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All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/amazing-nfl-stats-week-15-2015

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.

Post date: Monday, December 15, 2014 - 10:15
All taxonomy terms: Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-vs-chicago-bears-preview-and-prediction

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’ 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’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.


Final Analysis


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
New Orleans Saints vs. Chicago Bears Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, December 15, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Auburn Tigers, College Football, SEC, News
Path: /college-football/auburn-defense-improve-addition-will-muschamp-coordinator

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
YearTeamPoints Per Game AllowedYards 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.  

Auburn's Defense Set to Improve With Addition of Will Muschamp as Coordinator
Post date: Monday, December 15, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /nba/okc-thunder-are-surging-back-playoff-picture

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


Post date: Monday, December 15, 2014 - 09:49
Path: /college-football/accs-top-10-best-games-2014

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.

ACC's Top 10 Best Games of 2014
Post date: Monday, December 15, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/denver-broncos-vs-san-diego-chargers-preview-and-prediction-2014

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’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’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.


Final Analysis


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
Denver Broncos vs. San Diego Chargers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/dallas-cowboys-vs-philadelphia-eagles-preview-and-prediction-2014

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’ 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’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.


Final Analysis


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
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/cincinnati-bengals-vs-cleveland-browns-preview-and-prediction

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


Cincinnati Bengals vs. Cleveland Browns Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/san-francisco-49ers-vs-seattle-seahawks-preview-and-prediction-2014

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’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’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.  


Final Analysis


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
San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-15-fantasy-football-injury-updates-eli-manning-jamaal-charles-arian-foster-colt-mccoy

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.

Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Eli Manning, Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster, Colt McCoy
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-15-injury-updates-eddie-lacy-jonathan-stewart-isaiah-crowell-cam

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.

Fantasy Football Week 15 Injury Updates: Eddie Lacy, Jonathan Stewart, Isaiah Crowell, Cam Newton
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-15-fantasy-football-injury-updates-ryan-mathews-cj-anderson-marshawn-lynch-reggie-bush

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.

Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Ryan Mathews, C.J. Anderson, Marshawn Lynch, Reggie Bush
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-15-injury-updates-julio-jones-andre-johnson-torrey-smith-desean

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.

Fantasy Football Week 15 Injury Updates: Julio Jones, Andre Johnson, Torrey Smith, DeSean Jackson
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/week-15-fantasy-football-injury-updates-demaryius-thomas-calvin-johnson-kendall-wright-percy

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.

Week 15 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Demaryius Thomas, Calvin Johnson, Kendall Wright, Percy Harvin
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy, News
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-15-injury-updates-julius-thomas-greg-olsen-charles-clay-jermaine

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.

Fantasy Football Week 15 Injury Updates: Julius Thomas, Greg Olsen, Charles Clay, Jermaine Gresham
Post date: Sunday, December 14, 2014 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: NBA
Path: /nba/nba-considering-shortening-preseason

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


Post date: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 16:40
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-december-12-2014

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 11:


Mrs. Tom Brady took a trip to the beach, and cameras were clicking


• Urban Meyer's wife caught on fire the other night


Bruce Arians botched a challenge last night


The Bears have reached unprecedented levels of dysfunction


This guy's amazing golf trick shot involves a swimming pool and a fake cup


Gosder Cherilus is not a doctor, but he has a grim prognosis for Jadeveon Clowney.


An open letter to Johnny Manziel


A reminder for J.J. Watt that it's tough for a defensive player to win MVP.


Here's a crazy conspiracy theory behind Gary Andersen's departure from Wisconsin for Oregon State.


• Today's year-end list: The best sports media feuds of 2014


Jared Lorenzen offered his services to the Cardinals via Twitter


• Kobe had some hard words for his soft Laker teammates.


--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]

Post date: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 11:04
All taxonomy terms: Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Nick Young, NBA
Path: /nba/kobe-bryant-about-pass-michael-jordan-points-scored

Kobe Bryant has made quite the career out of impersonating Michael Jordan. Bryant’s studious, obsessive emulation of MJ’s form of isolation basketball has made him the league’s most famous, prized hero-baller since His Airness hung up his ever-famous shoes (for the third and final time) in 2003.


And now, Kobe is mere games away from passing Jordan in a certain page of the record books. Bryant is No. 4 all-time in NBA scoring with 32,262 points; Jordan is No. 3, but just 30 ahead of the Black Mamba with 32,292. That gap is one Kobe should be able to close by the end of the weekend — his Los Angeles Lakers play twice between now and Monday, against the San Antonio Spurs and Minnesota Timberwolves, and Bryant averages 25.5 points per game.


It’s only a short matter of time until Kobe surpasses his idol.


But we don’t have to wait any longer for Bryant to lose his mind. He’s had it up to here with the mediocrity of his current Lakers squad, and the world saw that loudly and clearly with his recent outburst at a team practice. Bryant had these not-safe-for-work words to say when the session let out on Thursday:


It’s almost hard to believe the situation in L.A.


Bryant has always been a difficult personality, but now that he’s surrounded by a platoon of inexperienced, immature players — including the always-vocal Nick Young — it’s bringing out the very worst of his hyper-competitive tendencies. With Kobe at their center, the NBA’s most-storied franchise has become something of a farce for now.


One wonders if the Lakers can bring title competition back to Hollywood before Kobe’s career ends. Perhaps the unlikely prospect of Rajon Rondo coming to the Lakers—with rumors of such sparked by a recent breakfast rendezvous — will make things interesting again. Otherwise, Lakers fans will have to wait out the career of one of their most darling stars in Bryant before they can earnestly root for a championship again.


— John Wilmes


Post date: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 10:17
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2014-postseason-all-america-team

With the conclusion of the regular season, it’s time to reflect on the college football season and honor the best of the best from 2014. There were plenty of outstanding individual and team performances this year, and of course, we can’t forget about the new four-team playoff, which added a new element of intrigue to the season.


As the college football world prepares for the bowl season, Athlon Sports handing out hardware to the nation’s best players from this year.


As usual, it’s never easy assembling three All-America teams. There are plenty of standout performers that won’t make the cut, but we tried to blend talent, production and consistency to form the top four teams.

2014 Conference Awards: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC


Athlon Sports 2014 All-America Team
First-Team OffenseSecond-Team OffenseThird-Team OffenseFourth-Team Offense
QB Marcus Mariota
QB Trevone Boykin
QB Dak Prescott
Mississippi State 
QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State 
RB Tevin Coleman
RB James Conner
RB Jay Ajayi
Boise State 
RB David Cobb
RB Melvin Gordon
RB Ameer Abdullah
RB Duke Johnson
RB Samaje Perine
WR Amari Cooper
WR Tyler Lockett
Kansas State 
WR Nelson Agholor
WR Tyler Boyd
WR Kevin White
West Virginia 
WR Rashad Greene
Florida State 
WR Jaelen Strong
Arizona State 
WR Justin Hardy
East Carolina 
WR Rashard Higgins
Colorado State 
AP Tyreek Hill
Oklahoma State 
AP D.J. Foster
Arizona State 
AP Marcus Murphy
TE Nick O'Leary
Florida State 
TE Clive Walford
TE Maxx Williams
TE Evan Engram
Ole Miss 

C Reese Dismukes

C Hroniss Grasu
C B.J. Finney
Kansas State 
C Jack Allen
Michigan State 
G Tre Jackson
Florida State 
G Arie Kouandjio
G Shaquille Mason
Georgia Tech 
G Ben Beckwith
Mississippi State 
G A.J. Cann
South Carolina 
G Laken Tomlinson
T Daryl Williams
T/C Cameron Erving
Florida State 
T Brandon Scherff
T Rob Havenstein
T Jake Fisher
T Andrus Peat
T Spencer Drango
T La'el Collins
T Laremy Tunsil
Ole Miss 
T Jack Conklin
Michigan State 
First-Team DefenseSecond-Team DefenseThird-Team
Fourth-Team Defense
DE Joey Bosa
Ohio State 
DE Shane Ray
DE Markus Golden
DE Mario
Edwards Jr.

Florida State 
DE Nate Orchard
DE Leonard Williams

DE Henry Anderson

DE Shilique Calhoun
Michigan State 
DT Malcom Brown
DE Vic Beasley
DT Eddie Goldman
Florida State 
DT Anthony Zettel
Penn State 
DT Danny Shelton
DT Michael Bennett
Ohio State 
DT Grady Jarrett
DT Robert Nkemdiche
Ole Miss 
LB Scooby Wright
LB Paul Dawson
LB Benardrick McKinney
Mississippi State 
LB Zach Vigil
Utah State 
LB Hau'oli Kikaha
LB Denzel Perryman
LB Mike Hull
Penn State 
LB Jake Ryan
LB Eric Kendricks
LB Shaq Thompson
LB Jaylon Smith
Notre Dame 
LB Eric Striker
CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu
CB Trae Waynes
Michigan State 
CB Kendall Fuller
Virginia Tech 
CB William Likely
CB Senquez Golson
Ole Miss 
CB Vernon
Hargreaves III

CB Zack Sanchez
CB Doran Grant
Ohio State 
S Landon Collins
S Jalen Ramsey
Florida State 
S Kurtis Drummond
Michigan State 
S Chris Hackett
S Gerod Holliman
S Cody Prewitt
Ole Miss 
S Su'a Cravens
S Darian Thompson
Boise State  
K Roberto Aguayo
Florida State 
K Brad Craddock
K Andy Phillips
K Josh Lambert
West Virginia 
P Tom Hackett
P JK Scott

P Austin Rehkow

P Peter Mortell
KR J.J. Nelson
KR Alex Ross
KR Marcus Murphy
KR Ty Montgomery
PR Tyler Lockett
Kansas State 
PR Kaelin Clay
PR De'Mornay Pierson-El
PR Quan Bray


College Football's 2014 Postseason All-America Team
Post date: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 10:00
Path: /college-football/six-team-college-football-playoff-perfect-solution

Four isn’t enough and eight is way too much.


There is a perfect number of college football playoff teams and it falls right between the two. The NFL uses a six-team bracket for each conference (for now) to determine the most important sporting event in the world each year for a reason.


Because six is the perfect number. It solves every problem imaginable. Well, almost.


First, a six-team playoff gets all five Power 5 conference champions into the playoff — an issue most are complaining about already — if all five are deserving. Second, it gets roughly 10 percent of the Power 5 teams into the postseason. Third, it allows for a possibility that a Group of 5 champion could sneak into the sixth spot. Fourth, unlike an eight-team playoff, no three-loss teams will ever be in the postseason mix, maintaining a certain level of exclusivity for the prestigious national championship.


But how would a six-team playoff work? What would the rules and regulations be? And what would the bracket have looked like had it been in place this season (Hint: It would have been awesome).


First-round byes

One of the best aspects of a six-team playoff is a first-round bye for each of the top two teams. Like in the NFL where the best two teams in each conference get an extra week of rest, so too, will the top two teams in the nation. It rewards four quality teams while also giving a big edge to the two most deserving teams in the nation — who would have earned the right to rest. Additionally, it shortens the season by one game as compared to the eight-team bracket for those concerned about student-athletes playing too many times.


Use home sites

One of the biggest issues many have with the four-team playoff was the usage of bowl games as semifinals. Despite what Bill Hancock wants you to believe, it’s not ever been about protecting the sanctity of the bowl system. No, it’s cronyism at its finest. There are 36 other bowl games that provide 72 other teams a season-ending celebratory trip. The bowl system is just fine and doesn’t need any more additional revenue. Instead, let’s allow college football to showcase what makes college football so uniquely great: Electric atmospheres on picturesque campuses and stadiums. And asking teams to travel to three consecutive neutral-site games like an eight-team playoff would require is just stupid. In the six-team structure, both first (quarterfinals) and second-round games (semis) would be played at home sites with the top seeds hosting each game.


Rotate the final

Just like the Super Bowl, the national championship game should be rotated every year throughout every region of the country. This is the NATIONAL championship not the regional or southern championship. I love New Orleans and Tempe as much as the next fan, but Indianapolis, Detroit and New York have proven that title games can be held successfully in the Midwest and Northeast as well. Like the Super Bowl, the majority of the games would be held in warm-weather locations but it doesn’t mean the sport should ignore the Pacific Northwest, Midwest or Northeast in the process. Lucas Oil Stadium and Indianapolis got rave reviews for the Super Bowl it hosted and would be an excellent fit for the college championship.


Shorten down time

One of the biggest issues that the four-team bracket hasn’t fixed is the inordinate amount of down time between the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs. It has improved on the amount of down time that the BCS provided by a little more than a week. But the first two games of the three-round playoff could be held annually on Christmas Eve, for example, beginning a new college football tradition. The second round would still be held on New Year’s Day and the final played a week later.


Re-seed the second round

Obviously, the initial seeding process would determine matchups between No. 3 and No. 6 as well as No. 4 and No. 5. Should the six-seed upset the three-seed, then the second round would be re-seeded. This guarantees that the No. 1 seed will always face the lowest-seeded team in the second round.


A six-team playoff doesn’t solve every issue for college football. No system can be perfect. It doesn’t matter how big or small the postseason is, someone will always be upset about missing out. The ninth-ranked team in the eight-team playoff would be just as upset as Baylor and TCU this year. The same could be said about the seventh-ranked team in a six-team format.


That being said, a six-team format would have been perfect for 2014.


No. 6 TCU at No. 3 Florida State

How awesome would this be in Doak Campbell Stadium? The unbeaten, undisputed defending champion with Jameis Winston under center against Gary Patterson’s reinvented offense? Yes, please. If the Seminoles win, they’d face No. 2 Oregon in Eugene while a  TCU victory would have sent the Horned Frogs to Tuscaloosa to play No. 1 Alabama.


No. 5 Baylor at No. 4 Ohio State

Does anybody in Waco want the opportunity to prove that the Bears are better than the Buckeyes? Baylor fans would travel to any city in the world to play Ohio State if it meant a chance to prove the Bears belonged in the playoff. But The Horseshoe is as good a location as college football has to offer for the postseason and I promise BU would relish the opportunity. Where the winner of this game goes would depend on who wins the other matchup.



Meanwhile, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon get a first-round bye and sit at home for an extra week. Then Bryant-Denny Stadium and Autzen Stadium would host national semifinals before the final two teams meet on a neutral field.


All in favor?

A six-team college football playoff is the perfect solution
Post date: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /college-basketball/north-carolina-tar-heels-kentucky-wildcats-preview-and-predictions

In an alternate reality, North Carolina fans had to enjoy a team in pale blue making a run at Kentucky in Rupp Arena.


Alas, that game was three days too early, and the school was Columbia rather than the Tar Heels.


Columbia jumped to an early 11-0 lead on Kentucky on Wednesday, and though the Wildcats defeated the Ivy Leaguers 56-46, the game was a clear wake-up call for Kentucky. The Wildcats are a near-unanimous No. 1 team whose defensive play may be the best in recent history.


Yet Columbia reminded John Calipari that he has a team full of 18-22-year-olds who may be concerned with their December plans rather than the game at hand.


Unfortunately for North Carolina, that kind of game occurred Wednesday instead of Saturday.


The Tar Heels have been uneven this season and could use a strong performance against Kentucky to bolster their case heading into the ACC season. North Carolina has already lost 60-55 at home to Iowa and 74-66 on a neutral floor to Butler, two losses that a Tar Heels team with Final Four aspirations shouldn’t be taking.


After this game, neither team will have much of an opportunity for rest. Kentucky faces UCLA and North Carolina faces Ohio State in Chicago on Dec. 20 in the CBS Sports Classic before the Wildcats return from the holiday to visit Louisville on Dec. 27.


North Carolina at Kentucky


Site: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.

Time: Saturday, noon



What’s on the line for Kentucky


Another big game, another chance for Kentucky to prove its case as the clear national championship favorites. Slow starts against teams like Buffalo and Columbia notwithstanding, Kentucky has been outstanding on the national stage. The Wildcats have defeated their three major-conference opponents (Kansas, Providence and Texas) by a combined margin of 64 points.


What’s on the line for North Carolina


Texas walked away from a 63-51 loss on Dec. 5 feeling OK about its performance at Kentucky, especially with a backup point guard. North Carolina fans may be tougher to assuage, but the Tar Heels can’t look at this game as pass/fail based on the scoreboard. An upset would be great, but if North Carolina can find a way to challenge Kentucky consistently into the second half, that should count as a good sign for the Heels.


You’ll tune in to watch: Another dominant defensive effort from Kentucky


Kentucky is holding teams to 30.7 percent shooting from 2-point range. To put that in perspective, that figure would rank 90th in the country — in 3-point defense. The Wildcats, by the way, already rank 14th in that category, holding teams to 25.4 percent shooting from long range. The Wildcats are outstanding at every defensive position. Brice Johnson and Kennedy Meeks are good bigs, but North Carolina may be in trouble.


Pivotal player: Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison


If we’re going to pick on Kentucky, the 3-point line would be a good place to start. Kentucky is 6-of-42 from 3-point range in the last three games. Andrew Harrison, specifically, has struggled, going 0-for-5 from long range against Columbia in the last game. Just as troubling, Harrison also went 1-of-7 from 2-point range in that game. Calipari said Harrison was seeking foul calls that never came. How will Harrison adjust, both from long range and in getting to the rim?


Biggest question: Can Marcus Paige make enough shots to challenge Kentucky?


With Kentucky’s size, maybe opponents have to start thinking like a mid-major and light the Wildcats up from 3-point range. That’s what Columbia did for a time, starting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Paige is North Carolina’s only major threat from long range, but he’ll have to do better than 34 percent from beyond the arc for North Carolina to have a shot at Kentucky. Paige is 4-of-19 from 3-point range in his last three games.




David Fox: Kentucky 71-58

Braden Gall: Kentucky 81-65

Mitch Light: Kentucky 77-60

Nathan Rush: Kentucky 64-60

North Carolina Tar Heels at Kentucky Wildcats: Preview and Predictions
Post date: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-biggest-disappointments-2014

College football award season can be fun.

This is a time for appreciating the game — conference players of the year, coaches of the year, the Heisman, Doak Walker, Biletnikoff, Outland and so on.

For every team and player enjoying a banner year, there’s another who will be going home or a bowl game disappointed.

Not all of our disappointments are equal. Some let us down because these teams could have and should have achieved more. Some simply denied us to see a college football season at its best.

The Big 12 in 2014, indeed, turned out to be a two-team race. Just one of them turned out not to be Oklahoma. Athlon tabbed the Sooners at No. 4 in the preseason top 25, and OU went on to have its worst season since Bob Stoops’ first year in 1999. The 5-4 record included no wins against the league’s top three teams (Baylor, TCU and Kansas State) and a loss to Oklahoma State in which the Sooners led until the final five minutes. Aside from a win over Texas and Samaje Perine’s single-game rushing record, this was a forgettable season for the Sooners. Kudos to everyone who warned of overrating OU due to rout of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl last season.

Virginia Tech
The Hokies had about a week to feel good about the season. With an active pass rush and tough quarterback play, Virginia Tech had the look of an ACC contender with a 14-point win at Ohio State. Then the losses started to pile up — first to East Carolina at home, then Georgia Tech at home. Virginia Tech kept its 22-year bowl streak intact but needed a touchdown drive in the final two minutes against Virginia to do it (because it lost 6-3 in overtime to Wake Forest a week earlier). With a 12-12 record in the ACC the last three seasons, Frank Beamer is in for a long offseason.

Notre Dame
The Irish emerged from an offseason academic scandal to start 6-0 with wins against Michigan and Stanford that seemed more impressive at the time than they did at the end of the season. Everett Golson began the season as a Heisman contender but ended the year as a turnover-prone liability. The Irish ended the season on a four-game losing streak and a 49-14 loss to USC.

South Carolina
The Gamecocks’ season was a debacle from the start. South Carolina lost 52-28 at home to Texas A&M to start the season, and the defensive never recovered. At 6-6, South Carolina finished the regular season with more losses than any other preseason top 10 team. What’s even more startling is that the season could have been worse: South Carolina needed a late blocked punt to beat Florida in overtime and played sloppy enough against Vanderbilt to give us the press conference of the year. Oh, and the Gamecocks lost to Clemson.

Where has Andrew Luck gone? Or at least Stepfan Taylor. The Cardinal sat out the Pac-12 North this season, falling out of the race by Nov. 1. Stanford had one of the nation’s best defenses, but its offense didn’t find an identity until the final two games of the season against Cal and UCLA. Stanford finished 7-5 for its worst regular season mark since the second year under Jim Harbaugh in 2008.

Other teams fired coaches. Other teams might have had worse seasons, but programs like Michigan have no excuse to miss bowl games, never mind missing three bowl games in seven years. Besides losing to rivals Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State, the Wolverines found room for one of their worst three-game losing streaks in school history (Utah, Minnesota and Rutgers). If the losing wasn’t enough, Michigan took heat for mishandling the concussion to backup quarterback Shane Morris and saw one of its team leaders, Frank Clark, arrested for domestic violence.

Group of 5 teams in crunch time
Nothing against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl, but the Broncos had the path cleared for them throughout the course of the season. East Carolina looked like it had wrapped up a major bowl bid by the end of September thanks to wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Instead, East Carolina finished the season with three losses in AAC play. Marshall lost its bid to an undefeated season in a wild 67-66 overtime defeat to Western Kentucky on Nov. 28.

Bowl absences
Try telling Georgia Southern and UAB there are too many bowl games. These two programs would love to play in any pre-Christmas bowl game, no matter the destination. Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt was one of three teams to go undefeated in its conference — the other two are in the College Football Playoff — but because the Eagles are transitioning from FCS, they are ineligible for a bowl. And after UAB announced it would shut down the football program, the Blazers became untouchable to bowl organizers despite being bowl eligible for the second time in school history.

Injuries to Chuckie Keeton and Taysom Hill
At the start of the season, the state of Utah had some of the best star power at quarterback of any state. BYU’s Taysom Hill was en route to a career year when he sustained a broken leg on Oct. 3 against Utah State. The Cougars were 4-0 before his injury and 4-4 after. Utah State’s Chuckie Keeton returned from a torn ACL but re-injured the knee in the third game of the season against Wake Forest. The Aggies still won nine games, but the game missed two of its more dynamic quarterbacks for most of the season.

June Jones quitting in September
SMU would have been awful with Jones for a full season, but his departure after losses to Baylor and North Texas by a combined score of 88-3 didn’t help the Mustangs this season. SMU was one of the least competitive teams in college football this season, scoring more than 10 points just once before November.

College Football's Biggest Disappointments in 2014
Post date: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/10-teams-flopped-first-month-college-basketball-season

Nebraska is new to being a team people watch during the college basketball season, so let us offer a word of advice:

Don’t lose at home to teams no one knew was a part of Division I basketball.

The Cornhuskers, a surprise NCAA Tournament team last season, lost 74-73 on Wednesday to Incarnate Word, a Catholic institution in San Antonio that just joined Division I this season.

That game itself was a shock, but combine it with Nebraska’s earlier losses, and the season is an all-out flop.

If anything, that loss takes some of the heat off Michigan, a team that’s also become used to high-level basketball before losing to NJIT and Eastern Michigan in back-to-back games.

Michigan’s puzzling start
What is going on with Michigan? The Wolverines defeated Oregon and Syracuse and played a thriller with Villanova. Yet they’ve also picked up two bad losses, and by bad we mean bad. Thanks to Michigan, NJIT has more wins on Big Ten courts (one) than conference affiliations. After that, the Wolverines scored 42 points in a second consecutive home loss to Eastern Michigan. The Wolverines have no inside presence, which hasn’t always been a problem for John Beilein-coached teams, but they’re being exposed by it now.

The Gators lost a slew of veterans from a team that reached the Final Four last season and three Elite Eights before that. Even though there was bound to be a void, the Gators appeared to have enough pieces and emerging sophomores returning to make a run. The road has been bumpy so far as the Gators have already lost four games, one more than they lost all of last season. Billy Donovan took an incomplete roster to the competitive Battle 4 Atlantis and few teams win at Kansas, where the Gators blew an early lead. The Gators will need continued improvement from point guard Kasey Hill if they’re going to challenge for No. 2 in the SEC.

Kelly Oubre
A five-star, NBA Draft prospect simply not playing as a freshman in college basketball is indeed a rarity. Oubre may get into the rotation in Big 12 play and may still be a fine player and prospect, but for now, he’s having trouble cracking the rotation. Oubre is averaging 8.3 minutes per game and isn’t doing a ton to justify more playing time.

Memphis’ guards
The Tigers knew they’d enter the season weak at the guard position, but the situation is worse than anticipated. Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson is out of shape and not ready to run a team after a yearlong layoff. Avery Woodson, Markel Crawford, Pookie Powell and Johnson have combined for 27 assists to 43 turnovers. That ineffectiveness has led to losses to Wichita State, Baylor and Stephen F. Austin.

The idea of teams winning the national championship one year and going to the NIT the next is not uncommon, and UConn seems to be sliding that way. The Huskies have lost three in a row to West Virginia, Texas without Isaiah Taylor and finally Yale at home. The Huskies are still learning to play without Shabazz Napier, and guard Ryan Boatright and NC State transfer Rodney Purvis have been injured. But these games early carry extra weight as the American schedule will due UConn no favors.

The upstart Mustangs lost three of their first five, but there are plenty of opportunities to turn this around. Defeating UC Santa Barbara, a solid mid-major, is a good start, and Michigan will be vulnerable on Dec. 20. The Mustangs have played the entire season without point guard Emmanuel Mudiay and won’t have veteran big man Markus Kennedy back until the second semester.

Syracuse’s offense
The backcourt losses over the years have taken their toll on Syracuse, which continued its offensive struggles from the end of last season into 2014-15. The Orange are shooting 21 percent from 3-point range, the fourth-worst average in the country. After starting 25-0 a year ago, Syracuse has lost to Cal, Michigan and St. John’s.

Nebraska was on this list before losing to Incarnate Word on Wednesday. That’s how the standards have changed at Nebraska. There was a time when the Cornhuskers losing to a solid Atlantic 10 team on the road (Rhode Island) or even Creighton at home wouldn’t have been a big deal. Tim Miles has elevated the program to a point where those are signs for concern. Miles essentially has a two-man team between Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. That’s not going to be enough in the Big Ten.

Even if it was with a bizarre finish, LSU’s win over West Virginia in Morgantown was a good sign for the Tigers. Still, LSU has too much talent and experience to be losing to teams like Old Dominion and Clemson. Those will hurt if LSU can’t get its act together in the SEC schedule.

Kansas State
The Wildcats were a solid, if unspectacular, NCAA Tournament team last season. With some of their best player sophomores this season, K-State was a fringe top 25 team. That’s long gone now. Kansas State has already dropped games to Long Beach State, Pittsburgh and Tennessee (and Arizona, but that was expected). The Wildcats have been surprisingly bad on the defensive end this season.

10 Teams that Flopped in the First Month of the College Basketball Season
Post date: Friday, December 12, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Golden State Warriors, NBA
Path: /nba/steve-kerr-best-start-nba-coaching-history

Phil Jackson, Gregg Popovich, Red Auerbach, Pat Riley — these are the four horsemen of NBA leadership. Among them, they own more than half of the league’s championships.


But rookie coach Steve Kerr (who happens to have played for two of those men, in Jackson and Popovich) has all of them beat in one category so far. With his Golden State Warriors’ 19-2 start, he’s off to the best beginning in NBA coaching history.


The Warriors notched the latest inch of their scintillating record belt last night, with a 105-93 home victory over the second-best team in basketball, the Houston Rockets. James Harden tried to will Houston to victory almost single-handedly against the deep Warriors roster in Oakland — racking up 34 points on 14-of-27 shooting, to go with eight rebounds, four assists and four steals — but GSW was simply too much.


Steph Curry and Harrison Barnes both had 20 points in the Warriors’ win — Klay Thompson had 21. The team has now won fourteen straight.


By beating Houston, Kerr’s squad passed phase one of a tough new stretch in their schedule. Up next are the Dallas Mavericks. Then, Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the rejuvenated Oklahoma City Thunder, who’ll be extra motivated with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back in action and a bad standings hole to climb out of.


In the Western Conference, gauntlets like this are a dime a dozen. That’s what makes it hard to believe the Warriors can keep up this pace, even if they are the best team in basketball. The competition is simply too stiff.


But if the charmed Kerr’s lifelong streak of success is any indication, the Warriors might just be able to run through the best conference ever with a shining mark. Kerr’s a golden boy; every basketball thing he touches seems to improve. He’s thrived as an NBA role player, a TNT announcer next to the iconic Marv Albert, and now — albeit very early on — he’s unimpeachable as a head coach. 


— John Wilmes


Post date: Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 15:55
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News
Path: /college-football/college-footballs-2014-15-bowl-predictions-and-picks

College football’s bowl season kicks off on Saturday, Dec. 20 and extends until Jan. 12 with the national championship in Arlington, Texas in the first year of the four-team playoff. With the bowl lineup set and confidence pools and pick’em contests set to start on Dec. 20, Athlon’s editors give their predictions for the bowl season.


Alabama is the consensus playoff champion, but there’s some disagreement on the Oregon-Florida State matchup. And there’s no shortage of variance on some of the smaller bowls, including the Liberty, Russell Athletic, Alamo and Hawaii.


Note: Number in parentheses indicates confidence in prediction. A No. 38 ranking indicates more confidence in the prediction, while a lower number indicates less confidence in a pick.


College Football's 2014-15 Bowl Predictions
New Orleans (14) (17) (2) (23) (20)
New Mexico (29) (8) (36) (34) (22)
Las Vegas (24) (29) (22) (13) (24)
Idaho Potato (19) (7) (6) (6) (37)
Camellia (2) (28) (3) (30) (17)
Miami Beach (9) (5) (5) (19) (18)
Boca Raton (25) (6) (37) (16) (35)
Poinsettia (7) (27) (15) (7) (36)
Bahamas (21) (3) (4) (20) (38)
Hawaii (1)(4) (1) (14) (34)
Heart of Dallas (3) (2) (21) (15) (6)
Quick Lane (13) (16) (14) (10) (14)
St. Petersburg (15) (1) (13) (11) (31)
Military(17)(26) (12) (12) (27)
Sun (33)(35) (33) (32) (23)
Independence (23) (15) (7) (1) (7)
Pinstripe (20) (14) (23) (17) (10)
Holiday(34) (25) (34) (33) (5)
Liberty (5) (13) (8) (21) (13)
Russell Athletic (12) (11) (19) (22) (8)
Texas (18) (12) (19) (2) (4)
Music City (38) (36) (38) (31) (32)
Belk (28) (30) (20) (38) (3)
Foster Farms (31)(23) (35) (24) (21)
Outback  (37) (24) (32) (37) (12)
Citrus (30) (31) (25) (25) (1)
Armed Forces (26) (10) (11) (3) (33)
Taxslayer (4) (9) (24) (18) (16)
Alamo (6) (32) (10) (26) (19)
Cactus (32) (22) (29) (35) (2)
Birmingham (16) (21) (31) (8) (26)
GoDaddy (22) (20) (28) (9) (9)
Chick-fil-A (11) (33) (16) (4) (25)
Fiesta (27) (34) (26) (36) (11)
Orange (36) (19) (27) (28) (30)
Cotton (10) (38) (9) (27) (15)
Rose (8) (18) (20) (5) (28)
Sugar (35) (37) (17) (29) (29)


College Football's 2014-15 Bowl Picks and Predictions
Post date: Thursday, December 11, 2014 - 13:00