January 31, 2013

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Super Bowl XLVII Predictions

By: Matt Bowen

Super Bowl XLVII is now just days away, which leaves fans to ponder how many pounds of nachos they’ll serve up to their friends and what exactly will transpire in the big game in the Big Easy.

Making predictions is half the fun when it comes to the Super Bowl. NFL fans know that most of the iconic Super Bowl moments have come unexpectedly, and there will no doubt be a few of those this year.

Let’s get to it:

Jacoby Jones Will Take the Opening Kickoff Back for a Touchdown

The Baltimore Ravens acquired Jacoby Jones in the offseason primarily to be an instant threat in the return game. Jones hasn’t disappointed this season as he returned two kicks and a punt for touchdowns.

He’s also a viable weapon as a No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Terrey Smith. Just ask the Denver Broncos if Jones is a difference maker. They seemingly forgot about him in their Divisional Round playoff matchup as he marched into the end zone after a bomb from quarterback Joe Flacco that sent the game to overtime.

Here’s the kicker—Jones is a native of New Orleans, and he’ll be more than ready to steal the show. With his blood flowing early, he’ll start the game off with a bang.

Alex Smith Will Make an Appearance

The San Francisco 49ers made a bold move this season when they benched then starting quarterback Alex Smith for second-year man Colin Kaepernick.

Smith, a former No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft was finally beginning to look like a No. 1 pick. He was coming off arguably the best game of his career, going 18-for-19 for 232 yards and three touchdowns against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 8.

Just when it was looking like Smith had solidified himself, a concussion knocked him out of Week 10 against the St. Louis Rams and inevitably changed the course of his career.

In came Kaepernick, who undoubtedly optimized the Niners offense and propelled them to the Super Bowl.

So, this is the end of Smith, right?

Wrong!

He’ll make an appearance in the Super Bowl and even throw an 18-yard touchdown to tight end Vernon Davis.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh knows he has to pack a bag full of tricks if he’s to beat a veteran Ravens defense. Smith will be one of those tricks, and he’ll make the most of it. On the first possession of the second half, Smith will make his mark.
Justin Tucker Will Kick the Longest Field Goal in Super Bowl History

The Baltimore Ravens made some noise this preseason when they tapped rookie Justin Tucker from the University of Texas to be their place kicker this season.

Tucker proved he’s the man for the job, going 30-for-33 on the season and even notching four field goals longer than 50 yards.

The Super Bowl record for longest field goal is a 54-yarder from Steve Christie of the Buffalo Bills against the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXVIII.

Tucker will top that by booting a 56-yard field goal with 3:13 left in the third quarter. He’ll show the world just why the Ravens made a great choice when they chose him.

Randy Moss Will Walk the Walk

In case you haven’t heard, Randy Moss has named himself the “Greatest of All Time” during media day at the Super Bowl this season.

Considering he’s a member of the San Francisco 49ers, that’s a bold statement.

Although his career numbers don’t compare to Hall of Fame 49er Jerry Rice’s, Moss will make a big impact in the Super Bowl. Love him or hate him, he’s really good.

It’s long been known that Moss shows up when he wants to, and, considering it’s the Super Bowl, he’ll be open for business.

The Ravens will have their hands full trying to keep track of receiver Michael Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis. Moss will slip by the secondary for an early second quarter touchdown. Don’t be surprised when he is booed after reaching the end zone.

In the end, he’ll have four catches for 84 yards and a touchdown.

Joe Flacco Will Stamp Himself as Elite

Why there’s still a debate to whether Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is elite or not beats me.  All the guy does is win.  Sure, it may not always be pretty, but a win is a win.

Flacco will be a free agent in the offseason, but don’t expect him to leave Baltimore—he’s there to stay.  Taking Super Bowl MVP honors will certainly boost his pocketbook during bargaining.

He may not be the flashiest quarterback, but he’ll have a Super Bowl ring to show off.

In his MVP performance he’ll go 22-for-30 with 301 passing yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning drive that will end in a Ray Rice 12-yard screen pass touchdown.

Final Score: Ravens 24, 49ers 20

August 16, 2011

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College Football Teams Most Likely To Go Undefeated This Season

By: Joe Williams

The first college football game is just a couple weeks away. As always, we can expect a season full of blowouts, upsets and thrilling finishes. And of course there will be the talk of why the BCS stinks and we should have a playoff. Chances are most of that talk will come in a few months time when a few college teams are still undefeated and trying to snag one of the spots in the BCS Championship game. It’s never too early to start looking at who might be in the mix. Here are a few teams that have a shot to finish the season without a loss and play for the BCS Championship.

Oklahoma

The Sooners are at the top of just about every preseason poll. Starting the season at No. 1 doesn’t mean they will have an easy road, but if they can run the table; they won’t have to worry about being left out of the title game. The toughest test could be an early season showdown with No. 5 Florida State in Tallahassee. If the Seminoles don’t knock the Sooners off the top of the poll, No. 21 Missouri, No. 24 Texas, No. 9 Texas A&M, and No. 8 Oklahoma St. will all have their shot at Oklahoma. And if the Sooners do win all those games, thanks to Nebraska and Colorado leaving the Big 12, they won’t have to win a conference championship game.

 

Oregon

LaMichael James and Darron Thomas both return for an offense that led the nation in scoring last season. There is no doubt they will put points on the board. The question is whether the defense will make enough stops. The Ducks have two giant hurdles to cross if they are going to get back to the BCS Championship game. They will take on No. 4 LSU at a neutral site in Dallas in the biggest game of the opening weekend. If they get past the Tigers and stay perfect, a Nov. 12 visit to No.6 Stanford and Andrew Luck has potential to be the biggest game of the season.

Stanford

Speaking of the Cardinal, Luck turned down millions to return to school for his senior season. The question is; will he have enough help with head coach Jim Harbaugh gone to coach the San Francisco 49ers. Stanford will need the offensive line to protect Luck and he will need a couple reliable targets to throw to. If a few players can step up and help him, the schedule is manageable. That is, if they can get past Oregon. USC and Notre Dame are the most likely to knock Stanford off if Oregon can’t.

Boise State

The Broncos were a missed kick away from finishing undefeated last season. They would have landed a BCS bowl bid but not in the national title game. If multiple BCS schools are unbeaten (as Auburn and Oregon were last season), the Broncos don’t have much chance of finishing ahead of them. Quarterback Kellen Moore is back along with several starters on both sides of the ball. The Broncos open the season at No. 22 Georgia and will host No. 15 TCU in November. The question for this team is not whether they can go undefeated. They have done that before. The question is: IF they go undefeated WILL they get enough help from other teams knocking off the BCS powerhouse teams in front of them?

August 1, 2011

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End of NFL Lockout Brings Flurry of Activity

By: Anson Whaley

At long last (okay, it wasn’t that long), the NFL Lockout is over. With operations just now getting underway, there’s not much time to lose. Teams are signing players at a moment’s notice and the season will be here before you know it. In only about a week’s time, we’ve seen enough developments to fill up several months of normal offseason activity. Here are the top ten … so far.

10. 49ers Hold Steady with Alex Smith – San Francisco was expected to bring back the underachieving Smith and they did just that by re-signing him. To be honest, I don’t understand this move as Smith has progressed at a pace slow enough to make a snail envious over the past five years. But new head coach Jim Harbaugh was determined to give him another shot so the 49ers will again operate with him under center. Smith does know the offense, but knowing and executing in the NFL are two entirely different things.

9. Cam Newton Signs with Panthers – Sure, Newton was expected to sign, but already? With so little time before camp, Newton didn’t have much leverage if he didn’t want to risk alienating fans. The No. 1 overall pick is off to a fine start by reportedly signing the four-year $22 million deal shortly after the lockout’s end.

8. Reggie Bush Dealt to Miami – As if Ricky Williams’ fate weren’t sealed already with the drafting of rookie Daniel Thomas, adding Bush to the roster all but assured he is finished in Miami. The Dolphins picked up the all-purpose back who should complement Ronnie Brown far better than Williams (Note to self: Do not draft Ricky Williams in fantasy football for the third consecutive season).

7. Seahawks Add Sidney Rice – The Seahawks’ passing game left much to be desired last year – and that’s part of the reason Matt Hasselbeck is no longer with the team. But without a 1,000-yard receiver in 2010, Seattle needed to upgrade its wideouts. They not only will be better with the addition of Rice, but also got younger with the 24-year old.

6. Chad Ochocinco Joins Tom Brady in New England – Johnson, er, Ochocinco, comes with a bit of baggage, but the Patriots had success with another so-called misfit in Randy Moss. Who’s to say history won’t repeat itself? New England needed to replace Moss and Ochocinco is plenty capable of a few more big seasons – especially with future Hall of Famer Brady at the helm.

With Ochocinco on board, Brady has a new deep threat target this season.

5. Santonio Holmes stays put in New York – Holmes was the Jets’ biggest priority this offseason and they got him re-signed. They may have missed out on Nnamdi Asomugha, but signing Santonio gives quarterback Mark Sanchez the deep threat he needs to succeed in the Big Apple.

4. Brett Favre is at it. Again – I really shouldn’t be surprised by this anymore, but, well, call me surprised. Favre had more drama last season than Erica Kane in a Sweeps Week episode of All My Children, and after the disastrous year on and off the field that he endured, I figured there was no way he’d be back in the NFL. But with rumors popping up that Favre could be willing to serve as a backup to Michael Vick in Philadelphia, the Twitter universe exploded. In all seriousness, I don’t expect Favre to make good on this. Common sense, for once, has to win out. Right? Right?!?

3. Donovan McNabb Traded to Vikings – Despite a subpar season last year in the Nation’s capital, McNabb will get another shot at starting as the Vikings’ projected first-team quarterback. How much he has left in the NFL tank is anybody’s guess, but playing in a dome out of the elements eight times a year should help the aging star.

2. Kevin Kolb Traded to Cardinals – The Eagles insisted on a high draft pick in exchange for its backup quarterback and got one in a second-rounder from Arizona. In addition, Philly also secured the talents of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Both teams come out winners in this deal and Kolb should help the Cardinals compete immediately in the mind-numbingly awful NFC West.

1. Nnamdi Asomugha Signs with Eagles – Raise your hand if you saw this signing coming. Asomugha was virtually assured of not being a Raider, but Philadelphia wasn’t one of the NFL teams generally discussed as a viable option. But with his addition, the Eagles have instantaneously improved their chances of winning the conference.

July 19, 2011

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8 Very Improbable NFL Playoff Teams

By: Joe Williams

It is looking like the NFL lockout is finally about to end. Now we can get back to the hope and excitement a new season brings. Unless, of course, you are a fan of a perennial cellar dweller. In every sport there are the haves and the have-nots. Even in the NFL, the league most designed to have parity, some teams have no shot to make the playoffs. Here’s a team from each division that no matter what happens in free agency or by trade in the next few weeks, will be unlikey to play in the NFL playoffs. If you are a fan of these teams you may want to begin planning your 2012 draft party.

Buffalo Bills - AFC EAST

This team has two major problems. The Patriots and the Jets. With two of the top teams in the league in their division, Buffalo is likely to lose at least three of those games. They would have to go at least 9-4 through the rest of the schedule to have any kind of chance. The NFL playoffs are not going to happen for a team without an obvious franchise quarterback.

Cincinnati Bengals – AFC NORTH

If you look up dysfunctional in the dictionary, you will see a picture of the Bengals. Their quarterback says he would rather retire than play on this team. The top wide receiver is feuding with the head coach. The running back just got arrested. Does this sound like a team ready to make an NFL playoff run?

 

Tennessee Titans – AFC SOUTH

The Titans are moving on from Vince Young and Jeff Fisher. They got their quarterback of the future in the draft and a new head coach. Tennessee could be on the rebound, but with lockout shortened preseason preparations, a team with a new coach and new quarterback is at a major disadvantage.

 Denver Broncos – AFC WEST

Here’s another team hurt by the lockout because they have a new head coach. John Fox has turned around a bad team before but this job is going to take more than one season. His biggest task is going to be figuring out what to do at quarterback. Do they stick with Kyle Orton? Do they look to the future and hope that the one smart move Josh McDaniels made was drafting Tim Tebow? Or do they put Brady Quinn behind center and play for the top pick in the draft? 

Washington Redskins – NFC EAST

Mike Shanahan has been one of the top coaches in the league, but many are starting to wonder what he is doing in Washington. Why trade for McNabb to play quarterback and continually pull him out for Rex Grossman? Now it looks like he’s going with John Beck. If they were in one of the West divisions, I’d give this team a shot. But they are in the toughest division in football.

Minnesota Vikings – NFC NORTH

If I had been writing this every year for the last decade, this would be the first time I would have said anyone other than Detroit. The Vikings have gone backwards since being one stupid Brett Favre play away from the Super Bowl. They have a quarterback of the future, but this division looks much tougher than just a year ago.

Carolina Panthers - NFC SOUTH

Teams don’t go from the number one pick in the draft to the NFL playoffs. Especially with a rookie head coach. They could have used more training camp to get Cam Newton going in their system. They have a bright future if he proves he was worthy of being the top pick in the draft. That bright future isn’t 2011.

San Fransisco 49ers – NFC WEST

This division is a real crapshoot but I’ve got to pick someone. They have a rookie head coach. Do we know who is going to play quarterback? There are questions to be answered but if any team on this list is going to make me look bad, it’s the 49ers.

May 18, 2011

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NBA Draft Predictions

By: Rick Jarrell

Last night was the NBA Draft Lottery. Finallysomething to distract us from the incredible postseason basketball we’ve been subjected to so far (kidding). Pre-draft coverage is often over hyped, and the draft lottery is a great example. It’s not the actual drafting of players that may or may not (probably won’t) be superstars, but a random drawing of ping pong balls to decide who gets to gamble on the most recent highly touted players in hopes they can turn around a franchise. ESPN managed to drag a process that should have taken five minutes into a thirty minute “extravaganza.” But hey, it’s not as demoralizing as “The Decision,” and for those fans currently outside of the playoffs, it provides a small shred of hope.

With that in mind, rather than perform a mock draft, as most media outlets will do in an astonishingly redundant fashion, let’s take a look at different types of draft strategy and which lottery teams are likely to employ each one.

Draft for Potential

This strategy is nearly mandatory for those fortunate enough to win one of the top picks, especially when it comes to this year’s widely agreed upon weak draft. Most years, there seems to be a few players clearly above the rest, if not a single player perceived as the hands down top pick. For this year’s draft, that player is Kyrie Irving. Despite playing only a small portion of his freshman season at Duke, Irving is seen as the only sure NBA talent with potential to become a superstar. Expect the Cleveland Cavaliers, who those around the league say love Irving, to take him first.

After Irving, the draft becomes more of a mystery. And with such a shallow talent pool, I fully endorse any team taking a huge risk on an unknown like Bismack Biyombo. The likely best case scenario for a lot of these players is a strong rotational player, maybe a starter on a decent-good team. The odds are against any of this draft class leading a team to a championship, so why not take a risk? If you’re wrong, you get another high pick next year, with hopefully a better selection.

Draft Best Available

Selecting the best available in the draft is usually a strategy most commonly used by teams who need to improve in a lot of areas. Typically that includes the majority of the top end of the draft, and this year is no different. The Cavs, Minnesota Timberwolves, Toronto Raptors, and Washington Wizards all have multiple areas of glaring weakness. Where they’re slotted in the draft now, taking the most talented player is logical.

Personally, I’m a big fan of this strategy, whether or not the best available player would be redundant on the team. You can find time to play two players, even if they play identical positions. And you can’t count on one player staying with the team their entire career. They’ll either be traded or leave via free agency. So you can also use the “redundant” player as a trade asset. But with this draft, the best available is unremarkable, and this strategy may not be as strong as it would be in most years.

Draft for Need

Traditionally, you’d see teams that seem to be one piece away from a playoff appearance, or a playoff team who acquired a lottery team’s draft pick, in this position. But the team that would have fit this mold the best, the Los Angeles Clippers, traded their pick to the Cavs (a pick that defied the 2.8% odds to gain #1). The Golden State Warriors, Phoenix Suns, and the Houston Rockets could enact this strategy, but with the 11th, 13th, and 14th picks, respectively, in a poor draft doesn’t leave them with much option. The rest of the high lottery teams are in such disarray, they are likely to select either based on talent or best available. 

The one team that may use need-based drafting that could shake things up is the Utah Jazz. A playoff team a year ago, the team was uprooted midseason as they sent Deron Williams to the New Jersey Netsand longtime head coach Jerry Sloan resigned shortly afterwards. Williams is a great player, but he wasn’t the entire team. There’s still talent on the team. But the front court is currently crowded with Paul Milsap, Mehmet Okur, Al Jefferson, and Derek Favors, who they received from the Nets. So despite having the third pick and the ability to select Williams or Kanter, the Jazz may go for a need and select a guard to pair with Devin Harris, such as Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker.

Wheelin’ and Dealin’

Every year, there are a few draft day trades – either before a player is drafted, or right after the player is drafted. In general, the NBA is a constantly evolving mechanism. But with the Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire this summer, it’s going to be difficult for a team to makes any serious moves without knowing what the future holds. Also, with the lack of talent in the draft (have I said that already?), teams are even less likely to take a risk. If any of the teams with higher draft picks this year is offered a future draft pick, I think they’ll strongly consider. Having said that, the Rockets are a team that is always looking to make a move, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that holds true next month. The Wizards, looking for a sidekick to team with John Wall, may have fallen just short of being able to select a talented front court player, and may be open to a trade.

The NBA Draft is June 23rd. Until then, PLAYOFFS! It’s only getting better…