in for a fun race in the NFC West. The Cardinals next four games: vs. Miami, at St. Louis, vs. Buffalo, at Minnesota. All winnable games. Looks like that Week 8 Monday Night game between San Francisco and Arizona might be an important one. Who knew.
The best play in the Cardinals-Eagles game was Arizona safety James Sander’s 93 yard fumble return for a touchdown to end the half (reminiscent of what James Harrison did to the Cardinals in the Super Bowl a few years ago). If you missed it, you can watch the video here. My favorite part of it: Larry Fitzgerald sprinting down the sideline as the play unfolded.
Also, before we get to the winners the losers, I just want to send a word of condolence to the family of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Smith’s younger brother Tevin Jones passed away in a car accident late Saturday night. I can’t pretend to know what he’s going through, except to say, it can’t be easy. He played tonight, and went for 127 yards, two touchdowns, and one sweet victory.
If this made Smith’s day any better, even for a few hours, then it was all well worth it regardless of what the result was on the field. I hope tomorrow will be a better day for him.
Onto the rest:
Winners
Mayhem in Tennessee - Sunday was a throwback day in Tennessee. Tommie Campbell’s punt return touchdown brought back memories of the Music City Miracle, and the game ended up going to overtime on a crazy sequence of events to end regulation that culminated in a Hail Mary touchdown for the visiting Lions with no time left on the clock. But the Titans would win on a controversial fourth down call by Jim Schwartz — who said after the game that they weren’t suppose to snap the ball on the play. A team coming up a yard short to end the game? It’s an ending Titans fans are familiar with and happy to be on the other side of it this time.
Jamaal Charles - 233 yards rushing, 55 yards receiving and a touchdown for Kansas City. A week ago, many wondered about whether he was fully recovered from last year’s knee injury, turns out all you need to do is go up against the New Orleans defense and all is cured.
Adrian Peterson - His stats on Sunday against the 49ers didn’t stand out, but watching him run into that San Francisco defense and be the last one standing on most of the running plays was great to see. Still a bit amazed at how quickly he’s recovered from his injury, maybe Peterson is a superhero.
Mohamed Sanu to A.J. Green - A thing of beauty.
Ray Lewis: A Football Life - Do yourself a favor and watch this on NFL Network. Made me want to drive to Pittsburgh just to get a W!!!!!!!!!!!!
Mikel Leshoure - 26 carries, 100 yards, 1 touchdown. I’m just including this in here because I have him on my fantasy team. Carry on.
The Falcons - The division is theirs to take, but you get the feeling nothing they do in the regular season will matter. Not with Matt Ryan still without a playoff win on his resume and that turd they dropped against the Giants in the post-season last year. Seriously, they literally dropped a deuce. I’m going to stop now.
Losers
Replacement refs, again - I’m sick of 20 minute replay reviews, and just a sense that the players are under the impression that they can do whatever they want on the field without the consequences of being policed. Also, in the Vikings-49ers game, Jim Harbaugh was awarded an extra challenge on a Toby Gerhart fumble even though he had no timeouts left, which he won. That wasn’t the most ridiculous part of it. Somehow Harbaugh got another timeout added back for his team, and used it to challenge another Gerhart fumble before the two minute warning in the fourth. It was a standard fumble and recovery by Gerhart. But you know why Harbaugh even bothered to challenge? Because there’s actually a chance that the replacement refs could blow the call and reverse it in his favor. The refs are now being exploited by players and coaches for their own advantage as they see fit. I’m just going to keep complaining until the real zebras come back.
The Saints - Stat alert: Saints are the eighth team to start 0-3 after winning 13 or more games the previous season. They’re starting to remind me a lot of the last team in this group: the 2009 Titans, who started 0-6 before making a frantic run for a playoff spot, finishing short at 8-8. Although, three weeks in, they’re three games back of the division leading Falcons. Looks like another season without a home team playing in the Super Bowl.
Peyton and the Broncos - It’s entirely possible that they were beat on their home field by the best team in the AFC. I still can’t believe the Texans are competent, and wait for it: trustworthy to win games they’re supposed to. Still wrapping my head around this. Regardless, the Broncos are in a division where they can afford to work their way through a slump. I think eight or nine wins will be enough in the West. Don’t count the Broncos out just yet, but expectations have been lowered after their last two outings.
Randy Moss - For some reason, I thought Randy Moss would be a different teammate in San Francisco. I don’t know if it’s the simple fact that I assumed age and a year away from the game meant that Moss would mature. But there he was on Sunday, sulking on the sidelines and benched in the fourth quarter. After the game, he was asked about playing time and simply said: “Next question”. I still like this 49ers team a lot, but not sure if it’s worth it to deal with Moss if he’s going to start spreading that negativity in the locker room.
Chris Johnson - He now has 45 yards rushing on the season. How bad is that? There’s six teams with single rushing plays greater than 45 yards so far this season.
Sanchez to Tebow - Not exactly a thing of beauty.
@steven_lebron

Winners and Losers - Week 3 Sunday edition

Wait, was that Justin Tucker field goal good or what? The refs will review and get back to you tomorrow.

Can we sum up the NFL so far with this: the Cardinals are 3-0, the Saints are 0-3 and the best team after two weeks in the league lost at Minnesota.

Don’t look now, but we might be in for a fun race in the NFC West. The Cardinals next four games: vs. Miami, at St. Louis, vs. Buffalo, at Minnesota. All winnable games. Looks like that Week 8 Monday Night game between San Francisco and Arizona might be an important one. Who knew.

The best play in the Cardinals-Eagles game was Arizona safety James Sander’s 93 yard fumble return for a touchdown to end the half (reminiscent of what James Harrison did to the Cardinals in the Super Bowl a few years ago). If you missed it, you can watch the video here. My favorite part of it: Larry Fitzgerald sprinting down the sideline as the play unfolded.

Also, before we get to the winners the losers, I just want to send a word of condolence to the family of Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith. Smith’s younger brother Tevin Jones passed away in a car accident late Saturday night. I can’t pretend to know what he’s going through, except to say, it can’t be easy. He played tonight, and went for 127 yards, two touchdowns, and one sweet victory.

If this made Smith’s day any better, even for a few hours, then it was all well worth it regardless of what the result was on the field. I hope tomorrow will be a better day for him.

Onto the rest:

Winners

Mayhem in Tennessee - Sunday was a throwback day in Tennessee. Tommie Campbell’s punt return touchdown brought back memories of the Music City Miracle, and the game ended up going to overtime on a crazy sequence of events to end regulation that culminated in a Hail Mary touchdown for the visiting Lions with no time left on the clock. But the Titans would win on a controversial fourth down call by Jim Schwartz — who said after the game that they weren’t suppose to snap the ball on the play. A team coming up a yard short to end the game? It’s an ending Titans fans are familiar with and happy to be on the other side of it this time.

Jamaal Charles - 233 yards rushing, 55 yards receiving and a touchdown for Kansas City. A week ago, many wondered about whether he was fully recovered from last year’s knee injury, turns out all you need to do is go up against the New Orleans defense and all is cured.

Adrian Peterson - His stats on Sunday against the 49ers didn’t stand out, but watching him run into that San Francisco defense and be the last one standing on most of the running plays was great to see. Still a bit amazed at how quickly he’s recovered from his injury, maybe Peterson is a superhero.

Mohamed Sanu to A.J. Green - A thing of beauty.

Ray Lewis: A Football Life - Do yourself a favor and watch this on NFL Network. Made me want to drive to Pittsburgh just to get a W!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mikel Leshoure - 26 carries, 100 yards, 1 touchdown. I’m just including this in here because I have him on my fantasy team. Carry on.

The Falcons - The division is theirs to take, but you get the feeling nothing they do in the regular season will matter. Not with Matt Ryan still without a playoff win on his resume and that turd they dropped against the Giants in the post-season last year. Seriously, they literally dropped a deuce. I’m going to stop now.

Losers

Replacement refs, again - I’m sick of 20 minute replay reviews, and just a sense that the players are under the impression that they can do whatever they want on the field without the consequences of being policed. Also, in the Vikings-49ers game, Jim Harbaugh was awarded an extra challenge on a Toby Gerhart fumble even though he had no timeouts left, which he won. That wasn’t the most ridiculous part of it. Somehow Harbaugh got another timeout added back for his team, and used it to challenge another Gerhart fumble before the two minute warning in the fourth. It was a standard fumble and recovery by Gerhart. But you know why Harbaugh even bothered to challenge? Because there’s actually a chance that the replacement refs could blow the call and reverse it in his favor. The refs are now being exploited by players and coaches for their own advantage as they see fit. I’m just going to keep complaining until the real zebras come back.

The Saints - Stat alert: Saints are the eighth team to start 0-3 after winning 13 or more games the previous season. They’re starting to remind me a lot of the last team in this group: the 2009 Titans, who started 0-6 before making a frantic run for a playoff spot, finishing short at 8-8. Although, three weeks in, they’re three games back of the division leading Falcons. Looks like another season without a home team playing in the Super Bowl.

Peyton and the Broncos - It’s entirely possible that they were beat on their home field by the best team in the AFC. I still can’t believe the Texans are competent, and wait for it: trustworthy to win games they’re supposed to. Still wrapping my head around this. Regardless, the Broncos are in a division where they can afford to work their way through a slump. I think eight or nine wins will be enough in the West. Don’t count the Broncos out just yet, but expectations have been lowered after their last two outings.

Randy Moss - For some reason, I thought Randy Moss would be a different teammate in San Francisco. I don’t know if it’s the simple fact that I assumed age and a year away from the game meant that Moss would mature. But there he was on Sunday, sulking on the sidelines and benched in the fourth quarter. After the game, he was asked about playing time and simply said: “Next question”. I still like this 49ers team a lot, but not sure if it’s worth it to deal with Moss if he’s going to start spreading that negativity in the locker room.

Chris Johnson - He now has 45 yards rushing on the season. How bad is that? There’s six teams with single rushing plays greater than 45 yards so far this season.

Sanchez to Tebow - Not exactly a thing of beauty.

@steven_lebron

Winners and Losers - Week 1 Sunday edition
It’s good to be back. First full day of football means doing absolutely nothing but watch games on Sunday, which is a pretty tough commitment.
Surprises, comebacks, upsets, disappointments? Just the way football should be. 
Onto the winners and losers of the first Sunday. Since all judgments are made off one game, I reserve the right to deny writing any of the below in a week.
Winners
Robert Griffin III/ Dan Snyder - The list of quarterbacks that have come through Washington in the past few decades have been so mediocre that it’s been immortalized on this t-shirt. For those with shorter memories, recent years included Rex Grossman, the wonderful experience of Donavan McNabb and the likes of Mark Brunell and Jason Campbell. This year’s draft revolved around Andrew Luck — whom most believed to be the sure thing, and Robert Griffin III — a dazzling talent whose potential intrigued many teams to move up for the right to pick him. The Redskins gave away a sizable package to be that team, and no one would’ve blamed their fans to expect some growing pains for Griffin III this season before he matured and that potential became realized. But there he was on Sunday, in the hostile dome environment of New Orleans, controlling the game like a ten year veteran, demonstrating his arm strength and using his legs as a weapon. I don’t know what Dan Snyder or Mike Shanahan did to deserve this, but the sky’s the limit now for Griffin III. The growing pains will come, but fans will have a performance like this week’s to remind them of better times to come. Sooner rather than later.
Orlando Franklin - I am terrified.
Quarterback enigmas part 1, Alex Smith - All Super Bowl chatter with the San Francisco 49ers this off-season started and ended with their quarterback Alex Smith. The defense is championship caliber, the offense was retooled with enough weapons to surround Smith, but was he really someone who could put it all together? All he did on Sunday was play an efficient game in Green Bay, and come out with a victory. Not just a game manager, but a productive quarterback who looked comfortable leading drives and making the right plays in the red zone. This was the most eye opening performance to me from Sunday. The 49ers looked complete, and ready to make a run.
Quarterback enigmas part 2, Mark Sanchez - I woke up this morning and pronounced that Sanchez was starring in his own edition of “Dead Man Walking” starting at 1 pm. You know, the one touchdown in four pre-season games, the shadow of Tim Tebow lurking everywhere — on the field, in the press, probably in his dreams. That’s a weird thought, let’s move on. Of course, this being a league where we know absolutely nothing except what just happened, Sanchez went out and put up 48 points on the Buffalo Bills, and giving Bart Scott enough ammunition to declare a “media mutiny" after the game. He meant boycott by the way.
Tampa Bay and believers of karma -In this era of statistics and more statistics, I hope there’s still room for stories that aren’t about just numbers. That special moments still be quantified in their own ways. In the off-season, the Buccaneers signed former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (coached in college by current Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano) whose career was ended by a spinal cord injury. It was a symbolic gesture by the organization that along with their draft and off-season acquisitions, bodes well for the coming season. By the way, if you haven’t read about LeGrand’s story, do yourself a favor and check out this Sports Illustrated feature from last year. The Bucs did just enough to win at home against Carolina. But for a team that most expect to win five or six games, I think there could be something more there. 
Randall Cobb/ Julio Jones - I’m going to go on record and say that Jones will be the best receiver in football this year. I felt that way before his performance in Kansas City today (6 catches, 108 yards, 2 touchdowns), which just reaffirms my belief in him. As for Randall Cobb, I get the feeling that Aaron Rodgers is going to be targeting him a lot this year, if only because the Fox broadcasters kept reminding me of it. Plus he’s a must watch on returns all year. 
Adrian Peterson - In December, Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL. On Sunday, he came back and went for 84 yards, two touchdowns and looked as electric as he was pre-injury. A lot of fantasy regrets are in order.
Peyton Manning - Competent quarterbacking in Denver? Must be refreshing. The league’s more fun with Manning back directing traffic and running no huddles. Plus I’m sure Brandon Stokley is happier this way. This might not end up in a second Super Bowl for Manning, but it’s nice to see he still has more then a few competent games left. 
Negotiating leverage of referees - All referees make bad calls. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that once the real officials come back, we’re not going to have controversial calls. But there’s a difference between human error and incompetence, and that line is not very thin. Consider how the replacement refs gave Seattle a mysterious fourth timeout at the end of their game against Arizona. That’s the perfect example of that not very thin line. There are judgment calls, and then there are calls that can only be explained by inexperience and inability to referee a game at the professional level. Let’s hope the real refs come back soon, so we can have more legitimate gripes than phantom time outs. 
Losers
Browns fans - Let’s see. Where do we start with this one. Former Browns owner Art Modell passed away this week. You know, the guy who took the team and moved them to Baltimore. There were plans for a Modell tribute before their home opener against the Eagles on Sunday, which would’ve probably turned into a horrible mess, so luckily Modell’s family asked the team to cancel such plans. Of course, this did not stop 28 year old rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden from getting sacked by the American flag pre-game, and than going out there and putting up a quarterback rating that was ten times worst than Michael Vick, who only threw four interceptions himself. Still, the Browns had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, but Vick drove the Eagles the length of the field for a one point victory. On the bright side, If Weeden doesn’t pan out, Colt McCoy and Thaddeus Lewis are waiting their turn.
Carolina Panthers rushing attack -13 rush attempts, 10 yards. That includes Cam Newton.
Ike Taylor - Will see Demaryius Thomas in his dreams tonight. That’s my second reference to someone’s dreams. Let’s move on. 
Saints and non-believers of karma - I thought that Friday’s arbitrator decision to reverse the Saints’ player suspensions would start the healing process in New Orleans, and remove all the bad vibes still hanging from Bounty Gate. You know, because I actually believe in these things. But there was Griffin III shredding their defense, and Drew Brees not looking in sync with this receiving corp. The offense is still one of the best in the league, and we could chalk it up to one poor performance. Check the schedule though, and consider the improvement of the NFC North, I don’t think the Saints can consider themselves favorites this season. 
The Bills - Did all that optimism get crushed in literally one quarter in week one? I think we should just leave Buffalo alone and not anoint sleeper status on them. It’s less painful that way. 
@steven_lebron
photo via Keith Allison

Winners and Losers - Week 1 Sunday edition

It’s good to be back. First full day of football means doing absolutely nothing but watch games on Sunday, which is a pretty tough commitment.

Surprises, comebacks, upsets, disappointments? Just the way football should be. 

Onto the winners and losers of the first Sunday. Since all judgments are made off one game, I reserve the right to deny writing any of the below in a week.

Winners

Robert Griffin III/ Dan Snyder - The list of quarterbacks that have come through Washington in the past few decades have been so mediocre that it’s been immortalized on this t-shirt. For those with shorter memories, recent years included Rex Grossman, the wonderful experience of Donavan McNabb and the likes of Mark Brunell and Jason Campbell. This year’s draft revolved around Andrew Luck — whom most believed to be the sure thing, and Robert Griffin III — a dazzling talent whose potential intrigued many teams to move up for the right to pick him. The Redskins gave away a sizable package to be that team, and no one would’ve blamed their fans to expect some growing pains for Griffin III this season before he matured and that potential became realized. But there he was on Sunday, in the hostile dome environment of New Orleans, controlling the game like a ten year veteran, demonstrating his arm strength and using his legs as a weapon. I don’t know what Dan Snyder or Mike Shanahan did to deserve this, but the sky’s the limit now for Griffin III. The growing pains will come, but fans will have a performance like this week’s to remind them of better times to come. Sooner rather than later.

Orlando Franklin - I am terrified.

Quarterback enigmas part 1, Alex Smith - All Super Bowl chatter with the San Francisco 49ers this off-season started and ended with their quarterback Alex Smith. The defense is championship caliber, the offense was retooled with enough weapons to surround Smith, but was he really someone who could put it all together? All he did on Sunday was play an efficient game in Green Bay, and come out with a victory. Not just a game manager, but a productive quarterback who looked comfortable leading drives and making the right plays in the red zone. This was the most eye opening performance to me from Sunday. The 49ers looked complete, and ready to make a run.

Quarterback enigmas part 2, Mark Sanchez - I woke up this morning and pronounced that Sanchez was starring in his own edition of “Dead Man Walking” starting at 1 pm. You know, the one touchdown in four pre-season games, the shadow of Tim Tebow lurking everywhere — on the field, in the press, probably in his dreams. That’s a weird thought, let’s move on. Of course, this being a league where we know absolutely nothing except what just happened, Sanchez went out and put up 48 points on the Buffalo Bills, and giving Bart Scott enough ammunition to declare a “media mutiny" after the game. He meant boycott by the way.

Tampa Bay and believers of karma -In this era of statistics and more statistics, I hope there’s still room for stories that aren’t about just numbers. That special moments still be quantified in their own ways. In the off-season, the Buccaneers signed former Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand (coached in college by current Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano) whose career was ended by a spinal cord injury. It was a symbolic gesture by the organization that along with their draft and off-season acquisitions, bodes well for the coming season. By the way, if you haven’t read about LeGrand’s story, do yourself a favor and check out this Sports Illustrated feature from last year. The Bucs did just enough to win at home against Carolina. But for a team that most expect to win five or six games, I think there could be something more there.

Randall Cobb/ Julio Jones - I’m going to go on record and say that Jones will be the best receiver in football this year. I felt that way before his performance in Kansas City today (6 catches, 108 yards, 2 touchdowns), which just reaffirms my belief in him. As for Randall Cobb, I get the feeling that Aaron Rodgers is going to be targeting him a lot this year, if only because the Fox broadcasters kept reminding me of it. Plus he’s a must watch on returns all year.

Adrian Peterson - In December, Peterson tore both his ACL and MCL. On Sunday, he came back and went for 84 yards, two touchdowns and looked as electric as he was pre-injury. A lot of fantasy regrets are in order.

Peyton Manning - Competent quarterbacking in Denver? Must be refreshing. The league’s more fun with Manning back directing traffic and running no huddles. Plus I’m sure Brandon Stokley is happier this way. This might not end up in a second Super Bowl for Manning, but it’s nice to see he still has more then a few competent games left.

Negotiating leverage of referees - All referees make bad calls. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that once the real officials come back, we’re not going to have controversial calls. But there’s a difference between human error and incompetence, and that line is not very thin. Consider how the replacement refs gave Seattle a mysterious fourth timeout at the end of their game against Arizona. That’s the perfect example of that not very thin line. There are judgment calls, and then there are calls that can only be explained by inexperience and inability to referee a game at the professional level. Let’s hope the real refs come back soon, so we can have more legitimate gripes than phantom time outs.

Losers

Browns fans - Let’s see. Where do we start with this one. Former Browns owner Art Modell passed away this week. You know, the guy who took the team and moved them to Baltimore. There were plans for a Modell tribute before their home opener against the Eagles on Sunday, which would’ve probably turned into a horrible mess, so luckily Modell’s family asked the team to cancel such plans. Of course, this did not stop 28 year old rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden from getting sacked by the American flag pre-game, and than going out there and putting up a quarterback rating that was ten times worst than Michael Vick, who only threw four interceptions himself. Still, the Browns had a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, but Vick drove the Eagles the length of the field for a one point victory. On the bright side, If Weeden doesn’t pan out, Colt McCoy and Thaddeus Lewis are waiting their turn.

Carolina Panthers rushing attack -13 rush attempts, 10 yards. That includes Cam Newton.

Ike Taylor - Will see Demaryius Thomas in his dreams tonight. That’s my second reference to someone’s dreams. Let’s move on.

Saints and non-believers of karma - I thought that Friday’s arbitrator decision to reverse the Saints’ player suspensions would start the healing process in New Orleans, and remove all the bad vibes still hanging from Bounty Gate. You know, because I actually believe in these things. But there was Griffin III shredding their defense, and Drew Brees not looking in sync with this receiving corp. The offense is still one of the best in the league, and we could chalk it up to one poor performance. Check the schedule though, and consider the improvement of the NFC North, I don’t think the Saints can consider themselves favorites this season.

The Bills - Did all that optimism get crushed in literally one quarter in week one? I think we should just leave Buffalo alone and not anoint sleeper status on them. It’s less painful that way. 

@steven_lebron

photo via Keith Allison

"It was less than a yard, it was about half a yard, maybe even less than that. That was the play, again, we go through and sequence those things all through the week and felt like that was the play we had up and we just didn’t execute it. We felt like at any point and time we ought to be able to move less than a half-yard with the quarterback sneak.”
- Mike Smith, Atlanta Head Coach
(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

"It was less than a yard, it was about half a yard, maybe even less than that. That was the play, again, we go through and sequence those things all through the week and felt like that was the play we had up and we just didn’t execute it. We felt like at any point and time we ought to be able to move less than a half-yard with the quarterback sneak.”

- Mike Smith, Atlanta Head Coach

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Winners and Losers…Wild Card Weekend Edition
Each week throughout the playoffs, we’ll be recapping winners and losers from the week’s action. Let’s get right into it:
Winners
Houston Texans fans: Can’t help but feel happy for the fan base. They lost their football team in the 90s when they moved to Tennessee, welcomed an expansion team back to the city about a decade ago, then watched the team become one of the most notoriously underachieving squads in football. Their chance at a division title opened up this year thanks to a particular neck injury to another quarterback. And they seized upon it. Injuries along the way have derailed realistic chances at a Super Bowl. But their home win over the Bengals this weekend was a huge stepping stone for the franchise. The Houston Texans. Finally relevant. 
Cincinnati Bengals: Yes, that was a disappointing playoff loss and debut for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, and it leaves Marvin Lewis still winless in the post-season. But the future is bright for this team. With two first round picks in the upcoming draft, the Bengals might be competitive again in 2012. The Steelers and Ravens should get a handful from this team in the coming years.
Sean Payton: Everyone likes to say that the New Orleans head coach is fearless for his repeated decisions to go for it on fourth down. To me, he’s just maximizing the potential of his personnel. Taking risks is one thing, taking risks that makes sense is another. Ask Falcons head coach Mike Smith about that one. The Saints offense didn’t get going until the second half, their receivers were uncharacteristically shaky with a lot of drops, and they still set an NFL playoff record for total yards in a game. That’s got to be a disturbing thought for the rest of the playoff field.
Matt Flynn: Still the most sought after quarterback in free agency this off-season. No one displaced him this week. That makes him a winner.
Josh McDaniels: If you haven’t heard, McDaniels is back with the Patriots as an offensive assistant for the remainder of the playoffs, with the understanding that he will be their offensive coordinator next year when current coordinator Bill O’Brien takes the head coaching reigns at Penn State. McDaniels had a trying year in St. Louis, and now gets reunited with the Brady bunch. Funny that he will face the quarterback he drafted a few years ago in Denver, Tim Tebow, on Sunday. Not sure what it means, but that’s one more storyline to keep an eye on.
Tim Tebow: You know, ever since Tebow was put into the starting line-up, everything that he’s succeeded at has been taken with a grain of salt. There was an underlying assumption that he was doing things that didn’t make sense, that this couldn’t last, it felt more like satire than a real inspirational story. But that was a legitimate win over the top ranked defense in the league on Sunday. The Broncos didn’t win in spite of Tebow, they won because of him. You can talk about his throwing motion, you can break down the numbers, you can say it doesn’t make sense. But it might be time to consider the Tim Tebow story as legitimate.
Losers
Atlanta Falcons: On a day when they dropped a turd, it made sense that they’d end up with a deuce on the scoreboard. Still winless in the playoffs in the Matt Ryan era, and there has to be questions surrounding head coach Mike Smith.
Dick LeBeau: Another side-effect of Tebow. When he tears your defense up, you will be questioned and scruntinized because it’s never suppose to happen.
Phil Simms: Paraphrasing what I heard while he was commentating the Steelers-Broncos game: “For it to be a forward pass, it has to go forward.”
The referee doing the overtime coin toss in Denver: It seemed like he forgot his cheat sheet while explaining the new overtime rules. Thankfully, Tebow saved the officiating crew from any misinterpretation of the rules in overtime.
John Elway: Just because from now on, when they talk about “The Drive”, they will also mention “The Overtime Pass” by Tebow. The two of you are stuck together forever.
Fans: Just seven more football games left until the off-season. 
- @steven_lebron

Winners and Losers…Wild Card Weekend Edition

Each week throughout the playoffs, we’ll be recapping winners and losers from the week’s action. Let’s get right into it:

Winners

Houston Texans fans: Can’t help but feel happy for the fan base. They lost their football team in the 90s when they moved to Tennessee, welcomed an expansion team back to the city about a decade ago, then watched the team become one of the most notoriously underachieving squads in football. Their chance at a division title opened up this year thanks to a particular neck injury to another quarterback. And they seized upon it. Injuries along the way have derailed realistic chances at a Super Bowl. But their home win over the Bengals this weekend was a huge stepping stone for the franchise. The Houston Texans. Finally relevant.

Cincinnati Bengals: Yes, that was a disappointing playoff loss and debut for Andy Dalton and A.J. Green, and it leaves Marvin Lewis still winless in the post-season. But the future is bright for this team. With two first round picks in the upcoming draft, the Bengals might be competitive again in 2012. The Steelers and Ravens should get a handful from this team in the coming years.

Sean Payton: Everyone likes to say that the New Orleans head coach is fearless for his repeated decisions to go for it on fourth down. To me, he’s just maximizing the potential of his personnel. Taking risks is one thing, taking risks that makes sense is another. Ask Falcons head coach Mike Smith about that one. The Saints offense didn’t get going until the second half, their receivers were uncharacteristically shaky with a lot of drops, and they still set an NFL playoff record for total yards in a game. That’s got to be a disturbing thought for the rest of the playoff field.

Matt Flynn: Still the most sought after quarterback in free agency this off-season. No one displaced him this week. That makes him a winner.

Josh McDaniels: If you haven’t heard, McDaniels is back with the Patriots as an offensive assistant for the remainder of the playoffs, with the understanding that he will be their offensive coordinator next year when current coordinator Bill O’Brien takes the head coaching reigns at Penn State. McDaniels had a trying year in St. Louis, and now gets reunited with the Brady bunch. Funny that he will face the quarterback he drafted a few years ago in Denver, Tim Tebow, on Sunday. Not sure what it means, but that’s one more storyline to keep an eye on.

Tim Tebow: You know, ever since Tebow was put into the starting line-up, everything that he’s succeeded at has been taken with a grain of salt. There was an underlying assumption that he was doing things that didn’t make sense, that this couldn’t last, it felt more like satire than a real inspirational story. But that was a legitimate win over the top ranked defense in the league on Sunday. The Broncos didn’t win in spite of Tebow, they won because of him. You can talk about his throwing motion, you can break down the numbers, you can say it doesn’t make sense. But it might be time to consider the Tim Tebow story as legitimate.

Losers

Atlanta Falcons: On a day when they dropped a turd, it made sense that they’d end up with a deuce on the scoreboard. Still winless in the playoffs in the Matt Ryan era, and there has to be questions surrounding head coach Mike Smith.

Dick LeBeau: Another side-effect of Tebow. When he tears your defense up, you will be questioned and scruntinized because it’s never suppose to happen.

Phil Simms: Paraphrasing what I heard while he was commentating the Steelers-Broncos game: “For it to be a forward pass, it has to go forward.”

The referee doing the overtime coin toss in Denver: It seemed like he forgot his cheat sheet while explaining the new overtime rules. Thankfully, Tebow saved the officiating crew from any misinterpretation of the rules in overtime.

John Elway: Just because from now on, when they talk about “The Drive”, they will also mention “The Overtime Pass” by Tebow. The two of you are stuck together forever.

Fans: Just seven more football games left until the off-season.

 

- @steven_lebron

Wild Card Preview: Falcons at Giants
@steven_lebron - Atlanta Falcons
My favorite match-up of the week. Anytime you have two teams that have underachieved in the first round, you’re bound for hilarity, redemption and disappointment. The perfect ingredients for a crazy first round game. This is as much about what I don’t like about the Giants than it is about what I like in Atlanta. The Giants talk a lot for a 9-7 team. Brandon Jacobs calling out Rex Ryan, and this week Justin Tuck calling out the Falcons’ offensive line. Is Tom Coughlin okay with this? Last I checked, this Giants team hasn’t even won a playoff game since their Super Bowl win. And suddenly we’re suppose to believe this inconsistent squad will get it together and make a run? Hard to fathom. I think Matt Ryan gets his first playoff win and Julio Jones has a big game to justify the trade at least for this year. For one team, a playoff win will justify a disappointing regular season. For the other, lots of questions headed to the off-season. Again, this will be fun.
@nhall - New York Giants
I worry that any argument I make for the Giants will actually curse their playoff chances. This team is so strange. They do better when the odds are stacked against them and crumble under prosperity. It’s bizarre. They’ve been plagued by injuries and have no running game to speak of yet Eli Manning is playing out of his skull. They beat the Patriots and hung close to the Packers but got swept by the Redskins. I guess it’s a positive that this game will be in New Jersey - the Giants don’t really have much of a home field advantage. They won about half their home games, one of them being a road team against the Jets. Maybe it’s more of a negative for the Falcons than a positive for Giants. Playing outdoors in the crazy wind might effect Matt Ryan.  Matt Ryan, who has still never won a playoff game. I look for that streak to continue. So far Ryan had appeared in two playoff games where he threw 3 touchdowns and four interceptions.  He could have another long day if the Giants can get a consistent pass rush. For the Giants, Manningham could have a nice day if Grimes is still out. Plus the Giants have one of the most exciting weapons in football, Yards After the Catch CRUUUUUUUUUUUZZ!
I too am very much looking forward to this one, I just have no idea what to expect.

Wild Card Preview: Falcons at Giants

@steven_lebron - Atlanta Falcons

My favorite match-up of the week. Anytime you have two teams that have underachieved in the first round, you’re bound for hilarity, redemption and disappointment. The perfect ingredients for a crazy first round game. This is as much about what I don’t like about the Giants than it is about what I like in Atlanta. The Giants talk a lot for a 9-7 team. Brandon Jacobs calling out Rex Ryan, and this week Justin Tuck calling out the Falcons’ offensive line. Is Tom Coughlin okay with this? Last I checked, this Giants team hasn’t even won a playoff game since their Super Bowl win. And suddenly we’re suppose to believe this inconsistent squad will get it together and make a run? Hard to fathom. I think Matt Ryan gets his first playoff win and Julio Jones has a big game to justify the trade at least for this year. For one team, a playoff win will justify a disappointing regular season. For the other, lots of questions headed to the off-season. Again, this will be fun.

@nhall - New York Giants

I worry that any argument I make for the Giants will actually curse their playoff chances. This team is so strange. They do better when the odds are stacked against them and crumble under prosperity. It’s bizarre. They’ve been plagued by injuries and have no running game to speak of yet Eli Manning is playing out of his skull. They beat the Patriots and hung close to the Packers but got swept by the Redskins. I guess it’s a positive that this game will be in New Jersey - the Giants don’t really have much of a home field advantage. They won about half their home games, one of them being a road team against the Jets. Maybe it’s more of a negative for the Falcons than a positive for Giants. Playing outdoors in the crazy wind might effect Matt Ryan. Matt Ryan, who has still never won a playoff game. I look for that streak to continue. So far Ryan had appeared in two playoff games where he threw 3 touchdowns and four interceptions. He could have another long day if the Giants can get a consistent pass rush. For the Giants, Manningham could have a nice day if Grimes is still out. Plus the Giants have one of the most exciting weapons in football, Yards After the Catch CRUUUUUUUUUUUZZ!

I too am very much looking forward to this one, I just have no idea what to expect.