December 21, 2011

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5 NBA Teams On The Rise In 2012

By: Joe Williams

In the NBA, if you aren’t moving forward, you’re moving backward.  If you aren’t getting better, you are getting worse. For every win a team adds to its total from last season, another team is losing a win from its total. The question is: Who is adding wins and who is losing them? Here are five teams that will have a better season in 2012 than they did last year.

 New Jersey Nets

Maybe it’s just me, but you can never have too many Williams on your roster. After trading for Deron Williams last season, the Nets drafted Jordan Williams and then signed Shawne Williams and Shelden Williams from the Knicks. They just need one more Williams to complete the starting five. Sounds like a championship contender to me. OK, maybe not quite championship contender, but how about playoff contender? Mikhail Prokhorov is determined to turn this team into a winner and seems to be one of the front-runners to end up with Dwight Howard. Whether they get Howard or someone else, this team will win more than 24 games and be in the hunt to make the playoffs in the East.

Los Angeles Clippers

Chris Paul + Blake Griffin = playoff bound. Regardless of how and why the Clips got Paul, they are going to be one of the top eight teams in the West. Adding Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler will help, too. They’ve already stolen some of the L.A. spotlight from the Lakers off the court. On Monday they stole some of the spotlight on the court in the preseason opener. Let’s see if they can continue to take over L.A. when the games are for real.

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With the addition of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers are looking to make a return to the playoffs.

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New York Knicks

The Knicks have taken advantage of the big-city appeal and landed two superstars in Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. They probably could have had a third (Chris Paul) but they didn’t have anything left to trade for him. Tyson Chandler is a solid consolation prize though. They have as good a front line as anyone in the league now. They aren’t very deep but if Baron Davis can be Baron Davis, this team should get out of the first round.

Chicago Bulls

Derrick Rose carried this team to a league-leading 62 wins last season. But he didn’t have enough help in the playoffs to get them past the Miami Heat. He shouldn’t have to carry such a big load this year if Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah can play a full season to go along with the addition of Rip Hamilton. They have the deepest team in the East and I think that gets them past a playoff rematch with the Heat (just like it got Dallas past Miami in the Finals) and into the NBA Finals.

Oklahoma City Thunder

The Thunder should be better from their playoff experience last season. The loss to the Mavericks in the Western Conference Finals was another step for this team to make a championship run. They are back with very little change on the roster while most of their competition in the West has made big changes. As long as the best player in the game (Kevin Durant) and his “on-the-verge-of-being-a-superstar” sidekick (Russell Westbrook) stay on the same page, the Thunder is my pick to take that next step and win the NBA championship.

December 6, 2011

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The Luckiest Team in the NFL

By: Joe Williams

It takes a combination of things to win in the NFL. Certainly you need talented players, but you also need great coaching, timing, and a little luck doesn’t hurt either.

When the Denver Broncos inserted Tim Tebow as their starting quarterback over Kyle Orton, they were 1-4. With Tebow at the helm they have gone 6-1. Is Tebow that good? Is Orton that bad? I say no to both. Instead, I say the Denver Broncos are the luckiest team in the NFL.

Tim Tebow’s “magic” is getting all the credit for the wins Denver has pulled out in the fourth quarter. While Tebow does deserve credit for helping the team win, nobody in their right mind can believe he has made one of the worst teams in the league into one of the best by himself.

The Broncos have been extremely lucky in every win since Tebow took over. Let’s look at each win.

Denver 18, Miami 15 in overtime

The Broncos didn’t score until there was just under three minutes left in the game. Then they recovered an onside kick and scored again and then converted a two-point try. It takes some luck for all those plays to go their way. Of course it helps when you are facing a winless team. Then the defense wins the game for them in overtime when D.J. Williams forced and recovered a Matt Moore fumble. The Broncos had so little faith in Tebow they didn’t even try to pick up a first down and settled for a 52-yard field goal try, which was good.

Denver 38, Oakland 24

You never know what you are going to get from the Raiders. But I know that when you bring in a quarterback to a new team after not playing football for a year and he throws three interceptions, that’s not good. Take away their best offensive weapon in Darren McFadden and add 15 penalties for 130 yards to that and the Raiders aren’t beating anyone.

Denver 17, Kansas City 10

Tebow completes two passes in this game. Two. But the Broncos win because Kansas City is embarrassingly inept on offense. The Chiefs have scored 35 points total in their last five games. Of course, part of the Chiefs problem is losing their best offensive player, Jamaal Charles, for the season.

Denver 17, New York Jets 13

Just when you think the Broncos schedule couldn’t get any better, they get to host the Jets (one of their toughest opponents) on a short week. I’m not sure why, but teams that have to fly all the way across the country on a short week almost never win. Did I mention the Jets played without their top two running backs?

Denver 16, San Diego 13 in overtime

This is not the Chargers team we are used to seeing. They came into this game on a five-game skid and found a way to lose another one. Missing a field goal in the fourth quarter and another one in overtime is a good way to blow a game.

Denver 35, Minnesota 32

It’s another win against a team playing without its best offensive weapon. The Vikings didn’t have Adrian Peterson but still managed to score 32 points. And on the one week when Tebow actually needs to throw the ball, he is playing a team with five players from its secondary on IR. Tebow had receivers that were so wide open there wasn’t a defender in the picture when they caught the ball. It doesn’t hurt to have a rookie quarterback throw a terrible interception to give Denver a cheap field goal to win the game either.

Denver vs. Chicago

The Broncos get lucky again this week with one of the best teams in the NFC coming to town. At least they were great until a couple weeks ago. Now they don’t have Jay Cutler or Matt Forte.

So to recap, the Broncos have beaten a winless team, a team with a rusty quarterback still learning the offense and teammates, a team that cannot score, a team traveling cross-country on a short week, a team on a five-game losing streak, and a team with no secondary. And they didn’t have to face McFadden, Charles, Shonn Greene or Peterson. If that’s not good luck, then I don’t know what is.

December 5, 2011

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Where Will Donovan McNabb End Up?

By: Anson Whaley

With news that Minnesota Vikings’ quarterback Donovan McNabb was released by the team, several teams could be looking to add the potential future Hall of Famer to their rosters. No NFL team claimed the veteran through waivers, but that could have actually been the best thing to happen to him. McNabb will now be able to select his own destination (assuming there are interested teams, of course) and pick what he feels is the best opportunity.

Retirement, of course, is an option. Every NFL team could decide that they’ve seen enough of the 35-year old quarterback, and if he’s unable to find a suitable offer, his career could be over. But the chance clearly exists that he could end up with another franchise before that happens, and McNabb believes he still has plenty of good football left.

So where could Donovan go?

  • Houston Texans: Thinking short term, this is an NFL team that could potentially use McNabb’s services. The Texans sit atop their division at 9-3, but recently lost starting quarterback Matt Schaub to injury. They turned to T.J. Yates as their starter, but while Yates has done a reasonable job thus far, it’s hard to imagine how he might do as the season winds down and the pressure builds. With Schaub on injured reserve, a return for him isn’t likely. The Texans could get into the playoffs, but does Yates give them the best chance to win the AFC and get to the Super Bowl? And with proven weapons such as wideout Andre Johnson and running back Arian Foster, McNabb wouldn’t even need to carry the team.
  • Chicago Bears: Chicago’s playoff footing isn’t quite as good as the Texans’ right now, but at 7-5, they’re tied for a Wild Card spot. The Bears didn’t get great play this weekend from backup Caleb Hanie, who’s filled in for starter Jay Cutler, who went down with a thumb injury. Playing against the Chiefs, Hanie completed only 11 of his 24 passes and threw a whopping three interceptions in a loss, showing his inexperience a bit.  The Bears had little offense and even worse is that star running back Matt Forte sustained a knee injury in the game. If Forte is out for any extended period of time, then it could be even more important that they get good quarterback play and McNabb might be able to provide that. He’s also played in Philadelphia and wouldn’t be affected by the cold weather in Chicago, meaning he could be an even more ideal fit.
  • Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys wouldn’t be looking at McNabb as a starter with Tony Romo firmly entrenched there, but he could be a suitable backup in case something happens to the star. Current backup Jon Kitna has had back issues and if you need further proof that Dallas is looking for another quarterback, look no further than the fact that they reportedly tried to make a claim on Kyle Orton, who was eventually taken by the Kansas City Chiefs. With Orton now out of play, the Cowboys didn’t put a claim on McNabb. But that doesn’t mean Dallas won’t still consider him if Kitna doesn’t seem like a viable option.
  • Buffalo Bills: This one’s a bit less likely, but McNabb could potentially end up in Buffalo. The Bills are still only two games out of playoff contention even with this weekend’s loss to Tennessee and could be looking for another quarterback. The Bills are only 5-7, but still aren’t out of the hunt and current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t helped the team with his play over the last five weeks (six touchdowns to seven interceptions). The only thing is that McNabb’s made it clear that his goal is to win a championship this season. And it would be hard to envision him going into Buffalo and learning a playbook this quickly … all for the slight possibility of even reaching the postseason. But the fact is that the Bills have now lost five games in a row and may turn to the veteran to help them salvage their season.

November 21, 2011

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One Man’s College Football All-American Ballot (Part II)

By: Anson Whaley

As a member of the Football Writers Association of America, one of the unique things I get to do is provide input on the organization’s All-American Team.  Last week, I shared my ballot for the defensive side of the ball. In Part II, I provide my ballot for the offensive squad and special teams.

Quarterback

Robert Griffin III (Baylor): There are a lot of good candidates for All-American here including Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson, and Houston’s Case Keenum, to name a few. But my choice is Griffin, who is not only leading Baylor to a respectable season, but is having a great individual campaign as well. His 29 touchdowns to only five interceptions heading into this weekend’s game against Oklahoma is one of the best ratios in all of college football. But the thing that separates Griffin from the others is his ability to run with the ball. He has nearly 500 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns on the season, making him nearly as deadly with his feet as he is with his arm.

Running Backs

Trent Richardson (Alabama): Richardson has been in the spotlight all season, leading the way for the Crimson Tide, one of the top teams in the country. He has more than 1,200 yards on the season and 18 touchdowns. Richardson’s also capable of catching the ball out of the backfield as evidenced by his 25 receptions for 318 yards and is really a dual threat of sorts.

LaMichael James (Oregon): When James went down with an injury earlier this year, it wasn’t known how much time he would miss. But even despite sitting out two games, he still has more yards than Richardson on the season. On my ballot, he barely beat out Wisconsin’s Montee Ball, who with 1,242 yards and 22 touchdowns, is having a monster season. But James’ numbers despite the missed games are pretty significant and heading into the weekend, his Ducks were still alive for the National Championship game.

Wide Receivers

Justin Blackmon (Oklahoma State): Blackmon is regarded as one of the nation’s best receivers and his 1,242 yards on the season ranked him fourth in the FBS. The Cowboys lost their first game of the season on Friday night against Iowa State and that may have knocked them out of the National Championship picture. But Blackmon still starred, catching ten passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. He leads the nation in receiving touchdowns with 15 and is second in catches with 103.

Jordan White (Western Michigan): Sure, go ahead – chalk up White’s big-time numbers (a nation-leading 108 catches for 1,389 yards and 14 touchdowns) to lesser competition if you want. Thing is, though, that his Broncos have squared off against several BCS AQ conference teams including Michigan, Illinois, and UConn. White didn’t play in the season opener against Michigan, but in games against the Illini and Huskies, he had 26 catches for 205 yards and three touchdowns. That proves he’s the real deal and worthy of a spot on my All-American team.

Tight End

Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame): Eifert leads all tight ends in the FBS in receptions with 51 on the year and is second in receiving yards with 589. The fact that he’s done it against some pretty stiff competition in games against Michigan, Michigan State, USC, and several other BCS AQ conference teams, is even more impressive.

Offensive Linemen:

Kevin Zeitler (Wisconsin): Zeitler is the top offensive lineman on a line that’s allowed the Badgers’ Montee Ball to run wild to the tune of 1,200+ yards and 23 touchdowns. Wisconsin’s rushing attack is ranked tenth in the nation and Zeitler’s ability to open up holes is a big part of that.

Nate Potter (Boise State): It’s easy to forget that the Broncos are still in the hunt for the National Title, but with only one loss, they’re not yet out of it. That’s largely due to quarterback Kellen Moore, and Potter and the Boise State linemen have ensured he gets plenty of time to throw as Moore has only been sacked five times this year.

Barrett Jones (Alabama): Jones helped anchor a line that paved the way for 2010 Heisman candidate (and 2009 Heisman winner) Mark Ingram at Alabama. He’s now doing the same for Trent Richardson, who could be a candidate for the award this year and has given the Crimson Tide one of the nation’s best rushing attacks.

Barrett Jones has helped current NFL running back Mark Ingram (pictured above) and future NFL running back Trent Richardson find the endzone on many occassions.

David DeCastro (Stanford): DeCastro has quietly helped the Cardinal to a 9-1 record this season and as a senior, has protected quarterback Andrew Luck about as well as can be done. Luck has only been sacked 19 times in his entire career and only seven times this season.

David Molk (Michigan): Molk and the Wolverines have one of the hardest jobs in college football trying to not only protect athletic quarterback Denard Robinson, but also get out and block for him if he takes off running … which happens quite a bit. Robinson’s legs have helped Michigan to the 11th best rushing attack in the country, but Molk has also protected him when passing as he’s been sacked only eight times all season.

Punter

Bobby Cowan (Idaho): Cowan leads the nation in total punting yardage with nearly 4,000 and his average of 47 yards per punt is good for third. The Vandals are one of the lowest scoring teams in college football and Cowan gets plenty of work because of that.

Kicker

Caleb Sturgis (Florida): Sturgis has been one of the most accurate kickers in college football this season, hitting more than 90% of his field goals (19/21). He hasn’t missed one within 40 yards all season and is 2/3 from distances of 50 yards or greater.

Kick/Punt Returner

Jamal Miles (Arizona State): Miles hasn’t had many opportunities to return kicks or punts this season, but that makes his three returns for scores even more extraordinary. Those three touchdowns from returns are tied for the lead in the FBS.

November 15, 2011

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NFL landscape changes in week 10

By: Joe Williams

The path we are going down this NFL season became much clearer this week. Some teams showed they are pretenders, some lost key players to injury and others took a big step toward the playoffs. Here’s what I learned:

Giants vs. Cowboys

The NFC East is a two team race. The Giants hold a one game lead over the Cowboys but face a much tougher schedule the rest of the way. They meet twice in the last month of the season and those games should determine the division winner. The “Dream Team” in Philadelphia has a stranglehold on the most disappointing team in the NFL crown after losing at home to a two-win team playing with its backup quarterback.

Lions must beat Packers or Saints

After losing three of four, the Lions are in danger of blowing their 5-0 start. They are at 6-3 with two games coming up against Green Bay and one against New Orleans. If they lose those three games, they will likely be on the outside looking in at the playoffs because Chicago is also 6-3 and has a much easier schedule the rest of the way.

49ers headed for a bye

It’s no surprise the Packers are headed for a first round bye but who would have expected the 49ers to do the same? San Francisco is already 8-1 with five games left against the NFC West. They should finish with at least 12 wins and probably the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

Colts getting Lucky

After another loss drops the Colts to 0-10 and the Dolphins and Rams both pick up their second win, Indianapolis has a commanding lead in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Now the questions about what they will do are really going to start. Will Manning be back next year? Do they take Luck and let him sit behind Manning? Or could they trade Manning and really begin the rebuilding process?

 Bills, Bengals on the brink

Buffalo and Cincinnati have been surprisingly good teams in the AFC. However, they could be coming back to earth. Cincinnati has three games left against Baltimore and Pittsburgh. They really need to win two of those games to stay in the AFC North race. Buffalo has lost four of six and cannot afford any more no shows like they had against Dallas.

 AFC West truly pathetic

Get ready to see an 8-8 team hosting a first round playoff game. At least the NFC West has one team playing well. San Diego has lost four in a row. The Chiefs,who have lost two straight against two of the worst teams in the league, now get to face five straight teams with a winning record. The Broncos are scared to throw the ball and continue to let the fans run the show in Denver. And you never know which Raiders team is going to show up. They beat some good teams and then turn around and lose to some of the bottom feeders.