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Most of college football’s eyes will be on Columbus, Ohio, this Saturday when Ohio State hosts Michigan State. Both teams still control their own destiny in winning the Big Ten East Division and getting an invitation to Indianapolis to play in the conference championship game. And the Buckeyes are certainly well positioned to get back to the College Football Playoff and have a chance to defend their national title.
But before that, some business must be attended to in the Horseshoe. These two longtime conference foes first met in 1912 and have played some great games in their 43 (Ohio State leads 29-14) contests. Here are the top five.
5. Michigan State 13, Ohio State 7
Columbus – Oct. 31, 1987
The top spot in the Big Ten was on the line for both teams, and it looked like the Buckeyes would claim it in in the game’s first 15 seconds. Quarterback Tom Tupa hit wide receiver Everett Ross with a 79-yard touchdown pass to give OSU a 7-0 lead. It would be the Buckeyes’ only score and account for more than half of their offense. Michigan State, guided by defensive coordinator Nick Saban, then proceeded to limit the Buckeyes to two yards rushing and six first downs. The Spartans also sacked Tupa five times and intercepted two of his passes, both of which led to field goals that ultimately proved to be the margin of victory. Meanwhile, the Spartans controlled the ball, amassing 247 yards rushing and held possession for the more than 35 minutes. Michigan State would go on to win the Big Ten title and beat USC in the Rose Bowl.
4. Ohio State 17, Michigan State 16
East Lansing – Sept. 29, 2012
Urban Meyer’s first Big Ten game as Ohio State head coach proved to be a rite of passage. The Buckeyes got on the board first with a Jordan Hall touchdown run. Michigan State kicked a field goal in the first quarter and then hit another on its first drive of the second half to make it a one-point game. Ohio State then extended its lead with a field goal by Drew Basil. On the next drive, Spartans quarterback Andrew Maxwell found Keith Mumphery for a 29-yard touchdown pass to put the home team ahead 13-10. Buckeye quarterback Braxton Miller responded on the ensuing possession with a 63-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith to retake the lead at 17-13. A fumble by Miller in the fourth quarter gave MSU the ball on its own 46-yard line and the offense was able to covert the turnover into a field goal. After the two teams traded punts, OSU managed to put together a nine-play, 20-yard drive that chewed up the remaining four minutes of clock. "This was a war. This was two sledgehammers going at each other," Meyer said of the game that was “good for college football and good for the Big Ten.” Well stated.
3. Michigan State 11, Ohio State 8
Columbus – Oct. 15, 1966
This game’s ugliness added to its memorability. The Spartans were undefeated and ranked No. 1 when they faced 1-2 Ohio State in the torrential Columbus rain, but this game would cost them their top billing. The only score in the first half came on a bad snap during a MSU punt that gave the Buckeyes a 2-0 lead even though they had never crossed midfield. In the third quarter, kicker Dick Kenney booted a field goal to put the Spartans on the board at 3-2. Then early in the fourth quarter, OSU head coach Woody Hayes went against convention and called a slant pass on first down. Buckeyes quarterback Bill Long, who finished the game with three interceptions, hit wide receiver Billy Anders for 47-yard touchdown. Kicker Gary Cairns missed the extra point to make the score 8-3. With its back against the wall, MSU’s offense took the ensuing kickoff and put together a seven-minute, 84-yard drive that culminated with a one-yard touchdown run by Bob Apisa on fourth down. The Spartans then lined up to kick the extra point, but Kenney took the snap directly and tossed a pass to holder Charles Wedemeyer for the two-point conversion. The Spartans hung on for the win, but the sloppy performance, which included seven fumbles (only one was lost), cost them their top spot in the AP poll. They would go on to tie Notre Dame in one of the greatest college football games of all time and share the national title with the Fighting Irish.
2. Ohio State 28, Michigan State 21
Columbus – Oct. 16, 1993
Undefeated Ohio State took a 21-10 lead into the locker room at halftime thanks to three touchdown catches by speedster Joey Galloway. After an unproductive third quarter of offense, the Spartans finally closed the gap when kicker Bill Stoyanovich booted a 21-yard field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, but he then missed a 39-yard field goal on the next drive. It was his fourth missed field goal in a game wrought with missed opportunities for the Spartans. A shanked punt by Scott Terna on the Buckeyes’ ensuing possession gave MSU the ball on Ohio State’s 38-yard line. Spartans quarterback Jim Miller capitalized on the following play, hitting Scott Greene with a touchdown pass. On the two-point play, Miller found receiver Mill Coleman in the end zone and the game was tied 21-21. Buckeye quarterback Bret Powers, who was sharing snaps with Bobby Hoying that season, then engineered an 80-yard drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown run by Raymond Harris with 1:06 left for what proved to the game-winning play. The Buckeyes went on to split the Big Ten title with Wisconsin.
1. Michigan State 28, Ohio State 24
Columbus – Nov. 7, 1998
This game tops the list for its significance and gutsy performance by the Spartans. Ohio State was ranked No. 1 and Michigan State was 4-4 in a season plagued with inconsistency. Oh, and the Spartans had lost five games in a row to Ohio State. It looked like it would be six straight, as the Buckeyes jumped out to a 17-3 lead in the first quarter. Michigan State’s Paul Edinger kicked the second and third of his five field goals for the game to make it 17-9 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Ohio State’s Damon Moore intercepted Bill Burke’s pass and raced 73 yards and then flopped into the end zone to put his team up 24-9. Not only did Moore reinjure his shoulder on the ill-conceived dive, but he also was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct and unknowingly re-energized the seething Spartans. The momentum turned on the next possession. Michigan State’s Craig Jarrett took a bad snap and kicked a line-drive punt that hit OSU’s Nate Clements on the shoulder and the Spartans recovered the ball on their own 49-yard line. Burke then hit Lavaile Richardson with a 23-yard touchdown, but missed the extra point to cut the lead to 24-15. Ohio State then fumbled on its next possession and Edinger kicked another field goal to close the gap to 24-18. Burke then led MSU on a 92-yard drive that was punctuated with a three-yard touchdown run by Sedrick Irvin that put the Spartans up 25-24 in the fourth quarter. Ohio State fumbled again and Edinger added another field goal to extend the lead 28-24.
The Buckeyes had one final chance with less than two minutes remaining, as David Boston returned Jarrett’s punt 26 yards to midfield. Quarterback Joe Germaine completed two passes to put his team on MSU’s 15-yard line, but then threw three straight incompletions. On fourth down, Germaine underthrew Dee Miller and was picked off by Renaldo Hill. The win was Michigan State head coach Nick Saban’s biggest to date.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)
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Below, you will find AthlonSports.com contributor and CFG writer Mike Bainbridge's five best waiver wire pickups for Week 12. To see the full in-depth article of over 40-plus players, make sure to check out CollegeFootballGeek.com.
Jehu Chesson (WR, Michigan)
Chesson had a record-setting performance against the Hoosiers on Saturday with 10 receptions for 207 yards and four touchdowns, three of which came in the first half alone. His final touchdown wound up being the most important, a five-yard pass from quarterback Jake Rudock with time expiring to send the game into overtime. After not scoring a touchdown in the first seven games of the year, Chesson has now found the end zone in each of the last three games, giving him a team-high seven on the season.
Shaun Nixon (RB, TCU)
A running back by trade, Nixon has been used predominantly at wide receiver the past two weeks with Josh Doctson out of the lineup, producing 16 catches for 224 yards and a touchdown in his absence. The Horned Frogs have dealt with a myriad of injuries at the wide receiver position in 2015, but have gotten good performances from some of their younger players such as Nixon and fellow freshman KaVontae Turpin. In this offense (depending on the health of QB Trevone Boykin) the targets will be there for Nixon to put up double-digit fantasy points in any given week and he is a perfect flex option.
Kenny Potter (QB, San Jose State)
San Jose State has rotated quarterbacks for much of the year, but looks to have finally settled on Potter, the former junior college transfer. In the five games since he took over as the starter, Potter has combined to produce 12 total touchdowns, including a four-game streak in which he rushed for a score as well. A dual-threat option, Potter had his best overall game of the year against Nevada, throwing for 186 yards and three touchdowns while also topping the century mark on the ground (116). Potter and the Spartans will travel to Hawaii next week where the Rainbow Warriors just gave up six touchdown passes to a quarterback who had just eight in his career coming into the game.
Brandon Radcliff (RB, Louisville)
Remember this name? Radcliff has not become the featured running back that many envisioned entering this season after rushing for a team-leading 737 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2014. The junior back started the year off well, rushing for 76 yards and two touchdowns in the opener, but fell off the map midseason and was eventually held out of the lineup completely three weeks ago against Wake Forest. The past two games have been a completely different story, however, as Radcliff has topped 100 yards against both Syracuse and Virginia, and is beginning to look like the same back from 2014.
Kerry Thomas (WR, UTSA)
Thomas is likely to be available in most leagues because let’s be honest here, who thinks of UTSA when it comes to college fantasy football? But Thomas is a name to absolutely take note of as the sophomore receiver has combined for 24 receptions in the last three games alone. Thomas actually tied his own school record this past Saturday with nine catches against Charlotte, matching the same record he broke just two weeks earlier. The Roadrunners close the season with matchups against Rice and Middle Tennessee, both of whom rank in the bottom third of the country in pass defense.
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and current writer for CollegeFootballGeek.com. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @MikeBainbridge2.
April 6, 2015. Mike Krzyzewski was standing among his players on the floor of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, listening to the initial notes of “One Shining Moment.” His Duke team had just completed a five-point win over Wisconsin to capture the fifth national championship during his tenure, and it was time for the celebration to begin in earnest. The traditional clip montage from the NCAA Tournament brought out smiles and laughter from his players as Krzyzewski took it all in.
This was not a surprise. No, not at all.
Duke, with three superstar freshmen leading the way — Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones — began the season ranked No. 4 in the Associated Press top 25 poll. The Blue Devils rose to No. 2 for a five-week stretch in the middle of the season and then again ascended to that spot in the beginning of March. Save for the Kentucky team that blitzed through the regular season and first four games of the NCAA Tournament without a loss, an argument could’ve been made that Duke was the most talented team in the country.
So, cutting down the nets for the fifth time in his career couldn’t have come as that big of a shock to Krzyzewski. He has built Duke into a powerhouse, a modern-day college basketball dynasty that competes year in and year out for top recruits, titles and national attention. In sports, though, we like to see the best of the best end on a high note, riding off into the sunset without a sour memory tainting their legacy.
It was natural to wonder if Krzyzewski, 68 years old as he watched the confetti fall from the top of the stadium, would look around him and think: “How could this get any better?”
The ‘R’ words. They are always thrown around when Krzyzewski finishes one season and sets his sights toward another. He will be 69 in the middle of the 2015-16 season and has accomplished seemingly everything that a basketball coach could possibly set out to accomplish in a career. This season will be his 36th as the head coach of the Blue Devils and his 41st in coaching.
At some point, won’t Mike Krzyzewski have to … retire?
At some point, won’t Mike Krzyzewski have to … be replaced?
This feature and more appears in the Athlon Sports College Basketball Preview, available on newsstands in our online store.
They are questions that produce different answers from Krzyzewski and those around him. This past season alone, Krzyzewski gave two different answers on the retirement subject in a three-month span.
Following his 1,000th career victory on Jan. 25 over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, Krzyzewski said: “There’s an end in sight. I’m going to be 68 next month, and it’ll end sooner than later, but hopefully not real soon.”
The morning after winning that fifth national title, Krzyzewski said in a radio interview: “I’m not close. I’ll be back next year, and I would think for a few more years.”
Will he or won’t he? Each year that Krzyzewski returns to the Duke bench — with a talent-rich roster, a high national ranking and a legit chance for another national championship — the question will continue to linger. But so will this one: Whenever Coach K decides that the time is right to leave Duke, who will be his successor?
It’s college basketball’s (multi) million-dollar question.
Inheriting the Throne
First things first: The coach who takes over for Mike Krzyzewski will have his work cut out for him.
In his 35 seasons at Duke, Krzyzewski has amassed a legacy that will go untouched by the coach who succeeds him. He has won 945 games (while losing just 251), produced a 378–152 record in Atlantic Coast Conference play, won 13 ACC Tournament championships and 12 regular-season conference championships. He’s been named the Naismith National Coach of the Year three times and produced 54 NBA Draft picks.
His postseason success is virtually unparalleled; he’s advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 31 straight seasons in which he coached the entire campaign. (He missed the final two months of the ’94-95 season with a back injury.)
Not to mention his head coaching duties with USA Basketball, where he will aim for a third straight goal medal at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
But most important, he turned Duke back into Duke.
“Durham was not a pleasant place to be in 1983,” ESPN analyst and former Duke player Jay Bilas told Yahoo! Sports in January, alluding to the long-since-forgotten alumni petition to fire Krzyzewski.
Related: Duke Team Preveiw
Now, though, Duke is one of the crown jewels of the college basketball coaching world. But it is a very insular environment, with Krzyzewski almost exclusively turning to former players to be assistant coaches and nurturing them until they are fully entrenched alongside him or ready to begin their own careers. Everything is done and kept in the family. So much so that many Duke assistants have felt the need to finally venture out on their own in order to escape K’s long shadow.
“It’s really safe,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey, a former Duke assistant for eight seasons, said in an interview during the 2014-15 season. “And you can get into a comfort zone. As a head coach, you’ve got to fight that. But even after my fifth, sixth, seventh year there, I thought, ‘Man, maybe I’ve stayed here too long.’”
And that was from one of the few Krzyzewski assistants who did not play at Duke.
That makes the succession all the more complicated. There are numerous worthy candidates with Duke pedigrees who have served under Krzyzewski — Harvard’s Tommy Amaker, Northwestern’s Chris Collins, Stanford’s Johnny Dawkins and Marquette’s Steve Wojciechowski.
But while the Duke job post-Krzyzewski remains a coveted position, there is a concern among his former pupils about being typecast as a “just a Duke guy.”
“Wojo was worried about it,” says Brey, who offered advice to the former top Blue Devils assistant before he took the Marquette job in 2014. “He had turned down Dayton, and after six months began thinking, ‘Uh-oh, no one is ever going to come back to me because I’m turning them down.’”
Chris Carrawell, who served in a number of roles on Krzyzewski’s staff in his post-Duke playing days and now is an assistant for the Golden Eagles under Wojciechowski, goes even further.
“Truthfully, guys are a little scared about the job,” Carrawell says of the head coaching position at Duke. “What Coach has done there, it can never be duplicated. But if you’re a Duke guy and you take over that job, you’re always going to be held to him and that standard.”
Who’s Got Next?
Those who have their finger on the pulse of the college basketball world continue to wonder which coach will be the right fit for Duke after Krzyzewski leaves.
Will Duke stick with Krzyzewski’s way of business and keep it in the Blue Devil family? Will Krzyzewski be allowed to name his own successor? Will it be a big name? A small name? A no-name? A college guy or an NBA one?
Krzyzewski and Duke continue to remain mum about the topic, which only fuels the speculation about who it might be — and under what circumstances it might happen. There are several ways to handle a succession plan in college basketball.
At Connecticut, Kevin Ollie was named the Huskies’ interim head coach after Jim Calhoun abruptly retired near the end of the summer in 2012. At Syracuse, Jim Boeheim announced he would stay three years before retiring despite NCAA sanctions; that led the school to officially designate Mike Hopkins, his longtime right-hand man, as the Orange’s coach-in-waiting. When SMU lured Larry Brown out of retirement in 2012 to be its head coach, it was done so with the agreement that Tim Jankovich — at the time the head coach at Illinois State — would join the Mustangs’ staff as the coach-in-waiting.
In basketball circles, three names repeatedly come up when the topic of Krzyzewski’s successor is broached — Wojciechowski, Collins and current Duke associate head coach Jeff Capel. Wojciechowski was especially close with Krzyzewski during his playing career and joined Duke’s staff a year after graduating, staying there until 2014. Plus, at 39, Wojciechowski is already older than his former coach was when Krzyzewski was hired at Duke.
In his first season in Milwaukee, Wojciechowski earned praise — despite a poor record — from a tactical standpoint, and he has done an outstanding job on the recruiting trail.
Collins was also a right-hand-man for Krzyzewski for 13 seasons, finally leaving the nest in 2013 to take over at Northwestern. But while Collins would presumably be on the short list, his candidacy seems iffy. An Illinois native and former Mr. Basketball in the state, Collins appears to be in Evanston for the long haul.
“In my case, I got to the point where I wanted to be a head coach,” he says about leaving Duke.
Related: ACC Predictions
There are other names, too. Former All-America point guard Bobby Hurley, a member of Krzyzewski’s back-to-back title teams in 1991 and 1992, saw his stock rise this past season in his second year at Buffalo. Hurley, the son of legendary New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley, took the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament and nearly knocked off West Virginia in the second round.
Hurley is viewed as having the perfect blend for a Krzyzewski successor: Duke background, NBA experience, assistant coaching experience outside of Durham and success as a head coach. But Hurley is still considered green, even as he bolted Buffalo to take over at Arizona State in the offseason.
That leaves a candidate who originally didn’t seem to be a logical choice — Capel. He has been a head coach twice — at VCU and then at Oklahoma — but his tenure with the Sooners did not end well. OU went 43–51 in the three seasons in which Blake Griffin was not on the roster, and Capel was dismissed after the 2010-11 season due in part to some NCAA issues related to the recruitment of Tiny Gallon.
When Krzyzewski brought him on staff two months later, it was believed to be little more than helping out a former Dukie.
Instead, Capel has become integral to Krzyzewski’s continued longevity — and perhaps set himself up as the heir apparent. Capel is still young (40) and has emerged as Duke’s lead recruiter (he helped secure commitments from Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones). He’s also gained Krzyzewski’s trust, having been given scouting duties for every game during the 2014-15 season. And it’s clear he wants to be a head coach again. Capel was wooed by Arizona State after last season but opted to remain by Coach K’s side in Durham.
What did that mean for the future at Duke? At a press conference back in Durham following the team’s championship, Krzyzewski gave an answer that — finally — just might have tipped his hand.
“Jeff is savvy, and he is a hell of a coach,” Krzyzewski said. “But I mean, Jeff is a head coach. He’ll get something great. He is doing something great right now.”
But when does it become something more?
-By Brendan Prunty
The College Football Playoff race isn't close to being determined. With two weeks remaining in the regular season, teams are playing themselves in and out of contention. This has been a season of crazy finishes and heated competition on and off the field.
The Athlon Sports College Football Experts Club presented by Nexium & Advil gives you the chance to compete with your friends and our experts each week.
Here are this week’s top picks from Athlon Sports senior writer David Fox:
Michigan at Penn State
The Wolverines’ stifling defense has been ordinary in recent weeks. By a wide margin, Michigan has allowed more rushing yards in the last three games (579) than it did in the first seven (453). Opponents in those last three games have averaged 4.75 yards per carry against the Michigan defense. The Wolverines’ slump coincides with a Penn State offense that is slowly becoming more consistent. The Nittany Lions are averaging 6 yards per play in conference games this season, compared to 3.72 a year ago. This may come down to which quarterback — Jake Rudock for Michigan or Christian Hackenberg for Penn State — can crack the opposing defense.
Fox’s Pick: Michigan 28–20
Cal at Stanford
The implications of the Big Game have been dampened by Stanford’s loss to Oregon, likely knocking the Cardinal out of the playoff picture. The Pac-12 North title, though, is still in play as Oregon and Washington State have new life in the race. Cal ended its four-game losing streak with a rout of Oregon State and 453 passing yards and six touchdowns from Jared Goff. Cal may be able to pick up yards against the Stanford defense, but the Bears have showed little indication they’ll be able to contain a player like Christian McCaffrey.
Fox’s Pick: Stanford 42–28
Louisville at Pittsburgh
Louisville has quietly put together a four-game winning streak after a 2–4 start. A road trip to Pitt, however, figures to be the toughest test for the Cardinals in the second half of the regular season. Quarterback Kyle Bolin and running back Brandon Radcliff have taken charge of an improved Louisville backfield in the last two weeks. The most dynamic player on the field, though, will be Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd, who added a new dimension to the Panthers’ offense with his production in the run game.
Fox’s Pick: Louisville 31–24
UCLA at Utah
Few teams are more confounding than UCLA. Nevertheless, the Bruins control their own path to the Pac-12 Championship Game by virtue of playing Utah and USC to finish the season. UCLA’s defense had major lapses in losses to Washington State and Stanford, but the real question is if the Bruins’ offense can get efficient production against the Utah defense. The Utes lead the Pac-12 in rush defense while freshman quarterback Josh Rosen will try to avoid turnovers against a team that leads Pac-12 in interceptions.
Fox’s Pick: Utah 27–20
North Carolina at Virginia Tech
North Carolina finally has our attention just in time to go to Blacksburg for Frank Beamer’s final home game as the Hokies’ head coach. In other words, this will be an intriguing game if only for the intangibles involved. On the field, North Carolina has been clobbering teams on the way to an ACC Atlantic title. Despite Virginia Tech’s pedigree in the secondary, the Hokies may have trouble slowing an offense averaging 8 yards per play in the last two games.
Fox’s Pick: North Carolina 38–21
Mississippi State at Arkansas
Since a 2–4 start including losses to Toledo and Texas Tech, the Hogs have won four in a row and could finish second in the SEC West. This year’s Arkansas team, though, has a more well-rounded offense compared to last year’s squad that also got hot in November. Both quarterback Brandon Allen and running back Alex Collins have played the role of hero. After Alabama overwhelmed Mississippi State for nine sacks, quarterback Dak Prescott will try to regroup against a lackluster Arkansas defense. The Hogs are last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense and have allowed a league-high 22 rushing touchdowns.
Fox’s Pick: Arkansas 31–27
Georgia Tech at Miami
Despite this season’s dual embarrassments of a 58-point loss to Clemson and a 38-loss to North Carolina, Miami can still play for a decent bowl with a chance to get to eight regular season wins and a 5–3 ACC record. That’s more than Georgia Tech can say, as the Yellow Jackets will miss the postseason for the first time since 1996. There’s little reason to put trust in either of these teams, but at least Georgia Tech isn’t losing in blowouts. Five the Jackets’ losses have been by one score.
Fox’s Pick: Georgia Tech 28–20
Purdue at Iowa
The Hawkeyes are coming off their worst defensive performance of the season, allowing 434 total yards and 7.6 yards per play to Minnesota. That’s a week after another pedestrian defensive game, by Iowa’s standards, against Indiana. In its last three games, Purdue beat Nebraska and played a one-score game with Northwestern. For the sake of keeping quarterback C.J. Beathard and others healthy, Iowa will hope this turns out like other routs against Purdue this season.
Fox’s Pick: Iowa 41–21
TCU at Oklahoma
Oklahoma seems to get stronger by the week while TCU’s season is hanging by a thread. Quarterback Baker Mayfield is starting to get Heisman attention, but the Sooners’ defense was just as impressive against Baylor. OU neutralized Corey Coleman and intercepted Jarrett Stidham twice. TCU’s Trevone Boykin and Josh Doctson could be the most dangerous run-pass-catch duo in the country when healthy, but they’ve been hobbled. The stars are aligning for the Sooners.
Fox’s Pick: Oklahoma 44–35
Northwestern at Wisconsin
The race to keep up with Iowa in the Big Ten West is a matchup between two top-notch defenses and offenses that are still, in Week 12, trying to find identities. Wisconsin’s problem is easy to pinpoint. The Badgers have a young offensive line and have had limited contributions from running back Corey Clement. The Badgers expect Clement, who rushed for 949 yards last season, to play despite injuring his hand in an off-campus altercation last week. Northwestern would like to rely on running back Justin Jackson, but the passing game has struggled. The Wildcats pulled quarterback Clayton Thorson last week after two interceptions against Purdue. Yards will be tough to come by, though. Wisconsin is third in the Big Ten at 4.5 yards allowed per play. Northwestern’s defensive pace has slowed since the first month of the season, but the Wildcats are allowing only 291.5 yards per game and 4.2 per play when not facing Michigan and Iowa.
Fox’s Pick: Wisconsin 21–14
USC at Oregon
Oregon is heating up just as the window has opened for USC to win the Pac-12 South. Since the return of Vernon Adams, the Ducks have been progressively more efficient on offense — from 5.82 yards per play against Washington four weeks ago to 9.1 against Stanford. No question USC has been better under interim coach Clay Helton but the three close wins against the weaker teams in the Pac-12 — by 6 over Cal, by 8 over Arizona and by 3 over Colorado — are cause for concern.
Fox’s Pick: Oregon 42–31
Baylor at Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State will try to replicate what led to a 49–29 win over TCU two weeks ago by pressuring Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham and forcing turnovers. Meanwhile, Stidham will look to adjust after throwing two picks and getting sacked twice against Oklahoma. Baylor’s defense won’t face as dangerous and offense as it did last week against OU, but Stidham may be facing a better defense — and on the road.
Fox’s Pick: Oklahoma State 41–38
Arizona at Arizona State
From the “where has this been all season” department, both Territorial Cup teams ended three-game losing streaks last week: Arizona in an overtime upset of Utah and Arizona State with a fourth-quarter comeback against Washington. Combine Arizona’s inconsistent offense with Arizona State’s pressure defense, and the Sun Devils may come out on top.
Fox’s Pick: Arizona State 31–24
LSU at Ole Miss
LSU was No. 2 in the first College Football Playoff rankings two weeks ago, but the Tigers have lost to Alabama and Arkansas by a combined 31 points, the latter at home. Most staggering has been the results in the run game on both sides of the ball for LSU. The Tigers have been outrushed 599–114 in two losses, effectively pushing Leonard Fournette aside in the Heisman race. The Rebels’ 43–37 win at Alabama in Week 3 now seems like a distant memory after Ole Miss lost to Florida, Memphis and Arkansas in the last games. Ole Miss’ defense has rarely been at full strength all season, so the Rebels are hoping the off week will allow them to regroup.
Fox’s Pick: Ole Miss 35–28
Michigan State at Ohio State
Both teams have work to do in order to make this the true heavyweight bout fans have been seeking all season. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer was critical of his offensive line after a 28–3 win over Illinois. The timing for calling out the pass protection makes perfect sense. The Spartans aren’t as strong defensively as they’ve been, but they are 13th in sacks per game (2.9). Michigan State has its own problems protecting the passer in part because of season-long injuries on the line. The result has been a bum shoulder for quarterback Connor Cook, who was 6-of-20 with an interception against Maryland last week before he was finally pulled to preserve him for this week. Michigan State needs Cook healthy if the Spartans are going to atone for a loss to Nebraska to weeks ago and make a run at the Big Ten East.
Fox’s Pick: Ohio State 35–24
Texas A&M at Vanderbilt
The Aggies and Commodores have both made the switch to freshman quarterbacks in recent weeks and the results, predictably, have been mixed. Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur is the hotter hand right now, completing 13-of-26 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns in a win over Kentucky. The goal for the Commodores will be to rely on their defense to make this an ugly game for Aggies freshman quarterback Kyler Murray. Vanderbilt has been tough on top-tier opposing quarterbacks this season, much less signal-callers who are struggling. Despite his recruiting profile, Murray falls into he latter category. He threw two interceptions against Western Carolina, giving him five picks and 4.8 yards per attempt in his last two starts.
Fox’s Pick: Texas A&M 21–14
Tennessee at Missouri
Missouri’s defense has been elite for most of the season, and the Tigers’ run game had their best two games of the year in the last two weeks. The difference, though, was the passing game. Drew Lock completed 19-of-28 passes for 244 yards with a touchdown and an interception, the first time in four games Mizzou quarterbacks completed half of their passes. Now, the question is if Missouri can keep that momentum in what will be coach Gary Pinkel’s final home game. Tennessee sleepwalked through a 24–0 win over North Texas. The game was never in doubt, but the Volunteers amassed only 409 yards against one of the worst defenses in college football. Tennessee is under pressure for a strong finish this season and will face two of the SEC’s best defenses in Mizzou and Vanderbilt.
Fox’s Pick: Tennessee 27–27
Colorado at Washington State
Let’s go ahead and put Washington State on upset alert. Colorado is still struggling to win in the Pac-12, but the Buffaloes are getting better. Colorado is fifth in the Pac-12 in pass efficiency defense. If the Buffs can get after Luke Falk, they’ll have a chance.
Fox’s Pick: Washington State 42–28
Wake Forest at Clemson
The Tigers haven’t been sharp against overmatched teams from NC State and Syracuse, which isn’t uncommon for heavy favorites at this stage of the season. Wake hasn’t scored 20 points in a conference game all season, so one can guess how this is going to go.
Fox’s Pick: Clemson 41–10
Boston College vs. Notre Dame (Fenway Park)
Boston College’s season may be notable for just one thing — an astounding lack of balance. The Eagles lead the nation in total defense and rank last in total offense. Perhaps BC’s defense will do enough to give Notre Dame trouble, but as the Eagles’ 3–7 record indicates, they can’t score enough to make it matter.
Fox’s Pick: Notre Dame 24–7
Last week: 15–5
Season to date: 166–54
Beef jerky is a snack for all occasions, whether you’re a crossbow-wielding deer hunter trying to stay camouflaged or a pencil-pushing desk jockey hoping to avoid hunger pains in a mid-afternoon meeting. With that in mind, we bit off as much as we could chew and found these to be our four favorite flavors of jerky.
“Great, middle of the road taste that satisfies.”
The little voice in our stomach was quieted by this traditional style and classic flavor profile.
Fire It Up
“Sweet, slightly smoky and surprisingly tender.”
Ball Park Bourbon BBQ
A “new jerky experience” includes flame-grilled technique that improves the texture.
Burn Bigfoot Burn
“So much burn. Guaranteed to make you sweat.”
Jack Link’s Sriracha
Leave it to the crew that messes with Sasquatch to start a five-alarm flavor fire in our mouth.
Be My Baby
“You can’t go wrong with Sweet Baby Ray’s.”
Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Chipotle
There’s no doubt about the sauce being the boss with this delicious sweet heat combination.
Bitter rivals Toledo and Bowling Green meet on Tuesday night for the 80th time in program history with plenty at stake in this MAC matchup. The Falcons clinched the MAC East title in last week’s win over Western Michigan, and coach Dino Babers’ team needs to win out to have a shot at finishing as the top Group of 5 team and for an opportunity to play in a New Year’s Six bowl. Toledo rebounded from a disappointing loss to Northern Illinois on Nov. 3 by defeating Central Michigan 28-23 last week. The Rockets are still alive for the MAC West title but have to win out and need a loss by the Huskies in conference action.
Thanks to rising stars at head coach, both of these teams have generated national headlines during the 2015 season. Under the direction of Matt Campbell, Toledo defeated Power 5 opponents Iowa State and Arkansas and ranked No. 24 in the first playoff committee rankings. Bowling Green knocked off Maryland and Purdue in non-conference matchups and nearly defeated Memphis (44-41). Coach Dino Babers is one of the nation’s top offensive minds and could be a candidate for openings at the Power 5 level this December.
Bowling Green leads the all-time series at 39-36-4. However, the Rockets have won five consecutive meetings against the Falcons. Three of the last four meetings between these two programs were decided by a touchdown or less. These two teams play annually for the I-75 Trophy, which replaced the Peace Pipe as the trophy awarded to the winner of this matchup in 2011.
Toledo at Bowling Green
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 17 at 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Bowling Green -7
1. Toledo’s Rushing Attack
Bowling Green’s “Falcon Fast” offense is one of the best in the nation. The Falcons rank fourth nationally by averaging 45.4 points per game, 12th with an average of seven yards per play and tied for first with 26 plays of 40 yards or more. Quarterback Matt Johnson is the MAC’s top quarterback and one of the most efficient nationally (36 TDs to four interceptions). What exactly does the Bowling Green offensive totals have to do with Toledo’s ground attack? The gameplan should be simple for the Rockets on Tuesday night. Keeping the Falcons off the field and limiting possessions are a priority. Toledo has the necessary pieces in place to control the pace of the game, as this team averages 216.2 rushing yards per game. Running back Kareem Hunt has recorded back-to-back 100-yard efforts and has plenty of support from Terry Swanson (seven yards per carry). Bowling Green’s defense has struggled to stop the run at times, surrendering 168.6 yards per game this season. Additionally, the Falcons allowed six rushing scores and 504 yards in their last two contests. In order for Toledo to win on Tuesday night, Hunt and Swanson have to get on track and the offensive line has to control the line of scrimmage.
2. Bowling Green’s Explosive Offense
As mentioned above, the numbers on Bowling Green’s offense are staggering this season. The Falcons put a significant amount of pressure on opposing defenses by taking (and connecting) on deep shots downfield, while running back Travis Greene (105.7 ypg in MAC contests) is capable of making defenders miss at the line of scrimmage and turning five-yard gains into big plays. Babers’ offense can hurt defenses in a variety of ways, which is a nightmare for opposing teams to gameplan and stop. How can Toledo slow down the Falcons’ offense? The Rockets’ defense could use help from their offense to control the tempo and overall pace of the game. But when Toledo’s defense is on the field, it has to eliminate the big plays and make Bowling Green drive the length of the field. The Rockets have allowed 13 passing plays of 30 yards or more this season and gave up 349 passing yards in last week’s win over Central Michigan. This defense has been solid up front this year, limiting rushers to 3.3 yards per carry and generating 21 sacks. Getting pressure on Johnson and forcing this offense into third-and-long situations are two areas to watch for Toledo on Tuesday night.
3. Toledo QB Phillip Ely
While most of the pregame attention is focused on Bowling Green’s Matt Johnson, Toledo’s Phillip Ely shouldn’t be overlooked. The Alabama transfer suffered a season-ending leg injury last year and has rebounded with a strong 2015 campaign (2,192 yards, 18 TDs). The senior didn’t have a standout performance against Northern Illinois (1 TD, 2 INT) but rebounded to throw for 322 yards and two touchdowns against Central Michigan last Tuesday. The Falcons are 58th nationally in pass efficiency defense but has been susceptible to big plays (nine of 40 yards or more allowed). Ely has a solid group of weapons at his disposal, including Cody Thompson (20.5 ypc) and Alonzo Russell (28 catches for 482 yards). The success of Toledo’s offense starts on the ground. However, Ely will have his opportunities to shine on Tuesday night. After throwing five combined picks against UMass and Northern Illinois, Ely threw zero on 39 attempts against Central Michigan. That’s the type of performance Toledo needs from its quarterback on Tuesday night.
Tuesday night’s meeting in Bowling Green could be a preview of the MAC Championship in early December. Of course, Toledo has some work to do in order to win the West Division, starting with this matchup against the Falcons. In last year’s game, the Rockets ran for 325 yards and four touchdowns. Running back Kareem Hunt gashed Bowling Green for 265 yards on 30 attempts. That’s the best-case scenario for Toledo on Tuesday night – establish the run, control the time of possession and eliminate the big plays allowed on defense. While Hunt will get his yardage, stopping Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson and a talented group of receivers won’t be easy. This one should go back-and-forth, but the Falcons have too much firepower at home.
Prediction: Bowling Green 41, Toledo 38
The Ohio Bobcats became bowl eligible with a shutout of Kent State last week. Ohio is out of the running for a Mid-American Conference (MAC) title, but a bowl appearance this season would be the seventh of head coach Frank Solich's tenure and by all accounts signify a fairly successful season. There are still two games left to play, the first of which is against Ball State.
Ball State visits the Bobcats on the back of losing a 54-7 blowout to Western Michigan. In that contest, the Cardinals allowed 711 yards of total offense while only putting up 152 of their own. Of the two remaining games on their schedule, Ohio appears to be the last chance for the Cardinals to get a win and salvage what they can from what has been an extremely disappointing season.
Ball State at Ohio
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Tuesday)
Spread: Ohio -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Ball State slow down Ohio's offense?
You could argue that the Bobcats have more weapons on offense than Western Michigan. That doesn't bode well for Ball State. Head coach Pete Lembo's Cardinals are giving up more than 500 yards of offense per game — only nine other FBS teams allow more. They have offensive talent — led by freshman quarterback Riley Neal. You may hear Neal's name called on Sundays in a couple of years, but right now, the talented gunslinger is carrying the weight of a putrid defense, dealing with the constant pressure of trying to keep pace with the opposition. For Ball State to have a chance in this one, the defense needs to make a few stops to allow Neal and the Cardinal offense to regroup on the sideline and be in a position to win a close one in the end.
2. Can Derrius Vick keep it going?
Vick was a man on fire last week against Kent State — both through the air and on the ground. He's the heartbeat of the Bobcat offense and he should have a field day against a fairly weak Ball State defense. Look for Vick to attack the Cardinals through the air early — targeting Sebastian Smith and Jordan Reid in an effort to build a comfortable lead before taking over with his legs.
3. The Scoreboard
In the 20 combined games these two squads have played this season, at least one of the teams put up 30 or more points. Neither defense is dominant, and both offenses have the ability to hang points in a hurry. The weather conditions appear to be nearly perfect at kickoff — especially considering it's mid-November. If you like high-scoring football games, this Tuesday night contest is right up your alley.
I don't see any way this ends well for Ball State. Ohio, starting with Derrius Vick at quarterback, is simply too dynamic on offense for the Cardinals to slow them down. The Bobcat receivers are going to demand attention early and often, which will soften the box for the Ohio running backs and designed runs for Vick. I do think Ball State can score on Ohio, and you'll likely see flashes of brilliance and what the future holds for freshman quarterback Riley Neal. That said, look for Ohio to control this one from start to finish.
Prediction: Ohio 31, Ball State 14
Not sure if you've heard but Ronda Rousey lost to Holly Holm.
It seems to be all people can talk about with all the memes and her own overconfident sound bites, it's hard not to get in on the action. One guy, who does an uncanny impression of Ray Lewis, went a different route to give Rousey words of encouragement.
Seriously, it's literally like watching Lewis.
Ray Lewis Motivates Ronda Rousey after Knockout DefeatPosted by Andre Boyd on Sunday, November 15, 2015
Agents are a gift and a curse.
During Sunday night's game between the Cardinals and the Seahawks, evidently Marshawn Lynch's agent wasn't happy with some aspects of Russell Wilson's performance. He sent a tweet (and later a deleted it) directed at Wilson. The Seahawks ended up losing 39-32, and we're guessing Lynch's agent wasn't too happy about that either, but probably thought it was best to keep that to himself.
Marshawn Lynch's agent sent this tweet to Russell Wilson during last night's game. Now deleted. pic.twitter.com/eIQ2nCUG97— Rand Getlin (@Rand_Getlin) November 16, 2015
This might make for awkward locker room talk.
The Bears are finally starting to turn things around.
Chicago throttled the Rams Sunday, 37-13. After the game, Martellus Bennett felt it was the right time to tell everyone what he thinks of the team from St. Louis.
"I consider St. Louis Seattle's little brother," Bennett said.
During the moment of silence before the Lions-Packers game kicked off, an inappropriate comment was yelled throughout the crowd.
Someone could be heard saying, "Muslims suck!" and that comment didn't sit too well with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. He took time after the game to address it.
Many fans don’t look into the background of a 5-6 record and that’s understandable. While Nebraska’s offense isn’t quite the Greatest Show on Turf, look for it to be moving back towards an attack that upsets defensive coordinators with the best of them thanks to a pair of players.
The Huskers have struggled with getting out of their own way at times during a season that doesn’t look how many (including myself) thought it would. Despite the record, offensive coordinator Danny Langsdorf still put a group together that sticks 34 points on the scoreboard on average. That number should generally give the Huskers ample opportunity to shout “Hip Hip Hooray!” in the locker room after 60 minutes of football.
In 2016, there will be a number of players to fall in love with per usual, but there are two tight ends in particular that I can see becoming household names. Well, one becoming. One you already know.
Cethan Carter has been one of the most pleasant surprises of 2015. After opening his season fresh off suspension, he’s turned into one of the most reliable run blockers that the Cornhuskers have. He’s as tough as fullback Andy Janovich when it comes to escorting defenders out of the way.
Carter returns for his senior season next year, but he won’t be the only tight end that folks sporting scarlet in Nebraska will likely be raving about.
There’s a freshman by the name of Matt Snyder who has everything it takes to be part of what Langsdorf has in store the Friday after Thanksgiving for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury during fall camp that made yanking a redshirt not worth the expense by the time a choice had to be made.
One thing you’ll love about him is his ability to cradle the football like a newborn baby just smacked on its rear.
We’ve seen several Big Ten teams utilize tight ends lately. Minnesota put Maxx Williams into the NFL thanks to his duties as a workhorse in 2014 and Jake Butt’s been helping Michigan over the span of forever and a day. Despite what former Nebraska offensive coordinator and current Ohio State Buckeye Tim Beck believes, the tight end can be a nightmare to plan for on game day and head coach Mike Riley loves ‘em in his offensive system.
Another offseason with coaches Tavita Thompson and Keith Williams could soften Carter’s hands and help his routes get even crisper. What we know for a fact is that Nebraska has at least one enforcer (let alone a guy who’s speedy on a sweep) in Carter and an excellent pass-catching threat in Snyder that can be used as teams across the nation already do. We'll see how the youngster's blocking takes to the college level soon enough.
Just how good could this one-two punch of Carter and Snyder be?
Well, a Nebraska wide receiver breaking 1,000 yards up to this point is... odd. It’s like cooking a turkey for every Thanksgiving and then serving up savory prime rib or seeing a peacock working a power drill.
My point being: check out the records for Nebraska tight ends. This dynamic duo has the potential to take a comically oversized mallet to them like something straight out of Looney Tunes. They’re ready to set a new trend.
Carter’s made his presence known whether it’s snagging 18 balls for 221 yards and two scores or locking up and steering someone who’d do his running back harm way off course, but he can do so much more. Snyder's athleticism and blocking ability made both Cal's Sonny Dykes and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh work hard for his services. That speaks volumes.
The traditional turkey that is the 2015 season still is full of flavor and may go down far easier than thought only a couple weeks ago. However, there’s no reason you can’t look forward to prime rib today.
Major League Baseball’s hot stove is already at full boil. New Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski is already making his mark in Boston, swapping four prospects with the Padres for closer Craig Kimbrel.
Meanwhile, Kimbrel’s former club, the Braves, continue to make their fans say, “They did what!?” by trading away Andrelton Simmons, the best defensive shortstop in the game, for Erick Aybar and two pitching prospects.
And Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus became the first player in the history of the compensation system to accept the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer. Rasmus’ compensation agreement was soon followed by Orioles’ catcher Matt Wieters and Dodgers’ pitcher Brett Anderson accepting their own qualifying offers.
All of this front office action happened before any free agent has inked a new deal. With the Winter Meetings in Nashville quickly approaching, millions upon millions of dollars are bound to be spent for players’ services next summer starting this week.
Here is a list of the 10 of the top free agents from this year's class and where they may end up.
1. Zack Greinke, SP
Greinke is likely to be this year’s NL Cy Young Award winner after posting a 1.66 ERA in 32 starts. After noticing the absurd amount of money that other aces were earning on the open market (ex: Clayton Kershaw, Jon Lester, Max Scherzer) Greinke opted out of the final three years of his contract, forfeiting $71 million in the process. Don't feel too bad for Greinke, however, as his next deal will likely resemble the one Lester signed with the Cubs last winter, close to six years and $155 million. Many high-profile teams need an ace, but the free-spending Dodgers are the likeliest to re-sign Greinke.
Potential Teams: Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, Cubs
2. Jason Heyward, OF
Heyward is bound to cash in on a $200 million mega deal at the young age of 26. This season was arguably Heyward’s best as a pro, hitting .293/.359/.439 in his first as a Cardinal. Heyward rejected the Cards' qualifying offer, but St. Louis still has a chance to re-sign him. Heyward’s defensive prowess and athleticism make him a hot commodity, especially for teams who desperately need to improve their outfield. Rare is it that top-trier free agent is on the market at such a young age, but Heyward is now in a position to be the cornerstone for a franchise for a long, long time.
Potential Teams: Yankees, Angels, Cardinals, Astros
3. David Price, SP
Price has proven that he is one of the game’s best workhorses and teams are paying top dollar to innings eaters. Price is very much in the prime of his career and in the running for the AL Cy Young after a brilliant second half with the Blue Jays after being traded for the second straight season. Don't forget that Price also is a left-handed starter, which makes him an even more appealing commodity.The Cubs are rumored to be the front-runners for Price, hoping the appeal of working with his former Tampa Bay manager, Joe Maddon, lures him to the North Side. No matter where Price signs, he is going to command at least six years and at least $180 million to be the ace.
Potential Teams: Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals
4. Justin Upton, OF
Upton will likely sign after Heyward sets the market, but will still command upwards of $140 million. Upton provides a solid source of power from the right side of the plate and is a plus defender in terms of runs saved. Whoever missies out on Heyward will likely pursue Upton, which gives Upton a lot of negotiating power. Upton would play well opposite of Bryce Harper in Washington or Mike Trout in Anaheim.
Potential Teams: Nationals, Angels, Yankees
5. Yoenis Cespedes, OF
Cespedes did himself a favor in the second half of 2015 when he hit 17 home runs and knocked in 44 runs in just 57 games with the Mets. He is now primed to sign for at least $120 million over five years. Cespedes could go almost anywhere as a corner outfielder, but look for teams who struggled to score runs to be the highest bidders.
Potential Teams: Mariners, White Sox, Giants
6. Chris Davis, 1B/OF
After a tumultuous 2014, Davis reminded everyone in 2015 that he can still mash, leading the league in home runs (47) for the second time in three seasons. Predicting where Davis ends up is a crapshoot — he could go anywhere. Davis’ high strikeout numbers and his willingness to play a corner outfield spot could be the deciding factor where he signs.
Potential Teams: Orioles, Mariners, Giants, Cardinals
7. Jordan Zimmermann, SP
Zimmermann isn’t necessarily an ace, and won’t command ace money, but he is a near-top of the rotation arm who eats innings. His numbers last season (3.66 ERA, 3.75 FIP) were higher than they’ve been since 2010, but Zimmermann is still bound to make upward of $110 million. With David Price leaving Toronto, the Blue Jays could be quick to overpay for Zimmermann’s services.
Potential Teams: Blue Jays, Tigers, Cubs, Diamondbacks
8. Alex Gordon, OF
Gordon isn’t going to blow you away with his offensive numbers, but his defense certainly will. He’s a good enough left-handed bat with decent power to keep somewhere in the heart of the lineup and to garner a $100 million deal. Reports indicate Gordon’s heart is in Kansas City, but how willing is he to give a hometown discount, especially with so many teams needing defensive outfield help?
Potential Teams: Royals, Cubs, Red Sox
9. Johnny Cueto, SP
Cueto’s second half run with the Royals was less than stellar, as the veteran ace posted a 4.76 ERA in 13 starts. Typically, Cueto is among the most reliable arms in baseball and that should still earn him a $100 million contract this winter. Teams looking to rebuild or reload will both be throwing themselves at Cueto.
Potential Teams: Astros, Red Sox, Tigers, Diamondbacks, Blue Jays, Giants
10. Ian Desmond, SS
If Desmond’s 2015 season had been anything remotely close to his previous three, he might be one of the top hitters available period. But unfortunately, Desmond’s .233/.290/.384 showing this season certainly hurt his case to cash in a big way as a free agent. Teams vying for Desmond are hoping that his poor summer was an outlier and that the three-time Silver Slugger gets back to his hitting ways. Teams looking for offense from their middle infield are sure to be calling Desmond soon.
Potential Teams: White Sox, Mets, Padres
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.
The Cincinnati Bengals are off to their best start in franchise history, sitting at 8-0 with a firm grasp on first place in the AFC North and now welcome the Houston Texans for a "Monday Night Football" tilt. As we reach mid-November the true playoff contenders start to emerge and the Bengals still have plenty to prove even though they are well on their way to earning a fifth consecutive postseason berth.
But what's unquestionable is that the Bengals are one of the most talented teams in the NFL and they're playing as well as anyone right now. Their goal for the second half of the season should be to grab one of the top two seeds in the AFC and the valuable first-round bye that comes with it.
The Texans meanwhile have been somewhat of a disappointment, but even at 3-5 they still have a chance at the division title in the weak AFC South. With Andrew Luck set to miss a number of games, the Texans could tie the Colts for first place with a win tonight.
Taking down the undefeated Bengals is no small task, but Houston quarterback Brian Hoyer is coming off one of his best games and with talent like reigning Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt, you can never rule an upset out.
Houston at Cincinnati
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET (Monday)
Spread: Bengals -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Johnson on Green
Rookie cornerback Kevin Johnson has been one of the few bright spots for the Texans this season, stepping in and immediately looking like he fits. But this week he'll likely get his toughest challenge yet -- A.J. Green. Green has 50 catches for 702 yards and four touchdowns and has been coming through in the clutch time and time again this year. While tight end Tyler Eifert has pulled some focus from Green, it's the wide receiver that remains the biggest threat outside of the red zone. If the Texans and Johnson can slow down Green, it could be the first step to an upset.
2. Block Watt
J.J. Watt is always the starting point for any offense facing the Texans, and yet he still has 8.5 sacks. The Bengals' homegrown offensive line is one of the best in business, but so is Watt and he can ruin any offense's game plan if given the chance. The Texans must hope for a turnover or two in this one, and the quickest way for that to happen is to allow Watt to get consistent pressure on Andy Dalton. The Bengals must identify where Watt is on every snap and make sure they have the numbers to stop him.
DeAndre Hopkins enters tonight's contest fourth in the NFL with 66 catches and is one of the most explosive up-and-coming wide receivers in the game. Brian Hoyer is also quietly putting together a decent season, considering he's without running back Arian Foster, with 13 touchdown passes to just three interceptions. Can Hoyer and Hopkins put together a game for the ages to knock off the Bengals' defense that is just 15th in passing yards per game allowed? Expect Hopkins to get most of the Bengals' attention to prevent that from happening.
The Texans have a few of the most talented players in the league, but they just can't seem to put it all together. They played one of their best games against the Titans last week, but beating the Bengals in Cincinnati is a whole different ball game. The Bengals are full of confidence and well rested coming off a dominating win over the Browns last Thursday. Cincinnati will look at the national exposure as a chance to prepare for the playoffs and have all the pieces to keep the undefeated train rolling.
Prediction: Bengals 31, Texans 7
During last night's game between Oklahoma and Baylor, Terrell Burt went down with an injury.
The Baylor safety had been fighting through an ankle injury that finally seemed to get the better of him as a teammate told him to stop playing on it. That act was misconstrued by commentator Kirk Herbstreit.
YO, BE HURT ALREADY pic.twitter.com/GIVZXRc7py— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) November 15, 2015
Upon first glance, it looked as if Baylor was trying to slow down Oklahoma's offense by faking the injury. When it turned out to be false and Herbstreit realized his mistake, he apologized the next day to Burt and the Baylor Bears.
I'd like to apologize to @BUFootball & Terrell Burt. Last pm I thought he had faked an injury and I was DEAD WRONG. He was trying to— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) November 15, 2015
Fight through an ankle injury he sustained on a precious KO. He kept playing until finally a teammate forced him to sit down to get him out.— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) November 15, 2015
I saw what I saw at the time and didn't realize he had tweaked it earlier. I take full responsibility and apologize sincerely to Terrell.— Kirk Herbstreit (@KirkHerbstreit) November 15, 2015
Antonio Brown is flashy in so many ways.
The important thing to remember about the Steelers wide receiver is that he also gets the job done. Brown catches a pass against the Browns and takes it to the house, but not without a little cherry on top for the fans.
Now that's impressive.
Week 11 of the college football season is in the books. The weekend slate provided plenty of highlights, big plays, standout performances and surprises.
With another weekend of action in the books, it’s time to hand out the hardware to honor the best of the best from Week 11. Here’s a look at Athlon Sports’ picks for the offensive, defensive, coordinator, freshman and unsung hero from Week 11:
College Football Week 11 Awards
Offensive Player of the Week: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma
Oklahoma took a step forward in the race to win the Big 12 and potentially a spot in the College Football Playoff with a 44-34 victory at Baylor on Saturday night. Mayfield led the way for the Sooners’ offense, completing 24 of 34 passes for 270 yards and three scores. He also added 76 yards and one touchdown on the ground. Mayfield also made one of the biggest plays of the game by scrambling in the pocket on third-and-goal with less than five minutes remaining, eventually hitting H-back Dimitri Flowers for a seven-yard score. The touchdown toss to Flowers gave the Sooners a 10-point lead and ended Baylor’s hopes of an unbeaten season.
Defensive Player of the Week: Jonathan Allen, DE, Alabama
Alabama’s defense turned in another dominant effort on Saturday, forcing nine sacks and holding Mississippi State to just six points and 4.5 yards per play. Allen led the way for the Crimson Tide’s dominant effort in the trenches, recording three sacks, seven tackles (three for a loss) and one forced fumble. The junior was also a big reason why Mississippi State rushed for just 89 yards on 42 attempts.
Coordinator of the Week: Robb Smith, Defensive Coordinator, Arkansas
For the second year in a row, Arkansas is finishing the season as one of the hottest teams in the nation. The Razorbacks earned their fourth consecutive victory by defeating LSU 31-14 in Baton Rouge on Saturday night. Both sides of the ball delivered for coach Bret Bielema, but Smith’s defense found the right gameplan to contain running back Leonard Fournette (91 yards) and limited the Tigers to just 14 points. Additionally, Smith’s defense forced two turnovers, five sacks and eight tackles for a loss. Only three of LSU’s 11 drives spanned longer than 50 yards.
Freshman of the Week: Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State
With standout running back Marcus Cox sidelined due to a few nagging injuries, the Appalachian State coaching staff turned to Moore to handle the ground attack. The redshirt freshman gashed Idaho’s defense for 244 rushing yards on 27 attempts, which led the way for a Mountaineers’ ground attack that recorded 401 overall yards. The 244 rushing yards by Moore set an Appalachian State freshman record.
Unsung Hero: Kyle Postma, QB, Houston
Houston’s unbeaten season, American Athletic Conference title chances and opportunity to play in a New Year’s Six bowl was hanging in the balance after starting quarterback Greg Ward suffered an ankle injury in the first half against Memphis. However, due to Postma’s performance, coach Tom Herman’s team rallied for a 35-34 over the Tigers and improved to 10-0 this season. Postma completed 21 of 33 passes for 236 yards and one score and added 49 yards and one touchdown on the ground. The sophomore also delivered in the clutch, leading Houston on a nine-play, 77-yard drive to score the game-winning touchdown with less than two minutes remaining.
Never think your team doesn't keep one eye on the stands. They know who's there until the end, especially when the game isn't going as planned.
As LSU fell behind Arkansas Saturday, some Tiger fans made their way to the exit. That didn't sit too well with some of the players. LSU tight end Dillon Gordon took to Twitter after the game to give his take on the "fans" who left the game early.
If thats your team you stand by them win, lose, or draw its simple— TheBull (@IamDG_85) November 15, 2015
If your a real tiger fan thank you ... If you not bye we don't need no band wagoners as long as we win we yall team— TheBull (@IamDG_85) November 15, 2015
To the people that said something about the play have you ever played college football n the SEC :....? No ok you can go drink a beer now— TheBull (@IamDG_85) November 15, 2015
It just hurt to see the ppl tht claim they love us leave in 3rd quarter— TheBull (@IamDG_85) November 15, 2015
Im tlkn bout to ppl who left the game we dnt need u .. To the ones tht stayed thank you for the support #ForeverLSU— TheBull (@IamDG_85) November 15, 2015
The whole point im tryna make is we feed off the crowd if yall leave how does tht make us feel? Yall gave up on us.. Its all good tho— TheBull (@IamDG_85) November 15, 2015
The season definitely isn't over and judging from this year of college football, you never know what will happen.
College Football Podcast: Week 11 Recap
David Fox and Braden Gall break down a huge weekend of action from Week 10.
The Top 4 teams in the Playoff Rankings held serve with relative ease but should there be a shake up in the order? Oklahoma was the biggest winner but how high should they go while the Pac-12 might have been eliminated from the Playoffs. Meanwhile, Iowa, Oklahoma State, TCU, Florida and Michigan all survived scares as well. The AAC race got some interesting outcomes and what are our thoughts on the emotional win for Gary Pinkel and the Tigers.
Should Keenan Reynolds be a Heisman finalists and what does the current race for The Trophy look like?
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is like Christmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated, but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of college football action:
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 11
15: Consecutive 100-Yard Performances by Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Ohio State’s offense is still putting all of the pieces together to make a run at the national championship. While coach Urban Meyer is looking for more consistency from his quarterbacks and offensive line, this unit continues to lean on the steady play of Elliott. In Saturday’s 28-3 win over Illinois, Elliott recorded 181 yards and two touchdowns on 27 attempts. The 181-yard effort extended Elliott’s streak of consecutive 100-yard games to 15 and moved the junior to third all-time on Ohio State’s career rushing list behind Eddie George and Archie Griffin.
Related: 25 Must-See Moments from Week 11
125: North Carolina Sets Program Record With Points Scored Over Last Two Games
The Tar Heels aren’t getting much national respect at 9-1, but coach Larry Fedora’s team is quietly building an impressive resume. North Carolina has scored 125 points over its last two games – blowout victories over Duke and Miami – which is the best-two game mark in program history. In addition to the 59 points scored against the Hurricanes, North Carolina recorded 487 overall yards, forced two turnovers and held Miami without a score on its first 10 drives.
7: Games by Oklahoma QB Baker Mayfield of At Least Four TDs in 2015
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield is making a strong case for Heisman votes and All-America honors this season, as the junior has been a big reason for the Sooners’ offensive improvement in 2015. Mayfield has scored at least four touchdowns in seven games this season, including four overall scores in Saturday night’s 44-34 victory over Baylor. The seven games of at least four touchdowns in a single contest are tied with TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin for the most in the nation this year.
81: Career Rushing Touchdowns by Navy QB Keenan Reynolds
Navy senior quarterback Keenan Reynolds entered the NCAA record book during Saturday’s easy 55-14 victory over SMU. Reynolds rushed for four touchdowns and 137 yards on 14 carries and completed 2 of 9 passes for 81 yards and one score. The senior now has 81 career rushing touchdowns, which surpassed Wisconsin’s Montee Ball (77) for the all-time record. Reynolds will have a chance to add to this total over the next few weeks, as Navy takes on Tulsa in Week 12, followed by a trip to Houston on Black Friday. The Midshipmen also have the annual battle against Army on Dec. 12 and could play in the American Athletic Conference title game on Dec. 5.
9: Sacks by Alabama in Saturday’s Win Over Mississippi State
A week after a huge victory against LSU, there was some concern in Tuscaloosa about a letdown performance at Mississippi State. Alabama’s defense quickly put an end to those concerns in a dominant effort in Starkville. This unit held the Bulldogs to just 4.5 yards per play (a season low for Dan Mullen’s team) and forced nine sacks. Prior to Saturday’s game, Mississippi State allowed only 13 sacks all season. The nine recorded sacks were the most by an Alabama defense since 1998.
1994: Georgia Tech’s Last Season of a .500 or Worse Record in ACC
Virginia Tech’s 23-21 victory at Georgia Tech on Thursday night likely ended the Yellow Jackets’ bowl hopes. At 3-7, coach Paul Johnson’s team needs to beat Miami and Georgia to close out the regular season and hope 5-7 teams are needed to fill bowl tie-ins. If the Yellow Jackets do not play in a postseason matchup, this program’s run of 18 consecutive seasons with a bowl game will end. Additionally, Georgia Tech’s remarkable run of consistency within the ACC is also slated to end this year. This program will suffer its first record of .500 or worse in conference games for the first time since 1994.
3: Night-Game Losses by LSU in Last Two Seasons
Tiger Stadium is one of college football’s best venues and toughest places to play for opposing teams. However, the home-field advantage at night hasn’t been as intimidating for opponents in the last two seasons. LSU has lost three night games over the last two seasons, including Saturday's 31-14 defeat against Arkansas. According to the Advocate, the Tigers are now 48-6 under coach Les Miles in night games at home. Three of those losses took place in the last two seasons.
47.6: Oregon’s Average Points in Last Three Games
A healthy Vernon Adams at quarterback makes a huge difference for Oregon’s offense. The Ducks scored 38 points and averaged a healthy 9.1 yards per play in Saturday night’s upset victory over Stanford. Adams suffered a finger injury in the opener against Eastern Washington and was clearly not at full strength against Michigan State or Utah. However, over the last three games, Adams has showed why he was an impact transfer for this offense. The senior has guided Oregon to an average of 47.6 points per game in its last three contests and completed 10 of 12 passes against the Cardinal for 205 yards and two touchdowns.
15: Consecutive Games With a Rushing Touchdown by Alabama RB Derrick Henry
With three efforts of 200 or more yards over his last four games, Alabama running back Derrick Henry has emerged as the frontrunner in the Heisman Trophy race. The junior recorded 204 yards and two scores on 22 attempts (9.3 ypc) in the convincing 31-6 victory over Mississippi State on Saturday. Henry has now scored a rushing touchdown in 15 consecutive games, which is the longest active streak in the nation. Additionally, the junior’s 15-game run is the longest in the SEC over the last 20 years.
118: Wins by Gary Pinkel at Missouri Since 2001
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel capped an emotional week with a 20-16 victory over BYU Saturday night, which improved the Tigers to 5-5 overall this year. Missouri needs a victory in one of its two remaining games (Tennessee or at Arkansas) to play in a bowl. Due to health reasons, Pinkel announced his intentions to retire at the end of the season on Friday. The 63-year-old coach was arguably one of the nation’s most underrated coaches and is the winningest coach in Missouri history at 118 career wins.
Week 11 of the college football season is officially in the books. With the playoff and bowl picture coming into focus, there were no shortage of critical games or must-see matchups on Saturday. And the weekend slate produced its share of crazy moments, wild finishes and big plays.
Miss anything from Week 11? Here are 25 must-see plays, moments or post-game celebrations from the weekend of action:
25 Must-See Moments from College Football's Week 11 Games
1. Paris tributes take place from several college football teams and players:
The Tigers came on the field holding an American flag and a French flag in honor of the victims in Paris. pic.twitter.com/gv0QnDafyx— LSU Football (@LSUfball) November 15, 2015
2. Marshall pays tribute to the victims of the 1970 plane crash:
7:38 p.m. the families of the 1970 team are on the field. pic.twitter.com/yY4nwFOgAy— Steve Cotton (@HerdCotton) November 15, 2015
3. Mississippi State honors fallen teammate Keith Joseph Jr.:
4. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel caps emotional week with win over BYU (and celebration):
5. Two of the nation's top quarterbacks - Connor Cook (Michigan State) and Trevone Boykin (TCU) - leave games with minor injuries:
6. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield seals victory over Baylor with late touchdown:
Baker Mayfield, ladies and gentlemen. pic.twitter.com/CIW82kfiNS— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 15, 2015
7. Oregon stops Stanford's two-point play to score upset victory:
Hogan threw too early pic.twitter.com/jISQSBwTLS— Aaron J. Fentress (@AaronJFentress) November 15, 2015
8. Alabama running back Derrick Henry and receiver Calvin Ridley score on big plays in easy win over Mississippi State:
Nick Saban also ended up with a cut on his face during the game:
Nick Saban somehow has a cut on his cheek that wasn't there earlier pic.twitter.com/vXCtolURt3— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) November 14, 2015
9. Arizona receiver Nate Phillips makes game-winning touchdown catch to stun Utah in overtime:
What a catch by Arizona's Nate Phillips on a dime from Jerrard Randall: pic.twitter.com/A5VIOcr9d3— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 15, 2015
10. Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds breaks the NCAA career record for most rushing touchdowns:
With this 4-yard scamper, Navy took an early lead and Keenan Reynolds took the NCAA record. https://t.co/C7fcjaIHsA— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) November 14, 2015
11. Houston remains unbeaten after Memphis misses field goal:
Cougars also win Twitter on Saturday night with this tweet after Baylor's defeat to Oklahoma:
#HTownTakeover (@UHCougarFB) November 15, 2015
12. Michigan scores on final play of regulation against Indiana to force overtime. Wolverines eventually win 48-41:
13. West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen crowd surfs after win against Texas:
So proud of our team. Great victory over the University of Texas https://t.co/l07E30EoE7— Dana Holgorsen (@Holgorsendana) November 14, 2015
14. North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams celebrates a touchdown against Miami:
15. Georgia defensive back Rico McGraw is injured after congratulatory slap from a coach:
16. LSU scores bizarre touchdown on deflected pass. However, Tigers dominated by Arkansas:
17. Maryland's punter took his frustration out after a bad punt on the bench:
18. Boise State nearly scores on last-second lateral play in loss against New Mexico:
19. Washington State knocks off UCLA on last-second touchdown pass from Luke Falk to Gabe Marks:
20. Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer celebrates win over Georgia Tech:
Good morning pic.twitter.com/tBHiggl0S4— Chris B. Brown (@smartfootball) November 13, 2015
21. This official was not happy with the cheerleaders or band during the Central Michigan-Toledo matchup:
This MAC ref is fed up with noisy Central Michigan cheerleaders pic.twitter.com/mOKyTz7Zjt— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 11, 2015
22. Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa destroys an Illinois offensive lineman:
23. UCLA, South Carolina, ULM and Iowa used new (and awesome) alternate uniforms for Week 11:
ULM is busting out these alternative helmets today. I like. pic.twitter.com/awWZkncvpv— Adam Hunsucker (@Adam_Hunsucker) November 14, 2015
24. Notre Dame defensive lineman Sheldon Day and his mom shared a cool moment on senior day:
25. Former Nebraska coach Bo Pelini (now at Youngstown State) exploded at the officials on Saturday:
A critical battle within the NFC West is on tap for NBC's "Sunday Night Football" this week, as the Seattle Seahawks will look to close the gap on the Arizona Cardinals at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. Both teams should be well rested coming off their respective bye weeks and based on what the odds makers are saying, this game should come down to the last possession.
The Seahawks (4-4) outlasted the Dallas Cowboys 13-12 in AT&T Stadium back in Week 8 in a game that had plenty of drama. There was the Jeff Heath hit on Seattle special teams member Ricardo Lockette, which resulted in a serious neck injury and spawned plenty of controversy in more ways than one.
Offensively, the inability to punch in touchdowns against the Cowboys in the red zone nearly came back to bite Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, while Russell Wilson’s accuracy at times was not the best effort that he has had this season. This accuracy issue should be a bit of a concern as the offensive line actually did a good job of giving Wilson time to throw the football.
Arizona (6-2) should be chomping at the bit to get after Seattle as the Cardinals have a healthy Carson Palmer at their disposal for the trip to face the 12s. They also know full well the golden opportunity that they have to basically eliminate the Seahawks from the NFC West race if they can take care of business and beat Seattle to push the Seahawks to three games back in the standings with seven to play.
Arizona at Seattle
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Seattle -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Seahawks' passing game thrive against Arizona's secondary?
In order for Seattle to go on an extended winning streak the passing game has to get better. However, it won't be easy as the Cardinals' secondary has done an excellent job so far this season as a unit. The return of Seahawks wide receiver Paul Richardson to full health will hopefully provide a spark with his speed. Also, the offensive line needs to protect Russell Wilson just enough so he can use Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin, and Tyler Lockett more effectively, especially in the red zone.
2. Can the Seahawks' defense harass Carson Palmer?
Palmer's presence in this game can't be underestimated, as the Seahawks' defense will face a considerably stiffer test than it did against Matt Cassel two weeks ago in Arlington, Texas. It is going to be up to the front four, led by Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril, to constantly make Palmer uncomfortable and force turnovers. It is not necessarily going to be about sacks against Palmer but a constant sea of pressure will be critical for the Seattle defense.
3. Arizona running game
When Arizona knocked off Seattle 17-10 back on Dec. 22, 2013 the Cardinals generated just enough of a running game (139 yards on 43 attempts) to put them in a position to win on the road. The ability to grind out drives even if they don't result in points will be a huge key for the Cardinals if they are going to improve to 7-2 and maintain at least a two-game lead in the division. Chris Johnson comes into this contest with 676 yards rushing and is having a bit of resurgent season. Look for head coach Bruce Arians to try and send a message to the home team right out of the gate, as Arizona will try to impose its will on the ground to see if Seattle's defense will push back or roll over.
We are going to find out a lot more about these two teams Sunday night. Seattle needs the game more than Arizona, as the defending NFC West champions have zero excuse to not play with a huge sense of urgency. The Cardinals currently have a two-game lead in the division and also will host the Seahawks in the regular-season finale (Week 17). Turnovers are going to be a game-changer as the weather could be a factor at CenturyLink Field with a forecast that includes a mix of wind and rain that always complicates the passing game.
Even if Marshawn Lynch does not play or is not at 100 percent it is going to be the Seattle passing game and Russell Wilson with his legs that is going to have to win this game for the Seahawks. In the end the country should be treated to a tightly contested, down-to-the-wire battle with Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka adding another late game-winning field goal to his resume to send the Seahawks to 5-4 on the season.
Prediction: Seahawks 23, Cardinals 21
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow him on Twitter @smwhittum.
For the first time this season, Denver heads into a game trying to shake off the effects of a loss. The Broncos’ 27-24 loss to Indianapolis brought up some of the old doubts about their offense, not to mention the effectiveness of QB Peyton Manning, who threw two interceptions.
Kansas City, meanwhile, has won two in a row after a five-game losing streak and returns to action after a bye week trying to find its way back into the wild-card hunt. The 3-5 Chiefs have been erratic, looking strong at times but losing games they shouldn’t, like an October defeat in Chicago.
Kansas City at Denver
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Point Spread: Denver -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Still Struggling
After Denver throttled the Packers, people thought the reports of the Broncos’ offensive problems had been exaggerated. But last week’s loss in Indianapolis raised some of the old concerns. Although Manning threw for 281 yards and two scores, he tossed a pair of interceptions, bringing his season total to 13, the most of any QB in the NFL. Denver ran for just 35 yards, and no one other than C.J. Anderson gained more than one. Consistency remains elusive for the Broncos, who can’t hope to make any real progress in the AFC without the ability to produce like they did against Green Bay.
2. Go West, KC
When Jamaal Charles went down with a season-ending knee injury against Chicago, many thought the Chiefs’ ground game was doomed. But the emergence of Charcandrick West has reversed those sentiments and given KC quite a backfield weapon. The little-known Abilene Christian product, who was on the Chiefs’ roster last year but didn’t have a carry, has gained 207 yards the past two games, scored twice and averaged 4.9 yards per carry. It will be interesting to see if he can continue his success against a Denver defense that ranks fifth in the NFL against the run. If West is successful, Kansas City will be able to use its play-action passing game more easily, taking pressure off quarterback Alex Smith to go downfield repeatedly against a pass rush that has already compiled 30 sacks.
3. Personnel Department
Broncos’ practice early this week was more interesting for who didn’t participate than for who did. Manning was on the sidelines, nursing a foot injury that had been exacerbated by his playing on the Colts’ artificial turf field. DeMarcus Ware’s back spasms flared up during the loss to Indy, so he was taking things slowly, while wideout Emmanuel Sanders (ankle) and tight end Owen Daniels (shoulder/knee) were on the sidelines, too. It would be surprising if any of those four players missed the game Sunday, although none will likely be at full speed. One Bronco who won’t be playing is cornerback Aqib Talib, who has been suspended one game for his Three Stooges-style eye poke near the end of the loss to the Colts.
Since it was unlikely the Broncos would go undefeated, the loss to Indianapolis was not catastrophic. The question is how well the team rebounds. A visit from Kansas City isn’t the best way to come back from a defeat, since the Chiefs are well rested and are on a bit of a roll after winning two straight. Denver has to regroup and get its offense in balance, so that it doesn’t need a perfect game from the D to win.
The Chiefs will work for balance, too, hoping that West continues to produce, so that Smith isn’t charged with handling the bulk of the offensive responsibilities. If this game were in Kansas City, the Chiefs would have a better shot, but in Denver, this one looks to be a good bounce-back for the Broncos.
Prediction: Broncos 24, Chiefs 20
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.
The Patriots are 8-0 for the first time since that 2007 season, but injuries continue to hit them hard. Last weekend the Pats lost the dynamic Dion Lewis for the season with an ACL tear, while tackle Sebastian Vollmer left the game with a concussion. If Vollmer can't go on Sunday the Pats will be down to their third and fourth tackles on the depth chart, with Nate Solder already on IR and Marcus Cannon missing for the last month with a toe injury.
The Giants are the model of inconsistency that they always seem to be. On one hand they lead the league in turnover differential and are fifth in points scored. On the other hand they're 31st in passing defense and 19th in points allowed per game. Still, after an 0-2 start the Giants have won five of their last seven and sit in first place in the NFC East.
There's plenty of history between these two teams, though they haven't played since Super Bowl XLVI. This should be another one of their patented down-to-the-last-drive affairs.
New England at New York
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Line: Patriots -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Pats take away Odell Beckham Jr.?
Beckham leads the Giants with 59 catches for 759 yards and seven touchdowns. Since Bill Belichick is known to take away an opponent's biggest strength, it's likely that his gameplan for the Giants starts with Beckham. Does he put his best corner Malcolm Butler on Beckham? Or does it make more sense to put Logan Ryan on him with some safety help? Either way, you can expect Belichick to force Eli to beat them with Rueben Randle and former Patriot Shane Vereen.
2. Can Giants' pass defense stop Tom Brady?
The Giants were torched for over 500 passing yards by Drew Brees two weeks ago and now face a potentially more daunting task of stopping Tom Brady and friends. The wild card is the same as it was in both Super Bowls these teams played — superior defensive line play can make up for any secondary. If the Patriots are down to Cameron Fleming at left tackle and a converted guard/center like Bryan Stork at right tackle, can the Giants get to Brady as early and often as they did in the Super Bowl? That might be their only chance of slowing down the Patriots' offense.
3. Last drive yet again?
Both Super Bowls were defined by end-of-game touchdown drives that won the game for the Giants. This was also the case when the two teams met in Foxborough during the 2011 regular season. For whatever reason the Giants have been the one team that seem to have the Patriots' number, and every time Eli Manning has gotten a chance for a late comeback against them, he's made it happen. Could this one come down to that yet again? And if so will there be another miracle catch like David Tyree's in Super Bowl XLII? Or another pinpoint sideline pass like Manning had to Mario Manningham in Super Bowl XLVI? Or will this be the time New England's newly improved defense comes through with a game-clinching stop?
The Patriots have a number of issues right now that are all bubbling just below the surface. Their offensive line has been decimated and they just lost their best running back for the season, but since they're 8-0 none of these have entered the discourse as a "fatal flaw". It seems like only a matter of time until they have a flat game where their offensive line is out of sync and they have no running game to counter a relentless pass rush. That sounds like the set up for how both Super Bowls went, so the curse of Eli and the Giants continues for the Patriots.
Prediction: Giants 24, Patriots 20
Halfway through the 2015 season, the Minnesota Vikings and the Oakland Raiders are two of the most surprising teams in the NFL. The Vikings and Raiders will meet each other on Sunday as both teams will look to improve their chances to play in the postseason.
Last week, Minnesota (6-2) edged the St. Louis Rams 21-18 in overtime as running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown. Kicker Blair Walsh connected on the game-winning 40-yard field goal for the Vikings.
Oakland (4-4) will return home to O.co Coliseum following last week's disappointing 38-35 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Kicker Chris Boswell hit an 18-yard field goal with two seconds left to clinch the victory for the Steelers.
Oakland and Minnesota haven't played each other since the 2011 season when the Raiders defeated the Vikings 27-21. Oakland leads the all-time series between the two teams 10-4, which includes the Raiders' victory in Super Bowl XI.
Minnesota at Oakland
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Spread: Oakland -3
Three Things to Watch
1. The health of Teddy Bridgewater
Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was limited in practice on Wednesday as he went through the concussion protocol after he was knocked out of last Sunday’s game against the Rams by cornerback Lamarcus Joyner. On Thursday, Bridgewater was listed as a full practice participant on the team's injury report. Officially he's considered Questionable for today's game, as he must be clear the league's concussion protocol before he can play.
In eight games this season, Bridgewater has thrown for 1,670 yards, six touchdowns against six interceptions. Minnesota hasn’t defeated an AFC opponent on the road since the 2012 season, so the team needs Bridgewater in order to end that losing streak.
2. Latavius Murray
Bridgewater isn’t the only player whose health is in question this week because of a concussion. Oakland’s Latavius Murray also was knocked out of the game last week against the Steelers.
Murray was in uniform but he did not participate in practice on Wednesday. However, he did practice on both Thursday and Friday. He is listed as Probable, which is a pretty good indication that not only has cleared the concussion protocol, but that he will be out there against the Vikings.
Murray has rushed for 630 yards, which puts him sixth in the NFL. Oakland offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said on Thursday that the team will use a rotation of Taiwan Jones, Roy Helu, Marcel Reese and Jamize Olawale if Murray cannot play or ends up being limited on Sunday.
3. Raiders' secondary vs. Vikings' receiver Stefon Diggs
In their last game against the Steelers, the Raiders' defense gave up 402 passing yards. Most of the damage came courtesy of Pittsburgh All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown, who racked up 284 yards on 17 catches.
Oakland will face another playmaking wideout this week as rookie Stefon Diggs leads the Vikings in receptions (28) and yards (441). Diggs has already recorded two 100-yard receiving games this season.
Raiders cornerback David Amerson will likely be the man the team will expect to slow down Diggs. Getting cornerback T.J. Carrie back from injury should also help the Raiders in coverage.
Minnesota’s defense has been one of the best in the league this season, coming into this game ranking seventh in yards allowed. The Vikings also are second in scoring defense (17.5 ppg).
The biggest question in this game is can the Vikings’ offense score enough points to keep up with the Raiders' offense. Minnesota offense ranks 31st in the league in yards and 23rd in points per game (21.0 ppg).
While Oakland may not be able to score close to 40 points on Minnesota, the Raiders should be able to score at least 30 provided Murray is healthy and can take pressure off of quarterback Derek Carr. Much like the Jets game, the Raiders should be able to get off to an early start and that will most likely be too much for the Vikings to overcome.
Prediction: Raiders 31, Vikings 20
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.