Ottawa Redblacks stun Calgary Stampeders to win 104th Grey Cup

Few gave the Ottawa Redblacks a chance in the 104th Grey Cup, but after four quarters and overtime, Ottawa defeated the heavily favoured Calgary Stampeders 39-33.

Calgary entered the Grey Cup as 9.5 point favourites. In the regular season they went 15-2-1. A Grey Cup win, would have put Calgary in the conversation as one of the best teams in CFL history. Earlier in the week, they cleaned up at the CFL awards ceremony. In the two previous matchups with Ottawa, one ended in a 26-26 draw, the other a convincing Calgary win. But in neither game, did former Stampeders quarterback Henry Burris play.

Burris played one of the greatest games in his 20-year professional career to led Ottawa to its first Grey Cup since 1976. In what very well might be his final CFL game, the 41-year old Burris threw for 461 yards, 3 touchdowns and ran for a touchdown.

The 104th Grey Cup will go down as an instant classic and one of the biggest upsets in CFL history. Ottawa jumped out to a 27-7 lead early in the third quarter. But in the second half, Calgary slowly chipped away tying the game and forcing overtime.

Ottawa finished the regular season 8-9-1, winning the East Final against the Edmonton Eskimos in a 103rd Grey Cup rematch. But they followed the blueprint they used in their two previous matchups with Calgary to victory. For the third time this season, Ottawa held the league’s Most Outstanding Canadian, Calgary’s Jerome Messam to under 40 yards rushing.

But the difference between the first two matchups and the Grey Cup, Ottawa forced Calgary quarterback and Most Outstanding Player Bo-Levi Mitchell to uncharacteristically turn the football over. Mitchell threw three interceptions, gave Ottawa’s offense the chance to win advantage in time of possession and total yards battle.

After going down 27-10, Mitchell lead back to back touchdown drives to cut the score to 27-23, after kicker Rene Paredes missed a point after with 13:35 to play. With six minutes left, Burris scored a touchdown, but kicker Ray Early missed the point after. Six minutes left and Ottawa lead 33-23.

In the CFL, three minutes can feel like an eternity, and for Ottawa it certainly did. With 1:38, Most Outstanding Rookie DaVaris Daniels ran for a 19 yard touchdown. Down three Calgary got the ball back and drove down inside the Ottawa five yard line. A touchdown would win the Grey Cup for Calgary, a field goal would force overtime.

From the two yard line, CFL Coach of the year Dave Dickenson elected to use Canadian quarterback Andrew Buckley on a quarterback rollout to score the winning touchdown. Ottawa stuffed the play and forced Calgary to hit the game tying field goal.

The decision to go with Buckley will be compared to Super Bowl 49, when the Seattle Seahawks elected to pass the football from the two yard line instead of handing the football to bruising running back Marshawn Lynch.

In the Calgary backfield, is most outstanding Canadian, and league leading rusher Jerome Messam. At 6’3” and 263lbs, Messam is a difficult man to stop from getting two yards. The decision to not give Messam a chance to win the game, will be discussed for years to come.

In overtime, Burris led his final touchdown drive, connecting with Ernest Jackson for the go-ahead touchdown. A failed two point convert gave Calgary a chance to win with a touchdown and convert. Calgary went for the tying touchdown on the first play, but could not complete the pass. Second down, Calgary went short, but again, incomplete. Third down, Mitchell’s pass fell incomplete. Despite, early contact from the Ottawa defender, the flags remained in the officials’ pockets. Ottawa had won the Grey Cup.

 

The road to the Grey Cup goes through Calgary

The road to the Grey Cup goes through Calgary. If you want to win this year’s CFL championship game, you must do what only two teams were able to do in 18 games, beat the Stampeders.

Calgary’s season is simply incredible. The team went 15-2-1, including a 16 game unbeaten streak. The lone losses for Calgary came in the team’s first and last games of the season. Calgary lost to British Columbia by just two points in the first week of the season. In the team’s regular season finale, Calgary elected to rest key starters rather than chase the record books. A win would have given them the best record in CFL history. Instead, Calgary lost by nine points to Montreal. Since the opening weekend, Calgary has seemed unbeatable. It is very difficult to pinpoint any weakness that the Stampeders have.

Quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell, will likely win the league’s Most Outstanding Player in a landslide. The offensive line is the best in the league. Derek Dennis will likely be named the league’s Most Outstanding Lineman. The line was able to keep Mitchell upright, surrendering just 20 sacks and open up massive holes for Canadian running back Jerome Messam. Messam could very well walk away as the league’s most outstanding Canadian, after he led the league in rushing and totaling over 1600 yards and 12 touchdowns. Defensively, the Stampeders have no obvious weakness. A strong defensive line, led by CFL sack leader Charleston Hughes. It’s just hard to move the football against the Calgary defense.

Even more incredible is that Calgary is winning with first year Head Coach Dave Dickenson. John Hufnagel was one of the best head coaches in the CFL, but the transition to offensive co-ordinator Dickenson as the new Head Coach has been flawless.

The only adversity Calgary has faced this season was the murder of rookie defensive back Mylan Hicks outside of a Calgary nightclub after a game. Despite the tragedy, the Stampeders continue to win, and win with relative ease. With a week 20 bye, and bye week in the first round of the playoffs, Calgary will have three weeks off before playing again. The Edmonton Eskimos were in the same situation last season, and went on to win the Grey Cup.

If Edmonton wants to win again this season, they will have to go on the road and win three games. With Edmonton crossing-over into the east, they will have to go through Hamilton and then Ottawa before a potential match up with Calgary in the Grey Cup. While Edmonton has a dynamic offense, with quarterback Mike Reilly, receivers Adarius Bowman and Derel Walker, defensively teams can move the football and put up points. While Alberta football fans are licking its lips, at the chance to determine which team owns the province’s football rivalry, it is no easy tasks for the Eskimos to reach the Grey Cup.

Unfortunately, for Hamilton and Ottawa, facing Edmonton team in the playoffs, makes both team’s road to the Grey Cup challenging. Both Hamilton and Ottawa are deeply flawed incomplete football teams. The strengths of both teams is their offenses. But both have taken drastic hits, as they both lost their top receivers.  Hamilton’s Andy Fantuz and Ottawa’s Chris Williams both tore their ACLs. To make matters worse, neither defense can stop anyone. Both teams routine allow teams to pass for whatever they want. Special teams have gone from strength to weakness. Both kickers have gone from dependable to inconsistent, as both have missed their share of kicks as the season has progressed. If either team is to advance to the Grey Cup, it will be from hot quarterback play and home field advantage. Both starting quarterbacks Zack Collaros and Henry Burris are capable of putting up points to win one game. But the odds either team winning consecutive games is unlikely.

If a team is going to upend Calgary, it will be either Winnipeg or BC. Both are the most complete teams next to Calgary, and just a single win separated the two teams in the standings. The one win separating the two, is BC’s week one victory over Calgary.

Winnipeg started the season slowly, but capitalized on a quarterback change. After a 1-4 start, Head Coach Mike O’Shea replaced turnover prone Drew Willy with veteran game manager Matt Nichols. The Bombers turn their season around, finishing 10-3. If either team is to beat Calgary in the west final, they must get to the quarterback and create turnovers. Disrupt Mitchell and you have a chance to win. Winnipeg led the league in takeaways behind Maurice Leggett’s seven interceptions. Winnipeg’s formula to victory is simple, control time of possession, and win the turnover battle. If they do both, they have a chance of winning.

BC is led by young quarterback Jonathan Jennings and coaching legend Wally Buono. The Lions defense is filled with play makers with the ability to get to the quarterback and take the football away. Solomon Elimimian and Adam Bighill are two of the league’s best linebackers. Chris Rainey is the league’s top returner. If the Lions have one weakness, it is their kicking game. Richie Leone is one of the best punters in the league, but he leaves a lot to be desired as a field goal kicker. With home field advantage, the Lions have to be favoured to get to Calgary for the West Final.

If no team can get hot at the right time, generate a pass rush and score points, Calgary will be celebrating a Grey Cup victory for the second time in three years. Additionally, a Grey Cup win would put this year’s Stampeders’ team in the conversation as one of the greatest teams of all time.

The Highs and Lows of Josh Gordon’s NFL Career

There is no denying that when Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Josh Gordon is on a NFL field he is a tremendous player. The problem is Gordon has not played in a NFL game since December 21st 2014 because of several suspensions for marijuana use and drunk driving. Week five was supposed to mark the return of Gordon to the NFL, after 659 days away from the field. But on September 29th, Gordon announced that he would enter an inpatient rehab facility, further delaying his return to the Browns.

Since being taken in the 2012 supplement draft by the Browns, Gordon has played in 35 of a possible 68 games through the first four weeks of the 2016 season. In the games he has played in Gordon has caught 161 passes for 2754 yards and 14 touchdowns. In the 2013 season, Gordon led the league in receiving yards, despite missing the first two games due to suspension.

Suspensions have followed Gordon throughout his football career. While playing his college football at Baylor, Gordon was found by local Waco, Texas police officers passed out with his teammate in a Taco Bell drive through. Marijuana was found in the car, and Gordon received his suspension in October 2010. In July 2011, Gordon failed a drug test for marijuana and was kicked off the Baylor team.

Gordon declared for the supplement draft and the Browns gave up a second round pick to select him, dispute his off the field troubles. For almost two years, Gordon looked to have put his issues behind him. But he would fail another drug test in June 2013. The NFL suspended him the first two games of the season. When Gordon returned to the field that season he was the best receiver in the NFL.

Despite the Browns’ struggles on the field since they returned to the NFL in 1999, Gordon had given the entire fan base some reason to be optimistic. But that optimism would be crushed following a disastrous offseason by Gordon. In June 2014, he would be arrested for a DUI in Raleigh. Seven weeks later, Gordon would fail another drug test and was initially suspended for the entire season. Upon appeal, Gordon had his suspension reduced to ten games. Gordon returned from his suspension to play five games for the Browns, before the team suspended him for what they called a violation of team rules.

In the weeks following the Browns’ decision to suspend Gordon, he failed another test. On February 3rd 2015, Gordon was officially suspended for the entire 2015 season, for failing a test for alcohol use. Due to his previous failed tests, and DUI, Gordon was subjected to suspension if he tested positive for alcohol as part of his agreement with the NFL substance abuse program.

After a year away from football, Gordon applied for reinstatement, only to have his application rejected after failing yet another test in March 2016. Since his first acknowledge failed test at Baylor in July 2011, Gordon has failed at least five other drug tests. In July, Gordon was officially reinstated, but suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season.

Sunday October 9th, Gordon was return to the field, when the Browns play the New England Patriots and returning Quarterback Tom Brady. It would have been 659 days since Gordon last played a NFL game. But with Gordon’s decision to enter rehab, the days will continue to go on, and fans of the Browns will wonder if they will ever get to see the electric receiver they had seen in 2013. Time will tell if Gordon ever returns to the NFL, and if he can play at the same levels he reached in his 35 games with the Browns.

Josh Gordon’s 659 Day Journey

There is no denying that when Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Josh Gordon is on a NFL field, he is a tremendous player. The problem is Gordon has not played in a NFL game since December 21st 2014, because several suspensions for marijuana use and drunk driving.

Since being taken in the 2012 supplement draft by the Browns, Gordon has played in 35 of a possible 68 games through the first four weeks of the 2016 season. In the games he has played in Gordon has caught 161 passes for 2754 yards and 14 touchdowns. In the 2013 season, Gordon led the league in receiving yards, despite missing the first two games due to suspension.

Suspensions have followed Gordon throughout his football career. While playing his college football at Baylor, Gordon was found by Waco police passed out with his teammate in a Taco Bell drive through. Marijuana was found in the car, and Gordon received his suspension in October 2010. In July 2011, Gordon failed a drug test for marijuana and was kicked off the Baylor team.

Gordon declared for the supplement draft and the Browns gave up a second round pick to select him, dispute his troubles with marijuana. For almost two years, Gordon looked to have put his troubles behind him. But he would fail another drug test in June 2013, and was suspended the first two games of the season. When Gordon returned, he was the best receiver in the NFL.

Despite the struggles on the field, Gordon had given fans some reason to be optimistic. But that optimism would be crushed following a disastrous offseason by Gordon. In June 2014, he would be arrested for a DUI in Raleigh. Seven weeks later, Gordon would fail another drug test and was initially suspended for the entire season, before having his suspension reduced to ten games. Gordon returned from his suspension to play five games for the Browns, before the team suspended him for what they called a violation of team rules.

In the weeks following the Browns, suspending Gordon, he failed another test. On February 3rd 2015, Gordon was officially suspended for the entire 2015 season, for failing a test for alcohol use. Due to his previous failed tests, and DUI, Gordon was subjected to suspension if he tested positive for alcohol as part of his agreement with the NFL substance abuse program.

After a year away from football, Gordon applied for reinstatement, only to have his application rejected after failing yet another test in March 2016. In July, Gordon was officially reinstated, but suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season.

Sunday October 9th, Gordon will return to the field, when the Browns play the New England Patriots and returning Quarterback Tom Brady. It will be 659 days, since Gordon last played a NFL game and only time will tell if Gordon is the same player he was in 2013 or if he has finally put his vices behind him.

 

The Rise and Fall of Robert Griffin

It was supposed to be “the era of unbridled optimism.” Or at least that’s how long-time Washington Post writer, radio host and Pardon the Interruption star Tony Kornheiser described Robert Griffin III, following his impressive debut for the Washington Redskins in 2012. However, since his rookie season, the once bright, unstoppable star of RG3, is fading fast and nearing extinction following the latest in a string of major injuries.

Coming out of high school in Texas, Griffin was a four star recruit, wanted by big time colleges for his ability to run hurdles as much as his ability to quarterback an offense. Griffin initially committed to the University of Houston, before switching his commit to Baylor after Houston Head Coach Art Brilies accepted the same position at Baylor.

Griffin enrolled at Baylor for the spring semester in 2008. Competing on the track team, Griffin ran 400 meter hurdles that semester. Griffin didn’t just run track, he dominated the Big 12 competition and finish third in the NCAA that season. Griffin’s early college success would give him the chance to compete at the 2008 United States’ Olympic trials. As a 17 year old made it to the semi-finals, but failed to qualify for Beijing. The initial foundation for Griffin’s stardom was ignited, and he hadn’t taken a snap on the football field.

As the seasons changed from spring to summer and then fall, Griffin would be named the starting quarterback for the Baylor football team. Griffin’s freshman season, saw him capture the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year, after he completed 59.9 per cent of his passes for 2091 yards and 15 touchdowns. But it was the explosive running ability that put Griffin’s star on the map. Griffin finished the season with 846 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns. Baylor finished 4–8, near the bottom of the Big 12 standings.

Griffin’s initial season would be a sign of what would come during the next four year of his life. But three games into his sophomore season would foreshadow the past four years of Griffin’s career.

Two games into Griffin’s second season, he showed improvement throwing the football. Early in Baylor’s third game of the season, Griffin tore his ACL and was granted a medical redshirt from the NCAA. Griffin would be relegated to the classroom and rehab room. Coming from a military family, work ethic was installed within him from an early age. While at Baylor, Griffin graduated in three years with a GPA of 3.67 and a degree in political science.

After a year of rehab, Griffin returned to the starting lineup for his redshirt sophomore season. Griffin’s ascent to stardom continued, as Baylor reached its first bowl game in 16 years, finishing with a 7–6 record. Griffin continued to improve as a passer, completing 67 per cent of his pass for 3501 yards and 22 touchdowns. The prior year’s injury did not have a negative effect on Griffin’s running ability, as he ran for 635 yards and 8 touchdowns.

Entering his redshirt junior season, Griffin was a potential Heisman Trophy candidate, but nowhere near the favourite to win it. That would all change after one game. Unranked Baylor hosted the 14th ranked Texas Christian University Horned Frogs, in a nationally televised primetime Sunday night game. In what can only be described as an instant classic, Baylor defeated TCU 50–48, with Griffin electrifying the Waco crowd. Griffin completed 21 of 27 passes for 359 yards and five touchdown passes. Griffin was officially a star. The nickname RG3 was nationally known.

Baylor would finish the season 10–3 and ranked 13th in the Associated Press poll. In the classroom, Griffin graduated and began working on his masters in communications. On the football field, Griffin completed 70.2 per cent of his passes for 4293 yards and 37 touchdowns, while adding another 10 touchdowns and 699 yards rushing. Griffin would be awarded the Heisman Trophy as the best player in college football.

But Griffin was more than just a star in college. He had the type of star power that turned Baylor into a star itself. Before the arrival of Griffin, Baylor was a perennial bottom feeder that rarely won anything. But with the Griffin and Briles combination, Baylor became a winner destination program for the top recruits. Baylor had never been a destination program. Top recruits were suddenly coming to Waco, Texas. Despite being located between Dallas and Austin, Texas, nobody ever wanted to come to Baylor, until RG3 made it a destination.

A few weeks later after winning the Heisman, Griffin would play his final game for Baylor. When the lights shined the brightest on national television, so did RG3. Griffin put on yet another highlight reel in a nationally televised primetime game, a trend throughout his career. The season started the same way the season began for Baylor, an instant classic. Baylor defeated Washington 67–56 behind Griffin’s 350 yards and two touchdowns.

Weeks later, Griffin would declare for the 2012 NFL draft. Griffin, along with Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck (who Griffin beat for the Heisman) were considered the top two players available. The Indianapolis Colts selected Luck with the first pick. While the Redskins traded up with the St. Louis Rams. For the Rams’ second overall pick the Redskins sent the sixth overall pick, a second round pick in 2012 (39th overall), and first round picks in 2013 (22nd overall) and 2014 (2nd overall). Expectations were through the roof for Griffin, after the Redskins traded up to select him.

To be a star in college is one thing. Being a star in the NFL is another. Numerous college stars have failed in the NFL. Becoming a star in the NFL, takes a player from national stardom, to international stardom.

The Redskins opened the season in New Orleans against the Saints its notoriously hostile home field advantage. In his first game Griffin announced to the world he was a star and Kornheiser coined the phrase, “era of unbridled optimism.”

Griffin’s stardom can be pinpointed to one play. After completing his first six passes and leading the Redskins to a field goal on their owning drive. Griffin found his offense starting on their 12 yard line. Griffin took the snap from the center faking a handoff to the running back running to his right. The fake, holds up blitzing Saints’ safety Malcolm Jenkins for a split second. The second is all Griffin needs as he throws the ball across the middle of the field to receive Pierre Garcon right before Jenkins hits him. 88 yards later, Garcon wins a footrace to the endzone. The replays cut back to Griffin, showing Jenkins knock him down. Lying on his back, Griffin watches as Garcon breaks loose. At first Griffin’s shoulders slightly off the ground, but as Griffin sees Garcon is going to score he sits up with both arms extending into the air and both index fingers pointing. Griffin would finish with 362 yards and touchdowns leading the Redskins to a 40–32 win.

Washington would start the season 3–3 and would feature Griffin being knocked out of one game and the following week’s game with a concussion. After three consecutive losses, the Redskins season appeared to be over at 3–6.

But Griffin had different ideas. Washington would win their remaining six games, including five divisional games. Yet again, it was Griffin performing on a nationally televised game that again raised his stardom. Following a four touchdown performance, in which he completed 93.3 per cent of his passes in a win over Philadelphia, Washington travelled to Dallas for the annual Thursday Thanksgiving game. Again, Griffin dominated in front of one of the traditionally highest view games of the year. Griffin threw four touchdowns in the win. Griffin would win league honours as rookie of the year after completing 65.6 per cent of his passes for 3200 yards and 20 touchdowns. On the ground Griffin added another 815 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Washington would make the playoffs after winning the NFC East and hosted the Seattle Seahawks in a playoff game. Although, no one knew it at the time, this game proved to dimming of the RG3 star. Washington jumped out to a 14–0 lead, but the Seattle defense did not allow another point after the first quarter. Late in the game Washington center Will Montgomery botches the shotgun snap. Attempting to pick up the loose ball, Griffin’s knee buckles and he collapses on the field, unable to get up. The fans within the stadium were in “stunned silence” as described by Fox play by play man Joe Buck. Griffin had torn his ACL and LCL.

During the off-season, Adidas and Griffin launched their marketing campaign, “All in for week one.” The ads featured Griffin promising to be back for week one of the NFL season, just eight months following major knee surgery. The regular recovery time is closer to a full year.

Kornheiser ripped Griffin. The media firestorm picked up. The once unquestioned star was now second guessed and ridiculed for every comment he made. Griffin did return for week one, but could not reproduce his rookie form and would be shutdown with three games to spare in the season. Griffin produced similar yardage rates, but was less efficient doing so. To compound problems, Griffin’s touchdown numbers sharply declined, while his turnovers increased from seven in 16 regular season games as a rookie to 13 turnovers in 13 games. After the season, Redskins coach Mike Shanahan was fired and replaced with Jay Gruden.

Griffin’s third season saw his passing efficiency improve to levels near his rookie season. But again, Griffin had more turnovers than touchdowns. For the third straight season, Griffin would miss time with an injury. In the second week of the season Griffin dislocated his ankle missing half of the season. Griffin would return to the lineup only to be benched for Colt McCoy. When McCoy was injured, Griffin returned to starting lineup.

Throughout his first three seasons, Griffin had a rocky relationship with both Shanahan and Gruden. Griffin and Shanahan struggled to get along, but made it work in their first season together. The second season saw the relationship fall apart and Shanahan fired for it. The relationship with Gruden never developed. Gruden started Griffin because he had to, not because he wanted to.

Entering his fourth season, Griffin was named the started by Gruden, months prior to camp before changing his mind. Gruden named Kirk Cousins the Redskins starter after Griffin suffered a concussion in the preseason. Cousins was drafted by the Redskins in the fourth round of the same draft as Griffin. The move was second guessed from the moment it was made.

With Cousins as the starter, Griffin dressed for just one game throughout the seasons. The Redskins were doing everything they could to prevent Griffin from getting injured and guaranteeing the fifth year of his contract. Cousins completed 69.8 per cent of his pass for 4166 yards and 29 touchdowns leading the Redskins to a 9–7 record and NFC East title, but lost in the first round to the Green Bay Packers. The Redskins success with Cousins as the starting quarterback ended the RG3 experiment in the District.

Following the conclusion of the NFL season, Griffin was released. A few weeks later, he was signed by the Cleveland Browns to be their starter. One game into the season, Griffin showed flashes of the electric player he had been. But again late in the game, Griffin was injured breaking his coracoid bone in his left shoulder. The injury potential extinguishes the Robert Griffin III star for good. The Browns placed the once star quarterback on injured reserve. Although eligible to return this season, we may have witnessed the last start for RG3 in the NFL. In sad and unfortunate end of an era of unbridled optimism.

Six NFL Teams Gambling on Quarterbacks

In the NFL, quarterback is the most important position. Have one of the best in the league and annually you are in contention to win a Superbowl. If your team is not lucky enough to have one of the few top guys, your chances of winning it all with few exceptions (2000 Baltimore Ravens), are virtually zero. That’s why coming in the 2016 season, six NFL franchises have taken large gambles in attempt to find their man.

The most conventional way for NFL teams to find their starting quarterback is by drafting them, 20 of the 32 teams will be starting a player they drafted. The Los Angeles Rams, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos have each invested draft capital into finding their starter.

The Rams and Eagles both traded up to selected quarterbacks first and second overall in the draft. Both teams are gambling that Jared Goff or Carson Wentz turn into long term starters for their teams. But taking a quarterback at the top of the draft does not guarantee success. For every Peyton Manning drafted first overall in 1999, there is a Ryan Leaf who famously flamed out of the league. If either quarterback hits, it will be easier to justify trading most of their draft picks in the 2016 and 2017 drafts. If one of both of the quarterbacks turns out to be Ryan Leaf like busts, both franchises will be set back three seasons and the coaches and general managers who drafted them will be out of work. While the Broncos drafted Paxton Lynch with the 25th pick overall.

For the Eagles and Broncos it’s a little more complicated than the Rams situation. Before trading up in the draft the Eagles gave incumbent starter Sam Bradford, a mediocre first overall pick for his entire 6 year career a $36 million extension. In addition to signing Bradford, the Eagles gave $21 million to backup Chase Daniel. Add in the Carson Wentz contract and the Eagles will be spending over $30 million on quarterbacks next season.

The Broncos meanwhile are gambling that they made the right decision by refusing to pay former starter Brock Osweiler. The Houston Texans are gambling on Osweiler, by giving him a $72 million contract. Osweiler started seven games in the middle of last season for the Broncos. Osweiler showed some ability but limited mobility in the pocket. By no means did Osweiler blow anyone away and that was largely the reason the Broncos to replace Osweiler with Manning in the playoffs. The Texans are gambling $18 million a year for the next four years that Denver made a mistake letting Osweiler leave town.

In response to losing Osweiler, the Broncos traded virtually nothing to the Eagles for Mark Sanchez. Sanchez, once a sixth overall pick is most famous for running into the butt of his offensive lineman and fumbling. Prior the trade the Broncos had just one quarterback left on the roster, former seventh round pick Trevor Siemian, who has almost no experience. With the lack of quarterback options, the Broncos draft Lynch in the first round. Regarded as a talent project, Lynch could ultimately be the best quarterback drafted in the first round. But Lynch and his raw athletic ability is not expected to play much in 2016. Leaving the Broncos to rely on Sanchez, which the New York Jets and Eagles have learned, is not something you want to do.

The final two teams taking gambles on quarterbacks are the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns. Last season Tyrod Taylor was a revelation in Buffalo. A late round pick of the Baltimore Ravens, Taylor sat on the bench for four seasons. Buffalo gave him a small contract and the opportunity to win the starters job. Taylor won the quarterback job, and performed as a top ten quarterback. The Bills in response are making a $92 million gamble that Taylor is the long term answer in Buffalo.

Perhaps the most interesting and smartest gamble was made by the Browns. The Browns signed former rookie of the year Robert Griffin III to a two year contract worth $15 million. In 2012, Griffin was one of the league’s best and most exciting players. But after tearing his ACL and dislocating his ankle, Griffin is damaged goods. In addition to injuries, Griffin has clashed with two different head coaches while with the Washington Redskins. While the Browns are betting on Griffin this season, they have their bet hedged next season thanks to the Eagles. When the Eagles traded up to second overall they sent a 2017 first round pick to Cleveland. What makes the trade more interesting is, that Cleveland made the trade because they did not believe that Wentz was a quarterback worth taking second overall. The Eagles disagreed and made the large gamble. For the Browns, should Griffin not work out for the Browns they can draft next year’s quarterback prize, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.

Defense Wins Super Bowl 50

The Carolina Panthers have been the NFL’s best team this season. Despite the Panthers winning 14 straight games and finishing the regular season 15-1, few people wanted to acknowledge how good the Panthers are. The Panthers are the betting favourites in Super Bowl 50 for a reason. They are going to win and they are going to win big.

Lead by MVP favourite Cam Newton, and a great defense the Panthers were among the league leaders in points scored and points allowed. In the playoffs the Panthers were more dominate. In their first game the Panthers jumped out to a 31-0 lead eliminating defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks.

In the NFC championship game, the Panthers dominated the Arizona Cardinals. The Panthers defense forced Carson Palmer into four interceptions and recovered a pair of fumbles. The Panthers won 49-15, punching their Super Bowl tickets.

Cam Newton deserves the majority of credit for leading one of the league’s best offenses. However it is the defense that makes the Panthers a truly special team. The defense is headlined by linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Panthers selected the Boston College tackling machine 9th overall in 2012. Kuechly struggled in coverage early in his career. However, Kuechly has emerged as the league’s best linebacker in coverage, and it’s not even close according to Pro Football Focus. Quarterbacks see receivers being covered by Kuechly and assume that a linebacker covering a receiver is mismatch. It’s a mistake that both Russell Wilson and Palmer made in the playoffs. Both times Kuechly intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown. In Denver’s victory over New England in the AFC championship game, tight end Owen Daniels scored two touchdowns on blown coverages. Against Kuechly, Daniels will not be able to create any separation.

Part of what makes Kuechly so effective, is Panthers dominate defensive line that beats opposing offensive lineman and prevents them from getting to Kuechly in the second level. The Panthers built the interior of their defensive line in the 2013 NFL draft. The Panthers selected Star Lotulelei 13th overall and Kawann Short 44th overall. Both have been disruptive forces in the middle of the line. Lotulelei received the major of media hype early on, but it has been Short that has emerged as the star.

Short was named to the All-Pro team after he routinely beat offensive lineman. Short finished with 55 tackles and 11 sacks. The biggest weakest on the Broncos offense is their offensive line, that Khalil Mack dominated for five sacks in a half. With Short and Lotulelei, the Panthers should win the battle in the trenches, limiting any running game for the Broncos and collapsing the pocket on Peyton Manning.

If there is a weakness for the Panthers defense it is the secondary and an injury to linebacker Thomas Davis. Davis broke his arm in the Arizona game but vows to play in the Super Bowl. His replacement is Panthers first round pick Shaq Thompson. Thompson did not see many snaps his rookie season, but maybe a better athlete than Davis. Thompson played both running back and safety at Washington before settling in as a coverage linebacker in the Panthers sub packages. While in the secondary, Josh Norman has emerged from small school obscurity into one of the NFL’s top corners. For most of the season throwing at Norman was no better than throwing the ball into the dirt. Norman will be in coverage on either Demaryius Thomas or Emmanuel Sanders and limit their impact on the game. Outside of Norman, the Broncos could find mismatches with Roman Harper who is a good run stuffer as a safety, but a liability in coverage.

Offensively, the Panthers have to counter a Broncos pass rush that hit Tom Brady a record 23 times. Like the Broncos, the Panthers have a poor offensive line. Blind Side tackle Michael Oher maybe a well-regarded player due to the Michael Lewis book and movie about his life. But Oher has consistently graded as one of the NFL’s worst tackles over the past three seasons. Luckily for Oher, Newton counters any pass rush with his size and speed. Newton is similar in size to both of Denver’s top pass rushers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. What makes Newton so dangerous is his ability to break contain, extend the play and pick up first downs.

The Broncos possess a very good run defense lead by Derek Wolfe. The Broncos will certainly limit the production of Panthers’ back Jonathan Stewart, but they will not be able to limit Newton’s effectiveness as a runner. Newton’s ability to run makes him extremely difficult to account for. Wade Phillips knows this and will almost certainly place a spy on Newton. But this will leave the Broncos vulnerable in coverage.

The Broncos have a definite advantage in the passing game. Denver has three capable starting corners in Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr and Bradley Roby. The Panthers’ receivers outside of tight end Greg Olsen, somehow form a functional unit, despite being a collection of players no one really wanted. With no star receiver, the Broncos won’t match a corner up with any receiver. However they will likely match safety T.J. Ward on Olsen. Olsen has been Newton’s favourite target over the five seasons they have played together.

When the game concludes, the Panthers offense will not be the unit that wins them the game. It will be the defense. A defense that will create turnovers and great field position for the offense. Super Bowl 50 could look a lot like the Broncos last trip to the Super Bowl two seasons ago when they lost 43-8 to the Seahawks.