2014 Cold Fridge Week 3

The offseason continues, and it’s already beginning to get old.  So let’s take a look at what’s happened in the last week.

Combine Conclusions

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

The Scouting Combine wrapped up earlier this week, and as usual some questions were answered while others were raised.  In particular, the refusal by stars such as Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Manziel to participate in position-specific drills has brought nothing but confusion as to their actual ability.  Both did, however, manage to compensate for their decisions by running surprisingly fast 40-yard dashes: 4.53 seconds for Clowney, 4.68 for Manziel.  Neither one needed to prove much to critics, as both have been tossed around as potential first overall picks, but Manziel’s existing off-the-field issues and Clowney’s pedestrian performance on the bench press are large question marks that could cause one or both to fall way down the draft board.  In fact, Ron Jaworski of ESPN has gone on record as saying he wouldn’t even touch Manziel until at least the fourth round.

What can we learn from this, other than the fact that Jaws is a man after my own heart?  The fact is, the Combine is only one half of the pre-draft picture.  The other half is the Pro Days, the organized workouts held by colleges for pro scouts to watch prospects do their thing on their home campus where they’re more comfortable.  As long-winded as that sentence may have been, it really is a good help for scouts to make completely sure of who they’re drafting.  Then again, the workouts aren’t always perfect indicators of how well one will do in the NFL.  Take JaMarcus Russell, who ran a 4.72 40–interestingly enough, just a hair slower than Manziel’s official time–at LSU’s Pro Day in 2007.  And we know what happened with him.

Franchise Tagged

(Image from USA Today)

(Image from USA Today)

Ah, franchise tags.  The bane of free agency pundits everywhere.  With so many of the top would-be free agents getting the tag, this year’s FA period is getting a massive face lift.  Many, such as the Saints’ Jimmy Graham and the Panthers’ Greg Hardy, will likely have to spend the next year negotiating an extension; others, like Jeremy Maclin of the Eagles, who signed a one-year extension this week, have less to worry about. Many of the top free agents are being retained by their teams for an extra year at the cost of a higher base salary, in most if not all cases because the pros outweigh the cons.

Franchise tags are one of the most important parts of the offseason, but they’re also one of the most boring.  You become so intrigued by all the what-ifs and possibilities; after all, imagine Hardy on the same line as Jared Allen or J.J. Watt, or Graham in the incredibly potent Denver offense!  But then the tags start coming down, and you begin to realize that a lot of things will continue to stay the same, just like they did last year and the year before that.  On the other hand, the tags do keep big playmakers around to ensure that teams have someone to build around for the immediate future.  Besides, there’s still plenty of big-name free agents out there to be signed, so it’s not a total loss.

Incognito In Counseling

Image from CNN.com

(Image from CNN.com)

Richie Incognito apparently checked into a psychiatric care facility this week.  There’s really not much I can say here besides a few halfhearted jokes, so I’m just going to leave that statement where it is.

Three weeks down, and though the pall is starting to settle, at least the free agency period is coming up soon.  And after that, we have Pro Days and the draft, so there’s still more than enough to talk about prior to the season.  So until next time, cheerio!

2014 Cold Fridge Week 2

The NFL continues to make news despite the Super Bowl already having been decided.  New developments abound, including a new look for one of the league’s squads!  So let’s look at what went down this week.

Tampa Bay Gets a Face Lift

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers unveiled a new look for the 2014 season and beyond on Thursday, as they revealed a refurbished logo and helmet, along with word of a uniform overhaul coming in a few weeks. (UPDATE: The date for the reveal of the new uniforms has been set for March 5.  Mark your calendars, mateys.)  Warren Sapp, AKA the best defensive lineman not named Lee Roy Selmon the Bucs have ever had, revealed the new helmet himself on NFL Network on Thursday evening.  It’s a new, meaner look, to be sure, but…it honestly doesn’t look that new.

Granted, I wasn’t expecting something as radically new as the old logo was in comparison to Bucco Bruce, but at the very least Tampa could have made an effort to differentiate themselves and create a new identity for themselves to coincide with the radical changes they’ve been having to endure over the past two to three years.  I will admit, though, this is a fairly good-looking redesign, all things considered.  The skull on the flag actually looks pretty terrifying now, and in general the logo looks a lot cleaner than it did before. Maybe that isn’t the goal–after all, to my understanding a Buccaneer is supposed to be gritty and savage–but this new look is still pretty intimidating in its own way.  Kudos to the front office for a good new design, but for me they could have done with a more novel approach.

Browns Offer Trade For…Jim Harbaugh?

(Image from BlackSportsOnline.com)

(Image from BlackSportsOnline.com)

Rumors arose this past week about the Browns attempting to use their several draft picks to try to make a trade with San Francisco.  Rather than making an attempt to lure one or more big players away from the 2012 NFC champs, however, Cleveland had a different target in mind: head coach Jim Harbaugh.  Let me say that again in case you don’t think you read that correctly: THE BROWNS TRIED TO TRADE FOR JIM HARBAUGH.  As in, the head coach of San Francisco 49ers who has led his team to three straight NFC Championship games.  Yeah.

Of course, the Niners quickly declined the offer, and Cleveland wound up hiring Mike Pettine (if you already know who he is and you aren’t a die-hard Browns fan, I can’t decide if you need a cookie or if you need to go outside more often), but still, I don’t know whether that speaks more to the incompetence of the Browns’ front office or to the desperation of that same group.  Trades involving coaches are fairly rare–the last one I remember was when the Raiders traded Jon Gruden to the Bucs in 2002, and we all know how that turned out for Oakland.  Granted, if it worked for the Bucs, there’s no reason to think it couldn’t work for the Browns.  Except, of course, that little setback known as Brandon Weeden.  (But I digress.)

Scouting Combine Begins

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

(Image from Sports Illustrated)

The annual Scouting Combine began this past week, and with it came a whole load of storylines: Johnny Manziel, Jadeveon Clowney, Michael Sam, and a host of others. The Combine is usually a fairly accurate barometer of how a player will perform in a vacuum, but there’s always the question of nerves: how will the would-be rookies react to the heightened media attention and pressure?  More importantly, can they perform under this pressure?  Granted, for those who choke there’s always the Pro Days later in spring, but it’s cold comfort if, for example, a running back or receiver renowned for his breakaway speed manages only a 4.7 40-yard dash, or a supposedly incredibly strong lineman only manages seventeen reps at 225 pounds.  The Combine is truly a make-or-break week for all prospects, so you can usually use its results to see an accurate picture of the player’s abilities.

Unfortunately, there’s always those who decide to be difficult and decline to participate in workouts at the Combine (much like a certain Texas A&M quarterback has decided to do this year).  To these I say: You’re only hurting your own chances of getting drafted.  Teams use the individual workouts to judge who would be a good fit for them in the coming seasons, and more often than not they don’t like taking too many risks. Not participating in position workouts at the Scouting Combine smacks of arrogance, laziness, and–in some cases–outright contempt for the entire process, because you’re essentially telling teams that you don’t care about their decision making methods.  If you’re not working out, you’re basically assuming that you’re going to be one of the first players taken off the board, and there’s a certain famous saying about what happens when you assume things. (I won’t reprint it here, but you should be able to understand what I’m getting at.)

That’s all for this week.  See you all next Saturday!

2014 Cold Fridge Week 1

As much as we hate to admit it, the offseason is upon us at last.  The good news, though, is that there’s still plenty of NFL-related news and controversy to report.  After all, even if the players aren’t performing on the field, they’re still likely to make some noise off of it, right?  Anyway, without further ado, let’s look at the first week’s worth of offseason happenings!

Draft Drama

(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

Johnny Manziel just keeps finding ways to get himself in the news.  He stated that he wouldn’t be participating in the Scouting Combine’s throwing drills, his film apparently shows significant flaws in his game (NO KIDDING), and he practically dared the Texans to not pick him first overall.  Basically?  He’s acting like one of the most entitled, self-righteous, and obnoxious college quarterback this side of Ryan Leaf. (And I don’t think I need to tell you how he turned out.)  It’s no secret that I don’t like Manziel; he tucks and runs even when he has receivers wide open, and even when he does throw his decision-making is occasionally suspect.  He’s one of the most electrifying players in the game, no doubt about that.  But he lacks something that is important–dare I say essential–for any NFL-worthy QB worth his salt: consistency.

The fact is, even if he can run quickly, you have to be able to throw first and foremost. After all, that’s the quarterback’s job.  Granted, there are a lot of mobile quarterbacks in the league now who can run if and when necessary.  But they are able to do that because they know how to throw the ball and don’t rely solely on their legs to get the yards they need.  I hesitate to make this comparison, but Manziel reminds me a lot of another former college quarterback who focused almost solely on running the football, scuttling his NFL career in the process: Tim Tebow.  (Yeah, I went there.) I honestly don’t see Manziel doing well in the NFL, unless a miracle occurs and he does a LOT of growing up in the coming weeks before the draft.  Even then, he shouldn’t be picked before the third round in my opinion.

Fin-vestigation Continues

(Photo from Denver Post)

(Photo from Denver Post)

The ongoing saga of Jonathan Martin’s harrassment charges against the Miami Dolphins took a decisive turn yesterday with the results of Ted Wells’ report becoming known to the public.  Wells, an independent researcher for the NFL in the matter, found that there were multiple accounts of harassment by linemen Richie Incognito, John Jerry, and Mike Pouncey.  This harassment extended to Martin, another unnamed lineman referred to only as “Player A” (who was this morning revealed to be former Dolphin Andrew McDonald, now of the Carolina Panthers), and the team’s assistant trainer, perhaps among others.

It’s something that provokes a lot of thought.  You expect NFL players to be these role models, trustworthy figures that you can look up to and expect to conduct themselves in a professional manner.  But then the reality just kind of hits you out of nowhere.  The fact is that there’s no such thing as a perfect player, and I understand that.  But these guys took things way too far, and if there isn’t some sort of disciplinary action taken I’ll be shocked and appalled.  There are some things that just shouldn’t be done, and what these guys did is one of them.

Michael Sam Comes Out

(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

About a week ago, Missouri linebacker Michael Sam revealed to ESPN that he was gay, potentially setting him up to be the first openly homosexual player in any of the major four American sports.  Consequently, there has been a lot of debate recently as to whether this is a good idea.  Some have said that this would be a great opportunity for one NFL team to make history–and get a very good linebacker prospect to boot.  Others have said that the time isn’t right, citing the above Dolphins incident as proof that locker room attitudes are still too hostile to support such a thing.  It’s still up in the air as to whether the league is really “ready” for Sam to become the first gay player.  My reply:  Why wouldn’t they be?

Think about it: with gay marriage now legal in seventeen states (potentially eighteen, with Virgina’s ban on same-sex marriage having recently been declared unconstitutional) and the District of Columbia, the country’s collective attitude toward homosexuality is slowly but surely warming up.  There’s no better time for something like this to happen, and quite frankly I don’t see why this would deter teams from taking Sam.  As of this writing he was projected as a late third- to early fourth-rounder, but there’s a chance that the added media attention will have teams concerned about his potential for distraction.  Hopefully, though, this won’t affect teams from considering him based on the one thing that matters in the NFL: his play. (Side note for you Westboro Baptist fans out there: apparently the WBC used the heightened media attention to protest a Mizzou basketball game today.  It…did not work  the way they planned.)

Retirements:

Tony Gonzalez, TE, ATL*

*unconfirmed

That’s the highlights of the news for now.  Keep checking in every Saturday for more information about the 2014 NFL offseason!

The NFL Fieldhouse’s First Annual Super Bowl Commercial Awards

Well, let’s be honest with ourselves.  The best part of Super Bowl XLVIII really was the commercials.  (Although, granted, the halftime show was better than expected, no thanks to Bruno Mars.  But that’s not the point.)  If by some chance you were one of those watching the game who focused less on the game itself and more on the commercials, you can’t have been disappointed.  It wasn’t necessarily the strongest field in the game’s history, but it was definitely a memorable one.  To wit, then, it’s time for the first annual NFL Fieldhouse Super Bowl Commercial Awards. We’ll get to Best Commercial at the end of the post, but first, we’ll take a look at some of the other categories.

Click below to go to the next page…

Super Bowl XLVIII Recap

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Wilson went 18 of 25 for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Seahawks' 43-8 shellacking of the Denver Broncos. (Photo from newsobserver.com)

Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hoists the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Wilson went 18 of 25 for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Seahawks’ 43-8 shellacking of the Denver Broncos. (Photo from newsobserver.com)

In what has to be one of the most underwhelming, disappointing, and anticlimactic Super Bowls in recent history, the Seattle Seahawks completely decimated the Denver Broncos by a score of 43-8.  And no, that is not a typo.  Over the course of four quarters, every single sports analyst–yes, yours truly included–who had spent all of the last two weeks crowing about how Denver’s top-ranked offense would greatly outduel the Seahawks’ supposedly anemic attack was completely and unceremoniously silenced, as Seattle amassed 341 yards on the Broncos’ ineffective defense.  Meanwhile, the Broncos struggled to get anything going all night, as their normally unstoppable offense had quite a bit of trouble keeping the ball; they turned the ball over four times in total, including several more near misses that were ultimately overturned on replay.  Peyton Manning may have been named the season MVP, but he was in no such form on Sunday: despite racking up 280 yards through the air, he tossed two picks–one of which was returned for a touchdown that more or less cemented the game’s result early on–and helped the team gain only 4.8 yards per play on average.  That’s inexcusable for a team like the Broncos, who pride themselves on moving up and down the field with nigh impunity, especially when you consider that they ran more plays than Seattle did.

First Impressions

Knowshon Moreno (#27) chases down a loose ball in the Broncos' end zone on the first play from scrimmage. (Photo from CBS Sports)

Knowshon Moreno (#27) chases down a loose ball in the Broncos’ end zone on the first play from scrimmage. (Photo from CBS Sports)

After Trindon Holliday tried to make a big play on the opening kickoff but was wrapped up short of the 15, Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense stepped onto the field, presumably to begin what was bound to be one of the most impressive opening drives in Super Bowl history.  What happened next certainly was impressive, but probably not in the way Denver intended.

Question: What’s the best way to begin a Super Bowl when everyone expects you to completely shred the opposing defense?  The answer: Immediately spot them two points and possession right off the bat.

When Broncos center Manny Ramirez (no, not THAT Manny Ramirez) saw Manning step forward to deliver some sort of pre-snap signal (which, as we know, is something Manning NEVER does), Ramirez apparently took the motion as an invitation to snap the ball.  Which he promptly did–right over the off-guard Manning’s head and into the end zone.  Knowshon Moreno was able to scoop it up before it reached the end line, but it turned out to be a moot point, as he was promptly tackled for a safety, making Super Bowl XLVIII the third consecutive SB to include a safety.  Even more historic, however, was the fact that it was the fastest score in Super Bowl history, requiring a total of twelve seconds of game time between the ill-fated kickoff return and the safety.

In short: Manny Ramirez basically ensured that this Super Bowl will be etched in the record books for some time to come.  But it only got worse from there.

Pick Six

Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith returns an interception 69 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. (Photo from Bleacher Report)

Seahawks linebacker Malcolm Smith returns an interception 69 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. (Photo from Bleacher Report)

In the second quarter of the game, a Peyton Manning pass floated well away from its intended receiver, instead ending up in the lap of Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith. Smith had recorded three interceptions on the season to that point including the playoffs, one of which was returned for a touchdown.  Even that, however, was only a 37-yard return–against the Rams, no less.

But this one was far more important, and as a result was far more spectacular.  After picking it off at the Seattle 31, Smith tucked the ball in and legged it all the way back to the end zone–a 69-yard return that put the Seahawks up 22-0 before halftime.

It was clear that the pass’s delivery was affected–replays showed that a Seahawk lineman has restricted Manning’s arm as the ball was released, resulting in a wobbly pass–but the fact remains that this single play wholly encapsulated how fully the Seahawks dominated the Broncos on the night, and it was the main reason Smith received the game’s MVP honors.

Lucky Number Twelve?

Percy Harvin returns the second-half kickoff for another touchdown to put the Seahawks up even further. (Photo from Bleacher Report)

Percy Harvin returns the second-half kickoff for another touchdown to put the Seahawks up even further. (Photo from Bleacher Report)

As if that weren’t enough, what happened right after halftime just further piled on the embarrassment the Broncos must surely have been feeling by this point.  Percy Harvin, who had missed most of the season with an injury, made a comeback in the most spectacular way possible: he returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown, the sixth time in his career he’s taken a kick back all the way.

I know a lot of you probably won’t appreciate a personal anecdote here (or anyplace, really), but there’s kind of a funny story for this moment. I was watching the game at my campus’ Baptist Collegiate Ministry Super Bowl Party (which, if you’re reading this from campus, is definitely an awesome place, by the way), and as I sat back down for the second half in between trips to the buffet, I thought to myself something along the lines of: “Wouldn’t it be funny if Seattle brought the kickoff all the way back for a touchdown?”  Twelve seconds later (and no, that’s not an estimation, that’s the actual amount of time it took; eerie, isn’t it?), I, like most of the others, sat in stunned yet amused silence.  I then thought: “Wouldn’t it be funny if my blog were suddenly the most popular site on the Internet?”

As you can probably imagine, I was one for two on my predictions that night.  But that’s about on par with my usual record, so I can’t complain.

In any event, the kick return was more or less the clincher, the single score that more or less guaranteed a Seahawk victory.  The Broncos would finally score at the end of the third quarter on a touchdown pass to Demariyus Thomas, but by that point the game was out of reach, and the Seahawks returned the favor at the start of the fourth anyway.  The outcome was never in doubt.

So that wraps up the 2013-14 NFL season, but The NFL Fieldhouse is just getting warmed up.  There’s plenty of offseason occurrences to cover, and every Saturday (starting next week because I’m a bit lazy, as my irregular schedule probably shows) I’ll be posting weekly updates on what’s new around the league.  I’ll also occasionally be throwing out some random features, whether on the latest big signing or story, or simply just to rant about something that’s caught my attention.  In fact, on Thursday I’ll be posting my take on this year’s best Super Bowl commercials.  So thanks for a great season, and tune in on Thursday for the first offseason post from the The NFL Fieldhouse!

Super Bowl XLVIII Final Analysis And Prediction

Super_Bowl_XLVIII_logo

Well, here it is.  At last, the forty-eighth Super Bowl is upon is, and what a ride it’s been to this point.  In September, thirty-two NFL teams embarked upon their journey toward the ever-present dream of hoisting what is essentially, to further abuse what is already a tired cliche, the Holy Grail of professional football: the Vince Lombardi Trophy.  Now, only two teams remain: the AFC champion Denver Broncos, whose high-octane passing offense has been the talk of the league since Week 1, the NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, whose airtight defense has stymied opponents all season long.  There’s only one way to settle the question of which is the better team, and no matter who wins, it’s sure to be one of the most competitive Super Bowls in recent memory.  Let’s take one final look at some of the key storylines going into Sunday, followed by my final Super Bowl prediction.

Tale of The Tape

Seahawks

 Category

Broncos

339.0 ypg (17th NFL)

Total Offense (ypg)

457.3 ypg (1st NFL)

273.6 ypg (1st NFL)

Total Defense (yards allowed/g)

356.0 ypg (19th NFL

202.2 ypg (26th NFL)

Passing Offense (ypg)

340.2 ypg (1st NFL)

172.0 ypg (1st NFL)

Passing Defense (yards allowed/g)

254.4 ypg (27th NFL)

136.8 ypg (4th NFL)

Rushing Offense (ypg)

117.1 ypg (15th NFL)

101.6 ypg (T-7th NFL)

Rushing Defense (yards allowed/g)

101.6 ypg (T-7th NFL)

Let it Snow?

1387401248000-metlife-stadium

(Image from USA Today)

There has been a lot–and I mean a LOT–of talk all season long about a potential snowy Super Bowl.  In fact, questions about whether such a game would truly be feasible were raised as early as about eleven seconds after East Rutherford was revealed as the site for this year’s game.  Some figured that such a game would unnecessarily hinder players and fans alike and thus reduce the overall quality of the contest, a la the Week 14 tilt between the Detroit Lions and the Philadelphia Eagles; others thought it would only add to the legendary status of what would inevitably turn out to be one of the most memorable Super Bowls to date.  Virtually nobody, however, predicted that the whole discussion would turn out to be more or less a moot point.

According to the latest report from The Weather Channel, kickoff temperature should be in the vicinity of the mid-40s–certainly enough to chill a few bones, but nowhere near freezing.  In addition, precipitation is highly unlikely, and even if it does occur it will likely be in short patches.  All in all, it’s certainly going to be a cold one, but it’s nowhere near the cataclysmic snowfall some pundits were predicting. So if you’re planning on attending the game, you can breathe easy knowing that you won’t have to worry about the weather outside being too frightful.  (The traffic, however, is another story.)

Prediction

This…is a difficult one.  Both of these teams are teams that I honestly wouldn’t mind seeing win it all.  On the one hand, you’ve got Peyton Manning–arguably the best quarterback in the game right now, and for whom a case could be made as being the greatest of all time at the position–leading one of the scariest passing attacks in the history of the league.  On the other hand, you have one of the most dominant defensive forces the NFL has ever seen, a team that has made its living shutting down opponent after opponent, week after week.  Both teams have their strengths and weaknesses, their stars and sleepers.  And at the end of the day, either one of these teams could very easily be the team that gets to hold the Lombardi once the clock hits 0:00.

So which one to pick?

This is a Seahawks team that has absolutely nobody on its roster with Super Bowl experience.  This will be a crucial learning period for them as they try to figure out exactly how to respond to the heightened pressure.  Meanwhile, Manning’s only been to the Super Bowl once before himself, but he has years upon years of postseason experience behind him.  When it comes to the offenses, both teams are among the best in their respective fields–Seattle on the ground, and Denver through the air.  I have to give a slight edge to Denver there, though, since, as much as I wish it wasn’t, the NFL is–first and foremost–a league focused primarily on the passing game. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you have one of the league’s best running attacks if you can’t throw the ball to give your runners some space; just look at the Jaguars and Vikings, who both have incredible running backs but are watching the Super Bowl at home because their respective passing games were frankly hideous.  On defense, however, Seattle is the unquestioned champion, especially compared with the Broncos’ below average D.  The Seahawks’ pass coverage in particular is second to none, which could pose a problem for the air-heavy Denver attack.  In short, if you ever wanted to see what would happen if an unstoppable force ever met an immovable object, you really need to watch this game.

In the end, however trite it may seem, the Super Bowl will come down to the age-old question: “Who wants it more?”

My answer: The Broncos.

Peyton Manning won’t be breaking any records, but he doesn’t have to.  The Seahawks defense will be solid most of the time, but as we saw against the Cardinals in the regular season, occasionally their guard will slip–and unlike the regular season, they won’t have the Twelfth Man backing them up this time around.  Meanwhile, while I don’t think the Broncos defense is all that great, this Seattle offense just doesn’t have the same firepower as their counterparts.  It won’t be the prettiest game, but it’ll be enough for Manning and the Broncos to win Super Bowl XLVIII.

Broncos-Seahawks-Superbowl

Super Bowl XLVIII:

Denver Broncos 27, Seattle Seahawks 20

I’ve done all I can here; it’s time for the talk to end and the game to begin.  Throw out all the hype, all the “what-ifs” and the hypotheticals.  It’s time to settle things the way they were meant to be settled: on the field.  Only one more day before we finally determine who deserves the right to be called Super Bowl Champions.

2013 Season In Review: Denver Broncos

denver_broncos_logo_3994

(Image from goodlogo.com)

It’s been smooth sailing this season for the Denver Broncos, who tallied the AFC’s best record via the best offense in the country.  At the center of all the hype is, of course, MVP quarterback Peyton Manning, who’s had a record-breaking season at the helm of this high-flying offense.  The Broncos haven’t been to the Super Bowl since 1999, when they beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-19 to win Super Bowl XXXIII. Now they’re finally back, and they’re almost certainly ready to prove why they’re considered by many to be the NFL’s best team.  Now then, let’s take a look at the Season In Review for the Denver Broncos.

Esprit de Corps

New arrival Wes Welker has added a new dimension to the Broncos' already powerful passing game.

New arrival Wes Welker has added a new dimension to the Broncos’ already powerful passing game.

A lot of recognition goes to Peyton Manning when it comes to which player has had the most impact on this Denver team, and rightly so.  However, a quarterback is only as good as his receivers, and Manning’s been pretty blessed to have a receiving corps like this.  When you’re throwing to a group like Demariyus Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker, and Julius Thomas, even someone like Charlie Frye could have a 4,000-yard season through the air.  Special notice, however, has to go to Wes Welker.  The former Patriot crossed over this offseason and has really opened up the Broncos’ vertical attack with his ability to catch just about any pass thrown his way. He may have finished with only 770 yards (in comparison to Demariyus’ 1,430 and Decker’s 1,288), but make no mistake: he’s indisputably a crucial part of this offense. His ability to run short routes has opened the door greatly for Manning to heave it down the field, and as a result the Broncos had the most effective offense in the league in 2013.

Beyond Welker, one has to mention Thomas and Decker as being two of the league’s top young wideouts.  Thomas has the ability to get behind the coverage and put the ball in the end zone, as evidenced by his 14 receiving TDs in 2013 (most among WRs, and second overall behind Jimmy Graham).  He’s got the savvy of an elite receiver years his elder, not to mention a 4.3 40-yard dash speed.  Decker, meanwhile, has sort of snuck onto the radar in recent mnths, but he’s proving himself to be every bit the effective counterpart to Thomas; where DT has speed, Decker has big hands, and he’s not afraid to sacrifice his body to make the catch.  All of these receivers have been clutch for Manning all season long, and it’ll be fun to see what they can do against the league’s top defense.

Unsung Hero

Knowshon Moreno hasn't gotten much of a spotlight this season, but he's been a critical part of the Broncos' offense in 2013.

Knowshon Moreno hasn’t gotten much of a spotlight this season, but he’s been a critical part of the Broncos’ offense in 2013.

Former Georgia running back Knowshon Moreno, drafted twelfth overall by Denver in the 2009 NFL Draft, has always been one of the league’s best running backs, and as such is a huge threat any time he touches the ball.  He recorded his first career thousand-yard season in 2013, tallying 1,038 total yards (4.3 per carry), good for twelfth in the NFL on the ground.  In addition, he scored 10 touchdowns, tying him for the fourth-most in the league alongside Adrian Peterson.  (Yes, that Adrian Peterson.)  He’s one of the most electric running backs in the league today, and given a few more years he could be the second coming of LaDanian Tomlinson.

So why hasn’t he been mentioned more?  Well, for starters, when you put Peyton Manning on any given team, nine times out of then the media will be saying he’s the biggest reason for that team’s almost inevitable success.  In this case, the tenth time would be devoted to the receiving corps mentioned previously.  As electrifying as Moreno is, he just isn’t the headline-grabber that Manning and Co. are.  It’s a slightly disturbing trend, but the NFL’s fanbase has been favoring air-heavy attacks more and more for several years now, and Moreno isn’t the type of back who can go out and catch five passes a game for seventy yards every week.  Regardless, while he may not be the player Marshawn Lynch is, Knowshon Moreno is far from done in the NFL; his future looks very bright indeed.

Season Schedule

Regular Season:

Week 1: vs. Baltimore (W 49-27)
Week 2: @ New York Giants (W 41-23)
Week 3:  vs. Oakland (W 37-21)
Week 4: vs. Philadelphia (W 52-20)
Week 5: @ Dallas (W 51-48)
Week 6: vs. Jacksonville (W 35-19)
Week 7: @ Indianapolis (L 33-39)
Week 8: vs. Washington (W 45-21)
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: @ San Diego (W 28-20)
Week 11: vs. Kansas City (W 27-17)
Week 12: @ New England (L 31-34)
Week 13: @ Kansas City (W 35-28)
Week 14: vs. Tennessee (W 51-28)
Week 15: vs. San Diego (L 20-27)
Week 16: @ Houston (W 37-13)
Week 17: @ Oakland (W 34-14)

Postseason:

Divisional Round: vs. San Diego (W 24-17)
AFC Championship: vs. New England (W 26-16)

Well, that’ll just about do it for the time being. The Super Bowl is just about here, which means it’s almost time to find out which team is truly worthy of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy and being called the best in the land.  On Saturday I’ll make a final rundown of the two squads, culminating in my official prediction for 2014.  Until then, farewell!

(All images, unless otherwise specified, are from USA Today.)