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It was quite a wild ride through the ACC in the 2015 college football season. The conference had its fair share of some wild endings and thrillers and stunners. The conference also placed one team in the College Football Playoff with Clemson managing to run the table this fall, but it was not a walk through the park at times for the Tigers. There were some close calls along the way. Last year's Playoff representative, Florida State, was on the wrong end of a special teams miracle while Miami put together some of the crazier finishes in the ACC this season.

 

Cutting down the top 10 games in the ACC this season was no small task with all there was to consider, but here are the 10 that made the final cut, and a few that just missed.

 

Honorable Mentions

 

Houston 34, Louisville 31: A loss for the ACC, but Louisville made what would turn out to be a very good Houston team earn the victory, forcing the Cougars to come from behind twice in the fourth quarter.

 

Iowa 27, Pittsburgh 24: Nobody knew what was going to happen with Iowa, but Pat Narduzzi's Panthers gave the Hawkeyes all they could handle before falling on a last-second field goal.

 

Boston College 76, Howard 0: If for no other reason, it is worth mentioning because Boston College actually showed some offense.

 

Florida State 27, Florida 2: Florida State manhandled rival Florida and Dalvin Cook put on a show against the Gators' defense in the second half.

 

Virginia Tech 23, Virginia 20: The Hokies edged their in-state rivals for the 11th straight time, but this one was a little sweeter since it gave Frank Beamer one final bowl game before he retires.

 

10. Notre Dame 34, Virginia 27 — Sept. 12

The ACC may have taken a loss, but the Virginia Cavaliers pushed Notre Dame to the limit. The game is more notable for being the moment when Deshone Kizer stepped in for the Irish and led them to victory after Malik Zaire left with a fractured ankle. The game was a true back-and-forth affair with Notre Dame dominating one quarter, Virginia responding the next, the Irish swinging back in the third and Virginia fighting back in the fourth before failing to finish.

 

Will Fuller hauled in a 39-yard pass from Kizer with just 12 seconds to play in the game. Kizer picked up a key four-yard run on a 4th-and-2 from the Notre Dame 28-yard line and then completed his next two passes for first downs to set up the game-winning touchdown play.

 

9. North Carolina 30, Virginia Tech 27 — Nov. 21

North Carolina looked like an easy favorite to wrap up the ACC Coastal after blowing away Duke and Miami with big point totals, but the Hokies brought plenty of fight and never quit in the final home game under Frank Beamer. UNC took a seemingly commanding 24-10 lead midway through the fourth quarter but Virginia Tech scored twice in the final three minutes to force overtime. Two lost fumbles by UNC led to those two Virginia Tech touchdowns in storybook fashion, but Quinshad Davis caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Marquise Williams to push past the Hokies in overtime.

 

8. Clemson 20, Louisville 17 — Sept. 17

One of the early tests for Clemson came in Week 3 with a Thursday night road trip to Louisville, which figured to be one of the tougher defensive tests for the Tigers. Louisville losing its first two games of the season took some steam out of the matchup's notoriety, but the Cardinals lived up to the hype of presenting a tough challenge for Clemson.

 

Deshaun Watson and Louisville's Kyle Bolin were each picked off twice, but Wayne Gallman put together a 139-yard performance on the ground for Clemson and Watson completed two touchdown passes. Clemson put up 401 yards of offense and held on for a close win in the fourth quarter despite giving up a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown to Traveon Samuel.

 

7. Duke 45, Virginia Tech 43 (4OT) — Oct. 24

Duke and Virginia Tech traded scores all afternoon in Blacksburg and went to overtime tied 24-24. Then things got really crazy. The Blue Devils and Hokies played four overtimes, first exchanging field goals and then swapping touchdowns before matching field goals in the third overtime (Virginia Tech needed a 40-yard field goal to force a fourth overtime).

 

The Hokies scored a touchdown in the fourth overtime when Travon McMillian pushed across from the goal line, but a mandatory two-point try failed. Duke capitalized on their two-point opportunity following a 25-yard pass from Thomas Sirk to Erich Schneider on its first play of the fourth overtime. The game lifted Duke to 6-1 at the time and dropped Virginia Tech to 3-5.

 

6. Clemson 23, Florida State 13 — Nov. 7

It seems mandatory that the Clemson-Florida State game has to be on this list every year. This year's game lost some steam once Florida State was upset two weeks prior (we'll get to that one soon, I promise), and the Seminoles were a bit banged up outside of Dalvin Cook. As good as Cook was this season, he could not do it all against a well-equipped Clemson team. Deshaun Watson passed for 297 yards and ran for 107 yards and Wayne Gallman rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown to provide too much offense for Florida State to clamp down. Cook was great though, rushing for 194 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort.

 

5. Miami 36, Nebraska 33 (OT) — Sept. 19

It was a game Miami dominated, and then didn't, and then escaped in overtime and boy was it a lot of fun to watch. The Hurricanes jumped all over the struggling Cornhuskers in the first quarter with a 17-0 opening frame, as Brad Kaaya was locked in en route to a 379-yard performance. Miami built a decisive 33-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, which is when Nebraska pulled off quite the comeback in the second half over the final 11 minutes of regulation. Nebraska had three touchdown drives of at least 75 yards in the fourth quarter for 23 straight points with a pair of two-point conversions in the mix. Tommy Armstrong hit three touchdown passes in the rally, including the game-tying score to Stanley Morgan Jr. with 33 seconds to play.

 

The magic ran out in regulation time for Armstrong though. Miami's Corn Elder picked off Armstrong on the first play of overtime. Nebraska took a bad unnecessary roughness penalty on the play as well, which allowed Miami to start their overtime possession on the Nebraska 12-yard line. Miami played for a field goal from there, and the Hurricanes hit it for the wild win.

 

4. Miami 30, Duke 27 — Oct. 31

It was quite a wild season for Miami, and they had another bizarre ending on Halloween. Fast-forward to the final three minutes of the game. Miami led Duke 24-12 with 5:54 to play, but the Blue Devils drove 75 yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 24-19 with 2:40 to play. After the defense held Miami to a three-and-out, Duke drove 80 yards over 10 plays to score the go-ahead touchdown (27-24) with just six seconds to play. Then the controversial kick return happened.

 

Miami lateraled the kickoff return eight times, at least once that should not have counted, and Corn Elder once again came up with the big play as he got credit for the 91-yard, walk-off touchdown return for a controversial win.

 

3. Clemson 24, Notre Dame 22 — Oct. 3

This was the game where Clemson officially became recognized as a worthy national title contender. Hosting No. 6 Notre Dame in the rain that flooded parts of South Carolina, the Tigers started fast and had to hold on for a nail-biter of a win against the Irish. Brian Kelly's decision to go for two points in the fourth quarter following an early touchdown may have come back to haunt him, but each team came away with a bit of a character-building performance. Clemson's defense forced four turnovers, including three fumble recoveries, but Clemson had to win despite being outgained 432-296. Clemson jumped six spots in the AP poll as a result of the game, which helped set up Clemson's national title campaign and run.

 

2. Clemson 45, North Carolina 37 — Dec. 5

The most attractive ACC Championship Game in the history of the conference saw No. 1 Clemson look to complete an undefeated regular season and lock up a spot in the College Football Playoff, and No. 10 North Carolina make a case for top one-loss team in consideration for the final four. North Carolina presented Clemson with its best opposing offensive threat of the season, but the Tigers made sure UNC quarterback Marquise Williams would be off the mark. Despite tossing three touchdowns, Williams completed just 11 of his 33 pass attempts. Clemson's Deshaun Watson had a better showing, completing 26-of-42 for 289 yards and three touchdowns, but UNC made sure Clemson kept its foot on the gas from start to finish.

 

Clemson took a 42-23 lead early in the fourth quarter but UNC chipped away with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. After cutting the lead to 45-37 with 1:13 to play, UNC appeared to recover an onsides kick but the play was waved off due to a controversial offsides penalty on UNC. Clemson managed to hold on for the win as a result and advanced as the top seed in the College Football Playoff.

 

1. Georgia Tech 22, Florida State 16 — Oct. 24

Two years ago Alabama fell victim to a Kick-Six against rival Auburn. That result dramatically changed the landscape of the SEC and national championship picture. The stakes were not quite as high on Oct. 24 in Atlanta between Georgia Tech and Florida State, but it was no less stunning.

 

Georgia Tech's defense played a solid game against Florida State by holding Dalvin Cook to just 82 yards on the ground and 50 receiving yards. Everett Golson was 20-of-30 with his passing attempts but was picked off once and never got the Seminoles in the end zone. Florida State held a 16-10 lead on the Yellow Jackets going into halftime and then never scored again. Georgia Tech tied Florida State at 16-16 with a Harrison Butker 35-yard field goal with 54 seconds to play. It looked as though overtime was coming, but Florida State had to burn a timeout on its second play from scrimmage following a short run by Cook and Golson threw two incomplete passes on the drive. On 2nd-and-15, following a pass completion, Florida State again burned a timeout with 10 seconds to play, only to see Golson throw another incomplete pass. Florida State set up for a 55-yard field goal attempt by sure-footed Roberto Aguayo, but Georgia Tech blocked the field goal and Lance Austin returned it 78 yards for a walk-off touchdown and a huge upset of the No. 9 Seminoles.

 

The result of the game, at the time, seemed to be a big hit to the ACC's chances of reaching the College Football Playoff. Fortunately for the ACC, Clemson and North Carolina held up their end of the bargain to keep the ACC in the Playoff picture. Florida State took a second loss a couple of weeks later at Clemson but managed to finish the regular season on a strong note with a dominating victory over Florida and received a spot in the New Year's Six lineup against AAC champion Houston.

 

— Written by Kevin McGuire, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Football Foundation. McGuire also writes for CollegeFootballTalk.com and hosts the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @KevinOnCFB.

 

(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Teaser:
10 Best ACC College Football Games of 2015
Post date: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: College Football, News, Magazines
Path: /magazines/2010-coaching-carousel-revisited-big-winners-and-bigger-losers
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College football programs tend to be copycats. They borrow offensive and defensive schemes, recruiting tactics and coaches from the same handful of staffs.

 

By 2010, another trend took off — the coach-in-waiting. This was supposed to be the way aging coaches would ease fears in recruiting. Bobby Bowden tabbed Jimbo Fisher as his eventual successor at Florida State. Rich Brooks did the same with Joker Phillips at Kentucky.

 

This policy, though, had its drawbacks. Fisher and Phillips had never been head coaches before, and only one of them still was less than five years later. Maryland named James Franklin a coach-in-waiting for Ralph Friedgen, but a new athletic director had a change of heart and let Franklin leave for Vanderbilt. Will Muschamp was named a coach-in-waiting at Texas, but he tired of waiting for Mack Brown to leave. He left for Florida, and Texas fans would eventually be relieved he didn’t stick in Austin.

 

The 2009-10 coaching carousel was also the year Notre Dame and USC hired new coaches with wildly different results.

 

Of the 22 coaches hired for 2010:

 

• Only three remain with the teams that hired them (Jimbo Fisher, Brian Kelly and Doc Holliday)

• 12 were fired and have yet to get other FBS coaching jobs.

• Five left for bigger jobs (Butch Jones, Charlie Strong, Sonny Dykes, Mike MacIntyre and Willie Taggart).

• Two left voluntarily for lateral jobs or steps down (Tommy Tuberville and Dan Enos).

 

As the 2015-16 coaching carousel continues to spin, here’s what Athlon had to say about the 2010 class of new coaches and how they actually turned out.

 

Brian Kelly, Notre Dame

What did Athlon say?

“Notre Dame hit a home run by hiring Kelly … There’s no season to believe he will not have Notre Dame back to prominence in the near future. The days of losing to Syracuse at home are over.”

How’d he do?

Kelly has, for the most part, returned Notre Dame to national prominence. The Irish have been ranked in the top five at some point in three of the last four seasons, including a trip to the BCS title game (and subsequent drubbing at the hands of Alabama) after the 2012 season. If not for a rash of injuries and academic casualties in the last two seasons, Notre Dame may have hit even greater heights.

 

Lane Kiffin, USC

What did Athlon say?

“It is noteworthy than a school that is facing an ongoing NCAA investigation hired a coach who showed so little regard for NCAA rules in his only season as a head coach.”

How did he do?

Tennessee fans were furious to lose Kiffin after only one season, and USC fans were thrilled to have one of Carroll’s own (plus Ed Orgeron and Monte Kiffin) returning to Los Angeles. All of turned to be much ado about nothing. USC went 10-2 and defeated then-No. 4 Oregon at Autzen despite NCAA sanctions in 2010. It was all downhill from there. USC was a preseason No. 1 in 2012 and finished 7–6 with an embarrassing performance in the Sun Bowl — both on the field and off. USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Kiffin on a tarmac after an September loss to Arizona State the following season. Kiffin went 28-15 at USC and has become a hot name again after only two years as Alabama’s offensive coordinator.

 

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State

What did Athlon say?

“The school could have had its pick of just about any coach in the nation to succeed Bobby Bowden. What is so special about Fisher?”

How did he do?

Plenty was special about Fisher. The handoff of the program from the legendary Bobby Bowden to the coach-in-waiting Fisher was clunky but nonetheless a resounding success. Fisher modernized the program from nutrition to conditioning while finally capitalizing on all those elite recruiting classes FSU had been signing for years. By the end of his third season in 2012, Florida State was back among the national elite, winning 29 consecutive games including a Heisman trophy for Jameis Winston, the 2013 national title and a 2014 College Football Playoff appearance. The question is if FSU gets to keep him. Reports linked Fisher to the LSU job when the Tigers mulled parting with Les Miles.

 

Derek Dooley, Tennessee

What did Athlon say?

“Dooley could very well enjoy tremendous success, but his record at Louisiana Tech has to be cause for concern.”

How did he do?

Cause for concern? How about alarm bells. Kiffin’s shocking departure for USC in January 2012 left Tennessee in a bind, but the Volunteers surely could have done better than a 17-20 coach at Louisiana Tech. Dooley ended up as one of the worst hires for a major program in college football history as Dooley went 15-21 in three seasons. Tennessee was uncompetitive in the SEC in his final two seasons, going a combined 1-14. With his perfect hair, orange pants and quotables, Dooley could have been one of the SEC’s greatest characters if not for that dismal record. Dooley is now the wide receivers coach with the Dallas Cowboys.

 

Tommy Tuberville, Texas Tech

What did Athlon say?

“As long as everyone remains on the same page philosophically, the Tuberville-Texas Tech marriage should be a happy one.”

How did he do?

This marriage was not a happy one as Texas Tech might not have been ready to move on from Mike Leach. Even as the Red Raiders led the Big 12 in passing in 2012, Tuberville had his eye on leaving. Tuberville bolted after three seasons and took a lesser job — at least conference-wise — at Cincinnati. Tuberville went 20-17 (9-17 in the Big 12) in three seasons, a record not that different from his successor. Kliff Kingsbury, a Leach QB at Texas Tech, is 19-18 overall and 10-17 in the Big 12.

 

Mike London, Virginia

What did Athlon say?

“This is one of the top hires of the 2009-10 offseason.”

How did he do?

This seemed like a slam dunk hire. It was not. London, a former Virginia assistant, went 24-5 at Richmond with an FCS title. He proved Virginia didn’t have a recruiting problem as the Cavaliers brought in above-average ACC talent. The record never matched up. London had one winning ACC season and one bowl game before he was fired this season. London finished 27-46 overall and 14-34 in the ACC. London quickly found a spot on D.J. Durkin's staff at Maryland as associate head coach.

 

Charlie Strong, Louisville

What did Athlon say?

“Strong possesses all the qualities necessary to be a good head coach, and he is at school that should be able to sustain success in the Big East.”

How did he do?

Strong’s first head coaching opportunity was long overdue. At 50, he was a national championship coordinator who had worked under Lou Holtz, Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. He went 14-12 in his first two seasons at Louisville but made quick progress, going 23-3 in his last two seasons with an upset of Florida in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. His hire at Texas was greeted at skepticism. A 5–7 record with the Longhorns hasn’t done much to change that perception even considering Texas’ disastrous hire of AD Steve Patterson.

 

Joker Phillips, Kentucky

What did Athlon say?

“Ideally, if you are a BCS conference school, you’d like to hire someone with experience as ahead coach, but it’s hard to poke a hole in Phillips’ résumé.”

How did he do?

When Rich Brooks, who had reached four consecutive bowl games at Kentucky, tabbed Phillips as coach-in-waiting, the move made perfect sense. Phillips was an alum and ran solid offenses. Kentucky’s program momentum came to a screeching halt by the time he finished 2-10 and winless in the SEC in his second season. Phillips landed as a wide receivers coach at Florida but was fired when he ran afoul of NCAA rules. Phillips is now a receivers coach with the Cleveland Browns.

 

Butch Jones, Cincinnati

What did Athlon say?

“Jones walked into a great situation at Central Michigan, but he deserves credit for winning a bunch of games. Still, it won’t be easy to keep Cincinnati at the top of the Big East.”

How did he do?

Jones was still in Brian Kelly’s shadow when he left Central Michigan. That perception continued when he took over for Kelly a second time at Cincinnati. After a rocky first season, Jones went 19-6 in his last two with a share of the Big East title in both. His 2016 season at Tennessee will be the first time he’s coached to his fourth season anywhere.

 

Turner Gill, Kansas

What did Athlon say?

“Cons: None.”

How did he do?

Just five years ago, Gill was one of the hottest coaches on the market after leading a moribund Buffalo program to its first MAC title. A year prior, he had interviewed for the Auburn position when the Tigers hired Gene Chizik. Gill proved to be in over his head at Kansas, going 5-19 and 1-16 in the Big 12. Since Kansas, the ex-Nebraska quarterback seemed to find his comfort zone in the FCS coaching at Liberty.

 

Skip Holtz, USF

What did Athlon say?

“Jim Leavitt did a tremendous job building the program; Holtz can take it to the next level."

How did he do?

Holtz was another hire that seemed to be destined to success. Leavitt built the USF program from scratch, but it had seemed to have gone stale as the Bulls entered the Big East. A player mistreatment scandal gave USF a reason to let go of Leavitt and bring in Holtz, fresh off back-to-back Conference USA titles. Holtz took USF to another level — he set the program back several years, going 16-21 overall and 5-16 in the Big East.

 

Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina

What did Athlon say?

“McNeill wasn’t ECU’s first choice, but he is a solid hire for a school that has been a consistent winner in C-USA.”

How did he do?

Even though East Carolina hoped to hire Rick Stockstill from Middle Tennessee, McNeill ended up doing a pretty good job. An ECU Alum, McNeill led East Carolina to its first 10-win season in 22 years in 2013. He went 26-13 from 2012-14 before dipping to 5-7 in 2015, despite being competitive for most of the season. His abrupt firing following the season was one of the biggest surprises of the 2015-16 coaching carousel. McNeill wasn't out of work for long, landing as assistant head coach on Bronco Mendenhall's first staff at Virginia.

 

Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech

What did Athlon say?

“There are no guarantees he will compete for WAC titles, but you can sure that this disciple of both Hal Mumme and Mike Leach will run exciting offenses in Ruston.”

How did he do?

The former Texas Tech assistant revived Louisiana Tech with a high-flying offense. The departure of Boise State to the Mountain West opened the door for the Bulldogs to win the WAC in 2011. Tech entered the top 25 in 2012 before losing to Utah State and San Jose State to finish the season. Dykes left for Cal, a job he seems to be trying to leave at the moment.

 

Doc Holliday, Marshall

What did Athlon say?

“He will get good players to come to Marshall; now he just has to coach them.”

How did he do?

Holliday brought in good players and coached them. The Thundering Herd are 32-8 in the last two seasons, including a 20-4 mark in Conference USA behind one of the nation’s most up-tempo offenses.

 

Larry Porter, Memphis

What did Athlon say?

“Can he run a program? We’ll find out.”

How did he do?

We did find out, and, no, Porter could not run a program. He was a Memphis alum who had never been anything but a running backs coach, and now it’s easy to see why. Memphis went 3-21 in his two seasons before the Tigers pulled the plug. His biggest contribution to the Memphis program was making successor Justin Fuente look like miracle worker. Porter is — you guessed it — a running backs coach again, this time at North Carolina.

 

Dan Enos, Central Michigan

What did Athlon say?

“He has strong name recognition in the state and is regarded as a good recruiting, but the school could have found a coach with a more accomplished résumé.”

How did he do?

This was a ho-hum hire that offered ho-hum results. Predecessors Brian Kelly and Butch Jones were big winners in Mount Pleasant while Enos just barely made two bowl games in five seasons. Enos bolted to be the offensive coordinator at Arkansas.

 

Rob Ianello, Akron

What did Athlon say?

“There is an opportunity for upward mobility if he is able to bring in some top recruiting classes.”

How did he do?

A former Notre Dame assistant, Ianello worked under Barry Alvarez and Dick Tomey and was considered to be a strong recruiter. After going 2-22 in two seasons, it was clear why Ianello was a career assistant. He rejoined Charlie Weis at Kansas, making him a part of three consecutive dismal tenures. He’s now an assistant at Buffalo.

 

Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State

What did Athlon say?

“Seems to be a strange fit.”

How did he do?

MacIntyre was a little-known assistant who had served time at Ole Miss and Duke and in the NFL with the Cowboys and Jets. He turned out to be the best hire at San Jose State since the 1980s. Despite no West Coast roots, MacIntyre revived a program that went 1-12 in his first season and 11-2 in his third. MacIntyre would try to revive another struggling West Coast program when he left for Colorado.

 

Willie Taggart, Western Kentucky

What did Athlon say?

“Taggart is a perfect fit at Western Kentucky.”

How did he do?

The former Hilltoppers quarterback who played for longtime WKU coach Jack Harbaugh shepherded the program into the FBS era. Taggart took over a program that went 0-12 the year before he arrived and went 7-5 in 2011 and 7-6 with the program’s first bowl appearance in 2012. Many of the players on this year’s 8-4 team were Taggart recruits. Taggart engineered another big-time turnaround with an 8-4 season in his third year at USF.

 

Jeff Quinn, Buffalo

What did Athlon say?

“If I’m an AD at a MAC-level school, I’d be elated to bring on a guy who has worked so closely with Brian Kelly over the past two decades. This is a great hire.”

How did he do?

Little did we know in 2010 that the Brian Kelly coaching tree would bear little fruit. Quinn went 20-36 with one bowl appearance in five seasons.

 

Todd Berry, ULM

What did Athlon say?

“Army is a difficult job, but Berry’s record at West Point was dreadful. That has to be a cause for concern as he embarks on a new job at another school that has not experienced any sustained success in the FBS ranks.”

How did he do?

Berry led ULM to its first bowl game in school history in 2012 with a trip to the Independence Bowl. The Warhawks have been saddled with APR difficulties and recruiting limitations. Berry was fired after a 1-11 season in 2015.

 

Bobby Hauck, UNLV

What did Athlon say?

“Hauck has a great track record, but it will be far more difficult to win at UNLV in the improving MWC than it was to win at Montana in the Big Sky.”

How did he do?

Hauck was an enormously successful FCS coach, going 80-17 in seven seasons at Montana. Hauck ended UNLV’s 12-year bowl drought with a trip to the 2013 post season. Otherwise, Hauck had four two-win seasons in five years before he was fired in 2014. Hauck was an assistant at San Diego State in 2015.

Teaser:
The 2010 Coaching Carousel Revisited: The Big Winners and Bigger Losers
Post date: Tuesday, December 15, 2015 - 07:00
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College football’s bowl season is bigger and better than ever with 41 postseason matchups. With the bowl lineup set and confidence pools and pick’em contests set to start on Dec. 19, Athlon’s editors are here with predictions for every bowl.

 

The action begins on Saturday, Dec. 19 with five games, including the inaugural Cure Bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl between rivals Utah and BYU. The action picks up on Monday, Dec. 21 and continues with seven bowls before Christmas. The post-Christmas slate starts with six games on Dec. 26 and continues the following week on Dec. 28 with matchups every day until Jan. 3. The College Football Playoff takes center stage on Dec. 31 with Clemson-Oklahoma at 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 31, followed by Michigan State-Alabama at 8 p.m. ET. The Jan. 1 slate is loaded with intriguing matchups, including the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. The postseason slate concludes in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 11 with the national championship. 

 

Note: Number in parentheses indicates confidence in prediction. A No. 40 ranking indicates more confidence in the prediction, while a lower number indicates less confidence in a pick.

 

College Football's 2015-16 Bowl Predictions and Picks
Bowl

Steven

Lassan

Mitch

Light

David

Fox

Braden

Gall

Mark

Ross

Cure (1) (7) (1) (16) (4)
New Mexico (28) (30) (35) (36) (36)
Las Vegas (21) (28) (25) (23) (15)
Camellia (20) (3) (6) (8) (9)
New Orleans (5) (10) (21) (15) (14)
Miami Beach(17) (11) (26) (27) (32)

Famous Idaho

Potato

 (23) (34) (17) (22) (26)
Boca Raton (26) (29)(15) (21) (16)
Poinsettia (31) (15) (5) (9) (3)
GoDaddy(16) (38)(3) (4)(5)
Bahamas(15) (14)(11) (3)(8)
Hawaii(3)(1)(4)(2)(2)
St. Petersburg (9) (20)(31) (28)(31)
Sun (24) (12)(32) (29)(33)
Heart of Dallas (29) (25)(23) (20)(20)
Pinstripe(10) (19)(19) (24)(17)
Independence (33) (21)(12) (19)(23)
Foster Farms (37) (40)(40) (34)(34)
Military (7) (13)(18) (14)(7)
Quick Lane(18) (27)(8) (7) (18)
Armed Forces (4) (26)(20) (13)(21)
Russell Athletic (22) (31)(27) (17)(19)
Arizona(13) (2)(7) (6)(12)
Texas (35) (32)(36) (35)(38)
Birmingham(11) (8)(15) (10)(27)
Belk (34) (37)(33) (38)(30)
Music City (6) (9)(9) (5)(22)
Holiday(19) (35)(13)(26)(13)
Peach (25) (16) (37) (1)(1)
Orange(14) (17)(14) (12)(24)
Cotton (38) (39)(38) (37)(39)
Outback (39) (36)(39) (40) (40)

Buffalo Wild

Wings Citrus

 (36) (33) (34) (25) (10)
Fiesta (27) (4)(24) (33) (25)
Rose (32) (24)(30) (32)(29)
Sugar (30) (23)(10) (31) (28)
TaxSlayer (2) (18) (2) (11) (6)
Liberty (40) (22) (21) (39) (37)
Alamo (8) (6) (29) (30)(35)
Cactus(12) (5)(28) (18)(11)
National Title

over

over

over

over

over

 

Teaser:
Predictions for Every College Football 2015-2016 Bowl Game
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 17:15
All taxonomy terms: ACC, Clemson Tigers, College Football
Path: /college-football/dabo-swinney-tattoo-clemson-tigers-college-football-playoff
Body:

College football fans are truly the best. They live and die with their teams. 

 

A reddit user said months ago he would get a Dabo Swinney tattoo if his beloved Tigers made the College Football Playoff. The time came and this guy followed up on his promise. Keep in mind that depicting someone's face through a tattoo is extremely difficult.

 

View post on imgur.com

 

If Clemson ends up winning it all, he says he will add "Champion" underneath. 

 

Good thing he's not like Lions fans who get their Super Bowl tattoos before the season.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 16:29
All taxonomy terms: College Football
Path: /college-football/robert-nkemdiche-charged-marijuana-possession-ole-miss-fall-hotel-window
Body:

Robert Nkemdiche is not doing much to help his draft stock.

 

After reports surfaced about the Ole Miss defensive lineman falling out of an Atlanta hotel window, rumors flew that substances could be involved. Nkemdiche fell about 15 feet but only ended up with a few cuts.

 

Now police say they found marijuana in the hotel room that Nkemdiche fell out of, and have charged him. If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail.

 

 

This doesn't help his appearance to NFL teams. It could be argued that his draft stock was already slightly falling before this occurrence. 

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 13:12
Path: /college-football/sec-2015-season-awards-and-all-conference-team
Body:

While 2015 wasn’t the SEC’s best or deepest season in terms of overall team strength, the league still ended the year with eight teams with eight wins or more, including Alabama at 12-1 and No. 2 overall in the final College Football Playoff rankings. The Crimson Tide rallied from an early loss against Ole Miss to win the SEC title and finish with their eighth consecutive season of at least 10 victories.

 

The West Division was expected to be the best in college football this season, but Auburn finished 6-6, LSU’s offense sputtered down the stretch in a three-game losing streak, while Texas A&M was unable to build off the momentum from a 5-0 start. Arkansas and Tennessee took a step forward under third-year coaches, Ole Miss qualified for back-to-back New Year’s Six bowl games, and Florida surprised by winning the SEC East in coach Jim McElwain’s first season. 

 

With the regular season completed and bowl season starting on Dec. 19, it’s time to recap and look back at the 2015 campaign. Athlon Sports offers its awards and honors the best players in the league with the first and second all-conference teams for the SEC:

 

SEC 2015 Season Awards

 

Offensive Player of the Year: Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama

Henry was the catalyst behind Alabama’s offense in 2015, rushing for 1,986 yards and 23 scores in 13 regular season games. The junior recorded at least 200 yards in four out of his final seven matchups, including 271 in a 29-13 victory over rival Auburn. Henry averaged a healthy 5.86 yards per carry and led the SEC with nine rushing plays of 30 yards or more.

Runner Up: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Reggie Ragland, LB, Alabama

Alabama’s front seven was the best in college football this season, and Ragland was a key cog in a rush defense that held opponents to 2.4 yards per carry and generated 46 sacks. The senior recorded 90 stops (6.5 for a loss), 2.5 sacks, six pass breakups and two forced fumbles, while his ability to cover the field from sideline-to-sideline was a huge asset for coordinator Kirby Smart and coach Nick Saban.

Runner Up: Kentrell Brothers, LB, Missouri

 

Coach of the Year: Jim McElwain, Florida

McElwain made an immediate impact in his first season in Gainesville, guiding Florida to its first trip to the SEC Championship since 2009. The Gators finished the regular season at 10-3, which included a 27-3 victory over rival Georgia, a 38-10 win over Ole Miss and a last-minute 28-27 escape against Tennessee. McElwain still has work to do on offense, but the Gators were strong on defense, and the overall direction of this program is trending up headed into the bowl season.

Runner Up: Nick Saban, Alabama

 

Freshman of the Year (Offense): Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M

Alabama’s Calvin Ridley made a late push for this award, but Kirk was the SEC’s best all-around freshman in 2015. The true freshman led Texas A&M with 70 catches for 925 yards and six receiving touchdowns, scored on two punt returns and was the team’s top kickoff returner.

Runner Up: Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama

 

Freshman of the Year (Defense): Dre Greenlaw, LB, Arkansas

It’s a tight battle for the SEC’s top defensive freshman of the year, but a slight edge goes to Greenlaw over Missouri linemen Walter Brady and Terry Beckner, along with Alabama cornerback Minkah Fitzpatrick. Greenlaw ranked second among Arkansas defenders with 93 tackles (3.5 for a loss), one sack and two forced fumbles.

Runner Up: Walter Brady/Terry Beckner, DL, Missouri, Minkah Fitzpatrick, CB, Alabama

 

Coordinator of the Year: Kirby Smart, Defensive Coordinator, Alabama

Smart has helped coach Nick Saban build some of the nation’s top defenses in recent seasons and is leaving Alabama at the end of this year to be the head coach at Georgia. Under Smart’s direction, the Crimson Tide held opponents to 4.2 yards per play and 14.4 points per game in 2015. Additionally, Alabama led the nation with 46 sacks and ranked sixth in third-down defense.

Runner Up: Barry Odom, Defensive Coordinator, Missouri/Dan Enos, Offensive Coordinator, Arkansas 

 

Newcomer of the Year: Chad Kelly, QB, Ole Miss

Kelly quickly emerged as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in his first season in Oxford. The junior college transfer (and former Clemson quarterback) threw for 3,740 yards and 27 scores and rushed for 427 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Runner Up: Jake Ganus, LB, Georgia

 

Breakout Player: Zach Cunningham, LB, Vanderbilt

After watching Vanderbilt’s defense surrender 33.3 points a game in 2014, coach Derek Mason decided to take over play-calling duties in 2015. The result was a much-improved defense for the Commodores, as Mason’s group limited opponents to 21 points a game and 5.2 yards per play. Cunningham’s emergence was a big reason why this defense improved, as the sophomore recorded 103 stops (16.5 for a loss), 4.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.

Runner Up: Drew Morgan, WR, Arkansas

 

SEC 2015 Postseason All-Conference Team
 

First

Team

Second

Team

QB

Dak Prescott

Miss. State 

QB Brandon Allen

Arkansas 

RB

Derrick Henry

Alabama 

RB Alex Collins

Arkansas 

RB

Leonard Fournette

LSU 

RB Jalen Hurd

Tennessee 

WR

Laquon Treadwell

Ole Miss 

WR Calvin Ridley

Alabama 

WR

Pharoh Cooper

South Carolina 

WR Fred Ross

Miss. State 

AP

Christian Kirk

Texas A&M 

WR Drew Morgan

Arkansas 

TE

Hunter Henry

Arkansas 

TE Evan Engram

Ole Miss 

C

Ryan Kelly

Alabama 

C Mike Matthews

Texas A&M 

OG

Sebastian Tretola

Arkansas 

OT Dan Skipper

Arkansas 

OT

Laremy Tunsil

Ole Miss 

OT Dominick Jackson

Alabama 

OT

Cam Robinson

Alabama 

OT Shon Coleman

Auburn 

OT

Vadal Alexander

LSU 

OT Kyler Kerbyson

Tennessee 

   
DE

Myles Garrett

Texas A&M 

DE Derek Barnett

Tennessee 

DL

 

Jon Bullard

Florida 

DE Jarran Reed

Alabama 

DT

A'Shawn Robinson

Alabama 

DL Charles Harris (DE)

Missouri 

DT

Robert Nkemdiche

Ole Miss 

DL Jonathan Allen (DE)

Alabama 

LB

Kentrell Brothers

Missouri 

LB Skai Moore

South Carolina 

LB

Reggie Ragland

Alabama 

LB Zach Cunningham

Vanderbilt 

LB

Antonio Morrison

Florida 

LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin

Tennessee 

CB

Vernon Hargreaves III

Florida 

CB De'Vante Harris

Texas A&M 

CB

Jalen Tabor

Florida 

CB Tre'Davious White

LSU 

S

Trae Elston

Ole Miss 

S Marcus Maye

Florida  

S

Eddie Jackson

Alabama 

S Jamal Adams

LSU 

   
K

Daniel Carlson

Auburn 

K Taylor Bertolet

Texas A&M 

P

Drew Kaser

Texas A&M 

P Johnny Townsend

Florida 

KR

Evan Berry

Tennessee 

KR Brandon Holloway

Miss. State 

PR

Christian Kirk

Texas A&M  

PR Cameron Sutton

Tennessee 

 

Teaser:
SEC 2015 Season Awards and All-Conference Team
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 11:45
All taxonomy terms: Video, NFL, Overtime
Path: /overtime/steelers-ol-responds-pacman-jones-nsfw-comments-marcus-gilbert-bengals
Body:

The Steelers and the Bengals don't like each other, and that's putting it lightly.

 

Before Sunday's game between the teams, Pacman Jones issued his thoughts on the Steelers via Instagram.

 

Warning: The video contains explicit language NSFW.

 

 

That's how I feel !!!! Fuck Pittsburgh !!!!

A video posted by @realpacman24 on  

 

Even after suffering a loss to the Steelers, Jones didn't backtrack on his thoughts.

 

 

Steelers offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert responded to the Bengals cornerback, stating that because of the team's history of choking in the playoffs, they would be a great opponent to have.

 

 

Let's hope they really do meet because there's really nothing like an AFC North rivalry.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 10:47
Path: /college-football/bells-already-rung-tommy-armstrong-versus-patrick-obrien
Body:

I have some bad news. Unthinkable for some. The No. 9 quarterback prospect in the country and Nebraska commit Patrick O’Brien is coming for Tommy Armstrong’s job.

 

This shouldn’t matter at all to the junior captain because competition comes with the territory in Big Boy College Football. I’ve heard so many fans upset with the idea that O’Brien could one-up the senior-to-be.

 

It’s a conservative stance and honestly somewhat offensive to No. 4. Should Armstrong be scared that this baby-faced freshman who stands tall in the pocket, makes every throw on the passing tree look effortless and plows over defenders already signed his financial papers?

 

Armstrong has years on him playing at the college level and what’s more, a year in Mike Riley’s system.

 

Naturally this is all moot if the commit decides to up and bolt elsewhere, but he’s Riley’s guy for the class of 2016.

 

It’s simple, really. Armstrong will keep his position under one condition: he must improve. He cannot continue to lock onto his first reads, throw blindly into double and triple coverage or serve up turnovers like grandma on Sunday morning.

 

Riley’s offense really isn’t that complicated. If the quarterback can be efficient – not even dynamic, but efficient – it’s dangerous. A 21:16 touchdown-to-interception ratio won’t cut it in this system (or any, really). Four games of two-plus interceptions won’t win the day. Armstrong has both of those to his credit this season.

 

He’s not a terrible athlete. His actions are baffling at times, yes. His legs have saved drives, he can make proper passes, but his issue is consistency. Talk about Nebraska’s running game all you like, but his decision-making has sputtered just as much. If that improves by leaps and bounds, all of this talk is for naught.

 

 

However, O’Brien is going to be given the opportunity to stand next to Armstrong and out-do him. He doesn’t have to be some wunderkind Heisman Trophy-winning savior for this offense to be effective, he just needs to be smart. That’s where people who doubt Armstrong going into 2016 are looking to. They question his football IQ.

 

Regarding just how long this bout should go, I’m personally of the opinion that there needs to be a good 7-10 practices through fall camp to figure out who The Man really is. No mystery reveal for the opener, but no Kirk Ferentz announcement that’s carved in stone early on.

 

Fans are picking sides already, regardless of where they may stand when it comes to O’Brien sneaking out of a redshirt season let alone jumping Armstrong for the starting spot.

 

No one’s saying O’Brien will be the next Peyton Manning, Matthew Stafford, Terrelle Pryor, Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston. They’re just saying he’ll be better than Armstrong.

 

Who says the offseason’s going to be boring?

 

— Written by Brandon Cavanaugh, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Be sure to follow Brandon on Twitter @eightlaces and like his Facebook page.

Teaser:
The Bell’s Already Rung on Tommy Armstrong Versus Patrick O’Brien
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 10:30
Path: /college-football/acc-2015-season-awards-and-all-conference-team
Body:

For the second year in a row, a team from the ACC earned a spot in the College Football Playoff. Clemson matched Florida State’s run from 2014, finishing the regular season with a 13-0 mark, an ACC Championship and a spot among the top four in the playoff. Coach Dabo Swinney’s team returned only five starters in the preseason but quickly emerged as the team to beat in the ACC. Quarterback Deshaun Watson guided an explosive offense, while the defense reloaded behind ace coordinator Brent Venables.

 

Clemson garnered most of the national attention from the ACC, but it’s notable the league had two other teams hitting double-digit wins. North Carolina was one of the nation’s most improved programs in 2015, while Florida State finished 10-2 in a rebuilding year. Pittsburgh also had a solid season in coach Pat Narduzzi’s debut, while Miami finished strong under interim coach Larry Scott.

 

With the regular season completed and bowl season starting on Dec. 19, it’s time to recap and look back at the 2015 campaign. Athlon Sports offers its awards and honors the best players in the league with the first and second all-conference teams for the ACC:

 

ACC 2015 Season Awards

 

Offensive Player of the Year: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook deserves consideration for this honor, but the nod goes to Watson. The sophomore was the catalyst behind Clemson’s run to the No. 1 overall seed in the College Football Playoff, passing for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns. The sophomore also added 887 yards and 11 scores on the ground and recorded four 100-yard rushing games over the Tigers’ last five matchups.

Runner Up: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

 

Defensive Player of the Year: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson

It’s a close call between Lawson and Duke safety Jeremy Cash, but a slight edge goes to the Clemson defensive end. Lawson recorded 9.5 sacks, led the ACC with 22.5 tackles for a loss, registered 55 tackles and one forced fumble. The junior was expected to have a breakout season and delivered for a defensive line that had to replace all four starters from last year’s standout group.

Runner Up: Jeremy Cash, S, Duke

 

Coach of the Year: Dabo Swinney, Clemson

Swinney guided Clemson to its fifth straight year of at least 10 victories with a perfect 13-0 mark in the regular season. Despite returning only five starters, the Tigers cruised to their first ACC title since 2011 and finished as the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Runner Up: Larry Fedora, North Carolina

 

Freshman of the Year (Offense): Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson

Hyatt was tossed into the fire as a true freshman and aced every test with high marks. The true freshman played the most snaps by any true freshman offensive lineman in school history and started all 13 games. Hyatt’s presence was a big reason why Clemson allowed only 14 sacks in 2015.

Runner Up: Qadree Ollison, RB, Pittsburgh

 

Co-Freshman of the Year (Defense): Derwin James, S, Florida State/Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh

Whitehead and James are two of the nation’s rising stars in the secondary and share Athlon Sports’ defensive co-freshman of the year award. Whitehead led Pittsburgh’s defense with 98 tackles and also accumulated 89 yards on offense. James played more as the season progressed and finished with 77 stops (7.5 for a loss), two forced fumbles and three pass breakups.

Runner Up: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson

 

Coordinator of the Year: Gene Chizik, Defensive Coordinator, North Carolina

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora’s hire of Chizik was the top coordinator hire for 2015. Chizik brought immediate improvement to a defense that ranked near the bottom of the ACC in points and yards per play allowed in 2014. The Tar Heels limited opponents to just 22.6 points a contest and 5.3 yards per play this season. Additionally, this defense surrendered only 23 plays of 30 yards or more after giving up 41 in 2014.

Runner Up: Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator, Boston College

 

Newcomer of the Year: Devonte Fields, LB, Louisville

Fields was a key piece of Louisville’s defense, which limited ACC opponents to 25 points a game despite returning only four starters in 2015. Fields finished second on the team with eight sacks, led the defense with 19.5 tackles for a loss and recorded two forced fumbles.

Runner Up: Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh 

 

Breakout Player: Ejuan Price, DE, Pittsburgh

Price had a solid debut for Pittsburgh back in 2011, but injuries robbed the Pennsylvania native of two full seasons (2012 and 2014) and limited him to six games in 2013. The senior returned to the field and made a huge impact for new coach Pat Narduzzi, recording 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. Price also forced one fumble and one pass breakup.

Runner Up: Jaylen Samuels, FB/H-Back, NC State

 

ACC 2015 Postseason All-Conference Team
 First TeamSecond Team
QB

Deshaun Watson

Clemson 

QB Marquise Williams

North Carolina 

RB

Dalvin Cook

Florida State 

RB Wayne Gallman

Clemson 

RB

Elijah Hood

North Carolina 

RB Qadree Ollison

Pittsburgh 

AP

Jaylen Samuels

NC State 

AP Taquan Mizzell

Virginia 

WR

Tyler Boyd

Pittsburgh 

WR Artavis Scott

Clemson 

WR

Isaiah Ford

Virginia Tech 

WR Canaan Severin

Virginia 

TE

Jordan Leggett

Clemson 

TE Bucky Hodges

Virginia Tech 

C

Matt Skura

Duke 

C Jay Guillermo

Clemson 

OG

Landon Turner

North Carolina 

OG Dorian Johnson

Pittsburgh 

OG

Eric Mac Lain

Clemson 

OG Caleb Peterson

North Carolina 

OT

Roderick Johnson

Florida State 

OT Adam Bisnowaty

Pittsburgh 

OT

Joe Thuney

NC State 

OT Jon Heck

North Carolina 

   
DE

Shaq Lawson

Clemson 

DE Sheldon Rankins

Louisville 

DE

Ejuan Price

Pittsburgh 

DE DeMarcus Walker

Florida State 

DT

N. Lawrence-Stample

Florida State 

DT Luther Maddy

Virginia Tech 

DT

Connor Wujciak

Boston College 

DT Carlos Watkins

Clemson 

LB

Steven Daniels

Boston College 

LB Micah Kiser

Virginia 

LB

Keith Kelsey

Louisville 

LB B.J. Goodson

Clemson 

LB

Brandon Chubb

Wake Forest 

LB Ben Boulware

Clemson 

CB

Jalen Ramsey

Florida State 

CB M.J. Stewart

North Carolina 

CB

Mackensie Alexander

Clemson 

CB Artie Burns

Miami 

S

Jeremy Cash

Duke 

S Jayron Kearse

Clemson 

S

Quin Blanding

Virginia 

S Jordan Whitehead

Pittsburgh 

   
K

Roberto Aguayo

Florida State 

K Ross Martin

Duke 

P

Riley Dixon

Syracuse 

P Alex Kinal

Wake Forest 

KR

DeVon Edwards

Duke 

KR Nyheim Hines

NC State 

PR

Ryan Switzer

North Carolina 

PR Brisly Estime

Syracuse 

 

Teaser:
ACC 2015 Season Awards and All-Conference Team
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 10:00
All taxonomy terms: Overtime
Path: /overtime/serena-williams-sports-person-year-illustrated-si-american-pharoah-twitter
Body:

Sports Illustrated has announced its "Sportsperson of the Year" as Serena Williams.  

 

 

Makes sense, right? Williams had an amazing season and came just short of winning the Grand Slam. She had a dominant performance across the board. People shouldn't be surprised... but they were.

 

People went crazy, saying American Pharoah should've won. Yes, the horse. It did win the Triple Crown this year, but it had one thing going against it and it's kind of important. It's a horse. Not a person. That didn't stop the masses from commenting.

 

 

I'd expect an horse racing editor to say that. For Sports Illustrated, this is the first woman in a very long time to win the award.

 

 

Let's not go into specifics but Williams could probably buy American Pharoah and keep him as her pet. Let her have her moment.

 

No shade, but sportsperson of the year should always be a person.

Teaser:
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 09:52
Path: /college-football/ranking-watchability-big-12s-bowl-games-2015
Body:

The 2014 bowl season could have gone better for the Big 12.

 

Conference co-champs Baylor and TCU found themselves on the outside of the first-ever College Football Playoff looking in. Adding insult to injury, the seven conference teams to make bowl games ran up a combined record of 2-5. That included a couple ugly losses by Oklahoma and Texas.

 

This year’s bowl slate includes a slew of attractive matchups in high-profile games. Tops among them is a Playoff game featuring two of the best teams in the country.

 

1. Orange Bowl – Clemson (13-0) vs. Oklahoma (11-1)

Dec. 31 – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

The powers that be shut the Big 12 out of the College Football Playoff a year ago, but Bob Stoops and the Sooners broke through this season. Oddly enough, they’re facing the team that smoked them last winter in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Plenty has changed since then, though, for both squads. Vegas has made OU a small favorite, indicative of how evenly matched these two elite teams are. This isn’t just the most attractive bowl game involving the Big 12, it’s the most attractive of all the bowl games, period.

 

2. Alamo Bowl – TCU (10-2) vs. Oregon (9-3)

Jan. 2 – 6:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

Gary Patterson once again proved in 2015 that he’s one of the top coaches in the country. His Horned Frogs fought through a litany of injuries and setbacks to finish with 10 regular season wins. The Alamo Bowl will mark the final time star quarterback Trevone Boykin takes the field in TCU colors, which should have his team fired up to take on the Ducks, who finished the season on fire. These two offenses in a dome has all the makings to an entertaining, high-scoring affair.

 

3. Russell Athletic Bowl – North Carolina (11-2) vs. Baylor (9-3)

Dec. 29 – 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Speaking of high-scoring affairs, this game pits two of the most prolific offenses in the country against one another - and just about equally mediocre defenses. The Bears had their hopes of a Big 12 three-peat dashed with a two-game losing streak to close the season. They also lost their top two quarterbacks to injury, which means Art Briles is relying on third-string sophomore QB Chris Johnson to end the slide. The Tar Heels have plenty of momentum coming off an unexpected ACC Coastal Division championship, so the Bears can’t afford to sulk about missing out on a higher-profile bowl.

 

4. Sugar Bowl – Oklahoma State (10-2) vs. Ole Miss (9-3)

Jan. 1 – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

As touchdown underdogs playing in Ole Miss’s backyard, the Cowboys drew one of the toughest bowl assignments of any Big 12 team. Despite their ups and downs this season, the Rebels had one of the strongest teams in the SEC this year, combining an explosive offense with a talented, attacking D. In light of the beating Ole Miss took from TCU in last year’s Peach Bowl, Hugh Freeze should have his team’s attention. Mike Gundy and his staff did an underrated job getting OSU this far this year, and they’ll need to keep that up if the Pokes want a win here.

 

5. Texas Bowl – LSU (8-3) vs. Texas Tech (7-5)

Dec. 29 – 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

The award for “Bowl Most Likely to Get Weird” goes to this matchup between the Tigers and Red Raiders. LSU coach Les Miles has a taste for the absurd, while Tech has never met a back-and-forth scoring fest it didn’t like. This game also features the most lopsided mismatch of any bowl on the calendar: Leonard Fournette versus Tech’s abysmal run defense. Look for Red Raiders coach Kliff Kingsbury to pull out all the stops to make up for his team’s inability to stop LSU’s ground game. Look for Miles to pull out all the stops because he feels like it.

 

6. Liberty Bowl – Kansas State (6-6) vs. Arkansas (7-5)

Jan. 2 – 3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN

Underestimating Bill Snyder is never a good idea. On its face, however, this game feels like the one that could get away from the Big 12 participant. The Razorbacks are favored by nearly two touchdowns with good reason. KSU got by with the customary Snyder wizardry this year, but this is one of his weakest teams in years. Bret Bielema will likely take the opportunity to pour on the points if he finds himself in that position.


7. Cactus Bowl – West Virginia (7-5) vs. Arizona State (6-6)

Jan. 2 – 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

Dana Holgorsen won’t lose his job if the Mountaineers go down this postseason, but it sounds as though he’d still be well-advised to win this one. Luckily for Holgo, this sets up for a stinker from the Sun Devils, who expected to contend for the Pac-12 South and just saw offensive coordinator Mike Norvell take off for the head coaching job at Memphis. On the other hand, that’s a heck of a road trip for WVU. Good idea for all parties involved to stash this one outside of prime time.

 

— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.

Teaser:
Ranking the Watchability of the Big 12's Bowl Games in 2015
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-york-giants-vs-miami-dolphins-preview-and-prediction
Body:

For the first time in over a year, the Miami Dolphins will appear on "Monday Night Football," as they will take on the New York Giants. Both teams enter this contest at 5-7, but while the Dolphins' playoff hopes are on life support, the Giants could tie the Redskins and Eagles atop the NFC East with a victory tonight.

 

Last weekend at MetLife Stadium, the New York Jets defeated the Giants 23-20 in overtime after trailing by 10 late in the game. Jets kicker Randy Bullock connected on a 31-yard field goal in overtime to give the Jets their seventh win of the season.

 

Miami was more successful than the Giants were last week, as they squeaked out a 15-13 victory at Sun Life Stadium.

 

Monday will mark the eighth all-time meeting between the Giants and Dolphins. In their last meeting in 2011, the Giants defeated the Dolphins 20-13 at MetLife Stadium.

 

New York at Miami 
 

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. (Monday)
TV: ESPN
Spread: New York -1.5 

 

Three Things to Watch 

 

1. Will the Dolphins continue to be balanced? 

For one of the few times all season, the Dolphins were balanced on offense last week against the Ravens. Running back Lamar Miller carried the ball 20 times for 113 yards.

 

Miami is passing the ball two-thirds of the time, which is the second most in the league. Last week, the Dolphins only passed the ball 44 percent of the time.

 

With the lack of success last week (offense only accounted for one touchdown), it will be interesting to see if the team will continue to be balanced or revert to its pass-happy ways.

 

2. Can the Dolphins slow down Odell Beckham Jr.? 

No matter if it has been Brandon Marshall, Rob Gronkowski or Sammy Watkins, the Dolphins have had trouble covering the opposition's No. 1 weapon all season. Miami will face its toughest challenge of the season and that's trying to slow down the dynamic and explosive Beckham.

 

In 12 games this season, Beckham has caught 78 passes for 1,154 yards and 10 touchdowns. The second-year receiver out of LSU has caught a TD in eight of 12 games.

 

Dolphins defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo knows his defense will have to pay extra attention to Beckham.

 

"The guy is an explosive athlete first-and-foremost," Anarumo said. "If you press him, he has a knack of getting on top of you now. He is at the point of attack when the ball is in the air, obviously, he’s got great hands, we all know that, but he goes up and plays it as well as anybody too, whether it be two hands or one hand. When the ball is up in the air, in his mind it’s his. You’ve got to be strong at the point of attack when the ball is up in the air with this guy or else, as good as anybody in the league he’ll go take it from you. He’s impressive.”

 

Beckham is averaging 126 yards per game and has six touchdowns in his last five games, so the Dolphins will have their hands full.

 

3. Ryan Tannehill
To say the Dolphins defeated the Ravens last week in spite of Tannehill's play would be an understatement. The fourth-year quarterback struggled against Baltimore, as he was just 9-of-19 for 86 yards.

 

Unlike his first three seasons, Tannehill's play has regressed with 11 interceptions in 12 games (had 12 in 16 games in 2014), while his completion percentage is down from 66 last season to 61 in 2015. 

 

Despite his numbers, Giants head coach Tom Coughlin believes Tannehill can be dangerous.

 

"I see the quarterback taking charge of a team," said Coughlin. I see him make all the throws, he’s very athletic, he’s utilized in the run game, as well, whether he scrambles, whether he runs a zone read."

 

Miami is 31st in the NFL in third-down efficiency at 28 percent. Expect the Giants to try to contain the Dolphins' rushing attack to force Tannehill to beat them on third-and-long situations.

 

Final Analysis

 

Miami has scored more than 20 points in a game just twice the entire season. That's bad news considering they are going up one of the best offenses in the NFL tonight. 

 

New York is seventh in scoring offense, averaging 25.6 points per game. Despite cornerback Brent Grimes being a Pro Bowler the last two seasons, he has struggled at times this season. Beckham should be able to post yet another 100-yard receiving game. 

 

The Giants have the edge at on offense and at head coach and that should be enough to seal up the victory. 

 

Prediction: Giants 31, Dolphins 24

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
New York Giants vs. Miami Dolphins Preview and Prediction
Post date: Monday, December 14, 2015 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: AFC, Houston Texans, New England Patriots, NFL
Path: /nfl/new-england-patriots-vs-houston-texans-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The 10-2 New England Patriots travel to Houston to take on the 6-6 Texans in a game featuring a number of former Patriots players and coaches now on the opposing sideline. Aside from those connections, this is a game both teams will badly want. Houston is fighting for its playoff lives, while the Patriots have lost two straight and slipped from the top AFC seed all the way to third, which would mean no first-round bye.

 

The Patriots haven't lost three straight since 2002, but have certainly had their struggles in Houston, losing both the game and Wes Welker in Week 17 of 2009 and barely hanging on to beat a 2-10 Texans team by a score of 34-31 in '13. The Pats' offense struggled to move the ball last week against the Eagles without Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, and need to rediscover their magic.

 

It certainly won't be an easy task facing a talented Texans defense led by J.J. Watt and former Patriot Vince Wilfork. The Texans have won five of their last seven games, including their last three at home. Former Patriot Brian Hoyer has 18 touchdowns and six interceptions on the season with a 4-3 record overall. The Texans already knocked off the Bengals and a win over the Patriots would likely propel them to the playoffs.

 

New England at Houston

 

Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: NBC

Spread: Patriots -3.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. J.J. Watt 

Watt is the best defensive player in the league and a must-watch player every week. Against the Patriots' depleted and shuffled offensive line he could cause some major problems. Watt should primarily face right tackle Marcus Cannon, who was the third-string tackle at the start of the season. Cannon is extremely vulnerable to a player of Watt's ability and will likely get help from tight end Michael Williams on most passing snaps. New England's young interior linemen, including rookies Tre Jackson and Shaq Mason should also be tantalizing to Watt. If there's one player who can single-handedly wreck the Patriots' offensive game plan it's him, and the recent play of New England's offensive line should have him licking his chops.

 

2. Patriots Defense Rising

Lost in the last two weeks of losses is the fact that New England's defense is finally getting healthy and actually playing quite well. Just 14 of the 35 points the Eagles scored were on the Pats' defense, and both came off quick-change turnovers. If the Patriots can get Dont'a Hightower back, it will put their defense at full strength for the first time since early October. With the Pats' offense likely to have issues with Watt and company, New England's defense could be the difference in this game.

 

3. Malcolm Butler vs. DeAndre Hopkins

There's little question Hopkins is the biggest playmaker on the Texans' offense and he'll likely see plenty of man coverage from second-year cornerback Butler. Butler has had a solid second season, but has often given up a big play or two per game. That could be deadly this week, and if Brian Hoyer starts connecting with Hopkins, the Texans could take command of the game. The Patriots know they have to stop Hopkins, but it might take more resources than they'd like. This will be an outstanding battle between two of the game's rising young stars.

 

Final Analysis

 

Texans coach Bill O'Brien, along with the other former Patriots on his staff and team, know exactly what they're facing with the Bill Belichick Patriots coming to town. In many ways the Texans are a direct reflection of the Patriots and thus, O'Brien knows what it takes to knock them off -- no turnovers, minimizing mistakes, playing a full 60 minutes. But knowing and executing are two different things. The Patriots lost to the Eagles with four bad plays that they don't often make. They'll be locked in on getting back on track in Houston, and with Tom Brady getting more accustomed to his replacement parts, the Patriots should get back to their winning ways.

 

Prediction: Patriots 24, Texans 13

 

— Written by Mike Dussault, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and writer/editor of PatsPropaganda.com (@PatsPropaganda), a comprehensive blog covering the New England Patriots.

Teaser:
New England Patriots vs. Houston Texans Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 13, 2015 - 09:00
All taxonomy terms: Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, NFC, NFL
Path: /nfl/dallas-cowboys-vs-green-bay-packers-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The Dallas Cowboys (4-8) and the Green Bay Packers (8-4) are both coming off of huge victories in Week 13. Aaron Rodgers' miraculous last-second Hail Mary to Richard Rodgers prevented the Packers from losing their fifth game in six weeks, while the Cowboys were able to salvage their playoff hopes with a memorable last-second win of their own against the Redskins on Monday night.

 

Both teams gained valuable momentum that each hopes to springboard into Week 14 with playoff implications on the line. Mike McCarthy’s well-rested Packers team will try to fend off the hungry Cowboys to stand alone in first place in the NFC North. Meanwhile, Jason Garrett’s Cowboys are coming off of a short week in desperate need of another win to stay within striking distance in the lackluster NFC East and earn a return trip to the playoffs.

 

Lambeau Field will play host for the 33rd meeting all-time between the Cowboys and Packers. This historically rich matchup dates all the way back to 1960. The series is currently tied at 16 wins a piece which further adds to the significance of this particular matchup. Green Bay has won the last four meetings against Dallas, including last season’s controversial playoff game. The Cowboys' last win against the Packers came in 2008, and they have not defeated Green Bay at Lambeau Field since '04.

 

Dallas at Green Bay

 

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: FOX

Spread: Green Bay - 7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. The Cowboys' Offense

If the Cowboys stand any chance of winning in Week 14 and beyond, they must figure out how to jumpstart their offense. The Packers' “bend don’t break” style of defense this season is far from impenetrable, but they do make scoring difficult, having allowed just 19 points per game on average. The Dallas offense will have to do far better than the 16 points per game they have averaged with Matt Cassel starting at quarterback.

 

Dallas just scraped by last week thanks to a fortunate break and an opponent that happened to be equally inept on offense. The Cowboys probably won’t be so lucky this week, and they will not be able to rely on defense and kicker Dan Bailey alone to beat Green Bay on the road.

 

The Cowboys' best chance for success on offense lies with Dez Bryant. Matt Cassel attempting to nickel and dime his way down the field with the likes of Jason Witten, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley has proven to be largely ineffective for this offense. Bryant is the big-play guy in the Cowboys' offense, and he should be targeted accordingly. A few deep looks Bryant’s way would also help to loosen up a Packer defense set on stacking the box to stop the run. If successful, it will be crucial for Darren McFadden and the Cowboys' star-studded offensive line to capitalize.

 

2. The Packers' Passing Game Must Find a Way

In spite of Aaron Rodgers' best efforts, the Green Bay passing attack hasn’t exactly been hitting on all cylinders, and he will have his work cut out for him against a top-five Cowboys pass defense that has allowed just 12 touchdowns through the air all season. To further complicate matters, Green Bay will likely be without two starting offensive lineman this week. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga is questionable at best and center Corey Linsley is listed as doubtful. Look for Dallas to bring plenty of pressure to exploit the Packers' deficiencies up front.

 

Randall Cobb, James Jones and Davante Adams have all been wildly inconsistent of late, but at least one of those guys should step up this week. Aaron Rodgers also seems to have some chemistry brewing with TE Richard Rodgers that could pay off again this afternoon. Rodgers' talent goes unquestioned, and he will likely find a way to move the football using some combination of the aforementioned group, regardless of the difficult matchup and his beat-up offensive line.

 

3. Inclement Weather and Turnovers?

With the forecast calling for an 80 percent chance of rain with winds blowing consistently in the high teens, turnovers have to be an issue of concern, even for a Green Bay team that has committed the fewest turnovers in the NFL. The Cowboys should be particularly concerned, as they have a propensity for turning the ball over anyway. Neither team has been incredibly proficient at forcing turnovers, especially Dallas, which has the fewest takeaways in the NFL (8), but slippery and windy conditions could certainly give both teams a helping hand.

 

Cassel has difficulty throwing with accuracy, even in ideal conditions. Rodgers has a pretty good track record with regard to playing in bad weather. That being said, Rodgers has thrown an interception in each of Green Bay’s last two games, and he’d much rather throw a dry football in calm winds if given the choice. Packers running back, Eddie Lacy, has fumbled the ball four times in his last six games, while Cowboys feature back, Darren McFadden, had two fumbles of his own just last week. Neither back will be looking forward to toting a wet football this week. Inclement weather also could play a vital role in the kicking game and weigh heavily on the outcome of this game in general.

 

Final Analysis

 

The extra time afforded to the Packers to rest up and prepare this week should play in their favor against a Cowboys team that is coming off of a short week. The possibility of inclement weather also bodes well for the home team. The Packers' plan of attack will likely include stacking the box to stop the run, forcing Matt Cassel to try and beat them with his arm. So long as Cassel is unsuccessful getting the ball to Dez Bryant, the Packers' defense should win the day.

 
Offensively, the Packers' rushing attack with Eddie Lacy could prove pivotal, especially if Green Bay struggles to move the ball through the air against a stingy Dallas pass defense. Lacy showed flashes in Weeks 11 and 12 before being limited to just five carries last Thursday for missing curfew.

 

The Cowboys' ability to get the football into the hands of Bryant will be paramount to their success. Dallas should be able to hold its own defensively by taking advantage of Green Bay’s beat-up offensive line and limiting Aaron Rodgers in the passing game, but without a big day from Bryant; Dallas has virtually no chance of winning.


Prediction: Packers 24, Cowboys 14

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

Teaser:
Dallas Cowboys vs. Green Bay Packers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 13, 2015 - 08:30
All taxonomy terms: AFC, AFC West, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, NFL
Path: /nfl/oakland-raiders-vs-denver-broncos-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The Oakland Raiders will visit Sports Authority Field for the first time this season as they will take on the Denver Broncos this afternoon.

 

In their first meeting in Week 5, Chris Harris Jr. returned an interception 74 yards for a touchdown to help the Broncos earn a 16-10 road victory over the Raiders.

 

With a win and a Kansas City loss or tie on Sunday, the Broncos will win their fifth straight AFC West championship.

 

Oakland leads the all-time series against Denver 59-49-2, but the Broncos have won the last eight games in the series.

 

Oakland at Denver

 

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: CBS

Spread: Denver -7

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Derek Carr

During the Raiders' first eight games of the season, Carr was having a Pro Bowl-type of season as he threw 19 touchdowns against only four interceptions. However, the second-year quarterback has struggled over the last month.

 

In his last four games (1-3), Carr has thrown seven touchdowns, five interceptions and his completion percentage has dropped slightly to 62.2 percent in those games. Of his nine interceptions in 2015, seven have come in the fourth quarter and six when the Raiders were within six points.

 

It's no surprise that when Carr struggles, the Raiders tend to come out on the losing side of things. Oakland will need Carr to have one of his better games of the season if they want to defeat the No.1-ranked defense in the NFL in the Broncos.

 

2. Broncos' rushing attack

Over the last few weeks, the Broncos' rushing game has improved. In the last three games, Denver has rushed for 170, 179 and 134 yards.

 

After allowing an average of 189 rushing yards over a three-game span, the Raiders have tightened things up, giving up just 44 and 89 yards on the ground in their last two games. With the Broncos' offensive line struggling in pass protection, the game will likely be decided in the trenches.

 

If the Broncos can establish the run against the Raiders (No. 17 in rushing defense), it is going to be a long day in the Mile High City for Oakland.

 

3. Khalil Mack against the Broncos' offensive line

The Broncos' offensive line has been hit with a number of injuries and both Peyton Manning and now Brock Osweiler have felt the effects. This week, the Broncos will have to contain one of the best young pass rushers in the NFL in Mack.

 

In 12 games, Mack has nine sacks, which is the fifth-most in the league. In his last two games, Mack has been credited with four sacks and has been a terror for offensive lines to contain.

 

Final Analysis

 

Not many people are giving Oakland a chance to win on Sunday, as the Raiders are seven-point underdogs on the road. Oakland can defeat the Denver, but Carr will need to play mistake-free football, and the Broncos' defense has been too tough to expect that.

 

If Osweiler can just take care of the ball and the Broncos can run the ball successfully, the home team should come out on top. Oakland's offense should be good enough to cover the spread.

 

Prediction: Broncos 24, Raiders 20

 

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.

Teaser:
Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos Preview and Prediction
Post date: Sunday, December 13, 2015 - 08:00
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/week-14-fantasy-football-injury-updates-cj-anderson-ronnie-hillman-matt-schaub
Body:

Surprisingly, Week 14 is a slow week for quarterback and running back injuries, which means that's one less thing those in their fantasy playoffs have to worry about. We already know Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Marshawn Lynch, Mark Ingram, Carlos Hyde (placed on IR), Chris Thompson and Karlos Williams are out.

 

We also know that guys that are probable and practiced in full will play. That long list includes: Philip Rivers, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Sam Bradford, Johnny Manziel, Matt Hasselbeck, Case Keenum, Jonathan Stewart, Ryan Mathews, Alfred Blue and Chris Polk. Some of those players were question marks throughout the week, but the probable tag plus the full Friday practice indicates that they are good to go for Sunday.

 

As always, check the Sunday inactive lists before the games. Also don't forget to consult the wide receiver and tight end injury updates before setting your starting lineups.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Ronnie Hillman, RB, Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Foot

Hillman played through last week’s game with the injury and was able to get in a limited practice on Friday. The coaches have said he is going to start on Sunday, however, watch the inactive report and any updates in the morning leading up to kickoff to make sure that he is good to go. In the two games where Hillman was given 20 carries or more, he rushed for over 100 yards. If C.J. Anderson (ankle) is out, it is possible Hillman sees that again. Juwan Thompson will be active as a change-of-pace back, but Hillman is the one to start if you have to pick a Broncos RB. He's a RB2 this week.

 

C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Ankle

After injuring his ankle in the first half of last week’s game, Anderson was unable to return to the field. He also did not practice this week. Those two signs alone aren’t encouraging, which is why Anderson’s playing status is very much in doubt. The reports out of Denver make it seem that Anderson will most likely not be playing. Although it is possible that Anderson is listed as active, it would be as an emergency back situation. Fantasy owners should plan to keep Anderson on their bench for Week 14.

 

Matt Schaub, QB, Baltimore Ravens vs. Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Chest

On Wednesday, it looked like Schaub would be good to go for Sunday. However, he didn't practice all week and now his playing status is in doubt. While most fantasy owners weren't starting Schaub anyway, backup Jimmy Clausen is a downgrade to the offense. The Seahawks DST looks to be the best defense to play this week against a team that has been decimated by injuries this season. It’s hard to recommend starting any Raven this week, unless it’s the DST or K Justin Tucker, and neither are sure bets themselves given the offense’s issues.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Week 14 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: C.J. Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, Matt Schaub
Post date: Sunday, December 13, 2015 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/fantasy-football-week-14-injury-updates-brandin-cooks-calvin-johnson-amari-cooper-allen-hurns
Body:

The list of wide receivers on the fantasy injury report for Week 14 is a long one (with more seemingly being added by the day!). A handful of guys are listed as probable and have put in a full practice. Start them as you normally would: Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, Emmanuel Sanders, Eric Decker, Vincent Jackson, Ted Ginn Jr., Marques Colston and Anquan Boldin


Be sure to check on the key QB/RB and TE injuries for Week 14 as well.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Note: All games are at 1 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted.

 

Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions at St. Louis Rams

Questionable – Ankle

With four touchdowns in the past two games, Johnson is going to play in Week 14. He is going to miss practices and be limited, but he finds a way to play each week. He's a WR1 this week.

 

Brandin Cooks, WR, New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Probable – Concussion

Whether or not Cooks suffered a concussion is debatable, however it does look like he will play today. Be sure to watch the inactive reports before the games, but Cooks appears to be set as a WR2. Willie Snead will return (has a probable tag himself) but doesn't have fantasy value at this point.

 

Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders at Denver Broncos (Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET)

Probable – Foot

Cooper showed up on the injury report with a foot injury this week. While it appears that he is going to play, the matchup is tough. The last time he faced Denver (Week 5), he had four receptions for 47 yards. Fantasy owners can expect the same this week. Cooper is a WR3.

 

Allen Hurns, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts

Probable – Thigh

Hurns has been banged up all season, but the one injury that kept him out in Week 13 was a concussion. He's been cleared through the concussion protocol and is set to play in Week 14. This game has the potential of being a high-scoring affair, and Hurns has been a touchdown machine this year. He has seven touchdowns on the year and three 100-yard games. The Colts give up the fifth-most fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. Start Hurns as a high-end WR2.

 

Danny Amendola, WR, New England Patriots at Houston Texans (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Knee

He had seven receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown in Week 13 and didn't suffer a setback (that was noted, at least). He has the questionable tag, but he is fully expected to play in Week 14. It is unclear if Rob Gronkowski will return, but if he does, Amendola may see fewer targets. However, with Julian Edelman still out, Amendola is a WR2.

 

Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Buffalo Bills

Questionable – Back

When a player shows up on the injury report in the middle of the week, it usually is never a good sign. Matthews was added to the injury report on Saturday and was given a questionable tag. It is likely he will be a game-time decision. Fantasy owners should plan to avoid Matthews if possible. He's a low-end WR3 if he plays. If he misses the game, Nelson Agholor may see in increase in targets, but both Eagle wideouts should be avoided.

 

Travis Benjamin, WR, Cleveland Browns vs. San Francisco 49ers

Questionable – Shoulder

Most of the Browns’ WRs are questionable this week with Brian Hartline, Marlon Moore and Taylor Gabriel, joining Benjamin in this distinction. All are likely to play and none are solid fantasy options. Benjamin is the best of the bunch as a WR3.

 

Eddie Royal, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Washington Redskins

Questionable – Knee

Royal hasn't played since Week 8, but he was able to practice this week, which bodes well for him finally getting back on the field. With Marquess Wilson already ruled out, Royal becomes the No. 2 WR for Chicago. However, he's been disappointing this season. He has one touchdown on the year and after a lengthy absence, it's tough to trust Royal as anything more than a WR3.

 

Cecil Shorts, WR, Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Probable –  Hamstring

Shorts hasn't had more than six receptions in a single game yet this year. He has two touchdowns and the Texans’ offense outside of DeAndre Hopkins is kind of a fantasy wasteland. Shorts is a WR4 for Week 14.

 

Chris Hogan, WR, Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles

Probable – Knee

Hogan may be a tempting starter because of the matchup against the Eagles. However, remember this is a run-first offense and LeSean McCoy is heading back to face his former team. This has the makings of a huge McCoy game, which leaves fewer opportunities for the rest of the team. Besides one big game in Week 11, Hogan hasn't been a fantasy playmaker. He's barely a desperation option.

 

Julian Edelman, WR, New England Patriots at Houston Texans (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Out – Foot

Edelman is out again, although he did make this report because he did return to practice on Friday. Keep an eye on his status in practice throughout the week to see if he might play in Week 15.

 

Kendall Wright, WR, Tennessee Titans at New York Jets

Out – Ribs

Wright should have been dropped in fantasy leagues weeks ago. However, the key here is what Wright’s absence means for Dorial Green-Beckham. He's been stepping up in recent weeks and had five receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown in Week 13. However, it does appear that Darrelle Revis will return, which does lower DGB's value a bit. He's a WR3.

 

Stevie Johnson, WR, San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

Out – Groin

Johnson was a popular pick up when Keenan Allen went down, but he has disappointed in recent weeks. Now Johnson has been ruled out for Week 14 with a groin injury. Johnson did score a touchdown in Week 12, but gave fantasy owners a donut in Week 13. He is worth hanging onto in case he does play in the final few games of the season because he will be a WR3 moving forward when healthy.

 

Dontrelle Inman, WR, San Diego Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs

Out – Neck

While Inman was filling in when Stevie Johnson and Malcom Floyd were injured, he was picked up by many fantasy teams. Inman can now be dropped. He's out for this week and the San Diego receiving corps is an injured mess. His best game of the season was Week 12, but outside of that five-reception game, he hasn't had more than three receptions all season.

 

Rishard Matthews, WR, Miami Dolphins vs. New York Giants (Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Out – Ribs

Matthews will miss another week with his rib injury. This opens the door for another big game for DeVante Parker. This game features two bottom-barrel defenses and will likely be high-scoring on Monday night. Look to start Parker as a WR3 with upside.

 

Marquess Wilson, WR, Chicago Bears vs. Washington Redskins

Out – Foot

The Bears placed Wilson on injured reserve, so he can safely be dropped in all redraft leagues. His role is unclear next year, but with Kevin White likely factoring into the offense, Wilson can probably be dropped in keeper leagues as well.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Fantasy Football Week 14 Injury Updates: Brandin Cooks, Calvin Johnson, Amari Cooper, Allen Hurns, Danny Amendola
Post date: Sunday, December 13, 2015 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: Fantasy Football, injury updates, NFL, Fantasy
Path: /fantasy/week-14-fantasy-football-injury-updates-rob-gronkowski-gary-barnidge-jacob-tamme-scott-chandler
Body:

The list of tight ends on the Week 14 fantasy injury report is one of the longest it's been in recent weeks. Vance McDonald has been ruled out, and some guys are probable that will play as they practiced in full on Friday. Greg Olsen, Tyler Eifert, Travis Kelce, Zach Ertz and, Ladarius Green will all be active and fantasy owners should plan to start them as they normally would.

 

Be sure to check out the RB/QB injuries and the WR injuries to get the complete picture.

 

Positional Rankings: QB I RB I WR I TE I DST I K I Flex

 

Note: All games are at 1 p.m. ET unless otherwise noted.

 

Gary Barnidge, TE, Cleveland Browns vs. San Francisco 49ers

Questionable – Ankle

Be sure to check the inactive reports on this one, but all signs point to Barnidge playing in Week 14. He has been a solid TE option for fantasy owners and is a TE1 this week as well, assuming he's active. Even with Johnny Manziel at quarterback he still should get enough targets to provide fantasy value.

 

Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots at Houston Texans (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Knee

Gronkowski made the flight to Houston, so it is possible that he does play on Sunday night. However, for fantasy owners, it's going to be a tough call as he is going to be a game-time decision. Signs point to him playing, but will he be a decoy? Will he be limited? Or will he just come in for a few red zone packages and put up a 2-20-2 stat line? It's a tough call to make, but the safest call for fantasy owners in the first week of the fantasy playoffs is to bench Gronk, as hard as that may be, unless you also own Scott Chandler.

 

Jacob Tamme, TE, Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers

Probable – Shoulder

He hasn't been scoring touchdowns (one on the season) but he has been a viable fantasy option. Now that Leonard Hankerson is on injured reserve, Tamme is behind only Julio Jones in terms of targets on the team. With Jones drawing a lot of Josh Norman’s attention this week, look for Tamme to have a big week. He's a TE1.

 

Scott Chandler, TE, New England Patriots at Houston Texans (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET)

Questionable – Knee

Chandler had a knee injury and played in Week 13, finishing with four receptions for 61 yards and a touchdown. He's scored touchdowns in the past two weeks. He's expected to play in Week 14, although if Rob Gronkowski is active, his role will be unknown. If Gronk is simply a decoy, Chandler is still a high-end TE2. If possible, find another option at tight end unless you also own Gronk, which would allow you to wait and start whomever ends up playing.

 

Owen Daniels, TE, Denver Broncos vs Oakland Raiders (Sunday, 4:05 p.m.)

Probable – Knee

Daniels is probable, and Vernon Davis is questionable (concussion). If Davis is out, Daniels' outlooks improves even though fantasy owners do remember the donut that he gave them when the Broncos played the Raiders earlier in the season. While tight ends do succeed against the Raiders it's tough to trust Daniels if Davis is active. Daniels is a high-end TE2 if Davis is out; a TE3 if he plays.

 

Zach Miller, TE, Chicago Bears vs. Washington Redskins

Questionable – Ribs

With Martellus Bennett on injured reserve, Miller is now the No. 1 tight end in Chicago. He is dealing with a rib injury, but is expected to play. When filling in for Bennett in Week 12, Miller had two receptions for 10 yards and a touchdown.  Jay Cutler does look for him in the red zone, so Miller is a viable TE2 for Week 14.

 

Heath Miller, TE, Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals

Probable – Rib

Miller missed Week 13, but is on track to play today. The Bengals have only allowed one opposing tight end to score a touchdown and Miller hasn't found the end zone since Week 2. He's a low-end TE2 this week.

 

Charles Clay, TE, Buffalo Bills at Philadelphia Eagles

Probable – Knee

While Clay will play on Sunday, he isn't a recommended fantasy option. The Eagles' defense is pretty terrible, but they have actually been decent at defending tight ends. They've only allowed three touchdowns to opposing tight ends this year (although two of those TDs have been in the past three weeks). Clay is barely on the TE2 radar.

 

Crockett Gillmore, TE, Baltimore Ravens vs. Seattle Seahawks

Doubtful – Back

Gillmore had a big game in Week 11, but has faded since. He is not likely to play this week, which means Maxx Williams will be the tight end that Jimmy Clausen (most likely) looks to throw the ball to. While the Seahawks struggle against tight ends, this isn't exactly an ideal matchup. Williams is a desperation start, but that's about it.

 

— Written by Sarah Lewis, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network and lives, eats, and breathes fantasy football. She also writes for SoCalledFantasyExperts.com among other sites. Have a fantasy football question? Send it to her on Twitter @Sarah_Lewis32.

Teaser:
Week 14 Fantasy Football Injury Updates: Rob Gronkowski, Gary Barnidge, Jacob Tamme, Scott Chandler
Post date: Sunday, December 13, 2015 - 06:30
All taxonomy terms: College Football, Stanford Cardinal, Pac 12
Path: /college-football/five-plays-shaped-stanford-rb-christian-mccaffreys-heisman-campaign
Body:

Christian McCaffrey finished second to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry on Saturday, as the Stanford running back earned his recognition as a finalist on the strength of a series of electric moments.

 

As an explosive ball carrier, sure-handed pass catcher and dynamite kick returner, McCaffrey compiled a highlight reel in the 2015 season that could have filled the Heisman presentation's entire hour-and-a-half broadcast time.

 

Why, his 461 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in the Pac-12 Championship Game alone were punctuated with enough dazzling moments to make up an entire season's worth of highlights. Paring it down to just five is no easy task -- so I didn't.

 

The following are McCaffrey's five defining plays of his record-setting season, with a bonus, sixth highlight thrown in.

 

A Tightrope Walk on Halloween

Washington State hosted Stanford Halloween night, with Pac-12 North supremacy on the line. After falling behind big in the first half, the Cardinal rallied to trade the lead with the Cougars throughout the second half.

 

Washington State grabbed the advantage late, but this McCaffrey run set up the eventual game-winning field goal. McCaffrey's ability to stay inbounds and extend the play proved critical.

 

"That's just natural ability. Few human beings would stay inbounds there," Stanford head coach David Shaw said. "To be going that fast towards the sideline, and turn up vertical, get hit by someone and still stay inbounds, it doesn't make sense."

 

Note: Referenced play begins around the 2:10 mark in the video below

 

 

 

Running The Bruins Into Ruins

McCaffrey emerged on the national radar with a record-setting performance in Stanford's rout of UCLA on a Thursday night. He went for 70 of his 243 yards and scored on of his four touchdowns on this run.

 

 

 

Going to the Air

Enjoy a two-for-one with each of McCaffrey's two touchdown passes thrown this season.

 

 

 

 

To The House and For The Ax

Shaw remarked that big-time players make their bones in big games, and for Stanford, none is bigger than The Big Game. That's the annual rivalry tilt with neighbor Cal, which included McCaffrey's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

 

"He was phenomenal," Shaw said. "They go down and kick a field goal to make the game tighter, he returns the next kickoff... You run out of adjectives to describe him. He's that good, he can take over any game we play."

 

 

 

67 Yards into the Heart of Troy

USC scored 16 points in the second and third quarters of the Pac-12 Championship Game to seize momentum and the lead. Facing third down, Stanford needed a big play to regain control. Who else but McCaffrey?

 

McCaffrey turned a short completion into a game-changing play when he turned on the jets and broke upfield, setting up the Cardinal in the red zone for a touchdown on the subsequent play.

 

Stanford did not cede the lead from that point, which makes this reception, ostensibly, the Cardinal's conference championship-sealing play.

 

Note: Referenced play begins around the 1:28 mark in the video below

 

 

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of CFBHuddle.com. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.

Teaser:
5 Plays That Shaped Stanford RB Christian McCaffrey's Heisman Campaign
Post date: Saturday, December 12, 2015 - 21:45
All taxonomy terms: Alabama Crimson Tide, College Football, SEC
Path: /college-football/five-plays-defined-derrick-henrys-heisman-season
Body:

Alabama has its second Heisman Trophy winner with Saturday's announcement that Derrick Henry is the 2015 recipient. And, at a place like Alabama where old-school, smash-mouth football still carries the day, it seems only fitting that once again it's a running back that hoists the bronze trophy for the Crimson Tide.

 

Related: Alabama RB Derrick Henry Wins 2015 Heisman Trophy

 

Henry became the 81st winner of the prestigious award, as the 6-foot-3, 242-pound junior won over fellow finalists Christian McCaffrey, Stanford's do-it-all playmaker, and Deshaun Watson, quarterback of the top-ranked Clemson Tigers. He's the second Alabama player to win, joining fellow back Mark Ingram (2009).

 

For Henry, who became the favorite for the coveted award when he outperformed then Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette of LSU on Nov. 7, it's been a memorable, record-breaking 2015 campaign. Here's a look at five plays that define Henry's Heisman season.

 

First TD of 2015

In a top-20 matchup with Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas, to open the season, Alabama found itself in a scoreless tie with the Badgers midway through the first quarter. With 6:01 remaining in the first stanza, Alabama faced a fourth-and-one from the Wisconsin 37. The Crimson Tide elected to go for it, handed the ball to Henry, and he got more than just a first down, sprinting 37 yards for the touchdown, setting the tone for the season he and the Tide would go on to have in 2015.

 

 

 

Gashes Georgia Between the Hedges

Facing favored, undefeated and No. 8-ranked Georgia on the road on Oct. 3, Alabama found itself in a deadlocked defensive struggle in rain-soaked conditions. But with 8:26 left in the second quarter and score tied at 3-3, Henry, who had been held to 27 yards rushing on 10 carries up to that point, got the Tide rolling with a crowd-quieting 30-yard touchdown run.

 

 

 

Leaves the Bulldogs in His Dust

Henry put his deceptive speed on full display against No. 17 Mississippi State in Starkville, Miss., on Nov. 14. About midway through the fourth quarter, Henry took the handoff, headed left and then proceeded to outrun the Bulldogs defense down the left sideline all the way to the the end zone. Free safety Kivon Coman, the last Bulldog who had a shot at him, had a clear angle on Henry, but the 6-foot-3, 196-pounder couldn't catch the 242-pound Henry and got a stiff arm to the face instead.

 

>

 

 

Steals Heisman Spotlight vs. Leonard Fournette

In one of the most anticipated and hyped games of the 2015 season -- No. 4 Alabama hosting No. 2 LSU and Heisman front-runner Leonard Fournette on Nov. 7 -- Henry, along with the Alabama defense, stole the show. The junior running back set the tone for the evening midway through the second quarter. With Alabama up by just three and facing a first-and-10 at the LSU 42, Henry took the handoff and rambled 40 yards to the LSU 2, stiff-arming strong safety Jamal Adams multiple times along the way, to set up his own 2-yard TD run on the next play.

 

 

 

Caps Record-Setting Day in Iron Bowl with TD

Against rival Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Nov. 28, Henry's school-record 46th and final carry of the afternoon came with 26 seconds to play on fourth-and-one and resulted in an oh-so-fitting 25-yard TD run. The score extended Henry's streak of consecutive games with a TD to 17 and punctuated one of the most dominating individual performances in Alabama football history. The Crimson Tide workhorse finished with 271 yards rushing -- the most by an Alabama running back in a game since 1996 and the third most all-time.

 

 

— Written by Erik Stinnett, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Stinnett is an experienced college football beat writer who has been covering Alabama since 2009.

Teaser:
Five Plays That Defined Derrick Henry's Heisman Season
Post date: Saturday, December 12, 2015 - 21:30
Path: /college-football/alabama-rb-derrick-henry-wins-2015-heisman-trophy
Body:

Alabama running back Derrick Henry claimed the 2015 Heisman Trophy on Saturday night as college football’s most outstanding player, edging Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson for the No. 1 spot.

 

Henry is the second Alabama player to win the Heisman Trophy over the last seven seasons. Additionally, the junior is only the second Crimson Tide player to claim the Heisman, joining Mark Ingram (2009) in the exclusive club.

 

Henry recorded 1,832 total points in voting, followed by Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey at No. 2 (1,539) and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (1,165). Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield finished fourth, while Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was fifth in the voting. 

 

Henry is also the first running back since Ingram to claim the Heisman Trophy. The last five Heisman winners after Ingram in 2009 were quarterbacks, including Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Auburn’s Cam Newton.

 

Henry led the nation with 1,986 rushing yards this season and finished first among all players with 23 rushing scores. The junior recorded a whopping 339 carries and rushed for at least 200 yards in four out of his last seven games.

 

Henry will lead Alabama into the College Football Playoff on Dec. 31 against Michigan State.  

Teaser:
Alabama RB Derrick Henry Wins 2015 Heisman Trophy
Post date: Saturday, December 12, 2015 - 20:16
Path: /nfl/pittsburgh-steelers-vs-cincinnati-bengals-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

For all the talk about the Pittsburgh Steelers being the team you don't want to face in the playoffs following their 45-10 rout of the Indianapolis Colts, the Cincinnati Bengals know if they defeat the Steelers this Sunday at home, they'll be the AFC North Division champions.

 

They'd also be in line for a bye and potentially home-field advantage, which if both New England and Cincinnati (10-2) won out would be determined by "strength of victory" - the winning percentage of the opponents a team has defeated.

 

The team that wins this game may ultimately be viewed as New England's top rival to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50. Of course, if Pittsburgh (7-5) doesn't win the game, it will likely be a game out of the playoffs, as if the season ended today the Steelers would lose out on a playoff berth because of tiebreakers.

 
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: CBS

Spread:Bengals -3

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Injuries

For their part, Cincinnati has been a healthy team this season. Marvin Lewis has handled things in a way that might make Bear Bryant turn over in his grave, giving his team an extra day of rest during the week. The result is the Bengals have made only four transactions this season and have only put one player on injured reserve. Compare that to the Steelers, who have 17 players on injured reserve or similar list.

 

But the long season might be taking its toll on the Bengals. Cornerback Adam Jones is out with a foot injury. Two other members of the Cincinnati secondary, cornerback Leon Hall and safety George Iloka, missed practice this week. Cornerback Josh Shaw left last Sunday's 37-3 victory against Cleveland early due to a back injury, and cornerback D'Andre Kirkpatrick isn't at 100 percent. Considering how well the Steelers' passing game has been clicking recently, this could be a serious problem for Cincinnati.

 

More than that, however, is the fact Steelers-Bengals games have historically been blood baths. Cincinnati wide receiver Marvin Jones has commented how physical the game will likely be, both teams are upset over allegations of cheap shots resulting in injuries to players (Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell has suffered season-ending injuries in the Steelers' last two games against the Bengals), and really the only positives one could say about player safety in this game is Cincinnati hasn't played on the artificial surface of Riverfront Stadium in 15 years and Kimo von Oelhoffen has been long retired.
 
The point is this game could easily be decided by a reserve.

 

2. Hey, is that Brandon Boykin?

All year long fans wondered why the Pittsburgh Steelers traded for cornerback Brandon Boykin if they weren't going to play him, especially with the team ranked 29th in the NFL in pass defense.

 

When he was finally placed in the cornerback rotation, he had an interception against the Colts last Sunday in Pittsburgh's 45-10 victory and played roughly two-thirds of the game on defense.

 

Boykin's play was the shot in the arm the Steelers' secondary needed. He's expected to continue in this role as a cornerback, alternating time with Antwon Blake.

 

3. Cincinnati's deception against Pittsburgh's basics

Back in the 1980s, Bengals-Steelers games often featured a contrast in cultures. Chuck Noll realized his post-Terry Bradshaw teams were best suited to pound the ball with trap plays, while Sam Wyche rejoiced in trying trick plays (a 24-22 Cincinnati victory in 1986 was won when punter Jeff Hayes ran 61 yards on a fake for a touchdown in the fourth quarter).

 

It's almost like those days are back. Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has been experimenting with things like passing out of three-tackle sets, while the only loss the Steelers suffered in their last four games came when starting running back DeAngelo Williams had only eight carries against Seattle.

 

Jackson has roles for both running backs Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, while Williams is the a single, and effective pounder of the Pittsburgh ground game.

 

Question- could Bernard only have only one carry in the Bengals' 16-10 victory in the previous matchup between the two teams to try to deceive the Steelers in this game?

 

While both these teams could match each other pass for pass, it's difficult to score if you don't have the ball. The team that wins could easily be the team that wins the time of possession battle.

 

Final Analysis

 

There is a feeling the team that loses this game will fall from the ranks of the NFL's best. If Cincinnati loses, questions will abound if the Bengals can really win big games and if they can get a first-round bye. If the Steelers lose, they may not make the playoffs.

 

Cincinnati is coming off a 37-3 victory against perhaps the worst team in football that was starting in essence a third-string quarterback. Now the Bengals must face the second-ranked offense in the NFL and Ben Roethlisberger with a banged-up secondary.

 

Sure, they hit a home run off a changeup in their last time at-bat, but what can the Bengals do against a fastball pitcher?

 

Prediction: Steelers 25, Bengals 24

 

— Written by Marky Billson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. An experienced beat reporter and sports writer, Billson began contributing to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2000. He has covered the Steelers, Pitt Panthers, MLB and more during his career. Follow him on Twitter @MarkyBillson.

Teaser:
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cincinnati Bengals Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 11, 2015 - 13:00
Path: /nfl/atlanta-falcons-vs-carolina-panthers-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The Carolina Panthers (12-0) may have gotten a little complacent last week, just edging out a struggling Saints team to keep their perfect season intact. That said, a win is still a win, and last week's narrow victory also enabled Ron Rivera's team to keep its regular season win streak alive. A streak that now stands at 16 in a row dating back to last season. The Panthers will once again try to avoid upset at the hands of yet another struggling division rival, this time at home.

 

The Atlanta Falcons' (6-6) downward spiral continues after collecting their fifth consecutive loss against Tampa Bay last week. After starting the season a perfect 5-0, the Falcons have now lost six of their last seven games. Dan Quinn has the daunting task of getting his Falcons back into the playoff hunt by scoring their first NFC South win of the season on the road against the undefeated Panthers. If the offense can return to early-season form, the Falcons could make it difficult for the Panthers to avoid an upset two weeks in a row. Ron Rivera and the Panthers will do everything in their power to make sure that does not happen.

 

This will be the 41st meeting between Atlanta and Carolina all-time dating back to 1995. The Falcons lead the series with a record of 24-16. The NFC South rivals split the series last season with each team winning on the road.

 

Atlanta at Carolina

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: FOX

Spread: Carolina – 7.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Can Atlanta Jumpstart a Sputtering Offense?

Since starting the season 5-0, the Falcons have literally cut their points per game average in half, going from 32.4 points per game in their first five games to 16.7 in their last seven. Oddly enough, they still rank in the top five in the NFL in total offense. Thus, moving the football has not been the problem.

 

The glaring issues plaguing this offense have been the inability to score points in the red zone. Matt Ryan has one of the worst QB ratings in the NFL once he gets his team within the opposition's 20-yard line. Further complicating matters, Ryan cannot seem to stop turning the ball over in critical moments.

 

Ryan also has failed to get the Falcons' biggest playmakers involved in the red zone. Julio Jones has not scored a touchdown since Week 8. Devonta Freeman, who was a scoring machine early on this season, has yet to find pay dirt since Week 6. In fact, the Falcons as a whole have not scored a rushing touchdown since Freeman last scored, in addition to averaging just 74 rushing yards per game over their last four contests.

 

Atlanta’s woes on offense will be further compounded facing off against one of the stingiest defenses in the NFL, especially when it comes to taking advantage of turnovers. The Panthers already have 29 takeaways on the season, 19 coming by way of interception. By far the most in the NFL. The Carolina defense will also head into this game with a nasty disposition following an uncharacteristically bad performance against the Saints last week. The Falcons may get their offense back on track before season’s end, but it seems highly unlikely that it happens on Sunday.

 

2. Julio Jones vs. Josh Norman

It is worth taking notice any time two of the game’s best players at their respective positions go head-to-head. That will definitely be the case on Sunday when lockdown cornerback Josh Norman attempts to shadow Julio Jones, Atlanta's elite wide receiver.

 

It is well documented that Jones is capable of exploding against any defensive back in the NFL. That being said, this matchup bodes particularly well for Norman. He has a very good track record of shutting down, or at least limiting, the best wide receivers the league has to offer, and that includes Jones.

 

Norman helped limit Jones to a combined 10 receptions for 117 yards in two meetings last season. Jones did not collect more than 59 receiving yards in either game, nor did he score a touchdown. Norman has even more help this time around in the form of ball-hawking free safety, Kurt Coleman. It is also worth noting that Jones may be somewhat limited by a minor knee injury this week. The smart money is always on Jones, but the deck seems to be somewhat stacked against him this time around.

 

3. The Panthers' Rushing Attack vs. the Falcons' Run Defense

While the Panthers' passing attack has really come to life in recent weeks (at least when Ted Ginn isn’t dropping passes), the run game is still Carolina's bread and butter on offense. The Panthers rank third in the NFL in both rushing yards per game (142) and rushing touchdowns (14). They should find success once again against the Falcons.

 

Atlanta has been fairly solid against the run for most of the season, giving up just over 100 rushing yards per game. However, this defense has allowed 15 rushing touchdowns on the season, which is the second most in the NFL. In addition, the Falcons have struggled against run-heavy offenses. They have proven particularly vulnerable of late, giving up a combined 357 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in their last two contests against the Vikings and Buccaneers.

 

Final Analysis

 

The Atlanta Falcons' inability to successfully run the football with consistency is an issue of concern. The bigger problem is that they can’t seem to put points on the scoreboard. You couple that with a tendency to turn the ball over in critical moments, and you have a recipe for losing, which is exactly what the Falcons continue to do on a weekly basis.

 

To make matters worse, Atlanta’s struggling offense will have to circumvent a stout Carolina defense looking to unleash the frustrations of a poor showing last week on the road. New Orleans nearly spoiled the Panthers' perfect season by recapturing some magic on offense. It is certainly plausible that the Falcons could do the same in this game. The problem is, plausible and likely are two very different things.

 

The Falcons' defense may be in for the biggest challenge trying to contain Cam Newton, who seems to be able to conjure up touchdown drives at will of late. There is no question that Atlanta will have its hands full against a Panther offense that is averaging close to 40 points per game over the last three contests.

 

Prediction: Panthers 31, Falcons 17

 

— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.

Teaser:
Atlanta Falcons vs. Carolina Panthers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 11, 2015 - 12:45
All taxonomy terms: Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks, NFL
Path: /nfl/seattle-seahawks-vs-baltimore-ravens-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

The Seattle Seahawks continued their winning ways last Sunday as they absolutely annihilated the Minnesota Vikings by a score of 38-7. Russell Wilson continued to step up his game with another three-touchdown performance after completing 21-of-27 passes for 274 yards against the Vikings. Wilson, now has thrown 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions in his last three games. These performances in the last three games are what you would expect out of the second-highest paid quarterback in the NFL. It would have been very easy for Wilson to mail it in the rest of the season after the Arizona loss, as he was getting plenty of well-deserved criticism. However, for the Seahawks and the 12s Wilson has stepped up and let his performance on the field speak for itself.

 

Baltimore has struggled all season long thanks in part to a slew of injuries that has decimated them on both sides of the ball. The matchup with Seattle will have a strange feel to it as Jimmy Clausen will very likely get his second chance at the Seahawks' defense after facing them in Week 3 while a member of the Chicago Bears.There is also the chance that Matt Schaub could get the start, depending upon how recovers from shoulder and knee injuries suffered last week against Miami. In order for Baltimore to stay in this football game against the Seahawks the Ravens are going to have to cause a couple of turnovers to create a short field for their offense. They also are going to have to take care of the football and get the running game going early. If Seattle eliminates the running game of the Ravens like they did against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings things will get ugly early.

 

Seattle at Baltimore

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)
TV: FOX

Spread: Seattle -5


Three Things to Watch

 

1. Seahawks' defensive aggressiveness

One very encouraging end result of the rout of Minnesota was the Seattle defense flying around and getting back to having fun as a unit. Michael Bennett practically lived in the Vikings' backfield all afternoon long. Bennett graded out with a plus-7.8 rating from Pro Football Focus in the Minnesota game. Rookie defensive end Frank Clark also had a bit of coming out party last week as he graded out with a plus-5.0 rating, thanks in part to his two sacks. The entire defense's tackling in the open field was some of the best by the Seahawks all season long. Thus, with the likelihood of facing a third-string, recently signed quarterback in Jimmy Clausen or backup Matt Schaub it will be important for defensive coordinator Kris Richard to unleash the hounds and attack the Ravens all day long.

 

2. The continued improvement of Seattle's offensive line

This unit while still not great has gotten better as the season has gone along as Russell Wilson has at least had a little bit of a chance to not have to run for his life during the current three-game winning streak. The offensive line is going to have to control things early so Thomas Rawls can get the running game rolling and then just stay disciplined in passing situations so Wilson can quickly get the ball out to his receivers. Patrick Lewis taking control of things at center since regaining the starting job prior to the Week 10 loss in Arizona has helped a great deal. Another contributing factor has been Wilson staying a little more disciplined when feeling the rush, hanging in longer ;and creating plays from the pocket.

 

3. Seahawks' passing game

While you never want to lose a player the caliber of Jimmy Graham to injury the Seahawks' wide receivers did a nice job last week of picking up the slack in the passing game. Tyler Lockett was on fire as he had seven receptions for 90 yards along with Doug Baldwin, who is arguably having the best season of his career. It is going to be vital for offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell to get some easy throws called for Wilson to play pitch and catch with Lockett and Baldwin so the Ravens aren't able to stack the box in an attempt to stop Thomas Rawls and the running game.

 

Final Analysis

 

This game should be a sound decisive victory for the Seahawks as the Ravens are going to be too limited offensively if Jimmy Clausen starts at quarterback and probably a little too mistake-prone if it's Matt Schaub under center. Look for the passing game to get in a rhythm early and get Seattle an early lead to set the tone right away. If the Seahawks play undisciplined early on against Baltimore that is going to be dangerous as they can’t afford to give the Ravens any hope that they can win this matchup. If Baltimore is allowed to stay in the game until the fourth quarter, then all bets would be off as the Ravens have secured each of their four wins on the final play of the game this season. In the end, Seattle knows that it in all likelihood will be the top NFC wild card team after Sunday as the Vikings should lose to Arizona. That No. 5 seed would set the Seahawks up to play the NFC East champion during wild card weekend. Overall, look for the Seahawks to take care of business to get to 8-5, setting up two very winnable home games against Cleveland and St. Louis.

 

Prediction: Seahawks 31, Ravens 16

 

— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball.

Teaser:
Seattle Seahawks vs. Baltimore Ravens Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 11, 2015 - 12:30
Path: /nfl/new-orleans-saints-vs-tampa-bay-buccaneers-preview-and-prediction-2015
Body:

New Orleans gave a tremendous effort last Sunday. The Saints attempted to tarnish the record of the sole remaining undefeated team in the NFL. They came commendably close. Now, they have nothing left for which to strive other than avoiding a losing season.

 

Tampa Bay is still in contention for the postseason. The Buccaneers trail the Seahawks by one game for the second wild card spot in the NFC. Obviously, winning their final four regular season games would greatly aid Tampa Bay's chances of grabbing that playoff berth. That course would start with defeating the Saints.

 

New Orleans leads the overall series 29-18. Tampa Bay's victory on Sept. 20 ended the Saints' seven-game winning streak in this series. The Saints hold a 13-7 advantage in games played in Tampa.

 

New Orleans at Tampa Bay

 

Kickoff: 1 p.m. ET (Sunday)

TV: FOX

Spread: Tampa Bay -3.5

 

Three Things to Watch

 

1. Offensive Balance for Buccaneers

The Buccaneers have lost six out of seven games when the difference between their passing yards and rushing yards is more than 80. In short, they need to have close to equal amounts in both statistical categories in order to win.

 

2. Plague of Penalties on the Saints

The Saints have committed at least seven penalties in all but one game this season. They have amassed at least 50 yards in penalties per game except for one. When they have committed eight or more penalties in a game, they are 3-5. When their amounts of penalties have exceeded 70 yards in a game, they have lost six out of eight times. The Saints' defense is too depleted and inexperienced to give away so many yards so often for usually avoidable infractions.

 

3. Can Bucs Exploit the Weakest Aspect of the Saints?

Tampa Bay has piled up more than 200 passing yards in eight games. Those include the five most recent games. Can the Buccaneers' offense continue that string of success and throw successfully against the Saints' secondary?

 

The Saints' struggling defense has given up more than 200 passing yards per game with the exception of two. The first of those two sub-200 yard performance occurred in the Superdome versus Tampa Bay. Can the Saints replicate that respectable effort against the Bucs' passing attack?

 

Final Analysis

 

Tampa Bay does not control its own path to the playoffs. However, the Buccaneers could derail their own drive to the postseason with a loss at home to the Saints. The Saints showed a lot of heart in the nail-biting defeat at home to Carolina. The Buccaneers have a ton of motivation heading to this game. The Saints have nothing but pride left. The hope for a wild card spot outweighs the desire to avoid consecutive losing seasons.

 

Prediction: Buccaneers 30, Saints 14

 

-Written by John La Fleur, a contributor to AthlonSports.com, who focuses on the New Orleans Saints and Michigan State Spartans. He also frequently comments on other teams in the NFL and in NCAA football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.

Teaser:
New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers Preview and Prediction
Post date: Friday, December 11, 2015 - 12:15

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