Posts about Sports

2014 NFL season preview: NFC East

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In the Super Bowl era, the NFC East is the most successful division, accumulating 12 titles in the past 43 years. But in the past decade it’s only been the Giants who have tasted glory, winning two Super Bowls since 2007 with the Eagles also tasting a bit of success in the postseason. Other than that, this division has been very underwhelming. Right now the debate is whether or not this is the worst division in the league. The defenses are among the worst in the league but can more than team overcome their shortcomings and advance into the playoffs?

Philadelphia Eagles: Teams don’t repeat as champions in this division. Although, the last team to do so was Philadelphia but that was a decade ago. Does this team have a good shot to hold the division crown? Well they are a good team but it’s also because the division is so terrible that the consensus is that, yes, the Eagles will repeat. I’m in the same camp. Defense was their biggest issue last season but with a new coordinator and some nice acquisitions, we could see a vast improvement in their defensive numbers. Of course, this team revolves around the offense that Chip Kelly designs and there’s no doubt that Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy have potential to be the biggest QB-RB combo in the league. McCoy could repeat as the rushing title champion. Schedule is a bit tough but this team has all the tools to win the division once again.

Washington Redskins: Headlines over the name of their franchise have been swirling around them for pretty much the entire offseason. If changes aren’t made quickly, the attention will only continue to increase as the season progresses. Whatever one’s stance is on the issue, it’s evident that changes should be made if only to avoid the negative press. Anyways, this team’s season will rely heavily, more than most teams, on the health of their quarterback. Will we see 2012 RG3 once again? Adding DeSean Jackson as a big-play receiver should help but more will hinge on Griffin’s decisions when it comes to his body. And unless their secondary improves in a big way, Washington will have to score plenty of points in order to win games. This team has below-.500 written all over them.

Dallas Cowboys: As much as I have tried since first posting on this website, it’s nearly impossible for me to be completely objective about this team. The Cowboys took me on an emotional roller coaster last season and I have a feeling it’s going to be more of the same this season. Jerry Jones is still the owner and Jason Garrett is still the head coach. I like the bolstering off the offensive line, especially with Romo’s back issues, but I would’ve been more satisfied is they addressed the terrible defense a bit better. The Cowboys did excellent against the division last season (5-1) but this time things won’t be as fortunate. The schedule is a toss up with the NFC West opponents being somewhat balanced out with the AFC opponents. Serious chance of Dallas finishing 8-8 for the fourth straight season.

New York Giants: Can anyone predict what’s going to happen with the Giants this season? After Eli Manning’s abysmal season in 2013 (27 INTs) and their issues all over field, the Giants are looking to bounce back in a big way. They certainly made the moves during the offseason to address their issues but it’s going to take time for that many players to adjust to a new team and system. The offensive line was among the worst last season to go along with their less-than-stellar running game. Can Manning carry the offense despite losing some of his weapons? If the defense wants to make an impact, it’s going to have to do it with their improved secondary because their defensive front doesn’t look like it’s going to make much damage. Much like the rest of the division, most likely a mediocre season.

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2014 NFL season preview: AFC West

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One of the most interesting divisions in the NFL. The AFC West has always been intriguing because of whatever the Raiders and Chargers are doing, but with the addition of Peyton Manning and a Chiefs resurgence, this is a division that will not lack headlines. Obviously, things revolve around the Broncos and their quest to return to the Super Bowl. But what about the Chiefs? They’ve been getting LOTS of attention for a specific reason but we’ll get to them eventually. The Chargers always being the dark horse and whatever nonsense the Raiders are up to.

Denver Broncos: After their blowout loss in the Super Bowl, how does Denver respond this season. People are penciling them in for at least 11 or 12 wins but is it going to be that easy? Other teams will be trying to emulate the Seahawks’ game plan from the Super Bowl when they’re up against the Broncos this season. Peyton Manning is a year older and as we know with pro athletes that are in an advanced age, when it’s starts to go, it goes very fast. But Denver did well in their offseason on defense, signing Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and TJ Ward. All players should help them immensely, especially with Manning losing Eric Decker and transitioning to Emmanuel Sanders in that same role. The offense won’t break records this season but they’ll do damage. Denver regresses, just a bit, but still wins the division.

Kansas City Chiefs: This is, without a doubt, one of the most talked about teams prior to the start of the season. Why? They have the word “regression” written all over them. Pick your topic: over achievers last season, a really tough schedule, key losses on defense and no additions on offense. Let’s just add the fact that they suffered a really bad playoff defeat to the Colts last season. Also, no one respects Alex Smith as he can’t shed the label of “game manager” unless he has some sort of other-worldly season. Are people doubting this team a little too much? One of my good friends is a Chiefs fan and he said “The Chiefs won’t do as well as last season but they won’t be as bad as everyone thinks they’ll be.” I just look at their schedule and wonder how they’re going to be more than 7 or 8 wins this season.

San Diego Chargers: Could this finally be the Chargers year? They made the playoffs last season by finishing their season on a winning streak and with the help of some other teams losing. But can the momentum continue? Their potent offense carried the way but can Phillip Rivers and his weapons be as effective? Some point to their lack of weapons. I’m in the camp that doesn’t think they’ll need to score that many points to win games this season. They addressed their defensive woes in the offseason through the draft and free agency signings. Their schedule starts off and finishes pretty tough, but it they can take care of business against the easier teams, I can see San Diego doing well and challenging not only for a spot in the playoffs, but also challenging Denver for the division title.

Oakland Raiders: What is this team doing? They’ve added some nice young players to build for the future but with head coach Dennis Allen still there, I can’t see the team doing anything but staying in the same spot. Does Matt Schaub have anything left after leaving Houston in the worst possible way? Will he break his own “pick-6” record with a Raiders helmet on? Can Darren McFadden stay healthy after signing another contract with Oakland? The Raiders acquired Maurice Jones-Drew to help with the ball carries but who knows how much he has left in the tank. Both the head coach and GM seem to be “hot seat” candidates and all signs point to them not being with the franchise next season. At best, I can see this as a .500 team but nowhere near contention for division or the playoffs.

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2014 NFL season preview: NFC West

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No reason to believe otherwise: this is the NFL’s best division. But just because it’s the best division in football, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the toughest to figure out. As a whole, it’s led to believe that this will be a down year for the division. The Seahawks are still the favorite but are dealing with minor issues to coincide with the Super Bowl hangover. The rest of the division is simply dealing with lots of injuries and we could see less of a dominance with their out-of-division games. How will things shake out for each individual team?

Seattle Seahawks: I’m sure that I don’t need to stress how difficult it is to repeat as Super Bowl champions. If Seattle were to accomplish the feat, it will have been the first time we’ve seen a team do that since the Patriots of the early 2000s. Despite the obstacles, this Seahawks team is the first team with a real chance to repeat in a long time. There’s a real chance that we’ll see them regress from last season but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t the favorites to win the division, and the conference, once again. Questions linger on the offense: how will Marshawn Lynch do and who is Russell Wilson going to to throw the ball to? Combine that with a few key departures on defense, mostly in the backfield, and we have a less potent team. Seahawks still win the West, but it’s not as impressive.

San Francisco 49ers: My argument still stands: the 49ers were the best team in the NFL the past two seasons. Unfortunately they had to deal with playing in the best division in football and suffered losses that felt more unfortunate than telling. Did San Francisco’s window close a bit after last season? Now that Colin Kaepernick got his big “but team friendly” contract, how does the pressure affect him? A healthy Michael Crabtree plus Steve Smith will certainly help things but the offense will need to be much more effective, seeing as their defense is dealing with some injuries and off-the-field issues that will result in suspensions. Can this team rely more on their offense? Some say that if they don’t compete once again for a title, this might be Jim Harbaugh’s last season. There’s potential for regression, but I think the Niners are, at worst, the second wild card.

Arizona Cardinals: By default, the Cardinals are the dark horse of the division. Especially with the Rams’ chances going down the drain. Arizona has been a playoff-caliber team for the past two seasons but are unfortunately in tough spot to actually make the postseason. Can they finally overcome their obstacles? Carson Palmer must, MUST, cut down on the turnovers. Their defense was solid last season but a couple of key players will be missing, so much like the 49ers, the Cardinals need to rely more on their offense. I like a big year from RB Andre Ellington and more focus on WR Michael Floyd. It’ll also be interesting to how well their secondary does with the return of Tyrann Mathieu. I like the Cardinals more than most people but maybe, just maybe if they were in another division, they could see success.

St. Louis Rams: This Rams team was showing signs of a breakout season, the only thing holding them back was a decent and healthy season from Sam Bradford to get things going in the right direction. But this is the NFL and sometimes, the worst of your team’s injuries occur before the season has even begun. Bradford tears his ACL during preseason and just like that, St. Louis’ season is pretty much lost. Their defense, particularly their front line, will be great but it won’t be enough. Bradford isn’t en elite quarterback by any stretch but he’s better than every single back up in the league. Now the topic turns from  “Can the Rams be a playoff team?” to “Do the Rams part ways with Bradford?” because of one play in a meaningless game. With their starting QB gone, the Rams are looking at a long season.

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2014 NFL season preview: AFC East

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We’re ten days, that’s right TEN, away from the NFL regular season getting underway. The preseason has teased us a bit but now that the more important of the four games have been played, the roster cuts begin and teams will look officially ready for the season. I waited as long as I could to preview each division mostly because of injuries. Just look at what’s happened to Sam Bradford (torn ACL), Cam Newton (fractured rib), Wes Welker (concussion) and many other players around the league. And the NFL hasn’t even played a game yet! The show must go on and so will we. I’ll be doing a division each day, switching from conference to conference, while leaving the toughest divisions to decide for the last few days.

New England Patriots: As it has been for the past decade-plus, the division starts and ends with the Patriots. As long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are there then it’s just assumed that they will win over 10 games and take the division title. The Jets challenged them for a few years (sometimes successfully) but this isn’t one of the years. The Patriots are healthy, getting back Rob Gronkowski and key players on their defense. The acquisition of Darrell Revis vastly improves what was an abysmal secondary last season. So what’s going to determine their season? Well, Brady’s weapons and their health. Last year Gronkowski went down early and the offense was so different. That and how effective they will be at running. Despite what problems may occur, I don’t seem them giving up the division.

Miami Dolphins: If the Patriots were to concede the division to another team, which team steps up to take it from them? I have a feeling that it’s going to be the Dolphins. All the signs are there. Miami did a nice job signing players in the offseason that fit their needs. Better players on both sides of the line and more weapons at play-making positions. But it’s all going to come down to Ryan Tannehill. The young QB, with the hottest wife in the league, has been getting plenty of buzz as one of biggest breakout stars of the season. I’m a bit hesitant to agree because he’s never been able to stay upright and his deep passes aren’t too crisp. Fixing the o-line and improving the receiving core will help both of those things immediately. Miami will be better this season but challenging New England for the division is a bit of a stretch.

New York Jets: The Jets. Even when they’re not good, they’re still getting plenty of attention because of their bizarre way of doing, well, everything. The circus doesn’t stop this season with the signing of Michael Vick and Chris Johnson. Those two names immediately create discussion but what about the rest of the Jets team? Geno Smith is named the starter for week 1 but how will the rest of the offense step it up? I mean, it’s not like offense can be worse than last season, right? Eric Decker should be a nice go-to target but i’m worried about their secondary and their inability to create turnovers. Coaching is always a question with Rex Ryan around. All signs point to a mediocre/.500 team and I think that’s exactly when they’re headed. Maybe even a bit worse.

Buffalo Bills: Of all the teams with playoff-less droughts, the Bills might be the most disappointing of them all. They’re one of about three teams that are predicted to “make the leap” year after year, but they always come up short on their goals. Last year was the first year of the EJ Manuel era and while he showed a bit of promise to start the season, the injury bug didn’t want to let him do. The Bills are gambling by selecting WR Sammy Watkins so high in the draft (ie. ATL with Julio Jones) so we’ll have to see how that plays out. Yes, the pieces are there as they are most years but how will everything pan out? The potential of the entire franchise being sold will loom over everything and it won’t have a positive result. Potential not fulfilled turns into disappointment. Bills bring up the rear of the division.

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2014 FIFA World Cup: Germany wins their 4th title

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Today’s World Cup final between Germany and Argentina was not for the faint of heart. There was only one goal during the length of the match but it was still an exciting one, filled with plenty of chances for both teams. There were also some controversial calls, hard fouls, great fan reactions and one incredible late goal. Mario Götze, at only 22 years of age, becomes a national hero for Germany after he scores on a brilliant volley in extra time to win Germany’s 4th World Cup title. Götze was initially a starter for the German squad but had been benched after a somewhat unimpressive campaign. No more. Götze will be forever remembered by German football fans around the world as “super-sub Mario” after the young man came off the bench in the 88th minute, and scored with only 7 minutes left in extra time. The addition of Götze seemed to energize the German offense, taking advantage of a well-rested squad and they looked like the team with more legs as the game went into added extra time. Germany wasn’t as impressive today as most thought they would be but they did enough when it counted most. They controlled the pace of the game and despite a couple of key mistakes, they never allowed Argentina to take control of the game for more than a few stretches throughout the game. Argentina had the clearest chances but aside from a few nice break away plays, they never really got into rhythm.

This was supposed to be the game where Lionel Messi ascended into greatness and could very well ended the debate of who the greatest football player of all time. It didn’t quite occur that way. Sure, when given a bit space or a nice through ball, Messi looked poised to make a great play but overall #10 for Argentina was largely absent. Argentina’s attack was mostly limited to the outside wingers as they tried to control the ball in order to force Germany into some mistakes. They happened but the “albiceleste” team didn’t take advantage and they’re left with a handful of what ifs. I thought that if Messi had a bit more help, the offense could’ve been more fluid but with Angel Di Maria out and only one half of Sergio Aguero, there wasn’t enough firepower up front. Striker Gonzalo Higuain failed to capitalize on a huge German mistake in the first half and had an unimpressive game overall. I gotta give it up for the Argentine fans. They were among the best of the tournament and their presence was felt throughout a game that featured a nice flow from end of end. No one really thought that Argentina would make it to a World Cup final that is being held in Brazil but they did it and while their night might end with tears and disappointment, they have nothing to be ashamed about. But what else are we going to take away from this World Cup?

I can’t imagine it being a better World Cup when we head to Russia four years from now and if FIFA does go through with Qatar in 2022, that might end up being the worst of all time. But we’ll get to those tournaments when they’re closer to us. Let’s praise Brazil for a moment. After months of scrutiny for a number of reasons, Brazil was able to overcome, hosting a brilliant tournament that accounted for some of the best world football that we have ever seen and i’m pretty we’ll look back at this World Cup as one of the best ever. Did the “right” team win it all? I think so. Germany was the most impressive team of the tournament from start to finish and they held the concept of team more than any other nation. Were there other team that were worthy of winning the title? Yes, and no. Netherlands certainly had their stretches, as did teams like Brazil, Colombia and France. But they all had one or two glaring issues that were certain to doom them. Germany only held minor issues and seemed to be the best, most complete tournament. Also, I may or may not have wagered on Germany before the tournament and may, or may not, have collected some sort of prize today. Ich danke Ihnen sehr Deutschland.

Thank you Brazil. Thank you to all the players, all of the coaching staffs, the wonderful fans (especially the pretty ladies) in the stands and for a great month of high-level world football. See you in four years.

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LeBron James will return to the Cleveland Cavaliers

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The NBA free agency is always an interesting one. Unlike the NFL and MLB (somewhat), pro basketball teams actually make trades and the possibility of a big name changing teams is likely. That’s what we’ve gotten so far this season. Most of the world is focused on the tournament down in Brazil but here in the United States, the sports world was waiting for something to happen. Because this off season, LeBron James was going to make a move. There were other big names out there like Carmelo Anthony, who could very well leave New York, but the entire league took a step back and waited for LeBron to make a move. It’s hard to imagine a time when one single player could affect the process of an entire league but that’s what we got. Social media networks sprouted rumors and statements with “sources say” from people around the NBA but nothing was set in stone. I had a feeling that only LeBron, and whoever was going to break the story, knew exactly what he was going to do. That part of this process was one that I liked. While ESPN and other sports networks built the story up with random developments, Sports Illustrated did the actual reporting. LeBron James will opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat and return to the Cavaliers; in a simple message he simply stated “I’m coming home” to all of his Instagram followers.

We can go on and on about the Miami Heat and their fan base, always putting quotation marks when referring to them. And as much as I dislike the Heat, let’s not make it about them. This is about Cleveland now. This is about a city that has had their heart broken and about a player trying to mend whatever wounds he caused. Things ended very salty between LeBron and the city of Cleveland but now he’s trying to fix that while adding something else to his legacy. Let’s not forget that he was emphatically boo’ed when he first returned to play in the Cavaliers arena while wearing a different team’s uniform. Those same fans will now have to support James as both sides try and leave the past where it is. LeBron stated that he talked to Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert “face-to face and man-to-man” and by all accounts they’re on good terms now. It’s interesting but at the same time, what other narrative is there to take? But wait, shouldn’t we be talking about this from a basketball standpoint?

LeBron was never going to leave the eastern conference. Why would he? The conference is in such bad shape that just by him moving to the Cavaliers, they’re automatically the favorites to win the east. Several teams are on the rise (Raptors, Hawks, Wizards and Hornets) while no one knows what’s going to happen with the Pacers. Let’s also add that reports indicate that Chris Bosh will end up in Houston, so who’s left to represent the conference in the Finals? Unless Melo decides to join the Bulls, the Cavs are the de facto best team in the eastern conference. The Bulls are also a candidate but i’m waiting to see how Derrick Rose recovers and how they fix their scoring issues. So right now the Cavaliers starting five consists of Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins in the backcourt, LeBron, Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao in the frontcourt. Not exactly world-beaters and they still have some chemistry issues but with LeBron, anything really is possible. LeBron’s future is with the Cavaliers remains with a bit of mystery but he’s made his decision and the sports world must accept it, for better or worse.

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2014 FIFA World Cup: Germany destroys Brazil to reach final

Brazil v Germany: Semi Final - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Earlier today, I had moved some things about in my normal life to make some room for the match between Brazil and Germany. A part of me was hesitant to have such high aspirations for a game that would be missing two of the five, or six, most important players on the field. But the pure sports fan in me wanted to say “Brazil is at home, it’ll be a competitive game” just for the mere fact that fans around the world deserved a competitive match. I mean, this is one of the semifinals in the World Cup. Right? As we’ve learned throughout the history of professional sports, the word “deserve” should seldom, if ever, be used. We get some feel good stories here and there, but for the most part it’s just whoever decides to show up that day. Germany showed up today and Brazil did not, plain and simple. Playing without two of your best players in tough but playing like you shouldn’t even be on the same field as your opponent, well that’s a completely different story. Brazil started the match off well, attacking and risking as they forced Germany to drop back and hold their own on defense. I watched, thinking Brazil might get the early lead and “park the bus” or something of that sort. Not even close. Germany scores their first goal on a massive defensive mistake and it’s a barrage of German goals from there. From the looks of it, the game looked like Brazil was trying to recover from their first goal and all of a sudden, they were down 2-0. Then 3-0, and so on. Halftime arrives and football fans around the world are wondering, trying to comprehend, just what in the world we just witnessed.

After Germany’s first two goals were in the back of the net, it was pretty obvious that they were going to advance to the final. But then only six minutes later and Germany had scored as many goals, in one match, as Brazil had received so far in the World Cup. Astonishing. To put it frankly: it was men against boys out there. The cameras kept showing the tearful and bewildered Brazilian fans in the stands, turning the game turn into a sad affair. Then again, how sad can one really feel for Brazil? Winners of five titles and perennial favorites from competition to competition. Brazil also didn’t help themselves by playing with the swagger of a team that figured it could just cruise into the final of the tournament they were hosting. Not to mention that because of their perceived preferential treatment from the referees, fans that supported Chile or Colombia, among others, had little sympathy for the men in yellow jerseys and their fans.

What of the winners today? I’m sure that the German beer was flowing heavily throughout the match and it might still be flowing as i’m typing this out. Not since their 6-1 win over Armenia (last friendly) and their 4-0 dominant win over Portugal in the group opener has Germany looked so dominant. Germany was balanced, focused, tactically sound and knew when to strike, turning the match into a rout. Oh yeah, among their shocking win over Brazil, Germany also made history. 84-year history in that they matched Brazil’s largest defeat ever and were the first team to beat them in their home stadium in an international competition since the mid-70s. Also, veteran striker Mirosav Klose became the sole leader of most goals scored in a World Cup over an entire career; passing Brazil’s own Ronaldo, who watched in agony from the stands. With a 5-0 lead in their pocket, the Germans spent much of the second half passing the ball around and holding off Brazil’s best efforts. Two more goals for the Germans, the second of which (7th overall) came on a quality finish from Andre Shurrle. Oscar managed to put the home team on the board but Brazil will do some heavy soul-searching. Meanwhile, Germany will watch tomorrow’s match between Argentina and Netherlands, learning about the future opponent, fully knowing that they are now the team to beat and the favorite to lift the trophy after their impressive win.

Prediction: We saw what injuries can do to a team. But Argentina still has their best player and Messi will be the best on the field tomorrow. Netherlands risks too much and Argentina takes advantage, winning 2-1.

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2014 FIFA World Cup: on to the semi-finals

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Before the World Cup began, Brazil was the favorite to win it all, followed closely by Argentina, Germany and Spain. With the exception of Spain’s unorthodox early exit, the addition of Netherlands, we’re more or less where everyone expected before the tournament began. The Dutch were a potential threat to advance this far but the group they were put in and their chemistry issues had people doubting. And they haven’t done much to convince people. They were inferior to Mexico for most of the game and while they should have scored multiple times against Costa Rica, they still needed to survive penalties in order to make it this far. Just goes to show how interesting and, frankly, chaotic this World Cup has been from the start. The only downside is that after seeing so many goals, the action slowed down in the quarterfinals. Teams were unwilling to take as many risks because they knew that the slightest mistake would cost their team and their country the chance to lift world football’s most coveted trophy. Just take a look at the goals: Argentina scores after an awkward/favorable bounce, Germany appeared to have fouled Varane on their goal and Brazil’s first goal was on a clear defensive mistake that came in a game filled with fouls and sloppy play. The only quality goal of all four quarterfinal games was David Luiz’s incredible free kick that is my personal favorite of all the goals in tournament. The only shame greater than the goals is that we’re going to be absent from two of the better players in the world. Neymar’s back injury and Di Maria’s thigh injury are keeping us from some great football but they’re also hindering their teams, who just so happen two of the favorites to win it. Is Brazil more likely to perform or is Argentina the more likely?

It’s tough to say. The obvious answer is that Argentina will still be near their top level because while Di Maria has been key, it’s not on the same level as losing Lionel Messi. Which would be equivalent to what is going on with Brazil. But can Brazil REALLY lose at home in an international competition? Hasn’t happened since 1975 but it’s going to be very tough for the home team to win against Germany after the personnel that won’t be participating. We can’t forget to mention that center defensive-back Thiago Silva will also miss the match after getting another yellow card on one of the silliest plays that I’ve ever seen. Two key players missing for Brazil has the Germans thinking that they could finally be back in a World Cup final since their loss to Brazil during the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan. It’s hard to imagine that we’re going to have a real chance that it’s going to be two European teams in a final that is being held in South America. Especially after the group stages, when it felt like the UEFA teams were falling like flies and there wasn’t a doubt that a non-European team would be winning the title. The script has flipped. Can Argentina take down the Dutch? The “albiceletes” didn’t look impressive for any of their group stage games and needed heroics from Messi in order for their World Cup campaign to not be an embarrassment. They seemed to have gained some form but they haven’t been through the toughest of competitors. Yes, Belgium was the token “dark horse” team before the Cup began but they still carried lots of questions. As expected, all eyes will be on number 10 as he tires to lead Argentina against all odds.

Predictions: I’m still torn on Netherlands-Argentina so i’ll wait until tomorrow night to predict them. Too big of a loss for Brazil as Germany dominates the pace and wins 2-1.

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