Monday, January 30, 2012

NFC East Draft Profile: Philadelphia Eagles

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Jason Babin had a great year for the Eagles, but the rest of the defense wasn't up to par.
The Eagles have a few faults on defense, and can fix them up in this year's draft.

Coming into the 2011-12 season, many expected the Eagles to be playing next week instead of the Giants. They were nicknamed the "Dream Team" before they even stepped onto the field. After the signings of Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the offseason, the Eagles added five Pro-Bowlers in a span of two weeks. Add to that, the lethal offensive combination of Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, and the quickest wide receiver combination in the league, and this team will be set to win it all. So what happened, why aren't they in the Super Bowl? Injuries, hubris, and chemistry destroyed the Eagles this season, and although they did rally at the end of the year, their early start doomed them.

2011 Record: 8-8

Strengths: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receivers, Left Tackle, Defensive Ends, Cornerbacks

Let's be real, if Michael Vick is completely healthy, this offense can compete with anyone. LeSean McCoy was the leading rusher in the NFC this year and also led all rushers in touchdowns. Add a healthy Michael Vick and you then have threats down the field, up the middle, and the possibility of a quarterback scramble. The question with this offense isn't, "can they keep up?", it's "will they be healthy". As for the defense, the Eagles have one of the top pass rushing combos in the league in Jason Babin and Trent Cole. Babin, Cole, and Cullen Jenkins nearly combined for 35 sacks this season, the most between three players in the entire league. And in the backfield, Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie can shut down almost any receiver core in the NFL.

Weaknesses: Right side of the Offensive Line, Linebacker, Tight End, Free Safety

Jason Peters did a great job protecting Vick's left side, but remember it's his right side that is his blind side.  In order to keep the $100 million man healthy, the Eagles have to protect him and make sure he doesn't hit the deck too many times. Also, improving the offensive line would only make LeSean McCoy even better than he already is. As for the linebackers, the Eagles were really hurt this year on linebacker coverage. While the front four are great, the linebackers struggled to guard tight ends, or drop into coverage. Your defense is only as good as your weakest link. Same goes for the Safety's. While the cornerbacks are guarding their men, the safety's need to be ball hawking in the middle of the field, reading the quarterback's eyes. The Eagles struggled this year in the secondary, and a lot of the responsibility has to go to the safety's. Finally, Brent Celek is a good tight end, but he has been banged up in the past, and it's always good to have a second tight end option.

Possible Options with 1st round pick (15th overall): Zach Brown, Luke Kuechly, Mark Barron, David DeCastro, Melvin Ingram

 Kuechly- Kuechly would add instant help to the linebacking core. He is an inside linebacker that would excel under the Eagles' 4-3 defense. Kuechly has been regarded as the top insider linebackers in this class after finishing up a great year at Boston College Ultimatly, Kuechly can turn out to be the next James Laurinaitis in the NFL, a solid linebacker who can control the middle of the field.Their offense needs little to no help, and both of these players could make immediate impacts on the team.

Barron- The safety out of Alabama is also on the rise, after helping the Crimson Tide win the National Championship Game against LSU. Barron has a great combination of size, strength, and smarts that will help him in the next level. He is a hard hitting safety, but can also be smart in the secondary and read the quarterback's every move. I think Barron would be a good fit for the Eagles, but I wouldn't see them taking Barron with Kuechly still on the board. I think the whole linebacking core is more of an issue than a secondary that already has three great cornerbacks.

DeCastro- As I wrote in the Redskins' profile, DeCastro has the size and determination to be a top guard in the NFL. He excelled at Stanford, protecting Andrew Luck's right side, and helped shut down Oklahoma State's defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl. The All-American would be a great help to the Eagles because he plays on the right side, which is very important to Michael Vick. Not sure if DeCastro would be on the board by the time the Eagles are on the clock, but he would be a good fit for them. I think they will go defense first, but DeCastro wouldn't be a surprise pick.

Brown/Ingram- Both are star outside linebackers that had very impressive seasons at North Carolina and South Carolina respectively. Brown isn't the biggest linebacker on the field, but he makes up for it with his speed that helps him get around tackles on the outside. The Eagles love speed so this pick wouldn't surprise me as well. As for Ingram, many thought JaDeveon Clowney would be the star linemen for the Gamecocks, but Ingram exploded this season. Both of these guys have extreme athleticism, something the Eagles look for.

What the Eagles need in later picks: Safety, depth at Offensive Line (assuming they draft linebacker first round), Tight End, Backup Quarterback,

Recap: No one expected the Eagles to be this bad this season, so the draft isn't that important to them. For the most part, they have enough talent on their team to go to the Super Bowl, it's whether or not they can put the pieces together. That being said, the Eagles could still use an upgrade at linebacker, safety  and the right side of the offensive line. If the Eagles can fix their costly mistakes from last season, they won't be picking this early come next year.

Friday, January 27, 2012

NFC East Draft Profile: Washington Redskins

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
After a disappointing 2011 season, the Redskins look to fix their weaknesses in the upcoming 2012 NFL Draft. 

Along with the team at, I will be analyzing this year's 2012 NFL draft. As the featured columnist for the NFC East, I will give each team a profile on their 2011 season and what they need in the draft to improve in 2012. First up are the Washington Redskins.

2011 Record: 5-11

Strengths: Linebackers, Secondary, Kick and Punt Returns, Tight End, Youth on Defense

Despite finishing fourth in the NFC, the Redskins have a pretty good defense. They have an above average linebacking core composed of Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan, London Fletcher, and Perry Riley. Although Fletcher is near the end of his career, Orakpo, Kerrigan, and Riley are all under 26 years old. Along with a good linebacking core, the Redskins also have a pretty good secondary, led by LaRon Landry. Although Oshiomogho Atogwe had a good season, Reed Doughty struggled to fill in for Landry. Also, when DeAngelo Hall is on top of his game, he is one of the best corner's in the league, but he is very inconsistent and has stretches of really bad games where he gets routed by wide receivers. A second cornerback to complement Hall wouldn't be a bad pick. At 5'7, Brandon Banks is a solid returner, averaging a little less than 10 yards per punt returns and 23 yards per kick returns. Finally, both Chris Cooley and Fred Davis are good options at tight end, but injuries and personal issues kept both of them out for extended periods of time this season.

Weaknesses: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver (1 and 2), Offensive Line, Injuries

It's really hard to win games when you have no threats on offense. When you play in the same division as the Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants, three explosive teams, you need to be able to keep up. With Rex Grossman at quarterback that's virtually impossible. It also doesn't help when your running backs are Roy Helu and Evan Royster. Also, Santana Moss has also been a more than good wide receiver in the NFL, but he's running out of time, and isn't nearly as dangerous as he used to be. The Redskins have a young offensive line, every player being under 30 years old, but that doesn't mean they are good. Rex Grossman and John Beck were sacked a combined 40 times, which ranked third most in the NFL. Clearly the Redskins have a vast amount of improvement needed on offense.

Possible Options with 1st round pick (6th overall): Robert Griffin III, Trent Richardson, Justin Blackmon, Jonathan Martin

Griffin III- If the Redskins were to pull this one off, they would probably need to trade up with the Rams or Vikings, because the Browns are also looking for a quarterback. Griffin could still fall to the Redskins at six, but if the Redskins know that RG3 is the answer to their offense, they better make sure they can get their hands on him, because Ryan Tannehill is no substitute. Griffin could strive under the Redskins offense, just like how Cam Newton turned around the Panthers' gloomy offense. Griffin's  speed, throwing power, and throwing accuracy are all assets that will help him succede in the NFL. With a weak offensive line, Griffin would be more likely to evade pressure than Rex Grossman, and his throw on the run ability will help him at a higher level of play. Personally, I like this pick, but the Redskins would need to give him more help in later picks.

Richardson- In another weak running back class, Richardson emerges as the top gun. Matter of fact, Richardson is the only running back projected to go in the first round. What Richardson provides, is a combination of strength and speed. Think of him as a bigger and badder (tougher not skill-wise) version of his predecessor, Mark Ingram. At best, Richardson can become the next Michael Turner. He is a downhill back, who defenders don't want to run into in the open field. Like the Griffin III pick, Richardson would be a good fit for Washington, but he would need a better supporting cast.

Blackmon- If you've watched any college football this year, you know how dominant Justin Blackmon was. His combination of strength, speed, height, and hands make him one of the best draft prospects in years. He is a two-time Biletnikoff Award winner, and also captured the Fiesta Bowl MVP, after a stellar performance. He's like a combination of Anquan Boldin and Dez Bryant, but will need a good quarterback to get him the ball. A huge part of his success at Oklahoma State was because of their offensive style, and their quarterback, Brandon Weeden. I don't think Blackmon would be a good fit with the Redskins because wide receivers who are drafted by teams with bad quarterbacks (think Braylon Edwards), usually aren't very happy.

Martin- Whether it's Martin, Riley Reiff, or David DeCastro, the Redskins couldn't go wrong with an elite offense linemen. With Trent Williams already becoming a strong left tackle, adding DeCastro to the inside of the line, or putting Reiff or Martin on the right would help make the Redskins' offensive line more stable. They do always say an offense starts with a good offensive line. I would be surprised if the Redskins didn't use their pick on a skill-set position, but then again the Redskins are one of the more unpredictable teams in the draft.

What the Redskins need in later picks: Wide Receiver, Defensive Tackle, Running back (if Richardson isn't taken), Offensive Guard

Recap: The Redskins have a lot of holes to fill this offseason. They need to make sure they wisely use their first pick on a future offensive star, be it RG3, Richardson, or even Blackmon. Although Morris Claiborne may be a popular pick, the Redskins have spent so many past first round picks on defense, it's time for a change. And remember, one offensive pick in the first three rounds isn't enough. They need to stack up their offense and add some new weapons. Look at the Bengals this year, Andy Dalton wouldn't have strived without AJ Green, and AJ Green wouldn't have been a pro-bowler if it weren't for Dalton. Think Redskins, Think.

Rangers Team To Beat Heading Into The All-Star Break

(Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
The Rangers have a reason to be celebrating heading into the All-Star break.
Their 66 points in just 47 games are the most in the NHL.

With 66 points in just 47 games, the New York Rangers are the team to beat in the NHL. Their 12 losses in regulation are the least in the NHL, and their 7-3 record in their last ten games heading into the break is the best in the Eastern Conference.

What makes the Rangers such an elite team in the NHL is their superb defense and goaltending. Even with all-star Marc Staal out for the majority of the season, the Rangers have given up the least goals in the NHL. Dan Girardi has done a fantastic job filling in for Staal on the first defensive pairing, and is averaging the most ice time in the NHL, with a little more than 27 minutes a game. Girardi never seems to get tired though and is one of the most efficient players in the NHL, always blocking shots, delivering hits, or applying pressure to wingers.

Along with Girardi, Michael Del Zotto and Ryan McDonagh have also been excellent for the Rangers on defense this season.

When the Rangers brought in Brad Richards during free agency, many assumed he would become the new star of the team. Well, those assumptions were wrong, because the star of the New York Rangers is still Henrik Lundqvist. King Henrik has had a spectacular season so far, and should finally win his first, long overdue Vezina Trophy.

Henk's 22 wins, .937 save %, and 1.87 goals against average rank in the top five among all goalies in the NHL. A huge reason the defense has received credit this season is because Lundqvist is always there to back them up.

For the last few seasons though, defense and goaltending have been strengths of the Rangers. Offense has been the biggest problem for the Rangers. Last season, the Rangers got an early boot from the playoffs because they couldn't put the pucks in the net. In his second season with the Rangers, Marian Gaborik's play regressed a lot, and he only finished with 22 goals. This season in just 47 games, Gaborik already has 25, which ranks in the top five across the league.

Besides injuries, why has Gaborik returned to his typical all-star play?

Brad Richards. Richards has revived this offense, and is creating so many goal scoring opportunities for his teammates. Last year, Gaborik struggled as the playmaker, since he's naturally a sniper. With Richards as the facilitator though, Gaborik can return to his aggressive role as a goal scorer. Perfect example of the two working together is the game winning powerplay goal to beat the Bruins last Saturday.

And how about giving some credit to John Tortorella?

As shown on 24/7 Road to the NHL Winter Classic, "Torts" is the most straightforward coach in the league. If a player sucked after a bad game, Tortorella would be the first to let them know it, but if a player had a good game, Torts would let them know that as well. Tortorella has to be a candidate for the Jack Adams Award this season. His ability to create well balanced lines, send his team strong messages, and have a good relationship with every player are among his best traits as a coach.

Besides the big name guys though, players like Carl Hagelin, Mike Rupp, and Derek Stepan all deserve recognition.

Hagelin, a rookie out of Michigan, is already becoming an offensive threat for the Rangers.  Hagelin was recently named along with 11 other rookies to participate this weekend in a few NHL All-Star events.

Along with Hagelin, Derek Stepan has really exploded this season. Stepan leads the team in assist, and his 31 points this season are the fourth most on the team.

And finally, Rupper. Looking at his stats, Rupp is nowhere near the top of the list, but it's his skills that aren't on the stat sheet; hustle, chemistry, hard work, and being an enforcer, that make him a Rangers favorite.

The reason the Rangers will be a Stanley Cup contender this year is because they are so well rounded, so complete. Their offense complements their defense, which reflects back on Lundqvist. They have great chemistry, and have had great success this season against other top teams. It's not a stretch to call this year's team the best team since 1994, the year Mark Messier hoisted Lord Stanley's Cup.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

NFL Conference Championship Recap

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
The Ravens were that close to reaching the Super Bowl. Sterling Moore would end up stripping Lee Evans,
 and a missed field goal two plays later resulted in a heartbreaking loss for Baltimore. 

Midterm week isn't stopping me from the weekly NFL recap. Going into last week's matchups, four teams entered but only two would remain. The Patriots got lucky and are advancing to the Super Bowl after a dropped touchdown and a missed field goal saved their season. As for the NFC matchup, the Giants took advantage of TWO fumbles by punt returner Kyle Williams, and barely squeezed out a victory against the 49ers.

Ravens vs. Patriots: 23-20 Patriots
Ravens Player of the Week: Joe Flacco- 306 pass yards, 2 touchdowns, 95.4 passer rating
Patriots Player of the Week: BenJarvus Green-Ellis- 68 rush yards, touchdown

Who would have guessed that Joe Flacco (2 touchdowns, 1 interception) would outplay Tom Brady (0 touchdowns, 1 interception) and still come out on the losing end? Brady even admitted that he sucked after the game, saying that the defense kept them in the game. What really won the game for the Patriots though, was luck.

Besides the disappearance of Pro-Bowler Ray Rice, the Patriots lucked out when Lee Evans couldn't hold on to a potential game-winning touchdown catch with under a minute to play. Initially, it looked like Evans came down clean with the catch, coming down on one foot and bringing the ball into his chest, but right before he got his second foot down, cornerback Sterling Moore punched the ball free. Then if it couldn't get any worse for the Ravens, Billy Cundiff missed the game-tying field goal with less than 10 seconds left to send the game into overtime.

Imagine if Evans held on to the catch though. Joe Flacco's whole career would suddenly evolve. Headliners would be "Flacco's three touchdowns lead Ravens over Patriots in AFC title game" or "Flacco outshines Brady to advance to the Super Bowl". Flacco has received tons of criticism this season, but actually played well in the game. Instead of being in the spotlight though, the Ravens were sent packing while the Patriots head to Indianapolis.

Giants vs. Niners: 20-17 Giants (OT)
Giants Player of the Week: Eli Manning- 316 pass yards, 2 touchdowns, 82.3 passer rating
Niners Player of the Week: Vernon Davis- 3 receptions, 112 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns

I've been saying it all along, this season for the Giants is all Dej√† Blue. The offense wasn't great on Sunday, but it was the Giants' defense and special teams that won them the game. Although Eli Manning was hit more than Alex Smith, Manning delivered in the clutch, unlike Smith. Besides the two fumbles by Kyle Williams, the other reason the Giants won this game was because of their third-down defense. Alex Smith and the Niners only converted one third-down on 13 attempts.

Even with Victor Cruz shut down in the second half, Eli and the Giants found a way to respond in the fourth quarter and retake the lead. And just like in 2007, Lawrence Tynes kicked the Giants into the Super Bowl, this time from 31 yards out.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

NFL Conference Championship Predictions

(Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
If Brady can find Gronk often and early, the Ravens don't stand a chance
against the top offense in the NFL.

Ravens vs. Patriots: 30-20 Patriots

The Ravens might have one of the best defenses in the league, but it's physically impossible to stop the three headed attack of Gronkowski, Hernandez, and Welker. Add to that attack, a future Hall of Fame quarterback, an experienced offensive line, and a decent running back, and you've got yourself a lethal offense.

Yes, I expect Suggs, Reed, and the Baltimore D to do better than the Broncos defense last week, but as long as the Patriots can put at least 28 on the scoreboard, game over.

Picking this game is as easy as this: Joe Flacco cannot compete with Tom Brady, it's not even close. As long as the Patriots can limit Ray Rice, this game will be piece of cake. Rice struggled last week against the Texans, and the Ravens only put up 20 points. The Patriots have scored in the 20's only four times this season, the rest in the 30's and 40's.

Next up is the head coaching battle. Yes, John Harbaugh deserves all the credit he is receiving, but Bill Belichick will go down as one of the greatest coaches of all time. He has proven himself, winning three Super Bowls last decade. Harbaugh can take a major step in his coaching career with a win over the Patriots, but I don't see it happening.

Giants vs. Niners: 27-23 Giants

Five weeks ago, how many of you readers would have predicted the Giants to be in the NFC Championship game, and have a great chance of going to the Super Bowl?

In these past five weeks, the Giants have transformed from a good team in the NFL, to an elite team, and are proving everyone wrong game after game. Remember when Eli was criticized for calling himself an elite quarterback? Looks like he was right after all.

The Giants are heading into this game wanting revenge. They lost to the Niners in Week 13, but weren't all full strength. They even would have won the game if it weren't for a drop by Mario Manningham.

Alex Smith may have burned the Saints last week, but now he has to go up against a much better defense, a defense that shut down the presumed MVP of the regular season last week. Both the Giants and 49ers have incredible front lines, so whoever wins that battle will win the game. Aldon and Justin Smith vs. JPP, Osi, and Tuck. Whoever gets to the quarterback more will win this game, it's as simple as that.

Like his brother, Jim Harbaugh has accomplished so much in just his first year as a head coach in the NFL, but his season will come to an end this week.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

NFL Division Round Playoff Recap

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Former #1 pick Alex Smith had the game of his life against the Saints Sunday,
leading his team on two game-winning drives in the final five minutes.

Saints vs. Niners: 36-32 Niners
Saints Player of the Week: Jimmy Graham- 5 receptions, 103 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
Niners Player of the Week: Alex Smith- 299 pass yards, 4 touchdowns (1 rush), 103.2 passer rating

I was one, not so spectacular Alex Smith drive away from going 4-0 this week. Too bad Smith led the 49ers to not one, but two potential game winning drives late in the fourth quarter. While Brees and the Saints struggled early on, committing three turnovers in the first quarter, the Niners got on the scoreboard first and led 17-0 early in the second.

Finally, Brees and the Saints started to get going, but not until mid-way through the fourth quarter. After a 44 yard touchdown pass to Sproles, the Saints went up by one with 4 minutes to play. No need to worry though, because Alex Smith led the 49ers on a potential game winning drive, ending with a 28 yard touchdown run by the quarterback. Brees and the Saints struck back less than a minute later, after Brees found Jimmy Graham for a 66 yard touchdown. Again though, Smith led the Niners on the real game winning drive, and found his tight end Vernon Davis in the endzone with only nine seconds left, to put them up four.

So I guess it was true, the Saints really couldn't handle playing on the road outdoors. They struggled early on offensively, while the defense struggled in the end, ultimately giving up 36 points to a subpar Niners offense. Just goes to show how much Jim Harbaugh has transformed this team. Just a year ago, former coach Mike Singletary was screaming and putting down these exact players' hopes. Now, Alex Smith is rejuvenated and is one win away from going to the Super Bowl, unbelievable.

Broncos vs. Patriots: 45-10 Patriots
Broncos Player of the Week:
Patriots Player of the Week: Tom Brady- 363 pass yards, 6 touchdowns, 137.6 passer rating
Broncos Player of the Week: Willis McGahee- 73 rush yards, touchdown

Well, this game was a huge letdown. With all the hype in the world, Tim Tebow and the Broncos came into Foxborough thinking they could actually beat the Patriots. As we all know though, the Broncos' plan didn't go too well. Brady came, saw, and conquered the Broncos defense, scorching them for six touchdown passes in three quarters.

Just a week ago, Tebow threw for 316 yards and three touchdowns, but this week he completed a little more than a third of his passes, for only 136 yards and no touchdowns. Yes, he played poorly, but can the loss be blamed on him?

Sorta. The Broncos weren't scoring more than 30 points on the Patriots at a best case scenario, and the fact that the Patriots already had 35 at the half, shows how bad the Broncos defense was. Then there's the Broncos offensive line, or lack of. Tebow was sacked five times, hit eight times, and was running for his life on almost every play. With no time in the pocket, how do you expect a subpar, young, inexperienced quarterback to have success playing in New England? You don't

Texans vs. Ravens: 20-13 Ravens
Texans Player of the Week: Arian Foster- 132 rush yards, touchdown
Ravens Player of the Week: Joe Flacco- 176 pass yards, 2 touchdowns, 97.1 passer rating

The Ravens deserve to advance to the AFC Championship game, after playing a very rough and physical game, but IF Matt Schaub was at quarterback, the Texans would be playing the Patriots next week. TJ Yates had plenty of opportunities on Sunday, but failed to complete half of his passes, failed to throw any touchdowns, and succeeded in throwing three passes to the other team. Put it this way, when your quarterback has a passer rating of 28.8, your not winning the game, especially against the Ravens.

The Ravens caught a break though, Ray Rice was not nearly as productive as everyone thought, and the overall offense was weak. The defense played great, but how can you measure greatness against an inexperienced team in general, with a quarterback who has played less than 10 games in the NFL? Ravens are going to need to step up next week, if they want to keep it close with the explosive Patriots

Giants vs. Packers: 37-20 Giants
Giants Player of the Week: Hakeem Nicks- 7 receptions, 165 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
Packers Player of the Week: Referee Bill Leavy

Quarterback A: Completed 21/33 passes, threw for 330 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, with a passer rating of 114.5
Quarterback B: Completed 26/46 passes, threw for 264 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception, with a passer rating of 78.5

Guess which quarterback was Eli Manning, and which was presumed MVP Aaron Rodgers. That's right, Eli Manning shined last Sunday, handling the Packers just their second and final loss of the season. It was Rodgers for a change though, who really struggled to find receivers in open space, and give his team the win.

Even with referee Bill Leavy giving the Packers every call possible, the Giants were unbeatable. The way New York is playing right now is scary for any team in the league.

Good news for Rodgers? New Miss USA, Laura Kaeppeler wants his number, that's about it though.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kobe Doin' Work

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Kobe and the Lakers are playing with a chip on their shoulder this season. Everyone
said there time was done, but Kobe thinks they are starting it all over again.

There's a reason Spike Lee made a documentary by this title two years ago. There's a reason Lil Wayne wrote a rap "Kobe Bryant" to respond to Drake's "Forever" which is all about LeBron James. There's a reason he's been on the cover of seven video games. There's a reason he has endorsements with Nike, McDonalds, Sprite, and Spalding.

Besides Michael Jordan, there hasn't been a more dominant, post-merger guard than Kobe Bryant. LeBron James has yet to prove himself as the next "It Factor" with his recent late-game collapses and ring-less fingers. Kobe continues to prove himself as an "It Factor" in his 16th year in the league.

Coming into the season, the Lakers weren't supposed to be the talk of Los Angeles and Kobe wasn't supposed to be the face of city. It was all about the Clippers, Blake Griffin, and recently acquired guard Chris Paul. Even worse, what about his wrist with torn ligaments all over?
And if that wasn't enough negativity already, he was heading into the season after his wife of 10 years divorced him.

This was good news for Kobe though, he was single and ready to mingle with opposing defenses.

The perennial all-star is coming off three, 40-point performances, all which have been won by the red hot Lakers. Even better, Bryant leads the league in scoring, while the Lakers lead the Pacific Division. Only the Oklahoma City Thunder have a better record than the Lakers out West.

Critics have been all over Kobe, saying he shoots too much, but yet his shooting percentage is above his career average. So are his assists and rebounds per game. All around Kobe is making himself and his team better.

Maybe it's his surgery in Germany, maybe it was his viciousness to prove everyone wrong again.

Yes, Andrew Bynum's return was huge for the Lakers, but the whole team is feeding off of Kobe's hard work. The Lakers have won five straight games in which Kobe has averaged 39 points per game. His shooting percentage in those five games? 49.6%

Not only is Kobe hitting the big shots, but he is getting to the line more than he used to. Over the past few years, Kobe has developed a lethal turnaround fade away jumper, but this year it's all about taking it to the basket. Not a bad idea when your shooting over 80% from the charity stripe.

Who were the preseason favorites to win MVP?

Kevin Durant headlined that list along with Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, and Dwight Howard. On's preseason predictions, not one person picked Kobe to win MVP. Durant hasn't struggled this season, but Russell Westbrook is stealing some of his Thunder, pun intended. Dwight Howard is putting up monster numbers, but who knows where he will end up. The only player playing at the same level as Kobe, is Derrick Rose.

Who were the preseason favorites to win the Pacific Division? The West? The NBA Finals?

Let alone the Western Conference, the Lakers weren't even predicted to win their division. 17 NBA experts picked the Clippers on, while only 13 picked the Lakers to win. As for the Western Conference, the Thunder picked up 26/30 votes while the Lakers only got two. And to win the NBA Finals? 0.

Kobe is taking all this negative hype about him and his team, and throwing it right back at them. With the way and the Lakers are playing, they don't even need Dwight. They're chemistry is great, Coach Brown is letting them play their style, and Kobe is playing fearless.

The Lakers play the Clippers tonight, in the first regular season battle between the two teams. The Clippers swept the Lakers in the preseason, but I have a feeling Kobe will go off on Blake Griffin, and his almost-teammate Chris Paul.

NFL Division Round Playoff Predictions

(Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Ray Rice and the Ravens are hungry for a win against the Texans.
The Ravens finally have what it takes to make it back to the Super Bowl.
Last week's record: 3-1
Overall playoff record: 3-1

Saints vs. Niners: 30-20 Saints

Yes, the Saints aren't nearly as good on the road, than when they are playing in the Superdome, but Drew Brees and the Saints have been in this position before. Good news for New Orleans is that the game will be played in the 60's, with low wind, and no rain.

The Niners might have the best defense in the league this season, but Drew Brees and the Saints have an answer for anything defensive coordinators throw at them. In his last five games, Drew Brees has  thrown 19 touchdowns to only three interceptions. The Saints are hungry to return the Super Bowl, and would love to matchup against the Packers next week in a Week One rematch.

Having Brees on my fantasy team this year, I have followed him closely throughout the season. He consistently throws three touchdowns a game, and throws for over 300 yards. Even against a tough 49'ers defense, he will strive.

The problem for the Niners is that they can't keep up with the Saints. Even if they get some stops early on, Drew Brees and the Saints will figure it out sooner or later. With Alex Smith taking snaps, you never know how the Niners will do offensively. They certainly cannot rely on David Akers to kick five field goals in a playoff game.

The Niners have a bright future ahead, with a hardworking coach and an aggressive young defense, but the Saints' experience will lead them to victory on the road.

Broncos vs. Patriots: 35-29 Patriots

I want to pick the Broncos so badly to win this game, but my conscience tells me the Patriots will advance to the AFC Championship game.

Here's a case for the Patriots to win: They have all the experience in the world, with a future hall of fame quarterback. They are also 7-1 at home this season. They already beat the Broncos once this season, on the road by 18. They are the New England Patriots, three time Super Bowl winners this decade.

Now for the Broncos: Tebowing, Tebowmania, and Tim Tebow. The most popular athlete in the US had a monster game last week, throwing for over 300 yards, and scoring three touchdowns. The Broncos have the will, determination, and heart to win. They've won as the underdog plenty of times this season. In their loss to the Patriots, Tebow fumbled three times in the second quarter alone, if that doesn't happen it isn't a 41-23 loss.

Like I said last week, I expect the Broncos to lose, but by all means it won't be a blowout. If Tebow eats up the clock on offense, limits his turnovers, and the defense backs him up, this game will be close. Still, I expect Brady and the Patriots to end Tebowmania, at least for this season.

Texans vs. Ravens: 27-13 Ravens

Unlike the other games, this one shouldn't be a problem to predict.

The Texans are playing in just their second playoff game in franchise history, they don't have a starting quarterback, and they are playing one of the toughest defenses in the NFL.

The Ravens think they finally have what it takes to advance back to the Super Bowl. For the past decade, the Ravens have been the younger brother to the Steelers, and have watched their division rivals advance to the Super Bowl three times. This year is different though. The Ravens swept the Steelers in the regular season, have one of the biggest and baddest players on defense (Terrell Suggs), and a freight train at running back (Ray Rice). Joe Flacco has been disappointing this season, but maybe a deep playoff run will change the minds of Ravens fans.

Giants vs. Packers: 35-32 Giants

Even though the Packers are 15-1 this season, with their only loss being a fluke game against the Chiefs, the Giants are making some noise this week and think they can beat them. In their only matchup this season, the Packers got the better of the Giants, but the game had a bunch of questionable calls in the final minutes of the game.

Just like in 2007, the year the Giants won the Super Bowl, they weren't even projected to make the playoffs, let alone win it all. Also like the 2007 season, the Giants defense, especially their front line has been unstoppable. With Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul all rushing Aaron Rodgers, it will be difficult for the MVP frontrunner to get off passes.

Along with the defense, Eli Manning has really stepped up this season. The Giants have the fifth best pass offense in the league, as Eli is averaging close to 300 yards a game. The Packers' secondary isn't very strong, so Eli should be able to find his favorite targets in Nicks, Manningham, and Cruz.

The Packers have been unstoppable this season, but so were the Patriots when they lost to the Giants. Aaron Rodgers will not have a problem getting by the Giants' secondary, but it's the pressure from the front seven that will give Rodgers the most trouble.

Ricky Rubio Proves He Is NBA Ready

(AP Photo/Bill Haber)
In just 11 games this season, Rubio has already made an immediate impact on his team.

When the young Spanish superstar announced he would join the Timberwolves, two years after being drafted fifth overall, the Timberwolves knew they were getting a great player, but many others were unsure.

He's been compared to Jose Calderon, Steve Nash, and Pete Maravich. His coaches even call him "La Pistola" taking Maravich's nickname, Pistol Pete, and translating it to Spanish. Clearly, Rubio has a lot to live up to.

Rubio earned some spotlight early on in his career, leading the 16-U Spanish National Team to the FIBA Championships in 2006. In the tournament, Rubio posted two triple-doubles, and even a quadruple-double. He capped the tournament off by scoring 51 points, grabbing 24 rebounds, and dishing out twelve assists 12  in a win against Russia.

He then began his professional career by playing for Joventut Badalona, where he excelled in his first four years. It was during his last season with Joventut Badalona, when he got drafted by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Rather than going over to America right away though, Rubio signed to play with Barcelona. This seemed to be a bad decision by Rubio, his stats worsened, and he even lost his starting position because of his bad play.

That's why when Rubio came over to America, many were unsure if he'd be a star or a bust. Despite his incredible international play, and his spectacular highlight clips, NBA experts and analysts were unsure if he could play his Euro- uptempo style in the NBA.

So far, Rubio has been fantastic for the Timberwolves. He is averaging a near double double, with 10 points and eight assists per game. His assist per 48 minutes ranks third in the NBA behind Steve Nash and Rajon Rondo. Experts were worried about Rubio's shooting, but so far the Spanish Sensation is shooting close to 50% from the field,

Rubio already has four double-doubles this season, and was an assist short of getting his fifth last night.

After ten regular season games, Rubio finally got his first start in the NBA last night. He didn't disappoint, scoring 12 points, dishing out nine assists, and grabbing six boards. He was perfect from the free-throw line and along with Kevin Love, he gave the Timberwolves their fourth win of the season.

Stats aside though, Rubio has transformed this Timberwolves team. Every assist he creates is unique and could find itself on ESPN's Top 10 plays. His court vision is one of a kind, and his hustle points can't be measured. He makes every single player on the court better, whether he is setting them up for a score, or helping them out on defense.

Through the first ten games, Rubio has come off the bench late in the first quarter, but then plays the almost the full second and fourth quarters. When he is on the court, the Timberwolves outscore their opponents by 52 points. His plus/minus ratio is the best on the team. When starting point guard Luke Ridnour is on the court, the team is outscored by 48 points, which is the second worst plus/minus for Minnesota

Many Timberwolves fans are criticizing coach Rick Adelman for not starting Rubio, but the legendary coach knows what he is doing. After all, Rubio is only a rookie.

Currently, Rubio ranks only behind top pick Kyrie Irving on's Rookie Ladder. Something tells me tough, that Rubio could pass Irving by the time the season is over. Irving is averaging 17 points and five assists per game, but what makes Rubio so special, is that he makes every player on the court better. His relationship with his teammates on the court is very special, often smiling and exchanging high-fives with them.

Rubio has the third highest all-star votes for West guards, trailing only Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant.

Rubio definitely hasn't been a bust so far. His exciting style and play is transforming the Timberwolves offense. If Minnesota pays attention to his plus/minus, maybe Rubio will get more starts, and the T-Wolves will get more wins.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

NFL Wild-Card Weekend Recap

(AP Photo/Chris Schneider)
Tebow completed five passes for over 30 yards in a win against the Steelers Sunday. Previously, the Steelers
had only given up seven passes of 30 yards or more in 16 games this season, the fewest in the NFL.

Bengals vs. Texans: 31-10 Texans
Bengals Player of the Week: AJ Green- 5 receptions, 47 receiving yards
Texans Player of the Week: Arian Foster- 153 rush yards, 29 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns

Inexperience killed the Bengals on Sunday. In his first playoff start, Andy Dalton threw three interceptions and fumbled once. Houston started a rookie quarterback too, but depended greatly on a run game led by Arian Foster. Foster didn't let down, rushing for over 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. TJ Yates didn't have to throw the ball much, but when he, did he made the most of it. He connected with Andre Johnson late in the third quarter to put Houston up by 14 points. Cincinnati's coaching didn't help either. Marvin Lewis burned both challenges in the first half, and couldn't figure out how to get by the Texans' defense. The Texans, who are coming off their first playoff win in franchise history, will face the Baltimore Ravens next week.

Lions vs. Saints: 28-45 Saints
Lions Player of the Week: Calvin Johnson- 12 receptions, 211 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
Saints Player of the Week: Drew Brees- 466 pass yards, 3 touchdowns, 134.4 passer rating

Despite a late start, this game was high scoring duel like everyone expected. The Lions hung around for the first half, but finally Drew Brees took over the game, and gave the Saints their ninth win at home this year. The Lions took an early lead, but the Saints had an answer for every score. Let's face it, even the Packers would struggle beating the Saints in the Superdome, so why would the Lions stand a chance. Matthew Stafford played well, but his two interceptions came back to haunt him.

Falcons vs. Giants: 24-2 Giants
Falcons Player of the Week: Julio Jones- 7 receptions, 64 receiving yards
Giants Player of the Week: Eli Manning- 277 pass yards, 3 touchdowns, 129.3 passer rating

Eli and the Giants had no problem beating the offensive-less Falcons at home, as Eli threw for over 250 yards and three touchdowns. Eli played great, but what really surprised me was the Giants' run game. This season New York ranked last in rushing yards, but in last week's game, they rushed for a combined 172 yards. Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw both had 14 carries, as the two of them plowed through or around Atlanta defenders. As for the Falcons, the offense didn't show up, and Mike Smith's risky play call didn't help. The Giants stopped the Falcons on fourth-down three times, proving their front seven is the best in the NFL. Mark my words, the Giants will give Green Bay trouble next week.

Steelers vs. Broncos: 29-23 Broncos (OT)
Steelers Player of the Week: Isaac Redman- 121 rush yards
Broncos Player of the Week: Tim Tebow- 316 pass yards, 3 touchdowns (1 rush) 125.6 passer rating

Teeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeebowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! Last week, I wrote about how the Broncos would give the Steelers a ton of trouble, but wouldn't actually win the game. That was me being scared, playing it safe, and trying to go 4-0 on the week (ended up 3-1). As I wrote last week, "Tebow Mania was fun, but realistically speaking, we know he isn't throwing for 300 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a win." Well, Tebow threw for 316 yards, a pair of touchdowns, and ran another one in. Even when the Steelers came back and forced overtime, Tebow stomped on the new NFL Overtime rules, and ended the game instantly with an 80-yard touchdown pass on the first play of OT. Denver will be underdogs again next week, but Tebow and the Broncos will never give up.

Friday, January 6, 2012

NFL Wild-Card Weekend Predictions

(AP Photo/Bill Haber)
The Saints got unlucky by missing out on a first round bye, but should be able to advance to the next round
 with a win over Detroit. A Saints vs. Packers rematch of Week One will prove once and for all who the MVP is.

It's this time of the year again, as the NFL postseason kicks off with two Saturday games followed by two Sunday games. On Saturday the early matchup is Cincinnati at Houston followed by Detroit at New Orleans. On Sunday, Atlanta travels to New York while the Steelers will face Denver.

Bengals vs. Texans: 23-17 Texans

The Texans started off the season as one of the best teams in football, and everyone thought this would be the year they take over the AFC South for years to come. The team was riding a six game winning streak, when Matt Schaub went down with an injury. Since the injury, Houston is 1-3, but unlike Cincinnati, they have the surrounding pieces to make up for their loss. Like Houston, the Bengals are also starting a young quarterback on Saturday. What gives the Texans the edge over the Bengals is their supporting cast. Arian Foster has been a stud for Houston all season. Along with Andre Johnson, who has returned from a hamstring injury, the Texans have a great receiving core to help out the inexperienced T.J. Yates. Then comes their defense. Mario Williams has been out since the middle of the season, but Brian Cushing and Jonathan Joseph have really led this group. Statistically speaking, the Texans, who were a bottom five defensive team in the league, rank third and fourth respectively in opposing rushing and passing yards. One last thing that gives the Texans an edge over the Bengals is the fact that they have had proven success against good teams. The Bengals have just two wins this season over .500 teams, but no wins against playoff teams. The Texans have wins over Pittsburgh and Atlanta, and also beat The Bengals in Yates' first game.

Lions vs. Saints: 40-27 Saints

 Here come the big bad Saints, ready to get revenge on a disappointing 2011 playoff run a year ago. The Lions have had a great season, and look to be a playoff team for years to come, but the inexperience will eat them up on Saturday. This Saints team is very similar to the one that won it all two years ago. With a lethal offense and a hard hitting defense, the Saints can beat anyone. Here's something else about the Saints, they haven't lost a game at home since last year. Drew Brees has had the best year of his career, and wants to cap it off with a win against MVP contender Aaron Rodgers. To get a chance to play Rodgers and the Packers, the Saints will need to win this one. Stafford and the Lions might match the Saints offense early on, but their inexperience will come back to bite them in the end.

Falcons vs. Giants: 35-30 Giants

This one is a tossup. Matt Ryan and the Falcons have had another great year. Trading up for Julio Jones seemed to be the right move, as the rookie has found immediate success getting behind corner backs and scoring touchdowns. Besides their weak offensive line, one thing that puts the Falcons at a huge disadvantage is the dome effect. The Falcons are 6-2 at home this season, but just 4-4 on the road. Even better, the Falcons only have one road win against an above .500 team. Adjusting from a no wind, room temperature stadium, to an unpredictable windy and chilly outdoor stadium is not so easy. With his older brother out this season, Eli Manning has really emerged as an elite quarterback. He took heat for it when he said that in the beginning of the season, but besides Rodgers, Brees, and Brady, their isn't an obvious quarterback who is next in line. Manning was 67 passing yards and a touchdown away from having a 5,000 yard, 30 touchdown year. Only Brees, Brady, and Stafford achieved those numbers. The Giants are also a team of streaks. When they are hot, they are one of the best teams in football, as proven early in the season, but when they lose they look terrible. Good news about the playoffs is that with a win you're in and a loss your going home. The Giants are very capable of getting hot at the right time, and making a deep run in the playoffs.

Steelers vs. Broncos: 17-13 Steelers

Right away, 95% of you readers think the Steelers are going to cruise through this game, and make a deep run in the playoffs. I mean f course, they are the Steelers, they always do. But this year's Steelers team isn't like the others. They are old, banged up, and don't have the same mentality. Yes, they will win this game, but it won't be a walk in the park. Mendenhall and Ryan Clark won't play. While Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey will play, both are banged up and you don't know how good they'll be. Big Ben looked terrible against the Browns last week, in a game they needed to win. As for the Broncos, we all know they shouldn't be in the playoffs. Tebow Mania was fun, but realistically speaking, we know he isn't throwing for 300 yards, 3 touchdowns, and a win. One thing he can do well though, is control the tempo of the game. If the Broncos can eat up a lot of clock time, wear out the old Steelers defense by running the ball a lot, and catch some breaks this game could come down to the end. I'm not saying the Broncos are going to win, but they can make it interesting. As we've learned, anything can happen in Denver with Tebow behind snap.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

NFL Week 17 Recap

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
The Packers defeated the Lions, but it was Matt Flynn who shined for Green Bay, throwing
for a franchise record 480 passing yards and six touchdowns.
This Week's Record: 10-6
Overall Record: 181-75 (10+ more wins than any expert at ESPN or CBS)

Lions vs. Packers: 45-41 Packers
Lions Player of the Week: Matthew Stafford- 520 pass yards, 5 touchdowns, 103.8 passer rating
Packers Player of the Week: Matt Flynn- 480 pass yards, 6 touchdowns, 136.4 passer rating

Matt Flynn, enough said. Aaron Rodgers' backup torched the Lions defense for a Packers all time record 480 passing yards and six touchdowns. Stafford had a good game himself, but his two interceptions were costly in a game where stops were optional.

Niners vs. Rams: 34-27 Niners
Niners Player of the Week: Michael Crabtree- 8 receptions, 86 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
Rams Player of the Week: Brandon Lloyd- 6 receptions, 100 receiving yards, touchdown

Despite a late game comeback, the Niners were able to hold onto the victory and clinch a first round bye. Good news for the Rams is that their season is over. Just a year after almost winning the NFC West, the Rams went 2-14 and didn't win a single game in the division.

Jets vs. Dolphins: 19-17 Dolphins
Jets Player of the Week: Dustin Keller- 7 receptions, 45 receiving yards, touchdown
Dolphins Player of the Week: Randy Starks- 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, sack

After making it to the AFC Championship game the past two years, the Jets' vacation will start early this year. With a loss to Miami, the Jets finished with an 8-8 record which was not good enough to make the playoffs. Miami, who started the season off 0-6, won six of their last ten games.

Bears vs. Vikings: 17-13 Bears
Bears Player of the Week: Roy Williams- 4 receptions, 60 receiving yards, touchdown
Vikings Player of the Week: Percy Harvin- 10 receptions, 115 receiving yards

A few years ago, this game would have mattered, but this year it meant nothing. Both teams had disappointing seasons, and also lost their star players towards the end of the season. A win for Chicago, which left them with an 8-8 record, was enough to save coach Lovie Smith's job for another year.

Bills vs. Patriots: 49-21 Patriots
Bills Player of the Week: CJ Spiller- 60 rush yard, 40 receiving yards, touchdown
Patriots Player of the Week: Tom Brady- 338 pass yards, 3 touchdowns, 113.8 passer rating

This game was a microcosm of the Buffalo Bills' season. They started off the game 21-0, but then give up 49 unanswered points. Fitzpatrick started off the game well with two touchdowns, but then wound up throwing four interceptions.

Panthers vs. Saints: 45-17 Saints
Panthers Player of the Week: Steve Smith- 6 receptions,86 receiving yards, touchdown
Saints Player of the Week: Drew Brees- 389 pass yards, 5 touchdowns, 140.7 passer rating

Why in the world would I * this game, it wouldn't have been close even if the Saints benched their starters. As the Saints finished 13-3 including an 8-0 record at home, Drew Brees' historic regular season came to an end. The Rodgers vs. Brees MVP debate has gotten a little closer since Brees shined in Week 17 while Rodgers' backup put up impressive numbers. You've gotta take into account the meaning of "Most Valuable Player" after Matt Flynn's performance.

Redskins vs. Eagles: 34-10 Eagles
Redskins Player of the Week: Evan Royster- 113 rush yards, 52 receiving yards
Eagles Player of the Week: Mike Vick- 335 pass yards, 3 touchdowns, 104.1 passer rating

Well, the Eagles aren't playoff bound, but they did win four straight games to finish at .500 and save Andy Reid's job. Maybe it just wasn't Philly's year; like the Miami Heat, it could take them a year before they really start to dominate.

Colts vs. Jaguars: 19-13 Jaguars
Colts Player of the Week: Austin Collie- 9 receptions, 96 receiving yards, touchdown
Jaguars Player of the Week: Maurice Jones-Drew- 169 rush yards

With another loss, the Colts are officially on the clock for the 2012 NFL draft. The Jaguars weren't that much better than the Colts this season, but somehow managed to win five games. The Andrew Luck/Peyton Manning saga will be a fun one to watch, especially without the Polian brothers running the Colts' front office.

Titans vs. Texans: 23-22 Titans
Titans Player of the Week: Matt Hasselbeck- 297 pass yards, 2 touchdowns, 108.9 passer rating
Texans Player of the Week: Ben Tate- 97 rush yards, touchdown

Despite the loss, the Texans are still in the playoffs after clinching a playoff berth a few weeks ago. The Texans also lucked out, and will face the Bengals in the Wild-Card round. Even with a bad quarterback, the Texans are favored to win.

Bucs vs. Falcons: 45-24 Falcons
Bucs Player of the Week: Dezmon Briscoe- 8 receptions, 53 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
Falcons Player of the Week: Michael Turner- 172 rush yards, 2 touchdowns

The Bucs' tenth straight loss of the season costed coach Raheem Morris his job. The Bucs went out in fashion though, giving up 42 points in just one half. As for the Falcons, they've won 10+ games for the second straight year, and will face the Giants in the Wild-Card round of the playoffs.

Ravens vs. Bengals: 24-16 Ravens
Ravens Player of the Week: Ray Rice- 191 rush yards, 2 touchdowns
Bengals Player of the Week: Bernard Scott- 34 rush yards, touchdown

The Ravens shut down the Bengals, but both teams will advance to the postseason. Andy Dalton didn't play his best game, but should get better results when he plays the Texans. As for the Ravens, they earned themselves a first round bye, after finishing 12-4.

Steelers vs. Browns: 13-9 Steelers
Steelers Player of the Week: Isaac Redman- 92 rush yards, touchdown
Browns Player of the Week: Josh Cribbs- 7 receptions, 91 receiving yards

The Steelers got the win, but are not looking to good heading into the playoffs. In the win, the Steelers lost starting running back Rashard Mendenhall for the playoffs and the beginning of next year, with a torn ACL.

Chiefs vs. the Broncos: 7-3
Chiefs Player of the Week: Dexter McCluster- 61 rush yards, touchdown
Broncos Player of the Week: Willis McGahee- 145 rush yards

Kyle Orton sorta got revenge on the Broncos, in one of the worst games of the entire season. The quarterbacks combined for 21 completions for 240 yards, and a passer rating near 45. Nonetheless, the Broncos still made the playoffs thanks to the Raiders losing to San Diego. Guess god was saving the talent for next week.

Chargers vs. Raiders: 38-26 Chargers
Chargers Player of the Week: Philip Rivers: 310 pass yards, 3 touchdowns, 135.1 passer rating
Raiders Player of the Week: Darrius Heyward-Bey- 9 receptions, 130 receiving yards, touchdown

It's crazy to think that the Chargers finished just a game out of the playoffs despite having a terrible season. Still, an 8-8 finish was enough to keep Norv Turner AND GM AJ Smith their jobs. Oakland on the other hand would be in the playoffs if they didn't lose to the Chargers.

Seahawks vs. Cardinals: 23-20 Cardinals (OT)
Seahawks Player of the Week: Marshawn Lynch- 86 rush yards
Cardinals Player of the Week: Larry Fitzgerald- 149 receiving yards

The Cardinals finished their season on the right note, winning seven of their last nine games. No, they aren't in the playoffs, but they made impressive progress throughout the season. The Seahawks might have finished 7-9, but they also had a good turnaround this season, after an ugly start.

Cowboys vs. Giants: 31-14 Giants
Cowboys Player of the Week: Laurent Robinson- 4 receptions, 60 receiving yards, 2 touchdowns
Giants Player of the Week: Eli Manning- 346 pass yards, 3 touchdowns, 136.7 passer rating

With a win at home, the Giants clinched a playoff berth, snapping their two year playoff drought. Eli was elite on Sunday night, throwing three touchdowns, but no interceptions. Tony Romo and the Cowboys did a great job of continuing their anual December collapse, losing four of their last five games.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Rangers Claim The Winter Classic

(Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Henrik Lundqvist saved 34 shots on 36 attempts to give the Rangers a 3-2 victory over the Flyers. With the win
in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic, the Rangers are now tied for the most points in the NHL.
The Philadelphia Flyers struck first, but the New York Rangers never gave up, scoring three unanswered goals to win the fifth anual NHL Winter Classic.

Over 45,000 fans packed themselves into Citizen Bank Park Sunday to see the Flyers and Rangers face off in an outdoor duel. This year's game was a highly anticipated matchup that was featured on HBO's 24/7: Road to the NHL Winter Classic. This game was important to both teams, with a win deciding first place in the Eastern Conference.

Mike Rupp, the man who replaced Sean Avery for the Blueshirts, scored twice, giving them the two points they needed to maintain their position in the standings. Rupp usually plays the role of the enforcer, but stepped up on Monday when coach  John Tortorella needed him most.

One of the biggest stories heading into the game was Philadelphia's goalie situation. Early on it seemed like Ilya Bryzgalov, who they signed to a nine-year $51 million deal this summer, would be in net, but his poor play leading up to The Classic opened up an opportunity for Sergei Bobrovsky. After some confusion, Bobrovsky was announced the starter.

Another headliner going into the game was that Marc Staal, one of the Rangers alternate captain, would make his season debut. Staal had been out since last February, when his brother Eric gave him a concussion by checking him into the boards. The hit gave him bad Post-Concussion Syndrome, thus sidelining him for almost a year.

Nonetheless, Staal made his return for the Rangers and played a little more than half a period worth of ice time.

After a scoreless first period, Brayden Schenn scored the first goal of the game, giving the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Schenn scored off a rebound from a save by Henrik Lundqvist.

Just two minutes later, Flyers' leading goal scorer Claude Giroux scored to give Philly a 2-0 lead.

With all the moment going Philadelphia's way, Mike Rupp silenced the crowd when he scored nearly  30 seconds after Giroux's goal. At the end of two periods, the Flyers led New York 2-1.

The third and final period was dominated by the Rangers. Within the first three minutes of play, Rupp scored his second goal of the game to tie it all up. Then, three minutes after that, Brad Richards scored his 14th goal of the year to give New York their first lead of the night.

Things got a little intense in the final few minutes, including a last second penalty shot, but the Rangers held on to win the game.

In five Winter Classic's the home team has actually had worse results. The 2010 Boston Bruins were the only home team to ever win the classic. That game was played at Fenway Park against none other
 than the Philadelphia Flyers.

With the win, the Rangers are not only atop the Eastern Conference in points, but they are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for the most points in the entire league. Along with Rupp's two goals,  Henrik Lundqvist was the other star of the game, saving 34 shots on 36 save attempts.

The final 24/7: Road to the NHL Winter Classic will be next week on Wednesday. It will be interesting to see what the players had to say to each other before,during, and after the intense game.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

NFL Week 17 Predictions

(Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
Andy Dalton and the Bengals look to join history as their journey to the playoffs continue. Dalton can join a class
of only two other quarterbacks who have led their team's to the playoffs as rookies.

Last Week's Record: 12-4
Overall Record: 171-69

Lions vs. Packers: 28-17 Lions

Since the Packers have already clinched the top seed in the playoffs, they won't play any starters, allowing the Lions to win the game. The Lions are coming off a very impressive win against the Chargers, and will be playoff contenders for the first time in over ten years.

Niners vs. Rams: 20-10 Niners

The Niners still need a win to lockup the second seed in the NFC. They should have no trouble locking up the second seed, since they play the worst team in the NFC, the Rams. The Rams are also competing for the first pick in the 2012 Draft, so a loss can actually help them out.

Jets vs. Dolphins: 24-20 Jets

The Jets will beat the Dolphins, but still won't make the playoffs because of games out of their reach. The Dolphins have had a solid turnaround in the second half of their season, but will finish their season off the way they started it, with a loss.

Bears vs. Vikings: 23-14 Vikings

Even though the Vikings will be without Adrian Peterson, they will still defeat the Bears, who have looked miserable ever since losing Jay Cutler and Matt Forte. Both teams have had disappointing seasons but the Vikings will finish their's off with a win.

Bills vs. Patriots: 30-20 Patriots

The Patriots are still fighting for the top seed in the AFC, and therefore will deliver a harsh blow to the Bills. The Bills, who started off the season red hot at 5-1, will finish their last nine games with a 1-8 record.

Panthers vs. Saints: 35-28 Saints*

The asterisk depends on whether or not the Saints play their starters for the majority of the game. Technically, this game still matters for the Saints, but if they assume the 49'ers will beat the Rams, then they really don't need to try. The Saints will win if they play their starters, but don't be surprised if Cam and Co. beat the Saints and finish the season off with five wins in their last six games.

Redskins vs. Eagles: 28-17 Eagles

This game means absolutely nothing, but the Eagles will win, finish at .500, and barely save Andy Reid's job. The Eagles underperformed this season to say the least, but the Redskins have underperformed for the last five years.

Colts vs. Jaguars: 20-17 Colts

With the MJD Theory in full effect, the Colts will defeat the Jaguars, as Indy's vets will rally behind Manning to avoid drafting Andrew Luck. You can really tell these past few weeks that players like Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, and Robert Mathis are playing their hearts out for No. 18, who missed the whole season with neck problems.

Titans vs. Texans: 27-13 Titans

As crazy as it sounds, the Titans can still make the playoffs, and Chris Johnson is still capable of rushing for over 1,000 yards in a season. As for Houston, they clinched their first playoff berth in franchise history, but will get blown out since they don't have a starting quarterback. Titans will win, but still won't make the playoffs.

Bucs vs. Falcons: 35-14 Falcons

The Bucs have been awful this season, as this game will serve as a microcosm of their season. The Falcons are coming off a bad loss to the Saints, but have a chance to win 10+ games in consecutive years for the first time in team history. Look for Matty Ice and the Falcons to bounce back, and gain some confidence heading into the playoffs.

Ravens vs. Bengals: 27-20 Bengals

We all know the Ravens are the kings of choking in big games. With the AFC North title, and first round bye on the line, the Ravens will lose, and allow the Bengals to sneak into the playoffs. This means that the Bengals will be the third team in the AFC North to clinch a playoff berth. Andy Dalton will also make history, as he joins Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan as the third quarterback in NFL history to start all 16 games as a rookie and make the playoffs.

Steelers vs. Browns: 24-10 Steelers

The Steelers will beat the Browns, and lock up the AFC North with a win and a Ravens loss. It's as simple as this, the Steelers are one of the best teams in the NFL, while the Browns are one of the worst teams in the NFL.

Chiefs vs. Broncos: 27-20 Chiefs

When Kyle Orton gets revenge on the Broncos, it will be as awesome as Rex Ryan's face when he realizes the Jets won't be in the playoffs. Tebow showed he could win early in the season, but his time is up, as the Broncos will fail to make the playoffs.

Chargers vs. Raiders: 28-20 Raiders

Just win, baby! Maybe this is a stretch, or a tribute to the late Al Davis, but the Raiders will sneak into the playoffs, and make their first playoff appearance in nine years. The Chargers have nothing to play for, while the Raiders can take the next step in their franchise's history.

Seahawks vs. Cardinals: 27-20 Cardinals

Both teams are eliminated from the playoffs, but have had impressive turnarounds this season. Both teams had only two wins through the first nine week's but have rallied back and are both 7-8 going into the last game. It's a toss up but I'll take the Cardinals to win this one, simply because they are at home, and the Seahawks offense is one-dimensional.

Cowboys vs. Giants: 34-24 Giants

Is there a better way to end the regular season than with the Giants and Cowboys fighting for the last playoff spot in the NFC? No. Eli and the gang will win a decisive game at home, and snap their two year playoff hiatus. The Giants will bang up an already hurt Tony Romo, and be the only New York team to represent in the playoffs this year.