January 16, 2013

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Why Tony Gonzalez is the Motivator for the Atlanta Falcons

By: Matt Bowen

The Atlanta Falcons finally won a playoff game, which has eluded them in the Matt Ryan era until their Divisional Round triumph over the Seattle Seahawks on January 13.

Can Matt Ryan take Tony Gonzalez to their first Super Bowl?

Now, they can focus on the task at hand.

The pressure of being the best regular season team since 2008, compiling a 56-22 record but going 0-3 in the playoffs is over. They have now shown they are a worthy No. 1 seed in the NFC.

All the Falcons need to do now is look at their future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez for motivation. Like Ryan, the win over the Seahawks was Gonzalez’s first playoff win. It’s hard to believe at 36 years old, with his credentials, he has never won until now, but it’s true.

You see, Gonzalez’s career lore is only growing—at this point he’s a living legend, his stature has almost reached mythical proportions. He’s almost like Superman—missing only two games out of the possible 256 regular season games in his lengthy 16-year career. Considering he plays the more physical position of tight end, that’s a rather jaw-dropping stat. He was the new-age hybrid tight end that is so popular across the NFL right now before there was such a thing.

His 1,242 career catches ranks second on the all-time list behind Jerry Rice’s 1,549. Gonzalez tallied an astounding 93 catches this season and has had 70-plus catches in 10 straight seasons. His 103 career touchdowns ranks No. 1 for tight ends and sixth overall. His 14,268 career receiving yards ranks seventh.

The Super Bowl is the ultimate goal for any NFL player/team and Gonzalez and the Falcons have unfinished business. Now that Ryan and the Falcons have hushed the critics, Gonzalez becomes the focal point. Sadly, this may be his last season in the league, as Father Time and the bumps and bruises of the NFL life eventually become too much for even superheroes like Gonzalez.

Even casual football fans will fall in love with Gonzalez in the coming days. He’s a class-act that every athlete should try to emulate.

Expect to hear stories of “Win one for the Gipper” style speeches coming from the Falcons organization soon. As the members of the Falcons sit in their locker room the rest of the season, the emotions that will be running through their souls as they peer at Gonzalez will be nearly overwhelming.

Not wanting to let him down, his teammates will reach never before seen heights in their upcoming NFC Championship Game.

When the Falcons host the San Francisco 49ers keep Gonzalez in mind. One can’t help but root for him.

December 28, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

For the majority of NFL teams, there is just one game left in the season. Some of them know who they are. I’m talking to you Kansas City and Jacksonville. Others enter week 17 in do or die mode. You hear me Washington and Dallas? No matter who you are rooting for, this post season is setting up to be a great one. Now on to the rankings.

A Vikings win over Green Bay could set-up a rematch in the first round of the playoffs.

1 Atlanta Falcons (13-2) — The Falcons have clinched the top seed in the NFC and won’t have to play outside again until next season. Let’s see how they handle three weeks between meaningful games.

2 New England Patriots (11-4)Tom Brady was a big part of my fantasy championship winning team. You don’t care. Neither does he.

3 San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) — You think the Cardinals are excited about facing an angry 49ers team that was completely embarrassed in Seattle? I think not.

4 Denver Broncos (12-3)Peyton Manning and Von Miller have the Broncos ready for a Super Bowl run. They haven’t lost since Oct. 7 and just need to beat the Chiefs to get a bye.

5 Green Bay Packers (11-4) — The Packers will have a bye if they beat the Vikings on Sunday. If they lose, they could get the Vikings again in the first round.

6 Houston Texans (12-3)Houston needs a win in Indy to claim the AFC’s top seed. Otherwise they will probably host the Bengals in the first round.

7 Seattle Seahawks (10-5) — Pete Carroll’s squad could still win the NFC West, but they are probably headed to Washington or Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.

8 Baltimore Ravens (10-5) — Are the Ravens back? They looked very good against the reeling Giants and will host the Colts or Bengals in the first round.

9 Washington Redskins (9-6) — The Skins are 6-0 since they had their bye week but it’s going to have to be 7-0 for them to win the NFC East.

10 Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)Andy Dalton finally got his first win against the Steelers. The Bengals will be the No. 6 seed and play at Houston, Denver, New England or Baltimore in the first round.

11 Dallas Cowboys (8-7) — Once again the Cowboys head into week 17 with everything on the line. You can bet this will come down to the fourth quarter.

12 Indianapolis Colts (10-5) — The turnaround of the Colts is one of the most impressive stories in the NFL. They are here to stay too.

13 Minnesota Vikings (9-6) — Wins over the Bears, Rams and Texans have the Vikings in control of their destiny. A win over the Packers would get them a playoff rematch in Green Bay.

14 New Orleans Saints (7-8) — Finishing at .500 would be pretty impressive considering all the drama in New Orleans this season.

15 Chicago Bears (9-6) — The Bears need to beat the reeling Lions and then root for Green Bay to knock off the Vikings.

16 New York Giants (8-7) — The defending champs have lost five of seven and need lots of help on Sunday to sneak into the playoffs.

17 Miami Dolphins (7-8) — If the season was 18 games like the commissioner wanted, the Dolphins would have a good shot to get in with the way they are playing.

18 St. Louis Rams (7-7-1) — After finishing 2-14 last season, the Rams are one of the most improved teams in 2012.

19 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) — Five losses in six games is not how the Steelers saw the stretch run going and they are out of the playoff hunt.

20 Carolina Panthers (6-9) — The Panthers waited too long to get hot. They have been one of the better teams after starting 2-8.

21 Tennessee Titans (5-10) — Clearly they are ready for the offseason. Nobody likes going to Green Bay in December but losing 55-7 is as bad as it gets.

22 New York Jets (6-9) — Looks like the Jets could go three for three on getting rid of quarterbacks this offseason. Should be interesting.

23 San Diego Chargers (6-9) — Beating the Raiders would give the Chargers a 3-1 finish but it won’t be good enough to save everybody’s jobs. Changes are coming.

24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) — The Bucs won four straight to climb into the playoff hunt…then lost five in a row to fall out of it.

25 Arizona Cardinals (5-10) — It doesn’t appear that the Cardinals know who their quarterback is. But have they at least figured out who their quarterback isn’t?

26 Detroit Lions (4-11) — Were these guys really in the playoffs last year? What happened?

27 Cleveland Browns (5-10) — The Browns are making progress. Winning in Pittsburgh on Sunday would be another step forward.

28 Buffalo Bills (5-10) — Will either team show up when the Bills and Jets meet in the season finale?

29 Oakland Raiders (4-11) — If it wasn’t for beating the Chiefs twice, the Raiders could have the worst record in the league.

30 Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) — Will the Eagles knock the defending champs out of the hunt or improve their draft position?

31 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) — The Jags already beat Tennessee once. If they do it again, it could cost them the first pick in the draft.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) — Don’t expect the Chiefs to finish with a win in Denver against the hottest team in the league.

December 5, 2012

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Things to Watch Down the Stretch of the 2012 NFL Season

By: Matt Bowen

With less than a handful of weeks left in the 2012 NFL season, the playoff picture begins to become clear and individual records start to become threatened. This season is no different as fans everywhere will be glued to their televisions until the waning seconds of the season as history will be made.

Could RG3 become the first rookie to ever lead the league in quarterback rating?

The current climate in the playoff picture is far from clear, meaning that every snap counts, ensuring fans excitement until zeros read across the clock in the final game of Week 17. Right now, there are 22 teams still in contention for the playoffs and even the teams who are out of the picture thrive on playing the spoiler for the fortunate ones.

The AFC has more separation than the NFC in terms of sure bets for playoff locks, but anything goes with only four games remaining for most teams. The teams that execute well, avoid mistakes and strike it lucky by winning the war of attrition will be rewarded. Right now the Cincinnati Bengals are 7-5 and  have the best shot of getting invited to the party, but the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets still have a shot at 5-7. Things may not be too bright for those teams, but crazier things have happened.

The NFC is where things are the most interesting. 12 teams still have hopes of making the playoffs and right now only one team, the Atlanta Falcons, are a sure bet. Three teams that are also in at the moment, the Green Bay Packers, New York Giants and Chicago Bears all have four losses. The Seattle Seahawks are currently the caboose at 7-5 while the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins and Minnesota Vikings are nipping at their heels at 6-6.  The St. Louis Rams and New Orleans Saints still cling to the dream with five wins a piece. The battle in the NFC will go down to the wire and be a delight for all football fans.

On an individual level, there are a few guys that are must-see TV the rest of the way.

First of all, watch rookie quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III whenever you can, it’s simply a must. Luck is going to break the rookie record for passing yards and already has five comeback wins while RG3 is as efficient as they come. Both kids are phenoms—Luck is more of a gunslinger at the moment and RG3 just doesn’t make many mistakes. Right now the Redskins rookie has a quarterback rating of 104.6, which ties him with the Denver Broncos‘ Peyton Manning and is only .4 away from the league leader, Aaron Rodgers. A rookie has never earned the highest rating and that is something a rookie may never do again. The maturity of both RG3 and Luck is something this league has never seen.

Can you believe that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing with only four weeks remaining?

Me neither, but Peterson’s 1,446 yards thus far are 308 more than Marshawn Lynch, who is currently second in the NFL. Face it, Peterson won’t be caught and believe it or not, he’s going to flirt with 2,000 yards. Right now he’s on pace for 1,928 rushing yards, but he’s had six, yes six straight games with 100-plus yards. He may not surpass Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 yards in 1984, but the 2,000-yard plateau has only been eclipsed six times in history. Considering Peterson had major knee surgery in January, one can’t help but root for him. He has to average 138.5 in the final four games but considering that he’s averaged 157 yards/game over his last six, the landmark isn’t out of reach yet.

There’s a pair of teammates in Detroit that may both make history by season’s end. While the Lions season has been a disappointment, quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson are something special. Stafford’s 3,742 passing yards currently lead the league and he’s on pace for 4,989. That’s dangerously close to 5,000 yards, which he accomplished last season. Stafford is one of only four quarterbacks to ever reach that number and if he has a second-straight season reaching that golden mark, he would become the first quarterback ever to do it in back-to-back season.

Stafford’s teammate and go-to-guy, Johnson is on track to break some ridiculous records. Currently he’s had five consecutive games with at least 125 receiving yards. A sixth-straight game would put him in a class all by himself. Something else that could set Megatron apart from the field is the fact that he’s on track to have the most single-season receiving yards in NFL history. He currently has 1,428 yards and is on pace for 1,904, which would put him past NFL legend Jerry Rice, who set the record in 1995 with 1,848. Once a record thought never to be broken, Johnson is ready to smash it. This is something that can’t be ignored. Although the Lions may not be in the hunt, Johnson sure is.

November 29, 2012

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Why the Cincinnati Bengals are Legitimate Super Bowl Sleepers

By: Matt Bowen

The NFL playoffs are quickly approaching and the postseason picture couldn’t be cloudier at the moment. As a die-hard NFL fan, that’s what is great about the game. With so many games coming down to the wire on a weekly basis, the human imagination runs a marathon every Sunday with all the possibilities for the “second season.” Fans want nail-biting, bone-crunching action and the NFL delivers with regularity. Something fans love is debating the true sleeper teams and the Cincinnati Bengals should be feared this season.

Can the Bengals replicate the run the Giants made to the Super Bowl last season?

Now in the final quarter of the year, every team around the league is either gearing up for the final push toward the postseason or looking to spoil the party for their opponents.

So, who will win the Super Bowl? Well, only time will tell as the games have yet to be played, but there’s plenty of room for speculation.

Everybody knows that the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons are sitting pretty at 10-1 and will be favorites in the postseason, but having one of the best regular season records does not guarantee the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Often it’s not the team that is tops throughout the season, but the team that gets hot at the right time.

Super Bowl sleepers are always dangerous this time of year as out of nowhere everything things seems to come together and these teams begin to fire on all cylinders.

In the recent past the Green Bay Packers of 2010 and New York Giants of 2011 fumbled through much the regular season only to catch fire late and carry that momentum all the way to a championship. This year, that team is the Bengals.

Yes, the Bengals are the most dangerous sleeper to make a serious push for the Super Bowl this season. Gone are the days of being the doormat of the NFL and a real laughing stock; the Bengals are for real.

Led by quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals are currently 6-5, riding a three-game winning streak and are within reach of the playoffs. The best thing that happened to this young, revamped team this year may have been a four-game losing streak.

Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth commented that the team “relaxed” after a 3-1 start and thought that winning in the NFL would come easy to them. After a month of losing the Bengals did something that hasn’t been seen in Cincinnati since the late 1980’s—they collected themselves and never quit.

After a surprise trip to the playoffs in 2011, the Bengals were written off as a one-year wonder. Behind Dalton and a tough dose of NFL reality in 2012, the team is headed in the right direction.

The Bengals offense is growing on a weekly basis.  Having a top-five NFL receiver in A.J. Green, an up-and-coming touchdown target in rookie Mohamed Sanu and a dependable running back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis doesn’t hurt. What Green accomplishes on Sunday afternoons is special; he makes the game look simple. His 10 receiving touchdown are currently tied with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for tops in the league.

The defense plays with a serious chip on their shoulder and most importantly, the team is having fun. The team that plays together stays together and for a second straight season the playoffs are on the horizon for the Bengals. The fact that they are on the outside of the playoffs looking in right now gives them even more fuel.

A win over their divisional foe Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 to clinch a spot in the postseason will give them all the confidence they need. The Bengals are the team of the future.

Who Dey!

October 29, 2012

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Today we’ll be debuting a new feature – ‘The Week in Sports.’ That’s hopefully a temporary name until we can come up with something a little more catchy (patience is required since that might be a while). Here’s a brief look at what happened in the world of sports in the past week.

Giants sweep Tigers in World Series – A little thing called the ‘World Series’ kicked off … and ended. The Giants soundly defeated the Tigers in a four-game sweep over the weekend and the Series seemed like it was over before it even began. It was San Francisco’s second championship in only three years and all of a sudden, Bruce Bochy has become one of the hottest managers in all of baseball.

The Giants are the 2012 World Series champions.

James Harden traded to Rockets – The Oklahoma City Thunder traded a big piece of their team, the NBA’s best sixth man, James Harden. He was sent to the Houston Rockets along with a few minor players in exchange for scoring guard Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb, and three draft picks (including two first-rounders). My initial reaction when the Thunder moved Harden was that it was foolish. But when I saw how much they got in return, it was hard to argue with the move. Martin is an all-star caliber guard, Lamb was the 12th overall pick in this year’s draft, and two potentially high picks is a lot to get back. That said, the Rockets are getting maybe the best beard in the NBA in return … so there’s that.

Is London ready for the NFL?New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft said this week that London is ready to have an NFL team after hosting a few games. They may have the fan-base for it, but logistically it could be a bit of a headache to get eight teams to make that trip out there every year. In addition, will the team’s players really want to play in an entirely different country and live so far from family and friends? I’m not sure a franchise in London is all that feasible.

Marcus Lattimore injurySouth Carolina star running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a gruesome injury over the weekend in their game against Tennessee. If you saw it, it was ugly. If you didn’t and want a glimpse (despite my highest recommendations against it), here you go. The good news is that head coach Steve Spurrier said it’s an injury from which he can come back and the hopes are that he’ll be playing again. Lattimore’s been a big part of the team’s success this year.

Atlanta Falcons still undefeated – I’m not sure if the 1972 Miami Dolphins are getting antsy yet, but the Falcons stayed unbeaten with a win over the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend. Now, Atlanta’s played well, but they don’t have that superhuman look that other recent teams have had. They’re 7-0, but four of their games have been decided by a touchdown or less. The verdict? Don’t expect them to finish the season without a blemish.

Frankenstorm is coming – No, it’s not sports-related, but working ‘Frankenstorm’ into this column was a must.

Astros’ new logo leaked – With the Houston Astros’ move to the American League next season, the franchise planned to release a new logo this week. Unfortunately, the MLB offices didn’t get the memo and advertised the logo on products online. #Oops

Updated BCS standings – After No. 2 Florida was upset by Georgia on Saturday, Notre Dame and Kansas State moved up in the latest BCS rankings. The Irish leapfrogged Oregon, who remained at No. 4. With top-ranked Alabama in the mix, the top four teams all play in different conferences (including Notre Dame, who’s independent, of course). That means all four could theoretically go undefeated causing a major logjam near the top. College football’s proposed playoff can’t come soon enough.