Carolina Panthers, Top 5 list

Top 5 takeaways when looking at the Panthers Roster

The Carolina Panthers come into the 2016 season with a massive chip on their shoulder as they look to avenge the Super Bowl loss to the Denver Broncos. It was a bitter end to an otherwise magical season! These 53 players look to take that final step and lift the Lombardi trophy and get rid of that bitter taste after the 2015 season. Here is how the roster looks as we begin the journey to Houston.

Quarterback: Cam Newton, Derek Anderson, and Joe Webb

Running Backs: Jonathan Stewart, Cameron Artis –Payne, Mike Tolbert, and Fozzy Whitaker

Wide receivers: Kelvin Benjamin, Ted Ginn Jr, Philly Brown, Devin Funchess, Brenton Bersin, and Damiere Byrd

Offensive Lineman: Ryan Khalil, Trai Turner, Michael Oher, Mike Remmers, Andrew Norwell, Gino Gradkowski, Daryl Williams, Donald Hawkins, and Tyler Lawson

Defensive Ends: Charles Johnson, Kony Ealy, Mario Addison, Ryan Delaire, and Lavar Edwards

Defensive Tackles: Star Lotulelei, Kawann Short, Vernon Butler, and Paul Soliai

Linebackers: Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis, Shaq Thompson, AJ Klein, David Mayo, Jeremy Cash, and Jared Norris

Defensive Backs: Kurt Coleman, Daryl Worley, James Bradberry, Tre Boston, Dean Marlowe, Robert McClain, Bené Benwikere, Teddy Williams, and Colin Jones

Specialists: JJ Jansen, Graham Gano, and Andy Lee

 

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Experience

The first thing that jumps out at me when looking at the Panthers roster is the veteran presence and that is littered throughout the roster. It’s an aspect of sports that is grossly underrated because this group has been through the wars of an NFL season. The team was returning 42 of the 53 players from the Super Bowl team last season it’s very rare in today’s to keep the majority of teams together because of the enormity of the contracts offered in free agency, but loyalty has been a staple in Gettleman regime and that’s a big reason why they are set up for another Super Bowl run in 2016.

Furthermore, this team has gone through the worst adversity any team can come up one game short of the ultimate glory after such a magical season that’s a bitter pill to swallow. That being said, this team is one year older and can take those experiences, turning them into positives moving forward. I expect us to play with a lot of fire and have a very successful season hopefully with a slightly different result.

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Youthful secondary

By far the biggest storyline coming into 2016 is the changes in the backend of our stingy defense. The team decided to part ways with All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman making our once veteran secondary young very fast. To compensate the loss of Norman the team drafted three cornerbacks two of which will start. This is the first time in 16 years a team will start two rookie cornerbacks. This is very rare and could leave us exposed if our front seven can’t create pressure.

However, both Daryl Worley and James Bradberry are both 6’1 and very physical so if they are able to get into their opponents’ heads because of they’re physicality creating an advantage in their matchups. An advantage we have is we have the best line-backing core in the NFL. They fly all over the place and can cover up some of the mistakes made by the rookies.

This unit will have the spotlight on them all season, but the key is for the young guys is to play their own game and let the game come to them don’t try to force things. They won’t  replace the great productivity we had last season on just one play. I think they will be fine because there’s a lot of experience around them to help them through the early part of the season.

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Deep linebacking Core

The deepest unit on the Carolina Panthers roster is the line-backing core. They are led by the best duo in the league in Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly and this year the team continues to develop talent at the position as they added two undrafted free agents Jeremy Cash and Jared Norris. These two young bloods might not play every Sunday, but they will gain invaluable experience and possibly be a valuable asset on special teams if needed.

I would be remiss, if I didn’t talk about the quick development of Shaq Thompson and one the most underrated players in the NFL in backup linebacker AJ Klein. Klein would no doubt be a starter on many other teams. He is another one of the diamond in the rough draft picks that the Panthers organization has made through the years.

The Panthers have made it a priority to continue to get talent at this position, especially this year because of the young secondary. The linebackers should be able to take some of the pressure off youngsters as they get acclimated to the NFL.

That’s why I think the depth at the linebacker position is key for developing rookies, improving the special teams, and most importantly giving hell to opponents every single game. The NFL is the most unpredictable sport that is why you can never have too much talent at each position.

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Byrd is the Word

Another newcomer to the Panthers roster is former South Carolina Gamecock wide receiver the Damiere Byrd. He is 5’9 180 pound spark plug that ran an eye-popping 4.28 40-yard dash. This is a welcome addition to the team because he’s a threat every time he touches the ball because of his blazing speed. He is a great compliment to the original speedster in Ted Ginn Jr, who has yet to lose a step despite entering his age 31 season.

He will also be a great asset on special teams, as he will likely take over the punt returning duties from Ginn to limit the punishing hits that happen in that aspect of the game. This way Ginn can focus on catching passes and scoring touchdowns without losing any type of advantage in the kicking game.  His story is one that I love going from an undrafted free agent and the year on the practice squad to on an NFL roster. These are the guys you root for and I think he will be a very valuable asset to the team this season.

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 The savvy Move

During his tenure as Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman has known the right buttons to push almost each and every time. This off-season was no different he saw a glaring weakness and filled it. This time it was punter because of injury and ineffectiveness. The team acquired Andy Lee for a fourth-round pick from the Browns.

It might seem like a steep price for a punter, but he is a three-time Pro Bowler, a first-team All-Pro selection, and ranks sixth in NFL history with a 46.2 gross punting average. He also ranks He also ranks ninth all-time with 325 punts inside the 20-yard line. This shows he is worth every penny or in this case a high draft pick. This addition will give both our special teams and ball-hawking defense a chance at even more turnovers and negative plays to  give our explosive offense shorter fields to work with.

As icing on the cake, Lee is a South Carolina native and said the trade to Carolina was a dream come true! His contract is a good one as he will be around until at least 2018 creating stability for a position that quickly became a concern during the preseason.

Conclusion

These are my biggest takeaways from this year’s roster ultimately I think we will make another along postseason run trying to avenge the heartbreak of last season. We do have some rookies being thrown into the fire, but I’m confident with the veteran presence around them they will adjust quickly and be successful. It all begins Thursday night in the Mile High City. Let’s get off to a good start! GO Panthers!!

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MLB, Top 5 list

Top 5 Under-Rated moves that have paid big dividends early on 2016

The Major League Baseball season is in full swing and there have been quite a few surprising starts that have led to early success for their respective ball clubs. This off-season was filled with many splash free agent signings and big trades that have everybody talking. However, this off-season has also proved you don’t have to break the bank to improve your team. Here are my top five underrated moves that have paid off big time early on in 2016.

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Matt Latos

Matt Latos signed a one-year $3 million contract with the Chicago White Sox this off-season. Latos came in 2016 looking to prove he could still get major-league hitters out on a consistent basis. So far in 2016 he has rekindled the All-Star form he had while pitching in Cincinnati. He has a 5-0 record with 2.62 ERA in six games to start the season.

This hot start by Latos was very unexpected because last season was very forgettable as he bounced around between the Miami Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. He struggled at every stop posting a very ugly 4-10 record with a 4.95 ERA Making it very easy to understand why teams were reluctant to take a flyer on Latos. The Chicago White Sox were willing to take a chance and now are reaping the benefits of this move.

The resurgence of Latos has lengthened a starting rotation led by Chris Sale combined Sale and Latos are 12-0 spearheading the teams great 22-10 start to the season. Baseball is very unpredictable and that in the best thing for struggling players because if they are able to get another opportunity they can write another chapter in their career and use the tough times as motivation for the future. That is exactly what Latos has done proving that a new situation and a little bit of confidence goes a long way in this game.

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Mark Trumbo

The Baltimore Orioles had been looking for a consistent outfield bat since they lost Nick Markakis before the start of the 2014 season. I think they finally found the answer in Mark Trumbo whom they acquired from the Seattle Mariners for catcher Steve Clevenger. 

Trumbo bounced around last season between the Arizona Diamondbacks where he became the odd man out in the outfield and the Seattle Mariners, which isn’t the ideal ballpark for a power hitter.

Trumbo has found the magic he had at the start of his career with the Angels. In a span of three years (2011-13) when he hit 95 homers and looked to be a staple in Angels lineup for years to come, but the Angels were looking to go a different direction to acquire pitching help at the time.

As I said, his career had tread water in the last couple years not being in the correct situation. This season in Baltimore he’s found a comfort zone with the team that relies on the home run ball to score, which is right up Trumbo’s alley it’s a match made in heaven for both he and the Orioles. He is hitting .325 with nine home runs and 24 runs batted in! He has lengthened a lineup that was already very scary with Adam Jones, Manny Machado and Chris Davis.

Trumbo has fit in like a glove in this very potent lineup a pitcher’s nightmare. If you are a fantasy owner of Trumbo you’re salivating because you realize he has a lot of games left to play in Camden yards, which the hitters paradise. The Orioles have found the missing piece in the outfield with Trumbo for a very minimal price. These are the type of deals that make front offices smile and get an extra boost of confidence when they are deciding whether to take a flyer on a player that has had a couple of down years.

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Jean Segura

The Arizona Diamondbacks were one of the busiest teams this off-season trying to rebuild into a contender quickly. They bolstered their rotation with Zach Grinke and Shelby Miller those moves haven’t necessarily worked out quite as well as Arizona envisioned to start the season, but both look to have gotten back on track. They also addressed the offensive side of the ball acquiring second baseman Jean Segura from the Milwaukee Brewers.

This move was very savvy by the Diamondbacks because I think Segura’s value significantly dropped with two consecutive down years. Segura has dealt with personal tragedy as well, losing his infant son a year ago I believe that played a significant role in his baseball struggles over the last couple of years. He also has dealt with pressure in his baseball career, he was the key prospect the Los Angeles Angels sent to the Milwaukee Brewers when the Angels acquired Zach Grinke for the playoff run in 2012.

In 2016, Segura has seemingly become at peace with everything professionally and personally finding a comfort zone in Arizona. To start the season he has been one of the most consistent hitters across baseball. Hitting .336 with four runs and 16 runs scored. He has been a great table setter for the Diamondbacks lineup, putting pressure on opposing pitchers from the very beginning.

Segura is a sneaky five-tool player that doesn’t get enough notoriety for his defense and base running ability. At just 26 years of age, I believe Segura is hitting his stride and the Diamondbacks have found their second baseman for the foreseeable future. I don’t know if he will be able to keep this torrid offensive start, but he affects a game in multiple ways he will always have value when he is in the game. He is showing the All-Star ability he had in 2013 in Milwaukee and why he was a coveted prospect early in his career.

I love stories like his dealing with a ton of adversity at such a young age persevering through it all and finding great success. He’s a guy that you pull for no matter who your favorite team is. I hope he continues this success helping the Diamondbacks win in the present and future.

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Starlin Castro

For the New York Yankees not much has gone right to start the 2016 campaign. They have an 11-18 record and are currently in the basement of the American League East. The one thing that has worked out for the Yankees is the acquisition of second baseman Starlin Castro from the Cubs for pitcher Adam Warren.

Castro struggled for the majority of the 2015 season the former shortstop was moved to second base for the better defender in Javier Baez. He bought into Joe Madden vision and picked it up offensively at the end of last season. Castro was made expendable with the signing of Ben Zobrist this off-season. The Yankees needed to make this move to get younger it’s no secret they are handcuffed by injury prone players.

The Yankees acquired a player with a proven track record. At just 26 he is a three-time All-Star and were counting on a rebound type of year from Castro. He has certainly delivered early on in 2016. He’s hitting .296 with 3 home runs and 12 runs batted in, which leads the team. He’s been the only constant in the Yankees lineup that has struggled mightily across the board with the exception of Castro. He quickly endeared himself to the Yankees faithful setting a record with seven RBIs in his first two games in pinstripes.

I think this is the best move for Castro’s career because he was expected to be the Savior for a struggling Cubs franchise and at the very beginning, it was all roses as he made three All-Star appearances as I mentioned. However, when the struggles began it became mental big-time at times he wasn’t set defensively and forgetting how many outs there were in an inning.

It was clear in 2015 Castro had lost his confidence and become stagnant until the latter part of the year when he got comfortable with his role. That being said, it was inevitable that the Cubs wanted to go a different direction than Castro, as they were very active in the free-agent market eventually landing Zobrist.

It seems to me, Castro is rejuvenated and excited to play in the Big Apple and be part of the Yankees history. The Yankees had a relatively quiet off-season for their standards, but the acquisition of Castro certainly looks like a home run right now.

Jon Jaso

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The Pittsburgh Pirates have a knack for signing the forgotten guy and getting the best baseball they’ve played in years. This season they nabbed Jon Jaso on a two-year $8 million contract. Jaso has bounced around between Tampa Bay, Seattle and Oakland unable to find his footing with an MLB team until 2016 with the Pirates.

Jaso has provided stability at first base, a position that has been hard to find consistent play both in the field and at the plate. They’ve found their man; he is currently hitting .291 with 3 home runs and 12 runs batted in out of the lead-off spot in the lineup. His production is making the lineup even scarier with Andrew McCutchen a yearly MVP candidate hitting behind him.

Jaso has also improved their infield defense considerably he is very sure handed over there, something that cannot be said for former pirate Pedro Alvarez, who became a defensive liability and the team couldn’t continue to sacrifice defense for offense. As we all know giving opponents extra outs is a cardinal sin in baseball. It was happening too frequently for the Pirates to stick with Alvarez. Jaso hasn’t made an error in 209.1 innings in 109 chances defense is no longer a problem at first base.

This is another example of the Pirates great ability to get every player to buy into the team’s vision and philosophy. Jaso is one of so many players that have revived their career in Pittsburgh because the coaching staff puts them in the best situation to succeed.

 Conclusion

 In baseball nothing is guaranteed, but these guys prove perseverance pays off!   Every single one of these guys has been through the ringer in baseball and understand what it takes to succeed. All they needed was a fresh start and a new situation. They are  all rekindling their All-Star ability, each playing a pivotal role in their teams solid start to 2016 at a very minimal price.

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Golf, Top 5 list

Masters Preview: Top 5 Golfers to Watch

It’s been an amazing week of sports with an epic national championship finish; major league baseball opening week, and now Augusta Georgia takes center stage as the Masters begins today. There are plenty of storylines and golfers to look out for as this week begins. Will Spieth repeat? Will the Aussies dominate? Or will someone come out of nowhere and create a Cinderella story? It’s always been an entertaining week reminiscing about the history and amazing golf played there for centuries.

A new year means new possibilities I can’t wait to see what the 2016 Masters brings us. Here are my top five golfers to watch this week that has the best chance to don the green jacket and create their own legacy at the Masters.

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Jason Day

The clear-cut favorite for many this week is the newly minted number one player in the world Jason Day. He’s playing the best golf of anybody heading into the year’s first major he’s coming off back-to-back victories at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Dell match play championship. I think he is poised to add a green jacket to his trophy case this week.

Not only is his game in tip top shape  for this historic venue, but I also believe his mental toughness is second to none as he has dealt with multiple injuries and health issues that have popped up over the last couple of years. Most recently dealing with a back injury that almost forced him to withdraw from the match play, but was able to gut it out and dominate for the victory. He has also dealt with bouts of vertigo that have taken its toll on him as well, but he hasn’t those obstacles deter his golf game at all.

Another thing in Day’s favor coming into this week is his past performances at the Masters have been very good. He had a tied for second in 2011, a third-place finish in 2013, a tied for 20th in 2014 and a tied for 28th last year. He’s absolutely on fire right now and    his confidence is through the roof and his past success at this tournament give him some good memories to draw on if needed. He has a really good chance to be wearing that green jacket on Sunday night.

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Adam  Scott

Jason Days fellow Aussie Adam Scott is playing very good golf as well, picking up two victories thus far in 2016. He’s had to deal with changes, switching from the long putter because of the anchoring band. That story line was a constant question, Scott had to answer until his back-to-back victories then all the skepticism went away. I really like him this week because he’s had great success at this event, including being the first Australian born player to win the Masters in 2013.

In addition he’s had two top five finishes and a top 15 finish in his 14th career appearances at the Masters. He knows what it takes to reach the top of the mountain and as long as his putter cooperates with him and he carries the momentum he’s created early in 2016,he could definitely make some noise this week in Augusta!

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 Rickie Fowler

Fowler is one of the most popular players in the game today and his skills have caught up to his popularity in recent years. In 2016,his game has been very consistent and I feel is going to break through in the very near future as he’s had so many close calls in major championships. A couple of those close calls were at the Masters with a tied for fifth and a tied for 12th in his last two appearances.

Fowler is a guy that if he gets his putter rolling he could make it from anywhere and strikes fear in his competitors because they know how much of a bulldog, he can be having no fear and taking calculated risks when he needs to jump start a round. He has the makeup and mentality to win many major championships.

I feel if he’s able to break through this week or this year it will open the floodgates for him and his confidence will allow him to play even freer and that’s a scary thought for all of his other competitors. Expect a very good week from Fowler this week that started off pretty awesome when he drained a hole in one at the par three contest. A pretty cool way to start an intense week.

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Jordan Spieth

Spieth is the defending champion so obviously I think he has a good chance to repeat. He is coming off an historic performance at last year’s Masters setting the scoring record at -18 and an overall ridiculous season with six victories and two majors.

This year has been a little more of a rocky road as Spieth’s obligations continue to grow and fatigue becoming a factor his game has suffered a little bit.Inconsistency on the greens and with his wedge play causing frustrations. However, he still has one victory this season and four top tens it’s just not the historic pace he was on last year.

I am still very confident in Spieth’s ability to find his wedge game and his putting ability because he can flip a switch and make everything he looks at. Also he has an awesome partnership with his caddie that can help navigate these intense major weeks. I think he will always have an advantage in that category as well.

I expect Spieth to have a very good week and would be surprised if he’s in the thick of things on the back nine Sunday because he did absolutely dominate the same course last year. His confidence has to be pretty high at this course despite the inconsistency of late.

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Bubba Watson

The last guy that I think has a really good chance to win the Masters this week is Bubba Watson. Who is sort of flying under the radar despite being a two-time champion because of Jason Day being on fire and other big names overshadowing Watson. I feel like he’s had a pretty good season with the one victory, but he seems to know matter how his season is going he shows up at Augusta and contends.

He is one of the quirkiest golfers ever with no swing coach and a reckless abandon type attitude when he’s on the course because he can absolutely crush the golf ball giving him one of the biggest advantages and most of the time he takes advantage. Watson seems very comfortable at the Masters and plays it like any other tournament tee at high and let it fly.

His frustrations sometimes get the best of him, but somehow he is able to play the miraculous shot he needs to keep his round together it’s remarkable the things he can pull off. The reality is Watson is a very free-spirited player that has a great track record at the Masters and every time he’s able to see it up he should be a person to keep your eye on.

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Conclusion

 I know I chose five of the top golfers and didn’t really go out on a whim but they are in the best in the world for reason  and they always put on a good show and create storylines. I’m sure there will be an out-of-the-box golfer that comes out of nowhere to make a run at the green jacket, but I feel like you will be talking about these five guys the entire weekend and it should be a  Masters to remember! Sit back and enjoy and be jealous of the skills of these players wishing you were them!

 

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MLB, Top 5 list

Top 3 Most Improved Teams this MLB Off-Season

Baseball is officially back! Spring training games are well underway  a fun time for all 30 teams. They all get a clean slate and have an equal opportunity to chase a division title and World Series title in the beginning of March. Every team had a different agenda this off-season to put their teams in the best situation possible.

Here are my top three most improved teams based on the off-season. All of them have championship aspirations and the moves they made are going to be a huge part of the chase for a World Series title.

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1. The Chicago Cubs

The Chicago Cubs have quickly become the darlings of baseball with their magical playoff run last year. Theo Epstein is the mastermind of another historical organizational turnaround, he has taken the Cubs from the laughing stock of baseball to on the cusp of a World Series championship.

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How it has happened 

 

Epstein has done it through the draft and keen trades since arriving in the Windy City. They have taken advantage of their high draft picks in recent years getting young sluggers Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, and Javier Baez whom all have quickly become opposing pitcher’s nightmare.

In addition, on July 5, 2014 Epstein was able to swindle Addison Russell from the Oakland A’s, who was the A’s top prospect at the time for pitchers Jason Hammel and Jeff Samardzija. The A’s were pushing for a deep playoff run, so it made sense at the time, but now they’re experiencing buyer’s remorse as Russell has become another key piece to the Cubs roster.

Epstein four-year plan is coming the other rather nicely because he was able to bolster the roster this off-season with veteran quality players to complement these young studs that have proven they can play and at times dominate.

This off-season they added outfielder Jason Heyward, veteran starter John Lackey, utility man, Ben Zobrist, and outfielder Dexter Fowler. These four moves on paper make the Cubs look unstoppable. Let’s take a look at why all four of these players are perfect for the Cubs in their quest for a championship.

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Jason Heyward 8 years 184 Million

Jason Heyward was one of the most coveted free agents on the market this off-season. He cashed in big-time when he signed with the Chicago Cubs for eight years worth $184 million.

This is a great deal for both sides for many reasons. Hayward is just 26 years of age and still in the prime of his career. Hayward’s best asset is the fact that he is one of the elite defenders in the league. He is a three-time Gold Glover and since entering the league in 2010, he has the most defensive runs saved with 122 a pitcher’s best friend.

 

Hayward has been a tad inconsistent on offense throughout his career. However, in Chicago he has experienced great success batting .311 and a .376 on-base percentage. That prior success and being plugged into an already stacked lineup that will feature Dexter Fowler, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist the skies the limit for Jason Heyward who is comfortable in the friendly confines. He doesn’t have to put too much pressure on himself with the other quality players around him in the Windy City.

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Ben Zobrist 4 years 56 Million

Zobrist was another highly coveted free agent by many because of his versatility chose to take less money to go to Chicago. This is a very comfortable situation for Zobrist as he is reunited with Joe Madden, who was his manager in Tampa. This is a good move for the Cubs because he gives great at-bats forcing the pitch counts up and just taking what teams give him.

That is key for a team that is full of guys that are not afraid to strike out a time or two. He might’ve been overpaid just a little bit because the Cubs will primarily use him at second base. However, he can give guys days off when needed because he can play the infield and the outfield. He is a great veteran presence as well, these young guys can go pick his brain and learn how to be a professional from Zobrist.

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John Lackey 2 years 32 million

John Lackey another quality pickup for the Cubs adding depth to their starting rotation that has the reigning Cy Young award winner Jake Arrieta and John Lester. He’s an innings eater averaging 191 innings pitched per year, preserving the bullpen. The bullpen is the one concern for the Cubs because they are a little bit inexperienced and inconsistent.

He also has a lot of postseason experience, which always helps a young roster with very little outside of last season. His personality will also fit well in the Chicago clubhouse because he is so fiery and intense he will get young guys to focus when needed. The cherry on top is the Cubs were able to take two key players from the St. Louis Cardinals their arch rival.

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This move should have never happened as Dexter Fowler had agreed to a three-year deal with the Baltimore Orioles. The deal fell through because the Orioles were not willing to give Fowler and opt out of his contract. He decided to go where ” his heart is” this move is good for the Cubs because Jason Heyward can go back to his primary position of right-field that is less taxing than center field. It also deepens the lineup, as Fowler will most likely lead off with his great speed setting the table for this ridiculous lineup. This deal is also cheaper than it would’ve been if he accepted the qualifying offer at the beginning of the off-season.

As we all know sports aren’t won on paper, but with these four moves plus the plethora of young studs they have littered throughout their roster,  they will have a great chance to win that long awaited championship.

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2. The Detroit Tigers

The Detroit Tigers have always been known as big spenders chasing their first championship since 1984. This off-season was no different as they added slugger Justin Upton, frontline starter Jordan Zimmerman and experienced closer Francisco Rodriguez. The Tigers in recent years have been ravaged by injuries and bullpen blunders that have cost them dearly. These additions will make the AL Central race very entertaining to watch.

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Justin Upton 6 years 132 million

The Detroit Tigers have always been known as big spenders chasing their first championship since 1984. This off-season was no different as they added slugger Justin Upton, frontline starter Jordan Zimmerman and experienced closer Francisco Rodriguez. The Tigers in recent years have been ravaged by injuries and bullpen blunders that have cost them dearly. These additions will make the AL Central race very entertaining to watch.

The Detroit Tigers struck gold when they were able to land free-agent Justin Upton. This seems to be a perfect fit because Upton is one of the premier hitters in baseball. The former first-overall pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks is entering his ninth year and is looking to make a great impact in the Motor City. Upton has been very consistent, even on bad teams. He has a.271 career average and is averaging 21 home runs in his career some of those seasons in pitcher friendly ballparks to boot.

As I said, this seems to be a perfect fit for Detroit because it lengthens an already potent lineup headlined by future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera. He is also very versatile and can hit anywhere in the lineup, giving pitching staffs different look depending on the starter.

Also his age is a big plus, he is just 28 years old and the contract takes him through what is thought to be the prime years of a career. He also is a solid defender in the outfield being nominated for the Gold glove multiple times. Offense has never been the issue for the Tigers the addition of Upton just makes them even scarier and a big threat in the American League.

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Jordan Zimmerman  5 years 110 Million

The Detroit Tigers bolstered their starting rotation with the pickup of right-hander Jordan Zimmerman. This is a very solid pickup considering the Tigers have a lot of wear and tear in their rotation with Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, whom are not spring chickens anymore and have a history of injuries. Zimmerman provides depth and another veteran. The best asset he provides is he is an innings eater and very durable.

Last season with the Washington Nationals, he started 33 games and posted 13-10 record with a 3.66 ERA and pitched over 200 innings. In his career, he is 70-50 with a 3.22 ERA with over 1000 innings pitched. He is a warrior that you want is a part of your pitching staff. I think getting out of the toxic locker room of the Nationals will benefit Zimmerman and having a better offense behind him will result in a really good season.

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Francisco Rodriguez 2 years 13 Million

The part of the Detroit Tigers that has held them back from championships in recent years has been their bullpen surrendering so many late leads. They addressed their biggest weakness by signing veteran closer Francisco Rodriguez (K-ROD). The Detroit Tigers bullpen was dismal in 2015 they ranked 27th posting a 4.38 and experienced many heartbreaking losses because of that. The addition of Rodriguez will finally give manager Brad Ausmus confidence in save situations and close ballgames.

The 14-year veteran Rodriguez has seen it all and has been one of the most consistent closers in Major League Baseball over that span. He has converted 386 saves with a 2.69 ERA very good numbers and should get some consideration for the Hall of Fame in my opinion, but he’s not done yet. The signing could be the most underrated of the off-season depending on how the team and Rodriguez perform, but I love this move and it could catapult the Tigers to a World Series Championship

The Detroit Tigers did a great job of bolstering every aspect of their roster and I expect them to be a contender throughout the 2016 season thanks to the front office and their wallets.

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3. Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox are looking to rebound from a dismal 2015 season that saw them go from first to last. The Red Sox started this off-season by revamping the front office hiring Dave Dombrowski former head of baseball operations of the Tigers and former general manager of the Atlanta Braves Frank Wren to construct the best 25-man roster possible.

They made two major moves that make them major contenders in the American League East and beyond. They were able to land the best pitcher on the market in David Price and acquired the best closer in baseball over the last several years in Craig Kimbrel.

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David Price 7 years 217 Million

The Boston Red Sox definitely opened their wallets for Price, but I think it’s well worth it because it could possibly be a 10-win improvement with Price leaving the starting rotation. David Price has been one of the most consistent pitchers of his time, even though he has bounced around because of money issues and teams not being in contention.

Price went 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA with the Tigers and Blue Jays last season. In his regular-season career, he is virtually untouchable with a record of 104-56 with a 3.06 ERA. Those numbers show you why the Red Sox were willing to give him that contract.

However, the elephant in the room for Price is when the lights are brightest he tends to falter, his postseason record is 14-8 with a 5.12 ERA. He will get a chance to redeem himself with the Red Sox this season and I feel like he will have a great year and help his new team to a deep postseason run.

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Craig Kimbrel in Trade

The Boston Red Sox not only bolstered the beginning of the game, but also deepened their options at the end in the game as well acquiring Craig Kimbrel from the Padres. Some baseball executives say the Red Sox gave up too much for Kimbrel prospect wise however they are just prospects and you don’t know how they will pan out. Couple that with Kimbrel’s proven track record as one of the most reliable closers in Major League Baseball. With a bad San Diego Padres team Kimbrel still managed 39 saves and a 2.58 ERA. In his career he has 225 saves and a minuscule 1.63 ERA.

This was a great move for the Red Sox because they’ve had some uncertainty with injuries and inconsistency over the last couple seasons. Kimbrel provides durability and certainty in save situations and close ballgames.

These two moves are exactly what the Red Sox need to get back to their winning ways. The new front office made a great first impression on their fans we will see how it plays out on the diamond, but I think they are once again a scary team.

 Conclusion

 These are my three most improved teams this off-season that have greatly improved their chances to win a World Series title this season.  Do you agree?

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Carolina Panthers, NFL, Top 5 list

Super Bowl Bound!! 5 Reasons Why

Then there were two! My Carolina Panthers will face the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 50. It’s been amazing to watch the Panthers mature and trust the process. In sports the most difficult thing is to be patient because this is an industry that is judged by wins and losses.

The Panthers have reaped the rewards of their patience over the past few years building through the draft and adding low-cost veterans to mentor the younger players. It’s a strategy that angers fans because we want instant gratification and championships now and don’t want to wait.

An approach that will maintain a winning culture for years because we have such a great group of young core players. Here are five key things that happened to the Panthers in 2015 that fueled this Super Bowl run.

Losing Kelvin Benjamin

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It may be shocking to some when I say losing our number one wide receiver helped us during this run. I honestly believe it has because it forced quarterback cam Newton to mature as a passer going through progressions and building chemistry with his other wide outs. At times last year it felt as if Newton was staring down Benjamin and not giving us the best chance to get the ball down the field and score as many points as possible.

Would it be great to have Benjamin? Yes, but it’s been great to see Newton make the best out of a bad situation and gain trust in everyone on the offense not just Benjamin. I think the injury made him focus a little more because his tall safety valve that he used many times last season was not there.

Not only has Newton elevated his game to an MVP level, so have the guys around him, realizing they had to step up big time to fill the void left by Benjamin after the injury. The offense has had a record-setting year in many categories, I think it’s because everyone focused a little harder once they realized they wouldn’t have Benjamin’s production on the field.

Here are a few statistics to show you what I mean; we led the league in points per game averaging 31.3. We accomplished that in a myriad of ways with the most balanced offense in the NFL. We were second in the league in rushing yards per game at 142.6 yards per game and collectively as a team, we have rushed for over 100 yards in 30 consecutive games, including the postseason.

This just goes to show you losing a star player doesn’t have to doom a season if the team has the right attitude about it. It’s been absolutely amazing what we’ve been able to accomplish without Benjamin just leaving us saying “what if.”

The Offensive line play

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The offensive line was a perceived weakness for the Panthers coming into the 2015 season. However, that has not been the case as we were ranked 11th in the regular-season allowing just 33 sacks and 61 quarterback hits, which is amazing considering the dual threat that Cam Newton is on every play.

That area has improved in the postseason as well, allowing just two sacks and three quarterback hits. They’ve been so good Newton has had at times three seconds in the pocket before anyone is close to him, allowing him to survey the defense and complete those big plays down the field.

A big reason for the quick resurgence of this group is General Manager Dave Gettleman signed left tackle Michael Oher to a two-year contract this off-season. Oher was coming off an injury-riddled year with the Tennessee Titans and needed a fresh start. We provided the opportunity and he has become one of the most important people on our roster protecting Cam Newton’s blindside.

He’s been awesome in the running game as well; creating lanes for big plays, putting opposing defenses on their toes. This will be the biggest factor in deciding the Super Bowl champion because Denver’s defense is relentless, but I like our chances the way those guys have played all year.

Ball Hawking Defense

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The backbone of this Carolina Panther team for years has been the defensive side of the ball. This season is no different, but somehow we’ve elevated our game to an even higher level. Generating takeaways has been the greatest area of improvement as our guys continue to develop; the team has forced 39 turnovers in the regular-season and another nine during this postseason run. They have been a very opportunistic group accumulating a +29 turnover ratio creating momentum early and often.

The defensive line has been the key to this spike in turnovers forced. They have become a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks to face because they’ve generated so much pressure from many different levels of the defense. This constant pressure has allowed the guys in the backend to take more chances, which has resulted in big momentum grabbing plays.

The player that has taken the biggest leap this season is defensive end Kawann Short going from what some thought a potential bust to now the JJ Watt of the Panthers defense. Entering the season Short had just five sacks and 55 tackles. This year he has worked extremely hard at his craft and has been rewarded with 13 total sacks regular-season and postseason combined.

A perfect time for this coming out party because the opposing offenses have to pay extra attention opening up opportunities for other guys to make an impact. These eye-popping statistics show this is one of the most complete teams the Queen City and the NFL have ever seen from the Carolina Panthers.

Many Savvy moves made

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The Panthers organization has experienced great success from top to bottom in 2015. The orchestrator of this roster, general manager Dave Gettleman deserves a ton of credit for what we’ve seen this year from the Panthers. He’s made countless moves that will not light of the tabloids, but have greatly improved the team without mortgaging the future.

Signing Kurt Coleman

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Coleman signed a two-year contract worth just $2.8 million, which is an absolute steal considering the production he’s provided on the field. He has quickly become one of the best safeties in the NFL. He is putting together a career year with nine interceptions this season, including two in the NFC championship game against the Arizona Cardinals.

He has greatly benefited from guys like Josh Norman because offenses tend to shy away from that side of the field, allowing Coleman to patrol the middle of the field reading quarterbacks’ eyes taking advantage of every mistake. He is a very tough-minded player that will sacrifice his body and do anything to help this team win.

This move illustrates Gettleman’s ability to evaluate talent and allow a lesser-known player the chance to prove himself and help the team win football games. Coleman is just one of many diamond in the rough type of guys that he has brought in that have contributed a great deal to the success of this team.

Signing Courtland Finnegan

 

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This was an insurance policy move because the secondary has been ravaged by injuries and we needed a healthy body. Finnegan was sitting on his couch with his retirement papers drawn up when we called for his services. He has fit in like a glove in our secondary.

He’s a guy that you love to have on your team, but hate to face because he tries to get into opponents’ heads forcing them into mistakes. He had a great impact in the NFC championship game with an interception and he helped limit Larry Fitzgerald to just four catches for 30 yards.

This move shows he has the pulse of this team. Knowing exactly the type of player that will fit into the locker room and on the field. He has a magic wand this year, pushing all the right buttons. These are just a couple of many savvy moves Gettleman has made to propel us to this point in the season.

 Having Fun

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The Carolina Panthers are having the most fun I’ve ever seen a team have it’s been a joy to watch. The team has created the “dab” sensation, celebrating first downs, and big plays every chance we get. It’s really refreshing to see a high profile athlete where his emotions on his sleeve and not care what anybody thinks.

The entire team has followed Newton’s lead, enjoying what they do while thinking of the fans. After every touchdown they give the ball to a kid sitting behind the end zone, creating a memory that they won’t forget. The celebrations and pictures might rub some people the wrong way, but it’s just because they can’t stop us.

The emotion and attitude this team brings to every play keeps them engaged and even after a bad play they know they can atone for the mistake. That’s the mentality coach Rivera has preached all season, keeping your personality and doing your job. That attitude has allowed us just to focus on what we can control and not what the media thinks.

This is a very rare occurrence and sports nowadays because it’s all about championships and professionalism, but the Panthers have proven you can have fun and still do your job at the highest of levels.  A deadly combination for a team with so many dynamic weapons on the roster,

 Conclusion

These are five things I think helped us get to where we are! However, it’s not over yet we have one goal left to achieve and that is to lift the Lombardi trophy. I’m so ecstatic I don’t think I have stopped smiling since watching us punch our ticket a memory that I will never forget. Finish it off Go Panthers!

 

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Carolina Panthers, NFL, Top 5 list

Top 5 Takeaways from Panthers victory over the Seahawks

These NFL playoffs have had mind-boggling plays that just shouldn’t happen on a football field. A few examples of the craziness we’ve seen.. Minnesota kicker Blair Walsh missed a chip shot 27 yard field goal, or when Aaron Rodgers completed two Hail Mary’s to force overtime! What happen next, the overtime coin flip had to be redone because the coin didn’t flip! You can’t make up these things up, there is just something different about playoff football.

The Carolina Panthers followed suit with a crazy, unexplainable game against the two-time NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. Here are my top five takeaways from the Panthers victory other than I had a heart attack again. Which is nothing new for this team the matter the situation!

Cardiac Cats do it Again

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This team has  a tendency to get out to big leads and take their foot off the proverbial paddle and make it a nerve-racking experience for all fans involved. It happened again on Sunday as the Panthers jumped out to a commanding 31-0 at half, which I might add is our largest halftime lead in franchise history. However, in the typical panther fashion they had to make it exciting in the second half being outscored by the Seahawks 24-0.

It’s the only way we know how to play football games and as a fan, you’d think we’d be used to it by now, but trust me, you don’t if your heart doesn’t skip a beat during a Panther game there something wrong. We just have a unique way of doing things it just puts fans at risk for a heart attack or the need for alcohol to get through a game. One way or the other we keep pounding and find a way to win football games at all cost its what I love about this team despite the heart attacks they like to give us.

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Defense set the tone early

One of the keys coming into the playoffs was to generate a pass rush to take the pressure off of a beleaguered secondary that was ravaged by injuries late in the season. They did exactly that on the first play for the Seahawks it was a tackle for loss the next play was a pick six by Luke Kuechly throwing a Haymaker up 14-0 just 3 1/2 minutes into the game a magical start they continued through the first half. The pressure we were able to generate was a sight for sore eyes, as the outside guys hadn’t gotten a sack since the Thanksgiving showdown against Dallas.

It was great to see us force Russell Wilson into bad decisions and put them behind the chains with four sacks. The big boys responded to the challenge and did their jobs taking the pressure off the secondary, which will be key again when we face the Arizona Cardinals.

 

Our own “Beast Mode”

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This team’s identity is the running game pounding it down the defense’s throat wearing them down opening up big splash plays. That happened Sunday with the return of our leading rusher Jonathan Stewart after a three-game absence due to injury.He set the often the tone early with a 59 yard run on the first play from scrimmage showing it was going to be a long day for Seattle trying to tackle the battering ram style of Stewart. He is the first player to rush for over 100 yards against that stingy Seattle defense in the last 27 games!  I don’t like when our key players get hurt, but he looked to have the fresher legs after not being hit in three games, I think it was a blessing in disguise.

It felt like we gave Seattle a taste of their own medicine with our quartet of backs including quarterback Cam Newton. The running game is always key to our success! Today was no different Stewart rushed 19 times for 106 yards and two touchdowns. It was good to have Stewart back in the lineup, adding a dimension back to our offensive playbook.

Mr Reliable comes through again

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The most reliable target of quarterback Cam Newton has been tight end Greg Olsen. Sunday was another example of the chemistry those two have developed since they both arrived in Carolina. He had six catches for 77 yards and what turned out to be the game clinching touchdown late in the first half. It wasn’t just your garden-variety touchdown either it was an acrobatic catch in between two defenders that honestly, I don’t know if any of our other guys make that catch.

Another key play in yesterday’s game that won’t get, as much notoriety as it should was a pivotal third down conversion that kept the clock moving. It was a third-down and eight a little crossing pattern that Olsen caught and took a vicious shot from safety Kam Chancellor, but still was able to get the first down. Football is a game of inches and if he did not sacrifice his body and stretch the ball we could be talking about a whole different outcome because the momentum was severely shifting in Seattle’s direction.

The trust between Newton and Olsen has continued to get stronger and stronger carrying us throughout this magical season it’s been awesome to watch. It also has forced defenses to focus more attention Olsen’s way of opening up big plays for the other guys.

Once again, I thank the Chicago Bears for giving him to us; he has become one of the best tight ends in the league and once again was a pivotal player in our playoff victory yesterday. That connection is a deadly nightmare for defenses to prepare for and virtually every time a big play results. We had Mr. reliable in Ricky Proehl now I think we have it in Greg Olsen and that’s amazing.

 

 

“You Play to Win the Game”

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We played one of the most complete halves of football I’ve seen us ever play up 31-0. However, I think human nature played a part in the Seahawks second-half comeback when they outscored us 24-0. As Cam Newton put it in his press conference everybody got a little “butt tight” I totally agree you can still be relatively aggressive while chewing clock by staying at the line of scrimmage a little longer. The conservative playacting got us out of our rhythm  fueling the comeback by Seattle   giving them belief  they could come back fortunately we made enough plays down the stretch so that didn’t happen.

In playoff football you have to keep the pedal down because as we seen crazy things can happen very quickly. The team understands they can’t let that happen again against the even more explosive Arizona Cardinals. It was good to see coach Rivera was disappointed to see our aggression diminish in the second half  said it won’t happen again. If you have an opportunity to deliver the kill shot to your opponent, you must do it because your opponent have pride and don’t want to be embarrassed at their job.

I put in a little on everybody because I know Mike Shula has creative play is that can still keep us in rhythm and the defense on their toes. I know there’s a fine line because you don’t want to make stupid mistakes, allowing the opponent right back in the game. I don’t see us having a problem with that again because we understand what can happen, but it is a good problem to have because you know you’re getting off to fast starts putting your opponents behind the eight ball.

 Conclusion

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It was a topsy-turvy game that took three years off my life, but we ultimately got the job done and that’s all that matters. We have a little more bird hunting to do, I expect it to be a very exciting game that comes down to the end. Get the defibrillator ready because it’s playoff football and the Carolina Panthers anything can happen, but one thing’s for sure Bank of America Stadium is going to be rocking I can’t wait. One step closer Keep pounding Go Panthers!!

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Carolina Panthers, NFL, Top 5 list

5 Keys for Carolina Panthers Success in the Postseason

The Carolina Panthers have experienced an unforgettable regular season where they flirted with perfection and that was amazing; but now it’s put up or shut up time for all the playoff teams in the  quest for reaching the ultimate glory hoisting the Lombardi trophy! Here are my five keys for the Panthers to fulfill the dream they’ve worked so hard to realize.

Continue being “Party Crashers”

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I feel like this team has taken on us against the world mentality because even though we have a 15-1 record a lot of the experts still are skeptical about what we can do when the lights are the brightest. Newsflash, we are the highest scoring offense in the league averaging 32.1 points per game and have the second-ranked rushing offense averaging just less than 143 yards per game. Couple that with the sixth-ranked defense that has forced 35 takeaways, 24 interceptions, and 44 sacks, can you say quarterbacks worst nightmare.

 The most complete team that I can remember having in our history. We’ve crashed the regular season party and now it’s time to  crash the postseason party and become “the worst Super Bowl champion.” Does that mean I thought we would only lose one game with our schedule, losing our number one wide receiver, and the pure fact that this is the National Football League!  Heck no, but they’ve made a believer out of many skeptics, but not all just like they like it.

The team just needs to keep their swagger and perspective that got them to this point.   Let the experts keep talking about Seattle and prove them wrong a few more times.

The secondary must play big

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It’s been a fantastic season for the defense, however over the last few weeks the secondary has been ravaged by injuries. We have lost both defensive backs Charles Tillman and Bene Benwikere to season-ending injuries forcing us to dip into our depth with youngsters Tre Boston and Lou Young. Tillman’s loss hurts because he is a veteran presence and he had a knack for forcing fumbles. Benwikere was like a Swiss Army knife giving  coach McDermott a myriad of options he could blitz, cover or anything else that was needed.

Over the last couple weeks there’s been a few more holes in the middle of the defense, allowing opponents to get some chunk plays that we cannot afford in postseason play. The NFL is a next man up league and this is no different. 

Let’s remember these guys are good enough to be on an NFL roster  they may not be well known, but they are  professionals and know how to play the game. They will take this opportunity to shine  and do everything we can to help this team win.

If we can make teams grind out drives and not give up the explosive play and simply know your assignments and tackle well. If we do those things I think we will be just fine on the backend. For those young guys it’ll just be another football game once they hit somebody.

Generating Pass Rush

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This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the last key because we’re going to have to rely on young guys in the back end; it would be nice to take the pressure off of those guys by generating a consistent pass rush. This has been an area of inconsistency since the Thanksgiving game against Dallas,  because we haven’t gotten much production out of our outside guys of late. It’s been the Kawann Short show of late. For his efforts he was rewarded the defensive player of the month for the second time this season. 

The first NFL defensive tackle to do so. We need some other guys to get to the quarterback and create a muddy pocket forcing bad decisions that turn into turnovers.

We’re facing the elite crop of quarterbacks in the playoffs, they will be trying to get the ball out quickly, we must win each and every line of scrimmage battle as possible and get our hands up in the passing lane if we can’t get there. Causing havoc in the opponents back fields make playing defense much easier keeping opponents out of rhythm and creating your own.

They say defense wins championships our defense is definitely capable of taking over and exerting their will onto opponents I expect that and more with the electric atmosphere of Bank of America Stadium creating even more problems for opponents.

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Playing Smart

Playoff football is an entirely different animal every play is magnified because it’s sudden death and becomes a game of inches. The Panthers must limit those big drops that we saw in the regular-season because these are outstanding defenses and they are not going to let the same mistake happen twice so we can’t let those opportunities slip through our fingers.

Another thing I’ve seen of late is Cam Newton has taken some huge sacks flipping field position in the defenses favor and in some cases taking points off the board. I know Newton is a freak athlete and can get out of some messy situations, but sometimes it’s okay to just chuck it in the stands and live another down. In the playoffs defenses will be like sharks smelling blood in the water if we are in second and long too much.

Staying ahead of the chains will be key for us as well  keeping the  run in play on every down will keep the defense on their toes. Allowing   the offense to grind the clock  keeping our defense fresh and more explosive. If we are able to  stay with the game plan and take advantage of the deep shots that present themselves throughout the game.

Lastly,executing the fundamentals are the most important thing in playoff football make the opponent come to you don’t shoot yourself in the foot with boneheaded penalties, turnovers or sacks.  If we do those things I and very confident of what we can present to opposing defenses causing headaches  and opportunities for explosive plays.

  Sticking with the Running Game

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This team is built with defense and the running game at the forefront and with the tough defenses we will face, we can’t get frustrated if it doesn’t bust out right away we must keep grinding and wear down the defense.In our one loss at Atlanta, I felt we got away from our identity causing more pressure on the offensive line and Cam Newton to force things a little bit.

We can’t afford to do that in a playoffs because defenses will pounce on any weakness they see. The running game is going to get back to full strength when Jonathan Stewart assumes his starting role where he excelled during the regular season before the injury falling just short of 1000 yards.

Add the emergence of returning back Cameron-Artis-Payne who has a little DeAngelo Williams in him converting screen passes into long gains and showing that he has that shifty athleticism making people miss. Payne is a very good complement to both Stewart and Newton that a lot of defenses haven’t seen opening up more opportunities for the others after the opponent has been punched in the mouth a little bit.

The running game is what we’ve hung our hat on all season; a position that is seemingly getting deeper at just the right time giving offense coordinator Mike Shula more pieces to play with. The perfect storm we just have to stick with it and don’t get frustrated too early with these powerful defenses we will face.

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 Conclusion

These are the keys to our success and achieving the ultimate goal. The playoffs are what it’s all about and I can’t wait to see the Queen City and all the Panther fans everywhere get loud and cheer us to the Lombardi trophy!!

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