2016 Week 3 NFL Picks


Is Trevor Siemian ready for his first road test as the starting quarterback of the Denver Broncos?


Bad News For The NFL


It’s no secret that the last two decades in the National Football League have seen the New England Patriots become the gold standard of the league. Over that span the Patriots have won seven AFC Championships and four Super Bowl Titles. And you have to go back to 2000 to find the last time that New England finished an NFL season with a losing season. The Pats have been successful that even their non-playoff seasons have been amazing as they went 11-5 in 2008, but were unable to advance to the postseason.

The Patriots entered the current National Football League season with a huge cloud of uncertainty hanging over them. Starting quarterback Tom Brady is serving a four-game suspension for his alleged role in “Deflategate” as this was expected to hinder the Patriots chances of success. Aside from Brady, Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski missed the first two games with a hamstring injury, while defensive end Rob Ninkovich is serving a four-game suspension as a result of testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, and middle linebacker Donta Hightower has been slowed by injuries as well. And whereas these issues would slow down most NFL teams, the Patriots continue to go about it as business as usual.

What has helped New England have success is that they know how to begin a season on the right foot as they have not dropped their opener since 2003. However that streak was expected to come to an end when they traveled to meet the Arizona Cardinals to begin the current National Football League season.

After the Cardinals made the NFC Championship Game this past January, they are expected by many people (myself included) to represent the conference this February at Super Bowl 51 which meant that the Patriots were more than likely to be facing an uphill battle when they met a few weeks ago.

However the Patriots would seize control of the game on their very first drive when Brady’s replacement in Jimmy Garoppolo led the offense on an eight play, 74-yard drive that was capped off when he found wide receiver Chris Hogan on a 37-yard touchdown drive to give New England the early 7-0 lead. The Patriots would go on to defeat the Cardinals 23-21, and the offense didn’t skip a beat with Garoppolo as he was 24-of-33 passing for 264 yards and a touchdown. And when it was all said and done, you could see that the Pats were ready to rally around their young quarterback.

This past Sunday the Patriots hosted the Miami Dolphins whom they were eager to put into chase mode. The first two New England drives resulted in touchdowns as Garoppolo connected on scoring passes to wide receiver Danny Amendola, and tight end Martellus Bennett respectively. The Pats jumped out to a 24-0 lead, but all was not good for them as Garoppolo would suffer a sprained shoulder when he was hit by Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. The Patriots would have to finish the game with rookie Jacoby Brissett at quarterback, but they would hold on to defeat Miami 31-24.

The odds were really against the Patriots heading into Week 3 as they were set to host the Houston Texans and their ferocious defense which is led by defensive end J.J. Watt who is the reigning National Football League’s Defensive Player of the Year. The Pats would have to prepare for the Texans on a short week as this game would be played last night. New England also had to find a way to get Brissett ready for the first start of his professional career with Garoppolo unable to go, and Brady still suspended.

But just like the Patriots did in their first two games of the year, they jumped on the Texans early as they led 10-0 after the first quarter. The Pats first touchdown was the result of Brissett’s legs as he scampered 27 yards on a naked bootleg for the score. The Patriots would go on to dominate the Texans in each phase of the game for the convincing 27-0 victory. Now the Patriots are 3-0, and with Brady set to return in two weeks, the rest of the National Football League is on notice.

The Patriots were supposed to be struggling right now which was the result that National Football League owner Roger Goodell was seeking when some of the team owners forced his hand to drop the hammer on Brady for something that most people don’t care about. Along with Brady’s suspension, the Patriots had to forfeit draft picks, including their first-round pick this past April. But whereas these moves could hinder another organization, the Patriots are the best at making sweet lemonade out of sour lemons.

Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick has been the Patriots head coach since 2000 and whereas most people think that the main reason for his success has been Brady, it has been due to his ability to adjust. When the Patriots won their first Super Bowl back in January 2002, the backbone of the team was a defense that was led by linebackers Willie McGinest and Tedy Bruschi. Brady would continue to evolve as a quarterback which helped New England win consecutive Super Bowls in 2003 and 2004. En route to becoming the first and only team in National Football League history to go 16-0 in the regular season in 2007, the Patriots employed an offense for the ages which featured wide receivers Wes Welker and Randy Moss. Defenses around the league began to catch up to the Patriots penchant to throw the deep ball and in 2010, New England would go to a different passing game that focused on two tight end sets with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, along smaller wide receivers such as Julian Edelman. And even when Hernandez was arrested in 2013 for murder, the Patriots didn’t skip a beat.

Since 2001, the Patriots regular season record is 185-58, and once you compare that to another National Football League team such as the Cleveland Browns who are 82-160 over the same stretch, it simply comes down to stability within the organization, talent development, putting personnel is the best spot to succeed, and overall execution.

We always hear about the “Patriot Way” under Belichick which simply consists of “doing your job”. Belichick doesn’t put his players in situations where they can’t succeed as he only asks them to do what he assigned them to do. Defensively the Patriots are full of interchangeable parts which is highlighted by Devin McCourty making the move from cornerback to free safety and Ninkovich lining up at numerous positions within the front seven. And as the names may change on the back of the jerseys for the Patriots, the success is still there which is a credit to Belichick. You can also see that on offense for New England as well as Garoppolo wasn’t asked to be Brady, but simply no try to be a hero. And the game plan was altered last night for Brissett who was just 11-of-19 passing for 103 yards, but the most important stat was that he didn’t have any turnovers.

Following last night’s victory over the Texans, Belichick tied Curly Lambeau for fourth place on the National Football League’s all-time wins list for head coaches and he now only trails Don Shula, George Halas, and Tom Landry. But unlike these other legends, Belichick is doing it in an era that has been defined by the salary cap and free agency which comes back to his ability to adjust.

Tom Brady

And whereas most people were talking about the Patriots going 1-3 or 2-2 without Brady, they could now be 4-0 without him following their home game against the Buffalo Bills next Sunday in spite of the fact that Brissett suffered a torn ligament in his thumb last night. The Pats are clearly the team to beat in the AFC East and along with the Denver Broncos and Pittsburgh Steelers, they are the class of the conference. There is a consensus around that doesn’t like the Patriots due to what has been perceived as cheating, but the more that they are accused about it, the better they get, and they are once again about to emerge from another potentially bad situation smelling like a rose.


Rewriting The Book On Futility


Believe it or not there was a time when the Cleveland Browns were the envy of the National Football League. The Browns began in the All-American Football Conference in 1946 before both leagues merged in 1950. In the Browns first ten years of existence, they played in ten title games which saw them win the AAFC Title four times, and the NFL Championship on three occasions. What helped the Browns was their leadership at the two important positions on the field as they were coached by Paul Brown and Otto Graham was their quarterback. It also didn’t hurt that the Browns also had future Hall of Famers such as running back Jim Brown and offensive lineman Lou Groza suiting up for them then as they were very close to unstoppable.

But the beginning of the end for the Browns came on January 7, 1963 when team owner Art Modell fired Brown was the only head coach in the history of the franchise. In 13 seasons with Cleveland, Brown compiled a record of 111-44-5 which is still the gold standard for the franchise. But the egos of Modell and Brown could not co-exist anymore which led to the messy departure. Under the guidance of head coach Blanton Collier, the Browns would win the National Football League Championship in 1964, but they would soon begin a slow and painful journey into futility.

Jim Brown would abruptly retire in 1965 at the age of 29 after just nine years in the National Football League. The Browns would still put forth quality teams that featured the likes of running back Leroy Kelly, but they could never get over the hump in the NFL during the late 1960′s against the contenders such as the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. And when the NFL merged with the American Football League in 1970, the Browns were placed in the AFC Central Division as they would face none other than Paul Brown who was now the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals.

After a pair of playoff appearances in 1971 and 1972, it would be a downward spiral the Browns for the remainder of the 1970′s before they won the AFC Central in 1980. But to this day Browns fans will be haunted by “Red Right 88″ which was the play that was called when Cleveland quarterback Brian Sipe threw an interception that secured the team’s 14-12 loss to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Divisional Playoffs. The Browns would suffer more playoff heartache during the 1980′s as they were done in throughout the decade by the likes of the Denver Broncos and their quarterback John Elway who beat three times.

But the Browns death blow would come on November 6, 1995 when Modell decided to move the organization from Cleveland to Baltimore after he was unable to secure the new stadium that he was seeking. Modell’s decision caused a huge uproar as he became the most hated man in Cleveland. And following the Browns final game of the 1995 National Football League season which was a 24-21 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, it marked the end of an era as Cleveland would not get a new franchise until 1999.

However as the folks in Cleveland were happy to welcome the new Browns, the results have been putrid to say the least. Since 1999, the Browns have only had two winning seasons, while becoming the laughing stock of the National Football League. Upon returning to the NFL, the Browns have had three different owners, seven team presidents, eight general managers, nine head coaches, and a whopping 26 different starting quarterbacks.

Hue Jackson

The Browns began the current National Football League season with a new team president in Paul DePodesta, general manager in Sashi Brown, head coach Hue Jackson, and starting quarterback in Robert Griffin III. But unfortunately for the Browns they are nowhere close to being a contender.

Through two games here in 2016, the Browns are a train wreck waiting to happen. In Week 1, the Browns were throttled by the Philadelphia Eagles 29-10. In the contest Griffin would suffer a fractured shoulder that would see him placed on injured reserve, while the Browns defense wouldn’t have an answer for Eagles rookie quarterback Carson Wentz who was 22-of-37 passing for 278 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

This past Sunday, the Browns would jump out to a 20-point, first quarter lead on the Baltimore Ravens (the original Browns), and it appeared that Cleveland was on their way to the upset victory. But on the ensuing extra point by the Browns following their third touchdown of the game, the kick was blocked by the Ravens and rookie cornerback Tavon Young who returned it for two points for Baltimore. The Ravens would shut down the Browns offense for the rest of the afternoon, while they would steadily chip away at the Cleveland lead. And when it was all said and done the Ravens would defeat the Browns by the score of 25-20 as another vintage dose of Cleveland futility was complete.

The Browns are preparing to face the Miami Dolphins this Sunday in a battle of 0-2 teams, but you wouldn’t know that as Miami is favored by 9.5 points. The Browns being 9.5-point underdogs sums up their season along with the expectations around them as they might as well begin preparing National Football League’s Scouting Combine in February as the draft cannot get here quick enough for them.

Cody Kessler

The Browns lost Griffin in Week 1, and his replacement at quarterback in Josh McCown suffered a shoulder injury during Sunday’s loss to the Ravens. Now the Browns will turn to rookie quarterback Cody Kessler as the revolving door at the most important position on the football field continues.

So far Jackson appears to be the right guy for the Browns, but he needs time as this isn’t a problem that can be easily fixed. The Browns are in need of a culture change that is going to take some time as they must find a way to contend with the Ravens, Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers who have all taken turns using Cleveland as whipping boys in the AFC North. Through various trades the Browns had 13 draft picks during this year’s National Football League Draft as Jackson is seeking to build depth, while also finding players that fit into his system. But hopefully Jackson has the opportunity to see things through for an organization that hasn’t had a good history recently of being patient.

Of the Browns nine head coaches since returning to the National Football League in 1999, no coach has lasted more than four years, while the last four coaches haven’t gotten more than two years. It hasn’t been that much better for the Browns when it comes to drafting either as only four of their ten, first-round picks this decade are still on the roster. And it’s not getting any better for the Browns as wide receiver Corey Coleman who was their first-round pick this year is out for the next four-six weeks with a fracture in his hand.

Things will keep getting worse for the Browns as they’ll host the New England Patriots in Week 5 in what will be the first game of the season for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady following his four-game suspension for “Deflategate” and you can expect him to have a point to prove. The Browns still have five divisional games on the slate and it isn’t looking good for them as the Ravens, Steelers, and Bengals all look poised to make a run towards the postseason while making Cleveland the unofficial “homecoming game” for the division.

At some point the Browns will have to find a winning formula, but in the meantime they are just three years away from being three years away.

Source: Pro-football-reference.com


2016 Key Games For Week 4 In College Football


If ever there was a time for the Tennessee Volunteers to end their long losing streak against the Florida Gators, this is the year.


The Pride Of The AAC


Long-term stability isn’t something that the Houston Cougars are accustomed to. In the 68 years of Houston’s football program, they have been affiliated with four different conferences, while also being a football independent for 18 years. The Cougars are currently affiliated with the American Athletic Conference, but we’re not sure for how long as there are rumors that the Big 12 Conference has them on their radar. And the reason why the Big 12 has their eyes on Houston is due to the direction that they are currently going in.

Last year the Cougars went 13-1 for the second time since 2008. Houston would upset the Florida State Seminoles in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve which ensured them of their first top-ten finish in the Associated Press Poll since 1990. This year the Cougars began ranked 15th in the nation, and so far they have not disappointed.

Houston immediately served notice to the college football world that last year wasn’t a fluke when they upset the third ranked Oklahoma Sooners by a score of 33-23 on September 3. After cruising past the Lamar Cardinals 42-0 on September 10, the Cougars were expected to be tested this past Thursday when they traveled to face the Cincinnati Bearcats in their first American Athletic Conference game of the season.

Early in the fourth quarter, Houston would find themselves trailing Cincinnati 16-12, but they would control the rest of the action for the game.

Greg Ward Jr.

Cougars senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. would take over as he scored on a pair of touchdown runs to give Houston the 26-16 lead. The Bearcats were driving for a touchdown that would keep them in the game, but Cougars senior linebacker Steven Taylor had other thoughts in mind when he intercepted a pass that was thrown by Cincinnati sophomore quarterback Hayden Moore and returned it 74 yards for a touchdown that would put the game out of reach. And on Cincinnati’s next offensive play, Moore was picked off once again; this time by sophomore defensive back Howard Wilson who scampered 28 yards for a touchdown to make it 40-16 in favor of Houston. The Cougars would go on to win by that score as they served notice to Cincinnati and everybody else in the American Athletic Conference that they won’t be an easy out as they are seeking their second conference crown.

A second consecutive American Athletic Conference Title for Houston would mark the first time that they were able to repeat as conference champions since 1979 when they were members of the now defunct Southwestern Conference. In those days the SWC was one of the best conferences in college football as it included the likes of the Texas Longhorns and Texas A&M Aggies, as Houston was able to hold their own. And this is something that current Cougars head football coach Tom Herman is attempting to get them back to.

The Cougars now consistently find themselves in the spotlight which is something that is going to help them as far as recruiting goes in the talent rich State of Texas. There are facility upgrades that are going on at Houston’s campus which will either make them the envy of the American Athletic Conference, or allow them to hang with the big boys of the Big 12.

Another reason why the Cougars are back in the national spotlight is due to the play of Ward. Ward emerged as a play maker for Houston in 2014 when he took over at quarterback. And when Herman became Houston’s head football coach in 2015, Ward became a household name. Ward would continue to build on that status last year when he accounted for 3,936 yards of total offense and 38 touchdowns.

A shoulder injury kept Ward out of the game against Lamar, but he made his presence known against Oklahoma as he was 23-of-40 passing for 321 yards and a pair of passing touchdowns. And although that Ward threw a pair of interceptions against Cincinnati, he stepped up when his team needed him the most in the fourth quarter. But whereas Ward is in the conversation of winning the Heisman Trophy, along with being the American Athletic Conference, they have a strong presence on the defensive side of the football as well.

Through three games Houston’s defense is averaging only 13 points allowed per game with Taylor leading the charge. Last year Taylor teamed with Elandon Roberts to give the Cougars one of the best linebacking duos in the nation. But with Roberts now in the National Football League as a member of the New England Patriots, Taylor is showing that he can get it done in each phase of the game.

Steven Taylor

Through three games in 2016, Taylor already has 21 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and an interception as he is the front runner to be the American Athletic Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

In a very short time Herman is showing that he is ready to emerge as one of the best head coaches in college football. And with Houston currently not in a Power Five conference, his name has been thrown around in regards to bigger jobs. But Herman has decided to remain at Houston as the possibility of the Cougars being in the Big 12 real soon appears to be enticing him to stay. Herman has already established himself at Houston and he doesn’t appear ready to go to another school where he would have to start over, while also have to deal with more pressure.

Tom Herman

Outside of a road game against the Navy Midshipmen on October 8, Houston’s conference schedule is very favorable, and the only thing that could prevent them from going undefeated is a meeting with the Louisville Cardinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference on November 17. Houston has already shown that they can defeat a Big 12 team this year as they knocked off Oklahoma, and the rest of this season should be their audition for the Big 12 Conference as it would be nothing but a win-win scenario for both parties. Although that Houston is currently ranked sixth in the Associated Press Poll, it is still a long shot for them to reach the College Football Playoff, but this program has shown the college football world that they can hang with the big boys as this is a definitely a program that is on the rise.

Source: Sports-reference.com


The Clock Is Ticking


After the Buffalo Bills went 8-8 during the 2015 National Football League season, the level of expectations for them increased here in 2016. But the Bills have been unable to get over the hump as after a 37-31 loss this past Thursday night to the New York Jets, Buffalo is now 0-2 and the odds are against them of ending the longest current playoff drought in the NFL which dates back to 1999. When Rex Ryan was hired to be the Bills head coach last year, he brought optimism with him to Western New York. Prior to joining the Bills, Ryan was the head coach of the Jets for six seasons as he compiled a record of 46-50 with a pair of appearances in the AFC Championship Game. But Ryan’s last four years with the Jets saw him fail to post a winning record which led to him being fired. And once you factor in the Bills record last season, it’s been five years since Ryan has posted a winning record as it looks like it is going to be very hard for him to reverse the tide here in 2016.

After the Bills offense was limited to just 160 total yards in their Week 1 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, they were able to show signs of life against the Jets. In the game the Bills were able to amass 393 total yards of offense which was highlighted by quarterback Tyrod Taylor connecting with wide receiver Marquise Goodwin on an 84-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, and then finding wide receiver Greg Salas on a 71-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.

But it was the Bills defense that let down the team as they allowed 493 yards of offense which included Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick passing for 374 yards, along with wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker each gaining at least 100 yards receiving.

Rex Ryan

But when it came time for Ryan to re-assess the Bills after their loss to the Jets, he decided to fire offensive coordinator Greg Roman in what screams of a desperate move. Ryan is attempting to shake things up for Buffalo, but he overlooked the obvious problem which is the Bills defense. Buffalo’s defensive coordinator is Ryan’s twin brother Rob who is attached at the hip with in more ways that one with Rex as the duo will ride it out together in Western New York, but for how long?

Heading into the 2016 National Football League season, Ryan didn’t appear to have that much wiggle room with the Bills and his time with the team could be coming to an end soon.

The Bills are 0-2 and they are fighting a huge uphill battle. This was supposed to be the year where teams such as the Bills could make a run at the AFC East Title since New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has been suspended by the National Football League for the first four games. But after two games the Bills are 0-2, while the Patriots are 2-0, and any thought of Buffalo winning the division this year is remote as New England will be even more tougher to deal with when Brady returns to the lineup in a few weeks. Elsewhere in the AFC, teams such as the Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Ravens have the look of playoff contenders which puts the Bills in a bind as there are only six available postseason spots in the conference and Buffalo will have to find a way to contend for a wild card.

But Ryan’s hiring in Buffalo is simply another case of “buyer beware” that the Bills front office overlooked. In Ryan, the Bills hired a head coach who was just fired from his last gig which is typically a recipe for disaster; not to mention that his last four years with the Jets saw him fail to make the postseason. Ryan’s pedigree is defensive football, but he has been unable to put his stamp on Buffalo’s defense. In 2014, the Bills defense registered 54 sacks. However last year under Ryan, the Bills only managed 21 sacks. Through two games here in 2016, Buffalo has 5 sacks, but the unit has been unable to make game changing plays.

Ryan has gone from a master motivator that nearly helped the Jets reach the Super Bowl, to a guy that now simply believes his own press clippings. When the Jets were good, Ryan was the best thing since sliced bread. But when things went bad, Ryan couldn’t find a friend in the media. The same can be said for Ryan now with the Bills who will focus more on his team’s heart and determination, as opposed to the offense’s inability to execute on third down, the fact that his defense cannot stop anybody, or the reality that under him Buffalo has been one of the most penalized teams in the National Football League which is clearly a lack of discipline.

I do believe that Ryan was born to wear a whistle around his neck, but the time might be right for him to go back to doing what he does best which is to coach defensive football. Defensive coordinators don’t have to worry about having microphones in front of them each day, and they can also focus on one side of the football as opposed to being responsible for each aspect of the team.

All hasn’t been bad for Ryan in Buffalo as he has proven that Taylor can be a starting quarterback in the National Football League. But the downside on Ryan is that his first, two draft picks of 2016 in defensive end Shaq Lawson and linebacker Reggie Ragland won’t be able to contribute this year due to injuries. Ragland suffered a knee injury in training camp, but Ryan knew what he was getting with Lawson who required shoulder surgery which led to many teams taking him off of their respective draft boards heading into the NFL Draft. Pro Bowl wide receiver Sammy Watkins has been slowed recently by foot and knee injuries which has also led to the notion that the Bills appear to be a sinking ship.

It’s late September and the Bills already have their backs against the wall. And if the Bills are unable to win at home this Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, you can expect the boos to reign down on Ryan at New Era Field at a more powerful rate than the water goes over Niagara Falls. Bills owner Terry Pegula wanted to make a splash when he hired Ryan, but right about now he appears ready to go belly up.