Articles By Nathan Rush
NFL Week 17 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule, broken down into tiers in regards to what they’re playing for (in order of likelihood) on the last Sunday of the regular season:
Texans (12-3) at Colts (10-5)
Houston can wrap up a first-round bye with a win or a tie; or a New England loss or tie; or a Denver loss. The Texans will earn home-field advantage with a win; or a tie and a Broncos loss or tie; or a Patriots loss or tie as well as a loss by the Broncos. Houston has lost two of its last three games. But the Texans’ lone win during that stretch was a 29–17 victory over the Colts. Indianapolis has already clinched a playoff berth, becoming just the second team in history to win 10 games after losing 14 or more in the previous season.
Texans by 3
Chiefs (2-13) at Broncos (12-3)
Denver will clinch a first-round bye with a win or tie; or a New England loss or tie. The Broncos can claim home-field advantage with a win coupled with a Texans loss or tie; or a tie along with a loss by Houston. The Broncos are 6–1 at Mile High this season, giving Peyton Manning and Co. plenty of motivation to hand the Chiefs their 12th loss in 13 weeks. Denver beat Kansas City 17–9 in Week 12.
Broncos by 15
Packers (11-4) at Vikings (9-6)
There is plenty on the line for both Green Bay and Minnesota in this black-and-blue NFC North division rivalry game. The Packers earn a first-round bye with a win; or a tie and a loss or tie by the 49ers; or a San Francisco loss and a Seattle loss or tie. The Vikings punch their ticket to the playoffs with a win; or a tie and a loss or tie by the Bears; or the trifecta of a Cowboys loss or tie, Giants loss or tie and Bears loss. Green Bay beat Minnesota, 23–14, in Week 13.
Packers by 1
Dolphins (7-8) at Patriots (11-4)
New England clinches a first-round bye with a win coupled with a loss by either Denver or Houston. The Patriots can claim home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win, and a loss by both the Broncos and Texans. The Pats have made the Super Bowl in five of the six playoffs that Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have entered as a No. 1 or 2 seed.
Patriots by 13
Cardinals (5-10) at 49ers (10-4-1)
San Francisco will be NFC West champions with a win or tie. The Niners can earn a first-round bye with a win or tie and a Packers loss or tie. San Fran beat Arizona, 24–3, in Week 8.
49ers by 14
Rams (7-7-1) at Seahawks (10-5)
Seattle will be NFC West champions with a win coupled with a loss by San Francisco. The Hawks can clinch home-field advantage — where they are an undefeated 7–0 — with a win and a loss by both the 49ers and Packers.
Seahawks by 9
Cowboys (8-7) at Redskins (9-6)
The flex-schedule Sunday night prime time game features a classic rivalry as well as a do-or-die playoff play-in showdown between two teams that control their own destiny.
Redskins by 1
Bears (9-6) at Lions (4-11)
After losing five of its last seven contests, Chicago must win and hope for a Minnesota loss or tie in order to sneak into the playoffs.
Bears by 2
Eagles (4-11) at Giants (8-7)
The defending Super Bowl champs need the dominoes to fall — with a win and losses by the Cowboys, Bears and Vikings.
Giants by 5
Buccaneers (6-9) at Falcons (13-2)
Atlanta has wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NFC Playoffs as well as the NFC South crown.
Falcons by 9
Ravens (10-5) at Bengals (9-6)
Baltimore is the AFC North champ, while the Bengals have already clinched a playoff berth.
Bengals by 3
Panthers (6-9) at Saints (7-8)
Believe New Orleans wants revenge for its 35–27 loss at Carolina in Week 2.
Saints by 6
Browns (5-10) at Steelers (7-8)
Big Ben hopes to do what Charlie Batch didn’t during a 20–14 loss at Cleveland in Week 12.
Steelers by 9
Jets (6-9) at Bills (5-10)
New York soared to a 48–28 win over Buffalo in Week 1. That sure seems like a long time ago.
Bills by 3
Raiders (4-11) at Chargers (6-9)
The supposed final game of the Norv Turner era is a rematch of a 22–14 Bolts win in Week 1.
Chargers by 8
Jaguars (2-13) at Titans (5-10)
Tennessee handed Jacksonville its only home win of the year with a 24–19 loss in Week 12.
Titans by 4
Last week: 10–6 // Season: 160–80
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The Atlanta Falcons have flown back into the top spot after locking up home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs. Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs remain the on the bottom of the totem pole.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 16 of the season:
1. Falcons (13-2) Earn home-field advantage throughout NFC playoffs.
2. Seahawks (10-5) Russell Wilson throws four TDs to defeat 49ers.
3. 49ers (10-4-1) Letdown loss at Seattle after win at New England.
4. Patriots (11-4) Rally from 10–0 deficit for comeback win at Jags.
5. Packers (11-4) Score 50 or more points for first time since 2005.
6. Texans (12-3) Held out of the end zone for first time since 2006.
7. Broncos (12-3) Riding 10-game win streak after beating Browns.
8. Ravens (10-5) Ray Lewis activated on 53-man roster for Week 17.
9. Colts (10-5) Fourth-quarter comeback clinches berth in playoffs.
10. Bengals (9-6) Josh Brown game-winner comes with four ticks left.
11. Redskins (9-6) Aiming for first NFC East division title since 1999.
12. Cowboys (8-7) It’s win or go home after loss to New Orleans in OT.
13. Vikings (9-6) Adrian Peterson needs 102 yards to reach 2,000.
14. Bears (9-6) Defense scores two more TDs in victory at Arizona.
15. Giants (8-7) Outscored 67–14 in losses at Atlanta, at Baltimore.
16. Steelers (7-8) Miss playoffs for just second time in Mike Tomlin era.
17. Rams (7-7-1) Jackson nearing eighth straight 1,000-yard season.
18. Saints (7-8) Playoff hopes ended by Vikings’ victory over Texans.
19. Dolphins (7-8) Reggie Bush scores three TDs in win over Buffalo.
20. Panthers (6-9) Cam Newton apologizes for bumping game official.
21. Buccaneers (6-9) Lose five turnovers, turnover on downs twice in loss.
22. Chargers (6-9) Antonio Gates passes Lance Alworth with 82nd TD.
23. Jets (6-9) Greg McElroy sacked 11 times in loss to San Diego.
24. Titans (5-10) Held scoreless until 1:39 remaining in 48-point loss.
25. Bills (5-10) Have missed playoffs for 13 consecutive seasons.
26. Browns (5-10) Richardson tops Jim Brown rookie rushing record.
27. Cardinals (5-10) Throw four pick-sixes, zero TDs in last four games.
28. Lions (4-11) Megatron can’t transform records into better record.
29. Eagles (4-11) Mike Vick doesn’t see Week 17 start as “audition.”
30. Raiders (4-11) Palmer, Leinart, Pryor all see action at QB in defeat.
31. Jaguars (2-13) Break inaugural 1995 season record for most losses.
32. Chiefs (2-13) Jamaal Charles’ 226 rushing yards still not enough.
The year in sports was full of both highlights and lowlights. There were great moments like Usain Bolt’s 100-meter dash at the London Olympics and LeBron James winning his first NBA championship. But there were even more blunders made on and off the field by players, coaches and entire leagues. Here’s a look at the bottom 10 worst sports moments of 2012:
1. Golden Tate’s replacement referee TD
The Replacement Refs went out with a bang, 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.
After watching the scab refs throw yellow flags, hand out fourth timeouts, put more or less than the right amount of time on the clock, spot the ball on the wrong yard-line, call college football rules in an NFL game or create an environment of casual chaos on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays from Weeks 1-through-3 this season, Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL owners finally decided enough was enough after one of the wildest finishes in NFL history.
2. Lance Armstrong’s doping scandal
“There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, ‘Enough is enough,’” Armstrong said in a statement declaring he would not continue his fight against the United States Anti-Doping Agency. “For me, that time is now.” And with that, Armstrong’s reputation was wiped out mere mortal cyclists on the Pyrenees or Alps, his seven Tour de France titles were stripped and the signature Livestrong yellow wristbands became fodder for South Park jokes. The cancer survivor was cast away into the asterisk purgatory of Barry Bonds, as the greatest cheater his sport has ever seen.
3. Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle wreck
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.
4. National Hockey League lockout
The NHL owners declared a lockout of the NHL Players’ Association, canceling the scheduled Oct. 11, 2012 start of the season. The Commissioner Gary Bettman-led NHL owners want to reduce the NHLPA’s previous guaranteed share of 57 percent of hockey related revenues. The league canceled NBC’s Thanksgiving Showdown on Black Friday as well as the 2013 NHL Winter Classic, and seems set on turning the “Big Four” team sports into the “Big Three.”
5. Mark Sanchez’s “butt fumble” season
While Tim Tebow sat on the bench and watched from the sideline, the Jets’ face of the franchise formerly known as New York’s “Sanchize” quarterback was “butt-fumbling” on the field. Sanchez threw 13 TDs and 17 INTs for a 67.9 quarterback rating, while also coughing up the football with 12 fumbles, seven of which were recovered by the opposing defense — none more memorable than the one during a 49–19 loss to division rival New England in an instant classic Thanksgiving Day play.
6. Alex Rodriguez’s playoff performance
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.
7. Miami Marlins’ fire sale trade(s)
After spending over $500 million in public money from taxpayers and the city of Miami in order to build Marlins Park, notoriously bad owner Jeffrey 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.
8. Amare Stoudemire’s fire extinguisher fight
The Knicks’ big man punched through the glass box of a fire extinguisher following a 104–94 loss to the Heat in Game 3 of the first round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Massive bleeding and near nerve damage ensued. Following a handful of stitches, Stoudemire tweeted out a gruesome picture of the hand. Luckily, Stoudemire’s hand has healed (and prompted an Office Space-inspired GIF); it is his bad back that has kept him out of the lineup this year despite a contract with three years left and over $60 million still owed.
9. U.S. Ryder Cup team’s choke job
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 David Love III hacked their way to one of the worst letdown losses in the 85-year history of the international competition.
10. USC Trojans’ fall from No. 1 to unranked
Lane Kiffin’s club was ranked preseason No. 1 and had a storybook season ready for a Hollywood ending. Senior quarterback Matt Barkley returned to lead the Trojans out of the darkness of NCAA-imposed sanctions and into the BCS spotlight. Five losses later, USC is getting ready for the Sun Bowl rather than the national title game in Miami, the city where Reggie Bush, the man responsible for the punishment in the first place, is now allowed to play for pay. Adding insult to injury — or injury to insult as it were — Barkley suffered a right shoulder injury and is hoping to prove himself healthy in the El Paso bowl.
Seemingly half-man, half-machine, Detroit Lions wideout Calvin Johnson — the All-Pro wideout known simply as “Megatron,” a nickname inspired by the Transformers character, broke the single-season receiving yards record held by Jerry Rice — the retired Hall of Fame pass-catcher known to many as the “G.O.A.T.,” or “Greatest of All-Time.”
Johnson hauled in 11 catches for 225 yards in prime time on Saturday night, during a 31–18 defeat to the Falcons. The sixth-year receiver out of Georgia Tech now has 1,892 yards and counting, surpassing the previous mark of 1,848 yards set by Rice as a member of the 49ers in 1995.
“I’ve been an NFL fan my whole life, dating back to watching Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry as a kidd, and I’ve coached in this league for 19 years,” said Lions coach Jim Schwartz. “I’ve seen a lot of Hall of Famers, but I’ve never seen a better player than Calvin Johnson. He just broke a record set by Jerry Rice, who is arguably the best player in the history of this league.”
Johnson also broke the NFL records for consecutive 100-yard games (with his eighth straight) and consecutive games with 10 catches or more (with his fourth straight), while tying Michael Irvin’s record with his 11th 100-yard game this season.
“He’s the greatest player I’ve ever seen and, like I said, I’ve seen a bunch of them,” said Schwartz. “To see somebody do what he’s done when every game plan is designed to stop him. It says a lot about Calvin.”
The 6'5", 235-pounder has awed fans and foes alike this season, with both his on-field exploits and off-field demeanor.
“Calvin is one of the best players in the game and I think everybody is a big fan of his,” said Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, after the game. “He’s one of the most genuinely nice people you could meet.”
With one game remaining, Johnson needs just 108 yards to reach the 2,000-yard receiving mark. With another 162 yards, Johnson would top Barry Sanders’ team record of 2,053 yards rushing set in 1997. Another 213 would best Eric Dickerson’s all-time record of 2,105 rush yards.
The Bears, however, stand in between Johnson and the 2,000-yard club. Earlier this season, he was held to a season-low 34 yards receiving during a 13–7 loss at Chicago in Week 7.
“It’s going to be a tough task,” Johnson told NFL Network, when asked about possibly becoming the first receiver in history to break the 2,000-yard mark in a single season.
“We have a tough Bears defense that we have coming into our place. So we have to be on our P’s and Q’s this week, eliminate a lot of errors we have on film (from Saturday), and push forward. Finish this season on the right note.”
Fresno State and SMU will be spending Christmas on Christmas Island at the Hawaii Bowl, as the only game on television Christmas Eve.
The game will be a homecoming of sorts for SMU coach June Jones, who guided Hawaii to a 76–41 record over nine seasons from 1999-2007. Jones’ last season on Oahu, he led the Warriors to an undefeated 12–0 regular season and a BCS berth in the Sugar Bowl, where Hawaii lost to Georgia.
Hawaii Bowl — Fresno State (9–3) vs. SMU (6–6)
Date and Time: Dec. 24 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
When the Fresno State Bulldogs have the ball:
Fresno State fourth-year junior quarterback Derek Carr — the younger brother of the Houston Texans’ No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 NFL Draft, current New York Giants backup and former Fresno State star David Carr — has been lights out since taking over as the starter last season. The 6’3”, 210-pounder has threw for 3,742 yards, 36 TDs and five INTs.
Carr’s top target is redshirt freshman Davante Adams, who had 89 catches for 1,168 yards and 13 trips to the end zone. The Bulldogs’ top playmaker is senior running back Robbie Rouse, who had 1,468 yards and 12 TDs on the ground, 58 catches for 406 yards and two TDs, and a one-yard TD pass this season.
SMU’s defense could have trouble containing a Fresno State offense that averges 40.2 points per game. The Mustangs allowed 40 or more points four times this season, going 1–3 in those games — losing to Baylor, Texas A&M and UCF, while beating Houston. SMU will lean heavily on the senior leadership of defensive end Margus Hunt and linebacker Ja’Gared Davis, a pair of first-team All-C-USA defenders. If the game comes down to a field goal, Hunt owns the NCAA career record for blocked kicks (17).
When the SMU Mustangs have the ball:
Jones doesn’t have a record-breaking passer like he did with Hawaii’s Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan, but SMU does have a highly decorated transfer from Texas under center. Garrett Gilbert — who replaced Colt McCoy in the 2010 BCS title game against Alabama — threw for 2,720 yards, 14 TDs and 13 INTs. But the heart and soul of the Mustangs offense is senior Zach Line, who rushed for 1,207 yards and 12 TDs.
First-year Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter was defensive coordinator at Texas A&M and has the luxury of a stop-unit led by senior safety Phillip Thomas — the first player in school history to be a unanimous All-America selection. The Bulldogs ranked 27th in scoring defense (22.3 ppg) and could put the clamps on an inconsistent SMU attack that was held under 20 points five times.
This will be the seventh meeting between Fresno State and SMU, with all six meetings coming between 1999-2004 when both schools were members of the WAC. The Bulldogs hold 5–1 edge in the series. Expect that trend to continue, as Fresno State says “Aloha” — hello and goodbye — to Jones’ Hawaii homecoming.
Prediction: Fresno State 42, SMU 33
Related College Football Content
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) in Week 16.
Locks of the Week
Two divisional rivalry showdowns plus another two matchups of the haves and have nots look like good picks in a tough week to call.
49ers (-1) at Seahawks
Seattle is 6–0 at home this season; but New England had won 20 straight at home in December before last week’s San Fran upset.
Bears (-6) at Cardinals
Ken Whisenhunt is probably on his way out anyway, might as go out with a Dennis Green-style rant after a Chicago loss.
Redskins (-6.5) at Eagles
RG3 is set to play against Philly, a team he went 14-of-15 with four TDs against during a 31–6 blowout win in Week 11.
Patriots (-14.5) at Jaguars
The Pats has won by 15 or more points in four of their seven road games — against the Titans (34–13), Bills (52–28), Rams (45–7) and Jets (49–19).
Saturday Night Fever
With no Thursday of Monday night games, the NFL schedule breaks out its first Saturday night prime time affair.
Falcons (-4.5) at Lions
Detroit has lost six straight, with three road games by five or more points and three home games by a combined nine points.
Straight Up Upset
This field goal spreads could come down to just that; but the game-winning kick might just come from the foot of an underdog.
Ravens (+3) vs. Giants
Baltimore has lost three straight contests, while New York has fallen in its last three road games — including a 34–0 whipping at Atlanta last week.
Bad Teams, Worse Opponents
The Ryan brothers have been up and down — mostly down — this year, but the Bolts and Aints have had even harder times.
Jets (-2.5) vs. Chargers
San Diego has gone 7–16 in games played in the Eastern Time Zone under Norv Turner.
Cowboys (-3) vs. Saints
New Orleans is 2–5 on the road, while Dallas has won five of its last six, including three of its last four at home.
Steer clear of these games unless you happen to be a degenerate or a hometown homer who has to have action on every game, all the time.
Buccaneers (-3) vs. Rams
St. Louis is 2–3–1 on the road, with wins over bottom feeders Arizona and Buffalo the past two weeks.
Steelers (-4) vs. Bengals
Cincinnati is riding a five-game losing streak against the AFC North rivals from Pittsburgh.
Dolphins (-4.5) vs. Bills
Buffalo beat Miami, 19–14, in Week 11 during a game that featured four FGs and a punt return TD.
Colts (-7) at Chiefs
Indy has only one win by eight or more points this season, on the road at Jacksonville.
Panthers (-9) vs. Raiders
Oakland is 0–4 in the Eastern Time Zone this year, but Carolina can’t be trusted.
Texans (-9) vs. Vikings
Adrian Peterson’s quest to join the 2,000-yard club may hit a Watt wall in Houston.
Packers (-12.5) vs. Titans
Tennessee may need CJ2K to break another 90-plus-yard TD run to stay within a Lambeau Leap.
Broncos (-13) vs. Browns
Peyton Manning will pull off the win, but Cleveland is improved with a 3–1 record the last four weeks.
With nearly one-third of the NFL coaching jobs expected to be vacant by year’s end — including sweet gigs like the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and New Orleans Saints, as well as the revolving doors of the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, Arizona Cardinals and Jacksonville Jaguars — silly season is officially upon us.
As always, the normal retread head coaches and rising star coordinators will be rumored for nearly every job opening. But so will a slew of big-name, high-dollar college football coaches. And with the recent success of the San Francisco 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh (formerly of Stanford), Seattle Seahawks’ Pete Carroll (USC), Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Greg Schiano (Rutgers) and New York Giants’ two-time Super Bowl champ Tom Coughlin (Boston College), the stigma of hiring coaches from the college ranks has faded away.
Here’s a look at the top 10 college football coaches for NFL jobs, along with their pro resume, upside and downside, potential coaching style at the next level, and their odds of eventually ending up on an NFL sideline.
1. Nick Saban, Alabama
Notable NFL experience:
Head Coach, Miami Dolphins (2005-06; 15–17 record)
Def. Coordinator, Cleveland Browns (1991-94; under Bill Belichick)
Pros: Proven winner with NFL experience. Had a 9–7 record with the Dolphins in 2005 — with Gus Frerotte and Sage Rosenfels as his starting quarterbacks.
Cons: The Nick-tator walks on water in Tuscaloosa, where he has a statue just like Bear Bryant and is playing for his third national title in four years. Why would Saban leave?
Imagine: Bill Belichick excessive expectations with Jeff Fisher reasonable results.
Odds: 2-to-1 — It may not be this year, but Saban will return to the NFL one day; he’s too good to coach anywhere other than the big leagues.
2. Chip Kelly, Oregon
No NFL experience
Pros: Fearless, innovative offensive mind. Kelly’s influence is already being felt at the NFL level, with the Patriots’ implementing some of his fast-paced philosophies.
Cons: Not only does Kelly lack any NFL experience, he only has four seasons of head coaching experience on any level under his belt, having gone 45–7 at Oregon.
Imagine: Mike Martz mad scientist with Mike Shanahan mentality.
Odds: EVEN — As soon as the Fiesta Bowl is over, Kelly will fly the Ducks’ coop faster than his hurry-up offense can snap the ball.
3. Les Miles, LSU
Notable NFL experience:
TE Coach, Dallas Cowboys (1998-2000; under Chan Gailey)
Pros: Bold personality who takes charge and manages egos well. Miles has a persona that precedes him and could conceivably command respect in an NFL locker room.
Cons: The perception that LSU does more with Les is based on a history of odd behavior and poor clock management. Miles is a wild card with boom or bust potential.
Imagine: Barry Switzer swagger with Rex Ryan press conference quotes.
Odds: 10-to-1 — One day Jerry Jones will hand the Mad Hatter a white cap with the Cowboys’ blue star on it and Miles will accept the offer.
4. Jim Mora, UCLA
Notable NFL experience:
Head Coach, Seattle Seahawks (2009; 5–11 record)
Head Coach, Atlanta Falcons (2004-06; 26–22 record, 1–1 playoffs)
Def. Coordinator, San Francisco 49ers (1999-2003; under Steve Mariucci)
Son of Jim E. Mora, retired NFL head coach
Pros: High energy, likable personality with NFL pedigree. Mora has a division crown and NFC title game appearance from his days with Michael Vick in Atlanta.
Cons: Mora’s NFL win total went down in each of his four seasons, from 11 to eight to seven to five. He was replaced by two college coaches, Bobby Petrino and Pete Carroll.
Imagine: Jim E. Mora “playoffs?!” offspring with Dick Vermeil enthusiasm.
Odds: 3-to-1 — When the NFL calls, Mora will answer; if he has a few more seasons like this one at UCLA, the phone might ring again.
5. Lane Kiffin, USC
Notable NFL experience:
Head Coach, Oakland Raiders (2007-08; 5–15 record)
Son of Monte Kiffin, retired NFL def. coordinator
Pros: Wunderkind whose experience is remarkable for his age. Kiffin has already coached in the NFL, the SEC and at USC. Lane Kiffin is great at getting hired.
Cons: As impressive as his resume building may be, Kiffin has yet to establish himself as a good coach. This season’s fall from preseason No. 1 to unranked was embarrassing.
Imagine: Josh McDaniels entitlement without Bill Belichick’s blessing.
Odds: 15-to-1 — The youngest coach in NFL history (31 years, 8 months upon hiring) may be gun shy after being burned by Al Davis.
6. Kirk Ferentz, Iowa
Notable NFL experience:
OL Coach, Baltimore Ravens (1996-98; under Ted Marchibroda)
OL Coach, Cleveland Browns (1993-95; under Bill Belichick)
Pros: Belichick disciple who looks the part and can talk the talk. Ferentz has NFL experience and a history of producing quality O-linemen and D-linemen at Iowa.
Cons: The game seems to have passed by Ferentz, at least on an elite level. Ten years ago he was winning conference titles and would have been an exciting hire. Not anymore.
Imagine: Marty Schottenheimer calm under pressure with Chan Gailey intensity.
Odds: 20-to-1 — Overpaid to underachieve for the Hawkeyes, Ferentz has turned down too many chances to change his mind now.
7. David Shaw, Stanford
Notable NFL experience:
QB/WR Coach, Baltimore Ravens (2002-05; under Brian Billick)
QB Coach, Oakland Raiders (2001; under Jon Gruden)
Son of Willie Shaw, retired NFL def. coordinator
Pros: Rising star whose ascension through the ranks has yet to slow down. Shaw is an intelligent grinder who played for both Bill Walsh and Dennis Green at Stanford.
Cons: Much of Shaw’s success has been credited to Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck. He is still in the infant stages of running his own program as a head coach.
Imagine: Jim Harbaugh formula with Jason Garrett sideline demeanor.
Odds: 5-to-1 — Young enough to stay at Stanford for a decade and still make the jump, Shaw should coach on Sundays if he’s not a Cardinal lifer.
8. Steve Sarkisian, Washington
Notable NFL experience:
QB Coach, Oakland Raiders (2004; under Norv Turner)
Pros: Go-getter with tremendous upside. Sarkisian was on the NFL radar even before becoming a college head coach.
Cons: For all his potential, Sark has yet to show he’s anything special — posting a mediocre 26–24 record in four years at UW.
Imagine: Sean Payton confidence with Joe Vitt winning percentage.
Odds: 25-to-1 — It’s too early to call for Sark, who got a taste of the NFL coaching life but didn’t stick around for more than a cup of coffee.
9. Will Muschamp, Florida
Notable NFL experience:
Def. Coordinator, Miami Dolphins (2005; under Nick Saban)
Pros: Fiery personality with respected defensive mind. Muschamp’s Dolphins defense ranked No. 15 overall and allowed 19.8 points per game in 2005.
Cons: Muschamp is a loose cannon who may not have the temperament for big time college football, let alone the pressure cooker of the NFL.
Imagine: Jack Del Rio-level strategist with illusions of Bill Cowher grandeur.
Odds: 50-to-1 — Muschamp’s demeanor is that of a retired NFL player, but he’s not. That act works in college but would not fly in the league.
10. Urban Meyer, Ohio State
No NFL experience
Pros: Big name who would be an instant-gratification hire. Meyer is a calculating coach who can run a football factory, with two BCS national titles and two undefeated seasons.
Cons: Meyer has no NFL experience, has retired or taken a leave of absence twice for health reasons, and runs an offense that is not currently being implemented in the NFL.
Imagine: Steve Spurrier money-grab scheme with Bobby Petrino exit strategy.
Odds: 100-to-1 — If Dan Snyder opens up his wallet or the Cleveland Browns get desperate enough, Meyer might just take the money and run.
A freshman claimed college football’s most prestigious award for the first time ever this season when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel won the Heisman Trophy. But Johnny Football is nowhere near the first frosh to make a splash on the national scene during his rookie season. These are the 10 freshmen — of both the true and redshirt variety — who made the biggest impact in college football history.
1. Herschel Walker, RB, Georgia (1980)
Prior to winning the 1982 Heisman Trophy, Walker was the most dominant running back in the country as a true freshman in 1980. At 6’1”, 225 pounds, Walker possessed the size, speed and power to sprint past or truck through any defender standing in his way — just ask Tennessee’s Bill Bates. Walker rushed for 1,616 yards, on 5.9 yards per carry, and scored 16 total TDs while carrying Vince Dooley’s Bulldogs to a perfect 12–0 record and national championship season.
2. Marshall Faulk, RB, San Diego State (1991)
An unheralded runner out of George Washington Carver High School in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Faulk exploded onto the scene in his first season with the Aztecs. In one of the greatest single-game performances by any player in any class, Faulk posted 37 carries for a then-NCAA record 386 yards and seven TDs against the University of the Pacific in just his second college game. Faulk finished his true freshman season with 1,630 yards from scrimmage, on 7.5 yards per touch, and 23 total TDs.
3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M (2012)
The legend of Johnny Football has reached Paul Bunyan tall tale proportions — and rightfully so. Manziel completed 68.3 percent of his passes for 3,419 yards, 24 TDs and eight INTs through the air, while showing off the open field moves of a punt returner en route to 1,181 yards and 19 trips to the end zone on the ground. The Aggies’ redshirt freshman signal-caller’s signature game came in a 29–24 win on the road at Alabama, where Manziel completed 24-of-31 passes for 253 yards, two TDs and zero INTs, while rushing for another 92 yards and all but locking up this year’s Heisman Trophy.
4. Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma (2004)
“All Day” got off to a quick start with the Sooners, leading the country with 339 carries for a freshman record 1,925 yards and 15 TDs as a true freshman. Peterson led Oklahoma to a BCS national title game appearance, set the freshman record for 100-yard games in a single season with 11 and was runner-up to USC quarterback Matt Leinart in the Heisman Trophy voting — the highest a freshman had ever finished at the time.
5. Ron Dayne, RB, Wisconsin (1996)
Although the “Great Dayne” went on to win the 1999 Heisman Trophy as well as a pair of Rose Bowl MVPs — one of only four players in history to repeat as the prize bloom in Pasadena — the New Jersey native never put up better numbers than he did during his freshman campaign for the Badgers. The 250-pound power back bowled over the competition with a career-high 1,863 rush yards, on 6.3 yards per carry, and 18 TDs. Dayne went on to set the FBS career rushing yards record, thanks in large part to his unbelievable rookie year.
6. George Shaw, CB, Oregon (1951)
The Ducks’ ironman is better known for being a quarterback drafted No. 1 overall by the Baltimore Colts in the 1955 NFL Draft, Shaw hauled in a freshman-record 13 INTs for 136 return yards in just 10 games as a freshman cornerback. The mark remains just one shy of the FBS all-time single-season INT record, trailing Washington’s Al Worley’s 1968 mark by only one INT.
7. Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech (2007)
The first two-time winner of the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s top wide receiver, Crabtree won the triple crown of pass-catchers by leading the country with 134 catches for 1,962 yards and 22 TD receptions. After switching positions from quarterback to receiver, the redshirt freshman out of Dallas’ Carter High School quickly established himself as the greatest first-year receiver in college football history.
8. Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech (1999)
Vick’s reputation has always preceded him, but back in 1999 that meant something entirely different. The redshirt freshman out of Newport News, Va., was supposed to revolutionize the quarterback position with his cannon left arm and track star speed. The Michael Vick Experience was everything it was hyped to be, as No. 7 became the first freshman quarterback to lead his team to the national championship game, while also tying Herschel Walker’s then-freshman-record third-place finish in Heisman Trophy voting.
9. Maurice Clarett, RB, Ohio State (2002)
Although Clarett has become a cautionary tale and a punch line of jokes, he was the best player on Ohio State’s undefeated 2002 national championship team. The local product out of Youngstown’s Warren Harding High School graduated early, participated in spring practice and went on to rush for 1,237 yards, on 5.6 yards per carry, and 18 TDs in his first season for the Buckeyes. In the national title game, Clarett stripped Miami safety Sean Taylor on an INT return before scoring the game-winning TD in overtime — his final carry as a college player.
10. Andy Katzenmoyer, LB, Ohio State (1996)
The “Big Kat” wore two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin’s No. 45 jersey, became the first OSU freshman to start every game at middle linebacker and finished his true freshman season as a second-team All-American and Big Ten Freshman of the Year. Katzenmoyer had 12 sacks, including three in the Rose Bowl, for the 11–1 Buckeyes — whose only lost came at Ohio Stadium against Michigan in the regular season finale.
NFL Week 16 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Falcons (12-2) at Lions (4-10)
Atlanta is one win away from locking up home-field in the NFC Playoffs, which should happen on Saturday night against Detroit’s not ready for prime time players — with the exception of Calvin Johnson, who is the only receiver in history with back-to-back 1,600-yard seasons and is in the midst of a record-tying seven-game 100-yard receiving streak.
Falcons by 9
Titans (5-9) at Packers (10-4)
Green Bay has posted a 6–0 record in Title Town at Lambeau Field since losing its season opener against San Francisco.
Packers by 13
Vikings (8-6) at Texans (12-2)
Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson is 294 yards short of breaking Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984.
Texans by 9
Rams (6-7-1) at Buccaneers (6-8)
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano appears to have hit the rookie wall, losing four straight contests.
Rams by 1
Redskins (8-6) at Eagles (4-10)
Robert Griffin III’s jersey sales continue to break all-time records thanks to games like the one he had against Philly in Week 11 — when RG3 completed 14-of-15 passes and threw four TDs.
Redskins by 6
Saints (6-8) at Cowboys (8-6)
Texas native Drew Brees returns to the state where he won an undefeated Class 5A state title as a senior at Westlake High School in 1996.
Cowboys by 2
Chargers (5-9) at Jets (6-8)
Mark Sanchez has finally been benched, and Greg McElroy — not Tim Tebow — will start against the Chargers’ rolling blackout defense.
Jets by 1
Raiders (4-10) at Panthers (5-9)
The Cats have won three of their last four, but are only 2–5 in Charlotte this season.
Panthers by 6
Bills (5-9) at Dolphins (6-8)
Buffalo beat Miami, 19–14, on Thursday night in Week 11 in a game that featured four FGs and a Leodis McKelvin punt return TD for the Bills.
Dolphins by 5
Bengals (8-6) at Steelers (7-7)
Cincy can clinch its second straight playoff berth if it can snap a five-game losing streak against the Steelers — and do so in Pittsburgh.
Steelers by 3
Patriots (10-4) at Jaguars (2-12)
Expect the frustrated Pats to beat the spots off the clawless Jags in this lopsided matchup.
Patriots by 18
Colts (9-5) at Chiefs (2-12)
Andrew Luck needs just 74 yards to break Cam Newton’s rookie passing record of 4,051 yards.
Colts by 8
Browns (5-9) at Broncos (11-3)
Peyton Manning probably won’t need a John Elway-inspired “Drive” to beat these Browns.
Broncos by 15
Giants (8-6) at Ravens (9-5)
Road warriors last December and January, the G-Men have lost three straight away from home.
Giants by 1
Bears (8-6) at Cardinals (5-9)
After losing five of last six games, Jay Cutler thinks 2012 is “right up there” with 2009.
Bears by 4
49ers (10-3-1) at Seahawks (9-5)
Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll — formerly of Stanford and USC, respectively — renew their Pac-12 rivalry under the lights on Sunday night.
49ers by 1
Last week: 11–5 // This season: 150–75
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The San Francisco 49ers have moved into the top spot after knocking off the previous No. 1 New England Patriots, while no team is playing worse than the Kansas City Chiefs, who were blanked by the Oakland Raiders for the second time in history this weekend.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 15 of the season:
1. 49ers (10-3-1) Colin Kaepernick throws four TDs to beat Pats.
2. Falcons (12-2) Have not lost consecutive contests in 49 games.
3. Patriots (10-4) Suffer defeat at home for first time in 21 games.
4. Texans (12-2) Clinch second straight AFC South title against Colts.
5. Broncos (11-3) Winners of nine straight after 2–3 start to season.
6. Packers (10-4) Riding six-game win streak in NFL’s oldest rivalry.
7. Seahawks (9-5) Third team ever to score 50 in back-to-back weeks.
8. Ravens (9-5) Offense struggles in Jim Caldwell’s first game as OC.
9. Colts (9-5) Andrew Luck sacked five times in loss at Houston.
10. Redskins (8-6) Don’t miss a beat with Kirk Cousins replacing RG3.
11. Giants (8-6) Shutout for first time since 1996 in Atlanta blowout.
12. Cowboys (8-6) Brandon Carr INT sets up game-winning FG in OT.
13. Vikings (8-6) Adrian Peterson now on pace for 2,071 rush yards.
14. Bears (8-6) Have gone 1–5 after starting season with 7–1 mark.
15. Steelers (7-7) Staggering after fourth loss in five games at Big D.
16. Bengals (8-6) A.J. Green has scored TDs in 10 of 14 games in ’12.
17. Rams (6-7-1) Steven Jackson tops 10,000 rush yards in defeat.
18. Saints (6-8) Defense pitches first shutout since 1995 vs. Bucs.
19. Buccaneers (6-8) Freeman throws four INTs, Martin held to 16 yards.
20. Panthers (5-9) Mike Tolbert does Dougie TD dance twice at Bolts.
21. Titans (5-9) CJ2K’s 94-yard TD longest run in NFL since 2006.
22. Dolphins (6-8) Notch season-high 26 first downs in win over Jags.
23. Jets (6-8) Mark Sanchez throws game away with four INTs.
24. Bills (5-9) Fall to 1–4 all-time across border in Toronto Series.
25. Chargers (5-9) Third consecutive TV blackout in Southern California.
26. Browns (5-9) Richardson breaks Jim Brown’s rookie TD record.
27. Cardinals (5-9) Snap nine-game losing streak with win over Lions.
28. Raiders (4-10) Sebastian Janikowski hits five FGs in shutout win.
29. Eagles (4-10) Suffer double-digit losses for first time since 2005.
30. Lions (4-10) Megatron unable to transform statistics into wins.
31. Jaguars (2-12) Chad Henne returns to Miami, promptly loses by 21.
32. Chiefs (2-12) Blanked by Raiders for second time in series history.
It’s fantasy football Super Bowl time. This week, the majority of leagues across the country will crown a champion who will win bragging rights, trophies, a few dollars, a trip to Vegas, who knows? And while every league is different, there are several key players acquired throughout the season who push a contender over the top, regardless of scoring, league size or any other variable.
With that in mind, here’s a look at this year’s best fantasy stars — with a mix of high-rounders who lived up to expectations, longshots who panned out and undrafted All-Pros who helped make up for a few expensive, high-pick busts.
QB – Peyton Manning, Broncos
After at least four neck surgeries and a wiped out 2011 season, even the biggest Manning fans were worried he might not return to top form. But 4,016 yards and 31 TDs later, no one is doubting No. 18 anymore.
QB – Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Those who took a late-round, backup QB flier on RG3 — hoping he would be the second-coming of Cam Newton — have been rewarded with 2,902 passing yards, 748 rush yards and 24 total TDs from the rookie.
RB – Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Just nine months after suffering a brutal knee injury, “All Day” slipped in fantasy drafts due to health concerns. Enjoy the one-year discount. After 1,812 yards and counting, he’s be a top-three pick again in 2013.
RB – Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
“Beast Mode” has been in full effect all season, as Lynch has produced either 100 yards or one TD in nine games this season.
RB – Alfred Morris, Redskins
Unlike most Week 1 waiver wire pickups, the rookie out of Florida Atlantic has continued to shine — with 1,322 yards and nine TDs.
WR – A.J. Green, Bengals
There was no sophomore slump for the Bengals’ go-to wideout. Green has been unbelievably consistent, scoring TDs in 10 of 14 games.
WR – Brandon Marshall, Bears
The highly anticipated reunion with Jay Cutler has gone even better than most anticipated, as Marshall has 107 catches for 1,398 yards and 11 TDs.
WR – Demaryius Thomas, Broncos
If Thomas could catch passes from Tim Tebow, imagine what he could do with Peyton Manning? The answer is 1,210 yards and eight TDs.
TE – Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
The future first-ballot Hall of Famer is going out with 87 catches for 880 yards and eight TDs after being largely overlooked on draft day.
The 35-ring circus of bowl season is full of sideshows, freak shows, split stats and split personalities. And the biggest and best bowls have the most exciting high-wire acts, thanks to their award winners, NFL prospects, high-priced coaches, rabid fan bases and big dog endorsement deals. Here’s a look at 15 weird and wild facts, stats and trends from the best bowls this postseason.
BCS National Championship Game
Monday, Jan. 7, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. Alabama
1. Third Year’s an Irish Charm
In 2010, Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame to replace Charlie Weis and take the golden-dome throne in South Bend. Now in his third season, the 51-year-old is the national coach of the year after leading Notre Dame to a perfect 12–0 record and a spot opposite Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game.
If Kelly’s Fighting Irish are able to take down the Crimson Tide in Miami, he will be the fifth coach in Notre Dame history to win his first national title in his third season at ND:
1943 – Frank Leahy (3rd season, 1st National Title)
1966 – Ara Parseghian (3rd season, 1st National Title)
1977 – Dan Devine (3rd season, 1st National Title)
1988 – Lou Holtz (3rd season, 1st National Title)
2012 – Brian Kelly (3rd season, ???)
2. Roll O-line!
Nick Saban does more good for the NFL as a college coach by preparing future pros who graduate from Saturday to Sunday with relative ease. Over the past four seasons, Alabama has had 24 players selected in the NFL Draft, including 11 first-round picks.
This season, the Crimson Tide offensive line has washed away the opposition. All five members have started all 13 games this season. All five will have NFL careers; four have a chance to go in the first round when they are eligible and/or declare for the draft.
LT – Cyrus Kouandjio, 6’6”, 311, Soph.
LG – Chance Warmack, 6’3”, 320, Sr. (All-America 1st Team)
C – Barrett Jones, 6’5”, 302, Sr. (All-America 1st Team)
RG – Anthony Steen, 6’3”, 303, Jr.
RT – D.J. Fluker, 6’6”, 335, Jr. (All-SEC 2nd Team)
Thursday, Jan. 3, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Oregon vs. Kansas State
3. Kelly Spreads His Wings?
The NFL came calling Oregon coach Chip Kelly last offseason. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers wooed the Ducks’ hurry-up spread offensive mastermind but fell short of their target, ultimately settling for another college coach in Rutgers’ Greg Schiano.
“After numerous discussions, I concluded that I have some unfinished business to complete at the University of Oregon,” Kelly said at the time.
Kelly’s business may be finished after this season, however. With a slew of NFL jobs — Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, etc. — expected to be open, Kelly is sure to be on the top of many lists. After posting a 45–7 record, 33–3 mark in the Pac-12 and four straight BCS bowl berths (including a national title game trip after the 2010 season), Kelly may be flying the coop after the Fiesta Bowl.
Should Kelly leave Phil Knight’s neon Nike outfit for one of Roger Goodell’s shield operations, UO offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is expected to take over in Eugene. But who cares? What jerseys will the Ducks be wearing in Glendale? That’s what people really care about. According to To The Athletes Who, they’ll be Kelly green blurs for at least one more big game.
4. Tostitos Tickets
Kansas State fans will paint University of Phoenix Stadium purple and silver, with waves of Wildcats turning Glendale into Manhattan West. The K-State faithful devoured their 17,500 ticket allotment, then requested an additional 4,000 tickets. Meanwhile, Oregon still had 2,000 tickets left unsold as of mid-December.
This is the Wildcats’ third trip to the Fiesta Bowl, having defeated Syracuse, 35–18, in 1997 and losing to Ohio State, 35–28, in 2004. With a presumed homefield advantage, Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Collin Klein and legendary coach Bill Snyder will look to pull off an upset of the jaded Ducks.
Wednesday, Jan. 2, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Florida vs. Louisville
5. Blind Side Booster
Florida defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is a third-team All-America talent with first-round NFL potential when he chooses to go pro. But he won’t have to exit Gainesville early due to financial hardship. The 20-year-old junior was recently adopted by Kevin Lahn, a booster whose improper benefits resulted in a two-game NCAA suspension for Floyd earlier this season. Lahn was also forced to disassociate himself with his alma mater, South Carolina, during a major NCAA investigation.
But in a case similar to Michael Oher’s famed story in The Blind Side (Oher was adopted by Sandra Bullock, right?), Floyd and Lahn have hit the gapped loophole like a dominant 3-technique D-tackle should. As a result, the NCAA can’t say a word about the 2012 Ford Explorer XLT leased to Floyd, or his new apartment, or the birthday party yacht trip in Miami also attended by Gator teammates Ronald Powell and Dominique Easley — all paid for by Lahn.
“It was not something we planned, but it’s been a natural fit,” Lahn said in an email to USA Today. “My wife and I love Sharrif and he feels the same way about us.”
6. Strong Resumé
Louisville coach Charlie Strong is “getting close” to a contract extension to 2020, according to athletic director Tom Jurich. After turning down the Tennessee job and a potential jump to the SEC, Strong appears to be putting down roots at the U of L, where he has gone 24–14 over three years, including a 10–2 record this season.
Judging by Strong’s coaching history, it looks like the 52-year-old should be the coach at Florida, the team he’s facing in the Sugar Bowl. But Strong was passed over by the Gators and Will Muschamp is in charge of the chomping at The Swamp.
Strong coached under both Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer as part of two national championship teams and four SEC title squads. He coached 13 All-Americans and seven first-round picks during his four stints in Gainesville:
1983-84 – Florida graduate assistant
1988-89 – Florida OLB coach
1991-94 – Florida assistant head coach, DT coach
2003-09 – Florida assistant head coach, defensive coordinator, interim head coach
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ESPN, 8:30 p.m.
Florida State vs. Northern Illinois
7. Werner is Coming
Florida State defensive end Bjoern Werner was born and raised in Berlin, Germany, before becoming a cult hero in Tallahassee, Fla. The Seminoles’ top pass rusher is a 6’4”, 255-pound beast who was named first-team AP All-America this season after recording 18 tackles for 134 lost yards, including 13 sacks for 117 lost yards, along with seven pass beatdowns, one forced fumble and another fumble recovery.
Werner’s relentless effort on the field and international man of mystery style have given him a larger-than-life warrior persona. As a result, an internet meme inspired by the HBO hit series Game of Thrones has gone viral, and the Florida State marching band has made a habit of playing the Game of Thrones theme song in honor of the Seminoles’ chief defender and most popular player.
8. BCS Busters
Northern Illinois has MAC-attacked the BCS this season, crashing the Orange Bowl. Although the Huskies are one of only five schools with 10 or more wins in each of the past three seasons — along with Alabama, LSU, Oregon and Stanford — most casual fans aren’t giving NIU a chance against FSU. History, however, shows that assumption is a flawed one.
Non-Automatic Qualifiers in BCS Bowls:
5–2 record all-time in BCS Bowls
4–1 record vs. Big Six Conferences
Boise State (2–0), Utah (2–0), TCU (1–1) and Hawaii (0–1) have paved the way for Northern Illinois, a team with a superstar of its own in quarterback Jordan Lynch — who passed for 2,962 yards, 24 TDs and five INTs, while rushing for another 1,771 yards and 19 TDs on the ground this season.
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ESPN, 5:00 p.m.
Stanford vs. Wisconsin
9. Kulabafi in the Backfield
Stanford running Stepfan Taylor has posted three straight 1,000-yard, 10-TD seasons. This year, he rumbled for 1,442 yards and 12 TDs on the ground, with another 270 yards and two scores as a receiver out of the backfield.
The workhorse runner had his biggest games in the biggest games — with 213 total yards and two scores in a 21–14 upset of USC, 200 total yards and a TD in a 21–3 win at Cal in The Big Game, 161 rush yards in a 17–14 overtime victory at Oregon, and a combined 302 total yards and three trips to the end zone in back-to-back wins over UCLA in the season finale and Pac-12 title game.
But it is Taylor’s alter-ego, Kulabafi, who makes the most noise on The Farm.
10. Barry’s Bonus
After Bret Bielema bolted Wisconsin to take the same post at Arkansas, many Badgers fans had hopes that UW athletic director and former head football coach Barry Alvarez would return to the sideline in Pasadena for a shot at his fourth win in the Rose Bowl. That wish was granted.
The 65-year-old who coached Heisman Trophy winning runner Ron Dayne and went 3–0 in the Rose Bowl — compared to Bielema’s 0–2 mark in the “Granddaddy of Them All” — is back in charge. And he’s getting a nice pay bump to be coach-slash-AD during the month of December. Alvarez’s $203,500 monthly salary is a $118,500 increase and has a chance to be a cool $168,500 if he can lead the Badgers to victory.
$195,000 – 90 percent of Bielema’s monthly salary as coach
$8,500 – 10 percent of Alvarez’s monthly salary as AD
$50,000 – Rose Bowl winner’s bonus incentive clause
“We weighed the factors involved, including the unique circumstances that developed less than a month before the game, the challenges of the job, the marketplace and his strength as a coach and concluded that this is a reasonable arrangement,” said Wisconsin Board of Regents president Brent Smith.
Friday, Jan. 4, FOX, 8:00 p.m.
Texas A&M vs. Oklahoma
11. Johnny Football’s House
The Cotton Bowl will be played at Cowboys Stadium, while the Heart of Dallas Bowl will kick off at the Cotton Bowl. Makes sense, right? Either way, Jerry’s House will be Johnny Football’s House when the new SEC powers from Texas A&M take on their old Big 12 rivals from Oklahoma.
The first freshman to win college football’s most prestigious award, Johnny Manziel will be the eighth Heisman Trophy winner to play in the Cotton Bowl. It’s a good group that has combined for a 3–4 record in the game.
1948 – Doak Walker, RB, SMU (W, Cotton Bowl)
1963 – Roger Staubach, QB, Navy (L)
1977 – Earl Campbell, RB, Texas (L)
1984 – Doug Flutie, QB, Boston College (W)
1985 – Bo Jackson, RB, Auburn (L)
1987 – Tim Brown, WR, Notre Dame (L)
1998 – Ricky Williams, RB, Texas (W)
Monday, Dec. 31, ESPN, 7:30 p.m.
LSU vs. Clemson
12. Playing Chicken
Only the Mad Hatter would have a conflict of interest involving fried chicken. LSU coach Les Miles has an endorsement deal with Raising Cane’s, a chicken finger joint that opened in Baton Rouge in 1996 that has since expanded to 17 states nationwide.
As a result of his business partnership, Miles has refused to chow down on any of the Chick-fil-A spread during pre-bowl functions and festivities.
“I have a chicken issue,” said Miles, adding to his surreal reputation.
Capital One Bowl
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ABC, 1:00 p.m.
Georgia vs. Nebraska
13. Plan B Bowl
According to Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, the Capital One Bowl would have preferred to invite Texas A&M and Northwestern to town. But after both the SEC and Big Ten objected, the bowl relented and reached out to the runners-up of both conference’s championship games, Georgia and Nebraska.
“You have to understand that we’ve had a 20-year relationship with the SEC and Big Ten where we’ve had the top (non-BCS) selection from those conferences. That’s an important place to be and we’d like to continue that relationship,” said Steve Hogan, executive director of the Capital One Bowl.
Tuesday, Jan. 1, ESPN, 1:00 p.m.
South Carolina vs. Michigan
14. NFL Scouting Combine
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is currently the clear-cut No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 NFL Draft. Meanwhile, Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan is jockeying for position as a first-round prospect in this year’s draft. All eyes will be on Lewan as he takes on Clowney in easily the most talented one-on-one matchup of this year’s bowl schedule.
Saturday, Dec. 29, ESPN, 6:45 p.m.
Oregon State vs. Texas
15. Dreaded Vote of Confidence
Texas coach Mack Brown has a 21–16 record over the past three seasons and appears to be losing considerable ground in the Lone Star State — which has produced the past two Heisman Trophy winners in Baylor’s RG3 and Texas A&M’s Johnny Football, neither of whom were offered to wear burnt orange as quarterbacks. Now, the 61-year-old has been given the dreaded vote of confidence from his bosses.
“Now that the Longhorn football team has finished its regular season, there has been an increase in media speculation about Coach Mack Brown’s future,” wrote University of Texas president Bill Powers. “I’d like to state unequivocally that Coach Brown has my full support as well as the support of Men’s Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds. Put succinctly, Mack Brown is and will remain the Longhorns’ head football coach.”
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 15.
Locks of the Week
Rematches of heated rivalries, a neutral site home game in Canada and a nine-game losing streak all look good to go this week.
Packers (-2.5) at Bears
Green Bay took down arch-rival Chicago 23–10 in Week 2. The Bears have lost four of their last five contests.
Raiders (-3) vs. Chiefs
Oakland handed Kansas City a 26–16 loss at Arrowhead in Week 8. Things have only gotten worse for K.C. since that.
Seahawks (-6) vs. Bills (at Toronto)
Buffalo is 1–3 all-time at “home” in the Rogers Centre in Ontario, Canada. The Hawks are soaring after a 58–0 win last week.
Lions (-6.5) at Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald’s dad is right; Arizona has given up. If Detroit can’t win by more than a TD, Jim Schwartz may join Ken Whisenhunt on the open market this offseason.
These games may or may not be straight up upsets, but they should be closer than the numbers they’re up against.
Panthers (+3) at Chargers
The Cats have won two of their last three games, with Cam Newton accounting for a combined 10 TDs by land and air.
Jaguars (+7.5) at Dolphins
Chad Henne returns to Miami, where he was once the starter. Since Henne took over in J-Ville, the Jags have lost by eight or more just once in four games.
Colts (+9) at Texans
Houston may clinch its second straight AFC South title, but it won’t come easy against Indianapolis, whose only loss in its last eight games was at New England.
Unless you’re a compulsive degenerate or a hometown homer, stay away from these games completely.
Falcons (-1) vs. Giants
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew stomped out the Dirty Birds 24–2 in the playoffs last year, but Atlanta owns the Georgia Dome.
Steelers (-1.5) at Cowboys
Big Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo could throw the ball back and forth to the wrong team all afternoon.
Rams (-3) vs. Vikings
Minnesota is 1–5 on the road this season, but St. Louis plays tight games, with four 3-pointers and another tie.
Broncos (-3) at Ravens
Peyton Manning takes on his old Indy coach, Jim Caldwell, who replaces the recently fired Cam Cameron as OC in Baltimore.
Saints (-4) vs. Buccaneers
New Orleans marched to a 35–28 win at Tampa Bay in Week 7, but Drew Brees has thrown nine INTs in the last three weeks.
Patriots (-6) vs. 49ers
A potential Super Bowl preview. Wait until the actual Super Bowl to bet on a matchup between these two powerhouses.
Monday Night Money
The last game of Week 15 is the time to get back or let it ride, depending on how the weekend went.
Titans (-1.5) vs. Jets
The Monday night party is in Hank Williams Jr. and his rowdy friends’ hometown, expect CJ2K to go honky tonkin’ against the Jets.
Off the Board
With RG3’s sore knee in play, Las Vegas doesn’t want this Skins game on the Big Board until as late as possible. Still, let’s guess the line.
Redskins (N/A) at Browns
Robert Griffin III will redefine the term “cornball brother” by taking a bite out of the Dawg Pound. Take the Redskins (-6)?
NFL Week 15 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Bengals (7-6) at Eagles (4-9)
Philadelphia ended its eight-game losing streak — the team’s longest run of futility in 42 years — on a last-second TD at Tampa Bay. Now the Eagles look to end a four-game losing streak at home. If they do, the game will be a close one; Philly’s four wins this season have come by a combined six points.
Bengals by 3
Packers (9-4) at Bears (8-5)
Green Bay took down arch-rival Chicago, 23–10, on Thursday night in Week 2. The Bears went on a six-game winning streak after that embarrassing loss in the NFL’s oldest rivalry. Chi-town has lost four of its last five contests.
Packers by 5
Colts (9-4) at Texans (11-2)
The AFC South’s old guard, Indianapolis, won seven of the division’s first nine titles. But there appears to be a new sheriff in town. Houston will clinch its second straight division crown with a win over Indy this week.
Texans by 6
Broncos (10-3) at Ravens (9-4)
Peyton Manning’s old coach, Jim Caldwell, makes his debut as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, replacing the recently fired Cam Cameron as the team’s play-caller.
Broncos by 3
Jaguars (2-11) at Dolphins (5-8)
Jacksonville is a predictable, balanced attack — but not in any way an NFL team should be. The Jags have lost nine of their last 10 games and rank 31st in both offense and defense.
Dolphins by 7
Redskins (7-6) at Browns (5-8)
Cleveland missed out on a chance to trade up — the Browns held the No. 4 and 22 overall picks in the 2012 NFL Draft — for Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. If that wasn’t bad enough, fans at the Dawg Pound might miss out on one of their few chances to watch RG3 if the rookie phenom rests his injured knee.
Redskins by 1
Vikings (7-6) at Rams (6-6-1)
Adrian Peterson’s quest to become the seventh running back to rush for 2,000 yards — or, as he tells it, his mission to top Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season mark of 2,105 yards — goes up against St. Louis and Jeff Fisher, who coached the Titans’ Chris Johnson during his CJ2K season (2,006 rush yards) back in 2009.
Rams by 1
Buccaneers (6-7) at Saints (5-8)
Drew Brees has thrown four TDs and nine INTs during the Aints’ current three-game losing streak. But Brees threw four TDs and one INT during a 35–28 win at Tampa Bay in Week 7.
Saints by 5
Giants (8-5) at Falcons (11-2)
Atlanta has a 3–2 record since starting the year 8–0, with losses to division rivals New Orleans and Carolina. That said, New York’s Blue Blue Wrecking Crew is probably not the most welcome Georgia Dome guest this week. The Giants demolished the Falcons the last time the teams met, in a 24–2 blowout in the Wild Card Round of last year’s NFC Playoffs.
Falcons by 2
Seahawks (8-5) at Bills (5-8)
The fifth regular-season game of the Bills’ Toronto Series will kick off indoors at the Rogers Centre in Ontario, Canada. “At home” across the border, the Bills have a 1–3 record.
Seahawks by 5
Panthers (4-9) at Chargers (5-8)
Ron Rivera and Norv Turner coach for their jobs. Both teams are fresh off of wins, but they’ve also combined for a 3–7 record since Week 10.
Chargers by 4
Lions (4-9) at Cardinals (4-9)
One of the NFL’s three longest losing streaks will end this week, as Detroit (six-game slide) hits Arizona (nine-straight defeats).
Lions by 5
Chiefs (2-11) at Raiders (3-10)
The once-proud rivalry between the franchises long run by the late, great Lamar Hunt and Al Davis has fallen on hard times. Oakland won, 26–16, at Kansas City in Week 8.
Raiders by 3
Steelers (7-6) at Cowboys (7-6)
Pittsburgh and Dallas have squared off on Super Sunday three times — in Super Bowls X, XIII and XXX. The pressure will be on both teams this week, as the clock is running out on the 2012 season. The Steelers have lost three of their last four, while the Cowboys have earned wins in four of their last five.
Steelers by 1
49ers (9-3-1) at Patriots (10-3)
San Fran’s sledgehammer defense is led by sack artist Aldon Smith, who has 19.5 sacks this season — with more than one sack in seven games and zero sacks in three contests. New England’s high-powered offense will be tougher to take down, however. Tom Brady’s crew has averaged 40.6 points per game over their current seven-game winning streak.
Patriots by 2
Jets (6-7) at Titans (4-9)
Since the Monday night party’s in Nashville, maybe Hank Williams Jr. will get rowdy again.
Titans by 1
Last week: 10–6 // Season: 139–69
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The New England Patriots have moved into the top spot after knocking out previous the No. 1 Houston Texans, while no team is playing worse than the recently humiliated Arizona Cardinals.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 14 of the season:
1. Patriots (10-3) March to seventh straight victory in MNF statement.
2. Texans (11-2) Six-game winning streak ends in decisive fashion.
3. Falcons (11-2) Lose to Panthers for second time in last 10 games.
4. Broncos (10-3) Stampede to eighth straight victory against Raiders.
5. 49ers (9-3-1) Aldon Smith sets team single-season sacks record with 19.5.
6. Packers (9-4) Earn 22nd consecutive home win over rival Lions.
7. Seahawks (8-5) Rush for 284, hold Cards to 43 yards on ground.
8. Redskins (7-6) Griffin suffers mild LCL sprain in fourth straight win.
9. Giants (8-5) Eli throws four TDs for first time since Sept. 2011.
10. Ravens (9-4) Defense can’t stop RG3 backup rookie Kirk Cousins.
11. Colts (9-4) Andrew Luck leads sixth fourth-quarter comeback.
12. Vikings (7-6) Adrian Peterson on pace for 1,969 rushing yards.
13. Bears (8-5) Jay Cutler suffers neck injury in upset loss to Vikes.
14. Steelers (7-6) Ben Roethlisberger returns, throws three TDs in loss.
15. Cowboys (7-6) Dedicate victory to fallen teammate Jerry Brown.
16. Bengals (7-6) Burn timeouts early, unable to stop clock late in loss.
17. Rams (6-6-1) Win three straight games for first time since 2006.
18. Saints (5-8) Paul Tagliabue vacates player bounty suspensions.
19. Buccaneers (6-7) Post second three-game losing streak of season.
20. Jets (6-7) Tim Tebow spends J-Ville homecoming on bench.
21. Panthers (4-9) Back up Hardy’s promise of “payback” vs. Falcons.
22. Chargers (5-8) First win at Pittsburgh in 15 regular-season visits.
23. Browns (5-8) Have more wins than 2011 after three-game streak.
24. Titans (4-9) Confused, call QB sneak on first down in loss at Indy.
25. Bills (5-8) C.J. Spiller to carry load after Fred Jackson injury.
26. Dolphins (5-8) Jonathan Martin struggles to replace Jake Long at LT.
27. Lions (4-9) Fifth straight loss in prime time at snowy Lambeau.
28. Eagles (4-9) End eight-game slide with Nick Foles’ first victory.
29. Raiders (3-10) Is it Terrelle Pryor time after sixth straight defeat?
30. Jaguars (2-11) Mike Mularkey hospitalized for undisclosed illness.
31. Chiefs (2-11) Dwayne Bowe done for season due to broken ribs.
32. Cardinals (4-9) Ken Whisenhunt’s ninth straight loss a 58–0 margin.
Tom Brady may not have had much sleep on Sunday night — since he and wife Gisele Bundchen welcomed baby daughter Vivian Lake to the family on Dec. 5 — but the New England Patriots quarterback sure looked well-rested during a 42–14 win over the Houston Texans in prime time on Monday night.
Brady completed 21-of-35 passes for 296 yards, four TDs and zero INTs during the 28-point win, marking the future Hall of Famer’s 14th four-TD game and his 36th game with at least three TDs as well as zero INTs — trailing only Peyton Manning (37) on the all-time list.
The near-perfect performance came at just the right time, against a team many felt was the best in the league heading into the high-profile contest.
“It was a big game because they were 11–1, leading the AFC and we had to see where we’re at, see where we match up against the better teams in the league,” said Brady. “We lost to Baltimore, who’s winning their division; we beat Denver, who’s leading their division; and we beat the Texans, who are leading their division. It’s always good to win these games.”
Winning big games at Foxborough in December — and January and February, for that matter — is nothing new for New England during the Brady and Bill Belichick era.
The Patriots have won 20 straight home games in December, with their last loss coming against the Jets on Dec. 22, 2002. Overall, the Pats have won 13 straight in December, last losing to the Panthers on Dec. 19, 2009.
New England carries an NFL-best 43–5 record in December since 2001 — Brady’s first season as the starter and Belichick’s second season at the helm. During that stretch, the Patriots have gone undefeated in December seven times (2001, ’03, ’05, ’07, ’08, ’10 and ’11). This season, two of its final three regular-season games are at home, giving New England a great chance to earn a first-round bye in the AFC Playoffs.
Brady and Belichick have made the playoffs together nine times. In six of those postseasons, the Patriots have been either a No. 1 or 2 seed. They advanced to the Super Bowl in five of those seasons.
Fresh off a big win, with a short week to prepare for an aggressive San Franchisco 49ers defense, the Patriots will need to be firing on all cylinders this week — which will be played in prime time, on Sunday night.
New England has scored 472 points through 13 weeks, putting it on pace for 581 points — eight points shy of the record Brady and Co. set in 2007. But, in classic Brady-Belichick fashion, the previous weeks don’t matter. The upcoming December showdown with the 49ers is all that matters.
“We have played in a lot of big games in December,” said Brady. “It needs to come together now. This is the perfect time for it.”
The players and coaches may hog the spotlight, but success in sports usually starts from the top. Those owners who sign the checks and make the right hires have the ability to not only change the fate of their respective teams, but to significantly improve their sport and, in some cases, impact the course of history. These are 10 of the best examples of the greatest owners in sports history.
1. The Rooney family, Pittsburgh Steelers (1933-present)
The model of consistency, the Rooney family has embodied the perfect combination of success, tradition and work ethic since Art Rooney founded the Pittsburgh Steelers — then known as the Pittsburgh Pirates — in 1933. Chomping on a cigar, “The Chief” oversaw four Super Bowl championships (IX, X, XIII, XIV) before handing over the reins to his son, Dan Rooney, in 1975. The Steelers have won two more Super Bowls (XL, XLIII) since then, giving Pittsburgh an NFL-best six Vince Lombardi Trophies. Dan’s son, Art Rooney II, took over the top spot in the family business in 2003.
Though their regional roots are undeniable, the Steelers have become a national brand, thanks to the vision of the Rooney family. From the signature Steelmark logo of the American Iron and Steel Institute on the players’ helmets to the yellow “Terrible Towel” waved by fans nationwide to the “Steel Curtain” defense, Pittsburgh’s identity is strong as steel. And the brand loyalty extends to the coaching ranks, as the Steelers have only had three coaches — Chuck Noll (1969-1991), Bill Cowher (1992-2006) and Mike Tomlin (2007-present) — in the Super Bowl era.
Off the field, Dan Rooney was named the 30th United States Ambassador to Ireland and is credited with the advent of the “Rooney Rule,” which requires teams to interview at least one minority candidate for all head coach and general manager vacancies.
2. Jerry Buss, Los Angeles Lakers (1979-present)
The card-playing chemist bought the L.A. Lakers in 1979 and it has been “Showtime” ever since. Buss has signed the checks for 10 NBA champions over three distinct eras. First, Pat Riley, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won five rings (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988). Then, Phil Jackson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant three-peated (2000-2002). Most recently, Jackson, Kobe and Pau Gasol repeated as champs (2009-2010). Buss’ Lakers are not only the NBA’s premier brand, courtside seats at the Forum and Staples Center have also become a status symbol among the who’s who in Hollywood — with Jack Nicholson leading the way in shades.
3. Robert Kraft, New England Patriots (1994-present)
Kraft saved the Patriots from being moved to St. Louis by James Orthwein, purchasing the down-on-its-luck franchise for a then-NFL-record $175 million in 1994. It’s been smooth sailing ever since. In the 19 seasons Kraft has been at the helm, New England has posted just two losing seasons, while making 14 playoff appearances, five trips to the Super Bowl and winning three Super Bowl titles. And there have been only three coaches to lead Kraft’s Patriots — Bill Parcells, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick. And while Kraft is cool enough to hang out with rock star Jon Bon Jovi on the sideline, he is savvy enough to hire the best minds in the business to run his team.
4. Walter A. Brown, Boston Celtics (1945-1964)
The founder of the Celtics in 1945 and one of the founders of the Basketball Association of America in 1946, Brown was instrumental in shaping the NBA as it is known today. Brown, who was also the president of the famed Boston Garden, hired Red Auerbach as the architect of his empire, signed off on the selection of Chuck Cooper as the first black player drafted into the NBA and won seven championships in eight seasons (1957, 1959-1964) prior to his death in 1964. Fittingly, the NBA championship trophy was named the Walter A. Brown Trophy until 1984.
5. Conn Smythe, Toronto Maple Leafs (1927-1961)
Speaking of trophies, the Conn Smythe Trophy is given to the MVP of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. The award is named after one of the greatest men in hockey history. A veteran of both World Wars I and II, Smythe purchased the St. Patricks on Valentine’s Day 1927 and changed the identity of the franchise — renaming the club as the Maple Leafs, opening the new Maple Leaf Gardens arena in 1931 and winning eight Stanley Cup titles (1932, 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1951 and 1962) during his unbelievable run.
6. Walter O’Malley, Brooklyn/L.A. Dodgers (1944-1979)
Prior to owning the Dodgers, O’Malley served as the team’s general counsel. O’Malley became a minority owner in the team in 1944 before taking majority control in 1950. O’Malley, along with team president Branch Rickey, made a significant racial and cultural impact by signing Jackie Robinson, who became the first-ever black MLB player in 1947. O’Malley was also responsible for bringing MLB to the West Coast, after moving the team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1958. During O’Malley’s reign, the Dodgers won 13 NL pennants and four World Series.
7. George Steinbrenner, New York Yankees (1973-2010)
“The Boss” bought the Bronx Bombers from CBS in 1973 and restored the proud tradition of the pinstripes — winning the seven World Series titles (1977, 1978, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2009) during his notorious reign. The volatile Steinbrenner wamted to win by any means necessary. And he had plenty of means to sign the most expensive (if not always the best) players money could buy, thanks in large part to his bold yet brilliant launching of the YES Network. A larger-than-life persona, Steinbrenner dressed as Napoleon on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1993 and was classically caricatured on NBC’s hit sitcom “Seinfeld” during his heyday.
8. Ted Turner, Atlanta Braves (1976-2007)
Captain Courageous won the America’s Cup in 1977 after starting on his voyage to make the Atlanta Braves “America’s Team” by broadcasting their games on his super-station, Turner Broadcasting System, upon purchasing the club in 1976. With a motto that he would “rather sink than lose,” Turner was a media mogul and maverick with a team that won 14 consecutive division titles from 1991 to 2005 and the 1995 World Series title — all while being broadcast from coast-to-coast.
9. George Halas, Chicago Bears (1920-1983)
“Mr. Everything” was the 1919 Rose Bowl MVP and also recorded two hits for MLB’s New York Yankees before becoming the iconic namesake of the George Halas Trophy, which is given annually to the winner of the NFC Championship Game. “Papa Bear” founded the Chicago Bears, then known as the Decatur Staleys, in 1920 and remained the main man until his death in 1983. Halas was everything to the Bears, serving as owner and coach en route to six NFL championships (1921, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1946 and 1963).
10. Green Bay Packers, Inc. (1923-present)
Fans have taken the Lambeau Leap of faith, putting their money where their cheese goes since the beginning. According to the team’s official website: “Green Bay Packers, Inc., has been a publicly owned, nonprofit corporation since Aug. 18, 1923, when original articles of incorporation were filed with Wisconsin’s secretary of state.” The nine-time NFL champions and four-time Super Bowl champs (I, II, XXXI, XLV) — or, better yet, Vince Lombardi Trophy winners — have been supported financially through five stock sales, in 1923, 1935, 1950, 1997 and 2011.
10 Worst Owners in Sports History
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 14.
Locks of the Week
Three of the worst teams in the league will be flown over by the sputtering J-E-T-S, soaring Dirty Birds and upstart Hawks.
Jets (-3) at Jaguars
Tim Tebow’s homecoming game will be a referendum on Mark Sanchez. J-Ville has eight losses by four or more points.
Falcons (-3.5) at Panthers
The Cats are 1–5 in Charlotte and riding a five-game losing streak at home; all of those losses have been by four or more points.
Seahawks (-10) vs. Cardinals
Arizona is on an 0–8 slide, while Seattle is 5–0 at home — with the only single-digit winning margins coming against the Patriots and Packers.
Straight Up Upsets
The RG3 and Andrew Luck love fests will take the week off against regional and divisional underdogs.
Ravens (+3) at Redskins
Since a Week 10 bye, RG3 is 3–0 with 667 passing yards, 185 rushing yards, nine TDs and just one INT.
Titans (+6) at Colts
Indy pulled off a 19–13 overtime win in Nashville in Week 8, and the Horseshoes are 5–1 at home this season.
These may not be straight up upsets, but the underdogs in the fight should show enough fight to keep these closer than their numbers.
Saints (+5) at Giants
The G-Men have lost three of their last four, while the Aints have lost back-to-back games against the 49ers and Falcons.
Chiefs (+6.5) at Browns
Peyton Hillis thinks former teammate Joe Thomas is “kind of like a crazy ex-girlfriend, you know? It’s been over a year. Get over it.”
Chargers (+7.5) at Steelers
Only two of Pittsburgh’s seven wins have been by eight or more points — against the Jets (27–10) in Week 2 and Redskins (27–12) in Week 8.
Dolphins (+10) at 49ers
Miami is 2–4 on the road, but only one of those losses came by double-digits — a Texas-sized 30–10 loss in Week 1 at mighty Houston.
Stay away from these games unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who always has to have action.
Bears (-3) at Vikings
Jay Cutler says he “won’t break the bank” in his upcoming contract negotiations, you shouldn’t either.
Bengals (-3) vs. Cowboys
Tony Romo has 10 TDs and just two INTs over his last five games. Turn your hat backwards and push your chips in.
Bills (-3) vs. Rams
St. Lunatic corner Janoris Jenkins has three TDs over the past two weeks; Buffalo back C.J. Spiller has three TDs over the past 10 weeks.
Patriots (-4) vs. Texans
Houston is 6–0 on the road this season. But has New England ever lost at home in December with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick?
Packers (-7) vs. Lions
Green Bay rallied for a 24–20 win at Detroit in Week 11. But Ndamukong Suh has been practicing his karate since then.
Buccaneers (-7.5) vs. Eagles
Andy Reid’s walrus mustache makes its way to the Tampa-St. Pete area for the latest chapter in a Salvidor Dali-style surreal season.
The Quarterback Class of 2012 is off to a fast start. Led by Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Washington’s Robert Griffin III and Seattle’s Russell Wilson, the Class of 2012 has a solid base to build on. But they have a long way to go to catch up with the greatest quarterback classes in NFL history.
Most drafts have one or two serviceable passers, the majority of these 10 had multiple Super Bowl caliber signal-callers:
1. Class of 1983
Still the standard by which all quarterback classes are measured. Of the 16 signal-callers selected — including six in the first round — 12 started in the NFL, four led their teams to the Super Bowl and three were inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton.
To get the party started, Stanford two-sport star and No. 1 overall pick John Elway demanded a trade from the Baltimore Colts to the Denver Broncos, while Pitt gunslinger Dan Marino nearly fell out of the first round before landing with the Miami Dolphins.
John Elway (Colts, No. 1) *
Dan Marino (Dolphins, No. 27) *
Jim Kelly (Bills, No. 14) *
Tony Eason (Patriots, No. 15)
Ken O’Brien (Jets, No. 24)
Todd Blackledge (Chiefs, No. 7)
Gary Kubiak (Broncos, No. 197)
3 Hall of Famers *
2 NFL MVP awards
2 Super Bowl wins
11 Super Bowl trips
499 career wins
196,787 passing yards
1,212 passing TDs
2. Class of 2004
Another blockbuster trade involving a “can’t miss” No. 1 overall pick shifted the balance of power in recent NFL history. Archie Manning’s son, Peyton Manning’s little brother and Ole Miss royalty Eli Manning forced a trade from the San Diego Chargers to the New York Giants — a deal that shipped NC State’s Philip Rivers from coast-to-coast.
Miami (Ohio) tough guy Big Ben Roethlisberger got off to the fastest start, going 13–0 as a rookie with six game-winning drives. Eli and Big Ben have combined to play in five of the last seven Super Bowls, winning four. Virginia product Matt Schaub went from Michael Vick’s backup in Atlanta to the starter for the Houston Texans and is poised to make his playoff debut this season.
Eli Manning (Chargers, No. 1)
Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers, No. 11)
Philip Rivers (Giants, No. 4)
Matt Schaub (Falcons, No. 90)
4 Super Bowl wins
5 Super Bowl trips
21–11 playoff record
3. Class of 1949
Although three eventual Hall of Fame quarterbacks were selected in 1949, five passers were drafted before any of the Canton bust trio — including four of the top nine picks. George Blanda became the oldest player in NFL history (48 years, 109 days), Norm Van Brocklin still holds the single-game record for passing yards and Jim Finks was the architect of the four-time Super Bowl runner-up Minnesota Vikings after his playing days were over.
George Blanda (Bears, No. 119) *
Norm Van Brocklin (Rams, No. 37) *
Jim Finks (Steelers, No. 116) *
Frank Tripucka (Eagles, No. 9)
Bobby Thomason (Rams, No. 7)
John Rauch (Lions, No. 2)
Stan Heath (Packers, No. 5)
3 Hall of Famers *
3 AFL championships
2 NFL championships
2 MVP awards (AFL, NFL)
554 passing yards (single-game record, Van Brocklin)
7 passing TDs (single-game record, Blanda)
4. Class of 1971
As accomplished as this class was, there is still a lingering feeling of what might have been. Stanford Heisman winner Jim Plunkett won two Super Bowls with the Raiders after washing out with both the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers. Ole Miss patriarch Archie Manning was beat down before siring a pair of No. 1 overall pick, Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.
Notre Dame golden boy Joe Theismann never played a down for the Miami Dolphins, opting instead to play for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts before leading the Washington Redskins to a pair of Super Bowl trips and one win. Augustana (Ill.) underdog Ken Anderson remains one of the underrated passers of his generation.
Jim Plunkett (Patriots, No. 1)
Joe Theismann (Dolphins, No. 99)
Ken Anderson (Bengals, No. 67)
Archie Manning (Saints, No. 2)
Lynn Dickey (Oilers, No. 56)
Dan Pastorini (Oilers, No. 3)
3 Super Bowl wins
5 Super Bowl trips
2 NFL MVP awards
160,089 passing yards
946 passing TDs
102 rushing TDs
5. Class of 1984
Steve Young was the top prospect in the 1984 USFL and CFL Supplemental Draft — which also included future Hall of Famers Reggie White and Gary Zimmerman as well as Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier. The dual-threat lefty Young went on to become one of the greatest playmakers of all-time after serving as the most overqualified backup in the game to Joe Montana.
Maryland’s Boomer Esiason was the first QB taken in the amateur draft. Both Esiason and West Virginia’s Jeff Hostetler played on Super Sunday, with Hostetler winning it all for Bill Parcells’ New York Giants after taking over for an injured Phil Simms.
Steve Young (Buccaneers, No. 1 – Supplemental Draft) *
Boomer Esiason (Bengals, No. 38)
Jeff Hostetler (Giants, No. 59)
Jay Schroeder (Redskins, No. 83)
Randy Wright (Packers, No. 153)
1 Hall of Famer *
2 Super Bowl wins
3 Super Bowl trips
2 NFL MVP awards
6. Class of 1998
Other than hothead flameout Ryan Leaf, this class is notable for its slow burn. Despite being in their 15th season, Peyton Manning, Matt Hasselbeck and Charlie Batch have all been starting quarterbacks at times during 2012 — combining for a 12–7 record, 35 TDs and 16 INTs through Week 13. Clearly, Manning carries the statistical load, but Hasselbeck led the Seattle Seahawks to a Super Bowl appearance, Batch has proven serviceable and Brian Griese was a solid starter during his prime.
Peyton Manning (Colts, No. 1)
Matt Hasselbeck (Packers, No. 187)
Charlie Batch (Lions, No. 60)
Brian Griese (Broncos, No. 91)
Ryan Leaf (Chargers, No. 2)
4 NFL MVP awards
1 Super Bowl win
3 Super Bowl trips
128,408 passing yards
827 passing TDs
7. Class of 1979
Washington State’s “Throwin’ Samoan” went No. 3 overall but it was Notre Dame’s “Joe Cool” who went on to become arguably the greatest quarterback of all-time despite falling all the way to No. 82 in the draft.
Joe Montana (49ers, No. 82) *
Phil Simms (Giants, No. 7)
Jack Thompson (Bengals, No. 3)
1 Hall of Famer *
5 Super Bowl wins
2 NFL MVP awards
8. Class of 1956
Coached by Bear Bryant at Alabama and Vince Lombardi with the Green Bay Packers, Bart Starr was the MVP of Super Bowls I and II after falling all the way to No. 200 overall in the draft. Picked 198 spots ahead was Michigan State’s Earl Morrall, who was Don Shula’s go-to guy — losing Super Bowl III for the Baltimore Colts before going 9–0 in place of Bob Griese for the champagne perfect 17–0 Super Bowl VII champion 1972 Miami Dolphins.
Bart Starr (Packers, No. 200) *
Earl Morrall (49ers, No. 2)
Gary Glick (Steelers, No. 1)
1 Hall of Famer *
2 Super Bowl wins
3 Super Bowl trips
2 NFL MVP awards
9. Class of 1948
Drafted by the Chicago Bears but immortalized as a Detroit Lion, Bobby Layne was a larger than life character who regularly drank beer and smoked cigarettes at halftime. The "Bald Eagle," Y.A. Tittle was a pioneer who did everything but win an NFL championship during his brilliant career.
Bobby Layne (Bears, No. 3) *
Y.A. Tittle (Lions, No. 6) *
Harry Gilmer (Redskins, No. 1)
George Ratterman (Bills, No. 139)
2 Hall of Famers *
2 NFL MVP awards
T-10. Class of 1985
After some shady wheeling and dealing, Miami’s Bernie Kosar landed with his hometown Cleveland Browns via the Supplemental Draft. UNLV’s Randall Cunningham fell just short of the Super Bowl with both the Philadelphia Eagles and Minnesota Vikings. Boston College’s Doug Flutie and Maryland’s Frank Reich both had brief shining moments with the Buffalo Bills.
Bernie Kosar (Browns, No. 1 – Supplemental Draft)
Randall Cunningham (Eagles, No. 37)
Doug Flutie (Rams, No. 285)
Frank Reich (Bills, No. 57)
Steve Bono (Vikings, No. 142)
2 Comeback Player of the Year awards
T-10. Class of 1995
The late Alcorn State great Steve “Air” McNair shared co-MVP honors with Peyton Manning and led the Tennessee Titans on one of the most memorable drives in Super Bowl history — falling one yard short against the St. Louis Rams. Penn State’s Kerry Collins threw for 38,709 yards and 196 TDs. Colorado miracle maker Kordell Stewart took the league by storm as “Slash” with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Steve McNair (Oilers, No. 3)
Kerry Collins (Panthers, No. 5)
Kordell Stewart (Steelers, No. 60)
Todd Collins (Bills, No. 45)
Rob Johnson (Jaguars, No. 99)
1 NFL MVP award
2 Super Bowl trips
The Tennessee Volunteers’ search for a football coach continues. Athletic director Dave Hart has already had his wish list decimated. Jon Gruden, Bob Stoops, Jimbo Fisher, Mike Gundy and Charlie Strong have all reportedly turned down the Big Orange, checking the “no” box on the orange and white checkerboard.
As if running through the “T” made by the Pride of the Southland Marching Band, the Volunteers are at a crossroads and must decide in which direction Peyton Manning’s alma mater is headed.
After marking off so many big-time names, now is not the time for the Vols to be indecisive or settle for the first coach who says “yes.” Now is the time to make a bold move to re-establish UT football. Now is the time for Tennessee to hire Jim Tressel.
Jim Tressel is the best coach available
Because of the off-field NCAA baggage Tressel brings from Columbus, Ohio, he is currently on the market. It can be argued that he should remain jobless. His prior on-field coaching résumé and results, however, cannot be denied.
“The Vest” has a 241–79–2 combined record (74.8 winning percentage) over 25 years as a college coach. At Youngstown State, Tressel went 135–57–2, with four Division I-AA national championships and six national championship game appearances in 15 seasons from 1986-2000. At Ohio State, Tressel carried a 106–22 record from 2001-2010, with seven Big Ten titles, eight BCS bowl appearances, three BCS national title game appearances and an undefeated 14–0 BCS national championship campaign in 2002.
But the Buckeyes boss cracked under NCAA pressure, failing to report violations and lying to investigators in the now infamous “Tattoo-Gate” scandal. As a result, Tressel was fired at Ohio State, stripped of 12 wins from the 2010 season and given a five-year show cause by the NCAA — but more on that later.
Tennessee needs to hire a proven coach
For the third time in four years, there is a vacancy at the pinnacle of Rocky Top. The chair where the head football coach sits remains empty. Not the humiliating stool where Derek Dooley squatted to whine his way to a 16–21 record over three seasons or the airline seat in which Lane Kiffin sat to fly across the country after one soap opera season, but the throne where Phillip Fulmer, Johnny Majors and Robert Neyland combined to build an empire — a proud football program that has claimed six national championships and 16 conference titles.
The Vols are not going to a bowl game for the second straight season; they’ve failed to qualify for a bowl in three of the last five seasons and four of the last eight. At this point in program history, UT can’t go out on a limb with a hotshot assistant or an unproven son-of-a big shot. Tennessee needs to ink a real deal coach who has proven himself prior to arriving in Knoxville.
The Volunteers are a sleeping giant…
Despite all their recent struggles, the Vols remain one of the few potential national championship-caliber programs. Only 11 schools have raised the crystal after winning the BCS national championship — Tennessee is one of them, having won the inaugural BCS title game following the 1998 season.
National title aspirations aren’t pie in the sky dreams, they’re a recent reality for a team that finished in the final AP Top 25 in all but four of Fulmer’s 17 years in charge but has failed to do so in the four seasons since.
Tennessee also boasts 102,455-seat Neyland Stadium and top-flight facilities that have pumped full of Manning money. The traditions of the Vol Walk, running through the T, the Vol Navy, checkerboard end zones, Smokey howling and fans singing “Rocky Top” are all attractive selling points. There have been 12 Volunteers drafted in the first round and 63 total since 2000, albeit only three total in the past two draft classes.
…but Tennessee is certainly not a quick fix
The climb back to bowl eligibility, Top 25 rankings, SEC East title contention and, ultimately, BCS bowl invitation status will take time. The stagnant last years of Fulmer, cut-and-run tactics of Kiffin, and arrogant ignorance of Dooley have compounded problems and made the reclamation project an uphill battle.
No doubt, there would be instant results under Tressel, who turned 60 on Dec. 5. But the proven program builder with a reputation for disciplined teams and a conservative style would need time of his own while dealing with the NCAA noose around his neck.
After being given “at least four different opportunities to report” information on players receiving impermissible benefits, Tressel was slapped with a five-year show cause — meaning Tennessee would have to receive permission from the Committee on Infractions and “show cause” for not being penalized as a result of hiring Tressel.
From there, Tressel would be suspended from team meetings, practices and games for the first five weeks of the season. Tennessee would be ineligible for a bowl during Tressel’s first season. The university and its new coach would also have to meet with the NCAA every six months until Dec. 2016. Otherwise, barring additional NCAA action, it would be business as usual after the first five weeks of Tressel's tenure.
The Vest would look great in Big Orange
In the wake of the Bruce Pearl fiasco, Tennessee would catch plenty of heat early on from high-horsed, holier-than-thou media and message board types. But in the long run, if Tressel ran a clean program, the UT-Tressel combination could result in another decade of dominance for the Volunteers.
Or, Tennessee can go with Plan E, F, or G. Hart can hire a middling man he never really wanted for the job in the first place and then do this all over again in three or four years.
NFL Week 14 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Broncos (9-3) at Raiders (3-9)
Denver MVP candidate Peyton Manning had his best game of the season against Oakland in Week 4, throwing for a season-high 338 yards, three TDs and zero INTs during a 37–6 win that pulled the Broncos back to the .500 mark with a 2–2 record. Manning lost to Tom Brady’s Patriots the following week, but has reeled off seven straight wins since then.
Broncos by 10
Ravens (9-3) at Redskins (6-6)
The hits keep on coming for Robert Griffin III. After making his four-TD Thanksgiving debut, RG3 shined under the lights in his first appearance on Monday Night Football. Up next: The Battle of the Beltway. Since a Week 10 bye, Griffin has thrown for 667 yards, nine TDs and one INT, while rushing for another 185 yards and leading the Skins to a 3–0 record.
Redskins by 2
Cowboys (6-6) at Bengals (7-5)
After throwing nine TDs and 13 INTs with a 3–4 record over his first seven games, Tony Romo has thrown 10 TDs and just two INTs with a 3–2 mark over his last five games.
Bengals by 2
Rams (5-6-1) at Bills (5-7)
St. Louis rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins has scored three TDs — on two pick-sixes and a fumble recovery — over the past two weeks, or as many as Buffalo running back C.J. Spiller has scored over the last 10 weeks this year.
Rams by 1
Eagles (3-9) at Buccaneers (6-6)
Philly puts its eight-game losing streak on the line against a Tampa team that is the definition of mediocre — 3–3 at home, 3–3 on the road.
Buccaneers by 6
Falcons (11-1) at Panthers (3-9)
Atlanta earned a 30–28 win over Carolina in Week 4 thanks to a game-winning FG by Matt Bryant with just five seconds remaining.
Falcons by 8
Chiefs (2-10) at Browns (4-8)
Romeo Crennel returns to Cleveland, where he went 24–40 in four years as the team’s coach. In the four seasons since, the Browns have an 18–42 record (and counting).
Browns by 3
Chargers (4-8) at Steelers (7-5)
With Ben Roethlisberger already sidelined, 2004 draft classmate Philip Rivers will try to avoid a similar fate as he takes on the Steel Curtain without three starting O-linemen.
Steelers by 6
Titans (4-8) at Colts (8-4)
The legend of Andrew Luck grew in Week 8, when Indy pulled off a 19–13 overtime win in Tennessee. But home is where the heart is, as Luck and Co. are 5–1 at Lucas Oil Field.
Colts by 4
Jets (5-7) at Jaguars (2-10)
The Tim Tebow three-ring circus has added a third QB just as Tebow heads back home to Jacksonville. Mark Sanchez and Greg McElroy both played while Tebow watched with injured ribs last week. Who knows which QB(s) will play this week. Meanwhile, the Jaguars are running out of winnable games as they look to avoid the worst season in team history — a 4–12 mark in their inaugural season of 1995.
Jaguars by 1
Bears (8-4) at Vikings (6-6)
Chicago’s O-line could be out for justice against Minnesota sack artist Jared Allen, whose illegal block on guard Lance Louis resulted in a torn ACL during a 28–10 Bears win in Week 12.
Bears by 6
Dolphins (5-7) at 49ers (8-3-1)
Don’t expect Marino or Montana-style passing in this Super Bowl XIX rematch.
49ers by 9
Cardinals (4-8) at Seahawks (7-5)
Arizona got the best of Seattle during a 20–16 win in Week 1. But this game will be played at CenturyLink Field, where the Hawks are 5–0.
Seahawks by 9
Saints (5-7) at Giants (7-5)
The roller-coaster ride season continues for New Orleans. After an 0–4 start, the Saints went 5–1. Since then, Drew Brees and Co. are channeling the Aints, with back-to-back 10-point losses to the 49ers and Falcons. In those games, Brees has thrown a combined three TDs and seven INTs, while taking six sacks.
Giants by 4
Lions (4-8) at Packers (8-4)
The wheels have fallen off for Detroit. The Lions have lost four consecutive contests, including three straight when leading in the fourth quarter with 2:00 left in regulation — becoming the first team to match that streak of collapsing futility since 2000. In Week 11, the Packers saw one such meltdown up close in a 24–20 win.
Packers by 8
Texans (11-1) at Patriots (9-3)
The Pats just locked up their 12th straight winning season by clinching their fourth consecutive division title. Meanwhile, the 10-year-old Texans secured just their second-ever playoff berth. Houston is 6–0 on the road this season, but that perfect streak will be put to the ultimate test in prime time on Monday night.
Patriots by 1
Last week: 9–7 // Season: 129–63
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams. The Houston Texans remain the top team, while the Jacksonville Jaguars moved back to the bottom this week.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 13 of the season:
1. Texans (11-1) Punch playoff ticket, set franchise record for wins.
2. Falcons (11-1) Earn NFC South title for second time in three years.
3. Patriots (9-3) Tom Brady becomes first QB to win 10 division titles.
4. Broncos (9-3) Von Miller’s pick-six adds to Defensive POY resumé.
5. Steelers (7-5) James Harrison forced fumble shifts momentum.
6. Ravens (9-3) Fifteen-game winning streak in Baltimore snapped.
7. 49ers (8-3-1) Lose to Rams on Greg Zuerlein 54-yard FG in OT.
8. Packers (8-4) Have won 10 consecutive games vs. NFC North foes.
9. Bears (8-4) Tied with Packers for division lead following defeat.
10. Giants (7-5) Can’t catch RG3, have lost three of last four games.
11. Seahawks (7-5) Third straight win at second home in Soldier Field.
12. Colts (8-4) First game-winning TD with no time left since 1990.
13. Bengals (7-5) Fourth consecutive win ends on Andy Dalton TD run.
14. Redskins (6-6) RG3 breaks Cam Newton’s rookie QB rushing record.
15. Saints (5-7) Drew Brees’ TD streak ends at 54 on five-INT night.
16. Vikings (6-6) Adrian Peterson runs wild for 210 yards in defeat.
17. Cowboys (6-6) Tony Romo breaks Troy Aikman’s TD record in win.
18. Rams (5-6-1) Just 26 ticks away from second tie in four weeks.
19. Buccaneers (6-6) Unable to stop Broncos’ ironman star Mitch Unrein.
20. Jets (5-7) Sanchez benched, Tebow inactive, McElroy cheered.
21. Chargers (4-8) Low voltage Bolts have lost seven of last eight games.
22. Titans (4-8) David Stewart (leg), Steve Hutchinson (knee) injured.
23. Dolphins (5-7) Sloppy execution results in fifth straight loss to Pats.
24. Bills (5-7) Ryan Fitzpatrick answers critics with win over Jags.
25. Lions (4-8) Ndamukong Suh cheap shots, late collapses a trend.
26. Browns (4-8) Earn first victory on the road since Sept. 18, 2011.
27. Cardinals (4-8) Ryan Lindley struggles in Cards’ eighth straight loss.
28. Eagles (3-9) Nick Foles to start at QB for remainder of season.
29. Raiders (3-9) “Can’t stop the run” or “the pass,” says Michael Huff.
30. Chiefs (2-10) Jovan Belcher murder-suicide a Kansas City tragedy.
31. Panthers (3-9) Unable to maintain MNF momentum in loss at K.C.
32. Jaguars (2-10) Mike Mularkey blown out in return trip to Buffalo.
Apparently no one told this year’s rookie class of quarterbacks about the proverbial “rookie wall,” which, for years, has stood as an obstacle to stardom for even the best and brightest.
Four-time Super Bowl champion Terry Bradshaw threw six TDs and 24 INTs in his first season. Two-time Super Bowl winner John Elway started off by completing just 47.5 percent of his passes, with seven TDs and 14 INTs. Four-time MVP Peyton Manning broke the single-season INT record as a rookie, throwing 28 picks.
Even for future Hall of Famers, the wear and tear of an NFL season can be too much to bear during that first go-round as a professional.
But this season, first-year signal-callers are playing some of their best football down the stretch.
Seven rookie quarterbacks started in Week 13, posting a combined 4–3 record. Three, in particular, stood out — Seattle’s undersized underdog Russell Wilson, Indianapolis’ No. 1 overall pick Andrew Luck and Washington’s Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III — en route to close-call victories that kept their respective teams alive in the playoff hunt.
Wilson led a 12-play, 97-yard scoring drive for a go-ahead touchdown in a 23–17 upset at Chicago. The 5'11" dynamo took charge of the huddle and then marched the Seahawks down the field for just their second road win of the season
“I just told the guys, ‘This is what the season comes down to, right here and right now,’” said Wilson, a third-round draft pick at No. 75 overall.
Across the Great Lakes in Detroit, Luck threw a 14-yard game-winning touchdown pass to Donnie Avery as time expired on a 35–33 comeback victory over the Lions. The winning play — a short dump off toss that Avery hustled across the goal line — capped an 11-play, 75-yard drive and secured another “Chuck Strong” win for the Colts, who are 8–4 this season after finishing with a league-worst 2–14 record last season.
“You always hesitate throwing the ball not in the end zone, for fear of the clock running out with a guy in bounds,” said Luck. “Took the calculated risk that Donnie could get there in the end zone, and he did.”
Finally, on Monday night, RG3 outran the Big Blue Wrecking Crew of the defending Super Bowl champs, during a 17–16 win over the Giants. The win moves the Redskins to 6–6 and just one game behind the Giants in the NFC East division race.
The dynamic dual-threat run-pass ability of Griffin was on full display against a New York defense that was gasping for air all night long.
“If he stays healthy,” said Giants defensive end Justin Tuck, “he’s going to be a havoc on defenses for a long time.”
When it’s all said and done, that could be the case for several members of the quarterback class of 2012.
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 13.
Locks of the Week
Three quarterbacks with chips on their shoulders take on two of the most inconsistent teams in the league and the worst squad.
Panthers (-3) at Chiefs
Eight of Kansas City’s 10 losses have come by four or more points; Cam and Co. are riding a wave of momentum into Arrowhead.
Texans (-6.5) at Titans
Despite a 141-yard effort from Chris Johnson, Tennessee lost at Houston, 38–14, in Week 4. Now, it’s coming off a loss at Jacksonville.
Broncos (-7) vs. Buccaneers
Three of Denver’s four wins at Mile High have been by 10 or more points; the other win was by exactly seven points. The one loss was to 10–1 Houston in Week 3.
Straight Up Upsets
Measuring stick games for two teams with pride to play for against a pair of playoff squads that have been up-and-down this year.
Chargers (+2) vs. Bengals
It will be obvious this week whether the Bolts have already turned off the lights on 2012 or if there is still juice flowing through the powder blue roster.
Redskins (+3) vs. Giants
If RG3’s Thanksgiving debut is any foreshadowing of his Monday Night Football debut, there may not be much Big Blue can do about Bob.
Big numbers have not been kind this season, but there’s a good chance these three division contests get ugly.
Patriots (-9) at Dolphins
In the old days, Tom Brady had trouble in Miami. But that’s back when Jason Taylor was a sack champ and Ricky Williams was taking rushing crowns.
Packers (-9) vs. Vikings
Green Bay discount-double-checker Aaron Rodgers is 4–0 against Minnesota since his good buddy Brett Favre beat him twice back in 2009.
Cowboys (-10.5) vs. Eagles
Betting against Philly rookie Nick Foles is always a good bet; the Eagles lost 38–23 at home to the Cowboys in Week 10, Foles’ first NFL game action.
Stay away from these games completely unless you are a hometown homer or a degenerate who has to have action at all times.
Bears (-3.5) vs. Seahawks
Over the past two years, Chi-town is 15–5 with Smokin’ Jay Cutler starting and 0–6 without him.
Jets (-4.5) vs. Cardinals
These two flightless clubs both have 4–7 records and their coaches’ jobs to play for. Now that’s motivation.
Bills (-6) vs. Jaguars
Chad Henne has taken the Texans to overtime and taken down the Titans since taking over for Blaine Gabbert.
49ers (-7.5) at Rams
This is a rematch of the 18th overtime tie in NFL history, Week 10’s entertaining 24–24 NFC West stalemate.
Off the Board
The big board in Las Vegas doesn’t want to touch these games until later on, so we’ll wager on what the final line will be.
Steelers at Ravens (n/a)
Seven of the last nine games in this series have been decided by exactly three points, but not this time. Take the Ravens (-4.5)?
Browns at Raiders (n/a)
The race to the bottom — or top of the NFL Draft order, as it were — starts with this brown-or-blackout. Take the Raiders (-2.5)?
New York Jets superfan Fireman Ed penned a guest column in the Metro declaring his intentions to quit his unofficial post as the team’s mascot, following the 49–19 Thanksgiving Day massacre loss to the rival New England Patriots.
The man known to some as Ed Anzalone, former firefighter at Ladder 28 in Harlem, but to many as Fireman Ed, a crazed Jets fanatic and season-ticket holder since 1976, will no longer lead the “greatest chant in all of sports,” as he calls it. Fireman Ed will not lead the famed, “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” cheer ever again because of more frequent “confrontations with other Jets fans.”
“I love the guy’s passion and energy he would bring,” said Jets coach Rex Ryan. “He’s a great fan. I really admire him. He was great. If we do our job on the field, that ‘Jets’ chant will continue.”
After losing Darrelle Revis and Santonio Holmes, the Jets must now fill the void left by their recently retired superfan, who “will attend games as usual, just not as Fireman Ed.”
So who's going to fill Fireman Ed's shoes? Here are 10 candidates who would be perfect to take over as New York’s No. 1 Jets fan:
Mark Sanchez’s backup might be better utilized as the Jets’ top cheerleader in the stands at MetLife Stadium rather than the highest profile bench player on the planet. Any role would have to be more productive than Tebow’s current purgatory — which has been low-lighted by seven pass attempts and 29 carries for a combined 126 total yards.
In fact, Tebow is indirectly responsible for Fireman Ed’s evacuation. “The stadium has become divided because of the quarterback controversy,” Ed said. “The fact that I chose to wear a Mark Sanchez jersey this year and that fans think I am on the payroll — which is an outright lie — have made these confrontations more frequent.”
Tebow is on the Jets’ payroll and would bring over-the-top positive energy all game long. As the J-E-T-S cheerleader, Tebow would probably be more mixed up in the quarterback controversy than he already is — whether he wore his own No. 15 jersey or supported Sanchez by wearing a green No. 6 just like Fireman Ed.
Maybe “J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!” has run its course. Imagine “Gangnam Style” remixed as “Gang Green Style.” Maybe it’s time to get the New York crowd back on their high horses and dancing with a remix from the South Korean K-pop star PSY. Jets bowties would spread like wild fire.
3. The Village People
Fireman Ed likes to dress up, so do these guys. There’s a cop, chief, cowboy, biker and who knows what else. Plus, as an added bonus, these guys have plenty of practice leading large crowds in four-letter songs. Instead of Y-M-C-A, the new Village voice would lead the chant of J-E-T-S.
4. Jenn Sterger
The former Jets sideline reporter has been a superfan before — becoming internet famous as an FSU Cowgirl, thanks to Brent Musburger commenting that “1,500 red-blooded Americans just decided to apply to Florida State” after seeing her on national television during the 2005 FSU-Miami game.
But the model, actress and hostess really hit the big time when she was involved in a Jets quarterback controversy of a different kind, as the object of Brett Favre’s obsession late in 2010. It’s about time the Jets brought her back into the mix; they should send her a text or leave a voicemail to see if she’s interested.
5. Minka Kelly
Derek Jeter’s former fiancé played a football cheerleader on “Friday Night Lights,” giving her New York sports cred and gridiron cheering chops. She’s also the daughter of one-time Aerosmith guitarist Rick Dufay, so there’s no doubt she would have thousands of rabid fans waving their lighters in the air. Oh, and she's really, really hot. So there's that.
6. Fire Marshal Bill
The Jim Carrey character from “In Living Color” isn’t a fireman but he is a fire marshal who can “show ya something” about surviving the type of dumpster fires these Jets have been battling all season. Fire Marshal Bill Burns would bring electricity to the crowd and dump Gatorade on himself after every win.
7. Mark Gastineau
The chairman of the 1980’s New York Sack Exchange is the father of Kim Kardashian’s BFF Brittny. A former ‘roid rager who would not be intimidated by any confrontations, Gastineau would be the perfect green Hulk to lead Jets cheers. In fact, he already made his mark on the 2012 season during the team’s Ring of Honor ceremony with a drunken acceptance speech that SI.com’s Jimmy Traina called “Joe Namath Part II.”
8. Brett Favre
When you’re a Jet, you’re a Jet all the way, right? Well, Favre was kind of a Jet back in 2008, when he threw for 3,472 yards, 22 TDs and 22 INTs for the 9–7 Jets. Sure, he missed the playoffs, sent some infamous pictures of his watch and Crocs to a team employee and was fined $50,000 for not cooperating with an NFL investigation. But is that really worse than the season Sanchez is having?
Plus, it would never get so bad where Favre would have to walk away Fireman Ed-style. Just the opposite, a few “F-A-V-R-E! Favre! Favre! Favre!” chants and No. 4 would be back out there as a 43-year-old gunslinger showing Sanchez and Tebow how to play a little throw-and-catch and a lot of show-and-text.
9. Cast of MTV's Jersey Shore
Jets Guidettes like Snooki and J-Woww would be all about the drama that Fireman Ed is trying to get away from. And The Situation, Pauly D, Ronnie and Vinny would be fist-pumping all game and ready to J-E-T-S after G-T-L and t-shirt time. Plus, East Rutherford, N.J., is near their old neighborhood on the Jersey Shore.
10. Rex Ryan
No one is New York or New Jersey talks as big or bold as Rex Ryan, who back-to-backed it up with consecutive trips to the AFC title game early in his reign. But now, Ryan can’t keep his locker room or fan base from splintering. He might as well put on a Sanchez jersey like Fireman Ed — of whom Ryan said, “If he could play linebacker, I’d use him.” And the way the season is going compared to his own unrealistic expectations, Ryan might have some time on his hands next season.