While Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson were setting career highs and approaching/smashing records, other highly-regarded players had disappointing 2012 campaigns. Many of 2011’s studliest stars didn’t enjoy similar success the following year, but some of these underperformers shouldn’t be counted out going forward. Here are three receivers poised for a bounce-back season.
1. Larry Fitzgerald
Season Receptions Yards/Rank YPR Touchdowns
2011 80 1411/4TH 17.6 8
2012 71 798/41st 11.2 4
Those who strapped themselves down, self-medicated using their preferred and available substance, and watched the 2012 Arizona Cardinals should not hold their franchise player responsible for the 4-0 beginning gone horribly wrong. Not only does Fitzgerald have no need to hold himself accountable; he deserves an award of the highest honor for maintaining his composure throughout some of the most atrocious, unwatchable “quarterback play” the NFL has ever seen.
Just how bad were the 2012 Cardinals “quarterbacks,” you ask? The following sequence actually happened during the November 18th contest in Atlanta:
1. Cardinals’ Touchdown (7-0 ARI)
2. Cardinals’ Field Goal (10-0 ARI)
3. Cardinals’ Field Goal (13-0 ARI)
4. Coach Whisenhunt Looks At Stats Sheet And Sees That John Skelton Is Leading The Cardinals To Victory With A This-Must-Be-A-Misprint 2/7, 6 Yards Statline
5. Rookie Ryan Lindley Replaces John Skelton
6. Cardinals Lose (Despite 5—Count It—5 Matt Ryan Gifterceptions)
The remarkable composure and self-control exhibited by Fitz throughout the 2012 season is something to marvel at. Every grateful NFL fan owes Larry Fitzgerald a thank-you card for not pulling a Barry Sanders and retiring solely because his team single-handedly destroyed his passion for the game of football.
Fitzgerald only hauled in nine fewer passes than his 2011 total, but the 613-yard discrepancy did more than enough to solidify his 2012 season as a bust. The start wideout’s 798 yards marked the only time since his rookie season that he played 16 games and failed to surpass the 1000-yard mark. With the addition of Bruce Arians’ downfield passing attack and real-quarterback Carson Palmer, Fitzgerald is a virtual lock to make up for his lackluster 2011 performance.
2. Dwayne Bowe
Season Receptions Yards/Rank YPR Touchdowns
2011 81 1159/13th 14.3 5
2012 59 801/40th 13.6 3
Dwayne Bowe is no Fitzgerald, but the supremely-talented Kansas City receiver enjoyed an indisputably-disappointing season as his Chiefs sputtered to an NFL-worst 2-14 record. His yardage totals in 2011-2012 may not display the discrepancy immediately visible from Fitzgerald’s statline, but his on-field impact diminished in more ways than the numbers state.
The Chiefs’ “offense” routinely found itself in holes thanks to routine deficits, and “quarterback” Matt Cassel consistently proved incapable of leading a come-from-behind passing attack. Kansas City was a run-first team without any discernible weapons outside of Bowe and Jamaal Charles, and thanks to said deficits, the “offense” was doomed. The lack of a balanced attack hindered Bowe’s ability to warrant defensive attention and stun opposing defenses with big plays downfield, but with a revamped surrounding cast led by Coach Andy Reid and QB Alex Smith, Bowe should return to top-15 receiver status with ease.
3. Jordy Nelson
Season Receptions Yards/Rank YPR Touchdowns
2011 68 1263/9th 18.6 15
2012 49 745/50th 15.2 7
Unlike Bowe and Fitzgerald, Nelson had the luxury of catching balls from an honest-to-God quarterback. Although his Packers finished the season on a 9-2 run, Nelson suffered hamstring and ankle injuries in the second half of the season that he was never able to fully recover from. The fifth-year pro began the year on pace to notch a 91/1216/11 statline, but missed four games and never returned to early-season form upon his return.
Prior to 2012, Nelson only missed 3 games in 4 seasons, signifying an avoidance of the dreaded “injury-prone” tag to this point in his career. If he can stay off the injury report, Nelson has every reason to match his career-high numbers from 2011. Greg Jennings is gone, Aaron Rodgers is better than ever, and Coach Mike McCarthy has vowed to improve Green Bay’s 25th ranked rushing “attack.” With a surrounding cast of proven weapons including Randall Cobb and James Jones, defenses are unlikely to zero-in on Nelson. Pending a healthy season, Jordy will be a regular on the Monday morning SportsCenter highlight reel.
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.
It may seem like a little early for power rankings, but it may be best to put one together before the barrage of news coming out of training camp and the misleading preseason games start to skew our opinions. So based off of what they did last year and how their offseason went, here are the pre preseason top 10 teams in the NFC:
10. New Orleans – Sean Payton returning to the sidelines should give the Saints a boost, but New Orleans had the most passing yards in the NFL last year, so that part of the offense can’t get much better; rather, it’s the defense that needs to be better this year. Drew Brees is going to give them a chance to win just about every week, but unless the defense shows serious improvement, the Saints shouldn’t plan on being much better than a .500 team, which isn’t going to be enough to get to the playoffs in the NFC.
9. Chicago – On the one hand, the Bears won 10 games last year, but on the other hand, they changed coaches and didn’t really upgrade the talent on their roster. There are also questions about their quarterback. If Marc Trestman can make something out of Jay Cutler, the Bears should be in the same position they were last season: on the edge of the playoff race.
8. New York Giants – The Giants should be a lot higher, but there are still questions about how much they improved their linebackers and their secondary during the offseason. As long as they have Eli Manning, and as long as he has Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, New York is in decent shape, but what they need is their pass rushers to rebound after a poor season last year. Without assurance that their pass rush will be better in 2013, the Giants remain on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned.
7. Washington – If Robert Griffin III was healthy, the Redskins are easily a top-5 team, and they may even crack the top-3 in the NFC, but if he’s not on the field, or if his legs aren’t healthy, Washington is a different team. Outside of Griffin, the roster is largely the same with the addition of some secondary help and a few ancillary offensive skill players. If Griffin is healthy, this could be a dangerous team in the NFC, but until he proves that he’s healthy, it’s tough to rank them too high.
6. St. Louis – The Rams had one of the best drafts in the NFL, adding a ton of speed to their offense to help out Sam Bradford, who will also have the luxury of Jake Long watching his back this season. The St. Louis defense is in decent shape, so if they can figure out their running game and Bradford can click with all the speedy weapons he’s been given, the Rams should be able to secure a winning record and fight for a playoff spot, despite playing in a tough division.
5. Minnesota – There are still serious questions about Christian Ponder, but Adrian Peterson is a great safety valve to have. They rode Peterson to a 10-win season last year, and they may be able to do that again. On top of that, the Vikings added three first round draft picks, and lured both Desmond Bishop and Greg Jennings away from the Packers, so they added quite a bit of talent to their roster. If Ponder can limit his mistakes, between Peterson and the talent Minnesota added in the offseason, they should be a top-5 team in the NFC this year.
4. Atlanta – The Falcons were close to the Super Bowl last year, but fell a game short. The window to get to the Super Bowl is still open, but it appears far more likely that Atlanta will take a step back in 2013. They have a good quarterback and arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the league, but they’re defense wasn’t reliable last year, and their roster is starting to get old. They should win their division again, but they may not be one of the NFC’s elite anymore.
3. Green Bay – The mere presence of Aaron Rodgers is enough to place the Packers among the top-3 teams in the NFC. He doesn’t have the supporting cast that he used to have, but the team drafted Eddie Lacy at running back, and Randall Cobb is a heck of a weapon to have, so Rodgers should have enough around him to give Green Bay one of the best offenses in the NFL. If the defense can hold up its end of things, the Packers will be in good shape to reach the top of the NFC.
2. Seattle – Now that they have a quarterback that can complement their defense, the Seahawks should be near the top of the NFC; as good as he was last year, Russell Wilson should be even better in year two. Also, despite not having a first round pick, Seattle managed to add some talented pieces in the draft. Wilson and the Seahawks got their feat wet in the postseason last year, and now they’re ready to assert themselves as one of the leading Super Bowl contenders in the NFC.
1. San Francisco – On paper, San Francisco has the most talented roster in the NFC. They have one of the most talented young quarterbacks in the league, they have a stout defense, and they had a great draft. Until proven otherwise, we have to enter training camp assuming that the 49ers are the class of the NFC.
Well, we finally have some certainty in regard to Desmond Bishop’s future with the Green Bay Packers.
After struggling to find any interest in the veteran linebacker on the trade market, the Packers released the seven year veteran at around noon PST. There was some talk about the possibility of the Packers restructuring Bishop’s contract to keep him with the team, but no such agreement between the player and club could be agreed upon.
Bishop, who missed the entire 2012 season following hamstring surgery in August, was made expendable by the play of Brad Jones in his absence. By all counts Jones exceeded expectations, and he’s been rewarded justly with an opportunity to prove it wasn’t a fluke with what used to be Bishop’s starting job next season. Having three quality starting interior linebackers in a 3-4 defense is a luxury the Packers simply could not justify, and with Jones, Bishop and A.J. Hawk all in tow, it’s a problem - sort of - that they weren’t too keen on having.
The cutting of Bishop will save the Packers nearly $4M against the cap this season, but will carry dead cap implications going as far as the 2014 season, when they will lose $800,000 against the cap.
Rumours are swirling - as they always do - wildly about where Bishop will land. Chris Wesseling of NFL.com thinks that either the Kansas City Chiefs or Oakland Raiders make sense as potential destinations; as do I. That being said, the veteran linebacker already has a meeting scheduled for today with the Packers divisional rivals in Minnesota, the Vikings. They make sense as a potential destination, based solely on their need for a starting caliber middle linebacker. Word out of OTA’s was that Erin Henderson, who had played as a will linebacker to this point in his career, was going to start in the mike spot, but they can avoid this positional switch if their meeting with Bishop is of the productive variety. Then again, Bishop isn’t exactly what I’d call the picture-perfect fit either. The Vikings employ a Tampa 2 version of the 4-3 defense, which is considerably different from the 3-4 scheme he’s been in his entire career in Green Bay.
With all this in mind and all the food for thought that this release provides, there is some serious hubris to be found in all this. Remember when Bishop saw himself as a contender for defensive player of the year? Yeah, not happening in Green Bay.
With the draft finished and all of free agency’s biggest and best names off the market, each team’s roster is, more or less, set. Until, of course, training camp. When training camp and the pre season rolls around there are always a series of cuts to every roster; most expected, others not so much. Predicting the obvious cuts won’t be much fun, what with them being obvious and all, and often requires absurd amounts of research as they aren’t generally what I’d consider “household” names. For a look at some of the less likely - yet, still all too possible - names that could be hitting free agency in August, division by division, take a gander down yonder.
Chicago Bears, WR/KR Devin Hester: Hester’s never having developed into the receiver they had hoped he would is only part of the reason he is likely to be cut. Yes, his 242 yard season is a little disappointing, but not nearly as much as the fact that he didn’t return a single punt or kick for a touchdown. His average yardage on returns is also in steep decline. At this point the Bears aren’t getting a lot out of Hester, who counts for nearly $3M against this season’s cap.
Detroit Lions, WR Mike Thomas: Not sure how he landed his 4 year $10.2M, but it’s long overdue to be terminated. Even after joining the Lions following a mid-season trade, he failed to take advantage of his multiple opportunities to shine with all the injuries to their other receivers.
Green Bay Packers, LB Desmond Bishop: Bishop may envision himself as a defensive MVP, but he might have to prove his worth on another squad. Brad Jones could more than likely start in Bishop’s spot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they cut Bishop to expedite that process.
Minnesota Vikings, WR Jerome Simpson: Simpson hasn’t exactly worked out as the Vikings had hoped for. Given every opportunity to assert himself as a starting receiver last season, especially with the injury to Percy Harvin, he did anything but. Now the Vikings have more depth at receiver with the additions of Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson, which makes him even more expendable.
you can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV
The NFC North is up next on our division-by-division wrap up of the NFL Draft. Last year, this division had three teams with 10 wins or more, and during the draft it had three teams that came away very pleased, which should make this season quite interesting. Here’s how the NFC North teams graded out in the draft compared to one another:
1. Minnesota – The Vikings are the clear winner of this division, and had arguably the best draft in the league. Not only did Minnesota have three first-round picks, but they also drafted three players in the 20’s that easily could have been top 10-15 picks. The addition of defensive tackle Shariff Floyd, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson gives the Vikings a whole lot of talent that few teams in this draft can match.
The Vikings didn’t have a lot of mid-round picks, but they took linebacker Gerald Hodges in the fourth round, which should give them another player that can start. In the later rounds, Minnesota added depth at the line of scrimmage and a punter in Jeff Locke that should help them on special teams. When all was said and done, the Vikings made out very well with most of their nine picks, but the talent and value they added in the first round was overwhelming and gives them one of the best draft classes around.
2. Detroit – The Lions didn’t have nearly as good of a draft as the Vikings, but they did well, getting help at the line of scrimmage early and under-rated skill players late. They took a bit of a risk on Ziggy Ansah with the fifth overall pick because he’s a hit-or-miss prospect, but they’ve got good defensive tackles in place and they drafted Devin Taylor in the fourth round, so Ansah walks into a good situation and should have the people around him in Detroit to help him succeed. The offensive line got help from third round pick Larry Warford, who is more akin to second-round talent and should have no trouble starting right away.
In the later rounds, Detroit added a tall wide receiver in Corey Fuller, a versatile running back in Theo Riddick, and a solid tight end in Michael Williams; none will stand out, but they will help out quarterback Matthew Stafford. The one questionable pick that the Lions made, which keeps their draft class from standing out more, is taking cornerback Darius Slay in the second round. Slay has some injury concerns and was quite a reach in the second round, and after taking a risk in the first round, this pick becomes all the more questionable; although the Lions saved their draft by making wise and safe choices the rest of the way.
3. Green Bay – The Packers loaded up on picks with 11, and although they addressed most of their needs, they didn’t add enough impact players, which keeps them behind Detroit on this list. First round pick Datone Jones should help their defensive line, as will fifth round pick Josh Boyd, but there’s no guarantee those two players will lead to a significant increase in production.
There’s no doubt that Green Bay needed a running back, and Eddie Lacy was an absolute steal in the second round, but the Packers didn’t need to draft another running back in the fourth round, as their offense revolves around Aaron Rodgers and the passing game, so the role of running backs is never going to be that big. Other than running back and the defensive line, the Packers added two offensive linemen in the middle rounds, two linebackers in the late rounds, and two wide receivers in the late rounds; however, the roles of all of those players are unclear, as none of them stand out as potential playmakers. Considering how many picks Green Bay had in the draft, they didn’t make the kind of impact on their roster that would be expected.
4. Chicago – The Bears finish last in this division in part because they only had six picks, but also because they used half of those picks on linebackers. In Chicago’s defense, linebacker was their biggest need entering the draft, but the combination of Jon Bostic, Khaseem Greene, and Cornelius Washington may not be able to make the kind of impact at that position they need, especially with the loss of Brian Urlacher.
The Bears may have been better off taking a chance on either Alec Ogletree or Manti Te’o with their first round pick, or getting more of a sure thing in Arthur Brown with their second-round pick. First-round pick Kyle Long should be able to help the offensive line immediately, but the Bears could have picked up a comparable player later in the draft, so drafting him in the first round instead of a linebacker was a questionable decision. With so few picks and such mismanagement of the picks they did have, the Bears are the clear losers in the draft among teams in the NFC North.
So the draft is over and the dust has settled. It was one of the more exciting drafts in recent history, to say the least. A lot of trading up and down and some picks that just came way out of left field made for three days of white knuckle television. For a look at some of the best draft performances in those exciting four days and who in my mind is a winner, take a look below.
Minnesota Vikings: The Vikings found a way to address nearly of all their needs and best of all they did so in the first round. Sharrif Floyd will be an excellent addition to their rotation on the defensive line, Xavier Rhodes will be a week 1 starter and Cordarrelle Patterson could very well become the next Julio Jones. Who needs picks in the second or third round when you have three in the first? Clearly not the Vikings.
Vikings Picks: 23rd Overall DT Sharrif Floyd, 25th Overall CB Xavier Rhodes, 29th Overall WR Cordarrelle Patterson, 120th Overall LB Gerald Hodges, 155th Overall P Jeff Locke, 196th Overall G Jeff Baca, 213th Overall LB Michael Mauti, 214th Overall G Travis Bond, 229th Overall DT Everett Dawkins
St.Louis Rams: The question on everybody’s mind this offseason has been who exactly is Sam Bradford going to throw the ball to after the departure of Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola in free agency. The trade up and subsequent pick of Tavon Austin with the eighth overall pick was a great start and the addition of Stedman Bailey in the third added even more stability at wide receiver. That they were also able to add Alec Ogletree in the first round makes this draft made their weekend nothing short of amazing. Even in the ultra competitive NFC West I have a hard time not considering the Rams as a threat for a Wild Card spot.
Rams Picks: 8th Overall WR Tavon Austin, 30th Overall LB Alec Ogletree, 71st S T.J. McDonald, 92nd Overall WR Stedman Bailey, 113th C Barrett Jones, 149th Overall CB Brandon McGee, 160th Overall RB Zac Stacy
Green Bay Packers: After losing out on the Stephen Jackson sweepstakes I had to think they were going to target running backs in this year’s draft. That they were able to land the two best ones available in the second and fourth round is just great. The much anticipated addition of Datone Jones will also help the Packers get pressure on the quarterback without relying solely on Clay Mathews.
Packers Picks: 26th Overall DE Datone Jones, 61st Overall RB Eddie Lacy, 109th Overall T David Bakhtiari, 122nd C J.C. Tretter, 125th Overall RB Johnathan Franklin, 159th Overall CB Micah Hyde, 167th Overall DT Josh Boyd, 193rd Overall LB Nate Palmer, 216th Overall WR Charles Johnson, 224th Overall WR Kevin Dorsey, 232nd Overall LB Sam Barrington
San Diego Chargers: With only 6 picks in this year’s draft, the Chargers somehow found a way to address nearly all their needs in a big way. The selection of D.J. Fluker with the 11th pick in the draft is just a little bit of a reach, but he was also the best tackle left on the board. Can’t complain about that pick too much. How Keenan Allen was still available in the third round is beyond me, but good on the Chargers for taking advantage of the situation.
Chargers Picks: 11th Overall T D.J. Fluker, 38th Overall LB Manti Te’o, 76th Overall WR Keenan Allen, 145th Overall CB Steve Williams, 179th Overall LB Tourek Williams, 221st Overall QB Brad Sorensen
You can follow J.D. Burke: @JDBurkeOV
If there’s one thing you can count on during the NFL Draft, it’s being surprised, and this year’s draft did not disappoint in that department. Here are the five biggest surprises of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Eddie Lacy was the fourth running back taken – Lacy was thought of as a possible first round pick, especially with the Green Bay Packers picking 26th overall, but Lacy managed to stay on the board until the 29th pick of the second round when Green Bay’s patience paid off for them and they were able to take him anyway. As surprising as it was for Lacy to fall that far, it was even more surprising to see three other running backs come off the board before him. The Bengals had coveted Giovani Bernard all along, but Lacy being passed up by the Steelers and Broncos for Le’Veon Bell and Montee Ball respectively was unexpected.
The Buffalo Bills took E.J. Manuel in the first round and not Ryan Nassib – This pick sent quite a few jaws to the floor. Ever since Doug Marrone became the head coach of the Bills, many speculated, and some even assumed, that Buffalo would draft Nassib after spending his college years with Marrone at Syracuse. But the Bills shocked everybody when they took Manuel 16th overall to be their quarterback of the future. Marrone’s connection to Nassib had many thinking he would be going to the Bills in either the first or second round while Manuel was not thought of by many to be a first rounder. Manuel may actually fit the offensive system Buffalo is going to run better than Nassib, but it was still quite a shock to see Marrone pass up the quarterback he groomed in college for someone else.
Mike Glennon was drafted before both Ryan Nassib and Matt Barkley – With all due respect to Glennon and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it’s hard to fathom how Glennon was off the board before either Barkley or Nassib. There wasn’t a lot of consensus on the pecking order of quarterbacks in this year’s draft, but most had Barkley and Nassib ahead of Glennon. Surprising as it was to see Barkley and Nassib wait until the fourth round to get selected, it was even more surprising to see Glennon come off the board even earlier in the third round.
Geno Smith dropped to the second round – No one was more surprised (and visibly upset) that Smith left Radio City Music Hall Thursday night without a home than Smith himself. Other than Ryan Nassib possibly going to the Bills, it was assumed that Smith would be the first quarterback drafted and that he would go somewhere in the first round. In the end, there just weren’t enough teams willing to use a first round pick on a quarterback considering how weak this year’s class was at that position, although once the second round started Smith didn’t have to wait too long to hear his name.
Tyler Bray went undrafted – It’s unusual for the most talented quarterback in a class to go undrafted, but then again this was an unusual class of quarterbacks. It’s no surprise why Bray went undrafted; despite his great talent he has some character issues, isn’t known for having a great work ethic, and lacks leadership, as well as several other essential intangibles for the quarterback position. However, it was still surprising to see none of the 32 teams take a chance on drafting Bray, while quarterbacks like Sean Renfree and B.J. Daniels were selected.
Finally, it’s that special time of year when the lengthy 82 game season of NBA basketball crashes to a halt and the magic of the postseason ensues.
The Eastern Conference appeared to be set as far back as March, but even the standings in the league’s predictable conference have seen a slight shakeup since then. The matchups predictably favor the higher seed, but if playoff basketball has taught us anything, it’s to be ready for anything.
Here is a closer look at each of the matchups that awaits us in the Eastern Conference when the playoffs start on Saturday and just who will emerge victorious.
MIAMI vs MILWAUKEE
Credit to the Bucks for figuring out how to get this far with without splitting up Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, but this is as far as they go. It doesn’t matter that Larry Sanders has emerged as one of the best shot blockers in the league or that they traded for a viable sixth man when they got JJ Redick at the trade deadline, Miami is going to crush them.
With LeBron James rolling, Dwyane Wade healthy and Chris Bosh rested, it’s hard to see the Bucks looking like a competitive team in this one. Even without those three, Miami probably wins this series, that’s how good their bench is. Miami took the season series 3-1, the sole loss coming during an mid season period where Miami was struggling to find their championship form. Needless to say, since then the Heat have found their way and won the last two matchups against the Bucks by convincing margins.
Milwaukee’s guards will be troubled by Miami’s defense which is the fifth best in basketball and includes Mario Chalmers, a solid defensive point guard facing up against Brandon Jennings, the key to the Bucks offense. If that doesn’t work, the Heat can always put James on Jennings since the Bucks starting small forward is likely going to be Luc Mbah a Moute.
Milwaukee’s biggest advantage over the Heat in their victory was an advantage on the interior, but with the Heat having signed Chris Andersen to back up Chris Bosh, that advantage is much less significant. With no one on the wing to threaten James on either end of the floor for the Bucks, the Heat should put this one to bed pretty quickly.
Prediction: Miami wins series 4-0
NEW YORK vs BOSTON
Probably the most intriguing series in the East, the Knicks look to exact revenge against a Boston team that destroyed their playoff hopes last season. The Knicks took the season series 3-1 and are no longer intimidated by the Celtics presence.
Each game between these two sides is unique, a key factor in one proving an afterthought in the next, but one thing that is going to have to be consistent for Boston to have a shot at beating the league’s scoring champ in Carmelo Anthony is the play of its key role players. Guys like Jeff Green, Jason Terry and Brandon Bass can all make a huge impact on this series if they do what they do well. If Green can challenge Melo on the defensive end and add 15-18 points a night scoring, if Jason Terry can shoot the three and Brandon Bass can aide Kevin Garnett in pulling down rebounds, the Celtics may have a shot.
But, if Boston has trouble knocking down shots from three point range and allows the Knicks to outrebound them as was the case in their three losses to New York this season, the Knicks will run over them.
The Knicks will go to Melo, the Celtics to Pierce and the two may well cancel each other out. The key for the Knicks in this series is the performance of their guards. Raymond Felton, Jason Kidd and J.R. Smith all have major roles to play in capturing this series for the Knicks. Each shoots around the 40% mark and on a given night can take over the second fiddle role and push the team toward victory, but they’ll have to do it in crunch time now if they’re going to beat a team that is playing to raise the spirits of its entire city right now.
A 54 win season is the best a Knicks team has done since the Patrick Ewing era, all Mike Woodson has to do is guide them to the next step and his job security in basketball’s Mecca is all but secure.
Prediction: New York wins series 4-2
INDIANA vs ATLANTA
You may want to grab some coffee before sitting down to this series. Against the top ten defensive teams in the league, the Hawks have failed to reach 90 points eleven times this season, a telling stat for a team that averages close to 100 per game. While the Hawks are a decent offensive team, they don’t do well when the opposition plays solid defense and, sadly for them, Indiana has the second best defense in the league.
Given their talent and the fact that Atlanta plays halfway decent defense themselves, they will be able to make this a series thanks to the fact that Indiana has the eighth worst offense in the league. Hang on though, this series evens out in more ways than that.
Indiana has a size advantage in the front court with David West and Roy Hibbert, while Atlanta has the speed advantage with Al Horford and Josh Smith. When these two sides met during the regular season, games were decided by an average of 7 points, so by no means has one dominated the other with the season series tied 2-2.
Atlanta will want to push the pace as the third best fast break scoring team in the league, while the Pacers will try to slow things down and maintain their defensive record of being the best team in the league at defending the fast break. Atlanta is one of the best passing teams in basketball and the sixth best shooting team, while Indiana is second overall in rebounding and the best in the league at defending the paint. It all could go either way on any given night depending on how the Hawks shoot and run the floor. In any case, this one may go seven, but don’t expect it to be pretty a lot of the time thanks to the Pacers defense and Hawks tendency to fold against this type of opponent.
Prediction: Indiana wins series 4-3
BROOKLYN vs CHICAGO
Now this ought to be a series to watch. These two teams have top ten defenses and rebound the ball and turn it over at about the same rate. Three of their four regular season matchups were won by Chicago, but three of the four games were decided by less than five points. Both play exciting brands of basketball and this series still holds the potential to see the return of Derrick Rose, something that would make for excellent television should it occur.
Neither team runs the floor very well and both boast front court players who complement each other in similar ways: one being a scorer from mid to close range who can be the centerpiece of an offense in the low post, the other a role player primarily in the rebounding and defensive department. The difference comes in the backcourt.
Whether Kirk Hinrich or Nate Robinson for Chicago, it doesn’t matter, neither can match up very well to Deron Williams. Likewise, neither Jimmy Butler or Marco Bellinelli is much for Joe Johnson to face up with and Chicago’s lead scorer in Luol Deng faces a tough test with Gerald Wallace defending him.
Despite Brooklyn’s personnel advantages, Chicago will hang tight. They defend the paint better, have a good deal of experience in the squad and they are a far superior passing team. That said, these two shoot the ball at about the same percentage and create turnovers at about the same rate. The advantages seem to cancel each other out.
Down to bench scoring, these two are extremely similar. Chicago is a bit more physical of a team, but the Nets have more firepower. The one deciding factor may come down to the fact that Brooklyn holds home court since Chicago has struggled somewhat on the road this season finishing 21-20 away from the United Center. That said, they did beat the Nets in their own building in the last meeting of these two sides on Apr. 4.
Prediction: Chicago wins series 4-3
After nine long seasons with the St. Louis Rams, Steven Jackson is now a free agent. Given how weak this year’s NFL draft is going to be as far as running backs go, there is a good chance that someone will overspend for him.
The question is: who?
According to Mike Florio, the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons are both looking into possibly bringing Jackson on board. After cutting Michael Turner loose, the latter squad obviously needs to shore up their ground attack. Green Bay, meanwhile, has attempted to patch up their hole at running back with questionable pieces for two years now – making a commitment to someone more stable would make a whole lot of sense.
Last year, Jackson ran for 1,042 yards and four touchdowns in 16 total games played. He also chipped in 321 receiving yards on 38 total receptions.
At 29 years old and with a lot of mileage on his tires, understandably, the big question regarding Jackson is whether he is going to be sturdy enough to justify the sort of commitment he is clearly looking for.
Chances are, given how close the Packers and Falcons are to being Super Bowl teams, one of them will bite and give him a decent-sized deal. Whether that proves to be a mistake or not is something we’ll find out soon enough.