Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Cheerleaders, College Football
Path: /college-football/2013-college-football-cheerleaders-week-2
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A look at our favorite cheerleaders from week 2 of the college football season. They can cheer for us anytime!

College Football's Post-Week 2 Bowl Projections for 2013 http://beta.athlonsports.com/sites/default/files/ToddGurley_7.png?itok=wE7Ya9RI 2013-09-10 08:00:08

College football's bowl season is still a few months away, but it's never too early to take a look at what the matchups might look like. With only two weeks of results in the books, it's hard to make long-term projections about teams, especially with several teams still playing overmatched non-conference games.
With very little data to work with, the post-Week 2 bowl projections are a mixture between preseason projections, how things would look if the season ended today, and a small dose of the results so far this year. Expect more changes over the next few weeks, especially as we see how teams perform in conference games.

A few teams barely missed the projections this week, including Boston College, Utah, Virginia, Washington State and Illinois from BCS conferences. And Ohio, San Diego State, Arkansas State and Toledo from the non-BCS ranks.

As the season progresses, it will be easier to project which teams will get to the six-win mark or finish below.

College Football's Post-Week 2 Bowl Projections

BowlDateTie-InProjection
New MexicoDec. 21Pac-12 vs. MWCOregon State vs. Wyoming
Famous Idaho PotatoDec. 21MAC vs. MWCBall State vs. Nevada
Las VegasDec. 21Pac-12 vs. MWCFresno State vs. Arizona
New OrleansDec. 21Sun Belt vs. CUSARice vs. UL Lafayette
Beef 'O' Brady'sDec. 23American vs. CUSALa. Tech vs. West Virginia*
HawaiiDec. 24MWC vs. CUSAEast Carolina vs. San Jose State
Little Caesars PizzaDec. 26MAC vs. Big TenNorthern Illinois vs. ULM
PoinsettiaDec. 26Army vs. MWCBoise State vs. Notre Dame*
Military Dec. 27CUSA vs. ACCPittsburgh vs. MTSU
TexasDec. 27Big 12 vs. Big TenTCU vs. Indiana
Kraft Fight HungerDec. 27BYU vs. Pac-12BYU vs. USC
PinstripeDec. 28American vs. Big 12Kansas State vs. Rutgers
BelkDec. 28American vs. ACCNC State vs. Cincinnati
Russell AthleticDec. 28American vs. ACCNorth Carolina vs. UCF
Buffalo Wild WingsDec. 28Big 12 vs. Big TenTexas vs. Northwestern
Armed Forces Dec. 30MWC vs. NavyNavy vs. Utah State
Music CityDec. 30ACC vs. SECGeorgia Tech vs. Auburn
AlamoDec. 30Big 12 vs. Pac-12Oklahoma vs. Arizona State
HolidayDec. 30Pac-12 vs. Big 12Texas Tech vs. Washington
AdvoCare V100Dec. 31ACC vs. SECMaryland vs. Arkansas
SunDec. 31Pac-12 vs. ACCVirginia Tech vs. UCLA
LibertyDec. 31SEC vs. CUSAMarshall vs. Tennessee
Chick-fil-ADec. 31ACC vs. SECMiami vs. Texas A&M
GatorJan. 1SEC vs. Big TenMichigan State vs. Ole Miss
Heart of DallasJan. 1Big Ten vs. CUSAMinnesota vs. Tulsa
OutbackJan. 1SEC vs. Big TenNebraska vs. Florida
Capital OneJan. 1SEC vs. Big TenWisconsin vs. South Carolina
RoseJan. 1BCS vs. BCSOregon vs. Michigan
FiestaJan. 1BCS vs. BCSOklahoma State vs. Stanford
SugarJan. 2BCS vs. BCSGeorgia vs. Florida State
CottonJan. 3SEC vs. Big 12Baylor vs. LSU
OrangeJan. 3BCS vs. BCSClemson vs. Louisville
BBVA CompassJan. 4SEC vs. AmericanHouston vs. Vanderbilt
GoDaddyJan. 5MAC vs. Sun BeltBowling Green vs. Western Kentucky
National TitleJan. 6BCS vs. BCSAlabama vs. Ohio State

Related College Football Content

College Football Week 2 Recap
College Football's Coach on the Hot Seat Rankings
Week 2 National Awards
ACC Post-Week 2 Power Rankings
Big 12 Post-Week 2 Power Rankings
Big Ten Post-Week 2 Power Rankings
Pac-12 Post-Week 2 Power Rankings
SEC Post-Week 2 Power Rankings
Amazing Stats from Week 2

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 9, 2013 - 13:00
Path: /nfl/philadelphia-eagles-vs-washington-redskins-preview-and-prediction-0
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The first Monday night game of the 2013 NFL season will take place in our nation’s capital when the Philadelphia Eagles square off against the Washington Redskins at 6:55 p.m. ET on ESPN. This Week 1 matchup is all about firsts for both teams. Not only is this the first game of the season for both teams, it marks Chip Kelly’s debut as the Eagles’ head coach and Robert Griffin III’s first game back since injuring his knee in the Redskins’ playoff loss to Seattle in January.

These long-time NFC East division rivals have met 158 times with Washington holding an 81-71-6 lead in the all-time series. The Redskins swept both meetings last season, winning by a combined score of 58-26. This will be the first time the Redskins and Eagles have opened the season against each other since 1996. Philadelphia won that game, which was played at RFK Stadium, 17-14 behind 269 yards passing and two touchdowns from Eagles quarterback Rodney Peete.

Four Things to Watch

RG3’s Knee
There has been no more talked about, analyzed and scrutinized body part in the NFL this offseason than the surgically repaired right knee that belongs to Robert Griffin III. He sustained the second significant injury to his right knee late in the Redskins’ 24-14 Wild Card game loss to the Seahawks back on Jan. 6. RG3 has already proven what he can do returning from major knee surgery, as he won the Heisman Trophy two years after tearing his ACL as a sophomore at Baylor, but the degree of difficulty and the stakes have been raised. Everyone, from the player to his head coach to his doctor, are saying RG3 is ready, but no one will know for sure until we see how No. 10 handles his first snap, his first drop back, and, perhaps most importantly, his first scramble out of the pocket.

Can the Eagles’ offense fly like Kelly’s Ducks?
Chip Kelly made his reputation first as Oregon’s offensive coordinator and then later the Ducks’ head coach. In four seasons as the head Duck, Kelly’s Oregon teams piled up the yards and points, finishing in the top five in the nation in both total and scoring offense in each of the past three years. Can Kelly’s immensely successful and equally entertaining offensive system, not only work, but also thrive in the NFL? Only time will tell, but everyone can’t wait to find out.

Washington’s Secretary of Defense
The Redskins’ defense ranked 28th in the NFL last season in yards allowed and fared even worse (30th) against the pass. This unit was impacted greatly by several key injuries, and perhaps no loss was more important than when linebacker Brian Orakpo went down with a torn left pectoral muscle. The injury cost the two-time Pro Bowler 14 games last season, and the results without Orakpo on the field speak for themselves. Having Orakpo back out there is not a cure-all for the Redskins’ defensive issues, but his presence in the starting lineup shouldn’t be underestimated either.

Putting the “D” in Philadelphia?
Compared to Washington’s defense, Philadelphia’s wasn’t near as bad statistically speaking, with the exception of one category. The Eagles were tied for 29th in points allowed (27.8 ppg), although the offense’s propensity to turn the ball over should take some of the blame here. Regardless, Chip Kelly and defensive coordinator Bill Davis basically started over from scratch as free agency brought in five new starters. The secondary alone is pretty much brand new and will be the center of attention considering the Eagles’ surrendered an NFL-worst 33 touchdown passes in 2012. The defense’s performance during the preseason can be characterized as uneven, but all that matters now is how well this unit plays from here out.

Philadelphia Key Player: Michael Vick, QB
As important as running backs LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and the Eagles’ two-tight end sets are to Kelly’s offense, the motor that makes everything hum is the quarterback. Kelly’s Oregon teams had productive quarterbacks from Jeremiah Masoli to Darron Thomas to Marcus Mariota. Vick, 33, beat out the younger competition during training camp and wants to prove to everyone that he can still be a productive, reliable starting quarterback in the NFL. Early success running Kelly’s offense would not only go a long ways towards building the Eagles’ confidence, but also improving Vick’s future outlook, especially considering he’s signed for just this season.

Washington Key Player: Fred Davis, TE
The last two seasons have been interesting for Davis. The tight end was on his way to a potential Pro Bowl invite in 2011 before he was suspended the final four games for failing repeated drug tests. Then last season he played in just seven games before a torn Achilles tendon ended things in October. When fully healthy and focused, Davis has shown himself to be a valuable weapon in the passing game. His size (6-4, 247) and athleticism can help open things up for Pierre Garcon and the other Redskin receivers and also give Robert Griffin III even more reason to stay in the pocket, which is a good thing considering this is his first game back from a serious injury.

Final Analysis

With apologies to Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, Chip Kelly's debut on the NFL sidelines tonight is arguably the most anticipated one by a former college coaching superstar since Steve Spurrier did the same for the Redskins back in 2002. Spurrier won his first game, 31-23 over Arizona at FedEx Field, and Kelly will try to do the same on the very same turf, but as the visiting team. While a lot of attention will be paid to how Kelly's offense fares, just as many eyes will be focused on Robert Griffin III and how fluid he is on his surgically repaired knee.

In the end, however, I think it will be another Redskin offensive player, running back Alfred Morris, who will determine the outcome of this one. Morris finished second in the NFL in rushing last season as a rookie, and I believe he will be too much of a load for Philadelphia's new-look defense. With Morris leading the way on the ground, RG3 will be able to stay in the pocket and look for the open man. The Eagles do make a little noise of their own on offense, but the defense can't get enough stops to help Kelly collect his first NFL win.

Washington 27, Philadelphia 21

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 9, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, NCAA football
Path: /college-football/big-12-post-week-2-power-rankings-2013
Body:

In a league filled with questions in the preseason, Big 12 teams are getting answers, but few of them are satisfactory.

Texas’ run defense is somehow getting worse, much worse. In a sign of desperation, the Longhorns will shuffle their defensive coaching staff after firing Manny Diaz, who was considered a rising star only two years ago.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma and West Virginia have learned they can’t rely on their passing games. TCU has an answer to its quarterback quandary, but that’s only because Casey Pachall’s season was cut short for the second time in two seasons.

For TCU and Texas, there’s little time for recovery after eventful Saturdays as the Horned Frogs catch Texas Tech’s high-powered offense and the Longhorns play host to Ole Miss, a team with SEC talent, if not experience and depth.

Oklahoma State and West Virginia also will deal with off-field concerns as a Sports Illustrated report will allege corruption and violations of NCAA rules (though they are outside of the NCAA’s statute of limitations) in Stillwater. A West Virginia assistant who used to work at Oklahoma State, Joe DeForest, will be named in the report.

Big 12 Post-Week 2 Power Rankings

RkTeamLWAnalysis
1.1Oklahoma State (2-0, 0-0): The Cowboys’ defense may be a concern at first blush. Oklahoma State allowed 35 points and 504 yards to UTSA, but much of that was on four long touchdown drives in the third and fourth quarters. Perhaps a bigger concern should be the run game. Oklahoma State averaged only 2.7 yards per carry on 32 attempts. The Cowboys averaged 7.2 yards per carry against Mississippi State, so maybe this was an aberration. This week: Lamar
2.5Baylor (2-0, 0-0): The Bears are running their offense with brutal efficiency despite a starting quarterback in Bryce Petty who was untested to start the season. Baylor has only one TD drive that exceeded two minutes (2:07 against Wofford). The Bears will have a chance to build upon their gaudy numbers against ULM, West Virginia, Kansas State, Iowa State and Kansas before the Big 12 gauntlet in November. This week: Off
3.2Oklahoma (2-0, 1-0): Oklahoma briefly benched starting quarterback Trevor Knight, who was 10 of 20 for 119 yards with a TD and two third-quarter interceptions. Blake Bell directed to second half possessions, but only accounted for three plays himself (one incomplete pass, two carries for 21 yards), but that may be enough to signal a reevaluation of the quarterback position. This week: Tulsa
4.4TCU (1-1, 0-0): TCU will carry on again with Trevone Boykin as the starting quarterback as Casey Pachall will miss eight weeks with a broken arm. Boykin went 3-6 as a starter last season, but three of those loses were decided by a touchdown or less. Boykin brings athleticism to the position, but now that speed is confined to quarterback. He had been logging time at receiver as well this season. The TCU defense has been vulnerable to the big play in two games this season, an interesting storyline entering the first conference game. This week: at Texas Tech (Thursday)
5.6Texas Tech (2-0, 0-0):  How much do we really know about Texas Tech and quarterback sensation Baker Mayfield? Texas Tech has defeated a mediocre FCS opponent and an SMU team that gutted out a 31-30 win over Montana State the following week. Kliff Kingsbury’s high-powered offense faces its toughest challenge of the year against TCU. This week: TCU (Thursday)
6.3Texas (1-1, 0-0): Mack Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz after the debacle in Provo, but Texas’ problems run deeper than one playcaller on defense. The addition of Greg Robinson to the staff is a curious one, but he led a top-25 defense at Texas in 2004 before his failed tenure at Syracuse. The offense could be an issue as well as quarterback David Ash and running back Daje Johnson are evaluated for injuries. This week: Ole Miss
7.7Kansas State (1-1, 0-0): This was the Kansas State we’re used to seeing, if only in the win column. The Wildcats defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 48-27, but they threw an uncharacteristic 34 passes. Kansas State was on the wrong end of the turnover margin (minus-1) and allowed 370 yards. After UMass this week, Kansas State goes on the road for back-to-back games against Texas and Oklahoma State. This week: Massachusetts
8.8West Virginia (1-1, 0-1): West Virginia stuck with quarterback Paul Millard despite an ugly game for the Mountaineers’ offense (three fumbles, one interception). West Virginia averaged seven yards per carry, but that was buoyed by a 75-yard touchdown run by Dreamius Smith in the first quarter. The Mountaineers have a game against Georgia State to work out some issues before a stretch against Maryland, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech, Kansas State and TCU. This week: Georgia State
9.10Kansas (1-0, 0-0): Let’s move Kansas out of the cellar for at least a week after the Jayhawks ended their 11-game losing streak. Despite its high-profile quarterback transfers, KU will be anchored by its run game. James Sims and Darrian Miller led a 280-yard (5.6 yards per carry) effort against South Dakota. Seeking its first FBS win in 21 games, Kansas faces a Rice team that beat the Jayhawks 25-24 in Lawrence last year. This week: at Rice
10.9Iowa State (0-1, 0-0): Iowa State had the week off to prepare for Iowa with hopes of avoiding an 0-2 start against in-state programs. This week: Iowa

 

Big 12 Week 2 Recap and Awards

Offensive player of the week: Brennan Clay, RB, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s 16-7 win over West Virginia wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t anything near the aerial showdown last year’s meeting was. As the Sooners sorted through their quarterback situation, Bob Stoops put the offense on the back of the run game. Brennan Clay rushed for a career-high 170 yards on 22 carries to lead a 316-yard rushing day for the Sooners.

Defensive player of the week: Ty Zimmerman, S, Kansas State
Kansas State’s mainstay at safety ended any momentum Louisiana-Lafayette hoped to build in the second half. The Ragin’ Cajuns scored a touchdown on a kickoff return and then on a Terrance Broadway run in less than two minutes to cut a 34-3 lead to 17 points. On UL Lafayette’s next possession, Zimmerman took an interception back 32 yards for a touchdown to effectively put the game away in a 48-27 victory.

Freshman of the week: Baker Mayfield, QB, Texas Tech
The Texas Tech walk-on continued his torrid start to the season by completing 21 of 30 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns in a 61-13 win over Stephen F. Austin. Mayfield’s 780 passing yards and and seven touchdown passes in two games both rank third in the country.

Team of the week: Baylor
In the first two weeks of the season, Baylor has put on a quick-strike spread offense showcase that only Oregon can match. Baylor’s 70 points against Buffalo was the most for the Bears since 1929. With 501 yards in the first half, Baylor extended its streak of 400-yard games to 29 consecutive games going back to the 2010 Texas Bowl against Illinois. First-year quarterback Bryce Petty completed 13 of 16 passes for 338 yards with two touchdowns, averaging an astounding 21.1 yards per pass attempt.

Coordinator of the week: Del Miller, Kansas State
Kansas State’s offense stalled last week against North Dakota State, particularly in the run game. The Wildcats opened things up against UL Lafayette with an uncharacteristic 34 pass attempt to 37 rushing attempts. Kansas State topped 30 pass attempts only four since 2011. All four were either high scoring shootouts or games in which K-State played from behind; all four were losses. Jake Waters completed 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for Kansas State’s first win with at least 30 pass attempts since Nov. 22, 2008 against Iowa State.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 9, 2013 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Big Ten
Path: /college-football/big-ten-post-week-2-power-rankings
Body:

Braxton Miller's sprained left knee will be under the microscope this week as the Buckeyes head west to face Cal. The star Ohio State quarterback left the Week 2 game with San Diego State early after getting sandwiched by a pair of Aztecs defenders. The Heisman Trophy contender never returned to the game after being carted off the field.

While the league posted an 11-1 record this weekend — including a huge rivalry win by Michigan over Notre Dame — the biggest storyline in the Big Ten this week might be the health of Miller's left knee.

Early reports are Miller could return to action this week, but Urban Meyer didn't commit to it. All signs point to Miller returning to the starting lineup next weekend in Berkeley. And due to an excellent backup plan in Kenny Guiton, Ohio State still sits atop the Big Ten power rankings.

More Post-Week 2 Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC

Big Ten Post-Week 2 Power Rankings:

 TeamLWAnalysis 
1.(1)Ohio State (2-0, 0-0): Scarlet and Gray Nation can collectively exhale. Braxton Miller's left knee wasn't seriously injured, and he should be ready to go in short order. Besides, Kenny Guiton isn't a bad backup option after throwing for 152 yards, rushing for 83 and scoring three times Saturday. The win over San Diego State was a much more complete effort from OSU than the opener against Buffalo, and Urban Meyer should be pleased with his team heading into a long West Coast road trip this weekend — as long as Miller plays. This Week: at Cal 
2.
 
(2)Michigan (2-0, 0-0): No one should ever have to get used to watching a quarterback wearing No. 98 throw pick-sixes to 300-pound defenders wearing No. 7. But Michigan fans should get used to watching their star quarterback run around and make plays. Devin Gardner delivered on big-time preseason hype in the league's first marquee showdown win of the year. Better still, the defense played better than the 30 points on the scoreboard indicate. This Week: Akron 
3.
 
(3)Nebraska (2-0, 0-0): More will be learned about Nebraska's defense next week when UCLA comes to town but, for now, the Blackshirts rebounded in a big way this weekend. Nebraska forced four turnovers, returning two interceptions for touchdowns, and allowed just 284 yards of offense to Southern Miss. Taylor Martinez and Ameer Abdullah had typically outstanding offensive days as the Huskers rolled big, setting up a huge visit from the Bruins in Week 3. This Week: UCLA 
4.
 
(4)Northwestern (2-0, 0-0): Kain Colter returned to the lineup while star tailback Venric Mark watched from the sidelines. Both were injured last week in the opener, but Colter took center stage this weekend. He led the team in rushing and completed 15 of 18 passes while accounting for two total touchdowns. Partnered with Trevor Siemian (259 yards, 3 TD), Northwestern rolled to an impressive and easy win over Syracuse. This Week: Western Michigan 
5.
 
(5)Wisconsin (2-0, 0-0): So far, so good for Gary Andersen. The Badgers have yet to allow a point in 2013 after another dominating performance against an inferior opponent. Wisconsin has had three 100-yard backs in each of the first two games and Joel Stave has accounted for six total touchdowns. That trend will have to continue if UW expects to go into Tempe and beat an impressive — and high-scoring — Sun Devils team.  This Week: at Arizona State 
6.
 
(6)Penn State (2-0, 0-0): Christian Hackenberg started slowly but finished in grand fashion, setting a school freshman passing record with 311 yards. More important, the defense and running game looked improved from a week ago. The Lions rushed for 251 yards and allowed 183 total yards and no offensive points to Eastern Michigan. This Week: UCF 
7.
 
(7)Michigan State (2-0, 0-0): Mark Dantonio has major issues on offense after netting 265 yards and seven offensive points in the win over USF this weekend. Just about every QB on the roster has seen time and none seem to be the answer (is it time for Damion Terry?). But the defense continues be one of the nation's best. The Spartans defense scored two more touchdowns this weekend, bringing its two-game total to four. The offense has scored twice. This Week: Youngstown State 
8.
 
(8)Minnesota (2-0, 0-0): Philip Nelson was, along with Rodrick Williams, productive on the ground again this week, but he looked like a first-year starter through the air. The passing game wasn't needed in the relatively easy win over New Mexico State, but it will be a major factor in the very near future. The Gophers have a Michigan-Northwestern-Nebraska three-game stretch coming up in a few weeks. This Week: Western Illinois 
9.
 
 
(12)Illinois (2-0, 0-0): After a sluggish start to the season in Week 1, Tim Beckman's bunch played excellent football in a big upset win over Cincinnati. Nathan Scheelhaase, who had four total TD passes last year, had four scoring strikes in the win. The embattled quarterback is finally regaining his form after back-to-back 300-yard games at better than 70-percent passing to start the season. This Week: Washington (in Chicago) 
10.
 
(9)Indiana (1-1, 0-0): Kevin Wilson gave Nate Sudfeld the reins to the offense against Navy and he produced (355 yards, 4 TD), but the defense couldn't stop the Midshipmen's triple option. The Hoosiers allowed 444 yards rushing and 41 points without forcing a turnover or a punt. Navy completed just two passes. Next Week: Bowling Green 
11.
 
(10)Iowa (1-1, 0-0): Kirk Ferentz didn't mess around with Missouri State as his gameplan was ground and pound from the outset. The Hawkeyes rushed for 296 yards and four TDs behind a tremendous effort from burly running back Mark Weisman (180 yards, 2 TD). Other than two late scores, Iowa's defense was stifling, as expected against a Missouri Valley team. Next Week: at Iowa State 
12.
 
(11)Purdue (1-1, 0-0): Well, the Boilermakers won, but that's about all you can say about the 20-14 win over Indiana State. Rob Henry wasn't much better this week after a horrendous performance in Week 1 and has yet to throw a TD pass in two games. The running game was held under three yards per carry and the Sycamores out-gained Purdue. A win is a win is a win, but this team has serious issues on both sides of the ball. Next Week: Notre Dame 

Big Ten Week 2 Awards and Superlatives:

Offensive Player of the Week: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan
Aside from one boneheaded play early in the fourth quarter, Gardner played Heisman-caliber football befitting a quarterback wearing No. 98 on his chest. He completed 21 of 33 passes for 294 yards and four touchdowns and the one bizarre interception from his end zone when he would have been better off taking a safety. He also led the Wolverines in rushing with 82 yards on 13 carries and another score on the ground. The fans may never get used to seeing their dual-threat, new-age quarterback sporting a jersey number in the 90s, but they should welcome his big-play ability. Gardner danced away from a powerful Fighting Irish front seven all night to take advantage of weaknesses down the field in the secondary — especially, with Jeremy Gallon (who gets honorary mention with his 8-184-3 stat line).

Defensive Player of the Week: Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
The Spartans emerging star at end has already scored three defensive touchdowns this season after scoring on a four-yard fumble return and a 56-yard interception return this weekend in the 21-6 win over USF. Calhoun finished the game with three tackles, two for loss, a sack and those two huge plays after scoring last weekend on a 16-yard fumble return touchdown as well. He has quickly become a front-runner for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

Team of the Week: Michigan
It was one of the best three wins nationally by any team so Michigan's win over Notre Dame gave it the best weekend of any team in the league. Despite being entertaining the entire way, the game wasn't as close as the 11-point score indicates. The Wolverines held the Irish to fewer than 100 yards rushing, and Tommy Rees was lucky to be intercepted only twice. A late gift-wrapped defensive touchdown made the game tighter in the fourth quarter, but Michigan appeared to be the better team right from the kickoff. With a manageable schedule coming up — Akron, UConn, Minnesota, Penn State and Indiana — the hype will begin in earnest now in Ann Arbor.

Coordinator of the Week: Bill Cubit, Illinois
Illinois had to be mentioned somehow. Nathan Scheelhaase was runner-up to Gardner for player of the week and the team's performance was second only to Michigan due, in large part, to Bill Cubit's offense. In just two games with the maligned Illini quarterback, Cubit's offense has scored 87 points and matched last year's win total. Scheelhaase has been transformed into a stat-producing monster in the first two weekends as the Illinois signal-caller threw for 312 yards and four touchdowns (as many as he had all of last season) and a second consecutive week of better than 70 percent passing. More important, a team that had no running game to speak of in Week 1 rolled up 210 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries against a solid Cincinnati defense.

Freshman of the Week: Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
It was against lower-tier competition, but the prized freshman had arguably the best day of any Penn State freshman quarterback in school history. He set a school record for a PSU freshman with 311 yards and another long touchdown strike to Allen Robinson. The Lions offense churned out 574 yards of offense and 25 first downs in the lopsided 38-point win over Eastern Michigan. His 589 yards through two games rank him second nationally among all freshmen behind Cal's Jared Goff and second in the Big Ten only to Scheelhaase (728).

Fifth Down

• Michigan State's defense is outscoring its offense with four defensive touchdowns to two on offense this season.

• Through two games, Ohio State backup quarterback Kenny Guiton is 20-of-29 with 173 yards and three touchdowns in the air to go with 89 yards rushing and another TD on the ground. He's played critical minutes in both Buckeyes wins.

• Wisconsin had three 100-yard rushers in back-to-back games to start the year. Melvin Gordon (144, 140), James White (143, 109) and Corey Clement (101, 149) have each rushed for 100 yards twice already. They are first, third and fourth in the league in rushing, respectively.

• The Badgers became the first Big Ten team since 2009 and the first UW team since 1958 with back-to-back shutouts.

• Iowa's Mark Weisman rushed for 180 yards and two scores to carry Iowa to its first win of the year. He trails only Gordon for the Big Ten rushing lead by 4 yards. 

• Kain Colter returned to the field with 15-of-18 passing for 116 yards and a TD to go with 87 yards rushing and another TD on the ground (11 attempts) against Syracuse. Venric Mark didn't play due to a "lower body injury."

• The Cornhuskers defense allowed 318 fewer yards against Southern Miss (284) this weekend than it did to Wyoming (602) in Week 1.

• Minnesota's Philip Nelson has 205 yards rushing on 27 carries and three TDs on the ground through two games.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 9, 2013 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, SEC
Path: /college-football/sec-post-week-2-power-rankings-2013
Body:

Another week, another meaningful slate of games in the SEC.

Georgia wrestled control of the East Division by beating South Carolina 41-30. The Bulldogs got a huge performance from quarterback Aaron Murray and running back Todd Gurley, while the defense delivered with a key fourth-down stop on the goal line.

LSU and Texas A&M picked up solid non-conference victories, but Florida fell to Miami 21-16.

More Post-Week 2 Power Rankings: ACC |Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 

Post-Week 2 SEC Power Rankings

RankTeamLWAnalysis
11Alabama (1-0, 0-0): The Crimson Tide had the week off, giving Nick Saban and his staff an extra week — plus all the time spent over the summer — to prepare for the Texas A&M offense. Next Week: at Texas A&M.
23Georgia (1-1, 1-0): It’s early, but Georgia took a big step toward its third straight SEC East title with a 41-30 win over South Carolina in Athens. The Bulldogs were outstanding on offense (7.1 yards per play) and good enough on defense. Aaron Murray, who had to answer questions all week about his inability to win the big game, threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns en route to his first victory against South Carolina. Next Week: Bye
34LSU (2-0, 0-0): The Tigers returned home after their impressive win over TCU in Week 1 and disposed of UAB with little trouble. The offense continues to impress under first-year coordinator Cam Cameron. LSU rolled up 445 total yards, led by another stellar performance from quarterback Zach Mettenberger. The fifth-year senior completed 16-of-19 passes for 282 yards and a school-record five touchdowns. Jeremy Hill, who was suspended for the first week of the season, rushed for 50 yards on six carries. Next Week: Kent State
45Texas A&M (2-0, 0-0): Johnny Manziel made his first start of the season in the Aggies’ final tune-up before Alabama comes to town. Manziel threw for 426 yards and three touchdowns to lead an A&M offense that torched Sam Houston State for 714 total yards. Manziel, who is making an effort to improve as a pocket passer, only had seven rushing attempts — the fewest of his career in a game in which he started. Next Week: Alabama
52South Carolina (1-1, 0-1): The Gameocks’ season took a troubling turn on Saturday. Not only did Carolina lose a key SEC East game to Georgia, but two members of the coaching staff had to be separated on the field and the team’s star player, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, voiced his displeasure on how he is being used by the coaches. One early season loss doesn’t necessarily doom an entire season — just ask Georgia — but South Carolina has several issues to deal with (both on and off the field) in the coming weeks. Next Week: Vanderbilt    
66Florida (1-1, 0-0): The box score will tell you that Florida completed 66.7 percent of its passes and rolled up 413 total yards. But in reality, the Gators’ offense struggled mightily and was the culprit in the 21-16 loss at Miami. Florida’s defense did its job, holding Miami to 212 yards and allowing the Canes to convert only 1-of-11 on third down. But the Florida offense, led by quarterback Jeff Driskel, committed six turnovers and accounted for only nine points — with the lone touchdown set up by a blocked punt — until late in the fourth quarter. Next Week: Bye
77Ole Miss (2-0, 1-1): Ole Miss jumped out to a 31-0 lead at the half and cruised to a 31-17 win over Southeast Missouri State in its 2013 home opener. Not much didn’t go well for the Rebels, who outgained SEMO 532-to-252 and converted 10-of-17 on third down and 3-of-4 on fourth down. Bo Wallace only completed eight passes (in 15 attempts), but those eight completions resulted in 188 yards and two touchdowns. Next Week: at Texas
88

Vanderbilt (1-1, 0-1): Vanderbilt was a bit sluggish at times on offense but still rolled to an easy 38-3 win over Austin Peay. The Commodores scored all five of their touchdowns in the second quarter and led 38-0 at the half. Austin Peay did not record its first first down until early in the third quarter. Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels did not play in the second half. Sophomore Josh Grady played two series before giving way to redshirt freshman Patton Robinette. Next Week: at South Carolina

913Auburn (2-0, 0-0): Auburn was quietly one of the more impressive teams in the SEC in Week 2. The Tigers easily defeated Arkansas State 38-9, handing the Red Wolves their first loss since last September — when they were led by current Auburn coach Gus Malzahn. Quarterback Nick Marshall was efficient (10-of-17 for 147 yards, two TDs, no INTs), but the story was the Tigers’ rushing attack. Junior college transfer Cameron Artis-Payne led the way with 102 yards on 19 carries, while Tre Mason added 99 yards on 14 rushes and Marshall chipped in with 53 yards on eight attempts. Next Week: Mississippi State
1011

Tennessee (2-0, 0-0): So far so good for Butch Jones, who improved to 2-0 as the boss at Tennessee with an impressive 52-20 win over Western Kentucky. The Vols struggled a bit early but took advantage of six Hilltopper turnovers in the first half to seize control of the game. After a slow start, quarterback Justin Worley ended up with decent numbers — 11-of-19 for 152 yards with one TD and one INT. Still, he will have to play better against top competition to give the Tennessee offense its desired balance. Next Week: at Oregon

119Arkansas (2-0, 0-0): It was a little tougher than expected, but Arkansas improved to 2-0 under Bret Bielema with a 31-21 win over Samford in Little Rock. The Razorbacks trailed 21-17 in the third quarter but then seized control thanks to a running attack led by freshman Alex Collins (172 yards) and sophomore Jonathan Williams (126 yards). The Hogs outgained Samford 458-to-231. Next Week: Southern Miss
1212

Missouri (2-0, 0-0): The Tigers pulled away in the final 15-plus minutes to beat Toledo, 38-23, giving Missouri coach Gary Pinkel a win over his former school. James Franklin, who battled various ailments through a disappointing 2012 season, was the offensive star for Mizzou. The dual-threat quarterback threw for 212 yards and one touchdown and added 77 yards on the ground. Next Week: at Indiana

1310

Mississippi State (1-1, 0-0): With Tyler Russell sidelined by a concussion, the Bulldogs turned to Dak Prescott at quarterback. The junior from Louisiana responded, throwing for 174 yards and two touchdowns and adding a score on the ground in the Bulldogs’ 51-7 win over outmanned Alcorn State. MSU held the Braves to two first downs in the first three quarters. Next Week: at Auburn

1414Kentucky (1-1, 0-0): The Wildcats picked up win No. 1 for Mark Stoops, dominating overmatched Miami (Ohio) with ease. Kentucky jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the first quarter and was never threatened. With Maxwell Smith (the starter) and Jalen Whitlow sharing time at quarterback, UK accumulated 675 yards of offense on 74 plays for a healthy 9.1 yard average. The Kentucky defense, which gave up 487 yards in a Week 1 loss to Western Kentucky, limited Miami to 122 yards and no offensive touchdowns. Next Week: Louisville

SEC Week 2 Awards

 

Offensive Player of the Week: Aaron Murray, Georgia
Murray delivered on the big stage, completing 17-of-23 passes for 309 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in Georgia’s pivotal 41-30 win over South Carolina. The fifth-year senior quarterback, who entered the weekend with a 1-6 career mark against top-10 opponents, had been 0-3 vs. South Carolina. Last year, he completed 11-of-31 passes for 109 yards in a 35-7 loss in Columbia.

Defensive Player of the Week: Brian Randolph, Tennessee
Randolph, a sophomore safety who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, recorded eight tackles and intercepted two passes in Tennessee’s 52-20 win over Western Kentucky. The Vols forced seven turnovers, including five during one amazing six-play stretch in the first half.

Team of the Week: Georgia
The Bulldogs bounced back from a tough loss at Clemson last week and beat SEC East rival South Carolina 41-30 in Athens. Georgia was brilliant on offense, with Aaron Murray throwing for 309 yards and Todd Gurley leading a rushing attack that picked up 227 yards on 53 carries. For the game, The Dawgs averaged 7.1 yards per play — an impressive number against one of the nation’s elite defense.

Coordinator of the Week: D.J. Durkin, Florida
Georgia’s Mike Bobo deserves a ton of credit for the Bulldogs’ 41-point outburst against South Carolina, but we will give the nod to Durkin in the interest of spreading the wealth. The Gators lost to Miami, 21-6, but Florida’s defense was sensational for the majority of the game. Miami gained a total of 212 yards (with 10 first downs) and converted only 1-of-11 on third down. Standout tailback Duke Johnson was limited to 59 yards on 21 carries, and quarterback Stephen Morris connected on only 12-of-25 passing attempts.

Freshman of the Week, Alex Collins, Arkansas
One of the key pieces in Bret Bielema’s first recruiting class, Collins rushed for 172 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries in Arkansas’ tougher-than-expected 31-21 win over Samford. In two games, the Florida native has rushed for 303 yards on a 6.7-yard average.
 

Fifth Down
• Nick Marshall has yet to throw an interception in 36 passing attempts in his two games as the starter at Auburn. Last year, Marshall threw 20 interceptions at Garden City (Kan.) Community College.

• Vanderbilt did not give up a first down in the first half of its 38-3 win over Austin Peay. The Commodores led 38-0 at the half after scoring 35 points in the second quarter.

• Kentucky averaged 9.1 yards on 74 snaps in its 41-7 win over Miami (Ohio). The Wildcats outgained the overmatched RedHawks 675-to-122 in Mark Stoops’ first win as a head coach.

• Zach Mettenberger set an LSU record by throwing five touchdown passes in the Tigers’ 56-17 win over UAB. The senior quarterback completed 16-of-19 passes for 282 yards and did not throw an interception.

• Dak Prescott made his first start for Mississippi State and threw for 174 yards with two touchdowns and rushed for 20 yards and one TD to lead the Bulldogs to a stress-free 51-7 win over Alcorn State. Prescott, a junior, stepped in for Tyler Russell, who was knocked out of the Oklahoma State game with a concussion.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 9, 2013 - 08:00
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-picks-every-game-week-1
Body:

A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 1, along with the consensus pick of Athlon Sports’ editors.

Ravens (0-0) at Broncos (0-0)
Peyton Manning threw two INTs and lost one of his two fumbles in a 38–35 overtime playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens last year. Manning’s ready for Mile High redemption in the Thursday night season-opener. Broncos by 5

Patriots (0-0) at Bills (0-0)
The Pats are 4–4 in openers vs. the Bills — with a defeat in 2009, the last time they met Week 1. Patriots by 16

Titans (0-0) at Steelers (0-0)
Tennessee has not made the playoffs since stomping on the Terrible Towels in 2008. Steelers by 4

Falcons (0-0) at Saints (0-0)
Coach Sean Payton returns from his year-long “BountyGate” suspension to play New Orleans’ chief rivals for NFC South supremacy. Saints by 1

Buccaneers (0-0) at Jets (0-0)
Darrelle Revis makes his Bucs debut by bringing “Revis Island” back to New Jersey. Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith will be making his first career start. Get ready to hear booing. Buccaneers by 6

Chiefs (0-0) at Jaguars (0-0)
The two worst teams from last season square off for a guaranteed 1–0 start for one team. Chiefs by 6

Seahawks (0-0) at Panthers (0-0)
This marks the first of four Eastern Time Zone contests for the Pacific Northwest Seahawks. Seahawks by 7

Bengals (0-0) at Bears (0-0)
Former CFL coach Marc Trestman makes his NFL debut. Remember, there are four downs. Bears by 1

Dolphins (0-0) at Browns (0-0)
Cleveland has lost 13 of its 14 season-openers since returning to the NFL in 1999. Dolphins by 1

Vikings (0-0) at Lions (0-0)
Adrian Peterson “only” rushed for a combined 273 yards and one TD vs. Detroit last season. Lions by 1

Raiders (0-0) at Colts (0-0)
Silver-and-Bleak to start Terrelle Pryor at QB, while lucky horseshoes still have Andrew Luck. Colts by 11

Packers (0-0) at 49ers (0-0)
The last time Colin Kaepernick played against Green Bay, he passed for 263 yards, rushed for 181 yards and accounted for four TDs in a 45–31 win over the Packers in the NFC playoffs. 49ers by 4

Cardinals (0-0) at Rams (0-0)
The Cards return to St. Louis, where the team played 1960-87 before flying the coop to Zona. Rams by 6

Giants (0-0) at Cowboys (0-0)
Big Blue has a 7–3 record against Big D over the past five seasons, but did lose last year’s opener. Giants by 1

Eagles (0-0) at Redskins (0-0)
The start of the Chip Kelly era and the return of RG3 collide on Monday Night Football. These NFC East division rivals could combine for a high-scoring shootout in prime time. Redskins by 5

Texans (0-0) at Chargers (0-0)
The Week 1 nightcap pits volatile Philip Rivers against sleep-inducing Matt Schaub. Texans by 8
 

Teaser:
Predictions for every game on the NFL schedule for Week 1 of the 2013 season.
Post date: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 16:03
Path: /nfl/nfl-picks-and-predictions-week-1
Body:

A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 1, along with the consensus pick of Athlon Sports’ editors.

Ravens (0-0) at Broncos (0-0)
Peyton Manning threw two INTs and lost one of his two fumbles in a 38–35 overtime playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens last year. Manning’s ready for Mile High redemption in the Thursday night season-opener. Broncos by 5

Patriots (0-0) at Bills (0-0)
The Pats are 4–4 in openers vs. the Bills — with a defeat in 2009, the last time they met Week 1. Patriots by 16

Titans (0-0) at Steelers (0-0)
Tennessee has not made the playoffs since stomping on the Terrible Towels in 2008. Steelers by 4

Falcons (0-0) at Saints (0-0)
Coach Sean Payton returns from his year-long “BountyGate” suspension to play New Orleans’ chief rivals for NFC South supremacy. Saints by 1

Buccaneers (0-0) at Jets (0-0)
Darrelle Revis makes his Bucs debut by bringing “Revis Island” back to New Jersey. Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith will be making his first career start. Get ready to hear booing. Buccaneers by 6

Chiefs (0-0) at Jaguars (0-0)
The two worst teams from last season square off for a guaranteed 1–0 start for one team. Chiefs by 6

Seahawks (0-0) at Panthers (0-0)
This marks the first of four Eastern Time Zone contests for the Pacific Northwest Seahawks. Seahawks by 7

Bengals (0-0) at Bears (0-0)
Former CFL coach Marc Trestman makes his NFL debut. Remember, there are four downs. Bears by 1

Dolphins (0-0) at Browns (0-0)
Cleveland has lost 13 of its 14 season-openers since returning to the NFL in 1999. Dolphins by 1

Vikings (0-0) at Lions (0-0)
Adrian Peterson “only” rushed for a combined 273 yards and one TD vs. Detroit last season. Lions by 1

Raiders (0-0) at Colts (0-0)
Silver-and-Bleak to start Terrelle Pryor at QB, while lucky horseshoes still have Andrew Luck. Colts by 11

Packers (0-0) at 49ers (0-0)
The last time Colin Kaepernick played against Green Bay, he passed for 263 yards, rushed for 181 yards and accounted for four TDs in a 45–31 win over the Packers in the NFC playoffs. 49ers by 4

Cardinals (0-0) at Rams (0-0)
The Cards return to St. Louis, where the team played 1960-87 before flying the coop to Zona. Rams by 6

Giants (0-0) at Cowboys (0-0)
Big Blue has a 7–3 record against Big D over the past five seasons, but did lose last year’s opener. Giants by 1

Eagles (0-0) at Redskins (0-0)
The start of the Chip Kelly era and the return of RG3 collide on Monday Night Football. These NFC East division rivals could combine for a high-scoring shootout in prime time. Redskins by 5

Texans (0-0) at Chargers (0-0)
The Week 1 nightcap pits volatile Philip Rivers against sleep-inducing Matt Schaub. Texans by 8
 

Teaser:
Predictions for every game on the NFL schedule for Week 1 of the 2013 season.
Post date: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 15:52
Path: /nfl/nfl-picks-every-game-week-1
Body:

A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 1, along with the consensus pick of Athlon Sports’ editors.

Ravens (0-0) at Broncos (0-0)
Peyton Manning threw two INTs and lost one of his two fumbles in a 38–35 overtime playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens last year. Manning’s ready for Mile High redemption in the Thursday night season-opener. Broncos by 5

Patriots (0-0) at Bills (0-0)
The Pats are 4–4 in openers vs. the Bills — with a defeat in 2009, the last time they met Week 1. Patriots by 16

Titans (0-0) at Steelers (0-0)
Tennessee has not made the playoffs since stomping on the Terrible Towels in 2008. Steelers by 4

Falcons (0-0) at Saints (0-0)
Coach Sean Payton returns from his year-long “BountyGate” suspension to play New Orleans’ chief rivals for NFC South supremacy. Saints by 1

Buccaneers (0-0) at Jets (0-0)
Darrelle Revis makes his Bucs debut by bringing “Revis Island” back to New Jersey. Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith will be making his first career start. Get ready to hear booing. Buccaneers by 6

Chiefs (0-0) at Jaguars (0-0)
The two worst teams from last season square off for a guaranteed 1–0 start for one team. Chiefs by 6

Seahawks (0-0) at Panthers (0-0)
This marks the first of four Eastern Time Zone contests for the Pacific Northwest Seahawks. Seahawks by 7

Bengals (0-0) at Bears (0-0)
Former CFL coach Marc Trestman makes his NFL debut. Remember, there are four downs. Bears by 1

Dolphins (0-0) at Browns (0-0)
Cleveland has lost 13 of its 14 season-openers since returning to the NFL in 1999. Dolphins by 1

Vikings (0-0) at Lions (0-0)
Adrian Peterson “only” rushed for a combined 273 yards and one TD vs. Detroit last season. Lions by 1

Raiders (0-0) at Colts (0-0)
Silver-and-Bleak to start Terrelle Pryor at QB, while lucky horseshoes still have Andrew Luck. Colts by 11

Packers (0-0) at 49ers (0-0)
The last time Colin Kaepernick played against Green Bay, he passed for 263 yards, rushed for 181 yards and accounted for four TDs in a 45–31 win over the Packers in the NFC playoffs. 49ers by 4

Cardinals (0-0) at Rams (0-0)
The Cards return to St. Louis, where the team played 1960-87 before flying the coop to Zona. Rams by 6

Giants (0-0) at Cowboys (0-0)
Big Blue has a 7–3 record against Big D over the past five seasons, but did lose last year’s opener. Giants by 1

Eagles (0-0) at Redskins (0-0)
The start of the Chip Kelly era and the return of RG3 collide on Monday Night Football. These NFC East division rivals could combine for a high-scoring shootout in prime time. Redskins by 5

Texans (0-0) at Chargers (0-0)
The Week 1 nightcap pits volatile Philip Rivers against sleep-inducing Matt Schaub. Texans by 8

 

Teaser:
Predictions for every game on the NFL schedule for Week 1 of the 2013 season.
Post date: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 15:44
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/biggest-nfl-injuries-will-affect-2013-season
Body:

The preseason was littered with bodies throughout the NFL. In a string of meaningless games to get players ready for the ones that matter, the scene left behind was mostly carnage. Every week, it seemed, another player was hurt. Often the injury was significant, if not season ending.

It’s a casualty of war in the NFL that everyone accepts, but that doesn’t make it any easier. Teams enter the summer optimistic, dreaming Super Bowl dreams, and then – just when they think they’re ready – a key player is stolen by an act of fate. It’s not fair, but it happens every preseason. And this summer it seemed to happen a lot.

In fact, several key players for teams with postseason aspirations didn’t even make it to training camp healthy. So what are the biggest injuries that have already happened before the regular season even kicks off? Here’s a look at six that could have catastrophic effects on the injured player’s team:

Seattle Seahawks WR Percy Harvin (hip)
He is the prime example of a key, if not catastrophic, injury that happened before training camp even started. Yes, the Seahawks were outstanding without him last season and still have the same powerful defense and dominant rushing attack. But the addition of Harvin was going to not only help the development of second-year quarterback Russell Wilson, it was going to give them another dimension that would make them impossible to stop.

Now, maybe they get him back midseason for a stretch run that could include a Super Bowl chase. That’s a heck of a midseason acquisition. But with Harvin the Seahawks could’ve threatened to be a powerhouse, 14-win type of team. Now they’re back to where they were – neck and neck with the 49ers in what promises to be a tight NFC West race.

Baltimore Ravens TE Dennis Pitta (hip)
The loss of Pitta may not be devastating on the surface, and it’s likely the Ravens will find a way to replace his 61 catches, 669 yards and seven touchdowns. This one is more about piling on to a Super Bowl championship team that has seemed to be hemorrhaging players since the end of their parade. Ray Lewis retired. Ed Reed wasn’t re-signed. Neither were Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, and Anquan Boldin was traded away.

Then came the injury to Pitta who seemed to be a nice security blanket for Joe Flacco. Now it’s up to Ed Dickson, assuming he can stay healthy.

Philadelphia Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin (torn ACL)
Welcome to the NFL, Chip Kelly, and good luck installing your revolutionary, hyper-speed, spread-option offense without your team’s No. 1 receiver. Considering all that goes into Kelly’s high-octane offense, about the only bigger blow would’ve been the loss of his quarterback. Yes, they still have DeSean Jackson and Riley Cooper could be a sleeper as Maclin’s replacement. But Cooper doesn’t have the speed or resume of Maclin, so there’s no guarantee he can pick up the slack.

Green Bay Packers T Bryan Bulaga (torn ACL)
The Green Bay Packers are all about Aaron Rodgers, so protecting him has to be one of the most important jobs in the organization. Bulaga, a former first-round pick, was being installed as the left tackle before he tore his ACL. So now the blind side of one of the leading candidates for NFL MVP is being protected by David Bakhtiari, a rookie fourth-round pick from Colorado. The Packers like him, but that sure isn’t the way they drew it up for what was already a shaky offensive line.

New Orleans Saints LB Will Smith (knee)
Rob Ryan had his hands full already switching the Saints – the NFL’s worst defensive team last season – from the 4-3 to a 3-4, but his task may be impossible without one of his best defensive players. Smith, who was switching from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 linebacker, was probably the Saints’ best bet to provide a consistent pass rush. He certainly would’ve provided more pressure on the pocket than Martez Wilson will provide. It’s particularly devastating for a Saints team that has already lost linebacker Victor Butler to a torn ACL in the spring and may be without Jonathan Vilma for quite a while, too. It leaves the Saints looking like an all-offense, no-defense team once again.

San Diego Chargers LB Melvin Ingram (torn ACL)
The Chargers had high hopes for their 2012 first-round pick, who was going to be a key part of their attack along with newly signed Dwight Freeney. There hasn’t been a lot of optimism in San Diego, where they’ve suffered free-agent losses and a string of injuries, but they seemed to really believe Ingram was ready for a step forward after a lackluster rookie season. Now with him gone – at least for half the season – the Chargers are extremely thin at his position and Freeney, at age 33, might have to play a lot more than the Chargers expected him to play.

— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN

Ralph
Vacchiano
Teaser:
Biggest NFL Injuries That Will Affect the 2013 Season
Post date: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Fantasy, News
Path: /college-football/college-fantasy-football-2013-week-2-start-or-sit-report
Body:

Still second-guessing your plans for Week 2?  Are you still trying to decide whether or not to start the guys you grabbed off the waiver wire this week?  Hopefully, this week’s Start/Bench will give some additional insight to make a few of those decisions a little easier for you.

College Fantasy Football: Start/Bench—Week 2


Start
JW Walsh, QB-Oklahoma State at UTSA
Walsh has been named the starter and his dual-threat ability makes him a solid play this week against an overmatched Roadrunners defense.

Angel Santiago, QB-Army at Ball State
Santiago was a fantasy stud last week against Morgan State and may have similar success this weekend against a Ball State defense that gave up 28 points and over 350 yards to Illinois State in Week 1.

Jared Goff, QB-California vs Portland State
Goff put the ball in the air 63 times in a 44-30 loss to Northwestern in Week 1.  We are pretty certain that he will not get close to that many attempts against Portland state, but he should be more efficient and productive enough to warrant a start this week.

Baker Mayfield, QB-Texas Tech vs Stephen F Austin
The walk-on freshman proved himself in Week 1 by accounting for five touchdowns against SMU.  This week, Mayfield will solidify himself as the unquestionable starter with another solid showing against Stephen F. Austin.

Zach Zwinak, RB-Penn State vs Eastern Michigan
Zwinak carried the ball 24 times last week against Syracuse for a modest 61 yards.  He will do a lot more with 20-plus carries this week against MAC opponent Eastern Michigan.

David Fluellen, RB-Toledo at Missouri
Some fantasy owners were wise to sit Fluellen in Week 1 when the Rockets opened up against the Gators in The Swamp.  The workhorse back will have a lot more success against a Missouri defense that gave up over 120 yards on the ground to Murray State last week.

Tevin Coleman, RB-Indiana vs Navy
Coleman made everyone forget about fellow Hoosiers tailback Stephen Houston.  The sophomore back should have similar success this week against a Navy defense that ranked 94th nationally against the run in 2012.

Jeff Scott, RB-Ole Miss vs SE Missouri State
The Rebels figure to be playing out in front this week against SE Missouri State and Scott should see enough carries to top the century mark and add a score or two.

Daniel Spencer, WR-Houston at Temple
Spencer caught nine passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the Cougars’ opener and should have another productive game going against a Temple defense that gave up over 350 yards in the air last week against Notre Dame.

Charone Peake, WR-Clemson vs South Carolina State
We were waiting to see who would step up as the second receiving option behind Sammy Watkins and Peake responded by catching five passes for 58 yards last week against Georgia.  This week, the junior receiver should have his moments when the Tigers host South Carolina State.

Corey Davis, WR-Western Michigan vs Nicholls State
The freshman receiver was impressive in his debut, catching eight passes for 96 yards and a touchdown against Michigan State.  We are expecting bigger and better things this week when the Broncos host Nicholls State.

Antwan Goodley, WR-Baylor vs Buffalo
We were high on Goodley coming out of spring ball, but suddenly tempered our enthusiasm with the emergence of freshman Robbie Rhodes.  After one week, we are back on the Goodley bandwagon.

Deon Long, WR-Maryland vs Old Dominion
After watching East Carolina torch the Old Dominion defense last week, we are confident that Long and teammate Stefon Diggs will reward fantasy owners handsomely by making a mockery of the Monarchs’ secondary this weekend.


Bench
Paul Millard, QB-West Virginia at Oklahoma
Millard looked comfortable and decisive last week against William and Mary, but he certainly did not set the world on fire.  After what the Sooners’ defense did against Kolton Browning last week, we are not going to roll the dice with Millard in Week 2.

David Fales, QB-San Jose State at Stanford
Fales was solid in the opener last week against Sacramento State, not great.  This week he faces the top defensive unit on the west coast and it would be wise to have a plan B if Fales is your fantasy quarterback.

David Ash, QB-Texas at BYU
Ash was exceptional last week against New Mexico State……but, it was New Mexico State.  We want to see how he performs on the road against a much tougher defense before giving him the nod.

Marcus Shaw, RB-South Florida at Michigan State
Shaw was the lone bright spot in the Bulls’ offense last week when they were thrashed 53-21 by McNeese State.  The competition gets much stiffer this week when USF travels to Michigan State.

Darrin Reaves, RB-UAB at LSU
Reaves got off to a solid start last week when the Blazers opened the season against Troy.  This week, fantasy owners should have an alternative option at running back when UAB travels to Baton Rouge to take on the Tigers.

Jason Simpson, RB-San Jose State at Stanford
Simpson was one of the breakout running backs in Week 1, but fantasy owners are better off waiting until the September 21 matchup against Minnesota before inserting him into the lineup.

Adam Muema, RB-San Diego State at Ohio State
Muema did not play in the second half last week against Eastern Illinois due to an ankle injury.  Reportedly, the junior running back is expected to play at Ohio State this weekend, but we’re not taking a chance of starting a player that may not be 100% against the Buckeyes’ defense.

Trayion Durham, RB-Kent State vs Bowling Green
We are believers in the Bowling Green defense.  Expect yards, and especially touchdowns, to be hard to come by for the junior running back this week.

Mike Davis, RB-South Carolina at Georgia
Davis only carried the ball twelve times last week against North Carolina, with a majority of his 115 yards coming on one long touchdown run.  We just aren’t confident that Davis will get enough carries on the road in Athens to make a fantasy splash.

Alonzo Harris, RB-Louisiana at Kansas State
Harris punched one in the end zone last week at Arkansas, but you can bet that the Kansas State defense will be playing with a chip on their shoulder after last week’s loss to North Dakota State.

Venric Mark, RB-Northwestern vs Syracuse
We did not pick up on any signals last week that the all-purpose back was nursing an injury.  Well, we have not heard anything this week to indicate that Mark is 100%.
 

For Start/Bench advice from Joe DiSalvo, send an email
Follow Joe on twitter (@theCFFsite) - thecffsite.com

Teaser:
College Fantasy Football 2013: Week 2 Start or Sit Report
Post date: Thursday, September 5, 2013 - 07:35
All taxonomy terms: NFL, News
Path: /nfl/nfl-2013-regular-and-postseason-predictions
Body:

The 2013 NFL regular season kicks off Thursday with Baltimore opening defense of its title in Denver. With the countdown to Super Bowl XLVIII set to begin, what better time than now for Athlon editors to make their predictions on how this season will play out?

The Ravens may be the current holders of the Lombardi Trophy, but the consensus from our panel of five is that the Broncos will represent the AFC in the Big Apple in February. The panel also feels strongly that New England and Houston will win their respective divisions, while Cincinnati is the pick to dethrone Baltimore in the AFC North.

In the NFC, there's solidarity when it comes to the North (Green Bay) champion, with the Giants, Falcons and 49ers the preferred picks in the East, South and West, respectively. The group as a whole believes the Seahawks will make the playoffs, while the majority has the Saints in the postseason too. As far as the Super Bowl goes, all but one panelist has a team from the NFC West playing in New York in February, with three of those votes going to the 49ers. San Francisco also is the popular pick to beat Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII, although one editor cast a vote for a potential storybook ending for Peyton Manning's Hall of Fame career.

The panel's picks for the major award winners offer a little more variety, with the exception of league MVP. Our panel believes that not only will this honor go to a quarterback for the sixth time in seven seasons, but also to one that has previously won the award. The majority feel that the league's only four-time recipient will add to his record total, while the others like the 2011 winner's chances of becoming the ninth player in history to claim multiple MVP awards.


NFL 2013 Regular and Postseason Predictions

 Rob
Doster
Braden
Gall
Steven
Lassan
Mark
Ross
Nathan
Rush
AFC East
AFC North
AFC South
AFC West
AFC Wild Card
AFC Wild Card
AFC Championship
Game
Broncos over
Patriots
Broncos over
Bengals
Broncos over
Texans
Broncos over
Texans
Broncos over
Texans
      
NFC East
NFC North
NFC South
NFC West
NFC Wild Card
NFC Wild Card
NFC Championship
Game
49ers over
Packers
49ers over
Falcons
49ers over
Seahawks
Seahawks over
49ers
Giants over
49ers
      
Super Bowl
XLVIII
49ers over
Broncos
49ers over
Broncos
49ers over
Broncos
Broncos over
Seahawks
Giants over
Broncos
      
MVPAaron Rodgers
QB, Packers
Peyton Manning
QB, Broncos
Peyton Manning
QB, Broncos
Peyton Manning
QB, Broncos
Aaron Rodgers
QB, Packers
Defensive Player
of the Year
J.J. Watt
DE, Texans
Geno Atkins
DT, Bengals
J.J. Watt
DE, Texans
DeMarcus Ware
DE, Cowboys
Patrick Willis
LB, 49ers
Comeback Player
of the Year
Darren McFadden
RB, Raiders
Larry Fitzgerald
WR, Cardinals
Darrelle Revis
CB, Buccaneers
Maurice Jones-Drew
RB, Jaguars
Robert Griffin III
QB, Redskins
Offensive Rookie
of the Year
Giovani Bernard
RB, Bengals
Giovani Bernard
RB, Bengals
Eddie Lacy
RB, Packers
EJ Manuel
QB, Bills
Lane Johnson
OT, Eagles
Defensive Rookie
of the Year
Ziggy Ansah
DE, Lions
Eric Reid
S, 49ers
Alec Ogletree
LB, Rams
Ziggy Ansah
DE, Lions
Manti Te'o
LB, Chargers
Coach of the YearSean Payton
Saints
Sean Payton
Saints
Andy Reid
Chiefs
Andy Reid
Chiefs
Bill Belichick
Patriots

Related NFL Content:

Ranking the NFL's Starting Quarterbacks for 2013
Ranking All 32 NFL Head Coaches in 2013
2013 AFC Coordinator Carousel
2013 NFC Coordinator Carousel

Teaser:
NFL 2013 Regular and Postseason Predictions
Post date: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/denver-broncos-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

John Elway the front office suit is much like John Elway the quarterback. The man is always in a hurry, always looking for a competitive edge, always trying to pull off the next big play. And so it was that, in the aftermath of the Broncos’ shocking 2012 playoff exit, Elway wasted exactly zero time wallowing in the disappointment. Instead, he did something. Sign the top-rated guard in free agency. Check. Provide a parachute for Wes Welker when his relationship with the Patriots’ front office was in freefall. Check. Use a second-rounder on a Heisman Trophy finalist running back to keep the pressure off Peyton Manning. Check.

Having taken a proactive path to improve what already loomed as the most talented roster in the AFC, Elway, like everyone else out there, can sum up the Broncos’ 2013 season in a hurry: Super Bowl or bust.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 1st

Related: 2013 Denver Broncos Schedule Analysis

Offense
Manning called the right audible when he decided to join the Broncos after being shown the door in Indianapolis. He would have been the MVP of the league if not for Adrian Peterson’s incredible comeback from knee surgery. And now Manning has even more weapons: The Broncos signed two of the most attractive names in free agency, Welker and former Chargers guard Louis Vasquez, who figures to amp up a running game featuring rookie tailback Montee Ball.

Manning doesn’t just make his teammates better; he creates instant stars. Case in point: Receiver Demaryius Thomas, whose career before 2012 had been defined by injuries and unfulfilled potential. Having caught 94 balls for 1,434 yards and 10 touchdowns, Thomas looms as one of the most dangerous deep threats in the league. And when Manning wants to move the chains with short stuff, he can turn to Welker (118 catches with the Pats) or Eric Decker, whose 13 touchdown catches led the team. It’s a foursome unmatched on any other roster in the league.

If Welker makes an already potent receiving corps even more dangerous, Ball could do the same for the running game. He has a lot of wear and tear on his body (663 carries in his final two seasons at Wisconsin), but Elway and Co. believe he’ll provide an upgrade for the running game. If so, the Broncos can virtually name that score.

And no, the upgrades don’t end with the ball-handlers. Vasquez, a 335-pound masher at right guard, was the team’s No. 1 target in free agency. His presence gives the Broncos one of the league’s premier offensive lines, one that could be better than ever if young right tackle Orlando Franklin continues to make strides as a pass-blocker. Vasquez' addition is even more important considering what has already happened to the Broncos at center. Starting center Dan Koppen tore his ACL in late July while backup J.D. Walton will miss at least the first six games after being put on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as he continues his recovery from multiple offseason ankle surgeries. Manny Ramirez, who started 11 games at right guard last season, is penciled in as the starting center with vetean Steve Vallos behind him on the depth chart.

Defense
There was a time not so long ago when the Broncos were undersized on the defensive line. No more. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio wants big bodies who can clog the middle and create push, opening opportunities for players on the perimeter to make plays.

Derek Wolfe saw playing time in the middle last year as a rookie, but at 300 pounds, he doesn’t fit the profile of a Del Rio tackle. Enter free agent Terrance Knighton, a player Del Rio drafted at Jacksonville, and No. 1 draft pick Sylvester Williams. Knighton goes 330, give or take a Big Mac or two, and Williams 313. With so much size in the middle, Wolfe should be a bigger factor in the pass rush at defensive end. Then there’s strong-side linebacker Von Miller, arguably the most feared pass-rusher in the league. Miller is a once-in-a-lifetime player who could make a run at the all-time sack record after racking up 18.5 last season. Unfortunately, Miller will miss the first six games of the season after being suspended by the NFL for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Denver signed veteran Paris Lenon to help fill the void, but everyone in the linebacking corps will need to step up while Miller is out.

After losing defensive end Elvis Dumervil in free agency, the Broncos considered Dwight Freeney and John Abraham but signed ex-Chargers defensive end Shaun Phillips, he of the 9.5 sacks in 2012.

The Broncos are solid in the secondary after the signing of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who’s hungry to re-establish himself after signing a one-year deal, but they need someone to step up and anchor the middle at linebacker, a gaping hole since the days of Al Wilson. Nate Irving, a third-rounder in 2011, will be given every opportunity to win the job. If he struggles, the defense could be hard-pressed to stage an encore from 2012, when the Broncos were one of the stingiest run defenses in the league.

The bottom line? The Broncos lack depth at some positions but have a handful of premier defensive players and a talented coordinator who figures to be a hot commodity on the head-coaching market after the season.

Specialists
If you’re the rest of the AFC West, this is just wrong. The Broncos, that is, having not only Manning and a handful of other stars, but also the most electrifying return man in the league. At least Trindon Holliday can stake a claim to the title after his performance in the Broncos’ playoff loss to Baltimore when he became the first player in NFL history to record kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns in the same playoff game. His signing with the Broncos during the 2012 season was the move that gave Denver arguably the best special teams in the league.

Kicker Matt Prater is the most accurate kicker in league history from 50 yards-plus. Not bad for a guy who was cut by Detroit, Miami and Atlanta and failed tryouts with Green Bay and Minnesota before finding a home in Colorado. Then there’s punter Britton Colquitt, whose net averages for the past three seasons read like this: 36.6, 40.2 and 42.1. Yes, Colquitt, like Prater, benefits from Denver’s mile-high air, but he’s the real deal.

Final Analysis: 1st in AFC West
With the clock ticking on the 37-year-old Manning, the Broncos’ window for winning a Super Bowl is closing. But frankly, there’s no reason to believe they can’t win two with No. 18 under center. Remember all that talk about those surgical procedures on Manning’s neck? No, you probably don’t because any concerns about his physical condition died early last season. And by the time he threw his 37th touchdown pass, any notion of Manning not being his old self was ancient history. If anything, he’ll be more comfortable in his skin this season. Not only that, but he also has Welker around to provide a security blanket on third down.

Add in a defense that includes Miller (less the six games he will sit out) and future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, and the Broncos are loaded for another Super Bowl run. They should dominate the weak AFC West, putting them in position to have home-field advantage in the playoffs. If it comes down that way, don’t count on them botching the opportunity this time around. The Broncos were embarrassed by how last season ended, and had to watch as the Ravens, a team that needed an 11th hour miracle to beat them in the playoffs, went on to win the Super Bowl.

Order your 2013 Denver Broncos Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Denver Broncos 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/san-francisco-49ers-2013-nfl-team-preview
Body:

The 49ers made a stunning run to the NFC title game two years ago in coach Jim Harbaugh’s rookie season, only to fall 20–17 in overtime to the New York Giants on a cold, rainy night at Candlestick Park. Last season the 49ers regrouped and reached the Super Bowl but lost 34–31 to Baltimore when their final drive died at the Ravens’ 5-yard line after three straight Colin Kaepernick incomplete passes.

After taking two huge steps forward in their quest to win the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl, the 49ers appear to have all the pieces in place to take the final step and accomplish that feat this season. But history tells us how hard it will be.

Twenty straight Super Bowl losers failed to reach the Super Bowl the following season. Only two teams in NFL history won a Super Bowl the year after losing the ultimate game. The last? Miami, 41 seasons ago. Only five other Super Bowl losers — including Buffalo three straight years — advanced that far the next season.

Of course that’s just the kind of challenge Harbaugh loves. And it helps to have a team packed with Pro Bowl players.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 1st

Related: 2013 San Francisco 49ers Schedule Analysis

Offense
Two years ago, the 49ers ran an ultra-conservative, just-don’t-screw-things-up offense that was overshadowed by one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses. And now? With the dual-threat Kaepernick under center from Day 1, the 49ers’ offense will demand as much if not more attention than their shutdown defense.

Kaepernick made his first NFL start in Week 11 last season against the Chicago Bears, filling in for Alex Smith, who suffered a concussion the week before against St. Louis. Kaepernick passed for 243 yards and two touchdowns in a 32–7 win on the Monday Night Football stage. That was enough to convince Harbaugh to make a dramatic QB switch. Kaepernick started every game the rest of the season, and Smith was traded to Kansas City in March.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman did a masterful job retooling the 49ers’ offense in midseason to fit his young QB’s exceptional running ability and arm strength. Roman hit opposing defenses with a heavy dose of zone-read out of the Pistol formation, an offense Kaepernick ran in college at Nevada. Now Roman will have an entire offseason and training camp to refine his offense and devise new ways to take advantage of Kaepernick’s strengths.

The 49ers boast one of the NFL’s best offensive lines and most diverse running attacks, which became even more dangerous once Kaepernick joined running back Frank Gore in the starting backfield. The 49ers can still hammer away at opposing defenses with their power running game and creative blocking schemes. But now those defenses also have to prepare for Kaepernick and the zone-read. He rushed for 415 yards and five touchdowns on just 63 carries last year. Gore, meanwhile, showed no signs of slowing down. He rushed for 1,214 yards, giving him 8,839 for his career, an ongoing 49ers record. The 49ers return all five starting offensive linemen, including left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Mike Iupati, a pair of Pro Bowl picks last year. This group should only get better.

Wide receiver Michael Crabtree had a breakout year, catching 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns, all career highs. He won't have the chance to exceed those this season, however, as he tore his Achilles in late May. As expected, he has been placed on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, but there's a chance he may be able to return before the end of the regular season. Veteran Mario Manningham also will start the season on the PUP list as he continues his recovery from a knee injury he sustained in December. This makes the offseason acquisition of ex-Raven Anquan Boldin, a three-time Pro Bowl pick who the 49ers traded for in March, even more important. Boldin and explosive tight end Vernon Davis will serve as Kaepernick's primary targets, but other options need to emerge. Fourth-year pro Kyle Williams, former Kansas City Chief Jon Baldwin and fourth-round pick Quinton Patton are among the candidates who could contribute. Williams caught 14 passes for the 49ers last season, while Baldwin was acquired via trade from Kansas City in exchange for A.J. Jenkins, San Francisco's first-round pick in 2012. The hope is that a change of scenery will help Baldwin recapture the form that the Chiefs saw in him when they took him in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft.

Defense
The 49ers return nine of 11 starters from a dominant defense that ranked third overall and fourth against both the run and pass. Five of those returning starters are coming off Pro Bowl seasons: outside linebacker Aldon Smith, inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, strong safety Donte Whitner and defensive lineman Justin Smith.

In other words, the 49ers are stacked again, despite losing free safety Dashon Goldson to Tampa Bay, nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga to Philadelphia and backup defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois to Indianapolis as free agents. Rookie Eric Reid, a first-round pick from LSU, won the battle during training camp to replace Goldson. Should Reid falter or struggle early, the 49ers have another solid option at free safety in free agent pickup Craig Dahl, who started all 16 games for the Rams last season, making 78 tackles and intercepting one pass. He’s played 70 games with 42 starts over five NFL seasons. The 49ers also found their replacement for Sopoaga during camp. Third-year pro Ian Williams will get the starting nod at defensive tackle with former Kansas City Chief and free agent acquisition Glenn Dorsey slotting in behind him.

The strength of San Francisco’s defense will again be against the run, with Justin Smith, Willis, Bowman and Whitner leading the way. Willis underwent surgery to repair a fractured right hand in early August, but the All-Pro tackle machine is expected to be available to play in Week 1.

The 49ers’ secondary showed some vulnerability during the postseason when opposing teams threw eight touchdown passes in just three games. San Francisco signed free agent Nnamdi Asomugha, a former Pro Bowl corner, who will try to resurrect his career after two rough years with the Eagles. The ex-Raider will fill the nickel slot as the projected starter there, Chris Culliver, tore his ACL earlier in training camp and has been placed on injured reserve.

In just his second NFL season and first as a starter, outside linebacker Aldon Smith had 19.5 sacks, second in the league behind J.J. Watt’s 20.5. Smith will be counted on again to supply most of the pass-rush pressure, but strong-side linebacker Ahmad Brooks is coming off a 6.5-sack season and has shown a knack for getting to the quarterback on blitzes.

Specialists
Kicker David Akers had a nightmare season, and the 49ers made no effort to re-sign him. They quickly signed free agent Phil Dawson, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl season at age 38. Considering how bad Akers was last year, Dawson should be a decided upgrade. Dawson made 29-of-31 attempts last year for the Cleveland Browns, including all seven tries from 50-plus yards. He’s 14-of-15 from 50-plus over the past two seasons. Last year, Akers was 9-for-19 from 40-plus. Andy Lee, a four-time All-Pro pick, returns to handle the punting duties. Last year he averaged 48.1 yards per punt with a net of 43.2, tied for first in the NFL.

LaMichael James should provide a big-play threat as a kick returner. As a rookie last year, he averaged 29.8 yards on 14 returns. Punt returner Ted Ginn Jr. left as a free agent. Kyle Williams, who underwent ACL surgery in December, will contend for the job.

Final Analysis: 1st in NFC West
It’s Super Bowl or bust. With their roster loaded with Pro Bowl players, the 49ers are all but a lock to make the playoffs, but they’ll face a fierce battle from Seattle in the NFC West and might have to travel the tougher wild card route. If Kaepernick stays healthy, the 49ers could well wind up back in the Super Bowl with a chance to make history.

Order your 2013 Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
San Francisco 49ers 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Funny, videos, Overtime
Path: /overtime/ronnie-lott-flips-over-his-chair-during-pac-12-broadcast
Body:

Ronnie Lott got a little too enthusiastic talking about UCLA-Nevada during the postgame show on the Pac-12 Network Saturday night and ended up rolling his chair right off of the set. Wheee...THUD!

 

Teaser:
Ronnie Lott got a little too enthusiastic talking about UCLA-Nevada during the postgame show on the Pac-12 Network Saturday night and ended up rolling his chair right off of the set.
Post date: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - 09:10
All taxonomy terms: videos, Overtime
Path: /overtime/northwestern-fan-video-terribly-awesome
Body:
What happens when Northwestern beats Cal? Apparently Wildcats fans bust out their VHS copy of "Top Gun" and get to editing a cheesy celebration video. Enjoy.
 

Teaser:
What happens when Northwestern beats Cal? Apparently Wildcats fans bust out their VHS copy of "Top Gun" and get to editing a cheesy celebration video.
Post date: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 - 08:50
Path: /college-football/golden-arm-performances-week-1
Body:

The Golden Arm award is presented to the top senior quarterback by the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Foundation. The award is based on performance on the field, character, citizenship and integrity. This year’s watch list includes more than two dozen candidates and each week we will highlight the top five performances among the watch list candidates. 

 

Corey Robinson1. Corey Robinson, Troy 

No quarterback in the history of college football had a more accurate performance than Troy’s Corey Robinson. Robinson set an NCAA record for completion percentage with at least 30 pass attempts, completing 30 out of 32 passes for 319 yards in a season opening victory over UAB. Both of Robinson’s incompletions came in the first quarter, so after the middle of the first quarter not one Robinson pass hit the ground.

 

2. Derek Carr, Fresno State 

Perhaps no quarterback in the country had the kind of week Fresno State’s Derek Carr did. After his son was released from intensive care earlier in the week, Carr had a career night in Fresno State’s season opening victory at home against Rutgers. Carr passed for a career high 52 completions for 456 yards and matched a career high with five touchdowns passes. Fresno State needed every one of them, including a short touchdown pass in the final minute to force overtime against the Scarlet Knights.

 

3.  Tajh Boyd, Clemson 

Of all of the match-ups in college football’s opening weekend, few had the quarterback showdown that Clemson and Georgia offered Saturday night. Clemson’s Tajh Boyd had the clear upper hand in this showdown, and not just on the scoreboard. Boyd may not have had the most accurate of performance, but 18 of 30 for 270 yards and three touchdowns against Georgia are still worth respecting. Throw in a pair of rushing touchdowns for good measure.

 

4. Sean Mannion, Oregon State 

Oregon State may have been the victim of one of the handful of FCS upsets but quarterback Sean Mannion had a near career day by completing 37 of 43 attempts for 422 passing yards and three touchdowns in the losing effort. The single game passing total was the second highest of his career, and he averaged 9.8 yards per attempt as he recorded one of the highest passer ratings of the weekend.

 

5. Blake Bortles, Central Florida

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles was effective and productive in an opening night victory over visiting Akron. Bortles completed 18 of 24 pass attempts for 314 yards, averaging 13.1 yards per attempt and three touchdowns as the Knights cruised to a 38-7 victory over the Zips.

Teaser:
This year’s watch list includes 25 QB candidates and each week we will highlight the top five performances among the watch list candidates.
Post date: Monday, September 2, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/adrian-peterson-and-quest-2500
Body:

FOX Sports sideline reporter Pam Oliver was the first to deliver the news. Only moments after the Vikings’ 2012 regular season ended, Oliver set about informing Adrian Peterson of his high-profile disappointment.

As Oliver stopped Peterson on his way off Mall of America Field, the final tallies were official, and the Viking star’s 2,097 rushing yards — including 199 in a playoff-clinching win over Green Bay that afternoon — had not surpassed the 2,105 yards Eric Dickerson amassed in 1984.

Nine yards shy of a new record. Nine measly yards.

“You played your heart out,” Oliver said. “Nine yards. Boy. That’s got to hurt.”

Peterson recoiled with surprise.

“Nine yards what?” he questioned. “Nine yards what? From breaking it?”

“That’s what I heard,” Oliver said.

Peterson shook his head.

“Oh. Well, ultimately, we got the ‘W.’ And that was my main focus coming into the game. I said, ‘If it happens, it happens. But don’t focus on it.’”

Still, Peterson’s initial shock was obvious. And for a moment — for the next couple weeks, really — his mind-boggling productivity in a comeback season for the ages was often footnoted by those nine yards he didn’t get.

Oliver was the first to ask. But fans would follow. Reporters, too.

And when Peterson was asked for the 328th time to summarize his deflation in not being able to topple Dickerson, he finally just shrugged, certain that those nine yards he didn’t gain were not more significant than the 2,097 he had churned out.

Those nine yards certainly weren’t more meaningful than the 861 he put up in December alone, including a clutch 26-yard dash on his final regular-season carry, the one that put a rookie kicker in position for a last-second game-winning chip shot.

Those missing nine yards weren’t more important than the Vikings’ 10 wins, their surprising playoff berth or the MVP award Peterson earned.

“It just shows me how people are never pleased,” Peterson says.

Yet as the thought of those nine yards twisted inside his hyper-competitive, ultra-ambitious mind, he quickly settled on a new number: 2,500.

Yep, this is Peterson’s rushing yardage wish for 2013. It’s the MVP’s new goal, outlandish and intriguing all at once.

Sure, 2,500 seems like a preposterous bar to set. After all, of the six running backs to previously rush for 2,000 yards in a season, only one topped 1,400 the following year. That was Barry Sanders, who had 1,491 yards in 1998 a year after gaining 2,053 with the Lions.

But with a goal system that Vikings coach Leslie Frazier labels as “name it and claim it,” Peterson asks that everyone view 2,500 yards as attainable, not impossible.

“All things are possible through God who strengthens me,” Peterson says. “That’s a mark I want to reach. No one has ever tried to accomplish something like that.”

Peterson has now begun this quest: The march toward 2,500.

This is what he has mapped out for his encore to a year in which he posted the second-greatest rushing season in history after overcoming major reconstructive surgery on his left knee.

And only two days after the Vikings bowed out of last season’s playoffs, Peterson had already started gathering believers.

“I really don’t feel like it’s out of reach,” Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton says. “You look at it and it’s what, around 155 yards per game? With him, that’s doable.”

Technically, Peterson will have to average 156.25 yards per game to reach 2,500. But last year, he topped 150 yards seven times in the final 10 games.

“With Adrian and the way he goes after things, if 2,500 yards is in his sights, there’s no reason to question it,” right guard Brandon Fusco says.

And then there’s Jared Allen, a five-time Pro Bowler who in 2011 fell just short of a prestigious NFL single-season record himself. Allen’s 22 sacks that season were 0.5 shy of Michael Strahan’s all-time record, a magnificent season with opponents always game-planning to limit him.

But then in 2012, Allen battled injuries, faced increased attention from offensive coordinators and wound up with only 12 sacks in his sequel season.

So, yeah, he knows the challenge of trying to better a career year. Still, Allen feels nothing but love for Peterson’s push toward 2,500.

“With that dude? It’s logical,” Allen says. “And yeah, that’s crazy. … But I think too, with the way the league is now as such a pass-dominant league, you’re seeing smaller fronts. You’re not having that 330-pound nose tackle anymore. You’ve got to have guys there who can rush the passer because of these spread offenses and these check-down systems. So you get a team like us that likes to run the ball with a back like Adrian and smaller (defenders) on the field, 2,500 might not be a stretch.”

OK, so maybe at this point Peterson should be granted the license to dream big. Or perhaps, more precisely, to strive big.

Just consider the 2012 calendar year. On New Year’s Day, he was still in an Alabama hospital bed, two days removed from what could have been a career-derailing operation.

Immediately following ACL and MCL surgery, Peterson’s 2012 return seemed iffy at best. Coming back from an injury that severe, logic said, meant that Peterson would be lucky to be back at full strength by October, fortunate to even make a push at 1,000 yards. Instead, by Dec. 31, Peterson was waking up in the Twin Cities with those 2,097 yards under his belt, the star who had taken his game to a new level while propelling his team into the postseason.

Peterson’s production never tailed off, either. Not after the Vikings lost top receiver Percy Harvin in Week 9 to a season-ending ankle injury. Not after second-year quarterback Christian Ponder malfunctioned into a maddening stretch of midseason inconsistency.

During the final eight games, Peterson actually accumulated more rushing yards (1,322) than Ponder had passing yards (1,192).

Oh, and that ridiculous finishing charge, an average of 172 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry over the final five weeks? Turns out Peterson did all that with a sports hernia injury that required surgery after the season.

Not once over the final six weeks did Peterson deliver a full week of practice, limited most weeks to just a Friday cameo. Yet on Sundays, he never showed signs of pain or fatigue.

Said Frazier: “I’d talk to him on those Fridays when he would get in some practice time and say, ‘What do you think?’ He’d say, ‘Coach, I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready.’ But I ­couldn’t always tell if he was going to be ready. And you’d go through warm-ups in pregame, and it was like, ‘Man, he’s going to be OK.’

“But still in the back of your mind you’re just wondering if he can finish. And then he’d break a long run and you’re like, ‘He’s different.’”

Peterson’s path back to such an otherworldly level was paved by positivity in the wake of his knee injury. It started even before he left the hospital and was certainly evident when he met the media for the first time two weeks later.

It was then that he first vowed not only to be back for the season opener on Sept. 9 but also to return better than ever.

Peterson’s promises were not hollow, and he continued oozing optimism during his time working with physical therapist Russ Paine in Houston.

Paine marveled first at Peterson’s genuine friendliness and push to encourage other patients at the facility. Then Paine watched as Peterson attacked his own recovery with so much purpose.

People kept reminding Peterson he’d never be the same back he was before the injury. Which gave him two options: to come back a bit slower and less explosive, or to return better than he’d ever been.

Paine understood why Peterson, against all common sense, promised to be back starting on Sept. 9. Even with the Vikings reminding him that caution and patience were acceptable, Peterson craved the added pressure.

“It forced him to his ultimate,” Paine says. “When you have someone like him who’s an absolute superhuman and better than everyone else, he could be at 90 percent and still wow everyone. But when you’re in the top half of one percent of the world’s athletes and you then push yourself to focus and achieve at that level, then you become a freaking superstar.

“That’s what separates Adrian.”

Vikings strength and conditioning coach Tom Kanavy and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman tapped into Peterson’s intensity in the early parts of training camp. The Vikings cautiously set Peterson aside on the Physically Unable to Perform list when camp opened.

But Peterson, while understanding the team’s logic, was agitated by the move and decided he’d attack his isolated rehab work in a manner where he’d finish each day having exerted himself more than any player who had engaged in the full practice.

Sugarman’s amazement only heightened when thinking back to the flood of thoughts he had when approaching Peterson immediately after the running back’s knee blew out on Christmas Eve 2011.

“I knew instantly the gravity of what had happened,” Sugarman says. “And I remember thinking, ‘Wow, these coming months are going to be filled with pressure and scrutiny. This ­wasn’t somebody nobody had ever heard of. This is the best running back in the National Football League. There were going to be a lot of eyes on him.”

Which is what Peterson wanted. After one particularly demanding rehab session in training camp, Kanavy asked Peterson to finish the day with a sequence in which he ran speed ladders, then immediately followed each set with a 40-yard dash. Peterson was torching the grass, so much so that Kanavy secretly timed several of the 40s. Not one registered above 4.8 seconds, with Peterson frequently dipping into the low 4.5s.

Says Kanavy: “When you have a genetic freak who had always kept himself in tip-top shape and then sets out to absolutely attack the rehab, that is what the result is. Everybody got a chance to see it. And it was at a level surprising to everyone other than Adrian.”

Week by week, Peterson’s odds-defying comeback gathered steam. He delivered the longest run of his career in Week 13 at Green Bay, bursting 82 yards for a touchdown on a day when he ripped off 210 yards on only 21 carries.

He then proceeded to match that 82-yard run two weeks later in St. Louis on his way to a season-best 212 yards. In all, Peterson tied an NFL record with seven runs of 50 yards or longer. No wonder that 2,500-yard landmark doesn’t seem as ridiculous as it should.

Granted, the Vikings know that as a team, they’ll be far better off if they can diversify their offense. The goal is to revive a passing attack that ranked 31st in the league last season, to not give opponents the luxury of knowing Peterson will touch the ball 24 times per game like he did last season.

Realistically, 1,700 or 1,800 yards would be marvelous.

But hey, if the MVP running back wants to make a push at 2,500, you give him the green light.

“I think it’s a good goal to have if you’re Adrian Peterson,” Frazier says. “He’s more than capable of getting it accomplished.”

Heck, look at what Peterson did last fall, gathering new acolytes week after week.

“I feel that a lot of people who doubted me became believers,” he says. “The rewards and accomplishments are good. But being able to change someone’s mindset, whether it’s a little kid or grown-ups, and make them believe differently and look at things in a different light, that’s the ultimate goal.”

Even Allen admits that Peterson’s positive energy had stimulated the entire team’s imagination, pushing them to dream bigger.

“Maybe I can get 2,000 sacks,” Allen jokes.

Hearing that, Peterson smiles. “That’s what I’m talking about,” he says. “He wasn’t talking about 2,000 sacks last year or the year before.”

So now, without skepticism, perhaps we should all begin talking about 2,500 yards.

Written by Dan Wiederer for Athlon Sports. Visit our online store to order your 2013 Pro Football preview magazine to get in-depth team previews and more analysis on the 2013 NFL season.

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The disappointment that the Giants felt when they missed the playoffs last season, 11 months after winning the Super Bowl, was only matched by their shock and confusion. They were 9–7, which isn’t bad. Along the way they beat some of the NFL’s best teams. But they also lost to Atlanta and Baltimore in Weeks 15 and 16 by a combined score of 67–14.

Those shocking blowouts set the tone for an offseason of introspection in which the Giants tried to restock for another run in the Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning era. They know that the remaining players and coaches will be hungrier now, and that will certainly help.

But they knew they needed to find something else in the offseason, too. “We need to re-establish that toughness in front,” Giants co-owner John Mara says. “Teams ran the ball against us too easily last year. And the offensive line, that performance needs to get a little better, too.”

In other words, in an era that may very well be defined by speed and spread-option offenses, the Giants are going back to an old NFL truism: Games are won in the trenches. This season, they’re hoping that’s true.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 2nd

Related: 2013 New York Giants Schedule Analysis

Offense
As long as Manning stays upright — and he’s started 146 consecutive regular-season and playoff games — the Giants’ offense should be fine. He’s so good that a shaky offensive line allowed a league-low 20 sacks last season, and the Giants averaged 26.8 points — sixth in the league — despite a middling rushing attack and a star receiver (Hakeem Nicks) battling a knee injury all year.

Nicks had that knee repaired during the offseason, and the Giants are convinced that if he’s healthy, they’ll have one of the most explosive offenses in all of football. Victor Cruz is a sensational slot receiver, but Nicks is their most dynamic receiving talent. And with promising young receiver Rueben Randle, they’ve got a threesome as good as they had when Mario Manningham was in town. Randle's presence is even more important given Nicks' injury history and the fact that Cruz injured his heel in a preseason game. And free agent pickup Brandon Myers, who caught 79 passes for 806 yards in Oakland in 2012, should be at least as good at tight end as Martellus Bennett was last season.

As for the middling rushing attack, with the oft-injured Ahmad Bradshaw gone, things are in the sometimes-slippery hands of David Wilson, their uber-explosive first-round pick from last year. Wilson only rushed for 358 yards in 2012, but he averaged a healthy 5.0 yards on his 71 carries. The Giants were planning on complementing Wilson's speed with Andre Brown's power, but the team's second-leading rusher last season suffered a fracture in his left leg playing in the final preseason game. This marks the second straight season Brown has broken that leg, although this fracture won't require surgery and he reportedly could be back in less than two months. Until then, the Giants will look to seventh-round pick Michael Cox and veterans Da'Rel Scott and Ryan Torain to help Wilson carry the load.

The Giants return their entire offensive line from last year, but injuries and age are catching up to this veteran group. Three of the returning starters had offseason surgeries, while four of them are already over 30 years old. The talent is there, but the Giants are crossing their fingers that the old gang will be able to hold together for one more year before the rebuilding starts in 2014. The early results have not been promising, as center David Baas and right tackle David Diehl both got hurt during training camp. Baas injured his knee, but he's hopeful to be ready by Week 1. That's not the case with Diehl, who needed surgery on his right thumb and is expected to miss most, if not all, of the first month of the regular season. These injuries put even more pressure on first-round pick Justin Pugh, who could start the season in Diehl's spot.

Related: New York Giants' Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013

New York Giants: Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013

Defense
Perry Fewell’s defense was a big reason for the Giants' Super Bowl XLVII run, and perhaps the biggest culprit for the 2012 collapse. It was a disaster from front to back. It ­couldn’t stop the run. The coverage at times was terrible. And what once was a fierce pass rush was filled with players who looked old, tired and done. That miserable combination had them ranked 31st in the league.

What’s different this year? Not much other than the losses of several key players, including pass-rush specialist Osi Umenyiora. The Giants did beef up the middle of their defensive line, signing ex-Eagles defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. But other than plugging in ex-Cowboy Dan Connor at middle linebacker and bringing back Aaron Ross as the third or fourth corner, they didn’t do much. Losing starting strong safety Stevie Brown, who led the team with eight interceptions in 2012, to a season-ending ACL injury during the preseason certainly doesn't help either.

Despite Brown's loss, what the Giants' defense and coaching staff are counting on is that everyone will play better. They believe defensive end Justin Tuck, an aging warrior, has one last good season in him. They believe end Jason Pierre-Paul, after seeing his sack numbers fall off the cliff last year, can return to his dominant form, although his season debut could be delayed a game or two following June 4 back surgery. And they believe the defensive line will get a boost from Mathias Kiwanuka joining the fun after being miscast as a linebacker for several years.

From there, they pray that everything will fall into place. The Giants believe that everything starts up front — that if the defensive linemen can stop the run and rush the passer, their defense will be good again. Last year was a reminder of what can happen when their front line disappears.

Specialists
The Giants have a solid, veteran pair of kickers, though it’s slightly different from a year ago. Gone is the clutch leg of kicker Lawrence Tynes, and in his place is veteran Josh Brown. If there’s a drop-off, it should be negligible. Steve Weatherford remains the punter and continues to be an underappreciated weapon who is a terrific directional punter and a master at handling the swirling Meadowlands winds.

The return game is a bit of an unknown, though. Wilson is a huge threat on kickoff returns — one of the most dangerous in the NFL. But with his increased role at running back, it’s unclear how much the Giants will use him on special teams. They don’t appear to have anyone else in his class. As for punt returns, Randle figures to get the first shot, though it depends on how he holds onto the ball. Coughlin values ball-security above all else. He’s not looking for a lot of yards — he just doesn’t want the ball to end up on the ground.

Final Analysis: 1st in NFC East
As bad as last year was — and it probably felt worse than it looked — the Giants were still 9–7 and in the playoff hunt until the final day. They haven’t gotten worse, so there’s no reason to believe they won’t be a contender again. They are going to score a lot of points, and probably will until Manning retires.

What separates this team from other contenders, though, is its defense. It was 31st last season and doesn’t look much better now. Unless Tuck can rediscover his youth, the pass rush can’t be better now that Umenyiora is in Atlanta. Pierre-Paul probably will return to form, but the defensive front doesn’t have the fear factor of the Giants’ last two Super Bowl teams.

So expect the Giants to be fun to watch. Expect them to beat some of the best teams in the NFL, and also to suffer some inexcusable losses. In other words, expect these Giants to look a lot like the confusing, maddening version from 2012. They are capable of great things — including the playoffs and a run to the Super Bowl — but it’s far from certain they’ll have enough consistency to reach their potential.

Order your 2013 New York Giants Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

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The Patriots’ championship window, or at least the Tom Brady era, is approaching its end, but there is no reason to believe that another AFC East title isn’t on the way this season. The Bills, Jets and Dolphins do not appear ready to challenge the Patriots, setting up New England for its fifth straight playoff appearance. The Patriots lost one of the league’s most dangerous weapons in the offseason in wide receiver Wes Welker, and there are legitimate questions on defense. But this team is not ready to fall out of the league’s elite quite yet.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 2nd

Related: 2013 New England Patriots Schedule Analysis

Offense
The Patriots’ recent regular-season dominance on offense has been nothing short of astounding. The Pats led the league in points in 2012 with 34.8 per game, scoring over 500 points for the third consecutive year (matched only by the 1999-2001 Rams). They also led in yards per game with 427.9, giving them six straight seasons in the league’s top 10. Brady led the team to six games of 40 points or more (including the playoffs), and the team matched a franchise record by scoring 59 against the Colts.

Will the success carry over into 2013? With Brady back for his 14th season, the prospects look good, but the biggest obstacle will be overcoming the loss of Welker, who signed a free agent contract with the Broncos in the offseason. Welker led the Patriots in receptions in each of his six seasons in New England, leading the league three times. Welker had 118 catches in 2012, which was 44 more than Pats’ No. 2 receiver Brandon Lloyd (who also is gone). Danny Amendola, signed from the Rams, is slated to fill Welker’s role in the slot, and he appears to be a good fit. The 27-year-old Amendola, however, has played in only 12 games the past two seasons due to injuries after a productive 2010 that saw him catch 85 passes. He must stay healthy if the Patriots hope to have him replace Welker’s productivity.

The rest of the receiving corps is also an unknown. The Pats drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, but it's undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins who has made the most noise during training camp. One or more of the rookies will need to step up as Amendola and Julian Edelman, the lone holdover from the Patriots' receiving corps, are the only veteran options Brady has to lean on.

To make matters worse, tight end went from a position of strength for New England to a rather large question mark during the offseason. First it was Rob Gronkowski, who after undergoing multiple surgeries on a forearm that limited him late last season ended up having back surgery in early June. Then later that same month, Aaron Hernandez was released by the team following his arrest for murder and other gun-related charges. With Hernandez off the roster and Gronkowski's return up in the air, one of the Patriots' primary focuses during training camp was to identify other options. While veterans Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui were the most experienced, undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld from Nevada was the one who made the strongest impression during camp and in preseason games. Sudfeld's performance not only netted him a roster spot, but the Patriots also released Ballard and Fells after the final preseason game, leaving the rookie, Hoomanawanui and Gronkowski as the only tight ends on the roster. Based on these moves, it's looking more and more likely that Gronkowski's not too far away from returning and that regardless of when he does return, Sudfeld should have some sort of role. It's no secret that the tight end position has been key to the Pats' passing attack in recent seasons, so it's entirely possible that Gronkowski and Sudfeld could both end up on the field at the same time, just like Gronk and Hernandez did last season.

The Patriots’ offensive line returns intact, led by five-time Pro Bowler Logan Mankins. Stevan Ridley is expected to lead the rushing attack after his 1,263-yard, 12-touchdown performance in 2012. He will be supported by Shane Vereen, who had just 62 carries in the regular season but exploded for 124 total yards and three touchdowns in the Pats’ 41–28 playoff win over the Texans. The Patriots added to their backfield depth by trading for former 1,000-yard rusher LeGarrette Blount.

Defense
The Patriots’ defense has been cited as the reason the team has not won a championship since 2004. The criticism has generally been fair, although in their two Super Bowl losses since 2004 the defense gave up only 17 and 21 points, respectively. Still, that side of the ball has lagged behind the offense, and efforts have been made to get it back to the championship-level unit it was in the early 2000s. The Pats jumped from 15th in the league in points allowed to tied for ninth in 2012, but they were 25th in yards allowed and need improvement in several areas.

That starts with defending the pass, where the Pats were 29th, allowing 271.4 yards per game. The re-signing of cornerback Aqib Talib to a one-year contract was critical. He immediately bolstered the beleaguered secondary after his midseason arrival last year, and the team clearly suffered when he went out early in the AFC title game against the Ravens. The Patriots also brought in veteran safety Adrian Wilson from the Cardinals and drafted cornerback Logan Ryan from Rutgers to improve the secondary. Second-round draft pick Jamie Collins is labeled an edge-rusher, acquired to complement defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, whose efforts helped the Patriots rank 15th in sacks last season.

The Patriots were better against the run last season, ranking ninth, thanks to the efforts of stalwart defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and the All-SEC linebacking crew of Jerod Mayo (Tennessee), Brandon Spikes (Florida) and Dont’a Hightower (Alabama). Most of the offseason acquisitions focused on the secondary, meaning that the staff is confident the front seven will improve with experience.

The Patriots were able to compensate for the poor ranking in total yardage last season by forcing 41 turnovers — en route to a league-leading plus-25 turnover margin — and scoring five defensive touchdowns.

Specialists
Stephen Gostkowski enters his eighth season and is as solid as ever. Gostkowski has made 84 percent of his career field goals and was 11-of-15 from beyond 40 in 2012.

Punter Zoltan Mesko returns for a fourth season after seeing a dip in his net punting to 37.9 yards, although he was able to put 47 percent of his kicks inside the 20.

The Patriots added veteran return man Leon Washington to improve what had been a stagnant return game. Washington shares the NFL record for career kickoff returns for TDs with eight and averaged 29 yards per return with the Seahawks last season.

Final Analysis: 1st in AFC East
The keys for the Patriots to challenge for a Super Bowl title will be to get production out of a revamped wide receiver corps and for the pass defense to make major strides. Brady is still one of the most efficient and dangerous quarterbacks in the game, and the offensive line, running backs and tight end are all known quantities from last season’s dominating offense. If Amendola and Gronkowski can both stay healthy and one of the rookie wideouts can emerge, the Patriots should put up over 30 points per game again. Defensively, having Talib for a full season and starting Devin McCourty as a full-time safety rather than moving him around should stabilize what has been a glaring weakness for a few years. Adding a pass-rush specialist and two defensive backs in the early rounds of the draft demonstrates the team’s concern about its pass defense.

Can Brady and Belichick capture that elusive fourth Super Bowl ring? They will not be a preseason favorite, but they should be in the mix once again next January.

Order your 2013 New England Patriots Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New EnglandClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY GiantsDetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

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Ole Miss runs 75 yards to beat Vanderbilt

Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott ran 75 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to beat Vanderbilt 39-35 in an exciting season opener. Ole Miss fans reactions ran the gamut of emotions: stunned open-armed shock, mild clapping, and (our favorite) a guy dancing what appears to be a jig.  

Ole Miss fans celebrate a 75 yard game winning TD run over Vanderbilt
 
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Ole Miss fans celebrate a game-winning 75-yard touchdown run over Vanderbilt.
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The opportunity to claim the AFC championship was there for the Houston Texans in 2012. Then they folded down the stretch. As a new team takes shape, fans are still grumbling about how the 12–2 Texans needed only one win to secure the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed but inexplicably lost at home, 23–6 to Minnesota, and then failed in the season finale, 28–16 at Indianapolis. A 41–28 playoff exit at New England in the second round reminded this franchise just how important postseason home-field advantage can be.

The Texans didn’t need to overhaul the roster, but they added some components, namely Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed and Pro Bowl punter Shane Lechler. The stars are still in place — running back Arian Foster, wide receiver Andre Johnson, defensive end J.J. Watt, quarterback Matt Schaub and inside linebacker Brian Cushing — but a prevailing question still stands: Is this team a bona fide Super Bowl contender or just another pretender?

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 3rd

Related: 2013 Houston Texans Schedule Analysis

Offense
Offseason offensive needs were obvious: Find a wide receiver to go with Johnson, and resolve the right tackle position. The Texans drafted Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins in the first round and selected North Carolina offensive tackle Brennan Williams in the third round. If right tackle Derek Newton is slow to return from patellar tendon surgery, look for Williams to get his shot immediately. The Texans aren’t deep at wide receiver, so Hopkins will have every opportunity to prove he’s worthy of a starting spot. Johnson gets so much attention on the other side that Hopkins will see man coverage and can expect to get his share of the workload if he proves himself in preseason.

The right guard position also should improve. Ben Jones is a second-year pro who was considered one of the NFL’s top center prospects when selected in the fourth round a year ago. He eventually won the job at right guard, starting 10 games. His progress and the right tackle resolution will be vital to how the team moves forward.

That’s because when talking Texans, this offense is built around Foster. The 2010 NFL rushing champ and three-time Pro Bowl star has been nothing short of phenomenal in his three years as a starter. The problem is, the Texans can’t always count on just handing off to him because defenses crowd the box. This is especially evident in the red zone, when too often the Texans have tried simply to run it in. Foster did have 15 rushing TDs in 2012, but conservative play-calling doesn’t always produce touchdowns. Too many times, ideal scoring chances resulted in field goals.

To that end, Schaub has to be more consistent in big games. He made his second Pro Bowl last season, passing for 4,008 yards with 22 TDs and just 12 interceptions, but he was seriously outplayed in losses to Green Bay and New England by quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. This season, Schaub will go up against Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick on the road as well as Brady and Denver’s Peyton Manning at home. Schaub has to show something in those games, or the questions will linger about whether he has the right stuff to get his team to the Super Bowl.

Schaub won't be able to do it alone, however, which was why Foster's late arrival to training camp generated a lot of attention in early August. Originally held out because of a lingering calf injury he sustained during OTAs in May, Foster was later hampered by a back issue. The good news is he returned to practice right before the team's third preseason game and there is no real concern regarding his Week 1 availability at this point. In the end, his prolonged absence could help him stay fresh during the regular season and, hopefully, the Texans' extended playoff run.

Defense
Watt couldn’t have been more dominant as NFL Defensive Player of the Year with a league-best 20.5 sacks and 16 passes defended. Every opponent has to game-plan for the disruptive defensive end. But the Texans have to shore up other areas around him.

The Texans dropped from No. 3 in pass defense to No. 16 and allowed 29 TD passes compared to 18 the year before. Rodgers burned them for six TD passes, Manning for two and Brady for a total of seven in two games. And it wasn’t only the big-name quarterbacks slicing them up. The Texans edged Detroit 34–31 in overtime on Thanksgiving Day, but the Lions had 525 total yards with Matthew Stafford passing for 441 yards and two scores.

That’s why the Texans went out and signed Reed and drafted safety D.J. Swearinger in the second round. Reed is known as one of the NFL’s greatest ball-hawks, and the Texans hope his presence will discourage teams from throwing deep as often. Reed's recovery from offseason hip surgery has taken longer than initially anticipated, so it's possible he will miss the first few games of the regular season. Swearinger will push Danieal Manning at safety, although Manning should keep his job as the rookie transitions to the league. The Texans are pretty much set defensively everywhere else.

The October loss of Cushing to a knee injury was a huge blow. The 3-4 scheme needs its anchor back healthy. They drafted outside linebackers Sam Montgomery and Trevardo Williams, which suggests sliding linebacker Brooks Reed inside. Wade Phillips’ defense ranked seventh in yards allowed (323.2 ypg) and tied for ninth in points allowed (20.7 ppg).

Specialists
Randy Bullock takes over as placekicker for Shayne Graham. A fifth-round pick in 2012, Bullock has yet to attempt an NFL field goal because he suffered a groin tear in preseason and ended up on injured reserve. A lot of eyes will be on him. The former Lou Groza Award winner displayed a strong and accurate leg at Texas A&M, making 29-of-33 field goal attempts as a senior.

The Texans had to pay handsomely for Lechler, a seven-time Pro Bowl punter. Houston coughed up $5.5 million over three years with a $1 million signing bonus. But he’s worth it. And he’ll love punting in climate-controlled Reliant Stadium. Expect Lechler, who has a career 47.5-yard average in 13 seasons, to help the Texans earn an edge in field position.

Second-year wide receiver Keshawn Martin is a promising returner, averaging 23.9 yards on 31 kickoffs with a long of 54 yards and 12.1 yards on 22 punt returns with a long of 71.

Final Analysis: 1st in AFC South
The Texans must make the Super Bowl or many of their fans will be convinced that the window of opportunity is closing. That’s how high the bar has been raised in Houston. And the Texans realize this. They saw Baltimore win the championship last year, the same Ravens whom the Texans annihilated 43–13 at Reliant Stadium in October. It’s not a question of whether the Texans have the talent; it’s how they perform down the stretch and in the playoffs. The first objective has to be to secure what eluded them at the end of 2012, the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed and home-field advantage.

Schaub has to raise his game against the NFL’s elite, which means throwing the ball down the field more and taking some chances when they present themselves. Foster can’t carry the offense, although having him ensures that the team will win most weeks.

The playoffs are about which team can get hot at the right time. The Texans have won the AFC South title each of the last two years but weren’t at their best in the playoffs. If they don’t seize the moment this year, when will they?

Order your 2013 Houston Texans Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

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Having paid out a whopping $55 million in signing bonuses to quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews, the Green Bay Packers successfully locked up their two biggest stars. But they have also caused a segment of their passionate fan base to worry that with so much money tied to only two players, the salary-cap ramifications will be disastrous.

But while Rodgers (five years, $110 million) and Matthews (five years, $66 million) certainly didn’t come cheap, general manager Ted Thompson’s annual draft-and-develop youth movement, a salary cap that won’t be flat forever and the structure of each deal mean that the Packers will remain Super Bowl contenders as long as their $176 million men remain healthy. “I like where we’re at,” Rodgers says. “Obviously, there were some (fans concerned) about not doing a lot in free agency. (But) the Packer way (is) where you draft a guy in your system.”

For yet another offseason, Thompson avoided signing any outside unrestricted free agents, marshaling his resources to pay his stars and again relying on the draft to fill holes. And  there were still holes that needed to be filled.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 3rd

Related: 2013 Green Bay Packers Schedule Analysis

Offense
Coach Mike McCarthy loves to call his offense “quarterback driven,” but for the first time since Ryan Grant put together back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons in 2008 and 2009, Rodgers might not have to be behind the wheel all the time. There’s no doubt that at age 29 he is on top of his game, even though he wasn’t as statistically dominant in 2012 as he was when he won the NFL MVP in 2011. He’s as good as it gets against the blitz, but the problem for the Packers’ offense last year was the steady diet of Cover-2 defenses it saw, as opponents had no reason to fear the running game.

That could finally change after the team drafted Alabama’s Eddie Lacy in the second round and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin in the fourth. In his previous eight drafts, Thompson had selected a total of four running backs, so this would indicate a shift in offensive philosophy. Perhaps McCarthy can do for Rodgers what Mike Sherman did for Brett Favre in the early 2000s, when Pro Bowl running back Ahman Green improved the QB’s quality of life. McCarthy says he made some “scheme adjustments” even before the draft, clearly hoping that a respectable running game will mean that Rodgers won’t see two deep safeties every time he drops back. The backfield depth took a hit during training camp when third-year pro DuJuan Harris injured his knee and was placed on injured reserve.

While the free agent defection of Greg Jennings and the retirement of Donald Driver erased two beloved names from the depth chart at receiver, Rodgers still has plenty of pass-catching talent around him. Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones still make for a pretty impressive 1-2-3 combination if all three can stay healthy. Cobb, in his second NFL season, led the Packers in receiving in 2012 with 80 catches for 954 yards and eight touchdowns in regular-season play; Jones set career highs in 2012 in receptions (64), yards (784) and touchdowns (an NFL-best 14); and when Nelson was healthy for a full 2011, he caught 68 passes for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. Nelson missed a significant amount of training camp after undergoing knee surgery in early August and it's possible he could miss the first week or two of the regular season. Unheralded Jarrett Boykin also caught the quarterback’s eye as the No. 6 receiver last year and could blossom. The team also paid starting tight end Jermichael Finley his $3 million roster bonus on March 26, meaning he’s back for his sixth season in Green Bay with an $8.25 million cap number — and even higher expectations.

The offensive line must improve. Not only did the unit allow Rodgers to be sacked 51 times last season, but the running game also ranked No. 20 in yards per game and No. 22 in yards per rush. At center, Evan Dietrich-Smith is under the microscope after assuming the starting job from now-retired Jeff Saturday late in the regular season. The line also took a big hit during training camp when starting left tackle Bryan Bulaga tore his ACL, ending his 2013 season before it even got started. Bulaga's loss puts even more pressure on fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari, who is penciled in as Bulaga's replacement as Rodgers' blindside protector.

Although Rodgers' durability is one of his greatest assets, the Packers did shuffle the deck somewhat behind him during training camp. In early August, Green Bay signed 2006 No. 3 overall pick Vince Young as a free agent. Young, who went to two Pro Bowls (2006, '09) as Tennessee's starter before getting released and signing with Philadelphia in 2011, then proceeded to beat out incumbent backup Graham Harrell, who was released on Aug. 25. Unfortunately, Young didn't do enough to secure one of the final roster spots, so for now, the Packers will go with last season's seventh-round pick B.J. Coleman as the only other quarterback on the roster.

Related: Green Bay Packers' Game-by-Game Predictions for 2013

Defense
On defense, the unit is trying to get past its epic season-ending embarrassment, as the San Francisco 49ers rolled up 579 yards — and Colin Kaepernick ran for more yards than any quarterback in a game in NFL history (181) — in a 45–31 NFC Divisional Playoff thrashing. The healing must start in the front seven. Even as good as Matthews is, there are still issues on the line. Defensive end Mike Neal’s emergence was encouraging — playing just 322 snaps as situational pass-rusher, he finished with 4.5 sacks — but he, like big-bodied inside guys Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji, is going into the final year of his contract. The addition of first-round pick Datone Jones should help tremendously, adding some much-needed speed.

Matthews’ new deal was not the only move at linebacker. A.J. Hawk agreed to a pay cut; Brad Jones re-upped for three years, $11.75 million; Robert Francois re-signed as a restricted free agent; and unrestricted free agent Erik Walden (Indianapolis) and untendered restricted free agent Frank Zombo (Kansas City) both departed. Fill-in starter D.J. Smith was jettisoned, too. Inside, there are plenty of players, but it’s debatable how many of them are good. Desmond Bishop, the team's leading tackler in 2011, was released during the summer as the Packers weren't pleased with his ongoing recovery from the serious hamstring injury that kept him out all of 2012. Jones is slated to replace Bishop as the other starting inside linebacker opposite Hawk. Outside, Matthews, 2012 first-round pick Nick Perry and under-the-radar second-year man Dezman Moses all generate pressure, but in a scheme predicated on outstanding play from that position, it seems thin.

In the secondary, gone is future Hall of Famer Charles Woodson, released in a cost-cutting move. Cornerback Tramon Williams, considered in 2010 to be one of the top-five cover men in the league, still isn’t the player he was before suffering nerve damage in his shoulder in 2011. Cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt expects a four-way competition for the two starting jobs involving Williams, Sam Shields, Casey Hayward and Davon House.

Specialists
Longtime kicker Mason Crosby got a case of the yips that may or may not be resolved. A year after going 24-of-28, he was a league-worst 21-of-33 (63.6 percent) on field goal attempts. In a close game, can he deliver? Meanwhile, Tim Masthay has quietly become one of the top punters in the NFL, but the return game is an issue, too. Given that Cobb emerged as the Packers’ top pass-catcher, has he become too valuable on offense to continue as the full-time return man? It’s a question McCarthy continues to wrestle with.

Final Analysis: 1st in NFC North
The Packers certainly “lost” the offseason, as NFC contenders San Francisco and Seattle did more to improve their teams on paper. But this is how the Thompson and McCarthy regime works. They’ll count on their own guys to either emerge out of nowhere or improve by leaps and bounds and count on their star veterans to keep delivering at the highest level. It’s not the sexiest approach, but the Packers are 53–27 in the regular season since Rodgers took over at quarterback, with a Super Bowl XLV title to show for it. As disappointing as back-to-back NFC Divisional Playoff losses have been, the Packers remain solid contenders in a stacked conference.

Order your 2013 Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHoustonDenver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen BayNew OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Green Bay Packers 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-2013-nfl-team-preview
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General manager Kevin Colbert chafes at the notion that the Steelers are rebuilding after the kind of roster turnover that qualified as astounding given his organization’s reputation as one of the most stable in the NFL. Coach Mike Tomlin insists that the Steelers are simply in transition after an 8–8 season. Whether transition is merely a euphemism for rebuilding will be determined by how the Steelers respond after missing the playoffs for just the second time since Tomlin took over in 2007.

For the second consecutive year, the Steelers cut ties with a handful of key veterans, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, strong safety Troy Polamalu, cornerback Ike Taylor and tight end Heath Miller are the remaining core players from the team that played in three Super Bowls and won two of them during a six-year period. Miller, the Steelers’ 2012 MVP, likely won’t be 100 percent at the start of the season after sustaining a torn ACL at the end of last season. That puts even more pressure on Roethlisberger, Polamalu and Taylor to stay healthy if the Steelers are to challenge Baltimore and Cincinnati for supremacy in the AFC North.

Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 4th

Related: 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers Schedule Analysis

Offense
The fragile union between Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley enters its second season. For all of the psychoanalysis that is devoted to the relationship, Roethlisberger was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season before sustaining a rib injury in November. He struggled after returning to the starting lineup, and it may not get any easier this season, even if Roethlisberger stays healthy. The Steelers lost one of the NFL’s top deep threats when wide receiver Mike Wallace bolted to Miami in free agency. Miller, who has long been Roethlisberger’s security blanket and one of the top all-around tight ends in the league, may take some time to get back to full speed. The Steelers will depend on veteran Matt Spaeth, second-year man David Paulson and another tight end coming off a torn ACL, David Johnson, until Miller returns.

Wallace’s departure means the Steelers will rely heavily on Antonio Brown in the passing game. Brown, the Steelers’ MVP in 2011, took a step backward last season. The fourth-year man won’t have the luxury of having a burner opposite him on the field. Emmanuel Sanders replaces Wallace, and the fourth-year veteran has shown flashes but has also been injury-prone and inconsistent. Plaxico Burress won't be able to help the passing attack, as the long-time Steeler sustained a season-ending shoulder injury during training camp. The passing game will be helped immensely if third-round draft pick Markus Wheaton makes an impact as a rookie.

There are also questions about the skill players who will line up behind Roethlisberger. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer are not every-down backs, and the Steelers drafted Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell with the hope that he will develop into their feature back. Bell's NFL debut, however, will be delayed as he injured his foot in his first preseason game. The good news is that Bell did not need surgery and the injury is not deemed serious. The bad news is that he will more than likely miss at least the first month of the regular season. With Bell sidelined, the Steelers will turn to Redman and Dwyer to carry the load, as well as LaRod Stephens-Howling, who was signed to provide depth and serve as a receiving threat out of the backfield.

The Steelers did not draft an offensive lineman in 2013 because they invested so heavily in that area in previous drafts. Four of the projected five starters are either first- or second-round picks. All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey anchors the line, with the Steelers also expecting big things out of right guard David DeCastro. Tackles Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams both have to stay healthy and become more consistent. The Steelers are dangerously thin up front.

Defense
The Steelers finished first in the NFL in total defense last season, but that proved to be fool’s gold. They did not put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks and did not force enough turnovers. Gone are five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton and outside linebacker James Harrison, who was cut after the two sides couldn’t agree on the amount of a pay cut for the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. The Steelers also lost starting cornerback Keenan Lewis to the New Orleans Saints in free agency.

The Steelers are high on former undrafted free agent Steve McLendon, who replaces Hampton and can also play defensive end. They must get more out of former first-round picks Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward at defensive end. Hood is going into his third season as a starter but has been, in Tomlin parlance, just another guy. Heyward has shown very little in two seasons, and that is a concern since Brett Keisel, 34, whom he backs up, isn’t getting any younger.

Lawrence Timmons, who should have made the Pro Bowl last season, and veteran Larry Foote return at inside linebacker. One of the biggest questions on the team is whether the outside linebackers will provide the necessary pass rush, which is critical to the defense’s success. Former Pro Bowler LaMarr Woodley had only four sacks last season. Jason Worilds gets the first crack at replacing Harrison, and the former second-round pick has played well in spots. First-round pick Jarvis Jones should provide help at outside linebacker even if he is only a situational pass-rusher.

The loss of Lewis thrusts Cortez Allen into the starting lineup, and Allen looked like a viable long-term starter after filling in for the injured Taylor last season. Taylor is still one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL, and the Steelers signed William Gay, who spent the 2012 season in Arizona, to play nickel back.

Polamalu is the wild card. The 2010 NFL Defensive Player of the Year gives coordinator Dick LeBeau a piece to move all over the field, and Polamalu is a game-changer when he is healthy. The problem is that Polamalu has missed 22 games since 2009, and his age (32) and aggressive style of play don’t bode well for getting an entire season out of the seven-time Pro Bowler. Free safety Ryan Clark is 33 but seems to get better with age. Perhaps the biggest issue the Steelers have at the back end of their defense is the lack of proven depth.

Specialists
Shaun Suisham is entrenched as the kicker, and the ninth-year veteran was close to automatic last season. Drew Butler returns as the punter after a decent rookie season. Stephens-Howling has returned three kickoffs for touchdowns during his career, and Brown is a dangerous punt returner. Tomlin would love for a younger player to emerge there so he can minimize Brown’s exposure to big hits.

Final Analysis: 1st in AFC North
A franchise quarterback like Roethlisberger is always going to give his team a chance to contend for the Super Bowl, which is the only goal in Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger must have a capable supporting cast, and it would help if the investment the Steelers have made in the offensive line started paying off. A healthy Polamalu and a return to form by Woodley would make the defense more opportunistic. There are a lot of ifs, however, and if Pittsburgh’s marquee players do not lead the way — or are not able to because of injuries — the Steelers are looking at another third-place finish in the AFC North and another long offseason.

Order your 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHouston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/seattle-seahawks-2013-nfl-team-preview
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Without being asked, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll informed beat writers on a conference call that then-rookie Russell Wilson would be his starting quarterback to open the 2012 season.

Dead silence.

Because of Wilson’s 5'11" stature, plus his first-year status, no one had pressed Carroll about this possibility. No one realistically envisioned this happening. A year later, Wilson at the offensive controls makes perfect sense. The diminutive quarterback was the ignition point for an explosive zone-read offense, tied Peyton Manning’s rookie record for touchdown passes (26), and was as responsible as anyone for the Seahawks getting into the playoffs and coming up with their first postseason road victory since 1983.

Wilson’s presence has created so much momentum for the franchise — making it the preferred destination for high-impact free agent Cliff Avril and newly acquired (and well paid) Percy Harvin in the offseason — the Seahawks have people convinced that anything is possible this season.

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 4th

Related: 2013 Seattle Seahawks Schedule Analysis

Offense
All Seattle had to do was find a steady quarterback to get this team over the hump. Free agent signee Matt Flynn was supposed to be the guy. Wilson relegated him to three mop-up appearances, and Flynn now plays for Oakland. With his strong right arm, Fran Tarkenton-like scrambling ability (489 yards rushing) and high-level efficiency (a club-record 100.0 passer rating), Wilson created nonstop problems for opposing teams. His challenge will be to counter the defensive adjustments that will come his way a second time around the league.

Yet the Seahawks took a proactive step to ease the pressure on Wilson and further frustrate opposing defensive coordinators by acquiring the triple-threat Harvin. He was the one thing the Seattle offense sorely lacked — a legitimate breakaway threat. He was expected to upgrade the team’s weakest offensive position area and allow the Seahawks to be more creative than ever. That was, however, until Harvin decided to undergo surgery in early August to repair his injured hip. Harvin will miss a significant chunk of the regular season, if not all of it, which changes the entire outlook of the receiving corps. Now Wilson will need to lean on wide receivers Sidney Rice and Golden Tate, who led the Seahawks with 50 and 45 receptions after battling chronic injury and inconsistency, respectively, even more than originally expected. Rice's surgically repaired knee remains a concern and it would help Wilson and the offense if tight end Zach Miller could become a little more reliable and productive. Harvin's absence also presents an opportunity for third-year wideout Doug Baldwin or rookies Chris Harper and Jermaine Kearse to emerge and provide more depth.

The slashing and durable Marshawn Lynch remains one of the NFL’s most productive running backs, regardless of who’s at quarterback. He was better than ever when on the receiving end of Wilson handoffs, coming up with a career-high 1,590 yards rushing (third in the league). He relishes his role as a violent runner.

When Carroll took over the franchise, he made rebuilding a sorry offensive line his first order of business. It took a while, but the coach finally got the desired results. Left tackle Russell Okung and center Max Unger stayed healthy for the first time in the same season and became Pro Bowl starters. Big and mobile, Okung is the closest thing to a dominant Seahawks lineman since Walter Jones retired. Okung has the ability to get out and run and mow people down. That said, he still needs to address a lingering issue: He and right tackle Breno Giacomini were two of the most penalized offensive linemen in the league, flagged for 13 and 12 infractions, respectively, making them drive-killers at times. Unger is deceptively strong and quick. Left guard James Carpenter boasts star quality but has been injury-prone. Converted defender J.R. Sweezy finished his rookie season as a starter and is the top candidate at right guard. Paul McQuistan started all 16 games last season and will serve as the first guy off the bench if he doesn't retain his starting job.

Defense
The back seven boasts as much speed and big-play ability as any in the league, but the line has been merely adequate. The lack of a pass rush was responsible for multiple fourth quarter defeats last season. Deeming this position a priority, the Seahawks added veteran tackle Tony McDaniel and ends Michael Bennett and Avril, the latter strong enough to bring added pressure and agile enough to play linebacker. They also drafted three more D-linemen. Avril (29 sacks over the past three seasons) is a ready replacement for Chris Clemons, whose timetable for a return from a playoff knee injury is unclear. Run-stuffing Red Bryant and speed-rusher Bruce Irvin are productive as situational ends.

The linebacking corps might have been the Seahawks’ most questionable group entering last season. Bobby Wagner made it one of the most secure. Another ready-to-play rookie, Wagner was surprisingly savvy and speedy while stepping in from the outset and leading the team in tackles (140). K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, who moves up from a reserve role to new starter, man the outside spots, and few linebacking corps cover as much ground as these guys. There’s a big falloff in talent, however, with the backups.

The secondary is easily Seattle’s biggest stockpile of talent. They’re game-changers in every sense, with three of the four starters scoring twice each on interceptions or blocked kicks in their brief careers. Three of them have been Pro Bowlers. Cornerback Richard Sherman, the only one in his backfield who hasn’t gone to Hawaii yet, had a team-high eight picks, 24 passes defensed and plenty of swagger. He also returned a blocked field goal 90 yards for a score. Fellow corner Brandon Browner has nine interceptions in two seasons, two for scores. Free safety Earl Thomas is a productive center fielder and a two-time Pro Bowler, and strong safety Kam Chancellor is a ferocious hitter. Seattle also signed three-time Pro Bowl selection Antoine Winfield as its nickel back.

Specialists
Dependable placekicker Steven Hauschka and punter Jon Ryan are accuracy guys rather than boomers. Hauschka connected on 24-of-27 field goal attempts, with each of his misses coming from 50 yards or more. Ryan dropped 30 punts inside the 20-yard line. Harvin's acquistion initially made Pro Bowler Leon Washington expendable. Now someone else will need to step up in that department with Harvin sidelined for much of the regular season. Tate will more than likely handle the punt return duties.

Final Analysis: 2nd in NFC West
Wilson is one of 20 starters returning, and one of six Seahawks players who went to the Pro Bowl. Offensive firepower abounds. All the pieces are in place for the Seahawks to make a deep playoff run, if not a second Super Bowl appearance in eight seasons. Wilson and Wagner, the precocious team leaders on each side of the ball, need to avoid sophomore slumps. The newcomers, minus Harvin, also need to contribute. There hasn’t been this much hype surrounding a Seattle team entering a season since 1985, and that one couldn’t handle it, finishing 8–8. Can these Seahawks measure up? Certainly the element of surprise with Wilson behind center is long gone. But don’t rule out anything with this team.

Order your 2013 Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHouston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburghTennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle

 

Teaser:
Seattle Seahawks 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Wednesday, August 28, 2013 - 10:00
Path: /nfl/atlanta-falcons-2013-nfl-team-preview
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Say this about the Atlanta Falcons: They don’t rest on their laurels. Coming up just 10 yards short of the Super Bowl and winning an NFC-best 13 games apparently wasn’t good enough for GM Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith. They overhauled the roster despitea recording the No. 1 overall playoff seed for only the second time in franchise history. Eight new starters will line up for the Falcons this season, including prize free-agent additions Osi Umenyiora and Steven Jackson.

The Falcons enter the season as one of the favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLVIII in New York. After steadily fortifying the roster in recent years, they appear ready to take the next step in the hyper-competitive NFC. “I think this team really believes now this team truly can strap it up against any team in this league,” Dimitroff says. “There is not the intimidation factor that there once was. And I love that feeling.”

Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 5th

Related: 2013 Atlanta Falcons Schedule Analysis

Offense
The Falcons feature a premier quarterback in Matt Ryan and boast an arsenal of playmakers as deep and talented as any in the NFL. Wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones are big, physical playmakers on the perimeter who can score from any down-and-distance scenario. Both are good enough to be No. 1 receivers on most NFL teams. White sprained his ankle during the Falcons' second preseason game, but it should not prevent him from being out on the field for the season opener in New Orleans. Mercurial Harry Douglas is established as the third receiver, but the team believes he has big-play potential that hasn’t been fully utilized in the past. The big-play opportunities should be there for him with defenses concentrating on White and Jones. He needs to capitalize on them.

Tight end Tony Gonzalez is Ryan’s favorite target, especially in the red zone and on third down. He was targeted 124 times and produced 93 receptions and eight TDs last season. He keeps himself in great shape, so another big year is possible for the perennial Pro Bowler.

Jackson has a lot of wear on his tires but remains remarkably productive. The classic workhorse back, he will try to notch his ninth consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season. That the NFL record is 11 by Emmitt Smith says a lot about Jackson’s dependability and durability. He’s the perfect complement to the Falcons’ high-powered passing attack and will be a significant upgrade over Michael Turner, who had clearly lost explosiveness last season. Scat back Jacquizz Rodgers is the check-down option. He needs more touches, and like Douglas, could have a breakout year with defenses focused outside the hash marks on White and Jones.

Ryan set career highs in passing yards (4,719), completion percentage (68.6) and TD passes (32) last season. He’s the consummate field general who can make every throw. He’s become a more vocal leader in recent years and has earned the trust and respect of his teammates.

The Falcons’ failure to score from the 1-yard line on three downs in their heartbreaking loss to the Saints was the impetus to overhaul the offensive line, which will feature three new starters. The goal is to get more physical and athletic up front. Tackle Lamar Holmes and guard Garrett Reynolds form the new right side. Both are bigger and more physical than their predecessors. Peter Konz replaces longtime veteran Todd McClure at center and is much stronger and more powerful at this stage of his career. Left tackle Sam Baker enjoyed a strong rebound season in 2012. He’s not spectacular at anything but does everything well.

Defense
Coordinator Mike Nolan plays multiple schemes but prefers to operate out of a 4-3 base. The Falcons are unfailingly consistent on defense. They annually rank among the league leaders in interceptions and near the bottom in sacks. Rushing the passer continues to be their most pressing concern. To that end, the Falcons replaced the aging John Abraham with Umenyiora, who is three years younger. Umenyiora’s production has declined precipitously the past two years. The Falcons are hoping a change of scenery and the Georgia Dome fast track will turn things around for him. Kroy Biermann makes plays with his hustle and non-stop motor, but he can be overpowered at the point of attack and is a liability against the run. The underrated Jonathan Babineaux is the Falcons’ best lineman. He’s undersized but is one of the league’s best interior penetrators.

Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon is the leader of this defense. He’s an elite athlete who makes plays all over the field from his weak-side spot. Akeem Dent and Stephen Nicholas are solid if unspectacular in the middle and strong side, respectively. Depth is a big concern.

The Falcons wanted to upgrade their play at cornerback despite allowing an NFL-low five touchdowns on passes outside the painted numbers last season. Asante Samuel is a boom-or-bust proposition at left corner. He intercepted five passes but also can be burned for big plays because of his penchant for gambling. Rookie Desmond Trufant plays with a similar swagger to Samuel. He has the athleticism and ball skills to start right away. The nickel back position has been a major problem spot for the Falcons. It’s basically a starting spot with so many high-profile passing attacks in the NFC. Rookie Robert Alford should be an immediate upgrade over the undersized Robert McClain. Safeties Thomas DeCoud and William Moore form one of the best tandems in the league. Both are aggressive hitters with range and improving ball skills.

Specialists
The Falcons’ special teams are solid. Matt Bryant is one of the best clutch kickers in the NFL, as evidenced by his game-winner against Seattle in the playoffs. He has a range of just over 50 yards and is very accurate and dependable from inside the 50. He has enough leg to consistently send his kickoffs into the end zone.

Punter Matt Bosher needs to improve his directional punting and get-off time. He had two punts blocked last season. Still, he boasts a solid combination of distance and hang time.

Rodgers and Dominique Franks are average return men. The coverage units are solid and should improve with the influx of fresh legs in the draft.

Final Analysis: 1st in NFC South
For all of their recent success, there’s been something missing from the Falcons. For whatever reason, they’ve lacked the aggressiveness and competence of their NFC rivals in Green Bay, New Orleans and San Francisco. They’ve been good, but not good enough.

The Falcons are and should be the favorites to repeat as NFC South champs. They are the most complete team in the division and have several young players emerging into stars. Their window of opportunity to win a Super Bowl in the Ryan era is still wide open. If Jackson and Umenyiora can produce at their former levels and the defense can improve just a little, Atlanta should cruise to its fourth consecutive playoff appearance and challenge San Francisco and Green Bay for superiority in the NFC.

Order your 2013 Atlanta Falcons Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here

2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:

AFC EastAFC NorthAFC SouthAFC West
BuffaloBaltimoreHouston (8/29)Denver (9/3)
MiamiCincinnatiIndianapolisKansas City
New England (8/30)ClevelandJacksonvilleOakland
NY JetsPittsburgh (8/28)TennesseeSan Diego
    
NFC EastNFC NorthNFC SouthNFC West
DallasChicagoAtlantaArizona
NY Giants (8/30)DetroitCarolinaSt. Louis
PhiladelphiaGreen Bay (8/29)New OrleansSan Francisco (9/3)
WashingtonMinnesotaTampa BaySeattle (8/28)

 

Teaser:
Atlanta Falcons 2013 NFL Team Preview
Post date: Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - 10:00

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