Articles By Rob Doster

All taxonomy terms: Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson, Golf
Path: /golf/ryder-cup-fallout-defense-phil-mickelson
Body:

You've no doubt read the headlines this morning after another disappointing U.S. Ryder Cup loss:

"Mickelson Unloads on Watson"

"Phil Mickelson, Tom Watson Feud"

"Phil Mickelson Was Wrong to Rip Tom Watson"

 

How about this: "Phil Asked a Probing Question, Gives Honest Answer"? Because that's what happened.

 

In an era when whitebread golfers give politically correct, pablum-flavored non-answers, Mickelson's candor concerning what constitutes effective Ryder Cup leadership was refreshing. If the U.S. is ever going to win back the Cup, Watson's failed captaincy needs to be dissected and important lessons extracted.

 

Mickelson was on the last U.S. team to win the Cup — the underdog 2008 team that posted a stunning win under Paul Azinger at Valhalla — and in yesterday's presser, he was asked what worked that year. What followed has been framed as a scathing condemnation of Watson; in actuality, it was a reasoned assessment of what has worked and what hasn't, from a guy who should know.

 

Here's the transcript of the offending remarks:

 

Q. Anyone that was on the team at Valhalla, can you put your finger on what worked in 2008 and what hasn't worked since?

Mickelson: There were two things that allow us to play our best I think that Paul Azinger did, and one was he got everybody invested in the process. He got everybody invested in who they were going to play with, who the picks were going to be, who was going to be in their pod, who -- when they would play, and they had a great leader for each pod. In my case, we had Ray Floyd, and we hung out together and we were all invested in each other's play. We were invested in picking Hunter that week; Anthony Kim and myself and Justin were in a pod, and we were involved on having Hunter be our guy to fill our pod. So we were invested in the process. And the other thing that Paul did really well was he had a great game plan for us, you know, how we were going to go about doing this. How we were going to go about playing together; golf ball, format, what we were going to do, if so-and-so is playing well, if so-and-so is not playing well, we had a real game plan. Those two things helped us bring out our best golf. And I think that, you know, we all do the best that we can and we're all trying our hardest, and I'm just looking back at what gave us the most success. Because we use that same process in The Presidents Cup and we do really well. Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.

 

Q. That felt like a pretty brutal destruction of the leadership that's gone on this week.

Mickelson: Oh, I'm sorry you're taking it that way. I'm just talking about what Paul Azinger did to help us play our best. It's certainly -- I don't understand why you would take it that way. You asked me what I thought we should do going toward to bring our best golf out and I go back to when we played our best golf and try to replicate that formula.

 

Q. That didn't happen this week?

Mickelson: Uh (pausing) no. No, nobody here was in any decision. So, no.

 

Pardon me for not thinking of that as some sick burn of Watson, whose decision-making and demeanor were clearly questionable even to the most casual observer.

 

With momentum in hand on Friday, Watson benched the red-hot duo of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed for afternoon foursomes. On Saturday, the captain kept Mickelson and partner Keegan Bradley sidelined all day, despite Lefty's text pleadings that Watson later leaked to the press.

 

Watson was also quick to deride the players for their failures, and while it's true that the captain doesn't hit a shot, an effective leader deflects blame from players and absorbs the arrows himself.

 

Mickelson, who went 2-1 at this Ryder Cup and won his singles match against local hero Stephen Gallacher, could be forgiven for a little frustration. And while it was indelicate of him to criticize Watson while sharing the dais with him, that doesn't negate the accuracy of his statements.

 

Mickelson has earned his stature in the game. He has 42 PGA Tour wins — four more than Watson — and his five majors have come during an era when Tiger Woods has gobbled up major wins like Lefty gobbles In-N-Out burgers. Watson, on the other hand, had his major ascendancy during Jack Nicklaus' twilight years. Mickelson has earned his way onto every Ryder Cup team since 1995 on merits, without a captain's pick in the bunch. Granted, he hasn't always played well, but he's certainly not alone in that fact. Mickelson's all-time Ryder Cup match record of 16-19-6 looks mediocre on its face, but it outshines Woods' record of 13-17-3 and is merely symptomatic of American futility in the event. For comparison's sake, Jim Furyk, whose Cup experience coincides with much of Phil's, has a 10-20-4 ledger.

 

I'm as big a Watson fan as anyone — his run at the 2009 British Open was one of the most thrilling performances in the game's history — but his captaincy was clearly a disaster. The forum might have made Mickelson's observations a little awkward and hard to digest, but he wasn't wrong.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 29, 2014 - 11:31
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-29-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 29:

 

• This is interesting: The most popular female athletes according to Google. No. 1 is Maria Sharapova.

 

Two babies neatly encapsulate what yesterday was like for Bears and Packers fans.

 

Jerry Jones doesn't look like a man who still regrets missing out on Johnny Football. He looks like a creepy Bond villain.

 

So long, Captain. And thanks.

 

Europe's grip on the Ryder Cup tightens. But their grip on sobriety was not very tight at all yesterday.

 

So Brady Hoke's player safety issues apparently predated his Michigan tenure.

 

• One failed captain sticks up for another: Nick Faldo says Phil Mickelson threw Tom Watson under the bus in the Ryder Cup presser.

 

• All you need to know: Simmons vs. the Worldwide Leader.

 

• Something to look forward to: This could be the best football Saturday in SEC history.

 

Watch Sue Paterno dance to Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off." If you dare.

 

• Watch Hunter Pence rally Giants fans with a postgame speech.

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 29, 2014 - 10:38
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, New Orleans Saints, NFC, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-vs-dallas-cowboys-game-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Dallas will aim to extend its winning streak to three games and erase one of the most painful memories of its 2013 season when it hosts New Orleans tonight on NBC. If recent history between these two teams matters, it favors the Saints in this one. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is 0–3 all time against New Orleans, while Saints coach Sean Payton has a 3–1 ledger against Dallas.

 

And the teams' most recent meeting was a low point for the Garrett regime. Last season in Week 10, the Saints destroyed the Cowboys 49-17 in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, as Drew Brees completed 34 of 41 passes for 392 yards and four TDs (passer rating of 139.0), and running back Mark Ingram rushed for 145 yards and a touchdown. In the teams' last meeting in Dallas, in 2012, the game was much closer but still produced a Saints offensive explosion, as Brees threw for 446 yards and three touchdowns and Marques Colston caught 10 passes for 153 yards.

 

New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys

 

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: NBC

Spread: New Orleans -3

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Romo vs. Saints secondary

We've established that Saints quarterback Drew Brees has a stellar history against the Cowboys, but we must also acknowledge that Dallas quarterback Tony Romo has a certain comfort level against the Saints. In his last home start against New Orleans in 2012, Romo passed for 416 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 123.8 QB rating. Wide receiver Dez Bryant had a career game in that matchup, catching nine passes for 224 yards and two 58-yard touchdowns. They'll be facing a Saints defense that has shown an alarming inability to produce big plays. This unit has forced just one turnover and has collected only four sacks in three games while allowing 369 yards per contest. The Saints have been particularly vulnerable on third-and-long. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will need to construct a creative game plan to thwart his former employer on its home field. 

 

2. Dissension in Big D?

Dallas cornerback Morris Claiborne made headlines earlier in the week when he skipped a walk-through and stormed out of the Cowboys' Valley Ranch headquarters after learning of his demotion. "I think he understood that he made a mistake," Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said of Claiborne, who was called out on the radio by owner Jerry Jones. "Guys are competitors. When they hear news that doesn't go their way, different guys react different ways. He obviously knew that he didn't react the right way, and he had a chance to kind of collect himself. He came by last night and we addressed it, and we addressed it head on. He's back in here this morning and ready to go to work." The drama in Big D seemingly never ends, and although the Cowboys’ miraculous comeback in a Week 3 win over the Rams bought them a little time, they're one ill-timed loss from returning to full-on meltdown mode.

 

3. The Saints' Search for Consistency

New Orleans has only been consistent in its inconsistency so far this season. The offense has looked unstoppable on occasion but has sputtered at some inopportune times. On paper, the Saints possess one of the NFL's better offenses: fourth in both total yards and red zone touchdown percentage, and first in third-down conversions — but only seventh in scoring. Until the defense finds its footing, the offense has to convert every opportunity presented to it. 

 

Final Analysis

 

The Saints are one of the bigger disappointments in this young NFL season. Even in their first win of the season, a fairly comfortable 20-9 victory over the Vikings, there were errors and breakdowns on defense, and once again, the Saints failed to force a turnover, although they didn't turn it over on offense, either. After an offseason focused on takeaways, New Orleans is riding an 11-quarter streak without one and is still searching for a defensive spark. If they can't find one against the turnover-prone Cowboys, it could be a long season.

 
Prediction: Dallas 35, New Orleans 27
Teaser:
New Orleans Saints vs. Dallas Cowboys Game Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, September 28, 2014 - 09:00
Path: /nfl/new-york-giants-vs-washington-redskins-game-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Proud franchises trying to stay pace in the NFC East will write the latest chapter in their rivalry when the New York Giants take on the Washington Redskins tonight on CBS and the NFL Network. A third loss for either of these 1–2 teams could be a death blow in the division race, with both looking up at unbeaten Philadelphia and both fighting the perception that their best days are long gone.

 

The loser of this one will be in sole possession of last place in the NFC East. Given the short week and the risk of injury — the Redskins in particular enter this game very banged up — both teams have reduced their practice intensity, which could lead to some sloppiness early on. "Obviously this is a week that I would rather not have a Thursday night game," said Redskins coach Jay Gruden, who lost cornerback DeAngelo Hall and safety Duke Ihenacho to season-ending injuries last week’s loss at Philadelphia and had a total of 17 players listed on Monday's injury report. 

 

New York Giants at Washington Redskins

 

Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS/NFL Network

Spread: Washington -3.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Giants Go Ground-and-Pound

The Giants showed a surprising ability to run the football and impose their will in Sunday's 30–17 win over the Texans. Rashad Jennings' 176 rushing yards were the most by a Giants running back in two years. "One point we ran the same play three times in a row," Giants quarterback Eli Manning said. "They were rolling. They liked it." In all, the Giants amassed 193 yards rushing after mustering only 53 in the opener with Detroit and 81 in the loss to the Cardinals. The Redskins are allowing only 64.7 yards per game on the ground, so it will be interesting to see if the Giants have any luck establishing the run and relieving pressure from Manning's shoulders. 

 

2. Ball Protection by the Quarterbacks

Simply put, Manning has transformed into a turnover machine, leading the NFL with 27 interceptions last season. But in the win over the Texans, Manning had his first interception-free outing in eight games, dating back to a Nov. 24 loss to Dallas. If Manning protects the football, the Giants are a different team, and a far more dangerous one. Washington's Kirk Cousins, filling in for an injured Robert Griffin III, has been handed this audition and is playing for his future as an NFL starter, either in Washington or somewhere else, and can ill afford any untimely miscues. The quarterback who wins the turnover battle will have a leg up in this one. 

 

3. Will Phil Simms stick to his pledge?

The ongoing controversy over the Redskins nickname found its poster child in CBS broadcaster Phil Simms, who has expressed a reluctance to use the nickname during broadcasts. "My very first thought is it will be ‘Washington’ the whole game," he said earlier this month. But he broke his own pledge last Thursday night, using the term at least three times in a game that didn't even involve Washington. Leaders of the "Change the Mascot" campaign are paying attention, and Simms will be a part of Friday's recaps no matter what he says. 

 

Final Analysis

 

The Giants' temporarily resurgent running game will face a significant obstacle in the Redskins' defensive front, which could force Manning back to the air. And when Manning goes to the air with frequency, bad things have tended to happen lately. For his career, Manning has 16 touchdowns and 17 interceptions against Washington, and if that trend holds, then the home team — whatever Phil Simms wants to call it — will hold serve.  

 
Prediction: Washington 31, New York 24
Teaser:
New York Giants vs. Washington Redskins Game Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, September 25, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/ryder-cup-2014-primer
Body:

The 2014 Ryder Cup Matches

When: Sept. 26-28

Where: PGA Centenary Course, Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire, Scotland

Course: 7,262 yards, par 72

All-time record: U.S. leads 25–12–2

 

After a miracle comeback at the Ryder Cup Matches at Medinah in 2012, Europe is the prohibitive favorite to retain the Cup on home turf, as Tom Watson takes a shorthanded American team to Scotland for the most pressure-packed event in golf. Can a U.S. team led by crafty veteran Phil Mickelson and young gun Rickie Fowler upset a European powerhouse led by four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup maestro Sergio Garcia?

 

Athlon talked to two likely keys to the respective teams for their perspective. Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell is a Ryder cup veteran with a match record of 5-5-2 in three Cups, while Fowler will be participating in his second Cup after a record of 0-1-2 in 2012 — but with four top-5 finishes in this year's majors under his stylish white belt.

 

Team USA

Tom Watson, Captain

Raymond Floyd and Andy North, Vice Captains

 

Keegan Bradley*

Ryder Cup Record: 3-1-0

 

Rickie Fowler

Ryder Cup Record: 0-1-2

 

Jim Furyk

Ryder Cup Record: 9-17-4

 

Zach Johnson

Ryder Cup Record: 6-4-1

 

Matt Kuchar

Ryder Cup Record: 3-2-2

 

Hunter Mahan*

Ryder Cup Record: 3-2-3

 

Phil Mickelson

Ryder Cup Record: 14-18-6

 

Patrick Reed

Ryder Cup Record: First appearance

 

Webb Simpson*

Ryder Cup Record: 2-2

 

Jordan Spieth

Ryder Cup Record: First appearance

 

Jimmy Walker

Ryder Cup Record: First appearance

 

Bubba Watson

Ryder Cup Record: 3-5

 

*Captain's pick

 

Team Europe

Paul McGinley, Captain

Des Smyth and Sam Torrance, Vice Captains

 

Thomas Bjorn

Ryder Cup Record: 3-2-1

 

Jamie Donaldson

Ryder Cup Record: First appearance

 

Victor Dubuisson

Ryder Cup Record: First appearance

 

Stephen Gallacher*

Ryder Cup Record: First appearance

 

Sergio Garcia

Ryder Cup Record: 16-8-4

 

Martin Kaymer

Ryder Cup Record: 3-2

 

Graeme McDowell

Ryder Cup Record: 5-5-2

 

Rory McIlroy

Ryder Cup Record: 4-3-2

 

Ian Poulter*

Ryder Cup Record: 12-3

 

Justin Rose

Ryder Cup Record: 6-3

 

Henrik Stenson

Ryder Cup Record: 2-3-2

 

Lee Westwood*

Ryder Cup Record: 18-13-6

 

*Captain's pick

 

 

Missing in Action

The U.S. team, already an underdog, faces even longer odds with the absence of some key players:

 

• Tiger Woods

Ryder Cup Record: 13-17-3

Tiger's balky back is his latest physical impediment and caused him to shut it down for the year following a missed cut at the PGA Championship. Despite his lackluster Ryder Cup record, his experience and aura will be missed. Said one PGA Tour pro: "You can’t tell me at least half the European side would not be a little afraid if it came down to a singles match against Tiger on Sunday."

 

• Dustin Johnson

Ryder Cup Record: 3-3

Johnson is in golf exile, either self-imposed or Tour-imposed, while he deals with "personal challenges." The eight-time winner on Tour was a bright spot for a disappointing U.S. team in 2012, winning his singles match and posting a match record of 3-0. "As one of the longest hitters in the game with an undefeated record of 3-0 at Medinah in 2012, he has clearly been an asset for the United States team," said U.S. captain Tom Watson.

 

• Jason Dufner

Ryder Cup Record: 3-1

Like Johnson, Dufner was a stalwart for the 2012 U.S. team, posting a 3-1 record and winning his singles match against Peter Hanson amid a U.S. collapse. Dufner couldn't defend his 2013 PGA Championship title due to an arthritic condition in his neck.

 

Ryder Cup notebook

 

• Since the U.S. won the Ryder Cup in 1993 with Tom Watson as captain, the Americans have only two victories — in 1999 and 2008. They have lost each of the past two Ryder Cups by the score of 14½ to 13½.

 

• The Ryder Cup has not been played in Scotland since 1973, when the event was at Muirfield, site of last summer’s British Open. The U.S. won the competition 19-13.

 

• Jack Nicklaus is confident in Watson's ability to lead the American contingent onto Scottish soil, given Watson's success at the Open Championship, a tournament he won five times. “If you just look at Tom’s history and legacy there, I guess you could say that if they wanted to pick a winner in Scotland to lead them in Scotland, they have done that,’’ Nicklaus said. “The love and embrace Tom will receive in Scotland as a Ryder Cup captain will likely be the most anybody could ever hope for when leading a team on foreign soil.’’

 

• Watson is the first repeat captain since Nicklaus in 1987 and a departure from a long-followed PGA of America policy that appointed captains who were 45 to 50 years old and still playing on the PGA Tour. “We’ve done things a little bit different this year,’’ PGA of America president Ted Bishop said when Watson was announced as captain.

 

• The Centenary Course at Gleneagles was designed by Nicklaus in 1993, and Gleneagles has hosted a European Tour event now known as the Johnnie Walker Championship since 1999 — although the event will not be played in 2014. The course has five par-5s, including three on the back nine.

 

 

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, September 25, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: NFL
Path: /nfl/jameis-winston-still-top-nfl-prospect
Body:

The controversy surrounding Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has prompted discussion over his status as a top NFL prospect. Here, two Athlon editors debate the question: Would you draft Winston?

 

Yes

Truth be told, I like Oregon’s laid back Hawaiian signal-caller, Marcus Mariota, best among NFL Draft class of 2015 QBs. But I’d definitely draft Florida State loose cannon Jameis Winston over injury-prone peers like UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Baylor’s Bryce Petty.


Like everyone else, I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger. So I’d like to think that someday soon, Winston will look back on these days and be embarrassed by it all. For his sake, hopefully his eureka-moment regrets come while he’s an NFL millionaire and not a has-been who could’ve been.


Personally, I think the 20-year-old Winston — who was born in Bessemer, Ala., (population 27,500) and attended Hueytown (population 16,000) High School (enrollment 1,100) — is just an immature country kid.


Winston was thrust into the national spotlight on Labor Day Monday Sept. 2, 2013, when he completed 25-of-27 passes for 356 yards, accounting for five TDs and zero turnovers in his first career start for Florida State University (enrollment 41,500).


Since then, he’s won the Heisman Trophy in New York and BCS national title crystal at the Rose Bowl (21 million viewers). He’s been the closer for the Seminoles baseball team and arguably the highest-profile, most-accomplished athlete in all of college sports. But he’s had more than his share of run-ins.


First, there is a serious rape allegation for which a Title IX investigation is pending. That is far and away the most concerning charge — regardless of the current climate of the NFL.


He was also caught on tape stealing crab legs from the local Publix grocery store. But that may have be a wink and nod deal with Winston. FSU was called “Free Shoes University” by Steve Spurrier; it may have become “Free Seafood University.”


The latest error in judgement was his most juvenile. Winston shouted profanities in public, allegedly on a dare from a friend.


A 6'4", 230-pound redshirt sophomore, Winston clearly has plenty of growing up to do. But he still has plenty of time — and undeniable NFL talent.

 

— Nathan Rush

 

No

Let’s see: The NFL has been taking PR body blows over the misbehavior of some of its superstars. The league is struggling to attract female viewership, and the relentless 24-hour news cycle gleefully latches on to every last example of the mistreatment of women at the hands of the misogynistic thugs who populate NFL rosters. While the league’s popularity has yet to suffer, the growing ledger of misdeeds has the NFL in the crosshairs of the morality police — and appropriately so. Now more than ever, character counts when you’re putting together a draft gameplan.


And you’re asking if I would select crableg thief/emotional two-year-old/screamer of sexist obscenities/sexual assault suspect Jameis Winston?


Florida State, which has tolerated an awful lot from its athletes over the years, finally had enough and shelved Winston for an important conference game during what the Noles hope will be a national championship season. When FSU tires of a superstar’s antics — this is the team that opposing fans call the “Criminoles” — it’s a signal to all 32 NFL franchises that this guy simply isn’t worth the trouble.


And his open defiance of his own coach in dressing out for the Clemson game despite the suspension is a clear indication that he’s an uncoachable mess. He’s basically Vince Young with a rap sheet. And like Young, it’s pretty clear that Winston has peaked in college. Even if Winston does an about-face and shows signs of newfound maturity (which seems unlikely), the cloud of his past misdeeds will follow him into all 32 war rooms, where his résumé will be met with a chilly response.


“He’s a big-ass immature kid,” one NFL scout told Sports Illustrated. “I think he needs to stay another year and prove that he can keep himself clean. Maybe even two more years. The skill is there, but …”


Football culture, with its casual acceptance of misogyny and general bad behavior, is about to undergo a needed transformation. The Jameis Winstons of the world need not apply. 

 

— Rob Doster

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, September 24, 2014 - 12:38
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-24-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 24:

 

• Gotta say, Miranda Lambert has dropped some lbs. and is looking good.

 

Paulina Gretzky took to Instagram to announce that she and Dustin Johnson are expecting. Mazel tov.

 

Nick Saban's tired of answering questions about Lane Kiffin. I'm just tired of Lane Kiffin.

 

There's some mutual trolling going on between ECU and UNC.

 

• Football hooligans? Fan violence is sweeping the NFL.

 

Relive the 2012 Ryder Cup through Dan Jenkins' tweets.

 

Check out Mandatory's interview with legendary wrestling manager Jim Cornette.

 

• After another fascinating Starbucks anecdote, Peter King let the trolls win on Twitter last night.

 

Bama fan and tree-killer Harvey Updyke took part in the Twitter hashtag #TweetAtYourself10YearsAgo. It was actually pretty funny and self-aware.

 

Bill Simmons ripped Roger Goodell to shreds on his podcast. Your move, ESPN.

 

Clint Dempsey asks New Yorkers about Clint Dempsey. These Kimmel-style ambush videos are always fun.

 

• A couple took advantage of their Kiss Cam moment in a unique way.

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, September 24, 2014 - 10:44
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-23-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 23:

 

Power-ranking the NFL cheerleaders of Week 3.

 

Metta World Peace is changing his Chinese name to "The Panda's Friend," and he unveiled shoes to match. Also, Metta World Peace is insane.

 

• Tom Brady knows what it's like to be left hanging on a high-five. So when a photo circulated of his boss suffering a similar fate, he did something about it.

 

Watch a team of pee-wee footballers try — and fail — to break through a banner. Banner 1, Mighty Mites 0.

 

James Harrison's retirement lasted all of two weeks. Guess the WalMart greeter thing didn't work out.

 

A former USC football player is suing the school and Lane Kiffin for forcing him to play through illness and permanently damaging his health.

 

Jameis Winston has at least two defenders — the parents of backup Sean Maguire.

 

You can own a game-used Derek Jeter sock for just over four bills.

 

Speaking of Jetes, he denies that gift basket rumor that we all want to be true.

 

Speaking of debunked legends, the 1972 Dolphins don't actually get together for a toast when the last unbeaten falls. The world makes no sense any more.

 

Jay Cutler's fumble produced an enjoyable fumble face.

 

• Jose Altuve redefines the term "free swinger."

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - 10:57
All taxonomy terms: Golf
Path: /golf/ryder-cup-2014-explaining-format
Body:

The 2014 Ryder Cup Matches

When: Sept. 26-28

Where: PGA Centenary Course, Gleneagles Hotel, Perthshire, Scotland

Course: 7,262 yards, par 72

All-time record: U.S. leads 25–12–2

 

After a miracle comeback at the Ryder Cup Matches at Medinah in 2012, Europe is the prohibitive favorite to retain the Cup on home turf, as Tom Watson takes a shorthanded American team to Scotland for the most pressure-packed event in golf. Can a U.S. team led by crafty veteran Phil Mickelson and young gun Rickie Fowler upset a European powerhouse led by four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup maestro Sergio Garcia?

 

To help get you ready for the drama, here's an explanation of the event's format:

 

Ryder Cup Format

Day One - Friday, Sept. 26

Morning Session — 4 points at stake

2 foursomes matches

2 fourballs matches

 

Afternoon Session — 4 points at stake

2 fourballs matches

2 foursomes matches

 

Day Two - Saturday, Sept. 27

Morning Session — 4 points at stake

2 foursomes matches

2 fourballs matches

 

Afternoon Session — 4 points at stake

2 fourballs matches

2 foursomes matches

 

Day Three - Sunday, Sept. 28

12 singles matches — 12 points at stake

 

Total Points at Stake: 28

Europe would retain the Cup with 14 points. The U.S. would need 14½ points to re-claim the Cup.

 

Explanation

• In each match, there is one point at stake. Should the match end in a tie, each side is awarded a half-point.

• The Ryder Cup is conducted under rules of match play rather than stroke play. Match play scoring consists of individual holes won, halved or lost. Once a player or team is "up" more holes than there are holes remaining to play, the match is over.

• A foursomes match is a competition between two teams of two golfers. The two teammates take alternate shots throughout the match, with the same ball. A hole is won by the team that completes the hole in the fewest shots.

• A fourball match is a competition between two teams of two golfers, but all four golfers play their own ball throughout the round rather than alternating shots, and each hole is won by the team whose individual golfer has the lowest score.

• A singles match is a standard match play competition between two golfers.

• In a single Ryder Cup, an individual player can play a maximum of five matches (two foursomes, two fourballs and a singles match). All 12 players on both teams participate in singles, but the respective captains can select any eight players to play in fourballs and foursomes.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 22, 2014 - 15:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-22-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 22:

 

• To start off your Monday: Hottest alumni of the Pac-12, including Arizona's Kristen Wiig.

 

Rickie Fowler showed up in Scotland for the Ryder Cup wearing his allegiance on his head. Your move, Rory.

 

• Cam Newton made the fashion statement of the young season: lavender jacket, capri pants and funky slip-on shoes.

 

The Browns ran a pretty sweet trick play to Johnny Manziel, but it was wiped out by a motion penalty. Turns out, it was an illegal "hideout" play anyway. The NFL really is the No Fun League.

 

This longform piece theorizes that the Jeter Farewell Tour cost the Yankees a playoff spot.

 

This high school kid's postgame speech makes me want to suit up and crush somebody.

 

• If you have a strong constitution, watch this brutal women's cycling crash.

 

Rich Rod was understandably excited after Arizona's Hail Mary win over Cal. Also wearing his heart on his sleeve post-game: Jimbo Fisher.

 

Watch an Alaska reporter quit on air with an f-bomb after announcing that she owns a cannabis club.

 

• Cardinals fans brawled with 49ers fans in violent and bloody fashion.

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 22, 2014 - 10:41
Path: /nfl/green-bay-packers-vs-detroit-lions-game-preview-and-prediction
Body:

This Green Bay vs. Detroit divisional pairing has shootout written all over it, as Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford will be flinging footballs all over Ford Field Sunday afternoon on FOX. The Packers arrive in Motown carrying some momentum thanks to their somewhat miraculous 31–24 comeback win over the Jets that allowed the Pack to avoid the dreaded 0–2 start. Meanwhile, the Lions, who looked impressive in toying with the Giants in a 35–14 Week 1 win, limp home following a thrashing at the hands of the Panthers in Charlotte. A narrative has yet to take hold in the wide-open NFC North, where all four teams are 1–1, but the winner of this one has an opportunity for a tiny bit of separation. 

 

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: FOX

Spread: Detroit -6.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Ground Games Stuck in Neutral

Neither team has mounted anything resembling an effective rushing attack so far in this young NFL season. The respective rushing leaders — Eddie Lacy for the Packers (77 yards) and Joique Bell for the Lions (87 yards) — have yet to crack the century mark after two games. The Lions rank 28th in the NFL in rushing at 73.0 yards per game, while the Packers are only two spots better at 26th, with 80.0 yards per game. The good news for the Lions is that the Packers defense has been unable to stop the run, allowing 176.5 rushing yards per game to rank 31st in the NFL. Meanwhile, the Lions are second in the NFL in run defense, surrendering 57.5 yards per game so far. If Detroit can press this advantage and establish the ground game, its offensive options should open up considerably.   

 

2. Jordy and Megatron

The NFL’s current two leaders in receiving yardage will be on the field for this one. Yes, one of them is Calvin Johnson. No, he's not No. 1. That would be Packers wideout Jordy Nelson, who has 292 receiving yards in two games, including a nine-catch, 209-yard shredding of the Jets secondary during the Packers' comeback win. Aaron Rodgers targeted Nelson 16 times on Sunday, the most attention he has ever lavished on one receiver in a single game. And Nelson did his part, averaging 9.7 yards after the catch. It's early, but Nelson is on pace for a 144-catch, 2,336-yard season and is staking his claim to be the second-best receiver in the NFC. Johnson remains the gold standard among receivers, but Nelson could be in the process of making history for the Green and Gold.

 

3. Will Tate Be Golden?

The Lions acquired Golden Tate during the offseason to provide Megatron and the Lions offense with a complementary piece, one that would relieve the pressure on Johnson and give quarterback Matthew Stafford another target. The Panthers proved last Sunday that taking Tate away as an option is an effective approach to stopping the Lions offense, primarily in the sense that it forces an over-reliance on Johnson. "When you can take away the other reads and guys who can hurt you on offense, it does kind of make you one-dimensional," Panthers safety Thomas DeCoud said. "And then they are going to try and feed their big receiver, their big target and now we can key in on that and be ready." Look for Stafford to try to find Tate in an attempt to open up other facets of the offense.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Panthers provided a blueprint for beating the Lions, turning them into a one-dimensional offense. While that dimension — throw the ball up and let Megatron go get it — can be effective, the Lions must get production from the ground game to relieve pressure off of the Matthew Stafford-Calving Johnson combo. Aaron Rodgers remains an unstoppable force, but the Packers have been similarly one-dimensional, relying on frequent Rodgers-to-Jordy Nelson hookups to bail them out. Whichever team shows more diversity has the upper hand, and given the Pack's lack of a run defense, that team could be the Lions.

 

Prediction: Detroit 31, Green Bay 28
Teaser:
Green Bay Packers vs. Detroit Lions Game Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, September 20, 2014 - 13:15
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-19-2014
Teaser:
Post date: Friday, September 19, 2014 - 10:58
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-18-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 18:

 

• With the new schedule gearing up, enjoy this slideshow of the loveliest ladies of fall TV, including the still-enticing Tea Leoni.

 

A sequel to Zoolander might actually happen. Of course, Hansel's not as hot as he once was.

 

Another classic Jeter commercial, courtesy of Gatorade.

 

Interesting story on former golf superstar-in-waiting Anthony Kim, who has all but disappeared.

 

• Artifact of the day: Tom Brady's resume from back when he wasn't sure he had a future in football. So where do you see yourself in five years, Mr. Brady?

 

• Inspirational story of the day: A Ravens player retired to give a kidney to his brother.

 

The Jameis Winston suspension raises serious red flags about the kid's judgment.

 

The earth swallowed up a soccer player mid-celebration.

 

A Braves fan tried to catch a home run ball with his hat. The results were disastrous for him, funny for the rest of us.

 

• Ever wonder how NFL ref Ed Hochuli maintains those guns of his? Wonder no more.

 

The director of the "Friday Night Lights" movie no longer allows his son to play football.

 

• Watch Brandon McCarthy's immaculate inning — nine pitches, nine strikes, three outs.

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 10:44
Path: /nfl/tampa-bay-buccaneers-vs-atlanta-falcons-game-preview-and-prediction
Body:

A stoppable force encounters a movable object, as the offense-challenged Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to the Georgia Dome to face the virtually defenseless Atlanta Falcons in the second installment of “Thursday Night Football” on CBS. New Bucs coach Lovie Smith is still seeking his first win in his new job, but it's far too soon for Bucs fans to panic — Smith was 5–11 in his first season in Chicago before winning back-to-back NFC North titles. Tampa Bay likely faces a similarly challenging season given its 0–2 start, but good times could be ahead. 

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons

 

Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS/NFL Network

Spread: Atlanta -6.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Time for a Return on the Josh McCown Investment

Josh McCown's spectacular performance for the 2013 Bears in relief of Jay Cutler — McCown bested his higher-profile counterpart in virtually every downfield passing stat in posting a 109.0 passer rating — earned the journeyman quarterback a big payday in Tampa Bay, but the investment has yet to yield dividends for the Bucs. In two games, the Tampa offense has produced only 31 points, and while McCown is completing a high percentage of his throws (67.9 percent), he's only 24th in the NFL in yards per attempt and has thrown only two TD passes to three interceptions. He has a pair of inviting downfield targets in Vincent Jackson and rookie Mike Evans, both of whom stand 6-5, so look for McCown to test the suspect Falcons pass defense with some longer throws. Through two games, the Falcons are next-to-last in the NFL against the pass, surrendering 317.5 yards per game. 

 

2. The Matt Ryan Roller Coaster

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan followed the best game of his career with one of the worst. Ryan was spectacular in the opener against the Saints, completing 31-of-43 for 448 yards and three touchdowns, but away from the confines of the Georgia Dome, he suffered an untimely reversal against the Bengals, completing 24-of-44 passes for 231 yards and one touchdown against three interceptions. His lone TD came in the fourth quarter with the Falcons trailing 24–3 — garbage time, in other words. This follows a career-long home/road pattern for Ryan, who has a 97.7 career rating and 29 interceptions at home, compared to an 84.7 rating and 51 picks on the road. Fortunately for Ryan and the Falcons, he's back in the Dome and should have opportunities to get his numbers back on the right side of the curve.

 

3. Next Man Up

Injuries are an unfortunate fact of life in the NFL, but the Bucs have been simply devastated by the injury bug. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Mason Foster were hurt in the loss to the Rams, joining running back Doug Martin, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, defensive ends Michael Johnson and Adrian Clayborn and cornerback Michael Jenkins on a crowded, cluttered shelf. In all, five defensive starters were missing for the stretch run of the Rams loss. Running back Bobby Rainey took advantage of his opportunity in relief of Martin, rushing for 144 yards on 22 carries and catching three passes for 30 yards. Now, it's up to other subs to step into the void. "There's no excuse. Whoever's out there we believe in wholeheartedly," said cornerback Alterraun Verner. "Obviously, Gerald going down was a big blow, and some of the other guys from previous weeks. I mean, that's the game. Everybody knows that this game is going to have injuries and people going down. People have to step up."

 

Final Analysis

 

There's not a lot of pressure on the Bucs, who aren't burdened by expectations under a new regime that is still finding its footing amid an 0–2 start that already has fans thinking about the 2015 draft. The Falcons, on the other hand, have a sense of urgency. The Mike Smith/Matt Ryan duo can't afford another 4–12 debacle, putting a home game against a struggling opponent into the must-win category. Look for the Falcons to hold serve against the injury-depleted visitors.  

 

Prediction: Atlanta 28, Tampa Bay 17
Teaser:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Atlanta Falcons Game Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, September 18, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Graeme McDowell, Golf
Path: /golf/ryder-cup-2014-4-questions-graeme-mcdowell
Body:

After a miracle comeback at the Ryder Cup Matches at Medinah in 2012, Europe is the prohibitive favorite to retain the Cup on home turf, as Tom Watson takes a shorthanded American team to Scotland for the most pressure-packed event in golf. Can a U.S. team led by crafty veteran Phil Mickelson and young gun Rickie Fowler upset a European powerhouse led by four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup maestro Sergio Garcia?

 

Athlon caught up with Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell, a Ryder cup veteran with a match record of 5-5-2 in three Cups, to get his perspective.

 

How is the pressure of the Ryder Cup compared to a major championship?

It’s very different. One’s individual pressure. Obviously, I had a chance to experience both things in the space of three or four months of each other (in 2010). Back nine of the U.S. Open and then coming down the stretch against Hunter (Mahan at the Ryder Cup). I can safely say it was ten-fold the pressure at the Ryder Cup. No doubt about it. You’re only letting yourself down by not taking care of it at a major championship. But you feel the fates of all your teammates and everything that goes into the Ryder Cup. And especially how passionate Europe is about the Ryder Cup. We’re certainly very, very into it.

 

Describe the experience of playing in a Ryder Cup.

I feel like I’ve experienced everything I can experience at the Ryder Cup. I’ve lost. I’ve won. I hit the last shot, I hit the first shot, I’ve played both sides of the Atlantic. At Gleneagles, I’ve made a promise to myself that I’m going to go and enjoy it. Try to shrug the pressure off a little bit. Play with my eyes open and take it all in and really embrace and enjoy as opposed to getting all tense and feeling like it’s pretty painful at times.

 

What about Gleneagles as a venue?

I think it will be a good venue. Weather is something we can’t control, and I’m sure it’ll be a talking point. But I think from a crowd’s point of view, Scottish fans are very educated and they love their golf and they will be absolutely fired up. First Ryder Cup (in Scotland) for many, many years. I’m expecting it to be pretty amazing. From a match play standpoint, the course is kind of irrelevant. Take Dove Mountain (former home of the WGC-Match Play Championship). That’s a golf course where you couldn’t play a stroke-play event. It would just be impossible. But it works for match play. The golf course can be irrelevant from a match play standpoint. It’s just ball against ball. Doesn’t matter if there is lots of rough or no rough. Long, short. Doesn’t really matter. Beautiful, not beautiful. Match play, the golf course is less relevant than it is at a major championship. I’m all for the Ryder Cup being at iconic venues. But it’s more about the people and the atmosphere and the experience and the matches.

 

You’ve played on two winning teams and one losing team. How do you view this one?

It’s something I’m very much looking forward to. A huge honor. I paced myself well this season, coming off good form in the summer, and I think I can be an instrumental part of the team. I’m getting to the veteran stage and I feel like I can definitely be a decent sort of leader for the young guys on the team.

 

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - 11:46
All taxonomy terms: Rickie Fowler, Golf
Path: /golf/ryder-cup-2014-4-questions-rickie-fowler
Body:

After a miracle comeback at the Ryder Cup Matches at Medinah in 2012, Europe is the prohibitive favorite to retain the Cup on home turf, as Tom Watson takes a shorthanded American team to Scotland for the most pressure-packed event in golf. Can a U.S. team led by crafty veteran Phil Mickelson and young gun Rickie Fowler upset a European powerhouse led by four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup maestro Sergio Garcia?

 

One of the keys to the U.S. effort, Rickie Fowler will be participating in his second Cup after a record of 0-1-2 in 2010 — but with four top-5 finishes in this year's majors under his stylish white belt. Athlon talked to Fowler for his perspective as the teams head to Gleneagles.

 

How is the pressure of a Ryder Cup different than a major?

It is different. I think the biggest ones for me, that kind of set me up for The Ryder Cup, it wasn't any of the professional events I played.  It was the Walker Cup experience, being in the team atmosphere. I think coming off and playing right out of college helped me, as well in 2010. So I'll still definitely be feeling the nerves this year as well, but I'm looking forward to it and pulling from the past experiences in 2010 and the two Walker Cups I have played.  It's a bit different when you are playing for a few other guys on the team, captain and wearing the red, white and blue.

 

Although you were not on the 2012 team, you sense any extra motivation to win it this year after what happened at Medinah?

You always want to go into those wanting to win, but with the way the last couple have gone, being on the losing side in '10 and then watching the guys come up short on the final day there at Medinah, yeah, it gives us a little fire to get it all together this year. I think the biggest thing is kind of get the team together, get everyone kind of on the same page. I know everyone's going to want to win, but bringing the team together is always big. I know Europe's always very strong at team camaraderie. Not that the U.S. doesn't get along, but I feel like we can work on getting the team together a little bit better and see if we can all pull together as a team and bring the cup home.

 

How tough was it not to be on the team the last time?

It was a struggle for me through that summer because my main goal that year was to make the Ryder Cup team. I was in position and was playing decent, and then I didn't make it well known, but after the fact, a lot of people knew that I was playing injured with my back that was giving me trouble. So it was a struggle just because I knew I could play well and I wanted to play well, and I wasn't able to because of the pain that my back was giving me and wasn't able to put myself in a position to make good swings. I'm definitely pleased with what I've done fitness-wise, and I've put myself in a position now where I'm locked up for the Ryder Cup team and I can go ahead and play.

 

What impact do you expect captain Tom Watson to have on the U.S. team?

I've gotten to know him a little bit. He's a living legend of the game. It will be cool to have him as a captain and it will be a lot cooler if we're able to bring the Cup back for him.

 

Teaser:
Ryder Cup 2014: Athlon Talks to Rickie Fowler
Post date: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - 11:20
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-17-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 17:

 

The top 35 cheerleading squads of the NCAA. This list will require extensive study to assess.

 

The Nats and Orioles clinched, leading to celebrations like the one in the photo above and the one seen here where Adam Jones smashes pies into fans' faces, and also conjuring visions of a Beltway World Series.

 

• No matter your opinion of Adrian Peterson, I think we can all agree that the Vikings are stumbling around cluelessly.

 

• In addition to a new contract, LeBron James also has new hair.

 

Greg Doyel caught up with the fainting goat kid from Arkansas State.

 

Blake Griffin hit Open Mic Night at the Laugh Factory. I'm afraid to watch it; let me know how he did.

 

A Cubs fan lost his wedding ring onto the field while giving high-fives. That's the most Cubs fan thing possible.

 

Watch Texas A&M punter Drew Kaiser campaign for the Heisman Trophy. If I had a vote, he'd get it.

 

Dwight Howard's problems with authority extend to red lights.

 

Lolo Jones' stint on Dancing with the Stars was … ill-fated.

 

• Why do celebrities even throw out first pitches? Charles Barkley bounced one last night.

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, September 17, 2014 - 10:45
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-16-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 16:

 

• Jessica Biel is guest-starring on "New Girl" tonight. Seems like a good excuse to link to this slideshow of some of her greatest on-screen moments.

 

• Redskins fans have this bizarre notion that Kirk Cousins is their savior. These t-shirts are just one example.

 

• Bad news for the NFC: Darren Sproles is running wild.

 

Jetes delighted an old lady in Tampa with a picture and a wave.

 

• Interesting stuff here: What schools give out multi-year scholarships?

 

• Bizarre play of the weekend: an Arkansas State fake punt in which a player acted like he was dead. Oh, and it was intercepted.

 

Eastern Kentucky's football intro video is worth the click. It's like The Matrix meets Tron.

 

The great Gus Johnson soccer experiment is over.

 

Serbia: No. 2 and loving it.

 

China has walking lanes for texters.

 

50 Cent is bodyguarding for Melo now.

 

• Mets phenom Jacob deGrom fanned the first eight batters he faced.

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Tuesday, September 16, 2014 - 11:41
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-15-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 15:

 

Congrats to Kira Kazantsev, Miss America 2014. Although social media was not impressed with her talent, which consisted of banging cups on the floor while singing "Happy."

 

• We normally endorse ridiculous fan behavior and attire, but this Vikings fan crossed a line.

 

Colin Kaepernick got flagged for inappropriate language. He was more guilty of inappropriate second-half suckitude.

 

The Jets lost yesterday in the Jets-iest way possible.

 

The Chargers claim they "exposed" Richard Sherman, who responded via Twitter (although he refused to talk to the media).

 

Peyton expressed his displeasure with Julius Thomas rather openly.

 

A woman choked her husband for refusing to buy her a Cowboys hat. Them's Jerry Jones' kind of people.

 

Unintentional failed dunk faceplant or pre-planned pratfall? You make the call.

 

Some reporter tried to figure out how many times Derek Jeter has swung the bat in games. I think we've officially reached Peak Jetes.

 

An amorous LSU couple didn't account for gravity.

 

Interesting perspective from Charles Barkley on the Adrian Peterson situation.

 

• Watch Adam Jones destroy a camera with a foul ball, from the POV of the camera.

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, September 15, 2014 - 10:52
All taxonomy terms: Atlanta Falcons, Cincinnati Bengals, NFL, News
Path: /nfl/atlanta-falcons-vs-cincinnati-bengals-game-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Atlanta and Cincinnati, two teams riding the high of improbable Week 1 victories, will meet up in Paul Brown Stadium Sunday afternoon on CBS, and the winner will take an important early step toward playoff contention. The Bengals won a division game in a venue — Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium — where quarterback Andy Dalton had never won as a starter, while the Falcons shocked NFC South rivals (and popular Super Bowl picks) Drew Brees and the Saints with an offensive explosion in the Georgia Dome. 

 

Atlanta Falcons at Cincinnati Bengals

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS

Spread: Cincinnati -5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Will Matty Ice Stay Red-Hot?

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is merely coming off the best performance of his career in Atlanta's 37–34 overtime win over New Orleans. Ryan completed 31-of-43 passes for a franchise-record 448 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. But it was some unexpected scrambling that really frustrated a helpless Saints defense that was able to sack the statuesque Ryan only once. Rushing for 15 yards on three carries, Ryan also extended a number of plays with some deft movement in the pocket, including sidestepping the rush on a 39-yard pass to Roddy White that led to an important field goal right before halftime. "He's played a lot of games, made a lot of plays for us," coach Mike Smith said after the game. "But I was really impressed with his ability to extend some plays by moving around in the pocket. And he was very, very accurate. When you have (568 yards) of total offense and 448 through the air, your quarterback is playing well." Now, the question becomes: Can he do it away from the comfort of the Georgia Dome?

 

2. A.J. Green: The AFC's Best Wideout

As long as Megatron keeps slicing through defenses for Detroit, the title of Best Wideout in the NFL is taken, but Green is staking a strong claim for Best of the Rest. Coming off a season stat line of 98-1,426-11, Green resumed his abuse of hapless defensive backs, burning the Ravens for six catches for 131 yards and a decisive 77-yard touchdown in Cincy's 23–16 win in Baltimore. Quarterback Andy Dalton's comfort level with his prime target is only growing; against the Ravens, Dalton was 6-of-8 for 131 yards and a touchdown when targeting Green. In only three-plus seasons, Green has 12 touchdown catches of 30 yards or longer, and that ability to produce the big play assures that Dalton will continue to look his way. Against a Falcons defense that surrendered 333 passing yards in Week 1, Green could run wild.

 

3. Protecting the Jungle

Paul Brown Stadium is suddenly one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. The Bengals have won nine straight regular-season games at home, and the Jungle will present a challenging setting for Atlanta's attempt to chalk up its first two-game winning streak since 2012. The Bengals' propensity for protecting their home turf is an important component of this new golden era for a team that is gunning for its fourth consecutive winning season, which would be a first in the history of a downtrodden franchise. If Cincinnati is to take the next step and win a playoff game, the Bengals need to play that postseason game at home, and protecting home turf during the regular season — especially against ostensibly weaker teams — is critical to reaching that goal. Of course, given the Bengals' surprising home playoff loss to San Diego last season, there are no guarantees. 

 

Final Analysis

 

Both defenses will be under the gun on Sunday. The Bengals allowed 423 yards to the Ravens and needed the cooperation of Joe Flacco & Co. via some well-timed mistakes to come out of Baltimore with a win. The Falcons needed every one of their 568 total yards against the Saints, because the defense was busy surrendering 472 yards and a number of big plays. The Bengals seem to have the edge in physicality, and given the Falcons' 1–7 road record in 2013, home should be very sweet indeed for Cincy on Sunday. 

 

Prediction: Cincinnati 27, Atlanta 21
Teaser:
Atlanta Falcons vs. Cincinnati Bengals Game Preview and Prediction
Post date: Saturday, September 13, 2014 - 13:30
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-12-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 12:

 

• Plenty of weak matchups in college football this weekend, but the cheerleader matchups are pretty good.

 

There were an alarming number of purple No. 27 jerseys on display in Baltimore last night. Perhaps the news cycle is a little behind up there.

 

James Brown addressed the Ray Rice elephant in the room in an eloquent opening to CBS' Thursday night game.

 

An attempted celebratory mid-air bump sent a high school football coach flying.

 

Inspirational story of the day involves basketball player born with one hand.

 

Bill Simmons and his readers contemplate the ongoing employment of Roger Goodell.

 

Hey look — Tiger actually won something!

 

• Scary moment last night: Giancarlo Stanton got carted off in an ambulance after being beaned in the face. The beaner, Mike Fiers, offered a heartfelt apology via Twitter.

 

A Houston defensive back was apparently being controlled by a gamer with slow reflexes.

 

People showed up at a high school rivalry game wearing t-shirts featuring the mug shot of a student at the opposing school.

 

• First-pitch follies: Joakim Noah botched his first try, but got a mulligan and threw a strike.

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Friday, September 12, 2014 - 11:06
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-11-2014
Body:

This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 11:

 

• On a day for honoring America, it doesn't get much more American than the USC song girls.

 

Today, 11 Links celebrates the last living 9/11 rescue dog, 15-year-old Bretagne. That's a good, good doggie.

 

• Take a minute today and watch this video of Pat Tillman, which was recorded on Sept. 12, 2001.

 

• Thirteen years ago today, a Boston College lacrosse player was one of countless heroes.

 

• In their inimitably profane style, Deadspin calls for Roger Goodell's ouster.

 

The WSJ says the Ray Rice saga is just the latest example of the NFL's habit of trying to airbrush uncomfortable history.

 

Paul George made a fool of himself on Twitter. So much for the post-broken leg goodwill.

 

T.I. is USA Today's celebrity NFL picker this week.

 

An adorable baby bear had some serious fun with a flagstick on a golf course, then walked off with a ball.

 

• Note to self: Never call Mike Tyson a convicted rapist to his face.

 

Oscar Pistorius is not guilty of murder, but there's still a lesser charge pending.

 

• No matter your opinions of Dubya, his post-Sept. 11 World Series first pitch while wearing a flak jacket brought out the chill bumps.

 

 

--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at links@athlonsports.com

Teaser:
Post date: Thursday, September 11, 2014 - 10:44
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-vs-baltimore-ravens-game-preview-and-prediction
Body:

Baltimore and Pittsburgh, two old rivals that are seemingly in transition, are set to collide at M&T Bank Stadium for a critical AFC North matchup tonight on CBS that also will be simulcast on the NFL Network. The Ravens find themselves in virtual must-win mode after losing their home opener to division foe Cincinnati, but an important week of preparation has spiraled out of control with the nation's laser focus on the Ray Rice debacle and the team's (and head coach's) clumsy handling of the disgraced lead back. The Steelers were able to grab a division win against the Browns but showed plenty of warts in doing so. The loser had better buckle in for a week of doomsday proclamations from a frustrated fan base.

 

Pittsburgh Steelers at Balitmore Ravens

 

Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET

TV Channel: CBS/NFL Network

Spread: Baltimore -2.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Will Either Defense Show Up?

These two franchises built their reputations on throwing up brick walls at opposing offenses, but those days are seemingly in the past. Neither unit cracked the top 10 in the NFL in total defense last season, and neither proved up to the task in Week 1 of 2014. Baltimore allowed Andy Dalton, a former whipping boy for the Ravens defense, the time and space to do what he wanted, failing to sack him a single time, failing to force a turnover and surrendering 301 yards on a tidy 25-of-38 passing line. Most critically, the defense suffered an unconscionable breakdown on a 77-yard Dalton-to-A.J. Green catch and run for the decisive touchdown in a 23–16 Bengals win. Meanwhile, Dick LeBeau's defense allowed 27 second-half points to the Browns, who used a no-huddle attack that kept the Steelers on their heels. Cleveland pierced the Steel Curtain for 183 yards rushing (100 by unheralded rookie Terrance West) and 6.0 yards per carry, alarming numbers for a proud run defense. This game could produce what would once have been unthinkable for this series: an offensive shootout.

 

2. A Tale of Two Quarterbacks

Until last season, all Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger did was win a vast majority of their starts. But dueling 8–8 seasons marred by turnovers have dented their armor a bit. Big Ben was fairly impressive against the Browns, completing 23-of-34 passes for 365 yards, but he found the end zone only once and was sacked four times after being dumped 42 times in 2013. Lacking a credible running threat, Flacco was forced to the air at an alarming rate in the Ravens' opener, throwing 62 passes (completing 35) for 345 yards, a touchdown and a critical interception that drew boos from the home crowd. Until Flacco and new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak get better acquainted, look for Big Ben to retain the upper hand in this personal rivalry.

 

3. Bell Cow Backs

The Steelers have to be thrilled with second-year running back Le'Veon Bell, who picked up right where he left off late last season, rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and adding 88 receiving yards in the win over Cleveland, the best combined yardage performance by a Pittsburgh running back since 2006. History is working against Bell — the Steelers haven't had a back exceed 100 yards against the Ravens in almost a decade — but his combination of vision, speed and toughness could reverse that trend. The Ravens had hoped that Bernard Pierce would fill Rice's shoes, but an early fumble against the Bengals opened the door for Justin Forsett, who responded with 70 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and is enough of a dual threat to earn the lion's share of the snaps. Both teams will try to get their lead backs untracked to take pressure off the quarterbacks.

 

Final Analysis

 

Much like last week, the Ravens have to be glad to get back to the field and away from the questions about their disgraced former teammate. But on the field, they face a whole different set of questions about their ability to protect the football, force turnovers and generally live up to the standard of excellence they've set under John Harbaugh. Similarly, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin can ride his impressive record only so far in a what-have-you-done-lately league. It's premature to put either coach on the hot seat, but a loss in this one does turn up the heat. The Steelers seem to have the better running threat, which could give them an edge in this one.

 

Prediction: Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 20
Teaser:
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens Game Preview and Prediction
Post date: Thursday, September 11, 2014 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Washington Redskins, NFL
Path: /nfl/should-redskins-change-their-nickname
Body:

It's one of the most contentious issues in sports: Should the Washington Redskins change an outdated and offensive nickname? Here, Athlon editors take opposing viewpoints.

 

Yes

Washington (insert racist nickname) owner Daniel Snyder needs a lesson in both United States history and sports history. I’ll save the junior high school history lesson (see: Trail of Tears, Indian Removal Act of 1830) and cut right to the sports history.

 

Jim Plunkett won the Heisman Trophy as quarterback of the Stanford Indians. In 1972, however, one of America’s finest research institutions had the wisdom to change its nickname. Eight years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (okay, some U.S. history), Stanford made a proactive decision on the nickname Indians, which is much less offensive than the “R-word” slur currently used in Washington. These days, the Indians are a distant memory and Stanford boasts greats such as John Elway and Andrew Luck, who both played for the Stanford Cardinal.

 

But it’s not just “West Coast hippy liberals” who have common sense and decency. Hardened New Yorkers have dealt with the same issue with similar success.

 

Chris Mullen led the 1985 NCAA Tournament in scoring en route to leading the St. John’s Redmen to the Final Four. Fans cheered on, wearing a logo that depicted a cartoonish Native American dribbling a basketball in full headdress.

 

Despite a “tradition” of bigotry — however ham-handed and unintentional it may have been — the Redmen became the Red Storm in 1994. That was 20 years ago. Recent high school graduates never lived in a world where Redmen was an acceptable nickname in New York, a city not known for its political correctness.

 

But what about the nation’s capital? Oh, that’s right… the Washington Bullets became known as the Washington Wizards in 1997 due to the name’s tangential relationship to violent crime. And when baseball returned to Washington in 2005, the team didn’t return to its 60-year-old “roots” as the Washington Senators, it settled on Washington Nationals. The NBA and MLB teams in D.C. have already changed names. The NFL is next.

 

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” Point being, Snyder can (and will) run this team into the ground no matter what their nickname is.

 

No

Clearly, if Washington were an expansion franchise beginning play in 2014, they wouldn’t choose “Redskins” as their nickname. The moniker is no doubt anachronistic. I’ll even stipulate that it’s offensive to some people. But that doesn’t mean it should change.

 

And it might surprise you to know that Americans agree with me in overwhelming numbers.

 

That’s right: Despite a non-stop media onslaught in TV, print and social media over the necessity of discarding this ongoing affront to decency, only 23 percent of respondents in a recent ESPN poll think the name should be changed. That’s up from eight percent only a few years ago, but it’s hardly a mandate. I mean, 45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts, and 26 percent either believe Obama is the Antichrist or aren’t sure. In other words, you can find 23 percent of Americans who believe just about anything. It’s a statistically insignificant number in a democratic society where 50 percent minus one is a losing posture.

 

Admittedly, owner Daniel Snyder’s stubborn insistence on keeping the name and his clumsy efforts at justifying it have combined to have the opposite effect on public opinion, but his general ineptitude as an owner and a human being shouldn’t sway this debate.

 

As outdated as the nickname may be, I believe that it’s dangerous to succumb to self-righteous Tweeters and media poseurs trying to impose their version of political correctness on one of the most storied franchises in sports, a franchise that has long carried its nickname as a point of pride, not of bigotry.

 

I’ll give the last word to Mitchell Hicks, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians: “(The team nickname) has been around a long time, and I know that are certain aspects of the name redskins that historically was rather derogatory to natives, but in the way the (Washington) Redskins use the name, my personal stance is they haven’t shown me anything that is directly offensive.” Good enough for me.

 

Teaser:
Should the Redskins Change Their Nickname? Athlon Editors Debate
Post date: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 - 12:47
All taxonomy terms: Essential 11, Overtime
Path: /overtime/athlons-essential-11-links-day-september-10-2014
Teaser:
Post date: Wednesday, September 10, 2014 - 10:46

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