November 27, 2013
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
November 14, 2013
We’ve past the halfway point of the NFL season and now have a pretty good idea of who is good and who isn’t. But the playoff race is still wide open. Unless you are the Atlanta Falcons, Buffalo Bills, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, St. Louis Rams or Tampa Bay Buccaneers. For everyone else, their season could be defined by the outcome of one game. Here’s my take on the games that each team must win to secure its playoff destiny.
Baltimore Ravens - The defending Super Bowl champ Ravens are on the ropes. And when you are on the ropes, you cannot afford to lose to a team playing without its starting quarterback. Even if the game is in Chicago.
Cincinnati Bengals – Nobody wants to head into the bye with three straight losses. A loss to Cleveland would take the Bengals out of the hunt for a playoff bye and leave them in a dogfight to win the division that was theirs just a couple weeks ago.
Denver Broncos – They can take control of the AFC with a win over the undefeated Chiefs. A loss and the Broncos could be looking at the No. 5 seed in the AFC. There is a huge difference between No. 1 and No. 5.
Philadelphia Eagles – New coach Chip Kelly has his team tied for the lead in the NFC East despite starting the season with four straight losses at home. A win in Philly over the Redskins would put the Eagles in first place and eliminate a division rival from contention.
Washington Redskins – A win would really tighten up the NFC East race. A loss would put the Redskins at 3-7 and needing six straight wins plus help. Better win in Philly.
Cleveland Browns – The Browns have two games left against the Steelers. If the Browns don’t win this one, the week 17 rematch won’t have any playoff implications.
Green Bay Packers – The Packers need to pick up at least one more win before Aaron Rodgers returns for the final month. Playing at home against a bad Vikings team looks like the one they cannot afford to lose.
New England Patriots – The Patriots will be in the playoffs but if they are going to have a chance at home-field advantage, this is a must win game on Sunday night against the Broncos.
San Diego Chargers – The Chargers have two games coming up against the Chiefs and for the one in week 17 to matter, they need to win this one.
Chicago Bears – If Jay Cutler can’t stay on the field, the Bears are in trouble. Either way, they’ll need this game against the Vikings to improve their conference and division record because if they are going to get in the playoffs, I expect tiebreakers to be involved.
Detroit Lions – The Lions are in first place in the NFC North and have a sweep over the Bears. They could win the division and make a run at a first-round bye. But for that to happen, they’ll need to give their fans something to be thankful for with a win over Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day.
Kansas City Chiefs – Despite the 9-0 record, the Chiefs haven’t shown they belong with the big boys by beating any of the other top teams in the league. They’ll have to beat Denver at least once to win the AFC West and home-field advantage in the AFC and this will be their best shot.
Seattle Seahawks – The Seahawks should have no trouble making the playoffs. But they could just about lockup home-field advantage in the NFC with a Monday night win over the Saints.
Indianapolis Colts – Nobody has better wins than the Colts. Another big one against the Bengals would give the Colts the edge for the No. 3 seed and keep them alive for the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers shouldn’t have trouble picking up a few more wins to reach the playoffs. But if they are going to have a shot at winning the division or make a Super Bowl run, they’ve got to redeem themselves against Seattle after getting creamed earlier this season.
Arizona Cardinals – The Cardinals will need at least nine wins to get a wild card spot. They could get number nine in Tennessee and with Seattle and San Fransisco coming up, it could be their last win as well.
Carolina Panthers – They have two games to play against the Saints. Losing both would really hurt and I like Carolina’s chances to win at home much better.
Dallas Cowboys – The NFC East looks like it will come down to the final game of the season as usual. Luckily for the Cowboys, they’ll be at home to face the Eagles.
New York Jets – The AFC wild card race looks like its headed for a wild finish with at least six teams still in play. A week 17 win is a must for the Jets to grab the final spot.
November 1, 2013
The 2013 NFL season is now halfway in the books and there’s plenty of action left. With the cream slowly rising to the top there are currently 20 teams within one game of playoff contention. The next four weeks are the most critical to the season. Teams will either make themselves or start drawing up draft strategies. Here’s a list of the most crucial games during the third quarter of the season. Remember, each week will contain three categories; the heavyweight bout, the divisional battle and the hidden gem.
The Heavyweight Bout: Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans
If one were to compare preseason notes compared to Week 9, this matchup would be upside down. The Houston Texans, not the Indianapolis Colts were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders, but it’s not so. The Texans are 2-5 while the Colts are 5-2.
Both teams are coming off their bye week and if you think the Texans will go down quietly, think again. Andrew Luck and Co. will have their hands full with this one. If the Colts win it will be the end of the Texans season. If Houston pulls it out they’ll suddenly have life. Both teams have to make a statement.
The Divisional Battle: Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers
Like the aforementioned Texans, the Atlanta Falcons were Super Bowl bound before the games were played. Now, they’re and afterthought. The Falcons have been decimated by injury and are playing for pride at the moment.
The surprise team of the NFC South is none other than the Carolina Panthers. Quarterback Cam Newton looks like he’s leading his team in the right direction. This is a huge game for the Panthers—a win and they’ll make believers out of all of us. A loss and it’s simply back to mediocrity.
The Hidden Gem: San Diego Chargers vs. Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins looked like they were going to steal one in Denver last week before the Broncos unleashed a massive comeback. Now at home against the San Diego Chargers in Week 9, it’s a must-win for the Redskins if they’re to keep hope alive. For those of you that are worried, RG3 will be just fine—head coach Mike Shanahan did the right thing and pulled him last week for precautionary reasons.
The Chargers are a definite surprise this season and quarterback Philip Rivers is having a monster year. At 4-3, the Chargers would be considered real contenders with a win. This one smells like a shootout.
The Heavyweight Bout: Dallas Cowboys vs. New Orleans Saints
This game isn’t for the defensive-minded person. Both teams are more than fun to watch and while the New Orleans Saints seem like they’re in cruise control the Dallas Cowboys will have to steal one on the road.
Peddle to the metal, this one will fuel the fire and reinsure all fans of why they love the game.
The Divisional Battle: Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens will look to remind everyone that they’re the defending champs the second half of the season. The Cincinnati Bengals on the other hand look like they’re making a run for the ring this season. This game will be a knock-down drag-out battle that will leave one team on top of the world and the other one in the dust. A huge confidence booster this one will be.
The Hidden Gem: Detroit Lions vs. Chicago Bears
This matchup between the Lions and Bears will be the breaking point for the losing squad. The Lions upset the Bears in Detroit early in the season and Chicago looks to return the favor. To the victor go the spoils, or at least in this situation, the hope of a solid playoff run.
The Heavyweight Bout: Kansas City Chiefs vs. Denver Broncos
Who predicted that the Kansas City Chiefs would start the season 8-0? The answer is unequivocally no one. Heading into Mile High in Week 11 they may still be undefeated. The Broncos currently have one loss, but strike fear in every opponent. No man rests easy when they have to face Peyton Manning.
The same can be said about the Chiefs defense.
Right now, the AFC West goes through Kansas City. Game on.
The Divisional Battle: Washington Redskins vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Both teams records may not be pretty at the moment but ask one squad about what they think of the other and the answer will be unkind.
This one may be ugly, but that’s why we’ll watch.
The Hidden Gem: San Francisco 49ers vs. New Orleans Saints
A definite playoff preview, pay attention because there could be a rematch come January. The San Francisco 49ers have found balance with Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore–the New Orleans Saints still move at breakneck speeds thanks to Drew Brees.
Who will budge? Who will win?
Craziest prediction ever—this one ends in a 31-31 tie.
The Heavyweight Bout: Denver Broncos vs. New England Patriots
Two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks is about all one needs to describe a heavyweight bout.
Manning vs. Brady, grab the popcorn and smile.
The Divisional Battle: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns
This is a game where diehard football enthusiasts hope for sloppy conditions and wild plays. These cities are separated by only two hours yet they’re far from neighborly when it comes to football.
Always entertaining, this one should be a true battle.
The Hidden Gem: Dallas Cowboys vs. New York Giants
This one is a hidden gem due to the fact that the New York Giants lack a winning record, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the NFC East race.
The Dallas Cowboys are currently in the lead at 4-4 but as we have all seen before the division could come down to a Week 17 rivalry to declare an 8-8 divisional winner.
Eli Manning has a reputation to repair/uphold while Tony Romo has a legendary status to create.
Every game is important and these teams will take it to heart. Expect nothing but the best from both sides.
October 21, 2013
World Series – The World Series is set as the St. Louis Cardinals will face the Boston Red Sox for the right to the hoist the championship trophy. Each team won their series against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Detroit Tigers, respectively, in six games. The name of the game in the playoffs is pitching and both teams have gotten plenty of it. Three of Boston’s four wins against Detroit came with the Tigers scoring three runs or less. The Cardinals have been just as stingy on the mound, giving up a total of 13 runs in six games against the Dodgers, tossing two shutouts in the process. The same mantra is repeated every postseason, but the team that pitches the best usually wins.
Florida State topples Clemson in top five matchup – Florida State-Clemson was supposed to be one of the best games of the season. A matchup of two top five teams, however, turned into a rout early on. The No. 5 Seminoles walloped the No. 3 Tigers 51-14 and proved they are worthy of the national championship talk that’s starting to surround them. Unbeaten Florida State enters this week’s poll as the new No. 3 team in the nation behind only undefeated Alabama and Oregon. For Florida State, it was again the Jameis Winston show. The freshman quarterback threw for 444 yards and had three touchdowns in the game and as the season continues, it will be harder to ignore the Heisman attention he’s beginning to garner across the country.
Lebron wants the NFL – In a Q&A session with fans via Twitter, Miami Heat forward Lebron James declared he wants to play in at least one NFL game. James played football in high school and there’s always been talk about his ability to play in the league due to his freakish size. Playing one game, though, won’t cut it and you can bet that if he did get the shot, the opposing team would do whatever they could to make his life miserable. No athlete wants someone making a mockery of their sport and by playing in only one game, that’s exactly what Lebron would be doing. If he wants to take a Michael Jordan-sized cut and try to make a full-time move to the NFL, more power to him. To try to suit up once just to prove to the world that he can play the sport, though, would be another bad PR move.
Bum Phillips dies – Former NFL head coach Bum Phillips passed away this week at the age of 90. Phillips coached the Houston Oilers and New Orleans Saints in his career, leading the Oilers to two AFC Championship games. Phillips’ legacy lives on in the NFL with his son Wade, a former head coach, and the current Houston Texans’ defensive coordinator.
Kentucky tops first preseason college hoops poll – The USA Today Coaches Poll was released last week and the Kentucky Wildcats will begin the season ranked No. 1. A year after winning the national championship, the Wildcats struggled mightily last season, missing the NCAAs and winding up in the NIT. This is the first time in the history of the poll that a team that finished the prior season unranked catapulted up to the top spot. But Kentucky reloaded with one of the best recruiting classes … of all time. The Wildcats brought in five players in ESPN’s list of top ten recruits so it should come as little surprise that much is expected of the team this year. John Calipari has a young team on his hands, but has already proved he can win with teams dominated by youth as he did two years ago.
Michael Crabtree preparing for return – San Francisco 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree is hoping to play as soon as November after his ACL surgery in May. For the Niners, the move can’t possibly come any sooner. San Francisco’s passing attack ranks as one of the worst in the NFL (31st heading into this weekend) with fewer than 200 yards per game. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has had some up and down games from free agent receiver Anquan Boldin, but has largely suffered without his favorite target last season. The 49ers will also get back Mario Manningham soon as well after his ACL tear, but Crabtree is the player San Francisco misses most from last season’s Super Bowl team.
Martin Biron retires – Goaltender Martin Biron has decided to call it quits after 16 seasons in the NHL. Waived by the New York Rangers last week, Biron did not report to his AHL assignment and didn’t draw much interest from around the league. He largely has been a quality goalie over his career, but struggled wildly this season, giving up a whopping nine goals on only 38 shots for a disastrous 76% save percentage.
Grambling football protests conditions – Players from Grambling’s football program sat out this week as the university was forced to cancel its game against Jackson State. Players complained of not only long bus rides, but mold and mildew on equipment and in facilities, as well as having to pay for their own Gatorade at practices out of their own pockets. Players released a letter as well as photos of some of the conditions and, well, the players have a pretty good point, it would appear. The players also weren’t happy with the dismissal of former coach Doug Williams. Losing a coach is one thing, but unsanitary conditions are quite another. Where this ends up is anybody’s guess.
October 10, 2013
Something is happening in Denver that has never be seen before—Peyton Manning is torching defenses at an all-time clip. Right now the Denver Broncos look indestructible behind their quarterback and Manning looks 27 and not 37 years old.
Who needs defense when you have Manning running the show?
His 1,884 passing yards through five games is tops in the league and a somewhat remarkable 162 yards ahead of New Orleans Saints gunslinger Drew Brees. It may not seem like a ton of yards, but that’s about one-half of production ahead of the next best. Brees is no slouch and Manning is even leaving him in the dust.
Through Week 5, Manning is averaging 376.8 yards/game. This puts him on pace for 6028.8 yards for the entire season. Considering the all-time record for passing yards/season is 5,476 by the aforementioned Brees in 2011, Manning is on track to blow it out of the water.
It’s hard to believe that in this day and age of 5,000-yard passers Manning’s career-best is 4,700 in 2010. This year it appears he’ll have little trouble toppling the passing mountain and planting his flag at its highest peak.
For whatever reason you may dislike Manning, but you can’t disrespect him, he’s simply too good. No one in the history of the NFL has called a game at the line of scrimmage like he has. Watching him audible before the snap is like watching a conductor direct their orchestra in perfect harmony—no one misses a beat.
This year in Denver, Manning has an offensive cast that will send shivers up your spine. Two young receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker that are super talented, even without the added boost of Manning. Denver also has a relatively unknown tight end in Julius Thomas that seems to be the cherry on top for what could go down as the highest scoring offense ever. They have a resurgent running back in Knowshon Moreno who provides just enough of a threat to keep defenses honest. Last but not least, receiver Wes Welker makes this team unstoppable. With the Thomas’ and Decker roaming about, Welker will always be open underneath to provide enough yards to extend a drive until the end zone is found. Ridiculous.
The lowest point total for the Broncos this year has been 37. They have already scored 50-plus twice. Through five games they have scored 230 points. To be honest, that’s realistically more than their Week 6 opponent the Jacksonville Jaguars will score the entire season. Their scoring output through five games is miniscule 51 points, and that includes a robust 20 in Week 5 against the St. Louis Rams. Before you think Manning may throw for 1,000 yards against the Jaguars, expect the Broncos to pad the stats then sit Manning for the fourth quarter.
Manning is Manning, he’s a spectacle. He’s 37 years old looking like he’s got enough gas in the tank to play until he’s 47. His 61,371 career passing yards are second all-time behind Brett Favre’s 71,838. The way he’s playing that’s only a couple of more 4,000-plus yard seasons to be the best. He’s currently 52 touchdowns behind Favre, which is only a couple of seasons away. Through Week 5, he’s on pace for 64 touchdowns, which is far ahead of Tom Brady’s 50. There’s nothing stopping him here—the records, all of them will be his.
Another Super Bowl ring and he’ll be considered the best. Right now, that seems like a done deal. Be sure to check out greatness while he’s still around. When the books close, Manning will be atop the list.