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Boltbits: Why the San Diego Chargers Can Win the Super Bowl

Published: January 8, 2010

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With San Diego’s newfound success, many people are polarizing in their opinions of the Chargers.

The first wave of new support is giving way to those looking to rebut the team’s chances.  How one feels will not ultimately decide the team’s fate—the team will take care of that all by themselves.

Yet looking through articles/reports that begin to try to attack the Chargers’ potential for success, a notion strikes through them all—the team’s chances are being criticized for the simple reason that those chances are so very prevalent. 

The team right now appears poised for a solid playoff run, not only because of the Chargers’ own merit, but also because of some declining merit around them.

San Diego is facing a playoff picture where no team is truly frightening. 

Last year’s Super Bowl Champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers, are not even in the playoffs.  Perennial threat New England has seen a decline in its defensive prowess to go along with the loss of leading wideout Wes Welker.  Early monster Cincinnati looks far more human now.

In past years, San Diego had gone in with similarly high expectations.  Before, however, they were one among three or four of the better teams just in the AFC.  They continually played well but were felled by teams that would eventually represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The separation between top and bottom is much closer than before. 

That advantage means there will not be a downright frightening team to face in the postseason.  The difference in opposition is one great swing in San Diego’s favor.

Another unheralded advantage would be momentum. 

San Diego’s history of solid Decembers has laid the foundation for criticism over the Chargers’ advantage as “the hot team” going into the playoffs.  What is not mentioned within that debate is the matter of scale.

Last year, San Diego was a 4-8 team that scrapped its way through four wins to squeak out a playoff berth thanks largely to the Denver Broncos’ first of two collapses.  They had to fight because they had no other choice; it was win or go home each week.

This year, the team spent most of December with a comfortable edge in its division. 

A brief flurry by Denver (with back-to-back wins against the Chiefs and Giants) quickly slipped back into the Broncos second-half skid.  San Diego was no longer winning by way of pressure; they were winning simply by outplaying opponents despite the opposing team often having more to play for.

That scale is also magnified by one number—11. That is the number of consecutive wins this team is taking into the playoffs. 

A four-game winning streak is a solid call for momentum (just look at the laudations given Dallas with its three wins to close the year), but it is something that happens fairly often in football.

Eleven consecutive games means much more. 

Instead of a cause for optimism, it makes a statement.  Added to that would be wins against a Dallas team fighting for its division, a Cincinnati team that still had hope for a second seed, a resurgent Titans team looking to claw into the playoffs, and an always dangerous Philadelphia Eagles team.

The Chargers have already proven the capacity to overcome injury, as witnessed by just about every member of the defensive front seven missing time to injury (starters and key backups) as well as playing hurt. 

They have fielded a round-robin along the offensive line because of injury, but they will field the healthiest group they have had all year with center Nick Hardwick returning and veteran John Runyan now up to speed. 

In the backfield, they may be a better team with starting fullback Jacob Hester listed as doubtful (though with the extra week, that could easily change) and Mike Tolbert starting in his place.

The Chargers’ running game has been a weak point; however, that has yet to effectively stall the team’s progress. 

Arizona proved in last year’s playoff run that a team with a last-place running game can lean on a great passing game to drive through its entire conference.  The Chargers’ running attack is no longer a major threat, but it is much more respected than the 2008 Cardinals’ rushing game.

Behind San Diego as the 32nd-ranked running team sits Indianapolis, considered the Chargers’ primary threat in the AFC.  Also in the bottom 10 are the Eagles and Cardinals, two highly respected offensive teams.

The team has also faced unfounded criticism over Norv Turner.  He is not a fiery leader, and he likely never will be.  He is a generally calm, measured man who approaches the game more intellectually than passionately.

Yet Turner has turned in significant wins in the playoffs for the Chargers already. 

In 2007, the Chargers defeated the Titans in the Wild Card round, only to stun Indianapolis by taking the divisional round game despite injuries to Ladainian Tomlinson, Philip Rivers, and Antonio Gates. 

In 2008, those same Chargers once again faced a favored Colts team in the playoffs and came away with the win.

With a host of weapons on offense that is at its most dangerous with the improvement along the offensive line, and a defense that looks to be its healthiest since week one, San Diego is in a great position.

It would be foolhardy to outright call the team for the Super Bowl. 

The playoffs are long, and anything can happen. 

Yet all the reasons detractors give for San Diego’s negligent chances are not going to arouse concern.  This is a team not only peaking at the proper time, but it is also doing so in a year where several others are suffering late setbacks.

This year, San Diego looks forward to a great position to make a run at the Super Bowl. 

They have internal and external advantages and will be a dangerous team to face.

To take a look at how San Diego’s first step toward the Super Bowl could play out :

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/321169-the-afc-wildcard-from-a-san-diego-chargers-perspective

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Mike Shanahan: Will It Be The Best Of Times? Or The Worst?

Published: January 8, 2010

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As a Redskins fan on Bleacher Report, I felt obligated to write something about Mike Shanahan. I personally think this can be the best opportunity we’ve had since Dan Snyder took control. I could also just be another disaster.

Shanahan obviously has a lot of upside. His two Super Bowl rings are the most obvious thing that comes to mind. It is hard to deny the success Shanahan had with taking a team that was always close, but just couldn’t seal the deal, to the Super Bowl.

He motivated them, and brought in many talented players. Many people would say it wasn’t hard to win two Super Bowls with Elway, but Dan Reeves and Wade Phillips both couldn’t do it.

Out of the eleven offensive starters in Super Bowl XXXII, five were brought in under Shanahan’s watch, including the ultra-productive Terrell Davis. So Shanahan knows how to win. The thing is, without an elite quarterback and running back, he struggles.

The Denver Broncos descended into mediocrity after Elway’s retirement. Shanahan had been spoiled by having a quarterback of that caliber, and didn’t seem to know what to do without one. Unless he gets his hand on an elite quarterback somehow, I’m not sure how he’ll do.

The most important factor for the future will be drafting. With a good staff and talent, any half-decent coach can do fine, so this will be the key. I’ve always been of the opinion that the main problem over the last 10 years has been personal, not coaching nor play on the field. 

The Redskins have never had any sort of depth, which prevents them from playing through injuries. Snyder has to learn his lesson. He was less involved when Gibbs was around, and maybe having another big name coach will cause the same thing to happen.

Shanahan can’t be left to his own devices, however. Shanahan, while skilled at finding and utilizing talent in the first and second round, he has trouble finding late round sleepers, with the exception of running backs.

Having some help, probably in the form of Bruce Allen, to help him will set the ‘Skins on a path toward success. A rebuilding year or two is in order, since he is used to operating with very different personal.

If Snyder keeps his nose out, Shanahan learns how to win without an Elway level quarterback, and he is given a major role—but not complete power—in drafting, the Redskins could be in for—if not a role as an elite team—at least a respectable one.

If one of these happen, this will amount to yet another failed venture by Snyder and Co.

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Can the Eagles Possibly Beat the Cowboys on Saturday?

Published: January 8, 2010

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Now that the dust has settled after the Eagles embarrassing meltdown in Dallas last Sunday, all the conjecture and unhappiness about what happened can be put aside. The only thing that matters now is looking forward to tomorrow night’s big rematch in the “Mega-Stadium that Jerry Built.” 

Simply put, can the Eagles possibly beat the Cowboys after being thoroughly dismantled by them just days earlier? 

It will not be easy, and will require a dramatic reversal in every phase of the game, but the simple answer is: absolutely. The Cowboys are playing their best football of the season, and are brimming with pride. The same could have been said about the Eagles prior to their three hour body of work last Sunday, which suddenly had them defending their honor and trying to restore confidence. 

The bottom line is that the Eagles are very much the same team that many expected to level the Cowboys to lock up the NFC East and No. 2 seed just a week ago. The only thing that has changed is they had a particularly horrific performance, failing in virtually every phase of the game.

And, of course, this affects human psyche on both sides, both positively and negatively. This is especially true for Eagles players, as they have had to endure the distractions all week due to the media’s trumped up friction and implications about Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid’s futures. 

It is also the same Eagles offense that racked up the highest scoring total in team history before heading to Dallas, eclipsing the previous mark set last season, as well as that of the 2004 Super Bowl team. It still features the same young group of receivers—including two speed burners, an emerging star tight end, and a sure-handed possession receiver.

This group is still complemented nicely by LeSean McCoy and Leonard Weaver in the backfield. 

What has changed on the Eagles offense is the loss of center Jamaal Jackson to injury. However, on the positive side is the presence of Brian Westbrook, who missed most of the season due to multiple injuries. Now that he has had a couple games to shake off the rust, and possibly allay fears about his readiness to return to action, Westbrook may be primed to re-assert himself as a difference maker. 

Of course, the unit is still led by veteran McNabb, who has put together his best season since the 2004 Super Bowl year. McNabb drew an inordinate and undeserved amount of criticism after last week’s contest, and it remains to be seen how much those distractions might affect his play this week.

The fact that he has never lost a first round playoff game in his career should not be discounted, while Tony Romo, on the opposite side of the field, is looking for his first postseason win.

Much has been made of the emergence of the Dallas defense in the latter part of the season. Pitching back-to-back shutouts in the last two regular season games will tend to do that. A lot of the accolades are surely deserved, but it needs to be tempered by the fact that the Cowboys played the woeful Redskins followed by an Eagles team whose troubles were often self-inflicted. 

The real wild card for this Wild Card team will be the defense. Rookie Defensive Coordinator Sean McDermott was forced to move players around to fill holes and shore up weaknesses in the depleted unit for a good portion of the season.

This creativity was probably mostly a good thing, but may have contributed to the breakdowns in Dallas. The cure may be to get players settled into their more familiar roles to improve on the overall execution.

Another key aspect will be whether their trade mark aggressiveness returns. Last Sunday, McDermott surprisingly pulled back on blitzing and often deployed a soft zone defense. The safer approach allowed Romo to pick them apart and Witten to roam free across the middle. A return of the Eagles normal attacking style with press coverage seems essential for success. 

One other element that was highly influential in the previous game’s outcome was field position. Dallas largely played on a short field, while Philadelphia was backed up most of the day. The Cowboys kicking specialists provide this advantage, but a key means to combat that will be for DeSean Jackson to get on track in the punt return game. 

So, yes, this is largely the same Eagles team, and accordingly it is surely conceivable that the outcome of the game be reversed. There is no denying that the Cowboys have a strong team, but despite the disaster in Dallas, the same is true of the Eagles.  Teams don’t fake their way to 11-5 in the NFL. 

The ‘Boys have “home, super-venue advantage,” and the afterglow of their recent masterpiece on their side. On the flip side, the Eagles postseason track record over the past dozen years dwarfs that of the Cowboys. Although last week’s game felt like a playoff game, the NFL’s year-end tournament begins in earnest tomorrow. 

When the NBC camera lights go on tomorrow night, it should not take long to gauge the Eagles chances. A slow start could further fuel doubts, and likely have the Cowboys’ confidence soaring.

Conversely, the reverse scenario would make last Sunday’s events a distant memory. In such case, the Eagles could surprise the enormous number of pundits who have jumped off their bandwagon and directly onto the Cowboys bandwagon.

Visit I’m Just Saying, Philly to read more on Philadelphia Sports and the NFL

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Oakland Raiders: Fee, Fie, Fo, Fum, We Really Should Have Won

Published: January 8, 2010

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“Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum,

I smell the blood of an Englishman,

Be he alive or be he dead,

I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.”

The Baltimore Ravens are named for the poet Edgar Allen Poe who was born in America and had his early education in England. Poe’s poem, The Raven, is a favorite in American literature classes. It’s a poem about a bird; its a poem about depression, I believe.

The Oakland Raiders are named for a more fierce and aggressive presence. The Raiders are the pirates who sometimes have a bird on their shoulder.

The Raiders were established years before the Ravens. The Ravens started in 1996, and it is one of the youngest NFL teams. Two others, the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaquars are one year younger than the Ravens.

And here is my poetic chant:

Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, Last Sunday we should have won!

Not exactly as good as Edgar Allen Poe, but I made my point! Huh?

There are so many “what ifs” this season. Many variables are at play in the game of professional football.

Injuries took their toll on the Oakland Raiders, and we ended up tumbling down the beanstalk like the giant in “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

When you look at the numbers for wins and losses, there were as many “swings” in the curve for the Raiders as there were for the Ravens.

The bird flew back and forth; the pirate stumbled up and down.

Now, to use a regression curve to measure the overall direction the season was going for both the Raiders and the Ravens, we see that the slope of the regression line for the Raiders is positive. The slope for the Ravens, is, surprisingly, going downward, or decreasing.

From a statistical standpoint, if we extrapolate and imagine that the season is longer than 16 weeks, then the Ravens would have been headed downhill, according to the statistical model.

I know what you are saying, but I see the good in it all.

Defintely, we can conclude that we had improvement and an upward movement near the end of the 2009 season, although a second quarterback had injuries, and we lost our groove in the Ravens-Raiders game.

Let’s look at the bright side. We lost but maybe be have found a hen to lay our golden egg, and maybe we will do so much better once all of our players get their groove on in their respective positions.

So cheer up Raider Nation, and remember the big guy who said “Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum, tumbled down the beanstalk, and he was dead and done.”

Wow! The children’s story did not have a happy ending for Jack’s opponent.

In fact, Jack and his poor mom, got the hen and the golden eggs and lived “Happy ever after.”

Now, that’s the kind of ending we want for the Oakland Raiders in 2010.

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Wrapping The Seattle Seahawks Season, Looking Ahead to Life After Mora

Published: January 8, 2010

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In a ritual completed in 19 other NFL locker rooms Monday, Seahawks’ players removed their belongings for the final time this season in an attempt to cleanse themselves of a forgettable 5-11 campaign.

Craig Terrill, a backup defensive lineman, and D.D. Lewis, backup linebacker, toted massive, plastic-covered posters containing the 2009 team picture upon their departure. Many of the players in the photo are unlikely to appear in next year’s version.  

“I think this year more than other years, there’s a lot of uncertainty,” said quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. “There has been uncertainty here before. I think back to 2004, there were 20-something unrestricted free agents, and no one in place to sign those people. This is a similar situation in a sense.”

The first major change occurred Friday with the reported firing of coach Jim Mora. Mora met with team officials Friday morning and was informed of their decision not to retain him, in a story first reported by FoxSports.com. The Seahawks went 1-4 and were outscored a combined 140-57 since team CEO Tod Leiweke made assurances that Mora’s job was safe in early December.

After finishing the year with 17 touchdowns and 17 interceptions, a bruised and battered Hasselbeck openly questioned the player’s trust in first-year offensive coordinator Greg Knapp’s system. Seattle’s patchwork offensive line provided the quarterback with little time to throw and allowed 15 sacks in the last five games of the year.

Even worse, Hasselbeck became too hurried to develop chemistry with free agent wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh or Nate Burleson, who returned after missing nearly the entire 2008 season.

“I think that’s just something you’ve got to ask yourself: ‘Did you trust the play?  Did you trust the guy coaching you?,’” Hasselbeck said. “When I’m cutting the ball loose, I (need) to trust that the guy I’m throwing to is going to help me out. At the same time, when I’m standing in the pocket, I’ve got to trust the guys around me got my back.”

One day after Hasselbeck ended the season with an interception that sealed the Seahawks’ fourth straight defeat, the 34-year-old quarterback said he hopes to be back in Seattle next year.

At a wrap-up press conference on Wednesday, a Seattle-area radio host asked Mora “When you close your eyes and imagine this team in September do you see Matt Hasselbeck as your starting quarterback?” Mora jokingly complied by shutting both eyes on the stage, pausing for a moment, before resoundingly saying “yes.” With a new coach, Hasselbeck’s status is now in question, as well.

Houshmandzadeh, for one, would welcome the return. The offseason prize signing said Hasselbeck and Mora were the two primary reasons why he chose to come to Seattle. Houshmandzadeh finished with 135 targets, but only 79 catches (his lowest total in four years).

More tellingly, the former Bengals receiver said in early December he would have had “90-100 catches,” if he had as many targets as Texans wideout Andre Johnson. At the time, Johnson had the ball thrown in his direction 130 times.

“There were certain things (Matt and I) got better at timing-wise, and certain things that we didn’t, some of it my fault,” Houshmandzadeh said. “You run routes a certain way your whole career and then you come here and it’s a little bit different. There’s times where you try to go back and do them how you’ve done them, and he’s not used to that.”

One receiver who may not return is Deion Branch. The former Super Bowl MVP ended the season with 45 receptions for 437 yards and has not finished with more than 51 catches in each of his four years with the Seahawks. Though the ex-Patriots wideout had a strong game in the season-finale against the Titans, Branch struggled filling in for Burleson at split end in the final month of the year.

“I’ve got two years left on my contract,” Branch said. “This is where I want to finish my career.”

Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, a virtual lock for the Hall of Fame, hopes his career is not finished. Jones has missed the team’s last 20 games with crippling knee and back injuries and hinted at retirement near Thanksgiving. The nine-time Pro Bowler went on injured reserve in October and spent the majority of his time rehabbing in Florida.

“My knee feels a lot better. I feel pretty good in the direction that I’m going,” Jones said. “The decision (on whether to return next year) is going to be made pretty early, hopefully in the next couple months.”

Without Jones, the offensive line had difficulty opening holes for running backs Julius Jones and Justin Forsett in Knapp’s zone-blocking scheme. Jones had trouble hitting the hole quickly and finished with 3.7 yards a carry, the second-lowest in his career. Forsett, meanwhile, averaged 5.4 yards per run in primarily a backup role. Jones is unsure if he will return.

“I don’t know,” Jones said. “Some crazy things happen. I like the team, I would like to be here, but that’s not up to me.”

An encouraging sign for Knapp is that the Seahawks’ running game finally started to show improvement as the season wore down. Seattle averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry in each of its last three games. In their previous 12 contests, the Seahawks eclipsed that average only three times.

“I think it’s closer to where we want it to be,” Mora said. “I think that’s an indication of guys understanding the scheme, and how it does take some time.”

On defense, the loss of middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu for the season in late October stung as badly as the absence of Walter Jones. Though David Hawthorne filled in admirably with a team-high 117 tackles, the unit had to play more than half the year without its defensive quarterback. Tatupu has been pleased with his progress, as he recovers from a torn pectoral muscle.

“I’m not (bench) pressing 300 yet, but I’m doing okay,” Tatupu said. “I expect to be ready for offseason lifting (in) mid-March, (when) we usually get back into it.”

Unlike the running game on offense, the defense regressed in the final month of the season. During the month of December, the Seahawks allowed an average of 30.75 a game and a season-high 48 to Green Bay. Mora, however, was impressed with how the defense stifled Chris Johnson last week, when the Titans back was held to 3.7 yards per carry.

“I feel like, coming out of that game Sunday, it might’ve been the very first time I felt all year, defensively, that we kind of had it,” Mora said. “The players really understand the package and how we want them to play it. We want to make sure we continue that, and then add problems for the offense. That’s when you become a really good defense.”

Still, questions remain. Defensive end Patrick Kerney (elbow) and strong safety Deon Grant (wrist), both 30 or above, underwent surgery this week. Darryl Tapp, a fourth-year defensive end, will become a free agent in the offseason. 

Personnel decisions cannot be made until a new front office and coaching staff are put in place. Mora politely sidestepped questions on the new general manager on Wednesday and it is not yet known if he knew his fate at that time. His firing may signal the first major change.

“I really have no say in (the general manager’s decision),” Hasselbeck said on Monday. “It’s unfortunate that this year, we didn’t put our best stuff out there, what we showed on game film, which is kind of like your resume in a sense.  That’s disappointing. There’s nothing you can do about it except get better and, given the opportunity, make it happen.”

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NFL Quick Hits (Jan. 8): Jim Mora Fired After One Season

Published: January 8, 2010

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Jim Mora Done in Seattle

Mora lasted just one season in Seattle, as he guided the disappointing Seahawks to a 5-11 record and third place finish in the weak NFC West.

For more on Mora’s firing, click here .

Cleveland Sticking With Eric Mangini

After sitting down with Mike Holmgren in two separate meetings, both sides agree that the franchise was headed in the right direction, and the man to keep it going that way would be Mangini.

For more on Mangini and more NFL news, go here .

Anquan Boldin Doubtful For Sunday

Boldin has been doubtful all week and hasn’t practiced since being knocked out of Week 17′s match against the Green Bay Packers.

Widely known for his toughness and ability to play through injuries, it still doesn’t look very good for Boldin to make the Cardinals Wild Card game against Green Bay, as he deals with ankle and knee issues.

Monitor his status up until game-time tomorrow if you’re considering using him in playoff fantasy leagues. Despite the pessimistic diagnosis, we still wouldn’t count him out.

Randy Moss Misses Friday’s Practice

Moss has been spotted “limping around”, and after missing Friday’s practice, he’s at least questionable heading into New England’s Wild Card game against the Baltimore Ravens.

He’s still likely to play, especially with the loss of Wes Welker, but it’s clear he currently is not at 100 percent.

However, if the Patriots are to stand a chance against an under-rated Baltimore squad, Moss needs to be at the top of his game.

Jack Del Rio Still in Limbo

Not many details are know, but ProFootballTalk.com is reporting that Del Rio’s future will likely be determined in a meeting next week between him and Jacksonville’s owner, Wayne Weaver.

There isn’t much reason to keep Del Rio around, especially after his team dropped their final four games to miss the post-season. Except for, you know, that $15 million the Jaguars owe him over the next three years.

Marc Bulger Not Retiring?

In “who cares?” news, reports yesterday that has Rams quarterback Marc Bulger considering retirement have retracted, and now the report is that he fully intends on continuing his playing career.

He can do whatever he likes, but his monster salary coming in next season likely won’t be paid by St. Louis, and he’ll almost certainly be released.

Bulger has been fading for three straight years, and while he’s not completely to blame for his lack of production, his play shouldn’t inspire any other NFL teams to give him a shot as their starter.

Indy Running With Matt Stover, Not Vinatieri

The Colts have decided to run with the hot hand (or leg) in Matt Stover, choosing the 41-year old over Adam Vinatieri as their postseason kicker.

Vinatieri will remain on the active roster, but it’s clear Indy simply doesn’t trust his injured knee enough to throw Stover to the side.

Stover has been performing well, but could be rusty heading into the playoffs, as he will have gone five consecutive weeks without kicking a field goal in a game by the time the Colts play.

For more NFL news , go here .

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2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles

Published: January 8, 2010

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2010 NFL Draft Rankings: Offensive Tackles

1.     Russell Okung (Oklahoma State)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 300 lbs.

Projected Round: Top 5

Okung is a complete tackle, one that will do very well in the NFL. He is one of the few offensive players in this year’s draft to show true progression, both in his statistical achievements and understanding of the game. He is an ox on the line and a light foot in the open field. He has every quality needed to succeed at the next level and maybe even take the first pick in the draft.

Okung is a strong, patient pass blocker that does a great job at extending blocks and using his long arms and legs to sustain the rush. He needs to learn to keep his pads lower at times, but if he senses any sort of defeat, he is quick to push his man off balance or get low for the cut block.

He has great force in blocking down the field, getting a great initial pop on the defender. Okung is better at using angles to cut his man inside or outside rather than sheer strength, something that will benefit him at the professional level and only requires a little time in the weight room to perfect.

Okung has all the pieces you look for in a left tackle in the NFL and will most assuredly be the first tackle taken in April. He has no character problems and will be a great addition to any squad.

Teams that will target him: St. Louis, Kansas City, Cleveland

2.     Anthony Davis (Rutgers)

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 325 lbs.

Projected Round: Top 25

Davis is in the second position simply for his dominant run blocking. He hasn’t been asked to do a whole lot in Rutgers’ offensive scheme (traps, pulls), but he has all the athleticism you look for in a left tackle. He has a flawless work ethic and can play a number of positions at the line, a true scholar of the game.

Davis’ size will be his greatest attribute; his long arms are well suited in knocking over undersized ends and linebackers taking poor angles. At times, he depends upon his initial pop to sustain the block rather than sticking to his man and extending the play.

Davis has the sheer force and tenacity to create a gaping hole on either side of the line. He has the athleticism to catch the Sam linebacker off balance and drive the lane into the secondary. He does a great job staying within the defender’s pads; he is rarely victim of a holding penalty. His durability typically outlasts the man on the other side of the line, and he is consistent as he is strong.

Although questionable at times, Davis will show up big at the combine and cause his draft stock to rise considerably, making him my number two tackle taken in the draft. He will fit in well with a team who has more than one hole at the line because he can assist in whatever capacity is required.

Teams that will target him: Oakland, Indianapolis, Houston

3.     Charles Brown ( USC)

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 295 lbs.

Projected Round: Top 25

Brown was a tackle with great potential at the beginning of his junior season, finally getting the starting position after Sam Baker was taken in the 2008 Draft. Even then, his potential was evident.  ut after a stunning senior season, Brown is among the O-line elite in this year’s draft.

His athleticism is more dominant than his strength, but that isn’t meant to imply that Brown isn’t one of the stronger tackles in this year’s class. He relies on a quick pop to throw his defender off balance but doesn’t always drive his feet to sustain the block. His major strength is his ability to discern the motives of the rusher, going inside to cut off the blitz and jumping outside to mirror the defender.

Although he is an adequate run blocker, his technique and mechanics still need considerable work. He leans on the defender at times rather than driving him down the field. He is considered a quick lineman but doesn’t always follow through with his blocks down the field and could do a better job at creating additional run lanes in the secondary.

All in all, Brown is a gifted young man with enormous potential at the next level and, with proper coaching, could blossom into a pro-bowl tackle within his first three years. Look for a team with a low draft pick and pedigreed coaching to give Brown a spot on their roster.

Teams that will target him: San Diego, Indianapolis, New Orleans

4.     Trent Williams (Oklahoma)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 290 lbs.

Projected Round: 1-2

As the only returning starter on Oklahoma’s offensive line, Williams had his work cut out for him, both in physical demand and leadership potential. Moved from right to left and back to right tackle throughout his career, he has had the chance to prove himself on both sides of the line.

As a run blocker, Williams is above average at best. His speed isn’t consistent and his arm extension is his best weapon against blitzes from the secondary. He will struggle against quick under-sized ends in the NFL.

When blocking for the runner, though, Williams is dominant at the very least. Fires off the line faster than anyone else on this list. His snap anticipation sometimes causes trouble in the form of false starts, but he makes up for it with a tenacious push on his man.

He struggles in a zone blocking scheme, failing to move his feet adequately at times.  He is best when confined to a small space in traffic; he struggles when given the responsibility of managing open space.

Williams’ progression isn’t great, but it isn’t bad, either. His return to school for his senior year will play a major role in the way teams look at him, but it’s unclear as to how long he will have to wait to be drafted. Look for a team to look at him as a potential player at the guard position or an anchor on the right side to pick him up.

Teams that will target him: Detroit, Washington, New England

5.     Bruce Campbell (Maryland)

Height: 6’7″

Weight: 310 lbs.

Projected Round: 1-2

Campbell was unlikely to enter this year’s draft until he, well, declared for this year’s draft. Although there is little to no doubt of his potential at the next level, there are some concerns about his past injuries and whether or not his durability can remain intact in the NFL.

Campbell gave the struggling Tarrapin offense a decent chance for success in ’09, although Turner and company still haven’t found their stride. With more than a few offensive line starters departing, Campbell was among the few elite players left and had to overachieve the entirety of the year.

While most expect him to hit his ceiling early in the NFL, Campbell is strong as he is quick. He has a tremendous pop in the pass blocking scheme, though he over-extends at times, causing the outside rushers to use a second move to get to the quarterback.

Campbell has elite strength as a run blocker and will undoubtedly do the same at the next level. I don’t know if he is ready to be an NFL left tackle, but he could certainly provide some girth in any position on the front. He has the speed to get down the field quickly and provide a second and third block for an advancing runner.

Campbell’s issue with grades will cause his stock to fall further than he’d like, but he can prove his physicality at the combine and make himself a contender to be a top-five OT rookie in 2010. Look for a team that has a sufficient enough line to make Campbell a personal project.

Teams that will target him: Denver, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati

6.     Ciron Black (LSU)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 322 lbs.

Projected: 2-3

Black is another offensive lineman who could have done very well had he declared for the 2009 draft, but he opted to stay to further develop his technique. Although he lacks superior athleticism, he has great strength and versatility on the line.

As a pass blocker, Black is marginal at best due to his slow kick slide and his sluggishness off the snap. His long reach, though, will make up for it as he can reach the outside rusher and use a mean cut block if all else fails.

Black’s size is his greatest asset in creating run lanes, and he has sufficient straight-line speed to reach the next level and bowl over small corners and safeties. He has elite upper body strength and does very well at staying low and using his low center of gravity to create a push and open up the lanes.

He doesn’t always seal off the rush when it matters most, but he has a level of consistency that most other lineman at his level lack. His progression in college is something scouts look for and, while his stock is floating between elite and above average, the combine will be his opportunity to prove he is ready to compete at the next level.

Even though he has only ever played as the blind-side anchor for LSU, he has the ability to play multiple positions and that may be the deciding factor for a team looking at Black. Look for a team with needs in their run blocking scheme to look closely at him.

Teams that will target him: Houston, Arizona, Philadelphia

7.     Bryan Bulaga (Iowa)

Height: 6’6″

Weight: 312 lbs.

Projected Round: 2-3

Bulaga comes from a long pedigree of good linemen at Iowa and will likely continue the trend in the NFL. His progression at Iowa is something to be desired by other fellow linemen in this year’s class and, while he lacks the physicality needed to be dominant at this position at times, his athleticism makes up for it.

Bulaga’s pass blocking skills are marginal, but it’s unclear as to how well he could do with an offensive scheme that features it. Iowa isn’t a passing juggernaut but he has all the tools needed to be elite at the next level.

As a run blocker, he is better than most, progressing nicely from year to year. Most noticeably, he became less content to focus solely on the first line of defense his senior year and turned his sights on getting to the next level and create the secondary blocks needed to turn the back loose.

Bulaga is one of those linemen who could go either way in the NFL; he could become a backup who excels at filling the holes in most teams’ revolving door line or he could find a permanent home as a guard and, eventually, a right tackle. Of course, I’ve been surprised before and it’s always possible for a marginal player to find their stride at the professional level. Look for a team with shallow depth on the line to look closely at Bulaga.

Teams that will target him: Carolina, New York Jets, Green Bay

8.     Selvish Capers (West Virginia)

Height: 6’5″

Weight: 298 lbs.

Projected Round: 3-4

Protecting Pat White in the versatile West Virginia offense has forced Capers to remain athletic and quick, creating a unique profile for the upcoming draft. Capers made the switch from Tight End to right tackle in ’07, but showed no signs of difficulty in the transition. Rather, he excelled and began to increase his build to adjust to the new position.

It is Caper’s athleticism that sets him apart from the other linemen on this list. He lacks consistency in some of the mechanics that most others have mastered, but he has a desire to learn and the ability to progress that will overcome those downsides.

Even though he has a tremendous cut block, he goes to it too quickly at times. He presents a solid anchor as a pass blocker but doesn’t always keep his body low enough and loses his balance.

As a run blocker, Caper presents a tenacious pop and uses his quick feet to drive the defender far from the play. West Virginia’s spread offense doesn’t always call Capers to get set in a three point stance so transitioning to the next level may be difficult for the young man. He is quick off the line, but loses count of the snap sequence too much, resulting in unnecessary penalties.

He runs with surprising fluidity for a lineman down the field, getting to the next level fast and causing damage to an unsuspecting secondary. No matter the position he is called on to play, Capers is a football player at heart and his tenacity on the line will not go unnoticed by scouts. Look for teams to depend on his versatility and athleticism to contribute at the professional level and give Capers a chance at success.

Teams that will target him: Minnesota, Baltimore, Houston

9.     Kyle Calloway (Iowa)

Height: 6’7″

Weight: 317 lbs.

Projected Round: 3-4

Calloway is another lineman that comes from the Iowa pedigree of NFL-ready players who transition to the next level well. The only real controversy surrounding Calloway is his run-in with the law when he was pulled operating a Moped while intoxicated. Other than that, he is good at what he does and should receive deserved recognition come draft day.

Calloway does a wonderful job at mirroring the defender as a pass blocker. He stays low and becomes a wall at which defenders love to punch and get through but have little success. He uses his reach at times when he should use his feet, and doesn’t use his lower body to drive the outside rush, but he adjusts nicely to a variety of moves by elite ends and utilizes a mean cut block.

Run blocking is arguably Calloway’s forte, using his size to push the defender in any direction he desires. He does well to keep his hands inside and avoid penalties that often call the play back. He is a fighter at heart; he plays through the whistle each and every play.

Calloway has efficient speed and uses that quickness to get down the field and reach the secondary to create an extended run lane. Overall, he has tremendous upside and, even though he won’t be a top five tackle in the draft, will eventually blossom into an elite player at any position on the line.

Teams that will target him: San Francisco, Seattle, Cleveland

10. Sam Young (Notre Dame)

Height: 6’8″

Weight: 320 lbs.

Projected Round: 3-4

Young comes from a pro-style offense which will make his transition easier than most. Although he lacks superior athleticism and quickness, he has massive size and strength, an upside that will not go unnoticed by pro scouts.

Pass blocking is not something that Young excels in which is a large concern for a pass-happy NFL. His lack of quickness inhibits his lateral agility and ability to reach the outside rusher and maintain his balance. Against the elite ends of the NFL, Young will most likely have to rely on the cut block to protect his quarterback.

What keeps Young on the top ten list is his ability to be a wrecking ball in the run game. His technique still leaves something to be desired, but his size allows him to create holes that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. He has tremendous initial pop and, if he can keep his balance, will drive the defender all the way down the field.

Four years as a starter has given Young more than enough experience and tremendous awareness on the field. He hasn’t shown as much consistency as some would like to see, but his sheer physicality will demand attention on draft day. He will probably never reach left tackle status, but could be a force on the right side or in the middle should that become a factor at the professional level. Look for a team needing beef on the front to give Young a spot on their roster.

Teams that will target him: Houston, Seattle, Tampa Bay

These, and other rankings, can be read at http://nflsoup.com

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Three Reasons the San Diego Chargers Won’t Win the Super Bowl

Published: January 8, 2010

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A month ago, most of the NFL experts had the Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints playing in the Super Bowl.

Two weeks ago, most of the same NFL experts had the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles playing in the Super Bowl.

And now this week, many of the NFL experts have written New Orleans, Philadelphia and Indianapolis off and think a San Diego-Green Bay Super Bowl sounds good.

It only takes one or two losses to make people change their minds about NFL teams in our flip-flop world. Yesterday’s contender is today’s pretender and vice-versa. The NFL is the only league where a team can go 14-0, lose a game after benching all its stars, and everyone panics like Gilbert Arenas’ agent does when the Wizard opens his mouth.

Back to San Diego. The Chargers have not lost a game in months. Meanwhile, all of the other playoff teams have suffered injuries or been exposed over the last several weeks, making San Diego look even better to the untrained eye.

But San Diego isn’t going to win the Super Bowl. Why won’t they? Here are three reasons:

1. The misnomer that San Diego will win the Super Bowl because they are the hottest team in the NFL.

This theory seems to be as popular as Chad Ochocinco’s Twitter posts these days. Sure, no playoff team enters the postseason on a better winning streak that San Diego. Philip Rivers and Co. went undefeated in December for the fourth season in a row and won 11 straight games to finish the regular season. Cheers to them! Put another lightning bolt on their helmets!

Here’s the problem: San Diego has been the hottest team heading into the playoffs in the three Decembers prior to this one and they never reached the Super Bowl.

So why won’t San Diego break its January curse just like the Dallas Cowboys broke their December curse this season? Because recent Super Bowl history suggests that entering the playoffs hotter than a tea kettle is no help.

The 2007 New York Giants went 4-4 over their last eight games before catching fire in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the last team to enter the postseason on a larger winning streak than San Diego, the 16-0 New England Patriots from that year, lost to the Giants in the Bowl.

The 2008 Arizona Cardinals lost four of their last six regular season contests before running pass routes in glass slippers and Cinderella-ing their way to the Super Bowl. The 2006 Indianapolis Colts were losers of four of seven before Peyton Manning audibled his way to a title. How you finish the regular season is not a precursor to how you will finish the postseason.

2. San Diego cannot run the ball, nor can they stop the run.

To win the Super Bowl you have to be able to run the ball and stop your opponents from running the ball, or at least do ONE of the two. Unfortunately, these are San Diego’s two biggest weaknesses.

Thanks to a banged-up offensive line and an aging LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers have the 31st ranked rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 88 yards per game. Tennessee’s Chris Johnson usually racked that up in one quarter during most of his outings this year.

San Diego’s undersized, Jamal Williams-less front seven is 20th rated in run defense. The Chargers’ defense is built around making big plays, not stopping long drives. A team that can run the ball effectively and not the turn the ball over will give San Diego fits.

3. Norv Turner is Still Not Vince Lombardi

Turner is one of the most brilliant play callers in the NFL. The man creates innovative plays to score points like Artie Lange creates innovative ways to get time off from the Howard Stern Show.

But did we forget that Turner is the Wade Phillips of the AFC? His coaching gaffs are legendary, and he shows a lot of the same traits that former San Diego head man Marty Schottenheimer did (that is not a compliment). Turner can win regular season games, but can he win big playoff games? The jury is still out.

Lastly, only three of San Diego’s 13 victories have come against playoff teams, and none of the three were “eye-opening” or “statement-making.” Most of the Chargers wins came against the Oaklands, Kansas Citys and many of the league’s 8-8 squads. Kudos to them for winning and not losing, but I for one am not sold. I can see the Chargers reaching the Super Bowl, but I cannot see them winning it.

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Miami Dolphins Sign WR Ryan Grice-Mullen, OLB Brian Johnston

Published: January 7, 2010

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The Dolphins continued to add to their offseason roster Wednesday, signing wide receiver Ryan Grice-Mullen and defensive end/linebacker Brian Johnston to future contracts.

An undrafted receiver out of Hawaii in 2008, Grice-Mullen had brief offseason stints with the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears, and has played the past two years with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League.

A college teammate of current Dolphins receiver Davone Bess, Grice-Mullen is the second BC Lions player to be signed by the Dolphins this offseason, joining fullback Rolly Lumbala .

A seventh-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs out of Gardner-Webb in 2007, Johnston played one season with the Chiefs and was briefly with the Detroit Lions this past offseason before spending the regular season out of football.

Ryan Grice-Mullen

A Rialto, Calif. native, Grice-Mullen (5-11, 180) was a three-year starter for the Hawaii Warriors from 2005 to 2007.

He entered the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman in 2005, leading the Warriors in receiving with 1,228 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Injuries forced Grice-Mullen to miss four games in 2006, although he still appeared in 10 contests (nine starts) and finished fourth on the team with 770 yards and 11 touchdowns.

During his junior season, Grice-Mullen led the Warriors in receiving by catching 106 passes for 1,372 yards and 13 touchdowns (all career highs) in 13 games.

Grice-Mullen decided to forego his senior season at Hawaii and enter the 2008 NFL Draft, but went undrafted and signed with the Houston Texans as a free agent, only to be released in June.

The Chicago Bears signed Grice-Mullen on July 24, 2008, but waived him prior to the regular season on Aug. 24.

Grice-Mullen headed north after his release from the Bears, joining the CFL’s BC Lions. He caught nine passes for 175 yards and a touchdown during his rookie season.

Grice-Mullen caught 20 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown in 2009, while also serving as the Lions’ primary return specialist due to the departure of Stefan Logan (Steelers). He set a CFL playoff record with a 106-yard punt returned for a touchdown.

Brian Johnston

Johnston (6-4, 269) was a four-year starter at Gardner-Webb and finished his collegiate career as one of the most prolific defenders in school history.

At the conclusion of his career, Johnston had totaled 268 tackles (55.5 for losses), 21.0 sacks, ten forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries, six passes defensed, and one blocked kick, while also adding three touchdown receptions.

Johnston was a three-time first-team All-Big South selection during his final three seasons at Gardner-Webb, as well as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American his final two years.

Johnston received pre-draft interest from numerous teams in 2008, including the Miami Dolphins. He was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round (210th overall) and signed with the team July 16.

After appearing in nine games and recording three tackles for the Chiefs as a rookie, Johnston was waived by the team May 26, 2009. He was claimed off waivers by the Detroit Lions, but failed his physical and spent the rest of the year out of football.

Analysis

When the Dolphins signed Davone Bess as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Hawaii in 2008, they could have just as easily signed Ryan Grice-Mullen.

Both players came from Hawaii. They are nearly identical in size. Both were highly productive in the Warriors’ air-it-out offense. Both offer reliable hands, have more quickness than straight-line speed and are better suited for a slot role in the NFL. Heck, both even have dreadlocks!

Obviously, Bess has already established himself in the NFL and has displayed excellent hands, while Grice-Mullen failed to catch on with two NFL clubs and really hasn’t done a whole lot on offense during his two years in Canada.

Despite Miami’s lack of elite talent at wide receiver, Grice-Mullen will likely have a tough time earning a roster spot. He doesn’t offer anything in the explosion or playmaking department, and that’s one kind of receiver the Dolphins already have in bulk.

One has to assume that Davone Bess, Greg Camarillo and Brian Hartline are locks. Despite his struggles and the fans’ wishes, Ted Ginn, Jr. will likely return as well (although an acquisition of Joshua Cribbs could change that). That’s four receivers, and the Dolphins prefer to keep only five.

2009 third-rounder Patrick Turner is a candidate to be cut, but the Dolphins surely want to add a big-time No. 1 receiver or a young high draft pick with the potential to be just that.

That means five receivers, and there simply isn’t room for any more slot receivers with low ceilings. I give him a better chance than Julius Pruitt and Taurus Johnson, but only because I give both of them really no chance.

That essentially means Grice-Mullen will be competing for a practice squad spot, if he’d prefer that to playing across the border.

As for Johnston, he currently stands a much better chance at making the roster, but is still no lock by any means.

Johnston may have attended a small school in Gardner-Webb, but his collegiate production is undeniable and it would not be a shock to see him have a productive NFL career.

However, it is a bit concerning that Johnston didn’t play at all this past season, but it’s possible he was injured as he did fail his physical with the Lions in June. Johnston also wasn’t practice-squad eligible based on the number of games he played in 2008.

A defensive end in the Chiefs’ 4-3 scheme, Johnston will stand out and play outside linebacker in the Dolphins’ 3-4. The role still primarily consists of rushing the passer though it does come with more coverage responsibilities than you’d have as a lineman.

As it stands now, Johnston has a solid shot at making the team as a reserve outside linebacker. He is one of only five at the position under contract, joining Charlie Anderson, Joey Porter, Cameron Wake and Erik Walden. It’s worth noting that Porter could end up being released in the offseason.

Jason Taylor is an unrestricted free agent and Quentin Moses is a restricted free agent. Taylor’s return is up in the air although Moses will probably be tendered and re-signed.

Although he has the talent to compete, Johnston has to be considered more likely to be released than make the team. He’ll have to compete with players such as Walden and Moses for a roster spot—players who are probably just as talented and have established themselves on special teams.


Chris J. Nelson is a journalism major at Georgia State University. He operates his own Miami Dolphins Web site, The Miami Dolphins Spotlight, and can be followed on Twitter here.

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Buffalo Bills: Resurecting an Image of a Downtrodden Franchise

Published: January 7, 2010

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You’re probably wondering what I was smoking when I decided to crop an unfocused, seemingly innocent photo of a turned over Buffalo Bills helmet. 

But as the ‘ole ball coach Lee Corso would say, “NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND.”

See, this photo is brilliant. It’s telling. It’s compelling. It’s the Bills franchise as it stands: a franchise in turmoil, a franchise lost. 

I’m a Bills fan, but this team has been a joke for a long time. The current coaching search has been disappointing, the quarterback play, Terrell Owens experiment, Mike Williams selection and Tom Donahoe effort all backfired. Holy cow, I could go on and on.

The biggest beef, and probably largest of any fan, is zero playoff appearances since 1999. Perhaps I’m a skeptic and so be it, but I have no reason to BILL-LIEVE in this team.

Having said that, as a fan deep down, I’m hopeful. Here are my five highest priorities the Bills and Buddy Nix need to fix if they want any chance at competing.

1. As it stands today, the Bills are completely unfocused.

What’s this team’s identity? This issue, I’m assured, is addressed with the next head coach and Nix’s philosophies. It has to be or success is unattainable.

A GM, owner, president, staff and coaches need a bond and common goals. More importantly, they need to be on the same page, something clearly lacking between the years 2000-2009.

2. This team needs to find good players.

Other than a few studs brought in here, the team’s lack of depth has cost them. Injuries have been a problem, which I will address next, but when players get injured the Bills line up “fill-ins.” Even their starters are sometimes head scratchers. Nix must find talented football players. 

3. What’s going on with all the injuries?

A concern I have is the trend of Bills players on IR. It hasn’t just not been this year. The Bills, to piggyback on this point further, fail to sew up games in the fourth quarter. Are they exhausted by then? A new conditioning program/emphasis on team health needs to be addressed.

4 . Find a legit quarterback, please!

As important it is for football to be considered a team sport, no other position in the NFL game is more important that the man under center. Trent Edwards, J.P. Losman, Shane Mathews, Kelly Holcomb, Gibran Hamden, Ryan Fitzpatrick—yikes. The lone QB who garners any respect was Bledsoe. The Bills have yet to find the right man to lead this team. 

5. Matter in the League

Win more than seven games a season, make the playoffs and this team won’t be considered such a laughing stock. I guess what I’m saying is obvious: Winning takes care of a lot. But it doesn’t take care of everything. The Bills need to brag more, boast about their heritage, not be afraid to make bold decisions.

Nationally, the Bills are never talked about (except when they signed T.O.) in a league saturated by larger markets with deeper corporate pockets. They need to make drastic moves, but not ones that will set them back on their plan. Bottom line from a fan’s perspective is that they need to act like they aren’t just concerned about business, but winning, too. 

Right now, all of these issues need to be addressed, not in any particular order. They may take some time, (especially a QB and they need one badly!) but right now the Bills are on the fringes of irrelevance. Their future is murky, and unclear. They are alone year-after-year, ousted from playoff contention for a decade. 

Bill Cowher doesn’t find this job appealing. He wants to coach again, but in an ideal situation. I’m not surprised he hasn’t jumped on board with the Bills. The Bills need to address a variety of issues as outlined. Right now the Bills should be in heaven. They are the only team currently looking for a coach. Instead, the Bills can’t sell what little they have.

It’s depressing as a fan to realize it, but it’s true.

I hope some day I can offer a brighter review of the franchise, one where I can turn this hazy photo of a Bills helmet into a clean, crisp dome of a legit NFL franchise. 

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