Articles By Nathan Rush
NFL midseason awards at halftime of the 2012 NFL season:
Most Valuable Player
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
“Matty Ice” has been as cool as they come this season. The fifth-year signal-caller out of Boston College has completed 68.9 percent of his passes for 2,360 yards, 17 TDs and six INTs for a 103.0 passer rating, while leading the Falcons to a franchise-record 8–0 start to the season. Up next: Securing home field advantage for Atlanta and winning the first playoff game of his career.
Offensive Player of the Year
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Knee surgery? What knee surgery? “All Day” has been trucking defenders since Day 1 this season. In fact, Peterson is on pace for a career year, with a league-leading 957 yards, on 5.7 yards per carry, and six trips to the end zone thus far. And he’s averaging a staggering 106.3 yards per game while carrying the load for the Vikes.
Defensive Player of the Year
J.J. Watt, DE, Texans
In only his second season in the NFL, Watt has established himself as the premier 3-4 end in the league. A pass-rushing, football-batting beast in the trenches, Watt has recorded 10.5 sacks and 10 pass deflections in just eight games this season, leading a Houston stop-unit ranked third in total defense and fourth in scoring defense.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
The most competitive category on the ballot, RG3 barely leads Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and Bucs running back Doug Martin. The Skins’ dual-threat has 2,522 total yards, 14 total TDs and five turnovers, with a 93.9 passer rating in nine games.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Chandler Jones, DE, Patriots
The little brother of MMA fighter “Bones” Jones has been making opposing offensive linemen tap out in his first season, tallying 6.0 sacks and three forced fumbles as New England’s top splash-playmaker.
Comeback Player of the Year
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Manning is back in the saddle after missing the entire 2011 season due to a neck injury. And the 15th-year vet is as good as ever, completing 69.5 percent of his passes for 2,404 yards, 20 TDs and six INTs for a 108.6 passer rating through eight games.
Coach of the Year
Lovie Smith, Bears
The 2005 Coach of the Year has Chicago sitting in first place in the NFC North — the NFL’s only division with no sub-.500 teams. The Bears boast a league-best plus-116-point differential this season.
The Top 5 reasons why Les Miles and the LSU Tigers will beat Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide:
1. Tiger Stadium on Saturday Night
LSU refuses to lose at Tiger Stadium on Saturday night under coach Les Miles. The Tigers are 36–1 after nightfall at Tiger Stadium with the Mad Hatter eating grass and rocking his white hat on the sidelines. The only loss came against Tim Tebow and No. 1-ranked Florida in a 13–3 defeat in 2009. The Tigers have reeled off 22 straight wins at home since then, with a rowdy crowd of 90,000-plus cheering them to routine victory.
Bama coach Nick Saban — who coached at LSU from 2000-04 — knows how hard it is to win under the lights at LSU, even if the Vegas oddsmakers (Alabama –8.5) don’t show the same level of respect to Baton Rouge.
2. Bayou Bengals’ Defensive Line
The Tigers’ defensive front four rotation is loaded with future NFL first-round picks. Defensive ends Sam Montgomery (6’5”, 260), Barkevious Mingo (6’5”, 240) and Lavar Edwards (6’5”, 258) are devastating with their edge rush, while big nasty defensive tackles Anthony Johnson (6’3”, 304), Bennie Logan (6’3”, 295), Josh Downs (6’1”, 287) and Ego Ferguson (6’3”, 308) collapse the pocket and clog running lanes.
Granted, Alabama has the best O-line in the country. But Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron has been spoiled to this point, playing with a clean jersey all season. LSU will need to slam McCarron to the turf a few times, while also maintaining gap responsibilities against the run. The Bayou Bengals’ defensive line is good enough to carry LSU to an upset victory.
3. Les Miles in Mad Hatter Mode
More with Les. Fake field goals, fake punts, fourth-down conversions, end-arounds, halfback passes, two-point conversions… Les Miles is a big game hunter who is unafraid of making outside the box decisions and bold moves other coaches cringe at the thought of. Miles likes to howl at the moon, with a 57–5 record at night — including a 9–6 overtime victory over Alabama under the cover of darkness in Tuscaloosa last season — compared to a 25–14 mark during day.
4. Punter Brad Wing Does It Again
Australian punter Brad Wing was arguably the MVP of last year’s defensive 9–6 LSU overtime win at Alabama. Wing single-handedly controlled field position for the Tigers, allowing the defense to pin its ears back and the offense to play conservative. Wing’s punting exhibition included the following gems:
37-yard punt, out of bounds at Alabama 5-yard-line
35-yard punt, downed at Alabama 4
27-yard punt, fair catch at Alabama 11
73-yard punt, downed at Alabama 18
35-yard punt, fair catch at Alabama 20
If Wing has another night with five punts placed inside the 20, two inside the five and a momentum-changing 73-yard bomb, LSU can beat Alabama.
5. Clock Killing Running Attack
LSU has a fleet of running backs in Kenny Hilliard (420 yards, 6 TDs), Michael Ford (357 yards, 3 TDs), Jeremy Hill (322 yards, 5 TDs) and Spencer Ware (255 yards). The Tigers also have a versatile ex-quarterback slash option in Russell Shepard (106 yards, 78-yard TD) and a sledgehammer fullback in J.C. Copeland (3 TDs). Alabama’s backs are flashier, but LSU’s runners have combined to rush for 1,667 yards, on 4.9 yards per carry, and 20 TDs this season.
If the lathered up Tiger Stadium crowd is Geaux-ing insane all night, the Bayou Bengals’ defensive line is eating like big dogs, Les Miles is pulling rabbits out of his hat and Brad Wing is flipping the field like an Australian toilet swirl, it will be the LSU running game that seals the deal — moving the chains, draining the clock and upsetting No. 1-ranked Alabama.
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 9.
Lock of the Week
It’s put up or shut up time for Detroit. Last year will officially be a fluke if Motor City can’t run over J-Ville.
Lions (-4) at Jaguars
Four of Jacksonville’s six defeats have been by nine or more points, including margins of 38 and 20 points in home losses.
The biggest numbers are not always the biggest risks on the board.
Texans (-10.5) vs. Bills
Four of Houston’s six wins have come by 20 or more points, while three of Buffalo’s four losses have been by 20 or more points.
Straight Up Upsets
Redemption song games for Cam Newton and Mike Vick, who will face two of the worst defenses this week.
Panthers (+3.5) at Redskins
Rather than Cam Newton, RG3 wants to “be compared to Aaron Rodgers, or a guy like that. Someone who’s won Super Bowls.”
Eagles (+3.5) at Saints
New Orleans’ hapless defense is ranked dead last 32nd in the league, allowing 474.7 yards and 30.9 points per game.
These two may or may not be straight up upsets, but they should be close calls decided by a field goal.
Bengals (+4) vs. Broncos
Peyton Manning is 7–0 all-time vs. Cincy, with 1,827 yards, 17 TDs and three INTs. But he can win without covering…
Cowboys (+4.5) at Falcons
The Boys have been losing and the Birds have been winning, but both teams have been doing so by slight margins.
Steer clear of these unless you’re a hometown homer with something to prove or a degenerate with an itch to scratch.
Dolphins (-1) at Colts
It’s hard to bet against Andrew Luck, but probably not smart to bet on the Colts.
Raiders (-1) vs. Buccaneers
The Jon Gruden Bowl in the Black Hole could come down to a Sea Bass field goal.
Giants (-3.5) vs. Steelers
Pittsburgh is flying in on Sunday morning before running this New York marathon.
Bears (-4) at Titans
Vanderbilt alum Jay Cutler’s homecoming game in Nashville could be INT party.
Seahawks (-4.5) vs. Vikings
Pete Carroll thinks there’s no way Bama could beat an NFL team. How bout LSU?
Packers (-11) vs. Cardinals
When given respect, Green Bay has failed to cover against supposedly inferior teams.
Animal nicknames are nothing new in sports. San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval — a.k.a. the “Kung Fu Panda” — was recently named World Series MVP after an unbelievable October. Fans at AT&T Park wore panda hats to support their rotund slugger playing the hot corner. But Sandoval is not the only high profile player or coach who is better known by a name from the great outdoors.
Here’s a look at the 25 best animal nicknames in sports history:
Eldrick Woods, PGA prodigy
The 14-time major champion was nicknamed in honor of his father’s friend Col. Vuong Dang “Tiger” Phong, with whom Earl Woods served during the Vietnam War. Never has a nickname been so appropriate. Until recently, Tiger had an invincible aura when in red on Sunday, with the death stare of a big cat about to pounce. Would Tiger have been Tiger — the socioeconomic golf pioneer, Nike heir to Michael Jordan and personification of killer instinct in the clutch — had he gone by Eldrick?
Paul Bryant, Alabama icon
As the tall tale goes, a 13-year-old Bryant wrestled a bear at the Lyric Theatre in Fordyce, Arkansas. Although Bryant didn’t get the money he was promised, he earned the nickname “Bear.” With a name befitting a mythical character and a signature fedora-style houndstooth hat to match, Bear won six national championships and 14 SEC titles en route to becoming the most legendary coach in college football history.
3. Black Widow
Jeanette Lee, Billiards babe
A Korean-American killer on the pool table, Lee wears all-black and devours her opponents. The former No. 1 ranked female pool player in the world is also not afraid to sex it up with low cut shirts, tight skirts and/or high heels at the table, and skimpy bikinis in photo shoots.
4. Big Dog
Glenn Robinson, NBA ball hog
Although Antoine Carr was already known as the “Big Dog,” Robinson made it his own as the national player of the year at Purdue, the No. 1 overall pick of the Milwaukee Bucks (ahead of both Jason Kidd and Grant Hill) in 1994 and two-time All-Star.
5. Kung Fu Panda
Pablo Sandoval, World Series MVP
Inspired by the Disney movie, fans in San Francisco rock their panda hats with pride, supporting their lovable Venezuelan third baseman who looks amazingly similar to his cartoon character namesake. The World Series MVP Panda can’t stop smiling these days, after bamboo-sticking for a .364 average, six HRs and 13 RBIs in this year’s playoffs.
Kenny Stabler, NFL party animal
The Oakland Raiders’ lefty leader was a sidewinding scrambler on and off the field. The Super Bowl XI champion and 1974 NFL MVP was in charge of the controlled chaos of Al Davis’ Silver-and-Black franchise during the team’s heyday. And the Snake enjoyed every minute of his time on top. Stabler still carries the Snake mantle — sorry Jake Plummer, WWF wrestler Jake the Snake, and every other guy named Jake ever.
7. Black Mamba
Kobe Bryant, Lakers legend
Oregon track star running back De’Anthony Thomas was also given the Black Mamba moniker, by Snoop Dogg no less. But the five-time NBA champion, 14-time All-Star and two-time Olympic gold medalist is the O.G. Black Mamba.
Anderson Silva, Brazilian badass
UFC president Dana White called Silva, the UFC Middleweight Champion, the “greatest mixed martial artist ever.” Spider is a superhero in the ring, nearly on par with his hero Spider-Man.
Daryl Johnston, Cowboys fullback
The bull-headed Johnston bulldozed a path for the NFL’s all-time leading rusher Emmitt Smith. With Cowboys fans screaming “Moooose!” at the top of their lungs, Johnston became a cult hero while winning three Super Bowls.
10. Raging Bull
Jake LaMotta, Boxer by De Niro
The Bronx Bull was immortalized by director Martin Scorcese and actor Robert De Niro in the 1980 film based on LaMotta’s 1970 memoir, Raging Bull: My Story.
“And though I’m no Olivier
If he fought Sugar Ray
He would say
That the thing ain’t the ring, it’s the play
So give me a stage
Where this bull here can rage”
11. Golden Bear
Jack Nicklaus, PGA gold standard
The blond-haired Nicklaus was an Upper Arlington (Ohio) High School Golden Bear through and through. And 18 major championships later, his achievements remain the measuring sticks for golfers now and yet to come.
12. Great White Shark
Greg Norman, Aussie entrepreneur
Jeff Samardzija was the Shark as a wide receiver at Notre Dame and pitcher with the Chicago Cubs. But there is no aquatic hunter greater than the Great White Shark of Norman. The Australian may have “only” won two major championships, but he did make millions off his clothing line, winemaking and golf course design with Great White Shark Enterprises.
13. Pink Panther
Paula Creamer, LPGA girlie girl
Not since Molly Ringwald has a girl looked as pretty in pink as Creamer, the 26-year-old U.S. Women’s Open champion.
Dennis Rodman, NBA cross-dresser
Dennis the Menace could squirm his way to any loose ball during his days as a seven-time rebounding champion, five-time NBA champion and two-time Defensive Player of the Year. He was also bad as he wanted to be with Madonna and ex-wife Carmen Electra.
15. The G.O.A.T.
Jerry Rice, NFL record book
Not to be confused with New York City playground basketball legend Earl “The Goat” Manigault. Rice was a 13-time Pro Bowl selection, three-time Super Bowl champ, two-time Offensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl XXIII MVP and the holder of just about every receiving record in the book; thus the acronym G.O.A.T. — Greatest of All-Time.
16. The Beast
Yohan Blake, Second-fastest Jamaican
Usain Bolt’s training partner is the second-fastest man alive and a Beast of a track star. But the weird claw thing he does with his hand when the camera is on is just creepy. Please stop doing that, Yohan.
17. Sea Bass
Sebastian Janikowski, NFL kicking ass
Although he may be less famous than Cam Neely’s character in Dumb and Dumber (“Kick his ass, Sea Bass!”), Sebastian is one of three kickers ever to be drafted in the first round and arguably the MVP of this year’s Oakland Raiders.
18. Big Tuna
Bill Parcells, NFL coaching tree
Who do you think Parcells is, Charlie the Tuna? The two-time Super Bowl champ may not be the StarKist Tuna mascot, but he’s probably the most famous tuna in the sea.
Craig Stadler, PGA doughboy
The 1982 Masters Champion is well known for his Walrus mustache and physique. But he’s also the father of PGA pro Kevin Stadler and the brother of New Age Celtic composer Gary Stadler.
20. Flying Squirrel
Gabby Douglas, Olympic golden girl
She’s just a girl but she’s on fire. The first black women’s all-around Olympic gold medalist in history also won the team gold medal with the “Fierce Five” at the 2012 London Olympics.
21. The Turtle
Misty May-Treanor, Beach baller
The husband of three-time Olympic gold medal winning teammate Kerri Walsh Jennings called May-Treanor a Turtle and then everybody started doing it.
22. Big Cat
Andres Galarraga, MLB slugger
The Venezuelan “El Gato” was as quick as a cat with his glove at first base and with his bat at the plate during his 20-year big league career.
23. Silver Fox
David Pearson, Racing all-timer
Fox became a Silver Fox as he aged, but he was always as sly as any driver in the game during his Hall of Fame career in NASCAR.
24. Bald Eagle
Y.A. Tittle, NFL high lifer
The chrome-domed Tittle may be best known for his bloodied, kneeling disappointment in the photo taken by Morris Berman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1964.
25. Mr. Ed
John Elway, Broncos centaur
The two-time Super Bowl winner looks like a horse, of course. And no one can talk to a horse, of course. That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Elway.
NFL Week 9 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Chiefs (1-6) at Chargers (3-4)
These two AFC West division rivals face off for the second time in six weeks. In Week 4, the Bolts lit up the Chiefs, 37–20. Overall, San Diego signal-caller Philip Rivers has a 9–4 record in his career against Kansas City. This Thursday night fight could be win No. 10 for Rivers vs. K.C.
Chargers by 4
Cardinals (4-4) at Packers (5-3)
After a 4–0 start to the season, Arizona has gone an ice cold 0–4 since. A trip to Lambeau Field probably isn’t what the doctor ordered.
Packers by 7
Lions (3-4) at Jaguars (1-6)
If Detroit can’t win at Jacksonville in the battle of big cats, then last season was indeed a fluke.
Lions by 5
Bears (6-1) at Titans (3-5)
Jay Cutler returns to Nashville, where he played his college ball at Vanderbilt. The Windy City and Music City squads are coming off last-second decisions in Week 8, when the Bears made a late rally to beat the Panthers and the Titans stumbled down the stretch to lose to the Colts.
Bears by 6
Broncos (4-3) at Bengals (3-4)
Peyton Manning is 7–0 all-time vs. Cincinnati, with 1,827 yards, 17 TDs and three INTs.
Bengals by 1
Panthers (1-6) at Redskins (3-5)
Cam Newton could learn a thing or two from RG3 about how to handle the big league spotlight.
Redskins by 4
Ravens (5-2) at Browns (2-6)
The Jim Browns play the Courtney Browns for the second time in six weeks. In Week 4, the relocated Browns defeated the expansion Browns, 23–16, on Thursday night in Baltimore.
Ravens by 4
Dolphins (4-3) at Colts (4-3)
If Indy can win against the Fins, let the playoff talk begin and start engraving the ROY award.
Colts by 1
Bills (3-4) at Texans (6-1)
It’s a big comeback week for Mario Williams, who returns from wrist surgery on the same week he heads back to Houston, where he played for six seasons after being a controversial No. 1 overall pick in 2006.
Texans by 13
Vikings (5-3) at Seahawks (4-4)
Adrian Peterson vs. Marshawn Lynch is a RB battle that will be in “Beast Mode” “All Day.”
Seahawks by 5
Buccaneers (3-4) at Raiders (3-4)
If only Jon Gruden could make this clash of the pirates a Monday night love fest…
Raiders by 1
Steelers (4-3) at Giants (6-2)
The Super Bowl winning quarterbacks from the Class of 2004 go toe-to-toe, with champions “Big Ben” Roethlisberger (Super Bowls XL, XLIII) and Eli Manning (Super Bowls XLII, XLVI) making it rain like super storm Sandy.
Giants by 3
Cowboys (3-4) at Falcons (7-0)
Atlanta will attempt to become the 15th team to start 8–0 since the 16-game schedule in 1978.
Falcons by 7
Eagles (3-4) at Saints (2-5)
This Monday night party could be Michael Vick’s last stand as the starter in Philly. And it will be if Drew Brees has anything to say about it.
Saints by 3
Last week: 10–4 // Season: 77–41
Matt Ryan’s homecoming could not have gone much better. A product of Philadelphia’s William Penn Charter School, “Matty Ice” led the Atlanta Falcons to a 30–17 statement victory against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in the “City of Brotherly Love.”
The win was Ryan’s first in three attempts in his hometown, Atlanta’s first victory at Philly since Oct. 30, 1988, and the first loss Eagles coach Andy Reid has taken in a game after the bye week during his 14 years since taking over in 1999.
Ryan threw touchdown passes on the Falcons’ first three possessions, while leading the Dirty Birds on scoring drives in each of their first six possessions of the game.
“When you do that, it’s going to be a good day,” said Ryan, who completed 20-of-29 passes for 262 yards, three TDs and zero INTs for a season-high 137.4 passer rating.
The Falcons are now 15–0 when Ryan passes for three or more touchdowns. The fifth-year signal-caller out of Boston College, meanwhile, has thrown at least one scoring strike in 22 consecutive games — trailing only Super Bowl-winning future Hall of Famers Drew Brees (49) and Tom Brady (40) in that category.
The victory was also a milestone for coach Mike Smith, who passed Dan Reeves (49–59–1) to became the winningest coach in Falcons history, carrying a 50–21 career record. Smith needed the third-fewest games in history to reach the 50-win plateau — trailing George Seifert (62 games) and Chuck Knox (65 games).
“It’s not about a coach,” said Smith, who has led the Falcons to the playoffs in three of his first four seasons since taking over the top spot in 2008.
“There are a lot of people that contributed to the number of wins since (general manager) Thomas (Dimitroff) and I have gotten here. It’s about the players. It’s about the coaches. There are a lot of people that make contributions to that. We’re glad that we were able to get the win this week … We’ll enjoy this for a few minutes and then move on.”
The NFL’s lone remaining unbeaten team, Atlanta improved to 7–0 for the first time in franchise history by defeating Ryan’s predecessor, embattled Eagles quarterback Michael Vick — who was drafted No. 1 overall in 2001 and played for the Falcons until being convicted of felony charges in August 2007 for his involvement in a dog fighting ring.
How far Atlanta has come since Vick and coach Bobby Petrino were replaced by Ryan and Smith. The Falcons have gone from disgraced franchise to favorites in the NFC in five short years. But Ryan doesn’t want to hear about a potential undefeated season or trip to the Super Bowl.
“You can’t get caught up in all the ‘what ifs’ about what could happen,” said Ryan. “If you just keep your focus, you’re going to be fine.”
Athlon Sports' weekly rankings of NFL teams from the best, the lone remaining undefeated Atlanta Falcons, to the worst, the banged-up one-win Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 8 of the season:
1. Falcons (7-0) Scored on first six possessions in victory at Philly.
2. Texans (6-1) Hoping to pick up where they left off before bye.
3. Giants (6-2) Up 23–0, down 24–23, but beat Cowboys 29–24.
4. 49ers (6-2) Defense holds Cardinals to seven rush yards.
5. Packers (5-3) Aaron Rodgers passes Bart Starr on team TD list.
6. Bears (6-1) Scored 16 fourth-quarter points to beat Panthers.
7. Ravens (5-2) Fined $20K for not listing Ed Reed on injury report.
8. Patriots (5-3) Tom Brady gives Rams royal treatment in London.
9. Vikings (5-3) Had no answer for Bucs rookie runner Doug Martin.
10. Broncos (4-3) Peyton Manning throws fifth straight 300-yarder.
11. Steelers (4-3) Improve to 14–1 against rookie QBs since 2004.
12. Seahawks (4-4) Lose back-to-back games for first time all season.
13. Dolphins (4-3) Matt Moore wins filling in for injured Ryan Tannehill.
14. Colts (4-3) Vick Ballard acrobatic TD leap one of year’s best.
15. Bengals (3-4) Andy Dalton ready for Peyton Manning showdown.
16. Cowboys (3-4) Dez Bryant fingertips away from epic comeback.
17. Saints (2-5) Joe Vitt’s debut as interim coach a losing effort.
18. Chargers (3-4) Robert Meachem dropped pass costly at Browns.
19. Eagles (3-4) Vick or Nick? That is the QB debate in Philadelphia.
20. Cardinals (4-4) Outscored 41–6 in prime time games this season.
21. Redskins (3-5) Ten dropped passes make RG3’s day a long one.
22. Jets (3-5) Smacked in mouth after talking big all week long.
23. Titans (3-5) Have lost seven of last eight to rival Indianapolis.
24. Lions (3-4) Matt Stafford leads ninth comeback win of career.
25. Buccaneers (3-4) Second road team to win on Thursday this season.
26. Bills (3-4) Mario Williams returns to Houston after bye week.
27. Raiders (3-4) Have not lost at Arrowhead Stadium since 2006.
28. Rams (3-5) Back out of deal to play in London in 2013 and ’14.
29. Browns (2-6) Barking after second straight win at Dawg Pound.
30. Panthers (1-6) Snatched defeat from jaws of victory at Chicago.
31. Chiefs (1-6) Jamaal Charles only given five carries in defeat.
32. Jaguars (1-6) Not good Mojo seeing MJD sidelined on crutches.
The Miami Heat will raise their 2012 NBA championship banner before hosting the Boston Celtics on opening night of the 2012-13 NBA season. And they will do so as the league’s overwhelming favorites to win it all once again this year.
While it is clear that Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and the rest of the NBA are chasing LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Co., there is no guarantee that Heat will repeat. Here are the top 10 reasons why the Miami Heat won’t win the 2013 NBA championship:
1. LeBron Letdown
LeBron James hunted down his first NBA championship with a killer instinct previously unseen from the overanalyzed King. In one of the greatest individual efforts in history, LeBron averaged 30.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals, while shooting 50 percent from the field, over 23 playoff games last season. The postseason bar has been set ridiculously high for LeBron.
After playing into June last season and spending all summer at the London Olympics leading Team USA to the gold medal, James enters the 2012-13 season with almost no offseason rest to speak of. In a grueling marathon, the 27-year-old wunderkind will need to be fresh — physically, mentally and emotionally — come playoff time if the Heat are to successfully defend their title.
2. D-Wade’s Knee
As good as LeBron is, Miami is still Wade County. The two-time NBA champion and Finals MVP is the spark that ignites the Heat. But Wade often flies too close to the sun, sacrificing his body to make the spectacular seem routine. Entering his age 31 season, Wade was forced to withdraw from the Olympics due to surgery on his left knee. If Flash can’t go in the playoffs, the Heat’s title hopes could be dashed.
3. Third Wheel
Remember when Chris Bosh was the Toronto talent with the Predator hairstyle? What happened to that guy, whose talent was supposedly being wasted north of the border? Bosh shrunk in the spotlight of the Heat lamp. He doesn’t have to carry his own weight as a member of the “Big Three,” but Miami needs at least two and a half men to win it all.
4. Best in the West
Should the Heat advance to the NBA Finals, just showing up won’t be enough. The Oklahoma City Thunder are young and hungry. The Los Angeles Lakers are old and desperate. The San Antonio Spurs are geriatric but dangerously cagy. There will be no easy outs in June.
5. Size Matters
While Miami is playing small ball with no real center, the Lakers have two of the game’s best bigs in Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, the Thunder have two defensive menaces in Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins, the Spurs have Tim Duncan down low, the Celtics have mad man Kevin Garnett, and the 76ers acquired Andrew Bynum to go along with Spencer Hawes. The Heat are relying on Chris Bosh, Joel Anthony, Udonis Haslem, Dexter Pittman and Josh “Jorts” Harrellson to bang with the best in the business.
Coach Erik Spoelstra is no Pat Riley. He may be underappreciated by the masses, but that is because he lacks the swagger of Riles, aura of Phil Jackson or grit of Gregg Popovich. To many, Coach Spo is just a guy in a suit (who happens to be friends with Riley) who looks confused while being outcoached by Doc Rivers or even Scott Brooks. Substitution patterns, play calls out of timeouts and clock management through the use of timeouts all fall on the shoulders of the head coach come playoff time.
7. Triple Threat
Even when LeBron and Wade are on top of their game, Miami’s small ball still relies on the 3-ball. But the Heat’s long range shooters are also long in the tooth. Newly acquired 37-year-old Ray Allen, 34-year-old Shane Battier, 33-year-old Rashard Lewis, 32-year-old Mike Miller and 32-year-old James Jones are the five oldest dudes on the roster. If those 10 legs are tired, long misses could turn into easy buckets — especially against the lightning fast Thunder — with the Larry O’Brien Trophy on the line.
8. Judas Curse
Speaking of the smooth as silk jump shot of Ray Allen… Jesus Shuttlesworth has become a symbolic Judas traitor to the rabid, superstitious fans of the Boston Celtics. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em may be a seemingly easy answer to Ray’s second-ring riddle. But the basketball gods seem to have a warped sense of karmic justice. And while Paul Pierce, KG and the C’s may seem as ancient as Red Auerbach’s old Boston Garden, they’ve given Miami trouble in the past. And no team wins the NBA title without first winning the conference crown.
9. Long Odds
History’s split stats say the Heat have a little less than a 1-in-3 shot of repeating as champs. Of the 65 previous NBA champions, 44 have failed to defend their title the following season. When D-Wade, Shaquille O’Neal and Riley won Miami’s first title in 2006, they didn’t even make it back to the NBA Finals the following season. If it were easy, the achievement wouldn’t be as sweet.
10. Mayan Apocalypse
Hey, Dec. 21, 2012 is just around the corner and super storm Sandy is beating down the East Coast. June is a long way off. If there are no NBA Finals, the Miami Heat certainly won’t repeat.
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 8.
Locks of the Week
Take two of the NFC’s toughest teams on the road against familiar division rivals in a pair of high profile contests.
Giants (-2) at Cowboys
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew have demolished the Boys at Jerry’s House. Eli Manning has 1,036 yards, eight TDs and a perfect 3–0 record at the new Cowboys Stadium.
49ers (-7) at Cardinals
San Fran will crash Zona’s Monday night party. Expect John Skelton to take a beating from Patrick Willis and Co.
London Town’s Wembley Stadium and Titletown’s Lambeau Field will host blowouts of covering proportions.
Patriots (-7) vs. Rams (at London)
This London Calling will be played on the pitch across the pond, where Tom Brady will give the people what they came to see — an offensive fireworks display.
Packers (-15) vs. Jaguars
J-Ville was already arguably the league’s least talented team. Now, the Jags are without Mojo Drew, easily the best play on the teal team's roster.
Straight Up Upsets
Don’t be shocked to see two of the more volatile teams in the league — Detroit and Diego — stumble this week.
Seahawks (+1) at Lions
Detroit should keep calling that play where Mikel Leshoure dives for the end zone from the 5-yard-line and then fumbles. That worked great on MNF against Chicago.
Browns (+3) vs. Chargers
San Diego GM A.J. “The Lord of No Rings” Smith thinks the Bolts are going in the “wrong direction fast.” Norv Turner doesn’t understand what he means.
It’s RG3 and Cam time against big numbers on the road. They may not pull off straight up upsets, but they’ll keep it close.
Redskins (+4.5) at Steelers
Rookie quarterbacks have a 1–14 record against Dick LeBeau since he took over in 2004.
Panthers (+9) at Bears
Win or lose, Cam Newton and Jay Cutler are going to act like jerks at their postgame press conferences.
Stay away completely unless you’re a degenerate or a hometown homer who always has to have action.
Chiefs (-1) vs. Raiders
The Silver-and-Black are riding a five-game winning streak at Arrowhead Stadium.
Jets (-1) vs. Dolphins
New York beat Miami, 23–20 in overtime in Week 3 in the first meeting this season.
Eagles (-3) vs. Falcons
Mike Vick brings his 13 turnovers and nine total TDs to the field to face his old team.
Titans (-3.5) vs. Colts
Andrew Luck takes his show on the road to Music City for his first gig at Tennessee.
Broncos (-6) vs. Saints
Peyton Manning vs. Drew Brees is a Sunday nighter worth missing a few pitches of the World Series for.
Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander and America’s “it” girl Kate Upton are keeping it coy regarding their official relationship status. But dating the voluptuous bikini model is clearly not helping JV’s pitching. The AL’s reigning MVP and Cy Young winner was rocked by the San Francisco Giants in Game 1 of the World Series, allowing five runs in four innings of a losing effort.
Clearly, every man alive would love to do the Dougie, or Cat Daddy, or just about any dance with the 20-year-old bombshell. But it would be hard to pay attention to your curve ball after attending to her curves. Ask Justin Verlander.
Here’s a rundown of 10 other bad luck WAGs in recent sports history:
Back when she was Tony Romo’s cowgirl, Simpson became Enemy No. 1 of Cowboy Nation. From wearing a pink jersey to taking a pre-playoff vacation to Cabo, Simpson made all the wrong moves. She is the perfect blueprint of what not to do as well as the definitive bad luck WAG.
Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp hit .249 with 28 HRs, 89 RBIs and had 19 steals the year he dated Barbados babe Ri-Ri. After the break up, Kemp was an MVP runner-up who hit .324 with 39 HRs, 126 RBIs and had 40 steals. Rihanna had more hits than Kemp did while they were dating.
Both Reggie Bush and Miles Austin know the split stats with and without Ray J’s flick co-star and Kanye West’s current beautiful dark twisted fantasy. Kim K and her best asset end up putting football players on their backside.
After Lamar Odom married Khloe — who some have speculated to be O.J. Simpson’s illegitimate daughter — his life fell apart. He was traded from the L.A. Lakers to the Dallas Mavericks, berated publicly by Mark Cuban and had a bout with depression that bordered on mental breakdown. Other than that, though, things are great.
Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes
The late TLC star went chasing waterfalls and ended up with a scrub she didn’t want. In less lyrical words, volatile wide receiver Andre Rison cheated on her, so she set fire to his Atlanta mansion — the lowlight of a combustible relationship between two of Hot-lanta’s craziest residents.
Pitcher Chuck Finley filed for a restraining order against the actress after being attacked — a fight that allegedly included her stomping his foot with her high heel, pressing the car accelerator to the floorboard during the in-car domestic dispute. It’s a baseball superstition to leave your wife if she beats you up before going on Celebrity Rehab.
Pitcher Kris Benson would have come and gone without anyone noticing him had it not been for his batwing crazy model wife. She was a dumpster fire with D-cups, telling Howard Stern that she would have sex with the entire Mets team if Kris ever cheated on her and generally sabotaging her husband’s middling career.
The Material Girl has an all-star roster of athletes she has vogued with. Jose Canseco, Dennis Rodman and Alex Rodriguez all got into the groove with Madge. Those dudes get worse reviews than Guy Ritchie’s 2002 Madonna vehicle Swept Away.
Back to A-Rod, whose nickname apparently isn’t just a reference to his name. Remember when the Bad Teacher fed him popcorn at Super Bowl XLV? Nothing has gone right for lucky No. 13 since then. He hit a rock bottom .120 (3-for-25) before getting benched in the AL playoffs this year.
Who? Oh yeah, the wacko from Basketball Wives who coincidentally left the lives of both Antoine Walker and Chad Ochocinco Johnson in shambles. You still probably don’t know who she is, but ‘Toine is penny-less and shimmy-less while Ocho is clearly no bueno, jobless and allegedly resorting to Twitter stalking.
NFL Week 8 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Buccaneers (2-4) at Vikings (5-2)
This thrilling matchup was once an NFC Central “black and blue” division rivalry. This season, it’s the reason ratings will be up for Game 2 of the World Series between the Detroit Tigers and San Francisco Giants.
Vikings by 5
Dolphins (3-3) at Jets (3-4)
The Fins and the J-E-T-S go toe-to-toe for the second time in six weeks. New York took down Miami 23–20 in overtime in Week 3. That game was a battle of attrition — with both Reggie Bush and Darrelle Revis leaving the game with knee injuries — and kickers, as Dan Carpenter missed a potential game-winner but Nick Folk split the uprights for a Jets victory.
Jets by 4
Chargers (3-3) at Browns (1-6)
The NFL should allow both the Bolts and Browns to use Stickum adhesive tape. These teams need all the help they can get.
Chargers by 6
Colts (3-3) at Titans (3-4)
After many years of welcoming home state hero Peyton Manning to Nashville, the Titans will face their new No. 1 pick nemesis, Indy rookie face of the franchise Andrew Luck.
Titans by 4
Jaguars (1-5) at Packers (4-3)
The Jags stagger into Green Bay as easily the biggest underdog of the week. There will be plenty of Lambeau Leap-ing by the Packers.
Packers by 14
Falcons (6-0) at Eagles (3-3)
The Michael Vick Bowl pits the dual-threat lefty signal-caller against his former team. Atlanta drafted Vick No. 1 overall in 2001 and he played for the Falcons until being convicted of felony charges in August 2007 for his involvement in a dog fighting ring. Vick’s roller coaster career was on the upswing after being signed by the Eagles in 2009 and given a $100 million deal in 2011. But 13 turnovers and only nine total TDs after six games have put Vick’s job in jeopardy.
Falcons by 2
Redskins (3-4) at Steelers (3-3)
Rookie quarterbacks have a 1–14 record against Pittsburgh defensive guru Dick LeBeau since the 75-year-old took over in 2004. The only win was a worthless Week 17 giveaway to Baltimore’s Troy Smith in 2007. Clearly, RG3 does not have a “rookie mindset” or the skillset of a first-year QB. Griffin III has 13 total TDs, five turnovers, a 101.8 passer rating and an NFL-best 70.4 completion percentage through his first seven games as a pro. LeBeau may be 53 years older than the 22-year-old RG3, but the old dog better be ready for new tricks.
Steelers by 1
Seahawks (4-3) at Lions (2-4)
The Hawks will have had 10 days to rest up from their Thursday night loss, while the Lions have a short week after a Monday night defeat.
Lions by 1
Panthers (1-5) at Bears (5-1)
Former Bears linebacker and defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is 9–29 since taking over the top spot with the Panthers. A homecoming win would go a long way for the top Cat.
Bears by 8
Raiders (2-4) at Chiefs (1-5)
The Silver-and-Black have not lost a game at Arrowhead Stadium since 2006. The five-game winning streak for the road Raiders is the longest in the series’ history at the venue.
Raiders by 1
Giants (5-2) at Cowboys (3-3)
Jerry Jones’ $1 billion “Palace in Dallas” has given New York royal treatment. The Giants earned the first-ever win at Cowboys Stadium and are a perfect 3–0 at the Boys’ new pad. Eli Manning, in particular, really likes being on the 159-by-71-foot big screen HDTV. The two-time Super Bowl MVP has passed for 1,036 yards and eight TDs in three games, along with a memorable (and comical) autograph on the visiting locker room wall after a game-winning drive in his stadium debut.
Giants by 2
Patriots (4-3) vs. Rams (3-4)
Tom Brady has come a long way since being the then-youngest quarterback in history to win a Super Bowl. Since knocking off Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk and the “Greatest Show on Turf” Rams as a 24-year-old former backup to Drew Bledsoe, Tom Terrific has gone on to win two more rings, break a few records, sign a couple multi-million dollar contracts and marry the world’s highest-paid supermodel. This week, he’ll be playing at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Patriots by 8
Saints (2-4) at Broncos (3-3)
Drew Brees and Peyton Manning meet under the lights on Sunday night in a Super Bowl XLIV rematch of sorts. Broncos corner Tracy Porter — who made a Big Game-changing pick-six of Manning — will face his old Saints squad.
Broncos by 4
49ers (5-2) at Cardinals (4-3)
NFC West supremacy is on the line on Monday night. If the Cards are to be taken seriously, they have to defend their turf vs. the Niners.
49ers by 7
Last week: 13–0 // Season: 67–37
Texans defensive end J.J. Watt came out of the smokescreen — as a tight end at Central Michigan before being a walk-on (and part-time pizza delivery driver) at Wisconsin — and stepped into the spotlight as arguably best defensive player in the NFL this season.
“The first thing, you love the fanatical effort,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said during his conference call prior to a Week 5 Monday night matchup with the Texans.
“The guy plays with his hair on fire and that’s something you notice. But the size, strength, athleticism; it’s rare to find a guy with that kind of combination. … Really, it’s a guy, as a defensive coach all my life, it’s one of those rare guys that comes along once in a long time and he’s doing a tremendous job.”
The 6'5", 295-pounder with the 82.5-inch wingspan dominated Ryan’s Jets, during a 23–17 victory, just like he has owned every team the Texans have played en route to their 6–1 start this year. The second-year star has earned enormous respect while becoming a larger-than-life character over the first half of 2012.
Through seven games, Watt has 9.5 sacks and an incredible 10 pass deflections — or J.J. “Swatts,” as ESPN analyst Jon Gruden calls the batted balls. Watt’s latest tipped pass fell into the hands of Houston cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who went 52 yards for a pick-six. While Ryan jokingly suggests Watt should play for the Knicks because of his shot-blocking ability, the 3-4 end can also dish out assists that lead to easy scores.
Watt may only just now be getting the recognition he deserves, but he announced himself as a force to be reckoned with during his first two career playoff games last year — when he posted 3.5 sacks and an interception returned for a touchdown.
But now Watt’s playmaking prowess and contagious energy is permeating throughout the Texans’ defense. Houston made a statement during its 43–13 complete domination of Baltimore this past week. The stop-unit scored eight points of their own — on the Joseph pick-six and a first-quarter safety by Connor Barwin — while forcing three turnovers and recording four sacks.
“It’s a lot of fun. It’s nice when everybody’s in on the party,” said Watt, after his first game of the year without a sack. “It’s always fun when everybody’s getting sacks, everybody’s getting plays, and we’re just having fun out there as a defense together.”
After earning their first AFC South division title and winning the franchise’s first playoff game last season, Houston has Super Bowl aspirations. And 6–1 is not nearly good enough; Watt is ready for the long haul.
“We’re only seven games in,” said Watt. “I’ve got a lot bigger goals on my plate than some seven-week goal. There’s 16 weeks in a season, and I plan to use them all.”
Athlon Sports weekly rankings of the best and worst teams in the NFL starts at the top with the long remaining undefeated team, the Atlanta Falcons, and goes all the way to the bottom with the wounded Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 7 of the season:
1. Falcons (6-0) Lone remaining undefeated team sits atop rankings.
2. Texans (6-1) Record crowd of 71,708 witnesses 30-point victory.
3. Giants (5-2) Eli Manning adds to big play resumé with clutch win.
4. 49ers (5-2) Now 5–0 in games after losses under Jim Harbaugh.
5. Packers (4-3) Charles Woodson breaks collarbone, out six weeks.
6. Bears (5-1) No questioning Jay Cutler’s toughness these days.
7. Vikings (5-2) Adrian Peterson runs for season-high 153 yards.
8. Ravens (5-2) Terrell Suggs records sack in first game of season.
9. Patriots (4-3) Tie record with 16th consecutive 350-yard game.
10. Broncos (3-3) Peyton Manning rests up, regroups following bye.
11. Steelers (3-3) Big Ben improves to 15–2 in home state of Ohio.
12. Bengals (3-4) Winless 0–6 vs. Steelers, Ravens past two seasons.
13. Seahawks (4-3) Pete Carroll falls to 0–3 vs. Jim Harbaugh in NFL.
14. Cardinals (4-3) Nose-diving with three losses following 4–0 start.
15. Eagles (3-3) Andy Reid, Michael Vick both firmly on the hot seat.
16. Redskins (3-4) RG3 “best QB (Giants) have played all year,” Osi says.
17. Cowboys (3-3) Jason Garrett invites Joe Gibbs to speak before win.
18. Saints (2-4) Vilma finally plays, Brees leads comeback at Tampa.
19. Chargers (3-3) Going in “wrong direction fast,” says GM A.J. Smith.
20. Jets (3-4) Mark Sanchez fumbles away OT opportunity vs. Pats.
21. Titans (3-4) Matt Hasselbeck posts 22nd career comeback win.
22. Colts (3-3) Chuck Pagano (leukemia) comes home from hospital.
23. Rams (3-4) Cheesehead faithful dominate crowd in St. Louis.
24. Lions (2-4) Megatron targeted 11 times for 34 yards in defeat.
25. Buccaneers (2-4) Josh Freeman throws for 420 yards in painful loss.
26. Dolphins (3-3) Reggie Bush in news following Kanye West drama.
27. Bills (3-4) Defense allows 197 yards, four TDs in loss to Titans.
28. Raiders (2-4) Coliseum field all grass after A’s loss in MLB playoffs.
29. Panthers (1-5) Fire general manager Marty Hurney after slow start.
30. Browns (1-6) Trent Richardson (ribs) recovery team’s top concern.
31. Chiefs (1-5) Romeo Crennel picks Brady Quinn over Matt Cassel.
32. Jaguars (1-5) Jones-Drew (foot), Gabbert (left labrum) both injured.
NFL Week 7 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Seahawks (4-2) at 49ers (4-2)
Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh are old Pac-12 rivals from their days at USC and Stanford, respectively. Carroll famously asked Harbaugh, “What’s your deal?” in a postgame handshake that could be viewed as foreshadowing to the Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz debacle. Now NFC West rivals, Harbaugh owns a 2–0 edge over Carroll, with the 49ers defeating the Seahawks twice last season — a 33–17 win in Week 1 and a 19–17 nailbiter in Week 16.
49ers by 5
Cardinals (4-2) at Vikings (4-2)
The Arizona quarterback conundrum continues. Kevin Kolb is expected to miss several weeks after suffering a serious rib and chest injury.
Vikings by 4
Cowboys (2-3) at Panthers (1-4)
Both the Boys and the Cats enter this contest in full blown panic mode. Tony Romo and Cam Newton are under the gun following slow starts to seasons with high expectations. The loser will have a press conference to remember.
Cowboys by 3
Saints (1-4) at Buccaneers (2-3)
Flip a coin with this NFC South matchup. The Saints and Bucs have split the season series since 2008, with each team going 4–4.
Saints by 1
Packers (3-3) at Rams (3-3)
These teams share a .500 record, but that’s where the similarities end. Green Bay still has Super Bowl aspirations, while St. Louis wants its first winning season since 2003.
Packers by 6
Redskins (3-3) at Giants (4-2)
One week after suffering a concussion, RG3 had the fifth-highest rushing total for a quarterback in history. His 138 yards on the ground were more than any signal-caller not named Mike Vick or Tobin Rote. RG3’s 76-yard TD sprint was the longest since Kordell “Slash” Stewart scored from 80 yards out in 1996. This week, however, the hotshot rookie runs into the defending Super Bowl champion Giants, who are fresh off dismantling the 49ers by the Bay. There will be no awe inspired by RG3, whom Osi Umenyiora has given the nickname “Bob.”
Giants by 7
Ravens (5-1) at Texans (5-1)
The tone of this contest changed considerably following the season-ending injuries suffered by middle linebacker Ray Lewis (right triceps) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (left knee ACL). But this is still a rematch of the Divisional Round of last year’s playoffs, when the Ravens beat the Texans, 20–13, in Baltimore. In that game, however, Houston third-string rookie quarterback T.J. Yates threw three INTs in defeat. Starter Matt Schaub has only thrown four INTs through six games this season.
Texans by 4
Titans (2-4) at Bills (3-3)
There is still plenty of bad blood between Tennessee and Buffalo, which is understandable considering the way the Bills lost to the Titans on the “Music City Miracle” in the playoffs after the 1999 season. The fact that Tennessee fell one yard short to St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXIV was no consolation to the bitter Buffalo fans.
Titans by 1
Browns (1-5) at Colts (2-3)
This is a Fiesta Bowl rematch between former Oklahoma State signal-caller Brandon Weeden and Stanford alum Andrew Luck. Although the No. 1 overall pick of the Colts was beaten by the recently turned 29-year-old Browns QB when the two played back in January, Luck has a better kicker on his side this time around. Freshman kicker Jordan Williamson missed three clutch FGs in a 41–38 Cardinal loss. Now, four-time Super Bowl champion pressure kicker Adam Vinatieri is on Luck’s side in Indy.
Colts by 3
Jets (3-3) at Patriots (3-3)
Remember when this was a potential preview of the AFC title game? Now Rex Ryan just sounds delusional if he talks too much trash.
Patriots by 9
Jaguars (1-4) at Raiders (1-4)
It’s early, but this contest looks like it will have more impact on the NFL Draft standings than the AFC Playoff seedings.
Raiders by 6
Steelers (2-3) at Bengals (3-3)
Pittsburgh will have had 10 days to regroup after losing on a last-second FG at Tennessee last Thursday night. Cincinnati is still eager to prove itself as an AFC North contender. Even though the Bengals made the playoffs last year, they still were 0–2 against the Steelers — losing 24–17 at home in Week 10 and getting blown out 35–7 at Pittsburgh in Week 13.
Steelers by 4
Lions (2-3) at Bears (4-1)
This Monday night party pits two NFC North rivals against one another. Last season, home turf was defended in both meetings — with the Lions winning 24–13 in Detroit in Week 5 and the Bears taking a 37–13 contest in Chicago in Week 10. In 2010, the Bears swept the series, winning a controversial 19–14 decision in Week 1 and taking a 24–20 win in Week 13.
Bears by 3
Not with a bang but a whimper. Is this the way Ray Lewis’ Hall of Fame career will end?
“Ray has a triceps tear,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, during his Monday press conference. “A complete tear. So he’ll be out for the season.”
The 37-year-old Lewis tore his right triceps during an injury-riddled 31–29 victory over the Cowboys — a game that also saw the Ravens lose star cornerback Lardarius Webb to a season-ending torn ACL and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata leave the contest with minor MCL damage.
Prior to the injury, there had been speculation that Lewis’ 17th season would be his last. In fact, many believed he might walk away from the game after last year’s painful 23–20 loss to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game — which ended in a dropped touchdown pass and shanked potential game-tying field goal. But the fiery Lewis quickly shot down those notions after falling just short of his second Super Bowl appearance.
“For us to be here now, I’m hungry again and I’m thirsty again,” Lewis said in late January. “Every time you go through something like this, it has to drive you. I truly believe that’s the only thing that makes people great.”
No one doubts Lewis’ greatness. But this latest obstacle comes at a point in his professional career and a time in his personal life that may result in No. 52 retiring from the NFL earlier than he may have planned.
“I’m not going to make any comment on that,” said Harbaugh. “That’s for Ray to speak on. I admire Ray Lewis. I’ve said that many times. … I look forward to seeing what he says about that.”
The ultimate face of the franchise, Lewis was the No. 26 overall pick of the Ravens in the team’s first draft after relocating from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996. The Miami (Fla.) product was the second Raven picked — behind left tackle Jonathan Ogden — and the fourth linebacker selected, behind Kevin Hardy, John Mobley and Reggie Brown. Lewis, however, went on to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of his draft class and arguably the greatest middle linebacker in history.
With a Super Bowl XXXV MVP, two Defensive Player of the Year awards and 13 Pro Bowls to his credit, there is little left for Lewis to accomplish in the NFL. And with his son, Ray Lewis III, heading off to his alma mater in Coral Gables to play for the Hurricanes next season, Lewis’ motivational speeches may be better served elsewhere. Only time will tell.
“He said some things that I’ll never forget,” said Harbaugh, of Lewis. “When you look at his situation and what he’s accomplished and what he was hoping to accomplish this year, he’s going to have to accomplish those things in different ways because that’s the way it’s gone.”
Athlon Sports weekly rankings of the best and worst teams in the NFL starts at the top with the lone remaining undefeated team, the Atlanta Falcons, and goes all the way to the bottom with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 6 of the season:
1. Falcons (6-0) Bryant’s late 55-yard FG preserves unbeaten record.
2. Giants (4-2) Stomp 49ers in 23-point blowout in NFC title rematch.
3. Packers (3-3) Rodgers ties Matt Flynn’s team record with six TDs.
4. Texans (5-1) Watt mocks Rodgers’ dance, Packers get last laugh.
5. 49ers (4-2) Harbaugh suffers worst loss as coach in San Fran.
6. Ravens (5-1) Own best current home win streak, with 14 straight.
7. Bears (4-1) Return from bye week to face rival Lions on MNF.
8. Seahawks (4-2) Sherman tweets to Brady, “U Mad Bro?” after win.
9. Patriots (3-3) Top-ranked offense beaten by Hawks’ No. 1 defense.
10. Broncos (3-3) Manning leads 24-point comeback to beat Bolts.
11. Eagles (3-3) Fire DC Juan Castillo, promote DB coach Todd Bowles.
12. Chargers (3-3) Rivers’ four INTs, two fumbles lead to epic meltdown.
13. Bengals (3-3) A.J. Green leading league with 628 receiving yards.
14. Steelers (2-3) Lose at Titans for fifth loss in last six road games.
15. Cowboys (2-3) Recover onside kick, but miss 51-yard FG in defeat.
16. Redskins (3-3) RG3 shows off QB-record 4.41 time in 40-yard dash.
17. Vikings (4-2) Defense allows RG3 to run for fifth-most yards by QB.
18. Cardinals (4-2) Eight-game home win streak ends in OT vs. Buffalo.
19. Jets (3-3) Green rushes for career-high 161 yards in victory.
20. Saints (1-4) Vilma cleared to play, prepares to come off PUP list.
21. Titans (2-4) Win in prime time day after Nashville debuts on ABC.
22. Lions (2-3) Score 17 points in last 10 minutes to force OT in win.
23. Bills (3-3) Byrd INT sets up game-winning FG by Lindell in OT.
24. Dolphins (3-3) Beat Rams despite being outgained 461-to-209.
25. Rams (3-3) Zuerlein misses desperation 66-yard FG in defeat.
26. Buccaneers (2-3) Barber records 45th career INT, scores 14th TD.
27. Colts (2-3) Unable to recreate second-half comeback magic.
28. Browns (1-5) End 11-game losing streak on Weeden’s 29th B-day.
29. Panthers (1-4) All eyes on Newton following much-needed bye.
30. Raiders (1-4) Leave Falcons too much time after late touchdown.
31. Chiefs (1-5) Quinn now 3–10 as a starter after loss at Tampa.
32. Jaguars (1-4) Headed from blackout city to Black Hole after bye.
The top 10 highest paid NFL players in 2012 prove just how valuable the quarterback position is in today’s pass-happy league. The entire top 10 has some direct contection to the quarterback position. Four actually take snaps at quarterback, four are paid to apply pass rush on the quarterback, one protects his quarterback’s blindside and one catches passes from whoever happens to be playing quarterback that day.
The following list uses salary information from Forbes.com and is representative of the 2012 season — not long-term contracts, endorsement deals, career earnings, etc.
(Player, Pos., Team – 2012 Salary)
1. Dwight Freeney, OLB, Colts – $19 million
Indy’s top speed rusher since 2002, Freeney has posted 10 or more sacks in seven of his 10 NFL seasons heading into 2012. In his 11th (and highest paid) year in the league, the undersized 6’1”, 268-pound sack artist ranks No. 24 on the all-time sacks list but No. 1 in 2012 NFL player paychecks.
2. Elvis Dumervil, OLB, Broncos – $18.9 million
Although Elvis broke Dwight Freeney’s Big East sack record, he still fell to the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. Since then, Dumervil has been an example of production over projection, recording 55.5 sacks in his first 80 NFL games — and earning the second-highest payday in the league this season.
3. Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos – $18 million
Despite undergoing as many neck surgeries as he has MVP awards, Manning was able to ink a five-year, $96 million deal with the Broncos this past offseason. The 36-year-old played 14 seasons before missing the entire 2011 campaign due to injury. But he bounced back in a big way in 2012 — at least financially.
4. Sam Bradford, QB, Rams – $15.6 million
The last No. 1 overall pick before the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Bradford slid in under the wire and signed with the Rams to the tune of six years and $78 million — compared to the four years and $22 million the Panthers gave Cam Newton the following year. It pays to have good timing.
5. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers – $15.3 million
Say what you will about Rivers’ on-field demeanor, but he is one of the most reliable players in the game today. Since Rivers took over for Drew Brees as the starter in San Diego in 2006, he has never missed a start, is 30 games over .500 and has nearly 90 more TDs than INTs. That type of dependability is expensive.
6. Jared Allen, DE, Vikings – $15.2 million
The tone setter for the Vikes, Allen is a wild man and live wire off the edge. The No. 2 active sack leader (and No. 18 all-time) is nearly unblockable when he’s on top of his game. In 131 career contests, Allen has 109 sacks, 43 passes defended and 27 forced fumbles, making him easily one of the most valuable players in the league.
7. Tamba Hali, OLB, Chiefs – $14.5 million
The pass rushing heir to Jared Allen in Kansas City, Hali signed a five-year, $60 million contract following a 14.5-sack season in 2010. The high motor hybrid end-linebacker has the versatility to thrive in either a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme and has proven to be worth the money invested by the Chiefs.
8. Michael Vick, QB, Eagles – $13.9 million
Capping his redemption story, Vick inked a $100 million deal in 2011. But the roller coaster ride that is the Mike Vick Experience has hit a low point, with 13 turnovers and just nine scores through the first six games of 2012. Due to make $16 million in 2013, Vick may be cut loose if he can’t lead Philly to the playoffs this year.
9. Trent Williams, LT, Redskins – $13.4 million
The young dancing bear has failed multiple drug tests and missed time due to a variety of injuries, so this contract reeks of being a bad deal. But as Robert Griffin III’s blindside bodyguard, Williams is charged with protecting the face of the franchise inside the pocket and whoever is doing that will make plenty of coin.
10. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals – $13.25 million
While it has been argued that Fitzgerald’s career is suffering from a lack of quality QB play — from anyone other than Kurt Warner, that is — the numbers don’t back that up. Fitzgerald joined Randy Moss as only the second receiver in history to top 10,000 yards before turning 30. And he’s a top-10 paid player in 2012. Who needs a QB?
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 6.
Locks of the Week
Take the birds in a pair of blowouts over a couple of teams who have made a trend of getting blown out on the road so far this season.
Cardinals (-5) vs. Bills
Buffalo has been getting slaughtered the past two weeks, losing to San Fran 45–3 after taking a 52–28 defeat against New England.
Falcons (-9) vs. Raiders
Oakland has not won in the Eastern Time Zone since Week 10 of the 2009 season. Meanwhile, Matt Ryan has a 27–4 career record at the Georgia Dome.
Straight Up Upsets
Familiarity breeds contempt. Division rivalries produce upsets.
Broncos (+1.5) at Chargers
Peyton Manning is only 4–5 against the Bolts, including a 2–2 mark in sunny San Diego. But No. 18 has shined on Monday Night Football, with an 11–4 record under the lights.
Browns (+3) vs. Bengals
In Week 2, Cincy beat Cleveland 34–27. This time around, the winless Browns will put it together for an in-state upset at the Dawg Pound.
These may turn out to be straight up upsets when the dust settles. If not, a close loss should pay the same as an outright win for those trying to scratch out some more scratch.
Rams (+4) at Dolphins
Jeff Fisher’s mustache hits South Beach to wax the unpredictable Fins.
Seahawks (+4) vs. Patriots
This will be Tom Brady’s first game in Seattle and the Pats are 5–4 on the West Coast under Bill Belichick.
Giants (+6.5) at 49ers
A rematch of last year’s NFC title game, which was a 20–17 win for the G-Men.
Good games but bad bets. Treat these matchups like Rex Ryan treats Tim Tebow — ignore that they exist despite constant reminders to the contrary.
Jets (-3) vs. Colts
Tim who? The J-E-T-S quarterback is Mark Sanchez, a USC product. Back on the Farm, Andrew Luck was 3–0 against the Trojans.
Texans (-3) vs. Packers
Houston is riding high, Green Bay is laying low; this Sunday night fight could go either way.
Buccaneers (-4) vs. Chiefs
K.C.’s Brady Quinn has a 3–9 record as a starter, but betting on the inconsistent young Bucs to cover is a risky proposition.
Ravens (-4) vs. Cowboys
The Boys are coming off a bye week, while the Ravens are fresh off an ugly 9–6 win at Kansas City.
Eagles (-4) vs. Lions
Michael Vick’s seven TDs (six pass, one rush) and 11 turnovers (six INTs, five lost fumbles) make Philly too volatile to bank on.
Off the Board
As long as the status of RG3 is up in the air, the Vikes-Skins game will be off the board.
Vikings (N/A) at Redskins
Let’s bet on the game day betting line: I’ll take Redskins (-2.5) if RG3 plays, Vikings (-1) if it’s the other rookie (KC1?) at QB.
NFL Week 6 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Steelers (2-2) at Titans (1-4)
The last time the Titans defeated the Steelers was Chris Johnson’s rookie season in 2008, when CJ taunted Troy Polamalu en route to a TD that locked up the No. 1 seed in the playoffs for Tennessee. Afterwards, the other half of "Smash and Dash," LenDale White, stomped on Pittsburgh’s signature "Terrible Towels" on the sideline. The curse was on, as the Titans lost eight straight games immediately after and have since gone 0–3 against the Steelers.
Steelers by 8
Chiefs (1-4) at Buccaneers (1-3)
"We are athletes. We are not gladiators," said Kansas City tackle Eric Winston, in a postgame rant. "When you cheer somebody getting knocked out, I don’t care who it is, and it just so happened to be Matt Cassel, it’s sickening." Good time for a road game. Brady Quinn — the Notre Dame golden boy with 10 TDs, nine INTs and a 67.3 passer rating over five seasons — will put his 3–9 record as a starter on the line.
Buccaneers by 6
Colts (2-2) at Jets (2-3)
"No question" that Mark Sanchez will be the Jets starting quarterback, according to coach Rex Ryan. But that won’t stop the Tim Tebow cheers when the league’s most popular lefty backup enters the game — or the boos when Sanchez comes back on the field.
Jets by 3
Bengals (3-2) at Browns (0-5)
For the second time in five games, Cincinnati and Cleveland will meet for a battle of the Buckeye State. In Week 2, the Bengals beat the in-state AFC North rival Browns, 34–27.
Browns by 1
Lions (1-3) at Eagles (3-2)
Michael Vick’s seven TDs (six pass, one rush) and 11 turnovers (six INTs, five lost fumbles) through five games are not a good sign of things to come for Philly.
Eagles by 4
Raiders (1-3) at Falcons (5-0)
The Silver-and-Bleak rank 32nd in the NFL in stopping opposing offenses on third down. Meanwhile, the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez (29) and Roddy White (27) rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the NFL in passes caught for a first down. Add in the fact that Matt Ryan has a 27–4 record at the Georgia Dome and it looks like Atlanta will be 6–0 for the first time in franchise history.
Falcons by 10
Rams (3-2) at Dolphins (2-3)
Jeff Fisher turned down the Dolphins during the offseason. The Fins may need to brace for another disappointment caused by the mustache.
Dolphins by 2
Cowboys (2-2) at Ravens (4-1)
Tony Romo had the bye week to stew on his five-INT Monday night effort against Chicago. Things won’t be any easier for Romo against Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Co.
Ravens by 5
Bills (2-3) at Cardinals (4-1)
Buffalo has been getting slaughtered the past two weeks, losing to San Francisco 45–3 after taking a 52–28 defeat against New England.
Cardinals by 5
Patriots (3-2) at Seahawks (3-2)
New England brings its Oregon Ducks-style hurry-up and run offense to the Pacific Northwest, where another neon Nike team awaits.
Patriots by 5
Giants (3-2) at 49ers (4-1)
A rematch of last season’s epic NFC title game, when the G-Men topped the Niners, 20–17, thanks to a Kyle Williams fumbled punt return that led to a game-winning FG in overtime by Lawrence Tynes. The Giants went on to win their second Super Bowl in five years, while the 49ers went home hungrier than ever. San Fran has been on a mission so far, with a balanced offense and relentless defense. Last week, the Niners became the first team in NFL history with 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing in a single game, a 45–3 win over the Bills.
49ers by 4
Vikings (4-1) at Redskins (2-3)
All eyes will be on the status of RG3, who was knocked out of a loss to the Falcons with a ìmildî concussion and what appeared to be a few stitches to the face.
Vikings by 1
Packers (2-3) at Texans (5-0)
Green Bay can’t seem to get its footing in 2012. After losing to the Colts last week and losing running back Cedric Benson to a Lisfranc foot injury, the Packers will take on the undefeated Texans on the road on Sunday night — in what could be a defining do-or-die crossroads.
Texans by 2
Broncos (2-3) at Chargers (3-2)
Peyton Manning earned his first career win against the Chargers back in 1998. But the high points have been few and far between since. Manning has a 4–5 career record against the Bolts, including a 2–2 mark on the road in sunny San Diego and an 0–2 playoff record against the Super Chargers. Overall, Manning has thrown 16 TDs compared to 18 INTs — including a career-worst six picks during a 2007 loss and a four-pick game in a 2010 loss.
Chargers by 1
Last week: 11–3 // Season: 48–29
Against all odds, the Indianapolis Colts proved they were indeed "ChuckStrong" during an unbelievable come-from-behind 30–27 win over the Green Bay Packers.
When first-year Colts coach Chuck Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia, many thought the 2012 season was essentially over for the Colts, who posted the NFL’s worst record last year and have a young roster led by rookie quarterback Andrew Luck.
When Indianapolis trailed 21–3 at halftime against Green Bay — in its first game without Pagano pacing the sidelines — nearly everyone wrote off the Colts. After such a trying time dealing with Pagano’s sudden illness, there were countless built-in excuses for losing to the Packers.
But Indy never gave up, kept its foot to the floorboard and made a speedy second-half comeback. The Colts outscored the Packers 27–6 after the break, capping the unlikely rally with a four-yard scoring strike from Luck to Reggie Wayne with just 35 seconds remaining.
"I think we all went out there wanting to do it for Chuck more than anything else. To see all the emotions on Mr. Irsay’s face, BA’s (interim coach Bruce Arians), everyone in there," said Luck. "I think it’s one of the greatest athletic moments I’ve ever been a part of."
In his finest performance since being the No. 1 overall pick out of Stanford, Luck completed 31-of-55 passes for a career-high 362 yards, two TDs and one INT, along with 24 yards and one TD on the ground.
Luck’s go-to guy was Wayne, who hauled in 13 catches for a career-best 212 yards and the game-winning TD. The effort was Wayne’s 15th game with 10 or more catches and his 40th game with 100-plus-yards in a game. The 12th-year wideout also made a fashion statement to honor his hospitalized coach, wearing orange gloves for leukemia awareness rather than the traditional pink gloves for breast cancer awareness.
"I just wanted to do something, you know, for Chuck," said Wayne. "I had some equipment guys make some calls. If they fine me, they fine me. ... I’ll go ahead and take the fine and do it for Chuck."
The Colts were able to "do it for Chuck." As a result, owner Jim Irsay brought the game ball to the coach at IU Simon Cancer Center.
"In my 40 years in this business, I’ve never been prouder of a team and how they battled back," said Irsay.
"I’ve been in a lot of winning locker rooms, Super Bowl locker rooms, but I’ve never had an experience like this. People talk about money, what the team is worth, those kinds of things. But this was priceless. Absolutely priceless.
"We walked in, he got up, we all embraced and shed some tears, and Chuck said, ‘You know, I don’t feel so sick right now.’"
Athlon Sports’ weekly rankings of the best and worst teams in the NFL starts at the top with the undefeated Houston Texans and goes all the way to the bottom with the winless Cleveland Browns. Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 5 of the season.
1. Texans (5-0) Cushing injures left knee in MNF victory over Jets.
2. Falcons (5-0) Off to first 5–0 start in franchise history, since ’66.
3. 49ers (4-1) Strike gold with franchise-record 621 total yards.
4. Ravens (4-1) Defense holds strong, Tucker hits FGs in ugly win.
5. Bears (4-1) Have five INTs returned for TDs over last three weeks.
6. Cardinals (4-1) Kolb sacked nine times by Rams in first loss of year.
7. Vikings (4-1) Riding first three-game winning streak since ’09.
8. Patriots (3-2) Brady improves career record vs. Manning to 9–4.
9. Steelers (2-2) Polamalu aggravates calf, won’t play at Tennessee.
10. Eagles (3-2) Vick loses two fumbles in close call loss to Steelers.
11. Giants (3-2) Bradshaw romps, Cruz cha-chas, Wilson flips in win.
12. Packers (2-3) Crosby misses game-tying 51-yard FG in loss at Indy.
13. Bengals (3-2) Late fourth-quarter INT by Dalton ends loss to Fins.
14. Broncos (2-3) Manning-led second-half rally falls short at Patriots.
15. Saints (1-4) Brees breaks Unitas’ record in Big Easy’s first win.
16. Chargers (3-2) Rivers throws INT, loses fumble in fourth quarter.
17. Cowboys (2-2) Used bye to ìrecoup, refresh, regroup,î says Carr.
18. Rams (3-2) Fisher has Rams above .500 for first time since ’06.
19. Seahawks (3-2) No controversy over Golden go-ahead TD at Carolina.
20. Redskins (2-3) RG3 bloodied, concussed after hit by Weatherspoon.
21. Colts (2-2) Dedicate ìChuckStrongî win over Packers to Pagano.
22. Jets (2-3) Tebow fake punt first-down run highlights defeat.
23. Dolphins (2-3) Have not allowed 100-yard rusher in 19 contests.
24. Bills (2-3) Have allowed combined 97 points last two weeks.
25. Lions (1-3) Stafford hopes bye ìrefocusesî disappointing Detroit.
26. Buccaneers (1-3) Schiano uses bye for top-to-bottom team review.
27. Raiders (1-3) Have yet to record INT, high-flying Falcons up next.
28. Titans (1-4) Have league-worst negative-93 point differential.
29. Panthers (1-4) Newton sophomore slump continues vs. Seahawks.
30. Chiefs (1-4) Winston ìsickenedî by fans cheering Cassel injury.
31. Jaguars (1-4) Gabbert throws two pick-sixes to Bears in defeat.
32. Browns (0-5) Fall to 0–5 for first time since returning to NFL in ’99.
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 5.
Locks of the Week
When the cream of the crop plays the bottom of the barrel, go with the good team over the bad one.
Bengals (-3.5) vs. Dolphins
Miami brings the 30th ranked pass defense (297.8 ypg) to stop Cincy’s man-child wideout A.J. Green. Like bringing a water pistol to Over the Rhine.
Bears (-5) at Jaguars
Smokin’ Jay Cutler will enjoy an afterglow cig after Blaine Gabbert pulls a Tony Romo.
Ravens (-6) at Chiefs
Jamaal Charles said he ìsuckedî last week. He won’t be alone this week against the Ravens.
Packers (-7) at Colts
Chuck Pagano’s leukemia news had to impact this week’s preparation for the Pack.
Straight Up Upsets
These underdogs don’t look as good as Kate Upton’s Twitter pics, but they look good.
Redskins (+3) vs. Falcons
The pending DeAngelo Hall vs. Mike Smith sideline showdown could put the Birds boss on tilt. Plus, RG3.
Seahawks (+3) at Panthers
Cam Newton will need to watch his back against the ball Hawks from Seattle.
Don’t be afraid of a big number; sometimes those pay out the biggest numbers.
Vikings (-6) vs. Titans
If you had bet against Tennessee every week this season, you’d be 3–1 ATS. Let it ride.
Giants (-9) vs. Browns
Jason Pierre Paul and the Big Blue Wrecking Crew will be back to having fun against Brandon Weeden and the Brown outs.
49ers (-10) vs. Bills
Jim Harbaugh’s blue collar crew will make Buffalo want to move to Toronto.
Stay away completely. Just because a game is good doesn’t mean it’s a good bet.
Steelers (-3.5) vs. Eagles
Big Ben vs. Mike Vick is the battle for Walter Payton Man of the Year.
Saints (-4) at Chargers
Feels like a Drew Brees love fest. But Sean Payton has not been a good luck charm lately.
Patriots (-7) vs. Broncos
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are reunited and it feels so good. But don’t bet on it.
Texans (-9) at Jets
Tim-my Te-bow! Tim-my Te-bow!
It's rare that a first-year player comes into the NFL and has an immediate impact on the game. But it does happen. Athlon Sports looks back at the best rookie players in NFL history, or at least since Gale Sayers took the field in 1965.
1. Eric Dickerson, RB, Los Angeles Rams, 1983
Sure, Dickerson took a pay cut from his days as an SMU Mustang to be a member of the L.A. Rams. But the No. 2 overall pick didn’t let that stop him. Dickerson put on his goggles, put a helmet over his jheri curl — which was the fashion of the day? — and ran 390 carries for 1,808 yards and 18 TDs, while also hauling in 51 catches for 404 yards and two trips to the end zone.
2. Lawrence Taylor, OLB, New York Giants, 1981
Bill Parcells undoubtedly took all of the credit for the athletic genius that was L.T. But the Giants’ first-year defensive coordinator just happened to hit the good-timing lottery with the No. 2 overall pick out of North Carolina. Taylor terrorized the league and began redefining the outside linebacker position en route to winning Defensive Player of the Year honors as a rookie.
3. Randy Moss, WR, Minnesota Vikings, 1998
After falling all the way to No. 21 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft, Moss made his doubters pay — “straight cash, homey?” — with 69 catches for 1,313 yards and 17 TDs as a rookie. The Dallas Cowboys’ tab was the biggest, however. Randy dropped a three-catch, 163-yard, three-TD turkey at Jerry Jones’ old house in Dallas, during a Thanksgiving Day performance even tryptophan couldn’t slow down.
4. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers, 2011
The self-proclaimed “entertainer and icon” lived up to his ego as a rookie. Cammy Cam Juice powered a video-game-gaudy stat line. Newton completed 60 percent of his passes for 4,051 yards and 21 TDs through the air, while scrambling for 706 yards and 14 TDs on the ground for the Cats.
5. Barry Sanders, RB, Detroit Lions, 1989
Barry talked and walked softly, but the decibel level was off the charts whenever he cut, spun and sprinted. A classical composer of highlight-reel footage, Sanders started strong — with 1,470 rush yards and 14 TDs as a rookie — and never missed a beat until his abrupt retirement prior to the 1999 season. In fact, he’s still the Lions’ best option at running back.
6. Gale Sayers, RB-KR-PR, Chicago Bears, 1965
It only took Sayers 14 games to score 22 TDs. The triple-threat runner-receiver-returner hit paydirt with 14 rushing scores, six receiving TDs, one kick return and another punt return. Of the 56 career TDs that Sayers scored, 22 came during his marvelous rookie campaign.
7. Jevon Kearse, DE, Tennessee Titans, 1999
Never was the Freak more freakish than during his 1999 party, when he was a Super Freak capable of stomping on Charlie Murphy’s couch and bringing any girl he wanted home to mama. Or, he was a really disruptive pass rusher. However it’s phrased, Kearse had 14.5 sacks, eight forced fumbles, was runner-up for Defensive Player of the Year and carried the Titans to a runner-up finish in Super Bowl XXXIV.
8. Anquan Boldin, WR, Arizona Cardinals, 2003
Not only did Boldin have one of the greatest first seasons in NFL history, he had one of the best first games of all-time. His 10-catch, 217-yard, two-TD Week 1 explosion nearly detonated the internet, as fantasy football owners worldwide hit the web looking for a smoking hot waiver wire pickup. For those whose dial-up was fast enough, Boldin was a boon, with 101 catches for 1,377 yards and eight TDs.
9. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004
Before the multiple Super Bowls and rape accusations, Big Ben was just a wide-eyed kid trying to avoid being yelled at (and subsequently spit on) by Bill Cowher’s lispy jaw. And he did a damn fine job, completing 66.4 percent of his passes for a 98.1 passer rating, while going 13–0 as a starter, with six game-winning drives and five fourth-quarter comebacks as a rook.
10. Edgerrin James, RB, Indianapolis Colts, 1999
The Edge may never get the credit he deserves. But prior to mid-prime (sub-prime?) knee injury, James was one of the all-time great runners. Replacing Marshall Faulk should not have been as easy as Edgerrin made it seem, posting 1,553 rush yards, 586 receiving yards and 17 total TDs as the Colts’ top thoroughbred. Turns out, Bill Polian made the right move by drafting James ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams.
NFL Week 5 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Cardinals (4-0) at Rams (2-2)
The Cardinals return to St. Louis, the city where the Birds played from 1960-87 before heading to the Valley of the Sun. The Cards are flying high, off to their best start in 38 years. In fact, Arizona has won 11 of its last 13 games dating back to last November.
Rams by 1
Eagles (3-1) at Steelers (1-2)
Although Pittsburgh has the historic edge over Philadelphia in Super Bowls — at six-to-zero — the City of Brotherly Love has the bragging rights head-to-head against the Steel City, with a 47–27–3 record. Eagles quarterback Mike Vick has a banged up knee and a bruised touchdown-to-turnover ratio, at five-to-nine. The dynamic lefty will have his work cut out for him against the Steelers, who return a healthy safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison following their bye week.
Steelers by 3
Packers (2-2) at Colts (1-2)
Indy is in an impossible position following the sudden news that first-year coach Chuck Pagano has been diagnosed with leukemia and is out indefinitely. That puts even more of the burden on rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who has been solid but not RG3-spectacular.
Packers by 10
Browns (0-4) at Giants (2-2)
The road doesn’t get any easier for winless Cleveland. After a tough Thursday night loss at Baltimore, the Browns take on the defending Super Bowl champion Giants in New Jersey. That’s a tough task for even the league’s best — but especially for arguably the NFL’s worst.
Giants by 11
Falcons (4-0) at Redskins (2-2)
Hot-lanta has been on fire so far this season. But so has Robert Griffin III, who has completed 69.4 percent of his passes for 1,070 yards, four TDs and one INT for a 103.2 passer rating, while rushing for 252 yards and four more TDs.
Falcons by 3
Dolphins (1-3) at Bengals (3-1)
Miami enters with the league’s top rushing defense (56.8 ypg) but the 30th-ranked passing defense (297.8 ypg). That could be a problem, as Cincy has the eighth-best passing offense (279.2 ypg) and one of the top young receivers in the game in A.J. Green.
Bengals by 5
Ravens (3-1) at Chiefs (1-3)
Baltimore has had 10 days to prep for K.C., a team whose running back, Jamaal Charles, said that he “sucked” last week.
Ravens by 9
Seahawks (2-2) at Panthers (1-3)
Imagine if the emotional Cam Newton had lost a game to a Golden Tate non-catch?
Panthers by 4
Bears (3-1) at Jaguars (1-3)
New owner, new coach, new quarterback, but same results for Jacksonville. On the bright side, the Jags are at home, playing a team coming off a short week, with a bipolar QB.
Bears by 7
Broncos (2-2) at Patriots (2-2)
Ali-Frazier. Russell-Chamberlain. Magic-Bird. Federer-Nadal. Brady-Manning. While Eli has redefined the meaning of Brady-Manning — by beating Tom Terrific in two Super Bowls — there’s nothing quite like Tommy Boy’s original rivalry with Peyton. The two best quarterbacks of the generation have met 12 times, with Brady carrying an 8–4 edge, with a 6–3 mark in the regular season and 2–1 playoff record.
Patriots by 6
Bills (2-2) at 49ers (3-1)
San Fran’s travel schedule has been hectic — going from the Bay to the Twin Cities to the Big Apple and back to the Bay for a contest with Canada’s favorite team.
49ers by 10
Titans (1-3) at Vikings (3-1)
The Jake Locker vs. Christian Ponder showdown of second-year signal-callers is off, following a blindside blitz from the Texans that knocked Locker’s left shoulder out of socket for the second time in a month. But the Chris Johnson vs. Adrian Peterson track meet is still on — that is, if Johnson plays like he did in Week 4 (141 yards) and not Weeks 1-3 (35).
Vikings by 4
Chargers (3-1) at Saints (0-4)
Drew Brees’ Sunday night showcase coincides with New Orleans hitting the panic button following an 0–4 start. Brees was drafted by the Chargers in 2001 — in a pick received as part of the Michael Vick draft day trade — and played in San Diego through 2005, when the Bolts decided to hand the keys to young gun Philip Rivers — who was acquired as part of the Eli Manning draft day trade of 2004. This week, the former mentor-protege duo of Brees and Rivers will go toe-to-toe in prime time.
Saints by 3
Texans (4-0) at Jets (2-2)
The stage is set on Monday night and there are countless drama-filled potential storylines. Will this be the week that the Jets crash and burn? Will Tim Tebow get a chance to steal the show? Will Jon Gruden’s head explode? Who knows?
Texans by 10
Last week: 11–4 // Season: 37–26
The way the 2012 season has started for the New Orleans Saints, you would think that Gregg Williams and/or Jonathan Vilma had put a bounty — “allegedly” — on their old teammates from the Crescent City.
Most believed that the Saints would take a step back following the season-long suspension of head coach Sean Payton. But no one predicted the team that has a combined 37–11 record over the last three seasons — including a victory in Super Bowl XLIV — would start the 2012 season so slow.
New Orleans opened the year with a stunning 40–32 loss at home to Washington, whose rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III started the Twitter trend of “Griffining” after throwing an 88-yard scoring strike for his first career touchdown pass.
On the road at Carolina in Week 2, the Saints fell 35–27 to the NFC South rival Panthers. Through two weeks, the Saints defense had allowed a combined 922 yards and 75 points to RG3- and Cam Newton-led teams.
A return trip to New Orleans for a matchup against then-winless Kansas City in Week 3 looked like a can’t miss. But that was not the case, as the Saints took a 24–6 lead in the third quarter before collapsing for a 27–24 overtime loss to the Chiefs — in a game where the Saints defense allowed the longest touchdown run in franchise history (91 yards).
Although, New Orleans did appear to have won for one brief, shining moment when the replacement refs wrongly ruled a Kansas City fumble and Roman Harper return for a touchdown in overtime.
A trip to Lambeau Field in Week 4 was the last thing anyone in black and gold wanted to see on the horizon. But New Orleans went blow-for-blow with Green Bay. The Saints even had a chance to take a late fourth-quarter lead on a 48-yard field goal. Garrett Hartley missed, however, and the Saints lost, 28–27, falling to 0–4 for the first time since 2007.
Now New Orleans heads back home to face San Diego in prime time on Sunday night. The stars appear to have aligned. The Saints have not lost three straight games at home since 1995. And the Chargers franchise provides inspiration, as the only team to make the playoffs after starting 0–4.
To top it off, Brees is poised to break the all-time record for consecutive games with at least one touchdown pass — a mark he currently shares with Johnny Unitas (47) — against his former team.
Despite a brutal offseason and first quarter of the season, there is hope.
“The fact that we have great guys and the leadership in the locker room is allowing us to improve. I say it again, it’s not good enough; 0–4 is not good enough,” said interim coach Aaron Kromer.
“You can see it coming. You can see we’re on the cusp of breaking out. … This team is all in, and they are on the cusp of becoming a very productive, winning team.”