BY BRETT MURDOCK, Couchsideshow.com contributor
The Arizona Cardinals made the right decision in the 2011 NFL Draft.
Instead of trying for a quick fix with their quarterback issues, the Redbirds went the defensive route, electing to take defensive back Patrick Peterson with the No. 5 overall pick. And the rookie has yet to make them regret that decision.
But first, why did the Cardinals decide to go with Peterson over the multitude of prospects that could have also helped them immediately? Simply put, its because Peterson is a freak of nature — in a good way. Listed as cornerback, he has a safety’s build at 6-foot-0 and 219 pounds and cornerback’s athleticism, possessing a 4.34 40-yard dash time and a 39 inch vertical. He was widely regarded as the best athlete in the draft, and many had him going first overall. When he fell to No. 5, Arizona did not have much of a choice.
Peterson compiled an impressive career as an LSU Tiger, playing every game of his collegiate career. The Florida native recorded seven interceptions, four in his junior year, and returned two punts for touchdowns. He spent only three years in Baton Rouge but his final year was stellar and earned him the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and an All-American nod. Peterson also received the Thorpe (best defensive back) and Bednarik (best defensive player) awards for his performance.
But, when he got to the big time, his process was halted by an ugly, heated standoff between NFL players and owners, thus reducing the amount of time Peterson would have to get used to the professional level. But the cornerback never seemed to miss a beat, adapting to Ray Horton’s defensive schemes quickly and earning a starting nod come opening day, where he made a grand debut by returning a punt 89 yards for the eventual game winning touchdown to beat the Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers.
Peterson would not stop there. The rookie returned three more punts for touchdowns, including a 99-yarder in overtime against the Rams to give the Cards their second win of the year. The four return touchdowns tied an NFL record for a season and he nearly got a fifth in the final game of the year against the Seahawks.
BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor
Everyone knows a lot of headlines surround the infamous NFL playoffs.
It’s up to us fans to sort through them to come up with which one is the most intriguing. Now, it would be easy to go with Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos or the matchup between the Houston Texans and the Cincinnati Bengals, which features to rookie quarterback going head-to-head. Those are simple, good topics, heading into wildcard weekend. And I like simple. I like easy. So I’ll be breaking down what I believe to be the most intriguing headline for the wild card round: The new faces in the playoffs. It’s the Houston Texans and the Detroit Lions, which oddly enough both play on Saturday. Looks like I had better get started:
• Opponent: They’re at New Orleans to clash with the Saints at 8 p.m. EST
• Chances: Although the Detroit Lions have made the postseason before (15 times), the squad hasn’t played when it matters most since 1999. One could argue that the lack of experience will hurt Detroit when the Lions suit up for the Saints. But this Detroit team is different from those in the past. There is just a whole new swagger to the squad. I’m not going ot get fancy with the statistics here, but the Lions are what NFL teams are currently aspring to be. With young, athletic talent like Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, DeAndre Levy and Titus Young there’s no telling what this team could do in the future. And Detroit may just start making its name for the years to come this weekend. A lot of people expect the Lions’ matchup with the Saints to be an offensive battle and it should be nothing short of that. I don’t see Detroit coming out on top, though, because New Orleans is my Super Bowl pick, but it should be the most exciting game Saturday. The Lions could sneak by, however, because of the Saints aging secondary players and because the Seattle Seahawks took down New Orleans last year in the first round.
BY TREVOR GOULD, Couchsideshow.com writer
At 6-foot-5, 230-pounds, and boasting a 4.35 40-yard dash and 44 inch vertical leap, Calvin Johnson has always been a man amongst boys.
Ever since being selected No. 2 overall by the Detroit Lions in the 2007 NFL Draft, the wide receiver known as “Megatron” has made opposing cornerbacks look like small children, compiling 5,628 yards receiving and 48 touchdowns since entering the league. For years he was the only legitimate offensive threat on a horrendous Lions offense that consistently ranked in the bottom half of total team offense every year. Johnson’s progression has been further hounded by minor injuries that plagued his first few seasons. Yet as the Lions emerge into relevance for the first time in over a decade, a healthy Calvin Johnson is reaping the benefits and establishing himself as the premier wideout in the NFL.
With one game left to play in the 2011 NFL regular season, Calvin has amassed 85 receptions, totaling a career-best 1,437 receiving yards with a league leading 15 touchdowns. In addition, he is 2nd in the league with 25 25-plus yard receptions and 1st in receptions of 40-plus yards with nine. Much of Johnson’s impressive production can be attributed to his stellar rapport with gunslinger Matthew Stafford, who has finally proved he can stay healthy over the course of a full season. Other offensive weapons include veteran wide receiver Nate Burleson, rookie burner Titus Young, promising tight end Brandon Pettigrew,
and the running back trio of Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris, and Kevin Smith (too bad they all keep getting injured). Now that the Lions offense contains other playmaking weapons, defenses cannot key in solely on Calvin, which has allowed him to take his game to a higher level.
BY DEREK BARSNESS, Couchsideshow.com writer
If you are fortunate enough to still be contending in a fantasy football league, chances are you had a little bit of good fortune this season.
For some managers, the benefit of a healthy team with minimal injuries is a recipe for smooth sailing into the league championship. For others, it could be the result of drafting a sleeper or combing the free agents throughout the season. Here’s a look at some of this year’s fantasy sleeper studs that likely have you playing in the championship and a few duds that may have ruined your season early.
• Cam Newton: The rookie has had a sensational fantasy season. Passing for over 3700 yards and running for another 600. He has nearly as many rushing touchdowns (13) as passing (17). Outside of a small percentage of leagues, Newton was drafted near the end of most drafts or picked up on the waivers after week 1. Just to show how good of a bargain Newton has been this season, take a look at these stats from a quarterback drafted in substantially higher rounds. 3900 yards passing and 30 total TDs (29 passing, 1 rushing). Any guesses? Anyone? Bueller? These stats belong to none other than Tony Romo. So Newton owners, you got your money’s worth.
• Fred Jackson: Before going down in week 10 with a broken leg, Jackson had amassed over 900 yards rushing, 39 catches for over 400 yards receiving, and 6 TDs. These are solid numbers for any back, especially if your league is PPR.
• Rob Gronkowski: Are you kidding me? Gronk and his partner in crime Aaron Hernandez both have the capabilities to put up solid fantasy numbers. The trouble that most fantasy owners saw in Gronk is whether or not he would be Brady’s go to guy on short yardage downs, or if Hernandez would get priority. This scared most owners away from taking either him or Hernandez. But those lucky enough to have gambled on Gronk saw huge dividends in over 1100 yards and 15 TDs. These are much better numbers than the highly valued Antonio Gates who has just 600 yards and 6 TDs this season. In our auction draft Gronkowski went for $5, Gates for $29.
• Victor Cruz: The NFL sophomore out of UMass has put up great numbers for many fantasy owners. His almost 1200 yards and 7 TDs put him in the top 10 in points scored for WRs, just behind Roddy White and AHEAD of Larry Fitzgerald.
BY WADE MCMILLIN, Couchsideshow.com editor
There is always a handful of NFL teams with mediocre records that have high hopes to make the playoffs each season.
Most of the time, it’s teams with a .500 winning percentage (8-8 overall) or with one win over the .500 mark (9-7) that find the final spots in the playoffs. This season, there are 10 teams that could potentially post barely respectable records and still get in. With two weeks left, five squads from the AFC and NFC, respectively, are still in the hunt. It will make for an exciting finale to a season that was almost cancelled because of the lockout. The playoffs are where the excitement is at, but with so many teams on the bubble, the end of the 2011 season should be action packed.
I will be concentrating on the playoff hopes for the two worst teams of the 10 squads that could be playoff bound. With 6-8 records, it doesn’t seem like the Kansas City Chiefs or Philadelphia Eagles will be able to punch their cards into the wildcard round of the NFL postseason. The Chiefs and Eagles should be able to give others searching for that No. 8 spot a run for their money, though.
Here’s a look at what Philadelphia and Kansas City will have to do in order for the squads to make the playoffs: