Friday, September 27, 2013

Geek Out Stat: Hail to the Chiefs

     Last year, the Kansas City Chiefs finished with a dismal 2-14 record and had the first pick in the most recent NFL Draft. They became the first NFL team since the 1929 Buffalo Bisons to not lead in regulation during any of their first nine games of the regular season. Then-head coach Romeo Crennel boasted a 4-15 record during his brief tenure with the Chiefs before being fired and quarterback Matt Cassel didn't pan out as Kansas City hoped.
     Funny how things can dramatically change in a year. The Chiefs hired former Eagles head coach Andy Reid to the same position and drafted offensive lineman Eric Fisher with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. They also acquired former No. 1 pick Alex Smith from San Francisco. But these moves are a small reason for why Kansas City has already surpassed their win total from last season.
     Their defense has already shown itself as one of the most fearsome. Gossamer defensive tackle Dontari Poe has ten tackles and has recorded 3.5 sacks in three games already. Veteran linebackers Tamba Hali, Akeem Jordan, and Derrick Johnson have combined totals of 43 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, and a sack. Linebacker Justin Houston has also contributed greatly, compiling 17 tackles along with an NFL-leading 7.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He has also recovered two fumbles. The secondary for the Chiefs has allowed the 5th-fewest yards per game, only yielding opposing receivers to 185 yards per game. Opponents have also made only 11 third down conversions (27.5%) against the Chiefs this year, good for second best in the NFL
     Kansas City also has a great running back in Jamaal Charles. He's running for 224 yards on 52 carries and has two touchdowns this season. This includes a solid game against the Eagles last week in which he ran for 92 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown. He also had seven receptions for 80 yards in that game.
     It's safe to say that the Andy Reid era in Kansas City has gotten off to a very pleasant start. But can they topple their division rivals in the Denver Broncos, who are also undefeated? If you're looking for a worst-to-first story, this could be your team to get behind.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Update: Shivering Their Timbers

     Just over three weeks after clinching their first winning season in just over two decades, the Pittsburgh Pirates have clinched their first playoff berth in 21 years with a 2-1 win over the Chicago Cubs. Both Neil Walker and Starling Marte homered in that game, eliminating the Washington Nationals from playoff contention as they lost to St. Louis 4-3. Surprisingly, the biggest thing going in the Steel City isn't the 0-3 Steelers. It's the playoff-bound Bucs, who are in a battle with the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds for the NL Central division title.
     Pittsburgh's playoff trip in 1992 didn't end so well. It ended with Atlanta's Sid Bream sliding into home as the winning run in bottom of the ninth, propelling the Braves to a Game 7 win in the NL Championship Series and a trip to the World Series. It's also been a while since the Pirates have been to the World Series. They haven't been to the Fall Classic since 1979, when they came back from a 3-1 deficit to defeat the Baltimore Orioles in seven games. The great Willie Stargell was named the World Series MVP, batting .400 with three home runs and seven RBIs.
     If the Pirates do make it to the World Series, they do have one thing going for them. They're 15-5 in interleague games this season. But they are 23-25 against the other NL playoff teams, including a combined 5-8 against both Atlanta and Los Angeles. Still, the postseason is a whole new season. It'll be interesting to see what happens to Pittsburgh in the last five games.
     Asked if clinching a playoff berth felt great, Manager Clint Hurdle said "Abso-bucking-lutely."

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Worst Collapses in Sports History

     There's no such thing as a sure thing, especially in sports. To show what I mean by this, here are a few examples of the worst chokes in sports history.

  • Jean Van Velde's epic collapse at the 1999 British Open:
  • The New York Yankees losing the 2004 ALCS to their rival Boston Red Sox after being up 3-0:

  • Boston Bruins blow the lead in Game 6 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals in just under 17 seconds:

  •  Dallas Cowboys blow a 24-point lead in the third quarter against the Detroit Lions on October 2, 2011.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Star Watch: Vladimir Tarasenko

     If you're a hardcore hockey fan, you might want to keep an eye out for a right winger named Vladimir Tarsenko of the St. Louis Blues. The 16th overall pick of the 2010 NHL Draft previously played in the KHL for Sibir Novosibirsk from 2008 to 2012, scoring 91 points (47 goals, 44 assists) in 161 games. He was traded to SKA St. Petersburg in 2012, scoring five goals and four assists in 15 regular season games. He was also plus-six in those 15 games with SKA. He also played for Russia in the World Junior Championship. He played for Russia's U-18 team in the 2008-09 , scoring eight goals and seven assists in seven games. The next year, he netted four goals and an assist in six games for Russia's U-20 team. Russia's U-20 team won gold in 2011 with Vladimir scoring four goals and seven assists during the junior tournament.
     Talent-wise, he was considered the top Russian-born talent in the 2010 NHL Draft. The Blues are excited about his goal-scoring ability with his quick hands and sudden release. His explosive acceleration allows him to create space and either score or let him use his strong playmaking ability. He's also a gritty, tenacious player who is very competitive. His time in the KHL has seasoned him into one of the more NHL-ready players in his 2010 class. He is also built sturdily at 5'11" and 202 pounds.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

NFL Highlights from Week 1

     The first week of the NFL season was widely anticipated by many people across this nation. It certainly didn't disappoint as there were record-tying performances and great comebacks. Here are some of the great highlights from the opening week in the NFL.

  • Peyton Manning throws 7 touchdowns in the Opening Game:

  • Jerome Simpson's amazing catch:

  • LeVontae David's costly penalty:

  • Houston's ridiculous comeback on Monday Night:

  • LeSean McCoy takes flight in Chip Kelly's new offense:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

NFL Preview: NFC South and NFC West

     Here is the last quarter of my NFL Preview!!! It wraps up with the NFC South and NFC West, arguably two of the toughest divisions in the NFL.

     NFC South
  1. New Orleans Saints: The Saints still boast a high-powered offense, led by the likes of Drew Brees. Brees led the NFL in both touchdowns (43) and passing yards (5,177). But this year, the team will be much better thanks to the likes of coaching staff changes. Sean Payton is back in as head coach and Rob Ryan is the new defensive coordinator for the Saints. Granted he won't fix up everything, especially considering that New Orleans has plenty of key linebackers out with injuries. But Payton should be enough of a boost to get the Saints to the playoffs (I don't know about Ryan. He could be hit or miss). The secondary has to do better as well; this unit ranked 31st in the NFL in passing yards allowed (292.6 ypg) and were in the middle of the pack in the NFC in interceptions with 15.
  2. *Atlanta Falcons: The NFC South will come down to two teams: The Saints and the Falcons. So don't be surprised if one of these two teams finishes atop of the division. Atlanta retooled their running game by acquiring Steven Jackson and drafted corner Desmond Trufant (41 tackles, 2 INT in his final year with the Washington Huskies). Matt Ryan will also be thankful for Tony Gonzalez coming back; the tight end had 93 receptions, 930 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last year. Throw in receivers Roddy White (92 receptions, 1,351 receiving yards, eight touchdowns) and Julio Jones (79 receptions, 1,198 receiving yards, ten touchdowns) and you have one of the most dynamic offenses in the NFL.
  3. Carolina Panthers: LB Luke Kuechly (165 tackles last season) had a great rookie season last year and is just a part of a great front seven that includes defensive ends Charles Johnson (41 tackles, 12.5 sacks, seven forced fumbles) and Greg Hardy (61 tackles, two forced fumbles, 11.0 sacks). The Panthers also realized late last year that they had some great pieces in their offensive running game with the likes of Can Newton and DeAngelo Williams. The attack will be bolstered even more once Jonathan Stewart comes back.
  4. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs acquired Darrelle Revis in the offseason, who will improve the secondary. But this is a make-or-break year for quarterback Josh Freeman. He has legitimate targets in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams, so there should be no reason for why he doesn't get the job done. The Bucs also have to share a division with Atlanta and New Orleans and those teams are loaded. One thing to watch with Tampa will be Doug Martin, who'll head the rushing attack and will be protected by a strong offensive line. The Muscle Hamster had five runs for 40+ yards last year and ran for 1,454 yards on 319 carries and 11 touchdowns.

     NFC West
  1. San Francisco 49ers: It'll be up to Colin Kaepernick to duplicate his performance from 2012 in which he led the 49ers to the Super Bowl as their quarterback. Losing Michael Crabtree (85 receptions, 1,105 receiving yards, nine touchdowns) for the season and Mario Manningham to the PUP list will be major blows to San Fran. But luckily for them, they acquired Anquan Boldin from Baltimore and still have Vernon Davis. Yes, they aren't as productive as Crabtree and Manningham. But with an outstanding offensive line, a stellar defense, and a great head coach in Jim Harbaugh, the Niners could be going back to the Super Bowl this year.
  2. *Seattle Seahawks: The Seahawks are another great defensive team in the NFC West. Cliff Avril should be a nice addition to the defensive line. But on the offensive side, Percy Harvin is too much of a injury risk. But the Seahawks will rely heavily on their rushing attack, headlined by Marshawn "Skittles" Lynch. Skittles had 1,590 rushing yards on 315 carries and eleven touchdowns. The question will be if Russell Wilson can avoid the sophomore slump; he had a 62.9% completion rate with 3,118 passing yards and 26 touchdowns passing.
  3. St. Louis Rams: The Rams are the pleasant surprise of the NFC. WR Tavon Austin should be an exciting target to watch and will be a godsend for Sam Bradford. Also, Jeff Fisher proved to be a great head coach who led his team to a division record of 4-1-1 last season. Bradford will also have a retooled offensive line with the acquisition of OT Jake Long.
  4. Arizona Cardinals: The Carson Palmer-to-Larry Fitzgerald combo will be prevalent in the desert this year. But that probably won't be enough for Arizona to compete in the deep NFC West this season. 


Thursday, August 29, 2013

NFL Preview: NFC East and NFC North

     Now that I've already covered the AFC, I will take a look at what awaits for the NFC starting with the NFC East and the NFC North.

     NFC East
  1. New York Giants: In a weakened division that is pretty much up for grabs, the NFC East could come down to the Week 17 match-up between Washington and the New York Giants. Victor Cruz (86 receptions, 1,092 receiving yards, ten touchdowns) will carry a majority of the offense for the Giants along with Eli Manning (59.9% passes completed, 3,946 passing yards, 26 TDs). Also keep an eye out for RB David Wilson; he could have a breakout season this year. The G-Men must avoid falling into the usual 2nd-half swoon if they're in playoff contention by mid-November, especially with that diminished defensive line.
  2. Washington Redskins: This team will go as far as RGIII will take them. The 2nd overall pick in the 2012 draft (3,200 passing yards, 65.6% passes completed, 20 passing touchdowns) had 12 fumbles last year (9 of those were rushing), so that will be something to work on. He also has knee problems that originated in the postseason, so it'll be interesting to see how his knee holds up. One thing that RGIII can also do is run the ball; he ran the ball 120 times and gained 815 yards and scored 7 TDs. Griffin and Alfred Morris (1,613 rushing yards on 335 carries, 13 TDs) will head the rushing attack for Washington. 
  3. Dallas Cowboys: Rob Ryan is out as defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys, but the base 4-3 defense will be in. This means that Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware will move to defensive ends. However, the secondary will be tested on deep passes; the Cowboys were the only team last year without an interception on a pass of 20 yards or more. They also ranked 29th in completion percentage allowed on downfield passes of 20 yards or more with 46.2. Another interesting storyline will be how well Tony Romo will do with his new contract. In 2012, Romo completed 65.6% of his passes for 4,903 yards and 28 TDs. However, he threw 19 INTs. Will Romo breakthrough in the big moment or will he wither away? Lots of question marks with this Cowboys team.
  4. Philadelphia Eagles: The new blur offense that head coach Chip Kelly will be showcasing this season will be perfect for Michael Vick. It's a zone read offense that was popularized at the University of Oregon and is very fast-paced. The defense will be a big question mark for the Eagles, but Philadelphia should be a fun team to watch on the offensive side of the ball.
     NFC North
  1. Green Bay Packers: Will Aaron Rodgers be hurt by losing Bryan Bulaga for the year? Well, Rodgers was sacked less often with Bulaga off of the field last year. He also had more time in the pocket, had a better total QBR, and averaged more yards per attempt without Bulaga. Also, losing Bulaga for the season isn't the Packers' biggest concern; there seems to be a lack of a running game (the Pack ranked 20th in rushing yards per game last year with 106.4). There are also issues with the secondary and certain parts of the special teams.
  2. Chicago Bears: Gone is Lovie Smith as head coach of the Bears after another 2nd-half collapse last season. Also gone is Brian Urlacher, who retired after negotiations with the Bears over a new contract fell apart. So this will be a new look team in the Windy City with new coach Marc Trestman. I like the fact that the Bears finally addressed the issue concerning their offensive line by drafting offensive guard Kyle Long and signing offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod.
  3. Detroit Lions: Reggie Bush will be a great addition to the Lions, but for a completely different reason. Bush is a Larry Centers-type who had 986 rushing yards and 292 receiving yards last year with the Dolphins. In addition to giving the Lions a bit of a running game, he provides Matthew Stafford with another throwing option. The rest of the running game will be hinged upon how well the O-Line does for Detroit this year. Another question to think about is can Calvin Johnson have a season like he did last year (122 receptions, 1,964 yards, five TDs).
  4. Minnesota Vikings: Now I'm not guaranteeing that Adrian Peterson (2,097 rushing yards and 12 TDs on 348 carries) will do better than last year. But Peterson has proven to be a legitimate threat in the backfield and should have another great season. However, he will likely be the Vikings' only means of offense; Minnesota ranked 31st in passing yards per game last year with 171.9. The Vikes drafted Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th pick and acquired Greg Jennings in the offseason. Patterson is a project and Jennings is an injury risk, so Christian Ponder will have his hands full with the passing game this year. Still, this is a team that should finish no worse than 8-8 this year with the defensive line holding down the fort. Everson Griffen (8.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles) and Jared Allen (45 tackles, 12.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble) will be forces to be reckoned with.