Carolina Panthers, NFL

My Thoughts on the Carolina Panthers Schedule

The NFL released all the teams’ schedules for the 2015 season! What does that mean? Fans trash talk and “experts” predictions, so much fun. For my team the Carolina Panthers it was a roller costar ride to say the least with the Gregg Hardy situation and all the injuries we had to deal with, and were able to overcome all of that and become the first team to win back- to-back division championships. This creates great momentum heading into the draft and the new season, here is my take on the schedule.

Week 1 @ Jacksonville Jaguars

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I think this is a good game to start for the Panthers lets face it the jaguars have been the laughing stock of the NFL for a number of years now, with revolving door at quarterback and the head coaching position, just too much inconsistency. The Panthers should be able to use the ground and pound approach to their advantage and the defense tormenting Blake Brotles the entire game and pick up the win.

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Week 2 vs. Houston Texans

This is another game the Panthers must take advantage of, with questions at the quarterback position and no more Andre Jonson those are two things the Texans must figure out before the season. The key for the Panthers in this game is to stop Arian Foster and force whoever is taking snaps from under center to beat them if they do that I see this in the win column.

Week 3 vs. New Orleans Saints

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The Saints are a division rival so it’s always a toss up type of game, but with them trading away Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills to huge offensive weapons. I think the Panthers will grab this one as well with it at home and the great atmosphere we have at home during the Saints games will push us over the top!

Week 4 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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This game could be a trap type of game before the bye week, the reason I say that is they have played us hard over the past couple of seasons granted we didn’t have Cam Newton because of injury last year. Having said that, I believe Jameis Winston interception problem he had in college will carry over and we will take advantage and head into the bye week with a 4-0 record.

Week 5 Bye week

We must take advantage of the lesser opponents early in the year, because we will be put through the ringer in the next 4 weeks. Lets just say we better have our big pants on and be ready for battle. Thank you so much NFL!

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Week 6 @ Seattle Seahawks

The NFL is dying for us to beat Seattle, but we have come short four straight times including the playoffs last year. Unfortunately, I think we drop this one with Russell Wilson Beast mode and now Jimmy Graham who knows the greatness they will produce. The 12th man will again be a factor, I just think we will make one mistake and it will cost us, but it will be close again.

Week 7 vs. Philadelphia Eagles

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This game is on Sunday Night Football, I believe we will exact revenge to the embarrassing loss we were handed by the Eagles last year. Why? Chip Kelly thinks he is smarter then everyone on the football planet, getting rid of Shady, signing Tim Tebow oh and lets not forget he has Mark Sanchez and Sam Bradford, man I am shaking in my boots. I think the Panthers defense will feast on whomever is taking snaps for them. If it works out for the Eagles I will be the first one to admit it but I just don’t get it.

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Week 8 vs. Indianapolis Colts

This is also a primetime game on Monday night football; I think this is going to be an instant classic between two great quarterbacks. Like a prize fight counter punch after counter punch, but I think it will be a case of too much “Luck” with all his new weapons we will fall just short in a heart breaker.

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Week 9 vs. Green-Bay Packers

This is another game we got embarrassed and I turned it off at half. I think we get it done this time with a solid running game that will loosen up the defense for a couple of long touchdown passes by Cam. The defense will come into the game with a chip on their shoulder and contain Rogers and Lacey, it will be close, but we squeak it out at home. I have us going 2-2 in that tough stretch of games, putting us in a good position at 6-2 going into week 10.

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Week 10 @ Tennessee Titans

This is an interesting one because there have been rumors of Phillip Rivers being traded there, which would change the whole complexion of this game. Also the Panthers can’t relax after going though that brutal part of the schedule, but if the Titans still have Zach Mettenberger I think we will be able to rattle him and get the victory in a slugfest type of game, not pretty but enough to get it done.

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Week 11 vs Washington Redskins

This is another winnable game for the Panthers with Washington having quarterback questions and an aging defense, I think the Panthers will be able to exploit that and pick up the victory to move to 8-2, going into the Turkey Day showdown verses the Cowboys.

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Week 12 @ Dallas Cowboys

This is the teams first Thanksgiving day game in team history, not only that we will be matched up against our old friend Gregg Hardy tons of story lines. The Cowboys have a great offensive line that present trouble for our defensive line and the possibility of the Cowboys acquiring Adrian Peterson could be an issue for the Panthers as well. I think this will be another close game, but we fall short because of the offensive line miss match.

Week 13 @ New Orleans Saints

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Games at the Super Dome are always fiery this one will be no different, I think Drew Brees and the team will have figured how to play with the new personal and it will carry them to the victory with a few turnovers that will cost us as. Putting us at 8-4 heading into week 14.

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Week 14 vs. Atlanta Falcons

We have had great success against the Falcons over the last few seasons, I don’t think that will change with the team in transition with a new coach. I think our defense will torment Matt Ryan again and grab the victory.

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Week 15 @ NY Giants

This is an intriguing game for me with Eli Manning, Victor Cruz, and Odell-Beckom Jr a pretty good trio. The key will be the offensive line play and whomever protects the quarterback best will win and I think the Panthers will do that and grab the victory with a solid running game will help as well.

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Week 16 @ Atlanta Falcons

We have had good luck in the Georgia Dome the past few seasons and I think it will continue we are in a much better place than the Falcons and I feel we will carry that momentum and grab the win. Bringing us to 11-4 heading into the final week of the year.

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Week 17 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is the last chance to impress before the playoffs and I think we will with a couple splash plays. We have another solid year and ride the momentum to a long playoff run.

Final Record- 12-4

Overall

We have had a great off-season keeping our own and upgrading our weaknesses, I think we will have a great season. My predictions are based on what I know now, but injuries and the draft could affect how things play out! The key stretch will be just after bye week that will make or break our season. Whatever happens, it will be fun and GO Panthers!!!!

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Atlanta Braves, MLB

Braves off to a Solid Start

The Atlanta Braves came into the 2015 with little to no expectations, due to the major overhaul this roster took during the off-season. They haven’t listened to any of the “experts” has they have gotten off to a solid 6-3 start tied for first with the New York Mets.

How have they done it?

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Good Starting pitching. Julio Tehran has been the ace they needed. He started the year 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA. He has set the tone to keep the offense in games and allow them to do their thing. Alex Wood has had a solid start as well going 1- 1 and a 3.86 ERA. He has had some trouble with pitch counts in the two games, but has been very solid and kept the team in the game. Shelby Miller the new comer, has made a good impression on his new team, with a 1-0 record and a 0.90 ERA. He has had trouble with the pitch count as well, but he has been a great addition to the rotation and is proving Jon Hart right in making the trade to get him. These 3 guys have been key to the solid start.

Outstanding Bullpen Work

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After the stunning trade of Craig Kimbrel, this bullpen had even more pressure than ever and boy have they stepped up. Jason Grilli has filled in nicely as the closer recording 4 saves in 4 opportunities with a 2.25 ERA. I love his passion and fire, showing people that we can still win close ball games. Jim Jonson has looked like his old self with that 96 mph sinker. He has been in 5 games with a 1-0 record, 3 holds, 1 save and has yet to allow a run; knock on wood.

Its not just the veterans doing great work, rookies Cody Martin and Brandon Cunniff have put up great numbers. Martin is not a power guy toping out at 90 mph. In just 5 games he has struck out 11, giving up just 1 run and posting a 1.35 ERA. Cunniff has been equally impressive in 6 games, posting a 1.50 ERA. While the pen has been lights out thus far, the key will be for the starters to go deeper in ballgames so they will not be overworked throughout the year.

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Aggressive base running and Great approaches

Baserunning has been a huge key for the Braves who are not expected to be a big home run team. It showed in the first game of the year when Eric Young JR scored the game winning run with the infield in. That play showed Braves will do anything and everything to score runs and are not afraid to get thrown out. It hasn’t been flashy, but it’s how they have won their games and I expect that to continue. The best stat of all is the fact the offense has only struck out 58 times in 9 games, which is 4 best in the MLB. It’s a great sign for this team, making Jon Hart look very smart right.

It is early, but this season couldn’t have gone any better with the keys being pitching, defense, and timely hitting. The keys moving forward, will be to fix the back end of the starting rotation if the struggles of Stults and Cahill continue. However, it’s early and the starters must go deeper in the ballgames to save the pen. This team has shown a lot of fire with the motto “Heart and Hustle”. It has been fun to watch, GO Braves!!!!!

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NFL

Keeping your Head in the Game

Sports are very physical, but none more so than the National Football League. Many players have felt the brunt a bone crushing hit every single game. A prime example is the Chicago Bears Hall of fame quarterback Jim McMahon, who spent 15 years in the league, and now is in a battle that is much harder than avoiding defensive ends or throwing a game-winning touchdown. At just 55 he has dementia, a condition that affects short-term memory and can sometimes lead to Alzheimer disease. It is believed his condition is due to multiple blows to the head during his playing career.

In an interview with Espn in 2012 McMahon said, he knows he suffered at least three concussions that were undiagnosed.  He now must deal with things like walking in the kitchen for a snack and two minutes later having to ask what was he doing here. Or erasing messages because he thought he would call them right back, but forgot only a few minutes later. Those are just a few things he now has to deal with because head injuries were not taken seriously in his era of football.

McMahon took a vicious hit in a game against the Green-Bay Packers that he said should have paralyzed him, it didn’t but he was woozy and was diagnosed with a concussion, he came back in the game after halftime because the trainer said it had gone away. McMahon will always have to deal with these issues because the NFL neglected to put the players’ safety at the top of the list during that time period. McMahon had a brilliant career, but said if he could do it over, he would play baseball. That’s a strong statement from a Pro football Hall of Famer. He has also contemplated the extreme measure of taking his own life because he could not take the daily struggles (Espn).

McMahon is just one of many heart wrenching stories of former NFL players dealing with the effects of hits to head. Others who deal with this debilitating condition include Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau and Cowboys Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett.  Seau took his life in 2012 because he couldn’t deal with the struggles anymore. These are tragic situations the NFL will never be able to forget and why they have worked tirelessly in recent years to make the game safer for this generation of players.

The NFL paid the price for their neglect in the early days when over 5,000 former players and their families came together to sue the league. They have been working on a settlement for the better part of three years and looks like it will be finalized at some point this year. The result is, the NFL will pay 1 billion dollars in retribution to the players and will also cover over 20,000 newly retired athletes (NFL Concussion). Some feel they should have to pay more, but I feel this is a wake- up call for the NFL. It’s the reason they have taken the appropriate steps to make it safer, granted it will not give the families that have experienced tragedy their love one back or feel like themselves again, but their voices were heard and changes are being made (NFL Concussion).

On the field the NFL has changed a few rules that have made the game safer in recent years. Some of those include, players not being allowed to lead with the crown of the helmet, if they do, they will be penalized 15 yards during the game and possibly be fined by the NFL. The penalty will depend on the severity of the hit. This rule has forced players to learn how to tackle all over again, but has made the players aware the league is taking serious definitive steps to curb this issue (Breslow). Another key rule that has been adopted is, moving the kickoffs back from the 20 yard-line to the 25-yard line. While it doesn’t seem like much, it makes a huge difference because kickers legs are so powerful most of the time they kick it out of the back of the end zone eliminating the chance for the returner to get hit at all. Before this change, it was one of the most dangerous plays because the whole team is chasing after one person making the hits even more bone crushing than every other play in the game.

Statistics show that things are trending in the right direction for the NFL as it is reported that concussions are down 25% in 2015 with just 111 concussions during the 2014 season. Those numbers are down from 148 in 2013, and 173 2012. A 36% decrease in that three-year span and a marketable improvement over the early years (Concussions down). Despite what these numbers say, there have been five current NFL players hanging it up early because they were afraid of head injuries. Those players are Patrick Willis, Chris Borland, Jake Locker, and Jason Worlds. The oldest player in that group is Patrick Willis at 30- years of age. The youngest is Chris Borland at the age of 24.

This just shows that no matter what the NFL does, injuries are going to happen and sometimes head injuries. Although it is one of the most physical sports in the world, it’s not touch football and they are going to happen. The players know that when they start in pee wee football its just the nature of the sport. It also has a lot to do with the position you play. If you play quarterback you are at the center of the action with the ball in your hand almost every play and therefore you’re subject to countless hits. However, if you are a kicker you are on the field for the least amount of time and all you have to do is kick the ball. At that position you don’t have to deal with the rough and tumble aspect of the game as much, making head injures less likely. Some good advice would be to choose your position wisely.

The reality is the NFL is a contact sport and things are going to happen. Players have to realize there is a risk. The NFL works everyday to make the game safer and pay the players they neglected in the early days. It is a difficult balance to maintain the authenticity of the game and make the changes needed. They have done that. The NFL is still one of the most popular sports in the world.

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Golf

Spieth Wins the Masters in Record Breaking Fashion

The Masters,  one of the most prestigious and closely contested courses, was anything but as Jordan Spieth came in this week on a roll,  with a win and two second place finishes. His hot streak continued in a big way, as he broke countless records with a historical performance that may never be repeated again. It all started in round one, where the young American  posted an 8 under 64, one behind the course record. It was the first time Spieth broke 70 in his young career at the Masters.

The hardest thing in golf has been to back up a great round with another. However,  not for  Spieth as he shot a 66 to go 14-under and take a five shot lead into the weekend.  That score broke the 2nd round scoring record as well. He was challenged a little bit by the heavy weights on Saturday, as Tiger woods shot a 68, Phil Mickelson a 67 and Rory McIlroy a 68. But the rookie wasn’t intimidated by the charge made by the veterans.

Spieth was unmoved by the advances of the former winners. He had another solid round of 70, with some clutch shots at the end of his 3rd, that were pivotal to keep his confidence up and keep a stiff-arm on the field. After a rare double on the 17th, he short sided on 18. After a flared second shot, he was able to get up and down for par, to keep his 4 shot lead going into  Sunday. He had ice in his veins with that putter in his hands the entire week, and was incredible to watch as he set the 3rd round scoring record..

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Sunday was more of the same with a solid round of 70 and more clutch putts especially on the 16th. When a two-stroke swing could’ve taken place between him and Justin Rose, it didn’t because  Spieth stepped up and nailed a speedy 10 footer, to keep the momentum and cruise to victory. When you thought there was a chink  in his armor, he bounced back with amazing stuff. He was the first man in Masters history to reach the 19-under number; he would bogey the last to tie Tiger Woods for the all-time scoring record at 270. Right now Spieth is on another planet and its tough to put his accomplishments  into words.

Here are some other mind-boggling things he accomplished this week, he broke the record for most birdies with 26, an unthinkable number in any tournament let alone the Masters. He is the 5th wire- to wire winner and 1st since Raymond Floyd in 1976,  39 years ago. He is just the 4th player to win in just his 2nd Masters appearance. Also, lets not forget he had a chance to win last year, but was beat out by Bubba Watson who scored a crazy record. In all 8 rounds at the Masters he has been in the top 5. A feat that is hard to fathom considering how difficult the game is unless you’re Tiger Woods or Rory Mcilroy when they were on their runs.This win is one of the most impressive in major champion history.  It vaults Spieth to second in the world, and shows that American golf is in great hands for many years to come. Congratulations to Jordan on a historic performance well deserved, fun to watch!

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Carolina Panthers

Panthers Ink 2-time Pro Bowler Charles Tillman

The Carolina Panthers continue to make small cost friendly moves to improve the team. On Thursday, signing 12-year-veteran cornerback Charles “Peanut” Tillman to a 1-year 3.05 million dollar deal. I love this because not only do I think he is still a good player he can also mentor the young guys in the secondary. He is another veteran player that’s been through it all and should rub off on the young guys.

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He has had a great career with 36 interceptions and a jaw-dropping 42 forced fumbles trust many wide receivers and running backs will see him in their nightmares, that patented punch has been his trademark and will never be duplicated. Tillman also reunites with Head Coach Ron Riviera who was the defensive coordinator for the Bears from 04-06 so there is already some familiarity, so the transition should be seamless. The only concern is the fact that he has only played ten games the past 2 due to injury. If he stays healthy, he can be a great asset to this team.

The Panthers have done it again, addressing a need because they got torched in the playoff game against Seattle. This signing should definitely shore up that area and make quarterbacks think twice about throwing to the Legion of Whom. Also he is a great guy out in the community a former Man of the year award winner this guy is the total package. Welcome to the Carolinas Chris Glad to have you! Go Panthers!

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Atlanta Braves, MLB

Braves Shock Baseball World Trading All-Star Closer Kimbrel and Upton Jr to Padres

The Atlanta Braves have had a crazy offseason, reshaping the organization from top to bottom. It all started when GM Frank Wren was fired in early in September, as the team needed a new voice after a dismal second half that saw the team go 27-40. Something had to change, and boy has it. Jon Hart was hired as the new President of Baseball Operations and, in just one offseason, has made 12 trades, most involving fan favorite players, including Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, Justin Upton and, yes, Craig Kimbrel. Is a he nut? On the surface, yes, but on the business side, it’s smart.

Jon Hart is putting his stamp on this team and is not afraid to make people mad or make the tough decisions. Last night he made the toughest of all, trading away the best closer in the game, Craig Kimbrel, who has 185 saves in his first four seasons. He leads the Majors in that time period. When I first saw this trade, I was so angry like many fans were. Are you joking went through my head multiple times, but if you look further into it, I think it’s a win-win trade for both sides. The Braves were able to get rid of maybe one of the worst contracts in baseball in Melvin Upton JR. He signed a 5 year/75.25 million dollar contract a few years ago. It didn’t work out to say the least, as he hit below the Mendoza line. The tipping point of this deal was the Padres were willing to take the remaining 46.35 million left on the deal, which creates great financial flexibly for years to come. The team was also able to address the need of a backup outfielder in Cameron Maybin, who is great defensive asset with great speed. If he can stay healthy, this is a quality pickup for the Braves.

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The farm system got another boost as they picked up the Padres second best prospect, right-handed pitcher Matt Wisler, the number 69 prospect overall. He is coming off a solid season where he went 10-5 with a 4.42 ERA. The ERA is a little high, but, in a hitter friendly Pacific Coast League, its a good year overall that was spent between Double and Triple A. He has a plus fastball and change-up with an effective slider and curveball. His ceiling is thought to be a solid 2-3 starter, the one concern is command, as at times, he is a little wild, but don’t be surprised if he is in a Braves uniform at some point in 2015.

They also got Jordan Paroubeck, a young outfielder that was selected 41st overall in the 2013 draft. He is a switch hitter with above average speed and a good arm. His career is just getting started in just 157 at bats he has recorded a .286 average 14 extra hits and 24 RBIs, a good start for him and a good add to the Braves, depth wise. A big goal for the Braves this off-season to revamp a weak farm system that was ranked 27th last season. They have done that has it is currently ranked in the top 5; the future is bright in that aspect.

They also got Jordan Paroubeck, a young outfielder that was selected 41st overall in the 2013 draft. He is a switch hitter with above average speed and a good arm. His career is just getting started in just 157 at bats he has recorded a .286 average 14 extra hits and 24 RBIs, a good start for him and a good add to the Braves, depth wise. A big goal for the Braves this off-season to revamp a weak farm system that was ranked 27th last season. They have done that has it is currently ranked in the top 5; the future is bright in that aspect.

I understand the frustration from the fans perspective. I am a fan too, but the reality is they are playing for the new ballpark in 2017. Listen, don’t blame Jon hart for the moves he has made, blame Frank Wren for the bad contracts and trades that he made during his time with the Braves. Jon Hart inherited a mess that he is trying to fix. That’s the bottom line. By no means are the Braves going to lay down and die in 2015-16 though, as they are professionals. Who knows? They could surprise people and I hope they do.

For the Padres this is the cherry on top of an active offseason, acquiring the best closer in the game. With all the big offensive pieces they have added, including Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, and Will Myers, they could be very scary once they develop the chemistry. And with Kimbrel closing games, the sky’s the limit for this team. My only worry is that they don’t win and get stuck with huge contracts that nobody wants, much like the Phillies situation now. Overall, I think this is a win-win for both sides, as the Braves got rid of one of the worst contracts in baseball to free up money for the future and to continue to develop the Farm System. The Padres are clearly in a win now mode and this is the best piece they could have gotten to cap off a wild offseason for both clubs.

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Atlanta Braves

Braves Acquire Cahill From D-Backs

he Braves, who are hard at work piecing together the best 25-man roster with just four days before opening day, have traded for former All-Star pitcher Trevor Cahill for High A outfielder Josh Elander. This move for the Braves gives them more starting pitching options and shows they are returning to the Mid- 90’s philosophy that you can never have too much of a good thing. While I love it, something had to change after a dismal 2014 season.

Cahill, just 27 years old, will be looking to bounce back from a dreadful 2014 season that saw him go 3-12 with a 5.61 ERA. He was even demoted to triple A for a period of time, the worst feeling for an established big league player and hard to swallow. If Cahill can regain half of what he had with Oakland, when he went 18-8 and a 2.97 ERA, it will be a win for the Braves. I feel a change of scenery and working with one of the best pitching coaches in the game Roger McDowell, hopefully working his magic, can get Cahill get back on track and help the team win games. I like this move because it increases the depth of the pitching staff and gives Atlanta a long- man option for the bullpen in veteran Eric Stults. Also, it was a very small price to pay to pull this move off. It’s a low-risk move, and lets be honest, he can’t be as bad as he was last year.

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John Hart, President of Baseball Operations for the Braves, has put his stamp on the team this off-season and I love the direction they are going even though it might take a year or so to develop . The Braves are in the market for a back-up outfielder as well, so with just four days left they are still wheeling and dealing, trying to put the best team on the field. John Hart has kept fans on their toes. It will be interesting to see what else he has up his sleeve.

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