Sunday, April 6, 2014

Giants, Belt off to Hot Start

With the San Francisco Giants opening their 2014 season on the road with trips to face the division rival Arizona Diamondbacks as well as the Los Angeles Dodgers, the GMen ride a hot start into San Francisco for Tuesday's Home Opener. After taking 3 of 4 in the desert followed by 2 wins in 3 games vs L.A., the 5-2 Giants will host their first game of the season as they welcome the D-Backs for a three game set. Failing to complete the sweep against the archrival Dodgers on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, the Giants stand atop the NL Western Division standings in first place. For a team that's been better known for their pitching over the last few years, it's been the Giants' bats that have landed them in first place.

After placing dead last in the league in home runs last season and near the bottom of the pack the last few years, the Giants as a team have already belted 10 Home Runs on the year in just seven games. Something that took them 18 games to accomplish just a year ago. Four of which have come off the bat of first baseman Brandon Belt who has so far this year shown the Giants the power they've been expecting from him since drafting him in 2009. Through seven games, Belt who finished with 17 homers in 2013, trails only Arizona's Mark Trumbo who has five homers on the year including one off of Tim Lincecum in Thursday's D-Backs-Giants series finale. Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey has also contributed a pair of Home Runs to start the year while Angel Pagan, Hunter Pence, Pablo Sandoval and newcomers Michael Morse and Brandon Hicks have all gone deep once.
While it's unlikely they'll be able to maintain their recent slugfest the rest of the way as the Giants get set to take to the much more pitcher friendly AT&T Park, I can easily see them putting up a decent Home Run total this year opposed to the last few seasons. But hitting the long ball won't be the only thing Giants fans hope to see an improvement from last year. Starting pitching which has been the bread and butter of the orange and black for the last several years, saw both former ace Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong take a step back from their 2012 output. While Vogelsong spent time on the disabled list, Cain struggled for much of the season and suffered from a rocky first half before bouncing back down the stretch. 2-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum had slightly better numbers in 2013 than he did in 2012, but still had an ERA north of 4.00 and has yet to regain the magic that put him among the top hurlers in the game.

Madison Bumgarner who was named the ace on this year's starting staff, would be the only bright spot in the rotation while logging a superb 2013 season and being named to his first All-Star Game. Last season also saw the last of Barry Zito in a Giants uniform as the Giants chose not to accept the 2014 option on the veteran southpaw's contract who was replaced with the elder but more consistent Tim Hudson. Hudson dazzled in his Giants debut, pitching 7.2 innings of 3-hit, shutout ball as the newest member of the rotation struck out 7 Arizona batters and was awarded with the Win in a 2-0 victory. The 38-year old Hudson will look to carry that momentum into Tuesday's game as he gets set to start the Giants' Home Opener against the same team he pitched against in his debut. Catch Hudson and the Giants kick things off at home for the first time this season as they take on the Trevor Cahill who will be seeking revenge for the (2-7) Arizona Diamondbacks at 1:35 p.m. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Redskins' former foe Jackson lands in D.C.

Last Friday, the Philadelphia Eagles made the puzzling decision of releasing Pro-Bowl receiver DeSean Jackson despite the 27 year old wide-out coming off of a career year in Philly. In his first year in head coach Chip Kelly's system, Jackson flourished by putting up career high's in receptions (82) and receiving yards (1,332), while tying a personal best in touchdowns (9). While you would assume the numbers would guarantee him a position on the team the following season with three years remaining on his contract, Kelly and the Eagles decided to part with their most dynamic offensive weapon. Jackson was released by the organization for what the team described as a poor work ethic and his alleged ties to gang activity. While there's no proof linking Jackson as being a gang member, both of which wouldn't nearly be enough to keep teams from wanting to add Jackson to their roster as he garnered the interest of more than eight teams according to sources.

Among those interested were none other than the Washington Redskins, longtime rivals of the Philadelphia Eagles. Having been a thorn in side of the Redskins throughout his career while a member of Washington's division rival, Jackson has always been one of those players 'Skins owner Daniel Snyder would rather have than have to face twice a year. So it was a no-brainer to go out and make a run for him the moment he became available. After meeting with team officials during the week without reaching a deal, Jackson was spotted at a D.C. nightclub with Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon, cornerback DeAngelo Hall and Washington rapper Wale, hinting that a possible deal was in the works. Days later, Jackson's agent would stop him from boarding a plane to the west coast where he was scheduled to meet with the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers, both of whom were hoping to lore the speedy wide-out back to the Bay Area where he attended the University of California Berkeley. Instead, Jackson was informed that a deal with the Redskins had been reached, inking him to a 3-year deal worth $24 Million ($16 Million guaranteed).

The acquisition of Jackson who can hurt you receiving footballs as well as returning them, bolsters an already star-studded offense that features Pro Bowl running back Alfred Morris, emerging tight-end Jordan Reed and the aforementioned Garcon. Jackson's speed and play making ability figures to make an immediate impact for a franchise that was thought to compete for a playoff spot heading into the 2013 season. One year removed from a 10-6 record and their first NFC Eastern Division title since 1999, the Washington Redskins are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2013 in which they finished last in the division at 3-13. With the firing of head coach Mike Shanahan and the hiring of Jay Gruden, Snyder and company is hoping Jackson is another piece to the puzzle that'll put Washington back on top. Much of that will depend on the health of quarterback Robert Griffin III who clearly wasn't himself in 2013 after sustaining an injury the year before and undergoing surgery during the offseason. While appearing to be a shadow of his 2012 self physically, RGIII was no better mentally as he had the light shined on him every other day it seemed for his roller coaster relationship with coach Shanahan.  
But with 2013 now in the rear view mirror and a fresh start in 2014, Griffin has to like the way things have been going thus far as Snyder and Washington GM Bruce Allen supplied their franchise quarterback with not one but two new targets to throw to in Jackson and receiver Andre Roberts formerly of the Arizona Cardinals. Despite the signings, Griffin knows not to get overly excited and has put a halt on any sort of victory parade Washington fans might already be planning as the 'Skins QB told the media, "Everyone needs to understand that we haven't won anything yet." Having garnered the reputation for winning the offseason championship on numerous occasions with sexy free-agent signings who have failed to deliver when putting on the burgundy and gold, Jackson will be given the chance to crack that spell. As the saying goes, one team's trash is another team's treasure. And granted he probably felt like he was being treated like a piece trash when being told over the phone by coach Kelly himself that he had in fact been released by the team, Jackson and Washington are hoping to make Philadelphia regret releasing their best receiver.

The most intriguing part about Jackson signing within the division is that it'll allow him to face his former team twice a year. But while most experts are deeming the addition of Jackson a disaster waiting to happen due to his unstable attitude and everything else he brings with him, I think Jackson wanting to prove everyone that's doubting him wrong, most notably his former team, will be provide plenty of fuel to spark his fire in Washington. And him knowing he'll have a two shots a year to get even with coach Kelly and the Eagles will do just that.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Friday, March 28, 2014

Stricter Rules to be added to the NFL in 2014

Over the last decade or so, the NFL has become the entertainment powerhouse of the world. Leaving most of its competitors in the dust, the multi-billion dollar brand that is the National Football League is the reigning champ when it comes to being the most lucrative product in the U.S. and has always been about "more." With the proposals of more regular season games being added to the NFL schedule to the addition of more playoff teams thrown into the postseason mix, rule changes are also a hot topic and is something the league looks to add more of. And with the NFL Annual Meetings this week, many of those potential rule changes that were discussed whether accepted and declined, were the talk of the sports world. Here's just a few rule changes the NFL looks to tackle at the start of the 2014 regular season.

One of the most talked about and more controversial rule changes that the league hopes to take head on is banning the use of the 'N' word. In hopes of cracking down on those who use the word on the field, officials will now be assessing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against anyone who's seen or heard using the term which derives from and often reminds us of some of the darkest days our country has ever seen. In the eyes of league officials, cleaning up the language used on the field and eliminating this word is the NFL's way of addressing a mutual respect sportsmanship issue according to the suits. Though playing football in the NFL isn't your everyday occupation, it's a job nonetheless and if someone working at the grocery store for example isn't allowed to use the word when on duty, the same should be said in this case. Not to mention the case that if not all players can say it (those that aren't African American), nobody should be able to. But then again there's always the possibility of calling the penalty on the wrong player which could could open up a can of worms and cause more harm than good.
While the next potential rule change isn't exactly as controversial as the last one, it's guaranteed to be equally as unpopular among players. Having taken a bad wrap for being known as the "No Fun League," the NFL just got a lot less fun for players who enjoy celebrating a certain way after scoring a touchdown. Several seasons ago the NFL went forward with the ban on using the football as a prop immediately following celebratory antics by the creative minds of Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens among others who didn't quite invent the touchdown celebration but without a doubt changed the way we look at them today. Starting next season, officials will be issuing penalties to those who dunk the football through the goalpost. While it's not yet known how many yards will be assessed on the call, this has to be devastating news for Saints tight-end Jimmy Graham who's made it his signature move after paying the end zone a visit. With 41 career touchdown receptions under his belt, including a personal-best 16 TD's last season which led the league, Graham slamming the ball through the uprights has become just as synonymous with his game as his scoring ability. Unfortunately for him, it'll now be followed by a penalty unless he picks up a new move. 

But Graham can't get too infuriated regarding the rule change because he's partially to blame. During a road meeting with the division-rival Atlanta Falcons back in November, Graham scored a go-ahead touchdown and put an exclamation mark on the play by dunking the ball Shaquille O'Neal style with two hands, tilting the goalpost in the process. What would end up being a goalpost malfunction, would create a delay of game, requiring a maintenance crew to bring out a ladder and a level to straighten things out (pun intended). Graham took to his Twitter account after news broke about the new rule change, giving us some laughs by tweeting: "I guess I'll just have to lead the NFL in penalties next year! #FunPolice". Antonio Gates of the San Diego Chargers is another dunk happy tight-end that'll be saddened by this news. Meanwhile, former tight-end Tony Gonzalez who like Graham and Gates comes from a basketball background and also took to the slam dunk quite a few times throughout his Hall of Fame career, seems to have hung it up at the perfect time as he announced his retirement at the end of last season. 
While adding another 5 feet to the goalpost was passed with little debate, potentially tweaking the PAT (point after touchdown) to the 25 yard line has not yet been approved and will be tested during the first two preseason games starting at the 20. It's no wonder that kickers successfully converted on 1,256 of 1,261 extra point attempts this past season, making the PAT virtually outdated and downright unnecessary given how automatic they are. Commissioner Roger Goodell who's looking to breathe some excitement back into the PAT, is hoping this proposed experiment which would basically make the extra point a 37-yard field goal attempt, will do just that. It'll also be a hell of a lot more exciting for teams in the mid-west or far east who play outdoors and endure extreme weather conditions. Assuming it gets approved, it'll also be interesting to see what influence this will have on teams in favor of the two-point conversion.

A few other needed adjustments moving forward include what's being called the "NaVorro Bowman Rule" which allows officials to make the recovery of a loose ball in the field of play a reviewable call. This comes after the blunder that took place during January's NFC Championship between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks in which Bowman severely injured his knee after clearly recovering a fumble to no avail due to the play being non-reviewable. And while we're on the subject of reviews, refs can now seek help if needed by consulting with the officiating department in New York during replay review. Lastly, the game clock will now continue following a quarterback sack outside of two minutes. While many including myself would say the league has tacked on far too many penalties when it comes to hits on the quarterback or players in general, this latest batch of proposed rule changes seem a lot more tolerable than those added in the past. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Lakers' Bryant shutdown 'til 2014-15 Season

Earlier today, Laker fans were given the news nobody wants to hear regarding their team's star player when news broke that Kobe Bryant's 2013-14 campaign would come to a premature end. The 16-time All-Star who missed all but six games this season for the injury-rattled Lakers while batting ailments of his own, was officially shutdown for the remainder of the season on Wednesday, a joint decision made by Bryant and team doctors. Kobe, the franchises' all-time scoring-leader who signed a 2-year, $48.5 Million extension back in November,  has been out since December 17 while nursing a fractured left knee that has healed much slower than anticipated. 

Eight months after going under the knife to repair a torn Achilles tendon suffered last April, Bryant was forced to miss the first 19 games of the season which led to the highly anticipated return that would last only six games before the Black Mamba was once again bit by the injury bug and forced back on the shelf. In the small sample size we got to see Kobe on the court, each game saw him get better than the last. After being given very little time to shake off the cobwebs, Bryant averaged 13.8 points, 6.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and a 42.5 shooing percentage, statistically the worst season of his career despite still being voted by fans into the NBA All-Star Game. Whether or not Kobe would've been game ready before the end of the regular season, a return this late in the year with the Lakers this far behind in the standings would make virtually no sense and would do more harm than good. Though it's never positive news when your star player is ruled out for the year, it could be in L.A.'s case.
With the Lakers unofficially in full on tank mode, Bryant's return at this point in the season would not only jeopardize his career in what's been a lost season but it would also hurt his team's draft stock. In what's been a historically bad season for the purple and gold who sit tied for the worst record in the Western Conference at 22-42 and will miss the playoffs for only the sixth time since 1948, the team's best bet at this point is to continue losing in hopes of improving their chances in the NBA Draft lottery. With this year's draft class regarded as the best in quite some time and expected to showcase the talent of many future star players, rebuilding from the ground up might be general manager Mitch Kupchak's best way to construct a winning team for the long haul as father time has seem to have caught up to the team's franchise player who has 18 years under his belt and will celebrate his 36th Birthday in August. 

With all eyes now on the start of the 2014-15 season as the expected timetable for Kobe's return, the questions of whether or not he can return to the All-Star caliber player he once was will begin to form. But regardless of his critics, nobodies expectations of Kobe will be as lofty as his own. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

49ers Family Fued

Only a month after the last snap of the 2013 NFL season and into the offseason and we've already got one of the more juicy coaching situations developing in the Bay Area. Since the firing of coach Steve Mariucci following the 2002 season, the San Francisco 49ers have looked high and low in search of a winning head coach to no avail. That was until 2011 when the 49ers handed the reigns to Jim Harbaugh who made the leap to the pros after a successful run at Stanford where he coached the program to its first Bowl win since 1996. Even prior to his tenure at Stanford, Harbaugh had tasted victory while at the University of San Diego where he won consecutive Pioneer League titles. So it was no surprise Harbaugh translated his winning ways to the professional level. The speed he did it in, however, was.

Sure he inherited a team rich in young talent, but it was one in need of guidance which Harbaugh supplied along with a system to buy into. Since the marriage that landed him in San Francisco, the 49ers have been one of the most winningest teams in the National Football League. Through three seasons, the 49ers are 41-14-1 (including playoffs) and have made it to three straight NFC title games as well as a Super Bowl appearance under Harbaugh who was named Coach of the Year in his first season and has done virtually everything but hoist the Lombardi Trophy. Something he came one play shy of in 2012. All things considered, the 49ers have finally found themselves a stable coach. However, reports as recent as last week had the 49ers front-office on the verge of sending Harbaugh on his way. News broke out that the relationship between Harbaugh and Niners GM Trent Baalke was a rocky one and has been for some time once trade talks began brewing with San Francisco possibly shipping Harbaugh to Cleveland after the Browns contacted the 49ers and inquired about their coach.
The negotiations that didn't last long before being put to bed were more than enough to send the sports world and social media networks alike, buzzing for days. Team owner Jed York confirmed the story by saying talks were made and discussions were had but nothing further came of it. But the first mistake the 49ers made was listening to the offer in the first place which regardless if the deal goes through or not, can only spell doom for a front-office and their relationship with a head coach moving forward, not to mention one that has already bumped heads with the GM. With the 49ers on the cusp of greatness and a sixth Super Bowl title on the horizon, the team would be stupid to show Harbaugh the door simply because there's no better coach that's currently available to fill the void.

As for those that are pointing the finger at Harbaugh and believe he's the one threatening to leave in favor of a head coaching position in the college ranks, consider this: Never has an NFL coach that endured such success as Harbaugh has, downgraded back to coach at the collegiate level. Why would one possibly leave a team that has made it to three straight NFC Championships and is nesting one of the brightest nucleus' of young NFL players for a college program he would have to recruit for and more than likely build from the ground up? Reports also claim Harbaugh has demanded that he wants more power in the organization as well as more money, both of which the 49ers coach has denied ever saying during an interview with Sports Illustrated where he also had nothing but positive things to say about the organization. Unlike many other feuds we've seen between a head coach and the front-office, Harbaugh has not lost the locker room as 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin told reporters shortly after agreeing to re-sign with the team on a two-year, $12 Million deal. Boldin who led the team in receiving this past season, also explained that coach Harbaugh was one of the main reasons he decided to return in the Bay Area for two more years instead of testing the market as a free-agent.
The funniest part of all might be that the media which has portrayed this whole thing as the downfall of the franchise, has already declared Harbaugh close to being on his way out after this season despite the two years remaining on his contract. The premature assumptions of Harbaugh needing an extension before his current contract is up only fuels this overblown story about the Niners possibly looking to shop their coach. A lot can happen in the course of a year including a Super Bowl victory which would be the perfect antidote to solve the ongoing dispute between Harbaugh and Baalke who's done nothing but draft star-studded talent since being named GM in 2005. While it's the GM who 49ers owner Jed York feels isn't going anywhere anytime soon and has leaned on the side of Harbaugh being the more expendable of the two according to sources, there's plenty of time between now and the start of the season for both sides to mend fences and squash this whole beef if in fact there is one. 

Though often having a flair for the dramatic, Harbaugh has described both he and Baalke as being, "two competitive people that want the same thing." If that's true, they'll settle their differences and work things out for the betterment of the team. As long as San Francisco is putting up W's in the win column, the two can and will coexist on the team's quest for six. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Captain's last Voyage

When the New York Yankees take the field at the start of the 2015 season, they'll be doing so without one of the team's fixtures and all-time greats. Entering his 20th and final season in Yankees pinstripes, shortstop Derek Jeter announced earlier this week that he'll be hanging up his cleats and retiring at the conclusion of the 2014 season. The franchise's all-time hits leader who turns 40 years old in June, broke onto the big league scene in 1995 as an injury replacement at shortstop, a position he would soon takeover and never look back while creating quite the name for himself and setting the standard for many of today's young players. Having achieved just about every highlight and award possible to go along with his five World Series rings as well as date a laundry list of some of Hollywood's hottest babes, there's very few things the one better known as "the Captain" has yet to accomplish throughout his Major League career that is nothing short of first-ballot Hall of Fame worthy.

When he wasn't making dazzling, acrobatic plays with his glove such as his signature "jump-throw", he was diving and crashing into the stands. And when he wasn't doing that, he was getting it done at the plate, driving in runs while earning such nicknames as "Mr. November" and "Captain Clutch". Whatever it was that he did, he gave it his all. But it wasn't until 2012 that we were all reminded that Derek Jeter is in fact human. Though the world didn't come to an end in 2012 like many predicted, the next closest thing happened in Yankee land when Jeter fractured his left ankle while reaching for a ground ball in the American League Championship Series versus the Detroit Tigers. Jeter's absence would be a devastating blow to the Yankees lineup as Detroit went on to sweep the series and advance to the Fall Classic. The injury to Jeter's ankle along with a handful of other ailments would plague his 2013 campaign, forcing him to miss all but 17 games last season. Prior to 2013, no other season saw Jeter play fewer than 119 games aside from the year he was called up to the Majors some 19 seasons ago. So if it seems like it's been forever since someone not named Jeter routinely roamed between second and third base, it's because it has been. At least it has for me.
Since I can remember watching baseball as a child, the Yankees were always the glitz and glamour of the Major Leagues, almost always had some of the best players and without a doubt had the nicest uniforms. It's hard to think back and see a Yankee team without Jeter as the everyday shortstop mainly because I was five years old at the time he was called up. And while I've never been a fan of the Yankees and would much rather root against them, Jeter is one of the few that has donned the pinstripes that I can honestly say I've always liked. With baseball's Spring Training in full swing, the Bronx Bombers are less than a month away from kicking off the season without another mainstay in closer Mariano Rivera who took his farewell tour just a season ago and received gifts from every ball club along his journey before calling it quits after 19 years in the Big Apple. Though he wasn't healthy enough to be on the field to witness most of it, hopefully Jeter took notes as he will take a similar approach while making his rounds across the country to other visiting ballparks around the league and receive gifts while doing so on his way out.

It's hard to believe that next year will be the first season in which neither Mariano River nor Derek Jeter's names will be called during player introductions. No 'Enter Sandman' by Metallica will be playing from the stadium speakers to introduce the "Sandman" himself who ran out of the bullpen gates to compile a record 652 career saves, the most all-time. And the famous recording of long-time Yankees public address announcer Bob Sheppard introducing Jeter as, "Number two" will no longer be heard. Highly regarded as a consummate professional among those he's worked for and played alongside of, Jeter is the type of guy you'd want your kids to grow up idolizing. At least that would be the case if I had kids. Jeter, a 13-time All-Star, wore the pinstripes the way they were meant to be worn -- with class. And though 2014 will see Jeter take his farewell tour, I like to think of it as a victory lap rather before he embarks on his next journey -- Cooperstown. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Seahawks disarm Manning's Broncos, Win franchises' 1st Super Bowl title in dominant fashion.

What had the makings to be one of the best Super Bowl's in recent years, turned ugly early, falling short of the hype and would be nothing short of a disappointment when the game clock hit double zero. The number one offense taking on the number one defense was just a few ingredients that we thought would eventually concoct a game for the ages, instead the halftime show headlined by Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers provided more entertainment than the game itself. Little did we know the league's highest-scoring offense that set numerous records led by quarterback Peyton Manning would be dismantled by the league's best defense which put up points on the board just 12 second in and never looked back. 

Entering Sunday's game, all the talk was surrounding the legacy of Peyton Manning who one day earlier set an NFL record by winning his fifth MVP Award after his record-breaking season in which he threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns. With rumors swirling of this possibly being Peyton's final game, virtually everyone envisioned Manning to ride off into the sunset while hoisting his second career Lombardi Trophy and silencing the critics that have discredited Manning over the years for his lone Super Bowl title. Apparently, Pete Carroll and the Seattle Seahawks didn't get that memo as their defense made Peyton Manning look rather pedestrian on the NFL's biggest stage. With Seattle winning the coin-toss and electing to defer, Denver would start the game off in the worst possible way as the ball sailed over Manning's head and into the end zone on the first play from scrimmage for a safety. The early miscue would be a bad omen of things to come for Denver who found themselves down 2-0 after one play despite Seattle's offense yet to touch the field.
The Seahawks who had zero Super Bowl experience on their entire roster entering the game, simply didn't need it. However, it would be Manning and the Broncos who showed up as if it was their first rodeo. From the first play on, Seattle played like a team possessed where as Denver appeared to have just crawled out of bed, resembling a marching band without their conductor who in this case was Peyton Manning, unsure of what to do or where to go when it came time for battle. By halftime, Seattle had already built a 22-0 lead, scoring on each of their first three offensive possessions (field goal, field goal, touchdown) to go along with a 69-yard interception taken to the house by the eventual Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith. Meanwhile, the Broncos offense which hadn't been shutout in the first half all season long would pick a terrible time to be held to their first goose egg.

Percy Harvin who was brought in during the offseason with high expectations to aid Seattle's aerial attack and special-teams before missing all but two games for the Seahawks this season due to an injury, brought a dimension on offense that Seattle has been unable to show off virtually all year long. But on Sunday Seattle was able to let loose a healthy Harvin who caught the Broncos defense sleeping with a 30-yard run on the Seahawks first possession. He would later put an end to any sort of momentum swing Denver was hoping to open the second half with when he ran back the opening kick 87-yard to begin the third quarter. At that point you knew the Broncos had no chance of pulling off the miraculous comeback as the deficit only grew.
Coming into the game, if anything was supposed to deprive Manning of his second Super Bowl title in three tries, it was the elements which were first thought to be a factor and one that would favor the defense. Instead, the weather ended up not being as big a factor as everyone initially thought as it turned out to be a very cooperative 49 degrees at kickoff, making it the third coldest game in Super Bowl history. But in the end it wouldn't matter as Seattle's suffocating defense proved to be too much for Peyton and company who's only points in the game came on the final play of the third quarter when Manning connected with Demariyus Thomas in the end zone followed by a successful two-point conversion. By then it would be too late as the Broncos dug a hole too big for even the league's best offense to climb out of as Seattle practically eliminated Knoshawn Moreno (17 yards on 5 rushes) and Denver's run game and held them in check when attempting cross routes, both of which are integral components when Denver's offense is at its best.

Seattle was able to put up points on both sides of the ball without running back Marshawn Lynch being much of a factor, something many including myself thought wouldn't be possible without their workhorse having a big day on the ground. Lynch finished the game with fewer rushing yards than Harvin, tallying just 39 yards on 15 carries to go along with his 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Seattle QB Russell Wilson was another name that didn't put up eye-popping numbers but did what he needed to in order for his team to come out victorious at the end of the day as he completed 18 of 25 pass attempts for 206 yards and a pair of second half touchdowns to receivers Jermaine Kearse and Doug Baldwin as the Seattle Seahawks trampled the Denver Broncos, 43-8 in route to their first ever Super Bowl title. With the win, Russell Wilson becomes just the fourth second-year QB to win a Super Bowl, reminding us that a conservative, game manager type of quarterback can win a Super Bowl when backed by a stellar defense.
While Manning who was under constant duress did set a Super Bowl record by completing 34 of 49 pass attempts while throwing for 280 yards, it was the two interceptions in the game he'll most be remembered for as Seattle won the turnover battle: 4-0 after recovering a pair of forced fumbles. Though statistically Manning had the greatest season every by a QB, I think it's safe to say he would have much rather traded in those records for a second Lombardi Trophy as he fails to become the first QB in NFL history to win a Super Bowl title with two different franchises. With the loss, the Denver Broncos have fallen in a record five of seven Super Bowl's. Meanwhile, Manning falls to 11-12 in the postseason, the most losses in postseason history. And while he ranks in the top 3 greatest regular season QB's, he's no Joe Montana when it comes to the biggest game on the biggest stage. Assuming he's healthy, unless he can rally the Broncos to another Super Bowl title in these next three years of his contract, in spite of having a much easier road back to the big game than Seattle who will first have to get through their difficult division, Manning just might go down as the greatest quarterback to ever be held to just one Super Bowl win.

But enough about Manning, it's time to give credit to Seattle's stout defense which has drawn comparisons to the '85 Chicago Bears and held Denver's high-powered offense to just 8-points, the team's fewest since Manning joined the team in 2012. The 2013 Seahawks are proof that defense wins championships, as all eight of the highest-scoring offenses in NFL history have now all came short of winning the Super Bowl. Seattle, the fourth youngest team to win a Super Bowl, also pulled off the third largest margin of victory in Super Bowl history (35 points) in what was a total team effort that took the work and dedication of each and every player on the squad.
Coming into the game, the Denver Broncos were the odds on favorite in what many expected to be a close game at best for Seattle with the Broncos likely to run away with it. Those that did think there would be a lopsided affair thought only Denver was capable of pulling off the blowout. Not even those that did have Seattle winning envisioned a beat down of this magnitude which once again just goes to show how much we know about the grand game of Football.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Super Bowl XLVIII Preview

With less than a week before Super Bowl Sunday, the table is now set for the big game. And what a game it should be between the league's number one scoring offense versus the league's number one scoring defense. Not only do we have a pair of number one seed's going toe to toe with one another but also a variety of intriguing story lines that leading up to the game appear to almost be bigger than the game itself. But first, allow me to introduce each team. First up we have the NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks who narrowly escaped with a 23-17 win over division rival San Francisco in the NFC title game and finished the regular season with a 13-3 record under Pete Carroll. And then there's the AFC Champion Denver Broncos who also finished the regular season at 13-3 under John Fox before knocking off the New England Patriots, 26-16 for the AFC title.

With Seattle seeking their first ever Super Bowl win, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has other plans and has his eyes set on crashing the party and adding a second Super Bowl title to an already decorated resume that includes just about everything. If there's any argument deterring Peyton Manning from the greatest quarterback of all-time discussion, it's the fact that he's only been able to hoist one Lombardi Trophy throughout his career. Something he hopes to change come Sunday. Despite his greatness and the number of achievements, Manning has been standing in the shadow cast by the handful of quarterbacks who have won multiple championships, his brother Eli being one of them. Having set numerous records this season at the helm of the Broncos including most single-season touchdowns (55) and passing yards (5,477), Peyton will in fact set another record when he's awarded his fifth MVP Award at the conclusion of the NFL season, a record he set in 2009. In what's being regarded as the best season by a quarterback in NFL history will mean far less to him if he's unable to put the final cherry on top -- a second Super Bowl title.
As rumors start to swirl of this possibly being Manning's last game due to the ongoing neck problems he's been having, this game could very well determine the legacy of one Peyton Manning. And what better way to go out than on top like his boss -- John Elway who 15 years ago retired after winning back to back Super Bowl titles with the same Broncos franchise. The only difference is Peyton would become the first QB in NFL history to win Super Bowl titles with two different clubs. And with the game being played at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium, the home shared by the New York Giants and Jets, who better to receive a few helpful hints than from Peyton's younger brother Eli who knows a thing or two about playing quarterback in the stadium playing host to the Super Bowl. One thing Eli won't be able to help his big brother prepare for, however, is Seattle's stout defense. With Peyton yet to be sacked this postseason, the Broncos offensive line will face their toughest task yet come Sunday.

If Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense is story line 1.A, then Richard Sherman and the Seahawks defense is definitely story line 1.B. Boasting the league's best turnover ratio as well as the best trash talker in Sherman, Seattle's defense looks to prevent Peyton from adding a second Super Bowl ring to that crowded trophy case of his. Better known as the "Legion of Boom," Seattle's swarming secondary will gladly welcome the challenge presented by Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense. After all, they do say defense is what wins championships. But that's not to say Sherman and company won't have their hands full as Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas all figure to create some trouble in the passing game. Aside from defense, something else that favors the Seahawks despite having no Super Bowl appearance on their entire roster, is history. Though Denver averaged an NFL record 37.9 points per game and became the first team to ever score more than 600 points in a season, all eight of the highest-scoring teams in NFL history have failed to win the Super Bowl. 
But regardless of Seattle's stout defense, they have no chance of winning if they can't put points up on the board which brings us to Peyton's counterpart, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who on Sunday will become just the sixth second-year QB to start a Super Bowl. Unlike Manning, Wilson serves as a duel-threat quarterback who is just as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm. His recent transformation into becoming one of the more conservative QB's in the league over the second half of the season and even more so in the last few games, however, is a bit of a cause for concern given it'll prevent him from being able to answer Peyton blow for blow on offense if say a shootout where to break out. We've all heard how the cold, moist weather will favor the defense which once again leans toward Seattle, but Manning who won his only Super Bowl title in the rain, won't have to deal with the elements any more or any less than Wilson will. Not to mention Wilson won't have the support of the 12th Man to rely on granted Sunday will mark the first game away from Seattle in over a month and a half for the Seahawks (December 15).

What I think will be even more important than Seattle's defense on Sunday though is their offense. The key to the game for the Seahawks will be keeping Peyton off the field and what better way to succeed in doing that than with extended drives of their own by utilizing their most dangerous weapon on offense in running back Marshawn Lynch who I think will be the x-factor in Sunday's game. If Denver's defense which seems to be forgotten about in all of this can shutdown Lynch or at least contain him by keeping him away from his bag of Skittles and make him vanish like he did on media day, they can make it difficult for Seattle's offense, forcing Wilson to carry the load and get it done through the air which is more of a last resort for them. Without arguably their best defensive player in Von Miller, Denver held a Patriots rush attack to 64 total yards in the AFC Championship after LaGarrette Blount exploded for 166 yards alone in New England's previous game. With Lynch being the x-factor, Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno could very well be the dark horse given so much attention will be drawn toward Peyton and the passing game that Denver could be the ones in store for a big game on the ground. 
Prediction: After experiencing defeat in his last attempt at a Super Bowl title in 2009 while with the Indianapolis Colts, I don't see anything getting in the way of Peyton adding another piece of hardware to his resume this time around. With everything from the number of records set on offense to John Fox coaching his team to a Super Bowl after undergoing heart surgery earlier in the season and Peyton in position to finalize his legacy, the Denver Broncos just seem like a team of destiny at this point. Not to mention the weather forecast for Sunday that was first thought to spell doom for Peyton and the passing game has only gotten better over the last week or so. And whether or not it'll be the last time we see no.18 on a playing field, expect to see him at the podium hosting the Lombardi Trophy as Denver kisses the ghost of John Elway goodbye and proves to be too much for the Seahawks on neutral ground, 31-20.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Niners Magical Season comes to an early End

Since the start of the Super Bowl era, no team has ever won road games in four consecutive weeks and on Sunday, the defending NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers had a chance to become the first. Having prided themselves as the league's best road team over the last month, Jim Harbaugh and company took a stroll to the one place he's had the least success -- Seattle's CenturyLink Field where they'd face off with the division rival Seahawks for the NFC crown. And though Seattle is known as the home of the '12th Man', the crowd was virtually sucked out of the game for much of the first half and was caught by surprise on the first play of the game. From hard hits to poor officiating, big plays to drama and everything in between, this game would have it all and would be everything one could possibly ask for in a championship game. With the 49ers winning the coin toss and electing to defer, Seattle took over on offense to start the game. Or at least they would try as Aldon Smith got to Seahawks QB Russell Wilson on the opening play, forcing and recovering a fumble.

With the intensity the 49er defense opened the game with, you would've thought San Francisco was the home team to start. But like Seattle's offense that was shaky to start, the crowd would eventually make their presence felt as the 49ers were only able to turn Wilson's early miscue into a field goal. Two drives later, however, San Francisco would put together the drive they've been longing for and were unable to accomplish in their earlier meeting in Seattle this season. With running back Frank Gore virtually a non-factor and Kaepernick's options through the air on lock down virtually all game long by Seattle's top-ranked defense, the speedy QB was forced to take matters into his own hands on a number of occasions with his feet. A 58-yard run by Kaepernick to start the second quarter would put him over the 100-yard mark, making him the first player since Thurman Thomas (1994) to compile 100+ rush yards in the first half of a championship game. It would be the longest rush by a QB in NFL postseason history as well as the longest rush allowed by Seattle all season.
The big gain would set up Anthony Dixon who on fourth down leaped over the defense and into the end zone from a yard out to give San Francisco a 10-0 lead. It would cost them, however, as Pro Bowl guard Mike Iupati would leave the game with a broken fibula on the play. His loss would be detrimental as Kaepernick and the 49ers deserted the run game in the second half. The Seahawks would respond by finally getting on the board before the end of the first half as Russell Wilson scrambled in and out of the pocket before firing a 51-yard pass to receiver Doug Baldwin, setting up Steven Hauschka for the 32-yard field goal to cut the deficit. While it was the 49ers who opened the game as the aggressor, it would be Seattle who would strike first in the second half as Marshawn Lynch better known as "Best Mode" would get his first dose of Skittles as he torched the 49er defense for a 40-yard touchdown run, tying the game at 10. Similar to Seattle who allowed their biggest run of the season earlier in the game to Kaepernick, the 40-yard run by Lynch would be the longest rush allowed by the 49ers since the start of the Harbaugh era in 2011.

That wouldn't prevent the 49er offense from answering right back as Kaepernick aired out one of the more impressive passes of the season when he made a leaping toss into the end zone where he found Anquan Boldin from 26 yards out for the touchdown. But poor execution on the ensuing kick by the 49er special-teams which had been stellar all day up to that point, would allow a 69-yard return to Seahawks kick returner Doug Baldwin as Seattle walked away with another Haushka field goal to make it a 17-13 ballgame. After a 49er three and out, Seattle would benefit from a blown call late in the third quarter when San Francisco kicker Andy Lee was hit on his plant leg while punting. What should have been a 15 yard roughing the kicker penalty that would've gave San Francisco the first down, was instead called a 5 yard running into the kicker penalty. A call that would prove to be costly as Seattle scored the go-ahead touchdown just moments later. On fourth and seven, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll would elect to go for it, a gutsy decision that would pay off as Russell Wilson capitalized on an offsides penalty by Aldon Smith, turning a free-play into the go-ahead touchdown as Jermaine Kearse made a leaping grab in traffic from 35 yards out.
What was an ugly fourth quarter for the 49ers to start would only get worse as Kaepernick was sacked and stripped of the ball by Seattle's Cliff Avril on their ensuing possession, recovered by the Seahawks. The first of three straight fourth quarter possessions plagued by turnover. A crucial delay of game penalty would turn a third and one opportunity into third and six which would've most likely prevented the fumble. With Seattle threatening to score starring down the end zone inside the 10, the 49ers would witness their star linebacker in NaVorro Bowman sustain a gruesome injury to his left knee after stripping the ball away from Kearse. Despite clearly gaining full possession of the ball, Seattle was awarded the ball back as the play was non-reviewable. Bowman would have to be carted off the field where a handful of fans showered him with popcorn on his way to the locker room. Having to play without their best player on defense, the 49ers would catch a break on the following play as a botched hand-off attempt from Wilson to Lynch would result in a turnover on downs. 

The 49ers would give it right back, however, as Kaepernick's pass intended for Boldin was picked off by Kam Chancellor which Seattle turned into another field goal. Trailing 23-17 with 3:37 remaining and all three timeouts left, the fate of San Francisco's season would lie in the hands of their starting quarterback and one final drive. Starting at their own 22 yard line, the 49ers would march all the way down to the Seattle 18. But with 30 seconds remaining and the clock still ticking despite coach Harbaugh having two timeouts to play with, Kaepernick's late game heroics would come to a screeching halt as a would-be game-winning touchdown pass intended for Michael Crabtree was tipped by Seahawks corner Richard Sherman and intercepted by Malcolm Smith, sealing the win and sending Seattle to only their second Super Bowl in franchise history. Kaepernick who took blame for the loss during his postgame interview, threw for 153 yards and a touchdown and added another 130 yards on the ground, but combined for three turnovers on the day, all coming in the last 11 minutes of the fourth quarter as San Francisco lost its second NFC Championship in three years and first game in over two months. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Niners pummel Panthers, Plan date with Seattle for the NFC Title.

Standing in the way of Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers making a third straight NFC Championship appearance on Sunday was Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Seeking revenge for a 10-9 loss suffered at Home while shorthanded against Carolina in Week 10, the 49ers entered their NFC Divisional round meeting with the Panthers as the league's most dominant road team. Having won seven consecutive games entering Sunday, four of which on the road, the 49ers made themselves feel right at home against an inexperienced Carolina team coming off a first-round BYE.

Niners QB Colin Kaepernick who was held to less than 100 yards passing in the Week 10 meeting vs the Panthers, got things started early on offense as San Francisco opened the game with a 49-yard field goal by Phil Dawson. As for Kaepernick's QB counterpart -- Cam Newton making his playoff debut would make a number of early mistakes, showing jitters on Carolina's first possession as Patrick Willis came up with an interception on a tipped pass that was thrown behind the intended receiver. Despite the good field position, the 49ers would once again have to settle for a field goal, taking a 6-0 lead. It would be a sign of bad things to come for the Panthers who for the first time all year would allow points on each of their opponents first two possessions. After the early mishap, Carolina stringed together a series of first downs on the ensuing drive before being stuffed on the 1-yard line. Facing fourth and 1, Newton talked coach Ron Rivera better known as "Riverboat Ron" into going for it. The Panthers coach would stick true to his name and take the gamble, only to see his QB get stopped in his tracks as the San Francisco defense denied him of the touchdown from 1 yard out with the goal-line stand.
But just like they did last week against Green Bay, the 49ers would witness a 6-0 lead evaporate into thin air as Carolina stormed right back with a go-ahead touchdown pass from Newton to receiver Steve Smith from 31-yards out. However, it would be their only touchdown on the day as Carolina would be stood up on the 1-yard line for the second time in the game before walking away with a field goal to make it a 10-6 Panthers lead. But San Francisco would steal the lead back and regain momentum heading into the half as Kaepernick repeatedly fed wide-out Anquan Boldin with pass after pass before connecting with Vernon Davis in the corner of the end zone for the go-ahead score. The catch was initially ruled incomplete but the officials would review the play and eventually signal for the touchdown as Davis clearly dragged his back foot in bounds before stepping out, giving the 49ers a 13-10 lead heading into the half. The flashes of offense Carolina showed in the first half would be nonexistent in the second half, meanwhile San Francisco stuck to their game plan on offense as Kaepernick hit Boldin with a 45-yard reception that set the 49ers up inside the 5-yard line before Kaepernick took it in himself to add to his team's lead.

Kaepernick who shared dorm rooms with Cam Newton in 2011 during the NFL combine and was taken 35 spots behind the Carolina QB in the NFL Draft which he didn't take kind to, gave Newton what he described as a "shout out" by putting the finishing touches on his touchdown run by mocking Newton's signature Superman celebration before giving it a twist followed by his signature kiss of the bicep. Antics that you would normally declare out of line were anything but in this chippy contest as it was Carolina who opened the game with an attitude. But like their offense, that attitude would also disappear in the second half as the Panthers found themselves trailing, 23-10. Any chance Carolina had of pulling off the comeback would be wiped out late in the fourth quarter as Newton sailed a pass over the head of his tight-end Greg Olsen, intercepted by Donte Whitner, sealing the 49ers dominant second half and more importantly the victory as San Francisco scored 17-unanswered points to close out the game.
For the second straight contest, Colin Kaepernick didn't exactly log an awe-inspiring performance through the air but he got the job done, completing 15 of 28 pass attempts for 196 yards, 136 of them to Anquan Boldin on 8 receptions, and a touchdown while adding only 15 yards rushing. Aside from Boldin, no other 49er receiver hauled in more than three receptions or logged more than 30 yards receiving on the day. Running back Frank Gore contributed 84 yards on the ground on 17 carries.

With the win, the 49ers have now punched their ticket to the NFC Championship for the third consecutive season and become the first team to reach at least three straight conference championships since the Philadelphia Eagles made four consecutive appearances from 2001-04. Jim Harbaugh also becomes the first coach in NFL history to reach three consecutive title games in his first three seasons at the helm. Since their last loss in Week 12, the 49ers have been on a roll winning 8 straight with a point-differential of +81.
NFC Championship Preview: The 49ers win over Carolina now sets up a showdown between two defensive heavyweights in Seattle and San Francisco, a match-up fans have been licking their chops for since the start of the season. Not only will Sunday's game feature two teams and fan bases that dislike each other but a pair of coaches that dislike one another as well dating back to Harbaugh's time at Stanford and Pete Carroll's stay at USC. Since Kaepernick took over the reigns of the starting quarterback position, the 49ers are a perfect 3-0 in road playoff games and have already eclipsed the win total of Joe Montana and Steve Young combined who finished 1-7 in road playoff games while under center in San Francisco. But his next task will be by far the hardest as the 49ers take a stroll to the familiar but unfriendly confines of Seattle's CenturyLink Field, a place Kaepernick has played in twice and left empty handed both times as Seattle outscored San Francisco by a combined score of 71-16. Usually the story line when these two teams meet is a lot like this: the home team wins. A trend the 49ers plan to change now that they've got some unfinished business in mind and are looked upon as being the league's most prominent road team. 

Could the third time be a charm for Kaepernick and co.? If so, the 49ers can become the first team in the Super Bowl era to win road games in four consecutive weeks. However, it won't be easy to accomplish and could very well come down to how well they defend Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch. The 49ers who haven't allowed a 100 yard rusher all season long, know they'll have their work cut out for them on Sunday as they face a tall order in Lynch who owns three 100-yard performances against the 49ers dating back to 2011. Another factor will be how well the San Francisco offense can block out the noise level created by Seattle's raucous crowd, something that'll be easier said than done considering the Seahawks box office banned ticket sales to California natives in hopes of keeping 49er fans as far away from the game as possible. One thing the 49ers won't have to worry about, however, is Seahawks receiver Percy Harvin who will miss Sunday's game with a concussion. With two of the game's brightest young quarterbacks in Kaepernick and Russell Wilson set to take center stage and face off against one another, the game could very well come down to which QB can out perform the other down the stretch and not turn the ball over. 

As we seen demonstrated in Week 16 when the Arizona Cardinals left the hostile environment of the 12th Man with a win, Seattle, like any team can be beaten at home. But given it'll be a playoff atmosphere, the odds will be that much harder to overcome. A challenge coach Harbaugh and his team will gladly welcome. Don't expect a shortage of trash-talking in this one. #QuestForSix

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest