NFL Preseason Picks: Arizona Cardinals

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: New York Giants 10-6, Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10

NFC SOUTH: Atlanta Falcons 13-3, New Orleans Saints 11-5, Carolina Panthers 7-9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

NFC WEST: Seattle Seahawks 12-4, St. Louis Rams 7-9

ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Arizona Cardinals have been very disappointing as of late. It seems like a millennia since that fateful 2007 meeting in the Super Bowl when the Steelers defeated the Kurt Warner-led Cardinals in the final minutes. Ever since, the Cardinals have been on a downward wind. They added Carson Palmer to the lineup this offseason, a mighty upgrade from the hapless efforts of Kevin Kolb. In 2012, they placed 4th in the NFC West with a record of 5-11, and hope to improve on that with some new personnel.

Adding Carson Palmer to the offense legitimizes threats like the deadly Larry Fitzgerald and has the ability to bring lesser names into the spotlight like Michael Floyd, a young player from Notre Dame oozing with potential. Rashard Mendenhall has been adequate in the running game, and will help Palmer get the ball downfield with his pass blocking ability. He could potentially take pressure off Palmer by making the offense a little more multi-dimensional. This offense had trouble getting going behind the arm of Kolb and Skelton for most of the season. In fact, the Cardinals actually went through four quarterbacks in the sixteen-game stretch.

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Patrick Peterson and the tepid Arizona secondary may benefit quickly and greatly from Mathieu’s big-play capability.

The defense of Arizona was so-so in 2012, ranking mid-table for all major categories. They added college sensation Tyrann Mathieu to the secondary in the draft. If Mathieu performs to the extent that he is capable of, which has been the case as of late, he will turn a lot of heads in 2013. Don’t expect the defense to make headlines however; they still have a lot of core pieces that need to fit in.

Prediction:

The Cardinals are unimpressive. They will be unimpressive for a while until they figure out some kinks in the personnel. I think that they take a step back and post a record of 4-12. This is because they are working with a new quarterback, and even though he is an upgrade from the previous cluster of lackluster shot callers, he will still need time to acclimate himself into the offense. The defense will probably be the only positive to this team, and even that could use some more tweaking. The Arizona Cardinals will be a lower-tier team in 2013, and will probably settle for such. 

College Football Preview: the South Eastern Conference

The South Eastern Conference has been, without debate, the big brother to call other collegiate football conferences for the better part of the last decade — a Goliath with no David anywhere to be seen. While everyone outside the Southeastern region will root for that to change in the coming season, it is unlikely to. Six of the top 13 preseason ranked teams hail from the SEC with Alabama holding down their familiar spot at number one. Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina, Florida and LSU are the other five. With talent bursting at the seams of at least half the teams in the conference, it’s not hard to imagine that one of these teams – or even two — may end up in Pasadena for the BCS Championship Game. Here’s a primer for what everyone should expect from the SEC in this coming season.

Conference Champion:

This may sound familiar to anyone who has a pulse and has ever seen a football: Alabama is the odds-on favorite to take home the SEC crown yet again. This very well could be the best team Alabama has had since the arrival of Nick Saban, which should be a scary thought to any college football fan. They return eight starters off the nation’s top ranked defense from a year ago as well as an All-American caliber quarterback in A.J McCaron, a stable of impressive receivers and yet another incredible rushing specimen, T.J Yeldon, to run the ball behind Alabama’s mountainous offensive line.

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McCarron has all the right surrounding pieces for a repeat run in 2013.

Alabama, while great, is not without their faults. They do have two possible chinks in their armor. The offensive line cannot be as good as it was a year ago as they lost three players to the NFL draft, two in the top 11 picks. The other possible deficiency is in the secondary. It is a fairly green unit who lost the best cornerback in nation to the NFL draft a year early. Though new, there is no reason to not expect the young players at these positions to play much like the ones they are replacing. After all, they were recruited to Alabama for a reason.

Offensive Players to Watch

  1. Johnny Manziel QB (Texas A&M): As of this writing he is still eligible so until he is declared otherwise he must be considered the top offensive player to watch, not only in the SEC but in the nation. Johnny Football broke every meaningful offensive record in SEC history as a redshirt freshman, knocked off number one Alabama and won the Heisman. What more needs to be said? Watch this young man play football. Like him or hate him for his off the field antics, there’s no one else quite like him.
  2. Todd Gurley/Keith Marshall RBs (Georgia): These two running backs burst on to the scene as true freshmen last season to combine for 2144 yards and 25 touchdowns. Gurley ended up with more yards (1385) than did Marshall (759). Marshall’s average was slightly better (6.5 to 6.2 yards per carry) but the two consider themselves co-starters and credit each other with their success. Either could start for almost any school in the country but happen to play on the same team, making it best tandem in the nation. Think Darren McFadden and Felix Jones for Arkansas in 2007, who both went on to be first round picks in the NFL draft. These two can be that good.
  3. Aaron Murray QB (Georgia): Expect some scoring from Georgia this season. It remains to be seen if they’ll actually stop someone with all their defensive losses, but they will have one of the best offenses around. Murray is a four year starter at quarterback and has passed for over 10,000 career yards. Behind Murray, Georgia was five yards away from beating Alabama and getting into the BCS National Championship game last season and that is what drove Murray to return for his senior season and push off the NFL draft for another year. Well, that and the chance to own every last SEC record a quarterback can claim.

Defensive Players to Watch

  1. Jadeveon Clowney DE (South Carolina): In case anyone has forgotten the play that made Clowney a household name (THE HIT). While he certainly gained national notoriety for that play, he is far more than a one hit wonder. Clowney had 13 sacks last year while being double teamed more often than not. He is the slam-dunk guaranteed number one overall pick in next spring’s NFL draft. He is the single most dominant defensive force in college football and is being viewed as a once in a decade type of a player
  2. CJ Mosley LB (Alabama): Mosley an all SEC player a year ago likely would have been another high round draft pick to come from Nick Saban’s and Kirby Smart’s defense. He elected to return for his senior season and attempt to win an unprecedented third national championship in a row. He is a likely All-American candidate and has been named to the preseason Butkus and Bendnarik Award watch lists.
  3. Dominique Easly DT (Florida): Easly is one of those guys who is as interesting to watch on the field as he is off the field. The senior has played all over the line at Florida but will finish his career at defensive tackle and has been tabbed as a pre-season all SEC pick by several groups, mostly for his disruptive pass rushing ability from the inside. Off the field, he is known to watch cartoons rather than normal TV shows, doesn’t know who Bear Bryant is, and wants to pet the LSU Tiger. Easly is a great player with a lot of personality on and off the field.

Surprise Team:

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Vandy may be considered another program stuck in the old-school tradition, but they’re winning more than you think.

In the flurry of headlines written about the extreme talent in the SEC, a school like Vanderbilt with little football tradition is easily lost in the shuffle. Many will be surprised to find out that ole Vandy won nine games last season and have one of the most popular coaches in college football and who will likely be offered a bigger job in the very near future. James Franklin took Vanderbilt to a bowl game in his first two seasons (records of 6-7 and 9-4), something the school had never done before. While it could be said that they benefitted from an easy schedule compared to most SEC teams, all a team can do is play whoever is on their schedule. Looking ahead to Vanderbilt’s 2013 schedule, it is certainly more difficult, but they should expect another eight or nine win season and a trip to another bowl game. More importantly for Vanderbilt football, they should be competitive against just about every team they play.

NFL Preseason Preview: Seattle Seahawks

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: New York Giants 10-6, Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10

NFC SOUTH: Atlanta Falcons 13-3, New Orleans Saints 11-5, Carolina Panthers 7-9, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-11

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Kicking off the NFC West will be the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks took the league by complete surprise in 2012 by drafting and then starting rookie Russell Wilson. Many doubted the Wisconsin alumni’s true NFL potential, as he was labeled too short and wasn’t favored to run a pro-style offense. However, Wilson took the supposed reigns from then-newly signed Matt Flynn. Seattle, led by the fiery offense of Pete Carroll and the shutdown defensive stratagem of Gus Bradely, was able to clinch a playoff berth. Many now look for the Seahawks to be the main challenger of the powerhouse that is Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers. But with a new defensive coordinator — and some new faces — will Seattle be able to trounce Kaepernick and the reigning NFC champions?

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Lynch’s presence keeps the box stacked and forces the secondary to eye him, which will give Wilson a lot more fun with his new receiving options.

Sidney Rice and Golden Tate will always be home run threats when it comes to a play-action deep pass. Don’t expect that to change much with the return of Marshawn Lynch at running back. When Lynch is able to keep the defense, especially the safeties, focused between the tackles, it allows for Wilson to go deep to either Tate or Rice. And if the addition of Percy Harvin works out well for Seattle, they will be scary in the air. Another dynamic that is added to this offense is Russell Wilson’s knack to wriggle free from pocket pressure. Broken plays are a great opportunity to gain huge yardage if executed correctly. Wilson is the kind of player that can turn broken plays into a touchdown.

The Seahawks made great strides this offseason when they acquired Antoine Winfield to reinforce the secondary. This defense was fun to watch last season and should continue that trend, and maybe claim throne as the top defense in 2013. They have all the pieces: a strong line, a sturdy line backing core, and a secondary overflowing with talent. There are not too many problems with the starting eleven, and the depth is present to have consistency.

Prediction:

This may seem odd to some, but I see the Seahawks winning the West with a record of 12-4. They should split games with San Fransicso, but sweep Arizona and St. Louis. I think that the league will figure out that Kaepernick isn’t as proficient as the average quarterback in the pocket — when withheld in that area. Seattle’s defense should be able to hold him at bay as far as scrambling goes and the offense should be able to do just enough to overpower the ‘Niners. Seattle should make waves in the NFL in 2013, and expect to see them lingering in January.

NFL Preseason Picks: Atlanta Falcons

JIMMY’S PICKS

NFC EAST: Washington Redskins 9-7, Dallas Cowboys 8-8, Philadelphia Eagles 6-10, New York Giants 10-6

NFC SOUTH: New Orleans 11-5

ATLANTA FALCONS 

Atlanta’s 2012 season ended in a disappointing loss to the white-hot Colin Kaepernick and the dominant San Francisco 49ers. It again seemed as though Matt Ryan can’t produce when the biggest moments are upon him. During the regular season, the Falcons were an absolute force, putting offensive numbers on teams that were ridiculously impressive. They only lost by more than a touchdown once — in a huge upset to the Carolina Panthers in Week 14. Roddy White and Julio Jones quickly morphed into the hottest wide receiver tandem in the NFL. But only one stigma stuck at the end: it just seems that when the going gets tough, the Falcons don’t have an answer.

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Jones and the dynamic offense gets one more year out of Tony Gonzalez. Can they finally make it over their postseason peak in 2013?

From the second that Matt Ryan came into the NFL from Boston College, he hit the ground running. Since he has been the Falcons quarterback they have never missed the playoffs, meaning they have also never posted a losing record. His mature demeanor and highlight-reel talent have provided Atlanta with consistent brilliance over the years. With the combination of Roddy White and Julio Jones – as well as keeping Tony Gonzalez – the Falcons offense supplies the team with dynasty-like talent. As long as they can produce with the fervor that they did in 2012, and with Steven Jackson providing even the smallest contribution — something he is more than capable of producing — the Falcons will dominate almost all of their opponents.

If the Falcons have a good enough defense to keep up with their offense, this team will go places. They have a relatively solid defensive backfield headlined by corners Marcus Trufant and Asante Samuel who provide a veteran touch on both sides of the box. Osi Umenyoira will help create a strong pass rush from the right side, which should free up other players on the line. If this defense holds opponents to roughly 25 points a game, they should be set for a very good season. If the secondary holds and the line produces a decent amount of pass rush, expect this team to go on a very deep playoff run, maybe even to make a Meadowlands appearance in February.

Prediction:

I see Atlanta having a relatively dominant season this year and posting a 13-3 regular season record. If Matt Ryan is able to shake his nerves when the moment is at its peak, this team remains poised to go to the Super Bowl. They have all the right weapons on offense. The offseason acquisition of Steven Jackson is absolutely huge for this team because it makes them a multi-dimensional offensive look. Remember that if it weren’t for a rolling Niners squad, the talk right now may have been about Atlanta’s chances of repeating this year.

NFL Preseason: Why RG III is going to be just fine

To see where Jimmy predicts the Redskins to finish this season, click here.

As far as quarterback ratings go, the top two signal callers last year were Green Bay Packer’s Aaron Rodgers and Denver Bronco’s Peyton Manning. Neither one comes as much of a surprise — besides the fact that Manning was coming off a neck injury, his record shows that he is one of the best of all time.

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Washington fans will hold their breath when Griffin scrambles this season, but there’s no reason to doubt an apparent “superhuman.”

While the two signal callers above have been household names, the third on the list came as a bit of a surprise. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III finished the year with an astonishing quarterback rating of 102.4. He also tossed twenty touchdowns, ran for 815 yards and seven touchdowns and threw only five interceptions — the least of any full-time starter. He led the ‘Skins to a 10-6 record and brought them to their first playoff appearance since 2007.

Unfortunately, this was not the lasting image of Griffin’s rookie year. Fans all over had to watch the young standout hobble off his home field with a torn ACL in the wildcard round matchup against the Seattle Seahawks.

ACL injuries are said to take at least a year to fully heal, but players such as Minnesota Viking tailback Adrian Peterson proved that wrong last year — and then some – as he nearly broke the season rushing record held by Eric Dickerson. Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery on Peterson, called the Viking running back a “superhuman.”

That same doctor performed surgery on Griffin, and he says the same for him.

Peterson did not start in the Vikings’ first game last season, but he played often and had the same burst he always did — if not better. There is little to no doubt that Griffin will be playing when the Redskins open their season with the Philadelphia Eagles on September 9th.

Not only is there not much doubt that he will begin the season, but it’s difficult to imagine the former Heisman winner falling off at all.

Griffin may have to be smarter about his decision-making and should attempt to remain in the pocket unless it is absolutely necessary to take off, but may not be an issue. Griffin was one of the top pocket passers in the league last year and has proven that he can make big throws in big situations. If his leg holds up then who knows? Maybe last year’s rookie sensation will come back even better, as he already likely expects to.

It was difficult to watch Griffin go out the way he did, but his talent and drive makes him a favorable bet for the Comeback Player of the Year award at next year’s NFL awards ceremony.

NFL Preseason Picks: Philadelphia Eagles

JIMMY’S PICKS

Redskins 9-7

Dallas Cowboys 8-8

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Oh, the Philadelphia Eagles. What a long, strange offseason it has been. With the climatic firing of Andy Reid and the acquisition of Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, the Eagles seemingly made a step in the right direction going into the 2013 football season. With his read-option/ spread offense that is paced to run about 85 plays a game, Kelly could quite possibly revolutionize the way that professional football is played on the offensive side of the ball. However, a somewhat mediocre quarterback battle paired with mounting injuries has kept the birds flightless for the time being. And one can’t forget the enormous elephant named Riley Cooper that still dwells in the locker room in wake of the team’s latest distraction – as if it hasn’t been covered enough.

A faster offense means less rest for defenders. Trent Cole and Demeco Ryans need to step up this season.

A faster offense means less rest for defenders. Trent Cole and Demeco Ryans need to step up this season.

The Eagles offense is a mess, simply put. Many an Eagle fan will sing praise for what Chip Kelly is bringing to the league; the speed and hastiness of his offense, they believe, is going to dominate opponents. But, in order to have a dominant offense, one must first have a quarterback. It’s understood that other teams are also in quarterback disputes this offseason, but none of those teams had posted a record over .500 last season. With mounting injuries and an air of uncertainty about who goes where, it’s really difficult to see the Eagles making that step into a serious threat on the offensive side of the ball. Their receivers are dropping like flies and they have made little to no improvement on a complete dilapidation of an offensive line. Sure, when this offense gets going it will provide the promised flash and spectacle that the fans are wishing to see, but it should not be expected this season.

In 2010, the Eagles appeared to make all of the right choices on the defensive side of the ball. They retained Justin Babin, and formulated a secondary that seemed daunting to even the sharpest of quarterbacks. Going into 2013, defense seems like a sore subject for Philly, who needs to get a grip on its defense if it is ever going to keep up with its division rivals. Getting Patrick Chung will definitely help them in coverage, but he can only help so much. Linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole absolutely have to step up and become a dominant duo in order for their defense to work this season.

Prediction:

It’s hard to see the Eagles having too much more success than they had last season. With controversy, distraction, and a new coaching staff, Philadelphia is going to have to overcome a lot of obstacles just in the preseason in order to have momentum going into September. My prediction for the Eagles is going to be, what I believe to be a very generous estimate, 6-10. The offense is brand new, meaning that there are going to be growing pains that last until the middle of the season at the earliest. Their defense is a giant question mark also, and was very hot-and-cold last year to say the least. Who knows: maybe Chip Kelly and the boys will completely shock the world and go on a trailblazing run. Oh wait, this isn’t college — this is the NFL. Things are much more predictable. And as far as rebuilding goes, this year does not bode well for the birds.

NFL Preseason Picks: Dallas Cowboys

JIMMY’S PICKS

Washington Redskins: 9-7

DALLAS COWBOYS

America’s team is gearing up for a 2013 season with the weight of the world on their shoulders – yet again. Last season — similar to the past twenty — failed to amount to anything as the Cowboys were left with the patented Tony Romo ‘aw shucks’ face at the end of the year. Last year, Dallas was a decently balanced team until the injury of breakout rusher DeMarco Murray left them in relative disarray. Their campaign never found an honest groove as they broke even for the year at 8-8.

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Romo will only be able to go as far as role players such as Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray take him.

The Cowboys have been prone to air it out when the going gets tough, which often results in the many, many Tony Romo turnovers. A lot of fans just define Romo as a pick-off machine, whilst not looking into the real detail of the situation. Romo has been and will always be expected to carry the Dallas offense. Not that he has much to show for it, but he is their main event when they have the ball. Because of this fact, he must evidently feel pressured to make the clutch plays when the time comes. That killer instinct has evaded him.

The Cowboys need to establish a prominent running attack if they are to have any chance in the playoffs, let alone the NFC East. Players like Dez Bryant and Murray need to pick up the slack and produce in the numbers that they are expected. When Murray is healthy, he is a horse between the tackles. Bryant still needs to make adjustments to his game to reach the level of a league renowned superstar. Don’t forget about, that pesky back surgery that Romo just had. If he’s out, the Cowboys are out.

The Dallas defense that was so strong in 2011 took a bit of a nose dive in last season that hit rock bottom when the front office fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Look for the Cowboys to make some advances in their defense this season with their move to a 4-3. The beauty of a 4-3 defense is that, with the right personnel, there are a fair number of players in the box that can stop the run — while still being able to limit an opponent’s passing options. Because this is one of the most basic defenses in the NFL, coaches have plays upon plays that they can use to pick apart a 4-3, most notably a spread offense that takes the linebackers out of their comfort zone. The corners and safeties need to pick up the slack in order for a 4-3 – especially a debuting one — to have any chance of working.t has evaded him. The Cowboys need to establish a prominent running attack if they are to have any chance in the playoffs, let alone the NFC East. Players like Dez Bryant and Murray need to pick up the slack and produce in the numbers that they are expected. When Murray is healthy, he is a horse between the tackles. Bryant still needs to make adjustments to his game to reach the level of a league renowned superstar. Don’t forget about that pesky back surgery that Romo had this offseason. If he’s out, the Cowboys are out.

Prediction:

It’s difficult to see Dallas crossing the threshold this year. A fair prediction would be another disappointing 8-8 kind of season for the ‘Boys. They just have too many questions on the offensive and defensive side of the ball to be considered as legitimate contenders in a playoff run. They need to establish a feverish rushing attack between the tackles so that Romo can keep defensive lineman out of his face – as well as passes headed towards his actual teammates. However, that hasn’t happened in the past six years, so don’t anticipate any big surprises. The defense is currently in override-mode, meaning that they will still be pulling out kinks by Week Four. Expect Jerry Jones to start writing good-bye letters by December.