Sure, its popularity is always overshadowed by the championship relevance of the Super Bowl. But NFL players are insanely competitive, so we rarely get to see them have fun. Where else can you see madness like Richard Sherman get chased down by Bobby Wagner? Yes, that was a terrible play on Sherman's end, but it's great to see teammates like these two have fun with it.
Plays like that won't happen this year. We're back to the AFC vs. NFC format. We won't be getting teammates tackling each other again. But these are competitive nuts. All it will take for a legit football game to break out is a hit that's a little too hard for an all-star game. Just imagine these rosters going at it ... and Andy Dalton being sad somewhere. Not sure why that amuses me.
But even though we won't see Wagner hit Sherman this year, at least the skills competition is back. From QB accuracy to dodge ball, you can see all the festivities here. But it was between the comps that you see the most interesting stuff. Like Philip Rivers leaving Ray Lewis hanging. For one, that was rude. It's also perfect symbolism for the Chargers season. Some bright spots, but in the end, somebody is left hanging.
Let's cut off the rambling here. On to the ratings ...
Moving on up
Mohamed Sanu was a proven role player as a Cincinnati Bengal. He's a nice compliment to Julio Jones. He's a versatile route runner who also has a solid arm for the occasional trick play. He's obviously not the Atlanta Falcons' top target, but he provides solid depth for the league's top scoring offense. He was there for Matt Ryan against Green Bay and came away with a touchdown. Sanu is up two point to 82 OVR.
With Le'Veon Bell out, the Patriots were able to focus their efforts on Antonio Brown. DeAngelo Williams came in and pounded in a TD, but didn't rack up tons of yards. Since coming to Pittsburgh, Williams has performed beyond expectations when Bell missed action. If the Steelers weren't playing catchup, it would've been interesting to see what Williams would've done. Either way, he's up a point to bring him to 82 OVR.
Tight ends take time to develop in the NFL. The difference in skill level required is a significant jump from college, which is why rookie tight ends rarely have explosive rookie seasons. Austin Hooper had a solid first season. He's not the biggest TE in the league, but he's a solid blocker with above average route running who has been a great check down target for Matt Ryan. He could develop into a consistent red zone threat. He's up one point to 76 OVR.
Moving on Down
You likely don't know who LaDarius Gunter is unless you're a Packers fan. For those unfamiliar, here's the Julio Jones highlights from last week. He's the guy wearing #36 getting burned by the NFL's best wide receiver. To be fair, there were plays where the Packers tasked Gunter with guarding Jones man-on-man. Unless Gunter is an elite defensive back that the entire league didn't know about, that was a poor choice. For his efforts on that mammoth task, Gunter is down one to 75 OVR.
The Packers love their fullbacks, but that Aaron Ripkowski fumble was a costly one. That led to the Falcons just stepping into the gas pedal and the momentum never shifted after that. Can't expect to get to the Super Bowl with costly turnovers. It's that simple. I'm sure Ripkowski jersey sales took a dive. He's down one point to 83 OVR.
Falcons coach Dan Quinn is going through tons of tape right now. A great deal is probably from the AFC championship game. He just has to look at the Steelers' zone defense to see what not to do. Pittsburgh ran a zone against a team that's built to beat zone coverage. The Steelers' defense just wasn't aggressive enough, so most of the D took a dive in ratings. Mike Mitchell is one of them. He's down to 82 OVR after a one-point dump.
Three bold predictions
I already talked at length about Bobby Wagner's hit on Sherman. Even though he won't actually be playing any of his teammates in the Pro Bowl, I don't think anyone is safe in Orlando. Teammates, coaches, refs, cast members at Disney World, the Orlando Magic bench, nobody is going to be safe from Wagner this weekend. Be on the lookout Florida, Wagner is looking for people to tackle.
Before Media Day next week, Bill Belichick will say something that sounds unique but shouldn't surprise anyone. He's dished out some great moments at press conferences in his career. Whether he's talking about Surface tablets, social media channels like "Instantface," or that he didn't know that the Atlanta Falcons won the NFC, Belichick's press conferences are always awesome. We'll see some form of gold from him at some point next week.
There's some questions as to what the Denver Broncos will look like next season. One thing they will have is the (currently) reigning Super Bowl MVP, Von Miller. That defense is getting more rest this offseason, and despite the different look, should still be an elite defense. This weekend, Miller will dance at some point. It might be after a tackle, sack, standing on the sideline, doesn't matter.