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Mike Millburn: Green Bay Packers NFL Draft Preview

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There are very few things in my life that I can say I truly love.  Other than the obvious loves of friends, family, and pets (at least when my cat doesn’t wake me up in the morning), my list of lucky recipients of those three magic words is staggeringly short.  And yes, that means I’ve never said “I love you” to a girl – alas, that is another story for a different blog.

However, there are two things in this world that I love unequivocally, that have always been there for me through the good times and bad, and that I know will never abandon me:

The Green Bay Packers and the NFL Draft.

Luckily for me, these two wonderful things are destined to coincide once again in less than 24 hours, when Roger Goodell welcomes the world to Radio City Music Hall and the 2013 NFL Draft.  As is customary for this time of year, pundits and fans alike entertain themselves with numerous mock drafts and projections that are almost certainly never right.  This year is no exception – but instead of focusing on all 32 teams, I will go position by position to see if I can find eight players in this year’s draft that would make a good fit for the Green and Gold this upcoming season.  This is assuming, of course, that GM Ted Thompson will stand pat and not trade any picks, but that probably won’t happen.

Quarterback: Seriously?  Next…

Running back: OK, now we can get serious.  The Packers have not taken a running back in the first round since 1990 (Darrell Thompson), and their best first-round back in the modern draft would be John Brockington (1971).  Green Bay’s position in the back end of round one suggests a potential landing spot for Alabama’s Eddie Lacy, but given Ted Thompson’s aversion to taking running backs early, my guess is he waits.  A guy like Wisconsin’s Montee Ball makes sense in the second round, and if the Packers bring back free agent Cedric Benson that will certainly take the early pressure off of Ball (who had over 300 carries each of the last two years).

Wide receiver/tight end: Despite the loss of Greg Jennings to division rival Minnesota, the receiving corps still stands as one of the strengths of the team.  That being said, having an extra pair of hands in the slot certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing.  Texas A&M’s Ryan Swope could fit that role nicely in the fifth round.  Jermichael Finley, despite his inconsistencies, is still the number one tight end, and there’s enough depth on the roster to absorb the loss of Tom Crabtree to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Offensive line: Green Bay has taken an offensive tackle in the first round two of the last three years, but Bryan Bulaga (2010) may be better suited to play on the right side and Derek Sherrod (2011) still hasn’t recovered from a gruesome broken leg.  Given Marshall Newhouse’s struggles this past season, another first round offensive lineman may be in the cards.  Florida State’s Menelik Watson, despite his relative inexperience, could be the answer with most of the talented tackles off the board at 26.  The two guards are the stalwarts of the line.  With Jeff Saturday’s retirement, and Evan Dietrich-Smith unproven, there may be a need for the center of the future.  Alabama’s Barrett Jones, the reigning Rimington Award winner, would be a steal in the fourth round and could start from day one.

Defensive line: Anybody who watched the playoffs last year saw that the Packers had just a bit of trouble stopping the run against the San Francisco 49ers (something the Editor of this blog likes to remind me of every now and then).  Even with B.J. Raji in line for a contract extension and plenty of young bodies to man the other spots on the line, an extra body would be welcome.  A speedy defensive end like LSU’s Lavar Edwards, who could play end or outside linebacker in the 3-4, might be a nice fit for the Packers’ second choice in the fifth round.

Linebackers: The Packers just signed this guy to a long-term deal, which will keep him as the face of the defense for the foreseeable future.  Last year’s first round pick Nick Perry got hurt early last year and should be ready to take back his spot opposite Matthews.  The inside linebackers, however, are a different story.  Desmond Bishop didn’t make it out of the first game of the preseason after tearing his hamstring and his replacement (D.J. Smith) tore his ACL against the Houston Texans and was recently released.  Brad Jones and A.J. Hawk were average at best; Iowa State’s A.J. Klein could bring some relief in the sixth round.

Secondary: Fan favorite Charles Woodson was released after this past season, but the cornerback situation is in good hands.  Second-rounder Casey Hayward allowed quarterbacks an NFL-low 31.1 quarterback rating against him, and even though Tramon Williams had a tough 2012 he is firmly entrenched in the other corner spot.  However, the safeties have struggled since the career-ending injury to Nick Collins and it remains to be seen if any of Green Bay’s recent picks (save Morgan Burnett) will be the answer.  Phillip Thomas from Fresno State could be that guy in a fairly deep safety class; the third round would be an ideal place to pick him up.

Special teams: Mason Crosby was essentially the worst kicker in the league last year not named David Akers.  Yet through all of his struggles, head coach Mike McCarthy displayed unwavering support for Crosby all season.  Bringing in some healthy competition in the seventh round might not be a bad idea.  Florida’s Caleb Sturgis was one of the nation’s premier college kickers this past season and could be just the guy to push the incumbent Crosby.  The punter Tim Masthay (affectionately known as “Ginge”) isn’t going anywhere.

To recap, here is the ideal Packers draft (provided Ted Thompson keeps all eight picks):

First round: Tackle Menelik Watson (Florida State)

Second round: Running back Montee Ball (Wisconsin)

Third round: Safety Phillip Thomas (Fresno State)

Fourth round: Center Barrett Jones (Alabama)

Fifth round: Receiver Ryan Swope (Texas A&M)

Fifth round: Defensive end Lavar Edwards (LSU)

Sixth round: Linebacker A.J. Klein (Iowa State)

Seventh round: Kicker Caleb Sturgis (Florida)

Of course, given the unpredictable nature of the NFL Draft, there is a great chance that none of these picks will come to fruition and this article will be rendered moot.  But that’s the best part of this time of year – the unpredictability.  I know I won’t be the only one glued to my TV for the next three days.

Happy drafting to all, and to all a good draft!

Mike Millburn

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This Week in Sports

In case you were out with your imaginary girlfriend this week, here’s what happened in sports:

– In the most bizzarre sports news in years, Manti Te’o got Catfish-ed by a friend who created a (fake) dead girlfriend that did not actually exist and we all got #Te’o’d. Although she was fake, reports are that during her stint with (fake) leukemia she wore a “LIVESTRONG” bracelet to support Lance Armstrong.  Apparently she never got the news.  In addition, the sequel of Catfish is now in early development, and the working title is “Catfish Part II: Revenge of the Fallen”.  It is being directed by Michael Bay.

– Lance Armstrong finally admitted to using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and being a bully while winning seven Tour de France titles in an interview with Oprah.  Worried about his public image, Lance prayed to God to give his last nut for a “bigger story about a fake dead girlfriend that a superstar has never met so that his indiscretions become an afterthought”.  After Manti Te’o’s story came out, he once again prayed to God, “You know I was joking, right?, YOU ALREADY TOOK MY GOOD TESTICLE!”.  In other news, Lance Armstrong is privately funding Catfish Part II:  Revenge of the Fallen.

–  Colin Kaepernick ran for a record 181 yards rushing while throwing for over 200 yards and accounting for four touchdowns in a win over the Green Bay Packers to advance the San Francisco 49ers into the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons. Kaepernick has lead to the new craze “Kaepernicking” where you kiss your tattoos after a touchdown.  Other crazes include “Tebowing“, “Griffining” – where you lay on the ground writhing in pain because your field destroyed your knee. “Romo-ing” – where you throw an interception at the most crucial time in a game. “Manning-ing” – where you look like you breath out of your mouth and wonder how the hell this guy is a successful QB? and everyone’s favorite “Sanchezing”  when a big butt gets in your way and you fumble the ball.

– The New York Jets are reportedly interested in signing potential free agent Michael Vick.  The Jets seem to be interested in Vick because he combines everything the Jets love, a left-handed QB that loves to run but also takes a lot of sacks and turns the ball over.  Vick is also contemplating changing his name to Mark Tebow or Tark Sanbow.  Coincidentally, Tark Sanbow will be the fake love interest in Catfish Part II: Revenge of the Fallen.

– Kobe Bryant was voted to his 15th All-Star game in his career.  Kobe starting is a perfect fit for the Western Conference Team — a game where Kobe can shoot whenever he wants and people play little-to-no defense, sounds like the quintessential Laker team.  Hopefully Kobe can bring Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni to coach the team.

– Lance Cartelli

 

The 49ers Make a Statement + Week 16 Picks

For two and half quarters on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers looked like the best team in the NFL.  For one quarter they looked like every other defense that Tom Brady has carved up in his illustrious career.  And for the final half of the 4th quarter the 49ers did just enough to hang on to defeat the New England Patriots 41-34 in an epic battle to clinch back-to-back playoff appearances for the once storied franchise.

The New England Patriots were arguably the hottest team in the NFL, winning seven straight games, lost for the first time at home in 21 games, and had also won 21 straight in the second half of the season at home.  Snapping all of these ridiculous streaks with a second year quarterback that has started only five games in his career, the 49ers made a statement that the NFC goes through San Francisco.

What we saw on Sunday — in the most entertaining football game of the year — is that neither of these teams will go quietly into the night.  The 49ers came out swinging – the defense was dominant, the offense was explosive, and the 49ers were up 31-3.  The Patriots could’ve packed it in and said good game, but they came storming back with 28 straight points in about a quarter.  Resiliency like this is a sign of a great team.  After tying it up at 31, the 49ers got a great kick return from rookie LaMichael James and on the next play scored a 38 yard touchdown from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree, a blooming connection in recent weeks.  Both these teams showed that no matter what kind of adversity they will face in the coming weeks and in the playoffs, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with.  This was a Super Bowl Preview.

But it won’t be easy for either team.  New England is now the #3 seed in the AFC and will probably have to face the Denver Broncos in the second round and potentially the Houston Texans in the AFC Championship.  New England will have to win both games on the road if everything holds form.  The 49ers are currently the second seed in the NFC but the Green Bay Packers are breathing down their neck just 1/2 game behind them thanks to the 49ers tie with the St. Louis Rams.  The 49ers also have to travel to Seattle to play a hot Seahawks team in the toughest place to play in the NFL.  A showdown with the Packers in the second round of the playoffs is looming ahead and depending how the season plays out it could very well be in Lambeau Field.

Either way the playoffs that being in a few weeks have some incredible match-ups potentially in the 2nd round and beyond.

Week 16 Picks:

Atlanta Falcons @ Detroit Lions – The Lions were just beatdown by the awful Arizona Cardinals and this week they have to take on the team with the best record in the NFC, after coming off a 34-0 shutout of the defending champs.  It’s pretty simple.

New Orleans Saints @ Dallas Cowboys – We are entering “Tony Romo Destroys His Team in Heartbreaking and Dramatic Fashion” Time, but it is one week too soon.  Cowboys pull out a victory at home against the Saints.

Tennessee Titans @ Green Bay Packers–  The Titans needed Mark Sanchez to be Mark Sanchez just to escape with a victory over the Jets.  I don’t think they will be so lucky against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs – Andrew Luck vs. Brady Quinn.  That’s all that needs to be said.

Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins –

San Diego Chargers @ New York Jets – I think the whole world — now that we are still alive — is thankful that this game was flexed out of primetime.  I don’t think Chargers and Jets fans can take another primetime embarrassment.

Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles – The Redskins are fighting to keep control of the NFC East and are eyeing a showdown next week with the Cowboys.  This is a classic trap game, but the Eagles mailed it in weeks ago.  RGIII and company handle their business.

Cincinnati Bengals @ Pittsburgh Steelers – The Bengals and the “Red Rifle” go into Pittsburgh and defeat the Steelers making all Gingers proud.  It really is the end of the world.

St. Louis Rams @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Tampa Bay got destroyed last week verse the Saints, but their stout run defense makes Sam Bradford beat them and he can’t.  Bucs win and stay alive.

Oakland Raiders @ Carolina Panthers – Cam Newton has been dominating the past few weeks and is single handedly saving people’s fantasy football teams, but he can’t save his own team.  Thankfully — for him — he’s playing the Raiders.

New England Patriots @ Jacksonville Jaguars – I think the Pats are a little angry about last week, Jacksonville I’m sorry.

Minnesotta Vikings @ Houston Texans – The Texans will overload the box to stop the run and dare Christian Ponder to beat them, I like those odds for the Texans.  AP will still go off for a big day.

Cleveland Browns @ Denver Broncos – The Broncos got a gift last week as the 49ers beat the Patriots and ascended the Broncos into the #2 seed with their sites set on a 1st round bye.  The Browns won’t be able to stop Peyton Manning.

Chicago Bears @ Arizona Cardinals – Let’s see…Arizona Cardinals have the worst QB position in the NFL (Sorry Jets) and they are facing a defense that is based on turnovers.  Bears end their losing streak and remain in the playoff picture.

New York Giants @ Baltimore Ravens – The Giants have been playing awful, they can’t rush the passer and Eli Manning isn’t helping either.  This seems about the time the Giants win every single game for the rest of the season. Ugh.

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks – The 49ers must go into the toughest place to play in the NFL, Seattle, and defeat a team that has scored 50+ points in back-to-back weeks after their defense was on the field for 95 (!) plays last week.  Oh yeah, it doesn’t look like Justin Smith will play either. The Seahawks might be without their top two corners and need to win to stay alive in the NFC West.  This will be a blood bath but I have to go with the team that just beat the Patriots on the road.

– Lance Cartelli

RusselMania – The NFL Turns into the WWE

I hear there was quite a game last night with a controversial call to the end the game, I was too busy watching WWE Monday Night Raw, but the weird thing was that it was on ESPN.  Wait…that wasn’t the dramatic and staged Professional Wrestling show?  That was the actually a real football game?  Well I’ll be damned.

The National Football League — a league that is braggadocios and downright cocky about the parody of the league, the competitive balance, and player safety that it gives to its fans — turned into a joke on Monday Night, it was absolutely laughable by the end (unless you’re a Packer fan) and contradicted everything that it stands for.  It turned into Sports Entertainment, or lack thereof (Cut to: Packers fans nodding).

Here’s what I saw:

The lights come on, the crowd in Qwest Field is yelling and screaming decibles that will puncture ear drums like they were cheering for The Rock, instead it was for their home team, the Seattle Seahawks.  We see fireworks and an announcer proclaiming – “Welcome to RusselMania!”.  The undercard is a buncha non-descrip fights that the fans enjoy (National Anthem, Starting Line Ups), but all the fans really want is the main event – the Green Bay Packers vs. the Seattle Seahawks.

Here. We. Go.  The Seahawks (The Face, if you don’t watch the WWE** then Face is the Good Guy) come out rocking, clearly influenced by the huge crowd influence and being the underdogs.    They dominate the first half (of the fight) with 8 (!) first half sacks – highlighted by four sacks from Chris Clemons – they think there is no way that the Heels (Bad Guys in the WWE) the Packers, can bounce back they are on the ropes, it’s time for the finisher.  Russell Wilson drops back and throws a bomb to Golden Tate for a touchdown and it looks like the Packers may be down for the count after a huge finisher, but they get their leg on the rope and they kick out.  We head to halftime.

**Seriously, who does anymore?  I miss The Rock.**

But just like any WWE fight, it cannot be one-sided.  The Packers come back from halftime they rediscover the run, they actually block defenders trying to Joe Mays Matt Schaub in the face, and the deep passing is working slowly but surely.  The Packers get two field goals, and a touchdown, but cannot get the two-point conversion.  Almost a deathblow in this WWE fight, but the Packers lead 12-7.  It looks like it’s time for the Packers to hit their finishing move and escape the toughest place to play in the NFL with a victory.  Russell Wilson throws a pass that is tipped and eventually intercepted by the Packers — A HUGE FINISHER that will surely end this, but in the process the referee (in the WWE) is timely knocked out while the crowd is counting “1….2….3”, but there is no referee to end it.  The Seahawks are saved by a different type of referee – a fake one – and a bogus roughing the passer is called.

The Packers eventually get a stop, and they cannot run the clock out, the legend that is Russell Wilson (in his third game of his career -__-) has a chance to cement his legacy in Seattle loire.  What does the legend do?  He gets benefitted by (another) bogus pass interference call, which is like the Seahawks hitting their challenger with a steel chair while the referee isn’t looking (a common theme in these three weeks of officiating in the NFL).  The fans chant again “1…2…”, the Packers kick out! It’s a miracle!  This leads to the Seahawks down to a 4th down with almost no time left, to throw a hail mary into the endzone.  Our WWE referee gets hurt in the scrum after the Seahawks are so mad that it wasnt a three-count that they Chokeslam the ref (who doesn’t want to do that? Packer fans nodding even more).  Russell Wilson rolls to his right, rolls back to his left, throws a hail mary.  Golden Tate (with a huge push-off) looks like he makes the catch, Packers defender M.D. Jennings looks like he has the interception.  It’s a double-finisher by the Packers and the Seahawks! Both teams are down, we have utter chaos here in the WWE/NFL!  A replacement referee (oh, the irony) comes running down, the original referee staggers to his feet!  What is going to happen?  Both referees count 1…2…3, one referee raises the hand of the Seahawks, the other ref raises the hand of the Packers.  What a mess! (Packers fans hurt their neck nodding so much).

We have no call, no winner, and then…the music hits! Roger Godell (Vince McMahon) comes out.  He takes the mic, and awards the Seahawks the victory!  Oh, the drama, oh, the entertainment, oh, the Tweeting and Facebooking, oh, the embarrassment!

Who would’ve thought that on a Monday Night the NFL, not the WWE, would have the most ridiculous, dumbfounding, and dramatic program on cable television?  Not me.

– Lance Cartelli

Mike Millburn: A Packer Fan Vents

It took me back to 2009.

A December night in Pittsburgh was the site for a week 15 matchup between the Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. I’ll spare the details of the game for brevity’s sake, but it ended with a last second touchdown pass to Mike Wallace, who kept his feet in bounds for the win front of a frenzied Heinz Field crowd.

There was nothing that could be done to challenge the play; Wallace was clearly in and the game was over (Steelers 37, Packers 36). I’ll never forget my reaction to that final play – sheer and utter disbelief.

I never thought I would be so affected by a football game again. And then last night happened, when the Green Bay Packers visited the Seattle Seahawks on Monday Night Football.

For the first 30 minutes, Green Bay had no business winning that game. The o-line play in the first half resembled that scene in The Longest Yard remake, when they weren’t even trying to block and Adam Sandler got bulldozed. The downfield passing game was nonexistent, and the long-standing lack of a running game was oh so evident. The DBs got burned on a touchdown pass by a guy named Golden.…seriously, his name is Golden. They deserved to be down 7-0 after two quarters.

Then the second half started. The offensive line blocked well, Aaron Rodgers had time to throw, and the run game started to gain a few yards. The defense remained sturdy and the Packers, after a fourth quarter touchdown by Cedric Benson, led 12-7. It looked like it would be a win, albeit a sloppy one, for the Green and Gold.

That’s when the fun started. A Jerron McMillian sideline interception was nullified by a questionable roughing the passer penalty on linebacker Erik Walden. After two holding penalties pushed Seattle back, an incomplete pass to Sidney Rice was rewarded with pass interference on Sam Shields which, to even the untrained eye, looked like a ridiculous call that should have gone the other way.

No harm, no foul, however, as the defense held their ground and caused a turnover on downs. A Green Bay offensive stall meant Seattle would get the ball back with a chance to win. All of a sudden, those same feelings from 2009 came rushing back. But there was no way that could happen again, right?

Wrong.

A non-descript ‘Hawks drive came down to the final play. Russell Wilson heaved the ball towards the end zone, a scrum of humanity ensued, and it looked like Golden Tate came down with the ball for an improbable win as the clock hit triple zero. One fake official said interception, but another one said touchdown.

The only problem was, after many replays in full and slow motion, it became evident that Packers safety M.D. Jennings had possession of the ball as the two players hit the turf (a recently released still photo proved as much). Now I don’t claim to know the NFL Rulebook, but that sounds like an interception to me. A review would surely overturn the touchdown and credit Jennings with a game-saving interception. Until the fake head referee came out and made his call: The ruling on the field stands, touchdown.

Pete Carroll had a reaction akin to someone telling him that USC would actually get to keep all those vacated wins. Russell Wilson became a Seattle folk hero, Golden Tate made the biggest catch of his thus far lackluster career, and the fans at Qwest Field collectively voided their bowels in excitement.

The only problem is that none of that jubilation should have ever happened. A clear-as-day push off on Golden Tate against Sam Shields should have rendered the play null and void. However, since it’s quite infrequent for a penalty like that to be called on a play like that, not throwing a flag is understandable.

But the thorn that will stick in my side for quite a while was that “intertouchdownception”. Several angles showed that Tate had no clear possession of that pass as he hit the ground; if anything, he wrapped his arms around M.D. Jennings and the ball in an effort to pry it away as those two poor officials tried to decide what call to make. How that call was not overturned is something that I’m still struggling with today. And based on the reactions on the various social media platforms, I’m not the only one who has a problem with how the game ended.

But sadly, there’s nothing that can be done about it. There’s no statute that can allow a poorly officiated game to be overturned (after the NFL came out and said the officials missed the interference call), no matter how much I wish it to be true. The fact of the matter is, I could go on for another 800 words about the way the Green Bay Packers were robbed in the Pacific Northwest last night. I could write another article about how this incident should be the final nail in the coffin for the fake referee experiment that has tainted the first three weeks of the greatest sport in the world. But I’ll leave that to someone else; instead, I will sum up my feelings about last night in a fashion eerily similar to the way I did in 2009:

Sheer and utter disbelief.

– Mike Millburn

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