NFC East Preview

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This division is considered by many to be the most entertaining of any of the other divisions as all of the teams have a deep lore in the NFL and the competitiveness they play with every year.

Giants:
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The Giants, I find are a bit hard to predict. While I am definitely not a fan of Eli it seems like every time they hit rock bottom they come back and beat the Patriots in ridiculous fashion. If I am to give my honest objective opinion here I don’t see how they can get out of being the worst team in this division.

They lost Hakeem Nicks and didn’t really find anyone suitable to replace what he was capable of bringing to the team (despite his horrific season last year.) They’ve lost Justin Tuck as well who was without a doubt their best defensive player. The Giants by the end should be about 4-12 but do not sleep on them or we will all have to see Eli hoist another one.

Cowboys:
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Ahh this one is fun for me. I could go on for days and days about the Cowboys but we’re going to shorten this up a bit.

These guys have lost their best defensive player in Sean Lee for the year and have yet to replace him with a solid replacement. The highest hope in the LB core is Rolando McClain based off of potential shown in college. Even if he can be anything like he was in college the rest of the defense is so horrible I doubt he will be able to carry them to even being respectable. This offense can be though, has potential to be very scary. Dez is a monster, Romo is a stat stuffing monster of a QB and Demarco is a top 10 RB in this league. The main issues are how Jason Garrett doesn’t want to give Murray the ball and how Romo is one bad hit away from being done. I have no doubt in this offense becoming elite. But because of the worst defense I’ve seen in my lifetime and a lack of any true leaders on the roster or staff I can’t see this team finishing above 3rd in the division. I see them going 6-10 as they have one of the hardest schedules in the NFL.

The Cowboys mystique may bring them to 8-8 but I think that is even stretching it based on what we’ve seen from this team. ( Here goes another article pertaining to the Cowboys https://fortonsports.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/reason-to-believe/)

Eagles:
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Nick Foles… That’s the question many have when they’re asked about the Eagles. Can he be what he was last year for this team? I’m not ruling it out but I do not have faith in Foles. Who I do have faith in though is Chip Kelly.

I thought he was going to be a great coach in the NFL and so far he has been. Chip will have this offense going without a doubt. Lesean McCoy is already a monster and with the addition of bringing in Darren Sproles and the return of Jeremy Maclin I don’t see how Foles can mess this up.

Now their defense is not horrible, definitely better than others in the division, but do I see them winning this division? Simply put no.

They have major issues scoring on the Cowboys which is beyond ridiculous but that fact remains I’m chalking that up as 2 losses if Romo is healthy. I do not see them beating the Cardinals Seahawks or Niners so that’s up to 5 losses right there. Then there are the games that will be up for grabs and they won’t win all of those. In the end I see them narrowly missing the playoffs finishing 7-9 and 2nd in the division.

Redskins:
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RG3. That’s the question everyone has in regards to the Redskins. Can he be the RG3 we saw in college and his rookie year? I believe so.

Preseason has not treated him well for sure but I don’t like to put much stock in preseason. He has one of the best arms in the league and without a doubt when healthy he’s the fastest QB in the NFL. He told media that the team would go where he goes and he is 100% right about that. If he cannot be even 2/3 of what he was his rookie year then this team will go down very early in the season and never recover. But if he is that guy and I believe he will be then this is without a doubt the most complete team in the NFC East.

Alfred Morris walked in as a 1,000 yd rusher and never looked back. Garcon had the most receptions of any WR last year, DeSean Jackson is a major deep threat on the other side and is coming off of his best season of his career. They even found themselves a nice young TE last year in Jordan Reed. The offense is stacked and can be a great West Coast offensive team.

And then there’s the defense, which is more than likely the best in the division. They upgraded their D-line with ex-Cowboy Hatcher and at safety they found themselves a veteran in Ryan Clark. I see the makings of a good team here. They have the young talent and veterans who know how to win big.
I see the Washington Redskins winning the division in the last week and finishing 9-7, thus receiving a playoff birth….

NFC North Preview: (https://fortonsports.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/nfc-north-preview/)

NFC West Preview: (https://fortonsports.wordpress.com/2014/09/06/nfc-west-preview/)

NFC South Preview: (https://fortonsports.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/nfc-south-preview/)

De’Shawn Hornback

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Reason To Believe?

yuh

No Ware, no Austin, no Lee, no Hatcher, no Ratliff and no sign of improvement. Looking at the schedule the Cowboys would be lucky to win six games in most eyes, while others will settle down and say they’ll make it to eight wins. The schedule is hard. Romo is one major hit from being out and the defense is still disgraceful. Despite all of that there is still a reason to believe. Am I saying they could make a run a the Superbowl, HELL NO. But what I am saying is that they could at least be formidable.

    Here in the offseason the Cowboys did a few good things.

  •    Improved the O-Line
  •    Brought in a new play caller
  •   Switched Defensive coordinators
  •   Got younger
  •   Didn’t throw money at anyone
  •  Made the right football decisions
  • Committed to Romo (Meaning no QB distractions or tanking)

 Letting go of Ware was smart. His play didn’t match his pay over the past few years and didn’t seem to be getting any better. Hatcher was already in his 30’s and you don’t overpay age, so letting him go was ideal as well. Cutting Austin was a smart decision too, because he was killing the cap and couldn’t stay healthy. In the end drafting an offensive lineman instead of Manziel was the smartest thing that was done. (This could be argued at a different time.)

By bulking up the O-line the Cowboys have assured three to four things. Romo will be protected, he’ll be more accurate, they’ll run the ball more and the offense will be much better. New play caller Scott Linehan will help the offense a lot more as well and expand the games of many players as well as the dynamic of the playbook which was often viewed as too simplistic.

With Linehan on board the Cowboys will be able to utilize Dez Bryant, Escobar and Dunbar in ways that weren’t apprehendable before. Dez will be moving/lining up all over the place in ways that Calvin Johnson did. Dunbar will be used in screen plays like Reggie Bush and Escobar will become a big redzone threat. Williams will only improve and Witten will still be there in bail out time. The O-line now has three First Rd. picks on board and should be to protect Romo and create holes for Murray. Most believe this O-line will blossom into a top three or five group which could create a lot of problems for opposing defenses.

There have also been a lot of talk and hype from the Cowboys camp as well. Romo has been saying he’s better than ever and that his best years are in front of him. Dez has been talking about how high of ceiling he has and how he’s ready to take the next step. Murray also said he’s ready to carry the load. Even Jerry Jones came out and talked about how confident he is in this offense. All of the talk has to equate to something right?

After glossing over the offense and how there’s hype surrounding it I forgot to mention cornerback Brandon Carr and the comments he made during the off-season. Carr came out and said it’s basically time for him to come out and dominate the league. Let that sink for a second… Dominate the league he says. DOMINTAE THE LEAGUE. The same guy who allowed Calvin Johnson to break a single game record and who got burnt by damn near every receiver has the audacity to come out and say it’s time for him to dominate the league, wow. Just wow. But in all honesty I can’t blame him for those comments.

Carr needs to dominate every receiver that steps opposite of him if the Cowboys want to improve defensively. Carr needs to become one of, if not the vocal leader of the Cowboy’s defensive unit now that Ware is gone and Sean Lee is out for the season. (Tragic I know.) The Cowboys are paying Carr like a top notch and corner it’s now time that he plays like it. Same could be said for Morris Claiborne as well; its now time for him to play to his potential and stay healthy as well. J.J. Wilcox is another guy in the secondary who should have an impact as well. Last season personal issues and injuries kept him from being consistently good.  If those three guys along with Scandrick and Church perform like we know they can the secondary could be a strong point.

As far as the linebacker and D-line go the Cowboys have way too many question marks. They could be a better group than last season but who knows. Rookie DE, Demarcus Lawrence, is already out for a portion of the season; former Pro Bowl DT, Henry Melton, is just coming back from injury; Anthony Spencer is still a huge IF and Amobi Okoye is still too far off gauge where he’s at. With that being said the only sure thing on the D-line is George Selvie who led the team in sacks this past season. Sure, the Cowboys have a lot of other defensive line on board but none of them are guaranteed to have the same impact on the game as some of the guys mentioned above would. Nevertheless, the D-Line could prove to be a strong point as the season progresses but as of now its deemed as putrid.

Last but not least, well maybe least, we have the linebacker core. When Sean Lee went down so did this group. Guys like Bruce Carter and Justin Durant just aren’t consistent enough to be viewed as good or respectable. This is just a sorry group of linebackers point blank period. But there could be a bright spot. Twice retired linebacker Rolando McClain could prove to be a huge pickup. He was star a few years back in college with Alabama and was still nice upon joining the league as a top pick. He has tremendous upside and could help this defense significantly. ( Might be a nice guy to pair Lee with in the future as well.) Having hit rock bottom last year as a defense, the Cowboys can only improve. It may not be much better, but an improvement is still positive and could bold well.

Looking at the schedule many people thought it would be hard for the Cowboys to reach six wins. Hell someone came out and said they’d go 2-14. I don’t understand why many presume the schedule is extremely hard. Yes the Cowboys play the NFC West and AFC South along with the Bears and Saints I get it but if you really look at it it’s not as hard as last years. (This years schedule http://espn.go.com/nfl/team/schedule/_/name/dal/dallas-cowboys)

 

The 49ers look as vulnerable as ever. Outside of the Colts no one in the AFC South can do any type of damage. The Rams lost Bradford for the year and now they’re in a frenzy. No one in the NFC East really improved outside of Washington, but the question on if RG3 is going to be healthy still remains. In all honesty outside of the Saints, Seahawks, Bears, Colts and maybe the Cardinals no one really jumps out. At best I can see them losing six games. Worst case scenario I see them losing eight. ( I’ll take 9-7 go ahead and chalk it up as my prediction baring injury to Romo.)

Why do I feel so strongly about the Cowboys? This is why.

Last year the Cowboys finished:

  • 14th in Passing
  • 24th in Rushing
  • 16th in Total Offense
  • 27th in stopping the run
  •  30th in stopping the pass
  • 5th in scoring
  • 32nd in Total Defense (worst ever)
  • Finished with a record of 8-8
  • Went 5-1 in division play with Romo missing the sole game they lost. 

Eight and eight with the worst defense in NFL history and the Cowboys still managed to own their division. Incredible. Why can’t they replicate that again this year with a more dynamic offense and slightly improved defense?

After bottoming out at a league low defensively I don’t see any reason on why the Cowboys can’t improve on that end. . If the defense can stay healthy, be resilient, show toughness and play with an edge they could be formidable. Improving the O-line and changing play callers plus expanding the playbook can only enhance the offense and make them more dynamic. If the offense can stick to the run and Murray does his job the Cowboys could very be put in position to scare a few people. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it. The Cowboys have the guys and enough of the power to do so. However the real question is, do they have the mindset or the will to do it? Time and time again they showed us they didn’t but maybe things have changed this time around.

romo-dez

 

Ryan Fort

FMOT: RyanDFort

 

 

Bright Future

The Old Duo
The Old Duo

Four years ago during the season of 09 (2009-2010 for those who may get confused) the Phoenix Suns peaked as a team.

The Suns at that time featured a lot of veterans and a few young players. The roster consisted of Steve Nash, Amare’ Stoudamire, Grant Hill, Jason Richardson, Channing Frye, Robin Lopez, Barbosa, Collins, Clark, Amundson, Dudley and soon to be Nash protégé Goran Dragic. Alvin Gentry was the head coach and happened to be at the tail end of his contract.

The team was in “Win Now” mode and would’ve been devastated if one of their star players left.

Led by Stoudamire and Nash, the Suns made it to the Western Conference Finals that year. They lost to the eventual champions, the Los Angeles Lakers in six hard fought games. After the season rumors surfaced about Nash retiring and Amare’ jumping ship.

Nash didn’t retire like people thought he would. Instead he decided to keep playing and stayed loyal to the fans and organization. Stoudamire didn’t.

Thinking about himself and what’s best for his career, Amare’ left the Suns and went East to the New York Knicks. Leaving the Phoenix Suns gutted. Without Amare’ the Suns weren’t even Playoff material, let alone contenders. Their status as an upper echelon team diminished and they dropped to mediocrity.

The following years came and went. Various pieces left as well. Dragic departed (only to return once Nash left). After two  and Grant Hill left. After two years of holding Nash hostage the Suns went on traded him to the Lakers while acquiring many picks in the process. The rebuilding phase had officially begun.

dragic Following the departure of Nash, Phoenix brought back Goran Dragic, who had spent a few years in Houston playing for the Rockets. They also brought in Luis Scola and made a trade to bring in Marcus Morris after already having his twin (Markieff Morris) on the roster. Along with the likes of Gortat and Michael Beasley the Suns went on to finish with a record of 25-57, while placing last in the Western Conference during the 12-13 season.

After hitting rock bottom the Suns changed damn near everything.

Head coach Alvin Gentry was replaced by first year head coach, Jeff Hornacek. In the draft the Suns selected Alex Len and few overseas prospects. Phoenix also did a number of trades. They brought in guards Eric Bledsoe, Archie Goodwin, Ish Smith; forward Gerald Green and big men Emeka Okafor and Miles Plumlee. Beasley, Scola and Gortat were all moved. During the season they also added veterans Leandro Barbosa and Shavlik Randolph to improve their depth.

Going into the season no one expected Phoenix to end where they were. They faced a lot questions in regards to the players and coaches on their underrated squad. Goran Dragic was thought to be mediocre, Bledsoe was a huge unknown because he never started and no one knew if Hornacek was going to be a good coach. Phoenix finished the season 48-34 which was good enough for ninth in the loaded Western Conference. And was one game away from being a Playoff team. A lot of those question marks from the beginning of the season turned into exclamation points with good purpose.

Dragic turned into a borderline Allstar as well as Bledsoe. Hornacek ran a system that suited the players and honed their skills. The Morris twins were nice, Gerald Green was a stud and everyone else complemented Bledsoe and Dragic. Young core, bright coach and the right role players. Truth be told if Bledsoe hadn’t have missed over 20 games the Suns would’ve been a Playoff team. (Sorry Mavs.)

If Phoenix could get their hands on a decent big (Hello Greg Monroe ) they’d really be a force out West. With the addition of PG Isiah Thomas and draft picks T.J. Warren and Tyler Ennis Phoenix has perhaps the best group of guards and best group of trade assets to lure a big fish. With a huge turnaround in year two of the rebuilding phase the Suns have positioned themselves to be a nice young group in years to come.

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Ryan Fort

FMOT: @RyanDFort

Cavs or Bulls?

With the departure of Lance Stephenson and the horrific leg injury to star swingman Paul George, the Indiana Pacers have been rendered completely helpless. As those two were the only players on their roster outside of Evan Turner(who didn’t even play) who can create their own shots. The East’s top seed this past year, most likely won’t make the playoffs. The East champions, Miami Heat will be competitive but will struggle without Lebron James, unless D-Wade is Flash.

That leaves us basically with two teams The Chicago Bulls and The Cleveland Cavaliers. With Chicago getting very nice pieces in Pau Gasol, Doug McDermott, Aaron Brooks, and Nikola Mirotić they seem much more deep than in the past; though they are most excited by the return of Derrick Rose and they are very hopeful that he can stay healthy this year. With the pieces they’ve added, Derrick Rose coming back, and having one of the best coaches in the league in Tom Thibodeau, the Bulls will certainly be a top 2 seed.

Now to the Cavs who executed arguably the best offseason in NBA history. They first signed All-Star MVP Kyrie Irving to a six year extension. They then went out and drafted #1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins only to use him and last years’s #1 pick Anthony Bennett to get star power forward Kevin Love. Oh and they also got the best player in the world in Lebron James, while adding shooters Mike Miller, James Jones and still may add veterans Ray Allen and Shawn Marion. With all that going along with young talent like Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson, the Cleveland Cavaliers have assembled an immediate championship contender.

It is already a forgone conclusion these two teams will be competing for the East Crown(considering they stay healthy). It will be interesting to see where the rest of the East teams will fall in line, but there is no doubt these are the Beasts of the East.

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FMOT: @Rmon9

The New Big 3

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With the acquisition of one of the best power-forwards in the game, Kevin Love, the Cleveland Cavaliers have created a new big 3 here in the NBA. With the young star point guard Kyrie Irving and the best player on planet Earth, Lebron James already on board, this is an extremely potent trio and could cause their opponents to have nightmares.

It may take time for James and Irving to figure out how to maximize their potential as teammates, as they are used to playing with the ball in their hands 95% of the time. On the flipside the duo of Lebron and Kevin Love shouldn’t take that long to be great at all. Kevin Love’s skill set fits Lebron James better than any other player in pro basketball. Their feel on the court for each other should feel natural and be automatic.

With Kevin Love being the best stretch forward in the league it should give Lebron all the room he needs to operate and have a plethora of driving lanes. This will be extremely difficult to guard because as soon as defenders collapse on James, he will immediately kick it out and you better believe Kevin Love will make them pay.

Going back to the Irving and James dynamic, the only way they can be effective on the court together is that Kyrie must be able to play off the ball; something he is not accustomed to doing and may find difficult. He must be able to catch and shoot at a much higher clip than he has the past few seasons as he has one of the lowest 3-point percentages in the league off of the catch and shoot. If he shores up these issues him and the 4 time MVP should be just fine playing with one another.

With all three of these stars in their 20s they can compete for championships for many years to come, especially considering how weak the Eastern Conference is at this point in time.

They have the potential to be as good, if not better than the Miami Heat’s version of the big 3. But in order for that to happen Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving must sacrifice parts of their game the same way Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh did in Miami. They might find this much more difficult to do than those two but it can still be done.

Another thing they must do is significantly increase their defensive games in order to be great, but I’m sure it will be done as Lebron James will demand that effort on the defensive end.

It will be very interesting to see how these stars mesh and jell together, it will be a long process but if it is done right they could be very very good. If they figure it out I don’t think there will be anybody in the NBA to stop them.

Cleveland fans should have every right to be excited about what this upcoming season could bring to Northeast Ohio.

FMOT @Rmon9