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.

June 3, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Grant Hill retires: In a somewhat expected move, forward Grant Hill retired from the NBA last season. For many, Hill will be remembered for the injuries that ate up much of his career. Injuries again kept him down this year as the forward appeared in only 29 games all season with the Los Angeles Clippers, and at 40, it’s clear he should have retired. But Hill should never be forgotten. He was the 1994-95 Rookie of the Year and a seven-time All-Star. Hill wasn’t always healthy, but when he was, he was one of the NBA’s best forwards earlier in his career.

The Kansas City Royals hired George Brett to be their Hitting Coach.

Rangers coach John Tortorella fired: Shortly after being ousted by the Boston Bruins in the NHL’s Eastern Conference semifinals, the New York Rangers dumped head coach John Tortorella. The Rangers had hopes of reaching the Stanley Cup finals this season, but actually regressed after making the Eastern Conference finals last year. Tortorella had some success in New York, but was rumored to have rubbed some of his players the wrong way. After not advancing past the first round in each of his first three seasons with the Rangers, Tortorella had done better each of the past two seasons. It wasn’t enough to keep his job, but as a former Stanley Cup winning coach in Tampa Bay, he should get another chance down the line.

Steve Smith (the other one) retires: New York Giants receiver Steve Smith (not to be confused with the Carolina PanthersSteve Smith) has decided to hang up his cleats. Smith was a former Pro Bowler and just signed a deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this offseason. He was always a bit underrated as a receiver and finishes with seven 1,000-yard seasons under his belt. He nearly had another in 2009 when he finished with 982 yards and there’s little doubt he had something left in the tank. Smith had nearly 2,600 receiving yards over the past two seasons with 11 touchdowns. At 34, he probably still has some football left in him. It will be interesting to see if he changes his mind when training camp rolls around.

Phoenix Suns hire Jeff Hornacek as head coach: Jeff Hornacek, a former shooting guard in the NBA, will head back to Phoenix to serve as the team’s new head coach. Hornacek played for the Suns from 1986 – 1992 and also had stints with the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz. He helped the Jazz to two trips to the NBA Finals alongside Karl Malone and John Stockton. After retiring, he became an instructor with the Jazz and then an assistant. Hornacek will come in somewhat unproven with only a few years of experience as an assistant. And considering the mess that is the Phoenix Suns right now, that will make it even harder to succeed.

Everett Golson suspended for 2013: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson was suspended by the team due to ‘poor academic judgment.’ There hasn’t yet been confirmation on what exactly that means, but one thing is for certain – he won’t be suiting up for the Irish this fall. It’s a blow to a team that went to the BCS Championship with him at the helm last year. Notre Dame must now turn to another option – most likely senior Tommy Rees. But Malik Zaire could have an outside shot at the job as he comes in as a highly touted freshman this year. But without Golson, the team’s stock is taking a significant hit.

Kansas City Royals hire George Brett as hitting coach: Stuck in the middle of a long losing streak, the Kansas City Royals have turned to perhaps the best player in the history of their franchise – George Brett. Brett will assume duties as the team’s new hitting coach. Let’s face it – giving the job to a franchise icon who just happens to be one of the best hitters in the last 50 years isn’t a bad idea. But stars generally have a difficult time coaching and often, aren’t able to teach others how to play the game as well as they could. Still, for just taking a shot in the dark on a midseason hire, the Royals could have done worse.

Floyd Mayweather to fight Saul Alvarez: Floyd Mayweather, Jr. recently announced that he would fight Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on September 14th. The match will pit a pair of unbeatens as Mayweather is 44-0-0 while Alvarez is 42-0-1. While this is a big deal and surely a fight that Mayweather will trumpet, Alvarez isn’t Manny Pacquiao - the fighter many would like to see battle Mayweather. In the announcement on (where else) Twitter, Mayweather made sure to tell us that he’s ‘giving the fans what they want’ by participating in the fight. Thanks, I guess?

NCAA Golfer penalized for car washing: Yep, you heard that one correctly. The NCAA penalized an unidentified women’s golfer for washing her own car. The reason? She reportedly used water on the campus that technically belonged to the university and was forced to pay the school $20.00 – the approximate value of the water and hose that was estimated by the organization. I’m all for following the rules and I think the NCAA gets a bad rap sometimes. They’ve got a difficult job in trying to police schools and student athletes, and I get that letting smaller things go can easily escalate into bigger problems. But seriously, can’t we have a common sense clause that allows for a warning in some instances?

July 25, 2012

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NFL Training Camps Get Underway this Week

By: Matt Bowen

NFL fans, the best time of the year is finally here—the 2012 NFL season kicks off with training camps this week. While it may not seem too exciting just yet, it means that the season is a quick five weeks away. Fans get to see their favorite franchise launch their newest campaign this week when training camps get underway after a most interesting NFL offseason.

The 2012 NFL season will begin the Andrew Luck era for the Indianapolis Colts.

The league received two future star quarterbacks with the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2012 NFL draft. Andrew Luck went to the Indianapolis Colts with the first pick and Robert Griffin III went to the Washington Redskins at No. 2. Fans should watch every snap these guys take this year as they’ll do nothing but amaze people throughout their careers.

This year also brings new hope to many franchises, as seven teams have new head coaches this year.  Of those teams, the St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers look vastly improved on paper from their woeful 2011 seasons. The Rams brought in Jeff Fisher to coach and he traded the No. 2 overall pick to the Redskins and turned that one pick into six. Fisher deserves credit for strengthening his team through the draft and developing from within.

As for the Buccaneers, the team did a fine job in both free agency and the draft. The team signed wide receiver Vincent Jackson and offensive lineman Carl Nicks this offseason. That duo will help quarterback Josh Freeman tremendously this year. The team also hired Greg Schiano, former coach at Rutgers University, who has quickly created a positive culture that seems destined for winning.   The team made a splash at the tail-end of Round 1 of the 2012 NFL draft when they drafted Doug Martin out of Boise State University. This kid will be an instant overnight success in the NFL.

The New York Giants look to defend their Super Bowl XLVI championship this year, but will have their hands full. In reality, the NFL is so equal in talent across the league that most teams have a legit shot to win it all in 2012. It may be hard to believe, but at least one team in the NFL has gone from worst to first in their division since 2003 and 13 teams in total. This gives all fans hope as every division seems up for grabs this season.

Regardless of who wins it all, it will be fun to watch. With training camps taking flight this week, buckle up and enjoy the ride.

April 23, 2012

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NFL’s Must See Matchups Of 2012

By: Anson Whaley

The NFL schedule release has become a national event with more hype growing for it every year. The schedule always features some big time games and this year was no exception. Here are ten matchups you won’t want to miss.

Indianapolis at Washington (August 25): August? That’s right, this is a preseason game. But it could be a pretty significant one. If everything plays out as expected in the NFL Draft, this would be a matchup of the top two quarterbacks – Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. It’s early, so the two might not end up starting. But assuming they’ve signed, there’s a good chance they’ll both be playing.

Dallas at New York Giants (September 5): Face it, this could be a matchup of the league’s two worst teams and nobody would care. This Wednesday night game will kick off the season and it not only features the defending champions, but is a rivalry game between two big market franchises. In other words: ratings through the roof.

Romo will be feeling pressure from the defending Super Bowl champion's pass rushers.

San Francisco at Green Bay (September 9): This was the game many expected to see for the NFC Championship this past year. Instead, the Giants upset the Packers and went on to defeat the 49ers. These are two favorites to challenge the Giants this year for the NFC crown and should be one of the conference’s best games of the season.

Indianapolis at Chicago (September 9): We’ll get our first look at Andrew Luck in the preseason, but this could be his first regular season game. It’s the Colts’ first game of the year and there’s a chance he begins the season as the starter. If he does, it might not be all that pretty facing the Bears on the road. But it could be the first look at a Hall of Fame career if Luck’s as good as advertised.

Denver at New England (October 7): With Peyton Manning now in Denver, the Broncos are a trendy team to watch. When Manning was in Indianapolis, the Colts-Patriots game was always a key one. He’ll square off against future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, making this a game not to miss.

New York Giants at San Francisco (October 14): The 49ers appeared to have the NFC Championship wrapped up last year until some key special teams gaffes. The game last season was a close one throughout and this one should be no different.

Carolina at Washington (November 4): When these two teams line up in November, it will be a game featuring two of the league’s dynamic young quarterbacks. Cam Newton set the league ablaze with his play in 2011 and Robert Griffin III will be looking to make a similar impact for the Redskins.

Houston at Detroit (November 22): The scoreboard operator will be plenty busy in this Thanksgiving Day game as two of the top passing offenses in the league square off. But quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Matt Schaub won’t be the only ones to watch. At the other end of their passes will be perhaps the two best wideouts in the league – Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson.

Oakland at Cincinnati (November 25): This one’s kind of under the radar, but Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer will be making his return to Cincinnati since forcing his way out a year ago. Needless to say, Bengals fans probably won’t be all that forgiving.

New York Jets at Jacksonville (December 9): Speaking of returns, backup quarterback Tim Tebow returns to his home state of Florida to face the Jaguars. The kicker is that he could very well be starting by this point in the season if Mark Sanchez struggles. If Tebow starts this game in Jacksonville, the internet just might explode.

February 7, 2012

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10 biggest plays of Super Bowl 46

By: Joe Williams

Ahmad Bradshaw’s “accidental” touchdown gave the New York Giants the lead in the final minute of Super Bowl 46. It will be one of the most talked about plays of the Giants victory because of the Patriots’ decision to let the Giants score and save some time for Tom Brady, but it wasn’t a game-changer. Here are my top 10 plays that led to the Giants win.

Super Bowl 46 had 10 key plays that factored into the Giants Super Bowl win.

The Punt

After the Giants stalled on the first possession of the game, Steve Weatherford punts 36 yards and pinned the Patriots on their own six-yard line, setting up the first score of the game.

The Safety

The Patriots first play from scrimmage was possibly their worst play from scrimmage. Starting on his own six-yard-line, Tom Brady dropped back to pass in the end zone and was immediately pressured. Brady knew he had to get rid of the ball so he launched it 40 yards down the middle of the field. Only problem was that there was no receiver in the area. Two points for the Giants – two points that would have made a difference in how the fourth quarter played out.

The Fumble

The Giants had third-and-three from the Patriots 11-yard line. Eli Manning completes a short pass to Victor Cruz and he fumbles. Brandon Spikes recovers for the Patriots, but the play is nullified after New England is called for 12 men on the field. Two plays later, Cruz is doing the salsa dance and New York leads 9-0.

The Sack

The New England offense was rolling – covering 178 yards and two touchdowns on the last two possessions. It looked like they had the Giants guessing on defense. But on a third down from the Patriots 19, Brady was sacked by Justin Tuck. This was a huge three-and-out for the defense to regain its confidence, get off the field and change the momentum of the game.

The Fumble II

With the ball at the New England 47, Manning hit Hakeem Nicks for a 17-yard gain but the ball popped out of his hands. Fortunately for Nicks, Henry Hynoski was the first one to get on the football and the Giants maintained possession. They would go on to kick a field goal and cut the lead to 17-15.

The Pick

On the second play of the fourth quarter Brady committed the only turnover in the game. It wasn’t terrible as turnovers go. When Chase Blackburn intercepted Brady’s deep ball at the Giants eight-yard line, it was basically no different than a punt. But it kept the ball out of Brady’s hands and added to the Giants momentum in the fourth quarter.

The Fumble III

Another fumble by the Giants and another recovery by the Giants. This time it was Ahmad Bradshaw who put the ball on the ground and Chris Snee who fell on it. With this play beginning at the Giants eight-yard line, this would have been a game-changer if the Pats had recovered.

The Offside

Rob Ninkovich jumped offside, turning a third-and-seven and an incomplete pass into third-and-two and a completion for a Giants first down. The Giants ended up punting the ball away, but not until after New York gained another 46 yards which dramatically altered the field position for a New England possession that could have put the game away with a touchdown.

The Drop

It’s second-and-11 on the New York 44 and the Patriots lead 17-15. Brady finds Wes Welker streaking down the field with nobody near him. Brady’s throw wasn’t perfect but it was a catch we have seen Welker make countless times in his career. Only this time, he didn’t. A completion would have put New England well within field goal range and on the verge of a championship clinching touchdown. Instead, after another incomplete pass, the Patriots were forced to punt, setting up Eli Manning for more fourth quarter heroics.

The Throw and Catch

With 3:46 left in the game, the Giants final drive begins on their 12-yard line. On first down, Manning throws deep down the sideline for Mario Manningham. He put the ball right between two defenders in the only place Manningham could have caught it. And he made an incredible over the shoulder catch and somehow managed to get both feet down and maintain possession. Not only was it was the longest play from scrimmage in the game. Not only did it put the Giants at midfield with plenty of time to set up a game-winning field goal. But it also forced Bill Belichick to challenge the play. When the play was upheld, it cost New England a timeout that would have greatly increased their chances of scoring at the end of the game.