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2014 NFL Preview: AFC and NFC South

NFLToday I will unfortunately preview the two weakest divisions in football: the AFC and NFC South…

AFC South

  1. Indianapolis Colts (11-5)
  2. Houston Texans (6-10)
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10)
  4. Tennessee Titans (4-12)

Analysis:  The Colts should moonwalk to the division title.  Take a look at the rest of the division – it’s God-awful. 

The Colts have a stud QB in Andrew Luck.  They are talented at WR, led by the ageless Reggie Wayne.  Their defense ain’t half-bad either. 

But the rest of the division?  Ewwwwww.  While the Jaguars are steadily improving, and the Texans have Javedeon Clowney, those teams will still suck.

As for the Titans, not even an exorcist could bless their season.

NFC South

  1. New Orleans Saints (12-4)
  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-8)
  3. Carolina Panthers (7-9)
  4. Atlanta Falcons (5-11)

Analysis:  Much like the AFC South, this is a one-team division.  The Saints are still loaded offensively, still employ Drew Brees, still have Sean Payton as head coach, and still play in the Superdome – one of the best home-field advantages in all of football.  And much like the Colts, New Orleans is improving defensively.  In fact, they are pretty damn good thanks to coordinator Rob Ryan (who inexplicably does not have a head coaching job).

The Buccaneers will be one of the big surprises this season.  They have acquired more talent over the off-season.  Rookie WR Mike Evans will be a huge addition offensively.  They are decent defensively.  And they have under-stated Lovie Smith coaching the team.  That to me spells improvement.

Meanwhile in Charlotte, the Panthers are devoid of offensive talent – especially at wide receiver.  Aside from TE Greg Olsen (who will be triple-teamed), who will poor Cam Newton throw the ball to?  And the front office, namely general manager Dave Gettleman, did not re-sign many of its starters in the secondary, though the Panthers’ front seven will still be good.

The Falcons are just too soft to comment on.  A one-dimensioned offense + a leaky defense = a helluva lot of losses.

2014 NFL Preview: AFC and NFC North

NFLAFC North

  1. Baltimore Ravens (11-5)
  2. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)
  3. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)
  4. Cleveland Browns (7-9)

Analysis:  This is one of the toughest divisions in football (the other being the NFC West).  This is easily a three-team division.  What separates the Ravens, my Steelers, and the reigning division champ Bengals are their schedules.  All three teams contend with the patsy NFC South and horrific AFC South this season, and all three should win at least six games apiece from those two divisions alone.  The Ravens have the easiest conference games with Miami and San Diego, while my Steelers have the Jets and Kansas City, and the Bengals contend with New England and Denver (ouch!).  

The Bengals are better than they were last year, but those tough two games will be the death of them in terms of repeating as division champs.  Coach Marvin Lewis also has to prove that he could win without his top two lieutenants Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden, both of which are now first-time head coaches.

The Ravens and Steelers are going to bounce back in a big way.  Baltimore now employs the fiery Steve Smith at wide receiver, who should help QB Joe Flacco tremendously.  As long as Ray Rice focuses on regaining his form at RB instead of beating the hell out of women, Baltimore’s offense should rise again. 

As for my Steelers, as long as Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrett Blount stays off the weed, Pittsburgh will be in good shape.  They finally got younger on defense, and if they learn how to stop the run and get to the opposing QB like old times, all the better.

Poor Cleveland.  Their top-10 defense’s efforts will be wasted by a moribund offense.  At least the Browns made the right decision in benching Johnny Manziel.  No use sending him out there to get himself killed without any offensive weapons to speak of.

NFC North

  1. Green Bay Packers (10-6)
  2. Chicago Bears (10-6)
  3. Detroit Lions (7-9)
  4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)

Analysis:  Here is all you need to know about the NFC North – the Packers, Bears and Lions will score points at will on everyone, but their alleged defenses will give those points all back to the opposition.  Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler will play at higher levels this season.  It’s just that both of their teams (Green Bay and Chicago, respectively) will not be able to stop many teams. 

Green Bay gets the nod here because its defense is slightly less horrific than Chicago’s.

The Lions are very talented, but get in their own way.  Detroit is a highly penalized team, which means they have no discipline (see Ndamukong Suh).  QB Matthew Stafford is very talented, but turns over the ball WAY too much for the Lions to succeed.  That’s too bad because WR Calvin “Megatron” Johnson is perhaps the most unstoppable force in the NFL.

The Vikings got the right man in Mike Zimmer leading the team.  He will bring some much-needed discipline and accountability to Minnesota.  I like the way QBs Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater look in the preseason.  The Vikes will be a work in progress and need to be more talented on both sides of the ball before they make any noise in this division.

2014 NFL Preview: AFC East and NFC East

NFLThe 2014 NFL regular season is upon us.

WHOO-HOO!!!

As with every season, there are a lot of new storylines heading into the regular season.  Lots of coaching changes.  Lots of first-time NFL coaches (Jay Gruden, Mike Zimmer, Mike Pettine).  Hideous new uniforms (thank you very little, Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

This season I will do bi-divisional previews from both conferences, starting with the AFC and NFC East.  Now, without further ado…

AFC East

  1. New England Patriots (12-4)
  2. New York Jets (8-8)
  3. Miami Dolphins (8-8)
  4. Buffalo Bills (7-9)

Analysis:  The Patriots are clearly the class out of what has to be one of the three most putrid divisions in football.  The Pats have the best offense, the best defense, and easily the best QB in Tom Brady in the division.  Hell the Patriots could moonwalk their way into a division title.

The Jets continue to be hilarious to me offensively.  Do they REALLY think Geno Smith gives them a better chance to win the Michael Vick?  If Smith is the answer at QB for New York, then what the hell is the question.  It’s too bad the above-average Jets defense will be asking themselves that same question all season.

Both the Dolphins and the Bills figure to bring up the rear in the division.  Miami is a complete cluster-fuck right now.  They already have offensive line issues, no running game to speak of, and a wide receiver who is clearly not earning his contract in Mike Wallace.  Miami also has chemistry issues in the locker room, as illustrated by the “Bully-gate” scandal last season. 

Well, the Bills are trying to get better, though they suck too at the moment.  At least they have a stud to build on for the future in Sammy Watkins.

NFC East

  1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
  2. Washington Redskins (9-7)
  3. Dallas Cowboys (7-9)
  4. New York Giants (5-11)

Analysis:  This division should easily come down between the Eagles and Redskins.  Philly’s offense had everyone buzzing last season, and should only be “scary better” in its second season under head coach Chip Kelly.  Though teams have had a full offseason to game-plan for QB Nick Foles, he is proving to be the real deal and excels in Kelly’s system.

The Redskins should compete in this division, even though QB Robert Griffin III has struggled so far this preseason.  I believe in new head coach Jay Gruden.  If he got Andy Dalton to play well in Cincinnati (playoff games notwithstanding), then Gruden should work wonders with RG3.  And, there is that fellow named DeSean Jackson who is now part of the fold.  Plus the defense is a lot healthier and should make amends for last season.

The Cowboys and Giants are atrocious.  Eli Manning should be put on notice after last season’s debacle (and poor showing this preseason), and Tony Romo should go on strike for having to carry the load for a bad team.  Speaking of Dallas, I’m just waiting for fans to run Jerry Jones’ ass out of town.

 

Kevin Love Makes the Cavs the Favorites in the East

254px-NBA_Logo.svg_It’s a wrap.

Hell I might as well say so now since Kevin Love is now officially a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers by way of a 3-team trade that saw the top overall pick Andrew Wiggins dealt to the Minnesota Timberwolves and a few scrubs sent to the Philadelphia 76ers. 

To me, there is nothing NOT to love about the trade – at least from the Cavs’ point of view.  Cleveland receives one of the most talented young big men in the game that produces 20+ points, 10+ rebounds night in and night out.  In Love, LeBron James finally gets a productive big man who could bang down low and score on the perimeter.  This also gives Cleveland a new and improved “Big Three” that includes James, Love and point guard Kyrie Irving.

Now the Cavs’ projected starting lineup includes Irving, Dion Waiters, James, Love and Anderson Varejao.  That group should win AT LEAST 57 games this season. 

I mean, look at the rest of the East. 

The Miami Heat, led by Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, want to try and prove James wrong for leaving them, but I do not trust Wade’s knees.  The Charlotte Hornets and Washington Bullets – ERRRR I mean “Wizards” – are good up-and-coming teams, but are too green to make some noise in the playoffs.  The Indiana Pacers will be without Paul George for most of next season thanks that horrific injury during a Team USA scrimmage.  And my New York Knicks are a one-man band with Carmelo Anthony leading the way.

The Chicago Bulls figure to be the Cavs main rivals to win the East, but Derrick Rose’s knees may betray him once again.

In other words, the Eastern Conference is the Cavs’ to lose.

Now I know what some of you all may be thinking: what about Wiggins?  Look, I know Wiggins is going to be a stud in this league.  He is tenacious on the defensive end.  His upside is off the charts.  He may be the next superstar in the NBA.

However, Wiggins is not the best ball-handler at this point of his career.  His jump shot is not consistent, and he frankly needs a bit more meat on his bones.  In short, Wiggins may take a while – by that I mean at least 2-3 seasons – to develop into a bonafide star in this league.  Something tells me that James does not want to wait a while for Wiggins to help him win a third NBA title.

Enter the need to acquire Love.

The Eastern Conference is going to be hella fun to watch this season.  It’s as wide open as it’s been in years.  In getting Love, the Cavs are going to take advantage of that wide-open landscape.

I’d be beyond shocked if Cleveland does not represent the East in the 2015 NBA Finals.

 

Take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – NOW!

We at “The Klown Times” would like to challenge all of our readers/followers to take the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge if you haven’t already done so. We also encourage you all to donate to the ALS Association here.  As lead writer/creator Scott Burks demonstrated, you can have fun with this challenge as well.

Take the challenge, and donate DAMMIT!

Taking Time Off…

Hello everyone!

I will be celebrating my eighth wedding anniversary in Atlantic City this week, so I will be taking a break from blogging for a while.  I’ll something for y’all next week in the form of 2014 NFL divisional previews.

Until then, onward dammit!

Autonomy a Game Changer in College Athletics

ncaaA lot could be taken from the award of autonomy for the Power 5 conferences (Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 10, Big-12, Pac-12 and Southeastern Conference) in college athletics.

On one hand, autonomy is viewed as a victory for student-athletes.  Autonomy grants the Power 5 the ability to to award those athletes cost of attendance, improved long-term health care and guaranteed four-year scholarships.  The value of those athletic scholarships its schools hand out to cover costs beyond tuition, room and board, books and fees.

On the other hand, autonomy is viewed as something that will widen the gulf between the “haves” (Power 5 conferences) and the “have nots” (the so-called “Group of 5″).  Critics will be quick to say that schools from the “Group of 5″ (Mid-American Conference, American Athletic Conference, Sun Belt, Conference USA and Mountain West) will not be able to keep up with the Clemsons, Florida States, Alabamas, Auburns, Oregons, and Notre Dames (considered a “Power 5″ school thanks to its affiliation with the ACC).

Either way, I think this will be fascinating as hell.

First of all, I think it would affect recruiting immensely.  Just imagine if Nick Saban comes into a kid’s living room promising a guaranteed four-year scholarship that will also put an extra thousand or more in his pocket.  A rep from, say Marshall, could not compete with that.  Or, in an example that hits close to home, reps from East Carolina trying to compete with reps from UNC, Clemson, Virginia Tech, South Carolina, or NC State (my Wolfpack are so bad, so maybe NCSU is not the best example).

Schools from the “Group of 5″ cannot compete with the power conferences’ prestige is one thing.  Competing with the power conferences’ wealth is another.

Another thing to think about is how this would affect other sports at even the bigger universities.

It’s obvious that this autonomy ruling affects football and basketball the most.  After all, those sports are the money-makers at most universities.

For schools in the Group of 5, there is only so much money to go around.  If they want to compete with the big boys from the Power 5 conferences, they have to do what they have to do to keep up.  That may mean cutting other sports.  I could easily see volleyball, tennis, and track and field getting the ax at some of those schools.  In some cases, baseball and softball may end up on the chopping block.

The situation at Maryland shows that even schools in the wealthier conferences are not immune to cutting sports, especially if their financial houses are not in order.  While Maryland’s troubles were due to gross financial mismanagement (thank you Debbie Yow), other smaller schools in the fold such as Wake Forest, Vanderbilt and Northwestern could still be on the short end – mainly because those schools are small private schools.

Another thing to consider is how this will affect the Title IX sports.  Shouldn’t female athletes receive the same financial perks as the football, basketball and in some cases baseball players receive?  Schools in that predicament may resort to the same sport cutting to make ends meet for women’s sports.  And know this: no school would even dare cut the women’s sports.  That is a Gloria Allred-led lawsuit waiting to happen.

Either way, however autonomy affects college sports as we know it is going to be intriguing as hell to watch.  It’s too early to tell, but I think the gulf between the “haves” and the “have nots” have gotten a helluva lot wider.

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