2012 NFL kickoff season preview

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By: Larry Fitzgerald
Originally posted 09/06/2012
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

It’s been a long time since an NFL season started on a Wednesday, like more than 50 years. Because the Democratic Convention is this week in Charlotte, North Carolina, and President Obama delivers his acceptance speech Thursday, the NFL respectfully moved the opener.

But here we go! The biggest issue is the NFL lockout of the game officials. The NFL has to reach a deal soon — the integrity of everything they do hinges on a deal.

The replacement officials were and are in way over their heads. The game is not only too fast for them, but also many of the replacements are apprehensive and simply not very good. Not everyone can play in the NFL; that’s why 32 teams started with 90 players in training camp and last week cut them down to 53 per team.

Some of these replacement officials would never make the big leagues. Many have worked Division III college football games, and that’s it.

The last time the NFL was in this position was 2001 when the regular officials returned with a deal for week two. The NFL has preached the new, safer NFL with a major concern on players’ safety, and then they put the players at risk of injury with less-than-minor-league officials. And by having some games on Thursday nights all 16 weeks of the season on their prized NFL Network, which the owners own.

The 2011 season was one of the highest scoring seasons on record; three teams — Green Bay, New Orleans and New England — scored over 500 points. Which means they were virtually unstoppable. That is until the playoffs, when the games are rugged power contests and the G-Men of New York, the Giants, prevailed in Super Bowl 46.

Here’s how I view this season playing out and who will qualify for the 12 playoff spots (playoff teams in bold with *)

NFC East: Philadelphia*, Dallas, New York, Washington;
NFC North: Green Bay*, Chicago* Detroit, Vikings;
NFC South: Atlanta*, New Orleans, Carolina, Tampa Bay;
NFC West: San Francisco*, Arizona*, Seattle, St. Louis
AFC East: New England*, New York*, Buffalo, Miami;
AFC North: Pittsburgh*, Baltimore*, Cincinnati, Cleveland;
AFC South: Houston*, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Indianapolis; AFC West: Denver*, Kansas City, San Diego, Oakland

Larry Fitzgerald can be heard weekday mornings on KMOJ Radio 89.9 FM at 8:25 am, on WDGY-AM 740 Monday-Friday at 12:17 pm and 4:17 pm, and at www.Gamedaygold.com. He also commentates on sports 7-8 pm on Almanac (TPT channel 2). Follow him on Twitter at FitzBeatSr. Larry welcomes reader responses to info@lar ry-fitzgerald.com, or visit www.Larry-Fitzgerald.com.

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SPORTS NUGGETS: Let the NFL Obsession Begin

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By Eric Nelson
September 4, 2012
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – Sports Nuggets from the Land of Lakes…

September has arrived, meaning the USA now segues from Summer to Fall. Trips to the lake or ocean become less frequent, the scent of burning leaves is a common smell in many towns, and the pumpkins are almost ready for market. September means change, and it also means it’s time for KICKOFF.

The NFL is here. Long live the shield. The USA is foaming at the mouth for another NFL season to begin. We drool at the thought of our annual Fantasy Football draft, tailgating hours before kickoff on the blacktop surrounding our favorite venue, or slipping on a Cam Newton or Drew Brees jersey.

So, to appease the NFL Nation, here are Sports Nuggets predictions for the upcoming season:
Peyton Manning becomes more popular in Colorado than skiing. The Indy icon might be a different kind of horse – going from the Colts to the Broncos – but look for Peyton to remain an NFL stallion…

The New York Jets locker room turns toxic. In one corner, there is Rex Ryan, full of bravado and salty language. In another corner, there is Santonio Holmes, accused of quitting on his team in the Jets final game against Miami last January. In another corner, there is Mark Sanchez burdened by lofty expectations and looking over his shoulder at a high-profile backup. And in another corner there is Tim Tebow, praying, and waiting for a chance to move past Sanchez on the quarterback depth chart. The Jets are a lightning rod team with a knack for garnering negative headlines in the NJ/NYC market…

Despite being Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants will continue to get less attention than the Jets. Their coach Tom Coughlin is old school, and does not seek the spotlight. Their quarterback Eli Manning is an aw shucks kind of guy with Louisiana roots. He is also unflappable and now has two Super Bowl rings – one more than brother Peyton.The Giants fly under the radar and are the polar opposite of the Jets – their Met Life Stadium neighbors…

Cam Newton continues to get better. Carolina Cam made a tsunami-like splash in his rookie season (4051 yards passing, 21 TD tosses, 706 yards rushing and 14 touchdown runs). Newton is determined to avoid a sophomore slump and keep up with the likes of Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman in the QB-heavy AFC South…

The Detroit Lions will not become a Super Bowl threat until they tone down their chippy play. The Lions were the third most penalized team in the NFL last season with 128 penalties for 1,075 yards. Channel your on-field anger Ndamukong Suh, and coach Jim Schwartz, please give Jim Harbaugh a sincere post-game handshake after your week 2 Sunday night game in San Francisco…

By the way, the guess is at least 50 cameras will jam the Candlestick field to see if Harbaugh and Schwartz have any love for each other…

There will be just as many cameras stalking Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III when Indianapolis plays at Washington in week 3. Luck and RG III better get used to the paparazzi. When you are chosen 1-2 in the NFL draft, you swim in a fishbowl…

The Russell Wilson dice roll in Seattle will be one of the biggest gambles this season. The Seahawks signed free agent Matt Flynn to a mega bucks contract in the off-season, but Wilson beat him out for the starting quarterback job. According to USA Today, Wilson (a third round pick) is the lowest-drafted rookie quarterback to open a season since Kyle Orton (fourth round) started for Chicago in 2005. We knew the Seahawk’s 2012 QB would have Wisconsin connections – we just did not know it would be WIlson (who played for the Badgers), instead of Flynn (who came from Green Bay)…

Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson returns from a serious knee injury and has success. AP has been on the comeback trail for months, spending countless hours in the weight room and running – trying to get back to his All-Galaxy form. No one outworks AP, and that will pay off as he builds on his fabulous legacy…

The Dallas Cowboys continue to be NFL posers. If the Cowpokes did not have a star on their helmet, did not play in DFW, or did not have the reputation of being America’s Team, they would be just another franchise. Dallas has not won a crown since Super Bowl XXX, and since then the Cowboys are just 2-7 in the post-season. However, CBS, NBC, FOX and ESPN continue to force feed Dallas on the NFL Nation. Until Jerry Jones gives up total control, the Cowboys will be the third most successful pro team in the Metroplex, behind the MLB Rangers and NBA Mavericks. And the second best NFL team in Texas, behind Houston…

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady will continue to put up cartoon-like passing numbers on a weekly basis. As good as Rodgers and Brady were in 2011, neither QB accomplished their goal of winning the Super Bowl. Both are motivated to win a title this season…

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Vikings rebuilding – not “rebuilt”

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by Scott Bertsch
September 2, 2012

MINNEAPOLIS – The Vikings are rebuilding, and are not “rebuilt” as they would have you believe. After Friday’s cuts and Saturday’s moves it is clear the Vikings’ youth movement is in full force. While there was really only one even slight surprise on cut down day, the release of veteran QB Sage Rosenfels, the overall make-up of the roster proves that the Vikings are in a rebuilding process that they likely hope will leave them ascending in a couple of years just as the Packers, Bears and Lions are beginning to age a bit.
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Larry Fitzgerald, Jr. reaps rewards for giving back

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By Larry Fitzgerald
Originally posted 08/31/2012
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder

SCOTTSDALE, AZ — Monday, August 27, I’m on the road again doing what I do. This time, I’m not covering a game or sporting event. As many of you know, my oldest son Larry, Jr., NFL star with the Arizona Cardinals, has done many good things on and off the field.
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Americans dominate again in London

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By: Larry Fitzgerald
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
08/16/2012

Greatest nation on Earth, yes, I’m talking about us. We have our issues that need to be worked out, but clearly there is no better place to belong than in the United States.

Our healthcare system is the worst, our politics and morals are questionable along political lines, especially when you will do nothing to help those in need if it means going against your political stance. However, our athletes again traveled to the London Olympics dedicated to reminding the world we are number one.

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Hall of Fame Game kicks off NFL preseason Saints win, but ‘bounty-gate’ suspensions hurt

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By Larry Fitzgerald
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Originally posted 08/08/2012
CANTON, OHIO – The sports world is flying with the spectacular Summer Olympics of London, NFL training camps underway, preseason games starting up and MLB getting to the dog days of summer.

I’ve been covering the NFL 34 years now, and for the first time I paid a visit to the Canton, Ohio home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This year’s class of inductees included Curtis Martin, William Roof, Cortez Kennedy, Chris Doleman and Delonte Dawson.
Last year’s Hall of Fame Game was canceled due to the NFL lockout between the owners and the players. It was the first time the game was not played in 45 years. This year the two teams, New Orleans Saints and Arizona Cardinals, kicked off the season preseason. The Saints won 17-10.
Canton’s Fawcett Stadium seats about 22,000 fans. It’s a high school football stadium. Tickets to the game are $60, and the sales of all tickets go to the athletic programs of the high schools in Canton.

The business of football continues to hang over the game because the game was handled by a crew of replacement officials. The replacement refs had college experience; the regular officials were sorely missed. Several times the replacement officials made glaring mistakes that indicated they were in way over their heads.

The Saints have been the single most talked about football team since the Giants Super Bowl win over New England with all the suspensions of players and coaches and management resulting from the NFL’s investigation into the so-called “bounty gate” scandal.

Jonathan Vilma, the Saints’ veteran linebacker, was suspended the entire 2012 season by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Vilma, through the NFL Players Association and in civil court, has maintained that he is innocent and that the league cannot prove his involvement. The NFL has offered Vilma a reduced eight-game suspension on the condition he drops his civil suit set for Friday against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, accusing him of defaming the character of Vilma.

Remember, Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was suspended the entire 2012 season without pay, about $7 million. General Manager Mickey Loomas was suspended eight games. Ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was also suspended indefinitely.

Whatever evidence the NFL has on Payton, Williams and Loomas as management supervisors and coaches you would think would link them to the players and their actions – Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita and Vilma – who executed the physical bounty program. Apparently the NFL does not want to share any more than they have already publicly.

Vilma is fighting for his career and his tarnished reputation, trying to smoke out the details that led to his suspension. The collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players gives the commissioner sweeping authority over issues of integrity and discipline regarding on- and off-the-field issues.In time we will see how Vilma’s fate plays out. Usually, where there is smoke there is fire.

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Slam Dunks

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Post-season predictions include a heavy dose of Linsanity

By Ray Jones
GAMEDAY GOLD

MINNEAPOLIS – In my preseason predictions I picked the New York Knicks and the OKC Thunder to go to the NBA Finals due in large part to my faith in Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. Well, I am here to say that although I am staggering on these picks, I am NOT going to waver now….

San Antonio Spurs have an experience and big game talent advantage over the Utah Jazz. Spurs in 5 games with Tony Parker and the Spurs Bench depth providing the difference…
OKC vs the Dallas Mavericks. I think that the Thunder in essence got bored towards the end of the regular season. For the Mavs… No Tyson Chandler, no chance. Unless Dirk Nowitski COMPLETELY dominates his star match up with Durant which is unlikely, I don’t see this going more than 6 games… at most…. Read more

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