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The NFL and Major League Baseball playoffs have their wild cards. The College Football Playoff does, too. If not in name, Ohio State is the wild card in practice.
The Buckeyes were the last team in the four-team field, and the most controversial. Ohio State’s 59-0 win over Wisconsin the Big Ten Championship put the Buckeyes over the top ahead of TCU and Baylor. Personnel-wise, Ohio State is also a wild card. The Buckeyes have played only one game with the quarterback who will start the Sugar Bowl.
Intentionally or not, the selection committee provided plenty of fodder for pre-game storylines in pairing Ohio State with Alabama. The Buckeyes will face a representative from the conference that denied the Buckeyes the 2006 and 2007 BCS championship. Meanwhile, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer will face his biggest on-field nemesis from his days at Florida (Nick Saban) and his biggest off-field pest (Lane Kiffin).
Now that the bracket is set and the storylines are established, it’s time to wonder if Ohio State can win this thing. Here are five reasons why they might.
5 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win the CFB Playoff
1. Cardale Jones
This is counterintuitive but perhaps crazy enough to work against Alabama. If Cardale Jones really is as good as his performance against Wisconsin indicates, Ohio State will be in good shape at the quarterback position despite all the odds. Jones completed 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards with three touchdowns against a top-five defense in Wisconsin. And that’s essentially all the game film Nick Saban and his staff will have to dissect. We know Jones has a big arm (15.1 yards per attempt against the Badgers) and one of the best deep threats in the field in Devin Smith (26.6 yards per reception). A dropback passer also is a different look for Meyer against Saban, who faced Tim Tebow in their two SEC championship matchups.
2. Joey Bosa
Perhaps one statistical surprise among the four teams in the field: Only one of them ranked in the top 20 in sacks this season. Led by Joey Bosa, Ohio State is that team at more than three sacks per game. Bosa may be the most disruptive defensive player on any of the four playoff teams with 13.5 sacks (fourth nationally) and 20 tackles for a loss (tied for fifth).
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3. Ezekiel Elliott
Meyer went his entire career without a 1,000-yard running back before Carlos Hyde did it last season. Now, Meyer has had two in two seasons. Elliott will make Jones’ job much easier if he can continue his hot streak into the playoff. Elliott rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries against Wisconsin, nearly tripling Melvin Gordon’s output in that game. Elliott is averaging nearly nine yards per carry in his last three games.
4. A ball-hawking defense
Every offense in the playoff can throw the ball, so making defensive plays in the passing game is going to be a major factor. In that case, Ohio State has a nice track record. Ohio State finished the season ranked fourth nationally with 21 interceptions, including seven in the last four games. Only three teams didn’t throw a pick against Ohio State. Then again, that might be a concern. The top quarterback Ohio State faced all season was Michigan State’s Connor Cook, who completed 25-of-45 passes for 358 yards with two touchdowns and no picks.
5. Urban Meyer
Facing Saban in the semifinal evens the odds a bit, but few coaches have as good a track record as Meyer in championship or elimination-type games (Saban is one of them). Meyer is 5-2 in BCS championship games or conference title games in which a trip to the title game, or in the case, the playoff, are on the line. Again, Saban’s record is pretty unimpeachable itself, but Meyer’s is close. The matchup includes a 1-1 record in SEC championship games between Florida and Alabama, games that were in effect national semifinals.
When the guy who correctly predicts presidential races down to the electoral vote is thrown off the scent, maybe it’s time to acknowledge that following the weekly College Football Playoff horse race is not the best use of time.
As the season wrapped up Saturday night, Nate Silver posted that FiveThirtyEight’s statistical model pegged TCU as 91.1 percent likely to earn a playoff spot, a more solid prediction than even undefeated Florida State.
Nevertheless, Silver wrote he believed Florida State was more safe than the model indicated and TCU less so. Silver’s gut turned out to be more on point than the statistical model.
By Sunday morning, Ohio State was in and TCU was out. A victory for the 8.9 percent chance.
Let’s not be harsh on Silver, though. This the same person whose statistical models predict presidential and congressional races with regular accuracy. He gets a mulligan on trying to predict a process that has no precedent.
The playoff selection committee threw everyone off in the final rankings. Certainly, there was a sense that Ohio State, on the strength of a 59-0 win over Wisconsin and a Big Ten title, could move from No. 5 to No. 4 even though TCU defeated Iowa State 55-3. It also remained plausible Baylor, facing the top opponent of any of the three in No. 9 Kansas State, could move ahead of TCU.
But anyone Saturday night saying they were certain Ohio State would end up in the playoff was simply guessing.
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For six weeks, the selection committee met, deliberated, ranked a top 25 and explained why each team fit in each spot. Each week, TCU ranked ahead of both Ohio State and Baylor.
Ohio State slowly gained on the top four, and Baylor inched closer and closer to the team it defeated on Oct. 11. All the while, though, TCU maintained the upper hand.
In the only ranking that matters, Ohio State moved to No. 4 followed by Baylor and TCU in a complete about-face to the earlier top 25.
Not that the movement is unjustifiable — Ohio State played in one more game than the two teams from the Big 12, and that game ended in a 59-0 rout on a neutral field over a top 20 team that entered the game as a four-point favorite.
And hours after the committee released the top six, it revealed another significant change in its rankings: Mississippi State finished No. 7 and Michigan State finished No. 8. A week earlier, the Spartans were two spots ahead of the Bulldogs.
This flip-flop occurred despite neither team playing in the final week. Moreover, the two teams that defeated Michigan State (Oregon and Ohio State) went on to win conference titles in the final week of the season compared to the one for Mississippi State (Alabama).
That move may not seen substantial, but it allowed Mississippi State to take a spot in the Orange Bowl, the bowl destination anticipated for Michigan State. The Spartans instead will go to the Cotton Bowl.
Now, unless you’re a Michigan State fan who already booked travel to Miami, this isn’t a big deal. It simply underscores that the weekly reveal of the rankings and the weekly meetings were little more than TV programming.
The weekly top 25 in the end offered little insight into what the selection committee actually would do when it came time to fill out a bracket and send teams to bowls.
The process displayed transparency but only to a point. Committee chair Jeff Long ably spoke to the media each week and justify one ranking or another. At the same time, Long dodged any mention of which of the 12 voices held the most sway, if any, or which committee members dissented.
And in the end, the weekly rankings did little to predict how the final rankings would end up.
The weekly rankings deserve skepticism for this exact reason. The entire process left Long explaining why a team that was ranked third five days ago and won 55-3 in the last week of the season ended up sixth.
And this is what we wanted, too, even if no one said it. The polls had a formula and generally stuck to it late in the season: Keep winning and you won’t move down — even if you beat 2-10 Iowa State while the teams behind you picked up comfortable wins over top-20 teams. Wrote Silver:
In other words, the committee appears to engage in a more thorough reassessment of the teams with its final rankings. For better or worse, it’s more concerned about getting the “right” answer in the end than in being consistent from week to week.
The question now is if the committee will go through the same process of producing what now seem to be meaningless weekly rankings.
That is for the bureaucracy to decide.
“I think that the committee will look at this year, look at this season, look at how the entire process went,” Long said. “We will discuss it as a committee and we will discuss it with the management committee and we’ll probably make some recommendations, but it’s up to the management committee how the process will change and if those weekly rankings will change.”
The process could remain the same. Perhaps the committee will release fewer rankings. Maybe it will follow the basketball committee’s lead and simply let the bracket speak for itself.
In any case, we’ll all watch. Just don’t expect us to take it too seriously.
Alabama enters the college football playoff as the No. 1 overall seed and the odds-on favorite to win the 2014-15 national championship. The Crimson Tide has won two out of the last three titles and enters the playoff with an eight-game winning streak, including a 42-13 win over Missouri in the SEC Championship and a 55-44 victory over Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
The Crimson Tide’s formula for success hasn’t changed. Nick Saban’s team leans on a strong defense to win games, but the offense also proved capable of carrying this team, as the rushing attack is solid with backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, while receiver Amari Cooper is the best in college football. Blake Sims has developed into a solid starter and potential All-SEC quarterback under coordinator Lane Kiffin.
5 Reasons Why Alabama Will Win the CFB Playoff
1. Best Roster and Coach in College Football
Recruiting rankings aren’t necessary 100 percent accurate, but there’s some truth in the evaluations. Alabama has landed the No. 1 class in four consecutive seasons and ranked No. 5 in 2010. There’s talent and depth at every position, and the Crimson Tide has the best overall collection of players in college football this year. In addition to the depth on the roster, Nick Saban is the best coach in the nation. Saban won three BCS Championships at Alabama and claimed the 2003 title at LSU. The X’s and O’s matter, but the Crimson Tide has the best roster and coach in the nation. And considering this program’s success in the BCS era, it’s hard to pick against Alabama in the four-team playoff.
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2. Blake Sims
Alabama went into fall camp with uncertainty at quarterback. Jacob Coker was expected to win the job, but Blake Sims edged the Florida State transfer for the starting job and has turned in a solid all-around year. Sims finished with 3,250 yards and 26 scores and completed 64.8 percent of his passes. He also rushed for 321 yards and six touchdowns. The senior had only 39 career pass attempts entering 2014, but Sims could be an All-SEC player, which comes as a surprise after the preseason debate under center. The senior tossed three picks against Auburn but rallied with a strong performance against Missouri (23 of 27 for 262 yards). Sims entered the year as a big question mark. However, after 13 games, it’s clear the senior is capable of making enough plays in the passing game and is no longer Alabama’s biggest concern.
3. Defense Wins Championships
If the old adage “defense wins championships” holds true in 2014, then Alabama is set with the best group in the four-team playoff. The Crimson Tide allow just 4.7 yards per play (tied for ninth in the nation) and limit opponents to 16.6 points per contest. The secondary has been prone to allow a few big plays, but the rush defense has been rock solid all year. Alabama ranks second nationally against the run by holding opponents to 88.7 yards per game and limiting rushers to 2.8 yards per carry. And the Crimson Tide has allowed just three rushing scores all year. With the concerns in the secondary, it’s important for Alabama to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Crimson Tide has 28 sacks in 13 games and ranked fourth in the SEC by recording 85 tackles for a loss. The stats backup what the depth chart shows: Alabama has the best defense in the playoff.
4. WR Amari Cooper is Unstoppable
Using the term unstoppable is a bit of a cliché, but receiver Amari Cooper capped an outstanding regular season with 12 catches for 83 yards against Missouri in the SEC Championship. Cooper always had elite talent and appeared poised for a monster sophomore season after catching 58 passes for 999 yards as a freshman in 2012. However, Cooper’s numbers dropped to 45 catches for 736 yards. New coordinator Lane Kiffin has made Cooper a priority in the offense, and the junior emerged as a Heisman candidate by finishing the year with 115 catches for 1,656 yards and 14 touchdowns. Cooper recorded three 200-yard games and caught a touchdown pass in six out of Alabama’s nine SEC matchups. The Crimson Tide has an elite defense and a good rushing attack, but no team had an answer for Cooper in 2014. That narrative should continue in the playoffs.
5. One-Two Punch of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry
While Amari Cooper and Blake Sims’ emergence has allowed Alabama to open up the offense this season, the gameplan still revolves around establishing the run. The Crimson Tide average 209.5 yard per contest, with Yeldon and Henry forming one of the nation’s top tandems at running back. Yeldon was banged up at the end of the year but still finished with 932 yards and 10 scores. Henry is a bigger back and can pound away at defenses in the second half. The sophomore has 895 yards and 10 touchdowns on 159 attempts this year. Henry is coming off his best performance of the year by recording 141 yards and two scores against Missouri. Stopping Alabama’s rushing attack is easier said than done. Only one team held the Crimson Tide under 100 yards (Arkansas, 66 yards) and this offense rushed for 130 yards only three times in 2014. Defenses have to commit extra defenders into the box to slow down Yeldon and Henry, which opens up the play-action pass to Cooper. That’s quite a dilemma for any coordinator.
Florida State enters the college football playoff with a 29-game winning streak and a tough first-round matchup against Oregon in the Rose Bowl. The Seminoles aren’t the same team that claimed the BCS Championship last season, but coach Jimbo Fisher’s team is loaded with young talent and one of the top quarterbacks (Jameis Winston) in the nation.
Despite finishing unbeaten, Florida State dropped in the committee’s rankings throughout the year. The Seminoles weren’t dominant in most of their games, but Fisher’s team consistently found ways to win, while overcoming youth and injuries on defense.
5 Reasons Why Florida State Will Win the CFB Playoff
1. Jameis Winston
Winston has experienced his shares of ups and downs this season, but when the sophomore is locked in, he’s one of the best in college football. The sophomore missed one game due to suspension and finished the season with 3,559 yards and 24 touchdowns to 17 interceptions. In the ACC Championship against Georgia Tech, Winston turned in one of his best performances of the year by throwing for 309 yards and three scores on 21 completions. An ankle injury bothered Winston late in the year, and with nearly a month to heal, the sophomore should be at his best in the playoffs. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that Winston will have plenty of time to work on getting in rhythm with young targets like Travis Rudolph, Jesus Wilson and Ermon Lane. In the playoffs, a quarterback that’s on fire can carry a team to a championship. Winston is that type of player.
2. Defensive Improvement and Better Health
Florida State’s defense isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but this unit also had to overcome a lot of injuries, a new coordinator and youth in the starting lineup. The Seminoles allow 5.3 yards per play, which ranks 11th in the ACC. And under the direction of first-year coordinator Charles Kelly, the defense ranks sixth in the conference in points allowed per game (23). Kelly has done a good job of making adjustments within the game, as the defense stepped up in the second half against Louisville, Georgia Tech and Miami. While those numbers are up from last season, it’s important to consider Florida State could have zero senior starters in its first playoff game. Standout defensive tackle Eddie Goldman suffered an ankle injury in the ACC Championship, and his status for the playoff games is uncertain. If Goldman can’t play, that’s a huge blow for a defensive line that is already without Nile Lawrence-Stample due to a season-ending injury. Injuries also hit the linebacking corps hard, including ailments to junior Terrance Smith and redshirt freshman Matthew Thomas. It’s possible the time off is going to benefit Florida State’s defense more than any other unit in the four-team playoff.
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3. Freshman Talent on Offense
The Seminoles have veteran playmakers like seniors Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, but the time to prepare for the playoffs will help coach Jimbo Fisher develop some of the team’s young talent. Running back Dalvin Cook emerged as the team’s top running back over the second half of the season and finished the year with 905 yards and eight scores. The true freshman from Miami gashed Georgia Tech for 177 yards and rushed for 144 yards against Florida. In addition to Cook’s emergence, the receiving corps features an emerging star in freshman Travis Rudolph (32 catches for 459 yards), and true freshman Roderick Johnson is now the team’s starting left tackle. All three players have been major contributors over the last half of the season, and with the additional time to prepare, all three will be more comfortable in Florida State’s offense. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the playoff teams.
4. Experience Winning Close Games
The knock on Florida State’s resume heading into the national championship last year was the lack of close wins. The Seminoles dispelled that narrative after scoring a late touchdown to beat Auburn in the BCS Championship. A year later, the narrative on coach Jimbo Fisher’s team is the Seminoles are simply winning too many close games. Regardless of whether that should be held against Florida State in the seeding, it could come in handy in the playoffs. Florida State won seven games by a touchdown or less and only two of its final seven matchups were decided by more than 10 points. If the Seminoles are locked into another tight matchup in the playoffs, this team has the experience and confidence to overcome a late deficit.
5. Best Kicker in College Football
If Florida State plays another close game, kicker Roberto Aguayo could be a difference maker. Yes, that’s right – we are highlighting a kicker in this section. The sophomore is the best kicker in the nation and the defending Lou Groza Award winner. Aguayo connected on 25 of 27 field goals this season, including 9 of 11 attempts from 40 yards or more. Both Alabama and Oregon have struggled at times with their field goal attempts this season. If either team is locked into a close game with Florida State, Aguayo’s ability to hit 50-yard attempts is a valuable asset for coach Jimbo Fisher.
Oregon is in. And it's going to be a tough out.
Mark Helfrich has led his program to the Pac-12 Championship, the inaugural College Football Playoff and likely the school's first Heisman Trophy. But his team has much left to accomplish as it begins a month-long preparation for what will be the first of two possible playoff games.
The Ducks are playing as well as any team in the nation, winners of eight straight games by an average of 26 points per game. Here is how Oregon will win the national championship:
5 Reasons Why Oregon Will Win the CFB Playoff
1. Marcus Mariota stays healthy
It's not about Mariota protecting the football, being an efficient passer, making plays with his legs, handling the defensive pressure or any other traditional concern coaches have about quarterbacks heading into big games. Because no one can stop Marcus Mariota. The only concern fans should have with the likely Heisman Trophy winner is an injury. It might be the only thing that can keep Mariota from producing at a high level. That and maybe the Heisman buffet circuit.
2. Spread the wealth on offense
How can Helfrich keep Mariota upright and healthy? By spreading the ball around on offense to a developing collection of electric offensive weapons. Mariota isn't the only reason the Ducks offense is surging into the playoffs, and his supporting cast has gone from a question mark to coordinator's nightmare. In the win over Arizona, Oregon featured nine different ball carriers and four different players caught at least five passes. Helfrich has a power workhorse (Royce Freeman), a speedy deep threat (Devon Allen), a steady possession guy (Darren Carrington) and dynamic all-purpose threats (Byron Marshall, Charles Nelson). When all of these pieces are clicking, the Ducks can rip off huge chunks of yards and protect their star quarterback in the process.
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3. Waves of defensive linemen
The Ducks aren't a dominant defensive team by any means but have enough talent to cause plenty of problems in the playoff. Oregon is 21st nationally in both sacking the quarterback (34.0) and tackles for loss (85.0). Don Pellum's front seven tormented the Arizona offense in the Pac-12 championship game, holding RichRod's unit to just 25 yards at halftime. He had five different players register at least a portion of a sack (4.0 total) and finished with 7.0 tackles for loss as a team. This unit comes in waves as 14 different players have registered a sack this season. In order to win a national championship, this group has to play its best football of the season — or, at least, match what it accomplished against Arizona.
4. Avoid Alabama altogether
There is a chance Oregon won't have to face Alabama in order to win a national championship this season. The Tide is the most talented roster in the nation led by the best coach in the land and likely would be the Ducks toughest possible matchup. If Alabama loses in the Sugar Bowl to Ohio State, the Oregon Ducks immediately become the favorite in the national championship game — if, of course, they can get past the defending national champions in Pasadena. Speaking of the Rose Bowl...
5. Play games west of the Mississippi
Oregon enters the first college football tournament the No. 2 seed and picked as the top challenger to Alabama. Part of the reason the Ducks have the best chance to knock off No. 1 and win a championship is that Oregon will play both games west of the Mississippi. As far as logistics and travel are concerned, the current path to a title is about as fortunate a draw an Oregon head coach could ever ask for. A semifinal in Pasadena is the best possible location for the Ducks to land in any round and a national final in Arlington keeps the Pacific Northwest program on one half of the country throughout the tourney.
The Buffalo Bills will try and improve their playoff standing when they take on the Denver Broncos this afternoon on CBS. The Bills (7-5) have three teams ahead of them in the AFC Wild Card pecking order while the Broncos (9-3) have an outside shot of wrapping up a playoff spot, depending on the outcome of numerous other games
Buffalo is part of a six-pack of 7-5 teams currently jockeying for the second Wild Card spot with San Diego (8-4) claiming the other. The Bills are behind the Dolphins (better winning percentage in divisional play) and Chiefs (better winning percentage in conference games), thanks in part to losses to each the past two weeks. Buffalo’s remaining slate is not easy with Green Bay on tap next week and back-to-back road games on opposite sides of the country (Oakland then New England) to finish things up. The Bills need to win just to keep pace with the pack, but face a tough test this afternoon against a Broncos team that’s undefeated at home.
Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Denver -10
|Buffalo 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||vs KC||L 13 - 17||Recap|
|11/13||@ MIA||L 9 - 22||Recap|
|11/24||vs NYJ||W 38 - 3||Recap|
|11/30||vs CLE||W 26 - 10||Recap|
|12/7||@ DEN||L 17 - 24||Recap|
|12/14||vs GB||W 21 - 13||Recap|
|12/21||@ OAK||L 24 - 26||Recap|
|12/28||@ NE||W 17 - 9||Recap|
Buffalo’s Key to Victory: Get Offensive
The Bills rank among the top 10 in the NFL in the four major defensive categories. They are second in scoring defense (18.1 ppg) and fifth in both total (312.4 ypg) and passing (216.1 ypg) defense. Buffalo also leads the league with 48 sacks and has collected 20 in the past four games alone. All of this is well and good, especially going against a Peyton Manning-led Denver offense that’s fifth in both yards (413.9) and points (30.1) per game, but the Bills will still need to find a way to score some points. After all, the Broncos are 6-0 this season at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, averaging 35.3 points per game. Buffalo is 17th in the league in scoring at 17 points per game and has scored more than 35 points just twice. Both of those games were against the 2-10 Jets. The Bills have done a little better job putting points on the board on the road (21.8 ppg), but Denver’s low-water mark at home so far is the 24 it scored in a Week 2 win over Kansas City. Since that game, the Broncos have put up 41 on the Cardinals, 42 on the 49ers, 35 on the Chargers, and 39 on the Dolphins. Buffalo’s defense is capable of limiting any team’s offense, but it will be difficult for them to completely shut down Manning and the Broncos. And that’s just part of the battle, as the Bills’ offense will still need to cobble some scoring drives together and do so against a Denver defense that has given up less than 23 points per game at home.
|Denver 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||@ OAK||W 41 - 17||Recap|
|11/16||@ STL||L 7 - 22||Recap|
|11/23||vs MIA||W 39 - 36||Recap|
|11/30||@ KC||W 29 - 16||Recap|
|12/7||vs BUF||W 24 - 17||Recap|
|12/14||@ SD||W 22 - 10||Recap|
|12/22||@ CIN||L 28 - 37||Recap|
|12/28||vs OAK||W 47 - 14||Recap|
Denver’s Key to Victory: Stay Balanced
The Broncos have the luxury of a future Hall of Fame quarterback running their offense, but that doesn’t mean they at their best when Peyton Manning is throwing the ball all over the field. In each of Denver’s three losses, the Broncos’ offensive game plan was extremely pass-heavy. Against Seattle, Manning attempted 49 passes compared to 20 rushes. The pass vs. run distribution was even more lopsided against New England (57/17) and St. Louis (54/10). For whatever reason, the 22-7 loss to the Rams three weeks ago must have served as a tipping point because Denver has since recommitted to the run in a big way. In Week 12 against Miami, it was a 50/50 split and then last week the Broncos ran the ball 10 more times than they passed it. And in those two games, all the team did was rush for 415 yards, dominate time of possession and, most importantly, beat a pair of playoff-contending teams. In fact, this run-heavy approach fueled a fourth-quarter comeback against the Dolphins and allowed the Broncos to hold the ball for more than 38 minutes against the Chiefs. Running back C.J. Anderson, who was buried on the depth chart earlier this season, has been the catalyst for Denver’s rejuvenated ground attack (335 yards rushing in the last two games) and there’s no reason to deviate from that approach now. Buffalo’s defense has been tough against the run (96.3 ypg), but the Broncos’ offensive line is playing exceptionally well and Anderson has been punishing opponents on the ground. Manning is perfectly capable of beating teams by himself, but as this season has showed, it’s not always in the Broncos’ best interests to rely on that strategy. And as far as the Bills’ defense is concerned, facing a potent, two-dimensional offense run by a future Hall of Fame quarterback on the road certainly does not bode well for their interests.
Buffalo is in the thick of the Wild Card chase and has one of the NFL’s toughest defenses. Denver is positioned to not only win its fourth straight AFC West crown, but also to wind up with one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye. On paper, the Bills appear equipped to keep Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ offense in check. However, that was before Denver recommitted to the run, as C.J. Anderson has jumpstarted a rushing attack that’s piled up more than 400 yards in the last two games. Buffalo has had issues scoring points all season and this won’t get any easier against a Broncos defense that’s been pretty stingy at home. Going up against a future Hall of Fame quarterback is just one of the challenges facing the Bills, who will come up short in their attempt to hand the Broncos their first loss at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
Prediction: Denver 27, Buffalo 17
Playoff positioning will be at stake when the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles get together this afternoon on FOX. The Seahawks (8-4) are one game behind the Cardinals for the lead in the NFC West and currently maintain a slight edge over the other Wild Card contenders. Even with a loss, the Eagles (9-3) would still be ahead of the Cowboys in the NFC East thanks to an unblemished (3-0) record in divisional play.
Both teams enter this afternoon’s game having won their past two contests and four out of five. Seattle has looked more like the defending Super Bowl champions of late, beating divisional rivals Arizona and San Francisco by a combined score of 38-6. Philadelphia is coming off of a convincing 33-10 win in Dallas on Thanksgiving and are 6-0 at home this season.
Seattle Seahawks vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Philadelphia -1
|Seattle 2014 Schedule|
|11/9||vs NYG||W 38 - 17||Recap|
|11/16||@ KC||L 20 - 24||Recap|
|11/23||vs ARI||W 19 - 3||Recap|
|11/27||@ SF||W 19 - 3||Recap|
|12/7||@ PHI||W 24 - 14||Recap|
|12/14||vs SF||W 17 - 7||Recap|
|12/21||@ ARI||W 35 - 6||Recap|
|12/28||vs STL||W 20 - 6||Recap|
Seattle’s Key to Victory: Stop Shady
After getting off to a slow start LeSean “Shady” McCoy has gotten it going. The reigning rushing champion, McCoy is coming off of a season-high 159 yards on the ground last week against Dallas and has four 100-yard efforts over his last seven games. That’s after not rushing for more than 81 yards in each of his first five games. A big-play threat whenever he touches the ball, Philadelphia is 6-1 when McCoy goes over 100 total yards. It’s not like the Eagles can’t win when McCoy doesn’t have a good game, but his presence in Chip Kelly’s offense shouldn’t be overlooked either. The Seahawks are fifth in the league in rushing defense and have given up more than 64 yards rushing only once in their last five games. If Seattle can bottle up McCoy that would put more pressure on Mark Sanchez to make plays from the pocket. Since taking over for an injured Nick Foles, Sanchez has directed Philadelphia to a 3-1 record as the starter, but he’s still prone to the occasional mistake (eight turnovers vs. nine total TDs) and isn’t always the most accurate (63.4 percent completion rate this season) with his throws. Kelly’s offensive system may be quarterback-friendly, but Sanchez vs. Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” could be one ugly matchup. And that’s exactly what the Seahawks are hoping for.
|Philadelphia 2014 Schedule|
|11/10||vs CAR||W 45 - 21||Recap|
|11/16||@ GB||L 20 - 53||Recap|
|11/23||vs TEN||W 43 - 24||Recap|
|11/27||@ DAL||W 33 - 10||Recap|
|12/7||vs SEA||L 14 - 24||Recap|
|12/14||vs DAL||L 27 - 38||Recap|
|12/20||@ WAS||L 24 - 27||Recap|
|12/28||@ NYG||W 34 - 26||Recap|
Philadelphia’s Key to Victory: Beat Seattle at its Own Game
One of the hallmarks of Seattle’s defense last season was the unit’s ability to create turnovers. The Seahawks were first in the NFL in takeaways (39), interceptions (28) and turnover margin (plus-20). After forcing just five takeaways in their first six games (3-3 record), business has picked up for Pete Carroll’s defense to the tune of 13 turnovers forced over the past six contests. Not surprisingly, the defending Super Bowl champions have gone 5-1 during this stretch. While the Eagles’ defense will never be mistaken for the “Legion of Boom,” Philadelphia’s defense has fared pretty well in this category this season. The Eagles have collected 22 takeaways thus far, which is four more than the Seahawks’ total and places them in a tie for fifth in the league. What’s more, Chip Kelly’s team has made the most of its takeaways, as the Eagles have scored six defensive touchdowns. Contrast that to Seattle, which has gotten just two scores from its defense. Philadelphia’s success carries over to special teams as well, which has accounted for four touchdowns and five blocked kicks. The Seahawks have two blocked kicks, but no special teams scores. Statistically speaking, Seattle’s defense is ranked No. 1 in the league in yards allowed and third in points. Philadelphia’s defense is 24th and tied for 19th in those same categories. However, similar to what the Seahawks did last season, the Eagles’ defense has made a healthy living off of turnovers this season. Maintaining that edge this afternoon could be key to Philadelphia’s chances of winning, especially considering how good a job Seattle does with ball security (9 giveaways, tied for second-fewest) compared to the Eagles (league-worst 28).
A potential playoff preview? Perhaps, but right now the focus of these two teams is to just get into the postseason. Philadelphia is a little more secure in that respect, but Seattle is the defending champions and appears to be rounding into form at the right time. Coming off of dominating victories over Arizona and San Francisco, the Seahawks are a team no one wants to face now, let alone in January. The Eagles have the edge over the Cowboys in the NFC East, but also are in the mix for one of the top two seeds and a first-round bye. Philadelphia is undefeated at home and has more offensive firepower, but I’ll take my chances with the “Legion of Boom” against Mark Sanchez, regardless of where the game is played.
Prediction: Seattle 27, Philadelphia 23
The AFC North race takes center stage this afternoon when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals get together on CBS. The Bengals (8-3-1) currently lead the NFL’s most competitive division, with the Steelers (7-5) falling in between the Ravens and Browns as it relates to playoff pecking order.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Cincinnati -3.5
As the AFC playoff picture stands right now, Cincinnati would be the only team in. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland are part of a six-pack of 7-5 teams currently jockeying for one Wild Card berth, which is why divisional matchups like this will be so critical from here out.
This is the first of two Bengals vs. Steelers matchups between now and the end of the regular season. And while the Week 17 return date in Pittsburgh could end up being a winner-take-all situation, this game is just as important. A win would not only give the Bengals some breathing room between them and potentially the rest of the division, it also would give the Steelers a loss they can ill afford.
Since getting manhandled by Cleveland 24-3 at home in Week 10, Cincinnati has won three in a row, all on the road. Improved defensive play (12.0 ppg, 280.3 ypg) has been a factor during this streak, as has the return of two key offensive weapons (A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard) from injury.
Offense has been Pittsburgh’s calling card this season, as the Steelers rank third in the league in yards (417.3) and eighth in points (26.7) per game. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown have been putting up huge numbers, but the problem has been the defense has given up its fair share too. Last week, Drew Brees threw five touchdown passes as New Orleans piled up nearly 400 yards in its 35-32 victory in the Steel City.
While Pittsburgh’s offense vs. Cincinnati’s defense is probably the key matchup, don’t overlook the Bengals’ offense. With Green and Bernard back in the fold, Andy Dalton has plenty of weapons at his disposal and this Steelers defense is not exactly the Steel Curtain of old.
The AFC North is the only division in the NFL with four winning teams, but Cincinnati is the team that’s been most consistent. The Bengals’ defense appears to be rounding into form and I think it will be the difference in what should be a typical AFC North matchup – physical, intense and likely to come down to the wire.
Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Pittsburgh 24
It’s only Week 14, but in many ways this matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins on CBS may as well be viewed as a playoff-elimination game in the AFC. The Dolphins and Ravens both enter today’s game at 7-5, part of a group of six teams with the same record. Miami is currently the leader of this pack, thanks to a series of tiebreakers. With so many teams bunched together, neither Miami nor Baltimore can afford a loss at this point, especially considering neither is leading their respective division.
Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Miami -2.5
Baltimore is looking to regroup following last week’s 34-33 home loss to San Diego. John Harbaugh’s Ravens led by 10 with 6:13 to go in the fourth quarter, but the Chargers scored the game-winning touchdown with just 38 seconds left. Miami on the other hand needed a 10-point fourth quarter comeback of its own to avoid disaster Monday night in the Big Apple against the Jets. Even though the Jets ran roughshod over the Dolphins (277 yards rushing), Caleb Sturgis’ 26-yard field goal with 1:57 on the clock saved Joe Philbin’s team from an embarrassing loss that could have basically wrecked Miami’s playoff aspirations.
The key to this game may be how each offense attacks the other’s perceived weak spot on defense. For Baltimore this means taking advantage of a Miami run defense that’s giving up nearly 120 yards per game. Justin Forsett has been a revelation for the Ravens this season, already over 1,000 yards rushing and leading all running backs with an average of 5.6 yards per carry. Forsett is dealing with a knee issue, but he said he expects to play so he can get a shot at a defense that has surrendered 478 yards on the ground in its last two games.
Baltimore’s recent troubles on defense have come through the air. The Ravens gave up 420 yards passing and three touchdowns to Drew Brees two weeks ago, followed by 383 yards and three scores to Philip Rivers. Miami’s not known for throwing the ball all over the field, but Ryan Tannehill has been extremely efficient lately. He has completed at least 70 percent of his passes in each of the past five games. Last week also marked the first game all season in which Tannehill didn’t throw at least one touchdown pass.
The Dolphins have been pretty tough at home this season, having already defeated the Patriots and shutting out the Chargers while losing to the Packers on a last-second touchdown pass by Aaron Rodgers. The Ravens have experienced some highs (beating the Saints) and lows (losing 43-23 to the Steelers) on the road and their passing game has been inconsistent, while the defense has had to deal with the occasional breakdown or lapse in execution.
Baltimore probably needs this win more considering it is part of the highly competitive AFC North, but Miami has been more consistent over the past few months. This game will be close, but Tannehill makes enough plays in the second half and a late defensive stop will be enough to help the Dolphins maintain possession of a Wild Card berth, for at least one more week.
Prediction: Miami 24, Baltimore 20
The reigning kings of December will collide in Qualcomm Stadium, as the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers will face off tonight on NBC. Tom Brady and Philip Rivers rival Santa Claus for ownership of this month; they have a combined December record of 75–13 and rank first (Brady) and second (Rivers) in the NFL in December winning percentage since 1950 among quarterbacks with 25 starts or more. The Patriots (9-3) are in bounce-back mode after seeing their seven-game winning streak snapped in a 26–21 loss to Green Bay, while the Chargers (8-4) are coming off a key comeback win over Baltimore.
New England Patriots vs. San Diego Chargers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: New England -4
|New England 2014 Schedule|
|11/16||@ IND||W 42 - 20||Recap|
|11/23||vs DET||W 34 - 9||Recap|
|11/30||@ GB||L 21 - 26||Recap|
|12/7||@ SD||W 23 - 14||Recap|
|12/14||vs MIA||W 41 - 13||Recap|
|12/21||@ NYJ||W 17 - 16||Recap|
|12/28||vs BUF||L 9 - 17||Recap|
|1/10||vs BAL||W 35 - 31||Recap|
New England’s Key to Victory: Maintain Focus
A trip to the warm climes of San Diego can seem like a vacation, and L.A. is just a quick drive up the coast, as we saw when tight end Rob Gronkowski took in a Clippers game with Justin Bieber earlier this week. The Patriots have a reputation for being the most business-like, results-driven team in the game, but it’s critical that this group regain the level of intensity that led to its recent seven-game surge. They need to be particularly focused on preventing big plays; after Aaron Rodgers burned New England’s secondary for first-half touchdown passes of 32 and 45 yards, leading to a nine-point halftime deficit that proved too much to overcome. “It’s important for us to not be distracted by nice weather and things that are going on out here and realize that we have a job to do this week,” left guard Dan Connelly said. “We have to treat it as much like a regular week as we can.”
|San Diego 2014 Schedule|
|11/16||vs OAK||W 13 - 6||Recap|
|11/23||vs STL||W 27 - 24||Recap|
|11/30||@ BAL||W 34 - 33||Recap|
|12/7||vs NE||L 14 - 23||Recap|
|12/14||vs DEN||L 10 - 22||Recap|
|12/20||@ SF||W 38 - 35||Recap|
|12/28||@ KC||L 7 - 19||Recap|
San Diego’s Key to Victory: Reverse the Curse
The history of this series favors the Patriots — overwhelmingly. Tom Brady has never lost to San Diego, boasting a 5-0 record against the Bolts. His counterpart, Philip Rivers, is 1-5 against the Patriots, with the one win coming against a Matt Cassel-led New England team in 2008. The respective stats tell the story: Rivers has a 5-to-8 TD-to-interception ratio against the Brady-led Pats, with a 73.4 passer rating, while Brady has 11 TD passes and a 91.4 rating against San Diego. But Rivers made a salient point on this subject: These franchises haven’t met since 2011, and every year is new. “We’ve never played this Patriot team,” he said. “We’re 0-0 against this group. There are a lot of guys in that locker room that have never played the Patriots in their life. You can’t really say this team is 1-5 against them.” It’s up to these Chargers to ignore the history and play loose and confident.
The loss in Green Bay and the end of the seven-game winning streak was in all likelihood the wakeup call New England needed. Look for the Patriots to embark on yet another December surge with a key road win over a Chargers team that has been living on the edge all season.
Prediction: New England 27, San Diego 24
The saying goes that the backup quarterback is the most popular person in football.
At Ohio State, that may be no exaggeration.
Quarterback injuries have been the norm for Urban Meyer in Columbus, but lucky for the Buckeyes, the next man up has been more than prepared.
At one point, Cardale Jones spent time as the third-string quarterback. Braxton Miller was the starter until he went down with a shoulder injury to give way to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. With a broken ankle, Barrett gave way for Jones, the third backup quarterback to enter a game because of injury for Ohio State the last two seasons.
This, though, was different. On Saturday, Ohio State started the day ranked No. 5 in the playoff rankings and would face a top-five defense in the Big Ten championship game.
A win, and especially strong play from Jones, would strengthen Ohio State's cause for the playoff.
Jones responded with a dominant performance in a 59-0 rout of Wisconsin. In his first career start, Jones completed 12-of-17 passes for 257 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers against the Badgers to earn Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
Wisconsin started the day ranked fifth in fewest yards per play (4.4) and 17th in yards per pass attempt.
Those numbers will take a hit after facing Ohio State.
Under Jones, Ohio State averaged 10 yards per play, and the quarterback averaged 17.1 yards per attempt against the Badgers.
National Defensive Player of the Week: Michael Bennett, Ohio State
If you picked an Ohio State player to have nearly three times as many rushing yards as Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon on Saturday, you could have won a few bets. Certainly, part of that is on the Buckeyes’ Ezekiel Elliott (220 yards), but some is on defensive tackle Michael Bennett and the Ohio State defense. Bennett finished with four tackles for a loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles as Ohio State held Gordon to 76 yards on 26 carries. For the first time all season, Gordon failed to produce a 20-yard carry. He topped out with his longest run going for 13 yards.
National Freshman of the Week: Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Jameis Winston played perhaps his best game of the season in the ACC championship, but he was in danger of being upstaged by a freshman tailback. Cook rushed for 177 yards on 31 carries and a touchdown for the best Florida State rushing day in 39 games. On one possession in the first and second quarters against Georgia Tech, Cook had all seven touches on a 75-yard touchdown drive. Later, he had the key 10-yard run on third-and-7 in the fourth quarter that sealed the 37-35 win for Florida State.
National Coordinator of the Week: Don Pellum, Oregon
In short, Oregon has two weaknesses as it tries to win the school’s first national championship: Arizona and its own defense. The Ducks solved both in the Pac-12 championship on Friday in a 51-13 win over Arizona. Pellum’s defense had arguably its best game of the season. Arizona amassed only 224 yards and 3.7 yards per play against the Ducks. Of Arizona’s 113 passing yards, 69 came on a single touchdown on a broken coverage. Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon was injured during the course of the game, but Wildcats quarterbacks combined to go 9-of-26 with an interception.
It’s Week 14, which means the fantasy playoffs are either here already or will begin soon. Everyone needs their top guys available, but that may not be the case in Baltimore’s backfield.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Probable – Groin
Foster returned last Sunday after missing two games because of a groin injury. He finished with 105 total yards and a touchdown against the Titans. Foster was limited in practice at the start of the week, but he was a full go on Friday and is listed as Probable. Foster has another appealing matchup today, against a Jacksonville defense that has given up the sixth-most fantasy points to RBs, which is why he checks in at No. 1 on our Week 14 RB rankings.
Justin Forsett, RB, Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Questionable – Knee
Forsett injured his knee last week and wasn’t able to practice until Friday, and even then he was limited. The lack of practice time is concerning, but Forsett has said he’s confident he will be able to play. He’s listed as Questionable, but it looks like Forsett may end up being a game-time decision. Forsett is fourth in the league in rushing, so production hasn’t been a question. If he plays, Forsett must be started. If he’s unable to go, however, Bernard Pierce would likely replace Forsett in the starting lineup. Miami has given up some big rushing totals lately, so Forsett’s status is definitely worth keeping an eye on leading up to kickoff (1 p.m. ET).
Reggie Bush, RBs, Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Probable – Ankle
Bush hasn’t played since Week 10, but after being a full practice participant this week, he’s listed as Probable. Bush’s season has been a disappointment, whether it’s been the lack of production or different injuries. Head coach Jim Caldwell called Bush the Lions’ starting running back on Thursday, but Joique Bell has been more productive and consistent by far and I don’t expect that to change much with Bush’s return. Bush has scored one touchdown and is averaging 3.6 yards per carry when he’s been on the field. Yes, he can be effective as a receiver, but I have a hard time endorsing Bush even as a flex this week. Bell is the Lions back I would want to have, as he’s ranked inside our top 15 RBs this week.
Already Ruled Out:
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers – Williams broke a bone in his hand last week and he’s already been ruled out for today’s game against the Saints. Jonathan Stewart will get the start and with touches likely to be less of a concern, he’s worthy of at least flex consideration. Game situation/circumstances, as well as the presence of Cam Newton, Mike Tolbert and Fozzy Whitaker are still factors to consider, but this is one instance where it may be worth it to take a flyer on Stewart.
The Giants could be a man down in Week 14 while Cleveland’s backfield may not be operating at full strength either. Here’s the latest on those situations as well as the Saints and Vikings.
Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants vs. Tennessee Titans
Questionable – Knee
Jennings injured his ankle last week, and it’s still bother him. He didn’t practice at all on Wednesday or Thursday and was limited on Friday. He’s officially Questionable, which puts his chances at 50/50, but the final decision probably won’t be made until prior to kickoff (1 p.m. ET). If Jennings can’t go, Andre Williams would get the start. Only one other team has given up more fantasy points to RBs this season than the Titans, so whether it’s Jennings or Williams, whoever gets the call could be in store for a truly Giant afternoon. If you do have Jennings, however, I would certainly have a back-up plan in place.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts
Questionable – Hip
Crowell missed Wednesday’s practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday because of a hip injury. He’s listed as Questionable, but all signs seem to point towards him playing against the Colts. The rookie has emerged as the Browns’ most productive rusher, as seven of his 107 carries have resulted in touchdowns. Crowell, like most rookies, has been up-and-down at times and also has had some ball security issues, but he’s been getting the call fairly consistently over Terrance West. As long as Crowell plays, he should make for a viable RB2 this week.
Travaris Cadet, Mark Ingram and Khiry Robinson, RBs, New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers
Probable – Hamstring; Probable – Shoulder; Probable – Forearm
The Saints’ backfield should be back to full strength today with Robinson on track to return after missing the past six games. Cadet and Ingram also are listed as Probable, while Pierre Thomas doesn’t even appear on this week’s injury report. Last week Ingram and Thomas did the heavy lifting, getting all of the carries while combining for 143 yards on the ground. Even with Robinson returning, I don’t really expect the pecking order to change much. Ingram is a must-start, while Thomas is flex-worthy. I don’t think Cadet or Robinson will see enough touches to make much of an impact, at least fantasy-wise.
Already Ruled Out:
Jerick McKinnon, RBs, Minnesota Vikings – On Saturday, the Vikings put McKinnon on injured reserve because of a back injury. What happens now with the Vikings’ backfield is really anyone’s guess. Matt Asiata led the way with 14 carries last week, but Ben Tate and Joe Banyard got involved as well and the trio combined for 75 yards rushing (3.6 ypc) and five receiving (all Asiata). That’s barely flex production as a group, let alone an individual RB, so this is a backfield committee you probably don’t want to rely on this week.
Andre Ellington has already been ruled out for Week 14, but he’s not the only running back on the injury report. Here are the other ailing RBs you need to know about before the late afternoon games get started.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks at Philadelphia Eagles
Probable – Back
Lynch is on the injury report, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it. He was held out of Wednesday’s practice for rest, eased back into things on Thursday and was a full go on Friday. He’s listed as Probable and is a must-start against an Eagles defense that’s among the top 10 in fantasy points allowed to opposing RBs. Lynch has three 100-yard efforts over his last four games and seems to have gotten stronger as the season has worn on.
Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders vs. San Francisco 49ers
Probable – Concussion
After missing last week, Murray was a full participant in practice both Thursday and Friday. He has passed the concussion protocols, is listed as Probable and expected to get the start this afternoon. Even though he gained 112 yards on just four carries the last time he was on the field, don’t expect Murray to pick up where he left off. For one, interim head coach Tony Sparano has already made a point to say that Murray will not be used as a workhorse the rest of the way, which means Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew and Marcel Reece could impact his touches. Secondly, the 49ers have done a pretty good job against RBs and it’s not like the Raiders have a lot of other offensive weapons for defenses to worry about. I have no problem with plugging Murray in and seeing what he can do, but he’s probably best viewed as a flex with upside this week.
Shane Vereen, RB, New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers
Questionable – Ankle
Vereen was limited in practice because of an ankle injury and he’s listed as Questionable. However, these are the Patriots we are talking about, as Vereen is one of 10 who are designated as being Questionable. There doesn’t appear to be any real danger of Vereen missing this game, but it’s not like running backs and Bill Belichick are a fantasy match made in heaven in the first place. Don’t forget that since Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards against the Colts in Week 11 he’s had one carry (for four yards). LeGarrette Blount rejoined the team a few weeks ago and since his return he’s been the No. 1 option. Vereen is a legitimate pass-catching threat, but he’s scored a total of four touchdowns and is averaging just over 10 touches per game. Vereen was already more suited for flex duty to begin with, so it’s just a matter of whether you think he will be limited tonight against the Chargers.
Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers at Oakland Raiders
Probable – Shoulder
Hyde was limited in practice by a shoulder injury, but he’s listed as Probable so he should play. The rookie has gotten opportunities (75 att.) and he leads the team with four rushing touchdowns, but he’s averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and still deferring to Frank Gore. The matchup against the Raiders is appealing, but Hyde is nothing more than a flex possibility this week.
Already Ruled Out:
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals – Ellington hasn’t been healthy all season, as he’s dealt with a tendon issue in his foot since Week 1. But he also hadn’t missed any games, until now. Ellington left last week’s game against Atlanta with a hip pointer. It’s bad enough that he wasn’t able to practice, which combined with his other bumps and bruises led to the team ruling him out for today. Stepfan Taylor will get the start in Ellington’s place, but Marion Grice and possibly even Robert Hughes figure to be involved as well. Even though Ellington is a must-start RB, the same can’t be said for Taylor. If you have Ellington and need a replacement, Taylor will suffice, just be sure to temper your expectations.
Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, RBs, Denver Broncos – Still no practice for either Ball (groin) or Hillman (foot), so this will be a third straight game missed for the former and No. 4 for the latter. The good news for the Broncos is that C.J. Anderson has taken the job and run with it, to the tune of 335 yards over the last two games. Even against a tough Buffalo defense, Anderson still ranks among our top 10 RBs this week.
Plenty of recognizable wide receivers appear on the Week 14 injury report. Which ones can you count on and which ones may not play? Have no fear, Athlon Sports has got these key targets covered.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Probable – Ankle
Nothing to see or be worried about here. Johnson was limited on Wednesday more out of precaution than anything. He was a full go on Thursday and Friday and is listed as Probable. Johnson was in vintage Megatron form (11-146-2) last week against Chicago and he’s ranked among our top 5 WRs this week.
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Probable – Thigh
Green missed three games earlier this season because of a toe injury, but this time it’s a thigh issue giving him some problems. He was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday, but was a full go on Friday. He’s listed as Probable, so you can pretty much count on him being out there. Green has a favorable matchup against a Steelers secondary that has struggled at times. Green is a must-start WR1, as he has scored at least 14.7 fantasy points in each of his past three games.
DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins vs. St. Louis Rams
Questionable – Shin
Jackson wasn’t able to practice because of a shin contusion, so his Questionable designation may be wishful thinking. The Redskins are going to give Jackson every opportunity to play, which means he will probably end up being a game-time decision. Jackson has been a boom-or-bust type of player this season and Colt McCoy doesn’t have the strongest arm, so it's probably best to leave DJax on your bench this week.
Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans vs. New York Giants
Questionable – Hand
The same week the Titans put Justin Hunter on injured reserve with a lacerated spleen, Wright cracked a bone in his right hand during practice on Wednesday. He wasn’t able to go Thursday or Friday, so his Questionable designation should be taken seriously. Wright’s production has been disappointing, so you have to wonder how effective he can be if he does end up playing. Unless you don’t have another option, I wouldn’t rely on Wright this week.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns
Probable – Hamstring
Hilton is dealing with a hamstring issue, but it doesn’t appear to be too serious. He was limited in practice on Wednesday, but a full participant both Thursday and Friday. He’s listed as Probable, so Hilton should be safe to employ. Hilton has scored at least 13.5 fantasy points in eight of his last nine games, one of the reasons why he’s been a top-10 fantasy WR this season. Hilton falls just outside of the top 10 in this week’s WR rankings, even with the prospect of being matched up against shutdown cornerback Joe Haden this afternoon.
Brian Hartline and Mike Wallace, WRs, Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Ravens
Probable – Knee; Probable – Chest
Hartline joins Wallace on the injury report, but both are Probable and expected to play. Hartline hurt his knee last week and was limited some in practice, but the bigger concern is that rookie Jarvis Landry has passed Hartline in the pecking order. Wallace continues to post solid numbers, making him a reliable and safe WR2. Hartline doesn’t really register on the fantasy radar at this point.
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins
Probable – Knee
Smith didn’t practice at all on Wednesday or Thursday, but he’s still listed as Probable, so it looks like the coaching staff isn’t too concerned about his knee. Torrey has outpaced teammate Steve as the more productive Smith for the Ravens over the past month, and he should be safe to utilize as a WR2/3.
It’s Week 14, which means every game really counts from here out in both the NFL and fantasy. Between later this afternoon, tonight and tomorrow there are six games that need to be considered before setting your lineup. Here are some wide receiver injuries in those games that you really need to pay attention to.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Questionable – Knee
The good news is that Fitzgerald was able to increase his practice participation and was out there for at least a little bit every day. The bad news is that while he’s listed as Questionable, head coach Bruce Arians said on Friday that Fitzgerald still isn’t 100 percent and will be a game-time decision once again. Arizona is struggling right now and the Cardinals’ offense will be without running back Andre Ellington. With the late kickoff and the uncertainty surrounding Fitzgerald’s status, I would just consider him as being Out and move on.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills
Probable – Ankle
The Broncos already had one hobbled Thomas (Julius, ankle), but got another scare when Demaryius got his ankle stepped on by a teammate during Wednesday’s practice. He sat out Thursday, but was back on the field Friday. That information along with his Probable designation seems to signal that he will play against the Bills. Thomas hasn’t gone over 100 yards receiving in either of his past two games, but he has caught four touchdown passes during this span, cementing his status as an elite WR1.
Harry Douglas and Roddy White, WRs, Atlanta Falcons at Green Bay Packers (Mon.)
Probable – Foot; Questionable – Ankle
Douglas missed four games earlier this season with a foot injury. It continues to limit him in practice, but that’s more precautionary than anything. Douglas is Probable, all but assuring he will play. The same can’t be said for White, who was Questionable last week and ended up not playing after he was unable to practice. Along those lines, White was a limited participant on Saturday and afterwards he said he was confident he would be able to go on Monday night. He’s still Questionable, but it certainly sounds like White’s got a much better chance of playing this week compared to last. But can you wait until Monday night to find out? White has picked things up lately (3 TDs over his past five games), but Douglas also fared pretty well (9 rec. 116 yds.) last week in White’s absence. Julio Jones is the top dog when it comes to Atlanta’s wide receivers, but White’s capable of putting up WR2 production of his own. Douglas’ value is tied directly to whether White plays or not, but there’s plenty of risk when it comes to either this week because of the timing (play on Monday night) and uncertainty surrounding White’s status.
Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, WRs, New England Patriots at San Diego Chargers
Questionable – Thigh; Questionable – Shoulder
Both Edelman and LaFell were limited in practice this week and even though both are Questionable, they are expected to play tonight. Rob Gronkowski is the No. 1 option in the Patriots’ passing game, but Tom Brady has not been afraid to throw the ball Edelman’s or LaFell’s way either. Edelman has been more the PPR guy (team-high 77 rec.) while LaFell has made the most of his opportunities (7 TDs). With Gronk getting the majority of the looks, Edelman and LaFell are probably best if employed as WR3/flex options, with each having the potential of putting up bigger numbers.
Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods, WRs, Buffalo Bills at Denver Broncos
Probable – Hip; Probable – Ankle
Watkins suffered a hip injury last week and was limited by it in in practice. It’s the same story for Woods, except he’s dealing with an ankle injury. It looks like it will be a happy ending for both (and their fantasy owners), however, as each is listed as Probable. Denver’s defense has done a decent job against WRs this season, but the possibility of Buffalo being forced to throw because of the game situation is tempting enough to recommend finding a way to get both Watkins and Woods into the starting lineup. Both are more WR3/flex options, but each is capable of doing more.
Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers at Oakland Raiders
Probable – Knee
It has been a disappointing season for Crabtree, who has four touchdown receptions and is averaging only 11.3 yards per catch. Injuries have been somewhat to blame and he’s now dealing with a knee issue that limited his practice participation Wednesday and Thursday. He was a full go on Friday and is listed as Probable, but that doesn’t mean you should have Crabtree in your starting lineup. Consider this: He’s reached double-digits in fantasy points just twice over his last nine games.
Julius Thomas isn’t the only elite tight end on the Week 14 injury report. Will the Broncos get their other Thomas back today and what’s the TE situation for the Panthers, Colts and Browns? Keep reading and you’ll find out.
Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers at New Orleans Saints
Questionable – Knee
Olsen was limited when he did practice this week and is listed as Questionable, but there doesn’t appear to be any major concern regarding his availability. He should play and if he does, Olsen needs to be in your lineup. Just double-check before kickoff (1 p.m. ET) and make sure the No. 4 fantasy TE this season is indeed active.
Julius Thomas, TE, Denver Broncos vs. Buffalo Bills
Questionable – Ankle
This week Thomas was able to practice on a limited basis all three days, so it looks like he’s making progress. Will it be enough for him to get back out there this afternoon? That remains to be seen, but Thomas has said he’s “close.” He’s officially Questionable and most likely is going to be a game-time decision yet again, so it’s a matter of how much risk are you willing to take considering the late (4:05 p.m. ET) kickoff. We ranked Thomas third this week, for what that’s worth.
Dwayne Allen, TE, Indianapolis Colts at Cleveland Browns
Probable – Ankle
After missing the past two games, Allen is on track to return today. He was a full participant in practice and is listed as Probable. How many snaps he will get is a question worth asking, but don’t be surprised if Allen’s return impacts Coby Fleener’s opportunities. Fleener has thrived since Allen got injured early in Week 11, catching 13 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns (both last week) over the past three games. But Allen had better numbers than Fleener prior to his injury, which is why he is ranked a few spots higher than his teammate despite the missed time. At best, both should be viewed as borderline TE1 options this week.
Jordan Cameron, TE, Cleveland Browns vs. Indianapolis Colts
Questionable – Concussion
Cameron has missed the past five games because of a concussion, but he has been able to practice on a limited basis. He was able to participate to some degree every day this week, which earned him a Questionable designation. However, Cameron’s fate really isn’t in the hands of the coaching staff as much as it is in the neurologist who must clear him to play. The bottom line is that Cameron has missed more than a month’s worth of action, so even if he plays, rust should be expected. At this point in the fantasy season, it’s probably not worth it to take a chance with Cameron unless you have no other choice.
Charles Clay, TE, Miami Dolphins vs. Baltimore Ravens
Questionable – Hamstring
Clay has missed the past two games, but he’s making progress and could be back out there today. He was a limited practice participant every day this week and his Questionable tag is an upgrade from last week’s Doubtful. Even if Clay plays, he’s too risky to trust this week.
Already Ruled Out:
Jace Amaro, TE, New York Jets – Amaro will miss a second straight game as he’s still going through the league-mandated concussion protocols.
With a 55-3 win over Iowa State, TCU didn’t give the College Football Playoff selection committee any reason to drop the Horned Frogs out of the top four.
Now, the Horned Frogs will wait to find out of that’s enough.
TCU entered the week ranked No. 3 in the selection committee rankings. In theory, a rout of Iowa State, a team that finished winless in conference play, should keep TCU in a playoff scenario.
Yet TCU knows it won’t have the last word.
No. 6 Baylor, which defeated TCU 61-58 and outgained the Horned Frogs by nearly 300 yards on Oct. 11, has an opportunity for a statement win against No. 9 Kansas State.
Patterson: "I don’t know what happens tomorrow, but the bottom line is we’ve done everything we can do …. Now we’ll just wait and watch.”— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 6, 2014
TCU will have a share of the Big 12 title and a better non-conference win (Minnesota) compared to Baylor. The word “share” is key. The Big 12 will not declare a champion in the event of a tie and will present co-champions to the committee as TCU and either Baylor or Kansas State will finish with one Big 12 loss apiece.
In nearly every other tiebreaker situation, head-to-head would be the first determining factor. One of the criteria used by the selection committee will be conference championships. By naming co-champions, the Big 12 is putting the onus on the selection committee to pick the team with the better body of work.
In a week in which Baylor hired a public relations firm, TCU coach Gary Patterson said he won’t state his case any more than his team already had.
Gary Patterson on if TCU belongs in: "I don't see why they shouldn't consider us. This team has done everything we asked them to do..."— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) December 6, 2014
TCU could have crossed the 60-point barrier Saturday against Iowa State but elected to take two knees from the Iowa State 25.
In any event, TCU has engineered a remarkable turnaround. The Horned Frogs are 11-1 overall and 8-1 in the Big 12 only a year removed from going 4-8. The Frogs have won two more Big 12 games this season than they did during the first two seasons in the league (6-12).
Quarterback Trevone Boykin, who spent time at receiver last season, may have put the finishing touches on his bid to be a Heisman finalist by going 30-of-41 for 460 yards with four touchdowns and an interception against the Cyclones.
Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon are the favorites for the award with Alabama’s Amari Cooper making a bid for New York.
By the evening, though, all TCU eyes will be on Baylor.
Here’s how the two teams stacked up entering Saturday
|TCU vs. Baylor|
|Head-to-Head||Lost 61-58||Won 61-58|
|Loss||at No. 6 Baylor 61-58||at West Virginia 41-27|
|Best non-Big 12 win||Minnesota 30-7||at Buffalo 63-21|
|Offensive Yards/Play*||6.7 (First)||6.0 (Fifth)|
|Defensive Yards/Play*||5.7 (Sixth)||5.7 (Fifth)|
|Scoring Differential*||Plus-153 (19.1 per game)||Plus-134 (16.8 per game)|
|Yard Differential*||Plus-766 (95.8 per game)||Plus-1,084 (134.5 per game)|
|*Big 12 games only|
Anthony Davis’ MVP coming-out party hit a bump last night, when his New Orleans Pelicans rolled into Oakland to take on Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
Behind the tutelage of new coach Steve Kerr and the flaming hot shooting hands of Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors have looked like basketball’s best team this season, with their 112-85 dismantling of New Orleans extending their winning streak to 11 games and improving their record to a scary 16-2.
Curry, this week, was named the Western Conference Player of the Month, and he deserves every bit of the accolades. His unbelievably good shooting doesn’t really even scratch the surface of his deep value to GSW. He’s also one of the game’s best ball-handlers and distributors, and he has greatly expanded his effect upon defenses in 2014-15 with more dribble penetration and mid-range scoring.
And with Kerr’s new democratic-feeling rotations — which evoke the hyper-intelligent ethos of one of his old teams, Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs — production has been coming from unexpected places, too. Reserve big man Marreese Speights is enjoying his best season as a pro, clocking a staggering 26.18 player efficiency rating to go with 55 percent shooting from the floor. Starting center Andrew Bogut, long depressed within Mark Jackson’s retrogressive offensive sets, is now free to push the ball up the floor himself and behave like a wingman.
The Warriors can hit you in so many ways. They’ve gone on this run without yet even having great play from Andre Iguodala, easily their most versatile forward and their best defender outside the paint. Don’t be surprised if this isn’t the last time you read about how great this team is.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Dec. 5:
• Leading off today, SI swimsuit models in Christmas masks and bikinis. Season's greetings.
• Details are emerging about Kosta Karageorge, the Ohio State player who took his own life.
• The insane catches keep coming. This one's by Brandon Marshall.
• Darwin Awards nominee: A Nebraska defensive end tried to take a selfie with a raccoon and got bitten.
• A promotional blimp crashed into some fans at the Blazers game.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
Things are going okay for Kyrie Irving this week. Not only did his inaugural signature Nike shoe just debut, but his Cleveland Cavaliers have now won five straight after defeating the New York Knicks last night, 90-87. Irving played no small part in the contest, leading all scorers with 37 on a hyper-efficient 12-of-18 from the field.
This isn’t the first time Irving’s been a shining bullet on Broadway. About two years ago, Kyrie donned a sinister-looking black face mask after returning from injury and wowed the Madison Square Garden crowd with a 41-point performance, rife with clutch shots down the stretch. The Cavs lost that one, 103-102, but Irving’s message of superstar potential was sent loudly and clearly.
Today, Irving struggles with the heightened responsibilities his new super squad and max contract bring. The caveat to his most recent Big Apple bonanza is that he only tallied two assists in the game — he had zero until the fourth quarter, when he caught LeBron James all alone down the court for a pivotal breakaway dunk.
Kyrie has to learn not to over-indulge his appetite for show-stopping isolation basketball, even if he plays with such efficiency, and even if he’s the very best in the game at the art of hero ball — and even if it’s breathtaking to observe. As Cleveland’s starting point guard and primary ball-handler, Irving spins the wheel of one of the most impressive offensive vehicles in modern NBA memory, and he has yet to figure out how to maximize it.
The Cavs should not be eking games out against the pitiful Knicks, and Kevin Love — a power forward who enjoyed historically rich productivity with the Minnesota Timberwolves last year — shouldn’t look confused about his role on so many nights. The next challenge in Kyrie’s progression is next-level stuff; he's got to learn to use his potent teammates as extensions of himself.
— John Wilmes
Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley moved quickly in replacing the fired Will Muschamp, as the Gators announced Jim McElwain as the team’s new coach on Thursday. The Florida’s coaching search was an interesting exploration into hiring a coach, as the program was very public with its pursuit of McElwain and the negotiations for a hefty buyout with Colorado State.
Now that the dust has settled on the hire, it’s time to examine whether or not McElwain makes sense for Florida. Foley struck out on Muschamp and needs to get this hire right to get the Gators back in contention for SEC East titles.
It’s tough to know where a program stands with candidates when a search opens. Florida is one of the top jobs in college football, so there was no shortage of interested candidates. If some were expecting a big name here, they may be disappointed in McElwain’s hire. However, good coaches can come from any program, and McElwain – while it’s unspectacular – is going to work out well for Florida.
Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives for the Gators and grade the hire:
Positives in Florida’s Hire of McElwain
Background on Offense
Offense was the biggest problem under Muschamp. Florida never averaged more than 26 points per game in SEC contests over the last four seasons and struggled mightily in 2013 by recording 19.9 points per game in league matchups. It will take McElwain some time, but he should jumpstart this offense. Under McElwain’s guidance, Colorado State averaged 35.9 points per game in 2014 and recorded a 36.2 mark in 2013. Sure, the competition is tougher in the SEC, but McElwain transformed quarterback Garrett Grayson into an all-conference performer for the Rams and has a track record of success on this side of the ball. McElwain seems to be the right coach to fix some of Florida’s woes on offense, especially after this team struggled to develop a standout quarterback since Tim Tebow left Gainesville.
McElwain has spent a sizeable chunk of his coaching career out West, but he does have a four-year stint under Nick Saban as Alabama’s offensive coordinator (2008-11). Under McElwain’s direction, the Crimson Tide averaged at least 30 points per game in his four seasons as the play-caller. Even though McElwain has never been a head coach in the SEC before, his experience at Alabama will be a huge bonus when he opens the 2014 season. Experience isn’t required to win in the SEC – but it certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Concerns in Florida’s Hire of McElwain:
Recruiting in the SEC
This is being nitpicky but recruiting to Colorado State and Alabama is a different beast. As we mentioned above, it certainly helps McElwain that he has SEC experience. However, it’s one thing to win at the Mountain West level and another to win enough in the SEC to keep the fans quiet. Will McElwain struggle to recruit to Florida? Probably not. After all, the program is one of the best in the nation and should sell itself on the recruiting trail. However, this is one area that opposing coaches could use against him when going head-to-head with recruits. McElwain is an unknown to most prospects, so it’s important for him to sell his vision and blueprint right away to salvage a class that currently ranks at the bottom of the SEC. It’s also critical for McElwain to build a staff that’s familiar with the SEC, perhaps retaining a few of the assistants from the Muschamp regime would be a good place to start. Can McElwain win consistent recruiting battles against Florida State, Alabama and Georgia? We are about to find out.
This is more of a question than a concern for McElwain. Can he meet the high expectations at Florida? As we mentioned above, it’s easier to win at the Mountain West, and there’s certainly less pressure to coach at Colorado State than Florida. Will the Montana native meet the demands of the fanbase by consistently winning the East, recording 10 victories and beating rival Florida State? That remains to be seen, but the pressure on McElwain to win – and win big – is about to increase by a significant margin.
Florida missed on Muschamp – a Saban assistant – in the last hire, so there’s some doubt among the fanbase McElwain will produce at a higher level. However, there’s plenty in McElwain’s track record to suggest he’s done enough outside of his stint at Alabama to produce at a high level. The Montana native has experience in the NFL with the Raiders, worked as an assistant at Louisville, Michigan State and Montana State and has spent the last three seasons turning around the Colorado State program (including a 10-2 mark in 2014).
By no means is McElwain the flashy hire most fans want. However, he’s exactly what the program needs. Florida is going to get its share of talent on the recruiting trail. Now it needs a coach that can develop and put the talent into a position to succeed. McElwain is clearly that type of coach and is inheriting plenty to work with in 2015.
Boise State and Fresno State close out the 2014 regular season with a showdown on the blue turf in the Mountain West Conference championship game. With a win over the Bulldogs, the Broncos are expected to clinch a spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games as the top team from the Group of 5 conferences. While there’s a lot at stake for Boise State, Fresno State is trying to build off the momentum to close out the regular season. The Bulldogs won their final three games, including a 40-20 upset against Nevada to win the West Division.
Boise State and Fresno State have met 15 previous times, with the Broncos owning a 12-3 series edge. Fresno State’s last win in this series was last season (2013) by just one point (41-40). The Bulldogs have never won in Boise and lost the 2008 and 2010 meetings by 51 points each.
Fresno State at Boise State
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Boise State -22
Fresno State’s Key to Victory: QB Brian Burrell
It’s no secret Fresno State is going to need to score some points to keep pace with Boise State. The Broncos average 41.8 points in six home games this season, and coach Bryan Harsin’s offense is tough to stop on the blue turf. The Bulldogs are averaging 35.3 points per contest over their last three games, and quarterback Brian Burrell is playing better after early-season struggles. Burrell tossed four touchdown passes and threw for 313 yards in an upset win at Nevada and added 207 yards and three touchdowns in a win over San Jose State on Nov. 8. Burrell has 13 picks this year, and he has to keep that number to zero or one on Saturday night. The junior has a strong supporting cast, including running back Marteze Waller (6.5 ypc) and receiver Josh Harper (76 catches). Burrell holds the keys to the offense and will determine if Fresno State can pull off the upset. If he plays well and limits the mistakes, the Bulldogs have a chance to keep this close into the fourth quarter – similar to the first meeting between these two teams.
Boise State’s Key to Victory: Get RB Jay Ajayi Going Once Again
Jay Ajayi is one of the nation’s most underrated players, and the junior enters the Mountain West Championship with seven consecutive 100-yard efforts. In 12 games, Ajayi has 1,619 yards and 24 rushing scores and has caught 45 passes for 536 yards and four touchdowns. In the first meeting between these two programs in 2014, Ajayi gashed the Fresno State defense for 158 yards and two scores on 30 carries. The Bulldogs will be challenged at the point of attack once again, as this defensive front has struggled to stop the run this season and ranks ninth in the Mountain West in rush defense. Surprisingly, Ajayi wasn’t voted the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year this week, and it’s likely the junior will use that snub as motivation on Saturday night. Ajayi makes the offense for Boise State go. Fresno State has to find a way to slow down the junior on the ground, while the Broncos want to see around 130-150 yards from their star running back on Saturday night.
Fresno State gave Boise State all it could handle in the first meeting between these two teams this year. And the Bulldogs played better down the stretch this season, finishing with a three-game winning streak to earn back-to-back trips to the Mountain West Conference championship game. However, it’s a tall order to win in Boise. And the Broncos simply have too much to play for. Ajayi and quarterback Grant Hedrick have big performances, elevating Boise State to a conference title and a spot in a premier bowl game this year.
Prediction: Boise State 45, Fresno State 20
Nebraska didn’t waste time in finding its next coach, as less than a week after Bo Pelini was fired, athletic director Shawn Eichorst has hired Mike Riley from Oregon State.
Not only was Eichorst’s hire quick, but Riley’s move from Oregon State to Nebraska comes as a major surprise. Riley had a long-term contract with the Beavers and was 93-80 during his tenure in Corvallis.
Some may look at Riley’s record and be underwhelmed with just 93 victories. However, Oregon State is one of the toughest jobs in the Pac-12. Riley was hired away from USC in 1997 as the Beavers’ head coach and brought immediate improvement to the program. From 1972-97, Oregon State had zero seasons of more than four wins. In Riley’s first year (1997), the Beavers went 3-8 and improved to 5-6 in the following season. After the five-win mark in 1998, Riley left Corvallis for the NFL.
After four years in the NFL, Riley returned to Oregon State and guided the Beavers to eight bowl games since 2003. The program also tied for second in the final conference standings twice and has four finishes in the final Associated Press poll.
Just how good was Riley at Oregon State? The Beavers had no bowl appearances from 1996-1998. From 1999-13, Oregon State has played in 11 postseason games – clearly a sign of how much the program improved under Riley’s direction.
Did Nebraska hit a home run by hiring Riley? Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives of this hire.
Positives in Nebraska’s Hire of Mike Riley
Mike Riley…the Anti-Bo?
Bo Pelini certainly won a lot of games at Nebraska, but it’s clear his personality clashed with the fanbase and administrators. That won’t be an issue with Riley. The Idaho native is known as one of the nicest coaches in college football. That distinction doesn’t win games, but Riley has the personality to win at a place like Nebraska.
Developing Talent…Doing More With Less
Riley wasn’t going to reel in elite talent at Oregon State. So the coaching staff had to find overlooked players and develop prospects into All-Pac-12 talent. That formula can work at Nebraska, as the Cornhuskers need to hit Texas and California to find talent, which are two areas Riley recruited for Oregon State. Riley has a good eye for talent, and it’s much easier to recruit at Nebraska than Oregon State. Even if Riley doesn’t reel in top 10-15 classes – something Nebraska wasn’t doing under Pelini – the program can win at a higher level if he continues to find and develop talent similar to what the Beavers were doing in Corvallis. Nebraska is a top 25 job but it can be difficult to attract talent to Lincoln. And with that in mind, it’s critical to have a coach that can find and develop talent.
Here’s a look at Riley’s recruiting rankings with the Beavers from 2011-14:
|Year||National Rank||Commits||5-Stars Signed||4-Stars Signed||3-Stars Signed|
|Rankings and recruiting data according to 247Sports|
Any Concerns in Nebraska’s Hire of Mike Riley?
It’s hard to identify many weaknesses in this hire for Nebraska. But is Riley the right coach to move Nebraska back into national title contention? The guess here is the Cornhuskers won’t win at a significantly higher level than what Pelini was able to do. However, if Nebraska wants the anti-Bo Pelini, then Riley is the right coach. Sure, he may not win 11 or 12 games in a season, and the Cornhuskers may have a puzzling loss or two at times, but he’s not going to clash with the fanbase. That’s important after the last few years isn’t it?
By no means in this a splashy hire. Riley isn’t going to move the needle much nationally, and the initial reaction by most took this coaching move as a surprise. However, once the initial surprise has dissipated, it’s easy to see why Nebraska went this direction. Riley is the opposite in terms of personality to Bo Pelini, has recruited Texas well – an area the Cornhuskers need to significantly mine for talent – and has succeeded in terms of developing talent.
In last year’s coach rankings by Athlon Sports, Riley ranked as the No. 27 coach in the nation. Pelini ranked No. 43. Riley is a better coach, knows how to evaluate talent and is going to fit in well at Nebraska with his easy-going personality.
Nebraska is the best job in the Big Ten West Division. The Cornhuskers may not contend for national championships on a consistent basis, but this program should be a player on a yearly basis for the conference title and should rank as a top 25 team.
Riley did more with less at Oregon State. Forget about the record - it's the 11th best job in the Pac-12. He may not bring a national title to Lincoln, but he’s going to win a lot of games.
Final Grade: B
It's the final weekend of the regular season and I'm not going to lie to you. I don't feel good about it.
I pick all of the championship games every season against the spread and will do the same again. (But am only going to count it towards my record if I do well.)
Listed below is every championship game prediction and the big one in the Big 12 as well. Enjoy!
Last Week: 2-3
Alabama (-14.5) vs. Missouri (Atlanta)
This is a bad matchup for the Tigers, who have struggled with downhill, power-rushing teams. Maty Mauk has also been inconsistent all year. Mizzou is familiar with the situation but doesn't have the horses to compete with the Tide. Prediction: Alabama -14
Oregon (-14) vs. Arizona (Santa Clara)
The Ducks are cruising but this is a huge number against a team that beat them just two months ago. These two teams are a combined 21-3 this year overall but just 9-15 against the spread. It likely means stay away from this mess. But if you must, take Marcus Mariota to exact some revenge and definitely take the over. Prediction: Oregon -14
Florida State (-4.5) vs. Georgia Tech (Charlotte)
If we've learned anything this year, it's never take the 'Noles against the spread. Florida State is 3-9 against the mark this season and is facing a brutal matchup on defense. Tech is 5-1 against the spread away from home and could cover again — even if they lose. Prediction: Georgia Tech +4.5
Wisconsin (-4) vs. Ohio State (Indianapolis)
Whoever stops the run more effectively is likely to win this game. Ohio State is a better overall team by a wide margin but the one-game situation and no J.T. Barrett makes the Badgers the favorite. Take the team with more talent and more to play for in Ohio State. Prediction: Ohio State +4
Kansas State (+8) at Baylor
Both teams have been solid against the spread this year but Kansas State has been better. Baylor is 6-4-1 while KSU is 8-3. Art Briles has been excellent against Bill Snyder (3-1) but has a banged-up quarterback in Bryce Petty. Both teams are still eyeing a title in the Big 12 so a close game is likely. Prediction: Kansas State +7.5
Fresno State (+22) at Boise State
This is a huge number and Boise will win easily at home. But by how much? In a title game setting, I'd err on the side of caution.
Northern Illinois (-6.5) vs. Bowling Green (Detroit)
The Huskies are the better team and BG has had QB issues. Take NIU to roll.
Louisiana Tech (+11) at Marshall
Rakeem Cato in his final game with a title on the line at home? Yes, please.
Top 25 Picks ATS:
|Top 25||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|Alabama (-14.5) vs Mizzou|
|Oregon (-14) vs Arizona|
|Iowa St (+34) at TCU|
|Florida St (-4.5) vs Georgia Tech|
|Wisconsin (-4) vs Ohio St|
|Kansas St (+8) at Baylor|
|Oklahoma St (+21) at Oklahoma|
|Fresno St (+22) at Boise St|
|N. Illinois (-6.5) vs Bowling Green|
|Louisiana Tech (+11) at Marshall|