Sunday, May 1, 2016

Walton lands Dream Job with Lakers

With a vacancy in their head coaching position, the Los Angeles Lakers have found their man. After finishing the past three regular seasons with the worst record in franchise history and diminishing win totals of 27, 21 and 19, the Lakers are ready to start off on a clean slate. And they'll be doing so under newly hired head coach Luke Walton. Name sound familiar? That's because it wasn't long ago that Walton was on the court playing for the Lakers where he spent nine years as a fan favorite. And now both Laker fans and the front-office are hoping that will continue as he returns back to the Lakers bench, only this time with a suit and tie on instead of a jersey.

Hired to become the 26th head coach in franchise history, Walton, son of NBA Hall of Famer Bill Walton, joins a long list of names of former Laker players who later went on to coach the team. Impressive names with the likes of George Mikan, Jim Pollard, Jerry West, Pat Riley, Magic Johnson, Kurt Rambis and most recently -- Byron Scott who was relieved of his duties after just two seasons. Thus making Walton the eighth former Lakers player turned coach. However, of the seven others before him, only three of those names have finished their tenure with a winning record. And only two if you're counting a full season's worth of work. With Walton being the eighth Lakers coach to have also donned the purple and gold as a player, it's safe to say the Lakers prefer to keep it in the family by hiring one of their own. And hopefully this one works out better than the last one did.
After capturing only 38 combined wins in two seasons under Scott, the Lakers are hoping to have much more success under Walton who was twice named coach of the month this season while filling in for Steve Kerr as the intern head coach of the Golden State Warriors, whom he led to a 39-4 record, including a blazing 24-0 start. Following Kerr's return back to the Warriors bench after recovering from back surgery, the Warriors went on to assemble the greatest regular season in NBA history, finishing with an all-time best record of 73-9, narrowing the 72-10 mark previously held by the team that Kerr coincidentally played for -- the '95-'96 Chicago Bulls. Because of the accomplishment, Kerr would be named Coach of the Year for the second consecutive season, while many believed the award should've gone to Walton or at the very least share the award with co-Coach of the Year honors. Unfortunately for Walton, that wouldn't be the case. But at least his time in the driver seat helped skyrocket both his stock and interest in landing a head coaching job.

Two years removed from being a part-time assistant coach in the NBA's Developmental League, Walton, who becomes the youngest active head coach in the league at just 36 years of age, will now takeover the most winningest franchise in the NBA. Having grown up in Southern California and later playing for the team he lived just a stones throw away from, the hiring of Walton could be the perfect fit in L.A. Or it could be another Byron Scott-type disaster that we were more than excited for at first, and later ended up hating. At first glance, Walton doesn't seem like the type of hire you'd make when looking to help develop players which is exactly what the Lakers are in need of with their crop of young players led by Julius Randle and DeAngelo Russell. Then again, Walton could be the perfect man for the job, knocking it out of the park and proving us all wrong. The truth is, only time will tell. And whether or not the Lakers organization might not want to admit it, regardless of who it was they decided to hire, the next man for the job was going to need plenty of that to help get the Lakers back into winning form -- time. Entering year three of the Lakers current reconstruction, the front-office will have to show patience with Walton, something they showed very little of with Byron Scott calling the plays. And with Walton reportedly agreeing to a five-year deal, four of which guaranteed at an amount not yet made public, they appear to be understanding.
Smart move or not by Walton with many believing he jumped the gun and should've returned to Golden State for at least another year, he might not have had the opportunity to land his dream job again if he chose to wait it out another season. Sure leaving an organization that is currently atop the basketball world in both popularity and excitement, not to mention has the talent to become a dynasty, seems hard, but jobs like the one Walton just agreed to take don't come around too often. Though it was only a small sample size, we've seen how well Walton can coach a roster full of stars and talented players in their prime including the league's MVP, now lets see how well he can coach a bunch of youngsters still looking to make a name for themselves and whether or not he can help guide the Lakers franchise back to prominence as they look to end their dry spell of missing the playoffs for a franchise worst three consecutive seasons. And with a young team in hand already, the Lakers are expected to get even younger as they hope to strike gold in the NBA Draft Lottery and perhaps even in free-agency after striking out in each of the last three seasons.


Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Giants Month in Review - April 2016

With Baseball season in full swing and the month of April coming to a close, that's one month in the books already for the San Francisco Giants. Entering the season with high hopes following the acquisitions of two of the most coveted arms in free agency in starting pitchers Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija as well as outfielder Denard Span, Giants fans have had a lot to be excited about. Not to mention it's an even year. And while things got off to a great start for the G-Men, Bruce Bochy's ball club has also had their fair share of letdowns in the opening month of the season.

Opening the season on the road for a three-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers, one of the newest members on the Giants wasted little time to make his presence felt as Denard Span became the first Giant to record 5 RBI's on Opening Day since a guy named Barry Bonds did it in 2002 against the rival Dodgers. Span sparked a trio of home runs in the eighth inning as Joe Panik and Buster Posey joined him in hitting back to back to back home runs, the first time the Giants had connected for three consecutive home runs in a game since July 20, 2006 when Bonds, Ray Durham and Pedro Feliz did so versus the Padres. Not since 1997 had a team accomplished the feat on Opening Day, however, as the Padres recorded back to back to back jacks against the Mets. San Francisco would go on to win the season-opener by a final of 12-3, the most runs on Opening Day by a Giants team in over 30 years, as Matt Duffy who was in the running for NL Rookie of the Year a season ago, added a homer of his own to bring the Giants within one HR shy of tying an Opening Day franchise mark set back in 1964 against the Milwaukee Braves. The Giants would end up taking 2 of 3 in Milwaukee as they failed to complete the sweep by dropping the series finale.
The Giants would kickoff their Home Opener much like they did the season opener, by scoring 12 runs in a 12-6 win over their bitter rivals -- the Los Angeles Dodgers. Hunter Pence's 8th inning Grand Slam put a damper on L.A's comeback attempt. San Francisco would end up taking three of four against L.A. to improve to 5-2. The Giants would set a franchise record for the most games with a home run to start a season with seven. The streak would continue heading into a 3-game set at Coors Field where the Rockies served the Giants some more home runs to add to their streak, while also handing them a pair of losses as the Giants were only able to win one of three games in Denver. In the lone win against the Rockies, the Giants would get a great outing from newcomer Jeff Samardzija who went 8 strong innings, allowing only 2 runs. Rookie catcher Trevor Brown also shined, hitting a pair of home runs, making him the first Giants rookie to hit home runs in his first three games of the season since Bobby Thompson (1947).

The Giants' streak of consecutive games with a homer to start a season would eventually reach 10 before ending at Dodger Stadium. And just like they did in Colorado, the Giants would drop 2 of 3 in L.A. While the 6-game road trip would come to an end for the Giants, unfortunately, their struggles would continue. With four games against the Arizona Diamondbacks to begin a 10-game home stand, the Giants would fall victim to a rare four-game sweep at home, only the second of its kind since the Giants moved to AT&T Park in 2000. In one of those losses, the Giants met a familiar foe in a different uniform as San Francisco faced off with Zack Greinke who was targeted by the Giants before signing a massive contract with the D-Backs during the offseason. Owning a record of 7-0 in 10 career starts against the Giants entering the meeting, the former Cy Young Award winner who struggled in his first two outings of the year and was tagged with a pair of losses before receiving a no-decision against the Padres, bounced back and continued his dominance against SF. Out-dueling Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, Greinke picked up his first win of the year with a 2-1 victory over the Giants. In the finale, Johnny Cueto had a chance to become the first Giants pitcher since Bill Swift in 1992 to win his first four starts. And while he would allow only 3 runs in the outing against Arizona, he would still be handed the loss as the Diamondbacks completed the sweep, handing the Giants their fifth straight loss and 8 of their last 9.
Looking forward to putting the dreadful AZ series behind them, the Giants welcomed the Miami Marlins who brought with them a familiar face that Giants fans would never forget -- Barry Bonds. Bonds who was hired by Miami skipper Don Mattingly to be the Marlins hitting coach, was welcomed back to AT&T Park with a standing ovation as a video tribute was played on the jumbo screen out in center field. It's possible that Bonds' presence helped wake the Giants bats as they took two of three against the Miami. Finishing the homestand with three games against the San Diego Padres, the Giants would string together their first sweep of the season with a pair of 1-run wins before erupting for 13-runs in the series finale. In game 2 of the three-game set, Johnny Cueto would go the distance to pitch a complete-game shutout, striking out 11 Padres batters and out-dueling James Shields in the 1-0 victory. For Cueto, the win would also be the 100th victory of his career as he became only the 12th Dominican-born pitcher to log 100 career wins. Having gone at least 7 innings in each of his five starts this season, Cueto has fit in quite nicely with his new ball club and seems to be back on track after a disappointing second half to the season after being traded to the Royals in 2015.

With an off-day to travel across the country to visit the New York Mets, the Giants seemed to have left their bats at home as they were greeted by the reigning National League champs with a 13-1 shellacking in the series-opener. Coming off his best outing of the season after three rough starts, Giants pitcher Jake Peavy couldn't get past the third inning as the Mets erupted for a franchise-record 12 runs in the third inning. Cuban slugger Yoenis Cespedes highlighted the scoring spree with a Grand Slam after Peavy was chased, having allowed 6 runs in the frame himself. The Mets wouldn't need to add anymore runs in the game but they did anyway, answering the Giants' only run (a solo home run from Angel Pagan) in the 7th inning with a run of their own. Hoping to bounce back in Game 2, the Giants put up a better fight in their second go around but saw their starting pitching struggle once again. This time it would be starter Matt Cain who ran into early trouble and was tagged for 4-runs in the first two frames before departing having allowed six runs thru six innings. The Giants would threaten the Mets late in the game as the New York bullpen allowed a pair of runs in the 8th before hanging onto the 6-5 win to closeout the month of April riding an 8-game winning-streak as Cain fell to 0-3 on the year. The Giants will have a chance to salvage the third and final game of the series on Sunday when ace Madison Bumgarner faces Mets fire-baller Noah Syndergaard.
The Giants finished the month of April with a record of 12-13 and remain in a tie for first place of the NL West with the Dodgers who are enduring some struggles of their own having lost six straight. With the highlight of the Giants season thus far belonging to Johnny Cueto who's been nothing short of remarkable in his first five starts with the team, the former All-Star pitcher for the Reds will make his next start on the road in Cincinnati as the Giants continue their current road trip with a stop in the Queen City. The month of May will also see the Giants make trips to Arizona and San Diego for the first time this season before visiting the Braves at Turner Field for the final time as Atlanta plans to open their new stadium in Cobb County in 2017. As for their home games, the Giants will welcome the Rockies, Padres and Cubs as well as a rare visit from the Toronto Blue Jays. GO GIANTS! 


Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Arrieta's Double-Shot of No

Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta is on top of the baseball world. As if hurling a no-hitter last season just 10 starts ago and winning the NL Cy Young Award wasn't enough, the ace of Chicago's staff has already began putting together an even more impressive encore with a dazzling start to the 2016 season. On the road in Cincinnati to face the Reds, Arrieta tossed his second career no-hitter and just the 15th no-hitter in the 141 year history of the Cubs franchise. While the Cubbies ignited the scoreboard with five home runs en route to a 16-0 shellacking of their opponent, the second-largest margin of victory in a no-no, it would be all about the reigning Cy Young Award winner who has been on quite the journey since being traded to the Cubs just three seasons ago where he's evolved into one of the game's best pitchers.

It's hard to believe the last few seasons Arrieta has had considering he was demoted to the Minor Leagues by the Baltimore Orioles back in 2013 after compiling an ERA of 6.63 in four starts which eventually led to the O's parting ways with their struggling starter. It's safe to say Arrieta has turned it around since then as he's now recorded 24 consecutive quality starts, riding an ERA of 0.86 in those 24 games. To put Arrieta's recent dominance into perspective, he's given up only seven earned runs over his last 119 1/3 innings pitched. And interestingly enough, both of Arrieta's no-no's have come on the road, falling one shy of the all-time mark set by Nolan Ryan who tossed three of his seven career no-hitters while a member of the visiting team. Though he did allow four walks in the game and struckout six, Arrieta also out-hit the Reds by collecting a pair of singles on his way to becoming only the third Cub to record a pair of no-no's, joining Ken Holtzman and Larry Corcoran. At the ripe age of 39 years old, it would be the first no-hitter caught by Cubs catcher David Ross who had announced during spring training that the 2016 season would be his last. It would also be the first time Cincinnati would be held hit-less in 45 years.
Not since Philadelphia's Rick Wise no-hit Cincy on June 23, 1971 had the Reds been held without a hit, ending a span of 7,109 games for the longest active streak during the regular season. In his age 30 season, Arrieta who improved to 4-0 on the year with the win and is only the fourth reigning Cy Young winner to toss a no-hitter the following year, has appeared to have learned from those struggles early in his career while a member of the Orioles and has benefited from a change of scenery to quickly help him rise atop the list as one of baseball's best pitchers and on the cusp of reaching elite status if he hasn't already. Favored by many to make it to and win the World Series this year, Chicago is off to a 12-4 start to the season and is out to an early lead in the NL Central division standings. After falling short to the New York Mets in the NLCS a year ago, Joe Maddon's ball club appears poised and hungry for another run at a National League pennant with none other than Arrieta leading the way.


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Friday, April 15, 2016

Mamba Out After Historic Final Game


With the Los Angeles Lakers in the tank machine for another season, I told myself one thing -- I wouldn't watch Laker basketball this season. But with it being Kobe Bryant's final season, the player I grew up idolizing, it's been just as hard not to watch my favorite player in his final year as it's been hard to watch them suffer another disappointing season.

With the Lakers playing terribly to the sound of their worst record in franchise history (17-65) and Kobe in his farewell tour, this season was supposed to be about the young guys -- rookie DeAngelo Russell who was selected second overall in this year's Draft and last year's first round pick Julius Randle who is basically a rookie himself, having missed all of last season with a broken leg aside from playing just 14 minutes in the season-opener. And with both players getting their much needed playing time to get their feet wet and help their development in the league, everything was going as planned. And then the news broke of Russell secretly videotaping a discussion with Laker teammate Nick Young. The conversation which touched on the subject of Young hooking up with numerous women and cheating on his fiance Iggy Azalea soon made its way onto social media. What was meant to be a joke on Young evolved into a prank gone wrong, making matters worse and adding salt to the wound that's been the Lakers' season.
So when it came time for L.A.'s final game of the season on Wednesday, Laker fans were more than relieved that the nightmare season was finally coming to an end. And then we were forced to accept that it was the ending of an era and that the career of one of basketball's all-time greats was coming to a close. The last time we would see Kobe Bean Bryant take the court in a Laker uniform. What was being referred to as "Mamba Day" began bright and early in downtown L.A. as Laker fans flocked outside of Staples Center to show their respects to "the greatest Laker in franchise history" as Magic Johnson proclaimed. With tributes being made for Kobe all season long and gifts given from opposing teams since he announced his decision to hang 'em up back in November, nothing came close to what the home team did for their beloved superstar as video messages were played on the big screen all night long. And then came the game that needed to be played. With enough celebrities in attendance for it to be an award show, the pressure on Bryant coming into the game was insurmountable. And with an 0-for-5 start from the field for Kobe, the jitters showed early on. It would soon wear off, however, as Kobe put on a show and treated us all to a spectacle in a way that only he could.

Facing the Utah Jazz who were eliminated from playoff contention earlier in the day with a victory by the Houston Rockets who claimed the eighth and final seed, Utah didn't have a whole lot to play for aside from having the chance to sweep the season series versus the Lakers for their first time ever. Utah jumped out to an early lead and maintained control of the score for nearly the entire game until the Black Mamba rose to the occasion and took over late in the fourth quarter like he's done so often in his memorable 20 year career. During a timeout discussion with former teammate Shaquille O'Neal, Shaq challenged Bryant to go out by scoring 50-points. Kobe would do him one better by scoring 60. Trailing by as many as 10 points with just over 2 minutes remaining, Kobe outscored the Jazz 23-21 in the fourth quarter including 13 unanswered while making a series of tough shots both in and outside of the three-point arch. While it was Kobe who stole the show and went on to score the most points in NBA history by a player in his final regular season game, the most important part of all for Bryant is that he did it in a winning effort as the Lakers prevailed, 101-96. As we've learned over the years, Bryant isn't one who takes losing lightly and that hasn't changed one bit over the course of his 20 year career.
Kobe shot 22 for 50 from the floor and became just the fourth player to ever attempt 50 field goals in a game. Say what you want about him taking the amount of shots he took, but understand that this one was for the fans who were forced to pay for tickets three and four times more than face value to sit in the nosebleeds if they wanted to see the iconic player in person one last time. Not to mention his teammates fed him the ball on just about every possession and encouraged him to shoot the ball. And even then, Kobe didn't disappoint, giving his supporters one last performance worth celebrating and putting an exclamation point on the storybook ending to the career of one of the game's all-time greats. A performance that had to have made the late Dr. Jerry Buss smile from the heavens above. Just to put his remarkable night into perspective, no Hall of Fame player had even scored 30-points in their final regular season game. Kobe who will undoubtedly join them and is a future Hall of Famer himself, scored twice that mark. It would be the sixth 60-point performance in his illustrious career and his first in over seven years.

With the future of the franchise unsure at this point moving forward, it's worth noting that a new era of Lakers basketball is on the horizon with Kobe out the door. With a chance to better their squad and help make the recovery from this rebuilding mode a bit easier heading into June's Draft, the Lakers will be in on just about every major free-agent on the market. But nailing the Draft is what's most important of all as Los Angeles will enter June's Draft with a top-three protected pick which will likely be used to select one of either LSU's Ben Simmons, Duke's Brandon Engram or Oklahoma's Buddy Heild. That's if they don't fall out of the top 3 spots or trade the pick. While Kobe's playing career comes to a close, his legacy will live on forever and his impact as a basketball icon and a global ambassador for the game will never fade. Bryant, a 5-time NBA Champion and former league MVP, is the Michael Jordan of his era and is the reason many players in the league today play the game of basketball. No one player made the game an international phenomenon quite like Bryant has and his name and number will be seen adorned L.A.'s Staples Center for many years to come as they sold a reported $1.2 Million worth of Kobe Bryant merchandise on Wednesday, a single-day record for any arena.


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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Scoreless in San Diego

The San Diego Padres are bad. How bad you ask? They just kicked off their 2016 season in the worse way possible -- by being swept in shutout fashion by the rival Dodgers. This all happened in their own park no less as San Diego was outscored 25 to 0. We all knew heading into the season that the Friars were going to be bad this year, but nobody could've expected this. Making matters worse for San Diego, Dodgers pitcher Kenta Maeda homered in his second career at-bat, while pitching in his Major League debut. That's right, the Dodgers' pitcher has accounted for more offense than the entire Padres lineup combined.

Regardless of how much credit first-year skipper Dave Roberts deserves for his team's blazing start considering how bad the Padres are, it's one hell of a way to kick start your managerial career. L.A. became just the second team in modern-day Major League history to record three straight shutouts to open a season, joining the 1963 St. Louis Cardinals. The 27 consecutive scoreless-innings to start a season is also a Dodgers franchise-record, breaking their previous best of 23 set back in 1974. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw began the scoreless streak by hurling seven innings of 1-hit ball (no surprise there) before handing it off to the bullpen. Offseason acquisition Scott Kazmir followed suit in his National League debut by giving the Dodgers six solid innings in which he also only allowed one hit, followed by Maeda's memorable outing on both sides of the plate. With a 4-game slate against the arch-rival Giants (2-1) taking place in San Francisco starting Thursday, the Dodgers (3-0) will need five more scoreless frames to tie the Cardinals' record of 32 consecutive innings without allowing a run and six to set a new record. Pitcher Alex Wood will be asked to keep the streak alive for the Dodgers as San Francisco hopes to counter by turning to veteran hurler Jake Peavy.
As for the Padres who now own the dubious record previously held by the 1943 St. Louis Browns who went 26 innings without scoring a run to start a season, San Diego will have to sleep on it for at least another day as they've got an off day on Thursday. However, I do like their chances of scoring at least one run when they take the field again as they open a 3-game series on the road at Denver's Coors Field where a pitcher's earned run average goes to die and balls fly out of the park more so than anywhere else. But hey, it's not all doom and gloom if you're a baseball fan living in San Diego, as the city will play host to this year's MLB All-Star game in July. Though it's still a few months away, the Mid-Summer Classic might be the only time that San Diego baseball fans will be treated to some offense generated by the home team this season.


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Saturday, March 12, 2016

Giants turn to New Trio for 2016 Success

With the temperatures starting to heat up and baseball's Spring Training officially underway, it's time to dust off those ball caps and mark our calendars for Opening Day. And with it being another even year, who could be more excited for baseball than Giants fans? In what he's calling possibly the greatest starting rotation assembled during his tenure with the ball club, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy has to like his team's chances at making it yet another successful even numbered year.

With pitching being the formula in all three of the Giants' World Series runs, the team's front-office once again focused on making starting pitching a priority over the offseason. While it was the division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks who won the sweepstakes for the top free-agent on the market in Zack Greinke, the Giants went with the adage that two is better than one, signing two of the top five pitchers available in righties Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto. Samardzija was first to land with the G-Men after their failed attempt to add Greinke, making the former star receiver for the Notre Dame football team seem like a consolation prize, agreeing to a 5-year, $90 Million dollar deal. He would be joined by the coveted arm of Johnny Cueto just days later, who inked a 6-year, $130 Million dollar contract. The tandem of Cueto and Samardzija helps stabilize a Giants pitching staff that outside of ace Madison Bumgarner and rookie Chris Heston who showed flashes of brilliance, struggled mightily all season in 2015.
Samardzija struggled in his first full season in the American League last year while with the Chicago White Sox where he finished with an 11-13 record and an ERA of 4.96 in 32 starts. Having coined the nickname "Shark", AL hitters took a bite out of Samardzija in 2015 as he surrendered a league-high 29 home runs and allowed the most hits (228) and earned runs (118). All of which are numbers Samardzija should definitely rebound from in 2016 by simply playing his home games at the pitcher-friendly confines of AT&T Park alone. Not to mention he'll have one of the better pitch-framing catchers behind the dish in Buster Posey and a much improved defense fielding behind him to go along with the teachings of veteran pitching coach Dave Righetti. Since making the switch from a reliever to a starter in 2012, the 31-year old Samardzija has tossed the 10th-most innings in baseball with 822 and is one of only three pitchers to log at least 210 innings in each of his last three seasons, joining Max Scherzer and R.A. Dickey.

As for Cueto who turned down a deal worth a reported 6-year, $120 Million from the Diamondbacks earlier in the off-season which resulted in them breaking the bank for Greinke, the Dominican-born hurler lands with another team quite familiar with winning championships after helping the Kansas City Royals claim their first World Series title in over 30 years. The Giants are just happy he's on the same squad now as Cueto joins a team he's dominated throughout his career, having posted a 3-1 record and an ERA of 2.08 in six regular season starts against them. Also, his 1.69 ERA at AT&T Park is the best of any ballpark in which he's made multiple starts. Cueto's 2015 campaign was a tale of two halves which ultimately ended in him winning a World Series ring. After enduring a tremendous first half of the season with the Cincinnati Reds before landing in Kansas City at the trade deadline where he saw small sample sizes of success but mainly struggled and was unable to duplicate the kind of production and effectiveness he had in Cincy, Cueto came through and delivered when it mattered most -- during the postseason.
Boasting a career record of 96-70 with a 3.30 ERA, Cueto has done especially well against NL West opponents, having posted a stellar 2.87 ERA against them. Since 2010, Cueto's ERA of 2.87 ranks third among MLB starters who've pitched a minimum of 900 innings, behind only Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. The Giants will hope to see more of the Johnny Cueto that dominated the first half of 2015 but know they've got another workhorse on their hands as he trails only David Price and his new teammate Madison Bumgarner in innings pitched over the past two seasons with a whopping 480 2/3 innings (regular and postseason) to his credit. While the Giants became the first team in MLB history to sign two pitchers to free-agent contracts worth at least $90 Million in the same offseason, they also made a non-pitcher signing that fans are equally as excited about. Serving as the icing on the cake, the Giants put the finishing touches on their busy offseason with the acquisition of outfielder Denard Span who agreed to a 3-year, $31 Million dollar pact.

A true lead-off hitter who puts the ball in play and seldom strikes out, Span is coming off a 2015 season plagued by various injuries, most notably a hip ailment which required surgery and limited him to just 61 games. When healthy, however, Span has proven just how valuable he can be, both at the plate and in the field, having become a fixture on the highlight reel by making spectacular plays with his glove and even leading the National League in hits in 2014 with 184. Expected to shift to left field when not manning center field in place of fellow outfielder Angel Pagan who's been battling injuries of his own over the past several seasons, he should fit right at home with his newest ball club. A healthy season from Span who will now patrol the vast outfield of AT&T Park and even better -- hit in a yard that has plenty of gaps and dimensions that could cater nicely to his hitting ability (he's led each the AL in 2009 and NL in 2013 in triples), could play a vital role in San Francisco's 2016 success. Despite finishing 84-78 in 2015, eight games behind the division-winning L.A. Dodgers, the Giants did finish the year with a +69 run differential and were tops in the NL in batting average, thanks in large part to their All-Star shortstop Brandon Crawford. After slugging a team-high 21 home runs a season ago and winning a Gold Glove Award, the Giants rewarded their homegrown shortstop to a six-year, $75 Million dollar contract extension for the cherry on top of what was a successful offseason for the team that plays in the city by the bay.


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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Denver's Dominant Defense too much for Newton's Panthers in Super Bowl 50

Super Bowl 50 - Two years ago at Super Bowl 48, Peyton Manning was thrashed by a defense that led to a 43-8 dismantling of the Denver Broncos. This time around, it was the defense that carried him to his second Super Bowl victory on Sunday and the team to its third. In a game that featured little excitement on offense for either team despite Carolina owning the highest-scoring offense in the league, it was defense that took center stage in this one. While both teams entered the golden game with defenses among the league's best, nobody expected the struggles on offense to play out quite like they did come kickoff. With "Keep Pounding" being Carolina's motto all season long, the only pounding they'd see on their side was from reigning NBA MVP and avid Panthers fan Steph Curry who helped introduce Carolina onto the field by banging a black and teal drum draped with the motto. The rest of the pounding would be at Carolina's expense and supplied by Denver's dominant front seven as there would be no dabbing or selfies taking place by members of the Panthers on this day. 

With Carolina winning the coin toss and electing to differ, Denver had no problem receiving the ball first and getting things started as Manning threw a strike to his tight-end Owen Daniels for an 18-yard gain on the game's opening-play. He would follow it up just three plays later with a 22-yard connection to receiver Andre Caldwell. A pair of nice runs from running back C.J. Anderson would help Denver march into field goal range as kicker Brandon McManus capped what would be his team's best drive of the day with an early field goal to put his team on top. It would mark the first time that Carolina trailed at any time during the postseason all year. And from that point on, Denver never looked back. After exchanging punts, Carolina took over on offense deep in their own territory, spelling doom for Cam Newton and company as Von Miller broke through and wisely went for the ball instead of a sack, stripping it away from the quarterback as teammate Malik Jackson scooped up the ball in the end zone for the defensive touchdown. Despite playing in a record-tying eighth Super Bowl, it was the first in which they've ever scored a touchdown on defense. The big play on defense and first sack of the game would be the first of many by the Broncos D.
And just like that, Carolina found themselves in a hole, down 10-0 on the biggest stage imaginable. Though the 10-0 deficit wasn't completely foreign to the Panthers who trailed by 10+ points on three occasions this season and came back to win all three games, being asked to make such a comeback against a defense like Denver's would be a different story. During the two weeks in between the Conference Championships and Super Bowl Sunday, all we heard from Carolina's side was the debate of whether or not this Panthers team would be touted as one of the all-time great teams if they could come out on top. But the team that entered the big game a combined 17-1 on the season, resembled an entirely different group come game time. And no one player looked more uncomfortable during the game than quarterback Cam Newton who was named the league MVP the night before. Hoping to become the first league MVP to win the Super Bowl in the same year since Kurt Warner of the 1999 St. Louis Rams, Newton was held in check and looked like a shadow of the QB that entered the game having dominated along his journey to get there.

Not accustomed to playing from behind, Newton did manage to temporarily kick those jitters to the side as the Panthers offense finally got things going to start the second quarter. After having good field position wiped out by an illegal block penalty on the kick, Carolina stringed together their only decent drive of the game, with running back Jonathan Stewart soaring into the end zone from a yard out to put the Panthers on the board. After the touchdown that made it a 10-7 game, both teams exchanged punts. During Carolina's punt, however, the Panthers special-teams made the terrible mistake of assuming Broncos return man Jordan Norwood had called for a fair-catch. The brain cramp would cost them as Norwood returned the punt for a record-setting 61-yards, the longest punt return in Super Bowl history. The return would set the Broncos up for a second field goal by McManus, increasing Denver's lead to 13-7. Things would go from bad to worse for the Panthers on offense as fullback Mike Tolbert fumbled at midfield for the first time all year, recovered by the Denver defense. Luckily for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera and company, it wouldn't cost them.
With the Broncos offense threatening one final time before the half and looking to make it a double-digit ballgame, the Panthers defense came thru with an interception in Carolina territory as defensive end Kony Ealy stepped in front of a pass intended for Emanuel Sanders. While it would be his only mistake in the game, the interception by Manning snapped a postseason career-best 164 consecutive pass attempts without an interception and gave him at least one in all four of his Super Bowl appearances, tying a mark held by his boss and Broncos Vice President -- John Elway. The Panthers were unable to cash the turnover in for points, but it did keep the game within striking distance as Denver took their 13-7 lead with them into the half. With how many self-inflicted miscues the Panthers committed in the first half, they were fortunate enough to head into the locker room staring down a deficit of only 6-points. Having entered the game on the opposite side of things by outscoring opponents 55-7 during the first half this postseason, Carolina found themselves in uncharted waters.

And just when you thought the Panthers had flipped the switch to open the second half, they continued to shoot themselves in the foot once again. After connecting with receiver Ted Ginn Jr. on the second play of the half for the longest reception of the game -- a 45-yarder, the Panthers seemed bound to put a dent into Denver's lead, if not pull ahead. Instead, kicker Graham Gano missed a 44-yard field goal attempt, doinking it off the right upright. As for his counterpart, McManus continued to bang 'em thru as Manning marched the offense into field goal range once more, adding to their lead. With Carolina in need of a response, Cam Newton unloaded a deep pass that was snatched in the air by a leaping Corey Brown for a 42-yard pickup. Sadly, the drive would hit a brick wall with much of the same for Carolina as Newton was picked off just four plays later on a pass that was too hot to handle intended for Ginn. Safety T.J. Ward came up with the interception before fumbling the ball on the return and being saved by a Broncos teammate who made the recovery.
Carolina would show some late signs of life in the fourth as it was their defensive end Ealy who came up with yet another big play on defense, stripping Manning of the ball and forcing the turnover. They would capitalize the fumble recovery with a field goal that Gano converted on to inch closer and make it a 16-10 affair. Taking over with less than five minutes remaining and down by six, Denver dealt the final blow on a strip by Von Miller, recovered by Ward. The play drew quite the scrum for the ball and quite the discussion as Newton appeared to have given up on the play by electing not to dive for the loose ball. Taking over from the 4-yard line, Denver would provide the last nail in the coffin as C.J. Anderson ran it in from 2-yards out to make it a two-score game. And just for extra measure, Denver converted on the two-point conversion to seal it, pulling off the 24-10 victory.

With the win, Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak became the first to ever win a Super Bowl as a player and coach for the same team. He's also only the fourth coach in NFL history to hoist a Lombardi Trophy in his first year at the helm. As for Manning who surpassed Brett Favre for the most wins all-time with win No. 200, Peyton becomes the 12th QB to win two Super Bowl titles and the first to do it with different teams. As for his future, Manning has refused to tip his hand as to whether or not he'll be retiring and says he plans to take some time to weigh his options now that the season is over. A move Elway approves of and encouraged Manning he took as much as he needs to think it over. Though winning his second ring should make his decision to step away from the game a bit easier, Denver's defense is so good that it just might entice him to come back for one last rodeo in hopes of winning back-to-back titles and retiring the same way Elway did, even if Manning is half the quarterback he once was. One player who won't garner nearly as much credit and appreciation that he deserves during Denver's title run is backup QB Brock Osweiler who would be getting the short end of the stick if Manning does return in 2016.
As much as we would like to remember this game as Manning's last hurrah (potentially), it was all about Denver's defense which tied a Super Bowl record with seven sacks and paved the way to victory. Not since Super Bowl 48 have we seen as dominant a performance like the one we saw on Sunday. But after that 43-8 shellacking at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, it's safe to say that Denver not only learned from their lesson, but tried duplicating the same formula that they were on the receiving end of last time around. In the win, Manning threw for just 141 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception as Denver's 194 total yards were the fewest ever for a Super Bowl-winning team. On the losing side of things, Newton threw for 265 yards while also going touchdown-less and throwing an interception as the Panthers were held one-dimensional by the dominant Denver D.


Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Panthers-Broncos to meet in Super Bowl 50

As the 2015 NFL season nears its end, the table is set for Super Bowl 50. With less than two weeks to prepare ourselves for the big game on February 7, we take a look at the two teams who will be vying for the Lombardi Trophy and the very different roads they've journeyed to get there. While one team we had a feeling could be there since the start of the season (Denver), the other came out of nowhere and has been somewhat of a surprise (Carolina). But I'll start with the one team and one man who everyone in and around the game could possibly remember this Super Bowl by and that's the Denver Broncos and their fading star of a quarterback -- Peyton Manning. 

Just two years removed from their most recent Super Bowl appearance in Super Bowl 48 which Bronco fans would rather forget took place as their team was dismantled, 43-8 by a dominant Seattle defense, this year's Denver team has been polar opposites of their 2013 selves. Making their way to the big game by way of their offense which was tops in the league and among the greatest in league history just two seasons ago, this year's Broncos team made their way back to the Super Bowl in a very different way, flipping the script if you will, by boasting the league's best defense. With future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning and the Denver offense taking a backseat, the 2015 Broncos are a team that has thrived and relied heavily on their defense. Mind you this is the same team that endured a rough patch that saw five consecutive weeks without scoring a single offensive touchdown and often looked better with Brock Osweiler in under center and Manning, one of the greatest to ever play the position, on the bench. While their offense has often been under fire and constantly questioned, the same can't be said for the defense, having allowed the fewest yards per game this season (283) and forcing the most sacks (52) under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. 
It's no wonder that this will be Manning's fourth Super Bowl appearance, (frankly, he should've reached this number a long time ago), as he gets set to take the field as the oldest quarterback to ever start a Super Bowl at age 39. And when he does take the field in what could possibly be the last game of his illustrious career, he'll become the first QB ever to make multiple Super Bowl appearances with multiple teams, while also becoming the first at his position to reach four Super Bowl's under four different head coaches. Manning is eclipsed by only Tom Brady and John Elway who have more Super Bowl appearances under their belts. But this game and story line shouldn't be all about Manning even though it most likely will be. The guy simply isn't the player he once was and while his team usually gets to the big game because of him, this year they've made it to the big game in spite of him. That's no knock on arguably the greatest regular season quarterback of all-time, but just further proof that father time waits for no man. 

But back to the Denver defense which won them the right to play in Super Bowl 50 with a dominant performance over the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots in the AFC Championship's 20-18 win. Denver's D got to Brady four times for a sack and a heck of a lot more times with quarterback hits mostly provided by Von Miller who had a hell of a game recording 2.5 sacks of his own to go along with one of two Brady interceptions, the hits being the most Tom Terrific has ever suffered in his playoff career. If Manning hoists his second career Lombardi Trophy, one that should help him ride off into the sunset and make stepping away from the game of football a bit easier, it'll most likely be a result of another dominant performance by the defense and not by the potent offenses teams of Manning's Super Bowl past have been known for. 
Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers enter next Sunday's game red-hot and resembling a team of destiny. With a dominant regular season which many believed they could finish undefeated, the lone loss to the division rival Atlanta Falcons in Week 16 is the only blemish on Carolina's 2015 resume. But I was one of the few who believed the Panthers suffering a loss that would disrupt their push for a perfect season would do them more good than harm. And now that they know they could be beaten, they've given it their all and have refused to take their foot off the gas pedal. Well except for maybe that near collapse in the NFC Divisional round meeting where they nearly let Seattle march all the way back from a 31-point deficit in the second half. But Carolina rebounded by not letting a double-digit lead heading into the half of last Sunday's NFC title game get to their head or slip away as the NFC's second-best team in the Arizona Cardinals appeared to be no match for the now 17-1 Panthers who ran away with the 49-15 romp. 

Though Carolina's defense is also stellar but isn't quite up to par with Denver's which could cause problems up the middle and get to the quarterback with the best of 'em, it does feature the balance you want in a team on both sides of the ball. With playmakers on defense such as linebackers Luke Keuchle and Thomas Davis (who suffered a broken arm on Sunday but is expected to play) as well as this year's most shutdown cornerback in Josh Norman, just to name a few, Carolina comes in having caused the most takeaways in the league with 39, 24 of which being interceptions which they led the league in. But even then, this Panthers team has been most known for their offensive scoring ability which is tops in the league and none other than their captain in quarterback Cam Newton. With Newton most likely to be named league MVP, an award his counterpart Peyton Manning has won a record five times, the former Heisman Trophy winner would like nothing more than to capture the first Lombardi Trophy in Carolina Panthers franchise history. 
What's most remarkable about Carolina's explosive offense and the year they've had, is they've managed to do it all without their best receiver as Kelvin Benjamin has been sidelined all season long with a torn ACL he suffered in training camp. With the second-year wide-out expected to make a full recovery in time for the 2016 regular season, Carolina's offense could very well be just as good if not better next year. But before we get ahead of ourselves, the match-up between quarterback's Newton and Manning is an intriguing one because of the 13-year age difference which will be the largest in Super Bowl history. Not to mention the very different playing styles both QB's posses. Through the air or on the ground, Newton can do it all as he showed in Sunday's win with a pair of rushing and passing touchdowns, whereas Sunday's AFC Championship saw the first rush for a first down by Manning all year -- a 12-yard dash which happened to be his longest playoff run since his rookie season. And then there's the fact that this'll be the first ever Super Bowl meeting between two quarterback's taken first overall in their respective Draft's (Manning in 1998 and Newton in 2011). 

By punching their ticket to the big game, Carolina is only the ninth team to enter the Super Bowl with one loss or fewer, joining only the 2007 Patriots to have done it in the last 30 years. It'll also be the franchise's second Super Bowl appearance, still seeking their first victory. As for Denver, it'll be their eighth appearance, tying the Patriots, Cowboys and Steelers for the most all-time, and a win would give them their third. For what it's worth, 10 of the last 11 Super Bowl winners have donned white uniforms. Coincidentally, Carolina's only other Super Bowl appearance was in 2004 and resulted in a loss to the Patriots while wearing their white uni's. This time around they've chosen to go with black, allowing Denver to go with the more popular white uniforms. Superstitious or not, it's something Bronco fans should be ecstatic about considering they won't be wearing the orange uni's that seem to be bad luck seeing as they were demolished in them two years ago and have gone 0-4 all-time in Super Bowl's while in orange. 
Prediction: Now for how I think the big game will play out. Super Bowl 50 will be the third consecutive Super Bowl in which both No. 1 seeds reach the big game, proving once again just how important home field advantage is come playoff time. And with this game being played on the neutral grounds of San Francisco at Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium, home of the 49ers, there'll be no home field advantage for either coach Ron Rivera or coach Gary Kubiak. As we've learned in the past and most notably the last time Denver made its trip to the Super Bowl, defense wins championships. With that said, all signs would point towards me taking the defensive-minded Broncos, right? Wrong! I'm not going to claim that the only reason the Broncos are Super Bowl-bound is because of a missed extra-point by the usually automatic Stephen Gostkowski, but the truth is that the missed PAT (ending a streak of 523 consecutive makes) changed the entire complexion of how coach Bill Belichick and the Patriots approached the game, having to go for that failed two-point conversion with just seconds remaining which sealed the Broncos' win and sent New England packing. 

I'll also give Peyton some credit for the two first half drives he led the Broncos offense on which resulted in touchdowns, but I'm afraid he'll be asked to put up a lot more points against a high octane offense like Carolina's. Something I don't think he'll be able to do as the opposing team's secondary will once again prove to be his kryptonite. Though I don't necessarily see Newton and the Carolina offense running amok quite like they have in each of the past two games as they'll have a much better defense in front of them come Super Bowl Sunday, I just don't see any offense exchanging punches with Carolina, and certainly not one led by the aging Peyton Manning and a run game that failed to get going until late against the Patriots. But that's not to say Denver doesn't stand a chance. If they can contain Newton and running back Jonathan Stewart on the ground like they did New England's ground attack and apply the same pressure to Newton that doomed Brady, they'll pull off the upset. With that said, it'll be intriguing to see how they approach a QB of Newton's caliber whom possesses arguably the most dangerous duel-threat ability in the game. Regardless, I'm taking Carolina who I think pulls off the 27-17 win with receiver and kick return specialist Teddy Ginn Jr. scoring a late touchdown to seal it for the Panthers' first-ever Super Bowl triumph.


Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Niners hope to cash-in their Chips with Kelly hire

The search is over. Less than two weeks after the San Francisco 49ers played their last down of football during the 2015 regular season which ended in an overtime victory over the division rival Rams, the team that finished the year with an overall record of 5-11 is already expected to take on the makeup of an entirely different franchise come the start of next season. Hours after the Niners' season finale, first-year head coach Jim Tomsula was relieved of his head coaching duties after a disappointing one and done experiment which saw San Francisco finish in the cellar of arguably the league's toughest division -- the NFC West. In search of the next heir of the throne, 49ers team owner Jed York and general manager Trent Baalke searched high and low before making their new hire. With such candidates as Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, Buccaneers OC Dirk Koetter, former Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and former head coach Mike Shanahan who made his way to the final cut, it was former Eagles head coach Chip Kelly who won the job over Shanahan to become the 20th head coach in 49ers franchise history.

Kelly, who broke out onto the NFL head coaching scene after a successful career at the collegiate level with the Oregon Ducks, jump-started his NFL career with back-to-back 10-6 seasons before a disappointing 2015 campaign that was cut short as he was let go by the Philadelphia Eagles the second to last week of the regular season. After making a handful of deals and personnel changes that backfired as well as reportedly losing the locker room as the season wore on, Philadelphia went 6-9 under Kelly this season before winning their final game without him as Philly posted a second-place finish in the NFC East behind Washington. In three seasons with the Eagles, Kelly boasted an overall record of 26-21 with one playoff appearance in 2013 when he became the first head coach in franchise history and only the second coach in league history to win a division title in his first year. Viewed by many as an offensive mastermind, Kelly gets a second chance less than a month after being fired by the Eagles and will be introduced by the 49ers during a press conference expected sometime next week. Speaking of second chances, the hiring of Kelly might also spawn a second chance for one Niner that's only a few seasons removed from bursting on the scene himself.
Being looked upon as the anti-Jim Tomsula, Kelly brings with him to the Bay Area, a very innovative offensive system which 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick appears to fit perfectly. Despite a pair of disappointing seasons after taking the league by storm in his first season and a half at the helm of the Niners quarterback position, the acquisition of Kelly should breathe life back into Kaepernick's career with the team after it appeared to be a foregone conclusion that his time with the organization had come to an end. Instead, San Francisco's QB situation heading into the 2016 season should be one of the most interesting considering it wasn't long ago that rumors swirled regarding a possible trade involving Kaepernick to the Eagles while Chip was still in Philly. The two can now work together on putting their past behind them in hopes of a more successful second act. Because at this point, if anyone can groom Kaepernick into being the duel-threat quarterback he was once known as and give the San Francisco offense the shot in the arm it so desperately needs, it's Chip, right?

As for my personal opinion, I believe Kelly used the team's current quarterback situation as a major selling-point and won over the hearts of Baalke and York over in the interview room by explaining to them that they already have a diamond in the rough in QB Colin Kaepernick, and one that would fit his system to a tee. Unlike in Philly, the 54-year old Kelly won't be given the keys to the kingdom. In other words, he won't have control over personnel decisions quite like he did with the Eagles. But that will allow him to focus strictly on coaching while also putting GM Trent Baalke on the hot seat who desperately needs the Kelly hire to work out for the 49ers or his days could be numbered. Kelly also has a few things of his own that he'll need to work on in his second rodeo including the relations he has with his players and the way he conducts things in the clubhouse, both of which were hot topics and areas of concern during his often criticized tenure with the Eagles. How things shape out in Kelly's first season in the Bay Area is anyone's guess at this point, but one thing that is certain is that April's NFL Draft should be an interesting one for the 49ers who own the 7th overall pick are in need of playmakers on both sides of the ball.
Chip Kelly on landing the job in SF: "As one of the most historic franchises in the National Football League, I realize the high standards and expectations that this position demands and I embrace the challenges ahead."

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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Niners bookend 2015 Season with a Win

Entering Sunday's 2015 regular season finale, a few things were on the line for the San Francisco 49ers and their long-time rivals the St. Louis Rams. A win for the 49ers would mean they would avoid their worst finish since 2005 when the franchise finished with a record of 4-12. As for the Rams who could be playing football in southern California as early as next season while relocating from St. Louis to Los Angeles, a win would make it four straight victories in what's been a disappointing year for Jeff Fisher and company.

After being blown out, 27-6 in the first meeting between bitter foes, the 49ers kept it close and took a 7-3 lead after QB Blaine Gabbert connected with Anquan Boldin who broke free of a tackle and trotted into the end zone on the first play of the second quarter. Getting his second start in as many weeks at running back for the Niners was DuJuan Harris who had himself an all around nice game. Harris broke off a big gain in the second quarter that went for 48-yards and set up the first of Phil Dawson's four field goals on the afternoon. Leading 10-3, the Rams would quickly respond with scores on each of their next three drives. A pair of Greg Zuerlein field goals and a Tre Mason touchdown run from 4-yards out would put St. Louis ahead. Gabbert had a pass batted in the air and intercepted for a 42-yard return which set up the Rams' lone touchdown just two plays later. Trailing 16-10 at halftime, the 49ers would keep the Rams scoreless in the second half. 
After inching closer with a field goal in the third, San Francisco tied it up with another in the fourth as the game was sent to overtime with both teams knotted up at 16. With San Francisco failing to score on the opening possession during overtime, St. Louis appeared to be on their way to a fourth consecutive victory as Zuerlein stepped up with a chance to win it with a 48-yard field goal. But after missing wide right from 52-yards earlier in the game, the day would go from bad to worse for Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein who had the potential game-winner blocked by second-year corner Dontae Johnson. The block would keep the Niners alive and give them one final chance to finish the season on top. With under five minutes to go, Gabbert completed a pass to receiver Quinton Patton who broke a tackle and nearly took it to the house before being stopped short of the end zone. The 33-yard reception would be all Phil Dawson needed in what could be his final game as a Niner, as he split the uprights one for the game-winning 23-yard field goal which led to hugs and high-fives all around. Gabbert threw for a career-high 354 yards and a touchdown, with 86 of those yards going to DuJuan Harris who led all receivers. The free-agent-to-be and journeyman who was signed to five different teams this season, rushed for a game-high 67 yards on 16 carries.

Unfortunately, one Niner would walk off the field a winner but would leave the stadium jobless. Despite the 19-16 overtime win, Niners head coach Jim Tomsula was relieved of his head coaching duties just hours after the game. In his only season at the helm, San Francisco finished 5-11 under the rookie head coach who spent a total of nine seasons with the organization, serving as the team's defensive-line coach. With the 49ers head coaching vacancy now the main focus of the offseason, who they nab next is anyone's guess at this point. But that hasn't stopped some of the early candidates from surfacing with such names as Mike Holmgren, Mike Shanahan, Hue Jackson and Adam Gase leading the pack, as well as the recently fired Chip Kelly who on Sunday was bounced from Philly after three seasons. As for some positive news, linebacker NaVorro Bowman added another nine tackles on Sunday to add to his league-leading 154 tackles and was named to the Pro Bowl. It might not be the last we hear of Bowman's name this year, however, as he's a prime candidate to win the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year Award after missing the entire 2014 season following his major knee injury suffered in the NFC title game two seasons ago.
2016 Preview - With the 2015 regular season in the books, the regular season opponents for 2016 have been announced as the 49ers will host the following: Saints, Buccaneers, Patriots, Jets, Cowboys, Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks. Meanwhile, they'll hit the road to face the following: Falcons, Panthers, Bills, Bears, Dolphins, Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks. As for April's Draft, the 49ers sit in the top 10, owning the no. 7 pick.


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