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Saturday’s game between Wisconsin and Nebraska was billed as one of the best head-to-head running back matchups of the season. However, the highly anticipated duel between two Heisman candidates was a one-sided blowout in favor of Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.
Gordon earned Athlon Sports Week 12 Player of the Week honors by gashing the Cornhuskers for an FBS single-game rushing record of 408 yards. The junior’s performance led Wisconsin to a critical 59-24 victory over Nebraska and placed the Badgers in command of the Big Ten West Division.
Gordon needed only 25 carries to rush for 408 yards and did not record a touch in the fourth quarter. He also averaged a healthy 16.3 yards per carry and recorded four plays of 40 rushing yards or more.
In 10 games this year, Gordon has 1,909 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns. He also has 11 receptions for 83 yards and two scores.
Gordon was on the radar in the Heisman race throughout the season, but the junior should firmly rank among the nation’s top three candidates after a monster performance in a key win over Nebraska.
Defensive Player of the Week: Jalen Ramsey, S, Florida State
With an unbeaten season and 25-game winning streak hanging in the balance, Ramsey and the Florida State defense stepped up with another strong second-half performance. The sophomore safety was dominant in the 30-26 victory over Miami, finishing with three tackles (one for a loss), one forced fumble, one interception, four pass breakups and a blocked extra point. Ramsey’s interception sealed the victory against the Hurricanes, elevating Florida State to its 26th consecutive victory and its fifth win in a row over Miami. The sophomore also had an impact beyond the box score, as he pressured Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya throughout the fourth quarter and disrupted a handful of plays. Ramsey was already regarded as one of the top safeties in college football heading into this season, but the sophomore is elevating his performance to an even higher level as Florida State looks to earn a spot in college football’s four-team playoff.
Coordinator of the Week: Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia
The performance of Georgia’s defense in Saturday night’s 34-7 is exactly why coach Mark Richt brought Pruitt to Athens after one year at Florida State. In last year’s loss to the Tigers, the Bulldogs allowed 43 points and 566 yards. But under Pruitt’s direction, Georgia’s defense put the clamps on one of the nation’s top offenses. Auburn entered Week 12 averaging 37.3 points in SEC games and averaged seven yards per play this year. The Bulldogs allowed a score on the Tigers’ first drive of the game, but Pruitt’s group pitched a shutout the rest of the way and held one of the nation’s most explosive offenses to just 292 total yards. Auburn had 93 yards on its first two drives but managed just 68 on its next seven. The win over the Tigers was critical to keeping Georgia’s SEC East title hopes alive, and Pruitt’s defense delivered against one of the nation’s top offenses.
Freshman of the Week: J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Barrett ensured Ohio State avoided a letdown one week after a huge road win at Michigan State. The redshirt freshman guided the Buckeyes to a 31-24 victory over Minnesota in frigid conditions at TCF Bank Stadium. Barrett completed 15 of 25 passes for 200 yards and three scores and added 189 rushing yards and one touchdown. He opened Ohio State’s scoring by reaching the endzone on a 86-yard run, which was the longest rush by a quarterback in school history. Barrett has accounted for 38 total touchdowns this year, breaking a record set by Braxton Miller (36) last season.
Tennessee may not have their tight end on Monday night, but Detroit is expected to get three big targets back for its Week 11 showdown against Arizona. Oh and Calvin Johnson will play too.
Delanie Walker, TE, Tennessee Titans vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Mon.)
Questionable – Concussion
Walker left last week’s game against Baltimore with a concussion after taking a big hit following a catch. He didn’t practice at all Wednesday or Thursday, but did get a limited session in on Friday. He’s listed as Questionable and reports are Walker still has to pass one more test to be cleared to play. Walker is the Titans’ most productive pass-catcher and a top-10 fantasy TE, but the combination of him not being completely cleared just yet and playing on a Monday night is more than enough reason to at least have a Plan B ready.
Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Probable - Ankle
Johnson returned from his three-game absence by catching seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown last Sunday. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, but that was more a precaution, as he was back at it on Thursday and Friday. He’s Probable and there’s no doubt that he will be out there today. This is an intriguing matchup against a talented, athletic and physical Cardinals secondary, but he’s still a must-start WR1, as evidenced by our ranking him No. 4 this week.
Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs vs. Seattle Seahawks
Probable – Ribs
Kelce’s still on the injury report, but he once again was a full go at practice and is listed as Probable. He didn’t do much of anything (2 rec., 19 yds.) last week, but could be in line for even more snaps today because Anthony Fasano is Questionable with a bruised knee. Even if Fasano ends up on the field, Kelce is the Chiefs target you want, especially considering the Seahawks have given up the ninth-most fantasy points to opposing TEs this season. A top-10 fantasy TE with a top-10 matchup. What more could you ask for?
Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria and Brandon Pettigrew, TEs, Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Probable – Hamstring; Probable – Ankle; Probable – Foot
From no healthy tight ends to too many? That appears to be the case for the Lions, as Ebron, Fauria and Pettigrew, who have missed a combined 11 games this season, all practiced to some degree and are listed as Probable. If there’s a leader among this group, it’s probably Ebron, the team’s first-round pick, but his production has been inconsistent to the say the least. Fauria is a legitimate red-zone threat, but that’s also pretty much the only area of the field where the Lions use him, while Pettigrew is basically a blocking TE who catches the occasional pass. Ebron carries the most upside and potential, but probably still needs to show a little more before he becomes starting material, unless you want to take a chance on him as a TE2. I wouldn’t bother with Fauria or Pettigrew.
Week 11’s NFC North tilt between Minnesota and Chicago features a trio of pass-catchers who show up on the injury report. Will the Vikings and Bears have all of their weapons today?
Martellus Bennett, TE, Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings
Probable – Ribs
Bennett played last week despite being listed as Questionable, so the mere fact he’s Probable pretty much means he’ll be out there again today. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, but was a full participant on Friday, which is another strong signal he will play. Bennett clearly didn’t look like himself against the Packers last week, but he’s still an integral part of an offense that really needs a strong showing. He may not be 100 percent, but Bennett needs to stay in your lineup because he’s been a pretty safe TE1 this entire season.
Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Minnesota Vikings
Probable – Ankle
Among the many things that did not go right for the Bears last week against the Packers, was when Marshall re-aggravated his ankle injury. He didn’t practice on Wednesday, but he was out there some both Thursday and Friday. He’s listed as Probable and has yet to miss a game because of this bothersome ankle, so there’s no reason to expect that to change, especially with the Bears desperately needing a win. The Vikings’ defense has been solid this season against the pass, but as long as he plays, you’ve got to start Marshall.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Probable – Abdomen/Groin
Rudolph underwent surgery for a sports hernia on Sept. 23, but after taking part in practice in some capacity every day this week it looks like he’s finally ready to return. Rudolph hasn’t played since Week 3 and didn’t have the greatest stats (10-96-1) prior to his injury, but this is a guy who was viewed as a top-10 fantasy TE entering this season. He should definitely be owned, but don’t be surprised if the Vikings decide to ease him back into action. It’s probably best to leave Rudolph on your bench one more week and see how he fares today.
Already Ruled Out:
Jordan Cameron, Cleveland Browns – Cameron suffered a concussion in Week 8 and is still working his way back. He didn’t practice at all this week and has been ruled out for a third straight game. I would still hold on to Cameron at least until something more definitive comes out regarding his status.
San Diego and Denver will welcome back a couple of rushers in Week 11, but Detroit may be down one of its ball carriers today. Here are some key injuries to pay attention to involving the later games.
Montee Ball, Ronnie Hillman and Juwan Thompson, RBs, Denver Broncos at St. Louis Rams
Probable – Groin; Out – Foot; Probable – Knee
The Broncos’ backfield has been in motion recently and it’s set to take another turn today. Hillman has not only been ruled out for today’s game because of a foot sprain, but he’s also expected to miss at least one more. In the meantime, Ball (right) appears a safe bet to return after missing the past five games with a groin strain. But Ball is not the Denver back getting all of the attention this week. No that honor belongs to C.J. Anderson, who worked his way back up the depth chart and came up big (163 total yards, TD) last week. Anderson is the hot hand and the healthiest of the Bronco backs, but that is not a guarantee he will get the bulk of the carries. Ball was the starter entering the season and is a second-round draft pick. Anderson will probably get the majority of the carries today, but it’s best to err on the side of the caution and treat him as a RB2. Ball meanwhile is probably more of a flex flyer because of the time he missed and the uncertainty surrounding his workload. That leaves Thompson, who could end up being the one most affected by this RB roulette, especially if Anderson or Ball gets the goal-line work. For this week, Anderson carries the most upside, Ball the most intrigue and Thompson is probably odd man out.
Ryan Mathews, RBs, San Diego Chargers vs. Oakland Raiders
Probable – Knee
Mathews was a full participant every day of practice and is listed as Probable. He is expected to play for the first time since Week 2 and will get the start. Mathews’ return leaves Donald Brown and Branden Oliver to fight for the leftovers. I expect the Chargers to use Oliver similar to how they used Danny Woodhead (on IR) last season, primarily as a receiver out of the backfield. This could make Oliver an intriguing flex option in PPR leagues. Mathews immediately goes back to RB2 status, especially based on his matchup this afternoon against the winless Raiders. I don’t think Brown will see enough touches to merit any fantasy consideration.
Andre Ellington, RB, Arizona Cardinals vs. Detroit Lions
Probable – Foot
The coaching staff is wisely limiting Ellington’s practice time, as the Cardinals need their workhorse to stay healthy, especially with Drew Stanton taking over at quarterback for an injured Carson Palmer. Ellington is Probable, so he will be out there today. And even though the Lions are the No. 1 defense in the NFL, Ellington has earned his RB1 status.
Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit Lions at Arizona Cardinals
Questionable – Ankle
Bush left last week’s game early after re-aggravating a bothersome ankle injury and didn’t practice at all this week. Even though he’s looking (highly) doubtful, the Lions have yet to rule him out officially, listing him as Questionable. If he plays, he will not be anywhere near 100 percent, so that alone is enough reason to leave Bush on your bench. Joique Bell will continue to carry the load for the Lions, while Theo Riddick has more or less taken over Bush’s role. It’s a very tough matchup against a strong Cardinals defense, but Bell remains a low-end RB2 while Riddick is a decent flex candidate.
Already Ruled Out:
Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia Eagles – Foles is out for several more weeks with a broken collarbone. Mark Sanchez will make his second start and is coming off of a solid showing (322-2-0) in the Monday night win over the Panthers. Sanchez is certainly QB2-worthy today in what could end up being a shootout against Green Bay, and depending on your options, he could even be QB1 material.
The Giants will finally have their No. 1 RB back in the starting lineup for Week 11, but that’s not the case for the Bengals. Meanwhile, New Orleans’ and San Francisco’s top rushers are banged up, but both are fully expected to play today.
Rashad Jennings, RB, New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers
Probable – Knee
Jennings practiced, albeit on a limited basis, every day this week and is listed as Probable. So barring a setback leading up to kickoff (1 p.m. ET), Jennings should be back after missing the past four games with a MCL sprain. Jennings’ return pushes rookie Andre Williams to a complementary role, but it doesn’t make him irrelevant. Head coach Tom Coughlin already has said that he doesn’t intend for Jennings to handle a full workload in his first game back, so Williams should get some carries. Still, Jennings is more established and needs to be in your starting lineup. Williams remains flex-worthy, especially with Peyton Hillis going on injured reserve due to a concussion he suffered last week.
Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas, RBs, New Orleans Saints vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Probable – Shoulder; Out – Arm; Out – Rib/Shoulder
Despite all the injuries in the Saints’ backfield, the situation is pretty straightforward. Robinson and Thomas will miss yet another game, while Ingram, who is still dealing with a lingering shoulder injury, is listed as Probable and is a pretty safe bet for at least 20-25 carries today. Ingram has posted three straight 100-yard rushing games, pretty much cementing his status as a must-start RB1. With Robinson and Thomas out, Travaris Cadet figures to get some touches, making him a flex option, particularly in PPR leagues.
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers at New York Giants
Probable – Hip
Gore was limited in practice on Wednesday, but was a full go on Thursday and Friday. The veteran is dealing with a hip injury, but he’s listed as Probable and should be fairly busy today against the Giants. Gore is coming off of one of his stronger efforts (81 yds., TD), and has now gotten at least 14 carries in six of the past seven games. The Giants coughed up 140 yards rushing and four touchdowns last week to Marshawn Lynch, so it’s no surprise that they are allowing the most fantasy points to opposing RBs. Gore’s production has left something to be desired this season, but he’s a borderline top-10 RB this week because of his plum matchup. Backup Carlos Hyde also should see some carries, but his touches and production have been so inconsistent it’s probably best to not have to rely on him, even as a flex.
Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams, RBs, Carolina Panthers vs. Atlanta Falcons
Probable – Ankle; Probable – Foot
It has been a rough season for the Panthers’ backfield, as every running back that has been on the roster has been hurt at one point or another. Stewart was limited in practice this week by an ankle injury, while Williams missed the first two days with a foot injury. However, both were full participants on Friday, are listed as Probable and expected to play. This duo combined for 67 yards rushing on 24 carries on Monday night against Philadelphia, and has scored a total of two touchdowns this season (both belonging to Stewart). There’s no clear-cut workhorse here and it’s really hard to endorse either as a flex option because of the lack of production. If you’re desperate, I would lean towards Stewart over Williams, but you’re probably better off steering clear from this situation.
Already Ruled Out:
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals – Bernard has yet to return to practice while dealing with multiple injuries, so it’s no surprise that the Bengals ruled him out on Friday. Bernard will miss his third straight game, leaving Jeremy Hill and Cedric Peerman to carry the load. Hill disappointed (12 att., 55 yds.) last week against Cleveland, but the rookie from LSU remains a solid RB2 option today versus New Orleans. Peerman is listed on the injury report with a knee issue, but he’s Probable and expected to play. Peerman could be flyer-worthy as a flex option, but only in deeper leagues.
Houston will be without its workhorse for Week 11, but Seattle’s bruising back is fully expected to play. Here are some other key backfield injuries to know about before finalizing your lineup.
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs
Questionable – Calf/Rib
Lynch didn’t practice at all until Friday, but head coach Pete Carroll said that’s because his workhorse is “just banged-up.” This is understandable considering Lynch punished the Giants for 140 yards rushing and four touchdowns last week. Lynch is listed as Questionable, but there’s no reason to be concerned here. The Seahawks need every yard they can get from their big back against a pretty tough Kansas City defense at home. Lynch is a must-start RB1 firmly entrenched among the top 5 this week and perhaps the rest of the season.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Probable – Ankle
The Redskins are coming off of their bye, so it’s possible that Griffin is as healthy as he’s been this season. He was a full go at practice every day and is listed as Probable. He not only will get the start, but RG3 also is a borderline QB1 this week against a Bucs defense that’s giving up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing signal-callers. If you have stuck with RG3 this long, this may be the week that patience pays off.
Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Probable – Back
McKinnon was the Vikings’ third-round pick in May and all the rookie has done is lead the team in rushing since Adrian Peterson was placed on the exempt list. McKinnon apparently tweaked some sort of lower back injury on Wednesday, but after being limited on Thursday he was a full practice participant on Friday. He is listed as Probable so there’s no reason to not expect him to play. McKinnon should probably be started if he’s on your roster as the Vikings are facing a reeling Bears defense, but just remember that Matt Asiata has been filling the role of the goal-line back (i.e. touchdown vulture), which could impact McKinnon’s potential.
Josh McCown, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Washington Redskins
Probable – Back
McCown suffered a thumb injury in Week 3 and was replaced by Mike Glennon as the Bucs’ starter. After going just 1-4 with Glennon under center, head coach Lovie Smith named McCown the starter prior to last week’s game. Tampa Bay lost again, but McCown posted by far his best numbers (301-2-2) of the season. McCown appears on the injury report with a back issue, but he was a full practice participant and is listed as Probable. The Bucs are a bad team, but this isn’t a bad matchup for McCown, who is worthy of QB2 consideration this week.
Already Ruled Out:
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans – Foster injured his groin two weeks ago, but Houston was on bye last week so the expectation was that he would be ready in Week 11. Well Foster didn’t practice at all and even though he was listed as Questionable on Friday, the Texans downgraded Foster to Out on Saturday. With Foster inactive, sixth-round pick Alfred Blue will get the start. Blue filled in for an injured Foster earlier this season, rushing for 78 yards on 13 carries (6.0 ypc) vs. the Giants. Blue may not be Foster, but his workload as the Texans’ starter is enough to view him as a RB2, especially against a Cleveland defense that has struggled against the run.
Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Martin returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday and Friday, but the team has already ruled him Out for Week 11. This will be the third straight game Martin has missed with an ankle injury, but it’s also safe to say that the team has decided to move on with Bobby Rainey and Charles Sims. Rainey got the start last week, but he wasn’t able to get much going (14 yds. rushing, 41 receiving). Sims, the Bucs’ third-round pick in May, made his much-awaited NFL debut and wound up with a team-high eight carries, but only 23 yards rushing and he also lost a fumble. Rainey may have missed an opportunity to seize the starting job, as it appears the coaching staff wants to see what Sims can do. Both should get touches, but it may take another game or two to figure out how the workload is going to be split. For now, it’s wisest to view Rainey and Sims as risky RB2s and a little safer flex options.
Minnesota’s Dan Lehman went viral during Saturday’s game against Ohio State. Lehman is a sideline staffer for coach Jerry Kill, and Lehman decided to eat an ice cream bar at the start of the second half.
Eating an ice cream bar is totally fine, but Lehman was enjoying the dessert in a game played in the snow and with temperatures around 20 degrees.
This is definitely a peak moment in Big Ten history.
Here's a Minnesota assistant coach enjoying an ice cream treat in 20-degree weather pic.twitter.com/P0x1cxBUQk— Andy Reid (@misterAndyReid) November 15, 2014
Kansas receiver Nigel King provided one of the top catches of the year in Saturday’s game against TCU.
With Kansas leading 20-17 in the third quarter, King caught a pass off a deflection and tipped it back to himself for a touchdown.
Check out King’s crazy tipped pass and reception for a score against TCU:
Which one player in the NBA, NFL or MLB has spent the most years with one team? I’m thinking it’s either Derek Jeter or Tom Brady. — Nelson Jimenez, Stamford, Conn.
Jeter’s not a bad guess; he holds the Yankees’ record for most games in pinstripes with 2,747, over 20 seasons. But in terms of total seasons...
• Carl Yastrzemski, Boston Red Sox (23 years)
• Brooks Robinson, Baltimore Orioles (23 years)
• Jason Hanson, Detroit Lions (21 years)
• John Stockton, Utah Jazz (19 years)
DraftKings has released their Daily Fantasy college football salaries for the week, and the experts at CollegeFootballGeek.com have hunkered down and scoured all of the data to find the best Value Plays on the docket.
These Value Plays are comprised of players poised to out-produce their DraftKings salaries this week. These are the “diamonds in the rough” that your DFS competitors may overlook. They are the difference-makers you need in your lineup to win one of the big DFS contests!
For your convenience, we have broken the picks down by DraftKings contest game set. Best of luck this week!
(For more detailed Daily Fantasy analysis, picks, player news, player rankings, and stat breakdowns, check out CollegeFootballGeek.com. Learn how to SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE!)
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (EARLY ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee vs. Kentucky ($7400)
Mr. Dobbs was magnificent in his last outing with 467 total yards and five total touchdowns. He is a spectacular runner and could make plenty of big plays against Kentucky.
2) QB Treon Harris, Florida vs South Carolina ($4800)
Harris showed his running ability with 49 yards rushing and two scores last week against Vandy. He has a nice match up this week with a South Carolina defense that is really struggling to stop opponents.
1) RB Aaron Green, TCU vs. Kansas ($5200)
Green filled in nicely for BJ Catalon last week with 171 yards and a score against Kansas State. Green could have a huge day against Kansas with or without Catalon on the field.
2) RB Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State vs. Minnesota ($5600)
Elliott had 154 yards rushing and two scores last week against Michigan State. He could run wild against Minnesota and comes in at a juicy price. Ride this Buckeye.
3) RB Jalen Hurd, Tennessee vs. Kentucky ($4700)
Hurd had 183 total yards and a score in his last game against South Carolina. He could find plenty of room to run against a Kentucky defense that is on the decline recently.
4) RB Wayne Gallman, Clemson vs. Georgia Tech ($4300)
Gallman has back to back games over 100 yards rushing and comes in at a ridiculously low price. He appears to be an outstanding punt option this week.
1) WR Mike Williams, Clemson vs. Georgia Tech ($5800)
DeShaun Watson loves to throw to Mr. Williams. He averaged 116 yards and scored four touchdowns in the three games that Watson started earlier in the season. We like this Tiger this week.
2) WR Cayleb Jones, Arizona vs. Washington ($4600)
Jones comes in this week at a dirt cheap price after a bad game last week. A bounce back effort might be in the cards against Washington.
3) WR Devin Smith, Ohio State vs. Minnesota ($4300)
Smith has scored three times in the last two weeks and is a big play waiting to happen for Ohio State. Another trip to the end zone could be in line for Smith against Minnesota.
4) WR Kaelin Clay, Utah vs. Stanford ($3200)
Clay is a big time play maker and is about all Utah has left at the wide out position due to injuries. He is very cheap this week and could easily exceed value.
1) TE David Grinnage, NC State vs. Wake Forest ($3000)
Grinnage has scored a touchdown in three of the last four games and could score against versus a soft Wake Forest defense.
VALUE PLAYS: SATURDAY (LATE ONLY) GAME SET
1) QB Matt Davis, SMU vs. USF ($6600)
Davis showed off his rushing prowess last week with 181 yards and two scores versus Tulsa. He could have another big day on the ground against a soft South Florida defense. High risk, high reward here folks.
1) RB Marlon Mack, USF vs. SMU ($4400)
Mack will be facing the 115th ranked rush defense in the country. Expect him to see plenty of huge holes to run through and pile up the yards.
2) RB Antoinne Jimmerson, North Texas vs. UTEP ($4000)
Jimmerson had a nice game last week against FAU and will be facing the 74th ranked rush defense this week. A score or two seem within reach this week.
3) RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State vs. Texas ($4400)
Hill filled in nicely for Desmond Roland last week and could see a ton of carries this week with Roland questionable to play. The Texas rush defense is ranked 84th in the nation and could give up a few big plays to the speedy Hill.
1) WR Andre Davis, USF vs. SMU ($5400)
The SMU pass defense is ranked 112nd and is just pathetic. Look for Davis to have a big game and easily reach value.
2) WR Devante Davis, UNLV vs. BYU ($4900)
Davis is a stud fantasy WR who returned from injury last week and racked up 114 yards and a score against Air Force. He looks like a must play at this price!
3) WR Josh Reynolds, Texas A&M vs. Missouri ($4600)
Reynolds had 88 yards and two scores in last week’s upset over Auburn. He was targeted often by Kyle Allen and that could continue this week versus Missouri.
4) WR Chris Conley, Georgia vs. Auburn ($4200)
Conley scored twice last week against Kentucky and will be going against the 99th ranked pass defense of Auburn. He could have another productive night against the Tigers.
1) TE Josiah Price, Michigan State vs. Maryland ($3500)
Price has scored in three of the last four games. He looks to be a solid option against the Terrapins.
By Todd DeVries & Kevin Mount, CollegeFootballGeek.com
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Marshawn Lynch was in vintage “Beast Mode” last week, but it's the workhorse who won't be playing on Sunday that's grabbing all of the attention as it relates to Athlon Sports’ Fantasy Football Running Back Rankings for Week 11. Arian Foster injured his groin two weeks ago, but the Texans were on bye last week. With a week to recover, the expectation was that Foster would be good to go on Sunday against a Cleveland defense that is 28th in the NFL in rushing defense. Unfortunately, that's not the case as Foster was unable to practice at all and on Saturday the Texans downgraded him from Questionable to Out. Rookie Alfred Blue will get the start in Foster's place and while he's not as talented and explosive (or experienced) as Foster, he should still make for a decent RB2 this week. Some other key running backs are expected to return this week from prolonged absences due to injury, including Rashad Jennings (MCL sprain), Ryan Mathews (MCL sprain) and Montee Ball (groin strain).
Each week during the NFL season, we will rank enough players at each position to appease everyone from those in 8-team leagues to 16-team leagues, those that can start two QBs, two TEs, three RBs and four WRs. We cut out the rest, because if you're looking at who the 50th-best running back or the 17th-best kicker is for that week, you need more help than any Web site can give you.
2014 NFL Week 11 Fantasy Football Rankings — Running Backs
Teams on bye: Baltimore, Dallas, Jacksonville, New York Jets
Updated at 1 p.m. CT on 11/15/14 to reflect the news that Arian Foster will not play on Sunday. Alfred Blue (No. 22) will get the start in Foster's place.
|1||Matt Forte||CHI||vs. MIN|
|2||Marshawn Lynch||SEA||at KC|
|3||Jamaal Charles||KC||vs. SEA|
|4||Le'Veon Bell||PIT||at TEN (Mon.)|
|5||Mark Ingram||NO||vs. CIN|
|6||Eddie Lacy||GB||vs. PHI|
|7||Alfred Morris||WAS||vs. TB|
|8||LeSean McCoy||PHI||at GB|
|9||Andre Ellington||ARI||vs. DET|
|10||Ahmad Bradshaw||IND||vs. NE|
|11||Frank Gore||SF||at NYG|
|12||Shane Vereen||NE||at IND|
|13||Jeremy Hill||CIN||at NO|
|14||Rashad Jennings||NYG||vs. SF|
|15||Steven Jackson||ATL||at CAR|
|16||Jerick McKinnon||MIN||at CHI|
|17||C.J. Anderson||DEN||at STL|
|18||Ryan Mathews||SD||vs. OAK|
|19||Terrance West||CLE||vs. HOU|
|20||Joique Bell||DET||at ARI|
|21||Lamar Miller||MIA||vs. BUF (Thurs.)|
|22||Alfred Blue||HOU||at CLE|
|23||Ben Tate||CLE||vs. HOU|
|24||Trent Richardson||IND||vs. NE|
|25||Tre Mason||STL||vs. DEN|
|26||Bishop Sankey||TEN||vs. PIT (Mon.)|
|27||Jonathan Stewart||CAR||vs. ATL|
|28||Montee Ball||DEN||at STL|
|29||Darren Sproles||PHI||at GB|
|30||Branden Oliver||SD||vs. OAK|
|31||Bobby Rainey||TB||at WAS|
|32||Darren McFadden||OAK||at SD|
|33||Matt Asiata||MIN||at CHI|
|34||Jonas Gray||NE||at IND|
|35||Bryce Brown||BUF||at MIA (Thurs.)|
|36||Charles Sims||TB||at WAS|
|37||Carlos Hyde||SF||at NYG|
|38||DeAngelo Williams||CAR||vs. ATL|
|39||Andre Williams||NYG||vs. SF|
|40||Isaiah Crowell||CLE||vs. HOU|
|41||Theo Riddick||DET||at ARI|
|42||Anthony Dixon||BUF||at MIA (Thurs.)|
|43||Benny Cunningham||STL||vs. DEN|
|44||Knile Davis||KC||vs. SEA|
|45||Roy Helu||WAS||vs. TB|
|46||Travaris Cadet||NO||vs. CIN|
|47||Juwan Thompson||DEN||at STL|
|48||Reggie Bush||DET||at ARI|
Rankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
Need more fantasy help? Visit www.FantasyRundown.com.
Is it true that the NFL will require the next Super Bowl halftime performer to pay the league for the chance to play? — Tim Johnson, Phoenix, Ariz.
Not if Katy Perry gets her way, which she usually does. The pop princess and social media phenom (she has more than 58 million Twitter followers) was tabbed for music’s most high-profile gig over fellow finalists Coldplay and Rihanna, but she wasn’t exactly thrilled by reports that this year’s performer would have to pay to play. During her memorable stint as a guest picker on ESPN's GameDay college football preview show, Perry said she’s “not the kind of girl who would pay to play the Super Bowl,” a sentiment she reportedly shared with the other finalists. The NFL doesn’t need more bad PR, nor is the league short on cash, so expect them to withdraw their request for compensation quietly.
Each week, Geoffrey Miller’s “Five Things to Watch” will help you catch up on the biggest stories of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ upcoming race weekend. This week, Geoffrey is at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where a batch of storylines lead the series up to the season finale Ford 400. Among them: NASCAR CEO Brian France amending the sport’s domestic violence policy, NASCAR’s changing tune (again) on winning versus consistency, Kevin Harvick’s championship mind games and Carl Edwards’ last ride with Roush Fenway Racing.
France: NASCAR amending domestic violence policy
A little more than a year ago, Travis Kvapil was arrested in North Carolina after assaulting his wife in their Mooresville home. He was held overnight in jail and eventually agreed to a plea deal in the case — admitting that he had, in fact, assaulted his wife.
Kvapil both raced the weekend after his arrest and never faced further punishment from his team or NASCAR after the plea agreement.
Kvapil’s case was brought to light again this week after fellow driver Kurt Busch was accused of domestic violence by his ex-girlfriend. Busch has vehemently denied the accusation and hasn’t been charged by police handling the case in Dover, Del., but the incident has sparked discussion about sanctions from NASCAR as the legal part of the process plays out in the wake of the NFL’s handling of domestic violence cases earlier in the year.
According to NASCAR CEO Brian France, that external pressure has led NASCAR to revise its policy for drivers involved in such incidents.
“What’s not lost on us by any stretch is the rightful heightened awareness on domestic abuse and violence,” France said. “You can expect our policies to reflect the understandable awareness that that’s not going to be tolerated.”
In other words, NASCAR has seen the backlash the NFL took and decided that now is the time to hold drivers accountable if they assault wives or girlfriends. For Kvapil, timing is everything.
France also insisted that NASCAR would wait for more in Busch’s case before acting — despite a U.S. representative in California issuing a statement Friday criticizing NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing for not excluding Busch from participation after last week’s accusations.
“We ought to have a process that gets to the bottom of the facts before anybody does anything,” France said.
NASCAR changes tune on winning and consistency
It’s hardly a secret that Ryan Newman’s presence at Homestead-Miami Speedway as a championship-eligible driver is a thorn in NASCAR’s early season “winning-is-everything” mantra. It was just 10 months ago that Brian France announced the radically overhauled Chase for the Sprint Cup that was supposed to make the championship all but out of reach for drivers who post consistent finishes but don’t win.
“This is different,” France said of the new system in January. “Everything is focused around winning, and that is exactly what our fans want.”
Newman hasn’t won a race in 2014, yet is a 400-mile race away from winning the season championship should be beat the combination of Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano to the finish line. France was asked about Newman’s opportunity during a rare press conference Friday at the track and dialed back the party line.
“The question is do we have the right balance, and I would say unmistakably that we do,” France said. “I think that wanting to win events has taken on an undeniable importance. At the same time, there ought to be room for teams that do it every week and be consistent.”
Based on how hard NASCAR pushed the idea that winning is the only thing that matters early in the 2014 season, any concession otherwise gives the appearance that the sport’s officials are more happy to follow the sport’s current winds than acknowledge that a new system isn’t working as originally hyped. France did say that more tweaks to the title fight for the 2015 edition aren’t out of question.
“We reserve the right if there’s a modest thing that we might make an adjustment on,” France said.
Harvick has plan for championship success
Kevin Harvick started in with some mind games at the first opportunity this week, critiquing Joey Logano for his assistance of Brad Keselowski at the finish of last month’s Talladega race. Harvick was adamant that moves like that — Logano blocked for Keselowski heavily on the last lap — would be rectified with some sort of on-track karma.
But Harvick, a prohibitive favorite in Sunday’s race with Logano an equal or close second, insisted that he’s not aiming for Logano in Sunday’s race. Instead, he’s got a plan that involves only the efforts of his No. 4 team.
“I’d plan it out by just kicking their butt all day and not having to race anybody,” Harvick said. “I’m hoping for just like last week.”
Harvick dominated a week ago at Phoenix with an untouchably fast car. His win sealed his route to Homestead. But is there a driver that his team has singled-out as the one to beat in order to win the title?
“Oh, that’s a good question,” Harvick said, smiling and seemingly aware of the weight his next words may carry.
He treaded lightly.
“I think right now it’s just about doing what we have to do ourselves,” Harvick said. “I think if we do what we need to do ourselves, that puts us in a better position than worrying about who else we need to beat.”
The weekend started to plan. Harvick qualified fifth for Sunday’s race, better than all of the other Chase drivers.
Gordon proposes Chase drivers use alternate point system
Jeff Gordon won the pole for Sunday night’s race with a lap 180.747 mph in Friday night’s three-round qualifying session. Had he earned a single point more than Ryan Newman in the third round of the Chase, it would have been a significant feather in the four-time champion’s cap as he vied for the title this weekend.
Instead, Gordon is out of contention. As a result, he’s uniquely qualified to discuss the merits of the new Chase format. He was asked what he’d do differently.
“I think it’s a good system, number one,” Gordon said. “I like how important it is to win, how that moves you from one round to the next.”
But he also offered a tweak: Use a point system for Chase drivers that ranks them independent of non-qualified drivers.
“This would not have moved me to the final round, but I think it’s the right thing to do,” Gordon said.
Gordon’s system would essentially offer points to drivers in the Chase relative only to other drivers in the Chase. For example, in a 16-driver Chase the top-finishing Chase driver would earn 16 points, second-best in the Chase would earn 15th, third would earn 14, and so on. It wouldn’t matter if the best-finishing Chase driver won and the second-best finished 20th — it would only matter how each Chase driver finished among the others who were qualified.
“You should be racing (Chase drivers),” Gordon said. “Not those guys and all of the other competitors out there. I think you’ve earned that right.”
Gordon would maintain the rule that drivers who win get advanced to the next round — a reward for winning — and the elimination points.
Edwards set for final drive with Roush Fenway Racing
Sunday marks the end a relationship spanning over a decade for Carl Edwards and longtime team owner Jack Roush. Edwards, 35, is leaving Roush-Fenway Racing’s No. 99 car for Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 19 in 2015.
“This has been such a great ride,” Edwards said. “I made a lot of great friends, and basically Jack has made a NASCAR career for me. I want to honor that by performing well.”
Edwards made his first NASCAR national series in the Truck Series in 2002 for Mike Mittler, but found full-time work with Roush’s truck team starting in 2003. He won the 2007 Nationwide Series championship driving for Roush and lost the 2011 Sprint Cup title on a tiebreaker after finishing even with Tony Stewart. Before Sunday’s race, Edwards will have tallied 669 starts for Roush and scored 67 total wins and 262 top-5 finishes.
Edwards isn’t the only driver facing a final green flag with a team this weekend. Trevor Bayne (moving to Roush Fenway Racing) will make his final start with Wood Brothers Racing and Marcos Ambrose (returning to native Australia and the V8 Supercars Championship) will drive for the last time in Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 9.
Follow @GeoffreyMiller on Twitter
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Nov. 14:
• In case you're looking for gift ideas for Paulina Gretzky's baby with Dustin Johnson, she has a gift registry.
• Speaking of Cutler, some really dumb Bears fans got snookered by The Onion.
• Turns out MLB and the feds tag-teamed on Biogenesis.
• Cal's fake punt attempt went horribly wrong.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
Florida State puts its 25-game winning streak and No. 3 spot in college football’s playoff standings on the line Saturday night with a trip to Miami. The Seminoles have controlled this rivalry over the last few years, but the Hurricanes have improved in coach Al Golden’s fourth year and have a three-game winning streak entering Saturday night’s matchup
Replicating the effort and performance from one season to the next is an impossible task. Florida State isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but coach Jimbo Fisher’s team is still among the best in the nation and should have a good shot to repeat if it wins out and makes the four-team playoff. The Seminoles have question marks on the offensive and defensive lines, yet have won four out of their last five games by at least 11 points.
Miami’s three losses in 2014 came against quality teams (Nebraska, Georgia Tech and Louisville), but this team has benefited from playing in the Coastal Division – the weaker of the ACC divisions. However, the Hurricanes are just one of three teams that rank inside of the top 10 nationally in total offense and total defense in terms of yards per play. Defense was a huge point of criticism in Miami early in the year, but this unit has played better in recent weeks, and freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya leads the ACC in quarterback rating.
Miami owns a slight 29-27 edge in the overall series against Florida State. However, the Seminoles have claimed four in a row over the Hurricanes and seven out of the last nine in the series.
Florida State at Miami
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -2.5
Florida State’s Key to Victory: Stop Miami RB Duke Johnson
Johnson suffered a season-ending leg injury in last year’s matchup against Florida State and started the year with four games of less than 100 yards. However, the junior has been nearly unstoppable over the last five games. Johnson has 843 rushing yards in his last five contests, averaging 8.7 yards per carry. The Seminoles rank seventh in the ACC against the run, giving up 135.7 yards per game. In conference-only matchups, Florida State’s numbers are better, allowing just 108.8 yards per game through six ACC games. The Seminoles aren’t strong on the interior as they were last season, especially with the loss of tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample to a season-ending injury earlier in the year. Miami’s offensive line has also experienced its share of injuries, and starting left tackle Ereck Flowers is questionable due to a knee injury. The formula for a Hurricanes victory is simple. Johnson needs to have a huge performance and keep Florida State’s offense on the sideline. If Johnson has success, it should open up play-action passes for quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Miami’s Key to Victory: Limit the Big Plays from Florida State’s Offense
The Seminoles averaged 51.6 points per game last season but have dipped to 37.9 in 2014. Why the drop in production? It starts up front with the offensive line. Center Austin Barron has missed the last four games due to an arm injury but could return for action on Saturday. That’s good news for a group averaging just four yards per carry in 2014. In addition to Barron’s return, the Seminoles will be at full strength in the backfield on Saturday night. Running back Dalvin Cook suffered a hip injury against Virginia but is expected to play. Backfield mate Mario Pender has missed three games in a row due to injury and is also expected to be at full strength. Starter Karlos Williams is averaging 4.4 yards per carry but expect to see plenty of Cook and Pender on Saturday night. Quarterback Jameis Winston has carried more of the offensive workload with a struggling offensive line and rushing attack, and the sophomore has 11 interceptions through 294 attempts. Winston threw for 325 yards and two picks in last year’s game against Miami. The Hurricanes have allowed only nine passing plays of 30 yards or more this year and that trend needs to continue on Saturday. Limit the big plays by Florida State and force Winston and his receivers to work the ball down the field in small chunks.
As evidenced on the stat sheet and on film, Miami has improved this year. This is a huge game for recruiting purposes in Florida, and it’s also a chance for Golden to show how far the Hurricanes have come over the last four years. Florida State isn’t as dominant as it was in 2013. But that’s not a huge issue. This Seminoles’ team still has a lot of talent and has an edge in that department on Saturday night. Miami keeps it close with Johnson’s running and limits Florida State’s overall possessions by controlling the clock. However, the Seminoles have the better quarterback and a recent edge in this rivalry. Florida State wins by a touchdown and extends its winning streak to 26 games.
Prediction: Florida State 34, Miami 27
Due to conference realignment, Arkansas and LSU won’t meet on Black Friday anymore, but the rivalry between these two schools still exists with the annual Battle for the Boot. And this year’s meeting still has plenty of intrigue, as the Razorbacks are searching for their first SEC win under coach Bret Bielema, while LSU is looking to bounce back after a tough loss against Alabama in overtime last Saturday.
The series between Arkansas and LSU has produced several close games in recent memory. The Razorbacks have lost four out of the last five meetings to the Tigers, but last year’s matchup was only a four-point win for LSU. And very little has separated these two programs in their annual matchup, as eight out of the last nine games were decided by a touchdown or less. Most of Arkansas’ home matchups against LSU in recent years have been played in Little Rock, but this season’s game takes place in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks have not defeated the Tigers in Fayetteville since 1992 and trail in the overall series 36-20-2.
LSU at Arkansas
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Arkansas -2
Arkansas’ Key to Victory: Stop the Run
The key to beating LSU is to win the battle at the line of scrimmage. Arkansas is allowing 168 rushing yards per game but has held opponents to just three rushing scores in five home contests. The Razorbacks have allowed three consecutive opponents to rush for at least 128 yards, with Georgia torching Arkansas for 207 yards on 39 attempts. LSU leads the SEC in rushing attempts (494) and averages 4.5 yards per attempt. The Tigers feature four players with at least 260 rushing yards, but true freshman Leonard Fournette is the team’s best option (736 yards). Fournette will challenge a good Arkansas defensive front, and stopping the true freshman will play a huge role in how this game is decided. Quarterback Anthony Jennings has yet to complete more than 50 percent of his throws in a game against Power 5 opponents and has completed only eight passes in back-to-back games. Arkansas needs to load the box and stop Fournette, which will force Jennings to take to the air to win this matchup.
LSU’s Key to Victory: Get Arkansas into Third-and-Long Situations
It may sound like a broken record in the keys to victory for both teams, but Arkansas and LSU are very similar in terms of style of play on offense. The Razorbacks boast a massive offensive line and average 248.2 yards per game on the ground. Junior Jonathan Williams leads the team with 877 yards, but sophomore Alex Collins isn’t far behind with 840 yards. Both players have 10 rushing touchdowns. Considering Arkansas has made strides on defense this year and owns one of the SEC’s best rushing attacks, why hasn’t this team won a game in conference play? The answer isn’t as simple as the passing attack, but the Razorbacks need more through the air. Quarterback Brandon Allen has been a better player at home (61% completion percentage to 54% on road) and has struggled on third downs with more than seven yards to go (17 of 38 for 270 yards and three picks). Arkansas wants to establish its rushing attack, but it also needs Allen to hit a few throws to keep the defense off balance. LSU’s defense has played better in recent weeks, and stopping the Razorbacks’ rushing attack and forcing Allen into obvious passing situations would give Les Miles’ team an edge on the scoreboard.
Arkansas has been on the doorstep of a couple of conference wins this year. The Razorbacks lost in overtime to Texas A&M, lost by a point to Alabama and was defeated by a touchdown at Mississippi State – the No. 1 team in the playoff rankings. LSU has rebounded from a slow start in SEC play, but the Tigers are coming off an emotional, hard-hitting game against Alabama. Everything points to an Arkansas victory. Will the Tigers win another crazy, last-minute affair under Les Miles? Nothing in this game would be a surprise, but the guess here is the Razorbacks break through and win their first SEC game under Bielema.
Prediction: Arkansas 24, LSU 20
There’s usually plenty on the line when Auburn and Georgia meet in The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry, but there’s a little extra incentive for both teams on Saturday. The Bulldogs hope to enact a little revenge against the Tigers for last year’s last-minute Hail Mary connection and keep their SEC East title hopes alive. And of course, there’s no shortage of storylines for coach Mark Richt’s team with the return of running back Todd Gurley from a suspension. Auburn needs a win to keep its slim playoff hopes alive, but coach Gus Malzahn’s team is also fighting for bowl positioning. If the Tigers finish 9-3 or 10-2, this squad should have an opportunity to play in one of the New Year’s bowl matchups.
Both teams enter Saturday’s matchup at 7-2, but this is the final SEC game for Georgia in 2014, while Auburn still has a showdown against Alabama on Nov. 29. The Bulldogs lost in Jacksonville against Florida (38-20) on Nov. 1 and lost control of the East Division. However, with a win over Auburn and a Missouri loss, Georgia will play in the SEC Championship. Auburn needs some help in order to play for the West Division title, but even at two losses, the Tigers aren’t out of the mix for a trip to Atlanta.
Georgia and Auburn have met 117 times on the gridiron. The Tigers own a 55-54-8 series edge over the Bulldogs. Auburn won last year’s meeting 43-38, but Georgia has won two out of the last three games in this series.
Auburn at Georgia
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Georgia -2.5
Auburn’s Key to Victory: Test the Georgia Front Seven
Georgia’s rush defense struggled in its last two games (Florida and Kentucky), but the front seven is still the strength of coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defense. The secondary was a concern heading into 2014 but has allowed 10 passing scores in seven conference games. Without receiver Duke Williams, Georgia can devote more attention on Sammie Coates. Assuming the Bulldogs find the right solution to contain Coates and quarterback Nick Marshall, will this defense win the battle at the point of attack? In last year’s game, Auburn rushed for 323 yards (5.7 ypc) and four scores. If the Tigers repeat that total on Saturday, it’s going to be difficult for Georgia to win. Marshall is always dangerous with the ball in his hands, but he’s not the only threat on the ground. Senior Cameron Artis-Payne has 1,190 yards (5.7 ypc), and speedster Corey Grant is also an option. Are Georgia’s recent struggles against rushing games an aberration? Or have teams found something to attack the front seven? Auburn’s rushing attack should provide a good litmus test for the Bulldogs after struggling to stop Florida just a few weeks ago.
Georgia’s Key to Victory: Control the Tempo and Pace of Play
Auburn wants to play at a quicker pace than Georgia, hoping its up-tempo, spread attack will force the Bulldogs out of their comfort zone on offense. Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason has been efficient this year, completing 69 percent of his passes and throwing only three picks. However, the Bulldogs would like to win this game by establishing their ground attack, which ranks second in the SEC with an average of 256.3 yards per game. Freshman Nick Chubb has filled in admirably during Gurley’s suspension, recording at least 143 yards in each of the last four games. Gurley is expected to start on Saturday, but Chubb will see his share of carries. Auburn’s defense is allowing 159.2 rushing yards per game in SEC action. If the Bulldogs establish their style of play, control the clock and let Gurley and Chubb dictate the pace of the tempo, Auburn will have a tough time winning in Athens.
This is a huge revenge game for Georgia. Combine a hungry Bulldogs team with Todd Gurley’s return, and it’s easy to see why Auburn is a slight underdog. It’s tough to envision the Tigers losing two consecutive games under coach Gus Malzahn, but this is a tough matchup for Auburn. The style of play and overall tempo will be critical. If Georgia controls the pace with its rushing attack, the Tigers are going to have their hands full. But if Auburn jumps out to an early lead and its up-tempo attack forces the Bulldogs to throw more, the upper hand will go to Malzahn’s team. This should be one of the best matchups of the weekend. Georgia gets revenge for last year’s game and stays alive in the East Division.
Prediction: Georgia 34, Auburn 31
Folk heroes in basketball almost always come in tiny packages. There’s nothing more thrilling to the common viewer than watching a veritable David rise up in a league full of Goliaths. Winning big when you’re small, in a vertically oriented game, is lightning in the NBA.
While a lower center of gravity creates a speed and dribbling advantage—almost all of the league’s best ball-handlers are diminutive—there’s still usually a bigger, longer player capable of sticking with the short and nimble. You’ve got to have something more than the chops of a dancer to be mini and thrilling. You need moxie, and these guys all have enough of it to light an arena on fire.
5. Isaiah Thomas
The Suns’ big pickup over the offseason could become 2014-15’s Sixth Man of the Year winner. Isaiah Thomas is a scoring machine, darting through coverage and stopping on a dime to drain sweet jumpers seemingly whenever he pleases.
His tiny 5’9” frame has been a refuges for Thomas doubters around every corner. He was drafted just No. 60 overall in 2011 NBA draft, and was passed over in free agency by his Sacramento Kings squad in 2014. Let all that be fuel for Thomas, though, as he wows the league in Phoenix on an almost nightly basis in the season’s early goings.
4. Tony Allen
Tony Allen is a mongoose. He doesn’t look like he could kill a king snake, but he does it all the time. Just ask Kevin Durant, who Allen took out of his comfort zone in last year’s playoffs after Durant dominated the league through his MVP-winning season. Despite having a five-plus inch deficit next to KD, the 6’4” Allen had Durant so frustrated with his aggressive defense that an Oklahoma City newspaper ran the headline “Mr. Unreliable” about their star.
That paper's phrasing was (obviously) overcooked, and Allen isn’t exactly on the smaller side of NBA players. But his performance on Durant gave fans the same thrill a true giant slayer brings—he gives up pounds consistently, but makes up for the gap with tenacity and strategy, reliably pleasing the underdog in all of us.
3. Ty Lawson
The Denver Nuggets’ best player is one of their smallest, too—they’ve also got the hummingbird frame of Nate Robinson on board. Lawson is languishing in the Rockies this season, as the Nuggets have been mismanaged into the NBA’s basement. But it wasn’t long ago that he was the engine of a 58-win team coached by George Karl, dazzling the league with open court savvy and impressive dexterity in the pick-and-roll.
Watch this terrific instructional video with Lawson, in which he demonstrates how he regularly makes dunces of big men in PnR actions by “putting them in jail”:
2. Eric Bledsoe
Eric Bledsoe held out all summer to get his money from the Phoenix Suns. After much speculation that things had gone sour and the two signs would inevitably part, “The Bledshow” got paid to the tune of $70 million over five years. Bledsoe is worth it; he’s the very best point guard defender in the game, routinely making fools of bigger point guards and thriving as a shot-blocker of big men.
Bledsoe’s other nickname is “Mini LeBron,” since he’s one of the only athletes who can approximate the versatile athletic explosion that the King brings to the court. The two friends share an agent in Rich Paul, and fans of both should keep their fingers crossed for Paul to somehow get Bledsoe and James on a roster together.
1. Chris Paul
The little general wins the list. The Los Angeles Clippers’ fearless leader is one of the hottest competitors in the league; with the smart conviction he moves with, most fans get too engaged to even notice how small Paul is. At 6’0”, he’s cracked a most unlikely category as one of the game’s best point guards. Regularly going head-to-head with the likes of Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook requires CP3 to do battle with true beasts of the position.
Paul is frequently criticized for his relative lack of playoff success. Real enthusiasts of the game understand that his legacy should be cemented regardless—he’s one of the best to ever play his position. But if he can lead the Clippers to the Western Conference Finals or deeper in 2014-15, Paul will hold the hearts of the everyday fan forevermore.
— John Wilmes
The SEC West is once again the epicenter of a college football weekend. Alabama is usually the team at the top of the SEC West, but Mississippi State has worked its way through the nation’s best division and enters Week 12 as the No. 1 team in college football’s playoff committee rankings. Of course, the Bulldogs stay at No. 1 is tenuous, but a loss to the Crimson Tide wouldn’t eliminate coach Dan Mullen’s team from the playoff mix.
Alabama opened the 2014 season with a 5-0 start but suffered a 23-17 loss to Ole Miss in Oxford. The Crimson Tide has rebounded since that defeat by winning four in a row, including a 20-13 game at LSU last Saturday. Alabama ranked No. 5 in this week’s committee rankings, but coach Nick Saban’s team controls its destiny into the playoff.
Despite Mississippi State’s No. 1 ranking, the good folks in Vegas aren’t putting much stock in this matchup. The Bulldogs are more than a touchdown underdog (8.5 points) but had an easy win over Tennessee-Martin last Saturday and are catching Alabama at the right time. After a physical 60-minute battle with LSU, can the Crimson Tide respond with the same type of effort and performance a week later?
Alabama has dominated the overall series against Mississippi State 76-17-3. The Crimson Tide has won six in a row against the Bulldogs and none of those matchups were decided by single digits. Mississippi State’s last win over Alabama in Tuscaloosa transpired in 2006.
Mississippi State at Alabama
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -8.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Dak Prescott Against Alabama’s Defense
This is one of the most intriguing matchups of the 2014 season. Alabama is simply an immovable object against the run. The Crimson Tide has allowed only 808 rushing yards this year, limiting opponents to just 2.8 yards per carry. Additionally, coach Nick Saban’s defense has allowed only two rushing scores all year and none over the last three games. While Alabama aims to stop the run and has been tough to run on all year, Mississippi State has to try to establish its ground game. Through five SEC contests, the Bulldogs rank second in the league by averaging 251.8 rushing yards per game and have scored 16 touchdowns. Running back Josh Robinson leads the team with 984 yards, while quarterback Dak Prescott is a close second with 779 yards. Both players have 11 rushing scores and average over five yards per attempt. Mobile quarterbacks have provided plenty of headaches for Alabama in recent years: Auburn and Oklahoma in 2014 and Texas A&M in 2013 and 2012. Can Prescott continue that trend? The Alabama defense is the best Prescott and Robinson have played this year and getting 250 or so rushing yards will be a challenge. However, it’s the small gains that could eventually lead to big plays. Keeping Prescott out of third-and-long situations and using his mobility when the pocket breaks down are two areas for Mullen and his staff to monitor on Saturday.
2. Alabama’s Rushing Attack
Alabama still has a few games to help its offensive numbers, but the Crimson Tide rank seventh in the SEC in rushing heading into Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. The No. 7 rank for the rushing attack is the lowest for Alabama in the last seven seasons. And there’s some uncertainty surrounding the running backs for Saturday, as T.J. Yeldon suffered an ankle injury against LSU and may not be at full strength against the Bulldogs. Yeldon has 686 yards this year, while Derrick Henry has 554 on 111 attempts. Alabama’s offensive line isn’t as strong as it has been in recent years, but this rushing attack will challenge the Mississippi State defensive front. The Bulldogs aim to stop the run and have held their SEC opponents to 149.6 rushing yards per game. The defensive line for Mississippi State is loaded with talent, depth and experience, starting with end Preston Smith and continuing to tackles P.J. Jones, Kaleb Eulls and Chris Jones. Can Alabama’s offensive line jell at the right time and create rushing lanes for Yeldon and Henry? Or will Mississippi State win the battle at the point of attack and put the Crimson Tide into long yardage situations?
3. Alabama WR Amari Cooper
Timely is the best way to describe Alabama’s passing offense in last week’s win against LSU. Receiver Amari Cooper had a few dropped passes against the Tigers but finished with eight catches for 83 yards and one score. Blake Sims has been a better quarterback in Tuscaloosa than on the road this year. Sims is completing 69.2 percent of his passes at home and has 11 touchdowns to just one interception. The senior has not tossed a pick in four games, and with a tight game expected on Saturday, he needs another zero in the interception column. Cooper (79 catches for 1,215 yards) is by far the top target for Sims, and the junior should have opportunities for big plays against a Mississippi State secondary that has allowed 16 plays of 30 or more yards this season (worst in the SEC). And if the Bulldogs find a way to slow down Cooper, Alabama still has tight end O.J. Howard and fellow receivers DeAndrew White and Christion Jones to target. Even if Mississippi State stops the run, can its secondary find an answer for Cooper?
Mississippi State hasn’t played particularly well since its 38-23 win to Auburn. However, that shouldn’t be of concern, as the Bulldogs continue to rise to the challenge each week, especially in a road win against LSU and a home victory over Auburn. The Bulldogs have the pieces to match Alabama but winning in Tuscaloosa requires a perfect effort. Prescott and Robinson may not find a ton of success early, but it’s important to stick with the rushing attack. And when Prescott throws, there are plays to be made against the Crimson Tide secondary. Alabama is coming off a physical game against LSU, so a sluggish start isn’t out of the question. With the Bulldogs’ penchant for giving up big plays in the secondary this year, the Crimson Tide may come out throwing to open up their rushing attack. Mississippi State is catching Alabama at the right time. However, the Crimson Tide finds a way to win this one in the second half, and coach Nick Saban’s team sets up an interesting finale against Auburn on Nov. 29.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Mississippi State 20
November is loaded with critical matchups that will shape conference and national title races, and perhaps no division illustrates that point better than the Big Ten West. Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin are all 4-1 in conference play heading into Week 12. And all three teams are set to play each other over the next few weeks, with 3-2 Iowa also in the discussion.
Considering the 4-1 three-team logjam at the top of the division, clarity within the division should start on Saturday with Nebraska traveling to Madison to take on Wisconsin. There are several similarities between these two teams, including style of play, a Heisman contender at running back and a close loss in early October.
Nebraska and Wisconsin have only met eight previous times, and the overall series is tied at four victories apiece. These two teams did not play in 2013, and the Cornhuskers won the first meeting in 2012 but lost 70-31 to the Badgers in the Big Ten Championship.
Nebraska at Wisconsin
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Spread: Wisconsin -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah’s Health
Abdullah suffered a knee injury against Purdue on Nov. 1, but all signs point to the senior playing against Wisconsin this Saturday. Abdullah is one of the top running backs in the nation and is critical to the overall success of the offense. A healthy and effective Abdullah makes life much easier for quarterback Tommy Armstrong. Abdullah recorded only one rushing yard against Purdue but has four 200-yard games this year. Through five games, Wisconsin’s rush defense has allowed just three scores and leads the Big Ten in fewest yards allowed (100.8 ypg). While the Badgers lead the conference against the run, Abdullah is easily their toughest challenge so far this year. Assuming he’s healthy, Abdullah is going to be a handful for the Badgers.
2. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon against Nebraska’s Run Defense
It’s no secret both of these teams want to establish the run on offense. Wisconsin leads the Big Ten by averaging 325.7 rushing yards per game, while Nebraska is second with 280.7 yards per contest. And the picture isn’t much different on defense, as both programs rank close in terms of yards allowed. Nebraska’s rush defense is allowing 130 yards per game in Big Ten action, but two of its last four opponents have recorded more than that mark (Michigan State and Rutgers). Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon is considered one of the top-five candidates to win the Heisman and will be a handful for the Nebraska defense. No team has found an answer to stopping Gordon this year, as the junior has at least 120 yards in every FBS contest. And Gordon has been on a tear recently, recording 205 yards against Purdue, 259 against Northwestern and 175 against Illinois. Nebraska should be the best defense the Badgers have played since the opener against LSU. Will Gordon add to his Heisman resume? Or will the Cornhuskers find a way to limit the damage? Nebraska doesn’t necessarily have to limit Gordon below 100 yards, but the junior has 13 rushes of 30 yards or more this year. For the Cornhuskers to win, they need to limit Gordon’s big plays, force a couple of turnovers and get Wisconsin into third-and-long situations.
3. The Quarterbacks
With Abdullah and Gordon stealing the spotlight, the two quarterbacks – Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong and Wisconsin’s Joel Stave – are often overlooked. On Saturday, it’s not crazy to think the game could be decided on which quarterback makes more plays in the passing game. Sure, that seems obvious, but both teams plan on a run-first approach, and the defenses want to key on stopping the ground attack. If the rushing game stalls out, which quarterback can deliver through the air? Armstrong has posted better numbers in 2014, but Stave did not play in the first four games due to an occurrence of the “yips.” Stave is coming off his best performance of the year, completing 19 of 29 passes for 219 yards and two scores. Armstrong is still developing in his first full season as Nebraska’s starter, as the sophomore has three games of 48 percent or less in completion percentage. Armstrong also adds a different dimension than Stave. The sophomore has 571 rushing yards and four scores this year. Stave is clearly a pocket passer, and he could share time with mobile junior Tanner McEvoy. Don’t expect either team to throw for 300 yards on Saturday, but one team may need a play or two on a potential game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Both quarterbacks are overlooked due to the star power at running back. However, if the game is on the line, will it be Stave or Armstrong that can deliver in the clutch?
Mississippi State-Alabama and Florida State-Miami are games garnering more attention on Saturday, but the Wisconsin-Nebraska matchup has plenty of intrigue and potential. And this game is worth the price of admission just for the running back battle between Gordon and Abdullah. Despite both teams having success against the run, Gordon and Abdullah will have their share of successful plays. But the outcome of this game will be decided on the arms of Stave or Armstrong, as well as the play of both defenses. Very little separates Nebraska and Wisconsin. And in a tight game, home-field advantage is worth a couple of points. The Badgers win a close one and take an early lead for the West Division title.
Prediction: Wisconsin 27, Nebraska 24
There is no way to sugar coat it. In the big games last weekend, I didn’t perform well, going 2-4 outright and 2-4 against the spread.
My top picks didn’t perform much better, going 1-2 in the “real-er” picks. It pushed my season record to 38-38-1. Needless to say, it’s been a down year. My only saving grace is another winning record in the Top 25 (8-6) and a tie with Mitch Light for the best record (86-78-4) among the Athlon pickers.
Last Week: 1-2
Ohio St (-13) at Minnesota
The Gophers barely held on to beat Purdue and have lost to Illinois. Ohio State needs to be on letdown alert but otherwise there is nothing to like about this matchup for the Gophers. Urban Meyer’s team is 7-2 against the number this year and in desperate need of style points. Prediction: Ohio State -13.5
Clemson (-3) at Georgia Tech
To beat Paul Johnson’s triple option, you need a great defensive line and Clemson has just that. The Tigers are also getting QB DeShaun Watson back, one of the most dynamic playmakers in the league even though he's a true freshman. Clemson seems like the significantly better team. Prediction: Clemson -3
Indiana (+7) at Rutgers
The Knights have had two weeks to prepare and know that one more win gets them to a bowl game and therefore should be incredibly motivated. Rutgers is fifth in the Big Ten at 5.9 yards per play and should be able to get some points against the league’s second-worst scoring defense (32.3 ppg). Prediction: Rutgers -7
Virginia Tech (+4.5) at Duke
The Blue Devils are inching closer to a Coastal Division repeat but can’t afford to lose again with Georgia Tech and Miami breathing down its neck. Duke won last year outright in Blacksburg and the Hokies are playing horrible football. Take David Cutcliffe and his 7-2 record against the spread. Prediction: Duke -4.5
Listen to the Week 12 predictions podcast:
Florida St (-2.5) at Miami
The Noles play with fire every weekend and it has cost gamblers all season (FSU sports a 2-7 record ATS). Miami is improved but should still be overmatched in what could be a heavy Seminole crowd in South Florida. Florida State will find a way to win again in the second half. Prediction: Florida St -2.5
Nebraska (+7) at Wisconsin
Nebraska feels like the better team and has a significant advantage at quarterback. Moving the ball with a less-than-healthy Ameer Abdullah against the very stout UW defensive front will be difficult but this feels like a big number. Prediction: Nebraska +7
Kentucky (+8) at Tennessee
I’ll venture away from the Big Ten and ACC for the first time this week. The Wildcats' defense has been atrocious of late, giving up over 300 yards rushing in three of the last four games. Tennessee is rested after the bye week and is at home. The Cats are terrible on the road and should struggle once again. Josh Dobbs and Jalen Hurd will have big games on the ground. Prediction: Tennessee -8
Play the trends:
TCU and Western Michigan are the best two teams in the nation against the spread, as both sport an 8-1 mark. Both are laying large margins this weekend against Kansas (-28.5) and Eastern Michigan (-28) respectively. Don’t expect Gary Patterson, who needs style points, to let off the pedal too much.
SMU is 2-6 against the number and has been terrible in all phases of the game all year. South Florida is just 5-4 against the spread but should cover the 11-point spread. UTEP is 7-2 this season against the spread and is at home against North Texas laying 6.5 points. Take the Miners.
Two OSU’s from Stillwater and Corvallis have been terrible against the spread this season and both should lose at home this weekend. Oregon State is 2-7 against the spread and will find it difficult covering the 9-point number against Arizona State. Oklahoma State is 2-6-1 against the spread and is laying 2.5 points against Texas. Take the Sun Devils and the Horns.
Top 25 Picks ATS:
|Top 25||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|Mississippi St (+8) at Alabama|
|Florida St (-2.5) at Miami|
|TCU (-28.5) at Kansas|
|Arizona St (-9) at Oregon St|
|Ohio St (-13) at Minnesota|
|Auburn (+2.5) at Georgia|
|Michigan St (-12) at Maryland|
|Washington (+9) at Arizona|
|Nebraska (+7) at Wisconsin|
|LSU (+2) at Arkansas|
|Northwestern (+17.5) at Notre Dame|
|Clemson (-3) at Georgia Tech|
|Virginia Tech (+4.5) at Duke|
|Utah (+7.5) at Stanford|
|Missouri (+4.5) at Texas A&M|
It’s hard to believe the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is about to come to a close, and the first champion to be crowned under the new bracket-style Chase elimination format will happen this Sunday at Homestead Miami Speedway. With the fourth different championship format in 11 years, many were skeptical of how this would play out; after all the 2013 season came a close with NASCAR tossing out drivers who made it (Martin Truex Jr.) and arbitrarily placing drivers into contention (Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman) two days after the final race at Richmond. Regardless of the opinion or final outcome, it has served what it was intended to do: increase fan interest and discussion of the championship Chase in the midst of college football and NFL Fantasy Football mayhem.
What it has not done is generate increased television ratings; each Chase race so far has been down – albeit slightly – over the last two years with the exception of the last two races at Texas and Phoenix. Add into the mix the possibility of this year’s champion potentially not having won a race and you have stock car purists ready to take the streets and burn a Brian France effigy in defiance.
No, The King or The Intimidator didn’t do it this way, but then again Jimmie Johnson won’t win number seven this year either, so perhaps in some minds there is some intrinsic value to it after all.
The Final Four
While there were no punches thrown following the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix last Sunday, there was a body slam on the final lap. As Gordon crossed the finish line, the four-time champion had skated into the finale on the strength of a tie-break between he and Newman – Gordon has four wins this year to Newman’s zero. That was quickly reversed though, as Newman executed a NASCAR Thunder video-game style pass on Kyle Larson, using the No. 42 as mobile soft wall. While Larson was sent laterally into the wall, Newman cruised past. In the ends-justifies-the-means nature of this new Chase format, what Brad Keselowski was criticized for a week earlier was given little more than a shoulder shrug this time around.
Also, let’s give credit where credit is due: Kevin Harvick had to win to stay eligible for a title, and — as I correctly predicted I this column one week ago — did just that. He dominated the race in a mirror effort of his February Phoenix performance, sweeping the season’s events in the desert. It was his first win in the Chase, his fourth of the year, and proof positive that the No. 4 team is the one to beat heading into Miami this Sunday.
While Denny Hamlin didn’t have a very good car Sunday, falling a lap down early which led to some frantic radio transmissions from the driver, Darian Grub and the No. 11 FedEx team of Joe Gibbs Racing righted the ship (enouh) to recover with a sixth-place finish. It was important for Hamlin for a number of reasons; the least of which was to simply get into the final round, but also to exorcise the demons that have plagued him since what was looking to be a championship-clinching race at PIR in 2010 ended in frustration. Not a bad rally for a driver who missed several races last year with a broken back and had to be replaced at the last minute this year in one race with metal debris in his eye.
Representing the Blue Oval brigade out of the Penske shop is Joey Logano. This marks his first real shot at a title since he was moved to the Cup Series to replace Tony Stewart at Joe Gibbs Racing six years ago. Many have downplayed Logano’s chances, saying you first have to lose a championship before you win one. I guess no one told that to Logan’s teammate, Keselowski, two years ago when he granted Roger Penske his first Cup Series title. Logano stands to repeat the feat in what has been consistently the fastest Ford on the track for the last year and a half.
Homestead has served as the series finale since 2002, and has played host to a few nail-biters. In 2002, Stewart held off Mark Martin by just 38 points (about eight positions with today’s scoring system), while the inaugural 2004 Chase saw six drivers with a shot at it, with Kurt Busch benefiting from his own wheel flying off and bringing out a caution he desperately needed – while avoiding the end of pit wall in the process. 2011 gave us the closest finish in NASCAR history, with Carl Edwards and Stewart in a dead heat points-wise, with Smoke taking the title by winning the race on a wins tie-breaker.
But do wins really count this time around?
Newman and Keselowski would tell you they do not. The former had just one top-5 finish before the Chase and hasn’t won a race in a year and a half. The latter has the most wins this season but missed the cut due to a rear gearing failure at Martinsville. This year’s title could come down to whoever wins, an ill-timed caution, a green-white-checker restart, or a late race caution where one guy stays out and everyone else behind him pits.
Career at Homestead: 9 starts, 2 wins, 4 top 5s, 5 top 10s, avg. start: 29.2, avg. finish: 11.2
At first glance, this is Hamlin’s title to lose. He’s the only one of the four to have won a race in Homestead, is the defending race winner, and his average finish is really only sullied by a 33rd-place run in his seven-race 2005 rookie campaign. While this is a 1.5-mile track, it is not the typical tri-oval like Charlotte, Atlanta or Texas. It is perhaps more similar to Chicagoland, the first race of the Chase. Hamlin finished sixth there, the top Toyota. Unfortunately for him, he also finished behind Logano (fourth) and Harvick (fifth). Darian Grubb was Stewart’s crew chief in 2011 when the title was on the line and even with a piece of Busch’s bell housing tearing a hole in the nose of Stewart’s car, was able to rally for the win and claim a championship.
Can Grubb and Hamlin repeat that this Sunday? It’s an uphill battle for sure, but given their ability to rally the last few weeks, Hamlin could forever erase that disastrous 2010 race here from his mind.
Career at Homestead: 13 starts, 0 wins, 5 top 5s, 11 top 10s, avg. start: 14.0, avg. finish: 8.1
Think Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers are pumped about having a 1.5-mile track to decide the championship? The team that has shown pure speed at virtually every facility this year has been the No. 4 Chevrolets of Stewart-Haas Racing. Harvick has led 2,083 laps in 2014 (or 32 percent of the total laps led in his entire career). Despite the turmoil and distraction this team has found itself combating in 2014 — from the team owner nearly losing a leg the year before, to Stewart’s involvement in the tragic death of Kevin Ward in a sprint car accident this summer — the replacement for Newman at SHR is in position for his first serious championship threat in his 15 year career and first since parting ways with Richard Childress Racing. While Harvick won four races this year, it very well could have been eight – at the least. Continued pit road problems led to the swapping of pit crews with the No. 14 of Stewart prior to the Chase. Ever since, the mishaps have stopped and SHR is on the cusp of its second title in four seasons.
Two of Harvick’s four wins this year came at Phoenix. The other two, Charlotte – a 1.5-mile downforce track in October, and Darlington in April. Darlington is a bit like Homestead, although oblong in shape, it has wide sweeping corners and worn pavement with banking similar to Homestead’s progressive configuration. You’ll have a hard time convincing me – or Harvick – that this race isn’t theirs for the taking. He has the best average finish among this group, and he doesn’t have to worry about laps led or winning the race; the best finish among these four wins the title.
Career at Homestead: 5 starts, 0 wins, 0 top 5s, 1 top 10, avg. start: 18.0, avg. finish: 20.8
If there is one car that showed as much consistent speed as the No. 4, it’s been the No. 22 of Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon. While they may have pioneered the now-familiar flared side skirts, this bunch has been bad fast on 1.5-mile tracks this season. They won Texas in the spring on a G-W-C shootout with Gordon, and won at Kansas to guarantee their way into the Eliminator Round. They were fourth at Chicagoland and Charlotte, and were top-5 material at Texas before a blown tire sent the car spinning late in the going. With Keselowski no longer in the Chase and no Roush Fords to fend off, you can bet that Roger Penske’s and Jack Roush’s deep-seeded disdain for all things Toyota and Chevrolet will see that the collective powers of FoMoCo are brought to bear for JoLo.
Career at Homestead: 12 starts, 0 wins, 1 top 5, 4 top 10s, avg. start: 12.4, avg. finish: 17.0
No neck? No wins? No problem!
When Newman confronted Jimmie Johnson in August at Michigan, Johnson’s retort was, “You had the same [earmuffs] I had, but you made a bad decision to put yourself in this position.”
Define irony, as there are no Hendrick cars to contend with at Homestead, and the only one looking to win a seventh title this weekend is Richard Childress.
The Rocket Man hasn’t exactly been a win machine, having not won more than one race a year the last 10 years. He may have to win this Sunday considering his competition, but that’s not to say his task is impossible. Three of his last five wins have come courtesy of a G-W-C finish, and if he’s near the front and it comes down to a two-lapper to decide the title, don’t be surprised to see the No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet go full bulldozer-mode and plow through any obstacle in its path. Just ask Kyle Larson.
2014 Sprint Cup Champion: Joey Logano
It truly is a coin-flip between Harvick and Logano to take it all.
I don’t buy into the hype of having to lose one to win one; it didn’t matter for Keselowski, Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte or Stewart. Different times and eras, of course, and Logano fits in nicely amongst that group. His performance this season has embodied what everyone had expected from him when he became a familiar name back in 2008. He has come to thrive within Team Penske, working with a driver of similar age and experience – and one who is no stranger to conflict with other drivers.
Roger Penske will win his second Cup title in three years with two different car makes, and with only two cars in the stable. This is an engineering organization if there ever was one, and after dominating the Verizon IndyCar Series this season and winning a championship with Will Power and narrowly losing the Indianapolis 500 in the second-closest finish in history, the Sprint Cup Series championship will put an exclamation mark on what has been an incredible 2014 for The Captain and his crew.
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Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
Athlon Sports would be the first to tell you to sit back and enjoy the college basketball regular season from start to finish.
But let’s face it: The big prize — the only prize, it seems — is the NCAA Tournament. And that’s part of the excitement of the season. Essentially every team has a chance to play in the championship event. Finish in last place in your conference? You’ve got the conference tournament to remedy a lost season.
For us, bracketology starts early. Here’s our first projection of the field of 68.
|2||Florida||Wichita State||North Carolina||Kansas|
|4||Virginia||Iowa State||Michigan State||San Diego State|
|11||Rhode Island||Memphis||UNLV||NC State|
|13||Belmont||New Mexico State||Green Bay||Akron|
|14||Northeastern||Stephen F. Austin||UC Irvine||Iona|
|15||Stony Brook||Coastal Carolina||Wofford||American|
St. Francis (NY)/
|NC Central||Florida Gulf Coast|
NCAA bids by conference
ACC (9): Duke, North Carolina, Louisville, Virginia, Syracuse, Florida State, NC State, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh
American (4): SMU, Connecticut, Cincinnati, Memphis
Atlantic 10 (4): VCU, Dayton, Rhode Island, George Washington
Big 12 (5): Kansas, Texas, Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma
Big East (3): Villanova, Georgetown, Xavier
Big Ten (7): Wisconsin, Michigan State, Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa
Missouri Valley (2): Wichita State, Northern Iowa
Mountain West (2): San Diego State, UNLV
Pac-12 (5): Arizona, Colorado, Stanford, UCLA, Utah
SEC (4): Kentucky, Florida, Arkansas, LSU
West Coast (2): Gonzaga, BYU
America East (Stony Brook), Atlantic Sun (Florida Gulf Coast), Big Sky (Weber State), Big Sky (Coastal Carolina), Big West (UC Irvine), Colonial (Northeastern), Conference USA (Louisiana Tech), Horizon (Green Bay), Ivy (Harvard), MAAC (Iona), MAC (Akron), MEAC (NC Central), Northeast (St. Francis Brooklyn), Ohio Valley (Belmont), Patriot (American), Southern (Wofford), Southland (Stephen F. Austin), Summit (IPFW), Sun Belt (Georgia State), SWAC (Arkansas-Pine Bluff), WAC (New Mexico State)
Being bulky in the NBA has taken a much different look in recent years. New defensive rules and evolving basketball bodies mean that a center or power forward can no longer quite take permanent residence in the post. Simply having some extra size on the enemy isn’t going to beguile contemporary teams. Deep shooting, mobility and passing skills closer to the perimeter have all become staples in today’s frontcourt game. Big men who can boast the skill sets of guards and wingmen are an ever-increasing population.
This is not to say that the classic distinguishing characteristics of big men are gone from our world; they’ve just become more marginal aspects of a larger picture. Some exceptions notwithstanding, it takes a kind of new breed of men in the middle to compete at the highest level in 2014.
5. Al Jefferson
Behold the master of the big man past. Big Al—whose nickname is lately becoming “Professor Al”—has a brilliant, hypnotic touch on the block and a sweet touch with his mid-range shot. Even Mister No. 1 on our list can sometimes be fooled by his crafty veteran footwork:
Jefferson is the centerpiece of his Charlotte Hornets' offense, and can spread defenses beyond the block with a rangy jump shot. He consistently draws a double team almost regardless of where he catches the ball, and opens up the Hornets offensive in a way so big it's hard to measure.
4. Marc Gasol
It comes as no surprise that one of the poster boys of modern, versatile big men comes from abroad, where the frontier of NBA strategy has exploded past the bruising style of the 1990s. Paired with the more vintage, down-low approach of Memphis Grizzlies teammate Zach Randolph, Gasol is allowed to freelance and put his uncanny stamp on the game in myriad ways. Watch Gasol toss the ball to the perimeter with the arc of a league-leading shortshop:
There's almost too much to account for, from the defense's perspective, when a player as big and skilled as Gasol is on the floor. It doesn't hurt his resume being one of the very best defenders of the lane, either—Gasol had a remarkable 5.23 defensive real plus-minus in 2013-14, second in the league for all centers.
3. Joakim Noah
The spirit animal of his domineering coach Tom Thibodeau, Noah is a relentless emotional and intellectual beast who overwhelms the opposition with a critical mass of hustle plays and his vision for seemingly invisible passing lanes. Often referred to as a “point center” as he ran the Chicago Bulls’ offense from outside the lane in 2013-14, Noah is one of the most unique players in the game.
Joakim inspires something like culture shock every time his towering frame takes the ball down the court with an authority and fluidity nearing that of Chris Paul’s. Despite coming in at 6'11", Noah’s comfort on offense has never been as a backdown man. His savant passing, clever off-ball motion and advanced understanding of spacing make for a package that no team wants to deal with.
2. Dwight Howard
Along with then-coach Stan Van Gundy, Dwight Howard formed the template for contemporary rim-protection with the Orlando Magic. A spry, hulky enforcer who can chase sharper-shooting bigs to the perimeter and fall back to the basket fast enough to squash slashers, Howard’s “Superman” moniker is what results from an impressive athlete also mastering the complex tenants of a thorough defensive system.
There’s never been a shortage of Dwight criticism from his predecessors, however. The desk of Shaq and Charles Barkley has long been a petri dish for misunderstandings of a big boy’s role in today’s game, as both beloved figures never miss an opportunity to snipe at Howard for his shortage of aggressive, butt-first action on the block. Howard often kowtows to such rhetoric and stalls his defense trying to perform so to match the moves of yesteryear. But when he blocks out that nostalgic babble and relishes his strengths as a pick-and-roll finisher and defensive demon, D12 points the way toward the paint action of tomorrow.
1. Anthony Davis
Meet the future. The 21-year-old Davis is already putting his New Orleans Pelicans squad on his back for a playoff push in the spiky Western Conference, and doing it by playing basketball like no one has before him. His 6'10" frame makes most people call Davis a center, but the unibrowed phenom’s game can fit into any positional box—but his role probably shouldn’t be squeezed into any of those categories.
AD played a dominant point guard as high-school sensation in Chicago, and his court awareness and coordination frequently remind us how that looked. He’s a threat from any part of the floor not just because he’s bigger, faster and stronger than most of the league, but also because he’s smarter. And he’s made an unparalleled art out of the act of swatting a shot while recovering the ball—a corralling takeaway that acts as a telling symbol for just how singular Davis’ value is. Anthony is the league’s best big man now, but in a few years or less, we might be talking about him as the very top specimen in the game.
— John Wilmes
We all would like to budget wisely, and it's no different in daily or weekly fantasy football.
If you are playing in a salary-capped game at either FanDuel or DraftKings, here are a few value plays and bargains at the quarterback, running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions for Week 11 of the NFL season that should allow you to hold on to some of that money to spend on the big-name studs.
Only two more weeks of byes. We lose four teams this week, two the next and then you have a full slate the rest of the way. Gone from your lineups this week are players from Baltimore, Dallas, Jacksonville, and the New York Jets.
VALUE PLAYS (salaries in parenthesis are that of FanDuel's and DraftKings)
1.) Derek Carr, Oakland vs. San Diego ($6600/5100)
The Chargers are the third-friendliest team to QBs over the last five weeks (four games). Carr was part of that run when he threw for 282 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception in the teams' Week 6 meeting. Carr has since thrown five touchdown passes in four games, including two apiece in the last two games. He has, however, also thrown for under 200 in three of the last four, and two interceptions in each of the last two. The Chargers have not recorded an interception since picking off Carr in Week 6, and have just four this season.
2.) Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota vs. Chicago ($6600/5900)
This is opportunity over talent, and let's see if the rookie can capitalize. The Bears have been blasted, historically blasted to the tune of back-to-back 50-spots against them the last two games. In those 50-pointers were 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions. Of course those quarterbacks were Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. Bridgewater, who threw no touchdowns and three interceptions in his first three starts has bounced back with a scoring strike in each of his last three games to just two interceptions (both in Week 7). Even without the last two games for Chicago's defense, they were still surrendering the eighth-most points to QBs; they lead the pack now by more than 2 fantasy points per game.
3.) Matt Ryan, Atlanta vs. Carolina ($7700/6400)
The Panthers allow the fourth-most points to QBs, and have given up multiple touchdown passes in seven games. Ryan has thrown for multiple TDs in just four games this season, but did do so against the Panthers in their Week 17 meeting last season (2 TDs, 1 INT, 280 yards).
1.) Ryan Mathews, San Diego vs. Oakland ($6200/4500)
Mathews is expected to make his return to the field for the first time since suffering a knee sprain on Sept. 14. In his return he gets a Raiders team that is third friendliest to RBs over the last five weeks (five games). Five rushing touchdowns, two receiving touchdowns, and 832 total yards from scrimmage have been surrendered to RBs against the Raiders over the last five games.
2.) Steven Jackson, Atlanta at Carolina ($6700/4400)
The Panthers have allowed the seventh-most points to RBs over the last five weeks (five games) and sixth most this season. Carolina has allowed eight of its 11 rushing touchdowns over the last five games, and 486 rushing yards in that span. Jackson has put together back-to-back double-digit games for the first time this season, rushing for 141 yards and two scores
3.) Frank Gore, San Francisco vs. New York Giants ($7000/4500)
Gore has underwhelmed this season, but is coming off of a 23-carry game last week in New Orleans. It produced 81 yards and a score for his best game since his last 20-carry effort (Week 4 vs. Philadelphia). The Giants have allowed the most yards (675) to running backs along with the third-most TDs (6) over the last five weeks (four games).
1.) Andre Holmes, Oakland vs. San Diego ($6300/3700)
Holmes torched the Chargers when he caught four balls for 121 yards and two scores on eight targets from Derek Carr in the Week 6 meeting. He plays just over 60 percent of the snaps, and had been targeted an average of 5.6 times per game until a one-target dud against Denver's corners last week. It is a complete flier, but one with a recent history of success against a San Diego team that has allowed the most fantasy points to WRs over the last five weeks (four games).
2.) Pierre Garcon, Washington vs. Tampa Bay ($6500/4000)
No team has been more generous to WRs this season than Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers have allowed 14 touchdowns and nearly 1,700 yards to the position. Garcon has been a 50-50 guy this season in PPR setups and below average in standard leagues as he is no longer the X receiver for the Redskins under Jay Gruden. You are betting on the bargain, the recent history of what the Bucs allow, and the history between Garcon and Robert Griffin III.
3.) Kendall Wright, Tennessee vs. Pittsburgh ($6400/4600)
Wright has 50-plus yards receiving in each of his last three games, and three touchdowns over the last five weeks. The Steelers have allowed at least 70 yards to a WR eight times this season, including two Colts going for 113-plus in Week 8.
1.) Kyle Rudolph, Minnesota vs. Chicago ($N/A/3600)
Rudolph (groin) is expected to return this week for the first time since September. If he plays Sunday, it will be against a Chicago team that has allowed the most points to TEs per game this season. The Bears have surrendered 352 yards (third most) and seven scores to TEs. Rudolph had a TD, seven catches and 69 yards in two full healthy games to begin this season. This would be his first action since Week 3.
2.) Larry Donnell, New York Giants vs. San Francisco ($5200/3900)
The 49ers are allowing the seventh-most points to TEs over the last five weeks (four games), having surrendered 231 yards and three scores. Donnell has received 21 targets over the last three weeks, the most of any Giants players, turning them into 15 catches for 141 yards and a score.
3.) Mychal Rivera, Oakland vs. San Diego ($5800/3100)
Rivera continued his hot streak in Week 10, posting his second straight double-digit fantasy day. He has 21 catches on 28 targets for 185 yards and three scores the last three weeks.
@Corby_Yarbrough on Twitter