November 27, 2013

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2013 NFL Q4 Must-See Games

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NFL season is nearing a close but there are plenty of questions yet to be answered. This year more than ever it seems that every game is a coin flip. Right now there are literally 26 teams still in playoff contention. This is great—every game from here on out will be a nail-biter. Here’s a list of the most crucial games during the final quarter of the season. Remember, each week will contain three categories; the heavyweight bout, the divisional battle and the hidden gem.

Week 13

The Heavyweight Bout: New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks

Games don’t get bigger than this one. A potential NFC Championship Game in the making, both teams have a statement to make. Nothing like ending a holiday weekend with a cherry on top, Monday Night Football is not to be missed—Drew Brees and Russell Wilson will have their teams primed for a battle. Find time for this one.

The Divisional Battle: Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions

NFL fans can thank the Detroit Lions for this Thanksgiving tradition. The Lions provided football on Thursday before football was on Thursday. Hooray! Hey, there’s nothing like spending family time together watching the Lions and Green Bay Packers pummel one another. Here’s some added fuel to the fire—first place in the division is on the line. The Lions currently hold the top spot but the Packers want it badly. Another added bonus, we get to watch Calvin Johnson—who doesn’t like to watch greatness?

The Hidden Gem: Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles

These teams are both surprises this year and playing their best ball of the season right now. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer just may be the hottest in the league. He’s thrown for 733 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions the last two games. The Cardinals have also won four straight games.

The Philadelphia Eagles, led by the NFL’s leading rusher through Week 12 LeSean McCoy are also sizzling. Winners of three straight and coming off their bye week, there’s no time to lose momentum now.

Neither team will give an inch. Expect plenty of offense. Give this one a go.

Week 14

The Heavyweight Bout: Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers

Few words need to describe this matchup between bitter divisional rivals. Remember when the Seattle Seahawks dismantled the San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2, 29-3?

The Niners do too, expect them to exact revenge.

The Divisional Battle: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints

Winners of seven straight, the Carolina Panthers are the hottest team in the league right now. The NFL is far from easy and the Panthers will travel to the Big Easy in Week 14. This is to prove that they’re the best team in their division.

The New Orleans Saints don’t plan on relinquishing their A1 status anytime soon.

Cam Newton is living up to the hype—his counterpart Drew Brees is the standard. Jaw-dropping action will occur.

The Hidden Gem: Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Out of all the true Super Bowl contenders in the league, the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals may have the most questions surrounding them.

One week they look like outright champs, the next it looks like they don’t belong.

Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton have to find a way. The winner of this one will gain the confidence it takes to go all the way. They’ll also do some convincing.

This is a true make-or-break game for both sides.

Week 15

The Heavyweight Bout: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys

Two iconic franchises, two franchise quarterbacks, playoffs lives on the line—this game has all the elements to be a classic.

Aaron Rodgers will have returned from injury and Tony Romo will be psyched to make a run for the coveted Lombardi trophy. These two guys may just combine for 800 passing yards.

Fun, fun, fun—please pay attention to this one.

The Divisional Battle: San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos

Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning on Thursday Night Football is a great start to Week 15. The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos have something to fight for as the Chargers are only 5-6 heading into Thanksgiving, but have a real punchers chance. Rivers has never performed so well and the Chargers are electric on offense.

Manning and the Broncos need little introduction, they’re the real deal.

The Hidden Gem: New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers

Believe it or not, the New York Jets are currently in the playoff hunt. Yes, even at 4-7 they have a shot. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has had his ups and downs, but the future is promising for him and the Jets.

The weak spot the Jets have this season is playing on the road. If they’re to make the postseason, they’ll have to head into Carolina and win. The Panthers defense, led by Luke Kuechley is one of the best in the league; don’t think they’ll let a rookie show them up.

Considering what’s at stake, this will be a good one.

Week 16

The Heavyweight Bout: Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles

The Chicago Bears are currently in a dogfight for the NFC North with the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. The Eagles are in the same situation in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.

Both teams are currently 6-5 and not in the playoffs. Considering their divisions will be on the line, neither team can afford to lose. This game has smash-mouth football written all over it. Last team with the ball wins.

The Divisional Battle: New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers

See Week 14—the loser of that game will want redemption. The winner will want to claim NFC South supremacy.

Scary thing is they may meet again in the playoffs. Awesome.

The Hidden Gem: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens

Hey, the champs haven’t thrown in the towel quite yet. The Baltimore Ravens still have a pulse and are picking up steam down the stretch. Don’t cross-off Joe Flacco and Ray Rice because after all, they’re stars.

If they are to truly be playoff contenders, they’ll have to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. For them, it’s business as usual. They have yet to be their best and are still 8-3. That fact is downright frightening.

The Ravens must let it be known that they will defend what is rightfully theirs. A win in Week 16 will do just that.

If you think Week 17 was forgotten, think again. Sit tight, for it’ll have its own article. 16 divisional games—Wow!

Then, we’ll talk about playoffs.

November 26, 2013

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NFL Playoff Projections

By: Joe Williams

In just a couple days the nation will be eating turkey and giving thanks for all the Black Friday sales. So if you are planning to spend hours in line waiting for the chance to trample other shoppers and need something to pass the time, try predicting what will happen in the last five weeks of the NFL season. I did. And trust me, I’m in the mood to trample. But I learned a few things along the way, too.

Rob Gronkowski

Will the Patriots end up the #1 seed in the AFC?

Here’s how my playoff field turned out in the AFC:

1. New England: 13-3

2. Denver: 13-3

3. Cincinnati: 12-4

4. Indianapolis: 9-7

5. Kansas City: 13-3

6. Miami: 9-7

The Broncos may have just cost themselves home field advantage in the AFC by blowing that 24-0 lead in New England. And if they don’t bounce back with a win in Kansas City on Sunday, they’ll be looking at a wild card spot.

Suddenly, Sunday’s game between the Titans and Colts is huge. The Colts are reeling after another blowout loss and still have to play the Bengals and Chiefs. A Tennessee win on Sunday would put the Titans just a game back with the Cardinals, Jaguars and Texans as their last three opponents.

The sixth seed is a crapshoot. There will likely be week 17 games in Cincinnati, Tennessee, Miami and San Diego that all mean something.

Here’s how my playoff field turned out in the NFC:

1. New Orleans: 14-2

2. Seattle: 13-3

3. Dallas: 10-6

4. Green Bay: 9-6-1

5. Carolina: 11-5

6. San Francisco: 11-5

Monday night’s match-up in Seattle should decide the No. 1 seed in the NFC. If the Saints can’t win in Seattle this week…they’ll have to do it in January in order to reach the Super Bowl.

The NFC East will come down to the final game of the season when the Eagles head to Dallas to battle the Cowboys. Especially if the Eagles can beat Arizona this week.

The NFC North will come down to the health of Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers. The quarterback that returns and regains his form first will lead his team to the division title. And Detroit is going to regret blowing the game against Tampa Bay last week.

Carolina and San Francisco will be the wild card teams. It’s division title or bust for everyone else.

Several teams are playing for their season in week 13:

Detroit Lions: After losing at home to Tampa Bay the Lions face a must-win situation on Thanksgiving against a probably Aaron Rodgers-less division rival from Green Bay.

Pittsburgh Steelers/Batimore Ravens: This Thanksgiving night showdown is an elimination game. Winner gets to 6-6. Loser is out of the race.

San Diego: With the Giants, Broncos and Chiefs still to play, San Diego cannot take a seventh loss against Cincinnati on Sunday.

Arizona: The Cardinals must beat the Eagles this week if their week 17 game against the 49ers is to mean anything in the wild card race.

November 25, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Prince Fielder traded – Baseball’s offseason saw its first big trade when All-Star Prince Fielder was dealt away from the Detroit Tigers to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler. The move really is one of those win-win deals. Fielder is an incredible talent as his 25 home runs and 106 runs batted in in 2013 will attest, but he was owed a boatload of money for a lot of seasons. The slugger is still owed approximately $170 million over the next seven years and Detroit really needs some of that money to lock down its pitchers. The Tigers get a solid player back in Kinsler but the real benefit to them is getting out from under all of that money due to Fielder. The Rangers, meanwhile, get a bonafide superstar that can make their top ten offense in 2013 even better next season.

Prince Fielder

Prince Fielder will be a Texas Ranger in 2014.

Don’t count out the Pats – For most of the season, the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have been the class of the AFC. But the Pats have been lurking around in the background and on Sunday, showed they shouldn’t be forgotten. Tom Brady and New England upset Denver in overtime and at 8-3 on the season, are only one game behind the 9-2 Broncos. The Patriots got the game at home, but Brady’s spectacular 344-yard, three-touchdown effort officially put the rest of the NFL on notice.

Charlotte Hornets will get their colors back – The NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats will go back to being the Charlotte Hornets next season, but a name change isn’t the only thing coming. With the team name change, the franchise will go back to their original purple and teal color scheme per ESPN. If that doesn’t conjure up memories of Grandmama, then nothing will.

Crazy African soccer betting – And … I’ll just put this here.

Florida loses to FCS Georgia Southern. In football. – The Florida Gators’ season was already going about as badly as it could. Entering this weekend, they were 4-6 and in serious danger of a sub .500 season. But things got a whole lot worse for the Gators when they lost to FCS team Georgia Southern 26-20 at home. The loss dropped Florida to 4-7 and gave the Gators their sixth straight loss. Hello, Will Muschamp – it’s the hot seat calling.

Red Sox hair trimmings up for auction – Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen some pretty interesting auctions related to sports. A few weeks back, Bill Mazeroski’s game jersey he wore when hitting his historic home run in the 1960 World Series fetched six figures. Last week, a ball boy who was given Michael Jordan’s shoes from his famous flu game decided he’d put those up to the highest bidder. Now the Boston Red Sox are getting in on the action. Several Red Sox players have trimmed their beards after their World Series run and putting them up to benefit a men’s organization. You may question if fans really want hair from players, but so far the auction is already bringing in thousands of dollars.

Derrick Rose injures knee … againChicago Bulls star guard Derrick Rose sat out all of last season recovering from an ACL injury in his knee. Rose returned this year but caught another tough break when he injured his other knee last week during a game against the Portland Trailblazers. It’s unknown how long he’ll be out, but word is that Rose could miss the rest of the season. If so, it’s another devastating blow to a team that had hopes of reaching the NBA Finals. The Bulls put up a bit of a fight in the postseason last year without Rose, but realistically, it’s difficult envisioning them competing with the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers without their best player.

And you get $20,000, and you get $20,000 – Last week a fan at an Oklahoma City Thunder game made a half-court shot at halftime to win $20,000. That’s an incredible feat, but it’s something that seems to happen in Oklahoma City more than anywhere else. The shot was the fifth such one by a fan in 2013.

Johnny Football and Texas A&M fall short against top teamsTexas A&M hasn’t had a bad season per se, but the Aggies have definitely struggled against the better schools on their football schedule. Johnny Manziel and company have played three ranked programs and after this weekend, have lost all three. Texas A&M previously lost to Alabama and Auburn and on Saturday, dropped a game to LSU on the road. Manziel has still been impressive this season, but failed miserably against the Tigers, completing only 16 of his 41 passes and adding two interceptions against only one touchdown. He’s played well in his sophomore year, but winning a second Heisman is looking less and less likely.

November 19, 2013

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Early Season NBA Observations

By: Joe Williams

We’re just 10 games into an 82-game NBA season so obviously there’s a lot of basketball left to play. But now that the games are for real, its time to take a look at what has happened so far compared to what we expected to happen.

Kobe Bryant

What will the Lakers' record be when Kobe Bryant returns?

Atlantic Division
Philadelphia was supposed to be the worst team in the league and the 76ers are leading the division. They have Michael-Carter Williams to thank for that. The rookie is making everyone forget they traded Jrue Holliday during the offseason and led the team to shocking wins over the Heat and Bulls. The future looks bright in Philly with Williams, Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes (averaging a double-double), injured rookie Nerlens Noel and probably a high draft pick coming in the summer.

Brooklyn is supposed to be a threat to Miami and is in last place at 3-7. The Nets have been dealing with injury problems and that makes life even tougher with a first-time head coach. Good thing they are a veteran team and have an owner willing to do whatever it takes to win. Once they get healthy, the Nets should get back on track.

Central Division
Indiana has picked up where it left off in the playoffs when it nearly knocked off the Heat. The Pacers ought to be better this year.

In Cleveland its starting to look like the Andrew Bynum addition isn’t going to be the move that gets the Cavs back to the playoffs. They are going to need a lot more than six points and four rebounds from their big man.

Southeast Division
Charlotte is off to a pretty good start (for Charlotte) at 5-6 and that is with Al Jefferson only playing three games so far. He should improve their 30th ranked offense.

What’s wrong with Washington? Weren’t the Wizards supposed to be a playoff team? Not at 2-7 they aren’t.

Northwest Division
Portland is the hottest team in the league with seven straight wins. This appears to be a much improved team and another contender to battle for a playoff  berth in the stacked Western Conference.

Utah is running away with the race for the most lottery balls in the draft. The Jazz already have 11 losses. That’s four more than the next highest. Will it be Wiggins or Parker?

Pacific Division
Phoenix may be the biggest surprise so far at 5-4. The four losses are by a combined 13 points and that includes games in San Antonio and Oklahoma City. Impressive start, but will it last?

There is still no word on when Kobe will be back but it already looks like it might be too late with so many great teams in the conference, the Lakers look like the 10th best right now.

Southwest Division
New Orleans is a Wednesday night win over the terrible Utah Jazz from getting to .500 and they’ll still be the worst team in the best division in basketball.

San Antonio has nine players averaging at least seven points a game. Some teams don’t even have nine guys they will put on the court.

November 18, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Baseball dishes out annual awards: Major League Baseball’s annual awards were given out this week and all eyes were on the Most Valuable Players in the American and National Leagues. The Detroit TigersMiguel Cabrera won his second straight MVP award and the Pittsburgh PiratesAndrew McCutchen captured his first. Both were worthy winners and didn’t get much competition on their way to grabbing their respective hardware. Cabrera took home 23 of the 30 first-place votes available after nearly winning the Triple Crown award again. Meanwhile, Cutch’s win was even more lopsided as the centerfielder received 28 of the 30 votes after leading the Bucs to their first postseason trip in two decades.

Miguel Cabrera

Miguel Cabrera won the AL MVP for the second straight year last week.

Chiefs lose first game: For nine games, the Kansas City Chiefs remained undefeated in this year’s NFL season. That all changed on Sunday night, though, as the Denver Broncos defeated them 27-17 at home. Despite the Chiefs perfect start, Sunday’s game proved what many of us had figured was true – that they are likely the best team in the league. With Peyton Manning at the switch, it’s simply too hard to pick against this team right now. With the win, they’ve now got the inside track on home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Louisville coach buys beer … for fans: Louisville’s womens basketball coach Jeff Walz needed a quick way to get some fans through the turnstiles for the Cardinals recent game against LSU. Enter Beergate. Walz got innovative and decided to buy a beer for the first 2,500 fans in attendance. Coupled with a discounted admission ticket, a little more than 8,000 fans made their way to the game to see No. 5 Louisville steamroll No. 14 LSU, 88-67. Whatever works.

Michael Jordan flu shoes up for auction: Most basketball fans can remember the epic game Michael Jordan had back in the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, despite battling the flu. Now MJ’s shoes from that game will go up for auction, courtesy of a former ball boy who got the shoes afterwards. Jordan repaid a favor by giving the shoes to the boy, who now hopes to make a tidy sum off of the gift. Bidding starts Monday for ‘only’ $5,000, but you can bet the final bid will be much higher.

South Carolina player shoots self, then lies about it: Really, you can’t make this stuff up.

The $300 million man?: Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw won his second Cy Young Award this year. Now, word on the street is that he wants to get paid. The Dodgers, apparently, are willing to oblige and the number $300 million has even been thrown around. First things first – Kershaw is an amazing pitcher and at 25, may not have even reached his prime. That said, $300 million? Have teams not learned their lesson after the monster deals that have been dished out? Alex Rodriguez’ $200+ million deal has severely handcuffed the New York Yankees – particularly since he isn’t nearly the same player he was when he signed the contract. And while it’s only been two years, Albert Pujols has taken a major step back after his mega deal with the Los Angeles Angels. When you factor in that Kershaw isn’t even a position player and can only pitch every five days, tying that much money up into the ace seems like suicide.

Carmelo bashes Knicks: This season was supposed to be the year when the New York Knicks competed for a trip to the NBA Finals. But at 3-6, the team wouldn’t even make the postseason if the playoffs started today. It’s only been nine games, but so far, the Knicks haven’t impressed. Earlier this year, head coach Mike Woodson questioned the team’s effort. This past week, though, Carmelo Anthony did the same saying the team didn’t even appear to be trying in a 20-point beatdown at the hands of the Atlanta Hawks. Like I said, it’s early … but don’t be surprised if this year spirals out of control for the Knicks. Under the heavy New York media spotlight, the pressure is only going to continue to mount and I’m not sure the team has the type of players to dig themselves out of this hole.