Thursday, 18 August 2011


2010 saw some exceptional performances from the league’s elite quarterbacks. Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers all had seasons of varying degrees of success, but it was Tom Brady who came out on top. The three-time Super Bowl winner was awarded the regular season MVP award after leading the Patriots to a 14-2 record prior to their play-off loss to arch-rival Jets at the Divisional stage.

Belichick’s apprentice threw an incredible 36 touchdown passes and just four interceptions for 3,900 yards. But how did he compare to other franchise QB’s like Manning, Brees and even Michael Vick? And, more importantly, who is likely to come out on top this season?

Brady’s long-time rival, Peyton Manning – signal-caller for the Colts – threw three touchdowns fewer than the Pats’ star man, but his turnover count was not nearly as impressive. Despite throwing for 4,700 yards, Manning was picked off 17 times. He did have 679 passing attempts compared to Brady’s 492, and a marginally higher completion rate of 66.3%, but the interceptions brought his QB rating down to 91.9. Brady, however, had the highest passer rating in the league – 111.0.

Despite his electrifying form in the postseason, ultimately leading his team to the NFL championship, Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers was some way short of Brady’s touchdown milestone. Rodgers threw 28 TD’s and 11 interceptions in 2010 – although he almost single-handily carried his team to the title because of injuries to key players. The loss of RB Ryan Grant and TE Jermichael Findlay, in particular, were huge blows, and it meant Packers coach Mike McCarthy could not utilise the play-action pass as much as he would have liked.

One year removed from his own Super Bowl MVP performance, by his own high standards Drew Brees had a rather disappointing season. The Saints QB, along with Manning, had by far the highest number of pass attempts and completions, with just three touchdowns fewer than Brady. However, his biggest downfall was turning the ball over, which he did a massive 22 times last year.

In terms of passing yards, the only men to eclipse Brees last season were Peyton and San Diego’s Philip Rivers. The Chargers QB threw and completed more passes than both Brady and Rodgers in what was the NFL’s number one offense. His 30 touchdowns put him up there with the top performing quarterbacks last season and reinforced his position as a true franchise signal-caller. But he came nowhere near Brady’s stunning interception ratio – throwing 11 picks as the Chargers fell short of a play-off spot for the first time in five years.

Honourable mentions also go to third-year QB Matt Ryan, who led the Falcons to the number one seed in the NFC – in a season which included 28 touchdowns and nine interceptions – and the Eagles’ Michael Vick. Vick missed a number of games through injury but still managed to throw 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He also rushed for 676 yards and narrowly missed out to Brady for the MVP – partly due to the fact that he missed five games of the regular season.

If he can repeat those kinds of numbers over a whole season then Vick has to be the favourite for this year’s MVP, especially if he goes on to lead the hotly-tipped Eagles to Super Bowl glory. However, because of how susceptible to injury his style of play makes him, the question still remains as to whether he can stay healthy.

For that reason alone, it’s difficult to predict Vick coming out on top in the quarterback competition. It’ll also be extremely difficult for him to emulate last season’s success, partly due to defensive coordinators being more clued up on how to deal with him.

At the moment, Brady has to be the leading candidate for another season at the top of his profession, with Matt Ryan being a dark horse for those who fancy a flutter. After the addition of wide receiver Julio Jones in April’s draft, Ryan has a number of potent weapons in the passing game, as well as Michael Turner and Jason Snelling to assist him in the backfield. That offense has the potential to be explosive. Brady also shows no signs of slowing down, and looking at the Pats’ schedule, they have to be favourites to grab the number one seed in the AFC this season.

Manning has spent the offseason recovering from neck surgery and has to suffer a decline in production at some stage. He lacks the supporting cast around him, with the exception of the aging Reggie Wayne, TE Dallas Clark and young receivers Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon, and many experts predict a season of struggle for the Colts this year.

The same goes for Brees. Although the big difference for him is that he has a legitimate running game to help him – with the Saints having drafted Mark Ingram and picked up Darren Sproles in free agency. Don’t get me wrong, the Saints’ offense has the potential to be extremely dangerous once again – particularly so with Drew Brees and Sean Payton at the helm. But I believe there are two teams in their division who are more talented – the Falcons and the Buccaneers. For that reason, I think the Saints will fall short of the play-offs despite another admirable effort from Brees.

Philip Rivers put up some great numbers last year, and he did lead the NFL’s number one offense during the regular season, but I don’t believe he’s quite on the same level as Brady yet. If Norv Turner finally gets his act together, and the Chargers deliver on their often-talked about potential, then Rivers has a chance. The problem is, last season Rivers was throwing a lot because the Chargers were chasing games – if they’re winning, and RB Ryan Mathews lives up to the hype, the stats might not be so inflated.

The only other player not already mentioned who has a legitimate shot of number one QB status is Aaron Rodgers. He was the Super Bowl MVP last year, and with the Packers roster even stronger than their championship winning one, you’d be a fool not to predict them repeating that feat. The Pack are without doubt the best team in the NFC North – and by a long way too. If Rodgers tears it up like he did in last season’s play-offs, he’ll run Brady close, but I think the Pats’ main man will come out on top for the second year running.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

2011 NFL Predictions: The Philadelphia Eagles' 7 Possible Weaknesses

Check out my latest article on Bleacher Report. Do the Eagles have any weaknesses having been branded the Dream Team?

The Philadelphia Eagles' 7 Possible Weaknesses

Teams poised for a Super Bowl run: Part 2

5. Minnesota Vikings - Now I know this might upset a few, and believe me it was a tough decision, but I honestly believe the Vikings could be the dark horses of the NFC this year. They have no pressure at all and not many are mentioning them. As opposed to the start of last season, their offseason movements have mostly gone under the radar, despite picking up quarterback Donovan McNabb in free agency, and losing wide receiver Sidney Rice. Assuming McNabb doesn’t go down injured like Brett Favre did last year, he could be a step in the right direction for the Vikings. And it may be that he is the difference-maker for Minnesota this season, helping them to sneak into the play-offs via a wildcard spot.

Although they’ve lost Sidney Rice, the Vikings still have a number of big playmakers, including Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, tight end Visanthe Shiancoe and of course Adrian Peterson. Even while struggling at the quarterback position last season, and missing Rice through injury, they still managed to out rank rivals Chicago Bears in terms of offence, and it seems their defence is still as strong as ever, ranking eighth overall in the league last season.

The Vikings have also been strengthened offensively by the addition of wideout Michael Jenkins, a big-framed receiver who has played under offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave before. Jenkins departed Atlanta after the Falcons traded up to select receiver Julio Jones in the 2011 draft – a move that shocked most back in April.

McNabb may have had a tough season with the Redskins last year, but that was mostly down to a lack of protection from what was a weak offensive line. The Vikings OL, however, was much more impressive – allowing Brett Favre to be sacked just 22 times last season, one of the lowest in the league. With more time to make passes, McNabb could be very dangerous.

Don’t write the Vikings off just yet, they still might pose a threat in their division.

4. Philadelphia Eagles - How could I not include the Eagles after they made big waves in this year’s free agency period. Having already been coined the ‘Dream Team’, the Eagles have a lot of pressure to do well this season, and a Super Bowl appearance is a feat that I see being highly attainable.

They have been the most consistent team in the NFC East in recent years, making the play-offs on eight occasions in the past 10 years. With the few key changes they have made, it is entirely possible to see them finally going the distance.

Having strengthened the roster by bringing in Vince Young as a backup QB, it means that if Vick does get injured, they will have a signal caller who is still capable of getting the job done. Also, with the addition of Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and big time cornerbacks Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha, hopefully the Eagles’ red zone defensive woes will be put to bed.

3. Atlanta Falcons - With ‘Matty Ice’ Ryan at the helm, the Falcons have come very close to mounting a serious Super Bowl run in recent years. This season, the team will be much the same as last year, with a few new additions. The Falcons surprised a lot of people when they jumped up the draft ladder to pick up wide receiver Julio Jones. Atlanta’s front office must have seen something they like in the player, and he could have a huge role this season with his speed and athleticism. Early reports from pre-season training camp are that Jones has been lighting it up – prompting talk that the team’s decision to give up a whole host of draft picks may be vindicated immediately. The Falcons now have an offence bursting with talent, and one which looks set to explode again this season.

One problem with the Falcons last year was that they lacked a game-changing pass rusher. This lack of pressure on the quarterback left them vulnerable in the secondary and, as a result, they were torn to pieces by Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs. Hopefully by adding Ray Edwards this will not be as damaging a problem as last season.

2. New England Patriots - With Tom Brady back to his best, look out for the Patriots to dominate the AFC again this season. The possibility of an undefeated season for the Pats might not be as laughable as it sounds either, as Belichick has managed to keep most of their key players during the past offseason.

Bill Belichick is a man who knows what he is doing in free agency, and picking up wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth will without doubt enhance the team’s Super Bowl prospects.

The most important signing, however, is likely to be defensive end Shaun Ellis. Ellis spent 11 years at bitter rivals the New York Jets , helping coach Rex Ryan mould the defence into one of the most feared in the NFL. Now that he has crossed the bitter divide, he takes with him all his experience and knowledge of how the Jets defence operates. It looks as if the Patriots might just have the edge over the Jets, exactly what they need if they are to pay a visit to Lucas Oil Stadium in February.

1. Green Bay Packers - Everyone is now fully aware of just how dangerous Aaron Rodgers can be. On the back of last season’s success, only a fool would fail to predict them making a return to the big one.
History is also in the Packers’ favour; every other time they have featured in a Super Bowl, they have repeated the achievement the following year.

Last season the Packers did it the hard way, winning the Super Bowl after finishing the year in one of two NFC wildcard berths, and they did it missing key players such as TE Jermichael Finley and RB Ryan Grant. This year, after adding reinforcements in the draft and free agency, the Pack have increased the strength and depth of their roster still further.

They are a legitimate threat to any team in the NFL, and I expect to see them at the summit of their division come January.