December 2013

The forecast for Michigan Stadium calls for temperatures in the teens, wind chills in the single digits, and a sprinkling of snow - the perfect wintry mix for 100,000 fans to feel a big chill at the Big House. ''Move fast,'' Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk said, ''or you'll be frozen.'' For the NHL, the frigid elements are part of the DNA of the sport, old-school hockey for scores of players who grew up learning the game on frozen ponds. For broadcast partner NBC, the images of snow coating the rink, the players' breath, even fans bundled in their licensed hats and jackets - all in sparkling high-definition - are a viewership boon for a league counting on record ratings on Jan. 1. ''It's going to be even better with a few snowflakes floating through the air to create a perfect backdrop for the greatest game on earth,'' NBC Sports executive producer Sam Flood said.
Stan Musial and Earl Weaver, men of disparate times and temperaments, died in 2013. Musial - Stan the Man, ''baseball's perfect knight,'' as a statue inscription reads - was 92 when he died at home in suburban St. Louis. Weaver, the Baltimore Orioles' longtime manager, was 82 and on a Caribbean cruise. They underscored a year of losses in sports: Emile Griffith and Ken Norton in boxing;
COMMENTARY | The AFC North was a converted field goal attempt away from having two teams in the playoffs. The biggest story heading into Week 17 regarding the division was that both Baltimore and Pittsburgh had opportunities to sneak into the postseason. That did not occur, however, as the defending Super Bowl champions folded in the final weeks of the campaign, while the Steelers did not get the help that they needed from the Chiefs (and from the refs). One football team that never has to worry about the playoffs is located in Cleveland.
One of the most infamous days in the NFL calendar year is dubbed "Black Monday," the day following the end of the regular season when multiple coaches are annually fired. The Houston Texans got the jump on the whole affair by firing their head coach, Gary Kubiak, in early December. So it was fitting that the Texans were also the first to hire a new coach, signing Penn State's Bill O'Brien Tuesday, according to John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.
Greg Gabriel reflects on his preseason predictions and makes a few for the playoffs.
Offense struggled
A candid Mara confirmed the feeling that Giants' fans experienced this season and expressed his own frustrations. ''Obviously, this was a very disappointing season, as disappointing as any in my memory,'' he said addressing the media at Giants headquarters. Mara spoke about the many shortcomings of the team, including the offensive line, but did not point the blame at coach Tom Coughlin, general manager Jerry Reese nor quarterback Eli Manning. Nobody wants to win more than Tom Coughlin and Jerry Reese, perhaps than myself.
It's hard to build a NFL team without flaws. Denver has an average defense, and that might be kind. New England's injuries have left the middle of their defense weakened, and without dominant playmaker Rob Gronkowski on offense. Cincinnati has an inconsistent quarterback. Indianapolis has a bad offensive line. Green Bay's defense is even worse than Denver's. Carolina often stalls on offense because it doesn't have many good receivers. San Francisco was 30th in the NFL in passing offense. New Orleans isn't very good on the road. And so on. That's why Seattle started the season No. 1 in the Shutdown Corner power rankings, and why the Seahawks finish the season No. 1: They are the only team without a clear flaw. In Football Outsiders' DVOA per-play metric , the Seahawks finished seventh in offense, first in defense and fifth in special teams. No other team finished better than 10th in offense and defense, much less all three categories. Seattle posted the fifth best DVOA among all teams dating back to 1989, which is as far back as Football Outsiders has tracked it. Add in the best home-field advantage in the NFL, and the Seahawks are clearly the Super Bowl favorites. People bemoan parity and the lack of a dominant team, but that's exactly what Seattle was through the season. They might lose in the playoffs before hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy but make no mistake, if that happens it would be an upset. Here are this week's power rankings, the final set of the season (we'll return after the Super Bowl with or way-too-early power rankings for the 2014 season): 32. Houston Texans (2-14, last week: 32) The first pick awaits. With the right pick, a good coaching hire and some injury luck, they'll rebound fast. 31. Washington Redskins (3-13, LW: 31) Unfortunately, this doesn't look like a team that'll rebound all that quickly. But, Robert Griffin III will be better next season. 30. Oakland Raiders (4-12, LW: 30) If we're counting just the second half, they would probably be No. 32 on the list. 29. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12, LW: 29) The biggest project of the offseason is figuring out how to get Justin Blackmon to be a productive member of the franchise. 28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-12, LW: 26) Now that they did the right thing and got rid of Greg Schiano, it's safe to pencil them in as a real sleeper for 2014. The coaching staff did a terrible job getting just four wins out of this roster. 27. Cleveland Browns (4-12, LW: 25) I've read some of the speculation. I still don't get why Rob Chudzinski was fired after just one year. That's a massive mistake for the organization to admit. 26. Atlanta Falcons (4-12, LW: 28) Had they not botched a shotgun snap in the final minute, it felt like they were going to beat the Panthers at the final gun. Alas, that's the 2013 Falcons season in a nutshell. 25. Minnesota Vikings (5-10-1, LW: 27) They're starting over with a new coach, but there needs to be some urgency too. Adrian Peterson's prime won't last forever. 24. New York Giants (7-9, LW: 24) There's a lot of improvement that needs to be made, but it's not completely hopeless. But it would take a very good offseason to get back to being a contender. 23. Buffalo Bills (6-10, LW: 23) Doug Marrone already announced quarterback EJ Manuel will be his 2014 starter, and that was the right move. But now it's on Manuel to show that was the correct call. 22. Detroit Lions (7-9, LW: 20) Some coach is going to take over a really talented roster and be hailed a genius when they win more games. Never mind that this team should have been winning double-digit games every year. 21. Tennessee Titans (7-9, LW: 22) They played well at times. The offense needs to be more explosive. Maybe quarterback Jake Locker can help that, if he gets the chance, and if he can stay healthy if he does. 20. Dallas Cowboys (8-8, LW: 18) The Cowboys are reportedly going to be about $31 million over the 2014 cap. That's a lot of red ink for three straight 8-8 seasons. It's hard to figure how they're going to get dramatically better before next season. 19. St. Louis Rams (7-9, LW: 21) Another team that has a tough choice to make at quarterback. The defense is really good. There are some pieces on offense too. But they need to figure out the most important position for all of that to matter. 18. New York Jets (8-8, LW: 19) The eight wins were great. Rex Ryan did a heck of a job. The only fear is they look at a better-than-expected year and don't have the urgency to upgrade a roster that really needs it. 17. Miami Dolphins (8-8, LW: 13) They just ran out of gas. It's understandable. There are things to build on. One of the main projects has to be building up the running game, starting with the line. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill won't reach his prime if he keeps getting beat up like he did this season. 16. Chicago Bears (8-8, LW: 15) What a long, long, long offseason it will be in Chicago. 15. Baltimore Ravens (8-8, LW: 12) The offense just wasn't good enough. They scored two touchdowns in their last three games. The front office is good and will find the right pieces to fix it. 14. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8, LW: 16) Three straight wins to end the season should put them in a good mindset for the offseason, despite the heartache of missing the playoffs because the Chiefs missed a field goal against the Chargers. 13. San Diego Chargers (9-7, LW: 14) Before moving on to their playoff opener, it needs to be asked ... how on earth did they almost lose at home to the Chiefs' backups? 12. Indianapolis Colts (11-5, LW: 11) They're on a very nice streak going into the playoffs. There are still some flaws, but they have shown the ability to beat good teams. 11. Arizona Cardinals (10-6, LW: 10) They were in the wrong conference. But it won't be easy to keep winning next year unless Carson Palmer can play better, and do you expect that at age 34? 10. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6, LW: 9) The Eagles rushed for 160.4 yards per game. No other team had more than 144.2 per game. This offense is going to be a powerhouse for many years under Chip Kelly. 9. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5, LW: 8) The defense gives up a lot of yards. 24th, 26th and 22nd ... those are the Chiefs' rankings in total defense, passing defense and rushing defense this season. That's OK when you create turnovers like they have, but that doesn't always happen against good teams. 8. Green Bay Packers (8-7-1, LW: 17) Aaron Rodgers doesn't fix everything. The defense still isn't that great. But Rodgers sure covers up a lot. 7. Cincinnati Bengals (11-5, LW: 7) In Cincinnati's last four games, it scored 42 points twice and 34 in the finale despite four interceptions. They're better on offense than they get credit for. 6. New Orleans Saints (11-5, LW: 6) There's a potential for significant snow accumulation on Friday in Philadelphia. No snow in the forecast for Saturday night's game, but a low temperature of 16 degrees. It won't be ideal for the dome-dwelling Saints. 5. San Francisco 49ers (12-4, LW: 5) There really is something that doesn't make sense about a 12-4 team having to play on the road against an 8-7-1 team in the first round. 4. New England Patriots (12-4, LW: 4) Stevan Ridley had 27 carries for 128 yards the last two weeks. But the question is, will the Patriots trust him to not fumble the ball during the playoffs? 3. Carolina Panthers (12-4, LW: 3) The front office needs to see how the offense struggled the last two weeks without Steve Smith and understand that not getting Cam Newton some receivers this offseason could ruin what the Panthers are building. 2. Denver Broncos (13-3, LW: 2) Denver scored 606 points. Before you just chalk that up to the NFL's offensive explosion, consider that the second-highest scoring team in the NFL scored just 445 points. The Broncos were more than 10 points per game better than everyone else. 1. Seattle Seahawks (13-3, LW: 1) Now that it worked out, it probably wasn't the worst thing for the Seahawks to play a meaningful game in Week 17. They got the No. 1 seed and will be well rested after the bye without being too rusty. - - - - - - - Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab
If Brandon Jacobs is to continue his NFL career beyond this season, it will have to be as a member of the New York Giants. According to Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News, Jacobs is reproaching the rehabilitation process for his injured knee as if he’s going to play next season. But as…
Jim Schwartz was hired to turn around the Detroit Lions and he did it for three seasons. He failed to keep the Lions going in the right direction the next two years - and it cost him his job. The Lions fired Schwartz on Monday, one day after their late-season slide ended with a loss at Minnesota. ''I feel awful for him,'' Lions center Dominic Raiola said.

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