The preseason is starting to wind down, and so our NFL preview is about to pick up, with not only a division-by-division preview of all 32 teams, but also a preseason power ranking of each division. We’ll start with NFC East, which could be the most difficult division to handicap, as well as the most competitive division in the NFL. Nevertheless, here’s how each team stacks up heading into the 2013 season:
1. New York Giants – The Giants get the top spot in the preseason power rankings almost by default. They come off a down season, but Tom Coughlin has a history of rebounding well from bad seasons, and the franchise has two recent Super Bowl victories with him at the helm. The Giants also have a big advantage in that they have Eli Manning at quarterback. Despite a lot of losses last season, Manning had a fine season in 2012, and not only will he have Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but the addition of tight end Brandon Myers and the development of wide receiver Rueben Randle should give New York an even more potent aerial attack. However, the Giants will have to plug some holes on the offensive line, which could be an issue.
Defensively, the Giants have a lot to figure out. The secondary was atrocious last season, and heading into the season there is a lot of uncertainty as to who the linebackers will be. New York’s pass rush had a down season last year, which was a big reason why the team struggled, but they have the personnel to get after the quarterback and hide some of the deficiencies in the rest of the defense. With Manning at quarterback, Coughlin coaching, and several good pass rushers; the Giants have perhaps the highest ceiling in the NFC East, which is why they lead the preseason power rankings.
2. Washington – So much of Washington’s season remains a mystery until we know the health status of quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Redskins have the benefit of having Kirk Cousins as their back, and he should be able to hold down the fort until Griffin comes back, although Cousins is obviously a different type of quarterback. With or without Griffin, the Redskins will be able to lean on running back Alfred Morris, after Morris helped to make them the top rushing team in the NFL last season.
Defensively, Washington worked hard during the offseason to make improvements to their secondary, which was one of the worst in the NFL last season. They should be fine in the front-7, but they’ll be relying on some new faces, including a couple of rookies, to give their secondary a boost, so that could be an area of concern.
Ultimately, Washington’s season will come down to when Griffin comes back and how healthy he is when he does come back. The Redskins could finish anywhere between first and last in the NFC East, but it’s impossible to tell where until we see Griffin play.
3. Dallas – The Cowboys have been the vision of mediocrity over the past few seasons, and it’s tough to believe that will change unless they prove it on the field, which is why they start out third in the division in the preseason power rankings. Offensively, Dallas needs to get improved play out their offensive line, which remains questionable, despite first round pick Travis Frederick stepping in as the starting center. Not only does the offensive line need to be the catalyst for an improved rushing attack, but they also need to keep the heat off Tony Romo; if Romo has time in the pocket, he’ll be able to pick apart defenses with weapons like Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten.
Defensively, the biggest key for the Cowboys could be to stay healthy, as injuries were an issue for them last season. Dallas has enough talent, especially in the front-7, to be a solid defensive team if they can stay healthy for 16 games. Dallas has the kind of talent that can compete at the top of the division, but they haven’t been able to put it all together and reach their potential in recent years, leaving them with a lot to prove heading into 2013.
4. Philadelphia – The Eagles start out the season at the bottom, in part because they won four games last year, but also because there is so much mystery to the team that it’s hard to know what to expect. One thing we do know is that Michael Vick will be the starting quarterback, and if Philadelphia’s offense is anything like Chip Kelly’s offense at Oregon, Vick should be a good fit, although he still has to prove that he can take care of the football and avoid turnovers. In addition to Vick, the Eagles will rely heavily on running back LeSean McCoy, as their corps of wide receivers has been decimated with injuries, and outside of DeSean Jackson they don’t know who their playmakers will be in the passing game.
Defensively, there is just as much uncertainty, as Kelly is hoping to transition to a 3-4 defense, although he doesn’t necessarily have the personnel to play that scheme. The secondary is almost entirely new and there is a lot of position switching going on in the front-7, especially among players that will be the primary pass rushers, so it’ll be tough to tell how it all comes together, although there is enough talent to put together a solid defense. There’s a lot of promise in Philadelphia, but with so much mystery, they’re going to have to work their way out of the NFC East basement.
Chip Kelly has brought a lot of excitement and intrigue to the Philadelphia Eagles, but almost all of that is on the offensive side of the ball. All of the attention this offseason has been on the quarterback competition and what their offense will look like, but if the Eagles are going to be competitive this season, they will need to have an effective defense as well, especially in a division where they’ll have to stop Eli Manning, Tony Romo, and most likely Robert Griffin III. So what exactly can we expect from Philadelphia’s defense in 2013?
The first thing to look for is a change from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 defense. Not only will the Philadelphia offense be radically different this season under Kelly, but the defense has also undergone a significant transformation that could require an extended period of time of adjustment. Through two preseason games there has already been some growing pains due to the fact that the personnel in place does not necessarily fit a 3-4 scheme. Kelly has indicated that if things aren’t working out that he may attempt to stop the transition and orchestrate a scheme that fits the personnel; however, doing that at the wrong time could create a lot of chaos and confusion, which is something to look out for on the Eagle’s defense this season.
As for the talent on Philadelphia’s defense, there should be enough to make the Eagles at least an average defense, but only if the players are able to adjust to whichever scheme they end up playing. Across the front line, the Eagles have plenty of size, as well as a couple of young and talented players with a lot of promise in Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. However, both Cox and Thornton are natural defensive tackles that will be playing defensive end in the 3-4 scheme, so both may need some time to adjust before they start to fulfill some of that promise.
The biggest key to Philadelphia’s defense this season may be their pass rush, where once again they will be relying on players switching positions. Trent Cole and Brandon Graham are two key pass rushers that will be moving from defensive end to outside linebacker in the new scheme. Both could improve as pass rushers now that they’ll be standing up, but if they’re forced to drop back in coverage, they could struggle. To help out the defense in its transition, the Eagles also signed free agent Connor Barwin, who should give them an outside linebacker with some experience at that position.
The secondary is where there could be the most question marks, as much of the defensive backs on the roster are new, following the departure of former main stays Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. To replace those players, the Eagles signed free-agent cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher, and both should step into the starting lineup right away. Both are big cornerbacks that should be able to play press coverage, and both bring plenty of experience to the table as well, with Williams coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Baltimore Ravens last year. At safety, free-agent addition Patrick Chun should step into a starting spot, as should Kenny Phillips, although Phillips is recovering from a knee injury and may not be 100%, so they may need to go with holdover Nate Allen.
As a whole, the Eagles have a good collection of talent on defense, but there are a lot of moving parts, both in terms of players that are new to the team and players that are switching positions as a result of a change of schemes. There could be a lot of growing pains for Philadelphia on defense this season, but if everything comes together, they have the potential to be a solid complement to an offense that is also high on potential but low on predictability, which is why the Eagles may be the most intriguing team in the NFL in 2013.
One week of preseason action in the NFL is in the books, and now it’s time to get week 2 underway. There was only so much we could take away from last week’s games, but the starters should start to play a little more this week, and tell us a little more about each team. Here are the games to keep an eye on in week 2 of the preseason:
Carolina at Philadelphia, Thursday – The Eagles’ quarterback competition should start to heat up this week. Chip Kelly gave snaps to five different quarterbacks last week, but he should start to look exclusively at the three players that have a chance to win the starting job. Based on last week’s performance, there shouldn’t be much separation between Michael Vick and Nick Foles, while Matt Barkley showed enough to keep him in the mix for another week. For the Panthers, we should see more than just six pass attempts out of Cam Newton, as he moves into an important season in his career. Also, rookie running back Kenjon Barner had an impressive preseason debut, despite being involved in two turnovers, and it’ll be interesting to see if he clean some things up and make a push for significant carries during the regular season.
San Diego at Chicago, Thursday – It may be just week 2 of the preseason, but these are two teams that need to get it going offensively, and do so quickly. Jay Cutler is still trying to adjust to new head coach Marc Trestman, and needs to start showing better command of the offense. Meanwhile, Chicago’s offensive line allowed seven sacks last week, which is something they can’t repeat, even in the preseason. For the Chargers, they didn’t have much of a running game last week, and they’re also trying to figure out who their wide receivers are going to be this year following the season-ending injury to Danario Alexander and the likely loss of Malcolm Floyd for the remainder of the preseason.
Tampa Bay at New England, Friday – The Bucs got routed by the Ravens at home last week and will be looking for a more respectable outcome this week. Some thought that rookie quarterback Mike Glennon could push Josh Freeman for the starting job, but he didn’t look like much of a challenger last week, and this could be his last chance to turn this into a competition. For the Patriots, with the injuries to both Tom Brady and backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, there could a whole lot more of Tebow time this week, which as usual, will be must-see television. The Patriots are also trying to figure out who their wide receivers and offensive playmakers are going to be, which won’t be as interesting to watch as Tebow, but it will be far more important for New England’s season.
Jacksonville at New York Jets, Saturday – Here’s another quarterback competition that should start to heat up. Mark Sanchez will look to shake off his interception from last week and play more like he did on his 12 other pass attempts, 10 of which were completed. If Geno Smith is recovered enough from the ankle injury he suffered last week, he should be back on the field and pushing Sanchez, who appears to be the leader for the starting job. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are in the midst of their own quarterback competition, as Blaine Gabbert really struggled last week. Chad Henne is real tight with Gabbert for the starting job, while both Matt Scott and Mike Kafka got snaps in last week’s game, so it’ll be interesting how the playing time gets divided up in week 2, and whether or not someone is able to separate from the pack.
Denver at Seattle, Saturday – For the second straight week, the Broncos will play a Super Bow contender from the NFC, setting up a possible Super Bowl preview. This week they play the Seahawks, a former AFC West rival. Denver’s defense was awfully impressive last week, although the same can’t be said for its offense. Meanwhile, the Seahawks had no trouble scoring last week, especially with back up Tarvaris Jackson in the game. The starters for each team should play more than they did last week, so we should get a better impression of what these two Super Bowl favorites are all about.
We’re merely one week into the preseason and NFL injuries are continuing to pile up. Here’s the latest group of players to suffer serious or season-ending injuries and how their teams will have to cope with the loss:
Danario Alexander, Chargers – This is a tough break for Alexander, who could have been poised for a big season, but also for the Chargers, who had Alexander penciled in as a starter and were expecting a lot from him in 2013. The Chargers don’t appear to be in a rush to check out the free agent market to fill the void left by Alexander, so they’ll have to get more than they expected from guys like Malcolm Floyd (who may be facing a serious injury himself), Vincent Brown, and Robert Meachem. Rookie Keenan Allen could benefit the most, as he now as ample opportunity to push for a starting spot right away. Of course, none of the receivers mentioned are sure things to be productive and reliable options, which means the loss of Alexander could loom large for San Diego in 2013.
Bryan Bulaga, Packers – It’s never a good thing to lose your starting left tackle, but that’s the position Green Bay is in after Bulaga’s knee injury. First in line to replace him is rookie David Bakhtiari, who the Packers picked up in the fourth round. Not many believed Bakhtiari would be a left tackle in the NFL heading into the draft, and so not only does he have a lot to prove to critics, but he is also responsible for protecting the blindside of one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Derek Sherrod is on the PUP list and should be out a while, so unless they find someone in free agency, the Packers will have to live with Bakhtiari at left tackle and hope they don’t suffer any more injuries along the offensive line. He was fine in pass protection during his first preseason game, but obviously things are going to get tougher for him during the regular season, so it should be a while before the Packers feel completely comfortable with their pass protection.
Joe Morgan & Kenyon Coleman, Saints – The Saints will be forced to make adjustments on both offense and defense due to the loss of Morgan and Coleman. Morgan isn’t a starter, but he was their third best receiver and incredibly dangerous as a deep threat, averaging 38 yards per reception last season. Without Morgan, depth becomes an issue for New Orleans, as they’ll have to look to younger guys like Nick Toon, Chris Givens, or rookie Kenny Stills to make significant contributions. As for Coleman, he was going to be a starter and brought a lot of experience to the table. Without him, youngster Akiem Hicks will likely take his place at defensive end. Hicks was previously working at nose tackle for New Orleans, so the injury to Coleman will force them to shift around their defensive front, which could create some issues if they’re unable to find the right combination.
Arrelious Benn, Eagles – Benn doesn’t seem like a huge loss, but after losing Jeremy Maclin for the year and all the issues surrounding Riley Cooper, losing another wide receiver for the season is significant for Philadelphia. The Eagles now have little depth at wide receiver, even if they choose to hang onto Cooper. At least Benn was a player they were familiar with, and now the Eagles will be forced to go with young unproven players or search deep into the free agent pool to find receivers that can learn Chip Kelly’s offense and be productive for them.
Yes, it’s preseason, and yes, it’s just the first week, when starters don’t really get a lot of playing time, but there are still a few things we can take away from the first week of pre-season games:
Daryl Richardson is leading the Rams running back race – The word coming out of St. Louis prior to the game was that Richardson was the favorite to be the team’s starting running back, and that is obviously the case following one pre-season game. Richardson only got four carries, but he averaged six yards per carry. Isaiah Pead also gained six yards per carry, but he also coughed up a fumble, which will hurt his chances of winning the starting job considerably. Replacing Steven Jackson won’t be easy, but at least they have a good idea of who will be replacing him, as opposed to throwing a bunch of different candidates against the wall and hoping one of them sticks.
Washington Redskins are in good hands with Kirk Cousins – We probably won’t see Robert Griffin III at all this preseason, and there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready for the regular season opener, but the Redskins can rest easy knowing they have Cousins as their backup. Cousins didn’t play much, but he completed six of his seven passes and looked the part of a quarterback that can start in the NFL for an extended period of time. He won’t do the same things Griffin does, but among backups, he could be as good as they get, and if they’re forced to start the regular season with him as their quarterback, they’ll still be in good shape.
The Falcons struggle with mobile quarterbacks – Josh Johnson, who you probably don’t know but who is battling with John Skelton to be Cincinnati’s backup quarterback, ran wild against the Falcons on Thursday night. He racked up 64 rushing yards on just four attempts, including a 43-yard run in which he gashed Atlanta’s defense, who had no clue what hit them. If this is a sign of things to come, the Falcons could be this year, because they aren’t going to win the NFC if they can’t find a way to contain quarterbacks that can pull the ball down and run.
The Eagles quarterback competition is far from decided – Both Michael Vick and Nick Foles made a positive impression on Chip Kelly against the Patriots. Both quarterbacks led the team on a touchdown-scoring drive, and while Foles lost a fumble, he also ran for a 10-yard gain, showing that he does have some mobility. Even Matt Barkley did some nice things, despite looking like a rookie at times. Nobody expected a decision from Kelly to come soon, but judging from this game, there may not be a whole lot to separate Vick and Foles right now, which means we could be waiting quite a while until the Eagles announce who their starting quarterback is going to be.
There should be no quarterback competition this preseason more intriguing than the one involving the Philadelphia Eagles. New head coach Chip Kelly is in no hurry to name a starter, despite protests from some of the competitors, and with three rather under-whelming options all trying to learn a new offense, Kelly has no reason to rush a decision, which should make the preseason competition all the more interesting. With the Eagles beginning their preseason schedule tonight, let’s handicap each of the three candidates.
In theory, Vick makes the most sense and could be looked at as the favorite to win the starting job. He obviously has the most experience, despite his somewhat advanced age he can still run, and the Eagles chose to keep him this offseason when they could have decided to let him go, so all that points to Vick being the guy. But there’s plenty working against Vick as well. He’s not the most accurate passer and he has a tendency to be turnover prone, two things that Kelly won’t tolerate. Kelly would probably prefer to go with Vick, but only if he avoids making mistakes and earns Kelly’s trust during the preseason.
At first glance, Foles doesn’t seem to fit the profile for Kelly’s offense, but if he proves to be the best candidate, then Kelly will orchestrate the offense around his skill set. Foles doesn’t have the athleticism or the experience that Vick does, which could make it hard for him to win the starting job, unless Vick really struggles in the preseason. Foles had an acceptable completion percentage in five of the seven games he played last season, and if he can perform like that during the preseason, but with more consistency he stands a good chance to challenge Vick.
Barkley is the most intriguing of the three candidates. On the one hand, he had questionable arm strength coming out of college, and having shoulder surgery towards the end of his college career didn’t exactly put those concerns to rest. But on the other hand, he was hand picked by Kelly, who is familiar with Barkley from their days in the Pac 12 together. Barkley may not be the ideal athlete to run Kelly’s system, but he was a four-year starter, which gives him plenty of experience running an offense, and that might allow him to learn Kelly’s offense just as quick as the other candidates, giving him a legitimate chance to winning the job. More than anything else, Kelly wants a quarterback that can make quick decisions, get the ball out quickly, and avoid turnovers, and those are three things Barkley is capable of doing. Kelly doesn’t want to rebuild; he wants to win right away, so starting a rookie could be risky, but if Barkley proves to be the quarterback that gives the Eagles the best chance to win, he’ll be the starter.
112013 NFL Preseason Week 1 Preview: Ravens, Buccaneers, Broncos, 49ers, Jets, Patriots, Eagles and More
The first full week of preseason games is upon us, and while this generally isn’t the most exciting week of the preseason, it’s our first glimmer of insight into the 2013 NFL season. Although it can be tough to sit and watch an entire preseason game from start to finish, here are some week-1 preseason games that you should check out, at least for a little while:
Baltimore at Tampa Bay, Thursday night – It’s always worthwhile to watch a reigning Super Bowl champion kickoff the following season, especially when there are so many new names on Baltimore’s defense with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Paul Kruger no longer with the team. As for Tampa Bay, we may not see a lot of Josh Freeman, but we should get a good look at rookie Mike Glennon, and get a good indication whether or not he’s a serious threat to challenge Freeman for the starting job.
St. Louis at Cleveland, Thursday night – Even during the regular season, this wouldn’t be an intriguing matchup, but the Rams added a lot of speed to their offense during the offseason, so it’ll be interesting to see that unit take the field for the first time. Also, Cleveland could be home to one of the NFL’s preseason quarterback competitions, as Brandon Weeden tries to hold off free agent acquisition Jason Campbell. With a lot to prove, Weeden should see more playing time than almost every other starting quarterback in week one of the preseason.
Denver at San Francisco, Thursday night – Obviously, neither team is going to play their starters a lot or show their hand, but this could very easily be a Super Bowl preview. Denver still has some things to figure out, most noticeably along the offensive line and at middle linebacker, and they need to get started right away to find some solutions at those positions. Meanwhile, San Francisco has a lot of rookies that will see their first game action, including plenty of guys that could contribute to another run to the Super Bowl.
New York Jets at Detroit, Friday night – The Lions aren’t overly intriguing this preseason, but the Jets more than make up for that. Rex Ryan will probably guarantee a Jets victory in this game, but once we get past his foolishness, we’ll be able to watch the marquee quarterback competition of this year’s preseason start to unfold. As far as on-field stories go in the NFL, there isn’t a lot going on that will be more interesting than Mark Sanchez vs. Geno Smith. In order to find their starter, the Jets will have to play both extensively throughout the preseason, which will them a team that’s worth watching, even during the preseason.
New England at Philadelphia, Friday night – There’s been more than enough off-field drama surrounding these two teams, and obviously those storylines will be front and center when the teams meet to kick off the preseason. But on the field there’s plenty to pay attention to for both of these teams. Without its dynamic duo at tight end or Wes Welker, the Patriots need to find out this preseason which players will become their playmakers. For the Eagles, Chip Kelly will make debut as a NFL head coach, and we’ll finally get to see a little bit of the offense he’ll run. We’ll also get to see another fascinating quarterback competition begin to unfold, as Michael Vick tries to hold off Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley.
NFL training camps are just getting under way, but there has already been a rash of injuries to key players. Several of these injuries are quite serious, and will have lasting effects on teams throughout the season. Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent players that have suffered injuries early in training camp, and how their teams will deal with the absence of those players.
Jeremy Maclin, Eagles – Maclin is arguably the most significant injury to occur during training camp, as he will miss the entire season after tearing his ACL. Maclin and teammate DeSean Jackson would have been one of the top wide-receiver tandems in the NFL this season, and new head coach Chip Kelly undoubtedly had big plans for Maclin in his offense, which could look different now that the Eagles don’t have two wide receivers as talented as Jackson and Maclin (not that we would know if it did change).
Philadelphia has said they will look to fill the void internally, which means that Jason Avant is the most likely candidate to step into the starting lineup. Avant isn’t a big target, nor is he a big playmaker, with just 10 career touchdowns in seven seasons, so the Eagles can’t feel too confident about him being a reliable number-two receiver. Riley Cooper and Arrelious Benn are next in line, but neither inspires much more confidence than Avant, which means the Eagles could be in trouble at the receiver position, although they have a couple of good options at tight end in veteran Brent Celek and rookie Zach Ertz, both of who may have to take on larger than expected roles in the passing game to make up for the absence of Maclin.
Dennis Pitta, Ravens – Losing Pitta to a dislocated hip is a crushing blow for the Ravens. Pitta was Baltimore’s third leading receiver last season, and they were expecting even more out of him this season after trading Anquan Boldin. Pitta was a favorite target of Joe Flacco on third downs and in the red zone, and not having such a reliable target in those situations will be a difficult adjustment for Flacco to make.
Behind Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, the Ravens don’t have much depth at wide receiver, so they’re going to need significant contributions from their tight ends, but behind Pitta, they don’t have much depth at tight end. Following PItta’s injury, the Ravens signed Visanthe Shiancoe to team up with Ed Dickson to play tight end for them, but unless one of those players has a resurgent season, the Ravens shouldn’t expect either of them to equal Pitta’s production, which will put Flacco and Baltimore’s passing game at a distinct disadvantage.
Dan Koppen, Broncos – A strong offensive line was a huge part of Denver’s success last season, as they kept a vulnerable Peyton Manning on his feet, but losing Koppen to a torn ACL is a huge hit for the Broncos. The Broncos will hope to get J.D. Walton back late in the season, but before that it looks like they’ll rely on Manny Ramirez and veteran Steve Vallos, who they signed following Koppen’s injury, to hold down the center position. Ramirez was the weakest link on Denver’s offensive line last season, and with Chris Kuper also expected to miss the start of the season, the Broncos could be in serious trouble along the offensive line, which is the last thing they can afford to have happen with Manning under center.
We all know that the NFL is a passing-dominated league, but aside from having an elite quarterback, teams need to have talent at the wide receiver position to ensure a quality passing attack. Nowadays, teams need more than just one good receiver on the field to effectively move the ball through the air; they need at least two. So let’s take a look at the top-10 wide receiver duos in the NFL heading into the season.
10. Green Bay – Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb aren’t the most conventional wide receiver tandem, but with Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball, those two should work well for the Packers in 2013. If healthy, Nelson can put up well over 1,000 yards receiving, while Cobb could end up being one of the top playmakers in the NFL.
9. Arizona – Larry Fitzgerald should be able to rebound from a sub-par season now that the Cardinals have a competent quarterback in Carson Palmer. Lining up opposite Fitzgerald will be second-year receiver Michael Floyd. After a slow start to his rookie season, Floyd finished 2012 on a high note, and he should be ready to make a big leap in production during his second NFL season.
8. Philadelphia – It’s too early to tell exactly how they’ll be utilized in Philadelphia’s new scheme under Chip Kelly, but DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will be a talented duo no matter what type of offense the Eagles run. Philadelphia’s situation at quarterback is a little unclear heading into the season, but as long as the Eagles find a way to get the ball to Jackson and Maclin, those two will be able to make plays.
7. Miami – The addition of Mike Wallace changes everything for the Dolphins. They already had a steady and dependable receiver in Brian Hartline, but now Wallace gives them a vertical threat. Hartline can be the possession receiver on short and intermediate routes, while Wallace will look to make plays down the field, giving Miami two receivers that should complement one another well and form a nice tandem together.
6. Denver – If this list were all about wide receiver trios, Denver would be considerably higher with the addition of Wes Welker, but the duo of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker isn’t too shabby either. It’s easy to look good with Peyton Manning throwing the ball, but both Thomas and Decker are young and continuing to improve as players, and they’re both prime for a big year in 2013.
5. Tampa Bay – Both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are extremely talented receivers and capable of creating big plays. Both are big, strong receivers that can go up and get the ball, and make their quarterback look good.
4. New Orleans – Both Marques Colston and Lance Moore were big reasons why the Saints led the NFL in passing yards last season, with each racking up over 1,000 yards receiving. Drew Brees deserves a lot of the credit, but Colston and Moore are both talented wide outs that deserve a lot of recognition for the success New Orleans has had throwing the ball.
3. New York Giants – Victor Cruz finally settled his contract situation, and now New York’s dynamic duo will get to stay intact. Hakeem Nicks may be coming off a down season, and dealing with offseason knee surgery, but he and Cruz are a perfect pair together, and with Eli Manning throwing them the ball they are a tough tandem to stop.
2. Dallas – The Cowboys have the benefit of also having a great tight end in Jason Whitten, but wide receivers Dez Bryant and Miles Austin by themselves are quite a potent duo. Bryant is one of the best wide receivers in football, while Miles Austin nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last season as the third option behind Bryant and Whitten. Austin and Bryant together are a handful for any defense to deal with.
1. Atlanta – There should be no doubt that the Falcons have two of the top receivers in the NFL, with Roddy White being 1 and Julio Jones being 1A in their passing attack. The two combined for nearly 2,500 yards receiving a year ago, and are a near-unstoppable tandem. White and Jones surely make up the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL.
A female pit bull owned by Philadelphia Eagles' running back Bryce Brown — along with the seven puppies she recently produced in a Wisconsin breeding kennel called Northland Pits — was released on Friday to Sheila Kessler, a Stevens Point, Wis., attorney who represented Brown, 22, and his wife, Morgan.
The owner of Northland Pits, Joseph Sudbrink, was arrested and charged with mistreating animals and running a breeding kennel without a license. The arrest resulted from an investigation of his rural Fall Creek property by the Eau Claire County Humane Association on May 21. Twenty-seven dogs were seized at that time, including Brown’s dog, Eilis, and her pups.
Kessler had argued that her client is a victim, and the value of the puppies decrease the longer they are held.
“It’s a lot easier to sell eight-week-old puppies than it is to sell eight-month-old puppies,” Kessler told Eau Clarie Eau Claire County Judge Michael Schumacher, according to the Leader Telegram.
Although the judge ordered Brown’s dog and her litter to be returned to him, no action was taken concerning the 19 other dogs — mainly pit bulls — which remain in the custody of the Eau Claire County Humane Association.
Sudbrink claims that he was targeted by a humane officer. In a petition filed May 28 seeking the return of the dogs, Sudbrink said he thinks the animals were removed because Bekah Weitz, the humane officer for the Eau Claire County Humane Association, believed they were fighting dogs.
Judge Schumacher told Sudbrink, who operates Northland Pits Kennel at E19252 Scenic Drive, Fall Creek, at a second hearing, “I think we need to wait and see what happens in five [business] days.”
Sudbrink was arrested Friday between two court hearings — the first before Judge Paul Lenz and then later in front of Judge Michael Schumacher — on preliminary charges of mistreating animals and operating as a dog breeder without a license, and a criminal investigation is continuing, said Sarra Kiaie, assistant district attorney, the Leader Telegram reports.
At the earlier hearing that day, Judge Lenz had ordered the dogs to be returned to Sudbrink within five business days — or by the end of the day July 8 — unless a criminal complaint is issued with reasonable grounds to believe he has mistreated the animals.
Weitz told Schumacher during the hearing in his court that one of her concerns was that the dogs “were being trained for fighting.” When the dogs were seized, she said she saw scarring on seven animals that led her to this conclusion.
Some of the dogs also had contracted ringworm and possibly other skin issues, Weitz said, noting that they were living in substandard housing — houses without bottoms — in moist conditions.
Weitz said she also saw goats and sheep on the farm property and had some concern about those animals, but none of them were seized on May 21 when the pit bulls and bull terriers were removed, according to the Leader Telegram.
HOW DID BRYCE BROWN’S PIT BULL END UP IN AN ALLEGEDLY UNLICENSED BREEDING KENNEL?
Bryce and Morgan Brown did not appear in court Friday, the report states, but in an affidavit filed with the court, Bryce claims that he purchased Eilis in 2010, and the dog has been a pet. He sent her to Northland Pits for stud services in February. After a week, she was returned to Brown in Wichita, Kan.
Shortly before the birth of her puppies, Eilis returned to Northland Pits where Sudbrink offered to whelp and wean the pups for Brown, who knew little about that, according to the affidavit.
The dog and her pups were then seized, along with the others, when a search warrant was executed on May 21.
According to the Northland Pits Kennel website, it is located in Wisconsin about two hours west of Minneapolis. The site claims to “usually only breed a couple of litters a year” but then says it has puppies for sale in 47 states and Canada. It describes the dogs as “Old Family Red Nosed American Pit Bull Terriers.”
It also claims they breed dogs that excel at “hog catch,” which is a gruesome activity in which several specially bred and trained pit bulls chase and kill a wild pig weighing hundreds of pounds — often done for “sport." The dogs are frequently seriously injured or killed themselves.
Notable on the Northland Pits Kennel website page of “ancestors” are photos of many famous fighting dogs with bloodlines such as Corvino, Colby and Tudor.
HUMANE ASSOCIATION OPPOSES RELEASE OF BROWN’S DOGS
Attorney Ron Poquette, who represented the Eau Claire County Humane Association at the hearing in Schumacher’s courtroom, argued against the release of any dogs.
“At this point, they are still part of the investigation,” he said.
Both judges expressed concern over the dogs continuing to be held.
“These are living things," Lenz said. "You can’t just sit on this."
Lenz ordered the state to release an inventory of the items seized on May 21 to Sudbrink by July 8. Schumacher asked Bilski and Poquette to submit briefs detailing how criminal charges may impact his decision by July 12 and said he would issue a ruling likely the following week.
Attorney Sheila Kessler is listed on the Humane Society of Portage County board of directors. She picked up the Browns’ dog and puppies from the Eau Claire County Humane Association on Friday before leaving town, reports the Leader Telegram.
On the Northland Pits homepage, a statement has been posted: “Northland Pits has absolutely nothing to do with animal cruelty, or dog fighting. These allegations are absolutely absurd, and ridiculous. This is simply another case of the humane society trying to shut down another breeder.”
IN THE SHADOW OF THE MICHAEL VICK CASE
It has been just four year since the Eagles signed quarterback Michael Vick after his release from federal prison for operating a brutal dog fighting ring. It is natural for the public to be drawn back into those dark hours of horrific revelations about Bad Newz Kennels. Brown is using social media to try to distance himself from that stigma.
On his Eagles bio page, Brown explains he bought Eilis in Canada because he could not find a "pure, pure" breed in the United States. He also said he "has a passion for all animals" and is a hands-on trainer.
According to PhillyDawg, Brown posted a recent video of himself on his Facebook page training a dog to jump in the air to grab a stuffed toy hung from a tree.
BRYCE BROWN DEFENDS NORTHLAND PITS
Brown contends that Northland Pits was the victim in all of this and there was no dog fighting operation in place or any wrongdoing, reports Fansided.com, which provides Brown’s statement from his Twitter account:
“My dog was returned to me quickly because it was obvious that she is not and never has been involved with dog fighting. Northland Pits is a respectable breeder which has unfortunately been the target of anti-breeding groups and 'animal rights,' activists who know nothing about what he is doing there, and assume it is related to dog fighting due to the breed of the dogs. He is a victim in this case, just as I am. He takes great care of his dogs and Eilis wouldn’t have been breeding there otherwise.”