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.

December 17, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Mack Brown Resigns – Crazy week in Texas with football coach Mack Brown stepping down from his post with the Longhorns. Brown’s resignation has been the subject of speculation for a few years now as many fans haven’t been pleased with the team’s record lately. After nine consecutive seasons with at least ten wins, Texas hasn’t achieved that mark in the past four years. Brown hasn’t been terrible, mind you, guiding the Longhorns to three winning seasons in those four years. But the team hasn’t competed for a national championship in some time and the program hasn’t been as good as it was last decade under him. Alabama’s Nick Saban seemed to be a potential replacement for Brown, but he recently announced he’s staying put with the Crimson Tide.

Kobe Bryant Struggles in Return – The Los Angeles Lakers got their star back this week as Kobe Bryant returned from his Achilles injury sustained last season – but things haven’t gone quite as they hoped. The team got off to a 1-3 start since Bryant’s return with their only win a three-point victory over the Charlotte Bobcats under their belts. The Mamba isn’t helping things, either. In the four games he’s played, Bryant is scoring only 13.5 points a game. Helping to fill the point guard role in Steve Nash’s absence, the good news is that he is averaging a career-high seven assists per contest. But Bryant is also averaging a career-worst 6.3 turnovers and is clearly still dealing with a high amount of rust.

Jamaal Charles has Record Day … as a Receiver – Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles had some kind of day in the team’s 56-31 win over the rival Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Charles is one of the league’s best rushers, but he did his damage on Sunday through the air, racking up 195 receiving yards on eight catches. He added five big touchdowns and had 220 total yards on the day. According to ESPN, he had the third biggest receiving day for a running back since the 1970 merger and his five scores tied a franchise record. Needless to say, Charles surely won leagues for many of his fantasy football owners that reached their league’s championship games.

Roy Halladay Retires – Former All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay retired last week at the age of 36. Halladay, as recently as two seasons ago, was still one of baseball’s best pitchers. In his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, the pitcher had perhaps his best season ever with a 19-6 record and career-bests with 220 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.35. The past two seasons for Halladay, though, have been forgettable and last year, he suffered one of his worst professional seasons going 4-5 with a whopping 6.82 ERA. The next question will inevitably be if he will get into the Hall of Fame. His credentials are reasonable with a career 3.38 ERA and more than 2,100 strikeouts, but his relatively low total of 203 wins will hurt him. That’s unfortunate because playing for some pretty bad Toronto Blue Jays teams for the bulk of his career, Halladay would certainly have had more wins with a better franchise. Still, that number will be difficult to overcome since most of the other starters currently in the Hall have more victories.

Snowball Fight Ends with Oregon Player Suspended – The Oregon Ducks’ football team apparently organized a snowball fight with fans and, well, things got out of control. A player was even suspended for the team’s upcoming bowl game. Well, then.

RGIII Benched … Redskins Lose Anyway – The Washington Redskins benched their star quarterback Robert Griffin III after he’s been inconsistent all year long following his recovery from his ACL injury. Kirk Cousins got the start for Washington on Sunday, but the team still lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 27-26. The team was competitive and Cousins did some good things in throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns, but he also struggled a little with two interceptions and failed to convert a potential game-winning two-point conversion near the end of the contest. Cousins is an interesting quarterback who has a future in this league, but the team is still better off with Griffin if he can return to the form he showed in 2012. Benching him was the right move and if the Skins are wise, they’ll do the same for the rest of the season and allow him to get healthy for next year.

Jameis Winston wins Heisman – In the long and storied history of the Heisman trophy, a freshman didn’t win the award until last season when Johnny Manziel took home the prize. That opened the door for others and for the second consecutive season, a first-year player has won the honor. Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been nothing short of spectacular for the Seminoles and he clearly deserved to win it, leading Florida State to an undefeated season as they head into the national championship game next month.

Skiing … Not Just for the MountainsSkiers are taking over Detroit’s abandoned buildings. No, really.

September 16, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Top-ranked Alabama tops #6 Texas A&M – Johnny Manziel knocked off the Crimson Tide last season, but this year, it wasn’t meant to be. Top-ranked Alabama defeated the Aggies on the road 49-42 behind 334 passing yards and four touchdowns from quarterback A.J. McCarron. After the big win, the Crimson Tide retained their No. 1 ranking in the college football polls that were released on Sunday.

Todd Helton will retire from the MLB after 17 years with the Colorado Rockies.

Vladimir Guerrero and Todd Helton to retire from baseball – Former All-Stars Vladimir Guerrero and Todd Helton will both be stepping away from baseball this year. Guerrero has been out of the majors since 2011 and without a team, has decided to officially call it quits. Helton is still playing for the Colorado Rockies but will reportedly be retiring at the end of the season. Both have had remarkable careers and will warrant consideration for the Baseball Hall of Fame. Guerrero finishes his career with 449 home runs and a .318 batting average. After spending all 17 of his major league seasons in Colorado, Helton slugged 367 home runs and currently has a .317 career average. Neither are locks for the Hall of Fame, but Guerrero likely has the better shot. His numbers were slightly more impressive and there will surely be the questions about Helton’s stats put up in the Colorado air while playing in Coors Field.

Miami Heat bring back Michael Beasley – Troubled NBA forward Michael Beasley will get another shot in the NBA with the team that drafted him – the Miami Heat. Beasley was let go by the Phoenix Suns after some offseason drug troubles and The Heat decided to roll the dice by bringing him back. The former No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 NBA Draft has never quite lived up to expectations. Even when he averaged career-highs in points per game (19.2) after being traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2010, he regressed after being sent back to the bench the following season. On the surface, the Beasley addition seems to make little sense with all of his off-court issues. But Miami’s frontcourt was the team’s weakness last season and even if Beasley provides some depth on the bench, the move will have been worth it if he can stay out of trouble.

College courseworkPenn State’s Harrisburg campus has some, well, interesting sports-related classes.

Manning Bowl 28 – Okay, Peyton and Eli Manning may not have actually squared off 28 times – it just seems that way. The Manning boys were back at it again on Sunday and Peyton got the upper hand as his Denver Broncos defeated Eli’s New York Giants, 41-23. Eli had more passing yards (362), but his four interceptions were extremely costly in the rout.

Injury bug bites Yankees … again – The New York Yankees have been hit with injuries to a slew of players this season including Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, and many others. You can add one more to that list as centerfielder Brett Gardner went down with an oblique injury last week. This late in the season, he could be lost for the rest of the year. Gardner’s loss is a big one as New York has still found a way to compete for the postseason despite all of the setbacks.

Jacksonville Jaguars not a hit … even in their own state – How bad are the Jacksonville Jaguars? So bad that an Orlando TV station apologized for airing their games. Sounds about right.

August 12, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Jason Dufner claims first golf major with PGA win: Jason Dufner secured his first major golf title with a win at the PGA championship this weekend. Dufner bogeyed the final two holes of the tournament but he still beat long-time veteran Jim Furyk by two shots to capture the trophy. Meanwhile, the event also ended the fifth consecutive season where Tiger Woods will finish without a major championship. Woods finished at +4, far behind the -14 pace set by Dufner. The chances are that Woods will eventually break through and win another major, but at 37, it’s just going to get harder from here on out.

Coaches’ preseason college football poll released: The AP Coaches’ preseason college football poll was released last week and to no surprise, Alabama was ranked as the nation’s top team heading into the season. The Crimson tide took home an overwhelming 58 of the 62 first-place votes while Ohio State (3) and Texas A&M (1) secured the others. According to the poll, we’ll also see continued SEC dominance, as five of the top ten teams were from that conference.

Alabama starts off the 2013 College Football season at #1.

NFL is back: The NFL kicked off this weekend with its first batch of preseason games. The defending champion Baltimore Ravens were impressive in a 44-16 romp over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but it’s really hard to take too much away from any of these games considering the starters generally played only a series or two. The preseason games not only consist of second-stringers, but also many rookies and younger players that won’t ever suit up for a regular season game.

Lebron James called for jury duty: Jury duty includes everybody and that point was proved as Lebron James was summoned this past week. James showed up, but was not seated on a jury and was able to leave. Right, because the 6’7” All-Star in a courthouse hearing a case about a theft from a local store wouldn’t be at all distracting. I can sympathize with those that feel athletes shouldn’t be given special privileges, but sending him home was probably best in this situation to avoid an absolute fiasco.

The Redneck Olympic Games forced to change name: Yeah, I’ll just put this here.

Sidney Crosby avoids long DMV wait: In another case of celebrities finding ways out of awkward moments, Pittsburgh Penguins’ star Sidney Crosby avoided a long stay at the DMV when he was there to renew his driver’s license. Crosby skated (see what I did there?) by due to a Pennsylvania rule allowing celebrities to move to the front of the line to not cause a disruption. While the rule makes perfect sense, there were some that complained about Crosby getting special treatment. Of course they did.

Michael Jordan still dunking: Not sure this is a huge surprise, but at 50, Michael Jordan can still dunk a basketball. The guard accomplished the feat at his annual Flight School as evidenced by the photo tweeted out from that camp’s account last week. It’s not quite as impressive as Julius Erving pulling it off recently at the age of 63 and doing it in a fantasy camp uncontested may not be the hardest thing in the world for what may be the greatest player of all time. But hey – how many 50-year olds can get up and just dunk when they want to?

Alex Rodriguez goes yard: Alex Rodriguez has hit over 600 home runs so another round-tripper typically would be no big deal. But the Yankee third baseman’s home run on Sunday was his first of the season after sitting out due to injury. It also comes on the heels of all of the suspensions from the Biogenesis scandal where a dozen other players were suspended. While others waived their right to appeal in order to strike a deal with baseball, A-Rod insisted on fighting the charges so that he can play immediately.

NCAA basketball will open in Asia: For the first time ever, Asia will be the host country of the college basketball season opener when Georgetown faces Oregon in a game overseas. The contest will be played at a U.S. Army base in South Korea.

April 25, 2013

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NFL Mock Draft

By: Joe Williams

It’s that time of year and all the cool kids are doing NFL mock drafts. I gave in to the peer pressure so here is my attempt to get a couple of Thursday’s 32 picks right.

In 2012, we knew who the first QB taken, and first overall pick, would be before the NFL Draft started. Those answers aren't as clear this year.

1 Kansas City Chiefs: There’s a new coach in town. Andy Reid has got himself a new quarterback. Now he’ll get someone to protect that quarterback.

The pick: Luke Joeckel, OL, Texas A&M

2 Jacksonville Jaguars: When you are picking second, you can’t afford to miss on your pick. The Jags will wait for round two or three to get a quarterback and look to improve the worst pass rush in the league.

The pick: Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

3 Oakland Raiders: With Matt Flynn in the fold, the Raiders can hope he becomes the franchise guy and look to fill a gaping hole on the defensive line. It’s a choice between Star Lotulelei and Sharrif Floyd.

The pick: Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

4 Philadelphia Eagles: This is where we find out if new coach Chip Kelly wants to groom Geno Smith for the future or protect Michael Vick for the present. One thing we know about Kelly is that he loves speed.

The pick: Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

5 Detroit Lions: For the Lions to compete in the NFC North, they are going to have to beat Green Bay. That means getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers.

The pick: Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU

6 Cleveland Browns: Championship teams have to be great on one side of the ball. In Cleveland, that’s not going to be the offense until Weeden proves he is the right guy or they find someone else. Adding free agents Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves and the top cornerback in the draft gives the defense a chance to be really good.

The pick: Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

7 Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals offensive line was awful last year and if Fisher is still on the board, they won’t waste any time turning their card in.

The pick: Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

8 Buffalo Bills: Here’s another team with a new quarterback. Buffalo follows suit and picks up some protection for Kevin Kolb.

The pick: Chance Warmack, G, Alabama

9 New York Jets: The defense just took a major hit by trading Revis to Tampa Bay. If the pass coverage gets worse, the pass rush better improve.

The pick: Barkevlous Mingo, DL, LSU

10 Tennessee Titans: The Titans brought in Andy Levitre to fill the hole at one guard spot. Filling the hole on the other side would make life much easier for Jake Locker and Chris Johnson.

The pick: Johathan Cooper, G, North Carolina

11 San Diego Chargers: San Diego has got to get Phillip Rivers back on track. His 47 turnovers and 79 sacks over the last two seasons are way too many for this team to win.

The pick: Lane Johnson, T, Oklahoma

12 Miami Dolphins: Cornerback duo Vontae Davis and Sean Smith are gone and the Dolphins still have to face Tom Brady twice a year. They need another corner.

The pick: Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida St.

13 New York Jets: The secondary still needs help and this is the pick the Jets got in the Revis trade. But they don’t care when one of the best players on the board falls into their laps.

The pick: Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

14 Carolina Panthers: Steve Smith isn’t getting any younger and Cam Newton is going to need more weapons to keep up with Matt Ryan and Drew Brees.

The pick: Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

15 New Orleans Saints: Getting Sean Payton back will help the offense so this pick should be used on the defense. With several options to choose from, the Saints take the best defender left on their board.

The pick: Bjoern Werner, DL, Florida St.

16 St. Louis Rams: With two big needs to fill and two first round picks, the Rams must decide between a safety and wide receiver.

The pick: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

17 Pittsburgh Steelers: James Harrison is in Cincinnati and Mike Wallace took his talents to South Beach. One will be replaced with this pick.

The pick: Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

18 Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones just invested $100 million in Tony Romo. It’s safe to assume he’s going to want to protect that investment.

The pick: D.J. Fluker, OL, Alabama

19 New York Giants: When the Giants are great, they are putting pressure on the quarterback. And they like to draft pass rushers.

The pick: Alec Ogletree, LB, Georgia

20 Chicago Bears: The Bears need help at linebacker with Brian Urlacher now gone. They’ll get it here, but it’s not who you think.

The pick: Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas St.

21 Cincinnati Bengals: There aren’t a lot of holes in this roster. The biggest one is probably at safety. Not anymore.

The pic: Eric Reid, S, LSU

22 St. Louis: They’ve already picked up a safety. Now it’s time to get a receiver to fill the void left by Brandon Gibson and Danny Amendola.

The pick: Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

23 Minnesota Vikings: Percy Harvin is out and Greg Jennings is in. But the Vikings could still use one more guy to help take the weight off of Adrian Peterson.

The pick: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson

24 Indianapolis Colts: Protection for Andrew Luck, a replacement for Dwight Freeney, or maybe the first running back off the board?

The pick: Datone Jones, DL, UCLA

25 Minnesota Vikings: Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler are in this division. Better get another defensive back.

The pick: Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

26 Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers would love someone he could hand off to that would keep the defense guessing. First running back comes off the board here.

The pick: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama

27 Houston Texans: Andre Johnson needs a tag team partner and Matt Schaub won’t complain about having another weapon either.

The pick: Keenan Allen, WR, California

28 Denver Broncos: The defensive line needed reinforcements even before the Dumervil debacle. One falls into John Elway’s lap on draft day.

The pick: Sheldon Richardson, DL, Missouri

29 New England Patriots: If the Pats make this pick it’s got to be a receiver or someone to cover a receiver.

The pick: Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise St.

30 Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez decided to give it one more shot which means this is the perfect time to draft his replacement and let him learn from a Hall-of-Famer.

The pick: Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

31 San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers could use another safety after losing Dashon Goldson in free agency.

The pick: Matt Elam, S, Florida

32 Baltimore Ravens: Ray Lewis is retired and Dannell Ellerbe is in Miami so they probably take a linebacker here.

The pick: Kevin Minter, LB, LSU