Jun 112013
 

Arians and Palmer7. Arizona Cardinals
Head Coach: Bruce Arians
2012 Record: 5-11
2012 Offense: 250 points scored, 32st in points, 32nd in yards (28th passing, 32nd rushing)
2012 Defense: 357 points allowed, 17th in points, 12th in yards (5th passing, 28th rushing)

Key Additions
Head Coach Bruce Arians, QB Carson Palmer, RB Rashard Mendenhall, DL Frostee Rucker, LB Karlos Dansby, LB Lorenzo Alexander, LB Jasper Brinkley, CB Javier Arenas, CB Jerraud Powers, S Yeremiah Bell, CB Antoine Cason, S Curtis Taylor, DE Matt Shaughnessy, G Jonathan Cooper, LB Kevin Minter, S Tyrann Mathieu, G Earl Watford

Key Losses
S Adrian Wilson, QB Kevin Kolb, QB Brian Hoyer, QB John Skelton, S Kerry Rhodes, S James Sanders, CB William Gay, LB Quentin Groves, LB Paris Lenon, RB Beanie Wells, WR Early Doucet, CB Greg Toler, RB LaRod Stephens-Howling, DE Vonnie Holliday, DE Nick Eason, LB Stewart Bradley

Why 2013 will be better
The Cardinals offensive line gave up 58 sacks in 2012… that’s right – 58. It’s hard to imagine the line performing that poorly again. So by default one can expect the offense to fare better than it did last season. Tackle Levi Brown spent last season on IR, so his return is good news for the Cardinals. Jonathan Cooper will start next to him, meaning the left side of the line will be a vast improvement over last season. Center Lyle Sendlein returns, flanked by another rookie in Watford. Only second year player Bobby Massie returns as a starter from all 16 games at right tackle. Carson Palmer will bring stability to the quarterback position and will love throwing to Larry Fitzgerald. That will result in huge fantasy number for the pair; it remains to be seen whether or not it will convert to wins. Despite a solid defensive last core from last year, this group also went through an off-season overhaul, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary. If Mendenhall can return from injury (and attitude) to post 1,000 rushing yards, the Cardinals could be looking at an 8 or 9 win season.

Why 2013 will be worse
I’m not sold on Mendenhall as the answer at running back, and I’m really not sold on Carson Palmer. Palmer will put up big numbers for yards and will rack up some touchdowns, but he also has a knack for interceptions and lost fumbles, and has never proven to be a quarterback who can will his team to victory. He may stop the revolving the door and increase the point totals, but he’s not a guy I would stake the franchise on. The key to 2013 will once again be the defense, and as long as Palmer and the offense don’t turn the ball over with the frequency that the Cardinals’ offense did last season, the worst the Cardinals are looking at is another five win season.

Outlook
The Arizona Cardinals started off the 2012 season with four straight victories before collapsing the rest of the way, with an offense that scored 20 or more points only once in the team’s final twelve games. So it was no wonder that the Cardinals cleaned house in the offseason, on the roster as well as on the coaching staff. Palmer is an upgrade, but he’s not the answer, at least not by himself. Mendenhall has to bounce back in a big way for the Cardinals to rack up more wins, and an offensive line with two rookie guards has to find its chemistry early. Bruce Arians proved last season with the Colts that he is a tremendous coach, and it will take no less of an effort than the one he gave last season for the Cardinals to exceed six wins.

Mar 152013
 

John AbrahamThe New England Patriots’ improving defense may be getting an influx of veteran leadership, as the Patriots are bringing in safety Adrian Wilson (Arizona) and defensive ends Dwight Freeney (Indianapolis) and John Abraham (Atlanta).

The Patriots and Freeney know each other well. Freeney was the leader of the Colts’ defense that battled the Patriots throughout the past decade. He did not fit neatly into defensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ new defensive scheme in Indy, and is now looking for a new home. The eleven year veteran has seen his production diminish in recent seasons, but his leadership could be a boon to the Patriots’ young pass rushing talents. Similarly, Patriots’ fans are well aware of Abraham, as he spent his first six seasons with the Jets before spending seven years in Atlanta. Abraham had ten sacks for the Falcons last season and is still seen as a disruptive presence on the defensive line.  He would seem to be the better grab for the Patriots if they can land him. Abraham has 122 career sacks, while Freeney has collected 107.5.

Safety Adrian Wilson has spent his entire twelve year career with the Cardinals, and while lacking the physical nature of Bernard Pollard, he would be a stabilizing force in the secondary, where he could potentially play alongside Devin McCourty. That requires the Patriots to stabilize their cornerback situation, which is in flux right now given the free agent status of Aqib Talib and the forthcoming criminal sentencing of Alfonzo Dennard. Wilson has 27 interceptions and two touchdowns in his NFL career.

It looks like the Patriots have good plans for the money recouped through the restructuring of Tom Brady’s contract.  We will keep following this to see if the Patriots reel in any of the three.

Feb 032013
 

NFL AwardsSuddenly our picks for the post-season awards aren’t looking so far off of the mark.

The NFL announced it’s post-season award winners last night, and we have a recap of the award winners, along with the Gridiron Rats recipient.Um… yeah… we might have pretty well.

Here’s a summary of the award winners.

PetersonMOST VALUABLE PLAYER –  ADRIAN PETERSON, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – ADRIAN PETERSON, MINNESOTA VIKINGS

Adrian Peterson was elected the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, gaining 30.5 of the 50 votes cast by an Associated Press group of NFL writers. Coming off an ACL tear in December 2011, Peterson fell just nine yards short of the single-season rushing record, gaining 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns. Peterson also captured honors for offensive player of the year, capturing 36 of the 50 first place votes. Peterson is only the third player to win both the MVP and the player of the year honors in a single season, joining Alan Page and Fran Tarkenton.

For the MVP voting, Peyton Manning received 19.5 first place votes. For the Offensive Player of the Year, Peterson finished ahead of Manning, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Calvin Johnson.

Gridiron Rats also gave both awards to Peterson.

JJ WattDEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR – JJ WATT, HOUSTON TEXANS

JJ Watt won the Defensive Player of the Year award Saturday night, with a near unanimous 49 out of 50 first place votes (Von Miller got the lone dissenting vote). Watt had a monster season with 20.5 sacks and 16 pass deflections, to go along with 81 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles. There is little question that “JJ Swatt” was the league’s most disruptive defensive player in 2012.

Not surprisingly, the Gridiron Rats award went to Watt as well. (That’s 3 for 3 if you’re keeping score at home)

Robert-Griffin-IIIOFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – ROBERT GRIFFIN III, WASHINGTON REDSKINS

Perhaps our most controversial pick, Griffin earned the AP’s recognition with an impressive rookie campaign as he helped transform the Washington Redskins into a playoff team for the first time since 2006. Griffin landed 29 of the 50 first place votes, followed by Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson. Griffin finished the season with 3,200 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, only five interceptions, and he ran for another 815 yards and seven touchdowns.

We are now four for four, as the Gridiron Rats award went to Griffin as well.

Luke KuechlyDEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR – LUKE KUECHLY, CAROLINA PANTHERS

Luke Kuechly picked up 28 of 50 first place votes to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award. Kuechly tallied 164 tackles as a rookie, to go along with one sack, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and eight passes defensed. Kuechly received the NFC Defensive Rookie of the Month award in December, recording a league-high 59 tackles over the final five games of the season. Bobby Wagner of Seattle finished second with 11 first place votes, followed by Casey Heyward, Janoris Jenkins, and Lavonte David.

Kuechly also got the nod from Gridiron Rats, meaning we are five for five. Sensing a trend yet?

ManningCOMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR – PEYTON MANNING, DENVER BRONCOS

Anyone who thought Peyton Manning’s best days were behind him proved to be very wrong in 2012, as Manning returned from four neck surgeries and a missed 2011 campaign to lead the Broncos to a 13-3 record and first seed in the AFC playoffs. Manning threw for 4,659 yards and 37 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 105.8. Manning beat out Adrian Peterson for this award. Sadly for Manning, his brilliant regular season was once again tarnished by a post-season meltdown.

Not surprisingly, Manning also captured the Gridiron Rats award, placing us one award away from a perfect record. (Can you tell we are a little pleased with ourselves?)

Bruce AriansCOACH OF THE YEAR – BRUCE ARIANS, INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

It’s quite a story when an offensive coordinator wins the Coach of the Year Award, but there is no coach more deserving of this award than Bruce Arians. Arians took over when Head Coach Cuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, and he guided the team to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth just one year removed from finishing with the league’s worst record, allowing the Colts to draft Andrew Luck with the first pick in the NFL Draft. Chuck Pagano finished second in the voting, followed by Pete Carroll and Leslie Frasier.

Arian was our first award winner at Gridiron Rats, meaning we were a perfect seven for seven in foreshadowing the AP winners. Mind you, that wasn’t our goal; we were simply recognizing the players and coaches that we thought were most deserving of these honors. But apparently the AP voters felt much the same way about each award, and if we are to be criticized for our selections (and there is plenty of debate to be had for some of these awards), then at least we have the satisfaction of being supported by the “official” awards.

Jan 042013
 

Rat's Awards ImageToday we begin rolling out our first Gridiron Rats post-season awards, as determined by our contributing members. We are voting on the seven major awards given out by the NFL and by media entities. They include:

Most Valuable Player
Offensive Player of the Year
Defensive Player of the Year
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Comeback Player of the Year
Head Coach of the Year

We will give these awards out two per day until Monday, when we will give out our Most Valuable Player Award. So without further introduction, let’s give out our first award (drum roll please…).

HEAD COACH OF THE YEAR

We had ten nominees for this award. In some cases we looked at head coaches who engineered big seasons after the team did poorly last season, while in other cases we considered coaches who either exceeded expectations or maintained a successful team despite all of the challenges of running a professional football team.

3rd Place – Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Yes, the Patriots dropped from 14-2 last season to 12-4 this season, plagued by early season losses to Arizona, Seattle and Baltimore. But then the team went 9-1 over the final ten games of the season, including victories over the Colts and Texans while going 6-0 in the AFC East this season. Since 2001, the Patriots are the winningest team in the NFL by a fair margin, and despite annual predictions of the Patriots’ dominance over their division coming to an end, the Patriots just keep winning. This season they did so despite injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and a host of defensive players, while the defense improved steadily over the course of the season and is clearly better than last year’s group that finished one play away from a fourth Lombardi Trophy. Love him or hate him, Bill Belichick simply knows how to teach and motivate his players to win.

2nd Place – Pete Carroll, Seattle Seahawks

Bill Belichick’s predecessor in New England has made the Seahawks arguably the biggest surprise of the year, overshadowed perhaps only by the Indianapolis Colts. Russell Wilson has emerged out of nowhere to emerge as a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate. Carroll and Wilson not only led the Seahawks to an 11-5 record and a playoff berth, but registered wins over the Packers (thanks, replacement refs), Patriots, Vikings, Bears, and 49ers. In Weeks 14 and 15, Seattle outscored Arizona and Buffalo by a combined 108-17. The Seahawks feature the fourth best defense in the NFL, complemented by a brutal running attack led by Marshawn Lynch, in addition to the talents of Wilson. Say what you will about Carroll’s relaxed coaching style; he seems to know how to get the most out of his players.

Bruce AriansWINNER – Bruce Arians, Indianapolis Colts

Speaking of Indianapolis, we’re not sure that there is a better story in the 2012 season than that of the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts went 2-14 last season, and few people expected the Colts to win more than four or five games this season with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. Even worse, Head Coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with a treatable form of leukemia in September, taking a leave of absence and turning the team over to Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians. All Arians did was lead the Colts to a 9-3 record during Pagano’s absence, and the Colts finished with an 11-5 record and the fifth seed in the AFC playoffs. Arians returned to his offensive coordinator role last week in the Colts’ win over the Houston Texans. No matter what happens to the Colts in the post-season, this year will be remembered not only for Pagano’s recovery and return to the sidelines, but for Arians’ managing of a team in emotional turmoil over the loss of their coach. Arians handled the situation with grace and humility, and is to be commended for leading the Colts to a remarkable turnaround.

Dec 192012
 

Chris HarrisOf course no one can stay at the top of our Power Rankings for more than a couple of weeks, so the Patriots have given way to a new #1 this week. This week’s Power Rankings capture our thoughts on each team in five words or less, so here we go. Thanks to our contributors for some wonderfully smarmy commentary. We welcome our readers to offer some smarmy comments as well.

Week 15 Power Rankings

1. Denver Broncos (11-3, W9, +1) – Tebow got them this far…

2. San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1, W2, +1) – Pure power football

3. New England Patriots (10-4, L1, -2) – Turnovers + Short Field = Loss

4. Atlanta Falcons (12-2, W1, +1) – Who cares until the playoffs?

5. Houston Texans (12-2, W1, -1) – How good is this team?

6. Green Bay Packers (10-4, W3, +1) – QB = Good, Kicker=Bad

7. Seattle Seahawks (9-5, W3, +3) – Fake punt!?!

8. New York Giants (8-6, L1, -2) – Better turn it on quick

9. Indianapolis Colts (9-5, L1, -1) – Who would have thunk?

10. Washington Redskins (8-6, W5, +2) – RG III + Cousins = Great Draft

11. Cincinnati Bengals (8-6, W1, +2) – Best of Bad Division

12. Baltimore Ravens (9-5, L3, -3) – Injuries + Flacco = Fading Fast

13. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7, L2, -2) – Their history won’t save them

14. Dallas Cowboys (8-6, W3, +2) – Such a tease…

15. Minnesota Vikings, (8-6, W2, +2) – Is Adrian Peterson the MVP?

16. Chicago Bears (8-6, L3, -1) – Now I’m free… free falling…

17. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8, L4, -3) – Go back to creamsicle unis!

18. New Orleans Saints (6-8, W1, +1) – Sean Payton is getting paid

19. St. Louis Rams (6-7-1, L1, -1) – Silence of the Lambs

20. Cleveland Browns (5-9, L1, +1) – Fire. Pat. Shurmer. Now.

21. Miami Dolphins (6-8, W1, +3) – 2nd best in AFC East

22. New York Jets (6-8, L1, -2) – Just. End. The. Season.

23. San Diego Chargers (5-9, L1, U) – Underachievers week after week

24. Carolina Panthers (5-9, W2, +2) – Cam does good commercials

25. Buffalo Bills (5-9, L2, -3) – They have good wings

26. Detroit Lions (4-10, L6, -1) – Megatron > Suh

27. Tennessee Titans (5-9, W1, U) – Uniforms and play both ugly

28. Arizona Cardinals (5-9, W1, +3) – 1 Team, 3 Bum QBs

29. Philadelphia Eagles (4-10, L1, -1) – Dream Team playing out string

30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12, L3, -1) – Ready to forfeit this Sunday

31. Oakland Raiders (4-10, W1, +1) – They beat the Chiefs!

32. Kansas City Chiefs (2-12, L2, -2) – They lost to the Raiders!