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.

August 1, 2013

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MLB Contenders Post Trade Deadline

By: Matt Bowen

Now that the dust on settled on the July 31 MLB non-waiver trade deadline, we can focus our attention on the true contenders. It’s now August, this is the time where the cream rises to the top. MLB GM’s believing that this is their year have spent the last couple of weeks trying to feverishly hammer out deals to put their team on top when it’s all said and done. As baseball fans we now get to sit back and watch the drama unfold. The next two months will be pure entertainment as every division except the NL East is up for grabs.

So, what is to be expected down the stretch? Who were the real winners at the deadline?

AL East: Per the usual, the AL East will be one of the most interesting races until the end. The Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and Baltimore Orioles are all in contention.

The Rays were the quiet, only acquiring left reliever Jesse Crain from the Chicago White Sox. Crain is currently on the DL, but has electric stuff out of the bullpen. This was a low-risk, high-reward kind of deal for the Rays—if Crain returns healthy they win, if he doesn’t, the compensation towards the White Sox will be next to nothing.

The Baltimore Orioles proved to their fan base that they plan on winning now and forever. They traded for starting pitchers Scott Feldman from the Chicago Cubs and Bud Norris of the Houston Astros along with reliever Francisco Rodriguez from the Milwaukee Brewers. Nice work from the Orioles front office.

While the Orioles made plenty of noise, the Boston Sox stole the show in the division. The acquisition of pitcher Jake Peavy from the Chicago White Sox made headlines as the Red Sox appear to be legit. They also picked up left-handed reliever Matt Thornton from the White Sox. For a team that lost 93 games in 2012, they have certainly changed their course. The Bo Sox have Boston buzzing at the moment.

AL Central: This division is a two horse race that won’t be settled until the final days of the season. The Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers are the two best teams in the Central and only got better at the deadline. Both teams picked up necessary relief help with Marc Rzepczynski headed to Cleveland from the St. Louis Cardinals and Jose Veras to Detroit from the Houston Astros.

In the end, it was the Tigers who made out best though. They were involved in the trade with the Sox, both White and Red, that sent the aforementioned Peavy to Beantown, shortstop Jose Iglesias to the Tigers and young prospect Avasail Garcia to Chicago, along with others.

The Tigers need a shortstop with the suspension of Jhonny Peralta seeming imminent. Peralta, who is involved in the Biogenesis mess, is also a free agent as the end of the season, so picking up the talented 23-year-old Iglesias now is a stroke of genius.

While the Tigers will benefit the most now in the division, the White Sox may have gotten the best player out of the deal. Garcia has star written all over him, but with a crowded outfield in Detroit, it was a price that had to be paid.

Regarding the race in the Central, neither the Tigers nor Indians will quit. As of August 1, they’re two of the hottest teams in all of baseball. The two teams face each other seven more times in 2013 with the last game on September 1.  Both teams won at the deadline, but who will win the division?

AL West: Still in disbelief that the Oakland A’s are truly good? Don’t be, this team is for real, but did the division leader do enough? They swapped a minor leaguer for infielder Alberto Callaspo from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to shore up their defense. Where they swung and missed is in the pitching department. For decades the A’s were sellers at the deadline and this year, when they needed it most they couldn’t land a prized trade target to take the hill.

This means their rival the Texas Rangers were the true winners in the division at the deadline. They got starting pitcher Matt Garza from the Chicago Cubs and seem to be in a groove right now. True, the A’s are still the team to beat, but the Rangers won’t go away. Now that the A’s seem to have crosshairs on their back, can they hold onto the West?

NL East: No contest here—the Atlanta Braves have a double-digit game lead in the division and the small and subtle acquisition of reliever Scott Downs from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim only made them better. Overall, the NL East has been a dud this season. Maybe 2014 will bring more competition. The Braves will skate into the playoffs.

NL Central: Baseball’s best division had an interesting trade deadline this time around. While the Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs were heavy sellers, and for good reason, the top three teams were rather stagnant. This is a very peculiar situation, the Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, and Cincinnati Reds were all quiet. The Pirates, who currently lead the division tried but could not land a big-name right fielder. The Cardinals didn’t make a splash and the Reds needed a viable two-hole hitter to bolster their lineup but did next to nothing. Content with what they have, all teams are now on board with their current rosters. This was disappointing on all accounts. If a winner had to be chosen, it would have to be the Cards, who seem to always find a way to win.

NL West: Let’s not forget about the NL West—there’s no west coast bias here, but the deadline proved that only the Los Angeles Dodgers are the real thing. They snatched up coveted pitcher Ricky Nolasco from the Miami Marlins and had the luxury of signing charismatic reliever Brian Wilson. Since rookie Yasiel Puig was called up earlier in the year the team has been on fire. In just 50 games Puig is batting .364 as of August 1—most importantly he’s instilled some swagger in the Dodgers’ clubhouse.

The Dodgers payroll may be bigger than many small countries’ annual GDP, but they are now looking like they are worth every penny. Move over Hollywood, the Dodgers are now the big stars in town.

July 30, 2013

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The Week in Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Alfonso Soriano returns to Yankees: In desperate need of offense with so many injuries to key players, the New York Yankees turned to a familiar face, trading for outfielder Alfonso Soriano. Soriano began his career in New York as a second baseman before later playing for the Texas Rangers, Washington Nationals, and most recently, the Chicago Cubs. The outfielder is past his prime, but a recent hot streak was proof that he can still provide a surge of power. After hitting only nine home runs in the first three months of the season, Soriano has hit nearly that many already in July with eight this month heading into this past weekend.

Jeremy Maclin out for year: NFL training camps are underway and that can only mean one thing – injuries won’t be far behind. The biggest casualty thus far may be the Eagles’ young wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, who is out for the season after tearing an ACL in a practice. With perhaps their best wideout injured, Philadelphia’s season gets off to a rocky start. The team still has DeSean Jackson at receiver, but Maclin’s loss gives rookie head coach Chip Kelly less to work with on offense – his area of expertise.

Jaromir Jagr signs with New Jersey Devils: Even at 41, Jaromir Jagr isn’t ready to hang up his skates. After playing for the Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars last year, the winger has signed a one-year $2 million deal with the New Jersey Devils. Jagr isn’t the player he once was, but still has a little left in the tank after scoring 35 points (including 16 goals in 45 games this past season). Plus, with Ilya Kovalchuk leaving New Jersey to play in Russia, the team was in desperate need of scoring. Jagr ranks eighth all-time among NHL players in scoring and his 681 career goals are good for tenth overall.

Lebron > Kobe in ESPN poll: When it comes to the most popular player in the NBA, LeBron James passed up Kobe Bryant for the first time in a few years according to an ESPN poll. Bryant had beaten out James the past few seasons, but after his second consecutive title, James overtook him last week. Really, it’s just proof that time heals all wounds. Immediately after the much-scrutinized “Decision” broadcast where James announced his intention to leave Cleveland for Miami, he took a huge publicity hit and was even viewed as a villain by many. But after a few years with the Heat and winning a couple of rings, liking LeBron is once again okay.

101 Russian women set a skydiving record: Yeah, I’m not even going to try to add anything to this. Feel free to watch for yourself.

Matt Garza pickup costly for Rangers: Matt Garza may not quite be a household name, but the pitcher could be the best starter that gets dealt before baseball’s trade deadline this season. At 7-1 with a 2.87 ERA, Garza is having a career year and was heavily desired by contenders before he was traded to the Texas Rangers by the Cubs. Garza didn’t come cheap, however. He cost Texas two of their top prospects entering this season, pitcher Justin Grimm and first baseman Mike Olt. Both have struggled to a degree this season, but Grimm has seven wins with the major league team while Olt has 12 home runs in the minors. The trade also cost the Rangers C.J. Edwards, a flamethrower who has dominated Rookie League and Class A in the minors the past two seasons. Also, keep in mind that Garza could only be a rental player as he’s due to become a free agent after this year. All things considered, the Rangers need to not only make the playoffs, but maybe even reach a World Series for this trade to come out in their favor.

Tim Hudson injury hurts Braves: Atlanta Braves pitcher Tim Hudson suffered a devastating injury last week when his ankle was broken by the Mets’ Eric Young, Jr. in a collision at first base. The injury was a big one as the veteran will miss the rest of the season. That hurts Atlanta’s playoff chances at least a bit and the team is already looking around for a potential trade. The Braves hold a comfortable lead in the NL East, but should the team hold on for a playoff spot, Hudson’s veteran presence will be sorely missed in the postseason.

Matt Harvey likely to end season early: Similar to what the Washington Nationals did with prized young pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the New York Mets are planning to keep Matt Harvey on a limit for the rest of the year. Mets manager Terry Collins has said Harvey has about ten more starts left instead of the 13 or so he may reach if he continued to pitch every fifth day. While similar to Strasburg’s situation, though, it’s a bit different considering the Mets aren’t likely to be in the playoffs as the Nats were. One thing that will be interesting, though, is to see if the loss in starts costs Harvey when it comes to the Cy Young voting.

June 10, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

NBA Finals tied up 1-1: After a close loss at home on Thursday, the Miami Heat rebounded for a 103-84 blowout win in Game 2 over the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals on Sunday. The Heat still find themselves without home court advantage, but now have a fighting chance to win the series. Another loss would have put the team in an 0-2 hole facing three straight games in San Antonio under the 2-3-2 Finals format. And against the experienced Spurs, that may have been too big a deficit to overcome.

The Heat tied the NBA Finals series at 1-1 with their Game 2 win on Sunday.

French Open concludes: Tennis’ French Open wrapped up with a couple of the game’s biggest stars finishing on top. For the men, Rafael Nadal won a record eighth French Open title, defeating David Ferrer this weekend. Nadal won easily in straight sets and his eighth title at the French is the most of any man at any Grand Slam tournament. On the women’s side, Serena Williams won her 2nd French title, also in straight sets, over the defending champ Maria Sharapova. For Williams, it was her 16th major championship.

Major League Baseball/Biogenesis scandal: Major League Baseball is reportedly trying to suspend a group of 20 players linked to the Biogenesis/PED scandal. The alleged list includes some big names such as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, and Bartolo Colon. If the suspensions happen, some teams could find themselves in a bind. Players like Nelson Cruz, and Jhonny Peralta are parts of teams (the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers, respectively) in playoff races. Because of that, it will be interesting to see what types of moves that clubs make in advance of any potential suspensions.

Coach Jason Kidd?: The recently retired Jason Kidd doesn’t want to spend a season without basketball. ESPN reports that the former point guard is interested in coaching – specifically, he wants the Brooklyn Nets’ job. A few years ago, that may not have been a half bad idea. But the Nets have a lot invested in this team and if I’m GM Billy King, there’s no way I’m taking a call from a player with no coaching experience in college or the pros.

The ‘Average’ Lebron: Dennis Rodman made headlines again when he said LeBron James would be an average player in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The comments were made when comparing James and Michael Jordan. James may not be as great as Jordan, but average? It’s hard to envision the 6’8” freak of nature as just an average player in any era. Rodman made a good point in that the game may not be as physical as it once was, but James does so much more other than score. He’s a tremendous rebounder and passer and there’s no question he would still be a star in that era … or any other, for that matter.

Marc-Andre Fleury to return as Pens’ starter: The Pittsburgh Penguins, Stanley Cup favorites after, were unceremoniously swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals. In the process, starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, was replaced by backup Tomas Vokoun who played well in the series. But head coach Dan Bylsma said afterwards that Fleury is a franchise goalie and will return as the team’s No. 1 starter – and that’s probably the right move. Fleury is only 28 years old and helped the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances only a few years ago. And with two years and $10 million left on his current contract, the Pens have little choice but to at least give him another shot if they are against trading him away.

Tommy Rees chosen as Notre Dame starting QB: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly recently lost his starting quarterback Everett Golson to an academic-related suspension. As expected, Kelly announced that he will turn to Tommy Rees as the starter in 2013, per mlive.com. That’s no surprise as he’s the most experienced player of the other options, Andrew Hendrix and newcomer Malik Zaire. The Irish are fortunate to have Rees as few teams have two quarterbacks with as much experience as he and Golson. Instead of turning to an inexperienced backup, Notre Dame has Rees, who started nearly every game in 2011 and has played in 33 career games.

Brett Favre takes blame in parting with Packers: Quarterback Brett Favre accepted some of the blame for his ugly divorce from the Green Bay Packers in a recent radio show interview. That’s good news for the two since Favre will always be recognized as a Packer even though he also played briefly with the Minnesota Vikings and New York Jets. The Packers will want his participation in team-related events for the rest of his life, and it’d be much better if the two sides can reconcile and get along since Favre has been such a big part of the organization.

April 8, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Louisville vs. Michigan in NCAA title game: Tonight Louisville will take on Michigan for the NCAA basketball championship. With March Madness coming to a close, it’s been an exciting tournament to say the least. Wichita State, a No. 9 seed reached the Final Four. Louisville guard Kevin Ware suffered a terrible and potentially career-ending injury. And tiny Florida Gulf Coast shocked the world, reaching the Sweet 16 as a No. 15 seed. With one game left, I’ll stick with my bracket pick and go with Louisville to win it all. Michigan has been on an impressive run in the tournament, beating a slew of very good teams but the Cardinals haven’t lost a game since early February. My guess is that Rick Pitino wins his first title at Louisville on Monday.

Former 49ers QB Alex Smith will meet his former team in Week 2 of the Preseason.

NFL preseason schedule set: The NFL released its preseason schedule this past week. While there are plenty of intriguing matchups, my favorite might be the San Francisco 49ers vs. the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2. That, of course, will pit former Niners quarterback Alex Smith against his former team. The bad news is that since it’s only Week 2, Smith’s action could be limited in the game against San Francisco since coaches typically shorten the play of their starters. But one reason Smith may play a bit more than normal is because he’ll still be learning the offense and needs all the practice he can get. Regardless of how long he plays, though, the game is sure draw a lot of attention.

Dwyane Wade could sit out until playoffs: Miami Heat star Dwyane Wade has been sidelined with a knee injury and word broke this past week that the guard could miss the team’s remaining regular season games. At 60-16, Miami has only six games left. The problem for the Heat, though, is that Wade has been out since the end of March, missing the team’s last four games. If he can’t play in the next six, that would be a significant break from game action for him. Miami should be able to win its first round playoff series even with a subpar Wade, but it’s not an ideal situation as the champs prepare to defend their title.

Yu Darvish just misses perfection: At this stage in the season, pitchers are generally ahead of hitters. Still, what Yu Darvish nearly accomplished was pretty impressive. The Texas Rangers pitcher took a perfect game into the ninth inning and after recording the first two outs, he was as close as you can get to perfection. But the next batter, Marwin Gonzalez, singled up the middle to break it up. Losing a no-hitter is one thing, but losing a perfect game is another. There have been nearly 300 no hitters, but only 23 perfect games in Major League Baseball history. Darvish was agonizingly close to joining an elite group.

Darrelle Revis and Jets still at odds: Cornerback Darrelle Revis could be traded any day now, but that doesn’t mean the New York Jets are willing to let him sit back and relax. According to ESPN, the team is reportedly insisting he participate in the team’s offseason conditioning program to begin in the middle of this month. The move sounds ludicrous as Revis isn’t likely to be playing for the Jets this fall, and could thus be a huge distraction. But if you’re not expecting him to show up, think again. Revis is due to collect a $3 million bonus for showing up. His contract states that he would forfeit money if he fails to participate in offseason events – even non-mandatory ones. The chances are slim that Revis isn’t participating if he’s still a member of the team.

Mike Rice fired as Rutgers coach: Rutgers’ basketball program took a bit of a hit this week when it was announced that head coach Mike Rice was fired after video surfaced of him berating and being physically abusive towards players. The video also cost athletic director Tim Pernetti his job. The move will surely mean more scrutiny of college coaches and their behavior toward athletes. And in the end, that’s a good thing. Much was made of the fact that the players didn’t complain about the rough practices, but then again, it’s easy to understand why. No kid that’s worked his entire life to earn a scholarship and play basketball at the highest level would want to risk that by speaking up. It’s a shame that it took so long, but firing Rice was the right move in my opinion.