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2011 Draft – Day 1 Thoughts

Well, that was certainly interesting. It would seem past pick number 5, teams we determined to make mock draft authors worldwide look very silly. At least it wasnt just us…

Here are a few thoughts from last night.

The first few picks were as expected; Cam Newton, Von Miller, Marcell Dareus & A.J. Green all going very quickly. I was a little surprised to see the cardinals pass on Gabbert but they clearly decided they wanted the best player in the draft and duly picked Patrick Peterson.

From there on, all hell broke loose. The Falcons traded up to the Browns spot (giving away a second pick this year and 2 picks in 2012) to grab Julio Jones, seeing him paired with Roddy White should be quite a spectacle. The Titans took Jake Locker with the 8th pick. I had to check this again when I woke up this morning cause I still couldn’t believe it. It was particularly amusing that his highlight reel footage was him throwing an interception. All the talk is they really wanted him, but what I dont understand is why they didn’t trade back. Noone expected Locker to go that high, and this is all with Blaine Gabbert still on the board (the 49ers passed on him aswell to take Aldon Smith).

Gabbert was gone soon after though (after Tony Romo got his human shield with Dallas taking Tyron Smith), the Jaguars traded with the Redskins to take him at 10. The mental hour continued with the Vikings making Christian Ponder the 4th QB to be drafted so far this year. As our own Jamie Cutteridge put it, the only good thing about that pick is that it made the Titans taking Locker look relatively sane.

My favorite pick of the first round was the Lions taking Nick Fairley at 13. So he’ll be lining up alongside Ndamukong Suh on the Detroit D-Line this year. I think even Aaron Rogers will be scared about that, so can you imagine how Jay ‘I got sacked 52 times last year’ Cutler is feeling right now?

It was almost as you’d expect from there on. There were some other suprises,  Prince Amukamara fell all the way to the New York Giants at 19, the Saints traded with the Patriots to take Mark Ingram at 28 and Da’Quan Bowers, having been touted as a potential 1st overall pick for a while, is still on the board going into the 2nd round.

For those interested, we hit on 7/32 of our mock draft picks. However, thats including Jones at 6 & Ingram at 28 going to the wrong teams after trades. Still, we got the pick numbers right so I’m taking a gimmie on those!

Crikey, I want the season to start already.

Andy Stuart

The UKNFL 2011 Mock Draft

This is the one you’ve all been waiting for. With just hours to go till the 2011 NFL Draft, here are UKNFL’s predictions for the first round.

1 – Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton (QB) – Whilst not the most talented player in the draft, Cam has potential to be a legend. The icon, the entertainer will have lured the Panthers into his eyes by now.

2 – Denver Broncos – Marcell Dareus (DT) – Solid, dependable, basically the opposite of Tim Tebow. With madness on the offensive side of the ball, the Broncos will look for some reliability and power up front with Dareus.

3 – Buffalo Bills – Von Miller (LB) – One of the very best in this years draft. The Bills looked very shakey in the middle of the field last year. Miller will bring some much needed security on defence.

4 – Cinncinati Bengals – A.J. Green (WR) – At some point in this guys NFL career you will stand up and shout ‘A.J. THAT IS RIDICULOUS’ at your screen. With mystery surrounding Palmer and QB situation, the Bengals take a weapon for whoever is under centre.

5 – Arizona Cardinals – Blaine Gabbert (QB) – Probably the most NFL ready of the QBs in the draft, but perhaps not as exciting as Cam. Think the love child of Mark Sanchez and beige (yes, the colour). The Cardinals have obvious needs here. Larry Fitzgerald does a dance of joy.

6 – Cleveland Browns – Julio Jones (WR) – “He’s quick. I want him. I take him.” That will be the draft strategy behind whoever takes Jones. In this case, after failing to land Green, the Browns give McCoy a present.

7 – San Francisco 49ers – Patrick Peterson (CB) – Arguably the best player in the draft this year, he will start from day one and could be one of the leagues best from the offset. The 49ers dire need for a secondary makes this pick all but a lock.

8 – Tennessee Titans – Nick Fairley (DT) – A vicious defensive tackle with an eye for the quarterback and a bit of ruthless streak. While his draft stock has fallen, Fairley is still sure to go in the top 10, and Tennessee will be very happy to fill the Albert Haynesworth shaped hole.

9 – Dallas Cowboys – Tyron Smith (OT) – Tyron, you have only one job: Keep Tony Romo alive this year. No biggie.  If you can do it, you’ll probably go to the Pro Bowl.

10 – Washington Redskins – Jake Locker (QB) – He’s got accuracy issues. But the Redskins have issues when it comes to not alienating their best quarterback. Locker is taken purely on the basis of not being Rex Grossman.

11 – Houston Texans – Aldon Smith (DE) – Unspectacular, but the Texans cannot afford to go high risk. They need to sort out their defence and putting another end opposite Mario Williams will suit. With Wade Smith’s new 3-4 scheme, they take Smith with his versatility in mind.

12 – Minnesota Vikings – Robert Quinn (DE) – It is likely that health concerns cause Quinn to drop this low. A premier pass rusher, the Vikings will be delighted to have 2 top class ends to bring the spark back to a defence that struggled last year.

13 – Detroit Lions – Prince Amukamara (CB) – Amukamara is yet another player in this years draft who should improve his team from the first game of the season.  The Lions will hope to continue the first round success they have found over the past few years.

14 –  St Louis Rams – Da’Quan Bowers (DE) – A knee injury has caused his draft stock to plummet (He was tipped as the 1st overall pick for a while) and it could turn out to be a blessing for the Rams. If he falls this far the Rams jump on the chance to vastly improve their D-line.

15 – Miami Dolphins – Mike Pouncey (OL) – He’s not a running back, he’s not quite as good as his brother, but he’ll give the Dolphins some much needed strength on the O-line and protection for their non-existent QB.

16 – Jacksonville Jaguars – Cameron Jordon (DE) – The Jaguars go defensive end with their top pick for the 2nd year in succession, but in reality Jordan can play anywhere across the D-line, and this should be a boost for a lacklustre defence.

17 – New England Patriots – Anthony Castanzo (OL) – With no deal in place for Logan Mankins the Pats bulk up their offensive line to protect both Brady and his perfect hair.

18 – San Diego Chargers – J.J. Watt (DE) – The Chargers have one of the better defences in the league, but they will welcome Watt’s toughness on an unspectacular defensive line.

19 – New York Giants – Gabe Carimi (OL) – Carimi ought to help give Eli Manning a little bit more time in the pocket (to pick out opposing players)  and allow their already powerful running game to flourish.

20 – Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Ryan Kerrigan (LB/DE) – Kerrigan has the ability to get after opposing QBs from either end, but is versatile enough to fit in as a linebacker which is also a need in Tampa Bay.

21 – Kansas City Chiefs – Akeem Ayers (LB) – Ayers will add some much needed speed off the edge for the Chiefs. He won’t be the greatest run defender, but his athleticism could cause problems for opposing quarterbacks from first game of the season.

22 – Indianapolis Colts – Nate Solder (OL) – Nate Solder has the coolest name in the draft and is a perfect fit for the Colts whose offensive line took a beating last year.

23 – Philadelphia Eagles – Jimmy Smith (CB) – In comparison Jimmy Smith’s name is boring, but will give the Eagles some much needed help at Cornerback where Ellis Hobbs is unlikely to return after his injury. Smith is clearly very talented but there are concerns over his character. Step forward the Eagles clinic of Philadelphia. (President: Mr M. Vick).

24 – New Orleans Saints – Justin Houston (LB/DE)– A versatile edge rusher, Houston may be a long term project in New Orlenas, but could form a very strong partnership with Jonathan Vilma.

25 – Seattle Seahawks – Ryan Mallett (QB) – The cliché surrounding Mallett is that he has a big arm. He might not be a first round talent, but the Seahawks will reach for him as the long-term replacement for Matt Hasselbeck, knowing he may not be there at this stage in the second round.

26 – Baltimore Ravens –  Torrey Smith (WR) – The Ravens current crop of receivers are ageing. Smith has all the right measurables and could prove to be the reliable downfield threat to go with Joe Flacco’s big arm.

27 – Atlanta Falcons – Correy Liuget (DT) – Liuget causes penetration against both the run and the pass and will complement the Falcon’s pressure from the edge that comes from John Abraham.

28 – New England Patriots – Mark Ingram (RB) – Ingram is the best running back in the draft, but it’s a show of the lack of backfield talent that he goes this late. Even so, in the right system Ingram could flourish. Many have compared his style to Emmitt Smith, the all time leading rusher. Not a bad note to have next to your name.

29 – Chicago Bears – Derek Sharrod (OT) – Jay Cutler is not unfamiliar with the feeling of being sacked. He went down 52 times last year, and the Bears will pray that Sherrod can bring him some much needed blindside protection.

30 – New York Jets – Muhammed Wilkerson (DE) – With Shaun Ellis an aging free agent the Jets opt for some help at defensive end and take Wilkerson who has emerged from under the radar to be a credible first round pick.

31 – Pittsburgh Steelers – Brandon Harris (CB) -Raw but talented would be the best way to describe Harris. He has the skill-set to be a starter in Pittsburgh but they may have to be patient with him.

32 – Green Bay Packers – Marvin Austin (LB/DE) – Austin was suspended last year but wowed at his pro-day and may flourish in a winning, settled side, whilst the Packers need some help on the edge.

So there you have it. Get the beer & snacks in and enjoy the draft. We’ll be keeping you updated live through twitter, @UKNFL, so come join us!

Jamie Cutteridge & Andy Stuart

The Superbowl Preview – Green Bay Packers

How They Got Here

The packers have had a pretty bumpy ride to the Superbowl, and for a while they were in danger of not even making the playoffs. After starting strong, with wins against Philadelphia & Buffalo, they went on a 4 game losing slide as they seemingly were getting to grips with an injury crisis that saw them lose starters Jermichael Finley (Tight End), Nick Barnett (Linebacker) & Ryan Grant (Running Back) among others.

After a week 6 loss to the Dolphins, the Packers won 7 of their next 10, including a 45-17 demolition of the New York giants (who were competing with Green Bay for the last Wild Card) which ultimately put them in the playoffs.

Going into the post season, the Packers dispatched the Eagles (it still hurts) with a late Tramon Williams pick to seal the game, and then faced the NFC’s best Atlanta Falcons, where Aaron Rogers played a game in what will go down in history as one of the best quarterback performances in the playoffs. Green Bay did not punt once, Rogers completed 31/36 of his passes and accounted for 4 touchdowns in a 48-21 rout.

The Packers completed their journey to the Superbowl with a 21-14 win over division rivals, the Chicago Bears, in a slow, defensive game. Once again though it was Rogers early precision (9/9 on the Packers first drive) that set Green Bay on route to victory, and put the Packers into the Superbowl for the first time since 1998.

The Strengths

The Packers key strength is their potent passing game. Aaron Rogers is one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the league and at his disposal, even without Jermichael Finley, is perhaps the NFL’s best recieving corps. With Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jordy Nelson & James Jones the Packers can stretch the field as well as anyone.

Its difficult to pick out the specific strengths of the Packers defensive unit, as they are solid everywhere. To pinpoint one aspect, they have a very strong pass defense, ranking 5th in the league during the regular season. Charles Woodson is probably the best ‘do-it-all’ cornerback in the league and Nick Collins is coming off another good season.

The Weaknesses

Picking out weaknesses in a team that has made it to the Superbowl is tricky. The only 2 aspects that raise concerns for the Packers, and both have improved somewhat in the post season, are as follows:

The Run Defence – Green Bay ranked 18th in the regular season in rush defence, allowing an average of 114.9 yards per game. During the post season they’ve brought that down to 69.7 yards per game, but having seen what Rashard Mendenhall did to the Jets a couple of weeks ago, the Packers are going have to keep it very tight.

The Rushing Game – We know Green Bay are a pass first offence, and they do it well. Still, they ranked 24th in the league on rushing yards per game. They can lean on Aaron Rogers and his WR’s to put points up, but balance is key for any offence, and if they cannot get anywhere with their ground attack then it could cause problems for them.

That said, James Starks has come to the fore as the leading rusher in the post season, putting up 263 yards and 1 TD in 3 post season games. He could be a key man on Sunday night.

Key Players

On the offensive side of the ball, perhaps quite obviously, Aaron Rogers is the man. It’s perhaps unoriginal to say a quarterback is the key player, but as the Packers are (likely) going to rely so heavily on their aerial attack, Rogers is going to need to be at his best. After going 14-0 up against Chicago, he struggled to keep the offence moving. However, if the Aaron Rogers that played against the Falcons turns up at the Superbowl, it’s going to be very difficult to stop him.

Defence wise, keep watching Clay Matthews. Even if he doesnt do anything, his hair is wonderful. The outside linebacker, who missed out on the Defensive Player of the Year by 2 votes (out of 50 voters), had 13.5 sacks in the regular season, and has added another 3.5 in the playoffs and is quite simply a dominant edge rusher. I mentioned earlier the Packers less than perfect rush defence, and while Matthews isn’t typically the guy who stops the A-gap runs, if he can stop Mendenhall for a loss a couple of times on outside rushes, that could be enough to swing this game in Green Bay’s favor. He’s also my tip for Superbowl MVP…

The Packers will win if…

They can get an early lead and the running game comes alive to eat the clock when it matters.

Oddly, I actually think theres a better chance for the Packers to win if the Steelers take the lead and Green Bay are forced to throw, then grab the win late in the game. While I’m sure the Packers would want the more standard, safer route to victory I stated first, the latter would be much more fun for us to watch, right?!

Andy Stuart

Jets/Steelers LiveBlog!

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The AFC Championship Game Preview: Jets @ Steelers

 

We’re almost there. With only three games, and four teams left in the 2011 NFL season (excluding our favourite trip to Hawaii next weekend), we know our AFC representative in the Superbowl will hail from either Pittsburgh or the green side of the city that never sleeps. So, let us present the Any Given Sunday (Night) guide to the AFC Championship Game.

 

New York Jets @ Pittsburgh Steelers

 

An AFC Championship game at Heinz Field. This has become a bit of a staple in the NFL over the last ten years or so, with this being the fifth occasion that the boys in black and gold have dragged an unsuspecting victim back to Steeltown in the last decade. Twice they have won the match-up, going on to win the Superbowl in the process, whilst twice they have lost, both to the hands of a certain Tom Brady and his band of Patriots (with a little help from Drew Bledsoe). But this year, there is no Brady. There is no Manning. Hell, there’s not even Jake Plummer. There’s just one quarterback who no-one can really work out. Mark Sanchez, of the New York Jets.

 

The Jets emerged from one of the more shocking divisional match-ups in recent years last weekend in beating Superbowl-favourites, the New England Patriots, 28-21 in their own backyard. Prior to the game itself, the Jets resorted to the down-and-dirty tactics for which they and their coach Rex Ryan have become famous for, drawing Patriots WR Wes Welker into similar unsportsmanlike/hilarious behaviour in a press conference that earned him a place on the bench instead of on the field at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots, whilst not out-classed, were out-played and, more importantly, out-psyched by Antonio Cromartie, Ryan and friends. So, how do the Jets approach the hard-playing Steelers?

 

With respect, it seems. Well, respect, that is, from the former-Steeler in their ranks. Earlier this week, Santonio Holmes called Steelers safety Troy Polamalu “… the greatest player I’ve ever played with” and admits the Jets will have to stay away from him with the ball to have any hope of leaving Pittsburgh with a win on Sunday evening. With the Patriots, and in particular coach Bill Billichick, appearing too proud and dignified to resort to a battle in the gutter with New York last week, the Jets appear to have recognised the Steelers are a whole different ball-game; a hornet’s nest that, if disturbed, will likely sting you. Whether this stifles the Jets’ sense of self-belief remains to be seen.

 

So what of the Steelers. As we’ve said, they’ve been here before, and recently too. Their Superbowl-winning MVP Holmes may have moved on to their rivals, but the Steelers still have a veritable array of talent at their disposal, even before we consider the afore mentioned “greatest player in football” at safety. These stars shone through just in the nick of time against the Ravens last week after a series of turnovers put them in at 21-7 down at half-time. Two touchdowns from ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger at the start of the third quarter later, the game was tied, and the rest of the game was tied up by a Rashard Mendenhall rushing TD to punch in a 31-24 winning scoreline. This victory also drew some respect from another previously foul-mouthed member of the Jets camp, with Antonio Cromartie (a week after calling Tom Brady ‘an asshole’) saying “I love Ben, man. Ben’s a competitor”. Praise indeed. Are the Jets worried?

 

Players To Watch

 

The Steelers are favourites to win this game, meaning the Jets may spend a bit of time of the back foot. So this week, we choose Darrelle Revis at cornerback at our player to watch for New York. In recent weeks, Revis outrageous pace and athleticism has taken out some of the most threatening receivers out of the game at key moments. Deion Branch suffered for the Patriots, Reggie Wayne couldn’t get out of the blocks for the Colts, and all this time, the MVP quarterbacks for these respective sides had to resort to a rather shaky plan B. Plan B didn’t work, and the Jets came away with a win. This week, Revis will have his sights set on Mike Wallace, and if he can take away Big Ben’s big play down the field, and his linemen can keep the QB in the pocket, the Jets may just have a shot at the Superbowl.

 

It’s tempting to suggest keeping an eye on the entirety of the Steelers offense and defence, such are the talents they have the potential to burst out with. However, if you saw the Steelers go down 22-17 at Heinz Field to the Jets in Week 15, you may have missed a certain million-dollar haired safety sitting out. Sometimes statistics don’t tell the whole tale, but when Pittsburgh are a quite astonishing 31-8 with Troy Polamalu in the side, and 6-7 without him, the importance of one of the league’s greatest ever defensive players cannot be underestimated. Without Polamalu in Week 15, a sack-shy Steelers side (getting to Sanchez only once) allowed the Jets quarterback to make short, safe passes upon the blitz, leaving the Jets to hold onto the ball for large portions of the game away from home. With Polamalu in the side, that option is gone. If Sanchez wobbles, that balls goes right to the hair, and the Steelers win.

 

Prediction

 

Sorry Jets fans, but it’s the end of the road. Far be it from me to mock a side that has swept aside the Colts and the Patriots in recent weeks, but I think we can all agree that, despite fantastic Jets performances in both, we saw a beaten-up Colts side and a frankly weak Patriots outfit fall victim to Rex Ryan and his merry men. This week, there has been no mention of grudges, no trash-talk, no shouting and balling. The Jets are eerily quiet, and if you listen closely, you can hear that Steel bell tolling. Pittsburgh by 14.

 

David Dickson.

Divisional Playoffs – NFC Preview (Part Two)

 

Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears

 

Sunday. 6pm.

The Seahawks. The Seattle Seahawks. They beat the Saints. The Superbowl-winning, Lombardi-lifting Saints.

 
In case you thought you were completely delirious at around midnight last Saturday, yes, this did actually happen. The Seahawks became the only home team to win on wild-card weekend, and advance with steamroller-esque momentum to a match up with the NFC North-winning Chicago Bears.
The annual debate regarding who-and-who shouldn’t make their way to the playoffs reared its less-than-pretty head once again before the Seahawks’ match-up with the champs, as a lowly 7-9 record was enough to get them to the postseason. This was all forgotten by the time Marshawn Lynch romped, bundled and crotch-grabbed his way to the endzone at the end of a 67-yard touchdown game to win the game and cement Seattle’s status as a real, and dangerous, playoff side. Matt Hasselbeck has been here before (and not just here, to the big one too), Lynch has turned his switch to ‘beast mode’ and Seattle aren’t completely adverse to turning on a decent pass rush too.

 
However, to go any further in this fairytale of a playoff campaign, the Seahawks will have to overcome a Chicago Bears side that few gave any chance of leaving the NFC North last September. But the Packers faltered, the Vikings had to deal with everything that came with employing Brett Favre, and the Lions were, well, the Lions (albeit enjoying a better campaign than usual). All of this gave the Bears a leg-up in topping the division, but Jay Cutler’s side ground out victory after victory to help get the other leg over. The Bears, usually pass-heavy, have become more neutral in the latter weeks of the season, with Matt Forte becoming more prominent in the Chicago offense, whilst Brian Urlacher has enjoyed a superb season in leading the Bears in tackles, and will reveal his true importance in fending off Marshawn Lynch come Sunday.

 
Players To Watch

 
If one moment thrilled NFL-watchers last weekend, it was the afore-mentioned, ridiculously enormous, touchdown run by Seattle Seahawks running-back Marshawn Lynch. The 4th-season rusher has shared such duties throughout the season with Justin Forsett, and in doing so has only gained a modest 573 yards, gaining only 3.5 yards per carry. Lynch, however, has the quick feet and sharp change of direction combined with the strength captured in last week’s game-winning touchdown to trouble the Bears from all sides. Laying such a gauntlet last week has also forced the Bears to take serious notice of the ‘Hawks running game, freeing more time for Hasselbeck to consider his preferred options through the air. If nothing else, a spanner has been thrown in the works of Chicago’s preparation, and this alone may make Lynch compulsive viewing on Sunday evening.

 
Quarterback Jay Cutler is not everybody’s cup of tea. He’s relatively arrogant by trade (his arm is ‘stronger than John Elway’s’, doncha know?) but if he beats Elway for his arm, he doesn’t touch him in terms of PR skills. He also enjoyed what might be called ‘a Cutler’ in October’s defeat to the Seahawks, completing 17 of 39 passes and ended up on the floor six times, once in the endzone for a safety. However, this is a different Jay Cutler. The Cutler of October was concussed from a week of nine sacks against a brutal Giants defense the week previous, and with a clear head in a home game against an underdog team in his first playoff game, the 5th-season QB will look forward to impressing. He doesn’t have a shining receiver to throw to, but more a collection of hard-working WRs in the mould of Johnny Knox who could provide the key to the Bears going to the Championship game next Sunday.

Prediction

 
The Seahawks defeated the Bears during the regular season in a 23-20 victory, but beating an injury-ravaged side in Week 6 means little at this stage of the season. If Cutler can perform without being rattled in his first postseason game, the Bears will eek out a win in the same way they have all season. However, if the Bears don’t grab on to Marshawn Lynch, and somewhat Matt Hasselbeck, they could see their postseason go the same way as the Saints did last weekend. I’ll take the Bears by seven, but with the Seahawks the joker in the pack of the entire season so far, this could go either way.

David Dickson.