NFL: 8 Weeks - 8 Things to Know

We're at the halfway point of the season and although some teams have played one more game than others as the bye weeks continue, we are beginning to get a much clearer picture of who's going to be playing playoff football in January.  As always we have our surprises and disappointments as the 2014 season progresses and it's safe to say that from here on out some teams will go on winning streaks and others will fall apart.  Which teams they are remain to be seen but I have learned at least 8 things about this NFL season that should hold up for the rest of the year.

1.  Andrew Luck is a top tier quarterback.  He's not Peyton, Brady or Rodgers but he is elite.  The man carries his team and has brought them to the playoffs since he arrived in Indianapolis in 2012 and the Colts appear on their way back to a division title.  Much like when Peyton was running the show for Indy, Luck doesn't have a great defense to support him so he has to make plays all game long and thus has a bag full of comeback victories only 2 and half years into his pro career.  The determination and will to not give up was shown in his greatest comeback victory against the Chiefs in the post season last year.  He leads the NFL in passing yards and touchdowns in which he has 22.  His career best is 23 and there's still 8 games to go!

2.  Never count out Tom Brady.  After the Patriots got beat down a few weeks ago against the Chiefs and people began to write them off, Brady began to play his best ball of the year.  He's had 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the last 3 games in wins versus the Bears, Jets and Bengals.  He's made his fantasy football owners very happy (including me).  He still doesn't have the best weapons in the league and makes due with what he's got.  But Brady always seems to get better as the season goes on and builds that rapport with his yearly stock of new wide receivers.

3.  Antonio Brown is as good as any receiver in the league.  He's not the biggest and he's not the strongest wide out in football but he is one of the fastest, best route runners with superb hands.  He belongs in the conversation with Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Brandon Marshall and the rest of the top receivers like Dez Bryant.  Brown is Big Ben's go to guy and the defense knows it and can't stop it.  He can run any route and then outrun his opponents almost every time.  When you discuss the best WR's in the NFL you better not leave out Antonio Brown's name.

4.  It's not easy to repeat as champions.  How many knowledgeable football fans believed the Seahawks would be (4 - 3) right now and 3rd in their own division after half a season?!  Not me and I'm a Niners fan.  If not for Russell Wilson who is just a phenomenal player, Seattle may be under .500 and in even worse shape as they have scratched out late wins in a few games already this season.  They still have to play Arizona and San Francisco twice a piece so the champs may be the chumps come week 17.  They've lost significant players and every team plays their best ball when they face the defending champs.

5.  Arian Foster is the best running back in the league when healthy.  Yes this is a scientific fact.  He can rush with the best of em' and pass catch out of the backfield with the nest of em'.  Just look at what he's been doing over the past few weeks...his stats are ridiculous.  People quickly forget how great he actually is when he's on the field.  He may be the biggest threat in the league that doesn't play quarterback.  All due respect to Adrian Peterson, LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray and the other top running backs in the NFL but Arian Foster can do everything those guys can do and do it better.  He's a human joystick for XBOX.

6.  The Cowboys are for real.  I'm aware they lost Monday night to the below average Washington Redskins, but that was in overtime and a divisional game which are always tricky.  They lost by a field goal and the only other loss they have this season at (6 - 2) is against the 49ers in a game they outplayed the opposition.  The ball bounces funny sometimes and DeMarco Murray must get a good laugh at it because he has issues holding on to the ball.  Nevertheless, the Cowboys offensive line, running game and defense have all improved.  Combine that with an underrated Tony Romo and boys like Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Terrance Williams then we're talking about a legit contender.

7.  Peyton Manning is officially on the NFL QB Mount Rushmore.  Now that he's broken many of the top quarterback records of all time and is still going at an incredible pace makes Peyton and immpotal in the NFL universe.  I'll be the first to admit that he doesn't play as well in the post season as he does the regular season.  You can attribute that to a lot of things such as playing the better teams in the playoffs so the games are tougher.  Not to mention the lack of a running game and way below average defense for the majority of his career.  He's an old school player in the sense that he's a coach on the field and calls the game himself at the line of scrimmage.  He brought back this lost art and now many teams have tried to follow in his footsteps.  Everyone says Peyton makes his players better.  And they're damn right!  He's been to 3 Super Bowls on two different teams and although he's only won 1 Lombardy Trophy, just getting there 3 times and never missing the playoffs for about 95% of his career is amazing in itself.  Plenty of folks have Dan Marino on their Mount Rushmore of QB's.  Well he only went to 1 Super Bowl and they lost.  So.....

8.  Defense and rushing the ball are once again becoming the keys to victory.  All you have to do is look at the best teams in the NFL over the past 3 years or so.  Okay we can take away Peyton and Brady because they are NFL legends but how bout the reigning champions in Seattle?  Or their biggest competition in San Fran and Arizona who are winning by running the ball and playing solid defense.  How about the Bengals and Cowboys!  This may be the era of passing the ball but the teams with the best records in the league either have a top level QB or have adopted the old school smash mouth football that would make Jim Brown and Dick Butkus proud.

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McCoy's MNF Moment

October 27th’s Monday Night Football game was more than a close contest which involved one of the games greatest rivalries. It was more than the 6-1 Cowboys playing host to an underwhelming Redskins team.  And it was more than a 3rd string quarterback starting against “America’s Team,” – or was it?
The Redskins third string quarterback Colt McCoy received the start due to the benching of back-up Kirk Cousins in the previous week, who was keeping the seat warm until Robert Griffin III returned from injury.  McCoy hadn’t started a game in 3 years but McCoy is a different breed of  “third string quarterback.”
Colt McCoy was once the pride of the state of Texas. He was selected to Texas’ All-State first team as a high school football player and he who found his way to the University of Texas where his legend had been cemented. Before McCoy finished his collegiate career at Texas, he accounted for over 30 of the school’s passing and total offensive records.  He also set NCAA records which included “highest completion percentage in a season (76.7%)” and tied the record for “most touchdown passes thrown by a freshman (29).”
The 2010 BCS National Championship game was supposed to be the storybook ending to his collegiate career, but things went sour quickly.  McCoy sustained a shoulder injury early in the game, forcing him to watch his team lose to Alabama 37-21.
Colt was dealt a pretty raw deal when entering the draft as NFL pundits questioned his arm strength, size and just how healthy he would be come draft time.  For all the talk that associates quarterbacks with wins – a kid who was seemingly allergic to losing, was about to get the short end of the stick.
Colt found himself drafted in the third round by the Cleveland Browns.
For a kid who had known nothing but success at a prestigious university he was in for a rude awakening in Cleveland. McCoy had some flashes, but mostly struggled while in Cleveland as it was a team lacking much talent or much of an identity. While at Cleveland, McCoy’s completion percentage was below 60% and had a quarterback rating of 74%.  This was a far cry from what the world remembered out of the two time Heisman Trophy candidate.  In 2013 the Browns traded McCoy to San Francisco where McCoy recorded one pass, for one completion, for 13 yards.
That brings us to Monday Night.
For a kid who’s glory days of playing high school and college football in the state of Texas — playing in prime time, against the Dallas Cowboys – this was going to be the biggest moment in his professional career.
The Redskins (who entered the game as a nine point underdog ) put up a fight most didnt think they would muster. Colt McCoy at times looked a bit flustered and did throw a poor interception in the first half, but by Halftime the Redskins were only down. 7-3.
The second half showed the Colt McCoy of old. The Colt McCoy that ruled the state of Texas.
McCoy put his head down and ran a gutsy 7 yard touchdown to put his team up 17-10 in the fourth quarter. He was greeted with excitement by his fellow teammates in the end zone who seemed happier than he was about the score.  Moments after the dramatic run, McCoy’s jubilation may have turned to nerves as he played off the moment with a poker-face on the sideline. When the game went into overtime, McCoy outdid the showing of “grit” on his run, by escaping a Dallas pass rush and scrambling to the left.  While on the run, McCoy spotted tight end Jordan Reed and directed him to run into a fade route.  What resulted from that, was a beautiful touch pass from McCoy received by Reed who showed off his acrobatic like balance along the sidelines to make the catch.
In short, McCoy was able to put the Redskins in position for the game winning field goal. Sure, he had to wait and see his defense do their job and stop Dallas from scoring any points on their next drive – but a win is a win, and for Colt McCoy it felt as good as a winning touchdown pass in the final play of the game.
With Robert Griffin III rumored to return next week, maybe this will be the end of McCoy’s story.  Then again, he is backing up a quarterback who, for all things considered, is injury prone – so maybe all is not over for McCoy.  In two games, McCoy has completed 85% of his passes for an average of 10 yards a clip.  No need to draw up a quarterback controversy – RG3 is the Redskins’ man, but this is Colt McCoy’s moment.
G.W. Gras
twitter @GeeSteelio
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NFL Power 32 - Week 9

Okay so now what?  The Cowboys who were talked among the best teams in the NFL and maybe the best overall in the NFC Conference.  I doubt people will rank Dallas in the top 3 now after losing at home on Monday Night Football to the inferior Washington Redskins and their 3rd string quarterback Colt McCoy.  I guess any given Monday!

Other teams held serve like the Cardinals who beat the flying high Philadelphia Eagles in Arizona Sunday afternoon.  The Broncos did their thing Thursday night after beating down the Chargers.  Other teams looked like garbage as they did much of the season like the Raiders and Jaguars who now have a combined record of (1 - 14).  It's getting harder and harder each week to rank these teams because I believe some are overachieving and others are underachieving.  Here's The Sports Prophet's best guess at this weeks power rankings.

1. Denver Broncos
2. Arizona Cardinals
3. Detroit Lions
4. New England Patriots
5. Dallas Cowboys
6. Indianapolis Colts
7. Cincinnati Bengals
8. Philadelphia Eagles
9. Green Bay Packers
10. San Diego Chargers
11. Baltimore Ravens
12. Seattle Seahawks
13. San Francisco 49ers
14. New Orleans Saints
15. Kansas City Chiefs
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
17. Miami Dolphins
18. Buffalo Bills
19. Carolina Panthers
20. New York Giants
21. Chicago Bears
22. Houston Texans
23. Washington Redskins
24. Cleveland Browns
25. Atlanta Falcons
26. Minnesota Vikings
27. St. Louis Rams
28. Tennessee Titans
29. New York Jets
30. Tampa Bay Bucs
31. Oakland Raiders
32. Jacksonville Jaguars
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WHOA Pump the Breaks Cowboys Nation

Last night, the Washington Redskins beat the Dallas Cowboys 20-17 and it seemed like QB Tony Romo was playing like a "deer in front of headlights." Rightfully so BUT before everything, all the talk, gets out of control like it normally tends to do for this particular team, lets review their season to date.

RB Demarco Murray is leading the NFL in rushing with 1,054 yards and is tied for first with seven rushing touchdowns. His presence on the field without question is the difference maker, as long as he continues to get fed the rock AND can limit his turnovers. Murray has earned his name in the MVP talks this year because of how important he is to the current 6-2 record that the Cowboys possess.

WR Dez Bryant has grown and matured into the receiver that the Cowboys have waited for him to be. His 620 yards receiving with 5 touchdowns is one thing, but it is his focus, his determination and his much improved sense of control is what continues to have the Cowboys winning games and making a strong run not just for the playoffs, but potentially a DEEP playoff run, the first time THAT has happened for the Cowboys since the 1995 season when Barry Switzer led the Cowboys to the Super Bowl.

QB Tony Romo making smart decisions with the football has him with a much better completion percentage (68.2) and a well above average QBR (103.6).  Throwing for 1,998 yards with 15 touchdowns to just six interceptions is exactly what the Cowboys need to win football games. They are NOT the Denver Broncos, NOT the New England Patriots. They are the Dallas Cowboys, running the ball, making timely pass plays is THEIR game and Romo is following that game to the letter and THAT is why their record is 6-2 and not the other way around.

Offensive Line of the Dallas Cowboys was the hole over the last several season. But over the course of the last two seasons, Owner/General Manager Jerry Jones addressed the very need. This year standout and Offensive Rookie of the Year Zack Martin last night proved his weight in gold with some of those blocks that sprung the running backs behind him to break free for huge gains. Protecting Romo and opening large running lanes is the Cowboys offense, it is their championship pedigree and the Offensive Line is just as responsible for the 6-2 record the Cowboys have as the previously mentioned Romo, Murray and Bryant.

So WHOA Cowboys Nation. WHOA. The Redskins threw everything but the kitchen sink at Tony Romo and that Cowboys offense. Do you think the Broncos would be doing that? The Eagles or Packers or Seahawks or Cardinals? Redskins reeked of desperation and left that secondary completely vulnerable. League is all about adjustments and the Cowboys will address their blitz pickups and protection well before the playoffs arrive.

Be more concerned about the Demarco Murray fumbles more than anything else.
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NFL Halfway mark: Surprises & Disappointments

We are at week 8 of the regular season in the NFL, which marks the first half as done and the second half & playoff push begins.  So lets go over what we have learned in the first half.

Three AFC Surprises:

1. The Buffalo Bills: Their defense is clicking on all cylinders, just as it was last season. With a 4-3 record they are second in the AFC East, behind the New England Patriots. The two-headed monster at running back, CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson always find a way to carry the offense and whether it be EJ Manuel or Kyle Orton at the QB position, the Bills look to make a powerful impression on their NEW owners with a playoff spot. Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate WR Sammy Watkins continues to perform and could very well earn himself a spot in this years pro bowl. No one circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills, remember that.

2. Denver Broncos DEFENSE: While the offense always seems to put up record numbers, it is the much improved Broncos defense that has taken the spotlight this year. The acquisitions of free agents Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware and TJ Ward helped to solidify some obvious gaps, combined with the return of Von Miller, that much needed pass rush comes from all sides while a much more solid secondary gives the Broncos pass rush the time to hunt opposing QBs down.

3. Baltimore Ravens Offense FLYING: With the departure of former RB Ray Rice, most thought that the offense would be relying heavy on QB Joe Flacco and his receiving core. While TE Dennis Pitta was his favorite target to start the season, free-agent Steve Smith Sr. (SMITTY), who came over from Carolina, has become his former ALL PRO self, leading the Ravens in catches, yards and TDs. While TE Owen Daniels seems to be the answer to replace Pitta the rest of the season, it will be up to WR Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones to pick up the slack as teams will look to take SMITTY out of the equation. RB Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett will have to work together to make up the obvious missing numbers that Rice left behind.

Three AFC Disappointments:

1. The Cincinnati Bengals: Most experts were picking the Bengals to not just win the AFC North but in some instances, were picking the Bengals to make a DEEP playoff run. Yet again, the Bengals find themselves chasing a much better coached, talented team (Ravens). The Bengals defense, which was once one of the best in the league, seems to be finding its way to lose games, letting WRs get loose in coverage and missing tackles badly. Bengals may have a 3-2-1 record but considering their preseason expectations, they are more of a disappointment so far, but then again, there is a whole second half of the season to go.

2. The Chargers vs Top Teams: While the Chargers got the win against the Seahawks which showed the hole in the Legion of Boom defense of the Seahawks, the Chargers continue to have issues with top tier teams in the NFL. Losing to the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos over the last two weeks, and losing to the Arizona Cardinals to start the season, the Chargers still have to prove they not only belong in the playoffs BUT are serious contenders. They did beat Buffalo earlier in the season but the Bills are a team that have not made the playoffs in quite a while. QB Phillip Rivers is clearly an MVP candidate and Chargers all-time receiver TE Antonio Gates, continue to solidify the Chargers in a Wild Card slot for the playoffs. Can they beat the elite teams moving forward, this will tell if the Chargers are serious contenders or just like the Bengals, out quick.

3. Raiders, Jaguars, Jets = 2 wins COMBINED!: As the headline says, three teams together has just 2 wins between them. The Raiders are breaking in their QB of the future in Derek Carr, the Jets just cannot seem to get their issues at QB resolved as Geno Smith continues to struggle and when Mike Vick comes in, the results come out. The Jaguars started the season with Chad Henne, but the season changed when their 1st round pick QB Blake Bortles took the reigns from Henne. It is obvious rebuilding for the Jaguars but what about Jets and Raiders? Raiders seemed to be a much better team on defense, a solid running game with Darren McFadden and MJD, but the problems are still there at the WR position as their is just one one WR that can dominate the field like most teams have.

As it stands right now, the preseason playoff predictions I made look firm:

AFC West: Denver Broncos
AFC East: New England Patriots
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens
AFC South: Indianapolis Colts
WC 1: San Diego Chargers
WC 2: Pittsburgh Steelers.

Three NFC Surprises:

1. The Dallas Cowboys running to W's: It sure looks like the Dallas Cowboys have finally got a handle on what they need to do to win football games, give the ball to their RB and MVP candidate DeMarco Murray, who could break Eric Dickerson's single season rushing record if he stays healthy. QB Tony Romo is being Tony Romo, NOT Tony OH NO. The other surprise is how much the defense of the Cowboys has stepped up and made some key places, no game more noticeable than when the Cowboys went toe-to-toe with the vaunted Seahawks Legion of Boom defense, The Cowboys are playoff contenders, no question about it. NOW can they get past the first round of the layoffs, THAT is a completely different question.

2. Arizona winning DESPITE QB issues: Whether it is Carson Palmer, Drew Stanton, or the local market grocery bag boy, the Cardinals and their high powered defense is leading the charge in the NFC West this year. Their defense led by full time CB Patrick Peterson, has proven to be a formidable foe against opposing offense, giving the Cardinals a 5-1 record to date and a very power statement win against the heavily favored 49ers. WR Michael Floyd continues to breakout into super-stardom and up and coming WR John Brown has become that "go-to-guy" when the Cardinals need a first down or a needed score. That does not even go into the All Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald who seems to be having a slow start once again. RB Andre Ellington, though having some injuries issues, can and does produce and produces mightely for the running game.

3. Disciplined Lions Defense???: It has always been talked about, "The Lions can be an elite team if their defense can stay disciplined and NOT commit so many mistakes." Well, this season for some reason, that Lions defense is so much more disciplined and their 5-2 record clearly proves it. As the Lions lead the league in overall defense, the front seven led by DTs Ndamukong Suh and Nick Farley, the opposing QBs favorite song quickly becomes Queen's "Under Pressure" because they are always under enormous pass rush pressure. QB Matthew Stafford continues to be a very productive QB (high risk = high reward). If the Lions are to be a playoff team, it will be because of their disciplined defense.

Three NFC Disappointments:

1. Seattle Seahawks team unity no more???: It seems that the Legion of Boom has lost some of its luster, some of its mystic.  Secondary's are getting beaten, front seven is not getting as much pressure on the QB as they use to and all the signs are pointing to cap casualties. The 3-3 record and a defense that just seems to be missing something that last season got them a Super Bowl victory. Getting fooled on special teams (TWICE), drama now fills the locker room with the departure of Percy Harvin. Half way through the season, the .500 Seahawks have to find that formula and get back to that Super Bowl form, running the football and making timely plays on both sides of the ball. STILL they have disappointed so far.

2. Chicago Bears say what ... exactly: Holding a 3-4 record, losing 3 out of the last fours game, it seems like the Bears are taking a step back from their preseason prediction as NFC North favorites. Reports from Bears locker room say that WR Brandon Marshall has spoken his frustrations towards his BFF QB Jay Cutler. Former players peaking out about Cutler's skill set and if he is truly the answer at QB. The Bears defense is a mere shell of itself, clearly rebuilding. The offensive pieces are there, RB Matt Forte to run the rock, Marshall on one side and Alshon Jeffery on the other and the Black Unicorn Martellus Bennett roving the middle. Last several games, Cutler has been in more of the "Bad Cutler" mode rather than the "Good Cutler" where he does not make obvious bad throws and turnovers.

3. NFC Bottomless South: With just one team at 3-3, that being the Carolina Panthers, who are 3-3-1, the NFC South looks to be the NEW "NFC Least" division, but that didn't fit quite right. So lets call it the NFC Bottomless South as three teams, two of them supposed favorites are barely sniffing at .500 records, let alone, playoff pace cords. The New Orleans Saints and the Atlanta Falcons clearly are missing some moxie or mojo that normally would carry them every season into the playoffs. It has been a long time since there was a repeat NFC South champion and the way things are looking, this could be the first time in a long time that there is a repeat division champion, the Carolina Panthers. Halfway through the season though, more time for the Falcons and Saints to get their teams in gear for a much needed playoff push.

NFC preseason playoff predictions I made were (not so firm now):

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks
NFC East: Philadelphia Eagles
NFC North: Green Bay Packers
NFC South: New Orleans Saints
WC 1: Arizona Cardinals
WC 2: Chicago Bears

It is HALF WAY through the season and if history says anything, for teams that have 3 or more wins, they STILL have a shot to make the playoffs. So, as Aaron Rodgers, QB of the Green Bay Packers said before we then went on his MVP tear on the field ... R-E-L-A-X.
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Introducing Derrick Hector to the NFL

You never know who you're going to run into or connect with on a daily basis.  I've been blessed and honored to meet some great professional athletes and hear their stories of success, failure and the road to riches in the sports world.  It's been a pleasure meeting people like Ty Law, Frank Gifford, Antonio Freeman, Mario Manningham, David Wright, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran, Keyon Dooling and a bunch more that have become pro athletes.  Then there's the day you sit in the barber shop next to someone who is trying to make it to the pro's and willing to give it everything he/she has to do it and fulfill their dreams.  This happened to me just the other day.

The gentleman I most recently made the acquaintance of is Derrick Hector.  It was obvious immediately that this guy was an athlete.  The man is 6'4 weighing solid muscle of 225 pounds.  Oh by the way as we were speaking he informed me that he has serious speed as he clocks in well under 4.4 in the 40 yard dash.  While we were talking I asked him a few questions in which he began to peak my interest.  The first thing he said that was a bit eye popping was that Chris Chambers, former Miami Dolphins wide receiver had taken Derrick under his wing.

Chambers was a very good wide out on teams that had sub-par quarterbacks.  But he worked hard and played hard and that is an attribute both he and Derrick share.  Like Chambers, Derrick Hector is a strong wide out, with high quality speed and route running.  Plus Derrick has serious hands as you'll see in the short video below.  And like I mentioned before, he's 6'4 which is a major plus when evaluating talent and need at the receiver position.

Derrick played high school ball in Mobile, Alabama at John L. Leflore High School.  After graduating he went on to play college ball at Miles College in Birmingham.  If you know football then you know Alabama is football.  Georgia knows a thing or two about the pigskin as well and Derrick finished his last 2 collegiate seasons at Morehouse in Atlanta.

What stood out to me about all that Derrick had to say is that he's had tryouts with a few different teams and after being denied the chance to play in the NFL he keeps working harder and harder every day and is in the best shape of his life both physically and mentally.  His work ethic is incredible and the man will not take no for an answer.  He recently had tryouts with the Dolphins, Packers and Bears and is likely to get a call back from one of those teams or another to suit up and play on Sunday afternoons.  That moment will be the ultimate prize for a man who relentlessly worked his tail off to become a professional football player.  He has the mindset, the physical skills and consistent determination to be a complete asset to any team in the league.  Watch the video, remember his dimensions and think about how your favorite team can benefit from a player like this.

More to come on Derrick Hector on The Route 4 Sports Podcast this Sunday morning as we prepare for another week of the NFL where Derrick thinks we'll be talking about him on the show as a player and not a guest.  Although when he makes it to the big stage we hope he comes back on the show.  For now enjoy this short video and listen live from 11:00 - 1:00 EST as Derrick will join us at noon!

Derrick Hector Work Out Video  

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Top 5 NBA Storylines

With only 5 days until the highly anticipated 2014 - 2015 NBA Season begins, this is one of the most anticipated seasons in some time. Here are 5 story lines you need to know about as the season tips off October 28th.

5. Hopeless in Hollywood?
    With Kobe Byrant only playing 6 games and the Los Angeles Lakers finishing last season with a pitiful 27-55 record they look to bounce back this season. Last season Kobe Byrant and Steve Nash were both injured early last season and it only got worst from there. Steve Blake, Jordan Hill, and Jodie Meeks would later get hurt also, all of these injuries forced the Lakers to sometimes only put 10 or less players in uniform. Then the offseason came and the Lakers would lose Jodie Meeks to the Pistons and 2 time champion Pau Gasol to the Bulls. The Lakers did also add a new coach in Byron Scott and a couple of players like Carlos Boozer, Jeremy Lin and drafted Foward Julius Randle and Guard Jordan Clarkson. Will Kobe and Nash come back the same players of old and are these new pieces enough for the Lakers to make a playoff push? We will see come this NBA Season.

4. Rookies with Potential
    This years draft class could be the deepest draft class in the last 10 years. With names like Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Jabari Parker and Dante Exum just to name a few, looks like these will be fun players to watch as they begin their careers. One important rookie who wasn't drafted this year will be Nerlens Noel of the Philadelphia 76ers as he will get his first look at NBA action returning from a injury he suffered at the University of Kentucky on February 12th, 2013.Some other notable rookie stories included Andrew Wiggins the 1st overall selection in this years draft by the Cavaliers was traded to the Timberwolves as a key piece in the deal that would send Kevin Love to Cleveland. Jabari Parker who was selected directly after Wiggins by the Milwaukee Bucks will join the likes of OJ Mayo and Giannis Antetokounmpo.Or maybe it could be a big man like Julius Randle or even Australian guard Dante Exum to grab your attention.Which of these rookie will separate from the rest to win Rookie of the Year ?

3. Heat still a hot team in the East
   As we all should know by now LeBron James left the Miami Heat this offseason to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. Also losing players like Mike Miller , James Jones to the same team. The Heat did keep two of three players in their "Big 3" Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. To fill in the hole left by LeBron James the Miami Heat added two Forwards Danny Granger and Luol Deng. Granger was a former leading scorer for the Indiana Pacers in the past and a all star. Deng is a great defender and also a former all star. The Heat also made a splash in the draft by adding University of Connecticut Guard Shabazz Napier. Napier is a two time champion in college and had a amazing March to lead Connecticut to a championship last year.The East still not as good as the West gives the Miami Heat a chance to be a top 3 seed if all goes well.

2. Can chemistry get the Bulls a top seed?
    Derrick Rose is back and with a improved team. Derrick Rose was the NBA's Most Valuable Player in the 2010-2011 season and since then has suffered knee injury after injury. Rose is back with teammates like Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, and others but after letting go of Boozer the Bulls have adding more pieces. Pau Gasol former Lakers Foward brings a great replacement for Boozer. Gasol averaged 17.4 points and 9.7 rebounds a game. His nearly 10 rebounds a game will be a good piece with Noah in their front court. The Bulls also added another forward via the NBA Draft Doug McDermott from Creighton. With more chemistry then other big teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers gives the Bulls a good shot a being the top seed in the East.

1. Return of The King 
  LeBron James made the biggest splash by far this offseason by signing back to his home town and former team the Cleveland Cavaliers. In only a fashion LeBron could by writing a piece for Sports Illustrated named " I'm Coming Home ". Coming back home joins him alongside Kyrie Irving and new coach David Blatt. The Cavaliers would also go to add 2 of LeBron's former teammates James Jones and Mike Miller.The Cavs would go on to add another superstar in a 3 team trade, this deal sent the Cavs past two number one overall selections Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins to the Timberwolves and bringing Kevin Love to Cleveland. Love last year was a 26.1 points and 12.5 rebounds a game guy which will bring a down low and outside presence. This is a very strong team and the only thing possibly standing in their way to win the East is themselves or any possible chemistry problems between new teammates.

This is sure to be a interesting year.

Picture via : StarAfrica
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UNC Academic Fraud Investigation

Independent investigations have concluded that the University of North Carolina has been found to be committing Academic Fraud. Professors setting up classes that were easy to pass for their athletes. It was reported that over 1,500 students of the over 3,000 enrolled were attending these "sham classes" for over 18 years (1993-2011).

"Like everyone who reads it, I was shocked and disappointed," UNC-Chapel Hill chancellor Carol Folt said in a public statement. "Those people implicated were terminated and we will cooperate with the NCAA to find the people responsible and hold them just as accountable and take decisive action."

Former players have spoken out and admitted to their participation in said actions. Former UNC basketball player Rashad McCants admitted he took four "No show" classes, failed two other classes and was still put on the Dean's List Honor Roll while he attended school.

Former UNC football player Deunta Williams spoke to ESPN's Outside the Lines and talked about his experience with classes.

"My advisers told me about these classes, these paper classes," Williams said. "You didn't have to show up. You could get help writing your papers. You will get an easy 'B' if you can read at a third grade level and graduate. It couldn't be too hard, your know?"

The "sham classes" were used to elevate the players' GPAs so that they could keep themselves eligible to play during the season. It was no secret that this was going on across the board. Some of the classes that were identified at UNC-Chapel Hill were labeled as "Independent Studies" and even some "African American Studies" classes were apart of these "sham classes."

It is said that it is a system wide corruption in the NCAA, lets take it one step further. When kids are pushed through school with programs like "No Kids left Behind." When schools pass "problem children" just to get rid of them without taking the time to learn what the real problem is, just proves that the entire education system is a complete mess. But lets keep it to college and the always controversial NCAA.

Has the NCAA gone too far this time? Has this whistleblow situation opened that "Pandora's box" filled with corruption? Time will tell but one thing is perfectly clear, something smell rotten on Tobacco Road ... and it is NOT tobacco either.

So much for the "Student-Athlete" concept in college.

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World Series Preview: SF Giants vs Kansas City Royals

Tonight begins the World Series of Major League Baseball and for the first time ever, two wild card teams represent their leagues. The San Francisco Giants, who seem to win a World Series almost every other year and the "Cinderella darlings" the Kansas City Royals, who have not been to the World Series in 29 years (1985 last appearance).

Let preview the matchup that, while appearing on the Mad Scientist podcast on The Sports Chronicles Radio Network, the Dark Knight of Sports predicted before it became a reality.
 Mad Scientist Podcast_MLBtalk_1hourmark

With the visiting team, the Giants, it seems like the edge on offense belongs to them. Power at the plate with Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey, power and average with Hunter Pence and a rejuvenated Travis Ishikawa in the lineup, it allows Manager Bruce Bochy to leave extra power on the bench like Michael Morse, who was key in getting the Giants past the Cardinals in the NLCS.

Will Madison Bumgarner continue his postseason dominance? Will Jake Peavy show his "Cy Young" form or the form that can be most erratic? Will the Giants bullpen help or hurt the Giants? When it is all said and done the Giants have been here before. They know how to handle the big lights on the brightest of stages and the fact of a long layoff for their AL opponents, could very well be an advantage in getting a win in the opponent's ballpark.

Not since 1985, has a World Series been played in Kansas City. Ending one of the longest playoff droughts in all of baseball, the Royals look to take every single chance they can to make the most of this chance. Going 8-0 in the postseason, Ned Yost's first postseason, is a huge accomplishment in itself. Add the fact that once the 6th has come and gone, and the Royals have the lead, their bullpen is the BEST in all of baseball.

Speed and defense this year for the Royals has been fun to watch and has driven opposing managers insane in their membrane. All-Star Alex Gordon looks to lead his team with his power and spectacular and AL MVP rookie outfield Lorenzo Cain, looks to continue to have a huge first year campaign adding a World Series ring to his list of accomplishments. Third baseman Mike Moustakas looks to continue his power postseason run as he leads the Royals with four home runs and the continued "Yosting" may just win a World Series for the Kansas City Royals.

The one question is that starting rotation, hence the bringing in of free agent James Shields. Known as "Big Game James" was signed from Tampa Bay for just this occasion, to give a solid game and to dictate the outcome of the series. Can Wade Davis continue his long-inning relief dominance? Can closer Greg Holland continue to be lights out when the ninth comes with a 1-run lead on the line?

As the World Series begins tonight, this game is one that is not for the faint at heart. It will be an up and down series, very intense emotional series. Some even have deemed this series "The Zombie Apocalypse" because of how these two teams have played in the postseason. There is something magical happening in Kansas City this year. Can the magic last to win the World Series for the Royals or will the Zombies in orange, the San Francisco Giants remind the world who they are, a DYNASTY in the world of baseball. The questions begin to get answered tonight on FOX at 8pmEST/5pm PST.

Be sure to follow me on the Twitter machine: @619_Shawn_NYC_E, that's a lot of underscores but that is how I roll on Twitter. Also catch me, The Dark Knight of Sports at Dark Knight of Sports.
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NFL Power 32

After 7 weeks of the 2014 NFL season, do we really know who'll be in the playoffs or not?  Not really with the exception of the Denver Broncos.  That's the only team in the entire league I can say for sure will be in the tournament.  Okay maybe the Colts and, wait for it........the Cowboys are possibly locks for the post season as well.

I gotta tell ya that this is one of the more exciting seasons to start with the apparent larger scale of parity throughout the league.  This is what makes the week 8 power rankings so difficult to slot 1 - 32.  But to make it easier on myself I'm strictly going with the eye test, some stats and the way the future looks for each team.  So here it goes boys and girls.

1. Denver Broncos
2. Dallas Cowboys
3. Philadelphia Eagles
4. Indianapolis Colts
5. Arizona Cardinals
6. San Diego Chargers
7. Seattle Seahawks
8. Green Bay Packers
9. Baltimore Ravens
10. Detroit Lions
11. San Francisco 49ers
12. New England Patriots
13. Cincinnati Bengals
14. Kansas City Chiefs
15. New York Giants
16. Chicago Bears
17. Pittsburgh Steelers
18. Houston Texans
19. Miami Dolphins
20. Buffalo Bills
21. Cleveland Browns
22. New Orleans Saints
23. Carolina Panthers
24. St. Louis Rams
25. Atlanta Falcons
26. New York Jets
27. Minnesota Vikings
28. Washington Redskins
29. Tennessee Titans
30. Jacksonville Jaguars
31. Oakland Raiders
32. Tampa Bay Bucs
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