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.

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.

November 21, 2012

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Giving Doug Martin the Respect He Deserves

By: Matt Bowen

Heading into the 2012 NFL season all the talk surrounding the rookie class revolved around quarterbacks Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts and Robert Griffin III of the Washington Redskins. While the No. 1 and No. 2 overall picks have lived up to the massive hype, Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin is not to be forgotten.

Luck may have been the #1 pick, but will Martin be the Rookie of the Year?

Yes, Luck and RG3 have put up impressive numbers thus far, but Martin is third in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch with an even 1,000 rushing yards so far. More importantly, the Bucs are winning and Martin appears to get better with every touch of the ball.

The Buccaneers organization deserves credit for revamping their franchise in just a single offseason. After a disastrous 2011 full of big expectations and hot air, the team brought in new head coach Greg Schiano, acquired highly touted free agent Vincent Jackson and made a statement when they moved up in the NFL draft to steal Martin late in the first round.

Martin, a 23-year-old out of Boise State flew under the radar in college because much of the credit the Broncos received went to quarterback Kellen Moore. Let’s not get things mixed up; Moore was a great college quarterback, the greatest in terms of wins with 50, but Martin did his part to bring Boise State to national prominence. He tallied 43 touchdowns in his time as a Bronco and hasn’t slowed down one bit in the NFL.

Truth be told, he doesn’t look like a rookie and is a blast to watch. His nickname is the “Muscle Hamster” because his physique fits the bill. He’s 5’9”, 215 lbs. of pure beef. It takes more than one defender to take down Martin on most carries.

He’s averaging 5.1 yards/carry and has had 100-plus yards in three of the last four. His 251 yards and four touchdowns against the Oakland Raiders earlier this season put him in fantasy football folklore forever.

Thanks to Martin’s emergence the Bucs have won four straight games and take on one of the NFL’s best in the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12. The Bucs are currently in the playoff hunt and will get national exposure with the Falcons coming to town. This is Martin’s time to shine on the big stage. Something tells me he won’t disappoint. The Falcons may be 9-1, but they allow 130.5 yards/game against the rush and Martin is ready to make his name known.

A strong performance in Week 12 and Martin’s hat will be thrown into the Rookie of the Year race. Sure, Luck and Griffin III are the future of the NFL, but so is Martin. The two young quarterbacks may get more attention, but it’s the young running back in Martin who is quietly becoming the best.

November 14, 2012

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Why Andrew Luck Will Be the Greatest NFL QB of All Time

By: Matt Bowen

The Indianapolis Colts turned their organization upside down when they decided to part ways with franchise quarterback Peyton Manning in order to draft Stanford Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck No. 1.

Drafting Andrew Luck sent the Indianapolis Colts franchise in a new direction.

While many fans had mixed emotions about the ordeal, there should be a calm feeling across Colts Nation right now—Luck is as good as advertised, and he’s only going to get better.

Coming into the NFL, Luck was said to be the best quarterback out of college since fellow Stanford alum John Elway. Fittingly enough, it was Elway who signed Manning to take over the Denver Broncos huddle after the team decided to trade Tim Tebow to the New York Jets in the off-season.

Another wrench thrown into the Colts’ “life after Manning plan” was the emergence of quarterback Robert Griffin III last season. Heading into the 2011 college football season, Luck was slated to win the Heisman Trophy and be the consensus No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

Well, Griffin III won the Heisman (deservingly so) and almost the top honors in the draft. The Colts teetered on which quarterback to choose, but stuck with Luck. Their decision looks to be a wise one right now. Griffin III went No. 2 to the Washington Redskins and the rest will be played out in history.

The Colts currently hold a Wild Card spot at 6-3 and Luck is on pace to set the rookie record for total passing yards.  His 2,631 yards right now put him on pace for 4,677, which would demolish the Carolina Panthers Cam Newton’s 2011 record of 4,051. Luck also surpassed Newton’s single game record by a rookie with 433 passing yards in Week 9. Thanks to veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who is currently second in the NFL with 931 receiving yards, Luck has a reliable target. His touchdown to interception rate in only 10/9, but he’s a rookie. Those numbers will fix themselves with experience.

So, what makes him so special?

His intelligence is that of a wily veteran rather than a rookie. He is already the go-to, hands down leader of his team. Out of the Colts’ six wins this season, five have been by six points or less, which tells one that his game management skills are superb.  To think of what he’ll be able to do in the future leaves one with a waterfall of drool cascading from his open jaw. He’s the total package.

He’s smart, has deadly arm strength and accuracy and is underrated as an all-around athlete. His ability to tuck the ball and run when necessary will help him thrive in the NFL. His goal heading into his rookie season was to improve every game.  Two turnovers in the red zone in Week 10 prove that he has plenty of work to do, but that’s what motivates him.

Here’s something to watch for from Luck the rest of the season—he’s going to flirt with 5,000 passing yards. This would be a monumental feat as only four men have done it a total of five times in NFL history. Never has a rookie achieved this.

If you think this is impossible, don’t be a hater. Luck only needs 2,369 passing yards, or 338 yards/game the rest of the way. Considering his competition the rest of the season, this is more than possible. The Colts play the suspect defenses of the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills, Detroit Lions, Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs. Not to say these teams don’t have a chance against Luck, but numbers don’t lie. Only the Houston Texans, who the Colts play twice, may be able to contain Luck down the stretch. But even they were torched by Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers to the tune of 338 passing yards*(what Luck needs to average to reach 5,000) and six touchdowns in their only loss this season.

NFL fans do yourself a favor—watch history unfold, watch Luck become the greatest of all time.

December 6, 2011

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The Luckiest Team in the NFL

By: Joe Williams

It takes a combination of things to win in the NFL. Certainly you need talented players, but you also need great coaching, timing, and a little luck doesn’t hurt either.

When the Denver Broncos inserted Tim Tebow as their starting quarterback over Kyle Orton, they were 1-4. With Tebow at the helm they have gone 6-1. Is Tebow that good? Is Orton that bad? I say no to both. Instead, I say the Denver Broncos are the luckiest team in the NFL.

Tim Tebow’s “magic” is getting all the credit for the wins Denver has pulled out in the fourth quarter. While Tebow does deserve credit for helping the team win, nobody in their right mind can believe he has made one of the worst teams in the league into one of the best by himself.

The Broncos have been extremely lucky in every win since Tebow took over. Let’s look at each win.

Denver 18, Miami 15 in overtime

The Broncos didn’t score until there was just under three minutes left in the game. Then they recovered an onside kick and scored again and then converted a two-point try. It takes some luck for all those plays to go their way. Of course it helps when you are facing a winless team. Then the defense wins the game for them in overtime when D.J. Williams forced and recovered a Matt Moore fumble. The Broncos had so little faith in Tebow they didn’t even try to pick up a first down and settled for a 52-yard field goal try, which was good.

Denver 38, Oakland 24

You never know what you are going to get from the Raiders. But I know that when you bring in a quarterback to a new team after not playing football for a year and he throws three interceptions, that’s not good. Take away their best offensive weapon in Darren McFadden and add 15 penalties for 130 yards to that and the Raiders aren’t beating anyone.

Denver 17, Kansas City 10

Tebow completes two passes in this game. Two. But the Broncos win because Kansas City is embarrassingly inept on offense. The Chiefs have scored 35 points total in their last five games. Of course, part of the Chiefs problem is losing their best offensive player, Jamaal Charles, for the season.

Denver 17, New York Jets 13

Just when you think the Broncos schedule couldn’t get any better, they get to host the Jets (one of their toughest opponents) on a short week. I’m not sure why, but teams that have to fly all the way across the country on a short week almost never win. Did I mention the Jets played without their top two running backs?

Denver 16, San Diego 13 in overtime

This is not the Chargers team we are used to seeing. They came into this game on a five-game skid and found a way to lose another one. Missing a field goal in the fourth quarter and another one in overtime is a good way to blow a game.

Denver 35, Minnesota 32

It’s another win against a team playing without its best offensive weapon. The Vikings didn’t have Adrian Peterson but still managed to score 32 points. And on the one week when Tebow actually needs to throw the ball, he is playing a team with five players from its secondary on IR. Tebow had receivers that were so wide open there wasn’t a defender in the picture when they caught the ball. It doesn’t hurt to have a rookie quarterback throw a terrible interception to give Denver a cheap field goal to win the game either.

Denver vs. Chicago

The Broncos get lucky again this week with one of the best teams in the NFC coming to town. At least they were great until a couple weeks ago. Now they don’t have Jay Cutler or Matt Forte.

So to recap, the Broncos have beaten a winless team, a team with a rusty quarterback still learning the offense and teammates, a team that cannot score, a team traveling cross-country on a short week, a team on a five-game losing streak, and a team with no secondary. And they didn’t have to face McFadden, Charles, Shonn Greene or Peterson. If that’s not good luck, then I don’t know what is.