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All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/week-15-fantasy-football-injury-updates-alshon-jeffery-calvin-johnson-jarvis-landry-amari-cooper-allen-hurns
Body:

As usual, the list of wide receivers on the injury report is the longest, which means this is the report that owners need to pay the closest attention to for Week 15. But it could be worse, as guys who put in full practices and are probable for Sunday (Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Larry Fitzgerald, Jordan Matthews, Anquan Boldin, Dontrelle Inman) are not listed below. You can start any of these wideouts as you normally would.

 

Be sure to read the latest on the injured , and as well. 

 

Positional Rankings:  I  I  I  I  I  I

 

Note: All games are at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday unless otherwise noted.

 

Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Ankle

Even with the questionable tag and missing Saturday practice, Johnson is expected to play on Monday night. The New Orleans Saints have been terrible on defense this year, and even though they are at home, Johnson is a top-tier WR1 this week, in what has the makings of being a high-scoring shootout in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

 

Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

Questionable – Calf

After missing practice with both the calf issue and an illness, Jeffery returned to get in a limited practice on Friday, putting him on track to play today. Neither issue should keep him out, but as always, check the inactive report before kickoff. Assuming Jeffery is active, he is a WR1, coming off a six-reception, 107-yard game with a touchdown. Minnesota has given up at least two touchdowns to opposing wide receivers over the past two games.

 

Jarvis Landry, WR, Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Probable – Knee

After complaining about his lack of targets in Week 13, Landry responded with 11 catches for 99 yards on Monday night. While he didn't find the end zone, the work was there for him. Based on the way San Diego has been playing, the opportunities should be there again for him this afternoon. In PPR leagues, he's a WR1; he's a WR2 in standard scoring. He's had double-digit receptions in three of the past six games. That's PPR gold.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders vs. Green Bay Packers (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Probable – Foot

Fantasy owners were less than thrilled with the goose egg that Cooper gave them last week. However, it was against Denver and he was battling this foot injury. While he does still have the foot injury, he has a slightly easier matchup this week. Green Bay has allowed the eighth-fewest fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. They've allowed just eight touchdowns to WRs, most recently holding Dez Bryant to one reception for nine yards in Week 14. Cooper is a low-end WR2 as he is not matchup proof.

 

Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Atlanta Falcons

Probable – Thigh

Hurns is always on the injury report and he always ends up playing. He's clearly banged up and is playing at less than 100 percent. Last week, with the same thigh issue, he had three receptions, but he turned them into 105 yards and a touchdown. He is a risk/reward WR3 as he does have eight touchdowns on the year. However, unless he gets a touchdown, Hurns is probably going to be a fantasy disappointment.

 

Danny Amendola, WR, New England Patriots vs. Tennessee Titans

Probable – Knee

With Julian Edelman out again, Amendola gets a boost into WR2 territory. He's had at least six receptions in the past four games he's played. While he only has one touchdown in that span, he still has had at least 45 receiving yards in each of those games. The Titans have given up nine touchdowns to opposing wide receivers in the past three games. This should be a week where Amendola finds the end zone.

 

DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins vs. Buffalo Bills

Probable – Knee

In Week 14, Jackson spent a lot of time on the sideline, stretching out his knee and trying to get back into the game. As a result, his stat line was pretty disappointing for fantasy owners who started him (2-43-0). He had three games before that where he scored a touchdown. Jackson should play this week, despite the knee injury. He's a risk/reward WR3 as he always has the potential to catch a long ball for a touchdown.

 

Stevie Johnson, WR, San Diego Chargers vs. Miami Dolphins (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Doubtful – Groin

Johnson did not practice all week and won't be active on Sunday. He can be dropped in fantasy leagues as the odds of him returning - and being productive - in Week 16 are slim. For the Chargers, Dontrelle Inman will be back and will see some value as Johnson is out. Inman is a WR3. Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates should see most of the targets.

 

Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Probable – Foot

If you’ve been looking for a reason to sit Adams, here it is. He was questionable, but was upgraded to probable on Saturday, which means he will play. However, he's had 11 receptions in the past four games combined. In those four games, he has 83 yards and one touchdown. The Green Bay offense has struggled and Adams isn't going to be the one to jumpstart this unit. He's a low WR3, just because he still does have Aaron Rodgers throwing to him.

 

Donte Moncrief, WR, Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

Questionable – Toe

For those wondering if Moncrief can be dropped, the answer is yes. It doesn't look like he will play this week as he was still in a walking boot at the beginning of the week. The fact that is beat up himself already is a knock on the fantasy outlook for the Colts’ wide receivers and tight ends. Moncrief has four receptions in the past two games. Even if he’s active, Moncrief should be left on fantasy benches.

 

Rishard Matthews, WR, Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Ribs

Matthews has been returned to practice on a limited basis, so he will likely be a game-time call later this afternoon. Fantasy owners should plan to be without him at this point to be safe. However, it is possible that he is on the field. The player this impacts the most is actually DeVante Parker. While Matthews has been out, Parker has taken advantage of the extra targets. He did have an off week last week with only two receptions for 16 yards, but if Matthews is out, Parker is a high WR3. If Matthews is in, both guys are low WR3s.

 

Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots vs. Tennessee Titans

Out – Foot

Edelman appeared to be questionable heading into the beginning of this week. However, he has been ruled out again, leaving Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola to soak up the targets. Keep an eye on this situation this week, as Edelman could return for Week 16 provided he gets enough practice time.

 

Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots

Out – Ribs

Wright will miss his second game in a row because of a rib injury. Last week, it looked like Dorial Green-Beckham could step in and have a good game, even if he was facing off against Darrelle Revis. The rookie did get seven targets, but he was only able to catch three of them for 53 yards. With another tough matchup against New England, Green-Beckham is a WR3 with upside for Week 15.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter .

Teaser:
Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Alshon Jeffery, Calvin Johnson, Jarvis Landry, Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns
Post date: Sunday, December 20, 2015 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-15-injury-updates-lamar-miller-cj-anderson-tj-yeldon-spencer-ware
Body:

The list of running backs on the Week 15  injury report is fairly short for being so late in the season. Hopefully that's not a sign that this week will be another brutal week for injuries.

 

Guys that are listed as probable but practiced in full include DeAngelo Williams (illness), Alfred Blue, Ronnie Hillman and Chris Polk. These guys will play, so start them as you normally would.

 

Don't forget to read the latest on the key , and injuries before setting your starting lineup.

 

Positional Rankings:  I  I  I  I  I  I

 

Note: All games are at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday unless otherwise noted.

 

C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Ankle

Between the ankle injury and the tough matchup against the Steelers, fantasy owners should look elsewhere for their RB in the playoffs. Anderson has been a giant disappointment all year, with two good games (the only two where he had more than 100 yards and found the end zone). The odds are against him that he has that kind of game in Week 15. Ronnie Hillman will be active and stealing carries, and Anderson certainly isn't matchup proof. Try to find other options.

 

Lamar Miller, RB, Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Probable – Ankle

It's so tempting to start Miller. He has a great matchup against the Chargers and he's been performing well over the past two weeks. However, fantasy owners have been here before. When it seems like he should excel, he disappoints. He's been dealing with an ankle injury (that cost him time in the second half of Week 14) as well. Start him if you have him, but only as a RB2.

 

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Atlanta Falcons

Doubtful – Knee

It's unclear why Yeldon was given the doubtful tag instead of being ruled out, but fantasy owners should not count on Yeldon this week. Denard Robinson will take over the carries and it's a great matchup for him. He had 75 yards rushing and a touchdown in relief of Yeldon last week. Robinson is a RB1 this week (and a great value play in daily).

 

Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City Chiefs at Baltimore Ravens

Questionable – Rib

Ware suffered the rib injury last week but all signs  point to him playing today. However, as a running back with a rib injury, the possibility of re-aggravating it exists. Ware is typically the goal-line back, and gets beat up, so starting him this week is a risk. Charcandrick West is a RB1 if Ware is out, and a high upside RB2 if he plays. Ware is a risk/reward RB3 as he is touchdown-dependent.

 

Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Toe

Ellington hasn't played since Week 12, as he's been sidelined with turf toe. He was able to practice in a limited fashion this week, but it doesn’t appear that he will play tonight. Fantasy owners shouldn't be starting Ellington in the first place, as David Johnson has become the Cardinal RB to own.  With 100-plus total yards in each of his last two starts, Johnson is a RB1 this week (and until Ellington returns).

 

Jonathan Stewart, RB, Carolina Panthers at New York Giants

Out – Foot

Thankfully, Stewart has already been ruled out so it's not a guessing game prior to kickoff. His status for Week 16 is up in the air too, so monitor his practice reports this week. In Stewart’s absence rookie Cameron Artis-Payne is expected to get some carries, but he will share the load with Fozzy Whittaker and Mike Tolbert. Artis-Payne will handle most of the between-the-tackles work, with Whittaker in on passing downs and Tolbert getting the call near the goal line. All three are desperation options in fantasy.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter .

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Week 15 Injury Updates: Lamar Miller, C.J. Anderson, T.J. Yeldon, Spencer Ware
Post date: Sunday, December 20, 2015 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-15-injury-updates-greg-olsen-zach-miller-owen-daniels-tyler-eifert
Body:

Finally a week where owners don't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski playing. He's going to be out there for Week 15 and is a clear-cut TE1. Other tight ends that have a probable tag and have practiced in full include Travis Kelce, Heath Miller, Jacob Tamme, Vance McDonald and Ryan Griffin. Start them as you normally would. But are you really going to trust any of these guys, including Kelce, to help you win your playoff matchup this week?

 

Strategy aside, the tight end position has been tough to predict this year as guys that should have been studs (like Kelce) have disappointed and other guys (Gary Barnidge) have stepped up. Just be sure you're starting a tight end that is active this week, so check out the list below.

 

Don't forget about the , and injuries before making your lineup decisions.

 

Positional Rankings:  I  I  I  I  I  I

 

Note: All games are at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday unless otherwise noted.

 

Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers at New York Giants

Probable – Knee

After injuring his knee and missing some of last week’s game, Olsen was able to practice this week and is on track for a great matchup today. The Giants have allowed the third-most fantasy points to opposing tight ends. Don't worry about Olsen; he'll be active this week. Start him as a solid TE1.

 

Zach Miller, TE, Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

Questionable – Ribs

Miller has five touchdowns in the past six games, and while he has the questionable tag, all signs point to him taking the field on Sunday. Jay Cutler looks for him in the red zone, so while he's not getting a lot of targets, his potential to find the end zone makes him a low-end TE1 for Week 15. San Francisco is middle-of-the-road in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing tight ends, but they did just allow Gary Barnidge to score on them last week.

 

Owen Daniels, TE, Denver Broncos at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Probable – Knee

The matchup against the Steelers is a good one, and the knee issue likely won't keep Daniels out of the game. However, he's still just a low TE2. Vernon Davis is healthy and will be active this week. The timeshare doesn’t necessarily bode well for either player’s potential, especially with Brock Osweiler struggling recently. As long as Davis is out there, he’s the more appealing option, but far from a safe bet regardless of matchup.

 

Scott Chandler, TE, New England Patriots vs. Tennessee Titans

Questionable – Knee

While Chandler may be questionable, he's not a fantasy option with Rob Gronkowski good to go. Chandler is still worth holding onto as a Gronk handcuff, but he's not worth starting in Week 15.

 

Tyler Eifert, TE, Cincinnati Bengals at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Out – Concussion

Between the neck injury and the concussion, Eifert has not been practicing and has been ruled out for Week 15. Fantasy owners should keep him in case he's back in Week 16, but don't count on it. It seems likely that the Bengals will give him the rest he needs in order to get healthy. However, note that the Bengals face the Broncos in Week 16 and will likely still be out.

 

Charles Clay, TE, Buffalo Bills at Washington Redskins

Out – Back

Clay has been ruled out with the back injury, but he hasn't been fantasy relevant in weeks. He can safely be dropped and his absence doesn't really open the door for any other Bills players. Perhaps LeSean McCoy may see a few more targets, but that's about it.

 

Crockett Gillmore, TE, Baltimore Ravens vs. Kansas City Chiefs

Out – Back

Gillmore is out and likely will be out for the rest of the season. He can safely be dropped in all re-draft leagues, if he hasn't already. Maxx Williams will take over as the Ravens' tight end, but he isn't a fantasy option this week as pretty much no one on the Ravens is at this point.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter .

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Week 15 Injury Updates: Greg Olsen, Zach Miller, Owen Daniels, Tyler Eifert
Post date: Sunday, December 20, 2015 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/week-15-fantasy-football-injury-updates-matt-hasselbeck-andy-dalton-brian-hoyer
Body:

Welcome to Week 15 of the and NFL season. More than likely, if your team is active this week, you are in the playoffs. In order to succeed in the playoffs, you should be aware of the injuries that may affect your starting lineup.

 

Quarterbacks such as Sam Bradford, Matt Schaub and Johnny Manziel are listed as probable and practiced in full, so start them as you normally would. Also please be sure to check out the , and injury updates to get the complete picture.

 

Positional Rankings:  I  I  I  I  I  I

 

Note: All games are at 1 p.m. ET on Sunday unless otherwise noted.

 

Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals at San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET)

Out – Thumb

After Dalton went down early in the game in Week 14, it appeared that his injury might be season-ending. He still may play, but not this week. Fantasy owners can safely drop him if they need an open roster spot. AJ McCarron will fill in at quarterback and he did well in Dalton's absence, throwing for 280 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the loss to the Steelers. He's a QB2 against a weak 49ers defense. While fantasy owners aren't likely starting McCarron, they shouldn't worry about A.J. Green (six receptions, 132 yards, TD in Week 14).

 

Matt Hasselbeck, QB, Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

Probable – Back

With Andrew Luck still out and Charlie Whitehurst as the only other option, Hasselbeck will start against the Texans today. It's tough to trust him or his pass catchers even in what would be a decent matchup. Hasselbeck took over for Luck (again) in Week 11. He threw two touchdowns in that game and again in Week 12. However, he only threw one in Week 13 and none last week against Jacksonville. Hasselbeck is banged up and there's no guarantee he will be able to make it through the game.

Downgrade the entire Colts offense this week.

 

Brian Hoyer, QB, Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

Out – Concussion

After suffering his second concussion within a month, Hoyer has been ruled out for Week 15. It is possible that he doesn't play again this season, which means T.J. Yates could be the starter from here out. Yates isn't exactly amazing, but in his last start (Week 11), he threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Both of those touchdowns went to DeAndre Hopkins, so don't worry about starting his fantasy potential with Yates under center rather than Hoyer.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter .

Teaser:
Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Matt Hasselbeck, Andy Dalton, Brian Hoyer
Post date: Sunday, December 20, 2015 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /life/gear-wireless-headphones
Body:
Whether they’re tangled or snagged, cords can be a major hassle. To help you find the perfect wireless headphones, we tested a variety of models. These five are ideal for a hard-working, active lifestyle.  

                                                 

Mobile Office

A-Audio’s Icon Bluetooth over-the-ear cans add a touch of class with super-soft leather and chrome detailing. Looks aside, the sound cancellation blocks out coffee shop chatter, and the Bass-Enhancer mode gives your music some solid thump.

$379;

 

Fitness ’Phones

Jaybird’s X2 earbuds are lightweight, have an eight-hour battery life and provide killer sound in a small package. The silicone ear fins keep them in place even during rigorous physical activity.

$180;

 

Bargain Buy

Looking for a good pair of affordable wireless headphones? Motorola’s S10-HD headphones are comfortable, with zero pressure on the ears and temples. The 33-foot Bluetooth range and noise reduction make these a steal of a deal.

$25;

 

Travel Buds

Outdoor Technology’s Tuis won’t take up much space in your carry-on, but they carry a big sound. They also work with an included cord, so you can listen while your phone is in airplane mode, then stow the cord and listen wirelessly while you sprint through the airport.

$130;

 

Heart Healthy

Jabra’s Sport Pulse wireless earbuds have a 30-foot Bluetooth range, provide rich sound and offer five hours of battery life. They also measure your heart rate and test your VO2 max, allowing you to track the quality of your workouts.

$199;

 

By Billy Brown

Teaser:
Headphone wires always get in the way, go wireless and never look back
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 16:46
All taxonomy terms: Life
Path: /life/best-advice-ever
Body:

With so many fitness and nutrition programs claiming to be the holy grail of fitness, it can be hard to know where to start. To help prepare for a healthy new year, we asked fitness professionals and world-class athletes to share their best advice. Judging from the responses, it looks like being fit is simpler than we’ve been making it.            

 

[ Manage Your Meals ]

“Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. I try and have a big breakfast and a big lunch and some nights I have no dinner and the next day I’ll feel the strongest. You don’t put gas in your car when you park it in the garage at night.”

—Gary Player, 80-year-old fitness icon and nine-time major championship-winning member of the World Golf Hall of Fame

 

[ Have Fun ]

“Engage in workouts you enjoy and look forward to. If you loathe every minute of exercise you’re going to find ways to skip it, quit early or not give it your all.”

—Cynthia Sass, New York Yankees nutrition consultant and author of “Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast”

 

[ Do Your Own Thing ]

“In the field of strength and conditioning, there are a million ways to skin a cat. No one system is the best. Take bits and pieces of everything in the field and create your own system with what works for you.”

—Eric Ciano, Buffalo Bills head strength and conditioning coach

 

[ Be Consistent ]

“The best program in the world will not work if you don’t do it. It’s not so much a matter of what you do as it is ‘just do something’ consistently.”

—Tripp Smith, Hammer Smith Sports (Norcross, Ga.) founder

 

[ Be Patient ]

“When I was rehabbing from an ACL surgery in 2012, during the first 12 months of my rehab my trainer and physiotherapists were very good at managing my expectations by letting me know that my body and mind were going to have good days as well as bad days along the way.”

—Kelsey Serwa, 2014 Sochi Olympic silver medalist, 2011 X Games gold medalist and 2011 World Championships gold medalist in ski cross

 

by Billy Brown

Teaser:
Fitness pros and world-class athletes such as Gary Player share their training tips.
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 15:34
All taxonomy terms: Los Angeles Angels, Mike Trout, MLB, Life
Path: /life/training-day-mike-trout
Body:

Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout, 24, is seemingly the perfect player. He’s a five-tool threat who reminds old-school scouts of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. He’s also the dream of every new-age stat-nerd, with more total Wins Above Replacement (sabermetric stat to “summarize a player’s total contributions to his team”) by his age than anyone in history, including all-timers like Ty Cobb and Ted Williams.

 

In four full seasons, Trout has four straight top-two MVP finishes — a feat only three others (Barry Bonds, Yogi Berra, Stan Musial) have accomplished. But the 2014 AL MVP remains as hungry as ever this offseason.

 

“I can get better every year,” says Trout, who has a career .304 batting average, 139 home runs and 397 RBIs.

 

To reach his potential, Trout goes hard in the gym to withstand the rigors of 162 games.

 

The training weeks are structured as follows: heavy cardio on Monday, big lifts on Tuesday, core and bodyweight exercises on Wednesday, recovery on Thursday, power effort on Friday and upper body strength on Saturday. Sunday varies depending on how Trout feels. Proper nutrition and hydration are also key to his routine.

 

“The biggest thing I had to work on with him was eating a balanced breakfast, and what to eat before and after training,” says Dan Richter, Trout’s longtime offseason trainer from his hometown of Millville, N.J.

 

“In the beginning he had trouble with cramping, so I really pushed the hydration and pre- and post-training fuel. He typically has gotten that squared away with a simple meal an hour to an hour and a half before training and a BODYARMOR (sports drink), which has a lot of potassium that helps prevent cramping. Also having him make sure that he gets a good quality protein and balanced meal within 30 minutes to an hour after training.”

 

The Trout-Richter training team is doing something right; Trout has played 612-of-648 possible games over the past four seasons.

 

“He helps me prepare for the rigors of the season,” says the 6'2", 235-pound Trout. “He constantly changes the workouts to keep things fresh. Some days are going to be more intense than others. Because we have been working together for some time now, he knows what I need and when to push me or drop me back so that when the time comes to go to Spring Training I am ready to rock and roll.”

 

At the ripe old age of 24 and already arguably a walking Hall of Famer, Trout is taking the steps necessary to prolong his career.

 

“When I was younger I didn’t have to train as much because I wasn’t playing day in and day out like I am now. The big change for me was now every offseason I train,” says Trout. “Getting to know how to handle my body and what I need to do to play every day without injury, and what I may need to work on to keep myself that way. There is always room for improvement.”

 

By Matt McCue

Teaser:
Mike Trout is already the best, but he’s working hard to be even better.
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 15:21
Path: /nfl/houston-texans-vs-indianapolis-colts-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

Prepare yourselves, football fans. Sunday could get ugly. Not ugly in the sense that the game between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts will be a battle of two unstoppable forces, but ugly in the fact that it could be a repulsive brand of football between two marginal teams.

 

Both the Texans and Colts are fighting for AFC South supremacy with mediocre-at-best football teams and sub-par-at-best starting quarterbacks. The Texans will be without starter Brian Hoyer after he suffered another concussion against the Patriots, as T.J. Yates will be under center on Sunday. The Colts are even worse off, likely without their backup Matt Hasselbeck, and forced to play the one ironically known as Clipboard Jesus.

 

Last week, Hasselbeck was forced from the game against the Jaguars with a rib injury and has been seen around the Colts’ practice field with a sling on his left arm. While head coach Chuck Pagano won’t rule out Hasselbeck officially, Charlie Whitehurst has been taking the majority of snaps this week at practice. Whitehurst’s most recent NFL start came last season in Week 17 when he was the starting signal-caller for the Tennessee Titans playing against his current team, the Colts — whom he will likely be called upon to lead to the Promised La… er… the playoffs. Oh, the football irony.

 

Houston at Indianapolis

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: CBS

Spread: Even

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Finding a Running Game

With both teams essentially being out of quarterback options and struggling to run the ball, both coaching staffs are going to need to be creative to score points. Throughout the season, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien hasn’t hesitated to use the Wildcat offense. Often using WR Cecil Shorts and RB Jonathan Grimes, the trickery worked to open up the rest of the running game against the Saints, Bills, and Jets, but failed miserably against the Patriots last week. No one is mistaking this Colts defense for a Bill Belichick-coached group, so with proper execution, the Wildcat could be utilized this Sunday in hopes of easing the burden on T.J. Yates.

 

So how do the Colts win with Charlie Whitehurst running the show and no running game to speak of? The short answer is easy — divine intervention. The long answer is much more complex. The Colts still have dynamic playmakers in receivers T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief (may not play because of a toe injury) and reliable tight ends in Coby Fleener and Dwight Allen. Getting the ball to Hilton and Moncrief in space is vital, whether it be on screen passes or reverses, both need the ball, and often. Moncrief has four catches in the last two weeks, while Hilton has merely seven catches on 12 targets.

 

More importantly, the Colts have to establish Frank Gore on the ground. Asking Whitehurst to throw for first downs on third down is probably not the best strategy. Over the course of the past four weeks, Gore has 62 carries for 163 yards, good (…or bad) enough for 2.6 yards per rush. Gore, 32, shouldn't expect much help in the backfield, either, as the Colts’ second-leading rusher is none other than Andrew Luck, who hasn’t played in weeks. With his team being outscored 96-26 in the last two weeks, Pagano is going to have to somehow, miraculously, find a way to get his offense going in hopes to keep his team’s playoff chances alive.

 

2. Defense Wins AFC South Championships

While both squads find themselves in murky quarterback waters, the Texans’ defense is much more capable than that of their division counterparts. After surrendering 44 points on Oct. 25 to Miami, the Houston D rebounded, allowing a total of 35 points over the course of the next four games. But the last two weeks the defense has gone back to its inconsistent ways, permitting a combined 57 points against the Bills and Patriots. The Texans have a brilliant opportunity to seize the moment that’s been made possible due to the Colts’ offensive digression and quarterback woes.

 

If the Texans’ defense is inconsistent, the Colts’ defense is wildly capricious. Indianapolis’ D is not only bad, ranking 29th in yards allowed (397.6 ypg) but also undisciplined, as this unit is tied for last in penalties (122 penalties/1,010 yards). Last week, the Colts lost their first divisional game in 17 tries (an NFL record) by getting blown out by the Blake Bortles-led Jacksonville Jaguars, 51-16 (not a typo). Fifty-one points — to the Jacksonville Jaguars! The loss was the second consecutive in which the Colts lost by 35 points.

 

For perspective, the Colts have surrendered 902 yards of total offense, 96 points, 48 first downs, turned the ball over eight times, while allowing eight quarterback-related touchdowns (throws and runs) in the last two weeks. Chuck Pagano, known for his defensive intelligence might want to leave that out when he updates his resume for next season.

 

3. Speaking of Coaches...

Even before the season began, Pagano seemed at odds with his front office, turning down a one-year contract extension in the summer, “Betting on himself,” he claimed. Earlier this week Pagano seemed almost at peace with his tenure in Indianapolis possibly coming to an end, "They can fire you, but they can't eat you. So if the worst thing is a year from now, let's say I'm in Boise playing with my granddaughters, I'm going to be fine."

 

No matter the outcome of Pagano’s future, whether he is fired, deep-fried, or served as an appetizer at the Colts’ holiday party, he is still the head coach of a team playing for a postseason berth with a third-string quarterback. Luck will not be available whatsoever against the Texans and remains doubtful to return this season, while Hasselbeck is available but also unlikely to play much, if at all on Sunday.

 

This game might as well be all-or-nothing for the Colts. A win gives them the division lead with two very winnable games against the lowly Dolphins and Titans remaining on their schedule. Will Pagano be able to rally his team for one final playoff push in hopes Luck can come back? Or is Pagano’s time simply running on a short supply of hope and talent?

 

Final Analysis

 

It’s easy to root for Chuck Pagano. Truly, Pagano is one of the NFL’s all-character men. His public defeat of cancer several years ago was an inspiration for countless people around the country, but professionally he has been dealt a poor hand and roster by general manager Ryan Grigson. The writing seems to be on the wall for the 2015 Indianapolis Colts without their All-Pro quarterback Andrew Luck and a porous defense. On paper, the Texans appear to be in similar shape as the Colts, but Houston is better suited right now to make a playoff run in the final weeks of the season, despite its own quarterback issues.

 

Prediction: Texans 21, Colts 17

 

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings, NFC, NFC North, NFL
Path: /nfl/chicago-bears-vs-minnesota-vikings-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The Minnesota Vikings (8-5) looked like one of the 's best teams before losing three of their last four games. But the Vikings still hold a two-game lead on a postseason spot and trail Green Bay by one game for the top spot in the NFC North .

The Chicago Bears (5-8) are facing elimination following back-to-back losses of their own. The two teams will meet in a crucial NFC North playoff matchup on Sunday in Minneapolis.

 

Chicago at Minnesota

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: FOX

Spread: Minnesota -5.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Vikings' health concerns on defense

Mike Zimmer has built a reliable defense in Minnesota, but it may be without several players on Sunday. The Vikings had four players out during their 23-20 loss in Arizona last week: linebacker Anthony Barr (groin/hand), nose tackle Linval Joseph (foot), and safeties Andrew Sendejo (knee) and Harrison Smith (hamstring).

 

Johnson returned to practice on Thursday but Smith and Barr — along with defensive end Everson Griffen — are still out according to Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press. Smith is one of the NFL's top safeties while Griffin (8.5) and Barr (4.0) lead the Vikings in sacks.

 

2. Adrian Peterson needs to take over

Minnesota needs another strong performance from Peterson, who entered Week 15 leading the league with 1,251 rushing yards. Peterson saw an increase in carries last week and had 69 yards and a touchdown, helping the Vikings stay in their game against the NFC West-leading Cardinals.

 

Peterson has a chance to make history in his final three games, including winning his third rushing title, posting one of the best seasons in NFL history by a 30-year-old running back and becoming the second back in history to surpass 1,500 yards in a season under age 25 and over 30.

 

3. Bears down on kicking woes, Jeffery injuries

The Bears face a two-game losing skid after usually reliable kicker Robbie Gould missed a game-tying 50-yard field goal with 1:40 remaining during a 24-21 loss to the Redskins last week. Gould also missed a 36-yarder in the final seconds of regulation during Chicago's 26-20 overtime loss to San Francisco on Dec. 6.

But Gould may find his magic against the Vikings, against whom he went 2-for-3 during the teams' previous matchup in November, including a season-best from 55 yards out.

 

The playing status of star wide receiver Alshon Jeffery also is somewhat uncertain after he missed practice Thursday because of illness and a nagging calf injury. But head coach John Fox and quarterback Jay Cutler hinted that Jeffery — who missed five games with hamstring and groin injuries, as well as all four preseason games due to a calf injury — would be ready for Sunday's game, .

 

Final Analysis

 

Minnesota should return to form against a struggling Bears team. Teddy Bridgewater should excel as a game manager while Adrian Peterson takes over the offense. Even with injuries, the Vikings' defense should force quarterback Jay Cutler to make mistakes in the passing attack.

 

Prediction: Vikings 28, Bears 20

 

— Written by Jason Hall, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and works for Fox Sports Florida. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 13:45
All taxonomy terms: Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, NFC, NFL
Path: /nfl/carolina-panthers-vs-new-york-giants-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

Two teams with very different approaches meet Sunday in the Meadowlands, when the Carolina Panthers try to reach 14-0, while the New York Giants hope to build momentum after Monday’s win over Miami and stay in a jumbled NFC East title race. It’s quite a contrast, since the Panthers have been rolling through the season, and the Giants have been struggling to avoid being eliminated from playoff contention.

 

The Panthers’ magic number to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs is two, so even though Carolina has rolled to a 13-0 start, it is certainly not time to throw on the retro rockets and cruise home. The Giants, meanwhile, ended a three-game losing streak with the win over the Dolphins and are extremely fortunate that their 6-7 record keeps them still in play in the fetid NFC East.

 

Carolina at New York

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: FOX

Spread: Panthers -5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Manning Up

Against Miami, Giants QB Eli Manning was a stout 27-of-31 for 337 yards, four scores and no interceptions. It was a great performance by the veteran, who has completed 63.8 percent of his passes this year for 3,655 yards, 28 TDs and 10 picks. But most importantly, it reversed an ugly trend that emerged during New York’s previous three games — all losses. During that stretch, Manning connected on a mediocre 52.7 percent of his throws and threw five TD passes, against four interceptions. If Manning can build on his performance in south Florida, the Giants have a shot. If not, New York is in big trouble.

 

2. Getting Defensive

So much has been made of the Carolina offense this season, and for good reason. Quarterback Cam Newton has been excellent, running back Jonathan Stewart (out Sunday with a foot injury) leads a strong ground attack, and Greg Olsen and Ted Ginn have been outstanding targets for Newton. The Panthers have averaged 39.0 points in their last four games. But the Carolina D deserves a little credit, too. The larcenous Panthers have picked off enemy passers 21 times, with safety Kurt Coleman’s seven leading the way. Linebacker Luke Kuechly has four interceptions, and cornerback Josh Norman has returned two of his thefts for touchdowns.

 

3. Mr. MVP

Tom Brady is great. Carson Palmer is having an outstanding year. But it’s tough for anyone to look past Newton for the MVP award. Those who point to his 59.1 percent completion rate don’t pay attention to his fourth quarter passing success, which is over 70 percent when the Panthers are behind and driving for a game-winning score. Newton is the heart of the NFL’s best team, and his ability to lead his teammates makes them feel as if anything is possible. Newton has thrown for 28 scores and run for a team-high seven more, making him the kind of dual threat no other team can boast. No other player in the NFL is as valuable to his team as is Newton.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Panthers are hoping to keep their undefeated season alive and take another step toward spending their postseason at home. Their motivation is high, and their momentum is substantial. It’s hard to imagine them slipping up against a team as inconsistent as New York has been.

 

But the Giants are desperate. This game begins a tough three-game stretch that includes a trip to Minnesota next week and a visit from Philadelphia on Jan. 3. There is precious little margin for error for the Giants. But which team will show up Sunday? Is it the outfit that dropped three straight, or the team that looked sharp in the second half against the Dolphins? That’s the question and the reason it’s hard to pick New York.

 

Prediction: Panthers 27, Giants 23

 

— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Carolina Panthers vs. New York Giants Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 13:30
All taxonomy terms: Buffalo Bills, Washington Redskins, NFL
Path: /nfl/buffalo-bills-vs-washington-redskins-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The Redskins are playing meaningful football with just three weeks to go in the NFL season. Washington has its final regular season home game on Sunday and it's against the Bills who are playing their second straight NFC East game. Buffalo lost in Philadelphia in close fashion and really doesn't have a ton to play for being two games out of a playoff spot with just three left to go. The Skins have lost two home games this season and will be playing bigger contests at Philly and Dallas after this.

 

The Bills have won six straight in this series although the last matchup came in 2011 in Buffalo when Washington was shut out 23-0. The last time the Skins have won at home against the Bills was 1990 although they did have a bigger win in Super Bowl XXVI. Washington is 0-3 this season against the AFC East and that may come into play if tiebreakers are needed to determine the NFC East champ.

 

Buffalo at Washington

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: FOX

Spread: Bills -1

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Road-Weary Travelers

Buffalo is playing its fifth road game in the last six weeks and you can tell that it's wearing on them a bit. Way back on Nov. 12, the Bills won in New York over the Jets and were 5-4 on the year. Eleven days later they lost by a touchdown in New England on “Monday Night Football.” Buffalo then had six days to prepare for a road game in Kansas City, which the Bills lost 30-22. Washington, meanwhile, is playing its third home game in the last four and is coming off a road win at Chicago. People in Buffalo think that the team will continue to play for Rex Ryan, but you have to wonder if that will change with an early deficit in DC.

 

2. Run, Redskins, Run

Two weeks ago, I and it held true that Washington's struggles on the ground hurt the offense in a 19-16 loss. The team managed to rush for 99 yards in Chicago, but that also came on 33 carries. Matt Jones and Alfred Morris have talent and the team has since added veteran Pierre Thomas, who may see more time as he learns the playbook. Buffalo's rush defense has sprung a bit of a leak, allowing 116 yards or more on the ground in three straight games. The Bills’ secondary is good and DeSean Jackson isn't 100 percent so Kirk Cousins may struggle a bit.

 

3. It wasn't Sunny in Philadelphia for Some Last Week

LeSean McCoy and the Bills rushed for 152 yards on the ground although a lot of that came in the first half. After the game he threw his helmet and pouted like a child by ignoring the media. McCoy is a game-changing running back who had some success against Washington last year as a member of the Eagles. The Redskins’ defense extended its streak of giving up 100 rushing yards or fewer to three straight last week against the Bears. Even if Buffalo struggles to run the ball, quarterback Tyrod Taylor has done a better job lately of getting wide receiver Sammy Watkins involved. Injuries continue to be an issue for Washington and eventually the hit to the defense’s depth may take a toll on the field.

 

Final Analysis

 

I keep going back to the fact that Buffalo is playing its fifth road game in the last six weeks. Combine that with the position that the Bills are essentially playing for nothing, and you have to wonder what team shows up. They are saying all the right things, but saying those words and following the through on field are two different actions. I question why Washington hasn't become the favorite yet in this game. For the fifth time the Skins will be a home underdog of three points or fewer. They won the first four times and I think a fifth one is coming.

 

Prediction: Redskins 21, Bills 17

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Buffalo Bills vs. Washington Redskins Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 13:15
All taxonomy terms: AFC, undefined, NFL
Path: /nfl/tennessee-titans-vs-new-england-patriots-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The 11-2 New England Patriots welcome the 3-10 Tennessee Titans for their final home game of the 2015 regular season. These are two teams heading in opposite directions and after the egg the Titans laid against the Jets last week, they're in real danger of getting blown off the field by the Patriots.

 

The Patriots control their fate for the top seed in the AFC, and will clinch at least a first-round bye if they win and the Steelers beat the Broncos. With a tough test coming up next week against the Jets on the road, the Patriots could be tempted to overlook the Titans, but their offense is still finding their stride after dealing with a lot of injuries this year. So there is work to be done, no matter the disparity between these two teams.

 

For the Titans, rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota has had a promising debut season and should be a building block for years to come. But he doesn't have much to work with right now and will have a tall order to put up points against a Patriots defense that is hitting its stride for the playoffs.

 

Tennessee at New England

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: CBS

Spread: Patriots -14

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Delanie Walker
One of the few weapons Marcus Mariota has been able to rely on this season is tight end Delanie Walker, who has 74 receptions for 871 yards and four touchdowns. So it's a pretty good bet the Patriots will focus on taking him completely out of the game. But with Devin McCourty likely out, the Pats' safety depth will be tested and the trickle-down effect could mean primary tight end cover man Patrick Chung will be given different responsibilities. Perhaps even rookie Jordan Richards or veteran Tavon Wilson will be thrust into a primary role against Walker, but the Pats will do their best to remove him as one of Mariota's options.

 

2. Pats' Offense

Julian Edelman practiced in full pads this past week, but still appears to be a week or two away from returning. In his absence, New England's offense has struggled at times, especially on third down, with Brandon LaFell and Scott Chandler failing to elevate their games. Even when Edelman does return the offense will need contributions from their reserves like the rising Keshawn Martin and newly acquired Leonard Hankerson. The time is now for those players to gain Tom Brady's trust.

 

3. Who Runs the Ball for New England?

The Patriots' latest injury-related loss for the season was LeGarrette Blount, leaving them with just fill-in running back and special teamer Brandon Bolden and third-down back James White as the only backs on the roster. They signed Montee Ball to the practice squad this week and were meeting with veteran Steven Jackson as well. There will be additions at the position, and it's likely their primary running back for the playoffs is not yet on the active roster. This weekend could be the first glimpse of how things will play out without Blount.

 

Final Analysis

 

A late-season road game for a team that looked like they gave up last week doesn't have anyone thinking the Titans will suddenly turn it around and win in one of the hardest venues in the NFL. These are often the kind of games where the Patriots mercilessly hang 50 points on the board. The Titans must hope for an early break to give them some momentum, because if they get in an early hole it's going to be a long afternoon for them.

 

Prediction: Patriots 42, Titans 9

 

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of (), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Teaser:
Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 13:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-five-up-five-down-drew-brees-denard-robinson-philip-rivers-travis-kelce-week-15
Body:

As the football season slowly draws to a close, picking the right guys to start is more important than ever. After Week 14, many fantasy owners are faced with starting a group of guys that are far different than the guys they started in Week 1. No longer do we care when someone was drafted; we care about how they will perform this week. We need wins, and if we don't get them, the season is over. The five up/five down column isn't a ; rather, it's a guide to help if you are making tough lineup decisions.

 

Positional Rankings:  I  I  I  I  I  I

 

Five Up

 

Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints

The Saints play Monday night, at home, against the Lions. Typically Brees plays best at home, and he usually is able to put on a show in prime time. The Saints have had two such games this season: Week 4 and Week 6. In Week 4 vs. Dallas, Brees threw for 359 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In Week 6 vs. Atlanta, he had 312 yards and a touchdowns and no interceptions. While those aren't his highest performances of the season, it certainly propels him into the clear QB1 range for Week 15. He's ranked No. 6 in the this week.

 

Denard Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

While T.J. Yeldon has not been officially ruled out, odds are against him playing this week. The next man up is Robinson. The quarterback-turned-running-back took over after Yeldon went down in Week 14. He had 14 carries for 79 yards and a touchdown and added one reception for 12 yards. The Jags play the Falcons in Week 15, and Atlanta allows the most points to opposing running backs. Start him as a RB1 this week. He's No. 9 in the for this week.

 

John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals

Brown was making his way into must-start territory before he was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Since then, fantasy owners have been reluctant to trust him. However, in Week 15 he faces the Eagles, who have allowed an opposing wide receiver to score a touchdown every week since their Week 8 bye. They allow the most points to opposing wide receivers, and while Brown is competing for receptions with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, he's averaged five receptions over the past three games. With the speed to break out a long one, Brown is a high-end WR2 for Week 15 and is the .

 

Jeremy Maclin, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Baltimore has given up eight touchdowns to opposing wide receivers in the past three weeks. While that stat is somewhat inflated by the five touchdowns they gave up to the Seahawks WRs in Week 14, the fact is they gave up all those touchdowns recently. In the past three weeks, he has 24 receptions for 323 yards and three touchdowns. The volume has been there for him, and as long as he continues to get that volume (which he should), he is a borderline WR1 in Week 15.

 

Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions

The Saints, aside from last week, have been giving up a ton of points. With the game in New Orleans on Monday night, this has the potential to be a shootout. The Saints allow the most fantasy points to opposing tight ends and Brandon Pettigrew is now on injured reserve after tearing his ACL. When Pettigrew was injured earlier in the season, Ebron had his best games. Between the matchup and the opportunity, Ebron is a TE1 this week.

 

Five Down

 

Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego Chargers

While it is possible that Rivers gets Stevie Johnson and Dontrelle Inman back this week, and the Dolphins are among the top 10 most generous defense in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing quarterbacks, don't get too excited just yet. In the past two weeks, he hasn't thrown a touchdown. Granted, those games were against Denver and Kansas City, but it's not encouraging. Rivers is a QB2 this week, even with the nice matchup.

 

Shaun Draughn, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Draughn went from playing every snap in Week 12 to having 13 touches in Week 14. He had a great matchup against the Cleveland Browns and managed 43 rushing yards. He only added two receptions for eight yards as well.  While DeAngelo Williams found the end zone twice in Week 14 against the Bengals (who Draughn faces this week), it's still hard to trust Draughn. The 49ers may find themselves trailing in this game, which means Draughn will see fewer carries. He's a low-end RB2 this week.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders

Cooper treated his fantasy owners to the beloved goose egg in Week 14. It was a touch matchup against Denver and he is battling a foot injury, but it was still rough for those who started him. If fantasy owners managed to get through Week 14 even with no help from Cooper, it's hard to trust him against Green Bay this week as well. He hasn't found the end zone since Week 9. In the past five weeks, he has three games with 69 yards or more and two games with under five yards. He's a WR3 this week.

 

Doug Baldwin, WR, Seattle Seahawks

Here's the controversial pick of the week. Baldwin has been absolutely on fire, but is it sustainable? The matchup against Cleveland is a good one, and he has eight touchdowns in the last three games. He is tied for the second-most receiving touchdowns so far this season (11). At some point, there has to be a regression. It may not be this week (he's still a WR1), but it's coming.  James Jones scored six touchdowns in the first six weeks of the season - and has one since. Baldwin is more talented than Jones, but at some point, he is going to disappoint. (Disclaimer: I may be a week too early on this).

 

Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs

Yes, Jeremy Maclin is on the "five up" list, and Kelce is on the other. Since his two-touchdown performance in Week 1, he has gotten into the end zone just twice. He hasn't had a 100-yard game since Week 1, and he's only had six receptions in a game twice since Week 1. In the past two weeks, he's had a combined five receptions for 60 yards. While Baltimore gives up a ton of points and yards to opposing wide receivers, they give up the second-fewest points to opposing tight ends. He's a low-end TE1 in Week 15. He's the for Week 15.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter .

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Five Up, Five Down: Drew Brees, Denard Robinson Up; Philip Rivers, Travis Kelce Down in Week 15
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 12:30
Path: /college-football/miami-beach-bowl-preview-and-prediction-wku-vs-south-florida
Body:

The Miami Beach Bowl features two of the nation’s top Group of 5 programs from 2015, and this Dec. 21 matchup between South Florida and WKU should be one of the better pre-Christmas bowls this season. This game also features a reunion between South Florida coach Willie Taggart and his old program. Taggart was a quarterback at WKU from 1994-98 and later worked as the program’s head coach from 2010-12.

 

After a 6-18 record and a spot on the hot seat after his first two seasons at South Florida, Taggart rebounded with an 8-4 campaign in 2015 and clearly has the program trending in the right direction. The Bulls have ranked near the top of the American Athletic Conference in recruiting since Taggart arrived and return most of their core for 2016. With the young talent in place, combined with wins in seven out of their last eight games, South Florida could use the Miami Beach Bowl as a springboard to an even better 2016 campaign.

 

While Taggart established the foundation for WKU’s success at the FBS level, second-year coach Jeff Brohm has elevated the program and emerged as one of the rising stars in the Group of 5 ranks. Brohm is 19-7 in two seasons with the Hilltoppers and guided WKU to its first season of double-digit (11) wins on the FBS level. The Hilltoppers also faired well against Power 5 competition, scoring a victory over Vanderbilt in the season opener, while holding their own against Indiana and LSU.

 

South Florida and WKU have met only six times on the gridiron. The Bulls own a 4-2 series edge, with the last matchup between these two programs taking place in 2010.

 

Miami Beach Bowl: WKU (11-2) vs. South Florida (8-4)
 

Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET (Miami, Fla.)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: WKU -2.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. WKU QB Brandon Doughty

WKU’s offense was one of the best in college football this season, averaging 44.2 points a game and a robust 7.19 yards per play. The success of the offense starts with quarterback Brandon Doughty – . The senior passed for 45 touchdowns and 4,594 yards this season and led the nation by completing 71.8 percent of his passes. Not only is Doughty efficient and careful with the ball, he’s also capable of attacking defenses downfield and producing big plays. In 13 games this season, Doughty connected on 37 passing plays of 30 yards or more. And Doughty has plenty of help in his supporting cast, as receivers Jared Dangerfield, Antwane Grant, Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris each caught over 45 passes this season. WKU was held under 30 points only twice this season. Can the Hilltoppers continue their high-scoring ways against a talented and athletic South Florida defense? The Bulls limited opponents to 21.1 points per game this season, forced 23 turnovers and generated 32 sacks. This defense is opportunistic and does a good job of limiting big plays. Coordinator Tom Allen was an underrated addition for Taggart’s staff in the offseason, and his defense will have its hands full trying to slow Doughty and an explosive WKU offense.  

 

Related:

 

2. South Florida’s Rushing Attack

South Florida’s best defense against WKU’s high-powered offense could be its ground attack and running back Marlon Mack. The sophomore has recorded back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and rushed for 1,273 yards and eight touchdowns in 11 games this year. Mack enters the Miami Beach Bowl with four consecutive 100-yard performances and at least 100 yards in seven out of his last eight games. But Mack isn’t a one-man show on the ground. Backup running backs Darius Tice (448 yards) and D’Ernest Johnson (290) have been effective in limited action, while quarterback Quinton Flowers has chipped in 883 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on 175 carries this season. WKU’s run defense ranked fourth in Conference USA, surrendering 156 yards per game and 4.23 yards per carry. Led by first-team All-Conference USA linebacker Nick Holt, the Hilltoppers held their last five opponents under 200 rushing yards. Will South Florida establish control of the line of scrimmage and utilize the run to keep WKU’s offense on the sidelines?

 

3. Style of Play and Tempo

These two teams aren’t drastically different in terms of pace of play, but the tempo and overall flow of the game will be critical on Monday afternoon. WKU wants to push the tempo, as Brohm’s team is averaging 72.3 plays a game. South Florida used more hurry-up or no-huddle approaches in Taggart’s third season, with the emergence of quarterback Quinton Flowers helping to ease the transition in scheme. However, Flowers isn’t just a threat on the ground, as the sophomore threw for 21 touchdowns and 2,017 yards this season. With the ability to control the clock and utilize the ground attack, South Florida can slow down the overall pace and keep WKU’s offense on the sidelines. However, the Hilltoppers want to do exactly the opposite. With Doughty and the talented skill players in place, Brohm wants his offense to go fast and jump on South Florida early, forcing the Bulls to abandon their ground game. Which team will control the overall pace of the game from the opening snap?

 

Final Analysis

 

Last year’s Miami Beach Bowl between Memphis and BYU was an exciting back-and-forth matchup that also featured plenty of postgame fireworks. And in its second season, this bowl landed another intriguing matchup that should be one of the better postseason games outside of the New Year’s Six or playoff slate. South Florida ended the season on a tear and has a few advantages in its favor. The Bulls should be able to establish the run, limiting the overall possessions for Doughty and his receivers. Additionally, South Florida’s opportunistic defense could create headaches for Doughty and keep the Hilltoppers behind the chains and in third-and-long situations. However, with Doughty playing his last game at WKU, the Hilltoppers will be motivated to send their prolific senior quarterback out with a victory. This game should be high in entertainment value, and the guess here is WKU scores late to edge the Bulls in Miami.

 

Prediction: WKU 34, South Florida 31
Teaser:
Miami Beach Bowl Preview and Prediction: WKU vs. South Florida
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 12:00
Path: /college-football/famous-idaho-potato-bowl-preview-and-prediction-akron-vs-utah-state-2015
Body:

has taken a major step forward in building a contender out of a program that was once a firmly entrenched cellar dweller. Now the Zips get to face a team in that successfully traveled this path before them.

 

The two teams meet for the first time in the 2015 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. If Akron is looking for a template for program building, the Aggies offer a perfect role model.

 

Utah State entered the 2015 season as one of just four FBS programs to win at least 30 games and record three bowl victories in the past three years, joining Clemson, Michigan State and Oregon. The Aggies are playing in a school record fifth consecutive bowl game after finishing tied for second in the Mountain West Mountain Division. Utah State has a shot at notching a fifth straight winning season for the first time since finishing above .500 from 1971-75.

 

Akron is playing in just its second bowl game in program history after finishing second in the MAC East and winning seven games for the first time since 2005. If the Zips win, it would give them an eight-win season for the first time since moving up to FBS in 1987 and also give the team its first-ever bowl victory.

 

Akron vs. Utah State (Boise)

 

Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Tuesday, Dec. 22)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Utah State -6.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Sharp vs. Scott

One of the fun individual battles in this game will be contested between Utah State wide receiver Hunter Sharp and Akron cornerback DeAndre Scott. Sharp is arguably the most dynamic playmaker on offense for the Aggies. He led Utah State with 746 yards and eight touchdowns on 60 receptions during the regular season. Sharp tallied two 100-yard receiving games against Air Force (193 yards) and BYU (100 yards). Scott has the ability to keep the Utah State senior in check. He ranks fifth among FBS players in total interceptions (6) and ninth in interceptions per game (0.5). Scott has helped Akron produce 12 takeaways in its last four games.

 

2. Utah State Quarterback Battle

Keeping quarterbacks healthy has been a problem for Utah State this season. Senior QB Chuckie Keeton missed most of the season after suffering a knee injury against Washington in the third game of the season. Sophomore Kent Myers stepped up in his place until suffering a shoulder injury against Nevada. Keeton took over the starting job again in the regular season finale against BYU. Myers has thrown for 1,470 yards and 14 touchdowns on 107-of-179 passing in eight games this season. Keeton has thrown for 352 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his last two games. Utah State head coach Matt Wells said both players will get snaps against Akron, but he has not named a starter yet.

 

3. Defensive Juggernauts

Moving the chains might be a chore for both teams. Akron and Utah State each feature strong defenses that can make big plays and get consistent stops. The Aggies limited opponents to just 180.4 passing yards per game and 336.7 total yards per contest. They have recovered 12 fumbles this season, which ranks 10th nationally. Linebacker Nick Vigil leads the nation with five fumble recoveries. Akron allows 89.8 rushing yards and 328.5 total yards per game. Zips linebacker Jatavis Brown is the team's top defender. Brown has tallied 108 tackles and leads Akron with 17.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks.

 

Final Analysis

 

Akron ended the season on a hot streak, winning four straight games to get bowl eligible. The Zips will be at a disadvantage going against a Utah State team that is more talented than many teams they dealt with in conference play. Utah State will have a home crowd advantage in Boise and the Aggies are used to preparing for and playing in bowl games. Utah State is 9-2 all-time versus MAC teams and 3-1 in bowl games. The Aggies shouldn't have trouble winning a fourth straight bowl game.

 

Prediction: Utah State 27, Akron 17

 

— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Preview and Prediction: Akron vs. Utah State
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/10-best-pac-12-college-football-games-2015
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The may not be participating in this season's College Football Playoff, but the 2015 season had plenty to offer fans along the way. Few conferences rival the Pac-12 when it comes to thrillers and close calls from start to finish. Yes, the Pac-12 had plenty of drama to observe, even if it meant having to stay up late for some good old fashioned Pac-12 After Dark. The conference delivered.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

Here are a few games that just missed the cut:

 

Washington State 37, Rutgers 34: Washington State quarterback Luke Falk passed for 478 yards and four touchdowns, including an eight-yard pass to River Cracraft with just 13 seconds remaining in the game for a road win in New Jersey.

 

Washington State 45, Arizona 42: Falk went off again with six touchdown passes and 514 yards and held on for a tight win against the Wildcats in another road thriller for the Cougars.

 

Utah 62, Oregon 20: Notable not for the competitiveness, but for affirming Utah as a Pac-12 and potential Playoff contender at the time as Oregon went into a midseason slump. This was the worst home loss in Oregon history.

 

USC 42, Arizona State 14: USC built a 35-0 lead going to halftime as Cody Kessler tossed four first-half touchdowns and Chris Hawkins returned a fumble 94 yards for a score.

 

Utah 30, California 24: An early-season battle of Pac-12 unbeaten teams was not quite a Pac-12 championship game preview, as it included nine combined turnovers. Utah picked off Cal's Jared Goff five times.

 

Washington 17, USC 12: What turned out to be the final game for USC head coach Steve Sarkisian was won on the strength of Washington's defense, which forced three turnovers.

 

Oregon 26, Washington 20: Washington could not follow up the USC win with another, as Oregon started to rebound from a midseason lull with a 26-20 victory on the road. Royce Freeman rushed for 138 yards for the Ducks.

 

California 48, Arizona State 46: Jared Goff tossed five touchdowns and Cal hit a game-winning field goal as time expired to clinch a winning season.

 

10. California 45, Texas 44 – Sept. 20

California routed Texas last season, and it looked as though the Golden Bears were going to do it again in Austin. Cal's dynamic offense took a commanding 45-24 lead on the Longhorns heading into the fourth quarter with Jared Goff tossing three touchdowns and Khalfani Muhammad adding a 74-yard touchdown run to cap a quick two-play, 92-yard scoring drive. The Bears had to hang on though, and did not claim victory until Texas missed an extra point attempt with 1:11 to play. Texas scored 20 unanswered points, falling just one point shy of forcing overtime against Cal. The two teams combined for 1,198 yards of offense and 54 first downs.
 

9. Washington State 45, Oregon 38 (2OT) – Oct. 11

Washington State quarterback Luke Falk put up more huge numbers on the road against Oregon, and the Cougars needed it to pull a double-overtime stunner in Eugene. The entire game was a roller coaster for both sides, as Oregon took a 17-7 lead in the first half, only to trade blows with the Cougars for much the rest of the game. Washington State and Oregon exchanged the lead twice in the second half, but the Cougars managed to force overtime when Falk hit Dom Williams for an eight-yard touchdown pass with one tick left on the clock. Falk then forced a second overtime with a goal-line touchdown run and won the game with a short touchdown pass, his fifth of the game, to Robert Lewis in the second overtime.

 

8. Utah 24, Michigan 17 – Sept. 3

A game that seemed to be all about the new Michigan head coach, Jim Harbaugh, heading into the season opener turned out to be a bit of a statement game for the Utes. Utah running back Devontae Booker put together 124 all-purpose yards against what would later be confirmed to be a solid Michigan defense. Utah always managed to keep the Wolverines at arm's length for the majority of the night by building a 17-3 lead in the third quarter and keeping the Wolverines down by double digits until the final minute when the Wolverines reached the end zone for the final time. This was a win that saw its value rise as the season unfolded.

 

7. UCLA 24, BYU 23 – Sept. 19

The BYU Cougars were off to quite a fun 2-0 start with a wild win against Nebraska and a solid victory against Boise State under its belt as they made their way to Los Angeles to take on UCLA. This was not one short on drama for BYU and UCLA as the Bruins scored a late touchdown in the fourth quarter to clip the Cougars by one point. UCLA running back Paul Perkins rushed for 219 yards and a touchdown against BYU, but it was a short touchdown run by Nate Starks with 3:25 remaining that gave UCLA its first lead of the game, following the PAT from Ka'imi Fairbairn.

 

6. Stanford 30, Washington State 28 – Oct. 31

By this point in the season Stanford had asserted itself as the clear top team in the Pac-12, but Washington State gave the Cardinal a good scare in conference play on Halloween night. Washington State built a hard-earned 15-3 lead while being held to field goal after field goal by the Cardinal defense, and the Cougars' defense could not tie down Stanford's offense in the second half. Quarterback Kevin Hogan ran for two touchdowns, including a six-yard score in the fourth quarter to put Stanford in front for the first time since leading 3-0 and Conrad Ukropina kicked a 19-yard field goal with 1:54 remaining to grab a 30-28 lead. Christian McCaffrey rushed for 107 yards and was not a factor on special teams or in the passing game.

 

5. Oregon 61, Arizona State 55 (3OT) – Oct. 29

A week after getting back on track against Washington, Oregon rediscovered its offense on the road against Arizona State. A 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Charles Nelson and a 62-yard touchdown run by Kani Benoit in the third quarter gave the Ducks a lead heading into the fourth quarter of a wild game that epitomized "Pac-12 After Dark." Then down by seven with time running out, Vernon Adams scrambled back to the 25-yard line and threw up a prayer on fourth-and-goal from the nine-yard line and Dwayne Stanford somehow came down with the ball to lead to overtime. Oregon wasted no time getting on the board in the first overtime when Adams connected with Stanford on the first play for 25 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, which was answered by Arizona State. Sun Devils quarterback Mike Bercovici gave the home team a lead in the second overtime with an 18-yard run, but Oregon answered with a short touchdown run by Royce Freeman. In the third overtime, Adams completed a 20-yard pass to Bralon Addison for a touchdown, one that looked on video review to actually be an incomplete pass with Addison's left toe appearing to be out of bounds. The score was upheld following a review due to inconclusive evidence to overturn the play, and Oregon picked off Bercovici on second-and-goal in the end zone for the win.

 

4. Arizona 37, Utah 30 (2OT) – Nov. 14

Utah officially lost control of the Pac-12 South when the Utes went to Tucson. The Wildcats jumped on the Utes early with a 17-7 first quarter, but Utah battled back to take a lead in the second half. Down 27-20, Arizona's Anu Solomon quickly put his team in good position following a 50-yard completion to Cayleb Jones and a 16-yard strike to Johnny Jackson. One first-and-goal from the six-yard line, Solomon took matters into his own hands by taking off for a touchdown run to tie things up at 27-27. Both defenses forced a turnover after that to assure this game would have to be settled in overtime. After exchanging field goals in the first overtime, Nate Phillips caught a 25-yard pass on the first play of the second overtime from Arizona's backup quarterback Jerrad Randall, who replaced an injured Solomon. Utah was unable to convert on a 4th-and-16 on its possession, sending the Utes home with a loss.

 

3. Washington State 31, UCLA 27 – Nov. 14

The Washington State Cougars were full of drama this season, and their mid-November trip to Los Angeles to play UCLA was no exception. Washington State held a 24-16 lead in the fourth quarter before Josh Rosen led a UCLA rally. Rosen's 37-yard touchdown run through the Cougars' defense gave the Bruins a late 27-24 lead with 1:09 to play, but that was more than enough time for Mike Leach to have quarterback Luke Falk lead a final drive to get into field goal range. Falk did more than that though. A 30-yard pass to Dom Williams put the ball on the UCLA 21-yard line with 18 seconds to play. A 21-yard pass to Gabe Marks for the touchdown with just three seconds left gave the Cougars one more wild win in the 2015 season.

 

2. Oregon 38, Stanford 36 – Nov. 14

What has generally been one of the top Pac-12 games of the year the past few seasons once again delivered. Stanford's firm grip on the Pac-12 North was loosened slightly by a resurgent Oregon in dramatic fashion. Oregon trailed Stanford 23-21 at halftime but took control in the second half with a Royce Freeman 19-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter and a Vernon Adams 49-yard touchdown pass to Taj Griffin to take a 35-23 lead. Stanford's Christian McCaffrey rushed for a game-high 147 yards and a touchdown and added 42 receiving yards and 60 kick return yards. This was one of Adams' most efficient games for the Ducks, completing 10-of-12 pass attempts for 205 yards and two scores as Oregon was selective about its passing decisions against the Cardinal. The Oregon win pushed Stanford's Pac-12 clincher back a week and helped Oregon climb the division standings in a strong second half of the season.

 

1. Stanford 38, Notre Dame 36 – Nov. 28

Already with a spot in the Pac-12 Championship Game locked up the previous week, the Cardinal looked to make one final Playoff statement in the regular season against a battle-tested Notre Dame in Palo Alto. Notre Dame and Stanford exchanged the lead nine times, with Stanford kicker Conrad Ukropina kicking a 45-yard field goal as time expired to lift Stanford to a thrilling victory against the Fighting Irish. Stanford's Kevin Hogan had one of his finest games with 17 completed passes out of 21 attempts for 269 yards and four touchdowns. McCaffrey rushed for 94 yards and added 109 kick return yards. Notre Dame got big rushing performances from Josh Adams (168 yards and a touchdown) and quarterback DeShone Kizer (128 yards and a touchdown), but Stanford had just a little bit more magic left in the bottle to pick up the big win in the final week of the regular season.
 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for and hosts the . Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
10 Best Pac-12 College Football Games of 2015
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: BYU Cougars, College Football, Utah Utes
Path: /college-football/top-five-college-football-games-byu-vs-utah-rivalry-history
Body:

Saturday’s will mark the renewal of one of college football’s most intense rivalries. and are 45 minutes from each other and – minus three years during World War II – faced each other annually for more than 80 years. The Utes hold a 57-34-4 edge in the series and have won the last four meetings.

 

Related: 

 

The yearly contest was suspended in 2013 due to conference realignment, but the two schools are scheduled to play each other in the regular season from 2016-20. This bowl game, the first meeting between the two teams outside of Utah, allows the rivalry to be renewed one year early. In addition, it will allow the battle for the Beehive Boot, the yearly award for state supremacy in football between BYU, Utah and Utah State, to be settled on the field as both teams beat the Aggies earlier this season. It also allows us to remember some of the best games in this rivalry known as the “Holy War.” Here are the top five.

 

5. Utah 41, BYU 34 (OT)

Provo – Nov. 19, 2005

After Utah quarterback Brian Johnson suffered a season-ending injury, backup Brett Ratliff made his first start. He performed brilliantly, throwing for 240 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 112 yards and another score. The game was tied at 34-34 at the end of regulation. In overtime, Ratliff found wide receiver Travis LaTendresse in the end zone to put the Utes ahead 41-34. Utah then stopped BYU on downs on the six-yard line to secure the win. Ratliff went on to be the starter his senior season for the Utes in 2006.

 

4. BYU 26, Utah 24

Salt Lake City – Nov. 21, 1998

This game is known as “The Doink Heard ‘Round Utah,” thanks to Steve Sarkisian. BYU was up 26-17 with less than three minutes play, but the Utes’ Daniel Jones returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to close the gap to 26-24. Utah then got the ball again and drove to the Cougars’ 15-yard line. With five seconds left, Utah kicker Ryan Kaneshiro lined up to kick a 32-yard field goal, but it bounced off the right upright. After the game, Sarkisian, BYU’s backup quarterback at the time, who had spent the game on the sidelines, described the missed field goal to media as a “doink” and the name stuck.

 

3. Utah 33, BYU 32

Salt Lake City – Nov. 26, 1953

NBC broadcast this Thanksgiving Day matchup, giving a national television audience the opportunity to see the high-flying passing attacks of both schools. BYU had only won two games that season but played its rival close the entire game. The two schools went in at halftime tied 13-13. Utah scored in the third quarter to take a 20-13 lead. On the ensuing kickoff, BYU was flagged for a personal foul. The rule at the time gave the ball to the Utes, who scored another touchdown to make the lead 26-13 (Thankfully, that rule has since been changed.). The Cougars roared back and tied the game at 26 apiece. Utah added another touchdown to take a 33-26 lead, but BYU responded with a score of its own. On the extra point try, however, BYU quarterback and holder Lavon Satterfield fumbled the snap, giving Utah the win.

 

2. Utah 23, BYU 22

Salt Lake City – Nov. 18, 1978

BYU quarterback Jim McMahon is best remembered in Provo for the amazing comebacks that he engineered, but this is one that got away from his team. The sophomore quarterback had the Cougars leading 22-7 entering the fourth quarter, but Utah responded with a flurry. The Utes’ defense shut McMahon and company down, while quarterback Randy Gomez threw two touchdown passes and kicker Jeff Hucko added a 37-yard field goal. The shocking comeback snapped BYU’s six-game winning streak over Utah.

 

1. BYU 26, Utah 23

Provo – Nov. 28, 2009

Both teams were 9-2 and ranked in the top 20 entering what would be the best contest of the series. Utah jumped out to a 6-0 first quarter lead on the strength of two field goals from kicker Joe Phillips. BYU responded with 20 unanswered points to take a 20-6 lead entering the fourth quarter. Utah then kicked a field a goal and scored a touchdown with 7:16 left. On the two-point play, quarterback Jordan Wynn hit David Reed in the end zone to make the score 20-17. Utah got ball back on its own 33-yard line with 2:44 left and drove 44 yards to the BYU 23. Phillips tied the game with 29 seconds left. Utah got the first possession in overtime and Phillips kicked his fifth field goal of the game. However, after the Cougars got the ball, BYU quarterback Max Hall proceeded to hit tight end Andrew George over the middle and he sprinted into the end zone for the thrilling win.

 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at .

Teaser:
The Top Five College Football Games in BYU vs. Utah Rivalry History
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 10:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/betting-against-spread-best-bets-december-bowl-games
Body:

bowl season is honestly one of my favorite times of the year. And while there are some awesome matchups that the casual fan will scoff at; the important thing to remember when handicapping these contests is that motivation is the No. 1 factor.

 

Related: 

 

There are some teams that love their postseason location and matchup, while others just can’t seem to get motivated for their bowl, whether it’s because of where they are or what team they are playing. Pay attention to quotes from the players and coaches to get a sense of which category each team falls. It also is important that you pay attention to the news leading up to the game because frequently teams are suspending players for various things from academics to breaking team rules.

 

Below you will find some of my favorite picks in the December bowl slate, not including the Dec. 31 College Football Playoff games or the Peach Bowl, which is part of the New Year’s Six.

 

Las Vegas Bowl: BYU (9-3) vs. Utah (9-3)

Dec. 19, 3:30 p.m. ET

It's the Holy War in Las Vegas with BYU and Utah getting back together. These two teams do not like each other at all and there's already a little bit of controversy. Utes fans were not happy that Cougars fans got more tickets for the game. On the field, there's no bigger news then Bronco Mendenhall coaching BYU for one more game after taking the same job at Virginia. The Cougars have won three of their last five and are playing well offensively despite the loss of dual-threat QB Taysom Hill earlier in the year. Utah has lost two of its last three after emerging earlier in the season as a potential College Football Playoff participant. Running back Devontae Booker won’t play for Utah and he was a big part of the offense. Both teams have a solid defense, so points may be hard to come by. These two rivals have played 11 unders in their last 19 meetings. SELECTION: Under 54 (Lean to BYU +2 as well)

 

Cure Bowl: San Jose State (5-7) vs. Georgia State (6-6)

Dec. 19, 7 p.m. ET

This is the game that makes me believe in the bowl system. Yes, the records are poor, but this is the rare game where both teams want to be there. San Jose State is one of those 5-7 teams that got invited to a bowl game, but the Spartans are a talented bunch. Tyler Ervin is a running back that would get more love if he played for a Power 5 conference. Nick Arbuckle led Georgia State down the stretch to four straight wins, which got the Panthers into the postseason. The defense also did its part, shutting down Georgia Southern’s potent ground-oriented offense, holding the Eagles to just 203 yards in the regular-season finale. The question is can a Georgia State defense that struggled for most of the season make it two strong showings in a row? This should be one of the more entertaining and enjoyable bowls to watch, as both sides are motivated and have offensive weapons. SELECTION: Over 56

 

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl: Akron (7-5) vs. Utah State (6-6)

Dec. 22, 3:30 p.m. ET

While there will be fireworks in some bowls, others will be defensive struggles. Akron scores 24 points per game while allowing 21.5. The Zips just don't get beat too often on the ground, allowing 89.8 yards rushing per game, including a total of 208 yards over their last three contests. The problem with Akron is on the other side of the ball, where consistency eluded the Zips’ attack. The Aggies played good defense even though they cracked a bit to end the year. The time off will clear their heads and allow them to get back to their early-season form. Utah State's offense is inconsistent, relying on the run in some games while getting quarterback Chuckie Keeton more involved in others. Akron has gone under in 13 of its last 18 games as an underdog, including six of seven this season. SELECTION: Under 48.5

 

Boca Raton Bowl: Toledo (9-2) vs. Temple (10-3)

Dec. 22, 6 p.m. ET

It's been an incredible season for the Owls who beat Penn State and had the full attention of the college football world on Halloween when they nearly knocked off Notre Dame. Temple's defense has been its calling card all year long and it's a unit that could find some success against Toledo. The Rockets put up good numbers in the MAC, but it’s not exactly a conference known for defense. Toledo's defense could struggle trying to contain Temple QB P.J. Walker and RB Jahad Thomas. Toledo head coach Matt Campbell took the job at Iowa State a few weeks ago, but offensive coordinator Jason Candle has already been named as his replacement. Meanwhile Temple’s Matt Rhule is staying, and he will help lead his Owls to their 11th win of what has been a memorable season. SELECTION: Temple Moneyline

 

St. Petersburg Bowl: UConn (6-6) vs. Marshall (9-3)

Dec. 26, 11 a.m. ET

It'll be an early Saturday for these two teams who are set to play the day after Christmas in Florida. Both schools have a real good defense, which should take over in this one. The Huskies have scored just 17.8 points per game while allowing 19.8. UConn has scored just 30 points in its last three games combined. The Huskies  just don't have a lot of talent on offense. The good thing for them is that their defense was able to take over games. They held Houston to 17 points in a 20-17 win on Nov. 21. Marshall's offense experienced the typical ups and downs with a freshman quarterback at the helm. UConn has played in nine unders in its 12 games this season. SELECTION: Under 44 and Marshall Moneyline

 

Sun Bowl: Miami (8-4) vs. Washington State (8-4)

Dec. 26, 2 p.m. ET

There should be plenty of fireworks in this one with offense being the clear strength of each team. The Hurricanes won four of their last five, a stretch that started with the benefit of an awful call by the ACC officials in the road win against Duke. Miami went on this run thanks to timely offense and just enough defense. Brad Kaaya has all his weapons around him and should be able to move the ball against Washington State. The Cougars allow the same amount of points as their opponent (28.8). They both do it in different ways though, as Miami gets beaten up on the ground while the Cougars get gashed through the air. The problem here is that Washington State just doesn't run the ball. The Canes held three straight opponents to fewer then 200 passing yards. I like them to finish the year off in style. SELECTION: Miami +3

 

Quick Lane Bowl: Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7)

Dec. 28, 5 p.m. ET
Motivation is a factor in this bowl, as the Chippewas get to play real close to home against a Power 5 team. They've already tested themselves against Oklahoma State, Syracuse and Michigan State. They held their own in each of those contests so this game won't intimidate them. The Chips have a potent passing attack led by Cooper Rush. Minnesota has been ravaged by injuries and coaching changes. The Golden Gophers have lost four of their last five and continue to be lifeless in certain areas of their offense. Central Michigan’s defense isn't anything special, but I just don't think Minnesota can take advantage. CMU is 9-3 ATS this season including 5-1 as an underdog. This is one of my favorite plays of bowl season. SELECTION: Central Michigan +6.5

 

Russell Athletic Bowl: Baylor (9-3) vs. North Carolina (11-2)

Dec. 29, 5:30 p.m. ET

This might be the best bowl game of the non-New Year’s Six. Baylor has announced that Chris Johnson is going to start at QB, but there is talk that Jarred Stidham is working his way back and could be available. The Bears’ QB issues have forced them to rely on the ground game. Baylor enters this game having lost three of its last four, scoring just 38 points in losses to TCU and Texas. The Bears have turned the ball over 15 times in their last four contests. North Carolina on the other hand, enters this game following a loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. You might be saying that motivation could be an issue with the Tar Heels, but I think quite the opposite. This is a very good offense that beats you through the air and on the ground. I'm not a believer in Baylor's defense. I think the squad out of the ACC gets the win. SELECTION: North Carolina +2

 

Texas Bowl: Texas Tech (7-5) vs. LSU (8-3)

Dec. 29, 9 p.m. ET
The good news for Tigers fans is that Les Miles will be back next year and a horrendously stupid move has not been made. LSU limped to the finish, losing three of its last four as the offense sputtered and the defense struggled. Teams knew to gang up on Leonard Fournette at the line because the passing game wasn't up to snuff. Texas Tech, meanwhile, has won two straight shootouts, beating Kansas State and Texas. The Red Raiders’ offense is cruising right now and might be able to move the ball on LSU's defense. Texas Tech is close to home and should be highly motivated to take down an SEC team. SELECTION: Texas Tech +7

 

Belk Bowl: NC State (7-5) vs. Mississippi State (8-4)

Dec. 30, 3:30 p.m. ET

Two explosive offenses take the field in the Belk Bowl. NC State and Mississippi State average more than 400 yards of offense and 33 points per game. The Wolfpack put up 41 on Clemson and 34 on North Carolina, showing that they can move the ball against better talent. Mississippi State's defense enters this one having allowed 88 points in the last two games (Arkansas, Ole Miss). On the opposite side of the ball, the Bulldogs have the offense to put up points on an NC State team that's been leaky defensively. The Tigers and Tar Heels posted a combined 101 points against the Wolfpack in their last two outings. Mississippi State record-setting quarterback Dak Prescott will want to end this season with a bang. SELECTION: Over 58.5

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Betting Against the Spread: Best Bets for December Bowl Games
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, New York Jets, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-york-jets-vs-dallas-cowboys-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The 8-5 New York Jets take on the 4-9 Dallas Cowboys in a Saturday showdown that will have playoff implications for both teams. The Jets are in a three-way race for the two AFC wild card spots with the Chiefs and Steelers, while the Cowboys, despite their ugly record, are just two games out of first place in the NFC East.

 

But with Matt Cassel at quarterback, the Cowboys will need a miracle performance to beat a Jets team that seems to be peaking at the right time. Still, winning on the road is never easy, and in the playoffs, as a wild card team, the Jets will need to be road warriors to make any noise in the AFC. This will be a good test for them even if the Cowboys appear outmanned and have underperformed to this point.

 

New York at Dallas

 

Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV: NFL Network

Spread: Jets -3

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Dez Bryant vs. Darrelle Revis

This one might not have the same buzz it would if Tony Romo was at quarterback for the Cowboys, but it's still two of the very best at their respective positions who will both compete at a high level. Revis missed two games with a concussion before returning last week and Bryant should provide a good test to help get the elite cornerback on track for the stretch run into the playoffs. 

 

2. Fitzmagic

The Jets will go as far as Ryan Fitzpatrick takes them this season. In his last three games, Fitzpatrick has nine touchdowns and no interceptions. Those kind of numbers are just what the Jets need, as they have some of the best talent in the AFC on both sides of the ball. The Dallas defense hasn't exactly been a pushover, ranking fourth in passing yards allowed per game. However, the Cowboys have the worst turnover margin in the NFL (-15), as the offense has turned it over 23 times (15 INTs, 8 fumbles) while the defense has just eight takeaways (6 INTs, 2 fumbles). A solid mistake-free game from Fitzpatrick will keep the Jets' playoff train rolling and set them up for a big showdown against the Patriots next week.

 

3. Jets' D Soaring

New York's defense has produced five turnovers in the last four games, as this unit is really starting to hit its stride. The Jets are fifth in the league and have looked the part as one of the best defenses in the AFC, so the table is set for them to send a message that they are playoff ready and can turn in consistent dominant performances, even on the road.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Jets are playing their best football of the year while the Cowboys have been decimated by injuries. Dallas' playoff hopes are hanging by a thread, as Jason Garrett's team has been going in the wrong direction ever since Tony Romo broke his collarbone (the first time). The bigger question is how good is this Jets team? Can they go on the road in the playoffs and upset a team like the Broncos or Texans/Colts? The next two weeks will tell us a lot about the Jets, but right now they are playing like one of the best three teams in the AFC and could be a legitimate threat in the postseason.

 

Prediction: Jets 27, Cowboys 10

 

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of (), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Teaser:
New York Jets vs. Dallas Cowboys Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 09:30
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/betting-against-spread-nfl-picks-week-15
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Sometimes things just keep going your way. Handicapping the right now is about seeing the prime spots for letdowns or motivated opponents. The 49ers are coming off a road win in Chicago and then they lay an egg in Cleveland against the lowly Browns. I wish last week I saw the unmotivated effort coming from the Lions after their hearts were ripped out. Sometimes when handicapping these games, you have to put aside all preconceived thoughts of how awful a team is and just go with your gut. There are several of these spots once again this week, which I hope to capitalize on and bring you more winners. 

 

Record: 33-20-1 (3-1 last week) 

 

New York Jets (8-5) at Dallas Cowboys (4-9) (Saturday)

The Jets are in the playoff hunt while the Cowboys are just waiting for this season to end. Dallas confirmed this week that Matt Cassel was still the starting quarterback, which also confirmed that the Cowboys’ offense is going to continue to be bad. They have managed just 70 points in their last five games with four of those being on the road. The Jets have one of the better defenses in the league, holding six straight opponents to 24 points or fewer. It's very difficult to run the ball on them and now that Darrelle Revis is back, the secondary has greatly improved. The good thing for Dallas is that its defense has played well for the most part. The Jets have played two straight unders while Dallas has played four of its last five under the posted total. This one should be a defensive struggle. SELECTION: Under 41.5

 

Kansas City Chiefs (8-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-9)

This is the mirror image of the game above, as injuries have ravaged the Ravens while the future looks bright for KC. Both of these defenses are holding down run games while they struggle through the air. The problem is that neither team really has the weapons to make the other side pay. Baltimore is down to Ryan Mallett and Jimmy Clausen at quarterback after turning to Matt Schaub. The Ravens have scored just 19 points the last two weeks and figure to have issues in this one. Kansas City has a little bit more offensively, but the Chiefs managed just 10 points against the Chargers last week. The Ravens have gone under in 14 of their last 22 home games. SELECTION: Under 41.5

 

Buffalo Bills (6-7) at Washington Redskins (6-7)

Buffalo is playing a fifth road game in the last six, as the Bills continue their trek through the NFC East. The Bills lost a tough one in Philly, which means they've fallen in three straight away from Buffalo. The Redskins are playing good football right now and have just one more home game this season. Kirk Cousins is keeping the turnovers down, which is helping them win games. They've had just 10 turnovers in their last seven games overall. Washington's defense has clamped down on the run the last three games although none of the three teams run it as well as the Bills do. Injuries have ravaged the home team, but things are starting to improve on that front. Washington has covered all four games at home as an underdog of three points or fewer. This probably won't apply by kickoff as I bet the Redskins will be favored. SELECTION: Redskins +1

 

Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Oakland Raiders (6-7)

The Raiders are coming off a huge win in Denver and are now coming home to play the Packers. Oakland's offense managed just 126 yards in the victory, as this unit continues to struggle on the ground. The Raiders have now gone five straight games without reaching 100 yards rushing. Because of that, there is extra pressure on the passing game to get things done. Oakland's defense pressured Denver QB Brock Osweiler all game, which is one of the reasons it got out of the Mile High City with a win. That strategy probably won't work on Aaron Rodgers, who is flying high off a win where the Packers discovered their ground game. Green Bay ran for 230 yards last week’s 28-7 victory over Dallas. My one concern here is Green Bay’s huge game at Arizona that follows this one. I'm hoping for a focused effort here though from the Pack. SELECTION: Green Bay Moneyline

 

Notes:

 

— The Vikings have lost two straight and three of their last four as they come home to host the Bears. Teddy Bridgewater showed a lot in the loss to Arizona, although the late fumble ended Minnesota's chances of picking up a win. If he can play better the Vikes will be more dangerous. Chicago has lost two straight home games, but have been a better team on the road. Definitely check the injury report for this one as Minnesota's defense could get healthier, which would help the Vikings win this one.

 

— The Jaguars are favored for the fifth time this season which is a crazy concept because they were favored just once the last three years combined. They welcome Atlanta to town on Sunday and at first I really wanted to take the Falcons. The problem is that this is Atlanta's third straight road game and this is a team that has lost six in a row. And even though Carolina is undefeated and playing well, the Falcons didn’t look that interested as the Panthers rolled over them 38-0 last week. Jacksonville has an outside shot at winning the AFC South and is playing well offensively, putting up 90 points over the last two weeks. This is one of those “hold your nose” types if you believe in the home team.

 

— The Broncos may be in a prime spot to travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers. Denver is at a low point right now after losing at home to Oakland, which makes the Broncos unattractive to the public. The thing is that they have the defense to clamp down a bit on the Steelers’ passing attack. Pittsburgh also is flying high after last week’s huge road win in Cincinnati. The Steelers’ secondary should struggle with the Denver receivers if Brock Osweiler can get his targets the ball. We know how good the Steelers’ run defense is so this one could also be a low-scoring affair. If you can stomach it, based on several reasons, Denver is a live dog on Sunday.

 

— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
Betting Against the Spread: NFL Picks For Week 15
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/athlons-2015-college-football-predictions-what-we-got-right-what-we-got-wrong
Body:

The end of the year is a time of reflection, a time to make promises to ourselves to do better in the next year.

 

For us at Athlon Sports, we like to take stock of the predictions we made back in May and June to see how they panned out. Which teams did we get right? Which teams did we get wrong? Which teams repaid or betrayed our faith in them this season?

 

In looking at the results, we try to get better for future seasons and maybe find some warning signs or predictors for success. Did we not put enough stock in teams with returning linemen or more depth than we realized? Did we put too much trust in untested quarterbacks?

 

One tool we track closely is . The site is not only a wealth of historical information, but it also grades preseason accuracy. Stassen grades accuracy based on predictions within a conference or a division.

 

In this year’s Stassen evaluation, Athlon Sports ranked second among preseason magazines and tied for fourth among the 21 preseason rankings Stassen tracks. Here’s how Athlon :

 

Stassen's 2015 Preseason Accuracy Rankings
1. Phil Steele
2. Athlon Sports
T3. ESPN
T3. Sports Illustrated
5. Lindy's
6. Conference media polls
7. USA Today
8. The Sporting News

Beyond the conference picks, we also like to check in with the top 25. Of Athlon’s preseason top 14 teams, 11 were ranked in the final College Football Playoff top 25. Each of the semifinal teams was ranked in our top 17.

 

Clearly, there’s a flip side in all of this. Iowa, ranked 53rd, was our biggest top 25 miss, and our No. 4 team Auburn finished 6–6. If there’s any silver lining those rankings, .

 

Athlon would never claim to have perfect rankings, though that’s certainly our goal. In fact, a season that lined up completely with our expectations would probably be pretty boring.

 

Nevertheless, it’s still fun to look back on all the picks that panned out and the ones that fizzled.

 

So let’s get this over with and start with the picks we got wrong, followed by the fun part of looking at the teams we got right:

 

Preseason picks Athlon (and everyone else) got wrong

 

Ohio State . The Buckeyes were No. 7 in the final CFP rankings but didn’t even make the Big Ten title game. This is perhaps the easiest mistake to make in the preseason rankings: A defending national champion with loads of returning starters (Ohio State returned 14).

 

We’d look like we’re making a statement if we didn’t put Ohio State at No. 1. Maybe one day we won’t fall in the trap of picking a repeat national champion. Unless it’s Alabama.

 

Auburn at No. 4. Every preseason magazine and both polls had Auburn in the top 10, so at least Athlon isn’t alone in buying the Tigers’ Kool-Aid. Heck, even coach Gus Malzahn sent his green starting quarterback, Jeremy Johnson, to represent Auburn at SEC Media Days. Let that be a lesson that defenses don’t get fixed overnight and we need to tread lightly around new starting quarterbacks.

 

Georgia at No. 10 and No. 1 in the SEC East. Another SEC pick everyone missed. The injury bug hit the running position back again. The defensive staff never seemed to be on the same page with the head coach. And a Virginia quarterback castoff didn’t turn into Matthew Stafford or Aaron Murray overnight.

 

Oklahoma winning the Big 12. Everyone loved either TCU or Baylor (mostly TCU) in the Big 12. OU was a preseason top 25 team — No. 17 in Athlon — but almost no one had the Sooners toppling last year’s Big 12 co-champs. OU was coming off its worst season since 1999 and lost in a bowl rout to Clemson. Clearly, we should have put more stock in the marriage of new coordinator Lincoln Riley and quarterback Baker Mayfield — both Air Raid guys — making over the OU offense.

 

The ACC Coastal race. The ACC Coastal was considered in the preseason to be one of the tightest division races in the country. Then how come everyone got it so wrong? Georgia Tech was a consensus top 25 team. Most everyone picked the Yellow Jackets or Virginia Tech to win the Coastal, which was eventually won by North Carolina. Georgia Tech (3–9) was out of the race by October and had its worst season since 1994. Oops.

 

Iowa, North Carolina and the rise of the American Athletic Conference. Iowa and North Carolina played for conference titles and perhaps spots in the College Football Playoff in the last week of the season. They were nowhere to be found in any preseason top 25. Neither was the American Athletic Conference, and yet by September and October, it was clear the AAC champ would grab a major bowl bid. Houston, Navy, Temple and Memphis all spent time in the top 25.

 

Most Underranked
TeamAthlon RankFinal CFP RankDifference
Iowa535-48
Northwestern5813-45
Houston5018-42
Temple6224-38
Navy5721-33
North Carolina4210-32
Most Overranked
TeamAthlon preseason rankFinal record
Auburn46-6, 2-6 SEC
Georgia Tech183-9, 1-7 ACC
Arizona State136-6. 4-5 Pac-12
Georgia109-3, 5-3 SEC
Arkansas167-5, 5-3 SEC
Missouri275-7, 1-7 SEC

 

Athlon rolled the dice… and was wrong

 

Clemson at No. 14. Consider this: At press time, Clemson returned only six starters, had a quarterback coming off an injury and had lost arguably the game’s top offensive coordinator to a head coaching job. A No. 14 ranking would seem generous for other teams. For this year's Clemson team, a No. 14 ranking and second-place finish in the ACC Atlantic was also quite wrong. Watson recovered just fine, and Clemson had built enough depth to absorb all those personnel losses.

 

Overall SEC strength. Athlon ranked the entire SEC West in the preseason, not to mention Georgia and Tennessee from the East. With all those SEC teams, we still missed Florida in the top 25 (in fairness, Florida was No. 26 and was in our top 25 until shortly before press time). Only No. 2 Alabama, No. 12 Ole Miss, No. 19 Florida and No. 22 Tennessee actually finished the season ranked. Athlon underestimated the quarterback woes in the league for teams like Auburn, Georgia, Texas A&M and LSU and overestimated the impact of new coordinators at Auburn and Texas A&M.

 

Oddly enough, the team that had the best coordinator hire in 2015 may have been the one that got the least traction: Dan Enos at Arkansas effectively turned a run-first and run-second offense into a unit with one of the top three passers in the league in Brandon Allen.

 

Stanford at No. 24 and No. 2 in the Pac-12 North. Few tabbed Stanford as a top 10 team, but Athlon was on the lower end of the spectrum for the Pac-12 champs. That’s partly because Oregon wasn’t nearly good as expected, especially when Vernon Adams was hurt. We didn’t put enough stock in Christian McCaffrey’s breakout season, Kevin Hogan’s improved play at the end of 2014 or the four returning offensive linemen.

 

Arizona State at No. 13. The Sun Devils finished 6-6. Why we didn’t consider that possibility when the Sun Devils lost every impact defensive player and a starting quarterback is a mystery.

 

Athlon rolled the dice … and was right

 

Alabama at No. 2. While we picked Auburn in our top four, we still picked Alabama at No. 2 and the champion of the West. No one else had Alabama this high in the preseason. The Tide have stacked top recruiting classes for years, and Lane Kiffin had worked wonders with Blake Sims last season. We expected the same with Jake Coker in 2015.

 

A Big 12 champion not named TCU. The Horned Frogs were a near-unanimous pick to win the Big 12 with Athlon as the only holdout. The Frogs also were ranked No. 2 in a number of preseason rankings. We were skeptical of TCU’s luck with turnovers in 2014 and the possibility that the rest of the Big 12 would catch up to the Frogs’ offense in 2015. Injuries limited TCU’s ceiling more than anything, but we’ll take the correct prediction anyway. We still picked TCU at No. 5 and second behind Baylor in the Big 12.

 

We were more skeptical of preseason No. 25 Boise State and No. 26 Missouri than others … but not skeptical enough, it seems.

 

We nailed Conference USA East. How about that?

 

If you're really interested how we did, here's how each of our preseason rankings lined up with the actual results.

 

*indicates conference champion/actual champion

 

ACC AtlanticACC Coastal
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Florida State*1. Clemson*1. Georgia Tech1. North Carolina
2. Clemson2. Florida State2. Virginia Tech2. Pittsburgh
3. Louisville3. Louisville3. Pittsburgh3. Miami
4. NC State4. NC State4. North CarolinaT4. Duke
5. Boston College5. Syracuse5. MiamiT4. Virginia Tech
6. Wake Forest6. Wake Forest6. Duke6. Virginia
7. Syracuse7. Boston College7. Virginia7. Georgia Tech
AAC EastAAC West
Athlon predictionActual finishAthlon predictionActual finish
1. Cincinnati*1. Temple1. HoustonT1. Houston*
2. Temple2. USF2. NavyT1. Navy
3. UCFT3. Cincinnati3. Memphis3. Memphis
4. East CarolinaT3. UConn4. SMU4. Tulsa
5. USF5. East Carolina5. TulaneT5. SMU
6. UConn6. UCF6. TulsaT5. Tulane
Big 12
Athlon predictionActual finish
1. Baylor*1. Oklahoma
2. TCUT2. Oklahoma State
3. OklahomaT2. TCU
4. Oklahoma State4. Baylor
5. TexasT5. Texas Tech
6. West VirginiaT5. West Virginia
7. Kansas StateT5. Texas
8. Texas Tech8. Kansas State
9. Iowa State9. Iowa State
10. Kansas10. Kansas
Big Ten EastBig Ten West
Athlon predictionActual finishAthlon predictionActual finish
1. Ohio State*T1. Michigan State*1. Wisconsin1. Iowa
2. Michigan StateT1. Ohio State2. NebraskaT2. Northwestern
3. Penn State3. Michigan3. MinnesotaT2. Wisconsin
4. Michigan4. Penn State4. Iowa4. Nebraska
5. Maryland5. Indiana5. NorthwesternT5. Illinois
6. IndianaT6. Maryland6. IllinoisT5. Minnesota
7. RutgersT6. Rutgers7. Purdue7. Purdue
C-USA EastC-USA West
Athlon predictionActual finishAthlon predictionActual finish
1. Western Kentucky*1. Western Kentucky*1. Louisiana Tech1. Southern Miss
2. MarshallT2. Marshall2. Rice2. Louisiana Tech
3. Middle TennesseeT2. Middle Tennessee3. UTEPT3. UTSA
4. FAUT4. FAU4. Southern MissT3. Rice
5. FIUT4. FIU5. North TexasT3. UTEP
6. Old DominionT4. Old Dominion6. UTSA6. North Texas
7. Charlotte7. Charlotte  
MAC EastMAC West
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Bowling Green1. Bowling Green*1. Toledo*T1. Northern Illinois
2. UMassT2. Ohio2. Northern IllinoisT1. Western Michigan
3. AkronT2. Akron3. Western MichiganT1. Toledo
4. Ohio4. Buffalo4. Ball StateT1. Central Michigan
5. BuffaloT5. Kent State5. Central Michigan5. Ball State
6. Kent StateT5. Miami6. Eastern Michigan6. Eastern Michigan
7. MiamiT5. UMass  
MW MountainMW West
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Boise State*1. Air Force1. San Diego State1. San Diego State*
2. Utah StateT2. New Mexico2. NevadaT2. Nevada
3. Colorado StateT2. Utah State3. Fresno StateT2. San Jose State
4. Air ForceT2. Boise State4. San Jose StateT4. Fresno State
5. WyomingT2. Colorado State5. HawaiiT4. UNLV
6. New Mexico6. Wyoming6. UNLV6. Hawaii
Pac-12 NorthPac-12 South
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Oregon1. Stanford*1. USC*T1. USC
2. Stanford2. Oregon2. Arizona StateT1. Utah
3. Washington3. Washington State3. UCLA3. UCLA
4. CalT4. Cal4. Arizona4. Arizona State
5. Washington StateT4. Washington5. Utah5. Arizona
6. Oregon State6. Oregon State6. Colorado6. Colorado
SEC EastSEC West
Athlon predictionsActual finishAthlon predictionsActual finish
1. Georgia1. Florida1. Alabama*1. Alabama*
2. TennesseeT2. Georgia2. Auburn2. Ole Miss
3. FloridaT2. Tennessee3. Ole MissT3. Arkansas
4. MissouriT4. Vanderbilt4. LSUT3. LSU
5. South CarolinaT4. Kentucky5. ArkansasT5. Texas A&M
6. KentuckyT6. Missouri6. Texas A&MT5. Mississippi State
7. VanderbiltT6. South Carolina7. Mississippi State7. Auburn
Sun Belt
Athlon predictionsActual finish
1. Arkansas State1. Arkansas State
2. Georgia Southern2. Appalachian State
3. UL Lafayette3. Georgia Southern
4. Appalachian State4. Georgia State
5. Texas StateT5. South Alabama
6. South AlabamaT5. Troy
7. ULMT5. New Mexico State
8. TroyT5. Idaho
9. New Mexico StateT5. UL Lafayette
10. Idaho10. Texas State
11. Georgia State11. ULM

 

Teaser:
Athlon's 2015 College Football Predictions: What We Got Right, What We Got Wrong
Post date: Friday, December 18, 2015 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Pick 6, Life
Path: /life/pick-6-our-favorite-things-december
Body:

Each month, we pick six of our favorite things and tell you about them. They may be books, automobiles, video games, sports gear, outdoor apparel or whatever happens to be awesome.

 

Bushnell Tour X Golf Laser RangefinderBushnell Tour X

If you're like us, you need every advantage you can get on the golf course. Say hello to golf's ultimate laser rangefinder. We especially love the slope compensation, which calculates and adjusts yardage depending on the degree of slope. Truthfully, they had us at "laser." $499

 

Above the Line

Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer talks leadership and life in this insightful book subtitled "Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season."

 $27.95

 

 

Mizuno Nighthawk Hybrid Bat 

Mizuno claims that this bat is "precisely engineered with patented 2-piece LINK construction that combines an innovative multi-thickness alloy barrel with a composite handle to create a massive sweet spot with significantly reduced vibration." All we know is that it we took it to a batting cage and hit balls like a beast. $300

 

 

Coleman Fold N Go Portable Grill  

This portable propane grill folds down smaller than a briefcase, but still offers 105 square inches of cooking space. It blasts 6,000 BTUs of power on a single burner, and the matchless start means you won’t have to bum a lighter. $63.99

 

 

 

Chaheati Heated Add-On  

Being outdoors doesn’t mean you have to be cold. This portable, rechargeable heating unit rests snuggly on top of folding chairs, stadium seats, deer stands or wherever you need your backside warmed. $99.99

 

YETI Collegiate Cooler (Roadie 20)

Just like us, it's nearly indestructible and can comfortably accommodate 14 cans of beer with ice. $299

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 16:05
Path: /overtime/sports-illustrated-apologizes-misspelling-michigan-st-coach-mark-dantonios-name
Body:

Michigan State is often overlooked and under-appreciated. They don't deserve this kind of treatment.

 

On the College Football Playoff preview cover of Sports Illustrated, Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio's name was misspelled.  

 

 

Later when the sports entity released its mistake, they issued an apology to the Spartans fan base and said a new issue will be on newsstands soon.

 

 

Maybe the disrespect that Michigan State fans feel isn't made up after all. They'll have a chance to show the world just who they are in the College Football Playoff. 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 16:04
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/star-wars-and-college-football-enough-passion-fuel-two-empires
Body:

College football and "Star Wars" are American institutions. The passion existing within both fan bases could provide enough boost to kick the Millennium Falcon into overdrive or power the shield generators for the Death Star on the forest moons of Endor. These icons of Americana are as unique as they are global, swallowing up new worshipers at an early age and often through family insistence. Think about it: how many were introduced to either of these by a family member trying to pass on something they loved?

 

It isn’t terribly hard to apply to the philosophy of "Star Wars" to other arenas of life, but that doesn’t make it any less fun. Tasked with leading a group of Rebel soldiers on a brave journey through the cosmos, I spent hours coming up with different ideas to tie in my love of this great film franchise with my love of sports. Several hours later, I had a ton of great ideas and no real place to start with any of them (except this ). Despite what AM/PM insist in their commercials, there is such a thing as “too much good stuff.”

 

I had friend after friend jumping at the chance to help me craft the perfect article, one that blended these two concepts together seamlessly and hilariously. There were some great ideas thrown my way. Whether it was imagining the Group of 5 trying to bust into the College Football Playoff through an opening no larger than the exhaust port on the Death Star or comparing power-running versus spread offenses to the Jedi’s long-standing war with the Sith, there were a million and a half things to write about and exactly one article to do it. That’s when I realized that the biggest common thread between these two things were the passion with which people discuss them.

 

It’s even easier to imagine a world where the NCAA is the Galactic Empire, led by a group of corrupt politicians with hidden agendas. The Playoff committee pick their phrase of the year and judge teams by that criteria, often repeating the phrase over and over again during the ranking explanation shows. In many ways, this is just like Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (Mos Eisley Cantina band) playing the same song over and over again to the amusement of the crowd. From here, it’s not that difficult to imagine or Darth Sidious. In this situation, Jeff Long would be cast in the role of Grand Mof Tarkin — you know, the guy who blew up Alderaan to prove a point to Leia.


Related: 

 

It’s also not hard to picture the Group of 5 as an X-Wing fleet making a run on the Death Star’s exhaust port. In many ways, the Group of 5 need a little luck and outside help to complete their mission just like the Rebel leaders needed Han Solo showing up out of nowhere to help them pull off their miraculous run to end the Battle of Yavin. Even if mid-majors handle everything on their end and put in the preparation, there is no guarantee that their plan will pay off. They can go undefeated year after year, but it doesn’t guarantee a spot in the Playoff or an honest look at a Heisman trophy (Keenan Reynolds).

 

One of college football’s most storied programs, USC, is the birthplace of "Star Wars" and this is something that has worked its way back into the sport over the years. The 1997 Rose Bowl was grand marshalled by George Lucas and featured the 501st Legion marching in the Rose Parade. USC, Lucas’ alma mater, would go on to beat a favored Michigan squad, barely left out of the BCS National Championship Game, by two touchdowns. Even against the backdrop of a USC-Michigan Rose bowl, the parade before the game illustrated that "Star Wars" was a juggernaut in its own right, as it became a full-scale reminder of just how much each of these institutions mean to both communities.

 

 

The two also share a time-honored tradition of being passed down to those that we love. Many college football fans have fond memories of being brought to the stadium at an early age and introduced to the spectacle that was their parents’ favorite team. The bigger the spectacle, the more eager our parents were to share it with us. "Star Wars" wasn’t much different in that respect. A lot of people have stories that begin with some version of their parents sitting them down and saying “I watched this with my parents and now I’m going to share it with you.” Lifetime family bonds and timeless memories are borne out of these passions.

 

Oddly enough, the very nature of these passions being passed down from generation to generation has lead to a cultural divide in both worlds. Older generations of fans hate the new changes happening to both of them and wish that the powers-that-be would just leave them as they remembered. Whether it’s Hayden Christensen being digitally added to the end of "Return of the Jedi" or players receiving monthly stipend checks, a group of traditionalists are bound to have lengthy objections to both. The very public wars against the modernization of both is an endless internet debate. A debate that has no end in sight.

 

Whether you love or hate the new versions of "Star Wars" or college football is a matter of opinion, but one that most have formed. It’s one of life’s rare gems in that these opinions are rarely unpolished, most of them have been formed over the years and are ready to be worn upon discovery. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and ask the biggest college football fan you have in your friendship circle what they think of the Playoff in detail. Now go ask the biggest "Star Wars" geek you know what they think of the new trilogy or Disney’s ideas for a third trilogy. Just don’t do both in the same day because you might not have the time to get through both conversations in a 24-hour period.

 

Love it or hate it, they likely have an opinion and it’s probably a strong one. That’s what these two worlds do to do you if you allow yourself to get caught up in their traditions and lore. Both of them swallow people whole and spit them back out almost unrecognizable to their family and friends. Is there really a difference between painting your body half maize, half blue, and someone else building Stormtrooper uniforms from scratch? Have you read some of the fan theories on why programs escape punishments or are hit with sanctions? How is it any different than theories on whether Han or Greedo shot first?

 

Try having some of these passionate arguments with people who don’t watch or care about them. They look at you like you’re crazy and have too much time on your hands. You know that hour-long conversation you had with your buddy about the Playoff selections while your girlfriend was trying to hang out with you? Yeah, she felt the same way about conversation as the video store clerk did when you tried to explain why it was Boba Fett — not Stormtroopers — that killed Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle on Tatooine. That is to say, both of them were looking forward to the moment that conversation was over.

 

“May the Force Be With You,” and “War Eagle,” — it’s all the same. The same energy and passion have fueled both for generations. For many, they are lifelong journeys into a world different than our own. For many of us, that world is often more comfortable than the one in which we live. There will be one or two of you reading this article who are nodding your head in agreement at the thought of permanently living in a world where either is king. There will be many who see the next Comic-Con or tailgate as their home away from a home, a place to hang out with their “other family.”

 

There will be disappointment when children announce that they don’t share the same passion as their parents. When a child invariably announces that "Phantom Menace" is their favorite movie the same year they ask for a Stanford hoodie in a Cal house. Some parent will feel like they have been kicked in the gut. It’s not because they hate their kid’s choices, but because they hate their kid’s choices. If you're enough of a fan of either, this will make sense.

 

It’s passion personified. It’s nothing and it’s everything. Both bring us joy and both bring us sorrow. They’ve been the source of countless memories and many more to come. They are our past, our future, and part of our generation’s legacy. They will inspire the next generation and amaze those in the present. They are the building blocks of our personal philosophies and all that we embody as fans, in many ways they represent an ideal that we wish to become.


In the end, it’s less fandom and more a way of life.

 

— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter .

 

(Top photo courtesy of )

Teaser:
"Star Wars" and College Football: Enough Passion to Fuel Two Empires
Post date: Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 14:30
Path: /college-football/new-orleans-bowl-preview-and-prediction-arkansas-state-vs-louisiana-tech-2015
Body:

and will help kick off the 2015-16 bowl season on Saturday from New Orleans in the 15th edition of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. And while both schools have histories that span two conferences — the Southland and Big West — they haven’t met since 1998, when Louisiana Tech steamrolled ASU 69-21. Saturday’s meeting will be the 38th encounter with Louisiana Tech holding a 25-12 advantage.

 

Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State surges into this game winners of eight in a row. The Red Wolves’ last loss came against Toledo on Sept. 26. Arkansas State dismantled Texas State 55-17 on Dec. 5 to claim the Sun Belt title in what was the team’s third consecutive 50-plus point effort. The win cemented an undefeated conference record for head coach Blake Anderson’s team. The Red Wolves were among those teams receiving votes in the Dec. 6 AP Top 25 Poll and also got six votes in the Week 15 USA Today Coaches Poll. Arkansas State is the only program in FBS with four conference titles in the past five seasons.

 

For the first time since 1977-78, Louisiana Tech is headed to consecutive bowl games. The Bulldogs land in New Orleans on the arm of senior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who has helped lead the team to an 8-4 record. Louisiana Tech ended its regular season with a 58-24 loss to rival Southern Miss and head coach Skip Holtz will look to end his third season leading the Bulldogs on a winning note.

 

Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech (New Orleans)

 

Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Louisiana Tech -1

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Louisiana Tech Quarterback Jeff Driskel

Saturday marks the second time that Driskel will play in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The first-year Bulldog quarterback and Florida transfer went head-to-head against current Minnesota Vikings and former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, in which the Cardinals beat the Gators 33-23.

 

Following a tumultuous career in Gainesville, Driskel has thrived as Louisiana Tech’s leading man. And after 12 games this season, he’s already eclipsed his career passing stats from his time as a Gator. The Oviedo, Fla., native has thrown for 3,575 yards and 24 touchdowns against eight picks this year. He’s connected on 61.9 percent of his passes and is averaging 8.7 yards per attempt.

 

The Senior Bowl invitee and 2015 Conference USA Newcomer of the Year also ranks second on the team in rushing with 307 yards and five touchdowns.

 

2. Arkansas State Quarterback Fredi Kinghten

Driskel won’t be the only quarterback in the spotlight on Saturday. Knighten, a second-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection is a perfect 7-0 since returning to the Red Wolves’ lineup in mid-October. Louisiana Tech defensive coordinator Blake Baker served as Arkansas State’s safeties coach in 2013, and he and his unit will be tasked with preventing Knighten from replicating his 2015 GoDaddy Bowl performance where he shelled Toledo’s defense for 403 yards and five touchdowns.

 

The Bulldogs rank 111th in passing defense, yielding 265.8 yards per game through the air. Knighten tossed back-to-back 300-yard games against ULM (Nov. 14) and New Mexico State (Nov. 28), and threw for 192 in the finale against Texas State.

 

Additionally, Knighten gives Arkansas State a true dual-threat option. Although he’s rushed for just 358 yards and four touchdowns this year, he scampered for 779 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2014. If head coach Blake Anderson will give his senior quarterback the green light to run wild in the bowl game, the Louisiana Tech defense could be in for a long night. 

 

3. Arkansas State’s Disruptive Defense

Statistically, no defense in the nation is more opportunistic than Arkansas State’s. The Red Wolves enter the New Orleans Bowl having forced 34 turnovers — 26 interceptions and eight fumbles — through 12 games. San Diego State’s 31 turnovers rank second.

 

Red Wolves senior defensive back Rocky Hayes will give Driskel and Louisiana Tech’s passing attack a tough test, while sophomore Ja'Von Rolland-Jones will attempt to be a force at the line of scrimmage. Rolland-Jones, a first team All-Sun Belt Conference selection, leads the conference in sacks with nine, while his 0.8 sacks per game rank second in the nation among all active players.

 

Final Analysis

 

If there’s one thing this game is sure to produce, it is points. Louisiana Tech is among the top 20 teams nationally in scoring offense, while Arkansas State checks in at No. 10. The Red Wolves head into bowl season as one of the country’s hottest teams, winners of eight in a row, and have eclipsed the 500-yard mark six times this season.

 

Louisiana Tech, still reeling from its 58-24 Nov. 28 loss to Southern Miss, owns a nine-game winning streak against Sun Belt opponents. The Bulldogs have the firepower to make Arkansas State its 10th victim. Louisiana Tech has scored 441 points — already good for the fourth most in school history. Jeff Driskel’s 297.9 passing yards per game place him 15th nationally, while senior running back Kenneth Dixon has rushed for 968 yards and 17 touchdowns. Dixon will join Driskel in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl.

 

With usual New Orleans Bowl fixture Louisiana-Lafayette staying home for the holidays, a national audience will get the chance to look at two high-flying offenses that will make for exciting viewing. Arkansas State’s carnivorous defense should prove to be the difference and help the Red Wolves earn their second bowl win in three seasons.

 

Prediction: Arkansas State 34, Louisiana Tech 31

 

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter .

Teaser:
New Orleans Bowl Preview and Prediction: Arkansas State vs. Louisiana Tech
Post date: Thursday, December 17, 2015 - 14:00

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