2014 Week 12 NFL Picks

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The Cleveland Browns are happy to have wide receiver back with the team.

The “Rebuilding” Continues For The Oilers

http://web.uvic.ca/~bellard/page_ex/20430_logo.jpgThere was a time when the Edmonton Oilers ruled the National Hockey League. The Oilers joined the NHL in 1979 as one of the holdovers from the World Hockey Association. And in 1983, the Oilers would make their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final, but there they would be outclassed by the New York Islanders who were in the process of winning their fourth consecutive Stanley Cup Title. The Oliers and Islanders would meet once more in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final with the Oilers getting their revenge and winning their first Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history. From 1984-1990, the Oilers would win five Stanley Cup Championships under the leadership of future Hall of Fame Players such as Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Grant Fuhr, and Jari Kurri. But once the Oilers starting cutting costs and shipping some of these great players out of town, things would change. Four years would go by in the 1990′s without a playoff appearance for the Oilers, but they would turn it around at the end of the decade which carried over to the 2000′s with a return to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006. However since then the Oilers have failed to qualify for the playoffs while they have gone through five head coaches. From 2010-2012, the Oilers would have the first overall pick in the NHL Draft in each year. Those three picks for the Oilers resulted in left winger Taylor Hall, center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and right winger Nail Yakupov who haven’t been able to help Edmonton take that next step and so far this season appears to be spiraling downward already as they are on pace to finish with the worst record in the Western Conference for a second consecutive season.

The Oilers 6-10-2 record is the worst in the Western Conference and the third worst in the NHL as they are well off of the pace as far as contending for the postseason. The Oilers are 22nd in the National Hockey League is goals scored per game 2.53 and they are third in goals allowed per game 3.37. The only teams that are allowing more goals per game than the Oilers are the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Buffalo Sabres who happen to be the only two teams in the league that have a worse record than Edmonton. Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens is allowing 3.09 goals per game this season which is 34th among net minders in the NHL this season. In his last five starts, Scrivens has given up 15 goals including 5 in Edmonton’s 5-4 loss this past Wednesday night to the Vancouver Canucks.

Things didn’t get started on the right track for the Oilers this season as they lost their first five games. The Oilers would win their next four games including a 3-0 shutout of the Montreal Canadiens, but they have lost eight of their last ten including their last four games. Edmonton has the second youngest team in the NHL this season and for Oilers head coach Dallas Eakins, he is looking for answers in order to get this team going. The Pacific Division alone is loaded  with Stanley Cup Title contenders in the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks, and Canucks which makes it tougher for the Oilers to contend, but they must find a way to compete with these good teams. The young Oilers must take ownership on defense and put the pressure on the other teams. Offensively the Oilers must begin to force the issue as far as scoring early in order to put the pressure on their opponents which is something that they have been unable to do.

For Eakins and Oilers general manager Craig MacTavish this is the group of guys that they will need to build with. Edmonton, Alberta is one of the smaller media markets in the National Hockey League and it isn’t a hotbed as far as luring free agents to so we shouldn’t expect any type of shakeup to this team. The Oilers have two more tough games on the slate as they will host the New Jersey Devils tonight before clashing with the Chicago Blackhawks tomorrow night. December will be very important for the Oilers as they will look to get things going if they are going to become relevant this season. If not it will once be a long winter and spring in Edmonton, Alberta.

Sources: Hockey-reference.com, Quanthockey.com

So Much For The Patriots Demise

After the New England Patriots lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, the rumor mill began to swirl about their downfall. The internet was buzzing with reports of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady looking to be traded while he was growing tired of the team’s head coach Bill Belichick. But that is why you don’t pay a ton of attention to what happens in the National Football League during the month of September. After their loss to the Chiefs, the Patriots were 2-2 and some people were saying that they were done. But autumn has brought new life to the Patriots and with it Super Bowl aspirations.

The Patriots have reeled off six consecutive victories as they are looking like a well-oiled machine and possibly the best team in NFL as they’ve done it in very dominating fashion. Off all of the Patriots victories during their current winning streak, only one game was decided by single digits. The Patriots got the ball rolling in Week 5 when they hosted the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals were 3-0 and coming off of a bye, but it was the Patriots that were the fresher and more precise team as they destroyed Cincinnati 43-17. With first place in the AFC East on the line in Week 6, the Patriots traveled to Orchard Park, New York for a showdown with the Buffalo Bills. The Bills were hopeful that this would be their year to get back to the playoffs, but it was New England that emerged victorious 37-22. After a tightly contested 27-25 victory over the New York Jets in Week 7, the Patriots would cream the Chicago Bears in Week 8 by the score of 51-23. In a battle for AFC supremacy in Week 9, the Patriots would host the Denver Broncos in a game that would have a huge bearing on the playoff picture. These two teams met in last season’s AFC Championship Game with the Broncos advancing to the Super Bowl and it was also another chapter in Brady’s rivalry with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning that dates back to Manning’s time with the Indianapolis Colts. This day and the game would belong to Brady and the Patriots as they dominated the Broncos 51-23. The Patriots bye week in Week 10 did not cool them off as they ran roughshod over the Colts in Indy this past Sunday night 42-20. The Patriots are 8-2 as they have the best record in the AFC. In the process the Patriots have defeated every current division leader in the AFC and they are serving notice that they will be a team to be reckoned with come January in the playoffs.

Bill Belichick, Robert Kraft

The Patriots have not won a Super Bowl Championship since 2004, but they are the model team for consistency in the NFL. Since 2001, the Patriots have won 11 AFC Eastern Division Titles and they appear ready add another one to the mantle in 2014. In recent years Belichick and Patriots owner Robert Kraft have received criticism as it has been perceived that they have simply placed too much in the lap of Brady to do. But this year’s team in New England could be the best team that Brady has been a part of since the Patriots finished the 2007 regular season with a record of 16-0.

The Patriots have tremendous balance this season which puts less pressure on Brady. This past off-season, Belichick set out to upgrade the Patriots secondary. The Patriots lost cornerback Aqib Talib in free agency to the Broncos, but as soon as the deal was made, cornerback Darrelle Revis was headed to Foxboro to replace him. Revis is a five-time Pro Bowl selection that spent the first six years of his National Football League career tormenting Belichick and the Patriots as a member of the Jets and he is one of the best shutdown corners in pro football. Revis only has two interceptions this season, but he can blanket one side of the football field all by himself. Opposite of Revis at the other cornerback position stands 6’4″, Brandon Browner who was brought to New England this past off-season to team with the likes of free safety Devin McCourty in the Patriots secondary. These moves were made by the Patriots solely to compete with the Broncos who could be their biggest contender in the AFC as they have a slew of wide receivers led by Demaryius Thomas that put a ton of pressure on a defense.

The Patriots suffered a blow when middle linebacker Jerod Mayo was lost for the season to injury, but with Donta Hightower switching from outside to inside in the starting linebacking corp, the Pats have not skipped a beat while their pass rush by committee led by defensive end Rob Nikovich along with defensive tackle Vince Wilfork plugging the interior defensive line, the Patriots have a bend but don’t break philosophy which resembles what they were able to accomplish when they won three Super Bowl Titles from 2001-2004.

Like any good team the Patriots have a next man up philosophy. During their victory over the Bills, the Patriots lost starting running back Stevan Ridley to a torn ACL. But in Ridley’s asbence, running back Jonas Gray is making the most of his opportunity in the Patriots backfield. In 2012, Gray went undrafted by the NFL as he bounced around on the practice squads of the Miami Dolphins and Baltimore Ravens, but now he appears to have found a home with the Patriots. Gray is the Patriots second leading rusher this season and he stepped up huge in the victory over the Colts with 201 rushing yards and 4 rushing touchdowns. Gray did this behind an offensive line that was called the worst in football by some people after the loss to the Chiefs. But the law firm of offensive tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer, guards Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell along with center Bryan Stork are opening up holes for Gray and the running game while giving Brady a clean pocket to decipher things in the passing game.

Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski

The running game and passing game have fed off of each other as Brady is completing 64 percent of his passes to go along with 24 touchdowns to only 5 interceptions. It is really helping Brady this season that he has his ace in the hole back in a healthy Rob Gronkowski at tight end. Gronkowski has not been fully healthy since 2011 which was the Patriots last trip to the Super Bowl. But Gronk is on pace for another season like 2011 when he had 90 receptions to go with 1,327 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns which was a single-season NFL record for tight ends. Gronkowski’s presence brings that different element to the Patriots offense that Brady has been sorely missing. This season Gronkowski has 53 receptions for 734 yards and 9 touchdowns as he is one of the best red zone options in the National Football League in spite of the fact that he consistently faces double and triple team coverage.

This Patriots team has the feel of the team that won the Super Bowl in 2003. And Like 2003, the Patriots were 2-2 after four games before they won 15 straight en route to capturing the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Like these Patriots, those Patriots were left for dead and they simply found a way to win every Sunday. Belichick was the head coach of that team while Brady was his quarterback and they are rolling just like they were 11 years ago.

You could make the case that the Patriots have an important stretch coming up, but they have simply answered the bell against good teams over this current winning streak. The next two weeks will see the Patriots deal with NFC North teams as they host the Detroit Lions before traveling to take on the Green Bay Packers in what could be a Super Bowl preview. The Patriots will have a road affair with the San Diego Chargers before they finish up the final three weeks of the regular season with their AFC East foes in the Miami Dolphins, Jets, and Bills respectively. Each week brings a different game plan which the Patriots have been executing to a tee. This is the Patriots time of year to get their sea legs and as long as Brady and Belichick are around you cannot write this team off.

Source: Pro-footall-reference.com

2014 Key Games For Week 13 In College Football

There will be plenty on the line at the Rose Bowl this Saturday when USC clashes with UCLA.

It’s Scary That Trout Will Only Get Better

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Mike Trout

Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout is not your typical 23-year old. While most youngsters that are Trout’s age are just completing college and looking to start life, he has a career that has already made him a household name. The Angels drafted Trout in the first round of the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft and by 2011, he was ready for his Big League debut as a 19-year old. That season Trout was called up on July 8 and he would only appear in 40 games that year, but he was able to hit 5 home runs with 16 runs batted in while getting a taste of big time baseball. Trout began 2012 in the minors, but when the Angels recalled him on April 28, he was here to stay.

Trout was able to maintain his rookie status for 2012 and he would have a season for the ages as he batted .326 to go along with 30 home runs, 83 runs batted in, and 49 stolen bases. Trout would unanimously win the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award and it took Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera winning the Triple Crown for Trout not to be selected as the AL MVP. Trout took the baseball world by storm that season as he was already being compared to legends of the game such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Ken Griffey Jr.

2013 would once again see Trout finish second to Cabrera in the American League MVP balloting, but 2014 would be a little bit different for the phenom.

This past season Trout batted .287 with 36 home runs and 111 runs batted in as he helped the Angels win their first AL West Division Title since 2009 which was enough for him to be named as the AL MVP. Trout turned 23-years old this past August and it is scary good that he can get much better.

Trout will enter next season as the reigning American League MVP while he led the Junior Circuit in strikeouts this past season with 184. Like the rest of his Angel teammates, Trout had an October to forget. Trout was 1-for-12 with one homer and one run batted in as the Angels were upset and swept by the eventual AL Champion Kansas City Royals in the American League Division Series. But you know that it won’t be Trout’s last taste of October baseball.

Trout is that rare five-tool, MLB superstar and he is still a kid that is simply playing a kid’s game. In a short period of time Trout has shown the ability to put the Angels lineup on his back for extended periods of time while he also possesses tremendous range in the outfield. But what sets him apart from other youngsters is that he is extremely coachable and willing to learn. With Hollywood in the backdrop of the Angels home in Anaheim, it would be very easy for Trout to get caught up in the glitz and glamor and develop a swelled head. But instead Trout arrives at the park each day looking to improve which is the work ethic that makes good players great and great players into eventual Baseball Hall of Famers.

In free agency the Angels would sign first baseman Albert Pujols and outfielder Josh Hamilton to mammoth deals over the past few years as they were expected to become the faces of the franchise. But Trout has stolen the show from those veterans and with it the hearts of baseball fans in the United States and as I previously mentioned he is only going to get better. The pride of Milville, New Jersey, Trout is a three-time MLB All-Star and now he can add AL MVP to a rapidly improving resume which is frightening for the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.

Source: Baseball-reference.com

A Second Title Is In The Grasp Of Lewis Hamilton

It didn’t take driver Lewis Hamilton that long to make a name for himself on the Formula One circuit. Hamilton made his debut in 2007 and he won four races. That year Hamilton would miss out on the Formula One Championship by one point to Kimi Raikkonen, but he served notice that he would be a player on the circuit in the coming years. In 2008, Hamilton would build off of his success from his rookie campaign as he became the first black and also the youngest driver in history to win the Formula One Championship. The past five years have seen have seen Hamilton become one of the top drivers on the Formula One circuit as he finished fourth or fifth in the driver standings in each year. However Hamilton was never able to overtake Sebastian Vettel who has won the last four Formula One Titles. But this year is shaping up to be a different case for Hamilton.

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Lewis Hamilton

With one race to go in the Formula One season, Hamilton is in first place with a 17-point lead over his Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 teammate Nico Rosberg while Vettel is nearly 200 points behind him in fourth place and he can taste his second championship.

After failing to finish the Australian Grand Prix to begin the season, Hamilton would get it going by winning the next four races. Arguably Hamilton’s greatest triumph of 2014 came on July 6 when the native Brit won the British Grand Prix in Silverstone, England in front of his fellow countrymen. To his credit Hamilton has won 10 races this season and the only incidents in which he failed to reach the podium were at the Australian,Monaco and Austrian Grands Prix when he was unable to finish each race. But for Hamilton and the men that are running the Mercedes AMG Petronas team that includes technical director Bob Bell, engineering director Aldo Costa, and technology director Geoffrey Willis, they are sitting pretty heading into the final race of the season next Sunday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The Mercedes team has given Hamilton a terrific car all season long to race in and he has also previously won the Abu Dhabi Prix in 2011 which must be in the back of his mind as he prepares. Hamilton’s teammate Nico Rosberg is currently second in the points standings and with Daniel Ricciardo 120 points behind Hamilton in the standings in third place, he should be able to secure his second Formula One Championship.

Incessant racism by some ignorant fans in Europe nor top drivers such as Raikkonen, Vettel, or Ricciardo have been able to slow down Hamilton this year and when it is all said and he’ll be able to see his name alongside those of Jackie Stewart, Graham Hill, and Jim Clark as drivers from England who can claim multiple Formula One Championships.

The ‘Noles Are Flying Under The Radar

Saturday November 24, 2012 to most people was a time when they were busy eating their Thanksgiving leftovers. But for the Florida State Seminoles football program it was the last time that they tasted defeat. The Seminoles would lose that evening at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee to the Florida Gators 37-26. The Seminoles would finish that season by defeating the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game before breezing through the Northern Illinois Huskies in the Discover Orange Bowl. Florida State began the 2013 college football season with a redshirt freshman as their starting quarterback in Jameis Winston. But Winston would play above his years and have a season for the ages as he won the Heisman Trophy while leading the ‘Noles to an undefeated season and a national championship. Florida State began this season as the top ranked team in the nation and after nine games they have yet to walk off of the gridiron as losers and dating back to 2012, they now have a 25-game winning streak.

Last year Florida State’s average margin of victory was nearly 40 points as they ran roughshod over anyone who faced them. This season has been a little different for Florida State as they are taking everyone’s best punch which is to be expected being that they are the defending national champs. In their season opener, Florida State squeaked past the Oklahoma State Cowboys 37-31 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. On September 20, Winston was suspended for Florida State’s game versus the Clemson Tigers in which they needed overtime to prevail in. The following week the ‘Noles traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina take on the North Carolina State Wolfpack. And after one quarter of play Florida State found themselves down 24-7. But undaunted, Winston and the Seminoles would rally to win 56-41. On October 5, Florida State would welcome the fifth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish to Tallahassee and the game was a nail bitter in every perception of the definition as it took a late defensive stand for the Seminoles to triumph 31-27. On October 30, Florida State had to overcome a 21-0 deficit to the ACC newcomer in the Louisville Cardinals as they won 42-31 and while continually finding ways to win.

In spite of their unblemished record, Florida State is currently ranked third in the latest college football playoff rankings due to the fact that the ACC doesn’t stack up with some of the other power conferences such as the Southeastern, Pac-12, and Big 12 Conferences. The current top 15 rankings are dominated by the SEC, Pac-12, and Big 12 Conferences with Florida State being the only ACC team there. The teams from those other power conferences will bump heads while Florida State only needs to worry about winning games instead of style points. Due to the ACC’s reputation as a weak football conference, a loss by Florida State at this point of the season would all but eliminate them from a chance to repeat as national champs. If the Seminoles were to finish the regular season undefeated, a potential showdown with the Duke Blue Devils in the ACC Championship Game could be a shot in the arm for them. Duke currently checks in 21st in the college football rankings. The remainder of the Blue Devils schedule is an easy one which means that they should be ranked in the top 20 by the time that the conference title game rolls around. If that is the case and Florida State is able to defeat Duke for the second consecutive year in the ACC Title Game, it should be enough to propel the Seminoles into the inaugural four-team college football playoff.

Jameis Winston

Unlike last year when Winston had more of a supporting cast, he has been shouldering the load. Where Winston passed for 4,057 yards last season with 40 touchdown passes to just 10 interceptions, he has 17 passing touchdowns so far to 11 interceptions. But Winston plays his best when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter as he simply knows how to take his game to the next level which puts a smile on the face of Florida State head football coach Jimbo Fisher while the Seminoles defense hasn’t been as opportunistic as it was a season ago. This season the Seminoles are giving up 10 more points per game than they did in 2013 which can be attributed to their three best defensive players from a year ago in defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, linebacker Tevin Smith, and cornerback Lamarcus Joyner all moving on to the National Football League. And for the ‘Noles to repeat as national champions some of the youngsters on the defensive side of the football must step it up coming down the stretch.

Jimbo Fisher

For Fisher he initially came to Florida State in 2007 as an offensive coordinator and the school made him “the head coach in waiting” to eventually replace the legendary Bobby Bowden. Fisher would take over as the head man in charge in 2009 as he sought to get the ‘Noles back to their perch with the elite teams in college football and he has done that as Florida State has finished every season under him ranked in the top 25 and they began this season as the top team in the nation for the first time since 1999. But it all hasn’t been a bed of roses for Fisher in Tallahassee as he has come under scrutiny in the way that he has handled some of Winston’s off-the-field discrepancies which ultimately led to Winston being suspended earlier this season. But make no mistake about it that Fisher can coach and he has gotten Florida State back to what they were in their heyday under Bowden which was a team that simply dominated the ACC.

For the Seminoles it is simple. A victory this Saturday night by Florida State over the Miami Hurricanes will clinch the Atlantic Division of the ACC. Next Saturday, Florida State will host Boston College before finishing up at home on November 29 versus Florida. If the Seminoles are able to win out they should be able to secure a spot in the college football playoff where anything is bound to happen.

Source: Sports-reference.com, Cfbstats.com

2014 Key Games For Week 12 In College Football

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Will Al Golden and the Miami Hurricanes be smiling when they leave the field this Saturday night after their game with the Florida State Seminoles?