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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, September 19, 2011 at 9:20 AM

Sam Bradford, who leads the St. Louis Rams into New York Monday Night to face the Giants on ESPN, entered the 2010 season with a lot of pressure on him as the number one draft pick in the NFL. He was immediately given the starting job. And, since the Rams were kinda/sorta in a playoff race all season, Bradford was given a lot of credit for accomplishing so much as a rookie.

Here were the storylines that generally took hold about Bradford last season.

  • He's almost a star now, and he's going to be fantastic once he gets more experience.

  • He doesn't have any good receivers now. Imagine how great he'll be once he has some receivers!

  • He almost led his team to the playoffs in his first year. They're going to be playoff regulars once he gets the hang of the league.

There's certainly some truth in those themes. St. Louis DIDN'T have good receivers last year. And, Bradford IS in a good place on the learning curve in terms of having a career in the NFL. You can't expect much from rookies. Bradford at least held his own, which is more than many accomplish.

But, the media has missed the mark pretty badly in our view in terms of what Bradford was actually accomplishing last year.

  • Instead of pointing out the illusions based in the extremely soft schedule St. Louis played...the media tried to pretend they didn't exist. There are 32 teams in the NFL. According to Jeff Sagarin's computer rankings at USA Today, St. Louis played the 32nd ranked schedule. It was the softest in the league.

  • Instead of pointing out that St. Louis was only a fringe playoff contender because they played in perhaps the worst single season division the league has ever seen, the media talked about leadership and poise. First place in this division went to Seattle with a 7-9 record (St. Louis was also 7-9 but lost the tie-breaker). That was three games worse than any other division winner, and five games worse than what it typically takes to earn a bye. It was a fluke that St. Louis was a playoff contender. That would have had no chance of happening vs. a league average schedule in any other division. Who talks about leadership on a 5-11 caliber team that happened to play a bunch of 3-13 or 4-12 caliber teams?

  • Instead of pointing out that Bradford had unimpressive stats, the media pretty much ignored his stats because that didn't play into the storyline they were selling. Bradford ranked 25th in passer rating last season, behind the likes of Alex Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Kerry Collins (who retired, before coming back in Indy this year), and Donovan McNabb (who probably should retire). Alex Smith was A JOKE at quarterback for San Francisco last season. He had better stats than Bradford against a comparable schedule. As a team, St. Louis also ranked 25th with a mark of 76.5. League average was around 84. The best passing offenses are in the 90's. Honest reporting would say "Bradford isn't quite as good as the horrible Alex Smith now, but he's on pace to be much better because he's so much younger."

If you assume that the very soft schedule helps cancel out the lack of great're left with a quarterback who just wasn't very good last year. It's okay to say that. Rookies usually aren't very good. On a "rookie scale," Bradford did okay. SAY IT THAT WAY! Don't pretend he's better than he is. Bradford's a struggling quarterback who's on pace to develop into a contributor. He has a lot to learn.

Let's apply some tougher standards here to present a clearer picture. Here's what Bradford did last year against playoff teams...

23-41-2-189 vs. Seattle, passer rating of 84.3
27-42-1-233 vs. Atlanta, passer rating of 84.7
18-32-2-231 at New Orleans, passer rating of 53.0
21-43-2-181 vs. Kansas City, passer rating of 40.9
19-36-1-155 at Seattle, passer rating of 52.4

That's eight interceptions thrown in five games, and an average passer rating of 63.1. Oh, the Rams went 1-4 with four double digit losses. AND THOSE WEREN'T EVEN THE GOOD PLAYOFF TEAMS!

Seattle was one of the worst playoff teams ever. They represent 40% of that list. Kansas City was the second worst playoff team last year once you adjust for schedule. New Orleans managed to lose to the worst playoff team in their opener. The four teams listed went 1-4 in the playoffs, with the only win coming within the group.

Bradford managed to miss most of the good teams last year...and most of the scariest defenses.

Last week, Bradford opened the 2011 season against a Super Bowl contender. He wasn't a disaster. But, he didn't exactly sparkle against the Philadelphia Eagles.

17-30-0-188...passer rating 75.4

It was another double digit loss. But, at least he avoided interceptions. Bradford and the Rams struggled badly on third downs though. That's one of the best hidden indicator stats for evaluating quarterbacks. The best quarterbacks know now to move the chains. You can literally chart a learning curve on young signal callers as they learn this ability.

Last Year: 33%, 6th worst in the NFL
Last Week: 2 of 12 for 16%, 3rd worst for the week

As you study and handicap Bradford this season, monitor his interceptions, his third down conversion rate, his number of sacks taken, and of course his passer rating. Double digit losses seem to be piling up in games where those will be a problem. It's okay to take Bradford at value prices vs. lesser defenses.

What about tonight? What do you think of the Giants defense? Some years they scare the pants off of people. Last week they made Rex Grossman look great (21-34-0-258 for a passer rating of 110.5). If the Giants play fired up in a bounce-back spot...then it could be a long night for Bradford and the Rams. But, if the Giants have given up on the Coughlin era (and last week may have been a red flag warning in that regard), then Bradford could lead the Rams to a straight up victory. Eli Manning has been reeling of late. Fans in New York have limited patience, and the honeymoon is over from the stunning Super Bowl season. You know this crowd would love a chance to boo at the top of their lungs on national television...possibly completely erasing home field advantage.

JIM HURLEY has a strong opinion about how tonight's game is going to play out. You can purchase that play here at the website with your credit card. We will have some bonus baseball available tonight to help you make even more money. Games in the pennant race spotlight include the LA Angels at Toronto, Baltimore at Boston, St. Louis at Philadelphia, Atlanta at Florida, and Pittsburgh at Arizona. And, that baseball bankroll building will continue until football picks back up again Thursday with NC State at Cincinnati on ESPN.

Go day-by-day online for BIG JUICY WINNERS, or sign up for extended service at 1-800-323-4453.

Winning in both college and pro football means we do a great job when a player transitions from college to pro football. Sam Bradford had a storied career at Oklahoma. Is he on pace to do the same thing in the NFL? Or, is he just the latest flash-in-the-pan who is more a product of media hype than true potential? We'll learn something about that tonight.

Jim Hurley is confident he knows the answer. Whether you need a bailout from losing your own picks...or you want to keep a hot week rolling up for Monday Night Football with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!

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