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Trends converging as Ravens try to right ship in Cleveland

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Trends converging as Ravens try to right ship in Cleveland

Posted on 31 October 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The story has been the same whenever the Ravens encounter the Cleveland Browns in the John Harbaugh era.

Winners of 11 straight against the AFC North foe starting in the 2008 season — the year Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco, and running back Ray Rice first stepped foot in Baltimore — the Ravens and their fans have been able to view a meeting with Cleveland in November or later as a catalyst propelling them to greater heights while throwing dirt on the division’s annual doormat. In truth, the Browns haven’t been a pushover in recent years as three of the last four encounters have been decided by eight points or less, but the script inevitably involves the Ravens making the necessary big play and the Browns folding when it matters late in the game.

So, why would Sunday’s meeting at FirstEnergy Stadium be any different?”

“Because as the years go by, the teams change,” Browns cornerback Joe Haden told the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Thursday. “The Ravens aren’t the Ravens of old. They’re still a really good team, a division opponent, but at the same time, our team is a whole different team. It’s a different squad. We still haven’t gotten over the hump, but there’s no reason why we can’t.”

Of course, it would be easy to fire back at the talented young defensive back that Cleveland has very much looked like the old Browns since a surprising 3-2 start, losing three straight despite a top 10 defense and an offense that includes talented young wide receiver Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, who was labeled by Harbaugh earlier this week as a premier tight end in the NFL. After quarterback Brian Hoyer went down with a torn ACL on Oct. 3, head coach Rod Chudzinski has bounced between 2012 first-round pick Brandon Weeden and veteran Jason Campbell at the quarterback position, appearing to settle on the latter after a surprising performance in a losing effort to undefeated Kansas City last week.

But Haden’s right about the Ravens as their 3-4 record puts them only one loss better than the Browns and in unfamiliar territory below the .500 mark this late in a season for the first time under Harbaugh. Even with the Browns’ recent struggles, the Ravens’ long winning streak against Cleveland has never appeared to be in more danger than it is on Sunday.

Harbaugh and his players received all the evidence they needed in Week 2 when they were shut out in the first half before scoring two second-half touchdowns in a 14-6 victory over the Browns in Baltimore.

“Every time we play them, it’s a tough game, it’s a physical game,” Harbaugh said. “They’ve run the ball on us, they’ve played great defense against us over the years, [and] their pass rushers are legitimate pass rushers. It’s always a fight right down to the finish, so we know it will be that kind of game again — at least that’s what we are expecting and preparing for.”

The head coach went on to state his belief that the Ravens are going to catch fire over the season’s final nine games after various concerns in all three phases have left them two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. Meanwhile, a loss to the Ravens would all but finish the Browns with a 3-6 record entering their Week 10 bye.

But the Ravens must find a way to start faster in games as they’ve been held without an offensive touchdown in the first half of five of their seven games and have trailed at halftime five times this season. Most of the blame will fall on the league’s worst running game in yards per carry (2.8), but Flacco has completed just 55.2 percent of his first-half passes before improving to 63.7 percent in the game’s final 30 minutes.

The weekly slow starts have put much pressure on a solid but unspectacular defense that has allowed 140 or more rushing yards in three of its last four games and has struggled to get off the field in the second half in two straight losses to Green Bay and Pittsburgh.

It’s been an uphill battle too often and a formula not conducive to success over the scope of an entire season, especially when playing on the road.

“There’s nothing you can really do in terms of practice and stuff like that to ensure anything,” Flacco said. “You practice to give yourself the best chance to play the best, and it’s a matter of going out there and playing. Once we go out there and play well early on, then people will forget about it and we’ll forget about it to a certain extent.”

The Ravens have said all the right things about feeling the necessary urgency and acknowledging that there’s little margin for error with six of their final nine games coming against teams with a .500 or better record.

But as Flacco said, talking about making the necessary corrections along the offensive line, in the run defense, and on special teams means little if the results don’t show up on Sundays.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh sent a clear message on Wednesday by cutting veteran defensive players Michael Huff and Marcus Spears and proving that they won’t hesitate to make changes to turn around their season and advance to the postseason for a franchise-record and NFL-best sixth straight season.

Their first post-bye opportunity comes against the league’s 24th-ranked offense and a running game that’s been nearly as ineffective as them, but the Browns possess a balanced defense posing a serious challenge to an offense that showed marginal improvement two weeks ago in Pittsburgh but hasn’t been able to get out of its way more often than not this year. Several players echoed the sentiment this week that the Ravens are built for the second half of the season, but much of that was based on past accomplishments that included a much stronger running game.

“It’s November football,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “At this point, [the games are] all big after the bye. They all count. Not to say the ones before didn’t, but these decide whether or not you get a chance at greatness.”

As much as Baltimore’s leadership was discussed this offseason following the departures of such veterans as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, and Matt Birk, the true test was always going to come in the face of adversity, and a 3-4 record with an important divisional road game certainly qualifies. The locker room has remained united and focused on team-oriented goals, but a loss to the Browns and a 3-5 record would place more strain on the fabric of the Ravens than they’ve felt in a very long time.

Past trends don’t guarantee future results as the Ravens have seen other streaks under Harbaugh come to an end this season, including an undefeated mark in season openers and a perfect home record against NFC opponents. On Sunday, the Ravens will try to improve to 6-0 coming off their bye week under Harbaugh while extending their winning streak over Cleveland to 12 games.

The Browns will have something to say in determining the outcome — good or bad — but Haden was right in saying these aren’t the same old Ravens as only seven players remain from when Baltimore began its current streak of success against Cleveland on Sept. 21, 2008. And 18 players currently on the 53-man roster weren’t with the organization for Super Bowl XLVII nine months ago.

“It’s different, because every time I used to look at them, they used to be back there controlling everything,” said Browns running back Willis McGahee when asked about seeing his former team without leaders such as Lewis and Reed. “Now, it’s a bunch of new faces. I guess it was time for them to start over and bring in new people.”

Even with new faces and glaring flaws, the Ravens hope old habits die hard in Cleveland and that Sunday is the first step in righting their 2013 season.

While also putting the latest nail in the coffin of a Browns season.

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New Ravens wide receiver Streeter long on confidence despite lacking polish

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New Ravens wide receiver Streeter long on confidence despite lacking polish

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Luke Jones

Doubts about his route-running ability caused University of Miami wide receiver Tommy Streeter to fall to the sixth round before the Ravens finally took a chance on the 6-foot-5 specimen with the 198th overall pick.

But what he lacks in refinement he makes up for with confidence, showing the same swagger made famous by countless former Hurricanes over the last 25 years. Running the 40-yard dash in an impressive 4.40 seconds in addition to his impressive height, the raw Streeter views himself as a dynamic playmaker instead of a sixth-round pick without a guarantee of a roster spot in the fall.

“I feel like I’m one of those guys who can create a mismatch anywhere on the field with my size and speed,” Streeter told AM 1570 WNST on Saturday. “I consider myself to be a deep-threat receiver, a guy that can take the lid off of the defense.”

Streeter caught 46 passes for 811 yards and eight touchdowns in his redshirt-junior season after recording just six receptions for 156 yards in his first two seasons at Miami. The improvement prompted him to forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the 2012 NFL Draft, where he initially expected to be taken in the second or third round.

His measurables suggest a receiver with immense potential, but his limited body of work at Miami and lack of quickness getting out of breaks caused teams to pass on Streeter in search of more polished products. Averaging 17.6 yards per catch to lead the ACC among players with at least 45 receptions, Streeter vows not to forget the feeling of falling down the board as he tries to make an immediate impact for the Ravens.

“Over the course of just watching the draft, there were many teams that passed up on me and I thank God that the Baltimore Ravens saw something in me,” Streeter said. “They gave me the opportunity. Everything that I can do to make plays and help this organization, that’s what I’m going to do and I’m just ready to go out there and prove myself.”

General manager Ozzie Newsome made it no secret the organization was looking to add depth at the receiver position, but the Ravens elected to pass on such prospects as Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill and LSU’s Rueben Randle in the early rounds.

Baltimore wide receivers not named Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith combined for just eight receptions and 110 yards in 2011, with former No. 3 target Lee Evans making only four catches in an injury-plagued season before being released in March. The Ravens hope Streeter can eventually emerge as the tall target to which quarterback Joe Flacco can look inside the 20-yard line.

With Boldin and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta working the short and intermediate parts of the field, the Ravens have dreamed about a 6-foot-5 target being able to stretch the field for years. Streeter thinks he can be that guy for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

“Having Torrey Smith, it’s going to be a scary [having] two guys that present that big play, [an] ability to take the top off the defense,” Streeter said. “At the same time, I feel like in the red zone, I just create a mismatch all day down there.”

While the Ravens’ history of drafting defensive players from Miami is known around the NFL, they have rarely counted on offensive standouts from the Florida school, with former running back Willis McGahee the only Hurricane of note contributing on the opposite side of the ball. McGahee was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills in 2007 and spent four seasons in Baltimore.

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

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Your Monday Reality Check-Are Ravens better after Draft? I guess…

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Glenn Clark

I’ve already gotten about a hundred messages via email/Facebook/Twitter/text/Pony Express that said something along the lines of “well Glenn, you got what you wanted.”

To at least an extent, the people sending those messages have been right. After pounding on the desk of the studio at 1550 Hart Rd. in Towson for months (if not years), the Baltimore Ravens acquired a size receiver in the NFL Draft.

In the 6th round of the Draft, the Ravens selected Tommy Streeter, a 6’5″ wide receiver from the University of Miami. Combined with impressive speed (Streeter posted an impressive 4.40 forty time at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis), Streeter seemingly adds a more unique dynamic to Cam Cameron’s offense in 2012. Streeter’s size presents an immediate matchup problem in the red zone (and specifically in the end zone) that the team simply didn’t have in their receiving corps in 2011.

Well…mostly anyway.

You see, the Ravens actually DID briefly have a receiver like that in 2011. If you’ll remember, the Ravens acquired former Buffalo Bills WR James Hardy late in the 2010 season in hopes he could make the team out of Training Camp. Nagging injury issues and a lockout later, Hardy couldn’t crack the 53 and the lack of a size receiver played a role in the Ravens finishing 18th in the NFL in red zone offense.

So Streeter solves all of those problems, right? Right?

As I was also quick to point out, simply being tall wasn’t the only desirable attribute in a new Ravens receiver. Clarence Moore was tall. Randy Hymes was tall. Even Marc Lester was tall. The Ravens not only needed a tall receiver, they needed a receiver who could catch the ball and become a consistent threat in a National Football League offense.

While I liked the team’s decision to draft Streeter, I will admit that I don’t believe the Ravens (and 31 other teams) passed on him for five and a half rounds because they were TOO worried about how good he was. There have been questions about Streeter’s hands, as well as his overall ability to develop into a consistent standout receiver. Those questions may or may not be fair, as the former Hurricanes star could show 31 teams they made a mistake in the coming seasons or they could show one particular team they made the wrong decision to take him even as late as the sixth round.

I guess that’s basically the entire point of this week’s column. After the NFL Draft, analysts attempt to identify “winners” and “losers” from three days of selecting players. Some of these players will go on to outstanding pro careers, others will leave little in the way of a legacy at the NFL level and others still will never play in even a single NFL game.

So do I think the Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft? Yeah…I guess. I guess the Baltimore Ravens did a nice job in the NFL Draft.

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Big picture takes priority in draft over immediate needs for Ravens

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Big picture takes priority in draft over immediate needs for Ravens

Posted on 23 April 2012 by Luke Jones

In summing up the phenomenon that has become the NFL Draft over the years, former Ravens coach Brian Billick’s introductory mantra for teams drafting a quarterback is more than fitting in describing the entire event.

Nobody knows anything.

Of course, the phrase is hyperbole when considering the individuals — such as the ones residing at 1 Winning Drive in Owings Mills — who have proven time and time again they mostly know what they’re doing. Still, other organizations over the years — the franchise down the road in Landover comes to mind — have either used their picks as blind shots at a dartboard or, even worse, sold them away for deteriorating veteran pieces for the short term that often leave their franchises in football purgatory.

While everyone hopes to discover the winning Powerball ticket, there is just as much anxiety about uncovering the kind of skunk that can get the head coach, general manager, and scouting department fired. After four months of mock drafts, 40 times, pro days, and the assembling of draft boards, we’ll finally get our first look at the hand each of the 32 teams is holding this weekend.

And, even then, the same will hold true for everyone after the 253rd pick is turned in Saturday evening: we won’t really know for a few more years.

For the Ravens, we all know the philosophy and can recite it by heart. It’s all about the “best player available” and staying true to their draft board. However, they arguably have their most glaring need — the left guard position — since drafting Joe Flacco as their badly-needed franchise quarterback in 2008.

Whether you believe second-year tackle Jah Reid can successfully make the transition to left guard or not, it doesn’t take a fortune-teller to predict loud concern among fans should the Ravens walk away without an interior lineman in the first couple rounds of the draft. Even if that scenario plays out, a look at recent history reminds us how essential it is to allow the results to play out.

In 2008, the second-round selection of Rutgers running back Ray Rice appeared curious after the Ravens had just forked over multiple draft picks and a hefty contract to Willis McGahee the year before. Of course, Rice soon became a Pro Bowl running back while McGahee drifted to a backup role before ultimately being shown the door last year.

And with the benefit of hindsight and the surprising emergence of Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams last season, would the Ravens have still selected cornerback Jimmy Smith with the 27th overall pick in 2011 or perhaps traded out of the spot to address another area?

Could the Ravens pass on selecting a guard and watch Reid blossom into an above-average guard?

You never know what the future holds, making it even more critical to choose the player you envision to be the best over the next four or five years and not just one who can help immediately in 2012.

The consensus choice among experts’ mock drafts is Wisconsin center Peter Konz, who makes perfect sense on paper because of the perceived ability of Konz to shift over to left guard for a season before taking over for veteran Matt Birk, whose three-year contract is essentially structured to be a one-year deal. Konz would certainly address the Ravens’ most immediate need, but will he ultimately be the best player available when thinking about the next four or five seasons?

The Ravens have lacked a tall, impact receiver since the early years of the franchise, making it difficult to pass on a raw talent with major upside such as Georgia Tech’s Stephen Hill at the end of the first round. As WNST.net’s Glenn Clark pointed out, there is value at wide receiver in the second and third rounds, but does make you turn away from Hill and toward another position, even if you’re confident he becomes a premier receiver over the next five years?

Other than perhaps quarterback and cornerback, the Ravens could stand to benefit from adding premium talent at any position. In the unlikely scenario that a left tackle prospect such as Riley Reiff of Iowa or Stanford’s Jonathan Martin becomes available — and assuming the Ravens’ brass grade out the given player as favorably as the experts do — Baltimore shouldn’t think twice about drafting its left tackle of the future, even if it means he sits on the bench for a year behind Bryant McKinnie and is unable to spend a cameo season at guard. The same holds true if Alabama’s Mark Barron slides down the draft board, even though the Ravens appear set at safety this season with Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard under contract.

The NFL Draft is about building franchises for the long haul, not plugging holes for that coming fall. You weigh the merits of perceived “safer” picks such as Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler who might have a lower ceiling against the potential rewards of drafting an upside player like Hill who possesses a higher bust rate.

If you’re confident that safe pick will blossom into a Pro Bowl player, you take him like the Ravens did with Ben Grubbs in 2007. But there are other times where rolling the dice — within reason — is the best move if you’ve done your homework and are confident in your coaching staff and the young man in which you’re investing.

The good news is Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta, and Joe Hortiz know these lessons as well as any talent evaluators in the league.

Whether their first-round selection falls in line with an immediate need such as guard or wide receiver or is more of a long-term consideration like left tackle, inside linebacker, or safety, the Ravens are looking beyond next season when they turn in their card on Thursday night. It’s not just about 2012 and trying to move the Ravens one step further than they went last year; it’s finding the player who will put them in the best position to win over the next five years.

You never truly know whether it’s going to work out or not, but keeping the big picture in focus will keep you pointed in the right direction.

It’s not always what the fans want and it may leave them scratching their heads and groaning about the results on draft day, but you’re ultimately making the choice based on the cheers you expect to hear over the next several years.

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Ravens receive two compensatory picks in April’s draft

Posted on 26 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With NFL owners congregating in Florida for their annual meetings this week, the league awarded 32 compensatory picks for April’s draft on Monday afternoon.

Based on last offseason’s free-agent movement, the Ravens were awarded fourth- and fifth-round compensatory picks, which will be the 130th and 169th overall selections respectively.

While the notable releases of wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap, defensive tackle Kelly Gregg, and running back Willis McGahee were not taken into account, the free-agent losses of safety Dawan Landry (Jacksonville), guard Chris Chester (Washington), and cornerback Josh Wilson (Washington) factored into the Ravens receiving compensation in April’s draft after each received high-priced, long-term contracts and started 16 games with new teams.

After general manager Ozzie Newsome traded the Ravens’ fourth-round pick in the 2012 draft to Buffalo for veteran Lee Evans last August, receiving a fourth-round compensatory pick helps to ease the sting of that ill-fated move.

Under the rules of compensatory draft selections, a team losing more or better free agents than it acquires in the previous year is eligible to receive picks. The number of picks a team receives is equal to the net loss of free agents up to a maximum of four. Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time, and postseason distinctions. Not every free agent lost or acquired by a club factors into the formula.

This year, the compensatory picks will be positioned within the third through seventh rounds based on the value of the compensatory free agents lost.

The Ravens have been awarded 33 compensatory picks over their 17-year history, most in the NFL during that time period. With their two fifth-round compensatory picks in 2011, they selected defensive end Pernell McPhee and cornerback Chykie Brown.

Here are the Ravens’ selections for next month’s draft:

Round 1: No. 29
Round 2: No. 60
Round 3: No. 91
Round 4: No. 130 (compensatory)
Round 5: No. 155
Round 5: No. 169 (compensatory)
Round 6: No. 186
Round 7: No. 218

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With free agency upon us, Ravens will lean on continued growth from within in 2012

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With free agency upon us, Ravens will lean on continued growth from within in 2012

Posted on 12 March 2012 by Luke Jones

With the start of the new league year and free agency less than 24 hours away, you can already hear the cries if you listen carefully.

And you know exactly what I’m talking about if you pay attention to talk radio, internet message boards, and Twitter over the opening days of free agency every year.

When are the Ravens going to do something?

Why does Ozzie insist on sitting on his hands?

They’re definitely taking a step back this season.

Never were those exclamations louder than last season, an unprecedented period of free agency that coincided with the start of training camp after the 134-day lockout. General manager Ozzie Newsome waved goodbye to veterans Derrick Mason, Todd Heap, Kelly Gregg, and Willis McGahee in a series of cap-saving cuts, and a number of veterans including Chris Chester, Dawan Landry, and Josh Wilson found richer contracts elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the Ravens’ free-agent additions for 2011 were relatively modest over the course of the preseason, adding fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, center Andre Gurode, and running back Ricky Williams in addition to re-signing right guard Marshal Yanda to a long-term contract. The “offseason” timetable was stunted by the lockout, but Newsome operated in the way he typically does — calculated and conservative. In fact, the most dynamic move he made — trading a fourth-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for veteran receiver Lee Evans — turned out to be the biggest failure.

The history lesson is worth repeating as the Ravens embark on free agency for the 17th time in franchise history. Projected to have approximately $14.45 million in salary cap space (before tendering restricted free agents and exclusive rights free agents), Newsome will devote much of that to retaining as many of his own free agents as he can.

Of Baltimore’s 12 unrestricted free agents, five were starters last season, meaning the Ravens could be looking at more significant roster turnover than you’d like from an AFC North championship team that was one touchdown catch from advancing to the Super Bowl.

Expecting a dramatic splash of throwing money at elite free agents such as wide receiver Vincent Jackson or outside linebacker Mario Williams is only setting yourself up for disappointment. Even in the years in which he’s had the most cap room, Newsome rarely targets the players grabbing the headlines in the opening days of free agency, instead focusing on keeping his own and laying plans for value free agents that fulfill a need without eating up precious cap room.

As was the case last season, the Ravens will look for continued growth from within to aid in their quest for Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Entering the 2011 season, Terrence Cody, Ed Dickson, and Dennis Pitta were well-known draft picks from the previous season but had yet to emerge as starting-caliber players in the NFL. Even bigger question marks surrounded Lardarius Webb and Cary Williams before they became legitimate starting cornerbacks for one of the league’s top defenses. And fighting serious doubts after a poor preseason, wide receiver Torrey Smith set franchise rookie records for receptions, receiving yards, and touchdown catches.

Their contributions were as critical as any free-agent acquisition the Ravens made en route to a 12-4 record and their first division title in five years.

This season, the Ravens will potentially look to younger players such as defensive ends Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee, offensive lineman Jah Reid, and linebackers Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, and Albert McClellan to help fill potential voids left behind by free agents Cory Redding, Ben Grubbs, Matt Birk, Jarret Johnson, and Jameel McClain. Of course, the Ravens will add new pieces via free agency and next month’s draft to fill some of those needs, but it’s almost a guarantee that they’ll need to lean on some combination of the aforementioned players for expanded roles in 2012.

After tendering their restricted free agents and exclusive rights players, the Ravens will be left with somewhere between $6 million and $7 million to address their own unrestricted free agents and shop the open market. It doesn’t take an economics major to realize that money will only go so far.

But, as he usually does, Newsome will make the most of it.

As the frenzy of free agency begins on Tuesday and the big names start coming off the board — possibly even a few from the Ravens’ own backyard leaving for greener pastures — remember many of the biggest factors determining how the Ravens fare in 2012 already reside in Owings Mills.

It may get ugly, with many of their unrestricted free agents not expected to return, but Newsome and the Ravens never strive to “win” the first week of free agency. They’ll look closely for that under-the-radar talent that nobody is talking about right now. And, as always, the Ravens will plan to shine during April’s draft.

By the time July arrives, they’ll address the offensive line and the linebacker position in some form as well as add a few pieces in other areas to optimize a team that was only a few tenths of a second away from going to the Super Bowl back in January.

Just remember that when you or someone else feels the urge to panic and ask if Newsome is asleep at the wheel over the next week or so.

To borrow an expression from another era and another sport here in Baltimore, it’s “The Raven Way” of doing business.

And if history is any indication, it’s worked pretty well.

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Odds of Ravens Winning Super Bowl Now at 7/1

Posted on 12 January 2012 by WNST Staff

Courtesy of Bovada, (www.Bovada.lv,  Twitter: @BovadaLV).

2012 NFL Playoffs – Which Conference will win the Super Bowl?      

AFC                  8/5

NFC                  1/2

2012 NFL Playoffs – How many road teams will win this weekend?   

0                      4/1       

1                      6/5

2                      2/1       

3                      10/1     

4                      125/1   

2012 NFL Playoffs – How many road teams will win this weekend?   

Over                  1½ (+160)

Under                1½  (-200)

2012 NFL Playoffs – Will any game go to Overtime this weekend?     

Yes                  3/1       

No                    1/4       

Exact Playoff Results for Each Team

2012 NFL Playoffs – Green Bay Packers Playoff Progress       

Eliminated in NFC Divisional Round                     11/4

Eliminated in NFC Championship Game               3/1

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       3/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        9/5

2012 NFL Playoffs – New England Patriots Playoff Progress    

Eliminated in AFC Divisional Round                     11/2

Eliminated in AFC Championship Game               5/2

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       2/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        11/4

2012 NFL Playoffs – San Francisco 49ers Playoff Progress      

Eliminated in NFC Divisional Round                     1/2

Eliminated in NFC Championship Game               5/2

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       7/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        13/1

2012 NFL Playoffs – Baltimore Ravens Playoff Progress          

Eliminated in AFC Divisional Round                     5/2

Eliminated in AFC Championship Game               5/6

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       15/4

Super Bowl Champion                                        7/1

2012 NFL Playoffs – New Orleans Saints Playoff Progress       

Eliminated in NFC Divisional Round                     5/2

Eliminated in NFC Championship Game               1/1

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       11/2

Super Bowl Champion                                        7/2

2012 NFL Playoffs – Houston Texans Playoff Progress            

Eliminated in AFC Divisional Round                     2/7

Eliminated in AFC Championship Game               7/2

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       15/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        30/1

2012 NFL Playoffs – New York Giants Playoff Progress            

Eliminated in NFC Divisional Round                     2/7

Eliminated in NFC Championship Game               4/1

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       12/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        14/1

2012 NFL Playoffs – Denver Broncos Playoff Progress             

Eliminated in AFC Divisional Round                     1/8

Eliminated in AFC Championship Game               7/1

Super Bowl Runner Up                                       18/1

Super Bowl Champion                                        35/1

Divisonal Playoff Round Stat Leaders

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND – Who will record the most Passing Yards?

Drew Brees (NO) QB                              2/1

Aaron Rodgers (GB) QB                         5/2

Tom Brady (NE) QB                               9/4

Eli Manning (NYG) QB                           5/1

Joe Flacco (BAL) QB                             10/1

Alex Smith (SF) QB                               15/1

Tim Tebow (DEN) QB                             18/1

T.J. Yates (HOU)                                   18/1

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND – Who will record the most Rushing Yards?

Ray Rice (BAL) RB                                4/5

Arian Foster (HOU) RB                           5/2

Frank Gore (SF) RB                               7/2

Willis McGahee (DEN) RB                      4/1

DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF WEEKEND – Who will record the most Receiving Yards?        

Wes Welker (NE) WR                            7/2

Marques Colston (NO) WR                     4/1

Rob Gronkowski (NE) TE                        11/2

Hakeem Nicks (NYG) WR                      11/2

Victor Cruz (NYG) WR                           11/2

Jordy Nelson (GB) WR                           7/1

Demaryius Thomas (DEN) WR                7/1

Andre Johnson (HOU) WR                      15/2

Anquan Boldin (BAL) WR                       12/1

Michael Crabtree (SF) WR                      15/1

New Orleans at San Francisco

NO                    -3.5

SF                    +3.5

Over/Under      47.5

Passing Yards – Drew Brees (NO)       

Over/Under                    335½

Total TD Passes – Drew Brees (NO)    

Over                              2½  (-175)

Under                            2½ (+145)

Combined Yards in the game – Darren Sproles (NO)  

Over/Under                    175½

Receiving Yards – Marques Colston (NO)        

Over/Under                    82½

Will Jimmy Graham (NO) score a TD in the game?    

Yes                              -150

No                                +120

Passing Yards – Alex Smith (SF)         

Over/Under                    225½

Rushing Yards – Frank Gore (SF)        

Over/Under                    80½

Receiving Yards – Michael Crabtree (SF)       

Over/Under                    62½

Receiving Yards – Vernon Davis (SF)  

Over/Under                    52½

Will the 49ers allow a Rushing TD in the game?        

Yes                              -175

No                                +145

Who will have more turnovers in the game? 

New Orleans Saints                   EVEN

San Francisco 49ers                  -130

Denver at New England

DEN                  +14

NE                     -14

Over/Under      50.5

Passing Yards – Tim Tebow (DEN)                  

Over/Under                    190½

TD Passes – Tim Tebow (DEN)                        

Over                              1½ (+195)

Under                            1½  (-250)

Interceptions – Tim Tebow (DEN)                    

Over                              ½  (-165)

Under                            ½ (+135)

Rushing Yards – Tim Tebow (DEN)                  

Over/Under                    45½

Rushing Attempts – Tim Tebow (DEN)             

Over/Under                    9½

Completions – Tim Tebow (DEN)                     

Over/Under                    11½

Will Tim Tebow (DEN) score a rushing TD in the game?                    

Yes                              +135    

No                                -165    

Receiving Yards – Demaryius Thomas (DEN)              

Over/Under                    72½

Passing Yards – Tom Brady (NE)                      

Over/Under                    325½

Total TD Passes – Tom Brady (NE)      

Over                              2½  (-150)

Under                            2½ (+120)

Receiving Yards – Wes Welker (NE)                

Over/Under                    90½

Receiving Yards – Rob Gronkowski (NE)                     

Over/Under                    82½

Will Rob Gronkowski (NE) score a TD in the game?   

Yes                  -165

No                    +135

Receiving Yards – Aaron Hernandez (NE)                   

Over/Under                    60½

Will Josh McDaniels and Tim Tebow hug at the end of the game?    

Yes                              EVEN

No                                -140

Houston at Baltimore

HOU                 +9

BAL                   -9

Over/Under      35.5

Total Passing Yards – T.J. Yates (HOU)           

Over/Under                    200½

(HOU vs BAL) – What will T.J. Yates have more of?    

TD Passes                    2/1

Interceptions                  2/1

Tie                                7/5

Total Rushing Yards – Arian Foster (HOU)       

Over/Under                    75½

Will Arian Foster (HOU) score a TD in the game?       

Yes                              -110     

No                                -110     

Total Receiving Yards – Andre Johnson (HOU)           

Over/Under                    70½

Total Passing Yards – Joe Flacco (BAL)          

Over/Under                    235½

Will Ray Rice (BAL) score a TD in the game?

Yes                  -200    

No                    +160    

Total Receiving Yards – Anquan Boldin (BAL)            

Over/Under                    62½

Total Tackles & Assists – Terrell Suggs (BAL)

Over/Under                    4½

Who will record more Rushing Yards in the game?   

Arian Foster (HOU) RB               +25½               

Ray Rice (BAL) RB                    -25½

Who will record more Receiving Yards in the game?

Arian Foster (HOU) RB               +4½     

Ray Rice (BAL) RB                    -4½

Total Rushing Yards Houston in the game      

Over/Under                                100½

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers

NYG                 +9

GB                    -9

Over/Under      53

Total Passing Yards – Eli Manning (NYG)        

Over/Under                    290½

Total TD Passes – Eli Manning (NYG)  

Over                              2  (-150)

Under                            2 (+120)

Total Receiving Yards – Hakeem Nicks (NYG)

Over/Under                    80½

Total Receiving Yards – Victor Cruz (NYG)      

Over/Under                    80½

Total Tackles & Assists – Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG)      

Over/Under                    5½

Total Passing Yards – Aaron Rodgers (GB)     

Over/Under                    310½

Total TD Passes – Aaron Rodgers (GB)           

Over                              2½  (-165)

Under                            2½ (+135)

Total Receiving Yards – Greg Jennings (GB)  

Over/Under                    75½

Will Greg Jennings (GB) score a TD in the game?     

Over                              -110     

Under                            -110     

Total Receiving Yards – Jordy Nelson (GB)     

Over/Under                    70½

Will Jordy Nelson (GB) score a TD in the game?        

Yes                  EVEN

No                    -130

Total Receiving Yards – Jermichael Finley (GB)         

Over/Under                    50½

(NYG vs GB) – Who will record more Rushing Yards in the game?     

New York Giants            -5½

Green Bay Packers        +5½

How many times will Aaron Rodgers be sacked in the game?           

Over/Under                    2½

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Pay Rice or Delay Rice?

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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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Former Chargers and Ravens FB Lorenzo Neal on Vonta Leach: “I think he’s the best blocking fullback in the league”

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Former Chargers and Ravens FB Lorenzo Neal on Vonta Leach: “I think he’s the best blocking fullback in the league”

Posted on 16 December 2011 by Ryan Chell

Former NFL fullback Lorenzo Neal blocked for some pretty good running backs in his 16-year NFL career.

Neal-who had stops in New Orleans, New York, Cincinnati, Tennessee, Tampa Bay,  and this weekend’s opponents in San Diego and Baltimore-also was the driving force behind those backs.

Neal-until his final stop in Baltimore for John Harbaugh’s first season in 2008-blocked for 11 straight 1,000 yard rushers including the likes of Eddie George, Ladanian Tomlinson, Corey Dillon, Warrick Dunn, Adrian Murrell and others.

And watching this game this weekend between his final two teams, the four-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro likes what he sees out of this Baltimore Ravens team.

In 2008, Neal was the one constant in the Ravens backfield, blocking for the likes of Willis McGahee, Le’Ron McClain, and Ray Rice.

He told Glenn Clark on “The Reality Check” Thursday that no question this team is a lot better when Ray Rice is the focal point of the offense.

“Ray Rice…this guy’s playing phenomenal ball right now,” Neal said. “He’s one of the best backs in the league. The guy runs hard, and he’s great out of the backfield. He’s got great hands.”

To be balanced, he compared Rice to a back he saw more of in San Diego in current Saints RB Darren Sproles.

“He’s a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger than Darren Sproles,” Neal said. “He’s just an electrifying back. Get the ball in his hands, get him in space, and you’ve got headaches.”

Neal continued with Clark, saying that not only are opposing defensive coordinators suffering from headaches with Ray Rice-the players on the field are suffering from them as well with the bone-crushing hits in Ravens FB Vonta Leach.

Neal said Leach is keeping the fullback position alive with his play in the Ravens backfield.

“He’s a physical guy,” Neal said of Leach. “He wants to get down the field and I like that physcial guy in Vonta Leach and he does a great job.”

“You guys got a great fullback in Vonta Leach…I think he’s the best blocking fullback in the league-bar none.”

Neal is familiar with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron during their time together in San Diego from 2003-2006, and Neal said that he was sure Cameron wanted to get a fullback like he had with him as a Charger.

“Cam Cameron loves that fullback, and he loves the traditional two-back offense. You’ve got Vonta Leach-a guy who’s a hammerhead…a guy who emulates his game after yours truly,” Neal joked.

Neal said the Ravens have all the tools to make a Super Bowl run this year, but he didn’t lie when he told Clark that the Raves need quarterback Joe Flacco to be on his game and to have consistent performances in the playoffs.

“I think Joe Flacco is a good quarterback. I don’t think Flacco is a great quarterback. When you look at Joe Flacco, you see some inconsistencies.”

“But when he’s on and really on, the guy can throw the ball with the best of them. The guy can throw the ball..he can throw the ball vertically. He throws a great long ball. He’s good with his feet, and he can get out of trouble with his feet.”

“He’s a big time quarterback with a big time arm and Joe Flacco is always going to continue to improve.”

Either way, he’s excited to watch Sunday’s game between two good team in the AFC.

“This is a great matchup especially with the line,” Neal said. “San Diego’s a deadly team and if the Baltimore Ravens come in here underestimating this team, they will go home with a loss and give Pittsburgh hope.”

Much like stopping Ray Rice halts the Ravens’ progress-do the same to Ryan Matthews and the San Diego running game, and you’ve got the Chargers beat.

“They’ve got to shut down Ryan Matthews because the kid’s starting to run,” Neal said. “You got to him often and you got to hit him early, but look for this to be a really good game.”

WNST thanks Lorenzo Neal for joining Glenn Clark on “The Reality Check”! To hear the whole interview, check the BuyaToyota.com Audio Vault @WNST.net!

 

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The 15-7-0 > The BCS

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The 15-7-0 > The BCS

Posted on 05 December 2011 by Glenn Clark

You know how it works. 15 positive football observations, 7 “not so” positive football observations and one “oh no” moment from outside the world of football.

(As a reminder, we don’t do Baltimore Ravens analysis here. We do PLENTY of that elsewhere. This is about the rest of the world of football.)

15 Positive Observations…

1. Oklahoma State looked REALLY good Saturday night. It’s a shame it didn’t really matter at all.

I tried explaining to everyone it wouldn’t matter if the Cowboys blew out Oklahoma Saturday night in Stillwater. Every time someone asked a question like “what if the Pokes win by a score of 50-0?” I responded with a simple “it won’t matter.”

I was right. Louisiana State will face Alabama again in the BCS Championship Game and OSU will get to watch after playing Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.

It’s a shame, as Oklahoma State certainly looked like a team capable of making things interesting in New Orleans on Saturday night. The shame is that their Bedlam rivalry win was marred by 13 fans being injured when they rushed the Boone Pickens Stadium field. It’s also a shame the Big 12 Champs aren’t Bayou bound because we’d all like to see more of Mike Gundy dancing…

2. With that in mind, does anyone think LSU is losing in the BCS title game?

It’s not that I don’t think highly of Oklahoma State (or Alabama), it’s just that the Tigers have been pretty dominant. See Badger, Honey.

It appears as though Tyrann Mathieu’s punt return TD shouldn’t have counted, and he actually had another return later in the game that didn’t result in a TD that was more impressive. But this was still a lot of fun to watch him run all over the Georgia Dome field in the SEC Championship Game.

It’s awfully early, but I’ll go ahead and call a Tigers win over the Crimson Tide in the title game. Just going out on a limb without having to at all. All balls, that Glenn Clark. At least that’s what my 4th grade teacher always said.

3. Tim Tebow is in first place. Since he won’t say it, I will. “Suck it, haters.

I picked the Denver Broncos to beat the Minnesota Vikings on “The Friday Football Frenzy” this week; but I gave myself an out. “If Von Miller doesn’t play the Broncos lose” I said.

What I didn’t know is that the great Tim Tebow had the “throw a 41 yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas while running out of bounds” in his repertoire…

Tim Tebow is better than you. And thanks to an Oakland Raiders loss we’ll get back to later in the game, he’s in first place in the AFC West.

Some Tim Tebow haters won’t give it up, including Merrill Hoge. He told the New York Post that Tim Tebow hasn’t proven anything because he hasn’t won a Super Bowl. Yep. That’s solid analysis. Well done sir.

Since we’re here, here’s this humorous picture of Matt Willis and Willis McGahee.

And also, this is apparently a photo of a fetus (or unborn child if you will) Tebowing. If you don’t want to look at it, don’t. I have no idea what I’m looking at myself.

4. Through one week, everyone who said “TJ Yates will be fine because he has Arian Foster” is right.

Of course, I was not in that camp so I feel like a bit of a silly goose.

The Atlanta Falcons had a great chance to make a move in the NFC Wild Card race, but they couldn’t contain Arian Foster in a loss to the Houston Texans.

I don’t have any (legitimate) highlights of the Texans’ win, but I DO have a video of Tommy Lasorda dropping a TON of F-Bombs in an old interview. Does that interest you???

5. I believe the pythagorean theorem somehow helped deliver West Virginia to the Orange Bowl. Clemson got there the old fashioned way.

The Mountaineers barely held on to beat South Florida Thursday night in Tampa Bay, claiming part of the Big East title-apparently the part that gets you to Miami.

Clemson on the other hand finished a season sweep of Virginia Tech (we’ll get back to them) in the ACC Championship Game. They totally earned their spot in the BCS. It’s a neat change of pace.

The Tigers and ‘Eers will get together in an Orange Bowl showdown that absolutely no one will be interested in. Except maybe this girl…

But I don’t really think of her as much of a sports expert when you think about it.

Oh-and apparently the appropriate way to celebrate a Clemson ACC title is to “fromble.” I had a lot of beers when I was in college. I didn’t know a damn thing about this…

6. Perhaps Chris Johnson really was worth a ton of money after all?

CJ2K has gone over 100 yards three times in his last four games, a feat he accomplished just once in in his first eight games.

That would be better if you were confused while playing along at home.

It was 153 yards and two TD’s Sunday as the Tennessee Titans topped the Buffalo Bills, a team I SWEAR had been good at some point during their existence…

Things get a BIT more difficult for the Titans next week, as they battle the Saints in Nashville. They find themselves still alive in the AFC South race but also still in the AFC Wild Card mix. AND they’re in the mix for the Cotton Bowl. Or something like that.

7. I don’t think much of the New York Jets, but I enjoy watching anyone beat the Washington Redskins.

The Jets scored 3 TD’s in the final five minutes of Sunday’s game at FedEx Field and got big plays from Aaron Maybin to avoid the upset.

A few things to giggle about here.

One-If the Skins manage to win two of their last four games this season, Mike Shanahan will manage to tie the great Jim Zorn’s record through the first two seasons! Big stuff!

Two-Washington’s Fred Davis and Trent Williams are suspended for the next four games for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. I don’t think the substance has been officially announced, but I think I have a guess…

(Continued on Page 2)

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