August 30, 2013

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One Thing For Every NFC Fanbase in 2013

By: Matt Bowen

Football is in the air. With the 2013 NFL season just days away, every NFL fanbase has their collective fingers crossed for certain things to happen this season. While reality doesn’t forecast a Super Bowl victory for all 32 teams, improvements/expectations/excitement surrounds the league.  With that being said, here is one thing every NFC fan wants to see from their favorite team in 2013.

Arizona Cardinals:

Fans of the Arizona Cardinals are dying to see all-world athlete Patrick Peterson play on defense, offense, special teams. Cards fans are dying to see him period. Truth be told, every NFL fan should have a burning desire to see him. He’s simply something special.

Atlanta Falcons:

The Atlanta Falcons have one goal this season. Without raising the Vince Lombardi trophy at the end of the season, 2013 will be considered all-for-not. With the addition of running back Steven Jackson, the Falcons sure do look like favorites. Can Matt Ryan and Co. get the job done?

Carolina Panthers:

Can quarterback Cam Newton revert to his rookie for this season? That’s what’s going through the minds of all Carolina Panthers fans at this moment. Who will become the secondary outlet for Newton outside of wide receiver Steve Smith? The team is truly a wildcard this season.

Chicago Bears:

Is new head coach Marc Trestman the cure for all that ails the Chicago Bears this season? If he can put a smile on the face of quarterback Jay Cutler, watch out. The NFC North is up for grabs and will be one of the most competitive in all of football, but a thriving Bears offense could put an end to the debate.

Dallas Cowboys:

Just how good is wide receiver Dez Bryant? Hold on, because we’re about to find out. When he truly explodes this year expect him to break the likes of Twitter. He’ll be the pride of Dallas and reinstall faith in the faithful. Leading the league in receiving yards isn’t out of his grasp.

Detroit Lions:

Which team will show up? The 10-6 2011 squad, or the 4-12 2012 version? Lions fans are begging to know.  This weighs heavy on Lions fans—Calvin Johnson can’t do it all. Quarterback Matthew Stafford can’t be fairly judged when he doesn’t have a running game. Offseason acquisition running back Reggie Bush looks to be the answer on offense. Lions fans sure hope. The defense, well that’s another can of worms. The Lions will sink or swim this season, but they won’t tread water.

Green Bay Packers:

Who will be quarterback Aaron Rodgers‘ favorite target? Randall Cobb, James Jones, Jordy Nelson? Is Jermichael Finley finally ready to truly breakout? At least it’s a good problem to have.

Minnesota Vikings:

Will Christian Ponder mature as an NFL quarterback? He has the size and strength, now he just needs the touch. Having a running back like Adrian Peterson always helps a quarterback moxie, but the Vikings really need Ponder to keep opposing defenses off-balance by being consistent all season long. Something tells one that this kid has got what it takes, at least for now.

New Orleans Saints:

Just how much of an impact does head coach Sean Payton make? Remember, the New Orleans Saints head coach was suspended for the entire 2013 season, and his team paid for it dearly. Now back in the saddle, expect a thriving Saints offense once again.

New York Giants:

Will the Giants‘ receiving corps stay healthy? This is always a tough thing to deliberate over, but a valid concern. With a healthy Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, there will be plenty of dancing to do. Without, there won’t be much to write home about.

Philadelphia Eagles:

Just how good can quarterback Michael Vick be in new head coach Chip Kelly’s offense? This is a question we can’t wait to be answered.  Eagles fans expect highlight plays for days.

San Francisco 49ers:

Will quarterback Colin Kaepernick be as good as advertised? Last year he came on to light up the NFL. The 49ers intend on returning to the Super Bowl. In order to do so, Kaepernick will have to be just a touch better from last year.

Seattle Seahawks:

Can the Seattle Seahawks surpass the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West? This will be a highly debated topic all season. Be sure to tune into these affairs. Just in case you were wondering, quarterback Russell Wilson is the truth.

St. Louis Rams:

What strides can the St. Louis Rams take in year two of the Jeff Fisher regime? Good things are happening in St. Louis. They will indeed be one of the most electrifying teams in the entire league this year. Quarterback Sam Bradford will justify his No. 1 overall selection this season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Can quarterback Josh Freeman get it done? He’s got a great running back in Doug Martin—now can he put it all together and help the Buccaneers win? The upper management won’t be afraid to pull the plug if he can’t.

Washington Redskins:

For Redskins fans, this one is easy—is RG3 okay? Will quarterback Robert Griffin III return to be his best? It will be fun to watch this unfold.

August 28, 2013

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2013 NFL Season Preview

By: Joe Williams

The Baltimore Ravens begin their title defense in just over a week when they kick off the 2013 NFL season against the Denver Broncos. That means its time look my crystal ball and see some of what the future holds.

Aug. 31

6 p.m.: Tim Tebow is officially unemployed when the New England Patriots finalize their 53-man roster.

Sept. 8

1 p.m.: The New York Jets win the toss and choose to kick off to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

1:07 p.m.: Mark Sanchez attempts his first pass of the season and throws an incompletion.

1:08 p.m.: Jets fans begin chanting for Geno Smith to replace Mark Sanchez.

Will the Broncos be the first team to clinch a playoff berth this season?

Sept. 15

Oakland Raiders coach Dennis Allen says in an interview before the Raiders home-opener against Jacksonville that the Raiders will return to their “most penalized team in the NFL glory” after seeing the Ravens lead the league in penalties and win the Super Bowl in 2012.

Sept. 24

Tim Tebow submits an application to the Chicago Bears for their quarterback position because he already “knows how to get Jay Cutler out of town.”

Oct. 7

A story comes out citing “sources close to Brett Farve” saying the quarterback would consider returning to the NFL if the right team called.

Oct. 12

A “source close to Brett Farve” is quoted in a report saying that the quarterback “would like to join the Falcons” because “he would be a great mentor for Matt Ryan and it would be awesome to end his NFL career where it began.”

Oct. 20

The Atlanta Falcons lose 31-21 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and now every team has at least one loss.

Nov. 25

At halftime of the San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins game, news breaks that a Kardashian is now single and back on the market.

Nov. 27

Rumors begin to swirl about a new NFL policy prohibiting players from dating until after the season. Violators could be fined up to $10,000 per date.

Dec. 2

One of the top quarterbacks in the NFL goes down with a season-ending injury. There could not be worse news for my fantasy team.

Dec. 8

The New York Jets and Oakland Raiders take the field in the Jadeveon Clowney Bowl. The final score is Oakland 24, Jacksonville 13 but everyone knows Jacksonville is the real winner.

Dec. 12

The Denver Broncos defeat San Diego on a Thursday night and become the first team to lock down a playoff spot by clinching the AFC West crown.

Dec. 14

Jennifer Lopez (part owner of the Miami Dolphins) announces that she will start focusing on the new season of American Idol, but will continue to judge the Dolphins in her spare time and will be available if the team makes the playoffs.”

Dec. 29

On the final day of the NFL regular season, only one game will have no playoff implications. Kansas City will play in San Diego and nobody will care.

August 27, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Japan wins Little League World Series: Japan and the U.S. (Chula Vista, CA) battled for the Little League World Series final on Sunday and for the second time in three years, Japan came out on top, winning 6-4. Despite a close matchup, the game still featured its trademark sportsmanship. After hitting Giancarlo Cortez in the helmet, pitcher Kazuki Ishida went to first base to check on him, shake his hand, and apologize. After the game, both teams shook hands and even exchanged hugs. Despite several bad calls both ways, as always, there wasn’t any complaining by the players and even the coaches were held in check. The Little League World Series remains the standard for sportsmanship.

Allen Iverson will officially retire: Yeah, I get it. The obvious reaction is, ‘Wait, didn’t AI hang up his sneakers years ago?’ Technically, no. He hasn’t played in the NBA since 2010 or even overseas since 2011 when he suited up in Turkey, but Iverson had never officially given it up. That should change next week as word broke that Iverson has finally realized his NBA days are over. Regardless of the years it took to make it official, AI has to be a Hall of Famer. For years early in his career, he was arguably the league’s Most Valuable Player leading some very mediocre Philadelphia teams to the playoffs, and even once, the Finals. His career 43% field goal percentage is modest (if not below average) for a star guard, but he was one of the game’s most prolific scorers.

Vince Young is returning to the NFL with the Green Bay Packers.

Vince Young to get another shot in NFL: Vince Young hasn’t been on an NFL roster for a regular season game since 2011 when he suited up with the Philadelphia Eagles, but could be back in the league this season as a backup. Young has impressed in Green Bay in training camp and by all indications, will be the backup to star Aaron Rodgers. He attended training camp with the Buffalo Bills in 2012, but was cut before the regular season. Young’s chances of making the Packers’ roster dramatically increased when the team released Graham Harrell. How he will perform in a regular season game is unknown, but he’s got a track record in the NFL and as a backup, is surely worth a small gamble.

Ryan Braun apologizes (finally): Milwaukee Brewers’ slugger Ryan Braun found himself in an awkward position after the recent Biogenesis scandal rocked Major League Baseball. He was named among the suspended players who had taken a deal giving up their right to appeal, virtually declaring his guilt in taking PEDs after previously denying it. Braun apologized last week, but it will take a lot more than that for him to get back into good graces with fans. The bigger problem for many isn’t so much that he took the drugs initially. Rather, it’s that he lied about it, denying the truth until he was caught. That typically doesn’t go all that well – see Rafael Palmeiro.

Miguel Tejada suspended for 105 games: In another drug-related issue, Miguel Tejada was dealt a 105-game ban for his reported use of Adderall. Tejada’s penalty was so stiff because he was said to have failed two tests before a suspension was handed down. Having previously been suspended for a failed test, these were Tejada’s second and third flunked tests. The curious thing is that Tejada apparently had permission to take the drug for his ADD previously. However, his permit ran out and he continued taking it. A 105-game ban for a drug legitimately being used to treat a disorder might seem harsh, but baseball really had little choice. If he no longer had the required permission, technically, he violated the rules and baseball’s front office could find itself in a bit of a sticky situation if they allowed him to skate free.

Soccer star Ronaldinho has dental surgery: Well, okay.

Claude Giroux injured by golf club: Philadelphia Flyers captain Claude Giroux had an unfortunate mishap, injuring a finger during a round of golf when a club accidentally shattered with pieces going into his finger. While he’s expected to fully recover from the tendon damage, it will take a little over a month. That sounds bad but things could have been much worse for the star. While he could be out for preseason games if the injury is too painful, Giroux shouldn’t miss much, if any, regular season time. The Flyers’ first game is on October 2nd and he should be back to 100% right around that time.

Calbert Cheaney to begin coaching career: Former Indiana Hoosiers star and NBA player Calbert Cheaney recently left his post as Director of Basketball Operations at his alma mater to take an assistant coaching job at St. Louis University. Cheaney was one of college basketball’s most celebrated players in the 1990s and will try his hand as a coach now.

Ian Kinsler hustles his way to inside-the-park-homer: Note to Little Leaguers – always run as hard as you can.

August 21, 2013

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The Los Angeles Dodgers

By: Matt Bowen

Usually a title to an article would have a hook, but when speaking of the Los Angeles Dodgers one is left rather speechless. What the team is doing this year is nothing short of out of this world. It’s something even Hollywood couldn’t script better. It’s remarkable.

Can Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw lead the Los Angeles Dodgers to the World Series?

The Los Angeles Dodgers were 23-32 on June 2. Now, 70 games later they are 73-52. What does that mean? Well, for nearly one-half of the entire 162 games season their record is 50-20. That’s a winning percentage of .714, which, had they played this way since Opening Day they would be on pace for 115 wins. The modern day record for wins in a season is 116 wins by the 2001 Seattle Mariners. Yes, the 2013 version of the Dodgers are playing like the best team in history since early June. Correct, we are witnessing history.

Under new ownership headed by Magic Johnson the team was supposed to turn the underachieving page this season. As of June they were considered one of the biggest busts in sports history. Using a historical reference back from their Brooklyn days, “Dem Bums” were overpaid and lousy. Their manager, Don Mattingly, also known as “Donny Baseball” was on the brink of getting his pink slip and the team was so very close to being forgotten about.

Then, a gift from the baseball Gods landed in tinsel town in the form of a young 22-year-old Cuban defector by the name of Yasiel Puig. True, his brash attitude may turn some people away, but it’s just what the Dodgers needed. They needed some swagger, and Puig has plenty. Remember, he’s only 22 on the world’s largest stage. His personality is infectious and although his teammates do not agree with his actions 100 percent of the time, he’s been the fuel to their fire. After all, don’t forget that winning too is infectious.

Puig is batting .352, and although he’s been in a small slump of late, his heroics are nothing short of super human. After being late to the stadium in which manager Mattingly fined and benched Puig for on August 20, he stepped to the plate and delivered a eighth inning home run to break a tie ballgame. This is Puig in a nutshell, seemingly careless on the outside only to deliver when it matters most.

When it comes to Rookie of the Year, Puig wins it running away. The real debate begins when asked if he should the MVP of the 2013 season. Looking at his numbers as of August 21, a .352 average in 261 at-bats with only 12 homers and 28 RBI with seven steal to boot isn’t quite convincing, but when the term “most valuable” is implied, Puig is just that. The team’s record with him on the roster stands for itself, for Puig punched his ticket to The Show on June 2.

Combined with pitcher Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers could sweep the individual awards for the season. Kershaw will win the Cy Young without a contest—his current 1.80 ERA and .85 WHIP speaks for itself. Puig will be Rookie of the Year and if the voters come to their senses they will realize that no man in the National League has been more valuable to his team.

To think the Dodgers won’t prevail to the World Series is a bit preposterous at the moment. While there is plenty of ball to be played, this season’s best story can only finish with a classic Hollywood ending. Get ready, because the Dodgers are about to hit the stratosphere.

August 20, 2013

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NFC Preview

By: Joe Williams

Last year, I correctly picked Green Bay, Atlanta and San Francisco to win their divisions but was off the mark in the NFC East and with both wild card teams. The NFC is much tougher to read than the AFC. The NFC has been the definition of parity. In the last nine seasons, the NFC Championship Game has been played in eight different cities (only Chicago hosted twice), won by eight different teams (only New York won twice), and 11 of the 16 teams have played for the right to go to the Super Bowl (Washington, Dallas, Detroit, Tampa Bay and St. Louis haven’t been there in a while).

With Sean Payton returning to the sideline, can the Saints take back the NFC South?

NFC East

Once again, it’s the Redskins that are the most talked about team in the offseason. But this time its injury related. When will RGIII be back? Will he be 100 percent? Will he be able to stay on the field when he does come back? The Redskins come in as the champs, but won’t end the year that way. It should be safe to say that a team that finished 4-12 and has a rookie head coach won’t win either. So it comes down to the Cowboys and Giants and it won’t be decided until the final game of the season when Washington at New York gets moved to Sunday night.

Division winner: Dallas

NFC North

Three teams won 10 games last season and two went to the playoffs. The Packers will be very good again and it seems that we never know what to expect from the Vikings, Bears and Lions. The Lions will be better and the Vikings will be worse. So assuming that Jay Cutler can stay healthy this year, the Bears will be the team to challenge Green Bay. They play in Chicago in week 17 and the division title could be on the line…but it won’t. The Bears will be playing for a wild card spot and Green Bay will be looking to send their rivals home.

Division winner: Green Bay

NFC South

Atlanta won the South by six games and should have gone to the Super Bowl last season. Now that Sean Payton and Drew Brees are back together, it may have been the Falcons best shot. Tampa Bay and Carolina should both be better as well. But not everyone can be over .500. Either the Bucs or Panthers will fall out of the race before Thanksgiving but the other three will all be in the playoff chase until the bitter end.

Division winner: Atlanta

NFC West

This one is a two team race. The 49ers and Seahawks are clearly better than the Rams and Cardinals. If the 49ers and Seahawks were scheduled to play in week 17, I’d say the division title and probably a bye would be at stake. Both teams should be headed to the playoffs in January so the real question is which one gets the break that allows them to win West and host at least one playoff game.

Division winner: Seattle

Wild Card winners: San Francisco, Chicago

NFC champion: Atlanta

(To read our AFC Preview, click here.)