Thursday, December 31, 2009

Before We Slam The Door

Go ahead, move onto 2010 if you'd like. Not me however, I'm staying in '09 for a few more hours. Surprising I know, considering this is the year that gave us the New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Steelers, and L.A. Lakers winning titles, what's next, the Russians dominate the Olympics? 2009 certainly won't go quiet into the night; These are the 10 Things To Remember from '09: The Year Darth Vader Won.

10. Order Restored. You can bet all blowhard Yankee fans have said this at one point in 2009. Not since 2000 had baseball's most storied franchise brought a championship back to The Bronx. Players like Randy Johnson had come and gone with their big money contracts looking to add a World Series ring to their resume yet failed. Finally, before we blew out the candles on this decade, the Yankees finished exactly where they started: at the top. In an offseason which saw New York get back to basics and sink more than $180 million dollars into three top prize free agents, (Mark Teixeira, C.C. Sabathia, and A.J. Burnett), their high hopes would finally be answered. A 103-win season capped off by their 27th World Championship.

9. Caught, Oops! From Michael Phelps (yes I checked if that was this year) caught smoking marijuana from a bong on film, to Tiger Woods and the affairs we've heard about, 2009 made sure athletes get no pass. Could we find two bigger sports stars? The Olympian of these United States responsible for the greatest achievement in the billion year old games and Tiger Woods, the savior of a dying game. However, in 2009 we've realized that 8-gold medals in one games and 14 major championships in a young career just doesn't buy you the kind of protection one thought. No matter how giant the athlete/celebrity, they're still human. World, Tiger Woods slept around and Michael Phelps got a picture of him taken while he took a bong rip, please stop acting surprised.

8. I didn't vote for Serena. It isn't because of Serena Williams' attack on a line judge that I would slight her for Female Athlete of the Year. It is however because both female horses (not humans) Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra were flat out better. From the wire, Rachel Alexandra stood alone beating an entire male field in the Preakness Stakes, becoming the first female horse to ever do so. She wouldn't stop at that, going 8-0 in 2009 and capping off the year with a win at the Woodward Stakes. Zenyatta on the other hand, she only dropped every older male horse in the Breeder's Cup by coming from behind to stun the horse racing world and complete a 5-0 season. A horse racing year dominated by the females, they should get their due for Female Athlete(s) of the Year. Much respect.

7. He's Baaaack. I still find it crazy that once the most prolific player in the game of football, Michael Vick, was sentenced to prison time for operating and funding a dog fighting ring. But that was a couple years ago, after serving his time Michael Vick did what everyone thought wasn't possible, returned. The story isn't how Vick played on the field, because we didn't see too much of that. However, after signing with the Philadelphia Eagles and being given a second chance on life, I must applaud the Eagles franchise. Without fear of losing fan support, protesters, or just downright negative press, the Eagles weathered the storm and now look poised to make a deep playoff run. Wouldn't 2010 start off right with Michael Vick kissing the Lombardi Trophy? That's why we love second chances.

6. Favred. I'm beginning to think he just likes the attention. Easily the most beloved player in the NFL, Brett Favre made everyone sit around and wait, listen to the hours and hours of speculation on whether or not he would return from retirement and be under center yet again. Surprise! He came back. A retirement that would make both George Foreman and Michael Jordan jealous, Brett Favre is currently a Minnesota Viking and headed to the postseason. What makes this story most interesting, is the jersey he's wearing. It was one thing when he was playing in The Big Apple, that's about as far removed from Green Bay, Wisconsin as one can get, but to play in Minnesota? Well that's just low. The famed Packer legend completed his full circle comeback by dropping 'The Pack' not once but twice this season, including in Lambeau. This story won't end in 2009, if the Packers and Vikings meet again in the playoffs, I'm sure you and I will be watching.

5. Bye-Bye Charlie Why does no one else realize that Notre Dame just isn't that sexy? Well this fall, it got a whole lot worse. After rumours of Charlie Weis firing began even before the season started, the way his Irish played post-Week 8 and stumbling to a 6-6 record by losing their final four games, Weis was out. Charlie had a very average stay at Notre Dame, reached a few BCS games with someone elses players, had a terrible season going 3-9 in '07, followed by a final two years of 7-6 and 6-6, game over. Unfortunately for the Irish, they're starting over. On second thought, let's give Charlie some credit. He will have developed two top 10 NFL Draft quarterbacks, Brady Quinn several years ago and this year Jimmy Clausen. His offense was a top ten offense this year, and that was what he was known for coming in. Then again, when you come in preaching championships and the only thing you win is a laugher against Washington State, you don't get much love from me. Bye-Bye Charlie!

4. The 'roids, the 'roids, 'the roids . . Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and David Ortiz all in one way or another suspected if not found to use or have used performance enhancing drugs. It's tough to think baseball is totally clean, you'd be foolish to. On the other hand, who cares? Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz apparently both appear on a 'list' that no one has ever seen. Manny Ramirez was actually suspended this season for failing a drug test, but I just don't care. Why should I? It's baseball, the past twenty-plus years are steroid'ed up and we know that. On the other hand, there is a handful of World Series Championships that seem to be a bit tainted by these sluggers. Including the most recent 2009 World Series which has more than one player(s) who were at one time accused of taking some sort of performance enhancing drug. It's about time we move on from this and continue to roll our eyes. Daily News, that means you.

3. The Year of Pacquiao We may not show the respect, but they sure do in his native land. The Philippines own Manny Pacquiao has become boxings biggest star and in doing so fired up a sport that was once considered dying if not dead already. Pacquiao started out the year by dropping England's Ricky Hatton in dramatic fashion, a second round knockout. Consider it the awakening by the American media, but this was the second fight in less than six months (including his December '08 beatdown of legend Oscar De La Hoya) that Pacquiao put on a show. Then again in November, Pacquiao came out again on a national stage and beat up Miguel Cotto to prove the point: He is boxing. Now with 2010 and the possibility of him fighting the captivating Floyd Mayweather, the run continues. Manny Pacquiao is possibly as good as it gets not just in boxing, in professional sports.

2. Kobe Isn't Michael, He's Kobe. In 2008 Kobe Bryant learned he couldn't win a title on his own, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce taught him that. In 2009, 'Bean flat out took the NBA title to wrap that 4th and elusive SHAQless ring around his finger. In the '09 Finals, Kobe averaged 32.4 points, 7.4 assists, and 5.6 boards a game. Why is this so important? Because historically, Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the greatest NBA players of all time, but now he's got a SHAQless ring to prove it. He handled the finals with ease playing nearly 44 minutes a game and giving the Magic absolutely too much to handle. As early as this season, you can see the results of how far Kobe Bryant has come. Not only is he the ultimate team player, but the players around him believe that. For a young man that has experienced the full gambit of the NBA, he's leaving his mark on the game right now in his 13th year in the league.

1. Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald, The Evolution Of. The Steelers may have won the '09 Super Bowl in dramatic fashion (Santonio Holmes toe stopper). However I'm still in awe of the play of one Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals game chaging wideout. Not only did Fitzgerald transform into the best receiver in the game, but his four playoff games are stuff legends are made of. Fitzgerald grabbed 30 balls for 546 yards and got in the endzone seven time including one 64 yard touchdown reception on the biggest stage. Why is all this important? Because, in a game which is routinely called a defense and run the ball game, a reciever laid the ground work for all other postseason runs. Larry Fitzgerald became the games best and you could argue changed the face of the playoffs going forward.

On to 2010 . .. Oh what could it have in store!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

LRN Power Rankings: Week 17

There is alot to be learned from Week 16, however we've still got one more week and much is to be determined. As the Patriots and Eagles begin to flex their veteran playoff muscle, the Saints and Vikings continue to trip up down the stretch. Will the Jets back into the postseason? Who will be crowned champion of the NFC 'bEast'? . . .It's the LRN Power Rankings: Week 17

Get After It!

1. San Diego Chargers (2) A change at the top is in order. Ten game winning streak, locking up a first round bye, Phillip Rivers has the Chargers playing sharper than ever and poised for a deep postseason run. Vincent Jackson is licking his chops for a shot at that Patriot secondary.

2. Indianapolis Colts (1) While I agree with Jim Caldwell's decision, the pressure is on now. After coughing it up to the Jets, Peyton is going to have to take care of business and reach the Super Bowl for that to be justified.

3. Philadelphia Eagles (4) After six straight wins, the Eagles control their fate. Beat Dallas and win the NFC East, acquire a first round bye along with a second round home game. They could use some time to get healthy but they'll have to win in Dallas to get that.

4. New Orleans Saints (3) Chinks in the armour. After two straight losses, the Saints still have home field advantage as long as they are in the postseason. With a first round bye already in pocket, New Orleans has to come out and get in sync this week.

5. New England Patriots (6) Three straight victories, Randy Moss getting more involved in the offense, and finally the defense is showing their teeth. The Patriots are going to open up at home and you can bet they won't be playing soft. This is why you don't give up on Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

6. Dallas Cowboys (8) Still flying under the radar. Dallas has won two straight on the road and after clinching a postseason birth they still have an opportunity to win the NFC East. Give credit where it's due, to Tony Romo and Miles Austin. Once a punchline, Tony Romo has hit his stride and in large part due to the play of one previously unknown wideout.

7. Green Bay Packers (10) One of the most fascinating stats used to describe the Packers season is the 41 sacks they gave up in the first half of the season compared to the 9 they gave up during the second half. Does it shock anyone their once 5-4 record ballooned to 10-5 heading into the final week?

8. Minnesota Vikings (5) Torched by Kurt Warner is one thing. But by Panthers backup Matt Moore and the interception happy Jay Cutler, well that's a problem. The Vikings defense hasn't gotten to the quarterback in weeks, and now they've blown whatever advantage they once had going into the postseason. Believe it, no team is more shaky at the top.

9. Cincinnati Bengals (9) They win some close games and have a knack for knocking off teams in their own division. Let's face facts, the Bengals are most likely to get upset at home in Wild Card weekend. Anyone want to dispute that?

10. Arizona Cardinals (12) The Arizona Cardinals do one thing very well, come to play when it matters. The biggest difference between this season and the Cardinals Super Bowl run last season is Chris Wells. The rookie running back deepens the Arizona backfield and should have the biggest impact come postseason time.

11. Carolina Panthers (18) If any team isn't giving up on this season, it's the Carolina Panthers. With consecutive wins against the Minnesota Vikings and delivering the knockout punch to the New York Giants on the legs of a 206-yard performance from Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers are playing great.

12. New York Jets (21) Win and they're in, I guess? Sure, the Jets probably don't deserve to be getting in after the Colts pulled their starters and allowed the Jets to get in the back door. Then again, they did win four of their last five to get them to 8-7 with a chance to get in the postseason on the final week.

13. Baltimore Ravens (11) Believe it or not, the Ravens still hold onto some cards. If they win this weekend against a very beatable Raiders team, they're in. Since late November, the Ravens have gone 3-3 losing two straight on the road. Baltimore isn't playing with the swagger they once had and are going to need a healthy Ed Reed to get in and not just be a one & out playoff team.

14. Denver Broncos (14) They'll need some help. Hard to believe that a team that went through eight weeks of the season and stood at 6-2. Then again, the Broncos did go 2-5 over the next seven. The 20-19 loss against Oakland just ten days ago will come back to haunt them by keeping them on the outside looking in.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (15) The Steelers aren't getting all the help they need to get in, especially when Cincinnati is going to be resting starters against a Jets team they need to lose. After seeing Peyton get pulled early in the second half, the Steelers had to know they were on their way out. However, it isn't all bad for Pittsburgh, when they finish off the season they'll still be on South Beach after playing Miami this week.

16. Tennessee Titans (13) The Titans really put on a show in the second half of the season, I give them a ton of credit for that. However, they've still got to beat Seattle to reach an 8-8 finish. Hey! For a team that started out 0-6 after getting hammered by New England 59-0, 8-8 is impressive.

17. Atlanta Falcons (17) An extremely tough schedule to navigate just became too much for the young Falcons lead by second year quarterback, Matt Ryan. Even with Ryan sitting out several games due to injury as well as an injury plagued backfield, the Falcons still have the ability to reach a 9-7 mark with a victory in week 17. Which would mark the first time this franchise had back to back winning seasons in it's history.

18. San Francisco 49ers (22) The question had to be whether or not the 49ers were a year away. Turns out they were. Bringing back Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, and Michael Crabtree gives them a core on offense. Next up, give Patrick
Willis and that defense a little more bite on the defensive line.

19. Houston Texans (20) What can we expect from Houston? They can't get over the hump and proved it again this season. There is only so many times you can stack a defense and load up an offense but watch them remain the same team. Changes at the top are in order.

20. Miami Dolphins (16) I like what the Dolphins did this season, they made trouble for New England late in the season and got by with huge injuries on their offense. Going forward, they've got a quarterback for the future and need a big playmaking wideout catching balls.

21. New York Giants (7) Hahahahahaha, I hate the Giants. Not only was missing the playoffs embarrassing after starting 5-0, but they will watch two NFC East foes go to the postseason in the process. They closed out the Meadowlands in ugly fashion and are left with many questions heading into the offseason.

22. Jacksonville Jaguars (19) The Jaguars were fraudulent from the start. A 7-5 record just weeks ago should have fooled exactly no one. They've lost three straight and seriously need to find a way to fill seats when they're at home. Draft Tebow!

23. Chicago Bears (28) If Jay Cutler can give another performance this week like he just did (20 for 35 and 4 TD's) the Bears can leave this season looking to rebuild that defense and refocus the offense. While I don't cheer for Jay Cutler, he sure did impress me on Monday night.

24. Cleveland Browns (24) Amazing what a team will do when they're playing for their jobs after a new team president is announced. Winners of three straight, I still say the Browns only positive is Josh Cribbs. Oh, and someone should have let them know that they are ruining their shot at a #1 pick.

25. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (26) Will Raheem Morris really be a one year coach? The 3-12 Bucs have work to do, even if they beat the Saints in New Orleans this past weekend. If the Bill Cowher rumours are true, this is exactly what the Glaziers ordered.

26. Oakland Raiders (25) The Raiders have a good defense, I'll give them that much. I still think the Raiders need a personnel guy more than Tiger Woods needs a time machine, sorry Al.

27. Buffalo Bills (27) They're just bad.

28. Kansas City Chiefs (29) Do we think that Kansas City will surprise some people in the offseason? I think so. More importantly, I believe they'll have an even better 2010 NFL Draft.

29. Washington Redskins (23) Don't expect them to draft a quarterback folks. After watching what the Dallas defense did to their offensive line, would you put a rookie through that? The Jason Campbell may just be over, but this is someone elses nightmare.

30. Detroit Lions (30) Another week, another loss.

31. St. Louis Rams (32) Rumour has it they're sold on picking a quarterback, now you've got to find a way to protect said quarterback.

32. Seattle Seahawks (31) Is it possible that Jim Mora Jr. can submarine yet another franchise? You got it! Is Jim Zorn available next year?

With a week remaining, thank you for reading the LRN Power Rankings every week. As always you can catch me on twitter and also audio lynchy!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Now We Know: 5 Things Week 16

1. Going undefeated only matters to the '72 Dolphins. While Don Shula pops champagne and Peyton Manning loses sleep, Jim Caldwell, 1st year head coach of the Indianapolis Colts keeps moving. By pulling his starters in a close game on Sunday, Caldwell allowed the Jets season to continue and in turn started the great debate of the 2009 season. Does going undefeated matter? The quick answer is no, flat out. The New England Patriots were on the cusp of doing the impossible before handing Eli Manning and the New York Giants a Super Bowl ring, ask them which they would have rather had? The Colts 2009 goals probably went something like this: beat the New England Patriots (check), win the AFC South (check), earn home field advantage throughout (check), and win a Super Bowl (not yet). Any hurdle which was in their way, they would have had to conquer to achieve their goals, Peyton Manning getting injured in the 4th quarter of a meaningless game would substantially have changed the odds in achieving their final goal, a Super Bowl victory. That being said, with all their goals accomplished but one , Jim Caldwell made the conscious decision to protect that final goal as best he could and give his team the best chance at obtaining it. Game, Set, Match. It'll take a day or two for Peyton to understand that if he hasn't already, but the Colts will be just as healthy as they are tomorrow as they were this morning, Jim Caldwell not caring about an undefeated crown is the best thing for them.

2. Quietly, the Patriots are taking shape. At 10-5 after three consecutive wins, the New England Patriots have clinched the AFC East and will open up the postseason in Foxborough. A somewhat tumultuous season for the darlings of the Northeast, the Patriots have tuned things around after their very average 7-5 start are looking very sharp. Albeit against Jacksonville and Buffalo, Randy Moss has caught 9 balls for 115 yards and four very important scores, it's safe to say the Panthers defensive backs and the media woke up a sleeping giant. In their last three games the Patriot offense has outscored opponents 72-27, not only is it a testament to their veteran laden offense, but the Patriots young defense seems to have improved a great deal. Just as quiet as the Patriots victories have been, the return of running backs Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor spell trouble for the postseason. An offense that makes you play the run and takes attention off of both Wes Welker and Randy Moss is a big problem for AFC defenses. While the Patriots have looked very beatable this season, in Miami and New York specifically, ask both Norv Turner in San Diego and Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis, neither of these teams want to play the Patriots in the postseason, even if New England does have to come to their places.

3. Colts & Saints move aside, there is a new #1. While they were undefeated, you really couldn't argue against them as the NFL's best. However, after the Saints recorded loss #2 and Indianapolis decided to rest their starters, it's tough to say any team is playing better than the San Diego Chargers. A 2-3 start turned into a 12-3 record after ripping off ten straight wins including their latest 42-17 ripping of the Titans this week. The ten win stretch included big against division rivals Oakland, Denver, and Kansas City, to go along with wins over playoff bound Dallas, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati. This may be the season of Phil Rivers, where the Charger quarterback has thrown for over 4,000 yards and recorded 27 touchdown passes. The Chargers have two of Rivers' top targets among the NFL's top ten receivers, breakout wideout Vincent Jackson (1,167 yards, 9 TD's) and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates (1,145 yards, 7 TD's). More surprising is the play of veteran running back LaDanian Tomlinson who is once again back in the top of the pack in rushing touchdowns (12). Heading into the postseason, few teams are playing with as much toughness as San Diego and are putting fear in opposing defenses like they should. Not many teams can spot the opposing 20 points while they average 29 per game. Be weary of the Chargers, they don't need home field throughout to make this interesting.

4. The real New York Giants sure stood up. Few teams can say they've experienced the full roller coaster of the NFL season . . . actually, many can say that but none more than the New York Giants. Upon opening the season to a 5-0 start, the Giants quickly dove into the tank dropping their next four games and 3-7 in their next ten. With their embarrassing 41-9 loss at the hands of a 7-8 Panther team, the Giants both closed out their final game in the Meadowlands and also ended their season. Not even Eli Manning's best statistical season of his career could keep the Giants above water. The biggest share of the blame can be linked to the Giant defense. A season ago, the Giants were the NFL's 5th ranked defense allowing just 18.4 points per game. In 2009 that number jumped to 25.5 and saw opposing offenses allow more than ten more rushing yards per game. An offense that saw some spark from young receivers Hakim Nicks and Mario Manningham could still probably use the rare abilities of the imprisoned Plaxico Burress. With a key injuries to the middle of their defense, Antonio Pierce, the young and impressive Kenny Phillips, along with the loss of former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuelo to the Rams, the Giants will need to undergo changes next season. The 5-0 start of the Giants seems a long ways away at this point, especially after that once tough defense gave up over 200 rushing yards to Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart and made backup quarterback Matt Moore look like a pro bowler.

5. Let the 'Beast' out; final game decides NFC East crown. A December meltdown avoided and an Eagles team which won six straight to get to this point, the Cowboys and Philadelphia will square off for the NFC East crown and a home playoff game. Both teams have looked very sharp in the two weeks prior and show no signs of stopping. The Cowboy defense shut down the Redskins in Washington this week, a week after dropping New Orleans from the ranks of the unbeaten in their own place. Philly has scored 27+ points in each of their last five games and haven't lost since November 15th. Cowboy quarterback Tony Romo is playing lights out this month. In their last six games, Romo has thrown 9 touchdowns and just one interception which came on a tipped ball. Favorite target Miles Austin is both among the league leaders in receiving yards and touchdowns. The Cowboy defense is even more impressive allowing 20+ points only twice since October 25th. Led by a smashing defensive line which includes both Jay Ratliff and the surprising Anthony Spencer who is playing flat out nasty. On the other hand, nothing can be taken away from a Philadelphia team that is proving how ageless Donovan McNabb has become. A fresh stock of young backs and receivers in the stable, McNabb seems to continue his winning ways. In five of their last seven games, McNabb has completed 20+ passes and has played best when it counts most this season. Between McNabb and breakout receiver DeSean Jackson, the Cowboys will have their handful as these two NFC 'Beasts' square off on Sunday.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Meyer Out At Florida

Florida Gators head football coach, Urban Meyer, stepped down today citing the immediate need to place health, faith, and family first. Less than a week before his Florida Gators play in the Sugar Bowl, Meyer announces his intent to resign from the university. And you thought college football wasn't exciting?

Easily the most shocking news of the college football season, Meyer's departure from Florida will indeed send shock waves through college football. Much like Michael retiring from basketball for the first time in 1993, Urban Meyer's exit has major impacts on the sport that is college football.

(1) It is THE PREMIER coaching job in college football. In Meyer's five seasons in Gainesville, he has not only brought the Gators back to where they were under former head coach Steve Spurrier, but he's surpassed that. Two BCS National Championships, three SEC East titles, and a 56-10 record over that run. You and I would be hard pressed to find a coach with a more impressive resume in the past five seasons. Would former Cincinnati head coach and newly anointed Notre Dame head coach, Brian Kelly, have accepted the Irish job with Gainesville open? Would former Florida State head coach and living legend Bobby Bowden have been asked to leave after this season had Meyer already departed? Don't you think some Florida native athletes would be lured by Bobby with Meyer stepping down? Would Louisville still be coach searching had former Florida defensive coordinator, Charlie Strong, caught wind of Meyer's plans? In the football rich state of Florida, with a winning program setting records in Gainesville, no school can boast that they are the College Football coaching Mecca, as Florida can. The Gator opening becomes coaching destination #1. With Urban Meyer leaving enormous shoes to fill.

(2) Provided Urban takes a year off, when do the Jacksonville rumours start? An NFL franchise in the Sunshine State which has seen it's stadium empty weeks after weeks, rumours already floating about the possible acquisition of Florida's adopted son Tim Tebow via the NFL draft. Could a successful college coach yet again take off for the NFL? Wouldn't an Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow reunion in the state which they succeeded so much be story number one of the offseason? Urban Meyer could take a year and relax, reevaluate his health, then return to what he loves doing, coaching. It doesn't seem a little strange that Meyer would want a break while he mulls the NFL? I am one for conspiracies, but to see these two reunite healthy at the next level, would be fantastic theater.

NO matter what the future holds for football coach Urban Meyer and the University of Florida, today we should have no doubt that he is and will be one of the finest coaches the game has ever seen in such a small window. Like Barry Sanders in Detroit or Jim Brown in Cleveland, Urban Meyer is an amazing college football story. Chomp, Chomp!

Monday, December 21, 2009

LRN Power Rankings: Week 16

It took 15 weeks, but the New Orleans Saints undefeated bid is over. Amidst countless discussions of Indianapolis resting their starters, the Colts are still winning and still undefeated. It's week 16 and these are the LRN Power Rankings!

Get After It!

1. Indianapolis Colts (1) Peyton Manning wants to go undefeated. His four touchdown performance against Jacksonville was PeytonESQUE and with remaining games against the Jets and Bills, he can taste it.

2. San Diego Chargers (4) Clinching the AFC West while winning their ninth straight on Sunday is as good as it gets for Norv Turner and the Chargers. No team is playing as well as San Diego, no team.

3. New Orleans Saints (2) In consecutive weeks against Washington and Atlanta, the Saints played bad and pulled out victories while remaining undefeated. Against a playoff hungry Cowboy team, their bad play came back and bit them.

4. Philadelphia Eagles (5) Winners of five straight, Philadelphia is still playing for an outside shot at a first round bye. With both Minnesota and New Orleans hitting late season road bumps, the Eagles are yet again in the hunt for an NFC crown.

5. Minnesota Vikings (3) The Carolina Panthers came out and whipped Minnesota on Sunday night. The once dominating Viking offense couldn't keep Brett protected and the vaunted ground attack was held to just 41 yards on 14 carries.

6. New England Patriots (8) I've got to admit sixth may be a stretch. Yes, the Pats recorded their first actual road win of the season, albeit in week 15, but they've recorded it. The first drive of the game the Bills pounded the ball right at the center of the Patriot defense, good teams can expose weakness all over the field and would have went back to it. See New Orleans v. New England.

7. New York Giants (13) Is Washington really that team we just saw on Monday night? Or, are the New York Giants just playing with their backs pushed against the wall? A complete game, the Giants smashed the Redskins all over the field and did hold notice to the NFL, they aren't dead yet.

8. Dallas Cowboys (15) Dallas will have to earn the NFC East crown and a postseason birth. They'll be no backing in, the Giants are taking shape, the Eagles are hotter than ever, and Washington would love to play spoiler to Jerry & Co. Beating the Redskins next week and Philadelphia for the division would really turn tides in the NFC.

9. Cincinnati Bengals (6) As much as I want the Bengals to go on a deep run, the loss of a teammate is too much. They've got to try and block something so tragic out, while 31 other teams focus on winning games. Someone will always be weighing heavy on their hearts and I just don't believe they can overcome that so quickly.

10. Green Bay Packers (7) Ben Roethlisberger had a field day on that Packers secondary (480+ yards passing). The playoffs are only weeks away and Green Bay is trying to make some noise, that isn't how you do it.

11. Baltimore Ravens (12) Gut check time. In Pittsburgh with a chance to punch your playoff ticket or give the Steelers second life. Even a depleted Steeler defense is better than the Lions and Bears defenses the Ravens have eaten alive the last two weeks.

12. Arizona Cardinals (9) Knock, Knock. Can the Arizona Cardinals come out to play? The 9-5 Cardinals lost to San Francisco then eeked out a victory against 2-12 Detroit! At some point Arizona has to begin to put some of these good wins together, the playoffs are coming faster than expected.

13. Tennessee Titans (14) With a HUGE overtime win over Miami, the Titans have come all the way from an 0-6 start to 7-7. If your not going to say it, I will: I'm humbled.

14. Denver Broncos (10) Can Denver get in the postseason with a 9-7 record? After losing to Oakland and now having to travel to Philadelphia, the possibility of a 9-7 finish and missing he playoffs is very possible.

15. Pittsburgh Steelers (20) This is the scariest playoff contender, with players returning from injury it will get very interesting to see how the Steelers finish. First thing is first, drop Baltimore this weekend and move forward.

16. Miami Dolphins (11) The Dolphins had to have that game in Tennessee. With the loss, they're playoff hopes are all but dashed. However, I wouldn't be hanging my head in Miami. Here's a team which dropped both its starting running back and quarterback and still remained in contention for the division.

17. Atlanta Falcons (23) This team is still playing for something after being mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. At 7-7 with two games remaining, the Falcons can win out and complete their first back-to-back winning seasons in franchise history. I'd say that is something for a season marred by inconsistency and injury.

18. Carolina Panthers (22) The show they put on Sunday night was more than impressive. Shutting down Adrian Peterson, and keeping the Viking offense from ever getting into the game. The Panthers are always one of those teams who will come to play and have the weapons to play well.

19. Jacksonville Jaguars (19) The Jags get credit for playing Indianapolis just as tough as any other team has. However, being the unfortunate team that has to play Indy and New England in back to back weeks, you don't get many positives from that.

20. Houston Texans (21) The Texans will have to split the next two, in Miami and against New England, in order to get to their usual 8-8 record. No team is more disappointing than Houston, none.

21. New York Jets (17) Buh-Bye! After losing late, the Jets are more than likely not reaching the postseason. However, as much as Mark Sanchez has had an up and down season, they've got their quarterback.

22. San Francisco 49ers (18) With the Lions and Rams being their final two opponents, you can expect the 'Niners to finish 8-8. Up from their 7-9 finish a season ago, they're growing and can only expect to get better next season. The 49ers are building a pretty solid young core.

23. Washington Redskins (16) Let's face it, they just took a huge step in the wrong direction on Monday night. Laying that kind of egg the way they've played the last month is a major turn of events. However, all is right with a victory over Dallas next weekend. For a team going through turmoil, it's their Super Bowl.

24. Cleveland Browns (25) Mike Holmgren is a solid move for Cleveland. However, it's about time they bring in a quarterback who can get it done and put some players around him. Oh, and Josh Cribbs is filthy.

25. Oakland Raiders (27) Again, I have no idea how they beat Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and now Denver. Smoke and mirrors?

26. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (30) You have to like what rookie quarterabck Josh Freeman has done thus far. In their 24-7 win in Seattle, Freeman threw for 205 yards on 16 completions reaching the endzone twice.

27. Buffalo Bills (24) The quarterback situation is so glaring in Buffalo. They have quality players around like Lee Evans and Fred Jackson, but no one to take charge on the field. Whomever becomes the new head coach needs to bring a quarterback with him.

28. Chicago Bears (26) Three more interceptions in the Bears 31-7 loss to Baltimore makes that 25 on the season. Bears fans were hoping Cutler set career highs this year, in everything but interceptions.

29. Kansas City Chiefs (29) The Chiefs just don't have enough talent yet. After a loss to Cleveland, Scott Pioli has got to be frustrated in his first year not in New England.

30. Detroit Lions (32) The Lions deserve credit for playing Arizona so well this past weekend. Still, it's more of a knock on Arizona for their inability to put away teams like Detroit. On a positive note, you have to love the fire from 1st year head coach Jim Schwartz, doesn't seem like he's taking bull from anyone.

31. Seattle Seahawks (28) The 'Hawks have been outscored 58-14 in their last two games combined. Mind you they've played the likes of the Texans and Buccaneers. Seattle just isn't any good and get the Packers & Titans in the next two games.

32. St. Louis Rams (31) The Rams are 1-13 and haven't scored more than 23 points in any game this season. Time to go on the offensive in next years draft, the Rams very, very, bad.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

Not So Fast

One foot in the grave after an 0-2 start in the month of December. In Dallas, the Cowboys had lost two straight and it was beginning to take the look of a something we've seen before. A division lead squandered and with the Giants hot on their playoff heels, the sky was falling fast on the '09 Cowboys. However, in less than 24-hours, the Cowboys are not just alive they're well.

Tony Romo is quietly putting together a Pro Bowl caliber season, and he's reason no. 1 why the Cowboys are inching closer to the postseason. Since October 25th, Romo has thrown just three interceptions in 313 pass attempts. Anyone disagree? Romo is holding onto the ball and not allowing himself to be forced into making poor decisions, something that has plagued the Cowboy gunslinger. The difference this year isn't that Romo is just staying mistake free, he's going out and winning games. In last nights victory over previously undefeated New Orleans, Romo went for 300+ yards for the third time in four games and for the tenth straight game, he threw a touchdown pass. The National Football League is a quarterbacks league, without a play making quarterback you have zero shot. Tony Romo is aware and has willed this team to their biggest December win in well over a decade. The once punchline of jokes, Romo is quickly turning things around in Big D.

You've got to gameplan for DeMarcus Ware. Cowboy Nation tipped their 3D lenses to the bridge of their noses and waited in silence as DeMarcus Ware was carted off the field, neck stabilized just a week ago. Two plays later the Chargers put (7) seven on the board , season over right? Wrong. The star Cowboy linebacker not only played, he flat out dominated forcing two fumbles and recording two sacks. DeMarcus Ware is easily one of the top five most talented defensive forces in the NFL, and the New Orleans Saints found that out the hard way. While Dallas' secondary clearly struggles at times, the opposing offenses still must get the ball out early for fear of #94 on their blindside. If big games are meant for big players, then the Cowboys are in luck with their final two very important division games in Washington and at home against Philadelphia, their biggest player is playing larger than life. On Saturday night, Ware recorded multiple sacks, the fourth time he's done that this season. With the Cowboys beginning to show the same heart as their leaders, things are looking up.

A team that once lacked toughness and heart, seems to be showing it. After losing two in a row amidst rumours of another December slide, this team didn't just lie down for the Saints to continue their run. With that win, the Cowboys made a statement: (1) They are very capable of putting together a good gameplan, a gameplan fit to stop high powered offenses. (2) It's possible Jason Garrett knows what to do after Saturday night. Attempting passes 34 times and rushing the ball 40, I'd say that is a pretty good mix. Both Barber and Jones got enough touches which gave the Cowboys 140+ yards on the ground. (3) This team is tired of the pressure, they've begun to grow a chip on their shoulder which was more than evident. From Romo discussing the comments of Tony Dungy saying they "had no chance" to receiver Roy Williams asking fans to not crown New Orleans just yet around mid-week, these guys are getting tired of it and beginning to show it. If Big D can continue this, they'll begin to fear in the mind of every opponent.

Sure, It's just one game. However, like the Giants of two seasons ago maybe it just is that type of game to snap a team back to where they should be. The Cowboys have had the talent for years, it's possible they are just now putting it together.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

On The Fence

Not Roy Halladay. Not Matt Holliday. Not Jason Bay. The Boston Red Sox and general manager, Theo Epstein are headed a slightly different direction. A five-year, $82.5 million dollar deal to free agent right hander, John Lackey. Coupled with the signings of 14-year veteran outfielder Mike Cameron and 34-year old infielder Marco Scutaro, the Red Sox have quietly made their moves but I remain On The Fence.

Should come as no surprise. This is what they do. These are notoriously the type of moves Boston has made in recent years, whether it be acquiring Alex Gonzalez not once but twice for his defensive prowess, or going after Coco Crisp following the 2005 season looking for a strong glove and high on base percentage, Epstein knows 'his guys' when he sees them.The newly acquired Scutaro is a solid defensive infielder with a ton of shortstop under his belt. Last season while with Toronto, Scutaro turned 99 double plays while committing just ten errors in 143 games. The bright spot would be that Scutaro gives you something at the plate as well as his glove. Just last season the former Blue Jay shortstop had career highs in doubles, homers, and walks. Anyone else shocked that Epstein went out and got an 'on-base' guy? From what the Red Sox and the rest of baseball have seen of Marco Scutaro, it's consistent, exactly what the Red Sox need from a middle-infielder both in the field and at the dish. Lastly, he spent a significant part of his career by the bay in Oakland then Toronto, the same two schools of thought which those franchises ran by, is exactly what Theo runs by. No surprise here.

Bit of a head scratcher. I like Mike Cameron. Or should I say I liked Mike Cameron, when he was hitting .273 with an OBP of .342 back in 2005 with the New York Mets! Hitting just .250 last season and under .260 for each of the last three seasons, this is the guy to replace Jason Bay? Moving to left field would be an odd fit for Cameron, he's been a fantastic defensive center fielder throughout his career but as you know the Red Sox have a awesome defensive center fielder in Jacoby Ellsbury. The real question has to be why him? Cameron is good defensively but at the plate he strikes out a ton, averaging 150 strikeouts a season over the last four. Furthermore, he's been out of the American League since 2003 and now he'll head to the American League East, where the pitching is as good as it gets and the hits come at a premium. A two-year deal which will pay Cameron $7-$8 million dollars a year makes him a 39-year old outfielder making quality big league money. Between Cameron & current Sox outfielder J.D. Drew, the two will be making somewhere around $21 million next year. To me? That just seems like alot of money for an aging strikeout machine and a right fielder who has averaged just 128 games a season since arriving in Boston.

I understand not re-signing Jason Bay, I do. I've always liked Jason Bay, and to see him club 36 homers in a Sox uniform while former Sox outfielder Manny Ramirez was on steroid suspension in L.A., I'm thankful. For $16.5 million a season over the next four? I don't know. That'd put you in the neighborhood of $30-million plus for your corner outfielders with Bay & J.D. Drew, Theo Epstein isn't touching that idea. While Bay has been pretty consistent throughout his career, hitting .280 and an OBP of .376, the Red Sox shy away from 4-year contracts to players north of 30 years old, as is Bay. I've also got this sneaking suspicion that the Red Sox have that money dedicated somewhere else in their lineup, whether it be now or in a year or two. If you've got $16 million a year dedicated to Bay, how much higher are you willing to go with the next guy your looking to add to that lineup. If the Red Sox are prepared to bring in San Diego third baseman Adrian Gonzalez, whose numbers indicate continued success, the money could possibly be going to extending him. The Padre third baseman is on a fantastic rise. For the last four seasons Gonzalez has gone from 24 homers to 30, 36, and now 40 in 2009. Over the same stretch his on base percentage has gone from .347, .361, and .407 this past season. As Jason Bay goes, the Red Sox have other plans and they don't include Bay, and never did.

They value quality starting pitching, you know that. By adding John Lackey, the Red Sox are solving more than one problem. Problem (1) Their staff becomes tops in the American League, hands down please. Ask yourself this question, Sabathia or Beckett? Sabathia. Burnett or Lackey? Lackey. Pettitte or Lester? Lester. Done! Problem (2) Scared of not re-signing Josh Beckett at the end of next season and being left with no #1? John Lackey is just two years older than Beckett, and you still keep a Texan if Beckett walks. Win, Win. Problem (3) Injuries, John Lackey protects you from that. Pitching in an average of 30 starts per season since 2003. Lackey also eats up innings, something the Red Sox brass loves. The deal gives the Red Sox more than enough quality starting to get into next season, and Lackey provides plenty of playoff experience. For years I believed that Beckett would be more dominating if he wasn't pitching against other #1 starters every time out, well hand the ball to John Lackey and watch Beckett eat #2 starters for lunch. While his strikeout totals and starts have gone down over the past two seasons, being added to the Red Sox will surely take the pressure off one of the Angels more reliable starters in their recent run. John Lackey is exactly what the doctor ordered.

While I may remain On The Fence, it does seem that the Sox are executing exactly what plan they had in place. Sure up the infield, make a big free agent splash, and beef up your outfield. Check, check, and check! Going forward the Sox have one more move to make and it'll happen before the new year! As excited as I am for that move, I still can't believe baseball is nearly four months away! Thanks for reading . . .

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

LRN Power Rankings: Week 15

Meet crunch time. The NFL regular season is winding down and positioning for the postseason is on center stage. In the AFC, the Ravens & Dolphins take care of business to stay alive while both the Broncos & Jaguars take one step back. In the NFC however, the Cowboys meet yet another December disaster while the Eagles & Packers begin to separate themselves from the playoff pretenders. With both the Colts & Saints continuing their undefeated campaigns we kick off The Week 15 LRN Power Rankings . . .

Get After It!

1. Indianapolis Colts (1) Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall broke the single game receptions record (21) and the undefeated Colts still overshadow the day by winning their 22nd consecutive and record breaking regular season win. At this point, no one can argue.

2. New Orleans Saints (2) With both Falcon quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner on the sidelines, the Saints still had a frustrating afternoon allowing 303 through the air from backup Chris Redman. Still New Orleans finds a way to win and your going to need tough afternoons like this to prepare you for the playoffs in a month.

3. Minnesota Vikings (4) Minnesota took a hit two weeks ago in Arizona, coming out and exploiting Cincinnati was exactly what they needed to rebound this week. The Vikes allowed the Bengal offense in the endzone just once and got running back Adrian Peterson going with two touchdowns and almost 100 yards.

4. San Diego Chargers (3) The Chargers went down to Dallas and took care of the Cowboys. Still, you would like to see them put together a much cleaner game on the road. In the postseason, the Chargers are going to have to go through Indianapolis and you can't leave points on the field against Peyton and his offense.

5. Philadelphia Eagles (6) How many teams can allow Eli Manning to throw for nearly 400 yards with three (3) touchdowns and still come away with a win? The Eagles keep on moving and eye the NFC East crown.

6. Cincinnati Bengals (4) Just 16.8 ppg over their last six games. With offenses like Indianapolis, New England, and San Diego headed to the postseason, the Bengals and Carson Palmer are going to have to really start turning it on.

7. Green Bay Packers (10) Winners of five straight, it's hard to imagine this is the same team which gave the now 1-12 Bucs their sole victory back on November 8th. Aaron Rodgers is playing phenomenal throwing nine touchdowns and just two interceptions over this same winning streak.

8. New England Patriots (9) In the words of one Mary J. Blige, "No More Drama." I'll never understand what Randy Moss has to frustrated with. What's so bad about having a great coach, great quarterback, being on a playoff team, and having piles of money? Just because he wears the 'Flying Elvis' on his helmet doesn't make him reformed.

9. Arizona Cardinals (7) This is what Arizona does right? Smack down a 1-loss Vikings team then follow it up with a horrendous performance against a 7-loss San Francisco team. The biggest worry has to be the health of Kurt Warner, he just doesn't look comfortable moving around and without a healthy Warner, they won't get too far.

10. Denver Broncos (8) Four teams within a game of the Broncos for one of those two AFC Wild Cards. McDaniels better be careful here, a sneaky Raiders team coming up before traveling to Philadelphia two days after Christmas. The Broncos need wins right now, that's it.

11. Miami Dolphins (15) Why not? In two consecutive weeks against teams that are looking to get in the postseason, the Dolphins come out with tough wins. Chad Henne has got to be given a ton of credit, he's the Dolphin quarterback for the future and after the injury to Chad Pennington he went out and took this job by the horns.

12. Baltimore Ravens (14) Baltimore is still in this fight after a confidence boosting blowout win against Detroit. They'll have to fend off a Steeler and Raider team looking to salvage some late season wins if they plan to do it. This defense needs to get heatlhy and continue to play well.

13. New York Giants (11) With two wins against Dallas, the Giants have some wiggle room. On the road in Washington is a huge test for New York, both Dallas and Philadelphia have survived scares against those same 'Skins. This is the best 7-6 team with a path to the postseason there if they can just win out.

14. Tennessee Titans (13) With a win this week, the Titans can climb back to .500 after starting the season with six straight losses. I can't put a non-factor team much higher than 14th, but I have a ton of respect for them.

15. Dallas Cowboys (12) The Cowboys cannot play in December. An 8-3 record with a division lead in the NFC East and after two weeks in December, the Cowboys are looking up at the Eagles and need wins against a lossless Saints team and two very tough division games. All that being said, to win out would put Dallas in the postseason and give them a full head of steam. (I'm dreaming)

16. Washington Redskins (18) How a team that has played so well as of late once lost to Detroit and Kansas City, I'll never know. The 'Skins have rebounded nicely and with a win over Oakland have gained some confidence back.

17. New York Jets (20) If the NFL season were a heavyweight fight, the Jets would be somewhere close to the 9th round and getting stronger. With their third win in a row it brings them to seven overall. However, if the Jets were able to pull off wins against Atlanta, upsetting Indianapolis, and beating a good Bengals team, it'd be a successful 10-6 season. Those are alot of "If's."

18. San Francisco 49ers (23) That victory over Arizona gave them the confidence they needed. The 'Niners can beat good teams but are a year or two away from becoming elite. Good young receivers, active young defense, and a running back who can tear it up. A "feel good" team.

19. Jacksonville Jaguars (17) The Jaguars were borderline when they were 7-5, now their staring into Indianapolis and New England after getting beat by Miami? Good Luck with that!

20. Pittsburgh Steelers (16) Losing to a Brady Quinn lead Browns team has got to be the low point for a now 6-7 Steelers team. If you were to bet the Steelers would lose seven games this season, many people would have told you your crazy.

21. Houston Texans (21) The Texans won't fool me again, I don't buy a 34-7 victory over a bad Seahawks team. They've got three weeks and would love to finish over .500, but there is absolutely no way they win in Miami or against New England to finish the season. Put it in the bank.

22. Carolina Panthers (19) Hey, Chris Gamble! Bill was correct, how about you keep your trap shut after your team just lost their 8th game of the season. It'd be a miracle if the Panthers even won another game with the Vikings, Giants, and Saints finishing them off this season.

23. Atlanta Falcons (22) You have to give Atlanta credit for making a game of it against New Orleans. On the other hand, it's very upsetting to see the Falcons drop to 6-7 and their hopes of a second straight winning season for the first time in franchise history fading fast.

24. Buffalo Bills (29) The Bills have turned it around lately going 2-2 in their last four games. I'm not sure how Buffalo has got to five wins, but I like that they've yet to completely pack it in.

25. Cleveland Browns (32) The Browns win their Super Bowl. Beating Pittsburgh on a Thursday night national stage is the biggest win the Browns have seen in a while. Still, the entire thing is going to get blown up yet again.

26. Chicago Bears (24) Did anyone else suspect the Bears having just one more win than the Oakland Raiders this season? I did.

27. Oakland Raiders (25) It wouldn't shock me if the Raiders beat Denver at Invesco this weekend. What!?!? They win when you think they have no shot and lose every game that they probably could do well in.

Twist: For the remaining five teams, I'm not wasting my time discussing what is wrong with them. I'll give you the position they need help at most and how to solve it through the NFL Draft. Little Mock!

28. Seattle Seahawks (26) With Washington quarterback Jake Locker returning for his senior year, I'd say is the right time to begin positioning yourself for his 2011 arrival. Insert the best possible offensive lineman this coming year to set in place his protection; Bruce Campbel, OT Maryland

29. Kansas City Chiefs (27) In their last two games against division opponents San Diego and Denver the Chiefs gave up a combined 87 points. A big time defensive player is what Kansas City needs; Eric Berry, S Tennessee

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (30) Tampa Bay went offense early in the 2009 NFL Draft. It's time the Bucs faithful get back to rooting for power defenses like they had during the Super Bowl season; Ndamukong Suh, DT Nebraska

31. St. Louis Rams (31) The Rams are horrible, everyone knows that. Like the Lions were forced to do this year, the Rams must come back after the draft with an idea under center, a plan; Jimmy Clausen, QB Notre Dame

32. Detroit Lions (28) What Baltimore just did to them was a disgrace to Lions faithful. Two schools of thought are at play (1) Protect Matthew Stafford, which would lead you to selecting an offensive lineman with staying power (2) Get better on defense quickly, after giving up all those points to a bad Cleveland offense, could anything be more evident? I'd lean; No way Jim Schwartz sits idly while that defense gets embarrassed! Gerald McCoy, DT Oklahoma

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

His Due

In the extensive storied history of Alabama Crimson Tide football, it is hard to believe they've just now brought the Heisman Memorial Trophy back to Tuscaloosa, and have sophomore running back Mark Ingram to thank for that. The closest Heisman voting in its' seventy-five year history, Ingram beat out Stanford's Toby Gerhart by just 28 points and became the first Crimson Tide football player to earn the award. For the rest of America whose been sleeping on Mark Ingram this Fall, I'm 'bout to fill you (w)in.

The Flint, Michigan native did exactly what Heisman voters want; perform at the highest level on the biggest stage. In the SEC Championship, with some of the nations top collegiate football players on the same field, no one stood out more than Mark Ingram. Into the endzone three times, Ingram rushed for 113 yards on 28 carries. However, this isn't the first time Ingram put it to an opposing defense on the big stage. To kick-off the season, the Alabama running back shredded a Virginia Tech defense which would finish the regular season as the nations #14th ranked defense. Way back on September 5th, Ingram rushed for 150 yards and scored both a rushing and receiving touchdown against the Hokies. From wire to wire, whether it be 246 yards against South Carolina or 149 yards and two touchdowns against Mississippi State, Mark Ingram has time and again ran through tough defenses on the biggest of stages.

#22 Is the National Championship. The Crimson Tide are 13-0 and headed to Pasadena as the #1 team in the every poll imaginable. They have a great defense which for the first time in his career made Florida's Tim Tebow look human last Saturday. The gameplan was to make Tebow sit on the sideline and keep him off the turf. That wouldn't have been possible if not for #22 and his four yards per carry. Between Ingram and quarterback Greg McElroy, they marched down the field time and again wearing out the clock and ripping up the Georgia Dome turf. Now the National Championship awaits the Crimson Tide, and it is hard to argue they'd be there if not for what Ingram has accomplished this season, and not just during the SEC Championship. The Heisman Trophy has become an award given to the nations best player on a team headed to the title game, that isn't what it is meant to be, but it is what it has become. That being said, Ingram is headed to the National Championship game, and he's the anchor of his 13-0 team. He is the National Championship and the country will again get to see him in the spotlight.

After hearing his Heisman speech, the country was on board. His acceptance speech was one for the books. Tears on his face, thanking everyone from his offensive line to Alabama interns, Ingram was memorable. Here's a kid who truly represents collegiate football, hard working, focused, and dedicated to the aspect of being part of a team. Polished quarterbacks like McCoy & Tebow would most likely have given us the usual collected speeches, not this heart driven, thankful speech that Mark Ingram turned out. He thanked teachers, when is the last time you heard that from a Heisman winner? There are many times in sports we don't truly appreciate an athlete till they retire, or till they win a title, but Mark Ingram will be appreciated right now. A 1,500-yard rusher who turned the ball over just once, Ingram defines outstanding play, and to be an athlete we can root for, (given recent unmentioned events) that is special. From recent winners Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow, comes Mark Ingram, what seems like a quiet leader but toughest of players. I would have ripped up my vote for Toby Gerhart in a second if I had the opportunity to see Ingram speech before hand. The player is a great person.

Roll 'Tide Roll, hats off to Alabama running back and Heisman Trophy winner, Mark Ingram.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Keep It Real Friday

America's favorite column, okay maybe just my favorite column. Keep It Real Friday is back at it again. I can safely say there is just a Tiger comment or two, but nothing extensive. For those of you who are looking to step back from Tiger and get back to sports news. Get After It!

It's too early for baseball. It feels like the Yanks won the World Series yesterday for crying out loud. I could care less that the Red Sox signed Marco Scutaro, he's a lifetime .265 hitter. So what if the Rangers signed Rich Harden, he was 9-9 last season with an earned run average over four, now he's going to the American League? The Nationals just signed 18-year veteran Ivan Rodriguez, great whose next Julio Franco? Unless your willing to go out and throw around major dollars, Yankee style, I'll pass. on reading about it. One really has to question the "Hot Stove" buzz when it includes the likes of Pudge, Scutaro, and Rich Harden! Give us a few months before we start reporting on who is acquiring what! Keep It Real, I'm too exhausted from their last marathon season!

Can't we just skip this and FF to June? Everyone wants Lakers v. Celts, right? Yes, they'll both probably see some injuries, they'll both lose a few games every couple weeks, but aren't the Lakers and Celts just better than the rest? At 17-3, the Lakers are in the midst of a 10-0 stretch giving them the best record in the Western Conference. At 18-4, the Celtics are in the midst of a 9-1 stretch giving them the best record in the Eastern Conference. Notice a trend? They don't lose often, and when they do it's a stunner. The Lakers a top five offensive team in the league, the Celtics a top five defensive team in the league. The Celtics slightly older in the tooth, but most things tend to stay the same in the NBA, they'll be there in the end. For all you Tim Donaghy fans out there (including myself), the NBA referees don't need to fix games, they have two teams who dominate on their own and won't be held back. For Boston and L.A., they couldn't be more different. The Celtics play very good defense, don't make themselves a spectacle, and for all intents and purposes, are very businesslike. The Lakers outscore teams, play occasional defense, and are guaranteed the lead in on Sportscenter. But bank on it, LeBron will still be golfing earlier than both teams and they'll both be playing for that gold ball, KEEP IT REAL!

Thought Notre Dame no longer had clout? Think again. The Irish will shortly announce now former Cincinnati head coach, Brian Kelly, as the newest Golden Domer. The 2x Big East Conference coach of the year will leave a 12-0 Bearcat squad that is headed to their second straight BCS Bowl Game, (this one the Sugar, 2008 the Orange) for the confines of South Bend, Indiana. Whether one thinks it's a good move for Notre Dame or not, the important thing is it looks like they got their man and within two weeks of the firing of Charlie Weis, Notre Dame is no longer vacant. Not many programs could pull a head coach away from the Sugar Bowl and while a small piece, some piece of the National Championship. Forget what awaits Kelly at Notre Dame, the man is walking away from a team he just coached to a 34-6 record over the past three seasons. Don't think roses will lay down at the feet of Brian Kelly just yet, many in Cincinnati are very unhappy including senior star wide receiver Mardy Gilyard. The vocal Gilyard has already voiced his unhappiness with Kelly and more than once referred to his taking the "Notre Dame money," when describing his departure. Sorry Mardy, and the people of Cincinnati, the Irish still have clout in big time college football and just proved it. Some programs choose head coaches, others get chosen. Keep It Real!

Hey Lane! Had enough yet? Where there is smoke, there is fire. I'm sure the saying goes like that, and when it comes to Tennessee head football coach, Lane Kiffin, he better tread lightly. While Lane insists he and his staff have no involvement in alleged mishandling of recruiting, NCAA investigations into the program cannot be a good sign. The newest allegations include boosters, but there have been plenty of others, calling out coaches, players getting arrested for attempted robbery, several inquiries into recruiting issues, got enough smoke yet? No coach in college football has been involved in as much non-on the field football based news than Lane Kiffin, and he's in just his first season. Headed to the Atlanta to play in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Virginia Tech, Lane Kiffin and the Tennessee program have questions to answer, but my simple question is: At what point do you just shut up? These coaches you coach against Lane, they've done it all. Nick Saban - National Champion, Urban Meyer - National Champion, Les Miles - National Champion, Steve Spurrier - National Champion, and you? Fired from the Raiders? Finishing 7-5 may be an accomplishment for some programs, and you get some credit, but I wouldn't mind if we just didn't hear about the Volunteer program for a while, or at least heard about them in a positive manner. Lane, shut up and coach! Keep It Real!

That is no way to defend a championship Pittsburgh! Losers of five straight, the last two against Oakland & Cleveland, the Steelers are about to leave their title defense out of the postseason. That team who beat Minnesota & Denver in back to back weeks must have left the building, because we haven't seen them in over a month. Going forward, what's left? Games against Green Bay, Baltimoe, & in Miami? Each of those teams will still be playing for playoff hopes, and Pittsburgh gives no proof they can beat them. A defense that seems to be unable to overcome an injury to standout safety Troy Polamalu, and a team that continues to come out flat hoping to get turnovers, again . .Aren't they supposed to be defending champions? While Rashard Mendenhall seems to be an answer in the backfield, the Steeler ground game has looked anything but impressive. While not the Steeler way, losing out could be the best possible thing for them. No? Folks, if this team can work their way into a C.J. Spiller in the draft, LOOK OUT! All this being said, the 'fat lady' may be humming, but she hasn't sung yet. The Steelers still have a shot to make some noise and would be a dangerous team in the postseason. If I ever were to call out Pittsburgh, I know they'd win three straight and get help from an overachieving Broncos team which they still hold the tiebreaker over. Keep It Real! The Steelers Aren't Done!

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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

LRN Power Rankings: Week 14

The Power Rankings are out! As the Colts squash the Titans hopes and retake the top spot, many questions still remain among the NFL best. Are the Cowboys going to continue their December woes? Will the real Brett Favre please stand up? Are the Eagles legitimate contenders? No team was as impressive as Arizona was, but how much longer can Kurt Warner stay healthy? The Week 14 Power Rankings are out!

1. Indianapolis Colts (2) Pierre Garcon catches 6 balls for 136 yards. Only four games to perfection, vs. Broncos, @ Jaguars, vs. Jets, and @ Buffalo. Losing any of those games would be a bit of a shock.

2. New Orleans Saints (1) The Saints weren't above a let down game in Washington. However, they found a way to win and that is what championship teams do. Having opened up a two-game lead for homefield advantage in the NFC, can the Saints still get up for the remainder?

3. San Diego Chargers (4) Seven straight wins have put San Diego in the drivers seat in the AFC West and possibly for a first round bye. Making every game important from here on out, the Chargers are playing the best football of anyone as of late.

4. Cincinnati Bengals (6) A 9-point win against Cleveland, a 10-point win against Oakland. The Bengals are better than that, traveling to Minnesota and San Diego in the next two weeks will be huge tests for the Bengals. Is the AFC North just weak this year or is Cincinnati as advertised?

5. Minnesota Vikings (3) The loss on Sunday is more of a testament to Arizona than a knock on Minnesota. That being said, Adrian Peterson was held to 19 yards on 13 carries against a defense that he could see again in the postseason. No getting around it, the Favre led offense has ran into trouble against good defenses, i.e. Pittsburgh & Arizona.

6. Philadelphia Eagles (8) For all of you who thought Brian Westbrook was the be all end all in Philadelphia, a 1-3 record with Westbrook as their lead rusher and a 7-1 record when he isn't has signaled the end of an era in Philly. They've retooled with younger weapons more than capable of carrying the load.

7. Arizona Cardinals (13) The Cardinals need Kurt Warner to stay healthy. His 22 of 32 for 285 yards and 3 touchdown performance was vintage Warner and is exactly what the Cards need to get back where they were a year ago. This Cardinal team has learned how to win on the road which should help them down the stretch.

8. Denver Broncos (12) Back in business, the Broncos seem to have turned it around. Now playing for a Wild Card, Denver will have to do it against Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and a surprisingly strange Oakland Raider team. Does another matchup with New England seem plausible?

9. New England Patriots (5) What will the Patriots do when they have to fight for it? They won't coast into the playoffs at this point and whose to say their road woes will end soon? Four Patriots starters including Randy Moss get sent home on Wednesday for arriving late to a mandatory team meeting? All is not well in Patriotland.

10. Green Bay Packers (14) Make no bones about it, the Packers have played well as of late but are in no way locked into the postseason. Three of their last four are on the road in tough places, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Arizona. If the Packers are going anywhere they won't get to do it in Lambeau.

11. New York Giants (16) Are they back? No. Beating the Cowboys was a good start but allowing 424 yards in the process isn't a good sign. The G-Men get Philadelphia and Washington in back-to-back weeks, then you'll know if they've got what it takes to make a run at this.

12. Dallas Cowboys (7) Slow down, the 'Boys aren't lying down and taking it on the chin just yet. After a tough loss in the Meadowlands, Dallas has an uphill climb, San Diego, New Orleans, Washington, and Philadelphia. Being said; As the team rallies behind Wade Phillips, I can honestly say I'm impressed that Dallas is showing some sort of fire at this point.

13. Tennessee Titans (11) That was fun while it lasted. As the Indianapolis Colts slammed the door on the thought a 10-6 Titan team. With their 7th loss it is safe to say the Titans aren't getting to the postseason. They still will play this out and show heart, at least I hope so.

14. Baltimore Ravens (9) Joe Flacco is regressing, fact. On the other hand, they've got an outside shot to turn things around in the final four weeks. If the Ravens can pull off four wins, they could be in. However, Flacco can't have performances that result in three interceptions like Monday night in Green Bay.

15. Miami Dolphins (18) Good. I've determined the Dolphins are pretty good, they get up for big games and lose that fire against lesser opponents. Still, I'd love to see where this team would be if Ronnie Brown hadn't gone down with an injury. Not many teams lose their quarterback and top running back for the season and remain in the fold.

16. Pittsburgh Steelers (10) I don't know if the Steelers are done, but God I hope so. Three of their final four are against teams playing for a postseason bid, Miami, Baltimore, and Green Bay. Like New England, they'll have to prove their worth to finish this campaign out.

17. Jacksonville Jaguars (20) If the playoffs started today, the Jags would be in. Am I wrong in saying they may just be pretty good? Yes! The Jags are frauds, they haven't beat one team that is playoff bound and you can put it in the bank they'll fall short.

18. Washington Redskins (22) Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. That's how the 'Skins should feel after their third straight week covering the spread but coming up short. What the Redskins have done against Dallas, Philadelphia, and New Orleans is exactly what happens when a group of players decides to play with a little pride and chooses not to go out like punks.

19. Carolina Panthers (23) At New England, against Minnesota, and at the Giants. . .It's time the Panthers start discussing who will play quarterback next season. Jake Delhomme's time is up in Carolina, (8 touchdowns, 18 interceptions). With a rushing attack they have, you need a quarterback who can make defenses pay for loading the box.

20. New York Jets (21) Kellen Clemens in for the injured Mark Sanchez. Playoffs may be out of reach though, with the Colts and Bengals at the end of their schedule, I just don't see the Jets putting up much of a fight considering they've folded up against good teams all season long.

21. Houston Texans (15) The Texans did what the Texans do, pack it in early. Their coach will most likely get the boot at the end of yet another underachieving season. Would anyone else be up for replacing Matt Schaub as well? I have Houston finishing 7-9, again under .500

22. Atlanta Falcons (17) Questions around the health of Turner and Ryan, the Falcons have a small window here if it isn't closed already. Atlanta needs to rip off four wins including beating the undefeated Saints and still they'll need help to get in.

23. San Francisco 49ers (19) After dropping one to Seattle the 49ers just havent' seemed to put it together this entire season. The most interesting stat is that San Francisco hasn't won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season.

24. Chicago Bears (24) Rumours of Charlie Weis to Chicago as their offensive coordinator in 2010 could be the best news they've heard since the beginning of the season. Trust me, Weis can succeed somewhere in the mid-west.

25. Oakland Raiders (29) The Raiders have become a legit Black Hole, they drop teams like Cincinnati, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh but somehow get blown out by the Jets, Chiefs, and Texans. Circle games against Baltimore and Denver in coming weeks, given what we've seen, the Raiders can win those type of games.

26. Seattle Seahawks (28) I'm not sure how Seattle got to five wins, but they have. Here's a team that needs a power running game through the draft and some tough offensive lineman. (Yes, I love the NFL Draft)

27. Kansas City Chiefs (25) Boooo, try harder! After their awesome win against Pittsburgh they've gone and given up forty points in two straight weeks. So much for trying to finish strong.

28. Detroit Lions (31) The Lions made a good try of it this season but 2-10 is still very awful. Right now I'd tell them to start studying film on the Bears, their last game of the season. Go out with a win and draft the best offensive lineman available.

29. Buffalo Bills (26) The Bills needed to stop playing "O.K." and they did. Losing 4 of their last 5 games and playing New England, Atlanta, and Indianapolis to finish out, things aren't looking up in Buffalo.

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (30) Still 1-11 and their rookie quarterback throwing five interceptions on Sunday, the Bucs still had a good weekend. The player who is most likely tops on their draft board, Cornhusker Ndamukong Suh is headed to New York as a Heisman finalist and without question is the most dominant defensive player in college football.

31. St. Louis Rams (30) The Rams only win this season was against Detroit, so it should be no surprise that they'll most likely finish with just that win. Help all around is needed in St. Louis.

32. Cleveland Browns (32) Sure the Browns are letting Brady Quinn throw the ball, but is this just a try out? The most disappointing franchise in the NFL continues to disappoint and remain winless at home.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Sports Reporter

I've been a longtime fan of one particular television show: ESPN's The Sports Reporters. Between Mitch Albom, John Saunders, Bob Ryan, Mike Lupica, and who could forget Dick Schaap, I've been watching this show since I was a lil' Lynchy. Now that you know where the inspiration came from, I decided to act as if I was on it and wrote down every question they discussed this past Sunday morning (9:30 ET in case you want to watch), and give you my take. Everything from the opening remakrs to the parting shots, enjoy!

[Opening Remarks]

I'm Nick Lynch, creator and founder of LynchyRightNow. Led by freshman quarterback Matt Barkley, Pete Carroll and the Trojans finished 5th in the PAC-10 after losing three of their last five. While heading to their first non-BCS bowl game since 2001, I won't knock Southern Cal, the rest of the conference is simply getting much better. From Chip Kelly at Oregon and Jim Harbaugh at Stanford to former USC coordinator Steve Sarkisian now the head coach at Washington, the PAC-10 is becoming very dangerous. With half of the conference teams (5) finishing the regular season in the BCS Top 25, the PAC-10 is no longer just a Trojan dominated conference.

Are we getting the best possible BCS National Championship game?

Of course we are. Outside of Cincinnati, no one should be upset this morning about who will compete for the BCS National Title. When TCU beats Tim Tebow or Boise State gets past man child Ndamukong Suh, then we'll talk about them deserving to be in the mix. Take nothing away from Alabama and Texas, these are the best two college football teams in the country and running the table in the SEC and Big 12 is no joke. Let's get one thing straight, Colt McCoy and the Longhorns deserve to be in Pasadena even after they won on a literal last second field goal to get there. One of the best defensive units in the country, the winningest quarterback in college football, a 13-0 record in a top tier football conference, Texas is National Championship worthy. As for 'Bama? They put nearly 500 yards of offense up on a Gator defense which allowed just 233 per game in the regular season. You make the call.

Wasn't Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, supposed to be the Crimson Tide's Achilles heel?

We sure thought he'd be, however the junior signal caller had different plans. McElroy went from a seemingly mention less figure of the SEC title game prior to kickoff, to perhaps the difference maker by Saturday night. Averaging 13 yards a pass on twelve completions the Southlake, TX native stayed mistake free and engineered long drives keeping his Florida counterpart on the sidelines. More so, McElroy made folks in Austin aware that the Crimson offense is more than just a Heisman candidate in the backfield. One more thing for you to chew on, since the Alabama opener against Virginia Tech, McElroy threw no interceptions on the road. Still think he gets rattled?

The New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts remain undefeated, which streak will end first?

Hard to argue either will, especially after how New Orleans escaped Washington on Sunday. These aren't teams led by rookie quarterbacks, between Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, they've got 21 years of calling plays in the NFL under their belt. However, given how difficult it is to pull of an undefeated campaign I'll tease you. Both teams have favorable schedules ahead of them, but it'll be the New Orleans Saints who slip up first. I don't think Peyton thinks about it, too many veterans on that team who've previously been to the top of the mountain. The Saints on the other hand, this is all new to them. As you saw in Washington this past week, things don't get easier and your getting every teams best shot from here on out. In their final two games the Saints get division rivals Tampa Bay and go to Carolina to close out the season. Being two games up of Minnesota after the Vikings loss last night, the Saints drop one of those final two. Can the Colts win out? Maybe not, but the way Peyton has played no one would be surprised.

How do you feel about the Florida State legend Bobby Bowden coaching his final college football game in a second tier bowl game?

It wasn't going to end any other way. Bowden would still be the Seminole coach if he was headed to a better bowl game, but in big time college football, "what have you done for me lately?" seems to be the way we're going. As for Bowden, after a 9-4 campaign in 2008 much more was expected from his program and he just couldn't get it done. Three of the last four seasons the 'Noles have finished with six losses and have lost to the Gators for six straight seasons including a most recent 37-10 blowout to put a cap on Bowden's season. While a stand up move to give Bobby a Gator Bowl invite, keeping him in the state of Florida, it's hard to know this is how he'll leave the program he built in Tallahassee.

With the new head coach yet to be named, what are realistic expectations for the Notre Dame football program?

On the day announcements come out that quarterback Jimmy Clausen and play making receiver Golden Tate will leave South Bend for the NFL, expectations won't be high out of the gate. I would go so far as to say the Irish will be looking at another disappointing season. A new coaching staff which most likely won't be brought in until after mid-December has alot of work to do for an Irish defense that has played terrible this past season. Now losing their top offensive weapon and field general Jimmy Clausen, what else can you expect? Looking down the road, I think the Irish should prepare themselves for life as a second-tier collegiate football program, obviously they haven't grasped that just yet. The Irish have showed very little consistency through the last 15 seasons and until it gets better, that may be just what you are. All that being said, Cincinnati's Brian Kelly can recruit good players, has succeeded on every level, and shows the ability to win in tight spots, something the Irish have lacked as of late. If they want to get back to where they once were, the way to do it is through a coach like Brian Kelly.

[Parting Shots]

Why do they call it a gamble when you go for it on 4th down? Because it is! You risk field position, you risk points on the board, you risk losing momentum, all those risks make it a gamble. Well Bill Belichick, were those gambles worth two victories? Now your 7-5 rather than 9-3 and if the postseason started today you'd be going on the road where your 1-5 this season. But hey . . . your the genius, not me.

Thank you for reading, The Sports Reporter