Thursday, September 22, 2016

Is Lamar Jackson the next Heisman winner you’ve never heard of?

Some years are more straightforward than others when it comes to college football’s most prestigious award. There were arguments for Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey over Derrick Henry, but the Alabama running back was the overwhelming choice for last year’s Heisman Trophy. However, the race to flash the pose gets interesting when a candidate who wasn’t highlighted in the summer, bursts onto the scene. We saw this in 2012 when Johnny Manziel took down Alabama in Tuscaloosa and ran away with the Heisman Trophy. Remember the Cam Newton who was nearly expelled from the University of Florida and played a season at Blinn College? No, but you remember his Heisman and National Championship at Auburn.

Now, there’s another name that’s bursting onto the Heisman scene and probably won’t go anywhere in the next three months. Louisville sophomore quarterback Lamar Jackson has thrown for 913 yards and rushed for 464 in three games this season. Both of those numbers are approximately half of Jackson’s respective 2015 yardage totals through the air and on the ground. He has accounted for 18 total touchdowns in three games this season. Last year, he was responsible 23 touchdowns for the entire season.

Jackson, a four-star recruit according to Rivals.com in 2015, attended Boynton Beach High School in Boynton Beach, Florida. He landed at Louisville despite also visiting the University of Florida. Jackson also had a Clemson offer on the table. Ironically, in three months, Jackson may find himself in New York as a Heisman finalist where Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson may very well be in attendance as well.


There’s still tons of football left to be played. Next week, Jackson and Watson will square off in South Carolina as Louisville travels to Clemson for a game that will be pivotal for both teams’ chances to make the college football playoff. But last week, college football fans across America watched as Jackson led Louisville to a 63-20 blowout against No. 2 Florida State. His initial coming out party was last year in the Music City Bowl against Texas A&M when he threw for 227 yards and two touchdowns and added 226 rushing yards and two more touchdowns. But, his name wasn’t mentioned much in preseason Heisman talks that were led by Watson, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook, LSU running back Leonard Fournette, and McCaffrey.

                                                 Jamie Rhodes/USA Today Sports
Jackson toyed with Florida State to the tune of five total touchdowns
and 366 total yards in Louisville's blowout victory last Saturday.
After the Florida State game, Jackson is squarely on the map. Manziel exploded as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M four years ago. Jackson, a true sophomore, is just as old as Manziel was in 2012. While everyone got a glimpse of Jackson’s talent in last year’s Music City Bowl, last week’s Florida State game was Jackson’s official arrival. Next week’s visit to Clemson offers Jackson an opportunity to solidify himself as the Heisman favorite. A late-season non-conference game against Houston will be another contest worth highlighting for Jackson’s Heisman chances. 



Jackson is by no means an underdog story. When you consider he was a four-star recruit from Florida with several high major offers, and started as a true freshman for an ACC school that went to a bowl game, in some ways he’s just the opposite. So what’s surprising isn’t Jackson’s production, but how quickly it’s coming. Despite his performance in the Music City Bowl, one month ago, if you asked a college football fan who the best player in the country is, Lamar Jackson wouldn’t be a name that popped up. Now, you’ll hear his name is every debate. Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

2016 NFL Predictions

Another season of football is here and that means time to make predictions that are bound to be
wrong again. Here is how I see each division shaking out in 2016.

*Numbers next to division winner and two wild cards in each conference denote playoff seed. 


NFC East:
(4) DAL: 9-7
    WSH: 8-8
                 NYG: 8-8
                 PHI: 6-10

Analysis: This is arguably the most mediocre division in football. Dallas will be without Tony Romo for most of the first half of the season. But, Dak Prescott, though a rookie, is better than the replacements the Cowboys had last year for Romo and will be able to keep the team afloat in Romo’s absence. Riding a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott behind their offensive line, Dallas should be able to get to nine wins which will be enough. Dallas, Washington and the Giants all have question marks on defense, but capable offenses, so this could shape up to be a three-team race. The Eagles will struggle to score enough and while their defense could be above average, it likely won’t make a difference in a season that will be all about the development of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz.

NFC North:
(1)  GB: 13-3
MIN: 9-7
CHI: 7-9
DET: 6-10

Analysis: In a surprise move earlier this week, the Packers released guard Josh Sitton, who stayed in the division and joined the Bears. However, Green Bay’s offense figures to be among the best in the NFL with the return of Jordy Nelson after the wide receiver missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Aaron Rodgers played the whole season and finished 17th in passing yards last year and Nelson’s absence made it difficult to take more shots downfield. Yet, the Packers still won 10 games last year. Green Bay’s offense will be more explosive and that will result in three more wins this season. Minnesota got to 11 wins in 2015 behind a respectable defense and good running attack. With Teddy Bridgewater out of the picture this season, that formula will only be more important, but even more predictable. The Vikings could compete for a wild card, but Green Bay will win the division while Chicago and Detroit both could put up good numbers on offense, but struggle to stop many opponents on defense.

NFC South
(2)  CAR: 12-4
(6)  TB: 9-7
       NO: 8-8
       ATL: 6-10

Analysis: Much like the NFC North is Green Bay’s to lose, the defending NFC champion Carolina Panthers should again run away with the NFC South. Behind a strong offensive line and the return of Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina will score plenty to go with one of the NFL’s best defenses. Tampa Bay’s youth movement, specifically on offense, should result in a playoff berth behind Jameis Winston, Mike Evans and Doug Martin. Nothing excites me much about New Orleans and Atlanta as both teams will likely have capable offenses and lackluster defenses much like Chicago and Detroit in the North.

NFC West

(3)  ARZ: 12-4
(4)  SEA: 11-5
LA: 7-9
SF: 4-12

Analysis: Arizona returns one of the league’s better defenses from a year ago and should only improve on that side of the ball with the addition of Chandler Jones in a trade with New England and drafting Robert Nkemdiche to aid its defensive line. The Cardinals’ offense will likely be very explosive again with lots of weapons on the outside to go with a good power running game with their big back David Johnson. Seattle will compete with Arizona all year for the division title like it did last season, but Arizona’s offense figures to be more dynamic and should give the Cards a slight edge in the division race. The Rams will be mediocre the way almost every Jeff Fisher team is and the 49ers just don’t have the talent needed to compete.

AFC East

            (2) NE: 11-5
                  NYJ: 9-7
                  BUF: 7-9
                  MIA: 6-10

Analysis: Everyone and their mother knows by now Tom Brady is suspended for the first four games. However, with the exception of an opener in Phoenix against the Cardinals, the Patriots should be able to weather the storm as their other three opponents without Brady are Miami, Houston and Buffalo and all three games are at home. Once Brady returns, there’s little doubt as to who is the class of the AFC East and the Patriots will claim another division title. The Jets will be right in the mix for a wild card in the AFC while Buffalo and Miami both aren’t much improved from last season.

AFC North

(1)  PIT: 12-4
(5)  CIN: 11-5
BAL: 9-7
CLE: 5-11

Analysis: Though Martavis Bryant is suspended for the season, Pittsburgh’s offense will still be extremely potent. Le’Veon Bell returns by week four from his suspension and DeAngelo Williams figures to be a capable fill in in the first three games. Considering Pittsburgh won 10 games last season and Ben Roethlisberger missed four in the regular season, the Steelers should see their win total increase as long as Roethlisberger stays healthy. Cincinnati has enough talent on its roster to return to the playoffs, but once it gets there, the questions will arise again about Marvin Lewis and his inability to win in January. Baltimore will be more competitive this season as the Ravens were decimated by injuries a year ago and Cleveland figures to improve as Hue Jackson should get things going offensively for the Browns calling the plays.

AFC South

            (4) HOU: 10-6
                  IND: 9-7
                  JAX: 8-8
                  TEN: 5-11

Analysis: The Texans are generating a lot of buzz in this division after winning it in 2015 and adding Lamar Miller and Brock Osweiler in free agency to stabilize their offense. I’m not sure the Texans can do much besides winning the AFC South again, but Houston has the most talent in a mediocre division. Indianapolis should challenge Houston if Andrew Luck stays healthy, but there are too many holes elsewhere for the Colts. Jacksonville will be improved but isn’t ready for a playoff berth and Tennessee still has a way to go before contending.

AFC West

(3)  OAK: 10-6
(6)  DEN: 10-6
KC: 9-7
SD: 5-11

Analysis: I’m all in on the Oakland hype train. The Raiders offensive line is legit and the young quarterback to wide receiver hook up of Derek Carr to Amari Cooper will be lethal in 2016. Oakland’s defense is only going up as well with an infusion of talent in the offseason with notable free agents Sean Smith and Bruce Irvin joining Khalil Mack and company. But don’t forget about the defending champs whose defense everyone already knows about. Quarterback play was a problem for Denver last season and the Broncos won the Super Bowl so this year they should at least make the playoffs. Kansas City will be left on the outside looking in while San Diego just isn’t as good as the rest of the division.

Playoffs:

NFC Wild Card Round: (3) Arizona over (6) Tampa Bay
                                       (5) Seattle over (4) Dallas

NFC Divisional Round: (1) Green Bay over (5) Seattle
                                       (3) Arizona over (2) Carolina

NFC Championship: (1) Green Bay over (3) Arizona

AFC Wild Card: (6) Denver over (3) Oakland
                           (5) Cincinnati over (4) Houston

AFC Divisional: (1) Pittsburgh over (6) Denver
                           (2) New England over (5) Cincinnati

AFC Championship: (2) New England over (1) Pittsburgh


Super Bowl LI: (1) Green Bay over (2) New England

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Time for Rankings

It’s no secret that we are muddling through a boring sports month. The anticipation of football season continues to grow, but it’s not here yet. Playoff baseball and the beginning of the NHL and NBA seasons are still more than a month away. The only time of year that’s worse on the sports calendar is the six weeks in between the Super Bowl and Selection Sunday. But now, unlike in the dog days of winter, there’s the growing excitement over aimless lists of rankings. In August, sports fans across America scour through the boatloads of fantasy football cheat sheets. In August, preseason college football polls come out and everyone gives their predictions of the four-team playoff. In August, NFL power rankings are released and overreactions to preseason games are commonplace.

Just look at last August. Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman was nothing more than a handcuff after the team drafted Tevin Coleman from Indiana in the second round. Coleman was clearly the Falcons running back everyone thought you wanted in fantasy football. Ohio State was first ever unanimous number one in the Associated Press preseason poll. Additionally, many polls had TCU and Baylor in the top five as both Big 12 teams seemed motivated after being snubbed from the playoff the year before in favor of Ohio State.  The Carolina Panthers were coming off of a weird season in which they finished below .500, yet won the NFC South and a playoff game. Nobody in their right mind would have ranked them higher than NFC top dogs like Seattle, Arizona and Green Bay, especially after Carolina lost its top receiver for the year when Kelvin Benjamin went down with a torn ACL in camp.

Did anyone see Freeman developing into an elite fantasy running back? Raise your hand if you had Ohio State missing the playoff. Oklahoma was the Big 12 team that was playing on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t TCU or Baylor.  The Panthers went 15-1 and beat Seattle and Arizona soundly on their way to the Super Bowl.


The point here isn’t to make fun of how wrong writers and radio hosts were. But rather to understand that rankings are only around right now to fill our sports appetites, especially when it comes to football. The minute Matthew Berry drops his annual love/hate, or Kirk Herbstreit gives his playoff picks, all the social media sites are promoting the hottest takes from the biggest pundits in fantasy football and college football. But nobody cares once the season starts. We get to watch games instead of read cheat sheets. You tell me what’s more enjoyable. Rankings are only here now to get us through August much like Joe Lunardi’s new weekly brackets get us through the winter after the Super Bowl. So if you’re a sports fan and ever get bored, there’s always something that needs to be ranked.