Who Run the ‘Burg? Girls.

March Madness is one of the greatest sporting events in America. It pits some of the finest young athletes from all over the country against each other, while some of the finest fans (young and old) wager on their performances.

By the end of week one, brackets are broken and dreams are shattered. Life goes on.

The men receive the majority of the month’s fanfare, but not here in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Dukes failed to reach the big dance for the second year in a row and will have to watch from their couches as the women march on to their second consecutive NCAA tournament.

The 12th-seeded women’s team will head down to Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Saturday to face 5th-seeded Ohio State. JMU finished the season 29-3, won their second CAA title in a row, and watched coach Kenny Brooks set the program’s all-time win record. Now it’s time to make some waves on the national stage.

Despite losing hometown heroes Kirby Burkholder and Nikki Newman from last season, the lady Dukes have plenty of experience to accompany their undeniable talent. Seniors Toia Giggetts and Lauren Okafor provide leadership and quality minutes, with Okafor just a tick shy in rebounds from averaging a double-double. Junior Precious Hall is an offensive force. Averaging over 20 points per game and over 36 percent from deep; the undeniable star of the quad. Not to be outdone, junior guard Angela Mickens dishes out 7.5 assists per game and is just the type of player the lady Dukes need in this type of tournament.

Knocking off Ohio State won’t be an easy task. The lady Dukes are winless in their five previous match-ups against the Buckeyes. But JMU did knock off Pittsburgh this season, a team Ohio State fell to. Both teams lost to Maryland, their only other mutual opponent.

The Dukes will have to look out for Kelsey Mitchell. She leads the Buckeyes in scoring, 3 point shooting, as well as assists. If she’s contained, JMU’s chances will vastly improve. It’s just as critical to control Alexa Hart and Shayla Cooper on the boards. Each averages over 8 per game. After Okafor’s 9.8 per game, JMU doesn’t have a player with over 5 rebounds per game. Also going against the ladies in purple and gold is an underlying feeling among experts that Ohio State is a potential Cinderella.

Don’t rule out the Dukes just yet.

Who knows? After Saturday they could be the ones wearing the glass slipper.

Every Rose has its Thorn…

…for Derrick, it’s the inability to stay on the court.

Since his 2010-11 MVP campaign it’s as if Rose’s knees have disappeared. Maybe it’s wear and tear after years of exploding to the rim. Maybe it’s bad luck from the basketball gods above. Regardless, the days of marveling at what he was have given way to the days of wondering what he could have been.

Severity unknown, a torn right meniscus is the culprit this time. The same one that put an end to his 2013 season. While an athlete’s least favorite two words, “season ending,” haven’t officially been uttered, it’s all but inevitable.

It feels like a cheap joke. Like déjà vu all over again. But as I got home from work late on Tuesday night, reality sank in. My phone sat next to my bed illuminating every few seconds as app after app notified me of the catastrophe in Chicago.

The Bulls aren’t dead in the water just yet, though it feels that way. They sit third in the underwhelming Eastern Conference. Budding superstar Jimmy Butler has emerged into a true leader. Pau Gasol has been stellar since the move to the Windy City, averaging a double-double and swatting over 2 blocks per game. Role players like Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Aaron Brooks will see extra looks to help carry the load. Hell, Rose had been good this season but far from outstanding.

It doesn’t matter. Chicago is devastated. They’ve gone from a favorite to win the East to a saddened squad looking for hope. Their golden boy relegated to the bench one again.

It’s unfair. Unfair to the fans. Unfair to the Bulls and the city of Chicago. Most importantly, unfair to Rose.

Alas, the season goes on. Feel better, Derrick.

Welcome to the Bigs, Yoan

Yoan Moncada joins fellow countryman Rusney Castillo in Boston as the Red Sox won the sweepstakes for Cuba’s latest sensation.

Moncada is reported to have signed for over $30 million, with the total investment reaching $63 million after taxes. The 19-year-old infielder played two seasons in Cuba’s top league, Serie Nacional. Over the two years he batted .277 with an on-base percentage of .388 and a .768 OPS. Widely considered a top prospect, Boston edged out several other teams including arch-rival New York Yankees.

After having gone from worst to first the season before, the Red Sox found themselves back in the cellar of the AL East in 2014. Eager to find themselves back on top, Boston was a headliner of an exciting, often hectic off-season. Moncada is joined by free agent signees Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Justin Masterson. Among others, starters Wade Miley and Rick Porcello were acquired via trade to help fill additional roster gaps.

It’ll be interesting to see if Boston’s acquisitions can bring them to their second consecutive worst-to-first performance. Particularly interesting is Moncada. A second basemen by trade, it’s likely Moncada will make a switch. Dustin Pedroia has that spot locked up until he succumbs to retirement. Youngster Xander Bogaerts is touted as the shortstop of the future, and newcomer Sandoval will man the hot corner. The jammed infield has led to talks of Moncada becoming an outfielder. But with Ramirez, Castillo, Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Brock Holt and Daniel Nava still around space is limited.

All signs point to a minor league stint to begin Moncada’s career, the length of which to be determined. Will he blast onto the seen like Jose Abreu did last year? Unlikely. With two years of professional ball under his belt, does he need to prove himself in the minors? To an extent. It’s hard to imagine Boston keeping their shiny new toy bouncing around from Portland to Pawtucket. To prevent that they’ll need to find a place to put him.

As the hype fades and the results emerge more will be clear. For now, we wait.

Russell Westbrook: Superhero

For the first time all season the Barclays Center was graced with presence of elite basketball. The mediocre Nets lent their home to the NBA’s brightest stars for what was perhaps the most entertaining All-Star Weekend in recent memory. On Friday, Kevin Hart nabbed his 4th consecutive Celebrity Game MVP. On Saturday, Zach LaVine soared and Steph Curry swooshed. On Sunday, Russell Westbrook took over the world.

His turbo-speed, reckless assault on the rim was quintessential Russ. It was everything his supporters love about him and everything his haters hate. On the biggest stage he cemented his superstar status, dropping 41 points just one shy of Wilt Chamberlain’s all-time mark set back in 1962. He came off the bench scorching hot, with 27 points in just 11 minutes in first half. Not be cooled off by the halftime break, Russ drilled there consecutive 3’s to start the second half.

His display was brilliant by all accounts. MVP title. Western Conference victory. Game Over. Russ wins. It was an aggressive, cathartic release from an Energizer bunny with something to prove.

Granted none of this matters beyond sheer entertainment value. The Thunder sit in 9th in a loaded Western Conference and are far from guaranteed to climb back into the upper echelon. A litany of injuries ravaged the first half of their season, but Russ’s Sunday night display left a simple message: watch out.

All-Star Game Westbrook paired with newly cynical Kevin Durant may be the scariest duo to hit the hardwood and it will be a joy to watch. While none of the Phoenix/San Antonio/Los Angeles trio deserves to miss the playoffs, the world deserves to see the Thunder back where they belong.

Keep doing you Russ, you hyper-speed freak you.

Your New Favorite Podcast

BREAKING NEWS: Live from Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Beginning today, the Undrafted Free Agent will be rolling out a weekly podcast in collaboration with 22807 magazine. The show will focus primarily on James Madison University athletics and D.C. sports, providing insight to national stories when we see fit.

Hosted by Mike Ferrante, each week we’ll delve into a new topic from a non-traditional angle. If you can find the story on ESPN’s bottom line, you won’t hear it on Sunday afternoons with us. Our goal is to blend sports with media and pop culture into unique stories for you all to enjoy.

With national signing day in the rearview mirror, our first show takes a look at each of JMU’s 21 signees. Alongside co-host Griffin Harrington, Mike discusses each player’s presence on Twitter and loosely relates it back to how they’ll perform on the field.

Bear with us, it’s the first attempt at a podcast by two guys who’ve never done so before. While we can’t guarantee it’s perfect, we can guarantee we had fun with it–and we think you will too.

Give it a listen, and keep an eye out for the weeks to come!

The Call Heard ‘Round the World

It’s second-and-goal from the one yard line, 26 seconds left on the clock, and with one timeout remaining, the Seattle Seahawks appear to have locked up back-to-back Super Bowl victories. After Jermaine Kearse channeled his inner David Tyree, Seattle is one Marshawn Lynch crotch grab away from thwarting Tom Brady’s comeback and sending New England home with its third consecutive Super Bowl loss.

And then Pete Carroll makes arguably the worst play call in postseason history. Russell Wilson drops back, throws a slant toward the unrivaled Ricardo Lockette which is quickly picked off by Malcolm Butler, an undrafted rookie out of West Alabama. Patriots win, Carroll condemned.

It was supposed to be the beginning of a new era. Back-to-back championships would spark a mini-dynasty in Seattle. The fun-loving Pete Carroll would be revered for taking down the mighty Bill Belichick. Richard Sherman and Co. would be the face of the NFL. Lynch was sure to deliver a press conference to remember.

Instead, Brady and Belichick leave Arizona with their fourth Lombardi trophy, further cementing their legacy thanks to the hands of an unassuming rookie and a call that left even the most casual of fans baffled. Granted, if that ball lands in Lockette’s palms rather than Butler’s, Wilson and Carroll would be lauded and this whole conversation wouldn’t be happening. But, it didn’t so here we are.

Following the loss, Carroll took the blame but failed to admit that just maybe, it was the wrong call. Seattle’s lovably loyal fan base will forgive, but they’ll never forget.

On a field full of stars, Belichick was supposed to be the villain, Lynch the hero. Yet it’s Seattle’s coach who finds himself the enemy, and the 24-year-old, teary-eyed Butler the hero.

In a game riddled with story lines and concluded by two valiant comeback drives, a snap decision decided it all.

Congratulations New England, don’t forget to thank Pete Carroll on your way out.

O Captain, My Captain

Before Derek Jeter ascends into the baseball heavens, he’ll play the final game of his storied career this afternoon at Fenway Park. Home of the rival Boston Red Sox. While they’ll hate to admit it, Boston fans will pay tribute to the focal point of sport’s greatest rivalry for the past 20 years. Cue the waterworks, we’re saying farewell to a legend.

I don’t know baseball without Derek Jeter. Growing up in Ramsey, New Jersey, 35 minutes outside of the Bronx, I was raised a New York Yankee fan from day one. Baseball has always been my passion, and I’m privileged to have grown up during a nearly two-decade long stretch of supremacy by my beloved Yankees. Gone are the days of Joe Torre, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, the list goes on. Come this evening, gone too will be the days of Derek Jeter.

They made him the 13th captain in franchise history. Whenever number 14 comes along, they’ll have big shoes to fill. The kid from Kalamazoo, Michigan made the jump to the world’s biggest stage and handled it with ease. On the field, he exemplified consistency. He played every game of his career for the Yankees. He’ll finish sixth overall on the all-time hits list, and first–by a mile–in the postseason. He never won an MVP, yet he finished in the top-10 seven times. He played in 14 All-Star Games. He won 5 World Series. He gave us the flip, he dove into the stands. He was never ejected from the game.

Off the field, he epitomized class. Jeter handled reporters like a tactician. His name was never found in the tabloids, making it through the New York media unscathed. He was a gentleman to the fans. His Turn 2 Foundation has raised over $19 million in motivation for youths to turn to a healthy lifestyle. He wasn’t just the face of the franchise. He was the face of Major League Baseball.

There aren’t enough words to express my gratitude toward the Captain. He’s an idol that I am blessed to have had. The New York Yankees and Major League Baseball will never be the same. He should be the first to enter Cooperstown unanimously. He will always remain in the pantheon of baseball greats.

It’s with teary eyes that I say goodbye to Mr. Derek Sanderson Jeter. Thank you for the memories. You’ll be greatly missed.

Ray Won’t Go Away

UPDATE: Ray Rice has been released by the Baltimore Ravens, approximately 18 seconds after I published this post. Maybe I can predict the future after all. 

Disturbing new footage of the Ray Rice incident was released on Monday; deflecting attention away from the fanfare of NFL’s opening weekend. Commissioner Roger Goodell faced immediate criticism as Rice was suspended only two games for the brutality and thus he has since revamped the league’s domestic violence policies. Rice is scheduled to return to action on Friday, following Baltimore’s Thursday night game, though his left hook begs to differ. 

It’s ludicrous that the likes of Wes Welker and Matt Prater are doubly punished for ingesting illegal substances. No, the NFL should not condone those practices either, but they are on a different stratosphere than endangering the life of another. It’s clear that not only fans feel this way, as players including Terrance Knighton have taken to Twitter to express their beliefs. It’s difficult to recall another NFL punishment associated with as much controversy. Though Rice likely won’t be the last display of domestic violence in professional sports, he can be the last to face such lenient punishment. 

While Goodell’s admittedly delusional decision appears irrevocable, the Baltimore Ravens are prompted with an opportunity to make a change. If owner Steve Bisciotti wants to prevent a season-long circus from distracting his team, he’ll take action. Lengthen Rice’s suspension. Hell, release him from the organization. Any action is better than none, and I guarantee the flurry of praise the Ravens would receive would far surpass the myriad of contempt faced by Goodell. 

The Ravens travel to Cleveland in week 3. Hopefully, Ray Rice will not. 



NFL Preview

Sundays are for football. As the summer comes to close, the nation is one step closer to enjoying its weekly dose of America’s most popular sport. Nothing compares to the seventeen week journey that already has many of us analyzing, contemplating, and salivating over its endless possibilities. So without further ado, I will take a stab at predicting what is to come. 

AFC East:

1. New England Patriots (12-4)*: It’s difficult to find any reason why Bill Belichick and company won’t go on to win their 14th division title in the last 16 years. They’ve reinforced the secondary with signings of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner. Future Hall of Famer Tom Brady is still more than capable to lead the offense to a successful season. It should come as no surprise that the Pats will be playoff bound again.

2. New York Jets (9-7)*: The Jets didn’t receive any help from the schedule makers, they enter 2014 with 9th toughest strength of schedule. That being said, Gang Green is capable of producing a winning season. Geno Smith looks to improve, especially with new target Eric Decker joining the squad. Led by young stars Muhammed Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, the defense is sure to be at the top of the pack. The torn ACL suffered by rookie Dexter McDougle will hurt the secondary, but look for Rex Ryan’s team to be a pleasant surprise.

3. Miami Dolphins (7-9): It appears as though Miami will fall just short. They’ll open up against two division rivals, the Patriots at home in week one and the Bills on the road in week two. Ryan Tannehill will look to silence the critics, but I wouldn’t count on it. Lamar Miller and Knowshon Moreno will split carries at least until one emerges as a clear favorite. The defense was shaky at best in 2013 and there doesn’t appear to be any sign on improvement.

4. Buffalo Bills (5-11): Buffalo has amassed an intriguing group of young talent, but they’ll still have to wait their turn. EJ Manuel looks to stay healthy and improve on last year’s campaign, if he can develop a connection with rookie Sammy Watkins then they may pull out an extra win or two. Former Lions’ coach Jim Schwartz takes over as the defensive coordinator and will switch the system back to a 4-3. An interesting move considering their success with the 3-4 just a year ago.

AFC North:

1. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6)*: Having signed Andy Dalton to a major extension, the front office seems confident he is their franchise quarterback despite playoff inconsistency. A.J. Green will remain a lethal weapon for Dalton and Gio Bernard could have breakout season in the backfield. The offense will be supported by a top-notch defense, with the notable return of Geno Atkins on the line. Strength of schedule is in their favor. Look for the Bengals to return to the playoffs in search of win for the first time since 1990. 

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (10-6)*: Pittsburgh will give the Bengals a run for the money in the division. Roethlisberger will have a new set of weapons as the departure of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery has brought Darrius Heyward-Bey and Lance Moore to the Steel City. Le’Veon Bell is another breakout candidate in the backfield, while the addition of LeGarrett Blount could lead to a two-headed rushing attack. The defense is middle of the pack, but shouldn’t be much of a detriment. 

3. Baltimore Ravens (8-8): Though the schedule makers were favorable to Baltimore, their strength of schedule is 28, I’m unsure they will muster up more than a .500 season. Of course the big news is Ray Rice’s suspension and who is to say he will even be the same when he gets back. Joe Flacco better hope new target Steve Smith still has some left in the tank, as he looks to rebound from a sub-par season. The defense is aging and incomplete, far from the glory days of Ray Rice and Ed Reed. The Ravens will simply be average. 

4. Cleveland Browns (5-11): Uncertainty surrounds Cleveland for the time being. Will Josh Gordon be suspended, and if so for how long? Will incumbent Brian Hoyer remain the starter or will rookie sensation Johnny Manziel take control? Will it really matter who is throwing the passes if Gordon is out for an extended period of time? Who knows. There is plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball if the offensive decides to show up, only time will tell. One thing that is for certain, if you don’t like Johnny Football you don’t like fun. 

AFC South: 

1. Indianapolis Colts (12-4)*: This is the year of Andrew Luck. He’s already shown signs of brilliance in his young career and I truly believe he has a chance to jump up into the elite echelon this season. They will lose Robert Mathis and his 19 sacks from a year ago to a four game suspension to start the year. Upon his return Mathis will have to energize a defense that needs to prove itself if Indy wants to make a deep playoff push. The division is their’s to lose. 

2. Tennessee Titans (5-11): Though the defense was solid last season, and has the talent to remain that way. After that there isn’t much to write home about. It appears as though Tennessee still believes Jake Locker will be a capable starting NFL quarterback. Everyone outside of Tennessee likely feels otherwise. The loss of Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt will be felt. Rookie halfback Bishop Sankey may be a star one day, but it looks like Shonn Greene will see the majority of carries right now. Titans fans will have to wait at least another year.

3. Jacksonville Jaguars (5-11): Rebuilding is the theme here. The Jaguars have accumulated a wealth of young talent including rookies Blake Bortles and Marquise Lee, as well as MJD’s replacement Toby Gerhart. The D-Line will be reinforced by Red Bryant and Chris Clemons, but the defense as whole has to prove themselves after a miserable year in 2013. There will be growing pains, but the future has the potential to be bright. 

4. Houston Texans (3-13): The Texans are not a very good football team. Yes, Jadeveon Clowney is a once in a generation talent. Yes, it will be entertaining to watch him perform alongside J.J. Watt. If the defense remains healthy they could surprise some. The offense is putrid. An aging Andre Johnson and back surgery returnee Arian Foster will have to return to their prime to provide any hope. Ryan Fitzpatrick appears to be the starting quarterback, so there’s that. First year coach Bill O’Brien will have his work cut out for him. 

AFC West

1. Denver Broncos (12-4)*: After an utter collapse in Super Bowl XLVIII, Denver is poised to rebound well. Peyton Manning will not replicate last year’s record setting performance, but he may come closer than you think. Montee Ball has the potential to shine with the departure of Knowshon Moreno. An already strong defense is bolstered by the additions like Aqib Talib and DeMArcus Ware. A devastating knee injury to Danny Trevathan won’t go unnoticed, but he should bounce back as there is no ligament damage. The Broncos will see the playoffs yet again. 

2. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8): The Chiefs will come back down to Earth in Andy Reid’s second season at the helm. Jamaal Charles is one of the biggest offensive threats in the game, but unless he gets some help it will soon be come all too predictable. Dwayne Bowe has been surrounded by controversy; recent news of a finger injury was followed up by a one game suspension. Led by Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, maybe the best linebacker duo in the game, the defense remains one of the league’s best. Facing seventh toughest schedule the Chiefs are in for a bumpy road. 

3. San Diego Chargers (7-9): Philip Rivers woke up last year, found new a weapon in Kennan Allen, and led San Diego to playoff berth. Don’t expect it to happen again. They play in a difficult division and they face one of the toughest schedules according to pre-season listings. The defense is questionable at best and will have to outperform expectations for San Diego to expect to compete in the AFC. 

4. Oakland Raiders (6-10): Oakland signed Matt Schaub in hopes he’ll return to his success a couple of years ago, but rookie Derek Carr may actually give the Raiders a better chance to win. They signed Maurice Jones-Drew to fortify the running game, another washed up star who will have to prove he has anything left in the tank. They made some moves to improve the defense by drafting Khalil Mack and signing the likes of Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley among others. If all the veterans find the fountain of youth and return to their glory days I may be proven wrong. Right now, the Raiders are facing another tough season. 

NFC East: 

1. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)*: Year two of the Chip Kelly era promises to be entertaining. Nick Foles won’t put up a 27/2 TD/INT ratio again, but he may not have to. A healthy Jeremy Maclin will help fill the void of DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy is arguably the best running back in the game. No one is questioning the offense. Its the defense that will have to improve for the Eagles to make the jump from “very good” to “elite”. A lenient schedule should help them take the division title. I wouldn’t expect a deep playoff run, though. 

2. Washington Redskins (9-7): Jay Gruden takes over head coaching duties and should vastly improve on last year’s 3-13 performance. A healthy RGIII has a new toy in DeSean Jackson, a nice complement to Pierre Garçon. Alfred Morris has developed into a solid threat for the running game. Meanwhile, Brian Orakpo remains the only bright spot on a weak defense that will prevent them from being anything other than above-average. 

3. New York Giants (6-10): Eli Manning won’t lead the league in interceptions again, but he will need to bounce back in outstanding fashion for the G-Men to really make an impact in 2014. Not to mention he has to learn a new system. Key losses include Justin Tuck, Hakeem Nicks, Chris Snee, and Andrew Brown among others. One can’t forget the devastating career-ending injury for David Wilson that is going to hurt more than just their hearts. In what appears to be an NFC East theme, the defense simply will not be able to compete with high-level offenses. Who knows what happened to Jason Pierre-Paul last year, he will have to really step up now without Tuck on the line. It’ll be a difficult road for this team from MetLife Stadium.

4. Dallas Cowboys (4-12): The Dallas Cowboys’ defense was one of the worst in history last season and it has only gotten worse. Orlando Scandrick must have listened to Tyga one too many times, he’ll serve a four game suspension for ingesting Molly. Sean Lee is out for the season. DeMarcus Ware no longer dons a Cowboys’ uniform. The list goes on and on. The offense will lean on back surgery returnee Tony Romo. If he goes down again Dez Bryant will be catching passes from either Brandon Weeden or Caleb Hanie…yikes. It simply isn’t in the cards for Dallas this year. Jason Garrett may be looking for a job sooner rather than later. 


1. Green Bay Packers (11-5)*: A healthy Aaron Rodgers is back to lead an offense that will also benefit from Randall Cobb’s return. Eddie Lacy appears to be a franchise tailback and will complement Rodgers nicely. Defensively, they need to be consistent. Clay Matthews has got to stay healthy, new arrival Julius Peppers has to turn back the clock, and rookie Ha Ha Clinton-Dix must prove himself. An easier schedule than most will aid their success. Green Bay will take home their fourth consecutive division title. 

2. Detroit Lions (9-7): The addition of Golden Tate will help Matt Stafford tremendously and will draw some of the attention away from All-Universe wideout Calvin Johnson. Reggie Bush and Joique Bell remain a dynamic duo in the backfield, thus the offense is going to score and score a lot. Ndamukong Suh leads a defense made of big names and little success. To make a playoff push the defense will have to largely improve on their 2013 effort. 

3. Chicago Bears (9-7): I love the Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery trio. Matt Forte is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield, as he is a threat to catch some passes in addition to carving up defenses with his legs. The Santonio Holmes signing would have had a bigger impact years ago, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he still had some big plays left in him. An average schedule makes the defense the only question mark. Chicago addressed their needs on D with some key free agent signings, including Jared Allen, yet they still have something to prove. Come January, the Bears will be left on the outside looking in. 

4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10): Young and full of potential, the Vikings simply aren’t quite there yet. New head coach Mike Zimmer will help shift focus to a defense that gave up a lot of points a year ago. While the defense needs work, the offensive may be able to score given everything pans out. Adrian Peterson is still Adrian Peterson. Cordarrelle Patterson could have a breakout season, while the Greg Jennings of old could make a comeback. A quarterback battle is likely to give Matt Cassel the reigns for the beginning of the season. Rookie Teddy Bridgewater has tons of upside and appears to be more ready than many believe. I say let the kid start. 

NFC South: 

1. New Orleans Saints (11-5)*: The Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham duo will continue to be a problem for most defenses. Rookie Brandin Cooks has impressed thus far and will provide some speed to the offense. It appears they’ll trot out some combination of Mark Ingram, Pierre Thomas, and Khiry Robinson in the backfield, where they’ll miss Darren Sproles. The addition of Jairus Byrd in the secondary will aid a defense that likely outperformed their talent last year. If Rob Ryan can keep the defensive magic going in 2014, the Saints will be a threat to do some playoff damage. 

2. Carolina Panthers (8-8): Led by an elite front seven, Carolina’s strength is defense. The Panthers also benefit from a favorable schedule, leaving the offense as a major question mark. There is little doubt surrounding the capabilities of franchise quarterback Cam Newton, he just doesn’t appear to have enough of a supporting cast to flourish. They’ve essentially brought in an entire new wide receiving corps after Steve Smith and company jumped ship. A weak offensive line couple with the DeAngelo Williams/Jonathan Stewart tandem in the backfield won’t be enough to support Cam either. 

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-9): The Bucs have an intriguing amount of talent, but I fear they’ll be unable to put it all together. The Josh McCown signing will only pay off if he emulates last year’s career best performance, while Doug Martin is going to have to prove himself again post-injury. Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David are two guys any defense would be happy to have, if their supporting cast steps up the defense will be very good. The schedule is only slightly on the easier side, we’ll have to see if they take advantage. 

4. Atlanta Falcons (7-9): Defensively, they still need work. They’ll open the season against New Orleans and the schedule doesn’t get much easier from there. The return of Julio Jones is huge for Matt Ryan as he’ll now have another top weapon to pair with a healthy Roddy White. Steven Jackson will try to prove he still has something left in the tank out of the backfield. Atlanta will be better than last year, but that’s just about it. 

NFC West: 

1. Seattle Seahawks (12-4)*: The defending champions are locked and loaded for 2014. Headed by the Legion on Boom, expect the defense to remain the best in the league. Percy Harvin is healthy which will be a valuable target for Russell Wilson. Marshawn Lynch and his Skittles are back after a brief holdout. They’ll have to navigate a difficult schedule and emerge from the toughest division, but I think they’ll get it done again. The only question is, is this a dynasty in the making? 

2. San Francisco 49ers (11-5)*: San Francisco may very well be the second best team in the league. Unfortunately, they’re stuck behind those pesky Seahawks. Like Seattle, their defense is exceptional. NaVarro Bowman won’t return from injury until well into the season, but they have plenty of depth to make up for that. Colin Kaepernick has potential to be even better than he already is, so does Michael Crabtree. Frank Gore remains reliable out of the backfield. Don’t be surprised of the 49ers take down the reigning champs come January. 

3. Arizona Cardinals (9-7)*: Continuing the division the theme, the defense is top-notch. Carson Palmer has the weapons in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and acquisition Ted Ginn Jr. among others. He’ll have to play especially well to put up points against the division rivals. The strongest division and a difficult schedule appear to be the two biggest factors holding Arizona back. It should still be an entertaining season in the desert. 

4. St. Louis Rams (8-8): It would be fun to see St. Louis in another division, but they’re stuck in the brutal NFC West. Robert Quinn, Chris Long, and the gang are a force to reckoned with on the defensive side of the ball. Rookie Tre Mason will create a two-headed rushing attack with Zac Stacy. I just fear Sam Bradford won’t be able to take this team from good to great. The Rams are good and could sneak into the playoffs with a few good breaks. 


AFC: Colts, Broncos, Patriots, Bengals, Steelers, Jets

NFC: Seahawks, Packers, Saints, Eagles, 49ers, Cardinals

Super Bowl: Colts vs. Seahawks, Seahawks win it again. 


Second Half Scoop

In his All-Star sendoff Derek Jeter led off with a double, superstar Mike Trout was named MVP, and the hometown kid Glen Perkins notched the save as the American League notched a 5-3 victory at the 85th Midsummer Classic in Minneapolis. While the players are resting until games resume on Friday, baseball enthusiasts like myself are pondering what’s to come in the second half. Without further ado, here are my playoff and award predictions. We’ll start with the American League.

AL East: 

It’s been a down year for a traditionally dominant division. The 2012 wild-card Baltimore Orioles are in first, while the reigning champion Red Sox find themselves in last place at the break. Tampa Bay has struggled all season and may deal their ace, David Price, before the trade deadline. Toronto’s offense is tremendous, but its yet to be seen if they can put it all together.  The Captain will enjoy his swan song regardless, though it looks as if his injury riddled Yankees will fall short of the playoffs for the second straight year. With no team emerging as dominant, this race is sure to come down to the wire.

Winner: Toronto Blue Jays. When their offensive is clicking on all cylinders they are nearly unbeatable. If Mark Buehrle can lead their staff to a impressive second half, Toronto will see playoff baseball for the first time since 1993.

AL Central:

Breakout stars Jose Abreu and Michael Brantley, among others, have provided plenty of entertainment out of the central division. The Tigers appear to have a firm grasp at the top as of now. Despite a slow start, Kansas City sits in second after a scorching hot month of June. Brantley’s Indians are in third with a .500 record. Abreu’s White Sox are in fourth, closely followed by the All-Star host Minnesota Twins. It’ll be fun to watch the youngsters try to chase down Detroit.

Winner: Detroit Tigers. Experience plays a key factor here, as Detroit is poised to take its fourth consecutive division title. Two-time defending MVP Miguel Cabrera has received plenty of help on offense from the likes of Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez, and Ian Kinsler. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are capable of leading the rotation if Verlander’s down year continues.

AL West:

My favorite division in baseball at the moment. The best team in baseball is the Oakland Athletics. Arguably, the Los Angeles Angels are the second best team in the game. The Angels are only 1.5 games behind the A’s for the division lead. Led by their new star Robinson Cano and All-Star starter Felix Hernandez, the Seattle Mariners are in third. A young Houston team is in fourth, followed by a disappointing last place status for the Texas Rangers.

Winner: Oakland Athletics. They’re fun to watch, for Derek Norris and Sean Doolittle’s beards if nothing else. Josh Donaldson will find himself in the MVP chats yet again, Brandon Moss’ power is no joke, and Yoenis Cespedes will look to parlay his Home Run Derby victory into the second half. The resurgent Scott Kazmir and the youngster Sonny Gray lead a staff with the top ERA in the American League.

AL Wild Cards:

Los Angeles Angels, Seattle Mariners

That’s right, the AL West will send three teams to the playoffs.


Mike Trout. He’ll finally dethrone Miguel Cabrera. Trout’s overall game has been superior to that of Cabrera’s and it appears his bat has made the jump past Detroit’s superstar too. He’ll deserve what his first of many these to come.

AL Cy Young:

Felix Hernandez. The King will take his crown. He’s currently top 3 in the American League in wins, strikeouts, and ERA with no signs of slowing down.

AL Rookie of the Year:

Jose Abreu. This was a two man race until Masahiro Tanaka’s elbow injury essentially locked up the award for Abreu. The man missed two weeks and still leads the majors in home runs. Cuba’s latest star has been a joy to watch. That’s a wrap for the AL, onto the National League.

NL East:

This pennant race will likely last through the final days of the season. Washington and Atlanta are currently tied atop the standings and are they only teams above .500. The Mets sit in third, led by All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy. The Marlins got off to a surprisingly hot start, but currently find themselves in fourth. The loss of ace Jose Fernandez was a huge blow for a team with a ton of young talent. Despite the resurgence of Chase Utley, Philadelphia is in last.

Winner: Washington Nationals. Bryce Harper will bolster the offense once back to full strength and they’re pitching currently has the best ERA in the majors. Atlanta will fight until the end, but I believe the Nats will prevail.

NL Central: 

Wow. This is the strongest division in baseball, only the last place Cubs are truly out of contention. The Pirates are only 3.5 games out and they’re in fourth! The Cardinals are only 1.5 games out in third, but the Yadier Molina injury will be difficult to overcome. Cincinnati is a game out in second and the Milwaukee Brewers are first. If someone would have told me before the season that Milwaukee would be in first at the All-Star break I would have rolled my eyes and laughed. We’re in for a treat as this one unfolds.

Winner: Pittsburgh Pirates. This will be close, but I’m taking McCutchen and the gang. Nothing I can say will completely justify this pick, so we’ll leave it at that.

NL West:

The west will come to down to a battle of two Californian juggernauts. The Dodgers are one game ahead of the Giants and no one else is even close. The Padres are in third with the worst offense I’ve ever seen. Colorado is in fourth and while the return of Carlos Gonzalez will help, their sights must be set on 2015. Arizona brings up the rear and will likely remain there for the remainder of the season.

Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers. They’ve been a World Series favorite of mine, and many others, since before the season and I’m sticking with them now. Yasiel Puig has silenced the critics in his sophomore campaign and Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. Enough said.

NL Wild Cards:

San Francisco Giants, Milwaukee Brewers

The Giants are the easier pick here, though I believe Milwaukee will squeak into the playoffs.


Troy Tulowitzki. If he can continue to stay healthy this is a no brainer. He is the best shortstop in the game and one of the best players overall. He leads all of baseball in AVG, OBP, OPS, and runs at the break. His glove isn’t too shabby either.

NL Cy Young:

Clayton Kershaw. He is the best pitcher in baseball, though some would argue this award should go to Adam Wainwright. Kershaw has missed a month due to injury, but he’s provided one of the best stretches of success I’ve ever seen. When you toss a no-hitter AND rattle off 41 straight scoreless innings in the same season, it’s your award to lose Clayton.

NL Rookie of the Year:

Billy Hamilton. He’s been a thrill to watch. The kid is FAST. He turns ordinary singles into doubles, outs into hits, and disrupts the defense just by being on the field. You’ll never know what’ll happen when he’s on base, but don’t blink because you might miss it.

So there you have it. All eight playoff teams and six major award winners courtesy of yours truly. Knowing my luck I’ll be happy to see half of this come true, but hey, that’s the fun of predictions.