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Last Team Standing

Nov 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos mascot

What a relief! (Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)

At long last, the unthinkable has happened: the previously undefeated New England Patriots have finally lost a game!

The dethroning of the AFC’s last unbeaten team came at the hands of the Denver Broncos—and Peyton Manning wasn’t even at the helm. Instead, backup quarterback Brock Osweiler made clutch plays to lead his team to victory, including an overtime audible that ended with running back C.J. Anderson rumbling 48 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

“That’s what becoming a team is all about,” Broncos’ head coach Gary Kubiak said after the game. “You never know who’s going to make that play. Everybody stayed the course tonight and that is what is exciting about this team.”

The win elevated Denver to 9-2 and placed them three games ahead of Kansas City in the AFC West. At 10-1, New England still has full command of the AFC East, with the 6-5 New York Jets their closest competition.

Of course, this win also means only one undefeated team remains in the NFL: the 11-0 Carolina Panthers. And here’s hoping Cam Newton and company can keep this train rolling to 16-0!

Perfect Balls

No one touches Tom Brady's balls but him... and a few staff members (Sports Central/YouTube)

No one touches Tom Brady’s balls but him… and a few staff members (Sports Central/YouTube)

Last week, attorney Ted Wells released the findings of his investigation into Deflategate, the name given to allegations that the New England Patriots deflated footballs to gain a competitive advantage over the Indianapolis Colts during January’s AFC championship game.

Implicated in Wells’ report was the NFL’s golden boy—quarterback Tom Brady—who initially denied having any knowledge of footballs being underinflated and then failed to cooperate in the investigation. As a result, he has been suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season and his beloved Patriots will lose not only a $1 million fine, but also two draft picks—a first-round pick in 2016 and a fourth-round pick in 2017.

Some (mostly Patriots players and fans) are calling the punishment too harsh, but many others feel it’s time that a sketchy Patriots organization pays for stretching—and even breaking—NFL rules so consistently.

Personally, I’m fine with the punishment since it means Brady won’t be on the field in week one against my Pittsburgh Steelers. I respect his skills, but I much prefer to see him sitting on the sidelines.

Of course, he might have a future as a pop star given this VIDEO just released of him. It’s a spoof of him singing his latest hit “These Balls Are Perfect.” And if you’re interested in a good laugh, I suggest you take a look.

After all, no one knows balls like Tom Brady!

Farewell to Troy

Troy does his best Superman impression (NFL/Getty Images)

After 12 incredible seasons as a Pittsburgh Steeler, veteran safety and all-around defensive powerhouse Troy Polamalu plans to retire from the NFL. The announcement came down today and for most Steelers fans, the news was bittersweet.

Yes, Troy’s production has been waning for the last few years, primarily due to injury. But the fact is that without him, the Steelers wouldn’t have been the same team—and they surely wouldn’t have won two Super Bowls.

During his tenure, Troy was a difference maker, for lack of a better term. He broke Steelers’ defensive records, represented the team at eight Pro Bowls and was a leader in the locker room and on the field. Teammates respected him, fans loved him and opponents feared him.

And honestly, watching games without seeing his bushy hair flying around will be depressing, to say the least.

So on behalf of Steelers fans everywhere, I want to say thanks to Troy Polamalu—one of the greatest to wear the black and gold, and one hell of a great guy to boot. We’re going to miss you, my brother.

The Star Wars Bowl!

If Super Bowl XLIX was held in a galaxy far, far away, these are the teams that would be facing off this year:

Wattos vs. Jedis (John Raya/Disney)

Wattos vs. Jedis (John Raya/Disney)

To check out Star Wars helmets for all 32 teams, head on over to Geekologie. And thanks to Mexican artist John Raya for the killer designs!

Don’t Be Hatin’

Redditor Releases Most Hated NFL Teams in Each State

The most hated NFL teams by region, according to Reddit (KMHokies35/Reddit)

The new NFL football season hasn’t started yet, but already the rivalries are starting to rear their ugly heads. Take this infographic from Reddit user KMHokies35, which shows the most hated NFL teams in each U.S. state.

Most of the “hate” involves long-standing rivalries between division foes—like Dallas Cowboy fans disliking the Philadelphia Eagles, for instance—but others are more difficult to understand—like why people in Maine hate the New York Jets so much.

Of course, I was pleased to see my Pittsburgh Steelers represented in several different states. We must be doing something right!

Goodbye, Chuck

Chuck Noll: Best. Coach. Ever (Getty Images)

Chuck Noll: Best. Coach. Ever (Getty Images)

Last Friday, we lost one of NFL football’s greatest coaches: Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll. He passed away late Friday of natural causes at the age of 82. And as a die-hard Steelers fan, I can tell you that he will be missed… and not just by other Steelers’ fans, but by fans of sports in general.

Noll played the game in the 1950s as part of the Cleveland Browns—ironically one of the Steelers’ main division rivals—as a linebacker and guard. Following his playing career, he served as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Chargers and then as defensive coordinator for the Baltimore Colts in 1968. That year, the Colts gave up only 144 points, a sign of the defensive glory to come with the Steel Curtain.

Baltimore head coach Don Shula—who would later lead the Miami Dolphins to two Super Bowl victories—recommended Noll for the lead coaching job in Pittsburgh, a city that hadn’t enjoyed much success in nearly 40 years. And sadly, they wouldn’t taste success during Noll’s first year, when the team posted a pitiful record of only one win and 13 losses.

Fortunately, this would not become a habit.

By 1972—and thanks to some savvy draft picks and other roster adjustments—the Steelers’ luck changed completely as Noll led them to their first division title in the AFC Central. Hall of Fame players like Terry Bradshaw, “Mean Joe” Greene, Jack Ham, Mike Webster, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann and Franco Harris helped Noll and the Steel Curtain achieve eight more such titles, as well as four Super Bowl victories. And by the time his career ended in 1991, Noll had 209 wins, 156 losses and 1 tie under his belt.

He also laid the foundation for one of the NFL’s most successful franchises. To date, the Steelers have six Super Bowl wins, more than any other team in history. And there’s plenty of time to add more… believe me.

Steelers’ Hall of Famers (Steel City Artist)

News of Noll’s death hit Steelers’ fans like me pretty hard, but no one felt it more than his former players. Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw—who often clashed with Noll both on and off the field—said he was “kind of like a father from whom you want approval [but] don’t quite get it.” He added that he was “proud to have played for him” and that “it was a great honor.”

Legendary defensive tackle “Mean Joe” Greene had this to say about his former coach, with whom he spent his entire professional career: “Chuck was just the ultimate leader. He had truth and belief in what he was saying, and over time all of those things he said were validated, the things about winning football games and being a solid citizen.”

And that, to me, was Noll’s greatest achievement: producing players who not only performed on the field, but also led by example in their daily lives. Unlike some of today’s prima donnas—who seem to care more about their individual performances and large paychecks—Noll instilled a strong sense of teamwork and unity in his players, who returned the favor by bringing the Lombardi trophy back to the Steel City not once, but four times.

In other words, he was the ultimate football coach. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier to have watched Chuck Noll in action. I even had an opportunity to meet him and some of his greatest players when I visited the Steelers’ training camp as a child, so I can say this: I will always be a Steelers fan. And I have Chuck to thank for bringing me and so many others into the fold.

We will miss you, Chuck. Rest easy and I promise the Steelers and their fans will keep your dream alive. Always.

Hello Seattle, Goodbye Seymour Hoffman

Seattle coach Pete Carroll takes the best kind of shower (AP)

If you missed last night’s Super Bowl, then you missed what had to be one of the most outstanding defensive showings in championship football history. And this is coming from a Steelers fan, no less.

In an unexpected turn of events, the Seattle Seahawks and their top-rated defense destroyed the highest scoring offense in the NFL—namely the Peyton Manning-led Denver Broncos—by a score of 43-8. The Broncos turned the ball over four times—twice in the form of Manning interceptions and twice by fumbling the ball—and started the game with an errant snap on offense resulting in a Seattle safety.

For Broncos fans—and Peyton Manning fans—it could not have been worse. And the one touchdown and two-point conversion they eventually scored did little to assuage the anguish over watching the number one offense in the league collapse so completely. It truly was a rout in every sense of the word.

So congratulations to the Seattle Seahawks on winning their first Super Bowl—and with an untested, second-year quarterback, too. I expect good things from this squad in the future. And who knows? They could be on their way to becoming the next dynasty in the NFL, especially if they keep playing like this!

On a sadder note, I would also like to honor one of my favorite actors and, sadly, another talent gone far too soon: 46-year-old Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

Hoffman accepting his Oscar in 2005 (AMPAS)

On Sunday, police discovered Hoffman’s body on the bathroom floor of his Manhattan apartment, the victim of an apparent drug overdose. According to the latest reports, he even had a syringe sticking out of his arm—and it doesn’t get much more apparent than that.

Hoffman was an incredible and versatile actor who earned the respect and admiration of everyone with whom he worked. Upon hearing of his untimely death, actress Robin Wright described him as a “true artist,” while his co-star from the film Charlie Wilson’s War—the amazing Tom Hanks—called him “a giant talent.” Hoffman was an Oscar-winning actor—he took home Best Actor in 2005 for his performance in Capote—and starred in some truly great films: Scent of a Woman, Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, Magnolia, Almost Famous, 25th Hour and Cold Mountain, to name a few.

Yes, we have lost yet another great talent. And let’s hope this is the last one for a long, long time.

Farewell, Phillip. And thanks for the memories…

UPDATE: It seems that Hoffman’s death has been ruled as a heroin overdose. Police found nearly 50 packets of “Lady H” in his apartment, along with a host of prescription medications for everything from ADD to anxiety and high blood pressure. Hoffman entered rehab last year after a 23-year hiatus from drug and alcohol abuse. And sadly, it took only one slip to end his life. What a shame…

The Big Game

Let the games begin! (NFL)

After a long, grueling and hard-hitting season of NFL football, the day of “The Big Game” has finally arrived. In roughly three hours, two very talented teams will kickoff Super Bowl XLVIII in New York City.

And it should be a game for the ages.

The great Peyton Manning (NFL)

On one side you have the Seattle Seahawks led by second-year quarterback Russell Wilson—a two-time Pro Bowler and recipient of the 2012 Pepsi Rookie of the Year award. This season, the Seahawks allowed only 14.4 points per game and posted a turnover differential of +20, which included 28 interceptions and 11 fumble recoveries. They were hands-down the best defensive team in the league and, with Wilson maturing so rapidly, there’s no limit to what they can accomplish.

Of course, this is only Seattle’s second appearance in the Super Bowl—my Pittsburgh Steelers took them down in 2005—and this time around, their foe could not be more formidable.

I am speaking of arguably the greatest quarterback of all time—Peyton Manning—but his entire Denver Broncos squad is a force to be reckoned with. They averaged 37.9 points and 340 passing yards per game this season—easily becoming the best offense in the league—but it was largely due to their signal-caller. A true “student of the game,” Manning outdid himself this year and set all sorts of NFL records, including the following:

  • In his opening game against the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, Manning became one of only six players in NFL history to throw seven touchdowns in a game… and with no interceptions!
  • Manning threw more touchdown passes in the first three games of a season than anyone in NFL history, breaking a record set by New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in 2011. He would go on to break Brady’s record for most touchdown passes in a season, as well, ending with 55 for the year.
  • The single-season passing yardage record set by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in 2011 also fell to Manning, who shattered it by tossing for 5,477 total yards.
  • By making it to the Super Bowl this year, Manning became only the third starting quarterback to reach The Big Game with more than one team—along with Craig Morton and Kurt Warner.
  • Manning was named 2013 Offensive Player of the Year—for the second time—and received his fifth NFL Most Valuable Player award, setting yet another league record!
Just How Good Is the Seattle Seahawks Defense?

Seattle’s defense will be out for blood! (Getty Images)

I could go on, of course, but Manning’s accolades are pretty well-known. And by all accounts, most people have his Broncos winning it all this year. It certainly would solidify his so-called legacy… as if it needed solidifying.

Honestly, I’m not sure where I stand on today’s game. On the one hand, I want Denver to take home the title since I love the city, the state and their kick-ass quarterback. But there is a part of me that wouldn’t mind seeing the Seahawks raising the Lombardi trophy. They certainly deserve it and fought just as hard to make it here.

Either way, it should be an amazing game—free from halftime nipple slips, damn it—and the commercials should be as entertaining as always. I hope you all get a chance to see what should be a great show.

And may the best team win!

Go Panthers!

The Panthers-Niners game kicks off soon! (Panthers.com)

In five minutes or so, the Carolina Panthers will kick off their next playoff game against the formidable San Francisco 49ers. It should be exciting and, since I still feel like crap and actually feel a bit worse, my plan is to medicate, sit my big ass down on the sofa and watch… until I pass out asleep, that is.

Enjoy the game! And go Panthers!

True Fantasy Football

And no, this isn’t the “fantasy football” I mean (Smoking Gun)

I hate to say it, but NFL football has fallen by the wayside a bit this season.

Normally, I participate in fantasy football with some buddies and watch as many games as possible since I always have something riding on them. For those of you unfamiliar with the pastime, it involves drafting real NFL players from any team into set positions—two quarterbacks, two running backs, two receivers and so on, though potential combinations may vary. In an online league with your pals—normally through sports-ready sites like ESPN and CBS Sports—you compete each week for points collected by your players, who are credited or penalized for their actions on the field. Touchdowns and field goals score you points, of course, but you can also score through yardage, defensive stops and other factors. The person with the most points at the end of each week’s games stands victorious—and the scoring leader at the end of the season takes home the grand prize, usually a nice sum of cash.

It all depends on how much you and your friends are willing to gamble. Sadly, I’m not a high roller and neither are my guys, so my league usually involves a $10 buy-in. The most our Big Winner takes home fluctuates around $80-100 each year, but we have been known to split the winnings among our top three scorers. Whatever tickles our fancy.

My performance in fantasy football has been decent and pretty consistent, at least for the last three or four years. I have yet to miss the playoffs—only the top teams in the league go, but smaller leagues sometimes allow everyone into the post-season—and have won twice. My most recent win was last year and—under normal circumstances—this would add fuel to my competitive fire the following year. Unfortunately, a perfect storm of “issues” prevented this and—to be honest—I haven’t followed the NFL as closely as I usually do.

The first issue to suck the football life out of me this season was the “grand prize” I never received for winning my fantasy football league last year. Sadly, our league administrator invited some long-distance players from far-and-wide and failed to get their buy-in up front. So when it came time to pay me—and despite shaving $10 off my winnings to cover next year’s buy-in—there was nothing in the pot. And good luck collecting from people who just got beat. That’s why people who make bets always have someone hold the money for them, folks! Damn!

Gimme that grand prize! (TriStar)

Of course, issue number two robbed me of ten more bucks when our administrator decided not to create a league prior to the 2013 season. None of the other guys were interested—who can blame them after I spanked their asses in 2012?—and since he was already playing in several other leagues, our admin put an end to our four-year streak. Honestly, though, I didn’t care since I was keeping busy both at home and at work. It was the last issue, though, that really sealed the deal.

My beloved Pittsburgh Steelers basically sucked.

Sure, they managed to improve significantly after coughing up the first four games and dealing with a host of injuries and other problems. They even had a chance of making the playoffs, which they missed when the San Diego Chargers took down the Kansas City Chiefs during the final week of the regular season. Regardless, there are some positive things happening in the Steel City. And I look forward to seeing what we accomplish next year, but that’s the problem: I started looking forward to next year after the first two weeks of the season!

Sundays at my house have instead been filled with chores, quality time with my boy, blogging, video games and all sorts of nerd-like pursuits. Hey, that’s what nerds like me do. Sure, I have seen some football here and there. I even cheered on my Steelers during some of their late wins. The difference is that I never felt pressured to watch, to constantly check player statistics or to ponder free agent acquisitions, trades or any other fantasy football stuff. I could just relax and enjoy whatever I chose to do that day… at least until the playoffs started.

Man! Yesterday had to be one of the most exciting Wild Card Playoff days I have ever seen! And it certainly reignited the flame within this NFL fan!

Sorry for all the exclamation points, but those of you who (a) enjoy football and (b) saw yesterday’s games cannot deny they were awesome. Don’t even lie!

Saints celebrate in style (Maddie Myer/Getty Images)

The late game saw the New Orleans Saints square off against the Philadelphia Eagles—a six seed against a three seed, despite the Saints having a better regular season record (11-5 as opposed to 10-6). New Orleans has never been known as a great road team, but on this day they certainly showed what makes them a formidable foe for any team facing them. Quarterback Drew Brees threw a few early interceptions, but bounced back to lead his team down the field on their final possession and into range for the Shayne Graham field goal that ended the contest. The Saints shot down the Eagles 26-24 and secured the first road playoff win in their franchise’s history. They’ll face the Seattle Seahawks in next week’s divisional round.

Although the Saints-Eagles game was exciting in its own right, it can’t touch yesterday’s early game between the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs. This one was a barn burner in every sense of the phrase and even got into the NFL record books!

The game pitted two of the league’s best quarterbacks against one another—Indy’s Andrew Luck and KC’s Alex Smith—and included a host of electrifying NFL stars and Pro Bowl selections: Jamaal Charles, Branden Albert, Dontari Poe, Brandon Flowers, Tamba Hall, Robert Mathis and T.Y. Hilton, to name a few. Until the third quarter, though—when Kansas City held a 38-10 lead—it looked as if the Colts would be heading home instead of entering round two of the post-season.

Wrong!

Despite throwing three early interceptions—and on the back of a forced fumble by Colts defensive powerhouse Robert Mathis—Luck tossed a fourth-quarter touchdown to Coby Fleener and ran one in himself on what can only be called an amazingly “Luck-y” fumble recovery in the red zone. In an attempt to punch it in, Donald Brown fumbled the ball, saw it careen off the helmet of Samson Satele and watched Luck scoop it up and dive across the goal line. If ever there was a better example of “right place, right time,” this had to be it.

Luck stretches out for the score (AP)

By the time it was all said and done, the Colts had rallied back 28 points to defeat the Chiefs 45-44. This represented the second largest comeback in NFL playoff history—the 1993 Buffalo Bills overcame a 32-point deficit to beat the Houston Oilers and maintain the top spot. Luck secured the first playoff win of his young career and ended the game with 443 yards, four touchdowns and an NFL record.

In other words, releasing Peyton Manning and drafting Andrew Luck wasn’t just the best thing for the Indianapolis Colts—it was the best for everyone involved. Manning’s Denver Broncos currently hold the first seed in the AFC and could end up playing the Colts depending on the outcome of today’s Chargers-Bengals game. That certainly would be an interesting match up, especially since the Colts already beat the Broncos this season.

I guess what I’m saying is “thanks NFL.” I started drifting away there, but the playoffs have pulled me back in. And even though today’s early game isn’t as thrilling as I would hope, I still have a great Packers-49ers game to look forward to… and that’s a feeling I’ve been missing for some time now.

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