Articles By Nathan Rush
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst football teams in the NFL. Here are our NFL Power Rankings following Week 4 of the season.
1. Texans (4-0) Top-ranked defense makes Houston a problem.
2. Falcons (4-0) Matty Ice leads last-minute comeback over Carolina.
3. Cardinals (4-0) Have won eight straight at home, including five in OT.
4. 49ers (3-1) Kaepernick shows Jets how Wildcat should be run.
5. Eagles (3-1) Improve to 8–1 in last nine games against Giants.
6. Ravens (3-1) Regular officials return to ovation on Thursday night.
7. Giants (2-2) Tynes’ potential game-winning FG wide left at Philly.
8. Patriots (2-2) Score 45 second-half points in blowout at Buffalo.
9. Packers (2-2) Bounce back to win after replacement ref scandal.
10. Bears (3-1) Monsters of the Midway dominate on MNF in Big D.
11. Bengals (3-1) Dalton-to-Green too much for overmatched Jaguars.
12. Chargers (3-1) Rivers tops 25,000 yards passing in 100th NFL start.
13. Broncos (2-2) Outscore Raiders 27–0 in second half of blowout.
14. Steelers (1-2) Polamalu (calf), Harrison (knee) set to play after bye.
15. Vikings (3-1) End 11-game losing streak against NFC North foes.
16. Cowboys (2-2) Romo throws career-high five INTs in loss to Bears.
17. Redskins (2-2) RG3 overcomes headset failure on winning drive.
18. Bills (2-2) Fall to 1–17 in last 18 games vs. AFC East rival Pats.
19. Jets (2-2) Still no Tebow despite worst shutout loss since 1989.
20. Rams (2-2) Rookie Zuerlein hits team record 60-yard FG in win.
21. Seahawks (2-2) Some fans calling for Flynn after Russell struggles.
22. Panthers (1-3) Let victory slip through their claws against Falcons.
23. Saints (0-4) Brees ties Unitas with TD pass in 47 straight games.
24. Titans (1-3) Locker dislocates shoulder; CJ141Y has breakout.
25. Lions (1-3) Victimized by special teams for second straight week.
26. Buccaneers (1-3) Victory Formation would be nice right about now.
27. Dolphins (1-3) Wake records 4.5 sacks in losing effort at Arizona.
28. Raiders (1-3) Worst loss to Broncos since 1962, pre-Al Davis era.
29. Chiefs (1-3) Lose six turnovers in loss to AFC West rival Chargers.
30. Jaguars (1-3) Fred Taylor inducted into ring of honor before loss.
31. Colts (1-3) Pagano diagnosed with leukemia, out indefinitely.
32. Browns (0-4) Weeden air mails last chance pass in loss at Ravens.
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 4.
Locks of the Week
Both of these teams have something to prove after shocking results last week.
Seahawks (-3) at Rams
Marshawn Lynch was in “Beast Mode” against the Rams last season, rushing for a combined 203 yards and two TDs in two wins — a 24–7 triumph at St. Louis in Week 11 and a 30–13 victory at home in Week 14. And if it comes down to the final play, you know Golden Tate has got this in the bag.
Bengals (-3) at Jaguars
This is a catfight between two second-year signal-callers, Andy Dalton and Blaine Gabbert. The Jags are probably still hung over after their upset of the Colts last week.
Patriots (-4.5) at Bills
Tom Brady carries an 18–2 mark against the Bills, although one of those two losses did come last season in a 34–31 Week 3 defeat in Buffalo.
Straight Up Upsets
These underdogs don’t look as good as Kate Upton’s Twitter pics, but they look good.
Giants (+1) at Eagles
The Big Blue Wrecking Crew should be able to take advantage of Michael Vick, who has already thrown six INTs and lost three of his five fumbles this season.
Redskins (+3) at Buccaneers
Ride the RG3 bandwagon until the wheels fall off, the rookie has 956 total yards, seven total TDs and just two turnovers through three games.
These underdogs may or may not pull off the straight up upset, but they should keep it close enough to cash in.
Vikings (+4.5) at Lions
The Vikes are riding high after their upset of the 49ers, while the Lions are looking shaky after an epic overtime defeat against the Titans — in a game that Matthew Stafford left injured.
Saints (+8) at Packers
It’s do or die for New Orleans. Sure, Green Bay will be fired up. But the Pack will also be emotionally drained after the Golden Gate fiasco, the short week after Monday night and long flight from Seattle.
Stay away completely. These games are meant for local yokels who always bet on their home team, or for degenerates who always have to have action.
Chargers (-1) at Chiefs
Arrowhead ain’t easy. This is a coin toss contest, just like the line says.
Cowboys (-3.5) vs. Bears
Two quarterbacks — Tony Romo and Jay Cutler — with a reputation of stinking it up on national television; this one could go down to the final INT.
49ers (-4.5) at Jets
The Niners looked like an unstoppable juggernaut in Weeks 1 and 2 before choking out in Week 3. Now without Darrelle Revis, the Jets could be in trouble against San Fran.
Cardinals (-6) vs. Dolphins
The rising Phoenix has been on fire thus far this season.
Broncos (-7) vs. Raiders
Still not sure which Peyton Manning will show up. Once the most reliable player around, No. 18 is a wild card until further notice.
Falcons (-7.5) vs. Panthers
A division showdown in Cam Newton’s hometown — where he lost 31–17 in Week 6 last season.
Texans (-12) vs. Titans
The old Houston Oilers return to face the new Houston Texans. It will be tough for CJ1YPC to have a breakout game against the Texans defense.
NFL Week 4 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Browns (0-3) at Ravens (2-1)
The expansion Courtney Browns take on the original Jim Browns in the Art Modell Bowl on Thursday night. This one could get ugly.
Ravens by 11
Patriots (1-2) at Bills (2-1)
Tom Brady has an 18–2 record against the Bills. But one of those losses came last season — in a 34–31 Week 3 defeat on the road in Buffalo.
Patriots by 8
49ers (2-1) at Jets (2-1)
Rather than flying back to the Bay, the Niners will spend the week in Ohio before going to Jersey.
49ers by 4
Seahawks (2-1) at Rams (1-2)
Seattle’s “Beast Mode” back Marshawn Lynch rushed for a combined 203 yards and two TDs in two wins over St. Louis last season.
Seahawks by 1
Panthers (1-2) at Falcons (3-0)
Cam Newton returns to his hometown of Atlanta, where he will look to earn his first win over the Falcons — after losing 31–17 on the road in Week 6 and 31–23 in Week 14 last season.
Falcons by 8
Vikings (2-1) at Lions (1-2)
All eyes will be on oft-injured franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was replaced by Shaun Hill late in last week’s loss at Tennessee.
Lions by 6
Chargers (2-1) at Chiefs (1-2)
Philip Rivers needs 27 passing yards to become the 63rd quarterback in NFL history to throw for 25,000 career yards.
Chargers by 3
Titans (1-2) at Texans (3-0)
The Titans became the first team in history to score five TDs of longer than 60 yards during their wild overtime win against the Lions.
Texans by 10
Bengals (2-1) at Jaguars (1-2)
Andy Dalton and Blaine Gabbert duel in a battle of second-year signal-callers.
Bengals by 4
Raiders (1-2) at Broncos (2-1)
Denver will be without linebacker Joe Mays, who was suspended one game and fined $50,000 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Matt Schaub.
Broncos by 4
Dolphins (1-2) at Cardinals (3-0)
Arizona has allowed just two TDs and leads the NFL with 13.3 points against per game.
Cardinals by 6
Redskins (1-2) at Buccaneers (1-2)
The “Victory Formation” has been banned in Tampa but “Griffining” is legal — for now.
Buccaneers by 1
Saints (0-3) at Packers (2-1)
Two of the last three Super Bowl champions are also arguably the two most emotionally drained teams in the NFL heading into Week 4 — with New Orleans still winless and Green Bay fresh off one of the most painful losses in history.
Packers by 7
Giants (2-1) at Eagles (2-1)
Michael Vick is under the heat lamp just in time for a Sunday night fight against the defending Super Bowl champs and NFC East rival Giants.
Giants by 2
Bears (2-1) at Cowboys (2-1)
Two of the most popular teams in America — led by two of the least popular QBs in the NFL — clash at Jerry’s House on Monday night.
Bears by 1
While most athletes are content to enjoy the limelight on the field of competitive sports, many have tried to bask in the bright lights of Hollywood. Here are 30 athletes who made their mark in the movies; some as classic characters in blockbusters and others in forgettable box office disasters.
1. Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Terminator (1984)
The four-time Mr. Universe and International Powerlifting Champion from Austria went on to become the greatest action hero of his — or any — generation. Schwarzenegger’s signature role was the Terminator sent back in time to assassinate Sarah Connor, the mother of unborn revolutionary leader John Connor. Although he speaks only 18 lines in the James Cameron classic, Arnold utters his most memorable quote — “I’ll be back.”
Other notable films: Conan the Barbarian (1982), Predator (1987), Total Recall (1990), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), True Lies (1994)
2. Johnny Weissmuller, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932)
A five-time gold medalist swimmer and bronze medalist water polo player, Weissmuller starred in 12 Tarzan films from 1932-48. Although he was the sixth actor to portray the Edgar Rice Burrough character, Weissmuller added arguably the most important element to Tarzan — the ape-man’s ululating yell.
3. Jim Brown, 100 Rifles (1969)
Arguably the greatest running back (and lacrosse player) in history, Brown retired from the NFL during the prime of his career to become a movie star.
“To leave at 29 years old, MVP, having won the championship in ’64 and played for it in ’65,” Brown told Esquire in 2008. “To go into the movies and break the color barrier and be in a sex scene with Raquel Welch. To get to be in The Dirty Dozen with some great actors. To make more money in one year than you damn near made in nine years of football. Everything about it was ingenious.”
Other notable films: The Dirty Dozen (1967), The Running Man (1987), Mars Attacks! (1996), Any Given Sunday (1999)
4. O.J. Simpson, The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear (1991)
The Juice was a Heisman Trophy winner at USC and the only running back in NFL history to rush for 2,000 yards in only 14 games. But he was also the bumbling klutz Detective Nordberg in The Naked Gun franchise.
Nordberg: “All right, listen up everyone! I want you to calmly file towards the exits. That’s it, that’s it! Nobody runs, just walk. Single file. That’s it. Now if we just stay calm, no one’s gonna be harmed by the huge bomb that’s gonna explode any minute.”
But O.J.’s best acting scene came during his 1994-95 trial for double-homicide — when he was given black gloves and the stage in one of the greatest legal dramas ever.
Other notable films: The Towering Inferno (1974), The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988), The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult (1994)
5. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Airplane! (1980)
From sky hook to fly boy, Kareem was co-pilot Roger Murdock — flying alongside a very Jerry Sandusky pilot played by Peter Graves — in the comedy classic Airplane! He also fought Bruce Lee during his film debut in Game of Death.
Roger Murdock: “Listen Kid! I’ve been hearing that crap ever since I was at UCLA. I’m out there busting my buns every night. Tell your old man to drag Walton and Lanier up and down the court for 48 minutes.”
Other notable films: Game of Death (1972), Fletch (1985)
6. Carl Weathers, Rocky (1976)
Before he was iconic heavyweight champion Apollo Creed in the Best Picture Academy Award-winning Rocky, Weathers played football at San Diego State, then four seasons with the NFL’s Oakland Raiders and the CFL’s B.C. Lions.
Apollo Creed: “Southpaw nothing. I’ll drop him in three. Apollo Creed meets the Italian Stallion. Now that sounds like a damn monster movie.”
Other notable films: Rocky II (1979), Rocky III (1982), Rocky IV (1985), Predator (1987), Happy Gilmore (1996)
7. Mike Tyson, The Hangover (2009)
The youngest fighter (20 years, 4 months, 22 days) to unify the heavyweight title belt (WBC, WBA and IBF), Iron Mike was a terror in the ring — going 37–0 before losing to Buster Douglas in Tokyo, in one of the greatest upsets in sports history.
A surreal caricature of a man, Tyson infamously did hard time, bit off Evander Holyfield’s ear, got a face tattoo and speaks with an effeminate voice that contradicts his baddest man alive persona. Already bordering on a fictional existence, Tyson took his act to the big screen, singing Phil Collins’ classic “In the Air Tonight” in the bachelor party flick Hangover.
Tyson: “By the way man, where you get that cop car from?”
Stu Price: “We, uh, stole it from these dumbass cops.”
Tyson: “Nice! High five there! That’s nice!”
Other notable films: Rocky Balboa (2006), The Hangover Part II (2011)
8. Bob Uecker, Major League (1989)
One of Uecker’s 14 career home runs in MLB was off of the legendary lefty Sandy Koufax. But the backup catcher was known more for his play-by-play commentary — both in real life as the five-time Wisconsin Sportscaster of the Year with the Milwaukee Brewers and in film as the hard-drinking Harry Doyle with the Cleveland Indians in the Major League trilogy.
Harry Doyle: “So, here is Rick Vaughn, the one they call the ‘Wild Thing.’ So, he sets and deals. (Vaughn throws a wild pitch) Just a bit outside, he tried for the corner and missed. (Vaughn throws another wild pitch) Ball 4. (Vaughn throws another wild pitch) Ball 8. (Vaughn throws another wild pitch) Low, and he walks the bases loaded on 12 straight pitches. How can these guys lay off pitches that close?”
Other notable films: Major League II (1994), Homeward Bound 2: Lost in San Francisco (1996), Major League: Back to the Minors (1998)
9. Alex Karras, Blazing Saddles (1974)
An Outland Award winning defensive tackle at Iowa and a four-time Pro Bowl selection in the NFL, Karras was the perfect fit for the horse-punching Mongo in the Mel Brooks wild Western satire Blazing Saddles.
Mongo: “Mongo only pawn … in game of life.”
Other notable films: Porky’s (1982), Victor Victoria (1982), Against All Odds (1984)
10. Andre the Giant, The Princess Bride (1987)
The 7’4”, 530-pound Frenchman was one of the greatest acts in WWF history before playing the lovable strongman running mate of Inigo Montoya in the rom-com fairy tale The Princess Bride.
Fezzik: “It’s not my fault being the biggest and the strongest. I don’t even exercise.”
Other notable films: Conan the Destroyer (1984), Micki + Maude (1984)
11. Bubba Smith, Police Academy (1984)
“Kill, Bubba, Kill” was chanted by fans at Michigan State before Smith became the No. 1 overall pick of the 1967 NFL Draft. The 6’7” Smith was a two-time Pro Bowl defensive end with the Baltimore Colts and a member of the Super Bowl V champions and Super Bowl III runners-up. But to many, he was Lt. Moses Hightower of the Police Academy series.
Hightower: “I was a florist.”
Mahoney: “A florist?”
Hightower: “Yeah, you know, flowers and shit.”
Other notable films: Police Academy 2-6 (1985-89)
12. Vinnie Jones, Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998)
A real deal hooligan, Jones was a footballer who captained the Welsh national team before becoming a typecast movie tough guy.
Other notable films: Snatch (2000), Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000), Swordfish (2001), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006)
13. John Matuszak, The Goonies (1985)
“Tooz” was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1973 NFL Draft and a two-time Super Bowl champion (Super Bowls XI and XV) before playing the deformed “Sloth” in The Goonies.
Other notable films: North Dallas Forty (1979), Caveman (1981)
14. Jason Lee, Almost Famous (2000)
The former professional skateboarder has carved his way to becoming one of the top goofy-foot grinders in the acting game, turning a wicked 360 flip into mainstream big (and small) screen success.
Other notable films: Mallrats (1995), Chasing Amy (1997), Vanilla Sky (2001), Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007)
15. Cam Neely, Dumb and Dumber (1994)
“Kick his ass, Sea Bass!” has made its way into the vernacular thanks to the Hockey Hall of Famer who hockey-ed a loogie on Jim Carey’s hamburger in the cult classic.
Sea Bass: “What the hell? Who’s the dead man that hit me with the salt shaker?”
Other notable films: D2: The Mighty Ducks (1994), Me, Myself & Irene (2000), What’s the Worst That Could Happen (2001)
16. Roger Clemens, Kingpin (1996)
Clemens, like Neely, is an athlete-actor in Farrelly Brothers comedies. Another intimidator, Clemens plays the role of Skidmark, who doesn’t like it when he finds Amish bowler Ishmael dancing with his girl.
Ishmael: “Hi Mr. Skidmark.”
Other notable films: Cobb (1994), Anger Management (2003)
17. Ray Allen, He Got Game (1998)
Ray plays Jesus Shuttlesworth — Denzel Washington’s son, based loosely on the life of Stephon Marbury — in the Spike Lee joint He Got Game. The perky perks of college basketball recruiting, as well as its financially and politically charged shady side, are in the spotlight.
Other notable film: Harvard Man (2001)
18. Ray Nitschke, The Longest Yard (1974)
The iconic two-time Super Bowl (I and II) champion Green Bay Packers middle linebacker makes this Burt Reynolds original where the prison inmates play against the guards.
Other notable film: Head (1968)
19. Lawrence Taylor, Any Given Sunday (1999)
Another of the NFL’s all-time great linebackers stretches his acting chops by playing football in a film. Coached by Al Pacino, L.T. is a veteran risking his life to play another Sunday for the Miami Sharks.
Other notable films: The Waterboy (1998), The Comebacks (2007), When in Rome (2010)
20. Mike Ditka, Kicking and Screaming (2005)
One of two men to win Super Bowls as a player, assistant coach and head coach, Ditka may have been able to beat a Hurricane — according to Bill Swerski’s Superfans on Saturday Night Live — but he was no match for Will Ferrell.
21. Wilt Chamberlain, Conan the Destroyer (1984)
After scoring a record 100 points in a single NBA game, Wilt the Stilt teamed up with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Look out, ladies.
22. Jesse Ventura, Predator (1987)
Another Arnold Schwarzenegger castmate, “The Body” was hunting and hunted by a Predator monster in the jungles of Central America. The duo would go on to become governors, with Ventura taking over Minnesota and Arnold becoming the “Governator” of Call-ee-forn-ee-a.
Other notable films: The Running Man (1987), Demolition Man (1993), Batman & Robin (1997)
23. Terry Bradshaw, Failure to Launch (2006)
The four-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback plays the husband of Kathy Bates and father of Matthew McConaughey, a 35-year-old still living with his parents. Spoiler alert: Bradshaw bares all.
24. Brett Favre, There's Something About Mary (1998)
Cameron Diaz is a Niners fan, but Brett and Warren are friends.
Favre: “Hi, Mary!”
Pat Healy: “What the hell is Brett Favre doing here?”
Favre: “I’m in town to play the Dolphins, you dumb ass.”
25. Dan Marino, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
Ray Finkle blames Marino — “Laces out!” — for losing Super Bowl XVII and ruining his career. The Jim Carey vehicle is funnier than Isotoner commercials, which is saying something.
26. Lance Armstrong, Dodgeball (2004)
After convincing Ben Still to Live Strong, Lance has since taken his ball and gone home.
Armstrong: “I’ve been watching the dodgeball tournament on the Ocho, ESPN 8. I just can’t get enough of it. But, good luck in the tournament. I’m really pulling for you against those jerks from Globo Gym. I think you better hurry up or you’re gonna be late.”
Peter La Fleur: “Uh, actually I decided to quit, Lance.”
Armstrong: “Quit? You know, once I was thinking about quitting when I was diagnosed with brain, lung and testicular cancer, all at the same time. But with the love and support of my friends and family, I got back on the bike and I won the Tour de France five times in a row. But I’m sure you have a good reason to quit. So what are you dying from that’s keeping you from the finals?”
27. Derek Jeter, The Other Guys (2010)
He’s a biracial angel.
28. Gheorghe Muresan, My Giant (1998)
The 7’7” Romanian sensation wasn’t just Billy Crystal’s giant, he was everyone’s giant.
29. Michael Jordan, Space Jam (1996)
Bugs Bunny owes us all an apology. You too, Michael.
30. Shaquille O'Neal, Kazaam (1996)
Shaq would probably spend all three of his wishes to wipe out this boombox genie flop.
Each week during the season Athlon Sports looks at the best and worst football teams in the NFL. Here's our NFL Power Rankings following Week 3 of the season.
1. Falcons (3-0) Mike Smith now carries 6–0 record on West Coast.
2. Texans (3-0) Defeat Peyton Manning; 3–16 all-time vs. No. 18.
3. Ravens (2-1) Torrey Smith scores two TDs in emotional win.
4. Giants (2-1) No comeback needed for G-Men on Thursday night.
5. 49ers (2-1) Alex Smith’s no-INT streak ends at 249 passes.
6. Cardinals (3-0) One of only three undefeated teams still standing.
7. Patriots (1-2) Bill Belichick outraged, grabs referee leaving field.
8. Packers (1-2) Aaron Rodgers sacked eight times in strange loss.
9. Broncos (1-2) Bloody Matt Schaub but can’t take down Texans.
10. Steelers (1-2) Defense struggling without injured Troy Polamalu.
11. Seahawks (2-1) Hail Mary answered by simultaneous possession.
12. Eagles (2-1) Lose to Philly’s Week 1 starter in 2010, Kevin Kolb.
13. Cowboys (2-1) Commit 13 penalties for 105 lost yards in victory.
14. Bears (2-1) Major Wright pick-six highlights defensive effort.
15. Bengals (2-1) A.J. Green explodes for career-high 183 yards.
16. Chargers (2-1) Held to lowest point total (3) since Nov. 24, 2002.
17. Jets (2-1) Darrelle Revis heads to IR island after ACL injury.
18. Bills (2-1) C.J. Spiller likely out, but Fred Jackson may return.
19. Vikings (2-1) Christian Ponder good as gold in upset of 49ers.
20. Titans (1-2) Revive ìMusic City Miracleî in thriller vs. Lions.
21. Lions (1-2) Shaun Hill leads two TD drives in just 18 seconds.
22. Raiders (1-2) Dennis Allen earns first career win over Steelers.
23. Buccaneers (1-2) Gain only 166 total yards in ugly loss to Cowboys.
24. Panthers (1-2) Cam Newton crushed by Big Blue Wrecking Crew.
25. Redskins (1-2) Defense confused by creative Cincy play-calling.
26. Chiefs (1-2) Ryan Succop hits six FGs, including game-winner.
27. Saints (0-3) Drew Brees goes 0-for-6 in fourth quarter and OT.
28. Dolphins (1-2) No "structural damage" to Reggie Bush’s knee.
29. Rams (1-2) Sam Bradford beat up by physical Bears defense.
30. Jaguars (1-2) Beat Colts on 80-yard TD with 45 seconds to play.
31. Colts (1-2) Heading into bye week with bitter taste of defeat.
32. Browns (0-3) Have lost nine consecutive games since last year.
The NFL’s replacement referees hit a new low on Monday night, as the Seattle Seahawks were awarded a controversial 14–12 victory over the Green Bay Packers — despite a game-deciding final play that had even the on-field officials ruling in a split-decision.
On 4th-and-10 from the Packers’ 24-yard-line with eight seconds left in a 12–7 game, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw a Hail Mary into the crowded end zone. From there, all bets were off — or, if Vegas’ numbers are accurate, all wagers were impacted to the tune of $150 million.
Seattle’s Golden Tate pushed off Green Bay’s Sam Shields, leapt into the air and tangled for the ball with Green Bay’s M.D. Jennings — who appeared to have possession on his way to the turf.
“It was pinned to my chest the whole time we were on the pile,” said Jennings. “I feel like I had the ball.”
Meanwhile, the 5'10", 202-pound Tate fought for the ball in the scrum.
“I was just trying to get possession of the ball,” said Tate. “The guy who was fighting me was strong. So I was trying to hold on to it until our guys pulled him off of me.
“I don’t know if they called touchdown, interception or incomplete. I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t hear anything. I just tried to keep fighting for the ball.”
One official signaled touchback, indicating that Jennings had possession. The other ref ran in to overrule with the signal of touchdown, giving Tate the game-winning score with no time remaining.
After replay review, the call on the field was confirmed — causing pandemonium at CenturyLink Field in Seattle and sending shockwaves throughout the NFL’s fanbase across the country. There was so much commotion, the NFL issued an official statement in support of the call.
“When the players hit the ground in the end zone, the officials determined that both Tate and Jennings had possession of the ball. Under the rule for simultaneous catch, the ball belongs to Tate, the offensive player. The result of the play was a touchdown. …
“Referee Wayne Elliott determined that no indisputable visual evidence existed to overturn the call on the field, and as a result, the on-field ruling of touchdown stood. The NFL Officiating Department reviewed the video today and supports the decision not to overturn the on-field ruling following the instant replay review.
“The result of the game is final.”
Obviously, the Seahawks agreed.
“From what I understood from the officials, it was a simultaneous catch. Tie goes to the runner. Good call,” said Seattle coach Pete Carroll.
But the stunned Packers could not have disagreed more.
“It was awful,” said Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers. “It was awful. That’s all I’m going to say about it.”
A betting preview of every game (against the spread) on Sunday and Monday in Week 3.
Locks of the Week
Keep riding the hot hands and take two of the NFC’s top teams this season.
49ers (-7.5) at Vikings
San Fran has won back-to-back games by eight points, defeating Green Bay (30–22) and Detroit (27–19), respectively. Expect the Niners defense to engulf the Vikings and cruise for the cover.
Falcons (+3) at Chargers
The Dirty Birds fly to the West Coast to take on the Bolts. Matt Ryan looks like he’s taken the proverbial step forward, put your money where Matty Ice is.
Don’t be afraid of a big spread. Through the season’s first two weeks, 19 of 32 games have been decided by eight or more points.
Bears (-7.5) vs. Rams
Smokin’ Jay Cutler has had 10 days to work out his issues. The Bears should be able to maul these sacrificial Rams.
Saints (-9) vs. Chiefs
The winless Aints will take out the Arrowheads — Gregg Williams style — in a Big Easy blowout at the Superdome.
Straight Up Upsets
These underdogs don’t look as good as Kate Upton’s Twitter pics, but they look good.
Broncos (+3) vs. Texans
Peyton Manning looked like MV-Peyton in Week 1 but was left making Manning faces on Monday night in Week 2.
Buccaneers (+8) at Cowboys
Will young Bucs line up in the Victory Formation? Depends. Is that how Greg Schiano did it at Rutgers?
Stay away completely. These games are meant for local yokels who always bet on their home team, or for degenerates who always have to have action.
Jets (-3) at Dolphins
Last season, the Fins ran a nickel defense at the goal line as Tim Tebow led the Broncos to victory.
Bills (-3) at Browns
Rabid fan bases from cities no one wants to live in will watch two of the more exciting young running backs in C.J. Spiller and Trent Richardson.
Redskins (-3) vs. Bengals
RG3 makes his home debut in D.C. against a Cincy club that has dangerous upset upside.
Ravens (-3) vs. Patriots
At least Billy Cundiff and Lee Evans won’t be around to choke out during a rematch of last year’s AFC title game.
Colts (-3) vs. Jaguars
Could be the first of many covers by Andrew Luck against the Jags.
Steelers (-4.5) at Raiders
The Steel Curtain drop by the Black Hole for an old school AFL matchup.
Lions (-4) at Titans
Chris Johnson’s 21 yards on 19 carries is not what fantasy owners were expecting.
Eagles (-4) at Cardinals
Mike Vick vs. Kevin Kolb in a rematch of Eagles training camp 2010.
Another chance to wager for those who have to “get back” or “let it ride” this week.
Seahawks (+3.5) vs. Packers
Home field advantage and an opportunistic ball-Hawk defense will keep Seattle around until the end of a contest that could be decided by a field goal either way.
What happens when those charged with correcting mistakes are the ones making the worst errors of all?
The NFL is in the process of finding out, as the second week of replacement referees quickly deteriorated into mass confusion — with unorganized game management, inconsistent (or wrong) penalties called and a general lack of on-field discipline that, at times, bordered on out-of-control.
“There’s some serious calls the refs missed,” said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, following a 24–23 loss at Philadelphia, in a game filled with controversy as well as extracurricular physical altercations after the whistle.
“It’s just the way it is, man, all around the league. We have to correct that. These games are critical. Guys are giving everything they’ve got all across the league. But these are calls, with the regular refs — if they were here — we know the way the calls would be made.”
Currently the NFL has locked out 121 referees in a dispute over pay and pensions in a labor struggle that, in some ways, mirrors last year’s prolonged lockout of the players.
As a result, the league has turned to replacement referees to officiate games until both sides have come to an agreement. And the NFL doesn’t seem to be in any hurry.
“Officiating is never perfect. The current officials have made great strides and are performing admirably under unprecedented scrutiny and great pressure,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello stated in an email to The Associated Press.
Thus far, replacement referees have struggled with every aspect of the rule book — game clock, ball placement, down and distance, NCAA vs. NFL rules, replay, timeouts, etc.
And at the end of a rocky Week 2, tempers were running hot among coaches, players and even television analysts — one of which was quick to point the finger at Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league office.
“Everything about the NFL now is inelastic for demand. There’s nothing (the NFL) can do to hurt the demand for the game. So, the bottom line is, they don’t care,” said ESPN analyst Steve Young, during a postgame rant after Monday Night Football.
“Player safety? Doesn’t matter in this case. Bringing in Division III officials? Doesn’t matter. Because in the end, you’re still going to watch the game. … It doesn’t affect the desire for the game. If it affected the desire for the game, they’d come up with a few extra million dollars.”
The integrity of the game — or the 2012 regular season, at the very least — hangs in the balance. How many games have to be impacted before the regular referees return to the field?
“The time is now,” said Lewis. “Get the regular referees in here and let the games play themselves out. We already have controversy enough with the regular refs.”
NFL Week 3 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Giants (1-1) at Panthers (1-1)
Carolina’s Cam Newton steps into the spotlight on Thursday night, taking on a Big Blue defense led by one of Cam’s few athletic peers, pass-rushing end Jason Pierre-Paul.
Giants by 2
Buccaneers (1-1) at Cowboys (1-1)
Tampa Bay’s best bet is to keep Dallas from ever lining up in the “Victory Formation.” Why didn’t Greg Schiano think of that sooner?
Cowboys by 3
Jaguars (0-2) at Colts (1-1)
After watching Adam Vinatieri hit a game-winning FG last week, Andrew Luck knows what Tom Brady and Peyton Manning feel like.
Colts by 3
Bills (1-1) at Browns (0-2)
C.J. Spiller joined O.J. Simpson, Thurman Thomas and Fred Jackson as the only Bills to rush for back-to-back 100-yard games to open a season. The league’s leading rusher will look to go for three straight at the Dawg Pound.
Bills by 1
Jets (1-1) at Dolphins (1-1)
Tim Tebow returns to Miami, where the Mania started last season — when Tebow threw two TDs in the final 2:44 to pull off an 18–15 win on the same day the Dolphins honored the 2008 Florida Gators national championship team.
Jets by 2
Chiefs (0-2) at Saints (0-2)
One team will earn its first victory following the only matchup of winless teams. Drew Brees and Co. should put on a fireworks display at the Superdome against the struggling Chiefs.
Saints by 7
Bengals (1-1) at Redskins (1-1)
RG3 remains front and center on offense, but seemingly the entire Washington defense is banged up — with linebacker Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker already out for the season.
Redskins by 6
Rams (1-1) at Bears (1-1)
St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher returns to Chicago, where he learned the ropes from Mike Ditka and Buddy Ryan during the famed 1985 Bears’ Super Bowl run and set the team’s punt return yardage mark since broken by Devin Hester.
Bears by 9
49ers (2-0) at Vikings (1-1)
The Vikings better batten down the hatches, because the 49ers defense has been a wall of water, flooding backfields and drowning ball carriers in wins over the Packers and Lions.
49ers by 12
Lions (1-1) at Titans (0-2)
“People need to step up and do their job,” Chris Johnson told The Tennessean after a 38–10 loss at San Diego. “They don’t need to let people beat them. It don’t matter who the opposing defense is, you can’t let your guy beat you.” The opposing defense is coached up by Jim Schwartz, who worked in Tennessee from 1999-2008 before taking the top spot in Detroit.
Lions by 3
Falcons (2-0) at Chargers (2-0)
Atlanta power back Michael Turner — who was known as the “Burner” during his days in San Diego — returns to his old stomping grounds. Unfortunately, Turner was charged with DUI after the win on Monday night. The Dirty Birds may have to rely more on Matt Ryan — who threw his 100th career TD last week — to carry the load in this battle of unbeatens.
Chargers by 1
Eagles (2-0) at Cardinals (2-0)
Remember when Kevin Kolb was tabbed as the “Quarterback of the Future” in Philadelphia and Michael Vick was just a high-profile backup?
Eagles by 2
Steelers (1-1) at Raiders (0-2)
Big Ben Roethlisberger completed 24 passes to 10 different receivers in a win over the Jets. New Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley will take the aerial show on the road to the Black Hole. But the Steel Curtain defense will likely be without safety Troy Polamalu (calf) and linebacker James Harrison (knee) once again.
Steelers by 5
Texans (2-0) at Broncos (1-1)
Peyton Manning knows all about the Texans from his days tossing TDs in the AFC South as a member of the Colts. During his tenure in Indy, the four-time MVP went 16–2 against Houston, with 42 TDs and nine INTs. In fact, Manning has thrown more TDs against the Texans than any other team during his career.
Texans by 2
Patriots (1-1) at Ravens (1-1)
This Sunday night fight is a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game, which was won by the Patriots, 23–20, following two botched plays by the Ravens — a dropped pass by Lee Evans (who had the ball knocked out of his casual grip by Sterling Moore) and a missed potential game-tying 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff with 11 seconds remaining.
Ravens by 1
Packers (1-1) at Seahawks (1-1)
The Packers will have had 10 days to bask in their 23–10 beatdown of the Bears on Thursday. The Seahawks will try to avoid getting too cocky after whipping the Cowboys, 27–7.
Packers by 3
Athlon Sports built the NFL’s Ultimate Quarterback in the September issue of our monthly magazine. Now we take a shot at building the NFL’s Worst Quarterback, pulling together the worst attributes from the league's QBs.
Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars
As a rookie, Gabbert was labeled “scared” by many in the national media, notably NFL Network’s Michael Lombardi. The Jags organization has since declared Gabbert’s toughness to be a “non-issue,” with several teammates declaring that their quarterback is “not scared.”
Russell Wilson, Seahawks
Weighing in at 5’11” and 206 pounds, Russell can barely see over his O-line. Russell is a toy poodle compared to big dogs like Ben Roethlisberger (6’5”, 241), Peyton Manning (6’5”, 230), Tom Brady (6’4”, 225) and Eli Manning (6’4”, 218).
Sam Bradford, Rams
The last No. 1 overall pick to sign prior to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Bradford’s rookie deal is a six-year, $78-million anchor compared to the four-year, $22-million contracts signed by his top pick successors, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck.
Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
Although HBO’s “Hard Knocks” showed off Tannehill’s smoking hot wife, Lauren, the reality show also exposed Tannehill’s lack of football knowledge. The rookie had no idea what teams were in which divisions and came across as a clueless meathead.
Philip Rivers, Chargers
Nobody throws a temper tantrum quite like Rivers, who learned early on from the master, Marty Schottenheimer, before coming to a rolling boil during a ring-less run under coach Norv Turner.
Jay Cutler, Bears
Whether he’s sulking while injured on the sideline during a playoff loss against the Packers or barking-slash-blaming teammates during a Thursday night loss to the Packers (and the subsequent press conference), Cutler has proven to be a master of bad body language.
Tony Romo, Cowboys
There’s nothing quite like Romo’s backwards Starter cap, which is a permanent fixture during pregame introductions, on the sideline and probably even at swanky parties thrown by Jerry Jones.
Michael Vick, Eagles
After Vick’s dog-fighting ring was uncovered, he pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and served 21 months in prison in Aug. 2007. Then, the former face of Nike football and $100-million man filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in July 2008.
Matt Ryan, Falcons
“Matty Ice” carries an 0–3 record in the postseason, being outscored 102–47. Ryan has thrown for just 584 yards, three TDs and four INTs, while taking 10 sacks and losing two fumbles.
Brandon Weeden, Browns
Only a rookie, Weeden will turn 29 years old on Oct. 14. Meanwhile, the 28-year-old Aaron Rodgers already has a Super Bowl ring and MVP award. And Cleveland’s former favorite son, LeBron James, is a three-time MVP, two-time Olympic gold medalist and NBA champ at only 27.
Mark Sanchez, Jets
It must feel good when Sanchez reads Jets owner Woody Johnson declare, “I think you can never have too much (Tim) Tebow.” And with a cancerous Gang Green locker room already divided, Sanchez is in no man’s land.
Tim Tebow, Jets
A lefty prone to throwing wounded ducks way off target, Tebow has completed 167-of-353 career pass attempts for a 47.3 completion percentage. While throwing may not be his forte, the jacked up Tebow is probably an All-Pro arm wrestler.
A game-by-game betting preview (against the spread) for each of the 15 games on Sunday and Monday in Week 2. Here are the teams to pick and the ones to stay away from.
Locks of the Week
Ride the hot hands and go with two veteran teams that looked like Super Bowl contenders in Week 1, the reigning Super Bowl champs and the phenom du jour.
Ravens (+3) at Eagles
Baltimore has a short week after a dominant 44–13 win over Cincinnati on Monday night. But the way Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and the Ravens defense was swarming, Michael Vick — who threw four INTs in the opener — might be in trouble.
Redskins (-3) at Rams
Why not? Ride the RG3 bandwagon until the wheels fall off.
Giants (-7) vs. Buccaneers
The G-Men have had 10 days to prepare for the young Bucs.
Patriots (-14) vs. Cardinals
The biggest number of the week is also one of the safest bets. The home opener in New England will showcase the new faces on the Pats defense — at the expense of whichever quarterback Arizona sends to slaughter.
Don’t be afraid of a big spread. Ten of the 16 games played in Week 1 were decided by eight or more points — including five contests with a margin of 20 or more points.
Bengals (-7) vs. Browns
Bet against Brandon Weeden (4 INTs, 5.1 passer rating in Week 1) every week until his passer rating is at least in the teens.
Texans (-7.5) at Jaguars
Houston had no problem dubbing the Dolphins and should handle the Jaguars with similar ease.
Straight Up Upsets
These underdogs don’t look as good as Kate Upton’s Twitter pics, but they look good.
Seahawks (+3) vs. Cowboys
Tony Romo may not be the holder for field goals anymore, but he’s still the Cowboys quarterback.
Titans (+6) at Chargers
Chris Johnson will need to run for more than four yards in order for Tennessee to pull off the West Coast upset.
Stay away completely. These games are meant for local yokels who always bet on their home team, or for degenerates who always have to have action.
Vikings (-1.5) at Colts
Andrew Luck’s home opener pits two of the worst squads in the league against each other.
Raiders (-3) at Dolphins
Oakland’s backup long-snapper is a better bet than this race to the bottom.
Bills (-3) vs. Chiefs
Two teams with goals of approaching mediocrity this season.
Saints (-3) at Panthers
A division showdown between two teams already in panic mode.
Steelers (-6) vs. Jets
Gang Green lit up the scoreboard for 48 points last week after the first team offense failed to score a touchdown during the preseason.
49ers (-7) vs. Lions
Untuck your shirt, jump around and slap your rival on the back, but stay away from this Sunday night fight.
Another chance to wager for those who have to “get back” or “let it ride” this week.
Falcons (-3) vs. Broncos
Dome sweet dome. Matt Ryan has a 26–4 record in the Georgia Dome.
Conspiracy theories are a part of America's culture, covering everything from government cover-ups to suspicious murders. But the world of sports also has its share of conspiracy theories. Here are the five biggest, and the impact they had on the history of their sport.
1. 1919 World Series — Chicago Black Sox Scandal
“Say it ain’t so, Joe.”
Eight members of the Chicago White Sox — “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, Eddie Cicotte, Claude “Lefty” Williams, Buck Weaver, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Fred McMullin, Charles “Swede” Risberg and Oscar “Happy” Felsch — were banned from baseball for conspiring with gamblers and gangsters (notably New York’s Arnold Rothstein) to throw the 1919 World Series against the Cincinnati Reds.
The plan worked, as the heavily favored White Sox — one of the era’s highest profile teams and arguably one of the most talented squads of all time — fell to the Reds, 5-to-3, in the best-of-nine series.
Strangely, “Shoeless Joe” hit the 1919 World Series’ only home run and led all batters with a .375 average (12-for-32), six RBIs and five runs scores. But Jackson’s implication in the scandal ended his career at only 32 years old, with a .356 career average and three top-5 finishes in AL MVP voting.
As a result of what would become known as the “Black Sox Scandal,” Kenesaw Mountain Landis was named the first “Commissioner of Baseball” in 1920.
2. Super Bowl III — New York Jets upset Baltimore Colts
“We’re going to win Sunday. I guarantee it.”
Joe Namath backed up his famous guarantee with the New York Jets upsetting the Baltimore Colts, 16–7, in Super Bowl III. But since “Broadway Joe” trotted off the field pointing No. 1 to the sky, there have been more than a few rumblings that the Colts took a dive against the Jets.
The legitimacy of the NFL-AFL merger of 1970 was greatly aided by the AFL’s win in Super Bowl III on Jan. 12, 1969. The fact that the game was won by New York — a massive media market with a coverboy quarterback — was icing on the cake. In hindsight, it could be argued that the Jets’ win over the Colts was a triumph worth not just millions but billions of dollars for the league.
“That Super Bowl game, which we lost by nine points, was the critical year (for the AFL),” Colts defensive end Bubba Smith famously told Playboy. “The game just seemed odd to me. Everything was out of place. I tried to rationalize that our coach, Don Shula, got out-coached, but that wasn’t the case. I don’t know if any of my teammates were in on the fix.”
Baltimore had a 13–1 record in 1968 and dominated the Cleveland Browns, 34–0, in the NFL title game. Meanwhile, New York went 11–3 and barely escaped with a 27–23 win over the Oakland Raiders in the AFL title game — thanks in large part to a fluke play late in the fourth quarter, when the Jets recovered a lateral fumble that the Raiders thought was an incomplete pass.
The Colts committed five costly turnovers, including three interceptions by quarterback Earl Morrall. One interception was particularly suspicious. With Colts receiver Jimmy Orr wide open near the end zone, Morrall checked down to running back Jerry Hill only to throw an errant pass intercepted by Jets safety Jim Hudson.
“I’m just a linesman but I looked up and saw Jimmy (Orr) wide open,” said Colts center Bill Curry, currently the head coach at Georgia State.
Baltimore coach Don Sula — who would later coach Morrall with the Miami Dolphins — may have the most damning non-quote of all. Smith wrote in his autobiography, “Kill, Bubba, Kill,” that he believed the fix was in at Super Bowl III. Shula’s response was the classic husband-caught-cheating reply.
“I think it’s too ridiculous for me to comment on,” said Shula.
3. Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston — “Phantom Punch”
“Get up and fight, sucker!”
Muhammad Ali stood over Sonny Liston shouting at him to get up, while ringside photographer Neil Leifer captured the iconic moment in what many have called the greatest sports photograph in history.
Ali-Liston II was originally scheduled for Nov. 16, 1964 at the Boston Garden. But the fight was postponed after a pre-fight injury suffered by Ali. Rumors of organized crime connections to the fight promotion caused the city of Boston to reject the fight. Then, amid continued fixed fight talk, the city of Cleveland followed suit and also denied the fight.
Finally, on May 25, 1965, the heavyweight championship bout took place at St. Dominic’s Hall in Lewiston, Maine, and was refereed by former heavyweight champ Jersey Joe Walcott. The fight did not last long, however. Liston went down in the first round — as rumors swirled that Liston owed money to the mafia and/or had been threatened by the Nation of Islam.
Worst of all, Ali was reportedly overheard asking his corner crew a crucial question about the so-called “phantom punch.”
“Did I hit him?”
4. 1985 NBA Draft Lottery — Patrick Ewing to the New York Knicks
In 1985, Georgetown center Patrick Ewing was a “can’t miss” NBA prospect. Ewing lived up to his advanced billing, as an 11-time NBA All-Star and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He never won an NBA championship, primarily due to the greatness of Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon. But Ewing was the centerpiece of 13 playoff teams for the New York Knicks — a team that acquired the 7-footer via the first-ever NBA Draft Lottery.
After watching the footage, several oddities stand out. When putting the seven envelopes into the drum, the fourth envelope is noticeably thrown against the side of the clear sphere — bending one corner of the envelope — while the other six are simply dropped into the bottom of the drum. Then, Commissioner David Stern lets out a stressful deep breath before diving his hand into the drum, passing over several envelopes and drawing what turned out to be the New York Knicks — Stern’s self-proclaimed favorite team. Along with the bent-corner theory, many have speculated that the Knicks’ envelope had been frozen prior to the drawing.
Since the Ewing scandal, the NBA Draft Lottery has cleaned up its act. The ping-pong ball lottery takes place in a room with no cameras, then the “results” are announced by opening the envelopes on television. Stern is nowhere near the event. Who has been involved? The trustworthy employees of Ernst & Young, whose honest oversight experience also includes the fraudulent accounting practices of Lehman Brothers.
It’s all on the up and up. The Bulls received the right to draft Chicago native Derrick Rose, despite only a 1.7 percent chance of “winning” the Lottery. The Orlando Magic won back-to-back No. 1 picks, including Shaquille O’Neal. The New Jersey Nets won the No. 1 pick in Rod Thorn’s first draft running the Nets, after 15 years of Thorn being Stern’s right-hand man in the league office. The Cleveland Cavaliers got the top pick the year the best player in state history (LeBron James) was available and the year after King James left town. The most recent Lottery was won by the New Orleans Hornets — a team owned by the NBA during the 2011-12 season, before being sold to Tom Benson.
If the real lottery were run the way Stern runs the NBA Draft Lottery, no one would buy a ticket. And the right to draft Ewing, Shaq, LeBron, etc., is worth more than the PowerBall.
5. 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals, Game 6 — Sacramento Kings at L.A. Lakers
Tim Donaghy was an NBA referee from 1994 to 2007, officiating in 772 regular season games and 20 playoff contests. But rumors of fixing games caused Donaghy to resign in July 2007. Concrete evidence presented by the FBI resulted in Donaghy pleading guilty to federal charges and being sentenced to 15 months in federal prison.
After being released, Donaghy began telling tales of NBA officiating, gambling and controlling the outcome of games. His legal team even filed loosely veiled allegations against the NBA in U.S. District Court.
Although he does not name team or referee names, it is clear that Donaghy’s attorney is referring to Game 6 of the 2002 NBA Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers.
“Referees A, F and G were officiating a playoff series between Teams 5 and 6 in May of 2002. It was the sixth game of a seven-game series, and a Team 5 victory that night would have ended the series.
“However, Tim learned from Referee A that Referees A and F wanted to extend the series to seven games. Tim knew Referees A and F to be ‘company men,’ always acting in the interest of the NBA, and that night, it was in the NBA’s interest to add another game to the series. Referees A and F heavily favored Team 6.
“Personal fouls (resulting in obviously injured players) were ignored even when they occurred in full view of the Referees. Conversely, the Referees called made-up fouls on Team 5 in order to give additional free throw opportunities for Team 6. Their foul-calling also led to the ejection of two Team 5 players.
“The referees’ favoring of Team 6 led to that team’s victory that night, and Team 6 came back from behind to win that series.”
The referees that May 31, 2002 night were Dick Bavetta, Bob Delaney and Steve Javie. The Kings led the Lakers, 3–2, in the best-of-seven series. A Kings win would send Sacramento to the NBA Finals, where it would face the New Jersey Nets. A Lakers win would force a Game 7 and keep alive the dynasty dreams of the two-time defending champions.
Kings centers Vlade Divac and Scot Pollard both fouled out of the game. Pollard picked up two fouls in 14 seconds, fouling out with 11:34 remaining in the fourth quarter; Divac fouled out with 2:56 remaining. Kings forward Chris Webber picked up three fouls in the fourth quarter, his fifth foul coming with 3:07 to play.
The Lakers led the Kings in free throw attempts, 40-to-25. In the fourth quarter, L.A. went 21-of-27 from the free throw line, while Sacramento was 7-of-9 in the final period. And in a symbolic display of unfairness, Kings guard Mike Bibby was called for a foul after being elbowed in the nose by Kobe Bryant.
After the game, Ralph Nader called for investigation. But Lakers fans smiled all the way to a 106–102 Game 6 win, a 112–106 Game 7 victory and a four-game sweep of the overmatched Nets in the NBA Finals, en route to a star-studded three-peat led by Shaq, Kobe and Phil Jackson.
“I’m not going to say there was a conspiracy,” said Pollard. “I just think something wasn’t right. It was unfair. We didn’t have a chance to win that game.”
NFL Week 2 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Bears (1-0) at Packers (0-1)
Titletown was stunned by the 49ers in the opener. The Packers must regroup in a hurry, with the Bears coming to town for a Thursday night showdown in the NFL’s oldest rivalry. The 185th meeting of a series that dates back to 1921 won’t lack for drama. Green Bay is riding a four-game winning streak over Chicago, but Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall are out to take Aaron Rodgers’ NFC North title belt.
Packers by 4
Buccaneers (1-0) at Giants (0-1)
Former Rutgers boss Greg Schiano heads back to his old recruiting ground to face the G-Men, who will have had 10 days to boil over after being upset by the Cowboys.
Giants by 6
Raiders (0-1) at Dolphins (0-1)
The replacement referees will have their hands full in this race to the bottom between two once-proud AFL franchises.
Raiders by 1
Texans (1-0) at Jaguars (0-1)
Jacksonville is on a three-game slide against AFC South rival Houston and there is no reason to think that will change. But expectations are low; if there are Jags fans in the stands wearing fake mustaches, it will be a “win.”
Texans by 10
Browns (0-1) at Bengals (0-1)
As a 28-year-old rookie, Brandon Weeden was expected to bring an NFL-ready maturity to the struggling Browns. Instead, Weeden posted one of the worst debuts in history — completing 12-of-35 passes (34.3 percent) for 118 yards, zero TDs and four INTs for a 5.1 passer rating during a winnable 17–16 loss to the Eagles. Bengals sophomore signal-caller Andy Dalton is undefeated in the Buckeye State Bowl — winning 27–17 at Cleveland in Week 1 and 23–20 at home in Week 12 last season.
Bengals by 7
Chiefs (0-1) at Bills (0-1)
Kansas City and Buffalo allowed a combined 88 points in Week 1. Set your fantasy lineups — but probably not your DVR.
Bills by 1
Ravens (1-0) at Eagles (1-0)
If Michael Vick plays like he did in the opener, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata will have Philly shock jocks calling for Trent Edwards.
Ravens by 1
Saints (0-1) at Panthers (0-1)
After being stunned by phenom du jour Robert Griffin III in the opener, New Orleans will take on last year’s wunderkind Cam Newton — who was 0–2 against the Saints last season.
Saints by 5
Cardinals (1-0) at Patriots (1-0)
New England party animal Rob Gronkowski struggled with his touchdown celebration spike in the opener. Expect the Gronk to shake off the rust in the end zone at least once vs. the Cards.
Patriots by 15
Vikings (1-0) at Colts (0-1)
The No. 1 overall pick, Andrew Luck, makes his home debut in Indy after a forgettable Week 1 losing effort at Chicago. After being abused by the Monsters of the Midway, Luck will need to watch his back against Jared Allen and Co.
Colts by 1
Redskins (1-0) at Rams (0-1)
RG3 must have worn his Heisman Trophy-winning Superman socks in Week 1, because he leapt over the Saints in a single bound.
Redskins by 5
Cowboys (1-0) at Seahawks (0-1)
Tony Romo returns to the scene of arguably his lowest moment as a Cowboy — when he botched the hold on a 19-yard potential game-winning field goal that would have given Dallas its first playoff win since 1996.
Cowboys by 5
Jets (1-0) at Steelers (0-1)
The Steelers hope to have more luck against Tim Tebow’s new team than they did against his old team — or Tebow in the playoffs.
Steelers by 6
Titans (0-1) at Chargers (1-0)
San Diego rushed for only 32 yards, while holding Oakland to 45 yards on the ground in the nightcap of the Monday double-header. Enter Chris Johnson, who mustered just four yards on 11 carries in the Titans’ loss to the Patriots.
Chargers by 5
Lions (1-0) at 49ers (1-0)
Postgame handshakes and back slaps will be in the spotlight when Detroit’s Jim Schwartz and San Francisco’s Jim Harbaugh square off on Sunday night for the first time since the duo’s infamous Week 6 run-in last season — after the Niners beat the Lions, 25–19.
49ers by 7
Broncos (1-0) at Falcons (1-0)
Peyton Manning plays his second prime time contest in as many weeks, hitting Atlanta on Monday night after taking down Pittsburgh last Sunday night. The four-time MVP will look to become just the fourth quarterback to defeat Atlanta’s Matt Ryan at the Georgia Dome — where “Matty Ice” holds a 26–4 record.
Falcons by 3
Season: 10–6 // Last week: 10–6
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Peyton Manning played his first meaningful game since Jan. 8, 2011. But even after missing an entire season, enduring four neck surgeries and switching teams during the offseason, the four-time MVP didn’t miss a beat — completing 19-of-26 passes (73.1 percent) for 253 yards, two TDs and zero INTs for a 129.2 passer rating during a 31–19 win over the Steelers.
“It definitely is a special win,” said Manning. “I know how hard I’ve worked and how many people have helped me in this process. I’m grateful, and I’m definitely appreciative of the moment and the opportunity.”
On the other side, Pittsburgh was playing in Denver for the second straight game, having ended last year with a 29–23 loss in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. And although the opposing starting quarterback has since changed, the results were eerily similar nine months later.
Last season, the Steelers lost on an 80-yard “Mile High Miracle” pass from Tim Tebow to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime. This time around, Manning found Thomas for a 71-yard catch-and-run the vaunted Steel Curtain defense was yet again unable to predict or stop.
“We weren’t thinking an 80-yard touchdown — maybe a nine-yard gain is kind of what I was thinking. So it sure was a nice surprise,” said Manning. “Of course, Demaryius did the majority of the work and really turned it on with great speed. Just a huge play.”
The dramatic scoring strike was Manning’s first TD pass as a Bronco and the 400th of his 15-year career. The third quarterback in history to throw 400-plus TD passes, Manning joins Brett Favre (508) and Dan Marino (420) in the record books — although he needed 18 fewer games and 473 fewer pass attempts to become a member of the elite fraternity.
“Dan Marino and Brett Favre are two of my favorite players of all time — two of the best quarterbacks of all time,” Manning said. “I don’t really feel comfortable being in that company, but to be mentioned amongst them is truly humbling and quite an honor. It’s not one I take lightly.”
The game also included a few blasts from the past. Denver’s sack master Von Miller celebrated the first of his two sacks by “Tebowing” to show a “little love” to Denver’s former QB. And cornerback Tracy Porter — the man responsible for the most memorable lowlight of Manning’s career — sealed the win for the Broncos with a pick-six of Ben Roethlisberger, just as Porter did against Manning as a member of the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV.
But in the end, all that mattered was Manning’s triumphant return. It was as if No. 18 never left at all.
“What can you say?” said Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. “I mean, he’s Peyton Manning.”
Some of the world's greatest athletes weren't just one-sport players; instead, they excelled in two (and sometimes in several). Of course, some athletes probably should have stuck with their main sport. Here's a look at the top 30 two-sport athletes of all time, ranked in order of their second best sport.
1. Jim Thorpe, track (Best sport: football)
One the all-time great athletes, Thorpe is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, and has been immortalized via the Jim Thorpe Award — given annually to the top defensive back in college football. But Thorpe was also a gold medalist in both the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.
2. Jim Brown, lacrosse (Best sport: football)
Arguably the greatest running back in history, Brown is a member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame. The 6’2”, 230-pounder is a member of the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame and is considered by many to be the best athlete to ever play the sport.
3. Bob Hayes, football (Best sport: track)
“Bullet Bob” Hayes won the fastest man in the world, winning gold medals in the 100 meters and 4x100 meters at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Hayes then strapped on a helmet for the Dallas Cowboys, winning Super Bowl VI and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
4. Bo Jackson, baseball (Best sport: football)
Only Bo knows what might have been. The 1985 Heisman Trophy winner was a Pro Bowl running back for the L.A. Raiders and an All-Star outfielder for the Kansas City Royals — hitting 32 HRs and 105 RBIs in just 135 games in 1989 — before a hip injury derailed the out-of-this-world athlete.
5. Charlie Ward, football (Best sport: basketball)
Sure, Ward played 11 seasons in the NBA — starting at point guard for the New York Knicks’ Eastern Conference champs in 1999. But most know him as a Heisman Trophy winner and national champion quarterback at Florida State in 1993.
6. Babe Didrikson Zaharias, track (Best sport: golf)
A 10-time LPGA major champion and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, Mildred Ella — better known as “Babe” — won gold medals in the 80-meter hurdles and javelin throw as well as a silver medal in the high jump at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics.
7. Duke Kahanamoku, surfing (Best sport: swimming)
The Big Kahuna won three Olympic medals in the 100-meter freestyle — taking gold at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics and 1920 Antwerp Olympics, and silver at the 1924 Paris Olympics — as well as a gold (1920) and silver (1912) in the 4x200-meter freestyle relay. But Mr. Hawaii was also the “Father of Surfing,” popularizing the longboard en route to becoming a member of the Surfing, Swimming and U.S. Olympic Halls of Fame.
8. Deion Sanders, baseball (Best sport: football)
A member of both the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, Prime Time is considered the greatest cornerback in NFL history. A two-time Super Bowl champion, Sanders also played with the Atlanta Braves in the 1992 World Series and played parts of nine lightning-fast seasons in MLB.
9. Gene Conley, basketball (Best sport: baseball)
A four-time MLB All-Star and 1957 World Series champion with the Milwaukee Braves, the 6’8”, 225-pound Conley also won three NBA championships with the Boston Celtics — becoming the only athlete in history to win world titles in two of the big four pro leagues.
10. Danny Ainge, baseball (Best sport: basketball)
The Wooden Award winner at BYU, Ainge won two NBA championships with the Celtics and was an All-Star in 1988. He also had a cup of coffee with the Toronto Blue Jays, playing three seasons from 1979-81.
11. Brian Jordan, football (Best sport: baseball)
A one-time MLB All-Star who played in the bigs for 15 years, Jordan played three seasons (1989-91) as a safety in the NFL before making his debut in The Show in 1992.
12. Jackie Robinson, track (Best sport: baseball)
The 1949 NL MVP and 1955 World Series champ is a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame and a civil rights pioneer. But he was also the 1940 NCAA Men’s Outdoor Long Jump champion at UCLA.
13. Jonathan Ogden, shot put (Best sport: football)
The 6’9”, 345-pound Ogden was the 1996 NCAA Men’s Indoor Shot Put champion at UCLA, before becoming an 11-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl XXXV champion left tackle with the Baltimore Ravens.
14. Jeff Samardzija, football (Best sport: baseball)
The Shark was an All-American and Biletnikoff Award finalist, finishing his Notre Dame football career as the Irish’s all-time leading receiver prior to becoming a right-handed pitcher for the Chicago Cubs.
15. Darin Erstad, football (Best sport: baseball)
The 1995 Golden Spikes Award winner was also the starting punter on Nebraska’s 1994 national championship football team before going on to play 14 seasons in MLB.
16. Joe Mauer, football (Best sport: baseball)
Before Mauer was the 2009 AL MVP and three-time batting champion for the Minnesota Twins, the 6’5” athlete with a cannon for a right arm was USA Today’s High School Player of the Year as a quarterback.
17. Dave Winfield, basketball (Best sport: baseball)
A 22-year MLB veteran and member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Winfield played college basketball at the University of Minnesota — where he helped lead the Golden Gophers to the 1972 Big Ten title.
18. Kenny Lofton, basketball (Best sport: baseball)
A six-time All-Star, five-time stolen base champ and four-time Gold Glove center fielder, Lofton’s first love was basketball. He played point guard for the University of Arizona, making the Final Four in 1988.
19. Tony Gwynn, basketball (Best sport: baseball)
A first-ballot member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Gwynn was a 15-time All-Star and eight-time batting champ with a career .338 batting average and 3,141 hits. But Gwynn was also a solid point guard, setting San Diego State records for assists in a season and career.
20. Marion Jones, basketball (Best sport: track)
Once a golden girl, Jones’ reputation has since been tarnished by PED use and jail time. Before the fall, Jones won three gold and two bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics after a standout hoops career at the University of North Carolina — where she was a member of the 1994 NCAA champion Tar Heels.
21. Antonio Gates, basketball (Best sport: football)
Led Kent State to its first MAC championship and a trip to the Elite Eight in the 2002 NCAA Tournament before becoming an eight-time Pro Bowl tight end for the San Diego Chargers.
22. Jimmy Graham, basketball (Best sport: football)
Played four years of basketball at the University of Miami but just one season of football at The U. No big deal, the 6’6”, 260-pound power forward has evolved into one of the NFL’s best tight ends, with 1,310 yards and 11 TDs for the New Orleans Saints in 2011.
23. Tony Gonzalez, basketball (Best sport: football)
Gonzalez round-balled at Cal-Berkeley before becoming a 12-time Pro Bowl tight end with 1,149 catches, 13,338 yards and 95 TDs over 15 seasons (playing 238-of-240 games) for the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons.
24. Julius Peppers, basketball (Best sport: football)
The pass-rusher was a glass-crasher at University of North Carolina, where he came off the bench for the Tar Heels’ 2000 Final Four squad.
25. Walter Ray Williams Jr., horseshoes (Best sport: bowling)
The seven-time PBA Player of the Year also owns six Men’s World Horseshoe Pitching titles.
26. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, football (Best sport: wrestling)
The WWF wrestler was a member of the University of Miami’s 1991 national championship team, where he played with future NFL stars like Warren Sapp.
27. Ed “Too Tall” Jones, boxing (Best sport: football)
A three-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman and Super Bowl XII champion, the 6’9” Jones had a scary 88-inch reach as a boxer — going 6–0 with five KOs in 1979.
28. Herschel Walker, mixed martial arts / bobsled (Best sport: football)
Known for always being in peak condition, Walker started his MMA career as a 48-year-old. The fifth-degree Taekwondo black belt is 2–0 with two TKOs on punches. Years before that he participated in the two-man bobsled competition at the 1992 Winter Olympics, finishing seventh. Oh yeah, Walker, who played several years in the NFL, also won the 1982 Heisman Trophy at Georgia and is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame.
29. Scott Burrell, baseball (Best sport: basketball)
The only athlete selected in the first round of two of the big four sports’ drafts — Burrell went No. 20 overall to the Charlotte Hornets in the 1993 NBA Draft and No. 26 overall to the Seattle Mariners in the 1989 MLB Draft.
30. Michael Jordan, baseball (Best sport: basketball)
His Airness is undeniably the greatest basketball player of all-time and arguably the greatest athlete ever. However, in 127 games playing for the Chicago White Sox’s Double-A affiliate Birmingham Barons, Air Jordan hit just .202 with three HRs, 51 RBIs and 30 stolen bases.
As Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick heads to the Cleveland Browns' "Dawg Pound" on Sunday in Week 1, journalist should watch what they write and say. Here's our quick list of 10 things writers should avoid before covering the game.
Headlines to Avoid
1. “Vick Electrifies Dawg Pound”
2. “Vick Shows Killer Instinct at Dawg Pound”
3. “Vick Bad Newz for Dawg Pound”
Words to Avoid
Subjects to Avoid
9. Michael Vick’s dogfighting conviction
10. The Cleveland Browns’ chances in 2012
Topic of Conversation That Might Actually Work Better
• Art Modell’s death
A game-by-game betting preview (against the spread) for each of the 15 NFL games on Sunday and Monday in Week 1. Here are the teams to pick and the ones to stay away from.
Locks of the Week
These NFC South favorites are on the road, but should cover low numbers against a pair of teams with first-year coaches and quarterbacks coming off down 2011 seasons.
Panthers (-3) at Buccaneers
Cam Newton and Carolina crushed Tampa Bay twice last season — winning 38–19 in the Bucs’ boat in Week 13 and then 48–16 in Cat country in Week 16. Expect the Panthers to ruin Greg Schiano’s debut in the Bay.
Falcons (-3) at Chiefs
Atlanta’s “Matty Ice” Ryan takes on K.C.’s Matt “On Thin Ice” Cassel. The atmosphere at Arrowhead Stadium won’t be enough to slow down the Dirty Birds’ aerial attack led by Julio Jones, Roddy White and former Chief legend Tony Gonzalez.
Don’t be afraid of a big spread. Last season, 10 of the 16 games in Week 1 were decided by eight or more points. Take advantage of wide margins of victory before the market adjusts.
Saints (-7.5) vs. Redskins
New Orleans’ Drew Brees will be a fantasy stud, while Washington’s Robert Griffin III learns the harsh reality of the NFL.
Lions (-7.5) vs. Rams
St. Louis lost by at least 7.5 points in nine of its 14 defeats last season. Ram tough coach Jeff Fisher will attempt to squeeze the air out of the ball, but his O-line won’t be able to keep Sam Bradford upright long enough to move the chains and keep the clock running.
Eagles (-9.5) at Browns
Mike Vick at the Dawg Pound?
Bears (-10) vs. Colts
Andrew Luck’s debut will be no match for Jay Cutler’s reunion with Brandon Marshall.
Straight Up Upsets
These underdogs don’t look as good as Kate Upton’s Twitter pics, but they look good.
Steelers (+2) at Broncos
Peyton Manning will need the grace of Tim Tebow to take down the Steel Curtain under the lights on Sunday night.
Bills (+3) at Jets
Gang Green’s locker room cancer will spread if New York, New York loses to upstate New York.
Stay away completely. These games are meant for local yokels who always bet on their home team, or who for degenerates who always have to have action.
Seahawks (-3) at Cardinals
For the birds.
Vikings (-4) vs. Jaguars
Bad teams, second-year quarterbacks, running backs with no preseason…
Packers (-5) vs. 49ers
Enjoy this strength vs. strength (Green Bay O vs. San Fran D) potential NFC title game matchup — but don’t bet on it.
Patriots (-6) at Titans
Tom Terrific will be fine, but a young Patriots defense may allow more points in a closer-than-expected opener.
Texans (-12.5) vs. Dolphins
Could be the first of many weeks where the Fins are nearly two-TD dogs.
There are two games to wager for those who have to “get back” or “let it ride” this week.
Raiders (-1) vs. Chargers
A coin-toss contest. The Bolts are 1–3 against the Silver-and-Black over the past two seasons. “Just win, baby.”
Ravens (-6.5) vs. Bengals
Baltimore beat Cincy twice last season — taking a 31–24 win in the town the late Art Modell called home in Week 11 and a 24–16 triumph in the state Mr. Modell left in Week 17.
NFL Week 1 previews and predictions for every game on the schedule:
Colts (0-0) at Bears (0-0)
The Colts’ Andrew Luck era begins with a trip to Soldier Field, where Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher says it’s a “done deal” he will play.
Bears by 6
Eagles (0-0) at Browns (0-0)
Michael Vick will wear a new flak jacket to protect his sore ribs. Cleveland fans will wear the traditional Browns paper bags over their heads.
Eagles by 7
Rams (0-0) at Lions (0-0)
Jeff Fisher’s first game as a Ram is against his former D-coordinator, Lions boss Jim Schwartz.
Lions by 8
Dolphins (0-0) at Texans (0-0)
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill returns to the Lone Star State, where he played at Texas A&M.
Texans by 11
Falcons (0-0) at Chiefs (0-0)
Atlanta’s “Matty Ice” Ryan faces off against K.C.’s Matt “on thin ice” Cassel in a battle royale.
Falcons by 5
Jaguars (0-0) at Vikings (0-0)
Second-year signal-callers Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder both wish their All-Pro runners were in game shape — but neither will be.
Vikings by 3
Redskins (0-0) at Saints (0-0)
RG3 vs. Drew Brees could be a fantasy field day — or a reality check for Washington fans.
Saints by 7
Bills (0-0) at Jets (0-0)
The Wild Tebow formation will steal the show whether it is effective or not.
Jets by 1
Patriots (0-0) at Titans (0-0)
Jake Locker’s first start comes against Tom Brady, who passed for 517 yards and four TDs in Week 1 last season.
Patriots by 6
Seahawks (0-0) at Cardinals (0-0)
This battle of the NFC West birds will headline the league’s two least likely starting QBs — Russell Wilson and John Skelton.
Seahawks by 3
49ers (0-0) at Packers (0-0)
A potential NFC title game preview features the Niners’ solid gold D vs. the Pack’s passing attack.
Packers by 3
Panthers (0-0) at Buccaneers (0-0)
Cam Newton will look to build upon the legend of his rookie season against the new-look Bucs.
Panthers by 2
Steelers (0-0) at Broncos (0-0)
Peyton Manning takes the field against the Steelers in prime time on Sunday night in his first meaningful action since Jan. 8, 2011.
Steelers by 3
Bengals (0-0) at Ravens (0-0)
Last year was a breakthrough, but Cincy did go 0–4 vs. Baltimore and Pittsburgh — losing to the Ravens 31–24 on the road in Week 11, and 24–16 at home in Week 17.
Ravens by 5
Chargers (0-0) at Raiders (0-0)
The Raiders open their first full season without Al Davis since 1966 as the Monday nightcap.
Raiders by 1
The 2012 NFL season kicks off with a Wednesday night showdown between the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants and their NFC East rival Dallas Cowboys — in the first of 256 regular season games that span from Sept. 4 until Dec. 30.
Before a snap has been taken, Athlon Sports looks into our crystal ball in an attempt to predict who will be award-worthy after the dust settles this season.
Most Valuable Player
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
A-Rodg will look to defend his league MVP award — although he would almost certainly prefer to add another piece of Super Bowl MVP hardware to his trophy case. Last season, Rodgers had career bests across the board — completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 4,643 yards, 45 TDs and six INTs for a 122.5 passer rating in 15 games. He also rushed for 257 yards and three trips to the end zone on the ground. Since taking over for Brett Favre in 2008, Rodgers has averaged 4,259 yards, 33 TDs and nine INTs, while scrambling for another 284 yards and four scores. Those are title belt (and MVP) stats.
Offensive Player of the Year
Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
Megatron has become a big play machine, tallying 96 catches for 1,681 yards (17.5 ypc) and 16 TDs last season. The 6'5", 236-pounder will turn 27 years old on Sept. 29, so his best days should be ahead of him — a terrifying thought for NFC North defensive backs.
Defensive Player of the Year
Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
JPP’s jump from his rookie year to his sophomore season had to be seen to be believed, as he vaulted from a 4.5-sack, 30-tackle situational end to a 16.5-sack, 86-tackle force to be reckoned with. If the third year is a charm for Pierre-Paul, he will be the best in the business.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Trent Richardson, RB, Browns
Offseason minor knee surgery is reason for minor concern. But T-Rich was back at practice and expected to play in the Browns’ season opener. A healthy Richardson has the power, vision, balance and speed — not to mention a solid O-line to run behind — to take the league by storm.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Mark Barron, S, Buccaneers
The rookie safety out of Alabama was selected No. 6 overall thanks to his combination of hard hitting, ball-hawking and Nick Saban-approved football IQ. The young Buc got off to a good start, intercepting Tom Brady and returning the pick for a TD during the preseason.
Comeback Player of the Year
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
The four-time MVP missed the 2011 season due to (at least) four neck surgeries. And after 14 seasons as an Indianapolis Colt — which included 54,828 yards, 399 TDs and a Super Bowl XLIV victory and MVP — Manning is changing horses in mid-stream. The 36-year-old is now a Denver Bronco, following in the footsteps of two-time Super Bowl champion John Elway — Manning’s new boss and inspiration. Elway won his two Vince Lombardi Trophies at age 37 and 38, respectively.
Coach of the Year
John Fox, Broncos
After deftly dealing with the “Mania” of Tim Tebow’s tenure as well as Peyton Manning’s arrival, Fox deserves to be rewarded if the Broncos are able to put together a repeat playoff run this year.
Executive of the Year
Phil Emery, Bears
In his first offseason as the GM in Chicago, Emery acquired Pro Bowl-caliber receiver Brandon Marshall (who was Jay Cutler’s favorite target when the two were teammates in Denver), re-signed running back Matt Forté and added quality depth through free agency and the draft.
As every fantasy football player knows there's a lot of risk that goes into drafting certain players. If the players make it on the field, your fantasy team will thrive. If they're hit with an injury, you're in trouble. Here's a look at 20 NFL players who offer varying degrees of risk with potentially big rewards.
Stay away completely; you’re wasting a roster spot on a future disappointment.
Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars
Keep in mind Mojo’s 2011 knee issues when debating whether a back who wants a new contract, would be fine with a trade, and plays for arguably the worst franchise in football is worth drafting.
Mike Vick, QB, Eagles
Unless you’re playing in a Madden 13 video game fantasy football league, avoid the oft-injured Vick — who has already taken a beating in limited time this preseason.
Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
Witten reportedly will not need surgery on his injured spleen. But there are too many other tight ends out there to risk drafting a guy with such a potentially serious internal problem.
Reggie Bush, RB, Dolphins
Don’t let the perfect storm of 1,000-yard 2011 season and "Hard Knocks" hype fool you. No matter how many USC visions dance in your head, this injury-prone runner's best days are behind him.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
A broken pinky finger and a torn Achilles have limited Thomas to just 21 games over his first two seasons. Plus, Thomas’ raw route running is more suited to Tim Tebow’s heave-ho go-route game than it is Peyton Manning’s precision passing attack.
Too much downside; don’t rely on any of these guys for more than a bench spot.
Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos
Expectations for the four-time MVP are unfair. Manning is 36 years old, fresh off at least four neck surgeries and playing for a new team. He also missed a full season and may not be able to make all the throws in the route tree yet.
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
Sure, when he’s healthy DMC looks like the second coming of Adrian Peterson or Eric Dickerson. And McFadden teased fantasy owners with 1,664 total yards and 10 total TDs in 2010. But his other three years have produced a combined 1,470 rush yards and nine rush TDs.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers
The heir to L.T. fractured his collarbone and is expected to be out until at least Week 3. Even if healthy, however, Mathews has been an over-drafted fantasy bust his entire career. What’s to like?
Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs
A brutal blow was dealt to fantasy owners across the globe last year when Charles — a consensus 2011 first-round pick — was lost for the season with a left knee injury in Week 2. The speed demon may or may not have lost a step, and he may or may not lose a few carries to Peyton Hillis this year.
Kenny Britt, WR, Titans
Multiple knee surgeries and problems between the ears have made Britt one of the worst headaches in fantasy football. Britt is just as likely to be suspended (or arrested) as he is to be a dominant fantasy receiver this year.
It’s a risk, for sure. But the reward should ultimately be worth the gamble.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
Despite suffering a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee in Week 16 last December, Peterson appears to be on track to return to the field early on in 2012. Remember Peterson’s rookie year, when he was the RB2 on nearly every fantasy championship team? That could be the case again in 2012.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Lions
A china doll who played a total of 13 games over his first two seasons, Stafford played all 16 last year and threw for 5,038 yards and 41 TDs. With Megatron in his prime, Stafford’s 2011 numbers are repeatable.
Trent Richardson, RB, Browns
The curse of the new Browns continues to plague Cleveland. Richardson had his sore left knee scoped in early August. But 21-year-olds heal fast and T-Rich has the power, speed, patience and explosiveness to be one of the premier backs in the game.
Matt Forte, RB, Bears
A sprained MCL ended Forte’s season after 12 games last year. Prior to that, however, the versatile Forte 48-of-48 games over his first three seasons. Plus, he’ll be eager to prove his worth after signing a long-awaited contract extension.
Greg Jennings, WR, Packers
An early August concussion, coupled with a sprained MCL late last season make Jennings reasonably risky. But with Aaron Rodgers pitching, a healthy Jennings could put up Jordy Nelson numbers.
Don’t worry too much about injury issues, draft these guys and feel good doing so.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans
A nagging hamstring issue caused Foster to miss two of the first three games of 2011. He also played through a torn meniscus in 2010. But after posting 2,177 total yards and 15 total TDs in 15 games (including playoffs) last year, Foster has earned his status as the consensus No. 1 overall pick in fantasy football.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
After injuring his ankle in the AFC title game, “The Gronk” hobbled his way through the Super Bowl. But the 6’6”, 265-pounder has had seven months to heal and is coming off a 90-catch, 1,327-yard, 17-TD season. The Patriots may want Bibi Jones’ favorite player to tone it down, but no one should tone down the fantasy love for Gronkowski.
Andre Johnson, WR, Texans
A groin injury slowed Johnson in late July and he only played seven games in 2011 due to multiple hamstring issues. Although Johnson has an injury-risk reputation, he has a solid track record. In nine seasons, he has played all 16 games five times, in 13 games twice and missed significant time only twice — playing nine games in 2007 and seven games last year.
Julio Jones, WR, Falcons
Tight hamstrings dogged Jones as a rookie, causing him to miss three games and limiting his availability in several others. But when the 6’3”, 220-pounder was on the field, he was a beast — with 959 yards (17.8 ypc) and eight TDs. With Roddy White lined up on the other side, Jones is poised for a breakout sophomore season.
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers
Plantar fasciitis — which affects the connective tissue on the sole of the foot — has been a lingering issue for Gates, who missed a combined three games from 2003-09 before missing nine total games the last two seasons. With Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham going early, the fantasy legend that is Gates could be one of this year’s best values.
Highlights from the action-packed NBA offseason that included the Nets moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn, Dwight Howard being traded to the Lakers, Jeremy Lin re-signing with the Rockets and Ray Allen joining the enemy Heat.
Brooklyn Nets: Ball So Hard
Luxury tax? What luxury tax? Brooklyn re-signed Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace for a combined nine years and nearly $139 million, then traded for Joe Johnson, who is owed $89 million over the next four years. Owners Mikhail Prokhorov and Jay-Z don’t care about the luxury tax. The new-look Nets are moving into the $1 billion Barclays Center in Brooklyn and need to bring a team with them. These are the “Core Four” the Nets are advertising:
“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #8, Deron Williams, three-time NBA All-Star and father of four.”
“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #7, Joe Johnson, six-time NBA All-Star and lifelong Razorback.”
“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #11, Brook Lopez, 20-point scorer and Batman’s biggest fan.”
“Hello Brooklyn, I’m #45, Gerald Wallace, All-NBA Defender and offseason fisherman.”
L.A. Lakers: Superman Returns
This isn’t the first time the Lakers have brought in a larger-than-life center whose nickname was “Superman” and whose greatest team accomplishment was losing in the NBA Finals as a member of the Orlando Magic. First, there was Shaquille O’Neal — who won three straight NBA titles after joining the Lakers. This time around, Dwight Howard is heading to Hollywood to team with Kobe Bryant. After months of well-known secrets and thinly veiled lies, Howard was finally traded in a four-team blockbuster that sent Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson to the 76ers, Andre Iguodala to the Nuggets, and Moe Harkless, Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and three protected first-round picks to the Magic.
L.A. Lakers: Rated PG
The old got older when the Lakers acquired 38-year-old two-time MVP Steve Nash to play alongside 33-year-old two-time Finals MVP Kobe Bryant. As usual, trade speculation continued to swirl around 7-foot All-Stars Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. In the end, Bynum was shipped across the country to Philadelphia, while Gasol remained in L.A. — capping a strange year that started with him being traded, then un-traded in the Commissioner-vetoed Chris Paul deal.
Houston Rockets: Lin-sanity Redux
Jeremy Lin-sanity will continue in Houston, which is a huge relief for general manager Daryl Morey — who took the blame for cutting the phenom and will take the credit (or blame) for signing him to a three-year, $25.1 million deal.
“We should have kept @JLin7” – Daryl Morey tweet on Feb. 9
Miami Heat: Jesus to Judas
Ray Allen, the actor who played Spike Lee’s Jesus Shuttlesworth — Denzel Washington’s son, loosely based on Stephon Marbury — in the movie "He Got Game," left the Celtics for the defending champion Miami Heat. The move caused many Boston fans to label Allen a traitor, and added fuel to the fire in one of the NBA’s hottest rivalries.
Boston Celtics: Jet Fuel
Without Ray Allen standing in the corner or coming off screens late in games, the C’s needed another clutch 3-point shooter for their last hoorah with old timers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Enter the “Jet,” Jason Terry, who was the Sixth Man of the Year in 2009, an NBA champion with the Mavericks in 2011 and an NCAA champion with Arizona in 1997.
A quick overview of the high school football teams around the country with the brightest futures under the lights on Friday nights:
1. Trinity (Louisville, Ky.)
The Shamrocks split last year’s mythical national title with Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) in most major polls. After going 14–0 to clinch the 6A state title, the Rocks return a loaded senior class — including appropriately named wideout James Quick (right), USC commit defensive end Jason Hatcher and running back Dalyn Dawkins (nephew of former Eagles All-Pro Brian).
2. Grayson (Loganville, Ga.)
The No. 1 player in the nation, 6’5”, 260-pound defensive end Robert Nkemdiche, leads a wave of Clemson commits — including running back Wayne Gallman and defensive back David Kamara — for a Rams squad that went 15–0 and won the 5A state title last season.
3. Carroll (Southlake, Texas)
Dual-threat quarterback Kenny Hill, a Texas A&M commit, and the Dragons are riding a wave of momentum into this season after shocking Dallas Skyline in an epic playoff comeback en route to a 16–0 season and 5A-I state title.
4. Manatee (Bradenton, Fla.)
Size in the trenches and dynamic quarterback play from Mississippi State commit Cord Sandberg will make the Hurricanes tough to take down.
5. Santa Margarita Catholic (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.)
With Elite 11 quarterback and Nebraska commit Johnny Stanton (a.k.a. “Johnny Tebow”) running the show, the Eagles could be the best in the West this season.
6. Skyline (Dallas, Texas)
The Raiders — powered by the explosive duo of quarterback DeVante Kincade and receiver Ra’Shaad Samples — should be motivated for redemption after a controversial playoff loss to Southlake Carroll abruptly ended a 14–1 season in 2011.
7. Bishop Gorman (Las Vegas, Nevada)
The Las Vegas powerhouse will go all-in to open the season on ESPN in a nationally televised contest against fellow football factory Our Lady of Good Counsel (Olney, Md.). A win will vault the Gaels into the national title picture.
8. Booker T. Washington (Miami, Fla.)
The Tornadoes play a brutal schedule — with Miami Northwestern, Miami Central and a Texas road trip to Cedar Hill as three of their first four games.
9. De La Salle (Concord, Calif.)
Coach Bob Ladouceur enters his 34th season with a 384–25-3 career record, 16 California state championships and five USA Today national titles.
10. Byrnes (Duncan, S.C.)
Junior quarterback Shuler Bentley, son of former Byrnes coach and current play-caller Bobby Bentley, leads a young Rebel squad ready to make noise nationally.
It's fantasy football time, which means millions of fans will be drafting their teams over the next few weeks. Here's a look at 15 sleeper picks that could mean the difference between winning or losing your league this season.
These guys are fringe big names, so don’t sleep on them for too long.
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons
With Roddy White and Julio Jones — and, to a lesser extent, Tony Gonzalez — as playmaking targets, Ryan may vault into fantasy football’s elite echelon this season. “Matty Ice” could be Tom Brady Lite at a much cheaper price.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills
It’s put up or shut up time for the triple-threat who was the No. 9 overall pick in 2010. Fans in Buffalo (and Toronto?) think the light has finally come on for the former Clemson superstar.
Cedric Benson, RB, Packers
With a sluggish start to his career in the rearview mirror, Benson has produced three consecutive 1,000-yard, six-TD seasons, all with the Bengals. Now the 29-year-old back joins one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
Torrey Smith, WR, Ravens
A second-year deep threat coming off a 50-catch, 841-yard (16.8 ypc), seven-TD rookie campaign, Smith has tremendous upside and should be snatched up after the big dog receivers are gone.
Reggie Wayne, WR, Colts
The 12th-year pass-catcher turns 34 in November and is coming off his worst season since 2003. But in his seven previous seasons, Wayne averaged 92 catches for 1,264 yards and eight TDs. He could bounce back to that norm with Andrew Luck at quarterback.
In standard 12-team leagues, these guys will likely fall for a while.
Josh Freeman, QB, Buccaneers
The young Bucs added 6’5” wideout Vincent Jackson as well as veteran tight end Dallas Clark this offseason. And remember (because most drafters have already forgotten), Freeman threw for 3,400 yards, 25 TDs and just six INTs in 2010.
Mark Ingram, RB, Saints
Many are scared off by the Saints’ loaded backfield. But, if healthy, the former Heisman Trophy winner brings a skill set unmatched by anyone else in New Orleans.
Mikel Leshoure, RB, Lions
After suffering a torn left Achilles in August 2011, Leshoure missed his entire rookie season. With Jahvid Best on the PUP list, Leshoure has an opportunity to become Motown’s feature back.
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
Denver’s Eric Decker could be a poor man’s Wes Welker this year. But Thomas has huge play ability — which he showed with a combined 10 catches for 297-yards and a TD in two playoff games.
Pierre Garcon, WR, Redskins
Robert Griffin III’s go-to guy will likely be Garcon, who signed a five-year, $42.5 million deal this offseason. If RG3 plays as well as expected, Garcon will post a career year statistically.
DEEP LEAGUE, DEEP SLEEPERS
Flying well below the radar, these guys are worth a late-round flyer.
Jake Locker, QB, Titans
The second-year dual-threat gunslinger is battling Matt Hasselbeck for the starting job in Tennessee. When (not if) Locker takes over the Titans, make sure he’s on your roster.
Jacquizz Rodgers, RB, Falcons
Quizz’s size (5’6”, 196) has always been a drawback. But he’s cat quick, more powerful than given credit for and a blur with the ball in open spaces.
Randall Cobb, WR, Packers
Fumble-itis could derail Cobb. But there’s enough upside for the receiver-returner who has a chance to line up just about anywhere on the field for the potent Packers.
Martellus Bennett, TE, Giants
An athletic freak at 6’6” and 265 pounds, Bennett never lived up to his potential during four seasons in Dallas. But the former basketball player has a chance to break out and dunk over a few goal posts in New York.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings
Christian Ponder may not be able to get the ball downfield vertically. But he will be able to go down the middle to his safety net Rudolph.
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1. NBC’s tape-delaying, video-stream buffering coverage
NBC could not get it right at the 2012 London Olympics. Their tape-delayed coverage included lowlights such as Bob Costas nonchalantly spoiling Michael Phelps’ Olympic medal record-breaking race, a “Today Show” promo spoiling the Missy Franklin race set to air and an ill-timed “Animal Practice” sitcom promo featuring a monkey doing gymnastics immediately after Gabby Douglas became the first African-American to win gold in the women’s gymnastics individual all-around competition. Online coverage wasn’t much better, with the live-streaming video buffering during the middle of the men’s 100-meter dash — causing Twitter to declare Usain Bolt “faster than the internet.”
2. Lolo Jones finishing fourth in 100-meter hurdles
America’s sweetheart heading into London, Jones finished a painful fourth in the 100-meter hurdles — four years after tripping over the ninth of 10 hurdles with the lead in Beijing. Worse, a scathing N.Y. Times article declared Jones’ publicity “was based not on achievement but on her exotic beauty and on a sad and cynical marketing campaign. Essentially, Jones has decided she will be whatever anyone wants her to be — vixen, virgin, victim — to draw attention to herself and the many products she endorses.” It was a disappointing Olympics for Lolo, to say the least.
3. Jordyn Wieber failing to qualify for individual all-around
Entering London, Wieber was the face of the USA’s “Fierce Five” women’s gymnastics team. But the reigning World Champion failed to qualify for the individual all-around competition — despite having the fourth-highest score among all gymnasts following preliminary qualifying. Due to a rule limiting each country to only two competitors in the individual all-around, Wieber was forced to sit out while teammates Gabby Douglas and Aly Raisman represented the USA. Adding injury to insult, Wieber suffered a stress fracture in her leg while in London.
4. McKayla Maroney winning silver in vault; McKayla is not impressed
Maroney had one of the greatest vaults of her life while helping the “Fierce Five” join 1996’s “Magnificent Seven” as the only USA women to claim Olympic team gold. The overwhelming favorite to win individual gold in the vault, however, suffered a fall that forced her to settle for silver. Her disappointed reaction to silver sparked a viral meme — “McKayla Is Not Impressed” — and made Maroney more of a household name than she would have been otherwise.
5. Ryan Lochte letdown following “next Michael Phelps” hype
The pre-Games heartthrob devolved into a grill-wearing disappointment in London. Lochte lost his highly anticipated head-to-head showdown with Michael Phelps in the 200-meter individual medley, finished third in the 200-meter backstroke and failed to medal in the 200-meter freestyle. He also let down his teammates, losing the lead as the anchor leg in the 4x100 freestyle relay. After entering with Phelps-sized expectations, Lochte was far from the gold standard in London.
6. Brazil losing to Mexico, failing to win first Olympic gold
Brazil allowed a Mexico goal just 29 seconds into the men’s soccer Gold Medal Match. After falling behind 2–0, Brazil’s Hulk scored his first goal of the tournament in stoppage time. Trailing 2–1 in desperation mode, Hulk beautifully set up teammate Oscar — whose header sailed high over the crossbar. Shortly after, the whistle blew, the match was over and Brazil was still 0-for in the nation’s quest to win Olympic gold in men’s soccer.
7. Australia barely cracking top 10 in Olympic medal count
Despite the pre-Games hype surrounding James Magnussen and Stephanie Rice, no Australian claimed individual swimming gold for the first time since 1972. In total, the Aussies won just seven gold medals, their fewest since 1992. Add 16 silver and 12 bronze to the count and Australia still only managed to finish 10th in the Olympic medal count — after finishing sixth, fourth and fourth in the three Games prior.
8. USA women’s indoor volleyball losing gold to Brazil
For the second consecutive Olympics, the USA lost to Brazil in the women’s indoor volleyball Gold Medal Match. Destinee Hooker led the top-ranked USA squad on an impressive run until losing 3–1 to Brazil with gold on the line. The USA has failed to win gold since indoor volleyball became an Olympic sport in 1964.
9. No baseball or softball in Summer Olympics
Baseball became an official sport in 1992, while softball followed in 1996. The USA won gold in baseball in 2000, and took bronze in 1996 and 2008. Meanwhile, the USA softball program was dominant, winning gold in 1996, 2000 and 2004 before losing to Japan and settling for silver in 2008. Both sports were considered American strengths but were discontinued prior to the 2012 London Olympics.
10. Closing ceremonies featuring Spice Girls, George Michael
Even the Queen and James Bond could not have saved London’s Closing Ceremonies — which included hip entertainment like the Spice Girls, George Michael, One Direction, Russell Brand and Tinie Tempah.
1. The match is Saturday at 10 a.m. EST at Wembley Stadium
There will be no need for NBC to tape delay the Gold Medal Match. Brazil and Mexico kick off on a Saturday at a reasonable hour stateside. “The Venue of Legends” hosts one of the more anticipated events of the London Olympics. Wembley Stadium is the second largest stadium in Europe, with a 90,000 seating capacity.
2. These are Under-23 National Teams with three age exemptions
The Olympic rosters of Brazil and Mexico are not the same as their World Cup lineups. The Olympics are a U-23 tournament. Brazil’s age exceptions are defender-captain Thiago Silva (age 27), left-footed left back Marcelo (24) and superhero striker Hulk (26). Mexico’s age exceptions are goalkeeper Jose de Jesus Corona (31), defensive midfielder Carlos Salcido (32) and forward Oribe Peralta (28).
3. Neither Brazil nor Mexico has won Olympic gold in soccer
Brazil has won five World Cup titles (2002, 1994, 1970, 1962, 1958) but Selecao has failed to place any better than silver at the Olympics — losing 2–1 to the Soviet Union in 1988 and 2–0 to France in 1984. Brazil also took home bronze in 2008 and 1996; and lost the bronze to the Soviet in 1976. This is Mexico’s first Olympic medal match ever.
4. Brazil’s Neymar is the most exciting footballer at the London Olympics
The 20-year-old samba sensation is a rock star in shin guards. He may not be better than Lionel Messi, as Pele has suggested. But he is certainly the most exciting footballer in the London Olympics. Blessed with remarkable speed, deft touch and incredible creativity, Neymar has already had more than his fair share of highlights — including a give-and-go header goal and behind-the-back assist. And he might just save his best for last.
5. Mexico defeated Brazil, 2–0, at Cowboys Stadium in June
Jerry Jones’ Palace in Dallas, Cowboys Stadium (in Arlington), witnessed a preview of the Gold Medal Match on June 4. Mexico won, 2–0, in front of a partisan crowd — with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Giovani dos Santos scoring. In fairness, neither will be suited up against Brazil on Saturday. But Mexico does enter the match with the confidence of having taken down Brazil recently.
6. Mexico’s Giovani dos Santos will miss the match with injury
Mexico’s leading scorer and arguably its best player, dos Santos will be forced to sit out the Gold Medal Match due to a serious right hamstring injury. Dos Santos is the son of former Brazilian footballer Zizinho. The 23-year-old attacking midfielder would have provided yet another interesting storyline as well as a valuable offensive spark for Mexico.
7. Brazil’s Leandro Damiao leads the race for the Golden Boot
The Golden Boot is awarded to the player with the most goals at the end of the tournament. The striker — who wears the No. 9 of Ronaldo, the leading goal scorer in World Cup history — has six goals in only four matches. He is being chased by teammate Neymar (3 goals) and the Mexican duo of Giovani dos Santos (3) and Oribe Peralta (2).
8. Brazil and Mexico are the Olympics’ highest scoring teams
Brazil and Mexico are the only teams who have scored double-digit goals in the Olympics. Brazil leads the way with 15 goals for, while Mexico has put 10 balls in the back of the net. Not surprisingly, they are also the leading shot-takers of the Games of the XXX Olympiad — Brazil with 82 shots on goal, Mexico with 78. Both teams are also 1-for-1 on penalty kicks.
9. Mexico’s Jose de Jesus Corona has allowed only three goals
Corona has been the top goalkeeper in the Olympics, allowing just three goals in five matches. Only Spain’s David de Gea allowed fewer — but his two goals against came in only three matches for La Roja, who failed to score a goal of their own. A strong Mexico defensive front features Israel Jimenez, Diego Reyes, Nestor Araujo and Darvin Chavez; but Corona is minding the net brilliantly right now.
10. Brazil’s goaltending is suspect; its defense is strong
Original keeper Rafael was scheduled to start for Brazil before a right elbow injury knocked him out of the Olympics. Neto stepped up as the new starter but was replaced by 19-year-old Gabriel in net. Both have looked shaky between the posts. Luckily, whoever starts will have capable defenders Thiago Silva, Juan Jesus, Rafael da Silva and Marcelo patrolling, and the offense controlling possession. Still, if Brazil loses to Mexico, it likely will be due to lackluster goaltending.
Gold Medal Match Prediction:
Brazil 3, Mexico 2