Tag Archives: Denver Broncos

Wine at the Super Bowl and other thoughts on the game

28 Feb

In the lead up to Super Bowl 50 there were a number of articles about all of the great wines that you would find at Super Bowl 50 http://tinyurl.com/jququku  http://tinyurl.com/gvbk6cl .  As part of my dedication to making this the best blog that covers both wine & football.  I figured that I had better check it out.  A friend of mine who works for the NFL was able to hook me up with a ticket to the game & to the tailgate party.  He also arranged for me to ride to Santa Clara from the Hilton Union Square on the NFL friends & family bus.  Here are my random thoughts on the game & the game day experience.

Ready to start the big day, I got up at 5 AM to head to San Francisco.  I was really worried that traffic would be crazy on the Bay Bridge.  It turns out that even on Super Bowl Sunday, Sunday morning traffic is pretty light.  I was able to park at the parking garage with plenty of time to spare.

I met my friend at the Hilton Union Square just before he went to work at the game.  Then an hour or so later, his wife & her uncle & I hopped on the NFL friends & family bus to the stadium.  That is definitely the waIMG_3212y to get to the game.  It beat the heck out of driving to Santa Clara & paying $250 to park at the stadium. rings

At the stadium we milled around for a bit & looked at the stadium & the huge images of all of the Super Bowl championship rings.  Then they opened up the Tailgate party.

 

tailgateThe great wine that they were talking about was not at the NFL’s Official Tailgate party.  The tailgate was a huge event in a large building at the site that was divided into 3 rooms.  There were 50 different food sections serving mostly cold or lukewarm food.  There were also a number of bars that had beer & wine & a few that had spirits or one specific mixed drink.  There were only 2 wines available.  The first was a generic California Chardonnay.  I looked at my pictures from the event & can’t identify the label.  It was everything negative about California Chardonnay.  It had plenty of buttery diacetyl, layered with oak and tropical fruit.  I made it through about half the glass & then ditched it.  The red wine was a Freemark Abbey Super Bowl 50 red blend.  It was a decent red, but nothing special.  I noticed that it is available now for $99.  There are probably worse Super Bowl souvenirs that you could spend your money on, but I wouldn’t buy it thinking it was $100 worth of Napa juice.  I switched over to Jameson’s, which didn’t have a special Super Bowl package, but still tasted great.

sam hunt 2 sam huntThere was music in all three rooms.  In the center room for the tailgate party there was a large stage.  Two different acts played on that stage.  The stages at the end of each of the other rooms had cover bands (although at one point they had a dance group of young cheerleaders up there).  The center stage was for bigger acts.  The first person up was Sam Hunt.  For those who aren’t familiar with him, he is a country singer who played football in college.  He signed with MCA Nashville when pro-football didn’t work out for him.  Since then he has been nominated for CMA awards & Grammys, so I guess it worked out well for him.  Despite my love of country music, I’m not a fan of his work.  I did kind of like his cover of Love the Way You Lie by Rhianna & Eminem.  There wasn’t much of a crowd for his performance.  It was relatively early in the day, so that probably explained it.  The good news for fans was that you could pretty much walk up to the stage.

The second act to perform on the large stage was Seal.  Seaseall has been around quite a while & has sold over 30 million albums.  He had a larger crowd.  Part of that was because he is probably a bigger star & part of it was because the place was filling up by that point.  Seal did some covers & did some of his own songs & the reaction seemed to be pretty good.

The tailgate wrapped up about an hour before the game was set to start.  I headed off to find my seat.  That also gave me time to check out some of the things at the stadium.  They had some interactive games to play.  They also had tons of concession stands with food & souvenirs.  Since this was California, they even had vegan hot dogs.vegan dogs  The lines were long.  If you wanted something to drink though, you could just order it from your phone & have it delivered to your seat.  That was pretty cool, although $7 for a coke & $13 for a Bud Light was kind of crazy.  I passed on all of it though since I had enough at the tailgate party.

I watched the introduction of the former Super Bowl MVPs.  It was actually pretty hard to see them since I was pretty high up & they didn’t have them really in a featured location.  It was cool though.  I know that there were people who booed Tom Brady, but the section I was in had mostly Panther fans & a few Patriot fans, so we all cheered wildly for Brady.  I know that the boos were a story for a couple of days, but I think it was just some of the Broncos fans.

I was really impressed by the Broncos first drive.  Even though it ended with just a field goal, it looked like their offense was on track.  It turned out that was completely wrong.  Denver put up some of the worst numbers for an offense in Super Bowl history…especially for a winning team.first drive

The defenses for both teams were impressive, although poor quarterback play & some unimaginative play calling for the Panthers made them look even better than they actually were.

I should talk more about the game, but anyone who cares about it already knows what happened.  The Panthers had special teams issues & gave up weird fluke plays & Denver made enough out of them to win by 10.  I did have a few more thoughts on the first half.

Wow!  That punt return was weird.  I thought that Carolina might get a penalty for not allowing the returner room to make the catch.  Instead, Jordan Norwood ran the ball back 61 yards.  It looked like Carolina pulled up & didn’t go for the tackle at the point he caught it.  If they had tried, perhaps they would have gotten a penalty, but a 15 yarder would have been worth it.  Instead, it took a bit for them to really pursue.  They caught him, but it was still a record punt return.  That was the second worst example of the game of freezing in the moment instead of playing instinctively.

I was actually surprised that 61 yards was the record.  You would have thought that in 50 years someone would have taken one to the house from the end zone.

Owen Daniels had a solid game considering the quality of the quarterback play.  I always liked him with the Texans & following Gary Kubiak from job to job has turned ohalftimeut well for him.  I think that both the Texans & Ravens could have used him last year.  Instead, he gets a championship ring.

The end of the half was indicative of the way the game went in general.  The Panthers squandered multiple opportunities to put points on the board.  The Broncos made great plays on defense & special teams & put points on the board despite their pathetic offense.

Thoughts on half-time.

It was kind of funny watching the groups of women (& a few men) released to run out to be the crowd for halftime.  They did 4 groups.  Each group sprinted for their corner to get the best view.

Those of us at the stadium watched part of the half time show through a slit in the cards we held up.  I think we did an excellent job of holding up our cards.  They talked to us at every commercial break about being in our seats for the half time performance & coached us on how to hold up a card with one color on one side & another color on the other.  I guess they figured that we were really stupid or really drunk.  There was probably some truth to that for some of the crowd.

I think Coldplay really blew their opportunity.  Instead of taking the opportunity of the half time show & running with it, they turned over most of the performance to Beyonce & Bruno Mars, so they ended up as a supporting act in what should have been their big performance.  Usually after the game there are people talking about the half time performance for better or worse.  This time, people talked about Beyonce & Bruno Mars, but Coldplay vanished into the background.  They probably should have talked to Katy Perry or Prince in advance.

Second half thoughts

Ron Rivera & his coaching staff didn’t seem to make many adjustments to the offense at half time.  I was really expecting them to bring in another back to chip the pass rush & be available for screens.  At least I thought that they would stop the dive up the middle on 1st down.  I was wrong there.  A guy in the row behind me said something along the lines of “If they run into the middle for 1 yard again on first down I’m god damn leaving!”  They did & he didn’t.  I felt his pain though.

Up until Newton’s fumble in the 4th quarter, I felt like the Panthers were a play away from winning the game.  I kept expecting a broken play with Newton getting away & running for a score.  Once he fumbled, it was over.  Even the Broncos offense was going to be able to get 4 yards & make it a 2 score game with not much time left.fumble

There has been a lot said & written about whether or not Newton should have dived on the fumble.   Watching the replay, you can sort of see why he didn’t go for it.  At the time though, it really looked like he stepped back from it instead of trying to save their chance at winning.  In real time, it took so long that all of the Panthers fans were yelling at him to fall on it.  It just seemed to take forever.

I headed for the bus after that.  I have rooted against Manning for too long to watch him hoist the Lombardi trophy as if he had done much to win it.  Trent Dilfer has always been held up as the example of a quarterback who got a ring despite playing badly in the Super Bowl.  In Super Bowl XXXV, Dilfer only completed 12 of 25 for 153 yards and 1 touchdown, with no interceptions.  Manning was 14 of 23 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, 2 fumbles, & an interceptions.  He was lucky that he only threw 1 interception.

Post game

The staff was awesome throughout the event.  They were helpful in getting back to the bus.  Everyone I passed thanked me for coming to the game & wished me a good evening.  It was really impressive.

I passed the set up outside the stadium where Steve Mariucci & Kurt Warner were doing the post-game show.  I was surprised it was as far outside as it was, but I guess they had to get it up & running right away.postgame

The bus back to the hotel was great.  It saved a bunch of time & I was happy someone else was driving through the traffic.

I picked up my car from the parking garage.  Their posted sign said $28 for all day parking, but in the spirit of the Super Bowl, they charged me $45 anyway.

The drive home was easy.  I don’t think I have ever had such an easy time getting out of San Francisco.  Apparently the best time to get to the Bay Bridge is right after a Super Bowl is held in Santa Clara.  It isn’t a situation that comes up too frequently, but now I know.

There was a lot of talk before & after the game about whether race played a role in the perception of Cam Newton.  I thought his widely quoted comment “I’m an African-American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven’t seen nothing that they can compare me to.”  was full of crap.  Newton may have some abilities that make him different from other quarterbacks, but to pretend that people are racist because they have never seen an African-American quarterback in the Super Bowl, or haven’t seen an athletic quarterback is ludicrous.  The previous 2 Super Bowls featured Russell Wilson, who is an athletic African -American quarterback.  The first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl was Doug Williams back in 1988.  There is plenty of racism out there.  There is no need to make it up.  In fact, if you are looking for racism, it is probably easier to find it in the post game coverage of the Broncos.  Von Miller was named the MVP, which made sense.  He was a dominant player on the field. He & Malik Jackson essentially won the game for the Broncos.  Unfortunately most of the post-game coverage  seemed to go to Peyton Manning.  I know it was mostly because he will probably retire & he is going out a winner, but in the immediate aftermath of the game, it seemed like way too much of the coverage was about the guy who did the least to help the team win. Miller got some TV appearances later & he & Jackson will both get huge paychecks, so that probably makes up for it.

Overall, I had a good time going to the Super Bowl.  It is definitely something that I wish every football fan could do at some point.

 

 

Three questions for the wine industry & three questions for each NFL team for the new season

4 Sep

harvest  We are heading into fall!  That means the grape harvest is beginning & football is back!  The new seasons are full of opportunity.  They  are also full of questions.  I have put together three questions about the wine industry going into the fall.  I have also come up with 3 questions for each NFL team as we begin the season.

Three wine questions

  • How long will the drought last in California & will it necessitate permanent changes?

The USDA now says that 60% of California is in “exceptional drought”, while the rest of the state is either classified as being in “drought” or “extreme drought.”  Wines & Vines reported that the University of California at Davis found the current drought is “responsible for the greatest loss of water for agriculture in history.”  They found that the total economic impact to the state was $2.2 billion so far.  Nearly 430,000 acres of the state’s irrigated cropland is going out of production.  If things don’t change, that will be disastrous for America’s food supply & for the wine industry.

Some people in the Central Valley are pulling out 50 year old avocado & citrus trees because of the drought & are planting grapes instead because they use less water.  It is a weird story to watch unfold.

  • What will China’s impact on the wine industry be over the next few years? The working theory for the last few years has been that the Chinese marketing is going to become a behemoth, especially for high end reds. More recently the Chinese government has cracked down on ostentatious displays of wealth, which has tamped down the sale of wine significantly.  In the long term, there are plans to plant so many vineyards in China that they should pass the United States in vineyard acreage.
  • Will the combination of big brands & big retailers doom the industry? Over the last decade the big wine companies have gotten much bigger.  At the same time, the bigger retailer shave gotten much bigger & more influential.  As a result, a very small number of people now determine an inordinate amount of the shelf space at retailers across the country.  I can think of at least one example where someone who doesn’t drink wine at all buys wine for a chain of over 50 stores.  Is that someone who will find you the next cool wine to try?   There will always be innovative wineries making great wine.  The question is how much of it will we see on the shelves & at restaurants?  I sometimes get depressed when I go to a restaurant or a grocery store & see the available wines.  Of course I get excited when I go to a winery I haven’t visited & discover an amazing new wine.  I just hope that the guys making innovative wine will be able to get it in front of an audience.

3 General things I hope for this year in the NFL

  • I would love to go a year without a key player being lost for the season because the opponent goes for his knees instead of a form tackle. It is a cheap shot & anyone who thinks that you can’t make legal tackles without going low is just wrong & probably a little scared of trying.
  • It would be nice to go a year without hearing a commentator say a variation of the phrase “when you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.” It is a common saying.  I did a Google search & got 62,000,000 matches for it.  We will probably hear it a lot this year about teams like the Browns, Vikings, Jaguars, Raiders etc.  The reality is that the Packers weren’t hampered by having Brett Favre & Aaron Rodgers.  The 49ers were all right having Joe Montana & Steve Young.  Danny White was no Roger Staubach, but it sure was good having him as the back-up & successor for Staubach.  Having Tom Brady on the bench when Drew Bledsoe went down may have been the best thing to ever happen to the New England Patriots.  Having 1 great quarterback & no one behind him leads to problems like Green Bay had last year without Aaron Rodgers, or the debacle in Indianapolis when Manning was hurt, or the Dolphins have had since Dan Marino retired.  Smart teams need a really good back-up quarterback and a plan for the future.
  • I would like to go through the rest of the year & have All of the news be football related & not have 1 player get arrested for drunken driving or spousal abuse or any of the myriad other crimes that have seemingly flooded the NFL this off season. Take out your aggressions on the field in a legal manner & use some of the millions of dollars you get paid to call for a limo service.

3 Questions for every NFL team this year

Arizona Cardinals

  • Can they maintain their momentum from last year?

They won 7 of their last 9 games  last year & just missed the playoffs.  They have had a number of changes during the offseason & it will be interesting to see if they can pick up where they left off.

  • Will the defense be as good as it has been the last two years?

Over the last two years the team has changed defensive coordinators and a number of key players, but has been consistently excellent.  This year they are missing at least 3 key starters from last year’s team.    Can they put together a third year of excellence?

  • Will we see the Carson Palmer we saw last year?

Palmer’s career seemed to bottom out in 2012 in Oakland.  When he was traded to the Cardinals, expectations were low.  He confounded expectations with easily his best season since 2005.  He passed for the most yards in his career & completed 63.3% of his passes.  He still threw too many interceptions (22), but he gave the team the first hope they have had at quarterback since Kurt Warner retired.  His performance this year will go a long way to determining the answer to the first Cardinals question.

Atlanta Falcons

  • Who will run the football? Steven Jackson is having hamstring problems again.

He has said he will be ready to start the first game, but hamstring injuries can hang on past expectations.

  • Will the defense be able to stop anyone?

They were 29th in sacks last year & their main rushing threats are another year older.

  • Is Julio Jones fully recovered?

He has looked great in limited action during pre-season, but pre-season isn’t the same as the real thing.

Baltimore Ravens

  • Will the running game improve?

Last year Ray Rice had a 3.1 yard per carry average after never dropping below 4 yards per carry in his career.  They have brought in more help this year, but probably the biggest addition is Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator.  He has brought with him the zone blocking system that consistently produced great running attacks in Houston & Denver.

  • Will Joe Flacco play up to his contract?

Flacco got paid like an elite quarterback after his Super Bowl MVP performance.  Despite that, Flacco has never performed like an elite quarterback for an entire season.  He hasn’t completed 60% of his passes in any of the last 3 seasons.  He threw 19 touchdowns with 22 interceptions last year.  If he were another quarterback he would be facing competition, but he isn’t…at least this year.

  • Will Steve Smith help the offense enough to make a real difference?

At 35, & with a reputation as a bit of a jackass, the Carolina Panthers decided to cut Smith despite not having a solid replacement on board.  The Ravens immediately picked him up.  Can his intense work ethic enable him to perform at a high level with a new team at an age when most wide receivers are in decline?

Buffalo Bills

  • Will Kyle Orton start before week 9?

Normally you would think that a high draft pick like E.J. Manuel would get a couple of years to prove himself.  With the pending sale of the team though, everyone is in win now or lose your job mode.  Manuel hasn’t impressed yet & I can see them turning to Kyle Orton sooner rather than later.  Week 9 is their bye week, but if things are going south, I could see a switch before then

  • Is there any way that Sammy Watkins was worth it?

The Bills gave up two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick to move up to draft Sammy Watkins.  It may turn out to be a great deal, but even if he turns out to be a good to great receiver, the move reeks of desperation.

  • Can the defense carry the team?

Last year the team was able to really pressure the quarterback, but had trouble against the run.  Bringing in Brandon Spikes should help with run defense & they arguably have the best defense in the AFC East, but the Bills have been underachievers for years.  Will this be the year they turn it around?

Carolina Panthers

  • Does Dave Gettleman really have a plan at wide receiver?

Very few G.M.s would be comfortable going into a season with no wide receiver on the roster who had caught a pass from the quarterback the previous year.  If you knew the quarterback was going to miss most of training camp, you might be even more unlikely to do it wouldn’t you?  Not Dave Gettleman.  We’ll see what happens.  They weren’t exactly the most impressive receiving corps in the world last year, so maybe it will work out.

  • Will Cam Newton be 100% for most of the year?

Newton missed most of training camp & the he suffered a rib injury in the third preseason game.  Will he be able to develop timing with his new receivers?  Will he be able to run like he has in the past?

  • Will the secondary hold up?

The secondary features a number of solid players, but many are either new to the team, or on the backside of their career, or both (Roman Harper).  How will they look 10 or 12 games into the season?

Chicago Bears

  • Does Chicago have the best wide receiving corps in the NFL?

It isn’t difficult to make a case that Brandon Marshall & Alshon Jeffery are the best pair of receivers on a team.  They combined for over 2,700 yards & 189 catches last year.  Individually they are difficult to defend & together, almost impossible.  The question is whether the rest of the receiving crew can take advantage of single coverage to help the team win more games.

  • Can the new defensive parts come together in time?

The biggest concern for the Bears in the off season was to fix a broken defense.  They brought in high profile free agents like Jared Allen & Lamarr Houston.  They also used their first round pick on a safety & drafted two defensive ends,  Due to injury & personal issues, the entire projected starting defense has not taken a snap together during the preseason.  Will they come together?

  • Can Jay Cutler stay healthy all year?

It’s a perennial question with him & if he can’t, will Jimmy Clausen be able to fill in as well as Josh McCown did last year?

Cincinnati Bengals

  • How will the team respond to the loss of both coordinators? The good news is that the Bengals have been successful enough that both Mike Zimmer & Jay Gruden became head coaches this offseason.  That is unprecedented for the Bengals!  Now the question is how will they move on?  It looks like they have capable replacements, but it can’t be seamless can it?
  • Can Andy Dalton play in the playoffs as if it were a regular season game? I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but Dalton has obviously not been as good in the playoffs as he has in the regular season & that is a huge part of the reason why they have made the playoffs 3 years in a row, but lost in the 1st round each year.
  • If they don’t move beyond the first round in the playoffs, is Marvin Lewis in danger of being fired? Lewis is at an even 500 for his career at Cincinnati.  He has had some success & an equal amount of failure.  He is signed for one year after this.  If things go wrong this year, will he be back?

Cleveland Browns

  • How short will the leash be on Brian Hoyer & how will that impact his performance?

Competition is a great thing, but when a quarterback feels like any bad play could get him benched, it can cause problems.  Brian Hoyer looked pretty good last year and I think he deserved a shot at the starting job in Cleveland.  The problem is that if he doesn’t look great, there will immediately be calls for him to be benched for Johnny Manziel.  That can lead to trying to make every play perfect & every throw perfect & that usually leads something far from perfection.

  • Do the Browns have a secret plan to replace Josh Gordon?

They knew during the draft that he would probably be suspended for most or all of the season.  They didn’t make any major moves to replace him.  Miles Austin has a lot of potential, but he also has a lot of hamstring issues.  I truly don’t see what their plan is.

  • Will Ben Tate succeed as a starting running back?

Tate put up great numbers in relief of Arian Foster in Houston.  He also showed real toughness playing through injuries.  The difference for him this year isn’t just that he is the starting running back; it is that he won’t be playing in a zone blocking system.  There are probably some players who have been successful running behind zone blocking & then were successful with a team running more traditional blocking patterns, but I can’t think of any.  That’s part of how the Denver Broncos used to be able to seemingly plug in anyone at running back & have them rush for 1,000 yards.

Dallas Cowboys

  • Will Tony Romo be able to play at the top of his game?

Jerry Jones keeps saying that Romo is fully recovered from back surgery.  I’m not sure that I trust him as a qualified doctor (or general manager really).  As bad as the team’s defense was last year, they still finished 8-8 in large part because Romo figuratively carried the team on his back.  His back may literally be too weak to do it again this year.

  • The defense can’t be any worse can it?

Normally I would say that regression to the mean would get the Cowboys defense back to just bad, rather than historically bad.  The signs are not good though.  Salary cap problems led to the cowboys parting ways with DeMarcus Ware & Jason Hatcher. Then Sean Lee had his seemingly annual season ending injury.  That is a lot to replace.  The defense hasn’t impressed in the pre-season.  If they can just be mediocre, the Cowboys could make the playoffs.  I just don’t know if they can move up to mediocre.

  • Is this Jason Garrett’s last year as coach?

Despite Jerry Jones giving him consistent support, it feels like Garrett has been on the hot seat for years.  If he can’t hit 9-7 or better this year, I can’t see him coming back for another year.

Denver Broncos

  • Should Wes Welker walk away?

Welker will miss the first 4 games of the year due to a suspension for taking MDMA that was spiked with amphetamines.   This is of course why you should always buy name brand MDMA instead of the generic knockoffs.  I’m hoping I can get my blog sponsored by Johnson & Johnson’s Ecstasy.  “With a name like Ecstasy, it has to be good!”

Welker has had 3 concussions in his last 10 games.  All professional football is dangerous & professional football players knowingly take those risks.  On the other hand, when you are a receiver with a history of concussions and a job that depends on you catching passes across the middle in traffic, you might want to think about having a long happy life with your beautiful wife & being able to be coherent at your kid’s graduation (if he has kids down the line).  Welker has made over 25 million dollars during his career & seems to have a flair for betting on horses.  Maybe he should think about walking away relatively healthy.

  • Can Peyton Manning equal last year?

The offense looks like it could potentially be better than last year.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Manning had another phenomenal year.  The counterargument of course is that Father Time is undefeated & Manning will be no exception.  In 2001 & 2002 Rich Gannon was the MVP of the Pro Bowl, something that had never been done in consecutive seasons.  In 2002, he was the league MVP. Then he was injured in 2003 and was never the same.  I don’t think Manning will go that route, but it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise ever.

  • Will the defense be dominant?

John Elway added big free agent pickups like Aquib Talib & DeMarcus Ware to the defense & Von Miller is healthy this year.  On paper, they should be one of the best defenses in the league.  Of course plenty of things look good on paper. As the philosopher Mike Tyson poetically put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Detroit Lions

  • Is Jim Caldwell a legitimate NFL head coach?

I think Caldwell will bring needed discipline to the Lions, but there is definitely some doubt about his credentials.  In 8 years as a college coach, he compiled a record of 26-63.  At the NFL level he & Peyton Manning led the Colts to the Super Bowl.  Of course without Peyton Manning in 2011 the team went 2-14.  I think that part of that was on the GM for not trying to bring in a better quarterback than Curtis Painter.  The question remains, can he really win without a Hall of Fame caliber quarterback?

  • Can the team play with discipline?

If this team could have avoided stupid penalties & Matt Stafford throwing stupid interceptions, they would have made the playoffs.  An argument could be made that they have a Super Bowl quality team (except at cornerback), but I don’t think many people outside of Detroit expect much from this team because they have had so many self-inflicted wounds over the years.

  • Can Joe Lombardi bring balance & creativity to the Lions offense?

It is hard to blame a team for building its offense around the best wide receiver in football.  That being said, it hasn’t worked so far and the team has been incredibly predictable.  Lombardi was previously the quarterbacks in New Orleans and has spent the last 4 years learning from Sean Payton, who is one of the more brilliant offensive minds in the NFL.

Green Bay Packers

  • Will the defense be improved?

The defense was the weak link for the Packers last year.  In the offseason they added Julius Peppers, who might still be able to help, but they lost B.J. Raji for the year due to injury.  If they can improve the defense, they could be Super Bowl contenders.

  • Can the team achieve a balance between pass & run?

Eddie Lacy had a breakout year at running back for the Packers last year, but I don’t think he would have done it without the injury to Aaron Rodgers.  Once Rodgers was out, the team turned to Lacy & he responded.  Will they balance their run/pass distribution, or will they go back to their pass heavy offense of the last few years.

  • Will Corey Linsley rise to the occasion?

Who is Corey Linsley?  He’s the rookie starting center for the Packers.  Last year’s starter is gone to Tampa Bay & the projected starter, JC Letter was injured in the 3rd pre-season game.  That doesn’t give Linsley much time to work with the starters & learn the no-huddle signals.

Houston Texans

  • Do they really think that Ryan Fitzpatrick is their best choice at quarterback?

I was kind of excited about Fitzpatrick when he first started for the Bills.  I thought he was a smart player with a good arm & mediocre receivers.  After watching him over the years I saw a guy who could be good for a few quarters & absolutely horrible for a few more.  I really don’t see how he is a better option than Matt Schaub…except that he isn’t Matt Schaub.  Maybe Ryan Mallett will do something.

  • Can Arian Foster return to his previous form or is he done?

Just a few years ago, you could make an argument that Arian Foster was the best complete running back in football.  He was a threat to take it to the house any time he touched the ball.  He picked up blocks in passing situations when he wasn’t slipping out of the back field to make spectacular catches.  As a result, he carried the ball more than just about anyone else in the league.  Over the last couple of years he has been constantly injured.  Every so often though he flashes the kind of brilliance that shows what he is capable of when he is healthy.  Will he stay healthy, & if he does, can he be the same player again?

  • Will Jadeveon Clowney fulfill expectations?

He has looked good at moments this preseason & when he dropped back in coverage he has looked pretty bad.  In theory, he should have huge numbers by virtue of playing with J.J. Watt.  In his last collegiate year Clowney didn’t have impressive numbers.  The reason given by many commentators was that he was double & triple teamed.  This year he won’t see many double teams since Watt commands a lot of attention.  If he is the real deal, Clowney should have double digit sacks.  I don’t know how he will do in coverage.

Indianapolis Colts

  • Will Reggie Wayne be as effective as 2 years ago?

Wayne makes a profound difference to this team.  He is a leader & a playmaker.  He is also a 35 year old coming back from an ACL injury.

  • How well will Bjoern Werner play the first 4 weeks?

He didn’t look great as a rookie last year.  This year he will start at least the first 4 games while Robert Mathis is suspended.  If he can’t bring a solid pass rush, the secondary will have a hard time.  Peyton Manning will be the opposing quarterback week one, so it could be a rough start.

  • How strong will play be this year?

Speaking of playing against good quarterbacks, how much will they miss Antoine Bethea?  Right now it looks like they will rotate players based on the situation, but no one really stood out in preseason.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • After this preseason, will they really sit Blake Bortles for his rookie season? Normally I think it is a good idea for rookie quarterbacks to redshirt a year if it won’t cost anyone their jobs.  After seeing Bortles in preseason & then looking at their schedule, I think they might as well start him now.  I don’t think they face an elite defense until week 7, & that’s the Browns, so it probably won’t be a high scoring game.
  • Will Toby Gerhardt be effective as a lead back? He has looked great in relief of Adrian Peterson, but he never has had to carry a team.  This will be a real test.
  • Whoever plays quarterback, does he have weapons to throw to now?

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Will Jamaal Charles ever get the credit her deserves?

Last week I was reading an article about breakout rookies & the writer mentioned that one new Chief could be the most dynamic play-maker for the Chiefs since Dante Hall.  That’s about par for the course for the coverage that Jamaal Charles gets these days.  Today’s season preview on NFL Network had pundits talking about how Marshawn Lynch was the only challenger to Adrian Peterson & LeSean McCoy for best running back in the NFL.  Here are the average all-purpose yards per season for the running backs: Peterson 1,748,  McCoy 1,520, Charles 1,507, Lynch1,274.  Of course that is based on dividing annually & including the year where Charles only played 2 games.  Taking that out, his average yardage per year is 1,790 yards per year.  In his first year he was a backup & only rushed 67 times.  There are only 8 running backs in the history of the NFL to average 5 yards or more per carry for their career (minimum of 750 attempts).  Adrian Peterson is #8 with a 5.0 average.  Charles is #1, with 5.79 yards per carry, ahead of Hall of Famers Marion Motley, Jim Brown, Gayle Sayers, & Barry Sanders.  He personally generated 35% of the Chief’s offense last year.  What does he need to do…besides play in a bigger market?

  • Can the Chiefs play up to the competition?

Last year the team made it to the playoffs by beating up on losing teams.  This year they will have a much harder schedule.

  • Can the offensive line perform?

The line was a strength last year.  Now their previous left tackle has left in free agency.  They are hoping that Eric Fisher, who was underwhelming at right tackle last year will be able to slide to left tackle.  They are playing a guard (Jeff Allen) at right tackle to start the season.  That doesn’t sound like a formula for success.

Miami Dolphins

  • Will Mike Wallace become a real #1 receiver?

When Wallace was signed as a free agent after his years in Pittsburgh, he was expected to become the #1 receiver & the team’s deep threat.  Instead, he had an average year.  Technically he had his most receptions, but only by 1 catch.  He also posted his lowest average yards per catch.  This may have been a chicken & egg thing where the quality of the quarterback made the difference & Ryan Tannehill just wasn’t able to get the ball to him the way Ben Roethlisberger did even though Wallace wasn’t his #1 receiver or maybe Wallace just tops out around 73 catches per year.

  • Is Ryan Tannehill the franchise quarterback the Dolphins have wanted since Dan Marino?

His numbers so far have been just on the edge of what you expect for a franchise quarterback.  He is just under 60% in completions (59.4%).  His passer rating is 79.1 & that is too low to succeed long term.  I think he has the tools, but if he doesn’t perform this year, he may be looking for a job next year.

  • The offensive line has to be better right?

Just bringing in Brandon Albert at left tackle should make a huge difference & the team was historically bad last year.  On the other hand, their starting center will miss half of the season & that hurts.  It is hard for Tannehill to be the best that he can be & Wallace to be the best he can be, if the offensive line doesn’t improve dramatically.

Minnesota Vikings

  • Is there any chance Matt Cassel can play during the regular season the way that he did in the preseason?

A recent Onion article claimed that his real skill was his “growing ability to get the F*ck out of running back Adrian Peterson’s way.”   There is something to that for any Viking quarterback, but it isn’t enough.  After decent play last year, Cassel has looked sharp in the preseason.  He completed 26 of 39 passes (66.6 percent) for 367 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.  If he can play like that, he might keep Teddy Bridgewater on the bench & they might surprise some people this year.

  • Can Peterson continue to carry the load?

Peterson will turn 29 this year & he has a ton of carries.  The Vikings let his back-up walk in free agency this year.  Will he be able to carry the team again?

  • Will the change to an outdoor stadium help them or hurt them?

The Vikings will play home games at least the next 2 years at the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium I think that the outdoor setting could really benefit the team.  Teams with a great running game can be dangerous in snowy weather.  The Vikings haven’t really been a team that has taken advantage of the fast turf of an indoor stadium the way the Saints have, so I on’t think they will lose much there.

New England Patriots

  • Can Gronkowski stay healthy?

With Rob Gronkowsky healthy at tight end, the Patriots are a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl.  Without him, they have questions in the red zone & at the tight end position.  You don’t want to make one player more important than the rest, but his various health issues over the last few years have made a huge difference.  I think that if he had been 100% healthy during Super Bowl XLVI  that the Patriots would have won.  Basically, he was worth more than the 4 point difference in that game.

  • Can most of the other key players stay healthy?

Injuries are always a worry for every team.  The Patriots this year are counting on a number of recently injured people to be key contributors.  Vince Wilfork, Danny Amendola, Sebastian Vollmer, Aaron Dobson, Alfonzo Dennard, Dominique Easley and others are all expected to play an important roll this year & I don’t know if any of them will be able to perform as advertised this year.

  • Will the offensive line hold up? This year marks the first time since 1999 that there will be a new offensive line coach.  Dante Scarnecchia retired at the end of the season last year after working for the Patriots for 30 years (with a 2 year hiatus).  Tom Brady has benefited from a comfort level with the offensive line for his entire career.   Dave DeGuglielmo replaces him.  There is a camp battle to determine the starting center & Sebastian Vollmer hasn’t been able to practice.  That being said, the starting offensive line has looked good in pre-season.  The backup quarterbacks have been running for their lives though!  The line still needs work.

I originally wrote this before they traded Logan Mankins to the Bucs.  Now it is a huge question.

New Orleans Saints

  • Will they miss Darren Sproles?

Sproles was especially good at the screen game.  Will Pierre Thomas make up the difference?

  • Will the defense be better than last year?

Rob Ryan worked miracles with the defense last year & they added Jairus Byrd at safety & should be better.  Of course now the other teams in the division will have a year of tape & may make adjustments.

  • Can they win on the road?

The Saints have been almost unbeatable over the last few years at home.  On the road they have been very beatable.  If they can win a couple of extra road games during the regular season, they might be able to play at home in the playoffs.

New York Giants

  • Will fans be nostalgic for Kevin Gilbride?

I know the fan base loved to hate former offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride.  When things went well, Eli Manning got the credit.  When they didn’t Gilbride got the blame.  This year Manning may have to stand on his own.  He hasn’t looked good.  Even after 4 preseason games, Manning has only looked good in 1 2 minute drill.

  • Will the offensive line be better?

Last year’s line didn’t do a good job of protecting Manning.  Because of that, 2 free agents were brought in to be starters.  Now one of them, Geoff Schwartz, is already injured.

  • Will Jason Pierre-Paul play to his potential?

A few years back, he was considered a breakout star & one of the best defensive players in the game.  Recently, he really looks like just another guy.  If he can get close to his old form, the defense will be improved.

New York Jets

  • Will Chris Johnson have a great season?

Chris Johnson was deemed expendable by the Titans mainly because of his huge contract, but also because of his declining yards per carry (3.9 last year).  One thing I think people forget is that Johnson’s best years came when he had a mobile quarterback.  The defense had to account for Vince Young on every play.  That tiny bit of extra time helped Johnson break some extraordinarily long runs. I don’t think he would have hit 2,000 yards without Young & his yards per carry have dropped without a running quarterback threat.  That could change this year with either Geno Smith or Michael Vick at quarterback.

  • Will it be Smith or Vick handing off to Johnson by midseason?

Rex Ryan may be coaching for his job this year and he may not be able to give Geno Smith as much time to develop as he gave Mark Sanchez.  The Jets don’t have their bye week until the 11th week, which may help Geno.  If they had a 4th or 5th week bye, I think there would be pressure to make a change if things weren’t going well.  Either way, Smith has to throw fewer interceptions to keep his starting position.

  • Rex Ryan always manages to field a tough defense.  He will do it again this year right?

He has done some amazing jobs in the past, but if he can turn his current defensive backfield into some semblance of NFL quality, I will be impressed.  I think he is going to rely on pressuring the quarterback & hoping that they don’t have time to find the open man.  That will be tough with the Murderers Row of quarterbacks they will face this year including Brady (twice), Rivers, Rodgers, Cutler, Stafford, & Peyton Manning.  That would be a tough assignment for any defensive backfield, much less what the Jets will field this year.

Oakland Raiders

  • Can Matt Schaub get his mojo back? (The Raiders don’t think so.  They are going with Carr)

I was expecting Matt Schaub to bounce back to something like his previous years’ performance.  That isn’t what we have seen so far this preseason.  He hasn’t looked good & the Raider’s receiving corps has looked worse.  I’m still holding out hope though.

  • Will all of the new parts jell in time to save jobs in the front office?

On paper, this year’s team is much improved from last year’s.  The combination of veteran players & highly touted rookies is actually pretty impressive (even if some of the players are on the back slope of their careers).  The biggest problem to me though is that it is hard to get that many new players to work together quickly.  It may take a half dozen games to get everyone on the same page & by that point, Schaub may be benched & the coach could be on even more of a hot seat.

  • Where will the team play next year?

It is amazing that with the lease expiring this year, so little is getting done on the stadium front for the Raiders.  I generally am annoyed when NFL clubs want to upgrade or replace their stadium every few years in a constant pursuit of more money.  It is certainly frustrating to see public money used to support billionaire owners.  On the other hand, I don’t think it is too much to ask the toilets to work.  Last year during baseball season it rained & the sewers backed up.  In fact it happened at least 3 times.  Ryan Cook, the Oakland A’s reliever, described the scene to reporters as “a sewage volcano.”   Additionally, because the A’s & Raiders share a stadium with a grass field, there is a baseball diamond shaped patch of dirt in the field for much of the season.  It really is a mess.  Mark Davis has visited San Antonio as a possible spot to move the team.  I don’t believe that this will happen, but a move back to Los Angeles might make sense.  I think the only thing standing in the way might be that the NFL owners like using the threat of moving a team to L.A. more than they actually like the idea of having a team there.  For some reason they also keep talking about putting two teams there instead of one, which seems like a stupid idea.

Philadelphia Eagles

  • Will the team miss DeSean Jackson this year or will Darren Sproles make Eagles fans forget him?

DeSean Jackson caught 82 passes last year for 1,332 yards but the Eagles let him go apparently due to a personality conflict.  They didn’t add a dynamic wide receiver to replace him, but they did add a running back who caught 71 pases for 604 yards last year from Drew Brees.  Darren Sproles rushed for 220 yards last year, but he was most dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield.  He didn’t average as much per catch, but he was a nice change of pace.  How coach Chip Kelly will use him with LeSean McCoy also in the backfield is a question, but Kelly is nothing if not inventive.

  • Can the secondary keep up?

One advantage of the Eagles offense is that it can wear out a defense.  One disadvantage is that when things don’t work, it can put the Eagles defense back on the field quickly.  Their secondary doesn’t scare anyone.  I’m not sure if division quarterbacks like Tony Romo, Robert Griffin III, & Eli Manning will be at their best, but each of them has shown they can terrorize a good secondary & I don’t know if the Eagles have even that.

  • Nick Foles can’t be that consistent again can he?

Last year he had an insane 27/2 touchdown to interception ratio.  I don’t think anyone expects him to duplicate that this year.  In pre-season, for what that’s worth (not much), he has 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  Now that opposing defenses have a season of film watching him in Kelly’s offense, will he be able to adjust?

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Have the Steelers fixed their depth problem?

Last year Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola wrote that Pittsburgh’s depth was so thin that the team was doing the NFL equivalent of walking a tightrope with no net. That blew up on them.  They have made moves this off season, but sometimes it is hard to tell if depth has improved until we get a few games into the season.

  • Mike Tomlin’s job is safe right?

The Steelers do not change coaches like the Browns.  Heck, they don’t change coaches as often as the rest of the division put together.   Of course they also don’t go 3 years without a winning record.  If things don’t improve this year, will they make a change?

  • Is this Troy Polamalu’s last year?

There were a lot of people who thought that maybe last year would be his last in Pittsburgh because of age & salary issues.  Instead he is back, & is a team captain for the first time in his career.  He has definitely lost some speed, but he has a great feel for the game in crucial situations & that is hard to teach.

Saint Louis Rams

  • Can they win with Shaun Hill? He is a 12 year veteran & that is a good thing in a backup.  I don’t know how well he will perform as a starter.  He has never started more than 11 games.  In 2010 when he started 11 games filling in for Matthew Stafford, the team went 6-10.
  • Will the receiving corps be strength? The Rams have been drafting receivers for years.  They have 5 receivers on the roster that have been drafted in the first 4 rounds since 2011.  They also picked up Kenny Britt this off season.  Shouldn’t the receiving corps be pretty good this year?
  • Are the Rams just doomed because of the strength of their division? That might be too on the nose, but I think it is really the biggest worry.  The Rams should have a strong defense.  They will probably have a competent offense.  There are divisions where that would make you a contender.  Unfortunately for the Rams, the NFC West is not one of those divisions.

San Diego Chargers

  • Can Dwight Freeney help the defense? After spending his entire career with the Colts, they decided that he was done in 2013.  He signed with the Chargers, but was hurt early in the season.  If he can be 80% of what he was, he should help the defense.  You know he would love to sack Peyton Manning a time or two.
  • Can the defense stop the run? In 2012, the Chargers defense was ranked #13 in run defense.  That isn’t great, but it is much better than their 31st place ranking last year.  They have three rookies & a couple of second year players that will need to step up.
  • How critical will the loss of Jeromey Clarey be for the offensive line? Clarey had hip surgery last week and could miss the entire season. Right guard may not be the crucial line spot, but Clarey is the longest tenured player on the line & his leadership will be missed.

San Francisco 49ers

  • Can they team get its players to act like responsible citizens?

I know that the vast majority of their players are probably good guys, but they do seem to have a problem.   There have been 10 arrests of 49er players since 2012, which means they lead the league in something, but not something that you want to brag about.

  • Is this Jim Harbaugh’s last year as coach?

I expect that they will reach an agreement on a new contract for the head coach, but there have been growing signs of tension between the G.M. & the coach.  It is unusual for a coach who has won as often as Harbaugh to go into a lame duck year without an extension.  If he were to become a free agent next year, I have to feel that someone (Jerry Jones/whoever buys the Bills) would throw crazy money at him to bring him to town.

  • Will Colin Kaepernick play better than he has in the preseason?

On paper, this is the best receiving corps for San Francisco since Jerry Rice & Terrell Owens were on the team.  In three preseason games, he completed 12 of 22 passes (54.5%) for 115 yards & no touchdowns.  He looked like the 1 read & tuck the ball guy that we saw at times last year when the receiving corps was depleted by injury.  I expect he will get better, but it will need to be a lot better & it will need to happen quickly if they want to keep pace in their division.

Seattle Seahawks

  • Can they repeat?

Seattle is in an enviable position compared to other teams.  Their biggest question is whether they can be the first team to win back to back Super Bowls since New England in 2003/2004.  It is hard to repeat.

  • Will the offensive line be a weakness?

They don’t have many areas of concern, but offensive line could be one early.  Their left tackle missed most of the pre-season & their right tackle is a rookie.

  • Will Marshawn Lynch wear down?

Lynch is 28 & the wheels tend to come off for running backs at 30 or so.  That should mean he has a couple more good years left at least.  On the other hand, he has averaged over 325 touches over the last three years & that is a lot for anyone.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

  • How much improvement can fans expect this year? There is real hope in Tampa Bay this year after several years of constantly lowering expectations.  Over the last few years a team has managed to move from worst to first in their division.  That would be extremely difficult in the NFC South.  I expect the team to be much better this year.
  • Can Josh McCown excel as a starter? He was very good last year subbing for Jay Cutler in Chicago, but can he really make it as a full time starter?  There is a reason that his career has included stops at Arizona, Detroit, Oakland, Miami, Charlotte, Hartford (The Colonials in the UFL), San Francisco, & finally Chicago.
  • How much will the defense improve? Lovie Smith has been known as a defensive guru & the Bears leaned on defense (sometimes to the detriment of the offense).  The talent seems to be there & you know the coaching will be there.  The question is how much improvement we can expect in one year.

Tennessee Titans

  • Will Bishop Sankey or Shonn Greene be an improvement on Chris Johnson at running back?

Sankey looks like he may develop into a feature back.  Greene has had success in the past.  They are definitely cheaper than Johnson, but will they deliver as many yards?

  • Is Jake Locker the quarterback of the future?

Locker has shown some real ability…when he has been on the field.  The problem has been that he has been injured frequently.  If he can’t put it tgether this year, the Titans may have to move on.

  • Ken Whisenhunt was terrible at evaluating quarterbacks in Arizona. Will he do a better job in Tennessee?

Whisenhunt resisted staring Kurt Warner in Arizona, but eventually benefitted from the decision.  Other than that, the Cardinals quarterback position was a hot mess during his tenure.  Will he do better this time?

Washington Redskins

  • How good will Robert Griffin III be this year?

If he can perform closer to his rookie season than to last year, Washington has an outside shot at the playoffs.  If he plays closer to his level last year at least next year they will get to actually use the high draft pick they earn.

  • Will DeSean Jackson ignite the Washington offense?

Jackson managed to work himself out of a job in Philadelphia apparently more because of his attitude than his ball skills.  If he can mesh with his new team, he should be a huge addition to the team.

  • How will Jay Gruden handle the transition as a first time head coach in the NFL?

I think that he is better prepared to be an NFL coach than most.  His time in the Arena League gave him experience as a head coach, general manager, & general promoter for the game.  He won more than one Arena League Championship during those years.  Working as an assistant coach for his brother Jon, he won a Super Bowl.  As offensive coordinator he was part of the team getting the Bengals to the playoffs three straight years for the first time in franchise history.  He should be prepared.  Of course he has never worked for someone like Dan Snyder, but I think he is ready for the football aspects of the job.

N.F.L. free agency so far & reviews of some Bogle wines Ron Rivera might want to drink to drown his sorrows over free agency

22 Mar
Dusk at Bogle Vineyards

Dusk at Bogle Vineyards

Last year I explained why free agency is a crap-shoot & you can’t predict which teams really did the best.  Obviously this year I have to completely forget about that & make some predictions about which teams have done the best & worst in free agency, even though it is still going on as I type.

I still believe that it is true that no one wins the Super Bowl in March, but this year it looks like you can guarantee that you won’t even be in the hunt.  Here are the teams that I think have helped or hurt themselves the most so far.  I didn’t write about every team, just the ones who have made significant moves.   I haven’t included Oakland because I can’t really figure them out yet.

Teams that helped themselves

Arizona Cardinals

The Cardinals haven’t made a lot of moves, but the moves they have made look good.  They signed Antonio Cromartie to a 1 year contract.  He didn’t have a great year last year, but he has been a solid cornerback.  The best thing for him & for the Cardinals is that he will handle the #2 receiver for the opposing team.  Pairing him with Patrick Peterson & Tyrann Mathieu creates a great defensive backfield for the Cardinals.  They also signed Jared Veldheer to a 5 year contract.  He might not be the left tackle of your dreams, but adding him & Ted Larsen to the line should keep Carson Palmer from having so many nightmares.

Denver Broncos

With the exception of losing Eric Decker to the Jets, everything seems to be going right for the Broncos this year.   The Super Bowl showed them how much improvement their defense needed to make this year.  John Elway is working on it with a vengeance.  They signed DeMarcus Ware, who should be amazing paired with Von Miller.  They replaced Champ Bailey with Aqib Talib, which not only upgraded their secondary, but also looked like it would hurt the Patriots.  It didn’t, but it was a great move either way.  On offense they replaced Eric Decker with Emmanuel Sanders, who should be able to stretch the field & open up some crossing routes for Wes Welker.

Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions have made a few key moves.  Adding Golden Tate at wide receiver looks like a smart choice.  He should see single coverage every game and has the opportunity to have a great year.  I think Jed Collins at fullback will be a good move as well.  If Jim Caldwell can get any discipline into this team in his first year, they should be a threat to make the playoffs.

Green Bay Packers

The Packers don’t usually do much in free agency, but signing Julius Peppers was a big deal.  I think that he has a couple more good years in him & that might be enough to get the Packers deeper into the playoffs.  Despite having the 8th best scoring offense in the NFL last year, the Packers were still outscored overall by their opponents (by 11 points).  Signing Peppers might close that gap.

Indianapolis Colts

Hakeem Nicks had a bad season in a contract year, but his quarterback had a terrible year.  Now Nicks is on a 1 year prove it deal & will have Andrew Luck throwing to him, who should give him a chance to shine.  Signing D’Qwell Jackson looks like a good move.  At the moment, the Colts look likely to repeat their AFC South championship.

Jacksonville Jaguars

They haven’t made any splashy moves, but they have signed some solid players who should help.  Toby Gerhart has looked very good in limited duty for the Vikings.  Chris Clemons, Ziggy Hood, & especially Red Bryant should help Gus Bradley continue to improve the defense.  I could see this team winning somewhere between 7-9 games next year.  They only play 5 playoff teams from 2013.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins always seem to be the champions of March & then can’t do much in the fall.  I do think that they have improved this year.  Their line last year was not only the worst in the league, but they also were involved in a bullying scandal that led to the firing of their line coach.  Of course I thought he should be fired for performance even before the report on bullying.  When you are the line coach for a team that gives up 58 sacks in one season, you probably know better than to take out a new mortgage on the house.  58 sacks are more than the Lions & Broncos allowed combined last year!  This year they have signed Brandon Albert who should be much better at left tackle.  Shelly Smith may not be a big name at guard, but he is solid & probably won’t go crazy & smash his own car with a baseball bat.  Cortland Finegan might turn out to be a decent signing at cornerback, although Jeff Fisher giving up on him isn’t a good sign.

New England Patriots

The Patriots have had some high profile busts in recent years with veteran players like Albert Haynesworth & Chad Johnson.  I don’t think that’s the case this year.  Losing Aqib Talib made it look like a secondary that was improving last year was going to regress.  Instead, the Patriots signed Darrelle Revis & Brandon Browner.  Browner can’t play until week 5, but after that they might have the best secondary in the NFL.  The key will be finding someone to stuff the run.  I think that the pass rushers will automatically get better this year because opposing quarterbacks are going to hold the ball longer trying to find an open receiver.  On offense I thought that Julian Edelman was a priority to re-sign so that Tom Brady wouldn’t lose his #1 receiver two off seasons in a row.  It took a while, but it happened.  I don’t know if Brandon Lafell will be a difference maker at wide receiver, but he has potential.  He dropped too many balls last year, but he is a big fast receiver & Brady is a more accurate quarterback than Cam Newton, so maybe the balls will be easier to catch.  If they can keep Legarrette Blount & find a way to make Vince Wilfork happy, this will be a great off season for the Patriots.  Even if they lose Blount, I think that the team has significantly improved.

Teams that hurt themselves

Carolina Panthers

They have signed Jerricho Cotchery to a 2 year contract & franchised defensive end Greg Hardy.  Otherwise this seems to be a nightmare offseason for Carolina fans.  For whatever reason, they really wanted to get rid of leading receiver Steve Smith.  Cutting him means that he will still count $4 million this year against their salary cap.  He signed with the Ravens for an average of 3.8 million a year.  Basically it cost more to cut him than to keep him.  Carolina’s receiving corps wasn’t spectacular last year, but it wasn’t terrible.  The other starting wide receivers were Ted Ginn Jr., who signed with Arizona, & Brandon Lafell, who signed with New England.  I’m sure that they will sign someone else & maybe they will trade for Desean Jackson which would really help.  At the moment though, the 5 wide receivers on their roster have caught 4 passes combined in the NFL.  So anyone reading this is at least tied for NFL catches with a starting wide receiver for the Carolina Panthers.  Congratulations!  Beginning the season with all new starting wide receivers is incredibly difficult.  You just have to look at how Tom Brady struggled last year to get on the same page with his new receivers.  Luckily for him, he had some experience with Julian Edelman & that helped while he got comfortable with all of the new guys.  Even with those problems, he at least had the offseason to work with them.  Cam Newton had surgery this week & won’t be able to work with his new receivers until the beginning of training camp at the earliest.

Right now I think Carolina is the most likely playoff team from last year to drop down to a losing season.  I feel bad for Coach Ron Rivera.  I think he has really been building something there & this year is going to be tough.  He has a great defense, but you won’t win many games scoring under 20 points against the Saints or Falcons in the NFC South.

Dallas Cowboys

I doubt even Jerry Jones thinks that his team is better today than it was a month ago.  I know that Jeremy Mincey was signed for depth rather than to replace Demarcus War, but any way you look at it, they aren’t as strong at that position.  Signing first round bust Brandon Weeden to be the 3rd string quarterback was probably a good idea.  Of course if Kyle Orton retires & Weeden is the backup quarterback, the Cowboys better hope that Tony Romo stays healthy.

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans have basically sat out free agency.  Considering that they finished with the worst record in the league last year, you might think that they would be looking for help.  They did sign Jerrell Powell at nose tackle.  They released Owen Daniels, which I think was a mistake.  He was injured for 11 games last year, but has been relatively healthy otherwise.  He is only 31 & is a 2 time Pro Bowl player.  I always considered him a poor man’s Jason Witten & I mean that as a compliment.

New York Jets

I think that the Jets will be better on offense this year.  That’s partially because they couldn’t get worse, but also because they signed Eric Decker & while he wouldn’t be a number one receiver on most teams, he is a huge improvement for the Jets.  The problem is at cornerback.  The team released Antonio Cromartie because his contract was too rich.  I understand that, but they haven’t signed anyone nearly as good to replace him.  If you watch Jets games, you have probably seen Coach Rex Ryan spike his headphones into the ground in anger at some point.  I’ll bet that the look he has on his face when he does that is the exact look he had on his face when Darrelle Revis signed with the Patriots.  In 2014, the Jets will face Tom Brady twice plus Peyton Manning Aaron Rodgers, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, & Matthew Stafford once each.  That’s half of their games against quarterbacks with Pro Bowl credentials & as many as 5 games against future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.  An elite cornerback would make a real difference there.  I’m sure that they will draft a cornerback or two & Rex is a great defensive coach, but that is still going to be a harsh introduction to the NFL for the rookie(s).

After typing this portion I found out that they have signed Mike Vick & might sign Desean Jackson.  That would help a lot.  It wouldn’t fix the defensive backfield though.

Revis signed with the Patriots??!!!

Seattle Seahawks

By the time this is posted they may have signed Jared Allen.  Even with that possibility, the Seahawks are learning just how hard it is to repeat as NFL champion.  There is a reason that no one has done it since the Patriots in 2004-2005.  After a Super Bowl victory, every player on the team wants to be paid like a Super Bowl champion & there is usually another team out there that will pay them that way.  With the salary cap & free agency, it is difficult to keep a team together.  The Seahawks have a big advantage in that they don’t have to pay Russell Wilson much.  He is still on his rookie contract & won’t be making Joe Flacco money for a while yet.  They have lost a lot of players though including Golden Tate, Red Bryant, Brandon Browner, Chris Clemons, & Walter Thurmond.  Those are all solid contributors.  I don’t think that they are going to fall out of the playoffs or anything  like that.  I just think that the team isn’t as good now as it was a couple of weeks ago.

The Broncos & the Patriots may not be breaking the Champagne out just yet, but I can definitely see how Rex Ryan & Ron Rivera might be ready for a few glasses of wine.  Here are some wine reviews to help choose a tasty distraction.

Bogle Vineyards

At the recent Unified Wine & Grape Symposium Bogle Vineyards was named Winery of the Year.  That is a pretty big accomplishment for a Clarksburg California winery.  Over the years they have experienced rapid growth & are now the 13th largest winery in the U.S.  Most of their wines are under $15 & occasionally my local grocery store has them for under $10.  A few of these wines are winery only, but most of them are in mass distribution.

I visited a few weeks ago & had a great time.  The tasting room is a pretty building with vineyards on the ground.  It is very close to the delta & the roads were covered with fog as we drove along.  If I didn’t have GPS I might not have found it.

I was with a business associate & we spent some time talking with other people tasting their wine.  On some wines I have more notes than others.

Blanc de Blanc 2011 sparkling

This is a Chardonnay based sparkling wine made in the Methode Champenoise (traditional Champagne method).  That means that it does its secondary fermentation in the bottle from which you are pouring.

This has very small bubbles & a light clean nose.  I smelled some butter & a yeasty note.  On the palate I also tasted a little green apple & some lemon or lemon curd.  This is a nice example of a Californian sparkling wine.

Sauvignon Blanc 2012

This was a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.  It had intense grass & grapefruit flavors.  This is a solid summer wine.  It might make a nice wine to sip on the porch after cutting the grass.

Chardonnay 2012

Half of this wine is oaked and half of it is not.  The half in oak goes through sur lie aging, which means that the dead yeast cells are left in the wine as it ages.  The barrels have to be turned on a regular basis or the barrels have to be opened up & the wine stirred.  If you don’t stir the lees, you have reduction & some nasty tastes in your wine like rotten eggs & burnt match sticks.  If you do it right though, you have a wine with more mouth feel & a nice baked bread component. I didn’t need to look on their web site to know that this was American oak.  This wine almost has a mesquite flavor to it.  It was actually kind of weird, but in a good way.  I bought a bottle to take home.  The traditional Chardonnay flavors are there as well.  There is spiced vanilla, pear, and apple to compliment the baked bread.

I actually had this wine again last night & didn’t get the mesquite flavor, so that may have been an aberration.  The creamy butter flavors were more at the fore front.  It is still a very well made Chardonnay for the price.

Chenin Blanc 2012

Here’s another crisp white.  There are minimal oak and malolactic fermentation notes, but the wine still has nice acid.  The primary flavors are green apple & melon.

Riesling 2010

There is a small amount of the classic diesel nose to this wine.  It is still a sweet Riesling though, which is kind of an odd mix.  I usually expect Riesling with the pronounced diesel notes to be on the dry side.  It has good mouth feel & is actually a fairly nice Riesling.  It has a blend of apple, pear, & honey flavors.

Petite Sirah Nouveau 2010

Here’s a fun small production wine.  I don’t think I had ever tried a Petite Sirah made using carbonic maceration.  It has the classic bubble gum & banana nose associated with Nouveau Beaujolais.  The wine is actually softer on the palate as well, which I didn’t expect from Petite Sirah.  I has a light color, more pink than purple.  The wine has moderate tannins.  It would be nice with smoked ribs or spicy Mexican food.

Pinot Noir 2012

This wine sees a blend of French & American oak.  It has a clean nose of moderate intensity.  It is actually fairly big on the palate for a Pinot.  The tannins are soft.  I tasted plum with a little cinnamon & all spice.  It’s a fruit forward Pinot Noir & a textbook example of the New World fruity style.

Reserve Barbera 2010

This is another winery exclusive that is produced in small amounts.  If you remember Barbera as a thin acidic & tannic wine, that is understandable.  For years that’s what came out of Italy.  Over the last 20 years or so there have been many more fruit forward & food friendly Italian Barberas produced.  In the Sierra Foothills of California from which these grapes are sourced, there is the ability to really focus on the fruit.  The result is a fruit forward wine with blackberry, fig, & prune.  I also tasted some tobacco & herb, but really this wine is all about the fruitiness.

Petite Sirah 2011

I was surprised at how pink the Nouveau version was.  That isn’t the case here as this is the classic purple that you expect.  It has an intense nose & medium acidity.  There is plenty of dark fruit including blackberry.  I also tasted menthol & sage.  This is a very good Petite Sirah for the price.

Reserve Petite Sirah 2010

This wine is somewhere between purple & black.  It has jammy black fruit.  The overall impression is of dark rich fruit.  The wine has huge tannins, but they are well integrated.  This is a big, over the top wine, but in a good way.

Reserve Zinfandel 2010

This has a clean nose with red fruit.  It is soft on the mid palate.  It was probably harder to try this after the Reserve Petite Sirah since that was so tannic & overpowering.  This is a much more reserved wine with a velvety finish.  It has high tannins & high acidity.  My guess is that this wine will age very well.

Petite Sirah Port 2008

On the nose I smelled alcohol, raspberry, plum, & brown sugar.  On the palate I tasted raspberry, cherry, & plum.  The color of the wine is dark, but a little orange around the edges.  This is a well-rounded, easy to drink Port style wine.

Vines at Bogle

Vines at Bogle

My 15 favorite wines of 2013 + things I got right & wrong about football in 2013

3 Jan
J. C. Leyendecker

J. C. Leyendecker

One of the reasons I like to watch the football experts on Sundays instead of the political talking heads is a sense of accountability.  On the various NFL morning shows the experts make their predictions about who will win the games that week.  They keep track of the success of their predictions throughout the season.  At the end of the year, someone receives a meaningless award for winning & the last place person is mocked mercilessly.  They really need to try that on the political talk shows.  Donna Brazile & Charles Krauthammer are wrong much more frequently than they are correct.  It would be nice if they had to own up to the frequency of their errors.

In keeping with that theme, here are some of the things I got right & wrong on this blog in 2013

1)      I was probably wrong on my first blog when I said Wes Welker should stay a Patriot.  I still think that he might have done better to stay in Foxboro, but he had a solid year with Denver.  His receptions and yards were down this year, but his touchdowns were up.  I think that moving to Denver was the best place he could have moved.

2)      A couple of blogs later I wrote that it would be almost impossible to trade Darrelle Revis.  At least I qualified that with “almost.”  In the end, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers traded for him.  The Jets used the pick they acquired from Tampa to draft Dee Milliner, who had a shaky start, but won Defensive Rookie of the Month in December.   Tampa used Revis in zone coverage primarily, which isn’t his strong suit.  That may have contributed to the firing of Tampa Bay’s coach & general manager.  Now they have hired Lovie Smith to coach the team & he uses a Tampa 2 defense that features lots of zone coverage & very little press coverage.  It will be interesting to see how Revis fits in next year.  I guess what I should have said was that Revis would be hard to trade unless the Jets found a sucker.  That trade didn’t cost the GM and coach their jobs, but it didn’t help.

3)      I was right about the pre-season talk about Miami winning free agency didn’t necessarily translate into the playoffs.  They missed out on the last game of the year.

4)      I said that I would be shocked if the Rams equaled last year’s 7-9 record & that Jeff Fisher was a career .500 coach.  The Rams did finish 7-9 again.  I’ll stand by the career comments on Fisher.

5)      I was right about Harry Douglas crushing his previous production.  He had more yards this year than in any two previous years combined.

6)      I was right about the Cardinals being a good team if they could just find a running back.  They did & his name is Andre Ellington.  The Cardinals are in a tough division, but they are building a solid team.

7)      I was probably wrong when I said that the Raiders might be a team on the way up.  That was irrational exuberance.

8)      I was right in saying that the Patriots should always be open to trades from Tampa Bay.  The trade of Jeff Demps & a 7th round pick for  Legarrette Blount looks even better now for the Patriots than it did a few weeks ago.  Blount had 334 all-purpose yards last week, which broke the New England record & ranked #12 all time.  Demps had 14 yards for the year.  This might also have contributed to the firing of the Tampa Bay coach and GM.  I don’t expect them to trade with the Patriots in 2014.

9)      The biggest issue where I was right this year was the officiating.  I tried not to harp on it each week, but I did write about it a couple of times.  This year had the worst officiating I have seen since I started watching football, and I am including the replacement refs.  The capper on the whole mess was the game between San Diego & Kansas City in week 17.  With 8 seconds left in a tie game, Ryan Succop attempted a 41 yard field goal to win the game for the Chiefs.  He missed.  Chiefs coach Andy Reid called a time out to get the referees to review the play because the Chargers had an illegal defensive formation.  He was told it wasn’t reviewable.  The game went into overtime and the Chargers eventually won.

If the play had been called correctly, there would have been a 5 yard penalty & Succop would have had another chance to kick.  There is no guarantee that he would have made the kick, but he was 15 of 16 on the year from 40 yards or less.  I would have bet $1,000 on him making the second kick.

The NFL even admitted that the referees got it wrong.  They issued a statement on December 30th which said in part “On the play, San Diego lined up with seven men on one side of the snapper. This should have been penalized as an illegal formation by the defense.

The fact that the referees screwed this up is worse than the usual referee goof.  In this case, winning the game put the Chargers in the playoffs.  If Succop had hit a second field goal try, the Chargers would have finished 8-8 & by virtue of a tie breaker, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have gone to the playoffs instead of the Chargers.  That is a huge screw up.  There are people whose jobs might be on the line based on whether they make the playoffs.  On a financial note, players in the Wild Card round of the playoffs each make $19,000 for the game.  That means that the Chargers players net $1,007,000.00 that probably should have gone to the Steelers.  I have made a lot of mistakes, but at least none of mine cost over a million dollars.  I guess I will take that as a win for the year.

Here are my top 15 wines that I reviewed last year.  I probably tried other wines that I liked more, but if I didn’t type up a review, I don’t remember them.  This list skews more than normal towards Napa wines, but that was just a result of trying a higher proportion of Napa wines this year.  I’m sure that if I had tried as high a percentage of Bordeaux, it would be reflected in the reviews.  We’ll see what I can find to taste this year.  The wines are not in any particular order.  I did manage to get a rose’ into the top 15.

1)  Domaine Carneros    Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc du Blanc 2006 $99.00
Le Rêve means “the dream.” This is a 100% Chardonnay (Blanc du Blanc means white from white) sparkling wine.  There is a long finish to the wine.  It tastes like toasted bread with a tiny hint of mushroom.  There are creamy cheese notes to the wine.  I would love to try it with some soft gooey cheese.

2)      Blankiet Paradise Hill Red Napa 2008 15.2%
82.5% Cabernet, 16% Merlot, with the remainder made up of Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.  Blankiet has only been around since 1996.  They are in the Mayacamas Mountains above Yountville. There is ripe fruit on the nose.  I get big plum & blackberry.  There is delicious blackberry & chocolate on the palate. This is a big & juicy wine with lighter tannins, or maybe just lighter, compared to what I have been trying.  I taste cassis & blackberry, & chocolate… with maybe a bit of cherry.  The tannins come up a little as I drink it so I think it will age well.  I like this a lot.  I tried it a second time & I am really wishing I had a steak with a red wine & cherry sauce.  The tannins are good, so the first time around it may have been a reaction to the tannins on the other wines.  There is a long finish that accents the chocolate.  If I were going to spend $190 on a Cabernet, this is one that would be worth it.  Robert Parker gave it a 95+ rating.

3)      Premiere Napa Valley Sterling Cabernet 2010 1st Calistoga 15.2% 20 cases produced

Elegant fruit.  This is a “wow!” wine. There is raspberry with cocoa dusting on the nose. I get big tannins, but they don’t overpower the wine.  It has a very long dry finish, that leaves you thinking about it & reaching for more.  At the core of this wine there is a fresh fruit center. This is their 1st Calistoga designated wine.  It sells for $110.

4)     mayacamas1992.preview Mayacamas 1992 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

Delicious.  This was frankly better than I expected.  Fruity, red fruits, tannins are light, but still there.  This is a bright & fresh example of classic 1990′s Napa Cabernet.    There is an earthiness that would make you think of St. Emillion if it weren’t for the fresh fruit.  I am impressed with this wine.  Dark red with fresh red edges.  It doesn’t look like a wine from 1992.  Here’s a review from a big name reviewer, who went a bit more over the top than I did…

“It restores the will to live”…”Elegance, finesse, allied to concentration. Balanced and sleek, slightly tarry fruit, moreish and good acidity. Lovely. The balance is like being released from prison: a sense of lightness.”

—Margaret Rand
The World of Fine Wine (London)
on the Mayacamas Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignons of 1992 and 1999, respectively

5)     KungFu Girl Kungfu Girl 2012 Washington State Riesling 2012 Evergreen Columbia Valley Charles Smith Wines
11% alcohol
Green apple, guava, great acid.   I tasted papaya, followed by even more green apple.  It finishes dry or just off dry, but it really tastes like a green apple Jolly Rancher. It smells like white flowers & a little bit of green apple.  It doesn’t smell as intense as it tastes. I had this with smoked turkey fried rice.  This has great mouth feel & a mouthwatering, lingering finish.  On the finish I got some slightly creamy lime.   This was on spectator top 100 wine this year & definitely worth it for the price.

6)      McCrea Cellars Rose’ non vintage
This is a blend of Carignan & Grenache.  I have tried to find out a little more about it, but have only found information about some other rose’s that they have made over the years.  This is a full bodied rose’ with nice spice.  It has a long finish.  It’s really one of the nicest American rose’s I have ever had.

7)      Schramsberg Blanc de Noir sparkling wine 1988 magnum
This was fantastic. I actually wasn’t expecting this.  The bottle had been lying around for a long time & hadn’t been kept in ideal conditions.  I felt like it was something that might end up getting poured out.  I was wrong. It was a fantastic wine!  It had a real Pinot Noir taste to it.  It was full bodied with great mouth feel.  If I tasted it blind, I would have guessed that this was Champagne instead of California.  It has lots of taste notes due to autolysis.  For those who aren’t wine geeks, this just means the wine sat on the dead yeast after fermentation.  Usually the dead yeast, (lees) is stirred on a regular basis.  This can make a white wine taste bigger, which usually is called mouth feel.  It also can lead to toasty or baked bread flavors in the wine.  It can be tricky to get right, but it is a key component of the best Champagne.

8)      Chateau de Beaurenard Chateauneuf du Pape Boisrenard 2001 magnum
This is full of berries.  There is blackberry, boysenberry, & blueberry.  Paradoxically, it seems to get even more dense as it opens up.  This is just an amazing, mouthwatering wine.  The oak has integrated so nicely that it is more about structure and it isn’t overtly “oaky” in any way.  Robert Parker liked it as much as I did apparently.  He gave it 97 points & wrote “There have been a number of spectacular vintages of Domaine de Beaurenard’s luxury cuvee, Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvee Boisrenard, but the 2001 may be the finest they have ever produced.”  Wine Spectator gave it 95 points & said it would be good through 2021.  Mine didn’t make it that long. I would love to try it again in a few years, but I doubt I can afford it!

9)      Jacob Franklin Petite Sirah 2000 (Napa Valley/Howell Mountain)

This was an exceptional wine.  It smelled of blueberry & perfume.  It tasted like dark liquorice, blueberry, & chocolate.  The tannins were still strong. It was an amazing wine at almost every level.  As great as it was, it tasted to me like a youthful wine that still had plenty of time to settle in.  I would highly recommend this wine if you can find a bottle.  The label says that there were only 16 barrels made, so that is about 400 cases.

10)  premiere napa valleyPremiere Napa Valley Saint Supery Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 #40 of 240 14.8%
One of the tasting notes with this said that it had a “brandied oak” taste.  I have no idea what that means, but I know where they get the brandy idea.  This wine doesn’t taste hot at all, but it really has an almost port/brandy finish to it.  It does have noticeable oak, but it is pretty well integrated.  I think the only part that stands out as oaky is that the dryness of the finish is distinctly from the oak rather than something else. There is cassis & licorice.  This is a delicious, complex Cabernet.  I don’t know if this is the best of the batch, but it is probably the most interesting. 2nd tasting.  This has a really dark color.  I think that there was some concentration of flavor & alcohol here from evaporation from the barrel.  This is called the angel’s share of the wine.  As the wine sits in the barrel, oxygen slowly enters and matures the wine.  At the same time, some of the wine evaporates, and that is the “Angel’s Share.”  This evaporation isn’t consistent across the board.  The alcohol in the wine doesn’t evaporate as quickly as the other liquids.  So you end up with higher alcohol and a more concentrated flavor.  That gives me that brandy taste.  Some people might associate that taste with being oxidized, but that isn’t the case here.  On this second tasting I’m getting more of the herbal notes of the wine.  I don’t know if that is from this bottle being open longer or just thinking about it more. I also taste mocha, cherry, and black currant.  After tasting it a second time I think this is currently drinking the best of the batch.  That doesn’t mean it is the best, or will be the best long term, but right now this is a darn tasty wine.  This is $160.

11)  Delas Les Lanes 2009 Crozes-Hermitage
Good tannins. Beautiful blueberry & blackberry .  It has almost a perfume nose.  In fact if they sold a perfume that smelled like this, high quality winos would beat a path to the sales door.  It has deep flavor with layer after layer of flavor.  Maybe some tobacco.  It is a delicious wine. The wine actually says it is Syrah on the back. It looks like it was added by the importer. The only reason I mention that is because although all Northern Rhone reds are Syrah, they don’t usually list the varietal on the label. They just assume that everyone knows that the Northern Rhone reds have been Syrah for hundreds of years. That might work for a small percentage of the population, but I think it would be great if everyone would provide varietal information. This wine was fantastic by itself.  It would be great with steak, lamb, or char-grilled chicken. Actually this is good enough that I might drink it with just about anything.

12)  Groom Barossa Valley Shiraz2008

To me, this was a wine that could only have come from Barossa Valley in Australia. The wine was so dark that it ranged somewhere between dark purple and black. It had dark brambly fruit that was extremely deep. There were layers of plum, blackberry, and dark cherry. The wine had a long finish. It had good mouthfeel and enough acid to pair well with food. The tannins were solid, but not especially pronounced. As the wine opened up it showed deeper fruit and a longer lasting finish. This would be a great wine with a Montreal steak. The heavy fruit would soften the spice of the seasoning and the acid would make the steak melt in your mouth. For those who care, it received 92 points in Wine Spectator. I tried it with some chocolate that had lemon and cracked black pepper in it and it was fantastic. I know that wine books tell us that red wine doesn’t go with chocolate. I know that experts will say that the polyphenols, acids, and tannins that chocolate and red wine share make them a terrible match. I know that you are only supposed to have chocolate with Port or a Muscat based dessert wine. I also know that lots of people love red wine and chocolate. This is a great example of how the two can work together. The fruit in the Shiraz translated into sweetness compared to the spice of the black pepper in the chocolate. You can believe the scientists here, or you can try it for yourself. Anyway, the wine tasted great. It also was a wine that made me think of Australia and the red dirt in Barossa. It felt like it came from somewhere.

13)   DuckhornDuckhorn Patzimaro Vineyard 2010 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 18 months French oak
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc
This is a wine with depth.  The tannins are solid, but not to the point where they overwhelm you.  There are dry cocoa and some mushroom and earthy notes. There are blackberry, raspberry & plum flavors.  There is a minerality here that gives the wine a backbone.  It is just an excellent example of Napa Cabernet.  This has an incredibly long finish.  I was sitting around 5 minutes later & realized I was still tasting it.  The vineyard is in the St. Helena appellation at the base of Spring Mountain. According to their website, “the site was named after the town of Patzimaro de Aviña in honor of the Hurtado Family, an essential part of the Duckhorn Vineyards winemaking team who migrated from this small village to the Napa Valley in 1987.”

14) 

Trefethen in the fall.  You might be able to see skeletons stealing cases of wine from the window.

Trefethen in the fall. You might be able to see skeletons stealing cases of wine from the window.

Trefethen Family Vineyards  Cabernet Sauvignon 2010
There is spice on the nose with some licorice & cherry.  It has deep flavors and solid tannins.  I get primarily dark fruit, plum, cherry, & blackberry.  This wine will be better in 5 years than it is now.  I taste cassis, caramel, & a tiny bit of black pepper on the finish.  It has a really good dusty taste on the finish.  It doesn’t taste like Bordeaux, but that dustiness reminds me of Saint-Émilion.  The fruit is from the north western corner of Oak Knoll.  That puts it near the Yountville & Stag’s Leap appellations.  Wine Enthusiast gave this a whopping 97 points.  It is an excellent Cabernet and I really want to see what it tastes like in 3-5 years.

15)     The Pope's new castle Delas Haute Pierre 2008 Chateauneuf du Pape
Pepper. There is a ton of pepper. Plenty of tannin.  I opened this right before dinner & it was just all right.  The next night I pulled it out again & was amazed at how nuanced & textured this wine was.  There is dark fruit, pepper, plum & an umami taste (if I have that right).  It is almost like duck fat. That tastes better than it sounds I promise.  This is a wine that still has time to age. The wine is so purple it looks black in the glass, with just a hint of red at the surface. I have 1 more bottle & I am torn on whether to wait a year or two to see how it evolves, or to crack open that bottle right now.  I heated up some leftover lamb & it was a special combination.  The lamb had  marjoram & spice & the combination was terrific.  There was a synergistic effect & both tasted better together than alone.  Definitely decant this wine before drinking it.

 

Those are the ones I chose today.  I’m sure that if I thought about it tomorrow I would come up with a different list.  I will say that you can’t go wrong with any of these wines.  Give them a try if you get a chance.  Feel free to let me know what your favorite wines of the year were too.  I’m always looking for something new!

Another trip to Napa helps me find a couple of wines for Thanksgiving + this week’s football thoughts.

27 Nov

November the 14th started out as a rainy grey day in Napa.  We had a meeting with a printer that morning & then the guys and I had time to visit a couple of wineries before driving to Sacramento. Our first stop was Domaine Carneros.

Domaine Carneros 046

Domaine Carneros is known for their sparkling wine.  That makes sense because their official name is Domaine Carneros by Taittinger.  Taittinger has been producing Champagne since 1734. The Domaine Carneros main building was finished in 1989.  Their Pinot Noir facility behind the main house is designed to look like a classic French carriage house.  Despite the ancient look to the buildings, when the Pinot Noir facility was completed, it had the largest solar collection system of any winery in the world.  Their vinification techniques are also a nice blend of ancient tradition and modern technology.

As you might also guess, the winery is in Carneros, which is an appellation that includes the northern portion of both Napa & Sonoma.  Wine writer Alan Goldfarb calls Carneros “the sweet spot for Pinot Noir & Chardonnay.”  Those are 2 of the 3 grapes allowed in Champagne and Domaine Carneros does a great job on both.  They also make still wines from those grapes.

The winery is beautiful, and tastings are conducted at tables rather than at a bar.  We had a nice seat in front of the fireplace.  Here are the wines we tried.  I didn’t take very detailed notes this time because things moved fairly quickly and I tasted with two other people.
2009 Brut Cuvée $28.00
This was clean with a faint hint of baked bread.  There is a fresh melon flavor that took me a while to notice

2010 Brut Rose’ $37.00
There is some of the expected strawberry here, but there is more of an unexpected peach.
There is some raspberry as well. This is 70% Pinot Noir 30% Chardonnay.

Vermeil Demi Sec $36.00
This slightly sweet wine reminds me of baked apple & baked pear pie.  The pear notes are really enjoyable.  I’m more of a fan of dry sparkling wine, but this is nice.  It is a favorite with visitors to the winery.

Ultra Brut 2009 $39.00
This is serious stuff. It has a full mouth feel.  It reminds me of toasted fresh bread. There is also some toasted nut.  There is a small amount of cream. This would be great with the some Oscar Benedict, the crab version of eggs Benedict.  It would also be fantastic with crab smothered in butter or grilled.  It only has 4 grams per liter of sugar.  I love dry vintage sparkling wine.

Le Rêve Blanc du Blanc 2006 $99.00
Le rêve means “the dream.” This is 100% Chardonnay (white from white) There is a long finish to this wine.  It tastes like toasted bread with a tiny hint of mushroom.  There are creamy cheese notes to the wine.  I would love to try it with some. Soft gooey cheese.

Estate Pinot Noir 2011 $35.00
Dark fruit with mushroom & herbal notes. There is leather, and while it is nice that I am trying this on a cool, foggy day in front of the fire, it would be even better in a classic Victorian office with a fire…or perhaps with a brace of pheasant.  Ok…apparently it would be better if you were a British Lord.  That is often true.  The grapes spend 5 days in cold soak before fermentation.  There are 11 clones of Pinot Noir in the blend from 4 different organic estate vineyards.

Reserve Pinot Noir Famous Gate 2011 $75.00
This spends 16 months in French oak (48% new). It has smooth, fresher fruit than the estate Pinot Noir.  The other almost seems more nuanced.  Maybe it needs to open up.  I get raspberry, cherry, & herbs.  This may end up as a better wine, but for now I don’t think it is worth the extra $40.

I ended up with the Estate Pinot & the Ultra Brut Cuvee for potential Thanksgiving wines.  There is a Zinfandel sitting around that is in the mix as well.

048

After finishing up at Domaine Carneros, we reluctantly left the fireplace and moved over to Duckhorn Vineyards.  Duckhorn is another beautiful winery tasting room.  Instead of a French estate, this looks like a converted Craftsman house, although it was built for this purpose.  They have indoor seating & seating on a covered patio.  We sat out on the patio & they had gas heaters going.  It was starting to warm up and clear off.  Towards the end of the tasting, we could hear a frog croaking nearby and the sun came out.  Here is what we tried.

Sauvignon Blanc 2012 $45.00                                                                                                                                                                                                          This classic nose tends a little toward the New Zealand style.  It has a clean fruit filled nose. It tastes like lime, lemon, and guava.  It is a single vineyard wine and it spent 10 months on lees in new oak.  The oak definitely does not overpower the fruit.

Merlot 2010 $54.00                                                                                                                                                                                                                             90% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Cabernet Franc. 15 months French oak
Great nose.  There is strong dark fruit.  It has good tannins.  I tasted plum, cherry, blackberry, spice, maybe all-spice. 14.5% alcohol

Rector Creek Vineyard Merlot 2010 $90.00
18 months in French oak. 83% Merlot 17% Cabernet Sauvignon 14.5%
Licorice, dark cherry, herbal notes. Maybe sage & fennel. Little bit of pepper.  This is a really nice example of Napa Merlot.  This is $90, but worth it. There is a little earthiness here, but it tends more to bright fruit.   The 1st Merlot was released 4 months before the 2nd & that may have something to do with the big difference in oak integration.  Duckhorn also owns Paraduxx Winery on the Silverado trail in Yountville.  The fruit for this wine comes from that vineyard.

Three Palms Vineyard Merlot 2010 $90.00

82% Merlot 15% Cabernet Sauvignon 2% Cabernet Franc 1% Petit Verdot 18 months French oak  14.5%
this is a big dark red.   There is dark raspberry, with a chocolate core.  The dry cocoa on the nose is nice.  This wine gave me a little shiver.  That’s usually the sign that it is something special.  It has a long finish.  I like this better than the Rector Creek.  It received 92 points in Wine Advocate.

Monitor Ledge 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon $95.00

77% Cabernet Sauvignon 19% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot 18 months French oak
The nose is heavy oaky Cabernet.  It is actually much more smooth & silky on the palate.   Ripe strawberry mixes with a tiny bit of raisiny plum.  Very solid cabernet, but it pales in comparison to the next.

Patzimaro Vineyard 2010 Estate Grown Cabernet Sauvignon 18 months French oak
83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Head shaking, shivering good wine. This is a wine with depth.  The tannins are solid, but not to the point where they overwhelm you.  There are dry cocoa and some mushroom and earthy notes. There are blackberry, raspberry & plum flavors.  There is a minerality here that gives the wine a backbone.  It is just an excellent example of Napa Cabernet.  This has an incredibly long finish.  I was sitting around 5 minutes later & realized I was still tasting it.  The vineyard is in the St. Helena appellation at the base of Spring Mountain. According to their website, “the site was named after the town of Patzimaro de Aviña in honor of the Hurtado Family, an essential part of the Duckhorn Vineyards winemaking team who migrated from this small village to the Napa Valley in 1987.”

After we finished tasting all of the wines, one of the guys I work with had me stand up with my back turned to the table.  He rearranged the reds & had me taste and identify them.  I was able to nail all of them.  That told me two things.  First, it meant that I could keep getting paid to work in the wine business for another week.  Second, it meant that Duckhorn makes distinct wines.  They aren’t just slapping a label on every wine from a different vineyard & then treating them the same.  They are making wines with care for the differences between vineyards and the differences between lots of fruit.  That is impressive.

Random football thoughts of the week.

1)      It was good to see the Giants brought down to earth.  They were doing way too much talking for a team that hadn’t beaten a good team.  After losing their first 6 games, the Giants were on a bit of a roll due to playing 4 teams in a row with injured or backup quarterbacks.  From their locker room there was talk about running the table.  The smack talk really got out of control last week before they played the Dallas Cowboys.

Terrell Thomas said “No doubt. We’re gonna win this game.  You can tell ’em, put it on the bulletin board, it doesn’t matter because we have to win this game. Our season is on the line right now.”  Not to be outdone, Jason Pierre Paul said it would be a beat down for the Cowboys.  “We’re going to put it on them, man,” Pierre-Paul said after the Giants’ 27-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers which Packers’ starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers  watched from the sideline. “I’m pretty sure the offense is going to get going. The defense is going to get going even more. And the special teams will contribute to it…It’s going to be a fight. It’s going to be a dogfight. There’s going to be a lot of blood spilled out there.”  Later, Antrelle Rolle said “If JPP says there will be blood,” Rolle said, “then there will be blood.”

After the Cowboys won the game 24-21 and dealt a severe blow to the Giants’ playoff hopes, the Cowboys took the opportunity to mention that they had heard all of the re-game talk.  “They talked and they talked and they talked,” cornerback Orlando Scandrick said, according to the New York Post. “I’ve never in my life heard a team that was 4-6 talk like that. We were 5-5, and we knew we had no room to talk.”  “I just finished eating a Giant, and there’s some leftover blood,” Jason Hatcher joked after smearing fake blood on his face. They said blood was going to be shed, right?”  “We talked about it,’’ tackle Tyron Smith told Mike Fisher (105.3 The Fan). “Not to be the team that does the talking. Be the team that does its job.’’

The Giants will probably bounce back against Washington and their terrible pass defense on Sunday.  After that though, they will play the Chargers, Seahawks, & Lions, & that sounds like 3 more losses to me.  The Giants aren’t eliminated from the playoffs just yet, but all of their bravado sounds a bit pathetic at the moment.

2)      Will Bruce Arians win coach of the year twice in a row?    Since 1957, the Associated Press has named a coach of the year in the NFL.  During that time, only 3 coaches have won the award in consecutive seasons. Allie Sherman won in 1961 & 1962. Don Shula tied George Allen in 1967 & won it outright in 1968.  Joe Gibbs won it in 1982 & 1983.  It would be amazing if Bruce Arians joined that group.

Bruce Arians didn’t get his first chance as an NFL head coach until he was 60 in 2012.  Prior to that, he had been the wide receiver coach, then the offensive coordinator from 2004-2011 for the Pittsburgh Steelers.  After the Steelers lost in the wildcard round in January of 2012, the team announced that he had retired.  Arians said that he did not retire & that he was fired.  He was soon hired as the offensive coordinator in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis drafted Andrew Luck with the 1st pick in the draft that year.  They earned that pick by virtue of having the worst record in the NFL in 2011.  Then their rookie head coach got leukemia.  While Chuck Pagano successfully fought his disease, Arians stepped in as interim head coach & led the Colts to a 9-3 record under his coaching.  That turnaround led him to win the AP coach if the year award & more importantly, it led him to the Arizona Cardinals head coaching position.

For the last several years, the Cardinals were a team that was 2 years away from being 2 years away.  They haven’t been able to find a quarterback to replace Kurt Warner.  Their line has been terrible, and their defense has been worn down from being on the field all of the time.  They have two 5-11 season sandwiched around one 8-8 season.  This year with Arians coaching, the Cardinals are 7-4.  Their remaining opponents are: at Eagles (6-5), vs. Rams (5-6), at Titans (5-6), at Seahawks (10-1), vs. 49ers (6-3)  If they beat the Eagles, Rams, & Titans, they should be able to play the 49’ers for the last NFC playoff spot.  Arians has gotten solid play out of Carson Palmer & the line hasn’t played great, but has improved enough for them to win.  The defense is playing lights out.  I don’t think that they are a great team yet, but Arians may be a great coach.  It is amazing that he didn’t get a chance until he turned 60.  I guess that should give me optimism that I have years to hit my potential!

4) Only 1 team has been eliminated from the NFL playoffs & it is the Falcons.  Who would have guessed?  Every year when the season begins it looks like most, or all, of the teams who made the playoffs will be back again.  Every year, a number of them don’t make it.  This year it looks like the Falcons will be joined in the staying home for New Year club by the Texans, the Vikings, & the Redskins.  It is a distinct possibility that the Packers & Ravens will miss the playoffs as well.  There is an outside chance that the 49’ers will miss the playoffs if they lose to the Cardinals in week 17.  That would mean that 7 of the 12 playoff teams from 2012 were not able to repeat that feat in 2013. It really makes you appreciate the teams that consistently succeed.  The Broncos are headed to their 3rd straight playoff appearance.  The Cincinnati Bengals have the opportunity to make the playoffs for the 3rd time in a row & 4th in 5 years, which is amazing for Cincinnati.  Seattle should make the playoffs for the 2nd year in a row & the 3rd time in 4 years.  The Packers may not make it this year, but they have made it 4 years in a row.  This will be the New England Patriots 5th consecutive playoff appearance & their 10th in 11 years.

5) Vince Young’s NFL career is probably over.  I think that he should try the CFL.  Perhaps he will be able to prove himself again there and get back into the NFL.  Perhaps he will just be able to continue making a living playing football.  It just doesn’t look like he will get another chance in the NFL as it stands.  Alex Tanney was signed by Cleveland from the Dallas Cowboy’s practice squad yesterday.  Cleveland lost Jason Campbell last week and had to go back to Brandon Weedon, who promptly fumbled the ball & then followed that up with an interception that was returned for a touchdown.  Cleveland has other problems that might have prevented them from making the playoffs, but quarterback is the biggest.  Weedon has just been terrible.  Who would have thought fans of a team would be saying “If only Brian Hoyer had stayed healthy!!!”?  Now Cleveland has brought in someone best known for his awesome youtube video of throwing tricks.  If quarterback situations in Green Bay, Jacksonville, and Cleveland haven’t gotten Young a look, I don’t think that anything will.  Something similar applies to Tim Tebow, but I’ll write about that next week.

6) The Patriots could actually be the #1 seed in the AFC.  That sure didn’t look likely a few weeks ago.  If they win out against their remaining schedule: Texans (2-9), vs. Browns (4-7), at Dolphins (5-6), at Ravens (5-6), vs. Bills (4-7) they would be 13-3.  They would have the head to head tie breaker with the Broncos.  If you think Peyton Manning looked uncomfortable in November in Foxboro, wait until January.  The Broncos can’t afford to lose a game to their remaining opponents: Chiefs (9-2), vs. Titans (5-6), vs. Chargers (5-6), at Texans (2-9), at Raiders (4-7).  They probably won’t & will finish 14-2, but 1 loss could send them on the road. Since 2003, Tom Brady is 23-5 in games played when it is freezing, while Manning is 1-6.  For what it is worth, the Farmer’s Almanac predicted a snowstorm for the Super Bowl in New York this year.

7) I don’t think that the Titans will make the playoffs, but at 5-6 they still have a pretty good shot.  They even have a legitimate chance to win the division.  If the Colts keep playing like they have since Reggie Wayne was injured, the Titans could actually win the division.  That may save Mike Munchak’s job.  The Broncos & Cardinals will probably stomp them and end any playoff hopes, but it is interesting to watch.

I hope that everyone has a great Thanksgiving full of good wine and good football!

My undrafted free agent dream team and some dreamy wines you should draft into your cellar

3 Jul

Arian Foster Right now most of the sports programs not talking about Aaron Hernandez are talking about free agents and their new teams, or how the high draft picks will fare with their new teams. Occasionally there will be transactional stories about people at the bottom of the roster being signed or cut. Everyone knows that over 40% of the people on the current 90 man roster will be gone by the end of August when the NFL goes to 53 players per team.
The truth is that there are potentially some great players on the bubble. The league average is almost 13 undrafted free agents per team.
Mike Florio at Pro Football Talk has created an all star team of unsigned free agents. When free agency started, that team could have been a contender. At this point in the year, it lacks the firepower, but still could be competitive. I was thinking the other day about what kind of team you could create with just current players who were undrafted free agents. I looked around and didn’t see any articles about that, so I figured I should write one. It also reminded me of some wine equivalents of undrafted free agents. So I’ll cover them below. For now, here are my picks for a current team featuring only players who no NFL team thought was good enough for a 7th round draft pick. I think that this team could compete for the Super Bowl.
Offense
I am listing 13 players here. I figure that sometimes you will have a two back set. Sometimes, you will have three wide receivers. Sometimes, you will need a crunching fullback to clear the way.
Quarterback Tony Romo (Dallas Cowboys)
Romo was undrafted out of Eastern Illinois University. After a couple of seasons as a holder and backup quarterback, Romo became the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. His career has had highs and lows. He has the 5th highest career passer rating of all time at 95.6. He holds or shares 13 Dallas Cowboy passing records. That’s extremely impressive considering that there are two Hall of Fame quarterbacks in team history (and Don Meredith was no slouch either). The knock on Romo has been that he makes mistakes at crucial times. I think that you could see him pressing last year after DeMarco Murray was injured. The team had no running game, a suspect defense and I think he felt he had to win games by himself. On this team, he wouldn’t have to do as much and I think that the results would be phenomenal.
Running backs Arian Foster (Houston Texans) Fred Jackson (Buffalo Bills)
A pulled hamstring kept Arian Foster from participating in the NFL combine and when he was able to run, he turned in a relatively slow 4.71 second 40 time. That, and an underwhelming senior season, led to him being undrafted. Since gaining the starting job with the Texans, he has been sensational. In his first start, he ran for 119 yards and 2 touchdowns. He hasn’t slowed down since. In three years as a starter, he has reached the Pro Bowl three times. To me he is one of the top three running backs in the NFL and his peers ranked him in the top 10 players in the NFL this year.
Fred Jackson played in Division III in college and couldn’t stick with the Bears, Broncos, or Packers in training camp. He ended up playing for the Sioux City Bandits in the National Indoor Football League and then the Rhein Fire in Europe. In 5 seasons with the Bills, he has gained over 5,000 yards rushing and receiving. He was injured in week 1 last year, but should be fine this year.
Fullback Vonta Leach
Not many teams still use a full time fullback, but a great fullback can make the difference when you have to have the tough yards. Vonta Leach has been the best in the league for the last few years. The combination of a small school (East Carolina University) and the diminished need for fullbacks meant that he wasn’t drafted. He had 3 unremarkable years in Green Bay and a cup of coffee in New Orleans. He came into his own in Houston. After 2 stellar years there, he took a huge contract to play for Baltimore and he helped them win a Super Bowl. After 3 Pro Bowl years in a row for 2 teams, he was cut by the Ravens for salary cap reasons. He won’t be unemployed for long though and he would be great on this theoretical team. I would love to see him blocking for Arian Foster again. My honorable mention here is John Kuhn in Green Bay.
Tackles Jason Peters (Philadelphia Eagles) Donald Penn (Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Tackle is a tough position to find an undrafted standout. There are only so many humans big enough and nimble enough to play tackle in the NFL. Usually if a player looks like he has any chance at all of making it as a tackle, he gets drafted. Sometimes the theory is that if they can’t cut it at left tackle, they will move them to right tackle, and if that doesn’t work, they will get moved to guard. Some guys still slip through. Jason Peters and Donald Penn are both excellent tackles. Peters was a tight end in college who recorded more pancake blocks than catches. It was somewhat of a surprise that he wasn’t drafted in the 2004 draft. He developed into a Pro Bowl left tackle for the Bills, but was unhappy with his pay. He eventually was traded to the Eagles for the 28th pick in the 2009 draft. So he went to not being worth any pick to being worth a first round pick. If he can stay out of jail after some issues this offseason, he will remain a tremendous starting tackle.
Donald Penn wasn’t drafted, but has managed to start 92 games at left tackle for the Buccaneers. He doesn’t allow a lot of sacks. He has some health issues and has trouble keeping his weight down, but sliding him over to right tackle for this mythical team would keep Romo clean in the pocket.
Guards Dan Connolly (New England Patriots) Brandon Moore
Dan Connolly had a solid college career. He was all conference for 4 seasons. Since he was at Southeast Missouri State College though he didn’t get much notice. I hadn’t even heard of Southeastern Missouri State College before I looked it up for this post. He bounced around with the Jaguars and the Patriots before getting a chance to start when Logan Mankins was injured. He performed extremely well and when Mankins came back, Connolly was moved over to start at right guard. He also had an awesome 71 yard return of a squib kick that led to him being named AFC special teams player of the week. There are few things in life more fun than watching a 300+ pound man run 71 yards with the ball. Other than watching Vince Wolfork intercept a pass, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Brandon Moore is a free agent and I’m not sure why. Maybe it is because his most visible moment was being the “butt” part of Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble last Thanksgiving. He was solid in protection last year, had only 4 penalties, and was a great run blocker. At 33, he should still have a few years left and he is just a year removed from his first Pro Bowl season. Some team could use him and my all undrafted team definitely needs him.
Center Ryan Wendell (New England Patriots)
If I could get any offensive line coach for an all undrafted team (or really any team), it would be Dale Scarnecchia. The job he does in New England year after year is simply phenomenal. It doesn’t matter what happens to the line, he turns the next guy up into a great blocker. Ryan Wendell went undrafted in 2008. Then he signed with the Patriots. Then they cut him. Then they signed him to the practice squad. On December 31st 2009 he was promoted to the 53 man roster and this time it stuck. In 2012 he beat out Dan Koppen for the starting job. That wasn’t a case of Kopppen being too old to play anymore. Koppen will start in Denver this year for the 2nd year in a row.
Tight End Antonio Antonio Gates (San Diego Chargers)
After reaching the Elite Eight with Kent State in the NCAA basketball tournament, Gates was told that he wasn’t going to make it in the NBA because his 6 foot 4 inch height was too small for his skill set. Basketball’s loss was the San Diego Charger’s gain. A number of teams reportedly contacted him for a try out, but the Chargers had him try out first and signed him immediately. All they got out of that was their all time receptions leader, 8 Pro Bowl seasons, and 5 All Pro seasons. He was named to the NFL all decade team for the 2000’s. Last year his numbers were down, but he still had over 500 yards in receptions and if his quarterback hadn’t been sacked 49 times, he would have had more.
Wide Receiver Wes Welker (Denver Broncos), Miles Austin (Dallas Cowboys), Victor Cruz (New York Giants)
Wide receiver was actually one of the easier positions to fill. There were many other candidates, but I think this group would be a formidable receiving corp. I’ll grant that it has 2 players perceived as slot receivers, but I think it would work out fine. The most experienced player here is Wes Welker. He had a great career at Texas Tech, but was considered too small for the NFL and Tech receivers under Mike Leach were underrated because the perception was that whoever he had would post great numbers. After being cut by the Chargers, he showed potential with the Dolphins. Once he was traded to the Patriots, he went nuts. He is the Patriots all time reception leader, a 5 time Pro Bowler, 2 time All Pro, and he has led the league in receptions 3 times. This year he headed to Denver as a free agent, trading one future Hall of Fame quarterback for another. In New England he was replaced by Danny Amendola, another undrafted Texas Tech wide receiver.
Miles Austin played for the Monmouth Hawks in college. He signed as a free agent with the Cowboys and worked his way up to the 3rd receiver. In October of 2011, he got his first start when Roy Williams was injured. He responded by catching 10 passes for a Cowboy’s single game record of 250 yards. He hasn’t looked back since. That year he led the NFC in yards in despite the late start. He has had hamstring problems, but still has over 4,000 yards receiving and is a receiver who demands a double team.
Victor Cruz is the least accomplished and most publicized member of this group, but he still has made a huge impact. He holds the Giants’ single season reception yards record and has over 2,600 yards in 2 years. He only played a couple of years at the University of Massachusetts, but was productive during that time. He just signed his restricted free agent tender with the Giants. The fact that no other team offered him a contract this year really makes you wonder whether there is collusion on restricted free agents in the NFL. If he were in the draft this year, he would certainly be a first round pick.
Defense
There are tons of different defensive schemes and position names can be somewhat flexible because of that. The 11 undrafted players below would make a good defense in whatever scheme you want to run. This looks like a 3-4 line up to me though.
Defensive End Cameron Wake Miami Dolphins) Chris Clemons (Seattle Seahawks)
Cameron Wake seems to be the poster boy for CFL players hoping for a shot in the NFL. He actually had a solid college career at Penn State, but was mainly used as a linebacker. After going undrafted in 2005, he signed with the British Columbia Lions in the CFL. He became a full time defensive end and was the first CFL player to be named Rookie of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in the same season. By 2009 (I’m not sure why it wasn’t sooner), he made the jump to the NFL. After working out for several teams, he signed with the Dolphins. He has made 2 Pro Bowls and 1 All Pro squad. He is a force that keeps offensive coordinators up late at night.
Chris Clemons was a linebacker at Georgia who had some injury problems. After signing with the Redskins in 2003, he spent his first season on injured reserve. He earned a starting spot for a few games in 2004 he was cut by the Redskins, signed by the Browns, and then spent the season on the Browns practice squad. The Redskins signed him again the next year. He then bounced around with the Raiders and the Eagles. In 2010 he was traded to the Seahawks. He has averaged 11 sacks a year since then. He tore his ACL in January, but should be back to start the season.
Linebacker James Harrison (Cincinnati Bengals), London Fletcher (Washington Redskins) Bart Scott Vontaze Burfict (Cincinnati Bengals)
I’ll admit that my linebacking corps is pretty old. They are all still good though and I’m sure we could round up some young undrafted free agents to back them up. Vontaze Burfict is only 22, so he brings down the average age a bit.
James Harrison is one of three Kent State alumni on this list. It might be a good idea for NFL scouts to look at Kent State a little more closely. In high school he showed the kind of ability that normally would lead to recruiting wars for his commitment. Unfortunately he also showed the kind of lack of maturity that made you wonder if he should be saving bail money instead of college money. The big schools passed on him as did all of the teams in the draft. The Pittsburg Steelers gambled on him as a free agent though and hit the jackpot…eventually. First they cut him three times, sent him to play in Europe, and let him sign for a season with the Baltimore Ravens. By 2005, he managed to start 3 games for the Steelers. In 2007 he became a regular starter. Since that time, he has had a Hall of Fame level career. He has made the Pro Bowl 5 times, been an All Pro 4 times, and he was the Defensive Player of the Year in 2008. He gets too many penalties, but he has 2 Super Bowl rings and has the second longest scoring play in Super Bowl history, so the trade off is worth it. He couldn’t reach a deal with the Steelers this year, so he signed with the Bengals.
London Fletcher was the Division 3 National Linebacker of the Year playing for the John Carroll Blue Streaks. Despite that lofty accolade, he was undrafted in 1998. He signed with the Saint Louis Rams and hasn’t stopped playing since. He has played in 240 straight games over the last 15 seasons. He has started 199 games in a row. He has played for the Rams, Bills, and Redskins and been impressive at each stop. He hasn’t always been the most heralded player and has probably been overshadowed by Brian Urlacher and Ray Lewis. I think that he is a lock for the Hall of Fame when he retires. Last year was another solid year for him and I expect an excellent 2013 season from him.
Bart Scott isn’t a linebacker that you want working in space these days, but he is a smart and tough veteran that brings energy and leadership to any team. Low SAT scores scared off major colleges. Scott ended up at Southern Illinois University, where he was suspended for the final 6 games of his junior season. Undrafted in 2002, Scott signed a free agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens who were the only team to send a scout to look at him. After a couple of years as a special teams leader, he had the opportunity to start a few games when Ray Lewis was injured. He became a full time starter and by the next year he was a Pro Bowler and a second team All Pro. He followed Rex Ryan to the Jets and was an impact player there as well. He was cut this year in what looks like a salary cap move. I expect him to sign somewhere during training camp this year. Scott has had some issues, but that SAT score was a red herring. He completed his degree in economics and is generally an intelligent, articulate player. He has also been extremely generous to charities, which doesn’t help my imaginary team win games, but it shows that you shouldn’t judge too quickly.
A poor junior season and a bad combine workout (and a positive marijuana test) helped Vontaze Burfict drop from a projected first round pick after his sophomore season to an undrafted rookie for the Bengals. He started 14 games last year and even had 18 tackles in the last game of the season against the Ravens. If he can keep off field distractions to a minimum, he can have a great career.
Safety Ryan Clark (Pittsburgh Steelers) Quintin Mikell
After almost 10 years in the NFL, Ryan Clark finally made the Pro Bowl in 2011 as a replacement for Ed Reed. Making the Pro Bowl at Safety in the AFC is pretty tough as long as Reed and Polamalu are playing. Clark played for Louisiana State University and had a solid college career. Looking at his 2001 season, I am surprised that no one took him with a late pick. He signed with the Giants and played for them and then the Redskins. Since 2006 he has been a starter for the Steelers. My team of undrafted players won’t be playing in Denver, so we won’t have to worry that his sickle cell issues will cause him to be held out of any games.
Quintin Mikell is currently a free agent, just like he was in 2003 after finishing as the #2 tackler in Boise State history. He signed with the Eagles and was a great special teams player. From 2007-2010, he was a starter for the Eagles, and he went to the Pro Bowl in 2010. He played 2 years for the Rams, but was cut in March. He should still have some football left in him though.
Cornerback Tramon Willams (Green Bay Packers), Brent Grimes (Miami Dolphins)
Tramon Willams was a walk on at Louisiana Tech. He became a starter by his junior year. He signed with the Texans in 2006 and made it to final cuts there, but didn’t make the team. The Packers must have seen something that they liked though because they signed him immediately after he was cut. Since 2007, he has played in all but 1 Packer game. He has been the full time starter opposite Charles Woodson since 2010.
Brent Grimes went from Shippensburg University n Pennsylvania to the Hamburg Sea Devils in Germany. He signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2006. He had breakout seasons in 2009 and 2010(including a Pro Bowl year in 2010). Unfortunately he was injured in 2011 and tore his Achilles tendon in the first game of 2012 and missed the rest of the season. He signed with Miami this off season. If he can stay healthy, he is a solid cornerback.
Defensive line Cullen Jenkins NY Giants
Cullen Jenkins played college at Central Michigan. He signed with the Packers in 2003 and then played in Europe for a year. By 2006, he was a starter. In 2011 he signed with the Eagles as part of a crop of free agents. He played fairly well, but was cut in February. He signed with the Giants in March.
I was close to going with Armond Armstead with this pick. I think that he has a ton of potential. He played at USC, but had a heart attack. Last year he played in Toronto and this year he signed with the Patriots.
Kicker Adam Vinateri (Indianapolis Colts)
At South Dakota State University Vinateri set the record for most points in school history. I think that it is more likely that he will be remembered as one of the most clutch field goal kickers in NFL history, or as the only kicker with 4 Super Bowl rings, or mainly as the guy who kicked last second field goals to win the Super Bowl twice.
Punter Jon Ryan (Seattle Seahawks)
Ryan was born and raised in Saskatchewan. He played college in Canada and was drafted by the CFL not the NFL, so I’m counting him. Bleacher Report rated him the 4th best punter in the league for last year. Surprisingly, even though punters don’t get much respect from fans, they do tend to get drafted. I think Ryan is the best undrafted punter in the league. He also caught a 109 yard touchdown pass in college, so he gets bonus point there.
Kick returner Josh Cribbs (Oakland Raiders)
Josh Cribbs was a record setting quarterback at Kent State. He wasn’t drafted and wasn’t really considered a quarterback prospect, probably due to accuracy issues and his height (6 foot 1 inch) being considered short for the NFL. He signed with the Cleveland Browns and played receiver, but really excelled as a kick returner. His 8 kickoff returns for a touchdown is tied for the NFL record with Leon Washington. For years he was practically the only Browns player who was a threat to score any time he touched the ball. He holds 7 Browns franchise records and has been named to 3 Pro Bowls and 2 All Pro teams. Despite that, he was released by the Browns this year and signed with the Raiders. At 30, he should still have another return touchdown or two in him. Of course Wes Welker and Miles Austin have had some highlights in the return game as well.
That’s what I came up with. If you have better suggestions, let me know. I think the offense is stronger than the defense, but I think it would be a very competitive team across the board.
In wine, we don’t really have undrafted free agents, but considering how much wines like Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon dominate the grocery store, sometimes it feels like we do. Here are a few grapes and wines that deserve a little more of your scouting interest.
Jovly ChinonJovly Chinon (Cabernet Franc)
Cabernet Franc doesn’t get much love these days. Much of it goes anonymously into Cabernet Sauvignon bottling to add structure. On its own it can be delicious. Chinon is an AOC in France’s Loire region that specializes in Cabernet Franc. This smells of dark fruit, bell pepper, and chalk. It has bing cherry and herbal components. I tasted this at an event in Levelland Texas and a guy behind me said it reminded him of dip. That’s West Texas for you, but he wasn’t wrong. This would be great with grilled chicken or even a steak. Try a Cab Franc the next time you are reaching for a Merlot!
Lois Grüner Veltliner
If you like really crisp Pinot Grigios, try a Grüner Veltliner from Austria. This is a perfect summer wine. I think that I have written about this before, so I will just say that it has minerality, and tropical notes, and it would be a refreshing wine with seafood, or just on the beach.
Vietti Arneis Roero DOCG 2012
If you like a lighter style of Chardonnay, you will love Arneis. This one is a nice example. There is apple, citrus, and melon. There is a mineral component at the back of this wine and it has a very long finish. I really enjoyed it.
I could go on about unusual wine possibilities, and I probably will at some point. This is a long post though and those three should start you off well for now.

NFL free agency & random wine sampling. You never know what you will get.

24 Mar

ImageThis can be a great time of year for a football fan.  Sure it is tough because there are no new games on, but NFL Network has 24 hour programming, so there is still football to watch.  More importantly, free agency is open & now your team can add the missing piece to win their division or make it to the Super Bowl.  Everyone is undefeated & every team has hope.  The Chiefs finished with the worst record in the NFL, but if you talk to a die hard Chiefs fan right now, he’ll be optimistic.  He will say that the team upgraded the quarterback position & the coaching position & that with all of their Pro Bowl players from last year, this year they will be the surprise of the division.  Even fans in Cleveland are excited about the new coach & Cleveland fans have been beaten down over the years.

I have read a couple of articles about how the Miami Dolphins have “won” free agency this year.  They got rid of Jake Long & his huge contract & frequent injury history.  They added Mike Wallace, who was the #1 free agent in most lists, to be their speedy #1 receiver. They added linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who was a key contributor on the Ravens Super Bowl team, & linebacker Phillip Wheeler from the Indianapolis Colts.  If you put that with their excitement about Ryan Tannehill going into his second year as quarterback, it sounds like the Dolphins are back on track.  That may even be true.  This team might jell & rule the AFC East for years to come. 

On the other hand, back in the 2010 off-season Miami fans were excited because they picked up Brandon Marshall to be their #1 receiver & Karlos Dansby to be their  hard hitting linebacker.  They had Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long.  They were also excited because of the promise shown by Chad Henne, who looked to be the best Dolphins quarterback since Marino.  The Dolphins finished 7-9 that year & missed the playoffs.  They got rid of Brandon Marshall last year.  He caught 86 passes for 1,014 yards in 2010 with the Dolphins  & 81 passes for 1,214 in 2011.  In 2012 he caught 118 for 1,508 for the Chicago Bears.  Karlos Dansby was released by the Dolphins on March 12th.  Jake Long signed recently with the Saint Louis Rams.  Chad Henne was replaced midway through the 2010 season, although he started the 2011 season as the starting quarterback.  He is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I’m not just picking on the Dolphins.  Free agency is hard. I could have written thousands of words about the free agency failures of the Washington Redskins.  Just the words “Albert Haynesworth” can cause Redskin fans to punch a wall in frustration. When a team lets a player move to another team, unless there are significant salary cap issues, it means that the teams have different beliefs about that player’s abilities.  One team will be right & the other will be wrong, but it will take time to find out.  If Jake Long stays healthy for a couple of seasons & Sam Bradford blossoms into a star quarterback because he is confident that someone is protecting his blind side, we’ll say that the Rams made the right decision.  If Long is injured & his play suffers, then Miami will have been right to let him walk.  We won’t know any time soon.

For me, half of the fun will be in seeing how these new players fit in with their new team.  I thought Wes Welker should stay with the New England Patriots, but I can’t think of a better fit for him than the Denver Broncos.  He should do great, but we don’t know what will happen.  Danny Amendola seems like a perfect replacement for Welker in New England, but most of that is based on potential & his similarities to Welker (I don’t think that there was another short white former Texas Tech wide receiver out there for them to sign).  He might eclipse Welker in New England.  He might get injured in training camp & never play a down. 

The bottom line is that there is a ton of excitement at this time of year, but you don’t know what the result will be.  There is always the chance that the team is really just one free agent away from the Super Bowl.  It isn’t likely.  The only free agent that occurs to me as having tipped the balance of power & sending one team instead of another to the Super Bowl is when Deion Sanders moved from the San Francisco 49ers to the Dallas Cowboys in 1995.  Even then, Deion missed the first 8 games with an injury.  Teams have to make an attempt to improve though, & free agency is a great time of year to do it.

There is much less risk involved in breaking out some older wines to try in a random sampling.  You might waste as much as a few hundred dollars, but it isn’t like signing Jake Long to a $36 million 4 year contract & then having him injured.

I recently sat down for dinner at Zammitti’s in Kingwood Texas with a couple of guys including Eddie Ghazal, who owns the place.  Eddie broke out some gems from his cellar.  Here’s what we tried.

Jacob Franklin Petite Sirah 2000 (Napa Valley/Howell Mountain)

This wine may have set the bar too high for the evening.  It smelled of blueberry & perfume.  It tasted like dark liquorice, blueberry, & chocolate.  The tannins were still strong. It was an amazing wine at almost every level.  As great as it was, it tasted to me like a youthful wine that still had plenty of time to settle in.  I would highly recommend this wine if you can find a bottle.  The label says that there were only 16 barrels made, so that is about 400 cases.

Joseph Phelps Merlot 1999 (Napa Valley)

This was a 91 point wine in Wine Spectator in its day.  Its day is rapidly coming to a close.  The wine was starting to get a little brown.  The nose was still great, with tobacco & cherry being the predominate scents.  The taste was complex.  There was some good, older fruit, perhaps some pruney blackberry & plum flavors.  It actually still had really strong tannins.  That may have been because the fruit was showing less.  It became softer as it opened up.  It was quite a nice wine, but if you have a bottle lying around, throw something on the grill & drink it tonight.  It isn’t going to get any better & you want to enjoy it while you still can.

Bourassa Solera Port (Napa)

Before I review this wine, I want to make a quick digression.  I hate it when people in places other than Portugal label their dessert wine as Port.  Port is made in Portugal & Champagne is made in Champagne.  You can make a similar wine in another wine region, but it isn’t that wine.  If you create a car that looks & performs very similar to a Mercedes, you still can’t call it a Mercedes. Unfortunately, despite recent changes to the law, there are many wineries who were grandfathered in to the system & still get to call their sweet red dessert wine from California, Australia, or Arkansas a Port.  New wines have to be labeled as something else.  I actually liked “Port style wine”, but that isn’t legal anymore.

OK.  I had to get that rant out.  We are on to the wine itself.  This is produced with Cabernet Sauvignon.  It is made in a Solera system where wine from newer vintages tops off older vintages in the barrel.  When the wine is bottled, some of the older wine is used, but not all of it.  Eventually there is some really old wine in the blend, but you can’t tell how much is from which vintage.  In Sherry, there are soleras that have the oldest wines dating back hundreds of years. This had a very strong aroma of cassis.  It tasted of cassis a bit as well, but the primary flavors were caramelized pecan & old jammy figs & prunes.  My notes (after several drinks) say that this wine should keep you regular.  That may not quite be true, but it does taste like it.  This would be nice with bread pudding.  It isn’t bad on a cold night by the fire either.  It looks like this wine sells for around $80.  That may be kind of high for what you get, but it is tasty.

Norman Vineyards The Monster Zinfandel 2001 (Central Coast/Paso Robles)

I read one review of this wine that called it “legendary” & “a stylistic masterpiece”.  I’m usually a fan of these big Norman Zinfandels, but I can’t tell you anything about this wine.  It was corked.  That’s the equivalent of a career ending injury to your top rated free agent.  There was nothing to do but pour it out & open a bottle of something else.

Chateau de Lescours St. Emilion Grand Cru 1998 (Bordeaux)

Wine Searcher showed a peak price for this wine of $144 a bottle in 2009-2011, with a sharp drop thereafter, leading to a price of around $66 now.  That is a pretty good analysis of this wine.

It is comprised of about 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, & 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.  I didn’t know that at the time I tasted it, but I picked out the three grapes pretty easily.  Merlot is the key grape in St.Emilion & the Cab Franc was extremely prominent.  It felt like there was a little Cab in there for weight.  The fruit was low on the wine & the tannins were low, but it was still a solid wine.  I really enjoyed the first few sips. I tasted bell pepper, mint, & a bit of earth.  It was very much a mature Bordeaux.   As the wine opened up, the fruit diminished even more & it became very acidic.  I think this wine was probably at its peak 2-4 years ago.  It is still a drinkable Bordeaux, but the things that probably made it special are going away.  If you have a bottle of this, drink it as soon as possible.  Don’t give it time to open up.  I wouldn’t suggest guzzling a wine, but I would say to pour this for a few people.  If you have just 1 or 2 people drinking this wine, it won’t be enjoyable by the time you finish the bottle.  If you have 5 or 6, they will all get a nice glass of wine.  Just don’t sit too long to savor it.

That was the tasting.  Much like in free agency, we had a hit, a miss, & a few that were solid, but didn’t have much left to give.  Here’s hoping that your team & your cellar dive only uncover hits!

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