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.

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.

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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John Dorsey hired as the Cleveland Browns next General Manager

By Brendan DeVenney

When Ray Farmer was hired back in 2014, a lot of people were shaking their heads and weren’t very optimistic. Browns fans everywhere knew that he didn’t have a lot of experience of actually drafting players and making trades in the offseason. Soon enough, all those fans were right as he was fired in 2016 with a losing record.

The same went for Sashi Brown, and he didn’t even make it two full seasons. But now? Well, they didn’t screw up the hiring, that’s for sure.

Just 11 hours after Cleveland Browns owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam fired Sashi Brown, along with Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, the Browns made one of the best decisions they’ve made in a very long time. For the first time since 1999, Cleveland has their most qualified and experienced general manager. His name? Super Bowl Champion John Dorsey.

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The story of John Dorsey goes back to winning right away with the Green Bay Packers in the 1990s. He was one of many that helped bring Brett Favre to the Packers in 1992. In addition to his first stint with the Packers, he brought Donald Driver to Green Bay in 1999, and Javon Walker in 2002. He brought another winning quarterback to Green Bay in 2005, drafting Aaron Rodgers and a Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins. In 2006 he brought in one of the best linebackers in the league in A.J. Hawk, and wide receiver Gregg Jennings. In 2009, Dorsey helped draft Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji.

Dorsey then left Green Bay and became the new general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2013. He immediately got to work and brought Alex Smith to Arrowhead in the offseason in a trade with San Francisco. He also brought in Anthony Sherman and A.J. Henkins in trades in the offseason. In the 2013 draft, he took Eric Fisher with the first pick, who has turned out to be one of the best offensive tackles in the league, and then drafted Travis Kelce, a Pro Bowl tight end. Kansas City that year went 11-5, a greatly improved record from 2-14 in 2012. In the past two drafts, Kansas City has received Marcus Peters and Tyreek Hill, future Pro Bowlers.

See a trend? Dorsey knows how to draft franchise changing players. He also knows how to work trades in the offseason and get phenomenal free agents. When you have established a winning reputation, it’s hard to go back from that and not continue winning. Michael Lombardi, the first GM under the Haslam’s, was a winner, but didn’t exactly be the “front man of the band.” When he took the lead role in Cleveland, he didn’t perform well. And Ray Farmer didn’t have years of experience like Dorsey has in winning, and just didn’t have the tools around him he heeded. And we all know what Brown tried to do.

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This is a great hire Jimmy and Dee Haslam have made. You can obviously see that this been in the works for a while now. An organization doesn’t just fire an executive, call up another name in the league, and hire them in 11 hours. The fact that Jimmy and Dee have had this in the works is a great sign and a sign that they are determined to turn this franchise around.

The thing is, you need to give this hire some time. The 2018 NFL Draft will tell a lot about what type of job Dorsey will do. It’s all about results with this hire. The only way this works is if the Browns are able to start winning consistently on the field. What will be interesting is to see how he works with Hue Jackson. Does Dorsey get rid of him as soon as possible? Or does he see potential in Jackson to win with the players he gets him. There’s a lot of questions to be answered in a short amount of time.

Sashi Brown fired as Browns’ GM: Cleveland looking ahead to Draft

By Brendan DeVenney

Well, here we go again. For the second time in three years, the Browns front office have fired their general manager. And the Browns will now have their 9th general manager since 1999. On Thursday morning, the first thing the front office did on their work day was fire General Manager Sashi Brown.

With four games left in the 2017 season, a season that has seen zero wins and a brand new team for the second year in a row with this team of football operations executives, it seems as if the Browns are now starting to look ahead to the 2018 NFL Draft.

Wait….. Where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, almost every three years! Cleveland’s professional football team continues to a garbage fire, but I guess all you can do is stop dreading the past and be optimistic for the future of this franchise. So let’s see what this firing of Sashi Brown actually means.

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On Thursday morning, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam reported in the Browns press release that Cleveland believes “transitioning to someone with strong experience and success in drafting and building consistently winning football teams is critical to the future of the Cleveland Browns.” Haslam has owned the Cleveland Browns since 2012, and out of the general managers in that time, Michael Lombard and Ray Farmer were the only two that had previous football experience in looking at draft picks and working in executive positions in the NFL. Lombardi had 26 years of experience before coming to the Browns as the general manager in 2013, with a previous stint of 9 years with Cleveland in the 80s and 90s. And Ray Farmer was a director of player personnel and a scout in the NFL before coming to the Browns. Lombardi, despite lasting only a year, went 4-12, and Farmer finished with a 10-22 record.

The main thing to take away from those two stats is that they won games! And when Brian Hoyer was quarterback in 2014, the Browns were actually in first place in the AFC North!  But when Sashi Brown took over as general manager, things went south, further south than Antarctica, if that’s possible. Bringing in Paul DePodesta as chief strategy office, someone who zero experience working in football as he was previously known around MLB, to introduce analytics to the game of football was a complete joke. That kind of game just doesn’t work in football and probably never will.

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Brown, before coming to the Browns, was an attorney in Washington, D.C.! He has an undergraduate degree from Hampton University, and a juris doctorate degree from Harvard Law School. Don’t be surprised if Brown goes back into the lawyer business because that’s what he’s really supposed to do with his life. Why he was hired by the Browns as Executive Vice President of Football Operations no one will ever know, but that’s the wrong career field he is supposed to be in. He just doesn’t have any experience of working in football, analyzing talent, and knowing the game as an expert.

But now he’s gone, and the Browns have to start looking ahead to 2018, particularly the draft and finding a general manager that will work well with both Hue Jackson and the front office. The problem with Jackson and Brown was that they were never on the same page. I bring up working well with Jackson because according to Jimmy Haslam, “Hue Jackson will remain our coach and will return for the 2018 season.” So, in order to not have another losing season like 2016 and 2017, where we don’t even get more than two wins, you want a general manager that will work well with Jackson and get him guys that he can work with. Supposedly, Jackson really liked DeShaun Watson, who ended up becoming a candidate for Rookie of the Year, and Jared Goff, who now has the Los Angeles Rams in first place in the NFC West in just his second year. Plus, don’t forget about Brown not being fast enough to make a trade for AJ McCarron, a former quarterback under Jackson, which could have totally worked out. Jackson was in Cincinnati when the Bengals drafted McCarron out of Alabama, and he loved the way he played.

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Now, it’s early, but there have been names floating around Cleveland media for the new general manager position. The first one is John Dorsey, former executive of the Kansas City Chiefs. He in 2013, he helped Kansas City to a 11-5 record after a dismal 2-14 record. In 2014, the Chiefs finished 9-7, in 2015 they went 11-5, and in 2016, 12-4. I think the Browns and Browns fans would take any one of those winning records at that point. The big question is, “Can Dorsey duplicate that here in Cleveland?” His first move was firing former Browns head coach Romeo Crennel, and hiring Andy Reid in 2013. That move had the Chiefs at a 2-14 record one year, and an 11-5 record and a Wild Card spot the next! So you would have to think that when Dorsey might get here, he would fire Jackson and bring in a winning coach. The thing is, that’s not possible since Haslam has already declared Jackson the coach to start 2018.

Another name is Bengals coach Marvin Lewis. There has been a lot of talks about the Bengals either letting Lewis go after this season, since he hasn’t been able to win a playoff game with Cincinnati, or Lewis might opt to retire himself. But, according to Tony Grossi, Browns beat reporter, it’s a possibility that Lewis would reunite with former Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson in Cleveland as their next general manager. With it likely Lewis is leaving Cincinnati, he would want to stay in the sport, and a general manager position would be perfect for him. He’s a proven winner, if not in the playoffs, but that’s what the Browns need right now: a winner. Plus, with the relationship with Jackson and Lewis already there, it might be a good fit.

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And the final name that has been circulating in Cleveland is former Colts and Broncos Super Bowl winning quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning has said himself that he wants to get into football again, but is in no rush. The possibilities are endless for the two-time Super Bowl Champion. And according to multiple reports, the Browns director of football operations is one of those possibilities. Manning and Haslam have a great relationship with their Tennessee roots, and there were reports that Manning was in Cleveland back in November. Now, realistically, this move is unlikely to happen, but shouldn’t be counted out. Again, he is what the Browns want: a winner.

This will be a very interesting offseason to say the least, and it looks like the Browns are getting a head start on trying to change the way they draft players starting in 2018, and are eager to find a way to win, and fast. And let’s be honest, making any moves right now is better than not making any moves all together.

 

CFP: Wisconsin and Auburn enter, Alabama and Miami exit

By Brendan DeVenney

Talk about a major shakeup in the College Football Playoff. Alabama is down to five? A two loss team is at number two? That’s how crazy this past weekend was and how impactful it was to the College Football Playoff committee on Tuesday.

The biggest game this past weekend was the Iron Bowl in Auburn, and for the second time this year, the Tigers took down the number one team in the country. This time it was Alabama, with Auburn winning 26-14, shutting down the Crimson Tide in the fourth quarter.

That win for Auburn moved them up to number two after being ranked sixth the past two weeks, and ranked tenth just three weeks ago. Why the huge jump? Well, within three weeks, the Tigers were able to pull off huge upsets of both Georgia and Alabama when they were both ranked at the top of the College Football Playoff rankings. With one week to go, it’s looking like the underdog Tigers could be our first two loss team in the College Football Playoff. Their only losses are coming against Clemson, who is number one right now so that’s not that bad of a loss, and to Louisiana State. However, their Playoff hopes are on the line this weekend with their second matchup with Georgia in the SEC Championship. A win, and their in. A loss, and they’re out. That’s how much pressure both the committee and the Tigers themselves have put on this game. It’s never easy to beat a team twice in one season, so this game has the making of a classic.

I tweeted out on Tuesday saying that it would not make sense for the committee to leave out Alabama with their history and all of their dominance this year, despite losing to Auburn and getting knocked out of playing in the SEC Championship. However, the committee is obviously weighing that loss heavily on Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide moving them down to five. Plus, it would also make sense to look at their schedule. Alabama’s schedule, according to Fox Sports’ Joel Klatt, is the worst among Power 5 schools. Wins over then-number three-but-now-number forty-six Florida State, Fresno State, Colorado State, Ole Miss, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mercer aren’t very strong wins if you ask me. Why is Mercer on their schedule anyways? They play teams in Jacksonville, VMI, Furman, and West Carolina! All those wins for Alabama aren’t quality wins, and when you lose to a team that beat Mercer by just two touchdowns while you shutout the Bears 56-0, you aren’t that great of a team, and the committee says so.

So, we have Clemson at one, Auburn at two, and now Oklahoma at three! The Sooners have passed every test this year, despite an upset loss at home to Iowa State. Their defense may not be that great, but Baker Mayfield, week in and week out, has shown why he should be the Heisman Trophy winner. However, OU has a huge Big 12 Championship coming up this weekend against TCU. This will be the second matchup between the Sooners and Horned Frogs, with Oklahoma defeating TCU just three weeks ago at home, 38-20. Texas Christian was ranked sixth at that time, but the loss to the Sooners has set them back to #11. If Oklahoma can win that game, they’re in. However, a loss will set them at a 11-2 record and a big decision for the committee to make.

Then we have Wisconsin at number four. The Badgers have taken care of business all year long, going undefeated into their BigTen Championship appearance with #8 Ohio State. Wisconsin hasn’t played the toughest schedule ever, but they at least defeated a very good Iowa team, something the Buckeyes had some trouble doing. The Badgers are fit as a Playoff team, and a win over Ohio State will lock them in as a Final Four team.

This weekend’s conference championship games sees #3 Oklahoma face #11 TCU in the Phillips 66 Big 12 Championship Game, #2 Auburn face #6 Georgia in the SEC Championship Game presented by Dr. Pepper, #1 Clemson face #7 Miami (FL) in the Dr. Pepper ACC Championship Game, and #4 Wisconsin face #8 Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game presented by Discover Card.

Rivalry Week comes with playoff implications on the line

By Brendan DeVenney

Michigan vs. Ohio State. Alabama vs. Auburn. Clemson vs. South Carolina. Georgia vs. Georgia Tech. These are just a few of the huge games that come with Week 13 of the College Football season. They are rivalries with rich histories, and this year they provide teams to make their case for the College Football Playoff.

After Tuesday night, Alabama holds the one seed in the College Football Playoff rankings, followed by Miami (FL) at two, Clemson at three, and Oklahoma at four. The Hurricanes and Tigers swapped spots this week. Clemson, with one bad loss to Syracuse, beat up a The Citadel team 61-3, while Miami got a better quality win over Virginia, 44-28. Obviously strength of schedule is playing a factor there. Wisconsin is the lone Big Ten team in the top five at number five, and Auburn of the SEC is sitting at number six with a huge shot at moving up some spots this week at their home field.

#9 Ohio State @ Michigan

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Let’s first take a look at “The Game” that is being played up in Ann Arbor this year. The Buckeyes of Ohio State have had an up and down 2017 campaign. After their early loss versus Oklahoma at home, many critics said that this was going to be an uneasy year for Urban Meyer’s squad, and they weren’t wrong. They then went and beat up on non-contenders. But then when it came to playing serious programs in Penn State and Iowa, they were lucky to not go 0-2 in those games. The Buckeyes almost lost to the Nittany Lions, and then got embarrassed by the Hawkeyes. However, they are still the only two loss team in talks of making the playoff. With Michigan and #5 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game on the way, they have a slim shot of making their case for the Playoff. Led by J.T Barrett at quarterback, who has thrown for 32 touchdowns and an unsettling 7 interceptions, J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber at running back, and K.J. Hill as a leading receiver, Ohio State will enter their rivalry game with Michigan as the favorite. The Buckeyes have won the last five meetings while being ranked in the top ten, and it looks like that will stay the same this year as well. The Wolverines, head coached by Jim Harbaugh in his third year, have not defeated Ohio State since 2011, when Brady Hoke was at the helm and Luke Fickell coached his only season in Columbus. Michigan this year sits at 8-3, coming off a loss to Wisconsin, and currently bowl eligible.

#1 Alabama vs. #6 Auburn

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This is the one game ESPN has to be kicking themselves over every year because they don’t get to cover it. The 82nd edition of the Iron Bowl matches two of the top ten teams this season in #1 Alabama and #6 Auburn in one of the greatest and history-rich rivalries in the country. Unlike the past three years, this meeting between the Crimson Tide and Tigers has playoff implications on the line. Auburn, at #6 in the College Football Playoff rankings, has creeped into playoff discussion in the past four weeks, with a huge win over Texas A&M and upsetting the then number one team in the country, Georgia, 40-17. Led by quarterback Jarrett Stidham, running back Kerryon Johnson, and wide receivers Ryan Davis and Darius Slayton, the Tigers have played Cinderella this year, especially after a disappointing 8-5 season last year. Alabama, on the other hand, can not afford an upset loss this Saturday as they have the worst strength of schedule out of the Top 25 teams, despite being number one. Much like Clemson, they’re coming off a win over an FCS school in Mercer, a blowout, 56-0 win. The only battle tested games they have played are wins over Texas A&M, Louisiana State, and Mississippi State, which was a game the Bulldogs almost won. The Crimson Tide have won the past three meetings, with the last Auburn win coming in 2013 at home, where the Tigers’ Chris Davis returned a missed 57-yard potential game-winning field goal by Alabama 109 yards from the back of the end zone to give Auburn a 34-28 win over the Crimson Tide. With home field advantage, Auburn will once again go for an upset and ruin Alabama’s playoff chances.

#3 Clemson vs. #24 South Carolina

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One of the oldest rivalries in college football, “The Palmetto Bowl” this year puts a lot on the line for a Clemson team that is the surprise for a lot of people being in the top four for the College Football Playoff. Not playing a very tough schedule in the ACC, and to go along with a bad loss to unranked Syracuse in the middle of the season, Clemson has gotten the defending champion treatment, rarely showing any championship hangover. Dabo Sweeney’s squad has shown up every week and has taken care of business, led by quarterback Kelly Bryant, running backs Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster, and one of the best defenses in the country, Clemson has everything they need to try and repeat this year, but with an always competitive South Carolina team this coming week and Miami (FL) the next in the ACC Championship, the Tigers can not afford their second loss. The Gamecocks, on the other hand, have had an interesting season in their second season with Head Coach Will Muschamp. Losses to Kentucky and Texas A&M really derailed their chances of being contenders at the end of the year, and then a loss to then #1 Georgia got them starting to think about 2018. They’ve lost the past three matchups with the Tigers, so don’t expect them to snap that streak this year.

#7 Georgia vs. Georgia Tech

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Believe it or not, the Georgia Bulldogs still have a shot at making the Playoff. The Bulldogs’ Final Four opportunity took a hit when they got blown out by Auburn over in Alabama, 40-17. Before that game, Georgia was having one of their best seasons in recent memory, defeating at the time an elite Notre Dame team, overpowering a very capable Mississippi State ballclub, and shutting out rival Tennessee. The Bulldogs, if lucky to defeat Georgia Tech, has a ticket with the West Division champ, Alabama or Auburn. If they are capable of winning the SEC Championship, that could convince the Playoff committee to see them as the better SEC school to represent the conference on January 1. But first they have to get past always tough Georgia Tech. This year’s “Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate” Game sees the Yellow Jackets enter with a 5-5 record, having lost three of their last four games, including losses to Clemson and Duke. I can see a loss to Clemson, but a Duke loss in football is never good for Head Coach Paul Johnson. Last year’s game between the Bulldogs and Jackets saw Georgia Tech win a thriller down 27-14 in the fourth quarter, and win 28-27. But this is a much improved Georgia team this year, and the Yellow Jackets have a lot on their plate to take care of against the Bulldogs.

Other Notable Rivalry Games: 

#8 Notre Dame vs. #21 Stanford

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Notre Dame’s Playoff chances got crushed with a blowout loss to Miami (FL) two weekends ago, and with two losses, even a win over Stanford won’t get them into the Final Four. Much like 2015, the Fighting Irish have come so close yet are unable to win their way into the Playoff. However, that doesn’t mean this game against the Cardinal won’t mean anything. A win could get Brian Kelly’s squad into a New Year’s Day game (Citrus Bowl or Peach Bowl) and that would mean a lot for the program that didn’t even make a bowl game last year. Plus, this matchup with Stanford always has meaning and history to it. In 2016, with their season basically over, Notre Dame still fought hard but fell 17-10. Their last win over Stanford came in 2014 when they were #9 at home. The Fighting Irish and Cardinal have played every year since 1997, and their first matchup came in the Rose Bowl back in 1925, where Notre Dame won 27-10.

#14 Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss

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It’s known as the “Egg Bowl,” but might as well be called the Turkey Bowl this year as the battle for Mississippi is being played on Thanksgiving Day this year at Davis Wade Stadium. Mississippi State Football has been on the rise with a 9-4 record two years ago, a 10-3 record and an Orange Bowl appearance in 2014, and a 7-6 record the year before. The Bulldogs almost accomplished a huge upset two weeks ago when they hosted Alabama. Mississippi State led the Crimson Tide 21-17 in the fourth quarter, but the Tide scored twice in the final period to take the ballgame. So the Bulldogs have themselves in a good position to get themselves in a high bowl game around New Year’s. Ole Miss, on the other hand, enters with losing, 5-6 record, and suffered three straight losses that acted like a stabbed knife into their season. They lost to California, Alabama, and Auburn in the beginning of the year. It hasn’t been a great year for the Rebels, but this game will always hold coaching implications for both coaches. This will be the first time Ole Miss will enter with Matt Luke as the interim head coach. Plus, this will be their last game no matter what as they are banned from postseason play due to a violation of NCAA rules. That caused previous head coach Hugh Freeze to resign over the summer.