December 30, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NFL Playoffs: The NFL Playoffs will begin next weekend and the Seattle Seahawks and Denver Broncos have both clinched home field advantage throughout in their respective conferences. Both teams are the likely favorites but neither can really be considered invincible. Even though each has lost only a single game at home all year, anything can happen in a one-game situation. Still, if I’m picking two teams to reach the Super Bowl, it’s Seattle and Denver.

Marshawn Lynch

The Seattle Seahawks are the #1 seed in the NFC.

Bill O’Brien/Texans Talk Contract: The Houston Texans have had a dismal season and have already fired head coach Gary Kubiak. Next up for the franchise could be Penn State coach Bill O’Brien. On Saturday, news broke that the two sides were already discussing a contract and if he leaves the school, it would be yet another blow to the Nittany Lions. With the program reeling a few seasons ago from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, O’Brien rescued Penn State to a degree and put together a couple of decent seasons. The school is still on probation for a couple of more years, but he has them headed in the right direction. The one thing in Penn State’s favor, however, is that the program is in far better shape than it was when O’Brien took over. There’s still work to be done, but landing a qualified head coach shouldn’t be too taxing this time around since Penn State is in a better situation.

LeBron James and Serena Williams AP Athletes of the Year: NBA star LeBron James and tennis great Serena Williams were named the Male and Female Athletes of the Year by the Associated Press for 2013. Both were clearly deserving as James helped his team to their second consecutive Finals win and Williams won 11 titles, including two majors this year.

Paul Blair Dies: Former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Paul Blair collapsed at a celebrity bowling event and died last week – he was 69. Blair played in six World Series, winning four of them with the O’s and New York Yankees. He was a reasonable hitter, but more known for his defense as he won eight Gold Gloves as a centerfielder. Blair batted .250 and hit 134 home runs over his career, and was a two-time All-Star.

Andrew Bynum on way out in Cleveland: Just two years ago, Andrew Bynum was fresh off his best year in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging nearly 19 points and 12 rebounds per game. But after a trade to Philadelphia as part of a four-team deal that involved Dwight Howard, his career has taken a nosedive. Bynum missed all of the 2012-13 season and then signed with Cleveland this year, where he’s struggled to be a consistent player. So far this year, he had been averaging less than half of the points and rebounds he was in that final year in L.A. and on Saturday, the Cavs suspended him indefinitely for unknown reasons. It’s looking more and more like Bynum will soon be on the open market as the team may simply release him. At only 26, Bynum still has time to turn his career around if he wants to, but right now he’s a far cry from the player he was with the Lakers.

Soccer is fun: Hey look – a Turkish League soccer player managed to miss a goal despite being only few feet away and having an open net. No, really.

Russell Westbrook is Injured. Again.: Sadly, the Oklahoma City Thunder know this tune. Similar to the Derrick Rose symphony, this one ends in predictable disaster. The Thunder have again lost guard Russell Westbrook to a knee injury and he’ll reportedly be out through the All-Star break after having surgery. At this point, OKC just can’t catch a break. They’ve got Kevin Durant, one of the league’s best players and with Westbrook, the team is clearly a contender for the title. Without him, though, as we saw in last year’s playoffs, they probably can’t even win the Western Conference. The good news is that the Thunder should get him back in plenty of time for the playoffs. The bad news? He’s got an injury history longer than the list of teams with losing records in the Eastern Conference. If you’re Oklahoma City, you just can’t feel good about him being healthy for the postseason.

Nnamdi Asomugha retires: In 2011, Nnamdi Asomugha was one of the top cover cornerbacks in the NFL and had just signed a five year, $60 million deal with the Philadelphia Eagles. A little more than two years later and the three-time Pro Bowler has officially announced his retirement. Asomugha’s decline is the perfect example of how quickly skills can diminish when playing in the NFL. The Eagles cut him, finding him to be a liability after two years, and he failed to stick with the San Francisco 49ers, playing in only a few games this year.

December 28, 2013

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Bold Week 17 NFL Picks

By: Matt Bowen

The NFL never disappoints—all the league did this year was provide fans with playoff football two weeks early. Heading into Week 17, only the Kansas City Chiefs know they’re playoff position right now—they’ll be the No. 5 seed in the AFC. Everything else, including two divisions is up for grabs.

What more could we ask for? Every single game is a divisional battle this weekend. On a side note the NFL schedule makers deserve thumbs up for Week 17 packing such a punch. Think teams will “rest” players this week for the playoffs—think again. Too much is at stake, there’s a substantial amount seeding to be settled.

Main NFC Takeaways: The NFC East and North are for the taking. Every playoff position is subject to change.

Main AFC Takeaways: The No. 6 seed is up for grabs. The Miami Dolphins currently hold the position but the Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers all hope the ‘Phins lose. Every seeding is subject to change besides the aforementioned No. 5 spot.

With those tidbits of information, here are some bold predictions for Week 17.

The San Diego Chargers Make the Playoffs: In order to do so the Chargers need the Dolphins and Ravens to lose. The Ravens laid an egg in Week 16 against the New England Patriots and won’t recover in Week 17 on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals are 7-0 at home this season and will remain perfect.

Bengals 31, Ravens 17

The Dolphins are currently in the driver’s seat for the spot but will fumble on the goal line at home against the New York Jets. The Jets are as hot-and-cold as they come and have only won once on the road this season. Don’t count them out though. Head coach Rex Ryan fears he’s on his way out which will inspire one helluva “win one for the gipper speech.”

This one won’t be pretty and the Dolphins will be scratching their heads after this game. The Jets will end the season at 8-8 and look respectable.

Jets 13, Dolphins 10

The Chargers will steal the moment and take care of business at home vs. the Chiefs. With both the Ravens and Dolphins playing at 1 p.m. the Chargers will know that the spot is theirs for the taking and feel inspired.

No one expected the Chargers to be much of anything this season but they’ve played well enough to contend for the playoffs.  Quarterback Philip Rivers has had one of the best seasons of his career and he’ll come up big in Week 17.

Rivers will throw for four touchdowns and 405 passing yards against the Chiefs. With it all on the line, he plays like a franchise quarterback.

Chargers 38, Chiefs 27

Can the Chargers sneak their way into the Playoffs?

Beside the Final Spot, the AFC is settled:

  1. Denver Broncos
  2. New England Patriots
  3. Cincinnati Bengals
  4. Indianapolis Colts
  5. Kansas City Chiefs
  6. Miami Dolphins

The New Orleans Saints, not the Carolina Panthers win the NFC South

All the Panthers have to do is win and the NFC South is theirs.

Don’t tell the Atlanta Falcons that—they’ve had a dismal season but will end it by spoiling the Panthers dreams.

It would have been easy to say the New Orleans Saints would squander their playoffs hopes away but they’re too good at home to lose against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Falcons will give it everything they have and it will be just good enough. Matt Ryan and the boys will win; making the Saints the NFC South champs which gives them a bye week. Just when everyone thought the Saints were dead in the playoff water because they play so poorly on the road, they’ll capture a home game or two.

Falcons 20, Panthers 17

Aaron Rodgers Will Lift the Green Bay Packers to the Postseason

The NFC North is for the taking and the Green Bay Packers will seize the day, becoming the most unlikely playoff team. The Packers appeared to be preparing next season due to an injury to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but somehow they have a puncher’s chance.

Rodgers will return after a seven-week hiatus and he’ll be all that they need to beat the Chicago Bears in Week 17.

Some franchises in sports just have “it.” The Packers have just that. It is impossible to explain, there’s a mystique engulfing “it” that makes “it”: so special.

The Bears are a good team that seems to be the favorite in this one, but they simply don’t have it. Rodgers comes back with a fury and puts his team in the playoffs. He’ll finish with 323 yards and three touchdowns.

Packers 35, Bears 31

Let’s Be Real Here, the Philadelphia Eagles Fly High in Dallas

Well, the NFC East certainly didn’t disappoint this year. Their annual winner-take-all play-in game is still intact.

Considering the pick isn’t so bold, the final score will be. Yes, the Cowboys will be without Tony Romo and their defense is full of holes. The Eagles have won 6-of-7 and look primed for the playoffs. The Chip Kelly experiment looked a little rough at time this season but it’s here to stay.

This score will look like he’s still coaching at Oregon and strike fear into their playoff opponent.

Fly Eagles Fly!

Eagles 63, Cowboys 17

Final NFC Standings:

  1. Seattle Seahawks
  2. New Orleans Saints
  3. Philadelphia Eagles
  4. Green Bay Packers
  5. Carolina Panthers
  6. San Francisco 49ers

December 27, 2013

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Week 17 in the NFL

By: Joe Williams

With 16 weeks down and just one to go in the NFL season, there are still four playoff spots up for grabs, four division titles to be decided and three teams will secure a bye in the first round. With dozens of possible scenarios waiting to play out, nobody knows what will happen. But here’s what you need to know for week 17.

Just three of the 16 games have no playoff implications. Here’s hoping you don’t get stuck watching Houston at Tennessee, Detroit at Minnesota or Washington at N.Y. Giants.

Carolina at Atlanta
The Panthers win the NFC South with a win. They could be the 1, 2, 5 or 6 seed.

Cam Newton

Cam Newton has the led the Panthers to the playoffs in 2013. Can they capture the #1 seed in the NFC in Week 17?

Baltimore at Cincinnati
The Bengals have already won the AFC North and will be playing for a chance at the 2 seed and a bye. They could finish as the 2, 3 or 4 seed. Baltimore needs a win and some help to get the final wild card spot.

N.Y. Jets at Miami
The Dolphins need a win and some help to get the AFC’s final wild card spot.

Jacksonville at Indianapolis
The Colts have already locked up the AFC South and are headed to the playoffs. However, a win and a Bengals loss would make the Colts the 3 seed instead of the 4.

Cleveland at Pittsburgh
The Steelers need a win and some help to get the AFC’s final wild card spot.

Green Bay at Chicago
The winner takes the NFC North title and will be the 3 or 4 seed.

Denver at Oakland
The Broncos will clinch home-field advantage in the AFC with a win.

Buffalo at New England
The Patriots will get a first round bye with a win. They could be the 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed in the AFC.

Tampa Bay at New Orleans
The Saints could get a first round bye with a win. They will be the 2, 5 or 6 seed in the NFC.

San Francisco at Arizona
The 49ers are already in the playoffs but need a win for a chance at the NFC West title and home-field advantage in the NFC. The Cardinals can get the final wild card spot in the NFC with a win and some help.

Kansas City at San Diego
The Chiefs are locked in as the 5 seed in the AFC. The Chargers can sneak into the final AFC wild card spot with a win if Baltimore and Miami lose earlier in the day.

St. Louis at Seattle
The Seahawks need one more win to clinch home-field advantage in the NFC.

Philadelphia at Dallas
The winner takes the NFC East and will be the 3 or 4 seed.

My prediction:

AFC
Denver 13-3
New England 12-4
Indianapolis 11-5
Cincinnati 10-6
Kansas City 11-5
Miami 9-7

NFC
Seattle 13-3
Carolina 12-4
Philadelphia 10-6
Chicago 9-7
New Orleans 11-5
San Fransisco 11-5

December 23, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Peyton Manning sets TD record: Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has had a remarkable year and it continued on Sunday when he broke the NFL record for touchdown passes in a season. Manning threw for four scores in Denver’s win 37-13 win over the hapless Houston Texans this weekend. That gave him 51 for the season, breaking Tom Brady’s record of 50 from 2007.

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning broke the NFL single-season passing TD record on Sunday.

And … he’s gone. Again.: Kobe Bryant made his return for the Los Angeles Lakers a couple of weeks ago and while he wasn’t exactly playing at an All-Star level, the hope was that he’d return there with some games under his belt. Yeah, so much for that. The Mamba injured his knee after returning from the devastating ACL injury and will now miss six more weeks. The Lakers just can’t seem to catch a break and while there’s talk about shutting him down, I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do. The Lakers are a .500 team right now, but if they can make a significant move or two in advance of the NBA trade deadline and get Steve Nash back from injury, who knows where things could end up? Plus, do you want to be the person to tell Kobe he can’t play again this season?

Southern Illinois coach goes off: Southern Illinois basketball coach Barry Hinson made headlines last week for his legendary rant after his team’s loss to Murray State. Hinson’s a colorful guy, but this rant that included calling his player’s mama’s boys, saying one of his guards is ‘awful’, and mentioning that his wife could outdo the horrific 2-11 shooting of his big men in the game was one of the best ever. If you’ve not yet seen it, Merry Christmas.

Tony Romo Christmas Card: So, yeah – Tony Romo has a Christmas card with his kid struggling to eat a hot dog. Yeah, I’m not making this up.

Return of Jesus Shuttleworth: The Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets apparently aren’t all that thrilled with their current jerseys. The two teams are going the street ball route and will be wearing nicknames on the backs of their jerseys in a couple of upcoming games. Ray Allen is expected to don the name J. Shuttleworth on his for his iconic movie role as Jesus Shuttleworth in Spike Lee’s ‘He Got Game’ movie from the 1990s. I’m all for having fun in pro sports, but nicknames? Really? Someone needs to remind these teams that they’re in the NBA – the highest level of professional basketball. This isn’t some crazy minor league stunt, it’s the National Basketball Association. What’s next – allowing players to suit up in warmups or t-shirts for games?

Football at Fenway: Notre Dame has played in their fair share of sports venues, but they’ll soon be able to add Fenway Park to that list. The Fighting Irish will take on Boston College in 2015 at the home of the Red Sox as part of their Shamrock Series.

Christian Laettner jersey up for auction: Christian Laettner went onto a pretty nice career in the NBA, but he’ll always be most remembered for his college career and, more specifically, his game-winning shot against Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Tournament. Laettner’s shot lifted Duke to an overtime win and eventually, a national championship. His jersey from that game is now set to hit the streets via an auction from Lelands. If you want it, though, expect to pay a pretty penny for it with the reserve set at a cool $100,000.

Kevin Youklis heads to Japan: Former Boston Red Sox star Kevin Youklis has decided to play another season of baseball … but in Japan. Youklis is no longer the All-Star player he once was and is in serious decline. Last season, he batted only .219 with two home runs in 28 games. Still, that was enough to get him a $4 million deal with the defending Japan Series champions, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

December 19, 2013

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Predicting 2013 NFL Award Winners

By: Matt Bowen

With the playoffs three short weeks away let’s have some fun and predict the 2013 NFL award winners. While the season is still in the balance for plenty of teams, let’s be bold and take an educated guess. The final two weeks may sway some votes, but we have a good idea of how things will pan out. One thing is for certain, the NFL definitely didn’t disappoint this season—the final two weeks along with the playoffs will be as exciting as ever.

Keep these players in mind when the awards are doled out at the end of the season.

Coach of the Year

This is a tight race, but there’s clearly one winner.

There were eight head coaching changes heading into this season, and it can be easily argued that every new coach met or exceeded their expectations. Last year the following eight teams won a combined 41 games—headed into Week 16 this year these teams have a combined 56 wins.

The Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers all got new head coaches in 2013.

Hats off to all the men in charge, but the award goes to Andy Reid in Kansas City. The Chiefs were a dark horse Super Bowl team in 2012 before the won only two games and earned the No. 1 pick in the draft. This year Reid has tapped into their talent and the Chiefs currently have 11 wins. They may not win their division but a playoff appearance in a given. The Chiefs are explosive and a blast to watch.

Defensive Player of the Year

Defensive studs are often put on the back burner because they don’t score touchdowns. Not here, the men in the trenches get the acknowledgement they deserve.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint who is precisely the best defensive player, it’s not hard to find an answer. Many men are worthy of the award, but the Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis takes the prize. His 16.5 sacks currently lead the league, and the Colts are once again going to make the playoffs.

What’s most remarkable about Mathis is his age—at 32 Mathis is an “old man” amongst the league’s new hybrid athletes on the defensive side of the ball. Still, Mathis is the best at his craft and a great leader on a rather young Colts defense. Cheers to you, Mr. Mathis.

Breakout Player of the Year

This award goes to the guy who doesn’t have a chance at 2013 NFL MVP, but his breakout season may earn him the grand award in the near future.

The argument can be made for both of these players but in the end only one can win. Both of these guys are receivers who have made tremendous strides toward stardom this season. The deciding factor ultimately comes down to team wins.

Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns currently leads the league is receiving yards with 1,467 and also has nine touchdowns. He has quickly become one of the most dangerous men in the game. If the Browns ever find a quarterback and running game Gordon may make a run a 2,000 yards in a single season. Right now, his team only has four wins. He’s 22 years old and has all the talent in the world. He’s had a troubled past, but should he leave his problems behind him the sky is the limit.

In the end, the 2013 Breakout Player of the Year goes to Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears. The Bears currently lead the NFC North and control their own fate in terms of a playoff berth.

Jeffery is currently seventh in the league in receiving yards with 1,265. He has seven touchdowns and 80 catches. He’s the perfect complement to teammate Brandon Marshall and has hands like magnets.  Jeffery is only 23 years old and appears to be a Windy City staple for the next decade. Because of Jeffery the Bears are multi-dimensional and have a chance at a deep Super Bowl run. All he does is make highlight reels.

Rookie of the Year

Let’s be honest—today’s NFL is not made for rookies. There’s a steep learning curve that takes many highly touted prospects and puts them in their place—the bench. Last year may have been an exception due to the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson but reality has struck once again in 2013.

To be a standout rookie in the NFL you have to be something special. Right now, only three guys come to mind the rookie debate pops up. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon deserves mention—the Bucs were terrible before he earned the starting job. Being a rookie quarterback isn’t easy, especially when you don’t start the season as the No. 1. The Bucs started 0-8 but have since won 4-of-6. For that they have hope for the future. Give the NC State alum a full offseason as the main man, and positive results will come.

Zac Stacy of the St. Louis Rams has been a bright spot in an up-and-down season for the franchise. The team was searching for a running back to win the job for weeks and found one in Stacy. The rookie from Vanderbilt has 854 yards on 202 carries and six touchdowns. He’s a real bruiser and looks like he’s made a name for himself in the NFL. Considering he only had one carry before October, Stacy has been a welcomed surprise. Because of him, the Rams will be a sleeper in 2014. He’s a real workhorse.

Look no further than Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers for NFL Rookie of the Year. The rookie out of Alabama looks like this generation’s Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. Lacy has 248 carries for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns. Right now the Green Bay Packers control their own destiny and when quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns from injury they’ll become the most feared offense in the NFC. Lacy makes them dangerous, the kid is a juggernaut.

MVP

So, who’s the NFL’s most valuable player this season? Let’s keep this short and sweet for there will be much debate to come.

Nick Foles deserves a mention for his work turning around the once underachieving Philadelphia Eagles.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are always in the conversation as they should be. Manning will end up breaking the all-time touchdown record in a season of 50 set by Mr. Brady, he currently has 47 but is he the hands down MVP? No.

Outside the quarterback position, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is the most dangerous player in the game. He’s can’t be guarded—his physical stature is not really fair to his opponents—but even he missed the top spot.

Heck, even Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker deserves a vote—all that guy does is split the uprights.

This year’s NFL MVP is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Correct, Wilson only has 3,077 passing yards, which ranks him No. 17 in the league. But it’s not his arm that is most valuable, it’s his mentality. He’s thrown 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions, completed 64.7 percent of his throws and has run for 508 yards on 89 rushes.

He doesn’t make many mistakes and only runs when it’s the right choice. His team is currently 12-2 and lethal at home. Right now the Seahawks seem a lock for the Super Bowl.

He’s special.

So special that the Texas Rangers drafted him in the recent Rule 5 MLB draft—he hasn’t played baseball in some time yet everybody wants a piece of Russell Wilson. He can seemingly do no wrong.

He’s got a million dollar smile and is priceless on the field. Wilson for MVP—no doubt.