Champ and Chump: Thanksgiving Day Edition

Written by :
Published on : November 28, 2015

 

 

After having a bye week last week, the Champ and Chump column returns for a festive edition to celebrate the best and worst performances from the holiday. While we all were filling our plates and stuffing our bellies, some athletes were filling the boxscores and stuffing their stat sheets while others imploded like the famous turkey from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. Hopefully we all found many things and people to be thankful for during the holiday, causing us to feel like a champ. But after passing out from a tryptophan overdose from the delicious turkey or entering a food coma by forcing one more piece of pumpkin pie down our throats, we too may have found ourselves feeling like a chump. Let’s take a look who takes home the prestigious honors for this holiday edition of Champ and Chump.

 

 

Champ: Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson

It was like the good ol’ days for Stafford and Johnson on Thanksgiving.

 

While the Detroit Lions’ season appears to be all but over, they earned themselves a 3-game winning streak when they routed the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving in Detroit 45-14, and are mathematically still in the playoff hunt, though it may require them to win out. However, with the way that quarterback Matthew Stafford played, maybe anything is possible. It was refreshing for Detroit fans to seemingly have their Lions turn back the clock to when the Stafford-Johnson connection was one of the most lethal combos in the National Football League. Stafford finished 27-38 for 337 yards and 5 touchdowns without turning the ball over. Calvin caught 8 of those balls for 93 yards but most importantly hauled in 3 touchdown passes while dominating the Eagles’ secondary. It could be too little too late for the Lions, but for this one day, they can feel like champions and for the last 50-some years, that’s the closest they have ever been to being one.

 

Honorable Mention:

Luke Kuechly- Kuechly picked off Tony Romo twice, returning one to the house for a touchdown to go along with 7 tackles, anchoring the stout Panther defense in a win over the Cowboys

Denzel Valentine- Notching his second triple-double of the season already, Valentine led the Michigan State Spartans to a victory over the Boston College Eagles finishing with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.

Chris Warren and Jared Brownridge- Both in losing efforts, Warren ran for 276 yards and 4 touchdowns for the Texas Longhorns against the Texas Tech Red Raiders. Brownridge put up a John Wooden Classic tournament record 44 points against the Arizona Wildcats, but his Santa Clara Broncos fell in overtime.

 

 

Chump: Chip Kelly

More like “Chump” Kelly as of late.

 

The Philadelphia Eagles handed the keys to Chip Kelly to build a champion a few years back and now in his third season, the Eagles are yet to even win a playoff game. After going 10-6 in his first two years, Kelly changed the offense completely this year by acquiring Sam Bradford and dealing away Pro Bowl running back LeSean McCoy, who seemingly fit his offense well, before the team signed former Cowboy DeMarco Murray. So far the makeover has not been pretty as the Eagles lost their third straight and fell to 4-7 on the season. While the offense is hardly the only problem (the defense has given up 45+ points in consecutive weeks to average to below average opponents), it is supposed to be Kelly’s forte. While it has only been three seasons, and Kelly currently has a winning record with the Eagles, his scheme doesn’t seem to really translate to the NFL, and many people feel his job very well may be on the line. In a whacky year in college football with many big programs set to be looking for new coaches, I can’t help but feel like Chip returning to the PAC 12 and leading the Trojans in Southern Cal would be a perfect fit.

 

Dishonorable Mention:

Tony Romo- Finished with just 106 yards and 0 touchdowns while throwing 3 picks (2 returned for touchdowns) in a loss to the Carolina Panthers before fracturing his collarbone, forcing him to miss the remainder of the season.

Darren McFadden and DeMarco Murray- With both their teams losing on Turkey day, neither running back was able to get anything going for their respective teams. McFadden finished the day with just 11 yards on 10 carries and Murray found a little more success reaching 30 yards on 14 carries.

Wichita State Shockers- The Shockers took the world by storm a couple years back when they entered the NCAA Tournament undefeated before falling in the 3rd round, and last year had just four losses during the regular season. Already this year, the Shockers find themselves at 2-3. They have finally outgrown that slipper and we may just have a new Cinderella story come March.

 

 


Fantasy Football Saints, Sinners and Sleepers: RB Edition

Written by :
Published on : August 28, 2015

 

“Here we lay bare the souls of those who play the game for our entertainment. We praise the saints, condemn the sinners, and root out the sleepers who can help your fantasy football team stay on the righteous path.”

 

The second installment of Saints, Sinners and Sleepers will explore the running back position heading into the 2015 NFL season. These are the best of the best, the worst of the worst and some of the most underestimated in their field. The following players can help you gain entry into the pearly gates of a fantasy football championship, or send you to the seventh circle of a losing season. Heed the words you are about to read, and know that it is truth.

 

Saints

Look for Le’veon to be stiff arming and breaking ankles all season long.

 

Le’veon Bell- There’s that two game suspension to worry about but even that isn’t enough to knock the halo off of this saint’s head. He’s just that good. DeMarco Murray got all the hype last season but the they both averaged 4.7 yards per carry. Bell is going to be much fresher though, having rushed the ball 102 less times than the now Philadelphia Eagle, Murray. He is going to benefit considerably from defenses focusing on Antonio Brown, and he will make them pay for leaving the box to cover the deep part of the field. Look for him to keep improving and solidify his role as the best running back, fantasy or otherwise. The offense in Pittsburgh will be miraculous this season and it will be Saint Le’veon who leads them to the promised land and elevates all those around him.

 

Marshawn Lynch- After some speculation that he was thinking about hanging up his holy cleats, Saint Beastmode re-upped with the Seahawks this offseason. The heavens have smiled upon the Skittle loving running back in recent years and he has shown no signs of slowing down. He has started all 16 games in the last three seasons, and rushed for 13 touchdowns last year. There is a little bit of concern surrounding the interior of the Seahawks line due to the fact that they lost their starting center and left guard from last season, but don’t be surprised to see Marshawn making miracles happen all season long. The addition of big play threat, Jimmy Graham, will only make the offense scarier and leave opportunities for Lynch, as defenses try to defend against the deep ball.

 

Adrian Peterson- After the suspension and arrest last season for child abuse, it’s hard to consider Adrian Peterson a saint, but we must remember that this is solely related to this player’s performance in fantasy football. I condemn the acts of AP the person, but praise the deeds of AP the saintly football player. This man is going to come back and immediately put the fear of God into opposing defenses. Last time he had a chip on his shoulder (after he tore his ACL) he went on to rush for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdown. And this time its personal. Peterson believes that he was mistreated by both the league and the Vikings organization. He is hell bent on showing the world that he still belongs in the pantheon of great running backs, both past and present, and is most certainly still a number one running back in fantasy football.

 

Sinners

This duo is just bound to upset and disappoint Cowboys fans.

 

Darren McFadden- I don’t know how there are people out there who believe that this fantasy football sinner can still redeem himself. Sure, the Cowboys have a great offensive line, but not even they can cleanse this man. He just can’t play anymore, plain and simple. McFadden hasn’t averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry since 2011 and has had the second lowest yards per carry of any back over the last three seasons. The writing is on the wall for the former 1st round pick from Arkansas, and with him splitting reps with Joseph Randle this season there just isn’t any reason to believe that he can turn his career around and shake his status as a sinner.

 

Reggie Bush- As a Lions fan, I’ve had the chance to watch every game that Reggie Bush has appeared in over the last two seasons. In 2013 he was a breath of fresh air for the team up in Detroit, but in 2014 he couldn’t shake the injury bug and it seemed as if he had lost a little bit of the burst that made him a threat on the outside corner and in the passing game. The former Heisman Trophy winner and Super Bowl champion doesn’t seem to be durable enough to run between the tackles, as he did in Miami. With the deterioration of all of these skills, as well as his body, it’s hard to see how anyone could justify drafting this sinner. He has yet to appear in a preseason game which points to the questions about his durability, but either way, stay away from Mr Bush, lest he turn you into a sinner as well.

 

Isaiah Crowell- Last year people were high on the undrafted rookie out out of Alabama State after he rushed for 2 touchdowns in week 1, but this is an entire team of sinners that should be banished to the fires of Hades. The Browns are a mess and in the Cleveland’s two preseason losses, Crowell has rushed for a sinful 20 total yards. To be honest, I don’t see many players at any position on the Browns roster that are worth drafting this year in fantasy football. The only possible exception, Duke Johnson, has a good amount of hype (we’ll get to that later), but has yet to see any preseason action. Either way, this offense is not going to be very good, especially when you consider that defenses have nothing to fear in the passing game. Because of that, the run game is going to struggle even more with sinners like Crowell getting carries. I think there’s a strong chance he stays on the sideline until he can atone for his poor play.

 

Sleepers

Tre will be getting his groove on in the end zone a lot this season.

 

Tre Mason- All the hype in St Louis this season revolves around 1st round draft pick Todd Gurley, but former SEC Offensive Player of the Year and last year’s 3rd round draft pick, Tre Mason should not be forgotten. In 12 games last season he rushed for 4.3 yards per carry in an offense that ranked near the bottom of the league. If Gurley’s left knee isn’t ready to go by the beginning of the year, it’s easy to see Mason making his mark on the ground in St Louis and hanging onto a large share of the total carries for the Rams. He will probably be available in the later rounds of most drafts and will be a definite steal for anyone with the foresight to draft him. Plus his dad is Maseo from De La Soul, which is totally badass.

 

Ryan Matthews- Hopes for Philadelphia’s running game were high when they signed Ryan Matthews early in the offseason. Then they also went and signed DeMarco Murray, making the backfield very scary, while simultaneously turning Matthews into a bit of an afterthought. Make no mistake though, Matthews will see the field early and often come game time, and with Murray’s injury history, there’s a strong chance that Matthews starts a few games this year. He has averaged at least 4.3 yards per carry in four out of his five seasons as a pro and will benefit from the downhill running style that is typical in Kelly’s high flying offense. If he falls to you in mid-to-late rounds, you would do well to draft him.

 

Duke Johnson- I already talked about the young man out of Miami (Fl) when telling people to avoid the evil doer Isaiah Crowell in the Sinners section above. He was much talked about coming into April/May’s NFL Draft and to tell you the truth, I’m pretty surprised that he dropped all the way to the 3rd round. He averaged 6.7 yards per carry during his career with the Hurricanes, which is pretty damn impressive. With the running backs in front of him looking pretty awful during the preseason and two quarterbacks who have looked the same, odds are that the ball is going to be in the explosive running back’s hands more often than not. If he continues to fly under the radar, then you should grab him late.

 

 

 


Roger Pretzel’s Cloudy Crystal Ball: NFC East

Written by :
Published on : August 27, 2015

 

There is no other division in the NFL in which the specter of injury looms so heavily over every team. Dallas has its brilliant but weary O-line protecting a fragile veteran QB, Philadelphia has built a winning crew that can sustain injury up to a point, the Giants are looking to rebound after two seasons of a seriously depleted squad, and Washington has brought a curse upon itself for not changing its unfortunate and offensive image.

 

Sweet crystal ball: murky and jumbled though your whispers may be, illuminate our way!

 

Dallas Cowboys:

 photo dallascowboys_zpsl1ytzif4.jpg

 

There was a brief period of time where I didn’t totally hate the Cowboys. I moved away from general knee-jerk disdain and grew to recognize their brilliant offensive line. I also realized that Tony Romo is a solid, likable, and hardworking quarterback, and even thought that Jerry Jones’s desperate ramblings became amusing, endearing even. Then along came Dez Bryant. The dude is by far my least favorite NFL superstar. He’s the epitome of a diva and I hate his whininess towards referees, as well as his frequent fights with coaches and teammates. I will never deny that he is a fantastic talent, but as a human personality, I’m just kind of grossed out by his ego and sense of entitlement. He is Calvin Johnson’s evil twin, no doubt about it.

So here we are in 2015 and I think that Jerry Jones knows in his wizened coal-black heart that last year was the ‘boys best chance at making a run for the title in a long time, and the best chance they’ll get for quite a while. Romo is good for another couple of seasons as long as he stays healthy, but that surgically repaired back is one hell of a sword of Damocles hanging over the entire organization. That previously mentioned O-line is the key to keeping things regular, but even they’re starting to show signs of wear and tear. Should they falter, this will prove very problematic for Darren McFadden.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

The crystal ball likes Dez much more than I do, predicting a stellar season for a big time receiver in his prime. Romo will hold down the fort, thanks to that crucial offensive line that will suffer only minor injuries, and remain more or less intact through the season. Darren McFadden will show promise at first and then eventually disappoint. Dallas has a shot at the wildcard spot but she’s still a leaky boat holding herself above the surface in a division that is returning to its highly competitive ways.

 

New York Giants:

 photo newyorkgiants_zpsohv8rzx3.jpg

 

I think it’s pretty easy to get hyperbolic over New York’s potential this season, but I’m afraid that’s more from what’s expected of them than actual evidence. Sure, Eli’s too good to keep playing so poorly, and it’s easy to write off the last two seasons because of the mass of injuries sustained by Big Blue, but that’s also the lazy approach. Like many, when it comes to analyzing the Giants, I want to have my cake and eat it too. Yes, I think a healthier team will win more games, but I’m still dubious that this is a club that’s going to sweep back into the division.

I’m not particularly concerned about the stories surrounding Eli Manning’s contract, but regardless of what he purportedly wants, the fans and coaching staff need to see his ratio of INT’s to TD’s drop precipitously. He’s certainly proved it can go either way. I also didn’t like how Jason Pierre-Paul dealt with his team following that unfortunate sparkler accident. It looks like he’ll be returning to the Giants, and will play before the first half of the season is out, but his cagey statements from the hospital and seeming lack of interest to meet with the team’s officials had me seriously doubting his return to New York, or anywhere. At least JPP can rest assured that he won’t go down in history as the NY Giant guilty of the stupidest unnecessary injury of all time…

 

The crystal ball says:

 

Eli will bring his pick numbers down to below Andy Dalton levels, which will be considered a victory. There will be lots and lots of speculation as to whether or not Tom Coughlin keeps his job. He will, while chomping angrily on his gum the whole time. Jason Pierre-Paul will come back. He’ll do fine. Odell Beckham Jr. and Victor Cruz will be frustrated with the heavy coverage they receive from defenses that aren’t particularly scared of the run game. The Giants improve, making them a viable threat, but not as much as expected. THEN things will get crazy with Eli’s contract!

 

Washington Redskins:

 photo washingtonredskins_zpsvrcgzusi.jpg

 

It’s pretty obvious to me that the central cause of the Washington’s woes over the last few years have been due to a longstanding Native American curse brought on by owner Dan Snyder’s absolute refusal to change the franchise’s name and image in the face of good taste or common decency. RGIII is constantly nursing a bum knee or sitting concussed on the bench; relegated to selling sandwiches alongside a once obese pedophile. Now, Niles Paul and Junior Galette are out for the whole damn season. It doesn’t seem fair, and it shouldn’t be… Unless you remember that this team is named after a derogatory term coined during the genocide of an entire population. Feel free to write Dan Snyder a letter telling him how you feel.

Thanks to the curse, we’re left with an extremely weak offensive line supporting a glass-jawed QB. However, the defensive line is really interesting, and I think it’s the best thing the ‘skins have got going for them. There’s a good pass rush to be had there, and a good defense overall if the secondary can hold up. I don’t care if it’s Kirk Cousins or Colt McCoy, but either of these dudes will fare better than Griffin.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

More deserved suffering for a team with a shamefully behind-the-times character. RGIII will continue to fail and the Redskins will focus more on a mediocre ground game because of it. Fans can expect some joy through the defense, and some excitement when either of the backup QBs start airing it out to DeSean Jackson, the most electric offensive weapon this team has.

 

Philadelphia Eagles:

 photo philadelphiaeagles_zpsckjzuez0.jpg

 

Chip Kelly is the closest thing the NFL has to a mad scientist. He’s a singular coach in that his megalomaniacal vision for his club’s success is less predicated upon individual player performance and more so on the crazy scheme in his head. I mean that as a compliment. The Foles/Bradford trade wasn’t about Foles’ merits or deficiencies on the field; it was about Sam Bradford working better in Kelly’s vision.

So Bradford and Murray are going to be the experiment and the gamble. Both are players that fit with Chip Kelly’s Eagles (trademark registered), but both are also injury prone. Unlike other teams in the NFC East, Philadelphia has a deeper bench. Mark Sanchez works well in this offense and Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles can certainly help take some of the pressure off of Murray. All the meticulously planned and thought out offense in the world can’t cover a weak defense that ranked near the bottom of the league last season. If things looked as exciting for the Eagles on the other side of the ball then they would be a true Super Bowl contender.

 

The crystal ball says:

 

The ball likes the Eagles this year, and thinks they’re the frontrunner to win the division, thanks in part to a cushy schedule. The mad scientist has the offense that he wants and I think it’ll come through for him. The defense will improve incrementally but there’s going to be plenty of shootouts to keep Bradford’s throwing arm in shape. Finally, I’m proud of myself for having made it this far without making a single Tim Tebow joke.

 


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