Articles By Athlon Sports

All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/10-surprising-facts-about-winter-olympics
Body:

All eyes will be on the Russian town of Sochi as the Winter Olympics is set to kick off on Feb. 7 with the games Opening Ceremony. In anticipation of this worldwide sporting event, it's always interesting to look at some of the surprising facts that relate to this historic event. Fortunately for us, someone put together this handy infographic. 

2014 Sochi Winter Games: What Athlete Has The Most Medals Ever and 10 Other Amazing Facts
Created by financesonline.com | Author: Robin Renford | Follow our Tumblr
Teaser:
All eyes will be on the Russian town of Sochi as the Winter Olympics is set to kick off on Feb. 7 with the games Opening Ceremony. In anticipation of this worldwide sporting event, it's always interesting to look at some of the surprising facts that relate to this historic event.
Post date: Monday, February 3, 2014 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/curling-101-what-exactly-are-these-people-doing
Body:

Let's face it, the average sports fan has no clue what's going on with curling. What's up with the sweeping? Why is it called "curling"? Who started this crazy game? With the Winter Olympics kicking off soon, it's time you learned. This video will tell you all. 

The Science of Curling from ProjectExplorer.org in Canada from ProjectExplorer.org on Vimeo.

Teaser:
Let's face it, the average sports fan has no clue what's going on with curling. What's up with the sweeping? Why is it called "curling"? Who started this crazy game? With the Winter Olympics kicking off soon, it's time you learned. This video will tell you all.
Post date: Monday, February 3, 2014 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Olympics
Path: /olympics/sochi-dirty-truth-behind-olympic-host-city
Body:

Maybe you’re wondering why the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics to a Russian resort town with an average winter temperature in the 40s and a dearth of snow. You aren’t alone. $ince nobody know$ why the Committee doe$ anything, the $election will remain a mystery.

But potentially balmy temperatures are just one of the potential problems facing Sochi, which sits on the Black Sea and features lush vegetation and a “humid subtropical” climate. Political issues abound, corruption has been a constant and the threat of violence from neighboring parties is very real.

Let the games begin!

Snowball’s chance in…Sochi?

So, the IOC picked one of the few places in Russia that doesn’t get cold. Brilliant! In fact, events have been cancelled there over the past couple years because of high temperatures, rain and insufficient flake totals. What do you expect from a place that has palm trees? Does this mean the alpine and Nordic events will be contested via video games? Nope. Those clever Russians have been stockpiling snow for a year, hiding it under special blankets, and have 400 snow cannons at the ready to dust the mountains. They’re saving water to freeze, too. And there’s plenty of it. Heavy rains in September led to mudslides and the declaration of a state of emergency. It may be the winter sports equivalent of plastic surgery, but at least the show will go on. Probably.

Graft, Corruption, Business as Usual

According to a report issued by the country’s opposition leaders last May, nearly $30 billion of the $51 billion Olympic budget has gone to businessmen and government officials in the form of bribes and kickbacks. There were few, if any, competitive bids for work, and friends of President Vladimir Putin have profited greatly. “The Sochi Olympics are an unprecedented thieves’ caper, in which representatives of Putin’s government are mixed up, along with the oligarchs close to the government,” wrote former deputy prime minister and opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. 

Law and Order (Hopefully)

You may remember that the Russians had a little dust-up with the breakaway republic of Chechnya at the end of the last century. Despite a victory by the favorites, there has been some continued violence there and in the neighboring areas of Dagestan and Ingushetia, which just happen to be close to Sochi. 

In October, a suicide bomber with ties to Chechen Islamic militants blew up a bus in southern Russia, killing six. Chechen rebel leader Doku Umarov has called for attacks on civilians and urged his charges to target the Olympics. Surveillance will be high, both by old-style spies and via newfangled electronic methods. 

Expect plenty of undesirables to be collected and relocated to areas where they can do no harm. The Russians will deploy between 40-50,000 police and soldiers. They’ll use drone helicopters. There will be a naval presence in the Black Sea. Cossacks will maraud through the streets. Okay, so maybe that last one is a little over the top. But these have been nicknamed the “Gulag Olympics” by some human-rights activists.

Discrimination R Us

In a move that would have made Joe Stalin proud, Putin in June signed a law prohibiting the promotion of “nontraditional” sexual relationships to minors. Gay athletes and spectators fear arrest and harassment. Advocates are howling that the IOC refuses to confront Russia on this law and declare it in violation of the Olympic anti-discrimination principles. When IOC liaison Jean-Claude Killy announced that “The spirit of the Games is awakening here,” he was ridiculed for accommodating a government that traffics in hate, prejudice and violence. Some athletes vow to defy the law, which allows Russian leaders to express homophobic attitudes on TV. New Zealand has promised to protect its gay athletes, most notably speed skater Blake Skjellerup, who plans to compete with a rainbow pin on his uniform, in direct violation of the law. It will be interesting to see how the Russians deal with him and if they are capable of taking the world stage without behaving offensively. 

—By Michael Bradley

Teaser:
Maybe you’re wondering why the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2014 Winter Olympics to a Russian resort town with an average winter temperature in the 40s and a dearth of snow. You aren’t alone. $ince nobody know$ why the Committee doe$ anything, the $election will remain a mystery.
Post date: Thursday, January 30, 2014 - 10:40
All taxonomy terms: super-bowl, NFL
Path: /nfl/10-odd-things-happened-super-bowl-media-day
Body:
If you enjoy the circus, are not too fond of your dignity and don’t embarrass easily, then someday you should consider a trip to Super Bowl Media Day. What started as a place where actual journalists could interview NFL players has turned into a mass demonstration of … well, it’s really hard to describe what the demonstration is.
 
There are actual journalists trying to actually interview NFL players … in the midst of cartoon characters, scantily-clad women, comedians, gymnasts, dancers, entertainers, and kids.
 
And actually, as the size of Media Day has grown – over 5,000 media members were credentialed for Super Bowl XLVIII – the chaos has diminished. No reporter has shouted a wedding proposal at a quarterback in at least half a decade. And Gilbert Gottfried hasn’t been seen near a podium in years.
 
Still, Media Day XLVIII at the Prudential Center in Newark didn’t disappoint. Here were 10 of the highlights – or lowlights, depending on your perspective – from the craziest NFL day of the year:
 
1. Where’s Waldo? This actually was the most entertaining part of Media Day. A man, dressed up as Waldo – complete with the red and white striped shirt and hat – walking around Media Day turning the whole scene into one big Where’s Waldo picture. And the best part was when he’d duck into the crowd and send one of his assistants to a podium and they’d ask a player “Where’s Waldo?” Really, he wasn’t too hard to pick out in the crowd.
 
2. The Rutgers Marching Band. This Media Day had everything, including entertainment – which wasn’t exactly a welcomed addition by the media throng. Thankfully, the band played only before Media Day and during halftime. There was also entertainment down on the floor provided by the Jets and Eagles cheerleaders. Why the Eagles? Because the Giants don’t have cheerleaders so the NFC wasn’t represented.
 
3. Minuteman, Minute waltz … whatever. Another distinguished member of the media was walking around in costume interviewing other costumed media members, only this one wasn’t easy to figure out. He was dressed sort of Colonial-ly, leading one reporter (OK, it was me) to argue with another whether he was supposed to be George Washington or Thomas Jefferson. Only then did a third reporter come over yelling “He’s Mozart! He’s Austrian!” … Oh. Of course.
 
4. Marshawn Lynch’s silent protest. The cranky Seahawks’ running back made noise earlier in the playoffs when he drew a conditional $50,000 fine from the NFL for not speaking to reporters all year. It was conditional in that it would be wiped out if he adhered to the league’s Media Policy and doubled if he didn’t. Then he threatened to stand up to the league by skipping Media Day anyway. But he didn’t. He showed up and talked for six minutes and 21 seconds, then took a few steps back and sat there with a hood and shades on as reporters shouted questions and photographers clicked away. It was a pathetic show of defiance, really, but he got away with it as the league decided not to slap him with the doubled fine. Asked about Lynch’s performance, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, “I heard he did a great six minutes. Some comedians make a career off of that.”
 
5. Deion Sanders interviewing Richard Sherman. When Prime Time does an interview, it’s really a love fest, but this one had a special feeling given the attention Sherman got for his 18-second post-game rant to Fox’s Erin Andrews. That was an all-time attention grab, and few were ever better at grabbing attention than Deion. And Deion’s second best moment came when he approached the silent Lynch in a failed attempt to get him to talk on camera. The interlude ended with a hug.
 
6. Randy Moss doing interviews at Media Day. The fact that Moss is now a member of the media (for Fox) is hysterical for anyone who had to deal with him during his playing days. He rarely talked and was rarely pleasant, even when turning down interviews. One of the least liked players in the NFL (at least by the media) is now a charming media personality. He’s turned to the dark side, all to earn a few (OK, a lot of) bucks.
 
7. Gabby Douglas doing cartwheels. Things you can only see up close on Media Day: An Olympic gold medal gymnast working for Inside Edition, doing cartwheels on the sidelines by request. Just stay out of her way. She may be small, but that cartwheel turns fast.
 
8. No Gilbert Gottfried. But there were cameos from Hank Azaria and Joe Piscopo, which is always good for a laugh or two. Same for a TV reporter who was sporting a blue-white-and-orange striped quote that made him look like a Shea Stadium usher from the ‘70s.
 
9. New Jersey’s inferiority complex. This wasn’t from Media Day, but it’s worth a special mention because it spawned several dozen similar questions to players on Media Day. It happened Sunday, when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll first stepped to a podium and said how happy he was to bring his team to New York. About 10 minutes into his press conference, a Jersey City councilman hijacked the microphone and scolded Carroll, saying, “You said you’re glad to be back in New York. I just want to remind you, you’re in New Jersey.” Carroll apologized and even began his press conference the next day by saying, “First, I’d like to say it’s great to be here in New Jersey.” It seemed every player was asked about Jersey getting overlooked in the Super Bowl hype. But Richard Sherman was sure to tell everyone that New Jersey “is a great city”. At least he got the name right.
 
10. Pick Boy Trivia. Yes, Pick Boy. He’s a Nickelodeon Superhero – or so I’m told – and he’s become a staple at Super Bowl Media Day. His best moment at this one was when he approached Richard Sherman and yelled, “Pick Boy Trivia question: Who is louder? Me or you?” Right on cue, Sherman leaned in, lowered his voice and quietly said, “You.”
 
By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
Teaser:
If you enjoy the circus, are not too fond of your dignity and don’t embarrass easily, then someday you should consider a trip to Super Bowl Media Day. What started as a place where actual journalists could interview NFL players has turned into a mass demonstration of … well, it’s really hard to describe what the demonstration is.
Post date: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - 09:10
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-which-team-could-make-surprise-sweet-16-run
Body:

Of all the first-round upsets in last season’s tournament people picked, almost no one took Harvard over New Mexico. La Salle was just as much of a surprising moving from the First Four to the Sweet 16.

And then there’s Florida Gulf Coast.

Surprises are tough enough to figure with the bracket in your hand. In our weekly roundtable, we’ll try anyway as January comes to a close.

Name a team outside the top 25 that could make a run to the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight.

David Fox: I’m going to pick a team that’s done little to deserve anyone’s vote of confidence in an office pool: Gonzaga. True, the Bulldogs have disappointed when it comes to March, no more than last season when the No. 1 seed Zags didn’t even reach the Sweet 16. That said, I like the way Gonzaga has flown under the radar this season. The schedule hasn’t been as tough as it’s been in recent years, but the Bulldogs still look like a team ready for a late run this season. Gary Bell Jr. and Sam Dower are getting healthy, and Mark Few has a standout inside-outside duo in point guard Kevin Pangos and Przemek Karnowski. The end of the season will prove much about the Bulldogs: They face Memphis on the road and finish the West Coast Conference schedule with four consecutive road games. In short, though, Gonzaga is due.

Braden Gall: Give me the Colonials of George Washington. This team has some decent non-conference wins — Creighton, Miami, Maryland — and has three "no-shame" losses to Marquette, at Kansas State and at La Salle. GW has won four straight in the Atlantic 10, including one over VCU. In a league that would test any team in the nation, George Washington has all of the pieces to make a run in March. The Colonials have plenty of scoring with four players averaging in double figure. They are one of the better rebounding teams in the A-10 at No. 2 in margin. G-Dub leads the league in blocked shots per game (5.3) and has a point guard in Joe McDonald that is in his second full season and is showing marked improvement (2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio).

Mitch Light: The switch has flipped at Virginia. The Cavaliers were 9–4 overall after a shocking 35-point loss at Tennessee in late December. They proceeded to win six of their first seven games in the ACC, with the only loss by four points at Duke. Not surprisingly, this team is getting it done on the defensive end of the floor. The Cavs lead the ACC in defensive efficiency, allowing only 0.87 points per possession in league play, and they have been very good defending the 3-point shot. Offensively, Virginia’s numbers aren’t gaudy because it plays at a slow pace, but Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson are solid weapons who are capable of scoring 15 to 20 points in any given game.

Teaser:
Weekly Tipoff: Which team could make a surprise Sweet 16 run?
Post date: Wednesday, January 29, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: Media day, NFL, Overtime, super bowl, super-bowl, NFL, Overtime
Path: /nfl/10-best-media-day-moments-super-bowl-history-2014
Body:

This year's Super Bowl Media Day kicks off on Tuesday, Jan. 28, and will see throngs of news outlets from around the world descending on the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, for a blitz of Seahawks-Broncos coverage. Rarely are stories broken. In fact, the day is typically filled with pat answers and tired cliches. But every once in awhile, someone breaks the monotony and actually says or does something interesting. Here are ten of the best (or at least most notable) Media Day moments in Super Bowl history.

1967
This one barely squeaks in, because there was no Media Day back then, and the game wasn't even called the Super Bowl yet. But Fred "The Hammer" Williamson set the bar for subsequent game-week trash talk, vowing to inflict harm on Packer receivers Boyd Dowler and Carroll Dale. "Two hammers to Dowler, one to Dale should be enough," he said. Sadly, Fred was on the business end of a hammer himself: He got knocked cold by the knee of Packers guard Gale Gillingham.

1973
Cowboys running back Duane Thomas was a man of so few words that he was known as the Sphinx. Prior to Super Bowl VI, he sat silently through Media Day, never uttering a single word, part of a year-long media boycott. The previous year, though, Thomas had made a pertinent observation about the Super Bowl: "If it's the ultimate game, why are they playing it again next year?"

Terry Bradshaw1979
Dallas linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson offered up a memorable assessment of Terry Bradshaw's mental acuity, or lack thereof: "He couldn't spell cat if you spotted him the c and the a." Bradshaw proved he could spell TD, or at least toss them - four of them, in fact, in Pittsburgh's 35-31 win. "I didn't say he couldn't play," Henderson said afterwards. "Just that he couldn't spell."

1980
Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett grew up in a household with blind parents, one of whom died when Plunkett was at Stanford. On Media Day, one intrepid reporter wanted to make sure he had his facts straight. He shouted: "Jimmy, Jimmy, I want to make sure I have this right. Was it dead mother, blind father or blind mother, dead father?"

1988
The Super Bowl Media Day that produced an urban legend — the Doug Williams "How long have you been a black quarterback" myth — did have an entertaining moment when notoriously under-educated Redskins defensive lineman Dexter Manley vowed to "catch the quarterback and hit him from behind, in between his two numbers, and cut his lights out." Reporters took the opportunity to remind him that John Elway wore No. 7.

1989
The international nature of the Super Bowl, and the lack of football savvy among some of its international followers, was driven home at Media Day prior to the Niners-Bengals matchup when a Japanese reporter asked Joe Montana, "Why do they call you Boomer?"

1999
Falcons cornerback Ray Buchanan was so intent on proving that his Falcons didn't mind being underdogs to the Broncos that he wore a dog collar to Media Day, where he ripped Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe for being "an ugly dude" who looked like Mr. Ed.

All this led to a hilarious back-and-forth between the two.

"Is he my friend? No," Sharpe said. "Did I ever view him as a friend? No. Did I ever view him as an acquaintance? No. Do I like him? No. If I see him in a snowstorm, his truck is broke down, mine is going perfectly, do I pick him up? No."

Buchanan's reply: "Shannon just runs his mouth saying anything, so we don't need to pay attention to him. He'd better watch out for himself, because he might get knocked out like he did that last game. We're not a team that's going to go out on the field and pull up our skirts and show our panties. I'm not saying we wear panties, but I'm saying we can't go out there and play like females and win the game."

Over to you, Shannon: "Tell Ray to put the eyeliner, the lipstick and the high heels away. I'm not saying he's a cross-dresser, but that's just what I heard."

 Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Broncos vs. Seahawks and the history of the big game. 
2001
A year after being involved in an incident at a Super Bowl party that resulted in two stabbing deaths, Ray Lewis showed up for Super Bowl XXXV and addressed the inevitable questions about the incident. "Yes I got money. Yes, I'm black and yes, I'm blessed," Lewis told the crowd. "But at the same time, let's find out the real truth. The real truth is [this] was never about those two kids that's dead in the street. This is about Ray Lewis." Okay then. 

2006
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu took the opportunity of Media Day to thank "Entertainment Tonight" for giving him a "Best Hair" award, adding, "I'd like to thank Pantene Pro V, or anyone else who wants to send me free shampoo and conditioner."

2008
TV Azteca's Ines Gomez Mont showed up at Media Day in a wedding gown and asked several players to marry her, including Tom Brady. During Brady's press conference, she shouted out, "I'm the real Miss Brady." Brady, who was busy juggling Gisele Bundchen and Bridget Moynihan, replied, "I've got a few Miss Bradys in my life."

Teaser:
<p> Sometimes someone says something that's not a cliche.</p>
Post date: Sunday, January 26, 2014 - 17:42
All taxonomy terms: super-bowl, NFL, News
Path: /10-best-nfl-teams-didnt-play-super-bowl-2014
Body:

Although a wild card team, many believed that Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers had a legitimate shot of getting back to the Super Bowl this season. After two playoff wins on the road, the 49ers were positioned to do just that before coming up short in Seattle in the NFC Championship Game. So with their season now over, the question becomes where does this 49ers team rank among the rest of the field in terms of great teams that didn't play on Super Sunday?

With that in mind, Athlon Sports has examined win-loss records, overall talent, statistics, playoff performances and more and come up with our list of the best NFL teams that never reached the Super Bowl. As you can see below, this 49ers team barely makes it into the discussion.

* - eventual Super Bowl Champion

1. San Francisco 49ers, 1992 (14-2)
Lost: 30-20 to Dallas* in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 7

Steve Young won the MVP and led a 49ers offense that topped the NFL in scoring (26.9 ppg) and total offense. The defense was third in the NFL in points allowed and 15th in total defense. The only losses came to the defending and would-be AFC champion Bills in Week 2 and on the road against the Cardinals in Week 9. Ricky Waters led the team in rushing while Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Brent Jones torched secondaries. This defense also was loaded with names like Dave Whitemore, Bill Romanowski, Merton Hanks, Eric Davis and sack leader Tim Harris (17.0).

2. Dallas Cowboys, 1994 (12-4)
Lost: 38-28 to San Francisco* in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 7

Dallas and San Francisco went back and forth in the early '90s and this was the best Cowboys team to not finish the deal. This was essentially the same team that won three of four Super Bowls, as the triplets came up just one game short of four straight Super Sundays. The offense was second in the league in scoring (25.9 ppg) while the defense was third in points allowed (15.5 ppg). Charles Haley led the team in sacks, Robert Jones in tackles and Darren Woodson in interceptions.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004 (15-1)
Lost: 41-27 to New England* in AFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 9

Tommy Maddox started three games in 2004 and was 2-1. Ben Roethlisberger started 13 games and won every start behind the best defense in the NFL. This Steelers team led the league in scoring (15.7 ppg) and total defense en route to a near-perfect record. Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis formed a one-two punch in the backfield while a loaded receiving corps gave Big Ben plenty to work with. What made this team great, however, was the nasty, Pro Bowl-laden defense. The lone regular season loss came in Week 2 against Baltimore.

4. Minnesota Vikings, 1998 (15-1)
Lost: 30-27 (OT) to Atlanta in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 10

This team scored at an alarming rate. Led by Randall Cunningham at quarterback and a trio of playmakers in Robert Smith, Cris Carter and Randy Moss, the Vikings paced the NFL at 34.8 points per game. As well as owning the top offense in the league, Minnesota boasted the No. 6-rated scoring defense and No. 13-rated total defense. One loss to Tampa Bay in the middle of the year was the only regular season blemish and these Vikings came one missed Gary Anderson field goal away from playing in the Super Bowl.

5. San Francisco 49ers, 1990 (14-2)
Lost: 15-13 to NY Giants* in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 5

The defending Super Bowl champs rolled through the regular season led by NFL MVP Joe Montana. This team was No. 2 in total offense and No. 3 in total defense while ranking No. 2 in scoring defense and No. 8 in total offense. Ronnie Lott, Charles Haley and Bill Romanowski led one of the best 49ers defenses of all-time.

6. Chicago Bears, 1986 (14-2)
Lost: 27-13 to Washington in NFC Divisional
Pro Bowlers: 7

Walter Payton and Jim McMahon were electric on offense, but the defending Super Bowl champs won 14 games in 1986 because of the defense. The Bears allowed an absurd 11.7 points and 258.1 yards per game on that side of the ball to lead the NFL in both categories. Wilber Marshall, Steve McMichael, Dave Duerson and Mike Singletary were Pro Bowlers while Richard Dent, William Perry and Dan Hampton did not receive invites to Hawaii. Few defenses were as talented as this version of the Monsters of the Midway.

7. Jacksonville Jaguars, 1999 (14-2)
Lost: 33-14 to Tennessee in AFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 7

The Jaguars beat Dan Marino and the Dolphins 62-7 in the Hall of Famer's final game to reach the AFC Championship Game. But Jacksonville and Mark Brunell lost for a third time to the Titans after going 14-0 against every other team in the NFL. The Brunell, Jimmy Smith, Fred Taylor, James Stewart, Keenan McCardell, Tony Boselli and Leon Searcy offense was sixth in scoring and seventh in yards, while the defense led the league in points allowed (13.6 ppg) and finished fourth in yards allowed.

8. Green Bay Packers, 2007 (13-3)
Lost: 23-20 (OT) to NY Giants* in NFC Championship
Pro Bowlers: 5

Three teams finished 13-3 in 2007 (Dallas, Indianapolis) but none came as close to unseating the eventual champs than the Packers. On a frigid night at Lambeau Field, the Giants outlasted this stacked Packers team in overtime. This team was second in total offense and 11th in total defense while finishing fourth in scoring offense and sixth in scoring defense. It was the last time that Brett Favre would ever suit up for Green Bay.

9. Tennessee Titans, 2000 (13-3)
Lost: 24-10 to Baltimore* in AFC Divisional
Pro Bowlers: 9

Despite six Pro Bowlers on offense, it was the defense that made this team special. The defense led the NFL in yards allowed and was No. 2 in points allowed. After splitting with the Ravens in the regular season, a bizarre Eddie George-Ray Lewis turnover sealed the Titans' fate. An offense that featured franchise bests at quarterback (Steve McNair), running back (George), tight end (Frank Wycheck), wide receiver (Derrick Mason) and offensive tackle (Bruce Matthews) came up just short of defending their AFC crown.

10. Indianapolis Colts, 2005 (14-2)
Lost: 21-18 to Pittsburgh* in AFC Divisional
Pro Bowlers: 8

Peyton Manning’s best all-around team (that never played in a Super Bowl) wasn’t necessarily his best statistical year. But this team was No. 2 in the NFL in scoring defense (15.4 ppg) and No. 2 in scoring offense (27.4 ppg) to lead the league in scoring differential. His offense featured a 1,500-yard rusher in Edgerrin James and four elite pass-catchers in Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney formed an elite pass-rush tandem that combined for 22.5 sacks while Bob Sanders and Cato June led the back seven.

 Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Broncos vs. Seahawks and the history of the big game.

 

Best of the Rest:

11. Pittsburgh Steelers, 1972 (11-3)
Lost: 21-17 to Miami* in AFC Championship

12. Oakland Raiders, 1974 (12-2)
Lost: 24-13 to Pittsburgh* in AFC Championship

13. Minnesota Vikings, 2009 (12-4)
Lost: 31-28 (OT) to New Orleans* in NFC Championship

14. Green Bay Packers, 2011 (15-1)
Lost: 37-20 to NY Giants* in NFC Championship

15. Indianapolis Colts, 2007 (13-3)
Lost: 28-24 to San Diego in AFC Divisional

16. Miami Dolphins, 1985 (12-4)
Lost: 31-14 to New England in AFC Championship

17. Dallas Cowboys, 1980 (12-4)
Lost: 20-7 to Philadelphia in NFC Championship

18. Pittsburgh Steelers, 2001 (13-3)
Lost: 24-17 to New England* in AFC Championship

19. LA Rams, 1976 (10-3-1)
Lost: 24-13 to Minnesota in NFC Championship

20. Cleveland Browns, 1986 (12-4) CG
Lost: 23-20 to Denver in AFC Championship

21. Dallas, 1981 (12-4)
22. Baltimore, 1967 (11-1-2)
23. San Francisco, 2013 (12-4)
24. Philadelphia, 2002 (12-4)
25. NY Giants, 1989 (12-4)
26. San Francisco, 1987 (13-2)
27. San Diego, 1979 (12-4)
28. New England, 2010 (14-2)
29. New England, 1976 (11-3)
30. LA Rams, 1975 (12-2)

Teaser:
10 Best NFL Teams That Didn't Play in a Super Bowl
Post date: Thursday, January 23, 2014 - 14:00
All taxonomy terms: College Basketball, News
Path: /college-basketball/weekly-tipoff-nations-most-underrated-player
Body:

The college basketball season has reached its midpoint as teams are well into conference play.

We’ve named All-Americans. We’ve picked breakout players. And we’ve picked our disappointments of the year so far.

So what does that leave? The players who haven’t been mentioned enough by us or other outlets through the course of the season.

The list of underrated players could go on and one, and our editors had a tough time picking only one for this exercise. Feel free to chime in either in the comments or on Twitter (@AthlonSports) if there are players we’ve missed.

Weekly Tipoff: Who is the most underrated player in the nation?

Braden Gall: Kyle Anderson, UCLA
The 6-foot-9 point forward is likely overlooked because he plays on the West Coast in a nondescript Pac-12 for a solid-but-not-special Bruins team. But Anderson is averaging 15.5 points per game and leading UCLA in both rebounding (8.9 rpg) and assists (6.6 apg). This is an NCAA Tournament team and appears headed toward a top-three finish in the Pac-12 despite falling to Utah last weekend for the first time since 1983 — a game in which Anderson scored 28 points, grabbed seven rebounds and dished out seven assists. Normally, UCLA would be a high-profile location for a player of Anderson’s caliber, but it feels like the sophomore is flying under the national radar this season.

Related: Creighton, Kansas produced key stats this week

Mitch Light: Billy Baron, Canisius
This one is bit off the national radar — Billy Baron from Canisius. Baron, on his third school in four years, is averaging 23.1 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.1 assists while shooting .453 from 3-point range and .913 from the line. Baron began his career at Virginia but transferred to Rhode Island after one semester to play for his father, Jim Baron. The elder Baron was fired at URI after the 2011-12 season, but he landed on his feet and was named head coach at Canisius. Billy followed his dad to upstate New York and has been one of the nation’s premier scorers over the last two seasons.

Related: 10 Things You Need to Know in College Basketball This Week

David Fox: Delon Wright, Utah
Delon Wright probably won’t be underrated for much longer as Utah defeated UCLA on Saturday, but the Utes’ point guard is my pick. Academic issues landed him in junior college out of high school, but the brother of Trail Blazers forward Dorell Wright earned his way onto a Pac-12 roster. Wright is as composed of a point guard as there is, and his numbers are staggering: 15.7 points, 5.2 assists, 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game while shooting 63.5 percent from the floor. That statline are in the same category of what All-America contender DeAndre Kane is doing or what Ohio State’s Evan Turner did when he won national player of the year. He’s done all for Utah’s best team since 2008-09.
 

Teaser:
Weekly Tipoff: The Nation's Most Underrated Player
Post date: Wednesday, January 22, 2014 - 07:00
All taxonomy terms: super-bowl, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/20-most-amazing-stats-super-bowl-history-2014
Body:

The NFL provides the greatest reality TV programming of all time. Each NFL season is a completely new and original experience for every player, fan and coach alike. New stories, new personalities, new winners and new losers, as well as a plethora of new statistics. And every season culminates with the Super Bowl, one of the most-watched sporting events across the globe.

Here are the most important, most intriguing and most bizarre statistics to keep in mind about the 47-year history of the Super Bowl:

164,100,000: People who watched Super Bowl XLVII
CBS' broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII between the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers last Feb. 3 was watched at some point by 164.1 million viewers, setting a new record for total audience, according to the network. The Nielsen Co. reported an estimated 108.4 million people witnessed the Ravens' 34-31 victory in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, making Super Bowl XLVII the third most-watched program in U.S. television history. Super Bowl XLVI in 2012 (111.3 million viewers) and the 2010 game (111 million) are the only two programs that have drawn more eyes, according to the NFL.

4:14: Record running time of Super Bowl XLVII
A 22-minute partial power outage early in the third quarter of Super Bowl XLVII not only thrust the Mercedes-Benz Superdome into semi-darkness, it delayed the game on the field for 34 minutes and led to some entertaining analysis from CBS' broadcast team. Prior to the blackout, San Francisco had the ball and was trailing Baltimore 28-6 following Jacoby Jones' 108-yard kickoff return to open the second half. When play was finally resumed, the 49ers scored 17 unanswered points, making it a five-point game entering the fourth quarter. The Ravens held off the 49ers' late charge in the end, winning the longest Super Bowl ever played.

23-24: Coin toss winners' record in the Super Bowl
Baltimore won the coin toss last February, but deferred, electing instead to receive the ball to open the second half. The Ravens became the fourth team in Super Bowl history to defer, and all four instances have taken place in the last five years. While not winning the coin toss has still produced more Super Bowl winners over the history of the game, Baltimore joined Green Bay (Super Bowl XLV in 2011) as the only teams to defer on the toss and go on to victory.

35-3: Record of the team with fewer turnovers in the Super Bowl
Baltimore had just one turnover (Ray Rice fumble) compared to two by San Francisco (Colin Kaepernick INT, LaMichael James fumble) in last year's Super Bowl. By winning the turnover battle, the Ravens improved the all-time record of the team with fewer giveaways to 35-3. The formula appears to be fairly straightforward: Protect the football and become a champion. 

 Check out Athlon Sports' special Super Bowl section for more coverage on the Broncos vs. Seahawks and the history of the big game. 
$4 million: Average cost of a 30-second commercial for Super Bowl XLVIII
The going rate for a 30-second spot during FOX's upcoming Super Bowl XLVIII broadcast went for about $4 million. That's up from about $3.8 million on CBS last year and a far cry from the $42,000 it cost for 30 seconds of air time during Super Bowl I. However, with a guaranteed audience of more than 100 million in place, it should surprise no one that the available ad space has been sold out since early December.

338: Media credentials issued for Super Bowl I
By 2012, the number swelled to 5,156 accredited media members covering Super Bowl XLVI, a record for the event. With this year's game in the New York metropolitan area, also known as the media capital of the world, it's possible that Super Bowl XLVIII will set a new milestone for media participation.

3,652,409: Combined attendance for all 47 Super Bowls
Following last year's sellout crowd of 71,024 at the Mercedes Benz-Superdome in New Orleans, all-time Super Bowl attendance climbed past the 3.6 million mark. This year's venue, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., can hold 82,500 people. While there's little doubt this game won't be a sellout, the mere possibilty of wintry precipitation adds an additional element to the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl.

103,985: Largest crowd to attend a Super Bowl
The 1979 season featured the largest crowd to ever attend a Super Bowl when the Steelers defeated the Rams 31-19 in Pasadena, Calif. The Rose Bowl hosted the Los Angeles Rams that year in what remains the closest thing to a home-field advantage in a Super Bowl.

6-10: Worst record by a Super Bowl winner the following year
Baltimore went a disappointing 8-8 this season, missing out on a chance at defending its Super Bowl title. However, the Ravens still fared better than Denver in the aftermath of the Broncos' back-to-back championships ( Super Bowl XXXII, XXXIII) in the late 1990s. Following the retirement of quarterback John Elway, the Broncos went 6-10 in 1999, finishing last in the AFC West. This also represented the worst showing by a defending Super Bowl champion.

414: Kurt Warner's record for passing yards
The former grocery bagger threw for a Super Bowl-record 414 yards in the win over the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV. This included his 73-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Isaac Bruce with just over two minutes remaining. Warner also owns the No. 2 passing performance (377 yards for Arizona in a loss to Pittsburgh) and the No. 3 performance (365 yards in a St. Louis loss to New England).

204: Timmy Smith's Super Bowl rushing record
The Denver Broncos began Super Bowl XXII by taking a 10-0 lead into the second quarter over the Washington Redskins. But then Doug Williams and Timmy Smith happened. The record 35-point second quarter put the game all but out of reach by halftime. The game was special for a variety of reasons. First, Williams was the first black quarterback to win the Super Bowl, while Smith became the only player to top 200 yards rushing. He finished with 204 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries as the Redskins set the Super Bowl record for total offense (602 yards). Ironically, Smith ended his NFL career with exactly 602 yards rushing (21 games).

22.6: Lowest QB rating for a Super Bowl winner
Ben Roethlisberger completed 9-of-21 passes for 123 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions in Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl XL win over Seattle. It is the worst performance by a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. At 23 years and 340 days old, Big Ben also was the youngest quarterback to ever win the big game.

11: Players that have won the MVP and the Super Bowl in the same year
Bart Starr (1966), Earl Morrall (1968), Terry Bradshaw (1978), Mark Moseley (1982), Lawrence Taylor (1986), Joe Montana (1989), Emmitt Smith (1993), Steve Young (1994), Brett Favre (1996), Terrell Davis (1998) and Kurt Warner (1999) are the 11 double-dippers. Peyton Manning most likely will have a chance to join this exclusive club, as he's all but assured of receiving his record fifth NFL MVP award on Feb. 1, the day before leading his Broncos against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.

10: Largest comeback in Super Bowl history
The aforementioned Redskins established this record as well after trailing 10-0 to Denver before finishing off the Broncos 42-10. The deficit was tied in the 2009 season when Drew Brees and the Saints fell behind 10-0 before coming back to defeat the Colts 31-17 in Super Bowl XLIV.

9: Bills’ Super Bowl record for turnovers
The Dallas Cowboys crushed the Bills 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII. This lopsided affair was headlined by a Super Bowl-record nine turnovers by Buffalo. Strangely enough, Dallas also claims the No. 2-most forced turnovers with eight against Denver in its Super Bowl XII win and had seven takeaways against Baltimore in its Super Bowl V loss. How did the Cowboys lose to the Colts after forcing seven turnovers?

7: Fewest rushing yards by a team in a Super Bowl
The Monsters of the Midway were one of the most dominant defensive units in NFL history, and it led to the Chicago Bears' lone Super Bowl win back in 1985. In the Louisiana Superdome, William Perry and Mike Singletary posted the best defensive performance in Super Bowl history by holding New England to just seven yards rushing. The Patriots' 123 total yards of offense is the second-lowest total in Super Bowl history.

5: Most Super Bowl starts by any one quarterback
John Elway started his fifth Super Bowl and won his second Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXIII following Denver's 34-19 victory over Atlanta. Two years ago, Tom Brady matched Elway with his fifth Super Bowl start. However, neither can claim the most Super Bowl victories as Pittsburgh’s Terry Bradshaw and San Francisco’s Joe Montana won all four of their Super Bowl starts.

3: Fewest points scored in a Super Bowl
The 1971 Miami Dolphins are the only team to ever play in a Super Bowl and not reach the end zone. Miami's 24-3 loss to Dallas in Super Bowl VI still stands as the fewest points scored by a team in the history of the game. The 1974 Minnesota Vikings are the only other team to score at least seven points on Super Sunday. In the Vikings' defense, they did reach the end zone — albeit via a defensive touchdown when Terry Brown recovered a Steelers’ fumble in the end zone. Fred Cox missed the extra point, as the Vikings also set the Super Bowl record for fewest yards of total offense with 119.

1: People to win the Super Bowl as a head coach and player
Tom Flores won two Super Bowls as the head coach of the Raiders and was technically on the 1969 Kansas City Chiefs roster. However, he did not see any time on the field in Kansas City's win against Minnesota in Super Bowl IV. Mike Ditka, a Hall of Fame tight end for the Bears, Eagles and Cowboys, caught two passes for 28 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl VI. He then led the Bears to a win in Super Bowl XX in 1986 to become the only Super Bowl-winning coach who also earned a world title as a player.

0: Super Bowls without at least one field goal attempt
Four times has a Super Bowl featured one combined field goal attempt, but never has a Super Bowl lacked for at least one field goal try. Super Bowl VII, XXIV, XXXIX and XLII each featured just one field goal effort.

Teaser:
20 Most Amazing Stats in Super Bowl History
Post date: Tuesday, January 21, 2014 - 17:00
Path: /nfl/grading-nfls-new-coaching-hires
Body:
It’s always hard to tell which is the best way for a franchise to go when looking toward the future. And it’s not always the smart decision to just throw lots of money at the best-known coach they can find. Sometimes the smart hire is an unknown assistant. Sometimes it’s a retread who was a failure someplace else.
 
After all, Bill Belichick was a disaster in Cleveland before he went to New England and became one of the greatest coaches of all time.
 
So now that six of the seven head coaching vacancies have been filled — only the Cleveland Browns, obviously the worst of the seven jobs remains unfilled — it’s probably too early to really know who did the best and worst with their hires. But it’s never too early to give a preliminary grade and at least make a guess.
 
Here’s how they rank:
 
1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New coach: Lovie Smith
Talk about a home-run hire. The Bucs got the most well-respected former coach out there (at least the most well-respected one still young enough to be a serious candidate), a man who is loved by his players and known for running a professional and winning organization. No, he never won a championship in Chicago, but he was 83-63 in nine seasons, got to a Super Bowl and another NFC Championship Game, had only three losing seasons and was fired after a year in which his team went 10-6. The Bucs were supposed to get professionalism under Greg Schiano, but the last year was more like total chaos, with an MRSA scandal and problems with their franchise quarterback who was traded away. Smith brings instant credibility, respectability, and will likely stabilize what sure looked like a sinking ship.
GRADE: A-plus
 
2. Detroit Lions
New coach: Jim Caldwell
Caldwell is known for two things: His unflappable, stoic, unchanging sideline demeanor and his offensive mind. Most recently he was the offensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens – and his appointment to that role is a big reason why they’re the defending Super Bowl champs. But he also made it to the Super Bowl with the Indianapolis Colts, whom he coached from 2009-11. Sure, the Colts went 2-14 in his final season, but that was the year between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. He had no shot. What the Lions needed is what they got – a well-respected coach with an offensive mind who can help turn quarterback Matthew Stafford from an erratic starter into a champion. He will calm down what is often an undisciplined team and refine the offense. It’s a good bet they will end up being contenders for years to come.
GRADE: A-minus
 
3. Minnesota Vikings
New coach: Mike Zimmer
The real reason the Cincinnati Bengals have been so good in recent years is because of their defense, and it’s about time someone recognized that it wasn’t just about head coach Marvin Lewis, but that their defensive coordinator was pretty good, too. Zimmer is well-respected, loved by his players and bubbling with energy, and many around the NFL think he’s long overdue for his chance to lead a franchise. The only odd part of this hire is that he’s a defensive mind, when the problem in Minnesota is on the offensive side. They have been unable to develop a quarterback and unable to truly take advantage of having Adrian Peterson, the best running back in football. His choice of an offensive coordinator will absolutely be key to his success.
GRADE: B
 
4. Houston Texans
New coach: Bill O’Brien
After his quick, but well-received work at Penn State, O’Brien was near the top of a lot of lists. And it made sense. He took over a Penn State program riddled by scandal and torn apart by a loss of scholarships and some key transfers and was successful in keeping the program afloat. There are few people who could’ve bridged the gap from the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the death of Joe Paterno to where the Nittany Lions are now, and O’Brien deserves credit for that. Here’s the only worry, though: As wonderful as Bill Belichick has been, he hasn’t exactly spawned a successful head coaching tree. From Romeo Crennel to Charlie Weis to Eric Mangini to Josh McDaniels, it’s not like plucking one of Belichick’s minions has been a ticket to the playoffs. Maybe O’Brien will be the guy to buck the trend, but the odds aren’t stacked in his favor.
GRADE: B
 
5. Tennessee Titans
New coach: Ken Whisenhunt
There was a time when Whisenhunt was considered an offensive “whiz,” and in some quarters he still is. There is, however, a segment of the NFL that believes he’s one of those guys who’s better suited to be a coordinator than the man in charge. The center of that debate is this: Do you believe his trip to the Super Bowl with the Arizona Cardinals in 2008 was deserved or a fluke? Because he took over one of the NFL’s worst franchises in 2007 and the next year had them sneak into the playoffs at 9-7 and come within a whisker of a championship. Does he deserve the credit for that, or was it all because of his Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback, Kurt Warner? It’s a good and fair question. Whisenhunt was 45-51 in his six seasons in Arizona and missed the playoffs in each of his final three years.
GRADE: B-minus
 
6. Washington Redskins
New coach: Jay Gruden
Well, he certainly is a big name, but his brother Jon — who remains in the ESPN booth — is the one with the coaching credentials. Gruden was a successful coach in the Arena League, and that’s something. He also had three relatively successful years as the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, where he did a nice job with quarterback Andy Dalton. And he got a lot of attention and several interviews for head coaching vacancies. He may end up injecting some life into the Redskins, too, and with his offensive mind he could be huge for Robert Griffin III. But it’s hard to argue that there weren’t more qualified candidates available, and it’s hard not to wonder if some of the attention lavished on him isn’t about his famous last name.
GRADE: C-plus
 
— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
Teaser:
It’s always hard to tell which is the best way for a franchise to go when looking toward the future. And it’s not always the smart decision to just throw lots of money at the best-known coach they can find. Sometimes the smart hire is an unknown assistant. Sometimes it’s a re-tread who was a failure someplace else.
Post date: Friday, January 17, 2014 - 10:25
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/legends-poll-2013-final-overall-top-25-poll
Body:
Monday night brought an end to an era, and Florida State sent the BCS out with a bang. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston led a furious fourth quarter rally and the Seminoles prevailed over Auburn, 34-31, in the BCS Championship Game.
 
Florida State remained unbeaten and was the unanimous No. 1 team in the season’s final Legends Poll. Despite the loss, Auburn held on to its No. 2 spot.
 
Michigan State, Missouri and South Carolina rounded out the top 5.
 
No. 6 Oklahoma jumped seven spots and finished ahead of No. 7 Alabama, after knocking off the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.
 
Alabama was followed by Clemson, Oregon and Ohio State in the top 10.
 
The SEC finished with seven top 25 teams, three of which finished in the top 5. The Pac 12 had five teams in the final rankings and the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 each had three.
 
No. 23 Vanderbilt, No. 24 Notre Dame and No. 25 Navy were newcomers to the rankings.

To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.

THE LEGENDS POLL TOP 25
 
RKTEAMRECORDPOINTSPV RK
1Florida StateFlorida State (16)14-04001
2AuburnAuburn12-23822
3Michigan StateMichigan State13-13694
4MissouriMissouri12-23479
5South CarolinaSouth Carolina11-23388
6OklahomaOklahoma11-231413
7AlabamaAlabama11-22983
8ClemsonClemson11-229511
9OregonOregon11-227110
10Ohio StateOhio State12-22547
11LSULSU10-323112
12UCFUCF12-121817
13StanfordStanford11-32115
14BaylorBaylor11-21936
15LouisvilleLouisville12-118715
16Oklahoma StateOklahoma State10-316314
17UCLAUCLA10-314818
18Texas A&MTexas A&M9-413121
19DukeDuke10-49923
20USCUSC10-49124
21WisconsinWisconsin9-48919
22Arizona StateArizona State10-47016
23VanderbiltVanderbilt9-434-
24Notre DameNotre Dame9-423-
25NavyNavy9-412-
* The Legends Poll voting process is exactly what the BCS is trying to create and Athlon will bring it to you as the de facto Selection Committee for fans to follow over the next two seasons, allowing you to see how the Selection Committee will operate from 2014 onward. You can see the entire Poll at www.legendschannel.com.

 

Teaser:
The Legends Poll: 2013 Final Overall Top 25 Poll
Post date: Friday, January 10, 2014 - 12:09
Path: /nfl/ranking-every-job-nfl-coaching-carousel
Body:

There were seven coaching jobs open when the NFL’s coaching carousel began and three seats have already been taken. There’s a mad scramble on for the final four, too, as plenty of out-of-work coaches are positioning themselves for new jobs.

But let’s face it: There are jobs and there are JOBS and the difference can be huge. Most coaches don’t have a choice. They take what’s offered. But what if a coach did have his choice of all seven vacancies? Would he follow the money to Washington and work for the dysfunctional Redskins, or follow the talent to Houston for less exposure (and probably less cash)?

It would be a tough choice that most coaches won’t have to make, but if they did, here’s how the seven NFL jobs that are either open or were open this offseason would rank:

1. Detroit Lions

Out: Jim Schwartz, fired (29-48 in five seasons)

In: unknown

This has been one of the most snakebitten franchises in the league the last few decades, but look at what the new coach will be starting with – a franchise quarterback (Matthew Stafford), a top running back/weapon (Reggie Bush), one of the best receivers in history (Calvin Johnson) and one of the most feared defensive players in the game (defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh). That’s not exactly starting from scratch. They also have a patient ownership not afraid to spend money and a lot of young talent on both sides of the ball. They were also big underachievers this season, yet they were in the playoff hunt right until the end. It will take tweaking to get them to contender status, not a major overhaul. Schwartz did not exactly leave the Lions’ cupboard bare.

How good is the Detroit job? A-plus

 

2. Houston Texans

Out: Gary Kubiak, fired (63-66 in 8 seasons)

In: Bill O’Brien, former Penn State coach

Think about how badly the Houston Texans have underachieved over the last few years, and how badly they underachieved this season when they plummeted to 2-14. You know what that tells you? That they have plenty of talent, at least as far as NFL personnel and scouts and coaches are concerned. The Texans were supposed to be Super Bowl contenders and some of the pieces are still in place, including RB Arian Foster, DE J.J. Watt, and WR Andre Johnson, just to name a few. Oh, and by the way, for their collapse this season? They were rewarded with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. And that’s big, especially since it looks like Matt Schaub’s days as the franchise quarterback are over.

How good is the Houston job? A-minus

 

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Out: Greg Schiano, fired (11-21 in two seasons)

In: Lovie Smith

One year ago, Schiano had been praised for turning the losing culture in the Bucs’ organization around and for building what looked like a good young team. There certainly is a lot of talent, and an exciting piece in running back Doug Martin. The problem was he built it around Josh Freeman, an immature young quarterback of questionable talent. Well, Schiano provided his successor with one last gift, jettisoning Freeman and turning the keys over to QB Mike Glennon. A terrific young quarterback, plus a talented young running back and the No. 7 pick in the draft will give Smith a huge head start.

How good is the Tampa Bay job? B-plus

 

4. Tennessee Titans

Out: Mike Munchak, fired (22-26 in three seasons)

In: The Titans were the definition of a middling team during Muchak’s rein, even though he built a strong offensive line, had a powerful all-pro running back (Chris Johnson) and had a defense that was ranked in the top half of the league. The problem was that he never had enough play-makers in the passing game, in large part because QB Jake Locker was erratic and this season, when many expected him to emerge, he was hurt. The job would be much better if it was clear what Locker was going to eventually be.

How good is the Tennessee job? B-minus

 

5. Washington Redskins

Out: Mike Shanahan, fired (24-40 in four seasons)

In: Jay Gruden

Well, one year ago this looked like a great job. A powerful running game, a dynamic young franchise quarterback, an emerging defense. Now? Not so much. They had a huge collapse this season, and worse, they traded away their first-round draft pick so they can’t even reap the benefits. On top of that, the franchise quarterback – Robert Griffin III – is now an unknown quantity because of his lingering knee problems. And even worse than that, reports have suggested an absolutely toxic situation with the owner, Dan Snyder, who apparently sided with his quarterback over his coach in some internal disputes. Snyder does have plenty of money, but his organization rarely has a plan.

How good is the Washington job? C-plus

 

6. Minnesota Vikings

Out: Leslie Frazier, fired (21-32 in four seasons)

In: unknown

If you’re starting with a defense that has defensive end Jared Allen and a running back in Adrian Peterson, it should be a great job, right? OK, but who’s the quarterback? Christian Ponder wasn’t the answer and it seems highly doubtful that Josh Freeman will be. Maybe they can find a good one with the eighth pick of the draft, but then they’re just hitting the reset button. Again.  And it’s not as if the new quarterback will be surrounded by a ton of offensive weapons. Plus, that defense that was once an anchor? It finished last season ranked 31st in the league.

How good is the Washington job? C-minus

 

7. Cleveland Browns

Out: Rob Chudzinski, fired (4-12 in one season)

In: unknown

Another franchise playing “Who’s our quarterback?” (Brandon Weeden? Jason Campbell?) Plus, they need to answer who their running back is after trading away Trent Richardson, a former first-round draft pick. They did have an improving defense and an emerging offensive line, plus with receiver Josh Gordon they have one of the NFL’s top skill position players. But you know why this is a terrible job? Start with the fact that Chudzinski was fired after just one season. He was the seventh head coach for the Browns since 2000. None of the last three have lasted more than two seasons and no Browns coach has lasted more than four seasons since Bill Belichick (1991-95). They do have the fourth overall pick in the draft, but the new coach better consider renting a home rather than buying one because history suggests he won’t be there long.

How good is the Cleveland job? D-plus

 

 —By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, January 10, 2014 - 12:00
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-picks-every-game-wild-card-weekend
Body:

Here's a quick preview and prediction for every game on the NFL schedule for Wild Card Weekend.

Chiefs (11-5) at Colts (11-5)
This is a rematch of two weeks ago, when Indy stampeded Kansas City, 23–7, at Arrowhead. The Colts forced four turnovers to clinch their fifth win in their last six meetings with the Chiefs. Kansas City sat its notable starters in the season finale at San Diego, meaning the loss to Indianapolis was the last on-field action seen by the faces of K.C.’s franchise. Alex Smith, in particular, struggled with a season-worst three turnovers, second-lowest passer rating (57.6), second-most sacks (five) and third-fewest passing yards (153) of the year. Expect a heavy dose of Jamaal Charles — who had 1,980 yards from scrimmage and 19 total TDs this season — against Indy’s 26th-ranked rushing defense. Chiefs by 1

Saints (11-5) at Eagles (10-6)
New Orleans has lost five of its last six games on the road and has a 3–5 record away from home this season, with wins at Tampa Bay, Chicago and Atlanta — teams with a combined record of 16–32. Drew Brees has thrown 12 TDs and nine INTs away from the Superdome, compared to 27 TDs and three INTs in the Big Easy. But Brees does carry a 5–4 playoff record and a Super Bowl MVP into this matchup with Philly’s first-time playoff starter Nick Foles, whose split stats are impressive from any vantage point. Foles led the NFL with a 119.2 passer rating, thanks to 27 TDs and just two INTs in place of the injured Mike Vick. The league’s leading rusher also lines up in first-year coach Chip Kelly’s potent offense, as LeSean McCoy rushed for 1,607 yards and nine TDs this season. Eagles by 1

Chargers (9-7) at Bengals (11-5)
Cincinnati has made the playoffs in three straight seasons for the first time in franchise history. Now the Bengals will attempt to win a playoff game for the first time since 1990. Cincy’s previous two postseason defeats have come on the road in Houston. This time around, Marvin Lewis, Andy Dalton and Co. will kick off at Paul Brown Stadium, where the Bengals have a perfect 8–0 record this season. Cincinnati has successfully defended the Jungle against playoff teams New England (13–6), Indianapolis (42–28) and Green Bay (34–30). San Diego will be no easy out, however. The Chargers won five of their last six games to rally from a 4–6 playoff pretender to a 9–7 AFC Wild Card contender. Bengals by 5

49ers (12-4) at Packers (8-7-1)
San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick has been nearly unstoppable in two career starts against Green Bay. The dual-threat playmaker has passed for a combined 675 yards, five TDs and one INT, while tucking the ball to scramble for 203 yards and two TDs in a 45–31 Divisional Round playoff win last year and 34–28 Week 1 victory to start this season. Neither of those games was played at Lambeau Field, however. But the conference’s defending champions have been solid gold, regardless of the venue this year. The 49ers are currently riding a six-game winning streak and their only losses all season have all been against playoff-bound squads — at Seattle, Indianapolis, Carolina and at New Orleans. But Title Town has its mojo back following the hero’s return of Aaron Rodgers, a Super Bowl MVP winner in his own right. 49ers by 3

 

Teaser:
A preview and prediction of every game on Wild Card Weeekend.
Post date: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - 15:07
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-power-rankings-week-17
Body:

Ranking all 32 NFL teams, from the NFC and AFC No. 1 seeds, Seattle and Denver, to the No. 1 overall pick, Houston.

1. Seahawks (13-3) Clinch NFC’s top seed, NFL’s toughest division.

2. Broncos (13-3) Peyton Manning ends year with 5,477 yards, 55 TDs.

3. Patriots (12-4) Gaining ground on the ground as playoffs approach.

4. Panthers (12-4) Carolina headed to playoffs for first time since 2008.

5. 49ers (12-4) Phil Dawson matches career long with 56-yard FG.

6. Saints (11-5) Drew Brees tops 5,000 yards for record fourth time.

7. Bengals (11-5) Have not won a game in postseason since 1990.

8. Colts (11-5) Andrew Luck first with 8,000 yards in first two years.

9. Chiefs (11-5) Rest starters, lose five of last seven after 9–0 start.

10. Eagles (10-6) Soar from 1–3 to hosting a Wild Card playoff game.

11. Chargers (9-7) Seven men on one side of center penalty uncalled.

12. Packers (8-7-1) Aaron Rodgers returns to lead Pack to postseason.

13. Cardinals (10-6) “Ten wins and you’re in,” not the case for Arizona.

14. Bears (8-8) Was Jay Cutler’s final INT his final pass in Chicago?

15. Cowboys (8-8) No Romo, no problem; Orton tosses late INT in loss.

16. Ravens (8-8) 15th reigning champ to miss playoffs following year.

17. Jets (8-8) Rally around Rex Ryan, save coach’s job with win.

18. Dolphins (8-8) Fate sealed by INT from Ed Reed in loss to Jets.

19. Steelers (8-8) Blown K.C. call has Pittsburgh on outside looking in.

20. Rams (7-9) Sitting pretty with Nos. 2 and 13 picks in first round.

21. Giants (7-9) Bounce back to go 7–3 after 0–6 start to season.

22. Titans (7-9) CJ surpasses 1K-yard mark for sixth straight year.

23. Lions (7-9) Matthew Stafford would like input in next coach hire.

24. Bills (6-10) Miss playoffs for league-worst 14th straight year.

25. Vikings (5-10-1) Metrodome goes out with victory after 32 seasons.

26. Buccaneers (4-12) Greg Schiano shown the door after two ugly years.

27. Falcons (4-12) Tony Gonzalez career over after 111 TD catches.

28. Raiders (4-12) Terrelle Pryor sets new team QB rushing record.

29. Browns (4-12) Rob Chudzinski “shocked,” “disappointed” by firing.

30. Jaguars (4-12) Maurice Jones-Drew contract talks in spotlight.

31. Redskins (3-13) First-round pick goes to Rams as part of RG3 trade.

32. Texans (2-14) End season on unbelievable 14-game losing streak.
 

Teaser:
Ranking all 32 NFL teams from first to worst.
Post date: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - 14:58
Path: /nfl/prime-time-players-week-17
Body:

Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
In Week 9, Mr. Discount Doublecheck suffered a collarbone injury in a 27–20 loss to the rival Bears. Title Town was 5–2 when Rodgers went down before staggering to a 2–5–1 record without their Super Bowl MVP signal-caller. So it was only fitting that Rodgers made his comeback at Chicago in Week 17 during a winner-take-all heavyweight fight for the NFC North crown and a trip to the playoffs. Rodgers completed 25-of-39 passes for 318 yards, two TDs and two INTs in a 33–28 victory. Even his mistakes worked out in Green Bay’s favor, as a second-quarter forward fumble was recovered by Jarrett Boykin for a surreal 15-yard TD.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Patriots
New England’s newfound workhorse runner had 24 carries for 189 yards (7.9 ypc) and two trips to the end zone during a 34–20 victory over the Bills. Prior to the Week 17 outburst, Blount had recorded just three games with 60-plus rushing yards and only one contest with at least 15 carries. The 6'0", 250-pounder has been consistent for the Pats, with 11 games of 40 or more yards on the ground, along with 772 yards (5.0 ypc) and seven TDs this year.

Greg Hardy, DE, Panthers
One week after recording a hat-trick in a win over the Saints, Hardy set a new team record with four sacks during a 21–20 victory on the road against the Falcons. But Hardy wasn’t the only Panther getting in on the action. Charles Johnson, Star Lotulelei, Frank Alexander and Mike Mitchell joined Hardy to notch a Carolina team-record nine sacks. Hardy ends the year with 15 sacks, which couldn’t have come at a better time for the soon-to-be free agent.

Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
CJ1K joined LaDainian Tomlinson, Corey Dillon, Curtis Martin, Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson as only the sixth running back in NFL history to top the 1,000-yard mark in each of his first six seasons. Johnson had 27 carries for 127 yards and one TD in a 16–10 win over the Texans. Due $8 million next season, Johnson may have played his last game in Tennessee following his second-worst rushing season (1,077 yards).
 

Teaser:
The best performances in the NFL from Week 17.
Post date: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - 14:46
Path: /nfl/five-coaches-fired-nfls-black-monday
Body:

While playoff tickets are being punched on the final Sunday of the NFL regular season, just as many pink slips are being prepared for the following day — known as “Black Monday” in head coaching circles.

This season was no different, as five coaches were fired by their respective teams. Here’s a look at the coaches who comprise this year’s “Black Monday” class. They likely will not be the only coaches fired, but they are the first.

Cleveland Browns
Rob Chudzinski, 45
Record: 4–12

The biggest surprise of this year’s axed coaches, “Chud” was a lifelong Browns fan from Toledo, Ohio, who had worked with the organization twice — as tight ends coach in 2004 and offensive coordinator in ’07-08 — before taking over the top spot this offseason. The Browns are on the verge of hiring their seventh coach since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999. The next Cleveland coach will follow the distinguished headsets of Chris Palmer (5–27 record with Browns), Butch Davis (24–34), Romeo Crennel (24–40), Eric Mangini (10–22), Pat Shurmur (9–23) and Chudzinski.

Minnesota Vikings
Leslie Frazier, 54
Record: 21–32–1 (0–1 playoffs)

Frazier went out in style, winning the finale at the Metrodome and then shaking the hand and/or hugging each of his players as they entered the locker room. After going 10–6 and losing in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs last season, Frazier’s Vikings struggled to a 5–10–1 record this year and finished last in the NFC North division standings for the second time in three full seasons.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Greg Schiano, 47
Record: 11–21

After posting a 68–67 record at Rutgers, Schiano gave it the ol’ college try in the NFL. But his rah-rah style resulted in two last-place NFC South finishes and a pair of mini-scandals. Schiano was scrutinized for rushing the Giants while in “Victory Formation” and for playing Darrelle Revis in zone coverage.

Detroit Lions
Jim Schwartz, 47
Record: 29–51 (0–1 playoffs)

Speaking of mini-scandals, Schwartz is most known for his postgame handshake hysterics with 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. Schwartz inherited an 0–16 Lions team and had them in the playoffs three years later. But it was all down hill in the Motor City after that.

Washington Redskins
Mike Shanahan, 61
Record: 24–40 (0–1 playoffs)

Shanahan was a flashy hire for owner Dan Snyder back in 2010. A two-time Super Bowl winner with the Broncos, Shanahan had a 138–86 record with John Elway as his quarterback. In Washington, Shanahan’s legacy will be forever tied to Robert Griffin III.

The Redskins traded their first-round picks in 2012 (No. 6 overall), 2013 (No. 2) and 2014, along with their 2012 second-rounder (No. 39) to select RG3. The deal looked to be a brilliant move, as the Skins went 10–6 and earned a playoff berth in RG3’s rookie year. But an RG3 knee injury — that many blamed on Shanahan — suffered in a Wild Card loss to Seattle was followed by an ugly 3–13 year in which Snyder, Shanahan and RG3 had a public power struggle.

Teaser:
Shanahan, Schwartz, Schiano, Frazier, Chudzinski fired
Post date: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - 14:40
All taxonomy terms: Washington Redskins, NFL
Path: /nfl/5-coaching-candidates-replace-fired-mike-shanahan-washington
Body:

The Mike Shanahan Era ended weeks ago in Washington when the first reports surfaced of a rift between him and owner Dan Snyder. The rift was apparently over Robert Griffin III, the franchise quarterback, and there was no way that the coach could survive being on opposite sides of the owner over that.
 
Maybe it was never meant to last anyway. They are two high-profile NFL people with major personalities and an apparent need for control. Things sure looked rosy in 2012 when they won a division championship, though we later learned that the seams were popping, even then.
 
So now Shanahan leaves with a 24-40 record in four seasons, including 3-13 in 2013 — the Redskins’ worst record since 1961. Still, it’s a good job with an owner that is willing to spend, presumably a franchise quarterback in place, and the talent left over from a division title just one year earlier. Maybe not everyone will want to work for Snyder. But with his money and the prestige of the job, it’s possible he’ll be able to lure anyone he wants.
 
Lovie SmithWho will that be? Here are five who will likely be at the top of Snyder’s list:
 
Lovie Smith, former Bears head coach – Quite possibly the most respected name on the market, given the good work and rave reviews he got in his years with the Bears. He’s known for his organization, his professionalism and having the respect of his players — and those are three things the Redskins absolutely need. The Bears, by the way, went 81-63 in his nine years as head coach and 10-6 in his final season. The only downside is the Redskins could have competition if they tried to hire him now.
 
Ken Whisenhunt, offensive coordinator San Diego – Not only is he having a very good year getting the most out of quarterback Philip Rivers with the Chargers, but he also had a pretty good run as head coach in Arizona where he – with the help of Kurt Warner – very nearly won a Super Bowl with one of the worst organizations in the NFL. He’s an offensive whiz, too, which will help the development of RGIII, which stalled in 2013.
 
Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator Cincinnati – I know, everyone would prefer his brother, but the NFL has taken notice of what the “other” Gruden has done with the Bengals offense and specifically quarterback Andy Dalton. Again, he’d be a great choice if Snyder’s primary focus was finding someone who could turn RGIII into what he’s supposed to be.
 
Ar BrilesArt Briles, Baylor head coach – Of course, maybe nobody knows RGIII better than his college coach, who not only helped turn the quarterback into a star, but turned Baylor into a power. A perennial conference doormat, the Bears won the Big 12 this season and are on track to their fourth straight bowl game. He’s a risky hire, but Snyder isn’t risk averse and he won’t be afraid of hiring a college coach. The downside here is he would be seen clearly as a choice to benefit RGIII, and it might be hard to ever separate the two in the future.
 
Russ Grimm, former Steelers and Cardinals offensive line coach – A very interesting name floated by the Washington Post. He’s a beloved former Redskin and a Hall of Famer and a very well-respected offensive line coach who spent 2013 out of football. He was once a candidate to be the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers (and may or may not have been offered the job, depending on who you believe). He has no coaching experience above the offensive line, but many think he’s qualified and he’d electrify the fan base. A risky choice, but one that would be very popular.
 
Some longshots
Bill Cowher, former Steelers coach
– Most people swear he’s done with coaching, but even if he does return he’d likely be looking for an organization with stability. The Redskins most definitely don’t have that.
 
Jon Gruden, former Bucs and Raiders coach – He may be the biggest, most electric available name and the feeling is that for the right price he could be lured out of the ESPN booth. He’s been away from the game for a little while, though, and there are better candidates.
 
Bill O’Brien, Penn State coach – It sounds as if he’ll have his pick of jobs, and there may be no more attractive one than the Houston Texans. Plus, he comes off the New England coaching tree and there might be a little too much chaos in Washington for his liking.
 
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator New England – A former head coach in Denver, he’s got the credentials and the offensive background that most people think Snyder will favor. But there appear to be others higher on the list, and as another Patriot prodigy it’s hard to see him jumping at the Redskins mess.

— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN

Teaser:
5 Coaching Candidates to Replace Fired Mike Shanahan in Washington.
Post date: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 - 08:29
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-picks-against-spread-week-17
Body:

Locks of the Week
Inner division games featuring teams in must-win (or must-lose) mode are ripe for the picking in the regular-season finale.

Colts (-11) vs. Jaguars
Indy stampeded J-Ville, 37–3, in Week 4. The Colts are fresh off of big wins over the Texans (25–3) and Chiefs (23–7).

Patriots (-8.5) vs. Bills
EJ Manuel’s season is over, leaving Thad Lewis in charge of staggering Buffalo. Take Tom Brady at home in December.

Titans (-7) vs. Texans
Houston is a loss away from locking up the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Tennessee needs a win to save Mike Munchak’s job (maybe).

Panthers (-6.5) at Falcons
Cam Newton returns to his hometown of Atlanta with a chance to clinch the NFC South crown and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

49ers (-1) at Cardinals
Essentially a pick ‘em, San Francisco dusted Zona 32–20 in Week 6. But the red-hot Redbirds have won seven of their last eight games.

Blowout Bargains
The Crescent and Queen Cities have been nearly unstoppable at home lately. Ride the hot hands in N’Awlins and Cincy.

Saints (-12.5) vs. Buccaneers
New Orleans is 7–0 at home, where Drew Brees has thrown 23 TDs and just three INTs under the lights at the Superdome.

Bengals (-6.5) vs. Ravens
Cincinnati is 7–0 at home and has scored 40 or more points in each of its last four games at Paul Brown Stadium.

Backdoor Covers
These games may not be straight up upsets, but the numbers are big enough to bank on tight fights in these inner division games.

Cowboys (+6.5) vs. Eagles
Dallas will lose in the most painful way possible, it’s nearly guaranteed. That means there will be hope — false hope — in the fourth quarter.

Jets (+6) at Dolphins
The J-E-T-S are fighting to save the job of R-E-X Ryan and should be able to hang tough with a Fins club off a 19–0 loss at Buffalo.

Sucker Bets
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on all the action.

Broncos (-12.5) at Raiders
This number seems high, but Denver has won eight of its games by two touchdowns. So there’s that.

Seahawks (-11.5) vs. Rams
All Seattle has to do is win or tie and the “12th Man” will be rocking the Pacific Northwest with home field advantage.

Chargers (-9.5) vs. Chiefs
Kansas City is 2–4 following a 9–0 start to the season. What’s up, Andy Reid?

Steelers (-7) vs. Browns
Pittsburgh needs to win and have the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers all lose in order to make the playoffs. Is that all?

Giants (-3.5) vs. Redskins
Finally. The end is here. If there’s a way for both of these teams to lose, they’ll make it happen.

Vikings (-3) vs. Lions
Detroit has five losses in its last six games and has been eliminated from the playoffs. But don’t boo Jim Schwartz.

Packers (-3) at Bears
Be careful out there, Aaron Rodgers. Watch your collarbone, buddy.
 

Teaser:
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday in Week 17.
Post date: Friday, December 27, 2013 - 15:50
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-picks-every-game-week-17
Body:

A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 17, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports' editors.

Panthers (11-4) at Falcons (4-11)
The Cats can wrap up the NFC South crown and a first-round bye with win in Cam Newton’s hometown of Atlanta. In Week 9, Carolina cruised to a 34–10 win over the Dirty Birds. After a 1–3 start to the season, the Panthers are 10–1 — with only a loss at New Orleans, the team Carolina vanquished 17–13 last week. Panthers by 8

Packers (7-7-1) at Bears (8-7)
Mike McCarthy wants a “quicker” decision on the Week 17 status of Aaron Rodgers, who has missed the past eight games due to a collarbone injury suffered against, you guessed it, Da Bears in Week 9. The 188th meeting in the league’s longest running rivalry — which dates back to 1921 — may or may not have Mr. Discount “Daaa-ble Check” on the field. But he will be seen frequently during commercial breaks in the series Chicago leads 93–88–6 all-time. Chicago needs a win or a tie to clinch the NFC North. Bears by 1

Texans (2-13) at Titans (6-9)
Will this be the final game of Mike Munchak’s strained facial expressions? Or Chris Johnson’s strained no-gain runs? For all the grief he takes, CJ-might-make-it-to-1K needs just 50 yards on the ground to reach the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth consecutive season. Titans by 5

Browns (4-11) at Steelers (7-8)
Pittsburgh needs to win and have the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers all lose in order to make playoffs. Is that all? Steelers by 10

Redskins (3-12) at Giants (6-9)
The reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year will watch from the sideline as his backup battles a two-time Super Bowl MVP in a throw away game that will mark the end of two of the stranger (and disappointing) 2013 seasons. Giants by 4

Ravens (8-7) at Bengals (10-5)
Cincinnati is a perfect 7–0 at home in the friendly confines of Paul Brown Stadium this year. Bungles no more, the Bengals have scored at least 40 points in each of their last four games at home, with Andy Dalton throwing a combined 15 TD passes during that stretch. Bengals by 5

Jaguars (4-11) at Colts (10-5)
Indy clinched the AFC South long ago, following tap outs by the Titans, Texans and Jags. Now, Andrew Luck and Co. are hoping to earn a first-round playoff bye with a win and losses by both the Patriots and Bengals. Colts by 8

Jets (7-8) at Dolphins (8-7)
Rex Ryan is coaching to save his job, while Miami is holding out hope for a playoff berth. The Fins need to win plus have the Ravens lose or the Chargers win — or both lose or tie. Dolphins by 1

Lions (7-8) at Vikings (4-10-1)
Detroit has five losses in its last six games and has been eliminated from postseason contention. But don’t boo Jim Schwartz. Lions by 3

Bills (6-9) at Patriots (11-4)
Watch your back Tom Brady, Buffalo is the first team with three players with 10-plus sacks — Mario Williams (13), Kyle Williams (10.5) and Jerry Hughes (10) — since the 2000 Saints. Patriots by 10

Buccaneers (4-11) at Saints (10-5)
New Orleans has lost five of its last six on the road. Luckily, this game is in the Superdome, where the Saints are 7–0 and Drew Brees has thrown 23 TDs and just three INTs. Saints by 11

Broncos (12-3) at Raiders (4-11)
Peyton Manning tossed his 10th, 11th and 12th TDs of his record-breaking season during a 37–21 win over the Raiders in Week 3. Broncos by 10

49ers (11-4) at Cardinals (10-5)
Arizona has won seven of its last eight games and look to be a serious challenge for the defending NFC champs. Before the hot streak, the Cardinals lost to the Niners, 32–20, in Week 6. 49ers by 3

Chiefs (11-4) at Chargers (8-7)
What did Andy Reid eat during Kansas City’s Week 10 bye. The Chiefs were 9–0 entering the off week and are 2–4 since then. Chargers by 1

Rams (7-8) at Seahawks (12-3)
All Seattle has to do is win or tie and the “12th Man” will be rocking the Pacific Northwest with an NFC South title and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Seahawks by 7

Eagles (9-6) at Cowboys (8-7)
Can Tony Romo finally win the big one? Wait… what? Romo isn’t going to play Week 17 due to a herniated disk in his back. That’s too bad. Romo is 0–2 with four INTs the last two years in Week 17 win-or-go-home division contests against the Redskins and Giants, respectively. It was the Eagles turn. Now, Kyle Orton will shoulder the responsibility of leading the Cowboys to the Super Bowl — which is what it will likely take to save Jason Garrett’s job in Big D. Eagles by 1

Last week: 11–5 // Season: 155–84–1
 

Teaser:
A preview and prediction of every game on the NFL schedule in Week 17.
Post date: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 - 15:02
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-regular-season-awards
Body:

The holidays are a time for gift giving. For most NFL players, the ultimate prize is the Vince Lombardi Trophy given to the winning team in the Super Bowl. Outsdie of the highest honor in team sports, however, individual awards are pretty sweet.

We’ve made a list and checked it twice to determine which players are deserving of recognition — and the corresponding trophy-case hardware — for their performances in 2013.

Most Valuable Player
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos

A four-time MVP already, Manning has outdone himself this year. After exploding out of the blocks with a seven-TD effort on opening night, Manning has not slowed down — posting his best statistical season to date, with 5,211 yards, a record 51 TDs and 10 INTs while leading Denver to a 12–3 record.

Offensive Player of the Year
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles

“Shady” produced one of the most memorable efforts of the season with his 217-yard, two-TD effort in a Philly snowstorm during a comeback win over the Lions in Week 14. He has also been the catalyst in coach Chip Kelly’s new offense.

Defensive Player of the Year
Richard Sherman, CB, Seahawks

The leader of Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” is also the league’s INT leader with eight picks returned for 125 yards (15.6 ypr) and a highlight-reel 58-yard TD.

Offensive Rookie of the Year
Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers

With Aaron Rodgers banged up for much of the season’s second half, Lacy has carried the load to keep Title Town in the playoff hunt. The first-year phenom out of Alabama has rushed for 1,112 yards and 10 TDs.

Defensive Rookie of the Year
Sheldon Richardson, DE, Jets

The 6'3", 294-pounder has anchored the Jets’ run defense while also pushing the pocket for 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. He also scored a “fat boy” TD as a fullback.

Comeback Player of the Year
Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs

After being benched in San Fran last season, Smith has charged back with a vengeance in Kansas City.

Coach of the Year
Andy Reid, Chiefs

K.C. is just the fourth team in history to earn a trip to the playoffs the season after losing 14 games.

Executive of the Year
John Elway, Broncos

“This one’s for John!” The signing of Wes Welker is just the latest high-profile bull’s-eye at Mile High.
 

Teaser:
Tis the season to hand out hardware to the best in the NFL
Post date: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 - 14:41
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/2013-nfl-power-rankings-week-16
Body:

Ranking all 32 NFL teams, from the stampeding Broncos to the staggering Texans.

1. Broncos (12-3) Von Miller out for season following ACL injury.

2. Seahawks (12-3) Fourteen-game home winning streak snapped.

3. Panthers (11-4) Cam Newton throws last-minute game-winning TD.

4. Saints (10-5) Kenny Vaccaro carted off field with broken ankle.

5. Patriots (11-4) LeGarrette Blount mocks Ray Lewis dance in win.

6. Colts (10-5) Jerrell Freeman hauls in two INTs in win at K.C.

7. 49ers (11-4) Say so long to Candlestick Park after 42 seasons.

8. Chiefs (11-4) Three of four losses have come at Arrowhead.

9. Bengals (10-5) Andy Dalton throws four TDs in blowout victory.

10. Cardinals (10-5) Carson Palmer throws four INTs, wins at Seattle.

11. Eagles (9-6) Soar to prime time 43-point victory over Chicago.

12. Cowboys (8-7) Tony Romo to miss rest of season with back injury.

13. Bears (8-7) Apparently, it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia.

14. Ravens (8-7) Joe Flacco denies knee was cause of poor play.

15. Chargers (8-7) Win three-straight games for first time all year.

16. Dolphins (8-7) Ryan Tannehill sacked seven times in shutout loss.

17. Steelers (7-8) Troy Polamalu forces late fumble in wild win.

18. Packers (7-7-1) Lose heartbreaker to Steelers in Lambeau snow.

19. Lions (7-8) Jim Schwartz outburst at fans may be last straw.

20. Jets (7-8) Did Rex Ryan coach his last game at home?

21. Rams (7-8) Robert Quinn breaks team sack record with 18.

22. Titans (6-9) Rally from 10-point deficit to win at Jacksonville.

23. Giants (6-9) Win in overtime despite Eli Manning’s 26th INT.

24. Bills (6-9) Set new franchise season sack record with 56.

25. Vikings (4-10-1) Adrian Peterson rushes for just 45 yards in return.

26. Raiders (4-11) Penalized 12 times for 73 yards in sloppy defeat.

27. Falcons (4-11) Gearing up for draft, worst-to-first season in 2014.

28. Browns (4-11) Ed Reed INT caps off sixth consecutive defeat.

29. Jaguars (4-11) Retiring center Brad Meester has first career catch.

30. Buccaneers (4-11) Set new season low with just 170 total yards.

31. Redskins (3-12) Fall to 0–5 in NFC East following loss to Dallas.

32. Texans (2-13) Extend franchise record with 13th straight defeat.

Teaser:
Ranking all 32 NFL teams from first to worst.
Post date: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 - 14:35
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/prime-time-players-week-16
Body:

LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
“Shady” shined under the bright lights on Sunday night, with 18 carries for a Week 16-best 133 yards (7.4 ypc) and two trips to the end zone during a 54–11 blowout victory over the Bears. But McCoy wasn’t the only Eagle to take flight — albeit on the ground. Bryce Brown added nine carries for 115 yards (12.8 ypc) and a 65-yard TD. First-year coach Chip Kelly’s offense was in top form, as Philadelphia totalled 28 first downs and 514 total net yards, including 289 yards rushing on 36 carries (8.0 ypc).

Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Another week, another prime time performance from Peyton. The four-time MVP — who is on a drive for five — completed 32-of-51 passes for 400 yards, four TDs and zero INTs during a 37–13 win over Houston. Manning broke Tom Brady’s single-season record for touchdown passes, with his 48th, 49th, record-tying 50th and record-breaking 51st scoring strikes of an amazing 2013 season. “It’s a unique thing and a neat thing to be a part of NFL history, even though it may be temporary,” said Manning, who also joked that Brady might retake the top spot as soon as next season. “I’m going to enjoy it as long as it lasts, and hopefully the Hall of Fame will send the ball back once somebody throws for more.”

Nate Washington, WR, Titans
Sure, Titans-Jaguars was one of only three games without playoff implications. And two Broncos receivers — Eric Decker (10 catches, 131 yards, two TDs) and Demaryius Thomas (eight catches, 123 yards, one TD) — had bigger days statistically. But Washington’s six catches for 117 yards (19.5 ypc) and one TD should not be overlooked. Tennessee was able to pull off a come-from-behind victory thanks to Washington’s big plays, none bigger than his 30-yard fourth-quarter go-ahead TD, which helped the Titans earn their first AFC South win.

Andy Dalton, QB, Bengals
Cincy’s red-haired signal-caller was red-hot during a 42–14 win over Minnesota. Dalton completed 27-of-38 passes for 366 yards, four scoring strikes and no picks for a season-high 136.5 passer rating. The Bengals improved to 7–0 at home and clinched the AFC North division crown thanks to a Baltimore loss to New England later in the day. A second-round pick out of TCU in 2011, Dalton has led Cincinnati to the postseason in all three of his seasons as the team’s starting quarterback.
 

Teaser:
The best performances in the NFL from Week 16.
Post date: Tuesday, December 24, 2013 - 14:26
All taxonomy terms: College Football, monthly, Monthly
Path: /college-football/stallone-and-de-niro-square-grudge-match
Body:
It’s a movie version of a timeless bar debate: Who would win in a fight, Rocky Balboa or Jake LaMotta? 
 
It’s a great tease, but “Grudge Match” isn’t out to provide any definitive answers. Robert De Niro is not playing the Raging Bull this time, but rather Billy “The Kid” McDonnen, and Sylvester Stallone trades Philly’s favorite son for Pittsburgh’s Henry “Razor” Sharp. The two come together as old-timers looking to rekindle a 30-year-old rivalry in a movie aiming for LOLs over TKOs. 
 
But how exactly did two of cinema’s greatest boxers finally come together? One would be tempted to credit Stallone, who clearly has no qualms about revisiting past glories in films like “The Expendables” and “The Escape Plan,” but it turns out the big man was — dare we say — afraid? 
 
“I didn’t want to do it,” says the 67-year-old Stallone with a chuckle. “Rocky got scared. I thought, ‘Am I making a mockery of something that a lot of people take seriously?’ I am so humbled that the city of Philadelphia has embraced Rocky. But Bobby (De Niro) called me a few times. He pounded me into submission.” 
 
De Niro, 70, offers up a wry smirk when reminded of Stallone’s hesitation: “He was anxious about things, but I felt we’d be alright,” explains the veteran actor, who has found a late-career home in comedy. “I told him we’d be OK. We should go for it.” Stallone also realized this movie represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Our careers have pretty much followed the same timeline,” says Stallone. “We were up against each other in ’77 for Best Film with ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Rocky.’ We have a long history together. And it’s great to finally be working with him.” 
 
Despite Stallone’s aversion to poking fun at the Italian Stallion, he admits that “Grudge Match” does offer up few winks to the audience during Razor’s training sequences (including a visit to a very iconic meat locker) that, in his words, “aren’t crossing the line” and are all in good fun. In fact, it’s the overriding sense of fun that allows “Grudge Match” (which hits theaters Dec. 25) to successfully shed the weight of its stars’ iconic baggage. This is no vanity project — literally. Witness one sequence that requires Stallone and De Niro to don skintight, lime-green bodysuits as their characters record motion capture for a boxing video game. 
 
“I felt like a schmuck,” is De Niro’s extremely De Niro-esque assessment of the scene. “(Stallone) looked great, though.” Stallone’s take is a little different, as he credits De Niro’s comedy chops for making the scene work. “You just gotta let (vanity) go. And I think he does it better than I do. When we first walked out in the green suits, I went, ‘All bets are off now!’” 
 
While goofing around outside of the ring was fine, Stallone approached the action inside it with his usual intensity, working out the fight sequences with great detail. “Sylvester choreographed the whole thing,” says De Niro. “He took the lead on it, and he’s got all this great experience. To my surprise he said, ‘Don’t worry if you hit me or this or that…’” A nice sentiment, but Stallone may not have been entirely honest with his co-star. “We were using real, eight-ounce Everlast gloves,” says Stallone, rather than the padded “prop” gloves worn on other films. “If you make a mistake and connect with those, it’s lethal.”
 
While the Jake vs. Rocky debate will carry on, have Stallone and De Niro inadvertently opened up a whole new franchise possibility? Might we see a “Grudge Match II” in a few years? Stallone shows no hesitation: “Sure! In Hollywood, anything’s possible! But next time no shirts off. It’ll be flesh-colored tank tops! That’s the deal!”
 
WATCH THE MOVIE'S TRAILER.

 
—By Eric Alt
Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures. 
Teaser:
It’s a movie version of a timeless bar debate: Who would win in a fight, Rocky Balboa or Jake LaMotta?
Post date: Monday, December 23, 2013 - 11:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/10-nfl-players-who-were-total-duds-2013
Body:

Think back to early August, when the preseason picks were just coming out and 32 teams in 31 NFL cities were overflowing with optimism. Almost every team in the league had playoff, if not Super Bowl aspirations. Everyone’s expectations were sky high.

And the higher the expectations, in some cases, the farther the fall.

So before the NFL begins its postseason and before it hands out all it’s awards, here’s a look at 10 players who should’ve been contenders for elite status during the 2013 season. At least that’s what we all seemed to expect.

So while there were other disappointments around the NFL, it’s hard to find players who disappointed all of us more than these:

1. Giants QB Eli Manning The Giants began the season with a Super Bowl countdown clock in their locker room and nobody laughed, in large part because they had a franchise quarterback. But then Manning threw 15 interceptions in the first five game, on his way to a franchise record-tying 25 so far. A few years ago he called himself “elite,” then went out and played like it and won a Super Bowl. This year he’s suffering through arguably his worst NFL season and the Giants are one of the biggest disappointments in the league.

RG32. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III Maybe expectations should’ve been tempered because he was coming off major knee surgery, but he declared himself healthy and the Redskins were the defending NFC East champs. But Griffin has hardly looked anything like RGIII this season and opponents don’t fear him the way they did when he was a rookie. His numbers aren’t terrible, but they’re down across the board and he’s not as effective as a runner. There’s also been controversy swirling around him and his coach as the Redskins continue to lose.

3. Texans QB Matt Schaub He’s one of the forgotten members of the QB Class of 2004, mostly because he was a third-rounder who needed to be traded to find a job to call his own. And he had, with a Texan team that was perennially underachieving, but seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough this year. Instead, Schaub has been booed out of his own stadium and (despite playing this Sunday in place of an injured Case Keenum) replaced by his now-fired coach. His numbers are so miserable he likely will have a hard time finding a starting job anywhere next year.

Roddy White4. Falcons WR Roddy White It’s hard to believe that the Falcons were just a few feet away from winning the NFC championship last season. Now they’re in contention for the first pick in the draft. And a big reason is the surprise ankle injury that White has been suffering through since opening day. He has played in 11 games, but he’s been mostly ineffective with just 43 catches for 479 yards and a touchdown. And, at 32, there’s a chance that in the future those numbers will only get worse.

5. Ravens RB Ray Rice He was a huge part of the Ravens’ championship run last year and he was coming off of four straight seasons with 1,000 yards rushing and over 1,500 total. There was no reason to expect a major decline at age 26. Whether or not it was his injured hip, the decline has been steep. He’s already missed three games and he’ll be lucky to get to 800 rushing yards and 400 yards receiving. His totals will be his worst since his rookie year.

6. Dolphins WR Mike Wallace He was one of the top free agents on the market last offseason and landed a $60 million contract because the Dolphins thought he’d be the missing piece that would elevate QB Ryan Tannehill and put them over the top. Instead, for most of the season everyone wondered what they bought and why, as Wallace struggled to find any chemistry with his quarterback. He does have 64 catches for 867 yards and four touchdowns with two games to go and statistically it’ll be one of his finest seasons. But seven times in 14 games he’s had less than 50 yards receiving, which isn’t good for a guy paid to be one of the top receivers in the league.

7. Bills RB CJ Spiller His 1,200 rushing yards and 1,700 total yards last season was supposed to be just the start, but an ankle injury spoiled most of his season and he likely won’t even get to 1,000 yards rushing.  He’s had just three 100-yard rushing games to go along with two games where his total was in the single digits. And he’s only reached the end zone twice.

JJ Watt8. Texans DE JJ Watt How is it possible that a guy who’ll likely finish with double-digit sacks is a disappointment? Because his 9 ½ pales in comparison with the 20 ½ he had last season and there was a lot of talk about him challenging the NFL single-season sack record – shattering it, too. Much like the Texans defense he was supposed to anchor, he didn’t come close to living up to the hype.

9. Vikings DE Jared Allen Much like Watt, Allen’s disappointment is about the hype. Despite the fact that he’s 31 he said in the offseason that Michael Strahan’s sack record (22 ½) was “reachable” – which he knew because he had 22 two years ago. Last year he dropped all the way down to 12, though, and that proved to be a trend, not an aberration. Now he’s only at nine with just two games to go.

10. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe In 2010 and 2011, Bowe was one of the NFL’s best receivers and certainly one of the most unheralded. And this year with the Chiefs on an 11-3 tear and new QB Alex Smith playing terrific football, shouldn’t Bowe’s numbers be even better? But in the Andy Reid West Coast offense, he hasn’t been the big play threat everyone hoped. He has caught 52 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns, but given how good the Chiefs are and the amount of points they’re scoring, he really should be so much more.

— By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN

Teaser:
10 Great NFL Players Who Were Duds in 2013
Post date: Friday, December 20, 2013 - 15:00
All taxonomy terms: Video, videos, NFL
Path: /nfl/50-best-plays-sports-2013
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With 2013 coming to an end, it's time to reminisce about the good old day...or at least the past 365 days or so. 

With that in mind, here is a compilation of the 50 best plays in sports for 2013.


The 50 Best Sports Plays Of 2013 by worldwideinterweb

Teaser:
With 2013 coming to an end, it's time to do what every sports fan wants: watch all the amazing moments of the year. Here are the 50 best plays in sports in 2013.
Post date: Friday, December 20, 2013 - 14:16

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