November 27, 2013

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2013 NFL Q4 Must-See Games

By: Matt Bowen

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

Week 13

The Heavyweight Bout: New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks

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

The Divisional Battle: Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions

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

The Hidden Gem: Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles

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

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

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

Week 14

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

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

The Niners do too, expect them to exact revenge.

The Divisional Battle: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints

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

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

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

The Hidden Gem: Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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

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

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

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

Week 15

The Heavyweight Bout: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys

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

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

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

The Divisional Battle: San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos

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

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

The Hidden Gem: New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers

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

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

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

Week 16

The Heavyweight Bout: Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles

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

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

The Divisional Battle: New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers

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

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

The Hidden Gem: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens

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

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

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

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

Then, we’ll talk about playoffs.

June 19, 2013

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NFL Quarterbacks Facing the Most Pressure in 2013

By: Matt Bowen

As the summer heats up so do the predictions for the 2013 NFL season. Quarterbacks make the NFL world go round and no one in professional sports faces more scrutiny.

Cam Newton will start the 2013 NFL season on the hot seat.

With only 16 games on the schedule, there’s no time to be “off.” The grueling NFL schedule doesn’t allow it—one bad game could be the difference between the playoffs and NFL futility. Unfortunately it’s the quarterback that takes the brunt of the blame. It may not be fair, but it comes with the territory.

Nothing is different this time around as the following quarterbacks face the most pressure heading into the 2013 NFL season.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: Let’s get this out of the way now—Mark Sanchez is facing the most pressure of any athlete in the world this year.

Now with rookie quarterback Geno Smith waiting for his chance, Sanchez has no room for error. Playing in New York, it’s no surprise Sanchez faces an uphill battle.

The bottom line is that Sanchez must lead his team to playoffs and win at least one playoff contest. We shall see.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton is light years beyond most NFL quarterbacks after two complete seasons in the league. He has turned the “Bungles” back into the Bengals. He has led his team to the back-to-back playoff appearances, but he has yet to win.

In fact, he has not looked good in the playoffs, he looks predetermined every time he drops back to throw.

So, how does he fix this? Dalton has to look confident from Week 1. The Bengals are one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NFL and there’s reason to believe that Dalton is the man—but now is the time leave it all on the field.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, nope—it was Russell Wilson who was the 2012 rookie quarterback who stole the show. Don’t get confused, Luck and RG3 were phenomenal, but Wilson was as good if not better.

Now, Wilson must avoid the sophomore slump and lead the Seahawks to the top of the charts. There’s a great NFL debate going on right now and many say that the Seahawks are the league’s best team. That puts plenty of pressure on Wilson.

Wise beyond his years, Wilson is mature enough to handle the heat of the NFL media.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford came within 33 yards of eclipsing 5,000-plus yards for the second straight season last year.

So why does he face so much pressure in 2013?

Because his team, the Detroit Lions went 4-12 in 2012 and looked downright pitiful, that’s why. While it certainly isn’t all Stafford’s fault, as the focal point of the franchise, he is the one fan’s and media turn to for answers.

So, less is more for Stafford heading into the new season, except in the win column. True Lions fans know that if their quarterback throws the ball less than the NFL-record 727 times, that’s a good thing. That means the defense isn’t allowing the opposition to score at ease. That also means the Lions have a balanced offense.

Another downtrodden year for the Lions and it may be time to find a new front office and start over again.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Is it just me, or does Cam Newton seem like an afterthought right now? Let’s not forget about him, as the quarterback won’t disappoint this season.

After a stellar rookie season in 2011, Newton returned from space and was grounded in 2012, but his numbers weren’t that far off from his Rookie of the Year campaign. The Panthers, however, struggled last year.

Newton is devoted to his team and to prove that he’s one of the best. The pressure is astounding, but he’ll be up to the challenge. Expect nothing less than brilliance from Newton this season.

June 3, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Grant Hill retires: In a somewhat expected move, forward Grant Hill retired from the NBA last season. For many, Hill will be remembered for the injuries that ate up much of his career. Injuries again kept him down this year as the forward appeared in only 29 games all season with the Los Angeles Clippers, and at 40, it’s clear he should have retired. But Hill should never be forgotten. He was the 1994-95 Rookie of the Year and a seven-time All-Star. Hill wasn’t always healthy, but when he was, he was one of the NBA’s best forwards earlier in his career.

The Kansas City Royals hired George Brett to be their Hitting Coach.

Rangers coach John Tortorella fired: Shortly after being ousted by the Boston Bruins in the NHL’s Eastern Conference semifinals, the New York Rangers dumped head coach John Tortorella. The Rangers had hopes of reaching the Stanley Cup finals this season, but actually regressed after making the Eastern Conference finals last year. Tortorella had some success in New York, but was rumored to have rubbed some of his players the wrong way. After not advancing past the first round in each of his first three seasons with the Rangers, Tortorella had done better each of the past two seasons. It wasn’t enough to keep his job, but as a former Stanley Cup winning coach in Tampa Bay, he should get another chance down the line.

Steve Smith (the other one) retires: New York Giants receiver Steve Smith (not to be confused with the Carolina PanthersSteve Smith) has decided to hang up his cleats. Smith was a former Pro Bowler and just signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason. He was always a bit underrated as a receiver and finishes with seven 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. He nearly had another in 2009 when he finished with 982 yards and there’s little doubt he had something left in the tank. Smith had nearly 2,600 receiving yards over the past two seasons with 11 touchdowns. At 34, he probably still has some football left in him. It will be interesting to see if he changes his mind when training camp rolls around.

Phoenix Suns hire Jeff Hornacek as head coach: Jeff Hornacek, a former shooting guard in the NBA, will head back to Phoenix to serve as the team’s new head coach. Hornacek played for the Suns from 1986 – 1992 and also had stints with the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz. He helped the Jazz to two trips to the NBA Finals alongside Karl Malone and John Stockton. After retiring, he became an instructor with the Jazz and then an assistant. Hornacek will come in somewhat unproven with only a few years of experience as an assistant. And considering the mess that is the Phoenix Suns right now, that will make it even harder to succeed.

Everett Golson suspended for 2013: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson was suspended by the team due to ‘poor academic judgment.’ There hasn’t yet been confirmation on what exactly that means, but one thing is for certain – he won’t be suiting up for the Irish this fall. It’s a blow to a team that went to the BCS Championship with him at the helm last year. Notre Dame must now turn to another option – most likely senior Tommy Rees. But Malik Zaire could have an outside shot at the job as he comes in as a highly touted freshman this year. But without Golson, the team’s stock is taking a significant hit.

Kansas City Royals hire George Brett as hitting coach: Stuck in the middle of a long losing streak, the Kansas City Royals have turned to perhaps the best player in the history of their franchise – George Brett. Brett will assume duties as the team’s new hitting coach. Let’s face it – giving the job to a franchise icon who just happens to be one of the best hitters in the last 50 years isn’t a bad idea. But stars generally have a difficult time coaching and often, aren’t able to teach others how to play the game as well as they could. Still, for just taking a shot in the dark on a midseason hire, the Royals could have done worse.

Floyd Mayweather to fight Saul Alvarez: Floyd Mayweather, Jr. recently announced that he would fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on September 14th. The match will pit a pair of unbeatens as Mayweather is 44-0-0 while Alvarez is 42-0-1. While this is a big deal and surely a fight that Mayweather will trumpet, Alvarez isn’t Manny Pacquiao - the fighter many would like to see battle Mayweather. In the announcement on (where else) Twitter, Mayweather made sure to tell us that he’s ‘giving the fans what they want’ by participating in the fight. Thanks, I guess?

NCAA Golfer penalized for car washing: Yep, you heard that one correctly. The NCAA penalized an unidentified women’s golfer for washing her own car. The reason? She reportedly used water on the campus that technically belonged to the university and was forced to pay the school $20.00 – the approximate value of the water and hose that was estimated by the organization. I’m all for following the rules and I think the NCAA gets a bad rap sometimes. They’ve got a difficult job in trying to police schools and student athletes, and I get that letting smaller things go can easily escalate into bigger problems. But seriously, can’t we have a common sense clause that allows for a warning in some instances?

March 18, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

The NCAA Tournament is here: It’s NCAA Tournament time. The NCAA released its tournament bracket yesterday and while the field is generally wide open, that’s even more so the case this year. In case you missed it, the four No. 1 seeds were Louisville, Indiana, Kansas, and Gonzaga. There’s been no truly dominant team in college basketball with the No. 1 spot changing hands nearly every week. I haven’t hashed out my bracket yet, but my early pick to win it all might be Louisville. The Cardinals fell a bit off the radar in the middle of the season after three straight losses to Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, but they lost two of those games by a total of four points. And as we found out, those are three pretty good teams. Louisville went on to win 13 of their last 14 games and the one loss was a five overtime thriller to Notre Dame.

Should the Cowboys move to the NFC South?

Team USA bows out of World Baseball Classic: Team USA lost games to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico and was knocked out of the World Baseball Classic. Most amusing was the attitude by some players on Team USA who were none too pleased with the way the Dominican Republic celebrated after their victory. First things first – the tournament means much more in general to the other countries playing. Team USA’s players want the World Series, not the World Baseball Classic title. I’ve got no problem with the enthusiastic celebration by the Dominican Republic.  It’s not only a big deal to them, but it was a dramatic victory as they scored two runs to snap a ninth-inning tie. Team USA being upset about the celebration is akin to a ranked college basketball team losing on the road and then being angry that the home team’s fans storm the court. Want to know the best way to avoid opposing teams celebrating? Win.

Tony Gonzalez Un-retires: The NFL season has barely ended, but Atlanta Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez couldn’t wait to get back onto the field, despite saying he was retiring during last season. Gonzalez is expected to now return for 2013 and his coming back isn’t really that much of a surprise. He’s still in great shape and with 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns in 2012, he not only was productive but had one of the best years of his career. What is surprising, though, was that Gonzalez made the announcement to come back so quickly. It’s only March and training camp isn’t any time soon. By making his decision so soon, it only shows he was never all that convinced that retirement was for him. You could make the argument that the team was pushing him for a decision in order to figure out what path they might need to take in free agency. But Gonzalez is a future Hall of Famer who’s still producing, so they would have given him a bit of leeway.

NHL Realignment for 2013-14: In a move that’s gone somewhat under the radar, the NHL will undergo some realignment for next season. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets will move into the Eastern Conference while Winnipeg will head to the west. Simply put, the move makes a ton of sense and the only hope is that other professional leagues will follow suit. Don’t hold your breath, though. While it would make far more sense for the Dallas Cowboys to be playing in the NFC South and the Carolina Panthers to move to the NFC East, things like that aren’t likely to happen for one big reason: rivalries. Unlike the NHL, with a limited schedule, the NFL can’t have all of its teams face each other every year. And Cowboys fans wouldn’t be all that thrilled with losing annual games against the Giants, Eagles, and Redskins.

The Miami Heat keep winning: In case you’ve not noticed, the Miami Heat are pretty good at basketball. The Heat have been winning, and winning … and winning. The team won their 22nd straight game on Sunday and is a threat to challenge the Los Angeles Lakers’ 33-game record streak set in 1971-72. Can the Heat break the record? Sure. But even though they’re steamrolling the rest of the league right now, there are a few things that will stand in their way. The Heat have many road games coming up in the next couple of weeks including some that should be tough. Among those stops are trips to Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The Heat have had several near losses during their streak. Four of their wins have been by five points or fewer and one has gone to overtime. If that’s not enough to convince you, consider this – the Heat have already clinched a playoff spot and have a large lead on the rest of the Eastern Conference for home court advantage throughout the playoffs. At some point, you’ve got to imagine the team will try to rest some players and that could bring an end to the streak.

November 29, 2011

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

1. Green Bay Packers (11-0) — Sunday’s game at the Giants could be the biggest remaining hurdle towards 16-0. How bad do the Packers want to run the table?

2. New England Patriots (8-3) — With a two-game lead and the tiebreaker on their side, the Patriots have almost locked up the AFC East. The schedule sets up well for a run at home-field advantage.

3. New Orleans Saints (8-3) – Drew Brees and the Saints offense was unstoppable against New York on Monday Night Football. Can they outscore Detroit this week?

4. Baltimore Ravens (8-3) – The Ravens stay on top of the AFC North with a Thanksgiving Day win in the Harbaugh bowl. Now they must avoid any more letdowns.

 5. San Francisco 49ers (9-2) – Despite the loss, the Niners show they can compete with the NFL elite. They can clinch the NFC West with a win against St. Louis.

 6. Houston Texans (8-3) – The Texans pick up another win but lose another quarterback. Now it’s up to rookie T.J. Yates to lead a playoff run.

 7. Atlanta Falcons (7-4) – Atlanta has won five of the last six. Sunday’s trip to Houston looks more winnable with the Texans down to the third-string quarterback.

 8. Detroit Lions (7-4) – The Lions really need a win at New Orleans. It will be that much harder to slow down the Saints without Ndamukong Suh.

 9. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3) – It wasn’t pretty in Kansas City but a win is a win. Huge game in the AFC North this week against Cincinnati.

 10. Dallas Cowboys (7-4) – America’s Team has moved to the top of the NFC East with four straight wins. They need to make it five in a row before a critical meeting with the Giants.

 11. Chicago Bears (7-4) – The Bears missed Jay Cutler on Sunday. If they are going to make the playoffs they need to beat the Chiefs and Broncos in the next two weeks.

 12. Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) – The Bengals continue to exceed expectations. If they can do that on Sunday and beat the Steelers, it would go a long way towards getting them to the playoffs.

 13. Oakland Raiders (7-4) – It’s a two team race in the AFC West. Oakland has a one-game lead but the more difficult schedule.

 14. New York Jets (6-5) – The Jets got back on track with a win over Buffalo. They should pick up a couple more wins with Washington and Kansas City in the next couple weeks.

 15. Tennessee Titans (6-5) – The Titans beat Tampa Bay in what was essentially an elimination game. They can knock the Bills out with a win this week.

Can the Titans continue to make a run at the Playoffs?

 16. New York Giants (6-5) – The Giants are in big trouble after losing three straight and the undefeated Packers are up next. The good news is they still play the Cowboys twice so they can control their fate.

 17. Denver Broncos (6-5) – Tim Tebow gets all the credit but the Denver defense has allowed just 15 points per game in the last five wins. Can they shut down Adrian Peterson this week?

 18. Buffalo Bills (5-6) – The Bills are on life support after four losses in a row. They will have to run the table for the week 17 game at New England to matter.

 19. Philadelphia Eagles (4-7) – With the loss to New England, the Eagles have a stranglehold on the most disappointing team of the year. How much worse will it get?

20. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) – The Bucs are another disappointing team in the NFC. They need to beat Carolina to avoid falling into last in the NFC South.

 21. Arizona Cardinals (4-7) – The Cards have won three of four and they could get Kevin Kolb back this week.

 22. San Diego Chargers (4-7) – What happened during their bye week? The Chargers were 4-1 before the bye and are now 0-6 after.

 23. Miami Dolphins (3-8) – The Dolphins have won three of four. They could give the Bills a run for third in the AFC East.

 24. Washington Redskins (4-7) – They broke the six-game losing streak against Seattle. They could start a new streak with three teams fighting for the playoffs coming up next.

 25. Minnesota Vikings (2-9) – The Vikings have lost three straight. If they don’t find a way to beat Tebow it could become six straight with the Lions and Saints coming up.

 26. Seattle Seahawks (3-7) – The Seahawks blew a 10-point lead against Washington. At least they have a short week to think about it.

 27. Carolina Panthers (3-8) – The Panthers are much better than last year but aren’t getting many wins to show for it. But they have found their quarterback.

 28. Kansas City Chiefs (4-7) – The defense played well against the Steelers but the offense couldn’t get it going. Will they turn to Kyle Orton this week?

 29. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8) – Jack Del Rio has been fired. This franchise has a lot of work to do.

30. Cleveland Browns (4-7) – They put up a fight against Cincinnati but came up short. And there’s more bad news; four of the last five games are against Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

31. St. Louis Rams (2-9) – The way this team has played its hard to find another win on their schedule. The best chance appears to be at Seattle.

32. Indianapolis Colts (0-11) – The Colts could make a run at 0-16. They are at New England and Baltimore for the next two.