Can Broncos avenge heartbreaking loss to Ravens tonight?

As a Cleveland fan, I have very little sympathy for Broncos fans after watching John Elway in the 1980s. But any fan can appreciate the agony of losing the way the Broncos did last year in the playoffs to the Baltimore Ravens. With less than a minute left in regulation time Joe Flacco threw a bomb to Jacoby Jones to score the tying touchdown. Inexplicably the Denver defenders let him get behind them. Then John Fox went into Marty Schottenheimer mode and got ultra-conservative, not letting Peyton Manning take a shot to drive for a winning field goal. It’s one of those games that will haunt Broncos fans forever.

Now we have a new season, and fans will be anxious to get back in the action tonight when the Ravens return to Denver for the rematch. You can enjoy NFL betting at Sportsbook and other sites around the web. The Broncos opened as big favorites with spreads up to 9.5 points, but money has clearly come in on the Ravens as the spread has come back to 7.5. It’s understandable that the Broncos are favored, as Peyton Manning has a new weapon in Wes Welker and the Ravens had to completely rebuild their defense. There might be more talent on this year’s Ravens defense, but they have not played together in a real game and the leadership of Ray Lewis is gone.

But there are question marks with both teams. For the Broncos, Champ Bailey is out with a foot injury and Von Miller is suspended for six games. The Miller loss is huge while Bailey is getting old so I’m not sure he’s much of a loss. Then we have Elvis Dumervil, who now plays for the Ravens and helped mitigate the loss of some of their defensive players from last year like Paul Krueger. So for the Broncos young players like Derek Wolfe, Robert Ayers and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will need to play well.

For the Ravens, their losses aren’t just on defense. While Jacoby Jones was the hero last year, Anquan Boldin as the true stud of that offense. Can the Ravens keep things going on offense without him? They have talent, but now there will be more pressure on Joe Flacco, especially after the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta.

It should be a great game, and now the spread seems more in line with reality. It looks like a tough pick.

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Philadelphia Eagles go for broke with major upgrades

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick leaves the field after the team lost to the Green Bay Packers in their NFC Wild Card NFL playoff football game in Philadelphia, January 9, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

You can’t buy your way to a championship in the NFL. Just ask Dan Snyder and the Washington Redskins. That said, free agency and shrewd trades can push a good team over the top, and everyone seems to think that the Philadelphia Eagles have made enough upgrades during this frenetic free agent period to make them a serious contender for the Super Bowl. The moves will definitely make this team better.

The acquisition of Nnamdi Asomugha was a shocker and rates as the most important addition. He’s a shut down corner and can elevate this defense. The Eagles added another talented corner in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie as part of the ransom Arizona paid for Kevin Kolb. They also added pass rusher Jason Babin who’s coming off a breakout season. With stud corners and an improved pass rush, the Eagles defense could be dominant.

I like the addition of Vince Young as well, but this is still a risky move. Getting a big-name quarterback as a backup to the brittle Micheal Vick makes a ton of sense, but I don’t see Vince Young as a West Coast offense quarterback. You could have said the same thing about Michael Vick, but Vick was always a better passer than Young. Also, while Vick had his own share of troubles, Young’s problems seem worse. There’s a real issue of whether he can handle the pressure. That said, he’s a real talent, and Andy Reid always gets the most out of his quarterbacks.

The Eagles have stunned the NFL with these upgrades, and now we’ll see if they have enough to topple the Packers in the NFC.

Upgrade today like the Eagles and Best Buy will buy it back when you’re ready for the next big thing

Ten second-year NFL breakout candidates

Players like Matt Ryan, Chris Johnson and Joe Flacco have already pulled a seat up to the proverbially NFL dinner table after turning in solid rookie seasons. But which second-year players (who didn’t have great success in their rookie campaigns) are set for breakout seasons in 2009?

Here are 10 that jump out to me:

(Note: I consider players like Ryan, Johnson, Flacco, Jonathan Stewart, Matt Forte and Steve Slaton as already having breakout seasons, so you won’t find them on this list.)

In no particular order:

1. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
Justin Fargas is a favorite of head coach Tom Cable’s in Oakland, but the Raiders didn’t select McFadden with the fourth overall pick in last year’s draft not to take full advantage of his talents. Thus far this summer, the Raiders have lined McFadden up not only at running back, but also at receiver and even quarterback. With Cable calling the offensive plays this season, McFadden is set to see plenty of opportunities to excel in Oakland’s offense and as long as he can stay healthy (a turf toe injury slowed him down last season) the former top 5 pick could emerge as the Raiders’ most potent offensive weapon. The one part of his game that he’ll need to improve on, however, is his ability to run between the tackles. If he can’t, the hard-running Fargas will steal plenty of McFadden’s touches this season.

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Super Bowl XLIII Notes 1/30

Ben Roethlisberger– Despite the best efforts of Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin to keep the story under raps, Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger apparently underwent an x-ray on his ribs on Wednesday. Big Ben suffered the injury in the AFC Championship Game, but there is no indication that he’ll miss the Super Bowl. (

– Hines Ward returned to full practice on Thursday and is on track to start Sunday against the Cardinals. (

– Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times writes that the Steelers’ defense won’t let Kurt Warner enjoy a fairy-tale ending to his 2008 season. (Los Angeles Times)

– Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News wrote an excellent piece featuring the top two safeties in this year’s Super Bowl: Adrian Wilson of the Cardinals and Troy Polamalu of the Steelers. (Dallas Morning News)

– Need picks for the Super Bowl? Head to our partners at Sports Gaming for daily picks & previews from some of the best handicappers in the business. They’ll give you top picks throughout the year.

Super Bowl XLIII Notes 1/29

Hines Ward– Steelers’ wideout Hines Ward did not go through 11-on-11 drives on Wednesday, but he did catch passes and made cuts on his sprained knee. He’s still expected to play on Sunday. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

– The Cardinals are expected to use rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to shadow Pittsburgh wideout Santonio Holmes. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

– Speaking of Holmes, he admitted to the press on Wednesday that he used to sell drugs as a teenager, but now hopes to help at-risk teens in the same situation he was in growing up to turn the situation into a positive. (Associated Press)

– Former Steeler Rod Woodson believes that Kurt Warner and the Cardinals may go straight into their two-minute offense to start the game so that Pittsburgh’s defense can’t get into their blitz-checks right away. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

– Kurt Warner hopes the young Cardinals can avoid the pitfalls that come with playing in the Super Bowl. (

– Need picks for the Super Bowl? Head to our partners at Sports Gaming for daily picks & previews from some of the best handicappers in the business. They’ll give you top picks throughout the year.

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