December 19, 2013

Comment (1)

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.

November 27, 2013

Comments (19)

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.

May 28, 2013

Leave a Comment

The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Tony Kanaan wins Indy 500: After years of frustration, veteran racer Tony Kanaan finally won the prize of his life with a win in this weekend’s Indianapolis 500. For Kanaan it was his first victory at the historic race. With only three laps to go after a green flag, Kanaan quickly took the lead. It was a good thing, too, because defending champion Dario Franchitti crashed further back from the front and the race finished under caution with Kanaan in the lead. Rookie Carlos Munoz finished in second place.

Brian Urlacher retired from the NFL after 13 years with the Chicago Bears.

Brian Urlacher retires: After not re-signing with the Chicago Bears and becoming a free agent, Brian Urlacher figured he’d be playing again in 2014. But Urlacher surprised a few folks last week when he announced his retirement. Having played 13 seasons, it’s not as if his career is being cut short but he likely still has something left in the tank. Urlacher is believed to have reached out to every team in the league, but in the end, decided he’d had enough. There’s little doubt that he’ll be on his way to the Hall of Fame at some point.

San Francisco and Houston awarded 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls: NFL owners approved the cities of San Francisco and Houston as hosts of the 2016 and 2017 Super Bowls respectively. Both edged out Miami, which was also vying for the games. San Francisco will host the historic 50th Super Bowl, which will be played in Levi’s Stadium, expected to be complete in 2014. For Miami, the biggest negative was the franchise not securing funding for improvements to their stadium. That likely cost them a bid and they may not see another one until either the team or the city forks over some money for upgrades to Sun Life Stadium.

Lebron James and Kobe Bryant headline All NBA First Team: The All NBA teams were named last week and among first-teamers were Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. Others included Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, and Chris Paul. Left off was the scoring champion, Carmelo Anthony. Duncan had a great season, but I’m not sure I would have given him the nod over Anthony.

Cleveland wins NBA Draft lottery: Cleveland had a miserable season, but wound up with a pretty good consolation prize when they won the top spot in the NBA’s Draft lottery selection on Tuesday. It’s the second time in three seasons they’ll have had the No. 1 selection and, should they keep it, could pair a big man such as Nerlens Noel along with Kyrie Irving. In a year where there isn’t considered a dominant player at the top, trading the pick could be an option. But when you consider that they have four selections in the top 33 picks, they may need to get a proven player or two in return instead of more picks. And for what it’s worth, Cleveland’s general manager Chris Grant has said he’s willing to consider dealing the selection.

NFL Draft moving to May: Commissioner Roger Goodell confirmed in the NFL’s spring meetings last week that the league’s draft will move to May in 2014. The main reason for the switch? Radio City Music Hall will be booked during the regularly scheduled time in April.

Mike Trout becomes youngest AL player to hit for cycle: Anaheim Angels phenom Mike Trout already has an amazing track record in his short time in the big leagues. But he added another honor on Tuesday when he became the youngest AL player to hit for the cycle. Trout picked up five RBI in a 12-0 win over Seattle to accomplish the feat.

Michael Crabtree tears Achilles: The 49ers received some great news when it was announced San Francisco would host the 2016 Super Bowl. But things evened out a bit with the news that star wide receiver, Michael Crabtree, tore his Achilles and is expected to miss six months. Crabtree, who had gotten off to a modest start with the 49ers, had a breakout season last year with 85 catches, more than 1,100 yards, and nine touchdowns. The good news for San Francisco is that the team has some depth in the passing game with newly-signed Anquan Boldin, draft pick Quinton Patton, tight end Vernon Davis, and Mario Manningham.

Mike Krzyzewski will remain coach of Team USA: It was widely believed that Coach K would step down from his role as head of the U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, but he’s apparently had a change of heart and will return. In a nutshell, that’s nothing but great news for the program. Since taking over in 2005, Team USA has had nothing but success, winning gold medals in 2008 and 2012. The players have responded well to him and there’s also something to be said for consistency in the program.

St. Louis Rams sign 400-pounder: The St. Louis Rams made a big splash, literally and figuratively, last week. The team signed Ole Miss’ Terrell Brown as a free agent. If you’re not familiar with Brown, that probably doesn’t sound like a big deal … at least until you get to the part that he’s 403 pounds. And oh yeah, he’s 6’10”, too. Brown didn’t play much during his time at Ole Miss and is considered at best to be a project. He was mostly on the defensive line in college, but will shift to the offensive line in the NFL. It may sound like an interesting story, but if coaches couldn’t find a way to use him against smaller, slower players in college, the chances that he’ll be able to compete against the best players in the world are slim.

March 26, 2013

Comments (2)

The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Sweet 16 set in the NCAA Tournament: The first week of the NCAA Tournament is complete and, as usual, there were a fair share of big upsets. The big ones in the first round were tiny Florida Gulf Coast shocking the world by beating No. 2 seeded Georgetown and No. 3 seed New Mexico being ousted by Harvard. Lots will be made about some of those weaker teams being underseeded, but the fact is that if you played the tournament a dozen times, you might have a dozen different champions. Any team is capable of losing on any given night and if a team like Florida Gulf Coast played Georgetown ten times, it’s difficult to believe they’d win the majority of those games. But that’s the beauty of March.

Brian Urlacher appears to be on his way out of Chicago.

Brian Urlacher leaving Chicago: A bit of a surprise in NFL free agency was that the Chicago Bears didn’t re-sign longtime linebacker Brian Urlacher. Urlacher, a mainstay on the team for the past 13 years, couldn’t come to terms with the team. He had come down considerably from his initial asking price for the 2013 season, but that still wasn’t enough to get the Bears to move from their $2 million offer, as reported by ESPN. Reportedly, his agent has already talked with the Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, and Arizona Cardinals. Now at 35, Urlacher is surely slowing down – his tackles have dropped each of the past two seasons. But the bet here is that some team will take a chance on him. With no other options, his asking price may have to come down, though.

Denver Nuggets dominating with 15-game winning streak: With everyone focused on the Miami Heat’s remarkable streak, the Denver Nuggets have gone under the radar. The Nuggets won their 15th straight game this past weekend, beating Sacramento on Saturday. As a result, Denver has soared up to the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference, passing the Los Angeles Clippers and Memphis Grizzlies in the process. The Nuggets have been winning this year on youth and depth. The team has only three players over the age of 25 and only one of those, Andre Miller, is over 30. Also, nine players average more than eight points a game, but none average more than 17. With so much youth and balance, if the Nuggets keep their core together, this is a franchise that could compete for years to come.

Hanley Ramirez out for two months: The Dodgers got some bad news with Opening Day just around the corner. Star shortstop Hanley Ramirez had a torn ligament in his thumb and required surgery last week. Because of it, Ramirez will miss about eight weeks recovering. That’s a tough break for the Dodgers, who picked him up in a trade last season. In 2012 splitting time with the Dodgers and Marlins, Ramirez hit 24 home runs and drove in 92 runs, having one of his best offensive seasons of his career. Not having him until close to May could mean the Dodgers get off to a slow start.

Sergio Garcia hits golf ball … from tree: The final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational was on Sunday. You might assume that the real news was that the event was suspended due to weather, but you’d be wrong. The big highlight came from Sergio Garcia hitting a golf ball while atop a tree branch. Don’t believe me? Here’s the video. Whatever your interest level is in golf, there’s no denying that shots like these make it interesting. Still, I’m not sure Garcia’s move was all that wise. A slip of the foot could have meant a nasty fall and possibly even an end to his season. Not to mention that Garcia double-bogeyed the hole anyway and later withdrew. Still, if we’re going by entertainment value, this one’s a ten all the way. And as a spectator, I’d much rather see Garcia take a gamble like that.

U.S. Soccer wins match over Costa Rica despite snow protest: You read that right. The U.S. Soccer team defeated Costa Rica 1-0 in the qualifying for the FIFA World Cup in the snow in Denver. Costa Rica protested during the match and also filed a formal protest immediately afterwards. Typically, this is where I’d say that both teams had equal playing conditions so Costa Rica should suck it up. But I also understand the point in protesting. Soccer isn’t like, pardon the pun, (American) football where snow is considered as a part of the playing conditions. When you think of soccer, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? For most of us, it’s not white stuff falling to the ground. I don’t mind a match being played if it’s a little bit of snow, but the field was covered to the point where Costa Rican players were complaining that they couldn’t even adequately see the lines. Keep in mind, this is also the qualifying for the World Cup – it’s not a meaningless preseason MLB game. With so much at stake, postponing the game would have made more sense. Similarly hilarious is the fact that a qualifying match was even scheduled in Denver when there’s always a chance of spring snow.

January 23, 2013

Leave a Comment

Ray Lewis Passing the Torch to Patrick Willis the Premier Headline of Super Bowl XLVII

By: Matt Bowen

The dust has finally settled on the 2012 NFL season and the table is now set for Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans.

Ray Lewis will play his final game in Super Bowl XLVII.

Never mind the over-analyzed matchup between brothers and opposing head coaches  John and Jim Harbaugh known as the “HarBowl”, we’ll be sick of that story by the end of the week. The real headline is the fact that Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis will be passing the torch to counterpart Patrick Willis on the Niners as the premier NFL linebacker.

It is now well known that this is Lewis’ “last ride”, as the 37-year-old, 17-year veteran will hang’em up at the conclusion of the season. He has long been the most feared and respected middle linebacker in football. When one thinks classic, smash-mouth, and tough-as-nails NFL players, Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker and leader Dick Butkus comes to mind; then there’s Lewis.

He’s simply the most captivating man in football.

Over the course of his career Lewis has transformed his body into a machine. His freakish diet says it all—mainly protein shakes, egg whites, apples, water and vitamins. He is as dedicated to his body as he is his team and his craft.

His counterpart and soon to be predecessor Willis is no different.  The 27-year-old looks nothing short of a Greek God. It’s no coincidence the two men are virtually the exact same size, both 6’1” and only a few lbs. apart from each other in the 240-245 range. There’s a reason both men share No. 52—Willis aspires to be as great as Lewis.

Often compared to Lewis in looks and leadership skills, Willis will soon hold the crown of the league’s undisputed top linebacker.

Willis has already been named an All-Pro five times in his first six seasons. Lewis has been named All-Pro a stout seven times in his career, but that seems something Willis will topple in just a matter of a few more seasons.

Now, these two Goliaths and future Hall of Famers lead their respective teams onto the field for a Super Bowl showdown for the ages.

Lewis will prepare his men by donning his eye-black turned war paint and by belting out his famed “Any Dogs in the House?” pregame war cry for the final time.

Willis will have his men focused on spoiling Lewis’ ultimate retirement party and permanently writing their names in the record books.

Who will budge?

Will Lewis have enough left in the tank to propel his team to victory?

Can Willis strike gold and steal the show?

Regardless of who lifts the Vince Lombardi Trophy when the clock strikes zero, Lewis will pass the torch to Willis as the best.

The player Willis will pass the torch to likely plays in high school right now. That thought alone is why we love sports.  Who’s next?