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The Big Ten played a lot of dramatic and exciting games in 2014.
Unfortunately, when it came to non-conference contests, the league didn’t win too many of them. However, an entire year of disappointment can all be washed away by two great showings by Ohio State in the College Football Playoff.
But, in the meantime, here are the best and most exciting Big Ten games of the 2014 season:
1. (14) Ohio St 49, (8) Michigan St 37
Nov. 8, East Lansing
There wasn’t a Hail Mary or last-second field goal, but this was easily the most important Big Ten game of the year. Ohio State went on the road and matched the Spartans punch for punch. In the end, J.T. Barrett and Ezekiel Elliott were too much for the defending champs. The win set up the Buckeyes for a run at the College Football Playoff.
2. (13) Ohio St 31, Penn St 24 (2OT)
Oct. 25, State College
Barrett played one of the worst games of his season while Penn State played arguably its best as a team, coming from 17 points back to force overtime. Yet, after two overtimes and four turnovers, Penn State’s offensive line woes eventually cost the Lions the game. Joey Bosa capped a remarkable evening with a game-ending sack on fourth down in double overtime.
3. (25) Minnesota 28, (23) Nebraska 24
Nov. 22, Lincoln
With just minutes left in the game and trailing, it appeared that Nebraska had made the game-winning play. But Jerry Kill’s Gophers, without running back David Cobb no less, once again made an unexpected play. Briean Boddy-Calhoun capped an epic road comeback for Minnesota when he ripped the ball away from Nebraska on his own goal line with 1:19 left in the game. It was Minnesota’s first win in Nebraska since 1960.
4. Nebraska 37, Iowa 34 (OT)
Nov. 28, Iowa City
The Huskers had lost two straight and were trailing 24-7 late in the third quarter when Tommy Armstrong led one of the most improbable comebacks in school history. Armstrong led three touchdown drives over the final 20 minutes, capped off by the game-tying drive that ended with eight seconds left in the game and then threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Kenny Bell in overtime — his fourth of the game.
5. Indiana 31, (18) Missouri 27
Sept. 20, Columbia
The biggest non-conference win and biggest upset of the year — regardless of conference — came from Kevin Wilson’s bunch in Columbia, Mo. Tevin Coleman rushed for 132 yards, Nate Sudfeld was excellent and D’Angelo Roberts scored the game-winning touchdown with just 22 seconds left. The SEC East champs lost just twice in the regular season.
6. (3) Oregon 46, (7) Michigan St 27
Sept. 6, Eugene
Few gave the Spartans a chance to go to Autzen Stadium and win. But through three quarters, everyone in Eugene had respect for Michigan State. The Spartans gave the Ducks all they could take until a late tipped interception landed in the hands of All-American corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. The Ducks surged over the final few minutes, making the game look more lopsided than it actually was.
7. (14) Wisconsin 34, (18) Minnesota 24
Nov. 29, Madison
It’s the most played rivalry in college football and never before was as much on the line when these two got together to end the season. The Gophers jumped out to a 17-3 second-quarter lead before the Badgers rattled off 24 unanswered points and eventually held on for the win and the Big Ten West crown. Melvin Gordon also broke Ron Dayne’s single-season B1G rushing record in the process.
8. (13) LSU 28, (14) Wisconsin 24
Aug. 30, Houston
The Badgers jumped out to a huge lead behind a monster first half from Melvin Gordon. But after trailing 24-7 midway through the third quarter, LSU flipped a switch on defense and stuffed UW the rest of the way. Meanwhile, the Tigers' offense made just enough plays to eke out a four-point win on a neutral field.
9. Rutgers 41, Maryland 38
Nov. 29, College Park
Down 35-10 as the first half was ending, Gary Nova began what would turn out to be the biggest comeback in Rutgers history. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, Nova was leading Rutgers on a game-tying drive. With 6:14 left, the Knights kicked the eventual game-winning field goal, outscoring the Terps 31-3 over the final 32 minutes of play. Ralph Friedgen triumphantly returned to his old stomping grounds in dramatic fashion.
10. West Virginia 40, Maryland 37
Sept. 13, College Park
It wasn’t the prettiest football, but it sure was entertaining. Clint Trickett (511 yds) and C.J. Brown (402 yds of total offense) battled for 60 minutes until West Virginia kicked a 47-yard field goal as time expired to defeat the Terps. These two teams scored in every imaginable way but the Mountaineers were able to overcome four turnovers to win on the road.
The Best of the Rest:
11. (8) Ohio St 31, (25) Minnesota 24
12. Virginia Tech 35, (8) Ohio St 21
13. Rutgers 41, Washington St 38
14. (10) Michigan St 27, (19) Nebraska 22
15. (6) Ohio St 42, Michigan 28
16. Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42
17. Maryland 23, Michigan 16
18. Penn St 26, UCF 24
19. (24) Nebraska 41, Miami 31
20. (20) Wisconsin 59, (16) Nebraska 24
21. Maryland 20, Penn St 19
22. Northwestern 20, (17) Wisconsin 14
23. (16) Wisconsin 26, Iowa 24
24. Minnesota 39, Purdue 38
25. Illinois 28, Minnesota 24
Kendrick Perkins is one of the biggest trash talkers in the NBA. So it comes as no surprise that he’s gotten under the skin of yet another league star.
"He might as well play with his face painted, he's a clown to me," Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay told Kings blog Sactown Royalty. "You can quote that. He's a clown to me. He might as well play with his face painted.”
Gay’s choice words were a response to what Perkins was caught saying about the Kings during a November 9 contest between Sacramento and Perkins’ Oklahoma City Thunder. “These m—————— are still the Sacramento Kings,” Perkins said in the game — which OKC eventually won, 101-93 — caught here in Vine form (NSFW):
“I’d rather be a clown than a virus,” Perkins said about Gay’s most recent comments, implying that Gay’s movement around the league (this is his third team in as many seasons) is due to having an unsavory personality.
As has been the case throughout his career, Perk continues to impact the game in ways well beyond the box score. A consistent minus in nearly every statistical category, Perkins’ worth to the surging Thunder is in the scowl department. His mean, aggressive style helps his men feel backed-up, cohesive and confident. That’s what he gets paid for.
Gay, on the other hand, is enjoying the best play of his career, reminding the world of the potential they saw in him years ago. Averaging 21.1 points per game, his performance is now a silver lining for a Kings squad that’s fallen into confusion and controversy with the prolonged sickness of franchise man DeMarcus Cousins, and the sudden firing of head coach Mike Malone.
Just when you thought the Kings might be responsible for some good, competitive basketball again, they jump back into headlines for all the wrong, ridiculous reasons. Let the folly continue.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 16:
• Average home attendance for every FBS school. It's getting tough to fill seats.
• Here's Tom Izzo playing Christmas songs on the accordion, and reminding us all we hate the accordion.
• In case you were wondering, here's how the Internet actually works.
• John Wall and Liam Neeson star in a "Taken"-inspired promo.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The impact of freshmen on a college football season seems to grow each year. There’s no shortage of talent in the freshmen ranks in 2014, with several making a splash on the national stage. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was considered one of the candidates to go to New York for the Heisman ceremony prior to his season-ending leg injury against Michigan. In addition to Barrett, Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine broke the single-game rushing record set by Melvin Gordon, while Royce Freeman was a key cog in Oregon’s Pac-12 Championship.
The overload of freshmen talent continued on defense with the emergence of Texas A&M defensive lineman Myles Garrett and Virginia safety Quin Blanding. Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett had a breakout year and is a key piece of coach Butch Jones’ rebuilding effort in Knoxville.
Compiling the all-freshman team is no easy task. Several worthy players missed the cut, as we tried to combine stats, talent and playing time to piece together the all-freshman teams for 2014.
College Football's 2014 Postseason All-Freshman Team
|First-Team Offense||Second-Team Offense||Third-Team Offense|
|QB J.T. Barrett|
|QB Anu Solomon|
|QB Brad Kaaya|
|RB Samaje Perine|
|RB Jarvion Franklin|
|RB Leonard Fournette|
|RB Nick Chubb|
|RB Dalvin Cook|
|RB Justin Jackson|
|RB Royce Freeman|
|RB Nick Wilson|
|RB Larry Rose III|
|WR KD Cannon|
|WR Artavis Scott|
|WR DaeSean Hamilton|
|WR Mike Dudek|
|WR Devonte Boyd|
|WR Devon Allen|
|TE Bucky Hodges|
|TE Austin Hooper|
|TE Cam Serigne|
|OL Cam Robinson|
|OL Mason Cole|
|OL Viane Talamaivao|
|OL Rod Johnson|
|OL Jashon Robertson|
|OL Tyrell Crosby|
|OL Toa Lobendahn|
|OL Billy Price|
|OL Reggie Bain|
|OL Tejan Koroma|
|OL Andrew Nelson|
|OL Wyatt Teller|
OL Conor McDermott
|OL Ramsey Meyers|
|OL Brian Allen|
|AP Adoree Jackson|
|AP Speedy Noil|
|AP Jalin Marshall|
|First-Team Defense||Second-Team Defense||Third-Team Defense|
|DL Myles Garrett|
|DL Davon Godchaux|
|DL Javon Rolland-Jones|
|DL Derek Barnett|
|DL Lowell Lotulelei|
|DL Kemoko Turay|
|DL Marquis Haynes|
|DL Steven Richardson|
|DL Tashon Smallwood|
|DL KeShun Freeman|
|DL K.J. Smith|
|DL Malik McDowell|
|LB Lorenzo Carter|
|LB Jerod Fernandez|
|LB Peter Kalambayi|
|LB Darron Lee|
|LB Ja'Whaun Bentley|
|LB Nigel Bowden|
|LB Taylor Young|
|LB D.J. Calhoun|
|LB Armand Perry|
|LB Raekwon McMillan|
|DB Dravon Henry|
|DB Parry Nickerson|
|DB Eli Apple|
|DB Kamari Cotton-Moya|
|DB Marcus Allen|
|DB Budda Baker|
|DB Armani Watts|
|DB Jalen Tabor|
|DB Quin Blanding|
|DB Ranthony Texada|
|DB Nick Johnson|
|DB Jamal Adams|
|DB Mackensie Alexander|
|DB Sidney Jones|
|First-Team Specialists||Second-Team Specialists||Third-Team Specialists|
|K Matthew McCrane|
|K Rafael Gaglianone|
|K Austin MacGinnis|
|P JK Scott|
|P Joe Davidson|
|P Will Gleeson|
|KR Stanley Williams|
|KR Darius Phillips|
|KR Evan Berry|
|PR De'Mornay Pierson-El|
|PR Charles Nelson|
PR Isaiah McKenzie
The Miami Heat made some moves this summer, to try making up for the gaping hole in their talent level caused when LeBron James announced he’d be heading back to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The moves haven’t worked, as the injury-riddled Heat are just 11-13 and struggling to stay in the playoff picture — even in the soft Eastern Conference. Things aren’t getting any easier, either: Monday, the team announced that new small forward Josh McRoberts would need surgery to repair a recently torn meniscus. McRoberts, an under-the-radar player with a versatile offensive skill set, could miss the rest of the year.
Perennial All-Star Chris Bosh, simultaneously, is said to be out indefinitely with a strained calf. And Dwyane Wade, as is well known by now, has long been hard to rely on for consistent action on the floor. He’s a factory of pain these days, as he been for some time.
"Injuries are a part of this game; how you respond to adversities, to things that are tough, that's what reveals your collective character as a group,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told ESPN’s Mike Wallace. "I told the guys there will be brighter days. It always usually evens out at the end. We're being hit pretty strong with the injury bug right now.”
Now that the King is gone from South Beach, it’s easier than ever to see just how heavy of a load he carried for Pat Riley’s squad over four seasons. Even with the additions of McRoberts and two-time All-Star Luol Deng, the basketball presence James took with him is extremely noticeable. A former 50-win team (at worst) is now battling hard just to tread water.
Hope is dim for Heat fans today, but they always have one tantalizing possibility to hold out for: Riley’s masterful touch with big-ticket free agents. Come 2015 or '16, you know he’ll be poised to make another home run signing, to bring Miami back closer to the promised land.
— John Wilmes
The gap has certainly closed but the SEC is still college football's premier conference.
The No. 1 team in the nation, the toughest division in football, a glut of Heisman Trophy candidates and nationally relevant coaches made the SEC must-see TV this fall.
But it wasn’t just the Iron Bowl, Les Miles or the ACC-SEC round-robin that made the SEC great theatre this fall. A coaching change/search at one of the league’s most powerful programs, the rise of the Magnolia State into national prominence and the advent of a four-team College Football Playoff made the 2014 campaign a season no SEC fan will ever forget.
Here are the most memorable SEC games of the year:
1. (11) Ole Miss 23, (3) Alabama 17
For about seven minutes, Bo Wallace was downright brilliant and Alabama's special teams were not. Two Wallace touchdown passes and two 'Bama turnovers led to a historic and memorable victory over the Tide in "College GameDay’s" first-ever visit to The Grove.
2. (1) Alabama 55, (15) Auburn 44
While there was no SEC West or SEC title hanging in the balance, the intensity still delivered for these two hated rivals. Neither team played much defense in this record-setting Iron Bowl, as Alabama outscored Auburn 34-10 over the following 23 minutes after trailing by 12 in the third quarter. The win kept 'Bama in the playoff picture.
3. (5) Alabama 20, (16) LSU 13 (OT)
Always physical and always intense, the heavily-favored Crimson Tide needed a historic drive from Blake Sims to defeat the Tigers. Sims led 'Bama 55 yards over the final 50 seconds to tie the game before going on to win in overtime.
4. (3) Auburn 35, (4) Ole Miss 31
Literally and figuratively, the Rebels' home loss to Auburn might be one of the most painful in school or SEC history. No one on either side of the ledger will forget when Laquon Treadwell fumbled and broke his leg with 1:30 to go, as he was falling into the end zone for the game-winning score. The back-and-forth affair never featured a lead of more than seven points.
5. (24) LSU 10, (3) Ole Miss 7
It wasn’t always pretty but it was extremely memorable. The physical units beat each other up for 60 minutes before Ole Miss had a chance to win in the final moments. But a bizarre decision by Bo Wallace (and, to some extent, Hugh Freeze) in the final moments of the game began a tough final month for the Rebs.
6. (24) South Carolina 38, (6) Georgia 35
This SEC East rivalry has become of the most important and entertaining in the league and this year’s version didn’t disappoint. Todd Gurley and Dylan Thompson went back and forth all game while special teams and a goal-line stand played critical roles in the second half.
7. Texas A&M 41, (3) Auburn 38
The thrilling road upset by the Aggies was highlighted by two of the most bizarre fumbles the SEC has ever seen. After a furious second-half rally, Auburn appeared to have the game won or at least tied at two different times in the final moments. But a tangled exchanged at the two-yard line and a bizarre center snap on the 28 cost Auburn the game. Texas A&M was a 23-point underdog and this win also helped christen Kyle Allen as the future in College Station.
8. (6) Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)
The Hogs appeared to be poised for their first SEC win under Bret Bielema until Kenny Hill snatched victory away from Arkansas. Trailing by two touchdowns in the final frame, Hill connected on two long touchdown throws and added the game-winner on the first play of overtime to score 21 unanswered points and give Texas A&M the win.
9. (17) Missouri 21, Arkansas 14
The Hogs played extremely well for three quarters before a road-grading, old-school touchdown drive gave Missouri the SEC East championship. The Tigers ran 12 plays for 85 yards to score the game-winner with just six minutes left in the game. A turnover forced by Markus Golden eventually sealed the win in what should develop into an underrated border rivalry.
10. Florida 36, Kentucky 30 (3OT)
Kentucky fans will only remember what happened before the play and won’t ever forget what happened at the end. After the play clock appeared to hit zero, Jeff Driskel connected with Demarcus Robinson on 4th-and-7 in overtime to tie the game and keep Florida alive. Two overtimes later, Matt Jones scored the game-winning touchdown.
11. (16) Georgia Tech 30, (9) Georgia 24 (OT)
The 109th edition of Clean, Old Fashioned hate was one of the best. Mark Richt appeared to have won a sixth straight game over Paul Johnson, taking the lead with just 18 seconds left. But somehow Tech managed to get into field goal range and tie the game as time expired before prevailing in overtime.
12. (5) Auburn 42, South Carolina 35
South Carolina came to Auburn as a heavy underdog but proved to be anything but an easy out. The two high-powered offenses traded scores for the better part of 60 minutes before Auburn’s defense finally got a few stops in the fourth quarter. The two teams combined for 1,086 yards of offense and three total punts.
13. Tennessee 45, South Carolina 42 (OT)
Joshua “Astro” Dobbs became a household name in the miraculous comeback win over the Gamecocks. The Vols trailed 42-28 with less than five minutes to play before Dobbs led a whirlwind comeback in Columbia. Dobbs set a school record with 467 total yards of offense and became the first Vol to throw for at least 300 yards and rush for at least 100 in the same game.
14. (5) Alabama 25, (1) Mississippi St 20
It wasn’t as close as the score indicated but anytime two teams ranked in the top five get together, it’s cause for celebration. Alabama was clearly the better team but the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs acquitted themselves well, fighting back to lose by only five.
15. (19) Ole Miss 31, (4) Mississippi St 17
It wasn’t as dramatic or action-packed as some others but few games this year matched the intensity that the Egg Bowl produced. The Bulldogs led midway through the third quarter before Ole Miss went on a 24-7 run to end the game and knock MSU out of the playoffs.
The Best of the Rest:
16. Missouri 21, (13) South Carolina 20
17. (22) Louisville 44, Kentucky 40
18. (13) LSU 28, (14) Wisconsin 24
19. LSU 30, Florida 27
20. (12) Georgia 35, Tennessee 32
21. South Carolina 23, Florida 20 (OT)
22. (5) Auburn 20, (20) Kansas St 14
23. (7) Alabama 14, Arkansas 13
24. (12) Georgia 45, (16) Clemson 21
25. Mississippi St 34, (8) LSU 29
26. Kentucky 45, South Carolina 38
27. (3) Florida St 24, Florida 19
28. (3) Mississippi St 38, (2) Auburn 23
29. Florida 10, Tennessee 9
30. (20) Missouri 29, Tennessee 21
Oregon is finally off the board.
The Ducks have been knocking on the door of their first Heisman winner for years, and in 2014 they made their New York Athletic Club breakthrough count.
Marcus Mariota won the first Heisman Trophy in University of Oregon history, and he did it by a landslide. He received 90.92 percent of possible points, the third-highest total in Heisman history, and 788 of 890 first-place votes.
Mariota’s Heisman winning season wasn’t just a product of a single remarkable season — though a single remarkable season it was.
Oregon is proof that winning the Heisman is darn difficult. The Ducks have had finalists who where great running backs but at a time when quarterbacks are winning the award (LaMichael James). They’ve had quarterbacks as frontrunners until late-season injuries (Dennis Dixon and Mariota himself). They had a worthy candidate when they were the new team on the block (Joey Harrington).
Yet Oregon won 638 games in its history before winning its first Heisman trophy. That wasn’t the most in college football history, not even close. Championship programs like Tennessee, Clemson and Washington are still waiting to add a Heisman to the trophy case.
Which program will be the next to win its first Heisman? Here are the top 10 programs in terms of wins but no Heisman winners and an outlook in the short term for their prospects.
All-time wins: 810
Closest calls: Peyton Manning (runner-up in 1997), Heath Shuler (runner-up in 1993), Johnny Majors (runner-up in 1956), Hank Lauricella (runner-up in 1951)
Outlook: The Volunteers’ chances of breaking through are much better than they were a couple of years ago. Right now, the Volunteers have a pair of offensive playmakers, quarterback Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd, that will probably show up on the fringes of someone’s list next season.
2. West Virginia
All-time wins: 719
Closest calls: Pat White (sixth in 2007, seventh in 2008), Steve Slaton (fourth in 2006), Major Harris (third in 1989, fifth in 1988)
Outlook: Dana Holgorsen’s system always will be friendly to quarterbacks and receivers, but his quarterback (Clint Trickett) and receiver (Kevin White) will be gone next season. Unless running back Rushel Shell has something up his sleeve, 2015 may be a rebuilding season for star power in Morgantown.
3. Virginia Tech
All-time wins: 711
Closest calls: Mike Vick (third in 1999)
Outlook: These are perilous times for Virginia Tech offensive players. The quarterbacks are turnover-prone (Michael Brewer has one more year of eligibility), and no Hokies running back has topped 700 yards since David Wilson in 2011.
4. Georgia Tech
All-time wins: 710
Closest calls: Joe Hamilton (runner-up in 1999)
Outlook: What kind of confluence of events would have to occur to produce a Heisman contender from Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech? The Yellow Jackets would probably have to win around 10 games (as has happened in 2014 and 2009) and the player would have to be enough of the focal point of the offense to make a run. Think of the ACC version of Navy’s Ricky Dobbs or Kareem Reynolds.
All-time wins: 695
Closest calls: Steve Emtman (fourth in 1991)
Outlook: Shaq Thompson would be an ideal name to watch after the two-way star rushed for 456 yards and accounted for four defensive touchdowns. That is, if he wasn’t a junior who may be headed to the NFL Draft. Sophomore quarterback Cyler Miles quietly finished the season with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions in his first year under Chris Petersen. Miles will end up on someone’s sleeper list.
All-time wins: 692
Closest calls: Darren McFadden (runner-up in 2006 and 2007)
Outlook: McFadden was in the SEC at the wrong time. He was the unquestioned No. 1 running back in the SEC but played amid the Tim Tebow phenomenon. Now, Bret Bielema is recreating Wisconsin’s offense in Fayetteville and could have two 1,000-yard rushers returning in 2015. Presumably a Montee Ball or Melvin Gordon-like season in the SEC would swing Heisman voters.
All-time wins: 688
Closest calls: C.J. Spiller (sixth in 2009)
Outlook: After a string of worthy contenders — Sammy Watkins, C.J. Spiller and Tajh Boyd — Clemson has another on layaway for next season in rising sophomore Deshaun Watson. Two drawbacks, though: He’ll miss the bowl game while recovering from a torn ACL, and Clemson will be without the Chad Morris, whose offense allowed those three Heisman contenders to flourish.
8. Miami (Ohio)
All-time wins: 670
Closest calls: None
Outlook: Ben Roethlisberger finished ninth in the Heisman voting in 2003 with as many first-place votes as Matt Leinart that year. The chances of a MAC school producing a Heisman winner are slim — though Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch was a finalist last year. Miami needs to find a way to get into a bowl before thinking about awards.
9. North Carolina
All-time wins: 667
Closest calls: Charles Justice (runner-up in 1948 and 1949)
Outlook: In theory, Larry Fedora has an offense that should allow skill position players to flourish. In theory.
10. Michigan State
All-time wins: 669
Closest calls: Lorenzo White (fourth in 1985 and 1987), Sherman Lewis (third in 1963)
Outlook: Connor Cook will probably enter 2015 as one of the top 20 contenders should he return to school. Michigan State quarterbacks are barely cracking 3,000 yards and 25 touchdowns — Kirk Cousins topped out at 3,316. This isn’t a system designed to crank out ridiculously prolific quarterbacks, and road-grading running backs have trouble winning the Heisman.
All-time wins: 655
Closest calls: Chase Daniel (fourth in 2007), Paul Christman (third in 1939)
Outlook: One of these days, Gary Pinkel is going to produce a Heisman-winning quarterback, given his track record at the position. Maty Mauk, however, will need to make quite the leap from completing 53 percent of his passes and throwing 11 picks if he’s going to be the guy.
All-time wins: 647
Closest calls: Chuck Muncie (runner-up in 1975), Paul Larson (fifth in 1954), Jack Jensen (fourth in 1948)
Outlook: Jared Goff passed for 3,973 yards with 35 touchdowns and seven interceptions. If Cal contends for the Pac-12 South in short order, maybe...
All-time wins: 645
Closest calls: Eli Manning (third in 2003), Archie Manning (third in 1970, fourth in 1969), Jake Gibbs (third in 1960)
Outlook: Ole Miss managed to lock up coach Hugh Freeze for a few more years. That’s as big a prize as any in Oxford.
All-time wins: 596
Closest calls: Drew Brees (third in 2000, fourth in 1999), Jim Everett (sixth in 1985), Mark Hermann (fourth in 1980, eighth in 1979), Mike Phipps (second in 1969) Leroy Keyes (second in 1968, third in 1967), Bob Griese (second in 1966, eighth in 1965)
Outlook: Hard to believe Purdue has had that many top-three Heisman contenders and hasn’t been able to get over the hump. That’s not going to change anytime soon.
All-time wins: 589
Closest calls: Scooby Wright (ninth in 2014)
Outlook: Rich Rodriguez has had two players — Wright and running back Ka’Deem Carey — finish in the top 10 since he arrived at Arizona. Given his track record at West Virginia, that may only be a start. Wright will be a preseason All-American in 2015, but rising sophomore Anu Solomon may be the guy on watch lists.
All-time wins: 588
Closest calls: Jake Plummer (third in 1996)
Outlook: Even if wide receiver Jaelen Strong heads to the draft, versatile running back D.J. Foster will be worth a look.
All-time wins: 531
Closest calls: Dak Prescott (eighth in 2014)
Outlook: Prescott spent most of 2014 as a viable Heisman contender before fading late in the season, and he still has a year of eligibility remaining.
All-time wins: 504
Closest calls: Collin Klein (third in 2012), Darren Sproles (fifth in 2003), Michael Bishop (second in 1998)
Outlook: Quarterback Jake Waters and wide receiver Tyler Lockett are seniors, so Bill Snyder is starting from square one.
All-time wins: 487
Closest calls: None
Outlook: The combination of Bobby Petrino and ACC affiliation should be a boon for Louisville Heisman hopefuls. Brian Brohm, Michael Bush and Teddy Bridgewater have been viable candidates in years past but the Big East/American gave them little room for error.
The biggest bombshell of the NBA season dropped last night when Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports reported that the Sacramento Kings fired head coach Mike Malone, citing that “Malone didn't meet win-loss expectations of ownership[.]”
This one’s a head-scratcher. Kings owner Vivek Ranadive has been acknowledged by myself and many others as perhaps the league’s worst owner. But the Kings’ surprising improvement is hard to nitpick — especially given that their franchise player, DeMarcus Cousins, has been out of action with viral meningitis for the last nine games. With Cousins in the lineup, the Kings jumped out to an impressive 9-5 start.
Sacramento, this time last year, was 7-15. But with the maturation of Cousins, the renaissance of Rudy Gay and the unexpectedly shrewd replacement of point guard Isaiah Thomas with Darren Collison, they’re now 11-13, treading water in a historically prickly Western Conference behind the defense-first tutelage of Malone.
Now, they’ll be run by head assistant Ty Corbin — last year’s head coach of the fledgling Utah Jazz — who is reportedly filling in on an interim basis. Ranadive and management, Wojnarowski says, expected a faster, more exciting playing pace in addition to a better record. Ranadive even went so far, at one point during the offseason, to suggest that the team play a 4-on-5 defense which leaves one player behind to “cherry-pick.”
You have to feel for Sacramento’s fans at a time like this. While there’s always the possibility that Ranadive is a cutting-edge, innovative basketball mind, it’s more likely that he’s an eccentric, aggressive billionaire who’s out of his depth in running this team and that his frivolous decision-making will only continue to sink the Kings’ hopes at a competitive campaign.
Wojnarowski says the Kings don’t have a replacement strategy in line for the head coaching spot yet, but he also floated George Karl — who previously worked with Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, as part of an impressive Denver Nuggets run — as well as Vinny Del Negro as potential candidates. Stay tuned for more as this strange, shocking story develops.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 15:
• Johnny Football's dismal debut wasn't a huge surprise. Fortunately, it did lead to some fun Internet memes. Plus, for some reason, Joe Buck decided to share his thoughts.
• As if Kobe weren't depressed enough about this season, his team threw him a pathetic plane party to celebrate his passing Jordan on the scoring list.
• In case you're into legal jargon, here's the Adrian Peterson lawsuit against the Shield.
• The Kings fired Mike Malone out of nowhere. Merry Christmas.
• A terrible roughing the passer ended the Niners' hopes against Seattle.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Numbers and statistics are unquestionably a huge part of football. With that in mind, Athlon Sports rounded up the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 15 of the NFL season.
The New York Jets scored the first 16-11 victory in the history of the NFL when they defeated the Tennessee Titans in Nashville on Sunday.
Cleveland rookie QB Johnny Manziel became the first Heisman winner to be shutout in his first career start since Danny Wuerffel did so with New Orleans in 1997. He was the first QB to be shutout in his first career start since Rusty Smith was blanked for Tennessee in 2010. The Browns fell 30-0 to visiting Cincinnati.
Cleveland made it four straight games with zero touchdown passes and two or more interceptions. The last time that happened was when Tampa Bay did it over five straight games in 1977.
Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has thrown a touchdown pass in 40 straight road games, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. The next closest is Peyton Manning with 31.
The New England Patriots clinched their sixth-straight AFC East title on Sunday (2009-present), which is tied for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Only the Los Angeles Rams (seven, 1973-79) have posted a longer streak. The Patriots, who also won five consecutive division titles from 2003-2007, are the first team in NFL history to win 11 division championships in a 12-year span. New England has won 35 straight home games against AFC teams.
With the Patriots' win over Miami, coach Bill Belichick earned his 229th career win, including playoff wins, tying Curly Lambeau for the fourth-most total victories by a head coach in NFL history.
With its win at San Diego on Sunday, Denver has won 12 consecutive divisional road games, tying San Francisco (1987-90) for the longest such streak in NFL history. The Broncos have not been defeated by an AFC West opponent on the road since December 19, 2010 (39-23 loss at Oakland).
Denver quarterback Peyton Manning passed for 233 yards in the win and has 4,143 passing yards this season. It is his NFL-record 14th career 4,000-yard passing season.
New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. had 12 catches for 143 yards and three touchdowns in the Giants’ 24-13 win over Washington. He is the first rookie in NFL history with at least 12 catches, 140 receiving yards and three touchdown catches in a game. Over the past seven games, Beckham has 61 catches for 866 yards and six touchdowns. His 61 catches are the most by a rookie in a seven-game span and his 866 receiving yards are the second-most by a rookie over a seven-game span (920 yards, Bill Groman, 1960). Beckham now has at least 90 receiving yards in seven consecutive games, extending his NFL record streak for a rookie.
Quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson each led their teams to wins Sunday, improving their respective teams' records to 10-4. Luck and Wilson are the only starting quarterbacks to begin their careers in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to guide their team to at least 10 regular-season wins in each of their first three NFL seasons.
Russell Wilson led Seattle to a 17-7 win over visiting San Francisco. In the regular season as a starting quarterback, Wilson’s 34 wins and 21 home victories are the most in the Super Bowl era in a quarterback’s first three seasons. He passed Dan Marino (33) and Matt Ryan (33) in wins and Ryan (20) in home victories.
Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch rushed for 91 yards and a touchdown in the win over San Francisco to become the seventh player in NFL history with at least four consecutive seasons of 10 rushing TDs and 1,000 yards rushing.
San Francisco dropped to 0-5 when quarterback Colin Kaepernick gets sacked five or more times. He was dropped six times by the Seahawks Sunday. The 49ers are 24-8 in all of Kaepernick's other starts.
Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown had 10 catches for 123 yards in the Steelers’ 27-20 win at Atlanta. Brown, who leads the NFL with 115 receptions this season, is the fourth player in NFL history with consecutive 110-catch seasons, joining Jerry Rice (1994-95), Cris Carter (1994-95), and Wes Welker (2007-09, 2011-12). Brown’s 115 receptions are the most in a single season in Steelers history, surpassing Hines Ward (112 catches in 2002).
Detroit held Minnesota to 76 rushing yards, making the Vikings the 10th straight team the Lions have held under 100 yards on the ground. It is the franchise's longest streak since a nine-game span during the 1969 and 1970 seasons.
Arizona defeated St. Louis 12-6 last Thursday night in a game that saw no touchdowns. It was the first game since Oakland's 15-0 win over Kansas City in 2012 without a touchdown. It was the first time the Cardinals won a road game without scoring a touchdown since the 1935 Chicago Cardinals defeated the Boston Redskins 6-0.
Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history with 900 career catches (903) in last week's win. He did so at 31 years old and owns the record by more than a full year over Andre Johnson, who reached the milestone last year when he was 32.
St. Louis saw its streak of 86 unanswered points snapped by Arizona last week. The Rams had gone nearly 145 minutes without allowing a point. The 86 consecutive points without being scored upon was the longest since Buffalo had 86 in 1992.
Teams with identical records, but completely opposite agendas will finish off Week 15 when the New Orleans Saints take on the Chicago Bears on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” With a win the Saints, despite entering tonight 5-8, would take over first place in the NFC South. The Bears also are 5-8, but have already been eliminated from playoff contention.
Teams that should have two of the more explosive offenses in the NFL have struggled at times while getting minimal support from their defense. New Orleans is second to last in total defense and 30th in scoring, while Chicago checks in at No. 28 (tied w/ Cincinnati entering Week 15) and has given up the most points of any team.
Drew Brees and the Saints are just 2-4 on the road, but they did beat the Bears at Soldier Field last season 26-18 in early October. Jay Cutler’s team has won just two of its six home games and is coming off of a 41-28 defeat to the Cowboys last week.
New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: New Orleans -3
|New Orleans 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||vs SF||L 24 - 27||Recap|
|11/16||vs CIN||L 10 - 27||Recap|
|11/24||vs BAL||L 27 - 34||Recap|
|11/30||@ PIT||W 35 - 32||Recap|
|12/7||vs CAR||L 10 - 41||Recap|
|12/15||@ CHI||W 31 - 15||Recap|
|12/21||vs ATL||L 14 - 30||Recap|
|12/28||@ TB||W 23 - 20||Recap|
New Orleans’ Key to Victory: Be the Aggressor
The Saints are 5-8, but a win would put them in the driver's seat in the NFC South. These two teams play each other next week, but the Saints’ first goal is to win tonight. To do that, Drew Brees and the offense need to take full advantage of the worst scoring defense in the NFL. Chicago is giving up 29.1 points per game and has allowed 75 total over its last two contests. The Bears also surrendered 106 points to the Patriots and Packers in back-to-back losses earlier in the season. New Orleans’ offense has had its own issues, but it’s still third in yards per game (421.0), so that shouldn’t be a problem tonight against Chicago’s overmatched defense. The key is making sure these yards count, which is why the combination of head coach/play-caller Sean Payton and Brees need to stay aggressive when they have the ball. Take the deep shots down the field, unleash tight end Jimmy Graham across the middle, and complement the passing with a healthy dose of Mark Ingram. Brees, whose 12 interceptions have him tied for sixth, also needs to make sure he takes care of the football. As long as the Saints execute on offense, the points should come, and in bunches. And New Orleans will want all the points it can get, considering its own defense is giving up nearly 28 a game.
|Chicago 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||@ GB||L 14 - 55||Recap|
|11/16||vs MIN||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|11/23||vs TB||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|11/27||@ DET||L 17 - 34||Recap|
|12/4||vs DAL||L 28 - 41||Recap|
|12/15||vs NO||L 15 - 31||Recap|
|12/21||vs DET||L 14 - 20||Recap|
|12/28||@ MIN||L 9 - 13||Recap|
Chicago’s Key to Victory: Roll Out the Welcome Matt
It’s been a disappointing second season for Marc Trestman’s Bears. The offense hasn’t been as explosive as it was last season and the defense has been one gigantic mess. Even with all of the defensive issues, the main fall guy this season has been quarterback Jay Cutler. After signing a seven-year, $126.7 million contract extension ($54 million guaranteed) before the season, more was expected of Cutler. He hasn’t exactly responded, as he leads the NFL with 21 turnovers (15 INTs, league-high tying six fumbles). To make matters worse, Cutler will be without his favorite target, wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was placed on injured reserve after suffering rib and lung injuries in last week’s loss to Dallas. With so much ire directed towards Cutler right now, Trestman’s wisest course of action may be to let his dynamic, dual-threat running back take over. In a lost season for the team, Matt Forté is having another Pro Bowl-caliber campaign. Forté is third in the league in yards from scrimmage with 1,578 thanks in large part to his 86 receptions, which have him tied for fourth. He is averaging 121.4 total yards per game, has scored nine total touchdowns and lost just two fumbles in 300 total touches. New Orleans has struggled defending the run all season, allowing 133.5 yards rushing per game, so it may be in Chicago’s best interests to have Cutler get the ball, either on a handoff or via the pass, to Forté early and often. There are other playmakers, like wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and tight end Martellus Bennett, but based on the numbers, it’s pretty clear that running back has been this offense’s, well, Forté this season.
If this season had played out like many had predicted, tonight’s game would carry a lot more importance. As it stands now, however, New Orleans has much more to play for than Chicago. The Saints are still alive for a division title despite their poor record, while the Bears just want this nightmare of a season to end. There are still two games left after this one, and unfortunately, I don’t see a happy ending in store for Marc Trestman’s beaten down team. Tonight Drew Brees joins the list of quarterbacks who have carved up an overmatched defense, a theme Bears fans have become all too familiar with.
Prediction: New Orleans 38, Chicago 27
Auburn took the first step in fixing its struggling defense by hiring former Florida coach Will Muschamp as the team’s new coordinator. Muschamp was a hot commodity among teams looking for a new defensive signal-caller, and his arrival on the Plains should provide immediate improvement for a unit that allowed 32.8 points per game in SEC contests.
After struggling on defense over the last two years, Auburn coach Gus Malzahn had to find some answers this offseason. Dismissing Ellis Johnson as the team’s coordinator was the first step in necessary changes. Replacing a coordinator isn’t necessarily the only problem or an easy solution to transforming a defense into an elite SEC unit. However, the addition of Muschamp is going to pay off for Auburn in 2015.
After Malzahn managed to reel in Muschamp for his staff, the challenge of fixing Auburn’s defense has to start in bowl practices and has to continue onto the recruiting trail until Signing Day in early February. While Muschamp’s scheme, experience and teaching will help the defense take a step forward on the stat sheet, this unit still needs more talent and overall depth.
While Muschamp didn’t win enough games at Florida to keep his job in 2015, defense certainly wasn’t a problem.
The Gators ranked among the top six in the SEC in fewest points allowed from 2011-14 and ranked fourth nationally in 2012 by limiting opponents to just 4.35 yards per play.
Defenses Under Will Muschamp Since 2006
|Year||Team||Points Per Game Allowed||Yards Per Play Allowed|
Under Johnson’s watch, Auburn’s defense allowed 29.6 points per contest in SEC play and increased that mark to 32.8 allowed in 2014. The Tigers also gave up 6.4 yards per play over the last two seasons. Auburn also allowed 24 plays of 30 yards or more in 2014 and surrendered 35 in 2013. The Tigers managed to win the SEC despite a struggling defense in 2013 but allowed 42 points per game in four losses in 2014. Regardless of how explosive a team’s offense is, allowing over 40 points per game simply won’t get it done in the SEC.
It’s hard to fault Johnson for all of the problems on defense, as the Tigers didn’t have the depth or talent on this side of the ball to challenge some of the top groups in the SEC. Only two Auburn defenders were selected for honors on the coaches All-SEC team for 2014, and both players – Jonathan Jones and Jonathon Mincy – are defensive backs.
A big problem in 2014 was a pass rush that generated only 20 sacks. End Carl Lawson was slated to be one of the team’s impact defenders, but he missed all of 2014 due to an ACL injury.
Getting Lawson back will allow Muschamp to build an aggressive front seven, and Auburn had only three seniors listed as starters on the two-deep for the Iron Bowl matchup against Alabama.
Could Muschamp be the offseason’s biggest coordinator hire? It’s certainly possible. But for Auburn to challenge Alabama, Ole Miss or Alabama as the best defense in the SEC next season or in 2016, the Tigers have to get immediate contributions from freshmen or find a few junior college recruits that can make an instant impact.
Muschamp adds instant credibility to a defense that has struggled over the last two years. While the head coaching gig at Florida didn’t work out, look for Muschamp to find a few answers for Auburn, allowing the Tigers to take a step forward on defense in 2015.
After Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant returned to the starting lineup for the Oklahoma City Thunder, everyone knew they could get back into contention for the Western Conference Playoffs. But how many people thought it would happen this quickly?
After a 112-88 victory over the reeling Phoenix Suns (losers of five straight) the Thunder have reached a 6-1 mark since Durant came back to the court, on December 2 against the New Orleans Pelicans.
The Thunder are now just 0.5 games behind Phoenix for the eighth and final playoff spot in their conference. This after a 5-13 start, which had the depleted “Zombie Thunder” sometimes using guys like Kendrick Perkins and Sebastian Telfair as primary offensive options.
Life comes at you fast in the NBA, where the whims of fate can turn famine into feast — and vice versa — at any moment. The Thunder are one of the best teams in the league, but their hopes are only as reliable as their roster’s mortal skeletons.
"They came out right from the start and got after it," Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said about OKC after the contest. "At one point in the middle of the first quarter they were 11 for 16, so they missed five shots, but on four of those they got offensive rebounds. You can't beat a team when you come out like that. They took it at us.”
Inspired and determined, the Thunder are now racing back into championship contention.
And, in the shorter term, toward Thursday’s game of the week, when they take on the new juggernaut of the West in Steph Curry’s 21-2 Golden State Warriors, who’ve made Steve Kerr the most successful rookie coach in league history so far.
At 10:30 PM ET on December 18, from the Oracle Arena in Oakland, the old kings of the West will clash with the up-and-coming aces to give us a taste of the delicious playoff competition were due for this Spring.
Info from an AP report was used in this article.
— John Wilmes
For the first time in years, the ACC entered the season as a must-see conference.
The defending national champions and controversial reigning Heisman Trophy winner made ACC Media Days more of a circus than even the four-day SEC extravaganza in Birmingham.
But it wasn’t just the Jameis Winston spectacle that created intrigue in the ACC this preseason. John Swofford welcomed Louisville and Notre Dame to his ranks, boosting the number of nationally watched games instantly. New faces under center created unknowns and subsequent excitement across the entire conference. The usually impossible to predict Coastal Division was even more difficult to forecast than normal.
And to top it all off, college football welcomed a four-team Playoff to the mix. It’s safe to say no one will ever forget the 2014 season. Here were the most memorable ACC games of the year:
1. (2) Florida St 31, (5) Notre Dame 27
Oct. 18, Tallahassee
It’s hard to make an entire nation root for the usually hated Fighting Irish but that is what the Seminoles were able to do in this battle of top-five teams. An evenly matched bout most of the way, Winston led the Noles on a game-winning touchdown drive with just under eight minutes to go. Not to be outdone, Everett Golson moved the Irish to the FSU two-yard line before the infamous pick penalty erased the game-winning score and pushed ND back to the 18-yard line on fourth down. Winston was star of the show again, going 15-of-16 in the second half.
2. (16) Georgia Tech 30, (9) Georgia 24 (OT)
Nov. 29, Athens
It didn’t really mean much in the standings or rankings but the 109th edition of Clean, Old Fashioned Hate won’t ever be forgotten by either side. Paul Johnson and Tech entered the game on a five-game losing streak against UGA but pulled off one of the most dramatic wins in series history. Georgia scored with 18 seconds to go to seemingly win a sixth straight over the in-state rival but somehow Justin Thomas ran his team into field goal range on the ensuing possession. Harrison Butker drilled a 53-yarder to tie the game as time expired and, after a missed extra point nonetheless, the Jackets' defense kept the Dawgs out of the end zone for the win.
3. (4) Florida St 37, (11) Georgia Tech 35
Dec. 6, Charlotte
A year’s worth of close calls and near misses for the defending champions had most predicting the upset in the ACC Championship Game. After allowing boatloads of yards in the first half, it looked like Tech would be up to the task. However, the Seminoles' defense tightened in the second half and Winston, like always, led multiple scoring drives in the final 20 minutes of play. It was just enough for Florida State to win its third consecutive ACC title.
4. (1) Florida St 23, (22) Clemson 17 (OT)
Sept. 20, Tallahassee
The day before the big Atlantic Division showdown, Jimbo Fisher suspended his star quarterback for the entire game. Clemson, buoyed by a confident defense and the emergence of true freshman DeShaun Watson at quarterback, played mostly excellent football for 58 minutes. But a gut-wrenching fumble deep in Florida State territory with two minutes to play and a questionable fourth-down decision in overtime left the Tigers dumbstruck when the final whistle blew. Florida State had done it again, this time with Sean Maguire under center.
5. (3) Florida State 30, Miami 26
Nov. 15, Coral Gables
Once again, FSU started out slowly, trailing both 16-0 and 23-7 in the second quarter. But Winston and tailback Dalvin Cook flipped a switch in the second half, as Florida State went on a 23-3 run, scoring on four drives in the second half. Cook sprinted 26 yards with 3:05 left in the game to give the Noles their 26th straight win and fifth in a row over the archrival Hurricanes. Winston and Brad Kaaya both topped 300 yards passing.
6. (2) Florida St 42, (25) Louisville 31
Oct. 30, Louisville
Stop me when you’ve heard this before? Florida State stumbled out of the gate in primetime on a Thursday night in Papa John’s Stadium. Michael Dyer led a surging Cardinals squad to a 21-0 second-quarter lead before a fortunate bounce helped FSU get into the end zone with just 33 seconds left before halftime. The second half was the James Winston and Dalvin Cook show, as the duo combined for five touchdowns — all of which came from at least 35 yards away. The Noles finished on a 42-10 run over the final 31 minutes of play.
7. Virginia Tech 35, (8) Ohio St 21
Sept. 6, Columbus
This was one of the biggest upsets of the year regardless of conference. The Hokies rattled and tormented J.T. Barrett all night in a shocking two-touchdown win in Columbus. The victory didn’t help Tech go on to bigger or better things, as the Hokies' season topped out with the win over the Buckeyes and the loss didn’t hurt OSU enough to knock them out of the College Football Playoff. But it was a memorable night for college football and VT quarterback Michael Brewer.
8. (24) Duke 51, Pitt 48 (2OT)
Nov. 1, Pittsburgh
These two teams combined for 62 first downs, over 1,000 yards of offense and not one turnover in this double-overtime thriller. James Conner did everything he could for Pitt, rushing for 263 yards and three scores but an appropriately named kicker, Chris Blewitt, missed a 26-yard field goal as time expired in regulation. Duke’s backup quarterback then led the Blue Devils into the end zone in the second overtime for the win.
9. Boston College 37, (9) USC 31
Sept. 13, Chestnutt Hill
Steve Addazio’s excellent tenure at BC was highlighted by this top-10 victory. Against USC, the Eagles produced one of the most remarkable statistics of the year. Boston College rushed for 452 yards against one of the better Pac-12 defenses. Tyler Murphy counted for 191 of those yards, 66 coming on BC’s final TD of the game with 3:30 left in the game, and the defense did just enough to hold USC at bay.
10. (22) Louisville 44, Kentucky 40
Nov. 29, Louisville
The newest ACC-SEC rivalry has had a long history of animosity, but few games in the Bluegrass State series have been as entertaining. The two teams combined for 33 fourth-quarter points and produced four lead changes in the final nine minutes of action. The Cardinals' Kyle Bollin came out of nowhere to produce 381 yards passing and Boom Williams rushed for 126 and two scores for Kentucky.
The Best of the Rest:
11. (24) Louisville 31, N. Dame 28
12. (3) Florida St 24, Florida 19
13. Clemson 23, Louisville 17
14. (21) Clemson 35, S. Carolina 17
15. (1) Florida St 37, Oklahoma St 31
16. Georgia Tech 27, Virginia Tech 24
17. Georgia Tech 42, Ga. Southern 38
18. (6) N. Dame 50, N. Carolina 43
19. East Carolina 28, (17) Virginia Tech 21
20. (1) Florida St 56, NC State 41
21. N. Carolina 48, Georgia Tech 43
22. (3) Florida St 20, B. College 17
23. N. Carolina 31, San Diego St 27
24. Colorado St 24, B. College 21
25. Virginia 23, (21) Louisville 21
BONUS: Worst Game of the Year
Wake Forest 6, Virginia Tech 3 (2OT)
Nov. 22, Winston-Salem
Is there any doubt this wasn't the worst game of the entire 2014 football season, regardless of conference? A 0-0 tie in regulation is as bad as it gets.
Playoff paths could be determined later this afternoon when the Denver Broncos take on the San Diego Chargers on CBS. For the Broncos (10-3), it’s pretty simple – a win clinches a fourth straight AFC West title. The Chargers (8-5) meanwhile may need to win to just stay in the postseason discussion. Entering today’s action, eight teams were separated by one game in the fight for the two Wild Card spots in the AFC.
Denver has won six of the past seven meetings against its longtime division rival and four out of the last five played in San Diego. The Broncos beat the Chargers 35-21 in Week 8 behind three Peyton Manning-to-Emmanuel Sanders touchdowns and 109 yards rushing from Ronnie Hillman, who has missed the past four games with a foot sprain.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -4.5
|Denver 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||@ OAK||W 41 - 17||Recap|
|11/16||@ STL||L 7 - 22||Recap|
|11/23||vs MIA||W 39 - 36||Recap|
|11/30||@ KC||W 29 - 16||Recap|
|12/7||vs BUF||W 24 - 17||Recap|
|12/14||@ SD||W 22 - 10||Recap|
|12/22||@ CIN||L 28 - 37||Recap|
|12/28||vs OAK||W 47 - 14||Recap|
Denver’s Key to Victory: Stick to the Script
Don’t look now, but the pass-happy Broncos have become a running team. Since losing in St. Louis 22-7 in Week 11, Denver has thrown for 596 yards and run for 548 over its past three games (all wins). Two weeks ago, the Broncos had more yards on the ground (214) than through the air (174) in their 29-16 win in Kansas City and last week, Peyton Manning’s streak of 51 straight games with a touchdown pass came to an end in a 24-17 victory over Buffalo. C.J. Anderson has been the catalyst behind the Denver’s rejuvenated running game, totaling 365 yards rushing and four touchdowns over the last three games. San Diego enters this game 14th in the NFL against the run (108.4 ypg) and gave up 139 on the ground in its Week 8 loss in Denver. The Broncos can still cause plenty of damage through the air, but they also have shown they can beat teams without relying on Manning’s arm. With the playoffs looming and the success it has already produced, there’s no reason to veer from the run-heavy approach now. Not to mention the possibility of an effective running game giving a future Hall of Fame quarterback an off-balance defense to operate against.
|San Diego 2014 Schedule|
|11/16||vs OAK||W 13 - 6||Recap|
|11/23||vs STL||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|11/30||@ BAL||W 34 - 33||Recap|
|12/7||vs NE||L 14 - 23||Recap|
|12/14||vs DEN||L 10 - 22||Recap|
|12/20||@ SF||W 38 - 35||Recap|
|12/28||@ KC||L 7 - 19||Recap|
San Diego’s Key to Victory: Take the Offensive
Even with Denver’s recent run-heavy game plan, the Broncos are still capable of putting points on the scoreboard. Denver enters this afternoon’s game ranked fifth in the league with 29.6 points per game. Contrast that to San Diego, who is tied for 14th at 22.5. The Chargers are 7-0 when they score at least 22 points and 8-1 when totaling at least 300 yards of offense. Ironically, the one game they lost was a 35-21 Week 8 decision to the Broncos, but San Diego also was outgained 425-306 in that contest. The Chargers’ running game has struggled, totaling 224 yards rushing in the last four games combined, but that may not matter considering Denver’s defense ranks second (72.8 ypg) in this department. Instead, the best plan of attack may be to let Philip Rivers air it out with Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal on the receiving end of his throws. In all seven games in which San Diego has scored 22 or more points this season, Rivers has had at least 250 yards passing. Just because the Broncos aren’t throwing the ball over the field doesn’t mean the Chargers have to stay grounded.
Denver’s playoff path is pretty straightforward – win and the Broncos are in as AFC West champions. San Diego’s is a little more complicated, as the Chargers may need to win out to secure one of the Wild Card spots with so many teams bunched together. There’s no dispute the Chargers need this game more, but the Broncos have had their number lately and also have found a new way to win games. C.J. Anderson and the running game does most of the heavy lifting, but Peyton Manning deals the finishing touch, as the Broncos deal the Chargers’ playoff hopes a big blow and win a fourth straight division title in the process.
Prediction: Denver 27, San Diego 23
More than just first place in the NFC East is at stake when the Dallas Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles tonight on NBC. The Eagles (9-4) currently hold the tiebreaker over the Cowboys (9-4) for the division lead, thanks to their 33-10 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving. What’s more, the loser of this game could be on the outside looking in at a Wild Card spot, depending on the outcome of Seattle and Detroit’s (both also 9-4 entering today) games.
It was just a little more than two weeks ago when Philadelphia manhandled Dallas 33-10 at AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving. The Eagles dominated the Cowboys in all facets of that game, but came down to earth last week, losing 24-14 at home to the Seahawks. Dallas, on the other hand, bounced back from its Turkey Day thrashing with a dominating 41-28 road win in Chicago.
Last December, Philadelphia beat Dallas 24-22 at Lincoln Financial Field in the regular-season finale. The Eagles had already clinched the NFC East title prior to that game, while the loss put Dallas at 8-8 for a third straight season.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Philadelphia -3.5
|Dallas 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||@ JAC||W 31 - 17||Recap|
|11/23||@ NYG||W 31 - 28||Recap|
|11/27||vs PHI||L 10 - 33||Recap|
|12/4||@ CHI||W 41 - 28||Recap|
|12/14||@ PHI||W 38 - 27||Recap|
|12/21||vs IND||W 42 - 7||Recap|
|12/28||@ WAS||W 44 - 17||Recap|
|1/4||vs DET||W 24 - 20||Recap|
Dallas’ Key to Victory: Forget Thanksgiving
Nothing went right for the Cowboys in the 33-10 loss to the Eagles on Thanksgiving. Not only were they outgained 464 to 267 on offense, the 10 points scored were a season-worst while the 33 allowed were the most Dallas’ defense had given up. Two Tony Romo interceptions and a Cole Beasley fumble in Cowboys territory certainly didn’t help, but one of the surprising outcomes of that game was how the Eagles won the battle up front. Philadelphia’s defense not only held NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray to a season-low 73 yards, the unit also sacked Tony Romo four times. Fortunately, Dallas’ young, but extremely talented, offensive line bounced back strong last Thursday against the Bears, as Murray rushed for 179 yards and Romo was sacked just once in the 41-28 road win. The key tonight will be for all of the Cowboys, but especially the offensive line, to forget about what went wrong two weeks ago against these Eagles and focus instead on what they did right last week.
|Philadelphia 2014 Schedule|
|11/10||vs CAR||W 45 - 21||Recap|
|11/16||@ GB||L 20 - 53||Recap|
|11/23||vs TEN||W 43 - 24||Recap|
|11/27||@ DAL||W 33 - 10||Recap|
|12/7||vs SEA||L 14 - 24||Recap|
|12/14||vs DAL||L 27 - 38||Recap|
|12/20||@ WAS||L 24 - 27||Recap|
|12/28||@ NYG||W 34 - 26||Recap|
Philadelphia’s Key to Victory: Remember Thanksgiving
The Eagles had gained more yards and scored more points in a game prior to their 33-10 demolition of the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, but this was their best, all-around performance against a team with a winning record. Philadelphia outrushed Dallas 356 to 93, limiting DeMarco Murray, the NFL’s No. 1 rusher to a season-low 73 yards. The defense also produced three takeaways and held the Cowboys to just 267 yards of total offense. Unfortunately, the Eagles followed that up with a dud, losing to Seattle 24-14 at home last week. The Seahawks dominated time of possession (41:56) and the defense did the rest, limiting Philadelphia’s offense to nine first downs and 139 total yards on 45 plays. The yardage and first down totals were the fewest in Chip Kelly’s tenure as the Eagles’ head coach. Fortunately for Philadelphia, Dallas’ defense isn’t near as fearsome as Seattle’s “Legion of Boom,” and the Eagles are a little more than two weeks removed from dominating the Cowboys on both sides of the ball. Facing a familiar foe may be just what the Eagles need to start soaring again.
Dallas and Philadelphia have the same record, but the Eagles have a win over the Cowboys already in their back pocket and are a perfect 3-0 against NFC East foes. The Cowboys need this win more, but whichever team loses could face a challenging path to one of the two Wild Card spots. Philadelphia is coming off of a tough loss, but Seattle has a much tougher defense than what Dallas will bring to Lincoln Financial Field. Even if the Eagles aren’t able to bottle up DeMarco Murray like they did on Thanksgiving, they should be able to muster enough offense to earn the critical season sweep of the Cowboys and put them one win away from securing a second straight division crown.
Prediction: Philadelphia 31, Dallas 27
Don’t underestimate the significance of today’s matchup between the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns on FOX. Yes, it’s Johnny Manziel’s much-anticipated (and equally debated) first NFL start, but the Bengals (8-4-1) also need a win to keep the Steelers and Ravens (both 8-5) at bay for at least another week. For the Browns (7-6), their situation is a little more desperate – they need a win to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Cleveland -1.5
Make no mistake, all eyes will be on Manziel, the flamboyant, media lightning rod who replaces an ineffective Brian Hoyer. What Cleveland’s offense will look like with Manziel at the helm is anyone’s guess, but keep in mind that offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was in Washington when Robert Griffin III was the Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012.
If anyone knows how to construct an offense around a quarterback with dual-threat abilities it’s Shanahan. It will be up to Manziel to execute the game plan and make the right decisions, particularly when to use his mobility to extend a play in the pocket or to try and gain as much yards with his legs out of it.
On the other side, Cincinnati’s defense no doubt wants to get after Manziel, and not necessarily to sack him. The thought is that any pressure placed on the rookie would either cause him to try to force a throw down field or make him so uncomfortable that he starts bailing early, essentially turning the Browns into a run-only offense.
The potential downside to this strategy, however, is twofold. One, the Bengals’ defense is dead last in the league in sacks with 15. The second part is that Manziel, similar to Griffin, had a reputation for making something out of nothing in college and certainly possesses the ability (i.e., athleticism and instinct) to make plays with his legs. And any success he has in doing so early will only increase his confidence as the game progresses.
And speaking of confidence, Cleveland did beat Cincinnati 24-3 on the road back in Week 10. The Browns outgained the Bengals 368 to 165 in that game and also intercepted Andy Dalton three times. Three different running backs scored a touchdown for Cleveland and whether it’s Manziel or Isaiah Crowell or Terrance West, the Browns need to try and replicate that success today on the ground against a defense that gave up 193 yards rushing to the Steelers last week.
Cincinnati may want to take a page out of Cleveland’s playbook for this matchup, as the Bengals have decided to turn to rookie Jeremy Hill as their primary running back. Hill, a second-round pick from LSU, who had been pushed into starting duty earlier because of injuries suffered by Giovani Bernard, does have two 150-yard games to his credit and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.
Hill’s production is needed, as it would free up Bernard to be a threat in the passing game, especially since All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green is facing a tough matchup against Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden. Haden limited Green to just three catches (on 10 targets) for 23 yards in their first meeting.
All of the buzz surrounding this game may be centered on Manziel, but I just don’t think Johnny Football is quite ready for the NFL stage. Cincinnati’s defense bounces back from last week’s second-half collapse against Pittsburgh by introducing the rookie to the big leagues. A balanced offensive attack led by Dalton and Hill does the rest, as the Bengals maintain their AFC North lead by putting an end to Cleveland’s own postseason dreams.
Prediction: Cincinnati 24, Cleveland 17
The sizzling Seattle Seahawks will go for a third straight victory over the struggling San Francisco 49ers this afternoon on FOX. Seattle (9-4) shined in the Thanksgiving nightcap, beating San Francisco (7–6) 19-3 just two weeks ago. Niners quarterback Colin Kaepernick struggled, in particular, completing just 16-of-29 passes (55.2 percent) for a season-low 121 yards, zero TDs and two INTs for a season-low 36.7 passer rating.
Circumstances have only gotten worse for the 49ers, who lost 24-13 to the lowly Raiders last week. Over the past two weeks, Kaepernick has passed for a combined 295 yards, one TD and four INTs while taking nine sacks for 44 lost yards in two defeats. Kaepernick’s worst games have historically come at Seattle, where he is 0-3 with two TDs, six INTs and two lost fumbles.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -10
|San Francisco 2014 Schedule|
|11/2||vs STL||L 10 - 13||Recap|
|11/9||@ NO||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|11/16||@ NYG||W 16 - 10||Recap|
|11/23||vs WAS||W 17 - 13||Recap|
|11/27||vs SEA||L 3 - 19||Recap|
|12/7||@ OAK||L 13 - 24||Recap|
|12/14||@ SEA||L 7 - 17||Recap|
|12/20||vs SD||L 35 - 38||Recap|
San Francisco’s Key to Victory: Rally Around Harbaugh
A report surfaced that Jim Harbaugh’s alma mater, Michigan, had reached out to the Niners’ boss about its vacant coaching job. With speculation running rampant that Harbaugh has one foot out the door — especially when you consider that CEO Jed York publicly referred to San Fran’s performance in a loss to the Raiders as “unacceptable” — it seems that the distractions swirling around the Niners’ headquarters are too much to overcome this week. But Harbaugh retains the respect of his players, who could rally around their embattled coach and strike a blow against their hated rivals from the Northwest. Harbaugh isn’t letting his job status distract from the task at hand. “My priorities are No. 1, winning football games, No. 2, with the welfare of our players, coaches and our staff, and lastly is what my personal and professional future is,” Harbaugh said. “My priorities are winning games.”
|Seattle 2014 Schedule|
|11/2||vs OAK||W 30 - 24||Recap|
|11/9||vs NYG||W 38 - 17||Recap|
|11/16||@ KC||L 20 - 24||Recap|
|11/23||vs ARI||W 19 - 3||Recap|
|11/27||@ SF||W 19 - 3||Recap|
|12/7||@ PHI||W 24 - 14||Recap|
|12/14||vs SF||W 17 - 7||Recap|
|12/21||@ ARI||W 35 - 6||Recap|
Seattle’s Key to Victory: Don’t Look Ahead
The obvious temptation will be for the Seahawks to have one eye on a potentially division-deciding matchup with Arizona in Week 16, with the memory of their Thanksgiving domination of the Niners still fresh in their minds. Coach Pete Carroll is wary of overlooking a wounded, dangerous division rival and is alerting his team to the likelihood that the Niners will come to play. “That’s why they’re so dangerous coming in right now, because of his leadership and his toughness about the way he runs his program,” Carroll said of Harbaugh. “All the other stuff you guys thought was going on, there ain’t much to it. Really, it’s two football guys going at it and two guys who love to compete and battle and there’s nobody I’d rather play.” With that backdrop, a lapse in focus seems unlikely for a team that has won six of seven and is flexing its defensive muscles, allowing only 20 points in its last three wins.
The Niners’ season of promise has crumbled, hitting a low point in a Week 14 loss to their sad-sack Bay Area brethren Oakland Raiders. With the playoffs all but out of reach, they’ll have to settle for playing spoiler against the surging Seahawks. But given the bad blood between these two teams, expect a fierce and focused Seattle team to take care of its business.
Prediction: Seattle 24, San Francisco 13
For many fantasy leagues, Week 15 also is championship week. Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through all of the injury reports that are out there, including these key RBs and QBs.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Oakland Raiders
Probable – Knee/Ankle
Charles is showing the wear and tear that adds up over a long season. After dealing with some swelling in his knee, he’s added swelling in his ankle to the list. He was rested on Wednesday, eased back into practice on Thursday, but was a full go on Friday and is Probable. There seems to be no concerns regarding his availability, so he should be safe to employ as a RB1. After being held in check by Denver (35 yds. rushing), Charles bounced back with 111 total yards and two touchdowns last week against Arizona. The Raiders have been a good matchup for fantasy RBs this season, so Charles should be able to pay off for his owners at the best time possible.
Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins
Probable – Back
Manning has the longest active streak of consecutive regular-season games started (164), so anytime he even shows up on the injury report, it’s news. However, Manning’s streak will remain intact at least another week, as he was able to practice some every day despite the back issue, and is listed as Probable. The real question is should you start the younger Manning on your fantasy team? Odell Beckham Jr. has been a beast lately and Washington has given up the most fantasy points to opposing QBs, including a robust 40.1 to Manning back in Week 4. So I would certainly consider it.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
Probable – Groin
Foster was held out of practice on Wednesday, but was a full go by Friday and is listed as Probable. He rushed for 127 yards last week against Jacksonville and went for 109 and two touchdowns in the first game against Indianapolis back in Week 6. Foster is a must-start RB1.
Colt McCoy, QB, Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Questionable – Neck
McCoy may be listed as Questionable, but the team has already said he’s been cleared to play and will start today against the Giants. He suffered the injury (aggravated nerve) late last week and wasn’t able to finish the game. McCoy was limited in practice both Wednesday and Thursday, adding to the speculation that the embattled Robert Griffin III would get another chance after all. But McCoy was cleared Friday when he took part in a full practice. McCoy may be starting for the Redskins, but he should not be starting for your fantasy team.
Already Ruled Out:
Denard Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars – Robinson was placed on injured reserve earlier this week because of a foot sprain, ending what was a solid campaign. With Robinson sidelined, Toby Gerhart (Probable, Ankle), Jordan Todman and rookie Storm Johnson will handle the workload. In other words, it’s the dreaded RBBC and to make matters worse, the Jaguars are playing the Ravens, who have given up the fewest fantasy points to opposing RBs this season. Avoid at all costs.
A trio of running backs are dealing with hip injuries entering Week 15. Are any of these bad enough to keep a key Packer, Panther or Brown ball carrier from playing?
Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Probable – Hip; Doubtful – Hand
Williams missed last week because of a broken bone in his hand and he’s probably another week away from returning. He’s listed as Doubtful, but there’s no reason to really expect him to play. Stewart was limited earlier in the week by a hip injury, but got two full practices in and is listed as Probable. He will get the start again and all he did last week was torch the Saints for 155 yards and a touchdown. Not sure he can repeat those numbers, but he has another appealing matchup this week in Tampa Bay. Stewart is certainly flex-worthy and could suffice as a RB2, depending on your other options. Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whitaker probably won’t get enough touches to merit serious fantasy consideration.
Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers at Buffalo Bills
Probable – Hip
Lacy is dealing with a hip injury that not only limited his practice participation, it had the player suggesting earlier this week that perhaps sitting a game out would be in his best interests. As it stands, Lacy is listed as Probable, so it looks like he will be out there today. However, it’s reasonable to expect Lacy and James Starks to share the carries, which would mean fewer touches. Lacy was facing a tough matchup to begin with, as the Bills are giving up the third-fewest fantasy points to RBs. If you want to stick with Lacy, you should be fine, but he’s nothing more than a RB2 this week and probably more along the lines of a solid flex play because of the combination of his hip injury and unfavorable matchup.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Questionable – Hip
As expected, Crowell played last week despite being Questionable. He finished with 54 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Even more important, Crowell escaped no worse for the wear, as he’s listed Probable for today’s game. Crowell is still splitting the carries with Terrance West, but he remains the Browns’ most productive back and could see even more running space today because of the switch to Johnny Manziel at quarterback. The Bengals have given up the second-most fantasy points to opposing RBs, so Crowell makes for an intriguing RB2 option this week.
Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins
Questionable – Ankle
Vereen remains limited by an ankle injury and is listed as Questionable. He played last week under the same set of circumstances and produced a grand total of 31 yards on four touches against San Diego. Vereen was put in the flex category last week and there’s no reason to change that for today’s game against the Dolphins.
Already Ruled Out:
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers – Newton suffered two back fractures in a car accident on Tuesday and the question now is has he played his last game of this season? Derek Anderson will start in Newton’s absence and could be flyer-worthy as a QB2 because of his appealing matchup against the Buccaneers. Anderson’s presence also should mean more work for the running backs, namely Jonathan Stewart, as Anderson is not near as mobile as Newton.
Some banged-up running backs are on tap for Week 15’s later slate of games. Are of any of these ball carriers in danger of not suiting up?
C.J. Anderson, Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson RBs, Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Probable – Ankle; Out – Groin; Questionable – Foot; Probable – Knee
So many Bronco ball carriers on the injury report. Where to start? How about with Ball, who on Saturday was placed on injured reserve to make room for linebacker Danny Trevathan. Hillman (right) has missed the past four games himself, but he was able to practice on a limited basis this week and is listed as Questionable. Even if Hillman plays, his role figures to be limited because of the emergence of Anderson, who’s dealing with an ankle injury but is Probable and will get the start today. Hillman’s return could impact Thompson’s workload, but he wasn’t really getting enough work to merit serious fantasy consideration in the first place. Anderson is the Bronco back that matters here, a top-10 starting option in our book.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers vs. Denver Broncos
Questionable – Ankle
Mathews suffered an ankle injury late in the first half of last week’s game against New England and wound up with just two carries after that. He wasn’t able to practice at all this week, so while he may be listed as Questionable, I think it’s safe to put “Very” in front of that. If Mathews can’t go, then Branden Oliver, Donald Brown and Ronnie Brown would take care of the backfield work. Oliver impressed earlier in the season when Mathews was dealing with a knee sprain, but he has cooled considerably, which is why it would be more of a committee approach this afternoon against Denver. With the later kickoff (4:05 p.m. ET) and so much at stake, I wouldn’t count on having Mathews available and I probably wouldn’t give much consideration to any of his replacement options either.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers
Probable – Back
Lynch didn’t practice on Wednesday, was limited on Thursday and a full go on Friday. In other words, it was a normal week for the Seahawks’ workhorse. He’s listed as Probable and there’s no way he’s missing the rematch against his team’s archrival. Lynch rushed for 104 yards against the 49ers on Thanksgiving just a few weeks ago and even though San Francisco’s defense has continued to play well, Lynch remains a must-start RB1, who’s entrenched in our top 10.
Reggie Bush, RBs, Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Questionable – Ankle
Bush can’t catch a break. After playing in his first game since Week 10, he’s not only back on the injury report; his status also is Questionable once again. The coaching staff probably chose to limit Bush in practice to protect his body, but this has become an all too common refrain for him. He is expected to play, but the only way I would even consider using him would be as a flex, and that’s only after checking all other available options first.
Julio Jones went off on Monday night, but a hip injury has him Questionable entering Week 15. Andre Johnson suffered a concussion last week and it looks like he hasn’t been completely cleared quite yet. Here’s the latest on their injury situations and some other key WRs.
Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts
Questionable – Concussion
This one could come down to the wire. Johnson left last week’s game after suffering a concussion and as of Saturday, he was still working his way through the league-mandated tests. He did participate in practice on Friday, which is a positive sign, but he’s listed as Questionable and whether he plays or not will be determined by how he does with the necessary tests. If Johnson does get cleared to play, you should go ahead and start him, in spite of Ryan Fitzpatrick’s lack of consistency (6 TD passes in Week 13, 0 in Week 14).
Harry Douglas, Julio Jones and Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Probable – Foot; Questionable – Hip; Probable – Ankle
Falcon wide receivers have made frequent appearances on injury reports this season and Week 15 is no exception. The big concern here lies with Jones, who is coming off a franchise-record 250 yards receiving Monday night against Green Bay. As impressive as he was, Jones wasn’t able to finish the game due to a hip pointer. The issue prevented him from practicing, but he is listed as Questionable. Head coach Mike Smith called Jones a game-time decision, but he also added that he wants “the doctors and the people to say” that his All-Pro wide receiver is OK to play. Fortunately, word should come down well before kickoff (1 p.m. ET), so Jones’ owners can wait until making a final decision. If Jones doesn’t play both Douglas and White’s fantasy values would go up. White would become an even more appealing WR2, while Douglas could creep into WR3 territory because of the matchup against a generous Steelers defense.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
Probable – Knee
There seems to be some confusion with Smith’s official status, but we’re going with what the Ravens’ site lists, which is Probable. However, if reports from practice are true, Smith did not look like someone ready to play, appearing “gimpy and uncomfortable” running routes on an injured knee. What’s more, Smith didn’t see a single target last week, so it’s possible that even if he does play that he could either be on a snap count and/or go catch-less yet again. Put it all together and it sounds like too much risk to assume in a week with so much on the line. If you’re going to trust a Raven named Smith this week, make it Steve Sr.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins at New York Giants
Questionable – Shin
Jackson didn’t play last week, but there’s a chance he could get on the field today. He’s listed as Questionable after practicing on a limited basis, a designation that head coach Jay Gruden echoed when he put the odds of Jackson playing at 50-50. Even if Jackson does play, he’s not an appealing fantasy option, especially with Colt McCoy, who doesn’t have the strongest arm, set to get another start at quarterback.
Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, WRs, New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins
Questionable – Thigh; Questionable – Shoulder
For the second straight week both Edelman and LaFell were limited in practice, both are listed as Questionable for today’s game and both are expected to play. This duo combined for 12 catches for 182 yards and a touchdown last week against San Diego, with Edelman (8-141-1) accounting for most of the damage. Edelman is more appealing than LaFell as a fantasy option because of his PPR potential, but neither should be viewed as anything more than a low-end WR2 or safer WR3/flex option.
There are just four later afternoon games on the Week 15 docket, but these matchups feature some pretty important wide receivers. Be sure to read the latest information on these situations before finalizing your lineup.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings
Probable – Ankle
I don’t think anyone’s surprised to see Johnson remain on the injury report. I also would be even more surprised if he didn’t play today, considering he got in two full practices and is listed as Probable. If you have Johnson on your team, you have the easy part – start him. It’s the Vikings’ secondary that has the tough assignment.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Probable – Ankle
Thomas joined teammate C.J. Anderson in nursing their ankle injuries on the sidelines during Wednesday’s practice, but both were full participants on Friday. Thomas is listed as Probable and he will play this afternoon. Thomas may not admit it, but it’s safe to say the ankle was an issue last week when he caught a season-low two passes for 11 yards. Even with the uncertainty regarding the condition of his ankle, Thomas is an elite WR1 that must be started. Maybe it helps to know that he caught eight balls for 105 yards the first time he faced the Chargers?
Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans vs. New York Jets
Questionable – Hand
Wright didn’t play last week after cracking a bone in his right hand during practice. He was a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday, but wasn’t able to take part on Friday. Anytime a player’s participation decreases by the end of the week, it’s not a good sign. Wright is Questionable, but I would place the odds of him not playing better than those of him suiting up. Regardless, the Titans are a mess right now, especially at quarterback. Jake Locker, who was the initial starter, is back in there after rookie Zach Mettenberger suffered a season-ending shoulder injury. Locker was replaced for a variety of reasons, but his return hasn’t really done anything to jumpstart this offense. In short, I would be very wary of trusting any Titan offensive player on my fantasy team.
Percy Harvin, WR, New York Jets at Tennessee Titans
Questionable – Ankle
After reportedly being seen on crutches following last week’s game, Harvin has shown some remarkable improvement. He didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday, but was able to do enough work on Friday to earn him a Questionable designation. There’s no guarantee Harvin will play and between the later kickoff (4:05 p.m. ET), inconsistent production and questions concerning QB Geno Smith, there’s really no reason to have Harvin in your starting lineup. Are you going to put your season’s fate in Harvin’s “questionable” hands?
Already Ruled Out:
Brandon Marshall, WRs, Chicago Bears – Marshall was taken off the field on a stretcher last week and immediately to a hospital after suffering rib and lung injuries on a hit during the Bears’ loss to the Cowboys. He did get out of the hospital earlier this week, but his season is over after being placed on injured reserve. Alshon Jeffery already was a WR1 before Marshall’s injury, which does present an opportunity to Marquess Wilson. However, with Chicago not playing until Monday night, there’s no real reason to take a chance on Wilson this week, unless he’s your Marshall replacement.
It’s Week 15, which means every game truly counts from there out. Fortunately for Julius Thomas owners, they should get their big tight end back on the field today, while Greg Olsen must navigate a quarterback switch. Here’s the TE injury rundown for today’s games.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Probable – Knee
Olsen was Questionable last week and he caught 10 passes for 72 yards and a touchdown. The knee is still an issue, but he was a full practice participant on Friday and is listed as Probable. Even with the Panthers starting Derek Anderson at quarterback in place of an injured Cam Newton, Olsen’s production shouldn’t dip that much. He’s still a must-start TE1.
Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
Probable – Ankle
After missing the past two games, Thomas was in uniform last week against the Bills, but he never played a single snap. That should change today, as he was able to get in a full practice on Friday and is listed as Probable. Thomas’ return could help jumpstart a passing game that’s taken a back seat to the ground game lately, while also taking some pressure off of teammate Demaryius Thomas, who is dealing with his own ankle injury. Despite missing three games, Julius Thomas is still the No. 6 scoring fantasy TE and is tied with Jordy Nelson for the most TD catches in the NFL (12). You probably already know this, but Thomas must be started if he’s on your team.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Questionable – Hamstring/Knee
Clay was able to return last week after missing the past two games and caught two passes for 41 yards. However, he’s not over his injuries, which continue to limit him in practice and have him listed as Questionable today. Again with Clay, it’s more the up-and-down production than health issues that put him in the “do not bother with” category.
Jermaine Gresham, TE, Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns
Questionable – Toe
Gresham didn’t appear on the injury report until Thursday, but this toe injury was bad enough to hold him out on Friday. He’s listed as Questionable, but the decline in activity is always a disconcerting sign. Gresham’s starting because Tyler Eifert is on IR, so it’s not like Gresham has mass fantasy appeal either. There’s no reason for Gresham to be on your roster, let alone started.
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets at Tennessee Titans
Probable – Concussion
Amaro was a full practice participant on Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable. He will return from a two-game absence this afternoon. If you want to use Amaro in your lineup, relying on Geno Smith to get him the ball enough to put some useful statistics together, you go right ahead.
In an effort to lessen the wear and tear on pro basketball bodies, league executives have begun discussions aimed toward shortening the NBA preseason.
As reported by Grantland’s Zach Lowe, the measure would allow the regular season (which would still be a full 82 games) to begin about ten days earlier — the postseason, in this scenario would commence at the same time. There would be, logically, fewer back-to-back gauntlets for teams if this possibility takes place, and more opportunities for rest throughout the year.
Per Lowe: “The league is hoping that a few tweaks, including a shortened preseason and an extended All-Star break, will add up to something meaningful. Any change in the number of preseason games would likely not take place until the 2016-17 season at the earliest, sources say. Revenue from preseason games goes into the pool that owners and players split, but the league may not have to negotiate any reduction in the preseason schedule with players; the collective bargaining agreement merely calls for “up to eight” exhibition games ahead of the regular season.
“Teams typically play seven or eight preseason games. Teams put together preseason schedules themselves, while the league governs the 82-game regular-season schedule. That is a minor sore spot for team executives tired of haggling with each other over the dates and locations of preseason games. It is not a popular job.”
The preseason, beyond being valuable for revenue purposes, is also a great time for teams (whether they’re familiar with each other or freshly assembled) to build chemistry, so some coaches might take issue with a truncated version of the warm-up stretch of the year.
But no fan’s guts are lit on fire by the prospect of exhibition games. There’s a certain thrill to watching your favorite roundball heroes take the hardwood again after a long summer layoff, but it wears off quickly when you realize how low the stakes are in preseason contests. The sooner the games that count can start — and the fresher the players can be for them — is ultimately for the better.
— John Wilmes