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.

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 17, 2013

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The Week In Sports

By: Anson Whaley

Justin Rose wins U.S. Open: Justin Rose capped off a spectacular Sunday of golf winning the U.S. Open (+1) for his first major championship. He became the first British golfer to win the title since 1970 when Tony Jacklin did it. Just as big of a story was Phil Mickelson finishing as the bridesmaid yet again, as he finished in a tie for second at +3 with Jason Day. Mickelson’s eighth 2nd place finish ties him with Sam Snead, Greg Norman, and Tom Watson for the third most runner-ups in majors history. Jack Nicklaus leads the way in that category with 19.

Alex Ovechkin was the winner of this year's Hart Trophy over the weekend.

San Antonio Spurs take 3-2 series lead over Miami Heat: The San Antonio Spurs took a 3-2 series lead over the Miami Heat by way of their Game 5 win on Sunday night. That puts the Spurs in position to win a fifth ring for future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan … but it won’t be easy. San Antonio still needs to win one out of two games in Miami and the Heat just don’t lose very much at home. And with an NBA title on the line, you can bet the fans won’t be easy on the road team.

Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins tied 1-1 in Stanley Cup Finals: The NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals are tied at a game apiece with two exciting contests thus far. Andrew Shaw scored a goal in the third overtime of the Game 1 thriller to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 win. The Bruins won Game 2 in overtime behind Daniel Paille’s third goal. Even if you’re not a good hockey fan, two overtime games already should make you want to watch the rest of the series.

Chad Ochocinco Johnson heads to jail: Chad Johnson caught a break in his no-contest plea to battery charges against his then-wife when a court was ready to give him a community service/counseling deal to avoid jail time. But when Johnson smacked the butt of his attorney at excitement over the deal … well, let’s just say the judge wasn’t impressed. Judge Kathleen McHugh told Johnson it wasn’t a joke and promptly rejected his plea deal, sentencing him to 30 days in jail. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Seriously, though – what was Johnson thinking? I can understand being happy at the prospect of not heading to the clink, but he clearly should have showed a bit more restraint until he got out of the court.

Alex Ovechkin wins Hart Trophy: The Washington CapitalsAlex Ovechkin took home his third Hart Trophy as the league’s MVP over the weekend. The winger is only the eighth player in league history to win that many. Other players such as John Tavares and Sidney Crosby were also deserving, but Ovechin led the league with 32 goals and did so in a season where he moved to wing.

Tim Tebow signed by Patriots: The New England Patriots made a bit of a splash last week when they announced the signing of quarterback Tim Tebow. I don’t question that coaching guru Bill Belichick can find a way to utilize him in some way. What is surprising is that New England would bring him in with what should be a minimal impact. Unlike in New York, Tebow isn’t being brought in to challenge starter Tom Brady. So unless Brady goes down with an injury, Tebow’s impact at the position would be small. The talk is already about making Tebow a receiver or part of offensive packages as a skill player, but will he really be such an offensive difference-maker that it will make it worth all of the added attention and scrutiny of the team? Not likely.

Jason Kidd hired as Nets’ head coach: Last week I mentioned the possibility of the recently retired Jason Kidd becoming the Brooklyn Nets new coach. The Nets, who hadn’t previously had Kidd in mind, were convinced after his agent reached out to them and Kidd was hired last week. My opinion hasn’t really changed on this – a team with expectations so high shouldn’t be hiring a rookie head coach. He was a great player, but other greats such as Elgin Baylor, Magic Johnson, and Wes Unseld didn’t exactly make a successful transition from player to coach.

Dwight Howard and Chris Paul teammates?: ESPN reported last week that free agents Dwight Howard and Chris Paul may be exploring options to end up on the same team together. This move, of course, isn’t unprecedented with several players doing this in the past, including the Miami Heat’s ‘Big Three’ of Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. Howard and Paul are rumored to desire to play for the Los Angeles Clippers, but that would require a few things to happen. The team doesn’t have the cap space to sign Howard, so they’d need to do a sign and trade for him. And chances are that Blake Griffin would need to be included in such a deal.

Hall of Famer Lem Barney says football will soon end: Speaking at a football academy, Pro Football Hall of Famer Lem Barney declared that the game of football will end in 10-20 years because it is too dangerous. Barney’s not the only one to voice such an opinion with all of the talk of concussions lately, but I’m not sure the game ends anytime soon. After all – a sport like boxing where athletes take repeated shots to the head still exists. And when you consider that football is the most popular sport in the country, the guess here is that football continues to implement more safety measures rather than shut down entirely.

May 1, 2013

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2010 NFL Draft Winners

By: Joe Williams

It’s been nearly a week since Mr. Irrelevant was selected in the NFL Draft. That’s plenty of time to figure out which teams improved and which ones blew it. But that seems like a lot of work and judging by last week’s mock draft, I could be wrong about these picks. I’ll take the easy road again this year and see who the winners were in the 2010 NFL Draft.

Eric Berry lead a great Draft class for the Chiefs in 2010.

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle hit five of its first six picks and all five of those players are now starters on one of the best and youngest teams in the league. The Seahawks added Russell Okung at left tackle, Earl Thomas at free safety, Golden Tate at wide receiver, Walter Thurmond at cornerback and Kam Chancellor at strong safety. They also picked up Anthony McCoy who is still on the roster as a backup tight end.

San Francisco 49ers

It should be no surprise that one of last year’s Super Bowl participants makes this list. In the 2010 draft the 49ers picked up Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati who are starters on the offensive line. Navorro Bowman starts at linebacker on one of the best D’s in the league and Anthony Dixon is still on the team playing fullback.

New England Patriots

In this draft the Patriots picked up six players currently on the roster and transformed Tom Brady’s offense from very good to very scary with the addition of two pass catching tight ends in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Punter Zoltan Mesko and defenders Devin McCourty, Brandon Spikes and Brandon Deaderick were also part of this draft.

Kansas City Chiefs

The 2-14 Chiefs are on this list too? Yep. Eric Berry (strong safety), Dexter McCluster (receiver), Javier Arenas (cornerback), Jon Asamoah (guard) and Tony Moeaki (tight end) is a pretty strong draft class. The Chiefs have talent, but have been plagued with injuries and poor quarterback play.

Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers are consistently one of the best drafting teams in the league and 2010 was no exception.

Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, Jonathan Dwyer and Antonio Brown are all contributors on offense and Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester provide depth on defense.

Denver Broncos

This draft marked the beginning and the end in Denver. It was the beginning of putting together one of the best teams in the league today, but it also was one of the biggest nails in the coaching coffin of Josh McDaniels. He drafted Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker who are now part of the best receiving trio (with Wes Welker) in the league. Zane Beadles, J.D. Walton and Eric Olsen have all contributed on the offensive line. But of course the story of this draft is the trade up to pick Tim Tebow. It was a controversial pick and ultimately was a big part of McDaniels getting fired. Once McDaniels was gone, the Broncos had one magical season with Tebow before dumping him on the Jets and signing Peyton Manning.

St Louis Rams

The jury is still out on this one. They took Sam Bradford with the first pick in the draft and he has been a decent NFL quarterback. But it has been a couple years now and we will see if Bradford can take the next step and solidify himself as the Rams starter for the next 10 years of if the Rams start looking for the next guy to take his spot.

March 27, 2013

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NFL Free Agency Winners

By: Joe Williams

There are just a couple weeks left until the NFL Draft so you know what that means…it’s time to judge who “won” and “lost” in free agency. And we’re going to do it only about nine months before we really know how good these teams are and what signings were actually good.

Tom Brady and the Patriots will be moving forward without Wes Welker in the 2013 season.

Tom Brady and the Patriots will be moving forward without Wes Welker in the 2013 season.

New England Patriots

Yeah they lost Wes Welker to Denver, but signing Danny Amendola is a nice replacement. But that’s not why the Patriots are on the list. It’s because Bernard (Patriot-killer) Pollard has joined the Tennessee Titans. You may remember that it was Pollard who sacked Tom Brady on the play where Brady tore his ACL in 2008. He was also involved in the play when Wes Welker got a torn ACL in 2009 and when Rob Gronkowski got hurt and missed the Super Bowl. And just a couple months ago it was a ferocious hit from Pollard that knocked Stevan Ridley out and forced a crucial fumble in the AFC Championship Game that Baltimore went on to win. But this year, the Patriots don’t have to worry about Pollard because they don’t play the Titans. (I reserve the right to change this opinion if the NFL schedules the Patriots and Titans to play in the preseason.)

Seattle Seahawks

Seattle started the offseason with a bang by trading for one of the most dangerous weapons in the league in Percy Harvin. Then they added Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to an already stellar defense.

Kyle Arrington

The New England defensive back (and new father) just scored a year’s worth of diapers from new Patriot Adrian Wilson for giving up the number 24 jersey, allowing Wilson to keep his number from his days in Arizona.

Elvis Dumervil

In one of the strangest free agent developments I can remember, Dumervil was cut from Denver because his agent didn’t get a signed agreement faxed to the team seven minutes earlier. Instead, Elvis was cut by the Broncos even though he wanted to stay and they wanted to keep him. It was an embarrassing situation for everyone involved, but signing a 5-year, $35 million contract with the defending Super Bowl champs is a nice recovery for Dumervil.

Denver Broncos

If not for the previously mention Dumervil debacle, the Broncos would have an almost perfect off season so far. Adding Wes Welker, Louis Vasquez, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Terrance Knighton fills just about every hole on the roster. If they can bring in Dwight Freeney or John Abraham to replace Dumervil, they will be in great shape heading into the draft.

Tim Tebow

Even though he isn’t a free agent, Tebow makes the list because there is finally a team that has come forward and said they actually want him on the roster. Yeah it is the Orlando Predators and yeah it is the Arena Football League. But at least he’d get a shot to play quarterback.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins landed the biggest fish in free agency when they signed WR Mike Wallace. They have also made a splash by signing WR Brandon Gibson, TE Dustin Keller, and linebackers Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe. If all goes well, they could challenge the Patriots in the AFC East. If not, at least they have given their fans some hope and shown that they are going for it.