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.

January 31, 2013

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Super Bowl XLVII Predictions

By: Matt Bowen

Super Bowl XLVII is now just days away, which leaves fans to ponder how many pounds of nachos they’ll serve up to their friends and what exactly will transpire in the big game in the Big Easy.

Making predictions is half the fun when it comes to the Super Bowl. NFL fans know that most of the iconic Super Bowl moments have come unexpectedly, and there will no doubt be a few of those this year.

Let’s get to it:

Jacoby Jones Will Take the Opening Kickoff Back for a Touchdown

The Baltimore Ravens acquired Jacoby Jones in the offseason primarily to be an instant threat in the return game. Jones hasn’t disappointed this season as he returned two kicks and a punt for touchdowns.

He’s also a viable weapon as a No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Terrey Smith. Just ask the Denver Broncos if Jones is a difference maker. They seemingly forgot about him in their Divisional Round playoff matchup as he marched into the end zone after a bomb from quarterback Joe Flacco that sent the game to overtime.

Here’s the kicker—Jones is a native of New Orleans, and he’ll be more than ready to steal the show. With his blood flowing early, he’ll start the game off with a bang.

Alex Smith Will Make an Appearance

The San Francisco 49ers made a bold move this season when they benched then starting quarterback Alex Smith for second-year man Colin Kaepernick.

Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft was finally beginning to look like a No. 1 pick. He was coming off arguably the best game of his career, going 18-for-19 for 232 yards and three touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8.

Just when it was looking like Smith had solidified himself, a concussion knocked him out of Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams and inevitably changed the course of his career.

In came Kaepernick, who undoubtedly optimized the Niners offense and propelled them to the Super Bowl.

So, this is the end of Smith, right?

Wrong!

He’ll make an appearance in the Super Bowl and even throw an 18-yard touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh knows he has to pack a bag full of tricks if he’s to beat a veteran Ravens defense. Smith will be one of those tricks, and he’ll make the most of it. On the first possession of the second half, Smith will make his mark.
Justin Tucker Will Kick the Longest Field Goal in Super Bowl History

The Baltimore Ravens made some noise this preseason when they tapped rookie Justin Tucker from the University of Texas to be their place kicker this season.

Tucker proved he’s the man for the job, going 30-for-33 on the season and even notching four field goals longer than 50 yards.

The Super Bowl record for longest field goal is a 54-yarder from Steve Christie of the Buffalo Bills against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII.

Tucker will top that by booting a 56-yard field goal with 3:13 left in the third quarter. He’ll show the world just why the Ravens made a great choice when they chose him.

Randy Moss Will Walk the Walk

In case you haven’t heard, Randy Moss has named himself the “Greatest of All Time” during media day at the Super Bowl this season.

Considering he’s a member of the San Francisco 49ers, that’s a bold statement.

Although his career numbers don’t compare to Hall of Fame 49er Jerry Rice’s, Moss will make a big impact in the Super Bowl. Love him or hate him, he’s really good.

It’s long been known that Moss shows up when he wants to, and, considering it’s the Super Bowl, he’ll be open for business.

The Ravens will have their hands full trying to keep track of receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Moss will slip by the secondary for an early second quarter touchdown. Don’t be surprised when he is booed after reaching the end zone.

In the end, he’ll have four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Joe Flacco Will Stamp Himself as Elite

Why there’s still a debate to whether Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is elite or not beats me.  All the guy does is win.  Sure, it may not always be pretty, but a win is a win.

Flacco will be a free agent in the offseason, but don’t expect him to leave Baltimore—he’s there to stay.  Taking Super Bowl MVP honors will certainly boost his pocketbook during bargaining.

He may not be the flashiest quarterback, but he’ll have a Super Bowl ring to show off.

In his MVP performance he’ll go 22-for-30 with 301 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning drive that will end in a Ray Rice 12-yard screen pass touchdown.

Final Score: Ravens 24, 49ers 20

January 8, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NHL labor agreement in sight: The NHL lockout wasn’t officially over as of this weekend, but it’s looking like it could be soon. A tentative agreement has been reached by the players and owners and barring anything crazy, we should have hockey this year. The good news is that assuming this is finalized, the tentative deal is for a reported ten years, according to ESPN. That should mean several years of peace between the two sides without any interruption. Lockouts always hurt any sport and hockey surely has many disgruntled fans as a result of the recent work stoppage. But with the NFL winding down, the NBA will be the only major professional league in season. For non-basketball fans, that leaves few options.

RGIII was more heralded coming into the playoffs, but Russell Wilson and the Seahawks were the ones advancing to the next round of the playoffs.

Russell Wilson outlasts Andrew Luck and RGIII: Russell Wilson was one of three rookie quarterbacks to reach the NFL playoffs this season. But of the trio, he was clearly the least heralded. The ColtsAndrew Luck and the RedskinsRobert Griffin III were the league’s two top picks in last year’s draft and Wilson was a bit of an afterthought. But after the Colts were soundly defeated by the Baltimore Ravens and RGIII’s Redskins went down at the hands of the Seahawks, Wilson is the only one still standing. What’s more is that many will give Seattle a chance to knock off the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons next week. Wilson’s magical season might not be ending right away and the rookie could find himself in the NFC Championship game with another good game.

Timberwolves’ injury woes continue with Kevin Love hand injury: The Minnesota Timberwolves have been crushed with injuries this season. Josh Howard suffered a season-ending injury and was subsequently waived. Star guard Ricky Rubio has missed 20 games. Brandon Roy, Chase Budinger, and Malcolm Lee are all currently out with various injuries. And now, the team’s best player, forward Kevin Love, is out with a hand injury. Love was out for several weeks earlier this year with a broken hand and the injury appears to have resurfaced. Timberwolves’ fans have to be frustrated particularly because it’s easy to see a world of potential with this team. Even with all of the players missing time, Minnesota is still .500 on the year with a 15-15 record. The team is only a ½ game out of a playoff spot and without the injuries, they would arguably be among the conference’s top eight teams.

Syracuse’s Doug Marrone reportedly leaving to coach NFL’s Bills: The Syracuse Orange were dealt a bit of a blow when it was announced over the weekend that their head coach Doug Marrone was likely on his way out to coach the Buffalo Bills. Syracuse’s football program had been struggling mightily since the 1990s, but Marrone seemed to have helped them turn the corner. The team won eight games this season, tied for the most victories they’ve had in the past decade. It was also only the second time during that span when the team has finished over .500. The program can and will go on without Marrone, but heading into the ACC next season having to find a new coach isn’t an ideal situation.

Dontrelle Willis trying to make comeback with Cubs: When a young Dontrelle Willis burst onto the Major League Baseball scene in 2003, he was heralded as one of the league’s brightest stars. But after a few successful seasons with the Marlins, Willis’ flame quickly went out. He was named the National League Rookie of the year and won 44 games over the next three years. But since then, it’s been all downhill for the pitcher. After an ERA of over 5.00 in 2007, Willis was dealt to the Detroit Tigers where he was even worse over the next three seasons. He struggled with the Arizona Diamondbacks and Cincinnati Reds in 2010 and 2011 and has been out of the majors ever since. The deal with the Cubs is reportedly a minor league one and Willis will have to earn a spot if he wants to end up back in the major leagues. At only 31, he could still have some productive seasons if he’s able to turn it around. But having struggled through several seasons, the odds are probably against him.

December 22, 2011

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Looking Toward the NFL Playoffs

By: Rick Jarrell

With the large majority of fantasy football over, with only a lucky, select few still worrying about their lineups this weekend, I’ll divert my attention. Just make a note to set your lineups before Thursday night, and especially before Saturday, when the majority of games will be played.
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Only two weeks left means the playoff picture is becoming clearer. The fringe teams like the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs appear on their way out, although not mathematically eliminated. Meanwhile, perennial studs like New England and Pittsburgh have nearly solidified top seeds. But there’s still spots up for grabs and a few areas to be sorted out. I’ll point out the most interesting stories.

Tebow Brings the Broncos Back to the Playoffs

Despite that predictable hiccup against the Patriots Sunday – where Tom Brady put a muzzle on the Tebow fan club for a few days – the Broncos appear poised to take the division. Their final games are at a struggling Buffalo Bills team, who could not keep early momentum and have fallen to last place in their division, and the Kansas City Chiefs, who again are not technically out, but have a steep hill to climb. The biggest threat here is the Oakland Raiders – but Carson Palmer has played terribly for them, and unless Darren McFadden comes back strong, they’re likely to split their last two games.

San Diego is also looming. The team that tends to have a strong December may be too late, though, as the usually weak division has made forward strides this season.

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Tim Tebow and the Broncos are on the brink of the playoffs. Can they finish the job?

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NFC East Battle

At times considered one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL, it appears, at least for this season, to be because no team can rise up and take control. The Cowboys had a string of strong wins and were seemingly ready to take the reigns as a solid playoff possibility. Yet, after a heart-breaking loss against the Giants in Week 14, Eli Manning and his squad kept them in the hunt. The Giants had a seemingly easy game against the Redskins in Week 15, but that proved not the case, and knocked them back down a peg.

Now the Giants face their city rivals this week, followed by a potentially division-deciding match up against the ‘Boys. The insanity doesn’t stop there, though. If events happen right (or wrong depending on some viewpoints), the Eagles could sneak into the playoffs.

Will Three AFC North Teams Make the Playoffs?

The division is dominated by the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers year in and year out, with this year being no different. Despite the lackluster performances this weekend, they’re both tied for the division lead at 10-4. But the new horse in the race is the Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have gone from bottom dweller – widely perceived as one of the worst teams going into the season – to a team that has found a spark behind a strong defense, easy schedule, and rookies AJ Green and Andy Dalton. They don’t face weak teams by any means – the Ravens and the Cardinals, who have showed flashes as of late – but have a strong opportunity to overtake the Jets as the sixth seed. As a Browns fan, if all three make it, I’ll have an excuse to think they were better than they performed this year. It’s the little things.

November 1, 2011

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

1. Green Bay Packers (7-0) — The Pack has not lost a meaningful game in a long time, but it is a little premature for the 16-0 talk to begin.

2. Baltimore Ravens (5-2) — Impressive comeback against the Cardinals but they shouldn’t have been down that much to begin with. Their game in Pittsburgh on Sunday will be huge.

3. New England Patriots (5-2) – The loss to the Steelers could prove costly in the playoff seeding tiebreakers.

4. Buffalo Bills (5-2) – A win over the Jets Sunday would go a long way towards getting Buffalo back to the playoffs.

5. Detroit Lions (6-2) – They will have an extra week to enjoy that beating they gave Tebow and the Broncos.

6. Atlanta Falcons (4-3) – They got some help Sunday when the Rams knocked off the Saints. NFC South race is wide open.

7. New Orleans Saints (5-3) — I have a feeling that loss to the Rams is going to hurt when we get to January.

8. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2) – They beat the Patriots on Sunday, and they will have a huge edge in the AFC.

9. San Francisco 49ers (6-1) – They just keep winning and could be on their way to a first round bye.

10. Houston Texans (5-3) — Andre Johnson should be back this week and the Texans should handle the Browns.

11. New York Jets (4-3) — The next two weeks against the Bills and Patriots are critical for the Jets to climb back in the race. They must win at least one of those games.

12. New York Giants (5-2) — The schedule is really tough the rest of the way. Will a two game lead be enough to hold on in the NFC East?

13. Chicago Bears (4-3) – Can the defense slow down the Philadelphia offense? We will find out on Monday Night Football.

14. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3) — Anyone else think the Saints will be ready to go when the Bucs travel to New Orleans on Sunday? Tampa cannot afford to fall two games back with a loss.

15. San Diego Chargers (4-3) — Rivers will be kicking himself all week for the fumbled snap against the Chiefs. Once again the Chargers find a strange way to lose a game.

16. Tennessee Titans (4-3) – Chris Johnson has to get going if the Titans are going to stay in the race much longer.

17. Philadelphia Eagles (3-4) – Philly finally looked like the team everyone thought they would be in their win against the Cowboys.

18. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) – We will find out how good the Bengals are in the next three weeks against Tennessee, Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

19. Oakland Raiders (4-3) – Moved into a first place tie without even playing and Denver is coming to town. Things are looking up.

20. Kansas City Chiefs (4-3) – Miami and Denver could have the Chiefs at 6-3 before the schedule gets really hard.

21. Dallas Cowboys (3-4) – America’s Team has the easiest schedule of the NFC East teams but it won’t matter if they play like they did Sunday night.

22. Washington Redskins (3-4) – With three straight losses, Washington has gone from the top of the NFC East standings to the bottom in a hurry.

23. Minnesota Vikings (2-6) – Christian Ponder looks like he could be the starter for a while in Minnesota.

24. Carolina Panthers (2-6) – Cam Newton will be the starter for a long time in Carolina.

25. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) – 12.25 points per game doesn’t win many games in this league.

26. Cleveland Browns (3-4) – Colt McCoy needs more weapons.

27. Arizona Cardinals (1-6) – Blowing that lead against the Ravens hurts. Suddenly, Sunday’s game against the Rams doesn’t look so easy.

28. St. Louis Rams (1-6) – Looking to make it two wins in a row against the Cardinals.

29. Seattle Seahawks (2-5) – The loss to Cincinnati was much closer than the score would suggest.

30. Denver Broncos (2-5) – Bronco fans got what they wanted with Tebow taking over for Orton. Unfortunately, it looks like Denver’s opponents also got what they wanted.

31. Miami Dolphins (0-7) – Should have beaten the Broncos and almost beat the Giants. They will win soon.

32. Indianapolis Colts (0-8) – They have a one loss lead in the Andrew Luck standings. This team has more problems than no Peyton Manning.