February 20, 2014

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5 NFL Teams Who Need to Make a Splash in Round 1

By: Matt Bowen

With the 2014 NFL Combine happening February 22-25 in Indianapolis the NFL hits full throttle once again. The Combine signifies that the 2014 NFL Draft is right around the corner. This is the time that all 32 NFL GMs begin to sweat. Critical decisions are to be made.

While many may see the combine as players in shorts and t-shirts simply running around, it’s anything but. NFL dreams are on the line. GMs are watching. Make a lasting impact now and your name will be called in May.

To no one’s surprise the quarterback position will be under the microscope in Indy during the Combine. Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and others will fill the board come draft day. Although there may not be an elite quarterback in this draft this year’s class is certainly better than 2011’s class. As far as elite goes, that remains to be seen as only time will tell.

Eric Fisher

The Chiefs made Eric Fisher the #1 pick in 2013. Who will go #1 in the 2014 NFL Draft?

Some teams will get the QB fever and reach for what they hope is a winner. Keep in mind that many teams are hungry for their franchise signal caller but quarterback is not the only position. Which team will be bold and pass on a quarterback for something else?

The following teams, whether searching for their quarterback of the foreseeable future or a  playmaker at another position have to make a splash in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft. Making the wrong moves may forever doom their respective franchises.

No. 5: Houston Texans

This is a no brainer, but it must be mentioned. The No. 1 pick in the NFL draft comes with pressure. The Houston Texans could do one of three things—draft Jadeveon Clowney, draft the quarterback which they deem the best, or trade the pick.

Once Clowney dismantles the competition at the Combine and topples the likes of Twitter by the end of February 25 the pick will be an easy one. Everyone will be talking about this kid from South Carolina. His combination of size, speed and strength is something unfathomable. At 6’6”, 275 lbs. he says he’ll run a 4.4 40-yard-dash at the Combine. If he does that there will be talks of “best ever” even before he sports an NFL jersey.

By this time next week the Texans will have made up their mind.

No. 4: San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers own the 30th selection in the first round but the heat is on. After all, the Niners have to contend with the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.

The Seahawks appear to be going nowhere anytime soon and the 49ers have to keep up. It can be argued that these are the two most dangerous teams in the NFL but speculation and proof are two separate things.

The Niners are motivated to reach the summit—their Super Bowl window is now. Expect San Francisco to select a sturdy wide receiver in Round 1.

No. 3 Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans sit in a curious position in Round 1 of the 2014 NFL draft. With pick No. 11 the team could go in any direction.

New head coach Ken Whisenhunt is a quarterback kinda guy and he’s going to give Jake Locker a chance. With that being said, it may be in their best interest to draft a quarterback with their first pick. Locker hasn’t proven himself yet and the Titans could catch an acute case of the QB fever.

A guy like Derek Carr of Fresno State or Zach Mettenberger from LSU may intrigue them just enough to pull the trigger. Even if Locker doesn’t convince the Titans brass he’s their number one his younger predecessor would have time to learn. On the other hand, the demand is high on these kids and they would be valuable trade bait should Locker pan out. This would bring interest from other teams around this time next season. A healthy quarterback with a year of NFL experience is a coveted commodity. It seems like a win-win for the Titans.

Pay attention to the Titans—their decision could shake up the rest of the draft.

No. 2: St. Louis Rams

Conveniently enough the St. Louis Rams have the No. 2 overall pick, but that’s not why this draft is so important for them. They also have the No. 13 pick in the first round.

Thanks to the trade with the Washington Redskins for Robert Griffin III in 2012, the Rams own the No. 2 pick. They will draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins out of Clemson and all will be right in the world. Combined with Tavon Austin the Rams will have two explosive receivers.

The team still believes in quarterback Sam Bradford and will spend their No. 13 pick on protecting him. Expect the Rams to select the best offensive lineman available and with possibly five quarterbacks being selected before that pick, the lineman pool should be rich.

The Rams are a team on the brink of greatness, but must protect Bradford. Let’s hope their No. 13 pick is a Week 1 starter.

No. 1: Cleveland Browns

The Cleveland Browns are currently upside down. The front office is in disarray but better days are ahead.

The 2014 NFL draft is where it all starts. With two picks, No. 4 and No. 26 in the first round the team has to knock it out of the park.

They can’t repeat what they did in 2012. That year they also had two picks in Round 1. They took running back Trent Richardson at No. 3 and quarterback Brandon Weeden at No. 22. They acquired the No. 22 pick by trading their 2011 No. 6 pick to the Atlanta Falcons for who turned out to be Julio Jones.

Fittingly enough their second pick this year will be at No. 26—they acquired that by trading Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts early in the 2013.

The Browns need a quarterback and everything points to them selling the farm for Manziel. If a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have the No. 3 overall pick threaten to take Manziel the Browns may cough up the No. 26 pick. Manziel would light a fire in Cleveland the city hasn’t seen since some guy named LeBron roamed the court. He would sell tickets and more importantly reinstall the faith.

If Manziel doesn’t fall into Cleveland’s lap the Browns have to make hay with the best available. The future of the franchise is at stake. Regardless of what happens the Browns will be the most talked-about team in the league leading up to the draft.

January 15, 2014

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What’s not to like about Colin Kaepernick?

By: Matt Bowen

NFL Championship Sunday is inching closer and a trip to Super Bowl XLVIII is on the line. One player being written-off at the moment is San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Why?

He’s taken an unjustified bashing through the media recently for not looking “professional.” Apparently more people want him to emulate the looks of his counterpart on Sunday, Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks.

Colin Kaepernick

One game away, can Colin Kaepernick lead the 49ers back to the Super Bowl?

Why do we care what Kaepernick looks like? Why do we care that he has a pronounced personality?

Yes, he has tattoos, but that is hardly uncommon these days. With a tattoo parlor seemingly on every corner, everyone from Fortune 500 CEO’s to your child’s school teacher has ink.

He also likes to wear his hat backwards, but every kid who ever witnessed Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners in the locker room has worn their hat backwards.

Give him credit to have enough personality and the confidence to create his own finishing move, conveniently dubbed “Kaepernicking.” His naysayers may say he’s a showboat, but then again, who likes being bland?

As Americans don’t we pride ourselves on self-expression?

It’s 2014—let Kaepernick be Kaepernick and let his game do the talking.

Like tattoos and charisma, the 26-year-old quarterback from the University of Nevada, Reno, has plenty of game. Like Wilson, Kaepernick was also taken in the MLB draft. He has a 95-mph fastball to back it up. In the end he chose to pursue his love of football just like Wilson did.

The two young quarterbacks are remarkably similar on the field—their numbers mirror each other’s. They have an abundance of intelligence and athleticism. Other than appearance, especially to the media, there’s a striking resemblance.

Kaepernick started all 16 games this season for the 49ers and led his team to a 12-4 regular season record.  In 23 career starts he’s 17-6. He takes care of the ball, 31 career touchdowns vs. 11 interceptions. The 49ers receiving corps was a M.A.S.H. unit this season until Michael Crabtree returned from injury in December.

Now, the Niners are clicking on all cylinders and have the most dynamic offense remaining in the playoffs. The trio of Crabtree, Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin is a downright scary. Sprinkle in the fact they have running back Frank Gore and without a doubt San Francisco is prepared to return to the Super Bowl.

Don’t forget that the success of the Niners’ offense begins and ends with Kaepernick at the helm. Don’t try to pass the quarterback’s success off on the talent surrounding him. Kaepernick is the leader. He’s the man who makes smart decisions with the ball. He’s the guy who has only thrown two interceptions in the past eight weeks, all games in which his team has won.

Come Sunday, he’ll be the guy who leads his team to the Super Bowl for the second time in as many seasons.

Come Sunday, judge him for yourself. Make sure it’s beyond skin deep.

January 14, 2014

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10 Players That’ll Decide Who Goes To The Super Bowl

By: Joe Williams

The good news is that the NFL’s championship weekend is upon us and we’ve got what we wanted. Brady vs. Manning. Kaepernick vs. Wilson. The best coach in the league against the best offense in history. The best rivalry going today and the earthquake-causing 12th man. The bad news is that there is just three football games left and I’ve got to work on Sunday. I better start faking an illness today so I can get out of work on Sunday. So who will win? I couldn’t tell you that. But I do have a good idea which players could decide the games.

Anquan Boldin

Boldin came up big for the Ravens last year on their way to the Super Bowl. Will he be the x-factor for the 49ers this year?

Anquan Boldin
Colin Kaepernick is going to need someone to make a few big plays in the passing game. It could be Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis, but I’d put my trust in Boldin. Nobody is tougher and his eight catches for 136 yards was huge against Carolina last week.

Colin Kaepernick
He’s won a few big games in his short career. Most of them with his legs. He’ll have to complete some big throws on Sunday and avoid the interceptions that have plagued him in Seattle for the 49ers to stay in the game. For them to win…he’ll have to make a huge third down conversion in the fourth quarter…with his legs.

LeGarrette Blount
Don’t expect Blount to come up with another 166 yards and four touchdowns this week. But if he can get to 100 without putting the ball on the ground, that would be a good sign for the Patriots chances.

Logan Ryan
The rookie cornerback led New England with five interceptions, but he’ll be facing the biggest challenge of his short career taking on Peyton Manning and all his weapons in Denver. Will he make a huge play or allow one?

Marshawn Lynch
28 carries. 140 yards. Two scores. That’s what he did to the Saints last week. Another performance like that should take Lynch & Seattle to the Super Bowl.

Percy Harvin
If he is healthy, the Seahawks offense goes to another level (in theory anyway…he hasn’t been healthy all year). Will Harvin play Sunday after suffering a concussion last week? I’m guessing no. But if he can get back on the field, he could make a game-changing play.

Peyton Manning
He’s dominated the league all season. Except for the game in New England. The Broncos didn’t really try to throw in that game because of the weather and the dominance of the running game. But he’s going to have to throw for them to win this week.

Seattle’s 12th man.
The Seahawks have the best home-field advantage in the league. They outscored the 49ers 71-16 in the last two games in Seattle. The first few minutes of this game will be big for the 49ers to get some momentum going. Otherwise the crowd could take control of the game.

Tom Brady
The Patriots haven’t been underdogs much in the last few years, but they are this week. And if New England is going to win, Brady will have to be at the top of his game. The Patriots don’t have the weapons that the Broncos do so it will be up to Brady to keep the chains moving and Peyton Manning on the sidelines. And of course, no interceptions.

Wes Welker
The Broncos’ offense is much more dangerous with Welker on the field. He’s going to want to have a big game against his old team, especially since it was his mistake that set up the Patriots game-winning field goal earlier this season. Look for Manning to try to get Welker going early and for Welker to pick up a couple key third down conversions in the second half if Denver wins this game.

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 24, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Miami Heat repeat as NBA Champs: The Miami Heat won Game 7 of the NBA Finals against the San Antonio Spurs and, in the process, brought home their second consecutive title. The Heat didn’t always play well this postseason, but when all the chips were down, they stepped up and denied the Spurs a fifth championship. LeBron James won the MVP Award of the Finals and rightfully so. He started the series slowly, scoring less than 20 points in each of the first three games. But he saved his best performance for the end, averaging 34.5 points, 11 rebounds, and 7.5 assists over the last two games. Winning three titles in a row won’t be easy but if there’s one player that can do it, it’s James – the best player in the league.

Colin Kaepernick doesn't only throw footballs well. He threw an 87 MPH first pitch over the weekend.

Carlos Lee retires: Carlos Lee quietly retired from Major League Baseball after sitting out since the end of last year. Seeking a multi-year contract when his current deal expired last season, Lee didn’t get one and has officially left the game last week. Lee never quite reached superstardom as other players in his era, but he was a legitimate power threat for more than a decade. From 2000 – 2010, Lee had at least 24 home runs every season and was one of the game’s feared power hitters. He finished his career with 358 bombs and unlike other home run hitters, never struck out 100 times in a season. While he won’t make the Hall of Fame, the three-time All-Star was a very good player for a long time.

Introduction of Deacon Jones Award: The NFL reached into its past to honor the deceased defensive end, Deacon Jones. The NFL’s league leaders in sacks will be given the new award. Jones, long regarded as one of the league’s best in that category despite it not becoming an official statistic until after he retired, passed away earlier this month.

Francisco Rodriguez picks up 300th career save: Milwaukee Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez earned his 300th career save over the weekend. He nearly didn’t get the chance, though. After a 2-7 record and an ERA well over 4.00, K-Rod was released by the Brewers after last season and was out of baseball for a little while. But Milwaukee gave him another chance and Rodriguez has been perfect in save opportunities this season. And at only 31 with an ERA under 1.00, he could still have plenty left in the tank.

Johnny Manziel ‘can’t wait to leave’ Texas A&M: Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel tweeted last week that he couldn’t wait to leave Texas A&M after an apparent incident. The reason for his displeasure wasn’t known, but Manziel quickly deleted the tweet, later saying he loved the school. Far too much was made of the initial tweet by fans criticizing him. Manziel is a college sophomore with a much higher profile than he had before. There are going to be times when he’s frustrated by … whatever. Almost all college kids think they could be in a better situation at some point in their time in school and that applies to athletes, too.

Colin Kaepernick ready for majors?: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has a bright future in the NFL. After taking over as the team’s starting quarterback, he led the team to their first Super Bowl in nearly 20 years this past season. But on Friday night, the young player showed off his skills. On a baseball field. Kaepernick, a late-round draft pick of the Chicago Cubs a few years ago, hit 87 miles per hour throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the San Francisco Giants’ game against the Miami Marlins. That’s pretty impressive and to say he’s got a cannon for an arm would be an understatement. But (and yeah, I’m playing the heel role here) man, was that pitch wild. Kaepernick’s fortunate the catcher snared that ball since it wasn’t all that far from a completely relaxed cameraman. My guess is that he shouldn’t quit his day job.

Doc Rivers to Clippers: After an on-again/off-again status, the Los Angeles Clippers’ attempts to hire coach Doc Rivers away from the Celtics appear to have finally been successful. Rivers is under contract with the Celtics, but will reportedly leave the franchise for a first-round draft pick. Boston didn’t want to just give away their head coach, but in the end, the Celtics were better served by letting Doc walk and taking any compensation they can get for him. Even if they don’t think they’re getting enough in return, few things could be worse than having a coach around that doesn’t want to be there. Rivers could have decided not to return and opted for retirement, but then Boston wouldn’t get anything in exchange. A ‘trade’ was the Celtics’ best option for the franchise.