Articles By Athlon Sports
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.
2. 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.
4. 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.
8. 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
The college bowl season is a great opportunity for us to get a look at the next crop of fantasy football stars. Pre-draft Combine and Pro Day workouts are fun, but nothing beats evaluating a player in live game action under the bright lights of a bowl game.
So get ahead of your competition and check out these 12 future fantasy football stars.
Marqise Lee, WR, USC
vs. Fresno State, Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Dec. 21 at 3:30 p.m. ET on ABC
Lee is the most NFL-ready WR on this list. He wins with short-area quickness, smooth route-running and reliable hands. Lee has the versatility to line up all over the field.
His numbers have suffered this season because of knee and shoulder injuries and shaky QB play. But he’s just a year removed from a huge 118-catch, 1,721-yard campaign. He went for 73 catches and 1,143 yards in his freshman year.
Lee isn’t a true game breaker, but his polish could result in big numbers in the pros. Think Marvin Harrison.
Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
vs. Cincinnati, Belk Bowl, Dec. 28 at 3:20 p.m. ET on ESPN
Ebron is more WR than TE. And that’s just fine for fantasy owners.
This guy has all the tools to post big-time receiving numbers at the next level. Ebron goes 6’4, 245 pounds with impressive speed, acceleration and change-of-direction ability. He’s averaged a sizzling 16.3 yards per catch as the focal point of North Carolina’s passing game this year. He’s had catches of 71 and 79 yards. You don’t see that type of explosive ability from many TEs.
Ebron’s athleticism will allow him to line up all over the formation for his NFL team. The junior is expected to declare for the 2014 draft and will likely be a 1st-round pick. It shouldn’t take him long to emerge as a fantasy factor.
Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville
vs. Miami, Russell Athletic Bowl, Dec. 28 at 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
Bridgewater’s draft stock has taken a hit recently, and recent reports have him contemplating staying in school another year. But he remains the most polished and well-rounded QB prospect in college football. He’s tossed 55 TDs vs. 12 INTs over the past 2 seasons. That’s impressive -- even if Bridgewater isn’t facing elite competition.
He has NFL-caliber arm strength and accuracy. Scouts laud his quick release. But it’s his ability to read defenses and dissect coverages that will help him make a seamless transition to the NFL. Bridgewater is a pocket passer but can pick up yards on the ground when he needs to. That will add to his fantasy potential.
If there’s a concern here, it’s Bridgewater’s wiry 6’3, 196-pound frame. He at least does a good job avoiding hits when he scrambles.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
vs. Texas, Valero Alamo Bowl, Dec. 30 at 6:45 p.m. ET on ESPN
Mariota made a surprising decision to return to school for 2014. He might have been in the mix to go No. 1 overall had he declared. The kid’s game could still use some polishing, though. He’ll only be more ready to make a fantasy impact when he comes out in 2015.
The most obvious comparison for Mariota is Colin Kaepernick. That might be a bit lofty -- Mariota doesn’t have Kaepernick’s arm strength and might fall a bit short in the accuracy department, too. But he has a similar combination of passing and rushing ability.
Mariota threw 30 TDs vs. just 4 INTs in 2013. On the ground, he’s ripped off 1,334 yards and 14 TDs over the past 2 seasons. Former Oregon HC Mike Bellotti calls Mariota “a more natural runner” than Robert Griffin.
Mariota isn’t as safe a fantasy prospect as Bridgewater, but he certainly has more upside.
Jace Amaro, TE, Texas Tech
vs. Arizona State, National University Holiday Bowl, Dec. 30 at 10:15 p.m. ET on ESPN
This isn’t the next Jimmy Graham. But he’s the closest thing in the college game.
Amaro is a 6’5, 260-pound freak of an athlete. He’s projected to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.6-second range.
He’s posted some videogame-like numbers in 2013. Amaro sits 11th among all players with 1,240 receiving yards. His 98 catches rank 7th. (Remember that this is a TE we’re talking about.) He’s topped 100 yards in 5 of 12 games. Texas Tech’s pass-heavy spread offense has surely boosted Amaro’s production, but this guy is the real deal.
Amaro does damage as a traditional in-line TE or split out in the slot. He’s explosive off the snap with a size-speed combination that makes him a matchup nightmare. Amaro knows how to use his big frame to shield smaller defenders. And he has a pair of big, sticky hands.
In short, he’s everything NFL teams are looking for in a “new-age” TE. Amaro will be wildly productive in the NFL -- and a difference-maker in fantasy. The junior hasn’t officially declared for the 2014 draft but will compete with Ebron to be the 1st TE off the board if he does.
Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
vs. Duke, Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31 at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
Johnny Manziel’s top target will likely emerge as a better pro than the 2012 Heisman winner.
Evans brings a mix of Anquan Boldin’s physicality and Vincent Jackson’s downfield playmaking ability. This is a 6’5, 225-pounder with excellent leaping ability, body control and vice-grip hands. Even when he’s covered, he’s open because of his dominant catch-point skills.
Draft Insider’s Tony Pauline ranks Evans as the top WR in the class.
“Large, game impacting receiver that physically beats defenders in the middle of the field or outraces opponents down the flanks,” Pauline wrote. “Has all the necessary talents to be a big time number one wide out in the NFL.”
Evans might not rack up huge yardage at the next level, but he could be a catch and TD machine.
Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
vs. South Carolina, Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1 at 1 p.m. ET on ABC
When you think of Wisconsin RBs, you usually think of big bruisers like Montee Ball or (gulp!) Ron Dayne. That’s not Gordon.
This guy is a home run hitter. Gordon has busted off runs of 65, 70, 71 and 80 yards this year. He’s totaled 1,466 yards on just 181 carries -- a juicy 8.1-yard average.
Gordon has drawn comparisons to Jamaal Charles as a 1-cut runner with elite speed and acceleration. While Gordon might not have Charles’ 4.3 wheels, he packs more punch at 6’1 and 203 pounds. If the redshirt sophomore declares for the 2014 NFL Draft, he has a chance to be the 1st RB off the board.
T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama
vs. Oklahoma, Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
‘Bama has sent a bunch of backs to the big leagues lately -- Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy -- with varying degrees of success. Yeldon might be more talented than all of them.
As a true freshman in 2012, Yeldon ripped off 1,108 yards and 12 scores on 175 carries. That 6.3-yard average was just a shade lower than Lacy’s 6.5 mark. Yeldon has had another efficient campaign this year, taking 190 totes for 1,163 yards and 13 scores. He’s also a capable pass-catcher, with 29 grabs for 291 yards over the past 2 seasons.
At 6’2 and 218 pounds, Yeldon is almost the same exact size as Adrian Peterson when he came out of Oklahoma. Like Peterson, Yeldon boasts an impressive combination of speed and power. He busts plenty of tackles and has recorded 9 runs of 30+ yards over the last 2 years.
Yeldon isn’t eligible for the 2014 draft but is the early favorite to be the 1st RB off the board in 2015. He has all the makings of an elite fantasy back.
Dorial Green-Beckham, WR, Missouri
vs. Oklahoma State, AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FOX
The comparisons to A.J. Green are warranted. Green-Beckham is a rangy 6’6, 225-pounder with scary athleticism and fluidity.
Rivals.com ranked Green-Beckham as the top prospect in the 2012 class. CBS’ Tom Lemming called him the best high school WR since Randy Moss.
“He's got everything,” Lemming said. “Height, super long arms, leaping ability, speed, and most of all, production.”
Green-Beckham hasn’t disappointed at Missouri. A drug suspension marred his freshman season, but he averaged 14.1 yards per catch and scored 5 times in limited action. That included TDs of 70 and 80 yards.
He’s taken a giant leap forward in 2012. Green-Beckham leads Mizzou with 12 scores and is tied for the team lead with 55 catches. He’s averaging 15.1 yards per catch and has 6 grabs of 35+ yards.
Green-Beckam has more fantasy upside than any of the WRs listed above him here. You’ll just need to wait until 2015 to cash in on it. He’s not eligible for this spring’s NFL draft but will more than likely be a high 1st-rounder in 2015.
Carlos Hyde, RB, Ohio State
vs. Clemson, Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Hyde totaled 1,408 yards and 14 TDs on a 7.7 yards-per-carry average this season. He heads to the Orange Bowl riding a streak of 8 straight 100-yard games.
The Buckeye doesn’t have the big-play ability of a Yeldon or Gordon, but he’s a big, bruising pile-driver. A 6’0, 242-pound tackle-breaking machine. Scouts are also high on his quick feet and vision. Hyde has been compared to Frank Gore. NFL.com’s Charles Davis believes Hyde might be better than Eddie Lacy.
While he doesn’t project to contribute much in the passing game -- just 14 catches this year -- Hyde could be a big-time producer in non-PPR fantasy leagues. He has the size and skill set to be a perennial 300-carry, 10-TD RB.
Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
vs. Ohio State, Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
Watkins is by far the most explosive WR set to enter the big leagues in 2014. He has the speed to take the top off defenses but is at his best with the ball in his hands in open space.
“Watkins is one of the best ‘catch and run’ playmakers I've seen in the college game,” NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks wrote. “He excels at maneuvering through traffic with the ball in his hands, but also displays the toughness to run through arm tackles on the perimeter.”
Watkins is averaging 14.1 yards per catch for his college career. He’s made 15 grabs of 40+ yards, including 91- and 96-yarders this season. Watkins has topped 100 yards in 14 of 35 career games.
Watkins’ speed and explosion have drawn comparisons to Torrey Smith. And he’s probably a more well-rounded receiver than Smith was coming out of Maryland. Watkins is capable of making a 1st-year fantasy impact and should quickly emerge as a perennial stud.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
vs. Auburn, BCS National Championship, Jan. 6 at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
The best player in college football is a redshirt freshman. Winston has been dominant in his debut season at Florida State, setting NCAA freshman records with 3,820 passing yards and 38 TDs. He’ll only get better as a passer with more seasoning.
But it’s Winston’s combination of size (6’4, 228 pounds) and athleticism that makes him such an intriguing fantasy football prospect. He could make a Cam Newton-like impact with his legs at the pro level.
This article was written by Jared Smola and provided to Athlon Sports courtesy of DraftSharks.com. Online since 1999, Draft Sharks won the 2010 and 2012 FSTA awards for the most accurate fantasy football projections in the industry.
A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 16, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports' editors.
Dolphins (8-6) at Bills (5-9)
Buffalo edged Miami, 23–21, in Week 7, thanks to a fourth-quarter forced fumble from Mario Williams that set up a game-winning FG. Dolphins by 3
Vikings (4-9-1) at Bengals (9-5)
Andy Dalton is happy to be back in Cincinnati, where he has thrown 14 TDs and five INTs, compared to 13 TDs and 11 INTs on the road. Bengals by 8
Broncos (11-3) at Texans (2-12)
Peyton Manning carries a 16–3 career record vs. Houston — a team with 12 straight losses. Broncos by 13
Titans (5-9) at Jaguars (4-10)
Talk about a slump-buster. J-Ville was 0–8 before beating Tennessee, 29–27, in Week 10. The Jags are 4–2 since their winless start. Titans by 2
Browns (4-10) at Jets (6-8)
Cleveland has hit the 10-loss mark yet again. New York still has a shot with Geno Smith at QB. Jets by 2
Saints (10-4) at Panthers (10-4)
The game of the week pits the NFC South’s top two teams against each other in a winner-take-all heavyweight fight. New Orleans defeated Carolina, 31–13, in Week 14. Panthers by 1
Colts (9-5) at Chiefs (11-3)
A pair of former No. 1 overall picks go head-to-head when Andrew Luck plays Alex Smith. AFC playoff pecking order is also up for grabs in what could be a potential postseason preview. Chiefs by 5
Cowboys (7-7) at Redskins (3-11)
Who would have guessed RG3 would have more detractors than Tony Romo this season? Cowboys by 6
Buccaneers (4-10) at Rams (6-8)
Tampa Bay is 4–2 since an 0–8 start to the year. St. Louis has only won two straight weeks once this year — against the Jaguars and Texans. Rams by 5
Giants (5-9) at Lions (7-7)
Matthew Stafford is coming off a rough week, but nothing like Eli Manning’s five-INT debacle. Lions by 10
Cardinals (9-5) at Seahawks (12-2)
This NFC West birdfight is a rematch of Seattle’s 34–20 win at Arizona in Week 7. Seahawks by 11
Raiders (4-10) at Chargers (7-7)
The Silver-and-Black shocked the Bolts, 27–17, in Week 5, as Philip Rivers threw three INTs. Chargers by 8
Steelers (6-8) at Packers (7-6-1)
Odds are, Matt Flynn will continue to start in place of Aaron Rodgers when Blitz-burgh visits Title Town in a rematch of Super Bowl XLV. Steelers by 1
Patriots (10-4) at Ravens (8-6)
New England lost to Baltimore twice last year — 31–30 in Week 3 and 28–13 in an AFC title game defeat Tom Brady blamed himself for. Ravens by 1
Bears (8-6) at Eagles (8-6)
Strange coincidence, the current division leaders in the NFC East and North are both plus-15 net points this season. Eagles by 3
Falcons (4-10) at 49ers (10-4)
ESPN executives at Monday Night Football were loving this matchup preseason. But not now. 49ers by 13
It’s fantasy football Super Bowl time. This week, the majority of leagues across the country will crown a champion who will win bragging rights, trophies, a few dollars, a trip to Vegas, who knows? And while every league is different, there are several key players acquired throughout the season who push a contender over the top, regardless of scoring, league size or any other variable.
With that in mind, here’s a look at this year’s best fantasy stars — with a mix of high-rounders who lived up to expectations, longshots who panned out and undrafted All-Pros who helped make up for a few expensive, high-pick busts.
QB – Peyton Manning, Broncos
Obviously, Manning wasn’t the fantasy risk in 2013 that he was in 2012, when he was fresh off four neck surgeries and playing for a new team. But the Manning faithful have been rewarded with his best statistical season yet (4,811 yards, 47 TDs).
QB – Nick Foles, Eagles
A waiver wire goldmine, Foles has thrown 23 TDs and just two INTs in just eight starts in place of the injured Michael Vick.
RB – LeSean McCoy, Eagles
“Shady” has bounced back from an injury-riddled 2012 season and thriving in Chip Kelly’s new-look Philly offense — with a league-leading 1,343 rush yards, 507 receiving yards and eight total TDs.
RB – Eddie Lacy, Packers
The rookie out of Alabama got off to a slow start, with 51 yards through the first three games. But he’s been a beast since, with 977 yards and seven TDs in the last 11 games.
WR – Josh Gordon, Browns
Those who stashed away Gordon during his two-game suspension have been rewarded with an NFL-best 1,467 yards and nine TDs.
WR – Alshon Jeffery, Bears
Teammate Brandon Marshall was the early-round pick, but Jeffery has been a second-year sensation, with 1,265 yards and seven TD grabs.
WR – Eric Decker, Broncos
Manning’s WR3 in Denver has been a fringe WR1 in fantasy, with 1,130 yards and eight TDs.
TE – Jimmy Graham, Saints
Drew Brees’ red zone target has scored in nine games, with five multi-TD contests to his credit.
K – Justin Tucker, Ravens
A recent fantasy football playoff hero with six FGs — including two from 50-plus yards — in Week 15.
DEF – Seattle Seahawks
The Legion of Boom has held six opponents to 10 or fewer points.
Ranking all 32 NFL teams, from the soaring two-loss Seahawks to the cellar-dwelling two-win Texans.
1. Seahawks (12-2) Legion of Boom has five INTs in shutout victory.
2. 49ers (10-4) Frank Gore records seventh 1,000-yard season.
3. Broncos (11-3) Loss to Bolts snaps 14-game home winning streak.
4. Saints (10-4) Good grief! Charlie Brown benched in loss to Rams.
5. Panthers (10-4) Captain Munnerlyn posts team-record fifth pick-six.
6. Chiefs (11-3) Clinch playoff berth one year after finishing 2–14.
7. Patriots (10-4) Tom Brady unable to pull off game-winning drive.
8. Bengals (9-5) Kevin Huber has broken jaw, cracked vertebrae.
9. Colts (9-5) Robert Mathis breaks franchise sack record (16.5).
10. Cardinals (9-5) Escape with wild overtime victory at Tennessee.
11. Eagles (8-6) Chip Kelly to Texas? Rumors are pure “speculation.”
12. Ravens (8-6) Justin Tucker 61-yard FG ices road win at Detroit.
13. Packers (7-6-1) Matt Flynn keeps hope alive in epic win at Dallas.
14. Bears (8-6) Jay Cutler returns, leads comeback at Cleveland.
15. Dolphins (8-6) End seven-game losing streak against New England.
16. Chargers (7-7) Time of possession (38:49-to-21:11) beats Denver.
17. Lions (7-7) Megatron defends Matthew Stafford after MNF loss.
18. Cowboys (7-7) Dez Bryant leaves field early after epic collapse.
19. Steelers (6-8) Antonio Brown shines on Sunday night in Cincy.
20. Jets (6-8) Geno Smith “let Rex (Ryan) down” with pick-six.
21. Rams (6-8) Rattle Drew Brees, shock the Saints for upset win.
22. Titans (5-9) Score 17 points in final 3:12 to force overtime, lose.
23. Giants (5-9) Eli Manning ties career-worst with 25th INT of year.
24. Bills (5-9) EJ Manuel earns first road win in return to Florida.
25. Vikings (4-9-1) Optimistic Adrian Peterson will return this week.
26. Falcons (4-10) Score 20 points off of seven Washington turnovers.
27. Raiders (4-10) Matt McGloin tosses four INTs, loses fumble in loss.
28. Buccaneers (4-10) Convert just 1-of-10 on third down in loss to 49ers.
29. Browns (4-10) Have lost at least 10 games in six straight seasons.
30. Jaguars (4-10) Leading receiver Cecil Shorts (groin) placed on IR.
31. Redskins (3-11) RG3 watches from sideline as Kirk Cousins loses.
32. Texans (2-12) Lose 12th straight, fall to 0–12 all-time at Indy.
Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs
Give the ball to Jamaal. That was the motto of Kansas City coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith during a 56–31 win at Oakland. Charles had just eight carries for 20 yards and one trip to the end zone on the ground. But through the air, the track star out of Texas had eight catches for 195 yards (24.4 ypc) and four scores, including a highlight-reel 71-yard sprint to the end zone. Charles’ five total TDs tied the Chiefs franchise single-game record and his 195 receiving yards were the third-most by a running back since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.
Matt Flynn, QB, Packers
With MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers sidelined by a collarbone injury, Flynn stepped up to deliver his best performance of the season in an unlikely 37–36 come-from-behind win on the road in Dallas. Trailing 26–3 at halftime, Flynn threw four second-half TDs — while Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo threw two INTs in the final three minutes — to earn the Packers’ second straight win and keep Title Town in the NFC playoff picture. Flynn finished 26-of-39 for 299 yards, four TDs and one INT in an unbelievable winning effort. “What a feeling,” Flynn said. “As we were taking a knee, we were thinking, ‘Is this real? Is this happening?’”
Greg Jennings, WR, Vikings
No Adrian Peterson? No problem. Minnesota’s offense was too much for Philadelphia to handle in a 48–30 victory. Jennings hauled in a career-high 11 catches for 163 yards and a 57-yard TD from quarterback Matt Cassel. On the ground, the Vikings were without A.D. and backup Toby Gerhart but were still able to gash the Eagles with third-stringer Matt Asiata, who finished with three TDs — or the same number of career carries he had entering his first start.
Robert Quinn, DE, Rams
St. Louis’ pass rush battered Drew Brees in a 27–16 upset win over New Orleans. Quinn led the charge with two sacks for 16 lost yards, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. In his third season, Quinn has an NFL runner-up 15 sacks and league-leading seven forced fumbles, establishing himself as a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. Quinn continues to show marked improvement — with five sacks as a rookie, 10.5 sacks last season and 15 (and counting) this year. The sky is the limit for the 6'4", 264-pound 23-year-old.
At the start of their game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, the Philadelphia Eagles were a disaster. As snow fell all around them at Lincoln Financial Field, they couldn’t seem to find their footing. Their high-octane offense sputtered. They looked a dome team from the South trying to find its way through unfamiliar elements.
It certainly didn’t bode well for their dreams of playing in Super Bowl XLVIII in the Meadowlands in New Jersey – the first outdoor, cold-weather Super Bowl in the history of the league.
Then a funny thing happened: As eight inches of snow fell on Philadelphia, the Eagles unleashed an avalanche on the Lions, burying them with 299 rushing yards and 28 fourth-quarter points in a 34-20 win. They proved they have the ingredients to win in the cold and bad weather, including a strong running game, an ability to adapt when the quarterback is “off”, a solid physical defense and a history of playing or practicing in the cold.
So if they somehow sneak out of the NFC and make it to the Super Bowl, they’ll be all right if the weather gets crazy on Super Sunday (Feb. 2, 2014).
But there are some current NFL contenders that would be much better off if the Super Bowl was played in the sun:
Indianapolis Colts (8-6) – They haven’t been the same since the loss of Reggie Wayne anyway, but they are a team that relies heavily on their quarterback. They like to score points, they’re comfortable in shootouts and their game is finesse. Their defense is terrible at stopping the run – something they’d need to do in the snow – and they’ve been searching for a running back since they lost Ahmad Bradshaw for the season. Trent Richardson isn’t the answer. In fact, they might not have one at that position at all.
Miami Dolphins (7-6) – They may be extreme longshots to get through the minefield of the AFC, but they might be the team least suited for a New York Super Sunday. They have a middling defense, a weak offensive line and a rushing attack that (behind Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas) is nearly non-existent. It is impressive that they won in Pittsburgh on Sunday, where there was light snow and windchills in the teens. But that seems more like an aberration and a sign of how awful the Steelers really are.
Detroit Lions (7-6) – Just look at what happened to them on Sunday in Philly. Their game is so reliant on Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson, but they melted in the snow. Stafford threw for 148 yards and Johnson caught three passes for 49 yards. Now the reality is they’re so good that it might take a blizzard to take them out of the game. But if they’re out, the Lions can’t run the ball well enough to win. And their supposedly strong, physical defense got absolutely manhandled by Philly. That should’ve been their biggest ally in the snow.
Dallas Cowboys (7-6) – They go as far as Tony Romo lets them go, and he’s shaky enough in big situations as it is. The elements only figure to make him shakier, despite having to play games in the oft-frigid NFC East. It would help if the Dallas defense wasn’t statistically the worst in football and if they weren’t such a remarkably pass-heavy team. DeMarco Murray can be dangerous – and he was good in the cold Monday night in Chicago – but he’s too inconsistent to be relied upon in a big spot.
New Orleans Saints (10-3) – They’re 7-0 at home and 3-3 on the road, which is alarming enough – though to be fair their road losses are in Seattle, New England and … wait, in New Jersey against the Jets? Really? The problem with the Saints is nobody relies more on their two most dangerous elements: Their passing game and their incredibly loud home stadium. Teams just can’t win in the Superdome the last few years and the Saints throw for 302.9 yards per game (second in the NFL) and run for just 91.4 (25th). A bad-weather game of any kind will likely kill their chances long before they get to the Super Bowl. It’s why they so desperately need to avoid a trip to Seattle for the NFC championship game.
Arizona Cardinals (8-5) - They play a tough, physical brand of defense, which should help them in bad weather situations, and they also create a lot of turnovers. But they don’t have an imposing running game and they’re 2-4 on the road. Between their struggles away from home and the fact that they make their home in the dessert, they’re not likely to thrive in the white stuff.
Denver Broncos (11-2) – First, let’s be honest. They might be the best team in the AFC regardless of where it’s played, but there will always be a nagging wonder about Peyton Manning’s ability to handle the cold weather. He seemingly dismissed that with 359 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday in a rout in 15-degree weather. Of course, that was at home against the Titans, so who knows what happens in a big game? But Manning can play and the Broncos can run. Their defense is a bit of an unknown only because of the number of blowouts and shootouts they’ve been involved in have skewed the stats. They play and practice in the cold, though, so they’re better suited for it than any of Manning’s Colts teams were.
By Ralph Vacchiano
A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 15, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports’ editors.
Chargers (6-7) at Broncos (11-2)
Historically, Peyton Manning has had tough times against the Bolts — snapping a 13-game winning streak in 2005, throwing six INTs in ’07 and four INTs with a pair of pick-sixes in ’10. But Manning didn’t have any problems in Week 10 this year, passing for 330 yards, four TDs and zero INTs during a 28–20 win at San Diego. The Broncos were a quick-strike offense that day, with scoring drives lasting 57 seconds, 1:25, 2:27 and 3:26, respectively. Broncos by 10
Redskins (3-10) at Falcons (3-10)
One year ago, Washington and Atlanta hosted playoff games. How quickly a team can get caught in the undertow of NFL parity and flipped from first to worst in its division standings. Falcons by 3
49ers (9-4) at Buccaneers (4-9)
There are no moral victories in the NFL. A loss is a loss is a loss, obviously. But San Fran’s four defeats are at Seattle, Indianapolis, Carolina and at New Orleans — a quartet of teams with a combined 38–14 record this season. 49ers by 8
Seahawks (11-2) at Giants (5-8)
Much has been made of Russell Wilson’s 14–0 career record at home in Seattle. Fewer Hawks fans are eager to bring up Wilson’s 5–5 mark (including playoffs) in the Eastern Time Zone. Seahawks by 9
Eagles (8-5) at Vikings (3-9-1)
The good news is it appears Adrian Peterson will not need surgery on his mid-foot sprain, which is not of the dreaded Lisfranc variety according to recent MRI results. The bad news is A.D. is in a walking boot and unlikely to play in Week 15, backup Toby Gerhart has a hamstring issue and third-string back Matt Asiata has three career carries for nine yards in 2012. Eagles by 7
Patriots (10-3) at Dolphins (7-6)
New England beat Miami, 27–17, in Week 8. But the win was Tom Brady’s worst statistical game of the season, with season lows in completions (13), attempts (22) and passing yards (116). Brady’s 116 yards were his fewest since 2009. Patriots by 2
Bills (4-9) at Jaguars (4-9)
J-Ville has won four of its last five since coming back from London, where the Jags fell to 0–8 after a rock-bottom 32-point loss to the 49ers. Jaguars by 1
Texans (2-11) at Colts (8-5)
Indianapolis overcame a 21–3 halftime deficit to pull off a 27–24 win at Houston in Week 9. In three career games against the AFC South rival Texans, Luck has seven TDs and zero INTs. Colts by 6
Bears (7-6) at Browns (4-9)
Marc Trestman backs Jay Cutler as Chicago’s top QB, despite Josh McCown’s recent success. That’s nothing. Cleveland has had four guys throw TDs this season, including a punter. Browns by 1
Chiefs (10-3) at Raiders (4-9)
K.C. destroyed Oakland, 24–7, in Week 6, with the Chiefs D notching 10 sacks and three INTs. Chiefs by 8
Jets (6-7) at Panthers (9-4)
The Cats’ top-ranked scoring defense (14.5 ppg) had not allowed more than two TDs in a single game until the Saints scored three times in one quarter during last week’s 31–13 loss — which was only the second time all season Carolina allowed 24 or more points. Meanwhile, the Jets have scored 14 or fewer points in seven games, including four games in single digits. Panthers by 11
Packers (6-6-1) at Cowboys (7-6)
Obviously, the status of Aaron Rodgers is the giant cheese block in the room. But since even the doctor in charge isn’t sure of what to do about Title Town’s most valuable collarbone, let’s talk about Tony Romo’s 13–20 career record in December and January, instead. This rematch of the 1967 “Ice Bowl” will be awfully cold for the losing team in this must-win showdown. Cowboys by 8
Cardinals (8-5) at Titans (5-8)
Bruce Arians beat Tennessee twice last season as the Colts interim coach, with a 19–13 win in Music City and a 27–23 victory at Indy. Cardinals by 1
Saints (10-3) at Rams (5-8)
New Orleans has marched to a 7–0 record at home and a 3–3 mark on the road. But St. Louis plays in a dome, where N’Awlins is 8–1. Saints by 5
Bengals (9-4) at Steelers (5-8)
Andy Dalton has been unstoppable at home — with 14 TDs, five INTs and a perfect 6–0 record that includes victories over Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger. On the road, however, Dalton has been vulnerable — with 11 TDs, nine INTs and a 3–4 record that includes losses to Brian Hoyer, Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill. Bengals by 1
Ravens (7-6) at Lions (7-6)
Tampa-born, Dallas-raised and Georgia-educated Matthew Stafford is happy to be in a heated dome after last week’s blizzard in Baltimore. Lions by 1
Last week: 14–2 // Season: 137–70–1
Not so long ago, Robert Griffin III and Mike Shanahan were taking the Washington Redskins to the playoffs and the biggest Scandal in D.C. was an ABC prime time drama starring Kerry Washington.
Times have changed in the nation’s capital. Some are calling for an emergency midterm election — i.e. the Redskins’ first midseason coaching change since Norv Turner was fired by owner Daniel Snyder after 13 games in 2000. To be fair, Turner had been hired by the late, great Jack Kent Cooke in 1994 and was never Snyder’s “guy.”
No, Snyder’s list of head coaching hires reads Marty Schottenheimer (2001), Steve Spurrier (2002-03), Joe Gibbs’ second term (2004-07, following his Hall of Fame stint from 1981-92), Jim Zorn (2008-09) and, drum roll please, Shanahan (2010-who knows?).
Following a humiliating 45–10 blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 14 — Washington’s 10th loss this season — Shanahan’s status is in doubt. Then again, so is the status of RG3, whom Shanahan claims may be benched for the final three games of the season as a health precaution.
“We had 24 sacks in the last five games. That’s a lot,” Shanahan said. “I want to make sure he’s healthy. I think that’s the most important thing going into the offseason, that he has his first full offseason of being healthy. And if something did happen to him, I think it would set out franchise back.”
Griffin III famously suffered a devastating knee injury on Jan. 6 earlier this year and many have speculated that the 23-year-old former Heisman Trophy winner has still not returned to 100 percent.
The numbers back that assertion. As a rookie, RG3 had 27 total TDs and seven turnovers while leading the Skins to a 10–6 record. This year, he has 16 total TDs and 16 turnovers with a miserable 3–10 record, including the team’s current five-game losing streak.
Stats and losses are only part of the problem in Washington, where the cozy friendship between RG3 and his owner, Snyder, is under the microscope. Shanahan allegedly feels his power has been usurped by his young signal-caller and his relationship with Snyder may have been damaged beyond repair.
Normally, a team in such bad shape can at least look forward to the upcoming NFL Draft. Washington, however, traded away its 2014 first-round pick to the St. Louis Rams as part of the bounty to acquire RG3 in 2012.
“There’s always a lot of noise when you’re 3–10,” Shanahan said. “I understand that, and every organization has it. There’s going to be a lot more noise over the next few weeks.”
Ranking all 32 NFL teams, with the two-loss Broncos back on top and the two-win Texans cellar-dwelling.
1. Broncos (11-2) Matt Prater makes NFL-record 64-yard field goal.
2. Seahawks (11-2) Richard Sherman blames loss on bad calls by refs.
3. Saints (10-3) Drew Brees fastest to 50,000 yards (183 games).
4. 49ers (9-4) Frank Gore 51-yard run seals win over Seattle.
5. Patriots (10-3) Rob Gronkowski out for season with torn ACL, MCL.
6. Bengals (9-4) Improve to perfect 6–0 mark at Paul Brown Stadium.
7. Chiefs (10-3) Andy Reid celebrates Sporting KC’s MLS Cup win.
8. Panthers (9-4) “We got a little full of ourselves,” says Ron Rivera.
9. Eagles (8-5) Nick Foles finally throws first INT in win over Lions.
10. Cardinals (8-5) Tyrann Mathieu out for season with torn ACL, LCL.
11. Colts (8-5) Lose at Cincy, but wrap up AFC South title anyway.
12. Bears (7-6) Mike Ditka’s No. 89 retired at halftime vs. Cowboys.
13. Lions (7-6) Reggie Bush injures calf after pregame fall in snow.
14. Cowboys (7-6) Jerry Jones thinks defense should “take more risk.”
15. Packers (6-6-1) Plus-one on scoreboard with minus-one wind chill.
16. Ravens (7-6) Win game with five lead changes in last two minutes.
17. Dolphins (7-6) Notch first victory on road at Pittsburgh in 23 years.
18. Jets (6-7) Avoid first four-game losing streak under Rex Ryan.
19. Chargers (6-7) Philip Rivers celebrates 32nd birthday with victory.
20. Titans (5-8) Job status “not a concern” for coach Mike Munchak.
21. Giants (5-8) San Diego fans heckle former draft pick Eli Manning.
22. Steelers (5-8) Antonio Brown steps out of bounds on last-ditch TD.
23. Rams (5-8) Remember, Rams own Redskins’ first-round pick.
24. Buccaneers (4-9) Have won four of last five after 0–8 start to season.
25. Browns (4-9) Allow two Tom Brady TDs in final 61 seconds of loss.
26. Raiders (4-9) Have lost 13 straight games in Eastern Time Zone.
27. Jaguars (4-9) Third straight win is first at home since Nov. 2012.
28. Bills (4-9) Extend NFL-worst 14-season postseason drought.
29. Falcons (3-10) OC Dirk Koetter interviews for Boise State vacancy.
30. Vikings (3-9-1) Adrian Peterson carted off field, awaits more tests.
31. Redskins (3-10) Mike Shanahan on hot seat, debates benching RG3.
32. Texans (2-11) Gary Kubiak fired after 61–64 record in eight years.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
Shady was a one-man Iditarod during a 34–20 come-from-behind win over the Lions, slicing and dicing his way through eight inches of snow en route to 29 carries for 217 yards and two TDs. Philadelphia continued its quest to go from worst to first in the NFC East by scoring all 34 points in the second half — including 28 fourth-quarter points — in blizzard-like conditions at Lincoln Financial Field. McCoy led the way with 148 fourth-quarter yards on his way to breaking Steve Van Buren’s single-game team rushing record (205) set in 1949.
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
The four-time MVP gave the cold shoulder to those critics who claimed Manning was a lesser passer in cold weather — completing 39-of-59 passes for 397 yards, four TDs and zero INTs during a 51–28 win over the Titans. “Whoever wrote that narrative can shove that one where the sun don’t shine,” Manning told Denver’s KOA-AM during a postgame interview. “I felt pretty good out there today.” Playing in low-teen temperatures that felt like single-digit weather, Manning set a Broncos team record with 39 completions, as well as four scores to four different pass-catchers (Wes Welker, Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker).
Marques Colston, WR, Saints
Sure, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees topped the 50,000-yard mark for his career during a 31–13 statement win over NFC South rival Carolina on Sunday night. But it was the resurgence of Brees’ go-to wideout, Colston, that has Saints fans ready to party like Fat Tuesday came early this year. Colston — who has accounted for 8,115 of Brees’ 50,026 yards — added nine catches for 125 yards and two trips to the end zone. The breakout effort was Colston’s second 100-yard game this year and his first multi-TD contest since Week 17 last season (also against Carolina).
John Abraham, LB, Cardinals
The 14th-year veteran pass rusher took down St. Louis’ Kellen Clemens for three sacks — one of which resulted in a safety — along with a forced fumble during a 30–10 victory over the Rams. Abraham also bull-rushed his way to ninth on the all-time sacks list with 133.0, passing Lawrence Taylor and Leslie O’Neal, both of whom had 132.5 career sacks. Abraham is five sacks shy of overtaking John Randle and Richard Dent’s 137.5 career sacks for seventh place on the all-time list.
The regular college football season has come to an end and that can only mean one thing: you're going to be invited to join your buddy's College Bowl Pick'em league. Of course, who has time to come up with a clever or witty team name to impress your bowl-picking counterparts? Well, we've got you covered. Check out these 50 funny (we use the term loosely) college team-related names for your bowl-picking pleasure.
The Glory Bowl
Clowney Question, Bro
I Shaved My Bowls for This?
Look at My Big Bowls
50 Shades of Johnathan Gray
(Rashad) Greene With Envy
I Hit You Like a Wrecking Bowl
(Tyler) Lockett Up
(Yawin) Smallwood Needs Lovin' Too
Jackson Turner Overdrive
Chubb Small World After All
Too Many Brandin Cooks in the Kitchen
The League's Ameer (Abdullah) Player
In A Major Quandre (Diggs)
To the Max Bullough
Calvin and the Chipmunks
Ring My Blake Bell
The Mighty Casey Pachall Strikes Out
Kiss My David Ash
Eric Ward of the State
Tevin Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
2 Much Johnson For You
Lache Key Kid
Jeckle & Carlos Hyde
My Posse's on (Terrance) Broadway
Vad Case of Loving You
Keeping Up with The Butch Joneses
(Matt) Rhule Girls, One Cup
Johnny Come Lately
Everett Golson's Tutors
Hotty Toddy Hotties
Colonel Reb Is Smiling
USC Sweater Puppies
Neon Nike Ducks
Kingsbury Skinny Jeans
The top two teams are set. Florida State and Auburn.
The Legends Poll was the only human poll to rank Auburn ahead of Ohio State heading into championship weekend, and Auburn kept its No. 2 ranking after its 59-42 win over Missouri in the SEC Championship Game.
Ohio State suffered its first loss in two seasons against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and fell four spots to No. 7.
Top-ranked Florida State showed no mercy against a surprise Duke team in the ACC Championship Game in a 45-7 rout. And with the win, the Seminoles clinched a spot in the final BCS Championship Game in January —their first appearance since 2000.
If there were a four-team playoff this season, the final two spots would be occupied by once-beaten Alabama and Michigan State, according to the Legends Poll voters. No. 5 Stanford would be on the outside, looking in.
Big 12 champ Baylor finished the regular season at No. 6 in the rankings. Followed by Ohio State, South Carolina, Missouri and Oregon.
No. 14 Oklahoma State fell eight spots with its loss to the Sooners and No. 16 Arizona State dropped three spots.
No. 23 Duke finished in the final regular season Legends Poll ever, dropping three spot after its loss to Florida State.
To see the individual votes by coach, visit the Legends Poll.
|1||Florida State (15)||13-0||399||1|
* 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.
Locks of the Week
‘Tis the season for waistlines and game lines to get bigger, fatter and jollier. Go big and go home teams.
Broncos (-12) vs. Titans
What could have been a Peyton Manning homecoming in Tennessee will instead be a stomping at Mile High.
Patriots (-11.5) vs. Browns
New England has a 48–8 record in December under Bill Belichick. Cleveland has an 0–2 record when Josh Gordon goes for 200-plus yards.
Bengals (-6.5) vs. Colts
Cincy is 5–0 at home, with only one of those victories coming by fewer than a TD margin — a 34–30 victory in Week 3 vs. Aaron Rodgers’ Packers.
Ravens (-6.5) vs. Vikings
Baltimore has been mediocre but it has taken care of business against bad teams like the Browns (14–6), Texans (30–9) and Jets (19–3).
Straight Up Upsets
Heavyweight divisional fights in the NFC West and South will be won by the red hot underdogs and road dogs at that.
Seahawks (+3) at 49ers
Colin Kaepernick is 0–2 against Seattle, losing by a combined score of 71–16.
Panthers (+3) at Saints
Carolina is on an eight-game winning streak, including wins over the Niners and Pats.
Monday Night Moolah
Monday nighttime is the right time to double down (or double back) on this week’s winnings (or losses).
Bears (-1) vs. Cowboys
The last time Tony Romo played Chicago on Monday Night Football, he threw five INTs in a 34–18 loss.
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on all the action.
Cardinals (-6.5) vs. Rams
Zona let an 11-point lead fade away en route to a 27–24 loss at St. Louis back in Week 1.
Packers (-3) vs. Falcons
Double-check: Title Town is 0–4–1 without its mustachioed star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Chiefs (-3) at Redskins
What’s in a name?
Jets (-3) vs. Raiders
Get ready to hear at least one story about the infamous 1968 “Heidi Game.”
Eagles (-3) vs. Lions
Throw the ball in the air and watch it come down in the end zone when the 26th- and 32nd-ranked pass defenses play.
Chargers (-3) vs. Giants
Archie Manning may not let Eli play in San Diego. He wouldn’t back in 2004. Why now?
Steelers (-3) vs. Dolphins
Mike Tomlin’s wallet is $100K lighter AND Pittsburgh lost on Thanksgiving? Good grief.
Buccaneers (-2.5) vs. Bills
Is this a Big East game between Rutgers and Syracuse or is that just Greg Schiano and Doug Marrone?
They caused an earthquake in Seattle, and it wasn’t the first time. That’s how loud the crowd at Century Link Field was last Monday night. It set a record for decibels and it shook a nearby Seismometer. It shook the New Orleans Saints pretty good too.
That’s why the general feeling around the NFL is that the Seattle Seahawks, already at 11-1, may be on an unstoppable road to the Super Bowl. It’s because the road will almost certainly go straight through the epicenter of the best homefield advantage in the league.
Here’s the thing, though. The Seahawks (6-0 at home) aren’t the only ones that claim to have one of the best homefield advantages in the league. The Saints are 6-0 in the Mercedes Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The Patriots are 6-0 at Gilette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. The Bengals are 5-0 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati and the Broncos are 6-0 at Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver.
And that doesn’t even count the Ravens, Cowboys, Panthers and Cardinals who all could be playoff-bound and are all 5-1 at home, or the Chiefs at 5-2.
At the moment, though the reigning home kings reside in the Pacific Northwest. But the path to the Super Bowl won’t be easy for any team that has to take a detour through these cities, home to what are currently the five-best home-field advantages in the league:
1. Seattle – The loudest noise ever recorded at an outdoor stadium came at CenturyLink Field on Sept. 15 when the crowd noise was measured at 136.6 decibels. Then they topped it at 137.6 on Monday night. They have probably been louder over the years in a place where the “12th man” takes great pride in causing opposing offenses to false start.
The Seahawks were undefeated there last year and have won 14 straight games overall. It’s not all about the noise, either. A big factor for the Seahawks is their geographic isolation – there’s no harder place for most NFL teams to get to than the Pacific Northwest. And while their weather isn’t huge, it’s often a chilly rain, which the Seahawks are used to, while other teams are not.
2. New Orleans – The Saints have won 18 straight at the Mercedes Benz Superdome and 13 straight at night in what has to be the loudest indoor stadium in the NFL. The dome is huge, and even though it only holds 72,000, it seems like it holds about 100,000. It sounds like it too, especially when the music starts thumping and the fans start dancing along.
Aside from just the audible discomfort, many teams have said they can feel a wave when the Saints get on a roll and the crowd gets behind them. There are few places where things can go from bad to worse faster. When the Saints win there, they usually win in a blowout. And they don’t lose often. The Sean Payton-Drew Brees combo hasn’t lost there since 2010.
3. Kansas City – The stands can be a sea of red, which can be intimidating enough. So can the ride on the bus through the parking lot, where few fans throw a tailgate party like the ones in Kansas City. And when the game gets going, Arrowhead Stadium – an older stadium with architecture not exactly built for great acoustics – can be as loud as any in the league.
In fact, they proved that earlier this season when the Chiefs fans out-did the Seahawks fans and were measured at an ear-splitting 137.5 decibels in a win over the Raiders. Sure, the Seahawks reclaimed the world record a few weeks later, but their stadium was built with sound records in mind.
In Kansas City it’s all natural, and opposing players know it. Outside of Seattle, there’s not a more intimidating outdoor stadium in the league.
4. Denver – Make no mistake, this isn’t the old Mile High Stadium, which used to shake and was intimidating to opponents. What’s more intimidating about a trip to Colorado these days is the thought of Peyton Manning and the most dangerous offense in the league.
The bigger problem is this: The city is actually a mile high, which means the air is thinner and even professional athletes get tired quicker. The Broncos are used to it from practice every day. Opponents get no time to adjust at all. And when they’re huffing and puffing and trying to catch their breath, while chasing the Broncos receivers and trying to figure out what Manning is about to do, the whole thing can turn into a great big mess.
5. Cincinnati – The Bengals once enjoyed a great homefield advantage when they played in “The Jungle” – the nickname for old Riverfront Stadium. But it’s taken them a while to warm up to their new digs. At the moment, they’ve won six straight games overall there for the first time since The Jungle was demolished.
And they’re winning big and big games there, too. They beat the Packers there when Aaron Rodgers was healthy. They beat the Patriots and didn’t allow a touchdown. They also demolished the Jets and Browns, topping 40 points each time. And as the wins pile up, the stadium seems to be getting louder, which makes it a sneaky dangerous place to play.
—By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN
A quick look at every game on the NFL schedule for Week 14, along with the consensus picks of Athlon Sports’ editors.
Texans (2-10) at Jaguars (3-9)
The loser on Thursday night could be the winner of the Teddy Bridgewater, Marcus Mariota or Jadeveon Clowney NFL Draft sweepstakes. Jaguars by 1
Colts (8-4) at Bengals (8-4)
The leaders of the AFC South and AFC North go toe-to-toe jockeying for playoff position in what could be a sneak peak playoff preview. Bengals by 4
Browns (4-8) at Patriots (9-3)
It’s December, which means New England is nearly unstoppable — having posted a 48–8 record under Bill Belichick in the final month. Patriots by 12
Raiders (4-8) at Jets (5-7)
Expect this game to be interrupted by the classic TV movie “Heidi,” a la 1968 NBC-style. Raiders by 1
Chiefs (9-3) at Redskins (3-9)
What’s in a name? Political correctness is not such a big deal in D.C., is it? Chiefs by 5
Vikings (3-8-1) at Ravens (6-6)
Prince should be the halftime entertainment at this purple-loving showdown. Ravens by 6
Falcons (3-9) at Packers (5-6-1)
Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone remains the focus of all 364,122 stockholders in Green Bay Packers, Inc. Title Town is 0–4–1 without its star QB. Packers by 5
Bills (4-8) at Buccaneers (3-9)
This Big East throwback pits Syracuse’s Doug Marrone against Rutgers’ Greg Schiano. Buccaneers by 1
Dolphins (6-6) at Steelers (5-7)
Mike Tomlin thinks it’s “crazy” if anyone thinks he intentionally interfered with Jacoby Jones. Steelers by 6
Lions (7-5) at Eagles (7-5)
The 26th- and 32nd-ranked pass defenses will likely get abused early and often in Philly. Eagles by 3
Titans (5-7) at Broncos (10-2)
Let’s get this straight. Tennessee played against local legends Jeff Fisher and Peyton Manning this year and both games were on the road? Broncos by 12
Rams (5-7) at Cardinals (7-5)
Arizona let an 11-point lead fade away en route to a 27–24 loss at St. Louis back in Week 1. Cardinals by 3
Seahawks (11-1) at 49ers (8-4)
Colin Kaepernick is 0–2 against Seattle, losing by a combined score of 71–16. But this will be Kaepernick’s first home game vs. the Hawks. 49ers by 1
Giants (5-7) at Chargers (5-7)
Archie Manning was the mastermind behind the epic Eli Manning for Philip Rivers draft day trade of 2004. No word yet if the patriarch of football’s royal family will allow Eli to play in San Diego. Chargers by 2
Panthers (9-3) at Saints (9-3)
Cam Newton and the Cats have won eight straight; Sean Payton and Drew Brees have won their last 10 games following a loss. Saints by 4
Cowboys (7-5) at Bears (6-6)
The last time Tony Romo played the Bears on Monday Night Football, he threw five INTs in a 34–18 loss in Week 4 last season. Cowboys by 2
Look out, Peyton Manning. This year’s MVP race just got interesting. With four games to play, Seattle Seahawks second-year signal-caller Russell Wilson is making a strong run at the league’s top award. The Denver Broncos’ thoroughbred remains the favorite to add a fifth MVP to his already crowded trophy case. But Seattle’s favorite underdog continues to dramatically exceed all reasonable expectations while taking a circuitous — and unlikely — route to stardom.
A 5'11" quarterback, Wilson has long been “too short” for so-called “big time” football. The Richmond, Va., native was a lightly regarded two-star recruit by both Rivals and Scout coming out of high school. After signing with NC State, Wilson became the first freshman to be named first-team All-ACC. As a junior, he broke the NCAA record for consecutive pass attempts without throwing an interception (379).
A two-sport star drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the fourth round of the 2010 MLB Draft, Wilson debated quitting football to focus on baseball in 2011 — resulting in his release from scholarship at NC State. But Wilson couldn’t stay away from the gridiron. With one year of eligibility remaining, Wilson transferred to Wisconsin and led the Badgers to a Rose Bowl berth.
Despite undeniable athleticism, leadership ability and a track record of success, Wilson fell all the way to the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft, going to Seattle at No. 75.
The rest, as they say, is history. Wilson has posted 22 wins in his first two seasons under center for the Seahawks, tying the all-time mark of Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger. And Wilson’s most recent victory was arguably his most impressive.
Wilson completed 22-of-30 passes for 310 yards, three TDs and zero INTs, while tucking the ball on eight carries for 47 yards during a 34–7 win over the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football. On the year, Wilson has MVP-type numbers with 2,672 yards, 22 TDs and six INTs for a 108.5 passer rating through the air, as well as 456 yards and one TD on the ground.
Most important, Wilson has guided the Seahawks to a league-best 11–1 record, including a 6–0 record at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field. In two seasons, Wilson has yet to lose at home, posting a perfect 14–0 mark for the “12th Man.”
Wilson’s poise under pressure — as much as his playmaking ability — have made him not only a fan favorite in Seattle but across the NFL.
“I get asked all the time and I really feel inadequate in trying to describe to you who he is and what he’s all about,” said coach Pete Carroll. “He’s an extraordinary individual. It goes way beyond his football ability. He’s an amazing person.”
Ranking all 32 NFL teams, from the one-loss Seattle Seahawks to the two-win Houston Texans.
1. Seahawks (11-1) First team in league to clinch a postseason berth.
2. Patriots (9-3) Not worried about “Spygate II” allegations in Houston.
3. Broncos (10-2) Peyton Manning tosses five TDs in K.C. masterpiece.
4. Saints (9-3) Drew Brees’ 200-yard game streak ends at 43.
5. Panthers (9-3) Cats earn franchise-best eighth consecutive victory.
6. Colts (8-4) Need win or Titans loss to wrap up AFC South title.
7. 49ers (8-4) Michael Crabtree makes season debut in victory.
8. Bengals (8-4) Andy Dalton tops 3,000 yards for third straight year.
9. Chiefs (9-3) Three straight losses following 9–0 start to season.
10. Lions (7-5) End nine-game losing streak on Thanksgiving Day.
11. Cowboys (7-5) Tony Romo tosses record 18th TD on Turkey Day.
12. Eagles (7-5) Nick Foles INT-free streak at 233 straight passes.
13. Cardinals (7-5) Four-game winning streak ends in Philadelphia.
14. Bears (6-6) Marc Trestman’s second-down FG not popular move.
15. Packers (5-6-1) On five-game winless streak for first time since 2008.
16. Ravens (6-6) Defending Super Bowl champs back in playoff hunt.
17. Steelers (5-7) Mike Tomlin special teams coverage caught on tape.
18. Dolphins (6-6) Richie Incognito suspension extended — with pay.
19. Titans (5-7) Rob Bironas joins Al Del Greco in 1,000-point club.
20. Rams (5-7) Jake Long exits early with concussion symptoms.
21. Chargers (5-7) Mike McCoy claims defense “fell apart” vs. Bengals.
22. Giants (5-7) Referee Jeff Triplette steals spotlight from Big Blue.
23. Jets (5-7) Rookie Geno Smith benched in favor of Matt Simms.
24. Raiders (4-8) Lock up 11th straight year without winning record.
25. Vikings (3-8-1) A.D. third fastest to 10,000 behind Dickerson, Brown.
26. Buccaneers (3-9) Three-game winning streak snapped in Charlotte.
27. Falcons (3-9) Win in overtime in front of smallest Toronto crowd yet.
28. Bills (4-8) Toronto mayor Rob Ford steals seat, eats hot wings.
29. Redskins (3-9) Go from first down to fourth down in just one play.
30. Jaguars (3-9) Cleveland native Cecil Shorts catches game-winner.
31. Browns (4-8) Josh Gordon has 200 yards receiving again in loss.
32. Texans (2-10) Have lost franchise-worst 10 consecutive contests.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
“All Day” transcended time, making an impact on the past, present and future during a 23–20 win over the NFC North rival Bears. Peterson had 35 carries for a season-high 211 yards. That effort, combined with the 2,000-yard rusher’s previous six seasons, gives Peterson over 10,000 career rushing yards — 10,057 to be exact. The league’s reigning rushing champ joins Jim Brown and Barry Sanders as the only members of the 10,000-yard rushing fraternity to average five yards per carry. His five career 200-yard rushing games are only one behind O.J. Simpson for the all-time mark.
Justin Tuck, DE, Giants
Redskins coach Mike Shanahan is pointing the finger at referee Jeff Triplette’s “chain gang” — which incorrectly signalled for a first down late in the fourth quarter. But if the Skins could have gotten a hand on Tuck, the outcome might have been different on Sunday night. Instead, the Big Blue Wrecking Crew’s resurgent pass-rusher notched four sacks for 21 lost yards and six quarterback hits during a 24–17 Giants win. Tuck’s quartet of QB takedowns marks the most sacks by one of the G-Men since Osi Umenyioria had six sacks back in 2007.
Justin Tucker, K, Ravens
New York’s Justin Tuck is a 6'5", 270-pound beast of a defensive lineman; Baltimore’s Justin Tucker is a 6'0", 180-pound monster of a kicker. The second-year undrafted free-agent from Texas hit all five of his field goal attempts during a 22–20 victory over the AFC North rival Steelers in prime time on Thanksgiving night. Tucker has now made 27 straight field goals. He is 59-of-64 (92.2 percent) for his career, making him the most accurate kicker ever. For the record, he is also a perfect 64-of-64 on extra-point attempts in two NFL seasons.
Eric Decker, WR, Broncos
After posting a combined 170 receiving yards over Denver’s previous four games, Decker shot out of a cannon with eight catches for a career-high 174 yards and another career-best four TDs during a 35–28 victory at Kansas City. The husband of country music starlet Jessie James is Peyton Manning’s third (maybe fourth) receiving option — behind wideouts Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, and tight end Julius Thomas — but proved he is capable of dominating when his number is called.
During yesterday's game between the San Francisco 49ers and the St. Louis Rams, tight end Vernon Davis was tackled by T.J. McDonald in the most painful way any man can imagine in the history of the universe—BY. HIS. CROTCH. Davis, who's around 6'3" and 250 pounds of muscle, was reduced to writhing in pain on the ground after the tackle.