Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sugar Bowl Preview: Alabama (11-1) vs Oklahoma (10-2)

        This should be fun to watch, even if a little lopsided. Alabama is, of course, disgruntled to play in this one, but that doesn't mean they won't put on a show. Remember, they were one made field goal away from playing in (and probably winning) a third national championship. So really we can't expect anything but a thorough whupping from the Tide. Very few folks think otherwise.

Ah for the days of Landry Jones, huh Sooners fans?
As it is, we have no clue who this guy is.
        AJ McCarron almost did it. He almost won 3 national titles, and perhaps even a Heisman. Hopefully, with the help of an upcoming 8 digit NFL contract, a super model girlfriend, and national prominence, he can cope with this crushing despair. We're all pulling for the guy, in these tough times. Anyways, ideally he will end his career leaving no doubt that he is a dominant college football force, thereby allowing the zealous Tide fan base to probably forgive him, despite one of the biggest losses in school history. I'd say if he drops a 40 spot on January 2, they bury the hatchet and call it even. Helping him do that will be an explosive receiving core, led by sophomore Amari Cooper. This group did not graduate a single senior last year, and this game should be the culmination of a season's worth of improvement.

        Youth aside, people are hailing this squad to have "one of the most distinguished senior classes in college football history." Among those playing their final college football games in New Orleans on Thursday are McCarron, C.J. Mosely, wide receivers Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, guard Anthony Steen and even punter Cody Mandell. That's a lot of talent, all determined to leave on a good note. Of course, just because T.J. Yeldon isn't in that group doesn't mean he won't feature prominently here. Here's hoping to another money sign double throat slash…

         And the Sooners. I wince, as I write this, but they have scrabbled together their requisite 10 wins this season by rotating 3 starting quarterbacks. 3! In fact, as of this writing (48 hours before game time, about) they have yet to announce their starting quarterback for Thursday. Regardless of whether we see Trevor Knight or Blake Bell however (a duo somewhat optimistically deemed "the two headed monster") I don't see Alabama quaking in their boots. Meanwhile the Sooner defense has yet to really prove themselves against quality opponents. A casual glance at the numbers would suggest a formidable unit, but in two games this season (Baylor and Texas, the two toughest match ups) the Sooner defense have let up over 900 yards. This doesn't bode well.
Hang in there, big guy. Also, you have weird tattoos. 
        Quixotically, some are predicting the best performance we have ever seen from the Sooners, that they might rise to the occasion magnificently, on the coat tails of a bizarre berth-securing win in Bedlam over OSU that included an earthquake. Yet however fated they might think this win is, I can't agree. I have to go Tide, and not in a close one. Alabama 35-Oklahoma 17.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Five 2014 Fantasy Baseball Sleepers

As 2014 rolls around, it is officially time for fantasy baseball owners to start thinking about draft day. Sure, it may be 4 months away, but it's not like you're busy with fantasy football anymore.

1. Ryan Howard- 1B, Phillies

People seem to forget that a mere 2 years ago Howard was an all-star with good power and the ability to drive in runs. The past two seasons were injury-filled for Howard and even when he did play, it was evident that he was not 100%. An off season of recovery should benefit Howard and he could be a major steal in 2014.

2. Jackie Bradley JR.- CF, Red Sox

Entering 2013 Bradley was one of the most hyped prospects in baseball. He raked in spring training and amazingly earned a spot on the Sox opening day roster. A woeful April led Bradley to be demoted again before a few brief stints in the majors. After the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury, Bradley should have a starting spot on the Sox and will prove that 2013 was a fluke.

3. BJ Upton- CF, Braves

To be blunt about it, Upton sucked in 2013. He was truly one of the worst players in the MLB but people are quick to forget that this is the same player who almost went 30/30 in 2012. A closer look at the peripherals suggest that 2013 was an anomaly for Upton and he should definitely be targeted by owners in the late rounds of 2014 drafts.

4. Josh Johnson- SP, Blue Jays

Josh Johnson's 2013 season is the perfect example of how luck plays a major role in professional sports. His BABIP against was an astonishing .361, meaning opposing batters reached base on 36% of all balls they put in play. Compare that to Johnson's career average of .307 and it is easy to see how he struggled so much in 2013. Even his xFIP, or expected ERA with an average defense behind him and a league average HR/Fly ball rate, was 3.68, well below his actual ERA of 6.20. Even if Johnson's peripherals can come back to near his career averages in 2014, he should have a bounce back season and provide major value for owners.

5. George Springer- CF, Houston Astros

Springer is truly one of the most exciting players in baseball. In 2013 he played 135 games between AA and AAA and ALMOST went 40/40. Yes, you read that correctly, a 24 year old prospect almost went 40/40 last year AND he plays for the Astros. We aren't quite sure why Springer isn't getting more hype (he was recently rated the 58th best prospect in the MLB) but he certainly deserves it. We expect Springer to go at least 20/20 this season and in a few years, don't be surprised if Springer joins the elite 40/40 club.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Best NFL Memes (December)


Fiesta Bowl Preview: Baylor (11-1) vs UCF (11-1)

        Ok, this is going to be good. Before you dismiss this as one of the more lopsided BCS bowls in recent memory, (I was tempted to, before I did a little research) consider this: The 15th ranked Knights (not bad, you must admit) have dropped just one game this year, and have a couple big wins over decent opponents such as Louisville and Rutgers, in a 41-17 upset. So this isn't as laughable a matchup as it might immediately seem, if one were to only look at the conferences from which the teams hail, or their histories. This is the biggest game in Knight history, and by virtue of that fact they probably deserve some respect for getting here. All that being said, a 17 point spread is telling, even on such a big stage as a BCS bowl. I won't let the suspense kill you, dear reader. I go Bears, in a shootout for the ages.

Petty will put on a show, make no mistake.
      And I do so in large part because of one young man down in Waco. Bryce Petty did not get as much national or Heisman attention as most now feel he deserved, in retrospect. He was a great player on a great team, he had great moments, and his stats were stratospheric. But New York and the players who were there is now of no concern to the Bears, whose attention can now solely lie in Arizona. This is a high powered offense, a smooth running, well oiled, perfectly drilled machine. The Mercedes Benz of college football offenses, one might say. This isn't even an arguable point by now, as with the regular season in the books the Bears scored on average a whopping 53.3 points. Unheard of, and easily good enough for first in the nation. So  while I won't declare them the best offense in college football (strength of schedule is certainly questionable) it can't be denied that they are good at scoring points. They like doing it, they do it early, often, and they do it well, even against the occasional good team. If the Bears score under 40 points in this game I will be shocked. They should be firing on all cylinders, Petty on the same page as his happy band of talented, explosive receivers, and it will make good watching. Of course that's not to mention running back Lache Seastrunk (makes the list of great running back names, one of the best I'd say) who rushed for 1,000 yards again this season and had 11 touchdowns for the Bears. He will feature prominently as well, I should imagine.

       Now UCF's defense is a major cause of concern, to be sure. Little talent and almost no spine have me thinking Baylor will score when they want to, as stated above. However, this team as well can score points. They dropped 38 on the previously vaunted Louisville defense early in the season, and they scored 41 against Rutgers. Those are two good defenses there, in fact I seem to remember ESPN wanted to crown Louisville one of the best in the country. So both those wins are statement wins, testaments to this offensive power. They are led by junior Blake Bortles, a talented young lad who is actually projected to go top 10 in the 2014 NFL draft should he forgo his senior season. How's that for no name recognition, especially as a great player? So make no mistake, this is a good, well coached offense led by an excellent quarterback. They will score a lot of points as well. Let's say under 30 would have me genuinely, sincerely shocked.
Can the Knights rise to the occasion? I suspect victory is beyond their grasp.
        They will score a lot, but it won't be enough. This one goes to the Bears, easily, but I will watch without a doubt, as this could easily be one of the highest scoring BCS bowl games in recent memory. Seriously, this might bring you back to West Virginia 70 -Clemson 33, or perhaps the less lopsided but no less exciting Boise St. 43- Oklahoma 42. It's definitely possible that this game would match, or even dare I say surpass, such ludicrous days of yore. So who doesn't want to see, as I predict, Baylor 53 UCF 38?

NFLR Videos: LeSean McCoy Highlight Video

With the Philadelphia Eagles looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011, star running back LeSean McCoy has played a key role in their success this season. In his 5 seasons in the National Football League, McCoy is a two time Pro Bowler, a first team All-Pro, as well as a rushing title that he won this season with 1,607 rushing yards. Be sure to check out more of our videos on our Youtube channel, which you can find here.

2013 Fantasy Football Winners and Losers

Anybody on the Denver Broncos Offense
Before the season started, many fantasy football players questioned how productive any single player on the Denver Broncos offense would be; there are just too many weapons.  Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas, and Knowshon Moreno are all superstar-caliber players, and it seemed impossible for them all to provide consistent fantasy performances within the same offense. The remedy for the overcrowded nature of this offense was one we should have seen all along: Peyton Manning.  I guess 5211 yards and 51 touchdowns (plus any stats that he compiles in week 17) was enough to go around.

Defenses Going Against the Giants, Jets, or Jags
The quickest thing to go every week on the waiver wire this year was any defense facing up against the Giants, Jets, or Jags.  The Giant's Eli Manning threw a league high 26 interceptions, while the Jet's Geno Smith was right behind him with 21 interceptions and was also sacked 43 times (third in the league). The Jags dynamic quarterback combo of Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne also never failed to impress, racking up an impressive 20 total interceptions.  Don't be surprised if you find yourself constantly picking up defenses playing any of these three teams next year too.

Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns
Give me one person who thought that Josh Gordon would have more fantasy points than Calvin Johnson after week 16 and I'll give you a liar.  Megatron has had an incredible season, but Gordon's has been just as good if not better, despite playing in one fewer game.  Nine touchdowns and seven games with more than one hundred receiving yards (two with more than two hundred) make for a pretty damn impressive season.  Congrats if you jumped on the bandwagon early; I'm dearly sorry to those of you who passed on this gem of a player.

Top Tier Tight Ends
Receiving tight ends are making a comeback in the NFL, and it is largely thanks to an elite group of a few truly special tight ends.  Included in this remarkable group are the likes of Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, Julius Thomas, Tony Gonzalez, and Jason Witten (fringe stars include James Cameron, Charles Clay, Greg Olsen, and Antonio Gates). Jimmy Graham has caught an incredible 15 touchdowns, while Vernon Davis has managed 12, Julius Thomas has recorded 11, and Gronk got 4 in just 6.5 games.  The immense consistency of Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten cannot be overlooked either. We may never see a group of tight ends as productive in fantasy terms, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Running Backs outside of the Elite
By elite I mean AP, Jamaal Charles, Shady McCoy, and Marshawn Lynch.  Outside of them, this year's running back group has disappointing.  Sure, there have been a few bright spots, like the emergences of Matt Forte, Eddie Lacy, Knowshon Moreno, and DeMarco Murray as good fantasy producers.  However, first round running backs like C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Ray Rice, Trent Richardson, and Steven Jackson have failed to perform.  Where did the projected breakout seasons of David Wilson and Lamar Miller go? Why are Chris Johnson, Frank Gore, and Reggie Bush so inconsistent? Why won't the Redskins give Alfred Morris the ball in the red zone? Where is MJD? Sorry to be cliché, but there are so many questions and really so few answers.

The NFL has a real problem, and it is the injury bug. Injured quarterbacks have included Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, and Tony Romo.  Meanwhile the injury list for running backs is much larger, including Adrian Peterson, C.J. Spiller, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Steven Jackson, Stevan Ridley, MJD, David Wilson, Darren McFadden, Eddie Lacy, Reggie Bush, and pretty much anybody else that you can name outside of Ryan Mathews (how weird is that).  The list goes on and on for wide receivers and tight ends too, but I'm not going to make you read through another long list of injured players.  All I'll say is that something needs to change in the NFL.

Keeping the Same Defense for the Whole Season
It used to be common to draft a defense pretty high and use them consistently throughout the entire season.  To put it simply, there was a remarkable amount of scoring this year, and not even the best defenses were safe from a horrid performance.  The much more reliable technique has become to rotate defenses weekly based on matchups.  The reality is, not even the best defenses are a good start against a team like the Broncos.

Blair Walsh, K, Minnesota Vikings
Walsh was supposed to be the bee's knees this year, and through the first four games it looked like he was just that.  He had more than eight fantasy points in each of those four games, but it went sharply downhill after that, with consecutive fantasy performances of 4, 0, 7, and 5 points.  He has recovered to a certain extent, but still, we expected more out of Walsh.  The morale of the story is, kickers are about as unpredictable as they come, so don't go about drafting a kicker anywhere near the top/middle of the draft next year.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Start 'Em, Sit 'Em (Week 17)

Start 'Em:
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers
The major fantasy setback for Williams this year is that he has had to share carries with Cam Newton as well as two capable backups, Jonathan Stewart and Mike Tolbert.  With Stewart injured and Tolbert acting more as a fullback now, evidenced by his one carry last week, Williams is set up to prosper. Additionally, it can't hurt that he gets to go up against the 26th ranked fantasy run defense of the Atlanta Falcons.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Early in the season Patterson put his athleticism on display in the return game, but now the Vikings have started to allow him to show off his skills in their normal offense.  He has more than ten fantasy points in each of the last three weeks, which is a product of the Vikings desire to get the ball in his hands in whatever way possible.  In a meaningless game against the Lions on Sunday, the Vikings will likely put the ball in Patterson's hands often to see what they truly have in their first round pick.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Roethlisberger has had a sneakily good season, and going up against the 23rd ranked Browns fantasy defense, you would expect him to produce.  Averaging over two touchdowns per game over the past eight weeks, Roethlisberger looks primed for another successful week.

Sit 'Em:
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Gore has had a good season, but he has been a bit inconsistent at times.  My guess is that this week is not one of his better weeks, in a tough matchup against the Arizona Cardinals, who have allowed the fewest yards to opposing running backs.  This defense has allowed just four touchdowns to running backs all year in addition to just two weeks of allowing over one hundred rushing yards... That's pretty good.

Harry Douglas, WR, Atlanta Falcons
It was nice while it lasted, but it seems as if Douglas' time in the spotlight is over, with Roddy White finally returning to his old form with a huge game against the 49ers last week.  Even when White was not producing, Douglas' numbers were not entirely encouraging, as he has not scored more than seven fantasy points in the last five weeks.  To make matters worse, he has to go up against a Panthers defense that is second in allowing fantasy points to opposing wide receivers.

Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots
Tom Brady's number one target is a former quarterback at Kent State... That shouldn't be a recipe for success.  However it was worked out well for the 11-4 Patriots who currently sit comfortably atop the AFC East.  This week, though, the Patriots face up against the Bills, and I believe that the talented cornerback duo of Leodis McKelvin and Stephon Gilmore along with a talented front seven featuring Kiko Alonso, Marcel Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Mario Williams, will be able to expose the Patriots lack of receiving options, making for a difficult fantasy week for Tom Brady.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Top 5 MLB Stadiums

Attending an MLB game is truly something special. Part of what makes this experience so enjoyable is the stadium. Nearly every stadium in the MLB boasts something special but how can you rank stadiums when they are all so different? Three major categories stood out to me- History, Atmosphere and fan draw. For history- How old is the stadium? What has happened there? Is there a rich history or has truly nothing special happened there (Cough Cough Marlins Park)? For the second category, atmosphere, is the stadium nice? Any cool restaurants or activities? For the last category, fan draw, we looked at the following- Is the team good? Any fun traditions or any real reason to visit the park? We gave each stadium a grade of 1-10 in each category for a total of 30 possible points. Here are the top 5!

Wrigley Field- 25/30
  • History- Behind Fenway Park, Wrigley has the richest history in baseball. Built in 1914, Wrigley has seen 5 World Series over the years and countless baseball legends have called the field home. GRADE- 10
  • Atmosphere- Wrigley is one of the most enjoyable places to go see a baseball game. The Field truly gives an old-school vibe and you can easily imagine what it was like almost 100 years ago. GRADE- 9
  • Fan Draws- The Cubs have been one of the most frustrating teams in the MLB over the past decade and fans will tell you that the franchise is cursed, as they have not won a World Series since 1908. Besides it's history, the Ivy on the outfield walls is the only true draw to the stadium. GRADE- 6

AT&T Park- 25/30
  • History- The Giants have a rich history, winning 7 world series in franchise history. Even though only 2 have come at AT&T park, there have been multiple no-hitters, a perfect game, and Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's home run record there. GRADE- 9
  • Atmosphere- Although I have never experienced the atmosphere at AT&T park, it is supposedly one of the best in the MLB. With a prime location on the water and countless amenities, it is easy to see why. GRADE- 9
  • Fan Draw- Although the Giants have won 2 World Series in the past 4 years, the 2013 season was a disappointment for the franchise and the future looks a bit shaky. While the atmosphere is nice, there are no true draws for fans with the exception of McCovey Cove in right field. GRADE- 7

Dodger Stadium- 26/30
  • History- Dodger Stadium has been blessed with one of the richest histories in baseball. 8 World Series, an all star game and even the OLYMPICS have been held in Dodger Stadium, let alone a variety of individual accomplishments. Grade- 10
  • Atmosphere- Dodger Stadium is a great place to go see a ball game. Fans are friendly, parking is easy and the games have a very nice atmosphere. A lack of major draws brings the grade down a slight amount. GRADE- 7
  • Fan Draw- The Dodgers are one of the most exciting franchises in baseball. With stars like Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw and Yasiel Puig, going to see a Dodgers game is a great time. GRADE- 9

Busch Stadium- 28/30
  • History- Although it was built in 2006, the stadium has held 3 separate World Series in it's short history. Since it was built where the old Busch Stadium was, the location's history extends much beyond 2006. GRADE- 8
  • Atmosphere- Busch Stadium is one of the best places to go see a ball game. It is located in downtown St. Louis and fans are treated to a spectacular view of the city from the stadium. Add in great weather and countless amenities and Busch Stadium gets a high mark in the atmosphere category- GRADE- 10
  • Fan Draw- The Cardinals have played in 3 World Series in the past 7 seasons and they are showing no signs of slowing down. With a great atmosphere and a great team, who wouldn't want to go see a game there? GRADE- 10

Fenway Park- 30/30
  • History- Fenway is the undisputed champion when it comes to history. It has hosted 10 World Series and one of the coolest parts about Fenway Park is how it has hosted professional soccer, NHL and NFL games as well. Countless baseball legends such as Babe Ruth and Ted Williams have called the park home as well. GRADE- 10
  • Atmosphere- Fenway Park is a fantastic place to see a baseball game. The fans are friendly, the food is excellent and every true baseball fan needs to see a game there in their lifetime. GRADE- 10
  • Fan Draws- The Red Sox have won 3 World Series in 9 years and look to continue their success in years to come with a great young core. Fenway Park is located in downtown Boston and fans love to see games there as shown by their record sellout streak. GRADE- 10

Rose Bowl Preview: Stanford (11-2) vs Michigan State (12-1)

Well I have procrastinated long enough, and on this side of Christmas I suppose I have to get down to writing some BCS previews. This matchup has me intrigued and excited, so I was happy to start with it. These are two physical, defensive teams, perhaps the most worthy of that description in the country. This should be an old school football game, fun to watch and less fun for the quarterbacks on either side. If I were older and had watched an immense amount of football over the last sixty or so years, I would wax poetic here for several paragraphs, yearning for the good old days, the way the game was meant to be played, the hard hitting, hard nosed style which is less prevalent today… so on and so forth. I will, however, spare you all the spiel, because we've all heard it and no one likes listening to it. Suffice it to say that, without being nostalgic or annoyingly preferential for the days of yore, this will be a good game.

        12-1 Michigan St, of course, is coming off a remarkable victory. The stakes could not have been higher for the Buckeyes in the Big 10 title game, but the simple fact of the matter was the Spartans showed up. A decisive 34-24 win over the national championship hopefuls showed everyone that this team can beat anyone, the best team in the country even. Stanford is of the same elite ilk, so another massive effort is called for on Michigan St.'s part. It is certainly nice, however, to know it's possible. This will be a defensive battle to be sure, and perhaps the Spartans get the edge on that side of the football. Some are saying this is the best defense in the country, and although I will hold off before crowning them as such, they certainly are in the conversation. Their 12.4 points allowed this season is a testament to one of the stingiest defenses, in and out of the red zone, we've seen in a long time. This is simply a good fundamentally well coached football team. Their one loss this season was a quirky 17-13 game in Southbend, and they have played their best football all season against their best opponents. For this reason, they'll play well against Stanford, for sure. It must be noted however, that senior captain and starting inside linebacker Max Bullough is suspended for the Rose Bowl for a violation of team rules. He is undoubtedly the most important player on the team, and although without him, the defense remains formidable, his presence will be missed of course. Not only is Bullough the single most important defensive piece for the Spartans, but he is also a vocal leader, well known and well liked. As a third generation Spartan, the program could not be more important to him. It is a crying shame that he will miss such a game, but we will have to wait and see what transgression merited such a punishment.

         11-2 Stanford, meanwhile, has no such pressing issues to worry about. Yet, throughout the season, they have had more weaker moments than the Spartans, and so there must be some nagging doubts I imagine about the potential for a poorly timed choke (ahem, Utah). The Cardinal has had some remarkable games this season, in particular, a statement 38-14 win over 11 ranked Arizona St. to win the Pac 12, and of course a 26-20 win over then 2 ranked Oregon. In such games, Stanford has nearly looked unbeatable. We know, however, that they can be beat, even by a bad team. You see the dilemma. Their 18.6 points against are nothing to sneeze at, however, making this a promising, if low scoring, matchup.

        In the end I can't count on the Spartan squad without their most important player. This will be a good game, fun to watch and fun to speculate on, and I see Stanford 20-Michigan St. 12.

Week 17 Predictions

Abridged Version

Bengals over Ravens

Steelers over Browns

Panthers over Falcons (OT)

Lions over Vikings

Titans over Texans

Colts over Jaguars

Jets over Dolphins

Giants over Redskins

Bills over Patriots

Packers over Bears

Broncos over Raiders

Chargers over Chiefs

Saints over Buccaneers

Seahawks over Rams

49ers over Cardinals

Eagles over Cowboys

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

NFL Week 17 Power Rankings

1. Denver Broncos: After the Seahawks lost at home in a Week 16 matchup, the Denver Broncos are now number one in the power rankings. Peyton Manning threw his 51st touchdown pass in 2013 against the Houston Texans last weekend, breaking Tom Brady's record of 50. Manning and the Broncos offense is clearly the best in the league, but Von Miller's ACL injury will cause Miller to miss the rest of the season, a huge loss to the Broncos defense.

2. Seattle Seahawks: For the first time since 2011, the Seattle Seahawks lost in their own stadium, this time it was against the Arizona Cardinals in a Week 16 matchup. The game was low scoring, and it appeared that the Seahawks would be able to tie it within the final two minutes, but a costly interception cost them the game. This loss at home may shake the Seahawks' confidence at home, maybe planting a seed of doubt into their minds.

3. Carolina Panthers: Following their home win against the New Orleans Saints, all the Carolina Panthers need in order to clinch a first round bye is to win their Week 17 matchup against the Falcons on the road. Carolina's defense particularly, the run defense, has been absolutely superb so far in 2013, and with soon-to-be Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly leading the way, the Panthers are very likely to win the NFC South.

4. New England Patriots: The Patriots are unable to create any type of consistency in 2013, especially due to all of the devastating injuries; however, their dominant win over the Baltimore Ravnes on the road proves they are still a powerhouse in the NFL, especially with quarterback Tom Brady leading the way. The team played well on both sides of the ball, and they still have a shot at clinching home field advantage throughout the playoffs despite all of the challenges they have faced.

5. San Francisco 49ers: Sure, Monday Night's game between the Niners and the Falcons was exciting to watch, but considering the Falcons were 4-10 going into this game, the Niners should have won by a larger margin. The Niners are on a five game winning streak, with a 10-2 record in their last 12 games. The defense as a whole carrying this time, and offensively a dominant running game allows the Niners to be in contention for a spot in the playoffs.

6. Kansas City Chiefs: After starting the season at 9-0, the Kansas City Chiefs have lost four of their last seven, proving that the Chiefs may not be a powerhouse in this league after all. The Chiefs defense is not nearly as stingy as they were at the start of the season. In their first 9 games, the Chiefs defense allowed an average of 12.3 points per game, whereas their defense is allowing nearly 24 points per game in the last seven. The number don't lie.

7. New Orleans Saints: The Saints' loss to the Carolina Panthers last weekend clearly shows New Orleans' terrible weakness when playing on the road. The Saints may be undefeated so far this season when playing in the safety of the Superdome, but on the road, they are 3-5, a clear weakness for the Saints. Peyton Manning is receiving all of the spotlight, but Drew Brees is also having yet another great season in 2013.

8. Arizona Cardinals: Many assumed that Arizona's two game winning streak would be snapped once they travelled to Seattle, but instead, Arizona handed the Seahawks their first loss at home since December of 2011. The Cardinals might just be the hottest team in the NFL right now, even though they have yet to be guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: Originally, the Cincinnati Bengals offense struggled due to the inconsistent passing game under quarterback Andy Dalton. Wide receiver AJ Green is truly the centerpiece of this offense, as he ranks within the top 5 in the entire National Football League in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns. The defense is clearly the core of this team as a whole, but AJ Green is the superstar of the team.

10. Indianapolis Colts: The Colts are obviously the most inconsistent team of 2013. This season, the Colts have beaten the 49ers, Seahawks, Broncos, and Chiefs (combined record of 46-14), but have lost to inferior teams such as the Chargers, Dolphins, and Rams. Quarterback Andrew Luck has shown signs of progress since his rookie season, but his future performance in the playoffs several weeks from now is unpredictable to say the least.


11. Philadelphia Eagles

12. San Diego Chargers

13. Philadelphia Steelers

14. Chicago Bears

15. Baltimore Ravens

16. Dallas Cowboys

17. Green Bay Packers

18. Miami Dolphins

19. St Louis Rams

20. New York Jets

21. Detroit Lions

22. New York Giants

23. Buffalo Bills

24. Tennessee Titans

25. Minnesota Vikings

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

27. Jacksonville Jaguars

28. Atlanta Falcons

29. Cleveland Browns

30. Washington Redskins

31. Oakland Raiders

32. Houston Texans

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2013 NBA Christmas Day Preview

The NBA's tradition of Christmas Day games continues this year with an onslaught of great games from noon to night. Here is a preview of each one (all times are in Eastern Standard Time):

Chicago Bulls (10-16) at Brooklyn Nets (9-18), 12:00 pm

Both teams enter this matchup having performed well below expectations, as both were supposed to contend with the Heat and Pacers at the top of the Eastern Conference. However, neither currently hold a playoff spot in the incredibly weak East, and don't seem to be improvin
g much because their frustration and desperation have impeded their progress. In terms of this game, Chicago is the much better defensive team, allowing 93.3 ppg (2nd best in the league) to Brooklyn's 102.6, but the Nets are scoring 97.6 ppg to the Bulls' 91.8 (worst in the league), although both are in the bottom third of the league in that category. Chicago is clearly not the same without Derrick Rose, and now have nobody to match up with Deron Williams, while Brooklyn has lost Brook Lopez and now have few answers for Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer. My prediction is that the Bulls' stingy defense will halt the Nets who will continue to grow more flustered with their situation, and by the end of the game, although he may say otherwise, Jason Kidd will be wishing he had never taken the job as coach of the Nets.

Prediction: Bulls 94, Nets 75

Oklahoma City Thunder (22-5) at New York Knicks (9-18), 2:30 pm

The Thunder have the fourth-highest point differential in the league (+7.1) while the Knicks are a -2.9. Carmelo Anthony is out while the Thunder have two of the most explosive players in the league in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. None of this adds up to good things for New York, except for one thing that could give the Knicks a glimmer of hope: they are very good at securing the basketball, committing only 11.8 turnovers per game (lowest in the league) while OKC commits an average of 16.0 (fourth-highest in the league). The Knicks could surprisingly make this game interesting, also because of the improved shot selection that they are sure to have with Anthony sidelined. Their players should take more high-percentage shots (except for Andrea Bargnani...) which would certainly come as a surprise to the possibly-complacent Thunder, causing the game to be closer than expected.

Prediction: Thunder 110, Knicks 106 (OT)

Miami Heat (21-6) at Los Angeles Lakers (13-15), 5:00 pm

The Lakers are always the center of a huge controversial story or scandal, but no one will be talking about them after the Heat thrash them on Christmas. Miami has a point differential of +7.8 (tied for second highest in the league) to LA's -3.9, and the Heat force 17.3 turnovers per game (most in the league) while the Lakers only force 13.3 (third-worst in the league). The Lakers are becoming less and less motivated to play for Mike D'Antoni, and will, frankly, just fail to show up against the defending champions. With Kobe Bryant out, the Lakers have nobody to even come close to matching LeBron, who might score between 30-40 points in this game, even with the extra rest that he should receive in the fourth quarter. The Lakers are too old to run with the Heat, and are in for a rough day.

Prediction: Miami 107, LA 81

Houston Rockets (18-11) at San Antonio Spurs (22-6), 8:00 pm

The Rockets and Spurs are both top teams in the Western Conference, but the difference between them has to do with execution. The Spurs are more polished around the edges and clearly more experienced for the big moments, while the Rockets have more pure talent but lack ball security (16.4 turnovers committed per game, thi
rd-worst in the league) and are weak in certain specific areas of the game (James Harden's poor shot selection and Dwight Howard's inability to shoot free throws are examples). This game will be close, as is every game for the Rockets, and although the Spurs may win 8 times out of 10, this might be one of the times when Harden's pure scoring ability and Howard's incredible rebounding ability triumph over Greg Popovich's well-coached and refined game plan. The game should be close, but the Spur's execution in big moments won't matter when all is said and done, as Harden will hit a couple of big shots to quell San Antonio's comeback, scoring about 25-35 in total while Howard grabs rebounds into the high teens.

Prediction: Rockets 98, Spurs 92

Los Angeles Clippers (20-9) at Golden State Warriors (18-13), 10:30 pm

The Clippers go as Chris Paul goes, and the Warriors go as Stephen Curry goes. However, the Warriors rely more on their incredible 3-point shooting (40.3%, second-highest in the league) than anything else, so if they are hitting shots from behind the arc, then they will win most of their games. However, the Clippers, under defensive-minded Doc Rivers, are allowing the lowest 3-point percent
age to opponents in the league (32.0%). The question here is if defense will prevail over offenses, and in most cases it is more likely that the 3-point shooters are able to restrained, which would spell trouble for the Warriors. The Clippers, on the other hand, have multiple ways to score, whether its Chris Paul's shooting or penetration, DeAndre Jordan or Blake Griffin's low post work, or JJ Redick's 3-point shooting, they should be able capitalize on the Warrior's misses from long range, and take the victory in a hard fought battle between teams that could meet up in the playoffs.

Prediction: Clippers 101, Warriors 90

Monday, December 23, 2013

2014 NBA Mock Draft #1

This first Mock Draft of the season is obviously premature, but no matter was fun to put together and speculate on where the nation's top college talent will end up. The order is based solely on the standings from right now and does not take into account the unpredictability of the lottery, so it is clearly not the same as it will be at year's end. Here it goes:

1.  Milwaukee Bucks - Jabari Parker, SF, Duke

The Bucks desperately need scoring, so they go ahead and take the most athletically-gifted scoring machine in the draft. Combine with their other freaks-of-nature in Larry Sanders and John Henson, the Bucks will have a great core for the future.

2.  Utah Jazz - Andrew Wiggins, SG, Kansas

Wiggins has had an up-and-down season, but there is no way the Jazz pass up who some had called the best prospect since LeBron. He will greatly improve their team overall, and get them off to a great start toward becoming relevant again.

3.  Philadelphia 76ers - Joel Embiid, C, Kansas

The Sixers are smart enough to know that the only way to compete with the Heat and Pacers in the East is to have a good center to hold down the paint. Embiid is by far the best in the draft and he will be everything and much more than the Sixers were hoping to get when they traded for Andrew Bynum last year.

4.  Orlando Magic - Julius Randle, PF, Kentucky

The Magic know how to tank. They have a great young core, and adding Randle to the mix might even propel them to a high playoff seed next year. He is that good, a much better version of Josh Smith, for he can shoot from anywhere on the floor and rebound extremely well.

5.  Sacramento Kings - Marcus Smart, PG, Oklahoma State

Smart could pair with Isaiah Thomas in the backcourt and become a dynamic duo for the Kings. Smart can score prolifically and with his size could create many mismatches for opposing teams to defend.

6.  Denver Nuggets (from Knicks - C. Anthony trade) - Aaron Gordon, SF/PF Arizona

The Nuggets were successful last year with a good SF in Andre Iguodala, so the versatile Gordon would be a much needed improvement to their defensive and ability to run the floor. He has the potential to finally reward the Nuggets for trading Carmelo Anthony back in 2011.

7.  Atlanta Hawks (from Nets - J. Johnson trade) - Dante Exum, PG, Australia

While it is hard to project foreign prospects, Exum has the size and scoring ability that could translate directly to the NBA. A huge upgrade from Jeff Teague, Exum will propel the Hawks into the upper ranks of the Eastern Conference.

8.  Cleveland Cavaliers - Dario Saric, SF, Croatia

The Cavaliers need a SF, and could be getting a steal in the little-known Saric. He has the all-around ability that would complement Kyrie Irving well, and if the Cavs are able to haul in a major free agent they could contend in the East next year.

9.  Chicago Bulls - Zach LaVine, PG, UCLA

The Bulls have shown of late they cannot survive without Derrick Rose, so they have to do everything they can to find a replacement for the often-injured point guard. LaVine fits the bill, as he has hight and scoring ability like Rose, and with the talent on the Bulls, would rack up a lot of assists as well.

10.  Memphis Grizzlies - James Young, SF, Kentucky

Young is a shooter, and a good one at that, especially from 3-point range. Drafting him would give the Grizzlies the ability to swap him in for Tony Allen when in need of more scoring, but use Allen when a defensive upgrade is needed, giving them the flexibility that they are lacking because they are a too defensive-minded team.

11.  Philadelphia 76ers (from Pelicans - J. Holiday trade) - Noah Vonleh, PF, Indiana

Vonleh has the scoring and rebounding ability as Julius Randle, although Vonleh's shot is not nearly as good. However, he could be the steal of the draft for the Sixers and pairing him with Embiid and Nerlens Noel to go along with Michael Carter-Williams, the Sixers will be we'll on their way to contending in the East.

12.  Minnesota Timberwolves - Rodney Hood, SG, Duke

The Timberwolves need a SG, and already with a pass-first point guard in Ricky Rubio and a rebounding machine in Kevin Love, a 3-point specialist in Hood would really round out their team and give them a greater chance against the very strong Western Conference.

13.  Los Angeles Lakers - Montrezl Harrell, PF, Louisville

The Lakers probably never thought they would be in the lottery with the core they have, but they have to face the fact that their older players are not who they once were. Harrell would be a great replacement for Pao Gasol, for he takes high-percentage shots and is a very effective rebounder.

14.  Utah Jazz (from Warriors - A. Iguodala trade) - Chris Walker, SF, Florida

The Jazz are sitting pretty with two lottery picks, and although this one is at the end of the lottery it could end up being a steal. Walker has been injured for the whole season up to this point, so he is hard to project, but his athleticism is exactly what the Jazz need and could be an incredibly dynamic pairing with Wiggins for a long time.

15.  Boston Celtics - Andrew Harrison, PG, Kentucky

16.  Charlotte Bobcats (from Pistons - B. Gordon trade) - Jerami Grant, SF, Syracuse

17.  Chicago Bulls (from Bobcats - T. Thomas trade) - Gary Harris, SG, Michigan State

18.  Phoenix Suns (from Wizards - M. Gortat trade) - Willie Cauley-Stein, C, Kentucky

19.  Orlando Magic (from Nuggets - D. Howard trade) - Wayne Selden Jr, SG, Kansas

20.  Dallas Mavericks - Mario Hezonja, SF, Croatia

21.  Phoenix Suns - Sam Dekker, SF, Wisconsin

22.  Houston Rockets - Doug McDermott, SF, Creighton

23.  Toronto Raptors - Adreian Payne, PF/C, Michigan State

24.  Boston Celtics - (from Nets through Hawks - P. Pierce trade) - Glenn Robinson III, SF, Michigan

25.  Los Angeles Clippers - Mitch McGary, PF, Michigan

26.  San Antonio Spurs - Spencer Dinwiddie, SG, Colorado

27.  Miami Heat - Jahii Carson, PG, Arizona State

28.  Oklahoma City Thunder - Jabari Bird, SG, Cal

29.  Phoenix Suns (from Pacers - L. Scola trade) - Jordan Adams, SG, UCLA

30.  Charlotte Bobcats (from Trail Blazers - G. Wallace trade) - Brandon Ashley, SF, Arizona