January 23, 2013

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Ray Lewis Passing the Torch to Patrick Willis the Premier Headline of Super Bowl XLVII

By: Matt Bowen

The dust has finally settled on the 2012 NFL season and the table is now set for Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers on February 3, 2013 in New Orleans.

Ray Lewis will play his final game in Super Bowl XLVII.

Never mind the over-analyzed matchup between brothers and opposing head coaches  John and Jim Harbaugh known as the “HarBowl”, we’ll be sick of that story by the end of the week. The real headline is the fact that Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis will be passing the torch to counterpart Patrick Willis on the Niners as the premier NFL linebacker.

It is now well known that this is Lewis’ “last ride”, as the 37-year-old, 17-year veteran will hang’em up at the conclusion of the season. He has long been the most feared and respected middle linebacker in football. When one thinks classic, smash-mouth, and tough-as-nails NFL players, Hall of Fame Chicago Bears linebacker and leader Dick Butkus comes to mind; then there’s Lewis.

He’s simply the most captivating man in football.

Over the course of his career Lewis has transformed his body into a machine. His freakish diet says it all—mainly protein shakes, egg whites, apples, water and vitamins. He is as dedicated to his body as he is his team and his craft.

His counterpart and soon to be predecessor Willis is no different.  The 27-year-old looks nothing short of a Greek God. It’s no coincidence the two men are virtually the exact same size, both 6’1” and only a few lbs. apart from each other in the 240-245 range. There’s a reason both men share No. 52—Willis aspires to be as great as Lewis.

Often compared to Lewis in looks and leadership skills, Willis will soon hold the crown of the league’s undisputed top linebacker.

Willis has already been named an All-Pro five times in his first six seasons. Lewis has been named All-Pro a stout seven times in his career, but that seems something Willis will topple in just a matter of a few more seasons.

Now, these two Goliaths and future Hall of Famers lead their respective teams onto the field for a Super Bowl showdown for the ages.

Lewis will prepare his men by donning his eye-black turned war paint and by belting out his famed “Any Dogs in the House?” pregame war cry for the final time.

Willis will have his men focused on spoiling Lewis’ ultimate retirement party and permanently writing their names in the record books.

Who will budge?

Will Lewis have enough left in the tank to propel his team to victory?

Can Willis strike gold and steal the show?

Regardless of who lifts the Vince Lombardi Trophy when the clock strikes zero, Lewis will pass the torch to Willis as the best.

The player Willis will pass the torch to likely plays in high school right now. That thought alone is why we love sports.  Who’s next?

January 22, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

San Francisco 49ers to meet Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl: The San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens advanced to the Super Bowl after wins over the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots, respectively. Both teams have played well this season, but it is a bit interesting that each road team won since home field advantage is so important. The game now sets up, of course, the Harbaugh Bowl as 49ers’ head coach Jim Harbaugh will square off against his brother John, the coach of the Ravens. Be prepared to hear this particular angle played out ad nauseam over the next two weeks.

The Baltimore Ravens will play the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Earl Weaver pass away: Baseball lost two Hall of Famers last week when Stan Musial and Earl Weaver both passed away. At 82, Weaver died while on a cruise (a cause of death wasn’t immediately known). He went to four World Series and won one in 1970. Musial also died over the weekend at his home at the age of 92. Stan the Man was a Hall of Famer, but you could actually argue that he was a bit underrated when it came to his pecking order on the list of the sport’s all-time best players. Often overlooked for flashier names, Musial won three MVP awards, three World Series and racked up more than 3,600 hits and nearly 500 home runs. He wasn’t just a Hall of Famer or the face of a franchise, but an absolute icon.

Lance Armstrong confesses to doping: In an interview with Oprah last week, Lance Armstrong finally confessed to what many had accused him of over his career – doping during his races. Regardless of what you think about Armstrong, it was a sad day for cycling. The number of clean cyclists decreased by one and Armstrong was the biggest name in the history of the sport. The fact that he cheated isn’t what likely has most steaming – some fans could forgive him for that. Armstrong’s biggest problem is that he was so adamant about not cheating for such a long time.

Manti Te’o involved in girlfriend hoax … or not: Ever since the regular season ended, Manti Te’o has had a rough time of things. His Notre Dame team was rolled up by Alabama in the BCS Championship and he didn’t have a strong game. But last week, things got markedly more embarrassing for the star linebacker as he was involved in a strange situation. By now you’ve likely seen the report, but the gist of the story is that Te’o either made up a story about a girlfriend dying or was the victim of a hoax. We may never know the true story, but one thing’s for certain – Manti’s draft status is sinking like a rock. Some team will take a chance on him, but with a poor national championship game and girlfriend-gate, his stock is falling.

NBA All-Star starters named: The NBA’s starters for the All-Star game were named and Kobe Bryant was voted as one for the 15th straight time – a league record. If you needed any more proof that a handful of teams dominate the fans’ consciousness, look no farther than the two rosters. Four of the league’s premier teams, the Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, and Boston Celtics each had two players. Carmelo Anthony of the Knicks and Kevin Durant of the Thunder were the other two players to make it. As far as snubs go, Paul Pierce or Chris Bosh probably deserved to start ahead of Kevin Garnett. But all in all, the fans did a reasonably good job.

The NHL is back: The NHL got underway with a slate of games over the weekend. The highlight was seeing the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, two favorites to reach the Stanley Cup finals, square off on Opening Day. It wasn’t the crispest of games and the play was a bit sloppy, but the players will quickly round into shape. The important thing is that with the football season winding down, hockey is getting underway just in time to give sports fans another option.

Mayor injures himself before Ray Lewis dance (seriously): Denver mayor Michael Hancock, having lost a bet to Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, had to pay up. After the Baltimore Ravens knocked off the Denver Broncos, Hancock was forced to do Ray Lewis’ famed warm-up dance. An original report stated that he injured himself actually practicing for the performance. Later, it was reported that he injured himself at a western stock show of all places. Either way, the mayoral bets are a bit ridiculous and we’d all be better off if they just went away. But as for the origins of the injury (which, by the way, is so severe that Hancock can’t actually perform the dance to pay off the bet), I’m going with the first report – it just makes for a better story.

No. 1 Louisville dethroned: For the second time in as many weeks, we’ll have a new No. 1 in college basketball after the Louisville Cardinals were upset by Syracuse on Saturday, 70-68. Duke is once again the #1 team in men’s college basketball. The bigger question is for how long?

December 28, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

For the majority of NFL teams, there is just one game left in the season. Some of them know who they are. I’m talking to you Kansas City and Jacksonville. Others enter week 17 in do or die mode. You hear me Washington and Dallas? No matter who you are rooting for, this post season is setting up to be a great one. Now on to the rankings.

A Vikings win over Green Bay could set-up a rematch in the first round of the playoffs.

1 Atlanta Falcons (13-2) — The Falcons have clinched the top seed in the NFC and won’t have to play outside again until next season. Let’s see how they handle three weeks between meaningful games.

2 New England Patriots (11-4)Tom Brady was a big part of my fantasy championship winning team. You don’t care. Neither does he.

3 San Francisco 49ers (10-4-1) — You think the Cardinals are excited about facing an angry 49ers team that was completely embarrassed in Seattle? I think not.

4 Denver Broncos (12-3)Peyton Manning and Von Miller have the Broncos ready for a Super Bowl run. They haven’t lost since Oct. 7 and just need to beat the Chiefs to get a bye.

5 Green Bay Packers (11-4) — The Packers will have a bye if they beat the Vikings on Sunday. If they lose, they could get the Vikings again in the first round.

6 Houston Texans (12-3)Houston needs a win in Indy to claim the AFC’s top seed. Otherwise they will probably host the Bengals in the first round.

7 Seattle Seahawks (10-5) — Pete Carroll’s squad could still win the NFC West, but they are probably headed to Washington or Dallas in the first round of the playoffs.

8 Baltimore Ravens (10-5) — Are the Ravens back? They looked very good against the reeling Giants and will host the Colts or Bengals in the first round.

9 Washington Redskins (9-6) — The Skins are 6-0 since they had their bye week but it’s going to have to be 7-0 for them to win the NFC East.

10 Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)Andy Dalton finally got his first win against the Steelers. The Bengals will be the No. 6 seed and play at Houston, Denver, New England or Baltimore in the first round.

11 Dallas Cowboys (8-7) — Once again the Cowboys head into week 17 with everything on the line. You can bet this will come down to the fourth quarter.

12 Indianapolis Colts (10-5) — The turnaround of the Colts is one of the most impressive stories in the NFL. They are here to stay too.

13 Minnesota Vikings (9-6) — Wins over the Bears, Rams and Texans have the Vikings in control of their destiny. A win over the Packers would get them a playoff rematch in Green Bay.

14 New Orleans Saints (7-8) — Finishing at .500 would be pretty impressive considering all the drama in New Orleans this season.

15 Chicago Bears (9-6) — The Bears need to beat the reeling Lions and then root for Green Bay to knock off the Vikings.

16 New York Giants (8-7) — The defending champs have lost five of seven and need lots of help on Sunday to sneak into the playoffs.

17 Miami Dolphins (7-8) — If the season was 18 games like the commissioner wanted, the Dolphins would have a good shot to get in with the way they are playing.

18 St. Louis Rams (7-7-1) — After finishing 2-14 last season, the Rams are one of the most improved teams in 2012.

19 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-8) — Five losses in six games is not how the Steelers saw the stretch run going and they are out of the playoff hunt.

20 Carolina Panthers (6-9) — The Panthers waited too long to get hot. They have been one of the better teams after starting 2-8.

21 Tennessee Titans (5-10) — Clearly they are ready for the offseason. Nobody likes going to Green Bay in December but losing 55-7 is as bad as it gets.

22 New York Jets (6-9) — Looks like the Jets could go three for three on getting rid of quarterbacks this offseason. Should be interesting.

23 San Diego Chargers (6-9) — Beating the Raiders would give the Chargers a 3-1 finish but it won’t be good enough to save everybody’s jobs. Changes are coming.

24 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-9) — The Bucs won four straight to climb into the playoff hunt…then lost five in a row to fall out of it.

25 Arizona Cardinals (5-10) — It doesn’t appear that the Cardinals know who their quarterback is. But have they at least figured out who their quarterback isn’t?

26 Detroit Lions (4-11) — Were these guys really in the playoffs last year? What happened?

27 Cleveland Browns (5-10) — The Browns are making progress. Winning in Pittsburgh on Sunday would be another step forward.

28 Buffalo Bills (5-10) — Will either team show up when the Bills and Jets meet in the season finale?

29 Oakland Raiders (4-11) — If it wasn’t for beating the Chiefs twice, the Raiders could have the worst record in the league.

30 Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) — Will the Eagles knock the defending champs out of the hunt or improve their draft position?

31 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-13) — The Jags already beat Tennessee once. If they do it again, it could cost them the first pick in the draft.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-13) — Don’t expect the Chiefs to finish with a win in Denver against the hottest team in the league.

December 18, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

A lot changed in the NFL in Week 15. Fans in Washington, Minnesota and Dallas saw their playoff hopes improve dramatically. And if you are rooting for Baltimore, Tampa Bay, New York Giants, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh or the New York Jets…your hopes either took a major hit and/or are gone all together. Here’s how I have them ranked with two games to go.

1 San Francisco 49ers (10-3-1) — As the Nature Boy Ric Flair always said, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.” The Patriots were at the top last week and the 49ers went into New England and won. San Fransisco is now “The Man.”

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers haven't given up on this season.

2 Atlanta Falcons (12-2) — Talk about making a statement. If anybody wants to get to New Orleans, they are going to have to go through Atlanta.

3 New England Patriots (10-4)Tom Brady was on the verge of one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history. But the Patriots couldn’t finish it off and likely cost themselves a playoff bye.

4 Houston Texans (12-2)
— One more win ought to be enough to lock up home-field advantage in the AFC. It won’t be easy with the Vikings and Colts both fighting for wild card spots.

5 Denver Broncos (11-3)
– The Broncos may be the biggest winner of week 15. Home wins over the Browns and Chiefs will clinch the No. 2 seed and a first round bye.

6 Green Bay Packers (10-4) – The NFC North champs have won eight of nine and have their sights set on the NFC’s No. 2 seed and a first round bye.

7 Seattle Seahawks (9-5) – After putting up 108 points in the last two weeks the Seahawks are one win away from getting into the playoffs (probably) and have an outside shot of stealing the NFC West from San Fransisco.

8 Dallas Cowboys (8-6) – Somehow the Cowboys got off the mat and won five of six. If they can make it seven of eight they should be NFC East champs.

9 Baltimore Ravens (9-5) — Remember when the Ravens were on the verge of earning a bye in the first round of the playoffs? A desperate New York Giant team could give them a fourth straight loss and make the Ravens at Bengals in week 17 for the division title.

10 Washington Redskins (8-6) – Five straight wins have the Redkins at the top of the NFC East. A win at Philly this week will set up a huge week 17 showdown with the Cowboys.

11 Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) – The Bengals can make the playoffs with a win in Pittsburgh. A loss makes things very interesting.

12 New York Giants (8-6) – Did the Giants just sneak in an extra bye week? Sunday’s game in Baltimore is a must win.

13 Indianapolis Colts (9-5) – The Colts should have no trouble with the Chiefs this week. A win should keep them from having to go to New England in the first round.

14 Minnesota Vikings (8-6) – If the playoffs started today….with Houston and Green Bay left on the schedule, they have started for the Vikings.

15 Chicago Bears (8-6) — Wins in Arizona and Detroit won’t be enough to get the Bears in the playoffs. They need help.

16 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7) – Despite losing four of five, the Steelers can make the playoffs by winning the last two games. Their reward for doing so? Probably the Patriots.

17 New Orleans Saints (6-8) – This season cannot end fast enough for the Saints now that they are out of playoff contention.

18 Carolina Panthers (5-9) –  Don’t be surprised if the Panthers finish 7-9. This is one team that hasn’t quit.

19 St. Louis Rams (6-7-1) – If everyone in front of them loses, a win would give the Rams something to play for in week 17.

20 Miami Dolphins (6-8) – Surprisingly, the Dolphins still have hope. They must beat Buffalo and hope the Steelers beat the Bengals to go into week 17 with a chance.

21 Tennessee Titans (5-9) – Is Jake Locker the future for the Titans? I’m not sure they know the answer.

22 New York Jets (6-8) – The Jets looked more like a team playing for the top pick in the draft than a playoff spot on Monday night.

23 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
– That 41-0 beat down ensured the Bucs won’t have to worry about making a trip to the frozen tundra in January.

24 Arizona Cardinals (5-9) – Nice win for the Cards. With the Bears and 49ers coming up, they were looking at a 12-game losing streak to finish the season.

25 Detroit Lions (4-10) – The Lions are a candidate for most disappointing team of 2012. They could lose their last eight games.

26 Cleveland Browns (5-9) – You heard it here first. Cleveland makes the playoffs in 2013.

27 Buffalo Bills (5-9) – Maybe the Bills are the new Redskins? Let’s see if they try to win the off-season for the second year in a row.

28 San Diego Chargers (5-9)
– The window in San Diego is officially closed. Time to rebuild.

29 Oakland Raiders (4-10) – The Raiders haven’t allowed a point in five quarters.

30 Philadelphia Eagles (4-10) – Eagles are headed for 4-12 with two playoff hungry opponents remaining but they would love to knock the Redskins and Giants out of the race.

31 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12) – GM, Head Coach, quarterback and even franchise location are question marks? That’s not good.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-12) – The Chiefs appear to be a lock for 2-14 and the first pick in the draft.

December 11, 2012

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NFL Power Rankings

By: Joe Williams

There are three weeks left in the NFL regular season and we know who four of the 12 playoff teams will be.

15 teams are still in the hunt for the other eight spots, leaving 13 teams that should already be looking to 2013. Where does your team sit?

Tom Brady and New England are the new #1 in the NFL Power Rankings.

1 New England Patriots (10-3)Brady and Belichick are at it again. New England is going to be scary in January and probably February.

2 Atlanta Falcons (11-2) — Oops. The Falcons put it on cruise control a bit early. They still need at least one more win to lock down the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

3 San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) — You’ve got to feel for Alex Smith. Especially with a potential Super Bowl preview coming up Sunday night in New England.

4 Houston Texans (11-2) — Sunday’s game against the Colts just got a whole lot bigger. One more loss and Houston could have a big problem.

5 Denver Broncos (10-3) Manning is making a strong case for MVP. A win in Baltimore could get the Broncos a first round bye.

6 Baltimore Ravens (9-4) — Their last four games have been decided by three points. This week is a must-win if the Ravens are going to have a first-round playoff bye.

7 Green Bay Packers (9-4) – The Packers are now alone in first place in the NFC North and winning in Chicago on Sunday would give them another division title.

8 Seattle Seahawks (8-5) – Did Pete Carroll have a flashback to his USC days and think he needed to run up the score to gain style points?

9 New York Giants (8-5) – There is no margin for error in the NFC East and the Giants must go to Atlanta and Baltimore in the next two weeks. The defending champs could miss the post season.

10 Chicago Bears (8-5)Jay Cutler needs to get healthy quick and have a big game on Sunday or the Bears will be watching the playoffs on TV.

11 Dallas Cowboys (7-6)Pittsburgh comes to town this week in a meeting of two teams desperately needing a win. Dez Bryant could be out with a broken finger.

12 Indianapolis Colts (9-4) – Is this all Andrew Luck? This team was horrendous last season.

13 Washington Redskins (7-6) – The Skins are 4-0 since their bye week and have stormed back into the NFC East race. The question is whether RGIII can be RGIII with an injured knee.

14 Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) – Beat the Eagles, Steelers and Ravens and you’re in the playoffs. That’s a tall order.

15 Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) – Do they want to make the playoffs? Didn’t look like it when they were down 27-3 to a bad San Diego team.

16 Minnesota Vikings (7-6) – That was a big win over the Bears. The Vikings need another win this week at St. Louis because they finish with Houston and Green Bay.

17 St. Louis Rams (6-6-1) – A three-game winning streak for the first time since 2006 has the Rams in playoff contention. Three more wins may not be enough though.

18 New York Jets (6-7) – The Jets were left for dead on Thanksgiving, but two straight wins has them in the hunt with three winnable games remaining.

19 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7) – Allowing two touchdowns in the last four minutes to lose against the Eagles is going to haunt the Bucs while they are watching the playoffs at home.

20 New Orleans Saints (5-8) – It was really just a matter of time in New Orleans. Not even Drew Brees can overcome the issues they have had.

21 Detroit Lions (4-9) – There is too much talent on this team to be 4-9. The Lions just can’t find a way to win. Something’s missing.

22 Carolina Panthers (4-9) – Where has that Panther team been all season? It’s a little late to be showing up for the party.

23 Tennessee Titans (4-9) – The Titans are just the latest fourth quarter victim of Andrew Luck. I’m sure they are looking forward to another decade of that.

24 Miami Dolphins (5-8) – The Dolphins competed against the Patriots and 49ers in the last two weeks, but it is clear they are not on that level.

25 Buffalo Bills (5-8) – The defense has improved but it has been a disappointing season in Buffalo.

26 Cleveland Browns (5-8) – The Browns are 5-3 in their last eight and still mathematically alive in the playoff hunt? Who knew?

27 Arizona Cardinals (4-9) – U.G.L.Y. Cardinals got no alibi. From 4-0 to 4-12? Yikes.

28 San Diego Chargers (5-8) – Big changes coming in San Diego for 2013. Nobody is safe.

29 Philadelphia Eagles (4-9) – Nick Foles could be the starter in 2013 after that come-from-behind win against the Bucs, but Philly fans are probably complaining that he cost them a higher draft pick.

30 Jacksonville Jaguars (2-11) – Not much to be positive about in Jacksonville right now. At least the weather is nice.

31 Oakland Raiders (3-10) – There was hope when Oakland landed Carson Palmer, but some things never change. The Raiders losing seems to be one of them.

32 Kansas City Chiefs (2-11) – The Chiefs lead the race for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft…in large part because they are -22 in the turnover battle.