Blog/Sports Articles

Looking at the Browns’ new weapons: Landry, Taylor, and Randall

By Brendan DeVenney

Are the Browns on the rise!? Well, know they aren’t on the rise. But they aren’t on the downhill slope either, because, well, they’re already at the bottom of the hill. However, they do have fans more hopeful now more than ever because of the first major moves new general manager John Dorsey made on Friday, March 9.

From March 9 of last year to March 8 of 2018, the Cleveland Browns, currently under the managing of Sashi Brown, made a total of just four trades. Four trades! That was until March 9 and March 10, where they made a total of four trades within 24 hours! Four trades in one day for the Browns! And they were major trades for the future of the franchise.

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The first move by Dorsey was a trade with the Miami Dolphins to receive veteran wide receiver Jarvis Landry, and they send a 2018 4th round pick and a 2019 7th round draft pick to South Beach in exchange. Landry adds a better presence to the wide receiver position, as the Browns can potentially have Landry, Josh Gordon, and Corey Coleman all out in the slots on one play, adding better weaponry for whoever the quarterback will be at the start of the season.

Landry was about to become a free agent if no one picked him up. But instead, he’s with the Browns. What adding Landry means for the Browns is that it allows guys like Duke Johnson and Isaiah Crowell to act specifically as running backs. Johnson, specifically, was asked to do more tight end work as a receiver later in the 2017 season than he’s used to. Landry caught for 987 yards in 2017 on 112 receptions and 9 touchdowns for the Dolphins. Landry has great capability to make himself open, especially in the end zone and in red zone situations. He has great hands against defenders, and his ability to gain yards after the catch are what draws him to general managers in need of receivers, specifically a huge highlight reel play against the Jets in Week 6 in a come from behind win for Miami.

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Since entering the league in 2014, Landry has averaged 1,009 receiving yards per season, and he led the league in receptions with 112 this past year with Jay Cutler as his primary quarterback. In addition, he’s made the Pro Bowl the past three seasons with the Dolphins and has stayed healthy enough to play in every game in his four seasons with Miami.

There’s so much there for Browns fans to have hope in a guy like Landry. He’s strong and he’s quick. He runs a 4.6 40-yard dash, and he’s a strong 5’1″, 208, a great size for any receiver in the NFL. However, he was on a 6-10 team last year, and a 6-10 team in 2015, both in Miami. He’s played with more than one quarterback as well, with Ryan Tannehill, Matt Moore, and Jay Cutler being his “starting pitchers.” That’s something Cleveland has had in common with the Dolphins, instability at the quarterback position. Landry needs to have a primary, consistent quarterback to succeed. Well, that’s an area the Browns made an impact in with the trade movement.

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Dorsey also made a trade with Buffalo, bringing in veteran quarterback in Tyrod Taylor. The Browns sent a 2018 3rd round pick to the Bills in exchange. Now, Taylor has not been a primary starting quarterback. He was drafted back in 2011 in the 6th round. For the first four seasons in his NFL career, he sat as a backup quarterback to future Hall of Fame quarterback and Super Bowl Champion Joe Flacco with the Baltimore Ravens. He has witnessed winning in his career, both with the Ravens, being apart of the Super Bowl XLVII Champion club, and as the starting quarterback of the 2018 AFC Wild Card Bills this past year.

Taylor would, as of now, be the starting quarterback for the Browns at the all-so-important position, the one position Cleveland hasn’t been able to solve forever. Let’s be reminded of the number. 27. 27 different starting quarterbacks since 1999. There’s no escaping that past, but only the future. Back to looking at Taylor, he outplayed Browns’ starting quarterback DeShone Kizer last season, completing 62.6% of his passes to Kizer completing 53.6% of his throws. And not to mention, Taylor actually won 9 games last season. How many did Kizer win? Exactly.

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Taylor does have his weaknesses. He has predetermined reads, eyeing his target before the ball is even snapped. He doesn’t have great footwork when he slings the ball. And he isn’t great under pressure. But is he a step up from Kizer? Definitely. Is he a proven winner? For sure, and you can see that with Buffalo. Maybe Dorsey sees something in Taylor that many other experts don’t. He has been waiting his turn having watched under Flacco. He has gotten better through his time with the Bills. He could now put all of that together and bring a winner to Cleveland.

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The third trade on Friday the 9th was a deal with Green Bay to acquire cornerback Damarious Randall, a 4th round pick this year, and also a 5th round pick, and deal quarterback DeShone Kizer, and a 4th round and 5th round pick this year to the Packers. Randall has been in the league for three seasons now, all with Green Bay. He’s a reliable defensive back that locks down his receivers and is a stealthy defender deep down field. He recorded four interceptions last season with the Packers. He also brings playoff experience, having played on the 2015 Green Bay team that got eliminated in the Divisional Round, and on the 2016 team that fell short of making it to the Super Bowl in the NFC Championship.

Randall adds a much needed veteran, winning presence to the defense, something that has lacked on the Browns for as long as anyone can remember. That means that, along with Randall, the Browns will have Jabrill Peppers, Kai Nacua, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Jamar Taylor, and Jason McCourty in the secondary. These guys did not play awful last season, but there were signs that showed that they have a lot of work to do in order to become a steady, lockdown group. You can only hope Randall can bring that mentality to this team.

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Also, the Browns made a deal with the defending AFC Champion New England Patriots on Friday (the fourth trade), sending defensive tackle Danny Shelton and 2018 5th round pick to New England, and will receive a 2019 3rd round pick.

After all of that, the Browns have 10 picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. They have the 1st overall pick in Round 1, and the 4th overall selection in Round 1. Those are the two picks that everyone will be focusing on come April 26. A lot of signs are pointing towards the Browns selecting Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the top pick in the draft. At the combine, he passed all of the tests to be taken number one in the draft, or at least the top running back taken. He ran a 4.4 40-yarder, and ran a 1.54 10-yarder. At Penn State this past season, he ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his three seasons, and ran for 18 touchdowns in both 2016 and 2017. He was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year last season, and broke multiple records for the Nittany Lions. He now holds the record for most rushing touchdowns at Penn State with 43, most rushing yards by a freshman with 1,076, most yards by a sophomore with 1,496, and broke the record for most yard ran in a single game with 358 this past season against Iowa.

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Barkley would be a great addition to the offense. You have a solid running back already in Duke Johnson, and solid wide receivers. Adding another tailback for whoever the quarterback will be would not be a bad move for the Browns. It would actually be a safe move by John Dorsey, because rookie running backs typically have more success than rookie quarterbacks or wide receivers.

With the fourth overall pick, you’d like to see the Browns pick a quarterback, and they would have all of them available to choose from. The New York Giants and Indianapolis Colts both are in need of positions other than a quarterback. With the Giants sticking with Eli Manning and the Colts hoping Andrew Luck has a bounce back year, they can go for other prospects. The Giants need a running back, and with the Browns possibly taking Barkley from them, backs like Louisiana State’s Derrius Guice, Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson, Georgia’s Sony Michel, and Southern California’s Ronald Jones II are all there for grabs. Meanwhile, Indianapolis could be taking a defensive back, such as North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb, which sounds like it’s a lock with him and the Colts.

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So, there’s all of the quarterbacks for the Browns to choose from. Sam Darnold? Baker Mayfield? Josh Allen? It sounds like Josh Rosen is not interested in handling the pressure that is being the Cleveland Browns quarterback. Darnold, Mayfield, and Allen have all been high on John Dorsey’s list, and at this point, it sounds like it really doesn’t matter who they take, mainly because they just need to win games. Now, Mayfield has been noted to have off the field issues, acting immature, getting in trouble with law enforcement, and not being a great leader in the locker room. Darnold and Allen are both safe picks at this moment, and both have had great combines and Senior Bowl performances.

Cavaliers, All-Star MVP James get ready for second half surge

By Brendan DeVenney

Cleveland, you are ready for takeoff.

That’s where the Cleveland Cavaliers are at as they get ready for the final 26 games of the regular season, and then their playoff run beginning in late April. But this is a new time for this season’s Cavaliers as they have a little momentum heading into the second part of the regular season.

First off, they are a brand new team. They brushed off the baggage of what was holding them back all of January. I think it’s safe to say that the month of January felt like hell for Cavaliers fans. They went 6-8 in the first month of 2018, and 1-6 on the road, including a 133-99 blowout loss up in Canada against the Raptors where they shot a dismal 38.2% and got out rebounded 63-35 to the now current first place team in the Eastern Conference.

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LeBron James celebrates with Cedi Osman, leaves Isaiah Thomas out of chest bump. (photo credit – @cediosman)

But what was holding them back was themselves. The team just did not fit well together, and something had to be done about it. Back in the offseason, the front office made moves that had Cavaliers fans thinking championship before the preseason began. Sadly, in January, they looked like a first round-and-done team. LeBron James even said at one point that if the playoffs started today (January) they would get bounced in the first round. It was players like Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Derrick Rose that made the team feel like they couldn’t get anything done. In that blowout loss against Toronto, the so-called “next thing up from Kyrie” Isaiah Thomas played 24 minutes and only put up 4 points! And as the point guard had just three assists. That type of play is not going to win you a championship from your lead point guard.

Thomas ended up being way overhyped. Coming back from an injury on January 2, he looked like he would be the missing piece the Cavaliers were looking for. Yet, he averaged 15.4 points per game, shooting 36% from the field, and as a point guard averaged just 4 assists a game. That was the problem. He wouldn’t pass the ball! When he had the ball at the top of the key, he would look to either immediately shoot a horrible fade away jumper, or drive to the basket, all 5’9″ of him. Do you know Kyrie Irving’s stats from last January with the Cavaliers? 45% shooting, 25.5 points per game, and 6 assists per game! So, yeah, Thomas didn’t fit. Neither did Jae Crowder who seemed like a waste of a body when he was out on the court, and Derrick Rose who ended up having the season we all feared, an injury plagued season that saw him play just 16 games this year.

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Isaiah Thomas, LeBron James in frustration on bench (photo credit – Cleveland.com)

So what do you do when you have this type of roster, but also have the best player in the world who wants a ring? Blow it up! Get rid of those players! And that’s exactly what Koby Altman and Dan Gilbert did on the final day of the trade deadline. Thomas went to the Lakers. Crowder went to the Jazz. We even traded Channing Frye with Thomas to Los Angeles, Dwayne Wade back to Miami, and Iman Shumpert to Sacramento, because while they were great presences to have in the locker room, they, too, were holding the team back in production. (Oh, and Rose isn’t even on a team right now that’s how bad he is!)

Never the less, they’re gone. So who’s new that has this team ready to take off for a second title? Better and younger talent that they got in return for those trades! They got rookie Larry Nance, Jr. and third-year man out of of Missouri Jordan Clarkson from Los Angeles. Nance, Jr. is obviously the son of Larry Nance, Sr. who played with the Cavaliers for the last seven seasons of his career, where he became a three-time All-Star, and led Cleveland to five playoff appearances. He also became the first Slam Dunk Contest Champion of the modern era in 1984.

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Larry Nance, Jr. throws it down in 2018 Verizon Slam Dunk (photo credit – Orange County Register)

But what Nance and Clarkson bring to the floor is youth and better options for shooting. They also bring toughness and a mindset that is emphasized on defense. That’s the one thing that Cleveland failed to realize what they need to do to win with the old team. You need to play defense to have a chance! Along with new acquisitions in George Hill and Rodney Hood, who both add some hot perimeter shooting as well and great defensive minds, this team has so much more potential to be more explosive than when they were playing really slow and looked confused on offense.

Already in their first two games they’ve played together, they were shooting the lights out. In the Cavaliers’ 120-112, dominant win over Oklahoma City to finish the first part of the season, Hood went 4 for 8 from three-point range, and shot 50% from the field to finish with 14 points. Nance finished with 13 points in 25 minutes off the bench and grabbed 9 huge rebounds. If the Cavaliers can get some more pressure underneath to rebound, that can be a way to really turn this team around. Clarkson also finished with 14 points and 4 assists.

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Jordan Clarkson celebrates with J.R. Smith against Boston (photo credit – cavaliersnation.com)

Clarkson and Nance have played together all year with the Lakers, so that definitely helps, but already in their two wins over Boston and the Thunder with a new group of guys, this new team looks ready to compete with the big dogs in Houston and Golden State. Obviously, two wins doesn’t determine how the rest of the season is going to go, but with they’re physical, savvy type of play, and how Cedi Osman has started to contribute, and J.R. Smith is starting to shoot the three even better now, you need to remember that one guy we still have on the team.

Yeah, the Cavaliers still have the All-Star Game MVP! 33 years old and still playing monster ball, LeBron James is showing signs that he’s primed to have a huge next four months with these new guys. Just by the way he’s reacting to their play in both the Boston and Oklahoma City games shows that this is what he wanted. There’s no way he was going to be able to be the father to Isaiah Thomas that he was to Kyrie Irving. Thomas for one wasn’t healthy until January, and he also wasn’t up to get that leadership from James. Now with no second man on the totem pole, everyone is equal underneath James. They’re all Robins to Batman, as George Hill put it. Hill is in his 9th year in the league, and he has already formed the right mindset being on the Cavaliers with James.

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LeBron James, Team LeBron win 2018 All-Star Game (photo credit – SI.com)

In addition, this past Sunday night could end up being a huge boost for LeBron James’ season. The All-Star Game was different this year, as it wasn’t East vs. West. This time James and Golden State Warriors point guard Stephen Curry were team captains and picked their own teams. This new format made James want to win this game even more, and it showed hitting huge shots in the final minutes to lift Team LeBron over Team Stephen, 148-145. James finished just two alley-oops away from a triple-double, in the All-Star Game! He put up 29 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists. You could just tell this exhibition meant something to LeBron, with it also being in the midst of his feud with Fox News’ Laura Ingraham after she called him out for giving his political opinion in an interview alongside Golden State’s Kevin Durant. There always seems to be something that fuels James even more at this point in the season, giving him extra motivation to play harder and better, and at the end of the day, get back to The Finals. Did Ingraham poke the bear? Right now, after winning his third All-Star Game MVP and on a four-game win streak, all signs point to yes.

This could potentially be another “year of LeBron.” He has a new and better team now, he seems happier with where he’s at, and he has fire burning inside of him to go out and get another championship and prove everyone wrong. Remember how he took a team that consisted of Drew Gooden, Eric Snow, Daniel Gibson, and Larry Hughes to The Finals in 2007? That was spectacular and a feat no one else but James could have done. And remember how he brought his team back from down 3-1 in The Finals against arguably the best regular season team ever in the Warriors to give Cleveland their first NBA title? Unprecedented. That never happened before. But James did it.

This could be another major accomplishment to add to the “Book of LeBron.” This first half of the season he was playing on potentially the worst team he’s ever been on. A 6-13 stretch of basketball, probably the worst stretch in LeBron’s career post-2007. Now he has the chance to play on an entirely new and re-energized ball club and take them to The Finals.

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LeBron James, Cavs bench feeling it as they beat Boston (photo credit – SBNation.com)

This year would be LeBron’s eighth straight trip to The Finals. Michael Jordan only went to six straight. Yes, he did win all six, but he really did it with just one group of guys. James will have done it with multiple different teams both in Miami and Cleveland. Out of the players who were on the team from last year, who lost to Golden State in The Finals, 4-1, only James, Kevin Love, Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith, and Tristan Thompson remain. Everyone else have exited the Quicken Loans Arena locker room. So for James to bring another group playing into June would be monumental for his career.

The Cavaliers’ remaining schedule is not as difficult than their schedule in the first half of the season, but that does not give them a reason not to play hard to the end. They need to find a way to get chemistry going before the playoffs. They’ll finish the month of February facing Washington and San Antonio, both winning clubs. Then they’ll welcome a tough opponent in Philadelphia, a team many are saying is a landing spot for James next year, to start off March. They have one more big West Coast trip to face the Clippers, Lakers, Suns, and Trail Blazers. After that they have big contests with Toronto, the current one-seed in the East, and New Orleans to wrap up March. They then have one big game in April, and that’s another home matchup with the Raptors. So that’s two more games with the Raptors this season. All of their meetings with Boston have concluded, along with both Houston and Golden State. So here comes hopefully some fun basketball in Cleveland, as James and company are looking to bring another championship back home.

Super Bowl LII: Nick Foles looks to make history against dominant Patriots

By Brendan DeVenney

The NFL has had a rough year. From national anthem protests that have caused their ratings to go down, to superstars battling season injuries, such as Deshaun Watson, Teddy Bridgewater, Jr., and J.J. Watt, it hasn’t been one of the better seasons for the National Football League. But the league can hope for one game to hopefully finish the season on a high note, and that’s David vs. Goliath matchup in Super Bowl LII.

On February 4, the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles will meet in the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It will be a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX back in 2005, a game that went down to the wire with the Eagles coming up just short and New England quarterback Tom Brady winning his third out of currently five Super Bowl rings. Brady is once again back on the biggest stage of American sports, but his counterpart for Philadelphia is in for a rude awakening in his first time in a Super Bowl game.

Nick Foles, the starting quarterback for Philadelphia, has had whirlwind career. Drafted in the third round of the NFL Draft in 2012 out of Arizona, Foles has never lift up to any hype. He started his first season as a backup to Michael Vick, but would soon take his place once Vick got injured and finished the season 1-6. 2013 was a different season as he made the Pro Bowl, finishing 9-3 after Vick once again got injured in the beginning of the season. And despite getting injured halfway through the 2014 season, he did go 6-2 as a starter, but would go downhill from there.

Foles was traded to the then St. Louis Rams in 2015, and started 11 games while throwing 10 interceptions and fumbling the ball 7 times. After that one season with the Rams, he was released and picked up by the Chiefs in 2016, only to appear in just three games behind Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith. Kansas City then made him a free agent, and that’s where the Eagles brought him back to Philadelphia for 2017.

Foles started as a backup this year behind second year starter Carson Wentz. Philadelphia was flying with Wentz, starting the season 8-1 going into their Week 10 bye week. They were beating up on their division and were having a Cinderella season with a sophomore quarterback. But in Week 14 against the Rams in Los Angeles, Carson Wentz tore his ACL and that allowed Foles another shot at becoming a winning quarterback. Loe and behold, Foles played solid football, finishing the season 3-1 entering the playoffs.

In his second ever playoff start, Foles outplayed previous NFC Champion quarterback Matt Ryan and the Falcons in what was a career defining start for Foles. Completing 23 of his 30 passes for 246 yards in front of the home crowd got the Super Bowl quest roling for the Eagles. The following week he outplayed himself against former teammate Case Keenum and the Vikings, throwing for 352 yards and 3 touchdowns on 26 for 33 passing. Philadelphia destroyed the over-hyped Vikes, 38-7 in the NFC Championship Game to advance to their first Super Bowl in over ten years.

So, you have a starting quarterback for Philadelphia with an underdog story. A quarterback most people have counted out. But on the other side, you have Tom Brady. A future Hall of Famer playing for a future Hall of Fame head coach in Bill Belichick. The defending Super Bowl Champion Patriots are back in the biggest events in American professional sports for a record tenth time, and are looking to win back-to-back titles for a second time. Last year, the Pats accomplished the largest comeback in Super Bowl history, when they were down 28-3 in the third quarter, and rallied for a 34-28, overtime win. And just last week, they rallied again behind arguably the most clutch player ever. Down 14-3 in the first half of the AFC Championship Game, and 20-10 in the second half, Brady rallied with his wide receiver Danny Amendola for two fourth quarter touchdowns to win 24-20 and the AFC Title once again.

With Rob Gronkowski questionable for the Super Bowl, the Eagles and their fourth ranked defense in the league have exactly what it takes to pressure Brady and the league’s top ranked offense, who averages 28.6 points per game. New England is all over the place, however, with the league’s fourth worst defense, so Nick Foles and the Eagles extremely young offense at least has a shot against Bill Belichick’s defense.

Philadelphia is looking for their first ever Super Bowl title in franchise history. Like previously mentioned, this is their first trip to the big game since 2005 where they lost to New England, 24-21, in their second appearance. But their first trip came back in 1981 in Super Bowl XV, where they lost to Oakland, 27-10.

Will David (Nick Foles) take down the Giant (Tom Brady)? Will the Eagles finally win it all? Or will the Patriots’ dynasty continue for another decade? Will politics be brought in Justin Timberlake’s halftime show? All questions to be answered on Super Bowl Sunday 2018.

Cleveland Indian great Jim Thome elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame

By Brendan DeVenney

When you talk about Cleveland sports history, there’s a number of athletes that need to come to mind. LeBron James is the first. Jim Brown may be the second. Bob Feller would be the first baseball star to be referenced. Austin Carr, Mark Price, Bernie Kosar, Joe Thomas, Kenny Lofton, and Larry Doby. But there’s one name that you can never forget to mention in Cleveland sports prominence. Jim Thome.

Jim Thome will go down as the greatest home run hitter in Cleveland Indians history, ever…period. Seventh on the all-time home run leaders list, Thome was not supposed to be as great as he was, being perceived as a hitter that would not make it in the major leagues. Drafted as a garbage pick in the 13th round of the 1989 MLB Draft by Cleveland, he would rise to be one of the greatest players ever to wear the red, white, and blue of Cleveland.

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Thome was the part of the renaissance of baseball in Cleveland in the 1990’s. When general manager John Hart took over the team in 1991, he made sure he had the right guys on the field to try and change the culture of Cleveland Baseball. Especially with the opening of Jacobs/Progressive Field in 1994, there was a lot of pressure on Hart to put together a winning team. Along with future Hall of Famers in Omar Vizquel, Manny Ramirez, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, and Charles Nagy, Hall of Famer Eddie Murray, and manager Mike Hargrove, Jim Thome was one of the key pieces to producing what has become “Magic at the Jake.”

Thome was a player for Cleveland to rely on in the biggest of moments, despite playing near the bottom of the lineup at third base, and sometimes first base, Thome was pretty inconsistent, either homering, striking out, or drawing a walk. He was never known for hitting line drives and extra base hits.

The great thing about Thome having played in Cleveland is that he was a walk-off king, hitting nine career walk-off home runs as an Indian in his first stint with the Tribe. In the Postseason from 1995 to 2001 with the Indians, he hit 17 home runs. In the World Series in 1995 he homered just once, and in the 1997 World Series he hit two.

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What separates Thome from the top six home run leaders is that he played on more teams than the others in order to hit 612 home runs. Thome played with the Cleveland Indians from 1991-2002, the longest stint with one single team, making Cleveland his team. In those 11 seasons, he hit 369 home runs. After the 2002 season, he signed with the Philadelphia Phillies in free agency in pursuit of a championship, something he was unable to accomplish in Cleveland in the four seasons they made the Postseason. He played with Philadelphia from 2003-2005, hitting 96 total home runs.

Philadelphia then traded Thome to Chicago so he could be closer to his father after his mother passed away in 2004. With the White Sox, he would give up playing in the field and solely be the Sox designated hitter. Thome played close to four seasons with the White Sox, hitting 134 home runs, once again getting a taste of Postseason play in 2008, facing Tampa Bay in the ALDS and losing in four games.

In August of the 2009 season, the White Sox traded Thome to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the one team many people don’t realize he played for. Well, “played” might be used to aggressively, since he only appeared as a pinch hitter in 17 at bats, and 5 plate appearances during the 2009 NLDS and NLCS. He would be home run-less as a Dodger, and that would also be the closest he’d get to a World Series title at that stage of his career.

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He then became a free agent during that offseason and signed with Minnesota, playing for the Twins from 2010-2011. He’d help Minnesota win the AL Central in 2010, only to get swept by New York in the ALDS. He finished with 37 home runs as a Twin.

But in August of 2011, he probably enjoyed himself the most he ever had since playing with the Indians in the 1990’s. Waiving his no-trade clause, he made it possible to return to Cleveland and once again enjoy the cheers and environment of Progressive Field. From August to the end of September, he played 22 games for the Indians again, allowing those fans who cheered him on in those glory days of the 90’s to once again yell, “Thome! Thome! Thome!” That one month proved to the baseball world that no matter what team he plays for, he will always be remembered as a Cleveland Indian, primarily because of what he gave to the city of Cleveland. Something to cheer about. And he helped bring back Postseason baseball to Cleveland for the first time since 1954. Hitting home runs #602 and #604 in front of the Indians crowd meant so much for the long time Cleveland Indians fans, and meant a whole lot to Thome himself. He finished with just three home runs in his second stint with the Cleveland Indians.

2012 would be his final Major League season, playing with Philadelphia again from the beginning of the year to mid-July, hitting 5 home runs as a Phillie again, and then being traded to a playoff-bound Baltimore Orioles team, helping the O’s reach the ALDS hitting three home runs, but not hitting another Postseason homer as Baltimore lost in five games to New York.

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So, that’s six different teams for the now future National Baseball Hall of Fame member. Barry Bonds, the all-time home run leader with 762, played on just two teams. Hank Aaron, second on the list with 755, played with just two. Babe Ruth, third with 714, played on three teams. Willie Mays, fourth with 660, played on just two teams. Alex Rodriguez, fifth with 647, played on three teams. And Ken Griffey, Jr., sixth with 630 home runs, played on four teams in his 21-year career.

At the end of his career, Thome finished with 612 career home runs, 1,699 RBI’s, a career batting average of .276, and an on-base percentage of .402. That’s greatness right there, putting up those numbers for as long as he played. He retired as the Indians all-time leader in home runs and walks, and was a three-time All-Star with Cleveland in 1997, 1998, and 1999. He then made it back to the All-Star Game in 2004 with Philadelphia and again in 2006 with the White Sox. In 2016, the Indians inducted Thome into their Hall of Fame.

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And to think that he was drafted in the 13th round of the MLB Draft as an afterthought by the Indians. It was Hank Peters who drafted Thome, but it was John Hart who really took credit to welcoming him to Major League Baseball and the Cleveland Indians.

Thome will enter the National Baseball Hall of Fame with five other greats of the game, including Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman. Thome earned 89.8% of votes on the first ballot for the 2018 Hall of Fame election.

Congratulations to Jim Thome on making it to Cooperstown, the 31st Cleveland Indian to be named to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He will forever be a Cleveland Indian!

What’s wrong with the Cavaliers? Is a trade needed in February?

By Brendan DeVenney

For the second time since this rivalry began, the Golden State Warriors have swept the season series against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the regular season. The last time this occurred was back in the 2015-2016 campaign. On Christmas Day that year, the Warriors edged out Cleveland, 89-83. And then close to a month later in January, Golden State rolled to a 132-98 win on the road.

We all know what happened later that year in June, with the Cavaliers knocking off the team from Oakland in The Finals. During the regular season that year, it looked like Cleveland was a mile away from contending with Golden State. At that point Cleveland was relying on bench play from James Jones, Mo Williams, Iman Shumpert, and Richard Jefferson. However, they did not acquire really anyone at the trade deadline. The only move they made was trade Anderson Varejao to Portland (who ended up with Golden State), and acquire Channing Frye from Orlando in a three-team trade. Cavaliers fans did not feel any more comfortable with where their team was at at that point in the season. Even in The Finals they almost got blown out of the waters going down 3-1.

So, can that team be compared to this year’s squad? It’s hard to tell, because they weren’t losing nine out of twelve games at this point of the season. Before their 2015 Christmas Day matchup with Golden State, the Cavaliers had won six in a row. Before their January matchup that season, they had won the past nine out of ten games. Yes, they’ve historically been in slumps in the month of January and into February, but not to the extent of this. And in my opinion, it’s because Kyrie Irving is not out on the floor.

When Irving was with Cleveland, the ball movement was ten times better. If Irving was on this year’s team, it’s a good possibility that the Cavaliers may had been able to pull out a win on Christmas Day this season. For the majority of that game, Tyronn Lue had Dwayne Wade leading the point guard position. The aging Wade contributed just 13 points in that game, a lot less than what Irving would have put up. In 2016-2017, Irving averaged 21 points against Golden State both in the regular season and in The Finals.

Now, Isaiah Thomas was not active for the Christmas Day game this year. The first year Cavalier came back to play against Portland in the first game of January, and in that game put up 17 points in 19 minutes. This past Monday night was his first taste of rivalry play against Kevin Durant and the Warriors, and in 32 minutes totaled 19 points. That’s respectable for his first big game as a Cavalier. However, there were times where he looked to score first instead of pass first. That’s mostly because he always had to be score first in Boston, since he didn’t have guys around him like LeBron James, J.R. Smith, and Kevin Love. With Irving, he’s one of the best in the league at working the offense, and has handles to pass for days. Thomas doesn’t exude that the least bit. That’s why LeBron James was putting triple-doubles like crazy in the beginning of the year.

James was worrying everyone in sports media about his minutes being played. He was averaging 36 minutes a night in the first two months of the season. Since then, that number has gone down. However, he can not do everything, and that’s been proven in the past. And with Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, and Dwayne Wade, this team still is not close to beating the Warriors.

That’s why this upcoming trade deadline is vital for the Cavaliers. With James’ mind up in the air about leaving Cleveland for the second time after this season, the time is now to win another championship.

However, it’s not going to happen with a divided locker room. According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN, after their 118-108 loss to the Warriors, “multiple players have acknowledged there is a growing discontent and a sense of concern. Unlike previous seasons, there is doubt as to whether the Cavaliers have the capacity to fix their current issues.” What has always worked in the past has been making deals at the trade deadline. This year could see the Cavaliers moving Tristan Thompson, who has not contributed as much as the team has hoped, and possibly not using the 2018 first round draft pick from Brooklyn. Iman Shumpert could also be in talks as well.

Some players around the league that Cleveland has shopped are Avery Bradley of Detroit, Kent Bazemore of Atlanta, and DeAndre Jordan from the Clippers. Jordan adds nice size to what is already a small lineup, and is a quality scorer. The problem there is that he has reported he “wants to be traded to the Rockets.” That’s legit given he did not play against Houston on Monday night.

The Cavaliers need to find an option here somehow and get a guy that can group this team together and have them play as a team. Everyone is trying to be a hero, but that doesn’t work when you have so many All-Stars on your team.

Isaiah Thomas shines in Cavaliers debut as Cleveland defeats Portland

By Brendan DeVenney

Josh Gordon returning. Corey Coleman coming back from injury. Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Carrasco coming off the DL. Tristan Thompson returning to the court. There have been so many times in Cleveland sports the past few years where superstars have made headlining returns to the playing field/court after they’ve been injured or suspended. On Tuesday night at Quicken Loans Arena, we saw both a return from injury and a Cavaliers debut.

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After months and months of rehab and surgeries due to a hip injury, Isaiah Thomas finally returned to the court for the first time since when he was with Boston last season in the Eastern Conference Finals. He had been urging to get back on the court for what it felt like forever, and after a few minutes back on the court, he looked like superstar Isaiah.

For the first time ever, Isaiah Thomas entered the game as a Cavalier with 4:33 left to go in the first quarter and Portland leading 19-17. After a Portland score, Thomas immediately got into a groove and showed he wants to make an impact, playing with his teammate of already two years with the Celtics, Jae Crowder, dishing an assist to Crowder that saw him drive the lane and earn Thomas the first of his three assists of the night.

Thomas’ first points in a Cavaliers uniform then came with just over a minute left in the quarter, pulling up for an uncontested jump shot on the left wing to pull the Cavaliers to within three of Portland. His first quarter would not be over though, as on Cleveland’s next possession, the 5’9” Thomas drove the lane against 6’1” Shabazz Napier, got the shot to go and earned the and-1 opportunity, tying the ballgame up at the end of the first, 28-28.

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Just with Isaiah Thomas out on the floor, it looked like Cleveland was playing with more confidence and passion, just with the rest of the roster having fun with IT finally playing alongside his brothers who he has been cheering in a suit all season long on the bench. The Cavaliers took the lead back in the second, and that saw IT hit his first three-pointer wearing Wine & Gold, making it 37-32 good guys.

We all know Thomas can shoot the ball and make moves in the lane just as magical as Kyrie Irving, his predecessor. But on Tuesday night we saw Thomas move the ball like better than when he was wearing “Celtics green.” His second assist of the night was a sweet pass to LeBron James to get the Cavaliers back within a point of Portland.

Thomas wouldn’t enter back into the game until there was three minutes remaining in the third quarter. The Cavaliers had secured a lead by then, and they would not give that lead up the rest of the night. He’d make his second three-ball of the night off a fast break Jeff Green assist in the corner, and “like a layup” calmly drained it to make it 87-79 Cavaliers.

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But what may have been his best highlight of the night was a no-look pass to a baseline driving Dwayne Wade who hit a reverse layup for Thomas’ third assist of the night, showing off his underrated passing skills and making Cavaliers fans love him even more.

After Thomas drained a third three-pointer of the night to make it 100-91, IT would exit the game to a standing ovation from the Cleveland faithful. The new Cavalier would finish with 17 points on 6-for-12 shooting, dishing three assists, and going 3-for-8 from behind the arc all in 19 minutes of playing time, since he was on a minutes restriction.

It looked so good to see Isaiah Thomas in a Cleveland uniform and it not being photoshopped or in NBA 2K18. You can already see he’s going to make a difference with his unmatched athleticism out on the court.

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The Cavaliers finished Tuesday night with a 127-110 win over the Trail Blazers getting them back on the winning track after three straight losses on the road. It’s Cleveland’s 13th straight victory at home at Quicken Loans Arena, their longest home-winning streak since 2014-15 when they won 18 straight. LeBron James finished the night with 24 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, and an amazing 4 steals. Kevin Love finished with 19 points and 7 rebounds.

While the Cavaliers love playing at home, they will have to go back on the road on Wednesday night when they travel to Boston to face their Eastern Conference rival Celtics at TD Garden for the first time this season. The last time these two teams met was back on opening night at Quicken Loans Arena when Cleveland squeaked out a 102-99 win. Isaiah Thomas will be sitting this game out.

 

 

Alabama defeats Clemson in Sugar Bowl, advances to National Championship

By Brendan DeVenney

Completely different story than the Rose Bowl. For fans of defensive games and boring football, this was for you. In New Orleans on New Year’s Day, Alabama and Clemson put all those who weren’t fans of either team to sleep.

Now that’s not to say that it wasn’t a good football game. It just wasn’t that exciting. With former Clemson quarterback DeShaun Watson watching on the sidelines, first year quarterback Kelly Bryant had a lot of pressure put on his shoulders. Much like Georgia’s freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, this was Bryant’s first real primetime, season-on-the-line game. But unlike Fromm, Bryant could not deliver.

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The defensive pressure from Alabama was relevant all night long, and Bryant just could not handle their pressure. Rashan Evans, Raekwon Davis, and Minkah Fitzpatrick swarmed Bryant like he was their favorite desert. In the first half, Clemson’s offense could generate anything, and was forced with four three-and-outs. The only productive play from Bryant was on a 13-play drive that saw him run the ball four times and get sacked, while completing just two passes. On a third down where the Tigers were marching towards the red zone, Bryant could not deliver and threw another incomplete pass.

Clemson was lucky they were down just a touchdown at halftime because Alabama’s Jalen Hurts was getting off to a good start, leading two long scoring drives to give the Crimson Tide the momentum in the game, and a third drive toward the end of the half that the Tide missed on a field goal. And it wasn’t just Hurts. Damien Harris was running all over Clemson’s defense, just like he has done in the regular season.

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At the start of the second half, Clemson got off to the perfect start, recovering a fumble by Jalen Hurts who was trying to hand the ball off to Harris, but there was miscommunication and Kendall Joseph of the Tigers recovered the fumble. But Kelly Bryant looked like the first half Kelly Bryant. A three-and-out by the Tigers gave the ball right back to Alabama, and head coach Dabo Swinney got lit up in Bryant’s face in frustration. But after that, the game started to unravel.

Clemson then forced a punt, but then Bryant would throw his first interception of the game. Trying to gain momentum, Bryant was picked off by Da’Ron Payne, and then Nick Saban’s offense made them pay with Alabama’s second touchdown to make it 17-6. And then on the first play of Clemson’s next possession, it was game over.

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There was still some hope for Clemson, as it was still the third quarter and just a two score game. But Bryant threw a slant to try and get it to Deon Cain, but it was tipped by Raekwon Davis and picked off in the air by Mack Wilson who took it back for a pick-six and take the Clemson faithful out of the game.

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That’s what Alabama does to teams who make mistakes. If you throw interceptions, the Crimson Tide will score, and that’s what they did to Bryant and the Tigers. There were a lot of critics in the media who said that Alabama didn’t deserve to get because of their strength of schedule, loss to Auburn, and not playing the SEC Championship. But they showed the country that they belonged once again in the College Football Playoff and will now play in their third straight College Football Playoff National Championship.

Kelly Bryant has a long way to go in order to become one of the nation’s top quarterbacks, because he did not look like the one-seeded Tigers guy on Monday night.

 

Georgia outlasts Oklahoma in Rose Bowl, advances to National Championship

By Brendan DeVenney

Best College Football Playoff game ever? Well, just in its fourth year of existence, you could say that. For the first time the College Football Playoff went into overtime in a Rose Bowl Game that could not had been more exciting.

It was the Heisman Award winner in Baker Mayfield for Oklahoma matching up against freshman phenom Jake Fromm for Georgia. Mayfield may have outplayed Fromm, but the clutchness was more relevant from Fromm in upsetting the two-seeded Sooners.

Fromm entered the season as a first year freshman from Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Georgia. So, the hometown product traveled cross country to try and bring the Red & Black back to the national final. And he did in unreal fashion.

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The Sooners roared right out of the gate, with Mayfield doing what he does best. Mayfield led Oklahoma to three first half touchdowns, including a clutch touchdown pass with just six seconds left in the half to CeeDee Lamb to make it 31-14 and a 17-point deficit for Georgia.

But back came the Bulldogs, who haven’t had to come back in many games at all this season. The only game they trailed and won was way back in Week 2 against Notre Dame. In that game, the Fighting Irish led 16-10, but Georgia battled back toe-to-toe with Notre Dame in South Bend and held on for a 20-19 win. They ended up having to fight a lot more than a 6-point deficit.

The comeback started on Georgia’s first offensive play of the second half, when running back and future NFL draft pick Nick Chubb took it to the house for 50-yards, a momentum shifting touchdown to get Georgia right back in the game, trailing now just 31-24.

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Chubb has been running all over opposing defenses all season long, and little did he know that would be a touchdown that started a miraculous comeback. After exchanging punts in the third quarter, Fromm went to work. Fromm hooked up with Terry Godwin and Javon Wims before giving it to the Bulldogs other elusive tailback in Sony Michel, who ran 38-yards for a game-tying touchdown with 41 seconds left in the quarter. The comeback was on and Oklahoma’s defense was getting gassed.

The one defense that wasn’t getting gassed, yet just getting started was Georgia’s. An interception of Baker Mayfield to start the fourth quarter was just what the doctor ordered. Dominick Sanders was in the right place in the right time and took it back 39-yards inside the 10-yard that would set up another touchdown for the ‘Dawgs.

Fromm rifled a pass to Javon Wims across the middle of the end zone and Georgia officially completed the comeback, leading 38-31. But Oklahoma wouldn’t go away quietly.

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On the next two possessions the Sooners retook the lead, that saw Baker Mayfield work his magic and find Lamb deep down the sideline for 36 yards, throw a bullet finding Dimitri Flowers in the back of the end zone to tie the ballgame up, and then the defense come up big with a Steven Parker 46-yard fumble return for six. 45-38 Oklahoma with just under seven minutes left to play, and the fun was just beginning.

Once again, after the Bulldogs and Sooners exchanged punts, Georgia had the ball with 3:15 left to play, and Jake Fromm led a touchdown drive Bulldog fans won’t soon forget. He hit Godwin and Michel for back-to-back first downs, and then hooked up with Godwin, the junior from Hogansville, for 16 to get the Bulldogs down to the 7-yard line. It was then Nick Chubb time and he ran it in for an easy six points and, with the PAT, and tie the ballgame up at 45-45.

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Baker Mayfield then had 55 seconds left to try and get the Sooners in field goal range to win the game, but three incomplete passes would not do it, and thus the first College Football Playoff overtime game.

The first overtime saw back-to-back field goals by Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship and Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert. Neither Fromm nor Mayfield were able to get their team a first down in the first overtime period. What was an offensive outburst in regulation came down to defense in overtime.

Oklahoma got the ball first in the second overtime, and it looked like Mayfield was finding a groove to get the Sooners in the end zone. He got his team inside the 10-yard line before being forced to kick a field goal by Georgia’s defensive.

It’s not all the time that special teams come up big and win games. Punt or kick returns are rare, and teams don’t always have to go for an onside kick. But in the 104th Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena, it would be a blocked kick by the Bulldogs to win the game. On a 27-yard field goal attempt by Seibert, linebacker Lorenzo Carter got his hand in the right place and blocked the kick to electrify the Red & Black section of Rose Bowl Stadium.

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It would take just two plays later for Georgia to punch their ticket to the 2018 CFP National Championship Game. Sony Michel would find a hole on the left side and run 27-yards to the Rose Bowl Championship.

This marks just the beginning of Georgia’s week of preparation for the National Championship. However, it does mark the end of an era in Oklahoma for Baker Mayfield. The Heisman Award winner will now get ready for the NFL Combine in February, and take with him to the NFL big game experience and great coaching lessons by Oklahoma’s phenomenal coaching staff. However, he was never able to win that big game.

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But as for Jake Fromm, are looking at the beginning of an era for Georgia Football? If Fromm keeps playing like this and gets even better under Kirby Smart and Jim Chaney, we could be looking at a top five draft pick in a few years. As a freshman, to lead his team to the National Championship Game, and win a game that will go down in Rose Bowl history, you don’t get a better story than that. Let the hype begin around the freshman phenom.

 

 

Cleveland Browns make history finishing 2017 season 0-16

By Brendan DeVenney

Back in September, I vowed to only write game recaps for the Browns in 2017 if they won, especially after they went 2016 with only one win, finishing 1-15. They weren’t relevant in the NFL at that time, and would only matter to fans if they started winning. Well, turns out, I didn’t have to write at all.

What does a team have to do to not win a game over the course of 17 weeks? Drop passes. Commit penalties in game changing moments. Mismanage the time. Miss tackles in open field. Not block for your quarterback. Get beat in the secondary. Fumble the ball. Throw interceptions. And flat out look like you don’t belong.

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Yes, every team does those things every now and then. Even the Patriots screw up at times. But the Cleveland Browns took all those things mentioned above to a new level. It felt like the 2017 Browns had one of those screw ups happen every other play. And some of them came at the worst of times in close games.

It would be harsh to say that the 2017 version of the Browns were a really “stupid” and flat-out “dumb” team, but what else would fit? There’s a reason that there’s now a parade being thrown in their honor as the worst ever to play football. Cleveland was the 13th most penalized team in the NFL, but it feels like they were the most penalized if you watch their games. From the holding calls, to false starts and offsides, simple penalties like those are unacceptable when you’re already the worst team in the National Football League.

From Josh Gordon not being able to play until Week 13 and help make an impact, Joe Thomas getting injured in Week 7, and DeShone Kizer throwing a league high 22 interceptions, nothing seemed to go right for the Browns. From being unable to pull out an overtime win against Tennessee, who ended up making the playoffs for the first time since 2008 after years of misery comparable to Cleveland, to blowing leads in Tennessee, Detroit, Minnesota, and who could forget, the Green Bay games, and having bone-headed errors, such as the Kizer interception in overtime against the Packers, and the Corey Coleman dropped pass with a chance to win the game against the Steelers, it was one thing after the other summarizing the garbage fire that is the Cleveland Browns.

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0-16 is a milestone like none other, and only one other team in NFL history can say they have swam in those waters. The 2008 Detroit Lions were the first team ever not win a game in a 17-week regular season. Before 2008, there were three teams in the NFL to go winless in shortened seasons. The 1982 Baltimore Colts went 0-8-1 in a strike-shortened season. The 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers went 0-14 in their inaugural season. And the 1960 Dallas Cowboys went 0-11-1 in their inaugural season. However, there’s one thing that separates those teams from the 2017 Cleveland Browns. They didn’t go 1-15 the season before.

1-31 over the course of two seasons with Hue Jackson as head coach. Does it get any worse than that? No, no it doesn’t. When you’re head coach can’t win more than one game in two seasons, something has to change. That’s why it was interesting to hear, after the Browns’ 28-24 heart-breaking loss to Pittsburgh in Week 17, owner Jimmy Haslam say that he is sticking with Hue Jackson. Haslam was quoted saying, “I think we have the best fans in the NFL, and when we win, Hue Jackson will be their hero.” Jackson was always a great play caller when he was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati. But that’s because he had play makers in veteran quarterback Andy Dalton, wide receivers in  AJ Green, Marvin Jones, tight end Tyler Eifert, and running back Jeremy Hill. He had players to work with. That hasn’t necessarily the case in Cleveland. When he came to the Browns, his unconventional play calling just didn’t work with DeShone Kizer, Corey Coleman, David Njoku, Isaiah Crowell, Ricardo Louis, Dan Vitale, Rashard Higgins, and Duke Johnson.

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But maybe Haslam is right. Maybe sticking with the head coach that has been through all the losing can rise to the occasion and lift the spirits of the team, and what will be a new team in 2018. Maybe sticking with Jackson will translate to winning when the youngest team in the NFL can form a better relationship with their head coach and eventually start contributing even more.

That was another problem with this team. Entering the year, the Cleveland Browns had the youngest roster in the NFL out of all 32 teams. How are you supposed to win when Jackson is dealing with players who some have never played week-to-week in the NFL? That’s not necessarily Jackson’s fault, and that’s why Haslam and his front office took a step in the right direction in firing general manager Sashi Brown and hiring former Kansas City Chiefs general manager John Dorsey. Brown gave him the youngest roster in the league. He didn’t get any free agent veterans that could at least help the young guys. The oldest player on the roster is Joe Thomas of 33 years old, and who knows if he’ll come back next year with Dorsey now GM. The second oldest player is Britton Colquitt, the punter! (Nothing against Colquitt, he’s actually a really good punter.) But this Browns roster needs veteran that have experience winning under quality coaches. Dorsey needs to form a roster capable of adapting to Jackson’s offense quickly. Trades that don’t involve getting draft picks is what Dorsey needs to do this offseason.

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Another area where Dorsey can start making an impact is in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Browns have five picks within the first two rounds, including the #1 and #4 picks in the first round. After those first five, Dorsey has seven more to play with. The Browns football operations staff needs to nail these picks. In this draft, you have QB Baker Mayfield, QB Lamar Jackson, RB Saquon Barkley, WR Calvin Ridley, and many other play makers in this upcoming draft the Browns can take and hope on adding talent to this team.

The Cleveland Browns have been flat out frustrating the past two seasons. They’ve gotten our hopes up for nothing, given us headaches play after play, and for one day gave us all a Christmas present for 2016 on Christmas Eve at FirstEnergy Stadium. What makes it even more upsetting is that teams that used to be in the same ballpark as the Browns, such as the Tennessee Titans, Buffalo Bills, and Jacksonville Jaguars, are now in the 2018 NFL Playoffs! Only two years ago did the Titans have a 3-13 record. Five years ago Buffalo had a 6-10 record. And just last year the Jaguars finished 3-13. Those teams have gotten better, while the Browns have just made themselves worse.

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The only saying goes, “You have to hit rock bottom to get to the top.” (I think that’s how it goes.) But the positive thing here is that the Browns can not possibly get any worse. It’s important to be optimistic with the new GM in John Dorsey, and look at the Detroit Lions for hope. After their winless 2008 season, they progressively got better, and within three years they were in the playoffs.

However, the 2018 Browns schedule of opponents is not very friendly. Other than their AFC North rivals in Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh, the Browns host Kansas City, Carolina, and Atlanta. They also head to unwelcoming Denver, New Orleans, Oakland, and Houston.

But like I said, let’s be optimistic and hope things can get better this offseason and we start seeing W’s in the win column in 2018.

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2018 College Football Playoff Preview

By Brendan DeVenney

Come New Year’s Day 2018, four teams will vie to punch their ticket to the 2018 National Championship Game in Atlanta, Georgia. This year sees a rematch of last year’s title game in 2018 AllState Sugar Bowl, and also brings an interesting matchup of newcomers in the 2018 Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual.

84th AllState Sugar Bowl – #1 Clemson Tigers vs. #4 Alabama Crimson Tide

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Top-seeded Clemson enters as the defending National Champions, riding off what has become a very surprising season. After losing their starting quarterback Deshaun Watson and wide receiver Mike Williams to the NFL Draft, there were a lot of question marks that surrounded this Tigers club. But Dabo Swinney always finds a way, and has led his team to a 12-1 record and another ACC Title. Junior QB Kelly Bryant has stepped up to the challenge and continued to get better as the year went on. He was 23-for-29 in the ACC Championship Game against Miami (FL), a game that Clemson pummeled the Hurricanes, 38-3. Bryant has also emerged as a threat on the ground, rushing for 646 yards and 11 touchdowns, second most on the team. Who has the most? Well that would be Travis Etienne, who’s just a freshman. Coming in as one of the top recruited tailbacks in the country, Etienne ran for 24 yards and a touchdown on 6 carries in the ACC Title game, and overall has 13 rushing scores on the year. He’s tough to beat with an offensive line that features Tyrone Crowder, Jr. and Mitch Hyatt.

Clemson’s offense is just as good as their defense, who will have to rise to the occasion against one of the best defenses in the country in Alabama. The Tigers defense has taken a hit over the season, with Tre Lamar questionable for the Sugar Bowl, and Chad Smith and Mark Fields both injured, guys like Ryan Carter and K’von Wallace both have more on their plate. They return a lot of players up front who were apart of the 2017 championship team, like Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, and Christian Wilkins. This defense will have to outplay Alabama’s, who has arguably the best defense in the country. This year they’re even better with the return of Minkah Fitzpatrick who is having a phenomenal junior year. Tony Brown and Anthony Averett are also back from the 2016-17 team with experience against Clemson. Most of the starters now on defense for the Crimson Tide were apart of last year’s National Runner-Up ballclub, but did not see playing time. Players like Levi Wallace, Da’Shawn Hand, Anfernee Jennings, and Ronnie Harrison. This is a team stacked with upperclassmen, and some who will have their first big game experience in the College Football Playoff Semifinal.

As for their offense, the good thing for the Tide is that they return their starting quarterback in Jalen Hurts from last year, unlike Clemson. Nick Saban will have a QB1 who has been through this rival in the playoff before. Hurts last year against Clemson through 131 yards and was just 13-for-31 and one touchdown. He struggled against the Tigers, and so did the returning one-two punch of Bo Scarborough and Damien Harris. Hurts also has a great weapon in Calvin Ridley out in the slots. This won’t be Jalen Hurts last game with Alabama, but this is a major opportunity for him to try and get a national title this year and start making a name for himself. But that starts Monday night in New Orleans.

The Clemson Tigers will be making just their second appearance ever in the Sugar Bowl. The last appearance in the 84 year bowl game came back in 1959 against Louisiana State when legendary head coach Frank Howard was leading the Tigers. Clemson lost that game against LSU, 7-0. As for Alabama, this is their first appearance in the Sugar Bowl since 2015 when it was one of the two inaugural College Football Playoff Semifinal games. They lost that 2015 Sugar Bowl against Ohio State, 42-35. But unlike Clemson, this will be their 16th overall Sugar Bowl game. The Crimson Tide are 8-7 in Sugar Bowl games.

104th Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual – #2 Oklahoma Sooners vs. #3 Georgia Bulldogs

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It will be the “Baker Mayfield Show” in Pasadena this year. The Heisman Award winner will hit the Rose Bowl trying to make his case to be a number one draft pick in April, however, he’ll do it under the weather. According to ESPN, Mayfield was quoted in Saturday’s press conference, “I’m not dying. I’ll be playing and we are focused on our goal.” It will be important to keep in mind that illness can have an impact on a player’s performance. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that Baker Mayfield still won the Heisman for a reason. With a 71% completion percentage, over 4,000 yards passing, and 41 touchdowns, Mayfield has taken a long road to get to his stardom. With a falling out with the coaching staff at Texas Tech and knowing that would not be the program to succeed with, he trusted Oklahoma and has since helped the Sooners’ program rise to the top and make the College Football Playoff.

The Sooners have gone 12-1 this year, and have had one of the most electrifying offenses in all of college football, led by hurler Baker Mayfield. They’ve scored 30-plus points in every game except their win over Texas, a game that they squeaked out 29-24. Mayfield has also led his offense to 50-plus points in 4 of their 12 wins. Other than Mayfield, Mark Andrews, Marquise Lamb, and CeeDee Lamb have been his targets to catch for an average of 850 yards and 21 touchdowns combined. The running game for Oklahoma has featured savvy running of Rodney Anderson, Trey Sermon, and Dimitri Flowers. Their offense has been the story all season long, but the major negative has been their weak defense. The offense has been forced to score so much because of the holes in their defense.

Oklahoma’s defense has given up 1874 rushing yards, and over 3000 passing yards. Most of the Sooners’ secondary is made up of underclassmen, and their front lines are just not that talented enough and experienced enough to stop the run. If you look at their results, you can see that in the scores. Their first close win came against a Baylor team that ended up going 1-11. Baylor scored 41 points against Oklahoma’s defense, and the Sooners won 49-41. They also gave up 35 points against a subpar Kansas State team, 52 points against Oklahoma State, a game where the Sooners defense did not impress the country, and 31 against a not-so-great West Virginia team. They can’t afford to allow this type of lackluster defense occur against a very good Georgia offense.

The Bulldogs have been led by freshman quarterback Jake Fromm who has surprised everyone this season with his knowledge and smarts of the game. He has led the Bulldogs to an almost perfect season if it weren’t for an upset loss at the hands of Auburn. Fromm has thrown for 63% and over 2000 yards. In a few years, if he can get the Bulldogs to multiple playoffs, he can be a top-ranked draft pick in April. What has made him such a prolific quarterback is his help out wide. Javon Wims and Terry Godwin have caught for 6 touchdowns, and even Mecole Hardman, a sophomore, has been productive. But the real offense has come from Nick Chubb, a first team All-SEC from three years ago. Now a senior and potential NFL Draft pick, Chubb has ran all over opposing defenses, rushing over 1100 yards. In their SEC Championship game win over Auburn, he ran for 77 yards on 13 carries. And in their win over Kentucky, he ran for over 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s helped second year head coach and former assistant to Kirby Smart revive the Georgia Football program.

For Oklahoma, this will be just their second appearance ever in the Rose Bowl Game. Their first and only Rose Bowl came back in 2003 when they defeated Washington State, 34-14, when Bob Stoops was still head coach. The Sooners will also have played in their 21st consecutive bowl game. As for the Georgia Bulldogs, they, too, will make their second ever appearance in the Rose Bowl Game. Their first and only Rose Bowl came all the way back in 1943 when the legendary Wally Butts was head coach. They defeated UCLA, 9-0, for their second ever bowl win.

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