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New Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd comes into training camp with a maverick chip on his shoulder. After spending his first year leading the Brooklyn Nets (a job he got almost immediately after retiring from the New York Knicks in 2013), Kidd exited his franchise on controversial terms. He jumped ship to the midwest very suddenly and unexpectedly this summer, after it leaked out that he’d been steeped in a long, bitter power struggle with Brooklyn’s front office. The first-year coach was fighting for more salary and a dominant role in the team’s personnel decisions — a brash approach, to say the least.
So it doesn’t come as a shock that he’s got the moxie to try out some new, seemingly ridiculous ideas on the floor. He’ll be starting Giannis Antetokounmpo — the sensational 19-year-old from Greece — as the Bucks lead point guard. Anteokounmpo (known by many as “The Greek Freak”) is 6’11” with a 7’4” wingspan, and he’s said to still be growing.
He’s also a phenomenal athlete, with excellent vision — both prerequisites for excelling as a point guard in the modern NBA. But a man of his length doesn’t typically have success bringing the ball up and down the floor for a whole professional game. And 19-year-olds, as we know, are not the soundest of decision-makers. Antetokounmpo’s time running the point seems like more like a preseason learning experiment than a prospective Bucks reality, for now. But Kidd feels confident about it.
"We've seen it in practice, and so when you see a player's comfort level with the ball no matter what size, we want to see it in game action," Kidd said back in July, a presage to this development. "We slowly have started letting him have the ball and running the offense.”
Antetokounmpo will start at point guard Tuesday night, when the Bucks face off against LeBron James and the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers; no training wheels for you, Giannis.
— John Wilmes
The Oregon-Washington matchup on Saturday is one of the top games for Week 8. The Northwest rivalry has plenty of intrigue, and the Ducks plan to go retro with their uniforms on Saturday.
Oregon is wearing throwback uniforms from 1994, which mark a critical moment in the program’s history. In 1994, cornerback Kenny Wheaton intercepted a pass from Washington quarterback Damon Huard and returned it for a touchdown, helping the Ducks reach the Rose Bowl.
Here’s a look at Oregon’s retro uniforms for Saturday’s game:
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 14:
• The 10 best fields in college football, starting with the Smurf Turf in Boise.
• Jerry Jones says he's been instructed not to talk about Johnny Football any more. Instructed by whom? I didn't know Jerry answered to anyone.
• Jimmy Kimmel appeals to the five-year-old in all of us. Last night, weather map drawings shaped like pee-pees.
• Bulls fans will be delighted to see this sweet Derrick Rose crossover.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The new college football playoff format has added even more intrigue to the 2014 season. Instead of figuring out the top two teams in early December, the focus has shifted to finding four teams to play in the first FBS postseason playoff format.
To help select the four playoff teams, a 13-person committee was picked, which includes names like Barry Alvarez, Oliver Luck, Pat Haden and Jeff Long, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former coach Tyrone Willingham.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. The official playoff committee will release its rankings starting on Oct. 28, but this poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey), SBNation.com
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 7 Playoff Projection
Takeaways from Expert Poll Results
* Mississippi State recorded 16 of the 21 first-place votes.
* Florida State ranked second with three-first place votes, but Ole Miss edged the Seminoles for the No. 2 spot in the rankings due to eight second-place votes and 10 third-place votes.
* For the third consecutive week, the voting panel has identified a clear top four: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Florida State and Baylor.
* Notre Dame is a distant No. 5 to Baylor, and the Fighting Irish are just 15 points ahead of a one-loss team (Auburn).
* Oregon is the only Pac-12 team receiving consideration in the post-Week 7 poll. The Ducks rank No. 7 after defeating UCLA 42-30.
* The SEC has five teams receiving consideration in this week’s expert poll. The Big 12 ranks second with three teams receiving votes.
* Through three committee votes, Florida State is the only team to rank among the top four teams in each poll.
Group of 5 Rankings
(One team from the Group of 5 conferences - American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt - will play in one of college football's premier (New Year's Bowls) each season.
1. East Carolina
The Pirates started slow but pulled away from USF for a 28-17 win. East Carolina is the clear favorite for the top spot from the Group of Five teams, but this team will be tested in early November with road trips to Temple and Cincinnati.
Another week, another blowout victory for Marshall. The Thundering Herd defeated MTSU 49-24 to improve to 6-0. Strength of schedule is the biggest obstacle for Doc Holliday’s team, and barring a loss by East Carolina, Marshall is probably on the outside for the Group of 5 spot. November games against Rice and at UAB are the Thundering Herd’s biggest remaining challenges.
3. Boise State
Boise State had a bye in Week 7 and returns to action on Friday night against Fresno State. The Broncos will have a chance to improve their standing in this ranking in the second half of the season, as games against BYU and Utah State are opportunities for good wins.
4. Colorado State
The Rams survived a late rally by Nevada to win 31-24. Jim McElwain’s team has won four in a row since losing to Boise State and hosts Utah State in a key Mountain West showdown this Saturday.
5. Utah State
The Aggies make their first appearance of the year in the Group of 5 rankings thanks to a 34-16 win over Air Force in Week 7. Utah State could move up these rankings with a win over Colorado State on Saturday.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 8
Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh (Thursday)
7:30 p.m. ET
Each Virginia Tech win helps to bolster East Carolina’s resume for the top spot in the Group of 5 rankings. This is also a key game for the Coastal Division.
Baylor at West Virginia
Noon ET, Fox Sports 1
Two years ago, these teams accounted for 133 points in Morgantown. Expect more fireworks once again this Saturday, as Baylor hopes to avoid a letdown in a tough road environment.
Kansas State at Oklahoma
Noon ET, ESPN
Oklahoma needs a win to keep within distance of TCU and Baylor in the Big 12. With a win over the Sooners, Kansas State has a chance to move into consideration for the top spot in the league.
Texas A&M at Alabama
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Back-to-back losses have knocked Texas A&M out of the SEC West title picture, and the schedule won’t get easier with a trip to Tuscaloosa. Alabama struggled in last week’s 14-13 win over Arkansas. Can the Crimson Tide offense get back on track?
Georgia at Arkansas
4 p.m. ET, SEC Network
The Razorbacks are close to a breakthrough win in SEC play under second-year coach Bret Bielema. Can Arkansas play spoiler this Saturday? Or will Georgia continue to survive without running back Todd Gurley?
Oklahoma State at TCU
4 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
The Cowboys are quietly 5-1, but this team hasn’t faced a quality opponent since the opener against Florida State. TCU is looking to rebound after blowing a 58-37 lead against Baylor in Week 7.
Missouri at Florida
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Neither team is in contention for a spot in college football’s playoff, but this is a critical game for positioning in the SEC East.
Notre Dame at Florida State
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Were the Fighting Irish looking ahead in last week’s sluggish performance against North Carolina? Florida State has yet to play its best game in 2014, and with the young talent on both sides of the ball, this team can get better as the season progresses.
Washington at Oregon
8 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Will Oregon’s offensive line contain an aggressive Washington front seven? The Huskies have a chance to get a marquee win under first-year coach Chris Petersen.
Stanford at Arizona State
10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Arizona State won’t have Taylor Kelly, but Mike Bercovici is a capable quarterback. Stanford’s offense is still a work in progress, but the defense is one of the best in the nation.
With seven weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is surrounded in uncertainty.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
While only seven weeks are in the books, it’s never too early to start looking at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 7 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first five weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks, especially as the heart of conference play arrives in October.
Teams just missing the projections: USF, Northwestern, Western Kentucky, North Texas, San Diego State, Texas State, Ohio and ULM. Remember: It’s only Week 7. Several changes are coming, and it’s impossible to project all of the wins and losses the rest of the way considering how much changes week-to-week in college football.
College Football's Post-Week 7 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs. |
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs. |
| Louisiana Tech vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Northern Illinois vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Akron vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
| Cincinnati vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
| Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| MTSU vs.|
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| Boston College vs.|
|Bitcoin St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| Pittsburgh vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| Miami vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs. |
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| West Virginia vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American/Army vs.|
| Houston vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs. |
| TCU vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs. |
| Texas vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs. |
| Memphis vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Bowling Green vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| East Carolina vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Oregon vs.|
|Dec. 31||ACC vs.|
| Clemson vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| Michigan State vs.|
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 7|
| Florida State vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
The New York Giants not only lost 27-0 to NFC East rival Philadelphia on Sunday, they also lost wide receiver Victor Cruz for the rest of the season to a torn patellar tendon. Cruz, the team’s leading receiver each of the past three seasons, suffered the injury while trying to catch a short touchdown pass in the third quarter.
Cruz underwent surgery on Monday to repair the damage to his knee. Besides putting an end to this season, this injury could impact Cruz’ availability at the start of next season, depending on the severity. But it’s too soon to start worrying about 2015, as the Giants must figure out what they are going to do to replace Cruz for their remaining 10 games this season.
From a fantasy standpoint, Cruz came out of nowhere to emerge as the No. 4 wide receiver in 2011 (Athlon scoring) and followed that up with a top-15 campaign in ’12. His numbers dipped a bit last season, but he still wound up just outside of the top 30 at his position. He entered this season as a top-15 option, but got off to a slow start in the Giants’ new offense under rookie coordinator Bob McAdoo.
After totaling just 84 yards in the first two games, Cruz posted back-to-back 100-yard efforts in Weeks 3 and 4. Now, McAdoo as well as Eli Manning will have to look elsewhere to fill Cruz’ production, as do his fantasy owners. Here are eight possible options that could fill the bill, starting with two of Cruz’ own teammates. In fact, this list also could prove helpful for Calvin Johnson (ankle) and A.J. Green (toe) owners, as both are expected to miss at least one more game due to injury.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants
Randle should assume the role of Giants No. 1 wide receiver following Victor Cruz’ season-ending injury. Already the most targeted Giant (49); Randle’s scoring opportunities (2 TD catches thus far) should increase in Cruz’ absence. Randle has had opportunities to emerge as a reliable, every-week fantasy starter in the past, but this could be his best chance yet. Manning needs Randle more than ever, so it’s just a matter of the third-year wideout rising to the occasion. Regardless, any wide receiver that averages 10 targets over a four-game span is worth some attention.
Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants
While Rueben Randle moves into the No. 1 spot, don’t sleep on Beckham. He was the Giants’ first-round pick for a reason and if not for a bothersome hamstring injury that kept him out until Week 5, he may not have even qualified for this list (from an ownership standpoint). As it is, Beckham’s injury could turn out to be a blessing for a hamstrung fantasy owner, as it took just one game for the former LSU Tiger to make an impression. Two weeks ago, Beckham caught four passes in his NFL debut for 44 yards and a touchdown. He had just two grabs in Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia, but every Giant offensive player struggled in that game. Despite the missed time, Beckham was already established as the team’s No. 3 wideout and his opportunities should only increase with him moving into Victor Cruz’ starting spot alongside Randle. It’s not out of the question that Beckham finishes the season with better fantasy numbers than Randle.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals were without pair of injured wideouts in A.J. Green (toe) and Marvin Jones (ankle) against the Panthers, leaving Sanu as the No. 1 guy. He filled in admirably, as he was targeted a team-high 14 times. He paced the offense with 10 receptions for 120 yards to go along with a touchdown. The initial reports are that Green will miss at least another game, while Jones has yet to even practice, so Sanu’s reign as Cincinnati’s top wideout should last at least one more week. And even with Sanu having to share the spotlight (and targets) when Green is on the field, he’s done enough to rank just outside of the top 10 in fantasy scoring at his position.
Brian Quick, St. Louis Rams
Perhaps the most surprising member of this list, Quick has emerged from obscurity on his own team to become the Rams’ top receiving threat. Prior to a virtual no-show (1 rec., 10 yds.) on Monday night against San Francisco, Quick had produced double-digit scoring efforts in his previous four games, including a two-touchdown showing against Philadelphia in Week 5. St. Louis is already on its third starting quarterback of the season, but it looks head coach Jeff Fisher has settled on Austin Davis. Based on the early returns, if Davis wants to succeed he needs to make sure Quick remains actively involved in the passing game.
Cecil Shorts, Jacksonville Jaguars
An under-appreciated asset in fantasy, Shorts’ 2014 season has been hampered by injuries. He missed the first two games with a hamstring injury, then returned and paced the team in targets and caught a touchdown pass. He re-aggravated the hamstring injury a week later, but was out just one game before catching 10 passes (on 16 targets) for 103 yards Sunday against Tennessee. Don’t forget that Shorts was the Jaguars’ top wideout in both 2012 and ‘13. With first-round pick Blake Bortles now in place as the starter, Shorts is an established No. 1 wide receiver that could develop into a legitimate WR2 fantasy option before this season is over. He just needs to show he can stay healthy.
Justin Hunter, Tennessee Titans
A popular breakout candidate entering this season, Hunter may finally be settling in as the Titans’ No. 1 wide receiver. He’s third on the team in targets (37) and receptions (15), but he’s second in yards (314) thanks to a gaudy 20.9 ypc. He has five catches of 20 or more yards, and he’s seeing the most snaps of any wide receiver on the roster. Tennessee’s quarterback situation remains a work in progress, but Hunter should remain at the forefront of the Titans’ passing game moving forward. WR1 potential and upside clearly exists with Hunter. It’s just a matter of him putting it all together.
James Jones, Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have plenty of issues on offense and are starting a rookie quarterback, but Jones has provided a steady, veteran presence that has provided top-25 fantasy production. The former Green Bay Packer leads the team in targets (35), receptions (26) and yards (328) and is tied for the lead in touchdowns with three. He has caught at least three passes in every game and while Oakland may have more explosive options in players like Andre Holmes, but no one has been more consistent than Jones. Sometimes consistency pays off, even in fantasy.
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa Bay is on bye this week, but that actually could make Evans’ even more appealing from here out. The Bucs’ first-round pick suffered a groin injury late in the Week 4 win in Pittsburgh, a game in which he posted his best effort (4-65-1) of the season. Initially expected to miss two to four weeks, Evans sat out last week but returned Sunday against Baltimore. He caught just four passes for 55 yards in the loss to the Ravens, but what was encouraging were the targets (8) and he scored another touchdown even though he was at less than 100 percent health-wise. Now with a week to fully recover, Evans should maintain a steady presence in what has become a productive passing attack since Mike Glennon took over for an injured Josh McCown.
The injury situation got worse this past Sunday, as the list of key fantasy football players who won’t play in Week 7 only got longer. Victor Cruz and Stevan Ridley are the latest to watch their seasons come to an early end, while A.J. Green and Jimmy Graham are among those expected to miss at least one more game. On top of that, Philadelphia and Tampa Bay are both on bye this week. So what’s a beleaguered fantasy owner to do?
Athlon Sports is here to help you sort through some of the potential free agent options. The players listed in our weekly fantasy football waiver wire may be one-week adds, some may be worth holding on to all season long and some are of the “sleeper” variety that you may simply want to keep an eye on.
Teams on bye: Philadelphia, Tampa Bay
Week 6 Recap: Ryan Tannehill threw for two touchdown passes, but he also had two interceptions, as Aaron Rodgers and the Packers ripped the Dolphins’ guts out with a last-second, game-winning touchdown on Sunday. Brian Hoyer wasn’t needed that much (217-1-0) as the Browns ran over (158 yards rushing, 3 TDs) the Steelers.
Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens
Flacco certainly isn’t a “new” quarterback in that he’s a rookie or that he hasn’t been suggested in this space before. What is new, however, is the fact that the Ravens’ offense was clicking on all cylinders against Tampa Bay. Flacco tossed four touchdown passes in the first quarter, on his way to 42.2 fantasy points (Athlon scoring), the most any player has scored in a single week this season. What’s even more encouraging is that Flacco wasn’t sacked or picked off and his 21 completions went to eight different players. On top of all of this, Baltimore hosts Atlanta, a team that just gave up 478 total yards at home to Chicago, on Sunday.
Week 6 Recap: Branden Oliver followed up his breakthrough game (182 total yards, 2 TDs) against the Jets with another 101 yards rushing and a touchdown against the Raiders. As long as Ryan Mathews (sprained MCL) remains sidelined, Oliver should retain a prominent role in San Diego’s offense. Ronnie Hillman also rushed for 100 against the Jets, but he didn’t score and finished with just three receptions (for 16 yards). Andre Williams’ first career NFL start did not go well (16 att, 58 yds.), as Philadelphia’s defense shut down the Giants’ offense. Benny Cunningham scored the first touchdown of the Monday night game against San Francisco, but didn't do much else the rest of the way, finishing the game with 33 total yards (21 rushing) on nine touches.
Brandon Bolden, New England Patriots
Stevan Ridley left Sunday’s game with a knee injury, which was later confirmed as a torn ACL and MCL. Ridley’s season is over and while Shane Vereen would seem the logical candidate to see an increase in carries, Bolden actually finished with more rushing attempts (6 to 5) against the Dolphins. It’s very hard to figure out exactly how the Patriots are going to use their running backs each week, but the mere fact that Bolden had the most carries after Ridley got hurt is a sign that he should have some sort of role moving forward. Don’t forget that Ridley was averaging about 16 carries per game. In his career, Bolden is averaging 4.5 yards per carry (126 att.).
Isaiah Crowell, Cleveland Browns
Ben Tate is back from injury and has reclaimed his role as the Browns’ No. 1 option since his return, but as Sunday showed, there’s enough room in this offense for two productive rushers. Crowell picked up 77 yards on 11 carries (7.0 ypc) and his fourth rushing touchdown of the season. The important thing to note, however, is the fact that fellow rookie Terrance West was a healthy scratch against the Steelers. Tate may be No. 1 on the depth chart, but he’s already missed significant time this season because of a sprained knee. At this point, it looks like Crowell has passed West on the depth chart, so all it takes is another Tate injury for Crowell to see even more touches.
Mark Ingram, New Orleans Saints
Ingram broke his hand in Week 2, but it’s possible he could be back as soon as this Sunday. Ingram likely will be eased back into action, but with all of the other injuries, this could be a golden opportunity to fortify your RB depth. Prior to the injury, Ingram was off to a great start, averaging nearly six yards per carry and finding the end zone three times in less than two complete games. The Saints also have Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson in their backfield, but the former is more of a receiving threat, while the latter was behind Ingram in the pecking order before he got hurt. Once Ingram shows his hand is completely healed, there’s no reason to not expect him to reclaim his role as New Orleans’ top rusher.
Week 6 Recap: Louis Murphy Jr. saw the second-most targets (9) behind Vincent Jackson (13) on Sunday, turning those into seven receptions for 72 yards and another touchdown. Justin Hunter was targeted just five times, but he was the Titans’ most productive receiver for a second straight game (3 rec., 77 yds.). Odell Beckham Jr. finished with just two grabs for 28 yards, but the entire Giants offense struggled mightily against the Eagles. Beckham’s role also figures to increase moving forward with Victor Cruz now out for the season.
Andre Holmes, Oakland Raiders
Oakland lost yet again on Sunday, but for one game, this offense didn’t look like the same old Raiders. Interim head coach Tony Sparano wasted little time in attacking San Diego’s secondary, as rookie quarterback Derek Carr hooked up with Holmes for a 77-yard touchdown on the third play of the game. Carr and Holmes also connected for a six-yard scoring strike that gave Oakland the lead early in the fourth quarter. Whether the Raiders can maintain this production remains to be seen, but it looks like Holmes may have emerged as one of Carr’s preferred targets.
Brandon LaFell, New England Patriots
After a slow start with his new team, LaFell has averaged seven targets per game over the past four. During this stretch he’s accounted for 282 yards receiving and three touchdowns. Two of those scores came on Sunday against Buffalo. Fellow wideout Julian Edelman and tight end Rob Gronkowski are secure as two of Tom Brady’s most trusted targets, but the Patriots have needed someone to step up behind them. With a combination of size (6-3, 210), speed and athleticism, LaFell is starting to establish himself as the team’s most dangerous deep threat while also being productive in the red zone.
Rueben Randle, New York Giants
Even though he has just two touchdown catches, Randle has been the most targeted Giants receiver thus far (49). And that doesn’t figure to change now that that Victor Cruz is done for the season. Cruz tore the patellar tendon in his right knee in the Sunday night loss to the Eagles. With Cruz out, Randle should take over as the Giants’ No. 1 wideout with rookie Odell Beckham Jr. sliding over to Randle’s No. 2 spot. It’s entirely possible that Beckham ends up being more productive, but Randle’s fantasy potential has also increased and he should definitely be on your radar if he’s available in your league.
Mohamed Sanu, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals were without both A.J. Green (toe) and Marvin Jones (ankle) against the Panthers and Sanu filled in admirably. He led the team in all three receiving categories, as he was targeted 14 times and turned those into 10 receptions for 120 yards and a touchdown. The initial reports are that Green will miss at least another game, while Jones has yet to practice since injuring his ankle, so Sanu’s reign as Cincinnati’s No. 1 wide receiver should last at least one more week. You could do worse if you are looking for a bye week or injury fill-in option.
Week 6 Recap: Tim Wright got a grand total of one target Sunday against Buffalo, but it was good for a one-yard touchdown. So at least Wright’s got that going for him.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Out since injuring his hamstring in the season opener, Reed returned Sunday and was an immediate factor, if not force, in the Redskins’ passing game. He led the team in both targets (11) and receptions (8) while finishing second in yards with 92. Reed was considered a top-10 TE entering this season and he definitely has that potential, provided he stays healthy.
Benjamin Watson, New Orleans Saints
The Saints were on bye last week and it sounds like they will be without All-Pro Jimmy Graham for even longer. Graham could reportedly miss another three weeks because of a sprained shoulder he suffered against Tampa Bay. It’s virtually impossible to replace a guy like Graham, but as far as the Saints are concerned that role should fall to Watson. An 11-year veteran, Watson has been targeted just 12 times this season, catching nine of those for 64 yards. Josh Hill (7 rec., 2 TDs) and recently signed Tom Crabtree also could factor in, but Watson has the most experience. He may be someone worth keeping an eye on, especially for those looking for a bye week fill-in.
Related: 5 Tight Ends to Replace Jimmy Graham
Week 6 Recap: Philadelphia’s DST kept things rolling, pitching a shutout of the Giants on Sunday night. The Eagles posted eight sacks and recovered a fumble and are leading all fantasy DSTs in scoring by quite a bit. Philadelphia is on bye this week, but this could be a good time to pick this DST up, if it’s still available.
The Bills were torched (37 PA, 396 yards) by New England on Sunday, but a rebound could be in order for their DST this week. Buffalo hosts Minnesota and rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is coming off a horrendous showing (188-0-3) against Detroit. The Bills are second only to the Lions in sacks with 19 and are leading the NFL in rushing defense (67.5 ypg). The Vikings meanwhile have allowed the second most sacks in the league (22) and struggled to get much of anything going against the Lions. This could be a recipe for fantasy success for Buffalo’s DST at home this Sunday.
Scoring is based on Athlon Sports default scoring which is 6 points for all TDs, .5 points per reception and 1 point PER 25 yards passing, 10 yards rushing/receiving and 40 return yards.
Even though he’s been at the center of many a piece of viral internet media (otherwise known as a meme) Russell Westbrook had this to say recently:
Russell Westbrook asked if he's seen meme of him with MVP trophy: "I don't know what memes is" pic.twitter.com/qYLraqM26e— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) October 13, 2014
Westbrook is a trend-setting 25-year-old. For him to say he doesn’t “know what memes is” is on par with your grandpa telling you he’s never heard of books before.
In other words: Nice try, Russ. We know you see how the internet writes love letters to your uncanny explosive capacities, and enigmatic off-court persona. Sometimes his fans frame him in ways like the photo above, but sometimes Wesbrook’s outfits are enough on their own to get his face jumping around the net all day:
Russell Westbrook walks into Staples Center with another interesting outfit pic.twitter.com/JaIYdY5c— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) January 27, 2013
Such flair wouldn’t grab our attention, though, if it wasn’t backed up by Westbrook’s stature and skill. The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard is frequently critiqued for being reckless and selfish with the ball, but the list of players who make a similar impact on the game doesn’t extend beyond one hand. There’s actually a lot truth to the joke of the “SOON…” meme — he might be MVP good in 2014-15. Down the stretch of the Thunder’s Western Conference playoff run, it was often Westbrook, not Kevin Durant, who kept his team alive in close games.
And now that Durant, the league’s reigning MVP, is out for as much as two months with a foot fracture, Westbrook has a chance to prove his worth more than ever. And we get to see what Westbrook will look like as an even more unfettered man than he was before. His creativity, on and off the court, suggests we’re in for a hell of a ride.
So while winning games without the best scorer in the world promises to be Westbrook’s greatest challenge as a pro — and while we don’t know if he can do it until he does or doesn’t — we know one thing for sure: He’s going to give us great TV trying.
— John Wilmes
If the last two weeks were a celebration of what the state of Mississippi has accomplished, this week’s slate of games will be a chance for the traditional powers to recapture the attention of the country.
On Sunday, Florida State dropped from its perch at No. 1, a spot where it had been since Dec. 1 last year. The Seminoles could reclaim the top ranking when it faces Notre Dame, provided they can emerge (again) from a wave of off-field news surrounding Jameis Winston.
Meanwhile, teams like Oklahoma and Alabama haven’t looked like the playoff contenders they appeared to be only weeks ago. Games against Kansas State and Texas A&M, respectively, could be key games for the Sooners and Tide to return to the forefront of the conversation.
Previewing the Top five Games of Week 8
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Kansas State at Oklahoma
When and where: Noon, ESPN
We’re watching because... we want to see if Oklahoma starts to look the part of a national title contender again. The Sooners followed a loss to TCU with a mere five-point win over a 2-4 Texas team. Oklahoma amassed only 232 yards against Texas (partially due to two fewer possessions due to non-offensive touchdowns), but the Sooners are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry the last two games. Kansas State is coming off a bye week after a 45-13 throttling of Texas Tech.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 8 1/2
Oklahoma State at TCU
When and where: 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... we’re curious what TCU has left in the tank after the last two weeks. Until the 10:39 mark against Baylor, TCU had a win over Oklahoma and a three-touchdown lead against Baylor on its resume. The Bears finished with 24 unanswered points for a 61-58 win. What kind of toll with that take on TCU’s psyche? Oklahoma State is 3-0 in the Big 12 but its wins have come against the three worst teams in the conference by an average of 11.3 points.
Vegas says: TCU by 9
Texas A&M at Alabama
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... after the last two seasons, this game has proven to be the most entertaining series in the SEC. Without Johnny Manziel facing a No. 1-ranked Alabama team, perhaps the stakes feel different, but both teams need to add a jolt to their seasons. The Tide responded to a loss to Ole Miss with a sloppy 14-13 win at Arkansas. Facing the Aggies’ defense may provide the boost the Crimson Tide offense needs. Meanwhile, A&M quarterback Kenny Hill has cooled since a torrid start. He’s thrown six interceptions the last three SEC games.
Vegas says: Alabama by 12
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Notre Dame at Florida State
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... Florida State can reclaim its spot at No. 1, or Notre Dame can build some legitimacy. Wide-ranging off-field issues — mostly concerning quarterback Jameis Winston — haven’t impacted FSU's record, but that’s against teams like Wake Forest and Syracuse. The lack of statement wins helped knock Florida State out of the No. 1 spot in the polls, so a game against undefeated Notre Dame is an opportunity for the Seminoles to restore their championship credentials. Meanwhile, the Irish are coming off two nail-biting wins over Stanford and North Carolina. Is Notre Dame finding ways to win like it did during the run to the 2012 title game or is it flirting with disaster?
Vegas says: Florida State by 12
Washington at Oregon
When and where: 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1
We’re watching because... Oregon is becoming an intriguing litmus test for the selection committee. True, this is a rivalry game featuring a Heisman contender (Marcus Mariota) and an upstart program looking to reverse a 10-game losing streak in a rivalry (Washington). That said, a one-loss Oregon could be an interesting test for the first College Football Playoff selection committee. The Ducks lost to Arizona and played their worst football of the season with an injured offensive line. When that offensive line is healthy, the Ducks have two of the best wins of the season (Michigan State, at UCLA). The BCS system likely would have punished a team like this. The selection committee is supposed to take these nuances into account ... but only if Oregon keeps winning. Also: Marcus Mariota vs. Shaq Thompson is the best offense vs. defense matchup of the year.
Vegas says: Oregon by 21
No. 4 Duke reloads for another season with another highly touted freshman. This time, though, may be different than the one-and-done seasons from Jabari Parker and Kyrie Irving. This year’s top rookie Jahlil Okafor perhaps has the highest ceiling of any of them with his rare game in the post. Will that be enough for Duke in the postseason? The Blue Devils have been a national contender as usual, but they’ve also gone one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years.
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With a young core and no guarantees that it will have time to mature together, Duke again finds itself in the situation that produced last season’s wild but ultimately unsatisfying ride.
Last year’s Blue Devils featured two NBA first-rounders in freshman Jabari Parker and transfer Rodney Hood. Despite the talent, the team failed to find a consistently winning formula. The Blue Devils won 26 games and reached the ACC Tournament final but lost to Mercer in their NCAA opener.
It’s against that backdrop that Duke welcomes a top-ranked recruiting class headlined by center Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones, two players expected to have short stays in college.
Also in the class are forward Justise Winslow and shooting guard Grayson Allen. They’ll join a roster stocked with veterans, many of whom have shown — but for various reasons haven’t consistently reached — immense potential.
Once again, a team built on a foundation that might not be intact beyond this season will have a short window in which to see how far it can go.
“I would like the guys we bring in to stay longer,” says Mike Krzyzewski. “Because you can make them better, they make you better and you develop a bigger bond. ... But we have a great opportunity to bring in great kids who are really good players. So we have to keep trying to figure it out.”
No. 4 Duke Blue Devils Facts & Figures
Last season: 26-9, 13-5 ACC
Postseason: NCAA round of 64
Consecutive NCAAs: 19
Coach: Mike Krzyzewski (910-247 at Duke, 362-149 ACC)
ACC Projection: First
Postseason Projection: NCAA Final Four
Krzyzewski is known for his loathing of position labels. He feels they can limit what players feel they’re capable of. But labels or not, last season’s front line sorely lacked definition. Parker, who could be dangerous playing on the wing, spent plenty of time down low. When Parker wasn’t down there, slender 6-9 forward Amile Jefferson was the one tasked with taking on opposing centers, often at a significant size disadvantage.
While this season’s bunch will feature plenty of youth, the Blue Devils’ new pieces should provide more clarity.
The days of yearning for a viable option at center will end as Okafor should be one of the league’s top big men immediately. Krzyzewski has made it clear that he’d like to make the 7-foot Okafor a focal point.
Junior Marshall Plumlee, another 7-footer, will again try to find a spot in the rotation. He’s shown the same fire but little of the production of his two older brothers, both former Duke centers.
Jefferson should be able to slide over to the more comfortable forward role and get help from Winslow and Semi Ojeleye, a brawny but untested sophomore.
Few position battles will be juicier than the one between Jones and senior point guard Quinn Cook.
Thus far, Cook has shown himself to be capable of electrifying highs and puzzling lows. Last season offered a glimpse of his inconsistency. He scored in double figures in 13 of the Blue Devils’ first 15 games but was left out of the starting lineup in the final 10.
Krzyzewski has pointed to a lack of on-court leadership as one of last season’s downfalls, while praising Jones’ leadership ability.
As a senior, Cook will have every opportunity to be Duke’s prime ball-handler, but with Jones in the mix, he’ll be pushed. However, Duke’s willingness to go with a guard-heavy lineup means that the two could play together at times.
Like Cook, Rasheed Sulaimon has crammed a lot of good moments and some forgettable ones into his Duke career. He had a slow start to his sophomore season, which included a rare healthy scratch against Michigan. But by season’s end, he’d elbowed his way into the starting lineup and become a key piece of the backcourt equation.
Allen and sophomore Matt Jones, whom Krzyzewski has singled out for his defense, will also figure heavily into the mix.
Krzyzewski has stressed that down seasons, which with Duke’s high standards would likely include 2013-14, can be useful if there are lessons that can be learned from them. In this case, Krzyzewski and his staff have taken a look at how they can better instill an understanding of the program’s bedrocks — like fierce-but-disciplined defense and effective on-court communication — in players who may only be on campus for a short period.
Duke has the pieces to make a run at an ACC title and maybe more. The only question the Blue Devils face is: Will they find the right fit in time?
Jahlil Okafor, a 7’0” center, has the body and game that could make him the latest in Duke’s line of one-and-done stars. Court vision and a dangerous jumper could put point guard Tyus Jones on that track, too. Justise Winslow, a 6’6” forward, will fit nicely on the wing. Athletic guard Grayson Allen should see minutes.
Brad Keselowski’s actions, both during and after the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte, are what everyone’s talking about this week in NASCAR. After running 16th and watching his title hopes potentially go up in flames, Keselowski took his anger out on Denny Hamlin, playing bumper cars both on the track and on pit road while roughing up Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and even rookie Alex Bowman on the way. He then stayed attached to Hamlin during a wild trip through the garage while the two made contact before Keselowski reportedly knocked random parts in the air, putting random bystanders at risk with his out-of-control Ford before parking next to a plethora of people that, to be brutally honest, were waiting in line to kick his ass.
Kenseth, typically one of the most mild-mannered people you’ll ever meet, was the one who got the best shot. He and Keselowski made contact on a late restart that shot Kenseth’s No. 20 car into the wall and left him on the Chase bubble instead of solidly within the top 5. In retaliation, Keselowski claims his No. 2 Ford was hit multiple times under caution later — moves which ruined the front end of his car and any hope at a top-5 finish (one that Kenseth had already lost).
“Brad basically took a right and shoved him into the fence,” said race winner Kevin Harvick, who witnessed the initial contact between the two. “Every moment matters in this Chase, and Matt Kenseth knew that one particular moment could have been the end.”
But what appears to have driven this whole brawl, reminiscent of the old school NASCAR “Boys have at it” mentality fans supposedly hope for, is the way Keselowski’s Chase has unraveled. A tough break at Kansas last Sunday when he hit the wall after a blown tire, left him 22 points outside the top eight heading to Charlotte. Recovering from that deficit without a win Saturday night or at Talladega this weekend find his hopes of advancement somewhere between “difficult” and “impossible.” Even if Keselowski had finished fifth at Charlotte, where he should have before a green-white-checker mess shuffled everything, he’d be sitting eight points behind the cutoff and failing to control his own destiny sans a win. He now heads to a track at Talladega where you’re basically playing the lottery for roughly three hours.
That’s impossible to grasp for a guy who all season has seemed on cruise control with a good look at a second championship. Roger Penske’s two cars — winners of three of the first five Chase races — top the series with five victories apiece and have led over 2,400 laps combined. Keselowski, two years removed from a 2012 title, had his underdog mentality in full force, determined to prove he’s not a “one-hit wonder” and a driver who could win multiple championships … and maybe even challenge some magical title numbers someday.
Instead, one bad break in this Chase left him at the mercy of the Talladega gods, his season now teetering on the brink. In the meantime, his Joe Gibbs Racing rivals, who combine for only two victories this season, have a strong chance to grab that trophy instead. That three-car organization, who combine for fewer laps led then Keselowski’s 1,506, could all advance into the final eight, stealing a title from under the Penske driver’s nose. It’s like a wild card team in the NFL playoff race defeating the top seed, a juggernaut with a 15-1 record going down to a 9-7, we-snuck-in-because-of-some-tiebreaker opponent.
It’s a type of frustration stick-and-ball players are used to; it’s part of the game in a cruel playoff world where mediocrity can still be rewarded. NASCAR, even with 10 years of the Chase format, has competitors jarred by that ending. Up until this season, its champions still needed to perform over a 10-race stretch, roughly 30 percent of the 36-race schedule. Now? It’s little three-race snippets, equivalent to an NFL playoff game in which one bad day ruins a year worth of quality performances.
“It makes me want to puke every week,” Harvick said of this new format, including a winner-take-all, “final four” showdown at Homestead. “It's been totally different. It's not about worrying about how many points you have or who's where or who's doing what. It's, ‘all right, how are we going to try to figure out how to win this race so we don't have to throw up all week and go to Talladega.’”
Keselowski? He’s going to spend all week in a panic attack, then potentially all offseason wondering about the one that got away. It doesn’t excuse his actions at Charlotte, but it certainly provides an explanation behind what some might call crazy-making behavior.
Through the Gears we go …
FIRST GEAR: What happens now?
Whether Keselowski will be fined or even suspended for his actions is unclear. NASCAR Vice President Robin Pemberton, acting as the mouthpiece for the organization, indicated they’d “collect all the facts” and have announcements Tuesday on potential consequences. Hamlin, who sparked one of the many on-track incidents, felt strongly something has to be done.
“(Keselowski)’s just out of control,” he said. “NASCAR said ‘no tolerance’ for stuff like that.”
Um, sort of. NASCAR also said “Boys, have at it,” which makes what happens from here a little confusing. “They love it,” claimed Harvick, speaking of the sanctioning body. “They were fighting afterwards, that's what it's all about.”
Past history muddies the waters even further. Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears were fined for their parts in a spring incident at Richmond where the latter got punched in the face after the race. No points were lost as a result of the fracas, and Charlotte’s brawl never got quite as heated — all drivers were separated before any serious damage was done. All three drivers here are involved in the title race; taking points away, even instituting a suspension would have serious consequences, setting a precedent NASCAR would be held to the fire for.
That’s why I expect punishment to be minimal. The focus will most likely will be on the way Keselowski hit Kenseth as both cars pulled onto pit road. TV cameras backed up Kenseth’s post-race claim that the driver was sitting vulnerable with all belts off, window down and HANS device fully unhitched. A hit in the wrong place, even going 50 miles an hour, could easily have jarred Kenseth and caused an injury. That contact, more than the on-track fracas, was the reason the 2003 champion was so upset.
A similar incident, involving Kurt Busch at Darlington two years ago, led to a $50,000 fine for the driver (but no loss of series points). I think that hit on his wallet will be sufficient for a brawl that, for good reasons or bad, has a lot of eyes focused on NASCAR this week.
SECOND GEAR: Oh, by the way … there was a winner
Harvick, who’s led a series high 1,815 laps this season, finally cashed in on victory lane, winning for the first time since Darlington in April while surviving a green-white-checker finish. During the final caution, several drivers behind Harvick got fresh tires but there wasn’t enough time to make up the difference, validating crew chief Rodney Childers’ call to stay out.
“In the past here you would have never stayed out there at the end, and you would have got your doors blown off,” said the head wrench. “It was interesting how it played out.”
It was also time for some good luck to finally find its way into the No. 4 camp. This team has found every which way to lose a race, from poor pit stops, to speeding penalties, to terrible restarts by the driver. At some point a new team with 10 months to mature was finally going to start learning how not to beat itself.
“(Harvick) is the leader,” said Childers. “And there's one thing that I get almost every Sunday night or Saturday night, and it's a text message that says, ‘the problems that we have are a lot better than the problems we don't have.’ As soon as I get that message or as soon as he says that, it flips a switch, I move to the next week, all the guys move to the next week and we go try to build the fastest car we can and move on.”
I wouldn’t say the No. 4 team is at complete peace and harmony; after all, their pit crew is now Tony Stewart’s, a move made prior to this Chase after a long line of sorry stops. But the group that remains has become more cohesive, and with Harvick entering the round of eight he’s more of a threat than ever to take home a first title.
THIRD GEAR: One mistake is all you get
Keselowski’s anger was the most visible, but the trio of drivers who left Kansas in a deep Chase hole remained there after a difficult Charlotte. Jimmie Johnson, who took control of this track in May, was largely a non-factor up front, never leading a lap after qualifying a mediocre 21st. Crew chief Chad Knaus and his driver had one colorful radio conversation, straining what has been a largely harmonious marriage. Despite all that, they were in position to run third or fourth until the pit stop prior to the green-white-checker for two tires that dropped them a total of 13 spots at the end. That 17th-place effort, leaving Johnson 26 points behind the top eight, makes Talladega a “win-or-go-home” stop if there’s any shot of earning their seventh Cup title this season.
You can’t blame Knaus for making that choice; he was trying to win, as this format does not allow for a single mulligan. A fourth-place finish for Johnson at Charlotte would still leave him 13 points outside the eighth-place cutoff, behind teammate Kasey Kahne and a nearly-insurmountable 29 behind seventh-place Hamlin. Points didn’t matter in this scenario. A win did, and this duo was expected to perform on what’s been one of their best career racetracks. The fact they fell short verifies that, yes, Hendrick Motorsports wasn’t sandbagging in late summer — it truly did fall behind Penske Racing and others with the new rules package.
As for Dale Earnhardt Jr., he seems to be done in by just plain ol’ bad luck. A broken shifter ruined a top-5 performance, leaving the No. 88 mid-pack and mishandling the rest of the evening. Finishing 20th, a lap off the pace, Earnhardt must now win Talladega, a track where he hasn’t visited victory lane inside a Cup car since 2004.
“I know what we need to do,” he said. “We will just have to build a fast car and hope that we don’t have any gremlins and try to go out there and win it.”
FOURTH GEAR: The tortoise wins the race?
One guy to keep an eye on as we enter the final eight after Talladega is Richard Childress Racing’s Ryan Newman. No doubt, Newman’s No. 31 team has had an impressive Chase, leading a few laps at Kansas and then recovering from a spin — done to avoid Danica Patrick’s wreck at Charlotte — to finish seventh. While several Chasers drowned in the final 15 laps, making the wrong choices under the GWC finish, Newman wound up gaining seven spots.
That leaves him a virtual lock at fourth in points and 21 above ninth to move on unless there’s a major ‘Dega catastrophe. The problem? Newman is perhaps the weakest Chase candidate, with two top-5 finishes in 31 races. He has led only 31 laps and hasn’t single pole to his credit. Yet NASCAR, with its new format, has propelled Newman deep into the playoffs and in position to potentially be crowned series champion after Homestead.
What would it say about the sport should that happen? It’s more of a possibility than you think, with Newman and RCR playing it smart and mastering this new format by focusing on a 10th-place finish every week. It’s working.
Danica Patrick was furious with Joey Logano after contact sent her No. 10 Chevy into the wall. It was the only major wreck at Charlotte, and ruined a top-15 finish for Patrick who has been running much better as of late. She’ll likely have the speed to keep up with Logano, a title contender, at Martinsville in two weeks. Will there be retaliation? … Chip Ganassi Racing continues to impress, with both Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson ending their Charlotte race inside the top six. Larson’s average finish of 3.8 during the playoff races has only been bested by Logano (2.8). … The Trevor Bayne era at Roush Fenway Racing is off to an auspicious start. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner and de facto replacement for the departing Carl Edwards, failed to qualify for Saturday night’s race. His Ford was out-qualified by the likes of rookies Michael Annett and Cole Whitt, both of whom have about 10 percent of the funding. … Jeff Gordon, second at Charlotte, quietly remains the lone Hendrick driver in good position to advance in the Chase. Without the postseason reset he would lead the points by a comfortable 52 over Logano.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: www.http://twitter.com/NASCARBowles
For the second straight week, Mississippi schools dominated the headlines, and Mississippi State jumped to the No. 1 spot in the Legends Poll. The top-ranked Bulldogs — which grabbed 11 of the 14 first-place votes — put together an impressive performance at home against then-No. 1 Auburn, which dropped five spots in the rankings.
Ole Miss also moved up a spot to No. 3, it’s highest ranking in the history of the poll. The Rebels followed a win over Alabama with a road victory at Texas A&M.
No. 4 Baylor followed in the rankings after outlasting TCU in a 61-58 shootout in Waco, Tex. Alabama rounded out the top 5.
No. 7 Notre Dame remained unbeaten and sets up a showdown at No. 2 Florida State next weekend in a game with huge playoff implications. Michigan State stayed at No. 8 following its 45-31 over Purdue.
|1||Mississippi State (11)||6-0||109||3|
|2||Florida State (3)||6-0||91||2|
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
Reports of the demise of the Big Ten back in Week 2 were overstated even if that’s not to say the Big Ten is better than we thought it would be.
The league’s 5-11 record against the other power conferences and Notre Dame will haunt this conference for the remainder of the season.
Michigan and Penn State are shells of what they should be. Division contenders Wisconsin and Iowa are unranked. The Big Ten’s two highest ranked teams — Michigan State and Ohio State — both lost their toughest non-conference games of the season.
All of those are reasons the Big Ten’s playoff hopes looked dim back in Week 2.
More than a month later, the league doesn’t have any guarantees of reaching the playoff, and the 14-team Big Ten has fewer viable contenders right now than the SEC West alone.
But a chaotic October nation-wide has improved the Big Ten’s position for the playoff as much as the play of Michigan State and Ohio State has.
The question for the remainder of the year is if it will be enough for the Big Ten to crack the top four at the end of the season.
Midseason Reviews and Second-Half Predictions
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
2014 Big Ten Midseason Review and Second-Half Preview
Coach of the Year: Jerry Kill, Minnesota
Minnesota started its 2014 Big Ten season with wins over Michigan and Northwestern, giving the Gophers a 6-2 record in the league since Oct. 19. Even though that kind of record will be tough to maintain into November against a backloaded schedule with Iowa, Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin round out the final month, Minnesota continues to be a competitive program in the league under Kill. Minnesota’s lone loss is ugly, but the 30-7 defeat came on the road against TCU, a team that’s proven to be better than expected when the two teams played on Sept. 13.
Newcomer of the Year: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
A season-ending injury to Braxton Miller didn’t end Ohio State’s Big Ten hopes. Credit redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. Despite struggling against the Virginia Tech pass rush in a loss, Barrett remains the Big Ten leader in total offense by 34 yards per game (326 yards).
Offensive Player of the Year: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
The numbers have been staggering at 1,046 yards and 13 touchdowns through six games. Productive running backs at Wisconsin are commonplace, but this is a little different. Gordon is not part of a one-two punch at running back as he was a year ago, and the Badgers' passing game hasn’t been effective enough to keep opponents honest. In other words, defenses know Gordon is carrying the offense and still haven’t been able to contain him.
Defensive Player of the Year: William Likely, Maryland
The cornerback from Belle Glade, Fla., has been a major difference-maker for the Terrapins with three interceptions and two non-offensive touchdowns this year. He's also adept at playing near the line with three tackles for a loss at 36 solo stops.
Midseason Disappointment: Michigan’s offense
Michigan has one of the best defenses in the Big Ten. The offense, though, hasn’t matched that level of production. Michigan is averaging 254.3 yards per game in conference play to go with 16 turnovers. Only Eastern Michigan and New Mexico State have given the ball away more.
Midseason Surprise: Ohio State as a legitimate contender
Ohio State’s season looked lost based on a 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6 when the Buckeyes gave up seven sacks and three interceptions. Since then, Ohio State trounced Cincinnati and Maryland. Those aren’t landmark wins, but they are enough to show the Buckeyes remain a Big Ten East contender.
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Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
Michigan State’s bid to run the table
With a stifling defense and a balanced offense, Michigan State looks like the favorite to win the Big Ten for a second consecutive season. The Spartans likely will be favored to win every game to finish the season, including a home date with Ohio State on Nov. 8. With a 46-27 loss to Oregon in Week 2, Michigan State may need to run the table in the Big Ten to reach the playoff.
Ohio State as a playoff contender
The Buckeyes’ hopes of winning the Big Ten East probably hinge on a Nov. 8 game at Michigan State. A win in that game could present Ohio State as a playoff contender as well. The Buckeyes are better than the were when they lost to Virginia Tech, but what does that mean on the national stage?
Michigan’s next move
Brady Hoke’s fate seems sealed despite Saturday’s win over Penn State. So what’s the next step in Ann Arbor? Is Hoke done before the season? Does athletic director Dave Brandon follow his coach out of town? And who could the next guy be at Michigan?
Top Five Games in the Second Half
Ohio State at Penn State (Oct. 25)
The Buckeyes’ pass defense numbers are good — Ohio State has allowed five pass plays of more than 20 yards, seven fewer than any other Big Ten team. A matchup against Christian Hackenberg is another big test.
Ohio State at Michigan State (Nov. 8)
The game of the regular season in the Big Ten will either solidify Michigan State’s spot as the best team in the league or re-establish Ohio State as a national contender.
Nebraska at Wisconsin (Nov. 15)
Provided these teams can get through the likes of Rutgers, Purdue, Northwestern and Maryland, the Cornhuskers and Badgers could have gaudy records in time for this matchup. Either way, Ameer Abdullah vs. Melvin Gordon will be the best running back showdown of the year.
Nebraska at Iowa (Nov. 28)
Iowa is 5-1 overall and undefeated in the Big Ten. By the end of November this could be a key Big Ten division game. For Nebraska, this could be a revenge game after the Huskers lost 38-17 at home in last year’s meeting.
Michigan at Ohio State (Nov. 29)
The Big Ten’s best rivalry could be a matchup between an Ohio State team playing for the Big Ten East title (or more) and a Michigan team trying to salvage a season. Always an interesting situation.
Projecting the Final Big Ten standings
|EAST||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|WEST||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Three is the magic number for tonight’s NFC West tilt between San Francisco and St. Louis on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The 49ers (3-2) are trying to extend their winning streak to three games, while the Rams (1-3) are hoping to avoid their third straight loss.
San Francisco has held the upper hand in this matchup recently, going 4-1-1 against St. Louis over the past three seasons. The 49ers swept both games last season, including a 35-11 victory in the Edward Jones Dome in Week 4.
San Francisco 49ers at St. Louis Rams
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: San Francisco -3.5
Three Things to Watch
|San Francisco 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||@ DAL||W 28 - 17||Recap|
|9/14||vs CHI||L 20 - 28||Recap|
|9/21||@ ARI||L 14 - 23||Recap|
|9/28||vs PHI||W 26 - 21||Recap|
|10/5||vs KC||W 22 - 17||Recap|
|10/13||@ STL||W 31 - 17||Recap|
|10/19||@ DEN||L 17 - 42||Recap|
|11/2||vs STL||L 10 - 13||Recap|
1. San Francisco’s Type of Game
Going back to his time at Stanford, one of the identities of Jim Harbaugh’s teams has been an effective running game. After deviating some from that game plan earlier this season, the 49ers have gone back to running teams into the ground. For the season, San Francisco is third in the NFL in rushing at 145 yards per game, but the damage has been much greater during its current two-game winning streak. In home victories over Philadelphia and Kansas City, Harbaugh’s team has racked up a total of 389 yards on 82 carries (4.7 ypc). St. Louis meanwhile, has struggled against the run to this point. The Rams are tied for 29th in rushing defense (152.5 ypg), allowing 4.9 yards per carry. Expect to see a lot of handoffs when the 49ers have the ball tonight.
|St. Louis 2014 Schedule|
|9/7||vs MIN||L 6 - 34||Recap|
|9/14||@ TB||W 19 - 17||Recap|
|9/21||vs DAL||L 31 - 34||Recap|
|10/5||@ PHI||L 28 - 34||Recap|
|10/13||vs SF||L 17 - 31||Recap|
|10/19||vs SEA||W 28 - 26||Recap|
|10/26||@ KC||L 7 - 34||Recap|
|11/2||@ SF||W 13 - 10||Recap|
2. Is Jeff Fisher’s Team “Ram Tough?”
After getting blown out at home by Minnesota in the season opener, St. Louis bounced back with a win in Tampa Bay on a late field goal. The Rams kept things going by jumping out to a 21-0 lead with a little more than six minutes remaining in the first half against the Cowboys in Week 3. From there, however, things took a dramatic turn in the opposite direction. Dallas scored the next 20 points and tacked on two more touchdowns (in less than 20 seconds) in the fourth quarter to pull out a 34-31 come-from-behind win. Then last week, Philadelphia built a 34-7 lead late in the third quarter before St. Louis scored 21 unanswered points. The Rams had the ball with less than two minutes left and drove to the Eagles’ 48-yard-line, but their comeback attempt stalled there, as Philadelphia held on to win 34-28. Jeff Fisher’s team has dealt with its share of adversity, starting when quarterback Sam Bradford re-tore his surgically repaired ACL in the preseason, and these past two weeks have been no different. The Rams’ schedule only gets more difficult from here – Seattle, at Kansas City, at San Francisco, at Arizona, Denver and at San Diego – so they really could use something positive to build on, starting tonight.
3. QB Experiment: Familiar Foe vs. the New Kid on the Block
Colin Kaepernick is just 26 years old yet tonight represents his sixth start against St. Louis compared to Austin Davis, who will be making just the fourth start of his career. Kaepernick has played well against the Rams, going 3-1-1with a 97.1 passer rating and 182 yards rushing (7.6 ypc) in those games. Davis likewise has accounted for himself well, completing 67.5 percent of his passes for six touchdowns and just two interceptions in his three starts. Kaepernick has gotten a ton of support from his running game, but he’s also still prone to making mistakes. Four of his five turnovers came in a Week 2 home loss to Chicago. Davis has been more of a focal point of the offense since the Rams’ running game hasn’t been as productive. Even though their roles may be different, how effectively each quarterback executes their respective game plan will help determine the outcome of this game. Kaepernick has faced the Rams before and vice versa, while this will be Davis’ first up close and personal look at the 49ers, and vice versa. Will this QB familiarity or a lack thereof be a factor tonight?
Despite an early rough patch and constant attention paid to Jim Harbaugh’s seemingly tenuous future in San Francisco, the 49ers have been able to maintain their focus on the field and enter tonight’s game playing their best football of the season. St. Louis is on its third starting quarterback and this Rams teams has been on quite the roller-coaster ride over the course of their past three games. In recent seasons, NFC West matchups have typically been tightly contested, physical affairs, regardless of the participants’ records. I expect this one will follow a similar script, but I think St. Louis has too much stacked against it, including history. San Francisco is 45-25 in its history on Monday night, the most wins by any team. Make it 46-25 after tonight.
Prediction: San Francisco 23, St. Louis 17
At the midpoint of the 2014 season, familiarity reigns in the ACC. Florida State is clearly the No. 1 team in the league, and uncertainty overshadows the Coastal Division.
The Seminoles are likely to be favored by at least 10 points in every game the rest of the way and should be a heavy favorite over the Coastal Division champion in Charlotte. Barring an upset loss, Florida State will be one of the four teams in college football’s inaugural playoff.
Clemson is the ACC’s No. 2 team, but the Tigers suffered a setback with a hand injury to quarterback Deshaun Watson in Saturday’s win over Louisville. The talented true freshman will miss a couple of games but could return by early November. Assuming Florida State makes the playoff, Clemson – assuming it wins out or finishes 9-3 – would be the favorite to take the Seminoles’ spot in the Orange Bowl.
While there’s clarity on the Atlantic side, the Coastal is anyone’s guess. Virginia was projected by most to finish last in the Coastal this year. But the Cavaliers are 2-0 and sit atop the Coastal with six conference games remaining. Georgia Tech, Duke, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh all have one loss in ACC play after Week 7. Miami and North Carolina – two preseason favorites – are in the basement with two conference losses.
Midseason Reviews and Second-Half Predictions
Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
2014 ACC Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Coach of the Year: Mike London, Virginia
London was squarely on the hot seat entering this season, but the fifth-year coach has the Cavaliers in the mix for the Coastal Division title at the midpoint of 2014. Virginia is 4-2 overall, and at 2-0 in conference play, is the only unbeaten team left in the Coastal. The Cavaliers still have to play Duke, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech, but London has the program on the right track and poised to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Newcomer of the Year: Tyler Murphy, QB, Boston College
Tough call for this award at the midway point. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett, Virginia safety Quin Blanding and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson all deserve a mention, but Murphy gets the award after six games. The Florida transfer has thrived in Boston College’s run-first offense, averaging 118.5 rushing yards per game and 8.3 yards per carry. Murphy ranks third in the ACC in rushing yards (711). The senior is a work in progress as a passer (3 TDs, 6 INTs), but his emergence is a big reason why Boston College is on track to earn another bowl appearance in coach Steve Addazio’s second year.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Yes, Winston missed a game due to suspension, but he’s clearly the best player in the conference. With a struggling offensive line and rushing attack, the sophomore has even more of the offensive load on his shoulders, and Winston has responded with a strong first half. The sophomore is completing 70 percent of his passes (three points higher than 2013), has passed for 1,605 yards and 11 scores. Winston has completed at least 62 percent of his passes in four out of the five games he’s played in, and threw for 370 yards in the opener against Oklahoma State. And Winston’s passing numbers are even more impressive when you consider Florida State had to replace two of its top four receivers from last year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Beasley entered 2014 as one of the top defensive players in the nation, and the senior has picked up where he left off. In six games, Beasley has 15 tackles – nine for a loss – recorded eight sacks, two pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Beasley’s eight sacks rank third nationally, and the senior has recorded at least one in every game this year. One of Beasley’s best games of 2014 took place in Tallahassee, as he recorded two sacks and two tackles for a loss against Florida State’s veteran offensive line.
Midseason Disappointment: North Carolina
Miami is a possibility for this spot, but North Carolina gets the nod after a 2-4 overall and 0-2 start in ACC play. The Tar Heels were not impressive in season-opening wins over Liberty and San Diego State and have dropped four in a row since. North Carolina lost three of its four games by 15 points or more but played well in a 50-43 defeat to Notre Dame on Saturday. Problems on both sides of the ball have contributed to the 2-4 start, as the Tar Heels are allowing 6.2 yards per play on defense, and the offense has lost 12 turnovers and is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in ACC games. Youth has attributed to a chunk of North Carolina’s problems, especially on the defensive side and on the offensive line. The young talent is promising for 2015 and beyond, but the thoughts of North Carolina contending for a division title in 2014 were probably premature.
Midseason Surprise: Georgia Tech/Virginia
As we mentioned earlier, the Coastal Division favorite is anyone’s guess. Virginia is the only undefeated team in conference play, but the Cavaliers’ schedule will increase in difficulty over the next two months with a trip to Tallahassee to play Florida State, along with a road date at Virginia Tech in the finale. Virginia was considered the easy pick for No. 7 in the Coastal this preseason, but the Cavaliers are in the mix to win the division behind a stellar defense. Georgia Tech also entered 2014 with uncertainty, and coach Paul Johnson was on the hot seat after a 7-6 mark in 2013. The Yellow Jackets have jumped out to a 5-1 start this year and have already played Miami, Virginia Tech and Duke. The Coastal Division is unpredictable, and even though Georgia Tech and Virginia are flawed teams, both have emerged as frontrunners after being picked near the bottom in the preseason.
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Three Things to Watch in Second Half
1. Florida State’s Repeat Bid
The Seminoles have dropped in the polls due to the emergence of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but Florida State is still a heavy favorite to make college football’s playoff. The path to another unbeaten season is favorable, especially if the Seminoles can navigate their next two games: Notre Dame and at Louisville. Finishing with an unbeaten record in back-to-back years is not easy, but Florida State has the talent and personnel to win it all once again. Quarterback Jameis Winston is getting more comfortable with his revamped receiving corps, and the offensive line – tagged as one of the best in the nation this preseason – can play better. On defense, the Seminoles are young and still adapting to new coordinator Charles Kelly. This unit should improve over the course of the season, especially if young players like defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi and end Lorenzo Featherston continue to emerge as options on the defensive line. Additionally, the return of linebacker Matthew Thomas should help bolster Florida State’s front seven.
2. The Coastal Division
Good luck picking a frontrunner. Is it Virginia? Georgia Tech? Miami? Virginia Tech? Pittsburgh? Duke? You get the picture. North Carolina is 0-2 and probably the biggest longshot of winning the Coastal, but any of the six teams ahead of the Tar Heels in the standings have a chance to win. This should be an entertaining race over the next half of the season, and a 5-3 record might be enough to win the division.
3. Development of Young QBs
While Florida State’s quest for a repeat and the Coastal Division are intriguing national storylines, the development of young quarterbacks in the conference is something to watch over the second half. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is out a couple of weeks due to a hand injury, but the freshman was off to an impressive debut. Will Louisville find an answer between Will Gardner or Reggie Bonnafon under center? NC State’s Jacoby Brissett played well against Florida State but struggled against Clemson and Boston College. Can Brissett work his way back into the mix for All-ACC honors? And with Terrel Hunt sidelined, keep an eye on true freshman A.J. Long at Syracuse. On the Coastal side, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer and Pittsburgh’s Chad Voytik are all quarterbacks with an opportunity to develop over the second half of the season. There’s a lot of quarterback uncertainty in the conference after Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Which passers will emerge in the final half of the season?
Top Five Games in Second Half
1. Notre Dame at Florida State (Oct. 18)
Two of college football’s top programs meet in Tallahassee for the first time since 2002. And it’s a battle of two of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson. No shortage of intrigue in Doak Campbell Stadium on Oct. 18.
2. Florida State at Miami (Nov. 15)
What was once a great rivalry has been a one-sided affair in recent years. Florida State has won four in a row over Miami, including a 41-14 blowout against the Hurricanes last year. This could be a critical spot for Miami coach Al Golden, as he needs to have a good showing against the No. 1 team in the ACC.
3. Georgia Tech at Clemson (Nov. 15)
This rivalry has produced a few entertaining matchups and high-scoring affairs. Last year’s game alone produced 86 points and Clemson has won three out of the last four in this series. This game could be a critical one for Georgia Tech’s Coastal Division title hopes.
4. Virginia Tech at Duke (Nov. 15)
Could this game decide the Coastal Division? The Hokies lost 13-10 to Duke last year, but Virginia Tech won the previous 12 games in this series.
5. Virginia at Virginia Tech (Nov. 28)
The Commonwealth Cup is on the line, but this game also could have ACC title implications. Virginia Tech has won 10 in a row over its in-state rival.
Next up: Florida State at Louisville (Oct. 30), Florida at Florida State (Nov. 29), Miami at Virginia Tech (Oct. 23), Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 29)
Projecting the Final 2014 ACC Standings
New Orleans is set to return from its bye this week, but the Saints look like they will be without All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham a little longer. Graham sprained his shoulder two weeks ago against Tampa Bay and even with a week off to recover, reports are that he could miss up to three more weeks because of the injury.
Graham’s loss to the Saints cannot be understated, as he leads the team in targets (46), receptions (34), yards (376) and touchdowns (3). His value in fantasy is even greater, as his per-season averages over the past three years look like this: 90 rec., 1,169 yds., 11 TDs. Those numbers are outstanding for a wide receiver, let alone a tight end, which is why Graham was a consensus first-round pick entering this season.
The good news is that it appears Graham will be back in about a month, but that’s still a lot of production for a fantasy owner to try and replace. While it’s impossible to find someone on Graham’s level that figures to be available in most leagues (i.e, Julius Thomas and Rob Gronkowski don’t count), here are five options to consider:
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Kelce may be the hardest to acquire of this list, considering he’s already a top-10 fantasy TE this season. However, the Chiefs are coming off of their bye, so this also could be an opportune time to add this talented young target. Kelce was generating some buzz regarding his potential entering this season and after somewhat of a slow start, he has responded. He has caught a touchdown pass in each of his past three games and is quickly establishing himself as one of Alex Smith’s most trusted targets. Kelce isn’t the second coming of Jimmy Graham, but there are some similarities in their skill sets and how they are used in their respective offenses.
Jordan Reed, Washington Redskins
Ranked as a top-10 fantasy TE entering this season, injuries have once again have prevented Reed from realizing his immense potential. The talented second-year tight end suffered a hamstring injury in the season opener, which opened the door for Niles Paul (23-326-1) to emerge. But Reed returned to the lineup on Sunday and was an immediate factor, if not force, in the Redskins' passing game. He led the team in both targets (11) and receptions (8) while finishing second in yards with 92. Likely forgotten because of the extended absence, Reed is one of the few options out there whose potential reward outweighs the injury risk he carries.
Owen Daniels, Baltimore Ravens
Dennis Pitta is on injured reserve, leaving Daniels as the Ravens’ No. 1 tight end. His numbers haven’t been that impressive (21-217-2), but his familiarity with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak can’t be overlooked. Kubiak has always shown a tendency to involve tight ends in his offense, going back to when Daniels and Kubiak were with the Texans together. As long as Daniels continues to see targets come his way (averaging 4.5 per game), he should remain a viable starting fantasy option.
Jace Amaro, New York Jets
The Jets’ second-round pick, Amaro was expected to add an element to the offense that has been missing for some time. Six games into his rookie season, Amaro may be ready to be that impact player he was drafted to be. In Sunday’s loss to Denver, Amaro led the Jets in targets (12), receptions (10) and yards (68), while also catching his first career NFL touchdown. Geno Smith needs to find targets he trusts and Amaro, who was a pass-catching magnet at Texas Tech, could help fill that void. One thing’s for certain about Amaro, he’s not out there to block, so any time he’s on the field he should have an opportunity to make a play.
Dwayne Allen, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts also have Coby Fleener, who was Andrew Luck’s teammate at Stanford, at tight end, but so far Allen has been more productive. Allen is fourth on the team in receptions (18) despite seeing fewer targets than running back Ahmad Bradshaw or No. 3 wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. Allen and Luck have been successful on 67 percent of their attempted connections (18 of 27) for 253 yards and four touchdowns. Allen’s athleticism and big-play ability is evident in that he’s third on the Colts in yards and trails only Bradshaw in touchdown catches. Allen may not be a full-time starter, but he’s a big enough part of the Colts’ offense to be productive. He’s currently ninth among TEs in fantasy points.
And what about the Saints?
In most cases, it’s typical to first look to the next man on a team’s depth chart in the case of an injury. However, Jimmy Graham is no ordinary tight end, so there’s no obvious replacement for him when looking at the Saints’ roster. Benjamin Watson figures to see the biggest increase in playing time and opportunities, but the 11-year veteran has been targeted a total of 12 times this season, producing nine catches for 64 yards. Josh Hill, who has two touchdown receptions among his seven total catches, and recently signed Tom Crabtree also could factor in, which only adds to the confusion regarding this situation. While Watson could be someone to keep an eye on moving forward, the five tight ends mentioned above are considerably more appealing when it comes to potential fantasy replacement options.
We have learned to expect the unexpected in college football, but no one could have seen this coming. At the midpoint of the college football season, the two schools from Mississippi are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 nationally, and Dak Prescott from Mississippi State is the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. Simply amazing.
Midseason Reviews and Second-Half Predictions
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
2014 SEC Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Coaches of the Year: Hugh Freeze; Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
It’s almost impossible to differentiate between Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the national polls — who’s No. 1? — and it’s equally difficult to determine which team’s coach is more deserving, at this point, of Coach of the Year honors. Mullen might get the nod by some because expectations weren’t quite as high at Mississippi State this season, but Freeze must be commended for keeping his team so focused after the epic win over Alabama last weekend.
Newcomer of the Year: D’haquille Williams, Auburn
Considered by most to be the best incoming junior college recruit at his position, Williams has been the top threat on an improved Auburn passing attack. The La Place, La., native leads Auburn with 31 receptions and 493 yards and has topped the 100-yard mark three times — 154 vs. Arkansas and 110 vs. Kansas State and 108 vs. Mississippi State.
Offensive Player of the Year: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
In his first season as a full-time starter, Prescott has emerged as the best player at his position in the country. In three games against SEC opponents — and against three teams ranked in the top 10 at the time of the game — Prescott is averaging 260.7 yards passing and 101.0 yards rushing. None of the three recent SEC quarterbacks who won the Heisman Trophy — Tim Tebow (2007), Cam Newton (2010) and Johnny Manziel (2012) — matched that type of dual-threat productivity against league opponents during their respective Heisman season.
A former quarterback in high school, McKinney has been a force at middle linebacker for the surprising Bulldogs. The junior from Tunica, Miss., leads Mississippi State with 41 tackles and also has six tackles for a loss (with three sacks), two fumble recoveries and two pass break-ups.
Midseason Disappointment: Vanderbilt
After winning a combined 18 games the past two seasons, Vanderbilt was expected to take a step back in the first year of the Derek Mason era. This has been far more than a step. The Commodores are 2–5 overall and 0–4 in the SEC with the only wins coming at home over UMass by three points and Charleston Southern by one point. Vanderbilt ranks last in the SEC in total offense (269.7 ypg) and has scored a total of nine offensive touchdowns in six games.
Midseason Surprise: Mississippi State
This one, like the Coach of the Year, is a two-horse race between the two Mississippi schools. We will go with the boys from Starkville, who have knocked off LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn in consecutive games. Neither LSU nor A&M were worthy of the top-10 rankings they held at the time of the game, but Mississippi State still deserves credit for beating both teams in convincing fashion.
Listen to the Week 7 recap podcast:
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half:
• Who will win the Wild, Wild West? Right now, both Mississippi State and Ole Miss are 3–0, and each has a quality win over another league contender. But there is still a long way to go. Alabama has struggled on offense of late, but this is still an extremely talented team that likely will be favored in each of its final six games. And Auburn will still be a major factor despite a brutal schedule over the final two months.
• Can the Wildcats get to six? Kentucky has been a nice surprise in Mark Stoops’ second season in Lexington. But even with a 5–1 record, the Wildcats will still have to scratch and claw to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010. Four of Kentucky’s final six games are on the road, and the two home games are against Mississippi State and Georgia. On paper, UK’s “easiest” game is the Nov. 15 trip to Tennessee.
• Will Arkansas break through? The Razorbacks are clearly improved in 2014, but they are still 0–3 in the SEC and have not won a league game since October 2012. At some point, Bret Bielema’s team must make the right play at the right time and win one of these close games.
Top Five games in Second Half
1. Mississippi State at Ole Miss, Nov. 29
The 2014 edition of the Egg Bowl has the potential to be one of the most hyped games in the history of college football — if both teams cooperate and remain undefeated.
2. Auburn at Alabama, Nov. 29
The Iron Bowl might be the undercard on this late-November Saturday, but there will still be plenty at stake for both teams. Even if the SEC West is not on the line, it’s always a big deal when these two teams tangle.
3. Auburn at Ole Miss, Nov. 1
The schedule breaks favorably for Ole Miss this year, as the three other top teams in the West each visit Oxford.
4. Auburn at Georgia, Nov. 15
All the focus has been on the SEC West, but we can’t forget about Georgia. The Bulldogs, who have only one league loss, are the class of the SEC East and figure to be a worthy challenger for the champ of the West in the title game in Atlanta.
5. Kentucky at Tennessee, Nov. 15
This won’t register nationally, but it could be a huge game for two programs desperate to reach the six-win mark under their respective second-year head coaches. The loser of this game might end the season stuck on the five-win mark.
Predicting the Final 2014 SEC Standings
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
Chandler Parsons probably hasn’t been told he’s fat too many times. The star forward and new Dallas Mavericks starter is — like most NBA players — a trim man with a seemingly impenetrable halo of confidence. He’s even done some modeling before.
But that doesn’t inoculate him against the body critiques of Mavs coach Rick Carlisle. An authoritative, discipline-driven leader, Carlisle has made use of the media for instructive purposes in the past. Airing dirty laundry out in public is sometimes the quickest way to make someone clean it. In this case, though, the coach may be overstepping.
"He looked tired out there tonight to me, and his shot is short," Carlisle said after a preseason loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. "He's working on losing some weight. He's a little bit heavier than he's been. He's up over 230, and we want to see him get down to at least 225. That's a work in progress, and tonight's one of those nights where I think the extra weight was a hindrance.”
“His opinion of heavy is different than mine," Parsons retorted. ”We kind of go at it every day about it. At the end of the day, I respect his opinion. After training camp, my weight fluctuates. I'll get it down.”
After the exchange gained attention, Parsons continued it with a barely veiled poke at his coach on Instagram. Here Parsons is, topless and sculpted and making sure everyone knows it:
There’s an undeniable cheekiness in Parsons’ post. Like his “think before you speak” tweet — a dig at old teammate James Harden, who disrespected Parsons after he fled the Houston Rockets — Parsons shows, here, his aptitude for using social media to his advantage.
Think before you speak.— Chandler Parsons (@ChandlerParsons) July 24, 2014
Carlisle subsequently apologized for his words, Sunday, in an official statement issued by the team: ”It was unfair and inappropriate to single out Chandler Parsons after the game Friday night. I have apologized to him and the entire team for this error in judgment. Not only is Chandler Parsons one of our best players, he is also one of our hardest working players and the kind of high character person we strive to bring to our city and franchise. I also made it clear to our players and staff this morning that this type of bad example is not acceptable and beneath the dignity of a championship organization like the Dallas Mavericks.”
Maybe Carlisle meant his apology; maybe he didn’t. And maybe he meant his original words about Parsons’ weight; or maybe he was just getting under the skin of his fame-seeking newcomer, to ensure his eyes are on basketball and not his heedless pursuit of the spotlight — he has been dating a Kardhashian, after all. Today it’s weight, but tomorrow and for the rest of 2014-15 we can expect the tension between Parsons and his no-nonsense coach to come alive in all sorts of ways.
— John Wilmes
Entering the season, many believed the Big 12 to be a two-horse race between Baylor and Oklahoma. But at the midseason point, the Big 12 has as many teams ranked in the AP Top 15 as any other league in the nation. (Yes, that includes the SEC.)
Those five teams ranked in the top 15 all feel like they have a legit shot at winning the Big 12 championship and likely landing one of the coveted four playoff spots. The top five teams in the league have a combined four losses — all of which have come against teams ranked 11th or better in the current AP Poll.
Only TCU has faced one of the other five ranked opponents. Needless to say, there is a plenty of ball left to be played in the Heartland.
Midseason Reviews and Second-Half Predictions
ACC | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
2014 Big 12 Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Coach of the Year: Gary Patterson, TCU
The Horned Frogs were 4-8 last year and now sit 4-1 and ranked No. 12 in the nation - AFTER playing Oklahoma and Baylor. The Frogs are still facing huge tests on the road against West Virginia and Texas as well as home games with Kansas State and Oklahoma State. But the changes Patterson made on the offensive coaching staff have paid huge dividends in just five games thus far in 2014.
Newcomer of the Year: Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma and Tyreek Hill, AP, Oklahoma State
Perine is third in the league in carries (109), second in the league in rushing (568) and is leading the Big 12 in rushing touchdowns (9). The 240-pound true freshman from Pflugerville, Texas (aka, Mack Brown’s backyard) has been brilliant in place of Keith Ford for Bob Stoops. Oklahoma State’s do-everything dynamo Tyreek Hill deserves mention as well as the junior college playmaker has made a huge impact for Mike Gundy’s squad. Hill is second in the Big 12 in all-purpose yards.
Offensive Player of the Year: Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor
Dealing with a back injury, Petty performed at his best in the biggest spot of the season thus far. Trailing late in the second half, he rallied the Bears with 24 straight points to stay unbeaten against rival TCU. Petty has thrown for 1,534 yards and scored 18 total touchdowns in just five games (he missed one start) and is poised for another run at the Heisman Trophy.
Defensive Player of the Year: Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor
Shawn Oakman gets the slight nod over Eric Striker or Zack Sanchez in what is a very tight race for top defensive player in this league. Oakman has been a force for the top team in the league, posting 24 tackles, 8.0 for loss, 5.0 sacks and one forced fumble. Striker has 28 tackles, 4.5 sacks while Sanchez has five interceptions and 25 tackles.
Midseason Disappointment: Texas Tech
After a tenuous start to the year in wins over Central Arkansas and UTEP, Kliff Kingsbury’s bunch has lost four straight games in ugly fashion. After it’s first 0-3 conference start since 1990, Texas Tech is staring at eight straight losses in the Big 12. This team has problems with turnovers and penalties and has already changed defensive coordinators.
Midseason Surprise: TCU's offense
Gary Patterson has found the formula. He brought in Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham to run his offense and quarterback Trevone Boykin has flourished. The TCU quarterback has thrown for 292.6 yards per game and scored 14 total times while only throwing two interceptions and rushing for 305 yards. In a league known for offense on a team known for defense, TCU ranks No. 2 in the Big 12 at 45.8 points per game and No. 3 in total offense at 510.0 yards per game.
Listen to the Week 7 recap podcast:
Three Things to Watch in Second Half
1. Can Baylor repeat and does the Big 12 make the playoff?
The trip to Norman in November obviously looms large, but since the league is so much deeper and more balanced than anticipated, the Bears will face plenty of other hurdles en route to a second straight league crown. A road trip to Morgantown as well as games with Oklahoma State and Kansas State still loom. That said, the path to a title still runs through Norman, and the Bears are in control of their own destiny. A second championship for Art Briles puts him alongside the nation's best and likely lands Baylor in the College Football Playoff.
2. Who are the challengers?
TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State have all joined the championship conversation and all three have yet to face each other. Both Oklahoma State and K-State have yet to face Baylor or Oklahoma as well. Someone will jump into the title fray — much like TCU already has — and this could become a three- four- or five-team race for the top. Which one of these programs has staying power and can any of these "second-tiered" teams step into contention remains to be seen. Either way, it figures to be an exciting final two months in the middle of the Big 12.
3. Tyrone Swoopes development
The Longhorns have a great defense. But Tyrone Swoopes showed Longhorns fans glimpses of the future with his play against Oklahoma. This offense is in desperate need of a spark and Swoopes might be capable of supplying it. He finished 27-of-44 for 334 yards, two touchdowns and one interception in the close loss to Oklahoma. He added 50 yards rushing on 11 carries and another score on the ground.
Top Five Games in Second Half
1. Baylor at Oklahoma (Nov. 8)
The Bears have never won in Norman. Ever. And if Art Briles wants to win another Big 12 title, his squad will have to go up North to Oklahoma and win.
2. Oklahoma State at Oklahoma (Dec. 6)
The rivalry aspect gives this game extra juice. Mike Gundy has struggled in this bout but at the season’s end, both teams could still be in the title race.
3. Kansas State at Baylor (Dec. 6)
Bill Snyder defense faces Art Briles offense? Yes, please. The Cats could be the top challenger to Oklahoma or Baylor but will have to win some key road games.
4. Kansas State at Oklahoma (Oct. 18)
See: Kansas State at Baylor above.
5. Kansas State at TCU (Nov. 8)
TCU has already played the two toughest games of its season and it split. Kansas State could be the No. 3 biggest game on the schedule if KSU can upset the Bears or Sooners along the way.
Next up: Oklahoma State at Baylor, Oklahoma State at TCU, TCU at Texas, Oklahoma State at Kansas State, Texas at Oklahoma State, Baylor at West Virginia
Projecting the Final 2014 Big 12 Standings
There are 11 Big 5 teams left in college football that have yet to lose a conference game and none of them reside in the Pac-12.
The talk in the preseason was that the Pac-12 could be the league that was deep enough to challenge the SEC for national conference supremacy. It certainly doesn’t appear that like that talk was accurate, as the SEC is head and shoulders above the rest of the nation.
But that doesn’t mean that the Pac-12 isn’t the most entertaining league in the nation.
The quarterback play has been as good as advertised with four of the top eight Big 5 quarterbacks in the nation in terms of total offense playing in the Pac-12. And this list doesn't include Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion or Cody Kessler.
The quality of coaching is shining in places like Tucson, Seattle, Berkeley and Salt Lake City as every road trip in this league has become extremely difficult no matter the situation.
And what other league can boast three successful Hail Marys — two of which came on the final play of the game?
Oregon’s win over UCLA has given the Ducks the top spot in the Pac-12 power rankings and likely the best shot at making the College Football Playoff moving forward. But the real story out West is the quality of depth this league can offer. Neither division is even close to being decided, as the North and South each boast four one-loss teams with seven weeks left to play.
2014 Pac-12 Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Coach of the Year: Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
Very few (me) picked Arizona higher than fourth in the Pac-12 South entering the season (I had them at No. 2), so the job Rich Rodriguez has done in Tucson getting his Wildcats to a Top 10 ranking (for one week) has been nothing short of shocking (to some). Despite the loss to USC, Arizona is still right in the mix for the Pac-12 South championship with games looming against UCLA, Arizona State and Utah in the division. The win over Oregon might be the best win for any team in the nation to date.
Newcomer of the Year: Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
The redshirt freshman has been brilliant in his first six games as a college quarterback. Solomon is third in the nation in total offense at 382.7 yards per game and has thrown 15 touchdown passes. His play in the fourth-quarter comeback against Cal as well as the road win at Oregon would be considered brilliant for a senior much less a freshman. Solomon is a big reason why Zona is in the thick of the Pac-12 South race.
Offensive Player of the Year: Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The stats speak for themselves. Mariota has completed 69.7 percent of his passes for 1,621 yards, 17 touchdowns and no interceptions while running for his life behind a banged-up offensive line. He has added 290 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground while leading the nation in passer rating at 193.72. He has been brilliant all season and already has wins over ranked opponents Michigan State and UCLA.
Defensive Player of the Year: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
A defensive player can’t do much else to get himself mentioned in the Heisman Trophy conversation than what Thompson has accomplished in the first half of the season. He is tied for the team lead with five touchdowns — four of which have come on defense — a total that would also pace UCLA, Stanford or Utah. He is top 10 in the league in tackles with 45 and has 220 return yards on his four defensive touchdowns. He has 2.0 tackles for a loss, one sack and two forced fumbles as well.
Midseason Disappointment: Washington State
UCLA’s offensive line might also qualify for this award, but with losses to Nevada, Rutgers and Cal, Mike Leach’s squad is likely to miss a bowl game. After positive growth last season and a clearly improved Conn0r Halliday, a 2-5 start to the season for the Cougars is a major disappointment. Especially, for a team many believed would be playing in the postseason.
Midseason Surprise: Cal
Arizona would qualify as well, especially, if the Cats go on to win the South. But right now, the most pleasant surprise in the Pac-12 has to be the Cal Golden Bears. This team is one play away from being 3-1 in the league after losing 14 consecutive Pac-12 contests entering this fall. There are a lot of tough games left on the schedule but to be two wins from a bowl game just halfway through the schedule is a huge tip of the cap to Sonny Dykes.
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Three Things to Watch in Second Half
1. Oregon's offensive line
With Jake Fisher back against UCLA, the Ducks' offensive line looked as good as it has since the beginning of the season. Oregon has two huge games looming with Stanford and Washington — two of the best defensive fronts in the nation — and this group will have to be excellent to win those games. If this group stabilizes, Oregon could win the Pac-12 and land in the Playoffs while giving Marcus Mariota a great shot at the Heisman. If not, the Ducks could finish with three losses and another Alamo Bowl bid.
2. South Division upstarts
Arizona, Utah and Arizona State were not supposed to be in the race in the South but all three already have key wins over conference contenders. USC and UCLA still might be the best teams and have the inside track on playing at Levi’s Stadium but the rest of this division is extremely competitive. The Utes, Wildcats and Sun Devils all feel like they belong in the conversation and with wins over UCLA, Oregon and USC respectively, it appears they might be right about that.
3. Connor Halliday's assault on the record book
Halliday already owns the NCAA single-game record for attempts (89) and yards (734) but is charging toward the NCAA single-season passing record as well. With a host of other records on the line, the one bright spot in Pullman this season could be the nation’s leading passer and his chase for more history. Let’s face it, no one makes losing more entertaining than Halliday and the Cougs.
Top Five Games in Second Half
1. Stanford at Oregon (Nov. 1)
It's been the biggest game in the Pac-12 for the last half decade and it appears this matchup will fill the bill as far as the rest of the slate goes. A trip to the Pac-12 title game and/or College Football Playoff could be on the line. Stanford has dominated this series of late and its defense should be extremely difficult to move the ball against based on Oregon's offensive line woes.
2. USC at UCLA (Nov. 22)
The Pac-12 South title could be on the line when these two cross-town rivals and historic brands meet on the second to last weekend of the regular season. A win for either team could knock the loser out of the South Division race.
3. Stanford at UCLA (Nov. 28)
The Bruins' front line will be tested once again against one of the nastiest defensive fronts in the nation. UCLA might already be out of the race by the final weekend but if not, this game could decide the South Division champion.
4. Washington at Oregon (Oct. 18)
This game got a lot more interesting when the Huskies and Ducks won impressive road games in Week 7 over Cal and UCLA respectively. With a loss to Stanford, Washington's North Division title hopes hang in the balance against Oregon in Eugene.
5. UCLA at Washington (Nov. 8)
Most of the big games left for UCLA will come at home with the exception of this road trip north to Seattle. Both teams should still by eyeing a spot in the Pac-12 title game when they meet in Husky Stadium. And two of the best uniforms will be on the same field at the same time.
Next up: Arizona State at Arizona, Washington at Arizona, Arizona at UCLA, Notre Dame at USC, Oregon at Utah, Oregon at Oregon State
Projecting the Final 2014 Pac-12 Standings
|North||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|South||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
Hosts Braden Gall and David Fox recap all of Week 7's action in college football. The state of Mississippi once again dominated, Oregon made a huge statement in the Pac-12 and the wide open and wacky Big 12 highlight this week's conversation. The fellas also give you their playoff teams as well.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for October 13:
• J-Lo put on an ab show after a workout. Reminder: The woman is 45.
• Aaron Rodgers pulled the old Dan Marino fake spike against the Dolphins. If anybody should have seen it coming, it's Miami.
• In an otherwise stellar day, Jay Cutler hit a ref in the nuggets with a left-handed pass.
• The play of the day yesterday, and the play of the season so far: Tony Romo to Terrance Williams.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The NBA preseason isn’t quite halfway over. There’s been more than enough time, however, for fate to exercise its cruel hand on the bodies of the league’s superstars. On the eve of Media Day, Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo broke a bone in his left hand. He’ll miss the first month of a season many see as a tryout for trade suitors — Rondo’s got one year left on his contract with Boston, and many don’t see him lasting the year there.
Weeks later, Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal — one of the most blooming young talents in the game — fractured his left wrist. He’s expected to miss two months, a serious hit to one of the most exciting teams in the East.
But the latest NBA casualty is by far its most devastating. Reigning MVP Kevin Durant has sustained a “Jones fracture, a broken bone at the base of the small toe,” as reported by ESPN’s Royce Young. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s scoring sensation might not play again until early 2015. Durant and his team are still deciding whether to undergo surgery, but that’s the way things are leaning.
“It's a stress injury, it happened over time,” said Thunder general manager Sam Presti, per Young, at a press conference Sunday. Presti delivered a tone of optimism about Durant’s malady. “Coming into this season having not played USA Basketball, reflecting on that decision now, I think clearly, probably helped him a great deal, just the amount of stress he was able to avoid at that point in time.”
It was at a Team USA exhibition game in August, of course, that the league lost yet another of its biggest heroes — Indiana Pacers forward Paul George, whose horrific, tragically sudden leg injury was the most telling incident of all. You never know when an icon’s star will flash — it could be any instant — from super bright to off.
— John Wilmes
Washington’s Pac-12 North title hopes took a hit after the 20-13 loss to Stanford on Sept. 27, but there’s renewed optimism about Chris Petersen’s team after a 31-7 win over California.
The 31-7 victory over the Golden Bears could be Washington’s best all-around performance from 2014. Sure, California is still progressing under second-year coach Sonny Dykes and finished 1-11 last year, but the Huskies were an underdog entering Saturday’s matchup.
Washington’s offense struggled mightily against Stanford, averaging just 2.6 yards per play and finishing with just 98 passing yards. California’s defense isn’t one of the best in the Pac-12, but the Huskies showed signs of life on Saturday. The 5.7 yards per play (just 67 plays) mark against the Golden Bears is the third-highest total of the season. That may seem like a small feat, but the highest totals came against Eastern Washington and Illinois.
Quarterback Cyler Miles benefited from the bye week and responded with his best effort of the season. Again, California’s defense isn’t one of the best in the Pac-12 and was dealing with injuries to a couple of key players, but Miles threw for a season-high 273 yards and added three scores. The sophomore also recorded a solid 12.4 yards per completion mark and did not throw an interception for the fifth consecutive game.
The offensive line gave up four sacks in the loss to Stanford but allowed Miles to be sacked just twice on 29 pass attempts. And the line’s solid play translated to the rushing attack as running backs Lavon Coleman and Dwayne Washington each averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
Washington’s offense is far from a finished product, but the performance against California is a good sign before a key stretch on the 2014 schedule. And a timely one.
The Huskies are still in the mix for the North Division title but need a win over Oregon this Saturday to stake their claim in the race.
After Saturday’s game against the Ducks, Washington hosts Arizona State, followed by a road date against Colorado, a home matchup against UCLA and then game at Arizona.
There are simply no breaks in the Pac-12 schedule, and a two-loss team likely wins the conference title.
Washington’s defense is already one of the best in the conference. Did its offense turn a corner in Saturday’s win over California? Perhaps. But a better gauge of where the Huskies stand in Petersen’s first year is coming next Saturday with a trip to Eugene. California was a positive step. Now, let's see if Washington's offense takes a big step forward against the Ducks.
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of measuring performance and marking milestones in the NFL. With that in mind, Athlon Sports rounded up the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from Week 6 of the NFL season.
Houston defensive end J.J. Watt recorded his third touchdown of the season with a 45-yard fumble return for a score in the Texans' Week 6 loss to Indianapolis. Watt became the first player in 53 years with interception, fumble recovery, and receiving touchdowns in a single season. He joined Bill Stacy (1961), Jay Arnold (1938), and George Halas (1927) in that rare company. Watt also became the first defensive lineman to score three TDs in a season since William "The Refrigerator" Perry did so for Chicago in 1985. Perry had two rushing TDs and one TD reception. Perry never scored again after that rookie season.
With his two catches in Week 6, Dallas tight end Jason Witten became the second-youngest player in NFL history to reach 900 career receptions. Witten, who achieved the feat at 32 years, 159 days old, is only behind Houston receiver Andre Johnson, who did so at 32 years, 143 days.
Dallas running back DeMarco Murray is tied with one of football's greatest. With his 115 yards in Seattle, Murray joined Jim Brown (1958) as the only two players in NFL history to rush for at least 100 yards in each of their team's first six games to start a season.
Indianapolis won its ninth straight Thursday night game with a 33-28 win at Houston. Of those nine consecutive wins, eight of them have come on the road for the Colts.
Denver tight end Julius Thomas added two more touchdowns in Week 6 to a season total that is now at nine. That ties him with Detroit's Calvin Johnson (2011) as the most of any player in NFL history through their team's first five games of the season.
New England's Tom Brady threw for 361 yards and four touchdowns in a 37-22 win over Buffalo, and now has 11 career games with 350+ yards and 4+ touchdowns. That moved him past Dan Marino for third-most games like that in NFL history.
Baltimore's Joe Flacco became the fastest player to throw five touchdown passes in a game (since at least the 1970 AFL-NFL merger) when he did so in just 16 minutes, three seconds against Tampa Bay. The fastest to five had been Ben Roethlisberger, doing it in 28:09 in 2007 against Baltimore. Flacco finished with the five scores, no interceptions, and 306 yards. Flacco also became the first player since 1986 with four touchdown passes in the first quarter, and the first player since 2009 with five touchdown passes in a half. Minnesota's Tommy Kramer had four first-quarter TD passes against Green Bay in a Sept. 28, 1986 game, and Tom Brady threw five first-half TDs in an Oct. 18, 2009 game against Tennessee.
Atlanta backup running back Antone Smith is the first NFL player with six scrimmage touchdowns of 35+ yards in the first 25 touches of his career since the merger. He had a 41-yard scoring pass from Matt Ryan in the Falcons' 27-13 loss to the visiting Chicago Bears in Week 6. It was one of his six touches from scrimmage for the game.
The 74 combined points from Carolina and Cincinnati in their 37-37, double-overtime tie are the most ever in an NFL overtime game that ended in a tie. The game marks the most combined points in a tie game since the Boston Patriots tied the Oakland Raiders, 43-43, on Oct. 16, 1964, which occurred before the advent of NFL overtime rules in 1974.
San Diego's Philip Rivers achieved a passer rating of at least 120 for the fifth consecutive game in a 31-28 win at Oakland, allowing him to pass Johnny Unitas and Kurt Warner for the longest such streak in league history (minimum of 15 pass attempts in each game).
Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, playing in his 100th game, threw the 203rd touchdown of his career. The 203 are the second most of any player in their first 100 games, trailing only Miami's Dan Marino, who threw for 217 in his first 100. Rodgers' 25,616 passing yards ranks him fourth all time amongst player in their first 100 games.
The Chicago Bears became the first NFL franchise to reach 750 wins with their 27-13 victory over Atlanta. The organization is now 750-555-42 all time.