Posts Tagged ‘nfl’

Sarah Thomas courtesy: abcnews

Sarah Thomas courtesy: abcnews

By Kelton Brooks (@BrooksWeekly)

Link to the column at The Hutchinson News: Brooks was here

Expect a litany of unsportsmanlike conduct from the National Football League this season.

And it won’t be from Sarah Thomas, the NFL’s first full-time female referee.

The blind side blows, cheap shots and unnecessary jabs will flail out of the mouths of players and perhaps coaches, if Thomas laughably screws up a call or fails to throw the yellow flag in an obvious moment.

The same type of comical or game-altering mistake any other official would make, but because Thomas is a woman, criticism will be harsher and fines will be dished out like it’s on a paper route.

Feb. 7, the National Basketball Association fined Los Angeles Clippers star Chris Paul $25,000 for his comments about Lauren Holtkamp after she called a technical foul.

“The tech that I get right there was ridiculous. I don’t care what nobody says, I don’t care what she says; that’s terrible. There’s no way that can be a tech. … That’s ridiculous. If that’s the case, this might not be for her,” Paul told reporters after the game.

Players criticizing referees is routine in any league, but Paul’s comments gained more traction because it was towards Holtkamp, a female referee.

Several slights and barbs have already slithered off the tongue of fans, saying, “She doesn’t belong on a football field” or “she’ll think twice when a 250-pound linebacker barrels over her in live game action.”

But, like Holtkamp, Thomas, 41, has an extensive background and pedigree as an official

Thomas was hired as a line judge for the 2015-2016 NFL season, and is among seven other officials announced by the NFL Wednesday. Thomas was in the league’s officiating development program in 2013 and 2014 and worked some team minicamps last year.

According to multiple media reports, she was the first woman to work college games in 2007. She was the first female official on the FBS level and the first to officiate a bowl game, the 2009 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit.

She began officiating college games when she was hired by Conference USA as a line judge and head linesman. She also has worked the Senior Bowl, the Fight Hunger Bowl, the Medal of Honor Bowl and the Conference USA championship game in 2010 and 2014.

There are 250-pound linebackers on the collegiate level. Unless the collision was brutal, Thomas will stand up and dust herself off if she is run over by a player. She’ll be just fine.

Thomas has earned her black and white stripes.

If the NFL farm program of officiating felt her performance during training was superb, then there is no need for backlash from any level of the league. When a player, coach or whoever hurls parting shots to officials, the NFL hands down punishment.

At times, criticism is justified if the call is grossly incorrect, but insults just because Thomas will be a woman on the football field, is something the NFL won’t tolerate.

My only concern is if the NFL becomes overly protective of Thomas and hand out unfair fines to the players. Treat her like Ed Hochuli, Mike Carey or any other referee.

Thomas wouldn’t want it any other way, she said it herself.

“I am a female, but I don’t look at myself as just a female,” Thomas told reporters June 2014 while working a Cleveland Browns minicamp.

“I look at myself as an official.”

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils watches "One Shining Moment" with his players Grayson Allen #3, Quinn Cook and Justise Winslow #12 after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers during the NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 6, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski of the Duke Blue Devils watches “One Shining Moment” with his players Grayson Allen #3, Quinn Cook and Justise Winslow #12 after defeating the Wisconsin Badgers during the NCAA Men’s Final Four National Championship at Lucas Oil Stadium on April 6, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

By: Kelton Brooks (@BrooksWeekly)

Coach K wins 5th John Wooden Trophy

Kentucky wasn’t able to etch its name in history, but Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski is (as if he already wasn’t) one of the greatest coaches in college basketball history after capturing his 5th John Wooden Trophy after his Blue Devils defeated Wisconsin 68-63 Monday night.

Krzyzewski is ranked 2nd All-time in national champions with five, only behind Wooden himself with 10. Before entering Monday’s matchup of No. 1 seeds, Coach K was 0-3 against No. 1 seeds in the National Championship game and 4-1 against all others.

Two moments made Coach K’s 5th title a bit more special than the others, 1) Krzyzewski became the first coach in Division I men’s basketball history to eclipse 1,000 wins after defeating St. John 77-68 Jan. 25.

And 2), he was highly-criticized for his inability to coach top recruits, or “one-and-done” players.

Freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justice Winslow are all but gone to the NBA, and the jury is still out on Tyus Jones’ decision to declare for the draft.

But it was his one-and-done freshmen that spearheaded Duke in the second half. Four of Duke’s freshmen combined for 60 points, an NCAA Championship record. Wisconsin’s four seniors combined for 28.

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan went on a post-game rant, and displayed poor sportsmanship as he criticized the refs and said Wisconsin doesn’t “rent a player.” It was the epitome of the phrase, “sore loser.” If you’re the spokesperson for a senior led program, Ryan, then show some class and teach the youth how to handle defeat.

Ryan’s full quote:

“All the seniors that I’ve had — hard to say the word. But every player that’s played through the program, okay, we don’t do a rent-a-player. You know what I mean? Try to take a fifth-year guy. That’s okay. If other people do that, that’s okay. I like trying to build from within. It’s just the way I am. And to see these guys grow over the years and to be here last year and lose a tough game, boom, they came back.”

Coach K responded to Ryan quote earlier today during an interview with CBS.

 “Duke doesn’t rent a player,” Krzyzewski said Tuesday on “CBS This Morning.”We have one of the great schools in the world, and when we recruit a young man, we recruit a young man because of three things: One, he has the academic potential to do well at Duke; two, he has the talent to do well; and three, he has great character. All the guys on my team fit that description 100 percent.”

Maybe Ryan should take a page or five, from Coach K.

Joe Thomas says teammates “lost trust” in Johnny Manziel during the season

The 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and Cleveland Browns 22nd overall pick may have already hit rock bottom entering his second season in the NFL.

Johnny Manziel checked himself into a drug rehab facility shortly after the Super Bowl to put a stop to career and life-threatening habit.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Manziel is “likely to be discharged soon, possibly even next week.” Those words were confirmed by Browns head coach Mike Pettine made at the owners’ meetings in Phoenix two weeks ago, when he said he expects Manziel to participate in offseason workouts, which begin April 20.

But if the 22-year-old is expecting a warm embrace when he returns, teammate and Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas has a message for Manziel.

“I think he’s going to have to prove to the team that football is important and being ‘the man,’ being the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, is important, it is his goal, his single goal in his life,” Brown told Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland 850. “You know, I think he lost probably a lot of trust among the guys on the team last year by the way he handled himself once he became the starter. And I think he had a lot of time to reflect, I’m guessing, after the season was over by the comments he made in the media and by his actions, checking himself into rehab. … I think those were really positive steps. I’m hoping when we come back in April, we see a new Johnny and everybody’s blown away with his commitment. And I think he’s got the talent, so it’s just a matter of if he commits himself to it, we can have a really good quarterback on our hands.”

Kudos for Thomas, who is the leader of the team, to say what needs to be said to a promising player, but misguided player. Manziel was drafted 22nd overall for a reason, to lead a franchise in desperate need of success and rejuvenation. Checking himself into rehab was another stepping stone to get Manziel’s life on and off the field, back on track.

Like Thomas so eloquently stated, Manziel has to prove to the team that football is his No. 1 priority when he returns from rehab.

There is nothing but truth in Thomas’ words. Prove to your team and the franchise that you’re not just another player that will squander a golden opportunity to play at the highest level of football, Manziel.

Race For 8th in the NBA

Multiple teams in each conference are jockeying for the final playoff spots with a little over a week left in the season.

In Western Conference, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder is leading Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans by half of game. OKC is currently 42-35 and the Pelicans are 41-35.

Remaining games for the Thunder:

Tue, Apr 7 vs San Antonio; Fri, Apr 10 vs Sacramento; Sun, Apr 12 @ Indiana; Mon, Apr 13 vs Portland; Wed, Apr 15 @ Minnesota

Remaining games for the Pelicans:

Tue, Apr 7 vs Golden State; Wed, Apr 8 @ Memphis; Fri, Apr 10 vs Phoenix; Sun, Apr 12 @ Houston; Mon, Apr 13 @ Minnesota; Wed, Apr 15 vs San Antonio

Predictions:

What Russell Westbrook has been doing is simply mind-boggling. If it wasn’t for the legitimate MVP candidate, the Thunder would be a lottery team at this juncture, especially after the news of teammate and reigning MVP Kevin Durant, shut down for the season after three surgeries on his foot.

Westbrook recorded his third 40-point triple-double of the season in a loss to James Harden and the Houston Rockets Sunday. The Thunder are asking a lot from Westbrook as he singlehandedly carries the team on his back in Durant’s absence.

If you look at the schedule, San Antonio and Portland are the only two teams left on the schedule that posses any real threat to OKC.

As gifted as Anthony Davis is, and arguably the second best player in the league, the only team remaining on their schedule that doesn’t have a winning record is the Minnesota Timberwolves. Unless Golden State rest its players, I can’t see the Pelicans knocking of MVP favorite Stephen Curry and the Warriors tonight.

Memphis has been inconsistent as of late, but they are still favored over New Orleans. Every team except for the Timberwolves are vying for a playoff position. The Phoenix Suns are three games back from the 8th spot, but unless both the Pelicans and the Thunder lose the rest of their games, the Suns won’t make the playoffs.

The Thunder will hold off the Pelicans for the final spot in the West.

The competitiveness in the Eastern Conference stops at the 5 seed. Seeds 6 through 9 all have losing records. The hottest team among that group is the 7th-seed Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have a record of 36 and 41, but won 8 of its last 10 games.

The 8th seed in the East is down to a three horse race between the Boston Celtics (35-42), Indiana Pacers (34-43) and the Miami Heat (34-43). Horrid records for either of those teams that will back its way into the postseason.

The Heat seemed like a lock to make it weeks ago, but Miami is currently on a 4-game skid, dropping from 7th to 10th.

Miami is still the better team between the three of them. So until April 15 says otherwise, I’m still picking the Heat to claim the final spot in the East.

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston throwing a pass at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston throwing a pass at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

By Kelton Brooks (@BrooksWeekly)

The NFL Scouting Combine, the exact science that’s not so exact, has again come and gone.

It’s the annual football Olympics that surfaces every year on the speed-friendly turf in Indianapolis, Indiana. The spectacle is technically the first football-related interview for college football players with dreams of performing on the big stage that is the National Football League.

The “Road to the Pros,” as some calls it.

Executives, coaches, scouts, and doctors from all 32 NFL teams sat high in the press or coach’s box and glared down with binoculars or glued randomly in the stands as each participant pushed it to the max in the shuttle run, 3-cone-drill, broad and vertical jump, bench press and the critically-acclaimed 40-yard dash.

And I love it all.

But honestly, it doesn’t matter if a 340 pound lineman runs a 4.58 in the 40-yard dash, or a 5.7. Linemen are measured on quick burst, lateral quickness and strength. It doesn’t matter if a wide receiver runs a 4.35 in the 40, or a 4.75.

Compare the careers of former 1st-round pick Darrius Heyward-Bey, who ran a scorching 4.30 flat in the 2009 Combine, and Anquan Boldin, a 2nd-rounder who ran a pedestrian 4.71 in the 2003 Combine.

Heyward-Bey is a bust considering his lofty 7th overall pick selection by the Oakland Raiders in 2009, playing on three team in six seasons and never eclipsing a 1,000 yards in a single year.

Boldin, on the other hand, is a Super Bowl champion with a borderline Hall of Fame career.

But I’m not here to compare oranges to apples and explain how sprinting down the sidelines can get you a couple extra million dollars or how lifting 225 pounds on the bench press 15 or 50 times will determine how many tackles in a game.

I’m here for two reasons.

One, to briefly give kudos to the top five quarterbacks in the 2015 NFL Draft according to NFL Draft guru Mike Mayock, for opting to lay out all their skills on the table after it has been widely publicized that this year’s crop of quarterback is “weak” and “less desirable.”

That group consist of (in order) former 2013 Heisman trophy winner Jameis Winston, 2014 Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Brett Hundley of UCLA, and Colorado State’s Garrett Grayson.

And second, the NFL Combine is also a buster of stereotypes.

In 2013, the Arizona Cardinals selected former Texas A&M wide receiver Ryan Swope with the 174th overall pick in the sixth round. Swope ran an unprecedented 4.34 in the 40-yard dash.

That’s fast, but nothing close to running back Chris Johnson’s Combine record of 4.24 in 2008. But I’ll let Swope explain why his 40 time was “unprecedented.”

“I think a lot of people were pretty shocked,” Swope said in a 2013 interview. “You don’t see that every day, a white guy running a 4.3.”

Remember is 1992 when Woody Harrelson proved to Wesley Snipes that, in fact, white men can jump? Well, Swope showed NFL scouts that white men can run, too.

But sadly, the 24-year-old’s career ended before he took his first snap. He announced his retirement July of 2013 during Organized Teams Activities because of reoccurring concussions.

But the most recognized player for reasons off and on the field, is shattering the mold, Winston.

The stereotype around black quarterbacks on any level of football is he is “always” mobile, always athletic, and always looking to run first. But the worst and most undermining stereotype is that black quarterbacks can’t “digest the playbook,” meaning they don’t have the IQ to learn the playbook.

Winston was, of course, seen as a mobile and an athletic quarterback. Well, Winston clocked in at a 4.97 on his first attempt and a 4.99 in his second in the 40-yard dash, ranking 10th and out of 13 participating quarterbacks.

“He tuck and ran a lot during the season!”

Jameis Winston rushed for 65 yards for the entire year.

Winston is head and shoulders above every quarterback as a passer in this year’s draft. Winston is a quarterback that can extend plays from the pocket. Winston is a quarterback that can run if he has to, not a, per say, running quarterback.

And as far as the IQ insult, according to NBC’s Pro Football Talk, Winston’s knowledge of the game has reportedly caught the attention of numerous club officials who met with him during the NFL Scouting Combine.

Reportedly, an unnamed evaluator raved about Winston’s football IQ saying, “I think he’s (Winston) probably the smartest player I’ve ever interviewed” and even went out on a limb comparing him to Peyton Manning on sheer football IQ.

I don’t see Peyton Manning in Winston, but more of the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and former NFL quarterback Daunte Culpepper.

But I also see a quarterback that’s not falling into the stereotype.

Hopefully more guys like Swope and Winston come along to break loose any stereotype chained to any players of any position in any sport.

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) has been officially suspended for a year by the NFL

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon (12) has been officially suspended for a year by the NFL

According to multiple reports, Josh Gordon is officially suspended without pay for a minimum of one year for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, the Browns announced Tuesday.

I wrote a column about the rumors circulating Gordon of a possible year long suspension and his open-letter prior to the official ruling coming down. The column was published in The Hutchinson News, where I am the law enforcement and courts reporter, as well as a sports writer.

Below is the link to the column.

Column on Josh Gordon and his suspension.

Courtesy Neil Horowitz

Courtesy Neil Horowitz

By Kelton Brooks (@BrooksWeekly)

When the Seattle Seahawks No. 1 ranked defense faced off against the Denver Broncos’ No. 1 ranked offense in last year’s Super Bowl, it was the first time in NFL history the two top-ranked offense and defense met in the big dance.

And the Seahawks made the Broncos dance alone to a slumbrous tune in a 43-8 stomping. The score was more exciting than the game. In every facet of the game, the Seahawks dominated. Manning and his high octane offense took a knockout gut punch from one of the most formidable defenses the league has ever witnessed.

The Seahawks and its historical defense will hoist the Lombardi Trophy in back-to-back years, but not in a laughable 43-8 fashion over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Let me put the Seahawks defense in statistical and historical perspective.

Seattle has led the league in scoring defense in each of the last three seasons. Seattle yielded 15.3 points per game in 2012, 14.4 points a game in 2013 and capped off a 2014 campaign allowing 15.9 points per game in a “down year.”

The only team that has reached those heights were the 1969-71 “Purple People Eaters” of the Minnesota Vikings that led the league in scoring defense in each of those years.

That’s the point of the game, right? To outscore your opponents or to prevent them from scoring. Prior to the Seahawks six game winning streak to end the season, they allowed 61 point combined Weeks 9 through 11. In those last six wins of the regular season, they allowed only 39 points. That’s 6.5 points per game.

But according to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Seahawks defense has a chink in their armor. And that chink’s name is Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Opposing quarterbacks have 11 touchdowns and two interceptions when targeting tight ends against the Seahawks defense, according to Elias Sports. When throwing to running backs and receivers, quarterbacks have six touchdowns to 11 interceptions against the Legion of Boom.

Interesting statistics that points to one of the most pivotal matchups, Gronkowski versus the hard hitting safety Kam Chancellor. Those top tier competitors is a violent matchup that’s on an unavoidable collision course.

But the player to watch out for is patriots tight end Tim Wright, who has been a no show since his breakout seven catch game for 61 yards and a touchdown against the Chicago Bears Oct. 26. Wright may have a larger role in the Patriots’ offense with Seahawks safety Earl Thomas nursing a dislocated shoulder that he said has since healed.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is the ultimate competitor. He will find a way to get the ball to Gronk and to Wright. Julian Elderman, Danny Amendola and Brandon Lafell don’t matchup well against the Seahawks secondary, but Richard Sherman is also nursing an arm injury. New England could find success.

Seattle won’t bully the Patriots like they did Denver. Former Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, now with New England, has made that loud and clear with his comments towards his ex-teammates injuries. 

But until proven otherwise, defense wins champions. The Seahawks have one of the best defenses in NFL history.

Seahawks 24, Patriots 17.

Can the Cowboys slow down the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field?

Can the Cowboys slow down the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field?

By Kelton Brooks (@BrooksWeekly)

A “slight tear.” Three words Packers’ fan have only heard in their nightmares, but the injury is all but a reality for Aaron Rodgers.

But as their Super Bowl winning quarterback once said after Green Bay started the season 1-2, R-E-L-A-X. As prolific a passer Rodgers is, his slightly torn calf muscle couldn’t have come at a worst time.


Wild Card Prediction Results

Brooks: 3-1

Perez: 2-2


 

Divisional Playoff  Brooks Perez
DAL @ GB DAL(L) GB(W)
CAR @ SEA SEA(W) SEA(W)
IND @ DEN DEN(L) DEN(L)
BAL @ NE NE(W) NE(W)

 


 

Brooks Bits

Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers 

Two extremes are at stake in Sunday’s divisional matchup: The Packers are 8-0 at home on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. Green Bay has averaged a NFL-high 39.8 points per game at home with Rodgers throwing for 25 touchdowns to 0 interceptions.

The Cowboys have a winning streak of their own going 8-0 on the road led by the new “triplets,” Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray. Dallas has averaged 34.4 points per game on the road. Murray led the league in rushing with 1,845 yards, breaking Emmitt Smith’s single season record along the way. Bryant broke Michael Irvin’s single season touchdown record with 16 on the season.

Something has to give.

Not having a first-round bye was the best thing that ever happened to the Cowboys. It would’ve only slowed down the momentum for the hottest team in the NFL. Now matter what adversity Dallas has been faced with this season, they keep finding ways to win.

The 42-7 drumming Dec. 21 over the Indianapolis Colts was a telltale sign of the maturity and growth of the Cowboys. When the Philadelphia Eagles lost to the Washington Redskins the Dec. 14, last year’s Cowboys would’ve lost to the Colts.

This team has a new confidence, a new mindset and new drive.

Dallas will shock the Packers on the arctic Lambeau field and defeat an ailing Rodgers.

Eddie P’s Philosophical Take

Carolina Panthers @ Seattle Seahawks 

As much as I loathe the Seattle Seahawks, I cannot deny how good of a team they are. Seattle boasts the best defense in the NFL. Running back Marshawn Lynch is one of the best rushers in the game. Quarterback Russell Wilson is a great decision-maker that can beat you through the air and on the ground.

Carolina is a team that is finally putting their potential together. The running back duo of Jonathan Stewart and Deangelo Williams is dangerous.  Quarterback Cam Newton can drop the long bombs and bust loose on a long run. Ron Rivera’s defense is always tough.

The Panthers, however, still were a 7-8-1 team. The Panthers have and will commit costly errors. Newton has turned the ball over 21 times during the season. He turned the ball over twice last week. Against a well-rounded team like Seattle, this habit of turning the ball over can–and will–be deadly.

Dallas Cowboys @ Green Bay Packers

The Dallas Cowboys broke the nasty habit of faltering in the month of December. Last week against Detroit, Jerry’s “Boys came back to win. In Lambeau Field, the Cowboys success will come to a screeching halt.

The Packers rank in the top 10 offensively. Aaron Rodgers and his receiving corps of Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson will carve you up. If Rodgers is not scary enough, imagine the bruising 230-pound Eddie Lacy running straight at you.

The Packs’ “weakness” is its defense, and it is 10th against the pass but only 23rd against the run. No matter how you look at GB’s defense, it is a tough unit. With Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers rushing the passer, it will be tough for Dallas to block.

Game. Set. Match. Packers.

At 7-8-1, how far can Cam Newton lead the Carolina Panthers through the playoffs?

At 7-8-1, how far can Cam Newton (1) lead the Carolina Panthers through the playoffs?

By Kelton Brooks (@BrooksWeekly)

It’s the perfect time to usher in the 2015 NFL playoffs with Jim Mora’s famed “Playoffs?” rant. The Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera could’ve channeled his inner Mora as his team slipped into post-season play with a sub-500 record at 7-8-1. But the Panthers’ 34-3 laugher over the Atlanta Falcons in the win-and-you’re-in Dec. 28 season finale, punched their ticket into the big dance.

Carolina is the second team in NFL history to advance to the playoffs with a losing record. The first time this happened was in the 2010-11 season when the 7-9 Seattle Seahawks miraculously defeated the 10-6 Saints in the Wild-Card.

Will lightening strike twice as the Panthers take on the 11-5 Arizona Cardinals?

But without further ado, here’s the the Mora rant I promised you.


Week 17 Prediction Results

Brooks: 12-4; Overall: 175-80

Perez: 11-5; Overall: 178-77 (Regular season winner)

Wooten: 11-5; Overall: 153-86


 

Wildcard Round Brooks Perez
ARI @ CAR CAR(W) ARI(L)
BAL @ PIT PIT(L) PIT(L)
CIN @ IND IND(W) IND(W)
DET @ DAL DAL(W) DAL(W)

 


 

Brooks Bits

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is the run away favorite for the Coach of the Year award. Arians led the Cardinals to a 10-6 record using three different players at quarterback. Carson Palmer played in only six games as he battled a nerve injury to his shoulder before being lost for the season to a torn ACL days after signing a three-year, $50 million contract extension.

Drew Stanton filled the void admirably in Palmer’s absence, but he too sustained a knee injury. The severity level isn’t as gruesome as Palmer’s, but Stanton has been ruled out at least for this week’s game.

Now enter Ryan Lindley who has gone 1-2 in his three starts this season. To put it simply, Lindley is a third string quarterback for a reason. His lone win was a 12-6 defensive struggle over the St. Louis Rams. The Cardinals’ point differential with Lindley under center is 67 to 35 averaging 11.6 points per game.

Yes, the Panthers have a losing record, but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. Carolina closed out the season on a four game winning streak, resembling the team that went 10-6 last season led by a stingy defense and ball control.

Cam Newton has been spectacular since his return from a car wreck that led to two back fractures. Kelvin Benjamin is apart of the historical rookie wide receiver class as he totaled 1,008 yards receiving and nine touchdowns during the regular season. Tight end Greg Olsen matched Benjamin with 1,008 yards of his own.

Playing at home and surging at the right moment, the Panthers will upset the 11-5 Cardinals. Panthers 24, Cardinals 13.

Detroit Lions @ Dallas Cowboys

This is a matchup between two organizations trying to shake off a long, latched stigma.

The Detroit Lions are a team with a past of losing, a recent past of falling flat on their faces in big games, and a talented team that can’t get over the hump.

Every football fan in the world who has watched the Dallas Cowboys over the past few seasons are waiting on them to implode. That has been the Cowboys M.O., wait until the biggest stage to collapse right before our eyes.

The “accident waiting to happen.”

In fact the last time Dallas had one of their colossal let downs, it was to the Lions in 2011 when Detroit overcame a 27-3 2nd-half deficit to win. Tony Romo threw three 2nd-half interceptions to pave the way for the Lions’ comeback.

Fast-forward to this year, Romo, MVP candidate DeMarco Murray—who set a franchise singe-single rushing record with 1,845 yards—and Dez Bryant who broke Michael Irvin’s touchdown receiving record with 16, are the new “Triplets” in Dallas.

Jim Caldwell has brought a winning attitude to the Lions and instilled confidence in quarterback Matthew Stafford. Detroit caught a huge break after the NFL reversed their decision to suspend Ndamukong Suh. His services will be needed to slow down Murray.

However, I believe the Cowboys will continue to show the world this team is for real.

Dallas in a wild one, 38-34.

Eddie P’s Philosophical Take

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

This game will be a tough, hard-nosed, old school AFC brawl. The Steelers and Ravens are divisional rivals, so they will bring the worst out of each other.

Pittsburgh has transformed into a passing team with Big Ben and Antonio Brown. They are ranked 2nd in the league in terms of passing yards. They’ll be even more pass-happy with Le’Veon Bell out.

This will play into the Steelers’ favor. The Ravens are ranked 23rd against the pass.

Arizona Cardinals @ Carolina Panthers

The Cards are playing with Ryan Lindley. I still do not think the Panthers are a good enough team to outduel Arizona.

Arizona has a tough, underrated defense. Carolina has faltered throughout the entire season. They are an under .500 team. There is little to no chance of them beating out the Cardinals.

The playoffs are a different ball game, however. Lindley has only two career touchdowns. His inexperience will need to be masked by a ground game and a stout defense.

I still believe Arizona will come out victorious.