NFL Alphabet Preview: Week 7


NFL Alphabet Preview: Week 7

It's Week 7, and time for another installment of the Alphabet NFL Preview.

Or is it the NFL Alphabet Preview?

Let's go to Mike Pereira for clarification . . .

Actually, let's just get started.

A is for ALTER EGO
On Sunday in Houston, the Ravens begin life without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb two leaders on the defense who will watch the rest of the season from the couch (or in Lewis case, more likely, from the sidelines in a full Nike jumpsuits). To make matters worse, Ed Reeds playing with a torn labrum, Haloti Ngata has a sprained knee (troublesome when youre 330 pounds) and even if Terrell Suggs returns this week, hes still months away from being his old Brady-obsessed self.

But even before this rash of injuries, it hasnt been a great year for Dean Pees and the legendary Ravens D. They rank 26th in total yards, and their run defense has been sketchier than a casual encounters post on Craigslist.

Not exactly the best time to head out on the road against Arian Foster and the Texans' fifth ranked offense. Baltimore's best bet might just be to hope that Bernard Pollard can eliminate all of Houston's best players by halftime.


You give any quarterback in this league time to throw (Correction: Any non-Kansas City Chiefs quarterback), and theres a good chance hell make you pay. You give a future Hall of Famer enough time and hell leave you naked on the side of the road sucking your thumb in the fetal position.

Anyway, through six games, the Giants offensive line has been impregnable, allowing a league-low four sacks, including none over their last three games. In fact, screw the sacks, Eli Manning only been hit 11 times (including only once last week against the insane San Francisco D). Twenty NFL QBs have been sacked more than Manning has been hit.

The Giants host the Redskins this week, and unless Washington can break through and get some pressure, we might have a bloodbath on our hands. The Skins secondary has given up more passing yards than anyone in the league, and is tied for last in passing touchdowns allowed (15) with the Pats and Browns.


There's no doubt that the Dez Bryant is one of the most talented receivers in the NFL. I'm talking pure, raw talent. It's just that, to this point, injuries and the space between his ears have prevented Dez from realizing his sick potential. But those days may be coming to an end. Bryant's been targeted by Tony Romo a team-high 28 times over the last two weeks, and more astoundingly, has caught 21 of those targets for 200 yards and a two scores.

Now we shouldn't get too carried away yet. Dez is still a wild card. Much like the last guy to wear No. 88 in Dallas, he's just as likely to stab a teammate in the neck with a pair of scissors as he is to carve up the Panthers this week. But I'd say it's fair to be cautiously optimistic that Bryant has finally turned the corner.

Or if you're the rest of the NFL, legitimately terrified.


Believe it or not, were six weeks into the season and Robert Griffin III has yet to play a game within the NFC East. But this week, the rookie gets thrown into the fire under the most daunting circumstances: Against the Giants, at MetLife Stadium. Yikes. Thats like going out for your driving test on Memorial Ave. in Cambridge.

Its going to be a ton of fun to watching RGIII go up against the Giants defensive line. So far this season, the rookie hasn't done much damage through the air, as he ranks 21st in passing yards and 27th in attempts (granted, he does lead the league with a 70.2 completion percentage), but hes making a historic impact with his legs. Through six games, Griffins 15th in the NFL in rushing yards (ahead of Chris Johnson, Steven Jackson and Darren McFadden), second in rushing TDs (6) and second in yards per carry (6.9).

You know that RGIII is dreaming big for Sunday, but seeing that it's his first NFC East rodeo, it might smart to set a few more modest goals. For instance, to not be eaten by Jason Pierre-Paul.


It feels like forever since the Arizona Cardinals were on top of the NFL world; 4-0 with wins against Seattle, New England and Philly, and boasting a defense that looked ready to hang with anyone.

These days, the Cards have lost two straight (to St. Louis and Buffalo), will be without Kevin Kolb for at least six weeks, their two best running backs for the foreseeable future and find themselves 6.5-point underdogs this week against the Vikings. To make matters worse, their upcoming schedule is straight out of Ken Whisenhunt's cruelest nightmare, as Arizona's next three games come against San Francisco, at Green Bay and at Atlanta.

Said Kolb: "Phew."


In last years Fiesta Bowl, Brandon Ego Weedens Oklahoma State Cowboys beat Andrew Lucks Stanford Cardinal in an overtime classic , 41-38. On Sunday, well witness a rematch of sorts when the Browns visit the Colts.

If you need any reminder that this isn't last year, just take a look at the overunder: 45.5.

And if you need a good laugh, here's a ridiculous picture of Jim Irsay.

G is for GUTTER

Through six game, the Jaguars rank last in the NFL in total offense, last in passing yards per game and last in scoring. Theyve also run for only one touchdown, rank 25th in points allowed and have sacked opposing quarterbacks an NFL-low three times.

But running back Maurice Jones-Drew, for one, is undeterred.

Just kidding. He sounds about two steps away from taking a bath with his toaster.

It's been the same thing for five years," he said. "Obviously, we're not working hard enough. I don't know. We're just not playing well right now. We have to figure something out. No one here is going to save us.

Jacksonville travels to Oakland on Sunday.


Earlier in the week, the NFL announced that Beyonce will be the halftime entertainment at this years Super Bowl in New Orleans.

I'm installing early 3-to-1 odds that baby Blue Ivy makes an appearance on stage and, at 13 months old, delivers a freestyle rap verse that trumps anything I could do if I had 10 years to rehearse.


Czar Goodells BountyGate crusade took another hit this week when the NFL Players Association filed papers in federal court pointing out that the NFL permitted the Packers Reggie White to run a smash-for-cash incentive program back in 1996.

Goodell responded by suspending the NFLPA for the rest of the season.


We already expected to see Tim Tebow line up for a few snaps at QB this week against the Pats. Not to mention maybe a snap or two as a wide out and a few more in punt coverage. But this week, Rex Ryan says that we may also even see Tebow at running back, and to be honest, that's not a bad idea. Last week's breakout aside, I think Tebow could at least be as effective as Shonn Greene.

But for all the mixing and matching, it's amazing that Ryan can't come to grips with reality that the best way to use Tim Tebow is as his every day quarterback . . . while Mark Sanchez settles into his more suited dual role as water boycougar hunter.


The Bills defense is bad. How bad? Bad enough that they had to re-sign Shawne Merriman this week. Bad enough that Matt Hasselbeck is going to have all the time in the world on Sunday, allowing finally healthy Kenny Britt and breakout rookie Kendall Wright to lead the way in a big win in Buffalo.

Hell, Chris Johnson might even get in on the action.

Nah, probably not.


According to Rotoworld, the Browns Greg Little has dropped 30 percent of his catchable targets this season. 30 percent! As if Cleveland fans needed to feel any worse about trading the pick that could have landed them Julio Jones.

Little's the young receiver Mike Holmgren drafted in Julio's stead. Granted, Little went at No. 59, as opposed to No. 6, so the expectations aren't in the same stratosphere. Still, Little's well on his way to being remembered as the biggest second round bust since Chad Jackson.

More likely, not remembered at all.


How's this for a potential Sunday milestone:

The Texans have never beaten the Baltimore Ravens.

N is for NO. 1 PICKS

It's a tale of two No. 1 picks in the NFC right now, as the Sam Bradford, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft is improving every day, taking the Rams to new heights and inspired one scout to tell the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel this week that he's take Bradford over Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler in the "short and long term."

And then there's Stafford. The No. 1 pick in the 2009 Draft, who finally broke out last year but has fallen right back in this season. Stafford was criticized publicly by two former QBs this week Ron Jaworski and Phil Simms and has thrown only four touchdowns to go with five intereceptions for the 2-3 Lions.

But hey, on the brightside, he's not JaMarcus Russell.

O is for OOPS

The Vikings had nine red zone snaps in the first quarter of last weeks loss to the Redskins, and Percy Harvin (quickly becoming one of the versatile and devastating offensive weapons in the league) was on the field for only four of them.

"That was just the way the personnel groups went, Minnesota offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said later. "That was part of our plan, which we're not proud of . . . We're hoping to use him down there both run game and play-action when he's in the backfield."

Wow. I guess it's hard to criticize Musgrave's honesty. His answer is certainly better than anything that came out of Bill Belichick's mouth during the Welker fiasco. But If I'm Ziggy Wilf, I say: "Bill, I appreciate your honesty, but you're fired." I mean, how is part of the plan to have Harvin on the bench when you're in the red zone?

I'm guessing he'll be out there this week against Arizona.

Quick note: Is it possible to look more like a guy named "Ziggy Wilf" than the actual Ziggy Wilf?


After a frustrating start to his sophomore season, Cam Newton's feeling fresh of the bye and ready to lead the Panthers this Sunday against Dallas. Newton said that this newfound optimism stems from a conversation he had with his father.

Well, that's all I have to hear. I mean, when has Cecil Newton ever led his son astray?


While the rest of the league takes the battle for Week 7, one of the saddest QB competitions in NFL history will be unfolding in Kansas City. Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn . . . Who's is gonna be!?!?!

I think they'd probably be better off luring 42-year-old Elvis Grbac out of retirement.


Time to take a quick look back at last week's predictions and see how I did:

The Good: Brandon Weeden will play well against Bengals; Lions will beat Eagles; Colts will have let down against the Jets; Peyton will get the best of Chargers; Brian Hartline will struggle against Rams

The Bad: Shonn Green should be benched; Cardinals will beat Bills; Randy Moss will have a tantrum.

That's 5-3 I'll take it.

S is for STEP IT UP

The Bengals had one of the easiest early season schedules in the NFL, with two games against the Browns, and dates with the Jaguars and Dolphins over the first six weeks . . . but they blew it, and head into Sunday night's game against Pittsburgh at 3-3.

Bengals fans have to hope that better competition brings out a better team, because Cincinnati schedule doesn't look great from here. After the Steelers, they play the Broncos, then the Giants, at Kansas City, Oakland, at San Diego, Dallas, at Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh and then finish the season the way they started it with a game against the Ravens.

Wow. I'd say Marvin Lewis' job might be in trouble, but he's proven to be the George Costanza of NFL coaches. Lewis could show up at a meeting wearing Anthony Munoz's jersey and wipe cherry juice all over it . . . he could drive around the parking lot with the 1988 AFC Championship trophy tied to his bumper . . . and he still wouldn't be fired.


Last nights game between the Seahawks and 49ers was low-scoring, but still entertaining thanks to the unbelievable defenses on both sides. However, the next four weeks will likely be low-scoring and borderline unwatchable. Week 8: Tampa Bay at Minnesota. Week 9: Kansas City at San Diego (in a stadium that might be three quarters full). Week 10: Indianapolis at Jacksonville (same) and Week 11: Miami at Buffalo.


With last week's Lions win in Philadelphia, I'm 1-1 on the Upset Special this season. Soon to be 2-1 after the Rams beat Green Bay on Sunday.

Why? Go re-read "N" then check out the last part of "W" then place a call to your bookie and thank me next week.

V is for VOLANT

volant (adjective): Flying, or capable of flight.

Use in a sentence: The Saints offense will be volant on Sunday in Tampa, regardless of whether Jimmy Graham plays, thanks to the Bucanneers 31nd ranked pass defense.

Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean anything about the outcome of the game, seeing how Drew Brees is averaging nearly 30 more passing yards a game (344) than anyone in the league and the Saints are still only 1-4. Still, with the Saints defense as pathetic as it is this season, New Orleans can only stay in games if they're able to pick up yards in the air, and the fact that that's a very real possibility against Tampa bodes well for Brees and Co.'s chances.

Random note: You know what surprised me a little about this SaintsBucs match-up? Over the last 10 years, Tampa actually has the edge in the head-to-head competition 11-10.


James Jones has been the most obvious benefactor of Greg Jennings' groin injury using his added reps to catch a league-leading seven touchdown passes. But as far as the Packers are concerned, Jennings absence has been opened their eyes to Randall Cobb.

Cobb has 29 receptions this year on only 35 targets, and this week Aaron Rodgers said that the second-year man out of Kentucky is "probably going to go down as one of the better picks of Ted Thompson's career, if not the best."

Well, as long as you don't count that future Hall of Fame quarterback that Thompson snagged with the 28th pick in the 2005 Draft.

Anyway, Rodgers, Cobb and the Pack are riding high after their big win in Houston, but the passing game may be up for a test this week in St. Louis. The Rams have allowed a league-low four touchdown passes, and rank fifth in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game (208), opposing QB rating (72.8) and interceptions (8).

X is for XENIAL

Xenial: Relating to, or constituting hospitality or relations between host and guest.

Did you catch the story that the director of PR for the Chargers wrote, and then posted ON THE FRONT PAGE of last night? Here it is, if you feel like reading the whole thing, but I promise you can get the gist from the first few sentences. (Reminder: This was in the aftermath of Monday's despicable loss to the Broncos. Also, in the aftermath of GM AJ Smith making an assembly line of horrendous decisions over the course of the last few years)

"Whats with you people? Yes, Monday nights loss was bad. Horrible. Embarrassing. OK . . . enough already. No mas. I get it. Now get over it. It was a loss. One loss."

Imagine if the Pats sent out something like that after last week's mess in Seattle?

Y is for YO-YO

Win. Loss. Win. Loss. Win. Loss.

That's the Steelers' season so far, and on Sunday night they'll head to Cincinnati where they've won 10 of their last 11 games. But who cares what their history in Cincy suggests . . . the yo-yo tells all. (As does Cincy's surprisingly bad defense). Count on the Steelers to get back in the win column.

Z is for ZINGER

OK, I've finally heard back from Pereira on the name discrepancy and he says that: "The only thing more tedious and drawn than sitting through an NFL replay challenge is reading this God damn preview."

Yikes. Sorry, Mike.

Enjoy the games, everybody.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

LeBlanc's ability to play the football could help him earn spot with Patriots


LeBlanc's ability to play the football could help him earn spot with Patriots

FOXBORO -- Not long after Cre'Von LeBlanc made a hard-to-fathom, one-handed interception in New England's preseason opener against the Saints, Patriots coach Bill Belichick labeled the play "special." Then he delved a little more deeply into LeBlanc's practice performances with the team to that point.

"Day in and day out, he's been pretty consistent for us going all the way back to the spring," Belichick said at the time. "I'd say his instinctiveness, his ability to be around the ball, his anticipation and ability to recognize routes maybe offset some of the testing numbers that aren't elite . . . Knowing how to play -- he has got some of that. He finds the ball. Or the ball finds him. However you want to look at it."

LeBlanc has seen more preseason targets (20) than any other corner in the NFL thus far, according to Pro Football Focus, and he's allowed nine receptions for 95 yards. His percentage of targets caught (45 percent) is the third-best of any corner with at least 15 targets, and he's allowed a quarterback rating of 38.5 when targeted.

The undrafted rookie out of Florida Atlantic has one pass breakup to go along with his eye-popping pick, and his ability to make plays on the football -- something he flashed in one-on-one drills throughout training camp -- is something that may allow him to earn a spot on the team's 53-man roster.

When asked to explain the value of a player who seems to have a knack for finding the football, Belichick said it can be a difficult skill to assess. It may seem, at times, like a player is fortunate to make those kinds of plays at first. But if they happen again, and again, you might just have something.

"It's a valuable skill," Belichick said. "Logan Ryan is another guy that did it in college. He has done it here. Some guys have a real knack for that, other guys not as much. Sometimes it's a little bit acquired, sometimes it's just instinctive.

"The best example I ever had was [former Giants corner] Everson Walls. He didn't technically do hardly anything right from a fundamental standpoint. You would never take another player and say, 'Look, do it the way Everson's doing it. This is the way you would want to do it.' But in the end [he had], I don't know, whatever it was, 56 career interceptions. It was a lot. It was over 50. He did things, but he could find the ball and he had a great instinct for quarterbacks, routes, pattern combinations and so forth. Certainly it wasn't a speed and measurable thing. You would have released him on those measurable. That's whyhe wasn't drafted. But as a football player he's productive.

"When I was in Detroit, Lem Barney . . . same kind of thing. Lem probably had better measurable skills coming out, but at that point he made a lot of plays and he made them on his instinctiveness, ball skills, awareness, etc.

"Ty [Law], I mean Ty was a first-round pick, but Ty had that too. There are a lot of first-round picks that don't have that and he had that.

"It's definitely an important skill, and it really probably separates good from great players or average to good players. It's not the easiest thing to evaluate, and sometimes some of those plays are circumstantial more than they are great instinctive plays. They're fortunate the way they happen. But when a guy starts making enough of them then you know it's something a little special."

Time will tell as to whether or not the Patriots believe LeBlanc has that something special. Final roster cuts are due on Sept. 3. He's been included in our latest 53-man roster projection, but he's competing in what appears to be a deep positional group that includes second-year players Justin Coleman and Darryl Roberts as well as fellow undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones.

Brady to serve as Michigan honorary captain Sept. 17


Brady to serve as Michigan honorary captain Sept. 17

Tom Brady will have some time on his hands the next couple of weeks. So, why not travel back to the ol’ alma mater to serve as honorary captain.

That’s what the Patriots quarterback will be doing Sept. 17 when Michigan hosts Colorado at the Big House in Ann Arbor.

Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh told the NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, another Michigan alum, that Brady will be back in Michigan for the game. 

There has been speculation that Brady will find time to work out with the Wolverines to stay sharp while he’s away from the Patriots serving his four-game Deflategate suspension. His visit with the Wolverines will no doubt fuel more of that talk. 



Phil Perry’s Patriots Roster Projection 5.0


Phil Perry’s Patriots Roster Projection 5.0

Click here for the gallery.

After Tuesday's cuts, the Patriots roster is down to 75 players. That number won't last for long, though, because by Saturday at 4 p.m. the list will have to be trimmed again to 53. 

One of the names that will be lopped off the active roster will be Tom Brady's as his four-game suspension will start soon after the Patriots take on the Giants for their fourth preseason game of the year. The rest of the moves to reduce the roster are up in the air, but here is our best guess at what the final 53 will look like.


Given the way Brissett has improved from week to week since the start of training camp, it seems as though the team should be comfortable with him as its backup beginning Week 1. There may be other more capable quarterbacks who become available after cuts have been made around the league, but there is no signal-caller on the list of current free agents -- which includes Matt Flynn, Ryan Lindley and Mike Vick -- who would be a sure thing as an emergency contributor.


This is one of the more difficult positions on the Patriots roster to project. Blount and White seem to be locks as the team's top "big back" and "sub back," respectively. After that? It's a tough call. Foster, to me, looks like the type of player another team would be willing to take a chance on if the Patriots released him. Rare is the late training-camp cut who catches on with another program to join their 53-man roster, but Foster could have the skill set to warrant such a gamble. He looked quick in New England's preseason win over Carolina -- Foster's preseason debut -- and he was highly sought after as an undrafted free agent. Sub backs are key components to the Patriots offense, and if Bill Belichick believes he has a good one on his hands, he may be reluctant to part ways. Gaffney, meanwhile, has had a strong camp, but he has practice squad eligibility, and could serve as the team's emergency call-up should Blount become unavailable. Brandon Bolden is also a late cut in this scenario. A talented special teams player, Bolden has had difficulty showing consistency as a running back in camp and preseason play, with his fumble against the Bears as a noteworthy error. Bolden's value in the past has been tied to his ability to serve as a dependable backup. 


Martin still seems to be the best option for the Patriots on the back end of their depth chart at this position. He has some special teams value as a returner if the Patriots choose to use him in that role, he can play both outside and in the slot, and he's developed a rapport with Brady that was put on display at times early last season. Though Martin has missed practice time due to injury, none of the challengers for that No. 5 receiver spot, including Aaron Dobson, have done much to seize the job. 


If the Patriots go with three running backs as opposed to four, that may leave them the roster room they need to keep Clay Harbor. In this projection, however, Harbor is one of the team's final releases. He's shown proficiency as a blocker, but he hasn't been much of a factor in the passing game, catching two of three targets for 23 yards in 41 snaps. Derby, on the other hand, has shown flashes of ability -- the Brady pass he dropped against the Panthers last week notwithstanding -- that make him worthy of a roster stash even though he may not contribute a great deal with Gronkowski and Bennett ahead of him on the depth chart. 


Cameron Fleming could wind up with a roster spot should the Patriots consider his abilities as a blocking tight end to be a vital part of their run-heavy packages. He's performed well in that role over the course of his career and into this preseason. If he's not on the club, however, that won't mean those packages will be removed from the playbook. In theory, Waddle could be subbed in for Cannon at right tackle and Cannon's athleticism could help him serve the role of the blocking tight end. 


At the moment, Thuney and Kline appear to be set to start at left and right guard, respectively, but the right guard spot could be fluid depending on the health of players like Mason and Cooper. Stork's release makes Andrews the go-to guy at center, and Karras (center/guard) provides the team with some versatile depth on the inside. Should Mason or Cooper end up on a reserve list to start the season, that could open a roster spot for someone like Gaffney, Bolden, Harbor or Fleming.


This is one of the more challenging positional groups to project. Valentine impressed with his snaps against the Panthers, and the third-round pick should factor into the rotation on the interior with Brown and Branch. Kuhn provides additional depth, especially while Valentine adjusts to the pro game. The Patriots used four big-bodied tackles on the interior last year with Brown, Branch, Akiem Hicks and Sealver Siliga. If Valentine isn't ready for much more than a Siliga-style workload (about 20 snaps per game in 2015), then Kuhn would help solidify things on the interior. Penetrating defensive tackle Anthony Johnson was left off in this scenario not necessarily because he didn't perform well this preseason. He did. But the Patriots have good depth at defensive end, and several of their edge rushers can be used on the interior in passing situations. Johnson's explosiveness inside might make him an ideal practice-squad candidate.


The projection at this position has been relatively consistent throughout the preseason. Grissom seems to be the only player who has had a difficult time establishing his value defensively, but he is a special teams staple with the athleticism and upside to potentially become a contributing player on the defensive line in the future. 


Freeny signed a contract extension recently so his spot as the primary fill-in at linebacker and core special teamer is safe. Grugier-Hill dealt with an illness that forced him to miss Friday's game in Carolina, but he returned to practice on Tuesday. His presence as a hybrid linebacker-safety type who can contribute in the kicking game makes him an interesting inclusion on the initial 53-man roster.


The Patriots could decide to go with just four players at this position due in part to their depth at safety, but LeBlanc has been impressive enough to warrant consideration for a spot. His ability to play the football -- a trait that can be difficult to evaluate, Belichick admitted recently -- has been impressive.


Perhaps the deepest position group on the roster top-to-bottom, each one of these six players will be leaned on for their special teams ability in addition to whatever roles big (McCourty, Chung) or not-so-big (King, Ebner) they have defensively. 


This group is set to begin its second season together as a three-man operation when the Patriots head to Arizona for Week 1.