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Monday, December 30, 2013

NFL Week 17 "Studs & Duds"







                                                                                              Studs


Peyton Manning
                                                
                                                                           (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    


     Have to start with Peyton Manning, who I think is got to be the league MVP for this season! Manning went 25 of 28 for 266 yards 4 TD 0 INT and broke Drew Brees single season passing record of 5,476 by one yard! (5,477) Peyton also finishes the season with 55 TD and only 10 INT!


Drew Brees

                                        
                                                                     (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

    Outstanding performance by Brees. 5 total TD's (4 Passing, 1 Rushing) amd 381 Passing Yards as the Saints destroyed the Buccaneers 42-17.


Greg Hardy
                                
                                                            Greg  Hardy with one of his four sacks on Matt Ryan
                                                                        (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
    

     The leader of the vaunted Panthers defense, Hardy registered five tackles, 4.0 of them being sacks against the Atlanta Falcons!



Randall Cobb

               
                                                                         (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

     What better way to make an impact after returning for an injury like Randall Cobb did!? Cobb had 2 Receptions, both touchdowns, the second being the game winner that helped Green Bay clinch the NFC North and a playoff spot!


LeGarrette Blount

                                       
                                                                           (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

     Blount really stepped up in New England's regular season finale, and has given the Patriots another weapon for their ground game. 24 carries 189 yards 2 TD


NaVarro Bowman

          
                                                                (AP Photo/Matt York) Photo: Matt York, Associated Press


     Fine game across the board for Bowman. 10 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 1 INT, 1 Forced Fumble, which he recovered!



Matt Forte


                             

                                                                          (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
    

     Forte for how good he is, is still one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Forte finished the day against Green Bay with 157 yards of total offense (110 Rushing, 47 Receiving) and 3 TD's (2 Rushing, 1 Receiving)






                                                                   Duds


Andy Dalton
                                           
                                                                        (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

     For alot of good Dalton did in Cincinnati's game against Baltimore, the bad outweighed it! Dalton had 3 total TD's (2 Passing, 1 Rushing) but also had 4 interceptions. (21 of 36 281 yards). Just when I thought Dalton was finally settling in he goes back to causing turnovers. The Bengals are going to need Dalton to limit the turnovers in the postseason, or else they could very likely end up being one and done.


Ryan Tannehill
                                                                         (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
    
                 

     20 of 40, 204 yards 1 TD 3 INT. After a great performance in Week 15 (25 of 37, 312 passing yards 3 TD 0 INT) Tannehill finished the last two games 30 of 67 for 286 yards and 1 TD 3 INT (had no TD's or INT's in Week 16)


Tom Brady

                                   

                                                                    Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
    
     Just 14 of 24 for only 122 passing yards and 1 TD with 1 INT, Brady, from a statistical standpoint had a very unproductive day.


Matt Schaub

                     
                                                                    (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

     22 of 34, 229 yards 0 TD's and 3 turnovers (2 INT's 1 Fumble) against the Tennessee Titans)

Zac Stacy

                 
                                                                             Pat Lovell/ USA TODAY Sports


     Not a good day for Stacy at all! Just 15 yards for 15 carries left him 27 yards shy of the 1,000 yard marker for rushing yards.


Joe Flacco

                           
                                                                             (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)


     Like last year, Flacco struggled down the stretch of the regular season. Only this time it cost the Baltimore Ravens a playoff appearance and any chance as repeating as Super Bowl Champions!  30 of 50, 192 Passing Yards, 1 TD 3 INT vs Cincinnati




Eli Manning

                         
                                                                        Photo by Ron Antonelli/Getty Images)


     Even when the New York Giants win, Eli Manning still loses! Going just 10 of 24 for 152 yards with a TD and INT against the Washington Redskins. Eli Manning finishes the season with 18 TD and 27 INT!






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Nick Foles And Eagles Fly Into Dallas, Win NFC East Division Crown & Soar Into Playoffs


                                                            
                                                                               Ronald Martinez/Getty Images



     For the third straight season the Dallas Cowboys had a chance to win the NFC East and clinch a playoff berth and the regular season finale, and for the third straight season, failed to do so.


     Dallas started on offense for the game's first series. The Cowboys were leading a good drive and got into Philadelphia territory, until DeMarco Murray, who had been effective on Dallas'  opening drive, coughed up the ball that was recovered by the Eagles at the Philadelphia 23. Following the turnover, Philadelphia converted points off the turnover with an Alex Henery 47 yard Field Goal (FG) to put the Eagles up 3-0. Key play from the drive came when Quarterback (QB) Nick Foles hit Riley Cooper for a 16 yard pick up on 3rd and 19. Although short of the first down, the completion put Philadelphia in FG range.


     The Cowboys offense once again moved the ball efficiently on its second drive and got into Philadelphia territory, but on 3rd & 2 QB Kyle Orton threw an incomplete pass behind his intended receiver Dez Bryant, forcing Dallas to punt. Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy marched Philadelphia down the field and completed four passes that went 10 yards or more, including a huge 22 yard jump ball reception before finally hitting LeSean McCoy (who had a big 20 yard run during the scoring drive) for a 3 yard TD Pass to put the Eagles up 10-0!


     Both team exchanged punts, before Dallas got the ball back once more, and this time, put together a drive the produced points! On 3rd & 12, Orton hit Terrance Williams deep down field for a huge 39 yard pickup down to the Philadelphia 29. Three plays later, Orton hit Gavin Escobar for a reception. Escobar, (who only had one catch prior for the entire season) leaped into the end zone for a 17 yard TD reception, and suddenly the Cowboys had new life cutting the Eagles lead down to three.

     Dallas again forced Philadelphia to punt, and had a chance to go into the half with a lead. After an 11 yard reception by Tight End Jason Witten on 3rd & 9, Orton went back to Witten on the very next play on 1st down. Witten had the ball in his grasp, but mishandled it and Mychal Hendricks (Who forced the fumble on Dallas' first drive) came away with an interception. The Eagles did not take long to capitalize as Foles hit Celek on back to back plays for 35 and 14 yards, the latter play going for a TD, giving the Eagles a 17-7 lead. Dallas would get some of those points back with a Dan Bailey Field Goal, and headed into the locker room down 17-10.


     After forcing the Eagles to a 3 and out, the Cowboys opened the second half scoring with another Dan Bailey FG to cut the lead to 17-13. The Dallas defense came up huge again when Jason Hatcher stripped sacked Foles and DeMarcus Ware recovered the loose ball. Dallas had now put itself in great position to take the lead following the turnover, starting at the Philadelphia 20!


     Dallas could not cash in for a TD off the turnover and had to settle for another FG, but were now within one of Philadelphia. Both teams would force 3 and outs on each other's next possessions. The Eagles looked to to finally score it's first points of the second half. With 1st & Goal at the Dallas 6, Nick Foles threw two straight incompletions before hitting DeSean Jackson for a 5 yard gain, just short of the goal line. Instead of going for the FG, the Eagles opted to go for it from the one on 4th & Goal, but the Dallas defense came up big once again and stopped Nick Foles from diving across the plane of the goal line to force a turnover on downs. The Cowboys held the Eagles high octane offense scoreless in the 3rd Quarter!

     Dallas would start the 4th Quarter at its own 19 after Orton hit Dez Bryant for an 18 yard pass on the final play of the 3rd Quarter.The Cowboys drove the ball past midfield to the Philadelphia 40 and faced a 4th and short of their own and elected to go for it.Orton rolled out and had Murray in the flat for what would have been an easy 1st down until Connor Barwin batted down the pass and forced a huge turnover on downs!


     After being held scoreless in the 3rd Quarter, the Eagles finally put together a scoring drive in the second half. After 24 rushing yards put together by LeSean McCoy in the duration of the drive, when Bryce Brown took it in from six yards out for a TD, putting the Eagles up 24-16. Just when it seemed like Dallas was out, they come up big once again. Orton hit Witten in stride for a pick up of 35 yards. Facing a 4th & 9, Orton hit Bryant on a slant pattern and broke away from the defender for a 32 yard TD Reception and the Cowboy were now down only two, with a chance to tie the game on the 2 point conversion. Orton appeared to have Bryant again, but Cary Williams with good coverage, broke up the play and the Cowboys still trailed.


     Philadelphia got the ball back, but the Dallas defense once again forced another 3 and out and got the ball back with 1:49 remaining at their own 32 after an Eagles punt. But on the first play of the Cowboys ensuing possession, Orton was picked off by Brandon Boykin, and the Eagles prevented any hopes of a comeback by Dallas. Philadelphia would kill the clock with runs by LeSean McCoy before eventually kneeling down burning out the clock, giving the Eagles the NFC East Division Title as well as a playoff appearance. It only seems fitting that the Dallas Cowboys season ends this way, as mentioned, it was the third straight season they were in position to win their division and make the playoffs. The Eagles return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season (also won the NFC East that year). Philadelphia finishes the season 10-6 and will be hosting Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card Round. For the Cowboys, they finish 8-8 for the third straight season.



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Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rodgers & Cobb Return, Give Green Bay Division Title And Playoff Berth!





     Dramatic. That is exactly the word to describe Sunday's NFC North Division Title Game between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers! For both sides, it was win and you're in, as the winner would secure a playoff berth along with a division crown.

     Chicago opened up the game's scoring on it's 2nd possession when Jay Cutler hit Matt Forte for a 4 yd. TD Pass (Forte had 157 yards of total offense, and 3 Touchdown's). Brandon Marshall made a key 37 yard reception a few plays prior that helped setup the touchdown (TD) for Chicago to give the Bears a 7-0 lead. Green Bay moved the ball well on it's first three possessions, (getting inside the Chicago 30 on all three possessions) but surprisingly only came away with Field Goal. (FG)

     Aaron Rodgers (who was making his first return since going down with a broken collarbone against Chicago in Week 9) was intercepted on Green Bay's first two possessions, once in the end zone by Chris Conte, and the other after a pass intended for Jordy Nelson went off his fingertips and ended up in the hands of Tim Jennings.

     After Mason Crosby's FG cut the Bears lead to 7-3, the Green Bay defense forced the Chicago offense to it's second 3 and out. What followed on the ensuing Packer possession created a little bit of shock and a whole lot of confusion on both sides! 1st & 10 from the Chicago 17, Rodgers was setting up to throw for a pass when Bears Defensive End Julius Peppers had knocked the ball loose from his hands. After the play on Rodgers by Peppers, the ball went loose and every player on the field stopped, but the whistle still had not been blown, signifying the ball was live. Green Bay Wide Receiver Jarrett Boykin had picked the ball up, and being perplexed, initially stood around not realizing what was going on until he heard the sideline yelling at him to keep going. Boykin took it into the end zone for a TD, and the officials reviewed and confirmed that Peppers knocked the ball out of Rodgers hands before bringing his arm forward, creating a fumble, and live ball that allowed Green Bay to come away with the score and a 10-7 lead.


     The Bears followed up with another miscue on it's ensuing possession when Alshon Jeffrey caught a pass but would Tramon Williams knocked it out of his hands and Morgan Burnett returned it to the Chicago 28. The Packers came away with three more points and took a 13-7 lead into halftime. The second half saw both offenses settle in and take charge!


     After forcing Green Bay to a 3 and out, Devin Hester helped set up the Bears next scoring drive with a 49 yd. punt return to the Green Bay 30. Chicago ran the ball on each play, all carries going to Forte and concluding with him finding the end zone from 5 yards out on 1st & Goal for a TD to put the Bears back on top. The Packers responded quickly on it's following possession that started with a 17 yard run by Eddie Lacy. James Starks' number was called on the next 4 plays and tallied up 34 yards on the ground in the duration of those plays. Two plays later, Rodgers found Randall Cobb (who was also making his long awaited return from a broken tibia sustained in October) and the Packers regained the lead 20-14.


      Chicago took only four plays to respond. On 3rd Down, Alshon Jeffrey came up with a huge 67 yard reception that setup the Bears on the Packers 1 yd. line. Matt Forte took it into the end zone on the very next play, and just like that, Chicago was back up 21-20! The Packers next drive would actually stall, but not without a little controversy. Andrew Quarless appeared to make a unique reception, in fact it was originally ruled that he did, but one of the other officials came in and overturned the catch and said it was an incompletion. Head Coach Mike McCarthy challenged the play. The replay showed Quarless securing the ball with both arms underneath the ball. Then as Quarless rolled over, the ball popped into the air and back down again into his chest of and into his hands for, once again, was originally ruled a catch then overturned. Officials said there was not enough indisputable evidence to over turn the incomplete call on the field. The Packers would end up punting one play later.


     Chicago would take advantage of this opportunity. Brandon Marshall would make a nice catch in the corner of the end zone, spinning around and adjusting to make a play on the ball for a TD! The Bears now having scored 14 unanswered, were up 28-20! But the Packers would not go unanswered this time around! Big plays from Jordy Nelson, who fought off 4 tacklers and gained additional yardage after a reception that went for 34 yards, and a diving catch by Andrew Quarless for 22 yards, set up 1st & Goal from the Chicago 6. The very next play, Eddie Lacy took a hand off and looked as if he would be stopped behind the line of scrimmage, bounced out to the left side and walked into the end zone and made it a one point game again!


     The Bears were able to once more move the ball down field, but ultimately the Green Bay defense would prevail and force Chicago to punt. The Packers picked up 9 yards on three plays. Facing a 4th & 1 from their own 2, Green Bay elected to go for it and John Kuhn picked up a yard and move the chains for the Packers offense. Later in the drive the Packers faced another 4th & 1, and converted once more when Rodgers threw to Jordy Nelson for a gain of 6 and a fresh set of downs.Three plays later, Green Bay would face its third 4th down situation. Needing 8 yards, Rodgers escaped a potential sack, flushed out of the pocket and threw a floater into the air and found a wide open Randall Cobb for a 48 yard TD (Cobbs 2nd Reception) as the Packers regained the lead in dramatic fashion.

     After the failed two point conversion, Chicago still had a chance to win in regulation. Down 33-28 Cutler tried to mount a comeback, as he hit Martellus Bennett for a 15 yard gain at the Green Bay 45, but ended up throwing back to back incompletions. With less than 10 seconds remaining, Jay Cutler threw it up in the air in hopes that one of his receivers would come away with a game winning TD grab, ultimately however, Sam Shields intercepted it in the end zone and ran the back and went out of bounds after the game clock expired.


     For Green Bay it's their 3rd straight division title and will host the San Francisco 49ers in the Wild Card Round. Meanwhile, Chicago falls to 8 & 8 and misses the playoffs for the 3rd straight season after winning the division title in 2010!

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Saturday, December 28, 2013

Notre Dames Uses Ground Game To Defeat Rutgers In Pinstripe Bowl


                                                                      (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
                                            Notre Dame celebrating their victory over Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl with fans



     Notre Dame headed into its Bowl Game as 14 point favorites over Rutgers. It took a while, but eventually the Irish would runaway late in the game and come away victorious, defeating the Scarlet Knights 29-16.

     Notre Dame's offense got off to a fast start, going all the way down to the Rutgers 4 yd. line but had to settle for a Field Goal, giving the Irish a 3-0 lead. A key play from the drive came on 3rd & 12 when Notre Dame Quarterback Tommy Rees hooked up with Tight End Ben Koyack for 13 yards.


     Rutgers would go 3 & out on its first possession, but a muffed punt by Notre Dame's T.J. Jones was recovered by Quentin Gause to give the Scarlet Knights possession deep in the Fighting Irish's territory. Rutgers again could not move the ball, but the turnover allowed them to convert for a FG and tie the game up 3-3.

     Notre Dame again would drive down inside the five and this time come away with a touchdown (TD)! On 2nd & 2 from the Rutgers 30, Rees and Wide Receiver T.J. Jones hooked up on a pass that went for 22 yards. Jones followed up on the big pass play by getting into the end zone from eight yards out to put Notre Dame up, 10-3.

     After going 0-5 on his passes on the Scarlet Knights first two possessions, Rutgers Quarterback Chas Dodd finally completed his first pass, going for a huge 51 yard pickup with Receiver Brandon Coleman coming down with the reception. Two plays later, Dodd hooked up with Coleman again for a 14 yd TD Pass to tie the game back up 10-10!


     Notre Dame could not move the ball on its next possession, despite having good field position they were forced to punt. But on Rutgers first play of its new possession, Notre Dame Cornerback Bennett Jackson deflected a pass that allowed teammate Kendall Moore to come away with the pick! Once again though, Notre Dame, even with good field position, had to settle for another FG as Kyle Brindza connected from 38 yards out to regain the lead for the Irish, 13-10.


     Notre Dame had Rutgers on 3rd and long twice on the their following possession but a huge run by QB Dodd and Personal Foul by Jarron Jones, respectively, gave the Scarlet Knights a fresh set of downs. Rutgers got the ball all the way down to Notre Dame's 1 on 2nd & Goal, but could not punch the ball across the goal line and had to settle for a FG. Kyle Federico easily made an 18 yarder to tie the game up once again 13-13.


     The Fighting Irish drove the ball into Rutgers territory once more, but again could not find the endzone after three straight passing plays by Rees from the 26 fell incomplete. Kicker Kyle Brindza missed the 44 yd. attempt, shifting the momentum towards the Scarlet Knights! Rutgers would threaten. After an Unsportsmanlike Conduct by Notre Dame lineman, Stephon Tuitt, followed by a pass from Dodd to Tight End Tyler Kroft that went for 19 yards, set up shop for Rutgers at the Notre Dame 20. Instead of keeping things simple, Rutgers decided to get creative with a little bit of trickery when Running Back Justin Goodwin received the ball and would end up throwing it. The pass would be end up being picked off by KeiVarae Russell! Russell already had a couple of big plays prior to his interception when he deflected two passes in the end zone that could have easily been TD's for the Scarlet Knights!

     After the turnover, Notre Dame took a conservative approach to move the ball out near their own 30. The Irish would punt to Rutgers, who received the ball with :21 remaining, had two timeouts remaining from their own 37. However the Scarlet Knights decided to go into the locker room happy with a 13-13 ties as they ended up taking a knee.


     Rutgers Janarion Grant gave the Scarlet Knights great field position to start the second half after returning the kickoff all the way to Notre Dame's 47! Unfortunately for Rutgers, they could do nothing with the great field position and went 3 & out and were forced to punt. Notre Dame would chew up a lot of time off the clock on the ensuing possession.

     A drive that took 7:17 off the clock, the Irish converted on 3rd Down twice and on 4th Down in Rutgers territory. Several miscues would push Notre Dame back, forcing them to settle for yet again another FG try. Brindza missed for a second straight attempt, but would receive a mulligan when Rutgers Nadir Barnwell made incidental contact with the kicker. Brindza would make good on his 2nd chance, reclaiming the lead for the Irish 16-13.

     Rutgers would see if they could once again match Notre Dame, or do one better by scoring a TD. The Scarlet Knights appeared to be doing so. A Pass Interference call against Bennett Jackson gave Rutgers a 1st Down at its own 40. On 3rd & 5, Dodd threw a pass intended for Running Back Savon Huggins. Huggins who had daylight ahead of him, could not haul in the catch and cost Rutgers a chance at pointing some points on the board. Rutgers would though, punt the ball and down it at the Notre Dame 2, putting their Defense in great position to make a big play!


     Notre Dame escaped from the dangers of its own endzone when Running Backs Cam McDaniels and Tarean Folston ran for 5 and 8 yards respectively. The Irish would eventually get the ball on Rutgers side of the field. On 3rd & 9 from Rutgers 32, Rees found Tight End Troy Niklas for a reception, and picked up 26 yards before being brought down at the Rutgers 6. But once more, the Irish could not get the ball into the end zone and had to settle for just three points as Brindza connected from 25 yards out to extend Notre Dame's lead to 19-13, as the game remained just a one possession game.


     Janarion Grant, who already had a huge return on the opening kickoff of the 2nd half (51 yds.) returned the ensuing kickoff 44 yards all the way to the Notre Dame 45 yd. line! Rutgers managed to get inside the Redzone to the Irish's 18 yd line. However, a false start followed by a sack pushed Rutgers back and faced a 3rd & 20 situation, which saw QB Dodd under throw a pass intended for Tight End Kroft. Rutgers opted to go for the FG, despite windy conditons. Federico had no problem though as he easily hit from 47 yards out to bring the Scarlet Knights back within three, 19-16!


     Hoping for a big stop and a chance to tie the game or take the lead, the Rutgers defense would need to make a play to put them in position to do so. Instead Notre Dame would end up going on another lengthy drive chewing up the clock!


     The Fighting Irish's ground game wore down the Rutgers defense. Running Back Folston provided 41 yards of offense (37 Rushing, 4 Receiving) which ended up with him finally getting Notre Dame into the endzone again with a 3 yard TD Run. The drive took off 5:19 from the clock. Notre Dame would seal the deal on Rutgers first play from scrimmage on its ensuing possession, when Linebacker Dan Fox, picked off Dodd at the Scarlet Knights own 36. A few plays later Brindza would hit another FG, this from 49 yds. to put Notre Dame up 29-16 with 2:28 remaining.

     QB Dodd would try to lead his team with a comeback effort, but time was already against them, and as time expired, Dodd threw a pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Austin Collinsworth.

     With the win, Notre Dame finishes the season 9-4 to go along with their Pinstripe Bowl victory. As for Rutgers, who will be joining the Big Ten next season, finish with a losing record of 6-7.


*Notes/Stats*

- Notre Dame Running Back George Atkinson was suspended from the game for violating team rules

- Notre Dame out-gained Rutgers 494-236 in offensive yards (ND- Passing 319, Rushing 175  RUT- Passing 156, Rushing 80)

-  Turnover Margin- Rutgers 4  Notre Dame 1


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Friday, December 27, 2013

NFC North Division Championship Game Preview: Green Bay Packers Vs. Chicago Bears






     The last time Aaron Rodgers played in a game this season was in Week 9 against the Chicago Bears (whom the Green Bay Packers play this weekend) when he went down with a collarbone injury. Chicago would go on to take advantage of an "Aaron Rodgersless" Packers and come out on top with a 27-20 win. Since going down with his injury, Green Bay has gone 2-5-1, but now with a playoff berth and Division Title in sight, Rodgers and the Packers look to seek redemption!


     If the return of Aaron Rodgers was not already encouraging enough for Green Bay, the Packers may see the return of Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to the lineup for its regular season finale against Chicago. Cobb has been on the Injured Reserve since October when he suffered a broken right tibia back in October.

     Packers Running Back Eddie Lacy (who is a front runner candidate for "Rookie of the Year") is projected to start, despite having an ankle injury. Green Bay though is prepared to have James Starks take more carries. One thing the Packers can take comfort in is knowing that Chicago has the worst Rush Defense in the league, allowing an average of 161.5 yards per game. Chicago's Run Defense was clearly exposed this past weekend against Philadelphia, giving up a total of 272 yards on the ground to the Eagles!


     Chicago will need to count on one of its big strengths, that coming from the receiving game with arguably the best Wide Receiver duo in the league, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey. Marshall and Jeffrey have combined for 2,562 receiving yards (Marshall- 1,221, Jeffrey 1,341) and 18 Touchdown (TD) Receptions (Marshall 11, Jeffrey 7).


     Bears Running Back Matt Forte, who ranks fourth in the league in rushing yards (1,229) had an outstanding performance in the two teams earlier meeting this season with 24 carries going for 125 yards and a Rushing TD. Forte also provided additional help in the receiving game with 5 receptions for 54 yards.

     The Packers Defense will definitely have its hands full trying to contain Chicago and it's offensive trio (Marshall, Jeffrey, Forte) as they will have to do so without star linebacker Clay Matthews, who will miss the game with a broken thumb. Packers lineman, Ryan Pickett and Mike Neal are listed as probable, as well are linebackers Nick Perry and Brad Jones.


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Thursday, December 26, 2013

NFC East Division Championship Game Preview: Philadelphia Eagles Vs. Dallas Cowboys






     For the third straight season the Dallas Cowboys control their own destiny to win the NFC East and make the playoffs in the final regular season game. This time they will most likely have to do so without starting Quarterback (QB) Tony Romo!


     For the Philadelphia Eagles they are seeking their first Division Title since the 2010-11 season, which is also the last time they made the playoffs.


     Dallas will also be without star Linebacker Sean Lee ( 99 tackles, 4 Interception in 11 games) due to a lingering neck injury. In the previous meeting between the two, Dallas came away with a 17-3 win. Nick Foles had to leave the game early due to a concussion. Foles has been able to bounce back by throwing for a total of 25 touchdown (TD) passes and over 2,600 yards, having only been picked off twice. He and Running Back LeSean McCoy (who leads the league in Rushing with 1,476 yards) look to take advantage of a Dallas defense, which ranks amongst one of the worse statistically (29th Pass Defense, 26th Rush Defense) and exploit its weaknesses.


     With Tony Romo out, Running Back DeMarco Murray, who missed the first match up between the two teams this season due to a knee injury, may have to increase his workload by supplementing in his receiving game to go along with his ground game. Dez Bryant had a huge performance in the same game with 8 receptions going for 110 yards, but with Kyle Orton starting this time around, it will be interesting what kind of approach the Cowboys will take with Bryant in the receiving game. One thing the Cowboys can take advantage of is knowing that the Eagles defensive game is not any better than theirs statistically speaking, (Eagles- 30th in total defensive yards allowed, Cowboys- 32nd or last in total defensive yards allowed via NFL.com ) but again, how Dallas approaches its offense and Quarterback situation will be intriguing as to what kind of game plan and strategy it will use against the Philadelphia defense!



     Dallas hopes the cliche "third time's a charm" rings true, as mentioned earlier, this will be the third straight year that in the final game of the season the Cowboys have an opportunity to win the NFC East and make the playoffs! This time around Dallas will have home field advantage and considering the circumstances, will take anything and everything that puts them in a better position to come out on top of Philadelphia!


*Note- The Cowboys have played for the NFC East Title each of the last 3 seasons against all divisional opponents! (2011- NY Giants, 2012- Washington Redskins, 2013- Philadelphia Eagles)


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Source(s): (1.) http://www.nfl.com/stats/categorystats?tabSeq=2&defensiveStatisticCategory=GAME_STATS&conference=ALL&role=OPP&season=2013&seasonType=REG&d-447263-s=TOTAL_YARDS_GAME_AVG&d-447263-o=1&d-447263-n=1

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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

'I'm Dying Alive Without Jaromir Jagr in Pittsburgh One Last Time'


                    
Jaromir Jagr has been seen as a villain ever since demanding to leave Pittsburgh and then spurning them in the 2011 off-season even after he said he would play for the Penguins for the league minimum.



     "I feel like I'm dying alive. ... I don't feel comfortable here right now," (1.)  Those were the exact words from Jaromir Jagr uttered during his final season in Pittsburgh before eventually being traded in the off-season to the Washington Capitals. During his time in Pittsburgh, Jagr accumulated 1,140 points (467 Goals, 673 Assists) in 806 career games, and helped lead the Penguins to back to back Stanley Cup Championships In 1991 & 1992! (Jagr also recorded 147 points, 65 Goals, 82 Assists in 140 playoff games with Pittsburgh. See Below).



 <---Regular Season











 <---Playoffs







     When Mario Lemieux was out due to injury, including his 1st retirement, Jagr was the man in Pittsburgh and the beloved Captain all the fans supported and cheered for! One of the best examples of this came in the Quarterfinals of the 1999 NHL Playoffs when the Penguins were facing elimination in Game 6 against the #1 Seed New Jersey Devils as Jagr's status for playing in the game was questionable and faced the possibility of being a healthy scratch. Jagr however, would approach his way towards the ice with a screaming crowd where you could just feel the adrenaline in the arena all the way into your living room!




            

     The Devils were leading 2-1 in the game with 2:12 remaining when a Penguins rush into the New Jersey zone started with Jagr passing the puck to teammate German Titov, who mishandled the pass but regained possession of it quickly and passed it back behind to Jagr who was in front of the net to finish the play and put the puck past Martin Brodeur! Giving the Penguins new hope and life! The captain was not finished! With 11:01 remaining in the 1st overtime (OT) Martin Straka skated along the boards and centered a pass over to Jagr and found the open net and scored the game-winning goal as the crowd erupted as their hero helped the Penguins stave off elimination to force a Game 7 back in New Jersey!





     Up 2-1 in Game 7, late in the 2nd period, Jagr created a turnover in the Devils zone. Jagr would pass to Jan Hrdina and would pass it back once more to each other before finally there pitch and catch resulted in a goal when Jagr fed Hrdina who was out in front of the net to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead! The Devils brought themselves back within one, but another turnover proved costly as Jagr and Straka had a 2 on 0 breakaway. Jagr's shot was denied, but the rebound allowed Straka to bury it home into the net and give the Penguins a two goal lead once again, 4-2!





The Penguins would go on to win by that same score and upset the heavily favored New Jersey Devils to advance to the next round (where they would ultimately be eliminated by the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games).



     Despite playing the role of hero, Jagr would have a fallout with the Penguins the following season, (which saw Mario Lemieux come out of retirement) and was no longer happy with the team and its new system with then Head Coach Ivan Hlinka. Jagr wanted out and it was then he uttered those (in)famous words "I'm dying alive in Pittsburgh". Penguins fans (including me) felt betrayed and after Jagr left Pittsburgh. Whenever Jagr would return to face Pittsburgh and came onto the ice he received a loud chorus of "Boos" throughout the arena. This animosity would continue until the conclusion of the 2008 NHL Season when Jagr left the NHL and went over to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) for three seasons.



     After spending three seasons in Russia playing hockey, Jagr decided he wanted to head back over to North America and play in the NHL once again. Speculation was rampant that Jaromir Jagr would bring closure between he and the fans of Pittsburgh as there was apparent interest from both sides on Jagr becoming a Penguin once again! It was even reported that Jagr said if Mario Lemieux contacted him to play for the Penguins, that he would play for the league minimum, as he stated he owed his hockey life to him. Here is the full quote from the article (which I will leave a link to if you want to read the article in its entirety http://www.penguinpoop.com/2009/jaromir-jagr-returning-to-the-penguins/ )

                              "A week ago Jaromir Jagr claimed he would come back and play for the Penguins at the league minimum if Mario asked him to.  'I was thinking about it and if Mario would call me and say, I’d like you to play for our team,  I would think about it a lot,” Jagr said in a phone interview. 'I would play for the minimum salary. I would play for $350,000 just for him, because I owe him my hockey life. I want to pay him back because he has made me what I am, besides my parents.' "


     When 2011 Free Agency began, everyone was ready to bury the hatchet and anticipated for Jagr's long overdue return to Pittsburgh. The event was so closely followed that " #JagrWatch" was trending on Twitter, waiting for him to arrive in North America and sign a deal with the Penguins. Here is a fan made video that embraced the return of Jaromir Jagr, as it seemed as it was basically a done deal that Jagr would be coming home!

              



     It seemed like a sure fire deal that Jagr would once again become a Penguin, and why not, he even said he would come back to Pittsburgh to play for the league minimum because he owed his hockey life to Mario Lemieux! Unfortunately as we all know, what people say and do are two completely different things! In a big twist of events, Jagr declined Pittsburgh's offer of a 1 year $2 million deal (which was more than the league minimum he said he would take to return to Pittsburgh), and apparently money may have been an issue and signed a 1 year, $3.3 million deal, with the Philadelphia Flyers of all teams! Tensions and hostility were bigger than ever before because of Jagr pulling a 'Benedict Arnold' by spurning  Pittsburgh for in state rival Philadelphia. Some fans were even calling to have his jersey removed from the rafters because of his actions.


     The Penguins would meet the Flyers in the 1st Round of the 2012 playoffs and ultimately lost in 6 games, giving Jagr the last laugh on that end of the deal. In 2013, this time with the Boston, Jagr once again came out on top against his former team when the Bruins swept the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jagr signed as a free agent this past off-season with another rival of the Penguins, New Jersey Devils. The Devils however, are struggling a bit at the moment this season, and if they fall out of playoff contention I would love to see Pittsburgh trade for him at the deadline!


     I know many may be thinking "No" or "We do not need him" or "it would cost us prospects and/or draft picks that we may need" etc. But I guess I am looking for that fairytale ending where everything is finally made right! Going back to his heroic performance in the 1999 Quarterfinals against the New Jersey Devils, Jagr received a huge pop from the crowd when he stepped onto the ice for Game 6 and he saved the Penguins by tying the game late and eventually the game winner in overtime, that sent everyone in Pittsburgh into a frenzy!  Just imagine for a moment Jagr coming back to Pittsburgh one final time, stepping on the ice once again in a Penguins uniform! The crowd's cheers are echoed throughout the entire arena as Jagr once again returns to help Pittsburgh! It is Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Jagr steps up while superstars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the Penguins are being shutdown! The Penguins are struggling in a back and forth game with its opponent but Jagr takes the game into his own hands and scores the Stanley Cup game winning goal as the Pittsburgh Penguins are once again Stanley Cup Champions, thanks to Jaromir Jagr's heroic performance!


     Too much time may have passed by, or there just is not simply any need for Jagr on the Penguins at this point. But think of it like this, it would be like a family reunion, where two members of that family have been in a feud for so many years that they have not even spoke a single word to each other! After years of hostility and turmoil, the pain and emptiness without the other family member in their life, causes them to break down crying and embrace one another and are sorry and forgiving of for all the grief and aggravation they caused. As a Penguins fan, I feel I am "dying alive" a little inside without closure and peace between the fans of Pittsburgh and Jagr. What better way to come together to see Jagr sporting a Penguins sweater lifting Lord Stanley over his head with tears of joy running down the face of the fans of Pittsburgh, the team's organization, owners, players and Jaromir Jagr himself while he is doing so!


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Sources: (1.) http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/hockey/nhl/news/2000/12/09/frustrated_jagr_ap/
               (2.) http://www.hockey-reference.com/players/j/jagrja01.html
               (3.) http://katchop.com/blog/jagr-flirts-with-penguins/

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Breaking Down Penn State's New Commitment Thomas Holley





Penn State received an early Christmas gift when highly touted prospect Thomas Holley announced he committed to the Nittany Lions!
 (Photo: Anthony J. Caus)




     As we all know, Penn State football has recently gone through some dark times due to the injustice of the unjustified sanctions on the program the NCAA placed upon them. But somehow, someway, Head Coach Bill O'Brien and company have exceeded expectations for the football program, regardless of the sanctions! Since the sanctions were handed down two years ago, Penn State has probably had a more difficult time in trying to get recruits to come play for them more than any other university. Despite being with limited scholarships, Penn State has still managed to come away with above average recruiting classes, and now the Nittany Lions have come away with arguably their best recruit to date when they landed Defensive Tackle Thomas Holley!



     Holley is one of the more highly touted prospects at his position for the 2014 class! ESPN has him ranked #87 of the top 300 prospects, and #7 overall at his position along with a 4 star rating! Scout.com also has him listed as a 4 star rating, but 247sports.com has him listed as a 5 star recruit and the 5th best overall Defensive Tackle prospect. What and however way you look at it, Penn State has landed a very huge prospect, in more ways than one! Holley, who has a 6ft. 4in. frame to go with his near 300lb. body weight, Holley has the strength to go with it! I could not find anything for search results for lifting numbers, so I took to Twitter and tweeted Holley himself and asked him his bench and squat numbers. Holley reported to me a 390lb. Bench and 560lb. Squat! (See Below)


     


     Though not the fastest guy (a 5.19 40 Time according to this link http://www.hudl.com/athlete/o/2305863/thomas-holley ) Holley has great pursuit of the ball by bringing good pressure that allows him to plug up holes and cause the opposing offense's pocket to quickly collapse. Because Holley is so quick at getting past the line, he is able to make a play on the Quarterback and/or ball carrier for a big play!


     Holley's awareness of what is going on around him on the field is another strength that he constantly displays. Holley does not over commit on a play, as he showcases good patience to see where the ball is to give him the best chance of making a play on it! If the QB is throwing, he is quick to get his hand up to cause a pass deflection, or if a running back gets the ball he will quickly retreat from the blocker and tackle the ball carrier and prevent him from making a big gain!


     One downside I guess you could maybe say for that of Holley is still a little green, as he has only played football since his junior year. But even the lack of experience, Holley caught onto football very fast, and his background in basketball certainly helped, which will help with his vertical and ability to break up passes! Overall the Nittany Lions recruited a "steal" more or less, as Holley is a natural at football despite not having the years of experience. With the proper coaching at Penn State, Holley's potential may allow him to become a household name and perhaps eventually turning the heads of all NFL Scouts in the future!



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Monday, December 23, 2013

NFL Week 16 "Studs & Duds"






                                                                                               Studs


Peyton Manning

                 
                                                                          (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
                                 



     Without a doubt, I have to start this edition of "Studs & Duds" with Peyton Manning! Manning Broke Tom Brady's single season Touchdown Pass Record of 50 with his 51st and in the process, became just the 5th Quarterback to surpass the 5,000+ Passing Yard mark! Manning also has an excellent shot with one game left to surpass Drew Brees single season record of 5,476 Passing Yards as he currently has 5,211! Manning went 32 of 51, threw for 400 yards, and 4 TD Passes against the Houston Texans during the process of his record setting season! One other thing is that without doubt, Peyton Manning is deserving of the 2013 NFL MVP!



Demaryius Thomas & Eric Decker


     


                                                                             (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)


                                                                           (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)


     What is a Captain without his crew!? Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker have been the main go to guys for Peyton Manning this season, and Sunday against the Houston Texans they once again proved why as they combined for 18 Receptions (Thomas- 8 Decker- 10) 254 Receiving Yards (Thomas- 123 Decker 131) and 3 TD catches (Thomas- 1 Decker- 2) in the Denver Broncos 37-13 win over Houston.



Andy Dalton

                                                                          (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
 


     Dalton seems to be settling in at just the right time! Dalton entered Sunday's game against the Minnesota Vikings with 5 TD's and 0 INT's in the previous two games and maintained that flawlessness by throwing for 4 TD's 0 INT's going 27 for 38 and 366 yards. If Dalton can maintain the same composure and readiness come playoff time, watch out for the Cincinnati Bengals, especially at home where they remain undefeated on the year! (7-0)




Greg Hardy & Luke Kuechly




                                                                         (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
                                                        

                                                                        (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)




     The Carolina Panthers Defense showed why it is one of the best in the league, and what better way to do it against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints!!  Greg Hardy and Luke Kuechly led the way for this stifling defense as they held the Saints high powered offense to only 13 points! Hardy had 4 tackles and 3.0 Sacks and Kuechly was all over the field recording 24 total tackles including an INT!






LeSean McCoy

                                                                          (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)


     After a poor outing last week, LeSean McCoy tore it up all over the field against the Chicago Bears Defense! McCoy had 18 carries going for 133 yards and 2 TD ( also had 6 receptions for 29 yards) in Philadelphia's 54-11 win and destruction of Chicago. McCoy and the Eagles head into its big match up against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 with a playoff spot and NFC East Division Title on the line, and have plenty of momentum to feed off of heading into the game, thanks in part to McCoy!




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                                                                                        Duds



 Alex Smith

                        
                                                                             (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
 
     Smith's lackluster performance of 16 of 29 for only 153 yards and 2 INT and 2 fumbles cost Kansas City a shot at the number one overall seed in the AFC playoffs and a chance at a division crown.







Drew Brees

                                             
                                                                            (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)


     Not to take anything away from the Carolina Panthers Defense, as it had an outstanding performance! But for the 2nd straight week Drew Brees got off to a slow start the cost the New Orleans Saints a game, and this time around it cost them a division title!  Brees 30/44 281 yards 1 TD 2 INT




Carson Palmer


                            
                                                                            (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)


     The Arizona Cardinals beat arguably the best team in the NFL right now, the Seattle Seahawks, in Seattle, snapping the Seahawks 14 game home win streak! They did all of that in spite of Quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw 1 TD and 4 INT's (178 passing yards). If Arizona hopes to make the playoffs, they will need Palmer to perform much better than he did against the Seahawks!




Matt Cassel

                            
                                                                              (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

     Terrible day all around for the Minnesota Vikings and Quarterback Matt Cassel! Throwing for only 114 yards (but did have a TD Pass in the process) threw 3 INT's and lost a fumble, which the Cincinnati Bengals converted 14 points off of two of those turnovers of Cassel's.




Matthew Stafford, Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson


                                                                          (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)



               

                                                                              (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)



                             


                                                                         (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

     Even with these three highly talented players all on the same team, the Detroit Lions failed to make the playoffs! Stafford went 25 for 42, 222 yards 0 TD 2 INT. Reggie Bush had only 44 yards of total offense (34 Rushing, 10 Receiving). And Calvin Johnson, without a doubt one of the top receivers in the game today, had only 3 catches for 43 yards. The lack of production from these three resulted in the obvious with Detroit missing out on the playoffs when they were officially eliminated from contention by the New York Giants in a 23-20 OT Loss. Oh well there is always next year.........




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