Season In Review: New York Giants

New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins
Overall Record: 7-9 (Regular Season) (No Postseason Berth)

Division Winner? No. The NFC (L)East was a mess this year, with the Eagles and Cowboys never quite getting on track while racing for the division crown, the Redskins never getting on track period, and the Giants hitting some major speedbumps. Their record is a testament to good coaching and a nucleus of talent that still exists, because injuries and lack of preparedness and depth along the offensive line did this team in early.

Milestones Of 2013: It’s difficult to find any. The 7-9 record is actually impressive when you consider how poorly this team played, particularly on offense, where they managed to average just 18 points and 307.5 yards per game. The only actual improvement, or milestone, this team managed to set for itself is its improved defensive play. While struggling early, the signing of Panthers veteran linebacker Jon Beason seemed to bring a renewed sense of purpose to the defense, where Justin Tuck and Antrelle Rolle had perhaps the best seasons of their respective careers. Overall, the Giants defense ranked in the top 10 in both total yards and passing yards given up…but managed to fall in the middle of the pack by letting about 24 points per game get by them.

Eli Manning showed more of an inability to carry his team than he ever did before, but there was always a sense of this even when the Giants were winning Superbowls with him under center. The offense definitely underachieved, and the biggest end results involve coaching changes and the eventual shuffling of the offensive line, which ranked 29th according to the good folks at Pro Football Focus. The only bright side? Will Beatty, who was given a lucrative contract after the 2012 season, has the capability to bounce back after a poor showing this year. Oh, and rookie Justin Pugh looks like the real deal.

Beyond the offensive line, the skill position plays looked absolutely disenfranchised the entire year. The running backs never could get a head of steam, and the rotation was a mess of former stars (Brandon Jacobs, Peyton Hillis) and complementary pieces (Andre Brown, Da’rel Scott, Michael Cox). Losing David Wilson for an indefinite amount of time to a serious neck injury has set this unit back immeasurably as of today.

The wideouts were a different story altogether. While it was evident that Victor Cruz was every opponent’s main focus on game days, he still managed to deliver a solid season. This can’t be said of his fellow “star” WR, Hakeem Nicks, who had a terrible season. Whether or not health played a factor, his poor play (56 catches, 0 TDS) is poor in relation to expectations. If the Giants can’t expect more out of him (and this was a contract year for Nicks, the time when many players kick it into another gear if they don’t typically play at their highest gear), don’t expect them to resign him unless Nicks agrees to a number that reflects his injury history and lack of production. The tight ends were simply no better, with Brandon Myers having an average season with 47 snags and 4 scores.

The Season In Review

The Giants’ 0-6 start was one of the most talked about stories of 2013 as it was happening, with disheartening losses to division rivals Dallas and Philadelphia, and embarrassing losses of 38-0 (Panthers) and 31-7 (Chiefs) sandwiched in between. New York then managed to bounce back, but not in any grand fashion, winning four straight against banged up or talent-deficient opponents. The Cowboys cut their winning streak down, and the Giants finished the year beating the Redskins twice, taking advantage of the Lions’ late season collapse…and being shut out yet again by the Seahawks.

Far too many times, this team looked unprepared for their opponents, especially offensively. Eli Manning was constantly making mistakes, forcing passes he had no right to throw, and the pressure that the porous offensive line let through was to blame just as often as Eli’s lack of vision and his wideout’s lack of timing. The running game struggled to move the chains all year, but found a big of a resurgence when they resigned Brandon Jacobs, who had a handful of productive games before being put back in the rotation with a newly healthy Andre Brown and newcomer Peyton Hillis. None of it was enough to compete against the big boys.

The credit must go to Tom Coughlin and his defense, the two aspects of the New York Giants that carried the team to a record far more respectable than this team could have managed otherwise. The decision to keep Coughlin, and the recent talks of extending his contract, are all great signs for Giants fans; his success has definitely been inconsistent, but you can’t argue with the two rings, can you?

Future Forecast: Brighter than you might think. 7-9 is nothing to sneeze at, and the retooling of this team begins and ends at the offensive level. While some concerns abound at defense, that side is playoff-caliber so long as Justin Tuck and/or Jason Pierre-Paul can produce at a high level consistently. No, the Giants need to address their offensive line early and often, and a draft that features no less than three O-lineman will be a necessary step, especially if free agency doesn’t produce any qualifying upgrades.

Beyond the line, the Giants should look to invest in a playmaking skill position player, something that is complicated due to the questions at RB and the weighing of potential at WR (Hakeem Nicks) and TE (Myers). Still, an early draft pick towards a better complimentary RB or a solid possession WR would certainly be worth the investment.

Elsewhere, the team must improve its general depth, as their special teams’ units were either average or worse all year. They gave up three punt return touchdowns and were generally unable to break off solid gains on their own returns. They’re sitting comfortably at kicker and punter, but they should consider challenging Josh Brown during the offseason.

Overall Grades

QB – D

RB – D

WR – C

TE – C-

OL – F

DL – B

LB – B

CB – C+

FS/SS – B+

K/P – C+

KR/PR – D

Team MVP – Justin Tuck, DE

Offensive MVP – Victor Cruz, WR

Defensive MVP – Jon Beason, LB

Rookie Of The Year: Justin Pugh, RT

Biggest DisappointmentEli Manning, QB

Very Early 2014 Prediction: 9-7, no playoffs

Championship Weekend Primer

Two games, two outcomes…one Superbowl in the making. Here we go!

Denver 36 – New England 31

This game will come down to three things; how well the Patriots’ secondary handles the Broncos’ passing game, how well the Broncos defense handles the Patriots’ running attack, and how well each special teams’ unit does in the field position battle and, perhaps more importantly, which kicker ends up with more field goals. The scoring will come in bunches, but there will be lulls where one of the teams can eat up clock on drives that end with three instead of seven; these drives will decide the game. And while I feel the Patriots are better equipped to play that sort of game outright, I believe the threat of Manning’s attack and lack of push in the middle of the Patriots’ D will give the Broncos the edge in the end.

San Fransisco 23 – Seattle 20

This should be the most physically demanding game played in 2013, and within the nature of that sort of game, the 49ers have always had the edge. Their physicality is supplemented by playmakers on both sides of the ball, something they simply have in a higher number than the Seahawks. I’m well aware of what happened the last time these two teams met in Seattle; but I’m also aware of how inept the Seahawks’ offense has been lately, and how the 49ers’ have been hitting on more cylinders on that side of the ball. If the 49ers can limit big gains by Marshawn Lynch, they win the defensive game. If Colin Kaepernick can move the chains and loosen the Seahawks’ D up for some late Frank Gore game closing carries, they’ll win the offensive game. They’ll do both, and return to the Superbowl for the second year in a row.

Season In Review: Indianapolis Colts

andrew-luck
The first in my series of all 32 team’s Seasons In Review: The Indianapolis Colts

Overall Record: 11-5 (Regular Season), 1-1 (Postseason)

Division Winner? Yes. The race was kept tight despite two of the league’s worst teams (Houston and Jacksonville) being lapped easily. The Titans were in contention up until late November, and the Colts, despite some of their struggles over the second half of the season, managed to take the division somewhat by default with weak competition.

Milestones Of 2013: The continued maturation and growth of Andrew Luck has to be the biggest step towards continued success for the Colts. He still needs to improve his mental work, especially his tendencies to eyeball receiving targets, which allows aware defenders to predetermine the pass. Still, his clutch play is something that simply cannot be taught. Combined with his pure athleticism and other intangibles, Luck is the unquestioned QB of today and the forseeable future, and he proved it with his 2nd straight trip to the playoffs in as many years in the league.

With the unfortunate season-ending injury to WR Reggie Wayne, several other wideouts were given more opportunities to shine. T.Y. Hilton, already known as a dangerous player, cemented himself as one of the league’s better players at his position in Wayne’s absence. Along with him, players such as Coby Fleener (TE), Lavon Brazil and Griff Whalem emerged as legitimate options in the passing game.

Early in the season, the Colts made waves by trading their 2014 1st round pick for former first round RB Trent Richardson. The jury is still out on Richardson, who struggled for almost his entire first year with the Colts; an offseason to immerse himself in the program, along with continued work on his vision and agility, may see the trade pay better dividends in 2014. As it stands, the Browns got the better end of this deal…only, they essentially traded a 3rd overall pick for a 26th overall pick. So that point may be moot.

The offensive line was definitely improved, and 3rd round pick Hugh Thorton helped shore it up. Luck was sacked 32 times, nine less than he was in his rookie season. Improved play from LT Anthony Costanzo was also a welcome sight.

Defensively, the Colts were up and down all year, but got a hell of a season out of Robert Mathis, who led the league with 19.5 sacks. While Pat Angerer struggled with injuries most of the year, 2nd year ILB Jerrell Freeman improved upon his impressive rookie season and looks to be one of the up-and-coming defense stars in the league.

The Season In Review

The Colts were hot, cold and hot again throughout 2013, winning big games over the 49ers, Seahawks and Broncos, while besting the Chiefs twice, including an incredible 28-point 2nd half comeback in the wildcard round. Sandwiched between these outstanding victories were games that were either too close for comfort, or losses that left us wondering whether or not the Colts had what it took to make a serious push come January. Their 38-8 shellacking at the hands of the St. Louis Rams in November was by far their most baffling loss, but they managed to go a perfect 6-0 within the AFC South, earning their division title even if their division was most likely the worst in football.

After their wildcard shocker, the Colts were ground to a halt by a better prepared Patriots team in the divisonal round. Andrew Luck, for all of his success and comeback heroics, threw a combined seven interceptions in two playoff games, and ultimately that, combined with a serious lack of defensive backbone, led to their downfall, just two games away from the Superbowl.

Future Forecast: Bright. But the Colts, who are in solid shape salary cap-wise, need to combine a solid draft (2013’s draft looks like a miss, for the most part) and some key free agent signings to solidify their defense, no doubt their weak link in 2013. The secondary, in particular, could use an infusion of talent. As mentioned before, Luck must continue to progress on the mental side of his position, but I don’t see that not happening. An offensive identity that isn’t “wait until we’re losing and then start winging it and hope our ‘Luck’ holds out” needs to be found; the combination of Trent Richardson and Donald Brown should be an effective one-two punch in the running game, but that’s obviously dependent on whether or not Richardson can turn his game up a notch or two.

Overall Grades:

QB: A-

RB – C-

WR – B

TE – B

OL – B-

DL – C

LB – B

CB – D

FS/SS – D+

K/P – B+

KR/PR – C+

Team MVP: Andrew Luck, QB

Offensive MVP: Luck

Defensive MVP: Robert Mathis, OLB

Surprise Player Of 2013: Hugh Thorton, G

Rookie Of The Year: Thorton

Biggest Disappointment: Reggie Wayne’s season-ending injury.

Very Early 2014 Prediction: 11-5, AFC South Champions

Divisional Round Primer

In my humble opinion, the divisional round is always the most intriguing round of the playoffs. Four teams come off of a bye, playing teams that have come off of a huge victory. I don’t lend much to momentum, but how each team deals with both the week off and the week after a hard fought win is pivotal to taking the next step to the conference championship games. Here’s how I see things going down…

Seattle 31 – New Orleans 27

Not too long ago, the Seahawks hosted the Saints and absolutely owned them in every facet of the game. Both of these teams are different beasts at home, but the Saints proved themselves road-worthy with their wildcard win in Philadelphia. The thought here is basically that the better team wins, but don’t expect Sean Payton and the Saints coaching staff to not have a multitude of new wrinkles thrown into their gameplan, deviating from the course that left them dead in the water the last time these two teams met.

Indianapolis 38 – New England 28

Where to begin? The strength of the Patriots, the real strength, isn’t in Tom Brady but in their defensive schemes, expertly designed by Belichick and his staff to deny opposing teams the use of their best weapons. The Colts don’t exactly have a bounty of weapons, but if the plan is to shift coverage towards T.Y. Hilton (as we all expect), the Colts will be ready for it. In the great chess match of football, it’s rare that the Hoodie is out-dueled, but I expect Chuck Pagano and his staff to do just that. How? Defensive pressure and offensive patience, grounding out the clock and using high percentage short route passes to put together several long, demoralizing drives. In the end, the clock will decide the victor as much as the Colts will…but the Colts have to make the clock work for them, or this game could easily go in the other direction.

San Fransisco 20 – Carolina 16

Their game earlier this year was a defensive equivalent of an endurance race, while the offenses struggled to 19 combined points. The Panthers’ narrow victory was earned, no doubt, but this is a 49ers team who have retooled, healed and energized themselves for the long run since that game. The Panthers? Their inexperience will be their downfall. Cam Newton is the key to this game; if he has room to make plays with his feet, or time to make them with his arm, you can take on another 14 points to Carolina’s score.

Denver 31 – San Diego 24

These division foes split their games this year, with San Diego winning the last contest and giving the Broncos a hard time in the first meeting, as well. These two teams match up so well, predicting the game is a coin toss. I didn’t toss a coin; I firmly believe that Peyton Manning is going to do something a QB rarely does, but too often gets credit for doing; he’s going to will the Broncos, the entire team, to a victory. A hard fought, close victory.

1st Annual KevTalksNFL Regular Season Awards

Here’s to many more!

NFL MVP

Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos

Why: Why not? Statistically speaking, Manning just had the best season a QB has ever had, completing 450 of 689 attempts (!) for an outstanding 68.3 completion percentage, 5,477 yards (!!) and 55 touchdown passes (!!!). Oh, and he only threw 10 interceptions, was sacked a paltry 18 times and basically rewrote every season record for a QB. What would the Broncos be without him? A good team. What are they with him? The best team.

Honorable Mentions: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Calvin Johnson, Robert Mathis, Robert Quinn, Vontaze Burfict

NFL Offensive Player Of The Year

LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles

Why: As the season progressed, and as each game the Eagles played wore on, McCoy simply got better and better. He averaged over 6 yards per carry in the 4th quarter, combined for 2,146 yards of offense and scored 11 total TDs. He was the pivotal piece in Chip Kelly’s offensive machine, the cog that drove the Eagles into the playoffs and, despite past success, McCoy peeled back a layer of skin to reveal an even more dominant player than anyone remembers him being.

Honorable Mentions: Matt Forte, Josh Gordon, Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham, A.J. Green

NFL Defensive Player Of The Year

Robert Quinn, DE, St. Louis Rams

Why: His 19 sacks only scratch the surface. He was stout against the run and, when he wasn’t sacking the quarterback, he was almost constantly disrupting the pocket, demanding double and triple teams and shrugging them off regularly. Quinn has quietly been building himself into the player he now is, namely the most dangerous pass rushing threat in the NFL, who isn’t afraid or incapable of scrapping in the run game as well.

Honorable Mentions: J.J. Watt, Vontaze Burfict, Robert Mathis, Karlos Dansby, NaVorro Bowman, Luke Kuechly

NFL Rookie Of The Year

Keenan Allen, WR, San Diego Chargers

Why: This was a close call, but in the end, it was the position as much as the player that led to my decision. In the NFL, the wide receiver position is notoriously difficult for a rookie to pick up in his first year as a pro. Allen, the 76th player taken in last year’s draft, managed to top 1,000 yards receiving, snag eight touchdowns, have more than 75% of his passes result in first downs and average close to 15 yards for each of his 71 receptions…all while playing in 15 games and starting 14. Undoubtedly impressive.

Honorable Mentions: Eddie Lacy, Giovanni Bernard, Mike Glennon, Le’Veon Bell, Kiko Alonzo, Eric Reid

NFL Head Coach Of The Year

Bill Belichick, New England Patriots

Why: From the very beginning, this was a team that had doubt in its wake coming off of a disappointing loss in the 2012 AFC Championship game. By the time the regular season started, almost every meaningful wide receiver and tight end on the Patriots’ roster in 2012 was either released, injured or behind bars (Aaron Hernandez). As the season went on, it become more and more clear, as injuries to the improving defense began to mount, that while New England hit a few road bumps along the way, their course was being kept by the best head coach in the NFL. How else do you explain the record, the halftime adjustments, and in case anyone wants to argue that assistant coaches played some major role…who was the last Belichick assistant to successfully lead an NFL team to anything significant? No, the Hoodie is a living legend, and this was probably his most clear cut performance to justify such a claim. The Superbowl is still a reality, and that is an incredible feat considering the extraordinary circumstances this team has faced all year.

Honorable Mentions: Chip Kelly, Andy Reid, Bruce Arians, Mike McCoy.

KevTalksNFL’s All-Pro Team

Offense:

QB – Peyton Manning (Denver Broncos)
HB – LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia Eagles)
FB – Charles Clay (Miami Dolphins)
WR – Calvin Johnson (Detroit Lions)
WR – Josh Gordon (Cleveland Browns)
TE – Jimmy Graham (New Orleans Saints)
LT – Joe Staley (San Fransisco 49ers)
LG – Logan Mankins (New England Patriots)
C – Mike Pouncey (Miami Dolphins)
RG – Jahri Evans (New Orleans Saints)
RT – Sebastian Vollmer (New England Patriots)

Defense: (4/3 Lineup):

LDE – Robert Quinn (St. Louis Rams)
DT – Geno Atkins (Cincinnati Bengals)
NT – Paul Solai (Miami Dolphins)
RDE – Robert Mathis (Indianapolis Colts)
LOLB – Vontaze Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals)
MLB – NaVorro Bowman (San Fransisco 49ers)
ROLB – Lavonte David (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
CB – Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks)
CB – Brent Grimes (Miami Dolphins)
FS – Jairus Byrd (Buffalo Bills)
SS – Antrell Rolle (New York Giants)

Special Teams:

K – Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens)
P – John Hekker (St. Louis Rams)
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson (Minnesota Vikings)
PR – Dexter McCluster (Kansas City Chiefs)
Gunner – Marcus Easley (Buffalo Bills)


PART II Coming Soon…

Wild Card Primer (And More!)

Anyone who noticed an absence of a week 17 ‘Double-Back’, to you I apologize; football got a bit away from me over the last two weeks, with an out of state vacation, all the holiday stuff and the post-vacation vacation which I always seem to need. But fear not, faithful readers, as I will be on top of my game for the postseason and beyond.

In addition to my picks for this weekend’s wildcard games, you’ll find (either today or tomorrow) my list of awards for the 2013 regular season. MVP, Rookie Of The Year, and even some clever little ideas of my own mixed in. Also, every couple of days I’m going to put together a “Season In Review” for each team that is no longer playing. I don’t expect to recap the Broncos season until they hoist the Lombardi in a month…but we’ll see! So enjoy the second season, see how I think things will go, and look forward to an even more productive 2014 from your friendly neighborhood NFL blog!

2013 Wildcard Picks

Kansas City 30 – Indianapolis 24

Those who saw the Colts run right through the Chiefs only a few weeks ago will be susceptible to thinking the same will happen in today’s postseason matchup. I almost fell into the same trap. While both teams ended their seasons in different ways (The Colts on some high notes, the Chiefs on some less noticeable highs, including nearly beating the Chargers with half of Kansas City’s starters on the bench), none of it matters anymore. Andy Reid will have learned from his mistakes, the biggest being underusing his best offensive weapon (Jamaal Charles, if you weren’t aware) when these teams first met. Reid’s extensive playoff experience, a healthier defense and a healthy dose of Charles should spell a trip to the Divisional Round for the Chiefs.

Philadelphia 27 – New Orleans 24

So much of the hype surrounding this game involves the weather, and how it will put the Saints at a distinct disadvantage. Recent quotes from Eagles players and coaches are much to the contrary; the elements will have an impact on both teams in frigid Philadelphia tonight. What this game comes down to, with so many intriguing matchups to consider, is how well Chip Kelly does in his offensive adjustments at halftime. I fully expect the Eagles to go into the 3rd quarter trailing by as much as 14, with a fired up Saints team out to prove that they can play in any conditions, anywhere, with the best of the best. Chip will have to keep to the run, the foundation of the Eagles’ success this year, despite any deficit he finds himself under. If he does that, the Eagles will win this game. Their defense needs to take advantage of the weather and force Drew Brees into check downs, where the Eagles’ athletic linebackers can make plays on the ball and force short drives. Much like the Colts-Chiefs game, this one will ride on a running back’s ability to keep drives alive.

Cincinnati 38 – San Diego 31

The conditions in Ohio will be cold (obviously), but without any precipitation, the ball should still fly at a high rate, especially for the Bengals, who have options aplenty in the passing game. You also have to consider the cross-country trip for the Chargers, along with the Bengals’ ability to force the issue defensively. The Bengals are, simply put, a better team, and so long as they play like it (something they’ve become notorious for not doing at times), they have no right losing this game. No right, but a perfect opportunity to let down a fan base that cannot accept one of this magnitude. I don’t see it happening that way, but these are the Bungles…

San Fransisco 20 – Green Bay 17

Any success the Packers will have on Sunday Night will be predicated on how loose the 49ers defense gets; their secondary isn’t as strong as it was this time last year, but their front seven has the ability to dictate the game. In any conditions. With weather reports hovering somewhere between single digits and below-zero conditions, one might be quick to give the edge to the Packers, especially if they lean on breakout HB Eddie Lacy early and often. But this 49ers team is built for toughness and stamina, two keys to forcing the game on Aaron Rodgers’ back. Can he do it? Yes. Will he? I’m saying no, but this one could easily go the other way if the big Double Check can play flawless football in the face of an extremely intimidating defense. I don’t expect the 49ers’ offense to do much, if only for the fact that they’re going into dangerous territory. Frank Gore will be pivotal to their ability to squeak this one out; the less time Aaron Rodgers has the ball, the better the odds tip in San Fransisco’s favor. Also look for Anquan Boldin to make a handful of extremely clutch plays, extending drives and using his brute physicality to lay the same sort of punishment down that the Niners’ defense will.