10 Most Memorable Sports Moments of 2013

By: Prad

What a year it’s been for the sports community. 2013 has included a myriad of emotions surrounding various events from terrorist attacks to retirements. Unfortunately, I have compiled solely the top 10 moments of the year, so many deserving moments did not make the cut.

10) Superdome Lighting Failure

Half of the Superdome in darkness Courtesy of NY Times
Half of the Superdome in darkness
Courtesy of NY Times

Normally this should not be classified under “most memorable”, but the magnitude of the lighting failure is of note. New Orleans spent an estimated $471 million on this year’s Super Bowl. With almost half a billion dollars, you’d expect for at least all the lights to work, something that should have been a top priority for the Superdome maintenance staff. With 13:22 minutes left in the third quarter, half of the stadium plunged into darkness leaving TV viewers, players, and especially the audience confused. The partial blackout remained for a whopping 34 minutes. Apparently, Beyonce’s extravagant halftime show is somewhat responsible for the outage because of the amount of lighting used during her performance, forcing the device that detects electrical load to open a breaker and cut the lights.

9) Dunk City, USA

FGCU had a lot of fun during their ride to the Sweet Sixteen Courtesy of Naples News
FGCU had a lot of fun during its ride to the Sweet Sixteen
Courtesy of Naples News

Florida Gulf Coast University had quite the emergence on the national stage in 2013 by taking down #2 Georgetown in March. And then #7 San Diego St. went down for an encore performance. FGCU became the first #15 seed in NCAA history to reach the Sweet Sixteen. The wins were definitely impressive, but what made it even better was the excitement that the players on that team brought to the court in those two games. Dunk after dunk brought the city of Fort Meyers the fitting name of “Dunk City, USA.” The alley-oops were great, but the Cinderella story was even better. FGCU, a college that was founded in 1991, defeated the mighty Georgetown Hoyas, a team that has been playing for over a century. Plus, the 2012 – 2013 season was their first Division 1 season and first appearance in the NCAA tournament.

8) Mile High Miracle

Joe Flacco's pass lands perfectly past CB Rahim Moore's outstretched arm Courtesy of Bleacher Report
Joe Flacco’s pass lands perfectly past CB Rahim Moore’s outstretched arm
Courtesy of Bleacher Report

This AFC divisional – round game between the Ravens and Broncos came down to a final Baltimore drive with under a minute remaining. A true playoff classic was sent into overtime after a 70 yard heave from QB Joe Flacco to WR Jacoby Jones resulted in a touchdown with 31 seconds remaining in the 4th quarter. This TD brought the score to 35-35, a score that remained for the next 15 minutes resulting in a second overtime period. It ended up being the fourth longest game in NFL playoff history. Sadly for Denver fans, the game ended with a Manning interception and a Justin Tucker 47 yard field goal. Final score: 38-35. The Ravens were thankful for a birth in the AFC Championship game en route to a Super Bowl win. And undoubtedly,  the 70 yard TD grab was the highlight of an unforgettable season for Baltimore.

7) Louisville’s Inspiration

Kevin Ware wanted nothing but a championship Courtesy of Examiner.com
Kevin Ware wanted nothing but a championship
Courtesy of Examiner.com

Essentially every single sports fan in the nation has seen Kevin Ware’s gruesome injury suffered in the win against Duke in the Elite Eight. Everyone on the court was able to see the actual white of Ware’s tibia sticking out of his skin. People who witnessed it agree that it was definitely the most graphic injury they have ever seen and that’s saying something in an internet age where every injury is seen by everybody. More importantly, the words uttered from Kevin Ware’s mouth immediately following his horrific injury stayed with Louisville for the rest of the tourney. “Just win the game. I’m OK. Just win the game.” The boys on that team did every thing they did for Ware. That inspiration and team bond led them to victory over Wichita St. in the Final Four and Michigan in the National Championship game.

6) A British Savior

Andy Murray ended the 77 year Wimbledon drought for England Courtesy of USA Today
Andy Murray ended the 77 year Wimbledon drought for England
Courtesy of USA Today

It appeared that Andy Murray had wasted his best chance of winning Wimbledon when he succumbed to Roger Federer in 2012’s Wimbledon Final. But, the best was yet to come. On July 7, 2013 Murray defeated #1 Novak Djokovic, a former Wimbledon champion, to make Wimbledon history. A player from Great Britain had not won Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936, which was 77 years ago. He was deemed a “choker” on the biggest of stages before his 2012 US Open title, his first Grand Slam. Prior to winning that US Open, he had lost in four Grand Slam finals and six Grand Slam semi-finals. The entire United Kingdom had placed the burden of winning a Grand Slam for years on Andy Murray and he answered the call by capturing Wimbledon this year. This was a truly momentous occasion for a country that dominated the sport decades ago.

5) The First Openly Gay Athlete in North American Professional Sports

Jason Collins is still vying for an NBA contract Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
Jason Collins is still vying for an NBA contract
Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

In SI’s May 6 issue this year, Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete in the four major North American Professional sports. The support he received the following days and months was unexpected. The social media circus immediately following the announcement was shocking as he received more complimentary remarks than derogatory.  He started, in his words, a “conversation” that will lead to more athletes coming out openly with their sexual preference. The Stanford product has played 12 seasons in the NBA as a center, but is not currently under contract with any team. Despite his announcement, he is still attempting to sign another contract with an NBA franchise. This barrier needed to be broken at some point and it did in 2013.

4) The Greatest Closer Says Goodbye

Longtime teammates Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter gave Rivera the ball for one last time in Yankees Stadium Courtesy of NY Daily News
Longtime teammates Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter took the ball from Rivera one last time
Courtesy of NY Daily News

On September 16, Mariano Rivera pitched his final game in front of the home crowd at Yankee Stadium. After almost two decades, all with the New York Yankees, Rivera tallied 652 saves and 42 postseason saves, both of which are records. Fans and analysts identify Rivera as arguably the greatest closer in baseball history. He is also the last player in MLB history to wear #42, because on the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut, MLB commissioner Bud Selig retired #42 for all teams. However, there were 13 players in the league who already wore the #42 uniform, so Selig allowed them to wear it until they retired. And Rivera was the last of the 13 still playing.  He certainly did #42 justice by pitching his best when it mattered most and doing so with grace and dignity. It will be very difficult to find another player who carries himself with such respect for his peers and the game. Sandman will be eternally missed by baseball fans.

3) Auburn’s Magical Iron Bowl

Chris Davis crushed Alabama's hopes Courtesy of The Washington Post
Chris Davis crushed Alabama’s hopes
Courtesy of The Washington Post

Many consider the ending to the Iron Bowl on November 30 the greatest finish in football history. The ending was not only immensely exciting, but the implications involved made for a moment that will be difficult to ever replicate. The moment Chris Davis ran past the last diving Alabama player at the 45 yard line, every single viewer was in disbelief of what they had just witnessed. Davis returned a missed field goal 109 yards for a touchdown as time expired, giving Auburn the victory and signaling an end to Alabama’s dream of winning a third consecutive BCS National Championship and a fourth in a five year span. The win gave Auburn the chance to play in the SEC Championship game against Missouri too. The victory against Missouri gives them the #2 ranking and a trip to Pasadena for the BCS Championship game on January 6, 2014. This was quite the turnaround from a season ago when Auburn football went 3-9 and 0-8 against SEC opponents. Currently, the Tigers stand at 12-1 and have had one of the best improvements in terms of record in NCAA football history. Even if Auburn loses to #1 Florida St. in the final BCS National Championship game, their season will still be considered a remarkable one that will not be forgotten for a long time.

2) Ray Allen and Miami’s Miraculous Comeback

The Larry O'brein trophy was being reeled in with 5.2 seconds left and an all but sure Spurs victory Courtesy of The Boston Globe
The Spurs had an almost guaranteed victory with 5.2 second left in Game 6
Courtesy of The Boston Globe

The staff at American Airlines Arena was reeling in the Larry O’Brien Trophy with around 20 seconds remaining in regulation. The score was 95-92 and the Heat didn’t have any timeouts left, an inevitable Spurs victory. On the following Heat possession, LeBron James missed a three but Chris Bosh was able to secure the rebound and pass it back to a backpedaling Ray Allen in the corner, yes the corner three, it’s where Allen has made his living for the last 17 seasons. And Allen drills it with 5.2 seconds left in the game. Score: 95-95. Miami then outscored San Antonio in the ensuing overtime period for a final score of 103-100. Allen made some big shots in overtime as well accounting for four of the eight points in an NBA Finals thriller that will remain a classic for decades to come. With this much momentum heading into Game 7, Miami couldn’t lose and they didn’t disappoint. A stellar 37-point performance from LeBron gave the Heat a 95-88 Game 7 victory and a second consecutive Larry O’Brien Trophy. LeBron’s triple-double in Game 6 and aforementioned 37-point outburst in Game 7 of the Finals were certainly great spectacles, but Ray Allen’s shot with 5.2 seconds left in Game 6 is one of the greatest moments in NBA Finals history. Period.

1) Boston Strong

 Courtesy of ESPN
Boston’s resiliency captured the hearts of many
Courtesy of ESPN

On April 15, Boston witnessed a horrific terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon resulting in 3 deaths and hundreds of injuries. The 117th running of the race was marred by two bombs near the finish line on the famous Boylston St. Five days after the bombings, David Ortiz gave a pre-game speech at Fenway and said that “this is our (expletive) city.” Boston has always been known for its uncompromising dedication to its sports teams, but support was at an all time high throughout 2013 after the bombings. Its teams played with greater determination and will than ever before as a result and it was evident in the successful seasons for the Bruins and Red Sox. The Boston Bruins made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals eventually losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. And four months later, the Red Sox had an opportunity to accomplish something great in the wake of the disaster and they delivered. The Red Sox defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in six games in the World Series. The unwavering support from Boston fans definitely helped them clinch a third title in nine seasons. Although, the success of the Sox can’t completely eradicate the painful memories of the bombings, the Boston Red Sox certainly lifted the spirits of many who were affected by the tragedy.

10 Biggest Player Surprises from the NBA

By: Jon

10. Andre Drummond

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

The second year player out of UCONN has been one of the biggest surprises since entering the league last season. Although highly touted out of high school, Andre underachieved at Connecticut and many scouts feared that he would never fulfill his true potential. The talented big man could be one of the best centers in the league in the next few years and should be the catalyst for the Pistons during his prime. Although Dummond experienced a nice rookie season, he has 5 more points per game, 5 more rebounds per game, and 12 more minutes per game. Although Drummond’s offensive game is incredibly raw, he is one of the best athletes in the league, which enables him to garner his buckets and play great defense. At this point in his career, Drummond knows his limitations on offense so he shoots only around the basket. Currently, Drummond averages only 12.8 points per game, but has the second highest shooting percentage in the league, 61%. Although Drummond does not score more than 13 points per game, he has a 21.74 PER because he is a great rebounder, great rim protecter, and a good defensive player. Drummond is the best offensive rebounder in the league, 5.2 orpg, and the fourth highest rebounds per game, 12.3. Currently, Drummond has the tenth highest blocks per game, 1.63, and has the ability to alter more shots because of his agility, size, and wing span. Andre should be able to continue his success and not surprise people in the future because of his talent.

9. Kyle Lowry

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

The veteran point guard and up coming free agent is playing the best basketball of his career for the Raptors. Although he has been rumored in numerous trades to numerous organizations, Lowry continues to shine north of the border. By the trade deadline, the Raptors will probably trade Lowry because his value has sky rocketed and they do not have a chance of making it out of the first round, if they make the playoffs. Lowry is averaging 15.8 points, 7.3 assists, 1.7 steals, and 4.0 rebounds per game. Lowry’s points and assists numbers are the best of his career and they should continue to rise as the season ends. Since the trade of Rudy Gay, Lowry has averaged nearly 19 points per game with 8.4 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 1.7 steals. Lowry is entering the prime of his career and should be considered for the All-Star team, if he maintains his solid basketball performances. Without Gay to shoulder the offense, Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will be forced to score most of the Raptors points. Also, Lowry will be forced to score points and set up his opponents. If healthy, Lowry has the potential to succeed and average nearly 18 and 8 for a Raptors’ team, which has a chance to go to the playoffs in the dreadful East and the “Titanic” Division. Lowry should continue surprising NBA fans and experts, as long as he is on the Raptors and is given enough shots and minutes. If Lowry is traded to a point guard needy team, his stats may diminish, but he will continue to play good basketball.

8. Jeff Teague

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

The young leader of the Atlanta Hawks is putting together the best season of his career. This offseason, Teague signed a big multi year deal. After losing Joe Johnson and Josh Smith in consecutive years, the Hawks were forced to count on Al Horford and Jeff Teague to lead them to the playoffs. However, the Hawks have now lost Al Horford for the season, which will put more pressure on Teague. Luckily, Teague is playing great this season. The 25 year old is posting career highs in points, 17, assists, 8.3 which is fourth in the East, rebounds, 2.8, and steals, 1.5. Teague has nearly double the amount of free throws per game. While Teague has been successful in the past, he was never the center of attention of the offense and never score more than 13.5 points per game. Although Teague is not a superstar, he is a quality point guard and has led the Hawks to the third best record in the Eastern Conference. Although Teague was not a shoot first point guard, he will look to shoot more often and score more points. Since the loss of Horford, Teague has averaged 25 points per game while averaging 2.5 steals and 10 assists per game. If the Hawks are going to their third best record in the league, Teague must continue to score over 20 points per game and average about 9 or 10 assets per game. Teague is rated inside the top 45 in the league in Estimate Wins Added and Value Added and his rank should increase as the season wears. The former first round pick should continue to surprise fans from around the league so the Hawks can maintain their success.

7. Aaron Afflalo

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

The centerpiece of the Dwight Howard trade, besides the draft picks, has accomplished the best season of his career, thus far. During his first season with Orlando last year, Afflalo averaged only 16.6 points with 3.7 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game. However, Afflalo has greatly improved this season and is leading the young Magic squad. Although the Magic have only 10 wins this season, the addition of Oladipo and the improvement of Afflalo has made the Magic a more dangerous squad. This season, Afflalo is setting a career high in points, 21.9, assists, 4.0, rebounds, 4.5, steals, three point percentage, 45%, and free throws per game, 5.1. Afflalo has been the offensive catalyst for the club that desperately needs offensive talent and scoring. Afflalo has a 24% usage rate, which is the highest on the team and the highest of his career. Along with providing offensive support, Afflalo has the best defensive rating of his career and is on pace to set a career high in defensive win shares. According to Jason Hollinger, Aaron Afflalo has a 20 PER and ranks top 20 in the league in value added and estimated wins added. The Magic shooting guard should continue his career season because he has improved in every aspect of the game. Although he is not a house hold name, Afflalo should be considered for the All-Star team because of his success this season and the dearth of shooting guards in the association.

6. Eric Bledsoe

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

The Suns’ 24 year old point guard is one of the main reasons why the Suns have the sixth best record in the tough Western Conference. The Suns were suppose to be one of the worst teams in the league, but Bledsoe and Dragic have led the young team to a very good record. Eric Bledsoe became one of the valued commodities this offseason because of his success when Chris Paul was injured. Bledsoe will enable the Suns to let go or trade Dragic, which should net a good return or extra cap space to sign a new free agent. Before this season, Bledsoe averaged 20.4 minutes, 8.5 points, 1.4 steals, 3.1 assists, and 3.0 rebounds per game. However, Bledsoe has been given more options, which has allowed him to explode. Currently, Bledsoe is averaging 18.4 points, 5.9 assists, 1.5 steals, 4.3 rebounds, and 49% shooting percentage. Bledsoe has been able to combine his skill with his size and speed to become one of the best young point guards in the league. Bledsoe should be headed to the All-Star game because of his significance, but it is unlikely because of the number of great point guards in the West. Bledsoe has a PER of over 20, which ranks 21st in the league and has one of the highest usage percentage in the league, as well. Bledsoe should continue to exceed expectations as he gains more experience and learns the tendency of defenders around the league. Bledsoe should gain more assists as he becomes closer with his teammates and have more time to practice. On defense, Bledsoe has been very good over the last two seasons, posting a defensive rating around 101.

5. John Wall

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

The former first overall pick is turning into one of the best young players in the league and should become the next superstar point guard. Towards the end of last season and the beginning of this year, John Wall has improved his game because he has become a more accomplished scorer and leader for the Washington Wizards. During his first few seasons, the Wizards’ losing negatively affected Wall because he was not used to the losses. However, the Wizards are one of the better teams in the East and Wall is leading the team to one of the four 500 records in the East with his great basketball. Before this seasons, everybody was aware of John’s speed and ball handling, but his shooting was not very effective. This season, Wall is shooting more threes and has posted the highest three point percentage and two point percentage of his career. Along with the higher percentages, Wall is scoring more points and averaging more assists per game than any other season of his career. This season, Wall has the opportunity to post a 20-10 season. Wall’s 9 assists per game are ranked third in the NBA, which is the highest he has ever been ranked in his career. Along with an improved offensive game, Wall is averaging more than 2 steals per game, which is the most in his career. Wall was given a big deal this season and is showing that he is worth the big money because he has played like a top 20 player. Wall should be nominated to the Eastern All-Star team because the number of hurt point guards in the East and the numbers he has posted. Wall could even start the game because he is talented and well known among NBA fans.

4. Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis

The first overall pick from last year’s draft was suppose to be the next great power forward in the NBA because of his skill, size, and length. During a disappointing and injury filled season, he played only 64 games and averaged 13.5 points, 1.8 blocks, 8.2 rebounds, and 51% from the field. However, Davis has been one of the best all around players in the league this season, when he has been on the floor. Davis has significantly improved his offensive output. This season, Davis is averaging 19.1 points, 10.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals, and a league leading 3.1 blocks per game. Davis is currently top five in PER and ranks inside the top 15 in both EWA and VA, which shows that he is one of the 15 best players in the league, thus far. Davis has improved his offensive and defense rating by a combined 10 points, 120 offensive rating and 101 defensive rating. Davis has the potential to be similar to Kevin Garnett. He plays great defense and has the ability to score 20-25 points per game. Anthony Davis should continue to improve and become one of the best players in the league in the next 3 to 4 years. Along with the potential, Davis has a good nucleus in New Orleans, which should lead them to a few playoff appearances and wins during his career. This season, Davis should be an All-Star in the West and has the stardom to make the team, unlike the previous players named. Although early, Davis seems like a potential superstar, who has a chance to make the Hall of Fame and multiple All-Pro teams, if he can continue improving on offense and playing great defense.

3. DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins

The volatile Kings center is one of the most talented players in the league and has the best team around him since he entered the league. Cousins has improved during every year of his four year career, but has exploded this season for Sacramento. Before this season, Cousins’ best stats were 18.1 points per game with 11.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 steals, and 46% shooting percentage. However, Cousins has drastically improved every stat and is now averaging 22.9 points, 3.2 assists, 11.2 rebounds, 1.8 steals, and 49% shooting from the field. Along with the improved offense, Cousins has the the best defensive rating of his career. Also, Cousins has been able to temper his emotions, which has enabled him to stay on the floor and not accumulate technicals or personal fouls. John Hollinger believes that Cousins has been one of the six best players in the league as he ranks top six in PER, EWA, and VA. Currently, Cousins has the highest usage rate in the NBA because he was the one very good player on the Kings, before the Rudy Gay trade. Rudy Gay should improve Cousins’ overall game because he will draw as many double teams and will not have to score all the points for the team. With more one on one opportunities, Cousins should improve his already high PER and his shooting percentage from the field. Along with Gay, Ben McLemore and Isiah Thomas have improved, which give Cousins more room to work in the paint. Although the Kings are bad this season, their future looks bright with Cousins as the anchor of the team. Like Davis, Cousins has the stardom to make the All-Star this season and the potential to make multiple All-NBA teams and become one of the best players in the league.

2. LaMarcus Aldridge

LaMarcus Aldridge
LaMarcus Aldridge

The Blazers have been the biggest surprise team in the NBA because of the improvements of LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard. The Blazers have the third best record in the Western Conference, 24-7, and the fourth best record in the whole NBA. Last season, the Blazers did not even make the playoffs and many were questioning the future of the Blazers’ core. Many people believed that Aldridge would be traded to the Bulls or another contender because he did not like Portland and did not believe the team could lead him to the playoffs. Although Aldridge was a quality player in the past, 21 points per game with 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 2.8 fouls per game in the last three seasons, he has improved as a leader and has taken another step forward as a player. Aldridge is currently averaging nearly 24 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 block, 1 steal, 47%, and 1.9 fouls per game. While the foul numbers may be a overlooked, it is an important factor because he can contest more shots, rebound more balls, and play with more aggression. These little things drastically improve the overall team’s performance, which has helped improved the overall record. Although Aldridge’s offensive stats are similar to the past, his defensive rating has improved by a few points, which can be attributed to his more aggressive nature and his bigger commitment to defense. Aldridge is on pace to make his third straight All-Star team and should be considered to be the starter of the All-Star team. Aldridge is rated in the top ten in both estimate wins added and value added.

 

1. Paul George

Paul George
Paul George

The Indiana Pacer small forward has taken another big step this season and is in the conversation for the MVP award. Two seasons ago, George was a nice player that could play good defense and score10-15 points. However, last season, George took a step forward, played great defense, became a quality offensive player, and won the most improved player award since he was given more minutes with the loss of Danny Granger. However, Paul became a great player this season and is playing like a top five player in the league. Many experts around the league believe that he is the fourth best player in league behind James, Durant, and Paul because of his skills and he is leading the team with the second best record. Paul is averaging 23.9 points, 3.6 assists, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 steals, 41% from three, and 48% from the field. Paul’s points and shooting percentage are a career high. Paul also rates very highly in Value Added and Wins Shares because of his two way ability and overall skill. Last season, Paul made his first All-Star team and this year he is definitely going to be an All-Star behind LeBron James at small forward. Although  George’s offense is good, his defensive metrics are some of the best in the league. Over the past two seasons, George is leading the league in defensive wins shares and should be a candidate for the DPOY. Along with leading the league in defense, George’s defensive rating is 94, which is second in the league. George just signed a new contract, which will be a bargain for the next four seasons. George is determined to lead the Pacers past the Miami Heat this season and has the skill and body to defend LeBron.

 

 

pics and stats from ESPN.com

Predictions and Previews for Week 17 in the NFL

By: Jon

Happy Holidays. This has been a great NFL season and the last week of regular season previews.

Carolina Panthers at Atlanta Falcons:

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 11.12.55 AM

After a huge win against the Saints that catapulted them to the number two seed in the NFC, the Panthers will attempt to solidify their position and obtain a first round bye. The Panthers have played great defense all season and will be dangerous in the postseason, if they can claim home field in the divisional round. The Panthers play great defense because their linebacking core is one of the best in the league. With the combination of Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly, the Panthers duo rivals the combination of Navarro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Kuechly is a tackling machine and should be in consideration for DPOY, although he is only in his second year. Last week, Kuechly recorded 24 tackles, one shy of the NFL record, and an interception to seal the Panthers biggest win of the season. Along with Kuchly, the defensive line is dominating and does not allow teams to rush the ball. The Panthers’ defense makes opposing teams one dimensional, which forces many issues and not a lot of points. On offense, although the Panthers are not the Broncos, they do not turnover the football and make clutch plays at the end of games. Cam Newton has become one of the better quarterbacks in the league because of his strong arm and athleticism. Newton’s statement win last week should give him the confidence to lead the Panthers to the Super Bowl. The Panthers need to get the extra bye week for Steve Smith and will obtain it with a win. While the Panthers had a great win last week, the Falcons had a heart breaking loss last week on Monday Night Football. The Falcons were won of the most talented teams in the league before injuries. Although they were considered a Super Bowl contender at the beginning of the season, they currently have the third worst record in the league. Although the Falcons will hope to ruin the Panthers’ record, like the 49ers last season, their defense has not been successful this season and the offense is struggling. Although the offense was better last week with the addition of a healthy Roddy White and Steven Jackson, the Falcons will have trouble against the Panthers’ defense. The Saints did not have enough weapons to score on the Panthers so the Falcons will have little chance of breaking 20 points. The Falcons will want a better draft pick to revamp their defense this offseason. Although the team has pride, they will not have the same desire as the Panthers and ultimately lose the game. The game should be relatively low scoring but the Panthers should win by at least 7-10 points.

Prediction: Panthers win 24-13

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals:

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 11.14.23 AM

The Ravens are attempting to make the playoffs for the six straight season. With the core of Rice, Harbaugh, and Flacco, the Ravens have never missed the playoffs in the AFC. Last week, the Ravens lost an embarrassing game to the Patriots, 41-7, which puts their postseason hopes in jeopardy. If the Ravens won last week, they could have clinched their playoff position. In order for the Ravens to make the playoffs, they need to win and have the Dolphins or Chargers lose the game. If the Ravens lose, they can still make the playoffs if the Dolphins, Chargers, and Steelers lose their games. The Ravens have been up and down all season because they do not have consistency on offense or defense. Before their loss at home to New England, the Ravens had won four in a row and looked like they were ready to make another miraculous playoff run. The key to the Ravens’ success is Ray Rice and Joe Flacco. Although Rice is having one of the worst seasons of his career, he is a game changing player because he can run and catch the ball out of the backfield. The problem with Flacco of late has been his health. Flacco currently has an injured knee, which affected his play last week and could affect his play this week. The Ravens will need him to succeed if they are going to score on the Bengals feisty defense. After a devastating loss two weeks ago to the Steelers, the Bengals played great last week against the Vikings. The Bengals have won four of their last five games because their defense is one of the best in the league and the offense is beginning to become explosive. Led by Andy Dalton, AJ Green, and Giovanni Bernard, the Bengals have enough talent and fire power to go to the Super Bowl. Along with Green, Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert, and Marvin Jones have provided quality complimentary receivers to the monster on the outside. Even though the Bengals lost their best defensive player Geno Atkins, they still own the six best scoring defense in the league because of the emergence of Vontaze Burfict. The middle linebacker is a tackling machine and has all the talent in the world. Although he was not drafted, he was projected as a first round pick for most of his college career, before injuries and off the field issues. Although it is difficult to pick against the Ravens because they always seem to get the necessary win to make the playoffs, the Bengals need another quality win to show the league that they have the potential to reach the playoffs. Also, if the Bengals win, they solidify the number three seed in the conference, set to play a 9 or 8 win team, and have a chance to secure the two seed if New England loses. If they lose, the Colts could jump them in the ranks and they would have to play the 12 win Chiefs. The Bengals have a lot of options on offense and the Ravens will have trouble matching their offense, especially if Flacco is limited by his knee injury.

Prediction: Bengals win 30-28

Houston Texans at Tennessee Titans:

Screen Shot 2013-12-29 at 11.15.15 AM

The Texans have had one of the worst seasons in their franchise’s history, which will likely net them the first overall win in the 2014 draft. While other team are looking to clinch a playoff spot, the Texans can clinch the first overall pick with a loss or a Redskin win. The Texans have lost 13 straight games and have no inclinations of winning another game. The Texans have lost the last two games by a combined 46 points to the Colts and Broncos. The Texans have struggled all season because their quarterbacks have been horrible. The combination of Case Keenum and Matt Schaub have not been able to get the job done, although they have one of the best wide receivers in the league. Although Andre Johnson does not have a good quarterback, he has garnered one of the best seasons of his career, 103 catchers, 1358 yards, and 5 touchdowns. Although Johnson has been successful, the rest of the offense has experienced the worst seasons of his career. Arian Foster has been hurt all season, Ben Tate has not been successful, and the receivers have not stepped up to be a complement for Andre Johnson. The Texans could have lost all 15 games, thus far, although they were expected to be one of the top teams in football. If the Texans add a young quarterback next season, they could return to be one of the top teams in football. While the Texans have underachieved, the Titans have played well this season. Over the past two games, the Titans have played very well on offense. Two weeks ago, the Titans lost a heart breaker to the Arizona Cardinals in overtime, 37-34. Last week, the Titans beat the Jaguars on the road, which was a good win since the Jaguars have played well lately. The difference for the Titans has been the improvement of Fitzpatrick and the running game. In the game against the Cardinals, Fitzpatrick threw for over 400 yards and 4 touchdowns, while the Titans rushed for over 180 yards and a touchdown against the Jags. The Titans ability to diversify their offense and play at home should enable them to win against the Texans. The Texans will probably play with little effort so they can claim the number one draft pick. The Titans will like to give their fans one more win so they return next year.

Prediction: Titans win 24-17

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts:

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After losing the first 8 games of the season, the Jaguars have won four of the last seven games, which should give fans hope for the future. The Jaguars have lost their last two games by a combined 11 points. Although the Jags will been in the market for a quarterback this offseason, they should feel confident in Chad Henne as a backup or a spot starter. Over the past few games, Henne has played well and has been a competent starter. If the Jaguars select a quarterback in the first round this offseason, they should let Henne start the first few games so that the rookie can learn behind a successful veteran. Along with the emergence of Henne, Jordan Todman has been a great running back over the past few games. Jordan Todman and MJD are good running backs and should be good for the next quarterback of the Jaguars. On defense, the Jaguars are improving and should continue to improve because of the youth on that side of the football. While the Jaguars are attempting to find their quarterback of the future, the Colts have their franchise quarterback for the next 10-15 years. This season, Andrew Luck has taken the necessary leap and is one of the best quarterbacks in football. Luck has led an average team to a division championship and at least ten wins. Along with the 10 wins, they have some of the best wins in the NFL, Chiefs, Broncos, Seahawks, and 49ers. Besides Luck, the Colts do not have much talent on offense. Since the loss of Wayne, Luck has continued to find new receivers. Along with the dearth of wide receivers, the Colts have an inconsistent running game. Although they have talent with Donald Brown and Trent Richardson, two first round picks, they have not achieved much success to help the Colts on offense. With Luck, the Colts have the chance to win a playoff game and possibly advance to the Super Bowl. The problem with the Colts going to the Super Bowl is their defense. Besides Robert Mathis, who leads the league in sacks, the Colts do not have much talent on defense, although they spent big money this offseason. However, they have played well over the past two games, 10 combined points. If the Colts can continue playing good defense, they may be able to pull off a few upsets in January and possibly reach the big game in February. The Jags will have trouble stopping Luck and the Colts because they are playing at home and have superior talent. The Colts still have a chance at the two seed if the Pats and Bengals lose and the three seed if the Bengals lose. They would rather play the Dolphins or the Chargers or Ravens than the Chiefs.

Prediction: Colts win 31-17

Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings:

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When next season rolls around and these teams meet up again, they will probably have different coaches because both coaches are on the hot seat. With both teams out of playoff contention, neither teams seems likely to put forth their best efforts. After a devastating loss to the New York Giants, the Lions do not have a chance of making the playoffs, although they were in position to make the playoffs all season. The Lions have a lot of talent, but are extremely undisciplined and make many useless errors. The Lions had a prime chance to make the playoffs with the Packers losing Aaron Rodgers and the Bears without Jay Cutler. This offseason, the Lions’ job will be in high demand because of the players set in place. The incoming coach will have a solid quarterback, running back, defensive line, and the best wide receiver since Jerry Rice. This offseason, the Lions need to look toward improving their offensive line or secondary because they have been the achilles heal of the team, besides for the coaching and leadership. If the Lions can hire the right man to provide leadership and put confidence in Matthew Stafford down the stretch, the Lions should make the playoffs and challenge for the NFC North crown for many years. While the Lions have most of their players in place for the future, the Vikings need to make major changes throughout their football team. The Vikings need to improve almost everyone on their defense because they are old on the line and the linebackers do not have the necessary talent to excel. On offense, the Vikes need a new quarterback and a few offensive linemen to take the next step. Although Matt Cassel is a nice back up quarterback, he cannot lead a team to the playoffs in consecutive years. The Vikes should look for a quarterback in this quarterback heavy draft to replace Cassel and Ponder. The Vikings have good weapons on the outside with Greg Jennings and Cordelle Patterson. In this game, the Lions should come out victorious. They have superior talent and now do not have the pressure of making the playoffs. Without the added pressure, Stafford should stop making so many turnovers and play like he did in the beginning of the season. Without forcing multiple turnovers, the Vikes will have no chance in this football game because their defense does not have the capability to stop Megatron, Stafford, and Bush. Although the Vikings will continue to play hard for Leslie Frazier, they will ultimately lose and settle for a top ten pick in the draft.

Prediction: Lions win 27-24

Washington Redskins at New York Giants:

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Before the season started, many felt that this game could decide the division or a playoff spot in the NFC East, not the Dallas vs Philadelphia game. The Redskins have underwent a nightmare of a season because of the poor play of quarterback, Robert Griffin III. The believed quarterback of the future has given the Redskins fans reason to doubt their team’s future. RGIII did not look like the same quarterback this season because he was never fully healthy. However, people must wonder if RGIII will ever return to his 2012 form. Over the last two games, Kirk Cousins has started at quarterback and has played well for the team, although they lost both contests. Although they do not believe that Cousins is the answer at quarterback, they hope that another team feels that his is a franchise quarterback and trades a first or second round pick for his services. Luckily for Griffin or Cousins, the Redskins have good weapons on the outside with Moss, Garcon, and Morris. While the offense has garnered most of the attention and criticism in Washington, the defense has to improve if the Redskins are going to return to the playoffs. The Washington defense is allowing over 30 points per game, second worst in the NFL. Unfortunately for the Redskins, they do not have a first round pick in this year’s draft, which could become the first or second overall selection. The Redskins will need to strike gold in the later rounds or hope to find a few low cost free agents, if they want to return to the playoffs next season. Along with the disappointed fans in Washington, the New York Giants’ fans are not pleased with their team as well. For the second straight season, the Giants will be watching the playoffs from their houses. The Giants started the season with little energy or emotion, which caused them to fall 0-6. Although they attempted to rebound, they lost a crucial game to the Cowboys, 24-21, which all but eliminated them from playoff contention. The Giants have been hurt this season because they frequently turnover the football. The Giants are first in the league in total takeaways, 41, which is seven more than the closets competitor. Eli has not been the same quarterback, which has people doubting his future status as an elite quarterback. However, the Giants’ receivers have not played well this season. Victor Cruz did not step up and play like a number one after receiving a new contract and Hakeem Nicks looked lost for the seasons as he did not record one touchdown. Along with the poor receiving play, the Giants did not run the ball very effectively all season. When Brown returned from injury, they rushed the ball better and gave Eli more options, but Brown is a fragile back and cannot be the sole contributor. In this game, the Giants should win the game because they have more heart and desire than the Redskins. The players on the Giants have refused to give up on the season because they want to ensure that Tom returns for next season. However, in Washington, the same story does not apply. There is currently a disconnect between the players, coaches, and owner, which has resulted in the Redskins folding on the season. The Giants’ defense should be stop the Redskins’ offense because they have been playing better, since their 6 game losing streak. Also, the Redskins’ defense does not intimidate Eli, who should be able to find receivers and put up a lot of points for the second straight game.

Prediction: Giants win 27-17

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers:

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Although the Steelers have a chance of making the playoffs, it seems that neither of these teams will make the playoffs for the second straight season. The Cleveland Browns have been on a roller coaster season because they have experienced inconsistent quarterback performances. After commencing the season 0-2, the Browns won three straight games, including a win over the Bengals, with quarterback Brian Hoyer. However, after his torn ACL, the Browns have only won one game and are riding a six game losing streak. Last week, the team had a lot of trouble offensively against the New York Jets because the wide receivers were playing badly. Although Josh Gordon is one of the best wide receivers in the league, he made three crucial drops in last week’s game that could have resulted in points for the Browns. While Gordon has great speed and route running ability, he needs to diminish the amount of drops if he is going to enter the next tier of wide receivers. Also, on defense, the team had trouble stopping one of the worse offenses in football, led by Geno Smith. Smith accounted for three touchdowns against the team. The Browns even lost the turnover battle to the team with the worst turnover differential. The Browns, like many other teams, should look for a quarterback this offseason. Former first round picks, Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell, are not viable options and should not be on the team next season. While Brian Hoyer looked like a good quarterback in the three game stint, he is not a franchise quarterback. The Browns should use one of their two first round picks on a quarterback and allow him to learn from Hoyer. The Browns need to find a running game, as well. After trading Trent Richardson, the Browns received nothing from their ground game, which will hurt a young quarterback’s development. On defense, they are solid with Joe Haden, but could use another pass rusher to add pressure on the quarterback. While the Browns have been ending the season badly, the Steelers have played well since week 10. The Steelers have won 4 of the last 6 but could have won each game, with a little extra luck. The difference from the beginning of the season has been the improvement of Big Ben. Ben returned to his Super Bowl form and has played great over the last few weeks. Ben has been helped by star wide receiver Antonio Brown, who looks like one of the top ten receivers in football and rookie running back Levon Bell, who can catch the ball out of the back field and is a bruising runner. Also, the offensive line has improved, which has given time to throw and stay on the field without injuries. On defense, the team is beginning to play as a unit and has started recording more turnovers. The team needs to improve their pass rushing ability this offseason. Since the loss of James Harrison, the Steelers have not had a star pass rusher. This season, no player has more than 8 sacks. However, if the Steelers can be extremely luckily and have the Dolphins, Ravens, and Chargers lose and make the playoffs, they will be a dangerous team that could end up playing in New York. In this game, the Steelers will win by a decent amount because they are playing at home and still have a desire to win. The Browns have not beaten the Steelers in Heinz since 2003 and this time will not be different. Ben is playing well and should light up the Browns defense, like their previous match ups.

Prediction: Steelers win 31-17

New York Jets at Miami Dolphins:

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In two of the previous five seasons, the Dolphins have ended the Jets hope of making the playoffs by winning in week 17. However, the Jets will attempt to win and end the Dolphins hope of making the playoffs. The Jets are coming off an eleven point win at home against the Browns, which was one of their best games of the season. The Jets will go as far as Geno Smith takes them. The Jets have been unable to win two straight games this season because Smith has not played two consecutive quality games. The Jets’ coaching staff hopes that last weeks three touchdown performance will given confidence against the rival Miami Dolphins. The Jets will probably give the ball to Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell to ease Geno into the game. The Jets’ offensive line will need to play well against the Dolphins ferocious pass rushers in order to give Smith more time to pass. In the previous meeting, the offensive line played horribly and Olivier Vernon was in Geno’s face all season. As a result, the Jets played one of their worst games of the season. The Jets defense will need to continue playing hard in order to stop the Dolphins’ passing offense. In the previous matchup, the Jets could not stop the Dolphins’ receivers. However, Dee Millner and Antonio Cromartie played well in the game against the Browns and look to be improving. The Jets will need to establish a pass rush in order to confuse Tannehill and force a few turnovers to give Smith a short field. While the Jets will be handicapping their young quarterback, the Dolphins have no intention on stopping Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins have attempted the 12th most passes while recording the third least amount of rushes in the NFL this season. The Dolphins do not run the ball very frequently because their running backs, Miller and Thomas, are not very good nor explosive and the offensive line does not form good holes for the tandem. The Dolphins will attempt to rebound this week after a horrible loss against the Bills last week. The Bills did not even have EJ Manuel and they still beat the Dolphins, who could have almost clinched a playoff position with a win. The Dolphins will need to stop the run this week after allowing over 200 yards against the Bills. The Dolphins need to show that they have the maturity and skill to win a big game in order to make the playoffs, after laying an egg last week while getting shut out. On defense, the Dolphins need to continue rushing the passer and creating pressure, if they are going to stop teams. In the secondary, the Dolphins do not have the same talent, which puts an added pressure on the front seven. Although the Dolphins are the only team that could make the playoffs, the Jets seem like they want the game more than the Dolphins. The team that is more physical and ready for the game should win the game. In this game, the Dolphins have the advantage. The Jets have not put together two good games in the row and they have been even worse on the road. Although the Jets will want to improve to 500, they have never played well in Miami. Unless Geno takes a big step forward or the running backs have huge games, the Jets will have trouble scoring.

Prediction: Dolphins win 23-20

Other game predictions:

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears:

Prediction: Packers win 34-31

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders:

Prediction: Broncos win 31-13

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots:

Prediction: Patriots win 27-16

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New Orleans Saints:

Prediction: Saints win 34-20

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals:

Prediction: 49ers win 31-28

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers:

Prediction: Chargers win 23-16

St. Louis Rams at Seattle Seahawks:

Prediction: Seahawks win 31-20

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys:

Prediction: Eagles win 31-17

Pics and stats from ESPN.com