Articles By Mark Ross
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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Nebraska and adidas officially unveiled on Thursday a new alternative uniform that the Cornhuskers will wear for their Oct. 24 Homecoming game against Northwestern. The new Primekit Husker Bold look was produced in collaboration between the Nebraska athletic deparatment and adidas. Centered around black as the foundation, the Huskers' bold new design is a mix of modern design innovations paired with elements of Nebraska's classic style.
One of the more recognizable looks in college football, the Huskers' new alternative uniform features metallic red numbers with a forged steel outline, combined with a modernized, metallic version of the classic Nebraska stripes that accent the jersey and pants. The numbers and stripes are serrated, which allow for maximum ventilation and range of motion, accoridng to an adidas release. Other highlights of the new look include an oversized "N" logo that is integrated into the pant stripe. The look is topped off by the new Husker bold alternative black matte shell helmet complete with metallic red logos, stripes, numbers and facemask.
Here is an overview of Nebraska's new addias Primekit Husker Bold alternative uniform:
Here are some more images, courtesy of adidas:
The New England Patriots are the defending Super Bowl champions and won't officially open defense of their title until Sept. 10 when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers to kick off the 2015 NFL regular season. However, the real work for Bill Belichick's team begins July 23 when rookies report to training camp in Foxborough, Mass.
Baltimore, Cleveland and New Orleans get a slight head start on New England and rest of the league when their rookies report on July 22, while Indianapolis and Philadelphia don't break camp until Aug. 1. In the end, it really doesn't matter which team gets back at it first or last. Instead it's which two teams will be on the field last — playing in Super Bowl 50 in Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Feb. 7.
Below are the reporting dates for rookies and veterans, and the locations for 2015 training camps for all 32 NFL teams:
|Arizona||University of Phoenix Stadium||Glendale, AZ||7/28||7/31|
|Atlanta||Atlanta Falcons Training Facility||Flowery Branch, GA||7/30||7/30|
|Baltimore||Under Armour Performance Center||Owings Mills, MD||7/22||7/29|
|Buffalo||St. John Fisher College||Pittsford, NY||7/30||7/30|
|Carolina||Wofford College||Spartanburg, SC||7/30||7/30|
|Chicago||Olivet Nazarene University||Bourbonnais, IL||7/29||7/29|
|Cincinnati||Paul Brown Stadium||Cincinnati, OH||7/27||7/30|
|Cleveland||Cleveland Browns Training Facility||Berea, OH||7/22||7/29|
|Dallas||River Ridge Playing Fields||Oxnard, CA||7/29||7/29|
|Denver||Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre||Englewood, CO||7/27||7/30|
|Detroit||Detroit Lions Training Facility||Allen Park, MI||7/28||8/2|
|Green Bay||St. Norbert College||Green Bay, WI||7/29||7/29|
|Houston||Methodist Training Center||Houston, TX||7/26||7/31|
|Indianapolis||Anderson University||Anderson, IN||8/1||8/1|
|Jacksonville||Florida Blue Health & Wellness Practice Fields||Jacksonville, FL||7/27||7/30|
|Kansas City||Missouri Western State University||St. Joseph, MO||7/28||7/31|
|Miami||Doctors Hospital Training Facility||Davie, FL||7/29||7/29|
|Minnesota||Minnesota State University, Mankato||Mankato, MN||7/25||7/25|
|New England||Gillette Stadium||Foxborough, MA||7/23||7/29|
|New Orleans||The Greenbrier||White Sulphur Springs, WV||7/22||7/29|
|New York Giants||Quest Diagnostics Training Center||East Rutherford, NJ||7/30||7/30|
|New York Jets||Atlantic Health Training Center||Florham Park, NJ||7/29||7/29|
|Oakland||Napa Valley Marriott||Napa, CA||7/26||7/30|
|Philadelphia||NovaCare Complex||Philadelphia, PA||8/1||8/1|
|Pittsburgh||Saint Vincent College||Latrobe, PA||7/25||7/25|
|St. Louis||Rams Park||Earth City, MO||7/27||7/31|
|San Diego||Chargers Park||San Diego, CA||7/29||7/29|
|San Francisco||Marie P. DeBartolo Sports Center||Santa Clara, CA||7/27||7/31|
|Seattle||Virginia Mason Athletic Center||Renton, WA||7/30||7/30|
|Tampa Bay||One Buccaneer Place||Tampa Bay, FL||7/27||7/31|
|Tennessee||Saint Thomas Sports Park||Nashville, TN||7/30||7/30|
|Washington||Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center||Richmond, VA||7/29||7/29|
Dates and locations subject to change.
(Top photo by David Silverman, courtesy of www.patriots.com)
One month into the 2015 MLB season and it’s no surprise to see Huston Street and Trevor Rosenthal among the leaders in saves for their respective leagues. But did you know that the Mets’ Jeurys Familia and Tigers’ Joakim Soria are tied with Street for the most entering May 1 with nine? Both are in the closer role for their teams because of injuries, which have had quite the early impact on bullpens around the league. Not only are we still waiting for Kenley Jansen, Sean Doolittle and Jake McGee to make their season debuts, but the Royals’ Greg Holland is currently on the disabled list with a pectoral strain, although he’s expected back right around the time his 15-day term is up.
|Arizona||Addison Reed||Brad Zeigler||Evan Marshall, Oliver Perez|
|Atlanta||Jason Grilli||Jim Johnson||Luis Avilan|
|Baltimore||Zach Britton||Darren O'Day||Tommy Hunter, Brian Matusz|
|Boston||Koji Uehara||Edward Mujica||Junichi Tazawa|
|Chicago (AL)||David Robertson||Zach Duke||Zach Putnam, Jake Petricka|
|Chicago (NL)||Hector Rondon||Pedro Strop||Jason Motte, Zac Rosscup, Neil Ramirez (DL)|
|Cincinnati||Aroldis Chapman||Jumbo Diaz||J.J. Hoover|
|Cleveland||Cody Allen||Bryan Shaw||Scott Atchison, Nick Hagadone|
|Colorado||John Axford||Rafael Betancourt||Adam Ottavino, LaTroy Hawkins (DL)|
|Detroit||Joakim Soria||Joba Chamberlain||Al Albuquerque, Joe Nathan, Bruce Rondon (DL)|
|Houston||Luke Gregerson||Chad Qualls||Pat Neshek, Tony Sipp, Josh Fields|
|Kansas City||Wade Davis||Kelvin Herrera||Ryan Madson, Greg Holland (DL)|
|Los Angeles (AL)||Huston Street||Joe Smith||Fernando Salas, Cam Bedrosian|
|Los Angeles (NL)*||Yimi Garcia||Chris Hatcher||Paco Rodrigiez, Pedro Baez, Joel Peralta, Kenley Jansen (DL)|
|Miami||Steve Cishek||A.J. Ramos||Mike Dunn|
|Milwaukee||Francisco Rodriguez||Jonathan Broxton||Will Smith, Jim Henderson (DL)|
|Minnesota||Glen Perkins||Casey Fien||Brian Duensing, Caleb Thielbar|
|New York (AL)*||Andrew Miller||Dellin Betances||David Carpenter, Justin Wilson|
|New York (NL)||Jeurys Familia||Buddy Carlyle||Carlos Torres, Bobby Parnell (DL), Jenrry Mejia (suspended)|
|Oakland||Tyler Clippard||Dan Otero||Eric O'Flaherty, Sean Doolittle (DL)|
|Philadelphia||Jonathan Papelbon||Ken Giles||Jacob Diekman, Justin De Fratus|
|Pittsburgh||Mark Melancon||Tony Watson||Jared Hughes|
|St. Louis||Trevor Rosenthal||Jordan Walden||Matt Belisle|
|San Diego||Craig Kimbrel||Joaquin Benoit||Dale Thayer, Kevin Quackenbush|
|San Francisco||Santiago Casilla||Sergio Romo||Jeremy Affeldt, Jean Machi|
|Seattle||Fernando Rodney||Danny Farquhar||Yoervis Medina, Tom Wilhelmsen|
|Tampa Bay||Brad Boxberger||Kevin Jepsen||Ernesto Frieri, Jake McGee (DL)|
|Texas||Neftali Feliz||Roman Mendez||Keone Kela, Shawn Tolleson|
|Toronto*||Brett Cecil||Miguel Castro||Roberto Osuna, Aaron Loup|
|Washington||Drew Storen||Matt Thornton||Aaron Barrett, Casey Janssen (DL)|
*Los Angeles (NL) and Toronto are employing a closer-by-committee approach, while New York (AL) has not designated a primary closer.
After two drafts with no running back taken in the first round, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon both went in the first 15 picks of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gurley was the first to go, somewhat surprisingly to St. Louis at No. 10, while San Diego made the first trade of the night by swapping with San Francisco to move up two spots to take Gordon with the 15th overall pick.
Both backs could step into starting jobs for their new teams fairly early, so from a fantasy standpoint which rookie is the one to target first come draft day? Let’s take a look at each breaking down the following areas: College Resume, Team Fit, 2015 Schedule and Potential Obstacles
Todd Gurley – If not for a four-game suspension for violation of NCAA rules and then a torn ACL in November, Gurley may have been in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick. In three seasons at Georgia, Gurley rushed for 3,285 yards in 30 games, averaging 6.4 yards per carry. He averaged more than a touchdown (36 rushing, six receiving) per game on offense alone and also returned two kickoffs for scores.
Melvin Gordon – The Heisman Trophy runner-up to Marcus Mariota, Gordon led the nation in rushing (2,587) and tied for the top spot in scoring (32 TDs). In four seasons at Wisconsin, Gordon rushed for 4,915 yards (boasting an impressive 7.8 ypc) and scored 49 total touchdowns. Keep in mind that in his first three seasons Gordon shared the spotlight with the Broncos’ Montee Ball (2011-12) and Patriots’ James White (2011-13). Gordon did most of his damage as a senior.
Advantage: Gurley gets the nod here because of the SEC’s reputation as being the nation’s best college football conference. Gordon’s production is impressive, but Wisconsin is known for running the ball and the Badgers’ offense is built around just that.
Gurley – Jeff Fisher loves to run the ball, going back to his days with the Titans. If Gurley’s knee checks out, Fisher could have his best running back since Eddie George was churning out 1,000-yard seasons from 1996-2003. St. Louis averaged 102.2 yards rushing per game in 2014, with rookie Tre Mason being the most productive back. The initial reports on Gurley’s recovery have been positive, so as long as he’s healthy and picks up the Rams’ playbook, the opportunity for 20-25 carries per game is clearly there.
Gordon – Ryan Matthews is now in Philadelphia, but San Diego’s running back cupboard isn’t exactly bare. Danny Woodhead, who only played in three games last season because of a broken leg, will get his share of touches, especially in passing situations, and Branden Oliver showed flashes as well. Gordon wasn’t called on to block or pass protect very much at Wisconsin, so it may take him some time to get up to speed in those areas. Roles can change as the season progresses, but Gordon probably will be used primarily as a two-down back early on.
Advantage: Gurley will have to show he can handle the blocking and pass-protection aspects too, but the Rams’ offensive philosophy should present him with more touches out of the gate than Gordon will see with the Chargers.
Gurley – Playing in the NFC West, the Rams have two games against the defending division and NFC champion Seahawks as well as the Cardinals. Crossover play against the NFC North doesn’t look that scary, especially with Ndamukong Suh no longer on the Lions. The AFC North has some decent defenses, but the Ravens and Steelers also have seen personnel changes on that side of the ball. Overall, it doesn’t appear to be that tough of a slate for a RB.
Gordon – The Chargers also get the AFC and NFC North in crossover play. Their swing games are Jacksonville and Miami, two teams that struggled to stop the run last season, but again the Dolphins now have Suh, an All-Pro defensive tackle, up front. As far as the AFC West goes, the Broncos were No. 2 against the run in 2014, but the Raiders (22nd) and Chiefs (28th) didn’t fare as well.
Advantage: Gordon gets the slight edge here mainly because of Gurley’s total of four games against Seattle and Arizona. Division-wise, there’s no contest when it comes to the quality of the defenses in the NFC West compared to the AFC West.
Gurley – Two seasons ago, Zac Stacy came out of nowhere as a fifth-round pick to rush for 973 yards. Last season, he gets just 293 on 76 carries, while Tre Mason, a third-round selection, leads the way with 765 yards, most of that coming over the final seven games. Gurley has the potential to break out, but will he get the opportunity from Week 1 or will it take some time to grasp the offense? And there’s also a chance the Rams decide to take it slow with Gurley because of his knee.
Gordon – San Diego has other options in Woodhead and Oliver, who already figure to take touches away from Gordon regardless of how quickly he learns the playbook. Philip Rivers isn’t the most mobile of quarterbacks and even though he’s entering the final year of his contract, he’s still critical to the Chargers’ success. If Gordon can’t do his job in pass protection or catch the ball, he could be eased into the offense.
Advantage: Both rookies will have to earn their playing time, but Gurley’s path to significant touches seems clearer, provided the surgically repaired knee is ready for the workload.
Both Gurley and Gordon figure to be attractive options in fantasy drafts this fall. Running backs could be the difference between a fantasy championship contender and a team that just can’t get over the hump each week. Many fell in love with Montee Ball and Zac Stacy last season and took them early, only to watch them get hurt or struggle to produce. Gurley and Gordon both could develop into top-10 fantasy options, but probably not this season.
Even with the questions surrounding the knee, Gurley is a more appealing option with considerably larger upside in my opinion, making him the target. However, at this point, Gurley is a borderline top-25 RB for 2015, as there are questions about his knee and how quickly he will receive a starter’s workload. Gordon also has intriguing upside, but the likelihood of limited touches has him in flex territory, for now.
Are you ready for some football? Well, NFL fans still have to wait four and a half months until kickoff, but at least we know the games we have to look forward to. The 256-game regular season schedule has been laid out, and there is certainly no lack of intriguing matchups. While the “must see” label often comes down to a matter of personal preference, here are 10 games that caught this football fan’s eye along with five other matchups that shouldn’t disappoint.
1. Seattle at Green Bay (Week 2)
No disrespect to the reigning Super Bowl champions (who are well represented on this list), but it’s the NFC Championship Game rematch that has my full attention. The Seahawks and Packers actually played each other twice last season, both times in Seattle, but it’s the final five minutes of January’s memorable playoff game that no one, especially Green Bay, will ever forget. While some faces (Hello Jimmy Graham!) have changed, the principals remain in place for this early-season treat.
2. New England at Denver (Week 12)
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are certainly no strangers to each other, as this will be their 17th head-to-head meeting. Brady holds an 11-5 edge in their rivalry, so you know Manning and company would like nothing more than to knock off the reigning champions in front of their home fans. Besides being a matchup of two of the AFC’s best teams, it’s also possible this could be the last pairing of two of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.
3. Dallas at Green Bay (Week 14)
Dez Bryant and the Cowboys return to the scene of the catch, I mean, no catch. Rules interpretations aside, Dallas won’t have DeMarco Murray to run the ball against the Packers and keep Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense on the sidelines. While not as important as a playoff game, the outcome of this contest could have a huge hand in determining the eventual NFC playoff picture.
4. Denver at Indianapolis (Week 9)
Peyton Manning took care of his Indianapolis homecoming last season, but could this be his final game in the place where his Hall of Fame career started? And there’s also the small matter of the Colts having beaten the Broncos at home in the playoffs last season.
5. Seattle at Dallas (Week 8)
The Cowboys went into CenturyLink Field last season and used their running game to control the clock and beat the Seahawks on their own turf. Seattle will get the chance to return the favor at AT&T Stadium and won’t have to worry about DeMarco Murray putting up 115 yards rushing again. However, Dallas’ stellar offensive line is still around, as are Tony Romo and Dez Bryant. The Seahawks will have their own new wrinkle, All-Pro tight end Jimmy Graham. Should make for an entertaining Sunday afternoon in Jerry Jones’ house, no?
6. Philadelphia at Dallas (Week 9)
The Eagles and Cowboys will first get together in Week 2, but it’s the second act of this NFC East rivalry that will feature the aforementioned Murray’s much-anticipated AT&T Stadium debut as a visitor. OK, while Cowboys fans probably aren’t looking forward to seeing No. 29 in an Eagles uniform (especially if Darren McFadden struggles), you know Murray has this game circled on his calendar.
7. New England at Indianapolis (Week 6)
The Patriots beat the Colts twice last season by a combined score of 87-27. In fact, in four career matchups, Andrew Luck has lost by at least three touchdowns to Bill Belichick’s team. So why should this game be any different? Well, Luck and the Colts will get the reigning champions on their turf, and this is not the same New England team that thumped them 45-7 in the AFC Championship Game. And it probably goes without saying that the officials at Lucas Oil Stadium will do whatever it takes to ensure that all the footballs are not only properly inflated, but also remain that way.
8. New England at Dallas (Week 5)
Potential Super Bowl 50 preview? Perhaps, but regardless of whether either or both teams end up playing in San Francisco in February; this is one of the more intriguing AFC vs. NFC matchups on the ’15 slate. And are there any more hated teams in the NFL than the Patriots and Cowboys?
9. Pittsburgh at New England (Week 1, Thursday)
The reigning champions kick off defense of their title (as well as the 2015 season) at home against a team with Super Bowl aspirations of their own. Unfortunately, while the Ben Roethlisberger vs. Tom Brady dynamic will be intact, there will be no backfield battle between Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, as both are presently suspended for the opener. Don’t get me wrong, this should still be a quality, entertaining game, but DeAngelo Williams vs. James White/Travaris Cadet/pick a Patriot just doesn’t have the same juice as Bell vs. Blount.
10. Philadelphia at New England (Week 13)
Offensive mastermind (same would say mad scientist) Chip Kelly vs. defensive genius (and future Hall of Famer) Bill Belichick. What’s not to like about this coaching chess match in early December? And who knows, there may even be another Tim Tebow sighting at Gillette Stadium. Maybe.
Five Other Intriguing Matchups
New York Jets at New England (Week 7)
Darrelle Revis got his Super Bowl ring with the Patriots last season, and promptly went back to the Jets for $70 million over five years. Will Tom Brady challenge the solitude of Revis Island?
Green Bay at Denver (Week 8)
It may seem hard to believe, but Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning have never faced each other, even though the two have combined for 359 career starts. As long as both stay healthy, that will change come the night of Nov. 1.
Buffalo at New York Jets (Week 10, Thursday)
Rex Ryan comes back to the Big Apple. Enough said, unless you’re looking forward to a potential Matt Cassel vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick QB duel.
Denver at Chicago (Week 11)
New Bears head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase host their former employer, which also happens to be the same team that drafted Jay Cutler 11th overall in the 2006 draft. Oh and Peyton Manning also beat Chicago in Super Bowl XLI for his only ring. How’s that for payback-driven storylines?
Buffalo at Philadelphia (Week 14)
LeSean McCoy back in the City of Brotherly Love. Forget the reception from Eagles fans, how will McCoy and Chip Kelly greet one another?
Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back Le’Veon Bell has been suspended for the first three games of the 2015 season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He is appealing the penalty (also includes the loss of an additional game check), which stems from his arrest last August on marijuana possession and DUI charges.
Bell was a first-team All-Pro last season after finishing second to DeMarco Murray in both rushing (1,361) and yards from scrimmage (2,215). Bell was second to none, however, when it came to fantasy production, putting up the most fantasy points of any non-quarterback and finishing 12th overall with 329 points (Athlon scoring).
Besides serving as the Steelers’ workhorse ball carrier, Bell caught 83 passes (tied for 19th in the NFL) for 854 yards. He also scored a total of 11 touchdowns and didn’t lose a single fumble among his 373 total touches.
Only 23 years old, Bell entered the offseason as the leading contender for being the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts this fall, and despite the suspension, I don’t see think his value changes much, if at all.
For one, Bell is appealing the suspension, and I don’t think it would surprise many if it ends up getting reduced. Whether it has no bearing on Bell’s case or not, it should be pointed out that LeGarrette Blount, who was Bell’s teammate in Pittsburgh for the first 11 games of the 2014 season, also was arrested and charged in the same August incident.
Blount, however, has been suspended just one game, the 2015 season opener. Considering the circumstances, it at least appears there’s a chance that Bell’s penalties will be revisited and possibly reduced upon appeal.
The legalities aside, the primary reason the suspension doesn’t impact Bell’s perceived value at this point is because of the lack of an alternative for the top spot. When it comes to whom to take with the No. 1 overall pick in a fantasy draft, the most logical candidates would be running backs similar to Bell, unless you’re infatuated with Andrew Luck or Aaron Rodgers or some other quarterback.
Along these lines, the backs that most likely come to mind are (in no particular order): DeMarco Murray, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, Eddie Lacy and Matt Forté. While the likelihood that Bell will now miss at least two games does matter, each of the other candidates have their own concerns/question marks.
DeMarco Murray – likely to see less carries going from Dallas (and one of the best offensive lines in the NFL) to Philadelphia. Much of Murray’s value in 2014 was tied to his workload. His 392 carries were 80 more than any other running back. He joins a more crowded backfield with Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles also in line for touches.
Related: DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles: Philadelphia’s Crowded Backfield Clouds Fantasy Outlook
Jamaal Charles – His workload decreased last season despite playing in same number of games (15) and posting same yard per carry average (5.0) as he did in 2013. Also recorded 30 fewer catches in 2014 compared to ‘13.
Adrian Peterson – Played just one game before being suspended for the rest of the 2014 season. Hasn’t been officially reinstated yet and has expressed publicly a desire to be traded to another team. Barring Minnesota honoring his request, Peterson’s future is chock full of uncertainty.
LeSean McCoy – Must make transition from Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offensive system in Philadelphia to Rex Ryan’s ground-and-pound approach in Buffalo. Touches shouldn’t be an issue, but McCoy is known more for his shiftiness and big-play potential than being an in-between-the-tackles option. Also remains to be seen how McCoy will be used as pass-catcher in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s center and who will be under center.
Arian Foster – When healthy, Foster is on the same level in terms of dual-threat ability as Bell, Charles, McCoy or Forté. But injuries have been an issue, as Foster missed three games last season after playing in just eight in 2013.
Eddie Lacy – Lacy will turn 25 in June, so he’s similar to Bell in that both don’t have as much wear and tear on their tires as the others mentioned here. Lacy is clearly the Packers’ No. 1 ball carrier, but he wasn’t a workhorse (15.4 carries per game) last season, as Green Bay’s offense continues to revolve around Aaron Rodgers and the passing game.
Matt Forté – Arguably the most productive pass-catching back in the league, Forté reeled in 102 receptions last season while rushing for 1,038 yards. However, with John Fox now in charge in Chicago, the Bears’ offense will look much different than it did under Marc Trestman. Not only does that mean Forté’s role could be changing, there’s also the fact that in late December, Forté will turn 30, a number that has become a bit of a red flag as it relates to running backs.
There’s no denying that the possibility of Bell missing as many as three games impacts his fantasy value. However, given the uncertainty and question marks surrounding his peers at this point, I think Bell’s fresh legs, his versatility, his stability in Pittsburgh’s offense and big-play potential are more than enough reasons to keep him near the top of any fantasy rankings., if not at No. 1.
Monday marks Opening Day of the 2015 MLB season, although the games actually begin with Sunday night’s matchup between the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Whether Opening Day ever becomes an official national holiday, something more than 100,000 Americans supported via an online petition posted on the White House’s Web site last year, remains to be seen, but it’s clear the first day of the baseball season holds a special place in the hearts of the fans of America’s pastime.
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.
In the last five seasons, 21 of the 30 teams in MLB have appeared in the postseason. While this parity has been good for the game as a whole, the other side of the coin is that teams have had trouble maintaining success on a year-to-year basis. With that in mind, here are five teams that fared pretty well in 2014 that could take a step or two back this season.
Related: 5 MLB Teams on the Rise in 2015
Kansas City Royals
(89-73, 2nd in AL Central and Wild Card team in 2014)
The Royals were one of the feel-good stories of last season, ending their 29-year playoff drought and coming up just one game short of winning the World Series. Kansas City is still relatively young, so shouldn’t this team be considered a strong candidate to potentially repeat as AL champions?
Well, a lot went right for the Royals during both the regular season and their magical postseason run that saw them open the playoffs with eight straight wins. For one, Kansas City posted a run differential of plus-27 during the regular season, which was the second lowest (St. Louis, +16) of any team in the playoffs. Secondly, staff ace James Shields and long-time DH Billy Butler are both gone, with Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales expected to fill their spots.
Kansas City’s bullpen was lights out last season and while pretty much everyone is back, it’s too much to expect an encore performance in 2015. Kansas City also is still waiting for former top prospects Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to live up to their billing, which puts even more pressure on veterans like Morales and new right fielder Alex Rios to produce at the plate.
The Royals have gotten worse, at least on paper, while the White Sox have clearly improved and the Indians and Tigers should remain competitive in the AL Central. It may be too harsh to call Kansas City a one-year wonder, but the Royals will be hard-pressed to follow up their memorable and magical 2014 ride.
(88-74, 2nd in AL West and Wild Card team)
After winning the AL West in 2012 and ’13, the A’s took a slight step back last season but still claimed one of the wild card spots. However, the 2015 A’s look nothing like the team that won 88 games in ‘14 following a flurry of moves orchestrated by general manager Billy Beane.
So much has changed on this roster that of Oakland’s eight All-Stars (including Jeff Samardzija who arrived via trade before the All-Star break and Jon Lester, who was acquired on July 31) only two of them remain. The pitching staff still has Sonny Gray at the front, but a bunch of question marks after that, while the projected starting infield is made up entirely of newcomers. The bullpen is basically intact, although incumbent closer Sean Doolittle is likely to miss the first few weeks of the season due to a shoulder injury.
Despite the success Oakland has enjoyed the past three seasons, the A’s never were able to break through in the playoffs. As a result, Beane decided to maximize the return on his most valuable assets, turning over a large a portion of his roster in the process. Beane’s hope is that the roster churn will result in another stretch of extended success, but don’t be surprised if this team takes its lumps this season.
San Diego Padres
(77-85, 3rd in NL West)
The Padres have made plenty of headlines this offseason, as first-year general manager A.J. Preller wasted no time in making over the roster. A series of moves brought in a new outfield in the form of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers, along with an All-Star battery in catcher Derek Norris and workhorse starter James Shields.
San Diego has generated a fair amount of buzz leading into Opening Day, but there are still several reasons to be leery of the Padres breaking through and emerging as legitimate challengers to the defending World Series champion Giants and big-spending Dodgers in the NL West. For one, while the offense should certainly be improved compared to last season, it also wouldn’t take much considering San Diego was last in the majors in both batting average and runs scored in 2014.
Plus, each of the Padres’ new big bats has their own warts — Matt Kemp’s inability to stay healthy, Justin Upton’s swing-and-miss tendencies, Wil Myers’ lack of development — and team defense could be a season-long issue. Also, outside of Shields, who has a lot of mileage on his arm, the starting rotation is full of equal amounts of potential and question marks, many of them health-related. Put it all together and it seems like there are a lot of “ifs” when it comes Preller’s new-look Padres.
(79-83, tied for 2nd in NL East)
The Braves went from NL East champions and 96 wins in 2013 to a 79-83 afterthought last season. Unfortunately, things will probably get worse this season, as Atlanta hired former Indians and Rangers general manager John Hart as its new president of baseball operations to oversee the club’s makeover in preparation for christening its new stadium in 2017.
The first thing Hart set out to do was change the Braves’ offensive image, trading Justin Upton, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis away, leaving Freddie Freeman to anchor a makeshift lineup. The pitching should be solid with several talented starters to call on and Craig Kimbrel closing things out, but scoring runs figures to be even more of an issue for a team that struggled in that department in 2014.
The Nationals are clearly the class of the NL East, but the changes the Marlins made and the Mets’ emerging rotation could end up pushing the Braves farther down the division standings. Atlanta should have enough pitching to finish ahead of Philadelphia, but considering the Braves’ success over the past five seasons that also should tell you plenty as it relates to the not-so-sunny outlook for 2015.
New York Yankees
(84-78, 2nd in AL East)
Derek Jeter is no longer wearing pinstripes, but there will be no lack of “veteran” leadership for the Yankees this season. In fact, only one projected starter is less than 30 years old, 25-year-old Didi Gregorius, Jeter’s replacement at shortstop. One of the older teams in the majors last season, the Yankees actually got even longer in the tooth with the re-signing of second baseman Stephen Drew (32) and the return from suspension of Alex Rodriguez (turns 40 in July).
And while age is just a number for some older players, the unfortunate reality is that several of the Yankees’ elder statesmen simply aren’t aging well. Carlos Beltran (.233-15-49 in 2014), Mark Teixeira (.216-22-62) and Brian McCann (.232-23-75) all struggled last season to produce in accordance with their large contracts. There’s no reason to expect a big turnaround this season and there isn’t a wealth of young, promising prospects waiting in the wings to take over either.
The starting rotation may be a bit younger, but young or old there are plenty of health-related concerns surrounding Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia. The back end of the bullpen should be in fine shape with Dellin Betances and free-agent acquisition Andrew Miller finishing games off, but how many opportunities will they get?
To put it simply, the Yankees are getting older, they’re not very deep and both the Red Sox and the Blue Jays have made significant upgrades. Yankees fans aren’t used to their team not winning the World Series, let alone competing in the AL East, but the 2015 edition has the look of a pretender not a contender.
Half of the MLB teams finished with a losing record in 2014. Of these 15 teams, which are in the best position to experience better results on the diamond this season? Preseason hope is never a guarantee of success once the games that count begin, but fans of these five teams have plenty of reasons to be excited with Opening Day just around the corner.
Boston Red Sox
(71-91, 5th in AL East in 2014)
If any team knows what it’s like and takes to go from worst to first, it’s the Red Sox. Boston pulled off the feat in 2013, improving from 69-93 to 97-65 and eventually winning the World Series. While it’s premature at this point to paint the Red Sox as a legitimate championship contender, it’s also pretty clear that general manager Ben Cherington is focused on getting back to the postseason.
Following a flurry of offseason moves, the only aspect of the team that remains relatively unchanged is the bullpen. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval were both signed to bolster the heart of the Red Sox lineup to give stalwarts David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia some much-needed support. Boston also hopes it has budding superstars in Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Cuban import Rusney Castillo.
The rotation is pretty much brand new too, as Clay Buchholz is all that remains from the quintet that Boston opened 2014 with. Rick Porcello (Detroit) and Wade Miley (Arizona) were both acquired in trades and Justin Masterson was signed to a one-year deal. Joe Kelly, who came over as part of the John Lackey trade with St. Louis last summer, is expected to round out this young and relatively unproven group. Scoring runs shouldn’t be a problem for this Red Sox team. If the new-look rotation comes together and the bullpen gels, Boston could find itself back atop the AL East standings.
Chicago White Sox
(73-89, 4th in AL Central)
Whether you are a Cubs or White Sox fan, the Windy City is abuzz and eagerly anticipating the start of this season. Despite the additions the Cubs (see below) made, the White Sox were even more aggressive this offseason. General manager Rick Hahn took care of every item on his to-do list, adding a front-of-the-rotation starter (Jeff Samardzija) via trade, while signing a closer (David Robertson), a left-handed bullpen specialist (Zach Duke), a No. 2 hitter (Melky Cabrera) and a new DH (Adam LaRoche) in free agency.
These significant new pieces will join cornerstones Chris Sale (the ace) and Jose Abreu (the slugging first baseman from Cuba, pictured above right), as the White Sox look to join the Royals and Indians in the pursuit of ending the Tigers’ four-year reign in the division. There’s no question the White Sox have improved their roster, but this is not a team without flaws (back end of the rotation, lineup depth). That said, the front office and ownership were intent on getting better, and they put their money where their mouth was in hopes of accomplishing this. It’s now up to manager Robin Ventura and the players to make the moves pay off in the win-loss column.
(73-89, 5th in NL Central)
Is THIS the year the Cubs break their century-long World Series drought? Probably not, but expectations are definitely on the rise, as Theo Epstein and company’s comprehensive rebuilding plan should finally start bearing tangible fruit. Not only is the organization’s farm system ripe with impact talent, headlined by uber-prospect Kris Bryant, but Joe Maddon also appears to be the right manager to lead this team to the next stage – becoming a consistent contender.
While much of the focus in the first three years of the Epstein regime has been to strengthen and develop the farm system (mission accomplished), the franchise also showed its commitment to winning by signing ace Jon Lester in free agency, while also acquiring leadoff man/centerfielder Dexter Fowler, catchers Miguel Montero and David Ross, and bringing back reliable righty Jason Hammel. They beef up a roster that already featured All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, along with an underrated bullpen.
Things are looking up for the North Siders, but this team may still be a year or two away from being a legitimate contender. However, things could change, especially if Bryant (when he arrives) and fellow highly regarded prospects Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara end up being as good as advertised. The Wrigley Field renovations won’t be finished for the April 5 season opener against archrival St. Louis, but it will be the team on the field, not the empty bleachers, that will have everyone’s attention.
(77-85, 4th in NL East)
The Marlins improved by 15 wins from 2013 to ’14, and while it may be too much to expect them to pull off an encore, Miami could make a serious push for a Wild Card spot. First off, any team that boasts NL home run leader Giancarlo Stanton has to be considered a threat, but it appears the lineup is starting to come together around him. Not only do the Marlins boast one of the majors’ best outfield trios in Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna, but speedy Dee Gordon and the versatile Martin Prado were acquired via trades and Mike Morse was signed in free agency.
The rotation got some help too in the additions of veterans Mat Latos and Dan Haren, but it’s the eventual return of ace Jose Fernandez that could hold the key to this season. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year made just eight starts last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery. He probably won’t be back on the mound until the summer, but Fernandez has the potential to be a difference-maker down the stretch.
Miami also benefits from the company it keeps in that once you get past Washington in the NL East, the other three teams all enter with plenty of question marks, especially Atlanta and Philadelphia. Whether the Marlins can take advantage of this remains to be seen, but don’t be surprised if Mike Redmond’s club is still in the postseason discussion come September.
(70-92, 4th in AL West)
Don’t look now, but it may be time to start taking the Astros seriously. Yes, this team is just a season removed from going 51-111, but last year saw a 19-game turnaround. Playoff contention is probably a bit too much to expect for 2015, but things appear to be headed in the right direction
Similar to the Cubs, Houston has a pretty stocked farm system that offered a glimpse of the future last season. George Springer made his much-anticipated debut last April and he didn’t disappoint, swatting 20 home runs in just 78 games before a quad injury ended his season in the middle of July. Springer and All-Star second baseman Jose Altuve, who led the majors in 2014 with a .341 average and set a franchise record for hits (225), are the centerpieces to a lineup that now includes former Brave Evan Gattis and some other former top prospects (catcher Jason Castro, first baseman Jon Singleton) who need to take the next step in their development.
The rotation could surprise, especially if Dallas Kuechel and Collin McHugh can match last season’s success. The key will be if the other starters — expected to be veteran Scott Feldman, lefty Brett Oberholtzer and trade acquisition Dan Straily — can hold their own. If the starters can make it through five or six innings, the bullpen should be able to close things out, as Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek were both signed in free agency to bolster a group that has blown 74 saves the past three seasons.
Among the five teams on this list, Houston is definitely the one that has the most question marks entering 2015. The Astros are probably the farthest away from playoff contention, but that doesn’t mean new manager A.J. Hinch’s team won’t make some noise of its own this season either. Houston still has problems, but it finally has some hope for the future too.
This spring marks Year 4 of the Larry Fedora era at North Carolina and unfortunately, things have been trending in the wrong direction for the Tar Heels’ football program. Despite playing in a second straight bowl game (ineligible in Fedora’s first season), UNC’s win total has decreased each of the past two seasons since going 8-4 in 2012. While Fedora has been successful in implementing his fast-paced offense, the Tar Heels’ defense has steadily declined. Fedora brought in former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik to overhaul the defense, while the offense returns all but one starter. In a seemingly wide-open ACC Coastal Division, can the Tar Heels find a way to put it all together and break through in 2015?
5 Storylines to Watch in North Carolina’s Spring Practice
1. Starting Over on Defense
There’s no way to sugarcoat it – North Carolina’s defense was abysmal last season. The Tar Heels finished 120th in FBS in total defense (497.8 ypg) and tied for 119th in scoring defense (39.0 ppg). Their woes on defense can pretty much be summed up in the 70 points and 789 yards East Carolina piled up in its Sept. 20 win in Chapel Hill. Not surprisingly, Fedora is basically starting over; hiring former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator to oversee the implementation of a new scheme. This process begins in earnest, as Chizik and his staff will use spring practice to introduce the new system, while getting a better idea of the personnel they have to work with. Six starters are returning on that side of the ball, but given all of the issues last season, it may as well be viewed as a blank slate.
2. Quarterback Controversy?
Marquise Williams was named third-team All-ACC after accounting for 3,856 yards of total offense and 35 total touchdowns in 2014. A senior, Williams has to be considered the favorite for the starting job, but he will miss spring practice due to a hip injury. Williams’ absence presents third-year sophomore Mitch Trubisky with a chance to impress the coaching staff. Trubisky threw five touchdown passes and four interceptions last season and he was recruited by Fedora for this offense while Williams came to UNC the year before Fedora was hired. Williams has proven himself capable of orchestrating Fedora’s system, but can Trubisky show enough this spring to create a viable QB competition come fall camp?
3. Sorting Out the Backfield
The seventh-ranked rushing offense in the ACC last season, North Carolina returns every player who ran the ball, including Joey Mangili, the punter. The key returnees are Williams, who led the team in attempts, yards and rushing touchdowns, along with a quintet of running backs in T.J. Logan, Romar Morris, Elijah Hood, Charles Brunson and Khris Francis. Logan, a junior, and Morris, a senior, have the most experience, while Hood was the top recruit of the 2014 signing class. The Tar Heels don’t lack for options and Fedora isn’t shy to use them. All five backs had at least 27 carries last season. The question is, will one or more of them emerge in the spring to the point a running back and not the quarterback will lead the team in carries this fall?
4. Development of the Offensive Line
North Carolina not only returns just about every key offensive weapon from last season, but also any lineman who started a game. Nine different Tar Heels started up front, a group that’s led by third-team All-ACC right guard Landon Turner and the junior trio of left tackle John Ferranto, left guard Caleb Peterson and center Lucas Crowley. The returnees will be joined this spring by early enrollees Mason Veal and William Sweet with Tommy Hatton scheduled to arrive in the summer. Similar to the running backs, Fedora doesn’t lack for options along the offensive line. It’s figuring out which pieces fit best, as UNC looks to improve upon both its rushing production (151.4 ypg, 83rd in FBS, 4.0 ypc) and pass protection (28 sacks allowed, tied for 71st) this season.
5. Identifying Defensive Linchpins
The Tar Heels’ issues on defense are well documented, but one of the benefits of breaking in a new scheme and coaching staff is that the players can basically put the past behind them too. Competition in the spring should be pretty spirited, as everyone gets a chance to show the new coaches what they bring to the table. It would help both the coaches and the players if some leaders and/or building blocks emerge sooner than later, such as junior cornerback Brian Walker, junior defensive end Junior Gnonkonde or senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer. The new guys, like early enrollees Jalen Dalton and Andre Smith and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Clarke, also will get their chances this spring.
Pre-Spring Outlook on North Carolina in the ACC:
The Tar Heels played in a bowl game in 2014, but won just six games and were one of the worst defenses in the entire nation. Every starter but one returns on offense, while former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik has come to Chapel Hill to overhaul the defense. Offense shouldn’t be an issue for Larry Fedora’s team, but the defense must improve if North Carolina wants to be viewed as a legitimate contender in what appears to be a fairly wide-open ACC Coastal Division in 2015.
Derek Jeter has retired, but MLB still has plenty of elder statesmen who are proving that age is just a number. While the crop of younger superstars and impact players continues to grow, there are more than enough “old” guys still getting the job done. Don’t believe me? Take a look at the list below and one could put together a pretty solid All-Star team of players who are 35 years old and over, starting with a trio of sluggers who combined for nearly 100 home runs last season.
So with all due respect to MLB’s elders, here is one fan’s list of the best baseball players who are at least 35 years old as of Opening Day (April 6).
Opening Day (April 6) age listed in parentheses
1. David Ortiz, DH/1B, Boston Red Sox (39)
Big Papi turns 40 in November, but age has yet to catch up to his mighty bat. Ortiz cranked out 35 home runs last season and drove in 104, making it the second straight season he had gone 30-100. The heart and soul of the Red Sox, Ortiz is 34 home runs shy of 500 in his remarkable career.
2. Victor Martinez, DH/1B, Detroit Tigers (36)
Martinez was nothing short of spectacular last season, batting .335 with a career-high 35 home runs and 103 RBIs, finishing second in the AL MVP voting to Mike Trout. The power was the most surprising aspect of Martinez’ production, as he had hit only 13 the year before. Basically a full-time DH, VMart should continue to produce at the plate, provided he shows no ill affects from the surgery he underwent in February to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee.
3. Albert Pujols, 1B/DH, Los Angeles Angels (35)
The only one on this list who even approaches Pujols’ career numbers is Ortiz. However, there’s no debate that “The Machine” is not the player he once was. But then again, Pujols in his prime was truly something special, as evidenced by the fact that his 2014 line of .272-28-105 is considered a “down” year. Pujols’ best days may be behind him, but he’s still a very good hitter and someone pitchers don’t care to face.
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers (35)
Beltre turns 36 the day after Opening Day and he will start his 18th season just five home runs shy of 400. Beltre has been a model of consistency over the past five seasons, averaging .316-29-96 with a .899 OPS during this span, to go along with four All-Star invites and two Gold Gloves. The run production (19 HR, 77 RBI) was down somewhat last season, but that should bounce back with better health and lineup protection around him.
5. Matt Holliday, OF, St. Louis Cardinals (35)
Holliday has now hit 20 or more home runs in nine straight seasons. A career .308 hitter, he is 29 shy of 300 round-trippers while continuing to show a knack for getting on base (.370 OBP in 2014). Holliday also has averaged 95 RBIs and 90 runs scored over the last three seasons, while remaining a mainstay (454 GP of a possible 486) in the heart of the Cardinals’ lineup.
6. Jayson Werth, OF, Washington Nationals (35)
Werth got off to a rough start in Washington after signing a seven-year, $126 million contract in 2011. He slumped at the plate his first season (.232-20-58) before a broken wrist limited him to just 81 games in ’12. Since then, however, Werth has averaged a respectable .304-20-82 with an OBP of .396. He may never hit 30 home runs, but Werth has become a key piece in the Nationals’ lineup.
7. Torii Hunter, OF, Minnesota Twins (39)
After two productive years in Detroit, Hunter is back in Minnesota with the team that drafted him 20th overall in the 1993 draft. The Gold Glove standard in center field from 2001-09, Hunter has batted .301 over his last three seasons. He may no longer be an All-Star, but Hunter won’t hurt a team with his bat or glove either.
8. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (36)
For the first time since 2003, Rollins will have a new double-play partner, as his offseason trade to the Dodgers broke him and Chase Utley up after 1,187 games together with the Phillies. Rollins’ best days at the plate are behind him, but he’s still capable of providing both power (17 HR in 2014) and speed (28 SB) from the leadoff spot for his new team. The four-time Gold Glove recipient also will greatly improve the Dodgers’ infield defense.
9. Chase Utley, 2B, Philadelphia Phillies (36)
Injuries have taken their toll, but Utley showed last season that he still has something left in the tank. He was named to his sixth All-Star team on his way to batting .270 with 11 home runs, 78 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Additionally, the 155 games played were his most since 2009. He may no longer be the power hitter he once was, but Utley still led all NL second baseman in RBIs and extra-base hits (53), and he continues to provide solid defense.
10. Mark Buehrle, P, Toronto Blue Jays (36)
Buehrle has won at least 10 games and pitched 201 or more innings in 14 straight seasons. He made his fifth All-Star team last season, going 13-10 with a 3.39 ERA in 32 starts. He’s never piled up the strikeouts in his career, but he rarely hurts himself with free passes (career 2.54 SO/BB ratio) either.
11. Adam LaRoche, 1B/DH, Chicago White Sox (35)
LaRoche signed with the White Sox after enjoying a successful four-year run with the Nationals. Following an injury-shortened 2011, LaRoche averaged 26 home runs and 85 RBIs for Washington, while providing Gold Glove-caliber defense at first.
12. Fernando Rodney, P, Seattle Mariners (38)
Rodney won just one game in seven decisions last season, but he also led the majors with 48 saves. An All-Star in his first season with the Mariners, Rodney matched his career high in saves while posting a 2.85 ERA.
13. Koji Uehara, P, Boston Red Sox (40)
Not as dominant as he was during Boston’s World Series run in 2013, Uehara still collected 26 saves while posting a 2.52 ERA last season. The Japanese import continues to baffle hitters, as evidenced by his 80 strikeouts and only eight walks (0.917 WHIP) in 64 1/3 innings.
14. Michael Cuddyer, OF/1B, New York Mets (36)
The 2013 NL batting champion (.331) played in just 49 games last season after breaking his left shoulder socket diving for a ball. The good news is that Cuddyer maintained his hitting stroke (.332-10-31) in the 190 at-bats he got, so the Mets are hoping their new starting left fielder will pick up where he left off.
15. Kyle Lohse, P, Milwaukee Brewers (36)
Lohse has never been an All-Star but that shouldn’t diminish the consistency he has shown on the mound. He’s won 11 or more games four straight seasons, including 2014’s 13-9 record. He’s not a strikeout artist (141 K in 198 1/3 IP), but he doesn’t walk many batters (45) either and he also tossed two complete game shutouts.
16. John Lackey, P, St. Louis Cardinals (36)
Lackey actually fared better in the AL with the Red Sox (11-7, 3.60 ERA) than he did following his July 31 trade to the Cardinals (3-3, 4.30 ERA). However, a full season in the NL and with Yadier Molina behind the plate should help Lackey post double-digit wins for the 12th time in his career.
17. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Milwaukee Brewers (36)
Ramirez announced prior to spring training that his 18th season will be his last. A three-time All-Star and a career .285 hitter, Ramirez will probably come short of 400 home runs, as he enters this season with 369. When healthy, Ramirez is still a productive hitter that can provide solid defense at the hot corner.
18. Marlon Byrd, OF, Cincinnati Reds (37)
The offseason trade to the Reds means Byrd will play for his sixth team in four seasons. Following a disappointing 2012 marred by a 50-game suspension, Byrd has discovered his power stroke, clubbing 49 home runs over the last two seasons.
19. Bartolo Colon, P, New York Mets (41)
The seemingly ageless Colon will turn 42 in late May and will still probably make his usual 25-30 starts for the Mets. A 15-game winner last season, Colon was both durable (202 1/3 IP in 2014) and fairly precise (30 BB) with his location in his return to the NL after pitching nine seasons in the AL.
20. R.A. Dickey, P, Toronto Blue Jays (40)
Dickey hasn’t been able to repeat his 2012 NL Cy Young form, but he’s gone 14-13 in each of his first two seasons with the Blue Jays. The knuckleballer has given up a fair number of hits, but he’s been durable (68 GS, 440 1/3 IP in 2013-14) and has gotten his share of swings and misses (350 K) too.
Best of the Rest
Carlos Beltran, DH/OF, New York Yankees (37)
Basically a full-time DH now, Beltran’s production took a nosedive last season, going from .296-24-84 in 2013 to just .233-15-49 (in 109 G).
Jason Grilli, P, Pittsburgh Pirates (38)
Replaced by Mark Melancon as the Pirates’ closer, Grilli rebounded some following a trade to the Angels, posting a 3.48 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 40 games with his new team.
Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies (35)
After playing in just 151 games in 2012-13, Howard appeared in 153 last season, finishing with 23 home runs and 95 RBIs, but also leading the majors with 190 strikeouts and hitting just .223.
Cliff Lee, P, Philadelphia Phillies (36)
This is more a tip of the cap, as it’s possible Lee’s career is coming to an end. He has been placed on the 60-day DL with a left forearm strain and also is dealing with a tear in the flexor tendon. The 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner is 143-91 with a 3.65 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in 13 seasons.
Joe Nathan, P, Detroit Tigers (40)
Despite collecting 35 saves, Nathan’s first season with the Tigers didn’t go as planned, as he finished with a 4.81 ERA and 1.53 WHIP.
Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Miami Marlins (41)
Suzuki will continue his pursuit of 3,000 hits (156 shy) with the Marlins after 14 seasons in the AL playing for the Mariners and Yankees.
Is MLB becoming a young man’s game? There’s certainly no lack of young, impact talent on major-league rosters. Look no further than the fact that the reigning AL MVP, last season’s World Series MVP, the majors’ top home run hitter and batting champion all fall into the 25 years old or younger crowd.
So who is the best of the best of baseball’s youngest superstars? Here is one fan’s list of the 25 best baseball players who are 25 years or younger as of Opening Day (April 6).
1. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Not only is Trout the best player 25 years or younger, he’s the best player period. The 2012 AL Rookie of the Year and reigning AL MVP, Trout has slashed a ridiculous .311/.403/.963 in his first three full seasons, while averaging 31 home runs, 97 RBIs, 118 runs scored and 33 stolen bases. If that’s not enough, consider this: even though Trout was the MVP last season, he posted better overall numbers in each of his first two campaigns.
2. Madison Bumgarner, P, San Francisco Giants
The 25-year-old lefty won’t be on this list next season, but that matters little after his postseason performance for the ages. Bumgarner put the Giants on his back and carried them to their third World Series title in five years by simply dominating the Pirates, Cardinals and Royals. The NLCS and World Series MVP, Bumgarner went 4-1 in the postseason with a mind-blowing 0.99 ERA in six starts (52 2/3 IP). He’s been pretty good in the regular season too, going 67-49 with a 3.06 ERA in 148 career starts.
3. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins
The Marlins’ $325 million man led the NL with 37 home runs last season, proof of the damage Stanton can do when he’s able to stay in the lineup. Now signed through 2027 (can opt out after 2020), Miami has its cornerstone to build around, a 25-year-old slugger who isn’t afraid to take a walk and is averaging one home run every 14.9 at-bats in his career.
4. Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves
The Braves have made wholesale changes in their lineup, but Freeman isn’t going anywhere. Freeman played in all 162 games last season, making his second straight All-Star team while posting respectable numbers (.288-18-78) at the plate and playing his usual solid defense at first. Atlanta has plenty of question marks entering this season, but Freeman is the least of the Braves’ worries.
5. Jose Altuve, 2B, Houston Astros
The diminutive (5-6), Altuve swung a big bat in 2014, leading the majors in batting average (.341) and hits (225), while pacing the AL in stolen bases (56). The All-Star second baseman racked up 47 doubles and struck out just 53 times in 660 at-bats. Don’t let his stature fool you – Altuve is a big-time player and one of the reasons to be excited about the Astros’ future.
6. Anthony Rendon, 2B/3B, Washington Nationals
The sixth pick of the 2011 draft broke out in a big way last season, as Rendon led the NL with 111 runs scored and pounded out 66 extra-base hits on his way to finishing fifth in the MVP voting. Rendon’s emergence forced All-Star third baseman Ryan Zimmerman across the diamond to first, which is what happens when you flash 20/20 potential at the plate and a sufficient enough glove at the hot corner on the big-league level.
7. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Chicago Cubs
After scuffling somewhat in 2013, Rizzo put it all together last season, finishing second in the NL in home runs to Giancarlo Stanton with 32. A left-handed hitter with a pretty good eye at the plate (73 BB, 116 SO), Rizzo made the leap thanks to much more success against southpaws (.300 vs. LHP in 2014, .189 in ’13). With a better supporting cast around him, can Rizzo take the next step and become a MVP contender in 2015? He finished 10th last season.
8. Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Puig may give his manager a headache, rub his teammates the wrong way at times and seemingly have no clue what’s going on around him, but you can’t deny his five-tool potential. An All-Star in 2014 who got some MVP votes, Puig has batted .305 in his first two full MLB seasons while showing flashes of both his power (35 HR) and speed (22), not to mention some pretty nifty glove work and a rifle for an arm out in right field. If he’s able to put it all together and stay focused for an entire season, watch out.
9. Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals
Other than Mike Trout, it’s entirely possible that Harper ends up eclipsing everyone ahead of him on this list. That’s how much talent and upside Harper, who is still only 22 years old, possesses. Already a two-time All-Star, Harper just needs to find a way to harness his all-out motor so that he can stay on the field for a full season. Once he does that, the numbers should start to pile up.
10. Jason Heyward, OF, St. Louis Cardinals
Believe it or not, but Heyward just turned 25 this past August. Entering his sixth season in the majors, Heyward is making his St. Louis debut following his trade from Atlanta. A two-time Gold Glove recipient, Heyward provides plenty of value with his defense alone, but he’s also swatted 27 home runs in a season (2012), while stealing 20 or more bases twice (2012, ’14). A more than capable leadoff hitter (.351 OBP in 2014), it will be interesting to see if Heyward blossoms as a complementary piece in a much-deeper and more dangerous Cardinals lineup.
11. Starlin Castro, SS, Chicago Cubs
After a disappointing, some would even say discouraging, 2013, Castro bounced back in a big way, hitting .292 with 14 home runs and making his third All-Star team. With more lineup support and manager Joe Maddon now in charge, Castro could put together the best statistical season in his young career. Don’t forget he already has 846 career hits even though he turns 25 two weeks before the season starts.
12. Jose Fernandez, P, Miami Marlins
If not for last season’s Tommy John surgery, Fernandez would be higher on this list. The 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, Fernandez may not make his season debut until the summer, but it shouldn’t be too long before he’s dominating opposing hitters once again.
13. Nolan Arenado, 3B, Colorado Rockies
A two-time Gold Glove recipient, Arenado hit .287 with 18 home runs in 111 games last season. With half of his games at hitter-friendly Coors Field, health appears to be the only obstacle in Arenado’s way of establishing himself as one of the NL’s top third basemen.
14. Matt Harvey, P, New York Mets
Another Tommy John patient, Harvey has the advantage over Jose Fernandez in that he will be back on the mound sooner. That’s good news for the Mets, considering the last time Harvey did toe the rubber he was making opposing hitters look downright silly (135 H, 191 K in 178 1/3 IP in 2013).
15. Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
One of, if not the best, defensive players in baseball regardless of position, Simmons’ glove at shortstop is irreplaceable. Anything he provides at the plate is a bonus; although the Braves do hope Simmons can rediscover his 2013 form (.248-15-59) after hitting just .244 with only seven home runs last season.
16. Manny Machado, 3B/SS, Baltimore Orioles
After bursting on the scene in 2013, Machado has been slowed by injuries. Limited to just 82 games last season, the Orioles hope Machado’s health issues are behind him. Because when he’s in the lineup, Machado is a Gold Glove defender at third and a potent (.283-14-71 in 2013) threat at the plate.
17. Salvador Perez, C, Kansas City Royals
A workhorse backstop (146 G caught in 2014), Perez is a two-time All-Star because he’s just as productive with the bat. A .275 hitter over the past two seasons, Perez was a big part of the Royals’ World Series run in 2014.
18. Julio Teheran, P, Atlanta Braves
After a solid rookie season in 2013, Teheran took the next step and established himself as the Braves’ ace in ’14. While the record (14-13) wasn’t overly impressive, Teheran posted a 2.89 ERA and 1.08 WHIP in 33 starts and was named to his first All-Star team.
19. Sonny Gray, P, Oakland A’s
The A’s traded away or bid farewell to several members of last season’s rotation, but Gray remains. The unquestioned ace of the rebuilt staff, Gray won 14 games in 2014 while posting a 3.08 ERA and recording two complete game shutouts in 33 starts.
20. Yordano Ventura, P, Kansas City Royals
The 23-year-old flamethrower went 1-0 with a 1.46 ERA in two World Series starts against the Giants. The Royals hope 2015 is the year Ventura establishes himself not only as one of the top strikeout arms in the AL, but also as a legitimate front-of-the-rotation starter.
21. George Springer, OF, Houston Astros
From a power-speed standpoint the only ones on the same level as Springer are Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, and Harper may even be a stretch. In just 78 games in his MLB debut, Springer cranked out 20 home runs before injuries got in the way. He stole only five bases, but the 30/30 potential is clearly there and take the over on the home runs if he cuts down on the strikeouts (114 in 295 AB).
22. Christian Yelich, Miami Marlins
Nowhere near the power hitter like his teammate Giancarlo Stanton, Yelich still has a knack for getting on base (.362 OBP), scoring runs (94) and can steal his share of bags (21 SB). A Gold Glove left fielder, Yelich, Stanton and Marcell Ozuna form one of the youngest and most talented outfield trios in the majors.
23. Gerrit Cole, P, Pittsburgh Pirates
The potential is clearly there for the No. 1 overall pick of the 2011 draft, but Cole just hasn’t put it all together for a full season. Injuries and other issues have limited him to just 41 starts in two seasons, in which he’s gone 21-12 with a 3.45 ERA and 238 strikeouts in 255 1/3 innings.
24. Billy Hamilton, OF, Cincinnati Reds
A menace on the base paths (56 SB), Hamilton got off to a blistering start last season before struggling through a second-half slump. His speed atop the Reds’ lineup cannot be underestimated, especially if he works on his plate discipline (34 BB, 117 SO), gets on base more (.292 OBP) and picks his spots to run a little more carefully (23 CS).
25. Corey Dickerson, OF, Colorado Rockies
Seemingly a man without a position entering last season, injuries presented Dickerson with an opportunity to play everyday. And the 25-year-old took full advantage, batting .312 with 24 home runs, 27 doubles, 76 RBIs and 74 runs scored. Even bigger numbers are not out of the question if Dickerson can improve against lefties (.253-3-14) and away from hitter-friendly Coors Field (.252-9-23).
Mookie Betts, 2B/OF, Boston Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts, SS/3B, Boston Red Sox
Shelby Miller, P, Atlanta Braves
Jake Odorizzi, P, Tampa Bay Rays
Marcell Ozuna, Miami Marlins
Wily Peralta, P, Milwaukee Brewers
Gregory Polanco, OF, Pittsburgh Pirates
Trevor Rosenthal, P, St. Louis Cardinals
Kolten Wong, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals
Alex Wood, P, Atlanta Braves
Others to Watch in 2015
Arismendy Alcantara, 2B/SS/OF, Chicago Cubs
Oswaldo Arcia, OF, Minnesota Twins
Javier Baez, 2B/SS, Chicago Cubs
Trevor Bauer, P, Cleveland Indians
Archie Bradley, P, Arizona Diamondbacks
Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
Dylan Bundy, P, Baltimore Orioles
Nick Castellanos, 3B, Detroit Tigers
Avisail Garcia, OF, Chicago White Sox
Kevin Gausman, P, Baltimore Orioles
Scooter Gennett, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers
Ken Giles, P, Philadelphia Phillies
Eric Hosmer, 1B, Kansas City Royals
Brett Lawrie, 2B/3B, Oakland A’s
Francisco Lindor, SS, Cleveland Indians
Matt Moore, P, Tampa Bay Rays
Wil Myers, OF, San Diego Padres
Joc Pederson, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jose Peraza, 2B, Atlanta Braves
Carlos Rodon, P, Chicago White Sox
Addison Russell, SS, Chicago Cubs
Danny Salazar, P, Cleveland Indians
Danny Santana, SS/OF, Minnesota Twins
Aaron Sanchez, P, Toronto Blue Jays
Corey Seager, 3B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers
Marcus Semien, 2B/3B/SS, Oakland A’s
Noah Syndergaard, P, New York Mets
Yasmany Tomas, 3B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks
Taijuan Walker, P, Seattle Mariners
Zack Wheeler, P, New York Mets
Mike Zunino, C, Seattle Mariners
NOTE: Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman would have been on this list, but he tore his ACL in spring training and is out for the season.
The Philadelphia Eagles signed not one, but two running backs on Thursday as DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews became the latest pieces added to Chip Kelly’s ever-changing puzzle. Combined with holdover Darren Sproles. Kelly definitely doesn’t lack for backfield options, but that is a good thing as it relates to each player’s fantasy value for 2015?
Consider that Murray led the NFL in rushing last season with 1,845 yards. He did that by carrying the ball a league-high 392 times. LeSean McCoy, who Kelly traded last week to Buffalo, led the Eagles with 1,319 yards on 312 carries. Sproles and Chris Polk, whose roster spot could now be in jeopardy, combined for another 501 yards on 103 carries.
Combined, Philadelphia running backs totaled 415 carries or just 23 fewer than Murray had by himself. While it’s a pretty safe bet that the Eagles will run the ball more than they did last season, it just doesn’t seem likely that Murray will come anywhere near to the 392 carries he had last season, not with Ryan Mathews and Sproles also capable of doing things with the football.
While Murray appears to be a good fit for Kelly’s offense, the reality is that there is no guarantee he will be the workhorse for the Eagles that he was for the Cowboys. Consider that McCoy saw his touches go down from 364 in 2013, when he led the league in rushing, to 340 last year. While that may not seem like a lot, his yards from scrimmage went down even more – from a league-best 2,146 in 2013 to 1,474 last season. And McCoy didn’t have a sidekick like Mathews, who rushed for 1,255 yards in 2013 with the Chargers, in the same backfield.
There’s also the matter of Philadelphia’s quarterback change, with Sam Bradford poised to replace the departed Nick Foles as the starter. Besides learning a new offense, Bradford has plenty of rust to shake off, as he’s played in just seven games in the last two seasons combined.
With all of this in mind, here’s the fantasy outlook for each Philadelphia RB as we look ahead to 2015:
Will still serve as the No. 1 back, but probably safer to assume a workload of around 325-350 carries, not 392. Also worth mentioning that he goes from one of the best offensive lines in the NFL to one that struggled at times last season. Kelly also is reportedly seeking to trade guard Evan Mathis, a two-time Pro Bowler and a very good run-blocker. Murray caught 57 passes last season, but don’t be surprised if that number is cut in half if not more because of Sproles’ presence.
2015 Outlook: From a no-questions-asked top-five option to a borderline top-10 RB with a fair amount of uncertainty attached. Reduced workload is all but a given, which not only impacts his yardage totals, but also could affect his scoring opportunities.
A little surprising that Mathews still signed with Philadelphia after Murray was reeled in. Instead of having the chance of being the No. 1 for another team, Mathews now is looking at a reduced workload, barring injury. Mathews also has had trouble staying on the field himself, as he’s played 16 games just once in his five-year career and was limited to eight last season.
2015 Outlook: Mathews’ role is the least defined at this point, but his versatility should get him some touches. That said, other than serving as Murray’s obvious handcuff (which can’t be overlooked given Murray’s injury history), it’s tough to gauge Mathews’ value given the uncertainly regarding workload. Right now, I would peg him in the RB3/flex territory.
Even with Murray and Mathews on board, Sproles’ role shouldn’t change that much. He ran the ball 53 times for New Orleans in 2013 and had 57 carries for Philadelphia last season. The more surprising statistic, however, was that his receptions plummeted from 71 with the Saints to just 40 with the Eagles. There’s really no reason to expect this to change, especially with the addition of Mathews, who has recorded 146 receptions in 62 career games. If anything, Sproles could see fewer touches on offense and instead serve as the primary kick returner.
2015 Outlook: Sproles was a disappointment for his fantasy owners last season and the new additions don’t exactly instill great hope for a huge rebound in 2015. At best, Sproles is a flex option with more value in PPR leagues and those that include special teams contributions in their scoring.
The NFL’s new league year isn’t even a day old but you wouldn’t think so based on all the moves that have already transpired. Not only has free agency gotten off to a furious start, but last week’s LeSean McCoy trade ended up being the appetizer to Tuesday’s swapfest.
The end result? Numerous All-Pros have switched teams, the AFC East suddenly got a lot more interesting, defensive players are getting paid, running backs aren’t and everyone is trying to figure out what Chip Kelly is doing. Even though it’s still early in free agency and there are probably more trades to come, it’s never too early to identify some winners and losers in the aftermath of all of these transactions. One thing is pretty clear; the biggest winner thus far has been NFL fans.
Ndadmukong Suh & Darrelle Revis
Suh got $114 million, including $60 million guaranteed, from the Dolphins to make him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Revis got his Super Bowl ring with New England, saw his $20 million team option declined by the Patriots and still winds up with a $70 million deal ($39 million guaranteed) to go back to the Jets. These are two of the best players in the league period, and they certainly cashed in on their status as such.
Other Defensive Players
Ndamukong Suh and Darrelle Revis aren’t the only defenders who capitalized on being a free agent this offseason either. While Revis left for the Jets, the Patriots did retain safety Devin McCourty, signing him to a five-year, $47.5 million contract ($28.5 million guaranteed). Cornerback Byron Maxwell is leaving Seattle after inking a six-year, $63 million deal from the extremely active Eagles.
Even All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston, who didn’t make it to free agency after Kansas City applied the franchise tag, is looking at a nice paycheck. Houston is set to make $13.2 million in 2015, assuming he and the Chiefs don’t come to agreement on a long-term deal before he has to sign his one-year tender. And that’s just the big names, as guys like Davon House, Buster Skrine, Pernell McPhee, Brooks Reed, Dan Skuta and Stephen Paea also fared pretty well contract-wise.
Julius Thomas & Owen Daniels
Thomas got the big bucks he was seeking from Jacksonville to the tune of $46 million over four years ($24 million guaranteed). However, Thomas’ departure from Denver turned out to be Daniels’ gain. He signed a three-year, $12 million deal to reunite with Gary Kubiak, his head coach in Houston and offensive coordinator last season in Baltimore, to join the Broncos and become Peyton Manning’s new favorite tight end.
The heart-breaking Super Bowl loss to the Patriots probably still stings, but you know Wilson was smiling from ear to ear when he found out Jimmy Graham was coming to Seattle. Not only does Wilson now have his new favorite target, he also has a big payday coming his way, as this is the last year of his rookie contract.
Yes, the Lions lost Ndamukong Suh, but Detroit rebounded nicely in acquiring Haloti Ngata from Baltimore. Ngata is just three years older than Suh and he is established in his own right as a two-time, first-team All-Pro and five-time Pro Bowler who won a Super Bowl with the Ravens.
But perhaps the most important thing is that Ngata comes a lot cheaper, as he’s set to make $8.5 million in the final year of his contract, while the Dolphins will pay Suh $60 million through 2017 alone. The Lions still have work to do along its defensive line with several other free agents, but Ngata is a good piece to start off the post-Suh era with.
The Jets’ rookie head coach has been on the job less than three months and he’s already seen his general manager trade for wide receiver Brandon Marshall and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to beef up the offense. On defense, Darrelle Revis returns with a new running mate, former Brown Buster Skrine, along with veteran linebacker and team leader David Harris. And the team still has enough cap space to make a few more moves. If the Jets figure out their quarterback situation, Bowles’ debut season could turn out to be quite successful.
Anyone Who Covers the Eagles
Whether or not Chip Kelly’s wheeling and dealing pays off on the field remains to be seen, but he’s certainly provided plenty of subject matter for anyone who covers his team. Between trading the franchise’s all-time leading rusher to swapping quarterbacks with the Rams, Kelly has guaranteed that the Eagles will remain in the spotlight from now up through the draft, and probably beyond.
Running Backs Not Named LeSean McCoy
McCoy got traded from Philadelphia to Buffalo, where he got a new contract. As for the rest of his peers? Well, not much has happened, as the market is still sorting itself out. But it’s clear how teams are approaching their backfields has changed when you look at the fact that DeMarco Murray, the reigning rushing champion, not only is still waiting to sign, he also hasn’t exactly been actively pursued by his old team. And it’s not like there’ s a lack of options on the market, as Reggie Bush, Steven Jackson, Pierre Thomas and DeAngelo Williams are available after being cut by their former teams, as is Justin Forsett, Ryan Mathews, C.J. Spiller and a host of others.
Those that have already found new teams, aren’t exactly breaking the bank. Mark Ingram re-signed with New Orleans for $16 million over four years, less than half of that guaranteed, while Frank Gore is headed to Indianapolis for a modest $12 million ($6.5 million guaranteed) over three years. No wonder Jackson has started his “Save the Running Back” movement (check out savetherunningback.org), as ball carriers are quickly being thrust down the NFL food chain.
Everyone knew New Orleans had cap issues, but few if any thought those woes would result in the trade of Jimmy Graham to Seattle. Not only did Brees lose his favorite target in Graham, the Saints also cut running back Pierre Thomas and linebacker Curtis Lofton because of their salary cap crunch. Running back Mark Ingram was re-signed, and New Orleans did bolster its offensive line by acquiring center Max Unger from the Seahawks along with their first-round draft pick. But Unger can’t catch passes and the Saints still have cap issues. These were probably not the changes Brees was expecting following a disappointing 7-9 showing last season.
New England Patriots
The Patriots have their ring, but the champs are finding out just how heavy is the head that wears the crown. Before free agency even started, the team cut ties with Vince Wilfork, the anchor of their defensive line, and declined options on both starting cornerbacks (Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner).
New England used its franchise tag on kicker Stephen Gostkowski and retained safety Devin McCourty, but Revis bolted for the big money the Jets offered and Browner seems likely to sign with a new team as well. To make matters worse, the division seems to be getting tougher with Miami adding Ndamukong Suh, Rex Ryan transforming the Bills by trading for LeSean McCoy and the Jets adding Revis and acquiring wide receiver Brandon Marshall from the Bears. The Patriots are the class of the AFC East until someone else beats them, but their streak of six straight division titles could be in jeopardy this season.
San Francisco 49ers
It has been an offseason to forget for the 49ers. First they lose Jim Harbaugh to Michigan because of an apparent internal power struggle. The end result is defensive line coach Jim Tomsula gets promoted to the top job while pretty much the rest of Harbaugh’s staff is sent packing.
Personnel-wise, not only has San Francisco already watched running back Gore and offensive lineman Mike Iupati sign elsewhere, All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis announced his retirement. Yes, the 49ers signed wide receiver Torrey Smith to bolster the offense, but this team still has a dozen pending free agents meaning there are plenty of holes to fill. And there also are the reports that fans are already looking to bail on their season ticket commitments just one season into the tenure of Levi’s Stadium. With every other team in the NFC West making moves to get better, 2015 could turn out to be a rough season for Tomsula and the 49ers.
Oakland Raiders & Cleveland Browns
Entering free agency, the only team with more cap space at its disposal than Oakland and Cleveland was Jacksonville. While the Jaguars made a splash by singing tight end Julius Thomas (and is DeMarco Murray next?), the Raiders and Browns have not been as successful in their efforts. The Raiders have been rebuffed by several of their big targets and while they have been busy, their additions to this point (Malcolm Smith, Rodney Hudson, Roy Helu, Curtis Lofton, Dan Williams) don’t exactly grab your attention.
The Browns have even less to show for their efforts, adding only quarterback Josh McCown and wide receiver Brian Hartline, who were each cut by their respective teams. It’s still early, but it’s safe to stay that each of these teams, and especially their fan bases, were hoping for more.
It’s Championship Week on the college hardwood with Selection Sunday for the NCAA Tournament just days away. What’s that, you weren’t aware because the NFL has been dominating the news cycles, Twitter and basically any other medium you can think of? Don’t worry, March Madness will still get its due, but not until the NFL cedes the spotlight.
NFL free agency has just begun, but it’s the trade of Jimmy Graham from New Orleans to Seattle that’s rocked the fantasy football landscape. While not the only trade that was announced as the new league year kicked off with a bang, this one carries the biggest fantasy implications.
The most productive tight end in the NFL over the past four seasons, Graham has caught 355 passes for 4,396 yards and 46 touchdowns since 2011. Much of Graham’s success was due to his status as Drew Brees’ No. 1 target in the Saints’ pass-happy offense.
As talented as Graham is, it’s pretty safe to assume he won’t see near the same volume of targets with the Seahawks, who operate a much more run-oriented, deliberate (some would say conservative) offense. Marshawn Lynch’s presence has a lot to do with that, but so does a defensive-minded philosophy that has resulted in back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl.
Consider that Brees led the league with 659 pass attempts last season, while Russell Wilson finished 19th with 452. That’s a pretty big gap. While Graham immediately becomes Seattle’s top pass-catcher, it’s just not in the Seahawks’ m.o. to throw a ton of passes.
This trade doesn’t change the type of player Graham is, as his addition could be a difference-making move in Seattle’s quest to return to the Super Bowl for the third straight season. However, fantasy-wise, this trade definitely impacts Graham’s value in a negative way.
Had Graham remained in New Orleans, there would have been an interesting debate between him and New England’s Rob Gronkowski for which should be the first tight end taken in a fantasy draft. Now, Gronk is clearly the No. 1 choice at his position because of Graham’s change of scenery.
And while Graham’s numbers will go down, there’s no reason to expect them to plummet. Between this trade and Julius Thomas signing with Jacksonville, how everyone lines up behind Gronk in the rankings figures to be a fluid situation. At this point, the safest think to assume is that it will take a lot more upheaval across the league to knock Graham from top-five status among his TE peers.
As for the quarterbacks…
It’s fair to say that Brees’ loss is Wilson’s gain, but exactly how much will either be impacted? Even though Brees loses a dynamic, explosive target that is a matchup nightmare and was a great fit in New Orleans’ offense, don’t expect the Saints to change their spots.
Brees will still throw a ton of passes and the beneficiaries figure to be Brandin Cooks, Kenny Stills and Marques Colston, along with whomever the Saints get to replace Graham at tight end. While the loss of Graham may seem like a big blow, I am still comfortable ranking Brees as a top-five fantasy QB.
As for Wilson, don’t expect him to become a gunslinger now that he has Graham to throw to. That’s not how the Seahawks operate, and given their results since Wilson became the starter, there’s no reason for them to change their ways. Also keep in mind that even though he didn’t throw a ton of passes, Wilson provides value with his legs, which is why he finished sixth in fantasy points this past season.
Guess who finished fifth? That’s right, Brees. And that’s exactly how I have them ranked at this point headed into 2015.
NFL free agency hasn’t even officially started, but the Miami Dolphins are already making waves, reportedly landing former Detroit Lions All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. The biggest fish on the market, it’s fitting that Suh ends up with the Dolphins, with the bait being a six-year, $114 million deal with $60 million in guaranteed money.
Give Miami credit. The team made it very clear that Suh was their No. 1 target and the Dolphins went out and got their man. Miami’s defense was 24th against the run last season and adding Suh, who anchored the league’s No. 1 rushing defense, should have an immediate impact in that department.
The Dolphins figure to field one of the strongest defensive lines in the NFL next season with Suh joining Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Earl Mitchell and Dion Jordan. Suh and Wake alone give Miami a pair of Pro Bowl defensive linemen who can wreak havoc.
But while the front four of the Dolphins’ defense is in great shape, the same cannot be said for the back seven. Before Miami lured Suh to South Beach, the team cut ties with cornerback Cortland Finnegan and linebacker Philip Wheeler. Dannell Ellerbe, another linebacker, could be next.
It’s not just the defense that’s seen some attrition, as wider receivers Brian Hartline and Brandon Gibson were both released. And there’s still a chance that Mike Wallace, the Dolphins’ leading target and big free-agent acquisition two offseasons ago, could end up getting traded.
To put it another way, Miami has 21 current free agents of its own, but its spending spree is probably limited to Suh. The Dolphins were tight against the cap prior to signing Suh, a position that doesn’t look to get any better considering the $60 million he’s slated to get in the first three years of his new deal.
So while the team can scratch off the top thing on its offseason to-do list, there’s still plenty of work left to be done. Between the players that have already been released, the other free agents on their roster and last year’s results, it’s fair to say the Dolphins still have needs at cornerback, safety, linebacker and guard, and possibly even wide receiver and tight end. With limited wiggle room as it relates to the salary cap, most of these holes are going to have to be addressed via the draft. This puts pressure on general manager Dennis Hickey, head coach Joe Philbin and the rest of the coaching and player personnel staff who will be involved in those critical decisions come the end of April.
Ready and willing to make Suh the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history, it’s clear Miami is in win-now mode. The Dolphins finished 8-8 last season, two games out of the final Wild Card spot. There’s no question Suh is a game-changer who will have a tremendous impact on the defense, but he’s just one piece to the puzzle Miami’s brain trust is putting together. A playoff berth in 2015 certainly seems possible for the Suh-led Dolphins, although that could depend on how the rest of the team fills out around him.
Coming off of back-to-back Pro Bowl seasons, Julius Thomas is looking to cash in as the top tight end in this year’s free agent class. Unheralded when Denver drafted him in the fourth round in 2011, the former Portland State football and basketball player has developed into one of the most productive tight ends in the NFL.
Thomas played in just nine games in his first two seasons with the Broncos before breaking through in a big way in 2013. The season Peyton Manning also came to town, Thomas exploded for 65 catches for 788 yards and 12 touchdowns. He followed that up this past season with another 12 scores, although an ankle injury limited him to just 13 games and his other numbers went down (43, 489).
An athletic target with outstanding hands making him one of the most dangerous red-zone threats in the league, Thomas could be a difference-maker for a team looking to upgrade at tight end. A return to Denver looks unlikely, so the question must be asked – how will Thomas fare without Manning throwing passes to him?
Here are five potential landing spots (in alphabetical order) for Thomas, whether it’s based on need or available cap space or both, as well as a few other teams to keep an eye on with free agency set to officially begin on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.
Everyone knows how good the Falcons’ offense was with Tony Gonzalez a part of it. I’m not saying Thomas is a future Hall of Famer like Gonzalez, but he would have to be considered an upgrade over Levine Toilolo. Atlanta has plenty of cap space to give Matt Ryan another weapon in the passing game.
Jordan Cameron is a free agent, but I think both he and the Browns are ready to move on. Tight end isn’t Cleveland’s biggest need, but the Browns have plenty of cap space and an uncertain situation at quarterback. Whomever ends up under center, he will need targets to throw to and Thomas would fit the bill, especially in the red zone.
Green Bay Packers
As good as the Packers’ offense is, can you imagine what it would be like if it added Thomas to the mix? Green Bay has other positions to address (including trying to re-sign Randall Cobb), so tight end may be more of a luxury than need right now. But oh what a potential luxury it could be for Aaron Rodgers if Thomas were to sign with the Packers.
The Jaguars can pretty much be considered an option for any big free agent because of two things – 1) they have plenty of holes to fill and 2) they have plenty of cap space. That said, Thomas also makes a lot of sense because of what his presence could mean to the development of second-year quarterback Blake Bortles. Call it a win-win for both the team and player.
With Marshawn Lynch back in the fold, the Seahawks’ focus this offseason will shift to signing Russell Wilson and other key players to long-term contracts. However, that doesn’t mean the team won’t look at adding some new pieces too. Thomas would definitely give Seattle’s passing game a different element.
Other Teams to Watch
Rex Ryan has his running back in LeSean McCoy, but Thomas could be the next Pro Bowler to join the new-look Buffalo Bills. Adding Thomas to the offense would make things easier on both the quarterback and the likes of McCoy and wide receiver Sammy Waktins … With Andre Johnson seemingly on his way out, the Houston Texans probably need a wide receiver more than a tight end. However, that doesn’t mean that Thomas wouldn’t fit nicely in head coach Bill O’Brien’s offense… The Oakland Raiders already have a young tight end in Mychal Rivera and much bigger holes to fill elsewhere. But since they have so much cap space and apparently are itching to spend it, they at least need to be mentioned here.
The Packers are certainly intriguing, given the quarterback similarities, but I don’t think they can offer Thomas enough money to make it worth his while. And if it’s all about the money, then it’s a two-horse race between the Jaguars and Raiders. However, I also like the Falcons’ and Seahawks’ chances. Seattle would give Thomas a chance to play for a legitimate Super Bowl contender not far from where he played his college ball, while Atlanta has been a good place for tight ends to thrive. In the end, I think the Jaguars will simply present Thomas with an offer he can’t refuse.
DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 yards rushing last year, but will the free agent running back re-sign with the Dallas Cowboys? The team used its franchise tag on wide receiver Dez Bryant, which put Murray on the open market with free agency set to kick off on Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET.
The perceived value of running backs appears to be changing, as evidenced by the recent trade of another former rushing champion, LeSean McCoy. However, Murray is just 27 years old and has rushed for 1,100 yards in back-to-back seasons, so he appears to be the best option in a market that doesn’t lack for options. There are about 30 running backs (and eight fullbacks) that are unrestricted free agents.
Murray does come with some durability questions, as last season was the first in his four-year career that he played in all 16 games, and there are some observers who credit much of his success to Dallas’ outstanding offensive line.
With all of this in mind, here are five possible destinations (in alphabetical order) for Murray and a few other teams that may be interested in adding him to their backfield.
The Cardinals went 11-5 and made the playoffs last season despite dealing with a rash of injuries and getting next-to-nothing from its running game. Arizona was second to last in the NFL with 1,308 yards rushing. Murray led the league with 1,845 by himself. Emmitt Smith went from Big D to the desert, why not Murray?
Even though the Cowboys used the franchise tag on Bryant rather than Murray, I don’t think it’s any secret they want to keep their No. 1 running back too. We’ve already seen what Murray can do behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. It’s just a matter of making the financials work.
The Colts made it to the AFC title game thanks in large part to Andrew Luck’s right arm. As talented as Luck is, he can’t do it alone (Exhibit A: AFC Championship Game vs. New England), and beefing up the running game would certainly help. Not only would it make Luck that much more dangerous in the pocket, it also would likely mean less punishment from opposing pass rushers. Luck already has been sacked 100 times in just three seasons.
The Jaguars haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2011. The offensive line is a work in progress, but the Jaguars are in position to do something that other teams are becoming less and less willing to do – pay big money for a running back. If it’s all about the money for Murray, than Jacksonville could be his destination.
The Raiders have a new head coach in Jack Del Rio, who has a ton of cap space to use to overhaul his roster. Derek Carr is a young quarterback who may be the long-term answer under center and what better way to help him develop than to give him plenty of ground support? Oh there’s also the intrigue of Oakland going with a Murray & Murray running back tandem in DeMarco and Latavius.
Other Teams to Watch
The Atlanta Falcons have plenty of cap space to add Murray to the mix, but I think other areas on the roster are more of a priority. The Falcons seem content to see how Devonta Freeman, last year’s fourth-round pick out of Florida State, fares with a larger workload… Adrian Peterson is still a member of the Minnesota Vikings, but for how long? Going from Peterson to Murray doesn’t seem like that much of a drop off, if that’s the direction the team chooses to go… The San Diego Chargers also appear to have a need with Ryan Mathews a free agent, Danny Woodhead coming back from a broken leg and second-year back Branden Oliver unproven. The Chargers were 30th in rushing last season.
Although plenty of teams need a running back the caliber of Murray, I’m just not sure how many are willing to pay him accordingly. Unless the Colts or Jaguars or Raiders decide to break the bank, I think the offers will be close enough that Murray will decide to stay put. The benefits of being a Cowboy, such as running behind one of the best offensive lines in the league, outweigh the potential financial windfall he can make elsewhere. It will take some work as it relates to the salary cap, but in the end, Dallas gets to keep its No. 1 wide receiver and running back, which makes Jerry Jones, Jason Garrett and especially Tony Romo happy.
NFL free agency is a week away, but it was a different type of player movement that grabbed everyone’s attention with the reported trade of running back LeSean McCoy from Philadelphia to Buffalo. The trade, which can’t be made official until the new league year begins at 4 p.m ET on Tuesday, would also reunite Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso with his college coach at Oregon, Chip Kelly.
McCoy has spent his entire six-year career with the Eagles since they drafted him in the second round (53rd overall) out of Pittsburgh in the 2009 draft. Only 26 years old, McCoy is Philadelphia’s all-time leading rusher with 6,792 yards. A two-time, first-team All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler, McCoy also is one of the league’s most dangerous receivers out of the backfield, as evidenced by his 300 career catches for 2,282 yards. In 90 career games, McCoy has accounted for 54 touchdowns (44 rushing, 10 receiving).
While some of this move appears to be financially driven on the Eagles’ part (McCoy has three years and $25 million remaining on his contract, Alonso has two years left on his rookie deal), there’s no denying this also would impact McCoy’s fantasy value for the upcoming season. Even though his numbers were down this past season compared to 2013 when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,607 yards, McCoy still ran circles around his Buffalo counterparts.
Between injuries and ineffectiveness, the Bills saw four different backs in 2014 register at least 36 carries with Fred Jackson leading the way at 525 yards on 141 attempts. Jackson, Anthony “Boobie” Dixon, C.J. Spiller and Bryce Brown (McCoy’s Eagle teammate in 2012-13), combined to rush for 1,383 yards on 360 carries. That’s 3.8 yards per carry compared to McCoy’s 4.2 on 312 totes.
While it’s safe to say Philadelphia’s offensive line is better than Buffalo’s, the real difference lies in offensive systems. Since coming to the NFL in 2013, Kelly has introduced his up-tempo, spread scheme, which is known for churning out the plays. After finishing second to Denver’s record-breaking offense in 2013, the Eagles led the way with 1,127 plays from scrimmage this past season.
On the other hand, Buffalo was in the middle of the pack with 1,020 plays and scored 8.2 fewer points per game than Philadelphia. Rex Ryan is the now the Bills’ head coach, but remember he’s always been fond of the “ground and pound” approach when it comes to running the ball. Not only does that style not suit the shifty and elusive McCoy, it also tends to create extended, lengthy drives when successful.
Following an impressive debut season in Kelly’s system in 2013, there were concerns that McCoy’s role could be changing after the Eagles acquired Darren Sproles from the Saints. Some of those fears were realized, as McCoy wound up No. 12 in fantasy points among RBs.
Now, although McCoy’s No. 1 back status seems secure with his new team (Jackson is 34 years old and Spiller is a free agent), his fantasy status among his peers is anything but. Opinions will change several times between now and before the start of the 2015 season, but if McCoy does wind up in Buffalo, his days being viewed as a top-10 fantasy RB could be over.
The New England Patriots’ reign as Super Bowl champions is just beginning, but for everyone else the focus has already shifted to the 2015 NFL and fantasy football seasons. The offseason work has really yet to begin, with free agency still about a month away and the draft even farther out, but here’s Athlon Sports’ initial fantasy football rankings for the upcoming season.
Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell who piled up 2,215 yards from scrimmage is our pick for No. 1 (although the possibility of a two-game suspension could change our stance down the road), with teammate Antonio Brown checking in at No. 6 as the first wide receiver listed. Seven of the top 10 players are running backs, along with three wide receivers. This means no quarterback or tight end cracks our early top 10, not even MVP Aaron Rodgers or the mighty Gronk.
Again, this list will change as soon as free agency kicks off and once more following the draft. But for now, DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant are Cowboys, Demaryius and Julius Thomas are Broncos, there are no rookies listed and no kickers made our top 150. While it’s anyone’s guess as to where these four prime free agents will wind up (my money is on the wide receivers staying put), there’s a pretty good chance kickers will be shut out of the top 150 even after the dust settles.
|14||Odell Beckham Jr.||WR||NYG|
|122||Robert Griffin III||QB||WAS|
OFFENSIVE SCORINGRankings are based upon Athlon Sports' standard scoring system:
All touchdowns are 6 points
1 point for 25 yards passing
1 point for 10 yards rushing/receiving
Receptions are .5 points
Interceptions/fumbles are minus-2 points
For the second offseason in a row, seven NFL teams have hired new head coaches. Unlike last year, however, the most recent coaching carousel took a few unexpected turns.
While Atlanta, Chicago and the Jets all fired their head coach on Dec. 29, the day after the regular season ended (also known as Black Monday), the most surprising dismissal came when Denver fired its head coach the day after the Divisional Round of the playoffs. This offseason also saw a mutual parting of ways in San Francisco and Buffalo’s head coach exercising an opt out clause in his contract.
Fortunately, the dust has settled and the coaching carousel has once again come to a complete stop. While it’s entirely too early to fully evaluate each team’s decision, here is an early impression on each hire.
1. Rex Ryan, Buffalo Bills
Previous Job: Jets head coach
Career Record: 46-50 (Jets, 2009-14)
While it didn’t end well for Ryan with the Jets, the Bills couldn’t have scripted a better ending to the strange Doug Marrone saga than to land their former foe. Marrone exercising his opt out clause, while costly, could be a blessing in disguise as the franchise now gets a chance to reboot with the brash, boisterous Ryan leading the charge. Ryan’s familiarity with the AFC East should not be overlooked nor the notion that the Bills have already become a more interesting team to follow simply because of his presence and personality. The only thing keeping Ryan from receiving a perfect grade is a questionable track record when it comes to quarterbacks, although he did get to back-to-back AFC Championship Games with Mark Sanchez at the helm. At least Ryan has a new offensive coordinator (Greg Roman) to help him try and change his QB rep with EJ Manuel (or whoever ends up getting the starting job).
2. John Fox, Chicago Bears
Previous Job: Broncos head coach
Career Record: 119-89 (Panthers, 2002-09; Broncos, 2011-14)
3. Dan Quinn, Atlanta Falcons
Previous Job: Seahawks defensive coordinator
Career Record: First season
Quinn may have been the last one to land a job on this list, but give credit to the Falcons for being willing to wait. The architect of the defense that played in back-to-back Super Bowls, Quinn finally gets his well-deserved shot at being a head coach. Mike Smith’s firing was somewhat surprising, given the success he had, but the transition from him to Quinn should be somewhat seamless given their similar backgrounds. It’s hard to gauge how successful a rookie head coach will be, but I like Quinn’s chances provided he’s able to upgrade his defensive personnel and stabilize the offensive line.
4. Jack Del Rio, Oakland Raiders
Previous Job: Broncos defensive coordinator
Career Record: 68-71 (Jaguars, 2003-11)
John Fox's defensive coordniator in Denver the past three seasons, Del Rio has earned his second shot at being a head coach. A native of the San Francisco Bay Area, Del Rio grew up a Raiders fan and seems to fit their persona to a tee. It certainly didn’t hurt that owner Mark Davis thought the same thing, as he began his pursuit of Del Rio before the regular season ended. Del Rio has experience with young, rebuilding teams and a pretty good track record when it comes to defense. What’s more, Del Rio wanted this job, which is saying something considering how far this franchise has fallen. But with Del Rio now in charge, along with building blocks like linebacker Khalil Mack and Derek Carr, the Silver and Black could be heard from sooner rather than later.
5. Gary Kubiak, Denver Broncos
Previous Job: Ravens offensive coordinator
Career Record: 61-64 (Texans, 2006-13)
Kubiak initially stated he would remain in Baltimore, but then John Elway fired John Fox and everything changed. Drafted by Denver in 1983 and where he spent his entire playing career as Elway's backup, Kubiak is the logical fit from the franchise’s standpoint. Between his nine seasons as a player and his 11 as an offensive coordinator, Kubiak has spent as much time as a Bronco as his new boss. Kubiak also enjoyed success with the Texans, but his two playoff appearances were preceded by just one winning season in his first five and were followed up by a nightmarish 2013 campaign that led to his firing after a 2-11 start. On the field, Kubiak’s West Coast offense and Peyton Manning’s skill set do not seem like the ideal fit, and there’s also the matter of Elway not leaving any room for doubt when it comes to expectations. Keep in mind that Fox took this team to a Super Bowl while Kubiak has yet to make it past the Divisional Round. Welcome home Gary, now get to work.
6. Todd Bowles, New York Jets
Previous Job: Cardinals defensive coordinator
Career Record: 2-1* (Dolphins, 2011)
Bowles opened many an eye with his work with the Cardinals’ defense the past two seasons (especially 2014), and he was able to parlay that into his dream job. A New Jersey native, Bowles should be pretty familiar with all of the attention, both wanted and unwanted, that comes with being the head coach of a team that calls the media capital of the world home. A former safety, Bowles’ playing experience should help him develop relationships with his new charges. He also has been a head coach before, serving as the Dolphins’ interim for three games in 2011 after Tony Sparano was fired. Unfortunately all of this experience doesn’t really prepare him for one of the biggest challenges awaiting him – finding out if Geno Smith can be a successful starting quarterback in the NFL.
7. Jim Tomsula, San Francisco 49ers
Previous Job: 49ers defensive line coach
Career Record: 1-0* (49ers, 2010)
Nothing against Tomsula, but it’s hard to not perceive his hiring as nothing more than CEO Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke finding their yes-man. How else can you explain Jim Harbaugh leaving the 49ers to become the head coach at Michigan for the same amount of money and the subsequent search that included interviews with at least eight other candidates yet resulted in the hiring of the only one without any previous coordinator or head coaching experience in the NFL? Sorry, one game as the interim head coach in 2010 doesn’t really count nor does his one season as head coach of NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire, who didn’t even qualify for the playoffs that year. And even though Tomsula’s hiring has since been endorsed by the players, how can you justify choosing him over say an experienced head coach like Rex Ryan or a hot coordinator like Adam Gase, who the 49ers interviewed twice, or even in-house candidate Vic Fangio? And then there's the matter that after Tomsula was hired every assistant coach that served under Harbaugh was fired, except one. The popular opinion following Harbaugh’s decision to bolt for his alma mater was there was a power struggle between him and upper management. Tomsula’s hiring pretty much confirms this, no?
*Interim head coach
The Super Bowl is over, which means the NFL season is complete and it’s almost time for baseball! Spring training will start up in two weeks in Florida and Arizona with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs set to open the 2015 MLB season on Sunday night, April 5. Opening Day will follow, as the San Francisco Giants look to defend their World Series title.
Florida plays host to 15 teams, the Grapefruit League, during spring training, while the greater Phoenix metropolitan area is home to the other 15 teams that make up the Cactus League.
To help get you ready for the upcoming season, Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine is available on newsstands and to order online now. Starting with 22 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between.
This year's edition includes "15 Things to Watch in 2015," a look back on the 2005 MLB Draft, features on World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, the return of New York Yankees outcast Alex Rodriguez, and Joe Maddon’s arrival as manager of the Chicago Cubs, and much more. As always, there are team-by-team previews for all 30 clubs, with rosters, stats and schedules as well as analysis on the top 10 prospects in their farm system. Athlon also offers its predictions on how this season will shake out, both for the regular and postseason, as well as for the major awards. Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview is the most complete preseason publication available today. Order your copy now!
|Team||Location||Pitchers & Catchers||Position Players|
|Reporting Date||First Workout||Reporting Date||First Workout|
|Arizona Diamondbacks||Scottsdale, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Atlanta Braves||Lake Buena Vista, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 25||Feb. 26|
|Baltimore Orioles||Sarasota, FL||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Boston Red Sox||Lee County, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Chicago Cubs||Mesa, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 25||Feb. 25|
|Chicago White Sox||Glendale, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Cincinnati Reds||Goodyear, AZ||Feb. 18||Feb. 19||Feb. 23||Feb. 24|
|Cleveland Indians||Goodyear, AZ||Feb. 18||Feb. 20||Feb. 22||Feb. 24|
|Colorado Rockies||Scottsdale, AZ||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 27||Feb. 27|
|Detroit Tigers||Lakeland, FL||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Houston Astros||Kissimmee, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Kansas City Royals||Surprise, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Los Angeles Angels||Tempe, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||Glendale, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 26|
|Miami Marlins||Jupiter, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Milwaukee Brewers||Phoenix, AZ||Feb. 20||Feb. 22||Feb. 25||Feb. 26|
|Minnesota Twins||Fort Myers, FL||Feb. 22||Feb. 23||Feb. 27||Feb. 28|
|New York Mets||Port St. Lucie, FL||Feb. 19||Feb. 21||Feb. 24||Feb. 26|
|New York Yankees||Tampa, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 25||Feb. 26|
|Oakland A's||Mesa, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Philadelphia Phillies||Clearwater, FL||Feb. 18||Feb. 19||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||Bradenton, FL||Feb. 18||Feb. 19||Feb. 23||Feb. 24|
|St. Louis Cardinals||Jupiter, FL||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|San Diego Padres||Peoria, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|San Francisco Giants||Scottsdale, AZ||Feb. 18||Feb. 19||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Seattle Mariners||Peoria, AZ||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Tampa Bay Rays||Charlotte County, FL||Feb. 21||Feb. 23||Feb. 25||Feb. 28|
|Texas Rangers||Surprise, AZ||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 25||Feb. 26|
|Toronto Blue Jays||Dunedin, FL||Feb. 23||Feb. 23||Feb. 27||Feb. 27|
|Washington Nationals||Viera, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 26||Feb. 26|
For a fourth time in their history, the New England Patriots are the champions of the NFL. While the party is just getting started in Foxboro, Mass., and for Patriots fans worldwide, the rest of the league’s focus has already shifted to the 2015 season.
While the next game that counts is more than seven months away, it’s not too early to hazard a guess as to which teams could be meeting in Super Bowl 50 (that’s right, no Roman numerals for this one) a year from now. With free agency and the draft on the horizon, a lot will obviously change between now and this fall, but here is an early look at the teams seemingly best positioned to wind up in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Feb. 7, 2016. It’s pretty obvious which two head up this list.
New England Patriots
2014 record: 12-4 (AFC East, AFC, Super Bowl XLIX champions)
Congratulations to the Patriots, who captured their fourth Lombardi Trophy in improbable fashion. Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s championship legacies have been cemented, but do they have a “Drive for Five” in them? Brady restructured his contract in late December to free up cap space, which is something the team desperately needs. Defensive backs Darrelle Revis and Devin McCourty headline a group of pending free agents that also includes a pair of running backs (Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen) and kicker Stephen Gostkowski. Brady will turn 38 in August and he’s not the only aging keystone piece on this roster. Still, as this season demonstrated, don’t say New England’s championship widow is closing, at least not until its shut tight, locked, the blinds pulled down and the curtains drawn.
The (Shell-Shocked) Runner-ups
2014 record: 12-4 (NFC West, NFC champions, lost to New England in Super Bowl XLIX)
You could say the Seahawks now know how the Packers (see below) feel, but there’s no question this missed (blown?) opportunity is going to hurt more. Just ask the "Legion of Boom," as Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor and Jeremy Lane are each dealing with serious injuries that will likely require surgery and/or extensive rehab. But while the coaching staff, team, fan base, analysts and anyone who watched one of the most improbable endings in Super Bowl history will play the “what if” game for who knows how long, there’s a silver lining to this seemingly dark cloud. This team’s not going anywhere and there’s every reason to think Seattle has a good shot at making playing on a third straight Super Sunday come next February. Even though there are more than 20 pending free agents on the roster, only three (CB Byron Maxwell, WR Jermaine Kearse, OL James Carpenter) are starters. And while a decision will likely be made regarding running back Marshawn Lynch’s future with the team, the majority of the core is already signed to long-term deals. The biggest exception being quarterback Russell Wilson, who technically has one year remaining on his rookie contract, but don’t be surprised to see that change before the season kicks off. It’s not going to be easy for the Seahawks to bounce back from what transpired at the end of the game, but motivation for next season certainly shouldn’t be an issue.
The Motivated Mile-Highers
2014 record: 12-4 (AFC West champions, lost to Indianapolis in AFC Divisional Round)
Even though John Elway shook up his coaching staff following the disappointing home loss to the Colts, Gary Kubiak’s experience as a head coach and with the franchise should make for a mostly seamless transition. The key to the Broncos’ hopes of making another Super Bowl run lies in whether or not Peyton Manning returns (my guess is he will) and what Elway does in free agency and the draft. Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and tight end Julius Thomas will likely be Elway’s priorities in free agency, but defensive tackle Terrance Knighton and linebacker Brandon Marshall are also among the list of 20 Broncos slated to hit the market.
The Cheesed-off Pack
Green Bay Packers
2014 record: 12-4 (NFC North champions, lost to Seattle in NFC Championship Game)
Blowing a 16-0 halftime and 19-7 fourth-quarter lead in Seattle in the NFC title game is going to gnaw at the Packers for a long time. Fortunately, the majority of the pieces are in place for Green Bay to contend again, led by two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers. Wide receiver Randall Cobb highlights the team’s list of pending free agents, but the Packers do have rookie Davante Adams waiting in the wings. Defensive line, linebacker and tight end are all position groups that could see a lot of changes this offseason.
The Other Contenders
(in alphabetical order)
2014 record: 11-5 (NFC Wild Card berth, lost to Carolina in NFC Wild Card Game)
Before the season even started, the Cardinals were working with a shorthanded roster, and this situation only got worse as the weeks progressed. Yet, Bruce Arians continued to push the right buttons, as Arizona kept winning. A 9-1 start, gave way to a 2-5 finish, including the Wild Card loss in Carolina, as season-ending injuries to Carson Palmer and Andre Ellington decimated the offense. The good news is that Palmer, who signed a contract extension shortly before tearing his ACL for a second time, and Ellington both should be back to full speed, as well as All-Pro defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, who missed all of 2014. The front office has quite a bit of work ahead of it in terms of salary cap management, and there also will be a new defensive coordinator in charge with Todd Bowles leaving to becoming the Jets’ head coach.
2014 record: 10-6 (AFC Wild Card berth, lost to New England in Divisional Round)
The Ravens couldn’t put the Patriots away on the road in the Divisional Round despite building 14-point leads on two different occasions. With 30 pending free agents and little wiggle room when it comes to projected cap space, changes are coming to this roster, and Joe Flacco also must get acquainted with his new offensive coordinator, Marc Trestman. Justin Forsett, who went from being an afterthought to the No. 5 rusher in the NFL, is a free agent, as is wide receiver Torrey Smith, kicker Justin Tucker and a slew of defensive backs. Tight end Dennis Pitta’s health (another serious hip injury) is a question mark, and his replacement, Owen Daniels, is a free agent. It’s also worth noting that defensive stalwarts nose tackle Haloti Ngata and linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are all on the other side of 30 years old.
2014 record: 12-4 (NFC East champions, lost to Green Bay in Divisional Round)
Jason Garrett not only removed himself from the coaching hot seat, he signed a five-year contract extension after getting the Cowboys back to the postseason. Now the challenge for Garrett and owner/general manager Jerry Jones is keeping the band together. Reigning rushing champion DeMarco Murray and Dez Bryant, who hauled in a league-high 16 touchdowns, are both free agents and there are mixed opinions regarding whether Jones will be able to re-sign both given their expected contract demands combined with the team’s existing financial obligations. The franchise tag could be an option for one or both, but this is a situation that bears watching, as otherwise the league’s fifth-highest scoring offense will return intact. Expect defense to be the focus in the draft, as Dallas needs to find its next superstar defensive lineman and to take a long, hard look at its underwhelming secondary. The healthy return of middle linebacker Sean Lee should provide a huge boost, but he’s just part of the puzzle.
2014 record: 11-5 (AFC South champions, lost to New England in AFC Championship Game)
After upsetting the Broncos at home and making it to the AFC title game are the Colts ready to take that next step? Well, a 45-7 loss to New England is enough reason to think twice before jumping on the bandwagon. And there’s also the matter of Indianapolis’ backfield, where it could be argued that its best two running backs are returning from season-ending injuries. Reggie Wayne is a free agent and his days as a Colt could be numbered, as younger guys like linebacker Jerrell Freeman need to be the team’s priority this offseason. Even if Freeman is re-signed, the defense could use more playmakers and the offensive line shored up to reduce the punishment Andrew Luck has taken in his first three seasons. The good news is there should be plenty of resources available to beef up the roster.
2014 record: 11-5 (AFC North champions, lost to Baltimore in AFC Wild Card) Game)
The Steelers won their division, but couldn’t get past the Ravens in the playoffs, as the offense clearly felt Le’Veon Bell’s absence. Next season, the offense should be just fine with the trio of Bell, All-Pro Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger back to terrorize defenses. A reliable backup running back must be found to spell Bell, and the passing game could be even more potent if wideouts Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton continue to develop. Expect the youth movement to continue on defense with Keith Butler replacing Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau as coordinator and the futures of long-time Steelers like Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor up in the air.
The Wild Card
San Francisco 49ers
2014 record: 8-8 (3rd in NFC West)
The 49ers are the early pick for most interesting team to watch in 2015. Jim Harbaugh is gone, off to Michigan, with former defensive line coach Jim Tomsula now in charge and offensive coordinator Jeep Chryst (QBs coach) the only holdovers from a staff that made three straight trips to the NFC title game prior to 2014’s 8-8 showing. Decisions will have to be made on pending free agents running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Michael Crabtree and offensive lineman Mike Iupati, among others, and there could be other roster changes due to salary cap constraints. The defense will get All-Pro linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman back from injury, but the jury is still out on quarterback Colin Kaepernick following a disappointing season. This team has the talent to contend next season or it could totally implode and struggle to break even.
Other Teams to Watch
(in alphabetical order)
2014 record: 10-5-1 (AFC Wild Card berth, lost to Indianapolis in AFC Wild Card Game)
Yes, the Bengals flamed out in the Wild Card round for a fourth straight season, but this team is relatively young and will have plenty of cap space (projected to be around $30 million) at its disposal to address weaknesses. While it’s perfectly reasonable to place all of the blame for Cincinnati’s postseason failures on quarterback Andy Dalton, keep in mind that he was without wide receiver Marvin Jones and tight end Tyler Eifert (combined 1,157 yards receiving, 12 TDs in 2013) for basically the entire season, while No. 1 target A.J. Green also was hampered by injuries. On the other side of the ball, Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict played in just five games because of knee injuries. Burfict’s return is up in the air following microfracture surgery, but the Bengals’ future still looks bright, thanks to the emergence of rookie running back Jeremy Hill. Whether through free agency or the draft, the NFL’s least-productive pass rush (20 sacks) must be addressed.
2014 record: 11-5 (NFC Wild Card berth, lost to Dallas in NFC Wild Card Game)
Jim Caldwell got the Lions to the playoffs in his first season, but don’t bank on a repeat trip. Ndamukong Suh is unquestionably the team’s biggest question mark headed into free agency, but he’s just one of five defensive linemen slated to hit the open market. Detroit has already severed ties with long-time center Dominic Raiola, so the offensive line will have a different look to it, and the secondary continues to be an area of weakness that needs to be addressed. Adding to the Lions’ degree of difficulty for 2015 is a schedule that includes the NFC and AFC West divisions, as well as games against New Orleans and Philadelphia.
New Orleans Saints
2014 record: 7-9 (2nd in NFC South)
Plenty went wrong for the Saints this past season, between injuries to key players, a defense that bottomed out for the second time in three years, and a seeming lack of chemistry and leadership both on and off of the field. However, New Orleans will remain a threat in the NFC South and beyond as long as Drew Brees stays healthy and the offense produces. According to Brees, the coaching staff and front office identified what went wrong and what needs to be fixed, but the problem lies in the fact that the Saints currently just aren’t up against the cap, they are well over it, to the tune of more than a projected $20 million. Getting key pieces like safety Jairus Byrd and wide receiver Brandin Cooks back from injury will help, but running back Mark Ingram is a free agent and some other veterans, like all-time leading receiver Marques Colston, could end up being cap casualties.
San Diego Chargers
2014 record: 9-7 (3rd in AFC West)
The Chargers came one game short of a Wild Card berth, but that doesn’t mean the season was a total failure. Besides beating Seattle and Baltimore, San Diego lost by one point to Arizona in the season opener and held its own against New England in early December. Mike McCoy has gone 9-7 in each of his first two seasons as a head coach, and there’s a chance the Chargers could take another step forward in 2015. The schedule (crossover games vs. AFC and NFC North divisions) won’t be easy, but the offense is in good hands with Philip Rivers at quarterback. The running game will need to be ironed out, with Ryan Mathews and a bunch of offensive linemen pending free agents, and the pass rush is lacking. However, there are plenty of pieces to build around and cap space shouldn’t be a major hurdle towards adding some reinforcements.
Two teams with their sights set on making history will conclude the 2014 NFL season when the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks face off Sunday in Super Bowl XLIX on NBC. The Seahawks have come to University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., with a goal of becoming just the eighth franchise in history to win back-to-back Super Bowls. The Patriots, who accomplished said feat in the 2003-04 seasons, are looking to snap a two-game losing streak on Super Sunday and claim the franchise’s fourth Lombardi Trophy.
Although Deflate-gate has unfortunately (pardon the pun) taken some of the air out of this matchup, the focus should finally shift back to what will happen on the field by the time kickoff approaches. Not only do we have the top two seeds from each conference going head-to-head, we also will be treated to storylines such as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, the historic duo in search of their record-tying fourth Super Bowl ring, versus Pete Carroll and Seattle’s vaunted “Legion of Boom” defense.
And they aren’t the only ones expected to take on starring roles Sunday night either. Seattle has Russell Wilson, set to become the youngest quarterback to start two Super Bowls, as well as Richard Sherman, the brash mouthpiece of the Seahawks’ defense, and Marshawn Lynch, the bruising running back who clearly would prefer to do all of his talking on the field. New England has Rob Gronkowski, its All-Pro tight end who is never at a loss for words and has the Legion of Boom’s full attention.
Even though New England and Seattle were once both members of the AFC (1977-2001), this is just the 17th all-time meeting between these two teams. The series is tied 8-8 with the most recent matchup occurring in 2012. The Seahawks beat the Patriots 24-23 in Seattle in what was just the sixth career start for Wilson. Needless to say, the stakes are considerably higher for their first-ever postseason pairing.
New England Patriots vs. Seattle Seahawks
Kickoff: Sunday, Feb. 1 at 6:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: New England -1
5 Things to Watch
Backfields in Motion
Marshawn Lynch is getting the most attention, thanks to his “talkative” media sessions earlier this week, when it comes to the running backs and for good reason. Fourth in rushing (1,306 yards) in the regular season, Lynch’s 157 yards were pivotal in Seattle’s overtime comeback win over Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game. Even though Russell Wilson is fully capable of making plays with his legs, the priority for New England’s defense is to prevent Lynch from going Beast Mode on it. That doesn’t mean that the Patriots’ running game should be completely overlooked, however. For one, LeGarrette Blount rumbled for 148 yards and three scores in the AFC title game. And there also is the fact that the Seahawks have allowed more than 130 yards rushing to each of their postseason opponents. Seattle’s the run-happy team, but New England’s ground game also could wind up being a factor come Super Sunday.
Wide Receiver Play
Similar to the backfields, while Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” is as good as advertised, New England’s secondary is no slouch. Headed up by All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Patriots’ back end also features former Seahawk Brandon Browner serving up the big hits and Pro Bowl safety Devin McCourty. To put it another way, both wide receiver corps have their work cut out for them. If Seattle can get big plays out of Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse like the ones that happened late in the NFC title game, it should only make things easier on Russell Wilson and open up the running game even more. On the other side, New England has tight end Rob Gronkowski to take some of the burden off of the wideouts, but Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell will still need to make their presence felt. If anything, maybe all of the attention directed towards keeping Gronk in check will free up Edelman or LaFell, or perhaps maybe Danny Amendola, to make plays elsewhere. After all, no tight end has ever been named Super Bowl MVP.
Coaching Chess Match
Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll have plenty in common. Both have won a Super Bowl, come from defensive backgrounds, and each is well respected by players and coaching peers alike. Both also are known for running franchises their way, as well as for thinking outside of the box and going against the grain when it comes to in-game decisions and play calling. Belichick and the Patriots have gotten plenty of attention for the unconventional formations they have used this postseason, while Carroll had the guts to not only call for a fake field goal in the NFC title game, but later an onside kick that, if not recovered, likely would have ended the Seahawks’ Super Bowl repeat hopes. What either has in store for Sunday is anyone’s guess, but this head-to-head matchup could be just as entertaining, and equally important, as anything that happens on the field. And just to add some extra spice to this pairing, there’s this: Carroll was New England’s head coach from 1997-99 before he was fired and replaced by none other than Belichick. Revenge anyone?
In last year’s Super Bowl win, Seattle dominated Denver in the turnover department (4-0). The Seahawks picked off Peyton Manning twice and also recovered two fumbles. Seattle converted three of the takeaways into touchdowns (one coming on a INT return by MVP Malcolm Smith), or nearly half of its 43 points. This season, the Seahawks and the Patriots both did a good job protecting the ball and maximizing their opponents’ mistakes. New England tied for second (plus-12) in turnover margin, while Seattle was next at plus-nine. In the playoffs, the Patriots have posted a plus-three margin in two games, while the Seahawks are even because of their five turnovers in the NFC Championship Game. And just how important is protecting the football on Super Sunday? Very, considering that the team with fewer turnovers is 36-3 in Super Bowl history, a statistic each team is familiar with. Combined, these two teams have played in seven previous Super Bowls. In those seven appearances, the team that won the turnover battle is 3-1. Only once did either team finish with more turnovers than its opponent and that game did not end well. In Super Bowl XLVI New England had just one turnover (interception), but it was still costly in a tough loss to the Giants. And as for that one loss when winning the turnover battle? That was in 2006, when Seattle posted a plus-one margin against Pittsburgh, but still lost Super Bowl XL. However, that is definitely the exception rather than the rule when it comes to ball security, as a winning percentage of 92.3 over a sample size of nearly 40 games will certainly attest.
Related: 5 X-Factors for Super Bowl XLIX
Red Zone Success
In the regular season, Miami was the only team with more red zone possessions on offense than New England’s 67. The Patriots found paydirt 39 times or 58.2 percent, making them the ninth-most efficient team once they got to their opponent’s 20-yard line. Seattle converted a little more than half of its red zone looks (31 of 60) into touchdowns, putting them 20th. This success has carried over into the postseason, as the Seahawks are at 50 percent (3 of 6) in this category. The Patriots meanwhile have turned all but one of their 10 red zone trips (90 percent) into six points. Not surprisingly, the difference for Seattle has been on other side of the ball. After limiting teams to a league-low 37 red zone possessions in the regular season, the Seahawks have allowed touchdowns on just three of seven such trips in the playoffs. This is why despite committing four first-half turnovers, Seattle only trailed Green Bay 16-0, as the Packers got to the Seahawks’ one-yard line on successive drives following a takeaway, but ended up kicking a short field goal both times. Compare that to New England, whose defense yielded a touchdown on five of the six red zone possessions it faced against Baltimore and Indianapolis. A three-point swing may not seem like much, but ask Green Bay what the difference is between a touchdown and a field goal.
One way or the other, history will be made Sunday. Either Seattle joins the exclusive club of repeat Super Bowl champions or Bill Belichick and Tom Brady cement their legacies with a fourth Lombardi Trophy. Russell Wilson also has a chance to enter some pretty exclusive company with a second Super Bowl victory, especially considering this is just his third NFL season.
There is certainly no lack of intriguing storylines for this game, which is to be expected when it involves the league’s top two teams. But when it comes to the matchups on the field, it really boils down to one — how will New England’s offense fare against Seattle’s defense? Will it be another coronation for Belichick and Brady or will the “Legion of Boom” steal the Super Sunday spotlight once again? At least we don’t have to wait much longer to find out.
Athlon editors pick which team will win Super Bowl XLIX and who will be named MVP:
|Rob Doster||24-20||Tom Brady|
|David Fox||35-24||Marshawn Lynch|
|Braden Gall||27-23||Darrelle Revis|
|John Gworek||24-20||Marshawn Lynch|
|Steven Lassan||27-24||Marshawn Lynch|
|Mitch Light||30-24||Tom Brady|
|Rich McVey||27-21||Tom Brady|
|Mark Ross||26-22||Russell Wilson|
|Nathan Rush||24-23||Marshawn Lynch|