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.

December 17, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Mack Brown Resigns – Crazy week in Texas with football coach Mack Brown stepping down from his post with the Longhorns. Brown’s resignation has been the subject of speculation for a few years now as many fans haven’t been pleased with the team’s record lately. After nine consecutive seasons with at least ten wins, Texas hasn’t achieved that mark in the past four years. Brown hasn’t been terrible, mind you, guiding the Longhorns to three winning seasons in those four years. But the team hasn’t competed for a national championship in some time and the program hasn’t been as good as it was last decade under him. Alabama’s Nick Saban seemed to be a potential replacement for Brown, but he recently announced he’s staying put with the Crimson Tide.

Kobe Bryant Struggles in Return – The Los Angeles Lakers got their star back this week as Kobe Bryant returned from his Achilles injury sustained last season – but things haven’t gone quite as they hoped. The team got off to a 1-3 start since Bryant’s return with their only win a three-point victory over the Charlotte Bobcats under their belts. The Mamba isn’t helping things, either. In the four games he’s played, Bryant is scoring only 13.5 points a game. Helping to fill the point guard role in Steve Nash’s absence, the good news is that he is averaging a career-high seven assists per contest. But Bryant is also averaging a career-worst 6.3 turnovers and is clearly still dealing with a high amount of rust.

Jamaal Charles has Record Day … as a Receiver – Kansas City Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles had some kind of day in the team’s 56-31 win over the rival Oakland Raiders on Sunday. Charles is one of the league’s best rushers, but he did his damage on Sunday through the air, racking up 195 receiving yards on eight catches. He added five big touchdowns and had 220 total yards on the day. According to ESPN, he had the third biggest receiving day for a running back since the 1970 merger and his five scores tied a franchise record. Needless to say, Charles surely won leagues for many of his fantasy football owners that reached their league’s championship games.

Roy Halladay Retires – Former All-Star pitcher Roy Halladay retired last week at the age of 36. Halladay, as recently as two seasons ago, was still one of baseball’s best pitchers. In his second season with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, the pitcher had perhaps his best season ever with a 19-6 record and career-bests with 220 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.35. The past two seasons for Halladay, though, have been forgettable and last year, he suffered one of his worst professional seasons going 4-5 with a whopping 6.82 ERA. The next question will inevitably be if he will get into the Hall of Fame. His credentials are reasonable with a career 3.38 ERA and more than 2,100 strikeouts, but his relatively low total of 203 wins will hurt him. That’s unfortunate because playing for some pretty bad Toronto Blue Jays teams for the bulk of his career, Halladay would certainly have had more wins with a better franchise. Still, that number will be difficult to overcome since most of the other starters currently in the Hall have more victories.

Snowball Fight Ends with Oregon Player Suspended – The Oregon Ducks’ football team apparently organized a snowball fight with fans and, well, things got out of control. A player was even suspended for the team’s upcoming bowl game. Well, then.

RGIII Benched … Redskins Lose Anyway – The Washington Redskins benched their star quarterback Robert Griffin III after he’s been inconsistent all year long following his recovery from his ACL injury. Kirk Cousins got the start for Washington on Sunday, but the team still lost to the Atlanta Falcons, 27-26. The team was competitive and Cousins did some good things in throwing for 381 yards and three touchdowns, but he also struggled a little with two interceptions and failed to convert a potential game-winning two-point conversion near the end of the contest. Cousins is an interesting quarterback who has a future in this league, but the team is still better off with Griffin if he can return to the form he showed in 2012. Benching him was the right move and if the Skins are wise, they’ll do the same for the rest of the season and allow him to get healthy for next year.

Jameis Winston wins Heisman – In the long and storied history of the Heisman trophy, a freshman didn’t win the award until last season when Johnny Manziel took home the prize. That opened the door for others and for the second consecutive season, a first-year player has won the honor. Freshman quarterback Jameis Winston has been nothing short of spectacular for the Seminoles and he clearly deserved to win it, leading Florida State to an undefeated season as they head into the national championship game next month.

Skiing … Not Just for the MountainsSkiers are taking over Detroit’s abandoned buildings. No, really.

June 19, 2013

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NFL Quarterbacks Facing the Most Pressure in 2013

By: Matt Bowen

As the summer heats up so do the predictions for the 2013 NFL season. Quarterbacks make the NFL world go round and no one in professional sports faces more scrutiny.

Cam Newton will start the 2013 NFL season on the hot seat.

With only 16 games on the schedule, there’s no time to be “off.” The grueling NFL schedule doesn’t allow it—one bad game could be the difference between the playoffs and NFL futility. Unfortunately it’s the quarterback that takes the brunt of the blame. It may not be fair, but it comes with the territory.

Nothing is different this time around as the following quarterbacks face the most pressure heading into the 2013 NFL season.

Mark Sanchez, New York Jets: Let’s get this out of the way now—Mark Sanchez is facing the most pressure of any athlete in the world this year.

Now with rookie quarterback Geno Smith waiting for his chance, Sanchez has no room for error. Playing in New York, it’s no surprise Sanchez faces an uphill battle.

The bottom line is that Sanchez must lead his team to playoffs and win at least one playoff contest. We shall see.

Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: Andy Dalton is light years beyond most NFL quarterbacks after two complete seasons in the league. He has turned the “Bungles” back into the Bengals. He has led his team to the back-to-back playoff appearances, but he has yet to win.

In fact, he has not looked good in the playoffs, he looks predetermined every time he drops back to throw.

So, how does he fix this? Dalton has to look confident from Week 1. The Bengals are one of the best up-and-coming teams in the NFL and there’s reason to believe that Dalton is the man—but now is the time leave it all on the field.

Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, nope—it was Russell Wilson who was the 2012 rookie quarterback who stole the show. Don’t get confused, Luck and RG3 were phenomenal, but Wilson was as good if not better.

Now, Wilson must avoid the sophomore slump and lead the Seahawks to the top of the charts. There’s a great NFL debate going on right now and many say that the Seahawks are the league’s best team. That puts plenty of pressure on Wilson.

Wise beyond his years, Wilson is mature enough to handle the heat of the NFL media.

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: Matthew Stafford came within 33 yards of eclipsing 5,000-plus yards for the second straight season last year.

So why does he face so much pressure in 2013?

Because his team, the Detroit Lions went 4-12 in 2012 and looked downright pitiful, that’s why. While it certainly isn’t all Stafford’s fault, as the focal point of the franchise, he is the one fan’s and media turn to for answers.

So, less is more for Stafford heading into the new season, except in the win column. True Lions fans know that if their quarterback throws the ball less than the NFL-record 727 times, that’s a good thing. That means the defense isn’t allowing the opposition to score at ease. That also means the Lions have a balanced offense.

Another downtrodden year for the Lions and it may be time to find a new front office and start over again.

Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: Is it just me, or does Cam Newton seem like an afterthought right now? Let’s not forget about him, as the quarterback won’t disappoint this season.

After a stellar rookie season in 2011, Newton returned from space and was grounded in 2012, but his numbers weren’t that far off from his Rookie of the Year campaign. The Panthers, however, struggled last year.

Newton is devoted to his team and to prove that he’s one of the best. The pressure is astounding, but he’ll be up to the challenge. Expect nothing less than brilliance from Newton this season.

January 10, 2013

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What I’ll Remember About 2012 – Part 1

By: Joe Williams

Every year we see things we never thought we would and things we never want to see again. We see everything from the incredible to the inspiring to the sad and hilarious. Here’s what I will remember about 2012.

January 1 – Matt Flynn and Matthew Stafford combine for 971 net passing yards in 45-41 Green Bay win.

January 8 – The Denver Broncos make short work of the new NFL overtime rules, scoring an 80-yard touchdown on the first play of overtime to beat the Steelers 29-23 in the first round of the AFC playoffs.

January 9 Alabama actually scored a touchdown in its rematch with LSU in the BCS Championship Game, winning 21-0.

January 14 Tom Brady shredded the Denver Broncos for five touchdown passes in the first half and another in the third quarter to tie the postseason single-game record in a 45-10 win.

January 14 – The 49ers and Saints combine for 34 points in the fourth quarter and four lead changes in the final five minutes as the 49ers outlasted New Orleans 36-32 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

January 22 – Joe Paterno passed away.

January 22 – The Baltimore Ravens had a dropped pass in the end zone that prevented them from winning the AFC Championship Game in New England and then missed a 32-yard field goal that would have sent the game to overtime.

January 22 – The New York Giants advanced to the Super Bowl with a 20-17 overtime win against the 49ers after a fumbled punt set up the game-winning field goal.

February 4Jeremy Lin came out of nowhere and led the New York Knicks to a win with 25 points, five rebounds and seven assists in the first of an incredible 13-game stretch in which he averaged 22.3 points and 7.4 assists. His heroics were celebrated worldwide and he ended up on the cover of Time and Sports Illustrated and one of the biggest celebrities in the league.

Jeremy Lin was one of the biggest stories of 2012.

February 5 – The New York Giants beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in another Super Bowl, 21-17, led by Eli Manning and another fourth-quarter comeback.

February 5 – Tom Brady’s wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen, gets caught on camera blaming Patriot receivers for New England’s Super Bowl loss, saying that her husband cannot throw and catch the ball at the same time.

March 8 – The Indianapolis Colts announced that they will release future hall-of-fame quarterback, Peyton Manning.

March 13 – The First Four was worth watching on this night. First, Western Kentucky rallied from a 16-point deficit with 4:51 to go and beat Mississippi Valley State 59-58. Then BYU followed that up by erasing a 25-point deficit and beat Iona 78-72.

March 16Duke and Missouri, both No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament, go down on the same day. Norfolk State upset a 30-win Missouri team 86-84 and then later that night Lehigh defeated the Blue Devils 75-70. Only four No. 15 seeds have ever knocked off a No. 2 seed in history before it happened twice that day.

March 20 – Peyton Manning picks the Denver Broncos.

March 21NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laid down the law on the New Orleans Saints for their bounty scandal, effectively ending the Saints season before it ever got started. This story never went away due to the continuous appeals of the suspensions.

March 26 – The Denver Broncos trade Tim Tebow to the New York Jets.

March 11 – Tiger Woods withdrew from the final round of the WGC Cadillac Championship with an injury. The blimp that was covering the golf tournament then followed Tiger as he left the golf course, a scene usually reserved for a high-speed chase.

April 1 – I.K. Kim takes the honor for worst golf shot of the year after she missed an 18-inch putt that would have won the LPGA’s first major of the year, the Kraft Nabisco Championship. She ended up losing in a playoff.

April 2 – John Calipari and his Kentucky squad that consisted of six future NBA players wins the national title, beating Kansas 67-59.

April 3Baylor completed a perfect season at 40-0 and won the women’s national title, beating Notre Dame 80-61.

April 8 – Bubba Watson hits one of the greatest shots in Masters history; a miracle 40-yard hook shot out of the pine straw on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Louis Oosthuizen. Two putts for par later and Watson was wearing the green jacket.

April 21Phil Humber pitches a perfect game at Seattle, striking out nine in the White Sox 4-0 win.

April 26Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III are drafted by the Colts and Redskins.

May 8 Josh Hamilton hit four home runs and had eight RBI against the Baltimore Orioles.

June 3 – Tiger Woods hit an incredible flop shot from behind the green on 16 that trickled into the hole on his way to winning the Memorial Tournament.

June 7 – LeBron James overwhelms the Boston Celtics with a 45 point and 15 rebound performance in a 98-79 win over Boston on the road to force a Game 7 in South Beach.

June 7 – Novak Djokovic outlasted Rafael Nadal in a grueling marathon in the Australian Open final (5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5) in a match that took five hours and 53 minutes and didn’t end until 1:37 a.m.

June 11 – The Los Angeles Kings win their first Stanley Cup in 45 years after barely squeaking into the final playoff spot in the West and going on one of the greatest runs in playoff history.

June 13Matt Cain pitched a perfect game in a 10-0 San Francisco win over the Astros.

June 21 – LeBron James and the Miami Heat win the NBA championship after beating the Oklahoma City Thunder 121-106 in game five.

June 27 – A four-team college football playoff was formally approved to begin in 2014.

June 30 – The third round of the AT&T National was played with no spectators on the golf course because of safety concerns after a powerful wind storm left trees uprooted all over the golf course.

January 4, 2013

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Why the Seattle Seahawks Are The NFL’s Most Dangerous Playoff Team

By: Matt Bowen

Coming into the 2012 NFL season the Seattle Seahawks were the league’s most puzzling team. Now, just days away from the playoffs, the Seahawks are the NFL’s most dangerous team.

Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks are taking a lot of momentum into the playoffs.

Last offseason the organization brought in quarterback Matt Flynn to be the starter, a move that was promising but unproven. Bringing in a career backup quarterback to become the franchise cornerstone hasn’t had positive results of late in the NFL.

Draft day brought them a first-round pick in defensive end Bruce Irvin from West Virginia that caused Twitter to explode with laughter. The Seahawks got the last laugh as Irvin tallied eight sacks in his rookie campaign. His speed off the edge gives every team a dynamic they must have to be considered a winner.

Heading into training camp, the team had a three-way duel for the starting quarterback with incumbent Tarvaris Jackson, the aforementioned Flynn and surprise rookie quarterback Russell Wilson from Wisconsin. Jackson was traded before the season even began and Flynn has only thrown nine passes all season long. It was Wilson who won the job outright and has made the most of his opportunity.

In a season that was touted as the best quarterback class to ever enter the NFL, Wilson is a major reason why. Sure, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Washington Redskins shot caller Robert Griffin III went Nos. 1 and 2 in the 2012 NFL draft, but it was Wilson who tied Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning for touchdown tosses by a rookie with 26.

So, why is Wilson so good?

Because he doesn’t do much wrong, he makes smart plays and doesn’t try to be a hero on every snap. One would say he’s wise beyond his years. In comparison to Manning’s rookie season, Wilson has thrown just 10 interceptions all season while Manning chucked up a whopping 28.

Wilson’s mobility also helped in his success this season, knowing when to tuck-and-run while having the football IQ of when to get down and live to see another day. His solid 5.2 yards/carry on 94 runs with four touchdowns proves to be a viable weapon in his arsenal.

He doesn’t wow all the time, but his calm demeanor in the face of adversity is to be respected. Truth is he does just about everything right. His quarterback rating of an even 100 is evidence of this, which was good for fourth-best in the league this season behind Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, Manning and Griffin III.

Nothing helps a rookie like a proven, tough-as-nails veteran running back like Marshawn Lynch. “Beast Mode” is his nickname and he fits the bill. He finished with 1,590 rushing yards this season and has 2,794 in his first two full seasons in Seattle. Thanks to the balance that Lynch brings to the offense it must be a nightmare for opposing coaches to try to create a game plan to stop the Seahawks.

Not to be overlooked, the team has arguably the loudest fans in the league and their 8-0 record at home this season gives weight to this debate. The “12th Man” is impressive on a weekly basis.

Another reason why the Seahawks are so fierce is their ferocious defense. Yes, the team is currently riding a five-game win streak in which they’ve scored 193 points, but the defense has set the tone in every game and even contributed with four touchdowns during the streak.

The core-four members of the secondary, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have appropriately been dubbed the “Legion of Boom.” They wreak havoc on a play-by-play basis and are out to prove that they are the best in the entire league.

They will get their chance to show the football world just that when they travel to the nation’s capital to face the Washington Redskins on January 6, 2013 as the anchor game on Wild Card Weekend. This is a game of things to come for the NFL. This game guarantees to be a great matchup as these teams will be two of the best for years to come.

Wilson vs. RG3, Lynch vs. Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris, who set the all-time franchise record with 1,613 rushing yards this season, what more could fans ask for?

Just remember, the Seahawks are built to win now.