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
 

Ravens-ColtsThe disintegration of the already tenuous relationship between Joe Flacco and the Baltimore fans has continued its downward trajectory along with the Ravens record after Baltimore’s 9-2 start gave way to a 1-4 finish. Nevermind Flacco’s 54-26 record in Baltimore or that since taking over as a rookie in 2008 he has become the only QB in history to lead his team to at least one post season victory in each of his first four seasons. It has gone virtually unmentioned the Flacco has improved in every single major statistical category from 2011 to 2012; as it’s the drop in wins from last season’s 12 to 10 that has the championship thirsty city on edge. His 309 yard 2 TD performance in Baltimore’s week 16 decimation of the Giants seemingly has gone unnoticed. Perceptions couldn’t have changed more dramatically than they have for Flacco who less than a calendar year ago executed a near perfect 2 minute drive in the AFC Championship only to have the NFL gods strike down and snatch victory at the last moment. Nonetheless, for the fifth time in Flacco’s five years—and second as division champion-the Ravens are heading to the playoffs.

For the opposing side, the Colts Andrew Luck has earned in 16 games a level of adulation from the city of Indianapolis seemingly reserved for the likes of only Peyton Manning. His 7 game winning drives are the most by an NFL QB since 1970 and no rookie in this stellar class has been asked to do more downfield with so little in the backfield (there is no Marshawn Lynch, Alfred Morris, Trent Richardson, or even Reggie Bush in the Colt lineup). Luck had dropped back nearly 650 times and only 4 QBs have been sacked more, nevertheless, Luck has nearly single-handedly resuscitated and transformed a team that was 2-14 just a year ago into an 11-5 contender.

In the 28 years that have elapsed since Robert Irsay drew the ire of the city of Baltimore by jetting for Indianapolis in a move that made economic sense and Jim Irsay drew equal ire from the city of Indianapolis by jettisoning Peyton Manning (another fiscally prudent move) much has changed. Manning brought a pair of AFC Titles and a Super Bowl to Indianapolis and Art Modell brought a team and title to Baltimore. As playoff opponents this marks the third meeting between the two franchises. The first two acts took place in Indianapolis and left much to be desired as Baltimore has managed only 12 points total. The most recent post season matchup with the two ended in a 20-3 Indy route in 2010 and marked Manning’s final victory in a Colt uniform.

The Keys for Indianapolis
Lining up for their 17th game, don’t expect wholesale differences for the Colt’s or any other team for that matter this late in the season (i.e. the Colts will not suddenly develop the ability to control the line of scrimmage or add a ground game to add balance to their attack). More than a touch of Luck will be required for the Colts to move on and they will need Luck to be every bit the quarterback that passed for more than 4,300 yards, was rivaled by only Flacco for most 20-plus yard completions, and posted 7 game winning drives.

The Colts will have their hands full handling Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs and the only hope to improve on the 104 yards per game they rushed for is if Anthony Castonzo can withstand Ngata’s pressure versus the run. Unfortunately for the Colts, RB Vick Ballard has only one carry of over 25 yards this season and Ngata spent week 17 re-charging his batteries. Factor in the return of Ray Lewis and it is likely the Colts will be at their one dimensional worst.

The Colts will have to do anything they can to factor in as many five-man routes as possible, giving Luck as many options as possible. His ability to get the ball deep has been a revelation considering the lack of a ground threat and while his tendency has been to go deep he will need check down options available. Luck’s ability to dissect the Ravens’ defense will be pertinent, and he has the perfect coaching scenario to help him identify those keys and giveaways. Chuck Pagano—prior to taking the Colts job—took a tour as defensive coordinator in Baltimore and knows their personal better than anyone.

The Colts 28-16 victory last week against Houston marked their first win over a winning team since early October and came despite being outgained by over 100 yards. Yet, Luck was able to do enough to exploit the secondary to notch the win in Pagano’s return. If Luck can continue his third down success that has masked the run deficiencies and the Colts utilize the other subtle qualities they bring into the game—namely returner Deji Karim’s recent explosiveness and Pagano’s knowledge of the opposition—they can find a way. It has been just that, the ability to find a way, which has positioned them at 11-5 despite being the only team in the post-season with a negative scoring differential.

Defensively the Colts will need to do what they can to limit Rice’s effectiveness between the tackles; if they can force him outside they can utilize what is perhaps their only asset against the run—their sideline to sideline speed. Like Luck, Joe Flacco has been victimized by a leaky offensive line. The Colts will hope to touch up Flacco and will need Vontae Davis to build on his two interception performance of last week and match up with speedster Torrey Smith.

The Keys for Baltimore
While defense has been the Baltimore calling and the names Suggs, Reed, Ngata, and Lewis still appear on the marquee a win for the Ravens will likely have to be attributed to the ability to exploit obvious weaknesses in the Colt defense. The Colts defense has allowed 137.5 rushing yards per game. While solid in pursuit, they fail to hold up well versus running backs that do damage between the tackles. Enter Ray Rice: the Ravens have won 23 of the 26 games when Rice has at least 25 carries. The Ravens will look to establish strong play by their tackles to allow Rice to control the pace of the game and effectively approach that 25 carry magic number.

In the passing game, the same group of tackles that will be key to springing Rice to a good game on the ground will have to do a better job than they have this year of protecting Flacco. When protected, Flacco can be accurate and effective and the Baltimore offense more than efficient. The Ravens thrashed the Giants for 533 yards in week 16 and, despite all the late season offensive turmoil, have averaged nearly 32 points per game at home. Baltimore has their own man from the other side in Jim Caldwell who manned the Colts sideline in both a tight Super Bowl loss and last season’s 2-14 debacle. Caldwell has spent the last month calling the plays for Baltimore and though results have been mixed he does have knowledge of Colt personnel.

There is not enough that the Colts can do to gain effectiveness against a Raven’s defense that will look to feed off of the emotional return to the lineup of Ray Lewis. While the Baltimore defense has lost a step or five they still hold enough advantages to boil things down to one focus: the ability of Ed Reed and the secondary to ground the third down passing attack that has been at the crux of Luck’s ability to bail out the Colts offense all season long.

The Outcome
The Pagano story has rightfully captured the hearts of NFL fans everywhere and has made the Colts a post season rooting favorite for fans that don’t have a horse in this race otherwise. If the sentiment of Ray Lewis potentially playing his last game at home can be trumped then it is Pagano’s remarkable return to the sideline after battling leukemia that has deserving done so. Though the luster seems to have faded from Baltimore many weeks ago it will be quite a challenge for the Colts to do what no team has done in the Flacco era and the Ravens to a winless post season.

Is Luck enough to lead a team that takes the field with 28 men playing their first postseason game? Baltimore is better on defensive and their running game foils the Colts direct weakness against the run. Furthermore, Jacoby Jones and the elite return game has the potential to exploit Indianapolis’ struggling coverage unit. This will be Ray Lewis’ last home game, but it won’t be his last game. The Ravens have too many advantages and they are at home. This week being pretty good is better than having ‘Luck’ on one’s side.

Baltimore 30 – Indianapolis 21

Oct 032012
 

It is a breath of fresh air that this week we find ourselves talking about the play on the field, rather than the poor officiating. The early season upsets, for the most part, are starting to wear off as we begin to get a handle on who the power players are that will be fighting for post-season spots. Sure there are some surprises (such as Minnesota and Arizona), but we also have the normal constants in the NFL universe battling for supremacy.

Here are our Week Four Power Rankings:

1. Houston Texans (4-0, +1) – The Texans grab the top spot after a blowout win over the Titans

2. Atlanta Falcons (4-0, -1) – The Falcons slip to #2 after needing a last minute comeback to overcome the Panthers, but Matt Ryan and the Falcons are for real

3. San Francisco 49ers (3-1, +3) – They made the Jets look hideous on Sunday, though to be fair the Jets were already doing a good job of that themselves

4. Baltimore Ravens (3-1, U) – Two close wins over the Patriots and Browns have the Ravens battling the Bengals for control of the AFC North; Flacco not looking elite, but may be looking good enough

5. Arizona Cardinals (4-0, -2) – Yes, they are still undefeated, but they struggled against a poor Dolphins team

6. New England Patriots (2-2, +1) – They won by 24 points and still gave Bill Belichick plenty to scream about this week

7. Philadelphia Eagles (3-1, +4) – The Eagles have scored six touchdowns in four games; this castle is built on sand

8. New York Giants (2-2, -3) – To be honest, Eli did enough to steal a win from the Eagles; he needs to talk to his receivers about hugging cornerbacks downfield

9. Green Bay Packers (2-2, -1) – The Packers defense can thank Garrett Hartley for pulling them out of the fire

10. Chicago Bears (3-1, +3) – What do you know… the good Jay Cutler showed up this week

11. Cincinnati Bengals (3-1, -1) – Dalton, Green, and an improving defense are off to a fast start; could be a two team race with the Ravens

12. Minnesota Vikings (3-1, +7) – Vikes can thank a meltdown by the Lions’ special teams, but the truth is this team looks better than many people thought it would

13. Denver Broncos (2-2, +4) – Manning looks great against the Raiders; will their defense be able to stop the Patriots?

14. San Diego Chargers (3-1, +6) – Rivers looks better, and defense forces six turnovers to help Chargers rebound from blowout loss in Week Three

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2, -1) – Early bye week helps team get healthy in time for the Eagles to invade

16. Dallas Cowboys (2-2, -4) – The Ghost Rat says that the Dallas Cowboys will never win a Super Bowl with Tony Romo at the helm; of course his performance against the Bears doesn’t exactly make this prediction look like a stretch

17. Washington Redskins (2-2, +4) – Redskins look they will play a lot of close games this year; they may or may not make the playoffs but will be the team no one wants to play

18. Seattle Seahawks (2-2, -9) – Similar to the Redskins; an 8-8 bound team that can surprise people

19. St. Louis Rams (2-2, +4) – We don’t think the winning will continue at this pace, but the Rams are no longer at the bottom of the pyramid

20. Buffalo Bills (2-2, -5) – There’s a new book out; “How to go from upstart to roadkill in 30 minutes“, by the Buffalo Bills

21. Detroit Lions (1-3, -3) – They get a bye this week, but the losing may not be over

22. Carolina Panthers (1-3, +4) – A game effort against the Falcons, and Cam seems to be waking his team up; beating the Seahawks would be a good step in the right direction

23. New York Jets (2-2, -7) – Why is Mark Sanchez a starting quarterback in the National Football League? Anyone? Bueller?

24. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3, -2) – Freeman is playing well, but they need a rushing attack

25. Miami Dolphins (1-3, +3) – They almost pulled off the upset against the Cardinals, but starting Tannehill over Moore dooms this to be another lost year for the Fins

26. Indianapolis Colts (1-2, +5) – We wish you a speedy recovery, Chuck Pagano

27. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3, -2) – They looked awful against the Bengals; destined to be at the bottom of our rankings this season

28. New Orleans Saints (0-4, +2) – Bad teams find a way to lose games; New Orleans is a bad team

29. Oakland Raiders (1-3, -5) – They just teased us a little with that win over the Steelers…

30. Tennessee Titans (1-3, -3) – Back to Matt Hasselbeck for now, but it won’t matter

31. Kansas City Chiefs (1-3. -2) – By all accounts Romeo Crennel is a great person and a good coach; but none of it seems to be helping the hapless Chiefs

32. Cleveland Browns (0-4, U) – When Jimmy Haslam is approved as the new owner later this month, look for the heads to start rolling quickly

May 222012
 

 

Indianapolis Colts

Head Coach: Chuck Pagano

 

Projected Starting Quarterback: Andrew Luck

2011 Record:  2 wins, 14 losses (4th in AFC South)

No postseason appearance

30th in Total Offense, 25th in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 111 wins, 49 losses (2nd in NFL)

9 win, 8 loss in postseason

1-1 in Super Bowl appearances

2-2 All-time in Super Bowl