November 29, 2012

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Why the Cincinnati Bengals are Legitimate Super Bowl Sleepers

By: Matt Bowen

The NFL playoffs are quickly approaching and the postseason picture couldn’t be cloudier at the moment. As a die-hard NFL fan, that’s what is great about the game. With so many games coming down to the wire on a weekly basis, the human imagination runs a marathon every Sunday with all the possibilities for the “second season.” Fans want nail-biting, bone-crunching action and the NFL delivers with regularity. Something fans love is debating the true sleeper teams and the Cincinnati Bengals should be feared this season.

Can the Bengals replicate the run the Giants made to the Super Bowl last season?

Now in the final quarter of the year, every team around the league is either gearing up for the final push toward the postseason or looking to spoil the party for their opponents.

So, who will win the Super Bowl? Well, only time will tell as the games have yet to be played, but there’s plenty of room for speculation.

Everybody knows that the Houston Texans and Atlanta Falcons are sitting pretty at 10-1 and will be favorites in the postseason, but having one of the best regular season records does not guarantee the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Often it’s not the team that is tops throughout the season, but the team that gets hot at the right time.

Super Bowl sleepers are always dangerous this time of year as out of nowhere everything things seems to come together and these teams begin to fire on all cylinders.

In the recent past the Green Bay Packers of 2010 and New York Giants of 2011 fumbled through much the regular season only to catch fire late and carry that momentum all the way to a championship. This year, that team is the Bengals.

Yes, the Bengals are the most dangerous sleeper to make a serious push for the Super Bowl this season. Gone are the days of being the doormat of the NFL and a real laughing stock; the Bengals are for real.

Led by quarterback Andy Dalton, the Bengals are currently 6-5, riding a three-game winning streak and are within reach of the playoffs. The best thing that happened to this young, revamped team this year may have been a four-game losing streak.

Offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth commented that the team “relaxed” after a 3-1 start and thought that winning in the NFL would come easy to them. After a month of losing the Bengals did something that hasn’t been seen in Cincinnati since the late 1980’s—they collected themselves and never quit.

After a surprise trip to the playoffs in 2011, the Bengals were written off as a one-year wonder. Behind Dalton and a tough dose of NFL reality in 2012, the team is headed in the right direction.

The Bengals offense is growing on a weekly basis.  Having a top-five NFL receiver in A.J. Green, an up-and-coming touchdown target in rookie Mohamed Sanu and a dependable running back in BenJarvus Green-Ellis doesn’t hurt. What Green accomplishes on Sunday afternoons is special; he makes the game look simple. His 10 receiving touchdown are currently tied with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for tops in the league.

The defense plays with a serious chip on their shoulder and most importantly, the team is having fun. The team that plays together stays together and for a second straight season the playoffs are on the horizon for the Bengals. The fact that they are on the outside of the playoffs looking in right now gives them even more fuel.

A win over their divisional foe Baltimore Ravens in Week 17 to clinch a spot in the postseason will give them all the confidence they need. The Bengals are the team of the future.

Who Dey!

June 26, 2012

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Dishing out NBA Postseason Awards

By: Anson Whaley

The NBA doled out its regular season awards earlier this year. But with the postseason recently concluded, here’s a look at some awards I’d hand out based solely on the playoffs.

The NBA playoffs now over, it is time to give out the postseason awards.

Most Valuable Player: Lebron James

After a few disappointing postseasons, James finally put it all together and grabbed his first ring. Make no mistake about it – he had plenty of help along the way, particular from Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, and Mike Miller. But James made big play after big play and really was the best player in the postseason. James not only led the league in scoring in the playoffs, but also topped his team in rebounds and assists. Even though he got some assistance, there’s virtually no chance Miami wins the title without him. James was the regular season MVP and carried that over into the postseason.

Top Rookie: Kenneth Faried

A vote could be given to the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, who finished second in scoring and rebounding. But Faried gets the nod here because, well, he was first in each category. Leonard’s team went deeper, but Faried was the only rookie to average a double-double with 10.4 points and 10.0 rebounds a game in the Denver Nuggets’ sole series against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Nuggets almost pulled off a first-round upset, forcing the Lakers to seven games and Faried was clearly a big part of that, giving Los Angeles fits inside.

Top Sixth Man: James Harden

Harden was the runaway Sixth Man of the Year in the NBA’s regular season and he’s also my pick for the best Sixth Man in the postseason. Harden, ironically, was one of the reasons the Thunder couldn’t keep up with the Heat in the Finals as his offensive numbers dipped dramatically. But if you take his entire body of work into account (16.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game), he’s a pretty easy selection here. Harden reached the 20-point mark five times and had 19 points on three additional occasions. The simple fact is he would start for nearly every other team in the league.

Top Coach: Erik Spoelstra

Don’t misunderstand – I don’t think Spoelstra is the best coach that was in the playoffs. But he did something that he wasn’t able to do last year … motivate the Heat to win the title. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Scotty Brooks could have been given this award as well, but in the end, he fell just short. There’s no doubt that the Miami Heat are a more experienced and, quite simply, a better team. But guess what? They also were last year and failed to close the deal. Spoelstra’s team also had to deal with some adversity along the way. Star forward Chris Bosh missed several games due to injury and despite owning home-court advantage, the Heat also trailed in series against the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics. Regardless of what you think about Spoelstra, he pressed the right buttons this year and deserves to get some recognition.

Biggest Disappointment: Ray Allen

I could easily go with Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough here since the forward had a dismal pair of series against the Heat and Orlando Magic. Hansbrough not only saw his minutes shrink, but his scoring was cut by more than half. He also rebounded less and shot worse than he did in the regular season. But my vote goes to Allen simply because more is expected of him as a former All-Star. He had some great games, but also had plenty of stinkers, including a 5-14 stretch over three games against the Philadelphia 76ers where he scored a grand total of 13 points.  In particular, Allen’s three-point shot was missing. He shot 45% from that distance in the regular season, but made only 30% in the playoffs. Allen also scored just over ten points in the postseason this year and that simply wasn’t enough – even for an aging veteran.