Detroit Lions coaches

Detroit Lions: Coaches breakdown 2018

Does coaching matter? Pose that question to Detroit Lions fans.

The Lions have been around the coaching carousel more times than their fans care to count. Since the team’s previous championship in 1957, Wayne Fontes is the longest tenured coach.

No offense to Fontes, but his performance in Detroit would not earn him a spot in the debate of greatest coach in team history for most teams in professional sports.  The fans in Detroit have long been waiting for a great group of coaches. Time will tell if Matt Patricia is the answer to Detroit’s prayers.

Wayne Fontes

Detroit Lions coaches

Wayne Fontes (Photo by Jeff Kowlasky, Associated Press)

After taking over for Darryl Rogers 11 games into the 1988 season (4-12 overall, 2-3 under Fontes), Fontes led the Lions to a 12-4 record by 1991. He also won a division title and achieved the only playoff win since the Beatles came to America in 1964. This is still the only playoff win to date.

Fontes departed in 1996 with a 67-71 record (1-4 playoff record). This firmly plants him in the top spot as the greatest coach in the Super Bowl era of Detroit Lions football.

Coaching Turmoil

In the last 20 seasons, the Lions have been through eight head coaches, compiling a combined 127–209 record with zero division titles or playoff wins.

To say it has been a rough 20 years would be a major understatement. It goes without saying, Lions fans are dying for a winner and a team to help bring the fan base and the city back to its feet. That starts and ends with coaching.

Coordinators

Offensive Coordinator 

Detroit Lions coaches

Jim Bob Cooter (right) with Matthew Stafford (left). (Photo by Mike Mulholland, mlive.com)

The news of Jim Bob Cooter being retained as the offensive coordinator has had mixed reactions among fans as some viewed his play-calling as too inconsistent and predictable while others believe Jim Caldwell was the reason for this.

Nevertheless, the possibility of molding Cooter’s coaching prowess with a New England mentality breeds a high level of optimism and intrigue in Detroit. Remember, not too long ago, Cooter was one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel and many dubbed him as a great coach of the future.

Prior to last season, he was put into the same class as Sean McVay of the Los Angeles Rams.

Defensive Coordinator 

Detroit Lions coaches

Paul Pasqualoni during his head coaching tenure at UConn. (Photo from CBSsports.com)

Paul Pasqualoni has been hired by Patricia to call the defense. He has amassed 46 years of coaching experience and previously hired Patricia as an offensive assistant at Syracuse in 2001.

Pasqualoni was the head coach at Syracuse from 1991-2004, with a 107-59-1 record. He has coached in a myriad of positions and for many teams in the NFL since he left Syracuse.

In Dallas, he coached the tight ends, linebackers and defensive line. He stayed in the role of defensive line coach in Chicago and Houston. He was the defensive coordinator for a year in Miami before returning back to college as the head coach at UConn.

When asked about what his relationship with Pasqualoni would bring to Detroit, Patricia stated in a press conference, “…there’s a lot of common ground from what we believe in, how defense should be played, how it should be run, the fundamentals behind it… a huge comfort level for me to have him on board and to be able to entrust him to handle.”

Notable Assistants

Other assistants hired by Patricia include Brian Stewart (defensive backs), David Corrao (director of football research), Chris White (tight ends) and Jeff Davidson (offensive line).

Arguably, the most important of those is Davidson. He takes over a group that led an offense to a ranking of 32nd in rushing and allowed 47 sacks in 2017. Davidson previously worked with New England until 2004 (one year with Patricia). Most recently he was the offensive line coach for the Denver Broncos.

PROMISING FUTURE UNDER PATRICIA

Detroit Lions coaches

New head coach of the Detroit Lions, Matt Patricia. (Photo by Mike Mulholland, mlive.com)

The Detroit Lions are in a great spot as I am sure many teams are envious of quarterback Matthew Stafford. The promising front office, combined with the character and experience of Patricia, bodes well for Detroit.

When building from the ground up, why not copy a dynastic legend? See the New England Patriots. Short of coaxing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to the Motor City, the Lions have made strong moves to bring men over who can begin to build “The Lions Way.”

With Bob Quinn in the general manager’s office and Patricia on the sidelines, one can only wonder how many players may see Detroit as a viable option in free agency. There have been rumors among hopeful fans of Malcolm Butler following Patricia. Imagine him across from Darius Slay and/or Dion Lewis lining up in the backfield with Stafford.

No one can predict how this hire will play out for the Lions. However, one thing is for sure: Matt Patricia and his big-bearded, pencil-behind-the-ear, backwards hat wearing persona will fit in perfectly within the state of Michigan.

 

Featured image from USA Today Sports

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A recap of Paul Pierce’s historic Celtic career

Very few basketball players get to experience what Paul Pierce did Sunday night. He got to watch as his number 34 get hoisted into the rafters at TD Garden in Boston Massachusetts. A finals champion, A finals MVP and a 10 time Allstar, Paul Pierce stayed through the good and the bad with the Boston Celtics.

Now he gets to put his name in the same category with names like Larry Bird, Bill Russell and Robert Parish. Here’s a look back on his fifteen seasons with the Boston Celtics and why he is one of the Celtic greats.

Background:

Paul Pierce was the Celtics 10th overall pick in 1998. He is a 6-foot-7 small forward, drafted out of Kansas. Pierce spent 15 seasons with the Boston Celtics before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets.

Pierce received Big 12 MVP his sophomore season at Kansas. He has his High School, College and now NBA jersey all retired.

He trails only John Havlicek on the Boston Celtics All-time scoring list.

He played alongside stars like Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Antoine Walker and Shaquille O’Neal. Pierce holds the Celtics’ record for most three-point field goals made and also ranks third in team history in games played, second in points scored, seventh in total rebounds, fifth in total assists and first in total steals.

He is fifth in NBA history for total three pointers made behind: Reggie Miller, Kyle Korver and former teammates Jason Terry and Ray Allen.

The Stats:

Paul Pierce, (Photo by NBA Photos/NBAE via Getty Images).

In Paul’s 15 year Celtic career he never averaged under 16.5 points per game. That 16.5 campaign came in his rookie season where he shot 44 percent from the field and 41 percent from three.

The Celtics made the playoffs in 10 of the 15 seasons that Paul was in the white and green. His Celtics career regular season statistics read as 21.8 points per game, 6.0 rebounds per game and 3.9 assists per game. His player efficiency rating was 20.6 on average throughout his Celtic career.

Pierce played in 1,102 regular season game and scored 2,4021 points in those games. He shot 44.7 percent from the field, 37 percent from three and 80.6 percent from the free throw line over those 1,102 games.

He was never held scoreless in TD Garden (including the games he later played as a visitor). A statistic called wins shared shows that Paul Pierce contributed over 138 wins himself in his time.

In his Celtics career the Celtics were on average +6.8 points per season when Paul Pierce was on the floor versus when he was off it. He scored 2,843 points in the playoffs averaging 20.9 points per game. In the Celtics 2008 banner year he averaged 21 points and shot 44 percent.

The Captain and the Truth:

What makes Paul Pierce so special is that he stayed with the Celtics. He is different because unlike players today that want to leave the team that they were drafted from, he rode with the good and the bad. He spent 15 years in Boston and barring a trade would have probably spent his whole career there.

Paul Pierce is one of the greatest Boston Celtics ever, and now after all the box scores and statistics have closed it is time to say it. A sure Hall of Famer has finally left his mark on the NBA and has left behind one of if not the greatest Celtic resume of all-time.

Paul Pierce will go on New England sports fans mount rushmore. He will sit up their with Tom Brady, David Ortiz and Patrice Bergeron from their perspective sports. The thing that Paul did for the city of Boston was never make excuses. His teams would change year in and year out. Some of his teams were less than spectacular, but at the end of the day he wanted to win, and he did everything in his power to do so for the Boston Celtics.

Pierces’ level of consistency and his dedication led him to a night of being honored for his achievements. A man best remembered for his pull up buzzer beaters or his 41 point performance to beat LeBron in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals has finally cemented himself as a Boston Celtic legend, and that is the Truth.

 

Featured image from Bleacher Report.

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49ers lock up Jimmy Garoppolo on record-breaking deal

The 49ers have locked up Garoppolo with a five-year, $137.5 million contract, per NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. This is the largest contract on an average-per-year basis.

After witnessing QB Jimmy Garoppolo lead the 49ers to five straight wins to conclude the 2017 season, GM John Lynch knew he found his franchise QB.

Jimmy Garoppolo celebrates a touchdown during the 2017 season (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP Photo

Garoppolo was originally shipped out to San Francisco, who surrendered a 2018 second round draft pick, in a trade with the New England Patriots in October 2017. Garoppolo was in the final year of his rookie contract at the time.

While Garoppolo has only started a total of seven games, two for New England and five for San Francisco, he remains undefeated. Garoppolo energized a 49er team that seemed destined for a top-five draft pick, leading them to a 5-0 record to conclude the season. This includes two fourth quarter comeback victories against the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans in 15-14 and 25-23 wins respectively.

During that stretch, Garoppolo completed 67.4 percent of his passing attempts for 1,560 yards. He threw seven touchdowns and five interceptions while maintaining a 96.2 QB Rating. Per NFL Network, Garoppolo has steered his team to more average points per game, 28.3, than any other QB in the NFL in the past 25 seasons, aside from his mentor, Tom Brady who has 28.3 as well.

 

 

Featured image by Kyle Terada/USA Today Sports

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Roger Federer Tom Brady

Federer and Brady: The two ageless wonders of our time

Tom Brady is about to be the centerpiece of yet another Super Bowl, and Roger Federer is fresh off his 20th major victory in Australia. We are witnessing two of the greatest athletes ever still at the peak of their powers.

Comparing individual sport athletes to team sport athletes is difficult. However, these two are running out of suitable comparisons in their respective sports. So, here it goes.

What makes them similar?

Unprecedented longevity

The Swiss icon and the former sixth-round draft pick are in uncharted territory for their age brackets in their sports. At age 40, Brady will become the oldest non-kicker to take part in a Super Bowl. This makes the fact that he is still playing quarterback at an MVP level all the more impressive.

The closest thing Brady has ever had to a consistent rival was Peyton Manning. Despite winning the Super Bowl in his final game at age 39, Manning was a shell of himself in his last year. He missed a handful of games due to injury and accounted for more turnovers than touchdowns. Yet, Brady just keeps rolling.

So does Federer. With his win in Australia, he joined Ken Rosewall as the only men to win multiple majors after the age of 35. Rosewall did it in the early 70s. The game is infinitely more physical now and has much more depth. Also, the 36-year-old has six Australian Open titles. Every player he beat to win his first in 2004 is now retired.

We keep waiting for these two to slow down. They seem intent on keeping us waiting a little while longer.

The ability to stay healthy

There is an old saying in football that availability is your best ability. The same is true in tennis or any other sport.

Whether you look at Federer’s younger challengers in tennis or Brady’s in football, almost every one of them has dealt with major injuries as their careers have worn on. Brady missed the 2008 season after a knee injury in the opener. Federer’s knee kept him off the tour from the summer of 2016 to January of last year. Other than that, neither have missed extended time due to injury.

Brady’s commitment to keeping his body fresh is well publicized. Other than very smart scheduling, Federer’s is less so, but clearly just as effective. To be a living legend at any sport, you have to almost obsess over your craft. These two have always had that covered.

A second run of dominance 

It would be a stretch to say either of these incredible athletes was ever an afterthought in their sport, but not much of one. Following a third Super Bowl in four years after the 2004 season, Brady’s Patriots were always in the mix for more titles, but were dealt a string of tough playoff and Super Bowl losses.

Had he walked away from the game without more Super Bowl wins, his legacy as the greatest quarterback ever would not be as secure as it is. This is especially true once we all learned of the Spygate and Deflategate scandals.

Minus the scandals, everything above can be said of Federer had he not won more majors following his win at Wimbledon in 2012. He already had the greatest of all time title in hand in 2012. Still, he was in danger of becoming something we see all too often in sports. A legend who held on too long.

Now, three more majors for Federer and another chance for Brady to win three titles in four years has us in awe of both of them. No matter what happens for the rest of their careers, they each have cemented their legacies as the best to ever undertake their respective crafts.

What makes them different?

Brady is a little more clutch

In football, history judges the best of the best based on the playoffs and the Super Bowl. In tennis, it is about major finals and head-to-head rivalries. Federer has contested 30 major finals and Brady has played 36 playoff games. Despite Brady’s teams having six more chances to lose on the biggest stages, they still have only nine playoff losses while Federer has 10 losses in major finals.

Moreover, Brady’s head-to-head edge over other great quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger has long been established.

Conversely, Federer’s chief rivals have been Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. When you take into account all meetings, Federer only has the edge against Murray. There is much more to be said about Federer’s competition later.

You don’t get as good as these two without being clutch, but Brady has the advantage in this area.

Brady has had better help 

At its core, tennis is obviously an individual sport. Despite that, it is also more of a team sport than people realize. There are many coaches and trainers that put a ton of work into getting a player on the court and in a position to be successful.

Roger Federer Tom Brady

Photo: si.com

Federer has had some legends like Paul Annacone and Tony Roche in the coaching box over the years. Even so, Switzerland did not have a rich tennis history prior to Federer. So, he likely didn’t have access to great facilities growing up.

Meanwhile, Brady was drafted to what many people feel is the greatest coach and owner ever. He would have been very good no matter where he ended up. Still, he would not be what he is today had he ended up in a place like Cleveland or Cincinnati. Brady has made the careers of several castoffs. However, he has also been surrounded by his fair share of all-time great talent like Bill Belichick, Randy Moss and Rob Gronkowski just to name a few.

Federer has had stiffer competition

This is the most glaring difference between the two. Brady and New England have to beat great teams in the playoffs every year. However, the best way to ensure playoff success is playing at home.

Roger Federer Tom Brady

Photo: talktennis.com.

The best way to make that happen is winning your division. New England shares a division with Miami, Buffalo and the Jets. For the vast majority of the last 20 years, these organizations have not been able to get out of their own way. New England has failed to win the division just twice since 2001. You only need two hands to count the total number of playoff wins to count the rest of the division has combined for during the Brady-Belichick era.

On the other hand, Federer has had to deal directly with Nadal, Djokovic and Murray for 11 months a year for the past decade plus. All three of those guys will likely join Federer in the greatest of all time discussion when their careers are over. The only question mark is Murray. The other two are already well into double-digits as far as major titles.

As noted earlier, Federer’s record against his chief rivals is not all that convincing. Still, the fact that he has been able to rack up 96 total titles and 20 majors in an era of such great players speaks for itself.

Who is better

Tennis people are going to say Federer and football people are going to say Brady. I am a rarity in that I am both. I say who cares? They are both awe inspiring. Whether you tune in to see them win or to hope they lose, enjoy greatness while it lasts, because it does not last forever.

 

Featured image from SI.com

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NFL MVP leak?

 

 

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Thanks to a photo taken by Brad E. Schlossman we may have gotten an early view at this year’s NFL MVP. It looks like the award is going to *drumroll* Tom Brady!

In a rare but opportune moment captured by a camera, it looks like we have a very clear document of what looks to be Tom Brady’s MVP acceptance speech. If you look closely you can very clearly make out exactly what the document reads, which is more than enough to spoil the winner early! But is it really a spoil?

Brady threw for 32 TD’s to 8 INT’s with a 102.8 passer rating on his way to a #1 seed in the AFC along with yet another trip to the Super Bowl so it may not come as a surprise to many that Brady could win the MVP award for a 3rd time.

What is a surprise however, is perhaps the carelessness with which these sensitive documents are being paraded around with. It could be a speech that Brady wrote in case he does win, but I am not sure the GOAT would waste his time like that, on this of all weeks “just in case” he won. Only time will tell whether this document is legit or not, but for now, maybe this is that extra hint you needed to bet against your friends, that don’t think Brady will win the award this year. Whoever and wherever they may be.

 

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5 things to watch for in Super Bowl LII

The Super Bowl is fast approaching and will feature an underdog team going against the best franchise of the 21st century. With every game in the NFL there are a lot of things to watch for, but with the Super Bowl there are even more things to be aware of. Here are the top five things to watch for in Super Bowl LII.

1. Brady And Belichick could cement their statuses as the best

Last season Tom Brady won his fifth Super Bowl, with a dramatic comeback win over the Falcons. At this point he has proven all of his doubters wrong and has claimed his spot among the all-time greats. With the win last season, Brady has the most Super Bowl wins ever by a quarterback. He is currently tied with Charles Haley for the most Super Bowl wins by a player regardless of position. A win this year puts him in a class all by himself.

Belichick has had a great 20 year run that ranks him among the best coaches of all time in any way you measure it. His five Super Bowls are the most by a head coach and a win in this Super Bowl will put him in a tie for second with six NFL Championships with George Halas and Curly Lambeau. Only Paul Brown has more with seven. Belichick is only behind Halas in winning percentage of the four coaches named, sitting .3 percent behind him at .679.

2. Chris Long and Legarrette Blount against their former team

5 things to watch for in Super Bowl LII

LeGarrette Blount and Chris Long (Photo by usatoday.com)

There is a short list of players who have won consecutive Super Bowls with different teams. No one significant has won a Super Bowl one year and then beaten that team while a member of an opposing team the next.

Long was cut from the Rams in 2016, mulled retirement and then joined the Patriots before last season. He recorded four sacks in the regular season for New England that season and got his first Super Bowl ring. After the season he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and has now helped lead them to their first title game since 2005.

Blount started his career with the Bucs, but then landed with the Patriots, which led him to more success. After a short stint in Pittsburgh, Blount returned to New England for another stint. He too was on the Super Bowl team last year, but also was on the team that beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX.

Both Long and Blount say it’s all business when they hit the field against their former friends, but it should be fun to watch.

3. The commercials

Almost every Super Bowl party has some non-sports fans that are just there for the party atmosphere and the chance to watch some new, highly-funded commercials. Last year advertisers paid $160,000 per second on average for commercials.

While the commercials aren’t a part of the game, they are a huge part of the event that is the Super Bowl. Some of the most memorable ads have come from the Super Bowl. Whether it’s the Apple 1984 commercial or the Budweiser “Wassup” commercial, fans often relate to the ads for years after their completion.

This year, there are many possibilities, but most fans are probably waiting to see what Bud Light does with their “Dilly Dilly” commercial series.

4. Betting

The Super Bowl is a time where fans of all ages like to gamble. Whether it is a cool board at the Super Bowl party that allows people to put a dollar on the total number of points in the game or betting the over/under, it has a place in a lot of peoples’ lives.

There are many different types of NFL bets that can be placed and that includes prop bets.. Virtually everything in the Super Bowl is bet on. These bets include: what color liquid is dumped on the winning coach, heads or tails on the coin toss, who scores the first touchdown etc.

Casual fans should place some prop bets to make the game a little more interesting, while avid fans can really dive into the more traditional bets.

5. The holding of the Lombari Trophy

5 things to watch for in Super Bowl LII

Tom Brady (Photo by yahoo.com)

Every year after winning the championship, there are some magical moments of watching players celebrate their great accomplishment. When the clock hits zero the confetti starts to come down and the looks of joy start to appear on the faces of the winning team.

Once that settles down, a temporary stage is put on the field to officially award the trophy. Once players and staff get a chance to hold the trophy, it signifies a validation of their life’s work. It also signifies the end of another great season of football and the start of the offseason.

 

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A Tale of the Tape: New England Patriots

The Pittsburgh Steelers… The Dallas Cowboys… The San Francisco 49ers… are some of the most storied franchises in the NFL. However, on February 4, 2018, the New England Patriots have a chance to surpass them. They hone one the most impressive dynasties in professional sports. Last year, critics raved as Tom Brady surpassed the great Joe Montana in Super Bowl wins when he helped his team defeat the Atlanta Falcons.

After a playoff run that raised some eyebrows, the Patriots look to climb the mountain once again. This season came with its up and downs, but looked like another great season of the past. Led by arguably the greatest coach of all time, they finished a season that bloomed from a questionable start.

This year, Tom Brady separated himself from the doubters and set the bar to the highest its ever been. Coming into the season as the favorite to return and win the Super Bowl, the Patriots started off unusually bad. After a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, critics were quoted stipulating that the Patriots had taken a step backwards. Turning forty in August, Tom Brady’s abilities were questioned if he could lead his team back to the Super Bowl.

The defense faced strong criticism also. After allowing an astonishing 537 yards with almost 150 yards in rushing. Blinded by a facade of the championship prior to the season, the team went through a bit of a search for its identity.

But of course the team rallied behind the veteran presence of Brady, who led by example. In his seventeenth season, Brady put up 4,577 passing yards and 32 touchdowns as the 2x MVP look as dominant as ever.

The defense also followed him. After an abysmal showing in the beginning of the season, the defense grew immensely. After only allowing 366 yards per game this year, the defense became an anchor for the team. Last week, the anchors came up again. The high ranked defense stopped one of the best rushing attacks in the NFL and set up a signature fourth quarter comeback from Brady.

The Patriots have looked as dominant as they did at the beginning of their reigning dynasty. Thirteen years ago, they edged the Eagles in a score 24-21. If history repeats itself, the Patriots are looking good once again.

Tom Brady walks into this game as the greatest quarterback that ever lived, but could possibly walk out the greatest player to play in the NFL. For him, he has a legendary coach behind him. One could mention without Bill Belichick behind his sails, Tom Brady might not have made it this far, but that’s not a knock on Brady.

If anything, it’s in his favor. You can’t separate the greatness from Noll and Bradshaw, Walsh and Montana or Johnson and Aikman, so why separate the dynamic duo of Belichick and Brady? It is said, “Greatness is measured through repetitions of consistency”.

Time will tell how Belichick and Brady measure among the great ones. Till then, the time to witness their greatness is now. Super Bowl LII will be a testament to that. If the Patriots have anything going for them, it is a resume and laundry list of teams by the years that failed to stop them. On that list, the Eagles have shown up once but after February 4th, they might show up twice.

 

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We need baseball back

We need baseball back ASAP

Alabama football just won its fifth National Championship in nine years. The New England Patriots have been to seven straight AFC Championship games and are favored to win its third Super Bowl in four years.

In 20 of the last 21 seasons, Mike Krzyzewski and his Duke Blue Devils have earned a four seed or better in the NCAA Tournament. This season, they are off to an 18-2 start, and when it comes to next year, the Blue Devils will have the nation’s top three recruits all wearing blue and white. That’s right, R.J. Barrett, Zion Williamson and Cameron Reddish, the three highest recruited players in the country, have all committed to Duke. UConn women’s basketball has been to 10 straight Final Four’s and have won four out of the last five NCAA Tournaments.

We need baseball back

In the last three Finals, we have seen these two square up. (Photo from slamonline.com)

Barring an epic collapse, the Golden State Warriors will win its third championship in four years. Despite what the media says, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, in all likelihood, will face the Warriors in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season. This would mark LeBron’s eighth straight Finals appearance.

In October, the Warriors opened as a -240 favorite to win the title. The best odds given to any 2018 MLB team to win the World Series is +525.

In 2016, the Minnesota Twins went 59-103, which was good for the worst record in baseball. A year later, with virtually the same roster, they were competing against the New York Yankees in the AL Wild Card game. From 2011-13, the Houston Astros averaged 54 wins per year. In 2017, they won 101 games and were World Series Champions.

Translation: baseball is the most competitively balanced sport, and it’s not even close. Sure, dominance like Brady and Belichick, Nick Saban, LeBron, the Warriors, Coach K and Geno Auriemma is awesome to see, but as a fan, isn’t it better to have more parody and uncertainty when it comes to sports?

Systems

Not only is baseball the most competitively balanced sport, but it is also the only sport in which we can accurately critique someone’s skill level on a yearly basis. We know college is all about recruiting. The best coaches recruit the best players.

Last season, in the NFL, we saw the Rams finish 4-12 under coach Jeff Fisher (4-9) and John Fassel (0-3). Quarterback Jared Goff went 0-7 as a starter, and Todd Gurley rushed for under 890 yards and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.

Now was this because these players were bad? Of course not. They were just in a garbage system, and an offense that, according to Gurley, “looked like a middle school offense.”

We need baseball back

Gurley averaged less than four yards per carry a season ago. (Photo from CBS Sports)

This season, with head coach Sean McVay, the Rams looked like a completely different team. They beefed up the line, and Goff threw 28 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. Gurley had 19 total touchdowns and over 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 15 games. He became one of 11 running backs in the history of the sport to accomplish these two feats in the same season.

Tom Brady is widely considered as the greatest quarterback of all time, but have you ever seen Aaron Rodgers throw a football? Do you know how many top-10 defenses, in regards to scoring, Aaron Rodgers has played with in his 10 seasons as a starter? Only two. One of them being the time Rodgers helped them win the Super Bowl, and another when they won 11 games.

Since Brady took over as the starter in New England, the Patriots have had 12 top-10 defenses. If Rodgers played with a better coach and personnel, we would probably be telling a different story in regards to the best quarterback.

Case Keenum and Blake Bortles just brought their respected teams into Championship weekend. They were behind center for two of the final four teams, and now the sports media is questioning if any team should pay them “starter” money next season. You know why? Because they are both in good systems with top defenses, and coaches who did a great job hiding their flaws.

Basketball too?

In the 2016-17 season, Victor Oladipo was a solid player for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He averaged about 16 points and four rebounds per game.

After being dealt to the Indiana Pacers in the Paul George deal, Oladipo is now an All-Star. He is averaging 24.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He is also shooting a career-best field goal percentage, as well as 3-point percentage. Oladipo is playing the same minutes he did last year, except on the Pacers, he does not have to play alongside Russell Westbrook, a ball-dominant player.

As a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Kevin Love was a monster. He was a three-time All-Star, and averaged 19.2 points and 12.2 rebounds per game over six seasons. He is the only player in NBA history to have multiple seasons with averages of at least 26 points and 12 rebounds, while shooting over 80 percent from the free-throw line. In 2010-11, he became the only player to ever average 20 points and 15 rebounds, while shooting 85 percent from the free-throw line.

Since being traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Love has made just one All-Star game (soon to be two) and averages less points and rebounds. Of course, this is because he has been the third option in the offense for essentially all of his four seasons in Cleveland.

America’s Pastime

In 57 games as a member of the Detroit Tigers in 2017, J.D. Martinez hit .305 with an OPS of 1.018. In the last 62 games of the season after being traded to the Diamondbacks, Martinez hit .302 with an OPS of 1.107.

Justin Verlander was dealt to the Houston Astros, and he continued to be the same old Justin Verlander. In fact, he was even better than we expected.

Even though they joined new teams, which meant new coaches and new teammates, these players continued to excel. This is because baseball is the purest sport, and the only sport we can examine someone’s statistics, and without hesitation, declare if they had a good season or not.

We need baseball back

No matter the coach, teammates or system, good MLB players produce. (Photo from Over The Monster)

The point is this. In the NBA and NFL, blaming the system, coaches and teammates can all be valid excuses, to an extent, as to why your production is not where it could be. In the MLB, this is not the case. As a starter, you are given the same amount of chance to succeed as any other starter in the league.

A player cannot blame his batting average on the coach, or his teammates. A pitcher can’t tell the media that “the system” is the reason he walked all those batters. As an MLB player, you are either good or you are not. You had a good hitting season, or you didn’t. You either pitched well, or you didn’t.

Luckily, we are a month away from Cactus League and Grapefruit League games. 2018 will be another unpredictable season. The New York Yankees picked up Giancarlo Stanton, which means they have arguably two of the best four right fielders in baseball.

Once Kevin Durant moved to the Warriors, it was obvious they would win the title. In the MLB, big moves like this do not guarantee anything. Baseball will always be America’s pastime, due to its batter vs. pitcher, “You vs. Me” style of play.

 

Featured image from Grantland

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Super Bowl LII preview

Super Bowl LII preview

After an epic championship weekend, which included a come-from-behind victory from Tom “The GOAT” Brady, as well as a flawless performance from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, we are set for a Super Bowl XXXIX rematch between New England and Philly.

In that game 13 years ago, the Patriots defeated the Eagles 24-21. With a chance to win the game, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was picked off by Rodney Harrison with less than 20 seconds to play. This was one of three interceptions that McNabb threw. Eagles star wide receiver, Terrell Owens, who was dealing with a severely sprained ankle and fractured fibula, had nine catches for 122 yards.

Super Bowl XXXIX preview

Patriots celebrating during Super Bowl XXXIX (Photo from Patriots Life)

Tom Brady threw for 236 yards with two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Patriots receiver Deion Branch was rewarded Super Bowl XXXIX MVP after an incredible 11-catch, 133-yard performance.

Now, in 2018, Tom Brady remains behind center for New England, and the Eagles are the biggest Super Bowl underdogs since 2009 in Super Bowl XLIII, when the Arizona Cardinals were seven-point underdogs to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Philadelphia opened as a 5.5-point underdog at The Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas. Keep in mind that the betting favorite has won 33 of the previous 51 Super Bowls.

This will be New England’s 10th Super Bowl appearance and the Eagles’ third. The Westgate SuperBook claimed that had Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz not gotten injured, the game would be pick ‘em. Anyways, here are eight statements to get you ready for the big game.

 1. Nick Foles is coming in hot

Even though Wentz was playing at an MVP level, let’s not sleep on Nick Foles. In the NFC Championship game against the Vikings, Foles played the best game of his career. The 29 year old from Arizona, who was recruited by Georgetown, Baylor and Texas to play college basketball, threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns with a passer rating of 141.4. In the second half alone, Foles went 11-for-11 with 159 yards, two touchdowns and a perfect QBR.

On the season, Foles is now 8-1, the one loss coming in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Cowboys. He joined Joe Montana as the only other quarterback to complete 75 percent of their passes in back-to-back playoff games. He is the only quarterback in NFL history with a passer rating of 100 in his first three career playoff games. Let’s see how he stacks up against the other quarterbacks New England has faced in the Super Bowl during the Tom Brady era.

PLAYER YEAR QUARTERBACK RATING DURING PLAYOFF RUN (GOING INTO THE SUPER BOWL)
KURT WARNER 2001 92.5
JAKE DELHOMME 2003 103.5
DONOVAN MCNABB 2004 111.3
ELI MANNING 2007 107.2
ELI MANNING 2011 108.7
RUSSELL WILSON 2014 96.8
MATT RYAN 2016 132.6
NICK FOLES 2017 122.1

2. This is the Patriots second best offensive team during Brady’s eight Super Bowl appearances

It will be hard for any team to match the production of the 2007 Patriots, but this year’s team finished second in points and first in yards. They were also third in red zone scoring percentage (TD), touchdowns per game and points per play, fourth in yards per play and fifth in yards per pass. All this without one of Brady’s top targets, Julian Edelman.

Going into the AFC Championship game, the Jaguars had allowed just 169.9 passing yards per game. Without Rob Gronkowski, Brady had 138 in the fourth quarter. Translation, they can overcome anything.

3. Penalties could be the deciding factor

As seen in the AFC Championship game, the Patriots don’t get too many penalties. Against Jacksonville, New England suffered just one penalty for 10 yards, while the Jags had six for 98 yards. Only one percent of the time is there an 88-yard discrepancy in penalty yards, and of course, it happens for New England in its biggest game.

Also, in the last seven years of the playoffs, only twice has a team been called for one penalty or less. This happened on Sunday, as well as seven years ago, in favor of, you guessed it, the Patriots.

While New England finished with the second fewest penalties per game, the Eagles had the 10th most penalties called against them.

4. If the Patriots are losing in the second half, they will probably come back and win

After being down by 10 with less than nine minutes to play against Jacksonville, Brady proved why he is arguably the most clutch athlete to ever step on Earth. Sunday’s win meant the Patriots are now 3-4 in the last 10 postseasons when they are trailing by 10 or more points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. During that span, the rest of the NFL is 3-70.

5. This is one of the best defenses New England has faced in a Super Bowl during the Brady/Belichick era

Super Bowl LII preview

Never bet against this man (Photo from Business Insider)

The Eagles allowed the fewest rushing yards in the league this year, as well as the fourth fewest total yards. They also caused the fourth most turnovers. Four appears to be the magic number, as they allowed the fourth fewest points in the league.

The only teams the Patriots have faced in the Super Bowl during the Brady-Belichick era that finished higher in points allowed were the 2004 Philadelphia Eagles and the 2014 Seattle Seahawks.

6. The Eagles can run, and the Patriots might struggle defending it

The combination of Jay Ajayi and LeGarrette Blount, mixed in with a little Corey Clement, was lethal this season. Philadelphia finished with the third most rushing yards per game at 132.2. They also averaged 4.5 yards per carry, which was tied for third in the league.

New England is tied for 30th in opposing yards per rush and 22nd in opposing rushing first downs per game.

7. Both quarterbacks have yet to tHROW AN INTERCEPTION in the playoffs

All be just two games apiece, both Nick Foles and Tom Brady have done an excellent job of taking care of the football. Since 2014, when Nick Foles does not turn the ball over, he is 13-2. During that same span, Brady is 35-7.

8. Jimmy G is getting paid

We know that Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will be appearing in their eighth Super Bowl together, which is twice as many as any head coach-quarterback combo. We also know that Brady will be the first 40-year-old QB to start a Super Bowl.

Those facts are cool and all, but what about the fact that Jimmy Garoppolo is getting paid to watch this game? If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, Garappolo will earn $191K. If they lose, he will get $135K. Must be nice.

 

Featured image by Wtok-Tv

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Blake Bortles

The mysterious story of Blake Bortles

There has been many downs in the short career for the four-year quarterback out of UCF. This year was filled with a few ups that have seemingly defined the potential of Bortles going forward.

This Sunday, he steps into the biggest game of his life as his team prepares to play against the defending Super Bowl champions. With no surprise, the odds are heavily against Bortles and the Jaguars.

The presumed MVP, Tom Brady, left the finishing touches of a spectacular season, going 35-for-53 with 337 yards and three touchdowns in a win last weekend against the Tennessee Titans. The defense stepped up too, limiting the Titans to 65 combined rushing yards.

The Patriots look to capitalize on an impressive win, entering the last pit stop towards Brady’s eighth Super Bowl appearance. However, standing in his way is a young and unchallenged, but unfazed team in Jacksonville.

The Jaguars’ last playoff appearance was 10 years ago. They have turned into a team that sports a young, but hungry coach in Doug Marrone. Marrone has orchestrated one of the best defenses in franchise history, a runaway Rookie of the Year candidate in Leonard Fournette and an offense led by the franchise quarterback, Blake Bortles.

Coming off of a 10-6 record and winning their first AFC South Division championship, Jacksonville is as confident as ever rolling up in Foxborough, facing the most storied franchise in the last two decades. But many are doubting them.

Facing the largest odds in these playoffs, most of which lands on Bortles, the strength of the team comes from its backfield. Unfortunately, on Sunday, it faces its toughest challenge yet when it comes up against the Pats.

If the Jaguars look to pull off the upset this Sunday, the pressure lies behind the arm of Blake Bortles. He’s coming off an impressive season, throwing for 3,687 yards with 21 touchdowns and 13 interceptions this season. His efforts only amounted to the league’s bottom half of total passing. However, with the combination of a great running game and a poised Bortles under center, the odds could be in Jacksonville’s favor. All fingers point to Bortles to be counted out once again. Fortunately, this is not the first time he been counted out.

Humble beginnings

From his high school career to the pros, Bortles has been seen as the guy who others seem to feel will come in second or the “other guy.” During his playing career as the starting quarterback for the Oviedo High School in Florida, Bortles was one of the starred prospects in the area. Locally, Bortles was praised for leading his high school team to a playoff berth in his senior campaign. He finished his career with a county record of 5,576 passing yards and 53 touchdowns.

However, Bortles’ game was outshined by his cross-city rival Jeff Driskel, who was named ESPN’s No. 1 high school quarterback prospect and 10th overall on ESPN’s 150 top high school prospects in the class of 2011.

Driskel, who was heavily recruited by the nation’s top universities, eventually accepted a scholarship to play at the University of Florida to be the next featured quarterback after the decorated career of Tim Tebow. T

he nation’s eyes were on Driskel as Bortles wasn’t even recruited to play quarterback. Many schools, including Tulane, Purdue, Colorado State and Kansas State were all interested in the prospect, but none of which wanted the recruit at his respected position. Wanting to fulfill his aspirations of playing quarterback at the Division I level, Bortles eventually committed to play at the University of Central Florida, less than five miles from his high school campus.

Bortles’ start at UCF was difficult, again being seen as the second guy, this time to his fellow freshman. He regularly lost time behind starting quarterback Jeff Godfrey, who led the Knights to a 10-3 record in the 2010 football season.

With Godfrey’s play reminiscing the best true freshman performance since Daunte Culpepper, Bortles was seen to be on his way to exiting the program. Reports around the school’s athletic program suspected that UCF head coach, George O’Leary, was contemplating using the 6-foot-5, 210-pound freshman as a tight end going forward. However, these allegations were put to rest at the beginning of the 2011 season with Bortles backing up the starting position.

Photo by Rob Leifheit-US PRESSWIRE

During the season, starting quarterback Godfrey had trouble mixing the chemistry with the younger core group of the team. During this time, Bortles had standout performances in the time he was given against Charleston Southern, BYU and SMU. Despite a 5-7 season for the Knights, Bortles threw for 958 yards and six touchdowns, which solidified his starting position as the quarterback for the upcoming season.

In 2012, Bortles started all 14 games for the Knights, leading them to a 9-4 record and a bowl win in the 2012 Beef O’Bradys Bowl. Bortles won MVP, throwing for 271 yards with three touchdowns on a 76 percent completion rate.

Bortles went on to finish the season with 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 144.5.

The turnaround

Despite a breakaway season for Bortles, he was not touted as one of the nation’s top players. Before the 2013 season, Bortles had failed to make any top 100 list of prospects for the upcoming draft. Not allowing it to get to him, Bortles led the UCF Knights to an 11-1 season (its best record in school history until this past season) and captured the inaugural American Athletic Conference Championship. He threw for 3,581 yards and 25 touchdowns with a 67.8 percent completion rate for the year.

Bortles concluded the season leading UCF to its first major bowl bid in the BCS era, facing the eighth ranked Baylor Bears in the 2014 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. He went on to throw for 301 yards and four touchdowns. He also added a rushing total of 93 yards in pursuit of UCF upsetting Baylor 52-42. Bortles was named the game’s offensive MVP.

(Photo by Matt Kartozian, USA TODAY Sports)

Despite not being on any NFL Draft prospect lists at the beginning of the season, reports had shown that Bortles had quickly risen up the draft boards, even at one point showing that the junior could be the first pick in the entire draft. Bortles would then forgo his senior season at UCF and went on to become the third pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Jaguars.

Jacksonville

Over the years, the Jaguars have slowly and steadily made additions to its team in efforts to surround a franchise quarterback. The team lacked depth and experience. They also lost the former top pick Justin Blackmon, and its 2011 draft pick, Blaine Gabbert, was struggling.

Jacksonville made a desperate attempt to free up the base. They lost acclaimed running back Maurice Jones-Drew in the offseason and traded away Gabbert to the San Francisco 49ers.

Bortles, whose career reflects those immense changes, struggled as a rookie as the Jaguars limped through a disdainful season, falling to 3-13. Bortles only threw for 2,908 yards and 11 touchdowns with an abysmal 17 interceptions.

The Jaguars kept Bortles as the starting quarterback over Chad Henne, who had started the first three games of that season. The Jaguars looked to fit pieces around its young quarterback after allowing a record 55 sacks, a problem that would continue to plague them in the next season as well.

With minimal changes to the team, Bortles overcame the unfavorable predicament with a strong season, throwing for 4,208 yards and 35 touchdowns, his career best. Despite heroics from Bortles, the Jaguars struggled to find the team’s identity and finished the season 5-11.

Blake Bortles

(Photo from Jaguars.com)

The 2016 season brought on problems, but ultimately a focus for the Jaguars. Allowing the of rest of the team to follow, the franchise led towards fortifying its defense, bringing in newcomers like Malik Jackson and Prince Amukamara. They used draft picks on Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey and UCLA’s Myles Jack, both have shown to be cornerstones of the defense. Jacksonville also added Dante Fowler Jr., who was drafted the season prior, but was lost to a season-ending ACL injury.

Unfortunately, Bortles had a setback for the year and was seen as the root of Jacksonville’s problems. In the beginning of the 2017 season, fans argued that Henne should be restored as starter over Bortles with reports of the franchise in consideration of doing so. However, after a 3-13 season and the firing of Gus Bradley, new head coach Doug Marrone started his tenure with a clean slate and went along with Bortles being the starter for the season.

Armed with an ambitious franchise and a talented offense to complement a tenacious defense, Bortles put up his most efficient season, helping the Jacksonville Jaguars set up its first winning season in 10 years. They captured the AFC South divisional championship and a playoff berth. But as always, the critics returned.

In the Jaguars’ Wild Card matchup with the Buffalo Bills, Bortles threw just 87 yards on 12-for-23 passing. He threw a one-yard pass to Ben Koyack late in the third quarter for the decisive score. Despite pulling out a win, Bortles misfired on many passing attempts, feeding fuel for doubters. Some of which called his performance “awful,” along with both teams’ performances being “unwatchable”.

Questions mounted as Bortles and the Jaguars went up against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Many believed that the Steelers and the New England Patriots were destined for a showdown in this upcoming AFC Championship game, counting out the Jaguars to put any doubt in that vision.

However, the Jaguars never faltered and never trailed in the game, beating the Steelers by a score of 45-42. Bortles put up 214 passing yards on 14-for-26 passing and delivered a touchdown in the fourth quarter to hold back Pittsburgh to set up a date with the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship.

The matchup

With no surprise, the Patriots are favored to win this Sunday against the Jaguars. Despite a slow start to the season, the Patriots have cashed in on everyone’s predisposed notions of its return to the Super Bowl. They garnish a veteran all-time great coach and a quarterback who looks to cement his legacy amongst the greats.

For the Jaguars, well they have, Blake Bortles. The four-year man out of UCF, whose team faces one of the largest underdog odds in these playoffs. Once again, Bortles is the second guy, the “other guy.”

Although he is coming off arguably the greatest season of his young career, he falls in the shadow of someone who outshines him. Lucky for Bortles, he’s been here before, and despite the opposition, he has a crew that looks as determined and as confident as he is.

From a far sight, Bortles looks to come in second just like he did in high school, or at the collegiate level, or even the first steps of his professional career. With that being said, it should be safe to save some chips for the Jaguars as we have seen this team reach pinnacles this season beyond their expectations. Why should this game be any different? And for Bortles, his opposition shares a familiar tune.

Some time ago, Tom Brady was a relative unknown leading a forgotten Patriots team against some of the most star-studded teams of his time, beating the St. Louis Rams heralded as the “The Greatest Show on Turf” on the grandest stage of them all and giving birth to a dynasty for the ages. Perhaps this is Bortles’ time. Though he faces a threat that is far superior than his previous challenges were, Bortles is a far more superior version of his past self. And just like before, as the world looks on for him to be second, Blake Bortles looks to finish first once again.

 

Featured image by Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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