Articles By Nathan Rush
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Thanksgiving Day, Sunday and Monday in Week 12.
Turkey Leg Locks
The three Thanksgiving Day games should be as good as the tryptophan-filled big bird and grandma’s homemade cornbread dressing.
Texans (-4) at Lions
Barry Sanders, the greatest televised Thanksgiving tradition, had a 7–3 holiday record during his decade of dominance; the Lions are 3–10 since the great No. 20 stopped showing up for dinner.
Redskins (+3) at Cowboys
Tony Romo is 5–0 on Thanksgiving Day. But for some reason, RG3’s 0–0 record on Turkey and Dressing Day smells a little bit better this season.
Jets (+7.5) vs. Patriots
New England won but failed to cover an even bigger number against New York during a 29–26 victory at home in Week 7. In case of a blowout, you can always watch The Godfather or whatever’s on the James Bond marathon.
Sunday Sales Rack
The masses will hit the stores at 4 a.m. or whenever it is they show up on Black Friday, but the real deals might have to wait until Sunday afternoon.
Ravens (-1) at Chargers
This has the feel of a trap game, with Baltimore coming off an emotional win at Pittsburgh and San Diego in do-or-die mode. But it’s pretty much a pick ‘em.
Falcons (-1.5) at Buccaneers
Although Matt Ryan does carry a 6–2 record against the Bucs, he’s just 2–2 on the road in Tampa Bay.
Seahawks (-3) at Dolphins
Miami is a miserable 9-for-34 on third downs over its current three-game losing streak.
Titans (-3) at Jaguars
This would be easier to call if Blaine Gabbert were starting in Jacksonville. But what are the odds Chad Henne puts together back-to-back good games?
Broncos (-10.5) at Chiefs
Kansas City’s disgruntled fanbase will wear all-black again this week — and probably leave at halftime of the wake once again.
Steer clear of these games like they were your creepy uncle or the aunt who always gets emotional at family gatherings.
Cardinals (-3) vs. Rams
Arizona’s six-game winless drought started with a 17–3 loss at St. Louis on Thursday in Week 5. This is like roulette; just because a color/number has hit six straight times doesn’t make it less likely there will be a seventh straight.
Colts (-3) vs. Bills
Indianapolis will probably run by Buffalo. But if there is going to be a rookie wall for Andrew Luck, he’ll hit it the week after being destroyed by New England.
Giants (-3) vs. Packers
The last time these two powers met, New York shocked No. 1-seed Green Bay, 37–20, at Lambeau Field in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Bengals (-8) vs. Raiders
Cincy has been way too up and down this season to bank on — a 3–1 start, then an 0–4 slump and now a two-game winning streak. Who knows?
Off the Board
The concussed and crippled fraternity of starting quarterbacks has led to uncertainty on the big board in Vegas. As of Wednesday afternoon, these games were up in the air. But let’s bet on what the spread might be, anyway.
Steelers (n/a) at Browns
Charlie Batch puts his 5–2 record as a Steelers starter on the line. Odds are, he’ll improve to 6–2. Take the Steelers (-4.5)?
Vikings (n/a) at Bears
Samantha Steele powers Christian Ponder. Planet Krypton powers Adrian Peterson. Take the Vikings (+2.5)?
49ers (n/a) at Saints
Alex Smith is a game manager, Colin Kaepernick is a playmaker, Jim Harbaugh is a quarterback guru… Take the 49ers (-3)?
Panthers (n/a) at Eagles
What’s Cyber Monday without a little online action? Pick the gift that Nick Foles doesn’t have anything to do with. Take the Panthers (+2.5)?
There were plenty of epic failures in 2012. Players, coaches and even entire sports leagues embarrassed themselves in a variety of ways. With Thanksgiving Day in mind, here’s a rundown of the 10 biggest turkeys of the year.
1. NFL Replacement Referees
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was the root of this evil. But he wasn’t the one throwing the yellow flags, handing out fourth timeouts, putting more or less than the right amount of time on the clock, spotting the ball on the wrong yard-line, calling college football rules in an NFL game or creating an environment of casual chaos on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays from Weeks 1-through-3 this season. The Replacement Refs went out with a bang, however, making a controversial call of simultaneous possession on a game-winning touchdown “catch” by the Seahawks’ Golden Tate to beat the Packers in prime time on Monday Night Football.
2. Gary Bettman, NHL clueless commissioner
The NHL owners have declared a lockout of the NHL Players’ Association, canceling the scheduled Oct. 11, 2012 start of the season. The Bettman-led NHL owners want to reduce the NHLPA’s previous guaranteed share of 57 percent of hockey related revenues. Having already canceled NBC’s Thanksgiving Showdown on Black Friday as well as the 2013 NHL Winter Classic, the league has already missed out on two of its highest-rated events of the year. Losing all momentum and turning on a loyal fanbase are not the best moves for a league struggling to keep the “Big Four” team sports from shrinking to the “Big Three.”
3. Jeffrey Loria, Marlins bait and switch conman
After spending over $500 million in public money from taxpayers and the city of Miami in order to build Marlins Park, Loria pulled a classic bait and switch — trading away nearly every player on the roster worthy of having his own baseball card. Is a ball club better with or without Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Anibal Sanchez, Mark Buehrle, Omar Infante, John Buck, Emilio Bonifacio, Heath Bell, Randy Choate, Edward Mujica and Gaby Sanchez? Doesn’t take a Sabermetrics statistician to answer that one.
4. Bobby Petrino, Hog wrecker and home wrecker
The ultimate April Fool, the 51-year-old married father of four wiped out on his motorcycle with 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell, a blonde former Arkansas volleyball player turned football program employee. When the neck brace was off, it turned out that the young Dorrell had accepted some $20,000 in gifts used for a car, vacation and wedding expenses — that’s right, she was engaged to be married. Petrino lost his job, but not before making himself into a national punch-line and reminding everyone not to use a company phone (especially if working for a state school) when trying to keep an inter-office affair hidden from your wife and boss.
5. Bobby Valentine, Red Sox mental manager
In his first season managing the Red Sox, the funny Valentine led the proud franchise to its worst winning percentage since 1960. But it wasn’t just what he said and did, it was how he said and did it. He mismanaged pitchers, position players and the Boston media every chance he got en route to a 69–93 record and last-place finish in the AL East. The lovable slugger David Ortiz even questioned Valentine’s mental stability after hearing the lame duck manager’s double-talk on television and via text message. “I said to myself, ‘This guy must have some mental issues or needs medicine or something?’ I said, ‘I am dealing with someone crazy and I am not going to drive myself crazy, so it is better if I leave it alone.’” Good eye, Big Papi.
6. Melky Cabrera, Giants juiced All-Star Game MVP
San Francisco enjoyed home field advantage in this year’s World Series thanks to its own suspended outfielder. Cabrera went 2-for-3 with two RBIs on his way to winning MVP of the All-Star Game. Soon after, the then-MLB hits leader and NL batting champ contender was suspended 50 games for testing positive for high levels of testosterone. And while the Giants distanced themselves from their disgraced hitter in the midst of a tainted career year, the damage had already been done. No one benefited more from Cabrera’s indiscretions — which also included creating a shady fake website in an attempt to win his appeal of suspension — than San Fran, who reaped the rewards with a World Series home field edge and a batting champ in MVP Buster Posey.
7. Hope Solo, Olympic net-minder and never-mind-her
The Team USA goaltender was in rare form this year. First, she got into the Olympic spirit by ripping former Team USA star, sports bra flasher and NBC commentator Brandi Chastain via Twitter. “Its 2 bad we cant have commentators who better represents the team&knows more about the game @brandichastain! #fb” Followed by, “Lay off commentating about defending and gking until you get more educated @brandichastain the game has changed from a decade ago. #fb”
Then, she made waves by dishing dirt about athletes getting down and dirty in the Olympic Village. “There’s a lot of sex going on,” said Solo, of Olympic Village. “I’ve seen people having sex right out in the open. On the grass, between buildings, people are getting down and dirty.”
Finally, Solo became a duo with former NFL tight end Jerramy Stevens one day after her husband-to-be was arrested following a domestic dispute. Stevens has a long history of run-ins with the law; Solo has a history of run-ins with whoever will pay attention to her. If those two kids can’t make it…
8. Lolo Jones, Olympic virgin and media whore
Wrongfully targeted but targeted nonetheless, the Lolo backlash was a brutal example of “build ‘em up to tear ‘em down” media. Jones had a phenomenal rags-to-riches story and a chance at redemption at the 2012 London Olympics. Instead, the self-proclaimed virgin became America’s media darling and was a victim of premature adulation. When Lolo finished a disappointing fourth in the 100-meter hurdles, even her teammates turned on her. “I’ve had family issues as well, but I’m not willing to say all of them just so it can be in the papers. I don’t want that for myself or my family,” said silver-medalist Dawn Harper on the Today Show. “The three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed,” added bronze-medalist Kellie Wells. “And that’s all that really needs to be said.”
9. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees pinstripe Ponzi schemer
The world’s most overpaid athlete hit .120 (3-for-25) with two walks and one run scored over seven games in the playoffs. Plus, A-Rod produced the ultimate A-Rod moment when he allegedly attempted to get the phone number of Australian model Kyna Treacy by sending a souvenir baseball to her in the stands during Game 1 of the ALCS. A-Rod shut down his flirting bar fly from the bench routine when the Captain, Derek Jeter, broke his ankle hustling for the team in extra innings.
10. U.S. Ryder Cup team, international choke artists
In an epic meltdown that Greg Norman, Jean Van de Velde, or any member of the 1999 European Ryder Cup team could relate to all too well, the 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup team folded like a Medinah spectator’s golf chair at the 38th Ryder Cup. On the comfortable confines of U.S. soil and in front of 40,000 rowdy American fans, Team USA led 10–6 on Sunday — needing just 4.5 points out of 12 singles matches.
But the lineup assembled by Captain Davis Love III struggled out of the gate and never regrouped. When Germany’s Martin Kaymer beat Steve Stricker in the penultimate group, the U.S.’s closer Tiger Woods became essentially irrelevant. Woods’ missed putt on the final hole — which came after an over-the-top Euro celebration — gave Europe the outright win rather than just a retained Ryder Cup after one of the worst letdown’s in the 85-year history of the international competition.
Just like the crazy uncle with the nonstop inappropriate jokes or the aunt with the barely edible green bean casserole, the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys are welcome additions to the holiday family gathering even though they will probably provide an awkward moment or two.
Here are a few of the noteworthy Thanksgiving Day memories from the Lions, whose first Turkey Day game was in 1934, and Cowboys, who first sat at the table in 1966.
1. Lett It Snow
On a snow-covered field at old Cowboys Stadium in Dallas in 1993, the Cowboys blocked a potential game-winning field goal by the Dolphins with 15 seconds to play. The Boys surrounded the dead ball in celebration before Leon Lett came sliding in through the snow, tipping the ball and allowing the Fins to recover the muff at the one-yard-line — and beat Dallas, 16–14, on a game-winning field goal as time expired.
2. Heads or Tails?
Prior to the coin toss at the start of overtime in Detroit in 1998, Pittsburgh’s “Bus” Jerome Bettis clearly called “tails.” But referee Phil Luckett awarded the ball to the Lions, who kicked a game-winning field goal on their first drive to beat the stunned Steelers, 19–16.
En route to becoming the only 0–16 team in history, the Lions allowed a Thanksgiving Day team-worst 47 points to the Titans, who posted an NFL-best 13–3 record in 2008.
4. Fried Turkey
Vikings rookie Randy Moss burned the Cowboys — who infamously passed on the wideout in the 1998 draft — to the tune of three catches for 163 yards (54.3 ypc) and three touchdowns, as Minnesota ran by Dallas, 46–36.
5. Unruly Kids
Detroit 24-year-old Ndamukong Suh threw a temper tantrum on the field and was ejected from the game for stomping on Packers guard Evan Dietrich-Smith during a 27–15 loss in 2011.
6. Delicious Leftovers
Cowboys third-stringer Jason Garrett starts in place of an injured Troy Aikman and outpitches the Packers’ Brett Favre in a 42–31 Dallas win in 1994. The game reminds many of the time Cowboys backup Clint Longley replaced an injured Roger Staubach to lead thrilling come-from-behind 24–23 win over the rival Redskins in 1974.
7. Juice Spoiled
O.J. Simpson broke the NFL’s single-game rushing record with 273 yards at Detroit on Thanksgiving Day in 1976. But due to inept quarterback play from Gary Marangi, who went 4-for-21 for 29 yards, the Bills lost to the Lions, 27–14.
8. Unfitting Finale
Mr. Thanksgiving himself, Lions legend Barry Sanders, had just 33 yards on 20 carries against the Steelers in 1998 — the worst showing No. 20 ever had on a fourth Thursday in November. Although the effort pushed Sanders over the 15,000-yard mark for his career, it was (shockingly) the last Thanksgiving Day he graced the nation with his brilliance.
Thanksgiving weekend college football rivalry games are as much of a tradition as eating leftover turkey and falling into a tryptophan-induced coma on the couch.
The best games of the year are crammed into a holiday weekend like an extra slice of pie on an already overflowing plate. Naturally, the oldest and most bitter rivals have produced some of the most memorable moments in the sport’s history.
Chomp vs. Chop
The Gators’ chomp and Seminoles’ tomahawk chop are two of the most recognizable celebrations in all of sports — especially when done by UF Gator girls and FSU cowgirls.
Free Shoes University
The Ol’ Ball Coach has a yap trap full of razor sharp one-liners. When he coached at Florida in the 1990s, Steve Spurrier gave the FSU acronym new meaning — referring to "Free Shoe University" after a Foot Locker scandal rocked Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles.
The rivalry between Notre Dame and USC would not even exist if not for a train conversation that sparked a fast friendship between Irish coach Knute Rockne’s wife, Bonnie, and USC de facto athletic director Gwynn Wilson’s wife, Marion. Returning from Nebraska, Mrs. Rockne thought a trip to Los Angeles would be more to her liking. The rest is history.
Punt, Bama, Punt
The Auburn Tigers rallied from a 16–0 deficit with less than 10 minutes to play to take down Bear Bryant’s undefeated No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in the 1972 Iron Bowl. Bill Newton blocked two punts, which were both returned for TDs by David Langner....Forty years later, Alabama loon Harvey Updyke Jr. became the poster boy for sociopathic football fans when he poisoned the historic trees at Toomer’s Corner on Auburn’s campus.
“From the Emerald Isle,” the Irish club goes to the winner of the Notre Dame and USC intersectional rivalry. It is currently adorned with 43 Fighting Irish shamrocks and 35 Trojan heads and five combined medallions, representing ND’s 43–35–5 all-time edge since 1926 — although USC has won nine of the last 10 in the series.
The Ohio State loving “best damn punk band in the land” had a cult following in the early 2000s, bashing Michigan with songs like “We Don’t Give a Damn For the Whole State of Michigan,” “Chad Henne is a Mother F****** Joke” and “I Hate Michigan.”
What do you get when you cross an Oregon Duck with an Oregon State Beaver? A duck-billed, beaver-tailed Platypus Trophy awarded the winner of the Civil War.
Beat the Farmers
Ole Miss students dress old money preppy, donning buttons and biting their thumbs at their “Cow College” rivals from Mississippi State. The problem is that the Bulldogs are riding a three-game win streak and have beaten the Rebels five of the last seven meetings.
Bedlam “Bets, Drugs, and Rock & Roll”
In his 2007 book, offshore gambling maven Steve Budin claimed that in 1954 the Bedlam Series between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State (then Oklahoma A&M) had been fixed by mobsters who had paid a cook to poison Bud Wilkinson’s undefeated Sooners with horse laxatives. The Cowboys (then Aggies) covered the spread but ultimately lost the game.
In 1961, the South Carolina chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity pulled an epic prank on its arch-rival Clemson. Roughly 50 frat boys dressed in orange and purple football uniforms and ran out onto the field prior to kickoff, as 47,000 confused Tigers fans cheered on the Gamecock imposters.
Conference realignment put an end to several of Thanksgiving weekend’s greatest historical rivalries.
Texas A&M vs. Texas
The Aggies headed to the SEC and will not play the Longhorns this year.
Missouri vs. Kansas
The Border War dates back to 1891. But sadly, it is no more.
West Virginia vs. Pitt
The Backyard Brawl dates back to 1895. But after WVU’s move to the Big 12, it’s over.
NFL Week 12 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Redskins (4-6) at Cowboys (5-5)
DeMarco Murray (foot) and Tyron Smith (ankle) are both expected to miss this traditional rivalry game between the Skins and Boys, while RG3 is making his first Thanksgiving Day appearance.
Cowboys by 1
Texans (9-1) at Lions (4-6)
Detroit is 3–10 on Thanksgiving Day since Barry Sanders retired prior to the 1999 season.
Texans by 5
Patriots (7-3) at Jets (4-6)
New England has a perfect 18–0 regular-season record in the second half of the season since 2010. New York is 9–9 over that same stretch.
Patriots by 9
Titans (4-6) at Jaguars (1-9)
Jake Locker and Blaine Gabbert were selected Nos. 8 and 10 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft. But Gabbert has been benched for Chad Henne.
Titans by 4
Bills (4-6) at Colts (6-4)
Andrew Luck looks to bounce back against a Buffalo team coming off a win and 10-day break.
Colts by 4
Steelers (6-4) at Browns (2-8)
Cleveland is 1–9 against Pittsburgh over its last 10 meetings with the AFC North heavyweight.
Steelers by 5
Raiders (3-7) at Bengals (5-5)
Cincy’s roller-coaster season started 3–1, went into an 0–4 slump and is now on a 2–0 run.
Bengals by 6
Broncos (7-3) at Chiefs (1-9)
Von Miller enters Derrick Thomas country having just joined Reggie White, Jevon Kearse and Dwight Freeney as the only players with 11 or more sacks in each of their first two seasons.
Broncos by 12
Seahawks (6-4) at Dolphins (4-6)
Miami a miserable 9-for-34 on third downs over current three-game losing streak.
Dolphins by 2
Falcons (9-1) at Buccaneers (6-4)
Matt Ryan has a 6–2 record against the Bucs, but just a 2–2 mark on the road in Tampa Bay.
Falcons by 6
Vikings (6-4) at Bears (7-3)
Jay Cutler (concussion) “feels good” but “felt bad” for Jason Campbell on Monday night.
Bears by 1
Ravens (8-2) at Chargers (4-6)
Baltimore ball-hawk Ed Reed had his one game suspension overturned and will be playing center field against Bolts knuckleballer Philip Rivers.
Ravens by 2
Rams (3-6-1) at Cardinals (4-6)
Arizona’s six-game winless drought started with a 17–3 loss at St. Louis on Thursday in Week 5.
Cardinals by 2
49ers (7-2-1) at Saints (5-5)
San Fran’s Aldon Smith notched 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles on Monday night. N’awlins’ Drew Brees won’t be so easy to take down.
49ers by 2
Packers (7-3) at Giants (6-4)
The last time these two powers met, New York shocked No. 1-seed Green Bay, 37–20, at Lambeau Field in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Giants by 1
Panthers (2-8) at Eagles (3-7)
Carolina has held a fourth-quarter lead in five of its last six losses. Meanwhile, Philly has lost six straight in a variety of embarrassing ways.
Eagles by 1
Last week: 12–2 // Season: 110–50
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams — from the best, the one-loss Houston Texans, to the worst, the miserable one-win Kansas City Chiefs.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 11 of the season:
1. Texans (9-1) Matt Schaub flirts with Norm Van Brocklin record.
2. Falcons (9-1) Ryan first QB to win with five INTs, no TDs since ’67.
3. 49ers (7-2-1) Colin Kaepernick definitely ready for prime time.
4. Packers (7-3) Aaron Rodgers improves to 8–1 against Detroit.
5. Ravens (8-2) Earn third straight win over Steelers at Heinz Field.
6. Patriots (7-3) Rob Gronkowski out 4-to-6 weeks with broken arm.
7. Broncos (7-3) Von Miller a dancing sack-machine vs. Bolts.
8. Bears (7-3) Jason Campbell ambushed by Niners in MNF loss.
9. Giants (6-4) Big Blue Wrecking Crew well-rested for Green Bay.
10. Steelers (6-4) Re-sign former Steeler (2000-04) Plaxico Burress.
11. Vikings (6-4) Adrian Peterson “can still get stronger” after bye.
12. Seahawks (6-4) Pete Carroll uses bye to solve third-down issues.
13. Colts (6-4) Andrew Luck loses career-worst four turnovers.
14. Buccaneers (6-4) Now 5–1 since bye after comeback at Carolina.
15. Saints (5-5) Marching back, with 5–1 record since 0–4 start.
16. Bengals (5-5) A.J. Green has scored a TD in nine straight games.
17. Cowboys (5-5) Tony Romo takes career-high seven sacks in win.
18. Redskins (4-6) RG3 completes 93.3 percent of passes vs. Philly.
19. Titans (4-6) Jake Locker returns from bye ready for stretch run.
20. Lions (4-6) Coaches have heated sideline argument in defeat.
21. Chargers (4-6) Power outage could mean end of Norv Turner era.
22. Bills (4-6) Score four FGs in four red zone trips but still win.
23. Dolphins (4-6) Just 50 yards, two first downs in first half of loss.
24. Jets (4-6) End three-game losing streak with win at St. Louis.
25. Rams (3-6-1) Defense on longest turnover-less streak since ’50.
26. Cardinals (4-6) Have lost six consecutive games after 4–0 start.
27. Eagles (3-7) First two series of Nick Foles’ first start end in INTs.
28. Raiders (3-7) Have allowed 135 points over three straight losses.
29. Browns (2-8) On a 12-game slide on the road after Big D defeat.
30. Panthers (2-8) Loss to Bucs “as bad as it gets,” says Ron Rivera.
31. Jaguars (1-9) Chad Henne taking over for Blaine Gabbert at QB.
32. Chiefs (1-9) Fans dressed in black, saw ugly ending vs. Cincy.
There’s an age-old football saying: “If you have two quarterbacks, you don’t have one.” That may be the case most of the time, but San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh seems pretty confident in both eighth-year veteran Alex Smith and second-year young gun Colin Kaepernick.
“We really have two quarterbacks with a hot hand,” said Harbaugh, a QB guru who played the position in the NFL from 1987-2000 and also coached Andrew Luck at Stanford.
Before suffering a concussion against the Rams in Week 10, Smith was completing 70 percent of his passes for 1,731 yards, 13 TDs and five INTs for a 104.1 passer rating over his first nine games. Smith’s job seemed pretty safe. He was playing well, had led the 49ers to a 13–3 record and trip to the NFC title game last season, and inked a contract extension worth $16.5 million guaranteed this offseason.
But despite Smith’s recent success and impressive resumé — he was, after all, the No. 1 overall pick (ahead of Aaron Rodgers) in the 2005 draft, had led Utah to an undefeated season under coach Urban Meyer and was a Helix (Calif.) High School teammate of Reggie Bush — he has always been labeled a “game manager” and remains hounded by doubters.
Just when it seemed as if the crowd calling for his exit had quieted down, Smith could only watch as his backup, Kaepernick, shredded the vaunted Chicago Bears defense in a 32–7 win on Monday Night Football.
The 6'4", 230-pound Kaepernick — a local kid from Turlock, Calif. — completed 16-of-23 passes for 243 yards, two TDs and zero INTs, taking only one sack while posting a 133.1 passer rating in his first career start.
Five of his 16 completions went for over 20 yards, and the 25-year-old showed the type of rare athleticism that made him the only quarterback in Division I FBS history to pass for over 10,000 yards and rush for over 4,000 yards during his stat-stuffing career at Nevada.
Kaepernick was anything but a “game manager.” He was the definition of a “playmaker.”
“Everything he did was exemplary,” said Harbaugh, who traded the Nos. 45, 108 and 141 picks to the Denver Broncos in order to move up to No. 36 overall to draft Kaepernick last year.
Now the question isn’t whether or not Kaepernick is the quarterback of the future. The question is whether he has supplanted Smith as the starter.
“Kaepernick is a baller,” said 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. “That boy can play football. I’m not worried about Colin. We’ve got quarterbacks, man.”
But do the 49ers have one too many quarterbacks?
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 11.
Locks of the Week
Some fans in Kansas City plan on wearing funeral black to Arrowhead on Sunday, while Detroit fans may be close to breaking out their brown paper bags from the early 2000s.
Bengals (-3.5) at Chiefs
“The fans are frustrated,” said Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel. “Hopefully… we can change the atmosphere and environment around here.” Not this week.
Packers (-4) at Lions
Green Bay is fresh off its bye week and Aaron Rodgers carries a 7–1 record against Detroit, with five of those wins by five or more points.
The Keystone State’s quarterbacks — Ben Roethlisberger and Michael Vick — are banged up, making teams from the Beltway a better bet this weekend.
Ravens (-3.5) at Steelers
Byron Leftwich will start in place of Big Ben (right shoulder). Baltimore will look to make it three straight in Pittsburgh, after a pair of three-point wins in 2010 and ’11.
Redskins (-4) vs. Eagles
Rookie Nick Foles makes his first career start in place of Vick (concussion). Skins coach Mike Shanahan puts his 10–6 record after a bye on the line.
Big numbers were a big letdown last week, but these three high-powered home teams should be able to take care of business against traditional losers this week.
Cowboys (-8) vs. Browns
If Big D can’t put the smack down on Cleveland, heads will roll. Expect to see Jerry Jones on the sidelines celebrating late in this blowout win.
Falcons (-10) vs. Cardinals
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan has an 8–0 record in games immediately after a loss over the last two years and a 14–3 career mark after being defeated.
Texans (-15.5) vs. Jaguars
Houston beat J-Ville 27–7 in Week 2. Five of the Jags’ eight losses have been by 16 or more points, with a pair of 17-point losses to the Lions and Colts the past two weeks.
These may not be straight up upsets, but keeping it close is not out of the question.
Raiders (+6) vs. Saints
New Orleans needs to march to victory, no doubt. But the West Coast bias at the Black Hole might not lend itself to a Big Easy blowout.
Chargers (+8) at Broncos
The Bolts were blitzed 35–24 by the Broncs in Week 6. But that week, Philip Rivers threw four INTs and coughed up two fumbles.
Steer clear of these bad boys, unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action.
Buccaneers (-2) at Panthers
Cam Newton may have lost every press conference and all but two games this year, but this smells like a divisional upset for the Cats.
Rams (-3.5) vs. Jets
Jeff Fisher will play for the tie, unless you consider near-60-yard FG attempts as playing for the win. But it’s hard to push on a 3.5-point line.
Patriots (-9) vs. Colts
New England failed to cover against lowly Buffalo last week. But the stats show that Indy either wins or gets blown out — with three losses of 24, 20 and five points.
Off the Board
The big board in Vegas has a headache with the Monday night party between San Fran and Chi-town.
49ers (n/a) vs. Bears
Both Alex Smith and Jay Cutler suffered concussions last week. Let’s wager on what the line will be — take the Niners (-2.5) to cover.
NFL Week 11 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Dolphins (4-5) at Bills (3-6)
The home team is 7–3 on Thursday night this year, so there is a chance that Buffalo fans could witness their first win at Ralph Wilson Stadium since Week 2 against the Chiefs.
Bills by 1
Bengals (4-5) at Chiefs (1-8)
Kansas City is 0–4 at Arrowhead this season and just 1–8 at home dating back to last year.
Bengals by 7
Eagles (3-6) at Redskins (3-6)
Mike Shanahan has a 10–6 record in games immediately following his bye. But this will be the third straight year the Skins play the Eagles after the bye; they’re 0–2 in those contests, with a 59–28 loss in 2010 and 20–13 loss last year.
Redskins by 3
Jaguars (1-8) at Texans (8-1)
The Jags are happy to leave Jacksonville, where they have been outscored 153–44. Strangely, the teal team has only been outscored 93–83 on the road. They must like playing in front of a crowd.
Texans by 16
Jets (3-6) at Rams (3-5-1)
Rex Ryan is standing by his man Mark Sanchez despite the fact that the Jets have scored only one offensive TD over their last eight quarters.
Rams by 3
Browns (2-7) at Cowboys (4-5)
This is a classic trap game for Dallas — tucked between a win over the Eagles and a Turkey Day showdown with the Redskins.
Cowboys by 8
Buccaneers (5-4) at Panthers (2-7)
Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman has thrown 13 TDs and one INT while leading the Bucs to a 4–1 record over his last five games. Carolina’s Cam Newton has passed for four TDs, five INTs and has a 1–4 mark over the same time frame.
Buccaneers by 4
Packers (6-3) at Lions (4-5)
The last time Titletown’s team traveled to the Motor City, Lions wild child Ndamukong Suh was ejected for stomping on Thanksgiving.
Packers by 7
Cardinals (4-5) at Falcons (8-1)
Matt Ryan has an 8–0 record after a loss over the last two years and a 14–3 career mark.
Falcons by 9
Saints (4-5) at Raiders (3-6)
If they’re not careful, the Saints’ march back into the playoff picture will get lost in the Black Hole.
Saints by 6
Colts (6-3) at Patriots (6-3)
Hopefully Tom Brady will spark up a rivalry with Andrew Luck like he had with the other guy.
Patriots by 9
Chargers (4-5) at Broncos (6-3)
Peyton Manning threw his 420th TD pass and won his 147th game last week, tying Dan Marino on both all-time lists. Time to pass Dan the Man.
Broncos by 6
Ravens (7-2) at Steelers (6-3)
Pittsburgh’s Emmanuel Sanders was fined $15K for faking an injury. But Ben Roethlisberger’s right shoulder injury appears to be very real. Surviving Baltimore without Big Ben will be tough.
Steelers by 2
Bears (7-2) at 49ers (6-2-1)
Chi-town’s Jay Cutler and San Fran’s Alex Smith suffered concussions in disappointing games, leaving backups Jason Campbell and Colin Kaepernick in charge until further notice.
49ers by 4
Last week: 10-4 // Season: 98-48
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams — from the best, the one-loss Houston Texans, to the worst, the clawless one-win Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 10 of the season:
1. Texans (8-1) Survive rain in Windy City for hard-fought victory.
2. Falcons (8-1) Tony Gonzalez becomes first TE to catch 100 TDs.
3. Packers (6-3) Aaron Rodgers watches brother Jordan win on bye.
4. Bears (7-2) Jay Cutler knocked out of game in loss to Texans.
5. Ravens (7-2) Set new franchise record for points scored (55).
6. Steelers (6-3) Big Ben throwing shoulder injury a big concern.
7. Giants (6-4) Phil Simms says Eli Manning not “elite” NFL QB.
8. 49ers (6-2-1) Sloppy effort vs. Rams in first tie since 2008.
9. Patriots (6-3) Improve to 20–2 against Bills in last 22 games.
10. Broncos (6-3) John Fox’s return to Carolina ends with easy win.
11. Colts (6-3) Chuck Strong en route to fourth straight victory.
12. Vikings (6-4) Samantha Steele good luck for Christian Ponder.
13. Seahawks (6-4) Marshawn Lynch tops 1,000 rushing yards in win.
14. Saints (4-5) Improve to 4–1 after 0–4 start with win vs. Atlanta.
15. Cowboys (4-5) After all this, Boys just 1.5 games behind G-Men.
16. Bengals (4-5) A.J. Green was right about “holes” in Giants’ D.
17. Buccaneers (5-4) Blocked punt for TD and INT for TD help beat Bolts.
18. Chargers (4-5) Philip Rivers’ decision-making results in defeat.
19. Titans (4-6) Bud Adams sees 34-point win after 31-point loss.
20. Dolphins (4-5) Defense allows first 100-yard rusher in 23 games.
21. Lions (4-5) Megatron tops 200 yards but loses crucial fumble.
22. Rams (3-5-1) Missed 58-yard FG results in 18th tie since 1974.
23. Cardinals (4-5) Michael Floyd making case for more playing time.
24. Redskins (3-6) RG3 looking for first division win following bye.
25. Eagles (3-6) Rookie Nick Foles replaced concussed Mike Vick.
26. Jets (3-6) Mark Sanchez loses to old USC coach Pete Carroll.
27. Bills (3-6) Ryan Fitzpatrick throws game away at Patriots.
28. Raiders (3-6) Tie franchise record for most points allowed (55).
29. Panthers (2-7) Cam Newton harassed by Von Miller in ugly loss.
30. Browns (2-7) CEO Joe Banner uses bye to evaluate entire team.
31. Chiefs (1-8) Marty Schottenheimer could return in advisor role.
32. Jaguars (1-8) Have lost nine of last 10 games on prime time TV.
Just when it looked like the New Orleans Saints were down for the count, the fleurs-de-lis from the French Quarter bounced back off the mat with a 31–27 upset win over the previously unbeaten NFC South rival Atlanta Falcons.
There had been plenty of reasons to count out the Saints. The offseason suspensions of coach Sean Payton, middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, defensive end Will Smith and several other key members of the team’s coaching staff and roster as a result of “Bounty Gate” would have crippled most clubs. And when the appeals process spilled into the season, the ongoing feud with Commissioner Roger Goodell did not seem good for anything other than an off-field distraction of the highest order.
An 0–4 record to start the season reaffirmed the preconceived notion that the 2012 season was a placeholder year for New Orleans, a punishment for allegedly attempting to knock out Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and a handful of other players. After all, the Saints lost to a quartet of teams — the Redskins, Panthers, Chiefs and Packers — that carry a combined 12–24 record heading into Week 11. And Green Bay boasts half of those dozen combined victories.
But record-breaking Super Bowl XLIV MVP quarterback Drew Brees promised all was not lost. For some reason, he was convinced the 2012 season could be saved.
“This team is all in,” Brees said after a winless first quarter of the year. “They are on the cusp of becoming a very productive, winning team.”
It turns out, Brees wasn’t another big talker on Bourbon Street. The man who led New Orleans from the dark depths of Hurricane Katrina to the top of the Super Bowl mountain knew what he was talking about.
Since starting 0–4, the Saints have gone 4–1, a stretch during which Brees has thrown 15 TDs and just four INTs. As the famous saying goes: “They don’t ask how, they ask how many?” But this past week’s victory over the 8–0 Falcons meant more than just another notch in the win column. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan entered with a 2–6 career record against the Saints and a 1–3 mark on the road in what has been the Big un-Easy for him.
New Orleans intended to keep Ryan and Atlanta coach Mike Smith — who arrived in the division the same year as “Matty Ice” — on edge, while re-establishing the Saints as a legit contender in the NFC Wild Card race.
Following the statement victory, New Orleans has a 4–5 record and momentum on its side. And guess what? Just like earlier this season, Brees thinks the Saints are a team to be reckoned with.
“I feel like our best football is yet to come,” said Brees. “We’ve played some really good games, we’ve beaten some very good opponents in some big-time situations, but I truly believe that our best is yet to come.”
It could be argued that everyone in sports is overpaid. But compared to the amount of money being made by leagues, owners and even other players, there are some who deserve considerably more money than they are currently making.
1. Manti Te’o, LB, Notre Dame Fighting Irish
2012 salary (scholarship): $57,805
The average Notre Dame undergraduate student expense budget (according to ND.edu) includes $42,971 in tuition and fees, $11,934 in room and board, $1,200 in personal expenses, $950 in books and supplies, and $750 in transportation. That’s a lot of gold flake. Even better, the senior design major is on pace to graduate from Notre Dame’s College of Arts and Letters — after graduating from Honolulu’s Punahou School, the same high school as President Barack Obama.
On the other side of the gold coin, the Te’o-led No. 2 ranked scoring defense (11.1 ppg) in the country has led the Fighting Irish to a 10–0 start and all but secured a BCS bowl berth — and roughly $20 million payout — for Notre Dame. Te’o is one of the most important players in ND history. The Heisman Trophy candidate middle linebacker has led Notre Dame back into the national title hunt and returned the Irish to legitimate NBC “must see TV” national prominence. What is the value of that?
2. Buster Posey, C, San Francisco Giants
2012 salary: $615,000
The Giants have won the World Series in both of Posey’s healthy seasons in the big leagues — beating the Texas Rangers during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2010 and taking down the Detroit Tigers during his NL batting champ (.336) season in 2012. Along with being award-worthy, Posey is the club’s heart and soul behind the plate, managing one of the best pitching staffs in all of baseball.
3. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2012 salary: $480,000
The 20-year-old first-year phenom had one of the greatest rookie seasons in history — hitting .326 with 30 HRs and 83 RBIs, while leading the AL in with 49 stolen bases and 129 runs scored. And he did so at 1/25th of the price of free-agent teammate Albert Pujols ($12 million in 2012). After falling out of the sky to the Angels at No. 25 overall in the 2009 MLB Draft, the Jersey boy made less than the cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore in 2012.
4. Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis Colts
2012 salary: $390,000
The heir to the Peyton Manning throne in Indy, Luck is making rookie minimum. But thanks to his $14.52 million signing bonus, Luck counts $4.015 million against the cap this year after factoring in his base salary and $3.63 million prorated signing bonus. The No. 1 overall pick has a 6–3 record over his first nine games and the Colts are jockeying for Wild Card position in the AFC Playoffs. Meanwhile, Manning is cashing an $18 million check in 2012 to kick-start his five-year, $96 million behemoth contract with the Denver Broncos.
5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
2012 salary: $390,000
Clearly, RG3 is not hurting financially, with adidas and Subway spokesman money rolling in. And even his base salary for 2012 is misleading, considering the $13.8 million signing bonus for the No. 2 overall pick. All told, Griffin is a $3.84 million cap hit for the Redskins this season — a bargain for an electrifying face of the franchise who has posted 2,522 total yards, 14 total TDs and five turnovers over the first nine games of his career.
6. David Price, LHP, Tampa Bay Rays
2012 salary: $4.35 million
Phillies lefty Cole Hamels just signed a six-year, $144 million contract extension that will pay him $19.5 million in 2013 and $22.5 million in each of the following five seasons. Yankees lefty CC Sabathia made $23 million in 2012 and will do every season until 2016, when the number jumps to $25 million. That’s the going rate for ace-caliber lefties, especially one with Price’s stats — at 27-year-old, 6’6”, 220-pounder coming off a year in which he had a 20–5 record, 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 205 strikeouts in 211 innings.
7. Ryan Braun, OF, Milwaukee Brewers
2012 salary: $7 million
The Brew Crew wisely locked up Braun before he was arbitration eligible, a move that was mutually beneficial. Braun got more money up front than Milwaukee had to pay, while the Brewers made the correct long-term gamble that their 2007 Rookie of the Year had MVP potential — which was realized in 2011. This past season was nearly as good, as Braun hit .319 with a career-high 41 HRs and 112 RBIs, with 30 stolen bases and 108 runs scored, all at a discounted rate.
8. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans
2012 salary: $885,795
The leading candidate for Defensive Player of the Year counts $2.55 million against the cap for the Texans, with his base salary and $1.67 million prorated signing bonus. But that’s chump change compared to the type of money lesser players are getting on the open market. This past offseason, Mario Williams inked a six-year, $96 million contract with $50 million guaranteed from the Buffalo Bills. As the No. 11 overall pick in 2011, Watt has clearly outplayed his draft status — with 10.5 sacks, 10 pass deflections and countless disrupted plays in his second season.
9. Ray Allen, SG, Miami Heat
2012 salary: $3.09 million
The silky-smooth-shooting Jesus Shuttlesworth pulled a Judas by turning down a contract with the Boston Celtics that was reportedly worth twice as much annually as the one he signed with the rival Heat. Kevin Garnett won’t shake his hand or look him in the eye, but Miami loves looking at the bottom line for sweet Ray. It’s early, but Allen is sharpshooting to the tune of 56.7 percent from 3-point land and 87.5 percent from the free throw line.
10. Tiger Woods, Golfer
2012 salary: $6.13 million
Granted, Tiger’s earnings are based on his performance on the course. In 2012, Eldrick won three PGA Tour events, had nine top-10 finishes and made the cut in 17-of-19 events played. But consider the ripple effect Tiger has on the game of golf, including tournament attendance, television ratings and sponsorship dollars. Tiger is a one-man brand who largely carries the PGA Tour on his back. He represents more than just “another player.” Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant ($27.85 million) and New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter ($16 million) are both representative of a role bigger than just one spot on a roster — and are paid accordingly. Tiger, however, is not.
RELATED: 10 Most Overpaid Athletes in 2012
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 10.
Locks of the Week
Take the Manning Bros. to cover on the road against a pair of teams with a combined 1–7 record over their last four games.
Giants (-4) at Bengals
The Bungles are on a four-game slide and 1–3 at home, with their only win in Cincy coming against Cleveland in Week 2.
Broncos (-4.5) at Panthers
Other than a 36–7 loss to the Giants in Week 3, the Cats have lost by an average margin of 3.6 points in their other five defeats.
It’s a particularly good week for powerhouse home teams to mop up some of the worst teams in the league.
Ravens (-9) vs. Raiders
From 2007-11, Eastern Time Zone home teams have a 44–15 record against Pacific Time Zone road teams.
Patriots (-11) vs. Bills
New England is 17–1 against Buffalo in its last 18 games, including a 52–28 blowout victory in Week 4.
49ers (-11.5) vs. Rams
The Niners are 9–2 at home under coach Jim Harbaugh, including a 26–0 win over St. Louis at Candlestick Park in Week 13 last year.
Steelers (-12.5) vs. Chiefs
K.C. has a -107 point differential, losing by 13.4 points per game. The No. 1 defense should take advantage of a team with a league-worst 29 turnovers.
Straight Up Upsets
Take the home teams in these division-rivalry showdowns, which are nearly pick ‘em games as it is.
Eagles (+2) vs. Cowboys
Philly’s “Dream Team” beat the Boys twice, 34–7 in Week 8 and 20–7 in Week 16, last season.
Vikings (+2) vs. Lions
The curse of Samantha Steele ends this week for Christian Ponder.
Saints (+3) vs. Falcons
Atlanta has a 2–6 record against New Orleans and a 1–3 mark in the Big un-Easy with Matt Ryan at QB.
Stay away from these contests completely, unless you’re a hometown homer or a degenerate who has to have action.
Bears (-1) vs. Texans
Matt Schaub is 10–1 over his last 11 games; Jay Cutler is 12–1 dating back to before his season-ending injury last year.
Buccaneers (-3) vs. Chargers
The “Muscle Hamster” of Doug Martin will take on the “Turkey Neck” of Norv Turner.
Dolphins (-6) vs. Titans
Tennessee’s Jake Locker returns from a left non-throwing shoulder injury, while Bud Adams gets his firing squad ready.
Seahawks (-6) vs. Jets
The Hawks are 4–0 at CenturyLink Field this season, while the Jetlags have been sluggish wherever they play.
In the world of sports it's not uncommon for athletes to command ridiculous salaries. Some are worth every penny; some are not. Here's a look at the 10 athletes in 2012 who are cashing giant checks that their talent can't quite match.
1. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, New York Yankees
2012 salary: $29 million
A-Rod has been A-Fraud of late, with a pinstripe Ponzi scheme Bernie Madoff would be ashamed of. Rodriguez cashed in $29 million in 2012 and will fold over another $114 million over the next five seasons of his contract. If the least popular three-time MVP and 14-time All-Star in history struggled to hit .272 with 18 HR and 57 RBI in his age 36 season, imagine what ages 37-to-41 will look like at the plate. The Bronx Bombers are hoping A-Rod’s playoff performance — when he hit .120 (3-for-25) with two walks and one run scored over seven games — isn’t foreshadowing their future, when the Yanks are bleeding red and lucky No. 13 is inking black.
2. Vernon Wells, OF, Los Angeles Angels
2012 salary: $21 million
How Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was able to dump Wells’ ridiculous contract on the Halos is still a mystery. The Angels paid $21 million for a fourth outfielder who hit .230 with 11 HR and 29 RBI in 77 games last season. And they’ve got another two years and $42 million left on the deal.
3. Carl Crawford, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
2012 salary: $19.5 million
The Boston Red Sox paid the majority of Crawford’s $19.5-million 2012 salary before shipping the oft-injured outfielder across the country to wear Dodger blue. Crawford has five years and $102.5 million remaining. But entering his age 31 season, there is still hope for the four-time All-Star, four-time stolen base king and one-time Gold Glover.
4. Carlos Zambrano, RHP, Miami Marlins
2012 salary: $18 million
Big Z was such a cancer that the Chicago Cubs paid $15.5 million of Zambrano’s $18 million salary in 2012 just to ship him to Miami for Chris Volstad. The 275-pound heavy hothead went on to post a 7–10 record with a 4.49 ERA and 1.50 WHIP for the Marlins. Expectations were so low, however, that those numbers were actually better than most expected from the man who spars with Gatorade coolers.
5. Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
2012 salary: $15.6 million
The former Heisman Trophy winner has better timing on draft day than he does on game day. Bradford was the last No. 1 overall pick before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement — which limited bloated rookie salaries — went into effect. As a result, the Rams quarterback is the fourth-highest paid player in the NFL this season, despite completing just 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,797 yards, eight TDs and seven INTs for an 82.4 passer rating through eight games.
6. Carlos Boozer, PF, Chicago Bulls
2012 salary: $15 million
Offshore drilling in Alaska should start with Boozer’s bank account. The German born and Juneau raised big man is a classic case of “looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane.” Boozer was originally signed to take some of the heat off Derrick Rose and push the Bulls over the top as a title contender. Instead, he has averaged just 12.9 points on miserable 42.9 percent shooting in 22 playoff games over the past two seasons.
7. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia Eagles
2012 salary: $13.9 million
Vick signed a six-year, $100-million redemption contract that still has $47.5 million scheduled from 2013-15. After making a cool $20 million in 2011, the lefty is taking a pay cut this season. But he’s also having arguably his worst healthy NFL season, accounting for 11 total touchdowns and 14 total turnovers while leading the flightless Eagles to a 3–5 start to the season.
8. Mark Sanchez, QB, New York Jets
2012 salary: $11.75 million
The “Sanchize” restructured his deal before the start of the 2012 season. The Jets have $11.75 million invested in Sanchez this season, from an $8 million signing bonus and $3.25 million base salary. But when the fans are calling for Tim Tebow to start over Sanchez, the money doesn’t add up. Pete Carroll didn’t think Sanchez was ready to leave USC for the NFL back in the day. Sanchez’s financial advisors disagree.
9. Chris Bosh, PF, Miami Heat
2012 salary: $17.545 million
The third wheel of Miami’s two and a half men traveling circus, Bosh will make exactly the same amount of money as LeBron James and even more than Dwyane Wade during the 2012 season. Shaquille O’Neal called Bosh the “RuPaul of big men” and the “Big Three” franchise player contract Bosh signed with the Heat is definitely a drag.
10. Floyd Mayweather, Boxer
2012 salary: $45 million
“Money” Mayweather is the highest paid athlete in all of sports, raking in $45 million for his Cinco de Mayo bout with Miguel Cotto this year. But pound-for-pound, “Pretty Boy” isn’t nearly as valuable as many of his lesser-paid peers. Sure, he carries a 43–0 record along with the WBC welterweight and WBA (Super) light middleweight title belts. But Mayweather won’t fight Manny Pacquiao, which is helping MMA put boxing in a submission hold once and for all.
NFL Week 10 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Colts (5-3) at Jaguars (1-7)
Indianapolis has been playing “Chuck Strong” — in honor of coach Chuck Pagano’s ongoing fight with leukemia — en route to a 4–1 record since its Week 4 bye. And while rookie Andrew Luck only gives his performance a “C” grade, everyone else thinks he’s acing his first year. Meanwhile, Jacksonville is a Thursday night loss away from the worst start in team history, lowering the bar for futility set by the 2003 squad. The Jags have been outscored 126–34 at EverBank Field this year, so there is no homefield advantage to speak of in this one.
Colts by 4
Chargers (4-4) at Buccaneers (4-4)
It has been a tale of two quarters for Tampa Bay — going 1–3 before its Week 5 bye and 3–1 since regrouping under first-year coach Greg Schiano. The split stats for rookie running back Doug Martin tell the story. The Boise State back had 247 yards and one TD over his first four games and has tallied 547 yards and six TDs in his last four contests, a stretch in which the Buccaneers’ offense has averaged 477 yards and 36 points per game.
Buccaneers by 3
Titans (3-6) at Dolphins (4-4)
“If performance and competitiveness does not improve, I will look at alternatives to get back to having the Titans become a playoff and championship caliber football team,” said owner Bud Adams, following Tennessee’s terrible 51–20 defeat to Chicago. Running back Chris Johnson has not been the problem of late — with 526 yards and three TDs, two of which were 80-plus-yard sprints, the last four games.
Dolphins by 3
Bills (3-5) at Patriots (5-3)
Tom Brady loves playing the Bills. Tom Terrific has a 19–2 career record against the AFC East division rival, with 49 TD passes. Tommy Boy isn’t the only one in New England who likes to beat up on Buffalo, however. The Pats have a 17–1 record in their last 18 games vs. the Bills.
Patriots by 14
Raiders (3-5) at Ravens (6-2)
Baltimore’s record is more impressive than its resume. The Ravens have been getting by with smoke and mirrors — which will likely continue this week against the Silver-and-Bleak.
Ravens by 7
Broncos (5-3) at Panthers (2-6)
While the Cats have seemingly grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat at every turn, the Broncs have been bucking strong down the stretch all season long. Denver has outscored its opponents 103–23 in the fourth quarter, which is the best points differential in the league over the final stanza this year.
Broncos by 3
Giants (6-3) at Bengals (3-5)
Cincy looks to end its four-game losing streak against the defending Super Bowl champions, who are 3–1 on the road this season.
Giants by 5
Lions (4-4) at Vikings (5-4)
Minnesota took a 20–13 victory at Detroit in Week 4 on the strength of a 105-yard opening kickoff return TD by Percy Harvin and a punt return TD by Marcus Sherels — making the Lions the first team to give up both a kick and punt return TD in consecutive weeks.
Vikings by 1
Falcons (8-0) at Saints (3-5)
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan carries a 2–6 career record against NFC South rival New Orleans, including a 1–3 mark in the Big un-Easy. Last year, the Dirty Birds went 0–2 vs. the Saints, losing 26–23 at home on a controversial fourth-down call in Week 10 and then in a 45–16 blowout on the road in Week 16.
Falcons by 3
Jets (3-5) at Seahawks (5-4)
The sputtering J-E-T-S fly cross-country to take on the Hawks, who have a 4–0 record at CenturyLink Field this season.
Seahawks by 5
Cowboys (3-5) at Eagles (3-5)
Marcus Vick doesn’t want to see Michael Vick “with brain problems by the time he 45,” he said in a Twitter rant while watching his older brother get sacked seven times and knocked to the turf countless more times against the Saints on Monday night.
Cowboys by 1
Rams (3-5) at 49ers (6-2)
San Francisco is 9–2 at home under coach Jim Harbaugh, including a 26–0 win over St. Louis at Candlestick Park in Week 13 last year.
49ers by 11
Texans (7-1) at Bears (7-1)
A Sunday night fight featuring the league’s two one-loss clubs. Both quarterbacks have been red hot. Houston’s Matt Schaub has a 10–1 record over his last 11 starts, while Chicago’s Jay Cutler is 12–1 dating back to before his season-ending thumb injury last season.
Bears by 1
Chiefs (1-7) at Steelers (5-3)
Kansas City has coughed up a league-leading 29 turnovers, which have led to 104 points for its opponents. Blitz-burgh will likely take advantage of that trend on Monday night.
Steelers by 13
Last week: 11–3 // Season: 88–44
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams — from the best, the lone remaining undefeated Atlanta Falcons, to the worst, the staggering one-win Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 9 of the season:
1. Falcons (8-0) Lone unbeaten remaining at season’s halfway point.
2. Texans (7-1) Despite flu, Arian Foster posts 20th 100-yard game.
3. Bears (7-1) Defense forces five turnovers, scores TD in win.
4. 49ers (6-2) Aldon Smith denies being attacked during bye week.
5. Packers (6-3) Perfect time for bye with Matthews, Nelson injured.
6. Steelers (5-3) Antonio Brown sprains ankle in victory over Giants.
7. Giants (6-3) Take 20–10 lead, outscored 14–0 in fourth quarter.
8. Broncos (5-3) Peyton Manning improves to 8–0 all-time vs. Cincy.
9. Ravens (6-2) John Harbaugh 5–0 after bye, 10–0 against Browns.
10. Patriots (5-3) Acquire troubled cornerback Aqib Talib during bye.
11. Seahawks (5-4) “Beast Mode” loses RB battle, wins war vs. “All Day.”
12. Vikings (5-4) Adrian Peterson posts best rushing total since 2008.
13. Colts (5-3) Chuck Pagano inspires Indy with emotional speech.
14. Saints (3-5) Drew Brees extends record TD streak to 51 games.
15. Eagles (3-5) Mike Vick, Andy Reid saga an ongoing soap opera.
16. Chargers (4-4) Fans hang “Mr. Spanos, please fire A.J. & Norv” sign.
17. Dolphins (4-4) Bradshaw apologizes for Bush “chicken” comments.
18. Lions (4-4) Matt Stafford fourth youngest QB to 10,000 yards.
19. Buccaneers (4-4) Doug Martin first RB with three 45-plus-yard TDs.
20. Cowboys (3-5) Jerry Jones is “extremely, extremely” disappointed.
21. Jets (3-5) Rex Ryan voted most overrated coach by players.
22. Titans (3-6) Bud Adams says team “outcoached and outplayed.”
23. Cardinals (4-5) Have an 0–5 record since starting the season 4–0.
24. Bengals (3-5) Have an 0–4 record since starting the season 3–1.
25. Rams (3-5) Danny Amendola set to return from shoulder injury.
26. Panthers (2-6) Snap five-game slide, spoil Skins’ “homecoming.”
27. Redskins (3-6) Throwback 1937 jerseys bad luck against Carolina.
28. Bills (3-5) Mario Williams has sack but loses return to Houston.
29. Raiders (3-5) Darren McFadden injures ankle in loss to Tampa Bay.
30. Browns (2-7) Fail to score a TD despite five trips to the red zone.
31. Chiefs (1-7) K.C. still has not led a single second in regulation.
32. Jaguars (1-7) Trailed 24–0 before face-saving scores vs. Lions.
NFL midseason awards at halftime of the 2012 NFL season:
Most Valuable Player
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
“Matty Ice” has been as cool as they come this season. The fifth-year signal-caller out of Boston College has completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 2,360 yards, 17 TDs and six INTs for a 103.0 passer rating, while leading the Falcons to a franchise-record 8–0 start to the season. Up next: Securing home field advantage for Atlanta and winning the first playoff game of his career.
Offensive Player of the Year
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Knee surgery? What knee surgery? “All Day” has been trucking defenders since Day 1 this season. In fact, Peterson is on pace for a career year, with a league-leading 957 yards, on 5.7 yards per carry, and six trips to the end zone thus far. And he’s averaging a staggering 106.3 yards per game while carrying the load for the Vikes.
Defensive Player of the Year
J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
In only his second season in the NFL, Watt has established himself as the premier 3-4 end in the league. A pass-rushing, football-batting beast in the trenches, Watt has recorded 10.5 sacks and 10 pass deflections in just eight games this season, leading a Houston stop-unit ranked third in total defense and fourth in scoring defense.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
The most competitive category on the ballot, RG3 barely leads Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Bucs running back Doug Martin. The Skins’ dual-threat has 2,522 total yards, 14 total TDs and five turnovers, with a 93.9 passer rating in nine games.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Chandler Jones, DE, Patriots
The little brother of MMA fighter “Bones” Jones has been making opposing offensive linemen tap out in his first season, tallying 6.0 sacks and three forced fumbles as New England’s top splash-playmaker.
Comeback Player of the Year
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Manning is back in the saddle after missing the entire 2011 season due to a neck injury. And the 15th-year vet is as good as ever, completing 69.5 percent of his passes for 2,404 yards, 20 TDs and six INTs for a 108.6 passer rating through eight games.
Coach of the Year
Lovie Smith, Bears
The 2005 Coach of the Year has Chicago sitting in first place in the NFC North — the NFL’s only division with no sub-.500 teams. The Bears boast a league-best plus-116-point differential this season.
The Top 5 reasons why Les Miles and the LSU Tigers will beat Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide:
1. Tiger Stadium on Saturday Night
LSU refuses to lose at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night under coach Les Miles. The Tigers are 36–1 after nightfall at Tiger Stadium with the Mad Hatter eating grass and rocking his white hat on the sidelines. The only loss came against Tim Tebow and No. 1-ranked Florida in a 13–3 defeat in 2009. The Tigers have reeled off 22 straight wins at home since then, with a rowdy crowd of 90,000-plus cheering them to routine victory.
Bama coach Nick Saban — who coached at LSU from 2000-04 — knows how hard it is to win under the lights at LSU, even if the Vegas oddsmakers (Alabama –8.5) don’t show the same level of respect to Baton Rouge.
2. Bayou Bengals’ Defensive Line
The Tigers’ defensive front four rotation is loaded with future NFL first-round picks. Defensive ends Sam Montgomery (6’5”, 260), Barkevious Mingo (6’5”, 240) and Lavar Edwards (6’5”, 258) are devastating with their edge rush, while big nasty defensive tackles Anthony Johnson (6’3”, 304), Bennie Logan (6’3”, 295), Josh Downs (6’1”, 287) and Ego Ferguson (6’3”, 308) collapse the pocket and clog running lanes.
Granted, Alabama has the best O-line in the country. But Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron has been spoiled to this point, playing with a clean jersey all season. LSU will need to slam McCarron to the turf a few times, while also maintaining gap responsibilities against the run. The Bayou Bengals’ defensive line is good enough to carry LSU to an upset victory.
3. Les Miles in Mad Hatter Mode
More with Les. Fake field goals, fake punts, fourth-down conversions, end-arounds, halfback passes, two-point conversions… Les Miles is a big game hunter who is unafraid of making outside the box decisions and bold moves other coaches cringe at the thought of. Miles likes to howl at the moon, with a 57–5 record at night — including a 9–6 overtime victory over Alabama under the cover of darkness in Tuscaloosa last season — compared to a 25–14 mark during day.
4. Punter Brad Wing Does It Again
Australian punter Brad Wing was arguably the MVP of last year’s defensive 9–6 LSU overtime win at Alabama. Wing single-handedly controlled field position for the Tigers, allowing the defense to pin its ears back and the offense to play conservative. Wing’s punting exhibition included the following gems:
37-yard punt, out of bounds at Alabama 5-yard-line
35-yard punt, downed at Alabama 4
27-yard punt, fair catch at Alabama 11
73-yard punt, downed at Alabama 18
35-yard punt, fair catch at Alabama 20
If Wing has another night with five punts placed inside the 20, two inside the five and a momentum-changing 73-yard bomb, LSU can beat Alabama.
5. Clock Killing Running Attack
LSU has a fleet of running backs in Kenny Hilliard (420 yards, 6 TDs), Michael Ford (357 yards, 3 TDs), Jeremy Hill (322 yards, 5 TDs) and Spencer Ware (255 yards). The Tigers also have a versatile ex-quarterback slash option in Russell Shepard (106 yards, 78-yard TD) and a sledgehammer fullback in J.C. Copeland (3 TDs). Alabama’s backs are flashier, but LSU’s runners have combined to rush for 1,667 yards, on 4.9 yards per carry, and 20 TDs this season.
If the lathered up Tiger Stadium crowd is Geaux-ing insane all night, the Bayou Bengals’ defensive line is eating like big dogs, Les Miles is pulling rabbits out of his hat and Brad Wing is flipping the field like an Australian toilet swirl, it will be the LSU running game that seals the deal — moving the chains, draining the clock and upsetting No. 1-ranked Alabama.
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 9.
Lock of the Week
It’s put up or shut up time for Detroit. Last year will officially be a fluke if Motor City can’t run over J-Ville.
Lions (-4) at Jaguars
Four of Jacksonville’s six defeats have been by nine or more points, including margins of 38 and 20 points in home losses.
The biggest numbers are not always the biggest risks on the board.
Texans (-10.5) vs. Bills
Four of Houston’s six wins have come by 20 or more points, while three of Buffalo’s four losses have been by 20 or more points.
Straight Up Upsets
Redemption song games for Cam Newton and Mike Vick, who will face two of the worst defenses this week.
Panthers (+3.5) at Redskins
Rather than Cam Newton, RG3 wants to “be compared to Aaron Rodgers, or a guy like that. Someone who’s won Super Bowls.”
Eagles (+3.5) at Saints
New Orleans’ hapless defense is ranked dead last 32nd in the league, allowing 474.7 yards and 30.9 points per game.
These two may or may not be straight up upsets, but they should be close calls decided by a field goal.
Bengals (+4) vs. Broncos
Peyton Manning is 7–0 all-time vs. Cincy, with 1,827 yards, 17 TDs and three INTs. But he can win without covering…
Cowboys (+4.5) at Falcons
The Boys have been losing and the Birds have been winning, but both teams have been doing so by slight margins.
Steer clear of these unless you’re a hometown homer with something to prove or a degenerate with an itch to scratch.
Dolphins (-1) at Colts
It’s hard to bet against Andrew Luck, but probably not smart to bet on the Colts.
Raiders (-1) vs. Buccaneers
The Jon Gruden Bowl in the Black Hole could come down to a Sea Bass field goal.
Giants (-3.5) vs. Steelers
Pittsburgh is flying in on Sunday morning before running this New York marathon.
Bears (-4) at Titans
Vanderbilt alum Jay Cutler’s homecoming game in Nashville could be INT party.
Seahawks (-4.5) vs. Vikings
Pete Carroll thinks there’s no way Bama could beat an NFL team. How bout LSU?
Packers (-11) vs. Cardinals
When given respect, Green Bay has failed to cover against supposedly inferior teams.
Animal nicknames are nothing new in sports. San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval — a.k.a. the “Kung Fu Panda” — was recently named World Series MVP after an unbelievable October. Fans at AT&T Park wore panda hats to support their rotund slugger playing the hot corner. But Sandoval is not the only high profile player or coach who is better known by a name from the great outdoors.
Here’s a look at the 25 best animal nicknames in sports history:
Eldrick Woods, PGA prodigy
The 14-time major champion was nicknamed in honor of his father’s friend Col. Vuong Dang “Tiger” Phong, with whom Earl Woods served during the Vietnam War. Never has a nickname been so appropriate. Until recently, Tiger had an invincible aura when in red on Sunday, with the death stare of a big cat about to pounce. Would Tiger have been Tiger — the socioeconomic golf pioneer, Nike heir to Michael Jordan and personification of killer instinct in the clutch — had he gone by Eldrick?
Paul Bryant, Alabama icon
As the tall tale goes, a 13-year-old Bryant wrestled a bear at the Lyric Theatre in Fordyce, Arkansas. Although Bryant didn’t get the money he was promised, he earned the nickname “Bear.” With a name befitting a mythical character and a signature fedora-style houndstooth hat to match, Bear won six national championships and 14 SEC titles en route to becoming the most legendary coach in college football history.
3. Black Widow
Jeanette Lee, Billiards babe
A Korean-American killer on the pool table, Lee wears all-black and devours her opponents. The former No. 1 ranked female pool player in the world is also not afraid to sex it up with low cut shirts, tight skirts and/or high heels at the table, and skimpy bikinis in photo shoots.
4. Big Dog
Glenn Robinson, NBA ball hog
Although Antoine Carr was already known as the “Big Dog,” Robinson made it his own as the national player of the year at Purdue, the No. 1 overall pick of the Milwaukee Bucks (ahead of both Jason Kidd and Grant Hill) in 1994 and two-time All-Star.
5. Kung Fu Panda
Pablo Sandoval, World Series MVP
Inspired by the Disney movie, fans in San Francisco rock their panda hats with pride, supporting their lovable Venezuelan third baseman who looks amazingly similar to his cartoon character namesake. The World Series MVP Panda can’t stop smiling these days, after bamboo-sticking for a .364 average, six HRs and 13 RBIs in this year’s playoffs.
Kenny Stabler, NFL party animal
The Oakland Raiders’ lefty leader was a sidewinding scrambler on and off the field. The Super Bowl XI champion and 1974 NFL MVP was in charge of the controlled chaos of Al Davis’ Silver-and-Black franchise during the team’s heyday. And the Snake enjoyed every minute of his time on top. Stabler still carries the Snake mantle — sorry Jake Plummer, WWF wrestler Jake the Snake, and every other guy named Jake ever.
7. Black Mamba
Kobe Bryant, Lakers legend
Oregon track star running back De’Anthony Thomas was also given the Black Mamba moniker, by Snoop Dogg no less. But the five-time NBA champion, 14-time All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist is the O.G. Black Mamba.
Anderson Silva, Brazilian badass
UFC president Dana White called Silva, the UFC Middleweight Champion, the “greatest mixed martial artist ever.” Spider is a superhero in the ring, nearly on par with his hero Spider-Man.
Daryl Johnston, Cowboys fullback
The bull-headed Johnston bulldozed a path for the NFL’s all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith. With Cowboys fans screaming “Moooose!” at the top of their lungs, Johnston became a cult hero while winning three Super Bowls.
10. Raging Bull
Jake LaMotta, Boxer by De Niro
The Bronx Bull was immortalized by director Martin Scorcese and actor Robert De Niro in the 1980 film based on LaMotta’s 1970 memoir, Raging Bull: My Story.
“And though I’m no Olivier
If he fought Sugar Ray
He would say
That the thing ain’t the ring, it’s the play
So give me a stage
Where this bull here can rage”
11. Golden Bear
Jack Nicklaus, PGA gold standard
The blond-haired Nicklaus was an Upper Arlington (Ohio) High School Golden Bear through and through. And 18 major championships later, his achievements remain the measuring sticks for golfers now and yet to come.
12. Great White Shark
Greg Norman, Aussie entrepreneur
Jeff Samardzija was the Shark as a wide receiver at Notre Dame and pitcher with the Chicago Cubs. But there is no aquatic hunter greater than the Great White Shark of Norman. The Australian may have “only” won two major championships, but he did make millions off his clothing line, winemaking and golf course design with Great White Shark Enterprises.
13. Pink Panther
Paula Creamer, LPGA girlie girl
Not since Molly Ringwald has a girl looked as pretty in pink as Creamer, the 26-year-old U.S. Women’s Open champion.
Dennis Rodman, NBA cross-dresser
Dennis the Menace could squirm his way to any loose ball during his days as a seven-time rebounding champion, five-time NBA champion and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. He was also bad as he wanted to be with Madonna and ex-wife Carmen Electra.
15. The G.O.A.T.
Jerry Rice, NFL record book
Not to be confused with New York City playground basketball legend Earl “The Goat” Manigault. Rice was a 13-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time Super Bowl champ, two-time Offensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl XXIII MVP and the holder of just about every receiving record in the book; thus the acronym G.O.A.T. — Greatest of All-Time.
16. The Beast
Yohan Blake, Second-fastest Jamaican
Usain Bolt’s training partner is the second-fastest man alive and a Beast of a track star. But the weird claw thing he does with his hand when the camera is on is just creepy. Please stop doing that, Yohan.
17. Sea Bass
Sebastian Janikowski, NFL kicking ass
Although he may be less famous than Cam Neely’s character in Dumb and Dumber (“Kick his ass, Sea Bass!”), Sebastian is one of three kickers ever to be drafted in the first round and arguably the MVP of this year’s Oakland Raiders.
18. Big Tuna
Bill Parcells, NFL coaching tree
Who do you think Parcells is, Charlie the Tuna? The two-time Super Bowl champ may not be the StarKist Tuna mascot, but he’s probably the most famous tuna in the sea.
Craig Stadler, PGA doughboy
The 1982 Masters Champion is well known for his Walrus mustache and physique. But he’s also the father of PGA pro Kevin Stadler and the brother of New Age Celtic composer Gary Stadler.
20. Flying Squirrel
Gabby Douglas, Olympic golden girl
She’s just a girl but she’s on fire. The first black women’s all-around Olympic gold medalist in history also won the team gold medal with the “Fierce Five” at the 2012 London Olympics.
21. The Turtle
Misty May-Treanor, Beach baller
The husband of three-time Olympic gold medal winning teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings called May-Treanor a Turtle and then everybody started doing it.
22. Big Cat
Andres Galarraga, MLB slugger
The Venezuelan “El Gato” was as quick as a cat with his glove at first base and with his bat at the plate during his 20-year big league career.
23. Silver Fox
David Pearson, Racing all-timer
Fox became a Silver Fox as he aged, but he was always as sly as any driver in the game during his Hall of Fame career in NASCAR.
24. Bald Eagle
Y.A. Tittle, NFL high lifer
The chrome-domed Tittle may be best known for his bloodied, kneeling disappointment in the photo taken by Morris Berman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1964.
25. Mr. Ed
John Elway, Broncos centaur
The two-time Super Bowl winner looks like a horse, of course. And no one can talk to a horse, of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Elway.
NFL Week 9 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Chiefs (1-6) at Chargers (3-4)
These two AFC West division rivals face off for the second time in six weeks. In Week 4, the Bolts lit up the Chiefs, 37–20. Overall, San Diego signal-caller Philip Rivers has a 9–4 record in his career against Kansas City. This Thursday night fight could be win No. 10 for Rivers vs. K.C.
Chargers by 4
Cardinals (4-4) at Packers (5-3)
After a 4–0 start to the season, Arizona has gone an ice cold 0–4 since. A trip to Lambeau Field probably isn’t what the doctor ordered.
Packers by 7
Lions (3-4) at Jaguars (1-6)
If Detroit can’t win at Jacksonville in the battle of big cats, then last season was indeed a fluke.
Lions by 5
Bears (6-1) at Titans (3-5)
Jay Cutler returns to Nashville, where he played his college ball at Vanderbilt. The Windy City and Music City squads are coming off last-second decisions in Week 8, when the Bears made a late rally to beat the Panthers and the Titans stumbled down the stretch to lose to the Colts.
Bears by 6
Broncos (4-3) at Bengals (3-4)
Peyton Manning is 7–0 all-time vs. Cincinnati, with 1,827 yards, 17 TDs and three INTs.
Bengals by 1
Panthers (1-6) at Redskins (3-5)
Cam Newton could learn a thing or two from RG3 about how to handle the big league spotlight.
Redskins by 4
Ravens (5-2) at Browns (2-6)
The Jim Browns play the Courtney Browns for the second time in six weeks. In Week 4, the relocated Browns defeated the expansion Browns, 23–16, on Thursday night in Baltimore.
Ravens by 4
Dolphins (4-3) at Colts (4-3)
If Indy can win against the Fins, let the playoff talk begin and start engraving the ROY award.
Colts by 1
Bills (3-4) at Texans (6-1)
It’s a big comeback week for Mario Williams, who returns from wrist surgery on the same week he heads back to Houston, where he played for six seasons after being a controversial No. 1 overall pick in 2006.
Texans by 13
Vikings (5-3) at Seahawks (4-4)
Adrian Peterson vs. Marshawn Lynch is a RB battle that will be in “Beast Mode” “All Day.”
Seahawks by 5
Buccaneers (3-4) at Raiders (3-4)
If only Jon Gruden could make this clash of the pirates a Monday night love fest…
Raiders by 1
Steelers (4-3) at Giants (6-2)
The Super Bowl winning quarterbacks from the Class of 2004 go toe-to-toe, with champions “Big Ben” Roethlisberger (Super Bowls XL, XLIII) and Eli Manning (Super Bowls XLII, XLVI) making it rain like super storm Sandy.
Giants by 3
Cowboys (3-4) at Falcons (7-0)
Atlanta will attempt to become the 15th team to start 8–0 since the 16-game schedule in 1978.
Falcons by 7
Eagles (3-4) at Saints (2-5)
This Monday night party could be Michael Vick’s last stand as the starter in Philly. And it will be if Drew Brees has anything to say about it.
Saints by 3
Last week: 10–4 // Season: 77–41
Matt Ryan’s homecoming could not have gone much better. A product of Philadelphia’s William Penn Charter School, “Matty Ice” led the Atlanta Falcons to a 30–17 statement victory against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
The win was Ryan’s first in three attempts in his hometown, Atlanta’s first victory at Philly since Oct. 30, 1988, and the first loss Eagles coach Andy Reid has taken in a game after the bye week during his 14 years since taking over in 1999.
Ryan threw touchdown passes on the Falcons’ first three possessions, while leading the Dirty Birds on scoring drives in each of their first six possessions of the game.
“When you do that, it’s going to be a good day,” said Ryan, who completed 20-of-29 passes for 262 yards, three TDs and zero INTs for a season-high 137.4 passer rating.
The Falcons are now 15–0 when Ryan passes for three or more touchdowns. The fifth-year signal-caller out of Boston College, meanwhile, has thrown at least one scoring strike in 22 consecutive games — trailing only Super Bowl-winning future Hall of Famers Drew Brees (49) and Tom Brady (40) in that category.
The victory was also a milestone for coach Mike Smith, who passed Dan Reeves (49–59–1) to became the winningest coach in Falcons history, carrying a 50–21 career record. Smith needed the third-fewest games in history to reach the 50-win plateau — trailing George Seifert (62 games) and Chuck Knox (65 games).
“It’s not about a coach,” said Smith, who has led the Falcons to the playoffs in three of his first four seasons since taking over the top spot in 2008.
“There are a lot of people that contributed to the number of wins since (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) and I have gotten here. It’s about the players. It’s about the coaches. There are a lot of people that make contributions to that. We’re glad that we were able to get the win this week … We’ll enjoy this for a few minutes and then move on.”
The NFL’s lone remaining unbeaten team, Atlanta improved to 7–0 for the first time in franchise history by defeating Ryan’s predecessor, embattled Eagles quarterback Michael Vick — who was drafted No. 1 overall in 2001 and played for the Falcons until being convicted of felony charges in August 2007 for his involvement in a dog fighting ring.
How far Atlanta has come since Vick and coach Bobby Petrino were replaced by Ryan and Smith. The Falcons have gone from disgraced franchise to favorites in the NFC in five short years. But Ryan doesn’t want to hear about a potential undefeated season or trip to the Super Bowl.
“You can’t get caught up in all the ‘what ifs’ about what could happen,” said Ryan. “If you just keep your focus, you’re going to be fine.”
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams from the best, the lone remaining undefeated Atlanta Falcons, to the worst, the banged-up one-win Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 8 of the season:
1. Falcons (7-0) Scored on first six possessions in victory at Philly.
2. Texans (6-1) Hoping to pick up where they left off before bye.
3. Giants (6-2) Up 23–0, down 24–23, but beat Cowboys 29–24.
4. 49ers (6-2) Defense holds Cardinals to seven rush yards.
5. Packers (5-3) Aaron Rodgers passes Bart Starr on team TD list.
6. Bears (6-1) Scored 16 fourth-quarter points to beat Panthers.
7. Ravens (5-2) Fined $20K for not listing Ed Reed on injury report.
8. Patriots (5-3) Tom Brady gives Rams royal treatment in London.
9. Vikings (5-3) Had no answer for Bucs rookie runner Doug Martin.
10. Broncos (4-3) Peyton Manning throws fifth straight 300-yarder.
11. Steelers (4-3) Improve to 14–1 against rookie QBs since 2004.
12. Seahawks (4-4) Lose back-to-back games for first time all season.
13. Dolphins (4-3) Matt Moore wins filling in for injured Ryan Tannehill.
14. Colts (4-3) Vick Ballard acrobatic TD leap one of year’s best.
15. Bengals (3-4) Andy Dalton ready for Peyton Manning showdown.
16. Cowboys (3-4) Dez Bryant fingertips away from epic comeback.
17. Saints (2-5) Joe Vitt’s debut as interim coach a losing effort.
18. Chargers (3-4) Robert Meachem dropped pass costly at Browns.
19. Eagles (3-4) Vick or Nick? That is the QB debate in Philadelphia.
20. Cardinals (4-4) Outscored 41–6 in prime time games this season.
21. Redskins (3-5) Ten dropped passes make RG3’s day a long one.
22. Jets (3-5) Smacked in mouth after talking big all week long.
23. Titans (3-5) Have lost seven of last eight to rival Indianapolis.
24. Lions (3-4) Matt Stafford leads ninth comeback win of career.
25. Buccaneers (3-4) Second road team to win on Thursday this season.
26. Bills (3-4) Mario Williams returns to Houston after bye week.
27. Raiders (3-4) Have not lost at Arrowhead Stadium since 2006.
28. Rams (3-5) Back out of deal to play in London in 2013 and ’14.
29. Browns (2-6) Barking after second straight win at Dawg Pound.
30. Panthers (1-6) Snatched defeat from jaws of victory at Chicago.
31. Chiefs (1-6) Jamaal Charles only given five carries in defeat.
32. Jaguars (1-6) Not good Mojo seeing MJD sidelined on crutches.
The Miami Heat will raise their 2012 NBA championship banner before hosting the Boston Celtics on opening night of the 2012-13 NBA season. And they will do so as the league’s overwhelming favorites to win it all once again this year.
While it is clear that Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the NBA are chasing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Co., there is no guarantee that Heat will repeat. Here are the top 10 reasons why the Miami Heat won’t win the 2013 NBA championship:
1. LeBron Letdown
LeBron James hunted down his first NBA championship with a killer instinct previously unseen from the overanalyzed King. In one of the greatest individual efforts in history, LeBron averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals, while shooting 50 percent from the field, over 23 playoff games last season. The postseason bar has been set ridiculously high for LeBron.
After playing into June last season and spending all summer at the London Olympics leading Team USA to the gold medal, James enters the 2012-13 season with almost no offseason rest to speak of. In a grueling marathon, the 27-year-old wunderkind will need to be fresh — physically, mentally and emotionally — come playoff time if the Heat are to successfully defend their title.
2. D-Wade’s Knee
As good as LeBron is, Miami is still Wade County. The two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP is the spark that ignites the Heat. But Wade often flies too close to the sun, sacrificing his body to make the spectacular seem routine. Entering his age 31 season, Wade was forced to withdraw from the Olympics due to surgery on his left knee. If Flash can’t go in the playoffs, the Heat’s title hopes could be dashed.
3. Third Wheel
Remember when Chris Bosh was the Toronto talent with the Predator hairstyle? What happened to that guy, whose talent was supposedly being wasted north of the border? Bosh shrunk in the spotlight of the Heat lamp. He doesn’t have to carry his own weight as a member of the “Big Three,” but Miami needs at least two and a half men to win it all.
4. Best in the West
Should the Heat advance to the NBA Finals, just showing up won’t be enough. The Oklahoma City Thunder are young and hungry. The Los Angeles Lakers are old and desperate. The San Antonio Spurs are geriatric but dangerously cagy. There will be no easy outs in June.
5. Size Matters
While Miami is playing small ball with no real center, the Lakers have two of the game’s best bigs in Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, the Thunder have two defensive menaces in Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Spurs have Tim Duncan down low, the Celtics have mad man Kevin Garnett, and the 76ers acquired Andrew Bynum to go along with Spencer Hawes. The Heat are relying on Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, Dexter Pittman and Josh “Jorts” Harrellson to bang with the best in the business.
Coach Erik Spoelstra is no Pat Riley. He may be underappreciated by the masses, but that is because he lacks the swagger of Riles, aura of Phil Jackson or grit of Gregg Popovich. To many, Coach Spo is just a guy in a suit (who happens to be friends with Riley) who looks confused while being outcoached by Doc Rivers or even Scott Brooks. Substitution patterns, play calls out of timeouts and clock management through the use of timeouts all fall on the shoulders of the head coach come playoff time.
7. Triple Threat
Even when LeBron and Wade are on top of their game, Miami’s small ball still relies on the 3-ball. But the Heat’s long range shooters are also long in the tooth. Newly acquired 37-year-old Ray Allen, 34-year-old Shane Battier, 33-year-old Rashard Lewis, 32-year-old Mike Miller and 32-year-old James Jones are the five oldest dudes on the roster. If those 10 legs are tired, long misses could turn into easy buckets — especially against the lightning fast Thunder — with the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the line.
8. Judas Curse
Speaking of the smooth as silk jump shot of Ray Allen… Jesus Shuttlesworth has become a symbolic Judas traitor to the rabid, superstitious fans of the Boston Celtics. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em may be a seemingly easy answer to Ray’s second-ring riddle. But the basketball gods seem to have a warped sense of karmic justice. And while Paul Pierce, KG and the C’s may seem as ancient as Red Auerbach’s old Boston Garden, they’ve given Miami trouble in the past. And no team wins the NBA title without first winning the conference crown.
9. Long Odds
History’s split stats say the Heat have a little less than a 1-in-3 shot of repeating as champs. Of the 65 previous NBA champions, 44 have failed to defend their title the following season. When D-Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and Riley won Miami’s first title in 2006, they didn’t even make it back to the NBA Finals the following season. If it were easy, the achievement wouldn’t be as sweet.
10. Mayan Apocalypse
Hey, Dec. 21, 2012 is just around the corner and super storm Sandy is beating down the East Coast. June is a long way off. If there are no NBA Finals, the Miami Heat certainly won’t repeat.
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 8.
Locks of the Week
Take two of the NFC’s toughest teams on the road against familiar division rivals in a pair of high profile contests.
Giants (-2) at Cowboys
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew have demolished the Boys at Jerry’s House. Eli Manning has 1,036 yards, eight TDs and a perfect 3–0 record at the new Cowboys Stadium.
49ers (-7) at Cardinals
San Fran will crash Zona’s Monday night party. Expect John Skelton to take a beating from Patrick Willis and Co.
London Town’s Wembley Stadium and Titletown’s Lambeau Field will host blowouts of covering proportions.
Patriots (-7) vs. Rams (at London)
This London Calling will be played on the pitch across the pond, where Tom Brady will give the people what they came to see — an offensive fireworks display.
Packers (-15) vs. Jaguars
J-Ville was already arguably the league’s least talented team. Now, the Jags are without Mojo Drew, easily the best play on the teal team's roster.
Straight Up Upsets
Don’t be shocked to see two of the more volatile teams in the league — Detroit and Diego — stumble this week.
Seahawks (+1) at Lions
Detroit should keep calling that play where Mikel Leshoure dives for the end zone from the 5-yard-line and then fumbles. That worked great on MNF against Chicago.
Browns (+3) vs. Chargers
San Diego GM A.J. “The Lord of No Rings” Smith thinks the Bolts are going in the “wrong direction fast.” Norv Turner doesn’t understand what he means.
It’s RG3 and Cam time against big numbers on the road. They may not pull off straight up upsets, but they’ll keep it close.
Redskins (+4.5) at Steelers
Rookie quarterbacks have a 1–14 record against Dick LeBeau since he took over in 2004.
Panthers (+9) at Bears
Win or lose, Cam Newton and Jay Cutler are going to act like jerks at their postgame press conferences.
Stay away completely unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who always has to have action.
Chiefs (-1) vs. Raiders
The Silver-and-Black are riding a five-game winning streak at Arrowhead Stadium.
Jets (-1) vs. Dolphins
New York beat Miami, 23–20 in overtime in Week 3 in the first meeting this season.
Eagles (-3) vs. Falcons
Mike Vick brings his 13 turnovers and nine total TDs to the field to face his old team.
Titans (-3.5) vs. Colts
Andrew Luck takes his show on the road to Music City for his first gig at Tennessee.
Broncos (-6) vs. Saints
Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees is a Sunday nighter worth missing a few pitches of the World Series for.