This column will concentrate on borderline fantasy options who should get strong consideration to start/bench during the upcoming week based on schedules.

Jarrett Jack: He’s averaged 24.5 points, 13.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 3pt over the past two games, also making all 10 of his free throws. His AST:TO ratio over this span was 26:3. The backup point guard playing for a Brooklyn team that ranks in the bottom-seven in the NBA in both PACE and Offensive Efficiency has been a top-40 player over the past two weeks and should continue to see good minutes as Deron Williams deals with a rib injury. Jack is available in more than 40 percent of Yahoo leagues yet plays four games in Week 15, with three of them coming against teams ranking in the bottom half of the league in Defensive Efficiency. 

Jared Dudley: He’s averaged 13.5 points on 66.1 percent shooting from the floor over the past six games. Dudley has quietly been a top-75 fantasy player over the past two months, yet he’s owned in fewer than 10 percent of Yahoo leagues. John Henson is another Bucks member performing well lately (he’s gotten 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks over the last two contests) who’s widely available (he’s owned in 27 percent of Yahoo leagues) and plays for a Milwaukee team that plays an NBA-high four games in Week 15. 

Donatas Motiejunas: He’s played well of late, averaging 23.5 points, 8.0 rebounds and 2.0 3pt while shooting a ridiculous 21-of-29 (72.4 percent) from the field over the last two games. While Motiejunas has to deal with the return of Terrence Jones, Dwight Howard is going to miss serious time with a knee injury, so he looks like a strong start this week. Motiejunas has been a top-70 player over the past month and should be looking at 30+ minutes per game while Howard is sidelined, and while Houston plays three games in Week 15, all of them are at home.

Patrick Patterson: Over the last six games, he’s averaged 12.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals, 0.5 blocks and 1.7 3pt while recording a 55.1 FG percentage. Patterson has been a top-75 player this year despite seeing just 26:09 mpg (he’s also been the No. 38 ranked player over the past two weeks). Patterson is owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo leagues despite playing for a Toronto team that sports the fourth-best Offensive Efficiency in the NBA that has four games scheduled for Week 15, all of which are at home.

Tony Parker: A seemingly now healthy Parker has shot 33.3 percent (12-of-36) over the past three games and is averaging the lowest apg (4.7) since his rookie campaign. His Usage Rate is the lowest since 2003/04, but his TO Rate (11.7) is the second highest of his career, while Parker’s PER (15.29) is the worst of his career. Parker was a top-10 fantasy player on a per-36 minute basis as recently as the 2012/13 season, but Basketball Monster projects him to be outside the top-150 on a per-game basis moving forward this season. Parker is owned in 89 percent of Yahoo leagues, and the Spurs play just three games in Week 15.

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Author: Dalton Del Don
Posted: February 1, 2015, 8:00 am

No. 1 Star: Antti Niemi, San Jose Sharks 

The ex-Blackhawk made 31 saves in shutting out Chicago, 2-0, on goals by something called Melker Karlsson and Joe Thornton. Niemi made 15 saves in the second period alone.

No. 2 Star: John Klingberg, Dallas Stars

The rookie defenseman had two goals and two assists in their big 5-2 win on the road at the Winnipeg Jets. His two third-period goals put the game out of reach.

No. 3 Star: Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

Price made 36 saves in shutting out the Washington Capitals, 1-0, as Max Pacioretty scored the game-winner in overtime. It was Price’s second straight shutout.

Honorable Mention: Lance Bouma helped spark a 4-goal third period rally as the Flames topped the Edmonton Oilers, 4-2. His seventh of the season tied the game, before Sean Monahan put the Flames ahead for good on the power play. He scored the dagger at 16:27 on a 2-on-1, his eighth of the season. … Steve Mason made 30 saves to make a first-period Michael Del Zotto goal stand in the Flyers’ 1-0 shutout of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who lost their ninth straight. … The Detroit Red Wings got goals from four different players and Petr Mrazek mae 22 saves in their 4-1 win over the New York Islanders. … Marc Methot have three points and the Ottawa Senators had seven different goal scorers in a 7-2 rout of Arizona. … Third-period goals by Chris Kelly and Brad Marchand, his second of the game, gave the Boston Bruins a 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings. Tuukka Rask made 30 saves. … Keith Kinkaid made 26 saves as the New Jersey Devils topped the Florida Panthers, 3-1. …  The Lightning used 34 saves from Ben Bishop to beat the Blue Jackets, 3-1.  Ryan Johnson scored goal No. 19. … The New York Rangers beat the Carolina Hurricanes thanks in part to Rick Nash’s 29th of the season. They also overcame a scary moment when Henrik Lundqvist was hit in the throat (but stayed in the game):

Did You Know? The Flames now have an NHL-leading nine wins when trailing after two periods.

Dishonorable Mention: Bryan Bickell took out Scott Hannan with a hit on San Jose, while Robyn Regher did the same to Loui Eriksson in Boston.  … Brock Neslon was whistled for embellishment for the Islanders. … Mike Smith was terrible again, stopping just 15 of 20 shots before being pulled. Brandon MacMillan, Kyle Chipchura and Andrew Campbell were all minus-3 for the Coyotes.  … Tyler Toffoili was a minus-3.

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: February 1, 2015, 7:33 am

Dustin Byfuglien is a rather competitive guy, and the Winnipeg Jets were playing an important Western Conference game against the Dallas Stars on Saturday night. So he did what it took to win. Also, he was hungry. Let us explain.

In the third period, Byfuglien checked Jamie Benn of Dallas to the ice and then attempted to keep him out of the play … by squeezing his legs around Benn’s head while the Stars captain was on his gloves and knees.

Byfuglien raised his hands in that “hey I’m just as confused as all of you about this precarious situation” way, and then appeared to make amends with Benn as the two skated away.

Because, in the end, Big Buff doesn’t want to hurt anybody. Even when his insatiable hunger makes it difficult for him.

That was Byfuglien, in a scrum with the Stars, doing everything he can to resist his cannibalistic urges when Travis Moen’s hand got a little too close his maw. Frankly, given Byfuglien’s proportions, it’s a minor miracle he hasn’t taken his skate and sliced off a porterhouse from an opponent at some point in his career.

But as you can see from the video, he flashes a smile at the end, as if to say, “Hey man, we’re cool; I don’t even have any steak sauce with me…” 

The Jets lost 5-2, and Byfuglien ended up with 14 penalty minutes thanks to a puck over the glass, a roughing minor and a misconduct in the third. But he didn’t go the full Alex Burrows, so for that we can be thankful. 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: February 1, 2015, 5:27 am

LAS VEGAS -- Kelvin Gastelum was sick on Friday with flu-like symptoms and wound up in the hospital, hours before the UFC 183 weigh-in. Doctors cleared him to fight, but only after telling him he could no longer cut weight for his bout Saturday at the MGM Grand with Tyron Woodley.

After Gastelum weighed in at 180 pounds, nine pounds over the 171-pound limit for non-title welterweight matches, negotiations between Woodley, Gastelum and UFC president Dana White were held. In order for the fight to go forward, Gastelum agreed to give 30 percent of his $30,000 purse to Woodley.

Woodley won a split decision in a back-and-forth fight in the co-main event of UFC 183 Saturday. But after the fight, he told broadcaster Joe Rogan that he didn't want the fine money. 

"That's his money," Woodley said. "He came in here and fought and he got the loss. He's suffered enough already."

But it might not be so easy. According to UFC executive Marc Ratner, the money had already been deducted from Gastelum's check and put into Woodley's. So in order for Woodley to decline, he'll basically have to write Gastelum another check. That, of course, will bring tax implications.

So we may not have heard the last of this issue

 

Author: Kevin Iole
Posted: February 1, 2015, 5:02 am

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The baseball past of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has been covered extensively since he led his squad to a Super Bowl victory in 2014. However, when the third-year signal-caller attempts to repeat his impressive feat on Sunday, he'll have to beat another QB with a baseball past, New England Patriots star Tom Brady.

Yes, the certain football Hall of Famer had some pretty interesting options coming out of Junipero Serra High School in San Mateo, Calif. Naturally, he was a star quarterback in high school, which drew the attention of several major college football programs, including the University of Michigan. But he was also a standout baseball player, following in the footsteps of Serra graduates Barry Bonds and Gregg Jeffries.

Good enough, in fact, that long-time MLB scout John Hughes talked the Montreal Expos into drafting the left-handed hitting catcher in the 18th round of the 1995 draft. Hughes added that had it not been obvious that Brady was going to Michigan to play football, he would have been a fifth round selection with a promising outlook.

From MLB.com: 

"I think he would have been a pro," Hughes said. "He had all the intangibles. He could throw, left-handed power. There is no reason to think this guy couldn't have been a big league catcher."

Given Brady's leadership, game management skills and the accuracy with which he throws the football (deflated or otherwise), it should come as no surprise that he was a catcher. In watching him pick apart defenses every week, it's also clear that he studies, anticipates and sets up opponents as the game progresses. Those are all qualities that translate well to baseball and quite honestly separate the great catchers from the really good catchers.

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For Brady, though, it all just came naturally.

"He looked like someone who belonged in a professional sports locker room," Hughes said. "It was not like he was boastful or anything like that. I look at him on TV today and I'm like, 'This is the same guy.' "

"To this day, in all my years of scouting, Tom is still the most impressive high school kid I've ever been around," Hughes said. "Just the person, the way he carries himself. What you're seeing now, obviously, he is more mature. But it's not a drastic change. He just had this presence."

(AP)
Now a scout with the Miami Marlins, Hughes is also quick to point out that it wasn't just leadership or preparation that set Brady apart. He had skills in abundance, and he once put those skills on display in a memorable workout at old Candlestick Park.

"It was one of those nights you get in San Francisco in Candlestick Park," Hughes recalls. "It was foggy, wind was blowing in. It was cold. I think Tom hit one out of the park, but the ball wasn't going anywhere."

Unfortunately, Brady never played an NFL game at the site of his workout. When the Patriots visited San Francisco in 2008, Brady's season was already over after a Week 1 knee injury. That prevented what would have been a pretty cool "full-circle" moment, but we're guessing he's quite satisfied with the legacy he's building.

We're also guessing he hasn't once wondered what life would have been like as a baseball player.

Why?

Because for the last 20 years there has always been another football game to prepare for.

More MLB coverage from Yahoo Sports:

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 1, 2015, 3:43 am

PHOENIX Once again, NFL MVP voters couldn't pass on voting for the best quarterback.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers won his second MVP award. It was announced on Saturday night during the "NFL Honors" show at Phoenix Symphony Hall.

Rodgers threw for 4,381 yards, 38 touchdowns and only five interceptions, leading the Packers to an NFC North championship. That was enough to turn away Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who had 20.5 sacks and was vying to be the first defensive player to win MVP since 1986, when Lawrence Taylor won it. Watt was a unanimous choice for NFL defensive player of the year, the first time that award has been decided by a unanimous vote in the current voting setup. (Click here for a list of all the major NFL awards given out Saturday night.)

The vote wasn't all that close. Rodgers got 31 of the 50 votes, while Watt got 13. Nobody else got more than two votes.

"It’s tough, to be honest with you," Rodgers said of Watt's chances of winning an MVP award in his career. "It’s an offense-geared league and quarterback or running back usually wins this award. It’s going to be tough, but if anyone can do it, it's him."

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Rodgers also won in 2011. He's the ninth player in NFL history to win MVP multiple times, joining an impressive list that includes Peyton Manning, Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Brett Favre, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady.

"That’s a great list," Rodgers said. "To be mentioned with those guys in an honor."

This time around Rodgers held off a great field of candidates that included Watt, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, Brady and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Rogers fought through calf and hamstring injuries to have a great year.

"it was a tough grind to get through it, but that's what we do as players," Rodgers said, referring to his injuries. 

Quarterbacks have won seven of the last eight MVP awards. Adrian Peterson, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards for the Minnesota Vikings in 2012, is the only exception during that period.

Here are the full results of the vote (with Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, who missed five of 16 games and probably isn't one of the Seahawks' top three most valuable defensive players, getting one of the strangest votes in the history of the award, or any award):

Rodgers: 31 votes
Watt: 13 votes
Romo: 2 votes
Murray: 2 votes
Brady: 1 votes
Wagner 1 votes

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: February 1, 2015, 2:59 am
They already played two emotional road games earlier this week. They abruptly dismissed a key player just two days ago. They were down 11 points in the second half against the second-ranked team in the nation on its home floor.

Everything suggested Duke was in big trouble at Virginia on Saturday night, yet the Blue Devils somehow found a way to stay afloat in the ACC title race.

In a show of resilience that won't soon be forgotten in Durham, Duke handed last year's ACC champ Virginia its first loss of the season despite trailing by double figures midway through the second half  and by five with three minutes to go. The fourth-ranked Blue Devils scored the final 11 points to emerge with a 69-63 victory in a game that they hadn't led since the opening two minutes of the second half.

The key to Duke's comeback was its outside shooters catching fire after the Blue Devils missed their first nine threes of the game. Fifteen of Duke's final 19 points came on shots from behind the arc including the go-ahead 3-pointer from Quinn Cook with 1:20 remaining and the game-clinching dagger from Tyus Jones just over a minute later.

Cook's 3-pointer came after Justin Anderson left him free to help on Okafor and the big man saw the double coming and made a perfect feed. Jones' 3-pointer was just a pull-up right-wing 25 footer at the shot clock buzzer that left his man shaking his head in frustration.

Duke needed that game-ending 3-point barrage from its guards because Virginia's packline defense was geared to wall off the paint and force someone other than Jahlil Okafor to score. The national player of the year candidate managed only 10 points and committed five turnovers against a constant barrage of big-to-big double teams.

That Duke found a way to win without a big night from Okafor ensures the Blue Devils will still be a factor in the ACC title race.

Had Duke lost for the fourth time in seven games, the Blue Devils would have been four games out of first place and essentially eliminated from contention before the calendar even turned to February. Instead they are only two games back of first-place Virginia, not where they expected to be a month ago yet a huge improvement over where they would have stood with a loss.

Virginia may yet win its second straight ACC title, but the Cavaliers made their job a whole lot harder with their offensive futility in the final three minutes. They didn't score a point against Duke's 2-3 zone defense during that stretch.

An ill-advised pass by London Perrantes led to a turnover on their first possession when Duke was within two. Anthony Gill then missed a contested layup on the next possession after the Blue Devils had tied it. Virginia's final chance included a missed free throw by Mike Tobey, an offensive rebound and then an ill-advised driving layup attempt by Tobey with 16 on the shot clock.

Still, this was a game that Duke won, not one that Virginia gave away.

Big three after big three saved the Blue Devils. And now they still have a pulse in the ACC title race.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: February 1, 2015, 2:17 am

PHOENIX – There’s no way to think about the news that Junior Seau was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame without also thinking how much he would have enjoyed it.

Seau, the late longtime linebacker for the San Diego Chargers, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots, was the headliner of a class that also includes running back Jerome Bettis, defensive end Charles Haley, guard Will Shields, receiver Tim Brown, center Mick Tingelhoff (a senior nominee) and general managers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf. News of that class was tweeted out by many of the Hall of Fame voters on Saturday evening.

Seau's election is bittersweet. Seau committed suicide in May of 2012. His brain was studied and found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the NFL.

Tyler Seau, Seau's oldest son, represented the family at the "NFL Honors" show, as the Hall of Fame class was announced. In a press conference afterward, it was striking to see seven new Hall of Famers, old or middle-aged men, sitting on the same stage as Seau's son, who is in his mid-20s. 

"This is a huge honor for our family," Tyler Seau said. "Definitely with heavy hearts accepting this, because it should be him. But he is here with us. 

"Emotionally it's tough. We're missing a huge part. We're staying strong and this is a blessing. We're humbled to be part of this (Hall of Fame) family."

Seau was known for his infectious personality off the field and his incredible play for 20 NFL seasons.

“I can't imagine having a Professional Football Hall of Fame without Junior Seau in it," New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a great profile of Seau by USA Today’s Lindsay Jones.

Bettis, a two-time All-Pro, was inducted on his fifth time as a finalist. He finished with 13,662 yards in 13 seasons and finished his career with a Super Bowl XL victory.

"To think a little fat kid from Detroit who had never played football until high school could attend to this level ... this is not something I dreamed of or thought of," Bettis said.

Haley’s main argument for the Hall of Fame was the five Super Bowl rings he earned, more than any other player. He was a big part of the success of those Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers as a fantastic edge rusher. He had 100.5 sacks in his 13-year career.

Brown spent 16 of his 17 seasons with the Raiders and ended his career among the most prolific receivers in NFL history. He had 1,094 catches, 14,934 yards and 100 touchdowns.

Shields was a dominant guard for the Chiefs. He made the Pro Bowl in each of his final 12 seasons, playing 14 seasons in all for Kansas City while never missing a game.

Wolf was a longtime NFL executive but he is most famous for turning around a terrible Green Bay Packers organization, a revitalization that is still going on more than 20 years later. More specifically, Wolf swung a trade with Atlanta for quarterback Brett Favre, who went 0-for-5 in his one Falcons season, and for landing defensive end Reggie White, perhaps the greatest free-agent signing in NFL history. Wolf’s roster won Super Bowl XXXI, Green Bay’s first Super Bowl title in 29 years.

Polian is best known for putting together the core of the Buffalo Bills teams that won four straight AFC championships, then his time with the Indianapolis Colts that resulted in a Super Bowl championship.

Tingelhoff was one of the game’s best centers during his career that spanned from 1962 to 1978, getting five All-Pro nods. He never missed a game in 17 NFL seasons.

Players like Orlando Pace, Terrell Davis, John Lynch and Kurt Warner fell just short.

"There's nobody that deserves it more than Kurt," Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "It was tough not seeing him on that stage, but I know it's coming."

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: February 1, 2015, 2:08 am
BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 31: Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins wears a New England Patriots hat during warm ups before the game against the Los Angeles Kings at the TD Garden on January 31, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The New England Patriots are playing in Sunday’s Super Bowl in between commercials, so the Boston Bruins decided to lend some support from afar. And also get those extra five seconds on local newscasts tonight.

The Bruins wore New England Patriots toques during warm-ups before their game against the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. They were emblazoned with the slogan “Do Your Job”, which is the most blue-collar thing to hit Boston since that one time Gregory Campbell bussed his own table at Menton.

Malcolm Subban wore it well.

But in case you needed a reason to find the Patriots anymore loathsome:

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 31: Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins wears a New England Patriots hat during warm ups before the game against the Los Angeles Kings at the TD Garden on January 31, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Perfect.

No word if the Vancouver Canucks will be wearing Seattle Seahawks toques on Sunday, being that everyone in Vancouver has apparently discovered the NFL in the last three years.

As for the Bruins, it was a nice shout-out to their city mates, and a great way to help get them pumped up for the big game. After all, we’d hate to see the Patriots deflated. 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: February 1, 2015, 1:29 am

PHOENIX – To the surprise of nobody, New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was named NFL offensive rookie of the year.

The dynamic Giants receiver was given the award during the “NFL Honors” show, which the NFL puts on the night before the Super Bowl to honor its players and hand out its major awards. Beckham beat out a very good rookie class, especially at receiver.

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Beckham said "it means everything" to win the award, and talked about seeing his mom and dad in the crowd crying as he accepted it.

"To know that I made them proud is something that can't be taken away from me." Beckham said.

Beckham had a great year but really exploded into super-stardom with an incredible one-handed catch on “Sunday Night Football” in Week 12. Everyone was paying attention after that.

"When I first made the catch, I didn't realize what the magnitude of it was," Beckham said.

Beckham, who missed four games at the start of the season due to a hamstring injury (which he said never totally healed, as he had two tears in it) finished with 91 catches, 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns, one of the greatest rookie years in NFL history.

We will update the NFL’s awards as they’re handed out during the night at the Phoenix Symphony Hall.

Offensive player of the year: Dallas Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray

There was a bit of an upset early in the night. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers seemed to be a front-runner for the award but it went to Murray, the workhorse back for the Cowboys. Murray rushed for 1,845 yards during the regular season on 392 carries, and the Cowboys won the NFC East.

Murray is slated to become a free agent this offseason, and he'll be one of the more interesting free agents on the market. Teams will have to weigh Murray's brilliance, which was reflected in the offensive player of the year award, against the diminishing value of running backs to teams given their short careers. Murray reiterated he wants to stay with the Cowboys.

"I don't think it's any secret where I want to play next year," Murray said. "But I understand the business side of it. If I'm not there, I understand it."

Coach of the year: Arizona Cardinals' Bruce Arians

Arians navigated injuries to quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton to guide the Cardinals to the playoffs. The Cardinals went 11-5.

Arians has won the award twice in three seasons. In 2012 he won it for his work with the Indianapolis Colts when he was offensive coordinator but took over as interim head coach while Chuck Pagano battled leukemia. That led to his job with the Cardinals, who obviously made a great hire.

Defensive rookie of the year: St. Louis Rams DT Aaron Donald

Donald, the second of two Rams first-round picks, was a disruptive force in the middle of the St. Louis defense. He had nine sacks and 48 tackles for the Rams this season.

Defensive player of the year: Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt

For the first time in the history of this award, the vote was unanimous. It would have been a surprise if it wasn't unanimous.

Watt had one of the most dominant seasons of all time. He had 20.5 sacks and scored five touchdowns, two on defense and three on offense when the Texans would use him as a tight end near the goal line.

Watt has won the award twice in his four NFL seasons. He won the award in 2012 and the vote was nearly unanimous that season. He got 49 of 50 votes that year.

Comeback player of the year: New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski

Gronkowski suffered a torn ACL late in the 2013 season but came back strong. He had 1,124 yards an 12 touchdowns, and is a main reason the Patriots are in the Super Bowl.

NFL MVP: Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

Read more about the MVP winner here.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: February 1, 2015, 1:17 am

Rick Pitino finally added a win over North Carolina to his considerable resume on Saturday and it came in sweet fashion.

No. 10 Louisville rallied from an 18-point deficit in the second half and won 78-68 in overtime behind a monster effort from forward Montrezl Harrell who scored 22 points and snagged 15 rebounds. Terry Rozier also scored 22 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Harrell's day included an impressive ally-oop slam off a fast break during the Cardinals' rally. He caught the ball with one hand high and in back of him and threw it down.

Pitino was 0-6 against the Tar Heels in his career, including a frustrating loss earlier this season in which the Cardinals gave up a 13-point lead to lose in Chapel Hill. Louisville stormed back from 18 down Saturday by grabbing 22 offensive rebounds leading to second-chance points. Harrell provided eight of those offensive rebounds.

The Cardinals fell behind by 11 at halftime by allowing the Tar Heels to beat them in transition. They clamped down in the second half and allowed a total of 32 points in the second half and overtime after giving up 36 in the first half.

Louisville attacked the basket and got to the foul line, shooting 44 free throws. It was the most free throws for a North Carolina opponent since Roy Williams became coach.

The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Tar Heels that started with that comeback win over Louisville. North Carolina committed 19 turnovers, including eight in one stretch of the second half contributing to the Louisville comeback.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: February 1, 2015, 12:49 am

PHOENIX It's easy to compare where running backs LeGarrette Blount and Le'Veon Bell are this week.

Blount is busy preparing for a Super Bowl. He started the season with Bell and the Pittsburgh Steelers, got cut after a tantrum when he walked off the field early due to a lack of playing time, and landed on the New England Patriots. He'll be a key figure in the Patriots' Super Bowl plans.

Bell is hawking hats late in the week. He was in the New Era lounge this week, wearing a Steelers hat with his suit, and probably wishing he was practicing for Sunday's game instead. And he and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers were awarded the FedEx Air and Ground Players of the Year at the NFL Honors show on Saturday night, which was nice, but he'd probably trade places with Blount, who was finishing up his Super Bowl preparation.

But Bell insisted, "no hard feelings at all" when it came to Blount.

"I’m happy for him. I’m so happy for him," Bell said. "People might think of LeGarrette as a bad person, but he’s not a bad person. He’s a great person. When he was with the Steelers, he made a mistake walking off the field. It was just a mistake. He’s not a bad person.

"A lot of people said he did it on purpose trying to get back on the Patriots … no. I feel like he’s a great person, he’s a great player and I’m glad he’s getting an opportunity to play in the Super Bowl."

It makes Bell a little more anxious to get to a Super Bowl himself. Bell established himself as one of the NFL's best running backs this season, his second as a professional. He had 2,215 yards from scrimmage and was named to the All-Pro team. Then he suffered a knee injury in Week 17 and missed Pittsburgh's playoff loss to Baltimore, and that eats at him a bit.

"I want to get (to a Super Bowl) ASAP," Bell said. "I’ve got some time, but I think next year we have a great chance. I think if I don’t get injured and we win that Baltimore game, I think we’re making that run to the Super Bowl. I’m really confident in our team."

The injury was pretty serious. Although the Steelers publicly held out hope he could play against the Ravens, that wasn't realistic. Bell started running again this week. He said he could have played in the Super Bowl if the Steelers advanced, but probably not the AFC championship game two weeks ago. It was a bad injury but nothing that will affect his preparation for next season.

A lot will be expected out of Bell in year three. He has transformed his body since his final season at Michigan State. He was 245 pounds in college, then dropped 10 pounds to prepare for the combine.

"When I was running for the combine I was like, ‘I feel great,’" Bell said. "I thought, going into the next offseason, I wonder if I lose 10 more pounds how will I feel?"

Bell dropped another 10 pounds before the 2014 season, playing at 225 pounds, and he looked light on his feet without losing any power. He said he plans on playing between 220 and 225 pounds the rest of his career.

Bell has also become one of the very rare backs who never come off the field (he played almost every down for the Steelers after Blount was released). In an era of tailback committees, he loves being on the field every play.

"I didn’t feel worn down" Bell said. "You never know what play can change the game, I always want to be on the field, and I can be a guy that can change a game with one play."

Bell said he has learned to not take unnecessary punishment by getting down when he can and avoiding big hits. There is always talk about a running back's career longevity, but Bell said he plans to come back next season and be on the field almost every down again for the Steelers.

"Definitely," Bell said. "I enjoy it."

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: February 1, 2015, 12:36 am

As the Los Angeles Dodgers prepare for what they hope will be the franchise's first World Series championship season since 1988, superstar Yasiel Puig has made it clear which team he feels they must overcome to achieve their ultimate goal.

One might expect his answer to be the San Francisco Giants. After all, they're the Dodgers oldest rivals dating back to both franchises time in New York. San Francisco has also taken three of the last five World Series crowns, which should make them the envy of the entire league. However, San Francisco hasn't been the biggest hurdle standing in the Dodgers way the past two seasons. The St. Louis Cardinals have been, and that's why they're the team that dominates Puig's thoughts and dreams. 

From the Los Angeles Times:

Speaking Friday at City Hall, where Dodgers players met with city leaders and wounded military servicemen, Puig said he dreams constantly about the Cardinals, who eliminated his team from the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.

"If we can beat them, we can win the World Series," Puig said about the Cardinals. "We have to pass through them. They're our principal rivals, not San Francisco, not anyone else."

"I dream about them every day."

In reality, the Dodgers have fared well against San Francisco, at least in terms of battling for the division title. In 2013, they ran away with the crown, finishing 11 games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks and 16 in front of the Giants. In 2014, it was a much tighter race throughout, though the Dodgers eventually pulled ahead of San Francisco by six games. In both seasons, the Dodgers did everything they needed to do to position themselves for a postseason run. But each time, the Cardinals were there to emphatically end the dream.

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Two years ago, St. Louis downed Los Angeles four games to two in the NLCS, before falling to the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. Last October, St. Louis won the NLDS matchup three games to one. In both series, St. Louis went right through the Dodgers best to win, defeating Clayton Kershaw in four straight postseason games. That might explain why Kershaw shared a similar sentiment to Puig's while accepting his Cy Young award in New York. During his speech, Kershaw acknowledged and actually thanked the Cardinals for keeping his focus in the right place.

“So my last thank you goes to the St. Louis Cardinals. Thank you for reminding me that you are never as good as you think you are.”

Like the Michael Jordan led Bulls were to the New York Knicks in the 90s and Tom Brady's Patriots still are to the Indianapolis Colts, the Cardinals have become the Dodgers' kryptonite in every sense of the term. What's important now is to not let St. Louis rent space in their heads for the next nine months, but it may already be too late to reverse that.

"We can't let them beat us three straight times," Puig said. "No way. They're a good team, and we all admire them. They have very good pitchers, very good players. If we beat them, we can win the World Series. We just have to get through them."

If there's a silver lining, it's that there's no guarantee the Dodgers will meet St. Louis again in the postseason. A lot has to line up again for that matchup to happen, including the Dodgers living up to the expectations once again during the regular season. But regardless of who stands in their way, the onus is on the Dodgers to take what they feel is theirs. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: February 1, 2015, 12:19 am

At the end of a phone conversation with Ben Jacobson earlier this month, the Northern Iowa coach made a plea on behalf of star forward Seth Tuttle. 

"He deserves more attention than he's getting," Jacobson said. "Boy, he does a lot for us. He's one of the most versatile guys in the country."

Neither Tuttle nor his team will fly under the radar much longer after what they accomplished Saturday in Northern Iowa's most high-profile game of the season. Tuttle scored a career-high 29 points to lead the Panthers to a decisive 70-54 victory over a Wichita State team that had won 27 consecutive league games prior to its visit to Cedar Falls.

Northern Iowa's victory served notice that Wichita State won't romp to the Valley title the way it did during last year's undefeated season. The 18th-ranked Panthers (20-2, 9-1) and 12th-ranked Shockers (19-3, 9-1) are now tied atop the Valley standings with a potential winner-take-all return match set to take place in Wichita on the final Saturday of conference play.

Winning the first battle of Top 25 Valley teams in a quarter century puts Northern Iowa in great position to return to the NCAA tournament even if it doesn't secure the Valley's automatic bid at Arch Madness this March. Not only do the Panthers have solid wins over Wichita State, Iowa, Stephen F. Austin, Richmond and Northwestern, their only two losses were also in double overtime at VCU and by three at Evansville.

Northern Iowa's reemergence on the national scene is a product of the program rediscovering its identity as a glacially paced team that wins efficient, structured offense and stifling defense. 

Whereas last year's team finished with the least wins in Jacobson's nine-year tenure after Jacobson tried to play at a faster tempo with disastrous results. Northern Iowa is the nation's fourth slowest team this season and is limiting teams to below 40 percent shooting. Some of the credit goes to Jacobson spending much of the offseason emphasizing defensive principles. The rest goes to a group of hungry upperclassmen who signed with Northern Iowa on the heels of its 2010 Sweet 16 run yet have not been able to take the Panthers back to the NCAA tournament so far.

"This group of seniors that have been part of the last three years have grown up a lot and they're a much more determined group now," Jacobson told Yahoo Sports earlier this month. "They're working extremely hard to establish themselves as a much better defensive team than what we were a year ago. That's been the biggest change."

Northern Iowa's formula for success was on full display Saturday afternoon in front of a full-throated crowd in Cedar Falls.

Wichita State fell behind by 13 at halftime and never mounted a serious charge because it could never string together enough baskets. The Shockers shot 35.4 percent from the field because they got nothing from their frontcourt or in transition and stars Ron Baker and Fred VanVleet needed 22 shots to combine for 30 points.

The lack of offense from the Shockers was especially glaring because the Panthers had no trouble breaking full-court pressure and shredded Wichita State's half-court defense once they got the ball across mid-court.

The 6-foot-8 Tuttle scored at will in the paint no matter who Wichita State used to defend him, sinking 9 of 13 shots from the field and 10 of 13 from the foul line. Guard Wes Washspun also torched the Shockers off the screen and roll, adding 16 points of his own.

In assessing how his program has done since its seismic upset of Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tournament, Jacobson said bluntly, "We've been running good but not great."

This season is Northern Iowa's chance to ascend in the national pecking order once more. So far the Panthers appear primed to take full advantage.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: February 1, 2015, 12:14 am

Lydia Ko didn't win the inaugural Coates Golf Championship on Saturday, but she still made a golf first. Ko finished joint runner-up to Na Yeon Choi in the LPGA opener in Ocala, Fla., but the finish was good enough to assure Ko the top spot in the new Rolex Rankings.

The 17-year-old Kiwi will become the youngest player in the history of the game to ascend to the spot of either the Official World Golf Ranking or Rolex Rankings.

Early in the final round, Ko had a four-shot edge through two holes, but Ha Na Jang and Choi caught up over the course of the round. Nevertheless, Ko was tied for the lead with four holes to play. She then drained a 60-foot birdie putt at the 15th to take the lead when Choi bogeyed the same par 3. However, on the 17th hole, Ko made a double bogey, dropping from one ahead to one behind with a par 5 to play.

On the final hole, Ko's second shot wound up short and left of the intended target and left her with a semi-buried lie for her third shot. She expected a chunk shot but caught all ball, eventually getting up and down from the bunker beyond the hole for par and history. Choi tapped in for par and her first win since the 2012 CME Group Titleholders.

Tiger Woods is the youngest man to be ranked No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking, which started in 1986. Woods was 21 years, 167 days old when he became No. 1 for the first time on June 15, 1997.

The Rolex Rankings have only been in existence since 2006. Jiyai Shin was previously the youngest women's world No. 1, earning the top spot at 22 years, 5 days old. A year later, Yani Tseng became No. 1 at 22 years, 22 days old.


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: January 31, 2015, 10:46 pm

Falling at home against its city rival wasn't the biggest loss 14th-ranked VCU suffered Saturday afternoon.

Much more worrisome is that the Rams have lost their senior point guard in the process. 

A postgame MRI confirmed Briante Weber suffered a torn ACL late in the second half of VCU's 64-55 loss when his right knee buckled as he jump stopped in the lane. The 6-foot-2 senior needed help off the floor and returned from the locker room on crutches for the final few minutes of the game.

Losing Weber is a huge blow to a VCU team that relies on his distributing ability on offense and his ball-hawking instincts defensively. Weber, the engine for VCU's swarming full-court pressure defense, leads the nation at 3.8 steals per game and was just 12 steals away from breaking the NCAA career steals record prior to his injury. 

Weber's play has been a huge reason VCU entered Saturday's game with a 17-3 overall record and a two-game lead in the loss column in Atlantic 10 play. His value was on display Saturday even in a losing effort as he posted 11 points and six steals before getting hurt.

The absence of Weber likely means JeQuan Lewis will reenter the VCU starting lineup. Lewis, who averages 6.2 points and 2.5 assists off the bench, is a skilled offensive player but is not nearly the defensive menace Weber is.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: January 31, 2015, 10:15 pm

A day after former LSU receiver and current New York Giant Odell Beckham Jr. set the Guinness world record with 33 one-handed catches in 60 seconds, Iowa receiver Tevaun Smith beat it.

In a video released on the Iowa football Twitter feed, Smith managed an astounding 41 one-handed catches in 60 seconds, shattering Beckham’s record.

Both players set the record while standing 10 yards away from their passer.

.@TevaunSmith goes for @OBJ_3's one-handed catch world record and snags 41 in a minute! #GoHawks #Swarm2015 http://t.co/BnLBmRNutP

— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) January 30, 2015

So does that mean his automatically the new Guinness record holder?

Well, not exactly.

According the Guinness World Records website, in order to officially hold the world record — and get the same fancy certificate Beckham now boasts — Smith would need to apply for the record, wait at least six weeks for a response and then follow a set of guidelines, have witnesses sign that they saw him do it, send in the video and signatures and then have the whole thing verified by a Record Adjudicator. The entire process could take several months.

Or, the school could pay to fast track the service, which would cost about $700 or it could pay for a Record Adjudicator to come to campus, time and witness the record and provide a fancy framed certificate on the spot. That, also, would cost the university money.

So, despite Smith’s best efforts, he might be the one-handed catch world record holder in the eyes of the Internet, but Beckham Jr., still has the fancy framed certificate and all the publicity.

Still, that doesn’t take away from an awesome feat, and who knows, perhaps Iowa will make apply for the certificate. It would be a cool piece of memorabilia to hang up in the football facility, and it would be a nice way to recognize Smith, who caught 43 passes for a team-high 596 yards for the Hawkeyes last season.

According to the story on the Guinness World Record website regarding Beckham’s record, the Record Adjudicator, Alex Angert, noted that the duo of Beckham and New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees were hampered by the fact that they didn’t have enough footballs. Angert asserts that if there were more balls, the duo might have completed three or four more passes, a record that still would have been toppled by Smith.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what the original record for one-handed catches in a minutes was? It was 10.

For more Iowa news, visit HawkeyeReport.com.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @YahooDrSaturday

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Author: Graham Watson
Posted: January 31, 2015, 10:10 pm

Florida and Arkansas are tied in the middle of the SEC standings, but they shouldn't be.

The Gators were gifted a victory Saturday on a highly questionable foul call with less than 2 seconds remaining that allowed Florida guard Michael Frazier II to go to the foul line where he made two free throws to win 57-56.

Alandise Harris was called for the foul when it appeared he blocked Frazier's shot cleanly. Frazier had just grabbed an offensive rebound and was taking a potential game winner when his shot was blocked and he fell to the floor and an official blew his whistle. 

Frazier on drawing foul with 1.9 seconds left "coach told us to crash the boards hard and that's what I tried to do."

— Kevin Brockway (@gatorhoops) January 31, 2015

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson made it clear what he thought of the call when asked about it postgame.

 

Mike Anderson on last-second foul call on Harris block: "All you've got to do is look at the replay. There's no way that was a foul."

— Bob Holt (@BobHoltADG) January 31, 2015

Give Florida credit for fighting through an ugly shooting performance to even give itself a chance at winning at the end. The Gators made four of 22 from behind the 3-point line and starting guards Frazier, Eli Carter and Kasey Hill combined to make five of 28 field goals in the game. Florida isn't the same team it has been in recent years, but a road win against the Gators would have been big for the Razorbacks. who saw a three-game winning streak end because of the dubious call.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: January 31, 2015, 9:50 pm

The fallout from the recent bench-clearing incident in the Australian Baseball League has gone beyond record-breaking league sanctions and could wind up in a court of law, according to MiLB.com. In the latest development, Seattle Mariners pitching prospect Troy Scott was arrested on Thursday on an assault charge which stemmed from his involvement in the melee.

The incident in question took place on Jan. 16, when Scott and his Adelaide Bite teammates took on the Melbourne Aces. During the late innings of Adelaide's 8-2 victory, a beanball war broke out between the rivals, with the bad blood finally boiling over in the final half-inning. During the incident, which was broadcast on Australian television, Scott allegedly punched Melbourne designated hitter Kellin Deglan in the face, leaving him with facial injuries that required dental work.

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A fan video seems to capture the punch itself. At around the three-second mark, you'll see a player on the right side of the pile go down and another take off running.

"The Australian Baseball League has been made aware that formal charges have been filed in relation to the on-field altercation during the game between the Melbourne Aces and Adelaide Bite at Norwood Oval on Jan. 16," the league said. "The matter is currently in the hands of the authorities and as such the ABL are unable to make any specific comment in relation to the incident or charges at this time."

Deglan, who's a prospect in the Texas Rangers organization, gave a statement to police which led to the arrest. Scott, 21, was formally charged with one count of assault causing harm and is scheduled to appear in Adelaide Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

According to the MiLB.com report, Scott was initially suspended for six games, which is the most severe punishment in ABL history. It has since been amended to an indefinite suspension, which will keep Scott out of the on-going ABL Championship Series.

Scott, who was Seattle's 18th round selection in 2013, is not among the organization's top 20 prospects.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 31, 2015, 8:48 pm

Having already dropped three straight including a maddening home loss against Clemson three days earlier, North Carolina State could not afford to stumble once more against another ACC bottom feeder on Sunday afternoon.

The Wolfpack barely avoided that fate thanks to late-game heroics from wing Trevor Lacey.

Two missed free throws from Georgia Tech's Quinton Stephens with 4.9 seconds left in overtime gave NC State life entering its final possession. Lacey then pushed the ball up court, pulled up from behind the top of the key and buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Wolfpack a much-needed 81-80 victory over the ACC's last-place team.

NC State only managed to force overtime when it benefited from a questionable call in the final seconds of regulation. Marcus Georges-Hunt attacked the rim from the left wing and drew contact with the score tied and just a few ticks left on the clock, but referees ruled that NC State's BeeJay Anya had drawn a charge even though he did not appear to have his feet set.

Controversial or not, NC State will gladly take a win that improves its record to 14-9 overall and 5-5 in the ACC. Even with a huge win over Duke on their resume, the Wolfpack might not have been able to recover from losing to woeful Georgia Tech with tough games against Virginia, North Carolina, Louisville and Syracuse still remaining on their schedule.

Instead NC State is on pace to be where it usually is on Selection Sunday: Sweating out its NCAA tournament fate on the bubble. The Wolfpack have slipped into the NCAA tournament as a No. 11 seed, a No. 8 seed and a No. 12 seed each of the past three seasons despite amassing double-digit losses each year.

If NC State sneaks in again this year, it may look back to Lacey's shot on Saturday as a big reason why. One thunderbolt of a jump shot turned a terrible loss into a season-altering win.

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: January 31, 2015, 8:35 pm

Pittsburgh's résumé still needs quite a bit of work, but the Panthers took a big step in the right direction Saturday in halting a three-game losing streak with an impressive 76-72 victory over No. 8 Notre Dame.

It was the first victory over a top-10 team for the Panthers in two years and it came at a great time. Pitt was reeling entering the game having lost three straight, including, perhaps, the low point of the season, losing in overtime at Virginia Tech.

 Prior to Saturday's victory, Pitt's best win probably came way back in November when it got the best of Kansas State in the Maui Invitational. One top-10 win isn't going to be enough to get the Panthers into the NCAA tournament, but if they can build off this one and keep some momentum, maybe they'll look back on this victory as a turning point.

A three-game stretch in mid-February against Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia will tell us if Pitt has a chance of going any further than an NIT bid in March.

Pitt's five starters were responsible for scoring 71 of its 76 points. Jamel Artis was big in this one, scoring 20 points with eight rebounds and three assists. Michael Young had 16 points and James Robinson scored 15.

While Pitt played like a team desperate for a win, Notre Dame followed up its home win over No. 4 Duke on Wednesday with a rugged outing and likely missed a chance to move into the top-five in the next polls. The Irish still managed to make a run late and take the lead in the final minute before falling.

Jerian Grant was brilliant in the win over the Blue Devils earlier in the week but he didn't seem to show up until the final seven minutes. Grant scored 14 points but didn't grab a single rebound. It was quite a dropoff from the 23 points and 12 assists he produced in beating Duke.

Still, he made enough plays down the stretch once again to put his team in position to win, but Pitt needed this one more.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: January 31, 2015, 7:40 pm

Now that deflate-gate and Marshawn Lynch's media appearances and whatever other noise is starting to fade, we can get down to the game. Isn't that refreshing.

Let's get right to the picks of the Shutdown Corner crew for Super Bowl XLIX. And be sure to listen to our Super Bowl preview podcast for even more on the game:

KEVIN KADUK

I picked the Broncos over the Seahawks in last year's Super Bowl so it'd stand to reason that I'd smarten up and pick Seattle this time around, right? Nope. While Seattle's comeback against the Packers was an all-timer, I can't rid my mind of the offensive ineptitude that marked most of that game for the Seahawks. Marshawn Lynch will leave his mark on the game, yes, but so will LeGarrette Blount (or maybe Jonas Gray if Bill Belichick really wants to screw with all of us). New England has the better coach, the better quarterback and the purpose that only dropping their last two Super Bowl appearances can provide. Tom Brady lifts the Lombardi after a 10-year absence.

Patriots 23, Seahawks 17

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JAY BUSBEE

When a game is this close odds-wise, I revert to a tried-and-true method of picking games: which mascot would win in real life. And a seahawk would totally destroy a colonial dude taking two minutes to reload his musket. In the real world, this game will turn on a couple of big plays, a couple of key mistakes, and the Seattle defense has the capability to make those plays and force those mistakes. I don't have a whole lot of faith in the Seahawks receivers (prove me wrong, Doug Baldwin, prove me wrong), but I do believe Marshawn Lynch could carry the entire Patriot defense into the end zone on his shoulder pads if need be. This will be a low-scoring but tense game throughout, and somebody's going to have their hopes crushed in the final minutes.

Seahawks 20, Patriots 17

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll talks with quarterback Russell Wilson (AP)ERIC EDHOLM

Defense usually trumps offense in big games, and while I am going against my August pick of Patriots over Seahawks, it's just too tough to go against this unit now. I do think LeGarrette Blount could hurt the middle of this defense, but I believe the Patriots will not have a complete game offensively. Michael Bennett will give Tom Brady fits as a rusher.

Seahawks 23, Patriots 20

BEN ROHRBACH

Because I'm a huge homer ...

Patriots 34, Seahawks 17

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FRANK SCHWAB

After going 5-1 the past couple rounds, including 2-0 on championship Sunday (season record to date against the spread: 134-127-4), I feel pretty good picking the Patriots. 

If Seattle won it would obviously not be a big surprise, but I still think the Patriots have a little better ability to score, especially after the Seahawks offense showed some issues in the NFC title game against Green Bay. For 55 minutes anyway. I also think the Patriots defense has been overshadowed this week. They're not as great as the Seahawks' defense, but they're really good. There's a reason the Patriots are 12-1 since September (not counting a Week 17 game in which they had nothing to play for and rested starters). 

I think it's a great matchup between two fantastic teams, but I just think the Patriots get it done (as a bonus, put me down for LeGarrette Blount as MVP).

Patriots 27, Seahawks 20

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: January 31, 2015, 7:28 pm

The New England Patriots generally are prepared for anything, and we can boil down their Super Bowl approach to the Seattle Seahawks in two ways: Their attack if Seattle goes to man-to-man coverage, and their attack for the Seahawks’ “Cover 3” zone.

When we look at how the Patriots might try to beat Seattle's fantastic “Cover 3," we’ll see ways the Patriots can get tight end Rob Gronkowski open. It’s obvious Gronkowski is a huge part of this game.

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Seattle’s foundation is the “Cover 3,” in which three defensive backs are responsible for a deep third of the field. But they’ve used a lot of man this season as well. They used man a lot against Green Bay in the NFC championship game, but that might have been because they were behind and needed to get a little more aggressive. Either way, New England will have a plan.

Against man-to-man coverage

The Patriots are really, really good in the pass game when it comes to shifts, motions, stack release and bunch concepts. They’ll move around a lot to get to routes that can beat man coverage. They put stress on a defense with all their pre-snap movement and formations.

You can get a good look at this from the AFC championship game. Julian Edelman is split wide, comes in motion, and you can see how that affects the Colts’ man-to-man coverage on him. It creates some confusion. Cornerbacks Greg Toler and Darius Butler communicate anticipating some kind of bunch/stack concept as Edelman comes in motion.

Edelman runs an initial inside stem as if he’s going to run a drive route with a natural rub element (theoretically picking off Edelman's defender with another Patriots receiver's route), and then was open when he cut outside. It’s a great concept against man.

(NFL.com screen shot)

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The Patriots won’t just run isolation routes believing Edelman or any receiver will beat Richard Sherman. The Patriots don’t play offense that way.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Patriots use tight splits to get the Seahawks to back off or play zone. To get them in a predictable coverage. When you line receivers up close to each other before the snap, the defense has to back off. You can’t press against receivers with tight splits, so maybe that forces the Seahawks to play their “Cover 3.” The Patriots would have a plan to attack that, then.

Against “Cover 3” zone

The Seahawks might just feel that if the Patriots want to do a lot of formations and movement before the snap, they’ll let them do it and just sit back in their zone. The Seahawks are a very good defense, but they’re an execution defense. They don’t get very complicated. They could even squeeze the “Cover 3” toward the line of scrimmage because the Patriots don’t have a real deep threat. And if the Seahawks are in zone, the shifts and motions don’t matter because they’ll just match up when you come in their area of responsibility. That would take away from the Patriots what is theoretically a strength for them, the concepts to beat man coverage.

What then for the Patriots? Let’s look at two plays that beat the Seahawks’ “Cover 3” for touchdowns. Both touchdowns were by tight ends.

In Week 3 against Denver, (you might recall this one; I reviewed it after the game) the Broncos beat the “Cover 3” with a Demaryius Thomas post route followed by tight end Jacob Tamme’s out-and-up route.

(NFL.com screen shot)
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Then in Week 14 against Philadelphia, Eagles tight end Zach Ertz ran a similar post-wheel route combination with Riley Cooper on the outside, got a one-on-one matchup against outside linebacker K.J. Wright and beat him for a 35-yard score.

(NFL.com screen shot)

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The route combination concept is fairly simple. You put pressure on the cornerback and his deep third responsibility by running a post route at him and having another receiver run a route into the vacated space. It distorts the coverage responsibilities in the zone. It’s easy to imagine the Patriots running something similar with Gronkowski, at least to see how Seattle will play it.

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This season the Patriots have done a lot more movement with Gronkowski. He aligns all over the formation, and that creates matchups for him and others. Maybe if Gronkowski lines up to Richard Sherman’s side, they’ll try to get a receiver like Brandon LaFell against Wright. The Patriots will surely probe early in the game to see how Seattle is playing them out of certain alignments and adjust accordingly.

The big question is how the Patriots will view this game. Will they try to run the ball, and commit to it with six offensive linemen sets and a lot of LeGarrette Blount? And how might they adjust as the game goes on? It’s hard to know for sure – the Patriots are never predictable – but there will be a lot of strategic elements between two great coaching staffs during this Super Bowl.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

Author: Greg Cosell
Posted: January 31, 2015, 6:56 pm

On the eve of his first game in Knoxville as the visiting coach, Bruce Pearl offered this prediction to the Knoxville News-Sentinel on how he'd be received by Tennessee fans.

"Some will be booing and some will be Bru-ing,” he said. “I do not know which one it will be."

Turns out Pearl sold himself short because his reception from the Tennessee crowd on Saturday afternoon was almost entirely favorable. Vols fans either chanted "Bruuuuce" or stood and applauded when Pearl was introduced, though those in the building said the cheers current Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall received were louder.

Pearl was businesslike on the sideline during Tennessee's 71-63 win, but it was clear the nostalgia factor affected him beforehand.

He shook hands with old friends when he arrived at Thompson Boling Arena and high-fived Tennessee students on his way off the floor after warmups. Then as the public address announcer introduced him prior to tip-off, he bowed his head and kneeled in front of the Auburn bench, seemingly overcome by the emotion of the moment.

Bruce Pearl takes a moment of reflection while being announced here. pic.twitter.com/YSsslm6vsR

— Matt Slovin (@MattSlovin) January 31, 2015

It was no surprise Pearl received such a favorable reception in Knoxville considering what he accomplished during his tenure as Tennessee coach. In six seasons, Pearl energized a traditionally football-first fan base by leading Tennessee to six straight NCAA tournaments, ascending to No. 1 in the nation briefly in 2008 and reaching the Elite Eight in 2010.

That success overshadows the sour ending to Pearl's Tennessee tenure. Tennessee fired Pearl in March 2011 after it became clear he violated NCAA rules by having recruits at his house for a barbecue, lying to investigators about it and encouraging his staff to lie about it as well.

Pearl's return to Knoxville comes at a time when Tyndall is dealing with NCAA issues of his own that could eventually jeopardize his job at Tennessee. His old school, Southern Mississippi, announced earlier this month it is self-imposing a postseason ban on the basketball program as a result of alleged violations on Tyndall’s watch.

That's not Pearl's problem anymore though. He's an Auburn guy now, as reflected by the shirts worn by a handful of fans behind the Tigers bench Saturday.

On the front, there was a picture of Pearl. On the back, the shirts read "I still bleed orange, it's just burnt now."

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: January 31, 2015, 6:42 pm

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University of Virginia sophomore Tyler Lewis drained his fourth attempt from halfcourt Saturday to win $18,000 from State Farm.

Lewis sent John Paul Jones Arena into a frenzy when he found the bottom of the net. He ran around the court for a moment before jumping on the scorer's table. Unbeaten and second-ranked Virginia hosts No. 4 Duke tonight in a huge ACC game.

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[Kyle Ringo is the assistant editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at kyle.ringo@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KyleRingo

Author: Kyle Ringo
Posted: January 31, 2015, 6:17 pm

In a story that will do more to startle us than make us feel safer, the New York Times is reporting that the MLB All-Star game in Minneapolis was secretly used as a testing site for a system used to identify drones.

According to the report, the radar kept an eye on the sky above Target Field and successfully served its purpose for the experiment. That's the good news, which should make us feel a little safer as baseball fans, Americans and, frankly, as mortal human beings. However, the troubling news is there were no measures in place to prevent drones from actually entering the stadium, and the expenses involved kept MLB from using a full blown detection system during the postseason.

Here's more from the Times report:

Using finely tuned detection programs brought in by the Department of Homeland Security, “Operation Foul Ball,” as it was known, identified several small, commercial drones flying in the area. Some were similar to the quadcopter that crashed on the White House lawn Monday.

But the drone detection system, which was considered one of the most advanced in the country and cost several hundred thousand dollars to operate for just that night, had no way of actually stopping drones from flying into the stadium. There was even confusion about whether one of the drones belonged to ESPN.

Confronted with the system’s cost and limitations, baseball officials decided not to use it for the postseason. But those officials had no warning before a drone hovered over at least one playoff game.

It's noted that while drones have not been used in a terrorist attack on American soil, there's always a level of concern that it could easily be modified to carry small explosives or other materials that pose a serious threat to public safety.

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The story also includes a photo of a drone that hovered over the Wrigley Field scoreboard this past season, which further highlights our vulnerability.

(Getty)

Of course, drones are also used to keep us safe, and will likely be the future in providing a new perspective of major sporting events, such as this weekend's Super Bowl. With that in mind, there's no clear indication what, if any, drone detection device will be used on Sunday, though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued a warning stating that anyone flying drones over the stadium could be “intercepted, detained and interviewed.”

Obviously, there's a monumental challenge that awaits officials in terms of identifying harmless drones and eliminating those that may pose threats. The detection system is a good place to start, but new regulations that prevent unauthorized drones from flying around sporting events and other large gatherings will surely have to follow. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 31, 2015, 6:07 pm

Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks currently has what they call the hotness: 11 points in his last seven games, including two goals and assist in a 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night.

Hey, would you look at that: Kane sits second in the NHL in points at 56 (in 49 games), having closed the gap with Jakub Voracek of the Philadelphia Flyers (58 points in 50 games). 

Kane is having his best offensive season, save for the 48-game post-lockout campaign. He’s scoring at a 1.14 points per game clip, and a 0.51 goals per game average. He leads the Blackhawks in points by 14 over Jonathan Toews (42) and in goals by 10 (Toews and Brandon Saad both have 15). He’s also skating at a plus-13, and has just two penalty minutes (for all you Lady Byng watchers).

Most of all, however, the Blackhawks are entrenched in the playoffs, which gives Kane an advantage over many of the other Art Ross candidates: Voracek, Tyler Seguin (53) and Claude Giroux (52) could all finish out of the playoffs, which kills their candidacy. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, meanwhile, share the wealth for voters.

If there's a counter-argument to be made here, it's the fact that Kane's doing all of this while the Toews line sees much tougher competition. Although that has something to do with Toews being both one of the best offensive centers and shutdown centers in the game. He's also not exactly been a possession driver; luckily, the Hart is the glamor stats beauty pageant and the Selke's for fancy stats.  

Kane has an opportunity here to become the top skater up for the Hart, along with Carey Price of the Montreal Canadiens and Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators on the goalie front.

More to the point, he has an opportunity to do something no American has ever done, which is win the Hart Trophy.

OK, Brett Hull had the dual citizenship thing in 1990-91 when he won the Hart, but Kane would be the first solely American player to win it since they started handing out the hardware in 1923.

And if you don’t think that means something to Kane, then you don’t know Kane.

 

 

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: January 31, 2015, 5:28 pm

The No. 1 thing you have to defend against the Seattle Seahawks is the read option. There’s a very strong tendency within that play that we have seen in our film study, and I guarantee you New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick knows it as well.

On 42 percent of Seattle's plays they use a 3-by-1 set (three eligible receivers to one side, and one to the other) counting tight ends. If Marshawn Lynch is offset to the side of the tight end, the single-receiver side, he will cut back and not follow the zone blocking 80 percent of the time. He will cut it inside before he crosses the center. That's a strong tendency to do it on four of five carries, and we'll look at how New England will have to defend it something you can watch for in the Super Bowl.

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First, let’s take a quick look at an example of this tendency. Early in the third quarter back in Week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys, the defensive end tried to play Lynch and the option. He couldn’t make a tackle on Lynch. The stacked linebacker, Rolando McClain, ran around a block, and Lynch was running clean into the secondary for a 32-yard gain. Notice how Lynch cuts back well before he crosses the center.

(NFL.com screen shot)
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So we know the Seahawks will use a lot of read option, and that when Lynch gets the ball he’ll often look to cut it back right away. How do the Patriots combat this? You can’t have the stacked linebacker on Lynch’s side flow across the formation, because Lynch is going to stay on his side. The stacked linebacker has to sit there, and then you have a defender there when he cuts it up. That's tough to do, because it's natural for a linebacker to go with the flow of the play.

We’ve discussed the Carolina Panthers and how they play Seattle’s read option. And the Panthers have played it well. They define the read by having the unblocked defender stay wide so quarterback Russell Wilson has to hand it off. And then, because their linebackers are so quick, fast-reacting and smart, they are in position to prevent the cutback. Then if Lynch has to go toward the zone blocking, your defensive line has to win or at least stalemate. But you can define the read with Wilson and force him to hand it off. That simplifies things for the defense. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots do something similar.

Another read option wrinkle is Seattle can get some big pass plays off of it. An 80-yard touchdown to Luke Willson in Week 16 is a great example. Instead of Wilson running the read option, he rolled out. There’s so much going on in the backfield that it’s easy to lose discipline and get your eyes caught up in the backfield. That’s what happened here, especially with Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu.

(NFL.com screen shot)

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That’s the issue the Seahawks cause. I can hear Belichick saying “Do your job,” his famous motto. If you’re defending this guy, don’t worry about Wilson. But will they revert to human nature – “That’s Russell Wilson, I have to go get him”? The Seahawks are very good at creating confusion within the defense by having a lot of action in the backfield.

Seattle is good with formations too. The Seahawks had a great one in Week 14 against Philadelphia. They had double stacks, two receivers on each side, well outside of the numbers. What that does is puts an unbelievable burden on the unblocked defender. That time it was Eagles outside linebacker Trent Cole. Cole made a mistake – he was supposed to play it from the outside in, and he played it inside. Regardless, he was in a bind. Cole is not stopping Wilson on that play, with that much space to defend. It speaks to the importance of formations, and how formations and personnel can affect the number of defenders in the box and matchups.

(NFL.com screen shot)

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The read option for the Seahawks has many elements, and not just in the run game. They don’t do it every play, but when they do they put stress on the defense with Lynch being able to run, with Wilson being able to run, and with Wilson being able to pass off a read option element. The Patriots have quite a challenge.

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NFL analyst and NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell watches as much NFL game film as anyone. Throughout the season, Cosell will join Shutdown Corner to share his observations on the teams, schemes and personnel from around the league.

Author: Greg Cosell
Posted: January 31, 2015, 5:21 pm

Only at a college basketball game is mopping the floor an act of bravery.

You either must possess a keen sense of timing or quick enough reflexes to make up for it.

The poor guy in the above video found that out the hard way Friday night when he ventured onto the court to clean up a wet spot and soon found himself in jeopardy of getting trampled. Buffalo guard Rodell Wigginton stole the ball at mid-court from Kent State's Derek Jackson and barreled down court for an uncontested dunk, sending the mop guy scrambling to avoid getting run over.

Thankfully for all involved, a collision was averted. Plus the mop guy got more airtime on ESPNU than he probably had expected.

(Thanks for the video, Hustle Belt)

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: January 31, 2015, 4:08 pm

More rankings: Top 250 | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | C | OF | SP | RP

[Baseball 2015 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

2015 1B Rankings
Yahoo! Sports
Composite
Brandon
Funston
Andy
Behrens
Scott
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Dalton
Del Don
FantasyPros
All Experts
1. Miguel Cabrera (DET) 1 1 2 1 view
2. Paul Goldschmidt (ARI) 2 2 1 2 view
3. Jose Dariel Abreu (CWS) 3 3 3 3 view
4. Jose Bautista (TOR) 4 4 6 4 view
5. Edwin Encarnacion (TOR) 5 5 5 6 view
6. Anthony Rizzo (CHC) 7 6 4 5 view
7. Freddie Freeman (ATL) 11 7 7 7 view
8. Adrian Gonzalez (LAD) 8 10 9 9 view
9. Buster Posey (SF) 9 8 10 12 view
10. Victor Martinez (DET) 6 12 8 14 view
11. Albert Pujols (LAA) 12 9 15 8 view
12. Prince Fielder (TEX) 10 13 14 11 view
13. David Ortiz (BOS) 13 11 12 13 view
14. Todd Frazier (CIN) 15 14 11 15 view
15. Joey Votto (CIN) 14 16 16 10 view
16. Jonathan Lucroy (MIL) 16 17 13 24 view
17. Carlos Santana (CLE) 17 15 19 21 view
18. Chris Carter (HOU) 18 18 18 19 view
19. Chris Davis (BAL) 20 20 23 16 view
20. Matt Adams (STL) 19 19 22 23 view
21. Mark Trumbo (ARI) 23 22 20 26 view
22. Adam LaRoche (CWS) 21 21 21 29 view
23. Brandon Belt (SF) 22 25 25 22 view
24. Eric Hosmer (KC) 24 27 24 20 view
25. Lucas Duda (NYM) 25 23 17 33 view
26. Brandon Moss (CLE) 29 28 26 18 view
27. Brian McCann (NYY) 27 24 29 30 view
28. Justin Morneau (COL) 28 31 28 25 view
29. Mike Napoli (BOS) 31 30 27 28 view
30. Steve Pearce (BAL) 39 29 35 17 view
30. Michael Cuddyer (NYM) 26 37 30 27 view
32. Joe Mauer (MIN) 30 26 34 37 view
33. Billy Butler (OAK) 32 32 31 34 view
34. Adam Lind (MIL) 33 34 33 32 view
35. Pedro Alvarez (PIT) 34 32 35 view
36. Mark Teixeira (NYY) 40 33 39 31 view
37. Chase Headley (NYY) 36 35 37 36 view
38. Lonnie Chisenhall (CLE) 38 38 38 39 view
39. Michael Morse (MIA) 39 36 40 view
40. Kennys Vargas (MIN) 35 view
41. Stephen Vogt (OAK) 36 view
41. Allen Craig (BOS) 37 40 view
43. Yasmani Grandal (LAD) 38 view
44. Justin Smoak (TOR) 40 view

FantasyPros aggregates and analyzes fantasy baseball rankings and projections from 100+ sites.

Author: Yahoo Sports Staff
Posted: January 31, 2015, 3:53 pm

Much like Sylvester Stallone in "Rocky IV," J.J. Watt is training in the "middle of nowhere" to defend his title.

While Balboa chopped wood and lifted a sack full of rocks with a pulley in an old barn somewhere in Siberia, Watt — who will almost surely earn his second NFL Defensive Player of the Year honor when the Associated Press announces the winner on Saturday afternoon — will retreat to a remote log cabin in Wisconsin.

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As if The Legend of Watt — a darkhorse candidate for the league's MVP award as well — could grow any greater after blowing up Elmo on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" earlier this week, the Texans defensive end shared his plans to go all Bob Lee Swagger and Bon Iver this offseason with the Houston Chronicle on Friday.

“It’s really minimalistic,” Watt said. “The only thing I have to focus on is training and that’s the way I like it. There’s no frills, there’s nothing to distract you up here.”

His description of his new offseason home: “It’s just an empty space and a log cabin and snow.”

The NFL should be shaking in its boots at the thought of an improved J.J. Watt next season, so long as he remembers to download "Hearts on Fire" onto his iTunes before venturing into the woods.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don't Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Author: Ben Rohrbach
Posted: January 31, 2015, 3:48 pm

Julius Hudacek of Orebro is our favorite goalie in the world.

Who else would lead fans in a postgame celebratory Macarena? Or play leap-frog with his goaltending teammate? Or have a teammate pull him around on a sled as he delivered fans gifts after a Christmastime win? 

Well, after Orbero’s 1-0 win over Modo this week, it was time for another #HudaShow, as the goaltender skated back out to salute the fans after a victory.

This time wearing cross-country skis.

And using his ski poles to lead cheers from the adoring crowd. 

Hockey needs more Julius Hudacek. No … humanity needs more Julius Hudacek.

s/t Reddit Hockey

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: January 31, 2015, 3:30 pm

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Since 2009, Rory McIlroy had played the first two rounds of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in a stunning 47 under par. On the weekends? Just 6 under. 

McIlroy matched that total on Saturday at Emirates G.C., shooting 6-under 66 to take a four-shot edge over the field heading into the final round. 

The world No. 1 made an early statement, going out in 5-under 30 and opening a huge lead. He largely coasted on the back nine before crushing a drive just short of the green at the 359-yard 17th hole, leading to a final birdie. Through 54 holes, McIlroy has just one bogey -- the least this week in the field. 

Dane Morten Madsen is in second, two clear of Lee Westwood. Four players are seven shots behind of McIlroy, tied for fourth. 

The astounding part may not be that McIlroy has been in complete control, but that the Ulsterman thinks he should have an even bigger lead.

"I feel like I could be a little bit more but I'm not going to complain - I'm four ahead going into the final day, so I’ve put myself in a great position to win tomorrow," he said. “I just have to go and try and play similar golf to the way I have the first three days."

It's not as though this was unexpected. McIlroy hasn't finished outside of the top 10 in Dubai since breaking through for his professional win in this event in 2009. He hasn't finished worse than second in his last six European Tour-sanctioned starts, including Open Championship and PGA Championship victories. 


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: January 31, 2015, 2:29 pm

Lydia Ko finished the 2014 LPGA season with a win, and if she bookends it on Saturday with a victory to start 2015, she'll become the No. 1 player in the world.

The 17-year-old Kiwi made five consecutive birdies on the back nine and nine altogether on Friday at Golden Ocala G&EC to take a one-shot lead over Ha Na Jang heading into the final round of the inaugural Coates Golf Championship in Ocala, Fla. The third-round 65 ties the low round of the week with Amy Yang.

Ko came out guns blazing on Friday, making four birdies on her opening nine. However, a pair of short par misses on the 10th and 11th holes set her four back of Jang. It also spurred her on to the birdie streak that gave her the outright lead.

“It kind of got me fired up," Ko said. "I kind of jammed my putter in my bag, and I said, `OK, you’ve got to start working again.’”

If Ko wins on Saturday and earns her sixth LPGA Tour title (fourth as a professional), she will take over the top spot in the Rolex Rankings from Inbee Park. Even if Ko doesn't win, she could take over No. 1 if she finishes alone in second place and Park, who is 11 shots back of Ko's lead, finishes no better than a three-way tie for third place.

The accomplishment would be another in a string of mind-blowing efforts from Ko. At 15, she became the youngest player to win on the LPGA Tour, taking the Canadian Women's Open. She defended that title a year later. Ko closed the 2014 LPGA season by winning the CME Group Tour Championship and its $500,000 first-place prize, as well the inaugural Race to the CME Globe and its $1,000,000 payoff. Taking over the top spot in the world seems a natural progression.

After her Friday 65, Ko took care to at least publicly temper expectations of a Saturday coronation.

“There are so many great players, one to four shots, you just never know what's going to happen,” she said. “I'm just going to concentrate on my game, just stay really positive, and if somebody else shoots a much better score than I do, I can't really do much about it. Just going to focus, and, hopefully, I'll go out and shoot a good score tomorrow.”


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: January 31, 2015, 2:08 pm

There was never much doubt that Serena Williams would defeat Maria Sharapova in the final at the Australian Open. As soon as the matchup was set, everyone noted that Sharapova has not beaten Williams in more than a decade. 

Serena Williams of the U.S. poses the trophy after defeating Maria Sharapova of Russia in the women's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015. (AP Photo/Rob Griffith)
On Saturday, Williams kept the streak alive, beating the world No. 2 in straight sets, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), as she captured her record sixth Australian Open title and 19th Grand Slam. 

Sharapova played her best game. She had only 15 unforced errors – the same total she had in earlier matches, against easier opponents. Against Williams, it proved too many.

Serving made the biggest difference in the match, with Williams hitting 18 aces to Sharapova's five. Sharapova held off two match points before Williams clinched the win. 

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 31:  Serena Williams of the United States plays a forehand in her women's final match against Maria Sharapova of Russia during day 13 of the 2015 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 31, 2015 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)

In doing so, Serena became the oldest Grand Slam champion in the Open era. She is 33 years old, and moved ahead of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert on the all-time wins list. 

"Standing here with 19 championships is something I never thought would happen. I went on the courts with just a ball, a racket, and a hope. That's all I had. Never give up. You never know what's going to happen."

The only accomplishment missing from Williams' résumé is a Grand Slam – that is, winning all four of the Grand Slam events in the same year. If she wins the remaining three this year, it'll bring her even with Steffi Graf on the all-time wins list.

Author: Danielle Elliot
Posted: January 31, 2015, 1:43 pm

(MLB.com)Yoan Moncada and other Cuban baseball players currently pursuing Major League Baseball contracts officially cleared a major hurdle on Friday night.

According to Kiley McDaniel of Fangraphs, Moncada's agent, David Hastings, along with other Cubans players who requested a “specific license” from the United States Office of Foreign Assets Control, received an e-mail from OFAC confirming they will not grant a specific license to Cuban nationals who are already unblocked via the general license. 

In other words, anyone who meets the government’s requirements for the general license, which Moncada and other Cuban infielders Hector Olivera and Andy Ibanez already have, is cleared by OFAC to sign with a major league team. Now it's up to MLB to revisit its guidelines and adjust in accordance with the new regulations.

"I'm pleased that the Administration has relaxed the process for Cubans leaving their island to pursue a career in baseball in America," Hastings said late Friday evening. "I will be interested to see Major League Baseball's reaction to the Department of Treasury's statement to me today saying that my player is, in fact, licensed to be signed by a team effective immediately and we no longer have to wait for the U.S. Treasury to clear my player because he has already complied with regulations that became effective on Jan. 16, 2015, in accordance with the president's announced policies to relax relationships between our two countries."

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How long it will take MLB to adapt is strictly a guess, but it shouldn't be long now that OFAC has confirmed its stance. As Yahoo Sports Jeff Passan reported this week, MLB, which currently requires Cuban nationals to obtain a specific license before granting them free agency — a process which can take up to six months to be finalized — has already said it would conform to the laws if OFAC confirmed changes to the process.

The letter itself is about as much confirmation as the league should need. However, MLB was expected to consult OFAC and all relevant branches of the U.S. government before making any changes official. That consultation is still likely to take place, but the results now appear to be a foregone conclusion. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 31, 2015, 7:27 am

No. 1 Star: Patrick Sharp, Chicago Blackhawks

Notched four assists in Chicago’s 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks to give the Hawks a road sweep over the Pacific Division leaders. Sharp now has nine points in his last five games. It’s the third time in his career he has picked up four assists in a game.

No. 2. Star: Semyon Varlamov, Colorado Avalanche

Stopped 23 of 23 Nashville shots on goal to defeat the Central Division leading Predators. The win for Colorado kept the Avalanche within playoff striking distance – just two points back of Calgary for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. It was Varlamov’s fourth shutout of the season and moved his save percentage up to .922.

No. 3 Star: Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks

Scored two goals and added an assist in Chicago’s win over the Ducks. Kane now has 56 points in 49 games played to move him into second overall in the NHL’s scoring race. He’s just two behind Jakub Voracek for the league lead. 

Honorable Mention: David Backes scored a goal in the Blues’ win over Carolina. Alex Pietrangelo picked up an assist. Teammate Ryan Reaves scored a goal … Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk each scored for the Hurricanes … Devils goaltender Cory Schneider stopped 41 of 43 Pittsburgh shots on goal in an OT loss to the Penguins … Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang notched two assists in the Penguins win … Pittsburgh defenseman Simon Despres scored the OT winner … Colorado’s Jarome Iginla notched his 1,200th career NHL point … Buffalo’s Chris Stewart scored two goals … Vancouver’s Nick Bonino scored a goal … Chicago’s Corey Crawford stopped 21 of 22 Anaheim shots on goal in Chicago’s victory over the Ducks … Vancouver’s Henrik Sedin notched two assists in a win over Buffalo … Canucks goaltender Ryan Miller stopped 20 of 22 shots on goal in his first game against the Sabres, one of his former teams … Carolina goaltender Cam Ward stopped all 29 shots on goal he faced in relief of Anton Khudobin, but still lost in the shootout to the Blues. 

Did You Know?: Letang’s 16 points in January are the third most by a Penguins blueliner in this month in the team’s hstory behind Paul Coffey (22 in 1989 and 17 in 1990).  

Dishonorable Mention: Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm was a minus-3. Teammate Seth Jones was a minus-2. Nashville fell to 2-2-2 with Pekka Rinne injured … Anaheim’s Cam Fowler and Clayton Stoner were each a minus-2. Teammate Ryan Getzlaf was a minus-3 … Sabres All-Star Zemgus Girgensons scored a goal but was a minus-2 … Buffalo defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen was a minus-3. The Sabres have lost 14 games in a row … Khudobin was yanked after allowing two scores on three shots on goal.

MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY

 

Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: January 31, 2015, 6:31 am

Basketball players have unfortunate moments in games all the time, if only because it's bound to happen when a bunch of super athletic guys trying really hard battle for 48 minutes in a high-pressure scenario. The good news is that the sport moves fast enough to allow these athletes to make up for their sins soon after their transgressions occur. For most of them, things balance out.

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Based on that logic, Boston Celtics guard Evan Turner was karmically in line for a four-point play after one especially awful possession in the second quarter of his team's game against the Houston Rockets on Friday night. After grabbing a rebound at the other end, Turner stormed up the court hoping to score in transition. He ended up with three misses and a foul:

For my money, this is more hilarious than Memphis Grizzlies wing Tony Allen's recent four-miss possession. It's the frustrated tackle of Donatas Motiejunas that sends it over the top.

Turner finished with 10 points on 2-of-10 shooting in Houston's 93-87 win, so maybe he wasn't in line for a big play after this one. On second thought, this was probably the basketball gods recalibrating things after Turner's game-winner against the Portland Trail Blazers last week. I guess things can balance out in the other direction, too.

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Eric Freeman
Posted: January 31, 2015, 5:26 am

For the second straight season, Minnesota Twins outfielder Byron Buxton is the No. 1 ranked prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com's official rankings

The announcement was made during a live special which aired on MLB Network on Friday night. Chicago Cubs slugger Kris Bryant, who was named baseball's No. 1 prospect by ESPN analyst Keith Law, was ranked No. 2. The top five also featured a trio of shortstops, which goes as follows: Carlos Correa of the Houston Astros, Francisco Lindor of the Cleveland Indians, and another Cubs farmhand, Addison Russell.  

Despite an injury plagued season that limited him to just 31 games and a disappointing .234/.307/.395 slash line, Buxton was able to hold off the hard charging group in the eyes of MLB.com's staff. Though as senior writer Jim Callis noted, the difference between Buxton and Bryant was barely noticeable. 

Could argue either for No. 1, Correa too @Jaypers413: how close was it between Bryant & Buxton? Coin flip? #mlbpipeline @Twins @Cubs @Astros

— Jim Callis (@jimcallisMLB) January 31, 2015

Everything is taken into account when these rankings are formulated, including health and durability. With that in mind, Buxton's five-tool skill set is what sets him apart. He's even drawn comparisons to reigning AL MVP Mike Trout, who ranked No. 1 on this list in 2010. . Seriously, here's hoping the injuries in 2014 were just a one-year setback and not a sign of things to come. We want Buxton around for awhile. 

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In more good news for the Twins, their farm system ranked No. 1 in MLB.com's prospect points standings, which assigns points to each team based on where their prospects finished. For example, Buxton earned 100 points as the No. 1 prospect. Bryant earned the Cubs 99 points as No. 2, and so on the down line. Both Minnesota and Chicago finished with six prospects in the top 100, but Minnesota's earned 464 points compared to 424.  

For what it's worth, the Pittsburgh Pirates had the most overall players in the top 100 with seven. 

Among the other notable items:

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias. (USA TODAY Sports)
The rich get richer
The Los Angeles Dodgers placed two prospects in the top eight. Corey Seager, a 20- year-old shortstop, ranked No. 7 overall. Julio Urias, the 17-year-old pitching phenom from Mexico, is No. 8. The endorsement of Urias particularly strong, with Callis suggesting he would have given consideration to using Urias in the Dodgers' bullpen at the end of last season. Again, he's only 17, and he won't be 18 until Aug. 23. 

Mark Appel settles at No. 30

The Houston Astros' No. 1 overall pick in 2013 started the 2014 season as MLB.com's No. 17 prospect, but fell all the way to No. 41 following a miserable regular season.

Pitching at Class A Advanced Lancaster and later Double-A Corpus Christi, Appel went 3-7 with a 6.91 ERA in 83.1 innings. Some of those struggles could be attributed to an emergency appendectomy last January, which setback his preparation. However, this ranking suggests there are questions they'd like to see answered before putting him back in the top 20.

Seven shortstops make the Top 50

We wondered how deep the shortstop might go on the list and now we have our answer. Overall, 14 ranked in the top 100, but the position dominated early, with Correa, Lindor, Russell and Seager ranking among the top eight. J.P. Crawford (No. 21, Phillies), Nick Gordon (No. 33, Twins), and Raul Mondesi Jr. (No. 40, Blue Jays) also made the Top 50.

Overall, pitchers dominated with 46 in the Top 100, followed by outfielders with 20.

For a complete look at the rankings, check out MLB.com

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 31, 2015, 4:05 am

The Atlanta Hawks had a pretty good Thursday, with three of the team's starters — point guard Jeff Teague, forward Paul Millsap, and big man Al Horford — being announced as participants in February 15's NBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden. Along with head coach Mike Budenholzer, that trio will give the Hawks the biggest presence of any team at the event. It's a deserved honor for a franchise that has vastly exceeded expectations to look like the favorite in the East.

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Friday was arguably even better for Atlanta. Facing the visiting Portland Trail Blazers with their franchise-record and season-high 17-game winning streak on the line, the Hawks controlled the fourth quarter 36-25 to come away with a 105-99 victory. Teague had the two most impressive plays of the final period, with the first coming on this ball-fake that sent fellow All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum flying away from the basket:

The second came just outside of the final minute when Teague confused Chris Kaman with this gorgeous cut dribble:

Despite these fantastic plays, Teague was far from the most productive Hawk throughout the game. He finished with 13 points on just 6-of-17 shooting (plus eight assists). The other All-Stars, Millsap (21 points, eight rebounds three steals) and Horford (17 points, eight rebounds, three steals) were better.

The win brings the Hawks' record to 39-8, already one win more than their entire total from last season. If the Hawks win Saturday against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers, they will finish January with a perfect record of 17-0. As our Jay Busbee wrote earlier Friday, it's a very good time to be a Hawks fan.

Aldridge starred for the Blazers in the loss with 37 points (15-of-24 FG) and 11 rebounds. On the same day he expressed his dissatisfaction with being left off the All-Star team, point guard Damian Lillard struggled with 13 points on 6-of-20 shooting (plus 11 assists and six turnovers).

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Eric Freeman is a writer for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at efreeman_ysports@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Eric Freeman
Posted: January 31, 2015, 3:35 am

The way things are going, the middleweight title fight between Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort may never occur.

For the third time, a planned bout between the men has been postponed. Weidman suffered a rib injury in training and the UFC announced on Friday that he will be unable to defend his belt against the Brazilian slugger in the main event of UFC 184 on Feb. 28 at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)The new main event will feature women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey against No. 1 contender Cat Zingano. The UFC moved the debut of former boxing champion Holly Holm into the co-main event spot against Raquel Pennington.

It's quite a blow to the card, because a Holm-Pennington bout has nowhere near the kind of buzz that the Weidman-Belfort match did.

This is the third time one or the other of the men has pulled out of the bout. They were first supposed to fight at UFC 173 at the MGM Grand Garden in Las Vegas on May 24, 2014. But Belfort had problems with a drug test and withdrew his request for a license from the Nevada Athletic Commission.

When Belfort's issues with the commission were settled in the summer, the UFC announced he would challenge Weidman for the belt in the main event of UFC 181 on Dec. 6 in Las Vegas. But Weidman injured a hand, forcing the postponement of the bout until Feb. 28.

Now, Weidman is out and the timetable for his return is uncertain.

The card is far less attractive without Weidman-Belfort and will test Rousey's drawing power in her hometown.

Author: Kevin Iole
Posted: January 31, 2015, 12:27 am

(Getty Images)The Boston Red Sox search for pitching depth continued on Friday with the signing of former All-Star Alex Ogando. 

According to Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal, it's a one-year major league deal worth a guaranteed $1.5 million, which is roughly $1 million less than Ogando was projected to earn in arbitration before being non-tendered by the Texas Rangers. 

And yes, there's a good reason why Ogando was non-tendered just three years removed from his All-Star selection. His past two seasons have been riddled with injuries. In 2013, Ogando was limited to 23 appearances (18 starts) because of nerve damage and inflammation in his shoulder, which later morphed into a biceps issue. In 2014, he worked just 25 relief innings due to a sprained ulnar collateral ligament, which is often a precursor to Tommy John surgery.

With that recent injury history in mind, there are obvious concerns that Ogando may not be able to hold up for a full season, either as a starter or reliever, but Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington is wise to take the gamble.

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After subtracting starters Jon Lester and John Lackey from the roster in trades last season, and then failing to lure Lester back in free agency, Cherington has been plucking pitching depth from every which direction. In free agency, he added Justin Masterson. In the trade market, he acquired Rick Porcello and Wade Miley. In a perfect world, those arms will fill out Boston's starting rotation, along with Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly and perhaps Brandon Workman. Just in case though, he's now added a versatile arm in Ogando, who if healthy could fill multiple roles.

According to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe, Ogando already passed his physical with Boston. That indicates he's ready now and should be a full-go for spring training. Cafardo adds that Ogando will likely be tabbed as Boston's seventh inning reliever initially, setting up for Edward Mujica and Koji Uehara. That's obviously not set in stone though, and would be subject to change based on developments over the next two months.

The upside to employing Ogando revolves around the aforementioned versatility. During his healthy stints from his rookie season in 2010 through early 2013, he was able to alternate relief and starting roles without losing any effectiveness. During that span, Ogando posted a 3.12 ERA over 381 innings. He earned his All-Star selection as a starter in 2011, which should give manager John Farrell confidence should they change course. 

The downside, of course, is his durability. Even during his effective seasons, Ogando was often sidelined by minor ailments, which may have stemmed from the constant bouncing back and forth. The latter possibility might actually motivate Boston to keep Ogando in one set role. Regardless, at 1.5MM, the rewards and upside far outweigh the risks and potential downside, which makes this deal a likely winner for Cherington. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at bigleaguestew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Townie813

Author: Mark Townsend
Posted: January 31, 2015, 12:14 am

PHOENIX — Doug Baldwin went on a tirade after the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC championship game in dramatic fashion, which came off as fairly amusing.

"I want y'all to write this down," Baldwin said at the time. "Write this down, OK? Remember when we were 3-3? Everybody counted us out! Y'all didn't believe in us! A whole bunch of people saying that we weren't going to make it, right? When we were 6-4 [you were like], 'Aw, it's OK, they got a winning record, but they not gonna go to the playoffs.

"Remember that? [Trailing] 16-0 at the first half! How many y'all counted us out?! How many y'all doubted us? It's indicative of our entire season. Y'all don't want to believe in us, it's OK. You ain't gotta believe in us because we can believe in ourselves."  

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The rant about the perception of the Seahawks team is laughable. Few were openly beating up the team that has been the best in the NFL over the past two seasons.

But Baldwin's rant might also have contained a hidden message. Perhaps he was feeling the disrespect of the Seahawks' wide receivers, a group that includes himself.

On the cusp of Super Bowl XLIX, the Seahawks' wide receivers come into the game rife with question marks and originating from rather humble roots:

Baldwin, undrafted.

Jermaine Kearse, undrafted.

Ricardo Lockette, undrafted.

All undaunted. For the Seahawks, they pride themselves on turning over rocks to find players.

“We take pride in that a little bit," Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "We pride ourselves in being able to find talent. Our scouting department and [general manager] John Schneider do an outstanding job. They’re our kind of guys.

"You can see Doug Baldwin with a chip on his shoulder and Jermaine and how he is and how he persevered through our game a few weeks ago and made a big play for us. Those are our kind of guys.”

In the Seahawks' two playoff games, no wide receiver still on the roster other than those three has played more than seven snaps on offense.

Second-round pick Paul Richardson, the team's top overall selection last May, tore his ACL in the divisional round against the Carolina Panthers. Percy Harvin — whom the team traded first-, third- and seventh-round picks for and doled out a six-year, $67 million extension to — was dealt for pennies on the dollar to the New York Jets. Former Seahawks second-rounder Golden Tate signed with the Detroit Lions before the season and had a career year.

They're all gone. It's up to Baldwin, Kearse and Lockette, along with emerging tight end Luke Willson, to make plays in the secondary for quarterback Russell Wilson and the rest of the Seahawks' offense to step up on Sunday.

"I think our receiving corps plays with a chip on our shoulder," Kearse said.

Baldwin admitted this week that he has heard the chatter about his unit: that it's nothing special. The criticism, he said, is fair game to make — as long as people can back up their assertion with facts.

"If you are going to bring up something, I need the facts," Baldwin said. "I need you to show me exactly why you think that way. If you don’t back it up with facts, it’s just an opinion. I will respect your opinion, but you are going to respect mine as well. I’m going to bring the facts to back my opinion up, as well.” 

The facts are these: In the regular season, only one team (the Kansas City Chiefs, with zero) had fewer touchdown receptions than the Seahawks' wide receivers collectively. The Seahawks trio combined for a pedestrian 115 catches for 1,557 yards (13.5-yard average) as the Seahawks went 12-4 to repeat as the NFC's top seed. But in the postseason, the trio has come more alive with a combined 16 catches for 339 yards and three scores in the two games.

Kearse exploded with a career game against the Panthers, with three catches for 139 yards and a 63-yard score. After a mostly miserable game against the Packers, with all four of Wilson's interceptions in the game intended for him, Kearse stepped up with the walk-off 35-yard TD in overtime.

“It was definitely a roller-coaster of emotions. You kind of have a down moment and you just try to pick yourself back up," the humble, quiet Kearse said. "It’s just about staying in tune, staying in the game and not quitting.”

Baldwin is Kearse's opposite: He's outspoken and brash, and he has carried that undrafted chip on his shoulder all through his career — especially after his college coach, Jim Harbaugh, passed on not even extending Baldwin a free-agent contract after the draft. 

He, too, has been excellent in the postseason. Baldwin scored the opening touchdown against the Panthers, and even with a lost fumble against the Packers, he finished the game with a game-high 106 yards on six catches. And then he launched into the aforementioned tirade. Consider those emotions boiled over.

"It’s not necessarily proving people wrong," Baldwin said. "It’s more so proving ourselves right. We like that negativity that we get from the media and from some fans sometimes, but we use it as motivating, fuel to the fire. We look at it as a way to not only to prove others wrong, but to prove ourselves right.”

The New England Patriots often employ their best cornerback, Darrelle Revis, on the opponent's top receiver — in this case, Baldwin — and use safety help over the top on the other side. That might be a tough assignment for Baldwin to win consistently, but it could open things up for the speedier and taller Kearse and Lockett, who each average more than 14 yards per catch this season.

Keep an eye on the under-the-radar Lockette, who might have some mismatches against Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan, if those two match up.

"He does great things," Bevell said of Lockette. "He’s a really, really talented player.”

Willson and Marshawn Lynch also are big factors in the Seahawks' passing game, giving the Seahawks a balanced feel offensively. But they are not afraid to dial up big plays in big situations to any of their wideouts, and Bevell said they and Wilson have worked hard on their chemistry on broken plays when Wilson scrambles out of the pocket.

"That has allowed us a few more big plays," Bevell said. "Sometimes we get the look we want [defensively], we get the blocking and we hit the play the way it's drawn up. Other times, you have to go off script. I feel a lot better when we do have to do that."

The script right now, is unfinished. Baldwin was a major part of last year's Seahawks Super Bowl run, but each of this year's wide receivers has moved a notch or two up the ladder with Tate and Harvin leaving the team and Richardson out. How big a factor will they be Sunday?

"We don't have to prove anything but to ourselves and win for our teammates," Baldwin said. "We know what we are capable of."

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: January 30, 2015, 11:45 pm

The 2015 college football season might be 216 days away from kickoff, but it’s never too early to start placing some early bets on the Heisman winner.

Bovada released its early Heisman rankings and four — yes, four — players from Ohio State are among the top 13 players on the list.

Running back Ezekiel Elliott is the early player to beat with 6/1 odds, and quarterbacking teammates Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller come in with 14/1, 16/1 and 18/1 odds respectively.

It’s interesting that the folks in Vegas are banking on Jones as the starter and Miller to likely be the odd man out. It’s a good thing Miller's not transferring…

Elliott is just ahead of Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott and LSU running back Leonard Fournette, who are both 7/1. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin (15/2) and USC quarterback Cody Kessler, Georgia running back Nick Chubb and UCLA running back Paul Perkins each are at 12/1 to round out the top five in terms of odds.

It’s easy to like Elliott because of how well he played in the second half of his first season as starter and because he should be totally healthy in 2015. Elliott played the entire 2014 season with a broken wrist that needed surgery this offseason.

Prescott had trouble with turnovers in 2014 and Fournette didn’t have very good quarterback play to help open up the running game. Boykin and Chubb, who are both coming off tremendous seasons, could be the other two in the top five to give Elliott a run for his money.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @YahooDrSaturday

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Author: Graham Watson
Posted: January 30, 2015, 11:27 pm

FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2014, file photo, Michigan head coach Brady Hoke looks on before an NCAA college football game against Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J. A person with knowledge of the situation says embattled Michigan football coach Brady Hoke and interim athletic director Jim Hackett are set to meet on Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2014. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the school has not made any announcement about the meeting.(AP Photo/Rich Schultz, File)Those hoping to see Brady Hoke roaming a college sideline during the 2015 season might be out of luck.

Hoke was in talks with Central Michigan about its head coaching vacancy, but is no longer considered a candidate because, as Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press put it, it was not a fit between the two sides.”

Central Michigan found itself unexpectedly looking for a head coach after Dan Enos left to become the offensive coordinator at Arkansas on Jan. 22.

Hoke spent the past four seasons as the head coach at Michigan before being fired on Dec. 2.

Hoke would have been a catch for the Chippewas because of his background and success in the Mid-American Conference. Hoke was a Western Michigan and Toledo assistant in 1984-88 and Ball State's coach in 2003-08. He led Ball State to a 12-1 season in 2008.

Hoke will try his hand at broadcasting next week when he works with CBS Sports Network on National Signing Day.

For more Central Michigan news, visit ChippewaCountry.com.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @YahooDrSaturday

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Author: Graham Watson
Posted: January 30, 2015, 10:53 pm

Following the 2011 college football season, Bret Bielema almost left Wisconsin to become the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

According to a story ESPN.com’s Elizabeth Merrill, Bielema was working out his plans for the Dolphins when he asserted that the team should draft Russell Wilson in the second round.

The idea of selecting a 5-10 quarterback in the second round, which is where Bielema thinks they need to, does not go over well. They think he's crazy.
"One hundred percent," Bielema says.
"They all looked at me like, 'You can't say that. That's the difference between college and pro. He's undersized. He can't throw.' I was like, 'OK, all right,' and I honestly, that day, kind of pulled myself out of it."

Bielema stayed one more season with the Badgers before leaving for Arkansas. Wilson was drafted in the third round by Seattle and has led the Seahawks to one Super Bowl title and one yet to be determined.

Just imagine if Miami had listened to Bielema, hired him and taken Wilson in the second round instead of Ryan Tannehill with the No. 8 overall pick? That move would have affected the fortunes of two NFL teams and two college teams all because Bielema believe in Wilson’s talent.

But the real question is, what do we all think about Bielema in the NFL?

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @YahooDrSaturday

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Author: Graham Watson
Posted: January 30, 2015, 10:31 pm

A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out.

C: Gothic Ginobili. Tony Parker hasn't looked very much like himself this season. What gives, and is this a "give it a minute, it'll be fine" kind of thing, or a "maybe TP's on the decline" kind of thing? Aaron McGuire investigates.

PF: Nylon Calculus. An exhaustive, statistical-context-heavy and very good review of Kevin Garnett's career as he nears its end.

SF: NBA.com/Stats. How much are this year's Atlanta Hawks like last year's San Antonio Spurs?

SG: FOX Sports. How much are this year's Golden State Warriors like the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls? (For more on the West-leading Dubs, check out this cool feature from Ken Berger at CBSSports.com).

PG: ESPN.com. Interesting stuff from Tom Haberstroh on the decline of home-court advantage in the NBA over the past couple of seasons.

6th: Mavs Outsider Report. Bobby Karalla offers a really good overview of the myriad small issues that have ailed the Dallas Mavericks of late, leading Rick Carlisle's club to drop four straight to sink to seventh in the West.

7th: Bucksketball. Jeremy Schmidt considers the development of Brandon Knight, who didn't make the Eastern Conference All-Star team, but who has come far enough for some fans to think that he might just be the long-term solution at the point for the Milwaukee Bucks.

8th: DraftExpress. A SportVU-based look at how Duke phenom center Jahlil Okafor's work on the block and in the paint on both ends compares to that of some of his NBA counterparts.

9th: Wall Street Journal. Chris Herring with a fun investigation of the "knuckleball-like unpredictability" of New York Knicks center Cole Aldrich's hook shot.

10th: Sole Collector. NBA players discuss why they would or would not wear another player's signature sneakers.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Dan Devine
Posted: January 30, 2015, 10:25 pm

PHOENIX — Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has had time to let his balky ankle heal and let his ego soothe after losing to the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round of the playoffs as he did some promotional work this week at the site of the Super Bowl.

But there are still a lot of fascinating unknowns in the life of Thomas, a free agent for the first time this offseason.

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Will the Broncos place the franchise tag on him? Can they get a long-term extension done before (or after) that? Will Peyton Manning be back? What will new head coach Gary Kubiak be like for the Broncos? And will friend Julius Thomas, also a free agent, return to the team?

All that, and yet Demaryius Thomas can't help but wonder how the Broncos' season — so promising to start and Super Bowl expectations remaining strong — got off track. He wonders if the Broncos might have dismissed their playoff opponent a little easily before the game.

"I don’t want to say this, but I feel like some guys took it for granted that we’d run over the Colts when they came in here," Thomas told Shutdown Corner. "But it just wasn’t our day."

Thomas acknowledges that Manning's quad injury, plus injuries to linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall and others, set the Broncos a bit off course. So did the sea change of the offensive identity, when the Broncos became more of a run-centric operation down the stretch.

"We don’t ever want to put any one thing on it and say that was the reason we came up short," Thomas said. "We had injuries here and there. I don’t know how injured everyone was. Peyton was injured a little.

"We also changed our identity a little bit, started running a little more, and I don’t think we were used to it. We should have been able to do it, so I can’t say it was just that."

One day after the 24-13 loss to the Colts, the Broncos and John Fox — who had won 38 games combined the past three years — announced they were parting ways. Thomas, for one, was stunned.

"It’s very tough because no one expected it. I for sure didn’t expect it," Thomas said. "Seeing it the next day, I was shocked. I talked to a couple guys, and they were shocked too. I thought after going to the Super Bowl, we came up short this year, but I thought he’d be around at least another year. It’s what happens in the NFL, I guess.

"I will say I’ll miss Coach Fox. He’s one of the best. But it’s a business."

Thomas also praised former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who will be joining Fox in that same capacity with the Chicago Bears.

"Man, I’ve been with him my whole career," Thomas said. "He was my receivers coach, and then he became my offensive coordinator. Very smart guy. He knows a lot of what he’s doing. I wished him the best of luck. I can’t really say much about him other than he’s a great guy. He was really good at coaching receivers, too, and he was a good offensive coordinator.

"He always stayed aggressive, trying to put up as many points as we [could], and he and Peyton always were talking about how to do things. He's a great coach."

As for Manning, we continue to wait for his decision on whether he'll play in 2015. Manning was also in town Friday and spoke about what lies ahead for him, but Thomas is giving him his space. He said he's going to let Manning heal up, clear his head and make a decision before they chat about what his plans are for next season.

"He’s been doing this for a long time. I’d rather let him contact us — or me — and I’ll reach out to him after the month of February once football is over with and he’s had enough time to get away and let his mind relax a bit," Thomas said. "I don’t want to go at him like, ‘Are you going to come back?’ He’ll let us know if he will or he won’t."

And if Manning hangs it up and the Broncos have to turn things over to Brock Osweiler? Thomas says Osweiler will be ready.

"I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Brock," Thomas said. "He hasn’t been around the best quarterback in the game the past two years for nothing. As the years go on, he builds and builds and is more confident. You see him against our first-team defense during the season, and they’ll be going hard, and he’s out there calm and collected. I think he’ll be fine."

Thomas did run into tight end Julius Thomas twice this week in Arizona, but they did not talk shop. Both men are free-agents-to-be and are expected to cash in one way or another. It's possible that the Broncos might not be able to afford both Thomases considering how much money the wide receiver, Manning, and all the team's free-agent additions will count for against the team's salary cap this coming season.

As for his own situation and whether he'll be franchised, Demaryius Thomas isn't fretting, speculating or guessing. It's not worth it to him, and Thomas says he's excited for his impending free agency — no matter how it ends up.

"I don’t really know right now," he said. "It’s very exciting to say that I went through five years, I did my part, stayed healthy and was able to put up good numbers. Now, I can’t say it bothers me because I am blessed. I am going to let Elway and those guys, my agent [Todd France] and everyone work it out. I am sure they will get something done and we’ll be back at it again.

" I can’t let that bother me because I am still more stressed about losing and not getting back to the Super Bowl. If I let [my contract] bother me, it would hang over everything. I don’t want to be angry at other people for no reason. I am just going to let it go, go work out, wait and relax and get back for next season."

If he does return next season, Thomas will be playing for Kubiak, a Denver fixture from the past and a close compadre of Elway's. Thomas spoke to Kubiak for the first time on Thursday and came away happy with the message he heard from his potential new coach.

"He had a couple good guys and they always had great numbers," Thomas said. "They always have a great running game, which you need now — you need that balance. I am very excited. He said, ‘We are going to get you the ball.’ You want to hear that from a coach.

"My main thing is I want to get a Super Bowl ring. Everybody is excited to be around him."

Thomas said he'll spend the first part of the offseason rehabbing his ankle, working out some lingering scar tissue from his former Achilles tear, and should be "100 percent" ready to go by OTAs. He also wants to do more resistance-band and sled work to add "a little more explosion" to his game. 

Additionally, is doing his best to get his mind off football for a while. One way he's doing that is by participating in the "Courtyard Camera" series with Courtyard Hotels, filming a series of amusing and entertaining videos with his old Broncos buddy Eric Decker where they give away tickets and other prizes to unsuspecting fans .. while trying  to remain incognito.

Entertaining stuff for a player who is entering a fascinating offseason — for Thomas and his Broncos team.

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: January 30, 2015, 10:11 pm

Marcus Allen, Bart Starr, Phil Simms … I couldn’t get them on the list of 10 greatest Super Bowl players ever.

That’s a lot of Super Bowl MVPs and records left off. Kurt Warner, Franco Harris, Steve Young and John Riggins also want to have a word, I’m sure.

This was a very hard exercise. We put the list together to give a legacy reference point for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as he heads into his sixth Super Bowl. He’s in the top 10 already, a pretty exclusive club.

A few rules: Multiple Super Bowl appearances matter, but it’s not a requirement get on the list. I’d take a player with one great Super Bowl over two decent ones.

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This is only about Super Bowls in a vacuum. Nobody would argue that Timmy Smith was a better NFL player than Dan Marino, but Smith and his 204-yard game in Super Bowl XXII would rank higher on this list than Marino. It’s just Super Bowl performances.

Also, a ton of great Super Bowl players got left off. There are 10 spots for 48 games. Not everyone can make it. I considered anyone you will complain about me leaving off, trust me.

Here’s the top 10 greatest Super Bowl players ever: 

10. Manny Fernandez, Miami Dolphins DT (VI, VII, VIII)

Fernandez played in three Super Bowls, winning two, and he had one of the great performances in the game’s history. He had 17 tackles in Super Bowl VII from the defensive line, and Washington never scored an offensive touchdown. That’s unbelievable. Fernandez had a sack in each of his three Super Bowls (according to the invaluable resource for this list pro-football-reference.com; sacks weren’t an official stat then). He deserved to win Super Bowl VII MVP, but he’ll have to settle for two rings and being one of the greatest Super Bowl players ever.

9. Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins RB (XXII)

Smith’s great game has been lost a bit because he didn’t have a great career. But it was phenomenal in Super Bowl XXII, and it’s honestly baffling how he didn’t win Super Bowl MVP. Smith had 204 yards, and only one other player has more than 166 in a Super Bowl (Marcus Allen’s 191). Smith had 131 yards in the first half, and his first half alone would be the 10th-best rushing game in Super Bowl history. Think about that. They weren’t garbage yards; his big first half helped a 35-point second quarter.

He had more career Super Bowl rushing yards than Roger Craig, who played in three Super Bowls, and just as many rushing yards as Thurman Thomas, who played in four. It’s hard to believe but Smith had just 602 yards during a short 22-game NFL career. I know there are some great players who didn’t make it, but Smith had arguably the greatest game in Super Bowl history. He belongs on this list.

8. Larry Csonka, Miami Dolphins RB (VI, VII, VIII)

Csonka is the only player on the list of top 10 rushing attempts in Super Bowls, and top 10 yards per carry. So he was a workhorse and darn efficient at it too. Csonka and his 5.2-yard-per-carry average got a Super Bowl MVP trophy in Super Bowl VIII. He could have been the Super Bowl VII MVP with another 100-yard day, barely missing out on being the only non-quarterback with two Super Bowl MVP awards.

7. Tom Brady, New England Patriots QB (XXXVI, XXXVIII, XXXIX, XLII, XLVI)

I had a hard time with Brady. I didn’t want to go just on volume. On Sunday he’ll be the second player to appear in six Super Bowls, which is more a testament to what he has accomplished before the Super Bowl than in it. But his resume isn’t bad. He has had three 90-plus quarterback ratings, but also two in the 80s. He did lead two drives that ended in game-winning field goals, would have had a third game-winning drive if Randy Moss’ touchdown in XLII hadn’t been trumped by David Tyree and Plaxico Burress, and he didn’t play too bad in either of New England’s Super Bowl losses. The volume gets him in the door. The two Super Bowl MVPs matter too. But if you argued that another quarterback like Troy Aikman or Bart Starr deserved to be on the list instead, I’d have a tough time arguing. Of course, Brady might go way up the list with a good game on Sunday.

6. Eli Manning, New York Giants QB (XLII, XLVI)

(AP)Manning will have an incredibly complicated legacy when he’s done. But his work in Super Bowls is above reproach. He has the eighth best career quarterback rating in Super Bowls among players with multiple appearances, is one of four players to complete at least 75 percent of his passes in a Super Bowl, and had two game-winning touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. Can’t argue that, or two Super Bowl MVPs.

5. Terrell Davis, Denver Broncos RB, (XXXII, XXXIII)

Davis is one of the greatest playoff performers in NFL history, and it’s possible no back impacted a Super Bowl championship more than Davis in Super Bowl XXXII. He was unstoppable against the Packers, even though he missed about a quarter with a migraine. He had 157 yards that day, 102 yards the next year against the Falcons, averaged 4.7 yards a carry in Super Bowls and added 58 receiving yards too. Davis is the only back in history to play in multiple Super Bowls and have more than 100 rushing yards in every one of his appearances. His postseason resume is why he should be a Hall of Famer, but that’s an argument for later.

4. Lynn Swann, Pittsburgh Steelers WR (IX, X, XIII, XIV)

Swann had minus-7 yards for his Super Bowl career after his first trip. He lost yardage on a run and didn’t catch a pass in Super Bowl IX. And he still made the list. That’s what 16 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns in three subsequent games will do. He won a Super Bowl MVP for his dominant performance in Super Bowl X, and had another spectacular touchdown catch in Super Bowl XIII.

3. Terry Bradshaw, Pittsburgh Steelers QB (IX, X, XIII, XIV)

I wanted to be careful when evaluating Bradshaw. We give too much credit and blame to quarterbacks. We don’t say “Joe Greene is 4-0 in Super Bowls!” although he arguably was the greatest player on those Steelers teams. But Bradshaw and his two Super Bowl MVPs stand up very well. His spectacular 11.1 yards per attempt is far ahead of No. 2 on the list (among those with multiple appearances), Bart Starr, who had 9.6. Bradshaw was as great in Super Bowls as we credit him for.

2. Jerry Rice, San Francisco 49ers/Oakland Raiders WR (XXIII, XXIV, XXIX, XXXVII)

Rice is the greatest player in NFL history, and has the Super Bowl resume to go with it too. He scored in each of his four Super Bowls (eight touchdowns total), and his first three Super Bowls he had 215, 148 and 149 yards. On the top-10 list of most receiving yards in a Super Bowl, Rice ranks first, seventh and eighth. Rice is the only player in Super Bowl history to catch three touchdowns in a game … and he did it twice. Goodness. His 589 Super Bowl yards are 225 more than anyone else.

1. Joe Montana, San Francisco 49ers QB (XVI, XIX, XXIII, XXIV)

Really, it couldn't be anyone else. He’s the only three-time Super Bowl MVP, and in the Super Bowl in which he wasn't MVP, Rice won it … with Montana throwing him the ball. All Montana did in that game, when Rice won MVP, was lead one of the great game-winning drives in NFL history. He had 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in Super Bowls, a rating of 127.8 and his teams went 4-0. Rice actually came pretty close to getting the top spot, but it’s just too hard to overcome Joe.

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Frank Schwab is the editor of Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdowncorner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @YahooSchwab

Author: Frank Schwab
Posted: January 30, 2015, 10:02 pm

When the league tallied coaches' votes and revealed the 2015 NBA All-Star Game reserves, Yahoo's own Marc J. Spears dubbed Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard the most notable snub, and it's hard to argue a guy who deserved his spot with slightly inferior numbers last year doesn't belong again.

Given a night to sleep on the snub, Lillard didn't pull any punches when asked about it by The Oregonian and other media gathered for a morning shootaround at Philips Arena, where his Northwest Division-leading Blazers are scheduled to face the Eastern Conference's top-seeded Atlanta Hawks on Friday.

"I'm definitely going to take it personal. I said I'd be pissed off about it. And I am. I just felt disrespected. Because I play the game the right way, I play unselfishly, I play for my team to win games and I produce at a high level. I think what I bring to the game as a person, my makeup mentally, how I am toward my teammates, how I am toward the media, how I am toward fans; I think what an All-Star represents in this league, and what you would want people to look at as an All-Star, I think I make up all those things. For me to be having the type of season that I'm having, which is better than any one that I've had before, and my team to be third in the Western Conference, I just see it as disrespect. I'm not one of those guys that's going to say, 'Oh, I should be in over this guy or that guy.' I'm not a hater. I've got respect for each guy that made the roster. And I think they deserve to (make the team). But at the same time, I feel really disrespected, and that's just honestly how I feel."

So, when NBA commissioner Adam Silver replaced injured L.A. Lakers star Kobe Bryant on Thursday afternoon with Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins — reportedly his conference's next highest vote-getter from the coaches — Lillard wasn't feeling any better about the perceived lack of respect. In a pointed post on his Instagram page that has since been deleted, he shared a photo with the quote, "BE SO GOOD THEY CAN'T IGNORE YOU," written in bold red lettering beside the following caption.

I just want to thank the coaches who feel I wasn't good enough, the fans that didn't think I was good enough , and Adam Silver also for not thinking I was good enough. This isn't unfamiliar territory for me , it's actually what my life has been inspired by. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed or that I don't feel disrespected but it's not too much to handle. Not the first or last guy to be snubbed. "You should have been there" isn't good enough for me. But anyway, The reason I'm in these shoes is because I've always use the hand I was dealt to my advantage... A wise man once told me... " it ain't always gone be peaches and cream but somebody has to pay for the reason it's not ... One way or another " ... #ImThankful #Real #NonAllStar #RipCity #YellowTape

Why exactly Lillard deleted the post isn't clear, especially given his comments earlier in the day. Perhaps he felt the specific mention of Silver was over the top, or maybe he didn't want to disrespect Cousins, but that's neither here nor there. Regardless, you have to respect Lillard's passion for exhibition basketball. And surely he's the next man up if any other Western Conference stars suffer an injury before Feb. 15.

Keep in mind, though, it's not about whether Lillard deserves to be in the All-Star Game — because he does after increasing his per-game averages and efficiency from a remarkable 2013-14 season — but rather who from the West doesn't belong in this year's edition. Starting point guard Stephen Curry along with reserve guards James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Chris Paul and Klay Thompson are all equally deserving of the nod, as are fellow snubs Mike Conley and Monta Ellis. An argument could be made the league should have replaced Bryant with another guard, but Boogie deserves his bid, too.

Still, if Lillard somehow does use the snub as motivation to come back even stronger, NBA beware.

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Ben Rohrbach is a contributor for Ball Don't Lie and Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

Author: Ben Rohrbach
Posted: January 30, 2015, 9:18 pm

Nobody’s winning, here.

The Chicago Bulls lost again on Thursday, two nights after they’d won again. This is the Jekyll and Hyde nature of a team caught in the midst of both a crisis of conscience and a crisis of confidence. The team fell to the lowly and tanking Los Angeles Lakers, working without Kobe Bryant, 48 hours after downing the mighty Golden State Warriors on GSW’s home floor. That win was far from encouraging, though, and it came on the heels of a loss to Miami that followed two impressive wins over San Antonio and Dallas.

The Spurs and Mavericks conquests almost felt like gifts, in a way, handed to Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau by the two most-esteemed members of his coaching brethren: Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle. Thibodeau’s work in Chicago has long been both praised and questioned in equal amounts for good reasons, but his employment status was never in question until the days before those two wins over Texas teams.

Popovich and ABC/ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy spoke up on Thibodeau’s behalf last week, leading to an angry Bulls vice president in John Paxson firing back in local papers, calling Van Gundy “pathetic” and demanding an apology in ways that were just as pathetic. Following another report in the Chicago Tribune that summarized league sources as declaring the relationship between Thibodeau and the front office to be “beyond repair,” Gar Forman then responded to those allegations with a prepared statement without actually throwing a sentence of support Thibodeau’s way.

Meanwhile, Chicago can’t guard anyone, they needed desperate shots toward the end of the Golden State and Los Angeles game just to make things competitive, Derrick Rose is shooting 36 percent over his last four games (while averaging over six turnovers a contest), and the rampaging Cleveland Cavaliers are just 2.5 games in back of the Bulls in the Central Division.

The season is slipping away, even if the team does topple Phoenix on Friday and Houston and New Orleans in the games after. They’ll probably lose to Orlando next Sunday just to drag things down again.

Taking sides in this situation is pointless, as the coaching staff, front office, ownership group and cast of players are all to blame for this frustratingly bloated amount of wasted potential.

If the front office is upset with Tom Thibodeau because he works players too many minutes, and practices too often, then their concerns are valid. For years Thibodeau has been rightly criticized for limiting his rotations, working with intractable rules regarding court time that he only strays from due to injury and/or foul trouble.

I used the phrase “and/or” there because Tom Thibodeau plays injured players. Constantly. And he shames players who don’t suit up – witness his sloughing off of Luol Deng’s spinal tap as “flu-like symptoms” in 2013, or his exasperation at learning that Mike Dunleavy Jr. (who was and still might be weeks away from returning) would be out of a Bulls game earlier this month.

Thibodeau defenders should and will point to his team’s sterling record with a fully-healthy starting lineup. They will point out that a 30-18 record is no small feat, considering the injuries and cadre of new faces (including, if we’re honest, Derrick Rose) while pointing out that the Chicago Bulls have 34 games to go as of this writing, and the ability to unleash Tom Thibodeau on an opponent’s head coach in a seven game series this spring. They’re right to do that, and also wrong to tell you that Chicago’s head coach doesn’t deserve some of the blame, ‘ere.

Tom Thibodeau has at his disposal the biggest basketball brain in the NBA. He is also, as is the case with most geniuses, flawed. There are things about his approach that he has to change if he wants to work as a head coach in June for the first time in his career.

The front office has enabled Tom Thibodeau’s lack of touch with minutes for years prior to 2014-15, but Jeff Van Gundy is correct in pointing out that they have undermined him in several ways. Declining to re-sign super-assistant Ron Adams merely because Adams was open about Chicago’s awful spate of personnel moves in the months following Derrick Rose’s 2012 ACL tear was a needless move. Companies aren’t required to keep personnel around if that actual person can’t stop complaining about the company, but losing a talent like Adams (and upsetting your top-flight coach) merely because of insecurity speaks volumes about the front office and ownership’s own approach.

When you ride with Tom Thibodeau, though, you have to know what you’re getting into. No other coach is going to come in this summer and save things for Chicago. Name any well-regarded assistant or well-heeled NBA lifer that could be brought in to keep the dream alive – none of these potential hires are going to be any better at coaching the Chicago Bulls than a happy and sated Tom Thibodeau.

This bountiful roster is also eating its own. At some point the focus has to come back to the players. If Tom Thibodeau’s unending pressure means that the coach has lost his players, well, then it’s on the players to get found again, ‘kay?

At the risk of delving into sportswriter’ese, this squad is too precious. Pau Gasol is too nice, so nobody is calling out his horrific defense. Derrick Rose has been through too much so nobody is challenging his just-as-terrible defense and miserable shot selection. Joakim Noah, despite stellar recent stats, is still not himself on either end due to injury, so he’s tempered his own voice. Kirk Hinrich is too respected for Thibodeau to note that he stops the ball offensively and can’t be trusted to hit open jumpers. The team routinely declines to dive into offensive sets with alacrity, and this is carrying over to the defensive end.

Flush with options, the squad walks through offensive sets early in ballgames, and it continually puts its defense behind the eight-ball due to Rose’s initial poor perimeter D, and Gasol’s inability to check anything save for those two blocks per game he gets. Taj Gibson, never much of a rebounder despite his status as a defense-first big man, has seen his own usefulness on the defensive end dip a bit. And for the bulk of January, with the exception of his 35-point (in 49 minutes, Thibs) outburst on Thursday, Jimmy Butler has looked unsure of how to get back to those 20-some points per game he’s now charged with averaging.

The players are afraid of stepping on each others’ respective toes, and as a result all the would-be killer attributes (Gasol’s low post wizardry, Noah’s still-brilliant passing, Butler’s throwback post-up game, Rose’s sustained ability to drive into the paint) are lost as the Bulls act hesitant offensive in ways that carry over to the defensive end. Tom Thibodeau ran a top-five offense in 2011-12 with Rose and Luol Deng combining to miss 39 games and C.J. Watson (36 percent from the floor) and John Lucas (just under 40 percent) firing away, and yet the Bulls are only ranked 10th this year despite a multitude of gifts.

This team has championship potential. When healthy, it has a deep and versatile roster that should be able to navigate the obstacles that a (potential) seven and a half month season creates. As Gasol declines, as he should do after playing a significant amount of early season minutes, Noah should ascend. Rose will grow confidence in his drive to match the undeserved confidence he has in his long jumper. The heightened focus that a seven-game playoff series provides should play right into the team’s hands.

They’ll need to play bigger than the sum of their parts, though, for this to happen. So far in 2014-15, Tom Thibodeau hasn’t been the coach to work up this compelling equation.

Before parting ways with Thibodeau, however, Chicago’s front office and players should take a deep breath and ponder if such an available coach even exists.

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Kelly Dwyer is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at KDonhoops@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @KDonhoops

Author: Kelly Dwyer
Posted: January 30, 2015, 9:15 pm

Hey everybody, I have an announcement to make! We are putting a 23-year-old cornerstone All-Star defenseman with a manageable contract on the trading block! 

If you followed Twitter on Friday, that’s what it sounded like Arizona Coyotes general manager Don Maloney told TSN 1200 in Ottawa. Instead, it was more like … he really didn’t want to move OEL but would for the right type of trade? You be the judge in this quote.

“Shane Doan is not going anywhere. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is a player we would certainly be very very reluctant to part with,” Maloney said.

This feels like the scene out of “Dumb and Dumber” where Lloyd Christmas goes “so you’re telling there’s a chance” that Mary Swanson would hook up with him, even though it was a one in a million shot.

In any context, it doesn’t totally sound like Maloney is totally pushing OEL as trade bait for the Coyotes, who have the NHL’s fourth-worst record.

If you add more background from the interview, Maloney goes to the mat to praise the prized defenseman calling him a “terrific talent” at another point in the hit.

Pumping him up to deal him perhaps?

At the moment, Ekman-Larsson isn’t exactly a generational player, but he’s an excellent defenseman who hasn’t reached his peak yet. And he has four years left after this season on a six-year $33 million contract at a manageable $5.5 million cap hit. Who knows, maybe he ends up being ‘that’ type of defenseman after all. Again, he’s just 23.

There is precedence for this. The Kings supposedly made Dustin Brown publicly available during the 2012 trade deadline – just to see if there were any takers. Or something like that. Whether there were or weren’t, it lit a fire under his ass and the team won the Stanley Cup and he played a major role on that squad's playoff run as a human battering ram. 

We don’t see the Yotes going on a miracle run to the Cup Final, but OEL hasn’t quite taken the next step Arizona hoped. Maybe this is a wakeup call for a young player who has already been lavished with a long-term deal?

If anything, Maloney’s comments may not be a deal for now but to at least perk the interest of general managers around draft time. Let’s say Arizona ends up with the third pick in the 2015 NHL Draft and wants to move up to take Connor McDavid or Jake Eichel. How would a package including OEL, and the No. 3 pick (likely Noah Hanifin) sound? That sets your blueline up for years.

Or Maloney could just take Hanifin and do the same thing with Arizona.

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @joshuacooper

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Author: Josh Cooper
Posted: January 30, 2015, 9:08 pm

Houston Texans' Arian Foster wears street cloths before an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Patric Schneider)Former Tennessee running back Arian Foster put the Vols and the NCAA back into the spotlight on Thursday when he told The Dan LeBatard Show he received between $40,000 and $50,000 throughout his career at Tennessee.

This wasn’t the first time Foster, now a running back with the Houston Texans, had claimed he was paid in college. Back in 2013, Foster told Sports Illustrated he had been “getting money on the side” while in school, but he did not specify how much.

“You have people help you out here and there,” Foster told The Dan LeBatard Show. “Boosters and alumni and ex-players, they all know how it is, man. It's hard living check to check when you don't have enough money to go out to the movies or any kind of leisure activity. And you're not allowed to get a job. Especially when I was in college, they were a lot more stringent on those rules, so at any given chance I got the opportunity, I took a free handout. Absolutely.”

Foster also claimed he met his wife, Romina, through an agent. He said the agent was trying to sign both students as Romina was singing in a girl’s group. Foster said the agent took the two out on a boat in Chattanooga to “wine and dine us. It was definitely illegal by NCAA standards.” Foster did not end up signing with that agent.

However, on Friday, one of Foster’s former teammates, linebacker Ryan Karl, linked to Foster’s interview on his Facebook page and called out his former teammate.

“So Arian Foster I gotta call you out here,” Karl wrote. “You’re my boy, but you did not get $40-50k from boosters while at UT. Shoot, you were as broke as me in college driving a crap car living in a crap apartment - like us all. Also, these claims of being wined and dined by agents is a big stretch too. You are a baller now but at the time, you were a risky pick with who ended up being a free agent. Quit trying to grab attention while throwing your school under the bus.”

Not surprisingly, Foster even started to backpedal on his comment, claiming on Twitter that he never received the amount of money he claimed.

Vol fans, it was a joke. I didn't get no where near 50k.

— Feeno (@ArianFoster) January 30, 2015

Whether Foster was joking or not, it is important to note that Foster has stuck with his story since 2013, even if he’s not being entirely truthful about the amount.

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Graham Watson is the editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at dr.saturday@ymail.com or follow her on Twitter! Follow @YahooDrSaturday

And don’t forget to keep up with all of Graham’s thoughts, witty comments and college football discussions on Facebook

Author: Graham Watson
Posted: January 30, 2015, 8:36 pm

PHOENIX — The NFL has not made iron-clad determinations on whether a specific league team is closing in on relocating to Los Angeles in the near future, commissioner Roger Goodell said Friday.

“There have been no determinations of us going to Los Angeles, any particular team going to Los Angeles or going to any particular stadium," Goodell said in his annual state of the league address. "We have several alternatives that we are evaluating. There are teams that are interested but are trying to work their issues out. So as a league, we haven’t gotten to that stage yet. It will all be subject to our relocation policy."  NFL commissioner Roger Goodell (AP)

Those interested teams potentially include a few — the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders — who are embroiled in local stadium issues that could force the team to seek a new city to call home. The Rams are the most often-mentioned possibilities to relocate because of team owner Stan Kroenke's purchase of a large tract of land near Hollywood Park in Inglewood, Calif. and plans to build a football stadium on those grounds.

Goodell previously said that there will be no team in Los Angeles, the country's second-biggest television market with a population of more than 12 million, for the 2015 season. The city previously was home to two franchises — the Rams and Raiders — and potentially could be home to two again, despite there not being a team in the city for more than 20 years now.

Goodell said that before any NFL franchise potentially uproots itself and lands in L.A., or elsewhere, it must be voted on by the membership for approval — a process that might not be a rubber-stamping.

“The ownership takes very seriously the obligation for us all to vote on league matters, including relocation," Goodell said. "There’s a relocation policy; it is very clear. We have shared it with our owners over the last several years. We emphasize the point over each of those meetings: There will be at least one vote — if not multiple votes — on relocation.

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“We would potentially have [votes on] the relocation itself, potential stadium funding, potential [for a] Super Bowl [at the newly relocated team]. So a lot of things likely would be subject to a vote. Our owners take that seriously, and we [the NFL] take that very seriously."

Rams owner Stan Kroenke (AP) The Rams and Kroenke have been at loggerheads over the outdated Edward Jones Dome — which still hasn't been paid off — as the team's home, and recent talks over a new stadium in St. Louis appear to have made little progress. Despite a local effort to keep the team in town, Kroenke's intentions in California are seen as a real threat for the Rams to move back west.

“Stan has been working on the stadium for St. Louis … for years," Goodell said, when asked if the Rams have adhered properly to the NFL's relocation guidelines. "They had a very formal process. That process — they went through that entire process. It did not result in a solution that works for either St. Louis or for the team.

“I wouldn’t say the stadium [issue] is a surprise to anybody. Any market that is having issues, we have a discussion about it. And St. Louis seems determined to build a stadium, which is something we look forward to working with."

Goodell reiterated that he's comfortable with the league's 32 team staying where they are currently and helping strengthen those respective communities.

“We want all of our franchises to stay in their current markets," Goodell said. "That’s a shared responsibility; that’s something we all have to work together on. The league has programs that we’ve made available. We’re active in the community, including St. Louis.

“We also will make sure that we’re engaged in the business community and the public sector to help us work in those communities, including St. Louis, and make sure that [we] work for the community as well as the team so our teams can be successful over the long haul."

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Eric Edholm is a writer for Shutdown Corner on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at edholm@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Eric_Edholm

Author: Eric Edholm
Posted: January 30, 2015, 8:03 pm

Tiger Woods has never scored worse as a pro than he did on Friday at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Woods shot and 11-over 82 at TPC Scottsdale for his worst-ever round as a professional, worse than the 81 he shot in the third round of the 2002 Open Championship. It was raining on that day, too, at Muirfield, but gale-force winds didn't whip up at TPC Scottsdale.

Tiger Woods stands in a cactus while searching for his ball. (USAT)

His second round was like the first but with more lighter fluid. The same things plagued Woods on Friday: cluenessless with the driver and a complete mental block in his short game. 

The first four holes weren't good, but a good-enough 1-over-par start. Then he took an unplayable lie after his drive at his fifth hole, the 14th after starting on the back nine, leading to a double-bogey 6. Woods followed with a duck hook into the water at the par-5 15th, the total opposite of where his drive went on Thursday. Triple bogey. 

When Woods made a 20-foot putt to save par – par! – at the par-3 16th, the roar from the crowd made it seem like a birdie. It was almost as if they were trying to will him to something better.

Then Woods couldn't get up-and-down in three from 40 yards away at the drivable par-4 17th. Deflated, Woods came up short from the fairway with his approach at the 18th. Bogey, why not. The outgoing 8-over 44 tied his worst-ever score for nine holes as a professional, equaled in the third round of the 2013 Memorial Tournament. 

At that point, what was Woods to do? He wasn't going to shoot a back-nine 26 to miraculously make the cut. 

"Just keep fighting," Woods said after the round. "Just keep grinding over each and every shot."

He deserves credit for that, taking the turn and not walking directly toward his jet and flying home. He played the back nine, and it was equally ugly, even if the score was six shots better. At the par-3 fourth, Woods skulled a chip shot from back of the green into a bunker in front of it, leading to a double-bogey. Woods birdied the fifth, the hardest hole on the course for the second day in a row, then dropped shots with a bad bunker shot at the sixth and a three-jack at the seventh. Another birdie at No. 8 gave a glimmer of hope that he'd have a chance to avoid a historic low, but a limp effort at the ninth locked up history.

Tiger Woods has played over 1,000 rounds as a professional. He now has two rounds in the 80s. 

"We all have days like this," Woods said. "Unfortunately, mine was in a public forum. We take the good with the bad."

Woods again blamed changes in his technique and his lack of trust in them for the debacle. This was mental. This was mentally jarring. Woods isn't sticking around for the Super Bowl on Sunday, instead flying home and practicing before he flies cross-country on Monday for the Farmers Insurance Open.

Woods' peers have repeatedly said on Twitter that the 14-time major winner looks great on the range. It's taking it to the course that's the problem. Perhaps that means Woods needs to play more to work through the mental flubs that are worse than the physical skulls, blades and chunks. 

The classic advice from wise investors is to buy low, at rock bottom if you can. But you'd be hard pressed to find someone right now that would buy stock in Woods – that is, except Woods.

"I was player of the year only a year ago," Woods said. "Got to keep things in perspective."

Related video from the Waste Management Phoenix Open


Ryan Ballengee is a Yahoo Sports contributor. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Author: Ryan Ballengee
Posted: January 30, 2015, 7:59 pm

William McCauley, left, shows a witness a photograph. (AP)Now we know why the trial of Aaron Hernandez is expected to take up to two months: prosecutor William McCauley is doing the questioning.

In Day 2 of the murder trial against the former New England Patriots star we learned that Comfort Suites is a hotel, that after getting pregnant a baby is born and how a 911 call is routed.

There were a few relevant points made during the four hours of testimony on Friday, namely the prosecution's attempt to put Hernandez's footprint at the scene of the crime, where Odin Lloyd's dead body was found, but mostly what the jury of 18 got was more useless facts that the defense promised in its opening statement would be forthcoming from the prosecution.

McCauley may be trying to lay an exceedingly firm foundation, but so far he's mostly just installed a bunch of windows looking out onto nothing.

The kicker came when Charles Sutherland, director of communications for the Massachusetts State Police, took the stand to explain the ins and outs of a 911 call. This took 17 minutes, after which there was no cross examination.

And why would there be?

The only damage Sutherland's testimony did to Hernandez's case was cost him a few hundred bucks in billable hours.

If this is McCauley's strategy, to rack up legal fees for Hernandez by putting witness after witness through a line of mostly meaningless questioning, then he's doing a bang up job. Thursday the jury learned, thanks to McCauley's line of questioning, that Attleboro, Mass., is south of North Attleboro. Friday's testimony revealed to them that after Hernandez's girlfriend Shayanna Jenkins got pregnant, a baby soon arrived.

That gem came via a line of questioning to Jenkins' sister Shaneah, Friday's final witness. Shaneah Jenkins was Odin Lloyd's girlfriend. Her testimony, halted for a weekend recess, focused on the layout of Hernandez's home and Lloyd's propensity to smoke marijuana. Apparently he smoked frequently with Hernandez in the football star's basement, which we learned features a popcorn machine and a pool table sporting a New England Patriots logo.

Lloyd's propensity to smoke pot with Hernandez is a salient point given the prosecution's revelation in its opening statement Thursday that a joint with Hernandez's DNA on it was found next to Lloyd's body.

Presumably McCauley will eventually get to that bit of evidence, as well as potentially incriminating cell phone records, the shell casing with Hernandez's DNA on it and the video showing him driving down a dirt path with four people in a car only to return with just three.

But before McCauley gets to that, he apparently wants to make sure the jury understands exactly what Shaneah Jenkins did for the Comfort Suites in 2012 (desk clerk), how Odin Lloyd rolled his joints (usually just one at a time), and what door Jenkins used to go inside Hernandez's house (the garage).

 

Author: Jay Hart
Posted: January 30, 2015, 7:56 pm

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 11: Nicole Brown and NHL player Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings arrive at the 2012 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 11, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)Nicole Brown scrolled through her memory, trying to recall what would qualify as her favorite reality show.

“I’m trying to think about what my husband tells me to shut off when we’re going to bed,” she said, laughing.

She settled on “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” the O.G. version of that franchise and a series had a bit more humanity than its trashier offspring.

This is what Brown wants from her co-starring role on “Hockey Wives,” the new series debuting on Canada’s W Network at 10 p.m. ET/PT on March 18. As the wife of Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown – the two have been together since they were 15 years old, and have four children – she hopes the new show brings to light the lives of wives and girlfriends of NHL players.

They raise families. They own businesses. They leverage their husbands' and boyfriends’ stardom for charitable causes.

“Every wife and girlfriend has their own story to tell,” Brown said. “It’s not like we’re all sitting at home waiting for our husbands or boyfriends to come home.”

The cast for the upcoming season, including Brown:

  • * Actress Noureen DeWulf (Anger Management, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past), wife of Vancouver Canucks goalie Ryan Miller
  • * Maripier Morin, girlfriend of Montreal Canadiens winger Brandon Prust
  • * Fashion designer Tiffany Parros, married to recently retired George Parros
  • * Model and new mom Martine Forget, engaged to Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier
  • * Hockey wives’ connector Brijet Whitney, married to recently retired Ray Whitney
  • * Social activist Kodette LaBarbera, wife of Anaheim Ducks goalie Jason LaBarbera
  • * Former Intelligence Specialist for the U.S. Military Emilie Blum, wife of Minnesota/Iowa Wild defenseman Jonathon Blum
  • * Athlete and Communications expert Jenny Scrivens, wife of Edmonton Oilers goalie Ben Scrivens
  • * Arizona real estate maven Wendy Tippett, wife of Arizona Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett

We spoke with Nicole Brown about “Hockey Wives”, how she handles criticism of Dustin Brown, parenting when one spouse is on the road a lot and much more.

Q. What are you hoping people get out of seeing this show?

BROWN: “The driving force behind me doing the show was trying to shed some light on the families of these guys who play hockey. I feel there’s a certain way that people think we live, or the things that we do because our husbands are hockey players. But our lives aren’t that different from anybody else.

“Yes, my husband is a professional athlete and yes he makes a lot of money, and yes, anyone can go online and see how much he makes, but we’re not that different than anybody else. I’m a stay at home mom. I take care of my kids. I go through all the things that every other mom does. Just because we’re in LA doesn’t mean we’re in Hollywood going to glamorous parties every night. Most days I don’t make it out of my Lululemons because they’re comfortable, and I’m running around from point A to point B to go to soccer practice and doing homework with a kindergartener.

“I think it’s really important to show the other sides.”

One of the more unique aspects of the pro athlete family is how the athlete keeps in touch when on the road. Will we see some of that?

“Dustin and I communicate through text message 95 percent of the time, as well as FaceTime. That’s really the only option. He misses out on a lot of stuff. It’s really hard on me and hard on him. I feel guilty that I get to be home for school plays and concerts and holidays, and he doesn’t get to be there all the time.

My oldest son, Jake, his birthday’s in February. And I think for the past five years, he hasn’t been home, because February’s their big road trip. My husband hasn’t been there for my six-year-old's birthday for maybe his entire life. I feel bad for him that he has to miss out on all of it.

“People say, ‘He’s making millions of dollars. Get over it. Well, the money doesn’t make it any easier when you’re missing your kid’s birthday.”

He’s like an elected official. His salary is public, and he’s under constant discussion and criticism in the media and online. Do you pay attention to all that? Do you close it off? Is it unavoidable?

“It’s one of those things as a girlfriend or a spouse of a professional athlete, you learn over the years how to handle it. I definitely used to read that stuff – I can’t even lie to you. Some of it is really hurtful, and people don’t realize when people sit behind a computer screen and type that, that’s it’s hurtful. Just because you’re not face to face, that doesn’t mean the words don’t hurt.

“So I used to read it and I used to get very upset. I’m loyal to my husband. I think he’s great. But it hurts. I learned over the years that people are going to talk about him. Whether he’s playing great or whether he’s playing awful, somebody’s always going to have something to say. I can’t buy into it.

“So I learned my lesson and I stay away as much as possible, and try to stay positive. I don’t bring that stuff up to him.”

When he’s playing at home, do you watch from the wives/girlfriends/family room?

“This is our first year of having four mobile children. But I’ve only been to a handful of games during the week this season because I have three kids doing homework or reading, it’s hard to get away. And there are some nights I’d rather just sit in my pajamas and fold laundry and watch the game, rather than get dressed up and go to the game and get home at midnight and get up at six a.m. to get the kids ready for the next day.

“But I go on the weekends. When I do go, me and the other wives and girlfriends will go to the family room, chit-chat before the game and then go up to the seats and watch."

Do you know any of your other cast members?

“I know some better than others, only because some play here and some have not. The Hockey World is very small. I know Jenny Scrivens and Kodette LaBarbera because they were here with me. I met Bridgette Whitney years ago when we did a fundraiser for the families of the Lokomotiv plane crash in Russia. You kind of meet people along the way.”

Can you tell me a little bit about the support system players wives an girlfriends have for each other? It’s not a secret that some of the guys in this league can make mistakes on the road; is there a strong support system?

“I can’t speak to what it’s like in other cities. I can say that in LA that around playoff time my family is the other girls on the team. When the guys are on the road and something happens, like a sick family member, those are the girls that are in town to help you. They’re going through the same thing as you.

“It’s hard to call a girlfriend back home that I grew up with, because she’s not going to understand really. But these other girls understand. We’re all in this together. We’re all supporting our husbands.”

It’s an interesting project, because although you’ll put yourselves out there for charity and a few of you are on social media, hockey wives don’t really seek out the spotlight all that much. Are you worried about the reaction? On the other side of the keyboard, let’s say?

“I feel like that’s going to happen, no matter what. I’ve read stuff online before just from a picture of Dustin and I popping up. No matter what you do or say, someone’s going to take it and turn it around to make it something that it’s not.

“[Sighs] I try not to worry too much. This is my life. Nothing that you’re going to see on TV was done for TV. My life is chaos. It’s not staged.

“In this business, it comes with the territory. It’s usually just Dustin, not me. They’re going to take it however they take it. If I complain about something, they’re going to say I shouldn’t be complaining. But I think there’s going to be more good to come out of it than bad.”

I think because that’s what we do with celebrity couples, every couple is now put under that magnifying glass, even if only one half of them qualifies as a celebrity.

“I totally agree. It’s unfortunate that we just can’t just appreciate one another and what they’re doing with their families. But that’s the world now, especially with social media.”

MORE FROM YAHOO HOCKEY:

Author: Greg Wyshynski
Posted: January 30, 2015, 7:52 pm

Football isn't the only thing to watch this weekend. The clash between desperate Duke and unbeaten Virginia highlights a strong slate of college hoops that also includes a first-place showdown in the Valley and another matchup of ACC contenders:

1. Duke at Virginia (Saturday, 7 p.m. EST): Only a couple weeks ago, Duke began ACC play as the favorite to win the regular season crown. Now the Blue Devils probably have to beat the No. 2 team in the nation on its own home floor to even stay in the race. Duke (17-3, 4-3) would fall four games behind Virginia (19-0, 7-0) if it doesn't win in Charlottesville, likely an insurmountable deficit considering the quality of the Cavaliers and the number of other teams that would be standing between the Blue Devils and first place. To beat Virginia, the Blue Devils will have to shoot well from the perimeter against a packline defense designed to wall off the paint, handle the big-to-big double teams likely to be thrown at Jahlil Okafor and defend against dribble penetration deep into the shot clock. This game will be especially challenging for Duke because of the intangibles in addition to the opponent. Whereas Virginia has enjoyed a week off to prepare, the Blue Devils won an emotional road game at St. John's on Sunday, blew a late lead at Notre Dame on Wednesday and then endured the dismissal of key reserve Rasheed Sulaimon on Thursday.

2. Wichita State at Northern Iowa (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): Unlike last season when there was no Missouri Valley Conference team capable of challenging Wichita State over the course of an 18-game schedule, the league has a second contender this season. Northern Iowa is only a game behind the Shockers in the Valley standings entering the first of two meetings this season and the Panthers have proven themselves outside league play too, having toppled Iowa and Stephen F. Austin and pushed VCU to the brink. Northern Iowa got away from its traditional formula of slow-paced offense and rugged defense last season with detrimental results, but the Panthers have returned to that this season. They'll try to snap Wichita State's 27-game league win streak with an offense fueled by star forward Seth Tuttle and plenty of quality depth and a stifling defense limiting opponents to 38.9 percent shooting. Wichita State has scored the most points per possession and surrendered the fewest in league play, but the Shockers are dealing with an injury concern. Top interior threat Darius Carter has been trying to fight through back pain.

3. North Carolina at Louisville (Saturday, 4 p.m. EST): The last time these two ACC powers met three weeks ago, North Carolina rallied from a 13-point second-half deficit to win 72-71 on a  Marcus Paige game-winning basket in the final seconds. Louisville (17-3, 5-2) will be out for revenge Saturday when the Tar Heels (17-4, 7-1) visit the KFC! Yum Center. Outside shooting isn't a strength for either the Cards or the Tar Heels, but they've found other ways to score throughout league play. For Louisville, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier have both elevated their games against ACC opponents, averaging a combined 37.9 points in seven league games. For North Carolina, offensive rebounding, transition points and interior scoring from Kennedy Meeks and Brice Johnson have helped ease the pressure on Paige. In its most recent victory, North Carolina benefited from out-of-nowhere 4 of 5 3-point shooting from guard Nate Britt. If that proves to be more than a one-game fluke, that would be a huge boost for the Tar Heels. 

Other notable games to watch:

Auburn at Tennessee (Saturday, 12 p.m. EST): Bruce Pearl's return to Knoxville would have been a big story no matter what, but it's more momentous because of the NCAA trouble that has engulfed current Vols coach Donnie Tyndall. Tennessee will have to decide this offseason if it's concerned enough about what happened under Tyndall's watch at Southern Miss to make yet another coaching change.

Arkansas at Florida (Saturday, 1 p.m.): An Arkansas team team that has won three straight games by five or fewer points meets a hard-luck Florida team that has lost six games by six or fewer points. At 11-9 overall and 4-3 in the SEC, the Gators have little margin for error if they hope to get back into NCAA tournament contention.

Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 12 p.m. EST): This is the rematch of last week's Wisconsin rout that was also notable for Adam Woodbury's controversial eye poking habits. Iowa will be at home this time but the Hawkeyes may be without forward Aaron White, who has not practiced due to a shoulder injury sustained at Purdue.

Kansas State at Kansas (Saturday, 2 p.m. EST): To overcome a disappointing non-league season that included losses to Long Beach State and Texas-Southern, Kansas State is going to need to finish in the upper echelon of the Big 12. An upset win at first-place Kansas would go a long way, but it won't be easy, especially since the Wildcats are likely to be without Nino Williams.

Texas at Baylor (Saturday, 6 p.m. EST): Forget about Texas dethroning Kansas in the Big 12. At this point the Longhorns don't even seem certain to finish in the upper half of the league. Struggling Texas needs a road win at Baylor to get back to .500 in league play and avoid its fifth loss in seven games. 

Memphis at Gonzaga (Saturday, 10 p.m. EST): Even though Memphis isn't what it has been in previous seasons, this is still a huge game for both teams. It's a chance for the Tigers (13-7, 6-3) to earn a marquee win that might vault them back into NCAA tournament contention, and a chance for third-ranked Gonzaga to flex its muscles out of conference and defeat an opponent that has given it fits in recent years.

Michigan at Michigan State (Sunday 1 p.m. EST): How's this for a Super Bowl appetizer? A rivalry game between two teams likely to spend February fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. Michigan State is probably on steadier ground, but the Wolverines have played strong defense lately, winning two of three and taking Wisconsin to overtime since Caris LeVert's season-ending injury. 

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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at daggerblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Jeff Eisenberg
Posted: January 30, 2015, 7:40 pm

DeMarcus Cousins lets loose a primal scream. (Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports)Well, this is turning out to be quite a day for DeMarcus Cousins.

After being considered one of the most significant omissions from the list of coach-selected reserves for the upcoming 2014-15 NBA All-Star Game, the NBA announced Friday that Commissioner Adam Silver has added the Sacramento Kings big man to the Western Conference squad to take the place of Kobe Bryant. The Los Angeles Lakers guard was voted to the West's starting lineup by NBA fans, but will miss the game after undergoing season-ending surgery to repair his torn right rotator cuff.

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This is the second straight season in which Silver has had to appoint an injury replacement for Bryant on the Western team. Last year, he tabbed New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis, who was having a monster sophomore season on his way to emerging as a potential MVP candidate, over several other worthy candidates ... including, of course, Cousins. Boogie didn't much appreciate that selection; we're guessing he's much more on-board this time around, as he joins Chicago Bulls guard Jimmy Butler, Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague and Golden State Warriors shooting guard Klay Thompson as first-time All-Stars this season.

We probably can't say the same for Damian Lillard, however.

Like Cousins, the Portland Trail Blazers point guard was left off the Western squad by both fans and coaches despite averaging 21.8 points, 6.2 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game — only six players are putting up at least 21 and 6, and the other five are All-Stars — and leading the league in fourth-quarter scoring for a 32-14 club with the league's No. 11 offense and No. 4 defense.

Unlike Boogie, though, Dame hasn't yet received a special reprieve from the commissioner. For the time being, then — despite all the numbers and records listed above, and despite Lillard ranking as the NBA's third-best player thus far this season by ESPN.com's Wins Above Replacement Player metric and fourth by Basketball-Reference.com's Value Over Replacement Player — he's in line to enter a very exclusive club.

Only four healthy players* have averaged 21 and 6 with a Player Efficiency Rating of at least 21 (Dame's currently at 21.8) without earning an available** All-Star berth — Tiny Archibald in 1971-72, Michael Adams in 1990-91, Stephon Marbury in 2004-05 and Stephen Curry in 2012-13. Lillard would be the fifth.

* Magic Johnson and Russell Westbrook missed large chunks of time with knee injuries in 1981 and 2014, respectively.

** Gary Payton and Grant Hill didn't get an All-Star Game during the 1998-99 season due to the lockout pushing the start of the season back to February.

That is, of course, not the kind of history that any player wants to make, and Lillard was justifiably displeased at his omission when he spoke with reporters on Friday morning, according to Joe Freeman of the Oregonian:

What was your initial reaction?
"I was surprised. I said it before: I thought I did all I could do individually. I thought my team has been successful. It wasn't something I could control. Everything that I could control to give myself my best shot, I did. It played out how it played out."
Will you use this as motivation?
"I'm definitely going to take it personal. I said I'd be pissed off about it. And I am. I just felt disrespected. Because I play the game the right way, I play unselfishly, I play for my team to win games and I produce at a high level. I think what I bring to the game as a person, my makeup mentally, how I am toward my teammates, how I am toward the media, how I am toward fans; I think what an All-Star represents in this league, and what you would want people to look at as an All-Star, I think I make up all those things. For me to be having the type of season that I'm having, which is better than any one that I've had before, and my team to be third in the Western Conference, I just see it as disrespect. I'm not one of those guys that's going to say, 'Oh, I should be in over this guy or that guy.' I'm not a hater. I've got respect for each guy that made the roster. And I think they deserve to (make the team). But at the same time, I feel really disrespected, and that's just honestly how I feel."

(An angry Lillard adds an extra bit of spice to what was already a super enticing Friday night matchup between the Blazers and the streaking Atlanta Hawks, winners of 17 straight.)

Lillard's feelings are certainly understandable, but I find it difficult to fault Silver too much for selecting Cousins, who's also having a remarkable season.

Boogie ranks sixth in the NBA in scoring (23.8 points per game), third in rebounding (12.3 rebounds per game) and sixth in PER (25.2, comfortably above Lillard's mark) to go with significantly improved defensive work. Sacramento has outscored opponents by 6.4 points per 100 possessions with Cousins on the floor, according to NBA.com's stat tool, and has been outscored by a staggering 12.8 points-per-100 with Boogie on the bench. In other words, Cousins' presence is the difference between the Kings playing like one of the five best teams in the NBA and being far and away the worst team in the league.

Lillard's been brilliant, and you can make reasonable arguments for selecting him over Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook, who has missed 14 games, or Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers, although he's been pretty damn good, too. (The real issue here is that the coaches decided to bring reigning MVP Kevin Durant to New York, which on one hand is difficult to justify because he's missed 25 games due to injury, but on the other hand is not because he's Kevin Durant.) But while Lillard comes away as a hard-luck loser, that shouldn't take any of the luster away from Cousins' selection. It's a watershed moment in an at-times tumultuous career, and he's earned it.

More NBA coverage:

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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Author: Dan Devine
Posted: January 30, 2015, 7:38 pm

One of the key parts in scoring a memorable goal is the celebration. You have to pull it off perfectly, unless your jump against the glass results in your actually going through said glass.

Daniel Erlich of Sweden’s Östersunds IK overtime goal earlier this week was pretty smooth, so of course he decided to celebrate the only way he should have — by moonwalking.

Via Kenny Erlich:

There's probably an Östersunds IK fan coming up with Erlich/Michael Jackson songs in light of this, so we figured we'd help out using "The Way You Make Me Feel":

Hey Daniel Erlich with the hockey skates on

You give me fever

Like I've never, ever known

You're just a product of Canada

I like the groove of your (moon)walk,

Your talk, your zest

I see your celly

From miles around

I'll pick you up in my Zamboni

And we'll paint the town

Just reminisce, baby

And tell me twice

That your moonwalk’s better than Alexei’s

The way you make me feel…

Now that'll be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. It's already well-ingrained in mine.

Stick-tap Swiss Habs

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy

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Author: Sean Leahy
Posted: January 30, 2015, 7:21 pm

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