Tag:Top Ten
Posted on: October 31, 2011 9:14 am
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Top Ten with a Twist: Halloween edition

Todd Haley's beard is scaring small children (AP).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Halloween is all about the scary and the freaky and the things that make you shiver in fear in the dead of the night*. The NFL will celebrate the holiday by giving us a Monday Night Football matchup of San Diego and Kansas City, certainly not as scary as last week’s Baltimore-Jacksonville game, and in return, we’re providing a special version of Top Ten with a Twist.

*It’s also about candy corn, but that’s neither here nor there.

In it, we celebrate those coaches, players and accessories that force us to scream in horror and hide underneath the covers. The NFL is filled with large, athletic men that could force you to quicken your pace if you met them in a dark alley. But even those players get frightened. Here are some of the men (and objects) that scare you as fans and scare them as players.

And with that, we wish you a Happy Halloween. Hope everyone survives the scariest night of the year.

10. Jason Babin’s tattoos: It’s more than the tattoos. It’s what the arms that hold the tattoos do to opposing quarterbacks. Namely, they sack them, nine so far this season. The tattoos don’t have a great backstory -- he sketched in a notebook during college, and he liked the tribal design so much that he got them inked on both arms, over his shoulders and across his back -- but they make look him look scary and badass. Reminds me of: Seth Gecko in From Dust Till Dawn.

9. Hank Williams Jr.: He obviously scared the crap out of ESPN executives who immediately excused him from his Monday Night Football services after he compared President Obama and the Speaker of the House playing golf to Hitler yukking it up with Benjamin Netanyahu on the links. Williams, a staunch conservative, even freaked out the Fox News’ morning show crew by his analogy. I’m sure his fans love him even more for his controversial take, but his actions forced ESPN to turn him away from its door without any candy. Reminds me of: The Wolfman.

8. Javon Ringer: This applies only to Chris Johnson, who seemingly has lost his No. 1 role as the Titans running back and is splitting carries with Ringer -- who’s actually out-classing the former 2,000-yard runner. If this keeps up, Ringer will take over Johnson’s starting spot, presenting a scary situation for Tennessee -- having to pay their backup running back $55 million (with $30 million guaranteed). Reminds me of: The Ringer.

7. Roughing the passer: Hardly anybody understands what should be called and what shouldn’t be. If a pass-rusher grazes the helmet of a quarterback, is that a blow to the head? What constitutes unnecessary roughness? I mean, you can still tackle the quarterback, right? And nobody is more skittish about the rules and their implications than the officials who have to make the calls and throw the flags. Since it seems like they don’t know what they should be calling, every time a quarterback is sacked, it’s a roll of the dice. I love the line from Bengals coach Marvin Lewis a few years ago when Justin Smith was called for a penalty against Tampa Bay’s Bruce Gradkowski, "I guess you have to cuddle them to the ground." Except the penalties are anything but cuddly. Reminds me of: Blair Witch Project (fear of the unknown).

Babin6. Ndamukong Suh: We don’t really need to explain why. Suh is a monster come to life whose primary mission (and what seems to sustain his soul) is to destroy quarterbacks. Like here with Andy Dalton. Or here with Jake Delhomme. Suh has spent much of his time lately telling people he’s not a dirty player. But he’s also meeting with Roger Goodell this week to figure out how he can get fined less. Hopefully, he doesn’t scare Goodell the way he scares opposing quarterbacks. Reminds me of: The Hulk.

5. Roger Goodell’s accounting books: Goodell decides the disciplinary fines and then collects tens of thousands of dollars a week for various infractions (from helmet-to-helmet hits to uniform malfunctions). The reason he’s so frightening: it’s all so random. Dunta Robinson should have been six figures for his hit on Jeremy Maclin, but instead, it was in the $40,000 range. Troy Polamalu shouldn’t have been fined for calling his wife from the bench to let her know he was OK after suffering a concussion, but instead, Goodell lifted $10,000 from him. Mess with a player’s money, and for the most part, you’ll have earned their fear. Reminds me of: Ebenezer Scrooge.

4. Peyton Manning’s shadow: This looms high over the city of Indianapolis, and it blots out the sun whenever the Colts are playing. It’s not that he’s trying to be such a scary dude -- he seems to be the consummate teammate even while he’s recovering from his neck surgery -- but his shadow has become a black hole for any chance of the team winning in his absence. It’s quite frightening to think that, all this time, the only thing saving the Colts from long-term irrelevance was Manning’s health. Reminds me of: The Blob.

3. HGH testing: Obviously, this is the biggest bogeyman of all, because the union is in no hurry to allow the NFL to draw blood and test for human growth hormone. The NFL says the tests are safe and reliable. The union says the tests are invasive and unproven. Who do we believe? Just like much of the lockout fodder that emerged from both sides, we have no idea. But it seems pretty clear that the NFLPA is worried about agreeing to the testing. As if there’s a man with a needle waiting inside the union’s closest, ready to spring out after lights out. Reminds me of: the scary dentist from Little Shop of Horrors.

2. Tim Tebow’s throwing motion: After his performance vs. the Lions on Sunday (not to mention the first 55 minutes of the Miami game), it must be clear to anybody who can recognize NFL talent that Tebow doesn’t have what it takes to be a starting quarterback. We make fun of the guy, and I feel bad, because he seems like an absolutely great dude. But his motion is terrible, and his mechanics are flawed. Simply put, it makes us want to cry and go hide in the closet until it goes away. Reminds me of: John Moxon from Varsity Blues (true, not a horror movie, but still a scary portrayal of a Texas prep football player).

1.Todd Haley’s homeless look: Haley is sporting a winning beard, meaning he won’t shave again until the Chiefs lose, and it’ll be on display for Halloween. He looks like a combination of Artie Lang’s younger, skinnier (and more sober) brother and the crazed son of Kevin McAllister’s body-burying neighbor in Home Alone. And it’s beginning to scare small children. If the Chargers beat the Chiefs tonight, I think they’d be doing us -- and our kids -- a huge favor by forcing Haley to razor that thing off his face. Reminds me of: this guy from Hellraiser.

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Posted on: October 27, 2011 2:45 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 2:48 pm
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Advice for Tony Romo

Romo

Posted by Josh Katzowitz


When your wife is pregnant, the “letting friends and family know” phase is an interesting line to walk. Most likely, you tell your parents and siblings first -- maybe eight weeks in. Then, maybe a month later, you slowly begin to tell close friends. Word eventually begins to leak out. Then, you make the Facebook announcement and EVERYBODY knows the news.

When my wife was pregnant, though, under no circumstances was I allowed to tell an entire auditorium full of high school students that she was expecting. Luckily, Candice Crawford, Romo’s pregnant wife, has no such rules for her husband (though, watch her reaction in the video below. It’s iffy, at best). So, on Wednesday, when Romo spoke to students at Cedar Hill High School, he let slip that he was an expectant father.

Tony and Candice Romo are Pregnant: MyFoxDFW.com



Now, the news is out there, and yes, Tony Romo will be a father. With that, here is some unsolicited advice for the man whose life is about to change big-time. Because if Romo is about to learn one truth about being a dad, it’s that people don’t mind letting loose suggestions about how to parent your kid, whether that advice is wanted or not.

10. Breathe a sigh of relief: First off, Mazel Tov and congratulations and all that. Second of all, give thanks to the heavens that your wife is not having multiples. I’m sure Carson Palmer and Peyton Manning would be happy to tell you that raising twins is tough, especially in the first six months. After that, it gets easier, and while twins are a wonderful gift, I imagine Palmer and Manning would recommend having a singleton instead.

9. Take the baby class: As one of his buddies in the above video noted, Romo has probably never changed a diaper. Though he’s this big-time star quarterback and, on some weeks, he’s the toast of Dallas, his wife will ask him -- nay, force him -- to change diapers at some point. There’s just no way around it. And while it can be inconvenient to go to the weekly baby classes (or birthing classes or whatever), there’s no doubt he’ll learn something. Babies aren’t necessarily as complicated as the weekly Cowboys game plan, but that doesn’t mean you should cram it all in the last minute. Simply put, you have to prepare for game day.

8. Move to the suburbs: This might be a disappointing piece of news for Romo, but when you have kids, you have to move away from the hip area of town where you live and move out to the suburbs so your kids can go to the “good public schools.” Plus, once you’re a parent, you find out you’re more likely to be dining at the local Red Robin with your children rather than at the ultra-cool restaurant downtown. We know Romo isn’t adverse to going out on the town, but if you’ve got kids, you learn to sacrifice. Um, actually, never mind on this advice. Romo makes enough money to send his kid to private school. So, scratch this one. He can live wherever he wants.

7. Sleep-train the baby: The first few months of the child’s life, it won’t really matter what you do. Your baby will be up multiple times a night wanting food, and it’ll cry to make its wishes known. But at some point, you need to get your baby in the habit of falling asleep and staying asleep. The wife and I used this book, and it worked wonderfully well. Use whatever method you like to sleep-train, buRomot know that it’s imperative to do so, because if the baby is not asleep, the parents aren’t asleep. And I imagine it’s tough to perform well on Sundays if you’re working on only a few hours of shut-eye.

6. Discard the hat: You know that hat that Romo loves to wear (if not, check out the photo right here)? It’s probably time for that bad boy to go. And if he can’t bear to part with it, at least, cut down on the usage (last yaer, it seemed we got to see it every week at the postgame pressers). After all, there will be plenty of silly, tiny hats on the tops of the heads of Romo namesakes in the next few years. Tony should try to cut down on his own contributions.

5. Get the damn vaccinations: This might come off as high and mighty and pretentious, but I don’t care. Listen to your pediatricians and their scientifically-backed statistics about when to vaccinate your kids and why they’re so important. Don’t listen to Jenny McCarthy and her bone-headed analysis linking vaccinations to potential autism cases. The research for that link has been completely discredited. Get the kid vaccinated and make a contribution to society.

4. Cut food into small pieces: When the baby is old enough to sit in a high-chair and learns to feed him/herself, Romo has to remember to cut the food into tiny pieces for the baby to swallow. After all, there’s only room enough in the family for one choker (I kid, I kid).

3. Have the “drugs are bad, mmkay“ talk as soon as possible: Though Romo benefited from the Cowboys decision before the 2004 season to release quarterback Quincy Carter because of substance abuse issues, Romo should make sure his offspring know the dangers of drug abuse as soon as possible. You certainly don’t want the drugs to derail your life, and with a rich daddy who's constantly under criticism and fan supervision, the availability and temptation to get involved could be greater. Otherwise, the child might have to appear on “Celebrity Rehab,” a fate no man or woman deserves.
 
2. Don’t hire the super-hot nanny: It didn’t work for Turk on “Scrubs” and it didn’t work for Joey on “Friends.” It's not going to work for Romo either (he should also make sure the nanny can’t fly using an umbrella).

1. If in the delivery room, just watch: We all know Romo has had a history of, um, fumbling the snap. Maybe he should leave the actual delivery of his kid to someone else (like, I don't know, a doctro) and just take pictures of the momentous occasion and/or try not to pass out during the childbirth.

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Posted on: October 20, 2011 11:27 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: New Faces

J. Harbaugh has been the best new face in the league this year (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Every year, NFL teams make terrible calls. They draft the wrong player, they make ridiculous free agent signings, they let somebody quite valuable go to another team, they make their fan base collectively scratch their head.

Ah, but occasionally, these squads get it right. They draft the right guy, they sign the free agent that’s on the cusp of blowing up, they take somebody valuable from another team, they give their fan base a reason to smile and cheer.

Last year, I recounted the Top Ten new faces, and among the group were Terrell Owens, a combination of Thomas Jones/Ryan Torain/Peyton Hills, and LaDainian Tomlinson. All those guys played well last year, but it just goes to show that this list has less than a one-year expiration.

That said, here are the best pickups thus far in 2011. As I wrote last year, "All of the following have impacted their new teams in many ways and all have made the front offices who signed them seem clairvoyant in the process (though, in the case of a couple players, the decision to add them wasn’t exactly brain surgery). So, here’s to those who have found a new lease on life (or a new burgeoning career) with their new team."

10. Paul Posluszny: Though we could argue about whether the fact the Jaguars stole Posluszny away from the Bills by signing him to a six-year, $42 million contract ($15 million guaranteed) will help the team during the long haul -- Jacksonville, after all, is 1-5 and most likely will lose its head coach sooner rather than later -- but Posluszny has been a tackling machine. As the middle linebacker, he helped hold the Steelers to 55 yards of offense and no points in the second half of Pittsburgh’s 17-13 escape last Sunday while piling up a game-high 16 tackles. The Jaguars have a myriad of problems, but acquiring Posluszny, whatever the cost, was still a solid move.

9. Carson Palmer: OK, he’s been a member of the Oakland organization for less than 48 hours. He’s practiced exactly one time. It’s still unclear whether he’ll start this week (though I imagine he will), and I think there’s a better he doesn’t play well than him actually playing well. But the fact is: the Raiders are making solid moves, and they’re doing all they can to win today. Sure, giving up two first-round draft picks will hurt, but you have to admire the attitude that says, “Screw it, we’re going for it all this year.” And if Palmer plays well and leads Oakland to the postseason, the Raiders will have completely flipped the script.

8. Daniel Thomas: When the Dolphins failed to re-sign Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown, that put the onus on the second-round pick to step into a featured back role and immediately contribute. With Reggie Bush around to take some of his load, Thomas has done that, ranking 10th in the league with 249 yards despite a hamstring problem, and he’s averaging a solid 4.4 yards per carry. He hasn’t scored a touchdown yet, but then again, the Dolphins might be the worst team in the league, so not many touchdowns have been scored by that squad. That doesn't take away from the strides Thomas has made early in his career.

7. Victor Cruz: Technically, he’s not a newcomer, since he made the Giants squad as an undrafted free agent in 2010, but considering he was placed on IR early in the season before he had accumulated any stats, I’ll forgive myself. Cruz has become a player who makes outstanding, circus-type catches and then makes silly mistakes. But he’s also caught 21 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns, and behind Hakeem Nicks, Cruz has developed into a solid No. 2 receiver for a team that still should contend for an NFC East crown.

6. Johnathan Joseph: He was considered the poor man’s Nnamdi Asomugha in the offseason, signing with the Texans for the reasonable cost of $48.75 million over five years. But he’s been better than Asomugha this year, collecting three interceptions and nine passes defended for an improved Houston defense that ranks 10th in the league. Joseph, though he’s flirted with injuries early on, was the right call for Houston.

Babin5. Ryan Kerrigan/Aldon Smith: These two rookie linebackers are some of the most exciting new players in the league. For the Redskins and 49ers, respectively, the two have combined for 33 tackles, 7 ½ sacks, six passes defended, one interception and three forced fumbles. Forget about Von Miller and Nick Fairley as the two most important defensive rookies emerging from last year’s draft. Kerrigan and Smith, so far, are the two best defensive freshmen in the league.

4. Jason Babin: I had Babin at No. 10 on this list last year, and with the Titans in 2010 -- in his only year with the Titans, it turns out -- he accumulated 12.5 sacks and 58 tackles. This year, he’s been even better, and he’s the new guy who’s done the most damage with the Eagles defense. He ranks tied for third in the league with seven sacks, and though the rest of Philadelphia’s squad has been disappointing, Babin has been a monster. With some scary tattoos.
 
3. Andy Dalton/A.J. Green: So much of the time, Bengals owner Mike Brown comes off as clueless (or maybe he’s just ingenious). Like the time he said, “I don’t apologize for our scouting. It’s an easy target. But if you look at the real facts, you’ll see it different” when it’s clearly evident that many of Cincinnati’s drafts have absolutely stunk. But Brown, also the general manager, hit a home run with Green in the first round of the 2011 draft and Dalton in the second. Green has made some incredible catches, and Dalton has played better than expected. Cincinnati is 4-2, and Green and Dalton deserve some of the credit. As does Brown.

2. Cam Newton: Unfortunately for Newton and the Panthers, we’ve begun to see him play a little more like a rookie recently (he hasn’t even broken the 300-yard mark in the past two weeks!), but there’s no denying that Newton is a special talent. No matter the amount of negativity and doubt Newton received before he took his first snap, he threw for 420-plus yards in his first two outings and then for 374 yards in Week 4. The Panthers aren’t winning, but at least they’re relevant these days. And exciting.

1. Jim Harbaugh: Forgive the guy for showing his belly, jumping up and down like he had just won tickets to see Justin Bieber, and giving Jim Schwartz a hearty handshake and a friendly tap on the back last week. He should be excited. The 49ers, through six games, are running away with the division, and the former Stanford coach in his first season in the NFL has been a huge reason why. Is Harbaugh the sole reason Alex Smith has played well or that the defense is ranked second in the NFL in points allowed? No, but is Harbaugh getting his team to play like Mike Singletary only could have dreamed about? Yes.

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Posted on: October 13, 2011 11:17 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Living Legends

Bum Phillips is a living legend (Getty).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With the death last Saturday of Raiders owner Al Davis, we got to see a side of him that most people under 35 never got to experience. When Davis was an innovator, a kick-ass coach and owner, a fighter against The Man and one of the most important figures in NFL history. It was nice to be reminded of that with tributes all over the Internet, newspapers and in NFL stadiums on Sunday.

Maybe we didn’t think about it in terms like this, but Davis, though largely reclusive to the public, was a living legend, and in the final years of his life, we probably didn’t appreciate him as much as we should have.

That said, here are 10 other living legends who hold (or who should hold)  a special place in the league’s heart. No matter what they’ve become today -- those who are outspoken for and against their old teams, those who spend their time behind the scenes, and those who have disappeared for now -- it’s not too late to show them our appreciation for all the good they’ve done and the lives they’ve led.

10. Ron Wolf: Another of Davis’ protégés, Davis gave Wolf a job as a scout for the Raiders in the early 1960s, and after helping the Raiders to a plethora of wins, he helped set up a 1979 division title in Tampa Bay before moving on to Green Bay as the general manager. He hired Mike Holmgren as the head coach, traded for a backup quarterback named Brett Favre, revitalized that franchise that led to Super Bowl riches and restored the name of a storied organization that had fallen into disrepair.

9. Mike Westhoff: The only man on this list who’s still active in the game, you might remember Westhoff from his turn on Hard Knocks where he played the Jets awesome special teams coach. It wasn’t much of a stretch, because Westhoff has been an awesome special teams coach. Aside from that, he’s a bone cancer survivor (he had to have nearly a dozen surgeries to get rid of it), and he’s one of the most respected working coaches today. But he won’t be around much longer. After 30 years of coaching, he’s said this season will be his last.

Kramer8. Ray Guy: Last year, I made him my No. 1 former player who deserves be in the Hall of Fame, but since he probably won’t ever get to Canton, that list and this one will have to suffice. Once Shane Lechler’s career is over, he’ll be considered the No. 1 punter of all time (maybe he’ll have a chance at the HOF!), but Guy was the one who showed the NFL how important a punter could be to his team.

7. Jerry Kramer (seen at right): He was a better football player than Jim Bouton was a pitcher, but both opened up the world of sports that fans had never seen before. Bouton’s tome, “Ball Four,” is a masterpiece that shocked those who had watched baseball and thought of players like Mickey Mantle as pure of heart. Kramer’s 1968 book, "Instant Replay," was a diary he kept of the 1967 season in which he gave glimpses of what life was like inside the Packers locker room under coach Vince Lombardi while chronicling some of the most famous moments in Green Bay history.

6. James “Shack” Harris: He was the first black player in the NFL to start at quarterback for the entire season in 1969, and in 1975, he led the Los Angeles Rams to an 11-2 record and an NFC West division title. He wasn’t a dominant quarterback in his day, but he was a trailblazer. And after retirement from playing, he was the head of pro player personnel when the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001. He’s currently a personnel executive with the Lions.

5. Chuck Noll: We don’t see much of Noll -- who’s rumored to be in declining health -- these days, but his impact is unmistakable. He won four Super Bowls as head coach of the Steelers in the 1970s, and Al Davis thought so much of him that he once tried to sue him (the two were on the same staff in San Diego in the early 1960s). And he was the first coach to allow his team to take baseline concussion tests -- which, as we know today, was a pretty important development.

4. Joe Namath: The legendary Jets quarterback has become a thorn in coach Rex Ryan’s side. Namath is constantly on Twitter, exhorting or back-handing his former team, and because he’s Joe Freakin’ Namath, the media has to pay attention. With that -- and his on-air exchange a few years back with Suzy Kolber -- it’s not difficult to forget just how good Namath was as a signal-caller. He was the first to throw for 4,000 yards (in a 14-game season no less), and he boldly guaranteed victory for the underdog Jets in Super Bowl III and then went out and delivered.

3. Joe Gibbs: One of my colleagues recently called him the greatest coach of the last 40 years, and considering Gibbs won three Super Bowls with three different quarterbacks (Joe Theismann, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien), he’s one of the legends. His return to the Redskins from 2004-07 didn’t go so well (a combined 30-34 record), but before that, his complete career winning percentage was better than all coaches not named John Madden or Vince Lombardi.

2. John Madden: We don’t get to hear much from John Madden these days, and that’s too bad. I liked him on Monday Night Football -- his football knowledge and his enthusiasm -- and though he was before my time, you have to admire his coaching record. He took over the Raiders job in 1969 at the tender age of 33, and when he retired after the 1978 season, he had a coaching record of 103-32-7. That is a winning percentage of .763, and to go with it, he won a Super Bowl and seven division titles in 10 years.

1. Bum Phillips: The old Oilers coach -- and 3-4 defense innovator -- is still kicking around in Texas, attending Texans games, wearing his big cowboy hat and writing books about his life (OK, it’s one book, but you should check it out). He’s a fun guy to speak with, and he’s fully into philanthropy. But aside from his defensive prowess, the dude is a great storyteller. Quickly, one of my favorites: when he was an assistant coach to Sid Gillman, one of the earliest believers in breaking down film, Phillips barely could keep his eyes open one night as Gillman continued studying game tape. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Gillman excitedly claimed that watching film made him feel so awesome that it was better than having sex. Responded Phillips: "Either I don't know how to watch film, Sid, or you don't know how to make love."

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Posted on: October 6, 2011 12:29 pm
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Books we want to read

It's time for a biography on Ed Sabol and his son, Steve. (US Preswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

With the controversy surrounding the new Walter Payton biography, written by Jeff Pearlman, I got to thinking about the other books we need to read but that haven’t been written yet. I’m not talking about a season in the life book of the 2010 Packers or the latest words written by Mike Ditka (at least five authored or co-authored by the Bears coaching icon), but about subjects we don’t really know and on topics we would love to explore.

For this Top Ten List with a Twist, I’m discounting what a publisher might say if he/she was presented with some of these ideas (namely, the idea that blah, blah, blah won’t sell or that nobody has ever heard of blah, blah, blah). Some of these ideas, no doubt, would work, and maybe, one day, you’ll see one of them on the shelf of your nearest book store in the cart of your Amazon.com page.

Without further ado, here are the Top Ten books we absolutely deserve to read.  

10. The inside story on the NFL lockout: Yeah, maybe many football fans wouldn’t care about a book like this, because they only wanted the work stoppage to end as soon as possible so they could continue to watch the game they love, but I bet it would be fascinating. What is the relationship between Roger Goodell and DeMaurice Smith really like? How were the compromises finally reached? Did Jerry Jones really tap his fists together and walk out of a negotiation session to make a point? For those  who reported and analyzed the entire ordeal, it would be a mind-churning look from behind the curtain.

9. Bill Belichick end-of-career autobiography: Although he almost always comes off completely uninteresting during his midweek and postgame press conferences -- hell, he eats his lunch during teleconference calls with the media! -- the recent NFL Network documentary showed that he’s an interesting dude. The fact he got a little emotional during a trip to the Meadowlands was almost shocking, and I’ve seen interviews with him before that are really, really good. If he let down his guard, like during that documentary, his autobiography would be a fascinating study of the best coach in football. There have been big-name authors who have written big-name books about Belichick, but when his career is over, I want him reflecting on the impact he’s made and the reason he did it all the first place.

8. A biography on Tom Brady’s hair: We’ve already had the obituary for Brady’s shorn locks. Next, we should have a book that tells the tale of the entire two-year history of the hair that helped Brady land that lucrative Uggs endorsement.

7. Sid Gillman biography: Gillman is the most important coach you might not remember. Unlike Paul Brown (who has a stadium named after him and a legacy in Cincinnati) or Vince Lombardi (who you might have heard a little something about) or Woody Hayes (a decent-enough coach at Ohio State) -- all of whom were Gillman contemporaries -- Gillman has fallen through the cracks of history. And considering, he’s the father of the modern passing offense, that’s a shame.

Rex and Rob Ryan (US Presswire)6. Rob/Rex Ryan quote book: This could even be made into one of those peel-a-page-every-day calendars, like the Jeff Foxworthy redneck gags or the best of the old Far Side comic strips. But if you like to laugh (or just shake your head), this book would be a big seller. You could have Rex talking about not wanting to kiss Bill Belichick’s rings or Rob discussing how Calvin Johnson would be the Cowboys No. 3 receiver behind Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. See what I mean? It’d be high hilarity.

5. Bryant McKinnie in the Blind Side, part II: Since McKinnie was the one to replace Michael Oher as the Ravens left tackle, McKinnie should have his own Michael Lewis-penned biography. I’m pretty sure McKinnie didn’t live in foster homes and on the streets before he was adopted, like Oher, but McKinnie has had struggles with his weight and he did (allegedly) spend $100,000 on a bar tab this offseason. It’s not as heartwarming as the Oher book, but a tome about McKinnie would be pretty fun.

4. The early struggles of black players: You know all about Jackie Robinson in major league baseball, but if I asked you who the broke the color barrier in the NFL, you probably wouldn’t have any idea. Hell, I read a long article about the NFL’s integration the other day, and I couldn’t tell you the guy’s name*. But this is an important -- and somewhat complicated -- history. Black players participated in pro football at the turn of the 20th century, and they also were part of teams in various professional leagues until the NFL stopped signing them in the early 1930s. It would be an interesting look at an era that, just like much of society, was decidedly unfair for anybody who wasn’t white.

*After blacks were excluded from the league in 1933, Kenny Washington was the one to break the barrier in 1946, one year before Robinson did it in baseball.

3. A Cam Newton investigation: Don’t we deserve to know who Newton’s bag man is or if there was a bag man at all? Not that it would make any difference in his pro career, but don’t you want to know if Newton’s father really demanded $180,000 from Mississippi State for Newton’s service? Maybe Auburn fans wouldn’t, but I certainly would.

2. NFL Films biography: People underestimate the importance of Ed and Steve Sabol. Proof of that was that it took so long for Ed to earn his way into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But the NFL -- and the NFL fans -- owe them a huge debt of gratitude, because the way you watch football today might not be possible if NFL Films hadn’t been created on the backs of the Sabol’s in the 1960s. I want to know how it started, the obstacles they faced in the early years and the impact the company has made to this day. It’s a book the Sabol’s deserve to have written.

1. An investigation into the rise of CTE: There have been a few journalists (the Newark Star Ledger’s Jerry Izenberg and the New York Times’ Alan Schwarz are two who come to mind) who do fine work keeping watch on the NFL’s relationship and response to the rise of head injuries that continue to devastate retired players and keep us reminded about what a brutal game football is to those who play it for your enjoyment. But from the premature death of Steelers legend Mike Webster to the shock of what Chris Henry’s brain looked like during his autopsy, from the suicide of Dave Duerson to the continued work of those who track of the rise of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, this is a book that needs to be written. And the sooner, the better.

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Posted on: September 29, 2011 11:57 am
Edited on: September 29, 2011 11:58 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Most underrated

D. McFadden is one of the league's most underrated players (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

You know all the big-name players, even if they’re past their prime. Guys who once were great and impactful and who were rated exactly as their athleticism required. Now, though, some of those players have begun their descent into the final phases of their career, but fans, remembering their past exploits, still think of them as high-end performers on the field.

Now, they’re making way for players you’ve probably heard of but can’t place. Players who you’ve seen but can’t remember on which team they reside.Players who are overshadowed and under the radar. The players who won’t be considered underrated for much longer.

In this week’s Top Ten with a Twist, we feature the best players who are not as well known as they should be. You can call them underrated and call them under the radar, but their teams and their teammates know how important they are. They are, in fact, some of the best players in the league who aren’t necessarily considered the best players in the league.

10. Sean Lee: He won’t be a name only hardcore fans recognize for much longer. He was just named NFC defensive player of the month after a sensational start to the season (31 tackles, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries). Lee had knocked long-time starting linebacker Keith Brooking out of the lineup, and with the way he’s playing, you can certainly see why. He has been scary this year.

9. Hakeem Nicks: Considering wide receiver is one of the most glamorous positions in the sport, it’s tough to find a guy who you could call underrated -- conversely, there’s no shortage of players we could consider overrated at this position. But Nicks is one of those guys who doesn’t get the national attention (even though he plays in New York!) of a Calvin Johnson, an Andre Johnson or a DeSean Jackson. And while Nicks might not quite be on the same level as those receivers, he’s close. His 79 catches, 1,052 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2010 is a testament to that.

8. Ryan Kalil: You might have been shocked when the Panthers gave him a six-year, $49 million ($28 million guaranteed) deal before this season to make him the highest-paid center in the game, but those around the league know his value. He’s versatile in pass protection and run-blocking, and he doesn’t get called for holding penalties. Is he the best center in the league? Probably not as long as Nick Mangold is playing, but Kalil is still one of the top guys out there.

7. Vince Wilfork: He gets plenty of attention -- especially when he’s picking off passes and strolling his way back up the field -- but when compared to defensive tackles like Haloti Ngata, Ndamukong Suh or (gasp!) Albert Haynesworth, Wilfork doesn’t get the admiration he deserves. Despite his size -- he very well could be playing in the 400-pound range -- he’s one of the most athletic big men you’ll see. He’s one of the best run-stoppers around, and he’s the anchor of the Patriots defense. You know him, but he still hasn’t made his way to superstar status.



6. Darren Sproles: It was thought that the new kickoff rules would hinder Sproles, and that was probably one of the reasons the Chargers didn’t re-sign him in the offseason. But Sproles has continued to prove his wealth, settling into the Saints backfield, where he’s shown he can still rush (7.4 yards per carry), catch the ball (21 receptions, second-best among running backs) and score (he’s recorded a touchdown in all three games). He’s like a Reggie Bush who actually is effective for the Saints. Oh, and he can still return kicks (sixth in the league among those who have at least five chances) and return punts (second in the league).

5. Tramon Williams: Although he helped the Packers to a Super Bowl, Williams isn’t mentioned in the same breath as the Eagles cornerback trio (Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) or the Jets duo (Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie). Plus, he plays in the shadow of Charles Woodson, who is still one of the best cornerbacks in the league after 14 seasons. But Williams has shown why he’s a top-10 cornerback. He’s not avoided by other team’s quarterbacks quite as much as Asomugha and Revis -- that’s a byproduct of playing with Woodson -- but he’s shown that when his receiver is targeted, Williams is one of the better cover corners in the league.

4. Rob Gronkowski: Who are the best tight ends in the league? Antonio Gates? That’s true if he’s healthy. Tony Gonzalez? That’s true if this was five years ago. Jason Witten? Yes, he probably is the top tight end out there. But you know who’s really close to him? That’s Gronkowski -- who, in his second season in the league, is one big reason the Patriots offense has been so dominant this season. He was decent as a rookie last season, but he’s exploded for five touchdowns already this year, and with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the lineup in New England, that is a tough, tough matchup for the opposing teams’ linebackers.

3. Brandon Pettigrew: Last Sunday was the perfect example of why Pettigrew can make a Lions fan’s mouth water. He played through a shoulder injury, yet he managed to catch 11 passes for 112 yards in Detroit’s huge comeback victory against the Vikings. He’s probably not on the same level as Witten or Gronkowski, and yes, he drops the easy passes way too much (even if he also makes the spectacular catches). But in his third season in the league, he shows real potential to be a top-five tight end.

2. Trent Cole: He’s always good for between 55-80 tackles a year. He’s always good for between eight and 13 sacks. He’s almost always assured to be making life difficult for whichever offensive tackle who is charged with slowing his momentum. Cole might be the best player many NFL fans don’t know anything about. But this year, he’s off to a hot start in Philadelphia with three sacks. He’s a monster, and even if you haven’t heard his name very much, you can be sure the league’s offensive linemen have.

1. Darren McFadden: Along with Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson, McFadden might be a top-three running back in this league. But since he plays in the black hole of Oakland, he wasn’t discussed as much as those who have lesser talent. That’s changing this year with the Raiders off to a 2-1 start and McFadden performing like the best back in the league. In 2010, McFadden gained 1,664 yards from scrimmage, and through three games this season, he’s rushed for 393 yards and three touchdowns while catching 11 passes for 84 yards and another score. If he keeps playing like that, he won’t belong on this list next year. Because everybody is going to know about him.

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Posted on: September 22, 2011 11:04 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Biggest surprises

Wade Phillips has revitalized Houston's defense (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Every year, it’s easy to predict how some teams and players will perform. For instance, this year it was easy to see that the Patriots were going to be awesome, the Colts were going to struggle without Peyton Manning, and some unheralded running back somewhere would surprise everyone with his fantastic performances (Houston’s Ben Tate for example, playing in place of last year’s unheralded/awesome running back Arian Foster).

But, as always, there have been some major surprises through the first two weeks that virtually nobody could see coming. Which is why we follow sports (and the NFL, in particular) in the first place. It’d be boring if we knew everything. But the fact we didn’t know just HOW terrible the Colts would be without Manning is what makes watching pro football a good time.

Therefore, this week, we introduce the Top 10 with a Twist list of the players and teams who have surprised us the most in the first two weeks of the season. No Tom Brady mentions in here. Instead, we give you Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jimmy Clausen's replacement.

10. Redskins: Remember how we all laughed at Rex Grossman when he proclaimed he thought that Washington would win the NFC East? Well, look at which squad is at the top of that division. That would be the Redskins at 2-0, ahead of the Eagles, Giants and Cowboys. It’s because Grossman has played well, running back Tim Hightower has had a resurgence and the Redskins rank No. 6 in points allowed (they were No. 21 last season). Hey, maybe, in addition to being a pretty decent quarterback, Grossman is quite the soothsayer. 

9. Dunta Robinson: I have to admit that I was shocked that the NFL fined the Falcons cornerback only $40,000 after his egregious case of head-hunting against Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin last Sunday night. You’ll recall Robinson was fined $50,000 the first time he was caught head-hunting last season (that figure was reduced to $25,000), and though the NFL will say this case was different and less severe, I don’t buy it. We called on the NFL to suspend Robinson, and I didn’t think we’d see that. But I didn’t think we’d see less of a punishment than the first time he went helmet to helmet. Though we live in a time when Roger Goodell’s disciplinary decisions oftentimes don’t make sense, this was a shocker.

8. Bills: It’s only been a few years since the Bills started a season 2-0, but could you tell me the last time Buffalo started the season 2-0 and then finished with a winning record? You’d have to go all the way back to 1996, so obviously, the Bills aren’t going to start celebrating anything quite yet. But the way quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick continues to play (which, in itself, is a shocker) and the way running back Fred Jackson continues to pile up yards and the way coach Chan Gailey continues to turn around this team, it’s well … a little surprising. And it’s gotten them into first place in the AFC East (well, they’re tied with the Jets and the Patriots, but the Bills alphabetically are at the top of the division, so there’s that).

Johnson7. Kenny Britt: Yes, we knew Kenny Britt had talent, but we didn’t know he’d explode like this after his rather interesting offseason. So far, he’s recorded 14 catches for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and considering, in his best season before this one, he totaled 42 receptions and 775 yards, this is looking like a breakout year for him. Now if he only can stop getting arrested in the offseason …

6. Chris Johnson: You might find this selection strange, considering I placed Johnson in last week’s list -- the top-10 candidates for comeback player of the year. But after a Week 1 in which he was underused (only nine carries), Johnson ran for 53 yards on 24 chances last week. Which means that for a player whose stated goal is to break the 2,000-yard mark again hasn’t even cracked the 100-yard mark for the entire season. Considering he just signed a $54 million contract, his output has been rather disappointing. Maybe we shouldn’t have been so surprised. Johnson did, after all, hold out from training camp. But Johnson has been so good in his career, the fact he’s been so underwhelming is a little off-putting.

5. Chiefs: How do you go from winning the AFC West crown to being absolutely horrible the next year? How do you go from being pretty decent last year to being absolutely atrocious now? Some injuries (Tony Moeaki, Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry), some in-fighting between general manager Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley (supposedly) and some brutal defense. Whatever the cause, Kansas City has been outscored 89-10 combined by the Bills and the Lions. Considering the Packers, the Steelers, the Chargers (twice), the Patriots, the Bears and the Jets still are on the schedule, the Chiefs might be in for a colonoscopy of a year.

4. Cam Newton: People were split about how Newton would affect the Panthers this season. Some thought he’d be terrible (I’m guilty, as charged). Some thought he would excite the masses in Charlotte with his on-field play and his off-field charisma. But nobody really knew for sure. Remember, about a month ago, we thought Jimmy Clausen might beat out Newton for the starting job (gosh, we were so naïve back then, eh?). But even those who thought he’d be a solid quarterback have to be taken aback by these numbers: a 62.7 completion percentage, 854 passing yards, three scores (we’ll ignore the four interceptions so far) and the record for most passing yards in a pro debut and most passing yards by a rookie. Sure, the Panthers are 0-2, but Newton has been pretty incredible.

3. Bill Belichick: Who would have guessed the Patriots coach would ever allow anybody to film his life for a documentary? The first episode of A Football Life: Bill Belichick on NFL Network was an interesting look at the best coach in the league and what he’s like in the meeting room, the locker room and, interestingly enough, on a boat in Nantucket. Belichick comes off like a cold-blooded SOB around the media, but in this documentary -- the second part of which will air Thursday, and supposedly, he really shows his emotions in that episode -- you can see the guy is actually human. And considering Belichick would be the 32nd NFL coach who I ever believed would agree to something like this, it’s a pleasant surprise.

2. Faking injuries: Did anybody think this stuff wasn’t happening before? Just because Deon Grant might have been faking an injury to slow down the Rams’ no-huddle, hurry-up offense  last Sunday (Grant, by the way, takes GREAT offense that you’d even think so), that’s not to say this tactic hasn’t been used for many, many years. It has; it’s usually just not so obvious. In fact, you can read this brief article from the NY Times in which the Bengals ask the league to look at players faking injuries. That article, by the way, is from 1989.

1. Wade Phillips: He wasn’t the most-respected head coach (I think the second season of Hard Knocks with the Cowboys gave the impression he was kind of a bumbling Texan who let people walk all over him), but as a defensive coordinator, he’s done a wonderful job in Houston. Since changing Gary Kubiak’s defense to a 3-4 and since the team signed Danieal Manning and Johnathan Joseph in the secondary, Phillips has helped Houston become the top defense in the league, allowing 10 points and 271 yards per game (both rank No. 1 in the NFL). Who would have thought that after last season when the Texans secondary was burned in just about every game they played? Phillips, though he might never get another head coaching job, is saving somebody else’s job right now. We knew Phillips would be good. We didn’t think he’d be this good, this soon.

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Posted on: September 14, 2011 10:42 am
Edited on: September 14, 2011 10:43 am
 

Top Ten with a Twist: Comeback players

M. Stafford, if he stays healthy, could be a candidate for comeback player of the year (US Presswire).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Some had disappointing seasons last year only to find themselves in a brand-new setting this year. Some had worn out their welcome in one city and were rewarded with a new home in a new part of the country. Some were injured, and some just flat-out stunk.

But this is a new season, and it’s never too early to make predictions about the 2011 comeback player of the year, especially since two-time winner Chad Pennington is out for the season and won’t be eligible for his third award until 2012.

You won’t find Albert Haynesworth on this list, because a man who duped one organization out of tens of millions dollars only to find himself holding a golden parachute to the league’s most respected franchise doesn’t need another reward if he potentially plays well (or, unlike in Washington, plays at all). But pretty much everybody else is eligible for a spot on our latest Top Ten with a Twist: Potential Comeback Players of the Year.

10. Kevin Kolb: I originally wasn’t going to put him on this list, because simply put, I’m not entirely sure he’s going to live up to his $63 million ($20 million guaranteed) contract in Arizona. But after his 18 of 27, 309-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Cardinals win against the Panthers (all while getting sucked into the “Cam Newton is awesome” maelstrom), it’s at least a possibility Kolb will play like Arizona believes he can. Kolb supporters point to an impressive two-game stretch he had in 2009 for why he’s worth all that money. I’m more interested in his 130 quarterback rating from Sunday and where he can go from there.

9. Chris Johnson: You might not know this, but last year, Johnson had a disastrous season. When you compare him to 2009, his performance declined by more than 600 yards and he scored three less rushing touchdowns. If that’s not the sign of a guy who has already become much less effective … wait, what’s that? Johnson still rushed for 1,364 yards and 11 touchdowns last season? Oh, never mind. But here’s the thing with Johnson. He keeps proclaiming that he’s going to rush for 2,000 yards, and while he did it in 2009, he fell woefully short last year. And yes, he won’t make it 2,000 in 2011 either. But he’ll also be better than last year, particularly since he now should be completely happy with the money he’s making.

8. Bob Sanders: We all know Bob Sanders can’t stay healthy. Not after missing 64 of 112 career games with the Colts. And because we’ve barely seen the guy (only nine times in the past three seasons) we always seem to lose sight of the fact that Sanders was once a premier safety threat  mentioned in the same breathe as Troy Polamalu and Ed Reed. One good sign for Sanders’ return to respectability: he didn’t have to spend this offseason rehabbing an old injury. But Sanders also is 30 now, where the aches and pains increase rather than diminish. In his first game with San Diego, he accumulated six tackles. But at least he didn’t leave the game with an injury. Which, with Sanders, is pretty good news.

7. Tim Hightower: You’ll recall that Hightower had a bit of a fumbling problem as the No. 2 running back behind Beanie Wells in Arizona -- he had eight lost fumbles combined in the past two seasons -- and though Hightower had good production in place of the injured Wells, the Cardinals decided they’d rather have Wells than Hightower. The Redskins, who were saying goodbye to Clinton Portis, went after him, and their interest was rewarded this week when Hightower looked solid, rushing 25 times for 72 yards and a score. Just as important, though, is his pass protection and his versatility (he’s a pretty good receiver as well). Just as long as he doesn’t fumble, he could be a really good addition for Washington.

6. Steve Smith (Eagles version): We still don’t know how healthy Smith is, but the fact that he was active for the first game -- much to the chagrin of the Giants, I imagine -- is awfully impressive, considering he was coming off microfracture surgery on his knee. He wasn’t targeted by Michael Vick, and he didn’t play all that much. But the fact he was out there at all was pretty ridiculous. Smith probably won’t be healthy enough to produce the stats that would give him a legit shot at the comeback player of the year, but he’s already gone to extraordinary lengths to return this soon, so why not?

Henne5. Steve Smith (Panthers version): Aside from all those Panthers fans who now have hope, receiver Steve Smith has to be one of the biggest Cam Newton fans around. For a guy who wanted out of Carolina as soon as possible (and as receiver, why would he want to try to field passes from Jimmy Clausen?), the infusion of Newton into this offense was the main reason Smith exploded for eight catches, 178 yards and two touchdowns. Considering he only accumulated 46 catches for 554 yards and two (!) scores in 2010, a little Newton in his life apparently has gone a long way.

4. Chad Henne: Despite Miami fans chanting that they wanted Kyle Orton (who now has to hear the chants of “We want Tebow” in Denver) in the preseason, the popular storyline out of south Florida is that Henne finally will turn himself into a legit starting quarterback. Henne was a major storyline in the offseason -- coach Tony Sparano said “we’ll see” about Henne’s chances of starting and receiver Brandon Marshall laid out in detail why Tyler Thigpen was a better player until Henne began to make believers out of his teammates, who voted him offensive captain. It’ll continue to be a storyline as long as Henne plays the way he did against the Patriots (30 of 49 for 416 yards, two touchdowns and a garbage-time interception) in one of the best performances of his pro career.

3. Rex Grossman: Based on the way he played against the Giants on Sunday, I thought about putting Grossman higher on the list. But I just don’t see him as a top-15 quarterback -- this season or any other. Maybe if he got to play against the Giants shell of a defense every week. But until that happens, I don’t see him taking home the hardware. That said, Grossman surprised many people this week -- including, I imagine, John Beck -- and didn’t look like the same quarterback who was Donovan McNabb’s two-minute offense replacement. At least, he played like a legitimate starting quarterback.

2. Bryant McKinnie: Surely, McKinnie would be the first comeback player of the year award winner to have weighed 400 pounds (allegedly) and gotten released from his old team for it (not to mention earning $75,000 for getting down to a trim 372). But McKinnie, as the new left tackle for the Ravens, helped set the tone last Sunday when, on the first play of the first Ravens drive, he dispatched Steelers linebackers James Farrior and James Harrison, allowing Baltimore running back Ray Rice a 36-yard gain. Baltimore ended up beating Pittsburgh by four touchdowns, and don’t think McKinnie wasn’t a big reason for that. If he keeps it up, perhaps McKinnie can make history as the first offensive line ever to win the award.

1. Matthew Stafford: The Lions quarterback scared the daylights out of just about everybody when he hobbled to the sideline with an apparent injury in Detroit’s season-opening win against the Buccaneers. For a guy who’s missed 19 games the past two years with various ailments, that was not a moment for the weak at the heart. But it was only cramps, and during Detroit’s victory, Stafford showed that he still has the talent to be a top-five quarterback. And considering most of the comeback players of the year happen to be quarterbacks, that doesn’t hurt his chances either.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com