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Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Inaugural Sportaholic NFL Roundtable Debate

Ahh, at last we have football people. After a 130 day lockout, countless court ligation and the absence of the Hall of Fame game, the first few pre-season games scheduled today beginning with Baltimore vs. Philly and Jacksonville vs. New England at 7:30 EST. We here at the Sportaholic have set about a roundtable discussion on the burning questions facing the league this year. This has been one of the most interesting off-seasons in history with the NFL lockout and in turn the expedited free agency period that has produced a lot of player movement in a short amount of time. NFL fans buckle up for a fun ride this season but before its gets under way, allow Ashley, Taylor, Michael and Carlos to answer the biggest questions facing the best teams this year.



So without further interruption we give the Sportaholic NFL Roundtable:

1. Philly has lapped the field in terms of free agency adding the like of Nnamdi Asomagha, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, Steve Smith and more, leading some to call them the Dream Team of the NFL. Are the Philadelphia Eagles the team to beat with their additions via free agency?

Carlos: No - Well I personally don’t believe you win championships in August, but with that being said you have to sit back and marvel at what the Eagles have been able to accomplish in such a short span. They have added Pro Bowlers at every position of need not to mention the depth that they have been stockpiling as well. However I always take the notion of thinking that you have to take down the champ before you can be considered the team to beat so I have to say that until dethroned that the Super Bowl champs Green Bay are the team to beat. Philly on paper is close behind though.

Ashley: Yes - I'm not saying I hopped on the bandwagon like most of my female counterparts, but I am an official Eagles fanatic. I was already a Vick and Co. follower but these additions, including my college buddy Dominique Rogers-Cromartie, have definitely turned out to be something that I find very "Dream Team-like". I'm confident the Eagles will make it to playoffs if they can stay healthy but I'm still a believer that anything goes in the NFL. Dream your dreams....

Michael: No - I don’t think so. Sure the Miami Heat was the team with the bull’s eye on their back but the NFL is much different. Nnamdi Asomugha and Cullen Jenkins are impact players on the defensive side of the ball however Ronnie Brown is nowhere near an upgrade in my mind. LeSean McCoy and rookie Dion Lewis can more than cover the work load in Andy Reid’s offense. There are many other teams in the NFL that are more proven and more worthy of being the teams to beat. New England, Indianapolis, Green Bay and Pittsburgh are still the teams to beat in the NFL

Taylor: No - Philly has lapped the field in terms of free agency adding the like of Nnamdi Asomagha, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown and more, leading some to call them the Dream Team of the NFL. Are the Philadelphia Eagles the team to beat with their additions via free agency? Yes (on paper), Vince Young better hope his teammates can back up the Dream Team label he put on them better then the Miami Heat did when Lebron did on the Heat. The chances of being a super bowl contender can be stronger if they re- sign Desean “Mr. Excitement” Jackson. But also Michael Vick’s throwing ability and game management skills must improve from last year. Also in this mix are the New England Patriots with the addition of big play treat. Chad Ochocinco (I think Ochocinco can make a good run at Randy Moss’ s single season record I’m just saying.) and Albert Haynesworth (Maybe Coach Belicheck can get him back to his 2009 form if not his career is done).

2. The Chicago Bears were not expected to contend in 2010 and stunningly went 11-5 and the Dallas Cowboys expected to make a Super Bowl run but finished with a dismal 6-10 mark. With that in mind, who will be the surprise sleeper team this year and in that same token who do you think will be a surprisingly bad team this year?

Carlos: Houston and Tampa Bay - I think the team that will make the most drastic improvement will be the Houston Texans. Every year we wait for Houston to have the breakthrough with their high-powered offense, but their defense always lets them down. That should change this year with the additions of Jonathon Joseph and Daniel Manning at the CB spots. They also spent all but one of their draft picks on defense adding DE J.J Wyatt, LB Brooks Reid and also a nice underrated cornerback in Brandon Harris. And to top it off they get back stud LB Demeco Ryans who is the heart and soul of that defense. Wade Phillips takes over on that side of the ball and he always seems to have success with his defenses. If the Texans can get just a average defense they will be a dangerous team and I think this is the year.

On the downside this year I see the Tampa Bay Bucs having a tough follow up to last season’s success. Its only so many times that teams allow you to sneak up on them and Tampa’s success will make teams take notice to them on the schedule. Josh Freeman is a “Man” but he can only take that team so far. They also play in a tough division with Atlanta making big moves in the draft and free agency, New Orleans still in the Super Bowl contender mix, and Carolina will be much improved I believe this year. So the Bucs will have to play almost twice as good this year to get to double digit wins again.

Ashley: Great question! I love to see a good underdog make its heyday into the limelight, but this year I will be neutral. With all the trades and with no games being played yet, I don't know who will choke or come out on top. Ask me the same thing in a month

Michael: Houston and Chicago - I think this year’s surprise team is the Houston Texans. Each and every year they look like they will contend for a playoff push and fail to live up to expectations. This year however, Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and Co. are looking to push past those expectations and make a deep playoff push. Through the draft the Texans were able to LOAD up on defensive talent with the addition of J.J. Watt, Brooks Reed and Brandon Harris. Safety Shiloh Keo is the dark horse rookie to make the biggest impact.

The team I believe that fails to make anything promising of their season is the Bears. I only say this because Jay Cutler is such an over rated QB in my mind. His lack in reading the right receivers and never having much touch on the ball hurts him and could have easily taken last year’s 11-5 team and made the a 9-7 or 8-8 team. The defense is aging and hasn’t shown many signs of that yet but will they this year?

Taylor: The Houston Texans, they addressed they’re need at secondary by signing a younger cheaper version of Asomagha in Jonathan Joseph at corner. With an explosive offense with Matt Schaub Adrian Foster and “Don’t Mess with the Andre” Johnson (yeah that’s right Courtland) plus a talented line and Linebacker Core they should be in good position for the playoffs. Arizona Cardinals should make a push for the playoffs at QB with the addition of Kevin Kolb at QB but the OL has to improve to make the Kolb to Fitzeragald combo work and to help open up that run game.

3. We all know about the antics of Chad Ochocinco and stubbornness of Albert Haynesworth. We also know about the tight lipped nature of Patriots coach Bill Belicheck. Do you think the addition of these two players to the New England Patriots will either hurt or help them? And how do you see those two fitting into that locker room?

Carlos: When you come to the New England Patriots, they don’t adjust to you, you adjust to them. I think that both players will be fine because if not, they will be shipped out on the first thing smoking in Boston. Ochocinco will have to tone down the antics to a certain degree but he will still bring something we haven’t witnessed from these Pats: personality. He is already at it as he said he will live with a fan to get acclimated to the area. He will get the most out of Belicheck and his iron fist and maybe its a good thing for the coach as he may get him to be a little more spontaneous. As for Fat Albert, he is the one I would be worried about. Ochocinco has been called a lot but never lazy. Haynesworth will have to change his entire mentality to fit the Pats way. He has to be motivated and it seems he has every reason to now. Both players have been given the opportunity to leave dismal teams and have a chance to win a ring, so I think both will show up and do what’s asked of them, at least in the short run.

Ashley: As long as Albert has his 4-3 defense and Chad gets the damn ball they should be fine. The NFL is full of egos and I'm certain they should be reprimanded accordingly by Belicheck. If he let a future Hall of Famer go mid-season I have no doubt he'll ditch the attitudes if need be. Go Belicheck!!

Michael: I don’t see the addition of Chad OchoCinco and bad at all. Sure he has some crazy antics on and off the field but it’s never been disruptive to his teammates. Most of his fun is just ill will toward the old school football fans. Albert Haynesworth is in my mind worthless. The guy is a walking talking cancer to any locker room he is a part of. There is nothing in my mind that tells me that Haynesworth will be successful. He’s a much lazier and out of shape version of the big guy in the middle already Vince Wilfork.

Taylor: It will depend on the players themselves Belicheck’s player’s know what it takes to win and to win DEEP into the players from the starters to the bench they are prepared (example when Brady went down in 09 first game in the season Cassel stepped up ) with that said the two better come in with the attitude to win, to contribute, and don’t be larger than the team, because sure Belicheck is a proven winner, he is known to take players who teams have given up on and turn them into Pro Bowlers ( Cory Dillon and Randy Moss), as long as you have the attitude to sacrifice to change you will be great if don’t you will be shown the door just ask Randy Moss.

4. Arian Foster went from undrafted rookie to leading the league in rushing this year with a total of 1,616 yards. Who will be the breakout player of the upcoming season?

Carlos: Jermichael Finley - My breakout player is one that I predicted last year but he was injured. Jermichael Finley the TE for the Green Bay Packers. He is 6’5 247 pounds and runs like a gazelle. He has all the physical attributes to become the next great tight end in the game. And when you have Aaron Rodgers as your QB you know you will get plenty of chances. He was on the cusp of having a great season last year but the injury of course derailed him. I see him catching 60 balls for over 1,000 yards easily in that pass happy offense because he is such a mismatch rather if you put him at the normal tight end spot or if you flank him out as an extra receiver. Finley will be a force to be reckoned with next year for the Pack Attack.

Ashley: Legarrete Blount - Although you went with a RB, I'm going with one too. I'd like to see Legarrett Blount continue with his success. He didn't really get to shine until after Cadillac Williams' injury but he proved to be a great back up in Tampa Bay. Ahem....and I like to see players who get cut from the Titans have a great career elsewhere

Michael: Emmanuel Sanders - I don’t know about a huge break out year but I believe Emmanuel Sanders from the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a huge year. Last year Sanders was 4th WR behind Antwaan Randle El. With the release of Randle El the Steelers are showing that they have faith in their young WR core aside from Hines Ward. Sanders last season totaled 28 catches for 376 yards and two touchdowns. During the last four games of the season however Sanders was the target of 15 receptions for nearly 200 yards. Look for Sanders to improve on his play greatly from last season. The only thing slowing Sanders right now is the surgery he had on his foot a week ago.

Taylor: Jermicheal Finley - Like the Pack don’t need any more weapons as it is to make a run for back to back super Bowls if it wasn’t for a season ending injury he might be a pro bowler he might be the spark to help them get over some key divisional games. If he can stay healthy the pack will definitely be in the NFC title game

5. A recent report on chronicled the possibilities of player being injured more frequently this year due to the lockout and players not being in the normal condition they would be because of it. How do you think the players will be affected by the lockout as far as conditioning and physical shape?

Carlos: As you can see with the rash of Achilles and Knee injuries, you can tell that players weren’t as prepared as they would have like to be. Most guys probably took it easy during the lockout, not knowing when it would end. Take a look at former Minnesota Viking Bryant McKinnie who showed up to camp 30 pounds overweight. The guys who are workout warriors are not the ones to be worried about it the McKinnie of the NFL that you have concerned about. I think there will be more injuries than usual but its football and every season players get hurt so it shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Ashley: That's a toss up. It depends on the mental toughness of the player and what they did during the offseason. You'll see the one's who actually made the most of their time off from the lockout by working out and staying focused ready to take on this season in a short period of time. I hope everyone realizes that even on the professional level that there are some players who skip a workout or two or even decide to party more than getting ready. I say all of that to say it depends on who came to play and who wants to go home.

Michael: You would think that conditioning in the off season for a professional athlete is something that they would be accustomed too. The lock out on the other hand put some of the players whose work ethics have already been pulled into question in danger of being hurt. Teams led optional practices run by players however attendance could not be made mandatory. Look for a couple of notable players to go down in the first couple weeks of the regular season because they were too “good” for off-season conditioning.

Taylor: It depends on the player or teams, some teams had involuntary workouts (Saints and Jets) and players especially the great ones stayed in shape, plus the coaching staff knows how to keep players for getting hurt in the pre-season but the regular season anyone is accessible to an injury.

6. And of course for the final question, who will win the Super Bowl this year and why?

Carlos: - New York Jets. I think there about eight to nine teams in contention. Those teams are New England, NY Jets, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Green Bay, New Orleans and Atlanta. Those are the teams that clearly are a cut above the rest in the league. From this point on I think it’s just a crapshoot. You never know which team will sustain an injury to a key player or who will be in a slump this from year to year. If I had to pick a Super Bowl match-up I would go NY Jets vs. Philadelphia. I hate to jump on the Philly bandwagon but I just think their talent and depth at every position will be hard to beat. As for the Jets, they have been down this road the last couple of years and I think Mark Sanchez 3rd year will be the charm for the Jets. As for the winner of the game (Drum Roll please), I will go with NY Jets. It just seems that this team has been knocking on the door for so long that their due has to come right. They have the defense of course with Sexy Rexy leading them and their offense might finally have just enough with the addition of Plaxico Burress to put them over the top. I can’t believe I’m picking the Jets but you heard it hear first.

Ashley: - Philadelphia. Hmmmm.....who's going win the big one? If I'm dreaming "Inception" style I'd go with the Eagles because like I said above....I follow Vick and Co. On the other hand, if I'm awake throwing a few cold ones back then I'd say "Let the games begin!" The Lombardi trophy could be won by any team....

Michael: - Pittsburgh. I have to say this, I’m a homer and I’m going with the Steelers. It’s not like they aren’t talented enough because they surely are. Losing against the Packers in the Super Bowl last year crushed my morale. Well it was crushed for about three days until I started scouting the next season. The Steelers like history says don’t get better through free agency they just reload through the draft. Cameron Heyward was a great pick but I don’t think he’ll contribute the most to another super bowl run. Look for RB Baron Batch out of Texas Tech to have a large impact as a third down back and eventual successor to Mewelde Moore. Also Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown I believe have a shot at nickel and dime back coverage. I still don’t believe it was the Packers that beat the Steelers although I think that the Packers have a very well rounded team. I believe in the end of it all the Steelers shot themselves in the foot in trying to win number 7.

Taylor: - New England Hey Ill take this further I’ll pick the 6 teams from each Conference who will make the playoffs: AFC: Steelers, Texans, Jets, Patriots, Colts and Chiefs. In the NFC: Saints, Packers, Buccaneers, Eagles, Seahawks, and Rams. On paper of course the Eagles but my pick is the Patriots. They always have one or two players who fly under the radar on offense and their defense is steady improving

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