The dull, boring-for-the-fans preseason is finally over, and now the NFL is all for real. The defending champs looked sharp in the preseason, but Seattle has history clearly set against them as they try to repeat as World Champions. The White Horses from the Mile High City are stacked on both sides of the football. But can Denver win when it counts the most? And which teams are the most likely challengers to last season's NFC and AFC champs? Folks, take a deep breath, fill your gas tanks, stock up on coals and prepare for an exciting long haul, as the NFL season is finally here. Here's my first NFL top ten.
1: Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks didn't look like a team that took an off-season break. Yes the odds are clearly stacked high against the Seabirds trying to repeat. But Pete and his gang of ferocious defenders can even out some of those odds with home field. Big game to open the season against the NFC North favorite - Thursday vs Green Bay Packers.
2: San Francisco 49ers – People kind of started jumping off the 49ers as the San Fran offense did not look too good this preseason. I'm not jumping off this team any time soon. I still think San Francisco is an elite team in the NFL. This week @ Dallas Cowboys.
3: Denver Broncos – The White Horses got better on defense. And Denver should be as good as they were a year ago on offense. But there is not another team in the league that is Super Bowl win or bust. I'm not sure Peyton can handle that pressure. He has not in the past! This week vs Indianapolis Colts.
4: New Orleans Saints – The Saints upped their defensive intensity by adding the top safety interceptor in Jairus Byrd. New Orleans does not have a glaring weakness. Now the Saints need to get off to a hot start beginning this week in the ATL against the desperate Dirty Birds. This week @ Atlanta Falcons.
5: Green Bay Packers – The Packers look like the cream of the crop in the NFC North and with a huge road win over Seattle this week, the entire country will claim that these Cheese Heads are as legit as they have been since they won it all! This week @ Seattle Seahawks.
6: New England Patriots – The Patriots still look like the far best team in the AFC East and NE is still among the best in the NFL. How many more seasons do the hood and pretty boy have together? You can best bet when Bill and Tom are done, the Patriots might be as well too! This week @ Miami.
7: Baltimore Ravens – If there is a team in the AFC that is going to be serious threat to the Broncos and Pats I think it is the Ravens. Baltimore has everything they need to make another Super run. A big opening week win over the Bengals would be a good start. This week vs Cincinnati.
8: Indianapolis Colts – The Colts are going to be a good team but can Indy really threaten the elite teams in the AFC? I don't think they can. But that does not mean that they are not a good team. Hey Indy prove me wrong this weekend! This week @ Denver.
9: Arizona Cardinals – The Cards have a great defense and they are pretty sound on offense. If the Red Birds from the desert can get off to a better start this season they might be in the right place at the right time come January. This week vs San Diego
10: Philadelphia Eagles – Among the weakest division (NFC East) in the NFL, the Eagles look the best. Kind of like if you had four bad pairs of shoes and you wore the one that looked the least-worst. Does that make any sense to you? This week vs Jacksonville.
Let's face it, Texas A&M stole the entire weekend show with a Thursday night beat-down of the Gamecocks. After that, not really much to brag about from the big boys of college football.
I will tell you though, I get a kick out of those who already claim that a highly-ranked team that does not look so impressive in their first game is not going to be that good. Please, people, don't show your homer-ism or lack of knowledge that easily. It's called a season for a reason. Never ever has there been a one-game season! All that matters is which teams get better each week.
The Gamecocks learned the hard way that the Aggies have a great program and they are not just about one player. The Bruins, Seminoles, Tigers (Auburn & LSU) and Tide all got a little scare, and now a two huge games take place out west with Oregon hosting Michigan State and USC facing Stanford.
With that said, here is my top 10 as we enter the second week of the season.
1. Florida State - I know famous Jameis did not look great, but the Cowboys from Stillwater are a good team that has a pretty good program. Now the 'Noles get back home and remedy their problems with a tune up win over the Citadel? Last week beat Oklahoma State 37-31 / this week vs Citadel.
2. Alabama - I really get sick of hearing how the other team should have and could have beat Alabama if they had da-da-da! Hey, there is a reason why Alabama is good, you know. The Tide still don't know who their QB is. But they do know that Nick Saban is their coach. I say no more! Last week beat West Virginia 33-23 / this week vs Florida Atlantic.
3. Oregon - The Ducks will put up a lot of points and have plenty impressive numbers. But will they quack down the stretch of the season like they have done so many times before? Uh oh, a big defensive team is in town this week. And that could mean trouble! Last week beat South Dakota State 62-13 / this week vs Michigan State.
4. Oklahoma - The Sooners beat up the Bulldogs from Louisiana Tech and now will hit the road to take on Tulsa. The Sooners could become one of those locks to make it to the four team playoff this season. Last week beat LA. Tech 48-16 / this week @ Tulsa.
5. Auburn - The Tigers were tied 21-21 at half against the Razorbacks in their first game of the season. And then the War Eagles pulled away in the second half. Auburn will be great on offense. But will they have enough defense to get back to Atlanta? Last week beat Arkansas 45-21/ this week vs San Jose State.
6. Michigan State - The Spartans have a sound defense and an offense that does not make many mistakes. A huge road win over the Oregon Ducks could put MSU in the right spot for the rest of the season. Last week beat Jacksonville State 45-7 / this week @ Oregon.
7. UCLA - The Bruins traveled cross country to take on the Cavilers. UCLA inked out a 28-20 win. Of all of the preseason top 10 teams, UCLA looks the least likely to be legit. Hey, it's my opinion. Last week beat UVA 28-20 / this week vs Memphis.
8. Stanford - The Cardinals have a a great program and this week they get hyped up as the USC Trojans are on the schedule. One team will still have all of their season goals in tact. One will not. Last week beat UC Davis 45-0 / this week vs USC.
9. Ohio State - The Buckeyes broke in Freshman QB J.T. Barrett slowly in their 34-17 win over Navy. OSU got six points in the first half and added 28 in the second. If Barrett does well the Buckeyes could still be the cream of the crop in the Big Ten. Man look out this week as those Hokies are always hard to beat! Last week beat Navy 34-17 / this week vs Virginia Tech.
10. Georgia - The Bulldogs gave the ball to Todd Gurley, they let Todd return kickoffs and he piled up nearly 300 yards in a big 45-21 win over Clemson. Now the Dogs can seize control of the SEC East and put to put the Gamecocks with a win on the road. It won't be easy. Or perhaps it will! Last week beat Clemson 45-21 / this week at South Carolina.
The New Orleans Saints have made roster cuts and the Black and Gold’s 53 man roster is set. Some of the more notable cuts the Saints made included that of letting go future Hall of Fame player Champ Bailey. “I’m kind of shocked they cut Bailey. I don’t think the Saints had four Corner Backs that are better than Champ Bailey. No way,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. Although Bailey did not participate during most of training camp, Hebert is still very surprised that the veteran CB did not make the Saints roster.
New Orleans is now a team that does not have a Kicker. After neither Kicker could lay claim to the job, the Saints released both Shayne Graham and Derek Dimke today. Both Dimke and Graham had their good moments during Saints Training Camp, neither looked consistent and neither could win the job.
“I thought all along that the Saints Kicker this season might not be on the roster right now. And that’s what happened. I do think that the Saints have a plan and they have a guy that they will be able to get in here to kick.”
At Wide Receiver the Saints cut veteran WR Robert Meachum. The Cajun Cannon thinks in a way that could mean good news for the position. “By releasing Meachum, to me, that says that WR Kenny Stills is not that hurt. If Stills had been seriously hurt, again in my own opinion, I think that the Saints may have kept Meachum.”
Bobby also added that WR Nick Toon, who was the Saints fifth WR last season, was not active on many Saints game days. Because the Saints always have three Tight Ends active on game day, the Saints will then wait to see which cut players clear waivers and then New Orleans will choose who will be on their practice squad.
Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan was also surprised about Champ Bailey being cut. “I thought in the times that he (Bailey) was practicing that he showed enough to be on this team. Obviously the Saints feel confident with the players they kept.”
Hokie said that the next 48 hours will be key as all 32 NFL Teams and their scouting departments will be working overtime to try and fill up practice squads and see which other players they may want to sign to their active rosters.
“You can best believe that every team in this league and their front office is well aware of which players are on the open market. I would think that the Saints have a Kicker in mind that they want to sign.” Hokie said that now the real season begins and the Black and Gold start off with a big one next Sunday in Atlanta.
The Saints will open the 2014 season next Sunday in Atlanta as they take on the Falcons right on WWL 870AM/FM 105.3 and online at wwl.com. For a complete list of all the Saints cuts stay log on to wwl.com
Information helps develop knowledge, and when I began to read deeper in the media notes from LSU, I came to learn that both the LSU and Wisconsin football programs are much better than I thought. Certainly there are some numbers that you can twist, turn and spin any way you want to your liking, but some of the numbers can't be compromised.
Take for example the fact that the Tigers are riding a 45 game non-conference regular season win streak which makes them #1 in the nation. In fact, the last non-conference team to beat the Tigers in the regular season was Virginia Tech way back in 2002.
Guess who's at #2? Yup! The Wisconsin Badgers. Since September 7, 2002, the Badgers are an impressive 43-3 in the very same stat as the Tigers are. On top of that, they're riding a 16 game win streak in season opening games dating back to 1997. Only Nebraska and Florida are higher in that regard.
Other things that stand out - LSU is second in consecutive weeks being ranked in the AP Top 25. The Tigers have been among the country's top 25 teams for a solid 82 weeks.
And when it comes to leading the pack in the ever-so-tough SEC, the Tigers can lay claim to that feat! The SEC's winningest team since the 2005 season is the LSU Tigers. LSU has a 95-24 record, with Florida a distant second with an 87-30 mark during that same time frame.
LSU is tied with Boise State for most nine win seasons since 2004, while Wisconsin is tied for second with eight nine win seasons since the 2004 CFB year.
And I'll leave you with this: Since the 2009 season, LSU and Wisconsin have been among the best. The Tigers are 53-13 for 6th place, while the Badgers are 49-18 which is 12th.
It's not just hype to say that this is a game between two of the most success programs in the country - that is the truth and the numbers say so!
Baltimore Ravens (3-0) vs New Orleans Saints (3-0)
Thursday August 28, 2013 7PM Mercedes-Benz Superdome
Last week’s results: New Orleans beat Indianapolis 23-17 and Baltimore beat Washington 23-17
Did you know? The Baltimore Ravens are the only 3-0 team in the AFC this preseason. The Saints, Vikings and NY Giants are all undefeated in preseason going into the final game. Baltimore will open their 2014 season next week against the Bengals in an AFC North tilt while the Saints head to the ATL to take on the Falcons.
Noteworthy: OK, let’s be real here. The final preseason game may determine the fate of some players that are "on the bubble." The way I feel is that Coach Sean Payton pretty much has his mind made up on his 53 man roster with the exception of a few spots.
The two most recognizable positions that are up for grabs are very important - the back-up to Drew Brees could come down to who performs the best against the Ravens. In the battle are Ryan Griffin and Luke McCown.
“Right now if I had to pick I would go with Luke McCown,” said the Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert. The main reason Hebert would give the nod to the veteran QB is because of experience. “Ryan Griffin has progressed a lot since last season and he’s made this battle a tough one. The Saints could very well go with Griffin,” said Hebert. Bobby also thinks that the Saints might keep both McCown and Griffin on the active roster.
In another battle, the Saints kicker could be decided over the next four quarters. Derek Dimke and Shayne Graham have both had their good moments during training camp, but both have looked not so good at times, too. “They’ve been inconsistent. Who knows, the Saints kicker might not even be on the roster right now,” said Bobby.
Folks, tonight's game is all about players getting one more shot to show not only their current team what they can do, but as the final cut nears, all 32 teams in the league are well aware of each player's ability. Training camp has become a tryout for all 32 teams in the NFL. Many players that are cut Saturday will be picked up by other teams.
This preseason, the Saints have been able to get more pressure on the opposing QB with 11 sacks. The Saints recorded four sacks in each of their first two games and the Black and Gold D got another three QB take-downs in their win over the Colts last Saturday.
New Orleans also wanted to up their forced turnover total this season. If the preseason is any indication of what is to come, then the Saints will be alright. The Saints are atop of the NFL in preseason with a +5 turnover margin, having forced eight turnovers in three preseason games. And last week the Saints first team defense was more than solid against a very good Colts offense. Before the Colts final drive (13 plays 78 yards) of the first half, the Saints defense held the Colts offense to 54 yards on 14 plays.
This game, the Saints just want to get out injury free and then start to focus on a huge opening game against the Falcons. Earlier this week, I compiled some numbers of what the Saints have done in preseason games:
The Saints have won their first three preseason games in consecutive seasons for the first time in franchise history
Thursday night's game in the Mercedes Benz Superdome is the only match-up of 3-0 teams in the final week of preseason action.
New Orleans has scored 80 points 26.6 points per game
The Saints have allowed 65 points 21.6 points per game
The Saints offense has 1,130 yards averaging 377 yards per game
New Orleans has been flagged 42 times for 372 yards
The Saints average 14 penalties and 124 yards per game
Drew Brees completed 9-of-15 pass attempts for 128 yards with two TD’s and a QB rating of 127.2 in his only action in a preseason game
Saints RB Mark Ingram has carried the ball 21 times for 148 yards averaging 6.8 yards per carry
First of all, let me tell you that I know absolutely nothing. What I write here is just some numbers, facts and a little of my opinion. I've seen the majority of the young players that are the LSU offensive depth chart play in high school, that I do know. The Tigers have a veteran, experienced and proven O-Line. There is also good proven production at RB with the return of Senior RB's Terrance Magee and Kenny Hillard. But after that, LSU's offense is all about the youngsters.
Example #1: At the X&Z positions (wide receiver) the Tigers have nine players total. Seven of those nine are freshman players and four of the seven freshman were in high school a year ago at this time.
Quantavius Leslie is a senior, and the next oldest is sophomore Travin Dural. A few of the best high school football players that I have had the fortune of watching play are in the mix at WR for the Tigers. Redshirt freshman WR John Diarse was an incredible high school player at Neville. Diarse could be huge for LSU. He's young but he's been in the system and he's got playmaking skills that are incredible. I personally thought Diarse was good enough to get a look at QB, but that's why coaches get paid millions, and I get paid to speculate and report.
Trey Quinn is a precise route runner, he can burn you, go over the middle, get yards after the catch, and has every major high school football receiving record next to his name. The kid can do it all.
And then there is the #1 WR in the country from 2013 in John Curtis WR Malachi Dupre. How good is Dupre? He was rated as the top WR in America last season on a team that runs the Veer! You get the point?
Winners focus on winning..... Losers focus on winners
Of course there are the two true freshmen at RB - the nations best high school product in Leonard Fournette and John Ehret star Darrell Williams. I've known about Leonard since he exploded onto the prep scene in New Orleans. Leonard was so sought-after and so good and grabbed so much of the attention that not many people ever heard of Darrell Williams. Folks, Williams is the real deal. Williams is a 230 RB that has great vision and can run over you. I'm being cautiously optimistic when I say that LSU might have the second coming of the Hilliard and James Gang. If you have to ask, that's a damn shame!
I think with the guidance of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and the talent each of these young men possess, I don't see any reason why this group of young skilled players can't go from being good to great.
When the game is over Saturday, I think at least one, if not several of these young stars will have a serious impact on the game. College football used to have the luxury of redshirting players so they could gain some experience before they hit the field. The game has changed and now true freshmen players are expected to come in and have an impact as soon as they step on campus.
LSU has some of those impact players. This group was special in high school. And they have the potential to be great in college. We shall see.
The 2014 New Orleans Saints training camp is in the books. “Overall I think the Saints got in a lot of good work, and they accomplished some of the things they wanted to improve on,” said Saints Color Analyst Hokie Gajan.
The Saints practiced for over two hours Tuesday and will now wrap up their preseason schedule Thursday night as they host the 3-0 Baltimore Ravens. Hokie said that there has been real progress towards the Saints goal of creating more turnovers. “I know it’s preseason, but you can sure tell that the Saints have gotten better in that department. If New Orleans can keep this up during the regular season that would make the defense even better.”
The Saints have forced eight turnovers going into the final preseason game, and New Orleans is ranked 1st in the NFL with a +5 in the turnover margin. The Cajun Cannon Bobby Hebert also liked what he saw during Saints camp. “Even in the OTA’s you could tell by the coaches yelling on the field that the Saints wanted to create more turnovers. I think the Saints will create more turnovers based on what they are doing in the preseason.”
Bobby said that Saints DB Corey White had another productive day, as White forced a fumble by punching the ball out of the hands of WR Nick Toon. Bobby also gave high marks DB Brian Dixon. “Dixon has made some plays this camp and today he broke up two passes. I don’t know if Dixon will make the 53 man roster but I do think he will make the practice squad.”
The Cajun Cannon said that other new faces that could land on the Saints practice squad include DB Pierre Warren and TE Nic Jacobs. Bobby’s notes also had WR Joe Morgan beating S Jairus Byrd for a 15 yard gain from QB Drew Brees.
“I’m more than satisfied with what I’ve seen. You have to take into account that the Saints did not have OG’s Ben Grubbs and Jahri Evans and Drew Brees the entire time and Jairus Byrd did not begin practice until the last portion of camp. And all of them were impressive to me. I liked being up in West Virgina and being able to come home and give the fans here a chance to see the team was a good way to wrap things up.”
“The addition of Jarius Byrd looks like it is going to be a big one for the Saints. I think the addition of Byrd and what I’ve seen out of Kenny Vaccaro this camp leads me to believe that the Saints will have one of the best safety tandems in the league this season.”
Bobby was also excited about this year’s group of free agents and undrafted rookies that have made an impact at Saints camp. “The Saints cut a couple of players (DE Rufus Johnson and DB Rod Sweeting) that were on the team last year because they feel like they have better players now. I think we will once again see some players that were considered long shots or camp bodies that make the team.”
As we inch closer to one of the most anticipated games to start the 2014 college football season, I am still reading, taking notes and trying to make a decision on which team has the edge in the LSU versus Wisconsin game. Here's some of what we know so far.
Saturday night's game in Houston features two of the nation's most winningest programs; since 2009 LSU has a .803 winning percentage, which is 6th nationally and Wisconsin is at .731 for 12th place.
The LSU Tigers and Boise State Broncos lead the nation with nine, nine-win seasons since 2004. Wisconsin is right behind with eight nine-win seasons to their credit.
LSU enters the 2014 season with a nation's best 45 straight regular season non-conference wins. The current Tigers streak began back on September 7th, 2002. The Tigers last non-conference loss came back in September of 2002 when Virginia Tech handed the Tigers a 26-8 loss in Blacksburg, VA.
LSU and Wisconsin are ranked #1 and #2 nationally in both wins and winning percentage in regular season non-conference games.
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon is the nation's second leading rusher. #25 averages 7.8 yards per carry and for his career Gordon gets on average 8.1 yards per tote. LSU RB Terrence Magee averaged 7.3 yards per carry for the Tigers during the 2013 CFB Season.
Today marks my 10th year interviewing Coach Les Miles. Over the course of a decade I have come to expect much of the same conversation on the first day of Coach’s Media Luncheon.
Some of the highlights from our chat…Coach Miles says he thinks this year's group of freshmen players will have a big impact on the 2014 season. Les Miles is also very confident about the Tigers O-Line because they have size, they are durable, can run block, pass block and have experience on their side.
Coach told me he expects a Bowl-like atmosphere Saturday night in Houston's NRG Stadium, when his 13th ranked Tigers battle 14th ranked Wisconsin. Coach pointed out how sound the Badgers offense is, but equally gave credit to the UW defense that finished 7th in the nation last season.
Peppered with questions about the Tigers' starting QB, Coach Miles calmly said that he expects both Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings to see action in the Tigers season opener. When I asked Coach Miles what the Tigers need to do to be successful against the Badgers, he told me the Bayou Bengals need to protect the football and win the special team's battle.
"We feel like we have some match-ups that are in our favor in the special teams. In close games, special teams always play a big role,"
Hear LSU’s H-Town tilt with the Wisconsin Badgers Saturday here on WWL Radio! Tiger fans, if you’re heading out to the game, join Bobby Hebert, T-Bob Hebert and me at Big Woodrow’s Bar & Grill (311 Chimney Rock Road) for the “Gulf Coast Bank & Trust TIGER TAILGATIN’ SHOW” from 3 till 6pm. Jim Hawthorne brings you LSU’s official pre-game show after that…and game time is 8pm…on WWL—the BIG 8-70AM and 105.3-FM.
There will be no fancy gadget-type plays, no tricks, and not much unexpected from the Wisconsin Badgers offense. But what you can expect is good ole fashion smash-mouth football!
If history tells us anything about the Wisconsin offense, then get ready to watch UW run, run, run - and then run, run, run some more! In the last decade, or so the Badgers have been an elite rushing team.
Under first year coach Gary Anderson, the Badgers kept up their successful rushing ways in 2013. Wisconsin finished as the 8th best team in the nation when it came to rushing the football.
The Badgers averaged 284 rushing yards per contest with an average of 6.62 yards per rushing attempt. Simply put, if LSU is to get by the Badgers, they will have to at least slow down a potent ground game.
Wisconsin not only runs the football at a high level, they run the football the overwhelming majority of the time. Of the Badgers 912 offensive plays last season, 557 were rushing attempts.
Fans Traveling to Houston Reminded of Bag Policy: BATON ROUGE – LSU's season-opener against Wisconsin will be ... http://t.co/zbTWdw0eRM
The Badgers rushed the football on average of 43 times per game while passing just 27 times per game. Wisconsin has long had one of the most physical offensive lines in college football, and those big beefy road graders can wear down opponents throughout the course of a four quarter game.
Wisconsin has produced a successful combination of big physical run-blocking linemen and equally physical runners that bear down on opposing defenders. The main horse in the Badgers backfield is one Melvin Gordon.
Called one of the top ten players in all of college football, Gordon has gifted balance of size, speed and agility - he is simply beautiful to watch.
During the 2013 CFB season, #25 rushed for a whopping 1,609 yards and 12 TD's. Gordon averaged nearly eight yards (7.8) per rushing attempt. And for those who think that this Badger does not have speed then you're wrong!
25% (50 of his 205 rushes) went for 10 yards or more and seven carries went for 50 yards or more. Melvin Gordon is considered the best returning RB in the Big Ten and arguably the best in the nation going into the 2014 season.
Gordon also has the luxury and help of another proven runner in Corey Clement. Clement was the third string running back last season for Wisconsin. Clement made the most of his time averaging an incredible 8.2 yards per rushing attempt.
Clement had a respectable 67 rushing attempts for 547 yards with seven scores in 2013. When you factor in that the LSU Tigers are breaking in a new QB and LSU's Offense will be a primary run oriented unit, this game between the Tigers and Badgers could be over quickly if both teams run the football like they are each expected to do.