You're out: MLB rule change is right move

03/02/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

New rules in Major League Baseball for the 2016 will bring player safety to the forefront by eliminating the "take out" slide. To that I say, it's about time.
Last season, Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung-Ho Kang and Chicago Cubs shortstop Ruben Tejada were seriously injured on take out slides. MLB and the players union agreed that changing the rules was necessary to prevent more injuries like those suffered by Kang and Tejada. Players union executive director Tony Clark said the goal in amending the slide rule was to "enhance player safety, reduce incidents of injury, and do it in a way that respects and preserves bona fide hustle plays that are integral to the game".
Under the new rule, for a slide to break up a double play to be legal the runner will have to make a "bona fide attempt to reach and remain on base". Contact between the runner and the fielder is allowed, but the runner cannot change his path to the base to initiate contact or engage in a rolling block. All plays will be subject to video review and if the replay shows that the runner did not engage in a bona fide slide attempt, interference will be called and both the runner and the batter can be called out.

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So what exactly is a "bona fide slide"? According to the rule, it has four points. The runner must begin his slide before reaching the base. The runner is able to and tries to reach the base with his hand or foot. The runner is able to and tries to remain on the base after completion of the slide. And that the runner slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder.
There is one other rule though as well that ties in with this. There will now be the capacity to review the "neighborhood play". The neighborhood play, for those of you not familiar with the name, is when an out is awarded at second base when the fielder is near the bag. Under the new rule, fielders will actually have to touch the bag to record the out. The reason for making this change, according to Chris Marinak of Major League Baseball, is because of frustration about the play due to inconsistency of how it was applied by the umpires. Marinak said he feels the net result between the two rule changes is positive when it comes to safety for middle infielders.
I agree 100% with both of these changes. While there can be some argument that an infielder actually having to touch the bag with a runner actually having to slide into the base could cause as much risk as removing the take out slide eliminates, I disagree. You're supposed to actually touch the base for there to be an out awarded. So forcing the middle infielders to touch the bag is in essence, enforcing the rules as they're supposed to be enforced. And if the middle infielder knows how the runner is required to slide, he'll be able to react and get himself out of danger.
With player safety taking the forefront in professional sports, and seeing how the NFL and the NHL have addressed the concussion issue, it's nice to see MLB take action here to eliminate a play before anyone else ends up losing a season, like Kang and Tejada did, or suffering something worse due to an injury caused by a take out slide. Kudos Major League Baseball, taking out the take out slide was the right thing to do.

Sky's limit: Just how good is Golden State?

02/26/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

They're 50 and 5. They've yet to lose at home through 24 home games so far this season. They'll be looking to win their second consecutive championship. They're on pace for the best record in NBA history and trying to surpass the 1995/1996 Chicago Bulls as the best team of all time. So how good is this year's Golden State Warriors?
Earlier this week, Golden State became the fastest team in NBA history to 50 games. That '95/'96 Bulls team won 50 of their first 56 games. The Bulls of that year have the best regular season record in NBA history as well, as they finished with a 72 and 10 regular season mark, en route to their 4th NBA Championship in 6 seasons. To win 73 games this season, the Warriors will have to go 23 and 4 in their remaining 27 games, which is looking like a real possibility.
Of course all of these regular season accolades will be meaningless if the Warriors come up short in the playoffs. But if history is the precedent set, Golden State is in good company. All 3 of the previous teams to start 50 and 7 or better (Chicago in 1995/96 and 1996/97, and Philadelphia in 1982/83) won the NBA title.

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But it's not just the team feats that are amazing, it's the individual feats as well. Those Bulls teams had Michael Jordan in his heyday, these Warriors have Stephen Curry. Curry needs just 27 three pointers the rest of the season to surpass the record of 286 that he set last season. Curry has also made at least one three pointer in 126 consecutive games. 2 more games with at least one three pointer and Curry will set the NBA record for most consecutive games with at least one three pointer. Curry is also pretty much guaranteed to win the league MVP this season as well.
The Warriors also have depth. The Warriors also play a team game that is second to none as their assist numbers are off the charts. They can shoot from anywhere and it isn't just Curry who hits the shots. They've been dominant in games against the other teams that are considered to be contenders. They're dominant rebounding on both the offensive and defensive glass. And defensively they're one of the top teams statistically in multiple categories. This Warriors team is about as close to perfect as a basketball team can be.
Sure there are still a lot of games left and this regular season still has a lot to be determined. And then there's the post season. And there's always a chance that injury or injuries could derail what's been an amazing run so far. But if everyone stays healthy and the Warriors keep doing what they've been doing, and they do seem to be better than they were last season, in a few months we may very well be saying: The 2015/2016 Golden State Warriors are the best NBA team of all time.

Chopping blocked: Why salary cap creates casualties you least expect

02/24/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Life in the NFL isn't always fair. One season you're the face of the franchise and the favorite of the fans. But after a season side tracked by injuries or a decrease in productivity accompanied by an increase in age, you're looking less like a hero and more like a salary cap casualty. Let's take a look at 5 of the biggest names in the NFL who were franchise players not too long ago, but will most likely be looking for a new team soon.
Before Odell Beckham Jr. became Eli Manning's top target with the New York Giants, there was Victor Cruz. Cruz salsa danced his way into the hearts of Giants fans just a few seasons ago. But serious injuries have kept him off the field since October of 2014. And it's looking likely that if Cruz is able to play in 2016, he'll be wearing a different uniform.
Not long ago he was the NFL's leading rusher. But injuries have kept Arian Foster off the field for parts of the past few seasons. Those injuries combined with a $9 million dollar cap hit make it look pretty realistic that Foster and the Houston Texans will be parting ways prior to kickoff of the 2016 season.

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After a stellar rookie season in 2012 where he was taken with the 2nd overall pick in the NFL draft, it looked like the Washington Redskins had found a franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III. After not playing in a single game in 2015, RG3's tenure with the Redskins appears to be over. The good news for the Redskins is they'll save $16 million dollars in salary cap space. The good news for Griffin is he'll get what seems to be a necessary fresh start somewhere else in 2016.
Prior to Rex Ryan's arrival in Buffalo, double digit sacks were synonymous with Mario Williams. But after recording only 5 sacks in Ryan's first season with the Bills, it looks like it will also be Williams last season in Buffalo. Cutting Williams would save the Bills nearly $13 million dollars in cap space as well.
In 2014 he caught 90 passes in Chicago. In 2015 he caught 53 passes. In 2016 it looks like Martellus Bennett will be catching passes for a different team since the Bears could save $5 million dollars in cap room by cutting Bennett.
Such is life in today's NFL. You're the talk of the town one season. And you're on your way out of town the next.

Open plan: Why 3 on 3 OT in NHL works

02/20/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

OK, I admit I was wrong. When the NHL announced they had changed the overtime format from 4 on 4 this season to 3 on 3, I was skeptical. Alright, I wasn't just skeptical, I thought it was an awful idea. How could taking a game that's played with 5 skaters per side in regulation and changing it to 3 skaters per side be a good way to decide the outcome of a game? That was my thinking.
The NHL's thinking was that something needed to change. The shootout had grown stale. 4 on 4 overtime was being played to too many stalemates that led to shootouts. How could you get the excitement back that the shootout originally created but decide a hockey game without penalty shots? Well after experimenting with it in the AHL, the NHL decided the 3 on 3 OT format was the way to go.
As a longtime hockey fan, and fan who thought the 4 on 4 overtime format wasn't very good, switching to the 3 on 3 approach certainly didn't appeal to me. It had the exact opposite effect on me. Changing the game to a video game format was definitely not the answer, or so I thought. But then I actually got to see 3 on 3 overtime. And it was exciting!

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Going 3 on 3 has so much open ice. It's one rush after another. Back and forth play. Goalies probably aren't fans of it because of the golden scoring chances the extra ice creates, but the goaltending play is just as fun to watch. Sparkling saves off of the great scoring chances just adds to the excitement. And it's accomplished what the NHL had hoped it would as's reduced the number of shootouts and decided more game in the overtime format.
Look, I still don't like the fact the NHL is the only major sport that alters the format of it's game when it comes to overtime. You don't see the NFL go to 8 on 8 when a game goes to overtime. You don't see the shortstop removed for extra innings in MLB. And I don't like the fact that the NHL awards points to each team for being tied after regulation. But whether I want to admit it or not, I was wrong about 3 on 3 overtime. It's accomplished one thing that the NHL had been, and to a point still is, lacking. Excitement.
And whether you're an old school fan who has the same feelings about altering OT like I do, or if you're newer fan who loved the shootout. In this case, change has been made. And that change has been good. 3 on 3 overtime is exciting hockey.

Writers dogged: Should writers be held accountable for gossip stories?

02/20/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

I wrote here a few weeks ago about what would happen if the allegations in an Al Jazeera television report that Peyton Manning used HGH turned out to be true. But like everything else, there are two sides to the story. So what if it turns out that all of these allegations are false?
The report named Manning amongst other NFL players and other professional athletes. Now each of those athletes has the stigma of HGH or other performance enhancing or banned substances associated with their names. Each of these athletes will be under the microscope even if they deny the allegations, which all of those named have done. Even if these allegations are false, each of those named have to defend that they never used any type of banned substances.
So how is it fair that these guys were accused of something they claim not to do and now have to fight the accusations and defend their names, but the reporter gets away with the reporting? If you're a fan of professional sports, you've obviously heard of the allegations. But do you know who the Al Jazeera reporter behind the story is?

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The reporter's name is Deborah Davis. The main source of her information for the report was a former employee of the Indianapolis clinic who has admitted to falsifying information and dropping athletes names to fabricate the story. Two of the athletes named in the report, Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals, have filed a defamation lawsuit against Al Jazeera.
So if the story is proven false, Al Jazeera will take the hit for running the report. They'll be the ones sued and have to pay for the wrong in any of the lawsuits that have been filed or will be filed. Al Jazeera television has also ceased operations in America. But what about Deborah Davis? What about the undercover reporter who secretly recorded Charlie Sly, the informant for the report? That would be Liam Collins, if you're looking for a name.
I understand why Al Jazeera should take the brunt of this. They were the ones who decided to run the story. They'll be the ones named in the lawsuits. They'll be the ones associated with this story and anything that comes out of it. But why aren't the reporters, Davis and Collins, being called out? They shouldn't get a free pass in all of this. It was their story. It was their sources. It was their work.
And that work, if proven to be false, put all of the athletes named in it into the position of having to defend themselves against something they weren't involved in. I think it's only fair that if a reporter is going to accuse someone of something, they should be held accountable for their actions too. If the athletes named in this report have to defend themselves against false allegations, the reporters responsible should held accountable for their reporting. Or lack of responsible reporting. Reporters should be held accountable for their actions when accusations lead to defamation. And if these reports are proven false, not just Al Jazeera, but Deborah Davis and Liam Collins should be held responsible too.

Hart felt: One of pro wrestling's good guys, Hart faces toughest opponent

02/17/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

It doesn't matter who you are. It doesn't matter how strong you are or were. It doesn't matter if you're a regular guy or a former superstar who seemed to be larger than life. Cancer doesn't discriminate who it strikes, and that's the case here. Earlier this month, former WWE world champion Bret "The Hitman" Hart announced that he was battling prostrate cancer.
The 58 year old Hart underwent successful surgery this week in the first step on his road to recovery. Hart said that things are looking up and that he should be home to continue his recovery sometime in the next week. That's great news to hear that things are starting off solid for Hart, in what he has called the toughest battle of his life.
This isn't Hart's first fight in regards to his health following his 23 year professional wrestling career. Hart suffered a stroke in 2002 but battled back from that to make a return to the WWE and be inducted into the Hall of Fame as well. Now he faces an even tougher battle, but has vowed to beat cancer saying he "will never give up or give in, and will win this battle." Hart has also said that he hopes by opening up about being diagnosed with cancer that he can inspire others who are facing the same fight that he is. Hart discussed his diagnosis and the battle ahead of him in a heart felt Facebook post a few weeks ago.

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As a lifelong wrestling fan, I was kind of stunned to hear this news. I remember watching Bret Hart as a member of the Hart Foundation back in the '80's when I was a kid. I watched him launch his stellar singles career in the 1990's, first as an Intercontinental Champion then on to his 5 WWE championships. One thing I always respected and admired about Hart was his dedication to being what his monicker said, that he was "the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be". Hart was a student of the sport, born into professional wrestling in Calgary and trained by his legendary father Stu Hart. But he never used that to give him an advantage in his career. Hart earned his way by working hard and carving out his own career path throughout his time in both the WWE and WCW. But no matter where he was working or whether he was portraying a heel or face character, Hart let his work in the ring speak for him. The flashiest things about Hart were his ring attire, pink tights, sunglasses, and a leather jacket. But his character was never over the top. He was a technically sound wrestler, probably the best I remember, and that was what made him who he was as a performer.
Bret Hart was also one of the good guys of professional wrestling too. He's a family man and talked about the importance of his family in his Facebook message. He was loyal to the WWE and Vince McMahon during his career up until the "swerve" at the 1997 Survivor Series. And even after the bad blood that came with that, Hart was able to put that behind him and reconcile with McMahon and the WWE to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006 and make a brief in ring return as well.
Here's hoping Bret Hart has one more win in him. Fight hard Hitman and beat this cancer.

Change looming: Is it time to reform MMA?

02/16/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

This week, the MMA world suffered a loss when former UFC heavyweight Kevin Randleman died at the age of 44. The cause of death for Randleman was announced as heart failure.
This comes two months after 21 year old Yang Jian Bing died trying to make weight for his fight. Last year it wasn't a death, but it was Jon "War Machine" Koppenhaver who severely beat his girlfriend. In the last 9 years, 3 fighters have died from injuries sustained during fights. A study in 2014 stated that 1/3 of all professional MMA fights result in a concussion for one of the fighters involved. So are these all signs that some type of reform needs to occur in professional MMA?
Fans of MMA love it for a reason. It's hard hitting. It's violent. There are brain throttling knock outs. It's bloody. It's tough and nasty and it's popularity is off the charts. But in today's world of CTE and concussions and brain trauma and other professional sports working to make their games safer, can something be done to reduce these risks in MMA?

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It's common sense that a person isn't meant to be repeatedly punched in the face or head. That being knocked out is going to have negative long term effects on human beings brain. It took years to link the damage repeated blows to the head in professional football caused for players after their careers were over. It's showing up more now in former NHL players, especially with a string of deaths of former players who made their careers as enforcers.
So if guys who were wearing helmets and engaging in maybe a 60 to 90 second fight on the ice are showing signs of CTE, what is happening to MMA fighters who are taking repeated blows to the head over 3 full rounds? Is the machismo of these guys in their late teens and early 20's overtaking the common sense that they may be mentally disabled or worse after their fighting careers are over?
Like I said above, MMA is popular because of the violence involved in it. It wouldn't have the same popularity if you had two guys going into the octagon wearing full head gear. So is there anything that can be done to make it safer? It's an issue that is going to have to be addressed soon. MMA is still in it's infancy. It has only gotten popular over the past 20 years. And the post career effects of professional cage fighting are just now starting to show. So is this just the tip of the iceberg?
MMA is a tough and dangerous game. The training regimen is brutal and takes its toll on the body. Fighters trying to make weight and fight in different classes takes its toll on the body. Being punched and kicked for a living takes its toll on the body. Repeated blows to the head obviously have long term effects.
I'm concerned that this is all just the start, and that the side effects of what an MMA career does to a person is just beginning to show.

Unreal McCoy: Why Bills star RB is just another NFL example gone bad

02/15/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

On the heels of the Super Bowl this is not the kind of news the NFL wanted to hear. LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills caught on video in the middle of a night club brawl with off duty Philadelphia police officers. But this wasn't just a bar fight, McCoy and his friends are seen on video assaulting the two officers, both of whom had to be hospitalized. Just when it seemed like the high profile off the field incidents in the NFL had come to a halt, ugliness like this has reared its head again.
No charges have been filed yet, but warrants for the arrest of McCoy and the others in his party that were involved in the incident are expected to come this week. He most likely will be charged with aggravated assault. But if you've seen the video or read the reports of the incident, this is much more serious than aggravated assault. McCoy and his friends beat down these two officers allegedly due to an argument over a bottle of champagne. The officers were punched, kicked, and stomped while on the ground. One of the officers sustained facial fractures, the other reportedly suffered a fractured skull. That's pretty serious stuff.
So how does the NFL deal with this? In all of the high profile cases recently, the NFL's discipline was a joke. The players union had any discipline the NFL dished out reduced. Anything that's gone to arbitration has been ruled in favor of the players union. So what is the NFL going to do this time if charges are field against McCoy and he's either found guilty or more than likely, reaches a plea deal?

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What comes out of this is going to be key in regards to how the NFL is viewed in regards to how it handles disciplining players who get in trouble. With changes that were made in regards to the player conduct policy, McCoy could be looking at a 6 game suspension. But he's also a player who has no prior suspensions or off field arrests. So any discipline dished out by the NFL would most likely be challenged by McCoy and the players union. And if recent history means anything, the penalty dished out would be reduced.
What if the Buffalo Bills release McCoy pending on the outcome of all of this? Unlike Ray Rice, who has yet to find work in the NFL since he was released by the Baltimore Ravens, McCoy is still an effective player who could benefit another NFL team. Would he be signed by someone else? Most likely he would because the talent level is still there.
You'd like to believe that if McCoy is charged and found guilty that he'll get the punishment he deserves and that the NFL will finally look like it's taking control in regards to player discipline. If McCoy is charged and found guilty the NFL needs to have any disciplinary action it takes to hold up this time. Otherwise the image of the NFL being full of thugs and criminals that has been shed recently, will be back in the public eye and will be back as a black eye on the NFL's face again.

My way: Is Newton's act tiresome or just being real

02/14/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Cam Newton was named the NFL's 2015 MVP. He passed for over 3,800 yards and threw 35 touchdowns. He rushed for over 600 more yards and scored another 10 TD's on the ground. He led the Carolina Panthers to the best regular season record in the NFL. And in the post season, he led the Panthers to their second Super Bowl appearance in the franchise's 20 year history. Then he fumbled in the Super Bowl.
Well not only did he fumble, he fumbled with the Panthers down by 6 points in the 4th quarter. And instead of going after the ball and diving on it, he just watched the ball on the ground before it was recovered by Denver's DeMarcus Ware at the Panthers 4 yard line. What was then a 16 to 10 Broncos lead became a 24 to 10 Broncos win after the turnover was turned into a touchdown plus a 2 point conversion.
So why didn't Cam Newton go after the football with some aggression? Newton's reply was that he didn't want to risk getting injured. That didn't go over so well with, well, just about anybody. Almost everyone from analysts, former and current players, and fans said there was no excuse for him not diving in to get that ball. The consensus opinion seems to be what was he thinking? This is the Super Bowl, you have to go in without hesitation and get that ball. Had the Panthers recovered, they would have still had a chance in the game. And for saying he didn't want to get injured as the reason he didn't go after the ball, well that went over about as well as Johnny Manziel's off the field antics have with the Cleveland Browns and the NFL.

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But is it fair to judge Newton's season on that one play? Is it fair to say the season was a failure because the Super Bowl was lost? Is it fair to say Newton's reaction, or lack there of, on the fumble is the reason why the Panthers lost? No it isn't. Look, Cam Newton's actions after the Super Bowl and the way he handled himself showed a lack of maturity on his part. But the fumble wasn't the reason Carolina lost the Super Bowl.
Denver was the better team. They came out with a better game plan. They executed that game plan better than Carolina executed theirs. One play didn't decide that game. What if Newton did recover the fumble and Carolina was able to punt it instead of losing the ball on their 4 yard line? And then Denver returned the punt for a touchdown. Or deep into Panthers territory and kicked a field goal to make it a two score game. The game would still be over and nobody would be talking about the fumble.
But what if Newton did go after the fumble, recovered it, and got hurt? Not just hurt, but seriously hurt. Do you think Carolina would sniff another Super Bowl in the years to come without Cam Newton? He practically was Super Man at some points of the season, as he carried the Panthers offense in several games and brought them back when their defense couldn't hold leads.
Question his maturity if you want. Question his decision as well. But don't judge Cam Newton's season on that one play. He deserves better than that.

Oh Manning: What would happen to Peyton's legacy if he used HGH

02/13/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Everybody loves Peyton Manning, right? If you're a football fan, you respect what he's done on the field. Whether you're a football fan or not, you have to admit his commercials are pretty entertaining. Off the field he has the reputation of being a class act who does things the right way and is a family man. But what if the allegations that Manning used illegal human growth hormone turn out to be true? Does that change everything?
If you're not aware of the allegations, a report by Al Jazeera TV in December alleged that Manning amongst other professional athletes used HGH from an Indianapolis clinic. The allegations stated that a pharmacist named Charlie Sly prescribed and shipped HGH to Manning's home and addressed it to his wife. Manning and all of the other athletes named in the Al Jazeera report denied the allegations. Two of the athletes named in the case filed lawsuits against Al Jazeera for libel. Sly himself recanted the information that he provided to Al Jazeera saying that he made most of it up.
So on the surface, it looks like a story that was fabricated and fiction. But Manning also hired a law firm to do a secret investigation into Charlie Sly. An investigation that sent two men, claiming to be law enforcement agents, that were working on behalf of the law firm went to Sly's parents house in Indiana to interrogate him. This resulted in Sly's parents calling 911. Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was also hired by Manning as a crisis management consultant.

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Now is that just the natural reaction from Manning's camp to false allegations? Or is having two men who showed up at Sly's parents house at night claiming to be law enforcement when they actually weren't, and being the only one of the named athletes to hire a crisis management consultant an admission of guilt?
Besides the undercover story which uses Sly's comments as the only basis of it's story, there is no fact or proof that any of the allegations in the story are true. Well unless you count the fact that Manning's forehead seems to have expanded to the size of Frankenstein's compared with pictures from his college days.
Now while it doesn't look that way, what if it turns out down the line that the allegations were true? What if Manning did indeed use HGH in his comeback from neck surgery in 2011? Does that take away from his legacy? Does that mean everything he accomplished in Denver should have an asterisk next to it? Would that tarnish his image and potential to work in the NFL at a different level such as a general manager in the future?
I like Peyton Manning. I respect him as a player. He's one of the guys who had a long and sterling career with no off the field issues or scandals. I respect him as a family man. And as a fan of professional sports, I hope he retires a champion and that these allegations are false.
But if they turn out to be true, does that change everything about Peyton Manning?

Manziel up: Why Johnny Football flops hard but NFL is all about second chances

02/04/16 by Rennie Detore

It's official: Johnny Football is a flop.
His time with the Cleveland Browns was a mixture of off the field antics and disappointing play, with only a glimmer of hope that flashed briefly here and there but without any real consistency.
Furthermore, his time spent off the field is what garnered headlines, and even the hapless and hopeless Cleveland Browns have had enough as rumors have circulated that Manziel is going to be cut after the Super Bowl.

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But the NFL hardly is opposed to cast offs and rejects of the Manziel ilk not being able to find a home somewhere and find solace or a second chance in another city that might find the "project" that is Manziel intriguing enough to take a flyer on him at a minimal cost.
The truth is Manziel does have talent. He's just stupid. He makes bad decisions, and he's treating his time in the NFL as a playground of sorts, a reason to show that his college attitude wasn't about being frustrated for not getting paid, for example, but rather that he's a young, immature person who can't handle one iota of fame and especially fortune.
I watched Manziel play in a game against the then red hot Kansas City Chiefs at the tail end of the 2015 season. He showed poise, he made good throws (but missed a few) and actually had his team on the cusp of knocking off the best team in football at that time.
But Manziel and his misses might make him expendable to the NFL, but you'd be hard pressed to believe that another team isn't going to say "sure, what's it going to hurt" in relationship to another go around with Manziel.
Tim Tebow may have been the worst NFL quarterback mechanically in the history of the game, but he was afforded opportunities based on his mettle, toughness and wanting to be an NFL quarterback. Manziel acts like the NFL is blessed to have him, and he's using his time (which ultimately could be very short) to act like a child in a man's game.
Yes, Manziel will be on a roster next year, but whether he makes it out of training camp or on the active roster is up to him. If Johnny Football wants to play, then play. Otherwise, get out of the league for good. You don't belong here.

All Star Shame: Why John Scott NHL All Star Game saga is ridiculous

01/29/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

First he was in. Then he was out. Now he's in again. That's the story of John Scott's inclusion in this year's NHL All Star Game.
If you're not familiar with the story, Scott, who has 5 career NHL goals, was selected as a captain via fan vote for this year's NHL All Star game when he was a member of the Arizona Coyotes. Scott has made a career of being an enforcer, skill and scoring are not his calling card. Especially with this year's all star game being a 3 on 3 "tournament". And having Scott as part of that skills showcase didn't sit well with the NHL.
The league, and the Coyotes asked that Scott relinquish his spot in the game. He declined and decided he wanted to play. So he was traded by the Coyotes to Montreal, where he was immediately assigned to the AHL. The thought being that since he was moved out of the Western Conference, and then out of the NHL, he would be ineligible for the All Star Game.

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So the feel good story of Scott being selected to the game was over, and left the NHL looking like pretty big jerks. But what started as a joke and took off on the internet, was also rectified that way as well. Scott was selected by fan vote online and through social media, and it caught on. Whether it was a joke or not, fans voted Scott as a captain in the game. The NHL, or so the theory seemed to be, wasn't pleased with that action. So they may or may not have had the Coyotes, which the league owned for a several seasons, "trade" Scott to a team that really had no use for him on their roster. That turned into a bigger embarrassment for he NHL as the backlash against Scott being ineligible for the game blew up via the internet and social media just like his initial selection did.
So the NHL decided to allow Scott to remain an All Star, and he will play in Nashville this weekend. The real joke of this is that the NHL decided that it's joke of an All Star game was enough of a reason to have a player, who is a man with a family, uprooted and sent across North America to protect the integrity of the NHL All Star game. A game that has been meaningless for over a decade. That's an All Star Shame.

Har balked: Why former 49ers and current Michigan coach was right all along

01/27/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers and Jim Harbaugh parted ways. It was written here that the 49ers organization was making a big mistake letting Harbaugh go. A year later, it sure looks like Jim Harbaugh was right and the 49ers were dead wrong.
Harbaugh led the 49ers to 3 NFC Championships and 1 Super Bowl appearance in his tenure as head coach. In the 8 seasons prior to his arrival, San Francisco was a down franchise that had zero playoff appearances from 2003 through 2010. Harbaugh turned the 49ers into a contender and perennial playoff team during his time as coach. But 2 years after leading the franchise to their first Super Bowl appearance since 1995, Harbaugh was pushed out as coach.
Life after Harbaugh wasn't so sweet for the 49ers this past season. The team went 5 and 11. Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree left via free agency before the season started. Vernon Davis was traded during the season. Colin Kaepernick completely fell apart. The former Pro Bowl quarterback was a shell of himself without his former coach. The same quarterback who led the 49ers to the Super Bowl was benched by mid season and on IR to finish it. Many felt that Kaepernick's demise was because Harbaugh allowed him to play his game which led to Kaepernick's on field success.

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Oh, and the man the 49ers replaced Harbaugh with, Jim Tomsula, was fired after just one season. He's been replaced by Chip Kelly, who despite having a winning overall record, was fired in Philadelphia. Kelly, who's personnel decisions and inability to manage players infuriated management, is now taking over as coach where management couldn't co-exist with a proven winner like Harbaugh.
Harbaugh led the University of Michigan in his first season to a 10 and 3 record. The Wolverines finished ranked #11 in the country and crushed Florida in the Citrus Bowl. Word out of Ann Arbor is that Michigan should be better next season than they were this year and that the future is even brighter. Harbaugh was a stud college coach at Stanford and one of the rare college coaches who found instant success in the NFL.
The book isn't completely written yet, but the first chapter belongs to Harbaugh. And it's looking more and more like in the long run, the 49ers are going to be wrong. And Jim Harbaugh is going to be right.

Coach spoken: Why new coach isn't always the answer

01/26/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Seven teams will have new coaches heading into the 2016. Some new hires were surprises. Others look to be more solid. As we head into the final two weekends of the 2015 NFL season, lets look ahead to next season's new coaches.
Philadelphia Eagles: Doug Pederson
The Eagles were the first team to say goodbye to their coach in 2015. Kelly's replacement is former Kansas City offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. Pederson, ironically, coached under former Eagles head coach Andy Reid in Kansas City for the past three seasons. The knocks against Pederson are that he had never interviewed for an NFL head coaching position before and that he didn't handle the play calling duties in Kansas City.

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Tennessee Titans: Mike Mularky
Mularkey took over as head coach after the Titans started the season 1 and 7. They went 2 and 6 the rest of the way with Mularky under the headsets. Mularky has previous head coaching experience and perhaps the Titans brass feels that with a full season to work with, he's the man to turn around what's been a down franchise recently.
Miami Dolphins: Adam Gase
At age 37, Gase will be the youngest coach in the NFL next season. Gase takes over for the Dolphins after being the offensive coordinator in Chicago. But Gase has limited experience, and the Bears record wasn't exactly stellar during his tenure in the Windy City.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Dirk Koetter
After 2 years, the Buccaneers had enough of Lovie Smith and decided they thought enough of offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to promote him to the head coaching position. Koetter is not one of the young hires though, he'll be 57 when the season starts.
Cleveland Browns: Hue Jackson
Jackson makes the treck from Cincinnati to Cleveland, where after serving as the Bengals offensive coordinator he'll take over the reigns of the Browns. The negative here, well it's the Browns, who seem to turn over coaches as often as they do starting quarterbacks. Jackson will be Cleveland's 8th head coach since the franchises return to the NFL in 1999.
New York Giants: Ben McAdoo
At age 38, McAdoo is another young up and comer in the NFL's coaching ranks. Despite the success Tom Coughlin had in New York, Giants management felt it was time for a change. McAdoo takes over as head coach after serving two seasons as the Giants offensive coordinator. QB Eli Manning is also comfortable with McAdoo, which is part of the reason he was hired as the Giants didn't want to change their entire system around the veteran quarterback.
San Francisco 49ers: Chip Kelly
After being fired in Philadelphia, Kelly will take over as the 3rd head coach in as many seasons in San Francisco. Kelly had a winning record as head coach of the Eagles, but his player personnel decisions and questions about his ability to manage NFL players led to his ouster in Philadelphia. It will be interesting to see how Kelly mixes with 49ers management as well, who's falling out with Jim Harbaugh led to the former coaches dismissal.

Same old story: Manning versus Brady yet again but do you care?

01/21/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

So here we go again. The NFL just has to love this. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots versus Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos with the winner going on to the Super Bowl. What a story for the AFC Championship game, right? You couldn't ask for a better script right football fans? Or are you just plain sick of all the hype of Brady versus Manning?
Well here's the thing, a lot of it is hype. Brady and Manning have faced off 17 times in their careers, but only 4 of those meetings have come in the post season. I know it seems like they've played against each other in the playoffs about 100 times the way this matchup draws so much attention, but really, they've only met in the playoffs 4 times.
Just like the previous 4 times they've met in the post season though, the winner will go on to the Super Bowl. Brady's Patriots beat Manning's Colts in 2004 and 2005 en route to Super Bowl wins. Manning got revenge with an AFC Championship game win in 2007 en route to a Colts Super Bowl title, and he led the Broncos past New England in 2014 before falling to Seattle in the Super Bowl.

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Just for the record, the head to head matchup between these two has been owned by Brady. Brady's Patriots have met Manning led Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos teams 16 times, with Brady winning 11 of those matchups. The two have put up similar statistics going head to head, with Brady passing for 4,013 yards with 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in their 16 meetings. Manning has thrown for 4,809 yards with 33 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. Brady's teams have outscored Manning's 479 to 372 in those match ups.
Brady has had more success as well. He has led the Patriots to 6 Super Bowls, winning 4 of them. Manning has been to the Super Bowl 3 times, twice with the Colts and once with the Broncos, winning 1 championship. This will be their 4th AFC Championship Game meeting, with Manning holding a 2 to 1 edge there
Is there too much overhype for these two? Are fans tired of it? Well there are two things that can be done if you feel that way. The first is that another team, maybe the team that you cheer for, could knock Denver or New England off. If someone else beats Brady or Manning, there wouldn't be any talk about them meeting for a shot at the Super Bowl, it would be about another QB or another team.
The other option is to just sit back and enjoy it because it's coming to an end soon. This very well may be the last time Brady and Manning face each other in the playoffs. It looks more and more like Peyton Manning's career is coming to an end, likely after this season. So why not enjoy the story line? Does Manning have one more win left in so he has a chance to play in the big game one more time with the opportunity to go out on top? Or will Brady beat Manning one last time and send him into retirement with Manning's last game being a loss to the Brady led Patriots?
Me, I'm going to sit back and enjoy what looks to be the final round of Brady versus Manning. And if this is the last meeting, I hope it exceeds the hype and ends with the story line of Manning winning and going on to win the Super Bowl so one of the NFL's all time greats has the perfect ending he deserves.

Harsh reality: Sad demise of Phillips leaves more questions than answers

01/18/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

He was a two time national champion in college. He was a first round NFL draft pick. And he died at the age of 40 in prison. So what led to the downward spiral and ultimate demise of Lawrence Phillips?
For Phillips, his problems started long before the NFL. He grew up in foster homes in California before becoming a football star in high school. His play in high school led him to getting a scholarship to Nebraska. Phillips helped lead Nebraska to back to back National Championships before being drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the first round of the 1996 draft. But off the field issues that plagued Phillips at Nebraska led to him washing out of professional football. Phillips played 2 seasons in St. Louis, before moving onto Miami for 2 games in 1997. He played in San Francisco in 1999 before falling out of the NFL for good.
Phillips had plenty of off the field issues while at Nebraska. Assault, vandalism, and allegedly taking money from a sports agent all were associated with him. Phillips was also arrested for assaulting his then girlfriend in 1995. Trouble stayed with him into the NFL. In his less than 2 seasons in St. Louis, Phillips spent 23 days in jail. That led to him being released by the Rams. The Dolphins let him go after 2 games after he was charged with assaulting a woman. Questions about his work ethic and clashing with coaches led to his end in San Francisco.

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After football things got worse for Phillips. He was serving a 31 year sentence in prison when he died. He had been sentenced for 2 separate domestic abuse incidents and felony assault with a deadly weapon in a separate incident where Phillips drove his car into three people. While in prison he was charged with choking a cell mate to death.
Although all of this paints an awful picture of Phillips, there's another part to this story. While in prison, Phillips seemed to become reformed. He wrote letters to former coaches. He mentioned the conditions in prison. He said he had issues with gang members. He had asked not to have a cellmate who had a gang history. The cell mate his allegedly killed was a former gang member. Phillips was found dead after a judge determined there was enough evidence to send Phillips to trial in the death of his cell mate.
But family members don't believe Phillips killed himself. They said his spirits were high in the days leading up to his death despite the circumstances. In letters he sent out, Phillips said he felt prison staff was targeting him. His family has also agreed to have his brain examined for CTE.
Obviously this story isn't finished being told yet. But the story of so much potential and such a sad ending is one that hopefully isn't repeated. If anything, hopefully the sad story of Lawrence Phillips can be used to help any young athletes with off field issues to straighten themselves out while they still have a chance and before it's too late.

Divide and conquer: NFL Divisional round reeks of championship pedigree among teams

01/16/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The elite eight that is the NFL playoffs are set and the matches are nothing short of intriguing and spectacular as far as how the teams have been paired. Lots of rematches and offense and defense chatter comes to the table.
#2 New England vs #5 Kansas City Saturday at 4:35pm

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Who's in and who's out? That's the question hanging over this matchup between the 12 and 5 Chiefs and the 12 and 4 Patriots. For New England, Julian Edelman, who's been out since November 15th with a broken foot, is expected to play. But Rob Gronkowski, who's been dealing with a knee injury that's kept him out of practice this week, may not be able to go. For Kansas City, leading receiver Jeremy Maclin, who left last week's playoff win over Houston with a high ankle sprain, remains questionable. Linebacker Justin Houston, who just returned to the Chiefs lineup last week, is also a game time decision. Kansas City is looking for it's 11th straight victory, after starting the season 1 and 5. New England is hoping to avoid it's first 3 game losing streak since 2002. After starting the season winning their first 10 games, the Patriots lost 4 of their final 6. This is the first ever post season meeting between these teams. The Patriots have won the past 5 games played in New England, but the Chiefs won last year's meeting 41 to 14
#6 Pittsburgh at #1 Denver Sunday at 4:40pm
Round two between Pittsburgh and Denver will have one team considerably healthier than the first round, while the other team will be without two key play makers, and will have a third playing hurt. Leading rusher DeAngelo Wiliams will miss his second straight playoff game for the Steelers after sustaining a foot injury in the regular season finale. It was announced Friday that Antonio Brown will also miss the game due to a concussion sustained in last week's Wild Card win over Cincinnati. And Ben Roethisberger remains questionable due to a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the Bengals game, although Roethisberger did return to practice on for the Steelers. Brown caught 16 passes against the Broncos in the Steelers regular season win, but he did so against a Denver secondary without T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, and Omar Bolden. All three will play in this game. Peyton Manning will also be under center for Denver for this one, Brock Osweiler quarterbacked the Broncos in the 34 to 27 loss to Pittsburgh on December 20th. Manning returned in the Broncos season finale to help the team defeat San Diego to clinch the top seed in the AFC. The Broncos have won 8 of the past 11 games against Pittsburgh in Denver, including the last playoff game in 2012
#2 Arizona vs #5 Green Bay Saturday at 8:15pm
Three weeks ago, these teams met in Week 16 of the regular season. While Arizona would like the result to repeat itself, Green Bay is hoping to forget the outcome, which was a 38 to 8 Cardinals win. Arizona recorded 9 sacks and held the Packers to 178 yards in total offense in the blowout. The Packers looked a lot better in last week's 35 to 18 Wild Card round win over #3 seed Washington, with Green Bay outscoring the Redskins 35 to 7 after spotting them an 11 to 0 first quarter lead. In Arizona's regular season win over the Packers, the Cardinals were led by running back David Johnson's 127 yards rushing, while Michael Floyd had 6 catches for 111 yards. Carson Palmer passed for 265 yards and 2 TD's as well. Both teams will be without some key players as well. On defense, Arizona will be without staring LB Alex Okafor and DT Cory Redding. Green Bay will be without WR Davante Adams. The Cardinals are 4 and 0 in playoff games played in Arizona, including a 51 to 45 win over Green Bay in their most recent playoff meeting in 2009.
#6 Seattle at #1 Carolina Sunday at 1pm
For the second time in two years, these teams will face off in the playoffs. Last year, Seattle defeated Carolina 31 to 17. But in the most recent meeting between these teams in Week 6, it was the Panthers who knocked off the Seahawks 27 to 23. It looked like Seattle wouldn't be here at all after trailing Minnesota 9 to 0 going into the 4th quarter of last week's Wild Card round matchup. Then after battling back to take a 10 to 9 lead, it looked less likely when the Vikings were lining up for a game winning 27 yard field goal, only to watch Blair Walsh miss it. More good news for Seattle is that Marshawn Lynch is listed as probable for this week's game. Lynch hasn't played since Week 10. The news on the injury front is good for Carolina as well, as leading rusher Jonathan Stweart and leading receiver Ted Ginn Jr. are both expected to return to the lineup. Starting safety Kurt Coleman will also be back for the Panthers. Carolina has won 11 straight home games, while Seattle is looking for it's consecutive road win.

Ram bam: Just like that, the Rams are headed back to Los Angeles

01/15/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

On Christmas Eve 1994 Los Angeles lost not one, but two NFL teams as the Raiders moved to Oakland and the Rams packed their bags for St. Louis. Now 21 years later, professional football is heading back to LA as NFL owners approved the Rams relocating back. It's an exciting time for football fans in Los Angeles, for the Rams ownership group, and for the NFL and the rest of it's owners. But it's a difficult time for fans in St. Louis, as for the second time, they're watching their NFL team leave town.
From a financial standpoint, the NFL couldn't keep using Los Angeles as a decoy market. Anytime a team needed a new stadium or some type of public funding, the potential of that team moving to LA always came up. But the revenue the NFL was losing by not having a team in Los Angeles was real. It's the second largest market in the United States. On top of that, the other revenue outside of football and the media market is huge. The naming rights for the new proposed stadium in Inglewood is expected to be the highest amount ever paid for stadium naming rights. The stadium is expected to be a huge draw for concerts, international soccer matches, college bowl games, and other events. It's a place to host future Super Bowls and all that comes with that. There's even talk of creating a West wing of the NFL Hall of Fame on the campus of the new LA stadium. All of that revenue potential is far more than anything that could've been generated in St. Louis.
Owners voted 30 to 2 to approve the Rams move immediately. The new Inglewood facility won't be open until 2019, so the Rams will play their first 3 seasons at the LA Coliseum. The approval of this plan eliminates the plan that would've had the Chargers move from San Diego and the Raiders move from Oakland to share a new facility in Carson, California. There is still a chance the Chargers will move to LA and share the Inglewood facility with the Rams. If they choose to stay in San Diego, the Raiders will have the choice to move to LA and share the facility. Raiders ownership has rescinded their application to move and are reportedly looking into new stadium options to keep the team in Oakland.

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But while it's an exciting time for Los Angeles and the NFL fans there, it's a sad time in St. Louis for their fans, the city itself, and their leaders. St. Louis mayor Francis Slay said the NFL ignored the facts by allowing the relocation to happen. Slay said the league ignored the loyalty of St. Louis fans who supported the team through up and down years, and ignored a $1.1 billion dollar plan to build a new facility for the Rams along the city's riverfront. And just like when the Cardinals moved to Phoenix in 1988, St. Louis will be without a professional football team again. And since this is the first time the NFL has relocated a franchise since the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997, and since there are no plans for expansion anytime soon, there is a slim to none chance the NFL will be back there ever again.
In the end though, Rams owner Stan Kroenke said the opportunity to take the team to Los Angeles was a once in a lifetime opportunity. In the end loyalty and sentiment didn't matter. In the end, the NFL and it's owners did what they always seem to do. They followed the money.

Game changer: Suspensions take away from NFL playoff spotlight

01/14/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

So here we are looking ahead to this weekends NFL playoff matchups. But instead of the major topic of discussion regarding the NFL being what's ahead, it remains what happened last weekend in the Wild Card round matchup between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. And the way that game ended and the discussion surrounding it remains a black eye on the National Football League.
Now instead of looking ahead to the matchup with the Broncos, the Steelers are wondering if Antonio Brown is going to be able to play. Of course Brown was the victim of a head shot at the hands of Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Brown is still in the NFL's concussion protocol, it's uncertain if he'll be cleared to play against Denver. For the hit, Burfict was suspended for the first 3 games of next season.
That suspension is a joke. The NFL had a chance to make a statement regarding dirty play, intent to injure, cheap shots, and player safety. Instead the league missed the mark. Completely missed the mark. One of its top players may not be able to play this weekend because of a cheap, head hunting, unnecessary hit. Not just Steelers fans, but fans of football may not get to see probably the NFL's best wide receiver and one of it's most dynamic players play because of Vontaze Burfict.

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Look, if Burfict was a player with no history of dirty play, then a lesser punishment would be just. But this is a guy with a history of being a dirty play. Especially recently. Google his name and dirty play, and watch for yourself. This was the NFL's chance to make a statement. To let it be known this kind of thing won't be tolerated. Instead, Burfict got off easy.
If the NFL was serious about protecting players and getting this kind of play out of the game, Burfict should've been suspended 8 games. That would've shown everyone the league is serious. It would've made an example of a player who has gone out of his way to try and injure opposing players. It would've gotten the media talking about what the NFL Is doing going forward instead of talking about the ridiculousness of what happened in front of a global audience in a playoff game
This isn't just to say Vontaze Burfict was wrong. All of the coaches on the field in the final moments of the game were wrong. The officials not being able to keep things under control for the second time in a Pittsburgh/Cincinnati game were wrong. Adam Jones losing control of his emotions and costing the Bengals was wrong. The Bengals fans throwing objects at an injured Ben Roethlisberger while he was being carted off the field were wrong.
But none of those things can be changed now. What could've been changed was how the NFL reacted to and addressed the actions of Vontaze Burfict. Instead, they dropped the ball. And that was more wrong than anything else that happened last weekend.

David and Goliath: Can Clemson knock off powerhouse and proven Alabama?

01/11/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

And then there were two. Alabama and Clemson will square off in the second ever NCAA Football Playoff Championship game. Both teams were very impressive in their bowl wins, with #1 Clemson beating #4 Oklahoma 37 to 17. #2 Alabama looked even more impressive, as they thumped #3 Michigan State 38 to 0 on New Years Eve. So lets take a look at how these teams stack up against each other in the final game of the 2015/16 college football season
Clemson averages 38.5 points per game and gives up an average of 20.2 points against. Alabama is averaging 38.1 points per game and gives up an average of 14.4 points against. The Tigers average 511 yards per game on offense while surrendering 296 yards against. The Crimson Tide average 453 yards per game offensively while allowing 258 yards on defense
Clemson is led by QB Deshaun Watson, who's passed for 3,512 yards and thrown 30 TD passes. His top target has been Artavis Scott, who has 80 catches for 805 yards and 5 scores. The Tigers ground game is led by RB Wayne Gallman, who's rushed for 1,332 yards and 10 TD's.

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Alabama is led by QB Jake Coker, who's thrown for 2,489 yards and 17 touchdowns. His go to guy has been Calvin Ridley, who's caught 75 passes for 893 yards and 5 TD's. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry leads the ground attack with 1,986 yards and 23 scores
Alabama and head coach Nick Saban will be looking for their 4th championship in 7 seasons, with Saban looking to gain his 5th national championship. The Crimson Tide were dominant in their win over Michigan State, holding the Spartans to just 239 total yards. Coker passed for 286 yards in the win, while Ridley had 8 catches for 138 yards and 2 TD's. Henry only had 75 yards rushing, but still scored twice in the win. Alabama also had a punt return for a touchdown and recorded 4 quarterback sacks.
Clemson is trying to become the first ever team in college football to go 15 and 0 under head coach Dabo Swinney. Swinney played for Alabama and was a part of the Crimson Tide's 1992 championship team. In their win over Oklahoma, the Tigers put up 530 yards in total offense against the Sooners, led by Watson, who accounted for 322 yards in total offense. Gallman rushed for 150 yards and 2 TD's. Defensively, Clemson recorded 5 sacks and 2 interceptions in the win
These teams last met in the 2008 regular season, with Alabama winning 34 to 10.

Super Bowl bluff: Why having a franchise QB isn't always a deal breaker

01/10/16 by Rennie Detore

Analysts that call themselves experts in all things National Football League or even the local radio show host who's had his fair share of interviews with players and coaches will argue that the only path to an NFL Super Bowl championship is through the arm of what would be considered an elite NFL quarterback.
When you look at the history of the NFL and the champions that have taken home the Lombardi Trophy, you don't always have any sort of guarantee that having a quarterback of that ilk means you'll be cashing in on championship hardware as a result.
Plenty of journeymen quarterbacks have pioneered and orchestrated runs to the Super Bowl, but they were hardly predicted on their arms exclusively.

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Most NFL quarterbacks with a Super Bowl ring relied on another aspect of the team as a whole as the main piece of the puzzle, the entity that ultimately brought them the success the team is in the midst of experiencing.
Take for instance, the Baltimore Ravens on 1999 and 2000; their defense was lights out, with the likes of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in their prime, and that unit is the reason why the Ravens claimed the title. The quarterback for the Ravens at that time was Trent Dilfer, whose tasks was to not so much win games but rather not lose them.
The ultimate compliment for quarterbacks like Dilfer is referring to them as a "game manager," they don't go out there and put the team on their shoulders, but rather don't make mistakes that give the game away.
The Ravens ran the ball and played defense, so Dilfer did his job well.
You also can look at the Redskins team in 1987, and the quarterback was hardly a household name. Doug Williams won't be in the Hall of Fame any time soon, but his Redskins team showed up to play and won hands down against the then winless Super Bowl Denver Broncos. Williams did an outstanding job in the game itself and really played above his ability, almost as if he channeled his counterpart in that game, John Elway. While Elway struggled, Williams played out of his mind. He threw four touchdowns and over 300 yards passing, which isn't too shabby from a guy who only started two games up until that point.
Williams and Dilfer are just two of more than just a handful of quarterbacks whose names aren't Elway, Montana, Brady, Manning and Favre. The quarterback position certainly is by far the most important one on the team; they get the most attention when you win and lose, but while having one is nice, you can't always depend on that arm and pedigree to produce a title.

Card players: Do or die hits as Wild Card weekend ensues

01/09/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The playoffs are finally here. After 17 weeks of regular season, the final 12 teams of 2015 remain. Only 2 will get to the Super Bowl, and the road there starts with Wild Card weekend. Let's take a look at the opening of the 2K15 playoffs.
Kansas City at Houston Saturday at 4:20pm
The Chiefs come in 11 and 5 and the 2nd place team out of the AFC West. The Texans are the AFC South division champions and come in with a record of 9 and 7. Both teams started off the season not looking much like playoff teams. Kansas City started off 2015 1 and 5 before winning their past 10 games. Houston was 2 and 5 before winning 7 of their final 9 games and 3 in a row coming into the playoffs. Both teams have pressed on to the playoffs without their star running back as well. The Chiefs lost Jamaal Charles to a season ending injury in Week 5, while the Texans lost Arian Foster for the season in Week 7. Kansas City is led by QB Alex Smith, who's passed for 3,486 yards and 20 TD's. Charcandrick West stepped in for Charles at running back, rushing for 634 yards and 4 touchdowns. WR Jeremy Maclin has 87 catches for 1,088 yards and 8 TD's. Houston is led by QB Brian Hoyer, who's thrown for 2,606 yards and 19 touchdowns. Alfred Blue has rushed for 698 yards and 2 TD's in Foster's absence. DeAndre Hopkins has 111 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 scores. On defense, the Texans J.J. Watt led the NFL with 17.5 sacks. For Kansas City, All Pro Justin Houston will be back after missing the past 5 games due to a knee injury. These teams met in the season opener, with Kansas City winning 27 to 20. Kansas City has lost their past 7 playoff games and are looking for their first playoff win in 22 years.

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Pittsburgh at Cincinnati Saturday at 8:15pm
Round 3 between the 10 and 6 Steelers and 12 and 4 Bengals will pit teams with significant losses at key positions. Cincinnati will be without starting QB Andy Dalton, who was injured when these teams met last. In his place, A.J. McCarron will make his first playoff start. Pittsburgh will be without RB DeAngelo Williams, who took over as the Steelers starter after LeVeon Bell was lost for the season in the first meeting between these teams. In Williams place, Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint are expected to split the carries. The Bengals will still have to deal with the duo of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger has passed for 3,938 yards and 21 touchdowns, while Brown has caught 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 TD's. McCarron will look to A.J. Green, who has 86 catches for 1,297 yards and 10 scores. These teams split during the regular season with the visiting team winning both times. Cincinnati has lost their past 7 playoff games and are looking for their first playoff win in 25 years. Pittsburgh has also won 4 of the past 5 games against the Bengals and the last 2 meetings in Cincinnati.
Seattle at Minnesota Sunday at 1pm
The 11 and 5 Vikings are the NFC North champions. The 10 and 6 Seahawks finished 2nd in the NFC West and are one of the NFL's hottest teams. Seattle won 8 of their last 10 games, but Minnesota has won their past 3 games as well. These teams met in Minnesota in Week 13 with Seattle dominating the Vikings en route to a 38 to 7 win. The Seahawks outgained the Vikings in total yards 433 to 125, outrushed the Vikings 173 to 31, and held the NFL's leading rusher in Adrian Peterson to just 18 yards. Seattle boasts the NFL's top rushing defense, and will try to slow Peterson for a second time. Peterson has rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. Teddy Bridgewater has passed for 3,231 yards and 14 TD's. Rookie WR Stefon Diggs has caught 52 passes for 740 yards and 4 scores. Seattle will be without RB Marshawn Lynch, but will still have Thomas Rawls, who's rushed for 830 yards and 4 TD's. The Seahawks have been paced offensively by QB Russell Wilson, who's thrown for 4,024 yards and 34 touhdowns. His top target has been Doug Baldwin, who has 78 catches for 1,089 yards and 14 scores.
Green Bay at Washington Sunday at 4:30pm
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the 2015 playoff field are the 9 and 7 Washington Redskins, who won the NFC East. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the 2015 playoff field is the Green Bay Packers, who after starting 6 and 0, finished 10 and 6 while conceding the NFC North to Minnesota. The Redskins playoff run has been led by the play of Kirk Cousins, who's passed for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns. His counter part on the Packers, Aaron Rodgers, cooled off down the stretch, but still passed for 3.821 yards and 31 TD's. The top targets on each team has been TE Jordan Reed for the Redskins, who's caught 87 passes for 952 yards and 11 scores. For the Packers it's been WR James Jones, who has 50 catches for 890 yards and 8 TD's. The ground games have been paced by Eddie Lacy for Green Bay, who's rushed for 758 yards and 3 TDs, and Alfred Morris for Washington, who has 751 yards rushing and 1 score. Washington is looking for their first playoff win in 10 years. If the Redskins beat Green Bay, it will be their first win of the season over a team with a better than .500 record. The Packers have won 5 of the past 6 meetings between these teams, most recently in 2013. But this is the first playoff meeting between these teams since 1972, when Washington won 16 to 3.

Shame game: Why all star voting in NHL this year is laughable

01/08/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Alex Ovechkin. John Tavares. Evgeni Malkin. Steven Stamkos. Patrick Kane. Jamie Benn. Jonathan Quick. Those are some of the names on this year's NHL All-Star roster. Oh, and John Scott.
Yes, that John Scott. If you're a real hockey fan you know who I'm talking about. If not, this John Scott has played all of 11 games for a total of under 70 minutes of hockey so far this season. Sidney Crosby is not in this year's NHL All-Star Game. John Scott is. A guy who has been considered the face of the NHL over the past 10 years will not be a part of the All Star game. Henrik Sedin will not be in the All-Star Game. But Scott, a guy who has spent parts of this season in the AHL and more time as a healthy scratch than on the ice, will be there. Yes, Stanley Cup winning goaltender Corey Crawford isn't an All-Star, but a guy who's scored 5 goals in 285 career games is. Really? Yes, really.
This is nothing against John Scott. For one, he's 6'8" and 270 pounds, and has made most of his living in the NHL as an enforcer. Not exactly someone I'd want to have a problem with. And with fighting dying off in the NHL, and with the days of the enforcer coming to an end, good for John Scott.

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Even more fitting for a man of Scott's physical stature, this year's NHL All-Star Game is going to be a 3 on 3 format. There will be 4 divisional teams facing off in two, 20 minute games. The winners will then play for the "championship" in a third 20 minute game. What? Exactly.
But the problem here is with the fan voting. Scott's nomination came through the fan vote. Twitter and the internet caught wind of the campaign to get Scott into the game, it picked up steam, and an all star he is now. The All Star game concept, not just in the NHL, but in all professional sports, has become a mockery of what it once was. Nobody cares about these "exhibitions" any more. Most sports fans think of the All Star Games as a joke This fan vote definitely adds to the punch line.
So the former All Star game has been replaced with a skills competition of some sort with a team that will be captained by a career goon. Dear NHL, do us real hockey fans a favor. As a matter of fact, be the trail blazer for all of the other professional sports to follow. And stop having the all star game after this season to put an end to this all star shame.

Changing of guard: Not surprisingly, NFL coaches get ax on Black Monday

01/06/16 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The Monday following the NFL regular season has become known as "Black Monday" since it is the day where the rumors of coaches on the hot seat become coaches being fired. This year, three coaches met their demise on Black Monday, while a fourth was terminated the week before the season ended. Let's take a look at the open jobs as of right now.
The Philadelphia Eagles were the first team to say goodbye to their coach, and they didn't bother waiting until the offseason. The Eagles let coach Chip Kelly go the week before their season finale. Despite back to back 10 win seasons and a 26 and 21 overall record, Kelly was sent packing a season after trading LeSean McCoy, signing DeMarco Murray, cutting DeSean Jackson, allowing Jeremy Maclin to leave via free agency, and trading Nick Foles for Sam Bradford. Kelly's offense wasn't in sync at all this season, and perhaps him being given control of player personnel was too much for Kelly to be able to handle.
After 12 seasons and 2 Super Bowl wins, the Tom Coughlin era came to an end in New York. Originally it was thought Coughlin would retire, but instead he decided to resign as Giants head coach. Injuries and blown 4th quarter leads were the undoing of the Giants this season, and ultimately, the undoing of Coughlin as head coach. Coughlin though has not ruled out coaching again elsewhere next season.

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One season was enough for management in San Francisco to decide that Jim Tomsula wasn't the right fit as head coach. Tomsula finished 5 and 11 after taking over for Jim Harbaugh. The 49ers were not even close to the team they'd been under Harbaugh. The offensive cornerstones from the Harbaugh era are no more either as Michael Crabtree left via free agency prior to the season, Vernon Davis was traded to Denver, and Colin Kaepernick's time in San Francisco looks to be done as well.
Instead of Black Monday, maybe it should be called Orange and Brown Monday. Because after another unsuccessful season, the Cleveland Browns have decided to blow things up again. Head coach Mike Pettine and General Manger Ray Farmer were both fired after two seasons. Maybe one of these days Browns ownership will realize you can't change the blue print every couple of seasons if you expect to be successful in the NFL? That might explain why their starting quarterback to playoff appearance ratio since returning to the league in 1999 is at 25 to 1.
There are still jobs open in Miami and Tennessee as well, where interim coaches Dan Campbell and Mike Mularkey will have the opportunity to take over on a permanent basis. The biggest surprise may be that Chuck Pagano signed a four year contract extension in Indianapolis despite rumors that he would be let go.
There are still other coaches on the hot seat and other rumored changes that could be in the works. So it's safe to say, this years coaching carousel is more than likely just beginning to turn.

Saban grace: Why Alabama coach, for all his faults, is irreplaceable

01/02/16 by Rennie Detore

First, let me get this out of the way. I don't care for Nick Saban.
I never really paid attention to Saban's career until he hit the NFL and joined the Miami Dolphins. Saban was out of his element and bombed in the NFL, which is nothing new for college coaches (most of them) that can't hack it with their cheerleader, hard nosed approach that college kids gobble up and NFL players turn the other way.
Saban made waves when he basically left the Dolphins for Alabama and didn't really bother to tell his Dolphins' players and instead squirmed his way out of town for the job he currently holds at the moment.

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As the Alabama coach, Saban is pure gold. He's easily and arguably one of the greatest current college coaches and perhaps will be remembered as one of the best of all time. Saban is know for being hard to work with, a great motivator but also a huge pain to deal with as far as the players and the assistant coaches. He doesn't except being average or mediocre, and his players are NFL caliber the moment they declare for the draft.
He's won National Championships, bowl games and his consistency at the helm in Alabama has the school as the top in the nation and winning has become commonplace as a result of the type of coach Saban is.
He makes as much (and more) than some NFL coaches, so he had no reason to leave a job that is his for as long as he wants it.
As a person, Saban is a jerk, but his job isn't to be nice. His job is to win.
And no one in the college ranks is better than him.
So he'll continue to recruit the best classes, turn freshman into NFL millionaires and win and then win some more, while the school reaps the financial benefits of having a football team that is a BCS or bust type program.
All of this is thanks to Nick Saban, a guy that is so very easy to hate but you have to respect what he's been able to accomplish as part of his career as a college coach. The way he left the NFL was hardly one for the ages or something that will give him an open door policy to return to the professional ranks.
But why would he even care to do so? He's got his cushy gig, making millions and has the very best high school players at his beckon call. But that doesn't mean he doesn't work hard, and win.
Bama is a beautiful place to be. And they have Saban to thank for all of it.

Crunch time: Top four teams square off in much anticipated playoff series

12/31/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Finally, it's here. New Years Eve has arrived and it's time for the College Football Playoff semi finals. The winners will meet for the National Championship on January 11th. After two weeks of bowl games, the most exciting matchups that college football fans have been waiting all season for is here. Let's take a look at these two semi final match ups.
Orange Bowl: #1 Clemson vs #4 Oklahoma 12/31 at 4 pm
While Clemson is the top ranked team in the land, it's the fourth seeded Sooners who are surprisingly the favorites in this game. The Tigers come in with a perfect 13 and 0 record, while Oklahoma comes in at 11 and 1. Clemson averages 38.5 points and 511 yards per game offensively. On defense, the Tigers allow an average of 20.2 points and 296 yards per game. Oklahoma averages 45.8 points and 5433 yards per game on offense. The Sooners allow an average of 20.8 points and 351 yards per game defensively.

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Clemson is led offensively by QB Deshaun Watson, who's passed for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns versus 11 interceptions. His top target has been Artavis Scott, who has 84 catches for 805 yards and 5 TD's. The Tigers ground game is led by Wayne Gallman, who's rushed for 1,332 yards and 10 scores so far this season.
On offense, Oklahoma is led by QB Baker Mayfield, who's thrown for 3,389 yards and 35 TD's against just 5 interceptions. His go to guy is Sterling Shephard, who has 79 catches for 1,201 yards and 11 scores. Samaje Perine leads the Sooners rushing attack with 1,291 yards and 15 TD's.
These teams met in last year's Russell Athletic Bowl, with Clemson winning 40 to 6. This will be the 5th meeting all time between these schools with each having won a pair.
Cotton Bowl: #2 Alabama vs #3 Michigan State 12/31 at 8 pm
Both of these teams come in with 12 and 1 records. Alabama averages 34.1 points and 423 yards per game offensively. On defense, the Crimson Tide allow an average of 14.4 points and 258 yards per game. On offense, Michigan State averages 32.1 points and 397 yards per game. Defensively, the Spartans give up an average of 20.5 points and 343 yards per game.
Alabama is led offensively by QB Jake Coker, who's passed for 2,489 yards and 17 touchdowns while throwing 8 interceptions. His top target has been Calvin Ridley, who's caught 75 passes for 893 yards and 5 scores. Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry leads the ground attack with 1,986 yards and 23 TD's.
On offense, Michigan State is led by QB Connor Cook. Cook has thrown for 2,921 yards and 24 touchdowns versus just 5 interceptions. His go to guy has been Aaron Burbridge, who has 80 catches for 1,219 yards and 7 scores. The Spartans ground game is led by L.J. Scott, who's rushed for 691 yards and 11 TD's.
Michigan State is looking to become the first Big 10 school to win 5 consecutive bowl games. The Crimson Tide are a rather large favorite to win according to the odds makers.

Down year: Auburn looks to salvage season and finish above 500

12/30/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The march to the National Title game continues with more bowl games to finish out 2015 and head into the BCS portion of our games. Don't be fooled, however, into thinking these games aren't going to pack some serious punch with shoot outs and ground games battling defenses that are NFL caliber. Here's total slate of games:
Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs Memphis 12/30 at 12 pm
This battle of the Tigers has Memphis coming in at 9 and 3 overall from the American Athletic Conference, while Auburn comes in 6 and 6 from the SEC. Auburn will have to slow down a high powered Memphis offense that averages 42.7 points and 510.4 yards per game. Auburn is giving up an average of nearly 422 yards per game, which ranks 90th in the NCAA. Memphis is led by QB Paxton Lynch, who's thrown for 3,670 yards and 28 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions. His top target has been Mose Frazier, who has 66 catches for 750 yards and 4 TD's. Auburn will lead on their ground attack, led by the duo of Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson, who have combined for nearly 1,500 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns. After winning their first 8 games, Memphis went 1 and 3 in their final four games, while Auburn lost 4 of their final 6 games. This is the first meeting between these schools since 1976.

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Belk Bowl: Mississippi State vs North Carolina State 12/30 at 3:30 pm
It's a battle of the SEC versus the ACC as 8 and 4 Mississippi State takes on 8 and 4 North Carolina State. On paper it looks to be a pretty even matchup, as the Bulldogs come in averaging 33 points and 451 yards per game, while the Wolf Pack average 33.7 points and 412 yards per game. Both teams come in having dropped 2 of their last 3 regular season games as well. The Bulldogs are led by quarterback Dak Prescott, who's passed for 3,413 yards and 25 TD's against 4 interceptions. Prescott also leads the team in rushing with 541 yards and has scored 10 rushing touchdowns. Fred Ross has been his go to guy, catching 81 passes for 933 yards and 4 scores. The Wolf Pack is led by QB Jacoby Brissett, who's thrown for 2,448 yards and 19 TD's and just 4 interceptions. Brissett has also rushed for 303 yards and 5 scores. TE Jaylen Samuels led the team with 64 catches for 599 yards and 14 TD's. These teams last met in the 1995 Peach Bowl, which North Carolina State won.
Music City Bowl: Louisville vs Texas A&M 12/30 at 7 pm
This is another matchup of the ACC versus the SEC, as the 7 and 5 Cardinals take on the 8 and 4 Aggies in what looks to be another even game. Louisville averages 28.8 points per game, while Texas A&M averages 28.3. The Cardinals average 406 yards per game, while the Aggies average 423. Texas A&M though will be without their top two quarterbacks, as both Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray have left the program, forcing little used Jake Hubenak to start this bowl game. The Aggies will have RB Tra Carson, who's rushed for 1,059 yards and 6 touchdowns. Louisville is led by dual threat QB Lamar Jackson, who's passed for 1,613 yards and 10 touchdowns, while rushing for 734 yards and 9 scores. Texas A&M has won all 3 meetings between these schools, including the most recent in 1994.
Holiday Bowl: #25 USC vs #23 Wisconsin 12/30 at 10pm
The Trojans come out of the PAC 12 with an 8 and 5 record, while the Badgers represent the Big 10 and come in 9 and 3. USC has lots of weapons on offense, starting with quarterback Cody Kessler. Kessler has passed for 3,315 yards and 28 touchdowns while throwing 6 interceptions. WR Juju Smith Schuster has 85 catches for 1,389 yards and 10 TD's. The running back tandem of Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis have combined for 1,815 yards and 13 touchdowns. They'll face a tough Wisconsin defense that gives up just 13.1 points per game, which is tops in the nation. The Badgers also rank 3rd in the country in total defense, 4th in rushing defense, and 6th against the pass. Wisconsin is led offensively by QB Joel Stave, who's thrown for 2,470 yards and 10 TD's. His top target has been Alex Erickson, who has 72 catches for 924 yards and 3 touchdowns. This will be the first meeting between these schools since 1966. USC has won all 6 of the all time meetings.

Rush job: LSU puts hopes of bowl victory on back, legs of star RB

12/29/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Bowl season begins to heat up as more of the ranked teams start to square off against others of that same ilk in match ups that are highly anticipated and leading into the BCS series as 2015 turns into 2016. Today's games feature an array of teams that boast high powered offenses, stout defenses or overall, well balanced attacks on both sides of the ball.
Armed Forces Bowl: Air Force vs California 12/29 at 2 pm
This will be a game of contrasting offensive styles as the aerial attack of the 7 and 5 Bears meets the ground assault of the 8 and 5 Falcons. California is led by quarterback Jared Goff, who's thrown for 4,252 yards and 37 touchdowns so far this season. Bryce Treggs, Kenny Lawler, and Trevor Davis have combined for 2,049 yards receiving and 18 TD's for the Bears. Air Force brings in the 2nd best rushing offense in college football, averaging 322 yards per game. The Falcons are led by Jacobi Owens, who's rushed for 1,009 yards and 6 touchdowns. QB Karson Roberts has thrown for 1,446 yards and 9 TD's while rushing for 674 yards and 9 more scores. After starting 5 and 0, California went 2 and 5 in their final 7 games. Air Force comes in having dropped their past 2 games. California has won 6 of the 8 eight all time meetings between these programs, including the most recent meeting, a 42 to 36 win in the 2007 Armed Forces Bowl.

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Citrus Bowl: #10 North Carolina vs #17 Baylor 12/29 at 5:30 pm
Points should be a plenty in this matchup between the 11 and 2 Tar Heels and the 9 and 3 Bears. Baylor averages 48 points per game and 605 yards per game while North Carolina averages 41 points per game and 487 yards per contest. North Carolina is led by Marquise Williams, who's passed for 2,829 yards and 21 touchdowns. RB Elijah Hood has rushed for 1,345 yards and 17 TD's. For Baylor it's more of who won't be playing. The Bears will be without their top two quarterbacks (Seth Russell and Jarrett Stidham), their starting running back (Shock Linwood), and their leading receiver (Corey Coleman), due to injuries. The Tar Heels won 4 of their final 5 games, while Baylor dropped 3 of their last 4 games.
Arizona Bowl: Colorado State vs Nevada 12/29 at 7:30pm
Due to the lack of bowl eligible teams, two Mountain West Conference rivals will collide in this matchup as the 7 and 5 Rams meet the 6 and 6 Wolf Pack. Nevada is led by QB Tyler Stewart, who's passed for 2,065 yards and 17 touchdowns. On the ground, the Wolf Pack is led by James Butler, who's rushed for 1,156 yards and 8 TD's. Colorado State is led offensively by QB Nick Stevens, who's thrown for 2,369 yards and 21 touchdowns. His top target has been Rashard Higgins, who has 66 catches for 933 yards and 8 TD's. These teams didn't meet in MWC play this season, but Colorado State won last years meeting 31 to 24 and has won 11 of the 13 all time meetings between these schools.
Texas Bowl: #20 LSU vs Texas Tech 12/29 at 9pm
Plenty of offensive weapons will be on display in this matchup of the 8 and 3 Tigers from the SEC and the 7 and 5 Red Raiders of the Big 12. LSU is led by RB Leonard Fournette, who's rushed for 1,741 yards and 18 touchdowns. He'll be facing a Texas Tech defense that allows 272 yards per game on the ground, which ranked 3rd worst in college football. The Red Raiders can get it done on offense however. Texas Tech ranked 2nd in the nation in points per game, total yards per game, and passing yards per game. The Red Raiders are led by QB Patrick Mahomes, who's thrown for 4,283 yards and 32 touchdowns. His go to guy has been Jakeem Grant, who has 80 catches for 1,143 yards and 7 TD's. On the ground Texas Tech is led by RB DeAndre Washington, who's rushed for 1,455 yards and 14 scores. LSU lost 3 of their final 4 games coming in, while Texas Tech has won their last 2 games. The Red Raiders have won their past 4 bowl games, while the Tigers have lost 3 of their past 4 post season games. This is the first meeting between these schools since 1957.

Swan song: College football standouts say so long in today's bowl games

12/28/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Two games start the 2nd week of college football bowl season. The Military Bowl will mark the final collegiate game of Navy standout Keenan Reynolds. While Minnesota will try to make it a perfect 3 and 0 this year for team's with sub .500 records in bowl games. Let's take a look at Monday's matchups.
Military Bowl #21 Navy vs Pittsburgh 2:30pm
At 10 and 2, Navy is a win away from a school record in wins. At 8 and 4, Pitt is trying to win 9 games for the first time since 2009. To do so, the Panthers will have to find a way to slow down Keenan Reynolds, who is wrapping up his storied college playing career in this one. Reynolds has put up over 2,300 yards in total offense this season, rushing for 1,229 yards and 21 touchdowns, while passing for 1,077 yards and 7 more scores. Reynolds is the all time NCAA leader in rushing touchdowns with 85, and he needs 81 yards rushing to pass former Michigan QB Denard Robinson as the all time leader in yards rushing at the quarterback position. Pitt is led by the tandem of QB Nate Peterman and RB Quadree Ollison. Peterman has thrown for 2,150 yards and 19 TD's, while Ollison has rushed for 1,048 yards and 10 touchdowns. WR Tyler Boyd led the ACC with 85 catches for 873 yards and 6 scores. Navy averages 319 yards rushing per game, while the Panthers are allowing just 126 yards rushing per game. After starting the season 6 and 1, Pitt went 2 and 3 down the stretch in the regular season. These teams last met in 2013, with Navy winning 24 to 21 on a last second field goal.

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Quick Lane Bowl Minnesota vs Central Michigan 5pm
Three teams made bowl games this season at 5 and 7. The first two, San Jose State and Nebraska, were victorious in their bowl games. The third is Minnesota, who will be looking to make it 3 for 3 for the sub .500 bowl teams. Central Michigan comes out of the Mid American Conference with a record of 7 and 5, and will be trying to help the MAC finish over .500 in bowl games this season (MAC is 2 and 2 so far). The Chippewas are led by QB Cooper Rush, who's passed for 3,703 yards and 25 touchdowns. His top target has been Jesse Kroll, who has 59 catches for 856 yards and 4 TD's. The Golden Gophers are led by QB Mitch Leidner, who's thrown for 2,478 yards and 13 scores. The Minnesota ground game was paced by the tandem of Shannon Brooks and Rodney Smith, who combined for 1,240 yards rushing and 9 TD's. The Chippewas won 5 of their final 6 games, while the Golden Gophers lost 4 of their last 5. Central Michigan is looking for their first 8 win season since 2009, while Minnesota is looking for their first bowl win since 2004. The Golden Gophers have dropped their previous 7 bowl games.

Sid has slid: Why is Crosby slumping so badly?

12/25/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

What's wrong with Sidney Crosby this season?
Well first things first, he's dealing with an injury right now that kept him out of the lineup for Monday night's game against Columbus. The injury was identified as occurring in Saturday's loss to Carolina. But Crosby's scoring struggles started long before this past weekend.
Crosby has played 32 games so far this season for Pittsburgh. He has 6 goals, 16 assists, and 22 points. Those numbers rank him as 146th in the NHL in goal scoring, 46th in assists, and 77th in total points. Not exactly Crosby like numbers for a guy who's averaged more than a point per game in his career. So why is Crosby in such a funk?

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There have been quite a few theories thrown out. Some have said Crosby is injured and was hurt prior to the Carolina game. He dealt with a nagging wrist injury last season that many felt contributed to his decline in points scored last season. Crosby finished 2nd in the NHL with 84 points last season, 3 points behind Jamie Benn. I'd say the decline last season had a lot more to do with the lack of scoring in the NHL than any injury Crosby may have been suffering from.
Some have said Crosby's numbers are down because the Penguins played a more defensive game to start the season. But Mike Johnston was fired as head coach last week, and Mike Sullivan has replaced him. Crosby had 3 assists in the 4 games he's played with Sullivan as head coach. The Penguins also didn't have much time to practice with their new coach due to their schedule. Maybe Crosby's numbers will increase once Sullivan's system is in place and the team gets used to playing it?
Another thing that's been tossed around in the Pittsburgh media is that Crosby just doesn't have it anymore. That with 10 seasons behind him, the wear and tear of playing against top defense pairings and checking lines have taken their toll on his body. That Crosby is worn out and will never recapture the player he was. That he's never fully recovered from the concussion he sustained in 2011 that kept him out of the Penguins lineup for large portions of 2 seasons. I don't think that's the case with Crosby's funk so far in 2015.
Even more ridiculous though is the rumor that Crosby is at odds with Penguins owner Mario Lemieux. That's why it seems he's not putting the effort forward he has in the past. That he's coasting at times and taking shifts off. That Crosby doesn't care right now and it may be time for the Penguins to explore trading him. I disagree with the feud rumors and that Crosby isn't trying. I'm a Pittsburgh fan and a big hockey fan. Crosby to Tampa Bay for Steven Stamkos? I can't say that's not an intriguing idea if only for the fact it would be a rare superstar for superstar trade that would reshape both franchises, but I don't see it happening.
I think Crosby is just in a slump. A very long slump. But because it's Sidney Crosby, this is unheard of and there has to be something more than that. There has to be an injury or something rumor worthy going on that's causing this slump. I think it's a combination of things. One being the defensive style the Penguins played under Mike Johnston. Two being that scoring in the NHL is down again, and the league doesn't seem to be interested in doing anything to increase goal scoring. Three being that Crosby's passes have been off. His passing percentage is down considerably this year, and his passing percentage is usually one of the best in the league. Connecting on passes in high percentage scoring areas equals a lot of assists that Crosby doesn't have right now. And believe it or not, Crosby may be lacking confidence right now. Even with all of his accolades and being one of the best players on the planet, Crosby is human. And when you're in a slump it starts to wear on your confidence as a player no matter who you are.
So what's wrong with Sidney Crosby? He's in a slump, that's all there is to it. Let's see how things go under Mike Sullivan and at least wait until the end of the season before writing Crosby off as past his prime. Something tells me that this slump will end, but Sidney Crosby is far from done this season.

Supreme similarities: Bowl teams take to field as mirror images of one another

12/24/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Today's bowl matches feature teams that will face off with plenty of things in common, whether that's a world class offense or rushing attacks that won't necessarily go head to head but will battle for supremacy with every juke, cut back or huge hole up the middle of the offensive line. Here's a look at today's games:
Bahamas Bowl: Middle Tennessee State vs Western Michigan 12/24 at 12pm
Two very similar teams will meet in this matchup of Conference USA's Blue Raiders and the Mid American Conference's Broncos. Both teams come in with 7 and 5 records. Both teams are close in average points scored, as Middle Tennessee State averages 34.3 points per game while Western Michigan averages 35.3. The Broncos average 480.6 yards per game while the Blue Raiders average 458.7. Both teams also have an outstanding quarterback and receiver tandem. Middle Tennessee State is led QB Brent Stockstill, who's thrown for 3,678 yards and 27 TD's versus 8 interceptions. WR Richie James has caught 100 passes for 1,220 yards and 6 scores. Western Michigan's Zach Terrell has passed for 3,225 yards and 27 TD's against 8 interceptions. WR Daniel Braverman has 103 catches for 1,266 yards and 12 touchdowns. Defensively the numbers are pretty even as well, with Middle Tennessee State giving up 25.1 points per game on average while Western Michigan allows 28.1. The Blue Raiders allow an average of 247 yards against the pass and 141.3 yards rushing yards per game. The Broncos give up 224.8 yards passing and 186.6 yards passing. Middle Tennessee State has won their past 4 games coming into this one, while Western Michigan lost 2 of their last 3 games.

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Hawaii Bowl: San Diego State vs Cincinnati 12/24 at 8pm
The 10 and 3 Aztecs come in as the champions of the Mountain West Conference, while the 7 and 5 Bearcats represent the American Athletic Conference. This game will be a matchup of a strong rushing offense in San Diego State versus Cincinnati's passing attack. The Aztecs average 235 yards per game on the ground, while the Bearcats average 373 yards through the air. However Cincinnati will be without starting quarterback Gunner Kiel, who passed for 2,777 and 19 touchdowns. In his place under center will be Hayden Moore, who will be looking to Shaq Washington, who has 88 catches for 971 yards and 6 TD's. The Bearcats will have to stop the ground game, in particular Donnel Pumphrey, who rushed for 1,554 yards and 16 touchdowns. Cincinnati has a slight edge in scoring, averaging 36.1 points per game versus the Aztecs 31.4. But San Diego State has a significant edge on the defensive side of the ball, ranking in the top 10 nationally in three categories. The Aztecs rank 5th in total defense, 6th in rushing defense, and 10th in scoring defense. They'll face a Cincinnati offense that's averaging 559.4 yards per game. But defensively the Bearcats allow 30.3 points per game on average and 414.7 yards per game as well. San Diego State comes in riding a 9 game winning streak, while Cincinnati won 2 of their final 3 games.

Offensive juggernauts: Holiday bowl games loaded with teams that can score

12/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

8 more teams go bowling in the 4 games leading up to Christmas. Let's take a look at the next wave of matchups as the first week of bowl games continue.
Poinsettia Bowl: Boise State vs Northern Illinois 12/23 at 4:30pm
The Mountain West meets the MAC as 8 and 4 Boise State takes on 8 and 4 Northern Illinois. Scoring isn't a problem for these teams as the Broncos average 37.8 points per game while the Huskies average 33 points per game. Boise State also averages 489 yards per game, while Northern Illinois averages 427 yards per game. Both teams also feature strong running games. Northern Illinois' Joel Bouagnon led the MAC in rushing with 1,269 yards while scoring 18 touchdowns. Jeremy McNichols leads the way for Boise State with 1,244 yards and 18 TD's as well. The Broncos are solid at quarterback as well with Brett Rypien, who passed for 2,973 yards and 17 scores. QB for Northern Illinois is a lot less stable since it's unsure who is going to be starting under center. Starter Drew Hare suffered an Achilles injury November 30th, then backup Ryan Graham sustained a leg injury in the Huskies season finale. That would leave true freshman Tommy Fielder who played in Northern Illinois final two games. Boise State has won 5 of their past 6 bowl games, while Northern Illinois has dropped their past 3.

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GoDaddy Bowl: Bowling Green vs Georgia Southern 12/23 at 8pm
It will be a contrast in offensive styles in this matchup of the 10 and 3 champs of the MAC in Bowling Green and 8 and 4 Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt Conference, For the Falcons, they get it done offensively through the air. QB Matt Johnson has thrown for 4,700 yards and 43 TD's with Roger Lewis catching 82 passes for 1,476 yards and 14 touchdowns. On the other side of the ball, Georgia Southern is all about the ground and pound offense. The Eagles led the nation in rushing yards 4,267 but passed for just 742 yards, which is the lowest total in college football. Georgia Southern's rushing attack is anchored by Matt Breida, who's rushed for 1,540 yards and 16 TD's. Bowling Green features a pretty good back of their own in Travis Greene, who's ran for 1,219 yards and 14 TD's. Both teams will also be led by interim coaches in this one. Dino Babers left Bowling Green to take the job at Syracuse, while Georgia Southern lost Willie Fritz to Tulane.

Bowling over: Warm weather highlights competitive slate

12/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

College bowl season continues with 3 more games to start the week. Miami Beach, Boca Raton, and Boise will be the "tropical" destinations for the games. Well 2 out of 3 destinations ain't bad I guess? Let's take a look at the games.
#25 Western Kentucky vs South Florida Miami Beach Bowl 12/21/15 at 2:30pm
Two hot teams will meet in this matchup of Conference USA versus the American Athletic Conference as 11 and 2 Western Kentucky battles 8 and 4 South Florida. The Hilltoppers won 10 of their final 11 games, while the Bulls come in having won 7 of their final 8. This game also pits former Western Kentucky quarterback and head coach Willie Taggert against his alma mater, where he coached from 2010 through 2012. Both teams can put points on the board, as Western Kentucky ranks 4th in college football in scoring averaging 44.2 points per game. The Hilltoppers also average 365.4 yards per game passing, which is 3rd most in the nation. South Florida averages 33.5 points per game and features a rushing attack that averages nearly 243 yards per game on the ground. Western Kentucky's passing attack is led by the MVP of Conference USA, QB Brandon Doughty. Doughty led the NCAA with 45 touchdown passes to go with 4,594 yards passing. His top target has been WR Taywon Taylor, who has 79 catches for 1,363 yards and 17 TD's. The Bulls rushing attack is led by RB Marlon Mack, who's rushed for 1,273 yards and 8 scores. QB Quinton Flowers is a dual threat who's rushed for 883 yards and 10 TD's, while throwing for 2,023 yards and 21 touchdown passes. South Florida has won 4 of the 6 all time meetings between these schools.

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Akron vs Utah State Idaho Potato Bowl 12/22/15 at 3:30pm
It's the MAC against the Mountain West as 7 and 5 Akron takes on 6 and 6 Utah State. While offense has been the headline of some of the other bowl games, both of these teams are highlighted by their defenses. The Zips rank 3rd best in the nation allowing just 89.8 yards rushing per game. The Aggies ranked 14th in college football in pass defense, allowing 180.4 yards against per game. Akron quarterback Thomas Woodson provides the Zips with a dual threat as he passed for 2,034 yards and 16 TD's while rushing for 553 yards and 3 scores. The Zips are playing in their first bowl game since 2005 and are looking for the first bowl win in school history. This is Utah State's 3rd appearance in this bowl game in the past 5 seasons, and the Aggies will be looking for their 4th consecutive bowl win. This will also be the first meeting ever between these two schools on the gridiron.
#24 Temple vs Toledo Boca Raton Bowl 12/22/15 at 7pm
The 10 and 3 Owls represent the American Athletic Conference and will be facing a team from their former conference, the MAC, when they take on the 9 and 2 Rockets. Toledo will have a new head coach for this game, as Jason Candle takes over for Matt Campbell who's moving on to coach Iowa State. Both teams are strong on the ground and have solid quarterback play as well. Toledo's ground game is led by the combo of Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson, who have rushed for 1,764 yards and 17 combined scores. Through the air the Rockets are led by quarterback Phillip Ely, who's passed for 2,680 yards and 21 touchdowns. For Temple, quarterback P.J. Walker has thrown for 2,737 yards and 19 TD's. The ground attack is paced by Jahad Thomas, who's 1,257 yards and 17 scores. Toledo is in a bowl game for the 5th time in the past 6 seasons, while Temple is back in the post season for the first time since 2011. Temple is also looking to finish ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1979. The Rockets have won 7 of the 10 all time meetings between these schools.

Division of power: Why Week 13 is make or break for teams

12/20/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Week 13 game in the NFL have a lot on the line. Division title's still hang in the balance, as well as playoff positioning and the league's only undefeated team trying to stay unbeaten. Let's take a look at the top matchups for this week.
Houston at Indianapolis Sunday at 1pm
First place in the AFC South is on the line in this matchup as both teams come in with records of 6 and 7. Both teams will also be relying on backup quarterbacks to try and lead them into sole possession of first place in the division. T. J. Yates will be under center for the Texans, as Brian Hoyer will be out after sustaining a concussion in last week's loss to New England. Matt Hasselbeck is expected to start for the Colts in place of Andrew Luck, but Hasselbeck is banged up too. Third string QB Charlie Whitehurst may be forced into action for Indianapolis as Hasselbeck is dealing with a rib injury. The Colts won the first meeting of the season 27 to 20 in Week 5 with Hasselbeck throwing 2 touchdowns. The Texans De'Andre Hopkins had a big game as well, catching 11 passes for 169 yards. Indianapolis has been outscored 96 to 26 in back to back losses to Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. Houston has also dropped their past two games after winning their previous four to get them back into the division title hunt. The Colts have won the past 6 meetings between these teams and Houston has never won in Indianapolis since joining the NFL in 2002.

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Carolina at NY Giants Sunday at 1pm
The Panthers are looking at improving to 14 and 0 while the Giants, at 6 and 7, are trying to win the NFC East. The Giants snapped a three game losing streak last week with a win over Miami, while the Panthers have scored 30 or more points in each of their past four games. With a win Carolina can clinch the top seed in the NFC playoffs with a win and an Arizona loss to Philadelphia. The Panthers will be without RB Jonathan Stewart, who suffered a foot injury in last week's win over Atlanta. Both defenses are strong when it comes to forcing turnovers, Carolina leads the league with 33 while the Giants are second with 25. But New York's defense ranks 2nd worst in the NFL, giving up an average of 425 yards per game. The Giants have twice beaten teams that were 13 and 0 in their history, knocking off Denver in 1998 and New England in the Super Bowl following the 2007 season. Carolina won the last meeting between these teams two seasons ago by the score of 38 to 0.
Denver at Pittsburgh Sunday at 4:25pm
The AFC West leading Broncos come in at 10 and 3 and are trying to stay near the top of the AFC. Denver is tied for 2nd in the conference with Cincinnati right now, one game behind New England for the top mark in the conference. The 8 and 5 Steelers, who still have an outside shot at the AFC North, are trying to keep themselves in the AFC playoff mix where they are tied with Kansas City and the New York Jets. The Broncos are 6 and 1 on the road so far in 2015, while the Steelers are 5 and 2 at home. Both teams bring in strong run defenses, as Denver is allowing just 84.3 yards per game. Pittsburgh is right behind them, giving up an average of 88.3 yards per game, but the Steelers rank 31st in the NFL against the pass. The Broncos defense is allowing a league best 17.3 points per game, while the Steelers have scored 30 or more points in each of their past 5 games. Denver also ranks tops in the league in sacks and total defense. Peyton Manning will miss his 5th consecutive game, so Brock Osweiler will try to win for the 4th time in five starts and rebound from last week's loss to Oakland. Two 1,000 yard receivers will meet in this game as well. Denver's Demaryius Thomas has caught 88 passes for 1,067 yards and 3 TD's, while Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown has 100 catches for 1,397 yards and 7 scores. Denver has had the edge in this series, winning 12 of the past 17 meetings.
Arizona at Philadelphia Sunday at 8:30pm
At 11 and 2, the Cardinals hold a three game lead over Seattle in the NFC West. At 6 and 7, the Eagles remain tied with New York and Washington for first place in the NFC East. Arizona has won 7 games in a row and can clinch the NFC West and a 1st round bye with a win and a Green Bay loss. They can clinch the division title with a Seahawks loss to Cleveland as well. Philadelphia still controls their own destiny, if the Eagles win out they'll win the East title. The Cardinals are 6 and 1 on the road this season, while Philadelphia is 3 and 3 at home. Carson Palmer is in the MVP race for Arizona, having passed for 4,003 yards and 31 TD's, both of which are 2nd in the NFL. His top target has been Larry Fitzgerald, who's caught 96 passes for 1,088 yards and 7 touchdowns. Palmer and Fitzgerald lead a Cardinals offense that's averaging 427.5 yards per game. They'll face an Eagles defense that's allowing 401.8 yards per game. Arizona won the last meeting between these teams 24 to 20 last season. The Cardinals are looking to win the NFC West for the first time since 2009.

Going bowling: College football bowl games start with bang

12/19/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Forty one bowl games are on the college football slate this year. The first five games kickoff Saturday, so let's take a look at what's on tap for the start of "Bowl Season".
New Mexico vs Arizona New Mexico Bowl Saturday at 2pm
Bowl season kicks off in Albuquerque as 6 and 6 Arizona meets 7 and 5 New Mexico. The Lobos are in a bowl game for the first time since 2007 while the Wildcats come in having lost 5 of their final 6 regular season games. Arizona averages 36.8 points per game and 494.3 yards per game. Their offense is led by quarterback Anu Solomon, who has passed for 2,338 yards and 18 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions. But Solomon, who suffered a concussion on November 14th and sat out the Wildcats regular season finale, remains questionable for this bowl game. New Mexico is led by QB Lamar Jordan, who has thrown for 935 yards this season while rushing for nearly 700 more. This game is being played at New Mexico's home stadium, where the Lobos were 5 and 2 during the regular season. Arizona is 2 and 4 on the road in 2015.

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BYU vs #22 Utah Las Vegas Bowl Saturday at 3:30pm
This matchup of 9 and 3 teams also pits former conference and current in state rivals against each other. Statistically, these teams match up evenly. BYU averages 34.2 points per game while Utah averages 30.4, and both teams give up an average of 21.8 points per game. BYU averages 428 yards per game while Utah averages 376.8. The Cougars give up an average of 358.1 yards per game, while the Utes give up an average of 365.2. These schools have met 95 times, with Utah winning 57 times, BYU winning 34, and there being 4 ties as well. But this will be the first time these schools have ever met in a bowl game. This will be the 10th meeting in the past 11 years between these schools, with Utah having won the past 4 games and 6 of the last 9. This will also be the final game for Bronco Mendenhall as BYU's head coach as Mendenhall will be taking over as head coach at Virginia as head coach next season.
Appalachian State vs Ohio Camellia Bowl Saturday at 5:30pm
Appalachian State comes in at 10 and 2 as the 2nd place team out of the Sun Belt Conference. Ohio comes in from the MAC with a record of 8 and 4. Both teams come into this bowl game having won their final 3 regular season games . The Mountaineers feature a strong rushing attack led by RB Marcus Cox, who's rushed for 1,261 yards and scored 8 TD's. QB Taylor Lamb passed for 2,263 yards and 29 touchdowns, which were the most in the Sun Belt. The Bobcats are led offensively by QB Derrius Vick, who passed for 1,809 yards and 10 touchdowns. Running backs A.J. Ouellette and Daz'Mond Patterson combined for 1,139 yards and 14 TD's. This is the second year for Appalachian State playing on the FBS level. This is also the first ever meeting between these schools on the gridiron.
Georgia State vs San Jose State Cure Bowl Saturday at 7pm
This is a matchup of the Mountain West Conference's Spartans versus the Sun Belt Conference's Panthers. At 5 and 7, San Jose State is one of three teams in bowl games this year with sub .500 records. After starting 2015 at 2 and 6, Georgia State hauled off 4 straight wins to make their first bowl appearance in school history. The Panthers are led by quarterback Nick Arbuckle, who's passed for 4,160 yards and 26 touchdowns. WR Penny Hart has been his top target, catching 71 passes for 1,095 yards and 8 TD's. It will be an intriguing matchup, as the Spartans give up just under 154 yards passing per game, which is 2nd best in the nation. Offensively, San Jose State is led by Tyler Ervin, who rushed for 1,469 yards and scored 13 TD's. QB Kenny Potter has thrown for 1,895 yards and 14 touchdowns. San Jose State has won their past 3 bowl games.
Arkansas State vs Louisiana Tech New Orleans Bowl Saturday at 9pm
Arkansas State comes in as the Sun Belt Conference champions, posting a record of 9 and 3. Louisiana Tech is representing Conference USA, and comes in with a mark of 8 and 4. The Bulldogs are led by QB Jeff Driskel, who's passed for 3,575 yards and 24 touchdowns so far this season. Trent Taylor has been his go to guy, catching 89 passes for 1,133 yards and 8 TD's. Kenneth Dixon leads the Bulldogs ground attack, having rushed for 968 yards and 17 touchdowns. Dixon has 83 career scores, which is second most all time behind Navy's Keenan Reynolds. Arkansas State is led by QB Fredi Knighten, who's thrown for 1,698 yards and 19 touchdowns. RB Michael Gordon has rushed for 1,055 yards while scoring 9 TD's. The Red Wolves also boast a defense that led the NCAA with 34 forced turnovers. This is the first meeting between these schools since 1998, a game Louisiana Tech won 69 to 21. The Bulldogs lead the all time series between these former Southland and Big West Conference rivals, with a mark of 25 and 12.

Parity problem: Why NFL and its average teams take toll on fans

12/18/15 by Rennie Detore

The biggest selling point with the NFL and the subsequent salary cap that keeps hiring and firing, signing and selling, keeping and parting ways with players interesting is that every team has a chance, and that parity is what makes the league so excited.
While you can't argue that on any given Sunday, well, you know the rest, but is parity really the perfect scenario the NFL wants you to believe it to be?
Take the 2015 season, for instance.

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The NFL has a slew of average teams. Actually, they're quite bad. Two divisions: the NFC East and the AFC South might send a division winner to the playoffs with a losing record. Wrapping your brain around that as an NFL fan is difficult considering that the postseason is supposed to be reserved for a team that is elite.
What we have now though most of the league is listless.
You have teams at the moment with losing records that are not only vying for a division, but a whole host of mediocre teams at or just below the .500 mark that are trying to secure a Wild Card spot in the post season.
The result are games that are played weekly that simply have no drive or interest among fans. A slew of friends getting together to watch Direct TV Sunday Ticket (which gives you access to every game, every week) is more about the conversation than the games on television. Unless you're a fantasy football guru that wants to watch random, ridiculously boring games on a weekly basis to keep track of your fantasy team, you have no reason to care about the NFL in 2015.
Sure, you have a few standpoint teams, but most of it is devoid of excitement and a slew of games that do little to engage the fan base. The NFL Sunday Ticket point is a valid one since you can watch all the games, but it's almost the "500 channels and nothing is one" mantra that plagued satellite television in its infancy stages. You have a full schedule of games during the week, but is anyone getting excited to watch the Giants, Redskins, Eagle or Cowboys fight for a division when everyone is under .500 and the Cowboys are 4 and 9, yet still can make a division title run? 
Didn't think so.
This isn't to suggest the NFL product is poor or in danger of not being cared for but the masses, but if you are trying to argue that the games on television are well played or interesting for any other reason than its' the NFL and its on television, then you've fumbled that argument and aren't anywhere near recovering that point of view.

Major plus: Why minor league hockey is great night of entertainment

12/15/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

It's safe to say I'm a die hard hockey fan. I'm a Pittsburgh Penguins season ticket holder. I recorded and watched every game played in the 2010 and 2014 Olympics. I sacrifice sleep every spring to stay up and watch the Western Conference playoff games, even when those games go to 3 overtimes, which equals 2am on the East Coast. So yeah, I love hockey. But the past two seasons of the NHL has made it hard for even us die hards to enjoy hockey.
So recently I took a trip to Wheeling, West Virginia to take in an ECHL game. For those not familiar with the former East Coast Hockey League, it's the equivalent to Class AA baseball. Wheeling is the home of the Nailers, who are the Penguins "AA" farm team. And I have to say, minor league hockey brings back the fun of going to a game live and in person.
First of all, the game I went to featured 8 goals scored, which is practically unheard of in today's NHL. Not to mention the two in game fights, which were the same number of fights the Penguins have had total this season. Of course, fighting is frowned upon in the NHL anymore (it seems goal scoring is too), but there are a lot of other things that made the experience great as well.

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Fun promotions are a big part of minor league hockey. The night I went was meet the Hanson Brothers, who's fame from the movie Slap Shot will never die amongst hockey fans worldwide. Google "best minor league hockey promo nights" and you'll find an array of crazy themed events designed to draw fans to the games. That uniqueness is part of the beauty of minor league hockey that you won't find in the professional ranks, which in Pittsburgh at least, has become a stuffy, corporate environment on game nights.
Of course another great thing about minor league hockey, at least for those of us over the age of 21, is cheap beer. It's funny how the same sized cup of the same brand of brew costs less than half as much at a minor league game than it does for an NHL game. It's not just beer you can get on the cheap either. You can actually take a family of four, get hot dogs, nachos, drinks and a souvenir (if it wasn't a give away night already), and not have to worry about taking out a second mortgage on your house to pay for it.
But the best thing in my opinion is just the overall atmosphere. The fans are in to the games. You're close to the action in a smaller arena. The players are accessible for autographs after the games. And it's just fun. It's fun to be there. It's fun to be a fan and cheer. It's fun to just soak in the experience. Yeah, the skill level isn't as high. And the game is noticeably slower than the NHL version. But the fact that it's fun, is the most important thing.
And as a hockey fan, I long for the day when watching the NHL or attending a Penguins game will be as much fun as it used to be.

Race to Finish: Abundance of wild card teams makes NFL playoff race exciting

12/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

So many teams, so few spots. That is the charge for a slew of teams on the bubble as it relates to the NFL playoffs. Most of the divisions seem locked up but Sunday's games have teams taking aim at staying in the crowded playoff picture with so many sub par and around .500 records.
Let's take a look at the games of the week:
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati Sunday at 1pm

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With a win, the Bengals will clinch the AFC North title. The Bengals also have the top record in the AFC at 10 and 2, tied with New England and Denver, but owning a better conference mark. A win for Cincinnati would go a long way towards home field in the playoffs as well. At 7 and 5, the Steelers are looking for a win to stay in the AFC playoff race. Cincinnati won the first meeting 16 to 10, intercepting Ben Roethlisberger three times in the win. The Bengals trailed 10 to 6 before scoring the last 10 points of the game in the final 3 minutes of regulation. The Steelers lost running back LeVeon Bell to a season ending injury in that previous meeting, which ramped up the bad blood between these two division rivals. Cincinnati boasts the NFL's top scoring defense, giving up an average of 16.3 points per game. Pittsburgh has won 8 of the past 11 meetings between these teams and 20 of the past 25 games played in Cincinnati.
Buffalo at Philadelphia Sunday at 1pm
The 5 and 7 Eagles remain in the hunt for the NFC East title. The 6 and 6 Bills are battling to stay in the AFC playoff race. But the story here is the return of former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, who was traded to the Bills in the offseason. While Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly has said he has great respect for McCoy, the bitterness from McCoy is evident. McCoy said this week he wouldn't shake Kelly's hand before or after the game. While McCoy, who led the NFL in rushing in 2013, has found success in Buffalo, his replacement in Philadelphia has not. DeMarco Murray, who led the NFL in rushing last season, has struggled. Those struggles have led to what looks like a rift developing between Murray and Kelly, with Murray reportedly going to team management and ownership about his role. McCoy will be facing a Philadelphia defense that ranks 27th in the NFL against the run. After being blown out in back to back losses to Tampa Bay and Detroit, the Eagles shocked New England last week with 3 scores coming from their defense and special teams. Philadelphia is tied for 2nd in the league in takeaways with 23. These teams last met in 2011, with Buffalo winning 31 to 24. However the Eagles won the last meeting in Philadelphia back in 2007.
Atlanta at Carolina Sunday at 1pm
Both of these teams started the season at 5 and 0. Since then, the Panthers are 7 and 0 and remain the only undefeated team in the NFL. Atlanta has gone 1 and 6 since, and are trying to remain in the NFC playoff chase. With a win, the Panthers will secure a 1st round bye in the playoffs. Atlanta needs a win to keep pace with Seattle for the final playoff spot, which the Seahawks hold with a 7 and 5 record. The Panthers lead the NFL in forced turnovers with 29, and are 3rd in the league in total defense. Carolina has won 5 of the past 6 meetings between these teams, including a 34 to 3 trouncing in their last meeting in Week 17 of last season. That win secured the NFC South title for the Panthers and kept the Falcons out of the playoffs. To prevent that from happening again, the Falcons will have to slow down the leading candidate for the league MVP in Carolina's Cam Newton. Newton has passed for nearly 2,800 yards and thrown 25 touchdowns, while rushing for 476 yards and 7 more TD's. Since 1970, 66 of the 72 teams to start 5 and 0 have made the playoffs and none have finished with a sub .500 record.
New England at Houston Sunday at 8:30pm
After starting the season 10 and 0, the Patriots have lost their past two games. The last being a stunning home loss to Philadelphia last week. After starting the season 2 and 5, Houston had won 4 in a row prior to last week's loss to Buffalo. While the Patriots have a firm lock on the AFC East race, the Texans are tied with Indianapolis for first place in the AFC South, but that loss to the Bills puts them on the outside looking in as far as the AFC wild card race goes. Injuries are the big story for these two teams. WR Julian Edelman remains out for the Patriots, while TE Rob Gronkowski is questionable with a knee injury sustained two weeks ago. Texans DE J.J. Watt broke his hand in practice this week, but said he'll be playing in this one and that the injury shouldn't set him back any. New England hasn't lost 3 games in a row since 2002. The Patriots have also won 5 of the 6 all time meetings between these teams.

Super duper: Why Dupuis was NHL's best unsung player

12/11/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Unless you're a really big fan of the NHL or a Pittsburgh Penguins fan like I am, you may not have heard that Pascal Dupuis decided to retire this week at the age of 36. Unless you're a real hockey fan or a Penguins fan, you're probably saying "who"? But that anonymousness was part of what made Pascal Dupuis the player that he was.
Undrafted out of the QMJHL, Dupuis was signed by Minnesota prior to the Wild's inaugural season. After a year in the minors, Dupuis burst onto the NHL scene, scoring 15 goals his first season with the Wild in 2002/03, then netting 20 goals the following season. He played for the Wild until the 2006/07 season and scored at least 10 goals each season before being traded to the New York Rangers. He was traded from the Rangers to Atlanta in the same season, and would be traded again the following year.
With Pittsburgh in the hunt as a Stanley Cup contender in 2008, the Penguins traded for Marian Hossa, who was the top target at that season's trading deadline. Dupuis was thrown in as part of the trade from Atlanta, but proved to be much more than just a throw in for the Penguins. Dupuis would play six seasons for the Penguins, and then parts of 3 others due to injuries. Dupuis would play in 452 regular season games for the Penguins over those 9 seasons and in 77 playoff games, winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. For his career in the NHL, Dupuis played in 871 games over 15 seasons, netting 190 career goals and 409 total points. Dupuis also led the NHL in plus/minus in 2013 , finishing the season at +31.

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Dupuis announced his retirement this week due to complications from blood clots, which ended his season last year. But despite not being a high profile player, his impact was felt in Pittsburgh. Dupuis was versatile enough to play on the Penguins top line with Sidney Crosby to the helping to grind it out on the 4th line. He could play on the power play, but was one of the Penguins top penalty killers during his tenure in Pittsburgh. Dupuis was known for his speed and strong skating, his energy on and off the ice, and for being a model teammate who worked hard but kept things light with his personality. Many former teammates had tweeted that Dupuis was the best teammate they ever had and all admired his work ethic, dedication, and love for the game.
Dupuis was faced with the difficult decision of retiring mid season. He didn't go out the way he had hoped it would go. All athletes want to go out like Jerome Bettis or Ray Lewis did, winning a championship and retiring on top. Dupuis had to retire mid season, after working so hard to get back to playing the past two seasons. The complications from the blood clots wouldn't go away. Dupuis has a wife and four children and had to make the decision for them. He made the right choice, family and being a husband and father are more important than any sport, no matter much Pascal Dupuis loved the game.
With that being said, as a fan I'd like to say thank you to Pascal Dupuis for the memories he gave me and lots of other Penguins fans. Thank you for being a class act both on and off the ice and for being a guy you were proud to have wearing your team's sweater. Enjoy retirement and being able to focus on your family now. We'll miss you in Pittsburgh "Duper".

Where's Johnny? How Manziel's misbehavior is punishing teammates too

12/08/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Back to back losses to Baltimore and Cincinnati are commonplace for the Cleveland Browns. But how the Browns have done it the past two weeks is even hard for the most hardcore of Cleveland fans to stomach. It's not so much that they lost, but that they lost without the guy who is supposed to be their starting quarterback and QB of the future. Which leads to the question of: Where is Johnny Manziel? And what should the Browns do with him now?
First there was the Baltimore loss two weeks ago. Losing on a last second blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. That hurt. But watching Johnny Manziel stay on the sideline when starter Josh McCown was injured and replaced by Austin Davis hurts worse. Davis starting and the Browns lackluster performance in this week's 37 to 3 loss to Cincinnati hurts pretty bad as well. For those of you counting, Davis makes it 24 different players to start at quarterback for the Browns since returning to the NFL in 1999.
But the reason Davis was playing was because Johnny Manziel was acting a fool again and benched. After a solid performance against Pittsburgh, Manziel was named the Browns starter for the Ravens game. But in between the Steelers game and the Baltimore game, there was a bye week. And in that time off, Manziel was caught partying again, on video yet again. This after Manziel had entered a treatment facility in the offseason. After he had worked on being a better teammate. And after he had earned the chance to start by playing well. All of that was put aside because Johnny Football would rather be Johnny Party instead of the Browns starting quarterback.

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That forced the Browns to demote him to being the 3rd string QB for the Ravens game. A game the Browns very well may have won had Manziel started, or at least played. Then there was the debacle this weekend against the Bengals. Not saying that Manziel playing would've altered a 34 point loss, but it would've had to have been better with him starting. Browns head coach Mike Pettine had no choice but to bench Manziel, and he couldn't go back on his word even if it would've given the team a better chance to win. So Manziel's antics not only punished him, they punished his teammates as well. The same teammates who's trust he was starting to earn again.
So what do the Browns do with Manziel now? Let him go or trade him and it's another wasted first round draft pick and another joke associated with the Cleveland quarterback situation. Give him another chance and hope he's learned his lesson? But what if he hasn't? It's a tough spot for the Browns to be in right now, so the best they can do is take it one week at a time.
It's been reported that Manziel will be back under center as the Browns starter this coming week against San Francisco. Here's some advice Johnny...don't screw it up this time.

Wood chipper: Why Tiger needs to take permanent vacation from golf

12/03/15 by Rennie Detore

No one is going to argue or lament the legacy of Tiger Woods. He's arguably one of the greatest golfers of all time and an iconic legend in all of sports, reaching far beyond golf with his popularity.
But much like all the greats, their time on top of the world and their sport can't last forever.
It's time for Tiger to admit as much and walk away for good from the sport he helped reinvigorate as the face of the PGA.

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Woods' meteoric rise to the top of golf's rankings was nothing short of amazing. He was young, talented and accounted for an entirely new audience of golf fans that would migrate to the television to watch Woods play.
His career has been stellar, but the last few years have been Woods' trying to reclaim what once was the No. 1 game in the world. Woods spent close to 700 weeks as the top golfer in the world, and the latest incarnation of Woods is beaten, injured and hardly seems like he has any life left or gas in the proverbial tank.
A recent interview with Woods was disheartening and sad; the quote most of the country took from it was that he said he "has nothing to look forward to" after he went through yet another surgical procedure.
Woods has no shame in saying he's done. What is shameful is that he's trying to hang on and recapture what is long gone: his game, his desire and any chance of winning or even being competitive. The longer he stays on, the worse it becomes. His legacy is safe, but if he continues shoot like he's never seen a golf course or look totally lost on courses that he once manipulated like Eddie Van Halen on a guitar solo, he'll start to be remembered more for the sports athlete that didn't know when to leave.
Not every athlete gets to leave their respective sport on top. Woods seems like he's trying to leave his on the bottom, as he is now ranked 400th on the tour. His name still draws to some degree but for all the wrong reasons.
The Tiger Woods of old would put fans in the stands because he was so good at what he did, the best in the world and totally dominate with every swing and every putt he lined up. Fans clamoring to see Woods are watching an epic fall from grace.
The only way Tiger picks himself back up is to retire and reclaim his name, his brand and anything else to make it easier for fans to forget this version and remember the one that changed golf forever.

Holiday tradition: Sports and Thanksgiving always go hand in hand

11/26/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

What is it about Thanksgiving and sports that just mixes so well together? Everybody has holiday traditions, and in a lot of cases sports is a part of them, especially on turkey day.
For me, the sports tradition starts the night before Thanksgiving. I'm from Pittsburgh, and my tradition starts with hockey on Thanksgiving Eve. For as far back as I can remember, the Pittsburgh Penguins game the night before turkey day has been tradition. I remember being a kid in the 1980s and listening to the Penguins games on the radio. Yes, there was a time before not just smart phones and internet, but a time where every game wasn't on television. So I'd listen with my brother in the basement to the voice of Mike Lange bringing the game action to us over the radio. I don't remember the year exactly, I want to say it was 1987 or 1988, when the Pens battled back from a 4 to 0 deficit to beat Quebec 6 to 4. Yes, back in that time before smart phones and the internet there was an NHL team in Quebec City too.
That's the first year I remember the Thanksgiving Eve game being a part of my holiday tradition. But for some reason, as I think back right now, I can remember who the Pens have played the night before Thanksgiving going back the past 15 years without much effort. Something about that game is just special. It's more special now that I'm a season ticket holder and usually get to go to the game. Maybe it's the time spent with friends either at the game or watching it somewhere. Or it's knowing that the day after is Thanksgiving. But something about that combination just makes it special.

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And of course there is the tradition of Thanksgiving Day and football. Now that I'm closer to 40, that tradition is watching the now full day of NFL football with family and friends. But back in my teens and 20's, it was the excitement of playing football on Thanksgiving that was tradition. As I mentioned, I'm from Western Pennsylvania, which is a football hotbed. I remember getting excited the week leading up to Thanksgiving for our annual turkey day game, which we called the "Toilet Bowl", because the winning team got a gold painted toilet seat to keep until the next year. Something about getting up early and playing tackle football with friends then going home to family for Thanksgiving dinner was just something special. In my 20's we gave up the tackling for flag football, but it still was tradition to get together and play. No matter what the weather was like. No matter how late we were out the night before. We still got together on Thanksgiving morning to play football, then go home and enjoy the day with family and friends. I played football on other days or weekends, my Mom made a big family dinner every Sunday too. But something about football and Thanksgiving just made it more special.
If your holiday tradition incorporates sports and Thanksgiving, you know where I'm coming from. So whatever your tradition is, may you enjoy it and have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving. And most importantly enjoy the "3 F's" of, football, and family.

Turkey daze: Thanksgiving is all about football, but these games leave lot to be desired

11/25/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Turkey. Pumpkin pie. Family. And football. It's a Thanksgiving tradition, and this year the NFL serves up a 3 course meal with 6 NFC teams in action. Three are trying to salvage their seasons, one is trying to stay undefeated, and 2 more meet in a key NFC North matchup. So here's a look at this year's NFL Thanksgiving Day games.
Philadelphia at Detroit 12:30pm
Two teams trending in different directions meet in this Thanksgiving kickoff. The Lions come in having won their past two games, after having dropped 7 of their first 8. The Eagles have lost 3 of their past 4 games, and if there was a most disappointing team category through the first 12 weeks of the season, the 4 and 6 Eagles would be it after high pre season expectations. But even though they're below .500, Philadelphia is just 1 game out of first place in the NFC East. The Eagles are hoping Sam Bradford will be cleared to play, as the Eagles have dropped back to back games in his absence. They also are hoping their run defense will show up. Tampa Bay gouged the Eagles for 283 yards on the ground in last week's loss, and Philadelphia has allowed an opposing running back to rush for over 100 yards in 3 of their past 4 games. The Lions may be the remedy they need, as Detroit is averaging an NFL worst 71.1 yards per game rushing. Detroit is has won 35 times, lost 38, and tied twice on turkey day. Philadelphia is a perfect 6 and 0 all time on Thanksgiving. The Eagles have also won 7 of the past 8 meetings between these teams.

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Carolina at Dallas 4:30pm
At 10 and 0, Carolina is one of the last two undefeated teams left in the NFL. With Tony Romo under center, the Cowboys are undefeated as well. Dallas is 3 and 0 in games Romo has started, but went 0 and 7 when he was out of the lineup. Despite their record, the Cowboys are still just 2 games out of first place in the NFC East. Romo and the Cowboys will have a stiff challenge in front of them against the Panthers defense, which is one of the best in the NFL. Carolina leads the league in takeaways, is 3rd in sacks, and ranks in the top 5 in scoring and total defense as well. Defensive end Charles Johnson is also expected to make his season debut for the Panthers after being activated from short term IR. The Cowboys defense will be the next to try to stop Cam Newton, who is having an MVP worthy season so far in 2015. Newton has thrown for 2,283 yards and 20 TD's this season while rushing for 6 more. This game also marks the first meeting between controversial defensive lineman Greg Hardy and his former team in Carolina. The Cowboys have won the past 9 meetings between these teams, including 4 in a row in Dallas.
Chicago at Green Bay 8:30pm
After a big division win over Minnesota last weekend, the Packers tied the Vikings for first place in the NFC North. At 4 and 6 and after a disappointing home loss to Denver, the Bears are fighting to stay in the playoff hunt. The good news for the Bears is starting RB Matt Forte and starting WR Alshon Jeffery are expected to play after both missed last week's loss.. Rookie Jeremy Langford has stepped up in Forte's absence, rushing for 170 yards and scoring 5 TD's over the past 3 games. Eddie Lacy returned for the Packers in the win over the Vikings, rushing for 100 yards for the first time this season. He'll face a Chicago defense that's worst in the NFL, allowing 123.7 yards per game on average. The Bears will also have to slow down Aaron Rodgers, who's passed for 2,482 yards and 23 touchdowns with just 3 interceptions, which is tied for lowest in the NFL. This is the 2nd meeting of the season between these teams, with Green Bay winning the first game back in Week 1 by the score of 31 to 23. Rodgers threw 3 TD passes in the win, while Forte rushed for 141 yards in a losing effort. Green Bay will retire Brett Favre's jersey and induct him into their Hall of Fame at halftime of the game.

After further review: How NFL rules are interpreted still inane process

11/24/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

A catch in football should be simple to understand, right? The ball lands in a players hands, and it's a catch, it's that easy. Well not in the NFL. In today's NFL world of replay, coaches challenges, booth reviews, and over analyzing plays, a catch is no longer just a catch. And fans, analysts, players, and coaches seem to have no idea what exactly the rules are.
Let's look at the sideline catch first. It used to be if a player gets two feet in bounds and has possession of the ball, it's a catch. But it's not that easy to understand anymore. Because a shin or knee in bounds equals two feet. Well usually. That's where the interpretation part comes in. And it seems the interpretation varies depending on who the on field officials and who the booth judges are. Because one shin, knee, butt, etc. hasn't always equaled two feet. But in some cases it has. Which adds to the confusion of players, coaches, fans, analysts, etc.
Then there is the act of a player controlling the ball, especially in the end zone. Last week, Odell Beckham Jr. caught what looked to be a touchdown pass against New England. Beckham caught the ball, and got two feet down in the end zone before the ball was knocked out of his hands. According to what most think the rule is when it comes to the end zone, as long as a player has possession and the ball breaks the plain of the goal line, it's a touchdown. Beckham had possession, was in the end zone, and the play should end at that point. But it didn't in this case. Because the officials said Beckham didn't have control of the ball since it got knocked out of his hands. But he caught the ball and touched both feet in bounds in the end zone. Once the ball breaks the plain of the goal line the play is over and it's a touchdown, right? Think of a player diving towards the pylon and losing the ball after it already crosses the goal line. That's ruled a touchdown. So what's the difference in Beckham's case?

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Then there is the most confusing rule, the act of making a football move to determine if a catch is incomplete, complete, or complete and a fumble. This is the rule that seems to even confuse the refs. I've always thought the rule was control the ball and take two steps and its a catch. Or if you do that and have it knocked out of your hands by the defense, it's a fumble. But again, that isn't always the case, depending on how the rules are interpreted and who is interpreting them.
Dear NFL, please simplify this. Everybody agrees that replay has made the game better. But the over analysis of these close plays have led to mass confusion when it comes to the NFL's rules. Let's get back to when football was played and decided on the field. When a catch was a catch and a fumble was a fumble. You know, simpler times. Back before we couldn't interpret what the NFL's rules interpretations are.

Chase downs: Playoff teams jockey for divisions, wild cards

11/22/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

A battle for first place in the NFC North, a interconference matchup between two of the top teams in the league, and an AFC East clash that could knock one of the two remaining unbeaten teams from their perch highlight Week 11 in the NFL. Let's take a look at this week's top three games.
Green Bay at Minnesota Sunday at 4:25pm
First place in the NFC North will be on the line here, but surprisingly it's the Packers who are trailing. After winning their first 6 games of the season, the Packers have lost their last 3 games, scoring only 55 points in the process. Meanwhile the Vikings have won their past 5 games after starting the season at 2 and 2. Green Bay comes in having lost to Detroit at home last week, the first time the Lions won at Lambeau Field since 1991. Aaron Rodgers has been beaten up during the Packers losing streak as well, having been sacked 11 times in the past 3 games. That matches the total number of sacks the Packers had given up through their first 6 games. But Rodgers and the Packers have had the Vikings number, winning 10 of the past 11 meetings. Green Bay's struggles on offense won't get any easier this week as they'll face a Minnesota defense that's allowing an NFL best 17.1 points per game. The Packers defense will have a stern test on their hands as well as they try to slow down Adrian Peterson, who's coming off of a 200 yard rushing performance versus Oakland last week. Peterson has averaged 144 yards rushing per game in the Vikings past three contests. The Packers swept the series between these teams last season, winning 24 to 21 at Minnesota. Green Bay hasn't lost 4 games in a row since 2008, while the Vikings haven't won 6 in a row since 2009.

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Cincinnati at Arizona Sunday at 8:30pm
The 8 and 1 Bengals tasted defeat for the first time last week, now they'll have to turn around on a short week to face the 7 and 2 Cardinals who come in having won their past 3 games. Cincinnati remains undefeated on the road this season, winning all four games away from home, while Arizona has won 3 of their 4 home games. Cincinnati comes in off of an ugly loss against Houston on Monday night, where they failed to score a touchdown while putting up a season low 256 yards in total offense. The Cardinals offense has been soaring this season, scoring the second most points in the NFL just behind New England. They've put up 73 total points in their past two games, including last weeks 39 to 32 road win over Seattle. The Cardinals have put up over 400 yards in total offense in each of their past four games as well. Scoring has been tough against the Bengals this season, as they feature the NFL's best scoring defense, allowing just 16.9 points per game. Cincinnati won the last meeting between these teams, 23 to 16 in 2011.
Buffalo at New England Monday at 8:30pm
And then there were two...New England remains one of two undefeated teams along with Carolina left in the NFL. The 9 and 0 Patriots are also a perfect 5 and 0 at home so far this season as well. The Bills come in at 5 and 4 overall, and have won 3 of 4 on the road this season. Buffalo comes in off of back to back division wins over Miami and the NY Jets. New England comes in off of their closest win of the season, 27 to 26 over the NY Giants, where the Patriots kicked the game winning field goal in the games final seconds. Tom Brady has passed for an NFL best 3.043 yards and thrown 24 TD's against just 3 interceptions. But he'll be without one of his favorite targets, as WR Julian Edelman was lost for the remainder of the regular season after breaking his foot last week. Edelman's injury comes a week after New England lost starting RB Dion Lewis to a season ending injury as well. The Patriots are looking to start the season 10 and 0 for the first time since 2007, when they finished the regular season 16 and 0. New England won the first meeting of the season between these teams at Buffalo, 40 to 32 on September 20th. Brady passed for a season high 466 yards and 3 TD's in the win. Edelman had 11 catches for 97 yards and 2 scores, while Rob Gronkowski had 113 yards receiving and a touchdown as well. Tyrod Taylor passed for 242 yards and 3 TD's for Buffalo in the loss, and also rushed for another touchdown. New England has won 27 of the past 30 meetings between these teams, but Buffalo won last year's game in New England, which is the last time the Patriots lost.

Bucking the system: Ohio State looks to extend win streak

11/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

#9 Michigan State at #3 Ohio State Saturday at 3:30pm
The Buckeyes are perfect through 10 games so far this season, and are riding a 23 game winning streak coming into this one against 9 and 1 Michigan State. Ranked 3rd in the CFP, Ohio State controls their own destiny, as victories this week and against Michigan next week will secure their spot in the Big 10 Championship. The Buckeyes offense literally runs behind Ezekiel Elliott, who has rushed for 1,425 yards and 16 TD's this season. Elliott has also rushed for 100 or more yards in each of his past 15 games. While there has been controversy over who the starting quarterback for Ohio State should be, either Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett, there is no controversy who's under center for the Spartans. Connor Cook has thrown for 2.482 yards and 18 TD's, with his favorite target being Aaron Burnbridge, who has caught 65 passes for 1,021 yards and 6scores. Both teams bring in strong defenses as well, with Ohio State allowing just 13.8 points per game on average. The Buckeyes also are giving up only 171.6 yards per game passing, and 126.8 yards per game on the ground. Michigan State has a strong run defense as well, allowing an average of just 121 yards per game. Ohio State won last years meeting 49 to 37 at Michigan State. But the Spartans handed the Buckeyes their last conference loss in the 2013 Big 10 Championship.

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#15 LSU at #22 Mississippi Saturday at 3:30pm
After starting the season with 7 straight wins, LSU has dropped their past two games to Alabama and Arkansas, being outscored 61 to 30 in the process. 7 and 3 Ole Miss has had a week to recover after their 53 to 52 overtime loss to Arkansas two weeks ago. Each of these teams have a major offensive weapon the opposing defense will have to contend with. The Rebels have the top passing offense in the SEC, led by quarterback Chad Kelly, who's passed for conference best 3,224 yards to go with 23 TD passes. LSU is led by Leonard Fournette, who leads college football with 1,643 yards rushing to go with 17 touchdowns. Fournett though has been held in check the past two weeks, gaining just 122 yards rushing total in both games. Both Kelly and Fournette made their marks in last years meeting, a 10 to 7 LSU win. Fournette rushed for 113 yards in the Tigers victory, while Kelly passed for 368 yards for the Rebels. Ole Miss still has an outside chance at winning the SEC West, as the Rebels have to win this week and then next week against Mississippi State, and hope Auburn can beat Alabama.
#24 USC at #23 Oregon Saturday at 3:30pm
Both of these teams have identical 7 and 3 overall records and 5 and 2 conference marks. Both come in hot as well, with each team having won their past 4 games as well. Both of these teams also still have a shot at the PAC 12 title game as well. USC is tied with Utah for first place in the South, and with a win against the Ducks and then against UCLA next week, will get them into the championship game. Oregon has to win this one and next week against Oregon State, then hope Stanford falls to California for the Ducks to gain the North crown. USC is led by the tandem of QB Cody Kessler and WR JuJu Smith Shuster. Kessler has passed for 2,715 yards and 23 TD's, with Smith Shuster hauling in 63 of Kessler's passes for a PAC 12 leading 1,160 yards and 10 touchdowns. Oregon has been resurgent on offense with the return of QB Vernon Adams, who has thrown 12 TD passes in the Ducks past four games. Royce Freeman has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the Ducks past 6 games. Freeman has rushed 1,392 yards and 10 TD's on the season. These teams have split their past 2 meetings, with Oregon winning the last time they met 65 to 31 in 2012. USC won the last meeting between these teams at Oregon, 38 to 35 in 2011.
#10 Baylor at #4 Oklahoma State Saturday at 7:30pm
Baylor's dreams of being in the College Football Playoff took a hit last week when they fell to Oklahoma, 44 to 34. Now the 8 and 1 Bears will try to spoil Oklahoma State's chances, as they visit the 10 and 0 Cowboys. Baylor still has a shot at being Big 12 champions, but they have to win out against Oklahoma State, TCU, and Texas and hope that Oklahoma falls in one of their final two games. Baylor averages 54.8 points per game and a whopping 638 yards per game. The Bears are averaging over 292 yards per game on the ground as well. Oklahoma State averages 43.6 points per game and 497.6 yards per game. Baylor has struggled playing at Oklahoma State, as the Cowboys have averaged 53 points per game in their 8 home wins in the past 15 years over the Bears. Oklahoma State has won 11 straight home games against Baylor as well. To extend that winning streak, the Cowboys will have to find a way to slow down the Bears main weapons on the ground and through the air. RB Shock Linwood has rushed for 1,149 yards and 9 TD's, while WR Corey Coleman has 1,229 yards receiving to go with his college football leading 20 touchdowns. Oklahoma State is led by QB Mason Rudolph, who has thrown for 3,161 yards and 18 TD's. Baylor won last year's meeting at home by the score of 49 to 28.

He's a Connor: Losing McDavid big blow to NHL

11/19/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

In what has been a season lacking of scoring and excitement so far, the loss of Connor McDavid to long term injury has been the biggest blow the NHL has absorbed so far in 2015. Not only is McDavid a highly touted rookie. Not only is he already the face of the Edmonton Oilers franchise. McDavid is more and his loss hurts the league more because McDavid is considered to be a once in a generation talent.
McDavid has been compared to Sidney Crosby. He could be the guy who eventually takes Crosby's place as the face of the NHL. The only difference is Crosby played his entire rookie season and was able to record 100 points. McDavid won't do that. Even if he was healthy, McDavid most likely wouldn't reach the century mark in points because today's NHL is content having their leading scorer register 87 total points (see: Benn, Jamie), but that's a story for another time. But that also makes McDavid's injury hurt that much worse.
The NHL needs all of the offensive players it can have on the ice. It needs stories about a players potential and how many points he may put up. It needs something to take away from the constant media outpouring of articles and sports talk about why the NHL is a joke with it's lack of scoring, inability to enforce it's own rules, goalie equipment that's too big, nets that are too small, etc. etc.

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This year could have been Connor McDavid versus Jack Eichel as the new face of the NHL. Just like 10 years ago when it was Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin. And the worst part of it is the way McDavid was injured. Crashing into the end boards with two Philadelphia Flyers players which fractured his clavicle. Some have said that the play was a dirty play by those Flyers. Some have stretched it as far as saying the Flyers intended to injure McDavid. McDavid has refused to comment on the play.
No matter of whether it was intentional or not, the fact of the matter is it could've been prevented. If the NHL would just get over itself and make the changes necessary to make the game better for players and for fans. The rink needs to be bigger, first of all. The type of injury McDavid sustained would be reduced if the NHL used the Olympic sized rink. But it also could've been prevented if the NHL would actually enforce it's own rules. When the league took a tough stance on preventing concussions, the penalties for boarding and hitting a player from behind were plentiful and of the major penalty variety. Now, guys are getting away with pushing players into the boards while they're in dangerous positions it seems more and more. Pittsburgh defenseman Olli Maatta was injured this week when he was pushed from behind and crashed into the open door on the visiting players bench. No penalty was called on the play.
If the NHL wants to protect it's young stars, it needs to start enforcing it's own rules. Any push into the boards is an automatic major penalty. No referees discretion. No trying to decide what warrants a major versus what warrants a minor penalty. Automatic. No questions asked. Push a guy into the boards when he's in a vulnerable position and it's a 5 minute penalty, no questions asked. It's worked in the NFL in greatly reducing head to head contact and hitting receivers that are deemed to be "defenseless".
What's it going to take for the NHL to make these changes? Losing a great talent to a serious injury Too late NHL, it's already happened to Connor McDavid. Now fix it before it happens again.

Separation anxiety: Parity running rampant as Week 10 arrives

11/15/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

In a word, the NFL is "average." A few teams remain unbeaten but no one seems overly dominant in a season that a little further than halfway is marred with a lot of 500 ball clubs and playoff positioning and even division winners that are below that 500 mark. Week 10 has a few games with a lot of playoff and division potential in mind.
Minnesota at Oakland 4:05pm Sunday
At 6 and 2, Minnesota has tied Green Bay for first place in the NFC North. At 4 and 4, the Raiders remain in contention for an AFC wild card and still have an outside shot at catching Denver for the top spot in the AFC West. The biggest story of the week for Vikings fans was would QB Teddy Bridgewater be able to play after being knocked out of last week's game and diagnosed with a concussion. Bridgewater has been cleared to play, which is a big boost for Minnesota. The biggest concern for Raiders fans was would RB Latavius Murray be able to play after he also suffered a concussion in last week's loss. Murray practiced this week and should be good to go as well. Oakland's secondary, which was shredded by Pittsburgh last week for 597 yards, should get a boost as well as safety Nate Allen is expected to play for the first time since the season opener. Oakland is 5 and 1 all time against Minnesota at home and have also won 5 of their past 7 home games.

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New England at NY Giants 4:25pm Sunday
At 8 and 0, the Patriots are one of three undefeated teams left in the NFL. At 5 and 4, the Giants hold a 1/2 game lead over Philadelphia in the NFC East. Ironically, when the Patriots went 17 and 0 in 2007, they beat the Giants in the regular season. But it was the Giants who would end New England's perfect season in the Super Bowl. New England is averaging an NFL best 34.5 points per game, while Tom Brady leads the league with 22 touchdown passes. That doesn't bode well for a Giants defense that is allowing 429.4 yards per game, which is the second worst mark in the NFL. New York will also be without starting defensive lineman Johnathan Hankins, who suffered a season ending injury last week. But the Patriots ground game will take a hit, as they'll be without RB Dion Lewis, who was lost for the season last week. The Giants have won the past 3 meetings between these teams, with two of those wins coming in Super Bowls. They last met in the regular season in 2011, a 24 to 20 Giants win that ended New England's 31 game home winning streak.
Arizona at Seattle 8:30pm Sunday
Both of these teams come into this key NFC West matchup on 2 game winning streaks. The 4 and 4 Seahawks need a victory to keep pace with the 6 and 2 Cardinals for the division lead. Seattle swept both games last season, but in both games Arizona was without starting QB Carson Palmer. The Seahawks outscored the Cardinals 54 to 9 in those two wins last season. Palmer leads the NFC this season with 20 TD passes. His opponent under center, Russell Wilson, has an amazing 28 and 3 career record at home as a starting quarterback. Palmer though is 12 and 2 over the past two seasons for Arizona. The last time that Palmer played at Seattle, the Cardinals won 17 to 10 despite the fact that Palmer threw 4 interceptions. The Seahawks have only allowed 362 total yards and 15 points in their past two games, wins over San Francisco and Dallas. But the Cardinals are second in the NFL in scoring, averaging 32.9 points per game. Seattle is allowing 98.5 yards per game rushing, and will be tasked with trying to slow down Chris Johnson, who has rushed for 100 or more yards in 4 of the Cardinals past 6 games.

Rank stakes: Top teams jockey for playoff position

11/14/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Three games this week feature Top 25 teams going head to head. Those games plus a big matchup in the PAC 12 headline this week's college football preview.
#2 Alabama at #17 Mississippi State Saturday at 3:30pm
Both of these teams come into this SEC matchup hot, with the 8 and 1 Crimson Tide having won their past 6 games while the 7 and 2 Bulldogs have won four in a row. Alabama controls their own destiny to the SEC Championship, with just 2 conference games left against the Bulldogs and Auburn, 2 wins will get the Crimson Tide their birth in the title game. Beating Mississippi State will require the Alabama defense to contain one of the most dynamic players in college football in the Bulldogs Dak Prescott. Prescott has passed for 2,351 yards and 18 TD's while throwing just 1 interception. Prescott also leads Mississippi State in rushing with 418 yards and 7 scores. The Bulldogs defense will have their hands full with Alabama's Derrick Henry, who has rushed for 1,254 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. Alabama won last year's contest, knocking off the then top ranked Bulldogs by the score of 25 to 20.

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#21 Memphis at #24 Houston Saturday at 7pm
The scoreboard may need some extra lights for this American Athletic Conference contest between the 8 and 1 Tigers and the 9 and 0 Cougars. Memphis averages 44.8 points per game, while Houston averages 44.4. The Tigers average 547 yards per game in total offense, while the Cougars average 525. Houston is hoping to be in contention for a New Years Day bowl birth, while Memphis is hoping to rebound from last week's disappointing 45 to 20 loss to Navy. Tiger's QB Paxton Lynch has thrown for 3,014 yards and 19 TD's against just 2 interceptions. Lynch will be facing a Houston defense that leads college football with 25 takeaways. Memphis has won 8 straight road games, but hasn't beaten Houston in 10 years, with the Tigers last win against the Cougars coming on October 15th, 2005. This game marks the first ever matchup between two ranked AAC teams.
Oregon at #7 Stanford Saturday at 7:30pm
After starting the season with a loss at Northwestern, Stanford has won their 8 games since. The 6 and 3 Ducks come in having won their past three games, after having lost 2 of their previous 3. Oregon has put up some impressive offensive numbers this season, averaging 42.2 points per game while putting up 543 yards per game on average. But they also surrender a lot as well, giving up an average of 37.2 points per game and 543 yards of total offense on average. They'll be tested by Stanford's Christian McCaffery, who's 241.6 yards per game average is the best in college football. The winner of this game has won the PAC 12 title each of the past five seasons. Oregon won last year's meeting 45 to 16 at home, but Stanford has lost only 5 of their past 50 home games.
#12 Oklahoma at #6 Baylor Saturday at 8pm
The Big 12 has been known for it's gaudy offensive stats, and both of these teams have helped to inflate those numbers. Baylor averages 57.4 points per game, while Oklahoma averages 46.3. The Bears average 665.6 yards per game, while the Sooners average 549.3. Baylor will be looking to improve to 9 and 0 and to stay in the College Football Playoff hunt. 8 and 1 Oklahoma has won their past 4 games coming into this one, and if they can win out against Baylor, TCU, and rival Oklahoma State, they could stake their claim to a spot in the CFP as well. The Sooners have scored 50 or more points in each of those 4 wins. Baylor has won the past two meetings between these two schools though, by a combined score of 89 to 26.

Forcing change: Why Missouri football could spark changes in other sports

11/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe resigned just days after members of the school's football team went on strike and said they would not participate in practice or play in this weekend's game unless Wolfe stepped down. The reasoning for the players deciding to strike, if you will, was because many on campus felt Wolfe poorly handled a series of troubling racial incidents on campus.
So with the backing of their coaches, the players boycotted practicing and said they would not play this weekend's game versus BYU that was scheduled to be held at Arrowhead Stadium, the home of the Kansas City Chiefs. Had the team not played, it would've cost the university over one million dollars.
But this isn't about the money. It isn't about racism. This isn't about sports. This could go far beyond that. See, these are college football players. They're considered to be amateur athletes, even though they make billions of dollars per year for their respective universities and for the NCAA. They took a risk, and could've suffered major consequences. They could've lost their scholarships, They could've been replaced by walk on players. They have no union representation. But they stood up for what they believed was right and got the desired result.

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So let's take this beyond the University of Missouri football team now. Let's look at this as a catalyst that could be something so much greater. Let's think about what would happen if NFL players would take this approach.
With the recent photos of Greg Hardy's ex girlfriend surfacing, showing the damage he inflicted on her in a domestic violence incident Hardy was arrested and charged for, a lot of backlash came towards the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys, and Greg Hardy himself. But this time, instead of the usual Roger Goodell bashing, the finger started to point in another direction. It pointed towards the NFL players union.
See unlike the football players at Missouri, the NFL players do have a union. A very strong union. The NFLPA. A union that has shown it's much stronger than the NFL commissioners office time and time again. One of those shows of strength was having Greg Hardy's 10 game suspension for his role in that incident reduced to 4 games.
So what if? What if NFL players decided to follow the lead of the Missouri football team? Two members of the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line spoke out against Hardy after the game versus the Cowboys this past weekend. What if those players decided they wouldn't play against Dallas unless Hardy was deactivated? What if a player like William Gay of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost his mother to domestic violence, decided to take a stand and rallied his teammates? What if the entire Pittsburgh Steelers team said they wouldn't play unless Greg Hardy wasn't allowed to?
It may sound far fetched, but it's more realistic than a lot may think. You cant start a fire without a spark. The Missouri football team provided that spark. They showed the real power lies within the players. So what if some players in the NFL followed that lead and stood up against domestic violence? Maybe then we would finally see the change that so many want to see in regards to the NFL.

Playoff bound: Top teams take center stage today

11/07/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The first weekend after the college football playoff rankings features all 4 teams in action. Two of them will face off, while another will face a Top 20 opponent as well. Let's preview what the first four of the 2015 college football playoff race have in store this weekend.
#3 Ohio State vs Minnesota Saturday at 8pm
Cardale Jones returns under center and will try to lead the Buckeyes to a 9 and 0 record against 4 and 4 Minnesota. J.T. Barrett, who had taken over at quarterback, is suspended for this game. So Jones returns as the starter, with former QB turned WR Braxton Miller as the backup. Besides who's at quarterback and trying to slow down Miller wherever he plays at, the Golden Gophers will also have to deal with RB Ezekiel Elliott, who will be looking for his 14th straight 100 yard game. This will be Tracey Claeys second game as Minnesota head coach. Claeys took over under the headset when Jerry Kill retired two weeks ago. Ohio State has dominated the series versus Minnesota, winning the past 9 meetings.

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#1 Clemson vs #16 Florida State Saturday at 3:30pm
The first top team in this year's CFP has a tough task on their hands in their first week at the top of the rankings. The 8 and 0 Tigers were a surprise selection as the top team in the land to some, but they can secure a spot in the ACC Championship with a win over the 7 and 1 Seminoles. Florida State is hoping QB Everett Golson and RB Dalvin Cook will be available, as both sat out last week's win over Syracuse due to injury. Deshaun Watson leads the Tigers in off of a 383 yard, 5 passing touchdowns performance against North Carolina State last week. Clemson has won 11 consecutive games dating back to last season. The last time these teams played at Clemson, the Seminoles blew the Tigers out by the score of 51 to 14 in 2013.
#2 LSU at #4 Alabama Saturday at 8pm
Two of the top running backs in college football will square off in this SEC clash pitting the 7 and 0 Tigers against the 7 and 1 Crimson Tide. LSU's Leonard Fournette comes in having rushed with 1,352 yards and 15 TD's, while Alabama's Derrick Henry has 1,044 yards on the ground and 14 scores. For the 7th time in the past 10 years, these teams come into their annual clash with both teams ranked in the Top 10. Both teams also come into this game off of a bye week. 4 of the last 10 games between them have gone to overtime as well. Alabama has won the past four meetings, including last year's 20 to 13 win that went to, you guessed it, overtime.

Tough Ending: Kill's emotional decision to retire was right move

11/06/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

With the announcement of the first four teams for the Bowl Championship Series and the debacle of officiating in the ending of the Miami vs Duke game dominating the headlines of college football, maybe you missed this story. Coaches come and go in NCAA football, speaking of Miami it just happened there prior to the Duke game. But Jerry Kill leaving the University of Minnesota was different from most coaching departures. It was emotional. It was obviously a very difficult decision. But it was also the right move.
Jerry Kill had worked his way up the coaching ladder through such places as Saginaw Valley State, Emporia State, and Southern Illinois universities before getting a chance to coach a Division One program. After 14 years in the sub divisions, Kill was named head coach at Northern Illinois in 2008. Kill led the Huskies to bowl games in all 3 of his seasons as coach, his most successful being his final season in 2010, where NIU went 10 and 3.
Kill would leave Northern Illinois to take the head coaching job at Minnesota of the Big 10 Conference. His team struggled his first season, going 3 and 9, but the on field losses weren't Kill's biggest issue. Kill first started to have health issues due to seizures. The team improved the following season, winning 6 games and becoming bowl eligible. In 2013, the Gophers started the season winning 4 of their first 5 games, but Kill had to take a leave of absence due to the seizures he suffered. He watched the rest of the season from the press box, before returning to the field in 2014. Minnesota finished 8 and 5, matching their record from the season before. Kill was also named the Big 10 Coach of the Year for 2014 as well. But the seizures came back this season, and Kill was forced to announce his retirement last week

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By resigning, Kill walked away from $10 million dollars in salary due from his contract which ran through 2019. Instead he received an $800,000 buyout. Kill worked as an assistant coach then a head coach at lower level programs for 28 years to finally get his big break at Minnesota, but he never got to enjoy it due to his health issues. He called his decision to retire the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life and the toughest thing he had to deal with besides the death of his father.
But it was some advice from Kill's late father that helped him to walk away. His father told him "that no matter how much money you make, you give everything you've got and don't cheat the person who's paying you". While that was sound advice, there is more than just that.
It was a hard decision. It took a lot to walk away from that dream job and the millions of dollars. But it was the right decision. Jerry Kill realized that there is a lot more important than football and money. Kill realized how precious time on earth is and that his wife and kids are more important than all of that other stuff. As Kill himself said at his farewell press conference "if you ain't around to spend all that money, what difference does it make"?

Grave digging: Brown was one of football's greatest characters of the 1990s

11/05/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Gilbert Brown: He was a fan favorite in Green Bay for many reasons. Partially because at 350 pounds, fans couldn't miss him on the field. Partially because of his "Grave Digger" nickname, which he gained for his post tackle or sack celebration dance. Partially because he really did have it his way at Burger King, having his own burger named after him. But also partially because of his success on the field as a member of the Packers, helping the team win their first Super Bowl in nearly 30 years after the 1996 season.
Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Brown was all state in football his senior year. Believe it or not, he also lettered in track as a member of his high school's shot put team. Brown was a fairly sought after defensive lineman following high school, recruited to the University of Michigan by legendary head coach Bo Schembechler. However Brown wanted to get away from the inner city and decided to play his college football at the University of Kansas, which really wasn't known for football. Prior to Brown's arrival in 1989, the Jayhawks football team had won 5 games total over their previous 3 seasons. During Brown's senior year, Kansas won their first Bowl Game in 31 years when the Jayhawks won the 1992 Aloha Bowl.
Brown actually wasn't drafted by Green Bay, he was selected by Minnesota in the 3rd round of the 1993 NFL draft. Brown was cut by the Vikings in part because of his weight, he came into camp weighing 355lbs. But the Packers signed him, and would be the only NFL team Brown played a regular season game for. Despite having the 1994 and 1995 seasons cut short due to injury, Brown came into his own in 1996. Playing on a defensive line with Reggie White, Santana Dotson, and Sean Jones, Brown and the Packers allowed an NFL record low 19 touchdowns that season. Green Bay would also go on to win Super Bowl XXI, the Packers first championship since Super Bowl II.

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Brown would play for the Packers from 1993 through 1999, then after sitting out the 2000 season, would play from 2001 through 2003 in Green Bay as well. Brown was best known for his Grave Digger celebration dance, which earned him the nickname. He also had a burger named after him at Burger King, the "Gilbert Burger", which was a triple Whopper with extra everything, just no pickles. It was the burger Brown would order regularly during the 1996 Super Bowl season
After his NFL career, Brown spent some time as a coach in both arena football and in the Lingerie Football League. He's also co owner of the Milwaukee Mile race track and has his own foundation which has supported breast cancer, inner city youth, and the Make A Wish Foundation. He was selected as a member of the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame in 2008.
Oh, and he still has a burger named after him as well. A local sports bar in Green Bay features the Grave Digger Burger, which weighs 93 ounces (5 & 3/4lbs)in honor of Brown's former number, #93, with the Packers.

Contractually obligated: Time to change NFL cutting away from end of games

11/04/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

You just finished watching your home NFL team play at 1pm. You've been watching the score of another game and see the score is still tied with time remaining after your team's game is over. CBS or Fox cuts to that game. One team is driving for the game winning score. And then it cuts back to the studio where you're told that "due to contractual obligations" they have to leave live coverage of that game.
So instead of actually watching the exciting ending of that game that's going down to the wire, you can watch the studio hosts talk about what's going on. Yeah, that's right. Instead of being able to actually watch the end of the game, you get to watch the studio hosts give you a play by play of what they're watching in the game you just were, but you can't actually watch it because of these "contractual obligations".
I understand the obligation to show the game of the team designated to that television market. If you live in Pittsburgh and the Steelers play at 4pm, you're getting switched to that game. And that's understandable since that is the team's market and local advertising is directed to the home team's game. It's also per NFL policy that no other game can compete with a sold out home game in a team's designated home market. Even if you're in a fringe market that doesn't have a team, for example Los Angeles is designated as San Diego's home market, you get switched to that team's game. Again, I can understand the reasoning for that based on what was stated above.

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But why is it that when your home team's game or the game in your market ends, these obligations prevent you from watching the end of another game? How is it a good idea to cut away from the end of a game between non home market teams? Because contractual obligations require that a designated national or regional game on the opposite network doesn't have another game running against it? If it's the only other game televised in the local market, fans are going to switch to it upon the finish of the game they were watching. Why does the NFL feel that Joe Buck and Troy Aikman's pre game banter and some lame sideline interview with a coach who isn't really interested in giving that pre game interview is necessary to be seen by everybody?
I think it's time the NFL gets with the times on this. Cutting away from games because of these outdated contractual obligations is ridiculous. Especially since NFL Red Zone and NFL Sunday Ticket are available everywhere. Obviously the NFL wants to sell those products. So they would want more viewers to watch on them. Which means as soon as the NFL cuts away from a game due to contractual obligations, what do you think anyone with Red Zone or Sunday Ticket are doing? They're switching to the end of the game they were watching.
So since technology and programming pretty much guarantees that anyone watching a game where contractual obligations prevent viewers from seeing the end of it, don't you think the NFL should be obligated to get their outdated obligations updated?

Title town: Games starting to shape up bowl, title game pictures

10/31/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Georgia at #11 Florida 3:30pm
This matchup could determine who ends up in the SEC Championship Game as the representative of the Eastern Division. The Gators come in 4 and 1 in the conference (6 and 1 overall) while the Bulldogs come in 3 and 2 in the SEC (5 and 2 overall). For Georgia to have a realistic chance at making it to the title game, they'll need a win in this one. Both teams come in off of a bye week, and had differing results in their last games. Florida lost a tough game against #LSU by the score of 35 to 28, while Georgia gutted out a 9 to 6 win over Missouri. That win for the Bulldogs came one week after star RB Nick Chubb was lost for the season to injury. Faton Bauta will start at quarterback for Georgia, taking over for Greyson Lambert who has struggled in the Bulldogs past 3 games, which they lost 2 of. Florida rushed for 418 yards in winning last years matchup 38 to 20.

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#3 Clemson at NC State 3:30pm
The 7 and 0 Tigers have climbed into the ranks of the top four teams in the nation, and will try to stay perfect this season against the 5 and 2 Wolfpack. Clemson comes in having handed Miami their worst defeat in school history, winning 58 to 0. NC State broke a 2 game losing streak with a 35 to 17 win over Wake Forest. The Tigers won last years meeting 41 to 0, and have won 35 straight games over unranked opponents. Their last loss to an non ranked foe was against NC State back in 2011. NC State hasn't won against a ranked team since 2012 and are 0 and 9 all time against ranked teams with 7 and 0 or better records.
#9 Notre Dame at #21 Temple 8pm
One of the biggest surprises in college football this season have been the Owls, who come into this game a perfect 7 and 0 on the season, which is the best start in Temple history. The Owls are also ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since 1979. Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia will be sold out for this marquee matchup against the 6 and 1 Fighting Irish. Notre Dame has struggled on defense in 2015, ranking 50th in the nation in total defense. The Irish gave up 590 yards to USC in their last game two weeks ago, a 41 to 31 win. Temple's offense however is far from explosive. The Owls rank 108th in total offense, but their defense has been strong. Temple ranks in the top 5 in college football in average points allowed and interceptions. Notre Dame is 1 and 1 on the road so far this season, while Temple is 3 and 0 at home. One note of interest that may spook Temple...Notre Dame is 15 and 0 all time in games played on Halloween.
#8 Stanford at Washington State 10:30pm
The 6 and 1 Cardinal will try to get one step closer to securing a birth in the PAC 12 Championship when they visit the 5 and 2 Cougars. Stanford leads the North Division with a 5 and 0 record in the conference, while Washington State comes in at 3 and 2 in PAC 12 play. Stanford has won their past 6 games after starting the season with a loss to Northwestern. The Cardinal have scored 40 or more points in 4 of their 5 conference wins as well. Washington State has won their past 3 games, scoring 45 or more points in each of those victories. Stanford will be looking for their 8th straight win over Washington State, with the Cougars last win over the Cardinal coming in 2007.

Road warriors: Clemson looks to stay unbeaten with second road test of season

10/24/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

#6 Clemson at Miami 12pm
The undefeated Tigers will take to the road for only the second time this season when they travel to 4 and 2 Miami in this ACC clash. On paper these teams have very similar offensive numbers. Clemson averages 35.2 points per game while Miami averages 33.7. The Tigers average 448.5 yards per game, while the Hurricanes average 443.8. After dropping back to back road games, the Hurricanes rebounded with a 30 to 20 home win over Virginia Tech last week. Clemson's only road game so far this season was a 20 to 17 win over Louisville on September 17th, but the Tigers have been strong away from home recently, winning 17 of their past 21 games away from home. These teams last met in Miami in 2009 with Clemson winning 40 to 37.

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#17 Oklahoma at Texas Tech 3:30pm
The 5 and 1 Sooners will hit the road in this one to take on the 5 and 2 Red Raiders. This game will pit one of the Big 12's best defenses against one of the top offenses in the country. Texas Tech averages 623.7 yards per game in total offense and 427.6 yards passing per game, both of which rank 2nd best in the NCAA. The Red Raiders 49.4 points per game is the 3rd highest in the nation. Oklahoma is tops in the Big 12 in total defense, scoring defense, passing defense, and interceptions. The Sooners are 2nd in the conference in sacks as well. Defensively though, Texas Tech has struggled. The Red Raiders have the 122nd ranked passing defensive in the NCAA, giving up an average of 553.6 yards per game. They haven't been much better against the run either, allowing an average of 263.9 yards against per game. It was the ground game that did in Texas Tech in last year's matchup, as the Sooners rushed for 384 yards. Samaje Perine led the way for Oklahoma with 213 yards rushing and 3 TD's in the 42 to 30 win.
Tennessee at #8 Alabama 3:30pm
The 6 and 1 Crimson Tide come into this SEC matchup on a roll, having won their past 4 games since losing to Mississippi on September 19th. Coming in at 3 and 3, Tennessee had lost back to back games to Arkansas and Florida by a combined 5 points, but rebounded with a 38 to 31 upset win over #19 Georgia two weeks ago. Offensively these teams are very close on average. Tennessee averages 37.2 points per game while Alabama averages 35.6 points per game. The Volunteers average 434.7 yards per game, while the Crimson Tide 430.1 yards per game. Alabama has dominated Tennessee recently, winning the past 8 meetings by an average of 23.5 points. The Volunteers have struggled on the road against ranked teams as well, losing 22 straight games at ranked opponents.
#15 Texas A&M at #24 Mississippi 7pm
Offense will be on display in this SEC matchup of Top 25 teams. The 5 and 2 Rebels come in averaging 43.6 points per game and 521 yards per game, while the 5 and 1 Aggies come in averaging 36.5 points per game and 453 yards per game. And both teams defenses are giving up lots of yards as well, with Texas A&M surrendering 378.3 yards per game while Mississippi gives up an average of 359.4 yards against. Both teams are coming in off of losses as well. The Aggies fell to Alabama last week, while Mississippi was upset by Memphis. Though Texas A&M has played away from home, this will be their first actual road game, where the Aggies have struggled recently, losing 4 of their past 6 SEC road games. Ole Miss won last years meeting 35 to 20, marking the Rebels first ever in against Texas A&M.

Uniformed ridiculousness: Why the NFL's uniform policy needs some change

10/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

What do you do when you're the most popular sports brand on the planet? Well if you're the NFL, for some reason you keep doing things that seem to be dumber and dumber each time they come out. As if the Deflate Gate saga wasn't enough, the NFL's most recent publicity takes it's ridiculousness to a new level. It seems the NFL frowns upon players wearing anything as a tribute to a lost loved one.
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward was fined for wearing the words "Iron Head" on his eye black as a tribute to his late father, Craig "Iron Head" Heyward. Of course, his dad was an NFL running back given that nickname for his bruising style of running. Craig Heyward also died of cancer before he was 40 years old. Cam was fined for wearing the eye black, but decided he would wear it again last week. But now he'll wear it no more. Heyward released a statement in which he said after meeting with NFL officials, he's decided not to wear it anymore. Heyward stated he doesn't want to be a distraction to his team and that while he appreciates the outpouring of support, he never wanted this gesture to bring this much attention to him. Instead of fighting the NFL, Heyward formed a partnership with that will donate 50% of all Iron Head designated eye black sales to Heyward's charitable foundation.
Way to go NFL, you really made your point there. You made Cam Heyward out to be an upstanding player who obviously cares about more than just being a football player. You made sure he didn't cross that uniform policy line, how dare he think he could write on his own eye black? Yup, you definitely made you point NFL. Especially since, you know, guys like Greg Hardy are representing your league in other cities.

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I understand the need for some type of a uniform policy. If the NFL has a partnership with Reebok to make their jersey's and a player who has his own endorsement deal with Nike decides to wear Nike branded products, well that would be a problem. But I'm not sure why DeAngelo Williams request to wear pink socks and wrist bands to honor his mother who died from breast cancer is a problem?
I mentioned being dumber and dumber above, so speaking of Dumb and Dumber, I think this quote from the iconic movie kind of fits the NFL's recent uniform policy crack down. "Just when I thought you couldn't possibly be any dumber, you go and do something like this".

SOS: Same old stuff from NHL and its officials

10/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

If you're a hockey fan, there's nothing like the start of a new season. No matter where you're at, the excitement of a new season is everywhere. Whether you're in Chicago where the defending Stanley Cup champions reside, or in Edmonton or Buffalo, where the hope of young talent and fresh start will equal better days ahead. So far it's been the same that the start of every season is. Fans are packing most arenas. Games are being carried and watched both nationally and locally by mostly large audiences. And the officiating is an absolute joke.
The league made changes to better the game in the off season in areas that needed change or improvement. The feeling was that too many games were going to shootout, and that the shootout itself had lost it's popularity with fans. So they adjusted the overtime format to include a 3 on 3 portion to increase the number of games decided before the shootout itself. It also gives players a lot of room on the ice to show off their skills without being obstructed.
With missed calls on offsides and goaltender interference affecting the outcomes of games in the 2015 playoffs, the league instituted it's first ever coaches challenge. Under the premise, a team's coach can challenge the ruling on an offsides play by the opposition that leads to a goal, but is missed on the ice. He can also challenge a goal scored that was the result of goaltender interference, or challenge a call on the ice that interfering with the goalie that wasn't actually interference led to a goal being disallowed.

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So if the NHL is willing to make these changes to better the game, why not change the way the games are actually called? When is the NHL going to realize that to be taken seriously as a major sport, something has to change with the way the games are officiated on the ice? Case in point, I live in Pittsburgh, so obviously I'm a Penguins fan. I have already seen multiple penalties that should've been called against opposing players obstructing or holding Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin not called. And this isn't just happening in Pittsburgh. These guys are the NHL's best players. They're the best talent on the ice, they have great offensive skills to display, and they're the guys the fans pay to see or watch on TV. But because the NHL doesn't require their officials to actually enforce their own rules, these guys are being limited in what they can do.
Here's another example. Penguins rookie forward Sergei Plotnikov, who came over from the KHL, gets blatantly tripped in one game and cross checked from behind in another. The explanation the television announcer gives for why a penalty wasn't called in either case. Because Plotnikov is a younger player, he's not going to get those same calls from the refs that a more veteran player would. Wait, what? Could you imagine an official in the NFL ignoring blatant pass interference against a wide receiver because he was a rookie? Could you imagine an NBA referee turning a blind eye to an obvious foul because the player fouled isn't "veteran enough"? You couldn't imagine that happening if you're a fan of either of those sports because it's just ridiculous. But it's commonplace in the NHL.
Scoring jumped 20% from the 2003/04 season, which was the season before the lockout, and the 2005/06 season, which was the first one after the lockout. Why? Because penalties, such as obstruction, were actually being called. Last season the power play opportunities per game was the lowest in NHL history. Not the lowest in the last decade, not the lowest since expansion in the early 1990's, the lowest EVER. And that's also why Jamie Benn, the NHL's leader in scoring last season, had 87 total points last season. That was the first time since 1968 that the scoring leader had less than 90 points
The solution isn't complicated. The rules are there. So why is it so hard for the NHL to enforce them?

And then there were five: Teams look to stay unbeaten

10/18/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Five teams remain undefeated in the NFL heading into Week 6...let's take a look at what's on tap for those teams this week and see who will remain unbeaten and who is likely to taste defeat for the first time in 2015.
Denver at Cleveland
If somebody told you before the season that the Browns would be averaging more points per game than the Broncos five weeks into the regular season, you'd say they were crazy, right? Well the Browns are averaging 23.6 points per game, one point better than what Denver is averaging per game. But the Broncos defense is a big part of the reason they're undefeated so far. So far Denver is allowing 15.8 points per game, which is second lowest in the NFL, 278 yards per game, which is best in the league, and has also forced a league high 14 turnovers. That's made up for a passing attack that ranks 23rd in the league, and a rushing attack that ranks 30th. They'll face Josh McCown this week, who's coming off of a record setting performance in Week 4. McCown passed for a Browns regular season record 457 yards in last week's win over Baltimore. The Broncos are perfect through 3 games on the road so far this season, while the Browns have split their 2 homes games. Denver won the last meeting between these teams 34 to 12 back in 2012.

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Cincinnati at Buffalo
Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Tyler Eifert have led a Bengals passing attack that has been one of the best in the NFL so far this season. Their opponent this week will be without at least one important part of their passing offense. Buffalo starting QB Tyrod Taylor will be out this week, and WR's Sammy Watkins and Percy Harvin are questionable. That means E.J. Manuel will make his first start under center since Week 4 of last season. The good news for the Bills is that RB LeSean McCoy should be back in on the field this week. The Bills have one of the best run defenses in the league, ranking third in yards against per game. But they'll be tested through the air by Dalton, who is averaging over 300 yards passing per game and has thrown 11 TD's versus just 2 interceptions so far this season. The Bengals are 2 and 0 on the road so far, while the Bills are just 1 and 2 at home. These teams last met in 2013, when Dalton passed for 337 yards and 3 scores in Cincinnati's 27 to 24 overtime win.
Carolina at Seattle
One of these teams is 4 and 0. The other is 2 and 3. If you would assume the defending NFC champs are the undefeated team, you would be incorrect. Not only are the Panthers perfect so far this season, they've won their past 8 regular season games. Winning in Seattle though is a tough thing to do, as the Seahawks have won 28 of their past 30 home games. Both teams will get a boost from returning players this week. Seattle will get RB Marshawn Lynch back, while the Panthers who are coming off of a bye week, will get star LB Luke Kuechly back. Seattle was 3 and 3 last season before righting their ship en route to the NFC title. Carolina is looking to go 5 and 0 for the first time since 2003, which is the season of their only Super Bowl appearance. These teams met in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs last season, with Seattle winning 31 to 17.
San Diego at Green Bay
After losing on the last play of the game on Monday night against Pittsburgh, the Chargers not only have a short week. But they have a short week and have to play Green Bay at Lambeau Field, where the Packers have won 11 and 33 of their past 35 games. The Packers were strong against the pass in last week's home win over St. Louis, but struggled against the Rams running game. They'll need to be strong against the pass again this week as they face the 2nd best passing attack in the NFL behind QB Philip Rivers, who's passed for 1,613 yards and 10 TD's. Of course San Diego will to slow down Aaron Rodgers, who's passed for 1,236 yards and thrown 13 TD's and just 2 interceptions so far this season. The Chargers are 0 and 2 on the road this season while the Packers are 3 and 0 at home. San Diego hasn't beaten Green Bay since 1984, with the Packers winning the last meeting between these teams 45 to 38 in a shootout in San Diego in 2011.
New England at Indianapolis
The last time these teams met, the Patriots rolled to a 45 to 7 win in the AFC Championship and Deflate Gate was born. While the Patriots are perfect through their first 4 games of 2015, the Colts have won 3 in a row after starting the season 0 and 2. Indianapolis might get starting QB Andrew Luck back from injury, but the may want to ride the hot hand of Matt Hasselbeck, who won both starts in Luck's absence. Hasselbeck has thrown for 495 yards and 3 TD's without an interception in his 2 starts, while Luck had thrown 7 picks in his 3 starts. The QB on the other team hasn't thrown an interception yet this season either. Tom Brady has thrown for 1,387 yards and 11 TD's so far. New England will be without starting offensive tackle Nate Solder though, as he was lost for the season in last week's win over Dallas. The Patriots are looking to start 5 and 0 for the first time since 2007, the year they had a perfect regular season. New England has won the past 6 meetings between these teams by an average of 21 points.

Cena later: Why WWE's biggest star stepping aside is best for business

10/14/15 by Rennie Detore

John Cena started with WWE on its main roster in 2002. Thirteen years later, he's easily the company's biggest star and largest draw financially.
And now, he's walking away from the ring.
Although Cena leaving WWE is only a temporary hiatus, the absence of WWE's main attraction is likely going to sting initially in the form of decreased television ratings and pay per view interest waning.

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Cena is quite the polarizing figure, and despite wrestling not being nearly what it was in the late 1990s, the company generates millions on the back of Cena as its featured performer. Cena is marketed as a fan favorite, and no one does more publicity for the company that Cena.
He loves his job, and what the WWE and Chairman Vince McMahon has done for his career. He's made him a superstar and in turn, Cena is loyalty personified and the perfect face for WWE and its PG rated, kid friendly product.
But Cena is loved to be hated by anyone who isn't 10 years old, and that's part of what makes his character work: kids love to see him win, older, teen age and adult fans love to watch him lose.
No matter what the reason, Cena draws in viewers.
So him saying so long for what can only be described as a mini vacation or respite ultimately is going to hurt WWE.
Or, is it?
Wrestling has always been about building new stars. No WWE superstar lasts forever. When Hulk Hogan left WWE initially in the mid 1990s, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels grabbed the reigns. When Hart left the company in the late 1990s and Michaels was out of commission due to injury, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin took the company to heights even higher than Hogan.
Austin's injuries caught up to him in early 2000s, and Triple H, now the company's Chief Operating Officer, stepped up and carried WWE until Cena arrived as the perfect foil.
Cena leaving the company for a little while in 2015 opens the door for younger, unproven talent to finally do what he did 13 years early: become a mega star. Granted, WWE isn't the platform it once was, but the company now more than ever since Cena established himself as "the man" needs someone to take the torch and run with it.
Certainly, some superstars stand out more than others, such as Bray Wyatt, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, the current heavyweight champion and arguably the best performer in the company right now. You also can throw Kevin Owens, the veteran on the independent wrestling scene, and Rusev, a Russian bad guy with a ton of upside.
No matter who it is that steals the show and, as Jim Ross, former WWE head of talent relations and broadcaster extraordinaire would say, put butts in the seats, the time is now for that to happen. Cena isn't here to save the day and bail out WWE in its time of need.
These wrestlers, these athletes and these would be superstars are about to have a window of opportunity to assert themselves as stars.
Missing out on that is going to mean waiting that much longer to make their mark, and WWE having to once again trot out the same stars with no new, legitimate, money making faces in sight.

Out of line: The take out slide in MLB needs to go

10/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

"He plays the game hard". "It's part of the game". "He was doing his job, trying to break up that double play". Those were all things that were said after the Los Angeles Dodgers Chase Utley slid into the New York Mets Ruben Tejada in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Saturday. A day later, Major League Baseball said the play was illegal and that Utley will be suspended for Games 2 and 3 of the NLDS.
The controversial play not only broke up the double play, but Utley ended up being ruled safe after replay showed Tejada never touched second base. It also allowed the tying run to score for the Dodgers. Had the slide been called illegal on the field like it should have been, the double play would've counted and the inning would've been over. And who knows, maybe the Mets would've won the game and need 1 more victory to move on to the NL Championship Series. But enough about that end of the play.
The play also resulted in Tejada ending up with a broken leg, thus ending his season. And no matter what anybody says, it's clear that Utley's slide was nowhere near second base. He went out of his way to slide into Tejada. And it wasn't even a slide that looked like a baseball slide, it looked like a soccer slide tackle. And even it was called correctly on the field, the Mets would still be without their starting short stop for the rest of the post season. This play comes less than a month after another take out slide by the Chicago Cubs Chris Coghlan resulted in the Pittsburgh Pirates Jung Ho Kang being seriously injured. Kang's injuries may actually be worse than Tejada's, as he is expected to miss 6 to 8 months. That play was another play where Coghlan's slide was nowhere near the base.

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With professional sports putting a premium on player safety and making changes in their respective games to protect players from injury, it's time for MLB to do away with the take out slide. Home plate collisions have been banned in MLB for the past 2 seasons, due in large part to San Francisco catcher Buster Posey being seriously injured on a home plate collision in 2011.
I understand playing the game hard. I understand a player wanting to help his team. But something has to be done here. I'm not saying sliding hard into the base needs to be taken out of the game, because it shouldn't be. If a player ends up taking an infielder out because he tried to slide into the base and contact was made there, that's a good, hard play. But as for sliding out of the way, completely missing the base, and the only intention being to slide into the infielder, it's time for MLB to take out the take out slide.

Staying perfect: Surprise teams looking to stay unbeaten

10/11/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Seattle at Cincinnati
After four weeks of the regular season, not too many people would have thought it would be Cincinnati that was 4 and 0 while Seattle was 2 and 2. A big part of the reason for the Bengals start is because Andy Dalton has only been sacked twice, which is tied for lowest in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, Russell Wilson has been sacked 18 times so far this season, which is tied for the most in the league. The Seahawks will also be without RB Marshawn Lynch for the second straight game. Seattle may also be without another back, as Fred Jackson remains questionable after sustaining a high ankle sprain last week. After starting the season 0 and 2, the Seahawks have won 2 straight on the strength of their defense, which has surrendered only 10 points since the return of Kam Chancellor. Chancellor and company will be tested this week by the Bengals Andy Dalton, who has thrown for 1,187 yards and 9 touchdowns against just 1 interception. A.J. Green has 25 catches for 417 yards and 3 TD's so far as well. Cincinnati is looking to start the season 5 and 0 for the first time since 1988, which was the last time the Bengals reached the Super Bowl.

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Washington at Atlanta
The Falcons offense has been clicking through their first 4 wins of this season, and they'll have a chance to make it 5 straight wins against a Redskins defense that comes in banged up. Washington will be without both starting cornerbacks, DeAngelo Hall will miss his 2nd straight game due to a to injury, while Chris Culliver will sit out due to a knee injury. That's not good news for trying to shut down Atlanta's weapons on offense. Matt Ryan has passed for 1.202 yards and 6 TD's versus 2 interceptions But both of Ryan's picks came in Week 1. Julio Jones has caught 38 passes for 478 yards and 4 touchdowns. Davonta Freeman has put up 342 yards in total offense and scored 6 TD's in the past 2 games since taking over as the Falcons starting running back. Washington is also hurting on offense as well. DeSean Jackson will miss his 5th consecutive game due to injury, while TE Jordan Reed, who leads the team in receiving, will also be out. Atlanta has won their first 2 home games this season, while Washington has lost their past 5 road games dating back to last year.
St. Louis at Green Bay
The Packers will be looking for their 12th consecutive win at Lambeau Field, and also to start 5 and 0 for the first time since 2011. The Rams have had 2 impressive victories, against Seattle in their season opener at home and last week at Arizona. But were less than impressive in 2 losses at Washington in Week 2 and at home against Pittsburgh in Week 3. The Rams offense got a boost last week as well from rookie RB Todd Gurley, who rushed for 155 yards in last week's win. Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL with 11 TD passes, and has yet to throw an interception this season. Both teams are tied for 2nd in sacks with 17 each, but the Rams will be without LB Alec Ogletree, who fractured his right fibula last week. Green Bay is looking to start 5 and 0 for the first time since 2011. The Packers have won the past 4 meetings between these teams as well.
Denver at Oakland
The Broncos will be looking to start 5 and 0 while at the same time extending their winning streak against the Raiders to 8 games. Peyton Manning has had the Raiders number as well, winning 9 consecutive games going back to when he was a member of the Indianapolis Colts. So far this season though, the backbone for Denver has been their defense. The Broncos lead the NFL in sacks are giving up the lowest average yards against per game. Their 11 takeaways are tied for 2nd most in the NFL, while their 17.3 points allowed per game is tied for 2nd lowest. They'll get even more help this week as DE Derek Wolfe will return from a 4 game suspension. Despite having a chance to start the season 3 and 2 for the first time since 2011, the Raiders defense rank 31st in the NFL. They will be tested by Manning and company, with Ronnie Hillman expected to start at RB after rushing for 103 yards in last week's win. Demaryius Thomas has also caught 33 passes for 361 yards through 4 games as well. Oakland has been led by QB David Carr, who's 922 yards passing is just 46 yards less than Manning, and who has thrown 7 TD's against 2 interceptions. Rookie WR Amari Cooper has been his top target, catching 24 passes for 339 yards and 2 TD's.

Staying perfect: Several teams looking to remain unbeaten

10/10/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

13 Northwestern at #18 Michigan Saturday at 3:30pm
If it's defense you like, you'll want to be in Ann Arbor for this Big Ten Conference matchup. Northwestern is giving up just 7.0 points per game, which is the lowest average in college football. Right behind them is Michigan, who's giving up 7.6 points against. If you like a tight game that most likely will come down to the wire, you'll want to be in Ann Arbor for this one as well. Michigan won last year's meeting 10 to 9 when the Wildcats went for the game winning 2 point conversion in the game's final seconds. The Wolverines won in triple overtime in 2013, and double OT in 2012 as well. The Wildcats lead the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, averaging 248.8 yards per game, while Michigan is allowing 71.8 rushing yards per game, which is the lowest mark in the conference. Northwestern is trying to go 6 and 0 for the first time since 1962, while Michigan is looking for their 3rd straight shutout for the first time since 1980. After dropping their season opener, the Wolverines have won their past 4 games.

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Navy at #15 Notre Dame Saturday at 3:30pm
At 4 and 0, the Midshipmen are off to their best start in 12 years, while the Fighting Irish are looking to rebound after a tough loss to #12 Clemson last week. Going back to last season, Navy has won 10 of their past 11 games, with their only loss coming against Notre Dame. When Navy started 5 and 0 in 2004, it was the Fighting Irish who beat them then as well. The Midshipmen will rely on record setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who has rushed for 488 yards and scored 9 touchdowns so far this season. Reynolds has scored 73 career rushing TD's, the most by a quarterback in NCAA history, and needs 5 more to break the record of former Wisconsin RB Montae Ball for the most rushing touchdowns in NCAA history as well. Reynolds is the driving force behind a Navy rushing attack that averages 339.8 yards per game. Notre Dame has a strong running game as well, led by C.J. Prosise, who has rushed for 650 yards and 6 TD's so far in 2015. Notre Dame has won the past 4 meetings between these schools.
#12 Florida State vs Miami Saturday at 8pm
The Seminoles will be looking to improve to 5 and 0 overall and in the process, beat their in state rival for the 5th consecutive time as well. To do so, Florida State may need to find a healthy ball carrier. Mario Pender is still in the hospital due to a collapsed lung, and top running back Dalvin Cook may not be ready to play either. Cook, who leads the ACC in rushing with 570 yards, suffered a hamstring injury last week's win over Wake Forest and didn't practice much this week. Miami is coming in off an upset loss to Cincinnati after winning their first 4 games of the season. That loss continues the Hurricanes road struggles, as they've lost 7 of their past 9 games away from home. Florida State won last year's meeting 30 to 26 after the Hurricanes jumped out to a 16 to 0 lead. The longest winning streak Florida State has had in the series before was 7 in a row from 1963 to 1972.
#23 California at #5 Utah Saturday at 10pm
The scoreboard could be lighting up in this one when the 5 and 0 Golden Bears visit the 4 and 0 Utes in this Pac 12 showdown. Utah averages 43.4 points per game, while California is averaging 38.8 points per game. The Golden Bears are averaging 527.8 yards per game, while Utah is averaging 393.5, while California is giving up 386.8 yards per game and the Utes are surrendering 373.2 yards per game. California is looking to start the season at 6 and 0 for the first time in 65 years. QB Jared Goff has passed for 1630 yards and has thrown 15 TD's against 4 interceptions. Kenny Lawler has been Goff's top target, catching 27 passes for 399 yards and 8 touchdowns. The Utes have been led by QB Travis Wilson, who has put up over 700 yards in total offense (513 yards passing/200 yards rushing) and 7 TD's (4 pass/3 rush). RB Dovantae Booker has contributed 592 yards in total offense as well (443 rushing yards/149 receiving yards) and has scored 4 TD's and thrown another.

Wild ride: MLB playoffs start with two intriguing wild card battles

10/06/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The 2015 MLB season came down to the last day before the post season was set. Following the exciting finish to the regular season comes the nervousness and excitement for fans in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Houston, and New York, where those teams seasons will come down to 1 game. Let's take a look at this year's Wild Card matchups.
National League: Chicago at Pittsburgh Wednesday at 8pm
The reward for having the 2nd best and 3rd best records in baseball? Getting to play each other in a one game, loser goes home Wild Card game. The Pirates clinched home field by winning their final regular season game, and for the 3rd straight year will host the NL Wild Card game. The Cubs won the season series, going 11 and 8 against the Pirates. This game will feature quite the pitching matchup with Chicago's Jake Arrieta going against Pittsburgh's Gerrit Cole. Arrieta led MLB with 22 wins and his 1.77 ERA is second best in the majors. Cole's 19 wins were tied for 3rd most in MLB, and his 2.60 ERA is 5th lowest in the National League. Arrieta posted a 0.90 ERA since the All Star Break, which is the best in MLB history. He went 13 and 1 on the road in 2015 with a 1.60 ERA. Arreita went 3 and 1 against the Pirates this season with a 0.75 ERA. The only Pirates hitters to bat over .200 against Arreita are Andrew McCutchen (.333) and Neil Walker (.231). Cole went 2 and 1 against Chicago with a no decision as well. Neither pitcher gave up a home run versus the other team in their regular season starts. Pittsburgh has split their home Wild Card games over the past 2 years, beating Cincinnati in 2013 and losing to San Francisco last season. Chicago is back in the post season for the first time since 2008, and are looking to win their first post season game since 2003. The winner will travel to St. Louis to take on the Cardinals on Friday.

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American League: Houston at NY Yankees Tuesday at 8pm
For the first time since the 2005 World Series, the Houston Astros are back in the post season, while the Yankees return for the first time since 2012. The Yankees head into this Wild Card game having lost 6 of their final 7 regular season games. The Astros won 6 of their final 8 games, but lost home field for the Wild Card when they dropped their season finale to Arizona. That proves to be a huge advantage for the Yankees, as the Astros were tied for the most home wins in MLB with 53, but went 33 and 48 on the road. Houston won 4 of the 7 regular season meetings between these teams and 2 of the 3 games played at Yankee Stadium. Houston will start Dallas Keuchel, who's 20 wins led the American League and were second most in MLB. Keuchel's 2.48 ERA was second lowest in the AL as well. The Yankees will go with Masahiro Tanaka, who was 12 and 7 with a 3.51 ERA on the regular season. In his only appearance against Houston, Tanaka had a no decision in giving up 6 runs in 5 innings, including surrendering 3 home runs. Keuchel won both of his starts against the Yankees, including a complete game, and did not give up an earned run in 16 innings. The winner of this will travel to Kansas City on Thursday.

Falling star: Why RGIII and his NFL career are done

09/30/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

A Heisman Trophy in his final season in college. Offensive Player of the Week after his first NFL game. Leading the Washington Redskins to their first division title in 13 years. And finally winning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. From all of that to being deactivated as the Redskins 3rd team quarterback. So what has happened to Robert Griffin III
Some say it was being overexposed too fast. Former NFL coach Bill Parcell's bought into (or sold) that theory recently. Saying that too many young players are given endorsement deals before they really prove anything in the NFL. That the endorsements and exposure is too much too soon, and that the off the field stuff takes away from what they should be doing on the field. That these young players are being given these lucrative deals which leads to them believing they're better than they actually are. I see Parcell's point, but I don't think that's the problem in RG III's case.
Another theory is one that is actually factual. En route to that division title in 2012, Griffin suffered partially torn knee ligaments in Week 14 of the regular season. It's been said that Griffin wasn't cleared by doctors to return to the game when then Redskins coach Mike Shanahan sent RG III back in to play in the 4th quarter. He sat out one game, was back on the field as a starter in Week 16. He also played in Washington's playoff game against Seattle, where he further sustained injury that required is ACL and LCL to be surgically repaired. When the 2013 season opened, RG III didn't look the same as the rookie phenom he was the season before. He would be benched for the final 3 games of the season. Things didn't get better for him in 2014, when he suffered an ankle injury in the 2nd game of the season and was benched again later in the season. Which led to the start of this season, which RG III started as the Redskins 3rd quarterback and was inactive for the season opener. Looking back to that 2012 season, maybe if Griffin doesn't get rushed back to play while he was obviously still injured, he heals and comes back strong. But if that would have been the case, the Redskins likely would not have won the division and possibly would've missed the playoffs without RG III.

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Which leads to this final theory. The Washington Redskins have as much to do with RG III's demise as anything else, if nor more so than anything else. Let's face it, Washington is an awful franchise. It's a joke. It's been a joke since 1999 when Daniel Snyder bought the team. Snyder has continuously overpaid for big name free agents who never lived up to the expected hype in a Redskins jersey. See Albert Haynesworth, Deion Sanders, Adam Archuleta, Jeff George, and Antwaan Randle El, as prime of examples of players who were entering the past their prime status, or were never would be's overvalued and overpaid for by Snyder, thus preventing the Redskins from bringing in quality depth. Washington's offensive line is bad. Their secondary may be worse. Those are both problems for a quarterback since, you know, the job of offensive linemen is to protect the quarterback. And if a teams secondary is getting torched game in and game out, that leads to a QB having to play from behind game in and game out. That's not a winning formula for anybody, yet alone a guy like Griffin who's running was as much a part of his success as his deep passing was.
It's probably time for RG III to move on. Especially since current coach Jay Gruden doesn't think enough of Griffin to even get him in uniform. Of course, Gruden doesn't seem to be much of a head coach looking at some of his other decisions and use of players. And since the average tenure of a coach under Snyder is about 2 seasons, he may not be here much longer pending on how the Redskins finish this season.
I think another team will give Griffin a chance and that if he can adjust his playing style, he may just find success again in the NFL. I'm not sure that success and the Washington Redskins are two things that will coincide again though.

Race guarded: Does race card in sports journalism have a place?

09/29/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

If you're a sports fan like I am, you more than likely have a subscription to some sports related magazine or publication. For about the last 20 years I've had a subscription at some point to either Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, or ESPN The Magazine. My current mag of choice has been ESPN, not so much because I like it better, but because the renewal price was too good to pass up. I may be a little old school, but I'd rather hold and read a magazine than read articles online because that's the way I've always read about sports. But recently, it hasn't been the way I read about sports, it's what I'm reading about that seems out of sorts.
As ESPN has been becoming more E (entertainment) and less S (sports) on television, that trend is carrying over to the magazine now too. A few months ago I noticed something new on the back pages. A column called The Truth by Howard Bryant. I'm not going to lie, I don't know who Howard Bryant is or what is background in the world of journalism is. I might Google it later, but this is less about the other and more about the subject. Mr. Bryant is black, and his columns are mostly about racism and sports.
In one column he discusses the uprisings in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police. In the article he makes sure to mention Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy is white, and that he said he'd rather not comment on the issue. As if Hardy's not wanting to talk about something that isn't related to sports is wrong, and seems to hint that's because Hardy is white.

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In another column, he writes what for the most part was a very good article about the difference in power between the players unions in the NFL and Major League Baseball. Except for the sentence where he notes that Josh Hamilton of the Anaheim Angels issues with substance abuse, and those same issues of the Cleveland Browns Josh Gordon are somehow related to a racial double standard. Those are two different guys that play two different sports represented by two different unions. The fact that Hamilton is still being paid is because his union is protecting him, while the fact the Gordon isn't is because his union isn't protecting him. Nothing racial involved there.
If that's not stretching it enough, Bryant states that Nick Krygios was the center of attention and his style and ways not accepted at Wimbledon because he embraces the black culture. Wait, what? Krygios stood out because of who he is. His look and what he did on the court is why he stood out. Sure, his look isn't traditional and he definitely ruffled some feathers. But he wasn't being singled out because he wore diamonds in his ears and Beats headphones, thus embracing the hip hop culture, which is why he was criticized.
The most ridiculous article is saying that Michael Jordan should look up to LeBron James because in Bryant's words, James is the athlete activist of his time. Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time. LeBron James deserves lots of credit for his work with at risk black youths around his home town. But because he wore an I CAN'T BREATHE shirt in warm ups doesn't mean that he cares more about police killing an unarmed man than Jordan does. Michael Jordan was a professional basketball player. His job was to score and win. He did both better than anybody else ever in that sport. If he doesn't want to speak out now or didn't speak out against racism when he was a player, it doesn't matter. He has every right to sit at home and count the millions of dollars he earned as a player and do nothing else the rest of his life. Michael Jordan was a professional athlete. He wasn't and isn't an activist, and shouldn't have to be just because he's black.
Racism has been a touchy subject here in America lately, especially with the conflict between law enforcement and the black community. It's an uncomfortable issue for some. But it's real and something that all of us have to acknowledge. That whether we like it or not, there is a racial divide in this country right now. But it's not a subject that needs to be addressed through sports. Sports is the chance to escape from the sometimes harshness of the real world. It allows fans to cheer and enjoy themselves and just let go of what's negative in the world and what may be wrong in their worlds and just have a good time. For most it doesn't matter if the guy or girl sitting next to you is black or white, as long as they're wearing the home teams jersey, they're "one of us". It doesn't matter in the locker room either. In each of the four major sports, players of different races and national origins put on the same jerseys and are teammates. That's all that matters is the guy next to them is a teammate. Not black. Not white. But just a teammate. How about we leave the racism out and just let people just be fans and teammates? Racism has no place in today's society, but it also has no place in using the world of professional sports to exploit it. And that's the truth.

Return to form: Week 3 sees return of NFL heavy hitters

09/27/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Week 3 of the NFL will welcome back some star players who have missed the first two games of the season. But one undefeated team will be down yet another star player. So who's in and who's out? Let's take a look at this week's top NFL matchups.
Atlanta at Dallas
One of these teams will taste defeat for the first time in 2K15. The good news for Dallas is they've won their first two games. The bad news is they've lost a star offensive player in each of those wins. Dez Bryant was lost for 8 to 10 weeks in Week 1, now Tony Romo will miss at least 7 weeks due to a broken collarbone. In Romo's place will be Brandon Weeden, who will be making his 2nd start in a Cowboys uniform. Weeden came in strong off the bench last week, completing all 7 of his passes and throwing a touchdown as well. But he's 5 and 16 in his career as a starting QB in the NFL and has lost his past 8 starts. The even worse news for Weeden and the Cowboys is they may be down another weapon on offense, as TE Jason Witten is nursing knee and ankle injuries and may not be able to play. Both of Atlanta's wins have been over NFC East teams, as they've defeated both Philadelphia and the New York Giants. The Falcons offense will feel the effects of injury as well with rookie RB Tevin Coleman out for this week due to injured ribs. But Atlanta will have Julio Jones, who has caught 22 passes for 276 yards through the first two weeks of the season, and Matt Ryan, who is 3rd in the NFL with 661 yards passing. The Cowboys have won their only home game this season, while the Falcons won their lone road game.

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Pittsburgh at St. Louis
These 1 and 1 teams are both expecting the debuts of their expected starting running backs. Rams rookie Todd Gurley is expected to play for the first time this season after missing the first two weeks of the season due to injury. LeVeon Bell will return after sitting out the Steelers first 2 games due to suspension. Bell's return doesn't bode well for the Rams defense, which is allowing an average of 153 yards per game. Bell was the NFL's second leading rusher in 2014. St. Louis has been good against the pass, but will face the tandem of Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, who have been practically unstoppable so far. Brown leads the NFL with 328 yards receiving, while Roethlisberger is second in the league with 771 yards passing. As a team, the Steelers lead the NFL averaging 469 yards per game. The bad news for Pittsburgh is they will be without LB Ryan Shazier, who is 2nd in the NFL with 22 tackles. The Rams have won their only home game this season, while the Steelers are 0 and 1 on the road.
San Francisco at Arizona
After opening the season with an impressive win over Minnesota, the 49ers were brought back down to earth last week when they were blown out by Pittsburgh. The Cardinals are 2 and 0 for the second straight season behind the tandem of Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald. Palmer has passed for 492 yards and 7 TD's so far this season, while Fitzgerald is coming off of an 8 catch, 112 yard performance against Chicago last week, where he also caught 3 touchdown passes. Arizona will also get a boost on the offensive line with the returns of guard Mike Iupati and tackle Bobby Massie. San Francisco will lean on QB Colin Kaepernick, who passed for 335 yards and 2 TD's in last week's loss. The 49ers will be hoping to see the Carlos Hyde of the opening week of the season, when he led all rushers with 168 yards. Hyde was held to 43 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh last week. San Francisco has won 10 of the past 12 meetings between these teams, but the Cardinals won last years matchup in Arizona.
Kansas City at Green Bay
The Packers will be looking for their 3rd straight win this season and 11th consecutive win at Lambeau Field, while the Chiefs will be trying to bounce back from a tough loss. Green Bay is hoping starting RB Eddie Lacy and WR Davante Adams will be healthy, as both were injured last week and were limited in practice this week. But the Packers will have Aaron Rodgers, who has passed for 438 yards and 5 TD's without throwing an interception yet this season. Green Bay's defense, which is giving up an average of 154 yards rushing per game, will have their hands full with the Chiefs Jamaal Charles, who rushed for 125 yards last week but fumbled twice. Kansas City turned the ball over 5 times total as Denver came back from 7 points down in the 4th quarter by scoring 2 touchdowns in :09 seconds. Kansas City has won 6 of the past 7 meetings between these teams, including the last time they met in 2011.

Battle lines: Battle between top offenses and defenses highlights weekend games

09/25/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

A couple of PAC 12 matchups feature Top 25 teams clashing, while two pairs of unbeaten teams meet this weekend as well. Let's take a look at this week's top games in college football.
#8 LSU at Syracuse 12pm Saturday
For the first time this season, LSU will take on an opponent not ranked in the Top 25. And for the first time this season, Syracuse will take on a ranked foe in this non conference matchup. The Orange are perfect through 3 games so far this season, and will try to go 4 for 4 at home against the visiting Tigers. Syracuse has the 3rd best rushing defense in college football so far this season, but they've put those numbers up against Rhode Island, Wake Forest, and Central Michigan. They'll face LSU's Leonard Fournette, who's 193.5 yards per game average is tops in the nation. Syracuse is trying to start the season at 4 and 0 for the first time since 1991, but will likely have to do so without starting QB Eric Dungey, who was injured last week. This is the first ever regular season meeting between these schools, and the first time they have played since the 1989 Hall Of Fame Bowl.

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#3 TCU at Texas Tech 4:45pm Saturday
A shootout could be in the makings in this Big 12 Conference matchup of 3 and 0 teams. TCU is averaging 49.7 points 599 yards per game, while Texas Tech is averaging 54.3 points and 590 yards per game. Both teams have been led offensively by their quarterbacks. The Red Raiders Patrick Mahomes has thrown for 1,029 yards and 9 TD's, while TCU's Trevone Boykin has passed for 985 yards and 10 TD's. Boykin recorded 433 yards through the air and threw 7 touchdown passes in last years game between these teams, a game TCU won 82 to 27. Boykin's 7 TDs and the 82 points scored were TCU school records. Those 82 points were also a Big 12 record and the most ever surrendered by Texas Tech. The Red Raiders however, have won the past 3 games played at home versus the Horned Frogs.
#18 Utah at #13 Oregon 8:30pm Saturday
It will be an intriguing matchup here as Utah's defense, ranked 4th in the nation in points against, faces an Oregon offense averaging 50 points per game. But both teams will be looking for that first win against a ranked opponent in 2015. Utah has beaten Michigan, Utah State, and Fresno State in non-conference games, while Utah has beaten Eastern Washington and Georgia State and lost to #5 Michigan State. While Utah's defense has been impressive, Oregon's defense has been less than. The Ducks are giving up an average of 456 yards per game and have given up 14 touchdowns in their 4 games played. Oregon should get a lift on offense though, as starting quarterback Vernon Adams is expected to return after missing last week with a broken finger. Oregon has won the past 3 matchups between these schools and 6 of the past 7 meetings. Utah's last win at Oregon was also 21 years ago.
#9 UCLA at #16 Arizona 8pm Saturday
The second PAC 12 game featuring Top 25 teams also features a matchup of a high scoring offense against a tough scoring defense. Arizona is averaging 54 points and 585 yards per game, while UCLA is giving up just 14 points against on average. The news is good and bad though for the Bruins defense on the injury front. Defensive back Ishmael Adams returns from a 3 game suspension, but linebacker Myles Jack will miss the rest of the season due to a knee injury. UCLA's defense will be tested by Wildcats QB Anu Solomon, who has passed for 778 yards and 10 TD's without throwing an interception yet this season. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen has struggled the past 2 weeks, throwing 4 interceptions. But RB Paul Perkins picked up the slack in last weeks win over #19 BYU, rushing for 219 yards. UCLA won last season's meeting 17 to 7.

Up In smoke: Why are young NFL stars willing to risk their careers for marijuana?

09/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

They are young. They are talented. They have the opportunity to earn millions of dollars in the NFL. They could be stars. Their potential is unlimited. But these guys aren't on the field. They're serving suspensions for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. So instead of playing, they're watching the prime of their career's be wasted because they can't stay clean.
Justin Blackmon is the first of this group that comes to mind. Blackmon was selected 5th overall in 2012 by Jacksonville after a stellar college career at Oklahoma State. Before he ever played a down of professional football though, Blackmon was arrested for DUI in June of 2012. Prior to the start of the 2013 season, he was given a four game suspension from the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy. After returning to the Jaguars later in the season, he was suspended indefinitely for again violating the substance abuse policy. He would've been eligible for reinstatement in 2014, but was arrested prior to the season and charged with possession of marijuana. He checked into a recovery program, but was denied reinstatement to the NFL in May of this year, and will not play in 2015.
Josh Gordon could be one of the most dynamic wide receivers in the NFL. His talent is undeniable. His potential showed for the Cleveland Browns in his rookie season in 2012, and he exploded as one of the top players at his position the following season. Gordon led the NFL in receiving yards in 2013, despite missing the first 2 games of the season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. In 2014 he was suspended for the first 10 games of the season for again violating the policy. And he was suspended for the entire 2015 season for another violation of the policy.

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Drafted in the 4th round of the 2014 draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Martavis Bryant burst onto the NFL scene in his first career start, catching a touchdown pass on his first ever reception. Bryant would score 6 TD's in his first 4 career games and established himself as a deep threat that defenses had a hard time stopping. What did stop Bryant was a 4 game suspension prior to the 2015 season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
What is going on here? At what point don't these guys realize what they're throwing away? Bryant at least is getting counseling while serving his suspension. But what about Gordon? He has the potential to be possibly the best wide receiver in the NFL. And it's been reported that if Blackmon does return to the NFL, his career with Jacksonville is over.
I understand that marijuana is legal in some states with NFL teams. That could make for an interesting situation if a player on a team in one of those states is suspended for marijuana use, since it would technically be legal. I understand that more states will continue to legalize marijuana and at some point, it will probably be legal nationwide. But what I don't understand is why these guys can't stay away from it with the opportunity they have? The average NFL career is just under 7 years. The physical demands of the game wear out the human body. And it wears it out faster when a player gets older. These guys are throwing away their best years now, and for what? A truck driver knows that random drug testing at his place of employment means he could lose his job. He's not getting millions of dollars per year. But he's smart enough to know that he could lose his lively hood if he smokes weed. So if you have the opportunity these NFL players do, why would you not have the common sense to not smoke marijuana?
Some have said that maybe veteran teammates should step in and try to guide these guys. That the NFL should maybe offer more to help. What else does the NFL need to give these players? Anything they need is available to them. It's not up to the league. It's not up to teammates. The only people responsible for these decisions are the people making them. It's up to these guys to realize how stupid their decisions are and man up and start making the right choice.

Weak showings: Several contenders face potential two game losing streaks early

09/20/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

There were some surprises in the opening week of the NFL season, while some other things remained status quo. Who will hold form in Week 2 and who will be the shocker or the team(s) to be shocked? Let's take a look at the four best matchups this weekend.
New England at Buffalo
The surprise of Week 1 may have just been the Buffalo Bills and how they handled Indianapolis. The status quo would be New England, who didn't miss a beat in beating Pittsburgh. For the Bills, Tyrod Taylor looked good in his first career NFL start, passing for 195 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another 41 yards. One thing that may damper the Bills offensively this weekend is the status of RB LeSean McCoy, who has been limited in practice due to a hamstring injury. If McCoy can't go, rookie Karlos Williams will be called upon. Williams also made a nice NFL debut, leading the Bills in rushing last week and scoring his first career touchdown as well. Buffalo's defense was strong in the opening win as well, sacking Andrew Luck twice and intercepting two times as well. The Bills defense will be a little bit stronger for this week, as Pro Bowl defensive tackle Marcel Davis returns after a one game suspension. The Patriots offense looked completely in sync last week, and they'll also be getting a starter back. RB LaGarrette Blount returns after serving his one game suspension. Blount's return only adds to a potent Patriots attack that exploited the Steelers defense. Tom Brady threw for 288 yards and 4 TD's, 3 of those going to TE Rob Gronkowski, who had 5 catches for 94 yards. Julian Edelman led the Patriots with 11 catches for 97 yards. Brady has won 23 of 26 career meetings against Buffalo.

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San Diego at Cincinnati
Two teams who lit up the scoreboard in Week 1 victories will collide in this matchup. The Chargers came back from 18 points down to defeat Detroit 33 to 28, while the Bengals throttled Oakland 33 to 13. Philip Rivers led the way for San Diego, passing for 404 yards and 2 touchdowns. Keenan Allen was his top target, catching 15 passes for 166 yards. For the Bengals, QB Andy Dalton passed for 269 yards and 2 TD's. Both of those touchdown passes went to TE Tyler Eifert, who caught 9 passes for 104 yards. San Diego is looking to start 2 and 0 for the first time since 2012. The Chargers have won the past four meetings between these teams as well, 3 of those in the regular season as well as in the playoffs in the 2014 AFC Wild Card game.
Dallas at Philadelphia
One team rallied for a Week 1 victory, while the other let a 4th quarter lead slip away. The comeback was by the Cowboys, who trailed by 10 points in the 4th quarter before coming back to beat the Giants on Tony Romo's scoring pass to Jason Witten with :07 seconds left. The Eagles battled back from a 20 to 3 deficit to take a 24 to 23 lead in the 4th quarter, before falling to Atlanta 26 to 24. The biggest storyline coming into this one would've been DeMarco Murray facing his former team. But the bigger story right now is who else the Cowboys will be without. Star WR Dez Bryant will miss at least the next 6 weeks with a broken foot sustained in last week's win. Defensive end Randy Gregory will also be out this week with a sprained ankle as well. Murray was held in check by the Falcons last week, gaining just 9 yards on 8 carries. Dallas has won their last 9 road games and 3 in a row at Philadelphia.
Seattle at Green Bay
A rematch of last season's NFC Championship game pit's the 1 and 0 Packers against the 0 and 1 Seahawks. Aaron Rodgers threw 3 touchdown passes in Green Bay's season opening win over Chicago, 2 of those going to the returning James Jones. The Packers will be without starting offensive lineman Brian Bulaga, who sustained a knee injury in practice and will be out 4 to 6 weeks. That's good news for Seattle, who was stunned by St. Louis, losing 34 to 31 in overtime. Last week both teams struggled defensively, as Green Bay gave up over 400 yards in total offense to the Bears, while the Seahawks surrendered 373 yards to the Rams. The Seahawks will be without Pro Bowl safety Kam Chancellor again, as he continues to hold out. Green Bay's defense will have a hole in it as well, as LB Sam Barrington was lost to a season ending injury in last week's win. Seattle was the only NFC West team to lose last week, while Green Bay was the only NFC Central team to win. The Packers were a perfect 9 and 0 at Lambeau Field last season.

Shock value: NFL Week 1 doesn't disappoint with array of story lines

09/17/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The first Sunday of the NFL season equates to Christmas morning for many football fans. And as is the standard for the start of a new season, there were some unexpected results. Lets take a look back at the first week of the 2015 NFL season.
Deflate Gate, DeSchmate Gate. The season started on Thursday with Tom Brady under center for the defending Super Bowl champions. And he didn't miss a beat, throwing for 288 yards and 4 touchdowns, 3 of those to Rob Gronkowski, as the Patriots defeated the Steelers 28 to 21. ... Let's not forget the much maligned Adrian Peterson returned for the Vikings quietly and his drama was short lived with a meager 30 yards rushing in a lopsided loss to the 49ers.
Shocker in St. Louis. The other team that played in the Super Bowl didn't get off to such a good start. Seattle was stunned by St. Louis 34 to 31 in overtime. The Rams sacked Seahawks QB Russell Wilson 6 times and won the game by stopping Seattle on 4th and 1 in OT.

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What a comeback. The final game of Sunday was perhaps the most exciting, as Dallas defeated the New York Giants 27 to 26. Trailing 26 to 20 with 1:27 left in the game, Tony Romo took the Cowboys 72 yards, capping it off with an 11 yard TD pass to Jason Witten with :07 seconds left on the clock.
Rookie bowl. In the battle of rookie quarterbacks, Marcus Mariota got the duke against Jameis Winston, as Tennessee crushed Tampa Bay 42 to 14. Mariota became just the second QB in NFL history to throw for 4 touchdowns in his first game, joining Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton. Winston became the first quarterback since Brett Favre in 1991 to have his first career pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
Ouch!: Key injuries from Week One. Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs is done for the season after tearing his Achilles tendon.
Dallas WR Dez Bryant will miss 6 to 8 weeks with a broken foot. The Cowboys also lost DE Randy Gregory for 4 weeks likely due to a high ankle sprain.
Washington WR DeSean Jackson will be out 3 to 4 weeks with a hamstring injury.
Arizona RB Andre Ellington will miss 2 to 3 weeks with a PCL sprain.

Stretch run: Teams still jockeying for playoff positions in MLB

09/15/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

With just 3 weeks left in the 2015 MLB season, the race is on. The American League East and West are still up for grabs, as is the National League Central. And while the Wild Cards look to be set in the NL, the AL race is very tight. Let's take a look at who's where as the regular season hits it's stretch run.
In the American League, the defending league champion Kansas City Royals have pretty much wrapped up the Central Division crown. The Royals have the AL's best record, and a comfortable 9.5 game lead over Minnesota.
The race is still on in the AL East. Toronto leads the New York Yankees by 3 games. The Blue Jays and the Yankees have 3 games left against each other. Toronto's remaining schedule consists of 3 games against Boston and Atlanta, 4 games against Baltimore, and 6 versus Tampa Bay. The Yankees schedule is a little bit tougher the rest of the way, as they have 3 against their cross town rival and the NL East leading Mets. The Yankees also have 2 games left versus the Rays, 3 against the White Sox, and 3 left against the Red Sox and Orioles.

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In the AL West, the division crown is still up for grabs as Houston holds a 1.5 game lead over Texas. Anaheim is still in the mix as well, sitting 4.5 games out of first place. The Astros and the Rangers have 6 games left head to head. Houston and Anaheim have 3 left against each other as well. Texas closes with a 4 game series against the Angels. And Anaheim has 4 games left against the Twins, which will effect the Wild Card race as well.
In the Wild Card race, the Yankees have the inside track on the first Wild Card, leading by 3.5 games over Texas and 4.5 games over Minnesota. Anaheim is 3.5 games behind the Rangers for the final Wild Card spot.
In the National League, the East and West look to be decided. In the East, the New York Mets have a commanding 10 game lead over Washington, while in the West, Los Angeles has a comfortable 7.5 game lead over San Francisco.
The Central remains a battle, as the two teams with the best records in MLB continue to fight for the division title. St. Louis leads Pittsburgh by 2.5 games. Chicago is in the hunt as well, sitting 6.5 games back. The Pirates and Cubs have 7 games head to head remaining, and the Pirates and Cardinals have another 3 game set. The Cardinals and Cubs play 3 more times as well. With all of these head to head meetings left, the race here remains wide open and possibly the best race the rest of the way in MLB.
The Wild Card race is pretty well sewn up with Pittsburgh holding the first spot, 4 games ahead of Chicago and 11.5 games in front of San Francisco. The Cubs lead the Giants by 7.5 games for the second birth.
It's setting up to be a fantastic finish, which will make for a lot of exciting and meaningful baseball games the rest of the way.

Defensive struggling: Why score of high school game ridiculousness personified

09/14/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

197 total points. 720 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns scored by one player. 782 yards passing and 10 TD's from another player. Sounds like the kinds of numbers that would be a decent season for a high school football team when it comes to scoring, and a pretty good season for a high school running back and quarterback. Except these aren't season stats. Or even half season stats. These are the totals from ONE game. One wild and crazy high school football game played in Pennsylvania this past weekend.
In the game, Meadville defeated DuBois 107 to 90. The teams combined for 1,827 total yards and 28 touchdowns. Meadville running back Journey Brown set a Pennsylvania single game record by rushing for 720 yards and scoring 10 TD's. Believe it or not, that wasn't a national record, but is the second most all time. DuBois quarterback Matt Miller did set a national record by passing for 782 yards to go with his 10 TD passes. DuBois led the game 56 to 51 at halftime. Meadville led 85 to 82 after the 3rd quarter.
There's more. This was the highest scoring high school football game since 1927 when two Kansas teams combined for 256 points. But all 256 were scored by Haven in their win over Sylvia. Meadville's 107 points were the most scored by a Pennsylvania high school football team since 1933, when Wilkinsburg defeated Evans City 133 to 0. How bad were Sylvia and Evans City getting beaten that bad back in the day? Wow, that's just awful!

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Anyway, here's a couple of more comparisons. The highest scoring NFL game ever was for a combined 113 points when Washington defeated the New York Giants 72 to 41 in 1966. It was under the highest scoring college football game though. That total was 222 when in 1916, Georgia Tech defeated Cumberland by the score of 222 to 0. Again, really? What's up with all of these super one sided scores from the early part of the 1900's?
Here's my question to DuBois and Meadville...where were your defenses? This wasn't an 8 on 8 game that gets played in some parts of the country. This was a full blown, 11 on 11 football game. I can't even fathom how you score 107 points in a football game with four 12 minute quarters. But I can't even further fathom how you can give up 107 points in a game? Did these teams even send out defenses? Did they each score on every possession? Was the leading tackler in the game the kid who made more than one?
I know that football has become a more passing and scoring friendly game in both the NFL and especially in college. And what happens on the higher levels tends to trickle down to the high school level. But this is ridiculous. For the spectacle it's definitely news worthy, but I certainly hope this isn't a trend of things to come. Let's try to keep these games as low scoring affairs, you know, where both teams combine for 100 points (total sarcasm there). How about we get a little bit of defense back in the game of football? Please.

Strike out: Why baseball needs to go full blown technology on balls and strikes

09/08/15 by Rennie Detore

Since the inception of instant replay, baseball finally seems to be ushered into the 21st century. And while some so called purists say the sport shouldn't be part of the instant replay way of life, you can't argue that getting the calls on the field right supersedes the idea that tinkering with your grandfather's pastoral game is a bad idea.
Even before instant replay, those old school fans argued that baseball was meant to be played without technology and even those who aren't so much concerned with that aspect of baseball said the game was already too long and replay was going to make it even more tedious to watch live and on television.
None of that really happened, quite honestly, as baseball and instant replay seem like a match that was long overdue. Watching a player called out at first or safe on a stolen base to second or third isn't a given anymore, and as fast as the game can move or a foot can slide under a bag and another one comes off it, umpires need that backup plan just as much as other sports that also implement replay as an assistance factor that sports needs.

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But as much as instant replay has helped baseball, it also has spurred discussion about taking technology to new heights as it relates to America's favorite past time: make balls and strikes automated as well.
Most telecasts include the ball and strike grid that is on the right hand side typically of your television while you're watching a game on a national and even local level. They show with pinpoint accuracy that the umpire and his strike zone isn't quite spot on, and that is intensified when a player in a crucial situation is called out on a strike 3, when the pitch never came close to the plate.
So the thinking is if instant replay can fix plays on the field, why not include it behind the plate?
In fact, that's exactly what baseball should do.
If you can get the game and calls on the field right, why wouldn't you want to do it? I'm not a fan of eliminating jobs per say in the form of umpires, but behind home plate needs to be computer oriented and left up to being correct every time. Yes, you lose the spectacle of managers arguing with umpires and the trumped up strike three calls or players arguing the strike zone, but the opportunity presents itself to get it correct every time.
As much as you want to see baseball stay the course and have that error element as part of the game and left alone, you can't argue that getting the call right and not altering the game's outcome based on a bad call is a good idea.

Special season: Why high school football is played for all the right reasons

09/07/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

If you're a fan of the game of football, what are you supposed to do these days? You're tired of all of the negativity and off the field nonsense associated with the NFL, right? Instead of being excited for the start of new season for what's ahead for your favorite team on the field, you're being bombarded with off the field nonsense instead. Deflate Gate, players involved in domestic violence, and illegal substance suspensions have already overshadowed the 2015 season that hasn't started yet.
In college football, what used to be the traditional start of the season with a game against a regional rival or maybe a big time non conference matchup has been replaced with paying a FCS team or a lesser conference team to come in and get beaten by 50 or 60 points. Tradition is a thing of the past and as a fan you long for the old days. You know, those old days when you actually knew what color uniforms your school was wearing for their game.
There still is a place though where us old school football fans can find salvage. That place is on the thousands of high school football fields across the country. And with Labor Day weekend being when the high school season kicks off in many parts of America, for many it's the place where football season really starts.

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I'm lucky enough to live in Western Pennsylvania, which is a high school football hotbed. Not only am I lucky enough to live here, I'm lucky enough to cover high school football here as well. And there is nothing like a high school football Friday night. High school football is something special. It's still football being played for the right reasons. Kids play because they love to play the game. They play to be a part of a team with their friends. They're proud to represent their schools. Most of the kids who play high school football aren't playing to earn a division one college scholarship, they're playing for one very simple reason. Because it's fun.
I'm lucky to cover high school football here because every week I get to go to a different place. I get to see the traditions of each school district. I get to meet a lot of different people with a lot of great stories about games from years past. I see parents and grand parents in the bleachers who brave the rain and the cold to cheer on their kids and grandchildren. The younger kids in their jerseys cheering on their big brothers while dreaming of when it will be their time to play on that same field. The sounds of a high school band playing their alma mater. The cheerleaders. The smell of hot dogs from the booster club's concession stand. And even though field turf is the surface of choice these days, sometimes there is still a grass field. And the smell of that grass field truly is the smell of football. There really is something special about a high school football Friday night.
With the parameters of today's sports society, some of the special that's a part of that experience is being taken away. College coaches try to get commitments from star athletes long before their senior seasons. ESPN has star ratings for players and creates a culture of over exposure that high school kids don't need. Let them enjoy this experience. It's a once in a lifetime thing and a time in their lives that will only happen once. Let them play for their schools and their communities and with their friends instead of transferring to some prep school that will get them ready to play college football with the false hope of maybe one day playing in the NFL. High school football is special because it's still football at it's purest form. Let the kids play for the right reasons. How about backing off ESPN and letting the local radio and television stations and newspapers coverage be the exposure that high school kids get. How about college coaches wait until kids are at least in their senior year to get a college commitment from them. Preferably wait until after so they can enjoy that last year of high school football.
High school kids haven't asked for ESPN or early commitments, its a culture that was created by a corporate media and an NCAA that has lost it's traditional bearings for the almighty dollar. Where else can an organization make billions of dollars without paying a dollar of it to those whose performance sells the product they're making that money off of?
What makes high school football special has nothing to do with overbearing college coaches and network television. It's all of the things mentioned above. It's what those teams mean to their communities. And it's what playing for those teams mean to the kids doing it. Kenny Chesney said it best "They don't let just anybody in that club. Took every ounce of heart and sweat and blood. To get to wear those game day jerseys down the hall. The kings of school man, we're the boys of fall".
Boys playing a game for the right reasons. That's what high school football is all about.

Mission aborted: Why Tebow is out of NFL again and hopefully for good

09/06/15 by Rennie Detore

The latest Tim Tebow project in the NFL ended the way the others did.
In failure.
Tebow, easily one of the better and more lauded college quarterbacks in NCAA history, was cut by Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles as NFL made their final roster cuts in preparation for the NFL season.

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By now, you know the Tebow story in and out, mostly because news outlets and ESPN can help but recall and tell the story as if it was still newsworthy. Tebow did wonders for Florida as their running quarterback, with very little emphasis on throwing the bal.
Tebow was drafted by the Denver Broncos and had minor success but still couldn't throw the ball well. He eventually was discarded by the league, even though he was working on his throwing motion hoping for a comeback at some point. 
Last season, Tebow and Pats couldn't find him a home, so he did some work as a college football analyst and was signed by the Eagles this offseason. The Eagles, Kelly specifically, cut Tebow before the 2015 season is about to start, and said he wasn't good enough as a third strong quarterback to make the team.
Tebow is quite perplexing but not so much for what he does on the field but how he's such a major news outlet. He is one of the worst players in the NFL's history, yet the media treats his every move as if he's Joe Montana.
Tebow is one of those rare polarizing figures that people either love or hate based on how he plays, his faith and anything else that warrants a head turn. The rarity party comes from him not being good at all at what he does for a living: play football.
But Tebow keeps getting chances, this time from a college coach in Kelly turned NFL pro coach. Not even Kelly, fresh from a few years removed from Oregon, and his quirky offense could use Tebow and his H back, run first mentality skills.
If Kelly doesn't want him, who does?
The answer, quite frankly and hopefully, is simple: no one.
The Tebow experience is over. Done. Finished. Sent out to pasture.
As much as we thought his time with Patriots last season would be the end of Tebow, he returned again with the Eagles. After this stint, one would hope that both Tebow and the NFL are done with each and mutually part ways for good.
There's always a chance a desperate NFL team comes out of the woodwork to snag Tebow, but the odds keep getting slimmer after every year and every time he's cut.
Thankfully, for the rest of us, Tebow mania is manageable now and hopefully fans out completely.

Game changers: Top 5 college football teams provide unique differences among them

09/04/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The first weekend in September means it's time to kickoff the 2015 season. Let's take a look at the pre season Top 5 teams in college football.
1) Ohio State The defending national champions rightfully top the list. After a championship season, most schools are lucky to have their starting quarterback return. The Buckeyes return 3 QB's. Braxton Miller, who was supposed to be the starter last season but was injured prior to it, has moved to H-Back this season. But both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett are back under center and head coach Urban Meyer has said he plans to use both guys. Besides the stable of quarterbacks the Buckeyes bring back 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line. The same offensive line that allowed Ezekiel Elliott to rush for almost 1,900 yards and 18 touchdowns. Star defensive end Joey Bosa will lead the charge for the Ohio State defense, but is suspended for the season opener. That season opener is against Virginia Tech on Labor Day, the same Hokies that upset the Buckeyes in last years season opener.
2) TCU The Horned Frogs return 10 starters from an offense that averaged 46.5 points per game, which was second highest in the nation. They'll be led by Heisman Trophy candidate Trevone Boykin, who passed for 3,900 yards and 33 touchdowns, and rushed for 707 yards and 8 more scores. Leading rusher Aaron Green is back (922 yard & 9 TD's in '15) as well as leading receiver Josh Doctson (1,018 yards receiving & 11 TD's). The one thing that might slow down TCU is that only 5 starters are back on defense. But that shouldn't matter if the offense lives up to it's high scoring expectations. The Horned Frogs open the season against Minnesota on the Thursday before Labor Day.

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3) Alabama Facing what may be the most difficult schedule in college football and returning only 4 starters on offense, you'd think the Crimson Tide would be further down in the pre season rankings. But Nick Saban is one of the best coaches in the game when he has new faces on offense, as he has won two national championships with first year starting quarterbacks. He'll have a new QB under center this season as well, but who will it be? Saban has yet to decide between Jake Coker, Cooper Batemen and Alec Morris. The Tide does return RB Derrick Henry, who led the team last season with 990 yards and 11 TD's. Alabama wastes no time in taking on top competition either as they open the season on Sunday night in Arlington, Texas against #20 Wisconsin.
4) Baylor There will be a new man under center for the Bears, who last season had the highest scoring offense in college football, averaging 48.2 points per game. Bryce Petty is gone, but Seth Russell is expected to step right in at the helm. He'll have plenty of help though. WR's K.D. Cannon (1,030 yards receiving & 8 TD's in '15) and Corey Coleman (1,119 yards & 11 TD's) will be back as targets for Russell. Overall, Baylor returns 18 starters, the most in the Big 12 conference. They'll need that experience on defense, which was the Bears Achilles heel last season. Baylor ranked 107th in the country in passing defense, and gave up 40+ points 4 times. The Bears open the season the first Saturday of September at SMU.
5) Michigan State 17 starters return for the Spartans from a team that ranked #10 in the country offense and 8th overall in defense last season. The offense will be led by quarterback Connor Cook, who passed for 3,214 yards and 24 TD's in 2014. Defensive end Shilque Calhoun will anchor the other side of the ball. This is the highest pre season ranking Michigan State has had since 1967. The Spartans open the season on the road Friday night against Western Michigan.

Chocolate thunder: Williams' flare defined his NBA career

09/01/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Street ball style with flash and flare. That was how Jason Williams played the game of basketball. From the high school gyms in West Virginia, through college, and for 12 NBA seasons, the man nicknamed "White Chocolate" melted opponents with his highlight reel style of play.
A native of Belle, West Virginia, Williams put his basketball skills on display throughout his high school years. Williams scored over 1,000 points in high school and also recorded 500 assists. One of his teammates at DuPont High School was former NFL star Randy Moss. Moss and Williams helped lead DuPont to the 1994 West Virginia State Championship game, and Williams was named by USA Today as the West Virginia player of the year following the 1994 season. He not only passed to Moss on the basketball court, he did so on the football field as well as the starting quarterback at DuPont in 1992 and 1993.
Williams would go on to play only 2 years of college basketball before turning pro. After high school, he originally decided to keep it in the Mountain State, attending Marshall University. After redshirting his first year, Williams averaged over 13 points and 6 assists per game in his first season on the court for the Thundering Herd. When head coach Billy Donovan took the coaching job at the University of Florida, Williams followed Donovan and transferred to the Gators. NCAA rules forced Williams to sit out the 1996/97 season at Florida, but he returned the court the following season, averaging 17 points per game and almost 7 assists per contest as well. However in early 1998, Williams was suspended for the remainder of the season, which was the third time he was suspended marijuana use.

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Williams declared himself eligible for the 1998 NBA Draft, and was selected in the first round by the Sacramento Kings. That's where the "White Chocolate" nickname came to life. With his street ball style, Williams became a human highlight reel early in his career. Behind the back, half court, and no look passes were a staple of his game, along with shooting long distance 3 point shots and a lethal crossover dribble that got "White Chocolate" plenty of air time on highlight shows. The flash and pizazz did come with some risk, as he was turnover prone in his early years. But that style of play is what made Williams who he was.
After playing his first 4 seasons with the Kings, he was traded to Vancouver in 2001. He played 4 seasons with the Grizzlies in both Vancouver and then Memphis before being traded to Miami in 2005. He would win an NBA Championship with the Heat in 2006 and would play in Miami until 2008. Citing chronic injuries, Williams temporarily retired following the 2007/08 season. He would return to the NBA in 2009, and would play parts of 2 seasons with Orlando before finishing 2011 with Memphis. Following the 2011 season, Williams officially retired from the NBA.
Williams had a solid 12 year NBA career where he averaged 10.5 points per game and 5.9 assists in 788 career games. He averaged 8.3 points per game in the playoffs, with a high average of 17 points per game in the 2005 playoffs with Memphis. He started all 23 of Miami's playoff games during the Heat's title run in 2006.
Williams has 3 children, one of whom is making a bit of a name for himself at a young age as well. His 13 year old son Jaxon has turned some heads on the court, already showing some of his dad's skill when it comes to that crossover.
So does that mean in a few years we may see the second coming of Jason Williams in the form of "White Chocolate Jr"? It certainly seems to be in the making, but check out his YouTube highlights and decide for yourself.

Losing battle: What happened to Jason Pierre Paul?

08/28/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

You remember the Where's Waldo books, right? Well in the New York Giants camp right now, the question is, where is Jason Pierre Paul?
JPP as he's known around the NFL, sustained a hand injury due to an accident involving fireworks on July 4th. He has yet to report to camp. And Giants officials seem to have no idea if or when he will be reporting to the team. Nobody seems to know how seriously he was injured. Some reports say he had a finger blown off. Nobody seems to know what his condition is now and if he's able to play. So what is going on here?
Well here's the story. First of all, the fireworks injury though isn't the reason JPP isn't in camp though. He had skipped all of the teams workouts prior to that. That's because he was unhappy the Giants used the franchise player tag on him. He was given the franchise tag back in March, but he has yet to sign the offer. So therefore, Pierre-Paul technically doesn't have a contract. And luckily for him he didn't sign the contract before his injury. Because had he been under contract, the Giants could've put him on the non football injury list. And had that occurred, JPP would have been unable to play for the first six weeks of the season. Under his franchise tag, Pierre-Paul is scheduled to make $14.8 million dollars. If JPP was unable to play due to his injury and had signed the contract, the Giants could put him on the non football injury list. And with that, JPP's pay would be cut over those first six weeks of the season.

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Financially it's a smart move for Pierre-Paul. If or when his injuries are healed JPP will arrive at Giants camp at that time. And as long as he's close to being in playing shape he'll be able to start the season on the field with his full pay. Reports have said Pierre-Paul's injury is healing well and that he's working to make sure he is in shape to play and to be ready for the season opener.
But because of his gone missing approach through all of this, members of the Giants medical staff have been unable to exam him and have yet to see his medical records as well. And head coach Tom Coughlin obviously hasn't spoken to Pierre-Paul either, because he has said he doesn't know when JPP is planning to show up.
Hey, you can't blame the guy for wanting to protect his money. But maybe letting your coach know when you're going to be at camp might be a good thing to do? Maybe letting the team's medical staff make sure you're going to be ready to play would be too? That part is a little selfish on JPP's part, but reports have stated he has been in contact with some current and former teammates and plans to be ready to go for the season opener.
And if JPP records a couple of sacks and forces a fumble in the season opener and helps lead the Giants to victory in week one, any negative feelings about him will go away and all will be forgiven and well again. Such is life in today's NFL.

Down turned: WWE summer spectacular is letdown

08/26/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

It's one of the WWE's " Big 3" of pay per views. This year it was 4 hours of action from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But unlike the summer weather, Summer Slam was far from hot. As a matter of fact, to steal part of the Rusev/Dolph Ziggler/Summer Rae/Lana angle, it was a cold fish.
The first big letdown was the John Cena versus Seth Rollins double title match. Cena put up his United States Championship against Rollins World Title. Over the past few months leading up to Summer Slam, Rollins had been "feuding" with Jon Stewart, who was the host of this years PPV. After a fairly solid match between Cena and Rollins, Stewart got involved when the referee was knocked out. Wielding a chair, Stewart teased hitting Rollins with it, before he swerved Cena and hit him with the chair instead, helping Rollins to the win. But this was awful. Not so much the swerve, but Stewart was awful. He came in the ring with the chair and looked confused. Then he did what looked like dancing the Irish Jig with the chair between Cena and Rollins before finally "hitting" Cena with the chair. The WWE should never have celebrities or guest hosts play a big role in a major match. This was proof positive of that.
The other big letdown was the much anticipated rematch between The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar. The match itself was great. Both guys gave an awesome effort and put on a match that deserved the main event slot and was the best match of the night. But the ending was terrible. Lesnar had Undertaker locked in a submission. The referee was counting Lesnar's shoulders down on the mat. Then out of nowhere, the bell rang. The referee said he didn't call for the bell, so the match continued, and eventually the Undertaker got Lesnar to tap out. But the replay showed that after the match, the Undertaker actually did tap out to the submission which is why the bell rang. But the referee missed it. I have been watching wrestling for over 30 years and have never seen the time keeper ring the bell because he or she saw what the ref missed. That ending was beyond stupid! If the time keeper is going to ring the bell when the referee misses something, why didn't he ring the bell in the Cena versus Rollins match when Jon Stewart interfered? Just awful booking for the main event of such an anticipated match in which both wrestlers put on a great performance.

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As for the rest of the show Rusev and Dolph Ziggler finally had their one on one match, which ended in a disappointing double count out. After building this up all summer, the match itself, especially after the ending, felt secondary to the anticipated catfight between Lana and Summer Rae.
This honestly felt like watching a WCW pay per view towards it's demise circa late 2000 to early 2001. It seemed like the WWE tried too hard to book everyone on the card to look strong coming away from the PPV, which was the reason for the biggest matches having no clean winners. It seemed like Summer Slam was more of a set up for the day after Monday Night Raw, and it wasn't as good as the NXT show from the night before.
Fortunately, my friend has the WWE Network so we could watch the PPV for $9.95. I feel bad for anyone who paid full price for Summer Slam, because it certainly wasn't worth the price.

Game off: Injuries define what is easily worthless NFL preseason

08/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

This time of year, the debate always arises about the NFL pre season. Are there too many games? Does anybody care? Why not decrease the number of games? Does the pre season even matter?
Of course there are pros and cons to each side. But one of the biggest cons is injuries. And not just injuries, but the potential of a severe injury to a top player. But it seems that while the blame tends to be placed on injuries happening during exhibition games, most of them seem to occur in practice. Or as was the case with a few well known players getting injured this summer, due to shear stupidity.
So far this pre season we've had a few big time players suffer big time injuries during exhibition games. Minnesota lost starting offensive tackle Phil Loadholt to a torn Achilles tendon during the team's pre season opener. Jacksonville escaped such bad news when newly signed tight end Julius Thomas was injured in the Jaguars first pre season game versus Pittsburgh. Thomas sustained a fracture in his left hand, but he is expected to be ready to go by the start of the regular season.

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But the most severe injuries of this 2K15 pre season have occurred during practices. Houston running back Arian Foster needed surgery to repair a groin injury he suffered at the Texans first practice in pads. Carolina lost wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to a knee injury at a joint practice with Miami. Two highly touted rookie WR's haven't even gotten on the field yet due to injury. Baltimore's Breshad Perriman suffered a knee injury of the first day of practice. Chicago's Kevin White hasn't even been on the field due to a shin injury that will have him starting the season on the PUP list and possibly missing the season. Both were their respective teams first round draft picks.
And then there's the just plain stupid. First it was Jason Pierre Paul of the New York Giants, who sustained a serious hand injury on the 4th of July due to handling fireworks. He has yet to suit up this pre season for the Giants. And stupidity has also surfaced with the other team bearing the name New York, as the Jets lost quarterback Geno Smith for 6 to 10 weeks after his jaw was broken in a locker room fight.
So yes, there is risk and the chance of injury occurring during exhibition games. But at least in this years sample, most of the significant injuries have not occurred during games. Obviously the NFL can't cancel off season practices or scrimmages. And some who feel the length of the NFL's pre season is necessary feel more of these non game injuries would occur if the pre season was shortened because players would have less of an opportunity to get their bodies in game shape.
Whether fans like it or not, pre season games and training camps are necessary evils of the start of a successful regular season. Of course, those seem like a lot less necessary evil if one of the star players on your team suffers a season ending injury in an exhibition game.

Hardly worthwhile: NFL preseason is fun to debate but worthless to watch

08/16/15 by Rennie Detore

My friend called me a few weeks ago and told me he received his season tickets for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season.
He'll call so we can determine who gets to go to what game, and I'll get first dibs on whatever regular season game I want to see.
Maybe the Ravens or Bengals, given their division rivalries being put on the forefront.

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The key to our discussion always revolves around regular season games, but he is on the hook to pay for preseason tickets, too, and those are essentially blank sleeves of cardboard given the fact that he can't give them away, nor does anyone ever really pay much attention to them, except for those die hard fans that can't get enough football in August.
My friend, of course, isn't happy that he pays face value for tickets that he doesn't use, and debate has raged on that these preseason tickets shouldn't even be included in the package or at least be optional.
Preseason football isn't really, truly meant for fans. The games are practices, essentially, against other teams. They have pads and plays, coaches calling out numbers and asking for situations like fourth and whatever to be tacked, but the game is more about showcasing talent that is going to be back ups at best and practice squad members likely, and also giving starters a few reps here and there, ones that they really don't need. The argument is that the starters need live actions reps to get the speed of the game down. Do you really think a 10 year all pro, Hall of Fame bound quarterback needs to know he went 3 for 3 on one series?
No, absolutely not.
Fans check out these games on TV at best to see a few glimpses of football since it has been on hiatus for six months. Aside from that, no one is going to games, nor is anyone going to pay money for a ticket.
These games are about evaluating talent and ESPN and Fox Sports to devote countless, useless hours to breaking down film on guys that are rookies or potential break out starters so they can get their paychecks and fantasy football players can start sizing up their draft boards.
Aside from that, no one cares and even the players are going about half speed in the games themselves, except for those who are still trying to earn a roster spot.
What happens on the field is surely not about winning or losing but rather putting together a glorified scrimmages for the sake of revenue and television.
It certainly isn't about fans, like my friend, sifting through stack of tickets that he paid for and no one, himself included, wants.

Court deflate: Why the Brady, Goodell saga is so tired

08/13/15 by Rennie Detore

The next step in settling who's guilty of what in Deflate Gate took place in front of a federal judge on Wednesday. And after the hearing, we're right back where we started at.
Lawyers from the NFL Players Union say Commissioner Roger Goodell was wrong to suspend Tom Brady for 4 games and also wrong for upholding his decision. The union side still says that Brady and the New England Patriots did nothing wrong regarding the deflated footballs found after the AFC Championship Game. The NFL's side said there is considerable evidence that Brady knew about the deflated footballs.
Judge Richard Berman listened to both sides in the court room for about an hour and half before meeting with both sides in private. The main questions the judge had for each side was what direct evidence does the NFL have that links Brady directly to the deflation of the footballs? Berman asked the players union why employees of the Patriots would deflate the balls without Brady knowing about it?

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The answers were the NFL doesn't have a "smoking gun" to show Brady was involved in deflating the footballs. And that the Patriots employees may have deflated the balls without Brady knowing because they thought it might be "good for the quarterback"
So what did Judge Berman rule? Well he didn't make an official ruling, but he did encourage both sides to come to a settlement because the next court date is August 19th and the NFL regular season starts September 10th.
So here we are, in the same place we were a month ago. The answer is simple. Reduce the suspension to 2 games, everybody agree, and lets get back to playing football, not talking about deflated ones.

Busted: NFL big money deals sometimes don't always pan out

08/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

This past weekend, several new busts were unveiled in the NFL Hall of Fame. But with several big money contracts handed out to free agents heading into the 2015 season, how many "busts" will we see in the coming months?
It seems in a lot of cases, once a player gets his big pay day, his play on game day tends to decline. Will any of this seasons big money free agents be worth the cash? Or will teams have broken their banks on players who will be busts? LeSean McCoy has moved from Philadelphia to Buffalo. Jimmy Graham has left New Orleans to be in Seattle. Julius Thomas is no longer a Bronco and is now a Jaguar. And Miami truly did break the bank signing Ndamokong Suh, who is the highest paid non quarterback in the NFL.
McCoy was actually traded to the Bills, who promptly signed him to a 5 year, $40 million dollar contract extension. McCoy led the NFL in rushing in 2013, but his production declined last season. Will the "Shady" of two years ago re-emerge with a change of scenery in Buffalo? Or will the Bills be sorry they gave the big bucks to a player Philadelphia thinks they're better off without?

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Graham was also traded from the Saints to the Seahawks. He had previously signed a $40 million dollar, 5 year contract extension. Graham has arguably been the best tight end in football the past few seasons. Heading to Seattle to play with Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, and the rest of the Seahawks offense could help Graham continue as one of the top dogs at tight end. Graham has caught at least 85 passes each of the past four seasons, and doesn't look to be slowing down.
Jacksonville made a big splash, signing Thomas away from Denver for $46 million dollars over 5 years. The tight end has caught 24 touchdown passes over the past two seasons, that's the good news. The bad news is the man throwing passes to him is no longer Peyton Manning. And Thomas as missed 28 games in his 4 NFL seasons.
San Francisco paid big money to lure wide receiver Torrey Smith away from Baltimore. The 49ers gave Smith a 5 year, $40 million dollar contract. The 49ers are hoping (and paying) that Smith develops into a #1 receiver. But he's never caught more than 65 passes in a season and only has a single 1,000 yard season on his resume.
The biggest free agent signing was when the Dolphins signed Ndamukong Suh to a 6 year, $114 million dollar contract. Suh could be the most dominate defensive lineman when he's on the field. But he also has a history of on field incidents that have led to multiple fines and being suspended as well. Will his aggressive history and being noted as one of the dirtiest players in the game end up with Suh being injured by a retaliatory cheap shot before those 6 years are up? And a contract of that size for a defensive lineman brings back some bad memories.
Of course those bad defensive line memories are of Albert Haynesworth. Remember when Haynesworth signed a 7 year, $100 million dollar contract with Washington after the 2008 season. Remember that Haynesworth didn't even last two full seasons with the Redskins? That's the risk you take when signing long term contracts for big money.
How many of this years big free agency signings will turn out to be worth the money? How many will prove not to be worth it? And how many will turn out to be flat out busts? Questions that all will be answered in time when the 2015 season kicks off in just about a month.

Dream believer: Matchup between top UFC women iffy at best

08/11/15 by Rennie Detore

UFC superstar Ronda Rousey disposed of her last opponent in seconds, a challenger that was supposed to be a tall order who turned into short work for the female fighter.
Now, her next fight is highly anticipated but feels like quite the long shot.
Rousey seems to be on a collision course with fellow female fighter Cris Cyborg Justino, better known simply as "Cyborg."

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The issue with these two ridiculously talented fighters is Cyborg is too heavy to be paired against Rousey as the two don't share the same weight class. This dream matchup, however, is begging to happen given the fact that neither seems beatable.
The most recent news out of the Cyborg camp is that she is willing to and will be ready to fight Rousey in December once she cuts weight. This coming on the heels of Rousey discussing Cyborg after he most recent victory and said she would fight Cyborg if "she stopped taking steroids."
The rumored December fight would be held at an outdoor stadium, thought to be in Dallas and would surely do the kind of pay per view numbers that UFC could only dream of and may eclipse the Mayweather fight recently that did more than two million pay per view buys. Some are forecasting the would be Rousey and Cyborg fight at four million, a stunning number to even think of at the moment and one that would shatter all pay per view records.
Of course, reality set in after all the hype and most have shot down this potential bout as rumors at best and a lot of chatter just for the sake of self promotion and hype, although those within the camp of Cyborg are saying they have talked to UFC and the fight isn't quite as far fetched as you'd believe.
Any time fans can talk about "dream fights" per say, it creates quite the buzz of excitement. Sports rarely finds much left in the way of matchups that are must see television or pay per view, so Rousey and Cyborg fits that bill and then some. Both fighters are red hot as far as popularity and being at the height of their talent within their sport. This is the proverbial "immoveable object" versus "unstoppable force" type matchup or any other sports cliche you can think of at the moment.
If it happens, fans will flock to it. But it is going to take the right amount of money for both to commit, but that still seems quite unlikely. That said, when money is involved, all bets are off.

True gift: Gifford will be sorely missed as 'Mr. Do It All' in football

08/10/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The 2015 NFL Hall of Fame ceremonies were a weekend of highs. Until Sunday morning, when it was announced that former NFL Hall of Fame player and broadcaster Frank Gifford passed away at the age of 84.
Gifford was the definition of durability both on and off the field. He played both offense and defense over his 13 year career with the New York Giants. Gifford made the Pro Bowl as a running back, wide receiver, and defensive back. The accolades on the field were with Gifford before he made his NFL debut, as he was an All American at USC in college.
He was selected by the Giants with the 11th overall pick in 1952. He started his NFL career playing on both sides of the ball. Gifford helped to lead the Giants to 5 NFL Championship games and to a title win in 1956, when he was named as the league's MVP. Gifford would make 8 Pro Bowl appearances in his esteemed career. 7 of those Pro Bowls came in the 1950's, when he was named to the NFL's all decade team.

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The biggest accomplishment for Gifford as a player though may not be what he did on the field, but what he came back from. In 1961, Gifford was severely injured in a game against Philadelphia. He was injured bad enough that he actually retired from football. But he returned in 1962 when he was named the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year, and would make his final Pro Bowl appearance in 1963.
For the past few generations of professional football fans though, Gifford is best known for his work in the broadcast booth. In 1971, Gifford joined Howard Cossell and Don Meredith on Monday Night Football. Gifford would remain a broadcaster on MNF until 1997. Not only was the fact he was on the NFL's biggest TV broadcast for parts of 3 decades impressive, but Gifford was a trail blazer in the fact that he was the first ex player to really become a star behind the microphone as well. He won a Emmy Award in 1977 and was given the Pete Rozelle Hall of Fame award in 1995 for his work on television for the NFL. He also had various acting roles both prior to and after his NFL playing career.
Gifford died at the age of 84 of natural causes at his home in Connecticut. Gifford was both unique and versatile, both on the field and off. He was involved in the NFL as a player or broadcaster for 5 decades, opened the door for other former athletes into becoming television announcers, and left a legacy behind that will never be forgotten by NFL fans both past and present.
Rest in peace Frank Gifford, you will definitely be missed.

Hall calling: Longevity key to these news NFL Hall of Famers

08/08/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The 2015 NFL Hall of Fame Class will be inducted in Canton, Ohio this weekend. And one common theme echoes about these inductees, durability and longevity on the field. All 6 of the players being inducted this year played double digit years on the grid iron, each battling through injuries, highs and lows, and playing on good teams and bad teams. 5 of those 6 players were on the field through the 1990's, and each has a story that makes them all hall of fame worthy. Bill Polian and Ron Wolf will also be inducted for their contributions off the field. Let's take a closer look at the 53rd NFL Hall of Fame Class.
You can be the greatest, you can be the best
You can be the King Kong beating on your chest

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Jerome Bettis
Drafted in 1993 by the then Los Angeles Rams, Bettis played 13 seasons in the NFL. After 3 seasons with the Rams, he was traded to Pittsburgh, where his nickname "The Bus" was born. Bettis rushed for 10,571, which is second most in Steelers history behind fellow Hall of Famer Franco Harris. Bettis finished his career as the 6th leading rusher in NFL history with 13,662 yards while scoring 91 touchdowns, which is 10th most in league history. He was selected to 6 Pro Bowls, and his last game in the NFL was Super Bowl XL. In his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, the Steelers won their 6th Super Bowl and sent "The Bus" on his ride out of the NFL as a champion.
You can beat the world, you can beat the war
You can talk to God, go banging on his door
Tim Brown
Drafted by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1988, Brown played 17 seasons in the NFL. He spent the first 16 of those 17 years with the Raiders before finishing with Tampa Bay. Brown ranks 5th all time in receptions (1,094), 5th all time in all purpose yards (19,682), 6th in receiving yards (14,934), and 7th in touchdown catches (100). Brown made the Pro Bowl 9 times in his career and is the Raiders franchise leader in receptions, receiving yards, and touchdowns.
You can throw your hands up, you can beat the clock
You can move a mountain, you can break rocks
Charles Haley
Drafted in 1986 by San Francisco, Haley played 13 NFL seasons with the 49ers and Dallas. Haley won 5 Super Bowls, 3 with the Cowboys and 2 in San Francisco. He recorded 100 1/2 career sacks and was selected to 5 Pro Bowls.
You can be a master, don't wait for luck
Dedicate yourself and you're gonna find yourself
Junior Seau
Drafted by San Diego in 1990, Seau played 20 seasons in the NFL. He played his first 13 years with the Chargers and his last 7 with Miami and then New England. Seau was selected to 12 Pro Bowls and was named to the 1990's All Decade Team. Seau committed suicide in 2012, it was later determined he suffered from CTE. The NFL will waive the policy about speeches given for deceased inductees. Seau's daughter Sydney will give a speech on her fathers behalf.
You can go the distance, you can run the mile
You can walk straight through hell with a smile
Will Shields
Drafted in 1993, Shields played all 14 of his NFL seasons with Kansas City. Shields was selected to 12 Pro Bowls and named to the 2000's All Decade Team. Shields was a testament to durability, as he never missed a game in his entire career. He started 223 consecutive games to finish his career.
You can be the hero, you can get the gold
Breaking all the records they thought never could be broke
Mick Tinglehoff
Tinglehoff is this year's veterans committee selection. Tinglehoff began his career in 1962 with Minnesota as an undrafted player. He would go on to play 17 NFL seasons for the Vikings. Tinglehoff was a 6 time Pro Bowl selection and played in 4 Super Bowls with Minnesota. Like Will Shields, Tinglehoff is another testament to durability and then some. Not only did he never miss a game in his career, he also never missed a practice in 17 years.
Do it for your people, do it for your pride
How are you ever gonna know if you never even try
Bill Polian
Selected as a contributor, Polian 32 seasons in the NFL. He served as General Manager for Buffalo, Carolina, and Indianapolis during his career. Polian helped build the Bills of the 1990's, which are still the only franchise in NFL history to reach 4 consecutive Super Bowls. He built the Carolina Panthers as an expansion team following his tenure in Buffalo. He then moved on to Indianapolis, where he helped the Colts to 11 playoff appearances in his 14 year tenure. The Colts made 2 Super Bowl appearances, winning one under Polian's watch. His first ever draft pick in Indianapolis was Peyton Manning.
Do it for your country, do it for your name
'Cause there's gonna be a day...
Ron Wolf
Also selected as a contributor, Wolf was involved in professional football for 40 seasons. He spent 15 of those seasons with the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, helping them to win 2 Super Bowls in 3 appearances. He was the first GM in Tampa Bay history, helping to launch the Buccaneers franchise in 1976. But he's best known for his time in Green Bay, where the Packers made 2 Super Bowl appearances and won 1 title. His best known personnel move was acquiring a not very well known at the time back up quarterback named Brett Favre.
When you're standing in the hall of fame, and the world's gonna know your name
'Cause you burn with the brightest flame
And you'll be on the walls of the Hall of Fame

Stretch run: Division leaders and contenders starting to pull ahead in MLB playoff races

08/06/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The trade deadline has passed and we are in the stretch run of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. In the American League, separation has been created by the division leaders in 2 of the 3 divisions. In the National League, things are a little bit tighter. Let's take a look at where things are at as we start off the month of August.
Starting in the AL East, the New York Yankees have stretched their lead to 5.5 and 6 games over Toronto and Baltimore respectively. Mark Texiera continues to lead the way for the Yankees, with 29 home runs (tied for 5th in AL) and 76 RBI's (3rd most in AL). At age 40, Alex Rodriguez has come on strong for the Yankees as well. A-Rod's 24 HR's are 8th most in the AL, and he's contributed 62 RBI's as well. Brian McCann's 65 RBI's rank in the AL's top 10 as well. Toronto and Baltimore have remained in the hunt due to their bats as well. The Orioles Chris Davis leads the American League with 79 RBI's. The Blue Jays Josh Donaldson is right behind him with 78 RBI's, while teammate Jose Bautista's 71 RBI's tie him for 5th most in the AL. Davis and Donaldson are tied for 6th in the AL with 28 HR's. Bautista and the Orioles Manny Machada rank in the AL top 10 for home runs with 23 each.
In the Central, Kansas City has extended their lead over 2nd place Minnesota to 9.5 games. The Royals have the American League's best record, and the 2nd best record in baseball. The Royals Eric Hosmer (.317) and Lorenzo Cain (.309) both rank in the AL top 10 in batting average. Kendrys Morales is 4th in the AL with 73 RBI's. Pitcher Edinson Volquez ranks in the top 10 in both ERA and wins.

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In the West, Houston leads Anaheim by 2.5 games. The Astros Dallas Keuchel and Collin McHugh are tied for 1st in the AL with 13 wins each. Keuchel's 2.35 ERA is 3rd lowest in the AL, while teammate Scott Kazmir's 2.10 ERA is the league's lowest. The Angels big bats have kept them in the hunt. Mike Trout leads the majors with 32 home runs and Albert Pujols is right behind him with 30. Trout and Pujols are also in the AL top 10 in RBI's, with 68 and 66 respectively.
In the Wild Card race, Anaheim has the pole position right now, leading Toronto by 1.5 games and Baltimore by 2 games.
Turning to the National League and starting in the East Division, the New York Mets have jumped ahead of Washington in the standings, leading the Nationals by 1 game. Despite a season filled with injuries to big names so far, Washington has remained in contention. The play of Bryce Harper has kept the Nationals on top of or near the top of the division. Harper leads the NL with 29 HR's, is 2nd in batting average (.330), and 4th in RBI's (68). For the Mets, their pitching has remained strong. Both Bartolo Colon and Jacob deGrom have 10 wins on the season. deGrom's 2.09 ERA is also 2nd lowest in the NL.
In the Central, St. Louis has opened up some space between themselves and 2nd place Pittsburgh. The Cardinals lead the Pirates by 5.5 games, and have an 8.5 game lead over 3rd place Chicago. Those 3 teams have 3 of the top 4 records in the National League as well. Pitching has been strong in this division. For the Cardinals, both Michael Wacha (12) and Carlos Martinez (11) have double digit wins. For Pittsburgh, Gerrit Cole leads the majors with 14 wins. And the Cubs Jake Arrieta's 12 wins are tied for 2nd in the NL with Wacha. The Pirates Mark Melancon leads the majors with 34 saves, while the Cardinals Trevor Rosenthal is tied for 2nd in MLB with 31.
Out West, Los Angeles holds a 2 game lead over San Francisco. The Dodgers remain on top of the division due to the work of their big two pitchers. Zack Greinke's 1.41 ERA is the lowest in the majors, while Clayton Kershaw's 2.37 ERA is 4th lowest in the NL. Greinke's 10 wins put him in the top 10 in the NL as well. Buster Posey has led the way for the Giants, batting .332 (2nd in NL) with 75 RBI's (3rd in the NL). Teammates Matt Duffy (.310) and Joe Panik (.309) both are in the NL's top 10 in batting average. The Giants have gotten big contributions from the mound too. Madison Bumgarner's 12 wins are tied for 2nd most in the NL, while Chris Heston's 11 wins are right behind him.
In the Wild Card race, Pittsburgh is in the lead, 3 games ahead of Chicago and 3.5 games ahead of San Francisco.
Heading down the stretch, there is still a lot to be decided. With lots of tight races, there should be plenty of excitement between now and October.

A Rous(ey)ing question: Could Ronda Rousey beat a guy In the octagon?

08/05/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Ronda Rousey is the best female MMA fighter on the planet. It could safely be said she is the best female MMA fighter of all time. After an impressive 34 second knockout of Beth Correia in her latest fight, Rousey has won 11 of her 12 professional fights in the first round. Prior to fighting professionally, Rousey won multiple medals in international judo competition, including a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics. She won all 3 of her amateur MMA fights in a combined time of less than two minutes total. But could she beat a male MMA fighter?
I'm not talking about some wanna be bar tough guy who won a few tough man contests. I'm not talking about some bragadocious black belt jiu jitsu student. I'm not talking about a journeyman fighter on some low level professional circuit or even a good amateur fighter. I'm talking about a bona fide, professionally trained MMA fighter who has stepped in the octagon at it's highest level.
Back in March, Rousey said on ESPN that she could beat "100% of the UFC's male bantam weight fighters" if she was given the right circumstances. That definitely raised some eye brows in the MMA world. Rousey has been compared to Mike Tyson for her penchant for ending her fights quickly, much like Iron Mike did in the 1980's and early 1990's. The question has been posed on various national sports talk shows, could Rousey really beat a man? According to former UFC fighter Mark Coleman, he doesn't think so. Coleman said that Rousey would have her hands full with any male fighter ranked in the top 20 and maybe beyond.

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Ronda Rousey is dominate. She is the most dominate athlete in their respective sport on the planet. There's a good chance that 25 years from now, we'll be saying that she was and still is the greatest female MMA fighter of all time. She was also raised to fight. Her mother had her training in judo at a very young age. She's been training to be what she is now her entire life. Rousey has said it herself that most of the other female fighters were doing something else most of their lives when they decided to pursue MMA. She's head and shoulders, and wicked armbar, better than any woman fighter on the planet. But when it comes to fighting an equally skilled male fighter, I don't think her odds are that good. A male MMA fighter's strikes are harder than a woman's. A male MMA fighter's kicks would cause a lot more damage than a female's. And obviously, a male MMA fighter is stronger physically than a female fighter. Rousey.
The debate will continue, but likely will never be seen. There aren't too many state athletic commissions that would sanction a male versus female MMA fight. I doubt the UFC would want to feature a fight that could be seen world wide and end up being a man beating up a woman in a cage fight. Respect Ronda Rousey. Enjoy watching her dominance. She deserves all of the press and movies and other entertainment opportunities she's come into. But don't be ridiculous, because when it comes to Ronda Rousey defeating an equally skilled male fighter, it's just that. Ridiculous.

Game changer: NFL hires two women assistants but all we can say is it's about time

08/04/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

While most of the news involving the interaction between NFL linebackers and women has been negative as of late. But the Arizona Cardinals bringing in Jen Welter as the first ever female coach in the NFL is full of positivity.
Welter became the first woman ever to hold any kind of a coaching position when Arizona brought her in as a training camp/pre season intern, where she will coach the Cardinals inside linebackers. Blurring the lines of football is something Welter is no stranger to though. Besides a 14 year career as a professional women's player, Welter became the first female player to ever play a non kicking position in a professional men's league in 2014 when she played running back in for the Texas Revolution of the Indoor Football League. In February of this year, she also became the first woman to coach a professional men's team when she was named linebackers and special teams coach for the Revolution.
Combined with Sarah Thomas being hired on as the first full time female referee, this is ground breaking stuff for the NFL. These are big steps in a never before taken direction. These are great opportunities for Welter and Thomas, but this is also a great opportunity for the NFL. With so much negative light being shed on the NFL due to the rash of domestic violence incidents, this gives the NFL the opportunity to shed some positive light while taking steps in a new direction as far as women getting a chance to play major roles in the NFL.

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So far, Welter has said her experience with the Cardinals in training camp has been great. She's said she doesn't feel like she's been treated any differently so far because she's a woman. Thomas has said she will continue to tuck her hair under her cap because she doesn't want the fact she's a woman to be what stands out, she wants to be seen as just another, regular official. I'm not sure if that means she wants to be sworn at and hated by fans of any team that her calls on the field negatively effect though.
Thomas will be a full time official and employed by the NFL like all of her male counterparts will this season. Welter on the other hand, only has her gig until the pre season ends. So she'll be trying to show what she can do over the next month. Thomas earned her way up as an official, starting on the high school level, then on the collegiate level, then as an official for NFL pre season games. Perhaps Welter will blaze that same trail and in a few years we'll be hearing about her being hired as the first full time female coach in the NFL?
According to the NFL, 45% of its fan base is female. Sarah Thomas and Jen Welter will hopefully show some of those ladies that they may have a future in professional football being more than just fans.

Hulk fool: Should Hogan be forgiven for idiotic comment?

07/31/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Prayers. Training. Vitamins. And racism? Well the first three were staples of a Hulk Hogan interview when he was the most popular and best known professional wrestler on the planet in the 1980's through the early to mid 1990's. The last seems to a staple of the Hulkster's vocabulary more recently.
Since the transcripts of Hogan's racially charged statements came out, Hogan has been terminated by the WWE. His profile was taken off their website, his merchandise was pulled, and he was actually removed from the WWE Hall of Fame on line as well. The WWE has decided that due to these statements, Hulk Hogan no longer exists. But here's the problem, Hulk Hogan does exist. What he did for the then WWF, Vince McMahon, and professional wrestling as a whole can't be erased. Hulk Hogan was and probably still is the best known professional wrestler on the planet. He beat the Iron Sheik for the WWF championship. He body slammed Andre the Giant in front of the largest indoor crowd in sports history at the time at WrestleMania III in the Silver Dome. He made the most famous heel turn in 1996 when he joined the NWO while in WCW. That all happened. The WWE can't make that go away. They tried to do the same thing with Chris Benoit. Any likeness to him and all of his matches have been deleted from all things WWE. But Chris Benoit did exist. And did have some legendary matches. And was a big part of the WWE from the early part through the middle of the 2000's. Sure, the fact he murdered his family and then killed himself is tragic and awful. But it's real too. And the WWE can't ignore the fact that it did, no matter how much they've tried to erase Chris Benoit's existence.
The problem with this is the racist remarks that Hulk Hogan was fired for came from the unauthorized sex tapes with Heather Clem. I'm not going repeat what Hogan said, but he used the derogatory term to describe an African American like he used the words brother and dude in his 1980's interviews. What Hogan said was definitely inappropriate. It's not something the WWE needs to have associated with one of their best known talents, especially with the sensitivity surrounding racism recently. In no way am I condoning what Hulk Hogan said. But he was making these comments in what he thought was the privacy of his or Clem's home. Hogan has a $100 million dollar lawsuit against, which is the site that originally posted the sex tape. He didn't say these things in a public setting or in an interview or on national television. He said what he said in what he thought was, and what should have been, a private setting with Heather Clem as the only intended audience.

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I'm in no way condoning what Hulk Hogan said. It was pretty nasty. He has apologized for the comments and stated that he isn't racist it was just a heat of the moment thing at a tough time in his life. And let's be honest, whether you're black or white or straight or gay or whatever, you've said something racist at some point in your life. You've said it in your own home. You've said it with your friends or family, amongst people you trust in a private setting. What Hulk Hogan said was wrong. But it shouldn't erase the existence of Hulk A Mania and the entire legacy of what Hulk Hogan was to professional wrestling. If there is anyone out there who has never uttered a racist word in their lives, I'd like to meet you. So before the world crucifies Hulk Hogan, remember this verse from the Bible. John 8:7 says "He who is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone".

Right call: NFL gets it right with upholding Brady suspension

07/29/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Guilty as charged. That's the decision NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has come to in regards to Tom Brady's involvement in "Deflate Gate". After over a month's wait following Brady's appeal, Goodell has decided to uphold the 4 game suspension Brady was given for his role in and knowledge of the use of under inflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game.
I have to admit, I did not expect this to be the outcome. With the NFLPA threatening to take the matter to federal court, I thought the commissioner would back off, at least a bit. I thought it would be reduced to a 2 game suspension at the maximum. Many thought Goodell would just back off and lift the ban, allowing Brady to play in the season opener. But that wasn't the case. Goodell didn't budge. And good for him.
The NFLPA plans to take the NFL to federal court as the next step. The case will be filed in Minnesota where Adrian Peterson's indefinite suspension was overruled last year. The NFLPA had already worked to get Greg Hardy's 10 game suspension for domestic violence reduced to 4 games. As a matter of fact, it seemed as of late that the players union seemed to have more power than the NFL itself. Maybe Roger Goodell was tired of that. Because this time he chose to hold firm to his decision and let the matter go to federal court.

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So why did Goodell stick to this decision? Because Brady destroyed his cell phone AND its SIM card right before he was to meet with independent investigator Ted Wells, who's report led to the discipline dished out to Brady and the New England Patriots for their roles in the Deflate Gate saga. Goodell said Brady was aware investigators had requested access to text messages and other electronic information that was on Brady's phone. It was also said that Brady had exchanged 10,000 text messages on that device that now can't be retrieved because the SIM card was also destroyed. Brady has said he routinely destroys cell phones after using them for a certain period of time.
I don't know about you, but that practice in this instance seems to show that Brady had something to hide. If he was innocent, he wouldn't have destroyed the phone and allowed investigators access to the text messages and other information. If he had nothing to hide, then it wouldn't matter what was on the phone, right? And if you get a new cell phone, don't you usually keep your SIM card to transfer your info to your new phone?
And if the Patriots and owner Robert Kraft had no knowledge or involvement in Deflate Gate, and felt they and Brady were wronged by the findings of the Wells Report, why didn't they appeal the punishment the team was given? The Patriots were stripped of their 2016 first round draft pick, a second draft pick, and fined $1 million dollars. Kraft's explanation for accepting the punishment was that it was best for the league as a whole if everybody just moved on from Deflate Gate.
Accepting a punishment that would be unjust if you were innocent? Destroying evidence investigators had requested? I don't think it matters whether it's in federal court or a local magistrate's office, those two things certainly make Tom Brady and the New England Patriots look guilty as charged.

Call to action: Saints get it right with cutting ties to Galette

07/29/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

In an NFL that seems like no matter what a player does off the field, as long as he can perform on the field some team will sign him, it was nice to see the New Orleans Saints go the opposite way when they released Junior Galette.
Despite the fact that Galette recorded 22 sacks over the past two seasons. Despite the fact they had just signed him to a four year contract worth $41.5 million dollars in September. Despite the fact the Saints will have to eat $17 million cap hit over the next two seasons. None of that stood in the way of the franchise making the right decision to cut Galette, and that's the way it should be.
Galette was arrested in January for allegedly injuring a woman while trying to force her out of his home. A video also surfaced last month from 2013 that shows a man who appears to be Galette hitting a woman with a belt during a scuffle on a beach in Florida. The charges against Galette for the January incident were dropped. And his attorney has stated there is no actual proof it is Galette in the beach fight video. But for the Saints, enough was enough.

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These incidents came to light after Galette had already raised the ire of Saints management and some of his teammates. Some in the organization felt that once Galette got his big contract and was named a team captain, he didn't play up to the level that was expected from him. Or even at his level prior to his new contract. Galette had fingers pointed at him for the Saints defense's free fall last season. His mouthing off got him criticized by both current and former teammates, and he got into at least one fight with a teammate. Galette may also face discipline from the NFL for the two incidents as well.
It's nice to see a franchise man up finally. It's nice to see a professional sports team say it doesn't matter what you can do on the field, violence towards women outweighs that and you should be rightfully punished for your actions. Sure, more than likely some team will sign Galette before the season starts and he'll get a chance to play again. Because it's been documented more than once over the past year that any discipline dished out by the NFL doesn't really hold any merit (see Hardy, Greg). Maybe this will be the start of a trend that needs to happen? Maybe other franchises in all professional sports will start weighing what a player does off the field more so than what he does on the field? Let's hope so. So kudos New Orleans Saints for doing the right thing. Here's hoping it's the start of a revolution that eliminates the connection of professional athletes and domestic violence. Because enough is enough.

Decision dilemma: Is Brady ruling sign that NFL and Goodell are totally clueless?

07/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

NFL fans, especially those of the New England Patriots, are waiting anxiously to hear the outcome of Tom Brady's appeal of the four game suspension the NFL handed down as punishment for the quarterbacks involvement in Deflate Gate.
Brady appealed the suspension in June. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed himself the arbitrator of the Brady's case. The NFLPA requested Goodell step down as arbitrator. Goodell refused. Now the case could be going to federal court. Yes, really, federal court.
It seems the NFLPA has already started working on a case to be heard by a federal judge if Goodell upholds the 4 game suspension. And of course the NFLPA plans to file the case in either Massachusetts or Minnesota. The reason for choosing Massachusetts is pretty obvious. The reason for choosing Minnesota? Because of it's labor friendly rulings including ruling in favor of Adrian Peterson after he was suspended indefinitely last year. With that being said, Goodell had based Brady's punishment on him being uncooperative with the NFL's investigation into Deflate Gate. Now the commish is saying that new information from Brady could result in a different decision.

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So there is now a real chance that Brady's suspension may be either partially or fully revoked. And if it's not completely revoked, the NFLPA will be taking the matter to federal court. This comes after Greg Hardy's 10 game domestic violence suspension being reduced to 4 games. If Brady's suspension is either reduced or all together overturned by Goodell, how does that make him look? It makes him look like a man with no backbone who's power appears to be pretty weak when it comes to discipline in the face of the NFLPA. Especially with the Peterson and Hardy court rulings, and another federal ruling that reinstated Ray Rice. It would show the players union is stronger than the league when it comes to players being punished for disciplinary reasons, and that the NFL may need to take a really hard look at how they go about dishing out punishments since the commissioners rulings and his work as an arbitrator can easily be defeated.
There's also talk that the NFLPA's federal case is just a ploy to work on getting Brady's punishment lifted. There is talk the union and the league office have been negotiating behind closed doors and the most likely outcome will be a reduction of the suspension.
The last question remaining though is, why is this taking so long? Brady filed his appeal a month ago, why hasn't the league reached a decision yet? Is Goodell afraid to admit he was wrong in the way he went about handling Brady's case and his refusal to step down as arbitrator? Is the commissioner trying to work out a closed door deal with the NFLPA so at least with a partial suspension he still looks like he has some clout? Or will Goodell end up reversing the suspension all together?
If the last question ends up being the outcome, the NFL and Roger Goodell are going to look ridiculous while the NFLPA triumphs again. Just like it did in the cases of Hardy, Peterson, and Rice. And the fact the NFL can't discipline cheaters and woman beaters because it isn't stronger than it's own players union is just the same. Ridiculous.

Hit and miss: New rules in NHL mostly off target

07/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

When the puck drops on the 2015 NHL season this fall, fans are going to notice some changes. The biggest change will be to overtime, which will now be 3 on 3 instead of 4 on 4. We'll get more into that in just a little bit.
The other change is the addition of the coach's challenge along with expanded video review. Let's start there. The first word that comes to mind in regards to the coach's challenge is finally. After watching the debacle that NHL on ice officiating was in the 2015 playoffs, the challenge and expanded video review are definite steps in the right direction. With the coach's challenge, a team will be able to challenge certain situations.
Here's how it works. First, the challenging team must have a timeout to use. If a coach challenges a pla and is successful, the team will keep their timeout. If the challenge is lost, so is the team's timeout. Challenges can be used in the following situations: If a goal is credited on the ice, but should've been disallowed because the scoring team was either offside or there was interference with the goaltender. It can also be used to challenge a disallowed goal on the grounds of goaltender interference. The disallowed goal call will be overturned if there was no actual contact between the attacking player and the goalie. If the attacking player called for contact with the goalie was pushed into the keeper by a defending player. Or if the attacking players presence in the goal crease didn't actually impede the goalie's ability to stop the puck.

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And the expanded video review will also include that during the final minute of regulation play and during the overtime period, any review that would've initiated through the coach's challenge will be initiated by the NHL's Situation Room in Toronto.
It's a start for sure. It's a step in the right direction. Too many times last season goals were disallowed for "incidental contact with the goaltender that prevented him from playing his position". I'm still not exactly sure what that wording means, but I know it resulted in too many goals being disallowed without there being actual goaltender interference. While this issue will be addressed, as will any blown offside calls, coaches still can't challenge penalty calls. Of course if coaches were able to challenge penalties that should've been called on the ice but weren't, NHL games would go from lasting 2.5 hours to about 2.5 days. But coaches should be able to challenge if a major penalty was missed and/or called a minor penalty instead. Not only would it eliminate blown calls on major penalties, it would increase player safety because players would know they wouldn't be able to get away with any major penalties. And of course, it's usually major penalties that lead to injuries.
Now to the 3 on 3 overtime. I hate it. A lot. It's been instituted to decrease the number of games that go to a shootout. This makes no sense to me though. The NHL wants more games to be decided in a game situation, but when does 3 on 3 equal a game situation? 4 on 4 overtime was bad enough, but this is awful. This doesn't do anything in regards to having a game decided in a game situation. If overtime when it really counts in the playoffs is 5 on 5, why is OT being decided with less players in the regular season?
The NHL's point system has been out of whack since it went to the 4 on 4 overtime to eliminate ties. You want to fix overtime? Here's how it should be done. No points are awarded if the game is tied after regulation. Teams play a 5 on 5 overtime period that's 5 minutes long. If the game is still tied, each team is awarded 1 point each. Then the OT can go straight to the shootout to determine which team gets the extra point. If the league doesn't want games decided by a shootout, get rid of it and bring ties back. I'd rather see a tie than see my team lose a point in a video game style overtime period. And honestly, even though it's not as popular as it was when it was implemented ten years ago, fans still enjoy the shootout.
Hockey is such a great sport to watch. Well at least when the NHL doesn't try to ruin it by not calling penalties on the ice that should be called, watching it's scoring consistently decline while it's star players are being impeded and prevented from being stars, allowing players to wear equipment that is more resembling of a suit of armor, keeping a dead team in Arizona, well I could keep going and going. By why beat a dead Bettman, I mean horse? So I'll stop here.

All Star Lame: No one really cares about MLB's All Star Game

07/15/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Remember when Major League Baseball's All Star Game meant something? Yeah I honestly don't either. But there was a time when it did matter, I swear there really was. Way back before the days of interleague play players in the American League only played against those from the National League twice during the season. Once was in the World Series. The other, was the All Star Game.
Yes, there was a time when the AL and the NL were pretty much two separate entities united under the banner of Major League Baseball. Each league used to have their own president. They each had their own umpires too. The AL used the designated hitter, while pitchers in the NL had to bat. Now I'm not saying that interleague play is what killed the All Star Game, but it was definitely a factor in getting it to it's current lame status. Modern day free agency, with so many players moving between the 2 leagues each season, has killed off the rivalry a bit too. There was a pride factor back in the glory days of the All Star Game. Players really cared about the league they played in and it showed in how they represented their respective league's on the field during the game. Players went all out and actually tried. Does anybody even remember when an all star game in any sport was more than just an exhibition? Back before home run derby's and celebrity softball games, the actual highlight of the All Star Game was the actual game itself. And yes, this was before the game meant something by todays standards. You know, the lame excuse MLB uses for trying to make the game relevant by granting the team representing the winning league in the World Series home field advantage.
Of course the excuse for the game still being relevant is that the it makes a lot of money for the host city and there are more fans voting than ever. Of course there was also a time when you punched holes in the paper ballots you received when attending an actual baseball game. Back before the internet where fans can vote a billion times, even the voting mattered. The way online voting is set up now is another problem with the selection of all star representatives, as the home city, or any city for that matter, can (and will) set up some way to load votes in favor of their favorite players, even if they aren't the most deserving candidates.

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But the truth is that the All Star game has lost its relevance because nobody really does care. The 2013 Mid Summer Classic drew half of the audience the 1994 game did. The 11 million viewers who watched were a third of those who watched the game 30 years before in 1983. And viewership was down almost a third of what it was in 2008. Why? Because the game itself stinks, period. It's not a competition anymore. There is no dislike for the other league or pride in winning for the players involved. One of the hardest home plate collisions in the history of Major League Baseball was in 1970 when the NL's Pete Rose ran Ray Fosse, the AL's catcher, over at home plate to score the game winning run in extra innings. Could you imagine someone running over a catcher in today's All Star game format? Today's format features starters getting one, maybe two at bats. Pitchers tossing an inning or so. The focus today is getting everyone selected into the game. My question is why? Why not let the best players play the whole game?
How little does the All Star Game matter anymore? Just ask a current player. Before being selected to this years game, Pittsburgh Pirate Andrew McCutchen was asked if he would be watching the game if he didn't get selected. McCutchen's answer "why would I watch it if I'm not going to play in it?". Enough said.

Suspending of reality: NFL can't seem to get suspension rules right

07/13/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The collective groan surrounding the NFL over the weekend was the domestic violence suspension of Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy being reduced by an arbitrator from 10 games to 4 games.
If you're not familiar with the story here it is.  While a member of the Carolina Panthers, Hardy was arrested last May and later found guilty by a judge in North Carolina of domestic violence for assaulting and threatening to kill his then girlfriend.  He was put on the commissioners exempt list last season after the barrage of domestic violence cases involving NFL players hit a boiling point following the video of Ray Rice knocking his fiancée out in an elevator.  Hardy missed 15 games last season, but was still paid.  After he signed with Dallas in the offseason, the NFL announced he would be suspended for the first 10 games of the 2015 season for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy. 
But even though he was convicted by a judge, Hardy appealed and when the case went to jury, his ex girlfriend didn't show up for his trial.  Thus the charges against Hardy were dismissed.  According to the district attorney in the case, she refused to work with prosecutors but did reach a civil suit agreement with Hardy.  I believe that you are innocent until proven guilty.  But Hardy was found guilty, then "proven" innocent in this case.  Settling a civil suit with the woman he assaulted seems to say that Hardy may have paid her a nice sum of money so the court case against him would be dropped.

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But before the angry mob with hunts down NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the blame here doesn't lie with him.  Goodell handed down the 10 game suspension.  Arbitrator Harold Henderson is the one who determined the length of the suspension was too long, because last season it was determined the baseline for discipline in domestic or sexual assault cases was a  6 game suspension.  There is talk now that Hardy will appeal again in an attempt to have the suspension reduced to 2 games since that was what Ray Rice was originally given at the time the Hardy was originally arrested.
According to the NFL's investigation into the matter, Hardy used physical force in 4 different instances against his then girlfriend.  He pushed her into a bathtub.  Pushed her on to a bed tat had at least 4 guns on it.  Shoved her against a wall.  And placed his hands around the woman's neck with enough force to leave visible marks on her. 
This whole thing stinks, period.  Greg Hardy should be in jail, and if he was any regular citizen he would be.  But because of the civil suit being settled, the jury trial never happened and the charges were dismissed.  That stinks, no that reeks.  But you know what stinks the most?  The reaction of some NFL fans in Dallas.  Opinion among some Cowboys fans seems to be that Hardy should be forgiven and that 4 games is still too much.  That those 4 games on top of the 15 Hardy missed last year comes to a 19 game suspension.  Hardy wasn't suspended last year for 15 games.  He was still PAID even though he didn't play.  He should have had to sit out the 10 games he was originally given and be on his last strike, so that if he was ever involved in anything related to domestic violence again, he was given a lifetime ban.  The fact he may be able to appeal this suspension down to 2 games is a joke and a slap in the face of everything the NFL tried to do following the Ray Rice debacle last year.  The fact Hardy feels he is in the right and that his agent Drew Rosenhaus and the NFLPA support him is just garbage and all of those parties should be ashamed of themselves. 

Salary slapped: NHL salary cap is an insult to our intelligence

07/11/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Summer had been good in 2015 for the NHL.  The Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons in a very exciting series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.  The 2015 Draft saw perhaps the best player since Sidney Crosby 10 years ago to enter the NHL as Connor McDavid was selected with the 1st overall pick by Edmonton.  And July began with the annual free agent frenzy that causes excitement across all of the league's 30 cities.  Not only was the free agency period full of big names signing with new teams, it also featured some blockbuster trades.  Phil Kessel going to Pittsburgh from Toronto and Brandon Saad moving from Chicago to Columbus were the two headliners that had hockey fans across the globe talking. 
But then there were 2 other trades that got people talking too.  Philadelphia traded Chris Pronger to Arizona as part of a multi player deal.  And Boston traded Marc Savard to Florida as part of another trade.  The problem being, Pronger and Savard haven't played since 2011.  Savard's contract carried a $4 million dollar salary cap hit through the 2016/2017 season.  Pronger's contract carries a nearly $5 million dollar cap hit through 2016/2017 as well.  Neither will play a game with their new teams due to career ending injuries.
And this is the kind of nonsense that makes hockey fans shake their heads at the NHL and their salary cap.  Instituting a salary cap is what wiped out the 2004/2005 NHL season.  Revamping it was partially responsible for the lockout that erased half of the 2012/2013 season.  But despite the price the league, it's teams, it's players, and it's fans paid to have a salary cap in place to even the playing field and make the NHL more competitive, jokes like these two trades are still allowed to occur.  Part of the salary cap is obviously that each team can only spend so much per season, thus to prevent big market teams from buying their way to championships.  It also makes teams wary of signing players to high dollar contracts over long terms without having to worry about future consequences, because that salary will count against the salary cap until the contract expires. The other part is the cap floor, which requires each team to spend a certain amount per season.  This prevents teams from fielding the equivalency of an AHL team both talent and salary wise.  These two trades spit in the face of what those 2 main parameters of what having a salary cap is supposed to prevent.

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By allowing these types of trades to happen, both the Flyers and the Bruins who are up against the salary cap, just found nearly $5 and $4 million in cap room respectively.  Both Arizona and Florida, who weren't at the cap floor, are now closer to what they technically have to spend under the salary cap.  But they won't actually be spending that much, since both players will actually be paid less than $600,000 each per season for the remaining terms of their contracts.
This is an embarrassment  It's a joke.  And it shouldn't be accepted.  But it is, and it wasn't on Commissioner Gary Bettman's to do list to make things better in the NHL this off season.  Installing a 3 on 3 overtime was (which is beyond stupid and ridiculous), but fixing this nonsense that allows teams to skirt the salary cap was not.  The fact the NHL still has a team in Arizona is joke in itself, and is almost all due to Bettman's doing.  The league actually owned the team before selling it to it's current ownership, which is now having issues with the City of Glendale and the team's arena lease.  When the NHL brought a team back to Winnipeg (which is where the Coyotes franchise came from) they allowed the Thrashers to leave Atlanta to become the reincarnation of the Jets without putting any near the kind of effort to find new ownership that was put into keeping the Coyotes in Arizona.  The right move was to send the Coyotes back to Winnipeg and trying to find stable ownership to at least try and keep the team in Atlanta.  If they couldn't, there are several cities (Seattle, Quebec, Kansas City) where the Thrashers could've gone if a stable ownership group to keep them in Atlanta couldn't be found.  But as has been almost a staple of his recent tenure, Bettman made the wrong decisions.
The NHL needs to make some changes.  Those changes need to start at the top. 

Soccer club: New fans emerge as Women's World Cup team takes country by storm

07/07/15 by Rennie Detore

I know this isn't a popular comment at the moment, fresh off the United States' Women's World Cup team won it all only a few days ago, but I am not a fan of soccer.
I haven't watched an entire game. Ever.
I don't play soccer video games.

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I don't care about David Beckham and his efforts to bring soccer to relevancy in the United States with his play or his ability to be a spokesman for anything from underwear to Sprint cell phones.
I do have friends that love soccer, and after watching a few seconds of a zero to zero game for about an hour, I didn't see the appeal.
And then the Women's World Cup game versus Japan happened, and I won't say I became a must see fan but I sat back and enjoyed what I was watching.
I didn't watch any of the Women's World Cup journey, until the final game piqued my interest to the point that I tuned in to watch the U.S. Women's World Cup team explode in the finals and beat Japan 5 to 2.
The rest of the country seemed to follow the same path I took as the game drew anywhere between 20 and 30 million viewers during the game. The rapid fire goals, four in 16 minutes, by the United States Women's World Cup team was a sight to see and truly made this soccer match equal parts patriotism and pure excitement given just how quickly this would be win unfolded before the eyes of an entire nation.
This team, in a short amount of time watching them this past week, looked like a squad that was determined to not fall to their Japan rival, a team that researched showed had their number as an opponent.
For the first time, and albeit a few times I've watched soccer, I felt totally engaged in a soccer event that wasn't my friends playing FIFA 2015 from EA Sports. I didn't leave my chair. I was engaged. I was entertained.
And that is what sports and competition is supposed to be for the casual fan. I appreciated the hard word and intensity I saw from a United States team that wasn't going to accept losing.
I can't promise I'm going to be back for more as it pertains to watching more games, but if it is on again, I'll be more apt to watch this time.

James town: What if Lebron leaves Cleveland again?

07/01/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

If you haven't heard yet, LeBron James is opting for free agency. Again. Yes, after his successful, one year return to Cavaliers, is "The King" deciding to leave his Cleveland court?
Well maybe not. It seems that LeBron is planning on returning to the Cavs for another season. King James is expected to sign another one year contract to stay in Cleveland. The reasoning for this, so he can make as much as he can this season. By exercising this option, James can earn the player max for this coming season, which his expected to be over$22 million. Had he not exercised his player option, he would have made just $21.6 million. But that's not the reason he's opting for free agency. By doing so, that means he'll have the option of being a free agent again in 2016, when the NBA's new TV deal kicks in and the salary cap takes a big jump. So for at least 2015/16, LeBron James will be a Cavalier.
But what if Cleveland fans worst nightmare happens again? What if after next season, LeBron James makes the "decision" to leave again? What if the Cavs don't win the title next season? What if they don't even make it to the Finals again? And then another team with a realistic shot at a championship comes along and makes LeBron an offer he can't refuse.

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Remember what happened in 2010 when James decided to take his talents to Miami? Cavaliers fans practically rioted in the streets of Cleveland. LeBron James jerseys were burned in effigy. Cavs fans cursed James. Called him a traitor. Called him a sell out. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing letter criticizing LeBron. The hate for LeBron James in Cleveland was hotter than a burning river.
But then he came back. And the Cavaliers exceeded expectations and made it to the NBA Finals. Had Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love not been injured, they may have brought Cleveland their first championship since 1964. And not only did LeBron forgive and forget, he's probably going to leave money on the table again so the Cavs can sign back Love and Tristan Thompson so they have a chance at the title again next season. Should that happen, Cleveland should be a favorite for the NBA championship.
But what if the injuries that hit the Cavaliers in the playoffs hit earlier next season? What if James himself gets hurt and misses significant time? What the Cavs fall below expectations and don't make it back to the Finals? And then what if LeBron James decides to cash in one more time and leaves Cleveland again?
How will you react to that Cleveland fans? Will you accept that "The King" came back and gave took a shot at bringing a title to Cleveland, be thankful for the memorable seasons he gave you, and wish him well? Or will the streets of Cleveland be filled with enough burning jerseys it could be mistaken for Salem during the witch trials? Think about it Cleveland, because it could happen again.

Slowed down: New rules haven't exactly sped up games

06/29/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Have Major League Baseball's new pace of play rules had any effect on the length of games? If you haven't noticed yet, prior to the 2015 season MLB introduced 3 new rules to speed up games. The first being that a batter must stay in (or at least keep one foot in) the batters box between pitches. The second rule allows managers to challenge calls from the dugout. And the third rule requires the game to be resumed promptly between half innings.
The average game length in 2014 was 3 hours and 2 minutes. With MLB's new rules, the average length of a game in 2015 was down to 2 hours and 53 minutes through May. 9 minutes. That's how much time 3 new rules have shaved off of the average length of an MLB game. But it also marks the first time since 2011 that the average length of an MLB game is below 3 hours.
Instant replay was instituted last season. Besides it's obviously intended effect to make sure the correct calls are made on the field, the thinking was it might actually speed up games because there would be less arguing between managers, players, and umpires over close calls or calls the arguing team didn't think went their way. But it seemed to actually slow things down. Former MLB player and baseball analyst Gary Sheffield said following last season, he hoped that replay would be sped up this year. Sheffield cited the fact that replay stops the game, thus killing any momentum a team may have on the field. He said a stoppage in play also takes the momentum of the crowd out of the game as well.

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The pace of play rules are working so far. Nine minutes may not seem like much, but the response from MLB's customer base, the fans, has been positive. The jury still seems to be out on instant replay, but it seems to be having the desired effect. Amongst sports fans, the thinking was that of the four major sports, Major League Baseball was the furthest behind the times. But with it's new pace of play rules and instant replay, it seems America's Past Time is actually catching up with the times.

Daddy dearest: Combs' celebrity status moot point as football parent

06/27/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Sean Combs has had a few names over the years.  Puff Daddy. Puffy.  P. Diddy.  And now Angry Football Parent?  Yes, it seems Combs took issue with an assistant coach yelling at his son during a recent practice.  But Combs' son isn't a child and this wasn't at a pee wee football game.  Combs' son is a junior in college and this incident happened at UCLA.
During a practice earlier this week, Puff Daddy's son Justin Combs was being yelled at by a UCLA assistant coach.  After practice, P. Diddy confronted the coach and grabbed him.  Diddy was charged with assault with a deadly weapon for apparently going after the coach with a kettle bell.  He ended up being arrested, taken to the campus police jail, and charged with 3 counts of assault with a deadly weapon, and one count each of battery and making terroristic threats.
Wait, what?  Puff Daddy wasn't happy an assistant coach at the Division One collegiate level of football was yelling at his son?  I'm not sure if Sean Combs realizes this or not, but coaches have been yelling at players since players were wearing leather helmets.  Football is an intense game.  Players make mistakes, and coaches yell at them.  Sometimes players are tanking it in practice or giving less than 100% of an effort.  Coaches yell at them.  It's pretty much accepted that if you play football at any level, you will be yelled at by a coach at some point.  And you accept that because it's part of the game.  Football is a tough sport.  It's full of emotion and violence.  With those aspects, yelling happens.  It's not the Boy Scouts.  Anyone who's ever been around football know this.  It's reported the incident occurred because the coach threw Justin Combs out of practice for a perceived lack of effort.

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UCLA Head Coach Jim Mora has reportedly asked that the felony charges against Combs be dropped because he feels a publicized court case will do no good for the university or it's football program.  Mora has only asked that Combs be banned from the field during practices.  But according to some in the know, this has been brewing for a while now.  And that Justin Combs has been the victim of verbal abuse from this coach for the past three years.  It's also been said Puffy's son has been "humiliated and bullied" as well.
Now the coach involved in the incident is no angel.  Sal Alosi used to be employed by the NFL's New York Jets.  He was suspended in 2010 and then fired for tripping a Miami Dolphin's player on a punt return during a game.  Alosi had also been previously suspended by the Jets for another incident. 
Listen, do coaches go overboard sometimes?  Yes.  But if you play football, it's a family and at the end of the day everyone you're still a team.  But a player's real family should stay out of team related things that happen.  So whether your son is 7 years old and playing midget football, or whether your son is a junior in college, it doesn't matter if you're Joe Blow or Puff Daddy.  Stay off the field and out of team business.  And if you don't like it, don't let your kids play football no matter who you are or how old they are.

Cursed city: Is Cleveland ever going to break title drought?

06/25/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

So it has reared it's ugly head again. Yes, the "Curse of Cleveland" remains. And following Golden State's NBA title win over the Cavaliers, 1964 remains the last year a professional sports team in Cleveland, Ohio won a championship.
So with the Cavs having never won a championship and now being 0 for 2 in Finals appearances, the Indians having not won a World Series since 1948, and the Browns being the city's latest champion 51 years ago, which Cleveland franchise is cursed the worst?
Let's start with the Cavaliers resume of cursedness. They joined the NBA in 1970. Had 3 winning seasons out of their first 16. Didn't make it to an NBA Final until 2007, where they were swept by San Antonio. They drafted LeBron James in 2003, then lost him when he made "The Decision" to play for Miami following the 2009/2010 season. Of course"The King" came back to Cleveland this season, and the Cavaliers won the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately along the way to the Finals, they also lost Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving to injuries (or the Curse?) along the way. So the Cavs minus 2 of their best players, equaled losing to Golden State in 6 games. But the most heartbreaking loss in franchise history still remains "The Shot". In the 1989 NBA playoffs, the Cavaliers and Chicago Bulls met in the 1st round. With the series tied at two games each, Cleveland's Craig Ehlo hit what looked to be the game winning basket with :03 seconds left in the game. But, Michael Jordan would come back with "The Shot" as time expired, and the Bulls would win 101 to 100. Cleveland and Chicago met in the NBA playoffs 5 times between 1988 and 1994...with Chicago winning every matchup. Was it the Bulls? Or was it the Curse?

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Now to the Indians. 67 years ago, the Indians last won the World Series. They've made it back to the Fall Classic 3 times since. Losing in 1954, then "waiting" 41 years before making it back and losing to Atlanta in 1995. In 2007, the Tribe led Boston 3 games to 1 in the ALCS. Then blew it as the Red Sox won the last 3 games in the series and went on to win the World Series. But that's not the most painful of the Indians failures. No, for Cleveland fans, it's 1997 that hurts the worst. The Indians were 2 outs away from winning the World Series, leading Florida 2 to 1 in the 9th inning with closer Jose Mesa on the mound. But Mesa blew the save, the game went to extra innings, and Marlins won the Word Series.
And when talking about a curse in professional football, the first franchise that comes to most sports fans minds is the Cleveland Browns. "Red Right 88", "The Drive", and "The Fumble"...all 3 are famous playoff failures by the Browns. In the 1981 AFC playoffs, the Browns trailed Oakland by 2 points with less than a minute left in the game. The Browns had driven to the Raiders 14 yard line with :56 seconds left in the game. All it took was a field goal to win it. That's when QB Brian Sipe threw a pass that was intended for Ozzie Newsome in the end zone. It was intercepted. The Raiders won 14 to 12. And the cursed play became known as "Red Right 88".
In 1987, the Browns led the AFC Championship game 20 to 13 with 5 minutes left in the game. Denver had the ball on their own 2 yard line. Then John Elway led the Broncos 98 yards to the game tying score, and Denver would go on to win in overtime. That game tying effort by Elway and the Broncos is what's known as "The Drive". The Browns and Broncos met again in the AFC title game the following season. But this time, it was Cleveland who trailed by a touchdown late in the game. The Browns drove to the Broncos 2 yard line, when RB Earnest Byner was stripped of the ball. The Broncos recovered and went on to win the game, and the play remains infamously known as "The Fumble". And of course there was that time when the Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996. With so many choices, which one hurts the most Browns fans?
And Cleveland curse even extends to the NHL. After the Oakland Seals relocated in 1976, There was a professional hockey team in Cleveland. For two seasons. And then the Barons merged with the Minnesota North Stars and were gone in 1978.
Well Cleveland sports fans, you keep your heads up there. Because remember, there's always next season. Just like there has been since 1964.

And the award goes to: ESPN drawing criticism for ESPY award show

06/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Earlier this month, ESPN announced that Bruce Jenner will be the recipient of this years "Arthur Ashe Courage Award" at the networks annual Espy's award show coming up in July. Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner has been determined to be the most courageous act of anyone involved in the world of sports showing courage in the real world. As "Stone Cold" Steve Austin used to say...What???
But after my initial "what" reaction, reality set in. The criticism of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner receiving an Espy award is exactly what ESPN wants...attention. Look, winning an Espy isn't exactly the same thing as winning the Nobel Peace Prize. It's not even on the level of winning an Oscar or an Emmy. It's an award from a network that created it's own awards for it's own awards show.
That's where the ridiculousness of this continues though. I have no problem or issue with Bruce Jenner becoming a woman. I have no problem or issue with anyone being transgender. We all have the right to be who we want to be, and if that requires a sex change for someone to find themselves and be happy, more power to them. But with Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner being so overexposed in the media lately, what message does that send? Is it a message of courage? Or a message of exploitation? With a photo spread in Vanity Fair released the day before ESPN announced Jenner as the Ashe Award recipient, it sure reeks of exploitation to me.

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Now if we're going to treat the Ashe Award as something of value that does represent courage, here's my problem with Jenner receiving it. Bruce Jenner hasn't done anything in sports since winning an Olympic gold medal in 1976. The only recent news he/she has made lately is by going through a very drawn out and very public sex change. Well actually, there is some other news Jenner was recently involved in. In February, Jenner was involved in a fatal auto accident. Suspected negligence on Jenner's part is being considered as the cause of the crash, and on the horizon looms a potential wrongful death lawsuit and perhaps even vehicular manslaughter charges against Jenner pending on what the investigation turns out. So let's take the courage it took for Jenner to have a gender change in the media spotlight out of the equation. If winning the Arthur Ashe Award is going to be considered as something esteemed, you can't morally give the award to someone who's negligent driving may have resulted in someone else's death.
If ESPN wants the sporting world and beyond to take the Espy's, and especially this award for courage seriously, you can't give it to Jenner. He hasn't been involved in sports in nearly four decades. The publicity of his sex change takes away any courage aspect and instead is a media side show. And on top of that, he may be going to jail. There are more deserving candidates for an award that is supposed to represent the most courageous person involved in the world of sports.
Jim Valvano. Muhammad Ali. Pat Tillman. Those are the names of some of the previous winners of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award. Sorry, but Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner changing gender in front of the world just doesn't fit the bill of courage that the above mentioned names showed.

Stolen signs: Is Cardinals cyber hacking overblown news?

06/22/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Stealing signs has been a part of baseball as long as, well, since signs were a part of baseball. But cyber hacking into another professional teams player data base? Well that's definitely a new way of stealing signs. But the big news out of Major League Baseball in the past week was that the FBI was investigating the St. Louis Cardinals for allegedly hacking into the Houston Astros player personnel data base.
The Federal investigation into the alleged incident is expected to be wrapping up soon. But the results of that investigation may not be as shocking as the title "Major League Baseball Cyber Attack" makes it sound. Cardinals Chairman Bill DeWitt said the team is still investigating the matter, but that likely only a few people were involved. DeWitt also stated that none of the team's high ranking officials are being implicated in the investigation. DeWitt said he had no prior knowledge of the matter prior to the FBI investigation, and called the whole thing "a shame".
The connection between the Cardinals and the Astros is former St. Louis executive and current Houston GM Jeff Luhnow. Luhnow worked for the Cardinals between 2003 and 2011, when he moved on to the Astros following that season. St. Louis uses a data base called Redbird, that Luhnow worked with while employed by the team. The Astros use a similar data base, called Ground Control that Luhnow created. Some of the theories that have been floated so far have been that Luhnow used the same passwords for the Astros data base that he did in St. Louis, which made the system easily accessible for hackers. Another theory was that the hacking was revenge or some sort of vengeance against Luhnow for leaving the Cardinals organization. DeWitt has already stated that there is no ill will towards Luhnow from anyone in the organization that he knows of. Luhnow has also stated that he remains on good terms with the Cardinals.

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Here's the thing though...this all is very overblown and doesn't really make any sense. To start, why would the Cardinals be hacking the Astros for anything player personnel related? How would St. Louis gain any advantage through this? The Cardinals have the best record in MLB so far this season. Since Luhnow left, the Cardinals have won 2 division titles, been to 1 World Series, and were 64 games over .500 from 2012 through 2014. The Astros, well, they've finished dead last 2 of the those 3 seasons and have compiled an overall record of 176 wins and 310 losses. If anyone should be hacking, shouldn't the Astros be hacking the Cardinals?
There's also a chance that no stealing of any information was a part of this. The FBI investigation has tracked the hacking to a house in Juniper, Florida that was used by Cardinals employees during spring training. The problem is, quite a few different employees used the house, so pinpointing who is responsible isn't going to be easy either. But more than likely, it seems that those involved may have tried their skills at hacking through a use of potential passwords that Luhnow may have used in St. Louis that he could've been using in Houston. They may have just been trying to see if they could do it. It's doubtful these are any cyber terrorists or had any desire to cause a federal probe. Maybe they were just trying to make Luhnow look foolish by stealing his passwords and hacking into his system?
All in all, this seems to be a situation that's become rather overblown. It's doubtful that any kind of major implications will arise from this. Those responsible for it are low level team employees, and the biggest punishment that will come of this is those responsible will be terminated.
No truth to the rumor though that the New England Patriots have requested permission to speak to those involved for future employment in Foxboro.

Golden State of mind: Warriors are the epitome of 'team' game

06/19/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The wait is over. After 40 long years, another NBA Championship has finally returned to Oakland, California. Even though there was a lot of young talent, a lack of playoff experience and being led by a rookie head coach, the Warriors championship run was kind of unexpected. So how did the Warriors do it? By being the definition of team work.
Stephen Curry was the NBA regular season MVP. But the work of his teammates were just as important as Curry's contributions were in the post-season, especially in the Finals versus Cleveland. Andre Iguodala, in a great showing of what putting the team first means, played off the bench for Golden State during the regular season. Of course Iguodala would return to the starting lineup and be named the MVP of the Finals. Other players made individual sacrifices for the better of the team as well. When the Warriors decided to go to a smaller lineup, David Lee and Andrew Bogut both saw their roles greatly reduced in the Finals.
The team first approach carried over to the coaching staff as well. This season was Steve Kerr's first as an NBA head coach But Kerr was far from alone in leading this team to a title. Assistant coaches Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams were hired by Kerr to lend their expertise and help the rookie head coach game plan. And besides his top assistants, Kerr listened to everyone on his team as well. Special assistant coach Nick U'Ren was the one who suggested putting Iguodala in starting lineup. Kerr also listened to what his players had to say. It's been stated the Kerr also listened to the opinions and ideas of team interns. Kerr's approach was another shining example of the Warriors team first mentality.

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Of course the Warriors ridiculous 3 point shooting (they shot an NBA best 39.8% ) and even more ridiculous home record were rather large contributing factors to this championship. Curry led the league in three pointers made, and his "Splash Brother" Klay Thompson finished second. The Warriors won 39 of their 41 regular season games. The Warriors 67 wins were the most in the league, and gave Kerr the distinction of having the most wins ever by a rookie head coach.
From top to bottom the 2014/15 Golden State Warriors accomplished what they did this season as a team. And showed that there is no "I" in team, but there is an "I" in title. And the title of 2015 NBA Champions belongs to what surely was the league's best team.

Destiny Achieved: The Chicago Blackhawks Are A Modern Era Dynasty

06/18/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Three Stanley Cup championships in 6 seasons. In the modern "salary cap era" of professional sports, that's achieving almost the impossible. But with their Stanley Cup win over Tampa Bay this season, the Chicago Blackhawks have cemented themselves as a dynasty.
Keeping a championship team together is extremely difficult due to the salary cap. But the Blackhawks front office deserves a whole lot of credit for being able to achieve what this franchise had. They've made the hard decisions on when to let players go, players who were major contributors to championship runs. They didn't trade away future prospects or high draft picks at the trade deadlines to pick up rental players. And most importantly, they drafted well and trusted the players they drafted, allowing them to grow into contributing roles. With the salary cap in place, building a solid team through the draft is the most important piece to creating a championship caliber team.
The Blackhawks faced this after winning their first title in 2010. Dustin Bfyuglien, Kris Versteeg, and Andrew Ladd, who all played a vital part of the teams championship run, had to be traded to get under the salary cap. Starting goaltender Antti Niemi, was lost when he filed for arbitration and the team couldn't sign him because they were up against the cap wall. The following season, Brian Campbell, Troy Brouwer, and Tomas Kopecky were traded to keep the team cap compliant. Chicago was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs in both 2011 and 2012.

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But instead of panicking and overpaying or signing higher priced free agents to high salary/long term contracts, the Blackhawks perservered by sticking to building their team through the draft. Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger, and Andrew Shaw all emerged as the Hawks returned to the Stanley Cup in 2013. And the core that GM Stan Bowman had built through the draft, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith became superstars. Corey Crawford developed into a tested starting goaltender. And Chicago won the Stanley Cup again.
Stan Bowman and Owner Rocky Wirtz have built the model NHL franchise. They've kept their core together. They've added key free agents such as Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp to compliment Kane and Toews. They trusted the guys they drafted, which led to Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson becoming top line defensemen. And they continued o draft strong, as Teuvo Teravainen, who was a major contributor to this years Stanley Cup team, was selected in the 1st round of the NHL draft.
And the Blackhawks have dominated off the ice as well. Nielson research showed that 50% of the Chicago market had either watched, listened to, or attended a Blackhawks game in 2013. The Blackhawks had 3,400 season ticket holders in 2007. They now have a waiting list of over 13,000. They've appeared in the most nationally televised games of any NHL team. And in Kane, Toews, and Keith, they have 3 of the top 10 most marketable players in the NHL. Toews along with Keith and Seabrook, have won Olympic Gold to go with their Stanley Cup wins.
The Chicago Blackhawks are truly the definition of a modern era sports dynasty.

FIFA flubbed: Why soccer's governing body is busted cold

06/17/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Fourteen officials indicted. Hundreds of millions of dollars involved in bribes and corruption. The federation President forced to step down. Sounds like the many scandals we've seen in large American corporations, but it's much larger than any scandal in the United States. This is much larger than any corporation, and stretches far beyond just one country. This is world wide and involves one of the most watched sporting event in the world and billions of dollars in revenue. This is FIFA, the international soccer governing body that runs the World Cup. And this is a story of years of corruption that is finally being figured out.
A major inquiry by the FBI led to charges of "rampant, systematic, and deep rooted corruption amongst FIFA officials. It also led to the arrest of 7 of FIFA's top officials on May 27th in Zurich, Switzerland. The FBI had been investigating FIFA for the past 3 years, which was sparked by the bidding process that led to Russia being awarded the World Cup in 2018 and more curiously, the small Middle Eastern country of Qatar being awarded the tournament in 2022.
The indictment by the U.S. Department of Justice consists of 47 counts with charges such as racketeering, money laundering, and wire fraud. It charges the 14 officials indicted with "a 24 year scheme to enrich themselves through the corruption of international soccer". The indictment also alleges that sports executives in the United States and South America paid over $150 million dollars in bribes and illegal payments to obtain lucrative marketing and media rights to various international soccer tournaments. These charges have been echoed by Charles Blazer, who has been one of the key figures in the FBI's investigation.

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Blazer was the General Secretary for the CONCACAF, which is the federation that North, Central, and American soccer playing nations belong to. Blazer, who has already pled guilty, has said that he and other FIFA executive committee members agreed to accept bribes in connection with South Africa being selected as the host nation for the 2010 World Cup. Blazer also said he and others accepted bribes for the broadcasting and other rights associated with 5 CONCACAF Gold Cup tournaments between 1996 and 2003.
In regards to the 2010 World Cup, former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and former South African President Thabo Mbeki agreed to the deal that brought the tournament to South Africa. But U.S. prosecutors have been focusing on a $10 million dollar exchange that those prosecutors say was a bribe to secure the World Cup for South Africa. Blatter hasn't been arrested or indicted, but he did step down as FIFA's president.
Both the FBI and Swiss investigators are now looking into the bidding processes for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups in Russia and Qatar respectively. It would take an overwhelming amount of evidence to result in re-bidding the two tournaments. Also, with the time available to move the 2018 tournament, and the required stadiums and infrastructure, it would be almost impossible to relocate the 2018 World Cup. But there is the possibility the 2022 World Cup in Qatar could be moved if enough evidence of corruption is found.
FIFA made over $2 billion dollars from the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The World Cup will continue to be the world's most watch sporting event. But it's evident that change needed to occur. Sepp Blatter had way too much control and influence over everything as FIFA president. A new governing body system needs to be created that will allocate power and decision making to an elected committee, thus eliminating the president's power, which many say Batter blatantly abused. Unfortunately, greed reared it's ugly head, and has been for some time in the governing of the world's most popular sport. With so much wide spread corruption and so many involved, FIFA likely needs to clean house and start fresh to regain the trust of the soccer world.

Little Dreamer: Rhodes embodied 'American Dream' persona

06/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

As a lifelong professional wrestling fan, the news of Dusty Rhodes passing stunned me. I've been stunned by the deaths of some former wrestlers in the past, but the unexpected passing of "The American Dream" really did hit me. It got me to thinking of all of the times I watched Dusty Rhodes, especially as a kid in the 1980's. I remembered so many matches, feuds, and one legendary promo. Dusty Rhodes wasn't just a character, he was the true definition of the American Dream.
Even though Rhodes debuted in the early 1970's (prior to when I was born), it's the 1980's that I remember as the period of his career where he stood out. Dusty Rhodes was never your typical professional wrestler. In an era of jacked up, body builder type, heavyweight wrestlers, Dusty Rhodes certainly didn't fit the mold. Dusty was, well lets just say, a rotund wrestler. He billed himself as "The Common Man". " The Son of a Plumber" from Austin, Texas. Dusty Rhodes used those monikers to carve out a niche that made him one of the most popular wrestlers in the 1980's, and eventually of all time. He didn't have the muscular build. He actually only won 3 world championships during his career. But it wasn't the wins or titles that made Dusty Rhodes stand out, it was his charisma. Dusty Rhodes is probably better known for the big time matches he lost than those that he won. But his connection and relationship to the fans is what made him the legend that he was.
In the 1980's, Rhodes had some very memorable feuds that I remember. His legendary battles against Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, and The Four Horsemen come to mind first. He and Magnum T.A. battling the "Russians", Ivan and Nikita Koloff. At the height of hostility between the United States and Russia in the mid 1980's, Rhodes fit perfectly as the centerpiece of what was billed "America's Team". After Magnum T.A. was involved in a career ending car accident, Rhodes and Nikita Koloff formed the "Super Powers" to feud with the Russians as well as the Four Horsemen. I remember Dusty battling Ric Flair in some legendary (and bloody) steel cage matches. Some violent (and again bloody) Texas Bull Rope and Bunkhouse Stampede matches against Tully Blanchard. It seemed Dusty was always bleeding in the 1980's. But his ability to sell to the audience through his performances in these sometimes gory matches is what made Dusty Rhodes who he was. Dusty bled so much his forehead looked like a road map. But he made the fans believe in the realness of the match he was in. He had the fans eating up everything he was selling in the ring. When he was injured in an angle by one of the heels he was feuding with, you believed he was hurt and were even more blown away when he came back. And as great as he was in the ring, he was even better on the microphone.

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Dusty Rhodes cut some of the best promo's in wrestling history during his tenure with the NWA. He got you fired up and proud to be an American when he talked about feuding with the Russians. He had catch phrases such as "Gettin' Funky Like A Monkey", and "Takin' Care of Business" (which Dusty pronounced "b'ness") and his gyrating, hip swiveling elbow smashes that always brought the crowd to their feet, and sent his opponents to the mat. But it was during his feud with the Four Horseman and Ric Flair, that Rhodes cut what may have been the best professional wrestling promo I ever heard. Flair and the Horseman were portrayed as having the best cars, best clothes, and the finest jewelry. Dusty Rhodes was the common man. Flair and the Horsemen cut promos in suits and designer sun glasses, showing off their Rolex watches and talking about being the kings of whatever town they were in that night. Dusty Rhodes did his interviews in a Bruce Springsteen or Bob Seger t-shirt and a cowboy hat or a John Deere cap. He represented the Common Man. He felt the pain of American mill, manufacturing, and factory workers who were losing their jobs at the time. Coming back from an injury at the hands of the Horsemen in 1985, Dusty cut this promo about "Hard Times"
I remember seeing that promo when I was 9 years old. I watched it today again and it gave me goose bumps again. That's the effect Dusty Rhodes had on wrestling fans. His charisma and promos were great and are timeless. He was the Common Man, the Son of a Plumber, and the American Dream. He also was one of the greatest professional wrestlers of all time. Thank you Dusty Rhodes for the entertainment and excitement you gave to a young wrestling fan and many others like me back then. And thank you for those memories that still live on today. Rest in peace Virgil Runnels, you will never be forgotten. And the American Dream will always live on in the memories of all of us wresting fans.

Bird man: Falcons' Anderson is a what could have been NFL story

06/10/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The "Ickey Shuffle" by former Cincinnati Bengal Ickey Woods. The "Super Bowl Shuffle" by the 1985 Chicago Bears. Those were two of the NFL's most famous dances from the 1980's. But in the 1990's, one dance stood out. En route to the Atlanta Falcons only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history during the 1998/1999 season, the "Dirty Bird" took flight.
The man behind the dance, running back Jamal Anderson. Drafted by Atlanta in the 7th round in 1994 out of the University of Utah, it took a while for Anderson's career to get started. He only registered 2 carries his rookie season. He'd carry only 39 times in 1995, because he was playing behind Craig "Iron Head" Heyward his first two season in the NFL. Heyward's finest two NFL seasons were Anderson's first two years in the league. But following Heyward's Pro-Bowl season in 1995, Anderson supplanted him as the starter in the Falcons backfield in 1996.
Given the opportunity, Anderson literally took the ball and ran. Anderson put up over 1,500 yards in total offense in 1996, rushing for 1,055 yards. In 1997, Anderson put up another 1,000 yard rushing season. But it was 1998 where Jamal Anderson became known as "Jam" and the "Dirty Bird" was born. As the Falcons rolled to a 14 and 2 record and the NFC West division title, Anderson put up a career season. "Jam" would lead the NFC in rushing, rushing for 1,846 yards on the and putting up over 2,100 yards in total offense. But the "Dirty Bird" dance Anderson created was just as well known as his statistics on the field. The Falcons would ride Anderson all the way to the Super Bowl, before falling to Denver.

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Injuries would lead to Anderson playing in only 2 games the season after the Falcons Super Bowl run. But "Jam" was back at it in 2000, recording over 1,400 yards in total offense eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark again. But Anderson sustained a major knee injury in 2001, ending his NFL career after 8 seasons.
For his career, Anderson put up nearly 7,000 yards in total offense and scoring 41 touchdowns. Anderson also made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 1998. Following his NFL career, Anderson worked in various roles as a television sports broadcaster. He also runs Jam Entertainment, which promotes concerts and events across the country.
Ask any NFL fan about the on field success and solid career stats that Anderson put up and most wouldn't be able to tell you. But I bet if you asked those same fans if they could do "The Dirty Bird" they would.

Pitch counted: MLB season starting to separate pretenders from contenders

06/08/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Two months are in the books on the 2015 Major League Baseball season. Division races are tight, with 4 of the 6 division leaders holding a 2 game or less lead over 2nd place. Some teams that started slow have started to find their way and another month has allowed some of the contenders and pretenders to show their true colors. Let's take a look around the league to see where things stand after month number two.
Starting in the American League, in the East, it's the Yankees who continue to lead the division. New York is 7 games over .500 and holds a 1.5 game lead over 2nd place Tampa Bay. The Yankees and the Rays are the only teams in the division with better than .500 records. Toronto is 2 games below .500 and 4.5 games back, while Boston, and Baltimore are still within 5.5 games of first place. What's helped the Yankees stay on top of the East has been the early season play of Mark Teixeira, who leads the AL with 45 RBI's and is second in the league with 17 home runs. Andrew Miller's 17 saves are tied for second in the AL. Michael Pineda is tied for second in the AL in wins with 7, one of the players he's tied with is Tampa Bay's Chris Archer. Archer's 1.84 ERA is also second lowest in the AL.
In the Central, Minnesota has battled back to take the division lead, powered by their 20 home victories, which is best in the American League. The Twins also have the AL's best winning percentage. Right on the Twins tails are the Kanas City Royals, who sit 1 game out of first. Detroit has fallen back to 3rd place, sitting 4 games back of the Twins. This is due in large part to the Tigers having lost 8 of their past 10 games. Cleveland sits in 4th place 2 games under .500 and 6 games out of first, while Chicago brings up the division rear 7.5 games back. Minnesota's been led by Glen Perkins, who's 21 saves are tops in the AL. Kansas City has been led by Mike Moustakas, who's .318 batting average is 5th best in the league. Miguel Cabrera has helped keep the Tigers in range, batting .320, which is 4th best in the league, and ranks 7th in both HR's (12) and RBI's (38).

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In the West, the surprising Houston Astros continue to lead the division, 3.5 games ahead of Texas. The Astros 34 wins are most in the AL. The two teams from the Lone Star State are the only teams in the West with above .500 record, while Anaheim sits in 3rd place, 1 game under .500 and 5.5 games out of first. Houston has been led by the bats of Evan Gattis and Luis Valbuena, who have combined for 24 HR's (12 each). Gattis's 38 RBI's are tied for 7th best in the AL as well. Houston has also been led by the arm of Dallas Keuchel, who's 7 wins are tied for 2nd most in the AL, while is 1.85 ERA is also second lowest in the league. The Rangers have Prince Fielder's .356 batting average is tops in the league, and Fielder is tied for 2nd in the AL with 40 RBI's.
Turning to the National League and starting in the East, the Mets remain in 1st place. But Washington has battled to within 1/2 game of 1st place. New York's success has come mostly from the mound, as Bartolo Colon (8 wins/tied for 2nd most), Jacob deGrom (7 wins/tied for 4th most), and Matt Harvey (6 wins/tied for 7th most), are all in the NL's Top 10 in victories. deGrom's 2.42 ERA is also 7th lowest in the league. Jeurys Familia's 17 saves are tied for 4th most in the NL. The Nationals success has come at the plate. Bryce Harper's .326 batting average is 6th highest in the NL, while right behind him is teammate Yunel Escobar, who's batting .325, which is 7th in the league. Harper's 19 HR's are tops in the league, while his 43 RBI's are 4th best. Washington's Max Scherzer ranks 2nd in the NL with a 1.85 ERA, and his 6 wins are tied for 7th most as well. Drew Storen's 18 saves are tied for second most in the National League.
In the Central, the Cardinals have continued at a torrid pace. St. Louis has the most wins in MLB, and the best winning percentage as well. Their 22 home wins are also tied for most in the majors. Pittsburgh has come back to climb into second place, sitting 6 games above .500, but still 6 games back of the Cardinals. Chicago is in 3rd, 1/2 game behind the Pirates. St. Louis has been led by the arms of Michael Wacha and Carlos Martiinez. Wacha is second in the NL with 8 wins, and his 2.18 ERA is 5th lowest in the league. Martinez's 6 wins are tied for 7th best in the NL. Trevor Rosenthal leads the league with 19 saves.Pitching has been strong for Pittsburgh as well. Gerrit Cole leads the league with 9 wins, while teammate A.J. Burnett's 6 wins are tied for 7th most. Cole also has the lowest ERA in the NL, at 1.73, while Burnett's 2.20 ERA is 6th lowest. Mark Melancon's 18 saves are tied for 2nd most in the league.
In the West, the Dodgers remain in 1st place. LA's 22 home wins are tied for most in MLB. San Francisco has climbed over San Diego and into 2nd place, 1 game behind the Dodgers. San Diego sits in 3rd place at .500, 4 games out of 1st. Arizona is 5 games back, while Colorado sits in last place 6.5 games out. LA has been led by Joc Pederson, who's 17 HR's are 3rd most in the NL. Adrian Gonzalez's 39 RBI's are 5th most in the league. Gonzalez's .330 batting average is also 5th best in the NL. Zack Greinke's 1.92 ERA is 4th lowest in the NL. San Francisco's Nori Aoki is 9th in the NL with a .321 average. Brandon Crawford's 38 RBI's are tied for 8th in the NL. Madison Bumgarner's 7 wins are tied for 4th most in the NL while Santiago Casilla's 17 saves are also tied for 4th most.

Championship drought: 2015 NBA Finals looks to create new history

06/07/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The year was 1975. Gerald Ford was President of the United States. The Vietnam War ended. Saturday Night Live debuted on NBC. Captain and Tennille's "Love Will Keep Us Together" was the #1 song of the year. And it was also the year that the Golden State Warriors last won an NBA Championship.
In 1964 the cost for a gallon of gasoline was $.30 cents. The first Ford Mustang was made. Hasbro introduced the G.I. Joe. Sony introduced the first VCR. A boxer then named Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston in a World Championship match. And the Cleveland Browns were the champions of the AFL. That would be the last time a professional sports team in the city of Cleveland would be crowned a champion.
So with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers meeting for the 2015 NBA title, a good theme song would be "It's Been A While" by Staind in the case of the Warriors. And cue up the Heart for the Cavs because their theme would be "Never". As in have never won an NBA Championship. There's definitely been some tough times for both of these franchises leading up to their championship runs this season.

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1975 wasn't only the Warriors only championship season, it was their last appearance in the NBA Finals as well. 1976 was the last year the Warriors won a division title before 2015. Since then, between 1977 and 2013, the Warriors made 7 playoff appearances in those 36 seasons. Golden State had a 9 year playoff drought from 1978 through 1987, finishing above .500 only 3 of those seasons. They also had a 12 year playoff drought from 1995 through 2007 where the teams combined record was 332 wins and 620 losses.
And while the Cavaliers have never won an NBA title, they're drought isn't nearly as significant as it is for Golden State. The Cavs made it to the NBA Finals in 2007, where they were swept by San Antonio. But there have been some dark periods as well. Founded in 1970, the Cavaliers missed the playoffs their first 5 seasons. They suffered a 6 season playoff drought from 1979 through 1985, and a 7 year absence from 1998 through 2006. And then there were the 4 seasons after LeBron James made "The Decision" to go to Miami and play for the Heat. The Cavs record was 97 wins and 215 losses between 2010 and 2014.
So who will break through and finally get that elusive championship for two very hungry fan bases? Will the Stephen Curry led Warriors win it all for the first time in 40 years? Or will the return of LeBron be the storybook end to Cleveland's 51 years without a professional sports championship? No matter who ends up winning, this series has the looks of being a very exciting one. Game 1 went to overtime with the Cavs opening a 14 point lead in the 1st quarter, before the Warriors 10 to 0 run to start OT gave them the opening game victory. The odds may be tilting more in favor of Golden State wearing the NBA's crown this year, as Cleveland's Kyrie Irving sustained an injury in the overtime period that will end his season. Is it the "Cleveland Curse" at work again?
Whoever wins, they'll be bringing a championship home to a well deserving and long awaiting fan base. And since we've been using a lot of song titles in this article, let's just go with Hall and Oates for the loser, because it will be "So Close".

Culture shocked: Stanley Cup Finals features teams on opposite ends of spectrum

06/03/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

A dynasty in the making versus an surprising, upstart challenger. The Chicago Blackhawks are looking for their 3rd Stanley Cup in 6 seasons, while Tampa Bay is looking for their first Stanley Cup since 2004. This has the makings of a great finals matchup between two exciting teams. So lets break down the 2015 Stanley Cup.
Both teams were pushed to the brink of elimination and battled back. The Lightning trailed Detroit 3 games to 2 in the opening round before coming back to win in 7 games. Tampa Bay jumped out to a three games to none lead over Montreal in the 2nd round, before finishing the Canadiens in 6 gams. The Lightning then defeated New York in Game 7 on the road. Chicago defeated Nashville in 6 games in the opening round, then swept Minnesota in round two. The Blackhawks trailed Anaheim 3 games to 2 before winning the final 2 games and Game 7 on the road.
These teams have lots of talented players, and that depth is a big part of the reason both of them are the last two teams standing. Tyler Johnson of the Lightning leads the 2015 post season with 12 goals and 21 points. Right behind him is Chicago's Patrick Kane, who's scored 10 goals and tallied 20 points. Nikita Kucherov of Tampa Bay has scored 9 goals and recorded 19 points so far during these playoffs. Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith has racked up 18 points, with 16 of those being assists. Jonathan Toews also has 18 points for the Blackhawks (9G/9A). Steven Stamkos has recorded 17 points (7G/10A) for Tampa Bay.

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Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop has come through in big games in these playoffs. Bishop shut out the Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, and also shutout Detroit in Game 7 of the opening round. Chicago's Corey Crawford had a rough start to this run to the Cup, getting benched in the first round. But Crawford has done what's been needed to get the Blackhawks through the Western Conference playoff field.
On special teams, the edge goes to the Lightning. Tampa Bay has a 22.2% conversion rate on the power play, while Chicago is converting at 19.6%. The Lightning's penalty kill is at 81.2%, while the Blackhawks are at 75.5%.
Neither team lost any players to injury in their respective conference finals. But the Blackhawks will again be without defenseman Michal Rosival, who was lost for the remainder of the playoffs in the Minnesota series. Rosival's absence was felt in the Western Conference Finals, as the Ducks exposed the Blackhawks lower defensive pairs. One of the keys to this series will be can Chicago's defense slow down Tampa Bay's "Triplet Line" of Johnson, Kucherov and Palat, who have been the best line of any team in the 2015 playoffs. The experience edge definitely belongs to Chicago due to their two previous Stanley Cup wins.
Here are a couple of other interesting tidbits...Tampa Bay is the first team to eliminate 3 "Original Six" teams en route to the final, and are looking to make it a 4th. Chicago has won all 7 of it's playoff games when leading after two periods, and are 32 and 0 when leading after 40 minutes through the regular season and playoffs. These teams split their 2 regular season meetings, with Chicago winning in a shootout and Tampa Bay winning 4 to 0.

Team effort: Best sports franchises since Y2K

05/30/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Fifteen years have passed since the decade of Y2K arrived. On the cusp of the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals and the NBA Finals, there's a championship feeling in the air for sports fans. And we all know that championships are the mark of a successful sports team. So let's see which franchises have been the best as we take a look at the Top 15 Sports Franchises Since Y2K.
15) Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens start the list with 2 victories in 2 Super Bowl appearances. Baltimore won their first Lombardi Trophy in 2001 behind what's considered to be one of the best defenses in NFL history. The Ravens won their second ring in 2013 when they defeated San Francisco in Super XLVII.
14) Los Angeles Kings. Like the Ravens in the NFL, the Kings check in with 2 wins in 2 Stanley Cup Final appearances. The Kings raised their first Cup in franchise history by defeating New Jersey in 6 games in 2012. They'd win another 2 seasons later, sweeping the New York Rangers in 2014.

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13) Chicago Blackhawks. 2 Stanley Cup Finals appearances and 2 wins for the Hawks. Chicago won their first Cup in 39 years when they defeated Philadelphia 4 games to 2 in the 2010 finals. It only took 3 more seasons before the Hawks would raise the Cup again, as they defeated Boston in 6 games in 2013.
12) New York Giants. 3 Super Bowl appearances and 2 Lombardi Trophies. After being blown out by Baltimore in their first Super Bowl appearance, the Giants did the unthinkable in their second appearance in 2008, as they shocked the previously undefeated New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII to win their first title since 1990. The Giants and Patriots would meet again 3 seasons later, with the Giants winning again in Super Bowl XLVI.
11) Detroit Red Wings. Detroit raised the Stanley Cup in 2 of their 3 finals appearances. The Red Wings defeated Carolina in 5 games in 2002 and Pittsburgh in 6 games in 2008. They would meet the Penguins again the following season, losing in 7 games.
10) Pittsburgh Steelers. 3 Super Bowl appearances and 2 victories. The Steelers won their first Lombardi Trophy since 1980 when they defeated Seattle in 2006 in Super Bowl XL. 3 seasons later, the Steelers won their NFL best 6th Super Bowl title, defeating Arizona in Super Bowl XLV. The Steelers made their 3rd appearance in 6 seasons in Super Bowl XLV, but lost to Green Bay.
9) New York Yankees. The Yankees reached the World Series 4 times in the Y2K decade, splitting those Fall Classic trips. They defeated the NY Mets in 5 games in what was dubbed "The Subway Series" in 2000, then lost in 7 games to Arizona the following season. The Yankees would also fall to Florida in 6 games in the 2003 World Series, and defeat Philadelphia in 6 games in 2009.
8) St. Louis Cardinals. 4 appearances and 2 wins for the Cards. St. Louis was swept by Boston in 2004 before defeating Detroit in 5 games in 2006. The Cardinals would win again in 2011, defeating Texas in 7 games. They'd meet the Red Sox again two seasons later, losing in 6 games in the 2013 World Series.
7) New Jersey Devils. 4 Stanley Cup appearances and 2 victories. The Devils won the decade's first Stanley Cup in 2000, defeating Dallas in 6 games. New Jersey was back in the SCF the following season, losing to Colorado in 7 games. The Devils made their 3rd finals appearance in 4 seasons and won their 2nd Cup in 2003, defeating Anaheim in 7 games. New Jersey's 4th appearance came in 2012, when they lost to Los Angeles in 6 games.
6) Boston Red Sox. Boston is a perfect 3 for 3 in World Series appearances since Y2K. Boston swept St. Louis in 2004 and Colorado in 2007, then beat the Cardinals again in 6 games in 2013.
5) San Francisco Giants. The Giants brought home championships in 3 of their 4 Fall Classic appearances. After losing to Anaheim in 7 games in 2002, the Giants won in 2010 (4 games to 1 over Texas), 2012 (4 games to 0 over Detroit), and 2014 (4 games to 3 over Kansas City).
4) Miami Heat. 5 appearances and 3 NBA titles. Miami won their first championship in 2006 over Dallas in 6 games. The Heat would then make 4 consecutive Finals appearances, losing to Dallas in 6 games in 2011, beating Oklahoma City in 5 games in 2012, and San Antonio in 7 games in 2013. The Heat were defeated in 5 games by the Spurs in their championship series rematch in 2014.
3) San Antonio Spurs. 4 championships in 5 NBA Finals appearances. The Spurs won in 2003 (4 games to 2 over New Jersey), 2005 (4 games to 3 over Detroit), and 2007 when they swept Cleveland. The Spurs only championship loss since Y2K came in 2013 to Miami, with the Spurs getting revenge the following season.
2) New England Patriots. 6 Super Bowl appearances and 4 championships. New England won their first ever Lombardi Trophy in 2002, upsetting the heavily favored St. Louis Rams. The Patriots then won back to back titles in 2004 (over Carolina) and 2005 (over Philadelphia). After sustaining back to back losses to the Giants in 2008 and 2012, the Patriots defeated Seattle for their 4th ring this past season.
1) Los Angeles Lakers. 7 NBA Finals appearances and 5 championships. The Lakers kicked off the decade winning 3 consecutive championships in 2000 (over Indiana in 6 games), 2001 (over Philadelphia in 5 games), and 2002 (over New Jersey in 4 games). LA would lose their next 2 finals appearances, falling to Detroit in 5 games in 2004 and Boston in 6 games in 2008. That loss to the Celtics would mark 3 more consecutive Finals appearances, with the Lakers defeating Orlando in 5 games in 2009 and Boston in 7 games in 2010.

Buffa-woes: Buffalo is the sports town that just can't catch a break

05/28/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Buffalo, New York. The home of the NFL's Bills and the NHL's Sabres. Two major sports franchises, that's what the city has. No NBA. No MLB. Just hockey and football. And what seems to be one big sports curse. "Wide Right", "No Goal", and the "Music City Miracle" are just a few of the painful memories sports fans in Buffalo would like to forget.
In 1960 the Bills were born as a charter member of the American Football. 10 years later, the Sabres joined the NHL. Early success brought hope for the future of these franchises. The Bills won the AFL championship in 1964 and 1965. The Sabres would reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 1974/75. They would lose to Philadelphia in 6 games. But the future looked bright for Buffalo, right? Well the "curse" first made it's appearance in Buffalo during these times as well. In 1961 the Bills became the first and only NFL team to play against a team from the Canadian Football League. They also are the only NFL team to lose to a CFL team, as the Bills were defeated by Hamilton. During the 1975 Stanley Cup Finals, parts of Game 3 were played in a heavy fog due to unseasonably hot temperatures. That cloud has stayed over Buffalo sports since it seems.
The early 1990's were the peak years of the Buffalo Bills in the NFL. The Bills opened the '90's by making four straight Super Bowl appearances. They also lost four straight Super Bowls. The most painful being 1991. With :08 seconds left, and the Bills trailing the New York Giants 20 to 19, kicker Scott Norwood came on to try a 47 yard field goal for the win. Norwood missed..."Wide Right".

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The Bills wouldn't be close in their next 3 Super Bowl appearances, losing to Washington in 1992. But the "ironic" thing is Bills running back Thurman Thomas couldn't find his helmet and had to sit out the first two plays of the game. The Bills committed 9 turnovers in 1993 and were crushed by Dallas 52 to 17. Those 9 turnovers remain the most by one team in Super Bowl history. In 1994, despite leading at the half, the Bills would lose to the Cowboys again. And haven't been back since.
What's almost as painful as those Super Bowl losses came in the 1999 NFL playoffs. The Bills led Tennessee with :16 seconds left after kicking the go ahead field goal. That's when the Titans lateraled the ball on the ensuing kickoff, ending with Frank Wychek lateralling the ball to Kevin Dyson, who would score the winning touchdown. Wychek's lateral looked close to being an illegal forward pass, but it wasn't called. It ended up being called "The Music City Miracle" in Tennessee. It ended up being another big ouch in Buffalo sports history. It was also the last playoff appearance the Bills have made.
That was an ominous start to the year 1999. It would only get worse. The Sabres were back in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since losing in 1975. In Game 6, down 3 games to 2, the Sabres and the Dallas Stars battled into triple overtime. And that's when Brett Hull of the Stars scored the game winner. Or did he? The NHL had a rule in place that if a players skate was in the opponents goal crease and a goal was scored, that goal would be disallowed. Hull's skate was in the crease, but it wasn't called. And Dallas would win the Cup on Hull's overtime goal. Or as it became known in Buffalo, "No Goal".
Oh Buffalo, us sports fans in other cities feel for you. I mean, the Sabres were the worst team in the NHL, so bad that some thought they were tanking on purpose. But that's because being the worst in the NHL could have a sliver lining, as Connor McDavid, who's being compared to Sidney Crosby, is expected to be the first overall draft pick in this years NHL Draft. McDavid is considered a generational talent who played his junior hockey in nearby Erie, Pennsylvania. It seemed like the perfect fit. Except Edmonton won the draft lottery and the right to select first overall. Which means if Connor McDavid is the franchise player he's expected to be, it won't be in Buffalo.
And did anyone really think the Sabres were going win the Mike Babcock "sweepstakes"? The most sought after free agent coach possibly in NHL history. Buffalo's deep pocketed owner Terry Pegula believed his high dollar offer would land Babcock's services. It didn't. Babcock decided to take the Toronto Maple Leafs offer instead.
Will it ever end? The sports fans of Buffalo sure hope so. Of course the old joke is , "it could be worse, you could be fans in Cleveland". But knowing Buffalo's luck, the Cavaliers will win the NBA title this year.

Triumphant tale: Melendez encompasses heart and soul of perseverance

05/27/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Memorial Day. It's the "holiday" weekend many use as the start to summer. Cookouts, parties, picnics, and bon fires take place across the United States as a celebration of Memorial Day. But Memorial Day isn't exactly a happy holiday for many. For those who have lost loved ones in combat or have served themselves, Memorial Day is a day for reflection on the sacrifices made to keep America as the land of the free and the home of the brave. So with this being a "holiday week" a great story of sacrifice is that of Sgt. Chris Melendez.
At the age of 17, Chris Melendez enlisted in the military to protect his country. Born in East Harlem, New York and the son of a Vietnam Veteran, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 spurned Melendez to serve. As a member of the U.S. Army, Melendez headed to Iraq in 2004. Two years later, and just a month before his tour of duty was to end, Melendez's unit was struck by an improvised explosive device. Melendez would lose his left leg in the attack.
Melendez was resuscitated by combat medics three times on the battlefield before finally being stabilized. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service. Despite the severity of his injuries, Melendez recovered quickly, at least from the physical part of it. When he returned home, post traumatic stress disorder followed him home. He frequently battled insomnia and nightmares. But again he persevered. Because besides being a soldier and defending his country, Chris Melendez had another dream to follow.

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Since he was young, Chris Melendez loved professional wrestling. He watched wrestling from his childhood up until his enlisting in the military. He was even voted most likely to be a professional wrestler in high school. In 2011, Melendez pursued that dream. He started training in Brooklyn to become a wrestler, and through the Wounded Warrior Project was introduced to TNA Wrestling stars Ken Anderson and Team 3D. His story inspired Bully Ray of Team 3D so much, he offered to train Melendez for free.
Melendez made the dream of becoming a professional wrestler come true in 2014, when he signed a contract with TNA Wrestling. Melendez refused to let his injury stop him from accomplishing his dream. Working with a prosthetic leg, Melendez made his in ring debut last year and continues to work for TNA.
Chris Melendez said he worked hard to attain his dream and didn't let his handicap prevent him from getting there. In an interview conducted last year, Melendez said that he accomplished his dreams and wanted to show other people they can accomplish theirs too. His exact words were "I want to inspire hope".
Chris Melendez's story not only inspires hope. He's a true American hero who sacrificed for his country. And his story is one of sacrifice and success. A story that makes you proud to be an American.

Babcock effect: Leafs land new coach but is he worth the money?

05/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The Mike Babcock sweepstakes have concluded, and after edging out the Buffalo Sabres, the Toronto Maple Leafs have landed the services of Mr. Babcock behind their bench. Being the most sought after free agent coach in some time, Babcock hit the jackpot as well, signing an 8 year contract worth a reported $50 million dollars, the richest contract ever to be signed by an NHL coach. But here's the Mike Babcock worth it?
Whether it was Toronto or Buffalo, Babcock was looking at a major rebuilding process. And there's no doubt that Babcock was a successful regular season coach. In his 10 seasons in Detroit, the Red Wings made the playoffs every season, posting a .649 winning percentage. The Red Wings also had quite a core of players during Babcock's tenure in Detroit. And it seemed like, and still seems like, the Red Wings always had the next guy on the horizon to step up when one of their star players moved on. That had a lot to do with the work of General Manager Ken Holland. Here's the first problem Babcock will be facing, the Maple Leafs aren't the Red Wings. They're not even close. Bad free agent signings with even worse contract terms, bad decisions as far as trades went, and poor drafting have left Toronto as one of the worst teams in the NHL since the salary cap era began. In the 10 seasons since, the Leafs have made the playoffs just once. The fact of the matter is Toronto is an awful franchise right now. Mike Babcock is going from "Hockey Town" to Hockey Hell. Toronto is going to be in full rebuilding mode. But the fans and ownership seem to always want results right away. Perhaps its being spoiled by playing in hockey's richest market, but the expectations in Toronto are to win a Stanley Cup every year. Even though they've only made the once in the last 10 years, the Maple Leaf faithful probably already believe Mike Babcock is going to wave some magic hockey stick and turn Toronto into a contender next season. Sorry, but that's not going to happen.
And what makes anyone believe that Mike Babcock is the guy that's going to bring the Leafs back to relevance? Sure, Babcock's career regular season record from his time in Detroit and 2 seasons prior in Anaheim is stellar. And Babcock's international coaching resume is loaded as well, winning two Olympic gold medals with Team Canada in 2010 and 2014 as well as winning the IIHF World Hockey Championship in 2004. But when it comes to the NHL post season, that's a different story. Babcock has been to the Stanley Cup Finals three times. He led the Red Wings to the Cup in 2008. He lost in the Finals in 2009, and in his first season in Anaheim back in 2003. He missed the playoffs in his second and final season in Anaheim. Besides the two Stanley Cup seasons in Detroit, the Red Wings only reached the conference finals one other time. The Wings were bounced in the first round 4 times, and the second round 3 times. And for more than a few of those seasons, the Red Wings had top level talent. Toronto does not, has not had top level talent in quite a while, and will not have it this coming season or in the near future due to their poor drafts and being saddled down with those bad free agent contracts that hurt against the salary cap.

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The expectations are high. The price for Mike Babcock's services is even higher. But will he be worth the hype and the money in the long run? I guess only time will tell, but I think smart money says the odds are better that Babcock doesn't last the term of his contract than they are for the Maple Leafs to win the Stanley Cup during his tenure.

Curtain call: Conference finals in West feature two tough, stout teams

05/17/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

And then there were two.
The Ducks and Blackhawks have persevered through a tough field of contenders to find themselves on the cusp on the Stanley Cup Finals. They're now faced with the unenviable task of trying to tackle one another in a showdown of epic proportions.
How They Got Here:

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Anaheim defeated Winnipeg 4 to 0, defeated Calgary 4 to 1
Chicago defeated Nashville 4 to 2, defeated Minnesota 4 to 0
Two teams with two of the best one/two punch scoring duos will square off in the NHL's Western Conference Finals. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews lead Chicago, while Anaheim is led by the duo of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Both teams have scoring depth. Both teams have had a fairly easy time dispatching their opponents through the first two rounds. And both teams goaltending has some question marks associated with it. This matchup has the potential to be one of the better playoff series in recent NHL history.
The Conference Finals are a familiar place for Chicago, as the Blackhawks are making their 5th appearance in the past 7 seasons. They've also won the Stanley Cup twice in the past 5 seasons, defeating Philadelphia in 2010 and Boston in 2013. Anaheim is back in the Conference Finals for the first time since 2007, which is the year the Ducks won their only Stanley Cup by defeating Ottawa. The Ducks also reached the Finals in 2003, when they lost to New Jersey.
The top playoff scorers will be going head to head in this matchup. That coupled with what at times has been shaky goaltending on each side, and both teams having mobile defensemen who can create offense, could mean some high scoring games between these two. Anaheim's Corey Perry leads the playoffs with 15 points in just 9 games. The Blackhawks Patrick Kane is second in playoff scoring with 13 points in 10 games. Tied for 3rd in playoff scoring is the Ducks Ryan Getzlaf, who has 12 points. Both Kane and Perry are tied for 2nd in playoff goal scoring with 7 each. Getzlaf leads the playoffs with 10 assists, while Perry and Chicago's Duncan Keith are tied for 2nd behind him 8 assists each. The Ducks Jakob Silfverberg has netted 11 points (3G/8A) so far this post season while Ryan Keslar has posted 9 points (4G/5A). Behind Kane for the Blackhawks are Jonathan Toews with 11 points (4G/7A), Keith with 10 points (2G/8A), and Patrick Sharp with 9 points (4G/5A).
In goal, Anaheim has depended on Frederik Andersen after it wasn't clear if Andersen or John Gibson would get the call in the playoffs. Andersen has played all 9 games for the Ducks, posting a 1.96 goals against average, .925 save percentage and 1 shutout so far. In the Blackhawks net, things have been a bit more turbulent. Starter Corey Crawford was pulled in Game 1 of the Nashville series, and backup Scott Darling came through with a big performance helping the Blackhawks get the win. Darling started the remainder of the series, but Crawford came on in relief in Game 6 and helped the Blackhawks win the elimination game over the Predators. Crawford started all 4 games versus Minnesota, and posted a shutout in Game 3. The question mark for Chicago is if the Ducks get to Crawford early, will Darling be back in the net? Crawford has a 2.60 GAA and a .916 save percentage. Darling's GAA sits at 2.21 and his save percentage is .936.
The key to this series will likely be the special teams play. Anaheim's power play has been the best in the post season so far, clicking at 31% by scoring on 9 of their 29 man advantage opportunities. That could pose a problem for Chicago, who's penalty kill has had only a 72.7% success rate. The Blackhawks power play though has been impressive, clicking at a 20% rate.
The only news on the injury front is the Blackhawks will be without defenseman Michal Rosival for the rest of the playoffs. Rosival broke his ankle in the series clinching Game 4 against Minnesota. David Rundbland is expected to take his place in the lineup. For Rundbland, it will be the first playoff action of his career.
Chicago won 2 of the 3 regular season meetings between the teams. This will mark the first time these franchises have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as well.

Final contenders: Stanley Cup winner draws nearer

05/15/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

And then there were 4. 12 teams have exited along the road to the 2015 Stanley Cup, and the 4 teams left set up for what should be a very exciting pair of conference final matchups. Two of the NHL's "Original Six" remain in Chicago and the New York Rangers, while two of the NHL's expansion teams from the early 1990's in Anaheim and Tampa Bay will each be trying to raise the Cup for the second time. Here's a look at your 2015 Conference Finals, starting with the East.
Eastern Conference Finals: New York Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
How They've Got Here:

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NY defeated Pittsburgh 4 to 1 in 1st Round, defeated Washington 4 to 3 in 2nd Round
Tampa Bay defeated Detroit 4 to 3, defeated Montreal 4 to 2 in 2nd Round
The Presidents Trophy winning Rangers have kept their fans on the edge of their seats, and on the verge of heart failure so far this playoff year. All 12 of the Rangers playoff games have been decided by 1 goal. And for the second year in a row, the Blue Shirts battled back from a 3 games to 1 deficit in the 2nd round to win the series, marking the first time in NHL history to accomplish that feat. Tampa Bay had to battle back from a 3 games to 2 series deficit in their opening round series against Detroit, then jumped out to a 3 games to none lead against Montreal before finishing the Canadiens in 6 games.
The Rangers are back in the Eastern Conference finals for the 3rd time in 4 years, and are trying to become the first team since Pittsburgh and Detroit in 2008 and 2009 to reach the Stanley Cup Finals in back to back seasons. Tampa Bay is back in the semi final round for the first time since 2011. The last, and only time the Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Finals was 2004, when they defeated Calgary to win the Cup.
The experience edge may belong to the Rangers, but the young Lightning's offense has struck consistently in these playoffs. Tyler Johnson leads all playoff goal scorers with 8. His "Triplets Line" mate Nikita Kucherov is third in goal scoring with 6. Johnson is also 3rd in points with 12, while Kucherov is tied for 5th most with 11 points. After not scoring a goal in the first round against the Red Wings, Steven Stamkos came to life in the 2nd round and has netted 10 points (3G/7A) through the first two rounds. In goal, Ben Bishop has been solid, posting a 1.81 goals against average and a .931 save percentage so far.
But the edge in net definitely belongs to the Rangers. Henrik Lundqvist has the best playoff goals against average (1.60) and save percentage (.944). He's also 4 and 0 in elimination games and allowed only 2 goals on 74 shots faced in the Rangers series clinching games against the Penguins and Capitals. Chris Krieder and Derick Brassard lead New York with 5 goals each. Brassard's 8 points are tied for the team lead with Derek Stepan (3G/5A). Rick Nash has added 7 points (2G/5A) while leading the Rangers in shots.
On special teams, the Rangers penalty kill has been superb, clicking at a 89.3% success rate . The Rangers held the Capitals to 1 for 15 on the power play, and Pittsburgh to 2 for 13 in the opening round. With the man advantage, New York has converted at a rate of 15.8%. Tampa Bay's power play has scored on 9 of their 47 power play chances (18%), and have an 86.7% success rate on the penalty kill, fueled by holding Montreal to just 1 power play goal on 16 tries in the 2nd round.
Familiar faces will be wearing the other teams jersey on both sides. Martin St. Louis and Dan Boyle were a big part of the Lightning's Stanley Cup run 11 years ago, both are now playing for the Rangers. While Tampa Bay's Ryan Callahan, Brian Boyle, and Anton Stralman all previously played for the Rangers. Callahan and St. Louis were traded for each other last season.
Injury wise, the Rangers may get Mats Zuccarello back at some point in the series. But they may be without Dan Boyle to start the series after he was knocked out of Game 7 against the Capitals after sustaining a hit to the head. The Lightning may be missing Callahan for the start of the series. Callahan missed Game 6 against Montreal after having an appendectomy.
Tampa Bay swept the season series, winning all 3 games by a combined score of 15 to 8. This is the first time these franchises have met in a playoff series. The Rangers last won the Stanley Cup in 1994, which ended a 54 year drought without a championship.

Fallen star: Colllege success never translated to NBA for Morrison

05/14/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Naismith and Wooden Award finalist. Co-player of the year according to the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Chevrolet Player of the Year. First round NBA draft pick. Sounds like a combination for professional basketball success. But for Adam Morrison, that combination didn't produce the expected results.
Playing at Gonzaga University, Morrison was considered one of the top players in the NCAA during the 2005/2006 season. That season, which was his junior year, Morrison led the nation in scoring average at 28.1 points per game. He scored 30 or more points 13 times that season. He scored 40 or more five times. He was the West Coast Conference's player of the year and a first team All American. He averaged 19.5 points per game for his career and after that monstrous junior season, Morrison decided to leave Gonzaga and turn pro.
Morrison was taken with the 3rd overall pick in the 2006 draft by the Charlotte Bobcats. But somewhere in the translation between the college and professional ranks, Morrison seemed to lose his game. He had the best season of his brief NBA career scoring wise, averaging 11.8 points per game. But he shot only 37% for the season and that, combined with defensive lapses, earned Morrison a spot on the bench half way through the 2006/2007 season.

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Morrison's second NBA season never materialized, as a torn ACL sustained in an exhibition game sidelined him for the entire 2007/2008 season. The injury may have been the beginning of the end for Morrison's NBA career. He played in only 44 games for the Bobcats in 2008/2009, averaging just 4.5 points per game while shooting 36%. He was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers in February of 2009.
While a part of 2 NBA Championship teams while in L.A., Morrison had very little role in the team's success, playing in only 2 playoff games during those 2 title seasons. He played in only 39 regular season games over two seasons with the Lakers, and didn't make a single start. He averaged 1.9 points per game during his tenure with the Lakers, and was released following the 2009/2010 season.
That would be Morrison's last season in the NBA. He was cut by the Washington Wizards prior to the 2010/2011 season and would play for parts of two seasons overseas before trying to make a comeback in 2012 with Portland. But he was waived again prior to the start of the regular season.
After a stellar college career, Morrison's time in the NBA amounted to 161 games over four seasons, averaging 7.5 points per game. With plenty of potential and expectations, Morrison never lived up the hype he was given. Was it the major knee injury that did him in? Was it the diabetes he battled since he was a teenager that finally caught up to him? Were his college stats inflated by playing against lesser competition at Gonzaga? Whatever the reason or reasons were, somehow Adam Morrison's game got lost in the translation.

Crime floppers: Did NFL do right thing with Brady suspension

05/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

So the NFL has dropped the hammer on the New England Patriots and found the team and Tom Brady guilty as charged. Yes, after the findings of the Wells Report came out, the slap on the wrist many expected turned out to me more like a roundhouse kick to the face.
Brady was suspended for the first 4 games of the upcoming NFL season. The Patriots will lose a first round draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, and a 4th round pick in 2017. The team was also fined $1 million dollars. The two equipment managers who were implicated as being responsible for "Deflate Gate" have also been suspended indefinitely.
Now the backlash from the Patriots personnel is coming against the NFL. Owner Robert Kraft had previously criticized the findings in the Wells Report. Now Kraft is also saying the punishment "exceeded any reasonable explanation" and that the investigation was built on circumstantial evidence instead of conclusive evidence. Tom Brady's agent, Don Yee called the punishment "ridiculous", adding that the Wells Report had "no legitimate basis". Yee also said Brady will appeal the suspension.

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Prior to the findings of the Wells Report, Robert Kraft criticized the NFL's original investigation into whether the Patriots doctored the footballs used in the AFC Championship Game. He said the report would clear the Patriots and Tom Brady of any wrong doing. That wasn't the case.
Now the question is, was this the first and/or only time the Patriots doctored footballs? NFL Vice President Troy Vincent stated that the deflating of the balls probably started much earlier than the AFC title game. Remember, the Patriots were also punished for their role in "Spy Gate" in 2007. The team was fined $500,000 and lost a 1st round draft pick. Coach Bill Belichick was also fined $250,000 for his role in the video taping of opposing coaches in an effort to decipher their play calling.
The sad thing is, the Patriots didn't need to deflate anything to beat Indianapolis in the AFC Championship. Brady has said that the accusations and investigation into "Deflate Gate" does not take away from the Patriots winning the Super Bowl and that the team earned their championship. But if they were using under inflated or doctored footballs prior to the AFC Championship, did it make a difference in the outcome of prior games? Would the Patriots have gotten as far as they did without the doctored balls?
So now it's another championship season for the Patriots with controversy attached to it. This has to be embarrassing to the Patriots and their fans. But they definitely made the late Eddie Guerrero proud. His saying always was "if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying". And according to the findings of the Wells Report and the NFL's subsequent action, when it comes to cheating, the Patriots are guilty as charged.

Cheat to spin: Pats role in deflating footballs finally is popped wide open

05/11/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The investigation has concluded. And as many had thought back in January, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots did indeed have a role in Deflate Gate.
According to the Wells Report, a joint investigation done by the NFL and attorney Tom Wells, two Patriots staff members were involved in what was called inappropriate activity in regards to the footballs used in the AFC Championship Game being underinflated. And the report also states that Brady "was at least generally aware" that the above mentioned inappropriate activity did take place.
Before we go any further, let's remember the Patriots defeated Indianapolis 45 to 7 in the AFC title game. So I seriously doubt that had the balls been inflated to the proper pressure level, the outcome would have been much different. The Colts got blown out, period. But here's the problem, the Patriots denied any wrong doing by anyone on the team or involved with the team. Owner Robert Kraft said the NFL's original investigation was "disappointing". Kraft also said the Wells investigation would clear the Patriots of any speculation of wrong doing. But that wasn't the case. Now Kraft is saying that he will go along with the teams findings prior to the Wells Report that the Patriots acted appropriately.

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So both the teams owner and star quarterback denied any knowledge or involvement in "Delate Gate". But according to both scientific and circumstantial evidence contained in the Wells Report that was a lie. And that's the problem here. Like I said, it's not like the Patriots won the AFC Championship on the last drive of the game where Brady having a slightly deflated ball to grip easier would've made a difference. The Patriots won by 38 points. The problem is they flat out lied about it.
Now both Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick, along with the Patriots assistant coaches, have been cleared of any wrong doing. But the report clearly states that the Patriots locker room attendant and an equipment manager tampered with the game balls after they were inspected by the games officials. And that Brady most likely knew the balls were deflated, although it doesn't say he actually requested the deflation.
Just when the Spygate scandal involving the Patriots was finally starting to dissipate, here is another report of the Patriots cheating. But this time there is evidence to implicate them directly. Which is going to result in a punishment this time. Brady will most likely be suspended, but not for the entire season as some media outlets have reported. Most likely he'll face a suspension of 1 game, maybe 3 games maximum. And the Patriots will likely face a fine and possible draft pick forfeiture. And even though I've stated that because of the one sided nature of the AFC Championship Game that the deflated balls wouldn't matter, it's still illegal. And it's cheating. And it's wrong.
Remember when you were young and playing sports and your Dad would tell you "cheaters never win" if you tried to cut a corner? Well I guess the New England Patriots have proven again that cheaters can indeed win.

Draft daze: Collins snubbed by NFL, but you have to question why

05/09/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

How do you go from being an expected first round draft pick to not being selected at all? Get questioned by the police in relation to a murder would be the answer. At least it is in the case of La'el Collins, the former LSU offensive lineman who was projected as a first round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, but instead went undrafted before being signed by the Dallas Cowboys this week.
If you aren't familiar with the story, Collins was an All-American offensive lineman who had started 39 games for LSU over the past 3 seasons. He won the Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the SEC's offensive lineman of the year for the 2014 season. He has size and he can move. He's versatile. He only missed 1 game in his 3 seasons as a starter. He was predicted as high as being picked 18th overall in the NFL draft. Then Collins pregnant ex-girlfriend was shot and killed. When word broke out just before the draft that authorities wanted to question Collins in relation to the murder, teams avoided Collins like the plague.
With recent history in the NFL involving high profile players involved in off field incidents involving domestic violence, substance abuse, and driving under the influence in the spotlight for most of last season, teams stepped back from drafting Collins. Not a few teams. Not just avoiding drafting him the first round. But all of the teams. Every single one of the teams in the NFL through all 8 rounds of the draft. Nobody picked Collins because according to sources teams didn't feel "comfortable" taking him because they didn't want to deal with the perceived backlash that could come with it.

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But Collins was never named as a suspect. He cooperated with authorities. He passed a polygraph test. He was never implicated. As a matter of fact, a paternity test had proven that he wasn't even the father of the child his ex-girlfriend was carrying. When word got out that Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan had a dinner meeting with Collins, he was criticized by some in the media. When Dallas decided to sign Collins, it was much of the same. Things like "that's what you'd expect from Jerry Jones" and that "the Cowboys have never had a problem employing criminals".
Except Collins wasn't a criminal. He didn't do anything wrong. He was just questioned in a murder case because of his previous relationship with the victim. But he was pretty much punished for the sins of others. Collins had never had a run in with the law during his time at LSU. Tigers head coach Les Miles spoke out in the media to praise Collins and tried to get the NFL to get him into the supplemental draft. But since the NFL had the "criminal" stigma attached to some of it's players, Collins went undrafted.
Think about that. This is a guy who worked his whole college career to get the opportunity he was supposed to have. He could have left college a year earlier and been drafted, but he decided to come back for his senior year. Here's La'el Collins, looking forward to all of that work paying off by being selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Looking forward to sharing that excitement with his mother, who raised him as a single mom and who worked hard to give her son the opportunity to be great. And that was taken away. Why? Not because of anything La'el Collins did. But because of the off field problems that plagued the NFL created by players that Collins had nothing to do with. Jameis Winston, who was guilty of his share of off the field incidents and who definitely had character flaws in the eyes of both the media and NFL scouts, was taken in the first round. Yet La'el Collins wasn't drafted at all.
In the United States we are all considered innocent until proven guilty of a crime. I guess that's not the case though when it comes to today's NFL.

Spud muffin: Why NBA's Webb was epitome of heart and desire

05/07/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Undersized and underestimated. Those are two words with the letter "U" that would describe Anthony Jerome Webb in stature and in his early days of playing basketball. Unbelievable and unforgettable, those are two other words with the letter "U" that described the basketball career of the man better known as "Spud".
Height was always a perceived obstacle to why Spud Webb wouldn't be successful on the hardwood. He was told from his days in junior high school that he was too short to play basketball. Webb was just 5'3'' in high school. But he was able to dunk, and averaged 26 points per game through his high school career in Texas. Despite his numbers in high school, Webb wasn't recruited to any major colleges, mainly because it was thought he wasn't tall enough to play Division One college basketball. He ended up going to a junior college instead.
In 1982, Webb would lead Midland College to the junior college national championship. That's when Webb's basketball skills started to draw attention. He scored 36 points in that championship game, and was named a NCJAA All-American in 1983. Webb also had a 42 inch vertical leap. That led to North Carolina State head coach Jim Valvano offering him a scholarship to play Divisionn One college basketball.

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Following college it was assumed, again due to his height, that Webb wouldn't play professional basketball in the NBA. However, he was selected in the 4th round of the 1985 NBA Draft by Detroit. Webb is probably best remembered professionally for the time he played in Atlanta from 1985 through 1981. One of the highlights of Webb's time with the Hawks was winning the Slam Dunk Contest at the 1986 All-Star game.
At 5'6'', Webb was one of the shortest players to ever play in the NBA. Despite that, he played 12 NBA seasons, scoring over 8,000 career points and accumulating over 4,300 career assists. Webb averaged 9.9 points per game for his career. Webb retired from the NBA following the 1998 season. He is now the President of Basketball Operations for the Texas Legends in the NBA Developmental League.
A cliche repeated often in sports is "it's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog". Spud Webb proved that he had more than enough to play with the big dogs despite being a smaller breed of dog.

Overkill: Why the NFL Draft is way too long

05/05/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Three days. That equates to 72 hours. It's the same amount of time you'd need for a long weekend road trip. There are 3 day juice cleanses for the health fanatics out there. 3 days is enough time to lose 10 pounds according to some fitness websites. You know what else takes 3 days? The NFL Draft. And that's 48 hours longer than it needs to be.
There was a time when the NFL draft was done in one day. No really, there was. Not only was it done in one day, there were more rounds than the 7 rounds there are today. In the 1970's there were 15 rounds in the NFL draft. The draft was reduced to 12 rounds in the 1980's. Then it was dropped to 8 rounds in 1993. All of those drafts were done in one day. Now with only 7 rounds, it takes 3 days to complete the draft? Why?
A big part of the reason why is television coverage. Somehow the NFL draft has become another network spectacle. How many people actually watch the NFL draft from start to finish? And if you're someone who answered that yes, you do indeed watch the entire draft, you're most likely answering no to the following questions: 1) Do you have a significant other? 2) Do you have any kind of social life? 3) Do you have any friends? Seriously, if you sit there for the better part of 3 days watching the NFL draft from start to finish, there is probably something wrong with you.

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Of course its television that is the reason for the expanded NFL draft coverage. But it used to be televised and done in one day. With more rounds. Why can't we do that now? I know Mel Kiper Jr. knows a lot about players entering the NFL via the draft. But do we really need to know how many tackles for loss the defensive end from Tijuana A&T who's drafted in the 7th round had his junior year? Come on, we don't. And lets face it football fans, you've never heard of most of the players selected from Round 3 on, and by the time training camp opens, you don't even remember who your home team drafted. And what if you're one of the players who is in the draft, but not one of the big names? Do you really want to wait for 3 days to find out if you've been drafted or not?
The NFL is a big time business. The top sports league in the world. It would draw viewers if they televised a tap dance off, as long as it had the NFL logo associated with it. But 3 days of NFL draft coverage? That's overkill. There are 32 teams drafting 7 times. That's 224 picks. Plus there are up to 32 compensatory picks. So at a maximum, there are 256 picks made in the NFL draft. Do we really need 3 days to make those picks?
The NFL has done a lot of things right over the years. There's a reason they have the drawing power they do. But when a 15 round draft could be done in one day, why can't a 7 round draft be done that way as well? There's a saying that sometimes less is more. In the case of the draft, can we please have more picks in one day and less days of draft coverage.

Surprise, surprise: MLB season one month old and new and old faces leading the packs

05/04/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The first month of the 2015 Major League Baseball season is in the books. There have been some surprising teams so far, both good and bad. Let's take a look at what's going on around the majors 1/8 of the way into the 2K15 season.
Starting in the American League, the biggest surprise so far has to be the Houston Astros. After winning just 70 games in 2014, the Astros have the best winning percentage of any team in the AL. A big reason for Houston's early season success is because they have the best record on the road of any MLB team. The Astros hold a 7 game lead over the rest of the AL West, and are the only team in the division with an above .500 record. And that's the other surprise in the AL West. Many thought the division would be a toss up with Seattle, Oakland, and Los Angeles being the favorites. So far those 3 teams have a combined record of 32 and 44.
The AL East has been a little more balanced, as all but one team has an over .500 record and only 4 games separate first place from last. The NY Yankees are leading the division, which is a slight surprise since the Yankees had one of the older rosters coming into the season and were predicted to be a middle of the pack team in the division. Perhaps the biggest surprise in the division though has been the play of the Boston Red Sox. After an offseason full of free agent acquisitions, the Red Sox only have a .500 record and a division worse minus 9 run differential.

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The AL Central has gone more along the lines of expectation so far. Detroit leads the division, and is the team that was picked by many to win it. Last seasons American League champions, the Kansas City Royals are right behind the Tigers, due in large part to their MLB best +45 run differential. Some expected Cleveland to be a contender this season, but the Indians haven't had a very good start, sitting at 6 games below .500 and 7 games out of first place.
Turning to the National League, April has provided some good and bad surprises in the East. The biggest surprise has been the slow start by the Washington Nationals, who had the best record in MLB last season. The Nationals are sitting 4 games out of first and 2 games under .500 after the first month of the 2015 season. The early season leader is the NY Mets, who were looked at as a middle of the division finisher in most pre season predictions. But the Mets have a 3 1/2 game lead in the division, and are the only team with a better than .500 record. The Mets early season success has a lot to do with their play at home, as the Mets 11 home wins are tied for second best in MLB.
In the NL Central, it's been business as usual for one team, a surprising start in a good way for another team, and a surprising start in a bad way for a third team. The first team is the St. Louis Cardinals, who have the best record in MLB so far. The Cardinals 11 home wins are tied for second best in MLB, and their +40 run differential is the best in the NL. The second team is the Chicago Cubs, who are the only other team in the division with a better than .500 record. The predictions prior to the season expected the Cubs to be better this year, and so far they have been. The third team is the Pittsburgh Pirates. Many predicted the Pirates to win the Central this season, some feeling they were a pre season World Series favorite. So far the Pirates are a game under .500. The biggest contributors to their early season woes being scoring (2nd lowest in the NL Central) and their road record, which is 3 games below .500.
In the NL West, the pre season favorite has lived up to the billing. The LA Dodgers have an early 3 game lead in the division, and their 13 home victories are the best in MLB. San Diego was considered to be the team that would challenge the Dodgers for the division, and so far they have. The Padres are the only team in the division with a winning record at home and at least a .500 winning percentage on the road. The defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants have tried to keep pace, sitting a game under .500 and 4 1/2 games out of first place. But the Giants have scored the 3rd least amount of runs in MLB, which is a major reason they're closer to the bottom of the division

Foe down: Why NHL playoffs have reignited rivalries

05/01/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Familiar playoff foes will faceoff against each other in Day #2 of the second round along the road to the 2015 Stanley Cup. Let's take a look at the other two second series.
Eastern Conference: Montreal vs. Tampa Bay
How They Got Here: Montreal 4 Ottawa 2; Tampa Bay 4 Detroit 3

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These two division rivals will meet in the post season for the second consecutive spring. Last year, the Canadiens swept the Lightning in the opening round of the playoffs. However it was the Lightning who had Montreal's number during this years regular season, winning all 5 games by a combined score of 21 to 8. Tampa Bay was without starting goalie Ben Bishop in last years playoff series, but he will look to continue the success he and his team had versus Montreal. Bishop won all 5 starts against the Canadiens, while Carey Price was the losing goalie in all 5 of those games. Bishop was shaky at times in the opening round against Detroit, but shut the Red Wings out in Game 7. Bishop's 1.87 goals against average is 3rd best amongst remaining playoff netminders, Price is right behind him with a 1.94 mark and .939 save percentage. Price will be tested by the Lightning's Tyler Johnson, who led all playoff goal scorers after the first round with 6. Surprisingly, Steven Stamkos went all 7 games in the opening round without scoring a goal for the Lightning. But he netted 5 goals and 7 points in the regular season series between these teams. An area both teams will need to improve on will be the power play. Montreal was 1 for 20 in the opening round against Ottawa, while Tampa Bay was 2 for 30 against the Red Wings. Shorthanded, the Canadiens allowed 5 goals on 20 PP chances and scored once shorthanded, while the Lightning gave up 5 goals on 29 chances and scored twice shorthanded. The only news on the injury front is the Canadiens will be without defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, who will miss at least the first 4 games of this series.
Western Conference: Chicago vs. Minnesota
How They Got Here: Chicago 4 Nashville 2; Minnesota 4 St. Louis 2
For the third consecutive year, the Blackhawks and Wild will meet in the playoffs. These teams met in the second round last season, with the Blackhawks winning in 6 games. Chicago knocked Minnesota out in 5 games in the first round in 2013. Minnesota will have to find a way to slow down Jonathan Toews, who led all players in first round scoring with 8 points (3G/5A). Teammates Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith were right behind him with 7 points (2G/5A) each. Minnesota is led by Zach Parise, who posted 7 points (3G/4A) in the opening round. In goal, the Wild will lean on perhaps the best story in the NHL this season, in Devan Dubnyk. After joining the team in January, Dubnyk won 27 of his 38 regular season starts and posted a 2.32 goals against average and .913 save percentage in the opening round against the Blues. For Chicago, Corey Crawford will get the start in Game 1. But it was musical goalies for the Blackhawks in the opening round against Nashville. Crawford started the first two games of the series, then was replaced by Scott Darling, who started the final four games. But Darling was pulled in Game 6 and Crawford came on to get the series clinching in in Game 6. The Wild seem to have the special teams edge as well. Minnesota scored on 4 of their 12 power play chances against St. Louis, while killing 9 of the 11 PP chances the Blues had. Chicago scored on 3 of 19 power plays against Nashville, while allowing the Predators to score on 6 of their 22 playoff chances. On the injury front, the Blackhawks may be without forward Kris Versteeg for Game 1, while Daniel Carcillo may be able to return from injury. Chicago won 3 of the 5 regular season meetings between these teams.

Great eight: Remaining NHL playoff teams showcase intense rivalries

04/30/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Eight teams have been eliminated and 8 in remain in the chase for Lord Stanley's Cup. Let's take a look at the four series coming up in the quarterfinal round of the 2015 NHL Playoffs.
Eastern Conference: NY Rangers vs. Washington
How They Got Here: Rangers defeated Pittsburgh 4 to 1; Capitals defeated NY Islanders 4 to 3

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If familiarity breeds contempt, the Rangers and the Capitals should have a mighty hatred for each other. For the 4th time in the past 5 seasons, and for the 5th time in the past 7 seasons, these two teams will meet in the playoffs. The Rangers gave up 7 goals against versus Pittsburgh in the opening round, and held the Penguins to 1 goal in each of the final 3 games. All five games in the Rangers/Penguins series were one goal games with the final two going to overtime. The Capitals defeated the Islanders in a very physical opening round series. 4 of those 7 games were decided by one goal, with the teams splitting two overtime games. Nicklas Backstrom led the Capitals with 6 points in the opening round (3G/3A) and Alex Ovechkin, who netted 5 points (2G/3A). The Rangers were led by Derick Brassard (3G/1A), Rick Nash (1G/3A) and Ryan McDonagh (1G/3A), who netted 4 points each. The goaltenders for these two teams had strong first round performances as well. Henrik Lundqvist's 1.53 goals against average was the best of all goaltenders who played in 4 or more games in the opening round, while Braden Holtby's 1.63 mark was second best. Holtby leads all playoff remaining playoff goalies with a .943 save percentage, while Lundqvist comes in with a .939 save percentage. The injury news is mixed for the Rangers...they'll be without top line forward Mats Zucarello but will be getting defenseman Kevin Klein back from injury. Both teams power play percentage in the first round was fairly equal...Washington was 2 for 13 against the Islanders while the Rangers were 3 for 20 versus Pittsburgh. Both teams penalty kill was strong as well, the Rangers gave up 2 goals to the Penguins on 13 chances, while the Capitals were perfect against the Islanders, not giving up a power play goal in 14 chances. The Rangers won 3 of the 4 regular season matchups between these teams. The last 2 playoff series between these teams went to 7 games, with the Rangers winning both times.
Western Conference: Anaheim vs. Calgary
How They Got Here: Anaheim defeated Winnipeg 4 to 0; Calgary defeated Vancouver 4 to 2
The Calgary Flames first round playoff series win over Vancouver was their first playoff series win since 2004. To win this series, they'll need to win in Anaheim again, which hasn't happened since the 2006 playoffs. The Flames have won once in 23 games played in Anaheim since 2004. Perhaps a way to win for the Flames is to let the Ducks have the lead after 2 periods, since the Ducks came back after trailing going into the 3rd period in the first 3 games of their series versus the Jets. But the Flames came back after trailing going into the 3rd period twice in their series win over Vancouver. That shouldn't come as a surprise though, as Anaheim led the NHL in the regular season with 12 wins when trailing after 2 periods, while Calgary was second with 10 come back wins. Jiri Hudler (3G/3A) and Johnny Gaudreau (2G/4A) led Calgary in scoring in the opening round with 6 points each. David Jones was right behind them with 5 points (2G/3A). The Ducks were led by Corey Perry's 7 points (3G/4A) and Jakob Silfverberg's 6 points (2G/4A). The goaltending matchup will pit Frederik Anderson against Jonas Hiller. Both keepers had identical 2.20 goals against averages in the opening round, but Hiller posted a 3 and 2 record, while Andersen was perfect in his 4 starts. Of course revenge may be a motivating factor for Hiller, who was in goal for Anaheim in the playoffs last season and had played the previous 7 seasons for the Ducks. The Flames won all 3 of their games on home ice, but were 1 and 2 on the road. With the opening round sweep, the Ducks have had the longest layoff of any remaining playoff team. But that layoff should provide good news, as forward Nate Thompson and back up goalie John Gibson are both expected to be back from injury. Both teams played very physical opening round series, with the Calgary/Vancouver being so physical that the NHL told both teams to "tone down the hatred". When these teams last met in the playoffs in 2006, it was Anaheim who won in 7 games.

Cherry pick: Late round drafting has given way to greatness

04/29/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

All eyes are on who each teams first round pick in the each years NFL Draft is. Sometimes those first round picks, and the other early round picks behind them go on to become NFL superstars. Some turn out to be major busts. But it's the later rounds of the NFL draft that have provided some of the greatest players in NFL history. Lets take a look at five of the best late round picks in the past 25 years.
5) Matt Birk
Taken in the 6th round of the 1998 draft by the Minnesota Vikings out of Harvard, Matt Birk became one of the best centers in recent NFL history. Birk would make 6 Pro Bowl appearances in his 11 seasons with the Vikings. He's play 4 more seasons with Baltimore, and retired after winning the Super Bowl with the Ravens in 2013.

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4) Robert Mathis
Selected in the 5th round of the 2003 draft out of Alabama A&M by the Indianapolis Colts, Mathis is still adding to what's been a stellar NFL career. Mathis has been to the Pro Bowl on 6 occasions, was the AFC Defensive Player of the year in 2013, and won a Super Bowl with the Colts in 2007. Mathis also is the Colts all time leader in quarterback sacks with 111 so far in his career. Mathis missed last season due to injury, but will be back on the field with the Colts in 2015.
3) Terrell Davis
Picked in the 6th round of the 1995 NFL draft after a less than eye opening career at the University of Georgia, Davis became one of the best running backs of the 1990's in the NFL. Davis rushed for over 1,000 yards in 4 of his 7 seasons with Denver, and all four seasons he played in at least 14 games. Davis also rushed for 2,008 yards in the 1998 season. Davis was selected to 3 Pro Bowls, was the 2 time NFL Offensive Player of the Year, was the NFL MVP and Super Bowl MVP in 1998. Davis was a part of 2 Super Bowl teams in Denver, was named to the NFL's All Decade Team for the 1990's, and is the Broncos all time career rushing leader.
2) Shannon Sharpe
Coming out of Savannah State University, Sharpe was picked in the 7th round of the 1990 draft by the Denver Broncos. Sharpe was selected to the Pro Bowl 8 times. He also was a part of 3 Super Bowl winning teams, and was named to the NFL's All 1990's Decade Team. Sharpe played his first 10 seasons in Denver, before moving on to Baltimore in 2000. He'd play 2 seasons for the Ravens before returning to the Broncos for his final 2 NFL seasons. Sharpe was elected to the NFL Hall of Fame in 2011.
1) Tom Brady
Brady was drafted by New England in the 6th round of the 2000 draft after being the starting quarterback at the University of Michigan the previous two seasons. He backed up Drew Bledsoe in his first NFL season, and got his first NFL start the next season because Bledsoe was injured. The rest is history, or in Brady's case, history still in the making. Brady is a 4 time Super Bowl Champion and has been the Super Bowl MVP 3 times. He's been selected to 10 Pro Bowls, has led the NFL in passing touchdowns 3 times and passing yards twice. He was also the NFL's Offensive Player of the Year and NFL MVP twice. Brady was also named to the NFL's All Decade Team for the 2000's. Brady will try win his 5th Super Bowl and add to his sure fire hall of fame career when he's back under center for the Patriots this fall.

Anger issues: Why is Tebow so hated by NFL fans?

04/24/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

In case you missed the news, and if you're a football fan you'd have to live under a rock to have, Tim Tebow is back in the NFL. Not as a starting QB. Not even with a guaranteed job. No, Tim Tebow signed with Philadelphia for what looks to be the 3rd string quarterback job. But it seems everyone has an opinion, most of which seem to be negative, about Tebow being back in the NFL. My only question is...why?
A.J. McCarron. Landry Jones. Austin Davis. Could you tell me what NFL teams those three guys "played" for last season? Or more so, do you even care who they played for? And why would you care who they played for, these are the guys who were the third string quarterbacks for their respective teams. And lets be honest, until your hometown NFL team is so injury plagued that the 3rd string quarterback has to start (at which point your teams season is usually shot anyway), most fans don't even know who the 3rd string QB on their own team is, yet alone any other NFL team. So why is there so much opinion, hype, and hate that Tim Tebow is slated to be the 3rd quarterback in Philadelphia this coming season?
Part of it because of what Tebow has done, or hasn't done on the field. After one of the most storied college football careers, Tebow's NFL career hasn't quite matched up. Despite being Denver's second 1st round pick in 2010, the former Heisman Trophy winner and NCAA champion quarterback didn't have much of an NFL career. As a matter of fact, he hasn't played a down of professional football in almost 2 years. Some fans feel as if he got a spot in the NFL, and keeps getting chances, because of what he did at the University of Florida. And to a point, I can understand why some fans would have that opinion. But 3rd string offensive linemen and #5 wide receivers who had good college careers resurface on new NFL teams every season. So why would the care about a potential 3rd string QB outweigh that of the guys who'll be playing the 2nd half of preseason games at other positions this summer? Well because it's what Tim Tebow is about off the field.

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Usually the off the field NFL stories involve run ins with the law due to drugs, domestic violence, DUI, or some other ridiculousness. Tim Tebow's off the field "issue"? He's a devout Christian who isn't afraid to admit his faith. As a matter of fact, he's actually so proud, he dares show it on the field. Just about anybody knows what "Tebowing" is. But how many know what the significance is of why Tim Tebow ever struck that pose in the first place?
You see, if it wasn't a guy who expressed his religious faith the way Tim Tebow has from his days in college to the NFL, nobody would care who the Eagles signed as a 3rd string quarterback. Especially since his contract is worth zero guaranteed dollars. But since Tebow is who he is, and believes what he believes, this is a big deal. In a league plagued recently by domestic violence and substance abuse is having Tim Tebow potentially playing in the NFL again really a reason for fans hate?
I believe there is a saying that goes like this, "don't hate the player, hate the game". Well if you hate Tim Tebow for who he is and don't hate the game the NFL has become, perhaps you should take a good long look in the mirror. And maybe you should hate what's looking back at you instead.

Like Mike: Moorer was working man's champ

04/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Heavyweight boxing in the 1990's was dominated by names like Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, and Mike Tyson. But one name that's sometimes forgotten is that of a fighter who had a very memorable career. As good as those other guys were, Michael Moorer was just as good.
Born in Monessen, Pennsvylvania, a tough former steel town just outside of Pittsburgh, Moorer compiled a career record of 52 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw. Moorer's first taste of championship gold came in 1988, when as a light heavyweight, he won the WBO light heavyweight title. Moorer would win all 22 of his matches as a light heavyweight, before moving to the heavyweight class in 1991.
The success Moorer had as a light heavyweight followed him to the heavyweight division. Moorer won his first 7 fights as a heavyweight, with the 7th win being for the vacant WBO Heavyweight Championship. Moorer would win his first 12 fights as a heavyweight, before one of the biggest fights of his early career. In 1994, Moorer fought Evander Holyfield for the IBF, WBA, and Lineal heavyweight titles. Moorer won the bout by split decision, in what would be one of the most notable victories in his career. Standing undefeated after 35 fights, Moorer would suffer the biggest loss of his career in his next fight. Facing a 45 year old George Foreman, Moorer was knocked out in the 10th round, losing the 3 titles he had claimed in his previous fight.

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Moorer would comeback to win the vacant IBF heavyweight title in 1996 by defeating Axel Schulz. That would set up a rematch with Holyfield the next year in a title unification match for the IBF and WBA championships. This time it was Holyfield who got the win, defeating Moorer when the fight was stopped in the 8th round.
Moorer retired from the sport for 3 years before returning to the ring in 2000. But he never had the impact he did in the 1990's. His biggest match was against David Tua in 2002, a fight Tua won by knockout just 30 seconds into the 1st round.
Moorer ended his career as one of only four fighters to win world titles as both a heavyweight and light heavyweight. He was also one of only four fighters to win one or more versions of the world heavyweight championship on 3 different occasions.
While he didn't have the recognition of the likes of Tyson, Holyfield, and Lewis, Michael Moorer quietly had one of the most successful careers in professional boxing.

Goal oriented: Slew of hot goalies hope to propel teams deep into playoffs

04/16/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Eight teams start their quest for the Cup on Wednesday. The other 8 start on Thursday. So here's a look at those four series that start on Day 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Eastern Conference
#1 NY Rangers vs #8 Pittsburgh (Season Series: NY 3 to 1)

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A rematch of last seasons 2nd round pits the President Trophy winning Rangers against the struggling Penguins. In last seasons playoffs, it was the Penguins who were favored. But the Rangers battled back from being down 3 games to 1 to win the series. The Penguins come into the playoffs having won only once in their final six games. And worse news for the Pens is they will be without Norris Trophy candidate, defenseman Kris Letang. Pittsburgh may also be without two other defensemen in Christian Ehrhoff and Derrick Pouliot, who both may not be ready for Game 1. The news on the injury front is better for the Rangers, as goaltender Henrik Lundqvist returned from injury to win 6 of his final 7 starts. The Rangers also won 6 of their final 7 regular season games. New York won 3 of the 4 regular season meetings, with the Penguins only win coming in a shootout. The Rangers outscored the Penguins 16 to 8 in those four games. New York also led the NHL in goal differential, finishing the regular season at +60. The determining factor of this series could be can Pittsburgh's depleted defense core keep the net area clear for Marc-Andre Fleury, who led the NHL this season with 10 shutouts. The Rangers Rick Nash scored a career high 42 goals this season, and led the Rangers with 7 points (4G/3A) in the four games versus Pittsburgh. Sidney Crosby led the Penguins with 84 points (28G/56A) and finished 3rd in the NHL in scoring. These teams have met 5 times in the playoffs, with Pittsburgh winning 4 of the 5 playoff series.
Eastern Conference
#3 Tampa Bay vs #6 Detroit (Season Series: Tampa Bay 3 to 1)
Detroit is in the playoffs for the 24th straight season, and one of the guys who was a part of when the streak started, is now the GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Steve Yzerman will be trying to beat his former team in this opening round matchup. Tampa Bay set franchise records for points, wins, and home victories this season, and also led the league in average goals per game. The Lightning are led by Steven Stamkos, who finished second in the league in goal scoring, netting 43 goals. Tyler Johnson matched Stamkos with 72 points (29G/43A) to tie for the team lead in scoring. The Red Wings are led by the duo of Henrik Zetterberg (66 points) and Pavel Datsyuk (65 points). Tampa Bay won 3 of the 4 regular season meetings, led by Stamkos 4 goals. Detroit was led by Gustav Nyquist, who netted 6 points (2G/4A) in those four games. The biggest news heading into this series was Detroit's decision to start rookie Petr Mrazek in goal over Jimmy Howard. But Tampa Bay's Ben Bishop will also be making his first post season appearance as well. Detroit's power play finished 2nd in the regular season in conversion rate.
Western Conference
#2 St. Louis vs #6 Minnesota (Season Series: Minnesota 2 St. Louis 2)
Strong special teams will be on display in this opening round matchup. Minnesota has the NHL's top penalty killing unit, while St. Louis finished 4th best on the power play. The Wild gained 59 of their 100 points after January 15th, sparked by the play of goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who won 27 of his 38 starts after being acquired in a trade with Arizona. St. Louis will counter with a hot goalie of their own who's getting his first playoff experience as well. Rookie Jake Allen won 5 of his final starts to get the nod over Brian Elliott. Vladimir Tarasenko led the Blues in goals (37) and total points (73) on the regular season, while Zach Parise led the Wild in both categories with 33 goals and 62 points. Tarasenko led the Blues with 5 points (3G/2A) in the four regular season games versus Minnesota. Justin Fontaine (1G/3A) and Charlie Coyle (4A) led the Wild in points against the Blues, while Parise scored 3 goals in the series. Dubnyk won 2 of his 3 starts versus St. Louis, while Allen won his only start against the Wild. The special teams edge may go to the Blues though, as St. Louis also had the NHL's 8th best penalty kill, while the Wild finished 27th on the power play.
Western Conference
#1 Anaheim vs #7 Winnipeg (Season Series: Anaheim 3 to 0)
The Jets are in the playoffs for the first time in Winnipeg. Well kind of. This version of the Jets are in the post season for the first time since returning to Winnipeg in 2011, but this will be the first time a playoff game will be played in Winnipeg since 1996, when the original version of the Jets moved to Phoenix. Anaheim swept the season series, but one win came in overtime and another in a shootout. Frederik Andersen won all 3 starts in goal against the Jets, while Ondrej Pavelec lost his two starts versus the Ducks. Winnipeg is led by Andrew Ladd who netted 62 regular season points (24G/38A) and Blake Wheeler who led the team in goal scoring with 26, and finished one point behind Ladd with 61. The Jets may also get another offensive boost, as Mathieu Perreault, who had 41 points (18G/23A) in 62 games, may be able to play for the first time since being injured in February. Anaheim is led by Ryan Getzlaf's 70 points (25G/45A) and Corey Perry's 33 goals. Winnipeg was the NHL's most penalized team during the regular season, and also led the league in shorthanded goals.

Center stage: NHL playoffs begin with intrigue, unique matchups

04/14/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Sixteen teams each hoping for 16 wins. That's what the road to the Stanley Cup looks like as we get ready to faceoff the 2015 NHL Playoffs. The puck drops on Wednesday night, so lets take a look at those series:
Eastern Conference
#2 Montreal vs #7 Ottawa (Season Series: Ottawa 3 to 1)

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Nobody is hotter heading into the playoffs than the Ottawa Senators. The Sens finished the regular season winning 21 of their final 27 games and getting points in 24 of those games. The player matchups in this series are fantastic. In goal it's Price who's the favorite for the Vezina Trophy, against Hammond aka "The Hamburgler", who won 20 of his first 23 NHL starts and has sparked the Senators playoff run. On defense, two Norris Trophy hopefuls will go head to head in P.K. Subban for Montreal, and Karlsson for Ottawa. Montreal finished 20th in the NHL in goals per game, but had the best goals against average of any team. Ottawa finished 9th in goals per game and 13th in goals against. The key for the Canadiens is will Pacioretty, who was injured late in the regular season, be ready for the start of this series? Not only did he lead the team in scoring, he led them versus Ottawa on the regular season with 6 points (4G/2A) in the 4 games played between the teams. Karlsson led the Senators in the season series with 6 points as well (3G/3A). Price split his two starts versus Ottawa, while Hammond won both of his starts. This is also a rematch of the 2013 opening round, in which the Senators upset the Canadiens.
Eastern Conference
#4 Washington vs #5 NY Islanders (Season Series: NY 2 Washington 2)
This is a great opening round matchup between two teams who were very even in the regular season, and between two of the NHL's premier players as well. Both teams finished with 101 points. The teams split the regular season series. The home team won in every game. 3 of the 4 games went to overtime. You can't ask for much more even than that, but on paper is the only place these teams are similar. On the ice, the Capitals bring a big and physical team against the speed and skill of the Islanders. The matchup between Ovechkin, who won the Rocket Richard Trophy by scoring 53 regular season goals, and Tavares, who finished 2nd in the league in scoring, just adds to the intrigue of this series. The key to this series may be special teams, as the Capitals top ranked power play goes against an Islanders penalty kill that ranked 26th in the league. Another key for the Isles will be the health of defenseman Travis Hamonic, who was injured in the next to the last game of the regular season. Both Tavares (2G/3A0 and Ryan Strome (1G/4A) put up 5 points to lead the Isles in the 4 games versus the Caps. Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps vs the Isles with 6 points (1G/5A), but Ovechkin added 4 goals in the series as well. Halak and Holtby each won their two starts versus their respective opponent as well.
Western Conference
#3 Nashville vs #4 Chicago (Season Series: Chicago 3 to 1)
The biggest news for this series is the best news Blackhawks fans could hope for, as Patrick Kane has been cleared to play for Game 1. Kane had 64 points (27G/37A) in 61 games for Chicago before being suffering a broken clavicle. That's the hot news. The cold news is the way these two teams finished the regular season. Chicago dropped their final four regular season games, while Nashville lost their last 6 games. Even thought the Blackhawks won 3 of the 4 regular season games, two of those went to overtime. James Neal scored 5 goals in the 4 regular season games between these teams to lead the Predators in scoring. Duncan Keith led the Blackhawks with 4 assists, while Marian Hossa scored 3 goals in those 4 games. Crawford won both of his starts versus Nashville, while Renne split his two starts. Chicago has the 2nd best goals against average in the NHL at 2.26. This is Nashville's first playoff appearance since the 2011/2012 season.
Western Conference
#5 Vancouver vs #8 Calgary (Season Series: Calgary 2 Vancouver 2)
The Calgary Flames are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2009. That may be biggest surprise of this NHL season. Maybe even a bigger surprise is they won 12 of their final 20 games with defenseman Mark Giordano, who was leading all NHL defenseman in scoring when he was lost to a season ending bicep injury. This is a matchup of the #5 and #8 seed because the Canucks finished 2nd in the Pacific Division and the Flames finished 3rd. Ryan Miller will be back from injury for Vancouver, but the Canucks may go with backup Eddie Lack to start the series since Miller will be a bit rusty. Hudler led the Flames with 4 points (1G/3A) in the season series versus Vancouver. Henrik Sedin (1G/2A), Daniel Sedin (3 assists) and Chris Tanev (1G/3A) led the Canucks against the Flames. Miller won 2 of his 3 starts versus the Flames, while Lack lost his only appearance. Hiller lost in his only start against the Canucks. These teams last met in the playoffs in 2004, a series Calgary won en route to the Stanley Cup Finals.

Power Outage: The Lack Of Scoring and Power Plays In This Years NHL

04/13/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

As we wrap up the 2014/2015 NHL regular season, hockey fans are looking forward to the most exciting time of the year, the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But before we get to the post season, lets take a look back at a major problem from this years regular season. The lack of scoring.
When the NHL lost the 2004/2005 to the lockout, it was determined to make the game better when it returned. The league removed the red line to eliminate the two line pass, decreased the size of allowable goaltending equipment, and had officiating focused on eliminating the clutching and grabbing style that had slowed the game to a plodding pace, and led Mario Lemieux to once call the NHL a "garage league".
In the season before the lockout, teams averaged 2.57 goals per game each, or a total of 5.14 goals per game. A sharp decline from the NHL of the early 1990's, when teams were combing for nearly 7 goals per game. When the NHL returned after the lockout in 2005/2006, goal scoring increased to 3.03 goals per team, or over 6 goals combined per game. This past season, teams averaged 2.6 goals per game, and combined for 5.2 goals. Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars led the NHL in scoring this season with 87 points. With that he is the first player to do so with less than 100 points in a full season since Martin St. Louis did in 2003/2004, the last season before the lockout. As a matter of fact, Benn is the first player to lead the league with less than 90 points since Stan Mikita back in 1967/1968.

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The reason for this? A lack of power play opportunities. This season teams were getting an average of 3.1 power plays per game. That's way down from the average of 5.9 power plays per team per game out of the lockout in 2005/2006. Also as a matter of fact, this years average power plays per game was the lowest since 1978/1979. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to make the correlation there...less power plays equals less scoring.
There is no need to make the nets bigger or play on an Olympic sized ice rink. The solution is much simpler. Enforce the rules of the game and actually call the penalties that are committed. That is the most frustrating thing for hockey fans. If there's a penalty committed on the it! Plain and simple. Cut and dried. A penalty is a penalty every time, so call them. Increase the number of power plays and goal scoring will go up with it. You don't need to be a Rhodes Scholar to figure that out!
Why the NHL's owners don't see this is also frustrating. But the NHL, unlike other sports, doesn't have owners meetings. No, they have General Managers meetings instead. And one of the biggest problems with the NHL has been the "old boys" network of GM's who don't like the finesse and skill style of hockey. Here's some news for you...GM's aren't buying the tickets, the fans are. And since the fans are your customers, and your customers are becoming unsatisfied, what do you think happens next? No Ivy League education is needed to answer that...they stop buying tickets.
Professional hockey saw a dramatic increase in popularity, attendance, and television viewership after the lockout. Casual fans started to see what a great and exciting game hockey is. Now they're starting to see the brand of hockey that turned many fans off from the mid 1990's until the lockout. Wake up NHL, before you're back to being a garage league again.

Comeback kids: Is boxing back on the upswing?

04/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

There was a time when professional boxing was one of the top sports in the world. Dominated by big name heavyweights and big time fights, boxing filled stadiums, brought in the who's who from Hollywood and had pay per view buy rates off the charts. But in the last decade, the popularity of boxing seems to be gone. So is boxing down for the count? Or is the "sweet science" making a comeback?
Part of the problem for boxing in recent years has been the lack of a strong heavyweight division. From Muhammed Ali and George Foreman, to Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield, it was the heavyweight championship fights that brought boxing to the forefront. But following Lennox Lewis' run as heavyweight champion, the pool of big name heavyweight fighters seems to have dried up.
Another issue for boxing has been the rise of MMA. Most casual boxing fans have been drawn into a new breed of combat sport. The UFC's popularity has drawn away from boxing's potential audience, for a couple of reasons. One, adding in kicking, submissions, choke holds and a cage around an octagon seems to quench the sporting society's want for violence more than two guys with 16 ounce gloves on in a boxing ring do. Secondly, the name recognition that boxing once had has transferred to the UFC. Most casual sports fans could probably name you at 3 of the UFC's top fighters. Could you name 3 of the top guys in boxing not named Mayweather or Pacquiao?

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Another thing that has hindered boxing is something that helped it in the 1980's into the '90's....Don King. Don King Promotions brought boxing back to the big stage and kept it in the spotlight for the better part of 2 decades. Don King was a big part of the rise of Mike Tyson. But he was also a big part of the fall of Tyson, and of boxing as well. Don King's crooked dealings took away from the greatness of the fighters he promoted. Rampant rumors of the matches being fixed hurt the sport as well. Not to mention too many titles and too few name fighters to hold those titles. What draws fans to the UFC besides the fights? The personalities and name recognition. Boxing needs to find that again. seems boxing is trying to make a comeback. The first thing is having that marquee matchup that brings fans back. That will happen on May 2nd when finally Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will meet in the ring. Sure, maybe it should've happened years ago, and maybe it would've sparked boxing back into the spotlight back then. But it's happening now. And it has the attention of the main stream sports world again.
Second, boxing manager and advisor Al Haymon is investing $20 million dollars over the next three years to bring boxing back to the mainstream on NBC and the NBC Sports Network. With the mainstream exposure, boxing can start to target it's audience again. And with it being on network television, anybody can watch it. Boxing is a sport that has always been a sport that has allowed guys from rough backgrounds and tough upbringings to become superstars. That's the audience boxing needs. The youth that are in the lower middle class to the lower class who watch boxing as something to believe in. Bringing the fighters stories and backgrounds to the forefront and featuring them as part of the program can help draw in that audience and bring name recognition back.
Third, Jay Z's Roc Nation Sports. A card promoted by RNS earlier this year filled the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Throne Boxing, as it's called, had the event televised on Fox Sports. But it also had the pop culture appeal. Having someone with the pull Jay Z has promoting boxing is huge for the sport. But that also brought out some of entertainments heavyweights as well. Rihanna was there. Jake Gyllenhaal was there as well. It was more than just a night of boxing. It was hip. It was happening. It was that big time feeling that boxing used to have.
Is boxing dead or is it making a come back? I guess time will tell, but it seems like the sweet science is on the comeback trail.

Fight schlub: Is CM Punk setting himself up for disaster?

04/07/15 by Rennie Detore

On the heels of WrestleMania, the talk for the past week has been about who was there. There was Triple H. There was The Undertaker. There was Brock Lesnar. There was Sting. There was even an NWO and Degeneration X reunion. But there was one guy who wasn't there. A guy who once said he lives and breathes for the business of professional wrestling. That guy, is CM Punk.
No, CM Punk wasn't at WrestleMania, because Phil Brooks doesn't work for the WWE anymore. He's now in the UFC, and getting ready for his first fight in the octagon. Which makes no sense on two ends. Why would CM Punk walk away from the business he supposedly loves to start an MMA career at age 36? And why would the UFC want a 36 year old former professional wrestler with zero MMA fight experience?
There have been some cross overs from pro wrestling to MMA that have had some success. Lesnar is one of them. Bobby Lashley is another. But both of those guys had extensive amateur wrestling backgrounds. So why would CM Punk, who does have some MMA and martial arts training, leave a ton of money on the table with WWE to start a career in the UFC at an age when most fighters are hanging it up? And why would Dana White and UFC want him? Well I can answer the second recognition and promotion.

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CM Punk fighting in the UFC is a win for Dana White. Punk's first fight will be in 2015 against a younger fighter who's in the preliminary stages of his career with only one or two professional fights under his belt. Usually that would be the opening match on a PPV or even on the undercard. But since it's CM Punk, you can bet those PPV buy rates are going to sky rocket because of all of the pro wrestling fans who will be tuning in to see him fight. The curiousity of casual fight fans will probably be drawn in to that first fight as well. And the regular MMA fans will be tuning in with higher numbers because they want to see the "fake wrestling" fighter get whooped.
But doesn't this cheapen the UFC product? This is all promotion. It takes away from the work career MMA fighters have put in to make it to the UFC. There has been backlash from other UFC fighters who have said Phil Brooks has no idea what he's getting into who have offered to be his first fight because they'd like to embarrass him.
So who loses here? Well the WWE does to start. They've lost one of their top names and draws. They also lose if CM Punk gets knocked out or tapped out in the first minute of his first fight against some guy who's in his second fight in the UFC. It makes professional wrestlers look like phony's if a top guy gets destroyed by a bottom rung MMA fighter. Phil Brooks also loses here. Not only on the money and opportunity he left behind in WWE, but overall. Look, I hope he does well. I hope he finds some success. But if CM Punk gets embarrassed in his first fight, any legitimacy he had is gone. Which takes away from the CM Punk name should he ever return to professional wrestling.
CM Punk's first shirt with WWE said "My Life, My Rules". Phil Brooks is doing just that, but the results of his decision may not end up being the "best in the world".

Tom terrific: Like him or not, you have to respect Brady

04/06/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Earlier this week, footage of a vacationing Tom Brady jumping from a cliff into a pool of water hit mainstream media. The reaction was of mixed hope...hope that Brady was OK and would re-surface (from Patriots fans). And hope Brady didn't come back up (from the fans of the rest of the NFL's teams). But in all seriousness, no matter what team you root for, and whether you like him or not, you have to respect Tom Brady.
So why all the Brady haters? Well for one thing, it's probably a little bit of jealousy. Every guy who ever picked up a football wanted to be that star player. Leading your team to victory. Being counted on to come through in the clutch. Winning championships. Fame. Fortune. Super model wife. C'mon, you have to admit you're a little bit envious of Tom Brady's life.
Or maybe it's the second thing that's most responsible for the Brady hate. He beats your team on the field. Seriously, besides the New York Giants, Tom Brady has led the Patriots to a win over your team. I'm a Pittsburgh Steelers fan. I experienced it in the 2004 post season and many times during the regular seasons over the years. Brady wins, period. In crunch time, he gets it done. There have been many a different wide receiver, tight end, running back, and offensive linemen since Brady took over as the Patriots starter en route to the Super Bowl in 2001. But there's been one constant...Tom Brady and the Patriots winning.

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But here's what really matters. If you're a real sports fan and a real football fan, you realize that Tom Brady is a one of generation kind of player who is one of the greatest of all time to play his position. Six Super Bowl appearances. 4 Super Bowl wins. 3 time Super Bowl MVP. 10 Pro Bowls. Named to the NFL's "All Decade" team for the 2000's. 160 regular season wins in 13 seasons. That pretty much says all that needs to be said.
Like him or not, you have to respect Tom Brady.

And then there were: NCAA Final Four sports strong matchups

04/04/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Three #1 seeds and a #7 seed as the Cinderella make up this years Final Four as March Madness has spilled over into April. Kentucky is looking to make history, while Michigan State as the only non top seed look to wear the glass slipper. Let's take a look at the last four teams standing in the 2015 NCAA Basketball Tournament.
Duke (33 and 4) South Region Champions
How They Got Here:

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Duke 85, Robert Morris 56
Duke 68, San Diego State 49
Duke 63, Utah 57
Duke 66, Gonzaga 52
Mike Krzyzewzki leads Duke to the Final Four for the 12th time in his career, and the Blue Devils first appearance since winning the tourney in 2010. Justise Winslow has led the way for Duke, averaging 14 points per game so far in the tournament. The Blue Devils have been strong defensively, as they are the only of the Final Four teams to not give up 60 points against in a game.
Michigan State (27 and 11) East Region Champions
How They Got Here:
Michigan State 70, Georgia 63
Michigan State 60, Virginia 54
Michigan State 62, Oklahoma 58
Michigan State 76, Louisville 70
The Spartans have had the smallest combined margin of victory of the Final Four teams, with all of their games decided by single digits and 3 of the 4 being two possession games. Michigan State has been led by Travis Trice, who's averaging 19.8 points per game in the tourney. Trice is also shooting 89% from the free throw line. Tom Izzo is making his 7th Final Four appearance as head coach with Michigan State looking for their first title game appearance since 2009 and trying to win their first championship since 2000.
Wisconsin (34 and 3) West Region Champions
How They Got Here:
Wisconsin 86, Coastal Carolina 72
Wisconsin 72, Oregon 65
Wisconsin 79, North Carolina 72
Wisconsin 85, Arizona 78
Wisconsin has given up the most points of the remaining four teams, giving up an average of 71.8 points against per game. The Badgers are also the highest scoring team in the Final Four, averaging 80.5 points per game. Bo Ryan has he least Final Four appearances of this years head coaches, with this being only his second. Sam Dekker is averaging 21.8 points per game in the tournament. Wisconsin has the longest title drought of all of this years Final Four, with their only championship coming in 1941.
Kentucky (38 and 0) Midwest Region Champions
How They Got Here:
Kentucky 79, Hampton 56
Kentucky 64, Cincinnati 51
Kentucky 78, West Virginia 39
Kentucky 68, Notre Dame 66
The Wildcats are trying to make history and become the first team to ever go 40 and 0 and win the national title. They're also trying to become the first team since 1976 to go undefeated and win the championship. Kentucky has gotten a balanced performance from all 5 of its starters throughout the tourney, and have used their size and defense to overwhelm their first three opponents. But Notre Dame found a way through...shooting solid from the outside which opened up the inside game and took away from the Wildcats size advantage. Kentucky has given up the least amount of points per game, allowing an average of 53 points against so far this tourney. Coach John Calipari is making his 7th appearance in the Final Four and is trying to lead the Wildcats to their first title since 2012.

Declining story: NHL superstar falls on hard times

03/31/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

One of the most unexplainable stories of decline in recent sports history is the story of Jonathan Cheechoo. Cheechoo went from leading the NHL in goal scoring in the 2005/2006 season to being unable to find a roster spot in the league less than 5 years later.
Cheechoo was drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 1998. The beginning of his career was as good as one could ask for, scoring 173 total points in two seasons with Belleville of the OHL after being drafted by the Sharks. He would make his professional debut in 2000, with the Sharks AHL affiliate in Kentucky. Cheechoo racked up 112 points in his first two seasons in the AHL.
He made his NHL debut in San Jose in the 2002/2003 season. In his first full season the following year, Cheechoo scored 28 goals. Following the lockout that wiped out the NHL's 2004/2005 season, Cheechoo had the finest season of his professional career. Cheechoo won the Rocket Richard Trophy in 2006, leading the NHL with 56 goals. He followed that up with a strong 2006/2007 season, netting 37 goals.

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It was after that season that the mysterious decline in Cheechoo's play began. He scored 23 goals in 2007/2008, and followed that up with just 12 goals in 2008/2009. Prior to the 2009 regular season, he was traded to Ottawa. Cheechoo scored on 5 goals in 61 games for the Senators that season, which would be his last in the NHL. He would play the next 3 seasons in the AHL, before moving to the KHL in 2013/2014 where is he still playing this season.
So how does a player go from being the NHL's top goal scorer to being out of the league? Cheechoo sustained a concussion in the 2006/2007 season and it's believed that's what led to his decline. But many players have sustained concussions and returned to the same level of play. He never missed large portions of that season. He received tryouts with other NHL teams after the 2009/2010 season, but couldn't earn a roster spot.
The story of Jonathan Cheechoo is one of decline and mystery.

Speedy delivery: Batters box rule intended to speed up game

03/27/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Spring training baseball games. Nobody watches them, right? But maybe you should tune into one. Because there is some change coming to Major League Baseball this season with the new "Batters Box Rule".
In an effort to speed up games, MLB has instituted a new rule that requires batters to keep at least one foot in the batters box at all time except for swinging strikes. The average length of a MLB game in 2014 was 3 hours and 2 minutes. To make games faster, this along with requiring both batters and pitchers to be ready to go right out of any television commercial breaks.
So why the change? Well let me clarify that these aren't new rules. Both of these rules are already in MLB's rule book. But new commissioner Rob Manfred is requiring them to actually be enforced to increase the pace of games. The reason? Because Manfred wants to make the games more appealing to younger fans. The average age of World Series viewers in 2014 was over 50. Manfred wants to increase the younger viewership to decrease the average age of MLB viewers, because at an average age of over 50 and with a lack of interest from younger viewers, your audience will be dying off without the same numbers to replace them.

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The only problem with these "new" rules is there really isn't much of a punishment for violators. The discipline consists of a warning system to start, then fines to follow. But the cost of the fine is $500, which isn't really going to put a dent in the bank account of a guy making $10-million dollars a year. But I'll give Rob Manfred credit, he's trying to relate to todays generation to bring in a younger audience. There was a lot of skepticism about instituting instant replay last season, but that turned out to be pretty good, right?
Let's face today have the attention span of a puppy with too many toys to choose from. The days of kids sitting down and watching a baseball game for the sake of watching baseball are gone. Kids would rather take selfies all game instead of actually watching what's happening on the field. Keeping score with an actual scorebook at a game has been replaced by texting on IPhones. With hundreds of channels to choose from, baseball has a lot more competition with reality shows and the such that appeal to younger viewers. And of course, kids would rather play video games than watch baseball. Or even play it. Or even play outside. And you wonder why there's an obesity problem amongst America's youth. But that's a story for another time.
MLB's "new" old rules are a step in the right direction in making the game more appealing to todays generation. And finding popularity amongst younger viewers will give baseball a chance to remain America's Past Time instead of America's Past It's Prime.

Free and clear: NFL signing period does't disappoint ... yet

03/24/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

March came in like a lion when it comes to free agency in the NFL. In what was one of the busiest starts to the free agency period in recent memory, many a big name will be wearing a different uniform in 2015. Let's recap some of the biggest moves so far.
DeMarco Murray. (Former team: Dallas/New team: Philadelphia). In what has to be one of the biggest coups in recent free agency, division rival Philadelphia signed away the NFL's leading rusher in 2014 from Dallas. The Eagles not only took away one of the biggest weapons in their division foes arsenal, they got Murray at a reasonable price for a top running back (5 years for $40 million/$20 million guaranteed). Of course the reason the Eagles were able to do this was because they traded former feature back LeSean McCoy to Buffalo.
Ndamukong Suh. (Former team: Detroit/New team: Miami). Suh signed the most lucrative of all the free agent contracts to date, inking a 6 year deal with the Dolphins for $114 million with $60 million of that guaranteed. That's a big splash for Miami, who are looking to push New England for supremacy in the AFC East. Suh has been a force on the defensive line in Detroit, but also had several on field incidents that resulted in suspensions. Suh is definitely one of the top defensive linemen in the game, but as good as this looks on paper for the Dolphins, you can't help but think of the Washington Redskins signing of Albert Haynesworth when he was considered to be the top defensive lineman in the NFL. That didn't work out so well.

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Julius Thomas. (Former team: Denver/New team: Jacksonville). Thomas certainly cashed in with the Jaguars, signing for $46 million over 5 years. Thomas has arguably been the best tight end in the NFL over the past two seasons, but that was with Peyton Manning throwing him the ball and playing in Denver's offense. Thomas certainly got his with this deal ($24 million guaranteed), but with the Jaguars get theirs? It's a long way from the top going from the Broncos offense with Manning at the helm to the Jaguars offense with Blake Bortles under center and nowhere near the same caliber of a supporting cast.
Darrelle Revis. (Former team: New England/New team: NY Jets). Who says you can't come home? Revis, who started his NFL career with the Jets, returns to the green and white on a 5 year deal worth $70 million. Not only do the Jets get Revis back after a two season absence, but they take him away from AFC East division rival New England. Will he be the same top cornerback he was during his first stint with the Jets? That remains to be seen.
Mike Iupati. (Former team: San Francisco/New team: Arizona). Iupati was the most sought after free agent amongst offensive linemen, and cashed in with the Cardinals to the tune of $40 million dollars over 5 years. And this is another move of strengthening your team while weakening a division rival. The Cardinals certainly improved their offensive line with the addition, while the 49ers will definitely feel the hurt through subtraction here.
Percy Harvin. (Former team: NY Jets/New team: Buffalo). Notice the pattern here...another addition while subtracting from a division rival. The new Rex Ryan led Bills made several moves to upgrade offensively, including trading to get LeSean McCoy from Philadelphia and signing QB Matt Cassell. At 1 year and $6 million, the Bills take very little risk here while adding a potential dynamic playmaker.
Andre Johnson. (Former team: Houston/New team: Indianapolis). Another inner division free agency move, as Johnson stays within the AFC South. While his past few seasons haven't been up to what was expected from Johnson based on the numbers he put up earlier in his career, he still has the potential to have a great comeback season with Andrew Luck throwing him the ball. Going from the Texans to the Colts offense is a huge step up for Johnson, and isn't a bad move money wise for the Colts, signing the WR to a 3 year contract worth $21 million with no guaranteed money.
Jeremy Maclin. (Former team: Philadelphia/New team: Kansas City). Maclin scored as many TD's for the Chiefs playing in Philadelphia in 2014 as the receivers playing in Kansas City scored for the Chiefs. Coming back from injury, Maclin had a breakout season in Philly as the go to guy in the Eagles offense. Now the Chiefs are hoping he'll bring some of that same playmaking ability their way with Alex Smith being an upgrade at quarterback over both Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez. $55 million over 5 years is a healthy investment for the Chiefs, but Maclin is a huge upgrade at a position Kansas City has been lacking at the past few seasons.
Bryan Bulaga. (Former team and new team: Green Bay). Bulaga is the only big name FA to stay put. Regarded as one of the top offensive linemen on the market with the above mentioned Mike Iupati, the Packers decided to keep him in the land of the cheese heads, inking Bulaga to a 5 year deal worth nearly $34 million. But it's money well invested for the Packers, who realize Bulaga's value in keeping Aaron Rodgers healthy and allowing Eddie Lacy to continue as one of the NFL's top running backs.
These are just some of the many moves made in what was a busy March around the NFL. With the draft just around the corner and more free agency coming after June 1st, the makeup of your favorite team may very well change again between now an the kickoff of the 2015 season. Teams will wait patiently to see if these investments actually end up paying off in the long run over the course of the season.

Sam I am: Why Michael Sam just isn't that good of a player - and that's it

03/23/15 by Rennie Detore

Michael Sam made news in college as one of the more athletic, fiercest and hardest working linebacker. But the real headline came when Sam told the world that he was openly gay just as he was finishing that illustrious college football career and the NFLDraft loomed large.
Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the final round of the 2014 draft but failed to make the squad. The speculation once Sam was drafted by the Rams was not so much if he would make the team, which is a rarity for players drafted that low, but whether his potentially getting left off the squad was more about his lifestyle and less about his talent.
When Sam was released by the Rams, various persons, Sam included, took their sides and stayed pat with how they viewed what transpired.

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Was Sam let go because of being openly gay?
Did he really even get a chance with his history and background?
Those questions might deserve answers in a different forum or can be speculated for months and years to come, but the one truth that can't be debated is that, while being a hard working player and quite the collegiate standout, Sam just isn't that good of a player.
Plain and simple, and that declaration has nothing to do with anything other than what you see on the field or when he lines up to practice, which he did recently when he worked out for scouts for one last attempt at an NFL career.
Sam flopped big time at the NFL Combine, which clearly hurt his draft stock more than any front page story about his sexual preference. Sam's college teammates talked about how wonderful of a teammate he was and that him being openly gay doesn't change how they felt about him as a person or question if they would have played alongside him knowing that.
Nor should it.
But Sam's journey to the NFL isn't marred by anything more than he just can't compete at the highest level of football, in a league that takes players like Sam, chews them up and spits them out to the CFL or Arena Leagues on almost a daily basis.
While Sam and others may want to play a different card or hand as it relates to why he isn't an NFL superstar or at the very least on a roster can do so as long as they'd like. The fact of the matter is Sam isn't suiting up on Sundays because he isn't suited to play in a league that is far and away superior to what he brings to the table as an athlete.
That story might not have as much sizzle or play as others but those with any NFL acumen understand that's what needs to be the focal point when Sam's name surfaces regarding having any sort of future in the league.

'Gronk' alert: Why Patriots All Pro tight end is having fun, and that's perfectly fine

03/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Rob Gronkowski is a Super Bowl Champion. He finally enjoyed a productive, injury free season, and that fact contributed plenty to his New England Patriots knocking off the defending Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks only a few months ago.
Gronkowski is unique in the sense that on the field, when healthy, he's arguably the best tight end in football. He finds space on the field, shields defenders with his body and certainly can't be covered by a linebacker.
Off the field, it seems like everyone can and wants to cover Gronkowski 24 hours per day, seven days per week. But in this instance, there are no defensive backs or safeties involved in the coverage but rather a bevy of media outlets and reporters who feel as though they could plant a camera in front of the superstar receiver and just wait for him to do something to report about, even if it doesn't qualify as news.

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Gronkowski is polarizing in that regard since he's been caught partying on camera more than his coaches and ownership would probably care to admit. The most recent is a visit to a Clippers game at the Staples Center, where "Gronk" and a few of his buddies were dancing on the jumbo tron and acting foolishly in a public setting.
To those who pan Gronkowski for these types of antics, one question remains.
The soon to be 26 year old Patriots tight end likes to have fun. He's a millionaire several times over so the general feeling is that he's too immature to handle the success, fame and notoriety and is an accident waiting to happen, which is why cameras can't help but find him, almost as though if they're waiting him to fall flat on his face, dancing or not.
The finger pointing and eye rolling in the direction of Gronkowski is laughable. He is having fun, even if it is silly and mindless. He's allowed to have fun, enjoy his post Super Bowl festivities and subsequent off season after putting in months of grueling hard work.
Just because he's not at home playing with kids or vacationing with his family as part of his down time, he's immediately pegged as troublesome. Even more laughable than those turning Gronkowski dancing at a basketball game into news is the fact that another famed, now former, Pats' tight end Aaron Hernandez is sitting in a courtroom being accused of murder.
If you aren't a fan of what he does off the field, that isn't of concern to reporters unless he takes his public tirades and showmanship too far and does something illegal. That might be more wishful thinking by the media rather than what actually seems destined to happen.
Perhaps "Gronk" learned from his old tight end running buddy, Hernandez, that fame doesn't give you the kind of liberties the latter player allegedly took. For now, all Gronkowski is doing is what anyone else at his age and with his bank account would be doing: enjoying the ride.

Hardly guaranteed: Why NFL free agency signings rarely succeed

03/09/15 by Rennie Detore

The NFL free agency spending frenzy begins tomorrow, and the 32 teams within the league are already positioning themselves to accumulate talent and fill holes on their roster with the proverbial "splash" signings that every fan dreams of as it relates to how their team operates in the off season.
Sadly, however, those supposed "splash" signings typically end up sounding more like a thud. NFL free agency for general managers, owners and coaches is just about as tricky and unpredictable as the NFL Draft.
The draft, which is only a few months away, is hardly an exact science. You can look at stats, speed, character and everything that happens at the NFL combine, along with film of the player in college, and feel as though you're making more than just an educated guess. That certainty often plays out in the favor of the scout who has done the adequate research but often times that same player can be paid millions and last only a few snaps in the NFL.

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At the root of it, free agency is similar in that NFL teams are paying substantial amounts of cash to players from other teams in the hopes they can bring the same production and fire power to theirs. The one prevailing theme in free agency that leaves fans and general mangers alike feeling a little gun shy about pulling the trigger on signings and trades is the letdown after a player signs a big deal.
Case in point, a few years ago the Washington Redskins signed DT Albert Haynesworth to a monster deal, luring him away from the Tennessee Titans. Haynesworth was the premiere defensive tackle in the league, but his time in Washington hardly came close to that potential, thus leaving the Redskins to pay off a hundred million dollar contract to a player that essentially signed his big deal, showed up in Washington but didn't bring any of the heart, desire and determination with him that led to teams clamoring for his services.
And that's the real question moving forward with free agency: once a player earns sizable contract and huge payday, does their incentive to work hard go away? Looking at the bulk of free agents in the past 10 years, you'd think the answer to that question would be a resounding "yes." Look at a guy like Larry Johnson, former running back for the Kansas City Chiefs. He had a two year stretch for the team when he was nearly unstoppable and actually made oft injured running back and Chiefs great Priest Holmes expendable.
Johnson held out for a contract, got it and never was the same player again. Injuries played a role, but his production slipping may have directly been related to getting a guaranteed pay day.
You'd like to think that these example (Johnson, Haynesworth) are the exception, but as years pass they seem more like the rule. That's what makes free agency so difficult as far as general managers resisting the urge to sign players as though they're completing a fantasy football draft, knowing what big names they want but questioning if the heart and hustle still exists.
One comment that has been made countless times regarding NFL contracts and free agency truly epitomizes how the league and insiders feel about spending a ton on free agents during the signing period: "You give me 11 guys in the last year of their contract, and I'll give you a championship."
That suggests what is believed to be the norm: you play hard until that first big check gets cashed.

The call stands: NHL needs to improve officiating

02/23/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

"Garage League". That's what Mario Lemieux said about the NHL before retiring from hockey in 1997. Why did Lemieux call it that? Because the officiating was so bad at the time, the NHL became a clutch and grab league where trapping took the place of goal scoring as a way to win games.
Fast forward to 2015, and it feels like the garage door is starting to open again. If you're a fan of hockey like I am, you know what I'm talking about. There's this word called "consistency" that doesn't seem to exist in the NHL when it comes to calling penalties on the ice. After the NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-2005 season, the league came back with new rules designed to eliminate the trapping, clutching, and grabbing, and make the game exciting again. In the 2005-2006 season that followed the lockout, there were an average of 5.85 power plays per each team. This season, power plays per game are down to 3.14 per team, and at this point in the season, that equates to the lowest number of power plays in the history of the league.
This has nothing to do with better behaved players in the NHL today. It has to do with the number of penalties not being called even though they are being committed. What does the NHL not understand about this? Fans watch hockey to see goals. Fans pay good money for tickets to see the likes of Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and Alexander Ovechkin score goals. They're not paying to see the likes of Steve Ott hold one of them in the corner or be able to hook and hack them all the way up the ice. The rules in the NHL rule book are clear. So why is it so hard for the officials to enforce them on the ice? It's your job to call what is a violation of the rules, but that job is not being done. How ridiculous is the NHL officiating? Slashing a player and breaking his stick is an automatic penalty, but slashing a player across the hands, arms, or legs may or may not be called pending on who the referee is. And there are TWO referees who seem to blind on the ice. The lack of consistency happens game to game pending on who is officiating the teams game that night. So what last nights ref deemed to be a penalty, tonight's ref may not see it that way. Heck, the lack of consistency seems to occur from period to period this year, where one call was made in the first period, but the exact same thing in the second period isn't called a penalty. The rules are clearly defined, so having consistency shouldn't be a problem.

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And it's not just the lack of penalties, its the "call on the ice" sequence that plays out when a goal being scored or not is disputed. I've watched it happen multiple times where the official said "the call on the ice stands". But the problem is there wasn't a call on the ice. The referees just look on like they're confused and hope that someone in Toronto sorts it out. For the call on the ice to stand, there actually has to be a call on the ice.
I don't get it, I really don't. Hockey is an exciting sport. The NHL is loaded with great offensive players. But they can't show that greatness because the league's officials won't call the game as it's supposed to be called. I'm not saying I want to see an NHL that becomes todays NFL where playing any kind of defense seems to be illegal. I just want to be able to watch the NHL and enjoy the game for it's skill, not play guess the penalty call every night. And the players want that too. Consistency please, that's all we're asking. And by asking for that, all we're really asking for is for NHL officials to do their jobs. Because it seems the NHL is backing into that garage again.

Wild child: 'Wild Thing' left mark on baseball and then some

02/21/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

One of the most popular sports movies of all time is Major League. So popular in fact, that one of it's characters spawned into a Major League Baseball pitcher. Charlie Sheen played "Wild Thing" Ricky Vaughn, who was a fast ball throwing pitcher with major league control problems. Mitch Williams was a hard throwing MLB relief pitcher who had some control issues of his own and who eventually became known as "Wild Thing".
Williams debuted in 1986 with the Texas Rangers. He played three seasons there before being traded to the Chicago Cubs, which is where the "Wild Thing" tag began in 1989. The film Major League came out that year, and Williams, who's unique wind up and release combined with his high velocity fastball and the wild pitches he threw regularly, led to the song "Wild Thing" by The Troggs being played at Wrigley Field when Williams was called from the bullpen. 1989 was also Williams finest in the big leagues, as he recorded 36 saves that season and made his only appearance in the All-Star game. Williams work on the field helped the Cubs reach the National League Championship Series that season as well.
Williams would be traded to Philadelphia prior to the 1991 season. It was there he further pushed the "Wild Thing" moniker by changing his uniform number to 99, the same number Ricky Vaughn wore in Major League. Although Williams said he chose the number not because of the movie, but he wore it in honor of former NFL player Mark Gastineau.

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Williams saved 30 games in his first season with the Phillies, but he is probably best known from his tenure in Philadelphia for what happened in the 1993 World Series. Williams blew a save opportunity in Game 2 (which led to death threats from the always classy Philadelphia fan base), but Game 7 is what Williams is probably best remembered for. With the Phillies leading 6 to 5 in the bottom of the 9th inning, Williams surrendered a 3-run, walk off home run to Joe Carter which led the Toronto Blue Jays to the World Series title. That pitch would be the last he would throw for the Phillies.
Williams was traded to Houston before the 1994 season. He then moved on to the California Angels before retiring in 1997 as a member of the Kansas City Royals. After retiring, he operating a bowling center in Philadelphia before returning to the mound one more time in 2001 for the Atlantic City Surf of the independent Atlantic League.
Williams most recently was an announcer on the MLB Network, before being terminated for an incident at a little league tournament in May of 2014. Williams was coaching a team in the tourney where he allegedly became belligerent with an umpire, shouted obscenities, and had one of the 10-year olds on his team intentionally throw a bean ball at another kid. Williams has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the MLB Network and a defamation lawsuit against Deadspin, which originally reported the little league incident.
Even after baseball, Mitch Williams still seems to be a "Wild Thing".

Rebel beat: 'Tark the Shark' always swam upstream while defining NCAA legacy

02/17/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

In less than a week, two of college basketball's most well known coaches have passed away. First, on February 7th, it was Dean Smith. Then on February 11th, it was Jerry Tarkanian. But when it came to the way they were revered by the NCAA, these two coaches were complete opposites. While Dean Smith made running a clean program a part of his legacy, Jerry Tarkanian seemed to always be under the NCAA microscope for various rules violations.
Some of the first things college basketball fans remember about Jerry Tarkanian is his nickname, "Tark the Shark", and for chewing on towels on the sidelines. But some of the things Tarkanian is less known for are way more important than a famous nickname and sideline image. During Tarkanian's run as head coach at Long Beach State, which was his first Division One coaching job, he was one of the first coaches to rebuke an unwritten rule at the time that 3 of the starting 5 players on the team had to be white. Tarkanian also became a pioneer in using junior college players to build a successful program. As became his style, Tarkanian challenged authority by starting a predominately black lineup, and by giving junior college players an opportunity at a time when that practice wasn't popular amongst major college basketball programs.
As mentioned above, Tarkanian began his career as an NCAA head coach in 1968 at Long Beach State University. He compiled an overall record of 122 and 20 in his five seasons there while leading the team to four straight NCAA Tournament appearances. But off the court, this is where Tarkanian's battles with the NCAA began. He wrote a newspaper column which claimed the NCAA went after smaller schools when looking for improprieties, while ignoring the same improprieties at the larger, more powerful schools. In 1973, Tarkanian would leave Long Beach State to take the head coaching job at UNLV. Shortly after he left, Long Beach State was given probation by the NCAA for recruiting violations that occurred during his tenure.

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It was at UNLV where "Tark the Shark" would make his mark, by turning a program that was lacking fan support and an identity into the Runnin' Rebels. Tarkanian's teams were known for their fast paced offensive game and for having a stifling defense. UNLV became known for their ability to score points in bunches with their run and gun offense, and using that pressing defense to create turnovers, which led to more offense, and allowed them to blow games wide open. In 19 seasons at UNLV, Tarkaniain's teams compiled a record of 509 and 105. He led UNLV to 11 NCAA tournaments, 3 Final Four appearances, and 1 national championship in 1990.
And with that success came more of Tarkanian's battle with the NCAA. Before the 1976-77 season, the NCAA placed UNLV on two years probation for alleged violations deemed as "questionable practices". However, these alleged violations dated back to 1971, before Tarkanian became coach at UNLV. The NCAA then pressured UNLV into suspending Tarkanian for two seasons. He sued, and received an injunction from a Nevada court that allowed him to return as coach. In 1991, the NCAA investigated UNLV for after a newspaper showed pictures of some UNLV players interacting with a known, prominent, sports gambler. This resulted in the NCAA originally banning UNLV from the 1991 tournament, and taking away the chance for them to defend their title. The NCAA agreed to defer the sanctions to 1992, which would be Tarkanians last at UNLV.
Tarkanian became the head coach of the San Antonio Spurs after leaving UNLV. But his tenure as an NBA coach would be short lived. Tarkanian was fired just 20 games into the season after clashing with Spurs ownership about the make up of the team. Tarkanian received a $1.3 million dollar settlement after being terminated.
He would take that money and use it to file a harassment lawsuit against the NCAA, claiming the governing body unfairly harassed him for more than two decades. Tarkanian claimed the harassment started after the newspaper article he wrote while at Long Beach State. The lawsuit was settled out of court in 1998, with Tarkanian receiving a $2.5 million dollar settlement.
Tarkanian would end his coaching career as the head coach at his alma mater, Fresno State University. He coached the Bulldogs from 1995 through 2002, compiling a record of 153 and 80. His teams won 20 + games his first six seasons at Fresno State, and appeared in the post season all seven years (twice in the NCAA tourney, and 5 times in the NIT). After retiring, Fresno State was placed on probation for NCAA violations that occurred during Tarkanian's tenure as coach.
"Tark the Shark" finished with a college basketball coaching record of 784 and 202. Although the NCAA took away 49 of those wins he accrued at Fresno State, and 6 he got at Long Beach State. Tarkanian was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013. Jerry Tarkanian rebuffed segregation and racism by starting mostly black players, reversed the thinking that junior college players weren't good enough to play Division One college basketball (and set a trend of recruiting junior college players that just about every college basketball program does today), and turned what was once an unknown mid major program into a college basketball powerhouse while reinventing offense and defense along the way. All of this while continuously battling with the NCAA. It's fitting that his best years were coaching a team nicknamed the Runnin' Rebels, because Jerry Tarkanian truly was rebel both on and off the court.

Hard feelings: Chicago Little League scandal just plain wrong

02/17/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

The run by the Jackie Robinson West team out of Chicago to the Little League national title was the feel good sports story of the summer. A team of inner city kids did the unexpected, defied the odds, and achieved what they weren't supposed to achieve. It united a city. To some point it united a nation. It even united races. But despite all of that unity, and feel good achievement, there's one problem. They violated the rules in doing so.
The sad part of it is that the kids who actually played the games had nothing to do with it. The blame goes to the local officials that were in charge of assembling the team. An investigation shows that Jackie Robinson West coaches and administrators falsified documents to Little League International regarding players who lived outside of the geographical boundaries for where the team could pool players from. This has resulted in the suspension of the team's coach and dismissal of the district administrator after it was determined that coaches and administrators falsified documents submitted to Little League International and that officials from nearby leagues decided to go along with it.
It has also resulted in a lot of people speaking up for why stripping this team of their title is wrong. Reverend Jesse Jackson has said the decision is harsher than it needs to be. Reverend Michael Pfleger has raised questions about race being the reason for the decision. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has contacted Little League International officials to lobby for the team to be able to keep their championship. Other politicians and lawyers have stepped up on the teams behalf.

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But it doesn't matter who says what, because Jackie Robinson West violated the rules. Some have said the rules are too strict. That geographical districting isn't enforced this stringently when it comes to politicians and elections in Chicago. But the fact of the matter is their are rules in place that clearly define geographical boundaries. And the officials from the Jackie Robinson West team violated those rules. It's a shame that the kids that played in those gams and won on the field have to be punished for the wrong doings of the league officials. The kids did nothing wrong, they just played baseball. That's what little leaguers are supposed to do, just play baseball. But when the Little League World Series becomes a multi-million dollar venture for ESPN, kids just playing baseball doesn't seem to be possible anymore.
This isn't a matter of race, or bitter feelings from other little league associations, or too harsh of a punishment being enforced by the governing body of international little league baseball. The fact of the matter is the rules were broken by the coaches and administrators. Blame the adults involved here. They decided that doing things the dishonest way was OK. It's a shame those kids have to be stripped of their title, but hopefully the lesson they learn from this sticks with them for life.
Cheaters never win.

Dean of champions: Legendary UNC coach Smith will be missed

02/11/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

This past weekend, a legend in the world of sports passed away. Former University of North Carolina head coach Dean Smith died on February 7th, just a little over two weeks before what would have been his 84th birthday.
Dean Smith retired from coaching in 1997 at the age of 66 after a career that spanned 36 years with a .776 winning percentage. His first head coaching job at UNC in 1961 was the only head coaching job he would hold at the collegiate level. He won 879 games during his career, which was the most wins in NCAA Basketball history at that time (Bob Knight, Jim Boeheim, and Mike Krzyzewski have since passed his win total).
Smith won 2 National Championships at North Carolina in 1982 and 1993. His teams won 17 Atlantic Coast Conference titles, 13 ACC Tournament Championships, and his teams appeared in the Final Four 11 times. He also won an NIT title in 1971 (when the NIT actually meant something), and coached the United States mens basketball team to a gold medal win in 1976. Smith was named National Coach of the Year 4 times, and the ACC Coach of the Year 9 times. He was elected into the Basketball Hall Of Fame in 1983, and the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.

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But results on the court were just one part of what Dean Smith deemed "The Carolina Way". In the world of college athletics, where it seems new rules violations or accusations appear in front of almost every successful sports program, Smith ran a clean program throughout his career. During his coaching tenure, the graduation rate for players was 96.6%.
But Smith was more than just a basketball coach at North Carolina. He was leader off the court as well. In 1966, he gave the first athletic scholarship at UNC to an African-American athlete, when he recruited Charlie Scott. Smith spoke out often on political issues and promoted desegregation, most famously joining a local pastor to help integrate a restaurant in Chapel Hill at the height of the civil rights movement.
Dementia would plague the final years of Dean Smith's life. But just like in coaching, running a clean program, and battling segregation, Smith fought a good fight until the day he passed away. The day after Smith's death, President Obama released a statement that sums up exactly what Dean Smith was.
"America lost not just a coaching legend, but a gentleman, and a citizen".

Key takeaways: Off field antics take some luster off Super Bowl spectacle on field

02/09/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

It's been a week since one of the most exciting, and baffling, endings to a Super Bowl occurred. New England won their fourth Super Bowl title, coming from behind to beat Seattle 28 to 24, in a game that literally, did come down to the last yard. Unfortunately, it's all of the other stuff leading up to, during, and after the big game that have taken away from what was a truly great football game.
Let's start with the before. Leading up to the Super Bowl, there is usually a ton of hype, overanalyzing matchups, too many interviews, and everything that you could have imagined being talked about and then some making press in the two weeks leading up to it. Most of that hype, or overhype, would have been good this year since this really was a marquee Super Bowl matchup pitting the best two teams in the NFL against each other. But the main story leading up to the game was "Deflate Gate". Yes, the Patriots allegedly using slightly deflated footballs in the 45 to 7 beating of Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game, and Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady's alleged involvement or knowledge that it happened got more press than Belichick and Brady trying to become the only coach and quarterback tandem since Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw to win 4 Super Bowls together. I'd say it's pretty disrespectful of the media and anyone else involved to overlook what the Patriots, Brady, and Belichick have accomplished because some footballs may not have had the proper air pressure. The AFC Championship was a blowout, the balls didn't matter, the teams did. And the better team won. By 38 points.
Next is the during. After scoring a 3rd quarter touchdown to put Seattle up 24 to 14, Doug Baldwin "celebrated" his score by mimicking to taking a dump. Yes, even though the TV cameras didn't show it, Baldwin pretended to drop his pants, squat, and drop This is the biggest game of the year in the NFL. Almost the entire world is watching. And Doug Baldwin pretends to drop a deuce. Seriously? How old are you? This is the same guy who was yelling, actually screaming, after the NFC Championship game that the Seahawks got no respect. Well it's kind of hard to have respect for someone who's touchdown celebration is that disrespectful.

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Of course also during the game, and right after Baldwin's touchdown, Richard Sherman was at his "best" as well. Not that Sherman is ever shy about talking, but he made sure the TV cameras were right on him when he mimicked "24", either at the score of the game, or at Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis, who Baldwin beat for the that touchdown. Richard Sherman is the best cornerback in the NFL, and you don't believe it, he'll tell you. For some time, Revis was thought to be the best. I'm sure Sherman was just excited about the score being 24 and his gesturing had nothing to do with Revis, right? Sure it did....
And now to the after. During the Patriots Super Bowl celebration, instead of celebrating the win, they decided disrespecting the team they beat was a better way to do things. First were running backs Brandon Bolden and LaGarrette Blount holding up t-shirts mocking the Seahawks Marshawn Lynch. Lynch is known as "Beast Mode" and wears #24. Bolden and Blount were seen holding up t shirts during the victory parade that read "B*tch Mode, #24".
And if that wasn't enough, Julian Edelman found a placard with Richard Sherman's image doing the "24" from the crowd, made sure to hold it up, and then punch it down. I guess the winning their fourth Super Bowl thing was missed by these Patriots players, who should know how to act like they've done this before. And if anyone should be grateful, it should be Blount. If you remember, he was cut by Pittsburgh in November after leaving the field before the game was over. And it's not like anybody outside of the New England area needed any more reasons to dislike the Patriots.
The good from all of this though...the Seattle Seahawks finally shut up. Leading up to the Super Bowl, it was how they were "disrespected" on offense and how their defense was the "greatest of all time". Well, lets see. You had the ball on the 1 yard line with three more downs to go. You have the NFL's premiere short yardage back. And instead of running the ball, you decide to throw it, and it's intercepted. You pretty much just disrespected yourselves, don't you think? And that sucks for Russell Wilson, who is a very humble player and deserved better than to have thrown the pick that ended the game. The play call was so bad, that Wilson had to have thought "what are we doing here?". He should have just thrown the ball in the stands and lived for Lynch to run on 3rd and 4th down if necessary. If the Patriots stopped them, they deserved the win. But to take away from your bread and butter to try and outsmart the opposition? Yeah, that's pretty disrespectful to the offense that used the ground and pound style to win a lot of football games over the past two seasons.
As for the Seahawks defense being the greatest of all time...I beg to disagree. The greatest defense of all time is the Pittsburgh Steelers "Steel Curtain" from the 1970's. The Seahawks defense is just a GOAT, because a truly great defense doesn't blow a ten point lead in the fourth quarter. I'd put the 1985 Bears and 2000 Ravens defenses in front of the Seahawks defense too.
Well on a positive, at least the Seahawks fans can take refuge in the fact they beat themselves and it wasn't the officiating that did them in. Because when they lost in 2006 to Pittsburgh, Seahawks fans cried about being beaten by the refs for 8 years until they beat Denver in last years Super Bowl.
Where's Rodney Dangerfield when you need him?

Tiger Bombed: Why Woods egacy is suffering with latest, laughable performances

02/07/15 by Rennie Detore

Watching your favorite professional athletes, particularly one you admire for their skillset, knack for the game or sport they play or overall ability to simply win, fall apart toward the tail end of their career is particularly sad and hard to watch.
No athlete can outrun time, and that fact leads to sights within sports that are equal parts inevitable and disheartening. Who didn't cringe every time Joe Montana took the field in the later years when he played for the Kansas City Chiefs?
How about an older, less athletic Willie Mays swinging for a ball wildly and falling down in the batter's box or even legendary running back Franco Harris, the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers great, plodding along with the Seattle Seahawks, a sight that made everyone in the "Steel City" bend over backward not to see.

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The latest fall from grace is one that sports fans didn't think they'd see this soon. Injuries and personal drama have taken the Tiger Woods, the once feared and ferocious golfers, and transformed him into not just another player but one that is either withdrawing from tournaments or so far behind on the leaderboard that you're just assuming he's not going to make the cut.
Hardly reminiscent of the player that was the centerpiece of golf and truly dominated the sport for so many years. You can argue that Woods' sharp decline can be attributed to injuries, and that fact is just another part of sports that fans often forget about as these premiere athletes begin to break down physically, yet still have that competitive void they have to fill with what they know.
The likes of Montana, Mays and Harris, along with Woods, still believe they have enough left in the tank to take down fellow players or, in Woods' case, other golfers at any given time. That said, eventually athletes reach the point from being lauded for the love of their games and instead border on embarrassment in the eyes of the fans and, eventually, themselves once they take a long, hard look and exercise a non biased opinion of exactly how good they really are at this stage of their careers.
This has little or no impact on legacy but rather the here and now and just when it is prudent and advisable to call it quits rather than play to the point that you're no longer a contender but just an average participant in a game that once heralded you as their figurehead. Woods' issues aren't a lack of talent; he's just another superstar athlete that has run his course and is now trying to salvage some sort of comeback for the same reason all other athletes can't simply retire: they want to go out a winner and no be remembered as a shell of their former selves.
But for every drive that doesn't hit the fairway or putt that sails well beyond the hole, Woods is proving that not only is he painfully out of place on the PGA Tour right now, but that he's desperately trying to resurrect a career that is bordering on woefully and remarkably porous.
When golfing fans and enthusiasts talk about the greatest of all time, Woods' name is going to be at the top of the list or, arguably, at the number one position. His string of 30th place finishes or skipping tournaments due to injury is just another chapter in the story of athletes and their willingness to win, even if their bodies are telling them otherwise.

Perfect pairing: Super Bowl features two teams that actually belong in big game

02/01/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

There were no upsets along the road to the Super Bowl this year, as the top seed from the AFC will meet the top seed from the NFC. It's the Patriots offense versus the Seahawks defense. It's Seattle trying to win back to back Super Bowls since New England did it in 2004 and 2005. It's the Seahawks ground and pound offense against the Patriots aerial assault offense. And it looks to be one of the best Super Bowl matchups in recent years. So lets take a closer look at the New England Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks.
The key to Seattle's Super Bowl run the past two seasons has been their running game. Marshawn Lynch leads the 2015 post-season with 216 rushing yards to follow up on a regular season where he rushed for 1,306 yards. Quarterback Russell Wilson is dangerous on the ground and through the air. Wilson passed for 3,475 yards during and rushed for another 849 yards. But in the post season, Wilson's numbers haven't been as good. He's passed for 477 yards and thrown 4 touchdowns in two games...but he's also thrown 4 interceptions and has only rushed for 14 yards in those games. Wide receivers Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin have come on strong in the playoffs after posting pedestrian numbers during the regular season. Kearse is 4th in the post season with 164 yards receiving, and has also scored 2 TD's. Baldwin has caught 9 passes for 144 yards and scored once as well.
For the Patriots, their recipe for winning over the past 12 years has been all about Tom Brady. Brady has the second most post season passing yards with 593 and has thrown 6 touchdowns against 2 interceptions. That follows a regular season where Brady passed for 4,109 yards and 33 TD's and just 9 interceptions. Brady's top targets have been TE Rob Gronkowski and WR Julian Edelman. Edelman has caught 17 passes in 2 playoff games for 172 yards. Gronkowski has 10 catches for 136 yards and 2 TD's in those games. This follows a regular season where Gronkowski led the Patriots with 82 catches for 1,124 yards and 12 TD's. Edelman had 92 grabs for 972 yards and 4 scores during the regular season. The ground game has been led by the returning LeGarratte Blount. After being released by Pittsburgh, Blount took over the starting role in New England and has rushed for 149 yards and scored 3 touchdowns so far this post season.

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This will be a matchup of one of the NFL's top offenses versus it's best defense. The Patriots average 29.3 points per game, which was 4th best in the league. Seattle's defense gives up an average of 15.9 points against, which is the league's best total. The Seahawks also had the top defense in yards against per game as well. The Seahawks were also third against the run, giving up just 81.5 yards against per game.
Both of these teams come in having rebounded big time from early season struggles. Seattle was 3 and 3, but won 9 of its last 10 regular season games, and held opponents to less than 10 points in 6 of those games. The Patriots won 10 of their final 12 regular season games after starting the season 2 and 2. New England also scored 40 or more points in 5 of those games. New England has scored 90 points in their 2 playoff games, while Seattle has allowed 39 points against.
One key of this game will be the health of Seattle's best two players in the secondary, Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas. Sherman sprained his left elbow in the NFC Championship, while Thomas is playing through a separated shoulder. The Patriots may have to play without their starting center again. Bryan Stork suffered a knee injury against Baltimore and missed the AFC Championship. His status is uncertain for the Super Bowl.
This will be the first meeting between these teams since the 2012 regular season, a game won by the Seahawks in dramatic fashion. Then rookie QB Russell Wilson threw the game winning touchdown pass with 1:18 left in the game. But that game may be remembered more for Richard Sherman taunting Tom Brady after the game, then putting a picture of it on Twitter with the infamous caption "You Mad Bro?"
This looks to be a very even matchup that has the potential to be one of the best Super Bowl games ever. Let's hope that's the case and it lives up to the hype. Remember last years matchup pitted the top two teams in the NFL against each other, and Seattle pounded Denver 43 to 8. It doesn't have to be the best Super Bowl ever, but let's hope it's better than last year was.

Truly Super: Finally, Super Bowl that is worth all the attention

01/30/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Two weeks. That's the amount of time that passes between the NFL's Conference Championships and the Super Bowl. And in that two weeks, we are all force fed the "Super Bowl Hype" leading up to the game. Not just sports fans get this...everyone who has a TV, radio, access to the internet or who buys a newspaper gets it. To the point where you're sick of hearing about it if you're not a sports fan. And in a lot of cases if you are, the game doesn't equal the hype. But this one should. Here's why:
Seattle is the first team since New England in 2003 and 2004 to play in back to back Super Bowls. Can New England keep them from being the first team since then to win back to back titles too?
Tom Brady. Whether you love him (you have to be a Pats fan too) or hate him (pretty much fans of all other NFL teams), there's no denying his success. This will be his 6th Super Bowl appearance. He won the first three. He's lost the last two. Can the Seahawks make it three straight losses?

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Richard Sherman. Whether you love him (you may have to be a Seahawks fan to do so) or hate him (Michael Crabtree), you have to respect him. Sherman says he's the best cornerback in the NFL. I've yet to find any reason to doubt that. And if the Seahawks win and he's interviewed in the post-game, he may just cut a WCW/Booker T promo during it!
Marshawn Lynch. If the Patriots are going to win, they'll have to find a way to stop "Beast Mode". That's going to be a tough task since nobody has been able to stop him the past two post seasons. The only task tougher is getting Lynch to talk to the media.
Written off too early. After getting blown out by Kansas City in Week 4, people were asking if Tom Brady was past his prime and if the Patriots would even make the playoffs. Since then, they won 12 of their last 14 games (one being a meaningless loss the last week of the regular season). Seattle was 3 and 3 in Week 6. People were saying "Super Bowl Hangover" or that the defense isn't as good as it was last year. The Seahawks won 11 of their past 12 games because their defense got healthy.
LaGarrette Blount. Get arrested for smoking weed then released for walking off the field early in Pittsburgh. Get re signed by New England and play in the Super Bowl. That kids is as John Mellancamp once said, "ain't that America".
Offense vs. Defense. The Patriots have lit up the scoreboard for 90 points in two playoff games. The Seahawks pride themselves on defense. Can Richard Sherman and company stop Brady, "Gronk" and the Patriots under rated wide receivers.
Defense vs. Offense. Peyton Manning and Denver lit up the scoreboard last season. The Seahawks defense set the tone early and Seattle beat them 43 to 8. Which leads me too...
Legendary vs. Legends. The Seahawks believe their defense is one of the greatest in NFL history. As Ric Flair said, "to be the man, you got to beat the man". Seattle beat "the man" last year, and are looking to do it again.
Deflate Gate. Yes I'm saying this is a positive. Because the storyline of Deflate Gate has taken away from all of the usual overhype, stupid media questions, overanalyzing, preview of the commercials, ridiculous things to bet on, etc, etc. that the Super Bowl is usually full of.
So now that that's all done...let's get ready for some football! And a Super Bowl that I think, will live up to hype.

Controversy concluded: Deflategate needs dismissed

01/28/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

We've heard the allegations. The New England Patriots knowingly deflated 11 of the 12 game balls they would use in the AFC Championship game. We've heard Bill Belichick's take on it. We've heard Tom Brady's take on it. We've heard every conspiracy theory possible. And I think that we've heard enough about what is now known as "Deflate Gate".
See here's where the problem starts. Footballs with less air pressure are supposed to give the team using them an advantage because they're easier to throw and catch. And if the game came down to a last drive miraculous catch that led the Patriots to victory, maybe deflated footballs would be an issue. But the Patriots beat the Colts 45 to 7. The game was decided by 38 points. Thirty eight! Something tells me slightly deflated footballs had very little to do with the outcome of the game. Maybe it had more to do with the fact that LeGarrette Blount rushed for 148 yards and scored 3 touchdowns? I doubt an under inflated football had anything to do with his success. Blount could have been carrying a deflated beach ball or a cinder block and it wouldn't have mattered. It was the man who cut through the Colts defense like a hot knife through butter, not the football. Maybe Andrew Luck completing 12 of 33 passes for 126 yards and throwing 2 interceptions had something to do with it? I don't think Luck using properly inflated footballs would be the cause for him having such an awful game. Because every time Luck has played the Patriots in his career, the Colts have gotten blown out.
The other problem I have with this is shouldn't someone from the NFL be in charge of making sure the footballs are at the proper inflation level? This is being made out to look like Tom Brady and Bill Belichick decided after warm ups to take all of the footballs into some secret room and deflate them. How ridiculous is that? It should be up to the league to make sure that everything meets the standard before the game starts. And if this is now such a big deal, why were teams ever allowed to handle their own footballs? If there is some way that doctoring the ball is going to give a team an advantage, I doubt the Patriots would be the first team to do it and the only team doing it. Like the late Eddie Guerrero said, "if you're not cheating, you're not trying".

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So as we head into what looks to be one of the best Super Bowl matchups in recent history, we're all sidetracked and distracted by deflated footballs. The 2 best teams in the NFL this season are meeting in the Super Bowl, which is the biggest sporting event in the world, and instead of talking about the teams and players, the talk is about deflated footballs. Listen, it didn't matter what air pressure was in the footballs in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots crushed the Colts on the field in every aspect of the game and it had NOTHING to do with the air pressure in the balls the Patriots were using. I think it's time to deflate "deflate gate" once and for all and move on to what should be a great Super Bowl. Just make sure someone checks the air pressure in all of those balls before kickoff.

All Star lame: Why pro sports need to ditch the specialty games

01/26/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

It's fitting the NFL's Pro Bowl and the NHL All-Star game were played on the same day. I'm assuming that was the case since neither sport is really worried about the other drawing away from it's viewership, since nobody seems to care about either event anyway.
There was a time when being selected to the Pro Bowl or to the All Star Game meant something. Those days are obviously gone. There was a time when the Pro Bowl was played after the Super Bowl in Hawaii for a reason, so even those players playing in the Super Bowl could participate. The reason is self explanatory...the Pro Bowl is more of a chore than it is a privilege to play in. It used to be the best of the AFC would play the best of the NFC in the Pro Bowl and that pride meant something. This year, instead of conferences, it's a team selected by Cris Carter against a team selected by Michael Irvin in Glendale, Arizona, where the Super Bowl will be played next week.
The logic is that having the potential of players in the same conference playing against each other, and the possibility of teammates doing battle, will rejuvenate the Pro Bowl, which has been lacking excitement and meaning for more than a little while now. I understand the concept, but the fact of the matter is that in the long term, I doubt that increases the interest level in the game.

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It's hard to be interested in a game as a fan when the players who are playing in it aren't really that interested. The Pro Bowl has been the equivalent to NFL Flag Football for quite a while now. Players don't want to risk injury in a meaningless game. And the NFL doesn't want to admit the Pro Bowl is a joke now. So that's why we have Team Irvin and Team Carter instead of the NFC against the AFC. The Pro Bowl being considered "meaningless" has eliminated the pride of the game. Representing your conference used to mean something. Of course being selected and actually playing used to mean something. With the game now before the Super Bowl, all of those participating no longer will play in the Pro Bowl. And that diminishes the luster of the game. That and the fact there are a whole host of rule changes to make it seem more like glorified flag football than an actual competition.
And that brings me to the NHL All Star Game. Again, there was a time when playing for the conference you played in meant something to players. Wearing the name of Campbell and Wales across the jersey they wore meant something for the players wearing them. So did it when the players selected to be NHL All Stars meant they played against the Soviet Red Army team in the Challenge Cup in the 1970's and the Rendezvous '87.
And of course, being selected to the All Star game meant something. Those days have been replaced by fan voting. And while I understand the novelty of it, fan voting has no meaning in the cyber age of today. And the "fantasy" draft of being selected to a players team instead of a conference team makes the All Star Game feel like more of fantasy hockey than anything else.
If you doubt the lack of importance of either of these All Star contests, look at the number of players who decline to play or who are "injured" and "can't" play. There was a time when these games mattered. Unfortunately, those days have passed.

Cardale rule: Why the OSU QB made right call staying in school

01/19/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Winning your conference championship game. Upsetting the #1 team in the country. Winning the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship. I don't think there could be a better way for a quarterback to end his college football career. Except maybe when those 3 games are the only 3 games he's ever started. And that's why Cardale Jones decision not to go to the NFL is the right one.
When the 2014 season started, Jones was the 3rd string quarterback on the Ohio State roster. Heisman Trophy hopeful Braxton Miller was the starter. When he suffered a season ending injury before the start of the season, J.T. Barrett took over under center and led the Buckeyes to a 12 and 1 regular season. Then he got hurt in the season finale against Michigan. So in came Jones, and the rest is now history.
For whatever reason, some "experts" thought that Jones would and should turn pro. Because of his size and arm strength, some felt he may have been as high as a 2nd round draft pick. It was said that Jones should have cashed in while he could, because there is no guarantee he'll even start at Ohio State in 2015 since both Miller and Barrett will be back as well. So the feeling there is Jones draft stock may never be higher than it is right now.

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I can't fault a guy for not going to the NFL after starting just 3 games in college. Think about that he's played 12 quarters of Division I football. Sure he has the size, his arm looks good, and for being 6'5 and weighing 235lbs, he sure looked pretty nimble on the field too. Those same things were said about JaMarcus Russell too. You remember him right? Was 21 and 4 as a starter at LSU. MVP of the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Decided to come out after his junior season. First overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. And lasted a whole 3 seasons in the NFL before he was released after putting up a 7 and 18 record in those 3 seasons while throwing 23 interceptions and 18 touchdowns. Some have said Russell is the biggest draft bust in NFL history.
So why would Cardale Jones want to be known as another bust? Another guy who has "potential" but surely isn't ready for the NFL. He obviously feels that way himself. If he doesn't win the starting job at Ohio State in the spring, he still has one more year of eligibility left and Miller graduates after this season. If things don't go the way he wants to, he could always transfer as well. Sit out a year and have one more year to play Division One football, or immediately play at a lower level school.
Instead of falling for the false belief he could play in the NFL. Instead of biting on the potential of how much money he possibly could make. Instead of doing something he felt he wasn't ready for, Cardale Jones did what he felt was right for him. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. As a matter of fact, I applaud him for doing what he thought was right, not what anyone else thought. Congratulations Cardale Jones, you made the right decision.

Duck hunting: Can Oregon avoid being another victim of Ohio State magical season?

01/12/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

And then there were two.
Ohio State and Oregon are the two teams that will play for the first ever College Football Playoff Championship. For Oregon, this championship appearance was kind of expected. But Ohio State's run to the title game has been an improbable one. Let's see how these teams stack up against each other.
Oregon comes in 13 and 1, and were the champions of the PAC-12 Conference by virtue of blowing out Arizona in a rematch in the conference championship game. Ohio State comes in 13 and 1 as well, and were the champions of the Big 10 where they blew out Wisconsin in the conference title game.

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Oregon averages 47.2 points per game, and gives up average of 22.3 points against. Ohio State averages 45 points per game and gives up an average of 22.1 points against. The Ducks average 311 yards passing per game and 241.9 yards rushing. The Buckeyes average 247.5 yards per game passing and 262.2 yards per game rushing.
Ohio State has won 12 games in a row since losing to Virginia Tech in the second week of the season. The Buckeyes have scored 40 or more points in 10 of those 12 wins. Oregon has won 9 games in a row since being upset by Arizona on October 2nd. The Ducks have scored more than 40 points in 12 of their 14 games this season.
Oregon is led by Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. Mariota has passed for 4,121 yards and thrown 40 TD's versus just 3 interceptions. He's also rushed for 731 yards and recorded 15 rushing scores. The Ducks leading receiver is Byron Marshall, who's recorded 66 catches for 834 yards and 5 touchdowns. Royce Freeman leads the ground attack for Oregon, having rushed for 1,343 yards and scoring 18 TD's.
Ohio State is led offensively by RB Ezekiel Elliott, who's rushed for 1,642 yards and scored 18 touchdowns. Michael Thomas led the Buckeyes in receptions, catching 50 passes for 746 yards and 9 TD's. Devin Smith led the team in receiving yards, with 886 on 32 catches. Smith also scored 12 times. Third string QB Cardale Jones will be making just his 3rd career start under center, but has passed for 618 yards and 6 TD's and just 1 interception in the Big 10 Championship and the Sugar Bowl.
To get here, Oregon ended Florida State's 29 game winning streak by thrashing the Seminoles in the Rose Bowl by the score of 59 to 20. Mariota accounted for 400 yards in total offense (338 yards passing/62 yards rushing) and contributed 3 touchdowns (2 pass/1 rush) to lead the Ducks to the win. Darren Carrington caught 7 passes for 165 yards and caught both touchdown passes. Thomas Tyner rushed for 124 yards and scored 2 TD's as well. The Ducks forced 5 Seminoles turnovers, which led to 34 points.
Ohio State upset #1 Alabama 42 to 35 in the Sugar Bowl to punch their ticket to the title game. Elliott led the way for the Buckeyes, rushing for 230 yards and 3 touchdowns. Jones, in just his second career start, passed for 243 yards and a touchdown. The Buckeyes intercepted Blake Sims 3 times and held the Crimson Tide rushing tandem of T. J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry to 142 yards rushing combined.
Oregon will be without Carrington, who is suspended for this game. Devon Allen, who was second on the team in receptions, will also be out due to a knee injury.
Oregon is looking for their first ever national championship. Oregon lost in the 2011 national championship game to Auburn, 22 to 19, as the Tigers kicked the game winning field goal as time expired. Ohio State is looking for their 7th national championship and first since 2002.
This will be the 9th meeting between these schools, with Ohio State winning the previous 8 matchups. The last meeting came in the 2010 Rose Bowl game, with the Buckeyes winning by the score of 26 to 17.

Changing of the guard: Can Romo and Luck unseat Rodgers and Manning?

01/11/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Two more games on Sunday will set the final four teams for the two conference championship games next weekend. Two teams full of history and tradition meet in the NFC, while a legend will lead his new team versus his old one in the AFC.
Dallas at Green Bay
Both of these teams finished the 2014 regular season with 12 and 4 records, and were champions of their respective divisions. The Packers were a perfect 8 and 0 at home during the regular season, while the Cowboys won all 8 of their road games. Both of these teams can score as well, as Green Bay averages 30.4 points per game and Dallas averages 29.2. Both teams come in having won 7 of their past 8 games as well. The Cowboys come in off a big come from behind win over another NFC Central team, as they battled back from 13 points down in last weeks 24 to 20 playoff win over Detroit. The Lions held the NFL's leading rusher DeMarco Murray to 75 yards rushing and held the Cowboys leading receiver Dez Bryant to 48 yards on just 3 catches. But Tony Romo picked it up for the Cowboys, passing for 293 yards and 2 touchdowns, both to Terrance Williams, who led Dallas with 92 yards receiving. This game will likely come down to which defense can prevent more damage against what's been their weakness.

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Dallas against the pass or Green Bay against the run. The Cowboys give up an average of 251.9 yards per game, while the Packers average 266.3 yards per game through the air. On defense, Green Bay gives up an average of 119.9 rushing yards per game, while the Cowboys average 147.1 yards per game on the ground. Detroit's Matthew Stafford passed for 323 yards in last weeks loss to Dallas. The Packers Aaron Rodgers threw for 4,381 yards during the regular season, and just 5 interceptions against 38 TD passes. The receiving tandem of Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb have put up big numbers as well. Nelson caught 98 passes for 1,519 yards and scored 13 touchdowns, while Cobb had 91 receptions for 1,287 yards and 12 scores. These teams met last season, with Green Bay winning 37 to 36, led by Eddy Lacy's 141 yards rushing. These teams last met in the playoffs in the 1996 NFC Championship game, which Dallas won en route to their last Super Bowl victory. They last met at Lambeau Field on New Years Eve of 1967, in the game referred to as the "Ice Bowl".
Indianapolis at Denver
It'll be Round 2 of Peyton Manning's old team versus Peyton Manning's new team in this one. The 12 and 4 Broncos come in off of a first round bye, while the 12 and 5 Colts come in off of a 26 to 10 Wild Card round win over Cincinnati. Andrew Luck led the way, passing for 376 yards and 1 TD in the win. Luck led the NFL with 40 passing touchdowns on the regular season, and threw for 4,761 yards. The man he replaced in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning, threw for 4,727 yards and 39 TD's. These teams met in Denver in the season opener, with the Broncos winning 31 to 24. Manning passed for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns in that game, with TE Julius Thomas catching 7 passes for 104 yards and all 3 of those TD passes. Luck passed for 370 yards and 2 scores in the losing effort, but also threw 2 interceptions. Denver won 5 of their final 6 regular season games, while the Colts have won 6 of their past 7. The Broncos were perfect in their 8 home games, while the Colts were 5 and 3 on the road. These are two of the top passing offenses in the NFL with Indianapolis leading the league averaging 305.4 yards per game. Denver ranked fourth, averaging 291.3 yards per game. The Broncos feature two 1,000 yard receivers in Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas led the team with 111 receptions for 1,619 yards and 11 touchdowns. Sanders caught 101 passes for 1,404 yards and 9 TD's. This will be the third meeting between these teams since Manning moved from Indianapolis to Denver. The Colts won last seasons meeting at home 39 to 33. In games versus his former teams, Manning has passed for 655 yards and 6 touchdowns, while Luck has thrown for 598 yards and 5 TD's in those games.

Elite eight: NFL playoff matchups aren't quite as easy to pick as they appear

01/10/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Eight teams remain as the countdown to Super Bowl 49 continues. Let's take a look at Saturday's games.
New England vs Baltimore
A rematch of the 2012 AFC Championship game pits the 11 and 6 Ravens against the AFC East champion and 12 and 4 Patriots. New England is the top seed in the AFC and coming off of a bye last week, while the #6 seed Ravens are looking for their second consecutive playoff road win. Baltimore beat AFC North champ and division rival Pittsburgh last week 30 to 17. Joe Flacco led the way for the Ravens, passing for 259 yards and 2 TD's in the win. The Ravens will have to stop a New England passing attack that was potent during the 2014 regular season. Tom Brady passed for 4,109 yards and threw 33 touchdown passes against 9 interceptions. Rob Gronkowski returned to his old form this season, leading the Patriots in receiving yards with 1,124 on 82 catches while scoring 12 touchdowns. Julian Edelman led the team in receptions with 92 for 974 yards and 4 TD's. The Patriots have had a running back by committee approach this season, riding whichever back is hot between Jonas Gray, Shane Vereen, who LaGarrette Blount, who was signed after being released by Pittsburgh in November. This is the fourth time in six years these teams have met in the playoffs. The Ravens won the AFC title matchup in 2012 en route to their second Super Bowl win. New England won the 2011 AFC Championship game, while Baltimore won their wild card game in 2009. The Patriots are 7 and 1 at home this season, while the Ravens are 5 and 4 on the road.

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Carolina at Seattle
For the NFC West champion Seahawks, the path to back to back Super Bowls starts at home again. For the Panthers, the improbable journey that has been their 2014 season continues in a place where visiting teams have struggled mightily. Seattle comes in at 12 and 4, and were 7 and 1 at home, while the 8 and 8 and 1 Panthers will try to pull the upset on the road. Both of these teams come into this matchup on a roll, with the Seahawks winning their final 6 regular season games and 9 of their last 10. Carolina has won 5 games in a row, after looking like the playoffs were a pipe dream when they were 3 and 8 and 1 in November. Seattle boasts the top passing defense (185.6 yards per game) and 3rd best rushing defense (81.5 yards per game) in the NFL. They'll face a Panthers offense that ranked 7th in the league in rushing, averaging over 127 yards per game. The Seahawks also have the NFL's top rushing offense, averaging 172.6 yards per game, led by Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 1,306 yards and 13 TD's during the regular season. That could be a problem for Carolina, who gives up an average of 112 yards per game on the ground. Carolina was dominant in their wild card round win over Arizona last week. The Panthers held the Cardinals to 78 yards in total offense, while racking up 386 total yards of their own. Jonathan Stewart paced the Panthers with 123 yards rushing, while Cam Newton put up 233 yards in total offense and threw 2 touchdown passes. This is the 2nd meeting of the season between these teams, as Seattle defeated Carolina 13 to 9 in Week 8 of the regular season. Newton was held to 171 yards passing with no touchdowns and an interception. But the Panthers held Lynch to just 62 yards rushing in that game. The only touchdown of the game was a 4th quarter score by Seattle. Seattle has won the past 4 meeting between these teams, with Carolina's last win in the series coming in 2007. These teams last met in the playoffs in the 2005 NFC Championship, with the Seahawks winning by the score of 33 to 14.

Mumpy road: Outbreak of mumps in NHL raises serious concern

01/09/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

So the NHL has a mumps epidemic? Wait, what? Is it just me that thought that getting the mumps wasn't possible anymore? So how do over 20 players on 6 different teams end up with the mumps? Good question.
After the CDC started recommending the vaccine for MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) back in the early 1970's, the number of mumps cases in the United States 150,000-200,000 reported cases before the vaccination to a couple hundred reported cases the following year. So how did the mumps suddenly make a comeback? And how did it end up spreading through the NHL?
The first thing about the mumps is the vaccination end. Originally the vaccination was only given once, which was believed to be effective. But in the early 1990's it was determined that a second dose should be given. So any NHL players born before 1991 were only originally given one dose. With only the one dose, the effectiveness of the vaccine can wear off over time. The other factor is the vaccine is only effective 85% of the time because not every persons body takes to it.

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Mumps is spread through mucus and saliva, which is how it seems to have spread through the NHL. So players sharing water bottles, towels, or talking on the bench would have easily spread it amongst their team. But how did it spread from team to team? Well with players making physical contact and being in close proximity of each other on the ice, that's how it got around.
So how does the NHL stop this? Most teams in the league have offered the booster shots to update the vaccine. But with the symptoms not always showing up immediately, we may not have seen the last of it. Especially because those affiliated with the teams, not just the players, could spread it without knowing they have it, or keep it going around if they're not given the booster shots as well.
It seems for now that the mumps epidemic in the NHL is under control. Most teams have been quarantining players who have shown any potential symptoms. But is this the last we've seen of it? And could this be an epidemic in other sports, like football or basketball, where players share towels and water bottles and have constant physical contact?
In this day and age of technology and modern medicine, who would've ever thought the mumps would make a comeback IN a professional sports league? Perhaps instead of signing bonuses, players will ask for mumps boosters as part of their next free agent contracts now?

Upon further review: Do NFL refs need replay refresher?

01/07/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Everybody has been talking about it. The penalty, or non penalty, in the Dallas Cowboys playoff win over Detroit last weekend. If you didn't see it or hear about it, Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens was flagged for pass interference against Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew. But after announcing the penalty, the officials decided to pick up the flag and rule it not to be an infraction. Dallas was trailing at the time, and the controversial play came on 3rd down and 1 for the Lions, who would have gotten an automatic first down with the penalty. Dallas ultimately went on to win the game.
Now I'm not one to believe the refs were the reason Detroit lost. Even if it was a blown call, the refs didn't let the Cowboys drive for the winning touchdown. The Lions defense did. If they would've got a stop, this would be irrelevant now. The refs didn't get stopped by Dallas with a chance to win the game with under two minutes left. The Lions offense did. They had a chance to score, but failed to. And the refs surely didn't blow a 13 point lead...that's all on the Lions.
But did that call, or non call, effect the momentum at that time? Absolutely it did. If Detroit gets a first down there, maybe it would've been different. But momentum was already going the Cowboys way since they had scored the only 10 points of the 2nd half to get back into the game. All of the above is speculation, but here's the fact of the matter. The officials got the call wrong.

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NFL head of officials Dean Blandino said the pass interference call was debatable, but that holding should've been called against Hitchens, which would've been a five yard penalty and an automatic first down. I've heard some Cowboys fans and others say that Pettigrew grabbed Hitchens and didn't allow him to turn around to defend the pass heading their way. OK, lets say that's true.. Then it should have been called holding on both players, which would've resulted in replaying the down, which would've given the Lions a second chance on 3rd down and a yard to go.
Maybe this controversy is a good thing though? Maybe it's time the NFL takes a look at using replay on penalties called in certain situation. I'm not saying that every call needs to be reviewed, not unless you want games to last 3 days instead of 3 hours. But in a critical situation, maybe it should be reviewed just like all scoring plays are reviewed? Or perhaps even better, each coach is given the opportunity to challenge one penalty call per game. If he gets it right, he gets the opportunity for a second. That way is something like this does occur, the Lions coach calls for a challenge, and the officials get the call right.
I understand that there will always be human error in the officiating of any sport. Plays happen fast and the official has to make a split second judgment on a call. Having a replay in the case of penalty calls wouldn't be something that makes the officials look bad, I mean everyone already thinks the refs suck anyway, right? It would be something that would help them make sure they get the call right and don't really negatively effect the outcome of a game.
And it's a way to put these conspiracy situations away once and for all. Does anybody really believe Jerry Jones paid off the officials? C'mon now, the NFL is better than that and any real sports fan knows it. Now we just need an explanation as to why Blandino was on the Cowboys party bus in August? But that's a conspiracy for another time.

Playoff droughts: Bengals, Lions hoping to turn around postseason fortunes

01/04/15 by Matthew S. Vandriak

Today's playoff matchups feature two teams, the Cincinnati Bengals and Detroit Lions, whose names are synonymous with playoff failure or being teams that you associated with losing or being franchises that have had their fare share of losing season. The Bengals and Lions have turned around their teams in recent years with the addition of steady quarterbacks with Andy Dalton and Matthew Stafford. But the time for these QBs and their teams is now, as far as finally winning games matter.
Cincinnati at Indianapolis
Before Ickey Woods was spiking lunch meat in grocery store aisles and celebrating "getting some cold cuts today", he was a running back for the Cincinnati Bengals. That was also the last time the Bengals won a playoff game, a drought that dates back to 1991. It's going to be harder for the Bengals to get that elusive playoff win in this one as well, as leading receiver A.J. Green will not play after sustaining a concussion in the season finale against Pittsburgh. Mohamed Sanu, who was the teams second leading receiver, will have to step up in Green's absence, which he did when Green missed time during the regular season. But with starting tight end Jermaine Gresham listed as questionable as well, the Bengals may have to lean on their running game. Rookie Jeremy Hill has led the way for Cincinnati this season, rushing for 1,124 yards and scoring 9 TD's. Behind Hill, the Bengals also have Giovani Bernard, who's 680 yards rushing were more than anyone on the Colts had during the regular season. Offense hasn't been a problem for the Colts behind QB Andrew Luck. Luck passed for 4,761 yards and threw an NFL leading 40 regular season touchdown passes. His main target has been T.Y. Hilton, who caught 82 passes for 1,345 yards and 7 TD's. The injury news is also better for the Colts, as 2nd leading receiver Reggie Wayne is expected to be at full strength after suffering a groin injury in the Colts last regular season game. Indianapolis was 6 and 2 at home in 2014, while the Bengals were 5 and 3 away from home. This is the second meeting of the season between these teams, and the first wasn't pretty for Cincinnati. The Colts dominated in a 27 to 0 win, holding the Bengals to 135 yards in total offense and just 32 yards rushing. Luck lit up the Bengals defense, throwing for 344 yards and 2 touchdowns, while the Colts rushed for 171 yards as well.

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Detroit at Dallas
The NFL's leading rusher will face the league's top run defense, as the 11 and 5 Lions visit the 12 and 4 NFC East champion Cowboys. DeMarco Murray led the NFL with 1,845 yards, which is also the Cowboys franchise record for most yards rushing in a season. Murray rushed for over 100 yards in 12 games this season, and also scored 13 touchdowns. He'll face a Detroit defense that gave up an average of just 69.3 yards per game, which was lowest in the NFL. Both of these teams can get it done through the air as well. Dallas is led by Tony Romo, who passed for 3,705 yards and 34 touchdown against only 9 interceptions. His top target has been Dez Bryant, who led the Cowboys with 88 catches for 1,320 yards and scored 16 TD's. The Lions aerial assault is led by Matthew Stafford, who threw for 4,257 and 22 touchdowns. Detroit boasts a pair of 1,000 yard receivers in Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. Tate led the Lions with 99 catches for 1,331 yards and 4 TD's. Johnson caught 71 passes for1,077 yards and scored 8 times. Both of these teams come into the playoffs hot as well. Dallas won their last 4 regular season games and 6 of their final 7, while Detroit won 4 of their last 5 games. The Cowboys are 4 and 4 at home, while the Lions have the same record on the road. These teams met last season, with Detroit winning 31 to 30. The Lions rallied from 10 points down in the games final 4 minutes. Stafford passed for 488 yards in the win, with Johnson catching 14 passes for 329 yards, which is 2nd most in NFL history. Neither of these teams have been good in the post season lately though...Detroit has lost their last 7 playoff games, while Dallas has won just once in their past 8.

Wild weekend: NFL playoffs begin with intriguing matchups and old rivalries