By Mike Ivcic, UltimateCapper Contributing Writer
If you are a regular visitor to the Ultimate Capper, you are probably familiar with “The Tenth Inning,” our regular weekly baseball column posted every Monday during the season. You may also have been one of the many readers of our inaugural “Six Plus One” feature that debuted last week, where we break down six college football games involving ranked trams and one bonus game between two unranked teams. And by now, you are undoubtedly aware of the shameless promotion we give to all of our features across the many sports and platforms on this site. So it should come as no surprise to those of you familiar with our work that we have developed yet another regular weekly posting, this time on the National Football League. We at the Ultimate Capper are pleased to present to you, “Fourth and Long.”
“Fourth and Long” will be our weekly look at the biggest story or stories in the NFL across the four “downs,” along with my pick for the Thursday night game each week that will comprise the “long” section of the column. Plus, don’t forget to check back every Saturday for the rest of the week’s NFL selections, only right here at the Ultimate Capper. And with that, welcome to week one of “Fourth and Long!”
Will Chip Kelly succeed in the NFL?
This question isn’t one that will be answered this week, this month, or probably even this year, and yet it’s one that everyone that has written a single world about the Eagles has pondered since his hiring. Yes, his offense is one that does have a gimmick-y college feel to it, but his basic philosophy is one with which every football coach at every level seems to concur – keep the defense off balance and tired, and the offense has a better chance to score. All Kelly has done is ramp that model up into warp speed, and as long as he can find a quarterback to run the system, there’s no reason to think it won’t work at the premier level of football. Whether or not Kelly has that player on his roster (hint: he doesn’t) is another story, but don’t mistake the offense run by Vick, Foles, or Barkley this year as the one Kelly actually wants to run. All three are severely limited in some capacity from leading the offense as the head coach envisions, so this will be a multiple-season rebuild for the new Philadelphia coach – in a place with a fanbase that’s always been known for their patience…
Can the Ravens repeat without their two emotional leaders on defense?
Joe Flacco emerged as a legitimate top-level QB during last season’s playoff run, but don’t be fooled – since moving from Cleveland to Baltimore, this has always been a franchise that was built around, and defined by, its defense. So how will this group handle the absence of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, the two players that embodied the black and blue (and purple) philosophy that the Ravens have used as the foundation for their success over the past decade? They likely won’t miss a beat on offense, especially if Flacco continues to grow and mature as a signal-caller, since most of the unit returns intact. But defense will almost surely be a different story, so it will be up to players like Terrell Suggs, LaDarius Webb, and Haloti Ngata who have also been major components in the development of the culture on defense, to fill the void left by Lewis’ retirement and Reed’s departure for Houston, or this won’t even be a playoff team.
Who will play quarterback for the New York Jets?
As a franchise, they have now had seven different quarterbacks on their roster since the offseason began, and the first play of the regular season is still to come. Clearly the assumption is that Geno Smith will be the opening day starter, more by default than anything, and the trio of Graham Harrell, David Garrard, and Greg McElroy have already been sent packing. Still, it would not be a surprise in any way whatsoever to see Mark Sanchez, Matt Simms, and now Brady Quinn all get at least some playing time this year, if not all get at least one start. That those are the four men who will line up under center this year says a whole lot more about the future of head coach Rex Ryan than it does about anything regarding those QB’s – eventually the job will be Smith’s to lose, probably as early as next year. That should coincide nicely with the arrival of a new head coach, one that hopefully will have much better understanding of how to run an offense and mentor a quarterback – apparently two novel concepts for the lesser half of the swamp’s tenants.
Will playing Robert Griffin III be a good or bad move for the Redskins?
This question will have two possible outcomes, because it may have a very different answer based just upon looking at this season as opposed to extrapolating out Griffin’s career from this point. The Redskins are doing exactly the opposite of what the city’s baseball team did last year – they’re recognizing a window of opportunity and trying to take advantage of it now, because they may not get another better chance. The Nationals shelved Stephen Strasburg and cost themselves a potential NL pennant, while the Redskins are pushing Griffin to play all 16 games because that’s clearly their best chance at repeating as NL East champions. Will his knee hold up for those 16 games? Maybe. Will Griffin’s knee suffer any lasting or long-term damage as a result of “rushing” back? Hopefully not, but there’s really no way to forecast that. Either way, I’ll give Mike Shanahan and the rest of the Redskins organization at least a little credit for pushing the envelope and gambling with the opportunity now instead of playing it safe and assuming the future will hold as much promise as the present. Whether or not it pays off will be a fun storyline to follow all year long.
Baltimore Ravens @ Denver Broncos
Thu, 8:0pm, NBC
Line: Broncos by 7.5
Blame the Orioles and MLB for this one – the Ravens should be opening at home, but the city’s baseball team was already scheduled for a 7:05pm start and it’s the start of a four-game series with the White Sox, so despite a look at multiple different solutions there just wasn’t any way to make it work. As a result, Peyton Manning gets to start year two of his Broncos tenure at home against the team that rudely and abruptly ended year one. Denver was the best team in the AFC last year and added Wes Welker to make their offense that much more explosive, but the loss of Von Miller to a six-game suspension can’t be underestimated. Still, I can’t envision the Ravens winning on the road in their first game minus their two emotional defensive leaders (as mentioned above), especially considering the lingering effects from last January that still hang over everyone in this Denver franchise and fanbase.
Pick: Denver 34, Baltimore 23
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