November 27, 2013

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2013 NFL Q4 Must-See Games

By: Matt Bowen

The 2013 NFL season is nearing a close but there are plenty of questions yet to be answered. This year more than ever it seems that every game is a coin flip. Right now there are literally 26 teams still in playoff contention. This is great—every game from here on out will be a nail-biter. Here’s a list of the most crucial games during the final quarter of the season. Remember, each week will contain three categories; the heavyweight bout, the divisional battle and the hidden gem.

Week 13

The Heavyweight Bout: New Orleans Saints vs. Seattle Seahawks

Games don’t get bigger than this one. A potential NFC Championship Game in the making, both teams have a statement to make. Nothing like ending a holiday weekend with a cherry on top, Monday Night Football is not to be missed—Drew Brees and Russell Wilson will have their teams primed for a battle. Find time for this one.

The Divisional Battle: Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions

NFL fans can thank the Detroit Lions for this Thanksgiving tradition. The Lions provided football on Thursday before football was on Thursday. Hooray! Hey, there’s nothing like spending family time together watching the Lions and Green Bay Packers pummel one another. Here’s some added fuel to the fire—first place in the division is on the line. The Lions currently hold the top spot but the Packers want it badly. Another added bonus, we get to watch Calvin Johnson—who doesn’t like to watch greatness?

The Hidden Gem: Arizona Cardinals vs. Philadelphia Eagles

These teams are both surprises this year and playing their best ball of the season right now. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer just may be the hottest in the league. He’s thrown for 733 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions the last two games. The Cardinals have also won four straight games.

The Philadelphia Eagles, led by the NFL’s leading rusher through Week 12 LeSean McCoy are also sizzling. Winners of three straight and coming off their bye week, there’s no time to lose momentum now.

Neither team will give an inch. Expect plenty of offense. Give this one a go.

Week 14

The Heavyweight Bout: Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers

Few words need to describe this matchup between bitter divisional rivals. Remember when the Seattle Seahawks dismantled the San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2, 29-3?

The Niners do too, expect them to exact revenge.

The Divisional Battle: Carolina Panthers vs. New Orleans Saints

Winners of seven straight, the Carolina Panthers are the hottest team in the league right now. The NFL is far from easy and the Panthers will travel to the Big Easy in Week 14. This is to prove that they’re the best team in their division.

The New Orleans Saints don’t plan on relinquishing their A1 status anytime soon.

Cam Newton is living up to the hype—his counterpart Drew Brees is the standard. Jaw-dropping action will occur.

The Hidden Gem: Indianapolis Colts vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Out of all the true Super Bowl contenders in the league, the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals may have the most questions surrounding them.

One week they look like outright champs, the next it looks like they don’t belong.

Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton have to find a way. The winner of this one will gain the confidence it takes to go all the way. They’ll also do some convincing.

This is a true make-or-break game for both sides.

Week 15

The Heavyweight Bout: Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys

Two iconic franchises, two franchise quarterbacks, playoffs lives on the line—this game has all the elements to be a classic.

Aaron Rodgers will have returned from injury and Tony Romo will be psyched to make a run for the coveted Lombardi trophy. These two guys may just combine for 800 passing yards.

Fun, fun, fun—please pay attention to this one.

The Divisional Battle: San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos

Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning on Thursday Night Football is a great start to Week 15. The San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos have something to fight for as the Chargers are only 5-6 heading into Thanksgiving, but have a real punchers chance. Rivers has never performed so well and the Chargers are electric on offense.

Manning and the Broncos need little introduction, they’re the real deal.

The Hidden Gem: New York Jets vs. Carolina Panthers

Believe it or not, the New York Jets are currently in the playoff hunt. Yes, even at 4-7 they have a shot. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has had his ups and downs, but the future is promising for him and the Jets.

The weak spot the Jets have this season is playing on the road. If they’re to make the postseason, they’ll have to head into Carolina and win. The Panthers defense, led by Luke Kuechley is one of the best in the league; don’t think they’ll let a rookie show them up.

Considering what’s at stake, this will be a good one.

Week 16

The Heavyweight Bout: Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles

The Chicago Bears are currently in a dogfight for the NFC North with the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. The Eagles are in the same situation in the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.

Both teams are currently 6-5 and not in the playoffs. Considering their divisions will be on the line, neither team can afford to lose. This game has smash-mouth football written all over it. Last team with the ball wins.

The Divisional Battle: New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers

See Week 14—the loser of that game will want redemption. The winner will want to claim NFC South supremacy.

Scary thing is they may meet again in the playoffs. Awesome.

The Hidden Gem: New England Patriots vs. Baltimore Ravens

Hey, the champs haven’t thrown in the towel quite yet. The Baltimore Ravens still have a pulse and are picking up steam down the stretch. Don’t cross-off Joe Flacco and Ray Rice because after all, they’re stars.

If they are to truly be playoff contenders, they’ll have to beat Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. For them, it’s business as usual. They have yet to be their best and are still 8-3. That fact is downright frightening.

The Ravens must let it be known that they will defend what is rightfully theirs. A win in Week 16 will do just that.

If you think Week 17 was forgotten, think again. Sit tight, for it’ll have its own article. 16 divisional games—Wow!

Then, we’ll talk about playoffs.

April 1, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Final Four set: The NCAA Tournament will conclude next week and the Final Four has been set. Like many years, the top seeds have disappointed for the most part. Included in the Final Four are No. 4 seeds Syracuse and Michigan, and No. 9 upstart Wichita StateLouisville was the lone No. 1 seed to get into the elite club. My bracket is completely busted at this point, but since I had the Cardinals to win it all, I can still finish respectably. And after two weeks of NCAA Tournament action, I’ve got to say Louisville is looking like the nation’s best team.

Kobe Bryant is now 4th on the all-time scoring list.

Opening Day is here: With Spring Training over, Major League Baseball officially got its season underway on Sunday night with a game featuring the Texas Rangers and new AL West team, the Houston Astros. As always, there are plenty of questions heading into this season. Will Stephen Strasburg continue his dominance after surgery? Can the Yankees overcome all of their injuries? Will the Angels’ additions of Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton the past two years pay off? If you forced me to make an early season World Series pick, I’ll go with the Nationals vs. Angels, but don’t take that too seriously.

Dallas Cowboys all in with Tony Romo: The Dallas Cowboys have shown plenty of confidence in starting quarterback Tony Romo over the years. After another disappointing season, Romo was rewarded with a six-year $108 million extension. The deal could take Romo, who turns 33 this month, to the end of his NFL career. The $55 million guaranteed money he will get even topped the deal Super Bowl quarterback Joe Flacco recently got with the Baltimore Ravens. Many Cowboys fans likely aren’t all that thrilled with the new deal for a quarterback who hasn’t gotten them to a Super Bowl since he’s been with the team. But finding a franchise quarterback isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do and the Cowboys think they’ve got their man in Romo.

Kobe Bryant passes Wilt Chamberlain on all-time scoring list: Los Angeles Lakers’ guard Kobe Bryant passed legend Wilt Chamberlain this past weekend for fourth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list when he tallied point number 31,421. Statistics aren’t valued in basketball as much as they are in baseball, but Kobe’s achievement is still a big deal. Next up for the Mamba is none other than Michael Jordan, whose 32,292 points are third on the list. Bryant should easily pass up Jordan next season, but getting into the top two could be quite a feat. Karl Malone is second at 36,928 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar tops the list at 38,387. Bryant will likely need to play at least four more seasons to have a shot at catching Malone, so Jordan could be the last person he passes on the list. But if there’s anything Kobe has proven over the years, it’s that he shouldn’t be doubted.

Good news and bad news for Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pittsburgh Penguins experienced some highs and lows last week. The team traded for star winger Jarome Iginla earlier in the week in a move that may put the team over the top to win the Stanley Cup. But on Saturday, Pittsburgh lost captain Sidney Crosby to a broken jaw after he was hit in the mouth with a puck during a game. Crosby underwent surgery on Sunday and is now out indefinitely. The Penguins are still in pretty good shape, but losing Crosby to injury yet again has to be frustrating for the team. Crosby is regarded by many as the league’s top player but has dealt with setback after setback in the league.

Miami Heat winning streak ends: The Miami Heat’s long winning streak ended with a loss to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, 101-97. Even though the Heat’s streak was snapped at 27 games, Miami still put together one of the most impressive stretches the league has ever seen. Plus, while the loss meant they fell short of the Los Angeles Lakers historic 33-game streak back in 1971-72, the Heat’s real target is another NBA title. The goal here is to keep everyone healthy for a long playoff run.

March 4, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Magic Johnson offers $1 million dunk challenge offer to Lebron James: Each year, nearly all of the NBA’s biggest stars forgo the league’s slam dunk contest held during All-Star Weekend. Once a marquee event that featured some of basketball’s biggest stars such as Michael Jordan and Julius Erving, the dunk contest now showcases some smaller, and even obscure, names. Magic Johnson is the latest person to challenge Lebron James to partake in the event … but he’s backing it up with his wallet. Magic offered James $1 million to participate in next year’s dunk contest. More specifically, he’s willing to put the money up as a prize to the winner and LBJ is reportedly thinking about the offer. Here’s the thing – while it would be cool to see the best player in the league show up, only doing so after a significant purse is put up makes James look bad. The dunk contest is supposed to be about the fans, but if Lebron participates now, it looks like it’s all about the money. One way James can dunk next season and not look greedy? Donate the money to charity.

Joe Flacco is now the highest paid player in the NFL.

Joe Flacco becomes highest paid player in NFL: Funny what a Super Bowl win can do for you. First, wide receiver Jacoby Jones gets a Dancing with the Stars invite, and now Joe Flacco is in the news. Heading into this season, Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco was widely regarded as a solid, but unspectacular, player. He had the always-popular ‘Can’t win the big one’ tag and no one knew that he’d ever shake it. But this season, Flacco took a fairly unheralded Ravens’ team and not only bulldozed their way through the AFC, but knocked off the favored San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl. Flacco parlayed that into a record NFL contract and is now the highest paid player in the league. Does he really deserve it? Probably not. There are many players more valuable to their respective teams and Flacco may never again reach another Super Bowl. But kudos to the Ravens for stepping up and paying their franchise quarterback. He’s still young and should have a lot of seasons ahead of him.

Mike Trout to make near minimum after historic season: By most accounts, Mike Trout had one of the most astounding rookie seasons in baseball history. It was so historic, that he nearly won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award. But if you think Trout was due for a big raise, think again. The Angels could have renewed his contract for a significant amount, but chose to give him only slightly more than the league minimum. The club is perfectly within its rights to pay Trout what they want since he’s not yet eligible for arbitration, but low-balling him after he proved he’s one of the game’s top players could come back to bite them when it comes time to re-sign him. Trout hasn’t openly complained, but I can’t imagine he’s too happy right now.

Randy Moss could leave San Francisco 49ers: Randy Moss didn’t have one of his biggest seasons, but he fit in with the 49ers this past season, helping the team reach the Super Bowl. It seemed like a good fit, but the wide receiver tweeted this past week that he wished the team good luck, indicating he may be moving on. If Moss does leave, it will be interesting to see what teams want to pick him up. He just turned 36 this month and is surely on the downside of his career. There just may not be many suitors for his services.

Catholic Seven to keep Big East name: The Catholic Seven, otherwise known as the non-football members of the Big East, decided recently to leave to create their own conference. The schools aren’t only leaving, but they’re reportedly taking the Big East name with them, according to ESPN. Assuming that happens, that’s the right move. When you think of the Big East, you think of schools like Georgetown, Providence, and St. John’s – not SMU, Houston, and Tulane. And frankly, the Big East name just wouldn’t fit the conference anymore once new members join since so many of them are away from the east coast.

February 5, 2013

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Who Will Be Super Bowl XLVIII Champions?

By: Joe Williams

Well that was fun. Congratulations to Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens for becoming world champions in New Orleans on Sunday. But enough about that. Now, by process of elimination, let’s figure out who is going to win the next one in New York.

Could Eli Manning and the Giants be the first team to play in the Super Bowl on their home field?

No first-timers

Four teams have never appeared in a Super Bowl. Don’t expect that to change. Sorry Cleveland, Detroit, Houston and Jacksonville.

Back-to-back

Only the New England Patriots have been to back-to-back Super Bowls since 1999. It won’t happen next year either. Count out Baltimore and San Francisco.

New coaches

Philadelphia, Arizona, Chicago, Buffalo, Kansas City and San Diego all have new head coaches. They won’t be winning it all next year.

Home-field advantage

No team has reached the Super Bowl when it was played on its home field. That eliminates the New York Giants and New York Jets.

Under .500

I can’t see a team that finished with a losing record this year winning it all next year. Oakland, Tennessee, Miami, Tampa Bay, Carolina, New Orleans and St. Louis are all off the board.

Injuries

Every year a couple teams have their title hopes derailed with injuries to key players. I have randomly determined that those teams will be Cincinnati, Minnesota and Atlanta.

Madden curse

It is widely known that if you are on the cover of the new Madden football game, you are destined for a poor season. I’m predicting they go with a triple cover featuring Andrew Luck, RGIII and Russell Wilson. This would ensure that Indianapolis, Washington and Seattle are not Super Bowl winners a year from now.

A new curse?

Emmitt Smith, Hines Ward and Donald Driver are the three NFL players who have won Dancing With The Stars. All three played for teams who have made a habit of playing in Super Bowls. However, the Steelers, Cowboys and Packers have all failed to reach a Super Bowl since their player won the ballroom dancing competition. Curse or coincidence? I say curse. Goodbye Pittsburgh, Dallas and Green Bay.

Down to 2

So that leaves just the Denver Broncos and the New England Patriots. Manning vs Brady. The two long-time rivals will give us next year what most were expecting to see this year…an AFC Championship Game showdown. And I see Manning getting the win and playing in the Super Bowl on his brother’s home field. And it will be déjà vu in Denver when a 37-year-old Peyton Manning leads the Broncos to a Super Bowl victory a year after finishing 13-3, getting the No. 1 seed in the playoffs and suffering a  devastating playoff loss. (37-year-old John Elway led the Broncos to a Super Bowl win a year after the 13-3, No. 1 seed Broncos fell 30-27 at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars.) Your Super Bowl XLVIII champions will be the Denver Broncos.

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