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.

February 4, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Baltimore Ravens hang on to win Super Bowl over San Francisco 49ers, 34-31: What looked to be a dud of a game early finally became interesting with the help of … a power outage. Down 28-6, the San Francisco 49ers rallied to score 17 consecutive points. The comeback came up short, though, after the two teams traded touchdowns.  Baltimore added a field goal with about four minutes left in the game and after driving nearly the length of the field, the Niners were stopped inside the 10-yard line. Baltimore got the ball back and wisely took a safety with only a few seconds remaining to provide the final score.

49ers fans will focus on the non-call of what appeared to be pass interference in the end zone on that final drive, but the Ravens’ defense should be lauded for coming up big twice in the fourth quarter. In addition to the aforementioned stand, the D stopped a two-point conversion attempt by the 49ers that could have tied the game (and would have meant they would have only needed a field goal on that final drive). The Ravens allowed 31 points, but stopped San Francisco when it mattered.

Seven elected to Pro Football Hall of Fame: Lost a bit in all of the Super Bowl hoopla were the Pro Football Hall of Fame elections. Coach Bill Parcells and players Cris Carter, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, and Larry Allen will all be inducted later this year. In addition, senior selections Curley Culp and Dave Robinson were elected as well. All were deserving, but if you’re looking for a snub, that would be former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis. Bettis ranks sixth on the all-time NFL rushing list, but still couldn’t find a way into the Hall despite eight 1,000-yard seasons, six Pro Bowls, and a Super Bowl victory. He should eventually get in, but it has to be a bit disappointing that it didn’t happen this year.

Dwyane Wade tries to convince Lebron James to participate in All-Star weekend activities: The NBA has been fighting a losing battle in trying to add more excitement to their All-Star weekend. Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, the league’s biggest stars generally no longer take part in the slam dunk championship or three-point shootout. Gone are the days when players such as Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, and Larry Bird were participating, but one guy wants to change that: Dwyane Wade. Wade has been pushing for teammate Lebron James to suit up for the slam dunk and three-point contests this year. While LBJ has reportedly said he’s not interested in dunking, we could see him in the three-point shootout. I’d be all for it, to be honest. If there’s one thing that will draw more eyeballs, it’s the participation by the game’s best players. I don’t think the league should try to force its stars to join in, but the players should want to do it. The weekend is all about the fans and if there’s any way to reward them, it’s by doing more than sitting on the sidelines.

Adrian Peterson wins NFL’s MVP award: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson won the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award, beating out Denver Broncos’ quarterback Peyton Manning. You can make a strong case for Manning, who came back strongly after an injury kept him out last year. But Peterson is the right choice in my opinion. Not only did he carry the Vikings on his back to the playoffs this year, but he nearly broke Eric Dickerson’s long-standing record for most rushing yards in a season. Others have challenged the mark, but Peterson came the closest falling only nine yards short. Manning had one of his best seasons ever and for one of the best quarterbacks ever, that’s really saying something. But Peterson had less to work with if you look at it objectively. The Vikings passing attack was one of the worst in the NFL and the team won only three games last year when he suffered an injury. Meanwhile, Manning had a solid rushing attack and also took over a team that won a game in the playoffs last year. In other seasons, Manning could be an easy pick. But this year, the award belongs to Peterson.

Yankees may try to void Alex Rodriguez contract: As his career winds down, Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez has found himself in a number of controversies. The latest came last week when he was accused of using performance enhancing drugs. That’s nothing new as Rodriguez previously admitted to such use earlier in his career, but he has maintained that he has not done so recently. But because of the new allegations, the Yankees may be looking to void A-Rod’s expensive contract in the hopes of saving some money. That likely wouldn’t be the case if Rodriguez was in the prime of his career, but with his numbers in a steady decline, it makes sense that New York would want out of his hefty deal. Stay tuned.

Caltech ends historic streak: Chances are you’ve probably never heard of the California Institute of Technology if you live outside of the state. But their baseball team snapped a historic 228-game losing streak last week, winning their first game in nearly a decade, 9-7 over Pacifica. Even more shocking is that the school has had several other unbelievable recent streaks of futility. The men’s basketball team lost 310 straight games until winning in 2011 and the women’s volleyball team also lost 56 in a row at one point before a victory in 2012. Congratulations, I guess?

December 12, 2012

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Why the Golden State Warriors are True Contenders

By: Matt Bowen

The Golden State Warriors have long been an afterthought as true NBA contenders, but that time is officially over. The Warriors are the real deal this season for reasons never associated with the franchise before.

Will the Golden State Warriors make the NBA playoffs this season?

For years the team was coached by one of the game’s greats, Don Nelson. While his coaching style was wide open, run-and-gun, full throttle and a blast to watch, defense was nearly absent in Oakland for seemingly decades. If the team couldn’t score 120-plus points on any given night, the odds of winning were minimal.

Now, a new day is upon the Warriors and their future is mighty bright. The team is now coached by long-time NBA veteran Mark Jackson, who is in his second season as the team’s coach and is the right man for the job. Like a former catcher becoming a manager in Major League Baseball, the ex-point guard is a recipe for success in the NBA.

Jackson knew that installing defensive fundamentals would be priority No. 1 and the team isn’t defensively superior quite yet, but they are well on their way. The Warriors are winning with young talent and are sure to continue to improve. The squad is now a team from the top spot on the roster to the bottom.

Their 14-7 record currently has them in the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference. What is most impressive is that the team has won four straight road games in which they’ve scored 100-plus points in each contest. Winning teams in any professional sport not only take care of business on their home court, but they win consistently on the road. Collecting W’s away from home now will serve the Warriors well come late in the season when they are jockeying for home-court advantage for the playoffs.

Wait, the Warriors will be in the playoffs?

Believe it.

Led by all-world playmaker Stephen Curry, the Warriors are an up-and-coming juggernaut. No one man in the NBA can do it by himself and Curry has help in double-double guru David Lee and scorers Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes.

So what makes this team different from all of the promising Warriors lineups in the past that were loaded with top-tier talent?

The franchise now has a coach that predicates his teachings on defense and his team is taking a liking to being victorious more times than not. They are beginning to gel and look good in doing so. With Curry running the show, opposing teams are left to guess what is up his sleeve.

Sure, they will have to overcome injuries as the injury bug has already bitten them this season, but better that happen to them now than late March, early April.

The Warriors take to the road once again against the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on 12-12-2012. Maybe that will help them get the attention they deserve.

November 8, 2012

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NCAA Men’s Basketball Preview: 10 Teams That Could Win It All

By: Tyler Vespa

With the 2012-2013 college basketball season set to begin on Friday, this could be one of the most wide-open seasons in recent memory. I don’t believe there are one or two teams loaded with all the NBA talent as in past years with Kentucky.  To me, you see the result of that parity evident near the top of all the preseason polls with teams like Indiana, Michigan, and North Carolina State, who is picked to beat North Carolina in the ACC. Let the madness begin.

Will Louisville keep the National Championship in Kentucky?

With that I give you 10 teams that could win it all this season:

Indiana

Cody Zeller might be the best player in the country. Put that on top of key returners Christian Watford, Will Sheehey, and Victor Oladipo and an experienced coach in Tom Crean and the Hoosiers have arrived.

Louisville

Coach Rick Pitino has one of the best backcourts in the country with the trio of Peyton Siva, Wayne Blackshear and Russ Smith. The Louisville frontcourt is also extremely talented with Chane Behanen and Gorgui Dieng. With the additions of transfer Luke Hancock (George Mason) and 4-star recruit Montrezl Harrell, a national title might be “in the cards”.

Kentucky

With no returning starters, coach John Calipari has once again brought a fountain of youth with NBA talent. Top recruits Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress, and Archie Goodwin may not win a title, but a Final 4 is a strong possibility.

Michigan

Ann Arbor please welcome “The Next 5”. Coach John Beilein returns 3 starters with one of the best point guards in the country in Trey Burke, junior guard Tim Hardaway Jr. and center Jordan Morgan. The final two that make up “The Next 5” are 5-star recruit Glenn Robinson III on the wing and 4-star recruit Mitch McGary at power forward. The bench for the Wolverines adds great depth with senior Matt Vogrich and redshirt sophomore Jon Horford. With this combination of experience and young talent all may HAIL to the maize and blue.

Kansas

The Jayhawks lost their top 2 players in Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Coach Bill Self returns 3 seniors that started a year ago starting with pre-season All-American Jeff Withey at center, who at 7 feet is his own “block party” in the post. Experienced guards Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford complete the trio of returning starters. The key will be the adjustment of freshman Jamari Traylor, Perry Ellis and Ben McLemore. If that happens it will be “Rock Chalk” time in Lawrence.

North Carolina State

With the return of star forward C.J. Leslie, the Wolfpack now have 4 starters back from a season ago. The other 3 being guard Lorenzo Brown, and forwards Scott Wood and Richard Howell. If McDonald’s All-Americans’ Rodney Purvis, Tyler Lewis and T.J. Warren live up to the hype, this pack could go the distance for Coach Gottfried.

Syracuse

Although the Orange lost 4 of their 5 starters, the four replacements all gained great experience as role players last season. The lone returner, guard Brandon Triche has a lot of talent around him with backcourt partner Michael Carter-Williams, and forwards Rakeem Christmas, C.J. Fair and James Sutherland. Top recruits Jerami Grant and Dajuan Coleman must be ready to contribute for Coach Boeheim.

Florida

Billy Donovan’s Gators return 3 starters from last season’s Elite 8 team in point guard Kenny Boynton, center Patric Young and forward Eric Murphy. If role players Casey Prather, Will Yeguete, and Scottie Wilbekin can step into the spotlight and offer major contributions, they will “swamp” the competition come tournament time.

Michigan State

Losing a player like Draymond Green was always going to be a tall order. However, Tom Izzo still has a key core returning in point guard Keith Appling, forwards Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne and sophomore Branden Dawson who was on track to have a stellar year last season before his season-ending ACL injury. Top recruit Gary Harris will bring some key depth to a Spartans backcourt that is not as loaded as Izzo has had in past seasons.

San Diego State

I really like the Aztecs. Coach Steve Fisher returns 3 double-digit scorers from last season in Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and Xavier Thomas. Sophomore transfers James Johnson (Virginia), JJ O’Brien (Utah) and Dwayne Polee II (St. John’s) bring incredible depth and size to an already fast team. 4-star recruit Winston Shepard (Findlay Prep) will be in the running for freshman of the year. This “tribe” may rule come April.

November 2, 2011

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An Interview with Fran Tarkenton

By: Anson Whaley

(Editor’s note:  One lucky reader will WIN an autographed Fran Tarkenton Fathead!  Just leave a comment–along with a legit email address–on this article for your chance.  We’ll randomly select a winner at the end of the week.  Good luck!)

In the past decade, athletic quarterbacks like Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb have gotten a lot of press, but before any of them, there was Fran Tarkenton. In the 1960s and 1970s, Tarkenton was arguably the best quarterback in the NFL. He led the Minnesota Vikings to three Super Bowl appearances over his career, and he retired as the NFL’s all-time leader in completions, yardage, and touchdowns. We recently had a chance to catch up to Fran to ask him about a variety of topics including Tim Tebow, Monday Night Football, and his new fantasy football website FantasyFran.com.

Fathead Blog:  Many younger fans aren’t familiar with the AFL, but you were drafted in both the NFL Draft and the AFL Draft in 1961. Can you explain a bit how that happened and how you ended up signing with the Vikings instead of going to the AFL?

Fran Tarkenton:  There were two separate drafts for the two leagues, and you had to choose which league you were going to play in. I was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, an expansion franchise, in the NFL, and the Boston Patriots in the AFL draft. Minnesota offered me a $12,500 salary with a $3,500 bonus, while the Patriots offered me $15,000 with a $5,000 bonus. But I chose the Vikings because I had to prove to myself that I could make it in the big league. The NFL was certainly considered the dominant league at that time.

Fathead Blog: Soon after that, you played your first game. Most rookie quarterbacks struggle miserably, but you came out and threw four touchdown passes in your initial contest. We’re seeing a bit of that type of success with Cam Newton this season. How were you able to drastically shorten the adjustment period and become a contributor immediately? What’s the key to succeeding early on as a rookie quarterback?

Fran Tarkenton:  I had a coach who was a former quarterback himself in Norm Van Brocklin (who still holds the single game passing yardage record, and had won the NFL Championship with the Eagles as a player the year before). He was a brilliant offensive mind, and I learned from him. I listened to him, and I worked hard, and I used my brain. I learned and came to understand what I was supposed to be doing, and that helped me succeed right out of the gate.

Fathead Blog You were one of the first scrambling quarterbacks to have major success in the league. As the years have gone on, we’ve seen quite a few others – Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, and Steve Young, to name a few. Since you retired, who’s been the best you’ve seen?

Fran Tarkenton:  Michael Vick by far. He’s an athletic freak. The way he can just take off and run is amazing, and there’s nobody else really like him. Never in a million years would I expect the fastest player on the field in an NFL game to be a quarterback, but he is. When I scrambled, it was mainly to buy time to throw the ball downfield. Vick recently set the new record for rushing yards by a quarterback, and he’s only 31, because he’s able to pull the ball down and just take off.

Fathead Blog: Along those lines, Broncos’ QB Tim Tebow has been one of the most polarizing players in the league since he was drafted. Have you watched him play? Do you have any thoughts on him yet or is it still too early to tell in your opinion?

Fran Tarkenton:  I think Tim Tebow was a great college quarterback. But I’m not sure that he’ll be able to make it in the NFL. From what I’ve seen from his first few games, his ability to throw the ball is very questionable. Now that doesn’t mean he won’t succeed. He can prove me wrong and improve on his passing skills. He has all the other intangible things that you want from a quarterback, and I know he’s an incredibly hard worker. He’ll do everything he can to succeed, and I’m very curious to watch his career and see if he can do it.

Fathead Blog: Even as a great scrambler, you still were an incredible passer. Your 47,003 yards still rank 6th all-time. After you had some success it was probably easy to sell the idea of being a mobile quarterback, but was it ever difficult trying to convince coaches and other football personnel that it was possible to succeed with your style of play early in your career?

Fran Tarkenton:  All coaches want their quarterbacks to be able to make plays, put points on the board, and make first downs. Those are the measuring sticks. From the first game that I played, I was able to do that, and it’s like anything else: if you produce, you can play, but if you don’t they’ll get rid of you. My style of play drove the establishment nuts at the time, but the results were undeniable. The standard mold for a quarterback at the time was a big guy with a big arm who delivered the ball from the pocket. The scouting report on me was that I was small but slow, which, needless to say, didn’t fit the prototype. But football has always been measured by results, and people eventually learned to accept my style of play.

Fathead Blog: You once played in 71 consecutive games, spanning several seasons. It’s hard to do that at any position, but to do it as a quarterback is even more remarkable, in my opinion, because defenders are trying to knock them out of the game on every single passing play. What do you remember about that streak? Do you recall any of the injuries you played through to keep that streak going?

Fran Tarkenton:  I only missed 5 games my entire career because of injury. That was because I broke my leg against the Bengals in 1976. The other games I missed were because in the early years, we were so far out of the race that late in the season they would put in my backups to get them some playing time. I was able to avoid injury because I never took direct hits outside of the pocket. When I scrambled and ran, I had to learn to avoid big hits, because I got hit a lot early in my career playing for an expansion team. You have to avoid those hits to stay on the field, and I managed to avoid most of the big shots that knock players out of the game.

Fathead Blog: As a former Monday Night commentator, I’m curious about what you think of the current product. It’s obviously a different situation since the average consumer has hundreds of channels to pick from, but the broadcasting crew has changed so much over the years with guys like Dennis Miller, Tony Kornheiser, and Rush Limbaugh having come and gone fairly recently. It’s hard to build up a brand when the key personnel change so frequency. What are your thoughts on the show as it’s evolved over the years?

Fran Tarkenton:  I think Ron Jaworski, Jon Gruden, and Mike Tirico are great. This particular team has been together for a few years now, and I expect this team to stay together for a few more years. They work well together. It’s nice to have stability. Technology has changed so much, and the finished product is so much more polished and professional than when I was a part of Monday Night Football. They’re able to do things now that we couldn’t dream of doing then!

Fathead Blog: After retiring, you’ve had a number of successful ventures. Many athletes throw their names behind things, but you’ve been actively involved in those companies, including the recently launched fantasy football site, FantasyFran.com. Was going into business something you actively had your eye on as a player or did that desire come later?

Fran Tarkenton:  I didn’t wait until after I’d retired from football to go into business. I was starting up and running businesses the whole time I played. I actually got my first license to sell life insurance in 1959 for the Franklin Life Insurance Company. During my career, I did everything from life insurance to starting fast food chains to an industrial janitorial cleaning service!

Currently, I’m running a wide range of businesses, but my main focus is working with small business entrepreneurs and insurance professionals to make sure that they have all the tools they need to succeed. If anyone is interested in seeing what I have been up to, they can visit www.FranTarkenton.com.  FantasyFran.com is something we started doing for fun, because of how much I still love and watch football. We then realized that there was no place on the web for fantasy football players to get advice from people who’d been on the arena themselves! All the former players on the networks only give game analysis, not fantasy football. It’s something unique I could do, and have a lot of fun doing it! For 18 years, football was my profession, and it’s been my hobby ever since then. My outlook on the games and the players is one that I think is unique among all the voices out there.