June 26, 2013

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Taking a Look at Baseball’s Best Division

By: Matt Bowen

Major League Baseball has a good thing on its hands—the NL Central is going to be a three team dog fight until the end.

Currently, the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds are only separated by 3.5 games in the standings.  They are three of the best teams in baseball. The Reds find themselves third in the division with 45 wins. Only one team outside the division, the Boston Red Sox have more wins. As of June 26, the NL Central has three playoff teams.

So, which team is the best?

Will Joey Votto and the Reds win the NL Central this season?

Well, the Cardinals have one of the finest organizations in all of sports—somehow they always find a way to win. The Cards have a fantastic farm system that constantly keeps the big league club ripe with talent. They’re also a team that somehow gets the most out of every guy—they make All-Stars out of role players.

This year is no different—they currently have five guys hitting .300-plus, actually six if you count Matt Adams, who only has 86 at-bats. Catcher Yadier Molina leads the league with a .355 average. The team also has a stable of rookies contributing key innings on the pitching mound. Right now, 7-of-12 pitchers on their roster are 25 years old or younger. With all those fresh arms on the hill the Cardinals are poised to go deep into the playoffs.

That is, of course if the stay atop the division and fend off the Pirates and Reds.

The Pirates are the sweethearts of baseball—okay, maybe that’s a “soft” term for such a rugged team. They will not go down without a fracas. In reality, everybody who passionately follows the game wants this team to win. The franchise hasn’t had a winning season since 1992. They’ve toyed with a better than .500 record the past two seasons but have unraveled at the end.

Good news for the team, their pitching has held up well to this point. Also, Andrew McCutchen, their best player has yet to play his best ball. The emergence of rookie pitcher Gerrit Cole has strengthened the rotation and is the ingredient the team needs to remain over the hump. By August, this kid will be an outright star.

Is this finally the year the Bucs break out?

Not if the Reds have something to do with it. Cincinnati is built to win now. They have a top-notch rotation and a perennial MVP candidate in Joey Votto.

The Reds have every component to win now, but will need some clutch hitting along the way. It seems to be the one weakness the team has. Untimely hitting can plague teams and this year it’s cost the Reds a few games. Hey, it’s better to have those problems now rather than late August—there’s plenty of time to work out the kinks.

This isn’t to downplay the Reds; they’re a phenomenal squad and right in the thick of the race. Look for them to be buyers at the for a professional hitter out of the two-hole.

So, which team will win the NL Central this year? Let’s reconvene in early September and talk. One thing’s for sure, we’re in for a treat.

April 22, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Boston Marathon bombings – Obviously, the story of the week in sports (and in all other news, for that matter) were the bombings in the Boston Marathon. Not much to say here other than it was a horrific event. But the thing that should be recognized is the hard work of the police and FBI to not only identify the suspects so quickly, but catch them. Great work by all involved.

Already the NBA's scoring champion, can Carmelo Anthony add another championship this season?

NBA Playoffs begin – The NBA’s postseason has begun and several teams are out to 1-0 head starts. We’ve got a long way to go, but my postseason prediction at the beginning of the year was the Miami Heat vs. Oklahoma City Thunder. I’ll stick with that pick. Each have the talent, offense, and young legs needed at this time of year.

Revis Island will get new address in Tampa Bay – Star cornerback Darrelle Revis was traded this weekend from the New York Jets to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for the No. 13 overall pick in this week’s NFL Draft and either a third or fourth-round selection. Rarely are stars traded for first-round picks (particularly in the upper half of that round), but it’s also rare to get a player who may be the best at his position in the middle of his prime. And since Tampa Bay was dead last in pass defense in 2012, giving up just under 300 yards per game, this move will clearly bolster their secondary. Revis missed much of last season after suffering a torn ACL and the injury has to be a concern for the Bucs. But while he got the big money he sought with an extension, signing for six years and $96 million, if he returns to his former self, the trade will have been a good one for Tampa.

Death of Pat Summerall – Legendary sports broadcaster Pat Summerall passed away last week of cardiac arrest at the age of 82. Though he covered a variety of events such as the Masters and US Open tennis events, Summerall is best remembered for his work as an announcer alongside John Madden for football games, including the Super Bowl. Many, though, forget that Summerall actually played for several years in the NFL, primarily as a kicker. Along with Madden, he became one of the staples in pro football.

Carmelo Anthony wins first scoring title – It’s not as important as what he’ll do in the NBA playoffs, but New York Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony secured his first scoring title averaging 28.7 points per game. That was just good enough to top the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant, who checked in at 28.1. Melo has always been a bit in the background of the other 2003 NBA Draft picks, Lebron James and Dwyane Wade, but that could change this season. If he’s somehow able to propel the Knicks past the Heat juggernaut, he could win his first title. That may still not be enough to push him past Wade (who has two rings) or James (largely considered the league’s best player), but it will put him in a special class of superstars with an NBA ring.

Midnight Madness could start sooner – The NCAA passed a new rule that will allow teams to practice up to six weeks before their first regular season game instead of the four that was previously allowed. That won’t make a huge difference but one interesting note is that it will likely push the date of the popular Midnight Madness up a bit earlier.

Shamed Rutgers coach Mike Rice gets $475,000 in settlement – Now infamous basketball coach, Mike Rice, received $475,000 in a settlement from Rutgers for being fired before his contract was up. Rice, if you’ll recall, was fired after video surfaced of him verbally and physically abusing players. Rutgers president, Robert Barchi, stated the coach could rightfully be fired for bringing shame to the school. Rice clearly did that and, to be honest, I’m surprised he got as much as he did. If you’re the head coach, it’s hard to complain about a parting gift like that after you verbally berated your players and were lobbing basketballs at them. Want to know the worst of it, though? Rice is reportedly coaching an AAU girls’ basketball team. I’m all for second chances, but if this is true, it’s hard not to question it being allowed so soon after the Rutgers videos surfaced – and with 12- and 13-year old girls no less.

December 28, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

For the majority of NFL teams, there is just one game left in the season. Some of them know who they are. I’m talking to you Kansas City and Jacksonville. Others enter week 17 in do or die mode. You hear me Washington and Dallas? No matter who you are rooting for, this post season is setting up to be a great one. Now on to the rankings.

A Vikings win over Green Bay could set-up a rematch in the first round of the playoffs.

1 Atlanta Falcons (13-2) — The Falcons have clinched the top seed in the NFC and won’t have to play outside again until next season. Let’s see how they handle three weeks between meaningful games.

2 New England Patriots (11-4)Tom Brady was a big part of my fantasy championship winning team. You don’t care. Neither does he.

3 San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) — You think the Cardinals are excited about facing an angry 49ers team that was completely embarrassed in Seattle? I think not.

4 Denver Broncos (12-3)Peyton Manning and Von Miller have the Broncos ready for a Super Bowl run. They haven’t lost since Oct. 7 and just need to beat the Chiefs to get a bye.

5 Green Bay Packers (11-4) — The Packers will have a bye if they beat the Vikings on Sunday. If they lose, they could get the Vikings again in the first round.

6 Houston Texans (12-3)Houston needs a win in Indy to claim the AFC’s top seed. Otherwise they will probably host the Bengals in the first round.

7 Seattle Seahawks (10-5) — Pete Carroll’s squad could still win the NFC West, but they are probably headed to Washington or Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.

8 Baltimore Ravens (10-5) — Are the Ravens back? They looked very good against the reeling Giants and will host the Colts or Bengals in the first round.

9 Washington Redskins (9-6) — The Skins are 6-0 since they had their bye week but it’s going to have to be 7-0 for them to win the NFC East.

10 Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)Andy Dalton finally got his first win against the Steelers. The Bengals will be the No. 6 seed and play at Houston, Denver, New England or Baltimore in the first round.

11 Dallas Cowboys (8-7) — Once again the Cowboys head into week 17 with everything on the line. You can bet this will come down to the fourth quarter.

12 Indianapolis Colts (10-5) — The turnaround of the Colts is one of the most impressive stories in the NFL. They are here to stay too.

13 Minnesota Vikings (9-6) — Wins over the Bears, Rams and Texans have the Vikings in control of their destiny. A win over the Packers would get them a playoff rematch in Green Bay.

14 New Orleans Saints (7-8) — Finishing at .500 would be pretty impressive considering all the drama in New Orleans this season.

15 Chicago Bears (9-6) — The Bears need to beat the reeling Lions and then root for Green Bay to knock off the Vikings.

16 New York Giants (8-7) — The defending champs have lost five of seven and need lots of help on Sunday to sneak into the playoffs.

17 Miami Dolphins (7-8) — If the season was 18 games like the commissioner wanted, the Dolphins would have a good shot to get in with the way they are playing.

18 St. Louis Rams (7-7-1) — After finishing 2-14 last season, the Rams are one of the most improved teams in 2012.

19 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) — Five losses in six games is not how the Steelers saw the stretch run going and they are out of the playoff hunt.

20 Carolina Panthers (6-9) — The Panthers waited too long to get hot. They have been one of the better teams after starting 2-8.

21 Tennessee Titans (5-10) — Clearly they are ready for the offseason. Nobody likes going to Green Bay in December but losing 55-7 is as bad as it gets.

22 New York Jets (6-9) — Looks like the Jets could go three for three on getting rid of quarterbacks this offseason. Should be interesting.

23 San Diego Chargers (6-9) — Beating the Raiders would give the Chargers a 3-1 finish but it won’t be good enough to save everybody’s jobs. Changes are coming.

24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) — The Bucs won four straight to climb into the playoff hunt…then lost five in a row to fall out of it.

25 Arizona Cardinals (5-10) — It doesn’t appear that the Cardinals know who their quarterback is. But have they at least figured out who their quarterback isn’t?

26 Detroit Lions (4-11) — Were these guys really in the playoffs last year? What happened?

27 Cleveland Browns (5-10) — The Browns are making progress. Winning in Pittsburgh on Sunday would be another step forward.

28 Buffalo Bills (5-10) — Will either team show up when the Bills and Jets meet in the season finale?

29 Oakland Raiders (4-11) — If it wasn’t for beating the Chiefs twice, the Raiders could have the worst record in the league.

30 Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) — Will the Eagles knock the defending champs out of the hunt or improve their draft position?

31 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) — The Jags already beat Tennessee once. If they do it again, it could cost them the first pick in the draft.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) — Don’t expect the Chiefs to finish with a win in Denver against the hottest team in the league.

November 21, 2012

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Giving Doug Martin the Respect He Deserves

By: Matt Bowen

Heading into the 2012 NFL season all the talk surrounding the rookie class revolved around quarterbacks Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins. While the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks have lived up to the massive hype, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin is not to be forgotten.

Luck may have been the #1 pick, but will Martin be the Rookie of the Year?

Yes, Luck and RG3 have put up impressive numbers thus far, but Martin is third in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch with an even 1,000 rushing yards so far. More importantly, the Bucs are winning and Martin appears to get better with every touch of the ball.

The Buccaneers organization deserves credit for revamping their franchise in just a single offseason. After a disastrous 2011 full of big expectations and hot air, the team brought in new head coach Greg Schiano, acquired highly touted free agent Vincent Jackson and made a statement when they moved up in the NFL draft to steal Martin late in the first round.

Martin, a 23-year-old out of Boise State flew under the radar in college because much of the credit the Broncos received went to quarterback Kellen Moore. Let’s not get things mixed up; Moore was a great college quarterback, the greatest in terms of wins with 50, but Martin did his part to bring Boise State to national prominence. He tallied 43 touchdowns in his time as a Bronco and hasn’t slowed down one bit in the NFL.

Truth be told, he doesn’t look like a rookie and is a blast to watch. His nickname is the “Muscle Hamster” because his physique fits the bill. He’s 5’9”, 215 lbs. of pure beef. It takes more than one defender to take down Martin on most carries.

He’s averaging 5.1 yards/carry and has had 100-plus yards in three of the last four. His 251 yards and four touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders earlier this season put him in fantasy football folklore forever.

Thanks to Martin’s emergence the Bucs have won four straight games and take on one of the NFL’s best in the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12. The Bucs are currently in the playoff hunt and will get national exposure with the Falcons coming to town. This is Martin’s time to shine on the big stage. Something tells me he won’t disappoint. The Falcons may be 9-1, but they allow 130.5 yards/game against the rush and Martin is ready to make his name known.

A strong performance in Week 12 and Martin’s hat will be thrown into the Rookie of the Year race. Sure, Luck and Griffin III are the future of the NFL, but so is Martin. The two young quarterbacks may get more attention, but it’s the young running back in Martin who is quietly becoming the best.

August 31, 2012

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Predicting 5 Breakout NFL Stars in 2012

By: Matt Bowen

The 2012 NFL season is now just a few short days away as fans breath a massive collective sigh of relief as the long wait is almost over.

Everyone knows that the stars of the league like Aaron Rodgers, Calvin Johnson, Rob Gronkowski and LeSean McCoy will dazzle week in and week out, but it’s these up-and-coming stars that will become overnight sensations.

There’s something about a rising star that is absolutely captivating. They quickly gain a cult-like following within their team’s fan base. They get so big that before they know it kids and adults alike across the nation are idolizing them by slapping a Fathead on their wall.

One player on this list even has Jerry Rice excited about him.

These players will have a breakout season in 2012 and are the future of the NFL:

Russell Wilson: The Seattle Seahawks have recently made the decision that rookie Russell Wilson will be their Week 1 starter this season. “Russell Mania” has already taken Seattle by storm as Wilson has impressed this preseason.

Yes, it’s only preseason, but the NFL preseason is much more intense than it used to be. All of the games are televised, hundreds of articles are written critiquing every move and fans actually care. With that being said, Wilson has made the grade.

The 23-year-old is wise beyond his years. He is a talented athlete who quarterbacked at North Carolina State before being drafted by the Colorado Rockies of Major League Baseball. Wilson then decided that football was his sport and helped the Wisconsin Badgers to a Rose Bowl last season.

The Seahawks have something special on their hands as Wilson will seemingly do no wrong this season as he blossoms into a star.

Doug Martin: The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a bold move when they traded up in the 2012 NFL draft to take Boise State running back Doug Martin with the No. 31 pick in the first round. Martin has since been named their No. 1 back as he’ll set to take flight this season.

The Bucs are a team with a legitimate shot at making the playoffs after a memorable offseason full of changes. Martin looks like he will immediately pay dividends for the Bucs because he’s a perfect blend of power and speed.

Rushing for 1,000 yards should be almost automatic for Martin because the Bucs have a nice balance on offense. Eager to improve, Martin will be known by all by season’s end.

Rod Streater: Who?

His name is Rod Streater, don’t forget it. The Oakland Raiders sure won’t as they’ve appeared to find a diamond in the rough in the undrafted free agent from Temple.

Streater has a whopping 18 catches in just three preseason games for a total of 165 yards. While his average yards per catch may be merely average, it’s the number of catches that are most impressive.

There’s no better way to gain your coaches and quarterback’s trust than to reel in everything that’s thrown your way. Streater is doing just that as the Raiders have surprising depth at the wide receiver position. Along with fellow rookie Juron Criner, the Raiders have a young duo that have earned the right to see the field early and often in 2012.

For a team desperate to get back to glory, Streater is a reason to believe.

Randall Cobb: Foes of the Green Bay Packers may not want to read this, but the Packers have an emerging star in wide receiver/return man Randall Cobb.

Cobb enters his second year in the NFL with nothing to lose. He may be somewhat buried in the Packers depth chart at the moment, but will be chomping at the bit to become an impact player.

As the season wears on into December, keep your eye on Cobb as he explodes onto the scene. The climate in Green Bay is perfect for him at the moment. No one expects him to do much and he wants the world at his fingertips. If the Packers are to make it to the Super Bowl this season, Cobb will be the difference that puts them over the top.

Julio Jones: Hello stardom.

Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons is set to become what they expected him to be when the organization drafted him No. 6 overall in the 2011 NFL draft.

Jones nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau in his rookie season and will undoubtedly do it this season. The Falcons already have star wide receiver Roddy White, but even he has recognized Jones’ skills and has passed the torch to the young stud.

Jones is so good that he had Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice clamoring earlier in the offseason.

The Falcons are a great team on paper but have had their fair share of struggles in the playoffs recently. They will shrug all doubt this season as Jones shoulders the load.

He’ll easily be a top-five receiver. Expect his name to stuff the stat sheets for years to come.