October 18, 2013

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Manning vs. Luck: Game of the Decade?

By: Matt Bowen

The day of reckoning is upon us—Peyton Manning makes his return to Indianapolis on Oct. 20 to face-off against his successor, Andrew Luck.

After being drafted as his successor, Andrew Luck will always be linked to Peyton Manning.

When the Denver Broncos take the field against the Colts on Sunday it will be the game of the decade. TV ratings will prove this thought. Not only is Manning coming back to Indy for the first time since being left out in the pasture, both teams are pretty good. The 6-0 Broncos, led by Manning seem to be Super Bowl bound. Meanwhile, the Luck-led Colts are 4-2 and look to contend for a playoff position for the second time in as many years.

Both Manning and Luck are calmly downplaying the situation, as Manning will be honored before the game for his time spent in Indianapolis. All he did was resurrect the once futile franchise. After 14 years, a Super Bowl victory and 54,828 passing yards in Indy, he was released in 2012 after having multiple neck surgeries. Keep in mind that he missed the entire 2011 season and his career was in jeopardy. The franchise let him go after tanking that season in order to obtain the No. 1 draft selection and the most hyped college quarterback since Manning himself.

Luck was it and was taken by Indianapolis at the top spot. Colts fans may still hold a grudge against the team for doing so, but replacing Manning with Luck is something 31 other NFL organizations would love to do.

The comparisons between the two quarterbacks are remarkable:

Both had NFL dad’s that played the position themselves—Archie Manning spent many years with the New Orleans Saints, Oliver Luck with the Houston Oilers. Both Peyton and Andrew have been surrounded by football their entire live.

Here’s one that probably irks both competitive souls to this day—both Manning and Luck were heavy Heisman favorites heading into their senior seasons but finished a close second. Manning, a Tennessee Volunteer lost to Charles Woodson of Michigan in 1997. Luck, a Stanford Cardinal lost to Robert Griffin III of Baylor in 2011.

The obvious one—both went No. 1 to the Colts in their respected NFL drafts.

They may be the two most intelligent quarterbacks to ever call a game. What Manning does at the line of scrimmage is a thing of beauty and don’t think that Luck doesn’t learn from the best.

Right now, Manning looks like he’ll end up as the greatest to ever play the game, while Luck is only a decade or so behind him. It may be hard to compare numbers now, but Luck did finish his rookie campaign with the most passing yards in history with 4,374. Keep in mind that he did this while only throwing 54.1 percent. He also threw the ball an average of 39.1 times per game in 2012. Through six games in 2013, Luck has only averaged 31 attempts per. His completion percentage is at 61.8 and his game is only growing. While his numbers may not mirror his rookie year, the fact that his percentage is swelling is a great sign for the future. In a game of numbers, efficiency will always win.

Manning jumped from 56.7 to 62.1 in completion percentage in his second season and currently sits at 65.5 for his career. Expect Luck to reach the 65 percent mark before he calls it quits.

Sunday’s matchup is the Game of the Year thus far. Actually, it’s the game of the decade. Manning may be downplaying his return, but deep down all fans know that he wants to set career highs in all categories.

Don’t write-off Luck and the Colts quite yet. Nobody thought they would beat the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5 at home, but they did. If Luck leads his team to victory the football world may be turned upside down while the hype machine surrounding Luck will be turned up to 11.

Regardless of which team wins, expect both men to shine. Come Sunday, take the time and witness something special. Only when they meet again in the playoffs will we see something so pure.

January 8, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 4, 2013

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Why the Seattle Seahawks Are The NFL’s Most Dangerous Playoff Team

By: Matt Bowen

Coming into the 2012 NFL season the Seattle Seahawks were the league’s most puzzling team. Now, just days away from the playoffs, the Seahawks are the NFL’s most dangerous team.

Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks are taking a lot of momentum into the playoffs.

Last offseason the organization brought in quarterback Matt Flynn to be the starter, a move that was promising but unproven. Bringing in a career backup quarterback to become the franchise cornerstone hasn’t had positive results of late in the NFL.

Draft day brought them a first-round pick in defensive end Bruce Irvin from West Virginia that caused Twitter to explode with laughter. The Seahawks got the last laugh as Irvin tallied eight sacks in his rookie campaign. His speed off the edge gives every team a dynamic they must have to be considered a winner.

Heading into training camp, the team had a three-way duel for the starting quarterback with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, the aforementioned Flynn and surprise rookie quarterback Russell Wilson from Wisconsin. Jackson was traded before the season even began and Flynn has only thrown nine passes all season long. It was Wilson who won the job outright and has made the most of his opportunity.

In a season that was touted as the best quarterback class to ever enter the NFL, Wilson is a major reason why. Sure, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Washington Redskins shot caller Robert Griffin III went Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2012 NFL draft, but it was Wilson who tied Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for touchdown tosses by a rookie with 26.

So, why is Wilson so good?

Because he doesn’t do much wrong, he makes smart plays and doesn’t try to be a hero on every snap. One would say he’s wise beyond his years. In comparison to Manning’s rookie season, Wilson has thrown just 10 interceptions all season while Manning chucked up a whopping 28.

Wilson’s mobility also helped in his success this season, knowing when to tuck-and-run while having the football IQ of when to get down and live to see another day. His solid 5.2 yards/carry on 94 runs with four touchdowns proves to be a viable weapon in his arsenal.

He doesn’t wow all the time, but his calm demeanor in the face of adversity is to be respected. Truth is he does just about everything right. His quarterback rating of an even 100 is evidence of this, which was good for fourth-best in the league this season behind Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, Manning and Griffin III.

Nothing helps a rookie like a proven, tough-as-nails veteran running back like Marshawn Lynch. “Beast Mode” is his nickname and he fits the bill. He finished with 1,590 rushing yards this season and has 2,794 in his first two full seasons in Seattle. Thanks to the balance that Lynch brings to the offense it must be a nightmare for opposing coaches to try to create a game plan to stop the Seahawks.

Not to be overlooked, the team has arguably the loudest fans in the league and their 8-0 record at home this season gives weight to this debate. The “12th Man” is impressive on a weekly basis.

Another reason why the Seahawks are so fierce is their ferocious defense. Yes, the team is currently riding a five-game win streak in which they’ve scored 193 points, but the defense has set the tone in every game and even contributed with four touchdowns during the streak.

The core-four members of the secondary, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have appropriately been dubbed the “Legion of Boom.” They wreak havoc on a play-by-play basis and are out to prove that they are the best in the entire league.

They will get their chance to show the football world just that when they travel to the nation’s capital to face the Washington Redskins on January 6, 2013 as the anchor game on Wild Card Weekend. This is a game of things to come for the NFL. This game guarantees to be a great matchup as these teams will be two of the best for years to come.

Wilson vs. RG3, Lynch vs. Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris, who set the all-time franchise record with 1,613 rushing yards this season, what more could fans ask for?

Just remember, the Seahawks are built to win now.

January 2, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Adrian Peterson barely misses Eric Dickerson’s record: I’ll admit that I was among the doubters not believing that Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson could break Eric Dickerson’s long-standing record of 2,105 rushing yards in a season. But Peterson shocked me (and probably a lot of other people) in rushing for 199 yards, coming much closer than expected. In the end, he fell only nine yards short of the goal and despite the happy face he may put on this week, it’s hard to imagine he’s not at least a bit disappointed. Peterson still should have a few more productive seasons ahead of him, but reaching the rarefied air that he did this year may never happen again. Even if it doesn’t, though, congratulations are in order for an MVP-type season and one of the best ever for a running back. Plus, the win over the Packers gave the Vikings a playoff berth and ultimately, that’s a pretty nice consolation prize for Peterson.

Drafted in April, Andrew Luck is now taking the Colts to the NFL Playoffs.

Avery Johnson fired as coach of Nets: The Brooklyn Nets made a fairly surprising move by firing head coach Avery Johnson. Assistant P.J. Carlesimo is leading the way for now, but the franchise also has an eye on Phil Jackson. For Johnson, it was a tale of two months. The former NBA guard had the Nets out to an 11-4 start in November and looking like one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. But then came a 3-10 stretch in December and that ultimately cost him his job. Part of the reason for that downfall can be attributed to the loss of star center Brook Lopez, who missed six games due to injury. But with so much talent, more was expected of the team at this point in the season. Johnson should get another opportunity with a different team down the line, though. Before serving as the Nets’ coach, he led the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs in each of his four years with the franchise and also took them to the NBA Finals in 2006.

Hideki Matsui retires: Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui ended his long career by officially announcing his retirement last week. Matsui spent a total of 20 seasons playing Japanese and American baseball and in ten major league seasons, he hit 175 home runs and batted .282 with the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Angels, Tampa Bay Rays, and Oakland Athletics. Even factoring in his 332 home runs in Japan, Matsui still isn’t a likely Hall of Famer. But he was certainly an above-average major leaguer. Matsui finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year Award in 2003, was a two-time All-Star, and won a World Series Most Valuable Player Award.

Three Rookie quarterbacks make playoffs: When a rookie quarterback leads a team to the NFL playoffs, it’s a big accomplishment. When three do it in the same year, it’s probably time to call the Mayans for another apocalyptic prediction. That’s what happened this year as the ColtsAndrew Luck, the RedskinsRobert Griffin III, and the SeahawksRussell Wilson led their franchises to the postseason. The amazing thing is that none were just along for the ride, either. Luck broke the rookie passing record, throwing for more than 4,100 yards this season, while Griffin had the NFL’s second-best passer rating and Wilson tallied 26 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards.

Kevin Ollie named permanent UConn head coach: Ollie, a former player, was named as UConn’s permanent head men’s basketball coach with a reported five-year deal. Following the retirement of Jim Calhoun, Ollie was given the job on a sort of trial run with only a one-year deal. But so far this season, he’s steered the Huskies to a 9-2 record and convinced the administration that he was capable of leading the program. Replacing Calhoun is a tough task and Ollie will have his work cut out for him if he wants to achieve as much as the former coach did. The key here is that the new deal will make things much easier for him on recruiting. Instead of telling prospective players that he hopes to still be on the job next year, he can now virtually assure them that he will.

Brandon Roy hopes to continue comeback bid: Just a few years ago, Brandon Roy was one of the top young guards in the NBA. In his first four seasons with the Portland Trailblazers, Roy averaged nearly 20 points a game and made three All-Star teams. But knee issues forced him to suddenly retire after a disappointing 2010-11 season. Roy made a comeback this year with the Minnesota Timberwolves, but is still suffering with the condition and has only appeared in a few games so far this year. Roy has weighed another retirement, but is hoping to get back on the court after dealing with the chronic knee pain. The decision has to be difficult for him. He’s still young enough that he could have several seasons in front of him if the pain can be treated. But at some point, the conditioning day in and day out to be able to play has to be a burden.

December 27, 2012

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Tim Tebow reportedly asks out of Wildcat packages: Many news outlets reported over the weekend that New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow asked not to be utilized in the team’s wildcat package on offense for this weekend’s game. According to the report, Tebow has been disappointed at not being named as the starter after Mark Sanchez was benched. His frustration can be understood to a degree as the Jets went with unproven rookie Greg McElroy, but if the reports are true, that’s a bad move on his part. Above all else, Tebow has to be a reliable member of the team and play as requested by the coaches – even if he doesn’t feel he’s being utilized properly. If he feels he’s being treated unfairly, he can always ask for a way out. But as long as he’s being paid by the franchise and is a member of the team, Tebow should participate in any way the coaches see fit.

Since benching Mark Sanchez, the quarterback situation for the New York Jets has gotten even cloudier.

Cleveland Indians sign Nick Swisher: The Cleveland Indians made a bit of a splash in MLB free agency by signing outfielder Nick Swisher away from the Yankees. Swisher hit 24 home runs and drove in nearly 100 runs in New York last year and will provide a boost to the Cleveland offense. The move is especially helpful for the Tribe as they recently traded away Shin-Soo Choo. And at 32 having had a pretty healthy career, Swisher should still have a few more years left in the tank.

Jabari Parker commits to Duke, reports backlash: High School basketball sensation Jabari Parker, widely regarded as one of the top two recruits in the class of 2013 committed to Duke last week. Afterwards, he reported being harassed on Twitter. He responded by saying he’s ‘just a kid’, but the fact is that it’s just something he’ll have to learn to deal with. Having a Twitter account is one thing athletes use to connect better with fans, but the flipside is that not everyone will be thrilled with what they do or say. I’m not condoning harassment of athletes on the social media site (particularly ones still in high school), but Parker will need to realize it’s only going to get worse as he advances to college and, presumably, the NBA.

Indianapolis Colts clinch playoff berth: The Colts did the unthinkable this weekend by making the NFL playoffs with rookie quarterback Andrew Luck at the helm. When the Colts decided to make the difficult move to transition away from Peyton Manning, most figured it would take a few years to get back to the postseason. But Luck not only had a monster rookie campaign, breaking Cam Newton’s rookie season passing record, he’s led Indianapolis to an unthinkable ten wins so far. The Colts’ management has to be absolutely pleased with the way things have worked out under Luck. He was expected to be a star in the league, but few could have seen this much success in only his first year.

DeMarcus Cousins in trouble … again: Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins was recently suspended indefinitely by the team for conduct detrimental to the team. The exact reason hasn’t been specified, but Cousins and coach Keith Smart reportedly argued in the locker room at halftime of a recent game and the player was benched in the second half. Cousins wasn’t even permitted to leave the locker room during the benching. Even worse was the fact that this isn’t his first brush with trouble this season. Cousins was suspended for a game after striking the Dallas MavericksO.J. Mayo in the groin earlier this month. He was also suspended by the league for two games after an incident with San Antonio Spurs’ announcer and former player Sean Elliott back in November. For his part in the locker room incident with Smart, Cousins has since admitted he was wrong. But the Kings may be fed up with his actions lately and the indefinite suspension could last a while. If so, you have to applaud management since Cousins is the team leader in points, rebounds, and steals, and one of the few attractions the franchise has.

Texas’ Myck Kabongo has season-long suspension cut: Texas guard Myck Kabongo was recently suspended by the NCAA for the rest of this season, but last week had it cut to 23 games. Kabongo reportedly lied to the school about receiving improper gifts, but was found to have not lied to the NCAA. More alarming for me, though, was Texas coach Rick Barnes who said his thoughts are with Myck and his family and that he ‘feels’ for him. So let’s get this straight – a player lies to the school that provides him with a free education and a place to display his athletic talents, but is then treated as if he did nothing wrong and is virtually being tortured. Got it. I don’t deny that everyone makes mistakes, but Kabongo deserves to sit this time out. Instead of feeling bad for him, Barnes would sound much more credible if he said he was disappointed in his actions.