Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Heisman Watch: Oct. 20

By Nate Sandstrom

Due to my work schedule I've never watched fewer college games than I have in the current season. So maybe that's why it seems there has been less Heisman talk that usual.

Before sophomore Alabama RB Mark Ingram's showcase game on Saturday night, I couldn't have told you who was the favorite, but in case you're interested, here's a round-up of some preliminary polling.

• At Heisman Pundit, Ingram, the nation's #4 ypg rusher, has a narrow lead over Florida senior QB Tim Tebow in a two-man race.

• A similar tight race at the top of the ESPN poll, though Notre Dame Jr. QB Jimmy Clausen is running a slightly closer third (don't ask me how Clausen is #3).

• Look for an updated Heisman Watch from USA Today tomorrow; though don't expect a result that's much difference.

Those who've followed my personal preferences for Heisman candidates over the years know I love stat stuffers (think Jordy Nelson, Michael Crabtree, Kevin Smith) as much as most voters like winning QB's, so here are a few guys I'd ask you to make note of:

Chris Owusu, Soph., WR/KR, Stanford. Owusu is averaging more than 23 yards a play each time he touches the ball, including 3 kick return touchdowns. Not that he's purely a special teams guy, he's topped 80 yards receiving and hauled in a pass TD in the past two games at Oregon State and at Arizona.

Freddie Barnes, Sr., WR, Bowling Green. In the past two weeks Barnes has posted 32 catches for 438 yards and 6 TDs! Unfortunately, those big performances have come against Kent State and Ball State. Against Missouri and Boise he was held out of the end zone with 14 catches for 94 yards, though he did score twice in BG's opening Thursday upset of Troy. Barnes is not a legit Heisman candidate because of his performance against the toughest team on the schedule, but after reaching 85-882-8 in six games, his year is worth watching.

O'Brien Schofield, Sr., DE, Wisconsin. O'Brien Schofield told a Madison reporter that he can't be blocked, and after watching his performance against Iowa, one of the best OL's in the country, he is about right (2 TFLs and a fum rec). Schofield has helped make the Badgers D the best it's been since the 12-1 2006 team. Along the way he's made a nation-leading 16.5 TFL (-82 yards) as well as notching 6.5 sacks. Defensive players have a tough time winning the Heisman, especially on a team bound to lose 3-4 games, but make sure you have a chance to watch Schofield before the year's end.

Nate's NFL Power Rankings: Post-Week 6

It's probably happened before, but I can't recall a season where the difference between the top and bottom teams are so wide. It seems there's at least two double-digit spreads each weekend; and this week, for example, four road teams are favored by a touchdown or more.

Rankings like these are of course pretty worthless in October; for example, my rankings at this time last year had Washington, Buffalo and Tampa in the Top 6.

The exercise has however taught me that the Redskins are good for one thing — deciding which of the worst teams are worser.

1. New Orleans (5-0). Giant thrashing earns them top spot.
2. Minnesota (6-0). Vikings are running with the Twins' Metrodome magic.
3. Indianapolis (5-0). Have won 14 straight in the regular season.
4. Denver (6-0). Mike Nolan has created a dominant defense.
5. New England (4-2). Back to the 59-0 scores that made them gamblers' favorites.
6. N.Y. Giants (5-1). Bad loss, but it's early.
7. Atlanta (4-1). Best start in franchise history.
8. Green Bay (3-2). Aaron Rogers may be MVP playing behind this O-Line.
9. Chicago (3-2). Any WSCR callers want Orton back? Too late.
10. Cincinnati (4-2). Next three could make year: @ Chi, Bal, @ Pit.
11. Pittsburgh (4-2). Favored to knock of Vikes this weekend.
12. Baltimore (3-3). Acting a little TOO calm during L streak for my liking.
13. Dallas (3-2). Two plays from 5-0.
14. San Francisco (3-2). Road test ahead @ Houston then @ Indy.
15. Arizona (3-2). Passing game still amazing.
16. N.Y. Jets (3-3). Season could go south quickly.
17. San Diego (2-3). Lowest I've had them in years.
18. Houston (3-3). Secondary likely keeps them out of playoffs.
19. Miami (2-3). Henne could still wind up best of Flacco-Ryan class.
20. Seattle (2-4). Hawks must cut down on costly turnovers (10 in six games).
21. Philadelphia (3-2). Wins are over Car, TB, KC. Wash next?
22. Jacksonville (3-3) Currently hold final spot in AFC playoff race.
23. Buffalo (2-4). Will Jets win spur a resurgance?
24. Carolina (2-3). Fire John Fox? Get real Panthers.
25. Oakland (2-4). Think I've picked Raiders wrong ATS every week but one.
26. Cleveland (1-5). That they are this high tells you how bad the worst are.
27. Kansas City (1-5). Beat 'Skins on the road.
28. Detroit (1-5). Beat 'Skins at home.
29. Tennessee (0-6). Don't get a chance to beat the 'Skins.
30. Washington (2-4). See above and below.
31. St. Louis (0-6). Lost to the 'Skins by 2.
32. Tampa Bay (0-6). Lost to the 'Skins by 3.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mark's World

The NFL is changing and I don't like it. Call me an old fuddy duddy if you like. I don't care. The league is offense crazy. We all know the league tweaked the rules after the Patriots manhandled the Colts in the playoffs a few years ago. Now they have adjusted the rules to protect a magical orb surrounding quarterbacks knees. (I don't have any specific evidence, but I'm sure this really only applies to a certain few QBs)

I know there's nothing that can be done and the league is loving the offense, but does anyone else have the feeling that the NFL is going through what MLB went though when Sosa and McGwire and Bonds exploded? I'm not saying that there is obviously rampant steroids in the NFL. OK, there is obviously rampant steroids in the NFL. But I'm not blaming it for the offensive explosion. I'm blaming the refs and the league directive that pushes them to watch over defenses like a nagging girlfriend.

It just bothers me that just a few years ago elite QBs contending for the MVP were throwing maybe 30 TDs and now nobody is batting an eye at 40 TD seasons. I'm yawning every time I see a two-minute drill. Hell, if there's two minutes left in the game and the team with the ball is down by one score, I'm almost certain they're going to score.

With that said, here are a few rule changes I'd like to see implemented. Not all of them are directed at curing the viral offense, but its my blog and I don't have to make sense:

1) Holding on a running play should be 5 yards, not 10. I understand why holding on a passing play, which hypothetically prevents a sack is a 10 yard penalty. But rarely, if ever, would you see a running hold prevent a massive yardage loss

2) No penalty for hitting a QB's helmet. Maybe 5 yards, but not a 15 yarder/automatic first down. My problem with this rule is that I don't see the danger. At least with the Brady knee protection you can point to an instance that it took a player out. Every hands to the helmet of a QB I've ever seen has been incidental. Plus, the QB has a helmet. Plus, every other player on the field is getting their head knocked off. Besides, if there's a glaringly obvious punch to the head, you can still throw a roughing the passer penalty or a unsportsmanlike penalty.

3) There should never ever be a 1st and 5. It's just stupid. Move the ball five yards and leave it first and ten.

4) If an offense is backed up inside their own ten and commits a penalty like a personal foul, instead of just backing it up half the distance, they should add the missing yardage to the other end of the down. For instance, if you are on the five and commit a personal foul on 2nd and 10, it should become 3rd and 22.5. (I can't take full credit for this one. My coworker came up with it and I like it)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Nate's Lockdowns for Sunday

Mark is dead on below. Washington 23-10, Atlanta 20-14 and I'll take Green Bay 31-14 to cover and go over 41.

Mark's Week 4 Locks

Baltimore (-13.5) vs. Browns: Call me crazy, but I don't think the Ravens D is as bad as it has looked the first two weeks. But the main reason I'm looking for the Ravens to cover the spread is that Cleveland can't stop the rush. They've been out-rushed by an average of 134 yards/game. And Baltimore can run and run in a variety of ways. Also, it doesn't help that Baltimore is like a kid who just got his license. Now that they can score and play offense, they're opening it up. I have a feeling Baltimore won't be ashamed to run the score up a little. Not to mention, Cleveland hasn't covered the spread in their last 10 games on grass. Baltimore 34, Browns 13

Atlanta (+4) at New England: It's simple. I don't think the Patriots are a good team. I've watched some of their preseason and both games against Buffalo and New York. This scheme is just not going to work. Now, maybe this is the week that Belichek will wake up and get back to playing sane football, but even if - their D can't tackle. Look for Michael Turner to run all day over a sloppy defense. Atlanta 28, new England 24

Washington (-6.5) at Detroit: Matt Stafford is throwing 50% completions. And he's got a 1-5 TD/INT ratio. Detroit has lost by 14 and 18 so far this season. If Campbell doesn't turn the ball over and Washington stays patient, they'll win this by double digits. Washington 24, Detroit 13

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Nate's Week 4 Sat. Lockdown

Late for work, just wanted to make it official:

USC (-45) vs. Washington State
Illinois (+450) at Ohio State

Friday, September 18, 2009

Nate's Lockdown: Week 3

By Nate Sandstrom

Well, I should have been set up to be ahead for weeks no matter what on my money line picks, but then Leodis McKelvin, one of my favorite players, at least until this past Monday, had to fumble the ball. And thus my Buffalo +550 pick went down in flames. Mark had the nerve to point out that the ensuing New England TD gave me the over, but breaking even on the game is little solace.

So I finished 1-3 ATS last weekend to drop my to an abysmal 2-4 start as well as 0-1 on the Money Line. Combine that start with the abbreviated explanations I'm about to give due to the fact I think I'll have worked more than 35 hours from Friday-Sunday and I don't blame you for staying away. Of course if you do I'll pull a 2-0. No upset special this week.

St. Louis (+10) at Washington: An offense this bad should never be laying 10 points.
Pick: Washington 13 St. Louis 10

Green Bay (-9.5) at Cincinnati: Last week made things crystal clear that the Bengals still suck.
Pick: Green Bay 27 Cincinnati 10

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Redskins React Week 1: NY Giants 23 Washington 17

By Nate Sandstrom

I'm adding a new feature this year to Redskins coverage this year that I'm calling Redskins React. Most weeks it will be up on Monday morning but I had to DVR the game and didn't finish watching it until Monday morning so here we are.

Let me start by saying this: The #1 text I recevied from 'skins fans during the game was simply "Campbell sucks." Had I not been working, I probably would've replied "I know."

Campbell was awful, turning the ball over twice, eating sacks and not leading the "O" to a touchdown until the game was over for all intents and purposes. And yes, the offensive line also looked as bad as you remember from the second half of last year. Portis ran into the line for a 1-yard gain about a dozen times just like last year. The Redskins traveled to the Meadowlands and got their butts handed to them despite a close final score, just like last year. The Washington Examiner game coverage expresses a similar sentiment.

So too does this Washington Times piece, which appropriately points out the 'Skins pursued both Cutler and Sanchez in the off-season. The most interesting part of the article was this section:

The most defining and damaging play, however, happened when Osi Umenyiora, the Giants' All-Pro defensive end who missed all of last season with a knee injury, stripped the ball from Campbell, recovered and returned it 37 yards for a touchdown to give New York a 17-0 lead with 2:11 left in the first half.

The Giants also took away the deep pass but, said Zorn afterward of his quarterback, "He's got to get rid of the ball better."

Campbell disagreed. "Everyone says I held on to the ball too long, so I guess I'm supposed to throw it into coverage," he said sardonically.

To which I say, "Sometimes, yes." Campbell doesn't throw many picks but he doesn't throw many TDs either. Fans have taken Gibbs and Zorn to task for not throwing down field enough in recent years, but perhaps the blame lays at Campbell's feet for always checking off to shorter patterns.

Campbell goes on to the Post's Jason Reid about how it is just one game. And he is calling others out for making mistakes, Reid writes.

The only calling out I noticed though was center Casey Rabach throwing up his arms in a WTF motion after the Giants showed blitz on a 3rd and 8 and Campbell audibled to a hand off to Ladell Betts that lost yardage. Couldn't find anyone else writing about this but I rewound it twice and Rabach definitely barked at Campbell.

So, if you didn't watch the game and only saw the score know this: Washington's first TD came on a fake field goal. The other came against prevent D while the team was trailing by 13 with less than 2 minutes to go. The one field goal came after a tipped ball was intercepted by Hall who returned it inside the NYG 20 yet the offense did nothing again.

Also of note:
-- The oft-played, over-hyped clip of Brandon Jacobs running over LaRon Landry before being brought down anyway in last year's opener may have sparked a rivalry between the two. Landry delivered a late hit out of bounds against Jacobs early and the two later were in a shoving match. Here's a summary of the fallout.

-- The 'Skins opened as 10.5-point favorites at home against the Rams on Sunday. They've dropped to 10-point favorites at most books since. Remember, St. Louis got one of its only two wins at FedEx last year.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


Cassell isn't starting. So double up on the lockdown

Fat Billick

I know this probably isn't a major revelation to you Terps fans, but it just hit me last week: Ralph Friedgen is Brian Billick.

He's somehow managed to get himself a long leash through his early success, but since then he's failed to develop a quarterback or even really an exciting system. For a mediocre ACC team, the Terps have had their fair share of talent: Shawn Merriman, Vernon Davis, Dominique Foxworth, EJ Henderson... and even a starting NFL QB in Shaun Hill. Yet somehow, all that talent has been wasted. I'm not saying the Terps should be a guaranteed bowl pick every year. I'm just saying they've wildly underwhelmed and mostly because they have consistently failed to develop a quarterback or a system. In today's NCAA football, you have to have a clearly defined system. And if you put the right QB in that system, it doesn't matter if he can't throw a football 50 yards on the run.

It's clearly time for Fat Billick to go. Bring in someone with some new ideas. Look what happened to the Ravens just one year after cutting ties with the original.

Unfortunately, we all know this isn't going to happen. Even if they get rid of the Fridge, they've guaranteed his assistant the job (or at least a couple million in buyout), so it's likely the Terps are going to continue to force their boring wannabe NFL system down our throats for quite a while longer.

Week 1 Lockdown

Well, I'm 2-0 in my head this weekend, so let's hope that carry's over to actually documented predictions.

1) Houston (-4.5) vs. NY Jets: Call this the steal of the week. I just don't like starting that rookie QB on the road. To me, Sanchez is a lock to be a bust. If you saw last night's USC/OSU game, you know that USC can make even a freshman QB look good. Sanchez just doesn't have the stuff. Let alone the stuff to win his rookie game on the road. And the Texans are only giving up 4.5 at home!? Are you kidding me? Lock it up. Look for Steve Slaton to run right at (and over) Vernon Gholston. The Jets are already missing Shawn Ellis and Calvin Pace. Word is Gholston isn't looking any better under Rex Ryan's tutelage. The Texans will control the game and protect the ball all day and Sanchez will turn it over twice. Houston 24 New York 13

2) Philadelphia (-2.5) at Carolina: This is another line I don't get. I know they're on the road, but I like the Eagles to continue last year's momentum early this year. I think things will fall apart for them later in the year when McCrybaby throws a fit over Vick's playing time. But I am shocked at how little of a distraction Vick has been so far. I didn't expect him to be T.O. redux, but there is no drama going on already. I also expect Carolina to continue their momentum from last year. This regime is getting old. They need new blood in there. Delhomme/Smith/Fox just don't seem invigorated. Not to mention, Philly is 8-3 against the spread in their last 11 NFC games. And 12-5 in their last 17 road games. Gotta like those numbers. Philly 28 Carolina 15

3) Baltimore (-12) vs. Kansas City: I know it's risky to take this big a number and call it a lock, but I love Baltimore and no team has looked more focused and ready to go than the Ravens this preseason. With Kansas City's QB situation, I like the Ravens to feast early and then sit on the ball all day. I hear Cassell is getting the start. Bad move. If he's not mobile, he could be in for a long day. The Ravens have never beaten the Chiefs in Baltimore. That will change and change big today. Ravens 27 Chiefs 9

Upset Special:
I desperately wanted to take the Skins to stun the Giants for this, but if you look at the trends, there's no way I can justify that pick. So I'm taking the Dolphins to top the Falcons. At +110, I'll take an AFC Playoff team over an NFC playoff team. The Dolphins lack the true talent that they Falcons have, but I like the smart coaching staff of Sparano and the safe QB play of Pennington. Coaches and Quarterbacks. Coaches and Quarterbacks. We say it all the time. Miami 21, Atlana 17.