The NFL season is, finally, here.
What seemed like the longest camp and preseason in recent memory is over, and the long, hard slog of a season begins now.
Let’s kick things off with our predictions for the season.
AFC SEEDS: Patriots, Texans, Ravens, Chiefs, Bills, and Chargers.
WILD CARD ROUND: Ravens over Chargers; Bills over Chiefs.
DIVISIONAL: Patriots over Bills; Ravens over Texans.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Patriots over Ravens.
NFC SEEDS: Packers, 49ers, Saints, Cowboys, Eagles, Panthers.
WILD CARD ROUND: Saints over Panthers; Cowboys over Eagles.
DIVISIONAL: Packers over Cowboys; 49ers over Saints.
AFC CHAMPIONSHIP: Packers over 49ers.
SUPER BOWL XLVII: Packers 45, Patriots 42.
The two best quarterbacks in the game finally get to go head-to-head. Unfortunately, we also get to see two defenses that still aren’t of the good variety. The result is an end-to-end shootout featuring no-huddle attacks that results in the highest-scoring Super Bowl — by far. The game will never be the same.
DEFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers. This is no homer pick for the former Boston College star. He has continued his tackle-machine ways at the pro level, and it should be even better when the Panthers have the rest of their lineup in. If middle linebacker Jon Beason and an underrated line stay healthy, Kuechly is going to make a ton of plays in that weak-side spot.
OFFENSIVE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Andrew Luck, QB, Colts. It’s very hard for rookies to make big impacts, especially on offense, but Luck is in a good spot if he can make the Colts competitive. And he might be the most impressive rookie quarterback since Peyton Manning, for the Colts, in 1998.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos. As long as his arm doesn’t fall off, this is a no-brainer.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Romeo Crennel, Chiefs. Mike McCarthy of the Packers is still waiting to get his due — and he should get it — but he’ll be upstaged again this time. In 2007, it was Bill Belichick and the 16-0 season. Last year, it was Jim Harbaugh, as a new coach, taking the 49ers from 6-10 to 13-3 after the lockout. Now it will be Crennel taking the 7-9 Chiefs from worst to first.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: DeMarcus Ware, OLB, Cowboys. Amazing that he hasn’t already won this award after posting at least 14 sacks in 2007, ’08, ’10, and ’11. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan knows how to free him up, and Ware is off to a great start with two sacks in the opener against the Giants.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers. He is pro football’s ultimate weapon, and his gaudy stats are going to be enhanced with Green Bay turning more to the no-huddle. Thought about Cam Newton, but Rodgers is always going to have an edge on the field as far as interceptions.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Drew Brees, QB, Saints. As with Ware, it is surprising that he has not won this award yet. It’s going to be hard to discount the value of Brees if the Saints continue to fly high in the wake of the bounty scandal.
UNSUNG HERO: Marquice Cole, CB. He was an afterthought when the Jets didn’t re-sign him, but he’s starting to look like the fill-in guy who could be in the spotlight down the stretch. Depending on matchups (against teams with smaller receivers), he could be the nickel corner. Cole and Matthew Slater will be dynamite covering kicks.
COMEBACK PLAYER: Ras-I Dowling, CB. In a category that is actually well-stocked with candidates (Logan Mankins,Sebastian Vollmer, Ryan Wendell, Shane Vereen, Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Jermaine Cunningham), we’re going with a little wishful thinking. Cunningham was our runner-up choice, but we think Dowling will be in a better position to produce in big spots. The Patriots need him.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Chandler Jones, DE. Dont’a Hightower may wind up playing more snaps, and safety Tavon Wilson will be a Swiss Army knife in the secondary, but Jones is going to be in the best spot to be productive both against the run and rushing the passer. He has big shoes to fill over there after Andre Carter, and the feeling is Jones can get to that level by the end of the season. It’s not going to be overnight, but he’s already way ahead of the curve.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jerod Mayo, WLB. Now that the Patriots have gone younger on defense, injuries should be lessened. That means that plan from last season — to have Mayo in the playmaking weak-side linebacker spot — won’t have to be abandoned. Mayo is a good player. He hasn’t produced like an impact player yet. He will this season if he can stay in that spot, which allows him to do a variety of things.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Aaron Hernandez, TE. For about the last quarter of last season, Wes Welker slowed his pace and Hernandez got healthy from a knee injury. From that point on, Hernandez was the guy on offense. That has continued this year. He is Tom Brady’s first read, and, if healthy, he’ll have a monster season.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Tom Brady, QB. It’s always him. Don’t overthink it.
Game is fun for Moss again
After staying silent since the start of training camp with the 49ers, former Patriots receiver Randy Moss finally talked with the San Francisco media last week, with the 49ers set to open up the season against the Packers at Lambeau Field, where Moss has a little history.
With Moss not playing much in the preseason (three receptions for 24 yards), this debut feels the same as the one with the Patriots in 2007. The team hid him, and then he exploded against the Jets for 183 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions.
Moss was not outlandish in his comments to the media. He was almost boring.
“I feel pretty good and I’m excited,” said Moss, who played for three teams in 2010 before being out of the league in 2011. “It feels good to be back in the league. And it feels good that I made the team. So I’m very excited. I look forward to a good game on Sunday.”
Moss said he hasn’t changed the way he prepares for games.
“I think now that I’m back in the game, it makes me a little more eager to get in there and study and really know what I see,” he said. “I think I’ve been around the game long enough to know what type of coverages I see and what type of coverages are going to be thrown my way. So I just try to study hard and make sure I’m on top of my game when called.”
Moss said he felt “weird” in the exhibition games.
“I was trying to get to know these guys and they were trying to get to know me and how I play the game and things like that,” he said. “And I’ve never tried to be an individual, but at the same time, I was new to the organization and, as I said, I just wanted to make this team.”
The 49ers are expected to be title contenders, and one of the strong traits Moss has seen is youthful exuberance.
“I love being around this group,” Moss said. “These guys are so young and so energetic. They love to have fun. When you boil it all down, we’re nothing but big kids. And we have fun in the locker room. We’re serious on the field, but we love to have fun, also.
“It just feels good to be back in the game, and I just want to do whatever I can to contribute to this team. So I look for positive things from me. I don’t know how good and how bad. I just say, ‘Look for positive things from me throughout the season.’ ”
Rosenhaus plot thickens
The hits keep coming for NFL super-agent Drew Rosenhaus. The question is, will anything stick?
Yahoo! Sports reporters Jason Cole and Rand Getlin, following up on their reports that Rosenhaus improperly offered cash to sign Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant and that a suspended Rosenhaus Sports vice president alleged the firm didn’t pay him and was on poor financial footing, dropped the largest allegations to date last week.
Yahoo! reported that the NFL Players Association was investigating whether Rosenhaus Sports had a relationship with former financial adviser Jeff Rubin that put their clients at risk and cost several players millions of dollars.
Multiple sources, including receiver Terrell Owens, said that Rosenhaus actively and purposely recruited players with Rubin, who lost $43.6 million of players’ money in a failed Alabama casino.
The largest allegation is that Rosenhaus may have breached the fiduciary duties that all certified agents are bound to perform for their clients.
Yahoo! alleges there were several things in Rubin’s past that should have let Rosenhaus know he was putting his clients at risk.
“Let me say this on the record, I had no reason to believe that Jeff Rubin was doing anything illegal or irresponsible or unethical,” Rosenhaus told the website. “We never had any inkling that he was ever dishonest. We never had a player come to us until this casino fell apart.”
Several sources, including Owens, told Yahoo! that Rosenhaus repeatedly endorsed Rubin as someone the players could trust.
“With what I know now, Drew definitely needs to share in the responsibility,” Owens said. “Other players may not want to speak up out of loyalty to Drew, but at the end of the day he bears some of the responsibility based on the referrals he was giving to [Rubin] and Pro Sports Financial.”
The unsaid allegation is that Rosenhaus endorsed Rubin for personal financial reasons.
Rosenhaus adamantly denied endorsing financial advisers to players — for benefit or not. However, Yahoo! reported that 39 clients said he had. In all, 26 Rosenhaus clients invested with Rubin, including 18 that lost all their money in the casino.
Rosenhaus said he’s a victim in this.
“I guess the point I would make to you is . . . there are people who have to pay for this, and there are people who should be punished for it,” Rosenhaus said.
“There are people who should be accountable, but Jason [Rosenhaus] and I are innocent victims, just like our clients.”
Delving deep into Waters
The situation with guard Brian Waters has left Patriots fans unhappy because they feel the team may have cheaped out on the Pro Bowler. Don’t think that’s necessarily fair. Here’s the timeline of what I believe transpired, through mostly reporting, and a little reading between the lines.
Waters, who didn’t have a lot of fun away from the field last season being so far away from his family, talked about needing time to figure out his future after the Super Bowl. But league sources said he was just blowing off steam and he and the Patriots were working on a deal that would increase his pay from $1.4 million. In exchange, the team requested to tie some of Waters’s pay into game-day bonuses to protect themselves in case of injury to a 35-year-old player. Waters did not have a problem with this.
The Patriots thought there was an understanding that the parameters were agreed to and Waters would sign the reworked deal when he reported. So they made no real moves to address the interior line (Robert Gallery and Dan Koppen were possible depth, not starters).
At some point, Waters had second thoughts about returning for personal — not financial — reasons. He would rather play closer to his Texas home. If that couldn’t be accommodated, he wanted more money to be away from his family.
The Patriots wouldn’t do either. Why release Waters so he can play for the Texans, who, along with the Ravens, are the main AFC competition and have a need at right guard?
And how could the Patriots justify giving a man who was allowed to skip all of training camp an even more substantial raise?
The Patriots expected Waters to follow through on his initial commitment. When he didn’t, they turned to their only option left: threatening to cut his pay through the $30,000 daily fines he accumulated through camp.
I’m guessing all can be forgiven, but only if Waters agrees to the original reworked deal.
1. Waters played really well last year. And, sure, the Patriots would be better with him. But people tend to forget they were prepared to go without him last year. It’s not some huge blow that he isn’t here. Dan Connolly can play right guard. But Ryan Wendell is on the spot at center.
2. The ruling by the NFL internal appeals panel to overturn the bounty suspensions of the players is complicated, but it basically comes down to this: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has the ability to suspend the players again. He just has to start the process over and stay within his authority.
3. The Saints will get a huge boost now that end Will Smith is available for the first two games. Their pass rush is suspect, and they really need Smith against the Redskins and especially the Panthers in a big early-season NFC South game in Week 2.
4. The replacement officials in the Giants-Cowboys game did a solid job, but that was an all-star crew cherry-picked for the game. An entire slate of games will be the big indicator on whether this is going to work.
5. Judging off the first game, holding on the offensive line will hardly ever be called; same with downfield contact in the secondary. Expect teams to exploit that. It’s not necessarily a bad thing — I’m all for allowing more defensive contact against the pass — but there’s no question it will be an entirely different game than it has been the past few years, one that isn’t being called by the letter of the rules.
Fullback Anthony Sherman (North Attleboro/UConn) was named special teams captain of the Cardinals in just his second season. “It shows he has put in a lot of hard work,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said . . . Dartmouth native Jordan Todman was given one of the highest raises ($10,000 per week instead of the minimum $5,700) to remain on the Vikings practice squad, according to NFL.com. That shows that the team thinks highly of him.