Monday, December 28, 2015

Peyton Manning and the HGH Saga

In a story first reported by an Al Jazeera undercover probe, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has been linked to human growth hormones, drugs that are illegal to use according to NFL rules. Manning reportedly received the human growth hormones through the mail in 2011 in the name of his wife, Ashley, to avoid having his name tied up with the shipments. The entirety of the report stems from a man named Charlie Sly, a former intern at the Guyer Institute in Indianapolis whose story continues to change. Since the story first broke, Sly claimed that he was not present at the company in 2011, as the report originally stated, but Al Jazeera released a video proving that Sly did in fact work there in 2011. Sly later recanted his story to Al Jazeera upon the realization that much of the information he had used was made up when talking with the undercover reporter.

As seen in the video below, Peyton Manning responded to these comments in an ESPN video, where his anger and frustration are almost palpable to the viewer. Meaning refers to Sly as "slapstick" numerous times, and uses strong words like "disgusted" when describing his views on this "false" report.

Yet the story can not be fully ruled out yet. While some ESPN analysts have been surprisingly quick to jump to Manning's defense, the NFL has announced they will investigate the Manning controversy: "We are reviewing the matter," said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. "Our procedure is to follow up on any information that potentially involves a violation of this nature." It is not too egregious to argue that Manning may have in fact used performance enhancers, since at the time in 2011, Manning looked to bounce back from a neck injury that caused him to miss the entire 2011 season. Coincidentally, the quarterback managed to have his best statistical season of his career just two years later, causing skeptics online to argue that this type of drastic turnaround must have been assisted by HGH.
So did Peyton Manning utilize human growth hormones in an effort to bounce back from injury? As we learned with the Tom Brady and the Deflategate saga, it is important to be open-minded until more information is released rather than jump to rash conclusions. Right now, all we can do is wait.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

NFL Power Rankings: Week 16

1. Carolina Panthers: Running back Jonathan Stewart may have been missing last week, but Cam Newton and the Panthers offense still managed to score 38 points in a win over the Giants. In two of the past three games, the Panthers defense has allowed 35 points or more, where even though Carolina's perfect season is alive and well, there are certain signs of the locomotive slowing down as the playoffs approach.

2. New England Patriots: One by one, Patriots stars are returning from the injuries they sustained earlier in the year, including Rob Gronkowski, Dont'a Hightower, and Jamie Collins. As seen with last week's game when both Chung and McCourty were sidelined, the most important thing for this Pats team is to remain the top seed while staying healthy. The addition of Steven Jackson will certainly help New England's nonexistent run game this season.
3. Arizona Cardinals: The loss of free safety Tyrann Mathieu to a torn ACL will be an incredibly costly injury to one of the best secondaries in football, but with Bruce Arians as the head coach, the Cardinals are still very much in contention. At the age of 35, Carson Palmer is having the best statistical season of his career (4,277 yards, 32 touchdowns, 106.7 passer rating), and he has a shot at amending his horrible playoff record (0-2 with a 66.5 passer rating in the postseason).

4. Seattle Seahawks: In one of the strangest turn of events, the Seattle Seahawks are 5-0 ever since Marshawn Lynch sustained an injury against the Cardinals. Quarterback Russell Wilson has caught fire over the last several weeks, especially when throwing the ball to receiver Doug Baldwin. Seattle has a chance to regain their pride within the NFC West with a win over the Cardinals in Week 17.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers: When quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is healthy, the Pittsburgh Steelers are a legitimate threat to dethrone the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Receiver Antonio Brown is basically unstoppable, especially with his eye-popping stat line against the top ranked Broncos secondary last week (16 receptions, 189 yards, 2 scores). Many would have expected the MCL injury to Le'Veon Bell would have derailed the Steelers offense, but back up running back DeAngelo Williams has done a great job temporarily replacing the young star.
6. Kansas City Chiefs: The Kansas City Chiefs have won their last 8 games and are likely the hottest team in all of football. With wins against the Steelers and Broncos, the success of Kansas City's football team has not been hindered by the loss of running back Jamaal Charles for the season. Defensively, safety Eric Berry earned Pro Bowl honors for the first time since being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, with two of KC's linebackers making the Pro Bowl as well (Tamba Hall and Justin Houston). The Chiefs could pull off the impossible and make the playoffs after a 1-5 start.

7. Green Bay Packers: After losing four of five games during the middle of the year, the Packers have started to return to their winning ways with a three game win streak. The loss of receiver Jordy Nelson at the start of the year had a larger impact on this team than many people expected, as it shows the lack of depth at the receiver position. With teams focusing most of their efforts on Randall Cobb, and Eddie Lacy struggling to return to last year's form, the Packers offense is just not the same as it once was.

8. Denver Broncos: Brock Osweiler is 3-2 in games when starting this season, but by losing the past two games, the Broncos are currently on track for the third seed in the postseason. Over the past two years, the Broncos are 7-0 when running back CJ Anderson rushes for 85 yards or more, so establishing the run against teams like Cincy will be key for this offense moving forward.

9. Cincinnati Bengals: While AJ McCarron may have been able to win the first start of his career, the entire success of the Bengals hinges upon Andy Dalton's health come playoff time. Cincinnati has a tough game against the Denver Broncos next week, where a win would put Cincy on track for a first round bye in the postseason. Yet with Dalton missing from the lineup, this sort of outcome is unlikely.

10. New York Jets: Now that cornerback Darrelle Revis has returned from the concussion he sustained back in November, the Jets have a legitimate shot at earning a spot in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Jets do not control their own destiny, as they must win their next two games and hope for at least one loss by the Chiefs, Steelers, or Broncos. This week, the Jets are home against the injury-plagued Patriots, so it would be unwise to count out New York just yet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Will the Carolina Panthers Go Undefeated?

While the Carolina Panthers may have been able to defeat the Giants this past weekend to move to 14-0, the win did not come easily. Eli Manning and the Giants led a four-touchdown comeback, with their last score being a pass to Odell Beckham Jr. with 1:46 left in the game. So maybe Carolina's defense was not able to close out the game, but Cam Newton ultimately marched 49 yards in 8 plays to set up Graham Gano's game winning field goal. With two games left in the regular season, the Panthers only need to beat the Falcons on the road next week and then the Buccaneers at home in Week 17 for an undefeated regular season. So let's take a look at these next two games, as well as any potential playoff teams capable of handing the Panthers their first loss of the season.

Falcons: At this point in the season, the Falcons must win their final two games just to have a chance at a spot in the playoffs. Unfortunately for Falcons fans, Atlanta has lost their last five games against the Panthers over the course of three different seasons, where their most recent matchup resulted in a 38-0 loss for the Falcons just two weeks ago. Even though the Panthers defense allowed 38 points to the Saints the week before, and 35 points to the Giants a week later, this defense managed to play to its full potential against the Falcons. Next week's key matchup will be Panthers cornerback Josh Norman versus star wide receiver Julio Jones, where in their last matchup against one another, Julio Jones caught seven passes for 88 yards but no touchdowns. In two of the last three games where teams have been able to score a lot of points against the Panthers, the offenses were able to get over the top of the Panthers secondary for a couple of big plays. The Falcons just don't seem like they have it in them, so I predict another win for the Panthers next week.
Prediction: Panthers over Falcons
Record: 15-0 

Buccaneers: Now that the Bucs have no chance of making the playoffs, Tampa Bay gains nothing from beating the Panthers in the last game of the season other than a sense of pride; in fact, it would be more advantageous for Tampa to intentionally lose this game in an effort to gain a better position in the draft. If Tampa loses another game, it's likely that they would sneak into the top 10 of the 2016 NFL Draft. Had this game taken place several weeks earlier when Jameis Winston became more comfortable in the pocket, Mike Evans had returned to full health, and Doug Martin emerged as Pro Bowl caliber running back once again, the Bucs had a legitimate shot at giving the Panthers their first loss. More importantly, deep threats Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson would give the Panthers secondary fits all game. Yet since this is not the case, the Panthers will become the third team in the Super Bowl era to by undefeated by the end of the regular season.
Prediction: Panthers over Buccaneers
Record: 16-0

Seahawks: With the Seahawks basically locked in as the fifth seed in the playoffs, a weak NFC East team as the fourth seed, and a likely win by the third seeded Packers in the first round of the playoffs, a Seahawks-Panthers matchup is almost inevitable. Sure, there are a lot of assumptions that must be made to get to this point, but the odds are in favor of this rematch from last year's Divisional Round taking place once more. Even with running backs Marshawn Lynch and Thomas Rawls injured, the Seahawks are one of the hottest teams in football, with quarterback Russell Wilson throwing for 19 touchdowns and no picks in his last 5 games. The Seahawks secondary is good enough to slow down the Panthers offense as they did last year in the playoffs, but the Seahawks are also very talented when it comes to throwing the deep ball (Wilson is 13 of 15 with a passer rating of 125.6 when on passes 31 yards or longer). Lastly, Lynch is expected to make his return come playoff time, so don't be shocked when the Seahawks defeat the Panthers in the Divisional Round for the second year in a row.
Prediction: Seahawks over Panthers
Record: 16-1