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Path: /nfl/baltimore-ravens-vs-pittsburgh-steelers-preview-and-prediction-2016
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The bitter AFC North rivalry between the Steelers and Ravens will be renewed on Christmas night in Pittsburgh. And as usual between these two teams, the stakes are high. The Steelers hold a one-game lead in the battle to win the AFC North and can clinch the division title with a victory over the Ravens. Baltimore needs a win to keep its division title hopes alive. However, even with a loss, head coach John Harbaugh’s team is still in the mix to claim a wild card spot. 

 

In the first meeting between these two teams, Baltimore won 21-14 on the strength of a couple of timely plays. Receiver Mike Wallace scored on a 95-yard pass in the first quarter, the Ravens converted an interception into three points and later returned a blocked punt for a score. While the final result was only a seven-point win for Baltimore, the margin certainly felt bigger thanks to a stagnant Pittsburgh offense. The Steelers didn’t score until the fourth quarter and recorded 205 of their 277 total yards over the final three drives. A big reason for the offensive struggles in that game was Baltimore’s defense, but quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also returned to the lineup after missing a game due to a knee injury. Roethlisberger was clearly rusty (23 of 45), and the ground game struggled to generate anything positive (36 yards on 18 carries).

 

However, since the last meeting, Pittsburgh has emerged as one of the hottest teams in the league. After the Steelers lost to the Ravens, they dropped a last-minute game against Dallas (35-30) but have won five in a row. On the other sideline, Baltimore has won three out of its last four. The Ravens dropped a 30-23 matchup at New England on Monday night two weeks ago but hammered Miami (38-6) and defeated Philadelphia by one (27-26) in that stretch.

 

Baltimore has won six out of the last seven meetings against Pittsburgh. The last victory by the Steelers in this series came on Nov. 2, 2014 (43-23). However, that 20-point win by Pittsburgh is an outlier in this rivalry. The last three meetings have been decided by seven points or less. Additionally, only four out of the last 17 were decided by more than a touchdown.

 

Baltimore at Pittsburgh

 

Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 25 at 4:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NFL Network

Spread: Steelers -5.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Baltimore’s Ground Game Against Pittsburgh’s Front Seven

Despite losing standout end Cam Heyward due to a torn pectoral in the loss to Dallas, Pittsburgh’s rush defense has held five straight opponents to less than 100 rushing yards. However, the Steelers' line will face another obstacle this week, as starting end Stephon Tuitt is questionable due to a knee injury suffered against Cincinnati. Depth and overall bodies up front are a huge problem for the Steelers if Tuitt is sidelined or limited. Ricardo Mathews, L.T. Walton, Daniel McCullers and Javon Hargrave are the top four linemen on the roster outside of Tuitt, but linebackers James Harrison or Bud Dupree could slide to end to contribute a handful of snaps.

 

With or without Tuitt in the lineup, Baltimore’s offensive line and ground attack is going to challenge the stingy Pittsburgh front. The Ravens only rushed for 50 yards in the first matchup between these two teams but posted 151 against the Eagles last week and their line seems to be gaining momentum with the emergence of left tackle Ronnie Stanley. The rookie struggled in the first matchup and will be tested once again versus Harrison, Dupree and fellow linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier.

 

Terrance West (729 rushing yards) is the lead back for Baltimore, but rookie Kenneth Dixon (281 yards) has recorded more carries (20 to 15) over the last two weeks. If Tuitt plays, how healthy and effective will he be? And if Tuitt doesn’t play, can the Steelers replicate the success this unit had last week with Hargreaves, McCullers, Walton and Mathews up front?

 

2. Baltimore’s Defense Against Le’Veon Bell

Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell is making a strong late-season push for MVP honors. The fourth-year running back missed the first three games of the season due to a suspension and recorded only one 100-yard performance in his first six contests. However, since the loss to Dallas, Bell has averaged 142.6 rushing yards over Pittsburgh’s last five games, including 236 in a 27-20 win at Buffalo and 118 in a 24-24 victory over the Giants.

 

As we mentioned above, Baltimore’s defense completely contained Bell in the first matchup, as he managed only 32 rushing yards on 14 attempts and caught six passes for 38 yards. Additionally, the Ravens have kept Bell relatively in check during his career. Over six matchups, Bell is only averaging 67.7 rushing yards in games against Baltimore.

 

Finding running room on Christmas Day won’t be easy for Bell and Pittsburgh’s standout line. Baltimore ranks second in the NFL against the run and limits opponents to just 3.5 yards per carry. The battle in the trenches between the physical Ravens’ front seven and Pittsburgh’s standout line will be a must-see matchup and play a key role in whether or not Bell can get on track.

 

3. The Quarterbacks

For all of the focus on Baltimore’s defense or Bell, the outcome of this game is still going to depend on the two quarterbacks. Baltimore’s Joe Flacco hasn’t shown any side effects from a season-ending knee injury in 2015, completing 64.6 percent of his passes for 3,788 yards and 19 scores. Flacco threw for 241 yards against the Steelers in the first matchup but was largely quiet outside of the 95-yard connection with Mike Wallace. Flacco is 9-7 in his 16 matchups against Pittsburgh and faces a secondary that has showed steady improvement throughout the 2016 campaign. Rookies Artie Burns (cornerback) and Sean Davis (safety) have emerged as key contributors, while Ross Cockrell also has developed into a solid coverman for head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers are familiar with Wallace’s speed on the outside, but the Ravens will test the middle of the field too with Steve Smith (60 catches) and tight end Dennis Pitta (67).

 

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was clearly not 100 percent in the first meeting between these two teams. However, the 34-year-old signal-caller has knocked the rust off in recent weeks and was instrumental in last week’s 24-20 win at Cincinnati (21 of 36 for 286 yards). Roethlisberger has been better at home than on the road this year, but he could be down a few targets on Sunday night. Tight end Ladarius Green is in the concussion protocol, and receiver Sammie Coates is dealing with a hamstring injury. It’s no secret the Ravens will look to contain receiver Antonio Brown, but that task could be tougher without cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle injury). Assuming Baltimore devotes extra attention to Brown, which receiver will step up to help Roethlisberger? Is it Eli Rogers or tight end Jesse James?

 

Final Analysis

 

Considering the playoff implications and the rivalry aspect, this won’t be a friendly atmosphere on Sunday night. Pittsburgh’s injuries on the defensive line are a problem against a big and physical Baltimore offensive line. However, the Steelers' defense has played better in the second half of the season, and the offense has been a different unit at home. With Ladarius Green likely sidelined, Ben Roethlisberger needs a big effort from his secondary options – Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton and Jesse James – to prevent the Ravens from focusing too much on Antonio Brown. Even though Pittsburgh’s injuries cast doubt on both sides of the ball, Roethlisberger and Le'Vevon Bell carry the offense to a couple of key drives in the second half, while the defense prevents the Ravens from landing any big plays this time around. Another close game should be expected, but the Steelers clinch the division with a win over the Ravens.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Baltimore 20

Teaser:
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 23, 2016 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/betting-against-spread-nfl-week-16-picks-and-odds-lines-2016
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Welcome to the holiday season where there is NFL football on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. Last week's 3-2 record provided reinforcement that I know what I'm doing, but it also confused me more. How could the Vikings lay such an egg at home against a Colts team that they are better then? How could the Chiefs lose at home to the Titans? I'll continue to say that motivation is a big factor and so is the weather. We've seen several teams check out already on the season and don't expect them to change with just two weeks last to go.

 

Note: All games are on Sat., Dec. 24 and times ET.

 

Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at Carolina Panthers (6-8), 1 p.m.

This one is purely a situational play as I really don't like taking the Falcons on the road. I think the Panthers put a lot into their Monday night game against the Redskins. To me, Carolina is a team still with a lot of flaws and now has to contend with Julio Jones, who is back after a two-game absence. Remember what Jones and Matt Ryan did the first time these teams met in Week 4. The wide receiver went for 300 yards and a touchdown while the quarterback threw for 503 and four scores. Money is coming in on the Falcons. I'd take them up to -3 although I'd also be aware of Luke Kuechly's status (concussion) for the home team. SELECTION: Falcons -3

 

New York Jets (4-10) at New England Patriots (12-2), 1 p.m.

This is a huge number, I know, but the Jets are one of those teams that have mailed it in. They have allowed 34 points to the Dolphins and 41 to the Colts in the last three weeks. Bryce Petty has been OK so far, but he's running into a Patriots team that likes to take away what you do well. New England's offense really hasn't exploded much yet this season. The Baltimore game two weeks ago featured more than 400 yards, but three turnovers. I don't think the Patriots will be looking ahead to the Dolphins next week. New England has covered in 11 of 14 games. SELECTION: Patriots -16.5

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-6) at New Orleans Saints (6-8), 4:25 p.m.

These two teams met just 13 days ago with the Buccaneers winning 16-11 at home in an ugly contest. Tampa Bay managed just 270 yards of offense in the victory while Drew Brees threw three interceptions. The scene shifts to New Orleans where games typically feature plenty of points. The Saints average 31 points while allowing 30.3 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Buccaneers are on the road for the second straight game so who knows how effective they will be. What we do know is that there should be points. The Bucs have put up 67 in their last three road contests (Kansas City, San Diego and Dallas). New Orleans has gone over in 18 of its last 29 dome games. SELECTION: Over 52.5

 

Notes:

 

— Last week I came really close to adding the Panthers and they won outright against the Redskins. Now Washington is traveling to Chicago to play a Bears team that has had a pulse as of late. It’s a short week for the Skins, who are clearly the better team with a lot to play for, but there are too many variables for me to make a pick either way.

 

— 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 @MidMajorMatt.

Teaser:
Betting Against the Spread: NFL Week 16 Picks and Odds
Post date: Friday, December 23, 2016 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, syndicated, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/why-you-must-start-todd-gurley-and-other-start-sit-fantasy-advice-week-16-2016
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Welcome to Week 16, most likely the fantasy championship game. This is the week fantasy owners have been playing for, have been preparing for. At this point, you're starting the players that have gotten you this far.

 

Week 15 was tough in terms of matchups, and some of the so-called studs didn't produce enough to help their teams/owners. However, if studs got you to Week 16, odds are you should start them... with some exceptions.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Quarterback

 

Start 'Em

Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens (Sun.)

After two road games where Roethlisberger failed to throw for 300 yards in either and had more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (one), he returns home. The Steelers throw the ball more at home and Roethlisberger is significantly better at home than on the road. This season, he has 17 TD passes at Heinz Field compared to nine on the road.

 

Sit 'Em

Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys (Mon.)

It doesn't seem that the finger injury is hindering him, although Stafford did not throw a touchdown in Week 15. However, he now faces the Cowboys. In the past three weeks, Dallas’ defense has not allowed a quarterback to throw for more than 250 yards, and has given up a total of four TD passes. The Cowboys try to win the time of possession each week, and that hurts Stafford.

 

Running Back

 

Start 'Em

Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sat.)

We know. Trust me, we know. Gurley has been a giant disappointment. But, if for some reason, you made it to the fantasy championship in spite of him, he has a great matchup against the defense allowing the most fantasy points to opposing running backs. Devonta Freeman had 139 yards and three touchdowns just last week against the 49ers. This is Gurley's chance to finally help his fantasy owners.

 

Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders vs. Indianapolis Colts (Sat.)

Murray has four touchdowns in the past four weeks. He's had more than 80 rushing yards in each of the past three games, and now he faces the Colts, who can be beat on the ground. He's lost some work to DeAndre Washington, but Murray should still have a good outing in Week 16.

 

Sit 'Em

T.J. Yeldon, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Tennessee Titans (Sat.)

On the season, the Tennessee Titans have given up the fifth-fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs. Chris Ivory is back and will likely have a bigger workload than he did in Week 15. Even though Yeldon has been a factor in the passing game, he's a risky start in Week 16.

 

Matt Forte, RB, New York Jets at New England Patriots and Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers (Sat.)

These two running backs have been lumped together because they have so much in common. Both are 31. Both are banged up and dealing with multiple injuries (Forte has a knee issue and shoulder; Peterson has knee and groin injuries). Both may not even play in Week 16. If either is active, they are a huge risk.

 

Wide Receiver

 

Start 'Em

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (Sat.)

Two words: Tom Savage. Who would have thought Savage would provide Hopkins with fantasy value? The 17 targets in Week 15 speak for themselves. Savage knows the best offensive weapon on the team is Hopkins and he'll force the ball to him. With Lamar Miller banged up, Hopkins will be the focal point of the Texans’ offense in Week 16.

 

DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins at Chicago Bears (Sat.)

D-Jax was the best offensive player on the field on Monday night for the Redskins. He had seven receptions for 111 yards, his third 100-yard game in the past four weeks. The Bears just allowed Jordy Nelson to go for 124 on seven catches. While Jackson is boom or bust, he should continue the former in Week 16.

 

Sit 'Em

Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Washington Redskins (Sat.)

Fantasy owners that started Jeffery after his four-game suspension were getting nervous in Week 15 as he didn't have a catch until the third quarter. He dropped a pass earlier in the game and Matt Barkley didn't target him again until after the half. He'll likely see a lot of Josh Norman, and if he and Barkley aren't on the same page, it will affect his targets, and ultimately receptions as well as fantasy points.

 

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers and A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (Sat.)

Two elite No. 1 wide receivers each with injuries that caused them to miss multiple weeks. Green has been out since injuring his hamstring in Week 11. Jones has been out with a toe sprain he suffered in Week 13. Both players are vowing to play this week and both are at risk to re-injure themselves. They certainly have potential to score a touchdown, but they also could just as easily serve as a decoy. Both are high-risk receivers coming off of injury in a week where everything is on the line.

 

Tight End

 

Start 'Em

Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns (Sat.)

Coming off a one-catch, 11-yard game in Week 15, Gates is hard to trust. However, with two touchdowns, he ties Tony Gonzalez's record for a tight end. This may be Gates' last season, and Philip Rivers knows he wants that record. Want to bet he forces Gates the ball in the red zone?

 

Sit 'Em

Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins at Chicago Bears (Sat.)

It's not clear if Reed is going to play, but if he is active, he should be on fantasy benches. He's dealing with a painful shoulder injury (as evident by him grimacing) that is affecting his performance. After treating fantasy owners to back-to-back one-reception games, he should not be in starting lineups for Week 16.

 

Defense/Special Teams (DST)

 

Start 'Em

San Diego Chargers (vs. Cleveland Browns, Sat.)

Cleveland has phoned in the season at this point and is just trying to get through the last two games with as little pain as possible. Robert Griffin III has struggled and no one is replacing him. While the Chargers’ defense isn't amazing, it should still put up points against the Browns, who allow the third-most fantasy points to opposing DSTs.

 

Sit 'Em

Baltimore Ravens (at Pittsburgh Steelers, Sun.)

The Steelers at home are better than the Steelers on the road, and the Ravens at home are better than the Ravens on the road. Ben Roethlisberger also doesn't turn the ball over as much at home, only throwing three interceptions at Heinz Field this season. The Ravens’ defense has been struggling lately and is not one you want to trust to help you win a fantasy championship.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Why You Must Start Todd Gurley and Other Start/Sit Fantasy Advice For Week 16
Post date: Friday, December 23, 2016 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: BYU Cougars, Utah Utes, Overtime
Path: /overtime/10-best-christmas-day-moments-sports-history
Body:

Christmas may be a holiday, but the sports world doesn’t take Dec. 25 off. This year’s offerings include an NFL double-header of two divisional rivalries (Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh, Denver vs. Kansas City), while the NBA will go five games deep, including a NBA Finals rematch between Golden State and Cleveland.

 

Whether any of these games produces some memorable moments remains to be seen, but as you can see from our top 10 list below, the competition to go down in sports history on Christmas Day is pretty deep.

 

10. 1991: The Soviet Union Falls

The only non-sporting event on this list deserves to be here because it unleashed a slew of Eastern Europe athletes who would have only been allowed past the Iron Curtain to compete in amateur events. The Detroit Red Wings’ “Russian Five,” which won the 1997 Stanley Cup and boxing’s Klitschko brothers are the most notable examples, but the fall of the USSR also benefited the NBA and NFL.

 

9. 2003: Hawaii Beats Houston in Triple Overtime in the Hawaii Bowl

Those who tuned into ESPN on Christmas night got a glimpse at the future of Big 12 football. The Cougars were led by future Baylor head coach Art Briles and the Warriors had Timmy Chang, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NCAA history. The two engaged in a good, old-fashioned offensive shootout and were tied 34-34 at the end of regulation. Each team scored a touchdown on the first two overtime possessions. Hawaii got the ball first in the third overtime and Michael Brewster ran eight yards into the end zone, but the Warriors failed on the two-point conversion. However, Houston’s overtime possession ended on downs and Hawaii came away with a 54-48 victory.

 

8. 1941: Detroit Red Wings Beat Brooklyn Americans in Overtime

The NHL used to have a tradition of playing on Christmas Day and this game is the only one to ever go into overtime, as the Red Wings beat the Americans 3-2 18 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The NHL eliminated overtime in 1942 because of wartime restrictions and did not reinstitute it until the 1983-84 season. The 1941-42 season was the last for the Americans franchise and the NHL operated with its Original Six teams until 1967.

 

7. 1994: Don Shula Breaks NFL Regular-Season Victory Record

This game between the Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions already had a lot going for it. Both teams were 9-6 and battling for a playoff spot and Barry Sanders entered the game with 1,831 rushing yards and a shot at 2,000. The Dolphins took control early, holding Sanders to only 52 yards, and scoring on five of their first seven possessions to take a 27-10 halftime lead and held on for a 27-20 win. The victory was head coach Don Shula’s 319th regular-season victory, putting him ahead of George Halas (Shula had broken the overall wins record in 1993.).

 

6. 1984: Bernard King Scores 60 Points

In front of a Madison Square Garden crowd, King torched the New Jersey Nets for a Christmas Day-record 60 points. His New York Knicks still lost 120-114, but the only memory from that game was his performance. King won the scoring title that season and this Christmas Day milestone was his highest point total of the season.

 

5. 1933: Frank Klick Upsets Kid Chocolate for Junior Lightweight Title

Believe it or not, boxing matches used to be held on Christmas Day and the biggest one was this title match. Eligio Sardinias, aka Kid Chocolate, is considered by many boxing enthusiasts to be one of the 50 best fighters of all-time and had held the junior lightweight title since 1931. Despite being long in the tooth, he was favored to beat the light-punching Klick. The 5,000 fans in the Philadelphia Arena were shocked when Klick stopped the sluggish Kid in the seventh round to take the title (NOTE: No professional boxing matches on Christmas Day have been held in the U.S. since 1969.).

 

4. 2008: Phil Jackson Gets 1,000th Win

The NBA has always made a priority of scheduling a marquee matchup on Christmas Day and it is usually a rematch of the previous year’s Finals. That was certainly the case in 2008. The defending champion Boston Celtics were riding a 19-game winning streak and facing the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time since defeating them in the most recent NBA Finals. On this night, four Lakers scored in double digits and beat the Celtics 92-83. The win was Laker head coach Phil Jackson’s 1,000th of his career.

 

3. 1971: NHL Ends Christmas Day Tradition

From the 1920s until 1971, hockey games were played every Christmas Day, until the NHL ended the tradition to give players a holiday break. On this day, six games were played and the last goal ever scored on Christmas Day came courtesy of Stan Gilbertson, as his California Golden Seals beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-1. In 2008, the NHL added its own holiday event with the New Year’s Day’s Winter Classic.

 

2. 2004: Kobe and Shaq Face Off for First Time

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal three-peated as world champions when they played on the Lakers together… and they also hated each other’s guts. In July of 2004, the Lakers traded O’Neal to the Miami Heat and the NBA scheduled their first meeting for Christmas night. The game lived up to its hype, as Bryant scored 42 points and drew O’Neal’s fifth and sixth fouls, sending Shaq to the bench with the two teams tied 91-91. The game went into overtime where Dwayne Wade led the Heat to a 104-102 win. Bryant missed a three-pointer as time expired.

 

1. 1971: Chiefs and Dolphins Play Longest Game in NFL History

The first NFL games ever played on Christmas Day ended up being the last for many years. Earlier in the day, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Minnesota Vikings 20-12. Then at 4 p.m. ET, the Kansas City Chiefs and Miami Dolphins met in Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. The two teams battled back and forth and were tied 24-24 at the end of regulation. After a scoreless first overtime, they went into a second one. Finally, with 7:20 left in the second overtime period, Miami’s Garo Yepremeian kicked the game-winning field goal. The game was actually only three hours and 21 minutes long in real time, but the outcry of how it cut into Christmas Day prompted the NFL to avoid scheduling another game on this day until 1989.

 

— 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 @AaronTallent.

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
10 Best Christmas Day Moments in Sports History
Post date: Friday, December 23, 2016 - 07:00
Path: /nfl/cincinnati-bengals-vs-houston-texans-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

NRG Stadium will provide the backdrop for a primetime Christmas Eve matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Houston Texans. The Texans (8-6) enter Week 16 tied with the Titans atop the AFC South standings (but in first place courtesy of two head-to-head wins) following last week’s 21-20 comeback victory over the Jaguars. But perhaps the bigger story was Bill O’Brien’s benching of $72 million quarterback Brock Osweiler. Backup Tom Savage, who has never started an NFL game, will now be tasked with trying to lead Houston to the division crown. The Texans can clinch the AFC South with a win against the Bengals combined with a Titans loss to the Jaguars.

 

The Bengals (5-8-1) sealed their postseason fate by blowing a late lead against division rival Pittsburgh last week. The 24-20 debacle marked Cincinnati’s fourth straight loss to the Steelers, and a franchise record of five straight playoff appearances has come to an end. In turn, Marvin Lewis’ seat suddenly got a whole lot warmer, so a strong finish would go a long ways towards silencing some of the talk regarding his job security.

 

A positive first step would be solving a Houston team that has had Cincinnati’s number recently. The Texans have won six of the past seven meeting between the teams, dating back to 2008, including wins in the wild card round in the 2012 and ’13 seasons.

 

Cincinnati at Houston

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 24 at 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NFL Network

Spread: Houston -1.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. The Tom Savage Era Begins
Bill O’Brien’s benching of Brock Osweiler may have been a desperate act by a desperate coach. But it was a move that quite possibly salvaged the Texans’ postseason outlook. While Tom Savage’s performance against the Jaguars last week was not perfect, it was good enough to help lead Houston to a come-from-behind victory. Savage also injected a spark into a passing attack that ranks 30th in the NFL and has just 14 touchdown passes in 14 games. Star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (8 rec., 87 yds.) certainly seemed to benefit from the change under center.

 

It’s impossible to know for sure if Savage will be the long-term answer for the Texans based on one game. However, he did pass his first test with flying colors and his performance against a solid Jacksonville pass defense showed enough promise to provide optimism for the rest of this season. We will learn a lot more on Saturday night when Savage makes his first career NFL start. Cincinnati has twice as many interceptions (six) as touchdown passes allowed (three) over its last three games, so this as good a test as any for Houston’s new starting quarterback.

 

2. Houston Running Game vs. Cincinnati Rushing Defense
One way the Texans can take some of the pressure off of Savage in his first NFL start will be with plenty of ground support. Lamar Miller is sixth in the league with 1,073 rushing yards as Houston ranks fifth in rushing offense (122.7 ypg). Cincinnati has had its issues stopping the run, currently checking in at No. 26 (117.5 ypg) in that department.

 

This is an obvious matchup that the Texans will look to exploit. That being said, there is a good chance that the Bengals will load the box in an attempt to slow down Miller and his backfield mates to force Savage to try and beat them with his arm. This could complicate matters if Savage is not up for that challenge. Miller is dealing with a slight ankle injury as well, but early indications are that he will be good to go for Saturday night’s matchup against Cincinnati’s suspect run defense.

 

3. The Return of A.J. Green
Barring any setbacks, Green is set to play for the first time since a hamstring injury forced him out the Week 11 loss to Buffalo. Green’s presence on the field alone should provide a big boost to Andy Dalton and the Bengals’ aerial attack against the NFL’s No. 2-ranked pass defense. The elite wide receiver’s return also provides an opportunity for him to make history on Saturday night. Green needs just 36 yards to join Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history with 1,000 receiving yards in each of their first six seasons in the league.

 

While Green should be able to reach that milestone, he could have a tough time trying to shake off the rust against a top-flight Houston secondary. Veteran cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson will be charged with trying to keep tabs on Green, who has been held in check by the Texans in his career. In five games, two of those coming in the playoffs, Green has yet to catch a touchdown against Houston and he’s averaging 74.8 receiving yards per contest with only one 100-yard effort.

 

Final Analysis

 

Despite their poor record, the Bengals may just have the better team in this matchup. If the effort is there, they definitely have the talent to win the game, especially with A.J. Green returning after missing the past four games. Unfortunately, last week’s loss to the Steelers, and subsequent elimination from playoff contention, may have sucked the last bit of wind right out of their sails. It’s far from certain if Cincinnati’s players are even capable of giving 100 percent at this point in the season.

 

The Texans should have no problem putting their best foot forward. Quarterback Tom Savage could struggle at times in his first NFL start. But a solid Houston running game should complement Savage’s efforts and provide just enough firepower. A stellar Texans defense should be able to take care of the rest against a potentially demoralized bunch of Bengals at home. Houston may need a Christmas miracle (i.e, Jacksonville beating Tennessee) earlier on Saturday to have the opportunity to sew up the AFC South, but Savage’s first career win as a starter would be a nice gift too. A victory also would keep the Texans in the driver’s seat for a potential winner-take-all showdown with the Titans on New Year’s Day.

 

Prediction: Texans 20, Bengals 17

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Houston Texans Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 13:00
Path: /nfl/arizona-cardinals-vs-seattle-seahawks-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

The soap opera that is the Seattle Seahawks continues to be the gift that keeps gives on giving during this holiday season. On the field, Seattle took care of business against the Los Angeles Rams last Thursday night at CenturyLink Field, as they won going away 24-3. Russell Wilson got back on track a little bit against the Rams as he completed 19 of 26 passes for 229 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.

 

Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and the rest of the Seahawks’ defensive line had their way with Jared Goff and the Los Angeles offense, as the Rams could not get much going all game long. But off the field, cornerback Richard Sherman popped off about the play calling at the 1-yard line against and yesterday went after local 710 ESPN Seattle host Jim Moore during his weekly press conference.

 

Arizona showed plenty of fight last week against the New Orleans Saints before falling 48-41 at home in a high-scoring affair that was one of the more entertaining games this season in the NFL. Carson Palmer took care of the football and made plenty of big plays in the passing game, while David Johnson continued to prove why he has emerged as one of the top playmakers in the game.

 

Defensively, head coach Bruce Arians and general manager Steve Keim have to be concerned as Drew Brees torched the Cardinals for 389 yards and four touchdowns. So while the effort appeared to be there for Arizona, there still is a need for players to make plays, something that has not happened the past two weeks against Miami and New Orleans, especially in key moments.

 

Arizona at Seattle

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 24 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Seahawks -8

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Richard Sherman vs. Carson Palmer
This week Sherman has added the latest chapter to the non-stop Seahawks soap opera that should be titled “As the Seahawks Turn,” with his going off on local media members and the play-calling. It is becoming clear that the fame and Stanford education has given Sherman a sense of entitlement that he is the smartest person in the room and frankly, it is becoming a very tired act. If Sherman is truly the leader that he likes to portray himself to be, his sole focus in press conferences should be on the opponent at hand. Which this week is the veteran Palmer, who is more than capable of shredding the Seattle secondary like Aaron Rodgers did two weeks ago at Lambeau Field.

 

Consequently, it will be fascinating to see which version of Sherman shows up this week, as his teammates need his big-time play on the field instead of his big-time mouth in the press, which detracts from the great work that the All-Pro does off the field through his foundation, Blanket Coverage.

 

2. The battle in the trenches
If the Cardinals are going to get out of CenturyLink Field with a win on Saturday, they are going to have to protect Palmer at a high level. You can rest assured that the Seahawks will be in attack mode from the opening snap to try to take away big plays in the passing game. Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett earned Pro Bowl invitations this week and they are going to have to continue to play at that level in order for Seattle to get the victory and get one step closer to the No. 2 seed (which comes with a first-round bye) for the NFC playoffs. It also will be very crucial for Arizona to create holes in the running game for David Johnson, who is the first player in NFL history to have 100 or more yards from scrimmage in each of the first 14 games of a season.

 

3. Seahawks’ running game
When these two teams met in Glendale, Arizona, back on Oct. 23, Seattle simply could not run the ball, finishing the overtime tie with just 52 yards on 19 carries. Thomas Rawls didn’t play in that game, so it’s going to be important to get him going with a goal of about 20 carries and hopefully at least 80 yards on the ground. Any sort of contribution from Rawls will keep the Cardinals honest on defense, which should make things easier for Russell Wilson. He also will likely have to pick up a couple of first downs with his legs, which should be easier considering he’s healthier than he was the first the faced Arizona’s aggressive defense. Do not be surprised to see some jet sweeps or other running plays for wide receiver Tyler Lockett either, as offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will look to mix things up and keep the Cardinals off balance.

 

Final Analysis

 

For the Seahawks, it is going to be vital that they start strong and try to throw a knockout punch at Arizona right away. The Cardinals have already been eliminated from playoff contention so if Seattle can jump ahead early you may Arizona pack it in. However, look for a closer-than-expected contest, barring a rash of turnovers, as the Seahawks get one step closer to the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with a one-score victory over the Cardinals. It also means the 12s (and football fans in general) don’t have to worry about unwrapping another tie on Christmas Eve.

 

Prediction: Seahawks 24, Cardinals 17

 

— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.

Teaser:
Arizona Cardinals vs. Seattle Seahawks Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 12:30
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-vs-new-orleans-saints-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

Despite New Orleans’ victory in Arizona last Sunday, Atlanta’s victory over San Francisco ended the Saints hopes of winning the NFC South. They still have a mathematical shot a wild card, but need to win their final two games and hope the Redskins, Packers and Buccaneers all lose in Weeks 16 and 17.

 

Speaking of Tampa Bay, Sunday night’s 26-20 loss in Dallas ended the Bucs’ five-game winning streak. More importantly, it dropped them a game behind Atlanta for first place in the NFC South. Tampa Bay can still clinch a playoff spot with a win over New Orleans on Saturday... and quite a bit of help. Green Bay, Detroit and Washington all have to lose, so the more probable scenario has the Bucs taking care of business against the Saints and hoping that the Falcons fall at Carolina to set up a win-and-you’re-in scenario in Week 17.

 

New Orleans leads the all-time series against Tampa Bay 30-19, including eight of the last 10 meetings. The Buccaneers beat the Saints 16-11 at home two weeks ago and also were victorious in New Orleans last season. The Bucs have not beaten the Saints in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in consecutive seasons since 2009-10 and are looking for the first season sweep of their division rivals since ’07.

 

Tampa Bay at New Orleans

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 24 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Buccaneers -3

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Holding the line on third and fourth downs and holding off the flags
Tampa Bay’s defense has given opponents too many free yards while allowing multiple first downs at crunch time. The Buccaneers are tied for second in the NFL in penalties (110) and are fourth in penalty yards (957). They are middle of the pack when it comes to first downs allowed (283, 17th), thanks to the second-best third down conversion rate (34.5 percent), but teams have been successful on six of eight fourth down attempts.

 

The Saints have earned their status as one of the top offenses in the league, leading the league in first downs with 344 and only 22 of those are due to penalties. New Orleans have converted nearly half of its third downs (49.5 percent, first) and have been quite successful on fourth down (10-for-12) as well. The downside is that the Saints’ offense has penalized quite a bit (94 for 840 yards).

 

These statistics aside, New Orleans’ offense struggled mightily against Tampa Bay to weeks ago. The Saints were just four of 13 on third down, and two of those were courtesy of penalties. For the game, New Orleans was hit with 13 accepted penalties for 104 yards, seven of those by the offense. Have the Buccaneers solved Drew Brees and company or will the Saints rediscover their offensive groove inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome?

 

2. What has happened to Mike Evans?
In the past three weeks, Evans has hardly been a factor. Opponents have held him to four receptions or fewer and less than 60 receiving yards in each game with no touchdowns. Despite the recent struggles, he is still Tampa Bay’s leading receiver by far with nearly the same amount of yards (1,159) as the next two (Cameron Brate and Adam Humphries) on the Buccaneers’ stat sheet combined (1,164). Evans also has accounted for 10 of Jameis Winston’s 26 touchdown passes this season.

 

Tampa Bay has won two of the three games during Evans’ slump, but the offense needs their best weapon to start producing again. In three of Bucs’ six losses he has been held to 60 receiving yards or fewer and has just three touchdowns in those games combined. Tampa Bay’s defense has done its part during the team’s recent surge, but for this team to reach its full potential it needs Evans to produce and come up with big plays.

 

3. Motivation for the Saints?
This contest will kick off in the late afternoon on Christmas Eve. New Orleans is all but officially eliminated from playoff contention and could be so before this game even gets started.

 

How many Saints fans will not show up in favor of holiday gatherings with family or friends? The game will not be blacked out locally. Therefore, diehard members of the Who Dat Nation could still watch the game without venturing to the Superdome.

 

One has to wonder about the mindset of the Saints on game day. How many will become last-second pre-game scratches from the starting lineup? How many players will take a seat on the bench in favor of their backups, either by request of the starter or because the coach wants to see a reserve in action? Depending on how some of the earlier games play out, fans should expect to see such substitutions.

 

In the recent weeks, rumors have swirled and incidents have occurred calling into question the cohesion of the team. Some in the media have reported negotiations involving a trade of head coach Sean Payton, to Los Angeles in particular. A few weeks ago, Brandin Cooks openly expressed his discontent in his lack of involvement in the game plan, prompting discussions that he wants out of New Orleans. Last week, Mark Ingram had an angry confrontation with Payton on the sideline late in the win at Arizona. If the playoffs are out of the question, will these and other issues boil over in a meaningless game?

 

Final Analysis

 

The Saints’ chances to reach the playoffs this season greatly resemble the possibility of snow on Christmas in New Orleans. While both are theoretically possible, anyone betting on either is wasting money. Their last gasp in the pursuit of the playoffs may already be snuffed out by kickoff of this game. A victory by either Washington or Green Bay in the early games would officially end New Orleans’ postseason hopes. It seems likely that attendance in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be sparse. The crowd will be prone to bailing early should Tampa Bay jump out to a large early lead.

 

On the other side, the Buccaneers have plenty of play for. A loss would cripple their shot at an NFC South championship, as the Atlanta would be able to seal up the crown with a win in Carolina. As much as the Bucs might hate the idea of arriving home late on Christmas Eve, they must take care of business on the road.

 

Prediction: Buccaneers 30, Saints 20

 

— Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur and read his viewpoints at gridironconnoisseur.wordpress.com and at gridiron-connoisseur.blogspot.com.

Teaser:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/indianapolis-colts-vs-oakland-raiders-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

Fresh off of clinching its first playoff berth since 2002, Oakland returns home to face Indianapolis, a team that is still in the postseason conversation. The Raiders (11-3) now have their sights set on an AFC West title, while the Colts (7-7) must win (and get plenty of help) to maintain any hope of winning the South.

 

Last week, Oakland’s defense had one of its best performances in a 19-16 road victory over San Diego. The Raiders held the Chargers to just 263 total yards, as Bruce Irvin had a big game with two sacks and a forced fumble. Oakland leads Kansas City by one game in the AFC West and can win the division with a win over Indianapolis and a Chiefs loss to the Broncos on Christmas night.

 

The Colts appear to be a longshot at best to get in the playoff considering they trail both the Texans and Titans by a game. But Indianapolis is coming off of one of its most dominating wins of the season after drubbing Minnesota 34-6 on the road. The Colts scored on five of their first six possessions to jump out to a 27-0 lead and never looked back.

 

Saturday will mark the 14th time the Colts and Raiders have met with Oakland holding a slim 7-6 advantage. The two teams last met in Indianapolis in 2013, a game the Colts won 21-17.

 

Indianapolis at Oakland

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 24, 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Oakland -3.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Indianapolis’ balanced attack
Many people believe that Indianapolis’ offense is just quarterback Andrew Luck and the passing game. While that could be true, the Colts have had more success when they run the ball efficiently.

 

Last week against Minnesota, Luck handed the ball off on 40 of 68 snaps. Since Luck was drafted No.1 overall in 2012, the Colts are 24-3 when the team has 30-plus rushing attempts in a game.

 

While Luck finished with 250 passing yards against the Vikings, the running game produced 161 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries. The yardage total tied a season high for Indianapolis and was the most the Vikings have given up. With Oakland giving up 116.9 rushing yards per game, the Colts could once again have success on the ground with Frank Gore and Robert Turbin leading the way.

 

2. Derek Carr
Despite dealing with a finger injury the last few weeks, the Raiders’ quarterback led this team to another fourth-quarterback comeback win, this time in San Diego. His final stat line wasn’t that impressive (19-for-30, 213 yards, TD), but the important thing is he once again found a way to help his team wind up victorious.

 

Carr has been operating primarily out of the shotgun or pistol formation since he injured his pinky finger last month on a bad snap from under center in a win over Carolina. That could be troublesome for Indianapolis, who ranks near the bottom of the NFL in passing defense (261.4 ypg). Look for Carr, fellow Pro Bowler Amari Cooper and tag-team partner Michael Crabtree look to take advantage of a Colts secondary that has had to deal with a rash of injuries this season, and it shows on the stat sheet.

 

3. Colts’ offensive line
Indianapolis’ front line has long been an issue ever since Luck was drafted, but the group is coming off of a strong showing last week in which the Colts’ offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage against Minnesota. The Vikings have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, but Luck was not sacked and was hit just twice all game, and Indianapolis ran for 161 yards as well.

 

Minnesota has had some injuries along its defensive line, but Indianapolis’ show of strength up front was impressive nonetheless. But the Colts will face an entirely different challenge on Saturday going up against Khalil Mack and the rest of Oakland’s front seven.

 

While Mack’s sack streak ended at eight games last week, Bruce Irvin stepped up and recorded two sacks and a forced fumble in the win over San Diego. All told, the Raiders sacked Philip Rivers three times and held him to just 206 yards with two touchdowns and an interception on 17-of-30 passing.

 

Indianapolis’ offensive line has performed much better during the second half of the season, giving up just nine sacks in the last six games. This is after surrendering 31 in the first eight games. If the Colts want to keep the momentum going on offense, the line will need to keep up its recent strong play against a pass rush that features Mack, one of the leading contenders for NFL Defensive Player of the Year honors.

 

Final Analysis

 

Last week, Oakland’s defense was able to slow down a San Diego offense that is among the NFL’s most productive. The Raiders will need a repeat performance at home on Saturday against an equally potent Indianapolis attack. Oakland’s offense has managed just 32 points over its last two games, so the Raiders can’t rely strictly on Derek Carr and company to win this game.

 

Indianapolis might be a .500 team, but the Colts are better than their record indicates. Five of their losses have been by a touchdown or less and only one has been to a team that does not have a winning record (Jacksonville). Oakland also is no stranger to close games, as eight of its 11 wins have been by seven points or fewer.

 

Neither team has a great defense, so it will most likely come down to which unit can make a play in a critical moment. In that respect, the edge goes to the Raiders, thanks to the presence and playmaking ability of All-Pro Khalil Mack.

 

Prediction: Raiders 30, Colts 24

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
Indianapolis Colts vs. Oakland Raiders Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /nfl/miami-dolphins-vs-buffalo-bills-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

New England may have already wrapped up the AFC East, but there’s still important business in the division to attend to when Buffalo hosts Miami on Christmas Eve. The Dolphins (9-5) are a game clear of the pack for the second wild card spot, while the Bills (7-7) must win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.

 

Even though Buffalo is coming off of a 33-13 win over Cleveland, these last two games (Bills finish at the Jets) could determine whether head coach Rex Ryan keeps his job or not. At least on paper, there’s a big difference between finishing 9-7 or even 8-8 compared to 7-9. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also could be auditioning for his job, as the structure of the contract extension (six years, $90 million, but option for 2017) he signed in August gives the Bills some flexibility should they decide to go in another direction.

 

For Miami, it’s pretty simple – win out and the Dolphins are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. In fact, if Miami wins and Baltimore, Tennessee and Denver all lose, the Dolphins can sew up the wild card and not have to worry about the regular season finale at home against the Patriots.

 

Miami beat Buffalo 28-25 back in Week 7 behind 214 rushing yards from Jay Ajai. The Dolphins have lost their last four games at New Era Field (formerly Ralph Wilson Stadium).

 

Miami at Buffalo

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 24 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Buffalo -3.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Moore Good Things to Come from Matt?

Prior to this past Saturday’s game in New York, Miami had won seven of its last eight and was really starting to click. Ryan Tannehill had found his own groove, throwing 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions during that span while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. But in Week 14 Tannehill was sacked late in the win over Arizona. Although he escaped serious injury, Tannehill sprained the ACL and MCL in his left knee and more than likely played his final game of this season.

 

Veteran Matt Moore replaced Tannehill and even though he made his first start in five seasons last week against the Jets, he showed little rust in throwing a career-high four touchdowns and just one pick in the 34-13 road rout. Moore completed 12 of his 18 passes, including two long scoring strikes (52 yards to Kenny Stills, 66 to Jarvis Landry), as the Dolphins poured it on in the third quarter. Can Moore do the same at home against Buffalo? The Bills have been one of the best against the pass this season and held Tannehill to just 204 passing yards and a touchdown in the first meeting. But part of that was due to the damage Jay Ajayi did on the ground, and it’s been a while since Buffalo has faced Moore and vice versa. In this matchup of unfamiliar foes which side has the advantage?

 

2. Jump-starting Jay?

In the first game against Buffalo, Miami running back Jay Ajayi torched the Bills for 214 rushing yards on 29 carries. He scored just one touchdown, but he averaged 7.4 yards per carry and had eight runs of 10 or more yards. Ajayi was a big reason why the Dolphins won 28-25, but he hasn’t been the same productive ball carrier since that Week 7 game. He ran for 111 yards in a 27-23 victory in Week 9 over the Jets, but has just 361 yards on the ground and a single touchdown over the past six games. He’s averaging just 3.5 yards per carry during this span and while Miami is 5-1 in those games, now is as good a time as any for Ajayi to get going again. Buffalo has had trouble stopping the run all season (124.4 ypg) and gave up 236 yards and three scores (on 38 carries) to Le’Veon Bell two weeks ago. The Dolphins need a balanced offensive approach to give them the best chance for success, both now and looking ahead to the playoffs, and more production from Ajayi also will take pressure off of Moore and the passing game.

 

3. Buffalo’s Healthier Herd

Even though the Bills lost by just three points in Week 7, the Dolphins outgained Buffalo 454 to 267 and had 26 first downs compared to 16. Penalties (13 for 116 yards) helped keep the Bills in the game, as Miami also dominated time of possession (37:02 to 22:58). But another factor in the first meeting was that running back LeSean McCoy managed just 11 yards on eight carries before leaving after aggravating a hamstring injury and Sammy Watkins did not play because he was on injured reserve. Both will be in the starting lineup on Saturday, which immediately makes Buffalo’s offense that much more dangerous.

 

McCoy has struggled with some injuries this season, but he’s rushed for 100 or more yards in three of his last four games, including a season-high 153 on just 19 carries (8.1 ypc) last week against Cleveland. Statistically speaking, the Dolphins have been even worse against the run (132.5 ypg) than the Bills, so McCoy and Mike Gillislee could play a huge role in this game, especially since it’s in Buffalo and it’s the middle of December. Meanwhile, Watkins hasn’t done a lot since returning from IR (11 rec., 182 yds., TD in four games), but his mere presence makes the Bills’ passing game that much harder to defend. Watkins also is averaging 17.8 yards per reception in four career games against Miami.

 

Final Analysis

 

Miami is leading the chase for the second wild card spot, but that doesn’t mean this game isn’t important for Buffalo. That’s especially the case if you believe the scuttlebutt regarding Rex Ryan’s tenuous job security. The Dolphins beat the Bills by just three points in their first meeting, but the score doesn’t indicate how dominant Miami was at home. Much has changed since then, as Buffalo is back to full strength on offense and the Dolphins have backup Matt Moore at quarterback.

 

The keys to this game will be which team can run the ball better and protect it, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse. Jay Ajayi lit up the Bills for 214 rushing yards back in Week 7 and even though he hasn’t done a lot since, I think he breaks out of his funk. Ajayi and LeSean McCoy lead a ground assault for their respective teams, but Miami gets one step closer to the playoffs with a sweep of its longtime AFC East rivals.

 

Prediction: Dolphins 23, Bills 20

Teaser:
Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 10:30
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Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2016-postseason-all-freshman-team
Body:

Every college football season is a new opportunity for the true or redshirt freshmen players on 128 FBS teams to make a statement. While each year always produces a handful of freshmen standouts, it seems more first-year players are making an impact at a high level. The 2016 season produced plenty of standouts in the freshmen ranks, including quarterbacks Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Deondre Francois (Florida State) and Sam Darnold (USC). The impressive freshman class continues at running back with Ohio State's Mike Weber and Texas A&M's Trayveon Williams. Additionally, there's a strong group of linemen in the freshmen ranks, including Alabama's Jonah Williams and Oregon's Jake Hanson. On defense, Houston's Ed Oliver headlines the first-team unit, while Clemson's Dexter Lawrence and Ohio State's Nick Bosa are two other rising stars to watch over the next couple of seasons.

 

Compiling the all-freshman team at the end of the regular season is no easy task. Several worthy players missed the cut, as we tried to combine stats, competition level talent and playing time to piece together the all-freshman teams for 2016. Additionally, we also used some position flexibility to award some of the best players instead of sticking with a true positional alignment.

 

2016 All-Freshman Teams by Conference

 

ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

 

2016 All-Conference Teams

 

ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC | All-America

 

College Football's 2016 Postseason All-Freshman Team
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

Third-Team

Offense

Fourth-Team

Offense

QB

Jalen Hurts

Alabama 

Sam Darnold

USC  

Deondre Francois

Florida State 

Shane Buechele

Texas 

RB

Mike Weber

Ohio State 

Justice Hill

Oklahoma State 

Devin Singletary

FAU 

Devwah Whaley

Arkansas 

RB

Trayveon Williams

Texas A&M 

Benny Snell

Kentucky 

Damarea Crockett

Missouri 

Chris Evans

Michigan 

AP

N'Keal Harry (WR)

Arizona State 

Bryan Edwards (WR)

South Carolina 

Van Jefferson (WR)

Ole Miss 

James Williams (RB)

Washington State 

WR

Ahmmon Richards

Miami 

Deshaunte Jones

Iowa State 

James Proche

SMU 

Donnie Corley

Michigan State 

WR

Demetris Robertson

California 

Dimetrios Mason

Missouri 

Kevin Stepherson

Notre Dame 

Ty Lee

MTSU 

TE

Isaac Nauta

Georgia 

Daniel Imatorbhebhe

USC 

JJ Arcega-

Whiteside (WR)

Stanford 

Nigel Kilby

Eastern Michigan 

C

Jake Hanson

Oregon 

Erik McCoy

Texas A&M 

Nate Herbig (OL)

Stanford 

Dedrick Mills (RB)

Georgia Tech 

OL

Bobby Evans

Oklahoma 

Coy Cronk

Indiana 

Michael Jordan

Ohio State 

Kennedy McKoy (RB)

West Virginia 

OL

Ryan Bates

Penn State 

Tim Lynott

Colorado 

Colton McKivitz

West Virginia 

Vic Johnson

App. State 

OL

Gus Lavaka

Oregon State 

Marcus Keyes

Oklahoma State 

Jawaan Taylor

Florida 

Jon Dietzen

Wisconsin  

OL

Jonah Williams

Alabama 

Ben Bredeson

Michigan 

Parker Braun

Georgia Tech 

Scott Frantz

Kansas State 

         
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

Third-Team

Defense

Fourth-Team

Defense

DL

Ed Oliver

Houston 

Malcolm Roach

Texas 

Anthony Nelson

Iowa 

Joe Dillon

UL Lafayette 

DL

Dexter Lawrence

Clemson 

Dre'Mont Jones

Ohio State 

Benito Jones

Ole Miss 

Jabari Zuniga

Florida 

DL

Reggie Walker

Kansas State 

Joe Jackson

Miami 

Clelin Ferrell

Clemson 

McTelvin Agim

Arkansas 

DL

Nick Bosa

Ohio State 

Brian Burns

Florida State 

Marlon Davidson

Auburn 

Rashan Gary

Michigan 

LB

Troy Dye

Oregon 

Bryan London

Texas State 

Logan Wilson

Wyoming 

Kevin Givens (DL)

Penn State 

LB

Joe Giles-

Harris

Duke 

Josiah Tauaefa

UTSA 

David Reese

Florida 

Michael Pinckney

Miami 

LB

Shaq Quarterman

Miami 

Leo Lewis

Miss. State 

Markus Bailey

Purdue 

Jordyn Brooks 

Texas Tech 

DB

Xavier Crawford

Oregon State 

Marcelino Ball

Indiana 

Patrick Nelson

Illinois 

Alohi Gilman

Navy 

DB

Clifton Duck

App. State 

Javaris Davis

Auburn 

Antoine Winfield

Minnesota 

Justin Tranquill

W. Michigan 

DB

Taylor Rapp

Washington 

Mike Lee

Kansas 

Julian Love

Notre Dame 

Ben DeLuca

Charlotte 

DB

Jessie Bates

Wake Forest 

Jaylon Jones

Ole Miss /

Brenden Schooler

Oregon 

Myles Hartsfield

Ole Miss 

Trae Williams

Northwestern 

         
         
 

First-Team

Specialists

Second-Team

Specialists

Third-Team

Specialists

Fourth-Team

Specialists

K

Louie Zervos

Ohio 

Rodrigo Blankenship

Georgia 

Butch Hampton

W. Michigan 

Ricky Aguayo

Florida State 

P

Sterling Hofrichter

Syracuse 

Blake Gillikin

Penn State 

Josh Growden

LSU 

Dom Maggio

Wake Forest 

KR

Tony Pollard

Memphis 

Kene Nwangwu

Iowa State 

Adrian Killins

UCF 

Jabir Frye 

Troy 

PR

Austin Conway

Wyoming 

Johnathon Johnson

Missouri 

Keidrien Wadley

Tulsa 

Tony Nicholson

Baylor 

 

Teaser:
College Football's 2016 Postseason All-Freshman Team
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/quick-lane-bowl-preview-and-prediction-maryland-terrapins-vs-boston-college-eagles-2016
Body:

While this may not be the sexiest matchup of the college football bowl season, it carries a good bit of weight for each team as the two put a bow on their 2016 campaigns.

 

For Boston College, the Eagles had to deal all season with the possibility that an extra loss here or there could result in the firing of head coach Steve Addazio. After posting a winless record in ACC play in 2015, Addazio came into this season on the hot seat.

 

But with a couple of late wins in conference and a 17-14 triumph over Wake Forest in the last game of the regular season, it appears that Addazio just may have saved his job with a 6-6 record.

 

No, the progress Addazio and Co. made over the course of the season was not earth-shattering, as the Eagles had blowout losses to the best opponents on their schedule (Virginia Tech, Clemson, Louisville and Florida State all beat Boston College by 38 or more points). However, in Addazio's fourth season at The Heights, he has now brought the program to three bowl games, so the chance to finish on a high note is significant for what has no doubt been a trying year for him, his staff and his players.

 

The Terrapins also come into this game with a 6-6 record following a 3-8 season the previous year, but the trajectory and overall feeling in the program is a bit different.

 

DJ Durkin, in his first year as Maryland's head coach, came over from his position as Michigan's defensive coordinator and proved that there may be some reason for optimism in the wake of the failed Randy Edsall era, which ended after he began last year with a 2-4 record and 0-2 mark in Big Ten play.

 

The Terps started this season hot, winning their first four games and five of their first seven. The rebuild process obviously hit its inevitable wall late in the season with blowout losses to two of the best teams in the country in Michigan and Ohio State, but the Terps generally beat who they were supposed to and survived perhaps the best division in college football to make a bowl.

 

If Durkin and Co. beat Boston College, the Terps can feel even better about turning around a program that, like its counterpart, is looking up toward some pretty daunting teams in its division every year.

 

Quick Lane Bowl: Maryland vs. Boston College (Detroit)

 

Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 26, 2:30 p.m. ET
Where: Ford Field (Detroit)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Maryland -1

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Ground and pound
This will not be a wide-open, 7-on-7 type of shootout. Both of these teams make a living on running the football; and the matchup on both sides will be interesting to see play out. For the Terps, they have a bit of an underrated attack in this regard, ranking 40th in the country — just behind Florida State and ahead of teams like Wisconsin and Tennessee. The Terps have suffered some injuries in the backfield, but leading rusher Ty Johnson, who has gained 845 yards at nearly nine yards per carry, is a capable weapon. He will be going up against a Boston College defense that is ranked eighth in the nation against the run. Like Maryland, the Eagles have battled through some injuries in the front seven, but linebackers like Connor Strachan and Matt Milano have combined for 125 tackles, including 19.5 for a loss, and made life difficult for opposing backs all year. The Eagles have at times really struggled to move the ball on the ground, as they rank 100th in rushing offense this season. But, really, the offense in general has been poor for them this season, and if they can find a way to get running back Jon Hilliman going, they'll be in better shape. And despite Boston College’s struggles on the ground, it's possible the Eagle find some success against Maryland's run defense, which at 101st in the nation, has been porous this year.

 

2. Making connections
Neither passing game is all that much to write home about because it's not really the focus. However, in a game where the rushing attacks could cancel each other out, whichever team throws the ball better could come out on top. Maryland's Perry Hills has been solid, if unspectacular, for the Terps this season. After battling through injuries to both shoulders late in the season, he finished the year completing 66 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns to three interceptions. That is a bit of a step up from what Boston College quarterback Patrick Towles has been able to accomplish, as the graduate transfer from Kentucky is completing just 51 percent of his throws. However, each player presents a bit of a threat to run, adding an element of dual-threat ability to the position.

 

3. Pressure-packed
In a game that figures to be close throughout, one big sack can swing momentum, stop a drive or force a turnover, and each team has a disruptive pass rusher. Boston College’s Harold Landry already has 15 sacks this season, and the defensive end has boosted his draft stock to the point where some feel the junior should declare early. For Maryland, junior defensive lineman Jesse Aniebonam has nine sacks on the year. Neither team is expected to live by the pass, but when they do, expect all eyes to be on either Landry or Aniebonam.


Related: 20 Players on the Rise Entering College Football's 2016-17 Bowl Season

 

Final Analysis

 

This game is far from a marquee matchup, and with it taking place in Detroit and neither school being all that close to Ford Field, don't expect a great atmosphere, either. Still, both teams would desperately love to finish over .500. Look for a low-scoring, defensive struggle. Neither team has the greatest offense, but Maryland's passing game is more efficient and should have enough to push the Terrapins over the top.

 

Prediction: Maryland 17, Boston College 16

 

— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.

Teaser:
Quick Lane Bowl Preview and Prediction: Maryland vs. Boston College
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 09:30
Path: /college-football/st-petersburg-bowl-preview-and-prediction-miami-ohio-redhawks-vs-mississippi-state-bulldogs-2016
Body:

Perhaps the most endearing aspects about college football’s bowl season are the exotic matchups and locations of teams and stadiums that would otherwise never see the light of day in the regular season.

 

This year’s St. Petersburg Bowl features the curious pairing of Miami (Ohio) and Mississippi State in a location that is far from “exotic” in Tropicana Field, MLB’s worst stadium and home of the Tampa Bay Rays. But it’s for a late morning college football game the day after Christmas, so who are we to complain?

 

After starting the season 0-6, Miami rode the MAC’s second-ranked defense to six straight wins and its first bowl berth since 2010. A RedHawks victory against an SEC team to close things out would be a colorful feather in the cap of third-year head coach Chuck Martin, who is gradually rebuilding the program.

 

Thanks to a high APR, Dan Mullen has led his Mississippi State squad to a seventh straight bowl appearance, otherwise the Bulldogs would still be in Starkville for the holidays after going 5-7 in the regular season.

 

St. Petersburg Bowl: Miami (Ohio) vs. Mississippi State

 

Kickoff: Monday, Dec. 26 at 11 a.m. ET
Where: Tropicana Field (St. Petersburg, Fla.)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Mississippi State -14

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. The emergence of Nick Fitzgerald
It can’t be easy following in the large footsteps of Dak Prescott, arguably the best quarterback in Mississippi State history, but Fitzgerald appears to be coming into his own. The sophomore leads the SEC in total yards (3,524) and has really put himself on the national map over these past few months. Sure, Fitzgerald is rather erratic, forces passes, and can be prone to turning the ball over, but the raw talent and athleticism he possesses is undeniable.

 

Fitzgerald is still blossoming as a passer (2,281 yards, 21 TD, 10 INT, 54.5 percent completion rate), but he’s already a legitimate weapon on the ground. He enters this game with 1,243 rushing yards (third in the SEC) and 14 touchdowns. And even though he’s a quarterback, whose rushing totals include yards lost due to sacks, Fitzgerald is averaging an impressive seven yards per carry. Miami’s defense has been solid against the run all season, ranking second in the MAC and holding opponents to 3.9 yards per carry, but it’s safe to say the RedHawks have faced a dual-threat signal-caller whose been as explosive and productive as Fitzgerald.

 

2. ...and Gus Ragland too
Over the first six games of the season, Miami’s offense was stagnant, averaging a measly 17 points per game. After the 0-6 start, head coach Chuck Martin made the switch from sophomore Billy Bahl to classmate Ragland at quarterback. The change clearly worked, as the RedHawks’ offense became a force, averaging nearly 30 points per contest and helping fuel the six-game winning streak that earned them a bowl invitation.

 

And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Ragland has been efficient (62.4 percent completion rate) and mistake-free (15 TD, 0 INT) since assuming the reins. This game will present an interesting test for Ragland and Miami’s offense, as Mississippi State has had issues on defense all season The Bulldogs are last in the SEC against the pass, giving up 283 yards per game through the air.

 

Mississippi State should have a clear advantage when it comes to talent on both sides of the ball since there’s quite a difference between the MAC and SEC, but Ragland the RedHawks come into this game with plenty of momentum. Will Miami stay hot on offense or can the Bulldogs finally flex their defensive muscles?

 

Related: 20 Players on the Rise Entering College Football's 2016-17 Bowl Season

 

3. Playing for something
It’s easy to forget that any bowl game outside of the College Football Playoff is more or less a glorified exhibition contest. Teams are only allowed 15 additional practices to prep for their bowl games, any game-like contact is limited to a minimum, and defense is often optional once the game starts.

 

Realistically bowl games are boons for recruiting, inflating athletic department egos, and contract leverage for coaches. Players love the travel and gift packages they receive from the bowl committees, as well as the memories with teammates that will last a lifetime, but the will to give maximum effort in a game that means little in the grand scheme isn’t always there. Players treat these games as rewards, which is exactly why I think Miami and Mississippi State will both bring it come kickoff.

 

Although Mississippi State did not win the requisite six games to become bowl eligible, the team’s high APR was enough to merit an invitation. While I’m sure many players are ecstatic to be playing one more game, especially outgoing seniors, the St. Petersburg Bowl doesn't necessary have the majesty of previous bowl destinations like the Orange Bowl (2014) or the Gator Bowl (‘13), and with a rash of injuries that have devastated the Bulldogs this season, it could be understandable if Mullen’s squad comes out flat.

 

Miami, once sitting at 0-6, could have completely given up on this season. Instead, Chuck Martin rallied his team to six straight wins, a .500 record and a trip to St. Petersburg over Christmas. No player on the RedHawks’ roster was on the team that won the 2010 GoDaddy.com Bowl, the last Miami team to go bowling. In fact, since that victory, Miami had won just 13 games – including a 0-12 campaign in 2013 – before reeling off six in a row this season. After an extended period of time residing in the college football abyss, if you will, you better believe these RedHawks are going to be fired up to play the day after Christmas.

 

Final Analysis

 

Mississippi State clearly has the athletic advantage over Miami (Ohio), and I like what Nick Fitzgerald can do to keep defenses guessing, but with the RedHawks’ offense hitting on all cylinders coming into this game I can see Chuck Martin’s squad keeping things close throughout. As long as the Bulldogs don’t run away and hide early, I can see this game being a lot closer than the spread would indicate.

 

Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Miami (Ohio) 28

 

— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.

 

(Gus Ragland photo courtesy of www.miamiredhawks.com)

Teaser:
St. Petersburg Bowl Preview and Prediction: Miami (Ohio) vs. Mississippi State
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/new-york-giants-vs-philadelphia-eagles-preview-and-prediction-2016
Body:

Only one team, the New York Giants, can stop the Dallas Cowboys from capturing the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The chances are slim – it would take a 2-0 finish combined with two straight Cowboys losses – but the Giants (10-4) are finishing strong, riding a wave of momentum behind their stingy defense and exceptional play from wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. A victory Thursday night would secure a playoff berth in head coach Ben McAdoo’s first season, while wins against the Cowboys and Lions the past two weeks have earned them respectability.

 

Philadelphia is headed in the opposite direction, in the midst of 2-9 slog after jumping out to a 3-0 start. But while the Eagles’ playoff hopes have evaporated, this team is relishing playing the role of spoiler. They gave postseason hopefuls Washington and Baltimore all they could handle, losing both games by a combined six points. Doug Pederson’s team also is 4-2 at Lincoln Financial Field and lost to the Giants by just five points in the teams’ first meeting at MetLife Stadium in Week 9. Don’t be surprised if this game turns out more competitive than the records would indicate.

 

Series History: Giants lead 86-81-2 (including playoffs), but have lost four out of the past five meetings with the Eagles.

 

New York at Philadelphia

 

Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 22 at 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Giants -2.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Can Carson Wentz Cut Down on Mistakes?
After a solid start, putting himself out there as an early Offensive Rookie of the Year contender, Wentz has crashed back down to earth. He’s thrown an interception in five straight games (eight total), during which the Eagles have gone 0-5. He’s averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt during that stretch, been hassled in the pocket and looked more like a first-year player trying to survive than a future superstar.

 

Wentz will get a major boost this week with the return of right tackle Lane Johnson from a 10-game suspension. Johnson anchors an offensive line that clearly struggled during his absence; Wentz hasn’t had a QB rating of more than 100 since Johnson hit the sidelines.

 

“I failed the team,” Johnson told philly.com once his suspension was lifted. “That’s on me.” The team was 3-1 before Johnson hit the bench, nearly 4-0 until the Lions pulled off a late rally.

 

But offensive coordinator Frank Reich said Johnson is ready to make up for lost time. "I know it sounds corny, but you could feel the energy,” he said. “You could feel it bottled up. You could sense it ready to go.”

 

Certainly, the offense is happy to have this former first-rounder back in the fold. However, Wentz must take responsibility for his mistakes the past two months and his honeymoon period is ending. There’s clearly a learning curve involved in learning the quarterback position in the NFL, but Wentz raised expectations during a fast start. He needs two solid games with his offensive line back intact to regain confidence heading into the offseason.

 

The Giants should give Wentz hope for recovery. He passed for a season-high 364 yards against them earlier this season but, once again it was two critical interceptions that made the difference in a 28-23 road loss. This team can’t keep turning the ball over early on offense and expect to play from behind.

 

2. Can Odell Beckham Jr. be Stopped?
In one sense, the Eagles did a great job on Beckham in their first meeting. His 46 receiving yards represent his season low against NFC East teams and his second-fewest in any game. He managed just 23 against Minnesota in Week 4. But while the yards may not have been there, Beckham still caught two touchdowns against Philadelphia and was a difference-maker for the Giants’ offense when needed.

 

Beckham, among four Giants named to the Pro Bowl (Landon Collins, Janoris Jenkins, Dwayne Harris) earlier this week, has come on strong over the past two months. He’s currently tied for third in the NFL in receptions (85) and touchdown catches (10), and is fourth in receiving yards (1,173). The offense really seems to thrive or struggled based on how well Beckham does, so the Eagles must find a way to keep him in check, forcing Eli Manning to look elsewhere and putting more pressure on the Giants’ nearly non-existent running game (81.2 ypg, 30th in the league).

 

3. Can Ryan Mathews Stay Hot?
Baltimore entered last week with the NFL’s No. 1 rushing defense, but that didn’t stop Mathews from pounding out a season-high 128 yards on the ground. Those types of games from the former Pro Bowler have been few and far between this season, but maybe last week was an indication that Mathews is finally healthy and ready to be the lead back the Eagles need him to be.

 

This game should be good barometer to see if Mathews is peaking, since New York is sixth in the league against the run (90.1 ypg). Last week, the Giants held the NFC North-leading Lions to just 56 rushing yards, and the week before they kept Ezekiel Elliott out of the end zone. Sure, Elliott gained 107 yards on the ground, but that’s actually below average for the NFL’s leading rusher. It’s also was just the fifth game this season that the Cowboys’ dynamic rookie hadn’t scored.

 

Can Mathews find running room against the Giants, especially with Johnson back in the fold? Or will he be the latest running back to find the going tough against a defense that has established itself as one of the best in the league this season?

 

Final Analysis

 

The Eagles came close to upsetting the apple cart last Sunday against Baltimore and they’re always strong at home. Carson Wentz should get it together, taking a major late-season step while edging his NFC East rival for the first time. It’s hard to imagine the Eagles going 0-6 in this division and the Giants are due for a letdown.

 

The wild card is Eagles’ Pro Bowl defensive lineman Fletcher Cox, who is capable of disrupting Eli Manning’s rhythm and increasing the chances of him making a mistake (or two). Manning threw two interceptions in the teams’ first meeting in early November and he’ll trip up just enough to give Philadelphia the opportunity to even the season series.

 

Prediction: Eagles 20, Giants 17

 

— Written by Tom Bowles, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @NASCARBowles.

 

(Ryan Mathews photo by Drew Hallowell, courtesy of www.philadelphiaeagles.com)

Teaser:
New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Eagles Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:30
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2016-flex-rankings-week-16
Body:

Week 16 is the final week of the fantasy football season, unless your league is just cruel and/or weird. All kidding aside, I hope you aren’t reading this and worrying about a toilet bowl game, or finishing in fifth place. If you are I still hope you win of course, but I am assuming many of you are biting fingernails and worrying about a few vital roster spots and who to play with the goal to take the prized league championship!

 

If your lineup has been stable most of the season fantastic, but for most owners, there's always the chance of a key injury or a suspension or a bust of a draft pick that can make those decisions tough. I certainly hope that isn’t your dilemma this week, but regardless this is where the final edition of AthlonSports.com’s weekly flex rankings can help you.

 

Don’t forget about the other positional rankings and be sure to check back as they will likely change between now and game time, which this week is heavily tilted towards Saturday. Enjoy the holiday weekend, family, gifts and of course, the football! Now go win that title!

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

— Rankings by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Flex Rankings Week 16
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2016-wide-receiver-rankings-week-16
Body:

This is it. It’s Week 16 of the fantasy football season, which means you have made it this far and are one win away from a championship or perhaps still in a position to win some cash in your respective league. This week will especially be busy for just about everyone, and considering most of the games are on Saturday, you will need to get your lineup ready a little earlier than usual.

 

I am hoping AthlonSports.com’s positional rankings helped you to some degree this season, especially if you are still consulting them up until now. I myself had a miserable seasonal league performance, as the best I can do in any of my leagues is third place. Thankfully I have my beloved DFS to fall back on, and most importantly less to worry about on Christmas Eve, which also happens to be my wife’s birthday.

 

The one positive to not having teams in contention, is not worrying about the games too much. Although I would be insane if I said I didn’t want to be playing for a championship. That is the point right?

 

Either way, you got this far, and aside from another week with question marks around Julio Jones (who is expected to play) I hope your lineup that has got you here is healthy and ready to roll.

 

Be sure as always to read the other positional rankings, as well as stay tuned on injuries, and any other news (such as weather) that could impact your lineups. Enjoy the holiday weekend, family, gifts and of course, the football.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

— Rankings by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Wide Receiver Rankings Week 16
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2016-running-back-rankings-week-16
Body:

Over the past four weeks, LeSean McCoy has been a top-three fantasy running back with four straight games of more than 100 yards from scrimmage. He’s rushed for 100 in three of those and has scored a total of five touchdowns during that span as well. This Sunday, he faces Miami and those fantasy owners that started Bilal Powell in Week 15 know that you can run on the Dolphins, especially if you are a running back that catches passes too. McCoy may get a few touchdowns vultured by Mike Gillislee, but his volume and recent production almost makes up for it.

 

Todd Gurley makes a return to the top 10 this week. He faces San Francisco, and if there was ever a time to have a good week, it should be in Week 16, against the defense that allows the most fantasy points to opposing running backs.  Gurley just may redeem his season in Week 16 – although it's likely too late for his frustrated fantasy owners.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

 

— Rankings by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Running Back Rankings Week 16
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2016-tight-end-rankings-week-16
Body:

While the Atlanta defense has been better in the second half of the season, they still are among the most generous towards fantasy tight ends. Greg Olsen has put together two solid games in a row, finishing with more than 80 receiving yards in each game, something he hadn’t done since Week 6. While it has been a bit of a rough stretch for Olsen owners, and he is dealing with a sore elbow, he should do his part in Week 16.

 

Jordan Reed owners, however, should be a little nervous about their guy. He keeps trying to play through the shoulder injury, and he keeps struggling (or gets himself disqualified from games). He's dropped out of the top 10 this week, and even then his No. 11 ranking may be too high. He faces Chicago on Sunday, and the Bears have actually done a decent job against the tight end this season. Between the matchup and his lingering injury, he's a risky TE2 with everything on the line this week.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

 

— Rankings by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Tight End Rankings Week 16
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2016-kicker-rankings-week-16
Body:

As it relates to kickers, the 2016 fantasy season has been all about Justin Tucker. After going three-for-three last week against Philadelphia, Tucker still has yet to miss a field goal or an extra point this season, although the one he had blocked in New England in Week 14 does count as a “miss” on the official stat sheet.

 

Baltimore is in Pittsburgh on Christmas for a game that could determine the AFC North, and even though weather could be a factor, Tucker remains atop the kicker rankings. In Tucker’s case, his track record speaks for itself.

 

Dan Bailey (vs. DET) Steven Hauschka (vs. ARI) won’t have to worry about the weather, so they are both top-five fantasy options. And while Chris Boswell had a high-scoring Week 15 thanks to six made field goals (five from 40-49 yards), he didn't crack the top 20 for Week 16, as Pittsburgh has a tendency to go for two rather than kick the PAT.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

 

— Rankings by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Kicker Rankings Week 16
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2016-defense-special-teams-rankings-week-16
Body:

After Denver shut down Tom Brady and the Patriots last Sunday, the Broncos earned the top spot in the fantasy defense/special teams (DST) Week 16 rankings. Denver will be at Arrowhead Stadium on Christmas night to face Kansas City in a critical AFC West showdown. Both DSTs are great fantasy options for Week 16, as this has the makings of being a low-scoring, defensive struggle.

 

The Tennessee Titans sneak into the top 10 this week, although their defense has struggled recently. However, the Titans are playing Jacksonville this week, which has been a good matchup for opposing DSTs (fifth-most fantasy points allowed) this season. The Jaguars fired head coach Gus Bradley last Sunday, so the team could either rally behind interim Doug Marrone or just pack it in with only two games to play in what has been a disappointing season all around. Either way, the Jags’ offense hasn’t been that special, so the Titans are a good streaming DST option for Week 16.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

 

— Rankings by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Defense/Special Teams Rankings Week 16
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:00
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-2016-quarterback-rankings-week-16
Body:

In Weeks 13 and 14, Drew Brees was pretty much useless to those who owned the usually productive fantasy quarterback. In each of those two games, he threw zero touchdowns and three interceptions. Because of this, and the fact that the stakes were even higher, many chose to bench him in Week 15, due to a combination of his struggles, being on the road in Arizona and having to face one of the toughest pass defenses in the NFL.

 

And all Brees did this past Sunday out in the desert is explode for 389 yards and four touchdowns. This Sunday, Brees gets a second shot at Tampa Bay, against whom he had one of his 0-3 games, but this time it’s at home. It may seem reactionary, but Brees is back atop the quarterback rankings for Week 16.

 

Tom Brady was a disappointment in Week 15, but he was playing Denver’s stout defense on the road. The Broncos have given up the fewest fantasy points to opposing QBs and lived up to their lofty reputations against Brady. But like Brees, Brady is back at home this week, against the New York Jets, and is a clear-cut, top-three option for fantasy championship week.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

 

 

 

— Rankings by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Cheat Sheet: Quarterback Rankings Week 16
Post date: Thursday, December 22, 2016 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, syndicated, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/nfl-best-daily-fantasy-football-lineups-fanduel-and-draftkings-week-16-2016
Body:

It is Christmas week(end) folks and that means there is plenty to do and going on, especially on the fantasy front. Because of the holiday, the NFL schedule looks a little different with 12 games on Saturday and just two on Sunday. This means you won’t have an extra day to prepare your lineups, whether that’s for a daily contest or seasonal league. Then again, if you are in the latter and playing for a championship this shouldn’t matter that much because my guess is you are ready to get the games started.

 

It has been an interesting fantasy season to say the least and I will miss NFL DFS now that I have been winning on a regular basis over the past five weeks. I know it took me a while to get to this point, but what can you do?

 

Whatever your preference, I wish you the best as we wrap up this season, and hopefully your Christmas will be splendid and filled with family, food and gifts. And what could help make it a little bit better and brighter? Why winning money from a league championship and/or some DFS contests of course.

 

What I will be doing in this space is sharing my top plays for the week, a value play, and most importantly a lineup or two. I will likely be focusing on cash games (50/50 and Double Up) and not GPP (tournaments, multi-player) contests. My Week 15 lineups should work in both formats.

 

So let’s get into my top plays, value play and lineups for Week 16 shall we? As always any questions, arguments, or glowing praise can be sent to me via Twitter @fantsychillpony.

 

Week 16 Top Plays

 

These will be my top plays of the week. These are players who I will try to have in as many lineups of mine as possible. If I can, I will use all three in one lineup. A reminder for cash games: going with an elite quarterback is typically recommended. If you opt for a value quarterback he MUST meet value for your loaded lineup to be worth it.

 

QB: Drew Brees, New Orleans vs. Tampa Bay ($8,500 FanDuel/$7,400 DraftKings)

Brees certainly rewarded owners last week who stuck with him after his two abysmal performances in Weeks 13 and 14. This week, he’s back at home where he typically can thrive, and faces a Buccaneers team that allows the fourth-most passing yards per game and the sixth-most fantasy points to quarterbacks. I realize last time Brees was mentioned here he was in an even better spot against Detroit and laid an egg. This time and after last week I am confident for him to continue his home-field dominance and meet value.

 

RB: David Johnson, Arizona at Seattle ($8,700 FanDuel/$9,200 DraftKings)

This may be one of the toughest matchups for Johnson this season. Seattle is No. 2 against the run, so he will not be a shoo-in for 20-plus fantasy points as he has been all season. However, he is such a volume hog in the Cardinals’ offense that no matter how good the Seahawks are against the run Johnson will be catching passes, and getting touches. If you are willing to take a risk, and spend up (especially in GPP) Johnson could be a great play. DeMarco Murray may be a safer play for those who are risk-averse or in cash games this week ($8,400 on FanDuel, $7,000 on DraftKings).

 

WR: Jordy Nelson, Green Bay vs. Minnesota ($7,800 FanDuel/$7,000 DraftKings)

Nelson is coming off of a big Week 15 and seemingly back to his old pre-injury self. And it couldn’t have come a better time for the player or his team. Over the last three games, Nelson has averaged nine targets per game and has two 100-yard games and a total of three touchdowns during that span. With 22.4, 22.1, and 28.8 DraftKings points over his last three he is red hot. The issue is he will likely be matched up against Minnesota’s Xavier Rhodes, who has been one of the best shutdown cornerbacks this season. Playing at home, I still like Nelson to find the end zone at some point, although he may not get a bunch of yards. Aaron Rodgers loves throwing the deep ball to Nelson, although you don’t get fantasy points for any pass interference calls he draws.

 

TE: Cameron Brate, Tampa Bay at New Orleans ($5,600 FanDuel/$3,900 DraftKings)

Brate has scored at least eight DraftKings points over his last four games with two monster games of 20.6 and then 18.3 last week. This week Brate gets the Saints, who have struggled some against tight ends (21st vs. position). Brate is averaging better than five targets over his last four games and has found the end zone twice during this stretch. I like his odds to score double-digit points this week, even if he doesn’t get a touchdown.

 

Value Play of the Week

 

Rishard Matthews, Tennessee at Jacksonville ($5,700 FanDuel/$4,900 DraftKings)

Matthews has been one of the more consistent wide receivers over the last six games. Aside from his Week 14 stinker (3.8 points on DraftKings) he has produced 15 or more fantasy points each week. The Jaguars actually have done pretty well against the pass, so the matchup is not ideal. But assuming Matthews gets around six targets and a touchdown he can easily hit three times his value. It’s risky, but aren’t all value plays just that?

 

The Lineup(s)

 

This week I am only posting one lineup for each site. Again these are lineups that should work well, in addition to encompassing my top plays for the week in some fashion. However, I don’t recommend only using this lineup. Find values and mix it up. Making your lineup your own is more fun and challenging.

 

This week I constructed a lineup I will be playing in both types of games (Cash and GPP) on both sites.

 

FanDuel Cash/GPP Lineup

 

DraftKings Cash/GPP Lineup

 

— Written by Chris Meyers, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the FSWA. Meyers' work appears on many other sites, including socalledfantasyexperts.com. Follow him on Twitter @FantsyChillpony.

Teaser:
NFL Best Daily Fantasy Football Lineups for FanDuel and DraftKings (Week 16)
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 11:30
Path: /college-football/hawaii-bowl-preview-and-prediction-hawaii-vs-mtsu-2016
Body:

The pre-Christmas portion of college football's 2016-17 bowl slate concludes on Dec. 24, as MTSU makes the long trek to Honolulu to take on Hawaii in the Hawaii Bowl. The Rainbow Warriors are back in the postseason for the first time since 2010 and have to defend their home turf in Aloha Stadium against the Blue Raiders. MTSU is making its second consecutive bowl trip and has earned a postseason bid in three out of the last four years.

 

Under new coach Nick Rolovich, Hawaii showed marked improvement after a 3-10 record in 2015. The Rainbow Warriors finished 6-7 – the program’s first season of more than four wins since 2011 – and were on the cusp of a winning record with two losses by seven points or less. Rolovich’s team had a brutal schedule to start 2016, as Hawaii played California in Australia in the first game of the year, then battled Michigan in Ann Arbor the following Saturday. After a home date against UT Martin, the Rainbow Warriors went back to mainland to play Arizona on Sept. 17. Despite the tough schedule, Hawaii scrapped and fought to get to six wins and ended the year on a two-game winning streak.

 

Related: College Football 2016 All-America Team

 

MTSU has become one of Conference USA’s most consistent programs under coach Rick Stockstill, recording five consecutive seasons of at least a .500 record. The Blue Raiders finished 8-4 in 2016 but two of those losses came without quarterback Brent Stockstill. The sophomore suffered a collarbone injury in the 45-25 loss against UTSA and his status for the Hawaii Bowl is one of the biggest storylines surrounding this game. MTSU also lost at Vanderbilt (47-24) and lost by one point in overtime against eventual C-USA champ WKU (44-43).

 

This is the second meeting between Hawaii and MTSU. The Rainbow Warriors defeated the Blue Raiders 35-14 in Honolulu in 1999. Hawaii is 3-4 in seven previous appearances in the Hawaii Bowl. However, the Rainbow Warriors are 0-3 in their last three bowl trips. MTSU has also lost its last three bowl games and has just one postseason victory in six postseason contests.

 

MTSU vs. Hawaii (Hawaii Bowl)

 

Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: No Line

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Brent Stockstill or John Urzua?

As mentioned above, the status of MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill is the biggest storyline surrounding this game. Can Stockstill return to the starting lineup just over a month removed from a collarbone injury against UTSA? On Friday, all signs suggested Stockstill was set to return to the lineup and cleared to play. Prior to the injury, Stockstill was on pace for another prolific season. The sophomore threw for 2,801 yards and 27 scores in nine contests and also added 232 yards on the ground. Stockstill is practicing but no announcement from MTSU is expected prior to kickoff. If Stockstill doesn’t start or is ruled out, the Blue Raiders will turn to John Urzua. The redshirt freshman gained valuable experience over the last four weeks in the regular season and threw for 816 yards and eight scores in 2016. Urzua was injured in the finale against FAU, prompting receivers Dennis Andrews and Richie James and running back I’Tavius Mathers to attempt passes.

 

Stockstill is clearly the better quarterback and one of the best in the Group of 5 ranks when healthy. If Stockstill starts, he faces an enticing matchup against a Hawaii secondary ranked 117th nationally in pass efficiency defense. No spread is listed for this game due to the uncertainty surrounding Stockstill’s status. Assuming he plays, Stockstill would swing this matchup in favor of MTSU.

 

Related: Predictions for Every College Football Bowl Game

 

2. Hawaii’s Ground Attack

Rolovich comes from the Run-and-Shoot offensive style under former coach June Jones, but the Rainbow Warriors were more of a balanced attack in 2016. The offense ranked fourth in the Mountain West with 222.3 passing yards per game, and the ground attack ranked 10th by recording 160.6 yards per contest.

 

Senior Ikaika Woolsey opened the season as the starting quarterback but was replaced by Dru Brown on Sept. 17 against Nevada. The sophomore had his share of ups and downs as the starter but posted an overall solid year for his first action at the FBS level. Brown threw for 2,214 yards and 15 scores and completed 62 percent of his throws, while also adding 283 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Receiver Marcus Kemp (70 catches) is Brown’s go-to target, with John Ursua (47) and Dylan Collie (29) also working as key contributors in the passing attack.

 

Brown’s development during bowl practices is a storyline to watch, but the focus of Hawaii’s offense on Saturday night should be the running game. The Blue Raiders ranked seventh in Conference USA in rush defense, allowing just under 200 yards per game (198.2) this season. Additionally, MTSU surrendered 35 rushing scores and gave up at least 200 yards in five out of the last six contests. The Rainbow Warriors use a trio of running backs to anchor the ground attack, as Diocemy Saint Juste leads the team with 836 yards, followed by Paul Harris (537) and Steven Lakalaka (415). Saint Juste and Harris provide more big-play ability to the rushing game, while Lakalaka (210 pounds) is a force around the goal line with 12 touchdowns.

 

MTSU’s rush defense has been problematic all year and has another tough assignment ahead on Saturday night. If Hawaii establishes the run and controls the clock, Stockstill or Urzua will have a few less opportunities to attack a suspect secondary. The Rainbow Warriors rank last in the Mountain West in third-down offense and the Blue Raider defense would like to keep this unit in third-and-long situations.

 

3. MTSU’s Dynamic Playmakers

Regardless of which quarterback starts on Saturday night, the gameplan for MTSU coordinator Tony Franklin is pretty simple: Find ways to get the ball in the hands of I’Tavius Mathers and receiver Richie James. Mathers finished second among rushers in Conference USA during the regular season by recording 1,504 yards and 16 scores on 220 attempts. He was also a big factor in the passing game, catching 62 passes for 589 yards and three touchdowns. James needs just three receptions to reach the 100-catch mark for the second consecutive year. The sophomore grabbed 97 receptions for 1,463 yards and 11 touchdowns and also added 300 rushing yards and for scores on the ground. James isn’t the only target in the receiving corps. Ty Lee (53 catches), Dennis Andrews (28) and Patrick Smith (28) are key weapons for Stockstill or Urzua.

 

How can Hawaii contain MTSU’s offense? A deep look at the numbers shows coordinator Kevin Lempa is going to have his hands full. Hawaii’s defense ranks ninth in the Mountain West by surrendering 6.3 yards per play and last by giving up 37.5 points per game. In addition to those totals, the Rainbow Warriors have forced just 14 turnovers and allowed 37 plays of 30 yards or more.

 

Winning the battle in the trenches is essential for Hawaii after allowing 243.8 rushing yards per game this year. If Mathers is able to find running room, it won’t matter whether Stockstill or Urzua starts. The Rainbow Warriors haven’t allowed a ton of big plays through the air, so this unit will make Stockstill or Urzua work their way down the field in small chunks.

 

James and Mathers are two of the best skill players Hawaii has played this season. Can Lempa find a way to keep these two players in check?

 

Final Analysis

 

It may seem like a broken record, but let’s state it once again: The status of MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill is going to have a huge impact on this game. Stockstill was cleared to play, which should help the Blue Raiders win this one by a touchdown (or more). The sophomore could be rusty in his return, but running back I’Tavius Mathers and receiver Richie James will be enough to keep the offense moving at a high level. However, if Stockstill doesn’t play, the margin for error for MTSU gets a little smaller. Regardless of what happens with the quarterback situation for MTSU, Hawaii’s offense is going to give its share of headaches to Stockstill’s defense. The guess here is Stockstill plays and sparks MTSU’s offense to a huge performance on Christmas Eve in Honolulu. Hawaii is headed in the right direction under Rolovich, but there’s just too much firepower on the offense for the Blue Raiders.

 

Prediction: MTSU 41, Hawaii 31
Teaser:
Hawaii Bowl Preview and Prediction: Hawaii vs. MTSU 2016
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NASCAR
Path: /nascar/nascars-new-logos-revealed
Body:

NASCAR New LogoNASCAR has a new look. Well, a new logo at least. NASCAR unveiled a new official brand identity which will replace the bar mark used by the sanctioning body going back to 1976.

 

NASCAR's Old Logo

How does it differ from the old logo? There's not a dramatic difference. Here's the old NASCAR logo for comparison.

 

The announcement was made in conjunction with news that Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will be the new name of the sport’s premier series, beginning January 1, 2017. Monster Engergy will replace Sprint as the primary sponsor of the series.


The new brand mark and Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series mark, which prominently features the iconic Monster Energy logo (pictured below), together represent a new era in NASCAR and were first shared today across NASCAR social and digital media channels.  

 

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Logo


The NASCAR brand identity has been in development since early 2016 as part of a broader effort to refresh the NASCAR brand. It was designed to pay tribute to the storied history of NASCAR, incorporating elements of all four previous marks since the company’s inaugural season of 1948.

 
"Our new NASCAR mark is modern, timeless, and embraces the heritage of our sport," said Jill Gregory, NASCAR senior vice president and chief marketing officer. "It was important for us to recognize our history and implement a piece of each previous mark in the new design. Our goal was to evolve the sport’s visual identity to make it concise, relevant and functional, while respecting and maintaining the unique qualities of the original mark."


The first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points race will be the 59th running of the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 26 (2 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). 

 

Check out the entire 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Schedule to see more. 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 10:42
Path: /college-football/acc-all-freshman-team-2016
Body:

With two of the nation’s best in Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson leading the way, quarterback play was a strength across the ACC in 2016. And the future of the position is in good hands in this league, as Florida State’s Deondre Francois and Duke’s Daniel Jones posted solid debuts this fall and headline the 2016 ACC All-Freshman Team by Athlon Sports. The strength of the 2016 freshman class in the ACC was on defense, as Florida State end Brian Burns, Clemson tackle Dexter Lawrence and Miami linebacker Shaq Quarterman were among the best in the nation at their position with freshmen contributors.

 

With bowl games up next, it’s time to look back the 2016 season and hand out some hardware to the league’s top freshmen. 

 

Related: College Football 2016 Postseason All-America Team

 

Which freshmen had the best year in the ACC this fall? Here is the 2016 Athlon Sports ACC All-Freshman Team:

 

ACC All-Freshman Team for 2016
 

First-Team

Offense

Second-Team

Offense

QB

Deondre Francois

Florida State 

Daniel Jones

Duke 

RB

Dedrick Mills

Georgia Tech

Chawntez Moss

Pitt 

RB

Cade Carney

Wake Forest 

Moe Neal

Syracuse 

AP

Davon Jones

Boston College  

Sean Riley

Syracuse 

WR

Ahmmon Richards

Miami 

Tre Tipton

Pitt 

WR

Kelvin Harmon

NC State 

Aaron Young

Duke 

TE

Carl Tucker

North Carolina 

Seth Dawkins (WR)

Louisville 

C

Colin Byrne

Syracuse 

Evan Adams (OL)

Syracuse 

OL

Parker Braun

Georgia Tech 

Sean Pollard

Clemson 

OL

Landon Dickerson

Florida State 

Jahaziel Lee

Georgia Tech 

OL

Tommy Hatton

North Carolina 

Zach Baker

Duke 

OL

Elijah Johnson

Boston College 

Tremayne Anchrum

Clemson 

     
 

First-Team

Defense

Second-Team

Defense

DL

Brian Burns

Florida State 

Trevon Hill/Tim Settle

Virginia Tech 

DL

Dexter Lawrence

Clemson 

Aaron Crawford

North Carolina 

DL

Joe Jackson

Miami 

Josh Black

Syracuse 

DL

Clelin Ferrell

Clemson 

Eli Hanback

Virginia 

LB

Joe Giles-Harris

Duke 

Jordan Mack

Virginia 

LB

Shaq Quarterman

Miami 

Zach McCloud

Miami 

LB

Michael Pinckney

Miami 

Mark Gilbert (DB)

Duke  

DB

Amari Henderson

Wake Forest 

Kyle Meyers

Florida State 

DB

Jessie Bates 

Wake Forest 

Malek Young

Miami 

DB

Levonta Taylor

Florida State 

Christopher Fredrick

Syracuse 

DB

Bryce Hall

Virginia 

Patrice Rene

North Carolina 

     
 

First-Team

Specialists

Second-Team

Specialists

K

Ricky Aguayo

Florida State 

N/A
P

Sterling Hofrichter

Syracuse 

Dom Maggio

Wake Forest 

KR

Joe Reed

Virginia 

Sean Riley 

Syracuse 

PR

Jessie Bates

Wake Forest 

Sean Riley

Syracuse 

 

Teaser:
ACC All-Freshman Team for 2016
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/dollar-general-bowl-preview-and-prediction-ohio-bobcats-vs-troy-trojans-2016
Body:

The Ohio Bobcats and Troy Trojans arrive in Mobile, Alabama, for the Dollar General Bowl fresh off of solid seasons where both teams nearly won conference titles. Their consolation prize is a trip to the Gulf Coast for what appears to be an underrated and hotly contested matchup between two of the finest programs in the Group of Five.

 

The Dollar General Bowl will feature a clash of styles, as Frank Solich's Bobcats subscribe to that stereotypical "rust belt" toughness — grinding out wins with a stingy defense and a consistent rushing attack. Troy head coach Neal Brown employs a more wide-open offensive style predicated on the big play. Defensively, the Trojans employ an aggressive, attacking approach that can be suffocating, but also leaves the door open for disciplined opponents to score on big plays of their own.

 

Dollar General Bowl: Ohio vs. Troy (Mobile, Ala.)

 

Kickoff: Friday, Dec. 23 at 8 p.m. ET

Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (Mobile, Ala.)

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Troy -4

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. The Coaching Matchup: Old School vs. New School

Troy head coach Neal Brown is one of college football's youngest head coaches and a name to keep an eye on in the coming years when some high-profile jobs open up. As previously mentioned, he employs a "pin your ears back" style on both sides of the ball – an exciting brand of football that is sure to attract top-notch schools looking to re-energize their programs. For now, Brown needs to focus on facing one of the most seasoned head coached in the FBS ranks, Frank Solich. The Ohio Bobcats are a reflection of their coach — calm and calculated. Solich will have his team focused, disciplined and ready to pounce as soon at the Trojans take too big of a gamble on either side of the ball.

 

2. A Couple of Possible Future NFL Starters at Skill Positions
If you are looking for some future fantasy football "diamonds in the rough" or even some sleepers who could one day help your favorite NFL teams, this game has two players for you to keep an eye on. Ohio’s Sebastian Smith is your prototypical big-bodied No. 1 wide receiver. His size (6-3, 206) and leaping ability make him a nightmare to cover in the red zone, and his ability to win those jump balls could be the difference in this one.

 

When Troy has the ball, it won't be hard to notice Trojan running back Jordan Chunn. He's a big (6-1, 231), powerful back in the mold of LSU's Leonard Fournette. Chunn has no problem running over linebackers in the trenches and running past safeties in the open field. He'll be the x-factor for Troy against a physical Ohio defense.

 

3. Ohio Quarterbacks vs. Troy Secondary
We could see both Greg Windham and Quinton Maxwell under center in this game for the Bobcats. Regardless of who is taking the snaps and when, short, high-percentage passes are going to be Ohio's best bet for moving the ball through the air. Troy picked off 18 passes this season — seventh most in the FBS. The Trojans’ ball-hawking secondary will be foaming at the mouth for Ohio to take shots downfield and over the middle. It will all come down to the discipline of the Bobcats’ passing attack as to whether or not Troy can add a couple of more interceptions to their season total and change the momentum of what should be a close game.

 

Final Analysis

 

This is going to be a fun game to watch on a Friday night, as two well-coached teams take turns delivering body shots. You get the sense, however, that Ohio might be on the defensive most of the time, trying to contain Troy's explosive offense and working too hard on not making its own mistakes when the Bobcats have the ball. That's not going to be a recipe for success against these Trojans, who are constantly attacking and playing to win by any means necessary. Look for a couple of early turnovers to be the catalysts that gives Troy the lead, allowing the team from the Sun Belt to control the rest of the game by feeding the ball to star running back Jordan Chunn.

 

Prediction: Troy 30, Ohio 20

 

— Written by J.P. Scott, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. His work has appeared on SI.com, FoxSports.com, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @TheJPScott.

 

(Jordan Chunn photo courtesy of www.troytrojans.com; Sebastian Smith photo courtesy of www.ohiobobcats.com)

Teaser:
Dollar General Bowl Preview and Prediction: Ohio vs. Troy
Post date: Wednesday, December 21, 2016 - 10:00

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