By Jeff Risdon
The draft order is updated as of 12/6, which includes the win by the Jacksonville Jaguars over the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football.
I’ve extended out to three rounds for this edition. Keep in mind that beyond the first 20 or so picks I’m much more interested in matching player to draft slot than team to specific player. All the comments in this version will be nothing but positive remarks on the player. I’ve been accused of being too negative at times, so in the spirit of self-improvement I’m going to be deliberately nice. Imagine REM’s Shiny Happy People playing in the background, even though that song makes me want to decapitate penguins.
As always, these picks represent what I think the given team might do in the given situation. They do not necessarily reflect the choices I personally would make in the same scenario.
1. Houston Texans: Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. Where Teddy really stands out is with his pre-snap evaluations and quick reads. His intermediate accuracy is exceptional as well. The Texans have to take a quarterback.
2. St. Louis Rams (from WAS): Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. Carr has the big arm and the confidence in it that makes him very dangerous. I see his lineage as a positive; he can draw upon his brother David’s struggles for strength and perspective. The prize for the RGIII trade gets the Rams their own franchise QB.
3. Atlanta Falcons: Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. Clowney remains a generational type of talent, with his blend of size, speed, power and instinctiveness. He’s perfect for the Falcons, an impact pass rusher for a team poised to rebound quickly.
4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Jake Matthews, T, Texas A&M. They’re in a good spot to trade (hello Cleveland!), but they can also secure the offensive tackle with the best feet of any lineman in recent times. His ability to play either side gives the building Bucs precious options.
5. Minnesota Vikings: Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA. Should he declare, Hundley offers very strong long-term potential. The Vikings have a bridge QB in place in Matt Cassel while Hundley hones his craft and learns to focus his powerful arm and intriguing athleticism.
6. Jacksonville Jaguars: Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Mr. Football improved so much from 2012 to ’13 in terms of his field vision as a passer and his ability to read a defense. He’s got a great arm and the improvisational flair that drives defenses nuts. With Jacksonville’s young weapons around him, it’s a great fit.
7. Cleveland Browns: Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon. IEO is naturally sticky in coverage and is very aggressive against the run. He and Joe Haden would provide the Browns with a very talented CB tandem, in lieu of landing yet another first-round QB. They do have the ammo to move up as high as they feel they need to if they do choose to chase a quarterback.
8. Oakland Raiders: Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. He’s a big-play receiver with strong hands and an exceptional catch radius. I love that he plays big in clutch situations, and he can create for himself after the catch. The Raiders need a dynamic presence to help Terrelle Pryor or his eventual successor.
9. Buffalo Bills: Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. Players who improve at the technical aspects of their position tend to spike in the draft, and Ebron has done that. Paired with his very impressive physical attributes, he’s going to go very high. Ebron would help E.J. Manuel ascend.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers: Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo. The versatile, polished linebacker is a perfect fit for the Steelers and their creative zone-blitz scheme. He can play inside or outside with his elite closing burst and nose for the ball.
11. New York Jets: Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. The success of similar bodies like Alshon Jeffery and Vincent Jackson will help Evans’ stock, as will his excellent body of work in prominent games. He might be the best red zone weapon in this draft, and the Jets can sorely use his ability to win contested catches.
12. Tennessee Titans: Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA. He’s still learning the intricacies of being an all-around linebacker, but Barr is already a very effective edge rusher. His ability to flatten around the corner is truly exceptional. The Titans can deploy him in rushing situations as he develops on the fly. His high ceiling could push him way up in the draft.
13. San Diego Chargers: Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. Verrett isn’t the tallest guy but he plays a lot bigger than his listed size. He possesses a real innate stickiness in man coverage, and his ball skills are very strong. The Chargers can certainly use him either in the slot or outside.
14. New York Giants: Brandon Scherff, T, Iowa. The Giants would have to count a lot of lucky stars if they wind up with Scherff. One of the qualities I cherish in offensive tackles is the ability to sustain blocks, and nobody in this class--not even Jake Matthews--does that better than the naturally powerful Hawkeye.
Editor Note: Scherff announced he will return to Iowa after this mock was created.
15. St. Louis Rams: Cameron Erving, T, Florida State. When I watched Erving early in the season I wondered what some advocates saw. He was clearly athletic but raw like sushi. When I watched him against Clemson and Florida, I saw what others were saying. He’s got a significantly higher ceiling than the man he replaced at FSU, Menelik Watson. Has some Jason Peters to him. The Rams can certainly work with that.
16. Green Bay Packers: Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame. Even in a down season for him personally, Nix’s talent is easy to see. Get him back healthy and in prime condition and the Packers have a versatile all-around cog for their amorphous front for the foreseeable future. I love the concept of him and Raji as a two-man line.
17. Chicago Bears: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. No team needs a safety more than the Bears, and Ha Ha brings loads of NFL-ready experience and savvy. I like his ability to range from a double-high look to the sideline in over-the-top coverage, and so will Bears fans.
18. Miami Dolphins: Taylor Lewan, T, Michigan. The Dolphins were dissatisfied with Jonathan Martin’s passivity. They wouldn’t have that issue with Lewan, who brings feistiness and run blocking grit to the table. His improved play down the stretch is a good sign going forward.
19. Philadelphia Eagles: Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. Already an elite return man, Gilbert rediscovered his inner ball hawk in 2013 after a strangely unproductive 2012. Long corners with ball skills and closing burst like Gilbert don’t last long in the draft, and the Eagles can insert him right into the starting lineup.
20. Arizona Cardinals: C.J. Mosley, OLB, Alabama. There isn’t much that Mosley doesn’t do very well. Some worry that his lack of a single great trait will limit him, but the athletic potential is there for growth at the next level. Cardinals fans likely want more OL help, but bolstering the defense makes them that much tougher to outscore.
21. Baltimore Ravens: Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. Dennard is my top-rated corner in this draft, and he’s ideal for an aggressive scheme like Baltimore. He has a chance to be a legit lockdown island corner, and there’s not many of those to go around. His run defense is a nice insurance bonus.
22. Detroit Lions: Davante Adams, WR, Fresno State. Adams has the length, speed and strength to make the jump from the Mountain West to the NFL. Detroit would be an ideal destination, as the Lions need him to be a complementary piece and not a featured performer, which is his best role in his early career.
23. Dallas Cowboys: Ego Ferguson, DT, LSU. Even though linemate Anthony Johnson gets more attention, Ferguson’s more consistent effort and propensity for timely impact plays. Defensive line coach Rod Marinelli would love Ego.
24. Cleveland Browns (from IND): Blake Bortles, QB, UCF. They might have to use their earlier pick to secure Bortles’ services, but here the Browns get rewarded for their patience. Some will have the strong-armed UCF signal caller as the top QB in the draft.
25. Cincinnati Bengals: David Yankey, G, Stanford. The Bengals are in the enviable position of being able to take the best talent available, and in this case that would be Yankey. He is a polished, NFL-ready guard from a strong, pro-style college offense.
26. San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt. Matthews wins not just by being bigger than the men covering him. He has a good feel for setting up moves and possessed quick feet for a tall receiver. The Niners have to keep bolstering the wideout ranks, as Anquan Boldin cannot play forever.
27. Kansas City Chiefs: Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech. There is a very real Tony Gonzalez vibe to Amaro as a receiver. He is sneaky explosive off the line, but the physical Amaro is at his best flexed out and breaking across the middle on intermediate routes and up the seam. He’d make a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s offense in KC.
28. Carolina Panthers: Antonio Richardson, T, Tennessee. “Tiny” has proven he can wall off one side of the line in pass protection. If he can develop consistency at it, the Panthers would have themselves a building block for a line that needs some stability on the right side.
29. New England Patriots: Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State. Even though he’s had a tough season, Roby still has all the physical tools that NFL coaches want in corners. He’s long, he’s quick, he’s got a short memory on mistakes and he has exceptional long speed down the field. The Patriots love to draw from Urban Meyer programs.
30. New Orleans Saints: Vic Beasley, OLB, Clemson. Adding pass rushing depth would strengthen Rob Ryan’s aggressive defense. Beasley can contribute right away as a situational rusher while he develops his overall game. I like him better as an outside linebacker than a 4-3 end.
31. Denver Broncos: Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State. One of the traits that scouts look for in a linebacker is the ability to sift thru traffic and explode to the ball. Ryan Shazier does that exceptionally well, keeping his feet clean to pursue the play. He can also blitz and cover pretty well, which gives a coach like John Fox freedom to get creative on defense.
32. Seattle Seahawks: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. Benjamin’s appearance here might surprise you, but I’ll tell you what a NFC South regional scout told me last week: don’t be surprised if the giant target winds up being the first wideout taken, should he declare.
33. Houston Texans: Shayne Skov, LB, Stanford
34. Washington Ethnic Slurs: Marqise Lee, WR, USC
35. Atlanta Falcons: Cyril Richardson, G, Baylor
36. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Cyrus Kouandjio, T, Alabama
37. Minnesota Vikings: Will Sutton, DT, Arizona State
38. Jacksonville Jaguars: Kyle Van Noy, OLB, BYU
39. Cleveland Browns: Bishop Sankey, RB, Washington
40. Oakland Raiders: Trent Murphy, DE/OLB, Stanford
41. Buffalo Bills: Cedric Ogbuehi, T, Texas A&M
42. Pittsburgh Steelers: Ahmad Dixon, S, Baylor
43. New York Jets: Gabe Jackson, G, Mississippi State
44. Tennessee Titans: Dominique Easley, DE, Florida
45. San Diego Chargers: A.J. McCarron, QB, Alabama
46. New York Giants: Travis Frederick, C, Arkansas
47. St. Louis Rams: Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
48. Green Bay Packers: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa
49. Chicago Bears: Kelcy Quarles, DT, South Carolina
50. Miami Dolphins: Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
51. Philadelphia Eagles: Jack Mewhort, T, Ohio State
52. Arizona Cardinals: Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, Eastern Illinois
53. Baltimore Ravens: Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State
54. Detroit Lions: Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
55. Dallas Cowboys: Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson
56. Cincinnati Bengals: Trevor Reilly, OLB/DE, Utah
57. Indianapolis Colts: Michael Sam, DE/OLB, Missouri
58. San Francisco 49ers: Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
59. San Francisco 49ers (from KC): Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Washington
60. Carolina Panthers: Paul Richardson, WR, Colorado
61. New England Patriots: Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
62. New Orleans Saints: James Hurst, T, North Carolina
63. Denver Broncos: DaQuan Jones, DT, Penn State
64. Seattle Seahawks: Terrence Brooks, S, Florida State
65. Houston Texans: Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
66. Washington Ethnic Slurs: Xavier Su’a-Filo, OL, UCLA
67. Atlanta Falcons: Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
68. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech
69. Minnesota Vikings: Aaron Colvin, CB, Oklahoma
70. Jacksonville Jaguars: Zack Martin, G/T, Notre Dame
71. Cleveland Browns: Juwan James, T, Tennessee
72. Oakland Raiders: Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
73. Buffalo Bills: Jackson Jeffcoat, OLB, Texas
74. Cleveland Browns (from PIT): Craig Loston, S, LSU
75. New York Jets: Jarvis Landry, WR, LSU
76. San Francisco 49ers (from TEN): Tyler Larsen, C, Utah State
77. San Diego Chargers: Seantrel Henderson, T, Miami FL
78. New York Giants: E.J. Gaines, CB, Missouri
79. St. Louis Rams: Odell Backham Jr., WR, LSU
80. Green Bay Packers: Dion Bailey, S, USC
81. Chicago Bears: Keith McGill, CB, Utah
82. Miami Dolphins: Charles Sims, RB, West Virginia
83. Philadelphia Eagles: Terrance Mitchell, CB, Oregon
84. Arizona Cardinals: Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
85. Baltimore Ravens: Zach Mettenberger, QB, LSU
86. Detroit Lions: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, CB, Nebraska
87. Dallas Cowboys: Telvin Smith, OLB, Florida State
88. Cincinnati Bengals: David Fales, QB, San Jose State
89. Indianapolis Colts: Robert Herron, WR, Wyoming
90. San Francisco 49ers: La’El Collins, T, LSU
91. Kansas City Chiefs: Louchiez Purifoy, CB, Florida
92. Carolina Panthers: Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri
93. New England Patriots: De’Anthony Thomas, OW, Oregon
94. New Orleans Saints: Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State
95. Denver Broncos: Pierre Desir, CB, Lindenwood
96. Minnesota Vikings (from SEA): Calvin Barnett, DT, Oklahoma State
Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
It was one of the most thrilling weekends of football in memory. A Saturday filled with high-flying college championships set the table for a truly amazing Sunday. Snowy fields, crazy comebacks, prolific scoring, and some egregious officiating made this one of the most memorable Sundays in NFL history.
$.01--The San Francisco 49ers pumped the breaks on the Seattle Seahawks’ hype train with a hard-fought 19-17 win. The Niners won the game thanks to an outstanding late drive, catapulted by Frank Gore’s 51-yard run that erased any doubt about San Francisco’s toughness up front.
This game says more about the power of the 49ers than it does creating any doubts about the Seahawks. The Niners simply do not lose at home to NFC West opponents, something they haven’t done in more than five years. Seattle was merely the latest victim, albeit a very prominent one.
Gore will garner the headlines for his show-stopping run, but the San Francisco defense played a major role in the win. They harangued Russell Wilson with repeated pressure, holding the MVP candidate to 178 yards while picking him off once and sacking him twice. Seattle had just two good drives on the day, and their first three possessions of the second half came up critically empty.
Seattle was game, but the Niners do not back down from the intimidation tactics the Seahawks deploy like no other. There was constant post-whistle activity, resulting in 16 combined penalties. Chris Cluff of the Examiner wrote on Twitter that the two teams have combined for 38 penalties in their two games.
Don’t fret at the loss, Seahawks fans. The Niners are monsters at home and desperately needed the win. Seattle still sits comfortably atop the powerful NFC West in full control of home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. All this game did was show that the 49ers probably represent the best chance to knock them off come January.
$.02--In the other marquee game of the weekend, the New Orleans Saints plastered the surging Carolina Panthers in the Sunday night affair. Drew Brees was coolly efficient and precise, carving up the vaunted Carolina defense for 313 yards and four TDs in New Orleans’ convincing 31-13 home win. Brees became the fastest player to 50,000 career passing yards in the process.
The Saints' defense was equally impressive, if not more. New Orleans stymied Cam Newton with various blitzes from various formations and looks, pressuring the big quarterback from multiple angles. The back end covered better than they have been recently, and the Panthers could not get anything going. They did a very good job deploying a Cam spy, preventing Newton from breaking off big chunks of yardage. They were physical with the Panthers receivers, throwing off timing and keeping them from getting clean routes. Pass rusher Junior Gallette was dominant against the right side of the Panthers line, bagging three sacks.
This was a big rebound game for the Saints, who were embarrassed in Seattle on Monday night. They proved the better team despite traveling across the country on an abbreviated week, albeit for a home game. They remain unblemished within the NFC South and improved to 8-1 in the NFC. That is critical, because even if the Panthers win the rematch in Charlotte in two weeks the Saints will still hold the tiebreaker.
The Panthers saw their 8-game winning streak snapped in inglorious fashion, but only a fool would count them out. This game got away from them early, proving that perhaps they weren’t quite ready to make the next step into the NFC elite. But now they’ve seen the level they need to get to, and the talent is in place to ascend to that level.
$.03--For most of the afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens and Minnesota Vikings struggled to do much of anything positive in the sloppy snow in the Inner Harbor. At the end of the third quarter, Baltimore led 7-6. The longest drive of the game produced just 45 yards, and there had been 10 three-and-outs.
Even late into the fourth quarter, it really wasn’t much of a game. The Vikings were holding a 12-7 lead before the Ravens scored with 2:05 remaining on a Joe Flacco-to-Dennis Pitta touchdown on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. That’s when all hell broke loose and a staid game turned into one of the most thrilling, video game-like finishes in NFL history.
Flacco followed up the touchdown with a two-point conversion to Torrey Smith to put the Ravens up 15-12. Minnesota returned fire quickly. Two plays were all that they needed to jump back on top. A strike from Matt Cassel to Jerome Simpson moved them into Ravens territory, and backup RB Toby Gerhart took it the last 41 yards on his own. The extra point put the Vikings back on top 18-15 with 1:27 remaining.
Jacoby Jones only needed 11 seconds to give the lead back to Baltimore. He returned the ensuing kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown, barely staying inbounds along the way. The cold fans who gutted out a boring, frozen slogfest for 57 minutes were suddenly breathless with excitement. But wait, there’s more!
Minnesota, ironically the team not used to playing in the snow, struck back with a vengeance. Cassel hit rookie wideout Cordarrelle Patterson with a fairly innocuous bubble screen, but Patterson made it lethal for Baltimore. He weaved around, through and past the entire Ravens defense for a 79-yard touchdown. The thrilled fans were now frozen in shock as the Vikings retook the lead 26-22 with just 45 seconds left on the clock.
Surely the Vikings could prevent the Ravens from scoring another touchdown. No they could not, and please stop calling me Shirley. A questionable pass interference call on Chad Greenway wiped out an interception that would have sealed it. Flacco found Pitta for 18 yards to set up 1st-and-goal with 10 seconds left as the Ravens burned their final timeout.
On the next play, Flacco found Marlon Brown sneaking just inside the back of the end zone for a tough catch below the goalpost. Touchdown Ravens, the fifth touchdown in the final 2:06 of play.
The amazing output set a number of NFL records, all of these cited per Elias. Most lead changes in the final two minutes. Most points scored in the final three minutes. First game ever with six lead changes in the fourth quarter.
The thrilling victory improved the Ravens to 7-6 and put them in temporary possession of the second Wild Card spot in the topsy-turvy AFC. If they do in fact make the playoffs, they can look back at this unbelievable game in the snow as the catalyst.
$.04--The Houston Texans finally put an end to the Gary Kubiak era. After Thursday night’s loss to the (perceived) lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, owner Bob McNair pulled the plug on his longtime head coach.
The final nail in the coffin, per a team source I’ve used extensively, was Kubiak’s waffling on the quarterback issue. When he inserted Matt Schaub into the game for a struggling Case Keenum, Kubiak essentially admitted he was desperately trying to win a game against a team the owner considers vastly inferior…and it didn’t work. Schaub, as is his custom, threw a terrible interception, though for once this year it wasn’t returned for a touchdown.
Wade Philips takes over as interim coach, but he’s strictly a bridge until the end of the season. The precipitous fall-off of the back end of his defense is a big reason why the Texans have lost 11 in a row. The best player in the secondary is probably rookie safety D.J. Swearinger, but he’s a penalty waiting to erupt after any given play. Corners Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson have declined, while nickelback Brice McCain has fallen to Hinder-level schlock.
Going forward, whomever takes over the Texans has a shot at a quick turnaround. They almost certainly will have the first pick in the draft, giving the new coach the ability to bring in the new franchise quarterback of his choosing. The offensive line should rebound with good health, and if Brian Cushing can come back (again) the defense will look a lot better. They still have J.J. Watt, in the midst of one of the greatest stretches of impact defensive play in NFL history.
Early names bandied about include Kevin Sumlin of nearby Texas A&M, Stanford’s David Shaw, Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, and NFL coordinators like Jay Gruden, Pep Hamilton and former Bears coach Lovie Smith. One name prominently mentioned but quickly rebuffed by folks who would know is Washington’s Mike Shanahan. As Lance Zeirlein and other Texans media folks have stated, that is an obvious plant by the Shanahan camp to try and leverage a landing spot once he’s fired from Washington…
$.05--…which is going to be very, very soon. Many reports, including this excellent one from Mark Maske of the Washington Post, surfaced on Sunday that the relationship between Shanahan and owner Daniel Snyder is broken beyond repair.
It does not appear coincidental that the Ethnic Slurs played their worst game in a long time on the same day all these stories surfaced. Washington was annihilated 45-10 by Kansas City. The Chiefs led 31-0 after a little over 20 minutes of play when Dexter McCluster returned a punt 74 yards for a touchdown. Once again, Washington was inferior in all three phases of the game.
That reflects back on Shanahan, who prides himself on his management skills and control over detail. When nothing is going right on the field, the buck stops at his spacious office. Yet it’s not the complete on-field ineptitude which will likely spell the end of Shanahan in Washington.
The biggest straw in the camel humps is his fractious relationship with quarterback Robert Griffin III. RG3 is clearly a Snyder favorite, a charismatic talent with amazing potential that may or may not be being hindered by poor coaching. The Ethnic Slurs mortgaged the house on RG3, and if Shanahan can’t work well with the franchise, he’s no longer part of the franchise plan.
I agree with John Keim of ESPN and others--if Snyder knows he’s going to fire Shanahan at the end of the season, he might as well fire him now. Call Shanahan’s poorly choreographed bluff on the Houston front and send him packing. The owner himself has clearly chosen to side with Griffin. I would caution Snyder about giving his star too much input on the hiring front, however; Griffin’s Baylor coach Art Briles will be a tempting option, but this team needs someone with NFL experience and a willingness to simultaneously get along with Griffin but also keep him (and Snyder) from dominating the franchise.
$.06-- Fans of the Cleveland have to wonder what minor deity they offended on Sunday to cost them a sure victory over the New England Patriots. The Browns led 26-14 with just over a minute to go, and the Patriots had no timeouts.
Somehow, the Browns managed to lose 27-26. They got some help from the officials with an iffy pass interference call in the end zone to set up the game-winning score. My first reaction was that it was a weak call, but when I saw the angle form the vantage point of the official who threw the flag, I see why he called it. Cleveland also helped out quite a bit, bumbling away the onside kick which preceded the questionable play. Stephen Gostkowski’s kick didn’t travel 10 yards, but Fozzy Whitaker’s attempt at recovering it for Cleveland was as lame as Fozzy Bear jokes from The Muppets Take Manhattan.
The Browns wasted another amazing effort from wideout Josh Gordon. He hauled in another 7 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown. In the process, he set the NFL record for most receiving yards over a 4-game period, with an eye-popping 774. Those four games alone would rank him 24th in the NFL in receiving yards after 13 games. He’s scored touchdowns of at least 70 yards in three of Cleveland’s last four games. Just to top things off, Gordon also led the Browns in rushing with a 34-yard scamper.
Cleveland remains so close, and yet so far. Their defense gave up almost 500 yards to Tom Brady & Co., who accrued 30 first downs and ran 49 plays in the second half to Cleveland’s 32. Jason Campbell returned at quarterback and played well, but not quite well enough. Give this group some time, Cleveland fans, because the young core of the team is solid and Gordon is a legit star. It’s hard to be patient in the land of “Wait Til Next Year”, but the Browns are closer to playoff success than either the Cavaliers or Indians going forward.
$.07--As I wrote about last week, I was at the Ohio State-Michigan game. Even in victory, it was painfully obvious for all of the Buckeye nation that the scarlet and grey needed to play better to hang with Michigan State.
Guess what happened on the way to an inevitable loss to Florida State in the BCS Title game? The same Buckeyes from the Big House showed up at Lucas Oil Field and Michigan State proved us prophetic. Sparty spurted out to a 17-0 lead, sputtered sharply as Ohio State scored 24 in a row, then soared from a 24-17 deficit to a sweet 34-24 victory.
The more complete team won. Michigan State handled the pressure more adeptly, and Mark Dantonio outcoached Urban Meyer. Even the failed onside kick was a coaching point victory for Sparty. Michigan State was more prepared and poised, but what stood out was their hunger. They desperately wanted to win, while the Buckeyes almost seemed like their coronation was a matter of fact.
I’ve had the chance to watch just about every Michigan State game this season. Just as I knew they would beat Ohio State, I’m telling everyone right now that they will also beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. The Cardinal win (sidebar--when the moniker isn’t plural how do you make the noun and verb tense agree?) by being the more physical and disciplined team. But they’re not going to out-physical the Spartans, and the MSU defense is the best in the country, period. Congrats to all the Spartans for winning the final season of the Big Ten as we know it.
1. Congrats to Denver kicker Matt Prater for setting the NFL record for the longest field goal in NFL history. Prater nailed a 64-yarder as the first half expired to break the record held by three others. There was little doubt from the moment the ball boomed off his foot. I wonder if he gets bonus fantasy points for breaking the record?
2. The Arizona Cardinals slammed the door on a cadre of teams’ mathematical playoff hopes when they slammed the Rams. Their win elevated the Cardinals to 8-5, thus eliminating the Rams, Giants and Buccaneers. It was a costly win, however, as dynamic rookie cornerback Tyrann Mathieu was lost for the season with a torn ACL. That won’t help Arizona in their chasing of San Francisco for a Wild Card spot, but it’s still too early to count them out.
3. There was much ado on Twitter about Rob Gronkowski’s ugly leg injury on a deliberately low hit from Cleveland safety T.J. Ward. I am firmly in the camp that the NFL is forcing plays like this with their over-the-top emphasis on contact above the shoulders and repeated terrible calls resulting from such vigilance. It stinks for Gronk and the Patriots, but Ward really had no better option.
4. Sunday set a record for most touchdowns scored in a NFL day when the Saints scored just before halftime. It was the 88th TD of the week. The only team that failed to score a touchdown was the Buffalo Bills, who lost 27-6 to Tampa despite allowing just 90 yards passing. Four E.J. Manuel INTs and seven sacks cost the Bills dearly.
5. In a day with many exciting finishes, none was crazier than the final play of the Pittsburgh/Miami game. The Steelers ran the hook and ladder, with a mix of the Stanford/Cal band play and the Music City Miracle for good measure. Amazingly, it worked. Except wideout Antonio Brown stepped out of bounds at the 10-yard line on his way to the game-winning score. He was not forced out, but his foot did indeed encroach the snowy sideline. The loss all but eliminated the Steelers from playoff contention.
Lots of seniors are accepting invitations to the postseason bowl games which serve as major draft evaluation opportunities. I will be covering both the Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl in person once again. Here are a few players I’m excited to evaluate live, and my initial thoughts on them.
Weston Richburg, C, Colorado State (Senior Bowl)--One of my favorites in a very deep center class, Richburg fits in the Alex Mack mold of pivots: lean build but with crazy athleticism and surprising base strength. He beats defenders by being quicker and understanding leverage and angles inside out. He is exceptional at turning the shoulders of a defensive tackle to create an A-gap running lane and at sustaining the block. His pass protection is solid, and he’s savvy on line calls. My biggest knocks: he winds up on his knees too much, and he doesn’t always find targets at the second level even though he’s out there quickly. He’d make a great replacement for Dominic Raiola in Detroit.
Jeremy Gallon, WR, Michigan (Shrine Game)--He was a big play machine against Ohio State, showcasing his ability to operate in space and his excellent agility. Gallon projects to the NFL as a slot receiver, but could get a shot as more of an offensive weapon-type of player; he can take toss sweeps and end-arounds, and he should get a shot at returning kicks and punts as well. He’s skinny and gets overpowered by more physical corners, however, and during the Nebraska and Michigan State games he was a detriment as a blocker.
Stephen Morris, QB, Miami FL (Shrine Game)--Morris is a player I wanted to like a lot more than I do after watching a few games. There are times, prolonged times even, where Morris looks like a legitimate NFL starter. He has arm strength to spare, and he can buy time for himself with his feet. However, Morris is prone to wild inaccuracy. Even on many completions he makes his receivers work for the catch. I’m not sure there is enough upside to merit the patience needed to perhaps coax it out, but a strong week in St. Pete could elevate him.
Jack Mewhort, T, Ohio State (Senior Bowl)--If a Buckeye player can be under the radar, Mewhort is that guy. He’s quietly emerged into the second tier of tackles in a class which has a great deal of potential but no real ordination at this point. In apples to apples comparison, he was better than the more heralded Taylor Lewan against Michigan State and Nebraska. His footwork and natural balance allow him to handle both speed and power off the edge, though he doesn’t always sustain blocks well.
$.10--This is for all my fellow Ohio Bobcats, and let it serve as a public service announcement for broadcasters everywhere.
Ohio State is not Ohio.
They are Buckeyes. We are Bobcats.
They play in the Big Ten, which will now have 14 teams. We play in the Mid-American Conference, which has 12 teams. They are in a conference with Illinois and Michigan. WE are in a conference with Northern Illinois and Eastern, Central and Western Michigan.
Their home is in Columbus. We are located in Athens. They’re just 75 miles apart but demographically the two locales are foreign countries.
When you say “Michigan State beat Ohio”, you’re wrong. They beat Ohio State. Our Bobcats struggled to a 7-5 record under Frank Solich, who once coached Nebraska. He also once passed out in a car facing the wrong way on Court Street in Athens. In Columbus, people would freak out at that, but in Athens that sort of thing happens to someone just about every night.
Many of us Bobcats root for Ohio State football because our own program was so downtrodden for so long. In my first four years there (1990-94) we went 7-35-2 and three of those wins were against I-AA teams. We’ve found success recently, but most of us have a major program we pull for in addition to our Bobcats…but only in football. We’re just fine in basketball and volleyball on our own, thank you.
So stop being lazy, inconsiderate and incorrect when referring to the Buckeyes as “Ohio”. The real Ohio is the reason why the Buckeyes call themselves THE Ohio State University.
San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
Last Week: 12-4, a good Thanksgiving weekend all around. 125-67-1 on the season.
Gambling Update: Yeah, about that…I wagered 1500 Uzbek som across four games over the weekend. Every single one of those was a loser. Fortunately a recent hot streak had given me enough bankroll to keep my kneecaps intact, but it remains a harsh lesson that my gambling strategy just isn’t working out too well.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (+3): This game serves as a reality check for the Case Keenum advocates in Houston. Many in my former domicile really like the UH Cougars product, but he’s yet to win a game this year. If he cannot lead the Texans to a win here, there’s really no question that he’s never going to be more than a backup. Methinks the locals love him because he’s not Matt Schaub. Well, indeed he is not. As much as Houston fans have completely turned on the deposed starter, he did lead the team to the playoffs two years in a row. Now you’re cheering for a backup playing out the string for a team that has lost 10 in a row.
The Jaguars have won three of the last four, somehow. They have yet to throw for 300 yards in a game, and they remain 32nd in both scoring offense and point differential. One of those wins came in Houston, holding the punchless Texans to 218 total yards. Houston played its best game of the year last week in nearly beating New England, but I’m not sure they have another effort like that in them. However, I think JJ Watt can win this game by himself. He might have to.
Texans 17, Jaguars 16
Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints (-3.5): Even though this game is a critical NFC South matchup between two Super Bowl hopefuls, the biggest key to this game is the Seattle Seahawks. Why? Well, consider that opponents who faced Seattle the week before have not won a single game this year.
You might recall Monday night, where the Seahawks absolutely destroyed the Saints 34-7. Now New Orleans has to travel back home on a short week, made shorter by their team plane being delayed out of Sea-Tac. The Seahawks are so physical that it lingers for teams. Now the Saints have an abbreviated recovery time to play another very physical team in Carolina.
I’m going to ride this angle all the way home. The Saints at home deserve to be favored, and I actually expect them to win. But I’m siding with the bizarre intangible.
Panthers 27, Saints 24
Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5): The playoff implications are huge in this meeting of 7-5 teams. With a win, the Lions go a very long way towards wrapping up the first NFC North title in franchise history. Meanwhile, the Eagles are on the outside looking in right now. They are tied with the Cowboys atop the NFC East but Dallas holds the tiebreaker as of now, though those teams meet in Week 17 in what sure seems like a winner-take-all game. But the Eagles also can improve their Wild Card chances with a win.
I broke this game down for Bleacher Report, and in my extensive studying for this matchup I can honestly say this game is a tossup. I suspect that if these teams played 100 times they would split the wins at 50, I really do. Turnovers and red zone conversions figure to be the deciding factors, but those are darn near impossible to forecast. I lean towards the Eagles at home, in no small part because Detroit’s inconsistency scares the hell out of me.
Eagles 37, Lions 33
Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers (-2.5): After taking down the mighty Saints, the Seahawks head south to try to wrap up the NFC West title. It will not be easy, as the Niners are playing better recently.
The key to beating Seattle is to make them one dimensional on offense, and if the Niners can jam up Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin they have a chance. Russell Wilson continues to astonish with his ability to pull rabbits out of hats, but the San Francisco defense can snuff those bunnies.
I think we're going to see the reigning NFC Champions show their cliched "heart of a champion." I think the Seahawks are the better overall team, but the best team doesn't always win.
49ers 26, Seahawks 24
Indianapolis Colts at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5): Welcome to the Jungle, Andrew Luck. It’s not going to be fun and games for you, certainly not when the random accurate passes you actually throw bounce off Darrius Heyward-Bey or TY Hilton. But the bigger issue for Indy here is that they do not match up well with the Cincinnati defensive front. Even without Geno Atkins in the middle, the Bengals front seven remains formidable. The Colts OL is average on its best day, and the running game puts too much in Luck’s basket. There’s only so much he can do.
Bengals 24, Colts 17
Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers (-3): The NFL fined Steelers coach Mike Tomlin $100K for his (alleged) unintentional interference with Jacoby Jones’ kick return up the sideline in Pittsburgh’s Thanksgiving night loss. I think the NFL got this right, and it should be the end of the story. There is no need to dock the Steelers any draft picks. This error was on Tomlin and Tomlin alone. It’s not the team’s fault that he ignored the “get back” guy that every team employs to keep coaches and players from venturing too close to the field of play. It didn’t ultimately impact the outcome of the game. Ball don’t lie, and the Steelers lost. That and the monetary fine on Tomlin is enough punishment.
Steelers 23, Dolphins 10 for 500 som
Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots (-10): Ah yes, the whole “Belichick in Cleveland” era revisited. Those were some good times. Metcalf up the middle. Dumping local legend Bernie Kosar and his “diminishing skills” for Vinny Testaverde. Kicking a late field goal against Miami to close the gap to two touchdowns, instead of going for the touchdown to close it to a touchdown and a field goal. Trumpeting Touchdown Tommy Vardell as a top 10 pick, and then giving him the ball about six times a game.
One of the forgotten figments of that time is that Cleveland’s defensive coordinator for some of Belichick’s tenure was none other than Nick Saban. The best coach in the NFL over the last 15 years had the best college coach of the last 25 years on the staff and yet the Browns still struggled to four losing seasons in five years.
Patriots 21, Browns 13
Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5): Just when everyone thought the Bucs were on the rise, they get unceremoniously thumped by the Panthers. Just when everyone thought the Bill might have some playoff vitality, they get trumped by the 2-9 Falcons in front of a half-filled stadium in Toronto. Tis better to lose to a good NFC South team than a bad one. Also, look for a huge day from Gerald McCoy rushing the passer between the tackles for Tampa.
Buccaneers 27, Bills 17 for 250 som
Oakland Raiders at New York Jets (-2.5): Why is it that these teams seemingly meet every season? I realize this is a perceived sexy matchup because of the legendary “Heidi” game. Here’s another matchup that was once incredibly sexy--Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill. The ‘70s seem so very long ago…
Raiders 16, Jets 12
Kansas City Chiefs at Washington Redskins (+3.5): This game will be a great litmus test for the Chiefs. They’ve lost three in a row since their 9-0 start, and they have to hit the road. They should beat up the Ethnic Slurs, but their defense has got to play better than it has recently.
I do think the Kansas City offense will find more success than they have in the losing streak. Washington’s defense, while improving, is still closer to the fire hydrant than the pit bull. If Andy Reid cannot guide his team past what appears to be a vastly inferior opponent, it is certain that the Chiefs peaked early. They’ll still make the playoffs even with a loss here, but if they can’t win in Washington, there’s no way the Chiefs can win a game in January.
Chiefs 24, Ethnic Slurs 20
Minnesota Vikings at Baltimore Ravens (-7.5): Do not sleep on the Minnesota Vikings in this one! They are playing well lately, going 2-1-1 in the last month. The Minnesota offense appears best in the hands of Matt Cassel, who will start in Baltimore. Adrian Peterson is still awesome and amazingly looks fresh this late in the season.
The Ravens are also playing their best football, however, having won three of four to vault themselves into the final Wild Card spot in the AFC. Their offense has been freakishly consistent; in the last three weeks they have gained 317, 312 and 311 yards. The Vikings are surrendering 433 yards per game over the same time, and they give up the big plays that Baltimore thrives on in the passing game.
Ravens 30, Vikings 24
Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers (-7): This one is real simple. If Aaron Rodgers is not playing, and all the signs are pointing to him missing another week with his broken collarbone, the Green Bay Packers are not seven points better than anyone. Not even the downtrodden Falcons, who strangely are getting healthier as Sean Weatherspoon, Steven Jackson and Roddy White all look closer to 100 percent than at any point so far. The cold weather is probably enough to allow the Packers to squeak by, but it’s not a given.
As for the issue of whether the Packers should shut Rodgers down for the season, I say heck no! To quote Herm Edwards from before we all realized he’s a slogan-shouting lunatic, “You play to win the game”. Considering Green Bay hasn’t won without Rodgers, it’s pretty clear they’re not playing to win games if they sideline him after he’s ready to return. Collarbones are six week injuries, always have been and always will be. This is the last week he should miss, Green Bay fans. Keep your fingers crossed that the team around him plays better than they did against Detroit.
Packers 23, Falcons 21 for 250 som
Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos (-13): This game is a stinker, so I’ll talk instead about something else that appears to be an impending stinker. "Anchorman 2". No movie that tries this hard to promote itself has any chance of being good. I thought the first Anchorman tried way too hard and is terribly overrated. The contrived plot--if you can discern an actual plot--and the egregious overacting washed out the handful of humorous moments. I’ll admit that some of Ron Burgundy’s prodigious promotional spots are funny, but why pay to watch the movie when you’ve already seen Will Ferrell at his best? Burgundy’s spontaneity is his best quality, but that will be lost in what figures to be an overwritten, overwrought script. At the minimum, save it for home viewing instead of forking out $12 to see it in a crowded theater three months after the promotions began.
Broncos 38, Titans 23
New York Giants at San Diego Chargers (-3): A savvy reader (Hi Jacob!) emailed me to point out that I’m now 2-10 in picking Chargers games this year. I don’t have the time to verify that inglorious statistic, but I don’t doubt it; these Chargers have me completely flummoxed. So in that vein, I’m making this pick as a contrarian. My initial inclination for this game was that the Giants passing offense will overwhelm San Diego’s leaky pass defense, and Andre Brown would put up more yards on the ground than the Danny Woodhead/Ryan Mathews duo. In my mind, New York wins 28-20.
Chargers 28, Giants 20
St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals (-6): This is an under-the-radar matchup that deserves more prominence. The Cardinals remain very much alive in the NFC playoff race even after the tough loss to Philadelphia, and their defense at home is very tough. In the last four home games, the Cardinals have given up an average of 277 yards and have forced 8 turnovers.
On the flip side, the St. Louis pass rush is outstanding and the Cardinals offensive line, not so much. Carson Palmer is not nearly as effective when under pressure, and he figures to have Robert Quinn and Chris Long in his face a lot. The problem for the Rams is that the vaunted corner duo of Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins is not playing well this year. They seem to alternate good games between them, but the guy on the bad week is often really bad. I like the emergence of Michael Floyd opposite Larry Fitzgerald to exploit the one having a bad game. I do think the Rams get a defensive score in this one, but I also think the Cardinals defense can hold on just enough to secure the win.
Cardinals 24, Rams 21 for 250 som
Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears (-1): Three reasons I like the Cowboys to win on the road:
1. Getting Sean Lee back in the middle of the defense is huge. He’s one of the best inside backers in the game, and his ability in coverage helps take away the middle of the field.
2. The Bears offensive line is declining week by week. Even though the Dallas front four isn’t great as a whole, one quarter of that front is Demarcus Ware. That’s a problem.
3. There is no way on God’s green Earth that Chris Conte and Major Wright, the Chicago safeties, have any prayer of handling Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Demarco Murray.
Cowboys 33, Bears 27
Pittsburgh -3 for 500
Atlanta +7 for 250
Tampa Bay -2.5 for 250
St. Louis +6 for 250
This is championship weekend in college football, with a great slate of games to watch. They will be heavily represented in this week’s $.10.
MAC Championship: Northern Illinois 30, Bowling Green 27
B1G Championship: Michigan State 20, Ohio State 17
Pac-12 Championship: Arizona State 24, Stanford 21
SEC Championship: Missouri 32, Auburn 20
CUSA Championship: Rice 33, Marshall 28
ACC Championship: Florida State 30, Duke 10
Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, IQ
The Seahawks delivered a huge statement with their win over the Saints while essentially locking up homefield advantage.
On the Broncos separating from the Chiefs, Lions taking control of the NFC North, Panthers/49ers all but locked into the Wild Card, Mike Tomlin, Nick Saban and more.
The Saints travel to Seattle with control of the NFC on the line, a quick rematch of Broncos/Chiefs, Thanksgiving's tripleheader and more.
The 49ers reestablished as a contender with their convincing victory over the Redskins, while the Patriots have a great argument as the best team in the AFC.
Another victory for Tom Brady over Peyton Manning, a late comeback by Tony Romo, disarray in the NFC North and the bottom of the AFC picture, and more.
Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews, Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota comprise the top-4, while D'Anthon Thomas drops significantly.