Saturday, February 5, 2011

Front & center: My rivalry with Packer-backer bro-in-law hits front page

I got my hands on an early edition of the Sunday Pioneer Press and there I am with my brother-in-law on the front page.
I will post the entire article tomorrow when it’s available online. In the meantime, here’s a picture of the front page.
If you're not familiar with this article, here's the back story.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Video of ice falling off Cowboy Stadium in Dallas

Seven people were injured Friday when ice fell from the roof of Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, Texas. The area around the stadium, which will be the site for Super Bowl XLV, has been blocked off.

According to NFL officials, five people were taken to local hospitals, while two people were treated at the scene. None of the injuries is considered life threatening.

In the video, you can see melting snow and ice sliding off of the roof and landing 200 feet below.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday: Minnesota Vikings fans vs. Green Bay Packers fans

I didn’t know what I was getting into when I responded to a question on Twitter from Pioneer Press reporter John Brewer. On January 31, he wrote:

I'm shopping around for an interview: Are you or anyone you know 1) a Vikings fan and 2) upset about the Packers in the Super Bowl? DM me.

I read it and thought: yup, that’s me alright.

I sent John a message telling him I was a life-long Vikings fan, my family has had Vikings season tickets since the team has been in Minnesota, my grandpa was once the team’s dentist and I was employed by the Vikings as a ballboy for four seasons during my teenage years. He felt my credentials were worthy enough and he wanted to speak to me on the phone.

As John and I went back and forth on an interview time, I mentioned that my brother-in-law Randy was a huge Packers fan and is loving life right now. John asked if Randy (who lives in River Fall, Wisconsin) would be interested in talking about our familial rivalry. Knowing Randy, who is engaging and entertaining (despite being a Packers fan), he’d be up for it. Sure enough, Randy was game – although he first thought I was setting up for some prank. I assured him it was not and he agreed to participate.

On Tuesday at 4:30 p.m., John called me and a reporter who covers Western Wisconsin, Andy Rathbun, called Randy. John and Andy must have desks close to each other because I could hear Andy laughing at Randy’s responses, and I’m sure he could hear John laughing at my responses.

After about a half hour, the phone conversations ended. I called Randy and we talked about the article, without sharing what we told each reporter (we want to be surprised when we picked up the paper.)
Little did Randy and I know the Pioneer Press wasn’t done with us yet. They wanted to come photograph us for the paper. I was starting to realize we aren’t just part of the story, we are the story.

We agreed to meet a Pioneer Press photographer at my house in Bloomington Wednesday evening. Not knowing what kind of pictures he was going to take of us, I got all of my Vikings gear ready: my Adrian Peterson jersey, my Vikings helmet, my Vikings trooper hat, my Adrian Peterson bobblehead, my Randy Moss autographed football, my Brett Favre autographed picture (in a Vikings uniform)…you get the picture. I also went out and bought a Troy Polamalu t-shirt, just to remind Randy that I would rather cheer for the Steelers than the Packers.

Wednesday arrives and we’re all at my house – Randy, myself and Pioneer Press photographer Richard Marshall. Richard shows up at my house with his camera, a light set and a handful of ideas that were going to make me look pathetic. “You know you’re screwed right?” He said to me. “This picture is about your anger and jealously over the Packers and Randy’s the one in the driver’s seat.”

Like I have done most of the football season, I put my head down and conceded the fact that this season SUCKS!

After kicking around some ideas, we all ended up in my bathroom. Randy was dressed in his cheesehead, Packers NFC championship t-shirt and green and gold face paint, while I was draped in Purple from head to toe. The picture included an elated Randy, a dejected me and a hairdryer. I have no idea how the Pioneer Press is going to use the picture, but we had fun.

That is how we became the featured Super Bowl story in the Pioneer Press. Look for the article (and picture) in this Sunday’s paper. I will post a follow-up after the article runs.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The better quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger vs. Aaron Rodgers

A friend of mine wrote an article recently that proclaimed Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers “the best quarterback drafted in the last decade.” The writer’s name is Peter Christian and he lays out a strong argument for Rodgers (read the full article here). However, I disagree with Peter and believe Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is the best quarterback drafted in the last 10 years. Since these two quarterbacks will be facing each other in Super Bowl XLV on Sunday I thought I should make my case for Big Ben.

Before you read the rest of this article, you must take the emotion out of the debate. Yes, Roethlisberger has done some terrible things in his past, but we’re not talking about character here. We are talking about who’s the better quarterback.

When Roethlisberger entered the league in 2004 as a rookie out of the University of Miami-Ohio, the plan was for him to sit behind Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch. After injuries to both quarterbacks, Roethlisberger stepped in and won the next 14 games (including a playoff game). During that season, Roethlisberger and the Steelers beat the defending Super Bowl champion and previously undefeated New England Patriots, ending their NFL-record 21-game winning streak. Big Ben followed that game up with a win over another undefeated team, the Philadelphia Eagles. Later that year, Roethlisberger led the Steelers on a game winning drive in the playoffs against the New York Jets, which they won by a field goal. Roethlisberger set a NFL rookie record in 2004 with five comeback wins in the fourth quarter, and six game-winning drives in the fourth quarter/overtime (including the playoff game).

If you haven’t figured it out by now, let me make it clear, Ben Roethlisberger has performed exceptionally well in big games and that makes him the best quarterback drafted in the past decade. Yes, Aaron Rodgers (who is 27-years-old) has the stats, but Roethlisberger (who is 28-years-old) has the rings and a ton of records.

Look at Roethlisberger’s resume:
  • He has two Super Bowl rings (2005 and 2008)
  • He has the most comeback wins (19) and game-winning drives (25) through the first seven seasons of a player's career
  • At age 23, he is the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl (Pittsburgh beat Seattle 21-10 in 2005)
  • He has a 10-2 playoff record (Peyton Manning is 9-10, Rodgers is 3-1)
  • He has the 4th highest career winning percentage (.704) as a starter in the regular season among quarterbacks with a minimum of 90 starts
  • In the 2005 playoffs, the Steelers pulled off upsets at Indianapolis and Denver and also beat higher seeds Cincinnati and Seattle
  • 51 wins as a starting quarterback in first five NFL seasons (NFL record)
  • Second quarterback in NFL history, along with Peyton Manning, to register three perfect passing games during the regular season, and the only quarterback to ever register two perfect passing games in one regular season
  • Highest postseason completion percentage – 61.1% (Min. 50 attempts)
  • Highest postseason passer rating — 85.4
It’s easy to argue that Roethlisberger got help from his defense and running game several of these games. But the stat that sealed it for me is comeback wins (19) and game-winning drives (25). When the Steelers need a big play, Big Ben has come through a lot more often than Rodgers has. Look at Rodgers’ stats in close games, 2-12 in games decided by four points or fewer. Rodgers is not to blame for all of those 12 losses, and he may be turning a corner with the three impressive playoff wins, but he’s not close to Roethlisberger.

Another argument I’ll make for Roethlisberger is he’s throwing to less talented skill players. Hines Ward has had a great career, but he’s not a dynamic playmaker. Heath Miller is a fantastic possession tight end, but not very versatile. Santonio Holmes and Mike Wallace are good, but not consistent enough to be called great. Rodgers is throwing to Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jermichael Finley, Jordy Nelson – these are all guys who can stretch the field.

We have many more years ahead before this debate is finish. But as of right now, Ben Roethlisberger is the best quarterback drafted in the past ten years.

3 keys to Super Bowl XLV that nobody is talking about

For the next several days you’re going to hear a lot about Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers. The two quarterbacks are preparing to lead the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV, but don’t be mistaken, this game is much bigger than these two players.

If you breakdown the stats from the regular season and the playoffs, we should be in store for an epic Super Bowl. The Steelers and Packers are very similar teams and the margin for error is going to be very slim on Super Bowl Sunday.

There are three stats that I believe will play a large role in determining who wins the game. They aren’t the most talked about stats, but I believe they are the most important stats when it comes to winning football games.
Third Down Offense vs. Defense
Teams that can turn third downs into first downs will find success in the NFL and Pittsburgh and Green Bay are two of the best in the league. During these playoffs, the Steelers offense has converted 52% of their third down attempts (13 of 25), while the Packers offense has converted 50% (18-36). They are the only teams in the 2011 playoffs with a third down conversion rate 50% or higher (2011 playoff avg. 39%). It’s pretty simple to understand, offenses that convert third downs stay on the field longer, get more opportunities to score and they wear down defenses.

As good as both offenses have been on third down, the defenses have been equally as impressive. During their three playoff games, the Packers defense has allowed just nine third down conversions
(9 of 36 – 25%). Meanwhile, in their two playoff wins, the Steelers defense has allowed 10 of 26 third down conversions – that’s 38.5% (2011 playoff avg. 45%).

I like looking at third down stats as an indicator for success because third down is a high pressure situation within the game. You can tell a lot about how clutch a player is by how he performs on third down. The team that wins on third down may very well win the game.

Red Zone Offense vs. Defense
When it comes to scoring points, these two teams are at the top of the playoff rankings. The Packers are first in points scored per game during the playoffs, averaging 30 points per game. While the Steelers have been just as good, averaging 27.5 points per game. What the Packers and Steelers have done well this postseason is score touchdowns when they get in the red zone. The Packers have been obscenely good inside the 20 yard line, as has the Steelers. The Packers have scored touchdowns on 9 of 12 red zone visits (3-3 @ Philly / 4-6 @ Atlanta / 2-3 @ Chicago), while the Steelers have converted on 6 of 9 red zone opportunities (4-6 vs. Baltimore / 2-3 vs. NY Jets).        

While both offenses have been exceptional inside the red zone, the defenses for the Packers and Steelers have been remarkably stout as well. In their three playoff games, the Packers have allowed teams just seven red zone opportunities (they’ve allowed 4 red zone touchdowns). In the Steelers two playoff games, they’ve allowed just five red zone chances (they've allowed three red zone touchdowns).

In a game that is so evenly matched, the team that is more successful in the red zone – both on offense and defense – will have an obvious advantage on the scoreboard, but also when comes to confidence. The defense that bends the most without breaking will give their team the best chance at winning the game.

Turnovers and Points Off Turnovers
There are several things that make these teams great, but perhaps the most important is their ability to make big plays on defense. Whether it’s a timely sack, an interception or fumble recovery, the Packers and Steelers are two of the best in the league.

In their three playoff games, the Packers defense has eight takeaways. Green Bay has knack of making big plays at the right time. In their games against Philadelphia and Chicago, the Packers sealed victory with game-ending interceptions. They’ve also returned two interceptions for touchdowns during these playoffs.

The Packers are also great at turning those turnovers into points. During their blowout victory over Atlanta, Green Bay scored 20 points off turnovers – including an interception for a touchdown late in the first half by Tramon Williams. If the Steelers are careless with the football, which they have had a tendency to do, expect the Packers to capitalize on Pittsburgh’s misfortunes.

Like the Packers, the Steelers also have an opportunistic defense. In their two playoff games, Pittsburgh has forced four turnovers. In their game with Baltimore, the Steelers turned three Ravens turnovers into 17 points. And during the AFC Championship Game against the Jets, the Steelers returned a fumble for a touchdown.

Opportunities for turnovers will be there for both of these defenses and the team that takes the most advantage of those takeaways will likely be the winner.

In Closing
The Steelers and the Packers were the two stingiest defenses during the regular season in terms of points allowed. Pittsburgh ranked number one in the league allowing 14.5 points/game, while the Packers finished ranked second allowing 15 points/game. The team that plays the best on defense will end up winning Super Bowl XLV.

When the game concludes on Sunday night, take a look at the three stats I’ve outlined above. If the winning team doesn’t have the edge in all three categories I will be surprised.

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans

2011 Projected
  750 yds.
  5 TDs
     7 INTs

With the arrival of Matt Hasselbeck, Locker will watch from the sidelines for Tennessee. Locker still has a chance to play this year, mostly because of Hasselbeck's past health concerns (back). Locker has the physical tools to be a very good quarterback in the NFL. He can make every throw required by an NFL quarterback, he can make plays with his legs (projected: three rushing TDs) and he's shown tremendous leadership qualities. Locker is a project quarterback who will have very little fantasy football impact in 2011.      

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Christian Ponder, QB, Minnesota Vikings

2011 Projected
  455 yds.
  3 TDs
     3 INTs

With the arrival of Donovan McNabb in Minnesota, Ponder will have to wait for his opportunity to be the Vikings starter. If Ponder does get called into action earlier than expected, he finds himself in a good situation. He joins a Vikings team that has a plenty of talent already in place. Ponder has the luxury of handing the ball off to running back Adrian Peterson and throwing to wide receivers Percy Harvin and two talented tight ends in Visanthe Shiancoe and rookie Kyle Rudolph from Notre Dame.  

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

2011 Projected
  2825 yds.
  13 TDs
     18 INTs

The Panthers would like to bring Newton along slowly, but the fact of the matter is, they can't afford to. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen, who was a rookie last season, showed he wasn't the answer for a franchise that desperately needs a spark. Newton's abilities are off the charts, but he'll need time to learn a complex pro-style offense. Newton's ability to run (projected: 5 rushing TDs) and his impressive arm strengh will make him an exciting player to watch, but he'll have a limited impact in fantasy football.   

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Tim Tebow, QB, Denver Broncos

2010 Stats (9 gms)
654 yds.
 5 TDs
     3 INTs
2011 Projected
2950 yds.
16 TDs
     16 INTs

Tebow's fantasy football outlook is still a big known now that training camp has begun with Kyle Orton still Denver's starting quarterback. If Tebow is the starter in Denver this year, look for him to be a dual threat quarterback with the ability to run the ball with success (projected: eight rushing TDs). If Tebow becomes the full-time starter in Denver, look at him as a possible sleeper option at quarterback. 

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Colt McCoy, QB, Cleveland Browns

2010 Stats (8 gms)
1576 yds.
 6 TDs
     9 INTs
2011 Projected
3005 yds.
14 TDs
    17 INTs

The starting quarterback job isn't McCoy's just yet, but he'll have the edge against Seneca Wallace going into the season. McCoy did a nice job filling in last year for the Browns, but he's still not yet a viable fantasy football option. Also, the Browns lack of playmakers at wide receiver makes McCoy less appealing. 

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Jason Campbell, QB, Oakland Raiders

2010 Stats (13 gms)
2387 yds.
13 TDs
     8 INTs
2011 Projected
2925 yds.
18 TDs
    12 INTs

Campbell lacks the playmaking ability the Raiders love. The Raiders have an offense built on speed with wide receivers Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey and running back Darren McFadden, but Campbell doesn't fit that mold. The Raiders will have to decide between Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski. Campbell is similar to Jacksonville's David Garrard, but without the ability to run. Campbell's inconsistent play and inability to hold onto the starting quarterback job makes him a risky pick.

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars

2010 Stats
  2734 yds.
  23 TDs
     15 INTs
2011 Projected
  2625 yds.
  19 TDs
     16 INTs

Garrard has failed to emerge as a reliable fantasy football quarterback, and that trend will likely continue this season. The Jags are an offense built to run and they lack consistent playmakers at wide receiver. Garrard's most reliable target is tight end Mercedes Lewis, who the Jags made their franchise player. Garrard is back-up option at best and he may be guy best left undrafted. Also, The Jags drafted Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert with the tenth pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, which could signal the end of Garrard's tenure in Jacksonville (I predict it will be midseason 2011).

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Donovan McNabb, QB, Minnesota Vikings

2010 Stats
  3377 yds.
  14 TDs
     15 INTs
2011 Projected
  3650 yds.
  19 TDs
     15 INTs

McNabb comes to Minnesota looking to prove he can still be an effective NFL quarterback. McNabb's two years in Washington was a disaster and a change of scenery will benefit him very well. McNabb is still talented enough to be a very good starter in the NFL and will have a good opportunity for success with the Vikings. He will have plenty of talent around him in Minnesota, including Adrian Peterson, Percy Harvin and Visanthe Shiancoe.

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Chad Henne, QB, Miami Dolphins

2010 Stats (15 gms)
3301 yds.
15 TDs
 19 INTs
2011 Projected
3350 yds.
15 TDs
 20 INTs

Henne will get one more shot to prove he's a starting NFL quarterback. He did nothing to help himself last year, despite the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall in Miami. Henne has a tendency to play too safe and the Dolphins offense suffered because of it. Henne needs to become less of a game manager and more of risk-taker before he's worth a fantasy football roster spot.     

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Tennessee Titans

2010 Stats (14 gms)
3001 yds.
12 TDs
 17 INTs
2011 Projected
3125 yds.
14 TDs
 18 INTs

Hasselbeck wasn't wanted anymore in Seattle, so he headed to Tennessee. Hasselbeck is too inconsistent to be considered a reliable fantasy football starter. Also, he's playing in a new offense this year that will rely heavily on the run. Plus, Tennessee lacks playmakers at wide receivers for Hasselbeck to throw to.   

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB, Buffalo Bills

2010 Stats
  3000 yds.
  23 TDs
     15 INTs
2011 Projected
  3200 yds.
  21 TDs
     16 INTs

Fitzpatrick was one of the biggest surprises in 2010. He not only emerged as the Bills starting quarterback, he proved to be a viable starting fantasy football option. He found a favorite target in wide receiver Steve Johnson and did a good job of spreading the ball around. With wide receiver Lee Evans on the decline, the Bills would be smart to find a bigger receiver to play opposite Johnson.

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers

2010 Stats (11 gms)
2370 yds.
14 TDs
     10 INTs
2011 Projected
3110 yds.
18 TDs
     14 INTs

If new 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh is serious about keeping Smith, this could be a very good thing for the quarterback. Smith has shown flashes of promise, but his inconsistency has made him a liability. The Niners have a wealth of talent with Frank Gore at running back, Vernon Davis at tight end and Michael Crabtree at wide receiver. San Francisco has also done a good job of building a solid offensive line and the Niners offense should make great strides under Harbaugh. This year could be Smith's last chance to prove he's a starting NFL quarterback. Of the lower tier quarterbacks, he's the one who might be worth a gamble in the late rounds on draft day.      

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

2010 Stats
  3970 yds.
  26 TDs
     20 INTs
2011 Projected
  3890 yds.
  21 TDs
     21 INTs

If Palmer stays in Cincinnati, he'll be in for another long season. It's a strong possibility that the Bengals won't re-sign wide receiver Terrell Owens and will trade or release wide receiver Chad Ochocinco. That means Palmer will be throwing to two new wide receivers, likely less talented receivers. If Palmer does get his way and is traded, his value would increase. Palmer needs a change in scenery.

2011 Fantasy Football Scouting Report: Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets

2010 Stats
  3291 yds.
  17 TDs
     13 INTs
2011 Projected
  3320 yds.
  19 TDs
     15 INTs

Sanchez played very well down the stretch last year and made some big throws. Sanchez is entering his third season as a starter and should be poised to take his game to the next level. It'll be important for the Jets to retain Santonio Holmes, who is scheduled to become a free agent this off season. Braylon Edwards is also a free agent, but Holmes should be the priority. Sanchez and Holmes clicked last season and looked very comfortable together later in the year. If Edwards leaves, Sanchez and the Jets will need to find another big receiver or the Jets offense could regress in 2011.