Can I get a playoff spot for Christmas?

December 25, 2009

Well, here we go.

This season is ending a bit different than I would have anticipated. The prospect that both Jacksonville and Miami could make the playoffs this year is a pleasant surprise – and a way to help make up for the disappointment of the worst Bucs season in 18 years.

The reality, however, is that it will take a bit of a Christmas miracle for both teams to find a way into the playoffs.

Both are two of six AFC teams with identical 7-7 records fighting for the wild card spots that right now belong to the 8-6 Broncos and 8-6 Ravens.

There is an opening there for either one of the Florida teams, but it will take a lot of doing, including taking care of business down the final stretch of the season. And that’s where I have guarded optimism.

Jacksonville’s next two games are on the road against New England and Cleveland. Ouch. How about that land of Sunshine team? Two straight games in very cold and hostile locations. New England has yet to clinch a playoff spot so the Jaguars won’t get any favors from the Patriots who are undefeated at home so far this year. Even the hometown newspaper concedes it may be a tough feat for the Jags to win this game. Key point – If Peyton Manning torched the Jaguars for four touchdowns last week, how well will Tom Brady fare? The Browns are obviously a bit of an easier opponent to worry about, but Cleveland has actually been playing better in the last couple of games.

Miami’s final stretch isn’t much better, although the team gets both of its final games at home in Land Shark Stadium. The Dolphins square off this weekend against a Houston Texans team trying hard to save head coach Gary Kubiak’s job and get a playoff berth. Then the Dolphins close out the season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the 2009 Super Bowl champs. The only thing going with the Fins in that game is if the Steelers lose this weekend to the Ravens then their season is probably over and they will have little to play for in the final week of the regular season.

Of course neither game will be a gimme for the Fins. I’m not sure the Fins offense can keep up with the Texans offense, while Pittsburgh has actually turned into a passing team that features a tough good quarterback.

So how about it Santa? How about a playoff berth for one of the Florida teams? You don’t even have to put it under the tree.

Pro Bowl choices are few this year

November 14, 2009

(UPDATE – The news that Ronnie Brown is out for the rest of the season alters this list tremendously.)

The NFL has opened up its 2010 Pro Bowl voting, but unfortunately it looks like there probably won’t be a lot of players attending the contest in Miami who hail from Florida teams.

When two of your three NFL teams stumble through the season it’s hard to expect that they will beat out the talents of other 29 teams in the league.

But here’s some players who I believe deserve serious Pro Bowl consideration.

Maurice Jones-Drew: Ok, so I was sort of wrong about Mojo. He has had a great season stats wise as the feature running back for the Jacksonville Jaguars. He leads the league with 11 rushing TDs and is third in the AFC in rushing yards. This may not be surprising since Mojo is basically the only good thing going on with the Jags offense. But while I was wrong about whether or not Mojo could handle a full-time load – I also predicted that he couldn’t turn around the fortunes of the Jaguars. And that has turned out to be dead on.

Ronnie Brown: If the Miami Dolphins make the playoffs again this season it will of course be due primarily to Brown. He is the heart and soul of the Dolphins offense whether he’s running the Wildcat or taking the handoff from Chad Henne. He is 7th in the AFC in rushing, but that’s because he is dividing his rushes with Ricky Williams (who is also having a pretty decent season).

Jason Taylor: After a one-year exile with the Redskins, Taylor has been a welcome addition to the Dolphins defense. The 35-year-old veteran has already has 5 and a half sacks for the season and has forced two fumbles.

Aqib Talib: Talib has been one of the few bright spots in a dismal season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has five interceptions on the year, which ties him for third in the entire NFL.

Beyond these four players, there are a handful of others who I think you could make an argument for, including Jaguars wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker. Sims-Walker, a 2nd year pro, has helped out the Jags much more than their acquisition of Torry Holt. Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud has had a solid season as well and ranks 8th in the league with 68 tackles. Ruud also has an interception. Ted Ginn Jr. deserves some consideration because of his kick-returning skills, but we’ll have to see whether or not his 2 tds against the N.Y. Jets was a one-week wonder. Right now he’s not even on the Pro Bowl ballot as a returner.

Draft Day 1: Fins surprise, Jags solid and the Bucs still don’t get it

April 26, 2009

After the first day of the NFL draft I think the verdict is this:

* Bill Parcells and the crew at Miami made a couple of expected picks, such as strengthening the defense with Illinois CB Vontae Davis and Utah CB Sean Smith. There was a little bit of concern expressed by the draftniks that Davis could have an attitude problem. But there is agreement that Davis could be a great addition to the defense.

More surprising was the selection of West Virginia QB Pat White in the second round. White is tremendously gifted, but after watching him it’s clear that he is a longshot to be an everyday quarterback. But he could obviously run the Wildcat offense effectively and could give defenses fits since he can throw the ball a bit better than Ronnie Brown. My only other thought, however, is I wonder whether he would have slipped down the board another round. They may have taken White too high.

Grade for the Dolphins: B-

* Jacksonville had really done very little to help itself during the off-season coming into the draft. They signed a deal with Maurice Jones-Drew that I still think they will come to regret and they brought in Torry Holt, who has been a great receiver but is now 32 years old and you wonder how much he’s got left in him.

But on the first day of the draft the Jaguars did exactly what they needed to do: Get help on the offensive line. There was no way that Jones-Drew can even hope to succeed if the Jags did not address that critical need. They got two big bodies in OT Eugene Monroe from Virginia and OT Eben Britton from Arizona. Solid picks, good decisions.

Grade for the Jaguars: A

* Do the people running the Bucs now even understand how the NFL works? After acting as if their quarterback situation was acceptable (which it’s not) – they signed Byron Leftwich as a backup and on draft day they TRADE UP to get QB Josh Freeman from Kansas State.

This is yet another sign that this franchise has no interest in trying to win this upcoming season. Freeman could be a great talent – and new coach Raheem Morris knows him well – but everyone admits he’s not ready to start. What the heck is the point of that? Tampa Bay now has a parcel of quarterbacks and yet none of them is capable of making the Bucs a winner.

The Bucs refuse to ante up to go after Jay Cutler yet they tacitly admit through their acquisitions of Leftwich and now Freeman that they need a QB.

Bucs fans it’s going be a long, long 2009 season. This team just keeps headed in the wrong direction.

Grade for the Bucs: D

Last minute Pro Bowl ballot box stuffing

December 8, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Just to remind you: Football fans have until noon on Tuesday to submit their ballot for the 2009 NFL Pro Bowl. You can go here to cast your electronic ballot.

May I make a few last minute suggestions at stuffing the ballot box:

QB: Chad Pennington, Miami Dolphins. Pennington has played a pivotal role in helping the Dolphins rebound from last year’s horrific season. But did you know he’s actually got more passing yards right now that Matt Cassel, who had back to back 400-yard games? Did you know he’s ranked fifth in completion percentage, or that right now he’s got a higher quarterback rating than the two guys with Manning in their last name? But it boils down to this: If the Dolphins make the playoffs it will have a lot to do with Pennington.

K: Matt Bryant, Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bryant has been incredibly reliable for the Bucs and has missed just four field goals out of 32 attempts. He’s also fourth in the NFL in scoring.

OLB: Joey Porter, Miami Dolphins. Hey, he should get in for backing up his smack talk about Matt Cassel. But Porter also leads the league with an amazing 16.5 sacks. He’s a quarterback wrecking machine and the core of the Dolphins defense.

CB: Rashean Mathis, Jacksonville Jaguars. Yeah, the Jags season hasn’t been sensational but Mathis has four picks this season, including two he returned back for touchdowns.

Thanksgiving sports shoutouts

November 27, 2008
Sports Addict Gary Fineout

Sports Addict Gary Fineout

 As much as I love this holiday – the wonderful merger of football and food – it makes me realize that we are now in the waning moments of another great football season. Yeah, bowl season is right around the corner, and the NFL lumbers on until February, but I know in my heart of hearts that the end is near.

On this day of remembrance, let me give a few Thanksgiving Day thanks to:

1. The Tampa Bay Rays. Their incredible season is the number one sports story in Florida this year. The team didn’t win it all, but the Rays have so much young talent that you know they will be in the running again next season.

2. The Wildcat offense. It hasn’t worked to perfection every game, but the Miami Dolphins came up with the number one wrinkle for the NFL this year. Now it seems every other team in the league has tried to emulate it. Will it put the Dolphins in the Super Bowl? No, but it’s one of the reasons that the Dolphins have turned into a legitimate playoff contender this year.

3. Chad Pennington. He’s the other reason that the Dolphins have fared so well this season. There’s no way you can blame the N.Y. Jets for picking up Brett Favre when the team had the chance. But it’s a been a godsend for a team that has been wandering in the wilderness when it comes to consistent quarterback play. Pennington – with his efficient play and steady demeanor – fits in exactly with a team that wants to grind it out and play tough defense.

4. Florida Gators. A jaw-dropping, mind-numbing offensive juggernaut. It’s not just Tim Tebow, it’s everybody. Speed kills. I just can’t conceive anyone beating them the rest of the season.

5. Warrick Dunn and Jeff Garcia. Yeah, maybe both of them are past their prime, but they get it done week in and week out. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stay on this hot streak and make the playoffs, it will be because of these veterans.

A radical concept: Time to say that I was wrong

September 22, 2008

In the rapidly-changing world of media, I’ve decided to do something that others don’t seem to do often. And that’s admit when I am wrong.

Brian Griese and the Jacksonville Jaguars made me eat the words that I used on my latest video at Well, at least for the time being.

I predicted that Griese would not be the answer for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at quarterback this season. It’s not that I think that former starter Jeff Garcia is a top-flight quarterback, it’s just that Griese has bounced around the league like a shredded tire coming off a tractor trailer flying down the interstate. And the effect has been the same, little traction and danger of a car crash.

But on Sunday Griese passed for more than 400 yards as he hurled the rock a stunning 67 times. 67 times! That’s like a half season’s work for some of the quarterbacks in the NFL (and the fifth all-time amount of pass attempts in a single game.) And although Griese had three picks he also threw for two touchdowns and did just enough to help the Bucs pull out an overtime win over the Chicago Bears.

Do I still think that Griese is fool’s gold? You bet. But for now I will freely admit that on this Sunday, I was wrong. Dead wrong. Way to go, Brian.

I also erred in declaring the death and burial of the Jaguars, whose offense the first two weeks was pathetic. That all changed on Sunday afternoon when both Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew sliced, diced and ripped up the Indianapolis defense. Both backs rushed for more than 100 yards in the win.

(I will note this for the record: A bone-headed call by Jack Del Rio late in the fourth quarter almost gave the Colts a victory. When it’s 4th and short and you’ve got two timeouts left in the game, it’s ok to run the ball, Jack. A pass interference call fortunately gave the Cats a new set of downs and set the stage for a dramatic game-winning field goal.)

BUT, BUT, BUT…I did get one thing right.

I said that Dolphins linebacker Joey Porter had every right to question how well Matt Cassel would play in place of injured Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. I said Porter was merely telling the truth. Yeah, I guess he was, especially since he sacked Cassel three times. Welcome to the big time, Matt. The Fins defense smothered the Pats, while the Patriots defense designed by Mr. Genius, Bill Belichick, was completely thrown off stride by the monster performance of running back Ronnie Brown who had 5 touchdowns.

And to make it even so much sweeter, the Dolphins (the only team to STILL HAVE A COMPLETE PERFECT SEASON) ended the Pats 21-game regular season winning streak. The sting was so complete that the Associated Press reported that Pats fans were actually booing their team. Wow, what a bunch of ingrates. Guess winning three Super Bowls in the last decade isn’t enough.

Brady injury may give Fins faithful new hope

September 10, 2008

I don’t cheer for injuries, especially when the person injured was the number one person I took in my fantasy draft this year.

But the dramatic demise of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady may have a magic effect on transforming last year’s moribund Miami Dolphins into a potential contender. Brady’s bone-crunching season-ending injury upends the entire AFC East and makes the decision of the N.Y. Jets to land Brett Favre and the decision of the Dolphins to sign Chad Pennington as an inspired move.

No matter how the TV pundits may spin it, there’s just no way that Matt Cassel is going to fill Brady’s shoes. First off, there’s a big difference between how Brady came in, and Cassel’s situation. Brady was there to fill in for an injured Drew Bledsoe. There were no Super Bowl expectations heaped on Brady’s shoulders before he threw his first pass. Brady’s charge was do no harm and help this team win. Cassel is already under tremendous pressure. No matter how well he plays if the Pats fail to make the Super Bowl it will be his fault. And secondly, I haven’t seen anything so far to suggest Cassel can even come close to matching Brady. He looked shaky in pre-season and didn’t light it up against Kansas City, one of the worst teams in the league.

The question, is whether the Dolphins can take advantage of this sudden and dramatic change of fortune. Pennington is a solid if unspectacular quarterback who actually had a chance to beat the Jets this past weekend. The team around him has many solid parts, including a defense that looks like it may be much stronger than a year ago. The Fins sacked Favre three times in the close loss to the Jets.

It won’t be easy of course. The Buffalo Bills look like they have improved although I’m still not totally sold on Trent Edwards as the next Jim Kelly. And of course there’s always the Jets, the team that has always been the Dolphins main rival in the AFC East over the last 25 years. The addition of Favre – and the loss of Brady – has catapulted the team into playoff contention. We will get a chance to see the new reality of the AFC East when the Patriots travel to the Meadowlands this weekend to take on the Jets. I expect to see Cassel on the ground a lot.

But Fins fans may be amazed where their team stands in a few weeks: Miami plays Arizona, Houston and New England in the next five weeks, all games they have a legitmate shot to win. The team also has to play San Diego and Baltimore, which could be tough, but there’s no reason that the Ravens — especially if they are still led by a rookie quarterback – can’t be beaten as well. That means that the Dolphins could be 4-2 or even 5-1 heading into an Oct. 26 game with the Bills.

That game may be the day we truly learn how big Tom Brady’s injury truly was.

Fearless fantasy predictions for 2008

September 5, 2008

Another wonderful NFL season is upon us and it begins yet another round of longing and quiet confidence that your fantasy team will prevail this year.

But as any good fantasy team owner knows, take everything you read in preseason with a garbage-can size dose of salt. Each season comes with new stars and more importantly, unexpected busts, that can turn your season into a three-month long nightmare.

With that caveat, here are some of my fearless fantasy predictions for Florida’s three NFL teams.

* Maurice Jones-Drew is a perfect candidate for a fantasy player who WILL NOT live up to the hype. Why? There are a handful of reasons, but I’ll start with the great Fred Taylor. In my mind, Taylor has been a fantastic back who has put to rest those early career problems with injuries. But I am worried about the 32-year-old back and I am worried about the Jacksonville Jaguars offense in general. David Garrard still doesn’t have a top-flight, week-in, week-out receiver who can help propel the passing game. (Sorry, Jerry Porter, Matt Jones, Reggie Williams.) That puts more pressure on the running game, but if Taylor’s numbers slip, so will Jones-Drew because his success is dependent on being a receiving, change-of-pace running back. And in case you didn’t notice, Jones-Drew actually put up worse numbers last year than in 2006. 

* Ricky Williams will in the early going help out a lot of fantasy owners who took a chance on the former pot-smoking, do my own thing in my own time, break the mold running back. I have no doubt that the Miami Dolphins will run, run and run again. But we’ve seen this movie before and at some point Williams may run out of gas, or give way to Ronnie Brown. Enjoy it while you can.

* Earnest Graham could easily have a breakout season for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I don’t think that Warrick Dunn will steal many carries from him. Cadillac Williams was placed on the PUP list, which will knock him out for the first half of the season.

* Chad Pennington could be a decent quarteback for the Dolphins this season. But unless you are in a fantasy league that prizes accuracy, he won’t bring much to your team. Only use him in a bye-week situation. There’s a reason that the New York Jets scooped up Brett Favre. Pennington’s limitations are also why I would shy away from taking any Dolphins receivers other than Ted Ginn Jr.

* The Jaguars defense remains the best among the three Florida teams, although the prospect of a decent running game in Miami and Tampa Bay could help those two teams as well. But the downside to the Miami defense is that it has to play some explosive offensive teams, including the Patriots.