For National Football Authority, we break down the Green Bay Packers’ big 46-16 win over the Oakland Raiders. We discuss Packers WR Greg Jennings’ injury and what it may mean going forward, how Packers RB Ryan Grant finally broke free, and just how bad Raiders QB Carson Palmer was. Click here to read all about it.
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Each week, we compare all 32 NFL teams using our Football Relativity comparison. On the comparison, the 10 level is reserved for the best teams, and the 1 level for the worst. We’ll note throughout where teams have moved up or down from last week.
10 – Green Bay Packers – The Packers were tested in Minnesota – until CB Charles Woodson took advantage of rookie QB Christian Ponder not once but twice. Meanwhile, QB Aaron Rodgers was pitching a near perfect game. The Pack enters their bye 7-0, and they’ve served notice that the title defense is on in Titletown.
9 – New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints – The Patriots were on bye. The Saints broke out the whooping stick in a 62-7 home win over the Colts. It was a complete performance that highlighted what the Saints can be at their best. They’ll have a great chance at an encore next week in a visit to St. Louis.
8 – Atlanta Falcons (UP A LEVEL), Baltimore Ravens (DOWN A LEVEL), Houston Texans (UP A LEVEL), Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers – We’re temped to dock the Chargers after a poor offensive performance in New York against the Jets, but we’ll leave them be for now since that road trip was a tough game. But the Bolts need to bounce back and play better soon, because the Chiefs are on the charge in the AFC West. The Steelers took care of business in Arizona with a 32-20 victory, setting up huge home games against New England and Baltimore in the next two weeks. The Falcons got a win in Detroit and seem to have found themselves the last few weeks. That’s a good feeling as the Dirty Birds head to their bye. The Texans won a big game in the AFC South and did so in convincing style, 41-7 over the Titans. They have a chance to knock off another division foe next week at home against the Jaguars. The Ravens played those Jaguars this week and lost on Monday night. It was a horrific offensive performance as, for the second time this season, Baltimore laid a major egg on the road. They must bounce back against Arizona this week before facing off against the Steelers the following week.
7 – Buffalo Bills, Dallas Cowboys (UP A LEVEL), Detroit Lions (DOWN A LEVEL), New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – We covered the Cowboys’ nice win and the Cowboys’ disappointing loss in Rise/Sink/Float. The 49ers, Giants, and Bills were on bye. The Buccaneers lost in London to the Bears, and they were wracked by injuries to RB Earnest Graham and others. The bye is coming at a key time for the Bucs. The Jets put together a comeback win against the Chargers to move to 4-0. Gang Green has been up and down, but after the bye they need to learn to win on the road. The Raiders were embarrassed against the Chiefs, but they hope the upcoming bye week will help new QB Carson Palmer get ready to contribute.
6 – Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles – We covered the Bears’ win in London in Rise/Sink/Float, and the Eagles were on bye.
5 – Cincinnati Bengals – The Bengals were on bye.
4 – Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs (UP A LEVEL), Seattle Seahawks, Tennessee Titans (DOWN A LEVEL), Washington Redskins (DOWN A LEVEL) – The Chiefs went into Oakland and took advantage of bad quarterback play to shut out the Raiders. Suddenly, despite injuries, the Chiefs are 3-3, and if they can beat the Chargers next Monday night, they’ll control their own destiny in the AFC West. It’s an impressive turnaround after an awful start. The Browns beat the Seahawks 6-3 in a terrible aesthetic game. But the Browns are 3-3, which is a nice feat – even though the schedule has been favorable. The Seahawks competed on the road, but while the defense is pretty good, the offense ain’t. The Titans got blasted by the Texans in a key AFC South matchup, and there’s no question they’re now a step behind Houston in the division. The Redskins missed an opportunity in Carolina, falling to 3-3 and losing ground in the NFC East.
3 – Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars (UP A LEVEL) – The Panthers finally got a win with a 33-20 decision over the Redskins. They have a chance to build on that momentum at home against the Vikings this week, which would put them at 3-5 entering the bye. That would be a nice step forward for QB Cam Newton and company. The Broncos also got a win thanks to last-minute heroics from QB Tim Tebow, who isn’t pretty but still finds a way to deliver in the clutch. Denver hosts Detroit this week. The Jaguars followed a competitive performance in Pittsburgh with a win against the Ravens at home. Jacksonville’s defense is coming on, and that’s a good sign. Now rookie QB Blaine Gabbert must start to make progress too. Amazingly, if the Jaguars can win in Houston this week, they will be 3-4 with wins over both of their main division rivals – basically in the thick of the race.
2 – Arizona Cardinals, Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings lost to the Panthers, but Christian Ponder’s starting debut showed promise. The Vikings have an easier draw in Carolina this week. The Cardinals stuck around but ultimately fell victim to the Steelers. A trip to Baltimore this week is no easy place to bounce back.
1 – Miami Dolphins, Indianapolis Colts, St. Louis Rams – The league’s winless crew embarrassed themselves again. The Dolphins blew a 15-0 lead in the final three minutes of regulation against the Broncos. The Colts were blasted 62-7 in New Orleans. The Rams fell to Dallas 34-7. We don’t see any wins on the horizon, either.
Each week, we note and comment on the NFL’s biggest transactions. Here are the transactions between the end of Week 6 and the beginning of Week 7. Note that we covered the Brandon Lloyd trade in this post and Carson Palmer in this one.
Saints (put C Olin Kreutz on reserve/left squad list) – Kreutz apparently lost his shine and his desire to play in New Orleans – and was about to lose his starting job as well after poor play this season. So Kreutz left the team, ostensibly to retire. He’s now out for the year.
Steelers (put DE Aaron Smith on injured reserve, promote DE Corbin Bryant) – Smith, long one of the league’s best 3-4 defensive ends, battled injuries again this season and now will miss the rest of the season.
Lions (put RB Jerome Harrison on reserve/non-football injury list) – Harrison, who was traded to the Eagles, flunked his physical in Philly because of a brain tumor he didn’t know he had. He had successful surgery, but he’ll miss the rest of the year. The Lions signed Eldra Buckley to replace Harrison.
Raiders (add S Chinedum Ndukwe and PK Dave Rayner, put DE Matt Shaughnessy on injured reserve) – Shaughnessy, one of the league’s unsung but talented defensive ends, will miss the rest of the season. Ndukwe gets a shot to add depth at safety; Rayner becomes a Week 7 fill-in for Sebastian Janikowski.
Jaguars (sign WR Mike Sims-Walker) – Sims-Walker was a bust in St. Louis, and he was released when the Rams acquired Brandon Lloyd. But when he hit the open market, the Jaguars swooped in and brought him back to Jacksonville, where he was a starter for years.
Panthers (put OT Jeff Otah on injured reserve, bring back OT Reggie Wells) – We discussed Otah’s injury and its aftereffects in this post.
Redskins (put OG Kory Lichtensteiger on injured reserve) – Lichtensteiger, the starter at left guard, will miss the rest of the season.
Seahawks (put CB Marcus Trufant on injured reserve) – Trufant, the long-time corner in Seattle, is out for the year due to injury.
The Oakland Raiders made by far the biggest splash at the NFL trade deadline, dealing for Bengals QB Carson Palmer. Palmer had not reported to Cincinnati this season, and the Bengals had threatened to leave Palmer hanging in the wind until Oakland gave them an offer they couldn’t refuse. Below are some thoughts on the trade; you can see how it compares to other deadline deals in this post.
Bengals trade QB Carson Palmer to Raiders for first-round pick in 2012 and second-round pick in 2013 that can become first-rounder - Palmer had not played in 2011 after he told the Bengals he wanted to be traded. Notoriously stubborn Bengals owner/GM Mike Brown called Palmer’s bluff, letting him sit out without much hope of a silver (or even silver and black) lining. In the meantime, Cincinnati drafted QB Andy Dalton and made him their starter. Dalton got off to a good start as the Bengals opened 4-2, and that might have softened Brown a little. Then the Raiders – who lost QB Jason Campbell to a broken collarbone that’s at least a six-week injury – made a move for Palmer and paid a huge price to add him. The Bengals, who had once turned down two first-rounders for WR Chad Ochocinco, this time made the deal. They get Oakland’s first-rounder next season and a second-rounder in 2013 that can become a first-rounder if the Raiders make the AFC Championship game in either of the next two years. The Raiders, who now lack picks in each of the first four rounds of the 2012 draft, believe Palmer still has the big arm to maximize their young, talented group of wideouts. Head coach Hue Jackson, who coached Palmer during some of his best Bengals years, runs an offense that Palmer knows, which should aid the adjustment period. And Palmer has been working out as well. It’s a risky move for the Raiders, but Palmer does give them more upside than Campbell ever did. The question is whether Palmer can adjust to the silver and black quickly enough to lead the 4-2 Raiders to the playoffs. The price is incredibly steep, but the Raiders are so desperate to win that “just win, baby” is trumping long-term thinking right now.
Each year, we compare the significance of in-season trades in a Football Relativity post. In this comparison, the 10 level marks the most significant trades, and the 1 level the least significant. This post compares all trades through the Oct. 18 trade deadline.
10 – Bengals trade QB Carson Palmer to Raiders for first-round pick in 2012 and second-round pick in 2013 that can become first-rounder - Palmer had not played in 2011 after he told the Bengals he wanted to be traded. Notoriously stubborn Bengals owner/GM Mike Brown called Palmer’s bluff, letting him sit out without much hope of a silver (or even silver and black) lining. In the meantime, Cincinnati drafted QB Andy Dalton and made him their starter. Dalton got off to a good start as the Bengals opened 4-2, and that might have softened Brown a little. Then the Raiders – who lost QB Jason Campbell to a broken collarbone that’s at least a six-week injury – made a move for Palmer and paid a huge price to add him. The Bengals, who had once turned down two first-rounders for WR Chad Ochocinco, this time made the deal. They get Oakland’s first-rounder next season and a second-rounder in 2013 that can become a first-rounder if the Raiders make the AFC Championship game in either of the next two years. The Raiders, who now lack picks in each of the first four rounds of the 2012 draft, believe Palmer still has the big arm to maximize their young, talented group of wideouts. Head coach Hue Jackson, who coached Palmer during some of his best Bengals years, runs an offense that Palmer knows, which should aid the adjustment period. And Palmer has been working out as well. It’s a risky move for the Raiders, but Palmer does give them more upside than Campbell ever did. The question is whether Palmer can adjust to the silver and black quickly enough to lead the 4-2 Raiders to the playoffs. The price is incredibly steep, but the Raiders are so desperate to win that “just win, baby” is trumping long-term thinking right now.
9 – none
8 – none
7 – none
6 – Broncos trade WR Brandon Lloyd to Rams for 2012 sixth-round pick that could become a fifth-round pick – The Broncos, clearly in a rebuilding mode, dealt their leading receiver Lloyd to the Rams. With Denver moving to Tim Tebow as their starting quarterback, it makes sense to have him work with the receivers who will be around beyond 2011, such as Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, who is returning from injury to make his 2011 debut. Since Lloyd is a free-agent-to-be, he became expendable. But Denver didn’t get a great price – just a sixth-round pick that becomes a fifth-rounder if Lloyd catches 30 passes for the Rams. But the deal at least opens opportunities for Thomas, which is a legitimate developmental move for Denver. The Rams, who gambled and lost on a one-year deal for Mike Sims-Walker to be their No. 1 receiver this year, get Lloyd, who thrived under offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in Denver. (Sims-Walker was released to clear a spot for Lloyd.) Since McDaniels is the only coach to unlock Lloyd’s potential over nine years with four teams, Lloyd couldn’t have found a better landing spot. He’s immediately the best receiver the Rams have, and he has the chance to finish the season strongly to earn a new contract, be it in St. Louis or elsewhere. The Rams are 0-5, so this isn’t a move for the playoffs, but it does allow QB Sam Bradford to keep developing and should help the offense move from awful closer to average. If Lloyd fits as the situation suggests, expect the Rams to extend his deal, to make the most of the draft pick they spent to get him.
5 – none
4 – Seahawks trade OLB Aaron Curry to Raiders for 2012 seventh-round pick and conditional 2013 fifth-round pick – We discussed Curry’s ups and downs in this post, which focused on trade rumors about him. Seattle finally gave up on Curry, the former fourth overall pick in the draft, even though their linebacker corps has been wracked by injuries. With Curry gone, rookie K.D. Williams emerges as a starter in Seattle. In Oakland, Curry provides some flexibility at linebacker and allows Kamerion Wimbley to move up to defensive end in pass-rushing situations. Curry is the kind of first-round disappointment that Al Davis loved to take a chance on. Given the price, you can’t blame the Raiders for taking a shot on Curry to see if they can unlock his potential in a way Seattle could not. The fact that Curry started his first game as a Raider only shows the potential impact of this deal.
Eagles trade RB Ronnie Brown to Lions for RB Jerome Harrison and conditional seventh-round pick in 2013 – With Jahvid Best battling concussion issues and rookie Mikel Leshoure sidelined for the year, the Lions added insurance in Brown. The longtime Dolphin had a slow start for the Eagles, running just 13 times for 38 yards and turning the ball over on one key Wildcat-type of play. Brown isn’t what he once was, but he’s sturdy and dependable enough to fill a lineup spot and protect QB Matthew Stafford if Best misses time. The Eagles basically gave Brown away, getting only a conditional seventh-rounder as well as Harrison, whom they traded for last season and then let leave in the offseason without a second thought. This trade was voided when Harrison failed a physical with the Eagles.
2 – none
1 – Jets trade WR Derrick Mason to Texans for conditional seventh-round pick – Mason was supposed to come to the Jets to be the dependable third receiver, replacing the departed Jerricho Cotchery. But instead of living up to his two-year contract, Mason had just 13 catches for 115 yards for the Jets. More importantly, the Jets coaching staff and front office identified Mason as a troublemaker in the locker room. That had never been Mason’s reputation before, but things quickly devolved to the point that the Jets basically gave Mason away. In his place, the Jets will go to rookie Jeremy Kerley as their third receiver. The Texans, who are without Andre Johnson at the moment, and Mason provides stability and reliability than guys like David Anderson (who was again released) or the inconsistent Jacoby Jones. Now, with Mason and Kevin Walter, the Texans can at least give QB Matt Schaub some options. And if Mason ends up with less than 33 catches as a Texan, Houston won’t owe the Jets a pick. If he does have that many catches, he’ll be well worth a seventh-rounder. The price was right for Houston, and Mason is likely thrilled to escape a situation where he wasn’t wanted.
Now that the lockout is almost over, it’s time to start previewing the upcoming season. And in our first post, we want to take a macro look at the league and identify the one player who will leap into the public consciousness this year. Our pick? Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman.
Just two years ago, Freeman was viewed as a project pick in the first round. The Buccaneers seemingly liked him more than any other NFL team, and so they picked him higher (17th overall) than most other teams would have. And as a rookie, Freeman looked a bit like a project, waiting till midseason to take over the starter role. He won his first game as a starter (an upset over the Dolphins), then lost five straight before two late-season wins over the Seahawks and Saints. In his 10 games, he completed just 54.5 percent of his passes and had 18 interceptions to 10 TD passes.
But last season, Freeman took over the Bucs as his own with a star-making season. He led the surprising Bucs to a 10-6 record and had 25 touchdowns with just six interceptions – a remarkable ratio for any player and especially for a starter in his first full season. He threw for 3,451 yards and ran for 368, showing remarkable speed given his massive 6-foot-6, 248-pound frame. Even more impressively, Freeman put up those massive numbers not with a veteran crew around him but with a baby-faced crew – RB LaGarrette Blount and WRs Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn were all rookies.
Now the Baby Bucs are primed to mature together. And as they do, Freeman will begin to grow in stature as an NFL star. On-field production is one reason – Freeman will be a major fantasy football factor this year, after being an afterthought entering last season. That alone will raise his profile. But there are other reasons Freeman will break through in the public consciousness:
*Personality – What the Bucs figured out – or made a correct guess about – is that Freeman has the personality required to be a franchise quarterback. He is personable but also able to challenge his teammates to perform, which is essential for a top quarterback. That’s especially important in Tampa, because both Blount and Williams had troubled tenures in college. The Bucs can’t afford them to slip up (as CB Aqib Talib and S Tanard Jackson have). But if Freeman can help them stay in line, the Bucs will have a talented group around their quarterback.
*QB vaccuum – With Brett Favre (hopefully) done for good, Donovan McNabb probably done as an NFL starter, and Carson Palmer possibly sitting out the season, there’s space for quarterbacks to emerge as stars. And our money is on Freeman to do this – even more than guys like Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco. If Freeman has another massive season, he’ll break through and become at least a Philip Rivers-level star. A strong playoff push would take him even further up the Q-rating totem pole.
*Style of play – Freeman’s ability to run as well as pass makes him a more exciting player than a fellow young QB like Ryan. Freeman will make big plays on his own as well as by finding teammates, and those highlight type of plays will add to his profile.
Now is Freeman’s time. We hope he likes the spotlight, because it’s going to be focused on him this season and for many to come.
Who do you think will be the NFL’s breakout superstar of 2011? Leave a comment below.