Tag Archive | "Pittsburgh Steelers"

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An open letter to Steelers coach Mike Tomlin

Posted on 29 November 2012 by Drew Forrester

Hey coach, I hope this finds you well and preparing to enjoy a wonderful Holiday season with your family and friends in Pittsburgh.

(Actually, while I think you’re a helluva football coach, I have to admit I giggled my ass off last Sunday watching you squirm your way through that press conference in Cleveland after your football team lost to the lowly Browns.  So, for obvious reasons, I’d probably rather you not be well.  If that makes me a bad guy, so be it.  I do, though, hope you have a great Holiday season.  I’m a Ravens fan, not a Grinch.)

Based on the whispers coming out of Pittsburgh about Ben Roethlisberger, it appears as if you’re going to have him back for this Sunday’s big game in Baltimore.  What a warrior that guy is, huh coach?  A month ago on a Monday night, he suffered some whacky rib and shoulder injury that could have killed him if he would have reached for the remote control the wrong way and now, suddenly, he’s going to risk life and limb to play against the Ravens?  Holy canoli. I’m impressed.

(Are you guys nuts Coach?  Why would you risk the best player on your team for one game?  You know you’re getting your ass kicked down here on Sunday no matter who stands behind center.  I realize you have to paint the best picture you can for your team, but in your heart of hearts, you’ve seen this play out over the last couple of years and you know for sure it’s going to play out down here again this Sunday.  Your team can’t beat the Ravens.  You’re going to get your feelings hurt, Roethlisberger or not.)

We have a lot of respect for the Steelers here in Baltimore, Coach.  We know as long as you guys have a pulse, you’re always capable of pulling off one, two, three or even four wins in a row and then somehow weaving your way through the pile of post-season teams to return to the Super Bowl.  Truth be known, we’d rather NOT see your team in the playoffs if we could pick and choose our playoff opponent.  Somehow, you always seem to nip us in the end when the chips are down in January.

(As S.E. Hinton once wrote (she’s a she, by the way, in case you didn’t know), “That was then, this is now”.  Yeah, we respect the Steelers here, but the Ravens are now the kings of the AFC North and your team is chasing our team.  With Roethlisberger at quarterback – and getting assistance from the refs like you usually do – the Steelers always have a puncher’s chance of beating anyone.  Without Roethlisberger, you’d be hard pressed to win the SEC.  And if it comes to pass that you’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, you’ll be one and done without a home game, so we won’t see you in this post-season anyway.)

Go ahead and throw caution to the wind, Coach.  Tape Big Ben up and bring him down here on Sunday.  Your team has a much better chance of winning that way.  And, as you know, the standings are such that you really are in “must-win” territory these days.  You don’t have a choice, I suppose.  You have to go with Roethlisberger.

(Don’t be a dummy, Mike.  Leave Roethlisberger on the bench and let Charlie Batch be the QB of record in a 30-10 loss.  No one will blame you.  You can talk about “not risking a career” and “we have faith in Charlie” and “injuries are part of the game” and everyone in Pittsburgh will understand.  If you go with Ben, you’re getting your asses kicked here.  If you go with Batch, you’re getting your asses kicked here.  Do you see the similarity?)

Finally, I wasn’t around last Sunday.  How’d you guys do against the Browns?

(I know what happened in Cleveland.  hehe)

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Ravens win in San Diego and I, now, officially believe in magic

Posted on 25 November 2012 by Drew Forrester

That does it.

I’m a believer.

You people can continue with your in-game rants about Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense.  I’ll just sit back for the rest of the season and watch them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on their way to New Orleans in early February.

I’m serious.  You can try and figure out a way to turn that win over the Chargers into a loss, but it’s not going to happen.  Bark about Cam Cameron all you want, but he’s the Offensive Coordinator of a team that’s 9-2.  Whine and complain about Joe Flacco until next Sunday when he dismantles that Steelers defense in a 27-10 win, but you’ll be whining about a quarterback who is 9-2 and headed to the playoffs for the 5th straight year.

You people can keep trying to convince yourself that this Ravens team stinks, but all you’re going to do is come out with egg on your face come January. Until today’s unlikely triumph over the Chargers, I was right there with you.  I was a complainer and a moaner and a “how can we keep winning like this?” goofball after all of those fluky wins over Kansas City and Cleveland and Dallas and even Pittsburgh last week, where the Ravens barely snuck past Fred Sanford at quarterback for the Steelers.

But after watching Sunday’s game in San Diego unfold, I’m going over to the dark side with John Harbaugh.

It was a win.

That’s it.

The coach will say that over and over on Monday in his press conference and I’ll just nod my head in agreement.

The Ravens pulled off a true miracle against the Chargers – the likes of which we’ve never seen – connecting on a 4th and 29 in the final two minutes of the game and later using a Justin Tucker field goal in overtime to win, 16-13.

It was the ultimate rabbit-out-of-the-hat-trick that you’d see from David Copperfield.

And it sold me for the rest of the season.

Somehow, someway, despite the lethargic road offense – again – Baltimore stayed alive long enough to let the Chargers defense collapse at just the right moment.  And when the Chargers whiffed on three tackle tries on that 4th and 29 play, the Ravens heartbeat pumped just enough blood into Joe Flacco and his wide receivers to tie the game, then win it in overtime after Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith made huge 3rd down grabs with the game on the line.

It was a miracle.

But it went the way we all wanted it.

(Please see next page)

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Tomlin’s 3rd quarter gaffe paves way for huge Ravens win in Pittsburgh

Posted on 19 November 2012 by Drew Forrester

If you’ve been a regular listener to The Morning Reaction over the years, you know by now one of my personal sports adages is “the other team tries, too”.

After watching Sunday night’s 13-10 Ravens win in Pittsburgh, I need to add a small note to the end of that phrase — “and sometimes they DON’T try.”

That’s what happened on Sunday night when Mike Tomlin – with his team gouging the Ravens defense for five yards a carry all night – decided to sissy-out and kick a field goal rather than go for it on 4th and 2 from the Baltimore four yard line late in the 3rd quarter.

“Sometimes they DON’T try…”

Really, Mike?  Your running game was trampling the Ravens for the most part.  Your quarterback was literally hanging on for dear life with each hit he took.  And your defense – coupled with another unimaginative Ravens offensive effort – was doing a great job of shutting the door and keeping Baltimore close.

4th and 2 and you kick a field goal to make it 13-10?  Lame-ass coaching, that’s what that was.  As soon as I saw the Steelers line up for the field goal, I said, “This is a horrible decision…they won’t get this close to scoring again tonight.”

And I was right.  It WAS a horrible decision and they didn’t get anywhere near the red zone for the remainder of the night.

Of course, the national TV guys didn’t say a word about Tomlin’s horrible decision.  They mumbled something about the game being “a bloodbath” and “a nailbiter, as always” and forgot to mention that the Pittsburgh coach just handed the game to John Harbaugh and Company.

Here in Baltimore, we’ll gladly take it, as it helped pave the way for an ultra critical Ravens road win and a seemingly safe 2-game lead over the Steelers with six games to play in the regular season.

There’s another famous saying that goes like this:  NEVER look a gift horse in the mouth.

And Sunday’s win in Pittsburgh was a gift horse, what with Byron Leftwich lumbering around and Mike Tomlin playing safe with the game – and maybe his team’s season – on the line.

Three weeks ago in New York, Tomlin gambled with a crazy fake field goal on the Giants six yard line in a game Pittsburgh would eventually win despite the unsuccessful fake attempt.  And that was with his 2-time champion quarterback at the helm, not a stiff like Leftwich.

Sunday night, with red zone trips about as rare as a 5-game winning streak from the Pirates, Tomlin played it safe and kicked a field goal when two yards could have paved the way to a 14-13 lead and, perhaps, a shocking win.

Just like the referees helping the Ravens beat New England earlier this year…and Jason Garrett and Tony Romo aiding in a Baltimore win over Dallas…and Pat Shurmer forgetting to coach in a squeaker-of-a-win in Cleveland, the Ravens will no doubt take Sunday night’s win and head back to Baltimore with a smile on their face.

Hey, a win in Pittsburgh is a win, no matter how you do it.

Even if it takes the Steelers coach losing his man-card to get the job done, you smile at the end and say, “We’ll take it.”

Thanks Mike Tomlin.

We needed that.

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If Flacco and Cam want to shut everyone’s mouth, Sunday night is their big chance…

Posted on 13 November 2012 by Drew Forrester

“But when it matters, we play very well, no matter where we are.”

That quote came from Joe Flacco last Sunday in the aftermath of the win over Oakland when media members launched into “Steelers week” by asking the Ravens quarterback about his team’s lack of crispness on the road this season.

Flacco was referring to the fact that over the years, four before this one, his Ravens team has won some pretty significant games away from M&T Bank Stadium.  They’ve also won some big home games, too.

“But when it matters, we play very well, no matter where we are…”

Well, Joe, this Sunday night in Pittsburgh MATTERS.  A lot.

Both Flacco and his offensive coordinator, Cam Cameron, are the weekly scapegoats anytime the Ravens either squeeze out a road win or lose on foreign turf.  Some weeks, honestly, that criticism is warranted.  Other weeks, it’s not.  But fans are fans…they grab hold of an issue and refuse to let it go.  Ray Rice only carried the ball 13 times last Sunday and Baltimore trounced Oakland.  I thought the Ravens couldn’t win – EVER – unless Rice touched it at least 25 times.  Right…

Let’s be fair, though.  And Joe and Cam both know this is true, even they don’t like to talk about it — and I don’t blame them for not wanting to.  The Ravens are a different offensive team away from Baltimore.  It’s been that way for a while now, give or take a an exception or two.  For some reason, they’re a keg of dynamite at home and a fizzled out firecracker on the road.  All of the offense gets blame for that – or should – but Flacco and Cam are the ones everybody picks on about the good at home/bad on the road formula.

Well, this Sunday night gives both of them a real chance to shut everyone’s piehole here in Baltimore.

“When it matters” is what Flacco said after the game on Sunday.

What he meant, of course, is this:  “Yeah, we’re not always hitting on all offensive cylinders every single Sunday, but if you’ve been paying attention, when the games are really important, we’re usually on point.”

And for the most part, he’s right.

Look, we all know every game matters when you only have 16 of them, but the game in Kansas City in October doesn’t matter nearly as much as the game in Pittsburgh in December.  The game in Philly in week #2 was important, but no one will confuse it for a game against the Steelers.

“When it matters, we play very well, no matter where we are…”

OK, Joe.  We believe you.

Now, show us one more time that it’s true.

And bring your offensive coordinator along and let him shove it up the backside of the Doubting Thomas’s in town.

One more thing…be ready to prove it again the following Sunday in San Diego.  And the following Sunday in Baltimore against the Steelers.

Oh, and the Giants and Broncos come to Baltimore in December.  Prove it then, too.

“When it matters…”

Sunday night in Pittsburgh matters.  Big time.

Let’s hope you’re right, Joe.

If you’re wrong, we’ll let you know about it.

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Without Big Ben, Steelers pose little threat to the Ravens…and I’m thrilled

Posted on 13 November 2012 by Drew Forrester

Let me get all of the “facts” out there first, so there’s no whining and complaining from Steelers fans in the comments section below.

I have always been a fan of Ben Roethlisberger.  Despite the fact that he plays for the Steelers, I’ve always been able to separate that from what kind of player he’s been since showing up in 2004.  I would take him on my team any day.  Much, much respect…

Now, I get to put on the other hat and offer some insight into what you’re going to see this Sunday night in Pittsburgh with Byron Leftwich at the helm instead of Roethlisberger.

A romp.

That’s what you’re going to see at Heinz Field on Sunday night.  The Ravens will pummel Pittsburgh and assume complete control of the AFC North with somewhere around a 27-10 walk-in-the-park.

Pittsburgh can’t win without Roethlisberger, in the same way the Ravens can’t win without Flacco.

It’s a shame Big Ben won’t play on Sunday.  Then again, it’s not a shame at all.


Yes, I am.

If we needed one game to settle our collective nerves about the Ravens and their on-again/off-again play on the road, this Sunday night was that game.  Had Baltimore gone into Heinz Field and disposed of Ben and Company 23-20 to flex their AFC muscles on the road, we’d all be able to say, “Finally…a truly good road performance against a high-caliber opponent.”

Instead, we’re going to see the Ravens clobber an undermanned Steelers team and be left to wonder, “What happens when we play a really good team in their stadium?”  The only team we’ve faced like that so far this year would be the Houston Texans and, well, never mind…

That said — I’ll take a Ravens win in Pittsburgh on Sunday no matter who plays for the Steelers.

Injuries are part of the game.  I say this often.  It’s not always the best team who works their way through the playoffs in January.  It’s usually the healthiest team.

The key for the Ravens from here to the regular season finish is simple:  Claim either the #1 or the #2 seed in the AFC.  Right now, at 7-2, Baltimore is in control of their own fate, but two triumphs over Pittsburgh would virtually clinch the one or two seed barring some other unforseen collapse in December.

Two triumphs over Pittsburgh are expected – meaning, SHOULD happen – if Roethlisberger isn’t behind center for the two Ravens-Steelers gamse.

And those two wins will help Baltimore secure home field in the post-season, which the Ravens desperately need if they want to go to New Orleans in February.

And I’m all for that…


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New G Williams, Ravens brought together by familiarity

Posted on 29 July 2012 by Ryan Chell

The Ravens have made it a habit over the years to grab veteran offensive lineman late in free agency or training camp to not only bring experience, but to also have that key backup in case an injury should occur to solidify that same offensive line.

Last year, it was Andre Gurode, who started several games for the injured Ben Grubbs. In 2008, it was Willie Anderson who saw action at right tackle.

This season, with the team reeling from the loss of Grubbs at the left guard position to free agency-as well as Gurode’s dismissal, the Ravens felt like they needed to keep up with that tradition.

And they did just that at the beginning of June, signing former Bengals and Eagles guard Bobbie Williams to a two-year contract.

Williams is adjusting to the atmosphere in Owings Mills, but he’s confident that he’ll fit right in with training camp the first opportunity to do so.

“I’m just taking it all in,” Williams said after practice Saturday. “I’ve been rolling for a week. I came in when the young guys came in, and it was good that I did that so I could get that advantage and get things going. We’re just hitting all cylinders now.”

Williams had spent the last eight seasons with the Bengals, and the 35-year old has started 130 games in his 12-year NFL career.

The Ravens certainly felt like they made the right decision by bringing in a stable and dependable Williams in with the early shuffling of their offensive line in camp.

When he was signed on June 8th, Williams was at first expected to battle for the left guard position with Ravens 2nd round pick Kelechi Osemele and second-year man Jah Reid.

However, both started off training camp with back and calf injuries respectively, and Williams was told to line up and clear the way for newly-paid running back Ray Rice.

Coach Harbaugh earlier in the week said that Williams has already made them forget about Ben Grubbs, and Harbaugh attributed that to his tremendous work ethic.

Those were strong words according to Williams.

“I’m just appreciative that they respect me on that level. I don’t plan on letting anyone down, including myself, and the good Lord.”

Williams said that when he came in, he was told that a spot wasn’t going to be given to him. And despite it looking that way, he still wants to prove himself to Coach John Harbaugh and the coaching staff.

“I came in with the attitude to work-period. And it ain’t going to leave. I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it ain’t going to leave till February…let’s just put it that way.”

Williams remembers Coach Harbaugh from Harbaugh’s time as a special teams coach with the Eagles-who drafted Williams in the 2nd round of 2000 NFL Draft-and said that he has always been “a player’s coach.”

And the way Williams talks about offensive line Coach Andy Moeller-you would think they have been around each other for a lifetime-not two months.

“I’m used to the coaching staff and the guys around me. It’s a great group and I’m not just saying that.” And Coach Moeller man-I think the world of him. He’s a real teacher of the game. I truly respect him and his knowledge of the game. And that’s very key.”

He may have that familiarity with his coaches, but many are certain that the Ravens brought Williams in given his time with their AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals.

That kind of insight into an opposing locker room’s scheme could do wonders for a defensive coordinator, and the fact that he knows the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers blitz packages from seeing them 4 times a year the past eight seasons, that can only be added bonus.

“That might have played a little part of it knowing the division,” Williams laughed.”

But Williams said it could also be the exact opposite. The Ravens knew who he was from having to get past him to sack Carson Palmer or Andy Dalton for nearly a decade, and they wanted that kind of “lunch pail” attitude on their line.

To “Play like a Raven”, as the theme points out.

“I also know what kind of team this is, Williams said. “I know that the Baltimore Ravens are a tough, blue collar, hard-working team and they felt I could contribute to that and that I have some of those same qualities. They said, ‘Hey, we know this guy can play here’.”

And with a newly-paid running back in Ray Rice in the backfield and with an offense that lives and dies by his yardage, Williams says he’s the perfect guy to clear those holes for Rice.

“It’s what I’ve always been known to do. I’ve always been that hard-nosed, dependable guy that will get down and dirty and likes contact. I like to be physical. I like to get my hands on people.”

He said all it takes for him to get to that level is getting comfortable with the guys lining up next to him at left tackle and center.

“I’ve got to get familiar with my center. And then my left tackle. I’ve been leaning heavily on Matt Birk and Michael Oher. I sit next to Marshal Yanda in meetings and I’ve asked him some things.”

But obviously, with left tackle Bryant McKinnie not in camp so far-but yet announcing he would report Monday for his first practice-he may have to start all over again with that level of comfort with those playing next to him.

But Williams says that’s no problem at all. McKinnie’s addition to this offensive line finally-much like his own signing by the Ravens-only improves their chances of success.

“Whatever we have, we’re working with that and we’re doing a pretty good job. If another piece is added like I was added, it makes us even better.”

And even if things remain as they are, Williams is still confident that this team can do some special things this season. It’s one of the reasons he signed with the Ravens in the first place.

“That’s just the nature of the game. You learn the ropes and you learn to make do with what you had. You learn to make that work. And you go out there and solidify that.”

And the chance to win a ring? Any way I can help with that, I’m there.”

Thanks to Bobbie Williams for chatting with me after practice today! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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More Questions Than Answers for the Ravens

Posted on 25 May 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

#1 – What’s going to happen with Ray Rice?

 Not only has Ray Rice been one of the best pound-for-pound bargains in all of football during his time as a Raven, but unlike many other running backs in similar situations last season Rice played things quiet and trusted that the team would take care of him. Whether or not they do remains to be seen, and whether or not they should is debatable. Running backs come and go quickly in the NFL, but by most accounts Rice has been “special” and is perhaps worth the risk. Either way expect him to play in 2012, but history hasn’t been kind to players who hold out of camp. A bad season for Rice under the franchise tag could be disastrous for him and for the Ravens.


#2 – Who’s playing on the offensive line?


This question is actually a myriad of different questions. Who fills Ben Grubbs spot at LG? How much does Matt Birk have left in the tank? Can we pencil in Bryant McKinnie at LT? Are Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda still the right side? And where do Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid, Gino Gradkowski and Ramon Harewood fit into the picture? The answers to all of these questions could represent the beginning or the end of any offensive hopes the Ravens will have in 2012?


#3 – Do they have enough at wide receiver?


Torrey Smith was a pleasant surprise last season, but whether he can refine his route running and improve his hands still remain to be seen. He’s now a proven field stretcher but will need to add to his game in order to be a bona fide playmaker. Anquan Boldin was worse than expected last season, but was also injured, He’ll need to be more like the Anquan Boldin of old to lead these Ravens forward on the offensive side of the ball. And beyond those two the questions are even bigger. Is Jacoby Jones a wide out or a just a special teamer? Will Tandon Doss be ready to play in 2012? Who is Tommy Streeter and if he’s any good, how did the Ravens get him so late? Before we start comparing Joe Flacco to the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, let’s make sure he has some weapons that he can rely on.


#4 – Are the tight ends good enough?


Ed Dickson is big and athletic enough but has struggled with his hands. Dennis Pitta has very good hands but may not be big or athletic enough to impose his will on defenders, as modern tight ends are prone to do. Until one or the other shows marked improvement the Ravens will hesitate to use the middle of the field in the passing game, where coincidentally the best offenses all seem to have fantastic weapons. And who is Lamont Bryant?


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Pay Rice or Delay Rice?

Posted on 06 January 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

Lingering legends aside, Ray Rice might be the most popular and productive Raven today. One thing’s for sure…at $550K or so in the final season of his contract, Ray Rice is easily the Ravens best pound-for-pound bargain, and arguably the league’s best. One other thing that seems assured is that Rice is going to get paid. When, how much and where that happens however may not be as much of a foregone conclusion as it would seem.

This has been “the year of…” lots of things in the NFL, the year of the 5K quarterbacks, the year of the rookies, the year of the power forwards at tight end and the year of the disgruntled running back.


As running backs league wide from Chris Johnson to Frank Gore, from Matt Forte to Peyton Hillis have barked and in some cases dogged it (allegedly…and no pun intended) over their “contract to performance ratios”, Rice with arguably the strongest case of all has remained silent. Silent about the contract that is, on the field he has been anything but silent or dogged.


It’s been a running topic of conversation all season on the MobTown Sports Beat and everyone seems assured that Rice will be taken care of by the Ravens and some have speculated that there’s no reason Rice shouldn’t feel confident that the team will take care of him.


It’s all but 100% (in my mind at least) that Rice will be back next season, but under what circumstances and for how long are still debatable.


If you subscribe to the school of WWBBD (What would Bill Bellichick do?) the answer is to franchise Rice. Given Adrian Peterson’s new contract, the franchise tag will be a big number, but only for one season. Whether Rice would maintain his decorum for another season under similar (albeit more lucrative) circumstances to this one would remain to be seen as well.


In addition to Peterson’s contract, his injury will also likely factor heavily into the Ravens impending decision of whether to franchise Rice or to pay him long term money. Peterson’s injury is a not so subtle reminder of just how quickly a running back in particular can see his season (or even his career) ended. Having all of your eggs in that proverbial basket is a high-risk high reward proposition (as we learned in 2001 with Jamal Lewis’ injury).


The value of NFL running backs is on the decline, but the pay scale on the top end of the position is still rising. There are lots of Pro Bowl caliber and highly compensated running backs in the NFL watching the playoffs from home this season, and most of the league’s most productive offenses have plug and play backfields and use the running game as an afterthought for little more than window dressing it would seem at times.


Only one running back went in the first round of the last NFL draft and while still promising, Mark Ingram has done little to make teams sorry for passing on him. DeMarco Murray, taken on the second day of the draft was the league’s best rookie at the position.


One year prior, Ryan Matthews, CJ Spiller and Jahvid Best all went in the first round and all were summarily outperformed by undrafted rookies LaGarrette Blount and Chris Ivory. An undrafted practice squad player from one season earlier led the league in rushing last season and the Packers marched through the Super Bowl after losing their bell-cow in Ryan Grant and replacing him with little known and lightly regarded James Starks.

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NFL Playoff Positional Power Rankings

Posted on 05 January 2012 by Thyrl Nelson

Here’s a look at my positional power rankings for the players and teams that are left in the playoffs. This year’s stats accounted for a lot but at the end of the day it’s my opinion on who I’d suit up today for the best chance at winning.



1 – Aaron Rodgers (GB)

2 – Drew Brees (NO)

3 – Tom Brady (NE)

4 – Eli Manning (NYG)

5 – Matthew Stafford (DET)

6 – Matt Ryan (ATL)


* I gave 6 here since the first 3 were fairly obvious (if not their respective places in that top 3)



Running Backs


1 – Ray Rice (BAL)

2 – Arian Foster (HOU)

3 – Michael Turner (ATL)

4 – Frank Gore (SF)

5 – Darren Sproles (NO)



Wide Receivers


1 – Calvin Johnson (DET)

2 – Andre Johnson (HOU)

3 – AJ Green (CIN)

4 – Victor Cruz (NYG)

5 – Wes Welker (NE)

6 – Roddy White (ATL)

7 – Greg Jennings (GB)

8 – Jordy Nelson (GB)

9 – Mike Wallace (PIT)

10 – Hakeem Nicks (NYG)


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Washington Redskins v Baltimore Ravens

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Don’t Believe the AFC North Hype…Yet

Posted on 03 January 2012 by Thyrl Nelson


Of all of the changes that the NFL has brought forth in the last couple of seasons, one that went without a great deal of notice has certainly had a profound impact so far. The line that teams have walked all too often in recent seasons after wrapping up playoff fortunes with games still remaining on their schedule has been too much of a story lately, but this year not so much. Whether a direct result of the decision to put divisional match-ups in the season’s final weeks or not it made for one of the most exciting final weeks of any NFL season in recent memory. Add “Goodell’s Grand Finale” to the once celebrated “Pete’s Parity” and you have the excitement that was week 17 of this NFL season.

The Ravens run through their own division unblemished is cause for celebration, and with 3 teams qualified for this year’s playoffs the AFC North is being hailed as the league’s best division. The Bengals are young and dangerous, and now stocked with picks courtesy of the Carson Palmer trade, the Browns are tough and physical and also stocked with picks courtesy of the Julio Jones trade and perhaps in better position than any team to trade into the first overall pick if the Colts should choose to shop it. And the Ravens and Steelers are simply the Ravens and Steelers. But before we proclaim the AFC North the class of the NFL, we should at least acknowledge that parity is more relative from division to division than league wide, and that the AFC North may simply be the most accomplished division in football because they had the easiest trek though the 2011 season.


You never can quite tell how teams will be from season to season in the NFL, but sometimes you can. While every year brings a fresh example of a team with no expectations suddenly becoming a force on the back of a few “minor” tweaks to the coaching staff, roster or approach, we should also acknowledge that those examples aren’t as plentiful as the attention that they get would suggest, and that more often than not we have a pretty good idea going into the season who’ll be good and who’ll struggle.


If you were picking a schedule for the Ravens or any AFC North team to have success in 2011, and charged with using the NFL formula of matching up against 1 whole division in the AFC and 1 in the NFC you probably would have picked the AFC South and the NFC West. Surely you would have picked the NFC West as maybe one or two teams in that less than mediocre division could have been expected to be competitive (as the 49ers became this year’s surprise team) but expecting the entire division to have a resurgence would have been unfathomable, as the division has been floundering for years now without improvement.


The AFC South would have looked almost equally ripe for the picking even before Peyton Manning was announced to be out for the season, and despite the Texans best attempts at representing the division respectably, injuries ultimately took their toll on them too.


Add the bottom dwelling Cleveland Brown to the mix and the formula was just right for the successes of the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals. The Browns are scrappy and can’t be totally dismissed, but they did play their divisional schedule to the tune of 0-6 this season, serving up 2 wins each of cushion for the division’s other 3 teams.


In 2010 the NFC South had 3 double digit win teams. The Falcons won 13 games, the Saints won 11 and both made the playoffs and the Buccaneers picked up 10 wins and narrowly missed the playoffs while looking promising. They did so while matching up against the terrible NFC West, and an AFC North with 2 bottom dwellers in Cincinnati and Cleveland that offered up “easy” chances at racking up wins. The NFC South also had the floundering Panthers in 2010 who served up 6 wins to the rest of the division in struggling through a miserable campaign themselves.


This year the NFC South still looks relatively strong although slightly less promising beyond the top two as they were charged with matching up with an NFC North that was better than last year’s NFC West draw but also took advantage of this year’s weaker AFC South.


In 2008 the AFC East and NFC East both looked equally promising as both took advantage of similar scheduling “opportunities”.


Next year the AFC North will be afforded the opportunity to feast of the AFC West if they’re able to take advantage, and if the NFC is in the disarray that it appears to be in all of a sudden there too may lie an opportunity. While I won’t yet acknowledge the AFC North as football’s best division, the likelihood of them getting 3 teams into the playoffs again next season (especially if the Browns serve up another 6 wins) might look pretty good again. What they do once they’re there will determine which division is best.




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