NFL MVP is Matt Ryan’s to lose 

It’s finally happened. After 9 years of waiting and hoping that he’ll emerge as the “next” great quarterback in the NFL, Matt Ryan has finally come into his own. Following last night’s near flawless performance against the [division rival] Tampa Bay Buccaneers (344 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT & 144.7 QBR), Ryan has inserted himself as the top choice for league MVP.

Skeptical as many may be due to Ryan’s knack for starting out strong and crumbling down the stretch, this year feels very different. He’s already registered a 500 yard passing performance along with throwing at least 3 touchdowns in 5 out of the 9 games he’s started this season.

The Falcons record doesn’t exactly blow anyone away at 6-3; however, 2 of those 3 losses came at the hands of Atlanta’s defense who have become allergic to holding 4th quarter leads.

There are two other players of note that deserve to be at the top of the MVP discussion along with Ryan; the first being the golden boy himself, Tom Brady and the other is Oakland’s Derek Carr. Brady has arguably put forth the best four game stretch ever by a quarterback; 73.1 completion percentage, 12 TD, 0 INT & a 133.9 QBR. Carr has been very impressive himself; completing 66.3 percent of his passes and throwing 17 TD’s to only 3 INT’s. I’m not trying to take anything away from their exceptional performances so far this season; I just believe Ryan’s body of work has been more impressive. 

Now, Ryan doesn’t need to win MVP to make this a successful season; however, he does need to continue to perform at this high level as the season progresses. If his play begins to decline as the season winds down, as it did last year; his reputation is going to take a major hit and one that I don’t believe he’ll be able to recover from. He’ll be put in that “good” but “not great” category which is way beneath his skill/talent level. 

Ryan has always been in the conversation as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the league, but this could finally be the year that he reaches that elite level. He has talent, hell he’s always had the talent; know it’s just a matter of finishing what he’s started.
  
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Cleveland’s Easy Road to The Finals Puts More Pressure on LeBron to Deliver

Following the Golden State Warriors championship season last year, there were many skeptics (aka Trolls) who denounced the legitimacy of their NBA title. Their [the skeptics] argument stemmed from the fact that the Warriors continued to face teams plagued by injury; while they [the Warriors] stayed healthy. The skeptics ranged from Doc Rivers to Charles Barkley to every retired NBA player from the 80’s & 90’s. It’s an absurd argument to make but one that’s continued to make the rounds throughout this NBA season.
Lebron James and “his” Cleveland Cavaliers have had the easiest road to the NBA Finals in league history. Their first round matchup was against an up-and-coming but clearly inexperienced Pistons team that was still learning how to close out games. Their second round opponent was the Atlanta Hawks (or the Cincinnati Bengals of the NBA) who are formidable in the regular season but completely choke come the postseason. Finally, they reach the third round and get to face the overhyped and underwhelming Toronto Raptors.
The Cavs waxed the Raptors in the first two games of the series so badly that many believed (myself included) that the series would be over in 4 games. However, the Raptors played up for their home crowd and took games 3 &4 handily. All of sudden the narrative shifted and everyone started wondering if the Raptors had a real chance of stealing game 5 in Cleveland. Game 5 came and went, and the Raptors left all their talent in Toronto as the Cavs decimated them by 35 points. Game 6 is tonight and I fully believe that the Cavs will leave Toronto with a win.
Now, I brought all of that up to point out this; if these Cavs win the NBA Championship this year, shouldn’t their title be tainted? After all, they’ve played against inferior teams in one of the weakest Eastern Conferences the league has ever seen. If the Warriors title from last year is allowed to be put into question, why can’t the same be done to the Cavs? Furthermore, if Lebron makes it to the Finals and loses [again], what does that say about him as an all-time great?
As far as I see it, Lebron HAS to win a championship this year. He’s spent part of his season playing GM and making a coaching change and the other part trashing the Warriors and the accolades that have come their way; which they’ve deserved, regardless of what he says. He’s played in the extremely watered-down East which has helped him reach the Finals for 6 straight years (6 including this year).

The competition this year has been dreadful and his team has taken full advantage of that. With that being said, if he doesn’t come out of this season as a champion, I don’t think his legacy/reputation will ever recover.
If you dominate your conference like the Cavs have, all while throwing shade at the defending champs and contending that you’re still the best player in the game, you sure as hell better show up and deliver in the Finals. If you don’t, you’re no longer the “King” and you don’t deserve to be in the conversation as an all-time great (now I’m talking Magic, Jordan, Bird, Wilt etc.).
Don’t get me wrong, Lebron is one of the two best players in the game; but, he can’t go 2-5 in the Finals and be considered as an all-timer. It just doesn’t add up. For instance, if Tom Brady didn’t win the Super Bowl two years ago and had a 3-3 record rather than 4-2; no one would be saying that he deserves to be in the same conversation as Joe Montana. You can’t continue to come up short in championship games and be considered one of the best ever.
LeBron and the Cavs have had a smooth ride up to this point. If they don’t deliver a title back to Cleveland, not only will it be devastating for the city but for James’ legacy as well.

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The Mount Rushmore of My Generation

What makes sports such an enjoyable medium are the [sometimes] healthy debates that arise from them. Every couple of years or so, the “Who’s on the Mount Rushmore of [insert sport]” comes up and intense debating begins.  Given how in last week’s post I wrote about how my generation was losing its athletes to retirement left and right, that this would be a good time to create a Mount Rushmore for my generation’s (I’m 28) top athletes in major sports.

Two quick points of order:

  • Michael Phelps would be on this list but swimming isn’t a major sport.
  • Jordan doesn’t qualify because he retired when I was in grade school.

My Mount Rushmore picks are:

Tom Brady

Tim Duncan

Derek Jeter

Tiger Woods

Brady is the most decorated (active) football player in the NFL. His 4 Super Bowl’s and 2 Super Bowl MVP’s are unmatched by any quarterback of my era. While Peyton Manning owns almost every passing record and won 2 Super Bowl’s in his own right, he never eclipsed Brady when it came to clutch performances. Since Brady became the starting quarterback for the New England Patriots in 2001 (15 seasons), the team has missed the playoffs twice (2002 & 2008); and in one of those years, Brady only played in 1 regular season game. He has an absurd postseason record of 22-9 (most wins all time) and has thrown for 56 postseason TD’s; which is a record that might never be broken. At the end of the day, if I had to pick one quarterback to win me a game, there’s no way I’d choose anyone other than Brady.

Duncan [Mr. Fundamental] is one of a handful of greats who have played every game of their career in one uniform. He just finished his 19th (and possibly last) season with the San Antonio Spurs, where he helped lead his team to a regular season [team] record of 65-13. Given the fact that San Antonio is in a small market within NBA circles, Duncan has been one of the most overlooked superstars ever, in any sport. It’s a damn shame too, given all that he’s accomplished. In 19 seasons, Duncan is a 5-time NBA Champion, a 3-time NBA Finals MVP and a 2-time NBA MVP. Now, I know that there will be plenty of believe that Kobe Bryant should be on this list over Duncan; and while I understand the argument for Bryant, I believe that Duncan has not only been more consistent but has found ways to make his team/teammates better. For my money, Duncan is easily one of the 10 best players ever and the best power forward to ever play the game.

Woods was the best golfer on the planet for over a decade and arguably surpassed Jack Nicklaus as the best of all time. I’ve never seen another athlete dominate his/her sport more than Woods dominated golf. Woods didn’t just dominate; he became his own brand, and made the sport relevant. Golf has never seen as a major player in the public medium in the same manner as baseball, basketball and football; that is, until Tiger. What he’s accomplished on the golf course is incredible; 79 PGA Tour wins (2nd all time), 40 European Tour wins (3rd all time), 14 Majors and was awarded PGA Player of the Year 11 times. Now with him [way] past his prime, commentators are constantly searching for the “next” Tiger. It’s a futile search because what he did, will never happen again.

Jeter [The Captain] spent his entire 20 year career with the New York Yankees where he won 5 World Series Championships, a World Series MVP (2000), and recorded 200 postseason hits (most all time). From 1996-2012, the Yankees never missed the postseason. In his career, Jeter played in only 1 game in which the Yankees were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention. He set the Yankees all-time record in hits with 3,465 (6th most all time), doubles (544), games played (2,747), stolen bases (358), times on base (4,716), plate appearances (12,602) and at bats (11,195). There’s no doubt that there have been better all-around players than Jeter; but in my lifetime, there has never a more iconic, marketable or likeable star in the game than Jeter. He’s one of the few athletes that were not just a spectacular player on the field, but a respectable ambassador off of it.

Honorable Mentions:

Kobe Bryant

Lebron James

Peyton Manning

 

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Brady vs. Manning; The Finale

Championship Sunday is only two days away and once again we’re privileged to another heavyweight fight between Tom Brady & Peyton Manning.  These two are the Magic + Bird of our era; displaying greatness and memorable moments within every match they’ve played.  However, this year’s game will be very different from all the rest; for one, this will be the final battle between the two [assuming Manning does the smart thing and retires at the end of the season] and secondly, the Patriots are facing a skill depleted Peyton Manning who is practically playing on one leg.

Anyone who’s watched [or listened to] Manning’s play this season will admit that he’s not what he used to be; not even close.  The old adage of Father Time being undefeated has once again proven true and it’s been very painful to watch.  Manning has never had a ‘strong’ arm (like Elway or Marino) but he’s always been able to get the ball where it needed to go with pinpoint accuracy.  Now when you watch him, his throws flutter and in some cases, are up for grabs to anyone in their vicinity.

Yes, Manning’s career is nearing it’s inevitable end; but will it end on the highest of highs or will he once again succumb to the playoff demons that have haunted him throughout his illustrious career?

Manning’s my favorite football player and I’ve followed his career since his rookie season.  Living in New England hasn’t been easy being one of the few [if not only] Manning fan in the area; especially given the unprecedented success that Brady and the Patriots have had against Manning along with the rest of the league.  Even still, I don’t regret my fandom for a second and I’m hoping [and praying] that Manning can turn the corner and defeat Brady one last time.

Unfortunately, I don’t see Manning being able to pull off the miracle and beat Brady this weekend.  As great as the Broncos defense is, you have to be able to score whenever you’re facing Brady; and I don’t think Manning’s going to be able to do that.  I hope like hell I’m wrong, but if last weekend’s game is any indication, the Broncos offense is going to have to rely heavily on a running game that has been anything but consistent; not to mention their facing the best coach in the league at taking away your best offensive weapon(s).  I’m taking the Patriots 21-17.

The Brady vs. Manning matchups (rooting interests aside) have been exciting to watch.  As football fans, we’ve had the opportunity to witness two of the best who have ever played, go head-to-head (so to speak); and it’s been an honor and a pleasure to go along for the ride.

The 49ers Won Big By Hiring Chip Kelly

The San Francisco 49ers made a splash yesterday when they hired Chip Kelly as their new head coach.  Kelly was let go by the Philadelphia Eagles a few weeks ago after a disappointing year in which the team went 6-9 and missed the playoffs.  The 49ers made a great hire regardless of what many in the media want you to believe.

Kelly came to the NFL from college where he turned the pedestrian [at best] Oregon University football program into a national powerhouse.  He signed on as the Eagles head coach in 2013 following the team’s horrific 2012 season in which they won only four games.  Kelly made an immediate impact going 10-6 in his first two seasons, including a playoff appearance.  In January of 2015, Kelly became head of football operations and made significant changes to the roster; which was met with mixed reviews from Eagles fans and the mainstream media.  From that point on, it seemed like Kelly’s days in Philadelphia were numbered; and anything less than a playoff run would end with his dismissal.

When Kelly was fired by the Eagles, you would’ve thought he was the worst coach in the history of football given the reaction around the sports world.  Media members and fans were blowing up the national airways excoriating this man as fraud and a bust as an NFL head coach.  The popular opinion became that Kelly is only good at the college level and his offensive ‘genius’ doesn’t belong/work in the NFL.

Objectively speaking, if you’re a football fan and your team is looking for a new head coach, and you read the following resume’ on SportsCenter; are you really not going to consider this man as a qualified candidate?

College Coaching Record: 44-5, 2-2 in Bowl Games, 2x Pac-10 Coach of the Year  

NFL Coaching Record: 26-21 [10-6, 10-6, 6-9], Playoff Appearance, Turned a 4-12 team to a 10-6 playoff team in his first season.

It’s absurd that so many people have chosen try and negate everything that Kelly’s done in three years in the NFL.  While I think he made a mistake (that many have made before him) by taking on being the head of football operations, that doesn’t change the fact that he turned around a struggling franchise in one season.  The man made Nick Foles into a decent starting quarterback within his system; how’s Foles looking in St. Louis without Kelly’s tutelage?

The 49ers front office made the right call by hiring Chip Kelly.  Kelly’s offensive ‘genius’ is going to rejuvenate a putrid offense along with the team’s struggling starting quarterback.  Colin Kaepernick is going to have a fresh start next season and that’s in large part because he’s the best quarterback to fit Kelly’s offensive system.

Ignore all the ignorant mainstream sports media members out there; the San Francisco 49ers will be legitimate playoff contenders next season, and it will be because of their new head coach.

The Sports Media Continues to Disrespect Golden State’s Accomplishments

The NBA season is about a third of the way through their season and the Golden State Warriors have only lost one game.  That’s right; the Warriors are 27-1 through their first 28 games of the season.  They’re on pace to shatter the 95-96 Bulls record of 72 regular season wins  and yet, they’re still not getting the love or respect that they deserve.

I believe that it’s become a new fad [of sorts] in sports media to find a way to disrespect the Warriors’ championship and their undeniable success this season.  They’re getting chastised from the likes of media members such as Colin Cowherd to former players like Charles Barkley and current NBA coaches, Greg Popovich & Doc Rivers.  Rather than give the Warriors their due, hot heads like Barkley continue to say that the 95-96 Bulls would mow through this [finesse] Warriors team because they played a more physical type of basketball in the 90’s.  There’s no denying that Barkley is right, the state of play in the NBA 20 years ago was much different than it is today.  However, he’s not taking into account that, the 95-96 Bulls team might not be as successful in this current NBA climate.

While the 95-96 Bulls had some great jump shooters, none of them shot the way Curry & Thompson do on a nightly basis.  Defensively the Bulls certainly could prevent some of the Warriors’ scoring but there’s no guarantee they’d be able to shut the likes of Curry & Thompson down for an entire game; especially not Curry, he’s just too damn good.  The NBA is witnessing something that’s never been done before and instead of embracing it, many are choosing to try and break them down at every turn.

I’m tired of hearing all of these retired players coming out and finding new ways to besmirch what the Warriors have accomplished.  What this team has done has been nothing short of sensational.  They’re playing alongside [arguably] the best player in the game and as a roster; they have without a doubt the deepest bench.

Unfortunately I believe that the only way this team is ever going to get the respect that they’ve earned is to repeat; and I for one am rooting like hell for it, and believe that they’ll do it.  Hopefully at seasons end when the Warriors are hosting the Larry O’Brien Trophy for the second straight year, all of these haters will disappear and the once maligned Golden State Warriors will be given the credit that they so richly deserve.

Russell Wilson Deserves Some MVP Consideration

The MVP discussion around the NFL for the first half of the year wasn’t much of a conversation.  It had been well established that Tom Brady was running away with the award with Cam Newton nipping at his heels.  A few weeks ago, following the Patriots first loss of the season, Brady was no longer the consensus choice and Newton began to gain significant ground.  As we enter Week 14, it’s safe to say that the award is Newton’s to lose.  However, there’s a dark horse candidate that not many are talking about but someone who I believe deserves some MVP consideration.

Very quietly, Russell Wilson has become my dark horse MVP candidate.  Wilson’s overall statistical numbers might not jump off the page [68.8 completion percentage, 3,289 yards, 26 TD’s, 7 INT’s]; however, his numbers over the last four games are pretty damn impressive.  He’s thrown for 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions while averaging a little over 300 yards passing per game.  In two of those four games he threw for 5 touchdowns while completing over 70% of his passes.

It’s understood that the MVP award is given for a player’s season long statistics, not just what he’s done over the course of a few games.  Again while Wilson’s statstics might not blow anyone away, it’s important to keep in mind that he’s been playing with a back-up running back and a mediocre receiving core.  Not to mention, he’s had to overcome some deficiencies that have plagued the vaunted Seattle defense which has blown four 4th quarter leads so far this season.  Part of the knock on Wilson (which I have taken part of) was that he’s been a decent quarterback who’s been carried by his elite defense and excellent running game.  If nothing else, Wilson is proving to be a rising star and has all the skills to be considered a top tier quarterback in the years to come.  

If the Carolina Panthers are undefeated at the end of the regular season then there’s really nothing to discuss; Newton deserves the MVP award.  However, if the Panthers lose a couple games down the stretch and Wilson continues to play at this level, I believe that he deserves some strong consideration and love from the voters.

 

Los Angeles Clippers Are Far from Title Contenders

Heading into this season, the Los Angeles Clippers were pegged as a legitimate title contender and so far, haven’t lived up to the hype.  If it wasn’t for the dumpster fire that’s been the Houston Rockets, the Clippers would be representing the title for most disappointing team in the league.

The Clippers have been the bridesmaid of Los Angeles [and the Western Conference] for years, and last season it seemed like they were in position to finally turn the perspective of this franchise around.  Following Chris Paul’s epic Game 7 heroics against the Spurs, many believed they would steam roll the Houston Rockets and face-off against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.  Instead, they blew they’re commanding 3-1 lead over the Rockets and once again were bounced out of the playoffs.

By now, everyone knows that offseason drama between the Clippers and the Dallas Mavericks over signing Deandre Jordan; the Clippers ended up resigning him (although I believe the Mavericks made out as the victors).  What many may not be aware of was the comments Doc Rivers made about the Golden State Warriors [to Grantland] and their championship run from the previous season.  Rivers said, “You need luck in the West.  Look at Golden State.  They didn’t have to play us or the Spurs.”  In other words, following an epic collapse, Rivers tried to deflect him team’s failures and throw shade on an accomplishment made by a [bitter] rival.

This all leads back to the opening statement about how the Clippers are the most disappointing team in the league given the preseason hype.  The following are my 3 reasons (and explanations) why the Clippers are not title contenders and won’t be for the near future.

  • Doc Rivers is overrated

Doc Rivers is a good basketball coach, but I wouldn’t consider him one of the best in the league.  Outside of his title with the Boston Celtics in 2008, his teams have come up short more times than not.  For the past 2 years the Clippers have been favorites to win the title and both times they’ve lost in the second round; to teams that they should’ve beaten.  Rivers hasn’t had the success that one would think given the praise and admiration he’s given throughout the league.

  • Chis Paul may be a floor general but he’s not a leader + he’s never gotten past the second round of the playoffs

Chris Paul is one of the best point guards in the game along with being one of the dirtiest players.  Paul has no problem taking cheap shots at another man’s groin in order to win a game.  He’s also been known to call out teammates if they don’t play up to ‘his’ level.  Given all that, he’s revered as one of the best “leaders” in the league but he’s yet to bring his team past the second round of the playoffs.  Hell, even Carmelo Anthony has done that.

  • The Golden State Warriors will continue to beat them [they’re 0-2 against the Warriors so far this season]

It wasn’t a smart move by Rivers to make those comments about the legitimacy of the Warriors title, especially since his team fell flat on their face in the second round.  The Warriors took those comments personally and have beaten the Clippers soundly in both of their games this season.  If the Clippers were to face the Warriors in the playoffs, I don’t see how the Clippers will have any chance.  If they’re lucky, maybe the Warriors will take a game off so they don’t completely blow this team out of the water.

The Los Angeles Clippers look like a mess from top to bottom.  If they continue to slide, it will be interesting to see how fast this locker room will turn on each other.  One thing is for sure, this team is nowhere near a title contender, and it’s time to start questioning if this coach is the right man for the job.

The Patriots & Their Fans Need to Reflect Before Playing Victim

The New England Patriots are the latest victims of the referee debacle that has summed up the current NFL season.  There were roughly three [maybe four] borderline calls that impacted the outcome of the game.  While I sympathize with Patriots fans for getting hosed by the refs, especially given that they were in the midst of an undefeated season.  However, they’re not the first team to be victimized by the horrible officiating and certainly won’t be the last.  However, if you listen to New England sports radio (or watch any of the Patriot homers on ESPN or FOX Sports) you’d think the NFL has it out for the Patriots.  That couldn’t be further from truth and frankly that narrative is weak and extremely pathetic.

There isn’t another team in the NFL that has gotten the benefit of the whistle more over the last 15 years then the Patriots.  What many Patriots sycophants are quick to forget is their golden boy quarterback’s legend originated on a made-up call (the tuck-rule) that saved their season and screwed the Oakland Raiders in the process.  In last year’s playoffs against the Ravens, the Patriots got the benefit of a few calls which helped them overcome a deficit and win the game.  There have been coaches and players who have griped over the years that the Patriots were getting the benefit of the doubt on game changing calls, especially in Foxboro.

It’s hard to have sympathy for a team that’s been caught cheating [more than once], who’s benefited more times than not in officiating calls, and is the first to complain the moment anything doesn’t go their way.  In addition, it’s even harder to garner sympathy for them because their fans are some of the worst in all of sports.  Every fan base is going to bias towards their team, but Patriots fans take it to the next level.  Just like their team, they’re the first to bitch when things don’t go their way but have selective amnesia when they get the benefit of many calls.  They’re the true force behind this whole victimization crap that’s been streaming through the airways all week, and it just goes to show you how sad and pitiful the fans of New England can be.

The New England Patriots during the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick tenure have mostly benefited from officials calls, Sunday night they didn’t.  The narrative that the NFL has it out for the Patriots is simply untrue and needs to be put to bed.  Given their history, the Patriots and their fans need to reflect on the past before continuing the charade of playing the victim.

3 NFL Offseason Moves That Should Happen But Won’t

We are only a little past the halfway point of this NFL season, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to start thinking about trades and/or acquisitions during the offseason.  The following is a list of a few offseason moves that should happen but probably won’t.

Calvin Johnson – New England Patriots:  It doesn’t even sound fair, yet it would make the most sense.  Think back to 2007 and the damage that the combo of Brady/Moss inflicted on the rest of the league; this pairing could potentially be even more lethal.  Brady is currently playing at the highest level of any quarterback [ever] with a make-shift offensive line and an offensive lineup that’s riddled with injuries.   Imagine Brady behind a healthy offensive line and Johnson as his number one target; it could become the stuff of legend.

Matthew Stafford – Houston Texans:  This is a match made in heaven.  The Texans desperately need a quarterback and Stafford is never going to get anywhere in Detroit.  Bill O’Brien needs to make a splash at quarterback quick, fast and in a hurry; otherwise he’s going to be looking for a new job.  Who better than a player with [arguably] the strongest arm in the league who’s still in his prime at age 27?  Stafford has benefited from playing alongside Calvin Johnson throughout his career, but that has only taken him so far.  The personnel in Detroit is a joke (which is why both Johnson & Stafford have made this list) whereas Houston has proven that they have a playoff ready roster [with an underrated star in DeAndre Hopkins at wide receiver] that lacks a respectable starting quarterback.

Chip Kelly – Tennessee Titans:  Kelly’s offensive experiments haven’t panned out the way many (including myself) expected and it’s a safe bet that he won’t be returning to Philadelphia at the end of this season; unless by some miracle the Eagles make the playoffs.  The Titans are desperate for a good offensive minded coach that will help develop their first-round quarterback; look no further than the man who coached Mariota to success at Oregon.  Kelly hasn’t been shy with his praise for the young quarterback and I believe that the pairing could do some real damage in the weak AFC South; not to mention, Mariota’s game truly thrived under the tutelage of his former college coach.