NFL Week 4 Recap: A Number of Surprises

By Brendan DeVenney

The Dolphins get shutout, the Jets win another game, Deshaun Watson electrifies the Texans, and New England falls again. Those are some of the few storylines that Week 4 of the NFL season brought to us. Setting the ongoing story of the national anthem protests aside, let’s look at what happened around the NFL this weekend.

Let’s first start off by looking at the London Game this week, where we saw New Orleans shutout Miami, 20-0! It was the first time the Dolphins have been shutout since 2013 where the Bills defended home field, 19-0. Jay Cutler, thus far in his first three games wearing the orange and teal, has not lived up to the hype. He completed 20 of 28, throwing for only 164 yards and, obviously, zero touchdowns. Cutler has not been himself in a very long time, and this experiment down in South Beach may be over sooner than we expected.

We now head to New York where by a God-given miracle, the New York Jets are 2-2! They got their second win of the season by knocking off another surprising team in Jacksonville, 23-20! This game saw two struggling franchises put on some interesting football. Blake Bortles, who is somehow currently leading the top team in the AFC South right now at 2-2, only threw for 140 yards and one touchdown. That’s mainly because you saw the rookie in Leonard Fournette rush for 86 yards on 24 carries, and also catch for 59 yards and Jacksonville’s only offensive touchdown. Their other TD came from an 81-yard fumble recovery returned for a touchdown by the second year linebacker in Myles Jack. But even with that awful offensive play by Jets’ QB Josh McCown and his receiver Bilal Powell, it wouldn’t cost them the game. McCown, a year out from playing starter and backup for the Browns, actually didn’t play that poorly, throwing for 224 yards on 22 for 31. New York was also complimented by a solid run game from Powell, running for 163 yards and a first quarter touchdown. Who knows what’s happening in New York, but they’re doing anything but tanking this season.

Now down to Texas, where Houston needs so many reasons to have some type of hope. Well, Deshaun Watson, the rookie out of Clemson, is giving Houstonians just that. The National Championship quarterback put up 57 points on Tennessee in Houston’s second win of the season! The Texans rolled to a 57-14 win over the Titans and Watson made Bill O’Brien look like a genius at what he does. Watson threw 25 of 34 passing for 283 yards and 4 touchdowns. He connected with former Notre Dame WR Will Fuller just four times but twice for a score, and hit up with fellow Clemson Tiger DeAndre Hopkins for 107 receiving yards and the games second touchdown. Lamar Miller also ran the ball efficiently for Houston, running for 75 yards and six points. It was an electrifying show at NRG Stadium on Sunday as Watson might just be the next superstar QB in the NFL.

However, one superstar quarterback that couldn’t pull out a win on Sunday was veteran Tom Brady. In a rough start to the season for New England, the Patriots find themselves sitting at 2-2 heading into their Thursday night affair at 2-1 Tampa Bay. New England went into a dogfight with now 3-1 Carolina on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The Panthers were up 17-16 at halftime, but then jolted out to 23-16 lead in the second half, putting the pressure on Brady. Cam Newton of Carolina had himself a must needed stellar performance, throwing for 316 yards on 22 for 29 passing and 3 touchdowns. If you had him on your fantasy team, lucky you. New England’s defense of Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung, Trey Flowers, and Devin McCourty, among others, just had no answer for Carolina’s offense. And that’s the reason New England lost the game. Brady didn’t have any help from the other side. The five-time Super Bowl champ threw for 307 yards on 32 for 45 passing and 2 touchdowns, but it just wasn’t enough.

Some other headlines surrounding Week 4 included Buffalo improving to 3-1 on the season with a 23-17 upset of the defending NFC Champion Falcons. Bills QB Tyrod Taylor didn’t even have an impressive outing, only throwing for 182 yards on 12 for 20 passing and a touchdown. Basically to some this one up, Buffalo played the field goal game with three three-point field goals from Stephen Kauschka (including a 56-yarder), while Atlanta constantly coughed up the ball. Matt Ryan threw two interceptions, and Tevin Coleman, Andre Roberts, and Ryan himself all fumbled the ball. You’re not going to win a ballgame when you give the ball up five times.

Also, after Week 4, we have one more undefeated team remaining, and that is the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs were able to survive the Washington Redskins (2-2) at home, 29-20, on Monday Night Football. Washington had the lead, 17-14, late in the third quarter, but then both teams would play the field goal game in the fourth with Harrison Butler nailing three huge second half field goals to eventually put Kansas City up 23-20 with 8 seconds left in regulation. And then with 4 seconds to go, the Redskins would fumble and Justin Houston of Kansas City would return the fumble for the game clinching touchdown. Alex Smith had a phenomenal night on national television, throwing for 293 yards on 27 for 37 passing, with one touchdown. Kareem Hunt ran for 101 yards and Travis Kelce caught for 111 yards and a score. It was a good night if you had any three of those guys starting for your fantasy team.

Bottom of the Pile Club

After Week 4, we have four winless teams left. Cleveland, after losing to Cincinnati 31-7, LA Chargers, after losing to Philadelphia 26-24, NY Giants, after losing to Tampa Bay 25-23, and San Francisco, after losing Arizona 18-15. I look at those four games and three of them were close, with LA, San Fran, and the Giants not playing like losing teams. The Browns on the other hand just seem to be getting worse as the season progresses.

Injury Report

The biggest injury of the week comes out of Oakland where quarterback Derek Carr suffered a fracture in his back against Denver in the Raiders 16-10 loss. This sets the Raiders back even further now at 2-2 getting ready to face Baltimore next week, and that won’t be an easy game without your starting quarterback.

Minnesota’s running back Dalvin Cook will miss the rest of the year with torn ACL he suffered in the Vikings’ 14-7 loss against the Lions. Before his injury he had ran for 354 yards on the year and just 2 touchdowns.

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr. is back on the inactive roster after he dislocated his right pointer finger in the Giants’ loss to the Buccaneers. This comes weeks after returning in Week 2 after he suffered an injury to his right leg in Week 2 of the Preseason.

 

Christmas Day Sports Preview

By Brendan DeVenney

For this year’s Christmas Day, we get a big treat when it comes to watching sports all day in celebration. From early in the day to late at night, we will get bombarded with both NFL football and NBA basketball.

And it’s not regular matchups that you would see on a daily basis, like the Bucks taking on Detroit. We’re talking about playoff caliber football and basketball this coming Sunday.

With Christmas Day falling on a Sunday this year, the NFL had to move a good majority of their games to Saturday (Christmas Eve) to accommodate the NBA and still let them have their day.

For the NBA, this is their Thanksgiving. The NBA usually schedules five marquee matchups for this day, starting from noon all the way to 10:30 at night. Playing on Christmas Day is taken as an honor in the NBA, meaning that you are one of the best teams in the league. For the most part, every team playing this coming Sunday we will see in the playoffs. (Except for the Lakers and Timberwolves, who both enter with dismal losing records.)

For the NFL, this is a rare occurrence. From September to February, they own Sunday. Well when Christmas falls on the first day of the week, what do you do? You move the games back to Saturday, Christmas Eve. 12 of the 16 games in Week 16 will be played on a Saturday, giving it a college football feel. There will still be the Thursday Night Football game and the Monday Night Football game. But this year, we get two marquee matchups on Christmas. Each team is fighting for their right to play in the postseason, and both games are divisional rival matchups.

With that being said, let’s preview each game on Jesus’ Birthday.

12:00 – Boston Celtics @ New York Knicks – Madison Square Garden

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Both the Knicks and Celtics squared off in early November, and it was Boston who came away with a convincing 115-87 win. That automatically makes the Celtics the favorite going into this matchup. In that win, Isaiah Thomas put up 29 points for Boston. Thomas has emerged as the real leader of Brad Stevens’ squad, averaging 26.6 points per night. Along with Thomas, Jae Crowder has been holding his own and is a monster outside and when he drives. He’s averaging 13 points per game for the Celtics and is going to be a tough matchup for New York to go against. The Knicks still have Carmelo Anthony who’s averaging 22.5 points per game, but then you add Derrick Rose and Kristaps Porzingis, who have made this New York team dominant this year. They both add a better outside and inside presence on this team. The Knicks have the most Christmas Day wins with 22, and they could very well get 23 this Sunday.

Prediction: New York by 15

2:30 – Golden State Warriors @ Cleveland Cavaliers – Quicken Loans Arena

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This is the first rematch of the 2016 NBA Finals, and it looks very different from a year ago. This time, the 2015 Champion Warriors have added former Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who has been able to make the Warriors a threat to the Cavaliers chances to defend their title. He’s averaging 25.9 points a game, and adds a physical presence to the floor for Golden State, making them harder to defend. Along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, they are a better three-point shooting team than last year, shooting 38% from behind the arc. For Cleveland, they are without JR Smith, out with a right thumb injury for 12 weeks, and have no major presence inside versus this Golden State team with Mozgov not on the roster this year, and Channing Frye isn’t able to fill in that role. The Warriors are coming off a very scary 119-113 win over Detroit on Friday, while the Cavaliers were able to rest their regular rotation guys with an 119-99 blowout with over Brooklyn. This Finals rematch has the making of a classic, that is if LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love are all putting up 20-plus points. The Warriors are obviously the favorite going into this one, and it will probably end up just like last year’s Christmas Day matchup where the Warriors were able to get a convincing 89-83 win, in a game the Cavaliers looked lost.

Prediction: Golden State by 10

4:30 – Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Heinz Field

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The first NFL game on Christmas features two divisional rivals who are battling for the AFC North title. Pittsburgh and Baltimore have easily taken hold of the rocky AFC North division. The division is up for grabs every year between the Steelers, Ravens, and Bengals, and that is never more evident than this year. Pittsburgh enters at 9-5, and Baltimore enters at 8-6. For the Steelers, a win clinches the division, whereas Baltimore needs this one to stay alive. Some experts have picked the Steelers to actually make the Super Bowl this year, and rightly so with Ben Roethlisberger somehow having himself another huge year. Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell have been explosive this year once again, with Brown receiving for 11 touchdowns and 1,188 yards, while Bell has run for 6 touchdowns and 1,146 yards. They have been so hard to stop for any defense this year, so what does that mean for Baltimore? Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Ladarius Webb of the Ravens defense need to have a huge game trying to stop Pittsburgh’s offense. Joe Flacco can only do so much so it will come down to defense for this Ravens team at Heinz Field.

Prediction: Pittsburgh by 2 TD

5:00 – Chicago Bulls @ San Antonio Spurs – AT&T Center

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This is one of the more interesting matchups in the NBA on Christmas, as the Bulls have been slowly seeing what they are like without Rose, and the Spurs are just doing Spurs-like things at 24-6. Chicago is definitely a different team without Rose, but they haven’t fallen way down. They were able to acquire Dwayne Wade as their now starting shooting guard and Rajon Rondo at point. Even with a starting lineup that features Wade, Rondo, Jimmy Butler at small forward, and Taj Gibson and Robin Lopez as their big men, they’ve found it hard to win games. They’re shooting 44% from the field, a dismal 30% from behind the arc, and have struggled to play good defense. They’re inconsistent as well, with losses to Milwaukee, Washington, Charlotte, and Minnesota. But they’ve been able to knock off Cleveland, San Antonio, and Miami twice. Yet, for Gregg Popovich’s Spurs, they are rolling with the retirement of Tim Duncan. Kawhi Leonard, Lamarcus Aldridge, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili are all hot right now, as the Spurs were able to go on a 9-game winning streak, plus start the season with a dominating 129-100 win over the Warriors.

Prediction: San Antonio by 20

8:00 – Minnesota Timberwolves @ Oklahoma City Thunder – Chesapeake Energy Arena

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You can basically right in a win for the Thunder in this one. I don’t even know why the Timberwolves are playing on Christmas. A better matchup for OKC would be the Rockets or Grizzlies. Minnesota is 9-20 right now, and the only big names they have are Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. Compare that to Russell Westbrook, Steven Adams, Jerami Grant, and Victor Oladipo. After Durant left, Westbrook was basically left by himself to lead this Thunder team. He has been averaging a crazy 31.3 points a game, and in the last three games he has put up 46 (a season high in a loss to Atlanta), 42, and 43 points. Minnesota is going to have a long day trying to defend him, specifically Andrew Wiggins.

Prediction: Oklahoma City by 20

8:30 – Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs – Arrowhead Stadium

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Another great matchup for the NFL on Christmas. How the league actually got these games right for December 25 is beyond me. However, in this AFC West divisional game, the Broncos and Chiefs are battling to make the playoffs with two more weeks left. Right now, the Broncos, the defending Super Bowl Champions, are out of the playoffs. They need a win to stay alive. Yet the Chiefs can clinch a playoff spot and eliminate Denver with a win at home. Alex Smith has had himself a career season with a 66.4 completion percentage. He has come up clutch in wins over Oakland, Carolina, Atlanta, and New Orleans. But no bigger win came in Week 12 over the Broncos. He was 26 for 44 in that overtime win for the Chiefs, and threw for 220 yards and no interceptions. That game is a good estimate of what could happen on Sunday. For Denver in that game, in his first season as starting quarterback for Denver, Trevor Siemian was 20 for 34, for 368 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Yet, last week in the 16-3 loss to New England, he threw 1 interception, was sacked 4 times, and was 25 for 40. You never know with Siemian, and that is basically the reason the Broncos are on the verge of missing the playoffs.

Prediction: Kansas City by 7

10:30 – Los Angeles Clippers @ Los Angeles Lakers – Staples Center

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The nightcap of Christmas Day features the Battle of LA, as always the case on Christmas. This is the Lakers’ first Christmas in a while without Kobe Bryant, so how they qualify for a Christmas Day game still is beyond me. They’re still 12th in the Western Conference, whereas their rival is 3rd at 22-9. Nick Young and D’Angelo Russell have been doing the most work for Luke Walton. They both average the most points for the Lakers at 15.1 and 14.9 points a game. The Lakers are pretty healthy, but they have struggled to get offensive bursts to get wins. They’ve lost their last four, and they haven’t been pretty. Then there’s the Clippers who have some people believing they have a legitimate shot at making the Finals this year, and knock out either Golden State or San Antonio. This past Thursday they were able to defeat San Antonio 106-101. But in that game, they lost point guard Chris Paul to a hamstring injury. His status is uncertain, which will likely mean he won’t be playing on Sunday. That means Austin Rivers will take over at point. He’s averaging 9 points a game, but just 2 assists per game. Then you have Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, and J.J. Redick. They are the core of both the offense and defense for the “Clip Show.” Redick is averaging 15 points a game, Jordan is averaging 11 points a game, and Griffin is averaging 21 points per game. They have helped make the Clippers one of the most dominant teams in the league, and pose a major test for the struggling Lakers.

Prediction: LA Clippers by 11

 

 

 

2016 Army-Navy Game Preview

By Brendan DeVenney

THE TWO HISTORIC U.S. MILITARY RIVALS DO BATTLE IN AMERICA’S GAME

For the 119th time in the history of the United States Military and College Football, the Black Nights of West Point and the Midshipmen of the U.S. Naval Academy will go to battle against each other on the gridiron in Baltimore.

This year, just the like past decade, the outright favorite is #25 Navy. Navy comes in at 9-3 and has had yet another successful season. Army West Point, however, enters with good possibilities to win this game as they have a 6-5 record.

The thing is, Navy has won the past 14 meetings between the two storied and historic rivals. Head Coach of the Midshipmen, Ken Niumatalolo has been on the coaching staff for each of those 14 victories and has been the head coach for the past 8 wins over Army West Point.

Navy has dominated this rivalry, leading the all-time series record 60-49-7. This year they could very well get win 61. The Midshipmen come out of the American Athletic Conference, so they don’t have any important wins that would get them into the top ten in the rankings, but they are #25 for a reason. The Midshipmen upset then #5 Houston, 46-40, back on October 10 for win four.

In that game, Navy big man Will Worth ran for 115 yards on 32 carries and 1 touchdown, while passing for 76 yards, 2 touchdowns, on 3 for 5 throwing. The Midshipmen are a team that likes to run the ball, so Army’s defensive line and linebackers are going to crash the trenches. Six different guys ran for over 20 yards in their win over Houston.

They run the option so well with Worth that their blocking scheme is unstoppable. Worth has run for 1321 yards and 25 touchdowns this season, leading the team in each category, while passing 1397 yards, 8 touchdowns, and just 3 interceptions.

Their defense is good too, as Josiah Powell picked off Houston quarterback Greg Ward, Jr. twice, and once returning the pick for a touchdown. This defense will swarm the quarterback and close the coverage. Jarvis Polu, Amos Mason, and Mike Kelly are some of the key guys on defense that will rush that quarterback. The Midshipmen sacked Ward twice in that game and made a big impact of allowing the offense to take over in that game.

Their other big win came over Notre Dame, who even though had a bad year, gave Navy a big test down in Jacksonville. Will Worth scored twice in that game, and ran for 156 yards, and also threw for 48 yards on 5 for 8 passing. Navy killed the Fighting Irish with their ground game in that game, and will be looking to do the same to Army West Point. The Midshipmen ran for 320 yards in the win over Notre Dame, and every touchdown came on the ground.

With that being said, the offense of Navy is hard to beat. For Army West Point, that is going to have to be their game plan. In their first win of the season, the Black Knights held Temple to just 83 rushing yards on 28 tries. The Owls only got 5 first downs on the ground. Army won that game 28-13.

Opponents have had success running the ball, however. A solid team running the ball, Notre Dame, the same team that lost to Navy, ran all over the Black Knights in a 44-6 stomping. The Irish ran for 261 yards on 43 carries.

With the Black Knights, it’s hard to gauge what type of game they’re going to have. But with this one, it comes down to their defense. Their defense is led up front by John Volt, Andrew McLean, and Eddy Ruzga. Volt has 3 sacks on the year and a total of 23 tackles. The three guys up front have found it hard to bring pressure to the opposing quarterback

But then you get to the linebackers who have bailed out the linemen. MIKE Linebacker Andrew King is one of the best, underrated linebackers in the country with 5 sacks for 49 yards, leading Army’s defense in that category, 88 tackles total, 10 tackles for loss, and has forced 2 fumbles. Along with King, there is Jeremy Timpf, Alex Aukerman, Kenneth Brinson, the linebacking corp are flat out good for the Black Knights.

For Army’s offense, they have been inconsistent at best. Their last win came versus Morgan State, and they blew out the Bears 60-3. Army’s quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw was able to throw for 57 yards and 1 touchdown. But you don’t throw for 57 yards and 1 touchdown and put up 60 points. The Black Knights ran for 504 yards, 7 touchdowns, on 60 carries. Their leading rusher was Andrew Davidson, running for 111 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jordan Ashberry ran for 58 yards and a touchdown. There is no doubt that their offense is good. But can they do that versus Navy’s defense who has been potent all year?

Like I mentioned, Army took a hard loss to Notre Dame, 44-6, while running for just 229 yards and just 1 touchdown. They had a total of just 10 first downs, fumbled 3 times, were penalized 7 times for 68 yards, punted 4 times, and got into the redzone just 3 times. Their offense did not have a good day, and you can’t afford to have a bad day versus this Navy defense. Grant it, Ahmad Bradshaw was not in at quarterback that day, so the Black Knights can only hope Bradshaw continues his stardom offensive play.

HISTORY OF THE RIVALRY:

The first game played between the two military academies was in 1890, where the Midshipmen defeated the Cadets 24-0. The only years that the game was not played was in 1899, 1909, 1917, 1918, and 1929.

Most don’t know, but the Midshipmen and Cadets used to be national powers in football. They used to be what Alabama and Ohio State are right now. In 1944, Army and Navy entered the annual matchup ranked #1 and #2 in the country respectively. That year started a string of three straight national titles for Army, their only national championships in program history. In the 1944 game, the Cadets beat the Midshipmen 23-7. In 1945, it was Army and Navy yet again, playing in what was called the “game of the century,” with Army winning 32-13. The Cadets would win the national championship again in 1946.

In 1926, Navy would be crowned the national champions for the first, and till this day, only time in program history. That year they played Army in the first game ever at Soldier Field, the current home of the Chicago Bears. The game was to decide the National Championship, and even though the game ended in a 21-21 tie, the Midshipmen were awarded the National Title since Army already had a loss on their schedule.

LAST YEAR’S GAME:

Last season the 21st ranked team in the country the Navy Midshipmen won their 14th straight game over Army West Point. That is standing as the longest active winning streak in the rivalries history. With the Black Knights trying to snap that streak, they played very well, almost winning the game behind the quarterback play of Chris Carter. He finished 9 for 15, 1 interception for 208 yards, and 1 touchdown.

Army West Point’s offense was 6 of 14 on the day and had 16 first downs compared to Navy’s 11. But the difference maker was Keenan Reynold’s of #21 Navy. Reynold’s was considered one of the most underrated college football players in 2015, and led the Midshipmen in rushing with 136 yards in that game, scoring 2 touchdowns, and throwing for 113 yards on 6 of 14 completions, and 1 touchdown. #21 Navy would outlast Army West Point 21-17.

BOWL GAMES:

For the first time since 2010, both Army West Point and Navy will play in bowl games in the same season.

Navy has played in a bowl game every season since 2012, however, the Black Knights haven’t participated in a postseason bowl game since 2010, where they defeated Southern Methodist, 16-14, in the 2010 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl.

This season, #25 Navy will take part in the 2016 Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (very fitting) at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas versus 8-4 Louisiana Tech. Navy is 10-10-1 in bowl games.

Army West Point will be making just their 6th bowl game appearance in program history. They are 3-2 in bowl games, and this year they will face off with 5-7 North Texas in the 2016 Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl in Dallas, Texas at the Cotton Bowl.

TRUMP AND FOOTBALL:

President-Elect Donald Trump will attend the 117th Army-Navy Game in 2016 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Theodore Roosevelt was the first president to attend the game, and there have been nine different commanders in chief to attend the game, with the previous one being current President Barack Obama back in 2011. Trump will switch sides from the first half to the second half, but no one knows which side he will start with.

UNIFORMS:

Each year now, Army West Point and Navy introduce special uniforms just for the Army-Navy Game. And this year’s uniforms don’t even come close to disappointing the human eye.

Army West Point Black Knights

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The Black Knights’ uniforms are unique in that they are influenced by the 82nd Airborne Division, a group of paratroopers from World War II. It features the Division patch, a 48-star American Flag patch, full-color historical unit patches, and a whole lot of dark camo. Even the numbers are the same font that the 82nd Airborne Division wore back in World War II.

Navy Midshipmen

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Navy’s uniforms are inspired from their 1963 team. The 1963 team wore a yellow uniform with a gold helmet, so thus the gold helmet and gold pants. However, this uniform adds a futuristic twist with a glossier yellow, called Academy Gold.

GAME INFORMATION:

Kickoff: 3:00

Stadium: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD, home of the Ravens

TV: CBS

The Game: #2 Ohio State vs. #3 Michigan Preview

By Brendan DeVenney 

This should be a fun one. In one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports, this is right up near the top as one of the best and one of the richest in tradition. It is the Ohio State Buckeyes versus the Michigan Wolverines. And the 2016 edition has serious season implications on the line.

Both teams this year enter with one loss and are in the top four in the AP Poll. With that being said, one of these teams will make the playoff. The other will have to settle for playing a bowl game on January 2.

For Ohio State, they have owned this rivalry in this century. They won seven straight games versus the Wolverines from 2004 to 2010, and then have won each game from 2012 to last season. Michigan’s last win over Ohio State came in 2011, winning 40-34. Those were the good old days of Brady Hoke, a.k.a. Brady Choke.

However, Michigan does lead the all-time series, 58-47-6.

Last year’s game saw the Buckeyes dominate from start to finish, winning 42-13. J.T. Barrett threw for 113 yards on 9 for 15 passing and 1 touchdown. Ezekiel Elliot dominated Michigan’s defense, whose secondary was very weak in the first season of Jim Harbaugh, running for 216 yards and 2 touchdowns on 30 carries.

Once the game went into halftime with the Wolverines behind 14-10, Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes said enough was enough, shooting the lights out on the scoreboard in the second half behind the running of Barrett and Elliot. Plus, you can’t forget the defense of the Buckeyes that was tough as nails. Joey Bosa and Tyvis Powell did not allow Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock to have any success. Jabril Peppers was swallowed up, and the Michigan offense just couldn’t get anything going for momentum. (Last season Peppers played as both a wide receiver and running back for the Wolverines, but Jim Harbaugh has moved him this year to defensive back and linebacker.)

But this year, it will be a different story. For the first time since 2006, both teams are ranked in the top five. And just like this coming Saturday, going into the 2006 game, there was history written all over it. In 2006, Ohio State was ranked number one in the nation, and Michigan was ranked number two in the country, with both undefeated. Ohio State won that game 42-39, but both the Buckeyes and Wolverines would go on to lose their postseason games.

This year, the Buckeyes are once again led by the strong quarterback play and running game of J.T. Barrett. Barrett has thrown for 2304 yards and 24 touchdowns. In all honesty, there is nothing to not like about Barrett. He makes smart decisions with the football and has run for 831 yards and 8 touchdowns, but only when he needs to. When he runs the ball, he does some special things with those legs. Meyer’s key weapons, Curtis Samuel and Mike Weber help lead an offense that has outscored their opponents, 482-143 this season.

Weber has been a blessing to have for Buckeye fans, rushing for 1066 yards and 8 touchdowns. He breaks tackles like no one else in college football and will beat you with his speed. He is no Ezekiel Elliot, but he has helped Ohio State pick up right where they left off last season with that running game. Samuel is similar running his routes, catching for 790 yards and 7 touchdowns.

Yes, Ohio State did struggle last week versus Michigan State. The Spartans came in with a bismal record of 3-7, yet almost knocked off the Buckeyes. Ohio State escaped with a 17-16 win, allowing 334 yards of offense for the Spartans, to their own 310. Michigan State took down Barrett three times in the backfield, and he only threw for 86 yards on 10 completions. When Michigan State scored first, you knew Ohio State would come back, but at the same time you did not think it was going to be that close of a game.

Michigan had a similar game last week versus Indiana, an unranked team. Winning 20-10 was not very convincing going into “The Game,” just like Ohio State’s win was not very convincing. In a snowy and cold Ann Arbor, Wolverines quarterback John O’Korn, who I knew would live up to the hype when he came to Michigan, had a rough day in his first ever true start, completing 7 of his 16 passes for just 59 yards. He would also get sacked twice. Running back DeVeon Smith helped bail Korn out, running for 1164 yards and two very critical touchdowns for the Wolverines.

But then you also have Wilton Speight for Michigan, who has played in 10 of the 11 games this season. Speight suffered an injury to his left, non-throwing shoulder in the loss to Iowa. Speight has been the reason for Michigan’s success this season. He has thrown for 2156 yards, completing 62% of his passes, 15 touchdowns, and just 4 interceptions. Harbaugh did say that Speight practiced in the week leading up to the showdown in Columbus, but that does not mean a whole lot when you have two very similar quarterbacks who can win you this ballgame.

But this Michigan team has struggled as of late. They lost to Iowa on a game-winning field goal for the Hawkeyes in corn country, and then struggled versus Michigan State at the end of October. I don’t see the Wolverines as a complete team. That more complete team comes down in Columbus in the Buckeyes.

The game-time decision for head coach Jim Harbaugh is very important, so we’ll see who has the opportunity to lead the Wolverines to a playoff berth.

Ohio State’s defense has dominated the entire season. In their first 62-3 win versus Nebraska, they held the Cornhuskers to 204 total yards of offense, and with an inexperienced quarterback in Korn for the Wolverines, they are bound to have success in “The Shoe.” They have stopped the run all year long, for instance in the Indiana game. Winning 38-17 over the Hoosiers, they held Indy to 99 rushing yards, an impressive feat. Dre’Mont Jones and Sam Hubbard lead a stacked line that pushes opponents back.

Michigan’s defense is just as good. When they beat Penn State 49-10, the same Nittany Lions team that knocked off Ohio State in State College on a game-winning field goal, 24-21, the Wolverines were able to hold that Penn State offense to just 191 total yards, 70 which were rushing yards, and they got just 12 first downs all game. Linebacker and Defensive Back Jabril Peppers, from national powerhouse Paramus (NJ) Catholic, is a difference maker in their secondary. He will eventually be a major addition to any NFL team that has a struggling secondary.

This game is crucial to the team’s postseason schedules. Michigan and Ohio State are at the top of the East Division in the Big Ten Conference, with Michigan at #1 and Ohio State at #2. The Wolverines have a 5-0 divisional record, 10-1 conference record. The winner will go to the Big Ten Championship game to most play Wisconsin. For Penn State, who is currently ranked 7th in the country, their chances of playing for a Big Ten trophy are pretty much deflated. No matter if they beat Michigan State in their regular-season finale, they will settle for a regular bowl game in December.

So it all comes down to a football game at 12:00 at Ohio Stadium to see who will represent the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff.

My prediction: Ohio State 28 – Michigan 25

 

NFL Thanksgiving Football: No Luck, no chance for Colts, Steelers win easily

By Brendan DeVenney

Sometimes you really see what a quarterback is made of when you throw him out onto the big stage. That is what happened to six-year backup quarterback Scott Tolzien for Indianapolis on Thanksgiving Thursday night.

Tolzien, let’s just say, got eaten alive by Pittsburgh’s defensive line and their linebackers. Andrew Luck was out with a concussion he suffered after Week 11. So that meant throwing Tolzien out onto the national stage on Thanksgiving in what would be just his 3rd career start in six seasons.

Tolzien was signed by San Diego in 2011 as an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin. Since then, he has bounced around from team to team, going from the Chargers to San Francisco, then to Green Bay, and just this year signing with Indianapolis.

But on Thursday night, he just wasn’t good enough to go against an improving Pittsburgh defense. He would get sacked three times, and at least get hit throughout the game over 10 times. At the end of the day, you have to give the Steelers defense for not letting up, which at this point in their season, is not an option.

Mike Mitchell and William Gay both intercepted Tolzien, and Gay even recovered a fumble that the Steelers made work with.

Tolzien also did not have a whole lot of help from his offensive line. Like what we saw from last week in Cleveland, this Steelers defensive line and linebackers will make an OL look depleted, getting around blocks, come storming in untouched, and pushing linemen back to rush to the quarterback, and eventually get a sack.

Tolzien finished throwing for 205 yards on 22 of 36 passing, and 1 touchdown. That touchdown came in the second quarter where Tolzien found Donte Moncrief for 5-yards. That would make it 14-7 and Indianapolis was still in the game.

They were actually still in it with 8 minutes remaining in the game, down 21-7, but Scott made an error of a pass, trying to get it to Phillip Dorsett, but it was intercepted by Mike Mitchell. The Steelers would make the Colts pay for that one with yet another touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Antonio Brown, making it 28-7 Pitt.

Just when the guy from Cheese Country didn’t want anything to get more bad, he would be intercepted by Moncrief once more, to seal the win for the now 6-5 Steelers.

Roethlisberger would finish with 220 passing yards, going 13 of 20 and 3 touchdowns without an interception. Antonio Brown finished with 91 yards receiving on 5 catches, scoring 3 of the Steelers 4 touchdowns. Le’Veon Bell finished rushing for 120 yards on 23 carries, and one touchdown.

The win for Pittsburgh puts them atop the AFC North over Baltimore.

NEXT UP: For now 6-5 Pittsburgh – Sunday, December 4 vs. NY Giants at Heinz Field

For now 5-6 Indianapolis – Monday, December 5 at NY Jets at MetLife Stadium

NFL Thanksgiving Football: Cowboys continue to roll on vs. Washington

By Brendan DeVenney

Kirk Cousins did all he could, but it just wasn’t enough.

Kirk Cousins is no doubt growing as a potential Super Bowl quarterback, he just needs to be on a team that has a good defense. Now at 6-4-1, Washington is hurting themselves in the must needed wins in the 2016 season.

But Thursday night in Arlington in the annual Thanksgiving Day game for the Cowboys was about the offense of Dallas and Dak Prescott. What else can you say about this coming out season for Prescott. Yes, Tony Romo got injured and allowed Prescott to enter as starter, but he is getting his well-deserved shot at being the future of Jerry World.

I have not gotten to see much of what Prescott can do for Dallas this season. I have only heard that he has done some special things for the Cowboys. And it showed at AT&T Stadium in the divisional rivalry of “Cowboys vs. Indians.”

Allow with Ezekiel Elliot, the offense of the Cowboys outperformed Washington’s defense. It started in the first quarter with a quick score on the first drive of the game, when Ezekiel Elliot punched it in from 4-yards out. It was Elliot’s eighth touchdown of the season, and first of the game.

At 10-3 Dallas with two minutes left in the first half, Prescott would make it seem out of reach for the Redskins with a quick wheel out pass to Terrance Williams from 10-yards out.

At halftime, it would be 17-6 Cowboys. Washington at this point is trying to come back from their largest deficit of the season. They would get their first touchdown via a Cousins slingshot to Jordan Reed. They would go for two but fail when Sean Lee batted down the pass.

However, Dak Prescott would go on and show what else he can do leading an offense. With the game in reach for the Redskins, he would put it further out of reach. He would rush for his first career rushing touchdown as he punched it in from 6-yards out. It’s now 24-12 Dallas with eleven minutes left.

The Redskins would not go down without a fight, however. Kirk would go deep to DeSean Jackson for 67-yards and quickly make it 24-19. Washington is trying to claw their way back in, and this is coming off a huge 42-24 over Green Bay on Sunday Night Football. They’re not coming off a full week of rest, plus they’re going up against a 9-1 football team.

But like I said before, Cousins efforts would not be enough. After a failed onside kick by Washington, the former Buckeye, Ezekiel Elliot, would get his second touchdown of the day from 1-yard out, a touchdown that would be the game sealer. Cousins would have to try and score two touchdowns with six minutes left.

It took too long to get the first one. Cousins would fire on short routes to his receivers, and eventually had to go for it on fourth down. He would eventually fire it high enough for Jordan Reed in the back of the endzone to make it 31-26 Dallas with 1:53 remaining.

Long story short, Washington would fail another onside kick, and Dak Prescott and the Cowboys would escape with their 10th win of the season and are now in really good shape of making the playoffs for the 32nd time in franchise history.

Prescott would finish throwing for 195 yards and a toucdown on 17/24 passing. Ezekiel Elliot finished running for 97 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown.

NEXT UP: For the now 10-1 Cowboys – Thursday, December 1 at Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium

For the now 6-4-1 Redskins – Sunday, December 4 at Arizona at University of Phoenix Stadium

NFL Thanksgiving Football: Detroit takes down Vikes in Turkey Classic

By Brendan DeVenney

In the annual Thanksgiving Day game at Ford Field, it was a nail-biter to the last possession, and no doubt was a defensive showdown.

Matt Stafford and Sam Bradford are two very comparable quarterbacks, and are on teams right now that love to throw the ball. But the Vikings and Lions have strong secondaries. The question Thursday was whether or not they both would be able to have success versus those secondaries.

The answer was yes. Sam Bradford was electric, going 31 for 37, passing for 224 yards and one interception. He completed 8 first downs passing, and hooked up with his key receiver Kyle Rudolph.

Rudolph, out of Notre Dame, caught for 64 yards on 9 receptions. He has been explosive for Minnesota this year, as the Vikings drop their record to 6-5.

Also hot for the Vikings in Detroit on Thanksgiving was Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. McKinnon ran for 31 yards and Asiata ran for 27 yards and 1 touchdown.

For Detroit, Matt Stafford threw for 232 yards on 23 of 40 passing and 1 touchdown. He connected with Mr. Irish, Golden Tate 5 times for 77 yards, and with Anquan Boldin, one of the best receivers in the league, 7 times for 69 yards and a touchdown.

The offenses did what they could with strong defenses on both teams, but in the end Detroit won 16-13 at Ford Field. In the fourth quarter with the score knotted 13-13, Darius Slay intercepted Sam Bradford at the Minnesota 33-yard line with 38 seconds left to go. That would set up a 40-yard field goal by Matt Prater, who finished perfect on the day on field goals, as time expired to give the Lions their seventh win of the season, 16-13 over Minnesota.

NEXT UP:  For the now 6-5 Vikings – Thursday, December 1 vs. Dallas at U.S. Bank Stadium

For the now 7-4 Lions – Sunday, December 4 at New Orleans at Mercedes-Benz Superdome

NFL Week 10 Roundup

By Brendan DeVenney

With the NFL schedule in the heart of the season, it’s time to really start looking at who is going to make a push for the playoffs, and who’s wheels are going to fall off on their ride to the postseason.

Week 10 saw one of the unfriendlier nationally televised football games on Thursday night. The Browns visited the Ravens for a rematch of their Week 2 game in Cleveland, a game that Cleveland let slip away and lose 25-20.

In Baltimore Thursday night, it would once again be the Ravens who would come out victorious, 28-7. However, the first half was all Browns, going into the locker room with a 7-6 lead thanks to the solid quarterback play of Cody Kessler, who has been banged up all season long. But Hue Jackson elected to throw an ever more injury prone quarterback out there for the second half in Josh McCown, and he wasn’t able to even score in the second half.

But let’s fast forward to Sunday and forget that the Browns are 0-10 for the first time in franchise history. Let’s start with a 9-6 finish in the Meadowlands. Yes, 9-6 was the final score between the Jets and Rams. There was one touchdown scored by New York in the second quarter, but Nick Folk would miss the extra point. It would be three field goals of 20, 38, and 34 yards by Greg Zuerlein to win the game for Los Angeles, though.

In Pittsburgh, it was a battle of championship franchises with the Steelers and Cowboys squaring off, and it lived up to all of the hype. Dak Prescott, who might as well be the new face of the Cowboys replacing Tony Romo, went 22 for 32 for 319 yards, throwing 2 touchdowns as Dallas beat Big Ben and the Steelers 35-30. Along with Ezekiel Elliot who ran for 114 yards on 21 carries and 2 touchdowns, Pittsburgh’s defense once again showed that they are far from dominant.

Roethlisberger wasn’t bad either. Better yet, he was superb, going 37 for 46 for 408 yards and 3 touchdowns.

A game that really caught a lot of people’s attention was one team who is trying to get back to the Super Bowl vs. another who has the capability of sneaking in as a Wild Card team. Denver snuck past New Orleans with a crazy finish at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Drew Brees, with 1:28 left on the clock, hit Brandin Cook for 32-yards in the middle of the endzone to pull the Saints to tie the game 23-23 with a chance to take the lead on the ensuing extra point. Well that extra point attempt by Wil Lutz would be blocked by Justin Simmons, who leaped over the entire offensive line to get his hand on the ball, and Will Parks would return the ball 84-yards for a game-winning, defensive two-point conversion. Denver moved to 7-3 with the crazy, 25-23 win over the Saints.

Not all games were close. Tennessee put a beat down on Green Bay in Nashville winning 47-25. Marcus Mariota has drastically improved after going 19 for 26 for 295 yards and 4 touchdowns. Five different Titans scored in the first half as Tennessee put up 21 points in the first quarter, 14 in the second quarter. It all started with a 75-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray on the first drive of the game after the Titans went for an onside kick and succeeded to begin the game. Titans move to 5-5 while the Packers fall to 4-5 for the first time since 2008.

Sunday night featured a rematch of Super Bowl XLIX, and it didn’t disappoint. Seattle won over the Patriots 31-24, but New England very well could have had their eighth win of the season if it weren’t for some good old fashion final play controversy. On a fourth down from inside the 2-yard line, Tom Brady tried to connect with Rob Gronkowski on a fade pattern, but going against Kam Chancellor is never easy, and even though Gronkowski thought Kam should have been called for pass interference, the play was whistled dead after the incomplete pass. We’ve seen this before, where the Seahawks are able to stop Brady and the Pats at the goal line, but the fact that an elite quarterback in Brady can’t get his team in the endzone versus that defense is a scary thought for New England fans.

The week ended in the Meadowlands where the Giants hosted Cincinnati on Monday Night Football. And this one didn’t disappoint either. Both teams exchanged punches to begin the game. Eli Manning looked very sharp and connected with Jerrell Adams, Odell Beckham, Jr., Sterling Shepard for touchdowns, as he threw for 240 yards on 28 for 44 passing. But it was only a one-point win for New York, 21-20. Cincinnati had the lead in the second half, but lost it in the second half.

After Week 10, the Divisional Leaders are as follows:

 via @NFL

As you can see, Detroit is a surprise team right now, and if they win Week 11 vs. Jacksonville, their Thanksgiving Day game could be huge vs. Minnesota. The Vikings are currently tied for 1st in the NFC North with the Lions.

The Cowboys and Seahawks, in my opinion, have their divisions wrapped up. Dak Prescott and Russell Wilson have their teams playing their football teams playing their best football right now. Along with New England in the AFC East.

However, the craziest division is the AFC West. Now, only one team can come out of that division, but right now three of the four want in the playoffs. Kansas City, Oakland, and Denver all are seven-win teams right now, and will be battling till Week 17 to make the playoffs. Expect at least one of those teams to be a Wild Card team.

Onto Week 11!

Tom Brady helps Browns start a dismal 0-5 with remarkable return

By Brendan DeVenney

Another week, yet another disappoint by the Cleveland Browns. Only this week, you had to expect it. For the first time since last season, New England starting quarterback Tom Brady went under center for the Patriots.

This could have been the game of The Return both teams, however, it was only the Pats with Tom Brady returning from his suspension. Browns’ Pro Bowl WR Josh Gordon was eligible to return, but he entered rehab on his own as a personal life decision.

New England defeated Cleveland 33-13 to improve to 4-1 on the season and remain first in the AFC East. And boy, they look scary now with their leader back. He threw for 406 yards, 3 touchdowns, and completed 28 of his 40 passes on the day. And his first half stats look even more impressive.

His first drive he threw for 65 yards going 4 for 5 resulting in a touchdown run by LeGarette Blount. Just like that, you knew The King of Boston was back. After just the first quarter, Brady went 10-of-12 for 137 yards and a touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett to put New England up 14-7 after one quarter. And after the first half, he completed 18-of-25 passes for 271 yards, and two touchdowns. Brady was making FirstEnergy Stadium his home. Now just wait till he returns next Sunday to Gillette Stadium for his first start back in front of the home crowd vs. Cincinnati.

Brady was no doubt the story of Week 5. However, the Browns seem to always make the headlines for the wrong reasons. You thought having three different starting quarterback in the first three weeks was bad? Try three in the same game!

It started out with Cody Kessler starting the game for the Browns, which was the original game plan for Hue Jackson. But then in the first quarter, he got hit in the chest and ribs and had to exit for the locker room, and wouldn’t return.

So then our backup, Charlie “Clipboard Jesus” Whitehurst entered. The Browns signed Whitehurst the Monday after Josh McCown got injured. Much to Cleveland fans’ surprise, he would get injrued in the second half, which would lead to former Ohio State quarterback, then turned into outstanding wide receiver, Terrelle Pryor to taking over at quarterback to finish off the game.

This just goes to show you that this Cleveland team is horrendous and just doesn’t deserve anything good happening to it. I mean, our leading rusher was Isaiah Crowell with only 22 yards rushing on 13 carries. Compared to last week where he was finding holes for days, New England crowded the center and forced him outside, which is his weakness. Our offensive line just doesn’t have the capability of pushing back a linebacking corp and defensive front four that New England has.

We have a great head coach that I absolutely have the up most respect for in Hue Jackson who has experience in winning at Cincinnati. But we need to put together a team that he can work with. He can’t work these guys! Haden, Pryor, Crowell. That is it! And I wouldn’t even include Crowell! It’s just going to have to work through the draft. But that means having to wait for a few years.

Looking to next week, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler, and Cameron Erving are all expected to practice this week. We have been awarded OL Jonathan Cooper from Arizona off waivers, but don’t expect him to play this upcoming Sunday.

But now the question is, “Who is going to start at quarterback at Nissan Stadium on Sunday at 1:00?” Will it be Kessler? Will it be McCown? Or will Whitehurst get his first start in the orange and brown? Oh, you only get this in Cleveland.

Week 1 Browns Recap: Could it have been any worse?

By Brendan DeVenney

Week 1 is in the books for the Cleveland Browns, and for how many straight times they have failed to begin the season 1-0. A 29-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field puts Cleveland right where they belong to start the season.

The game started off rocky, with the Browns allowing rookie quarterback out of North Dakota State, Carson Wentz, to put on a show on the first drive of the game finishing in a phenomenal touchdown pass to wide receiver Jordan Matthews to put Philadelphia up 7-0.

The Browns defense was absent the entire game, and that’s what we should really expect the entire season. However, there were plusses from their rookies on defense, and on the offense. Emmanuel Ogbah played very well rushing Wentz and even had a batted down pass. Plus Carl Nassib had three tackles and a sack on Wentz. That’s what we really should be watching this season. How the rookies are playing, because they are our future with this regime.

As far as the offense goes, Robert Griffin III only went 12 for 26 for 190 yards and 1 interception, compared to Carson Wentz’ 22 for 37 for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns. Summary of the quarterback game in Week 1 is as follows: rookie the Browns pass up on in the draft out plays injury prone Heisman Trophy winner the Browns pick up blows up.

Griffin also did not have help from his running backs and receivers, though. Rookie Corey Coleman caught only two passes for 69 yards, Terrelle Pryor caught three passes for 68 yards, and Duke Johnson caught three passes for 28 yards. I get that these guys aren’t Antonio Browns, but Griffin needs to be able to be a play-maker with these guys, and act like LeBron James by making his receivers better with big plays.

It was just not a great way to start off the season for the Browns. From the botched snap by Cam Erving that resulted in a safety, to the stupid fake punt formation with your punter acting as a wing, it was an awful way to start the season for the Cleveland Browns.

OH YEAH! DID I MENTION RGIII IS NOW RGDONE!?

Robert Griffin III suffered a significant shoulder injury in the fourth quarter of the Philadelphia game that has put him on the injured reserve. He injured his coracoid bone in his left shoulder when he had to scramble, and while slowing down to go out of bounds, he ran into an Eagle that was getting back up on the play.

This means that he will have to miss at least eight weeks of games. His backup Josh McCown will take his place and start next week vs. Baltimore in the Browns’ home opener. Last season McCown only played in eight games after getting injured in Week 1 at New York. He would go 186 for 292, throwing for 2,109 yards, 12 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and was sacked 23 times. The most games he has ever started is 13 with Arizona in 2004. He has a chance to top that this year, but it’s going to have to take him being dominant and errorless. When he has a chance to get the Browns the lead, he can’t choke. And maybe being motivated by the fans who are saying Cleveland should tank will help that.

“For us to sit back and say, “Yeah, this is the year that we’re gonna tank ‘ and all that, for a player that’s not our mindset at all and that’s not our expectation. It fires me up when people say that. It makes this task even greater. We embrace the opportunity to go out there and maybe do something that people don’t think we can do. ”

If this motivates you so much, then go out and beat the Ravens, Josh. We’ll still judge you the same way afterwards as one of the worst backups/starters in the league.

Well, hopefully things will get better in Week 2 at FirstEnergy Stadium in front of our home fans. Won’t expect much of an applause in that stadium, though, when they run out onto the field for the first time.