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Was Tom Brady and the Patriots’ Punishment Fair for #DeflateGate?

If you’re a football fan you’ve surely heard of the NFL’s latest great scandal, DeflateGate.  It involves New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady ordering team personnel to deflate the ball to his specifications, making passing and holding onto the ball easier.  This would have provided his team with a distinct advantage, and given their recent Super Bowl-winning season, one does get the impression that this title may have been a bit tainted.  The NFL responded by dropping down a serious 4-game suspension for Brady, a $1million fine for the team, and a loss of two future draft picks, including a first-rounder next year.  It’s quite a big hit, and we must ask: was this fair?

Despite the polarizing clamor around fans and sports commentators, I actually commend commissioner Roger Goodell for this punishment.  It’s serious enough to make a statement, and it adequately punishes someone for cheating.  In respects to the suspension, a star quarterback missing a fourth of the season will certainly set the Patriots back.  However, even if they fall to 0-4 (which is certainly possible without Brady), they’ll be able to recover and save the year.

The draft pick is the biggest blow, especially given the fact that Brady’s retirement is impending.  He is 37 and when he leaves, the New England dynasty is likely to falter greatly.  Losing a first round talent in a period when the future is so uncertain will be a definite setback.

The $1million fine is a bit of a joke given how wealthy NFL teams and their owners are but it does leave a statement that such cheating cannot be tolerated, and is more of a reassurance to fans that the NFL will police those who circumvent the rules.

As for people trying to state that this punishment is unjustified, I feel they’re gravely erroneous.  One area in particular I look to is the issue of fumbling.  The Patriots have been one of the league’s best in this department for ages, and that had been previously been attributed to coach Bill Belichick’s genius, but now we know the truth.  It’s much easier to hold onto a deflated ball, which greatly reduces fumbles.  The Patriots were second best in that department in 2014.  Fumbles are game-changing plays that can shift momentum and clearly tilt the balance.  If your offense can avoid them, you’ve got such better chances to win.  And for that reason, I find the cheating by the Patriots to be utterly disgraceful.

Added with the past issue of Spygate and the reports about how visiting teams in New England routinely suffer outages of headsets during games, I think this is a franchise with a major tendency to cheat and break rules.  Part of me actually feels that there could have been a tougher sentence imposed, especially given the fact that they won the last Super Bowl.  Nevertheless, for the commissioner to take quarterback Tom Brady out of action for the first month of the 2015 season, and impose such humiliation one on of the league’s most popular players takes guts, and I’m happy a reasonable punishment was handed down.

Can Anyone Upset Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament?

Anyone who watches the NCCA men’s basketball tournament regularly knows that just about anything is possible. Upsets are the name of the game, calling the whole order of seeding into question. But that just shows us how unpredictable college sFeatured imageports can be. And so we take a look at unbeaten Kentucky, the heavy favorites to win the National Title after all is said and done in the 2015 March Madness period. Will they continue their unbeaten run into the pages of basketball history, or will someone spoil the party and dethrone this mighty contender for the championship?

Considering that no one has managed the feat this season, it does seem a bit unlikely that Kentucky would be beaten. However, Kentucky’s schedule hasn’t exactly been the most trying. Playing in the soft SEC Conference, the Cats had to compete against foes like Florida, LSU, and Tennessee. While Arkansas is a nationally ranked team, no one else in the conference is. Earlier in the season Kentucky defeated decent teams like North Carolina, Louisville, and Kansas. The Kansas victory was an especially impressive 32-point victory. However, outside this handful of games Kentucky has had an easy time of it, and their unbeaten season may be a bit misguided.

Sure, they can’t control the pathetic landscape of their weak conference, and in beating all these teams they’ve shown that they are certainly a special team capable of greatness. They have an incredibly deep roster and aren’t dependent upon a single player. The ball is spread around through Aaron Harrison, Karl-Anthony Towns, Devin Booker, Willie Cauley-Stein, and more. Speaking to the incredible recruiting abilities by head coach John Calipari, this team is a force. They play incredible defense, and their lengthy bench allows for the players to stay rested and energetic. There are no real star players in their lineup. Instead, the team works as a unit. Unselfishness pervades the side, enabling the cohesive group to dominate. Could anyone beat this impeccable version of Kentucky?

Most definitely! The thing about basketball is that once the players set foot on the court, it’s truly anybody’s game. If a strong 3-point shooting team gets hot, they’ll be able to score points from the outside and keep up with the Cats. Someone like Notre Dame or Duke could probably take them, it just depends on the day. That’s the great thing about March Madness!

Ohio State was Gifted College Football Playoff Appearance for Money

ohioWhile the manner in which Ohio State Buckeyes and their 3rd string quarterback Cardale Jones dismantled the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship game could have technically made the difference in putting OSU over the top and into the College Football Playoff, let’s make no mistake about it: Ohio State was given a spot in the playoff because they are the more reputable program and will draw the most viewers.

I strongly feel that if Ohio State met up against either Texas Christian University or Baylor, they would lose the game, but this apparently doesn’t matter for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee.  Picking either TCU or Baylor would have led to great controversy, given that both teams had just one loss and were playing great football.  For me, TCU should have been given a chance since their only loss was to the top-5 team, Baylor.  In fact, that loss was to a higher ranked team than both Oregon and Alabama, who are both in the playoff.  Then again, if TCU were allowed in we would have to hear the endless whining by Baylor since they beat TCU earlier in the year. But their loss was to a 7-5 West Virginia.  Meanwhile, Ohio State lost to a Virginia Tech team that ended 6-6, without a winning record and barely bowl eligible.

And so while football reasons marginally suggest TCU should be in the playoff, let’s take a look at one of the truly decisive factors: school population size.  Doesn’t the NCAA have a habit of trying to make as much money as possible?  Wouldn’t it likely be more profitable if a larger school with more of a college football history were present in the playoff?  OSU has one of the largest undergraduate student bodies in America with around 44,000 enrolled.  Baylor follows with 13,000.  TCU is behind them with just 8,500.  Wouldn’t it make sense to gift the playoff berth to a school with 3 or 4 times as many alumni as the others?  Also factor in the population of Ohio, the supportive family members of these students, and the many people who support the program without any direct association and it’s obvious that OSU provides the bigger draw.  Interestingly enough, the final rankings follow suit with the schools’ sizes.  Had a larger Big 12 school like Texas or Oklahoma finished with just one loss, you had better believe they would be involved in the playoff!

Ohio State also has a proud history of 14 National Titles.  TCU actually has 2 of their own but none since 1938!  Baylor has never won.  When the playoff boasts a game like Ohio State vs. Alabama for the semifinal, more people will watch than Alabama vs. TCU or Baylor.  Additionally, it keeps the American South to just 2 teams and gives the Midwest part of the country a team to cheer for.  In essence, it looks nicer on the map, and it will allow the NCAA to charge more money for TV advertisements and other methods of income that the institution repeatedly capitalizes on.  Who cares if college football is again embroiled in a national championship controversy; the NCAA will get top dollar for this final four.

But this argument is largely moot because Alabama would have beaten any team they were paired up against.  Sure, Ohio State’s coach Urban Meyer might get his team prepared, but they will definitely be beaten soundly.  And so maybe the whole idea of the playoff is righteous after all.  Arguing over the 4th best team in the country isn’t quite like fighting over who’s 2nd.  However it plays out, the best team in the country is likely to be Alabama, Oregon, or Florida State.  Would one of the exciting Texan teams been able to shake up another year of major, traditional (and boring) football programs winning the title?  We’ll never know…

11 AFC Teams Having Winning Records but Only 6 Playoff Spots are Available

PHOTO7370K__17307.1413858430.1280.1280It’s going to be a soul-crushing experience in January for much of the AFC.  At the current moment 11 of the conference’s 16 NFL teams have winning records, but just 6 of them will reach the playoffs.  That means that nearly half of the teams that are currently feeling quite good about their season won’t even get to watch their teams compete in a playoff game!  Let’s take a look at who will be figuring to come out of this mess with a postseason berth and who will be looking back at the month of December and wondering what happened.

First, let’s take a look at how this strange scenario has come to be.  One thing odd about the AFC (and the entire NFL) this year is that no team has dominated up until this point.  The best teams stand at 9-3, which is only a 75% winning record.  While good, when we realize that these are the league’s current strongest teams we have great parity.  But at the other end of the standings lies the dark truth.  4 AFC teams have become the dreaded whipping boys of the conference.  The New York Jets, Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Oakland Raiders all sit poorly placed at 2-10 or worse.  Their overall atrociousness has been gifting all the other teams easy victories, which is in large part responsible for the current situation.  However, while some of these AFC teams’ wins may be unjustified, the fact that so many are winning will set up for an enthralling December!

What’s truly astounding about these records is that typically strong teams like the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos have very little wiggle room in the upcoming weeks.  Tom Brady and the Patriots are just 2 games ahead of both the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins (both at 7-5).  With games against both teams, New England could possibly lose their division lead and perhaps even a playoff spot!  While I certainly doubt that will happen, the very possibility of it this late in the season speaks to the conference’s strength and equality.

It’s also worth noting that many of these 7-5 teams are going to be playing one another and their records will balance out.  An intriguing situation has developed in the AFC North, where the Cincinnati Bengals hold a 1.5 game lead over the 7-5 Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, and Pittsburgh Steelers.  Each team could conceivably win the division or finish in 4th!  While a Browns surprise would be delightful, I suspect the Bengals should hold onto the lead.

Elsewhere, I expect the Broncos, Patriots, and Indianapolis Colts to hold onto their division leads while the San Diego Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens should claim the wildcard sports.

However, with these wildcard opportunities still hotly contested, the final weeks of the year will be extremely entertaining as the stakes continue to grow.  For all the contending teams of the AFC, the playoffs are basically starting right now.  No one can afford to slip up and it’s all up to play for.  While the current mass of 11 winning teams lopped in the conference will certainly change in the next month, those who do reach the NFL playoffs will have earned their tickets!

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Will Aaron Rodgers Win the 2014 NFL MVP Award?

a rodgersThere are a lot of factors that go into determining the MVP of the National Football League.  Yards, touchdowns, ratings, wins, and sometimes even popularity figure in to the award.  And while the MVP title is rather pointless in such a team sport as football, it does still carry a lot of merit and often helps label who the most impressive player has been in the league.  And while we still have a ways to go before anointing a true NFL MVP, my early vote (as well as my long term assumption) is for Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers to claim the award.

Rodgers has long been among the elite players and quarterbacks in professional football, and has already won the award in 2011.  That season he threw 45 touchdown passes and led the Packers to a 14-1 record before sitting out the finale.  This year he is playing at that same level.

His current QB rating of 119.3 is tops in the NFL, and so is his yards per attempt statistic at 8.65.  That value is often a reflection of just how potent a passer is.  His 30 touchdown passes are second in the league behind Peyton Manning.  The only areas of concern would be his 7th ranked completion percentage and total yards ranking.  Some would argue that makes him the 7th best quarterback in the NFL, hardly worthy of the MVP.

But such insight is terribly misguided.  Rodgers ranks just 16th in the league in passing attempts!  Again looking at his remarkable touchdown and yards/attempt figures paints the more accurate picture.  He is doing more with fewer throws.  In fact, his 342 pass attempts is exactly 100 fewer than Manning.  The reason for this anomaly has been that the Packers have been winning a lot of their games early, and with blowouts.  Against the Carolina Panthers, Minnesota Vikings (first game), Chicago Bears, and Philadelphia Eagles, Rodgers tore apart defenses and had the win wrapped up by halftime.  By the 3rd quarter he’d largely be handing the ball off to Eddie Lacy and by the 4th quarter backup Matt Flynn would be in.  His incredible play has actually put the Packers so far ahead that Rodgers hardly has to play.

Additionally, in tighter games Aaron Rodgers has been exceptional as well.  His memorable drive to win late in the game against the Miami Dolphins was exactly the type of stuff that MVP’s produce.  There is really no stopping this guy.  And while he has benefitted from an improved run game and a stronger defense in recent weeks, it just goes to show how strong a player Rodgers is when his team is clicking.

Lastly, I feel that the statistic that ends all the MVP discussion is his 3 interceptions.  This is by far the lowest of any starting QB and is the main reason his rating is so high.  To get a clear picture of the significance of this mark, Tom Brady has 6 and Peyton Manning has 9.  The only player who manages games close to Rodgers’ level is Alex Smith, who has just 4 interceptions.  But while that number is very solid, his 13 TD’s pale in comparison to the 30 thrown by Rodgers.

And so if the season ended today, I would fully expect the MVP to be awarded to Aaron Rodgers.  And based on how he and the Packers typically finish seasons, I would anticipate those great numbers to continue.  The only player who really has a good shot of beating him would be DeMarco Murray of the Dallas Cowboys, a running back.  But this is where the name factor comes into play and would largely lean in Rodgers’ favor.  It’s also worth noting that 6 of the last 7 MVP awards have been handed to quarterbacks.  But if Murray breaks 2,000 rushing yards he may take the award.  However, I think that Rodgers’ season has been more impressive and is likely to capture the 2014 NFL MVP!

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Ranking the Top 10 NFL Teams Right Now

APE_TIPPET_A_HOF_WP_B__99867.1411535861.1280.1280Though the Super Bowl is still months away, the NFL playoffs are fast approaching, and we continue to get a clearer grasp of which teams are set to reach those playoffs and contend for the ultimate title in football.  Here is a ranking of the top 10 NFL teams likely to withstand the late season tests and truly make a run at this year’s championship:

10.)  Detroit Lions – Though they sit well perched atop the NFC North, there’s a general feeling that the Lions will stutter down the stretch and collapse based on their pathetic history of doing just that.  While I generally agree with that assessment, the Lions are a bit different this year in that they house a terrific defense.  If defense truly “wins championships”, Detroit could be ripe for a tremendous and surprising playoff run.

9.)   Philadelphia Eagles – Chip Kelly’s offense is great when it works, but tragic when it doesn’t. While they usually look good and win the games they should, they usually struggle against the league’s best.  I think an early exit to the playoffs will end their season again, especially since the questionable Mark Sanchez is now the starting quarterback.

8.)   Pittsburgh Steelers – Despite having a tough schedule ahead, the Steelers are usually late-season bloomers and their history of recent titles suggests they are certainly capable. If Troy Polamalu gets healthy and Ben Roethlisberger keeps doing his thing, the Steelers could make a daring run at the Super Bowl.

7.)   Indianapolis Colts – Andrew Luck is a megastar and that is essential to title contenders. The Colts’ passing attack is tops in the league, but until the defense gets fixed Indianapolis won’t win.  Nevertheless, anything is possible with a top QB and the Colts could just win it all if things go their way.

6.)   Seattle Seahawks – Struggling at 6-4, it’s easy to overlook how dominant the Seahawks were at the end of last year. All the championship pieces are in place but the team needs to step up their game a notch in order to repeat.  I doubt they will, but considering their success last year, who can really doubt Seattle?

5.)  Denver Broncos – Peyton Manning is very good, and the Broncos’ defense is good too. The team certainly has a point to prove following their depressing Super Bowl loss last year, and they could win it this time around.  But after a woeful loss to the St. Louis Rams this week and suffering a couple key injuries, who knows if there’ll be enough in the tank to repeat as AFC Champions.

4.)  Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid’s team is on fire, and their defense is great. They’ve beaten the Patriots and the Seahawks this season, showing up in big games.  Knile Davis and Jamaal Charles are a strong running back duo, and Alex Smith is playing smart and avoiding mistakes.  With the team starting to come together, the Chiefs might just get Reid his first title!

3.)  Arizona Cardinals – While they have the league’s best record (9-1) and a tremendous defense, their starting quarterback Carson Palmer went down for the season. Palmer was never elite and backup Drew Stanton is playing well.  However, their defense will dictate how far they go in the playoffs.  They have a tough schedule coming up and if they can come through as NFC West champs, they’ll have earned their chance to make a run.

2.)  Green Bay Packers – No one is playing as good as Aaron Rodgers these days, and with Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers making plays on defense, the spirit of the 2010 Super Bowl is alive and well in Wisconsin. But as we saw in a bad loss to the New Orleans Saints just a month ago, when the offense is slowed the Packers can be beat.  However, any team in this league is beatable, and the way Green Bay is playing right now bodes well for a championship.

1.)  New England Patriots – Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are the NFL’s strongest head coach/quarterback duo and they’ve routinely dominated the league for a decade. However, now 10 years removed from their last of 3 titles, time is running out and there’s an element of desperation in their play.  This could help the team rise up and claim a final Super Bowl title of this incredible dynasty!  They are the team to beat right now.

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Can LeBron James and the Cavs Get it Right in Time for the NBA Finals?

PHOTO7006K__41672.1411541677.1280.1280At 3-3, the newly superstar-clad Cleveland Cavaliers have hardly been the inspiring force that fans expected upon LeBron James’ arrival.  Not entirely surprising, the trio of James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving haven’t quite clicked so far this season; something quite common for a team just getting used to playing with one another.  With a record at .500, they’ve been considerably average.  While there is certainly a great deal of time to go before the NBA Playoffs for them to get this right, if the team continues to struggle they may miss out on the postseason entirely, let alone contend for the NBA title.

Further adding to the problems have been the rumblings bubbling under the surface.  Rumor has it that Love may opt out of his contract at the end of the season and push a move to the Los Angeles Lakers.  While it seems strange that he would want to leave so soon, based on the lackluster start to the season there certainly could be a disharmony amongst the key new arrivals.  Especially given his former star status with the Minnesota Timberwolves, he may struggle in the shadows of the team’s favored child, LeBron.

Meanwhile, an apparent heated chat between James and Irving could have led to a further trouble within the locker room.  Following a loss in which Irving failed to notch a single assist, the episode raised skepticism about whether the team will ever truly click like the championship-winning Miami Heat did for James.

As far as I can tell, this is far too early to tell if the Cavs will be contending for the title.  Possibly more than any other sport, basketball players must truly play with one another for an extended period of time before they reach their full potential as a team.  Given the talent alone of these three star players, a failure to start winning games with consistency would be a complete failure.  Also, one must understand that these guys are professionals.  They’ve played basketball for their whole lives and certainly know how to work well with others.  Constructing a championship caliber team simply takes time.

But what about the Cavs’ title hopes this season?  LeBron James certainly is capable of taking any team far, but a complete team cohesiveness is needed to win titles.  Evidence of the fact can be shown in the Heat’s Finals loss in James’ first season in Miami, as well as the San Antonio Spurs’ team effort to win the championship this past season.

The big question will be as to whether the stars of the Cavaliers can grow together in this year and compete for the title.  Fortunately, the generally weakened Eastern Conference should provide an easy route to the NBA Finals for them, but the Western Conference champion will likely prove to be very competitive amongst the likes of the Spurs, Golden State Warriors, Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks, and Houston Rockets.  It’s never easy to win in the NBA, even with LeBron James, Kevin Love, and Kyrie Irving!  Chances are that the early struggles will continue for the better part of the season and that the Cavs will probably not win a title this year.  However, as the players grow (considering Irving and Love stick around!), Cleveland should expect to earn an NBA title in the coming years ahead!

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