Jim Caldwell – Tony Dungy’s Twin?

No, I’m not insinuating that new Colts coach and recently retired Colts coach Tony Dungy are actually blood brothers. But I’ve been reading a lot of statements like, “Caldwell is not Dungy’s identical twin” in various coverage clips of Caldwell’s appointment as head coach. These statements are coming not only from reporters, but also from team representatives like Colts president Bill Polian making comments like Caldwell isn’t ‘Tony Dungy Lite.’

I guess I don’t really understand why the Colts and others are trying to distance Caldwell from Dungy. I think the Colts could do much, much worse than having Caldwell end up being a clone of Tony Dungy. Personally, if I were a Colts fan, I think I would hope that Jim Caldwell is exactly that – a clone or twin of Tony Dungy. At this point we’ve seen articles all over about Dungy’s NFL accomplishments and strong faith so I won’t go into detail on those. I’ll simply say Dungy is one of the most successful football coaches in the history of the league. I feel like he’s always been underrated. Jim Caldwell learned from one of the best, a guy that in my mind deserves a spot in the Hall of Fame someday. So everyone, please stop with the comments that Caldwell is not a Tony Dungy. Caldwell is his own man, but if he approaches his new job in the same way Dungy formerly did, the Colts will be in a good place and Caldwell will make a name for himself.


NFL Conference Championships

Before I give my thoughts on the conference championships I thought it would be fun to take a look back at how I did with my predictions for the NFL playoffs.

Yes, I took a bit of time off since I last posted. Ok, yes, bit is an understatement…. It’s been a long time since I last wrote. But I’m back in the game now.

Back in August, before the season started, I made my predictions on which teams would make the playoffs. It’s going out on a limb a bit to make predictions on playoff teams before the season starts, but I figured what the hell, why not?

In the AFC I thought the division winners would be the Patriots, Steelers, Colts and Chargers, with the wild card spots going to the Jets and Jaguars. I didn’t do terrible…. I was correct on two of the division winners – Pittsburgh and San Diego. The Colts made the playoffs, just didn’t win their division. The Patriots and Jets were in contention for playoff spots, so I wasn’t totally off on those either.

In the NFC I predicted that the Giants, Packers, Bucs and Seahawks would win their divisions and the Cowboys and Panthers would be wild card teams. I went terribly wrong with the Packers and Seahawks. The Giants were the only division winner I correctly predicted. The others either made the playoffs or were in contention.

I’m not too upset with how I did. It was pre-season picks, it really is a crapshoot. Better luck to me next year I guess.

Now on to what I think will happen this weekend in the conference championships:

NFC Championship – Philadelphia Eagles vs. Arizona Cardinals

Would anyone have predicted at the beginning of the year that the conference championship would be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium? Didn’t think so. Just based on that I would love to see the Cardinals win this game. And I actually think they could win the game. Their defense last week played great and completely shut Carolina down. Jake Delhomme I’m sure wanted to go home after the first half. Arizona’s offense speaks for itself. Kurt Warner is playoff tested and will provide a lot of leadership for the Cards.

After saying all that, I think the Eagles will win the game though. Philly’s defense is better than Arizona’s and has been more reliable week in and week out. Donovan’s just as playoff tested as Warner. Ok…..you’re right, he hasn’t won the big one like Kurt. Let me rephrase that – Donovan’s just as playoff tested as Warner in conference championship games. There, that’s more accurate. Most importantly, Brian Westbrook will not have two bad games in a row. The guy’s a stud and will show up for this game.

The game will be very competitive, but in the end, the Eagles defensive unit will make one more stop that will be the difference.

Philadelphia – 24,  Arizona – 21

AFC Championship – Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

It’s very hard to beat a team three times in one season. This had me leaning toward Baltimore. Until I did a little research…

On this Sportsbetting forum (note that I don’t condone sportsbetting – it loses you lots of $$$  – but the data here is great), it was shown that 18 times in the history of the NFL, teams have met for a third time when one team won the first two meetings. I learned that 62% of the time the team that won the first two meetings also won the third. So while it is hard, it’s not quite as difficult as I originally thought.

Pittsburgh is the better overall team. The Ravens have a great defense, a better than expected offense, but I think the Steelers reign supreme in both categories. Roethlisberger is battle tested, Flacco is not. I think the game could ultimately come down to that.

I think we’re looking at a Pennsylvania Bowl via Tampa for the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh – 17, Baltimore – 10

Fan Q&A: Dallas Cowboys

For today’s NFL preseason fan Q&A, ATCG will take a look at early NFC favorite, the Dallas Cowboys. The questions were answered by Jeff, a friend of a friend and Cowboy fan living outside Austin, TX.

1. Do the Cowboys need to make the Super Bowl for Wade Phillips to return as the head coach next year?


Let me start off by saying that I am a Wade Phillips fan, he wasn’t my first choice of hire, but that was just out of my own ignorance!  The guy is a (regular season) winner everywhere he goes and he gets the most out of his players and they respect him.  But having said that, the Cowboys don’t just need to make the Super Bowl for Wade to return, they need to win it, and even then we might see a change!  It’s pretty apparent that Jerry Jones has designated Jason Garrett as Head Coach in waiting, and there’s a reason that he kept Garrett from signing with another team this offseason.  I think most fans like Wade, he’s a helluva coach and a genuine Texan through and through, but that might not be enough.


What’s interesting is the coaching staff.  It includes lots of familiar names from the world of football.  Wade Wilson, Skip Peete, Ray Sherman, Hudson Houck, Dave Campo, Todd Grantham, Reggie Herring, and Bruce Read are all on the staff and read out like a who’s who of nfl coaches.  Former Cowboys LB Dat Nguyen is a linebackers coach.  Wade’s son is on the staff, as is Jason Garrett’s brother.  With this staff in place, Jason Garrett can take the reins tomorrow and wouldn’t miss a beat. 


2. How much will Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones improve the Dallas secondary? Will he cause any off-field headaches?


Getting Adam Jones really gave the secondary some versatility, assuming he behaves himself and is the player he was for the Titans.  Dallas’ two weakest links last year were the secondary and the return game.  Jones provides valuable options for both.  He is a dynamic returner and a solid corner.  With the depth now at corner after the draft of Mike Jenkins and Orlando Scandrick, you could see up to 7 different corners on the active roster each week.  Also, there are rumors that Adam Jones could take over the starting spot sometime in the future with Anthony Henry moving to safety.  Then your safeties would be Henry and Ken Hamlin and longtime Cowboy goat Roy Williams could be expendable.  Something all Cowboy fans would love to see happen! 


I think with the leadership of the Boys office, coaches, former players, and current players, you won’t see Adam Jones provide any headaches much like Terrell Owens and Tank Johnson have moved away from.  Both are now considered leaders on this year’s squad.  Tank Johnson and former players Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin have really taken Jones under their wing, something that would have really scared you 10 years ago, but seems to fit now.  


3. How much will Felix Jones add to the running game in his rookie season?


He might not add that much to the running game this season, but his overall contributions to the team should be valuable enough.  I think Jason Garrett hopes to give Felix Jones about 10-12 touches a game through rushing, receiving, and the return game.  Felix has impressed through training camp with his ability to run between tackles and see the whole field, something that wasn’t a strength of his last year at Arkansas.  If he can show an ability to pass block, I can see Jones playing a lot of third downs.  He also gives the offense a lot of options with two back sets, splitting him wide, etc.  While not the same “name” power as Reggie Bush, you could see Dallas use Jones the same way that New Orleans does, as they have a similar skill set.  And you’ll definitely see him returning kicks next to Adam Jones.


What will be interesting is to see how Jason Garrett and Tony Romo distribute the ball this season.  They have playmakers all over the field and can utilize just about any formation they want.  They really made an effort to grab playmakers this offseason in Felix Jones, Tashard Choice, and Martellus Bennett and combined with Marion Barber, Terrell Owens, Jason Witten, and Patrick Clayton, it’ll be fun to watch them move the ball around, which in my mind makes Tony Romo the key guy on this team.  The offense will live and die by him.  If he gets injured, this will be a very average team at best with Brad Johnson at QB.  


4. The NFC East is expected to be pretty competitive this year. Will the Cowboys be able to put together a good enough record to receive a first round bye in the playoffs?


The NFC East could be the toughest division outside of the AFC South.  Last season, all four teams were over .500.  Only the AFC South was able to match that.  The East was the only division to have all its teams score more points than they surrendered.  It’ll definitely be a tough division once again in 2008. 


If Donovan McNabb is healthy, Philly is one of the tougher teams in the conference, evidenced by the fact that they have won the division 5 times, were 11-5 one other year, and have been to 4 conference championship games all over the past 8 years.  They could go 5-11 or 11-5 and it wouldn’t surprise me either way.  The key to that team once again is McNabb.  As bad as it seemed they were last year, they were 8-8 and missed the playoffs by one game.


The Redskins are a tough team to call.  Expectations are high every year and every year they fall apart.  Daniel Snyder spends money like Angelina has babies!  They are always the trendy pick to make that turn around.  That being said, I do like Jason Campbell (as much as it pains me to say that about a Redskin!) and think he is getting better.  Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts provide a solid, when healthy, running back tandem and they upgraded the receiving corp with Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas.  Their defense has a few holes at DT, LB, and FS, but has plenty of stars as pass rushers and cornerbacks to be stable.  Once again health will be the ongoing need for Washington to be a playoff team.  They could go 9-7 and not make the playoffs.


Only two things pain Cowboy fans more than watching the Giants hoist up that Lombardi Trophy last year, that’s watching the Redskins or Eagles do it!  The Giants have a very solid team again this year.  Eli Manning might have played himself onto a fantasy football roster spot with his performance late last season.  They have running backs, receivers, and a tough offensive line.  Losing Jeremy Shockey won’t hurt them one bit.  Defensively, once again look for them to create pressure.  One word comes to mind when talking about the G-Men:  Solid.  Just a good, solid all around football team. 


With all that being said, I think the Cowboys have the personnel to be the best team at the end of the regular season and secure a first round bye.  Anything less than a Super Bowl berth for this team, would be deemed a failure.  When you look at the conference the only team that gave the Cowboys a run for that top seed in 2007 was the Green Bay Packers.  With a QB change in 08, I don’t see them having that same success this year.  I’ll go ahead and predict the playoff teams to look like this…Dallas, NY Giants, New Orleans, Seattle, Minnesota, and about 6 teams competing for that final spot, but Washington grabbing it. 


5. The Cowboys’ receiving unit doesn’t look as deep as in past years. Will this hurt the balance of the offense?


I might be the only one, but was in favor of the hard stance taken by the Cowboys over Terry Glenn.  He was never healthy enough to contribute and didn’t need that distraction.  In fact this question should have been asked prior to last season since Glenn was unaccounted for last year.  I feel the receiving unit is deep enough with quality NFL prospects that the team will be fine.  When you add in the tight ends to this receiving core, it looks even better.  In fact, if you look at last year’s receivers you can take away Terry Glenn for all but what?  3 plays?!  So I’m reluctant to call him a loss this year if he hardly played last year.  Actually, we added rookie free agent Danny Amendola to the fold.  So if anything, we are deeper this year. 


Our three tight ends are set and so are Owens and Crayton as your starting wideouts.  Scouts say it takes 3 years for receivers to find their way in the NFL, we have two of them in Sam Hurd and Miles Austin.  Hurd’s got the hands and Austin’s the fastest guy on the team, if either one of them steps up during training camp expect good dividends.  Both have good NFL size and hard work ethics, they both know it won’t be handed to them.  The other spots at receiver will be manned by prospect Isaiah Stanback and rookie Amendola.  Stanback is a former Washington Huskie QB who also ran track and although he didn’t play baseball in college, was selected by the Baltimore Orioles in the 2006 Amateur Draft.  He is definitely a playmaker drawing comparisons with Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle-El.  Expect him to see more playing time this season. 


As a fellow Texas Tech alum, I have followed Danny Amendola for a few years now.  Most compare him to another Red Raider, Wes Welker, and while similar in size, they do offer a few differences.  Welker has a little more speed and was a more dynamic punt returner, while Amendola is a hands guy.  He’s a sure fire football player who will catch the ball anywhere on the field and isn’t afraid to go across the middle despite his size.  You won’t catch him in the open field but look for him in a slot position catching balls in traffic as Mr. First Down.  



Fan Q&A: St. Louis Rams

Continuing with my fan Q&A Series, today I talked with my buddy Kyle, a Rams fan from St. Louis.

*Note that these questions were answered while Steven Jackson was still holding out.

1. What kind of impact will Chris Long have on the St. Louis defense in his first year?

The Rams will be better, but one man will not make a team go from worst to first in the NFL especially a rookie.

2. Will Steven Jackson be with the team and ready to go when they open the season?

He will be on the team, there is no doubt about that. Will he be ready to go, hopefully. Physically he is in shape, is he in game shape for the number of touches the team needs him to have – don’t know. He could wear out as the season progresses.

3. On paper, the Rams potentially have a pretty strong offense, how strong will it actually be?

It could be there if they aren’t bit by the injury bug. Also they need a good year out of Marc Bulger. He has to be physically and mentally ready for a full season. The offense simply does not run as effective without him under center.

4. The St. Louis secondary looks like the weak spot of the defense and overall team, will that unit step up or will opponents expose it?

It has been exposed before and will be exposed again. I don’t see them having a good year but they may not look so bad because nobody is expecting much on the defensive side of the ball.

5. How will the Rams finish in a wide open NFC West?

Well I think it’s fairly obvious this division is the Seahawk’s to lose. They should be the favorite out of the gate and won’t look back. Arizona seems to be improving and going in the right direction. The Rams and 49ers seem to be spinning their wheels. I don’t expect a lot out of either but may give the edge to the Rams solely for the skill they have on the offensive side of the ball.

Fan Q&A: New York Jets

Continuing with the fan Q&A series I started, today ATCG is posting questions answered by William, the brother of one of my colleagues, Doug. They’re both New York Jets fans.

1. What does the addition of Brett Favre mean to the Jets?

Favre takes the jets from a joke of a team to a team that no one will be excited to play against including New England.

2. How much do the additions of Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, and Tony Richardson help the running game?

Faneca is as good as it gets and if Woody can stay healthy, the Jets have the possibility of going from the one of the worst offensive lines to one of the best.  This should allow Jones to actually avoid being hit immediately after the hand off, allowing him to become the same guy who played in Chicago.  I wouldn’t expect much from Richardson except for some leadership.

3. Are the Jets strong enough to bounce back from a down year in ’07 and return to the playoffs?

After getting Favre, I don’t think any of the Jets will remember last year and will be a lock for the playoffs this year.

4. Can the Jets take a game from the Patriots this year?

Look for week 2 to be the game where everyone decides they have to take the Jets seriously with a big win over the Patriots.

5. Who will really establish themselves as a playmaker on the New York defense?

With Asante Samuel now in the NFC, look for Darrelle Revis to start in the pro bowl along side Champ Bailey.

Fan Q&A: Minnesota Vikings

As the charge to the kickoff of the 2008-2009 NFL season continues, ATCG will start a new series of posts called Fan Q&As. I’ll talk with fans of various teams around the NFL and post a Q&A on questions and issues concerning each team.

The first post will be on a popular dark horse pick to win the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings. Answering the questions is my buddy, Mark, a Vikings fan from Minneapolis.

Note – these questions were answered before QB, Tarvaris Jackson suffered his knee injury.

 1. What will we see out of QB Tarvaris Jackson this year? Will he still be the starter at the end of the season?

We’ll see an improved Jackson. It’s hard not to improve on what he produced last season. With the addition of Berrian and an increased role for Sidney Rice the Vikings will have a core of WR’s that should be able to run routes and catch balls. Whether Jackson can get them the ball will be the key. I think he can. Will he still be the quarterback? If he can stay healthy I think he will be, provided he doesn’t completely implode.

2. Do the Vikings have enough talent and depth at WR to sufficiently help Jackson?

As I answered in the first question I think they’ll be good enough to prevent teams from stacking 8 in the box to stop the run. That’s all we really need (think of the Ravens way back when). They need to catch the ball and move the sticks, they don’t need to take charge of the game. They just need to give us another option to Peterson and Taylor. And unlike last season I think they can do that.

3. What kind of impact will Jared Allen have in his first season with Minnesota? Is he still considered a pass rush specialist or has he developed the run stop part of his game?

I think Allen will have a huge impact on the rest of the defense. After all, Allen led the league in sacks last year on a mediocre defensive line. Add him to Pat and Kevin Williams, that’s going to free up more space for Allen to rush the passer. Is he more of a rush stopper? We don’t know yet. Frankly he may not need to be that great at stopping running backs because everyone else on the line is already so good.

4. With what many see as a one dimensional offense, will the defense be strong enough to carry Minnesota to a divisional title and the playoffs?

Well, the defensive line is the best in the league, our linebackers are pretty good. Speedy and athletic, but not super strong. I think the fortunes of the Vikings defense will rest with our secondary. For as long as I can remember they’ve been our achilles’ heel… that and not sacking the quarterback. With teams hesitant to run against our line it’s going to be really important for the secondary to clamp down. Will they do it? A lot is going to depend on how strong Allen is at putting pressure on the QB.

5. As a trendy dark horse Super Bowl pick, are there any concerns over the high expectations many have set for the Vikings?

I think it’s a little premature to be picking the Vikings to win the Super Bowl, or even get there. They are greatly improved from last season and the NFC North is weaker, but there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered before anyone starts throwing up big expectations. Basically the concerns are the questions that were asked here. Will Tarvaris be ready? Will we have people who can catch the ball. Will the offense throw the ball down the field? Will the defense hold up? A lot of things to wonder about.

Now with that said, I think they’ll be a playoff team, and maybe they’ll even win a game, but compared to the Cowboys, or to a lesser extent the Giants, I think the Vikings still play third, or even fourth in the NFC. Guessing there’ll be a surprise team that pops up.

Red Sox Trade for a Byrd

It was announced today that the Cleveland Indians traded pitched Paul Byrd to the Boston Red Sox. Cleveland will either receive a player at a later date or cash in return for Byrd.

This trade seems like a good thing for both clubs. The Red Sox needed to add some pitching depth with some of the injuries they’ve suffered and inconsistent play of Clay Buchholz. Byrd’s been solid lately – the guy hasn’t lost since the All Star break. He’s not flashy or overpowering, but he gets the job done. He should give Boston some quality starts to finish the season and in the playoffs.

Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro stated, “This trade is more about clearing room to give some of our other players an opportunity, giving Paul a chance with a contender and providing us some payroll relief.” That’s exactly right, no ulterior motives with this trade. All the Indians’ trades this season have followed the strategy of either clearing payroll or getting something in return for a guy they know they can’t resign. First they traded Sabathia, then Casey Blake, and now Paul Byrd. Byrd doesn’t fit in their long term pitching plans anyway. They have Carmona and Lee as their studs, they’re counting on Jeremy Sowers in the future and are betting prospect Adam Miller will be a good one sooner rather than later. The older Byrd wasn’t a long term piece of the puzzle.