John Fox

NFL preseason coaching heat check

NFL coaches on the hot seat is a topic that fans and media alike never seem to stop talking about. NFL preseason is a good time to take an inventory of coaches that could be in trouble if the upcoming season goes poorly.

The NFL never stops surprising us. Thus, the coaches mentioned here are by no means the only ones that might be relocating in 2018. These are just the situations that jump off the page immediately.

Dead men walking

John Fox

John Fox is a hugely underrated coach who has engineered massive turnarounds and deep playoffs runs everywhere he has been. Everywhere except Chicago, that is, as he is just 9-23 in two seasons with the Bears. These days, coaches rarely get more than three seasons to be awful in the same spot.

Unfortunately for Fox, the front office has given him his worst Bears roster yet. The already murky quarterback situation was only made messier by the surprise drafting of rookie Mitchell Trubisky with the second overall pick. Outside of running back Jordan Howard, there just is not much talent on this roster.

There are a lot of projects. Fox does not have time for projects. Despite going 3-13 last year, Chicago did not make much of an impact in free agency and only ended up with five draft picks.

NFL preseason coaching heat check

Photo: nydailynews

It is not entirely his fault, but this is not the recipe for the kind of turnaround Fox needs to keep his job. Right or wrong, the head coach is always the first to go.

Todd Bowles

Minus the established track record, Fox and Todd Bowles are in very similar spots. Bowles is 15-17 in two seasons with the Jets.

With a quarterback race that features Bryce Petty, Josh McCown and Christian Hackenberg and a receiving group in which no one has caught 60 career passes, a winless season is very realistic for the Jets. No coach survives that. Bowles will likely land on his feet as defensive coordinator somewhere in 2018.

Not likely, but not impossible

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer is one of the most respected coaches in the game. He had the back story of assistant coach who paid his dues in the NFL for almost two decades before getting a shot to be a head coach.

However, the reality is that Zimmer is slowly becoming Rex Ryan without the brash and bold guarantees. The defense has always been elite during Zimmer’s time in Minnesota. It even carried them to a 6-0 start last year.

Much like Rex Ryan’s teams though, the offensive side of the ball just is not very good. They have never ranked inside the top 20 in total offense under Zimmer. Even in 2015 when Zimmer’s Vikings reached the playoffs, they were 31st in passing offense.

Rex Ryan has a 61-66 record with four playoff wins as an NFL head coach. He’s now a commentator for ESPN. Zimmer is 26-22 without a playoff win. If Zimmer does not figure out the offensive side of the ball this year, his record will creep closer to .500 and he could join Ryan at ESPN.

Adam Gase

Two weeks ago, Gase would not have been in any article like this. He did an outstanding job in leading the Dolphins to the playoffs last year in his first season.

NFL preseason coaching heat check

Photo: espn.com

However, bringing his favorite pupil Jay Cutler out of retirement to save the day after the injury to starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is pretty bold. Yes, Cutler had his best statistical season when Gase was his offensive coordinator with the Bears in 2015, but that team still managed only six wins. Last year, Cutler only started five games due to injury and poor performance.

Cutler’s lack of passion for the game of football has always been painfully apparent. Despite a wealth of natural talent, he is only led a team the playoffs once and has losing record as a starter.

He will no doubt fill the stat sheet with touchdowns and interceptions in Miami. Even so, there is nothing to suggest that he will fare any better than original backup quarterback Matt Moore in terms of winning games.

Gaze really stuck his neck out for Cutler. It is only a one-year deal. Even so, if the experiment blows up in his face and muddies the future of the quarterback position in Miami, ownership having a quick hook would not be all that surprising.

Unique Situations:

In addition to the four coaches mentioned above, 2017 is also a big year for several coaches that have been with their current teams for many years. Marvin Lewis, Sean Payton, John Harbaugh, Bruce Arians and Chuck Pagano have all experienced significant success in their current coaching stops. However, they all missed the playoffs last year.

Some of them are on a streak of unsuccessful seasons. They have all done great things for their respective franchises over the years and have immense respect of ownership. Thus, I cannot see any of them getting fired. If the upcoming season goes poorly though, a mutual parting of ways is certainly possible.

 

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Super Bowl series: NFC North

Super Bowl series 2017: NFC North

Football is right around the corner and The Game Haus is going to get you ready for the 2017-18 NFL season. The Super Bowl Series is going to explain how every team in the NFL can win Super Bowl LII. The Super Bowl Series will be divided into eight editions, one for each division. This is the third edition, Super Bowl Series: NFC North.

Green Bay Packers

Super Bowl series: NFC North

(Photo Credit: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Green Bay was awfully close to winning the Super Bowl last season but lost in the NFC Championship game. Atlanta completely dominated the game and won 44-21. The Packers offense is good enough to propel the team to consistent runs at the Super Bowl but if the Packers want to recapture the magic of 2011, the defense must improve.

Calling the Packers offense good is somewhat of an understatement. Green Bay was fourth is scoring last season averaging 27 points per game. The Packers offense scored a lot of points but was very one-dimensional. The passing attack ranked seventh (262.4 yards per game) and the running game ranked 20th (106.3 yards per game). Packer fans can thank Aaron Rodgers for how much he has carried this franchise.

Rodgers has been historically amazing. He has the best touchdown to interception ratio of all time at 4.12. The next closest is Tom Brady with 3.0. He also had 4,428 yards, 40 touchdowns and just seven interceptions last season.

If the Packers want to win Super Bowl LII, Aaron Rodgers must continue to put up these gaudy numbers. The impressive stats include 4,000 or more yards in six of the past nine seasons, 30 or more touchdowns in six of the last eight seasons and a career record of 90-45. If you take out 2013 in which Rodgers missed seven games due to a broken collarbone, it looks even more magnificent.

There is consistent evidence that the passing attack in Green Bay will flourish and the Packers added tight end Martellus Bennett to help Rodgers even more. Last season Green Bay’s tight ends combined for 64 receptions, 683 yards and three touchdowns.

Bennett had 55 receptions, 701 yards and seven touchdowns with the Patriots, and that was while sharing time with Rob Gronkowski. Bennett is a major upgrade that can help the Packers in the middle of the field and in the red zone.

Improving the running game will also be key in the Packers winning Super Bowl LII. Green Bay was ranked 20th, as mentioned earlier, and they lost two starting offensive lineman from last season, TJ.. Lang and JC Tretter. Losing Lang may not be as a big of a blow as most would think. The Packers struggled running to the right and ranked 25th in the NFL with 18 negative run plays to his side.

Green Bay also drafted running back Jamaal Williams out of BYU. Williams had a quietly outstanding senior season, rushing for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns on just 234 carries. If the right side of the line improves at run blocking and Jamaal Williams can make an immediate impact, then the offense can become unpredictable and lead the Packers to a Super Bowl victory.

The Packers offense can’t do it completely alone. Green Bay was really good at stopping the run and getting sacks last season. The run defense ranked eighth, allowing 91.7 yards per game and sixth in sacks with 40.

Green Bay’s ability to stop the run is a bit deceiving though. Opposing teams only ran the ball 39.7 percent of the time on Green Bay because it was so easy to pass on them. The Packers ranked 31st in pass defense giving up 269.2 yards per game. This must improve if the Packers want to get to the Super Bowl.

Let’s face it, with Aaron Rodgers on your team a Super Bowl is always within reach. If Green Bay can have an unpredictable offense and improve its pass defense, then the Packers can get over the hump and win Super Bowl LII.

Detroit Lions

Super Bowl series: NFC North

(Photo Credit: http://ftw.usatoday.com)

Detroit had what most would say was a surprising season last year. They finished 9-7 but had they beat Green Bay in week 17, then the Lions would have won the division.

The Lions got bounced out of the playoffs by Seattle 26-6. Matthew Stafford has yet to win a playoff game in his career but there is a small possibility they could win their first ever Super Bowl this season.

The Detroit defense was nothing spectacular but not horrible either last season. They ranked 13th in points allowed per game (22.4), 19th in passing yards allowed per game (269.2) and 18th in rushing yards allowed (106.3). If the Lions want to contend for a Super Bowl title, they must win the division and earn home playoff games.

Accomplishing a division title means beating Green Bay and shutting down Aaron Rodgers. Detroit needs to become a top-five pass defense and improve on their 10 interceptions from last season in order to become the kings of the North. Creating turnovers will make it easier for Matthew Stafford and the offense. Detroit should embrace bringing back the pain of the black and blue division.

Offensively, the Lions struggled to finish with points. They had the 11th ranked passing attack with 259.9 yards per game but ranked 20th in points scored per game (21.6). Stafford threw for 4,327 yards and 24 touchdowns but it wasn’t enough scoring. The running game held the team back averaging 81.9 yards per game, which was third-worst in the NFL.

Similar to Green Bay, Detroit needs to stop being one-dimensional. The additions of Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang should provide some assistance to the running game but Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick must also step up. If these two backs can combine for a minimum of 1,500 yards, there is a good chance the Lions will be good enough to win the division.

With the 18th-easiest strength of schedule heading into the season, the Lions can steal a few wins on the shoulders of Matthew Stafford. If they want to really become Super Bowl contenders, they must stop the pass and create more turnovers. Along with improving defensively, the Lions need to run their way to a division title.

Minnesota Vikings

Super Bowl series: NFC North

(Photo Credit: http://ftw.usatoday.com)

Minnesota was looking like a serious Super Bowl contender through five games last season. The Vikings started 5-0 before the wheels eventually flew off. Minnesota then went 3-8 to stumble to an 8-8 record. Interestingly enough, the Vikings are much closer to winning a Super Bowl than most would care to admit.

The Vikings are a true defensive beast in the black and blue division behind defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer. Despite having a historically bad offense, the Vikings defense still had an impressive 2016-17 campaign.

Minnesota ranked sixth in points allowed per game (19.2), third in pass yards allowed (207.9), fifth in sacks (41) and third in total yards allowed despite ranking 20th in rush defense (106.9).

There isn’t much the Vikings need to improve on defensively. Replacing nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn is the biggest concern. Mike Zimmer has a long history of success with secondaries, so Vikes fans need not to worry on who Zimmer chooses. The Vikings could improve their run defense as well, but most of the issues come from defensive tackles like Sharrif Floyd and Linval Joesph dealing with on and off injuries.

The offensive side of the ball is where the Vikings need to step up. The offensive line was one of the most injured in the NFL and the Vikings lost both Matt Kalil and Andre Smith in free agency. Minnesota signed Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers to compensate for those losses. The running game was the worst in the NFL at 75.3 yards per game. The Vikings didn’t have a single run go for over 40 yards.

Minnesota wasn’t that great passing the ball either. The Vikings ranked 18th with 239.8 passing yards per game. Due to the bad offensive production, the Vikings struggled to put up points averaging just 20.4 per game.

Not everything about the Vikings offense was miserable. There was flashes of greatness last season. Sam Bradford broke the NFL record for completion percentage in a single season by completing 71.6 percent of his passes.

The offense also improved after Norv Turner resigned midseason. Before Turner resigned as offensive coordinator, the Vikings were averaging 221.4 passing yards and 71.8 rushing yards per game. In the nine games with Pat Shurmur in charge of the offense, the Vikings averaged 254 passing yards and 78 rushing yards per game. Shurmur knows how to play to Sam Bradford’s strength and that bodes well for the Vikings moving forward.

Minnesota already has a championship-caliber defense. The defense can carry them to a lot of victories but to get to a Super Bowl the Vikings must improve their offense in all phases. If the Vikings can break the top 15 in both rushing and passing, along with staying healthy, then not only can the Vikings win their first Super Bowl, but they can win it in their home stadium.

Chicago Bears

Super Bowl series: NFC North

(Photo Credit: http://www.chicagotribune.com)

The 2016-17 Chicago Bears lost 13 games for the first time since 1969 when they went 1-13. It was a nightmare year in which the Bears were ravaged by injuries. Chicago placed 19 players on injured reserve which was the most in the NFL.

The Bears also were 1-7 in games decided by seven points or less. The 3-13 record didn’t truly reflect the team’s talent.

John Fox is ready to take the Bears to the next level. In his second season with Carolina, he led the Panthers to the Super Bowl. In his third season with Denver, he led the Broncos to the Super Bowl. As he enters his third season with the Bears, he could do the same.

The Bears can’t win a Super Bowl behind Mike Glennon or Mitchell Trubisky. They can, however, win a Super Bowl behind their defense and running game. With an entirely new roster of quarterbacks, it will be hard to predict how good the Bears offense can be.

The running game should be their bread and butter. Jordan Howard ran for 1,313 yards on 252 carries in just 12 starts as a rookie. The Bears are projected to have the fifth-best offensive line this season according to Pro Football Focus. If it pans out, the Bears will be able to run the ball with success thus taking the pressure off whoever ends up playing under center.

The passing game will remain a mystery. Mike Glennon has only started 18 games in his three-year career and has a record of 5-13 in those games. Rookie quarterback and second overall pick Mitchell Trubisky is likely to see some action this season as well.

The receiving corp is full of potential with Cameron Meredith, Kevin White, Markus Wheaton, Rueben Randle, Victor Cruz and Kendell Wright. It is unlikely all of them make the roster but aside from Kevin White, all have shown optimistic flashes of skill throughout their career.

If the Bears want to win Super Bowl LII, it is going to be because of their defense. Akiem Hicks, Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston and Leonard Floyd will create havoc for opposing quarterbacks. The secondary should improve with the additions of Quinton Demps and Prince Amukamara. Amukamara loves to play aggressively and in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 defense he will be able to.

It is going to take a lot for the Bears to make the Super Bowl. The chances are small but there is always a chance. Chicago’s defense needs to become a Monsters of the Midway defense again for them to get there. They also need Jordan Howard to improve his performance from last season. Lastly, Mike Glennon or Mitchell Trubisky need to be spectacular. If the Bears can do all of this, they can win Super Bowl LII.

 

Thank you for checking out the Super Bowl Series: NFC North. Stay tuned the remaining editions of Super Bowl series.

Super Bowl Series 2017: NFC East

Super Bowl Series 2017: AFC East

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Featured image courtesy of http://www.steelcityunderground.com/2016/09/10/2016-nfl-predictions-nfc-north/

Tony Romo

For Some Teams, Not Signing Romo is a Bigger Risk Than Doing So

Despite Cowboys owner Jerry Jones not sounding fully ready to move on, reports emerged earlier this week that quarterback Tony Romo will be released. Assuming these reports are true, the market for the often injured 36-year-old quarterback is not being viewed correctly. For three teams in particular, he would not be a risk, but rather a lifeline.

Before we get there, let’s trim the field a little bit. By his own admission, Romo only has two or three years left. Thus, being part of a total rebuild in Cleveland or San Francisco is out of the question. Carson Palmer is coming back in 2017 for another season with the Cardinals. The Broncos continue to articulate their commitment to Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch.

The Jets and Bills are hoarding young quarterbacks in the hopes that one might stick. Adding a veteran like Romo just does not seem to be on their radar, but perhaps it should be.

All these teams seem poised to either stand pat, add a quarterback through the draft, or look for a longer-term solution in free agency. If he is released and not traded, the teams that should be beating down Romo’s door are as follows.

Bears: Chicago is not as far away as last year’s 3-13 record suggests. They lost six games by one possession. Despite not being highly thought of by fans, John Fox is actually a heck of a coach. He got to a Super Bowl with Jake Delhomme and won a division title with Tim Tebow.

Jay Cutler John Fox

Photo: twitimes.com

The organization seems poised to move on from the temperamental enigma that is Jay Cutler. Romo is the kind of upgrade Fox needs to improve upon his 9-23 mark with the Bears and keep his job beyond this year.

 

Pair Romo with emerging running back Jordan Howard and an improving defense that ranked seventh against the pass last year, and the playoffs are not a stretch. Romo has roots in Illinois. The same can be said of Jimmy Garoppolo, who could be a fallback option for the Bears. Regardless, Chicago will likely add a quarterback at some point in the draft as well.

Texans: These next two teams would be tricky from a financial perspective, but I am not an accountant. It took winning a playoff game with Brock Osweiler for Texans head coach Bill O’Brien to receive confirmation from ownership that he would return in 2017.

O’Brien is a fine coach who had nothing to do with the ridiculous $72 million contract Osweiler was given. Rest assured though, O’Brien will take the fall if quarterback play continues to hold the rest of this championship caliber roster back. A completion percentage under 60 and more interceptions than touchdowns should be enough to give up on Osweiler after one year, despite his contract.

Romo would bring quarterback stability to Houston, something the franchise has never had. If he gets hurt, the Texans would be right back where they are now. However, at least he would offer a potential off-ramp from the path to nowhere they are on with their current quarterback options.

Vikings: I am on an island here, but Minnesota is loaded. With guys like Anthony Barr, Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes on defense, the Vikings are a notch below the 2015 Broncos. The defense cannot win a title by itself, but a slightly more balanced Vikings team would be lethal.

After his devastating training camp injury last year, questions continue to linger about Teddy Bridgewater’s future. Mike Zimmer seems strangely stubborn about sticking with Sam Bradford. Granted, the Vikings did give up a lot to bring him in. As good as his record completion percentage and four to one touchdown to interception ratio made him look last year, there is one very important thing Bradford has never done all that well: win games.

sam bradford

Photo: foxnews.com

In 78 career starts for three different franchises, Bradford has posted a winning percentage of 41 percent and has never lead a team to the playoffs. In the words of a very wise Canadian songstress, “that don’t impress me much.” Yes, football is the ultimate team sport. However, the blame has to start going on the quarterback and not the supporting cast.

After fading down the stretch behind Bradford last year and putting up only nine points in a home playoff loss with Bidgewater the year before, Zimmer needs to start winning big quick or whispers will start about his job security. With the talent on this roster, a healthy Romo makes the Vikings instant Super Bowl contenders. Sticking with Bradford makes Zimmer being unemployed within two years a virtual certainty.

Understandably, there is real skepticism about Romo’s ability to stay healthy for an entire season. He has not done so since 2014. Even so, for these three coaching staffs under varying degrees of pressure to win now, his career winning percentage (61 percent) makes him a chance worth taking. In fact, recycling average veteran or unseasoned young quarterbacks that will get them nowhere is a much bigger risk.

 

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“From Our Haus To Yours”

Forget the Players, The NFL Needs to Start Protecting Its Coaches

While focus will soon shift to the playoffs, much of this week’s NFL news always centers around NFL coaches. The league has gone to great lengths in recent years to better protect its players. In many ways, that crusade has gone too far. However, when discussing the resignation of Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak with friends this week, an alarming statistic was brought to my attention and inspired this article.

Four of the 32 NFL head coaches who started the season were hospitalized at some point during the season. Think about that for a second. If any other job had 1/8 of its employees hospitalized within a four-month span, it would be all over the news as one of the most dangerous jobs in America. However, because America loves the NFL and there are only 32 head coaching jobs to go around, few people think of it in that way.

The specifics of each health situation are no one else’s business, but it is worrisome if you dig a bit deeper. The average age of the four coaches hospitalized this year is just 58. In Kubiak’s case, it was his second health scare earlier this year that served as the catalyst for his retirement from coaching at just 55. I think we would all like to have a relatively clean bill of health and lots of life left to live in our 50s and early 60s.

Sadly, this is becoming less and less the case when it comes to NFL head coaches. Along with the health scares of Kubiak, Mike Zimmer, Bruce Arians, and Todd Bowles, Bears coach Jon Fox has also missed time over the years because of health.

2016 also saw the sudden loss of former longtime Vikings and Cardinals coach Dennis Green. Green died of a heart attack at just 67. The numbers do not lie. The health of current and former NFL coaches is slowly becoming a real problem.

NFL coaches

Photo courtesy of fox9.com

While the high-pressure job of being an NFL head coach certainly is not the sole cause of any health issue, you do not need to be a doctor to arrive at the conclusion that it is very likely a contributing factor.

I am by no means an NFL insider, but I follow the league as closely as anyone. The pressure these coaches are under is gigantic. All 32 teams have rabid fan bases and snarky media that call for a coaching change, sometimes after almost every loss.

The job becomes even more challenging when one considers things like endless travel, occasionally unrealistic expectations of ownership, trying to maintain a family life, the amount of money involved in the modern NFL, and 31 other teams that want to win it all just as badly. While no one’s life is on the line, it has to be a real pressure cooker to say the least.

Some casual fans out there might wonder why a coach does not simply just leave the office or “take a break” when it all becomes too much. The answer is simple. First, that is simply not the way NFL head coaches are wired. Second, I assure you that for every minute a coach does not spend in his office, there’s another one that is in his hopped up on coffee at 3 AM preparing for battle. That is simply the nature of the beast.

I am not sure what can be done to combat this issue, but I certainly hope that Roger Goodell and his staff start looking into it. I came up with two suggestions. The current collective bargaining agreement severely limits the amount of live practices a team can have over the course of a season. This is certainly well-intentioned, but it has hurt the quality of the on-field NFL product in a big way.

NFL coaches

Photo courtesy of dynastyfootballwarehouse.com

It is reasonable to speculate that it also may be hurting the coaches. Less live practice means more time spent in a classroom style setting looking at film, teaching, and instructing. Any current or former student of anything can attest to just how sedentary this lifestyle can be. It certainly is not a healthy one. While it will never happen because the league is terrified of more serious injuries and lawsuits, a return to more live practices would actually be beneficial for all parties. Meaning, the fans, players, and coaches.

Another possible remedy could be to have an unaffiliated medical professional travel with each team solely for the purpose of checking on the welfare and health of the coaching staff. The rationale behind this is similar to that of the unaffiliated neurologist that assesses players for concussions and is the sole judge as to whether a player can return to a game.

The reality is the coaches grind and compete just as hard as the players. They need to be saved from themselves too. Again, I am not on the inside. For all I know, something like this may already exist, but I doubt it.

We all love football and the teams we support. Sometimes, it is easy to forget there is more to life. Thus, the next time you call for your team to fire its head coach, realize how hard their job is. The coaches are working as hard as we fans are rooting. A coach may lose games and get fired, but the issue is never a lack of effort.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Cubs Victory Should Give NFL Fans Everywhere Hope

We are over a week removed from the Cubs ending their 108 year drought and winning the World Series. The sports world is still buzzing. It is nice to see this country captivated by baseball again. If the Cubs drought can end, so will every other big-time drought in sports, including those of the NFL. Here is a look at a few of the longest suffering NFL fan bases and reasons for each to be hopeful. For the record, I do not believe in curses. I believe in being poorly run and poor executing.

Buffalo Bills

Very few fan bases in all of sports have experienced more heartbreak than that of the Bills. They have been so close so many times. While losing a playoff game on the “Music City Miracle” kick return had to hurt, it is the four straight Super Bowl losses in the early 90s that stand out. In fairness, only one was close. Bills kicker Scott Norwood missed a 47 yard field goal as time expired in Super Bowl XXV that would have given the heavily favored Bills their first Super Bowl. “Wide right” are forever cuss words in the city of Buffalo. Those of you who are not Bills fans can relive the kick below thanks to the NFL’s YouTube channel.

 

Reasons to hope – Most important, after a few years of chatter, it looks like the franchise is staying in Buffalo. Rex Ryan has this team competitive again on a week in, week out basis. They have a ton of playmakers on offense. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor continues to come in to his own. His performance in Seattle Monday night was mighty impressive, despite the loss. A trip back to the Super Bowl is likely a long way off, but the end of a 16 year playoff drought is not.

Minnesota Vikings

In terms of the “can’t win the big one” stigma, the NFC version of the Buffalo Bills resides in Minnesota. Behind the “Purple People Eaters” defense and legendary head coach Bud Grant, they reached the playoffs in all but two years from 1968-1980. They could never close the deal, including losing in two of the first 11 Super Bowl’s. As bad as that had to hurt, the most devastating blow came in 1998. Minnesota raced to a 15-1 regular season record. The offense, spearheaded by then rookie Randy Moss, set a record for points scored. Vikings kicker Gary Anderson did not miss a kick all year. However, in the NFC championship game he missed a relatively short field goal that would have extended the Minnesota lead to ten late in the fourth quarter. The upstart Falcons drove down and tied the game and ultimately won in overtime. The video below from the Mauer EssPee YouTube channel sums the whole situation up very nicely. As crushing as last year’s playoff loss to Seattle had to be, that team probably was not winning a Super Bowl anyway. The 1998 team had a chance to go down as one of the greatest ever.

Reasons to hope – In Vikings country, it is all about that young defense right now. The trick is finding the right quarterback. I am also in the minority that thinks Mike Zimmer is not the right coach to get this team where it wants to go. He was the right guy to get them turned around, but I think his expertise is too limited to one side of the ball to win a Super Bowl. Anthony Barr, Xavier Rhodes, and Everson Griffen could easily be the building blocks of a championship defense. Everything else is a question mark in Minnesota. Despite this season falling apart at the seams, the Vikings are not that far away. However, the jump from good to great is the hardest one to make.

 

Cincinnati Bengals

Quite frankly, it is difficult to pick a single moment that hurts the most for fans in my hometown. They have been around since 1968 and have been a shipwreck for the vast majority of the time. They did have a brief run of AFC dominance in the 1980s that resulted in a pair of narrow Super Bowl defeats to Joe Montana and the 49ers. The second of those defeats was a real heartbreaker. As you can see below thanks to the Charles Surette YouTube channel, Montana led a 92 yard drive in the game’s final minutes that culminated in a game-winning touchdown pass to the often overlooked John Taylor with under 30 seconds to go. Apart from that, this franchise has been almost comically bad. They have not won a playoff game since 1990 and have only played in seven. Keep in mind, the Bengals are currently on a streak of five consecutive playoff appearances.

 

Reasons to hope – The Bengals are currently enjoying their most successful run in franchise history. Until he does it or is let go, questions will continue to linger about whether Marvin Lewis is the right coach for this franchise to finally win a playoff game again, and ultimately a Super Bowl. Those questions are fair, but making the playoffs five straight years is no small accomplishment for what may have been the sorriest franchise in professional sports prior to the last five years.

 

Cleveland Browns

No fan base has suffered more than the Cleveland Browns. Believe it or not, they were the NFL’s gold standard at one point. They won four NFL titles in the pre-Super Bowl era. I highly encourage young people reading this to Google the name Otto Graham. After the 50s and 60s, the Browns fell off a cliff and have not been back. As painful as moments like “The Drive” and “The Fumble ” were, the toughest blow for fans started in 1995. The Browns moved to Baltimore following that season and became the Ravens. The scenes from their final home game that year are surreal. Check them out in the video below from the lock18 YouTube channel. The Ravens won a Super Bowl just five years after leaving Cleveland. The Browns reentered the NFL in 1999, but have only made one playoff appearance and have posted just two winning seasons in that time.

 

Reasons to hope – Candidly, there are not many right now. The Browns sit at 0-10 with a real shot at going winless this year, but it cannot get much worse… Can it?

 

The Eagles, Lions, Chiefs, and Jets have also put fans through their fair share of suffering. However, the fact still remains that if the Cubs can finally finish the job after 108 years, then every dog will have its day in the sporting sun… Someday. However, seeing the joy on the faces of those Cubs fans had to give other suffering fan bases everywhere plenty of incentive to hang in there.

photo from timesleader.com

photo from timesleader.com

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NFL Mid-Season Awards

The NFL season is flying by and mid-season of the NFL is already here. Week nine has now passed and it is time to discuss which players are having the best season and who would win the awards if the season ended today. This 2016 NFL season has seen a ton of great performances and crazy games. As is the case in every season, there have been upsets and surprises. So much more can happen this season and we are in for a great finish. There are eight weeks remaining in the season. A lot can change, but here are all the NFL mid-season awards.

Coach of the Year: Mike Zimmer- Minnesota Vikings

(http://scoreboredsports.com/nfl/post-draftfree-agency-minnesota-vikings-2016-winloss-predictions/)

(http://scoreboredsports.com/nfl/post-draftfree-agency-minnesota-vikings-2016-winloss-predictions/)

There is little debate on who should be the coach of the year. What Mike Zimmer has done with the Minnesota Vikings is nothing short of miraculous. The Minnesota Vikings sit at 5-2 on the year and are in first place in the NFC North. They have struggled of late but that isn’t because of Mike Zimmer. Mike Zimmer has the Vikings in second place in the entire NFC halfway through the season despite injuries from starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, starting running back Adrian Peterson, and starting offensive tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith. All have all been placed on injured reserve. They have had other numerous injuries that haven’t required placement on the injured reserve list. If the Vikings win the division and get a first round bye, Mike Zimmer deserves the coach of the year award.

Honorable Mention: Jack Del Rio-Oakland Raiders

Offensive Rookie Of The Year: Ezekiel Elliott RB- Dallas Cowboys

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

There has not been a rookie running back as good as Ezekiel Elliott since Adrian Peterson took the league by storm in 2007. The Cowboys have one of, if not the best offensive line in football. So many want to discredit some of what Elliott has done because of it, but give the kid credit. Elliott is highly talented and deserves the great year he is having. Elliott leads the NFL in rushing yards at 799. He also has added five touchdowns on the ground. If he keeps this pace up, he will be the first rookie running back to win the rushing title in his first season since Edgerrin James in 1999.

Honorable Mention: Dak Prescott QB-Dallas Cowboys

Defensive Rookie of The Year: Joey Bosa DE- San Diego Chargers

(http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com)

(http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com)

There haven’t been many standouts from first year players on defense this season so far. Joey Bosa is quietly dominating offensive lineman. Bosa missed the first 4 games of the season, but has already made a big impact. It will be interesting to see what he will do for the remainder of the season. Since 2006, no player has pressured the quarterback more in their first three games. In 2011, Jabaal Sheard had 15 quarterback pressures in his first three games, which was the most since 2006. Bosa has had 20 in his first three games. In just four games this season, Bosa has 13 tackles and four sacks.

Honorable Mention: Karl Joesph S-Oakland Raiders

Comeback Player of The Year: DeMarco Murray RB- Tennessee Titans

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

This was the easiest award to pick. After last year’s failed experiment in Philadelphia with Chip Kelly, DeMarco Murray is having a fabulous season in Tennessee. Murray is second in the NFL with 756 rushing yards. In the first eight games, he already has 54 more yards than he had all of last season. He is also tied for fourth with six rushing touchdowns. Murray has resurrected his career this season after many believed his best days were behind him. Now everyone is wishing Murray was on their fantasy team.

Honorable Mention: Jordy Nelson WR- Green Bay Packers

Offensive Player of The Year: Matt Ryan QB- Atlanta Falcons

(http://sacrificefly.blogspot.com)

(http://sacrificefly.blogspot.com)

This award would go to Tom Brady if he hadn’t been suspended. This is all about who is putting up the best offensive numbers. Brady would have better numbers had he played the first four games. Matt Ryan has the Falcons atop of the NFC South at 6-3 because of his stellar play. Ryan leads the NFL in passing yards with 2,980. His 23 touchdown passes are also the most in the NFL. If Matt Ryan plays like this the entire season, he will also add his name to the MVP conversation.

Honorable Mention: Tom Brady QB-New England Patriots

Defensive Player of The Year: Marcus Peters DB- Kansas City Chiefs

(http://www.chiefs.com)

(http://www.chiefs.com)

Defensive Player of the year was the most difficult award to pick because there is not one player who just stands out above the rest. There is not a single player who is doing unbelievable things. With that being said, Marcus Peters is still having a great second season in the NFL. Last year in his first season, he finished tied for first with eight interceptions. So far he has picked up right where he left off and leads the NFL with five interceptions.

Honorable Mention: Lorenzo Alexander LB- Buffalo Bills

Most Valuable Player: Tom Brady QB- New England Patriots 

(http://www.chatsports.com/nfl/a/nfl-power-rankings-16-best-players-nfl-2016-29912)

(http://www.chatsports.com/nfl/a/nfl-power-rankings-16-best-players-nfl-2016-29912)

There is no question on who is the most valuable player in the NFL. Tom Brady looks like a robot or alien from another planet this season. His numbers are straight filthy. Yes, the Patriots were still good and went 3-1 without him, but with him the Patriots look unstoppable. When they have Tom Brady, people have nobody else to pick as the favorites in the AFC. The Patriots look like the best team in the NFL and it is all because of number 12. On the season, Brady has passed for 1,319 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has done all that in just four games and has yet to throw an interception. The Patriots would be good without Brady, but wouldn’t be Super Bowl contenders and AFC favorites.

Honorable Mention: Derek Carr QB-Oakland Raiders

 

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Surprise NFL Teams in 2016-2017

DENVER, CO - AUGUST 29: Defensive players Mitch Unrein #96, outside linebacker Von Miller #58, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton #94, defensive end Robert Ayers #91 and defensive end Malik Jackson #97 of the Denver Broncos look on from the sidelines against the Arizona Cardinals during preseason action at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 29, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

DENVER, CO – AUGUST 29: Defensive players Mitch Unrein #96, outside linebacker Von Miller #58, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton #94, defensive end Robert Ayers #91 and defensive end Malik Jackson #97 of the Denver Broncos look on from the sidelines against the Arizona Cardinals during preseason action at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on August 29, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

A surprise is usually thought of as a good thing, but we all have had surprises that turned out to be bad as well. I know it is early but if you’re like me you are itching for football to start again. The first training camps will open up in approximately three weeks. Last year four teams made the playoffs after missing the playoffs in the previous year. It is never to early to start talking about which teams may surprise the NFL this year by making the playoffs. Some teams may even surprise us and miss the playoffs.  This list will have both good and bad surprises for how a few teams will perform this upcoming NFL season.

Minor Surprise:

San Fransisco 49ers: Better than expected

There are low expectations for the 49ers this season. They play in a tough division with the Seahawks and Cardinals. Also, it will be Chip Kelly’s first season as the head coach. They seem to be in a rebuilding phase but they will finish second in the NFC west, behind the Seahawks. This is a surprise because many expect the Cardinals to be a playoff team and it would be a shocker for the 49ers to surpass them. It will also mean they will possibly in the hunt for a wild card.

Chip Kelly has a bad reputation in the NFL but in his first season he took the previously 4-12 Eagles to a 10-6 record. That 10-6 record resulted in a division title. He finished with an identical record in his second season, although they missed the playoffs. In his first two season he was a combined 20-12. He was fired in his third year after going 6-9, but has proven he can win games in the NFL. It will be fun to see Colin Kaepernick in his offense and it should result in more wins in the bay than most expect.

Playoffs??

Jacksonville Jaguars: Make the playoffs

The Jaguars are young and hungry to make the playoffs.  They are in the midst of their longest playoff drought in franchise history which sits at eight years. The Jaguars only won three games last season so mentioning the playoffs seems kind of crazy. The reason the Jags will make the playoffs though is because they already have an above average defense and the offense is catching up. Blake Bortles will have a good year because he has been surrounded by a great receiving core with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns and tight end Julius Thomas. The AFC south is also a rather weak division and it is time for the Jaguars to take the next step and make the playoffs.

Buffalo Bills: Playoff drought over

Just like the Jaguars the Bills are in the midst of their longest playoff drought in franchise history. Their drought sits at 16 years and they haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years. Rob Ryan has been told he will be fired if he doesn’t make the playoffs. He will no doubt have one of the best defenses in the NFL but for the Bills to grow Tyrod Taylor must take the next step at quarterback. It will be his second season as an NFL starter and he will lead the Bills to the playoffs as a wild card team. Winning a playoff game is an entirely different story but making the playoffs would be a huge step.

New York Giants: Division champions

I truly believe Kirk Cousins is entirely overrated. Last season the Redskins were a one hit wonder.  That leaves the NFC East open for a new winner. Philadelphia is in rebuild mode and will be starting a rookie quarterback by week eight or nine. The Cowboys defense is below average and Tony Romo has broken his collarbone three times. It is safe to say he is injury prone. This leaves the Giants, who will have a very solid passing game, with a chance to win the division. Look for Sterling Shepard to have a huge rookie season alongside Odell Beckham Jr. who will command most of the attention from defensive coordinators. The Giants also made splashes defensively in free agency signing Oliver Vernon, Damon Harrison, and Janoris Jenkins. They will win 10 or 11 games and will win the division.

Oakland Raiders: Divison champions

Photo: Steven Senne, STF / Associated Press

Photo: Steven Senne, STF / Associated Press

People are going to call me absolutely crazy for this one. Yes, the Raiders are improving, but division champs? With the defending Super Bowl champions in their division? Yes, the Raiders have finally made the right moves over the past two and a half seasons.  They have suffered a playoff drought for long enough. Derek Carr will continue to blossom into a great NFL quarterback. Amari Cooper will help him to improve the offense. The Raiders defense is on its way to becoming nasty and is led by the first ever All-Pro at two positions, Khalil Mack. Mack is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL. The Raiders will surprise the league and win the AFC West this year thanks to being led by the young stars on both offense and defense.

Fishing Early

Denver Broncos: Miss the playoffs

The defending champs will be fishing early this year. Losing Peyton Manning, no matter his age or diminishing ability, is a huge loss. Being able to fix minor mistakes, or make adjustments mid game will prove to be a huge difference. Mark Sanchez is an accident waiting to happen. Paxton Lynch played in the American Athletic Conference. It will take him quite some time to adjust to the next level. The defense will still be a top five defense but it will only carry them so far. With the Raiders on the come up and the Chiefs staying competitive I just see the Broncos suffering from a Super Bowl hangover. Sorry Denver, last year was your year.

Cincinnati Bengals: Miss playoffs

The Bengals have made the playoffs for five straight season. In those five straight seasons they lost their first playoff game. The Bengals need a new voice at head coach but still have Marvin Lewis. He is the only coach who can stay with the same team 13 years without a single playoff victory. He sits at 0-7 in the playoffs. Any other coach would have been fired. They have had a great defense for a long time but it is starting to fade a bit since Mike Zimmer left for Minnesota.

To further hinder the Bengals, the Steelers will be the best team in the division barring injuries. The Ravens will be better than they were last year too. This is already a very tough division and I think the Browns will surprise some people this year and win somewhere around seven games. At the end of the season the Steelers will win the division and the Bengals will finish second or third. They won’t compile enough wins for a wild card birth. The Bengals had five straight years to win a playoff game, they won’t have a sixth.

A Surprise Champion?

Minnesota Vikings: Super Bowl contenders

I am sure a lot of people see the Vikings on this list and are asking themselves, how can they be a surprise team? They already surprised the NFL last year by winning the NFC North. Most people know they are a young, talented team on the rise.  The reason they will be a surprise  in the NFL this season is because they will be a dangerous Super Bowl contender. So dangerous in fact, they might just win the Lombardi Trophy.

Mike Zimmer will be entering his third year as the head coach of the Vikings and each year his defense has improved vastly. In 2014 the Vikings ranked 11th in scoring defense and last season ranked fifth. It is very possible that the Vikings will have the best defense in the NFL this year. Pair that with the best running back in the NFL with a vastly improved offensive line and the Vikings should be one of the best teams in the league.

The Bengals Biggest Enemy

Andy Dalton, 14, and A.J. Green, 18, could be without Mohamed Sanu, 12, and Marvin Jones, 82, in 2016. (Photo by: Cincinnati Enquirer)

Andy Dalton, 14, and A.J. Green, 18, could be without Mohamed Sanu, 12, and Marvin Jones, 82, in 2016. (Photo by: Cincinnati Enquirer)

Coming off of a disastrous end to 2015, the 2016 Cincinnati Bengals need to brace for a rough offseason. This was to be expected, at least partially. The Bengals have known that 2016 would be a pivotal year for free agents. The Bengals have known that they’d have double-digit free agents and that they would likely lose a decent chunk of those free agents. However, they did a little bit of prep work. Last season was a draft that was weighted heavily towards depth. The first two picks, Cedric Ogbuehi, and Jake Fisher were both going to be backups on the offensive line. And with the relationship likely coming to an end with Andre Smith, they’re prepared. However, you can never be entirely prepared for this type of offseason. But for the Bengals, there is something else complicating things, something that they have only themselves to blame.

The Marvin Lewis coaching tree.

That’s right. Something that is typically associated with success is soon to become a burden, an even bigger one than it already was. Former defensive guru and current Minnesota Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer, has already been known to poach talent from the Bengals. Last season he picked up cornerback, Terence Newman, after his time in Cincinnati ended. That was one of the several moves that Zimmer made relating to former Bengals.

This season, however, is an entirely different story. Hue Jackson and Vance Joseph have since joined Zimmer and Jay Gruden as former Bengals coaches now in new cities.

Jackson left Cincy to fill the void in Cleveland as head coach, and Joseph is now the defensive coordinator in Miami. Now two offensive minds join a pair of defensive coaches in the NFL circle.

Why is this a bad thing? Well, it’s simple. These coaches were able to grow relationships with players while in Cincinnati, of course. And now they can call back on those relationships (and possibly ante up more money) to bring in former pupils. The most dangerous offensive players to hit the market will be wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. The danger is imminent on defense as the secondary, which was thin to begin with, could lose a pair of corners, Adam Jones, and Leon Hall, as well as safeties, Reggie Nelson and George Iloka; not to mention the pending loss of their two-time defending leading tackler, Vincent Rey.

The possibility that the Bengals only bring back a pair, or fewer, of those free agents is very real and equally scary proposition for the Bengals. Replacing a third string wide receiver or backup linemen is easy to do. Replacing four starters from your secondary and your second and third options at receiver is an impossible task.

How do the former Bengals coaches figure into the equation? Well, they’re all heavily rumored to be salivating over the possibility of reuniting with their former players.

The Vikings signed Newman away from Cincinnati last season, and they would love to find a similar result this season. Jones and Hall have both (as have most former Bengals defenders) expressed love for their former defensive coordinator. Fueling the fire would be the possibility of signing Vinny Rey. The Vikings are definitely a landing spot for all of those players. And if you think Zimmer isn’t going to be reaching out to the dynamic safety duo, you’re crazy.

The Dolphins are also in the market for defensive help and will likely reach out to Rey and fellow linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, another key cog in the Bengals system.

And, Jackson,  the newest head coach to leave Cincinnati, would jump for joy if he could nab the pair of Bengals wide receivers. The Browns are desperate for something on the outside; they’d both fit in nicely with Jackson’s system. But could they be crazy enough to leave Cincinnati for the black hole for quarterbacks and receivers alike?

Those three teams, and possibly the Washington Redskins, will all be in constant contact with former Bengals. This enemy is about to wage war with the Queen City, and it comes from a host of former allies.