Articles By Mark Ross
For the first time, MLB teams will forgo their usual color palette for a special light blue motif on Father’s Day. On June 19, all 30 teams will wear specially designed caps and jerseys in recognition of the special day.
In the past players have worn special blue ribbons and wristbands on Father’s Day, but this is the first year MLB has gone with the uniform approach. The Father’s Day look was created in partnership with New Era and Majestic and is part of this year’s line of special event looks, which were originally unveiled in April. Teams wore pink-centric uniforms on Mother’s Day, camouflage-influenced ones on Memorial Day and will don special stars and stripes editions on the 4th of July.
MLB will donate a portion of its licensed Father's Day uniform royalties to the Prostate Cancer Foundation as well as Stand Up to Cancer. MLB's partnership with the Prostate Cancer Foundation goes back to 1996.
So light blue will be the dominant color on the diamond come June 19, but which team will wear it best? Here are the 10 (in alphabetical order) we think will stand out on Father's Day.
Kansas City Royals
Los Angeles Dodgers
New York Mets
San Diego Padres
San Francisco Giants
Toronto Blue Jays
On Memorial Day, MLB will honor those who have lost their lives in service of their country. As part of the league-wide observance, all 30 teams will wear specially designed caps and jerseys.
This marks the eighth consecutive year in which MLB and New Era have partnered together to create a special cap for teams to wear. It's also the fourth consecutive year in which Majestic has designed the matching jersey. This year's edition features a new woodland camouflage design licensed by the United States Marine Corps, while the Blue Jays' uniform will feature the distinctive Canadian Forces CADPAT design. The Memorial Day uniforms are part of this year's special event looks, which were originally unveiled in April. Teams wore pink-centric uniforms on Mother’s Day and will don special uniforms for Father’s Day and the 4th of July as well.
Besides the uniforms, MLB plans to participate in the National Moment of Remembrance at ballparks on Memorial Day, and teams will conduct moments of silence and special pregame ceremonies. Additionally, MLB will donate a portion of its licensed Memorial Day uniform royalties to Welcome Back Veterans as well as the Canadian Forces Morale and Welfare Services' "Support Our Troops Fund" on behalf of the Toronto Blue Jays.
Even though all 30 teams will be utilizing the same camouflage-influenced design elements, which ones will wear it best? Here are the 10 (in alphabetical order) we think will stand out on the diamond on Memorial Day.
Kansas City Royals
Los Angeles Dodgers
St. Louis Cardinals
Toronto Blue Jays
Could 2016 finally be the Chicago Cubs’ year? The World Series is still five months away, but five weeks into the season the Cubs are clearly baseball’s best team.
After beating Washington 4-3 in 13 innings on Sunday, the Cubs extended their winning streak to seven and entered Monday night’s home game against San Diego with an MLB-best 24-6 record. That’s the best in franchise history since the 1907 team also got out to a 24-6 start. That year, the Cubs won the World Series, something they did again the following year. Since 1908, however, the Cubs have not won the Fall Classic.
But after making it to the NLCS last year and given how dominant this team has looked at times in the early going, could the longest championship drought in North American sports come to an end this October? Here are 10 statistics that should give all Cubs fans hope, even if it is only the second week of May.
The Cubs’ major league-leading run differential, a category that they lead by a whopping 58 runs. Chicago has scored the most (184) while giving up the fewest (82) runs entering Monday’s games. The New York Mets (+44) are second, while two teams (Atlanta and New York Yankees) have scored fewer runs than the Cubs have outscored their opponents. In fact, on Saturday the Cubs became the second-fastest team in major league history (since at least 1900) to reach plus-100 in run differential, according to Sportsnet Stats. The only team to do it faster was the 1902 Pittsburgh Pirates, who needed just 26 games.
The Cubs’ run differential on the road. They are 13-3 away from Wrigley Field, having scored 110 runs (6.9 per game) and giving up 40. Outside of losing 13-5 to Cincinnati on April 23, the Cubs other two road losses this season have come by two runs (at St. Louis, April 20) and one run (at Arizona, April 8).
The Cubs have already won 13 games by five or more runs. That’s more blowout victories than four teams (Atlanta, Minnesota, New York Yankees, Houston) have entering Monday and the same number of total wins that four other teams have. Chicago has 17 wins by four or more runs. Only eight teams have more total wins to this point.
It’s early, but Chicago is dominating its NL Central counterparts. Not only have the Cubs lost just twice in 15 games in divisional play, they have outscored the four teams 101-36. Cincinnati (6-1 record against) is the only team Chicago has faced twice, but the Cubs are 5-1 in the early going against Pittsburgh and St. Louis, the two teams they beat in last year’s playoffs before getting swept by the New York Mets in the NLCS.
Even though the Cubs are eighth in team batting average at .263, they lead baseball with a .368 on-base percentage. This is fueled by an MLB-best 156 walks, which is 26 more than the next team (San Francisco). Chicago hitters have drawn nearly nice twice as many walks as the pitching staff has allowed (88).
Dexter Fowler, who signed a one-year deal to return to the Cubs at the start of spring training, is leading baseball with a .462 on-base percentage. He also is tied for seventh in batting average (.340), tied for sixth in runs (24), already has 17 RBIs (fifth on the team), six stolen bases and has nearly as many walks (21) as strikeouts (26).
As good as the Cubs have been scoring runs, the scary thought is there’s room for improvement. As a team, the Cubs are batting just .248 with runners in scoring position, which places them 20th in the majors entering Monday. The hitters are still producing (MLB-best 146 runs) in these situations, and that’s despite the fact that guys like Jason Heyward (.229 average) and Ben Zobrist (.233) have struggled in the early going. Just imagine what this offense can do when everyone is clicking, especially when the wind is blowing out at Wrigley Field.
Manager Joe Maddon has pointed out on several occasions that pitching is just as important to the Cubs’ run differential as the offense has been. The Cubs’ major-league leading team ERA of 2.48 is just one of several categories the pitching staff currently is No. 1 in. It also leads the way in WHIP (1.03), batting average against (.201), hits allowed (194) and opponents’ OPS (.586).
The Cubs are currently tied for fourth in the majors in quality starts with 21, but Maddon has gotten quality innings from his starter every time out. In 30 games the shortest outing of any Chicago starting pitcher has been five innings. For the season, the Cubs’ rotation of Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks is No. 1 in MLB with a 2.26 collective ERA and .209 batting average against while compiling a 19-4 record.
Because of the great work from the starters, the Cubs’ bullpen has only pitched 81 1/3 innings. That’s tied with Toronto for the fewest in baseball entering Monday’s games. Chicago relievers have done a pretty good job thus far, posting a collective ERA of 2.99 (seventh among bullpens) and holding opponents to a .184 batting average (second). The bullpen’s WHIP is just 1.06 and the relief corps is averaging an impressive 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
If your Mother’s Day activities this Sunday include taking in a MLB game in person or watching one on TV expect to see a lot of pink. In celebration of Mother’s Day and to help bring awareness to breast cancer, all 30 major league teams will be wearing specially designed pink-centric uniforms on Sunday.
In years past, players wore pink wrist bands and donned pink shoes, with or without the matching pink laces, while swinging pink bats on Mother’s Day and for breast cancer awareness. This year, every player will be adorned in pink, from head to toe. The Mother Day’s uniforms are the first of a series of special event looks that were created by MLB, working in conjunction with Majestic and New Era, which were originally unveiled in April. Besides Mother’s Day, teams will wear specially designed duds for Father’s Day, Memorial Day and the 4th of July as well.
The good news is this is not being done just to make an atypical fashion statement, especially where the pink unis are concerned. MLB will donate a portion of its licensed uniform royalties to specific charitable initiatives that are associated with each of these holidays. For Mother’s Day the charity is Susan G. Komen, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving lives and ending breast cancer forever.
So while baseball fans certainly aren’t used to seeing their favorite player or team wearing pink on the diamond, which Mother’s Day uniforms stand out from the rest? Here are the 10 Mother’s Day uniforms that caught our eye (in alphabetical order).
Chicago White Sox
Los Angeles Angels
New York Yankees
St. Louis Cardinals
The first round of the 2016 NFL Draft is in the books. There are still six rounds and 222 picks to go, but it’s always the first round that gets the most attention and usually the most scrutiny.
So although none of these guys have signed their contracts let alone play a single down in the NFL, it’s never too early to size up the moves teams made. The first two picks went according to plan and were followed by more trades with a few surprises thrown in for good measure.
The end result? Thirty-one former college players heard their name called by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. When it comes to initial reaction, several teams fared well in my classroom while others left me scratching my head. Here are one football fan’s grades for the first round.'
2016 NFL Draft: First-Round Grades
1. Los Angeles Rams: Jared Goff, QB, Cal
Give credit to the Rams for doing what was necessary to get their guy. However, the cost to get the first pick from the Titans can’t be ignored. Goff may be Los Angeles’ choice for No. 1, but he’s not considered the “can’t miss” type of quarterback that Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck were nor is he on the same level as Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota from last year’s draft for that matter. But Goff is the Rams’ guy and hopefully he will end up being worth trading all those picks away.
2. Philadelphia Eagles: Carson Wentz, QB, North Dakota State
Let’s not forget that the Eagles made two trades to get to No. 2. They first sent Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell to the Dolphins to move from the 13th pick to eighth, and then sent that and four other selections to the Browns. The end result is Wentz, who didn’t even face the same level of competition as Goff did. Between all the capital spent in the trades to get him and the unresolved Sam Bradford situation, the Eagles may need Wentz to produce positive returns even sooner than Goff to justify the moves.
3. San Diego Chargers: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
The first surprise of the draft? Perhaps, but the moves made by Los Angeles and Cleveland made it apparent that San Diego would have the pick of non-QB litter. For some, Bosa was the No. 1 player on the board, while for others his stock slipped after an uneven showing at the Scouting Combine. Regardless, the safe bet was Bosa would go somewhere in the top 10 and the Chargers hope they have found their playmaker on defense.
4. Dallas Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Running back was certainly not the Cowboys’ biggest need, but many think Elliott can be special. Jerry Jones has never been one to shy away from going against the grain, as it’s no longer common for running backs to be drafted this high. However, when you factor in Elliott’s skill set and his appealing upside and combine that with one of the best offensive lines in the league, you really can’t quibble much with this pick.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars: Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Ramsey proclaimed himself to be the top player in this draft, a sentiment that was echoed by others. Whether he’s a safety or a cornerback or a hybrid defender remains to be seen, but this is a solid pick by Jacksonville. Ramsey becomes the latest building block for a young Jaguars team that has addressed most of its needs through the draft and free agency over the past two offseasons.
6. Baltimore Ravens: Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
If Jalen Ramsey made it here, I think he would have been the pick, but Baltimore also needed to address its offensive line. The Ronnie Stanley vs. Laremy Tunsil debate will probably rage on, but the Ravens went with the left tackle that best fit their team. My guess is Joe Flacco approves of this choice too.
7. San Francisco 49ers: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon
Ignore the Oregon connection with Buckner and new head coach Chip Kelly, this is all about rebuilding a 49ers defense that was terrible last season. Given where the 49ers were picking, taking Buckner makes plenty of sense. The question is will be produce like a top-10 draft pick?
8. Tennessee Titans: Jack Conklin, OT, Michigan State
I thought the Titans would capitalize on their inventory of picks to move back up and get a tackle. I just didn’t expect it to Conklin, at least not initially. The trade with Cleveland cost Tennessee its third-round pick this year and a second-rounder in 2017, but it’s a price the Titans could afford after acquiring the picks from Los Angeles. Credit Tennessee for using free agency and now the draft, to build around its cornerstone, Marcus Mariota.
9. Chicago Bears: Leonard Floyd, OLB, Georgia
The Bears moved up two spots, sending their fourth-round pick to the Buccaneers, to grab Floyd. The measurables and athleticism are there and everyone knows that John Fox is a defensive-minded coach. But the production at Georgia doesn’t match his top-10 status, so this is a pick based more on potential than track record. Chicago didn’t have to pay much to get their guy, but was the cost worth it in the first place?
10. New York Giants: Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Between the Laremy Tunsil situation along with the other tackles going in the first eight picks and Dallas taking Elliott at No. 4, the board didn’t exactly go the Giants’ way. That said, I was surprised that Apple was the choice when New York decided to go with a defensive back, especially with Vernon Hargreaves and William Jackson still on the board. The name (both first and last) certainly fits with the G-Men, but does the player?
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Vernon Hargreaves III, CB, Florida
He may not possess ideal size, but Hargreaves showed he has plenty of game during his years with the Gators. Not only did the Buccaneers get what some analysts thought was the best defensive back available, they also got him two spots lower and acquired a fourth-round pick in the process.
12. New Orleans Saints: Sheldon Rankins, DL, Louisville
The Saints need all the help on defense they can get. Rankins’ versatility should help bolster both the run defense and the pass rush. He won’t be a miracle worker, but he can certainly be part of the solution to New Orleans’ defensive woes.
13. Miami Dolphins: Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Whether we ever get the full story of what transpired Thursday night to cause Tunsil to tumble all the way out of the top 10 remains to be seen. But the end result is the player that ESPN’s Mel Kiper had No. 1 on his final big board fell into the Dolphins’ lap. Ryan Tannehill certainly approves of this choice. If Tunsil plays as advertised, this could be viewed as the steal of the draft. But it’s certainly not a choice that doesn’t come with risk, as Tunsil’s first press conference showed.
14. Oakland Raiders: Karl Joseph, S, West Virginia
The prevailing thought was the Raiders would go defense with this pick, but I’m not sure how many figured Joseph would be the choice. The hard-hitting safety certainly looks the part when you think Silver and Black defensive back and someone is going to have to replace Charles Woodson. But Joseph is coming off of a torn ACL so there’s some risk here too.
15. Cleveland Browns: Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
You had to figure Cleveland wouldn’t reach for a quarterback if it stayed put, but I’m not sure this is the direction I would have gone. The Browns need help in so many areas it’s hard to say this is a “bad” pick. And wide receiver is one of the areas that needs to be addressed, but did it need to be done with the first pick? Coleman is fast and he put up video game-esque numbers at Baylor. But that was college and there’s no guarantee Coleman’s athleticism will immediately translate into success as a NFL wide receiver. Look no further than fellow Bear and now teammate Robert Griffin III. Fortunately, the Browns still have quite a few picks left (and more in 2017 and ’18).
16. Detroit Lions: Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State
Detroit was last in the league in rushing and gave up 44 sacks last season. Decker isn’t a sexy name, but all he did at Ohio State was consistently get the job done. Solid pick for a Lions offense that will be going through a transition this season with Calvin Johnson retired.
17. Atlanta Falcons: Keanu Neal, S, Florida
Dan Quinn was Seattle’s defensive coordinator before he became the Falcons’ head coach so you know how he values big defensive backs. Whether Neal will become part of the east coast version of the “Legion of Boom” remains to be seen, but he looks the part and should provide the Falcons with a physical presence on the back end.
18. Indianapolis Colts: Ryan Kelly, C, Alabama
You can quibble about taking a center this early, but the Colts had to get some help for Andrew Luck. With the other tackles off the board, why not take the No. 1 center and a guy who was a three-year starter for Alabama? Maybe Luck and Kelly can become what Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday were for the Colts all those years.
19. Buffalo Bills: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
There’s some concern regarding his shoulder, which will probably require surgery at some point, but the risk is somewhat mitigated by taking Lawson here. One of the most productive pass rushers in college last season, Lawson will be asked to do more of the same for a Bills defense that struggled mightily (21sacks, 31st in NFL) in that department in 2015. As long as the shoulder holds up, this is a great pick for Buffalo.
20. New York Jets: Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
The Jets are loaded on the defensive line and have Darrelle Revis anchoring a fairly stacked secondary. Now they add an athletic, rangy linebacker that can cover a lot of real estate and has the potential to develop into an every-down contributor in the middle. Who needs a quarterback with this defense?
21. Houston Texans: Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
Houston gave Washington a 2017 sixth-round pick to switch places and get DeAndre Hopkins a tag-team partner. Fuller has the speed and was considered the best vertical threat in this draft. His big-play ability could make him and Hopkins a formidable duo for years to come. It all depends on the quarterback. Between Fuller and the signing of Lamar Miller (not to mention all that money), Brock Osweiler has no one to blame but himself if he doesn’t succeed with the Texans.
22. Washington Redskins: Josh Doctson, WR, TCU
Doctson is an intriguing talent. His numbers at TCU speak for themselves and he appears to have all the tools necessary to develop into an effective NFL wide receiver. The quibble here is that Doctson wasn’t Washington’s biggest need. Adding some sort of defensive piece made more sense.
23. Minnesota Vikings: Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
After finishing second to last in the league in passing offense in 2015, it was pretty clear the Vikings needed to give quarterback Teddy Bridgewater more weapons. Mission accomplished. While some questions have been raised about Treadwell’s speed, the size (6-2, 221) will certainly play in the NFL and you can’t question his production at Ole Miss. He may not be a burner or a big-play machine, but Treadwell should provide Bridgewater with a big, physical target on the outside and in the red zone.
24. Cincinnati Bengals: William Jackson III, CB, Houston
Wide receiver was the bigger need, but once the first four were taken it made sense for the Bengals to change their focus. Jackson had plenty of positive momentum entering the draft and appears to be a good fit for the Bengals’ defensive style and system. A team also can’t have enough reliable cornerbacks in today’s pass-happy NFL.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers: Artie Burns, CB, Miami
The Steelers need secondary help, especially after finishing 30th against the pass last season. But is Burns a first-round talent that belongs in the same class as the defensive backs taken before him? He has the tools, but it still feels like a reach here.
26. Denver Broncos: Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
John Elway sent a third-round pick to Seattle to move up five spots to get his quarterback. Lynch will certainly come a lot cheaper than Brock Osweiler. The size and strong arm certainly appealed to the Broncos, but it would probably be in the team’s and Lynch’s best interests if he’s not thrust into action right away. That means Mark Sanchez (or someone else) needs to seize the starting job. Lynch arguably has just a high a ceiling, if not higher, than Jared Goff or Carson Wentz. But it will take time.
27. Green Bay Packers: Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
B.J. Raji is taking a break from football, so the Packers need another big body up front. Clark certainly fits that bill (6-3, 314). He’s young (won't turn 21 until October), got plenty of starting experience with the Bruins, was highly effective against the run and made strides as a pass rusher. The only question I have was he the best option here? Robert Nkemdiche, Vernon Butler, A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed were all on the board when the Packers went with Clark.
28. San Francisco 49ers: Joshua Garnett, G, Stanford
29. Arizona Cardinals: Robert Nkemdiche, DT, Ole Miss
The “Most Interesting Man” in this draft ended up being a first-round pick. Red flags/character questions aside, Nkemdiche landed in an ideal situation. If there’s a head coach whose personality would seem to mesh with the eccentric Nkemdiche it’s probably Bruce Arians. And if there’s one thing Arizona’s defense is missing it’s an impact playmaker up front. If he can show he’s learned from his mistakes, Nkemdiche could make the Cardinals look like geniuses. Remember, Arizona took a chance on an All-American-caliber defensive player with character concerns a few years ago in LSU’s Tyrann Mathieu and that has worked out pretty well so far.
30. Carolina Panthers: Vernon Butler, DT, Louisiana Tech
Butler may not have the name recognition of Alabama’s Jarran Reed or A’Shawn Robinson, but what the former Bulldog has is a rare combination of size (6-4, 323), strength and athleticism for a defensive tackle. The potential is there for Butler to be a Pro Bowl-caliber player, he just has to put forth the effort and bring it every play he’s on the field.
31. Seattle Seahawks: Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M
There was some talk that Seattle had traded this pick (Cleveland?) but in the end the Seahawks stayed put and addressed their biggest area of need. Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy both left in free agency, so Ifedi makes all the sense in the world here. Where he plays, guard or tackle, will be determined, but chances are Ifedi will be a part of Russell Wilson’s protection detail fairly early once the season gets started. And don’t forget the Seahawks added a third-round pick in swapping places with Denver before taking Ifedi.
Note: There were only 31 picks in the first round because New England forfeited its selection as part of the punishment associated with the Deflategate scandal.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Baseball is back, the NHL playoffs have started with the NBA to follow suit this weekend, yet the NFL remains at the forefront of sports fans’ mind. While it could have something to do with Wednesday’s announcement of the huge trade between the Tennessee Titans and Los Angeles Rams involving the No. 1 overall pick in the upcoming draft, there’s also the matter of the schedule.
The 2016 NFL regular season is still four and a half months away, but the anticipation of what will take place on the field has already begun. The path to Super Bowl LI in Houston has been laid out with Thursday night’s announcement of the schedule. While all 256 regular season games are important, here are the 10 matchups we can’t wait for this season.
1. Carolina at Denver (Week 1, Thursday)
It’s only fitting that this Super Bowl 50 rematch kicks off the new season. Yes, Peyton Manning has retired and several other former Broncos signed elsewhere as free agents, but this pairing still comes with plenty of appeal. Not only does this give the Panthers a shot at knocking off the defending champs at home, but Cam Newton gets the opportunity to redeem himself against the defense that ruined his Super Sunday and should still be among the best in the league.
2. Baltimore at New England (Week 14, Monday)
By the time this game is played it will have been almost two years since their last meeting, but I doubt the time that has passed has done much to mend the fences between these two teams. Not only has Baltimore been labeled as an accomplice to New England getting implicated in the Deflategate scandal, there also was the questionable formation (which is now illegal) that was a part of that Divisional Round playoff game two seasons ago. The stakes may be lower for this matchup, but that won’t stop the Patriot faithful from reminding the Ravens that they blew not one, but two 14-point leads the last time they were in Gillette Stadium.
3. Cincinnati at Pittsburgh (Week 2)
The Ravens may be the Steelers’ archrival, but this is the AFC North pairing that bears watching this fall. The Bengals are probably still stinging over what happened in the fourth quarter of their wild card playoff game loss at home to the Steelers, while Antonio Brown has some unfinished business of his own to take care of against Cincinnati’s defense. Don’t forget that the last time these two teams played, neither Le’Veon Bell (knee) nor Andy Dalton (thumb) was on the field. Hopefully both teams will be at full strength for this early-season clash.
4. New England at Denver (Week 15)
It’s not Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning anymore, but it’s Patriots vs. Broncos and once again could play a huge role in how the AFC playoff picture shakes out. These are the two teams that have won the past two Super Bowls and have faced each other a total of eight times over the past five seasons. Yes, we have no idea what Denver’s quarterback situation will look like by Dec. 18, but these are two teams that know each other well and would like nothing more than to hang an L on the other.
5. Arizona at Carolina (Week 8)
The Cardinals would like to erase the painful memory of what transpired the last time they were in Charlotte. The Panthers abused Carson Palmer (4 INTs, 2 fumbles, 3 sacks) on their way to a dominating, 49-15 NFC Championship Game victory in late January. Both of these teams figure to be among the contenders in the NFC once again, so can the addition of pass rusher Chandler Jones help Arizona get over the hump against the Cam Newton and company?
6. Seattle at Green Bay (Week 14)
These teams have faced each other three times the past two seasons. The NFC Championship Game from two seasons ago obviously stands out, but it was the Packers who took last year’s meeting, scoring the final 14 points to win 27-17. The Seahawks will return to the potentially frozen tundra of Lambeau Field looking to exact revenge while also sending a signal to the rest of the league that they are still a Super Bowl-worthy team. Meanwhile Aaron Rodgers is hoping a healthy Jordy Nelson and a trimmer Eddie Lacy can get his offense back to where it was a few seasons ago, especially against the Legion of Boom and the rest of Seattle’s stout defense.
7. New England at Pittsburgh (Week 7)
The Patriots beat the Steelers 28-21 in Foxboro to open the 2015 season, although both teams were missing their starting running backs (LeGarrette Blount, Le’Veon Bell) due to suspension. Pittsburgh needs Bell more than the Patriots need Blount, and if the All-Pro running back is healthy, the Steelers possess one of the few offenses that can match, if not surpass, New England when it comes to firepower. Both teams also have Super Bowl aspirations, so this is another game that could have far-reaching implications come playoff time.
8. Seattle at Los Angeles (Week 2)
For the first time since 1994, the NFL returns to Los Angeles. The Rams will re-christen the L.A. Coliseum when they host the Seahawks. Whoever starts at quarterback for the home team (Case Keenum? Jared Goff? Carson Wentz?) will have their work cut out for him against Seattle’s defense. This also represents a homecoming of sorts for both head coaches, as Pete Carroll and Jeff Fisher have ties to USC.
9. Houston at Denver (Week 7, Monday)
Two division winners get together on a Monday night for a game that will feature two of the league’s best defensive players in three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller. Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips face the team they coached at one point. And oh yeah, Brock Osweiler returns to the Mile High City as the Texans’ starting quarterback while it’s not certain who will be under center for the home team.
10. Cleveland at Washington (Week 4)
The Redskins won the NFC East last season, but there’s no denying it was a watered-down division. The Browns haven’t posted a winning season since 2007. So why is this game on this list? Why don’t you ask Robert Griffin III? In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of RG3’s former teammates have already circled this one on their calendars too.
Don’t Forget About
New England at Arizona (Week 1)
Not only is this a matchup of the two teams that lost in their respective conference championship games, but Chandler Jones finally gets his chance to tackle Tom Brady, his former teammate. Also the chess match between Bruce Arians, an offensive-minded head coach and defensive mastermind Bill Belichick could be extremely entertaining.
Arizona vs. Seattle (Weeks 7, 16)
The Rams are getting reacquainted with Los Angeles and the 49ers are rebuilding, which leaves the Seahawks and Cardinals to battle it out for NFC West supremacy. The intrigue for these two matchups not only has to do with the one guaranteed home playoff game for winning the division, but also that both of these teams have Super Bowl aspirations.
Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh (Weeks 9, 16)
While the aforementioned Bengals may be squarely in the Steelers’ bulls-eye because of what happened in the playoffs, that does not mean it replaces Pittsburgh’s rivalry with Baltimore. There is certainly no love lost between these teams. Last year, the Ravens went just 5-11, but two of those wins came against, you guessed it, the Steelers. The fact that the second game falls on Christmas Day just adds to the appeal.
Seattle at New England (Week 10)
Super Bowl XLIX rematch. Need I say anything more? OK, then how about Legion of Boom vs. Tom Brady or Russell Wilson vs. Malcolm Butler or Jimmy Graham vs. Rob Gronkowski. No Beast Mode, but then again he didn’t really matter the last time they played either (sorry Seahawks fans).
Houston vs. Oakland (Week 11, Mexico City)
The setting of this game certainly doesn’t hurt its inclusion, but those who will be in attendance at Estadio Azteca should be treated to an entertaining matchup of two of the league’s younger teams. The Texans are coming off of a division title, while the Raiders have made some big moves this offseason in hopes of taking that next step forward.
Baseball may be shifting towards more of a young man’s game thanks to a burgeoning crop of young superstars, but MLB still has plenty of “senior citizens” who are getting the job done. For example, David Ortiz, who is calling it a career after 2016, finished in the top 10 in the American League in both home runs and RBIs last season.
And Ortiz isn’t alone among those players who are at least 35 years old and still playing at a high level. In fact, three of the first five on the list below hit at least 40 home runs last season with the quintet combining for an impressive 194 round-trippers.
So who is the best of the best when it comes to baseball’s elder statesmen? Here is a list of MLB’s top players who were at least 35 years old as of Opening Day (April 4).
Note: Age as of Opening Day in parentheses
1. David Ortiz, DH/1B, Boston Red Sox (40)
This is Ortiz’ last season, but if 2015 was any indication, Big Papi still has plenty left in his bat. He hit 37 home runs, his most since a career-best 54 in 2006, and produced his ninth 100-RBI campaign (108). He became the 27th player in baseball history with 500 home runs last season (503 total) and could end up finishing his career just outside the top 10 in doubles (584, 18th entering the season). Statistics aside, what Ortiz really wants is to get back to the playoffs and get a chance at a fourth World Series title.
2. Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays (35)
If not for David Ortiz’ overall body of work, Bautista would be at the top of this list. An All-Star each of the past six seasons, Joey Bats has averaged 38 home runs, 97 RBIs, 95 runs and just as many walks as strikeouts (96 apiece) during that span. Bautista posted his third 40-home run campaign last season, while leading the AL with 110 walks. Unlike Ortiz, Bautista is still an asset in the field, coming up with four assists and making just three errors in 2015 as the Blue Jays’ starting right fielder.
3. Alex Rodriguez, DH, New York Yankees (40)
After sitting out 2014 due to a suspension, many were wondering what Rodriguez would have left in the tank. It turns out, plenty, as he hit 33 home runs with 86 RBIs. He may no longer be a MVP-caliber player, but A-Rod will continue to chase history this season as he’s 28 home runs away from passing Babe Ruth (715) for third on the all-time list. Rodriguez also just needs 21 RBIs to surpass Cap Anson (2,075) for third and 61 runs to eclipse Willie Mays (2,062) for seventh all-time.
4. Nelson Cruz, OF/DH, Seattle Mariners (35)
After hitting 40 home runs in 2014 with Baltimore, Cruz brought his “Boomstick” with him to Seattle. He hit a career-high 44 long balls for the Mariners, including 17 at pitcher-friendly Safeco Field. But Cruz was more than just power, as he also batted. 302 with 93 RBIs on his way to making his third straight All-Star team.
5. Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, Los Angeles Angels (36)
Somewhat quietly, Pujols slugged 40 home runs last season to bring his career total to 560. Injuries are starting to take their toll and he’ll probably log more time as a DH than at first base, but this future Hall of Famer can still get the job done at the plate. Another 40 home runs would give him 600 for his career, which would place him ninth all-time. He also will surpass 1,700 career RBIs and 1,600 runs scored early this season, while he has still yet to strike out 1,000 times despite logging more than 9,900 career at-bats.
6. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers (36)
Beltre dealt with some injuries last season, but still finished seventh in the AL MVP voting thanks to a torrid second half. After hitting just .255 with seven home runs and 22 RBIs prior to the All-Star Game, Beltre slashed .318/.376/.509 with 11 long balls and an impressive 61 RBIs over his last 74 games. Not bad for a guy who turns 37 on April 7, is in his 19th season in the majors, and can still pick it at the hot corner (four career Gold Gloves).
7. Victor Martinez, DH/1B, Detroit Tigers (37)
Martinez tore the medial meniscus in his left knee in February 2015 and even though he managed to play 120 games, he clearly wasn’t the same hitter. A year after finishing second in the AL MVP voting, Martinez hit just .245 with 11 home runs and 64 RBIs last season. But the track record of success is there, and the hope that with better health Martinez will return to the form that makes him one of the more productive DHs in the game.
8. John Lackey, P, Chicago Cubs (37)
Lackey went 13-10 with a career-best 2.77 ERA last season with the Cardinals. He struck out 175 over 218 innings, which allowed him to make 33 starts (tied for NL lead). Now with the Cubs, Lackey has been reunited with former Red Sox teammates Jon Lester and David Ross (as well as team president Theo Epstein) in hopes of ending another historic World Series drought.
9. Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (36)
A quadriceps strain in June pretty much ended Holliday’s 2015 season, as he played just 21 games after that and hit just .196 in them. But this is still a rock-solid veteran who is a career .307 hitter and is 25 home runs shy of 300. Always a team player, Holliday has accepted the challenge of playing first base, something he hasn’t done in his 13 major league seasons, to open up a spot for one of the Cardinals’ young outfielders.
10. Curtis Granderson, OF, New York Mets (35)
Granderson batted just .259 and only stole 11 bases, but he was the catalyst for a Mets team that made it all the way to the World Series. He scored 98 runs, thanks in part to 91 walks (sixth in NL) and his .364 on-base percentage. He will strike out a lot, but the power (259 career doubles, 263 home runs entering 2016) and ability to get on base makes him one of the more well-rounded leadoff men in baseball.
11. Carlos Beltran, OF/DH, New York Yankees (38)
The MVP-esque seasons are behind him, but Beltran is still fairly reliable when it comes to hitting in the middle of a lineup. His 19 home runs last season leaves him just eight shy of 400 for his career and he needs 57 RBIs for 1,500. A career .280 hitter with nearly 1,500 runs scored, 2,500 hits, more than 500 doubles and 300-plus stolen bases, Beltran has put together an impressive set of credentials for Hall of Fame consideration, and he doesn’t appear to be done yet.
12. Santiago Casilla, P, San Francisco Giants (35)
Casilla’s career-high 38 saves tied him for fifth in the NL last season. He’s just four shy of 100 for his 13-year career and has been a part of two World Series championship teams.
13. Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals (36)
Fractures in his wrist pretty much cost Werth the 2015 season. He suffered the injury on May 15 and when he returned in July he hit just .226 over the final 61 games. He did hit 10 home runs during that span (230 AB), so the hope is that he can return to the form that produced a .292-18-82 line in 2014.
14. Brad Ziegler, P, Arizona Diamondbacks (36)
Ziegler won’t strike out a ton (36 in 68 IP in 2015), but he’s also pretty reliable when it comes to finishing off games. In his first season as the Diamonbacks’ full-time closer, Ziegler blew just two of 32 save opportunities (93.8 percent).
15. R.A. Dickey, P, Toronto Blue Jays (41)
After struggling in the first half of last season (3-10, 4.87 ERA), Dickey figured it out after the All-Star break. The veteran and 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner went 8-1 with a sparkling 2.80 ERA over his final 15 starts to help the Blue Jays pull away in the AL East.
16. Marlon Byrd, OF, Cleveland Indians (38)
Byrd may not be an everyday player any more, but he has averaged 24 home runs and 82 RBIs over his last three seasons while playing for five different teams (Mets, Pirates, Phillies, Reds, Giants) during that span.
17. Koji Uehara, P, Boston Red Sox (41)
Uehara has been replaced as the Red Sox closer by Craig Kimbrel, but the eight-year veteran from Korea will still play a key bullpen role. Entering this season, Uehara had a career ERA of 2.42 and WHIP of 0.852 with 86 saves over 390 2/3 innings.
18. Jason Grilli, P, Atlanta Braves (39)
Grilli was putting together a solid season (2.94 ERA, 24 saves) in 2015 before a torn Achilles on July 11 ended things. He recovered in time to make the Braves’ 2016 Opening Day roster, but could find himself pitching for a playoff contender before the end of this season.
19. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Chicago White Sox (37)
His MVP days are long past him, but Rollins won the starting shortstop job for the White Sox in spring training after signing as a free agent. His numbers weren’t great last season with the Dodgers but he did hit and run enough to produce his 12th season with double-digit home runs and stolen bases. Rollins should reach 2,500 hits for this career this season, which includes more than 500 doubles and 229 home runs to go along with his 465 steals, which place him among the top 50 all-time.
20. Bartolo Colon, P, New York Mets (42)
The oldest player in the majors, Colon may have lost his spot in the Mets’ starting rotation, but that’s more a testament to the wealth of young, power arms the team possesses. Now in his 19th season, Colon has won nearly 60 percent of his decisions (218-154) and last year he posted his fourth straight winning season (14-13) and 12th of his career.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Miami Marlins (42)
There is no denying that Suzuki is way past his prime. He got less than 400 at-bats last season while hitting just .229. However, he enters 2016 just 65 hits shy of 3,000 in his major league career. Don’t forget that he came over from Japan in 2001 after nine seasons overseas. For his entire professional baseball career, with 2016 being his 25th season, Suzuki has batted .325 with 4,213 hits, 2,006 runs scored, 552 doubles, 114 triples, 231 home runs, 1,267 RBIs, 697 stolen bases and 980 walks (through 2015). Regardless of where’s he played, that’s a pretty impressive resume.
Don’t Forget About
Joaquin Benoit, P, Seattle Mariners (38)
Coco Crisp, OF, Oakland Athletics (36)
Rajai Davis, OF, Cleveland Indians (35)
Rich Hill, P, Oakland Athletics (36)
Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies (36)
Javier Lopez, P, San Francisco Giants (38)
Pat Neshek, P, Houston Astros (35)
Fernando Rodney, P, San Diego Padres (39)
David Ross, C, Chicago Cubs (39)
CC Sabathia, P, New York Yankees (35)
Chase Utley, 2B, Los Angeles Dodgers (37)
Ryan Vogelsong, P, Pittsburgh Pirates (38)
C.J. Wilson, P, Los Angeles Angels (35)
The 2016 MLB season started on Sunday with three games, but Monday’s Opening Day signals the official return of America’s pastime. It may not be an official national holiday, but baseball’s Opening Day is always eagerly awaited by baseball fans and certainly holds a special place in many people’s hearts.
Besides signaling the start of a new season and the opportunity to cheer on their favorite team and/or player, Opening Day also has been the catalyst for some of baseball’s most historic moments and impressive achievements.
The Day Baseball Changed Forever
On April 15, 1947, Jackie Robinson, 28, played first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers, becoming the first African American to play in MLB’s modern era in the process. By breaking the color barrier, Robinson forever changed America’s pastime and this also represented the start to his eventual Hall of Fame career. Even though he went hitless (0-for-3) in his first game, Robinson’s impact on the game is unmistakable, as evidenced by the fact his No. 42 has been retired permanently.
“The Judge” Holds Court in the Dugout and at the Plate
Similar to Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson was a trailblazer in his own right. A Hall of Fame player with 586 career home runs, two MVP awards and a Triple Crown, Robinson debuted as player-manager of the Cleveland Indians back on April 8, 1975, becoming the first African American manager in major league history.
Facing the New York Yankees at home, Robinson batted second as the team’s DH and gave the fans at Cleveland Stadium something to cheer about early when he homered off of Doc Medich in the bottom of the first. The Indians would go on to win 5-3, giving Robinson the first of the 1,065 wins he would amass in his 16 seasons as a manager. Robinson also was no stranger to going deep on Opening Day. His eight career Opening Day home runs are the most in history, a mark he shares with Ken Griffey Jr.
Presidential First Pitch
Twelve U.S. presidents have thrown out the ceremonial first pitch of the MLB season. The first to do so was William Howard Taft back on April 14, 1910. A noted baseball fan, Taft attended the Washington Senators’ opener at Griffith Stadium. While several other presidents, including Woodrow Wilson (pictured above in 1916), preceded Ronald Reagan in fulfilling this duty, he is the first Commander-in-Chief credited with throwing out the first pitch from the mound rather than the stands. Reagan did so in 1984 as part of an unscheduled appearance at Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium.
Since Reagan, each of the sitting presidents have participated in at least one Opening Day, the most recent being Barack Obama’s appearance at the Washington Nationals’ season-opener in 2010 — the 100th anniversary of the presidential first pitch.
The Bambino Christens His House
It was known as “The House That Ruth Built” and if there was every any doubt as to why, just go back to what happened on April 18, 1923. On the first Opening Day in Yankee Stadium (the original, not the one that opened in 2009), Ruth fittingly produced the first home run – a three-run shot into the right field bleachers. This blast helped the Yankees defeat the Red Sox, Ruth’s former team, and was the first of 259 home runs Ruth would hit at his house.
The Hammer Ties the Bambino
On April 4, 1974, Hank Aaron forever etched his name into the record books when he hit a three-run home run off of Cincinnati’s Jack Billingham in the top of the first inning at Riverfront Stadium. Besides staking his Atlanta Braves to an early 3-0 lead, it represented the 714th home run in Aaron’s career, tying Babe Ruth for the most in MLB history. Aaron finished his Hall of Fame career with 755 home runs, a mark that many still acknowledge as the all-time record.
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller threw three no-hitters in his career, including one on April 16, 1940. Taking the mound for the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago White Sox at the original Comiskey Park, Feller made one run stand, holding the home team hitless while allowing five walks and striking out eight. This remains as the only no-hitter thrown on Opening Day.
Going the Distance
On April 13, 1926, the Washington Senators and Philadelphia A’s opened their season by needing 15 innings to decide the winner. While on the surface that may not seem that impressive, consider that the two starting pitchers – Walter Johnson and Eddie Rommel – were on the mound for the entire game!
Johnson, the Hall of Fame righty who is considered one of the greatest pitchers of all-time, allowed just six hits and struck out 12 in his 15 innings of work for the Senators. Opposing him was the knuckleballer Rommel, who surrendered nine hits and walked five. The Senators broke through in the bottom of the 15th, giving Johnson a 1-0 win in a pitching matchup for the ages.
In fact, Johnson owned Opening Day in many ways, as the man known as “The Big Train” took the mound for 14 season-opening starts. In those starts, he went 9-5 with 12 complete games, including three that went to extra innings. Seven of his nine victories were shutouts, and he struck out more batters (82) than hits allowed (81) in 124 innings pitched.
Opening Day Power
Toronto’s George Bell hit three home runs off of Kansas City starter Bret Saberhagen on April 4, 1988 to become the first player to do so in his team’s opener. Chicago Cubs outfielder Tuffy Rhodes was the next to accomplish this feat when he took New York Mets ace Dwight Gooden out of Wrigley Field three times exactly six years later. Rhodes’ power display was certainly unexpected, as he entered that game with just five home runs in four seasons and wound up with a total of 13 in 590 career at-bats.
The most recent to go yard three times on Opening Day was Detroit’s Dimitri Young, who tamed Comerica Park with three home runs on April 4, 2005. Two of Young’s taters came off of Kansas City starter Jose Lima, while he victimized reliever Mike MacDougal with two outs in the bottom of the eighth for his third round-tripper.
Giving Fans Their Money’s Worth
Those in attendance at Progressive Field on April 5, 2012 got to see plenty of baseball action. The Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays battled for 16 innings, the longest Opening Day game in MLB history. Although the home team lost, 7-4, those that stuck around for the entire game basically got a two-for-one deal with their ticket.
Saving Their Best For Last
In 1901, the Detroit Tigers, playing their first-ever game, trailed the Milwaukee Brewers 13-4 headed into the bottom of the ninth. The home team mounted a monumental rally, tallying 10 runs to beat the Brewers, 14-13. More than 110 years later it remains the greatest Opening Day rally in major league history.
The youth movement in MLB is in full force. Not only are the reigning National League MVP and World Series MVP in the “25 and under” category, but the Rookie of the Year winners for both leagues have already entered the “best players in the game” discussion.
And that’s just scratching the surface. Consider that the likes of Madison Bumgarner, Anthony Rizzo, Giancarlo Stanton, Jason Heyward, Freddie Freeman, Eric Hosmer and Starlin Castro are among those who have “graduated” from the list below. And all because they have turned the ripe “old” age of 26. Baseball has once again become a young’s man game.
So who did make the cut for this year’s list of best “25 and under” players? Just remember, there is no lack of candidates.
Note: To be eligible player must be 25 or younger as of Opening Day (April 4)
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
All Trout has done is finish in the top two in AL MVP voting each of his first four full major league seasons, winning the honor in 2014.Since 2012, Trout has averaged 114 runs, 34 home runs, 95 RBIs and 27 stolen bases with a slash of .308/.403/.568 per campaign. And he doesn’t turn 25 until August, meaning he very well could be in this spot again next year. Unreal.
2. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
If Mike Trout is 1A, Harper is 1B. The NL Rookie of the Year in 2012 at just 19 years old, Harper added an MVP award to his trophy case after mashing 42 home runs while batting .330 last season. With nearly as many walks (124) as strikeouts (131), it’s scary to think that Harper may just be scratching the surface of his full potential. Don’t forget he’s just 23 years old, which makes him younger than Trout.
3. Manny Machado, 3B, Baltimore Orioles
Machado finally showed what he can do when he’s able to stay healthy. After suffering a knee injury late in 2013, Machado was limited to just 82 games in ’14. But in 2015, he played in all 162 games and besides winning his second Gold Glove at the hot corner (his natural position is SS), he also finished fourth in the AL MVP voting after hitting .286 with 35 home runs, 86 RBIs and 102 runs.
4. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
Like Machado, Arenado’s defense alone is worth his inclusion on this list. The Gold Glove recipient in each of his three seasons, Arenado is one of the best defenders in the majors, regardless of position. But he’s certainly no slouch at the plate either, as evidenced by his 42 home runs and 130 RBIs. The former tied him with Bryce Harper for the NL lead while the latter paced the majors. Arenado has clearly established himself as the cornerstone of the Rockies.
5. Carlos Correa, SS, Houston Astros
If there’s anyone who could possibly challenge Mike Trout and Bryce Harper for the top spot on this list next year it’s probably Correa. At 20 years old, he won AL Rookie of the Year honors even though he had just 432 plate appearances in 99 games. But it’s what he did in those games – 22 home runs, 68 RBIs and 14 stolen bases along with a .279 average and .512 slugging percentage. Did I mention he’s just 21?
6. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, Chicago Cubs
Bryant’s anticipated debut last season was delayed by his defense, I mean service time issues, but regardless of the reason, it did nothing to deter him other than keep some of his numbers down. He did strike out an NL-high 199 times, but he also hit 26 home runs with 99 RBIs and batted .275 in the heart of the order for a team that lost to the Mets in the NLCS. His glove at the hot corner was never an issue and he also showed himself to be more than capable in the outfield, playing all three positions. Bryant pairs with Anthony Rizzo to form the youngest and arguably the best corner infield duo in all of baseball.
7. Jose Fernandez, P, Miami Marlins
Fernandez returned from 2014 Tommy John surgery this past July and flashed the form that made him NL Rookie of the Year in ‘13. Now more than a year removed from the procedure, Fernandez should get more than enough innings to stake his claim as one of the game’s best pitchers. It’s a small sample size, but in his career, Fernandez has posted a 2.40 ERA and 1.014 WHIP with more strikeouts (336) than innings (289) or hits allowed (208).
8. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
Altuve will graduate from this list next season, but what a run it has been for the diminutive (5-6) second baseman. He followed up his 2014 breakthrough campaign by winning his first Gold Glove and finishing 10th in the AL MVP voting. Altuve’s 425 hits since 2014 are the most of any player and he’s also stolen 94 bases and rapped 87 doubles during that span.
9. Gerrit Cole, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
This is Cole’s last appearance on this list, but the Pirates’ young ace is trending in the right direction nonetheless. He was an All-Star for the first time last season on his way to winning 19 games with a 2.60 ERA and 202 strikeouts. He was a horse on the mound (208 IP), gave his team good outings (25 QS in 32 GS) and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young voting. Not bad for someone in just his third major league season.
10. Mookie Betts, OF, Boston Red Sox
David Ortiz is calling it a career after this season and Dustin Pedroia isn’t getting any younger, but the Red Sox appear to be in good hands thanks to the emergence of young players like Betts. The second baseman-turned-outfielder got some MVP consideration after batting .291 with 18 home runs, 77 RBIs, 92 runs and 21 stolen bases. If Betts continues to improve, a 30-30 season could be possible.
11. Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
Perez helped the Royals end their long World Series drought by hitting .364 in the Fall Classic to claim MVP honors. The AL’s Gold Glove recipient and an All-Star each of the last three seasons, Perez has been a workhorse behind the plate, catching 137 or more games every season during that span. His average has come down from the .292 he hit in 2013, but he’s had 70 RBIs each of the past two seasons while still managing to bat .260 with some power (53 2B, 38 HRs in 2014-15 combined).
12. Xander Bogaerts, SS, Boston Red Sox
Bogaerts struggled in his first full season in 2014, hitting just .240 with 138 strikeouts and only 39 walks. The contact issues remain (101 SO, 32 BB) but he made great strides at the plate last season, jumping all the way up to a .320 average with 196 hits, 84 runs and 81 RBIs. The power dropped from 12 home runs in 2014 to just seven, but many still believe there’s 15-20 home run potential in that bat and his defense at shortstop could net him a Gold Glove or two.
13. Addison Russell, SS/2B, Chicago Cubs
Ushered to the majors in late April, the then-21-year-old Russell struggled at first, batting .226 with 83 strikeouts in the first half (71 games) while having to adjust to new position, second base. But not only did Russell’s bat wake up in the second half, the Cubs also took off once he was named the everyday shortstop in early August. From Aug. 7 through the NLCS, the Cubs went 38-18 when Russell started a shortstop (he did not play in the NLCS because of a hamstring injury suffered in Game 3 of the NLDS). Many around the league are expecting Russell to break out in a big way at the plate this season while continuing to provide Gold Glove-caliber defense.
14. Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
If not for Correa, Lindor would have been the AL Rookie of the Year. In just 99 games, Lindor not only flashed the leather, but he impressed at the plate, hitting .313 with 12 home runs, 22 doubles and 12 stolen bases. Defense has always been Lindor’s calling card and should help him win a couple of Gold Gloves in his career. But if he continues to get the job done at the plate, then Lindor could thrust himself into the discussion of best all-around shortstops in the AL, if not all of baseball.
15. Christian Yelich, OF, Miami Marlins
Teammates Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez may get more of the attention, but don’t underestimate Yelich’s value to the Marlins. The young outfielder batted .300 last season despite missing some time due to injury and already has a Gold Glove to his name. The power (30 2B, 7 HR) should continue to develop and while he may never be the masher that Stanton is, there’s no reason to not think Yelich can’t develop into a well-rounded, perennial All-Star that may win a batting title or two someday.
16. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig’s star has somewhat faded after an injury-plagued 2015 season, but the tantalizing skill set still remains. The hope is that better health and more maturity will help Puig get back to the player who burst on the scene with 19 home runs while batting .319 in finishing second in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2013. Puig is still only 25, so there’s plenty of time for the player legendary Dodgers announcer Vin Scully has dubbed the “Wild Horse” to put it all together and become a five-tool thoroughbred.
17. Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Admittedly, Polanco’s ceiling is as high, if not higher, than some of those ahead of him on this list. It’s just a matter of the 24-year-old toolsy outfielder finding more consistency. The speed (27 SB) is clearly there, along with the run-scoring potential (83 in 2015). The biggest questions are when will the power (16 HRs in 870 career AB) and plate discipline (121 SO, 55 BB in ’15) develop? Polanco also is an asset with the glove (13 OF assists) so the pieces are all there for him to join teammates Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte in becoming one of the game’s top outfielders.
18. Kyle Schwarber, C/OF, Chicago Cubs
Another impressive young hitter on the Cubs, Schwarber’s value would be even greater if he was a full-time catcher. However, plenty of credit should be given to him for adapting to the outfield, while continuing to provide plenty of production at the plate. He hit 21 home runs with 51 RBIs in 78 total games last season, which includes his ridiculous slash line of .333/.419/.889 (good for a 1.308 OPS) in the postseason (8 games). His playoff coming out party was highlighted by five home runs, including a majestic shot that landed on top of Wrigley Field’s new scoreboard in right field. If anything, Schwarber’s versatility makes it that much easier for manager Joe Maddon to get the 23-year-old’s lefty bat into his potent lineup.
19. Maikel Franco, 3B, Philadelphia Phillies
The Phillies are a long ways from getting back to the World Series, but in Franco they at least appear to have a foundational piece to build around. The 23-year-old was brought back to the majors in mid-May and proceeded to hit 13 home runs with 48 RBIs in 77 games until a fracture in his wrist sidelined him in August. He returned right before the end of the season and the slugging third baseman could be poised for a huge 2016 if his monster spring training showing (8 HRs, most of any player) is any indication.
20. Miguel Sano, DH/3B, Minnesota
He may no longer be an everyday third baseman, but the Twins will find a spot in the lineup for Sano’s power. The 22-year-old slugger from the Dominican Republic hit 18 home runs in just 279 at-bats last season. He struck out his fair share of times (119), but he also drew 53 walks and batted .269. Whether it’s in the outfield, at DH or perhaps even a few games back at the hot corner, expect to see Sano entrenched in the heart of Minnesota’s lineup this season.
21. Trevor Rosenthal, P, St. Louis Cardinals
Rosenthal may only pitch an inning at a time, but he when he does he among the most effective closers in the game. An All-Star in 2015, Rosenthal has gone 93-for-102 (91.2 percent) in save opportunities over the last two seasons. He also has stuck out 170 batters in 139 innings, while allowing just five home runs during that span.
22. Anthony Rendon, 3B/ 2B, Washington Nationals
A knee injury wrecked his 2015 season, but in ‘14 Rendon finished fifth in the MVP voting after batting .287 with 21 home runs, 83 RBIs and 111 runs scored. The hope is that the 25-year-old will get back to that same type of production now that’s he been able to get through spring training healthy.
23. Shelby Miller, P, Arizona Diamondbacks
The 25-year-old led the majors with 17 losses last season, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The Braves didn’t provide Miller with any run support, as he ranked last (2.64) among all qualified pitchers. His 6-17 record aside, the 3.02 ERA, 33 starts (tied for most in NL) and 171 strikeouts in 205 1/3 innings are all reasons why he made his first All-Star team. Now with the Diamondbacks, run support should be the least of Miller’s worries.
24. Noah Syndergaard, P, New York Mets
The Mets don’t lack for young power arms right now, but the 23-year-old known as Thor could really establish himself as a household name and soon. After going 9-7 with a 3.32 ERA in his first 24 big league starts, Syndergaard more than held his own in New York’s World Series run. In four postseason games (3 GS), he posted a 3.32 ERA with more strikeouts (26) than hits allowed and walks combined (23).
25. Carlos Martinez, P, St. Louis Cardinals
A shoulder issue put an early end to a breakout campaign, but not before Martinez made his first All-Star team. Stepping up big following the loss of ace Adam Wainwright to a torn Achilles, Martinez went 14-7 in 31 games (29 GS) with a 3.01 ERA and 184 strikeouts in 179 1/3 innings. As long as his shoulder holds up, Martinez doesn’t have to worry about his spot in the Cardinals’ rotation.
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Ken Giles, P, Houston Astros
Rougned Odor, 2B, Texas Rangers
Marcell Ozuna, OF, Miami Marlins
Corey Seager, SS/3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
Marcus Stroman, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Julio Teheran, P, Atlanta Braves
Taijuan Walker, P, Seattle Mariners
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Yordano Ventura, P, Kansas City Royals
Others to Watch in 2016
Orlando Arcia, SS, Milwaukee Brewers
Jose Berrios, P, Minnesota Twins
Byron Buxton, OF, Minnesota Twins
Michael Conforto, OF, New York Mets
J.P. Crawford, SS, Philadelphia Phillies
Delino DeShields, OF, Texas Rangers
Joey Gallo, OF/3B, Texas Rangers
Lucas Giolito, P, Washington Nationals
Tyler Glasnow, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
Randal Grichuk, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
Raisel Iglesias, P, Cincinnati Reds
Ketel Marte, SS, Seattle Mariners
Steven Matz, P, New York Mets
Wil Myers, OF/1B, San Diego Padres
Aaron Nola, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Roberto Osuna, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jose Peraza, 2B, Cincinnati Reds
Stephen Piscotty, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
A.J. Reed, 1B, Houston Astros
Carlos Rodon, P, Chicago White Sox
Domingo Santana, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Marcus Semien, SS, Oakland A’s
Luis Severino, P, New York Yankees
Jorge Soler, OF, Chicago Cubs
Trevor Story, SS, Colorado Rockies
Devon Travis, 2B, Toronto Blue Jays
Trea Turner, 2B/SS, Washington Nationals
Zack Wheeler, P, New York Mets
The 2016 NCAA Tournament field has been narrowed from 68 teams down to 16. By Sunday evening, there will be just four teams left standing that have earned the right to advance to Houston and play for the national championship. If the first week of this Tournament is any indication, the March Madness has just begun.
Here are the matchups, times and broadcast information for Thursday and Friday’s Sweet 16 action.
Note: Some start times may be approximate.
Thursday, March 24
No. 3 Miami vs. No. 2 Villanova (South Region)
7:10 p.m. ET, CBS
KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)
No. 3 Texas A&M vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (West Region)
7:37 p.m. ET, TBS
Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)
No. 5 Maryland vs. No. 1 Kansas (South Region)
9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
KFC Yum! Center (Louisville, KY)
No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Oregon (West Region)
10:07 p.m. ET, TBS
Honda Center (Anaheim, CA)
Friday, March 25
No. 4 Iowa State vs. No. 1 Virginia (Midwest Region)
7:10 p.m. ET, CBS
United Center (Chicago)
No. 7 Wisconsin vs. No. 6 Notre Dame (East Region)
7:27 p.m. ET, TBS
Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)
No. 11 Gonzaga vs. No. 10 Syracuse (Midwest Region)
9:40 p.m. ET, CBS
United Center (Chicago)
No. 5 Indiana vs. No. 1 North Carolina (East Region)
9:57 p.m. ET, TBS
Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)
The field of 68 for the 2016 NCAA men’s Division I basketball tournament will be announced on Sunday, meaning another installment of March Madness is almost here! The action tips off in Dayton, Ohio, for the “First Four” on March 15-16 and will culminate with the national championship game in Houston on April 4.
Here are the key dates and schedule for the 2016 NCAA Tournament:
March 15, 16
UD Arena (Dayton, Ohio)
TV: CBS, TBS, TNT, truTV
Dunkin' Donuts Center (Providence, R.I.)
PNC Arena (Raleigh, N.C.)
Pepsi Center (Denver)
Wells Fargo Arena (Des Moines, Iowa)
March 18, 20
Barclays Center (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
Chesapeake Energy Arena (Oklahoma City)
Scottrade Center (St. Louis)
Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena (Spokane, Wash.)
Sweet 16/Elite Eight
TV: CBS, TBS
March 24, 26
Honda Center (Anaheim, Calif.)
March 24, 26
KFC YUM! Center (Louisville, Ky.)
March 25, 27
United Center (Chicago)
March 25, 27
Wells Fargo Center (Philadelphia)
April 2, 4
NRG Center (Houston)
Super Bowl 50 is in the books and the party for the world champion Denver Broncos and their fans has just begun. But with the 2015 NFL season now officially over, at least on the field, the focus now shifts to next season. It’s never too early to look ahead, right?
While this loss is going to linger for a while for the Carolina Panthers, they have to lead the early list of contenders to get to Super Bowl LI (yes, it’s back to Roman numerals) next year. Other NFC teams that should be in the running include West rivals Seattle and Arizona as well as Green Bay and Dallas, provided the Cowboys can stay healthy.
In the AFC, the Broncos are a wild card at this point because so much is up in the air, even though Peyton Manning’s future plans will likely dominate the news cycle. New England will remain a threat as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are around, while teams like Pittsburgh and Cincinnati appear to have the pieces necessary to contend. And don’t forget about Indianapolis with a healthy Andrew Luck or a young team like Oakland, which could take another step towards being a playoff team.
Obviously so much will happen between now and September, whether it’s the draft, free agency or another type of personnel move. But how do things look division by division on Feb. 8? Just remember, it will be seven months until the next meaningful NFL game is played.
Very Early 2016 AFC Divisional Standings
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
1. New England
As long as Belichick/Brady are together the Patriots are a threat, but the championship window could be closing.
2. New York Jets
Just missed out on the playoffs last season, but work needs to be done in free agency to keep team together.
Can the defense improve in Rex Ryan’s second year with the Bills?
New head coach Adam Gase’s priorities include developing Ryan Tannehill, getting more out of defense.
If Big Ben and his weapons can stay healthy, Steelers could be one of the top contenders.
Bengals still looking to end playoff drought, will be busy during free agency.
Ravens need Joe Flacco, Steve Smith and Terrell Suggs to bounce back from serious injuries.
Hue Jackson looks to fix Browns QB situation and improve offensive production.
Priority should be finding more protection and a running game for Andrew Luck.
Is Brian Hoyer still the answer at QB after playoff debacle?
Jaguars figure to be big players during free agency.
Titans need to make No. 1 pick count, keep Marcus Mariota healthy.
Peyton Manning’s future just one thing the world champions must address in the offseason.
2. Kansas City
Have Chiefs already reached their ceiling? Free agency could bring changes on defense.
Raiders have young cornerstones in Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack and could add more pieces through
Team’s future in San Diego is uncertain; same could be said for the roster.
Very Early 2016 NFC Divisional Standings
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
From worst to first? A healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are critical to a Cowboys turnaround.
Will Redskins commit to Kirk Cousins long term?
3. New York Giants
Offense should be fine, but new head coach Ben McAdoo must fix defense.
New head coach Doug Pederson must decide on QB, get everyone on same page.
1. Green Bay
Jordy Nelson’s return will be huge, but team also has some key free agents.
Can Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings take that next step?
Bears offense could look quite different with Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte free agents and Jay Cutler’s future uncertain.
Calvin Johnson’s reported retirement would add another hole Lions will need to fill.
Super Bowl loss will linger, but don't be surprised if Panthers are back on same stage next year.
Falcons hoping offense can find old form while defense continues to improve.
3. Tampa Bay
Can Buccaneers make the leap in Jameis Winston’s second season?
4. New Orleans
Saints’ efforts to improve league’s worst defense will be hamstrung by salary cap issues.
Some key free agents to deal with and Marshawn Lynch could retire, but the Seahawks core is still young and
Cardinals shouldn’t take too many steps back, but several key players not getting any younger.
3. Los Angeles
If Rams want to make California return successful they need to figure out their QB situation.
4. San Francisco
Chip Kelly should have plenty of opportunity to mold roster, starting with QB, to his liking.
And while a great deal of the attention leading up to the game will focus on the quarterbacks, this matchup is much more than Cam Newton vs. Peyton Manning. For starters, while this is the 12th time since 1975 that the two top seeds in each conference meet in the Super Bowl, it’s somewhat rare in that it pits the league's top scoring offense (Carolina) against the stingiest defense (Denver). A similar matchup took place two seasons ago, when Seattle’s defense handled Denver’s record-setting offense in a 43-8 whitewashing in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The roles are reversed for the Broncos this time around, but Denver’s top-ranked D figures to have its hands full trying to slow down a Panthers offense powered by Newton’s dual-threat capabilities. Of course Carolina’s defense is no slouch either not with a pair of All-Pro linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis manning the middle and shutdown cornerback Josh Norman making life miserable for opposing wide receivers. Whether you prefer offense vs. defense or young vs. old to describe this matchup, Super Bowl 50 doesn’t lack for storylines. The question is will the game itself follow the script of one of these or will it write its own?
Super Bowl 50: Carolina Panthers vs. Denver Broncos
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m. ET (Sunday)
Location: Levi's Stadium (Santa Clara, Calif.)
Spread: Carolina -6
5 Things to Watch
1. Superman vs. The Sherriff
Cam Newton enters his first Super Bowl with plenty of momentum, as he was named an All-Pro after posting the best numbers of his career in leading Carolina to a 15-1 record in the regular season. In 18 games, Newton has accounted for 50 total touchdowns (38 passing, 12 rushing) and just 14 turnovers (11 INTs, 3 fumbles). He clearly is the engine that drives the Panthers’ No. 1-ranked offense. Then there’s Peyton Manning, who has thrown more picks (17) than touchdowns (12), as injuries limited him to just 10 starts in the regular season. He clearly isn’t the quarterback he once was, but he has done what has been needed to get the Broncos back to the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons. Manning has been here before and would love to get that second ring, which also would even his Super Bowl record. This is Newton’s first Super Sunday appearance and he fully intends to make the most of it. Both quarterbacks will have to contend with defenses that ranked in the top six in the NFL in yards and points allowed. How each quarterback performs will not only go a long ways towards determining which team wins Super Bowl 50, but it also will represent the final chapter to either an incredible season or, quite possibly, a remarkable career.
2. Staying Grounded
As important as quarterback play will be in Super Bowl 50, the running games certainly can’t be overlooked. For one, running the ball is a big part of the Panthers’ offense, especially when you take Newton’s contributions into consideration. Carolina finished second in the regular season in rushing (142.6 ypg) and has picked up nearly 300 yards on the ground in its two playoff victories. Denver may not have the overall numbers that Carolina does, but the Broncos have been more effective running the ball lately, averaging 132.8 yards per game since Manning reclaimed the starting job in Week 16. Denver (third in NFL) and Carolina (fourth) both did a good job against the run in the regular season and have been even stingier in the playoffs. Panthers All-Pro linebacker Thomas Davis broke his right forearm in the NFC Championship Game, but he underwent surgery last week to insert a dozen screws and a metal plate into his arm and has sworn he will play in his first Super Bowl. It will be interesting to see how effective Davis is, but Carolina’s defense is anything but a one-man show. From a quarterback perspective, Manning needs the Broncos’ run game to make life in the pocket easier, while Newton has it as part of his arsenal. However, both offenses must find a way to pick up yards on the ground, especially against two defenses that that excel in bringing pressure.
3. What’s the Rush?
Speaking of pressure, both Carolina and Denver are able to create some without relying too heavily on the blitz. The Panthers have a fairly deep front that’s capable of making plays, while the Broncos have Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware bringing the heat from the edges. The Panthers’ pressure not only produces sacks (44 in regulars season, eight in playoffs), but it also helps create turnovers. That was never more evident than in the NFC Championship Game where Carolina forced Arizona into seven miscues, including six (4 INTs, 2 fumbles) by Carson Palmer. On the other side, pressure was a key to Denver’s AFC Championship Game win over New England, as Miller, Ware and others harassed Tom Brady (4 sacks, 23 hits, 2 INTs) all afternoon. Newton is certainly more mobile than Manning or Brady, not to mention a lot tougher to bring down, but that doesn’t mean Denver’s pressure can’t be successful in disrupting Carolina’s offensive rhythm while also potentially frustrating its dynamic quarterback. It’s no secret that the Panthers would love to get their hands early and often on Manning, who not only can’t afford to take too many big hits, he’s also much more limited in his ability to make plays when the pocket collapses. Simply put, whichever defense can do a better job of bringing the heat will likely have a better chance of dictating the course of Super Bowl 50.
4. Does Experience Matter?
Since this is Denver’s second Super Bowl trip in three seasons, it makes sense that the Broncos would have the edge in experience. Denver has 18 players who have been on a Super Bowl roster previously and 16 who have played on Super Sunday. As has already been noted this will be Manning’s fourth Super Bowl start, while head coach Gary Kubiak will be participating in his seventh. A backup to John Elway on three Bronco teams that lost in the Super Bowl, Kubiak was Denver’s offensive coordinator for its back-to-back championship teams and also has a ring from his time as the 49ers’ quarterbacks coach. His counterpart, Ron Rivera, was a reserve linebacker on the 1985 Chicago Bears that won Super Bowl XX, but otherwise this is an entirely new experience for his team. The Panthers have seven players who have previously experienced a Super Bowl and only five who have played in one. The Broncos also are no doubt motivated to redeem themselves following the embarrassment of the 43-8 beatdown courtesy of the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII. Denver’s been here before, while Carolina has no familiarity with all the extra attention, obligations and distractions that come before the game itself is actually played. But the flip side of this is that the Broncos enter this game arguably with more to prove because of what happened two years ago, as well as the fact the Panthers are the favorite. Will any of this matter come kickoff? Probably not, but it’s something worth keeping an eye on.
5. Sound in the Kicking Game
This may be the last thing anyone is really thinking about, but as the AFC Championship Game showed, nothing should ever be taken for granted, not even an extra point. To that end, Carolina’s Graham Gano has had a fine season, finishing second in scoring to All-Pro Stephen Gostkowski. But Gostkowski’s missed PAT, his first of the season, loomed large in New England’s loss to Denver in the AFC title game. Gano missed three PATs in the regular season (out of 59 attempts) with the last coming back in Week 13. He’s been a perfect 25-for-25 since then and has missed only one of his nine field goal tries during that span. On the other side, Denver’s Brandon McManus has missed just one of his 38 PATs entering Super Bowl 50. His lone misfire came in Week 15 at Pittsburgh. McManus has a strong leg and has been successful on all seven field goal attempts in the playoffs, but he won’t be kicking at home at altitude for this game. Barring a shutout, both of these kickers will factor at some point, but exactly how much remains to be seen. But wouldn’t it be something if the outcome of Super Bowl 50 was decided by a missed extra point? Remember, it’s a longer kick this season than in years past and it’s not like something similar hasn’t happened before. Sorry Bills fans.
On paper, Super Bowl 50 is the type of matchup any football fan should be looking forward to – the top two teams from each conference going head-to-head, as well as the NFL’s No. 1 (scoring) offense vs. the No. 1 (total) defense. Throw in the Cam Newton vs. Peyton Manning dynamic, not to mention the presence of All-Pro defenders like Luke Kuechly, Von Miller, Thomas Davis and Josh Norman, and this game has a little bit of everything.
However, as we have seen in the past Super Bowls sometimes don’t go like we envisioned. That was the case two years ago when Denver got manhandled by Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos are intent on erasing that bad memory, but the Panthers have been rolling all season and have their sights set on finishing strong and in their own style. Denver has the experience, but will that matter considering Carolina is favored and has the likely league MVP leading the charge? With the expectation that this could be Manning’s final game is he due for a storybook ending or another Super Sunday disappointment?
Athlon Editors Super Bowl 50 Predictions
|Rob Doster||20-17||Peyton Manning|
|David Fox||31-27||Cam Newton|
|Braden Gall||21-17||Cam Newton|
|John Gworek||23-16||Luke Kuechly|
|Steven Lassan||24-20||Cam Newton|
|Mitch Light||23-20||Cam Newton|
|Rich McVey||27-20||Cam Newton|
|Mark Ross||24-23||C.J. Anderson|
|Jasmine Watkins||34-28||Cam Newton|
Athlon Contributors Super Bowl 50 Predictions
|Marky Billson||26-20||Cam Newton|
|Michael Bradley||23-17||Luke Kuechly|
|Mike Dussault||24-16||Luke Kuechly|
|Jason Hall||28-17||Cam Newton|
|Elton Hayes||28-21||Cam Newton|
|Michael Horvath||41-17||Luke Kuechly|
|Matt Joseph||24-23||Von Miller|
|John La Fleur||27-21||Cam Newton|
|Sarah Lewis||21-17||Cam Newton|
|Rob McVey||31-20||Kurt Coleman|
|Jake Rose||28-24||Ted Ginn Jr.|
|J.P. Scott||27-24||Von Miller|
|Antwan Staley||27-24||Peyton Manning|
|Aaron Tallent||20-17||Ronnie Hillman|
Athlon Sports' 10 Worst Teams to Play in a Super Bowl
1. 1985 New England Patriots
Super Bowl result: Lost 46-10 to Chicago in Super Bowl XX
New England went 11-5 in the regular season to earn a wild card berth, getting hot at the right time. The Patriots won eight out of nine during one stretch and then rode their defense late in the season and in the playoffs. New England forced 16 turnovers in its three postseason victories, including six against Miami in the AFC Championship Game. An opportunistic defense carried an inconsistent offense all season long, at least up until the Super Bowl.
Despite taking an early 3-0 lead, Chicago scored 44 straight points and thoroughly dominated New England in posting the biggest victory in Super Bowl history at the time. For the game, the Patriots managed 123 total yards on offense, including just seven yards rushing, turned the ball over six times and gave up seven sacks.
2. 1979 Los Angeles Rams
Super Bowl result: Lost 31-19 to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV
Credit Los Angeles for taking full advantage of its schedule and division, as the Rams (9-7) won the NFC West even though they beat only two teams that finished with a winning record. The offense was marginal, as their quarterbacks combined for a 19:29 touchdown-to-interception ratio in the regular season, and the team finished with a negative (-8) turnover differential.
In the postseason, Los Angeles downed Dallas 21-19 in the Divisional round thanks to a tipped pass that resulted in a 50-yard touchdown with 2:06 remaining. In the NFC Championship Game against Tampa Bay, the Rams' offense managed just three field goals, but that was more than enough thanks to a stifling defensive effort that held the Buccaneers to zero points, just five completed passes and seven first downs.
The first team to make the Super Bowl having won just nine games in the regular season, Los Angeles hung with defending world champion Pittsburgh for the first three quarters. The Rams held a three-point lead at halftime and went ahead by two in the third quarter, only to watch the Steelers score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pull away for a 31-19 win. If not for three interceptions by Pittsburgh quarterback Terry Bradshaw, Super Bowl XIV may not have ended up as close as it did.
3. 2003 Carolina Panthers
Super Bowl result: Lost 32-29 to New England in Super Bowl XXXVIII
This Carolina team mastered the art of winning the close one. Champions of the NFC South with an 11-5 record, the Panthers won just two games in the regular season by more than six points. Seven of the victories were by three points or fewer, as the team’s point differential was plus-21, or 1.3 per game. The Panthers out-rushed their opponents, but this was mainly due to the fact they had nearly 100 more rushing attempts. Still the ground game produced just nine rushing touchdowns (opponents had 10), while quarterback Jake Delhomme posted a 19:16 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
The Panthers seemed to get all of the breaks in the postseason, starting with a 29-23 double overtime victory in St. Louis in the NFC Divisional round. Carolina squandered an 11-point, fourth-quarter lead to the Rams that included St. Louis head coach Mike Martz opting to hold the ball for a game-tying field goal even though the Rams were inside the 20 with less than a minute remaining and still had one time out. Both teams missed field goals in the first overtime session, as John Kasay made his 40-yard attempt only to find out it didn’t count due to a delay of game penalty on the Panthers. He then missed the subsequent 45-yard attempt. Delhomme took matters into his own hand at the start of the second overtime period, hitting Steve Smith for the game-winning, 69-yard touchdown only 10 seconds into it. Carolina’s defense came up big on the road in the NFC title game against Philadelphia, injuring Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and picking off four passes in the 14-3 win.
Carolina’s reward for earning the franchise’s first NFC crown was a Super Bowl XXXVIII matchup with New England. The game was scoreless until 3:05 left in the second quarter, when the teams combined for 24 points, including a 50-yard Kasay field goal that cut the Patriots’ lead to 14-10 at the half. All the other scoring took place in the fourth quarter, including Delhomme’s game-tying touchdown pass to Ricky Proehl with 1:08 left, but Kasay proceeded to kick the ball out of the bounds. Tom Brady got the ball on the 40-yard line and six plays later, Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning 41-yard field goal with just four ticks remaining. While the final score may have been close, New England dominated the box score, outgaining Carolina by nearly 100 yards (481-387) and nearly doubling the Panthers in first downs (29 to 17).
4. 2008 Arizona Cardinals
Super Bowl result: Lost 27-23 to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII
The greatest season in Arizona Cardinals franchise history is largely the product of great timing and having all of the breaks go your way, at least up until the game that counts the most. Arizona won the NFC West with a 9-7 record that included a spotless divisional mark (6-0) thanks to one of the top scoring offenses in the league at 26.7 points per game.
The flip side of this, however, is the fact that the rest of the division went a combined 13-35, as the Cardinals beat just two teams in the regular season that finished with a winning record and stumbled into the postseason losing four of their final six games. A suspect defense (team outscored opponents just one point in regular season), caught a break in the Wild Card round when it got to face Atlanta rookie quarterback Matt Ryan making his first career playoff start on the road. The Cardinals then got plenty of help from Carolina’s Jake Delhomme, who tossed five interceptions at home in their Divisional matchup. Arizona claimed its first conference championship with a 32-25 home victory over No. 6 seed Philadelphia, thanks to a late Kurt Warner touchdown pass and despite being outgained by the Eagles (454 to 369).
In the Super Bowl, Arizona had its chance to completely cash in on all of its good fortune, fighting back from a 13-point, third-quarter deficit against Pittsburgh to take a 23-20 lead on a 64-yard touchdown pass from Warner to Larry Fitzgerald with less than three minutes remaining. Alas, it was not meant to be, as Ben Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes in the end zone with 42 seconds left for one of the more memorable plays in Super Bowl history, much to the chagrin of the Cardinals and their fans.
5. 1994 San Diego Chargers
Super Bowl result: Lost 49-26 to San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIX
San Diego won the AFC West with an 11-5 record, and its losses were by seven or fewer points except for one. That one game, you ask? It was a 38-15 loss to San Francisco in Week 15. Foreshadowing perhaps? This was not a powerful team by any stretch, as the Chargers’ point differential (+75) translated into an average of less than five points per game, and the ground game averaged less than four yards per carry.
San Diego's defense carried the team throughout the season, and especially in the playoffs. The Chargers came back from a 21-6 halftime deficit to Miami in the AFC Divisional round, winning the game 22-21 on a touchdown pass with 35 seconds left followed by a missed 48-yard field goal by the Dolphins with one second on the clock. In the AFC Championship Game, San Diego trailed Pittsburgh 13-3 at one point only to take a 17-13 lead with 5:13 remaining. The Chargers needed one final goal-line stand with just over a minute left to finish the job, despite being outgained by a wide margin (415 to 226) and having the ball less than 23 minutes.
San Diego entered Super Bowl XXIX against San Francisco as the biggest underdog ever (18.5 points) and lived up to that billing. Steve Young threw four of his Super Bowl-record six touchdown passes in the first half, as the closest the Chargers ever were to the 49ers in this one was 14-7 late in the first quarter. The 49ers led 42-10 with less than five minutes left in the third before the Chargers scored two meaningless touchdowns. This game still holds the records for most combined points (75) and total touchdowns (10) in Super Bowl history, with the majority of the damage (49 and 7) done by game MVP Young and his 49ers.
6. 1987 Denver Broncos
Super Bowl result: Lost 42-10 to Washington in Super Bowl XXII
Denver took full advantage of a strike-shortened season, not to mention three games played with replacement players, to win the AFC West with a 10-4-1 record. Quarterback John Elway led one of the more productive passing offenses in the league, but the Broncos' rushing offense (3.9 ypc) lagged behind. The Broncos needed another miracle (see No. 8 below) to get past Cleveland in the AFC title game, this time at home. And just like what took place the previous season with "The Drive," the Browns delivered once again, as a late fumble sealed the Broncos’ 38-33 win and return trip to the Super Bowl. But Denver's third Super Bowl trip was anything but a charm. The Broncos jumped out to a 10-0 lead on Washington in the first quarter, only to watch the Redskins storm back with 35 points in the second quarter. Washington finished with a Super Bowl-record 602 total yards, including a record 280 yards rushing, in the rout. Denver was outgained by its opponent in all three of its playoff games, so perhaps the end result against Washington wasn’t all that surprising after all.
7. 1996 New England Patriots
Super Bowl result: Lost 35-21 to Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXI
Before the Bill Belichick and Tom Brady reign began in New England, the head coach-star quarterback pairing was Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe. However, this Patriots team relied more on defense than offense, as it won the AFC East with an 11-5 record. Bledsoe did throw for more than 4,000 yards and 27 touchdowns in the regular season, but the defense allowed just as many yards through the air. New England's D was much more stout against the run, giving up less than 94 yards rushing per game, but its own ground attack fared even worse (92 ypg).
New England got a major break in the playoffs when Jacksonville upset top-seeded Denver (13-3) at home in the Divisional round. The Patriots then dispatched of the upstart Jaguars 20-6 at home to earn the franchise’s second AFC crown. Even though the offense sputtered against Green Bay in Super Bowl XXXI, the Patriots hung around until the Packers scored 17 unanswered points in the second quarter. Bledsoe threw four interceptions and the Patriots finished with a grand total of 43 yards rushing, as the Packers sealed the deal with MVP Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the latter part of the third quarter.
8. 1986 Denver Broncos
Super Bowl result: Lost 39-20 to New York Giants in Super Bowl XXI
Denver got off to a 6-0 start to the season, but finished just 5-5. Still the Broncos’ 11-5 record was good enough to win the AFC West, thanks to a defense that led the conference in rushing yards allowed. The problem for the Broncos’ offense, however, was that it only generated 27 more yards on the ground than their defense gave up. After getting by New England 22-17 at home in the Divisional round, quarterback John Elway orchestrated “The Drive” late in the fourth quarter in Cleveland to get the Broncos to their second Super Bowl. Unfortunately, this one ended like the franchise’s first big game appearance (vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XII in 1978), as the Broncos managed just 52 yards rushing and Elway got sacked four times (one went for a safety) in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.
9. 1992 Buffalo Bills
Super Bowl result: Lost 52-17 to Dallas in Super Bowl XXVII
This Buffalo team maintained the Bills’ run in the AFC, capturing the East division title with a 11-5 record, powered by the NFL’s top rushing offense and third-ranked scoring offense (23.8 ppg). The defense was average in terms of where it ranked in points allowed, but generally got the job done. A third straight trip to the Super Bowl almost didn’t happen, however, as Buffalo trailed Houston 35-3 early in the third quarter of its wild card game. Backup quarterback Frank Reich, filling in for an injured Jim Kelly, orchestrated what became known as “The Comeback” with the Bills pulling out a 41-38 victory in overtime.
Buffalo then easily defeated Pittsburgh and Miami by a combined score of 53-13 to reach its third straight Super Bowl, this time against Dallas. The Bills held a 14-10 lead in the second quarter, only to watch the Cowboys score the next 17 points and pile on 21 more in the fourth quarter. As talented and good as this Dallas team was, Buffalo could ill afford to give the Cowboys many breaks, which the Bills certainly did. The Bills turned it over a Super Bowl-record nine times, including five fumbles, which led to 35 of the 52 points the Cowboys scored.
10. 2000 New York Giants
Super Bowl result: Lost 34-7 to Baltimore in Super Bowl XXXV
After losing two games in a row in early November, New York’s record stood at 7-4. Undeterred, head coach Jim Fassel guaranteed that this team would not miss the playoffs. He made good on that promise as the Giants won their last five, albeit just one of those victories came against a team that finished with a winning record, to capture the NFC East title.
Similar to Baltimore, their eventual opponent in the Super Bowl, this Giants team was built around defense. The G-Men held opponents to 15.4 points per game and less than 1,200 yards rushing total (72.3 ypg) during the regular season. This was especially the case in the playoffs, as the Giants yielded a total of 10 points in wins over Philadelphia and Minnesota, including shutting out the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game by holding them to 114 total yards and forcing five turnovers.
The problem for the Giants, however, was their offense and this was especially the case in Super Bowl XXXV against the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense, considered one of the best in the history of the game, kept the Giants’ offense scoreless, as their only points in the game came on a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Ron Dixon in the third quarter. For the game, the Giants’ offense mustered a total of 152 yards and quarterback Kerry Collins was responsible for four (all INTs) of the Giants’ five turnovers.
If you missed the NFC Divisional Playoff game between Green Bay and Arizona on Jan. 16, that’s a shame. The fact the Cardinals won 26-20 in overtime doesn’t begin to encapsulate this game, which featured one of the most bizarre, improbable finishes in NFL history.
And while there are still three games left, including the Super Bowl, which has been the scene of some pretty memorable plays recently, there has been no lack of have-to-be-seen-to-be-believed finishes this season. The playoffs alone have already featured three such endings.
(Listed in chronological order, from earliest to most recent)
Jan. 16, 2016 – NFC Divisional Round: Green Bay at Arizona
Fitzgerald’s “Hail Larry” Helps Cardinals Overcome Rodgers’ Hail Mary
Two teams who are no strangers to postseason theatrics (Arizona beat Green Bay 51-45 in overtime in the wild-card round in 2009), came up with a script that even Hollywood couldn’t write. This game had a little of everything, including a tipped pass in the end zone that landed in Michael Floyd’s hands to give the Cardinals a 17-13 lead in the fourth quarter. Arizona looked to ice the game with a late field goal, but a questionable pass play before the two-minute warning gave Aaron Rodgers 1:55 to work with down 20-13. He would need every bit of it too, as Rodgers’ 41-yard desperation heave as the clock expired landed in the hands of Jeff Janis in the end zone despite being harassed by two defenders.
Stunned, the Cardinals and Packers gathered at midfield for the coin toss, only to watch the coin not actually flip in the air, leading to a re-flip and plenty of confusion. Arizona won the toss, and following a touchback, Carson Palmer, not exactly known for being mobile in the pocket, avoided Green Bay’s rush (and nearly got taken down by one of his own offensive linemen) and threw across his body to find a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald, who almost ended the game right there before being tackled at the five-yard line. Following an incompletion to Fitzgerald, head coach Bruce Arians called his wide receiver’s name again, this time on a shuffle pass (of course), as the future Hall of Famer added yet another memorable play to his resume with the game-winning reception.
Jan. 10, 2016 – NFC Wild Card Round: Seattle at Minnesota
Seahawks Survive Frigid Temperatures, Vikings Following Walsh’s Missed Chip Shot FG
Through three quarters the Vikings were in complete control at home despite the sub-zero temperatures. Trailing 9-0 on the road, Seattle finally got on the board with a TD pass and then followed that up with a field goal to take a 10-9 lead with eight minutes to go. Both defenses held firm from there and the Vikings got the ball back with 1:20 to go. From their own 39-yard line, Teddy Bridgewater moved his team all the way to the Seahawks’ nine, thanks in large part to a 15-yard pass interference penalty and a 24-yard catch by tight end Kyle Rudolph. With just 26 seconds remaining and both teams’ timeouts exhausted, Blair Walsh, whose three field goals were responsible for all of the Vikings’ scoring, lined up for a 27-yard field goal. Referred to in the business as a “chip shot,” Walsh watched helplessly as his kick sailed wide left, giving the Seahawks the improbable come-from-behind win and Vikings’ fan yet another painful postseason exit.
Jan. 9, 2016 – AFC Wild Card Round: Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Bengals Implode Late as Steelers Escape With Wild Win
Visiting Pittsburgh was up 15-0 after three quarters. Cincinnati had backup quarterback AJ McCarron making his first career postseason start. But despite his early struggles, McCarron and the Bengals woke up in the fourth quarter. An A.J. Green touchdown catch gave the Bengals a 16-15 lead, although the missed two-point conversion would come back to haunt them. Still with less than two minutes to go, Cincinnati appeared to be in pretty good shape, especially following Vontaze Burfict’s interception of Steelers backup quarterback Landry Jones.
Deep in Pittsburgh territory, all the Bengals had to do was run out the clock. Unfortunately, Jeremy Hill fumbled the ball on the first play, giving the Steelers one more shot with 1:23 remaining. A hurting Ben Roethlisberger, who had to be replaced by Jones following a hard sack, returned and moved his team to about midfield with 22 seconds remaining. Then on the next play (starting around 6:45 mark of video below), a vicious hit by Burfict on Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown led to a 15-yard penalty, which was made worse when Cincinnati’s Adam Jones got flagged another 15 yards for his altercation with Steelers’ assistant coach Joey Porter, who had come on the field when Brown was getting looked at by the trainers. The end result was the ball was placed on the Bengals’ 17-yard line, from which Chris Boswell drilled a 35-yard field goal to put Pittsburgh ahead 18-16. A desperation heave went unanswered, as Cincinnati’s playoff drought reached eight games, a streak that now dates back to the 1990 season. As painful as some of these losses have been this one especially hurts as the Bengals have no one to blame but themselves.
Dec. 7, 2015 – Week 13: Dallas at Washington
NFC East Archrivals Save Best for Last 74 Seconds
For the first 58 minutes, the Cowboys and Redskins could do no better than trade field goals. Despite the team’s sub-.500 records, this game was plenty important, as a mediocre NFC East was still open for the taking. But with less than two minutes to go, the score was tied at 9-9 with Dallas set to punt. And that’s when things got interesting. DeSean Jackson fielded the punt deep in Washington territory, advanced it past the 20 and then proceeded to retreat all the way to his own one-yard line in hopes of finding room to run. Jackson lost the ball, which the Cowboys recovered at the Redskins’ 15. Two plays later Darren McFadden ran it in as the visiting team went up 16-9 with 1:14 left. Game over, right? Wrong.
A 41-yard kickoff return tacked on with a 15-yard facemask penalty gave Washington the ball at Dallas’ 43-yard line with 1:06 remaining. Three plays and a timeout later Kirk Cousins connected with Jackson for a redeeming, 28-yard touchdown pass to tie the game with 44 seconds left. The Cowboys then got the big kick return, this one 46 yards, and Matt Cassel found Dez Bryant twice to move the ball to the Redskins’ 36 with 21 ticks on the clock. Two incompletions left Dan Bailey with a 54-yard attempt, which he calmly nailed with just nine seconds left. Washington’s last-ditch attempt on the subsequent kickoff lasted all of two laterals, as Dallas climbed back into the division race, despite a 4-8 record, following the furious finish at FedEx Field.
DeSean Jackson runs 22 yards backwards only to fumble pic.twitter.com/By5LWiBY1F— The Cauldron (@TheCauldron) December 8, 2015
Dec. 3, 2015 – Week 13: Green Bay at Detroit
Rodgers-to-Rodgers Caps Packers’ Improbable Comeback Against Lions
Detroit led Green Bay 17-0 at halftime and 20-0 nearly midway through the third quarter. The Lions seemingly had the Packers on the ropes, but failed to deliver the knockout blow. A Randal Cobb fumble recovery in the end zone finally got Green Bay on the scoreboard and then a Detroit turnover resulted in another touchdown. The Packers answered a Lions field goal with their third touchdown of the second half to make the score 23-21 with 3:04 remaining. A big third-down conversion allowed Detroit the opportunity to take the clock all the way down to just 29 seconds left before punting the ball away.
Green Bay took over at its 21-yard line with no timeouts and just 21 seconds on the clock. Two incompletions set up third down and seemingly the last play of the game. But a face mask penalty on the Lions gave the Packers one last chance. From his own 39-yard line Aaron Rodgers avoided the rush, buying just enough time to heave the ball high in the air. At the other end, tight end Richard Rodgers backed his way into the end zone and timed his leap just right to corral his quarterback’s heave for the touchdown. The failed two-point conversion was purely procedural, as the damage had already been done, allowing Green Bay to escape Ford Field thanks to the longest, game-winning, game-ending Hail Mary in NFL history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Nov. 30, 2015 – Week 12: Baltimore at Cleveland
Ravens Walk-Off Vs. the Browns on Blocked Field Goal
Week 12 action concluded with an AFC North matchup between the Ravens and Browns. By this point of the season, both teams were merely playing for pride and draft positioning, but it didn’t stop the divisional foes from staging a memorable final two minutes. A 42-yard touchdown pass from Cleveland third-string quarterback Austin Davis to Travis Benjamin tied the game at 27 with just 1:47 remaining. Each team punted on its next possession, as the game appeared headed to overtime. But Ravens quarterback Matt Schaub (also pressed into duty because of injuries) was intercepted, giving the Browns the ball in Baltimore territory with 50 seconds left and two timeouts. Davis completed one pass for six yards and scrambled for seven, setting up Travis Coons for the potential, game-winning 51-yard field goal with three ticks on the clock. However, the Ravens had a completely different ending in mind, as Brent Urban blocked the kick and Will Hill returned it 64 yards for the score after time had expired. For Baltimore, a break finally went its way, as Cleveland fans discovered a new, equally painful way to lose a game.
(Photos courtesy of Getty Images)
With the exception of MLB, the three other major sports (NFL, NBA, NHL) are in season during Christmas. In fact, the NBA is treating its fans to not one, not two, but five games on Christmas day. And between Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors, Jrue Holiday of the New Orleans Pelicans and even Cole Aldrich of the Los Angeles Clippers, there are plenty of players who will be on the court on Dec. 25 whose names are tailor-made for this time of year.
But these members of the Association aren’t the only athletes and sports figures that make this special list. And yes, we’ve checked it twice.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year...
Dionte Christmas (former NBA guard, now plays overseas)
Rakeem Christmas (F, Indiana Pacers)
Jrue Holiday (G, New Orleans Pelicans)
Matt Holliday (OF, St. Louis Cardinals)
Doug Jolley (former NFL tight end 2002-06)
Nerlens Noel (C, Philadelphia 76ers)
Plenty of sports figures have color-coordinated names for the season...
A.J. Green (WR, Cincinnati Bengals)
Draymond Green (F, Golden State Warriors)
Ladarius Green (TE, San Diego Chargers)
Red Auerbach (legendary NBA coach)
Red Grange (NFL Hall of Famer)
Michael Redd (former NBA guard 2000-12)
Who’s ready to deck the halls?
Joique Bell (RB, Detroit Lions)
Le’Veon Bell (RB, Pittsburgh Steelers)
Eric Berry (DB, Kansas City Chiefs)
Dwayne Bowe (WR, Cleveland Browns)
DeMarre Carroll (F, Toronto Raptors)
Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks head coach)
Jon Garland (former MLB pitcher 2000-11)
Royal Ivey (former NBA guard, 2004-13)
Holly Rowe (ESPN reporter)
Star Lotulelei (DT, Carolina Panthers)
Bart Starr (NFL Hall of Famer)
Mike Tannenbaum (Miami Dolphins’ Executive Vice President of Football Operations)
Tree Rollins (former NBA center, 1978-95)
Walking in a winter wonderland...
David Frost (PGA Champions Tour)
Scott Frost (UCF head coach)
Frostee Rucker (DE, Arizona Cardinals)
Darius Slay (CB, Detroit Lions)
Garth Snow (former NHL goalie 1993-2006, current New York Islanders general manager)
J.T. Snow (former MLB first baseman 1992-2006, '08)
Jay Cutler may hail from Santa Claus, Ind., but all these guys are missing is a white beard and a red suit...
Zac Claus (Idaho basketball assistant coach)
Jimmy Clausen (QB, Baltimore Ravens)
Ed Kringle (played on the PGA Tour in the 1950s)
Sure they can play football, but can they fly?
Dwight Dasher (Middle Tennessee quarterback 2007-10)
Kyle Rudolph (TE, Minnesota Vikings)
I guess we know what these guys get in their stocking every year...
Cole Aldrich (C, Los Angeles Clippers)
Cole Beasley (WR, Dallas Cowboys)
Cole Hamels (P, Texas Rangers)
Gerrit Cole (P, Pittsburgh Pirates)
Norris Cole (PG, New Orleans Pelicans)
Casting call for the nativity scene...
David DeJesus (MLB free agent OF, played for Tampa Bay Rays/Los Angeles Angels in 2015)
Caleb Joseph (C, Baltimore Orioles)
Angel Pagan (OF, San Francisco Giants)
Russell Shepard (WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
Mark Weisman (former Iowa RB)
Now we feast...
Mia Hamm (women's soccer legend)
Felix Pie (former MLB OF, 2007-11, '13)
Antrel Rolle (DB, Chicago Bears)
And who better to wrap up our list...
Metta World Peace (F, Los Angeles Lakers)
(Rakeem Christmas photo courtesy of Getty Images)
Whether it’s their given name or a nickname, these athletes and sports figures fit right in on Halloween.
Jose Bautista, “Joey Bats”
MLB (Baltimore Orioles 2004, Tampa Bay Devil Rays 2004, Kansas City Royals 2004, Pittsburgh Pirates 2004-08, Toronto Blue Jays 2008-present)
Bautista bounced around with four different teams in his first season in the majors before finding a home in Pittsburgh. However, it’s been his run in Toronto during which Bautista has made a name for himself and earned his nickname for the damage he’s done with his Louisville Slugger. He's been an American League All-Star in each of the past six seasons, averaging 38 home runs and 97 RBIs with just as many walks (574) and strikeouts (576) during this span. He led the AL in home runs in both 2010 (54) and '11 (43). He hit 40 home runs for the third time in his career and topped the century mark in RBIs (114), runs (108) and walks (AL-best 110) to help lead the Blue Jays to the AL East title and back to the postseason for the first time in 22 years.
College football coach (Iowa Wesleyan 1989-91, Valdosta State 1992-96, Kentucky 1997-2000, Southeastern Louisiana 2003-04, New Mexico State 2005-08, McMurry 2009-12, SMU 2013, Bellhaven 2014-current)
Mumme (pronounced mummy) has been a college football head coach for more than 20 years and has more than 130 wins on his resume. For all his success, however, he is best known for his four seasons at Kentucky, where he went 20-26 overall and only 10-22 in SEC play. Mumme’s tenure with the Wildcats was (ahem) wrapped up at the end of the 2000 season with an eight-game losing streak and an investigation into NCAA rules violations related to illegally paying recruits. After taking a break from coaching, Mumme returned to the profession in 2003 and is in his second season as the head coach of the Bellhaven Blazers, a NAIA school located in Jackson, Miss.
Weekley’s given name is Thomas Brent, but everyone knows him by his nickname, Boo. This nickname came from Yogi Bear’s sidekick, Boo Boo, and not from trying to scare people, which is fitting given Weekley’s colorful personality on and off the golf course. It was on full display during the 2008 Ryder Cup when he rode his driver like it was a horse down the fairway during Singles play. Weekley and the rest of the U.S. team certainly put a fright into the European team at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky., as the underdog Americans won back the Ryder Cup with a convincing five-point victory. Weekley has three career victories on the PGA Tour, the last coming at the 2013 Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial.
NFL (Cincinnati Bengals 1984-92, ’97; New York Jets 1993-95; Arizona Cardinals 1996)
A quarterback for 14 years in the NFL, Norman Julius, better known as Boomer, finished his career with 37,920 passing yards and 247 touchdown passes. His best season came in 1998, when he was the league’s MVP and led the Bengals to a spot in Super Bowl XXIII. He and his teammates came up short in that game against San Francisco, but Esiason will always be loved in Cincinnati, where he spent 10 seasons. The same cannot necessarily be said in New York, at least as it relates to his playing career. Esiason heard many a boo from the home crowd during his 15-27 run as the Jets’ starting quarterback from 1993-95. Esiason has remained in the game as a television and radio analyst and he also co-hosts "Boomer and Carton," a morning radio show on WFAN Radio in New York.
Red Grange, “The Galloping Ghost”
NFL (Chicago Bears 1925, ’29-’34; New York Yankees 1926-27)
Harold Edward, better known as “Red,” first made a name for himself and earned his spectral nickname when he starred as a halfback at Illinois. While noted sportswriter Grantland Rice was the first to record Grange’s collegiate exploits in prose, it was his colleague, Warren Brown, who then wrote for the Chicago American, who dubbed Grange “The Galloping Ghost.” Grange went on to play 10 seasons in the NFL, most of them with the Chicago Bears, who later retired his number. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.
MLB (Philadelphia Athletics 1954, Kansas City Athletics 1955-56, Pittsburgh Pirates 1956)
His given name was Forrest Vandergrift, but for some unknown reason he went by Spook during his brief baseball career. A second baseman, Jacobs hit .247 in 188 career games and never hit a home run.
Jerry Adair, “Casper the Friendly Ghost”
MLB (Baltimore Orioles 1958-66, Chicago White Sox 1966-67, Boston Red Sox 1967-68, Kansas City Royals 1969-70)
Adair’s major league career lasted 13 seasons, in large part due to his glove and ability to deliver in the clutch. He played most of his career for the Orioles and was a .254 hitter with 57 career home runs. He finished with a career .981 fielding percentage as he played all four infield positions (primarily second base and shortstop) at some point during his time in the majors.
NFL (Dallas Cowboys 1998-2003, Cleveland Browns 2003-04, Denver Broncos 2005-06, Cincinnati Bengals 2007)
MLB (Florida Marlins 1995, Detroit Tigers 1995-97, Milwaukee Brewers 1998-99, Colorado Rockies 2000-01, Arizona Diamondbacks 2002-03, Seattle Mariners 2004, Boston Red Sox 2004-05, New York Yankees 2006-07, Chicago White Sox 2007)
Michael Dewayne Myers terrorized quarterbacks as a defensive end in the NFL for six seasons collecting 15.5 sacks, while Michael Stanley Myers lasted 13 seasons in baseball as a left-handed relief pitcher. Myers didn’t exactly slash his was through major league batters, as he played for nine different teams in his career. His major league totals include a 25-24 record, 4.29 ERA, 256 walks and 429 strikeouts in 541 2/3 career innings pitched.
John Candelaria, “Candy Man”
MLB (Pittsburgh Pirates 1975-85, ’93; California Angels 1985-87; New York Mets 1987; New York Yankees 1988-89; Montreal Expos 1989; Minnesota Twins 1990; Toronto Blue Jays 1990; Los Angeles Dodgers 1991-92)
Candelaria was a left-handed pitcher who won 177 games during his 19-year major league career. The “Candy Man” finished with a respectable 3.33 career ERA over his 2,525 2/3 innings pitched. He was at his sweetest in 1977 when he went 20-5 with a National League-leading 2.34 ERA. He made his only All-Star Game that season and finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting.
Vladimir Guerrero, “Vlad the Impaler”
MLB (1996-2003 Montreal Expos, Anaheim Angels 2004, Los Angeles Angels 2005-09, Texas Rangers 2010, Baltimore Orioles 2011)
For 16 years Guerrero struck fear into the hearts and minds of major league pitchers because of his tendency to swing at whatever they threw at him, regardless of where it was located. A career .318 hitter who was named AL MVP in 2004, Guerrero finished many of his at-bats holding his wooden stake after driving it right through the pitcher’s heart with yet another monster home run or game-winning hit.
George Wolfman & Cedric Wolfman
Minor league catcher 1934-35; Minor league pitcher 1954-56
Neither of these guys got a chance to howl on the major-league level, although I bet they were a lot of fun on nights with a full moon.
MLB (New York Giants 1905)
Best known for his inclusion in the iconic baseball movie, “Field of Dreams,” Archibald Wright, better known as “Moonlight” was in fact a real major leaguer. The outfielder’s career in the big leagues lasted all of one game, actually one inning, with the New York Giants 1905 when he was 27. He spent seven seasons in the minors, including his last in professional baseball in 1908. After his baseball dreams came to an end, he worked as a doctor in Chisholm, Minn., for 50 years before passing away in 1965 at the age of 85.
NFL (Houston Oilers 1984-93, Minnesota Vikings 1994-96, Seattle Seahawks 1997-98, Kansas City Chiefs 1999-2000)
After going undrafted out of college, Moon started his professional football career playing for the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos. Six seasons later, Moon migrated from north of the border to Houston where he started his NFL career with the Oilers. Moon played 10 seasons for the Oilers, setting numerous franchise records, before moving on to the Vikings, Seahawks and ending his career with the Chiefs in 2000. Moon’s No. 1 jersey was retired by the Oliers (now Tennessee Titans) and he finished his NFL career with 49,325 yards passing and 291 touchdown passes. In 2006, Moon became the first modern African-American quarterback inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s also a member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame (2001).
Torii Hunter, “Spider-Man”
MLB (Minnesota Twins, 1997-2007, Los Angeles Angels 2008-12, Detroit Tigers 2013-14, Twins 2015)
After returning to Minnesota, the place where it all started back in 1997, Hunter announced his retirement after a productive 19-year career. A nine-time Gold Glove (2001-10), also was a five-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger winner. Known more for his glove, Hunter was no slouch at the plate, finishing with a .277 career batting average 353 home runs, 196 stolen bases and nearly 1,400 RBIs and 1,300 runs scored. Hunter's nickname stems from his adept ability at climbing the outfield wall or timing his leap just perfectly to snag what seemed like a certain home run. Many a batter experienced the agony of defeat as they watched the baseball that seemed ticketed to go over the fence get ensnared in the web of Hunter’s glove instead.
Formula 1 driver (1950, ’52-‘54)
Webb’s racing career lasted all of four races, in which he never finished higher than 19th. Tony Stewart may have made the move famous, but it would have been something to see Webb climb the fence after reaching Victory Lane, no?
The professional golfer’s given name is James Frederick Webb, but whatever you choose to call him, you have to include major champion in that title. Simpson won the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club in San Francisco with a final score of one-over par. Simpson has four career victories on the PGA Tour and has been a member of two Presidents Cup (2011, '13) and two Ryder Cup (2012, '14) teams. Simpson was one of Tom Watson's captain's picks for the 2014 U.S. team that failed to wrest the Cup back from Europe. Simpson went 0-1-1 at the competition held at Gleneagles in Scotland, losing his Friday morning fourballs match with partner Bubba Watson and having his Sunday singles match against Ian Poulter.
MLB (Arizona Diamondbacks 2003-09)
Shoulder injuries have short-circuited his pitching career, but Webb was at his best from 2005-08. He won 70 games during that four-year span, including 22 in 2008. He spun the best season of his career in 2006 as he went 16-8 with a 3.10 ERA and was awarded the NL Cy Young Award. He finished second in the voting the next two seasons, but hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009.
NBA (1985-91, ’95-‘96 Atlanta Hawks; Sacramento Kings 1991-95; Minnesota Timberwolves 1996; Orlando Magic 1998)
Anthony Jerome, better known as “Spud,” stands all of 5’7, but he never let his lack of size limit his impact on a basketball court. After playing at NC State for Jim Valvano, Webb was drafted in the fourth round of the 1985 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. He never played for the Pistons and ended up spending the first six seasons of his NBA career with the Atlanta Hawks. Webb will forever be remembered for winning the 1986 NBA Slam Dunk Contest during All-Star weekend as he surprised everyone in defeating defending champion and Hawks teammate Dominique Wilkins for the title. Webb remains one of only two participants under six feet tall (Nate Robinson, who is 5’9 won it in 2006) to win the slam dunk competition. Webb’s NBA career lasted 12 seasons and he is documented as the third-shortest player in NBA history. He currently is the President of Basketball Operations for the Texas Legends, the NBA Development League team for the Dallas Mavericks.
The 2015 MLB playoffs get started Tuesday night in the Bronx when the Houston Astros take on the New York Yankees in the American League Wild Card Game. The winner will face the Royals, the team with the best record in the AL, in Kansas City starting on Thursday.
For the Astros (86-76), this is their first playoff appearance since 2005, when they were still in the NL. This is a young team that surprised many by spending the majority of the season in first place in the AL West. In the end, Houston couldn’t hold off a surging Texas team, but no one in baseball is no longer underestimating the Astros’ talent level.
The Yankees (87-75) are certainly no stranger to the postseason, having won 27 World Series titles. But this is the first playoff appearance for New York since winning the AL East in 2012. A far more veteran (read: older) team than the Astros, the Yankees rode their offense and the back end of their bullpen to a wild card berth.
Houston won the season series against New York, taking four of the seven games, including two of three at Yankee Stadium.
Houston at New York
Time: 8 p.m. ET (Tuesday)
Matchup: LHP Dallas Keuchel (20-8, 2.48 ERA) vs. RHP Masahiro Tanaka (12-7, 3.51 ERA)
Three Things to Watch
1. Youth vs. Experience
The Astros are one of the youngest teams in baseball, with an average age of 26.6 years, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Shortstop Carlos Correa, who is fifth on the team in home runs (22) and second in RBIs (68) even though he played in just 99 games, just turned 21 two weeks ago. Contrast that to the Yankees, who have an average age of 31.1, making them the oldest roster in MLB. The youngest everyday starter for New York is shortstop, Didi Gregorius, who is 25.
The age gap, if you will, doesn’t end there either. New York’s roster is full of guys with considerable playoff experience, including Alex Rodriguez (.263-13-41 in 75 career postseason games), Carlos Beltran (.333-16-40 in 51 games), and Jacoby Ellsbury (.301 in 38 games). The Astros’ lineup and most of their pitching staff is full of postseason rookies, as the most experienced playoff performer on the team is DH Evan Gattis, who batted .357 in 14 at-bats in the 2013 NLDS when was with the Braves. The difference is even more pronounced among the managers, as in one dugout you have Joe Girardi and his 21-17 record in four playoff appearances leading the Yankees, including a 2009 World Series title, while on the other you have A.J. Hinch, who is in just his third season as a manager and will be participating in his first playoff game as either a skipper or a player in his professional career.
2. Ace vs. Ace
Each team is sending its respective No. 1 starters to the mound for this survive-and-advance affair. Houston’s Dallas Keuchel led the AL in wins (20), innings (232) WHIP (1.02), was second in ERA (2.48) and fifth in strikeouts (216). The left hander started the All-Star Game in Cincinnati and is considered the leading contender for the AL Cy Young along with Toronto’s David Price. For New York, Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have the best of seasons, as injuries and stretches of ineffectiveness produced a 12-7 record and 3.51 ERA in only 24 starts. Still, his WHIP was impressive (0.99) and games like this are why the Yankees signed him to a seven-year, $155 million deal when he came over from Japan in December 2013.
Keuchel win 2-0 in two starts against New York this season, not allowing a run in 16 innings, while giving up just nine hits, one walk and striking out 21. Included in this was an Aug. 26 start at Yankee Stadium where he went seven scoreless frames. Tanaka faced the Astros just once, and it didn’t go well. On June 27, he gave up six runs on seven hits, including three home runs, in five innings. The good news is that game was at Minute Maid Park, but Tanaka’s results at home (3.71 ERA in 14 starts) haven’t been all that impressive either.
Whichever starter pitches more like an ace Tuesday night will probably set themselves up for at least one more start in the ALDS.
3. Home Runs or Nothing?
Offensively speaking, Houston and New York are similar teams. Both scored a bunch of runs and both rely on the long ball. The Yankees were (a distant) second to Toronto in both the majors and AL in runs (764), while the Astros were fifth (729) in their league and sixth overall. Houston was second only to Toronto in home runs (230), while New York was fourth (212) in baseball. If there’s one disparity when it comes to this swing-for-the-fences approach, it’s in the young Astros’ approach to come up empty. Houston was second only to another relatively inexperienced team (Cubs) in strikeouts with 1,392. The Yankees came in 21st in MLB with 1,227 whiffs. Seven different Astros racked up 100 or more strikeouts during the season, compared to just three Yankees.
Yankee Stadium is known for being a hitter-friendly park and the Astros have already had success there, scoring 21 runs in the three-game set in August. However, everything is magnified in the postseason, including the need to produce some sort of result at the plate. Can Tanaka take advantage of Houston’s aggressive approach at the plate and force the Astros to have to manufacture runs in some fashion rather than relying on the long ball? On the other side, even though the Yankee hitters can be viewed as more patient, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be successful against Keuchel. He has yet to give up a run to them in 16 innings and has struck out 21 over that span. Both teams are capable of scoring runs, but don’t be surprised if they are at a premium Tuesday night.
New York has the experience advantage pretty much in whichever area you look and it’s not close. Consider that many of Houston’s players weren’t even in the majors when the Yankees won their last World Series title in 2009. There are plenty of other similarities and just as many differences when it comes to these two teams, so the key is finding the biggest advantages for each. For Houston that appears to be in the form of Keuchel, who has held the Yankees scoreless this season, and the Astros’ team speed (121 SB, 3rd in MLB). The Bronx will no doubt be buzzing Tuesday night, but I think youth will be served in Yankee Stadium thanks to a filthy lefty and a bunch of athletic, talented players who are too young to realize they are supposed to be this good this soon.
Prediction: Houston 5, New York 2
The big new NFL news of the week is undoubtedly Tom Brady's four-game suspension being vacated by a federal judge. But what the's fantasy impact you ask? Not that much in my opinion, as Brady moves up just one spot, from No. 13 to 12, in my quarterback rankings. While Brady does pass Cam Newton, whose value has taken a hit because of the loss of No. 1 wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, I also have similar concerns about Brady's group of pass catchers. Yes, he has all-world tight end Rob Gronkowski, but outside of Julian Edelman, who's dealing with a leg injury that could keep him out of the season opener, there are plenty of question marks. So even though Brady now has the opportunity to play all 16 games, there are 11 other QBs I would rather have on my fantasy team than him.
Fantasy Football 2015 Quarterback Rankings
(Updated Sept. 3)
For the most part, tight ends have been relatively spared from the rash of injuries that have already impacted the running back and wide receiver positions as it relates to fantasy football rankings. Travis Kelce put a scare into his owners (and Chiefs fans) when he left practice earlier this week with an apparent leg injury. Fortunately, it was later classified as a sprained ankle and head coach Andy Reid went so far as to say if this was the regular season, he probably would have been able to play. But instead, Kansas City will wisely hold Kelce out of their final preseason game for precaution so you should be able to continue to draft Kelce as a top-five TE.
Fantasy Football 2015 Tight End Rankings
(Updated Sept. 3)
Just one more week of NFL preseason action and for the most part, fantasy owners can breathe a sigh of relief. The vast majority of starters won't even suit up for the final preseason game, so from here out it's all about injuries (Randall Cobb AC joint sprain in shoulder could have been worse), surprising cuts (Fred Jackson) and other developments (Washington, Buffalo going different directions with Week 1 starting QB) that will impact draft boards the most. There are still plenty of depth charts that need to be sorted out, but by and large there are no major shakes up rankings-wise, and that's a good thing.
Fantasy Football 2015: Preseason Top 200
(Updated Sept. 3)
Unless your fantasy football league doesn't use them, kickers need to be drafted too. And just like any other football player kickers are subject to injury and/or competition. That has been the case this preseason as Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham is already lost due to a torn ACL, while Denver cut Connor Barth on Aug. 26. The Steelers had signed veteran Garrett Hartley to replace Suisham, but he too got hurt in a preseason game. Pittsburgh traded for Jacksonville's Josh Scobee on Monday, as the Steelers are hoping the third kicker is the charm. The Broncos meanwhile have turned back to Brandon McManus, who originally replaced Matt Prater after he was suspended for four games at the start of the 2014 season. McManus would up losing the job to the aforementioned Barth. As far this kicker roulette goes, McManus obviously carries some interest because he kicks his home games at altitude and for a pretty potent offense. Scobee likewise should at be on your radar because his situation greatly improves going from the Jaguars' work-in-progress offense to the Steelers' high-powered attack. And as far as Jacksonville goes, it appears the Jaguars are going to go with first-year kicker Jason Myers, who played at Marist and spent time in the Arena Football League last season.
Fantasy Football 2015 Kicker Rankings
(Updated Aug. 31)
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Injuries are never a good thing, but especially when it involves a top-five fantasy wide receiver. Jordy Nelson's season-ending torn ACL is just not a blow to Green Bay, but also to the fantasy outlook for Aaron Rodgers and certainly the wide receiver landscape. Nelson's absence presents an opportunity for teammate Davante Adams to break out in a big way, but also keep an eye on Jeff Janis and rookie Ty Montgomery moving forward. Randall Cobb will replace Nelson as the Rodgers' No. 1 target, which results in him moving up a few spots higher in the top 10. Elsewhere, veteran Reggie Wayne signed a one-year deal with New England, but don't expect him and Tom Brady to repeat the production of Wayne's glory days when he and Peyton Manning were in Indianapolis. Julian Edelman remains the Patriots' No. 1 wide receiver (tight end Rob Gronkowski is Brady's No. 1 target), as Wayne's addition just adds even more uncertainty to the pecking order behind the top two.
Fantasy Football 2015 Wide Receiver Rankings
(Updated Aug. 25)
First Arian Foster, now LeSean McCoy has been bit by injury, as the fantasy running back rankings continue to evolve at the midway point of the NFL preseason action. The former (groin surgery) is out for the foreseeable future, while the latter (hamstring) is expected to be ready for Week 1. In either case, each back’s draft value is impacted. For now, Alfred Blue vaults ahead of Foster as the likely Texans’ No. 1 option, while McCoy remains in the top 10, but his situation is definitely worth watching as the Bills’ season opener against the Colts is a little more than three weeks away.
Fantasy Football 2015 Running Back Rankings
(Updated Aug. 21)
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Despite losing in the Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks are still the top choice when it comes to a fantasy defense/special teams unit. The Seahawks will have a few new faces on that side of the ball, but as long as the "Legion of Boom" comes back healthy and stays hungry and the pass rush is there, this DST should score plenty of points. There are other intriguing options as well, including now Rex Ryan-coached Buffalo Bills, the front seven-loaded St. Louis Rams, the J.J. Watt-driven Houston Texans, and even the Miami Dolphins, who have added Ndamukong Suh to the fold. And remember, it doesn't even have to be a good defense to be a great fantasy DST. Look no further than the Philadelphia Eagles last season. This defense ranked near the bottom of the NFL in yards allowed and was second to last against the pass, yet still finished with the most fantasy points thanks to a bunch of takeaways and touchdowns.
Fantasy Football 2015 Defense/Special Teams Rankings
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