Why Thursday Night Football Is A Failure

Posted by Jack Tumen

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

When was the last time you can remember watching a really good Thursday Night Football game?

Oh, um, never? That’s not surprising. “TNF” has never been an exciting event on a weekly basis. Even after eight years of it, it’s still weird watching football on a Thursday night.

The league tried to bring “TNF” to the next level this season. After years of broadcasting the game on NFL Network, a big-time cable network finally acquired the broadcasting rights for the Thursday night package. There’s no doubt, the NFL on CBS is a top-notch production and it’s much more appealing to watch a game on CBS than on NFL Network. Naturally, the ratings will increase because of this change as the league looks for an excuse to continue pushing the package.

But as an avid football fan – unless it’s your team that’s playing – it’s hard to get pumped for a Thursday night game. Yes, you’re always going to watch because it’s primetime football; but it’s not a quality product.

The NFL is a long, grueling season. Teams only play once a week for a reason; players need to rest their bodies in order to stay healthy. It takes a full week in order to prepare for an opponent – game planning, film studying and especially healing. Playing an NFL game on four days rest completely negates all of that valuable preparation time.

That was more than apparent in Thursday night’s catastrophe. That was the kind of game that people get fired for. Tampa Bay was missing two of it’s best players in Doug Martin and Gerald McCoy – three more days of rest and both of those guys are probably playing on Sunday. But in these Thursday night games, the better team is always going to win. It completely defeats the purpose of “any given Sunday.”

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Now, I’m not trying to defend the Bucs in any way, shape or form – they played like fucking shit. But I do believe that the score would have been less lopsided had this game been played on Sunday.

On top of all that, “TNF” makes the week go wayyy faster than it should. Part of being a football fan is appreciating the scarcity of the game and looking forward to Sundays. Monday Night Football ends and all of a sudden, Thursday Night Football kicks off the next week of games and I’m like hooooold on there cowboy. Monday Night Football is a true tradition. One less day of rest doesn’t change that much. Players look forward to Monday Night Football – I doubt they say the same about Thursdays. The only other non-Sunday or Monday game that should ever be played is on Thanksgiving. That’s it. Kapish?

Through two weeks, we’ve seen two uninspiring blowouts on Thursday Night Football. There’s nothing that leads me to believe that the quality of play will ever improve on a Thursday night game. I mean, really, when was the last time you remember watching a really good Thursday Night Football game?

Jacked Up Picks: Week 3

Posted by Jack Tumen

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Another fascinating weekend of NFL games. Basically the entire league is 1-1 which is great for competition in the standings from week to week. I went 7-9 on my picks last week; not great, but I’m looking to bounce back in week three.

Buccaneers @ Falcons: Tampa Bay has been playing down to its competition through the first two weeks of play. Out of a Lovie-Smith-coached team, I expect better. They lost on a stupid 10-second runoff to the hapless Rams that started Austin Davis at quarterback. Atlanta looked lost in Cinci, but they’ve never been a good road team. The Falcons get it done under the dome on Thursday night. Josh McCown’s best football is behind him.

ATL 26, TB 20

Chargers @ Bills: San Diego just set the blueprint for how to beat the best team in the world; control the ball for 45+ minutes of the game. The Bills are currently atop the AFC East standings at 2-0. How much longer will that last? I’ll give it another week. I’m a firm believer in the big game hangover and San Diego is primed for a let down against a sneaky-good Bills defense. Playing at 1 PM on the east coast is a perennial challenge for west coast teams as well.

BUF 20, SD 16

Ravens @ Browns: Cleveland pulled a stunner at home, dropping the Saints to 0-2 while securing the first win of the Mike Pettine era. Baltimore showed that it can still focus on playing Ravenesque football even in the midst of the biggest media crisis in recent memory. Baltimore’s defense isn’t as porous as NOLA’s and I expect it to be business as usual for John Harbaugh’s squad. The big game hangover is in effect for the Browns.

BAL 24, CLE 13

Titans @ Bengals: When you can only put up 10 points against the Cowboys’ defense, it’s time to take a long, hard look in the mirror. Tennessee played like the leader-less team I envisioned them being this year and they’ve been dealt a tough hand this week, traveling to Paul Brown Stadium where the visitor hasn’t been victorious since week 14 of the 2012 season. Demarco Murray slashed the Titans defense for 167 yards so expect Gio Bernard and Jeremy Hill to do much of the same. Even without A.J. Green, the Bengals are simply the better team.

CIN 22, TEN 16

Cowboys @ Rams: This is a game the Cowboys could easily lose. The Rams defense did a fine job of holding Tampa Bay in check and some weird things are bound to happen. Having said that, Dez Bryant > Rams secondary.

DAL 24, STL 17

Packers @ Lions: Detroit hit a roadblock against the stout Panthers’ D while Green Bay – despite some help from the Jets – found its stride in week two. Both defenses in this matchup are subpar and I expect a high-scoring affair. I also expect Rodgers and co. to start a little winning streak in the Motor City.

GB 34, DET 27

Texans @ Giants: Houston started 2-0 last year as well…then proceeded to lose its final 14 contests. However, New York might be the worst team in the league right now and the Texans’ schedule is looking mighty easy. Eli Manning can’t get a grip on this offense. J.J. Watt will have fun in this one.

HOU 21, NYG 13

Colts @ Jaguars: Andrew Luck just lost consecutive games for the first time in his career; you can be sure he won’t lose a third. Jacksonville surrendered 41 points to Kirk Cousins…yeah.

IND 27, JAX 20

Harry How/Getty Images

Harry How/Getty Images

Vikings @ Saints: Both teams are coming off tough losses. This will be New Orleans’ home opener and there’s no shot Drew Brees loses a third straight game. Minnesota is still looking for its glasses after getting whooped by the Pats and will prepare to continue its season without Adrian Peterson. This could be the week we see Teddy.

NO 31, MIN 16

Raiders @ Patriots: This has the potential to be one of the ugliest games of the year. Chandler Jones is very much looking forward to dodging Donald Penn at the punch table and greeting Derek Carr.

NE 41, OAK 6

Redskins @ Eagles: Washington is simply a better team with Kirk Cousins at the helm, so they have a chance against a weaker Eagles defense. Washington’s defense has only allowed 27 points this season; they might just allow that much in this game. But in the NFC East, anything goes. I’ve got plenty of Eagles fans breathing down my neck…and I say, to hell with ya!

WAS 26, PHI 21

49ers @ Cardinals: If Carson Palmer misses extended time, it could be tougher sledding for ‘Zona than most thought. However, Bruce Arians is a mastermind and can make do with Drew Stanton for a few weeks. His team is sitting alone atop the NFC West for a reason…for now. San Fran let da Bears claw back in primetime as the nation watched them reel. It’ll sting for a bit; depleting losses often lead to more losses. They let a divisional opponent get the best of them.

ARI 21, SF 14

Broncos @ Seahawks: Thar she blows; a mid-season Super Bowl. This will be a real treat. I’m seriously pumped as hell for this game. Denver let KC hang around a little too long last week. Seattle can take a breath and not worry about perfection (albeit, even after week one) and get down to business. The winner of this game will be the Super Bowl favorite going forward. CenturyLink Field is about to move some tectonic plates. I picked Denver back in February…I won’t be making that mistake again.

SEA 27, DEN 23

Chiefs @ Dolphins: This isn’t a very enticing matchup. Kansas City might be without its best player in Jamaal Charles which would not bode well against an above-average Dolphins’ defense. Miami got dominated by the Bills up in Buffalo and lost Knowshon Moreno in the process. That week one win over New England? Just a divisional mirage.

KC 19, MIA 13

Steelers @ Panthers: Pittsburgh looked flat on a short week last Thursday. All that rest should do them well, even against a tough Carolina defense that shut down Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. I don’t think either of these teams will be particularly good in the long-run – but I’m giving Carolina the edge at home. Baby steps for Cam Newton.

CAR 16, PIT 14

Bears @ Jets: Despite the infamous timeout, the Jets showed that they can compete with any team in this league – and maybe beat some upper-echelon teams if they quit shooting themselves in the foot. Geno Smith is clearly a better quarterback than he was a year ago but if Eric Decker can’t go, it might be tough sledding for the Jets’ offense on Monday night, even against a weak Bears’ defense that’s now missing Charles Tillman. Chicago reminded everyone why they had the second-best offense in the league last year. Marshall and Jeffery have a dream matchup against New York’s secondary…but Rex is a man with a plan. I got a feeling about this one.

NYJ 23, CHI 20 – OT

We Are…Coming For You

Posted by Jack Tumen


For the first time since 2011, Penn State is eligible to play in a bowl game and the College Football Playoff. This program still has a little ways to go before we can put them in the championship conversation; but it’s very realistic to be mentioning this team as a Big 10 title contender.

Off to a 2-0 start, the Nittany Lions earned an upset win over the favored UCF Knights in Dublin, Ireland, then followed that up with a 21-3 grinder against Akron. The biggest factor hindering this team right now is the current lack of scholarship players. Next year, James Franklin will be able to have his full 85 back but at the moment this program is playing with a few men down.

The Big Ten standings are completely flip-flopped through the first two weeks of play. Penn State sits atop the east division with conference newcomers, Maryland and Rutgers. Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State all have a loss while Indiana has only played one game. In the west, Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota are all 2-0. Purdue and Wisconsin each have a loss while Northwestern is winless. It’s safe to say the Big 10 is wide open right now.

For Penn State, this is a prime chance to seize an opportunity. The conference is in shambles and its public perception is at an all-time low. With the sanctions now lifted, the Nittany Lions have the chance to be the team that saves the Big 10 in 2014. This is not your classic Michigan Wolverines; they flat-out stink. Ohio State is clearly not what everyone thought they would be in the absence of Braxton Miller, losing a primetime game at home to Virginia Tech. People will forget about Michigan State following their loss to Oregon, but the Spartans will rise again late in the year and expect to be contending for the conference title. Mark your calendars for the week 13 matchup when MSU comes to Happy Valley – it could decide the Big 10 East.


What Penn State has going in its favor is great coaching, great character players and the best quarterback in the conference. There are even some scouts who have said Christian Hackenberg is the best passer in the nation. Honestly, it’s not too much of a stretch. When he comes out in a year or two, you can bet on Hack being a high first round pick.

But at this moment, Penn State is preparing for its first Big 10 opponent in Rutgers on Saturday night. The winner has a chance to be in sole possession of first place in the Big 10 East division. Rutgers can put up points; they dropped 41 on Pac-12 opponent, Washington State, and followed that up with 38 points against Howard. That said, both of those teams are a combined 0-4. Penn State is in control of its own destiny right now – and with a win over Rutgers, they almost certainly secure a spot in the top 25. In a time where the Big 10 is struggling mightily, Penn State might just be the unlikely hero that the conference needs.

(Photos by Yours truly.)

Jacked Up Picks: Week 2

Posted by Jack Tumen

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The first week in the NFL is always filled with chaos. Now that the dust is beginning to settle and we’ve seen something from each team, it’s time to predict week two’s match ups.

Steelers @ Ravens: This is always a hard-hitting rivalry. Pittsburgh got a little lazy against Cleveland last week and almost let one slip away while Baltimore nearly stole one from Cinci but came up just short. The Ravens have been in the national spotlight this week and not for the right reasons. I’ve got them finishing 11-5 but with too many distractions at the moment, Pittsburgh gets a leg up in the division on national television

PIT 26, BAL 16

Dolphins @ Bills: It would have been a safe bet to say both of these teams would be 0-1 coming in to this game; that’s not the case. Miami put the heat on Tom Brady to grind out a win at home while the Bills showed resiliency behind a surprisingly upstart E.J. Manuel. Most people would pick Miami in this one but Buffalo’s won three of the last four in this rivalry and I like the Bills to edge the Fins at home in their first game under new ownership.

BUF 23, MIA 17

Lions @ Panthers: The Lions come roaring into Charlotte after bludgeoning the Giants on Monday Night Football. Cam Newton’s status is still up in the air after missing the first game. Luckily, Derek Anderson filled in admirably and got the opening ‘W’ on the road. Detroit will be facing a new animal in the Panthers’ defense; but Carolina’s depleted O-Line will have to deal with Ndamukong Suh & co. as well. The air show continues as the Lions ride their hot start.

DET 27, CAR 21

Falcons @ Bengals: The Falcons won a tone-setting game at home vs. the Saints; something most people wouldn’t have predicted. The Bengals’ defense is much better than New Orleans’ and Matt Ryan might not have the same protection with Jake Matthews’ status in question. A.J. Green is going to burn Atlanta’s secondary as the Bengals continue their home winning streak.

CIN 31, ATL 20

Saints @ Browns: Oh boy. This isn’t the matchup you wanted in week two if you’re Mike Pettine. Coming off a close loss, Drew Brees is waiting to feast on Cleveland’s secondary. The Browns’ defense isn’t bad but they don’t stand a chance against this high-octane offense. Brian Hoyer should have a better game but he won’t be able to keep pace with Drew Brees, especially if Jordan Cameron misses this game. Ben Tate’s absence doesn’t help either as this backfield is composed of two rookies right now.

NO 30, CLE 17

Patriots @ Vikings: New England looked overwhelmed in the second half against Miami’s defensive pressure. I’m still scratching my head over the Logan Mankins trade and I really think his absence is going to be felt along that O-Line. Minnesota is playing with energy under new Head Coach, Mike Zimmer. Their defense is underrated and they’ll be bringing the heat in their home opener. The Patriots will get it figured out sooner than later but I’m going with the upset here for the purple people leaders.

MIN 20, NE 19

Cardinals @ Giants: The Giants look like they could be one of the worst teams in the league this year. I’m starting to think that my 8-8 prediction for them was wayyy too generous. Eli Manning is straight up not enjoying this new offense and he looks like the worst passer in the NFL. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are incredibly disciplined and showed toughness in their close win on Monday night. ‘Zona’s got this one.

AZ 24, NYG 13

Cowboys @ Titans: Tony Romo looked awful last week while Jake Locker looked great. Both quarterbacks played against good defenses but Ken Whisenhunt was able to size it down for his young QB while Romo was throwing balls into triple coverage. Dallas has the worst defense in the league and Tennessee could be a pleasant surprise this year. I was adamant about the lack of veteran leadership affecting the Titans but they’re looking to prove me wrong in a big way. Dallas won’t find their first ‘W’ this week.

TEN 24, DAL 21

Karl Walter/Getty Images

Karl Walter/Getty Images

Jaguars @ Redskins: Jacksonville gave Philly quite the scare last week and in doing so, put the rest of the league on notice. This Jaguars’ defense is underrated and they’ll be bringing the heat for RGIII. Jay Gruden will be scratching his head as long as Griffin is his quarterback. The future isn’t looking bright for the team in our nation’s capital.

JAX 20, WAS 14

Seahawks @ Chargers: San Diego’s defense did a great job of holding a good Cardinal’s offense in check for most of the game on Monday night. They only got a little taste, however, of this powerful NFC West. Two weeks in a row of that is tough to start with if you’re a Charger. Losing your starting center for the year doesn’t help either. They’ll find their stride later this month, but Seattle looks unbeatable right now.

SEA 31, SD 13

Rams @ Buccaneers: As if it couldn’t get any worse for St. Louis, defensive end Chris Long will miss 8-10 weeks after injuring his ankle in week one and will require surgery. What was once looking to be a breakthrough season is now looking like a top-five pick. Josh McCown will find his groove against this weak Rams’ secondary as Tampa Bay picks up its first win.

TB 23, STL 7

Chiefs @ Broncos: Kansas City took a massive blow by losing both Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito to torn achilles’ tendons. Denver is Denver and they’ll have a field day against a Chiefs team that is now looking way worse than expected. KC couldn’t win even if Jamaal Charles touched the ball 60 times.

DEN 35, KC 14

Jets @ Packers: If there was any time for the Jets to want to play the Packers, it would be right now. Green Bay’s offensive line is shot with Brian Bulaga getting hurt…again, and Eddie Lacy is iffy with concussion symptoms. But if you’re Aaron Rodgers, you’ve already faced the toughest defense in the league. So in theory, it can only get easier from here. Green Bay’s defense isn’t very good and the Jets will keep it closer than expected but Rodgers has a field day against this depleted secondary.

GB 27, NYJ 20

Texans @ Raiders: Houston didn’t look great last week – putting up 17 points against the lowly Redskins – but Oakland…they are bad, man. I’m proud to say that Derek Carr – my favorite QB in this draft class – was also the first rookie QB to start right off-the-bat. His future is bright; the current state of the Raiders is not. Ryan Fitzpatrick dinks and dunks the Texans to 2-0.

HOU 20, OAK 12

Bears @ 49ers: Chicago was stunned at home by Buffalo in week one. Marc Trestman is not going to let his team falter so easily in the future. San Fran had a patty-cake matchup against Dallas’ D – and even though Chicago’s isn’t top notch, they’ll be a tougher test for Kaep and co.. It’ll be a tight game but I like Chicago to get back on track in this primetime matchup.

CHI 28, SF 24

Eagles @ Colts: Philly got a scare in week one but was able to bounce back in the second half to secure a win vs. Jacksonville. Indy had a nice comeback attempt against a revitalized Broncos’ defense as Andrew Luck showed why he’s one of the best young quarterbacks in this league. Against a weak defensive unit, Luck throws for 400 yards in the Monday night spotlight in a high-scoring affair.

IND 38, PHI 29

September 8th, 2014

Posted by Jack Tumen

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Rob Carr/Getty Images

A lot of news dropped on our shoulders today, so let’s just step back and take in the events that have unfolded over the last few hours.

The Baltimore Ravens terminated Ray Rice’s contract following the release of the security video showing him striking his wife and knocking her unconscious.

Let me begin by saying Ray Rice should be banned from the NFL for life. Do I really need to explain myself? It’s pretty crazy how the league and the Ravens knew that Rice had done what he did, but until there was concrete video of it – until they could see it with human eyes…two game suspension – slap on the wrist.

I know the league just stiffened their domestic violence policy and what-not, but this is an issue that’s bigger than football. Our country tends to glorify athletes. Incase you haven’t figured it out yet, athletes are humans – they eat, sleep and shit like humans. They make human mistakes and get punished like humans as well. Ray Rice knocked his wife out cold. So because he’s a football player and you need him for your fantasy team, he gets a pass?

What’s even more convoluted about this situation is the way the league came down on Mr. Josh Gordon with a year-long suspension for smoking weed. SMOKING WEED. You can legally do that in two states in our country. In Washington and Colorado, it’s like, more legal than Amsterdam to smoke weed. Heck, it’s easier to find weed in America than it is to find the nearest dry-cleaners.

These are the issues that we are dealing with, people. We’re smarter than this. We know what’s right and what’s wrong. We know that it’s not O.K. to hit your wife, or anyone for that matter. We also know that it’s not a big deal if you smoke weed in the right time and place. Ray Rice just made himself the poster-boy for NFL domestic violence forever. No team should ever want to be associated with him, no matter how much he tries to mend his image, which also is never happening.

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Over in Happy Valley today, Penn State’s bowl ban was lifted by the NCAA. I am a Penn State student. I lived through the scandal. When I first read this news, I was finally able to really feel the magnitude of the last three years. I’ve spent my entire collegiate career living in State College, experiencing this story first-hand with 50,000 other students. We’ve lived through riots. We’ve seen three head coaches in four seasons. Now, the NCAA is finally admitting its mistakes.

If you’re one of those people that disagrees with the NCAA’s decision, then you should go back and read the first half of this article again. This was not and was never a football issue: it had nothing to do with the players, the students or the alumni, who have been subjected to unrelenting harassment from those outside of the Penn State community for the last three years. This was a human crime. It was handled in a football context.

It’s a strange coincidence that both of these events happened on the same day. Hopefully, we can start realizing that the actions of one person can affect that person’s athletic career, but that those two entities of life and sports are separate from one another.


NFL Season Preview: NFC West

Posted by Jack Tumen

Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports

We finally reach the end of the Jacked Up Sports 2014 NFL Preview Series with a breakdown of the league’s best division; the NFC West.

The St. Louis Rams took quite the blow when Sam Bradford tore his ACL last week. You know what that means? (Besides the fact that their season is already lost) – He’s a bust. Sign it, stamp it and put it in the mailbox; Sam Bradford is officially a bust. He’s been in the league for five years now and has never made the playoffs or even finished with a winning record. I don’t care that he won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010; he has never made the full transition from Oklahoma to the NFL.

Jeff Fisher is left with a 34-year-old backup in Shaun Hill. He’s really one of the best backups in the league but expect St. Louis to acquire another capable QB before week 1. It’s a set of unfortunate circumstances for a team that was looking to make a leap in a deep division. Not only does this put the Rams’ season in jeopardy before it even starts – it beckons the search for a new franchise quarterback.

But there are games to be played – and this roster is solid at other positions besides quarterback. This defensive front might be the best in the NFL. Robert Quinn comes off a 19-sack performance from a year ago and is joined by Chris Long, Michael Brockers and stand-out rookie, Aaron Donald. These four will be the main force keeping St. Louis in games this year. The secondary has been considered a weak spot but I’m a fan of Janoris Jenkins and rookie DB, Lamarcus Joyner. E.J. Gaines has also shown well as a sixth-round pick. The safety spot is where the weakness is on this defense.

David Welker/Getty Images

David Welker/Getty Images

On offense, St. Louis is deep with middle-of-the-road talent. This receiving corps has been a work-in-progress for multiple seasons now; six-deep, but it’s a group of no. 2 and 3 receivers. Until Kenny Britt proves he can return to his Titan form, he’d be the second option on most teams. Tavon Austin struggled to adjust at the pro level and never expanded his role asides from being a gadget player and returner as the eighth-overall pick a year ago. Brian Quick has shown promise, but again, he’s a no. 2 option at best in this league. Stedman Bailey and Austin Pettis have flashed ability but haven’t separated themselves from the pack while Chris Givens has the wheels to be a deep threat but just doesn’t possess a well-rounded game overall.

Other Notables: Zac Stacy is the presumptive starter at RB but will be pushed for carries by Benny Cunningham and rookie, Tre Mason; Jared Cook and Lance Kendricks are two reliable receiving tight ends; James Laurinaitis and Alec Ogletree are a pair of stud linebackers who both surpassed 115 tackles last season; No. 2 overall pick, Greg Robinson, will grow into his role as an anchor on this o-line.

In this division, the Arizona Cardinals are the team that can shake up the standings if they hit their stride at the right time. They finished 10-6 in Bruce Arians’ first year as head coach but still missed the playoffs behind San Fran and Seattle. Remember; this was the only team to win a game in Seattle last year. The pieces are there; they just need to be put together.

Carson Palmer shadily had one of his best seasons as a passer, throwing for a career-high 4,274 yards. 22 interceptions, however, was another career high for Palmer; just a few less of those and we’re talking about a playoff team last year. I’ve never been a Carson Palmer guy, but he’s in the right place to succeed now on the back end of his career. AZ drafted Virginia Tech quarterback, Logan Thomas – a measurables freak – to be groomed under Palmer. He’s flown under the radar but has been one of the best rookie QBs this preseason.

Fitz:Floyd - Jonathan Ferrey:Getty Images

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd are one of the best receiver-duos in the league. Floyd surpassed 1,000 receiving yards last year while Fitz tallied double-digit touchdowns. There’s been much hype surrounding third-round rookie, John Brown, who’s been pegged as the T.Y. Hilton of Bruce Arians’ offense. Ted Ginn’s on this roster as well.

The backfield situation is not ideal but Andre Ellington will be the top-dog for this season. Arians refused to use him as a workhorse back last season but might not have much of a choice with his only other options being Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer. Ellington excels outside the tackles as a shifty runner and a pass-catching threat.

On defense, this secondary is shaping up to be one of the leagues’ best. Patrick Peterson will play like a $70 million man across from former Jet, Antonio Cromartie while Tyrann Mathieu and first-rounder, Deone Buchannon, will solidify the back end at the safety positions.

However, this unit took a huge blow when Darnell Dockett’s season ended last week with a torn ACL. That certainly puts a damper on things but it’s a next-man-up league and someone’s gotta fill his shoes. Newly signed Tommy Kelly might be that guy.

With Karlos Dansby in Cleveland and Daryl Washington suspended for the entire season, the name to watch at linebacker will be second year man, Kevin Minter. He’ll look to make his mark as a long-term starter alongside Larry Foote, Desmond Bishop and Lorenzo Alexander. Outside ‘backer consists of John Abraham, Sam Acho and Alex Okafor.

Other Notables: Tight end is deep with John Carlson, Rob Housler and second-round rookie, Troy Niklas; Jonathan Cooper needs to prove he was worth the first-round pick Arizona spent on him to play guard; Rookie LB, Glenn Carson, was solid at Penn State and could see meaningful snaps this season.

The 49ers have been relentless in their pursuit for a Super Bowl title this decade. They have one of the best rosters in the NFL from top-to-bottom and they only seem to improve on that each year. This team is playing good football at the right time – they get to host next year’s Super Bowl in brand new Levi’s Stadium and could make a push to be the true home team in that contest.

Colin Kaepernick got himself a new deal this offseason and will look to continue polishing his game. He’s got weapons around him – even in a run-first offense. At age 30, Frank Gore still managed to be a top-10 rusher last year, finishing with 1,128 yards and 9 TDs. He’s now joined by bruiser, Carlos Hyde, to create a very imposing backfield along with LaMichael James.

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

This offensive line could be the best in the league. Guard, Alex Boone, has been holding out all of training camp but San Fran needs to pay da man. Mike Iupati, Adam Snyder and Joe Staley are all the cream-of-the-crop at their respective positions. With center, Jonathan Goodwin, now in NOLA, Marcus Martin and Ryan Kilgore will compete for his old spot.

Assuming he can stay healthy, Michael Crabtree will be the no. 1 receiver on this team. Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis will get their share of targets as well in what is a well-rounded receiving corps. Stevie Johnson, Bruce Ellington, Brandon Lloyd and Quinton Patton are further down the depth chart.

Not having NaVorro Bowman will hurt this defense and Aldon Smith has been suspended for the first nine games of the season – but Patrick Willis is still one of the best linebackers in the league. He’s got plenty of young talent around him with guys like Chris Borland and Aaron Lynch. Don’t forget always-reliable, Ahmad Brooks.

This secondary is highlighted by first round picks, Eric Reid and Jimmie Ward. Antoine Bethea joins the crew at safety while Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver will hold down at corner.

Other Notables: Glenn Dorsey won’t be available ’til late this season with a torn bicep but was inked to a long-term deal that will keep him around for years to come; Justin Smith and Ray McDonald will anchor this defensive line; TE Vance McDonald will push for more snaps this season; What’s the deal with Marcus Lattimore?

The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl last season by fielding possibly the best defense in NFL history. With the crew being much of the same this year, a repeat isn’t out of the question for the team from the Pacific Northwest.

Russell Wilson is one of the most unique athletes in sports. He’s only 5’11”, but has massive hands, smooth mobility and a good head on his shoulders. It only took him two seasons as a pro to achieve the greatest accomplishment in sports. He’s only getting better, but for him to keep improving, he’ll need better protection from his offensive line. Russell was sacked more than any other QB in the league last year and will need some help from guys like Russell Okung, James Carpenter and Max Unger if Seattle wants to continue its success.

Kevin Casey/Getty Images

Kevin Casey/Getty Images

Marshawn Lynch will continue to be Beast Mode for this physical offense but look for Christine Michael to finally emerge as a contributor to Seattle’s ground game. Doug Baldwin, Percy Harvin and Jermaine Kearse will small-ball their way through the season with the additions of Paul Richardson and Kevin Norwood. Zach Miller and Luke Willson are an overlooked pair of tight ends that help this offense move the chains drive-in and drive-out.

Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright and an unlikely Super Bowl MVP in Malcolm Smith will make up this linebacking corps. Cliff Avril, Michael Bennett and Brandon Mebane are the main men up front.

And now introducing, the Legion of Boom: Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor; the best secondary in football.

Other Notables: Jeremy Lane and Byron Maxwell add more depth to an already deep secondary; Steven Hauschka was one of the best kickers in the league last year; Second-year DT, Jordan Hill, should have an impact as a rotational player on this defensive front.

Final Standings

  1. Seattle: 12-4

  2. San Francisco: 11-5

  3. Arizona: 10-6

  4. St. Louis: 6-10

The toughest division in the NFL plays the AFC West and NFC East this season. Seattle is still one of the top-three teams in the league and I expect Russell Wilson to continue growing as this defense shuts down just about everything it faces. Their schedule is highlighted by a week-three rematch with the Broncos; San Francisco is incredibly deep at just about every position – but they’re still going to be the little brother to Seattle. They’re both run-first teams, but the Seahawks have the advantage on defense and at quarterback. 11 wins sounds about right to me; It’s hard to put a finger on Arizona. They were a quiet 10-6 team a year ago, playing in the shadows of Seattle and San Fran. Year two for Bruce Arians should be much of the same as I expect the Cardinals to tip-toe their way through the season and be fighting for a Wild Card spot come December; I originally had both St. Louis and Arizona at 8-8 – but after Sam Bradford went down, I gave two divisional wins to the Cardinals. St. Louis really caught a tough break by losing their starting quarterback and I just don’t see any way for them to recover from that. Shaun Hill is capable but not great; they need to acquire another big arm in order to salvage this season before it begins. Their defense will keep them in some games but points will be hard to come by. Jeff Fisher needs to start watching film on Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota.

That wraps up the Jacked Up Sports 2014 NFL Preview Series. Thanks everyone for following along and keep coming back for more content as the NFL season is just about to kick off.

NFL Season Preview: NFC South

Posted by Jack Tumen

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Stacy Revere/Getty Images

August is rolling on and we’ve got two divisions left to cover before the regular season kicks off. We now take look at the NFC South.

One of the surprise stories of the 2013 season came from this division as the Carolina Panthers rode a stout defense to a 12-4 record and their first division title since 2008. However, New Orleans wasn’t far behind, finishing 11-5 with Head Coach, Sean Payton, back in the fold following his year-long suspension from the infamous bounty scandal.

But we begin with the team that’s starting over from scratch, literally. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers come into 2014 with a new owner (former owner, Malcolm Glazer passed away at 85,) a new General Manager, a new Head Coach, new offensive and defensive coordinators, a new starting quarterback, a new logo and new uniforms. That pretty much screams NEW ERA in just about every way imaginable.

Things appeared to be on the up for Tampa Bay. The Greg Schiano/Josh Freeman era came to such a screeching halt I don’t think Bucs fans knew what hit them. 2013 was supposed to be the year that Freeman took the next step. Well, he certainly took a step…in the wrong direction. Hard to believe he’s currently out of the league.

The Buccaneers have shadily not made the playoffs since 2007 when they “won” the division at 9-7. In fact, the last time the Bucs made the playoffs with double-digit wins was nearly a decade ago in 2005 when Cadillac Williams was a rookie and Chris Simms was their starting QB. They’ve only finished with a winning record two other times since then and were the third-wheel in their division both times.

But Lovie Smith ain’t havin’ none o’that. Cudos to the Bucs for making the best personnel hire of 2014. Lovie coached the Bears for nine seasons – during those nine seasons, his team finished with a losing record only three times and finished .500 just once. Three times, his defense finished in the top five; another time in the top 10. He inherits a young, promising roster in Tampa Bay that with proper coaching (only that which Lovie could provide) has potential to become the class of the NFC sooner than later.

Cliff McBride/Getty Images

Cliff McBride/Getty Images

After the way he performed in 2013, Josh McCown was gonna get his chance somewhere. It’s hard to believe that just a short time ago he was playing for the Hartford Colonials in the now-deceased United Football League. The Bucs made a wise decision by signing the wily ol’ vet to command their offense. Yes he’s 35 years old; but he’s currently playing the best football of his career and the Buccaneers have the offensive tools that brought him success in Chicago – i.e., two towering receivers on either side of the field.

Vincent Jackson has been a total stud his entire career. At 6’5″, 230lbs, it’s a shame the only true contender he’s ever played for was the 2007 Chargers that reached the AFC Championship Game. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s been a waste of talent but it’s been an unfortunate ride for one of the league’s most gifted pass-catchers. Heck, he made the Pro Bowl last year on that dismal 4-12 squad. But if one V-Jax wasn’t enough, Tampa Bay spent the seventh-overall pick on baby V-Jax, a.k.a., Mike Evans. He’s virtually a clone on the other side of the field, standing at 6’5″, 231lbs. Expect his mark to be made.

This defense might have been the most underachieving unit in the NFL last year, playing average football and getting lost in the pack. The problem with that is the players on this defense are anything but average. Lavonte David is suddenly one of the top-five linebackers in the NFL, totaling 145 tackles, 7 sacks, 10 passes defended and 5 INTs last season. Gerald McCoy is one of the best defensive linemen around and is coming off easily his best season as a pro; now he’s got Michael Johnson to help him out. This secondary added CB Alterraun Verner to play with the league’s best safety duo in Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson. I predicted a while back that this defense will finish in the top five; I stand by that.

Other Notables: Doug Martin needs a big-time bounce-back year following his shoulder injury; I never understood the hype around Mike Glennon and I’m glad Lovie didn’t either; Second-year CB, Jonathan Banks, is in good position to up the ante in 2014; Tampa’s three-deep at tight end with Brandon Meyers, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Tim Wright; Da’Quan Bowers has one more chance to make something out of his career; Tampa Bay got schooled by the Jets in the Revis trade (imagine if Sheldon Richardson was a Buccaneer?)

Seattle’s defense in 2013 was legendary; but Carolina’s wasn’t far behind. The Panthers started the year 1-3 – their opening loss coming in a now-telling 12-7 slugfest with the Seahawks. They proceeded to win 11 of their final 12 games while allowing just 15.1 PPG and a smidgen over 300 yards per game as their season totals. That’s insane!

Led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Luke Kuechly, this unit was formidable. Thomas Davis was finally able to stay healthy all season and racked up 123 tackles, 4 sacks and 2 picks. DE Greg Hardy solidified himself as a household name, collecting 15 sacks while totaling 26 over the past two seasons. Charles Johnson played up to his contract extension as well, tallying 11 sacks following his 12.5-sack performance in 2012. Star Lotulelei looks the part of a first-round defensive tackle as well.

However, this sixth-ranked secondary lost some key pieces from a year ago. Strong safety, Mike Mitchell, finally played like the second-round pick he was drafted to be in Oakland, setting career marks across the board – he’s now in Pittsburgh. Cornerback, Captain Munnerlyn, deflected 12 passes while intercepting 2 and tallying 3.5 sacks – he’s now in Minnesota. Vets, Drayton Florence and Quintin Mikell, are also gone. Charles Godfrey will return from a torn achilles to button down the hatches and should be a welcomed sight along with free-agent signing, Antoine Cason, who’s never intercepted fewer than 2 passes in each of his six NFL seasons. Safety is looking rather spry with former NFC South rivals, Thomas DeCoud and Roman Harper, joining the party along with youngins Robert Lester and rookie Tre Boston.

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Cam Newton is a nice quarterback to have for your franchise. He came into the league red-hot; finishing as a top-10 passer his rookie season. Since then, his play has plateaued. He had career-highs in TDs and completion percentage last year – albeit not by much – but threw for the fewest yards of his career. On the ground, his workload has been scaled back significantly; After what happened to RGIII, teams are unwilling to expose their quarterbacks to excessive contact, and rightfully so. However, this has muted half of Cam’s game; his legs were what put him over the top as an athlete and a playmaker. His carries have steadily declined over his three-year career while his rushing touchdowns have been cut by 57% since his rookie season. The thing is, that shouldn’t matter because Cam Newton gets paid to throw the ball. Yet, here we are discussing his legs when something’s gotta give for the league’s 29th-ranked passing offense. It doesn’t help that Jordan Gross, Geoff Hangartner and Travelle Wharton have departed from his offensive line – but such is life in the NFL; the great ones will find a way to overcome such obstacles.

Earlier this offseason, it was looking like the Panthers were going to have the worst receiving corps in the NFL this year. Steve Smith – the greatest Panther of all time – has moved on to Baltimore in the twilight of his career; the Brandon LaFell project has been dumped on the Patriots; Ted Ginn moved out following his mini-breakout season; and it’s usually not a good thing when your tight end is the team’s leading receiver. Now, their receiving corps is arguably better than last years’. Kelvin Benjamin was drafted in the first round to be “the guy” while Jerricho Cotchery and Jason Avant were brought in as veteran stop-gaps. It’s not the prettiest group around but Greg Olsen is still the man at tight end and this crew will hold its own for the time being.

Other Notables: Second-round DE, Kony Ealy, can make this defense even nastier; Ryan Kalil is still one of the top centers in football; I’m not sold on Ron Rivera as a Head Coach; FB, Michael Zordich, could have an impact in this ground game; Doesn’t it feel like DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart have been around forever? This backfield needs a fresh face.

The Hard Knocks cameras are rolling – and so far, 2014 hasn’t looked much prettier than 2013 for the Atlanta Falcons.

This team is a mess. Mike Smith has zero control over his players and it shows. They could in-fact be one of the most undisciplined teams in the league. It’s pretty telling when your former first-round pick, Peria Jerry, retires on the spot and walks out the door in his prime. I don’t know about you, but through the first three episodes, I find it hard to believe that Mike Smith is a Head Coach in the NFL; he seems like he’d be more well-suited being a swimming instructor. Having said that, he’s got a heck of a coaching staff around him with guys like Mike Tice and Mike Nolan coaching up his players on their swim moves.

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

One thing Hard Knocks has shown is that Matt Ryan is the unquestioned leader of this team. He holds everyone accountable for their mistakes and I’m starting to feel badly for him that this franchise is visibly crumbling around him. He luckily has two of the league’s best wideouts in Julio Jones and Roddy White; but with LT Sam Baker going down, it really puts a damper on this offense’s plans for 2014. On top of that, Steven Jackson’s been injured most of camp and Devonta Freeman has flashed ability but is still a work-in-progress as a rookie running back. Not good news for the NFL’s worst backfield in 2013.

My favorite player so far has been rookie CB, Ricardo Allen. He’s funny as hell and has got the right personality for the NFL. On top of that, he was a nice player at Purdue. He’s part of a solid group of corners for Atlanta that includes second-year players Robert Alford and Desmond Trufant along with vets Josh Wilson and Javier Arenas.

It’s no secret that the biggest loss for this team is the departure of Tony Gonzales. He brought so many intangibles to Atlanta and his presence leaves a gaping hole not only at tight end but in this franchise as a whole.

Other Notables: Rookie tackle, Jake Matthews, looks like the real deal and will be thrown to the wolves now that Sam Baker’s season is over; The crew at safety is slightly above-average with William Moore, Dwight Lowery and rookie Dezmen Southward; Rookie RB Jerome Smith was one of my favorite RBs in this years’ draft class; Rookie DT Ra’Shede Hageman needs to stop being such a big baby; Harry Douglas is a total diva.

Once a year, no matter what, there’s always the mid-season debate about whether Drew Brees is the best quarterback in the NFL or not – and for good reason.

For a team with such a miserable history, the Saints have unquestionably been the class of their division since the turn of the century; they’ve finished with a losing record just four times and only one of those times they finished with fewer than 7 wins. They’re tied with Atlanta for the most playoff appearances (6), they’ve made the playoffs four out of the last five seasons and won a Super Bowl five years ago. If Sean Payton hadn’t been suspended for 2012 they would have made the playoffs five straight seasons, no doubt.

This team has had steady leadership and production from its veterans, which has translated into sustainable success over the past decade. Other than Drew Brees, key guys like Marques Colston and Jahri Evans have been cornerstones of this franchise.

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Looking at the offense, it’s a masterful system. Jimmy Graham is one of the best weapons in football and I have to say I think it’s total bullshit that the league created a penalty for goal-post-dunking. What’s football if not entertainment? Hey, Commish, Jimmy Graham asserting his beastliness on the goal post is entertaining. The No Fun League strikes again.

But I digress. New Orleans smartly traded up to grab Brandin Cooks in the draft and he’s far-and-away been the most outstanding rookie thus far in training camp and preseason. This offense was built for spark-plugs like Cooks and he’s gonna tear defenses up with Drew Brees.

I find it interesting that the Saints haven’t had a true no. 1 back since Deuce McAllister retired after the 2008 season. They’ve employed a constant mix of guys like Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Chris Ivory, Mark Ingram and, believe it or not, both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell – the current Lions’ backfield. This year, Pierre Thomas rolls on with Ingram and the new new guy, Khiry Robinson.

The Saints scooped up Rob Ryan to coordinate their defense last season and boy did that decision pay off. Their unit finished fourth in the league in total yards allowed while placing second in passing yards allowed; only behind the champion Seahawks. This year, the cast is different; this defense adds star safety Jairus Byrd to play alongside Kenny Vaccaro and a 36-year-old version of Champ Bailey while returning MLB Curtis Lofton and breakout defensive end, Cameron Jordan, among others.

Other Notables: Jahri Evans and Jermon Bushrod are two Pro-Bowlers along that stoud offensive line; Kenny Stills will stretch the field on offense while Robert Meachem does whatever he does; Don’t sleep on rookie safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Ty Zimmerman; Rookie QB Ryan Griffin could be the quarterback of the Saints’ future.

Final Standings:

  1. New Orleans: 11-5

  2. Tampa Bay: 8-8

  3. Atlanta: 7-9

  4. Carolina: 7-9

This is one of the better divisions in the league from top-to-bottom. I don’t have any team winning fewer than seven games…but I only have one team with a winning record. These guys get the NFC and AFC North divisions in 2014 – no small task. New Orleans should cruise. They’re looking the best they’ve looked on both sides of the ball in a while. Their defense now is much better than the defense they won the Super Bowl with; Lovie Smith is going to turn the Bucs into contenders – but not just yet. This team needs to shake off the cobwebs left by Greg Schiano and play up to its potential. With a fresh start on offense and a defense on the rise, they’ll double last years’ win total; Atlanta will be better than last year…I guess. They definitely won’t finish 4-12 again, right? I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt because this division gets shuffled year after year, but Mike Smith should still be giving swimming lessons at the YMCA; Sadly, Carolina will regress. Even if their receiving corps looks a bit better than last years’, their offensive line is in shambles, their backfield is aging and their franchise quarterback hasn’t shown he can truly take the next step. Even if this defense finishes in the top-5 again, points could be hard to come by for last year’s NFC South Champions.

Next Up: NFC West