Denver offers Manning more than a ‘Play Ahead’ defense

The Denver Broncos’ showing against the prestigious Pittsburgh Steelers answered many offseason concerns and immediately marks this team as a Super Bowl contender.

The Broncos’ vicious front seven is led by 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller, who has improved greatly on the edge against the run. They are also anchored by unheralded stalwarts DT Ty Warren, DE/DT Derek Wolfe and DT Justin Bannan. We might also see more of Mitch Unrein, who has also been impressive on film, due to the tricep injury to Warren. They eat up blockers and were key on Miller’s two sacks as well as on Joe Mays’ takedown of Ben Roethlisberger. Wolfe picked up a sack of his own, too.

Denver also has a secondary that can play man comfortably while bringing pressure up front. All of the league’s top defenses have this in common; whether you look at San Francisco, Pittsburgh or Baltimore. Champ Bailey is as able as ever, but it is the addition of Tracy Porter that really solidifies the secondary. His lockdown coverage and an interception returned for a TD sealed the Broncos’ win on Sunday night. The Broncos played man-to-man coverage on 16 of the Steelers’ 45 drop backs; blitzing on 10 of those man-to-man concepts, recording a sack and Porter’s pick six.

The Denver offense is built around efficiency. It gained an average of 6.3 yards per play against the heralded Steelers defense, and Peyton Manning completed 73 percent of his passes. The Broncos have what might be the best all-around offensive line in football. Running backs Willis McGahee, Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno stabilize the offense and give the Broncos consistent positive yardage on first and second downs. The receiving corps also works efficiently, with Eric Decker‘s proficiency on underneath routes and the constant big-play threat that Demaryius Thomas provides.

Denver will be tested early, facing Atlanta and New England in the next two weeks. If Sunday night was any indication, this Broncos team is more than up for the challenge behind Manning and a well-rounded defense.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Friday at 8 p.m. ET (NFC) and 9 p.m. ET (AFC) on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

NFL fantasy football: John Skelton named Cardinals starter

Finally, our long national nightmare is over — John Skelton will be the Arizona Cardinals starting quarterback in Week 1.

That answers the only real question surrounding the QB competition in the desert; namely, what would it mean for Larry Fitzgerald. After watching that duo duke it out in the preseason, it was plain to see that there would be little to no fantasy draft value there. But with Skelton besting Kevin Kolb, it adds a little something extra to Fitz’s value. The perennial fantasy monster had another big year in 2011, but his best weeks came with Skelton under center.

Of course, just because John Skelton is the starter now doesn’t mean he’ll still be the starter two or three months from now. Then again, that shouldn’t change your evaluation of Fitzgerald. But it will be one more thing for all of us to over-analyze on a weekly basis from now until sometime in December.

– Marcas Grant

Follow Marcas Grant on Twitter @MarcasG

Three and out: Drew Brees’ contract an issue

Happy Monday everybody. I would spoil the WWE’s Over the Limit PPV from Sunday night, but we all saw the ending coming. Maybe one of these days a championship match will be the main event of a PPV. But that’s too much make believe. Let’s get on to the fantasy football.

Saints want a discount: Contract negotiations for Saints QB Drew Brees aren’t going to progress well if the team clings to its silly assertion it should receive a discount for taking a medical risk on him in 2006 when nobody wanted him (according to Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King). Nice try, Saints. If anything, the Saints should give Brees more money for saving the franchise and ending decades of futility with a Super Bowl title.

Now a lot of people, King included, don’t believe it’s a huge deal Brees is missing voluntary workouts. But I beg to differ. The reason the Saints were so good after the lockout was because Brees held the team together over the summer. This offseason is completely different considering Sean Payton is suspended and the other unpleasantness going on. Brees is still a great fantasy option, but I’d much rather have Tony Romo at this point because the situation in New Orleans looks rather toxic.

Winslow on the way out: Buccaneers TE Kellen Winslow was on NFL Sirius on Monday morning and said he isn’t wanted in Tampa Bay. And the guy who could be coming in to replace him? None other than Dallas Clark, according to reports. Clark recently flirted with the New England Patriots, though nothing ever came of it. If Clark does sign with the Bucs, don’t expect much.

A big year for Flacco? If you’ve had the chance to check out our early rankings, I suggest you do that right now. It’s cool, I’ll wait. Pretty cool, right? And yes, you can rip me for my rankings later. But you will notice Joe Flacco is way down the list. I took a chance on him last year and was burned. Now some people on the social media sites are asking if Flacco can have a great season this year if the Ravens’ defense takes a turn following Terrell Suggs’ injury. Even Flacco himself said, “I want us to get in more of a mind-set where we have to score points.”

And that’s all great. But until I actually see it from Flacco, there are much better fantasy options out there. I would rather take a chance on one of the rookies like Andy Luck or Robert Griffin III, instead of chasing good money after bad with Flacco.

For the record, you can submit your fantasy questions to NFL Fantasy Live, Michael Fabiano or me on Twitter. But realize, NFL Fantasy Live has 40,000 followers, and Fabiano has 50,000. Me? Just 13. See, the odds are better that I will answer your question, so hit me up both via Twitter or via Facebook. Also be sure to catch the latest “Dave Dameshek Football Program.”

Packers, second-round pick Worthy agree to contract

The Green Bay Packers agreed to a contract with second-round draft pick Jerel Worthy on Thursday night, the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported. The defensive end from Michigan State reportedly has a four-year deal.

Maine safety Jerron McMillian, a fourth-round pick, has also agreed to a contract, the newspaper wrote, citing the player’s agent.

Allen Iverson and Jim Mora memes

It’s the 10th anniversary of Allen Iverson‘s famed “practice” rant (you can grab a transcript right here). The only thing equivalent in the NFL is Jim Mora’s “Playoffs?, You’re talking about playoffs?” outburst (followed closely by Dennis Green’s “Crown ‘em).

With that in mind, we try to delve into the minds of Iverson and Mora to get their take on the current issues around the NFL. Here is what we came up with.

Mark Sanchez still fancies himself a starter in the NFL, eh? Iverson is having none of that.


We have a hard time imaging Mora putting up with the antics of Chad Ochocinco. Although, it seems like he could use a little more practice time.


Yeah, this ain’t happening, T.O.


And if it hasn’t happened in the past two years for the Chargers, what makes us think this year is going to be any different?

But don’t let us have all of the fun. Use these photos to make your own memes and send them to us @nfl. The best ones will be re-posted in this blog.

Salsa dance tutorial by Victor Cruz

Happy Cinco de Mayo, everybody! Now if you really want to kick it up a notch and show some of your best salsa moves on the dance floor, we’ve compiled a video of Victor Cruz‘s best moves to help keep you from embarrassing yourself.

So be sure to practice and be safe.

NFL.com readers’ bold predictions

Is it too soon to make some bold predictions for the 2012 season? Not to me. I’m on record saying the Panthers will start 5-0. You can laugh now, but you will all be giving me my props later. Or probably not.

In any event, we turned to Twitter to give you, the NFL.com reader, the chance to have your voice heard. Here’s a few of our favorite responses.

Do you want to get in on the fun? Be sure to follow @nfl and me, @adamrank via Twitter.

Are Sam Bradford and Karlie Kloss an item?

Rams QB Sam Bradford attends Coachella with model Karlie Kloss. (JustJared.com)

You never know who you’re going to run into in the pit of a concert. One time, I had the privilege of hanging out with Dave Grohl as we rocked out to the Dramarama reunion at the House of Blues in Anaheim. (Or at least I thought it was him. And he did take a free beer from me.)

But I would imagine most of the hipsters in skinny jeans watching the Black Keys and Arctic Monkeys at the Coachella Music Festival had no idea the guy in the goofy sweater (seriously, look at it) was the quarterback of the St. Louis Football Club, Sam Bradford. Instead, they were probably eying the girl on his arm, supermodel Karlie Kloss. And here they are. (It should be noted, Bradford looks to be rocking an old-school Los Angeles Rams hat, based on the colors.)

So here’s the question, if Bradford and Kloss are an item, where would she rank on this list of player’s celebrity wives and girlfriends (WAGs)? Talk about it.

Hat tip: Just Jared

You can follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank

Payton in paradise: Buffett backs Saints coach

Sean Payton is under fire for his role in the Saints’ “bounty” program, but at least he has “Parrotheads” behind him.

While Saints fans protested the coach’s season-long suspension Sunday, Jimmy Buffett, wearing a “Free Sean Payton” T-shirt, also threw his support behind the coach, who accepted an invitation on stage at the New Orleans show to play the bongos (the word “play” being used loosely here).

Judging from the above video, there’s no question Payton is familiar with Buffett’s work. We’re just thankful they kept him away from doing any real damage on the steel drums.

But if you’re going to go on stage with Jimmy Buffett, the least you could do is actually make it look like you’re enjoying yourself.

– Aron Angel

Ravens’ Lewis inspires Stanford before NIT semis

Is there any question that Ravens LB Ray Lewis will command a gargantuan paycheck as a motivational speaker when his playing career finally comes to a close?

In case Lewis’ weekly pregame exploits with the Ravens aren’t evidence enough, we have the above video, in which Lewis addresses Stanford’s men’s basketball squad before Tuesday night’s 74-64 win over UMass in the NIT semifinals. The Cardinal advanced to face Minnesota in Thursday night’s final at Madison Square Garden.

to quote Lewis: “Wins and losses come a dime a dozen. But effort? Nobody can judge effort. Because effort is between you and you. Effort ain’t got nothing to do with nobody else.”

Stanford’s players could not have been more fired up to hear Lewis’ platitudes (fast forward to 1:20 for a classic reaction from forward Andrew Zimmerman) We’d also be remiss not to pass this last Lewis nugget:

“I’m pissed off for greatness. Because if you ain’t pissed off for greatness, that means you’re OK with being mediocre.”

I’m fired up.

– Aron Angel

Jaguars owner Khan has message for fans

In a clip that can pass as a Wrestlemania promo, Shahid Khan is letting the people of Jacksonville know he’s “all in” on the Jaguars.

Of course, we hope the team owner is all in … though “Major League” taught us that’s not necessarily a must.

Then again, “Major League” is a fictional piece of work. Nevermind, just enjoy Khan and his mustache pumping up Jags Nation.

Dan Hanzus is a writer for Around The League.

Branch returning to Pats with one-year deal

Wide receiver Deion Branch has agreed to a one-year deal to return to the Patriots, according to a league source.

Branch confirmed the move on his Twitter page, writing, “It’s truly an honor and a blessing to be back with #Patriots next year. Can’t wait to get back in the swing of things.”

Branch began his career with the Patriots in 2002 and established himself as one of QB Tom Brady‘s go-to receivers before leaving for Seattle in free agency.

Branch returned in 2010, via trade and has been a reliable starter ever since.

He started 15 games for the Patriots last season, recording 51 catches for 702 yards and five touchdowns.

Branch will be part of a deep Patriots receiving corp, bolstered in recent days by the signings of Brandon Lloyd, Anthony Gonzalez and Donte Stallworth.

– Albert Breer

A first look at Tim Tebow in uniform

Thanks to Panini America, the group that brought us the Peyton Manning trading cards, we can now see what Tim Tebow will look like as a member of the Jets.

(Panini America)

Former Bucs backup QB Johnson to visit Redskins

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Josh Johnson will visit the Washington Redskins on Wednesday, a league source told NFL Network Insider Jason La Canfora on Tuesday.

Johnson, who started five games during his four seasons with the Bucs, could still draw interest from other teams.

Smith, 49ers agree on new contract

Alex Smith and the 49ers agreed to terms on a new contract Tuesday, a league source told NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi.

The quarterback had visited the Dolphins and reportedly was upset over the 49ers’ courting of Peyton Manning, who chose the Broncos instead.

The 49ers drafted Smith No. 1 overall in 2005.

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