Tag Archives: New England Patriots

2014 AFC and NFC Championship Games Predictions

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By: Prad

The Patriots and 49ers were in the same position while the Broncos and Seahawks both bowed out in the Divisional Round a season ago. I cannot tell you with 100% certainty which teams will be playing in the Super Bowl but I can say this: both games today will be the most exciting games of this NFL season. This is not true solely because of the implications involved but the sheer talent on each roster and how well each team matches up with the other on a position by position basis.

AFC Championship Game (Patriots @ Broncos – 3:30 PM)

This could be the final matchup between these two future Hall of Famers Courtesy of Los Angeles Times
This could be the final matchup between these two future Hall of Famers
Courtesy of Los Angeles Times

Alas, the Manning vs Brady matchup for a trip to the Super Bowl. Fans didn’t think they would ever witness this again after Manning’s decline in Indianapolis and the aging of both quarterbacks. Yet, these men look at age as a form of greater experience. Manning had the best statistical season for a quarterback in NFL history with the most passing touchdowns (55), a record that was formerly held by Brady, and most passing yardage (5,477). Despite both defenses trying different formations to limit the opposing quarterbacks, offense will inevitably dominate all four quarters of this game.

The Denver Broncos set a record this season with most points scored (603). This is obviously partially attributed to the probable MVP this season, Peyton Manning. The other factor that contributes to Denver’s whopping statistic is the trio of first tier wide receivers in Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker. All three have surpassed the 10 TD benchmark and Thomas and Decker have more than 1,250 yards receiving. Wes Welker could have certainly done so as well if he was not limited to 13 games and concussions in a couple more of those games. The emergence of TE Julius Thomas with 12 TDs, 788 yards, and 65 receptions has added another weapon to this already versatile offense. This high octane offense will certainly be on full display against the Patriots defense, which has allowed the 7th most total yards this season (373.1 per game).

Tom Brady has not had quite the season that Manning had, but Brady made the most of his offense. A 12-4 record and a #2 seed in the AFC are impressive considering that he lost four of his top five targets from last season. And the one he didn’t lose, TE Rob Gronkowski was hampered by injuries the entire season, appearing in just seven games. Brady has effectively molded young talents such as Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, and Kenbrell Thompkins into a decent receiving corps. The Broncos hope is that their secondary can shut down New England’s receivers and force turnovers. Yet, that will be difficult with Denver’s best cornerback Chris Harris out for the season with a torn ACL. An aged Champ Bailey and an inconsistent Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie both need to step up and play their tightest coverage when the ball is in Brady’s hands.

RB Knowshon Moreno is bound to be a difference maker Courtesy of Sports Illustrated
RB Knowshon Moreno is bound to be a difference maker
Courtesy of Sports Illustrated

Both team’s rushing games have improved drastically from a season ago. Denver’s Knowshon Moreno had a career season totaling highs in rushing yards (1,038), receiving yards (548), rushing touchdowns (10) and receptions (60). This will definitely aid in Denver’s chances as the Patriots rank 3rd worst in the league in least rushing yards allowed (2,145). His services will be used immensely in the redzone because he is a strong back who can run both inside and outside. In a Week 12 lost to the Patriots, Moreno lit the Pats defense up with 224 rushing yards. Moreno will aid this offense tremendously with even 100 rushing yards because he adds an element of variation. Hopefully, the offense will not need to rely solely on Manning’s arm to drive down the field.

The Patriots are expecting an encore performance from their running backs. Last week against the Colts, their backs tallied 6 touchdowns and 234 rushing yards. Brady didn’t even throw a single touchdown in that game and they still managed to score 43 points. Their ground game was good but not great in the regular season. It happened to just come alive in this playoffs. Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels hopes that it will remain hot going into today’s game because the Broncos possess a strong presence against the run ranking 7th in rush defense. If RBs LeGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen can’t start hot against the Broncos D, then its going to be a long day for the Patriots’ offense. The burden of accumulating yards for the entire offense will fall on Tom Brady. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though because everyone knows that Brady is his best when pressure is at its highest.

RB LeGarrette Blount became the first back in NFL playoff history with 4 TD runs and over 150 rushing yards last week  Courtesy of Boston Globe
Last week, LeGarrette Blount became the first running back in NFL playoff history to rush for 4 TDs and 150 rushing yards
Courtesy of Boston Globe

Brady has accumulated the most completions (566), passing yardage (6,147), and most wins (18) in NFL playoff history. This is the 15th Manning-Brady matchup with 10 of the previous 14 going to Brady. The most recent matchup saw the Broncos squander a 24-0 lead in Week 12. Of the 14 matchups, 3 were in the playoffs with Brady winning 2 of them. History certainly favors Brady in this matchup, but we can’t always look to the past for the future. Manning and his offense will be too much for New England’s defense. The Denver crowd will get to see their Broncos earn a trip to the Super Bowl in New York.

Prediction: Denver 28, New England 24

NFC Championship Game (49ers @ Seahawks – 6:30 PM)

The 12th man will serve a crucial role throughout the contest Courtesy of ESPN
The 12th man will serve a crucial role throughout the game
Courtesy of ESPN

The 49ers and Seahawks have become familiar with each other as both are in the competitive NFC West. This year, they split the season series one a piece, both teams winning at home. In the last two wins in Seattle, the Seahawks have outscored the 49ers 71-16. The city of Seattle plays the biggest factor in this game. CenturyLink field is notorious for its “12th man.” Not only are the fans loud but the acoustic design of the stadium amplifies the noise to an even greater extent. The fans in Seattle set a crowd noise record with 137.6 decibels in a December victory over the New Orleans Saints this season. This NFC Championship game will be just as loud if not louder. Typically, the fan base in Seattle is as noisy on 1st and 10s as fans are in other stadiums during 3rd or 4th downs. Opposing players struggle to communicate their plays through their helmets, inevitably creating much confusion on the field. These factors are responsible for QB Russell Wilson having a 15-1 record at home in his short two year career with the Seahawks. Although San Francisco has away records of 6-2 in the regular season and 2-0 in the playoffs, no stadium is like Seattle’s.

Both NFC West teams boast impressive ground games. The 49ers rank 3rd (2,201 yards) in the NFL in rushing while the Seahawks rank 4th (2,188 yards). Both Russell Wilson (539 yards) and Colin Kaepernick (524 yards) account for approximately 25% of their team’s rushing stats. But these mobile quarterbacks will probably be limited by the stifling defenses on both sides. Much of the rushing will be determined by each team’s star running back and offensive lines. Once again, these defenses are known for their ability to stop the run and its evidenced by their regular season performances. The 49ers rank 4th (1,535) in the league in fewest rushing yards allowed and the Seahawks rank tied for 7th (1,626). Although this game has two pro-bowl caliber running backs, neither Frank Gore nor Marshawn Lynch will have fantastic enough games to make a significant impact and potentially sway the game in one teams favor.

Much of this game depends on which quarterback will outperform the other Courtesy of Bleacher Report
Much of this game depends on which quarterback will outperform the other
Courtesy of Bleacher Report

The quarterback battle has to ultimately be the most speculated of all positions. Both quarterbacks in this game are young mobile talents whose performance in this game will likely play the most significant factor in the outcome. Recently, QB Colin Kaepernick’s game has been mediocre against Seattle. In the past two meetings, he has completed less than half of his passes and thrown four interceptions. In order for San Francisco to stand a chance in this competitive game, he needs to post solid yardage numbers and a better completion percentage. Although his recent statistics do not look impressive, regular season-Kaepernick is an entirely different player from playoff-Kaepernick. Kaepernick holds a 4-1 record as a starter in the playoffs with his only playoff loss coming in last season’s Super Bowl. Thus, he has never lost a road playoff game in his career and he hopes that this streak will remain intact after Sunday night’s showdown.

QB Russell Wilson, on the other hand, has not been nearly impressive in the playoffs. He has never appeared in the NFC Championship game unlike his quarterback counterpart, Colin Kaepernick. Wilson has additionally poorly performed as of late. Of the four remaining quarterbacks, Wilson holds the worst statistical numbers in the last five weeks, averaging only 157.6 passing yards per game and completing 56.52% of his passes. If Russell Wilson can manage to start the game strong, then he can effectively use the element of surprise with the running game later on, which will open up the entire offense.

This game will go down to the wire with a potential late 4th quarter drive making the difference. Both defenses have to play like their normal selves in order to give their respective offenses opportunities of winning. However, Seattle’s home field advantage is unparalleled to any other stadium and will be too much for the 49ers to overcome.

Prediction: Seattle 20, San Francisco 17

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Preview of the NFL Conference Championships

By: Evan

After this weekend, we will know who will play for the Super Bowl and the Vince Lombardi Trophy
After this weekend, we will know who will play for the Vince Lombardi Trophy            Courtesy of Footballpros.com

The NFL must be ecstatic about the two match-ups in the Conference Championships, the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos in the AFC game and the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC. Brady vs. Manning, Wilson vs. Kaepernick, legend vs. legend and rising star vs rising star. Here are my predictions for both games.

AFC Championship: New England Patriots vs. Denver Broncos 3:00 PM EST

Sunday might be the last time these two HOF's meet up.  Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com
Sunday might be the last time these two HOF’s meet up.
Courtesy of Bleacherreport.com

Reasons Why the Patriots will win:

Can Brady and Belichick get to another Super Bowl? Courtesy of ESPN
Can Brady and Belichick get to another Super Bowl?
Courtesy of ESPN

1.) Belichick and Brady have Peyton’s number: In the 14 times Brady and Manning have squared off (Denver and Indy), the Pats are 10-4. In those 14 games Manning has thrown for 29 TDs and 20 INTs, a rate less than impressive for a quarterback of his stature. Earlier this year the Patriots came back from a 24-0 deficit to win in overtime in Foxborough. After leading three drives that resulted in 17 points in the first half (Von Miller had a fumble return TD), Manning could only muster seven more points in the second half, giving further evidence on why other pundits question Manning’s “clutch gene”. When you are one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game, you are graded on the highest curve and your accolades are praised but your mistakes are also highlighted. And truthfully, Manning has work to do if he wants to overcome his reputation as a “regular season quarterback.” A playoff victory over the Pats would help but seems improbable.

2.) Playing with House Money: Another truth about this game is the Pats have less pressure on them then the Broncos do. The Broncos have put up impressive stats, breaking the total points record with 603 and obviously one of, if not the greatest statistical years ever had by a quarterback. Meanwhile, Brady and the Pats have been chugging along losing bodies on both sides of the ball. On offense they lost Gronk for the first six weeks and then lost him for the season with a torn ACL, wide receivers Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and oft injured Danny Amendola have combined to miss 13 games this year.  And, of course, they lost Aaron Hernandez because of his arrest for murder.  These losses on the offense would make any team less of a threat, but not the Patriots as they turned Julian Edelman, a college quarterback drafted in the 7th round into a 100 catch player. On defense, they lost stud defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to a ruptured achilles, and linebackers Brandon Spikes and Jerrod Mayo to other season ending injuries. Did this stop the Pats? No. Players like Jamie Collins and emerging stars like Chandler Jones stepped up and preformed valiantly for their injured teammates. I know the Pats won’t make the excuse but they most definitely have one to fall back on, hence the pressure is off them and on Manning to beat such a depleted Patriots team.

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3.) The Run Game: Coming into the season, LaGarrette Blount was considered to be a head case that would never be solved, but now with the Patriots he has emerged as their lead running back. In his lone playoff appearance, Blount rushed for 166 yards and four TDs, incredible numbers for a player as stout as Blount. This hot streak could continue as the Broncos gave up 15 rushing TDs this season. The Patriots also have the advantage in terms of running back depth as Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen provide a balance of both speed and power that should wear down the Broncos defense. With the high altitude in Denver, runners can tire easily and with this litany of quality backs, the Patriots should have no trouble interchanging all three. Although the focus will be on Brady vs. Manning, the running game will have to run down the clock and keep Manning and his potent offense off the field.

Reasons Why the Broncos will win:

Will Peyton still be smiling after tonight? Courtesy of Denver Post
Will Peyton still be smiling after tonight?
Courtesy of The Denver Post

1.) Better Weapons: I just mentioned that the Pats have three solid running backs who can carry the load on offense, but the Broncos have a stable (horse joke haha) of receiving and running options that only make Peyton Manning’s job much easier. Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker all had 10 or more TDs this season and Knowshon Moreno had a career year with a combined 1,538 yards and 13 TDs on the ground and through the air. For a secondary that gave up 239 yards per game, the Patriots do not seem equipped to handle all of the Broncos’ targets. If Manning gets going early, it could be a long day for the Patriots.

2.) Peyton is on fire: Peyton Manning will be the MVP and I do not want to hear people make the case for Brady to win it because of the Patriots injuries. He amassed 5,477 yards and 55 TDs with only 10 INTs and a total QBR of 82.1 (0-100). In the playoff game against the Chargers, Manning had a solid game throwing for 230 yards with two TDs and an interception with 91.1 QBR, but the most important moment came in the 4th quarter with San Diego mounting a comeback and Manning complete a first down to Julius Thomas, virtually putting the game away. He made the critical throw and avoided criticism for at least another week. As I mentioned before the Pats defense against the pass is vulnerable and Manning could have a great day if he avoids turnovers.

3.) Revenge is in order: The Broncos should come into this game with a little chip on their shoulders because of the aforementioned regular season defeat at New England earlier this year. This would a perfect opportunity for Peyton to erase the hard memories of Brady defeating him in various playoff games and go on to play in the Super Bowl. Peyton doesn’t have that many more NFL years in him, so if the Broncos want to make a run at a championship, they better win this game.

Prediction:

This game is going to be a high scoring affair with the game probably coming down to who has the ball last. An if they scenario happens, I have more confidence in Brady than I do in Manning. Pats 38- Broncos 35.

NFC Championships: San Francisco 49ners vs Seattle Seahawks 6:30 PM

This rivalry dates back to the USC Stanford days. Courtesy of NFL.com
This rivalry dates back to the USC vs Stanford days.
Courtesy of NFL.com

Reasons why the Niners will win:

Anquan Boldin will have to lead the 49ers receiving corps. Courtesy of NFL SI
Anquan Boldin will have to lead the 49ers receiving corps.
Courtesy of NFL SI

1.) They’re on fire: The Niners have a similar feel to the 2011 Green Bay Packers, star quarterback playing at an extremely high level and a defense making key plays. The great thing for the Niners is their defense is better than the Packers’ defense was– to limit star quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton to a combined 30 points is fantastic. Colin Kaepernick has been highly effective, running for clutch 3rd down conversions and throwing strikes to his receivers and most importantly he has been playing safe, game managing style of football, allowing his stout defense to assert their dominance. Hot teams tend to be dominant during the playoffs and the Niners have run through their opponents and now face a struggling Seattle team.

2.) Better receiving core: Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis are all hard match-ups for secondary players, even for a talented Seattle team. Anquan plays a physical style and won’t be intimidated by press coverage or the hard hitting Kam Chancellor. Look for CK7 to look for ‘Quan if he gets in trouble inside the pocket. Michael Crabtree has provided a deep-threat presence that allows for other receivers to get open across the middle of the field. He too has a tremendous set of hands as his coach Harbaugh said he would trust Crabtree to catch a ball to save his life. And then finally, Vernon Davis one of the most versatile players in the game, combining speed with power creating a headaches for defensive coordinators everywhere. Davis, like most of the Niners, has struggled against the ‘Hawks hard hitting Legion of Boom as he was held to 41 yards receiving in both games this year. He might play the role of decoy, allowing Anquan and Crabtree to roam down the sidelines.

3.) Better Linebackers: This is a close battle but the edge goes to the Niners as they have the best two inside linebackers in the game in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman. Both have sideline to sideline speed and will not be afraid to confront Beast Mode head-on. The X-factor will be Ahmad Brooks a combo-linebacker who can rush the passer and play the run game. The linebacking corps also provides the emotional edge for the Niners as their leadership goes unquestioned. Look for the two-headed monster of Willis and Bowman to play well if the Niners want to win this game.

Reasons why the Seahawks will win:

Seattle is led by the notorious Legion of Boom. Courtesy of Full Scale Sports
Seattle is led by the notorious Legion of Boom.
Courtesy of Full Scale Sports

1.) They have a psychological edge at home: The 12th man is more like an outdoor asylum, full of crazy fans who bleed Blue and Green. The Seahawks are 15-1 in the last two years at home and they seem to play with an inherent swagger in the Emerald City. The Seahawks have also demolished the Niners at home the last two years by the scores of 42-13 (2012) and 29-3 (2013). Kaepernick has struggled mightily in Seattle with only 1 TD and 4 INTs and with a quarterback rating of 41.7. The playoffs will be even louder and the crowd will definitely cause problems for the Niners.

2.) Best secondary in all of football: The Legion of Boom is by far the strength of the Seattle Seahawks. Richard Sherman is the best corner (DPOY candidate), Earl Thomas is the best free safety (DPOY front-runner) and Kam Chancellor is the best strong safety (should be DPOY candidate). They hit hard, they talk trash and most importantly they play the ball, turning unadvised throws into costly interceptions. After the suspensions of Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond, players like Byron Maxwell and Jeremy Lane stepped up and played superbly with 17 passes defensed and 4 INTs. The Legion of Boom needs to come to play and they should create at least a turnover.

3.) Beast Mode: Marshawn Lynch is a handful, combining 215 lbs of straight muscle with 4.46 speed means trouble for opposing defenses. Marshawn has had success against a stout 49ers defense rushing for 170 yards and 3Tds in their two meetings this year. He can wear down a defense, collecting extra yards after initial contact and turning first downs into touchdowns. If Seattle wants to take the pressure off of Russell Wilson they need to have Marshawn touch the ball at least 30 times.

Prediction:

The Seahawks are close to invincible at home and until the Niners beat them in Seattle, I am picking the Seahawks. The Niners can’t stop Beast Mode and the Seahawks, supported by their crazed 12th man, wins 28-21.

Stats from ESPN

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Predictions and Previews for the Saturday Games in the NFL Divisional Round

By: Jon

New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks:

4:35 PM

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

In a rematch of their week 13 matchup, the Saints will be heading into Seattle’s CenturyLink Field in an attempt to reach the NFC Championship. However, the Saints must hope that this game will be different than the previous game. The Seahawks thrashed the Saints at home by 27 points, their worst loss of the season. The Seahawks blitzed the Saints and took a 17-0 lead in the first quarter and a 27-7 lead by halftime. The Seahawks were able to totally stop the entire Saints offense and allowed them only 188 yards, their lowest output of the season. The Seahawks’ secondary played huge, although they did not record and interceptions Brees threw for only 147 yards and one touchdown because the secondary was great and double teamed his main weapon, Jimmy Graham. Along with the incredible pass defense, their rush defense allowed only 44 yards on 2.6 yards per carry. While the Saints offense was exposed, the Seattle pass offense could not be stopped and Russell Wilson accounted for 310 yards, 3 touchdowns, 47 rushing yards, and a quarterback rating of 94.7, which is out of 100 points. Although the Saints were able win on the road at Philly for the first time in franchise history, Drew Brees played below average and will need to improve his play in order to win in Seattle. Although Philly is a raucous environment compared to most stadiums, Lincoln Financial Field is like a tea restaurant compared to CenturyLink Field, which gives the Seahawks the best home field advantage in the league. Since entering the league last season, Wilson has lost only once at home, this season to the Arizona Cardinals. Although Brees will fortunate that the weather will be above freezing, unlike last weekend, the weather calls for heavy rain and 20 mph wind. Unfortunately the Saints are predominantly a passing offense, which will be affected by the weather and the great Seahawks passing defense. However, the Saints showed last week that they could create a resemblance of running game. Last week, Mark Ingram played the best game of his career and recorded 97 yards and one touchdown. Along with Ingram, the Saints combined for 185 yards on the ground, which enabled them to move the ball although Brees passed only 250 yards and 2 interceptions. The ground game will need to have an even better game this week if they are going to have a chance, since Brees will likely have trouble again this weekend. While the Saints offense will probably have trouble, the Seahawks’ players should have adapted to the cold and rainy weather and have a better chance of playing through the elements. The Seahawks may be given a huge addition if Percy Harvin can return and make an impact for the Seahawks. The Seahawks will hope to establish their ground game with Marshawn Lynch against the 25th ranked rushing defense in the league. Although it has been three years since the Seahawks huge upset over the Saints and Marshawn Lynch’s crazy 67 yard run nicknamed “beast mode”, the Saints defense is playing better and held the best running attack to only 80 rushing yards in Philly. The Seahawks should attempt to score early and run the ball so they keep Brees on the bench and eliminate the Saints’ ability to run the ball. Also, Wilson needs to limit his turnovers so the Saints cannot capitalize on extra possessions. The Seahawks should be the favorite in this game because they have better defense and are well built to play in this type of weather. Although the game will be closure, the Saints will need to pull off a huge upset to win the game.

Prediction: Seahawks win 27-20

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots:

8:15

Courtesy of ESPN
Courtesy of ESPN

Will it be time for the new guard to overtake the old guard? After one of the most exciting games of all time, the Colts must regroup and head on the road to take on Tom Brady and the second seed New England Patriots. Andrew Luck played a great second half and led the Colts to the second largest comeback in NFL playoff history. Although the Colts did not play the Patriots this season, the Colts headed to New England last year and were destroyed by the men for Foxborough. However, this is a different Colts’ team and Andrew Luck is a different quarterback with more experience and relationships with his offense. The Colts are on a great run and have won 4 straight games and 5 games in their last six efforts. The Colts have been able to succeed because they are playing better defense, running the ball, and Andrew Luck is playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Although the Colts did not run the ball very frequently in their contest against the Chiefs, since they were down by 28, they did achieve 5.3 yards per game. The Colts have an added dimension in the running game because Andrew Luck has wheels and ran for 45 yards against the Chiefs. Although Luck’s rushes are nice, his arm and decision making make him one of the best in the quarterbacks left in the playoffs. Last week, Luck threw for 3 interceptions, but 443 yards and 4 touchdowns. Although Luck is very young, one of his best qualities is his ability to lead his team and be cool during pressure filled situations. While the Colts have a good quarterback, the Patriots may have the best quarterback of all time in Tom Brady. Although Brady has posted better statistics in his career, he needed to use all of his skill to lead the Patriots to the second best record in the AFC and an undefeated record at home because his receivers do not have much talent and are unable to provide separation or catch the ball in conference. Like the Colts, the Patriots are hot and have won five of their last six weeks. However, the week break may cause the Patriots to lose rhythm, which could affect them early in the game. The Pats have been able to run the ball with more efficiency and frequency this season, which will be necessary against the Colts. While the Colts are above average against the pass because they have quality pass rushers and corners, their rush defense ranked 26th during the season. LaGarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley, and Shane Vereen have provided the Pats with a three headed attack that should be able to gain yardage against the Colts. However, the Pats have not been great in the playoffs over the last few seasons. After winning three titles early in his career, Tom has not won a championship over the past decade. The problems with the Pats have been their inability to shut teams down on defense and run the ball to set up the pass on offense. The Colts should be able to pass the ball and run the ball because Luck can throw on any defense and the Pats have one of the worst defense in the league. In this game, the Colts should be able to pull off the upset because they are playing better defense and Luck has the talent to lead the Colts past the Pats. Besides the 31 points they allowed in the first half, the Colts allowed 37 points over the past few games. The Colts should be the favorite if the game is close because Luck has a knack to win close games against any quarterback and team, Seattle, Denver, and Kansas City. The game should be high scoring, since the weather is not going to horrible and the offenses are a notch above the opposing defenses. Last weeks’ game should give Luck even more confidence that he can win any game against any team.

Prediction: Colts win 37-34

stats and pics from ESPN.com