December 19, 2013

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Predicting 2013 NFL Award Winners

By: Matt Bowen

With the playoffs three short weeks away let’s have some fun and predict the 2013 NFL award winners. While the season is still in the balance for plenty of teams, let’s be bold and take an educated guess. The final two weeks may sway some votes, but we have a good idea of how things will pan out. One thing is for certain, the NFL definitely didn’t disappoint this season—the final two weeks along with the playoffs will be as exciting as ever.

Keep these players in mind when the awards are doled out at the end of the season.

Coach of the Year

This is a tight race, but there’s clearly one winner.

There were eight head coaching changes heading into this season, and it can be easily argued that every new coach met or exceeded their expectations. Last year the following eight teams won a combined 41 games—headed into Week 16 this year these teams have a combined 56 wins.

The Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles, Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers all got new head coaches in 2013.

Hats off to all the men in charge, but the award goes to Andy Reid in Kansas City. The Chiefs were a dark horse Super Bowl team in 2012 before the won only two games and earned the No. 1 pick in the draft. This year Reid has tapped into their talent and the Chiefs currently have 11 wins. They may not win their division but a playoff appearance in a given. The Chiefs are explosive and a blast to watch.

Defensive Player of the Year

Defensive studs are often put on the back burner because they don’t score touchdowns. Not here, the men in the trenches get the acknowledgement they deserve.

While it’s difficult to pinpoint who is precisely the best defensive player, it’s not hard to find an answer. Many men are worthy of the award, but the Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis takes the prize. His 16.5 sacks currently lead the league, and the Colts are once again going to make the playoffs.

What’s most remarkable about Mathis is his age—at 32 Mathis is an “old man” amongst the league’s new hybrid athletes on the defensive side of the ball. Still, Mathis is the best at his craft and a great leader on a rather young Colts defense. Cheers to you, Mr. Mathis.

Breakout Player of the Year

This award goes to the guy who doesn’t have a chance at 2013 NFL MVP, but his breakout season may earn him the grand award in the near future.

The argument can be made for both of these players but in the end only one can win. Both of these guys are receivers who have made tremendous strides toward stardom this season. The deciding factor ultimately comes down to team wins.

Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns currently leads the league is receiving yards with 1,467 and also has nine touchdowns. He has quickly become one of the most dangerous men in the game. If the Browns ever find a quarterback and running game Gordon may make a run a 2,000 yards in a single season. Right now, his team only has four wins. He’s 22 years old and has all the talent in the world. He’s had a troubled past, but should he leave his problems behind him the sky is the limit.

In the end, the 2013 Breakout Player of the Year goes to Alshon Jeffery of the Chicago Bears. The Bears currently lead the NFC North and control their own fate in terms of a playoff berth.

Jeffery is currently seventh in the league in receiving yards with 1,265. He has seven touchdowns and 80 catches. He’s the perfect complement to teammate Brandon Marshall and has hands like magnets.  Jeffery is only 23 years old and appears to be a Windy City staple for the next decade. Because of Jeffery the Bears are multi-dimensional and have a chance at a deep Super Bowl run. All he does is make highlight reels.

Rookie of the Year

Let’s be honest—today’s NFL is not made for rookies. There’s a steep learning curve that takes many highly touted prospects and puts them in their place—the bench. Last year may have been an exception due to the likes of Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson but reality has struck once again in 2013.

To be a standout rookie in the NFL you have to be something special. Right now, only three guys come to mind the rookie debate pops up. Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon deserves mention—the Bucs were terrible before he earned the starting job. Being a rookie quarterback isn’t easy, especially when you don’t start the season as the No. 1. The Bucs started 0-8 but have since won 4-of-6. For that they have hope for the future. Give the NC State alum a full offseason as the main man, and positive results will come.

Zac Stacy of the St. Louis Rams has been a bright spot in an up-and-down season for the franchise. The team was searching for a running back to win the job for weeks and found one in Stacy. The rookie from Vanderbilt has 854 yards on 202 carries and six touchdowns. He’s a real bruiser and looks like he’s made a name for himself in the NFL. Considering he only had one carry before October, Stacy has been a welcomed surprise. Because of him, the Rams will be a sleeper in 2014. He’s a real workhorse.

Look no further than Eddie Lacy of the Green Bay Packers for NFL Rookie of the Year. The rookie out of Alabama looks like this generation’s Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. Lacy has 248 carries for 1,028 yards and eight touchdowns. Right now the Green Bay Packers control their own destiny and when quarterback Aaron Rodgers returns from injury they’ll become the most feared offense in the NFC. Lacy makes them dangerous, the kid is a juggernaut.

MVP

So, who’s the NFL’s most valuable player this season? Let’s keep this short and sweet for there will be much debate to come.

Nick Foles deserves a mention for his work turning around the once underachieving Philadelphia Eagles.

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are always in the conversation as they should be. Manning will end up breaking the all-time touchdown record in a season of 50 set by Mr. Brady, he currently has 47 but is he the hands down MVP? No.

Outside the quarterback position, New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham is the most dangerous player in the game. He’s can’t be guarded—his physical stature is not really fair to his opponents—but even he missed the top spot.

Heck, even Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker deserves a vote—all that guy does is split the uprights.

This year’s NFL MVP is Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Correct, Wilson only has 3,077 passing yards, which ranks him No. 17 in the league. But it’s not his arm that is most valuable, it’s his mentality. He’s thrown 24 touchdowns, eight interceptions, completed 64.7 percent of his throws and has run for 508 yards on 89 rushes.

He doesn’t make many mistakes and only runs when it’s the right choice. His team is currently 12-2 and lethal at home. Right now the Seahawks seem a lock for the Super Bowl.

He’s special.

So special that the Texas Rangers drafted him in the recent Rule 5 MLB draft—he hasn’t played baseball in some time yet everybody wants a piece of Russell Wilson. He can seemingly do no wrong.

He’s got a million dollar smile and is priceless on the field. Wilson for MVP—no doubt.

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 5, 2013

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NFL Talk

By: Matt Bowen

Face it—it’s never too soon to talk about the NFL. The thoughts of the upcoming 2013 NFL season are starting to invade NFL fanatics’ minds. Yes, we’re only a few days into June, but it’s been three months since Super Bowl XLVII. That means we have exactly three months to go until the 2013 season kicks off on September 5. Some may say that we’re in the doldrums of the offseason, but this is just the beginning. It only gets better from here.

With that being said, let’s talk football.

Here are the top five headlines weighing on everyone’s mind this offseason:

Will RG3 Be RG3?

After his injury last season, will RG3 be the same player this year?

Any true NFL fan is currently holding their breath hoping that Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III will return healthy. The knee injury he suffered in the playoffs was gruesome to watch. The nausea that ensued when reality and doubt set in still exist today.

He’s the future—a prototype never before seen on an NFL field—the complete package.

Will he be okay?

Something tells me that he’ll be just fine—RG3 is a remarkable athlete.

Let’s hope he’s “ready for some football” on September 9 vs. the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday Night Football.

Can the Indianapolis Colts Return to the Playoffs?

The Indianapolis Colts took the league by storm last year when they defied the odds and made the playoffs. Then rookie quarterback Andrew Luck proved to be the truth, but can he avoid the sophomore slump?

Having tasted winning in 2012, the Colts grew leaps and bounds and impressed all as they won games they probably shouldn’t have. One adjustment this is season will be to new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. Former OC Bruce Arians is now head coach for the Arizona Cardinals. All Luck did under the tutelage of Arians in 2012 is set a rookie record with 4,374 passing yards.

Luck has the intelligence to absorb a new system quickly. The only question that remains is will the Colts return to the playoffs?

Will Wes Welker be the “It” Factor for the Denver Broncos?

The Denver Broncos were seconds away from the AFC Championship game last season before a Baltimore Ravens bomb sent them packing.

After shaking off the rust, quarterback Peyton Manning looked like Peyton Manning by season’s end. All the Broncos needed heading into the offseason is some added offense and there was no better find than Wes Welker.

Will Welker be the difference? Are the Broncos now “locks” for a Super Bowl appearance? Along with Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas, can the Broncos have three 1000-plus yard receivers?

Something tells me Manning and Welker are out for revenge. Watch out!

How Good Will the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens Play?

The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens look to avoid the Super Bowl hangover this season.

The Ravens took the league’s top prize last season and without a doubt will look different this season. Out are Anqaun Boldin (49ers), Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and Ray Lewis (retired)— and Ravens fans have to be wondering what their team will be like without three of their best. The Ravens still have a solid squad, but are they contenders?

The 49ers face the most pressure of any team this season. Having been so close the ultimate prize, can they get over the hump this season? Colin Kaepernick is now the man and expectations have never been higher. If there’s one team that’s built to win it all it’s the Niners, but will they do it?

Numerous Other Questions Scattered on Our Minds:

Can the Cincinnati Bengals win a playoff game?

Will Adrian Peterson eclipse 2,000-plus yards again?

Will Mike Wallace be the boost the Miami Dolphins need?

Can Calvin Johnson break his own single-season receiving record of 1,964 yards?

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers make the playoffs?

Are the New England Patriots at the end of an era?

Is this the year for the Atlanta Falcons?

What will unfold for the New York Jets?

Are the Seattle Seahawks the NFL’s best team?

January 14, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NFL Conference Championships set: The NFL’s conference championship games are set. The San Francisco 49ers will face the Atlanta Falcons while the New England Patriots square off against the Baltimore Ravens. You could make plenty of good cases for each to win the Super Bowl at this point, but in picks sure to go wrong, my guess is that we’ll see the Niners take on the Patriots in the big game. San Francisco may have unlocked a hidden gem with the scrambling of Colin Kaepernick who set an NFL postseason record for a quarterback, rushing for more than 181 yards. You can bet that the Falcons will play more zone coverage in the hopes of limiting his scrambling, but Kaepernick has also proven to be a serviceable passer and should be able to make enough plays to lead the way. In the AFC, I give you two words: Tom Brady.

It is hard to go against Tom Brady in the NFL Playoffs.

No. 1 Duke ‘upset’ by North Carolina State: Duke suffered their first loss of the season when they fell to North Carolina State over the weekend. Whenever the top team in the nation loses, it’s a big deal. But while it may technically be an upset, losing to a top 20 team on the road is hardly a once-in-a-lifetime thing. With so much parity in college sports these days, any side can come out on top on any given night – particularly when both teams are good. The bigger story in all of this isn’t that Duke lost – rather, it’s the emergence of the Wolfpack. North Carolina State had two losses entering the game to Michigan and Oklahoma State. The Wolverines are a top five squad and the Cowboys are a quality team as well. After the win against Duke, more people should be paying attention to NC State.

No players inducted into Baseball Hall of Fame: For only the second time in 40 years, no player was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame last week. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa were tainted by the steroid issue and based on past voting trends, it wasn’t a surprise they didn’t receive the necessary 75%. But for guys not generally linked to the steroid controversy such as Craig Biggio and Mike Piazza, the news had to be a bit disappointing. Biggio had more than 3,000 career hits and Piazza was perhaps the best offensive catcher of all time, slugging 427 home runs and batting over .300. I understand the statement that some voters want to make against alleged steroid users, but to punish other players in the same era isn’t right. But in the end, Biggio and Piazza should eventually get in, so there’s still time to right the wrong.

Brian Kelly returns to Notre Dame: After being manhandled by the Alabama Crimson Tide earlier last week in the BCS National Championship game, the Fighting Irish got some good news when head coach Brian Kelly spurned the NFL and decided to remain at Notre Dame. Kelly reportedly interviewed with the Philadelphia Eagles, but chose to stay in the college ranks. Things couldn’t have worked out better for Notre Dame. They were soundly defeated by Alabama in the title game, but Kelly has the Irish on the right track. Notre Dame won eight games in 2010 and 2011 and this past year, had an undefeated regular season. There’s no reason to think the program will be slowing down anytime soon under Kelly.

Greg Oden hoping to come back to NBA: Sidelined by injuries, Greg Oden hasn’t played in the NBA since the 2010-11 season. He’s only played in 82 career games since he was drafted as the top overall pick in 2007. Heck, Oden hasn’t merely been bitten by the injury bug, he’s been eaten alive by it. But word is that he wants back in the league and teams are already lining up to give him a look. That may sound comical, but in reality, they should be. Signing the once-promising big man to a deal around the NBA minimum wouldn’t be the biggest risk in the world and it could even pay off handsomely. Why not take a flyer on a 24-year old seven footer with potential through the roof? And just as important is that while Oden hasn’t been a great player, he’s been serviceable when healthy, averaging nearly a double double with 9.4 points and 7.3 rebounds a game. If he stays on the court, there’s no reason to think he can’t significantly contribute.

April 25, 2012

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NFL Draft Predictions: Teams Bound for Big Time Success

By: Matt Bowen

The 2012 NFL draft is now just hours away, and a handful of teams are set to hit the jackpot this season. 

Some of the teams that will have success in this year’s draft had a lackluster 2011 campaign but hit a home run in free agency to set themselves up nicely for the April 26 draft. Others had a phenomenal 2011 season and are afforded the luxury of a draft full of options and calculated risks. 

Fans following these teams will have big smiles on their faces along with high expectations for the upcoming season. 

The St. Louis Rams Have Already Had Success by Trading Down in the 2012 Draft

The St. Louis Rams have done nothing but cultivate a winning franchise this offseason.

After a trade with Washington, The St. Louis Rams will have plenty of early round picks for the next few years.

Despite a 2-14 2011 season, the Rams made an intelligent decision by hiring new head coach Jeff Fisher. Fisher brings a proven track record, winning attitude and an automatic jump start to the stumbling franchise. 

He also helped lure free-agent cornerback Cortland Finnegan to the team, who gives the Rams defense an identity. 

Now the Rams turn to the draft, where they’ve already swapped the No. 2 pick with the Washington Redskins for the No. 6 pick. In doing so, the Rams also picked up another second-round pick this season.

That means the Rams will have three picks within the top 40—not bad for a franchise looking to turn things around.  

Tampa Bay Buccaneers Fans Should Be Ecstatic

Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans should be more than happy right now thanks to the franchise making a splash in the offseason. 

With the signings of offensive lineman Carl Nicks, wide receiver Vincent Jackson and cornerback Eric Wright, the Bucs drastically improved in free agency. This allows the team to draft players without depending on them to make an instant impact in 2012.

With the No. 5 overall selection and six picks in total, the Bucs have the opportunity to return to their winning ways of 2010, when they finished 10-6. 

Certainly fans will expect the Bucs’ first-round pick to make a good first impression, but the pressure on that player is radically reduced by the teams’ free-agent signings. 

Although 2011 was a season to forget, 2012 should be one to remember for the Buccaneers. 

With a Strong Draft the Kansas City Chiefs Will Be a Playoff Team in 2012

The Kansas City Chiefs were decimated by injuries in 2011 but will be playoff contenders in 2012. 

With the signings of Peyton Hillis and Eric Winston in free agency, the Chiefs set themselves up for a prominent draft. The team has eight picks in total and can afford to draft the best available player with its first three picks.

The Chiefs will look like a completely new squad in 2012, so fans should be pumped.

The Philadelphia Eagles Have Plenty to Look Forward to in the 2012 Draft

With nine picks in the 2012 Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles are bound to get better. 

After a 2011 season where nothing short of a Super Bowl appearance was expected, success in 2012 is a must for the franchise and it all begins with the draft.

The Eagles have five picks in the first four rounds, including two second-round selections. With these picks the Eagles will likely look to improve with a big wide receiver and an offensive lineman. 

Eagles’ fans should be excited for 2012 as they look to erase the disappointment of 2011.

The Cincinnati Bengals Will Continue to Make a Statement with the 2012 Draft

The Cincinnati Bengals are setting themselves up for success for years to come. 

Not only did they make the playoffs in 2011, but they now have nine draft picks in 2012. These picks include No. 17 and No. 21 of the first round. And with these picks coming so close together, the Bengals can draft a combination of needs, like an offensive lineman and a running back. 

The Bengals franchise will solidify itself as a contender with a dynamite draft in 2012.

The Green Bay Packers Will Do Nothing but Improve with 12 Draft Picks in 2012

Although the Green Bay Packers didn’t finish with the championship belt in 2011, they won 15 games in the regular season. 

Just when NFC North opponents didn’t need the Packers to continuously improve, the Packers have 12 draft picks in 2012.  Even better for the Packers, six of those picks are within the first four rounds of the draft. 

This gives the Packers plenty of chances to make another run at the Super Bowl next season—watch out!