Tag Archive: Baltimore Ravens


NFL Weekly Picks: Week 3

Hey guys, sorry I didn’t have time to get my weekly picks post up last week. I just moved back to Minnesota so now that I am settling in hopefully I will be able to get into a groove with all of these weekly posts that I want to do. So, without further ado, here are my NFL Weekly Picks!

Eagles over Chiefs- I think the Eagles’ offense will be too much for the Chiefs to slow down, but it may come down to whether or not the Eagles defense can stop anyone. Thus far the answer to that question is no. Still, I’m going with Chip Kelly and the home team Eagles in this match-up, especially since the Chiefs have Dunta Robinson on their roster.

Packers over Bengals- The Bengals got a solid win against the Steelers last week but the Packers offense looked borderline unstoppable last week against the Redskins. The Bengals defense is a significantly better unit, but I think the Packers will be able to put up enough points to win this one. If Andy Dalton plays well he could make things interesting though, and I’m not sold on the Packers defense yet. Still, it’s tough to bet against Aaron Rodgers in this match-up even on the road.

Rams over Cowboys- This might surprise some people, but the Rams are a good football team and they gave my Falcons a run for their money last week. The Cowboys couldn’t quite figure out the Kansas City Chiefs, and while the ‘Boys have a lot of talent on offense the Rams are a talented defensive football team that I think has a chance to match-up with the Cowboys on offense. Of course, if Dez Bryant goes off for 180 yards and a touchdown like Julio Jones did last week then I would be completely wrong on that. Still, I have a feeling the Rams will play well in this game and I think they can beat Tony Romo and the Cowboys on the road.

Chargers over Titans- I’m realizing I’m picking a lot of road teams here so far, but I think the Chargers are the better football team in this match-up and it’s tough not to go with Philip Rivers over Jake Locker here. If Locker can pass accurately and use his legs effectively they could give the Chargers defense some problems, but most of us know the likelihood of both of those things happening consistently for four quarters is not likely.

Vikings over Browns- This would have been a more interesting game prior to the Trent Richardson trade, and there is something funny about the Browns making this trade with the Colts just days before they travel up to Minnesota to play the Vikings given that the Vikings are the team that traded down with Cleveland to allow them to move up to number three overall and select Richardson in the first place. The Browns offense has been struggling even with Richardson in the lineup, and it’s hard to imagine them being better without him even with Josh Gordon returning from suspension. The Browns do have a good defense though, so I expect both teams to score less than 20 points. The Vikings have the offensive advantage in this match-up though thanks to Adrian Peterson and a solid game from Christian Ponder, Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph and Jerome Simpson should be enough to win this one for the purple. However, it is worth mentioning that this is the kind of game the Vikings traditionally find a way to inexplicably lose.

Patriots over Buccaneers- The Buccaneers aren’t in great shape right now and while the Patriots have barely managed to defeat two rookie quarterbacks in consecutive weeks I don’t think Tom Brady and that offense are going to stay out of synch for more than a couple weeks. That should play to the Bucs advantage this week, but I don’t think it will be enough to get them a victory.

Saints over Cardinals- Originally I had the Cardinals winning this game, but it’s tough to travel into the Superdome and get a victory, particularly since the Saints defense looks significantly better through two weeks than it ever did last season. Carson Palmer has reinvigorated the Cardinals offense, and their defense is still respectable despite the loss of defensive coordinator Ray Horton, but I don’t think it will be enough to go into the Saints’ house and beat Drew Brees on his home turf.

Redskins over Lions- The Lions have shown plenty of flashes through the first two weeks, but I think they are going to come up short against a Redskins team that will likely be very motivated and focused after starting 0-2. It remains to be seen if the ‘Skins defense can get on track, but going up against the Eagles and the Packers in the first two weeks isn’t exactly a fair barometer for a defense, especially since they were essentially the NFL’s guinea pigs against Chip Kelly and his up-tempo offensive scheme. I think the Redskins will be motivated and hungry this week, so I’m giving them the edge over the Lions.

Giants over Panthers- I definitely didn’t expect the Giants to start the season out 0-2, but if Eli Manning can’t stop throwing interceptions they may be in for a long year. However, I am well aware that not all of those turnovers are his fault and I expect he and the Giants to get back on track against the Panthers. It would be really nice if David Wilson would get his act together and stop fumbling the ball, but the addition of Brandon Jacobs back into the fold should help provide at least a little stability in the running game. Maybe Cam Newton and the Panthers will surprise me, but I think the Giants are going to be motivated after starting 0-2 just like the Redskins are. I’m not sure if I can say the same thing about the Panthers yet or not.

Texans over Ravens- The Ravens offense has been ineffective thus far this season and I don’t anticipate them getting back on track against the talented Texans defense. If Andre Johnson can play the Ravens will get to see the Texans explosive combination of Arian Foster, Ben Tate, Andre Johnson AND DeAndre Hopkins who was one of my favorite wide receivers in last year’s loaded draft class. He caught the game-winning touchdown last week against the Titans, so I think the Texans are ready to beat the Ravens on the road this week.

Dolphins over Falcons- It pains me to do this, but the Falcons got way too banged up last week to go on the road and beat the Dolphins in my opinion. I think Ryan Tannehill is about to go off, and Lamar Miller may have a big day as well. Not only that, but Brent Grimes is a sure bet to pick off Matt Ryan in this game and I just don’t think the Falcons will be able to overcome Roddy White not being at 100%, Steven Jackson being out (though Jason Snelling will hopefully get a lot of touches), Kroy Biermann being out for the year, Bradie Ewing being out for the year, AND Sean Weatherspoon being out until Week 11. That’s a lot to replace and account for in one week, and while I think they will be able to survive those set-backs long term I’m not sure they can get away with it this week, so I give the advantage to the Dolphins at home.

Bills over Jets- In the battle of rookie quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Geno Smith I’ve got to give Manuel and the Bills the edge in this one. The Jets defense is still a quality unit despite the departure of Darrelle Revis, but Geno Smith made some questionable decisions and poorly executed throws in the elements against New England last week, and I have been shocked by how well EJ Manuel has been playing thus far. The Bills coaching staff has done a great job managing him thus far, and I trust Nathaniel Hackett to gameplan well more than I trust Marty Mornhinweg to do the same, so I am going with the Bills in this one. May the best rookie QB win. I must say, I was shocked and critical of the Manuel pick at 16 overall, but defeating Geno Smith (who I expected to come off the board first of all the quarterbacks) would be a pretty big vindication for EJ Manuel and the entire Bills organization. It would also make me look stupid, so that’s probably why it will happen.

49ers over Colts- This is an interesting one and it will be worth monitoring just how involved Trent Richardson will be in this game given that he is unfamiliar with the system and has no chemistry with the team at all, but the 49ers are the better squad and are likely very pissed off after the way they lost that game to division rival and offseason Cold War opponent Seattle on Sunday Night. The 49ers should come out firing and it will take a terrific performance from Andrew Luck to leave Candlestick with a victory.

Seahawks over Jaguars- #BecauseJaguars and #AllRussellWilsonEverything

Bears over Steelers- I thought Marc Trestman might give the Bears offense a tune-up and he appears to have done just that, and it makes me happy to see Jay Cutler playing well. The Steelers offense is completely devoid of playmaking at this point and I don’t anticipate they will be able to take advantage of the Bears defense enough to come away with a victory even at home.

Broncos over Raiders- The Broncos are playing some terrific football right now and they are looking especially sharp on the offensive side of the ball so far. They simply have more talent than the Raiders do at this point, though I think Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden may give the Broncos defense a few headaches. It would be a truly fantastic upset if the Raiders were able to come away with a victory against the Broncos on the road, I just don’t see it happening.

Thanks for reading, hopefully I do better this week than I did during the openers. Enjoy the games this weekend!

–Tom

Current 2013 Pick Record: 9-6

NFL Quick Hits

This is a feature I’m going to try every week where I post some hopefully brief thoughts on the past weekend of NFL games. I don’t know if I’ll have time to do the same with College Football games, but I will post them if I have time to write them all up. Hopefully you guys enjoy this segment.

1- The Falcons Are Who We Thought They Were- I’m sure most of you guys know I’m a Falcons fan by now, and that loss to the Saints was tough. The Falcons scored on their opening drives in both halves, but otherwise were very inconsistent on offense. I’m wondering why they ran the ball so infrequently despite Steven Jackson having solid success on the ground, and I’m also wondering how they managed to hold Drew Brees and the Saints to 23 points despite a lackluster pass rush. I’m not too worried about the offensive line yet, I think they will gel and become a stronger unit, but the amount of pressure in Matt Ryan’s face and the inexplicable avoidance of the run game and quick-hitting pass game to try to counter the pressure was frustrating. Brees was on point as always and I was impressed with the Saints dramatic improvement on defense. Rob Ryan has done a great job with them up to this point, and the pressure they got on Ryan and the looks they were showing him pre-snap stuck out to me. The Falcons will be fine, but I don’t think they are a 13-3 team like they were a year ago. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I think they are in the 10-6/11-5 area. We shall see.

2- Peyton Manning Needs To Stop Playing On Rookie- The way Manning was playing on Thursday night it is evident to me he was just playing Madden on a rookie setting, and a veteran with his resume should be playing on All-Madden at least, and preferably with a number of the sliders raised manually beyond that. Manning was obviously masterful, and that was despite having no running backs with a yard per carry average over 3.8 and only gaining 65 total yards on the ground. Joe Flacco came down to Earth after his fantastic playoff performances and it’s clear to me that he is missing Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta right now. Torrey Smith is a stud, but he can only do so much without a significant threat to take some pressure off of him. Dallas Clark surprised me with 7 catches for 87 yards, and if he can keep that up the loss of Pitta shouldn’t be quite as significant. I am a huge Demaryius Thomas fan and had a top 20 grade on him out of Georgia Tech and he has completely lived up to my expectations for him. I definitely expected Decker to be the #2 guy and Welker to be the 3rd option, but if the first week is any indication then Welker is going to get a lot of love from Manning this year. I don’t think 2 catches for 32 yards will be a typical week for Decker by any means, but I think I definitely underrated Welker’s potential impact coming into the year. I was also blown away by how well Duke Ihenacho and Shaun Phillips played. I liked Ihenacho out of San Jose State but realized some of his athletic limitations, however he had 12 tackles (including ELEVEN solo stops), 1 tackle for loss and 3 pass deflections as well as some pretty nice hits in this game. Phillips had 2.5 sacks and 3 QB hits on the night and definitely helped make up for the absence of Von Miller for at least one night. The Broncos looked like they were in mid-season form, but I don’t think the Ravens are going to have that much trouble on offense or defense for the entire season. They have lots of new faces on their roster and they need time to gel, and Manning took full advantage. Don’t hit the panic button yet Ravens fans.

3- EJ Manuel Is Making Me Look Stupid- I was pretty clear that I was not a fan of EJ Manuel at FSU and while it is still very early in his career my analysis of him is looking quite foolish right now. I have been very impressed with how Doug Marrone and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett have managed Manuel starting from his first pre-season snaps. They haven’t asked him to go out there and be Tom Brady, but much like Cam Newton his rookie season they will likely open up the playbook and let him attack more as he becomes more comfortable. I was happy to see Robert Woods get his first NFL catch and his first NFL touchdown, but Manuel got to see first hand that there’s almost nobody better than Tom Brady when the game is on the line. He may not have had a great day statistically, but when it counted he took the Pats down the field and got them in position to win the game. Danny Amendola predictably had a good game, I loved what Shane Vereen did and I was very sad to see that he is going to miss significant time due to a broken wrist (which he apparently suffered on the first play of the game!). I am hoping that Spiller was given limited touches because of his lost fumble, and not because he is inexplicably being mismanaged again in 2013. Regardless, Bills fans should be very encouraged by the early returns on EJ Manuel.

4- “Same Old Bungles”- That is for my good friend Ryan Koons who is now an active duty marine. He is a die hard Bengals fan and whenever they manage to lose a game like this that is what he would always say. I have to say I really thought those days were behind Cincinnati because on paper I thought they were ready to win the AFC North. However, Andy Dalton continues to make me wonder about just how far the Bengals can go with him as a quarterback even in spite of the absolutely fantastic play of AJ Green. The Bengals have tons of talent on defense, they’ve got weapons on offense, but if they are going to win close games and go deep in the playoffs they need Dalton to play better and limit his turnovers. The run game deserves some ire as well as the Bengals only averaged 3 yards per touch and totaled 63 yards on the ground. On the other side I thought Jay Cutler, overall, had a good game and Brandon Marshall was fantastic. The Bears running game was sluggish as well, and hopefully that offensive line will slowly gel and improve over the course of the season. I know that probably makes Bears fans nervous because they’ve been waiting for that offensive front to improve for years, but I’m hoping this is the year for their sake.

5- Reggie Bush Is Dangerous, Christian Ponder Is Not- The Lions put up 38 points on the Vikings defense and a lot of that is due to Reggie Bush totaling 90 yards on the ground (4.3 ypc) and 101 yards and one touchdown as a receiver (with a long of 77). That’s very impressive production, and it comes despite only hauling in four of his eight targets on the day. Matt Stafford had another high attempt, high yardage day and while it wasn’t the most efficient performance it certainly got the job done. I wouldn’t expect too many four catch, 37 yard days for Calvin Johnson, but Bush, Nate Burleson and Joique Bell took the pressure off of him this week. On the other side Christian Ponder continues to prove his doubters right as he threw 3 interceptions, got sacked three times and lost a fumble on the day. He also spoiled a fantastic game for Jerome Simpson who had 7 catches and 140 yards which I certainly didn’t expect from him. Adrian Peterson had a 78 yard touchdown run on his first carry but gained only 15 additional yards on his next 17 carries, but still managed 93 yards and two touchdowns rushing as well as 18 yards and another touchdown receiving. I will be the first to admit that I liked Ponder out of FSU (clearly I’m 0/2 on scouting Florida State quarterbacks right now) but he doesn’t have the same velocity he had prior to the injuries he sustained his senior year, he isn’t making good decisions and honestly I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matt Cassel start at some point this season for the Vikings. That’s not a good sign, and it likely means the Vikings will be looking to draft a quarterback early in the 2014 NFL Draft. I have been patient with Ponder and he occasionally shows signs of life, but unfortunately now that he’s in his 3rd year these kinds of struggles won’t be tolerated anymore. He’s got to step up his game and quick.

6- Pryor Makes Oakland Offense Almost Competent- I really feel like I am ruining any credibility I have as a quarterback scout but I liked Tyler Wilson a lot out of Arkansas and I didn’t like Terrelle Pryor out of Ohio State, but I am glad the Raiders elected to start Pryor over Matt Flynn. Pryor’s legs gave the Raiders life in this game and while I don’t think it will get them to the playoffs it should make them more competitive than they would have been with Flynn at the helm. I didn’t get to see as much of this game as I wanted to because the feed went out for it multiple times at the bar I was watching the games at (for some reason it was streaming online, not sure why), so outside of Pryor impressing me as a runner and Andrew Luck being a stud I don’t have too many thoughts on this game. Sorry guys.

7- Nolan Nawrocki Your Crow Is Ready- I know it’s early, and I know it’s only his first start, but it was fun to see Geno Smith rally the Jets to an unlikely win against Tampa Bay week one. I’m not going to say he made some unbelievable plays on that final drive to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, but if Sanchez was the QB on that final drive I don’t think the Jets would have won that game. Smith isn’t known for his scrambling, but his athleticism was obvious at the NFL combine and he gave the Jets a chance to get lucky thanks to his skill set. He wasn’t mind-blowingly efficient by any means, but it was definitely a solid first start based on what I was able to see. Unfortunately for Bucs fans Josh Freeman struggled (though the Jets do still have a good, well-coached defense) and despite 154 yards from Vincent Jackson he only managed 210 yards on 31 attempts, was sacked three times and threw one touchdown and one interception. I wasn’t a Freeman fan coming out and his first season it really looked like he might make me eat my words, but he seemed to plateau after that rookie season and hasn’t quite been the same since.

8- Kaepernick Is The Truth- I wasn’t wild about Kaepernick’s throwing motion or accuracy coming out of Nevada, but Jim Harbaugh has done a fantastic job with him and that offense is now tailor made for him. It certainly helps having weapons like Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis (even though Davis had a drop or two that he shouldn’t have) while Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham are injured, but his athleticism, pure arm strength and seemingly improving accuracy really stood out to me against the Packers. Green Bay had absolutely no answer for the Kaepernick-Boldin connection and while they managed to keep him bottled up as a runner he shredded them for 412 yards and three touchdowns as a passer. The Packers will have to go back to the drawing board now to try to figure out how to slow Kaepernick down if they meet again in the playoffs. I thought Aaron Rodgers was great as usual even if he did come up just short, I still love Randall Cobb, and I was happy Jermichael Finley bounced back from that drop that led to Rodgers only interception with some solid catches, good yards after the catch and that impressive touchdown. The Packers should be fine and I think they will be a playoff team, but I’m sure they and their fans are annoyed that another referee controversy led to a do-over for the 49ers that led to an Anquan Boldin touchdown. Maybe I’m alone here, but I think the NFL downgrading Bill Leavy for that mistake is ridiculous. Leavy is a veteran official and while he made a mistake this just reeks of an overreaction to me.

9- RGIII Was Rusty, The Eagles Offense Wasn’t- The Eagles defense made this interesting in the second half as RGIII and the Redskins started to knock some of the rust off, but in the first half RGIII had a lot of issues fading away from throws and not stepping into his passes. He still did some of that in the 2nd half, but he was definitely much more crisp and effective once his receivers stopped dropping passes and Kyle Shanahan adjusted to get him into a rhythm with quicker, easier throws. Michael Vick was impressive, though he’s still the same Michael Vick that will hold onto the ball too long and take unnecessary risks with his body at times. LeSean McCoy looks like an ideal fit for Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme and he should have a huge year. I was also happy to see that one of my favorites from a couple years ago Mychal Kendricks looked much better (based on what I saw live) and was pressuring RGIII pretty consistently. I’m not sure he’s great in coverage, but it was fun to see him rushing some of Griffin’s throws. Additionally, that interception Cary Williams made on that out route that Griffin threw was nothing short of fantastic. What a terrific play.

10- Oh Philip Rivers, You Poor Bastard- Rivers was absolutely fantastic in the 1st half and he started off the 2nd half in the same fashion. He had the Chargers up 28-7 and seemed poised for a statement victory in week one of the 2013 season. Unfortunately, much like he and the Bolts have in the past, they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Rivers and the offense began to sputter, the Texans woke up on offense, and the rally was complete once Brian Cushing read Rivers’ eyes beautifully and made a diving interception that he then returned for a game-tying touchdown. The Texans would go on to move the ball down the field and position Randy Bullock for a game winning 41 yard field goal. Andre Johnson continued to show why he is one of the best in the game with a 12 reception, 146 yard performance, Owen Daniels chipped in 67 yards and two touchdowns, and Deandre Hopkins added five receptions and 66 yards. I thought Arian Foster seemed determined to make a big play all game and didn’t seem focused on doing the little things. He was palming the ball and holding it away from his body, he dropped multiple catchable balls, and almost seemed to be showing off and looking to make someone look foolish. Maybe that’s just me over-extrapolating, but he seemed off tonight. I’d be surprised if Gary Kubiak doesn’t talk to him about how he’s holding the ball after he and the other coaches watch film.

Alright, so that was a LOT less brief than I expected it to be. I guess I had more to say than I anticipated, though I shouldn’t really be surprised since I am so long winded anyway. Sorry that was such a long post, hopefully you enjoyed it anyway!

Thanks for reading,

–Tom

Conference Championship Predictions

Atlanta-San Francisco:

I want to pick the Falcons so bad for this game, but I have a feeling they are going to have issues bottling Kaepernick up and slowing down the 49ers run game. Hopefully it’s a good game, but I think the 49ers will come out with the win in a close one: 27-24

New England-Baltimore:

Ray Lewis has had a heck of a run and I’m sure there are a lot of people rooting for him to go to the Super Bowl, but I don’t think Tom Brady is going to be out-dueled by Joe Flacco in this game (even if it has technically happened before) and I think the balanced attack the Patriots are wielding this year will be too much for Baltimore to keep up with. I’m taking the Pats 31-21

Enjoy the games! Hopefully I don’t miss much of them as I am traveling to Mobile.

–Tom

Divisional Playoff Picks:

I’m going to be traveling on Sunday morning en route to the East-West Shrine Game so I am going to make all of my picks today. We’ve got four intriguing match-ups going on this weekend, so it will be interesting to see how they shake out.

Denver-Baltimore:

As much as I want to see Ray Lewis and Baltimore continue on this season I’m not convinced they are going to. It’s hard to bet against Peyton Manning and this Broncos team, especially since this Denver defense is much more complete than any defense Manning ever had in Indianapolis. They can really get after the passer but I think they’ll be able to slow down Ray Rice as well, and that’s what I’d be worried about most if I was a Ravens fan. The Broncos can match up with the Ravens on both sides of the ball, and I’m not sure they have the fire-power on offense or the talent on defense to take away Manning’s passing options. On top of that, I’m not a big Flacco fan and I’m not sure he’s going to be able to make the big throws the Ravens need to win this game. He made some last week, but this defense is a different animal. I’m hoping for a good game, but I think Denver is going to win by more than one score: 31-20.

Green Bay-San Francisco:

This is a tough match-up to pick, but I’m going to go with San Francisco. I think they match up ok with Green Bay’s bevy of weapons on offense and they should be able to get after Rodgers without blitzing which is a big no-no against him. If you can generate pressure with four or five rushers (like the Vikings did in Week 17) then you can knock him around a bit and not give him a lot of options and force him to make unbelievable throws. The 49ers should be able to do that, and I think they’ll be able to take away the semblance of a running game that Green Bay has. On the other side of the ball I think the 49ers will be able to run the ball how they want against the Packers, and Kaepernick’s mobility outside of the pocket should extend a couple drives for the 49ers that could prove to be critical. It’s risky to pick a young QB like Kaepernick against a seasoned veteran like Rodgers, but Kaepernick isn’t one to wilt under pressure. I’m going with the 49ers but I think it’s going to be close: 27-21

Houston-New England:

I have to pick the Patriots here. I just don’t think the Texans defense will be able to match up with the weapons that the Patriots have on offense, and if the Pats can get the run game going I think the Texans will struggle to slow Brady and the Pats offense down. The Pats aren’t a great team on defense, but I think they’ll be able to do enough to slow down the Texans offense. If they can bottle Foster up and not allow Schaub to suck their linebackers in with play action fakes I think the Pats will be able to win this game. I think it’s going to be a close game, but I’m not going to be able to bet against Tom Brady in a playoff game at home: 31-24

Atlanta-Seattle:

This is a hard game for me to pick. I mentioned last week that I think the Seahawks match up very well with the Falcons on defense and I still believe that. This game is going to come down to who wins the match-ups between the Falcons WR’s and the Seahawks corners and whether or not the Falcons can find a way to get Tony Gonzalez involved without forcing him the ball. And if Michael Turner finds a way to have a productive game the Falcons can definitely win. But if the Seahawks make the Falcons one dimensional I will be very nervous with Ryan trying to carry the Falcons to victory against a very talented Seahawks secondary. They are missing their top pass rusher, but their secondary is good enough that I’d still be concerned. The Seahawks will look to run the ball early and often and I think the Falcons have the advantage on this side of the ball. Their defense has been very good at coming up with clutch turnovers this year and even if they let Wilson and Lynch move the ball I have a feeling Wilson is going to end up with an interception in this game and Lynch needs to make sure he covers up the ball because the Falcons will be looking to strip it. It’s never a good idea to bet against Russell Wilson (I did it last week and we all know how that worked out) but I think the Falcons have the defense to match up with him and even though I’m very nervous for this game I’m picking the Falcons to win a close one: 27-20

Those are my picks, hopefully I can improve over my 2-2 record last week. Enjoy all the football guys and look out for my coverage of the East-West Shrine game this next week. I’ll be posting notes here and on The Football Standard.

–Tom

Alright guys, I went 1-1 yesterday (I should have known better than to pick the Bengals) but the Packers came through for me. Today we have two more games to pick so I’ll try to finish strong today.

Indianapolis-Baltimore:

This is a tough game to pick and it could completely go either way in my opinion. The Colts are playing great and are playing with a lot of emotion for their Head Coach Chuck Pagano after his battle with cancer, and betting against Andrew Luck has never been a wise decision. However, betting against a Baltimore Ravens team that has just gotten their general back in Ray Lewis is an equally risky decision, and not one I’m inclined to make. I think the Ravens are going to be incredibly motivated to win this game for Ray Lewis, and while the Colts are a good football team (and vastly improved thanks to Andrew Luck at the helm) they won’t have their offensive coordinator Bruce Arians calling plays today and while they can survive without him, that’s not something you want to have to compensate for the day of the game. I’m picking Baltimore even though I’m not a big Joe Flacco fan (and wasn’t when he was coming out) but if the Ravens feed Ray Rice and play better on defense with Ray back in the fold I think they can pull this off.

Seattle-Washington:

This one is a tough game for me to call, but as much as I like Russell Wilson I think I have to pick Washington. The Seahawks aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home, and Washington is going to play with a chip on their shoulder since they probably aren’t getting the respect they deserve since they are an underdog in their own house. The Seahawks have a good defense though and if the Redskins are going to win this game their running game is going to have to be good, because the Seahawks two corners Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner will take away any receiver they want on the Redskins. I hate to bet against Russell Wilson and I often say that doing that is a fast track to being wrong, but I have to go with the Redskins today.

Let’s see how I do and enjoy the games today! I’ll be live tweeting them so follow me @TMeltonScouting if you haven’t already.

–Tom

Playoff Prediction Post:

I realize I’m late on this, meant to post it earlier but lost track of time today. I had the Texans picked though, I swear!

Wild Card:

Texans over Bengals
Saints over Lions
Giants over Falcons
Pittsburgh over Denver

The Giants-Falcons game could be interesting depending on what Falcons team shows up. They have struggled against quality competition this year and have gotten to the playoffs largely because of a weak schedule (especially to finish the season). The Giants pass rush could give the Falcons offensive line fits, but if they can run the ball and keep Matt Ryan upright they could make things interesting. The Giants should be able to pass all over the Falcons if they want to, but may struggle to run the ball a bit. I’m picking the Giants because they know how to win in the playoffs and the Falcons haven’t proven that they can yet.

Divisional Round:

Ravens over Texans
Patriots over Pittsburgh
Saints over 49ers
Packers over Giants

The Texans have been an inspiring story winning without Matt Schaub and Mario Williams, but I don’t think T.J. Yates will be able to threaten downfield enough to keep the Ravens from working to take away Arian Foster. The Ravens offense is going against a quality defense but I think they will be able to move the ball. Joe Flacco may not have a ton of playoff experience, but he certainly has more than Yates. I’m not sold on Yates making critical plays in big games and I think the Ravens will expose his flaws for all to see.

The Patriots over Pittsburgh is a tough call for me. I think the Patriots are a good team but their secondary is a mess and I am not sold on their defense at all. Pittsburgh can move the ball and threaten teams vertically, so they could make New England pay if they bite on the run. It’s tough to bet against Tom Brady in the playoffs though, and even though the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game in a while I think they have a good chance to win one with Pittsburgh coming up to Foxboro.

The Saints over 49ers isn’t an automatic either, but I think the Saints might be the only team in the NFC that can beat the Packers. There’s just no way I can bet against Drew Brees, especially with Alex Smith starting opposite him.

The Giants are one of the few teams that is built to beat the Packers. The Packers can’t run the ball very well and rely on passing the ball quite a bit, and the Giants have shown that they have the blueprint to beat passing teams when they upset Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl in 2007. This is an interesting match-up, especially since Aaron Rodgers didn’t play in week 17, but I expect the Packers to end up winning despite some of their struggles on defense.

Conference Championship Games:

Ravens over Patriots
Saints over Packers

The Ravens have a great defense that I think can slow down the Patriots offense enough for their offense to win the game. I don’t think the Patriots can slow down the Ravens enough to win this game personally. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t think much of the Patriots defense, especially their secondary, but I do love the Ravens defense. So I’m going with them to beat the Patriots!

Yes, I’m picking the Saints. I can’t stand the Saints for what they do to the Falcons every year, but I do respect them. Their defense certainly isn’t elite, but they will be able to pressure Rodgers a bit and won’t have to worry much about the running game I don’t think. The Packers defense has little chance of slowing down the Saints offense and I think this game will end up being a shoot-out, but despite it all I think the Saints can win. They are playing the best football in the NFC right now and as the Packers know it’s all about getting hot at the right time. The Saints are hot, the Packers are not.

Superbowl:

Ravens over Saints

I am a defense first guy even though I love slinging the ball around and scouting quarterbacks, so that has something to do with my pick here. The Saints are a great offense, but the Ravens defense can slow them down in my opinion. Do they match up perfectly? No, I don’t think so. But I think they can rattle Brees and knock him around enough to contain their offense when they need to. The Saints know how to manufacture pressure, but I think the Ravens can run the ball on them and extend drives that way. I am a closet Ravens fan so take that into consideration, but I believe defense wins championships so one of the few good defensive teams left has a great shot to win the title!

Thanks for reading, it’ll be interesting to see how I do!

–Tom

Last night I got to thinking about this, and I finally wrote down some of my thoughts and it inspired me to write this post up. I know you all would probably rather hear my thoughts on individual prospects, see my rankings or read through my thoughts on recent happenings that pertain to the draft. However, my greatest aspiration in my life as far as my career is concerned is to not only be a general manager of a NFL team, but to ultimately win a Superbowl as the GM of a team. So naturally I have given some thought to what I would do if I ever got a job as a GM, and it inspired me to write this blog post articulating some of the conclusions I have come to at this time. This is mostly focused on player personnel, though I have some thoughts about how to look for a good coach also. But this is going to be long enough without any of those thoughts. Enjoy!

Ron Wolf hoists the Lombardi Trophy with his Head Coach Mike Holmgren

First, you have to consider what schemes you think you want to run so you can hire coaches who shares similar views on how a team should be constructed. Personally I prefer a team that is tough, has a big, strong offensive line and can overpower teams up front. I can’t stand the ZBS because I think it makes it hard to have a lot of success in short yardage situations and on the goal-line, and those are the areas that I want my team to capitalize on. I want one or two receivers who have impressive size, are physical after the catch and attack the ball in the air. They don’t have to be burners, but I’d like them to be able to stretch the field and go up and get the ball. Also, having the kind of toughness that enables them to go across the middle and make a catch in traffic is essential to me. And naturally the QB has to have a quality arm to stretch the field, make accurate passes, etc. However he has to stand tall in the face of pressure and he needs to have the toughness and poise to step into a throw and take a hit. How he reacts in the face of pressure will be incredibly important, plus he has to be a great leader. These quarterbacks are hard to come by, but I am convinced that the best way to prepare your team for a Superbowl is to have a good leader at QB.

On defense I think that I would want to run a 3-4 scheme. I like the options that the scheme gives as far as blitz packages. However I would like to run a base 3-4 with players who are versatile enough to play in a 4-3 in obvious passing situations. That would enable us to take the NT off the field, play the two 3-4 DE’s inside at tackle and the two OLB’s would move to DE to rush the passer. That would give the front line a lot of pass rushing potential, plus we could potentially drop a lot of players back in coverage. But mostly I like the toughness of a 3 man defensive front because each defensive lineman has to be big, strong and smart enough to be responsible for 2 gaps. I’d like each defensive lineman to be able to stand up to a double team because that would make the linebacker’s job easier. I’d like my corners to be able to play man coverage and zone coverage, but being able to play man coverage is more important because the most intricate blitzes in the scheme will leave the corners on an island. Being able to trust them in man coverage will be critical. But if they can play zone effectively it opens a lot of options up as far as zone pressures and overloads.

But first and foremost I would want to build a tough team that can run the ball effectively anywhere on the field, and I’d want to build a team that has a great defense that can go toe to toe with any offense in the NFL and at least slow them down. I have subscribed to the defense wins championships mantra for a long time, and even if your offense is a great unit you need a defense that either creates a lot of turnovers or one that bends but does not break when opposing offenses start to move the ball. I believe stopping the run is the first thing you need to establish before you can have a great defense. Stopping the run makes the opposing offense entirely one dimensional and puts them in a difficult position: Do I continue to attempt to maintain a balance in play-calling even though I know I’m not going to get anything out of the run plays? Or do I abandon the run and become one dimensional and predictable? Neither is a good option for the offense, which gives the defense a significant advantage. Particularly because the team does not have to bite hard on play-action fakes because the run has been stopped so effectively.

I wouldn't have tied the fate of my franchise to Sam Bradford even if God had told me to.

Plus, by dedicating yourself to building a winning defense it means you won’t feel pressured to draft a QB in year one of your regime. This is an extremely common practice, but I think it backfires more often than it usually works. You have to be absolutely sold on the QB you are picking, and usually that means spending a 1st rounder on him. I personally would not have picked any of the QB’s in this draft. I would hate to have the fate of my franchise tied to Sam Bradford, Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy or anybody else. If I had an established QB already I would have considered taking Tebow just because his intangibles are off the charts and I think his work ethic is too good to discount him as a NFL QB. However, other than potentially picking Tebow I wouldn’t have tied the fate of my franchise to any of those QB’s. Matt Ryan, Mark Sanchez and possibly Joe Flacco in round 2 are the guys that I would have tied the fate of my franchise to, particularly Ryan and Sanchez. In the upcoming draft I think Jake Locker has a lot of potential, but I need to see more development. I would, however, gladly spend a mid-1st or higher on Christian Ponder at this point. I also think Matt Barkley has franchise QB potential like Ryan and Sanchez did in college.

”]A QB who can win games for you is key in my opinion. Finding a special QB who gives his team a chance to win just by stepping on the field is hard to do because they are so rare. Brett Favre is one, Matt Ryan is one, Tim Tebow could potentially be one but his intangibles have never been in question. I also think that Jake Locker, Christian Ponder and Matt Barkley fit this bill. Those are the guys that I like as QB’s, guys who are great leaders and to quote Ron Wolf: “Players who give their team the advantage simply from stepping on the field.” Ron Wolf and Thomas Dimitroff are two of my idols when it comes to GM’s that I have allowed to influence me. I also really like Ozzie Newsome, the current GM in Baltimore. They all draft efficiently, fill needs well and really preach depth throughout the team. They also didn’t take over, clean house and bring in “their people.” I think that is a mistake that is far too common in the NFL, but people still continue to get jobs and wipe out everyone because it was a losing organization. But just because someone was employed by a losing organization does not make them a loser themselves. It means they were in a bad situation. You have to take the time to not only evaluate the coaches and scouts, but other staff members and especially the players to see if they are capable of helping you build a winner. If you just fire everyone then you are throwing away potentially valuable resources that could have sped up the rebuilding process, and it’s all because you were too lazy to evaluate their performance during the previous season.

This is one reason that I would love to be brought in during the NFL season so I could see how everyone operated during the season. This way I wouldn’t have to predict how they would operate based off of how they conduct themselves during the offseason. Ron Wolf had this opportunity and made the most of it by evaluating everyone by watching tape, talking to current employees and seeing if they had the guts to tell him what they really thought, not what they thought he wanted to hear. That is exactly how I would run my organization. Namely, I want you to tell me what you think. Stick to your guns, stand up for what you truly believe and sell me on a prospect if you think he is good. If he’s good we could use him, but if we look at tape of him and he’s not as good as advertised then we won’t pick him. Simple as that. I have no tolerance for “Yes Men” who just pat you on the back and tell you that you are right all the time. That makes no sense to me because, to put it simply: You aren’t right all the time. You are human and you will inevitably make mistakes. That is why you have a team working with you so they can work to balance you out and keep mistakes to a minimum. Yes Men don’t limit mistakes, and I actually think they only serve to give you a big ego. And I have always believed that the only thing a big ego is good for is impeding current progress by getting in the way. So no “Yes Men,” they are a waste of time.

Thomas Dimitroff did a great job of keeping a core of stop-gap players intact while "trimming the fat" and bringing in an influx of new talent when he arrived in Atlanta.

After you evaluate your team you should have an idea of how many quality players you have, how many are just average, and how many are below-average. If you can trim the fat and cut players who won’t help turn you into a winner you should do it. Ron Wolf did this when he took over the Packers and Thomas Dimitroff did this same thing when he got to the Falcons. He released fan favorites Alge Crumpler, Rod Coleman and just recently he released Keith Brooking as he was no longer serviceable as a WLB. This is the way you must approach these moves. These situations are delicate since they are popular players, but when they are a hindrance to you when you play them you need to cut them unless they will take less money to be a back-up. That rarely happens, so you must cut ties with them in my opinion.

Then you need to look at the key positions and determine which need to be upgraded soonest. For me, QB, LT, NT, OLB, ILB and CB are the most important positions to fill with quality players. Having a great leader at QB and ILB is extremely important in my opinion, as they are the heart and soul of their respective units more often than not. That is why they are so integral to me. You also need a good LT to protect your QB’s blind side from elite speed rushers throughout the NFL. NT is integral for the 3-4 defense that I would want to run. The NT will clog up both A gaps (the gap on either side of the Center) and if he does his job well he will draw a double team and make it difficult for the opposing RB to find anywhere to run up the middle and he should be forced to try to cut-back or bounce the ball outside. Then I want two very good pass rushers at OLB. The more guys you have who can get after the QB the better, but having an OLB who can rush the passer really well is an extremely useful asset. If they can get after the QB standing up and with their hand in the dirt they would be ideal. I want to be deep at this position especially, same with NT and corner.

I personally believe that if the heart of your offense or defense goes down you are likely to be in trouble regardless of the back-up you have for him, but at positions that demand a quality player but not an elite player or leader depth is critical. At those positions the players are replaceable and rotatable. Having a quality back-up at NT means you can keep your starter fresh and not have a significant drop-off should he get injured or if he rotates out. The same can be said at OLB and CB. Like I said, the more OLB’s you have that can get after the QB the better off you will be. You will absorb injuries easier, you will keep your starters fresh and you will have opportunities to create match-up problems if you two or three OLB’s who warrant playing time. And the deeper you are at corner the better because so many teams use three, four or sometimes even five WR sets. If you can match-up with those sets with corners who are capable of playing man or zone coverage your defense will be in a much better position to slow or stop the opposing offense.

”]So, once you evaluate the quality of players in those key positions you can look to sign a potential impact free agent if there is such a player available that would fill a need, would not hinder the development of a young player at the same position and that would help speed up the rebuilding process. Michael Turner was such a player for the Falcons, and Reggie White was such a player for Ron Wolf and the Packers. Then you should look to bring in other veterans who can be stop-gaps at positions of need while you look to the Draft to fill those voids more permanently with a younger, better player. I don’t like rushing rookies into playing time before they are ready, and these veterans who you can usually sign for a reasonable price give the rookies a good mentor and they give them time to adjust instead of forcing them to play immediately.

I would probably focus my efforts to find a stud QB, LT, ILB and NT early in the draft. If there is a QB I am comfortable tying the fate of my franchise to available at my pick or that I could potentially trade up to get then I will go after him and solidify that position for the next decade with a great player and leader. Otherwise I will wait until I am confident enough in a QB in another draft. Rushing into a selection with this position can set your team back three, four or even five years, so I refuse to rush it.

Ray Lewis has been the heart and soul of the Ravens defense for years.

Next I would look for an elite leader and playmaker at ILB. If there is such a player available (such as a player in the Ray Lewis, Patrick Willis mold) then he would certainly warrant an early selection. I think Brandon Spikes was such a player for the Patriots, and I think that the trio of Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo gives the Patriots the best combo of a NT and an ILB in the NFL. Running up the middle of their defense is going to be extraordinarily difficult with those three guys lined up against you. That is what I want for my defense, a team that is extremely tough up the middle and extremely athletic on the outside to rush the passer and defend the pass. But most importantly you need a terrific leader, and Spikes has been called the Tim Tebow of Florida’s defense. That speaks volumes about his leadership capability. Plus he hits extremely hard, has great instincts and is big and strong enough to attack and shed blocks from offensive linemen. If there is a player in that mold available early in the draft, like the 1st or 2nd round, I will make sure I get him if it possible.

Next I have to look at LT and NT. Both are equally important to their respective units in my opinion, so the order in which I acquire one is not important as long as I get a good one. Picking a guy early just to fill a need is not an interest of mine, and I would rather sign a stop-gap guy, draft someone in the mid-rounds and develop them into a potentially solid starter rather than reaching for someone that I don’t think will be able to play early or ever develop into a quality starter.

If I have either filled these four need positions or if there is not a quality player that I think warrants that early of a pick at those positions then I will look to strengthen my offensive and defensive fronts, or to grab a playmaker at RB, WR or a CB or S who can add depth and potentially develop into a starter. More or less, I look for a BPA. When your team is severely lacking in talent the more talent you can stockpile the better. And I have always considered the dilemma of:

Patrick Willis was the BPA for the 49ers at #11 and he has had the vastly superior career to most of the players selected ahead of him.

“Do you pick the best player even if he doesn’t fill a significant need or do you take a lesser player that fills a big need?” I would personally pick the better player nine times out of ten. Settling for a decent or solid player when you could get a good or even great player at a position of relative strength makes little sense to me, especially if your team is hurting for playmakers as the team you are now working to rebuild probably is. Imagine if the Falcons hadn’t picked Matt Ryan, and instead picked Glenn Dorsey because he would have filled a huge need. They would have been lucky to win five games in 2008, instead they went to the playoffs. Imagine if they hadn’t moved up to get Sam Baker, or if they hadn’t drafted Curtis Lofton? Those three players were terrific additions for that team, and they came at three of my key positions that I would seek to upgrade.

After the first year I would ideally have a team with a few quality players and a couple pillars of the team intact from my four key positions. If I have my franchise leaders at QB and ILB then that would be perfect, but that is a hard feat to accomplish. But like I said, you can’t be pressured to draft a QB in the first year of your regime. If you don’t think there is one that can lead you to a Superbowl and win it, don’t pick one. That is exactly how I felt about Sam Bradford this year, and that is why I think he and the Rams are going to be bad for a long time. Mark my words, if Bradford starts from day one he will be a bust and the Rams will regret picking him.

I know this was a long-winded post, but I think that it was good for me to get some of this down on some kind of word-processor and I think it should make for an interesting read. I think my blueprint for building a franchise is pretty solid even though I have no experience making personnel decisions in the NFL yet. Obviously this is just an outline, and you can’t force selections of my four key positions of QB, ILB, LT and NT. If there aren’t good players available in those classes, or if all the good ones are gone when you are picking, you are definitely better off moving on down the list and looking for another position. And if there is a player at another position, particularly one that is a need, that slid and you didn’t think he’d be available and you think he can help you win a Superbowl, go ahead and pick him. I suppose I subscribe to the BPA state of mind, but only to a certain extent. I’m not going to pick three QB’s in a row because I think they can all win me a Superbowl, that makes no sense. I would look for a BPA at another position and ignore the quality QB available early in the draft if I already had one.

So, hopefully you enjoyed reading this. If you have a comment feel free to leave one and I will make sure I respond to it.

Thanks for reading!

— Tom Melton