Baylor Bears Football: A New Reason to not Mess with Texas

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If I asked you what team hasn’t had a victory by less than double digits this season, has a defense allowing only 17.4 points per game and beat its highest ranked opponent by more than four touchdowns, what team would you name? After another typical Saturday of hanging up more than 60 points on their opponent, the Baylor Bears have gone from unranked in the preseason to No. 3 in the current AP poll. Stanford’s loss to USC Saturday night allowed for the remaining undefeated teams to hold the top four spots in the latest BCS standings. While also undefeated Ohio State still holds the No. 3 spot in the BCS standings, it’s sweating with its .0013 advantage over the Bears in the computer rankings. Baylor heads to Stillwater this weekend to face No. 10 Oklahoma State, and a dominant victory over the Cowboys on their own home field should be enough to allow for Baylor to overtake Ohio State. While we’re still on a crash course for Alabama to meet Florida State in the BCS Championship game, barring one of the two losing, Baylor can make a strong argument for being the best team in the country.

Baylor ranks third in passing yards per game (384.4)and ninth in rushing yards per game (300.3) which explains its absurd 61.2 points per game. The Bears are the highest scoring team in the nation, averaging roughly 10 more points per game than Florida State, Oregon or Ohio State. Comparing the explosiveness of the Baylor offense to any other team is like comparing Usain Bolt to your high school track star. If the Bears continue their current scoring pace and continue to average 684 yards per game, they’ll be the new NCAA record holders for both categories at the end of the season. How explosive is this offense? When down 20-7 against Texas Tech this past Saturday, Baylor overcame the deficit in under three minutes. Oh, and that’s without leading rusher Lache Seastrunk and their second-best receiver Tevin Reese. The Bears offense just keeps rolling no matter what happens. The Bears offense is probably the most exciting thing that has ever come out of Waco. RGIII was a one-man show, the 2013 Baylor offense is a highly efficient scoring machine. While the Bears could certainly hold their own in any offensive shootout, it rarely comes to that.

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The Bears defense can simply play, allowing only 17.4 points per game. Yes, the highest scoring offense also ranks seventh in points allowed. The Bears allow more than 300 yards per game to the opposing team, but they lead the Big 12 in both total defense and points allowed categories. The Bears defense has held opponents to single digits three times this season, and only allowed more than 25 points twice. As prolific as the offense is, the Bears have the defense to be able to keep the game close when the offense can’t get going. The game against Oklahoma is probably the best example of this. The Baylor offense only managed a field goal through the first quarter and a half, before exploding for 21 points. Oklahoma had multiple scoring opportunities but the Baylor defense demonstrated itself with a goal line stand, a defensive stop from within 10 yards of the end zone and forcing a missed field goal. While the offense of the Bears gets most of the attention and the credit, the Bears defense will be crucial in the game against Oklahoma State. Not only does Baylor need to win, but it needs to win decisively if it hopes to secure the No.3  spot in the BCS rankings over Ohio State. A high scoring shootout would be exciting for fans, but it’s not going to help the Bears cause as much as a dominant victory.

Now, everyone is going to say that it’s not hard to put up stats when you play the schedule that Baylor plays. It’s like saying that it’s fair that Britney Griner gets to play basketball against women.There’s nothing impressive about hanging up 70 points on Buffalo and UL Monroe or preventing those teams from scoring. I’m of the opinion that putting up 70 points is generally always impressive and that the defense shouldn’t be criticized so long as it does its job. Baylor hasn’t just beat these teams, it has flat out destroyed them. Their closest game is a 35-25 victory against Kansas State. At the time that didn’t seem so good, but Kansas State has now rattled off four straight victories including a win against No. 25 Texas Tech. If it goes on to beat Oklahoma next week, that  10 point victory starts to look a little better. Then-No. 10 Oklahoma is the only ranked opponent that Baylor has played so far, but it won by more than 30 points. With Ohio State having games against Michigan and Michigan State (in the Big Ten championship game) remaining, Baylor will need to take advantage of this opportunity against Oklahoma State. A defining win may be enough to keep the Bears in the No. 3 spot until the end of the season, while a slight victory may only have it switch places with Ohio State for a week. The Bears need a lot of cards to fall into place if they hope to play in the National Championship game, the first being a defining win this weekend. Even if the national championship game is Florida State-Alabama, Baylor is having a record breaking season that may have us wishing the College Football Playoff was starting this year.

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The Carolina Panthers Are Now Legit Super Bowl Contenders

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The Cover 4.com presents you with The Carolina Panthers Are Now Legit Super Bowl Contenders! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Before their momentous victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 10, the Carolina Panthers put together a four-game winning streak in which they beat their opponents by 30 points or more. That put them in rare company, as Bill Barnwell pointed out:

Year Team Point Differential Final Record Playoff Result
2013 Panthers 82 ??? ???
2013 Broncos 88 ??? ???
2009 Saints 81 13-3 Won Super Bowl
2009 Colts 96 13-3 Lost Super Bowl
2007 Patriots 104 16-0 Lost Super Bowl
2007 Colts 83 13-3 Lost in AFC playoffs
2005 Colts 81 14-2 Lost in AFC playoffs
2004 Eagles 101 13-3 Lost Super Bowl
2004 Colts 125 12-4 Lost in AFC playoffs
2000 Rams 80 10-6 Lost in NFC playoffs
1999 Rams 106 13-3 Won Super Bowl
1998 Broncos 83 14-2 Won Super Bowl
1994 49ers 103 13-3 Won Super Bowl
1993 49ers 107 10-6 Lost in NFC playoffs
1990 Bills 104 13-3 Lost Super Bowl

 

Those are some juicy outcomes for a team that finished 7-9 last year and had calls for their quarterback’s and head coach’s heads on a stake. There were plenty of reasons for me not to like them in my preseason preview, including their patchwork secondary and lack of receiving options for Cam Newton. And with their back to the wall for cap space with an incompetent GM, the long-term outlook did not look too bright. I wasn’t too high on them in the beginning of the season either, when they started 1-3 and started their winning streak by beating up on lowly Minnesota, St. Louis and Tampa Bay. But that chart above deserves some attention, and now that they have a signature win they can hang their hat on against the San Francisco 49ers, I think it’s finally time to respect the Panthers as legit Super Bowl contenders in such a muddled NFL season where it seems like anyone can win it this year.

Although there are other factors responsible for this turnaround, the best visual representation of the Panthers’ newfound success is their franchise quarterback Newton. After all, who scored all those points for them? (Insert your Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams jokes here.) Through the four-game stretch, Newton averaged 229 yards passing, completed 72.3 percent of his passes and threw seven touchdowns against two interceptions. If you prorate those over a full season, the completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions all put Newton in the top quarter of the league at his position.

23497707_BG1Newton surely deserves credit for the Panthers’  turnaround, but he has always been an above-average quarterback and his No. 1 overall pick aura eliminates any surprise that he is playing at a Pro Bowl-level right now. What really deserves attention is Carolina’s fearsome front seven, and how it is propping up its lackluster and injured secondary. Led by Charles Johnson’s “breakout” season (in terms of mainstream popularity) and the best young linebacker in the NFL, Luke Kuechly; the defensive linemen and linebackers as a group are arguably the best in the league. Johnson has already matched three quarters of his sack total last year and needs only 11 more total tackles to duplicate the previous year’s production. Leading the charge for the linebackers is Kuechly, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Even though he is only in his second year, it’s already established that he is one of a handful of the best defensive players in football. He led the league in tackles last year, and is poised to get back to that same number this year, while already getting one more interception than he had his rookie season. Before the Panthers played the 49ers, they were ranked fourth in defensive DVOA. After? Carolina jumped to first overall, an incredible turnaround that really puts a spotlight on the two young game changers for the Panthers.

The last piece of the Panthers’ success that warrants mention is Ron Rivera, or “Riverboat Ron” as he has become affectionately known. In my season preview, Rivera was one of the reasons holding the Panthers back. A good coach often knows when to be aggressive and when to be conservative. When it comes to fourth down, Rivera shouldn’t think twice about going for it if the yards in question are four yards or less. Carolina has the best goal-line back in Newton, and not to mention $35 million invested in running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. Well Rivera has taken a turn for the better as a coach in general and especially on fourth down decisions, and there is no coincidence his increased game-managing ability has merged with the Panthers getting hot.

Panthers Chargers Football

So, the inevitable question is where is the correct place to gauge the Panthers’ new found success? On one hand, the chart above is pretty indicative of the success such a powerful four-game winning streak brings. You might say Carolina had a pretty easy schedule, but if you look at all the opponents those other teams faced, they weren’t necessarily world beaters either. I think the balance lands on the other side, in that the Panthers have a pretty good shot at a deep playoff run. I think their defensive DVOA will get worse a tad – their front 7 can only make the depleted secondary look so good for so long – and Rivera is always a candidate for a boneheaded decision at a critical time. Newton will return to Earth due to lack of real receiving options and that I think his high numbers are somewhat unsustainable, but with the stingy defense the pressure wasn’t on him like it was before to perform and win games for them, which the game in San Francisco proved. Their Monday Night Football game against the New England Patriots will be their best test so far, and if they manage to beat them and the 49ers in consecutive weeks, I think its time to throw the Panthers in one of the three or four teams to make it out of the NFC and into the Super Bowl.

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The Week 8 NFL Power Rankings

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The Cover 4.com presents you with The Week 8 NFL Power Rankings! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Well, we are already halfway through the 2013 NFL season. Just like any season in football, it has been filled with pleasant surprises and surprising disappointments. If your favorite team is not playing its best, do not fret because a lot can happen the next eight weeks.

Depending on what you think of commissioner Roger Goodell (probably nothing good), you have to give him credit for keeping this league fair and full of parity through various means. You can basically separate the league into three different tiers based on winning percentage, but even then different teams from different tiers blend together due to strength of schedule and/or good and bad breaks in games (Tampa Bay, as bad it is, should have at least one win).  You’d be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t for parity in professional sports, unless you are me and how it is my job to attempt to rank these teams effectively. Four weeks in, the Denver Broncos seemed to be the clear cut No. 1 team. After the last two weeks, perhaps the gap isn’t as quite as large as we thought. Either way, after I name the team and its rank, in parenthesis will be the amount of spots they climbed or fell from my preseason rankings. This part will be especially funny when we get to TampaBay or the New York Giants. After that, I’ll give a brief explanation on why I put them there, and either me defending why I thought they would be good or me making fun of myself as I pull quotes from my late August column. Let’s get to it.

1. Denver Broncos (+2)

Through four weeks, Peyton Manning and the Broncos were the talk of the town with the most prolific offensive start in the history of the NFL. Armed with so many weapons, Manning looked unstoppable as he was dinking and dunking his way to the record books. The Broncos looked solid on defense even if they were doing it without the second-best defensive player in football, Von Miller, and their best cornerback, Champ Bailey. Well, a loss to the Indianapolis Colts and slow starts against the Washington Racial Slurs (in the first half) and Dallas Cowboys stopped their incredible progress and may have shown a blueprint on how to beat them, by targeting their weak offensive line and playing physical, hard-nosed defense. Using that strategy come December and January, and add in Peyton’s terrible cold temperature record in the playoffs (0-4 in games under 40 degrees), this team will roll through the regular season but might be more exposed than people expect come playoff time.

2. Seattle Seahawks (-1)

This team is probably best fit to beat the Broncos in the postseason (or Super Bowl, considering conference), and not just because it’s ranked second. The Seahawks have the punishing defense whose best asset is their secondary and a coolheaded quarterback who knows the best way to beat Denver is to not let them on the field. This team will always be in the top three, just because they are amazingly well balanced. Great defense, and good distribution of when to throw and when to hand it off to feature back Marshawn Lynch.

3. Kansas City Chiefs (+13)

We have our first double-digit jump! The Chiefs were the sexy pick in preseason to bounce back from a morbid 2-14 season last year, but no one could have predicted an 8-0 start. This team is your best bet to beat Denver in the AFC playoffs, only because it’s a slightly lesser version of the Seahawks. Kansas City’s defense is playing just as well as Seattle’s if not better, but the fall off is on the offensive side of the ball. Say what you want about Andy Reid’s game management (if you give me some time, I can say a lot) but this season he has remained relatively mistake free. Whether that is a fluke, it is nonetheless encouraging. Alex Smith is another great game manager, but just a step below Russell Wilson. He has conference championship experience, and can utilize weapons to overcome his shortcomings. The Chiefs defense, combined with the slow and plodding offense but sudden playmaking ability of Jamaal Charles, presents an underrated challenge to the Broncos.

4. Indianapolis Colts (+14)

The Colts made an even bigger jump than the Chiefs. I wrote about them last week, and how Andrew Luck is a one man regression fighter. In my preseason preview, I said the numbers pointed to the Colts overachieving last season and were bound to come down to earth, but this team is still very good because of who is under center. Well, I was half right. Surely, I didn’t expect them to beat the San Francisco 49ers, Broncos and Seahawks, all of which are incredible wins. One win is a fluke, two you might get lucky, but three wins against three teams in the (spoiler alert) top seven? That demands attention, and respect.

5. New Orleans Saints (+8)

With my initial ranks, the knock against the Saints was never against Drew Brees and his jolly band of bit piece scorers (besides Jimmy Graham) because Marques Colston is taking a fall vacation. I didn’t underestimate the return of Sean Payton either, who now has cemented himself as a top-three coach in the NFL with the dramatic turnaround from last season. Nope, I was dubious of how improved this defense could be under an obese homeless man Rob Ryan. Ryan, compensating for a (still) subpar defense by relentlessly blitzing (without “additional” instructions) has turned the Saints into an overall respectable force for which to be reckoned.

6. San Francisco 49ers (-4)

Through eight weeks, yes, the Saints are better than the 49ers. Colin Kaepernick looks lost without his wingman Michael Crabtree, and Anquan Boldin has not only come back to Earth, but may have tunneled half a mile underground after his hot start in the beginning of the season. Kaepernick is still a good quarterback, although he has been getting a lot of flak for his play, some of it undeserving. The defense has absorbed its fair share of losses, but nothing more significant than any other team. This team can still and will do damage come playoff time, and probably from the wild card spot which presents an interesting dynamic in the NFC playoff picture.

7. Green Bay Packers (-2)

This team moved back two spots just by the detriment of the Chiefs and Colts surprising me. Textbook Aaron Rodgers being Aaron Rodgers, lose your primary tight end (Jermichael Finley) and your main offensive weapon (Randall Cobb), your go to man in offseason (Greg Jennings) and your offense doesn’t miss a beat. The Packers will keep finding random wide receivers to fill in for them until they call me to suit up and I put up a 1,000 yard season. Their defense is average at best, but only needs to do enough to keep it close for Rodgers.

8. Detroit Lions (+14)

Another double-digit jump and we are still in the top 10. I said before the season this team doesn’t jump in my rankings “unless they smarten up on defense” and last time I checked Ndamukong Suh did not try to stomp on anyone’s private parts this season and their head coach hasn’t tried to fight another head coach yet in 2013. Their wins aren’t terribly impressive, but their defense does enough for them to win, which was my primary concern with them (Suh jokes aside).

9. Cincinnati Bengals (+1)

I was particularly high on the Bengals coming in. I still like them, but not as much as I did. They probably would’ve been bumped out of my top 10 (for whatever that’s worth) before Week 8, but then Andy Dalton threw five TD passes and I noticed he has actually strung together a nice set of games recently. If he can sustain his success and build on it, this is probably the fourth-best team coming out of the AFC if you factor in their stingy defense (although losing cornerback Leon Hall hurts).

10. New England Patriots (-4)

The Patriots fall from grace could be easy to blame on the injuries they’ve suffered; namely Jerrod Mayo, Aqib Talib (game to game), Vince Wilfork, Sebastian Vollmer, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen and Rob Gronkowski. But it started earlier than that, when New England’s calculated risk of letting Wes Welker go ultimately backfired when they surrounded the visibly aging Tom Brady with subpar weapons to work with on offense. Even through eight weeks, this could already be chalked up to a lost season considering their significant losses and Brady’s surprising impotency under center.

11. Baltimore Ravens (-4)

Is it just me, or is this the first Super Bowl champion in the new era of technology to fly under the radar? I feel like I still can’t get a read on this team, nor do I care. Ray Rice got hit with the Shaun Alexander bug, rendering him pretty unthreatening and looking older than his age. His and Flacco’s contracts have hamstrung this team’s cap space, even if they have solid defensive players sprouting up like weeds to plug holes in their defense.

12. Dallas Cowboys (+6)

How ‘bout them Cowboys? I am at the point of feeling bad for them, and in particular Tony Romo. I will not defend Romo here, but the man just can not win. The Cowboys will always be a dangerous team, but I’ve been saying their poor mismanagement of their roster will always drag them down. Luckily, a recent article by Bill Barnwell can explain that much better than I can if you want the real breakdown.

13. Carolina Panthers (+9)

Last year, the Panthers probably lost two or three games due to their incompetent head coach Ron Rivera. Terrible in-game management and failure to pounce on calculated but aggressive decisions, it seemed like this team was already doomed from the start for its 2013 campaign. But Rivera opened his eyes and realized he had the best short yardage back (Cam Newton), despite their very pricey backfield. If the Panthers can add a legit receiving threat and get a worthy starter for their defense, this team has the potential to be dangerous next year.

14. San Diego Chargers (+14)

Boy, what a difference an offensive line does for a quarterback. Philip Rivers is looking good, Ryan Mathews hasn’t exploded into a million little glass pieces and the Chargers might look better than their 4-3 record suggests. They fell apart against Houston, lost to Oakland with that funky 11:30 p.m. Sunday night start time and lost another close game to Tennessee. They are a dark horse to grab a wild card spot.

15. Miami Dolphins (+6)

In the preview, I said both the offense and defense didn’t really improve, but moved more sideways despite them bringing in some well-known names. Although Mike Wallace has yet to answer the call, the Dolphins have been plodding along due to their stingy defense. They have lost four in a row, but wins and losses do not tell the whole story.

16. Tennessee Titans (+10)

I was surprised by the Titans success so far this season. Their last three games before their bye were especially tough; they faced KC, Seattle and San Francisco and managed to keep the first two close contests. That’s pretty much all you can hope for from a middling team.

17. Chicago Bears (-8)

Much like New England, this drop is due more to injuries than anything else. Losing Jay Cutler is obviously huge, but losses to the defensive line and Lance Briggs can not be overlooked, either. If Cutler can return in a timely fashion, this team is poised to make a late season run if the NFC North is still available for the taking, or at worst a wild card spot.

18. Philadelphia Eagles (+6)

I think we know by now that Chip Kelly’s offense is legit. I wrote earlier in the season that the key to their offense is Mike Vick’s health, and right now that situation looks pretty grim. This team is bound to drop in the rankings by the end of the season, just because they are forced to put Matt Barkley and Nick Foles under center. But if Kelly gets a quarterback he wants in this year’s draft that can effectively run his offense, watch out for the Eagles next year.

19. Washington Racial Slurs (-8)

I think it is safe to say that Robert Griffin came back too early. He looks uncomfortable in the pocket, and continually overthrows his receivers. His porous defense lends him no favors, either. Still, we were saying the same thing about the Slurs last season, before they put together a great second-half run to make the playoffs. I am not saying it is out of the realm of possibility, but their remaining games alternate from easy opponents to hard/division opponents. However the NFC East is still somehow open to anyone who wants to take it.

20. New York Jets (+10)

How about Jekyll & Hyde Geno Smith, eh? Some weeks he looks like their new franchise quarterback, and other weeks he looks like a stopgap between trying to find the new franchise quarterback. For the short term however, the Jets are riding or dying with Smith. Luckily, the pressure on him isn’t too intense, Rex Ryan has yet again worked his magic to make the defense a top-five unit in the league. Now only if they can get offensive weapons with which to surround their quarterback.

21. Atlanta Falcons (-17)

Ouch, I definitely did not see this drop coming. Do not let the Julio Jones injury fool you, this team was in rough shape before the devastating injury. Granted, Roddy White and Steven Jackson were hobbled, but given Matt Ryan’s new contract and all the zeroes next to it; you kind of expect him to overcome those types of things. But when Jones went down, their defense giving up 26.3 points per game was just too much for Ryan to overcome. This team is in trouble for years to come.

22. Buffalo (+7)

This team is my darkhorse poised to make a second season run. They have an underrated front seven, and if they don’t end up trading Jarius Byrd, combined with Stephon Gilmore they could possibly make this unit top-five in the league. When EJ Manuel comes back, he will be in the same boat as the aforementioned Geno Smith. He will not be called upon to do much, and even less than Smith because of the weapons around him. Combined with a somewhat soft remaining schedule, consider me in on the Bills to climb to a 7-9 or 8-8 record.

23. Pittsburgh Steelers (-4)

Although injuries are nothing to make light of, I remarked after the Steelers lost Maurkice Pouncey that Pittsburgh was ahead of schedule on losing one critical offensive lineman in the beginning of the season. That being said, this line continually lets Ben Roethlisberger get pummeled. Their defense is rapidly aging at all the wrong places, and it looks like the Steel Curtain is starting to draw to a close on an era.

24. Arizona Cardinals (+1)

The Cardinals continue to frustrate me as they fail to get a quarterback to get Larry Fitzgerald the ball in his prime. No, Carson Palmer does not count. However, even if this team had a competent quarterback, two things would stand in their way of success: their miserable offensive line (half by design, half by injuries) and their tough division. Regardless, they have an opportunity to make a significant move in this year’s draft to snag a good quarterback because their defense is top notch and can pay a lot of attention to the other side of the ball.

25. Cleveland Browns (+2)

Oh, Brandon Weeden. Oh, Cleveland. If Cleveland is fully committed to this draft (the trade of Trent Richardson seems to indicate so) then they should us all a favor and just tank in front of our eyes by putting in Weeden. The Browns, like the Cardinals, can focus on their problems under center because of their solid defense and effective offensive weapons (Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon).

26. Houston Texans (-18)

Oh sweet Lord. Matt Schaub is not having a good year, to say the least. Although I stand by this assessment pre-meltdown, this still looks pretty bad: “Matt Schaub is an above average QB. I’m not sure he can win you a Super Bowl, but he can certainly lead this team to 11-12 wins in a weak AFC South.” Well then. I don’t think the worst case for the Texans could have envisioned Schaub combusting this badly, but that is what happened and now the Texans are an astounding 18 points back from where they started in the beginning of the season of my rankings.

27. New York Giants (-13)

I love to pile on Eli Manning as much as the next guy, but his offensive line has resembled turnstiles, and some of his interceptions have been passes that went through his receivers’ hands. Nevertheless, this team is in a bad place on top of the bad quarterback play. David Wilson has taken a, um, step back and their defense is still pretty bad. Luckily, they play in the NFC East and are still in the playoff race.

28. St. Louis Cardinals (-8)

Admittedly hung with the Seahawks in the past iteration of Monday Night Football, but the long term injury impact of Sam Bradford hurts, even if he has supplanted himself in the “disappointment” category of first-round picks. Their defense isn’t half bad, but the lack of impact from Tavon Austin and their trio of wholly ineffective running backs does not bode well for the future.

29. Oakland Raiders (+3)

Hey how about Terrelle Pryor? He and Geno Smith are the new poor versions of Mike Vick. You ride with the highs and deal with the lows. If Darren McFadden can keep producing and their defense plays at a league-average level, if Pryor is on his game this team can sneak games out against lesser opponents. Still showing some spunk this season while GM Reggie McKenzie plans and builds towards the future is always encouraging.

30. Minnesota Vikings (-13)

Christian Ponder? Nah. Matt Cassell? Nope. Josh Freeman? Not a chance. Poor Adrian Peterson. Much like the situation our friend Larry Fitzgerald, AD is wasting away his prime against nine and sometimes 10 in the box but the Vikes still somehow find a way to eke out victories. The signing of Greg Jennings and drafting of Cordarrelle Patterson were nice, but how good do you expect them to be if no one can get them the ball?

31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

“I love this team. Couple reasons: Josh Freeman is in a contract year, and I think he has some serious potential.” I am here for your entertainment, people. This description should stop and end at “Greg Schiano” but I will just add in that their MRSA outbreak, the fact you have the best cover corner in the league in zone coverage and Doug Martin’s disappointing season before it got cut short by his injury don’t help.

32. Jacksonville Jaguars

This team is No. 32 by default, even though it doesn’t even deserve to be ranked. I will spare you all the hilarious stats, like the Denver Broncos two highest scoring games this season have more points than the Jaguars have all season. At this point of the dreadful Blaine Gabbert experiment, even if Jadaveon Clowney is a once in a decade talent, do the Jaguars take Teddy Bridgewater (or ‘best quarterback X’)? Believe it or not, I think they should.

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Week 8 Start’em Or Sit’em

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Week 8 Start’em Or Sit’em! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

MUST- START

1136729700-e13800534082201. Pittsburgh Steelers RB: Le’Veon Bell

-Le’Veon Bell first burst on to the scene in week 3 versus the Minnesota Vikings when he had 16 carries for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Since then he hasn’t had a game quite like that but still has had solid production with 35 carries for 127 yards rushing and 4 receptions for 28 yards. Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley continues to give the load to Bell and has proven to be the guy for that team as the Steelers cut back up running back Isaac Redman this week. This past Sunday, Bell pounded the football for 93 yards on 19 carries in a 19-16 wing against the Baltimore Ravens who have one of the better defensive  fronts in the league with likes of Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs. Now the Steeler’s face a top run defense that has allows an average of only 99 yards a game and is ranked 9th in the NFL but has a mediocre pass defense consisting  that is ranked the 17th worst in the NFL. Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown and tight end Heath Miller will be able to open up the passing game which will free up running lanes for Bell and he will receive goal line touches. He might not be in your starting lineup this week but he is continuing to heat up and become that premier back that the Steelers have been looking for. Bell is a MUST-START this week!

Terrance-Williams_0754572.  Dallas Cowboys WR: Terrance Williams

-Williams has emerged as one of Tony Romo’s top targets and has even replaced WR Miles Austin for the #2 WR position. He has had a touchdown reception in the last 3 games with 249 receiving yards on 12 receptions. Williams has proven himself to be a reliable fantasy option in weeks to come. With an away game against the Detroit Lions who have a league 5th worst pass defense and will put all of their focus on covering WR Dez Bryant, Williams will have yet another great game against a defense that has allowed 282 passing yards on average to opposing teams this season. Running Back Demarco Murray is coming back from injury this week so expect Head Coach Jason Garrett to take the load off him by going airborne with his passing attack. Williams is a must-start against another league worst defense and is looking to be a solid fantasy option.

brent-celek3. Philadelphia Eagles TE: Brent Celek

-After two weeks only registering two receptions, Brent Celek should be getting back on track this week against the New York Giants team that he scored on two weeks ago in New York. In that game he was able to catch 3 passes for 47 yards from QB Nick Foles. QB Michael Vick looks to be suiting up for this division rival matchup against a struggling New York Giants secondary that let up 70 yards and 2 touchdowns to Cowboys’ TE Jason Witten, 47 yards and a touchdown to Broncos’ TE Julius Thomas, 64 yards to Chiefs’ TE Sean McGrath, 54 yards to Panthers’ TE Greg Olsen and 68 yards to Bears’ TE Martellus Bennett. The New York Giants cannot seem to fix the issues in their secondary and Head Coach Chip Kelly will look to exploit that. Now that Vick is healthy, Celek has a better opportunity to make plays this week and score big for your fantasy team.

 

 

MUST-BENCH

Harry+Douglas1. Atlanta Falcons WR: Harry Douglas

– Harry Douglas faces a stout Cardinals Defense this Sunday that features cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Last week Douglas was able to make an impact against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but there are a lot of coaching issues and the defense had a hard time getting on the same page. Cardinals’ Head Coach Bruce Arians won’t let that happen to his defense. Roddy White is ruled out of Sunday’s game again and the Cardinals will look to key in on Harry Douglas on the outside routes. Steven Jackson is said to be set to play and will take the load from the passing attack.

NFL: Preseason-Baltimore Ravens at St. Louis Rams2. St. Louis Rams RB: Zac Stacy

-Zac Stacy has been heating up lately but now with the loss of QB Sam Bradford he is the only source of offense. With a banged up offensive line that is facing the 4th ranked run defense and the “Legion of Boom” Monday night the St. Louis Rams will be shut down. Although it is at home, it won’t be enough to spark an offense led by QB Kellen Clemens or possibly even Brady Quinn. The Seahawks are looking to add another divisional win to their belt and stay on top of the NFC West. They’ve held opposing running backs to 58 total yards and 1 touchdown in two weeks and they will continue to shut them down.

11469891_03. Jacksonville Jaguars WR: Justin Blackmon

-Blackmon has done well coming back from his suspension versus the St. Louis Rams and the Denver Broncos but will now be facing one of the hardest-nosed defenses in the league in London.  The 49ers have the 4th ranked secondary that will look to dominate the Jaguars’ receivers right off the ball. Chad Henne is getting the start this Sunday and will try to get the ball to his star receiver but there won’t be time.  He’s a must bench.

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THE “NEW” QB CONTROVERSY (PART 1, ALEX)

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The Cover 4.com presents you with THE “NEW” QB CONTROVERSY (PART 1, ALEX)! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

An uneducated 49ers fan thinks that the team should have kept Alex Smith because they believe he’s a better quarterback and one that wins games. This same fan has the idea that Colin Kaepernick sucks and his success last year was a fluke.

An unrealistic 49ers fan thinks the opposite ─ although Kaepernick hasn’t looked all that great this year, Smith contributed nothing to the 49ers.

These two schools of though sum up what some 49ers fans believe about the current quarterback situation.  Both of these statements couldn’t be further from reality.

The 

Slow (and painful) Rise

Smith had not lived up to the expectations of being a No. 1 overall draft pick, at least not up until a couple years ago.  In 2011, he began to play more like a first-round pick.  He took the Niners to the 2011 NFC Championship. While San Francisco eventually lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship, the 49ers got to that game after a last-minute scoring drive against the Saints in the week before. That drive, and the ones before it in that crazy fourth quarter, was orchestrated by none other than Smith.  He did his best ‘Joe Cool” impression in that game and in many other games that season.  He was 50 percent  of the way to bound-to-be historic “The Catch 3.″

Jim Harbaugh turned Smith into the quarterback he is today, but Smith still had to become conformable in his role.  There is no arguing that he is a game manager.  This particular game manager led his team to multiple victories in the Harbaugh era.  He won a number of games for the Red and Gold.  He never gave up on the organization or the fanbase that gave him so much hatred at times.

To the Bench He Goes

In 2012, Smith looked primed to manage his team all the way to the Super Bowl.  The team started out great with him at the helm.  They were winning games and Smith was doing what he had to do to win.  Then injury struck Smith in the middle of the season and then Kaepernick made his mark.  The infamous “hot-hand” Harbaugh debacle began.

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Though Smith was healthy after a couple weeks, Kaepnerick obviously had the “hot-hand”.  Whether this was simply an opportunity for Harbaugh to make Kaepnerick the new starter or Harbaugh truly believed he was going to go back to Smith eventually, Kaepernick took over the starting spot.

Some fans that already disliked Smith, and many did, including me, (though I did start to like him a lot more during the 2011 season) were pumped that Kaepnerick was the new starter.  He possessed so much of the big play ability that the Niners have lacked in a quarterback since Jeff Garcia (Wow, did I just credit Garcia?)  Kaepnerick was more exciting than Smith, he seemed to have a better upside, and hell, he was a fresh face.

Because of the unwritten rule that no one should lose a starting position due to injury, you would think

that Smith would be extremely bitter and unresponsive to the coaches and players.  That was not the case at all.

Smith was one of the most helpful coaches that Kaepnerick had during his run to the Super Bowl.  If you look at old game film from last year, Smith was constantly talking with Kaepnerick.  He was pointing out coverages and shifts, helping him with plays and getting him to properly read the defense.  Smith was the reason Kaepnerick grew into the quarterback that he became.  Harbaugh knew it and acknowledged it, and so has Kaepnerick.

Many players would have turned a cold shoulder.  Smith kept preaching that winning is what matters, and Kaepnerick has the tools to add to the win column.

For this reason alone, I have to say that Smith showed so much class.  He helped the 49ers and Kaepernick get to the Super Bowl.  He showed a ton of respect for the organization and Harbaugh’s decision to place him on the bench.  We all know the rest of the story.  Smith is a Chief now, and Kaepnerick isn’t looking like a top-five quarterback this year.

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Final Note

Smith gave it 100 percent in his time with the 49ers.  He never gave up and he always tried to make the team better.  He took all the flak from the fans and still remained positive.  Then when his time was up, he respectfully and enthusiastically helped Kaepernick in his transition to become a starting NFL quarterback.

Now that he is gone, 49ers fans should have no true reason to hate Smith.  He always tried to make his team and himself better, even when he had no support.  He helped the 49ers win the games they won, period.

For that reason, the hate toward Smith is completely unwarranted now that he is the quarterback of the past for the Niners. I wish him good luck with the Chiefs, unless of course they make it to the Super Bowl against the Niners.

p.s. If the Chiefs win eight or more games, the Niners get a second round pick, so it is a good thing they are winning.

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The Win Now Indianapolis Colts

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The Cover 4.com presents you with The Win Now Indianapolis Colts! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Coming into the 2013 NFL season, people weren’t expecting the Indianapolis Colts to replicate their magical 2012 success. Admittedly, I was one of these people. Through five games, the Colts are 4-1. If I told you before the season that they would be off to this type of start, you might not have been surprised because their schedule had them playing the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars which would seem like relative locks for wins. The Colts, however, took a different and more impressive route to their first four victories.

Miami Dolphins v Indianapolis ColtsThe lone loss for the Colts was handed to them by the Dolphins. I went back and looked at the box score, and the results were peculiar. The Colts led in all significant categories (total yards, passing yards, rushing yards, first downs, third down efficiency and time of possession) and each team turned it over once. The final score was 24-20, and you could say the Dolphins escaped with a win by the looks of that stat sheet. Their four wins include the aforementioned creampuffs Raiders and Jaguars but what sticks out is an impressive and dominant win against the San Francisco 49ers and a nail biter victory against the Seattle Seahawks’ vaunted defense. The Indianapolis Colts are no longer a team that should be regarded as average or maybe even above average. Advanced stats and metrics have come a long way, and the Colts’ 2012 season screamed overachievement by having the look of a 7-9 team while going 11-5. If you want some more nitty gritty on that, this article does a pretty good job outlining just how lucky they were last season. I tend to side with advanced metrics more often than not, but sometimes numbers can’t account for a variable that defies the logic and objectivity mathematics gives us. That variable is Andrew Luck.

 

Colts-Blog-322x276At the end of the 2012 season, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III were the talk of the town. They were all young quarterbacks that seemed to be the future stars of the NFL. It’s hard to believe a No. 1 pick in his rookie season didn’t generate much buzz (either good or bad) after his first season, but this was just the case. People (read: ESPN) love to sensationalize stories and games even if they gloss over the players and teams that are doing just as well or even better. For ESPN, everything has to fit a narrative. Even though the numbers clearly show that Griffin and Wilson had better numbers, they were also put in better positions to succeed than Luck. For Griffin, Mike Shanahan created a hybrid offense that was tailor made for him to excel, the read option and having a surprise rookie year from Alfred Morris played perfectly with his strengths as a quarterback. For Wilson, he had the support of a top-five running back (Marshawn Lynch) and also had a top-five defense protecting the lead for him, so he was not forced to do more than he had to. Luck had none of these royalties the other two were afforded. You could make an argument that the Colts running back tandem was serviceable, but they can not hold a candle to Morris and Lynch. Beyond Reggie Wayne, they didn’t attempt to surround him with weapons in his first year, even though Coby Fleener and T.Y. Hilton have emerged as legit NFL starters after  promising rookie campaigns. On top of that, the Colts gave up the most QB hits last year (114) which over a 16 game season amounts to a little bit more than seven hits a game, a ghastly figure. And to boot, their defense was  No. 25 in yards allowed on defense, so more often than not Luck was made to throw when defenses were expecting it, and most likely forced throws to try and mount a comeback. All of these shortcomings were not lost on Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay, who addressed all the shortcomings of the Colts this offseason and during the 2013 regular season. Irsay, known for not being complacent and certainly not reserved, pushed all the chips to the center of the table and went all in to bring the Indianapolis Colts another Lombardi Trophy.

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis ColtsBy  saying Irsay “pushed all his chips to the center of the table” it may have given  the impression that he made a rogue decision. This is certainly not the case, it was a smart and calculated move that I would be very happy with if I am a Colts fan. Part of the reason Irsay did right by selling out for Super Bowl aspirations is because Luck (and all young players on rookie deals) are on dirt cheap contracts under the new CBA. Some numbers: Russell Wilson’s cap hit ($700,000) for this year means that Mark Sanchez will make more money in one game than Wilson will all season. Yeah. However, draft position matters. Wilson was drafted in the third round, so he is compensated less than Griffin and Luck, who are at $5 million a year. With such incredible signal callers at bargain prices, it gives teams a chance to sign impact players they might not be able to afford once those rookie contracts are up. However, before the new CBA was signed, teams had to shell out the big bucks for their first overall picks before they even took a snap in the NFL. Case in point: Jamarcus Russell, who the Raiders paid $61 million ($32 million of which was guaranteed) to be an overweight black hole under center. Somewhat related: new Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor requested to wear #2 for his jersey number after Russell was released and was denied because the team didn’t want another quarterback wearing #2 again. Anyway,  I am 100% on board with Irsay being all in; having a world class quarterback only making $5 million the next couple years is a luxury few are offered. But just because I agree with the strategy doesn’t mean I agree with what he did with all that cap room.

To be fair, Irsay did address all the aforementioned shortcomings with his team, he just went about it in an illogical and more expensive way that will eventually come back to bite him. For their offensive line, the Colts signed Gosder Cherilus and Donald Thomas. The Thomas contract was a savvy signing, but the Cherilus contract seems to be a gross overpay and is not even the worst one they made. The worst contract they made was to Erik Walden, an above-average linebacker but not one that you pay $4 million year. The last particularly bad contract that sticks out is the one they gave to the marshmellow man himself, LaRon Landry. Landry, a safety who is a workout freak, keeps putting on muscle to his frame even though it makes him slower in pass coverage, so apparently Irsay thought the next logical step was to pay him $6 million a year. I appreciate the effort Irsay put into making his team better, even if that effort was somewhat misplaced. The final move that made the Colts throw their hat in for a Lombardi Trophy was when they made an in-season trade a few weeks into this year for enigmatic running back Trent Richardson. Richardson’s body of work certainly suggested that he wasn’t worth the first round pick the Colts had to give up for him, but I thought maybe Indianapolis could put him in a better position to succeed (namely: not having Brandon Weeden as his quarterback). That seems not to be the case, as Richardson seems on his way to be labeled as a bust after being taken  No. 3 overall in 2012. Another swing and a miss by Irsay.

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I will just bluntly say what I was eluding to in those previous couple of paragraphs: Irsay was handed an opportunity on a silver platter and simply screwed it up. In a particularly weak conference, if Irsay had made savvier signings in the offseason they might have been able to afford a couple more key players that could contribute in a big way. The Colts made a big splash on the first day of free agency, overpaying players they thought would also be sought after. Smarter teams stayed complacent, waiting until they had the leverage to underpay players because the players had no other option but to sign (cough cough Aqib Talib and the New England Patriots). Looking back, you could say that I was somewhat piling on Indianapolis with the decisions that it made, but my claims were justifiable. The Colts are still a good, if not very good, team, and can do some serious damage in the playoffs assuming they make it. It seems like they will be, because it seems like someone has a Matt Schaub voodoo doll and is just endlessly jabbing it with every pick six that poor human being throws. With the Texans faltering, the division seems ripe for the Colts to grab a stranglehold on. Irsay may have screwed up some decisions this past year, but it may not end up mattering with a stud like  Luck under center.

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The Bad Kid’s My Best Friend: Being a Seahawks Fan in the Age of Richard Sherman

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The Cover 4.com presents you with The Bad Kid’s My Best Friend: Being a Seahawks Fan in the Age of Richard Sherman! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Growing up I had one sports idol, Edgar Martinez. I learned early on to pick sports heroes that you actually had the physical abilities to dream about being. Edgar was short, kinda fat and hit doubles. I wasn’t short, but I was fat and I hit lots of doubles. Done and done.

GPmid4813But the first player I wanted to be like in every other aspect of life was Gary Payton. I went to a game circa 1994 with my dad and could not take my eyes off The Glove. Sure he was an amazing player with incredible body control, the quickest hands I’ve ever seen and (eventually) a nice jump shot, but it was more than that. Payton was never just about his basketball skills. Payton mentally owned whichever player he was on the court with.

The shit talking, the chest bumping, the way he always seemed to be talking out of the side if his mouth. GP didn’t beat guys, he owned them. Being a Sonics fan at the time was like being best friends with the bad kid in school. Sure, he never stopped talking, was always challenging authority and sometimes got you sent to detention with him. But that detention was a whole hell of a lot more fun than eating lunch at the quiet table.

After the Sonics traded GP in 2003, Seattle fans went a while with no bad kids in our circle of friends. Shaun Alexander couldn’t stop smiling. Ray Allen was awesome, but ultra-focused and was a bit of a recluse off the court. Matt Hasselbeck won our hearts, but in the “I’d want my sister to marry him” kind of way. If you call Felix Hernandez anything that involved the word bad, the King’s Court will try to fight you. Those guys all worked great in different ways. Seattleites pride themselves on their polite, because they’re not dicks, reputation, so those heroes worked.

With the 154th pick in the 2011 draft, the Seahawks selected a converted wide receiver out of Stanford. And with that move, Seattle had its bad friend back.

Richard Sherman is a package made for Seattle fans. He always believes he’s the smartest guy in the room (or the best at life depending on the audience). He has never held back in saying whatever he wants. He has a sense of humor that led to him hiring the ref that called Golden Tate’s touchdown against Green Bay as the ump for his celebrity softball fundraiser. He writes articles for Sports Illustrated. He’s the loudest, most charismatic, biggest troublemaker in school. And we love being friends with him.

743352_f520Seattleites embracing the bad kid seems like a bit of a contradiction. Seattle is full of the quieter, rebellious within-the-lines kind of people (you may call them hipsters). But when it comes to football, the city’s inner party animal comes out. And when the animal is loose, it wants to run with Sherman.

Being friends with the bad kid means you have to put up with defending your friend to a lot of people who do not share your view of that friend. He talks too much, he got burned in the Atlanta game at times, he’s not all he’s cracked up to be. But when the bad kid backs up all the ish he talks, oh man is it fun. Sherman tells teams he’s going to beat them. Then he beats them. Then he reminds them that he said he was going to beat them and then beat them. And we as fans get to ride at his side, cackling the whole time.

It’s been a long time since Seattle had the baddest kid in school as its friend. But we’ve been waiting for him to come back. And now that he has, we can’t stop egging him on and rejoicing in his success. Winning is always going to be the key that holds it together. But winning in detention will always be more fun than treading water at the quiet table.

 

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The Burning Questions After Four Weeks

The Cover 4.com presents you with The Burning Questions After Four Weeks! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

One fourth of the NFL season is already in the books. Apart from the Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers, each team has played a quarter of their games. Some teams have surprised, while other teams have wholeheartedly disappointed. There have been devastating injuries and surprising players. And god forbid, a blockbuster trade!

Before we get on to the completely arbitrary questions I made up for myself to answer, obviously four games in the NFL is an incredibly small sample size. Even 16 games is somewhat small, the Detroit Lions last year looked like a franchise on the decline at 4-12. Now in 2013, they look like a team that is almost at an elite level that could steal the NFC North from the Chicago Bears and Packers. Basically, what I am saying is all the successes or failures of your favorite teams or players should be taken with a grain of salt, so what I am going to do is try to figure out how big that grain of salt really should be.

How good are the Denver Broncos?

1380585127000-USP-NFL-Philadelphia-Eagles-at-Denver-Broncos-001Really freakin’ good. But not as good as everyone thinks. Before the pitchforks come out, let me explain: For one, their first four games were played against some god awful defenses. How bad? The “best” defense they played this year was the one that kicked off this season, against the Baltimore Ravens. Playing in the shadow of Joe Flacco, Peyton Manning was literally untouchable as he fired seven touchdowns against the defense while effectively ending anyone’s fantasy matchup before they even got to the Sunday games. After four games, the Ravens are ranked as the 11th best defense. Then there is the 16th (Oakland) and the worst two defenses in the league, the New York Giants and the Philadelphia Eagles, respectively. If you’re an advanced metrics kind of guy, it gets even worse. I’ll spare the jargon, but those four teams are even more miserable in defensive DVOA. Denver’s offense is incredible and fun to watch no doubt, but just keep that tidbit in the back of your mind as we progress through the rest of the season

hi-res-158026589_crop_650x440Secondly, the Broncos have had some devastating injuries that haven’t been exposed yet. To start off, they lost their stud left tackle Ryan Clady. Everyone tends to forget that Manning is 37 years old and only a year and a half removed from four neck surgeries. One wrong hit and he’s done for the rest of year, effectively ending the Broncos season. The offensive line thus far has only given up five sacks (sack numbers are admittedly fluky, QB pressures and knockdowns are much more telling but have not been updated as of right now). But like stated before, the defenses Denver will be playing in the future coupled with Clady’s loss is most definitely a cause for concern. On the other side of the ball Broncos fans should be a little more worrisome, as their two most dynamic defensive players still haven’t played. The ongoing Von Miller saga is not very encouraging, as well as Champ Bailey’s injury that seems either more complicated or more worse than Denver originally let on. So far, this defense hasn’t been , but with games coming up against formidable offenses, I am fairly confident this defense will be torn apart sooner rather than later.

What should I make of the Trent Richardson trade?

NFL: Preseason-Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis ColtsThis one surprised everyone, and if someone told you other wise I would be weary of a protruding wooden nose. So, why? Let’s tackle the Cleveland Browns. First, the Dawg Pound are under a new regime. Trent Richardson had Mike Holmgren blood all over his dreadlocks, and new GM Mike Lombardi wanted to start from scratch with the core he wants to keep. If you look up Richardson’s stats they are remarkably unremarkable, especially for a first round pick. So to get a first round pick for a third or fourth round talent? Everyone with a brain would take that. I personally think Richardson is overrated, but if you think he still has potential, than you probably didn’t like the trade; just keep in mind Cleveland’s o-line is above average and Richardson couldn’t do squat. Regardless, the Browns are clearly dumping every valuable asset to tank for Teddy Bridgewater or Jadaveon Clowney, except no one accounted for Brian Hoyer the Destroyer leading them to two wins which seemingly gets them out of contention for the first two picks. This franchise can’t do anything right. But seriously, expect Josh Gordon to be traded by Week 8, also.

On the Indianapolis Colts side, everyone kind of shrugged off Jim Irsay’s frantic tweets about a big deal and just assumed he was crying wolf (two fairy tale references in two paragraphs, mind you). Is it possible for me to be a fan of what both teams ended up with? The Colts are clearly all in, trying to fit as many impact players on this roster while still having an Andrew Luck contract on the books for dirt cheap. Now instead of Trent Richardson being the focus of a defense for them to shut down, he is now an afterthought compared to Luck and emerging weapons TY Hilton, Coby Fleener, and the always dependable Reggie Wayne; Richardson is finally in a place to succeed. We’ll know if he is a legit talent by the end of the season.

Let’s play the Grain of Salt game

This will be a (relatively) condensed version of the Denver Broncos section. Keep in mind, the Grain of Salt game can go both ways. For example, I think the Miami Dolphins are over achieving, so obviously I’m taking their success with a small grain of salt. But I also think the Bengals are under achieving, so I would take their poor record so far with an equally small grain of salt. Oh, you already understand how this rudimentary game works? Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your intelligence.

new-england-patriots-nfl-training-camp-2013New England Patriots – We’re starting with them because I am an unapologetic homer. This grain of salt is relatively big. Look, I may be a homer but I am realistic. The amount of salt isn’t just because they are 4-0, it is because they are 4-0 without arguably the most dynamic tight end in the game and two rookie wide receivers who are on a crash course of learning the quirks of the NFL with an intense and screaming quarterback that would make a Marine drill sergeant blush. Their defense is stout (6th best scoring defense, 4th best DVOA) but I would be remiss to mention the absolutely devastating loss of Vince Wilfork. The Patriots are still here, but they never really left in the first place.

Cincinnati Bengals – Also mentioned above, all they need is Andy Dalton to step up. He may have gotten the benefit of the doubt by making the playoffs a lot early in his career, but under that red lettuce we’ve come to love and know might actually lay an average quarterback given a great chance to succeed. Like I mentioned in my preview, the Bengals gave him all the weapons to prove himself, and he is also backed with an above average defense to boot. This may be a ride or die season for the Red Rifle.

Jacksonville Jaguars – They would get the biggest grain of salt imaginable if this section were titled ‘The Jadaveon Clowney Grain of Salt Game’. Well, unless this comes to fruition.

Kansas-City-Chiefs-Team-Preview-2013-640x454Kansas City Chiefs – Almost everyone saw a Chiefs resurgence coming, but this team is legitimately good and will most likely snag a wild card spot with their 4-0 start. They have the second best scoring defense, but they have played a couple cupcakes. Alex Smith is doing Alex Smith things, which is not to turn the ball over and forgetting the NFL allows passes to be completed more than 20 yards down the field.

Miami Dolphins – Previously mentioned them, but I am not buying their success (or not buying their grains of salt?). Lamar Miller is a poor man’s Reggie Bush, meaning he is not a serviceable every down back but is more than capable of breaking off a big play. I like Ryan Tannehill more than I hate him, but that isn’t saying much. Their defense is right at league average, and their offense is ranked 8th in DVOA, but they are closer to the 17th best team (Oakland) than the second (Green Bay) so that is misleading at first glance.

What has gotten into Philip Rivers?

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh SteelersAll signs point to Philip Rivers making a trip in the offseason to the Nile River and washing away all evidence of Norv Turner off his body. But in all seriousness, it is safe to say Rivers has always been the same (more or less) he just hasn’t been able to stay upright. So far in 2013, Rivers has been sacked only three times (all against Chicago) while being taken down an egregious 13 times last year through four games. The previously mentioned Norv Turner absence may have injected some much needed faith, but the tangible results point directly to the offensive line’s big improvement.

So there you have it. I tried to keep it short in terms just because of half-season power rankings coming out after Week 8, where I will break down each team’s ascension or decension from my preseason rankings. Making fun of myself will most assuredly be included.

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AND BACK TO .500…OH, HELLO OFFENSE

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The Cover 4.com presents you with AND BACK TO .500…OH, HELLO OFFENSE! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams

It all took place in the trenches…..and it all ended in the end zone.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams

Coming of their back to back losses for the first time since Kaep and Harbaugh took the reigns, the Niners were in need of a big win.  Well, they got that done and showed what kind of team they truly are. They got back to their style of dominant defense, but what did the offense show us?

Getting Back to the Basics

In the win against the Rams, the Niners got back to their tried-and -true game plan of giving their HOF back the ball.

Between the four running backs used in the game, there was a total of 40 carries.  LaMichael James made his season debut with three carries that didn’t amount to any yards.  Anthony Dixon got in with three carries of his own, only gaining a total of six yards but did record a touchdown.  Now we get to the feature backs.

Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore combined for 31 carries.  Hunter ended with 11 carries for 49 yards and one touchdown.  The change of pace back kept the defense honest on the outside. This allowed Gore to do what he does best.

Gore got plenty of carries up the gut, which is his specialty.  Gore totaled 20 carries and broke the century-and-a-half mark with 153 yards and one touchdown.  He put his great vision on display for all of the Thursday night viewers and let them know he still has the speed and the power that some may have questioned.  He showed he is still a top-tier running back in the league and he was recognized for his performance.

These numbers are credited to the offensive line as much as they are to Gore.  They played smash-mouth football and asserted their dominance.  This is what the Niners have been know for. As they say, “Numbers never lie.”

The Passing Game Benefitted

When you run the ball, you open up the passing game.  Simple enough.

Colin Kaepernick made a reappearance in the QBR leader board this week.  Though there is still plenty of work to be done, this was a good resurgence game for Kaep and his receivers.

Kaep totaled 163 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.  These numbers are by no means outstanding but after throwing more picks than touchdowns’s in the last two games, its nice to see a zero in that INT category.  Kaep spread the ball around to seven different targets including his newest target, Jon Baldwin, who recorded two receptions for 19 yards.  He could be a big factor down the road.  Watch for it.

Anquan Boldin also was able to make a difference in this game.  He ended with five receptions for 90 yards and one touchdown.  The Show will need this kind of performance from Boldin all year long.  Side-note: he had one of the prettiest scoring dives I have seen.

San Francisco 49ers vs St. Louis Rams

Even the Injured Vernon Davis ended up suiting up and making a difference for the squad with one receiving touchdown of his own, (which was much needed because I took that risk and gave him the start on my fantasy team, thanks bud).

Still Room For Improvement on Offense

The problem here is that no other receiver besides Boldin and Bruce Miller (22 yards) had over 20 yards receiving. This needs to change. It has to if the Niners want their offense to be seen as an equal threat.

Right now it is too easy to game plan against the Niners.  Stop the run and man up the receivers.  Of course this isn’t as easy as that but it has still happened twice this year.  Hopefully with the emergence of Baldwin and Boldin and the health of Davis looking up, The Show can eliminate the consensus that they can’t throw the ball (which seemed to be eliminated in the Packers game but that buzz ended rather quick).

Final Note

With needed improvements aside, the Niners got the W they needed.  Though it was against a less than stellar St. Louis Rams team, it was a good game to get back on track.  Now they have a true test this Sunday at the Stick against that loaded Texans team.  Back to work boys.  I’ll see you there.

And just incase you missed it (if you did I don’t know why or how), here is that beautiful touchdown dive by Q.

http://www.49ers.com/video/videos/Cant-Miss-Play-Boldin-20-yard-TD/171109e8-0790-44b5-a857-94d47b246b7e

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Decker Cady
Guest Sports Activist for The Cover 4

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The State Of the Steelers

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the The State Of the Steelers! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

 

Are the Steelers in trouble?  Some might say they are.  There are a lot of positives going on with the Steelers that many may fail — or frankly just not wish — to see.  As of now, it is hard to look past the -9 turnover ratio.  The almost disgusting offensive line.  The countless sacks and hits Ben Roethlisberger has been taking.  The shear lack of a running game.  All are very big negative points that have been lingering around the league about the Steelers.  All of which are true.  However, is it possible that the Steelers can bounce back from an 0-3 start?  Absolutely!  History has proven that that the odds are slim and they very much are, but don’t count them out just yet.  The defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers is still there.  Turnovers will come.  It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.

Veterans like Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel will be able to guide the younger guys in the right direction.  The fans have been spoiled in previous years with the way this Dick Lebeau defense created takeaways and stopped every offense it faced.  They will continue to perform despite the lack of offensive success.

Chicago Bears v Pittsburgh SteelersOffensively, everyone always dwells on the sack numbers on Big Ben Roethlisberger.  How many quarterbacks in the league will hold onto the ball for 4, 5, 6 seconds?  Not many.  He never gives up and many times just doesn’t know when to just throw the ball away.  Again, the fans were spoiled with the reciever help he had with Mike Wallace, Nate Washington and Plaxico Burress (in his prime).  All of whom are great backyard receivers.  Now Ben is throwing to a very talented, but young Antonio Brown, Jerricho Cotchery and Emmanuel Sanders.  All of them do not understand the concept of improvising their routes.  They will pick it up and help Ben out here in upcoming games.

The running game has nearly been a disaster since the retirement of Jerome Bettis.  Look to see Le’Veon Bell get a lot of carries, with Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones and Issac Redman supplementing Bell. The running game will bounce back given the patience of Todd Haley.  If Haley can’t stay patient, then you can kiss the season and his job goodbye.  Ben made a name for himself off of a running game opening up a play action.  Without the play action and a successful running game, you will see more multiple interception games by Roethlisberger.

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Many big games are in the near future.  Pittsburgh has received a blessing in disguise with a week 5 bye.  The season is still wide open.  Only one team per conference has showed and proven that they are indeed a very sound football team.  Denver is going to be tough to the end as will Seattle.  The rest of the league is not even close to decided.  A couple other teams in each conference look tough and will be very possible contenders in the end.  Cincinnati looks like it is starting to prove people wrong.  Chicago, despite the firing of Lovie Smith, looks like it will be giving the NFC North a run for its money.  The 0-3 Steelers have now lost to two of the top six teams in the league according to ESPN’s week 4 power rankings.  Is there a chance of revival? Is there a chance to bring back the old smashmouth D?  Can the offense be as explosive as it’s been in the past?  Only the future weeks can answer these questions.  Don’t stop watching and you may be surprised come January.

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Dan Truesdell
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