Thursday, February 4, 2016

Super Bowl Preview

By Travis Stahl

Only three days left until the eatingest day of the year.  Yeah, that's a word.  I'm using it.  The Super Bowl is this Sunday.  Yes, there is a football game but it is also a day to enjoy some of the finest food you can fit in your mouth.  I'll never forget the year the Ravens beat the Giants I was at BJ and Mary Riley's house and it was the first time I had ever tried salami.  One of the greatest days of my life.  So eat up and enjoy the game.  Oh yeah, the game.  I nearly forgot.  Here's what's going to happen.

Denver offense vs. Carolina defense - The Broncos defense gets all the publicity as the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL and deservedly so.  But people forget the Panthers defense was ranked sixth in the league and led the NFL in takeaways.  Corner Josh Norman is going to be locked up on Broncos receiver Demaryus Thomas and both Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis can run with Owen Daniels.  That leaves Emmanuel Sanders for Denver.  Sanders is going to be the key to the Denver passing game.  If he can get open quickly or catch some of Peyton Manning's jump balls then Denver can move the ball.

Something that gets undersold in this game is the Broncos offensive line.  They really aren't that good.  Denver has struggled all year to get a consistent running game going.  If they can't run against Carolina that spells danger.  The Panthers defensive tackles are the best duo in the game right now.  They are hard to move and push the pocket back into the quarterback's lap and Kwann Short has 11 sacks this year to lead the team.  Oh, and Jared Allen is going to play so that is one more pass rusher for Carolina against a quarterback in Manning who does not move well at all.

Denver's defense vs. the Carolina offense - In two of the Broncos losses this year they gave up big rushing yards on the ground.  That is what Carolina does well.  They line up and try to physically just manhandle you on the line of scrimmage.  They have big backs in Johnathan Stewert and Mike Tolbert and God forbid if Cam Newton gets lose in your secondary to run down defensive backs.  The Broncos are a fast, aggressive defense with a strong secondary.  What they are not is stout against the run.  Denver will probably bring TJ Ward down into the box and play eight guys against the run.

The Broncos are going to try to confuse Newton with coverages, pressure him off the edge with Von Miller and Demarcus Ware and hope the Panthers make mistakes in the passing game.  It's a good philosophy and Wade Phillips knows how to draw up a defense.  Here is what can't happen for Denver.  When Miller and Ware come tearing up the field like they did last week against New England they knew Tom Brady was going to be standing stationary in one set spot.  If they go blindly running to a spot like that against Newton he won't be there.  Denver better keep Cam in the pocket and force him to get the ball out of his hands.

The Intangibles- Neither Gary Kubiak nor Ron Rivera has coached in a Super Bowl so there isn't an advantage there.  As in some Super Bowls special teams can play a big part in the game.  If I was Denver I would be scared to death of Ted Ginn Jr.  There is no way I would put the ball in his hands and give him a chance.  That is the sort of thing that swings a game.  Remember when the Packers won their Super Bowl a few years ago and the team was emotionally pumped after Charles Woodson separated his shoulder?  Who has the emotional edge here a Broncos team giving Manning one last shot or Carolina trying to win a ring for old man Thomas Davis?

The Prediction - Sometimes a team just has a feel about them and you can't put your finger on it.  That's how I feel about the Panthers.  All you we kept saying how they really aren't that good.  Well, turns out they are that good.  And when you have the best player in the game under center in Cam Newton he can do special things.  I believe the Panthers will win this game but it will be close and something will turn in the fourth quarter one way or another to seal it for Carolina.  I think the Panthers beat the Broncos 31-30.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Johnson's Retirement Pretty Surprising

By Travis Stahl

Have you ever been in a car accident?  You don't realize it at the time but even being in a fairly minor accident can leave you really sore at the time.  Now, imagine being in a car accident over and over again in the span of three hours.  Your body would be destroyed and you would feel every ache, sometimes for years to come.  That right there is why superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson decided to Barry Sanders the Detroit Lions.

After just nine seasons Megatron has decided to retire from the NFL, although that isn't entirely 100% official yet.  Johnson sited the destruction his body has undergone and his inability to regain enough health to keep playing as the reasons he is stepping away from the game.  A grocery list of injuries (ankle, quad, shoulder) have limited Johnson's effectiveness on the field the last few years and it had finally worn down a guy who was considered the greatest at his position for a short time.  At first it was surprising to see Johnson stepping away from the game early in life the way Sanders did when he retired from the Lions.  But when you think about it, this kind of fits who Johnson is.

He isn't flashy.  He isn't a money hound looking for another pay raise.  And he isn't pulling a Carson Palmer to force his way out of a bad situation.  Instead, this is an incredibly private individual who was never involved in any scandals and played the game the right way.  It's not our place to determine if it is too early for him to retire.  Instead we just have to marvel in the talents of one of this generations greatest players.  While appreciating what Johnson was able to give us we need to also have a ton of admiration for a player who played the game the right way and was able to walk away on his own terms.  Not many guys get to do that.

Once it becomes official and Johnson lets us know that he is for sure retiring we have to consider his place in the history of the league.  While Johnson was very good, I don't know that he was the transcendent player that Sanders was.  Usually to be considered a Hall of Fame candidate a player has to be the best at his position over an extended period of time.  Johnson was always in the discussion and probably a top-three receiver for most of his career.  But for a guy with no playoff wins it's difficult to make a case for him to receive the game's highest individual honor.

Instead I think we will remember Johnson as a very dominant receiver on a traditionally bad team.  He did things we haven't seen before and was just a beast to deal with on the field. In the end his biggest asset, his body, turned out to be his biggest foe.  We will sure miss some of the magnificent plays Johnson was able to deliver on the field and this leaves a huge hole in the Detroit offense and locker room.

Monday, February 1, 2016

NFL Mock Draft 1.0

By Travis Stahl

I love writing mock drafts for the NFL.  It is my favorite thing to do and the one of the major reasons we stated this little endeavor.  I try to wait as long as I can to write the first one of the year but they moved the draft back to May and I just can't wait that long.  Predicting the NFL draft is a complete guessing game but it's still fun to offer up an opinion on what each team should do.  You will notice only 31 picks on here.  Remember, New England had their first round pick taken away by the league.  Here is our first go around for the 2016 draft.

1. Tennessee Titans - Laremy Tunsil, Offensive Tackle, Ole Miss - Other players are more flashy but the Titans need to do something to protect Marcus Mariota.
2. Cleveland Browns - Joey Bosa, Defensive End, Ohio State - Why wouldn't the Browns draft a player with constant discipline issues?
3. San Diego Chargers - Jared Goff, Quarterback, California - Goff provides a glimpse of the future as the team moves to LA.
4. Dallas Cowboys - LaQuon Treadwell, Wide Receiver, Ole Miss - Dallas needs to win right now and adding the draft's most electrifying player definitely makes a huge difference.
5. Jacksonville Jaguars - Myles Jack, Linebacker, UCLA - Jack is a premier play maker who can cover the whole field.
6. Baltimore Ravens - Jaylon Smith, Linebacker, Notre Dame - Smith may not be ready to start the season but when he's healthy he will rejuvinate the Ravens defense.
7. San Francisco 49ers - Deforest Buckner, Defensive End, Oregon - Retirements wrecked the 49ers defense last season so it's time to reload.
8. Miami Dolphins - Jalen Ramsey, Cornerback, Florida State - Adding a play maker like Ramsey in the secondary is a rare find.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Ronnie Stanley, Offensive Tackle, Notre Dame - Giving Jameis Winston a body guard on the field can only help.
10. New York Giants - Reggie Ragland, Linebacker, Alabama - The Giants had easily one of the worst linebacking units in all of football last year.
11. Chicago Bears - Carson Wentz, Quarterback, North Dakota State - Jay Cutler is only under contract for one more year and the Bears would like to move on.
12. New Orleans Saints - Veron Hargraves, Cornerback, Florida - Any defensive player at any position is an improvement for the Saints.
13. Philadelphia Eagles - Mackensie Alexander, Cornberback, Clemson - You've got to have a wealth of cover corners in th is league now to stand a chance.
14. Oakland Raiders - A'Shawn Robinson, Defensive Tackle, Alabama - Nothing flashy, just a big, strong tackle to dominate the line.
15. St. Louis Rams - Jack Conklin, Offensive Tackle, Michigan State - One of these times a tackle the Rams draft is going to pan out.
16. Detroit Lions – Robert Nkemdiche, Defensive Tackle, Ole Miss – Detroit adds another disruptor along the defensive line.
17. Atlanta Falcons – Eli Apple, Cornerback, Ohio State – Is it me or have the Falcons been trying to rebuild the defense for the past 10 years.
18. Indianapolis Colts – Taylor Decker, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State – If Ryan Grigson selects anything other than an offensive linemen he will probably be run out of town on a rail.
19. Buffalo Bills – Sheldon Rankins, Defensive Tackle, Louisville – You know darn well Rex Ryan is drafting defense.
20. New York Jets – Ezekiel Elliot, Running Back, Ohio State – This Jets team is pretty darn good when they can run the ball.
21. Washington Redskins – Jarran Reed, Defensive Tackle, Alabama – After getting run all over by Green Bay in the playoffs you know the Redskins are looking to beef up the defensive line.
22. Houston Texans – Connor Cook, Quarterback, Michigan State – We all saw how well Brian Hoyer played for the Texans in the playoffs.
23. Minnesota Vikings – Darron Lee, Linebacker, Ohio State – Chad Greenway is going to retire eventually and the Vikings need a replacement.
24. Cincinnati Bengals – Shaw Lawson, Defensive End, Clemson – If there is one thing the Bengals could use it’s another pass rusher from the outside.
25. Pittsburgh Steelers – Karl Joseph, Safety, Virginia – The Steelers defense still needs somebody in the back-end to lead the way.
26. Seattle Seahawks – Ryan Kelly, Center, Alabama – Seattle’s offensive line woes never really solved themselves throughout the season.
27. Green Bay Packers – Hunter Henry, Tight End, Arkansas – The Packers offense has always been at its best when it has an effective tight-end in the middle of the field.
28. Kansas City Chiefs – Kevin Dodd, Defensive End, Clemson – You can never have too many guys who can get after the passer.
29. Arizona Cardinals – Kyler Fackrell, Linebacker, Utah St. – This defense is built on speed and Fackrell will fit right in.
30. Denver Broncos – Shaun Coleman, Offensive Tackle, Auburn – Coleman is a big mauler at tackle who can pave the way for the running game.
31. Carolina Panthers – Noah Spence, Linebacker, Eastern Kentucky – Thomas Davis isn’t going to play forever.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Let the Rumors Fly

By Travis Stahl

I love reading sports rumors.  I know most of them aren't true.  But they're still fun.  Rumors let us imagine the possibility of what could happen.  We jump to conclusions and automatically think about how it could all play out.  And then it doesn't.  Rumors leave us crushed and vulnerable.  They don't even wave good-bye.  But we go back every time to read some more because what if this one is true?  We cross our fingers.  How about this, instead of being the ones being crushed when we find out the rumor isn't true let's be the one to start the rumor.

1. Hey, my sources are telling me that the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to trade Kevin Love by the all-star break.  I know Cleveland just gave him a brand new $113 million contract but Love can't guard his shadow and LeBron James hates him like poison.  The Cavs are going to trade him, I'm telling you right now.  Before the end of February he is going to be traded to the Lakers for forward Julius Randle.  Byron Scott can't stand Randle and would love to part with him.  The Lakers will probably throw some veteran into the deal also.

2. Did you hear that the Raiders are moving to San Antonio?  True story.  Owner Mark Davis has already been in talks with the City and the Raiders will seek permission to move to Texas next year.  It's a done deal.  The Raiders being in San Antonio makes perfect marketing sense with the also Black and Silver Spurs in town.  The Raiders and Davis recently got dissed by the relocation committee and weren't allowed to move to Los Angeles.  I heard the Mayflower trucks have already started packing up the Raiders practice facility.

3. I know a guy who heard from a friend of his that the Clipper players and coaches are about done with Blake Griffin.  Word on the street is that most of the players actually like the equipment guy Griffin punched in the face more than they like the Clippers power forward.  Not good man.  The league and/or the Clippers are also going to suspend Griffin when he returns from his hand injury.  The mill says Griffin is going to be unloaded this summer, possibly to Boston or Phoenix for a couple of veterans and at least one of the Celtics or Suns top-five picks.

4. Somebody said they saw Johnny Manziel at the Cowboys facility this morning for his physical.  It's got to be true.  Dallas needs a back-up quarterback and Manziel desperately wants to play for the Cowboys.  Jerry Jones would kiss the ring on Manziel's hand if he could sign him to the team.  Manziel is practically throwing passes to Dez Bryant as we speak.  Talking about this makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little bit.

I'm hoping some of these catch on and start making the rounds.  Maybe they will come back around to us.  There is actually some half-truths in some of these.  The Raiders have hinted at a move to Texas and you know darn well how much Jerry Jones loves Manziel.  Rumors rarely come true.  The nugget of truth they begin with never pans out.  We'll see where these end up.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

What A Week in the NBA

By Travis Stahl

Well, we get a big of a hiatus from the NFL now for a couple of weeks.  Let's talk about the Association.  There's big doings in the NBA right now we should probably discuss.  Cleveland is a mess.  Golden State continues to rock out.  The Clippers get bit again.  This is one of the most entertaining NBA seasons in recent memory and we aren't even to the all-star break yet.  Once it hits crazy season (the trade deadline) I can't imagine what will happen.

The Blatt Spat - So last Friday the Cavaliers fired head coach David Blatt who had a record of 30-11 at the time and the team was in first place in the east.  Apparently Blatt's personality didn't fit the mood of the locker room (LeBron) so the team had to make a change.  This is yet another example of Cleveland being Cleveland and I feel badly for Blatt.  Remember, he's the guy who was never supposed to be coaching this team in the first place.  The Cavs hired Blatt pre-Lebron.  The plan was for Blatt the disciplinarian to come in a coach a young team of Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett and all the other first-round players Cleveland was in line to draft.  Once LeBron came home that plan went out the window and Blatt was forced to coach a bunch of veteran brats like JR Smith who had no intention of listening to somebody the players perceived as a rookie head coach.  Blatt never had a chance.

The Golden Arches - Did you see what the Warriors did to the Spurs last night?  GSW has now defeated the Cavs, Spurs and Bulls by 30 or more points in the last eight days.  We all talked about how it was going to be the Warriors or Spurs coming out of the west and putting it on some poor team from the east.  We assumed those two teams were close.  They aren't.  I know Tim Duncan didn't play last night but I have a hard time believing Timmy accounts for a 30-point swing.  Even more disheartening for San Antonio was the way Steph Curry lit up Kawhi Leonard in just three quarters of play.  I've been watching the NBA for a long time and I've never seen a team as dominant as this Golden State team.

Down Goes Griffin - It was reported early this morning that LA Clippers forward Blake Griffin will be sidelined for several weeks with a fracture to his hand.  The intriguing part is that Griffin was injured in an activity unrelated to the team.  That is what the Clippers are saying.  Shaun Gordon had the same initial thought I did, who did Griffin punch in the face?  You know something fishy went down when the team won't say what happened.  I guess if we see Doc Rivers at the podium talking about the injury later today and he has a big, swollen black eye we will know who Griffin punched.

I think it is important for you to remember something.  NBA owners and general managers for the most part are not smart people.  In fact, most of them are very dumb.  Hence, as we approach the February trade deadline there are going to be some very questionable transactions.  Sit back, soak it in and laugh like crazy.  It truly is amazing what some of these people can come up with.

Monday, January 25, 2016

A Super Match-Up

By Travis Stahl

Two games and two very different outcomes yesterday in the conference championship games.  But both the AFC and NFC title games were examples once again of why we love the NFL.  There was so much passion in both games it was just a beautiful thing to watch.  That's the good news.  The bad news is now we have to endure two full weeks of Super Bowl build up.

New England at Denver - So Friday night I sent Trent a text and said how shocked I was that ALL of the ESPN analysts were picking New England to win big and how every person in America who had spare change to wager was putting there money on the Patriots.  It didn't feel right.  I said when everyone is picking one team to win something always happens.  And it did.  The Denver defense followed the exact same plan the New York Giants did to beat the Patriots in two Super Bowl games.  They pressured Tom Brady up the middle and had their defensive backs reroute the New England receivers.  The result was that Brady took a beating and couldn't get the ball out fast enough.

Kudos to the Broncos coaching staff, especially defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.  This was the first time I remember a game in which the Patriots failed to make adjustments.  They had no answer for the Denver pass rush.  If the Patriots are going to be here again next year they better figure out a way to shore up the offensive line because it is terrible.  It would also benefit New England to find a receiver who can run a route further than ten yards down the field.

This is probably it for Peyton Manning, win or lose.  It takes a lot of courage for a quarterback to step back from the game plan and manager the game with sort passes and hand-offs and Manning has done that.  The defense in Denver is so good Manning knows all he has to do is not lose the game and they stand a good chance to win.  That is what mature quarterbacks do late in their career.

Arizona at Carolina - Have you ever seen a team have as much fun playing the game as the Panthers?  Everything they do is fun.  They can run Johnathon Stewart off tackle for three yards and the whole team is smiling.  That is a direct result of Cam Newton.  Newton has transformed himself into the best quarterback in the game and the entire franchise feeds off of it.  He has become a deadly accurate passer from the pocket and if he gets out in the open field running the ball you better get out of the way.  Best player in the game right now, no questions asked.

As good as the Carolina offense looked yesterday (they are No. 1 in the NFL by the way) the defense was equally impressive.  The Cardinals and quarterback Carson Palmer never established any kind of rhythm at all.  It didn't help Palmer that the Arizona receivers dropped nearly every pass thrown to them.  The Panthers expected to come into this game and play like champions and the Cardinals very much looked like a team that hoped they would play like champions.  Expectation level can make a world of difference.  The Panthers defense that was questioned all week ended up with four interceptions in the win against a very good quarterback.

For most of the season Newton was in relative obscurity.  That is all about to change and I'm guessing after two weeks we are going to be tired of hearing about it.  The early lines are favoring Carolina to beat Denver by four points.  However, when the No. 1 defense plays in the Super Bowl they are 9-2.  The Broncos have the No. 1 defense in all of football.  I'm not ready to call a winner yet.  I want to wait to see how each team's injured players are listed before making that prediction.  I do know it will be a great game.

Friday, January 22, 2016

College Coaches Wanted

By Travis Stahl

You all know how I feel about college basketball.  I don't like it right now.  It's an over coached game with kids who don't have the ability to play the game on their own.  Drives me nuts.  And nobody can shoot.  Fans of college basketball want to immediately blame the NBA.  Like it's the NBA's fault kids in middle school and high school don't learn how to play the game.  Then it hit me like a bolt of lightning the other night.  Maybe the problem is a severe lack of quality coaches.

Our Indiana Hoosiers beat Illinois the other night 103-69.  My first thought was "what in the world has happened to the Illini?"  Then I realized this is the same Illinois team that beat Purdue.  How does that happen that a team is that wildly inconsistent.  I doubt Lou Henson had Illinois teams that got pummeled by IU that badly.  And we aren't talking about a Hoosier team that is ranked in the top five and viewed as one of the most talented groups in the country.  Quick, who is the coach right now at Illinois?  Exactly.

College basketball coaches used to be these seasoned older coaches who knew all the tricks of the trade and were able to let their plays take the floor and make decisions on their own.  Now coaches are younger and rarely stay at the same school to build a program.  I know I have been fairly critical of  IU's Tom Creen but maybe that's what he needs, about 10 years to get the program established so players around the country can see that stability.  Coaches now are always looking for the next job, the next challenge or the next payday.  I suspect, and I could be wrong, that the same problem exists at high schools across the country.

So why is there a lack of quality coaches now?  The simple answer is I don't know.  Maybe because of the AAU travel circuit, maybe because the majority of athletes who play basketball now don't really have a passion for the game.  That would make sense.  Players now are forced to start taking the game very serious now at an early age and play all year long.  By the time their playing days are over they may not want anything to do with the sport anymore.  Or maybe because kids now aren't taught to think for themselves on the floor they don't have enough knowledge to pass on to younger players as a coach later in life.  Could be a possibility that we've reached that point.

I know I sound like an old man talking about how "the game was better when I was a kid."  But it was.  Right now in the NBA the most valuable player a team can have is a guy who can hit three pointers.  You know why those players are so rare?  Becuase there are none of them coming out of college.  It would be nice to see the top teams in the country start to play consistently good.  Maybe that isn't possible and I just need to accept that this is what college basketball has become.