The Route 4 Sports Podcast: LIVE (7:00 - 9:00 EST)

Today Jason and LaShawn talk about the NFL including Adrian Peterson's suspension, players walking off the field, a look back at week 11 and looking forward to week 12.  Plus the fellas will talk MLB with the Giancarlo Stanton contract, Alex Rodriguez return to pinstripes and the recent trade sending Jayson Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals.  But wait, there's more!  We're going to discuss the NCAA football top 4 teams as they are revealed during the show and hit the court with the latest in the NBA.  With the fantasy football playoffs approaching don't hesitate to call in for advice with your line-up, potential trades or anything else on your mind.  If you love talking sports then call the guys tonight and have some fun! (516-418-5946).

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College Football Playoffs: Success of Bust

When the idea of the College Football Playoffs came up, there were mixed emotions. Entering this year, the team of 13, NOW 12, were placed to pick the "best teams" out of the country who would give us the most entertaining playoffs for college football, very similar system to the NCAA Tournament in college basketball. When the season began, the fear was that the SEC teams would dominate the top four spots, leaving out other potential candidates. But as the season proves, that is not necessarily the case.

The obvious undefeated comes from the ACC and the reigning, defending champion Florida State Seminoles. One loss teams in the running are from the SEC, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, Big XII conference leaders, the TCU Horned Frogs and Baylor Bears, The Pac-12 Oregon Ducks and Big Ten Conference The Ohio State Buckeyes, ALL vying for a seat at the big kids table come Bowl season. If you count here, you count seven teams listed.

This four-team playoff system is a DRAFT of what the future of the College Football Playoff system is going to be. Ideally, the system should include eight teams,. No more and no less.

There is no question that the SEC has the best competition within themselves. But put them on a neutral field against another top team from another conference and you just never know what is going to happen. Do people need to be reminded of Boise State vs Oklahoma?

The job of the playoffs is to give MORE chances,  MORE opportunities for other conferences to get that bigger piece of the money pie from college athletics and into their programs, to help their recruitment futures.

Will the College Football Playoffs succeed, only time will tell. One thing is for sure that is settled, the continuing talks that were thought to be missed by the BCS being eliminated were SORELY mistaken. Lots to talk about and debate when it comes to whose in/whose out of the College Football Playoffs.
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My Message To Bears Fans

When your favorite team loses, the last phrase you want to hear is: "It's only a game."
Of course it's, "only a game," but that's not the point.  
It's about dedication.  It's about an unwavering loyalty, which to some who are not familiar with the sports world, may call "insane."  That's an acceptable notion.  It's about the team colors, rivalries and tradition.  The Chicago Bears organization has had one of the most loyal fan-bases in American sports and the fans have gotten little in return. 
Let's not talk about the 1930's, 40's or 50's teams, please.  Let's not speak of Red Grange and Sid Luckman.  Lets not even speak about Gale Sayers and Dick Butkis.  Oh, the Super Bowl XX Champions?  Yeah, let's bring that up every time we're backed into a corner about our relevancy in the league.  Mike Ditka, Walter Payton, fine.  Bring those names up, at least they were relevant in the age of color TV.  
Walter Payton was the last player the Bears had of any real relevancy, and he retired in 1987.  Think about it, over the last 20 years the Lions, Vikings and Packers (all division rivals) have had arguably the best player at their position in their times.  Detroit: Barry Sanders and now Calvin Johnson; Minnesota: Randy Moss and Adrian Peterson; Green Bay: Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.  
What was that?  Oh, Brian Urlacher.  Sure he was without a doubt, our guy, but have you heard Urlacher recently?  Ever since his career ended on bad terms with the Bears, he has been nothing but overly critical and at times seems spiteful in his speech towards the team he spent his entire career with.  Yeah, that's our guy. 
Under head coach Lovie Smith, there was as a definite resurgence in the organization.  Smith led the team to the top of the division three times and made the playoffs a total of four times.  Smith led the Bears to Super Bowl XLI where they lost to the Colts 29-17 and was awarded with an extension soon after.  Although through his defensive scheming, Lovie Smith brought back the "Monsters of the Midway" - it was the Bears' offense which seemed to be it's achilles heel, year after year.  
In 2013 the Bears decided to think "outside the box" and hire Marc Trestman . . . and that brings us to present day.  
The Bears are currently 3-6 in a season that many thought would find them at the very least,  a wild-card team in the playoffs.  Those three wins included a ridiculous fourth quarter run against the under-achieving 49ers, an 8 point win over the lowly Jets and win over the Falcons, which doesn't mean what it did two years ago.  Let's not forget, all those wins were on the road as well.  The Bears are currently on a three game losing streak including blow-out loses to the Patriots and Packers where the Bears gave up 51 and 55 points respectively.  
The players have seemingly tuned out head coach Marc Trestman, and along the way have lost a feeling of urgency, accountability and pride.  The Bears defense, lacks any talent or leadership, and those woes were supposed to have been cleaned up with free agency.  Jared Allen was brought in, if not to be the force he was with the Vikings - to at least be a leader on and off the field, but even a player who's character has been noted as one of the most excitable players in the league, has found himself muted. Lamaar Houston is a bust and this group of line backers may collectively be the absolute worst in the NFL.  Add to the fact that defensive coordinator Mel Tucker has no business in this league and you have a disaster on your hands. 
Offensively, this was supposed to be a top five unit.  This is where Trestman supposedly excels and yet, it's as confused a bunch as there is in the league.  The offensive line is inconsistent (with play and health), the play calling is borderline juvenile and there is no trust - in Cutler, or Cutler in this offense.  Jay Cutler continues to turn the ball over, which has brought about frustration in the locker room but even then - nobody seems to care.  
Cutler never gets yelled at or even spoken to on the bench after a bad read.  Marc Trestman doesn't get his head out of his play calling chart and the defense shakes their heads after nearly every play, while defensive coordinator Mel Tucker makes no adjustments. Yet, after getting blown out on national television by the rival Packers, ending the season in week 10 for Chicago - nothing changes.  Head coach Marc Trestman still has his job and even in his press conference reassured the jobs of those on his coaching staff.  Why hasn't general manager Phil Emery made a move?  Or ownership? Because it's "da Bears."
So my question to you, fellow Bears fans: "Why should we care?"
We have spent our hard earned money on tickets, jerseys, hats, food and grills for tailgates - we've shunned away family events because "the game is on," - we strategically plan our Sundays around that three and a half hour time frame that the Bears are playing.  We have let our Monday mornings be destroyed by the heartache of losses like November 9th's 55-14 slaughter at the hands of the Green Bay Packers.  We have tossed remote controls against the walls, broken many i-Phone screens slamming them to the ground (I've had my screen fixed four times in the last two years) - and we keep on coming back.
It makes no sense.  It's like the guy who goes back with an ex girlfriend who's cheated on him twice before.  You know how it will turn out and you still put yourself in a situation where you know you'll get hurt.  You're the idiot who thinks to yourself: "This time it will be different." 
In truth, this time it is a little different.  This is one of the more embarrassing times to be a Bears fan.  Although the records in the league tell you that the Jets, Titans, Raiders , Bucs and Jaguars all have worse records - when the Bears play badly, they outplay all the bad of those teams combined.  The worse thing this organization did, was give us expectations that this year would be different.  We're the fools for believing. 
In closing, my message to my fellow Bears fans is not to quit being a fan of the team - we all know, you can't quit love - but stop being the fool.  Stop going to the games, stop buying the merchandise.  Stop giving this team money and they might start to give a damn about the product they put on the field.  Maybe they'll get people in the right places in this organization to give it's fans what they truly deserve.  And this goes beyond deserving a championship - we as the fans deserve some respect. 

Sincerely, A Bears fan for life
G.W. Gras 
twitter @GeeSteelio
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Heisman WATCH: Who is making the trip to NYC

As the first week of November comes to a close for the college football weekend, it was indeed a crucial one for individuals making their case for Heisman consideration. So lets review the top four candidates and see if things have changed a bit.

1. Marcus Mariota, University of Oregon: The preseason favorite continues to put up numbers in the Ducks offense that are insanely incredible. To date, Mariota has thrown for 2,780 yards with 29 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Add in the 524 yards rushing with eight touchdowns and you have an offensive weapon that defenses just cannot seem to game plan for. With the exception of the University of Arizona, who gave the Ducks their lone loss on the year so far, the Ducks have dominated their competition. Just last night, they clinched the Pac-12 North title as they beat the Utah Utes. Mariota is the lead dog and pending a complete collapse, expect to hear Marcus Mariota name as one of the finalist invited to NYC for the Heisman Trophy awards ceremony and if I were a betting man, Mariota is as close to a sure thing this year as Cam Newton was several years ago.

2. Melvin Gordon, University of Wisconsin Badgers: With just over 1,500 yards rushing this season, Melvin Gordon has proven himself to be the top running back in the nation. His 19 touchdowns also add to this very impressive resume. But it is not just the numbers, but how these numbers are reached. Good old-fashioned ground and pound offense. RUN RUN RUN and see if you can stop Gordon for the Badgers and their offense. Opposing defenses know what's coming, and whether they put eight men in the box, or even more than that, Melvin Gordon just bulldozes his way straight through. While the Badgers may not be fighting for a Big Ten title this year, it most certainly is not the fault of Melvin Gordon. NYC be ready for Melvin Gordon and his running style are coming to the Heisman show.

3. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State Bulldogs: While Dak's numbers pale in comparison to those of Marcus Mariota and other potential candidates, Dak STILL has led the Bulldogs to be atop of the college football world. His key decision-making, his timely play making and ability to not make that crucial mistake to cost his team the game, shows what a true Heisman winner is expected to do. Dak has thrown for 2,231 yards with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions (kind of a high number there). But his rushing attack makes up for it as Dak has 779 rushing with 11 touchdowns to date. With key wins against a number of ranked opponents, Dak Prescott has proven to be a very valuable asset for the Bulldogs and also earned his way to a trip to NYC.

4. Amari Cooper, University of Alabama Crimson Tide: When was the last time that a wide receiver was considered a true favorite for the Heisman Trophy JUST AS a wide receiver? Been a long long time but Amari Cooper looks to make his case to be the latest. With 79 catches to date for over 1,215 yards and 10 touchdowns, Cooper this season has become the Crimson Tide's all time leading receiver. Regardless of who was under center for the Crimson Tide, one constant remained, Amari Cooper continued to bring in the balls, score touchdowns and pile up numbers that continue to keep Alabama dominant in the SEC and the college football world. There is no question a seat is reserved for Amari Cooper in NYC and the Heisman ceremony. Can he win it with just his wide receiver numbers though, that is the question that remains.

OTHER players to consider:

1. Brett Hundley, UCLA Bruins: Granted Hundley did struggle with some injuries during the season, when he is in and when he is on, he is the best NFL prospect coming into next season's NFL Draft because he has the most experience playing in a "pro-style" offense. His 2,547 yards passing beats out Dak Prescott of Mississippi State (a favorite) and Hundley's (17 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions) touchdown-to-interception ratio ALSO beats out Prescott's numbers.

2. Trevone Boykin, TCU Horned Frogs: Oh what a difference a year makes and for Boykin a year has proven to lead to a much more improved, more mature QB for the Horned Frogs. Boykin and his offense are capable of putting up fifty burgers on any team they face. Boykin has thrown 2,691 yards passing with 23 touchdowns and just four interceptions (a much better touchdown-to-interception ratio than last season). Add in Boykin's 544 rushing with seven touchdowns and you almost have a mirror image of Marcus Mariota of the Oregon Ducks. One final factor that could have Boykin making the trip to NYC for the Heisman awards is there is always one play that stands out and against Kansas State just last night, Trevone Boykin has his Heisman play, when he scrambled in for a touchdown and got flipped over into the end zone while STILL holding onto the ball. The one major drawback is the fact that the Big XII is STILL without a championship game, an obvious disadvantage to Boykin's campaign.

So as the college football season ends come near, be sure to reflect on these predictions for the Heisman as the awards ceremony draws near. Will the Heisman favorite take it or will someone rise to dethrone said favorite. Which player will be able to have the title of "Heisman Trophy Winner" added to their resume?
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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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