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 5, 2013

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NFL Talk

By: Matt Bowen

Face it—it’s never too soon to talk about the NFL. The thoughts of the upcoming 2013 NFL season are starting to invade NFL fanatics’ minds. Yes, we’re only a few days into June, but it’s been three months since Super Bowl XLVII. That means we have exactly three months to go until the 2013 season kicks off on September 5. Some may say that we’re in the doldrums of the offseason, but this is just the beginning. It only gets better from here.

With that being said, let’s talk football.

Here are the top five headlines weighing on everyone’s mind this offseason:

Will RG3 Be RG3?

After his injury last season, will RG3 be the same player this year?

Any true NFL fan is currently holding their breath hoping that Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will return healthy. The knee injury he suffered in the playoffs was gruesome to watch. The nausea that ensued when reality and doubt set in still exist today.

He’s the future—a prototype never before seen on an NFL field—the complete package.

Will he be okay?

Something tells me that he’ll be just fine—RG3 is a remarkable athlete.

Let’s hope he’s “ready for some football” on September 9 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.

Can the Indianapolis Colts Return to the Playoffs?

The Indianapolis Colts took the league by storm last year when they defied the odds and made the playoffs. Then rookie quarterback Andrew Luck proved to be the truth, but can he avoid the sophomore slump?

Having tasted winning in 2012, the Colts grew leaps and bounds and impressed all as they won games they probably shouldn’t have. One adjustment this is season will be to new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Former OC Bruce Arians is now head coach for the Arizona Cardinals. All Luck did under the tutelage of Arians in 2012 is set a rookie record with 4,374 passing yards.

Luck has the intelligence to absorb a new system quickly. The only question that remains is will the Colts return to the playoffs?

Will Wes Welker be the “It” Factor for the Denver Broncos?

The Denver Broncos were seconds away from the AFC Championship game last season before a Baltimore Ravens bomb sent them packing.

After shaking off the rust, quarterback Peyton Manning looked like Peyton Manning by season’s end. All the Broncos needed heading into the offseason is some added offense and there was no better find than Wes Welker.

Will Welker be the difference? Are the Broncos now “locks” for a Super Bowl appearance? Along with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, can the Broncos have three 1000-plus yard receivers?

Something tells me Manning and Welker are out for revenge. Watch out!

How Good Will the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens Play?

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens look to avoid the Super Bowl hangover this season.

The Ravens took the league’s top prize last season and without a doubt will look different this season. Out are Anqaun Boldin (49ers), Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and Ray Lewis (retired)— and Ravens fans have to be wondering what their team will be like without three of their best. The Ravens still have a solid squad, but are they contenders?

The 49ers face the most pressure of any team this season. Having been so close the ultimate prize, can they get over the hump this season? Colin Kaepernick is now the man and expectations have never been higher. If there’s one team that’s built to win it all it’s the Niners, but will they do it?

Numerous Other Questions Scattered on Our Minds:

Can the Cincinnati Bengals win a playoff game?

Will Adrian Peterson eclipse 2,000-plus yards again?

Will Mike Wallace be the boost the Miami Dolphins need?

Can Calvin Johnson break his own single-season receiving record of 1,964 yards?

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers make the playoffs?

Are the New England Patriots at the end of an era?

Is this the year for the Atlanta Falcons?

What will unfold for the New York Jets?

Are the Seattle Seahawks the NFL’s best team?

June 18, 2012

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Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, & Chad Ochocinco on the Comeback Trail

By: Anson Whaley

As recently as two years ago, Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, and Chad Ochocinco were three of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. Each was a few years past his respective prime, but still able to contribute heavily. The trio combined for more than 2,200 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010, and the group was still a potent bunch.

Two years later, though, and it’s a different story.

Moss didn’t play last season and after a brief retirement, signed with the San Francisco 49ers for 2012. Moss may be the biggest question mark as he had the worst numbers of the three players in 2010. He failed to make big splashes with any of the three (yes, three) teams for which he played. Moss had brief stints with the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, and Tennessee Titans, but had a hard time fitting in with any of them, even though he previously had done well with the Patriots.

Alex Smith

The San Francisco 49ers and Alex Smith are hoping Randy Moss can help improve their passing attack.

An offseason injury in 2011 forced Terrell Owens to the sideline. He was deemed ready to play by his agent and even held a televised workout in October, but no NFL teams attended. With no other options, Owens suited up for the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League, playing there earlier this year, but has since been released.

After a solid 2010, Chad Ochocinco dropped off in a big way last season. Playing for the New England Patriots, he never fully grasped the system and simply wasn’t a good fit. He had the worst season of his career with only 276 receiving yards and a single touchdown.

Even though all three have question marks, each is headed in different directions as I see it.

Of the three, Owens’ career may be the one most in danger. The fact that his workout in 2011 drew no NFL interest shows exactly where he stands in terms of league appeal. And while he had a productive 2010 playing alongside Ochocinco in Cincinnati, he wasn’t able to dominate the Indoor Football League this past season. Owens played in only eight games, so it’s not fair to judge him based on total numbers. But his per game average of 52.9 yards a game wasn’t even in the league’s top 20 and he was merely a good, not great, wideout. For a player trying to get back to the NFL, it isn’t terribly impressive that he wasn’t even among the best receivers in an indoor league. It’s a different brand of football, but Owens’ skill should still translate into better numbers.

Moss, on the other hand, will have an immediate opportunity. He’s headed to a 49ers team that is in desperate need of an upgraded passing attack. Alex Smith has become a serviceable quarterback, but will have a chance to get even better if Moss is in shape. Even in his older age, Moss has a chance to become a top target in San Fran. Still, it’s hard to put his dismal 2010 out of mind. When you think about his inability to fit with any of the three teams for which he played, it’s pretty unsettling. The bottom line is that while he’s getting yet another shot, there’s no guarantee Moss will work out.

Ochocinco recently signed with the Miami Dolphins and may have the best chance to revive his career simply because he’s the youngest. At only 34, there’s still plenty of time for him to be effective. His numbers were incredibly low last season, but there’s good reason to think that his year was a bit of an anomaly. Playing in New England as a wide receiver is a bit different than many places. The Patriots emphasize finding the open man rather than looking for specific targets – it’s one of the reasons why unknowns can produce big seasons there. The other thing to like about Ochocinco is that even while playing alongside Owens in 2010, he still racked up over 800 yards receiving and caught nearly 70 passes. Playing in Miami, he’ll become one of the focal points of the passing game since the Dolphins allowed their No. 1 receiver, Brandon Marshall, to go to the Chicago Bears. Ochocinco will be the star in Miami and could even be in line for a 1,000-yard season if he’s still healthy. If you need another reason for his potential success, look no further than the Dolphins’ potent rushing game, which was 11th in the NFL. That should free up the passing game a bit and give Ochocinco an even bigger chance for success.

If anything slows him down this year, it will be the quarterback situation. The Dolphins selected Ryan Tannehill in the first round and could be forced to play him early on. That could prevent Ochocinco from having a huge season if Tannehill has some growing pains, but Miami also has veterans David Garrard and Matt Moore in place. Neither is great, but both are capable NFL quarterbacks.

All three have a chance to become impact receivers again, but my bet is on Ochocinco to do the most with the remainder of his career.

December 29, 2011

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The NFL Playoffs Remaining Spots

By: Junior

In the final week of the NFL season, there are still 3 playoff spots still unclaimed. The NFC East, AFC West and the final AFC Wild Card are up for grabs and will be decided this weekend. We take a look at which teams will earn, or back into, a berth in this year’s NFL playoffs.

NFC EAST Champion

The NFC East was given to the Philadelphia Eagles in the offseason after they went out and made some big free agent signings. Long considered one of the tougher conferences in the NFL, not many would be surprised if you told them the NFC East would come down to the final week before we had a winner. However, it would be surprising to hear the Eagles didn’t have a chance. The Dallas Cowboys will travel to New York to take on the Giants in what is essentially the NFC East Championship game.

The Cowboys have had multiple chances to put distance between themselves and the Giants, but failed to take advantage of the opportunities. Add to that the injured throwing hand of Tony Romo, and all of the momentum seems to lie with Eli Manning and the Giants. Look for the Giants to get after Romo and get out to an early lead to keep the home crowd in the game. I like the Giants to claim the NFC East championship this year.

The New York Giants will be after Tony Romo and his injured throwing hand as they look to claim the NFC East crown.

AFC WEST Champions

The AFC West seems to be the division nobody wants to win. The Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos are both fighting to stay above .500 on the season and haven’t looked strong in the last couple weeks. Denver has dropped two in a row, while the Raiders have lost 3 of 4, needing OT to beat Kansas City last week.

Unlike the NFC East game, these two teams don’t get to play each other for the right to go to the playoffs. If both teams win this weekend Denver will win the AFC West and Oakland will have a chance to win the final remaining Wild Card spot, but we will get to that later. Denver has the better draw, having only need to beat the Chiefs while Oakland must beat San Diego. I like Tim Tebow to find a way to beat his predecessor Kyle Orton and return the Broncos back to the postseason.

AFC Wildcard (6th seed)

This is where it all gets interesting. Four teams can still claim this final AFC Wild Card spot: the Benals, Jets, Titans and Raiders. Try to stay with me here.  The Cincinnati Bengals have the easiest road to get to the playoffs: win and they are in.  They can also get in if the Jets and Raiders or Broncos lose.

If that doesn’t happen, the Raiders can get in if they win, the Bengals lose and either the Titans lose or the Jets win.

The Jets get in if they win and the Titans, Bengals, and either the Raiders or Broncos lose.

Finally, there is Tennessee. They need to win. They also need the Bengals to lose. Then, if the Jets win, they need the Raiders or Broncos to lose. If the Jets lose, they need both the Raiders AND the Broncos to win.

Head spinning yet? Mine too. After all of those scenarios, here is all you need to know. I think the New York Jets find a way to sneak in. If the Bengals can find a way to knock of a veteran Ravens team who doesn’t come out prepared to play, they could earn their spot. However, I just don’t think the Raiders, Titans, or Bengals will win this week, which makes me think even though the Jets have had a bad year, they just sneak into the playoffs.

But if the NFL has proven anything this season, it’s that no one has any idea.