Jim Harbaugh has the Michigan Wolverines believing and thinking about winning the Big Ten Title.Share:
Since 2000, the Baltimore Ravens have become a consistent contender for the Super Bowl Championship. The Ravens have two Super Bowl Titles over that span and coming into the 2015 National Football League season, I had them pegged to reach Super Bowl 50 this February. But for the first time in franchise history, the Ravens have lost their first three games of the season which made them a very desperate team when they took the field this past Thursday night to meet the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers were without the services of starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who is out with a sprained MCL, but they do have a solid backup quarterback in Michael Vick who is a four-time Pro Bowler. The Ravens defense was able to limit Vick to 19-of-26 passing for 124 yards with just 33 yards rushing. But when kicker Josh Scobee missed a pair of field goals in regulation for the Steelers, it sent the game to overtime which set the stage for Ravens kicker Justin Tucker who had ice water in his veins to connect on a 52-yard field goal to give Baltimore their first victory of the season.
The Ravens have been fighting an uphill battle since the 2015 National Football League season began and if they had started the year with a record of 0-4, it would have all but ended their campaign before it started. In Week 1, the Ravens lost outside linebacker Terrell Suggs who is their emotional leader for the season to an Achilles injury. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman was the Ravens first-round pick this past spring in the National Football League Draft, but he has yet to suit up and his status is now unknown due to the fact that he recently underwent surgery on his PCL while veteran wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. suffered back fractures this past Thursday and he has already been ruled out for the Ravens Week 5 affair against the Cleveland Browns. The injuries to the Ravens wide receiver unit forced team general manager Ozzie Newsome to acquire wide receiver Chris Givens from the St. Louis Rams as Baltimore is simply trying to stay afloat.
The Ravens have built their reputation on the defensive side of the football, but in consecutive weeks, it was their defense that gave up the lead in late game situations as they are searching for a leader on that side of the football. For years the Ravens had a core of leadership on the defensive side of the football in Suggs, middle linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Ed Reed, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. And with the aforementioned Suggs out for the season, and Ngata now with the Detroit Lions, while Lewis and Reed have retired, the Ravens are in the midst of searching for a new identity as you simply can’t replace those players that are more than likely going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Through four games this season the Ravens are 15th in the National Football League in total defense, but they are currently lacking that impact player that can step up to make a significant impact in those key situations in the fourth quarter which they received from Lewis, Suggs, Ngata, and Reed for so long.
Whereas Joe Flacco is the Ravens starting quarterback and he is a former Super Bowl MVP, he is not the vocal leader that this team needs; especially on the defensive side of the football as those kind of players simply just don’t fall out of the sky. But if the Ravens are going to turn things around this year and become a playoff team, it is going to be due to the arm of Flacco as injuries have really depleted this squad in Baltimore as aside from Suggs and Smith Sr., starting strong safety Matt Elam was lost at the beginning of training camp due to a biceps injury. And it will be Flacco’s right arm that will get the Ravens back into contention.
For his eight years at the helm of the Ravens, head coach John Harbaugh has never had a losing season which will be put to the test in 2015, but if there is a head coach in the National Football League that can get it turned around, it is him. Beginning with their game against the Browns this Sunday in Baltimore, the Ravens only have one remaining opponent on their schedule that currently has a winning record as that accomplishment falls on the shoulders of the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals defeated the Ravens in Week 3 by the score of 28-24 as Baltimore now has a three-game deficit to make up in the AFC North to Cincinnati. And for the Ravens sake, they are hopeful that their Week 17 meeting in Cincy with the Bengals won’t be a meaningless affair as they’ll look to still have postseason aspirations then.
A pair of tough road losses along with injuries have really put the Ravens behind the eight-ball to begin the 2015 National Football League season. And earlier than most NFL seasons in Baltimore, it is already gut check time for the Ravens.Share:
In 2013, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie made a splash when he went to the the college ranks to find his next head coach. After four years at the University of Oregon, Chip Kelly decided to take his fast paced, spread offense to the National Football League when he agreed to become the head coach of the Eagles. Kelly had his fair share of skeptics as far as him being able to succeed in the NFL due to the fact that his spread offense was a bit unconventional. Kelly would have immediate success in 2013 as he led the Eagles to the NFC East Title with a record of 10-6. The Eagles would once again go 10-6 last year, but this time around they would fail to make the postseason. However things are a little bit different for Kelly and the Eagles this time around as after four games in 2015, they are 1-3 and still searching for answers.
Lurie has not only made Kelly the Eagles head coach, but he has also made him the team’s de facto general manager as he now oversees all of the team’s personnel decisions. And now that Kelly has the keys to the car, he is attempting to build the Eagles in his own image, but is it working?
When Kelly became the Eagles head coach in 2013, he inherited a team that had talent at the offensive skill positions, but he has decided to part with it. In 2014, the Eagles released wide receiver DeSean Jackson who would ultimately sign with the Washington Redskins. Jackson’s departure from Philadelphia was rather controversial due to the fact that he claimed that someone within the Eagles organization began to spread rumors about him having gang affiliations. This past off-season, the Eagles decided to trade running LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills while allowing wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to leave as a free agent as he would go on to sign with the Kansas City Chiefs. McCoy left Philadelphia as the Eagles all-time leading rusher and he is in the prime of his football career at the age of 27 which made his departure so surprising. After trading McCoy, Kelly decided to sign running back DeMarco Murray who led the National Football League in rushing last year as a member of the Dallas Cowboys. But through four games this season, Murray only has 11 yards on the ground which has led to a frustrated and irate running back who sounded off during the Eagles 20-3 home loss in Week 2 to the Dallas Cowboys as Kelly must realize that he is not in college anymore and his spread offense isn’t guaranteed to succeed.
By Lurie making Kelly the de facto general manager, he has only fed the ego of his head coach. One of the biggest differences in the college game as opposed to the pros is that the coach has all of the power collegiately being that he possesses total control over the student-atheletes. But in the pro ranks it is totally different as players make more money that their head coaches and in the National Football League, you need stars to win. Kelly has decided to part with the star players such as Jackson, McCoy, and Maclin while relying on his system alone which won’t amount to too many victories in the NFL.
Kelly’s system philosophy is also visible at the most important position on the football field which is quarterback. Since 2013, the Eagles have had four different starting quarterbacks with none of them being able to last a whole season due to injury. Kelly’s quarterbacks tend to get injured because of the system that they are playing in which has them carrying the ball as if they are running backs. Quarterbacks in the Eagles system take unnecessary hits, and unlike the college game, linebackers and defensive lineman are equally as fast as the signal callers. And when they hit quarterbacks outside of the pocket, they are free meat.
Sam Bradford is the latest contestant on wheel of quarterbacks with the Eagles. Bradford was acquired by the Eagles this past off-season from the St. Louis Rams. Bradford was the first overall pick of the 2010 National Football League Draft by the Rams. Bradford’s career record as a starting quarterback is only 19-33-1 and he has only been able to make all 16 regular season starts twice in his NFL career while failing to play a full season since 2012. Through four games this season, Bradford has completed 62.4 percent of his passes, but he’s already thrown 4 interceptions to just a pair of touchdown passes which has already brought jeers and angst in Philadelphia.
When Murray led the National Football League in rushing last season as a member of the Cowboys, he played behind one of the best offensive lines in football. And like Bradford, Murray has had durability issues as well being that 2014 was the only year in which he made all 16 regular season starts. In Dallas, Murray also had the luxury of playing with Pro Bowl caliber talent at the skill positions in quarterback Tony Romo, tight end Jason Witten, and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Now with the Eagles, Murray is just another guy that Kelly will look to fit into his system instead of him adjusting his system to his personnel. Murray is not a running back that will benefit from the spread offense, but at the same time he knew what he was getting into when he sought out the payday that the Eagles were offering him. And to make matters worse for Murray and the Eagles, he is currently nursing a hamstring injury.
Since Kelly came to Philadelphia, he has gone with an undersized defense that is predicated on speed. The Eagles currently only have five defensive players that tip the scales at 300 lbs. or higher. The lighter defense hasn’t helped the Eagles as they are currently 23rd in total defense in the National Football League while being 29th in 2013, and 28th in 2014 which isn’t going to get it done in the professional ranks. And as the season progresses, the Eagles defense tends to wear down due to the fact that they are giving up size; especially in their front seven.
When the Eagles won the NFC East in 2013, Kelly was the talk of the National Football League as he and Lurie appeared to be geniuses. But a head coach in the NFL cannot solely rely on his system as it is also about the players there as well. When Kelly was hired, the Eagles were riding the trend of NFL teams hiring college head coaches after seeing the success of Pete Carroll with the Seattle Seahawks and Jim Harbaugh who was formerly of the San Francisco 49ers. But unlike Carroll who had previously coached in the NFL with the New York Jets and New England Patriots, and Harbaugh who had played in the league as a quarterback, Kelly didn’t have prior experience in the pro ranks which appears to be hurting Philadelphia. By the looks of things the NFC East will be weak this year and a record of 8-8 or 9-7 might win it. But even with that, the Eagles could be the odd team out in the race and if Kelly wants to have a long tenure in the NFL, it might be time to made some adjustments to his philosophy.Share:
Dan Quinn is in his first season as the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and he’s out to change the culture there. Quinn was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks over the last two years and during his time there, he helped the Seahawks claim their only Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. And whereas Quinn is looking to turn the Falcons into a better football team as they’ve only won 10 games over the last two years, one player that he does not have to worry about in Atlanta is wide receiver Julio Jones.
In 2011, the Falcons traded up 20 spots in the National Football League Draft in order to select Jones as they gave the Cleveland Browns five draft picks over two years which also put added pressure on him to perform. Throughout his time in the NFL, Jones has put up solid numbers, but he had his breakout season last year when he set a Falcons single-season record for receiving yards with 1,593. And by the looks of things, Jones doesn’t appear ready to slow down in 2015.
After the Falcons gave Jones a five-year, $71 million extension this past August, Jones is living up to the contract and then some through the first three games of the National Football League season while giving opposing defenses nightmares. Through three games this season, Jones is leading the NFL in receptions (34), and receiving yards (440). In Week 1, Jones torched the Philadelphia Eagles for 9 receptions for 141 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In the Falcons 24-20 comeback victory over the New York Giants in Week 2, Jones performed big on the big stage with 13 grabs for 135 yards. And this past Sunday, Jones destroyed the Dallas Cowboys defense to the tune of 12 receptions for 164 yards and a pair of touchdowns. And what you get when you add up the numbers for Jones’ production is a player that is in prime position to make his third Pro Bowl appearance and help the Falcons get to the postseason for the first time since 2012.
At 6’4″, 220 lbs., Jones is a big and physical wide receiver and it doesn’t hurt that he has quality speed for his size as he can separate from defenders while he also possesses breakaway speed. Through three games this season, the Falcons record is unblemished and they have the look of a team that is poised to make the postseason with Jones having a hand in it.
Jones is really in sync with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan as both are having phenomenal seasons. Jones’ size allows him to be matchup nightmare in the red zone while he has developed great timing and chemistry with Ryan who has been uncanny as far as completing passes to his wide receiver in stride and Jones simply takes care of the rest.
When Jones first joined the Falcons, he had the chance to learn from wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Gonzalez. White still with the Falcons, but injuries are beginning to slow down his production which has given Jones the opportunity to emerge from his shadow. Gonzalez retired in 2013 as one of the most prolific pass catching tight ends that the National Football League has ever seen and although he and Jones played different positions, he still was not a bad mentor for the youngster to learn from as far as catching the football in tight windows and how to condition yourself for the game. The Falcons are benifitting greatly from Jones’ play this year as he is making it look extremely easy while making opposing defensive coordinator put in overtime as far as finding a way to stop him.Share:
Coming out of high school, running back Leonard Fournette had his choice of the top college football programs in the nation to be a part of. Fournette is a native of New Orleans, Louisiana and he decided on playing football for the LSU Tigers in nearby Baton Rogue, Louisiana as he spurned offers from the likes of the Auburn Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Fournette came to LSU in 2014 as the top recruit in the nation and with him he brought big expectations. It is typically tough for highly touted recruits to come in and live up to the hype that has been thrust upon them; especially in this era that has been dominated by social media. But fortunately for LSU, Fournette hasn’t fallen into that category.
Last year in Fournette’s collegiate debut, he was held to just 18 yards on 8 carries by the Wisconsin Badgers. But in Fournette’s second collegiate game, he was able to rush for 92 yards against a lesser opponent in the Sam Houston State Bearkats. And by the time that LSU was ready to begin conference play in the Southeastern Conference, Fournette was ready for it when he made his presence felt in the Tigers 30-27 victory over the Florida Gators as he rushed for 140 and a pair of touchdowns. Fournette was putting together big games here and there, but he was finally able to put it altogether as he gained 146 yards on the ground in the regular season finale against the Texas A&M Aggies and he followed it up with 143 more against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Music City Bowl as in just a matter of months, he had become a household name.
Fournette came into 2015 on the Southeastern Conference’s all-conference team and he has not disappointed so far. In three games this year, Fournette has gained 661 yards on the ground with 8 touchdowns and he is doing this against defenses that are geared to stop him. On September 12, Fournette went for 159 yards and 3 touchdowns in LSU’s victory over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The following week Fournette would torch Auburn for 228 yards and a trio of touchdowns. And this past Saturday against the Syracuse Orange, Fournette was once again a runaway freight train as he totaled 244 yards on the ground to go along with a pair of touchdowns. And Fournette is doing all of this in an LSU offense that doesn’t have the much help from their passing game as they are 124th in the nation in that category.
At 6’1″, 230 lbs., Fournette is a powerful runner and what makes it worse is that he has the speed of a sprinter. Fournette is extremely powerful and it takes a committee of defenders to bring him down. Fournette is a very imposing runner as he is drawing comparison’s to current Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson as during his time at the University of Oklahoma which has carried over into the National Football League, he possesses some of the same skills that we are currently seeing from Fournette.
The only thing that is slowing Fournette down right about now is the National Football League as their rules require that a player must be out of high school for at least three years in order to become eligible for the draft and he clearly has the skills to play on Sunday. Fournette has another year to go in order to become eligible for the NFL Draft as he is only a sophomore and for the youngster’s sake, you hope that he’ll be able to stay healthy until then.
But for LSU head football coach Les Miles, he is an old-school coach that believes in running the football and playing a physical and aggressive game which fits Fournette’s style to a tee. And Fournette is the best feature back that Miles has ever had in Baton Rogue which makes it a marriage made in heaven. Fournette will look to continue surviving the riggers of the SEC this fall and at the rate that he is going in 2015, he’ll look to become the first LSU player since Billy Cannon in 1959 to win the Heisman Trophy as the nation’s top football player.
In 2006, the New York Mets were the talk of the baseball world. The Mets went 97-65 which was the best record in the National League and they had a solid core of players that was led by shortstop Jose Reyes, third baseman David Wright, and outfielder Carlos Beltran that appeared ready to take the Big Apple by storm. But in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series, Beltran struck out looking with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Mets lost to the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2007, the Mets would blow a seven-game division lead with 17 games remaining in the regular season as they watched the Philadelphia Phillies win the NL East. In 2008, the Mets would enter the month of September with a three-game lead over the Phillies for the top spot in the NL East. But once again the Phillies would catch the Mets, and when the season ended, it was Philadelphia that was crowned as World Series Champions. This would also mark the second consecutive year in which the Mets missed the playoffs by one game.
The wheels began to fall off for the Mets in 2009 as injuries severely depleted their roster and they finished with a record of 70-92. Around this time, the Mets team finances were put in dire straits when it was revealed that team owner Fred Wilpon was a victim of Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme. And because of this there was a possibility that Wilpon would be forced to sell the Mets, but he stuck around which hurt the team as they had to dump payroll as they would become one of the worst teams in Major League Baseball.
In 2010, Wilpon sought out the help from his friend in Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig who would recommend Sandy Alderson to be the Mets new general manager. At the time Alderson was working in the MLB offices, but he had previous experience as a general manager as he had led the Oakland Athletics and San Diego Padres to the playoffs.
And when Alderson arrived in Queens, he preached patience as this was not going to be a quick fix as far as the Mets being able to contend. Prior to the start of the 2011 Major League Baseball season, Alderson would name Terry Collins as the Mets manager. And in each of their first four seasons together, the Mets never posted a winning record, but they were getting younger while putting an emphasis on developing their talent in the minor leagues.
Heading into 2015, the Mets would have been happy to just finish with a winning record for the first time since 2008 as it would have been seen as a building block for this organization. But things changed for the Mets when they began the season by coming out of the chute like gangbusters as they reeled off 11 consecutive victories in the month of April. The Mets would start with a record of 13-3 and in the media capital of the world that is New York City, people were beginning to once again talk about the Mets.
Solid starting pitching would keep the Mets afloat, but their offense would consistently struggle which was highlighted by them losing four games by the score of 1-0 as they were simply frustrating to watch. In mid-June, the Mets would fall under .500 as they lost seven consecutive games, but they would rebound to be 47-42 at the All-Star break. Then on July 29, the Mets announced a trade that was going to send shortstop Wilmer Flores and starting pitcher Zack Wheeler to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for outfielder Carlos Gomez. The trade was announced during the Mets game against the San Diego Padres, and it appeared to be a recipe for disaster as they allowed Flores to remain in the game after telling him the news. Flores couldn’t hold back the tears of disappointment while he was playing and it appeared to be another wrong turn for the Mets as they left the youngster naked to the world.
A few hours later, the Mets backed out of the deal with the Brewers as they were not satisfied with Gomez’s medical report and another chapter of ineptitude was written in franchise history.
But hope sprung eternal for the Mets as two days later, they would acquire outfielder Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers. And the trade with the Tigers was made just prior to a huge weekend series for the Mets against the Washington Nationals.
The Nationals came to New York with a three-game lead over the Mets for first place in the National League East, but there was a buzz around Citi Field that hadn’t been there since the park opened in 2009 as the fans there were just waiting for something to explode about. The explosion came in the bottom of 12th inning when Flores broke a 1-1 tie with a walk-off home run to give the Mets the victory. The Mets would go on to sweep the Nats which created a tie atop the NL East and they were just getting started.
In the month of August, the Mets would go 19-8 to solidify themselves as the team to beat in the National League East while Cespedes was becoming a household name and in the process, making a ton of money for himself this off-season as he is set to enter free agency. In just 51 games with the Mets, Cespedes is batting .296 with 17 home runs and 44 runs batted in to actually garner some interest about being the NL MVP this year. Cespedes has put the Mets lineup on his back and in the process, he has become the most important player in team history since Mike Piazza. And when the Mets needed to put a stranglehold on the division lead, Cespedes was at the forefront.
On Labor Day, the Mets traveled to D.C. to meet the Nationals for a three-game series. New York was nursing a four-game lead, but they rallied to sweep the Nats and in the series, Cespedes hit a pair of home runs while also driving in 7 runs. The Mets never looked back and this past Saturday evening, they were able to wrap up their first National League East Championship since 2006.
It is has been a total team effort for the Mets as their aren’t any egos on this team which is a testament to the stoic demeanor of Alderson. Alderson built this team through a series of key trades while developing the Mets minor-league system. In 2011, Alderson traded Beltran to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for Wheeler. At the time, Wheeler was a prospect in the Giants system, but they were forced to part with him as they were looking a quality bat in their pursuit to repeat as World Series Champions. That off-season, the Mets allowed Reyes to walk in free agency as they could not afford the six-year, $100 million contract that he received from the Miami Marlins. After starting pitcher R.A. Dickey won the National League Cy Young Award in 2012, the Mets traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays who were desperate to improve their pitching staff. And in exchange for Dickey, the Mets would receive catcher Travis d’Arnaud and starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard who were prospects at the time which is exactly what Alderson wanted and it has come full circle this year.
The Mets drafted starting pitchers Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Steven Matz, while along with Syndergaard and Wheeler who is currently recovering from Tommy John surgery, New York has their rotation for the next few years.
When the 2015 Major League Baseball season began, relief pitcher Jeurys Familia was supposed to be the setup man for relief pitcher Jenrry Mejia. But when Mejia tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, Familia stepped up for the Mets as he is third in the National League this season in saves with 42.
Last year the Mets signed outfielder Curtis Granderson to a four-year, $60 million deal which at the time appeared to be a head scratcher. In 2014, Granderson batted a career-low .227 with the Mets as he was attempting to carry the Mets lineup. But Collins decided to shift Granderson to the leadoff position and along with more depth now in the Mets lineup, his numbers have improved as he is currently tied for the club lead in home runs with 25. Mets first baseman Lucas Duda had to earn his position as a fan favorite with the Mets. When Duda first broke in with the Mets in 2010, the team attempted to put him in right field as they were sold on Ike Davis being their everyday first baseman. But last year the Mets gave up on Davis and when they traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Duda became New York’s full-time first baseman. Duda has rewarded Alderson’s trust in him as he hit 30 home runs last year while he is tied with Granderson for the team lead in home runs this season with 25.
And for Wright and second baseman Daniel Murphy, they have seen the best of times and worst of times for the Mets. Wright became a New York heartthrob in the mid-2000′s for his boyish looks and his ability at the plate as he appeared to be the heir apparent to Piazza as far as being the face of the Mets franchise. Murphy debuted with the Mets in 2008, and together he and Wright have stuck it out in New York during the thin years. And with the Mets going back to the postseason next month, it will be extra sweet for Murphy and Wright as it was once expected for them to be a frequent October participant as they now see how difficult that it is for them to get back there.
Whereas there was a time when the Mets couldn’t find the money to get quality players to come to Queens, they are now lining up to come there as this is a team that is ready to contend and that players want to be a part of. And speaking of lining up, the Mets are now near capacity for every home game which is a far cry from a few years ago when they couldn’t give away tickets to fill the stadium. It’s true that if you build it, they will come and the Mets have a solid of blend of youngsters and veterans that are ready to take New York and Major League Baseball by storm. We’ve seen in the past how Shea Stadium would be rocking for playoff baseball, and now Citi Field will have its chance next week. From top to bottom, the Mets were an organization that people had forgotten about a few years ago. But now they are the talk of the town and who knows how far that this will be able to go next month.Share: