Let the Super Team Arms Race Begin!

Kevin Durant Won

When Kevin Durant suffered an MCL sprain on the last day of February, it only phased his teammates for a little while. The Warriors lost 5 of their first 7 games without the 6’11” wingman, but they were able to right the ship and reel off 13 straight wins. During that Durant-less winning streak, I heard a lot of scorching hot takes that sounded something like, “the Warriors didn’t need Kevin Durant. They just needed the Thunder to not have Kevin Durant.”

After a five-game gentleman’s sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers where Kevin Durant led his team in scoring, defended the other teams best player, and made every big shot he took, it is clear that notion is false. The Warriors absolutely needed Kevin Durant to beat a team that had won the draft lottery three times in 4 years (four times in 11 years) and sported the league’s best and seventh best players. But the Warriors’ need for Kevin Durant won’t earn anyone’s sympathy, nor will it stop NBA fans from blaming the Warriors for the league’s parity problem.

Times have changed

Durant’s instantly infamous choice to move from Oklahoma City to Golden State has pissed off a lot of people. Among the pissed, are former stars of the NBA. Scottie Pippen, Paul Pierce, Charles Barkley, and Reggie Miller are just a few who’ve panned the transaction. That shouldn’t surprise anyone because back when these guys played, rosters were built differently. In the 90s thru the early 2000s, superstar players didn’t move from team to team during their primes. They stayed put, while the leagues secondary superstars—Dennis Rodman, Tom Chambers, and an old Clyde Drexler to name a few—tested free agency or requested trades in hopes of being part of a championship team. But during this time, seeds were planted that would grow to be the new norm. Players like Shaq and Gary Payton exercised an independence that not many players seemed to be aware they had. But the league gained a new consciousness in the summer of 2010 when Lebron James made “The Decision” to go to Miami, shifting the power of team building from the front office to the hardwood.

At that point in his career, James had fully established himself as a basketball superstar. He’d won the league MVP twice and led subpar rosters to consecutive 60-win season, but his career was still as incomplete as his hairline. While the line between superstar and legend is thin in the NBA, the only way across it is with a championship ring on your finger. Fair or not, championships are what separate the basketball players we revere from the ones we overlook. They separate Dr. J from Dominique, Isaiah from Nash, Hakeem from Ewing, and Nowitzki from Malone. Lebron realized that and did something about it; others noticed too. It shouldn’t have come as a huge shock that the next superstar, a championship short of legendary status, would do the same thing. Yet, Durant’s move didn’t just shock the 29 other NBA franchises and their fans, it outraged them.

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. If you can’t join ‘em, imitate ‘em

Now, websites and social media timelines are constantly bombarded with complaints that the NBA is ruined and calls for Golden State’s dominance to be regulated. NBA executives and especially players shouldn’t waste their time wishing the Warriors could be deconstructed. They should be looking for ways to construct their own version of the Warriors.

Let’s remember, the masterful blend of shooting, playmaking, and defense that originally enticed Kevin Durant was formed well within the confines of league rules. Golden State didn’t force Minnesota to draft two point guards before Steph Curry in 2009. They didn’t force Sacramento to draft Jimmer Fredette a pick before Klay Thompson was taken in 2011. And they didn’t force the entire league to let Draymond Green fall all the way to the 35th pick of the 2012 draft. Those teams made those mistakes on their own dumb volition. Legislating the Warriors would be legislating the rest of the league’s stupidity. Yes the acquisition of Durant is what widened the talent gap to where it is now, but it was because of smart business decisions—signing Steph Curry to an $11 million a year deal when his ankles were hurt and refusing to trade Klay Thompson for Kevin Love when everyone in the world except for Jerry West said they should—gave them the cap room to sign a max player. That’s something any team can do.

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So since the league’s front offices have failed to compete, it’s up to star players to do what I imagine they were doing last night: talk to other great players about teaming up. Star players will most likely respond to the Warriors dominance in one of two ways, both beneficial to the league. They’ll either stay put and make as much money as possible (good for small market teams), or they’ll take a little less with hopes of winning a career defining championship. To catch the Warriors could take a year or two for any team, other than whoever has Lebron James, but the super team arms race can being as soon as now.

A few things that come to mind

Lets start with the closest contender, Cleveland. Sure, David Griffin, Lebron James, and Rich Paul handcuffed themselves by overpaying J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson, but they have moves they can make. They might matchup poorly with Kevin Durant and the lineup of death, but Thompson and Love are both valuable assets in this league. Trading one or the other would clear up significant cap space. And I’m sure struggling teams like Indiana and Chicago would be willing to deal Paul George and Jimmy Butler, respectively, for the right price. A more athletic and versatile version of the Cavaliers could counter some of the obvious matchup problems seen in this year’s finals.

Boston has the No. 1 pick of this year’s draft, and they will likely have the No. 1 pick of next year’s draft too. Combine that fortune with the bevy of cap space Danny Ainge has brilliantly allotted for this offseason, and Boston could be a likely landing spot for free agent Gordon Hayward. Could this team beat Golden State in a 7 game series? Hell no. But what about in two years from now? Three years? We could be talking about a starting lineup of Isaiah Thomas, Markelle Fultz, Hayward, Michael Porter, and Al Horford with Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart coming off the bench. I’ll just leave that there.

Chris Paul is rumored to be interested in joining Kawhi Leonard and the San Antonio Spurs. He’d be leaving a lot of money on the table, but a championship for Paul, one of the all-time great point guards, would be priceless. Dumping Pau Gasol’s miserably over-priced contract on another team and nudging Manu Ginobili toward retirement would give San Antonio the room to make this happen.

Carmelo Anthony has been on the trading block since the second Phil Jackson arrived in the Big Apple. He has a no trade clause that gives him the power to determine where he ends up. He could resurrect his badly damaged legacy with a championship run in Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, or even Cleveland.

Blake Griffin and Jrue Holiday will be testing free agency this offseason. If Sam Presti can find trade offers for Enes Kanter and Kyle Singler, Oklahoma City could land some much needed complimentary scoring options for Russell Westbrook.

We are in a Golden Age for the NBA

Some will say that this wouldn’t fix the NBA’s parity problem. The talent gap between the best and worst teams would only widen, and these newly formed super teams still wouldn’t be better than Golden State. However, the NBA has always only been a five to six team league. Teams seeded in the 5-8 slots almost never make it past the second round of the playoffs, and television ratings indicate that Americans are more intrigued by dynasties than they lead on. While Golden State would still open the season as a favorite, their odds probably wouldn’t be an insane -200 in a universe where super teams reign supreme. What’s more, is that anyone who has been a fan of a middle-tear NBA team knows how hopeless of a place basketball purgatory can be. In this league, if you’re going to be bad, you might as well be terrible and get high draft picks.

To catch Durant and Warriors won’t be easy. Front office execs will have to be shrewd, and players will have to practice something Golden State so obviously mastered years ago: selflessness.

Carr can’t combat Chiefs, weather

Derek Carr has been phenomenal this season. His 24-5 touchdown to interception ratio is one of the best in the league, and some of his touchdown passes have been so smooth and luscious that you could almost dunk a cookie in them. Carr’s rising star has drawn comparisons to Aaron Rodgers for his ability to deliver strikes off of any platform, and Peyton Manning for his immaculate touch working the seems.

However, he has a weakness, maybe two.

Carr has now lost four straight games against division rival Kansas City. The Chiefs ball hawking secondary seems to make the Raiders’ MVP candidate trigger shy, and their ability to control possession with short, chains-moving passes keeps Carr from settling into games.

Another thing to note is the weather. For all his talent, there is a reason why cold weather teams like Minnesota and Cleveland passed on Carr in the 2014 draft. He has Donald Trump sized hand. 9 1/8 inch sized mitts were tied for the smallest in his draft class, and are way below the league average. This fact has shown itself in bad weather games.

Carr’s ball doesn’t cut through the air with the same ease in the cold as it does during mild tempered west coast games. And playoff games at Denver, New England, Kansas City, or Baltimore could be a disaster for one of the league’s best offenses.

Carr’s worst to games this season are far and away the two bad weather games he has played in. Coincidentally, they were both against Kansas City.

 

A vote spilt will cost Mayfield and Westbrook

For the first time since 2005, two Heisman Trophy finalists have been selected from one team. In a down year for the award, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook made convincing arguments for themselves. But, an inevitable vote split between the duo will probably cost them both a shot at the award.

For better or for worse, the criteria for winning a Heisman goes far beyond being the nation’s best college football player. Joining the Heisman fraternity is almost impossible without A.) Being on a winning team B.) Playing quarterback or running back C.) Having your best games or having a “Heisman moment” in November and December.

The other three nominees do not check all three of these boxes. Louisville’s season-long favorite Lamar Jackson has the numbers of a Heisman Trophy winner. His 4,928 total yards and 51 touchdowns trounce the stats of his competitors. But his last three games were his worst three games, and poor performances against Houston and Kentucky made this once one-horse race a neck and neck finish.

Michigan’s Swiss Army Knife Jabrill Peppers primarily played linebacker and defensive back this season. But secondarily, he played just about everything else. Along with his stellar defensive efforts, he played at least ten snaps at running back, quarterback and wide receiver. However, Michigan lost two of its last three games, including a double overtime thriller against Ohio State, which featured a disoriented fourth quarter effort from Peppers, and the defense he calls signals for. As versatile as Peppers is, his stats don’t exactly jump off the page. He ranked 32nd in the Big Ten with 71 tackles. On offense he only amassed 170 yards from scrimmage. The most multitalented player in the country? Yes. The most outstanding player? No.

Then there’s Deshaun Watson, who appears to be gaining momentum by the day. At times, Watson was spectacular. He would go on streaks where he’d complete 10-plus passes in a row, and he wasn’t just dinking and dunking. He threw deep balls to receivers Mike Williams and Hunter Renfrow that made Clemson’s offense look unstoppable. But sometimes Watson was flat out bad. He made NFL scouts cringe by throwing 15 interceptions, including a would be touchdown against Louisville that ended up two yards behind a wide open receiver and in the hands of a defensive back; as well as a terrible pick on the doorstep of victory against Pittsburgh, a game Clemson lost.

Most years, Jackson, Peppers and Watson wouldn’t have a chance at this award, and this year, there isn’t much that separates them from Westbrook or Mayfield.

Westbrook is clearly the college football’s best pass catcher. A shoe-in for the Biletnikoff Award, and an early season hamstring injury away from probably being the favorite to win on Saturday night. The injury he suffered against Oklahoma State knocked him out of the game and knocked out his last chance to bolster his résumé.

Mayfield just capped off the most efficient season in college football history. He had a great year in 2015, and surpassed himself in almost every way in 2016. His first half performance against Oklahoma State, after Westbrook went down, was one of the best stints of his college career. It might be this lackluster year’s only “Heisman moment.”

That being said, Heisman voting can almost always be broken down regionally. Media members always tend to vote for the most local option. Voters from the southwest will, like many OU fans, have a difficult time deciding which of the two Sooners is more deserving. That could be what ultimately cost OU its fifth Heisman Trophy.

Hype Men: To buy or not to buy in on McGregor v. Mayweather

Conner McGregor is an excellent fighter, who is taking the world by storm. The 28-year-old UFC Featherweight and Lightweight Champion has highly entertaining—often short—fights with unbelievable regularity, he can dominate opponents with devastating strikes from both his left and right hands, and he transcends weight classes like Jonah Hill or Christian Bale. The UFC has never seen anyone like Conner McGregor.

But what makes Conner McGregor unique has nothing to do with the aforementioned reasons. There have been better mixed martial artists than McGregor. Anderson Silva was not only unbeaten in his prime. He was unhittable. Georges St-Pierre could takes opponents to the mat in ways Conner McGregor could only dream of. Even with all that, even with McGregor’s second round submission to Nate Diaz last spring. There is something different about McGregor. Something that seems bigger mixed martial arts, itself.

During periods of massive growth, almost every game has its own Conner McGregor. Baseball had Babe Ruth, golf had Arnold Palmer or Tiger Woods (depending on the era), basketball had Michael Jordan, skating had Tony Hawk, boxing had Ali, fantasy sports had LaDainian Tomlinson, and home video game systems had Mario. However, with the exception of Ali, McGregor might be one of the first transcenders aware of his status.

McGregor’s breathtaking confidence, his Vince McMahon-esque strut, and his press conferences—so outlandish that Dana White can’t keep a straight face or conceal his money boner—have created a persona that could swallow the sports world whole.

By that, I mean financially. Even the most popular UFC fighters can only snag a couple million dollars for headlining a pay-per-view. That’s far bellow what the 155-pound Dublinian loudmouth is actually worth.

Unless UFC decides to fork over the stock options that McGregor requested after his most recent triumph over Eddie Alvarez, McGregor has to look elsewhere if he wants the payday he believes he deserves.

Most small Irishmen know how to find their pot of gold. All it takes is navigating ones way to the end of a rainbow. Conner McGregor’s hopes he’ll find Floyd Mayweather and the end of his rainbow.

McGregor would never admit it, but he is trying to emulate Mayweather, and why wouldn’t he? Fighters have a short lifespan, especially in a sport like UFC where literally anybody can lose. So you have to capitalize. It’s safe to say Mayweather did. Since turning pro 20 years ago, he has earned $700 million for 49 victorious fights. Over a quarter of the money came in one night. He made $220 million in his 2015 matchup with Manny Pacquiao. A spectacle most feel better resembled a middle school dance than a boxing match.

Reports on McGregor’s career earnings range anywhere between $9-$18 million, more than any UFC fighter, but a less than modest figure compared to top boxing contenders.

Regardless of sport or league, McGregor is currently the biggest name in the fight game. His knockout power, something you seldom see from Floyd Mayweather, often make for highly entertaining fights. His mastery of self-promotion captivates the viewing public and creates a buzz around every octagon he steps in. But if McGregor wants to make what he thinks he’s worth, he’ll have to climb out of the eight-sided cage and step into the squared circle.

McGregor told TMZ he wants a $100 million straight up, if the boxing match happens. He claims that Mayweather is too afraid for a real fight.

Though Mayweather doesn’t feel that McGregor should be mentioned in the same breath as him, my gut tells me that a man who nicknamed himself of his most prized possession, “money,” will have difficult time passing up on one last nine-figure payday. Especially, since many believe it will be an easy night’s work.

If Mayweather agrees, and McGregor decides to take a temporary hiatus from the sport he has spent his life mastering to fight the generations greatest competitor at his own game, he will be an underwhelming under dog. Oddsshark.com speculates a +950 payout for McGregor, and a staggering -2250 for the favored Mayweather. If the fight happens McGregor will most likely lose. Don’t think he doesn’t know that. Sure he could get lucky and land a big punch. No boxer has in the past 20 years, so it is highly unlikely, but you never know.

The real question is should fans buy into the hype. The same hype they spent $90 a household on to watch Mayweather and Pacquiao shuffle around each other, for a heartbreakingly boring 45 minutes. I would hope not, but if this crossover match is anything like the brawl between Sylvester Stallone and Hulk Hogan in Rocky III, it might actually be worth it.

 

Cowboys are no jive turkeys. Dynasty?

Never in the same year have two rookies contended for the NFL MVP. What’s more, never in the same year have two rookies contending for the NFL MVP been on the same team.

And now, thanks to the new co-holders of the Galloping Gobbler, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys are 10-1. Their future looks so bright that you need a pair of polarized sunglasses just to catch a glimpse of it. The success has fans partying like it’s 1995. Many believe that Dallas announced itself as a Super Bowl contender a couple of weeks ago, after a big win in Pittsburgh. And every win from then until the playoffs, including Thursday’s 31-26 win over Washington, is just gravy. Hype gravy.

If you didn’t know the Cowboys were an offensive powerhouse, now you know. They rank in the leagues top 5 in yards per game, total first downs, third down conversion rate, and points per game. Dallas is almost as good when they split 5 receivers out wide, as they are when they pound the ball behind their Clint Eastwood biopic worthy offensive line. And other than arguably their most expendable player, right tackle Doug Free, and Jason Witten, the entire unit is less than 30-years-old.

Sure the defense is flawed. It lacks the depth to withstand key injuries, like the ones to Morris Claiborne and Barry Church, and the pass rush is virtually non-existent. A conference championship matchup with Seattle seems increasingly likely, and Dallas’ inability to exploit the Seahawks weak offensive line could be a huge factor, if the two teams end up playing.

However, Cowboys’ fans aren’t just excited about the 2016 version of the team. They’re excited about the 2017 Cowboys, the 2018 Cowboys, and the 2019 Cowboys.

This excitement starts with building blocks that are already in place. The offensive line will be a force to be reckoned with for years to come. Tyron Smith, Zach Martin, and Travis Frederick will all probably be pro bowlers this year.

Next are the rookies. Prescott and Elliot have not just been two of the best players at their positions. They have also delivered a jolt of excitement and dependability that the Cowboys have seemed to lack for almost 20 years. Obviously, they are both going to be around for a long time, and their small rookie contracts will allow Dallas to spend money elsewhere.

Further evidence that the Cowboys can content for and win multiple Super Bowls is not seen on the field. Jaylon Smith, a rookie out of Notre Dame, is not going to play a down this season. That’s because the once-projected top 10 pick suffered a knee injury in the last year’s Fiesta Bowl (ironically, against Elliott’s Ohio State Buckeye’s). The injury caused Smith, a linebacker touted for his above average instincts and phenomenal sideline-to-sideline speed, to slip to into the second round of the NFL Draft. Which is where the team whose doctors performed his surgery, the Cowboys, scooped him up. He will in all likelihood make his debut at the start of the 2017 season and will help fill some of the noticeable holes in Dallas’ defense.

Of course, it will take more than one ball of putty to fill every leaky hole in a defense that gave up more than 500 yards in Thanksgivings game against Washington. But more help could be on the way, and it could be in the form of a Tony Romo trade. Judging off of a market that offered first and fourth round draft picks for an unproven, injury prone Sam Bradford; deep teams in need of a quarterback, such as the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets, might offer a first-rounder for Romo. Not only will moving the high-priced, now-backup quarterback clear up salary cap space that will allow Dallas to hunt free agents, but it could also land the Boys with two first-round picks in the 2017 draft. Which means, the defense might not be the teams’ weak link for long.

The NFL is a competitive place. Before long, a team’s shortcomings get exposed. That could very well happen to the upstart Cowboys this year. However, the championship window will remain wide open, even if Jerry Jones doesn’t raise the Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl 51. In fact, there might even be several championship windows open at the Cowboys’ condo, and if they stay open, it could mean a dynasty in Dallas.

Your Bedlam Preview

For the second year in a row, Bedlam will serve as de facto Big 12 Championship Game.

Like the Super Bowl—because of two conveniently timed bye weeks—Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will have two weeks to prepare for the big matchup in Norman. That’s pretty much where the Super Bowl comparisons end, but the off week allows for football junkies like us to do our favorite thing: speculate.

Here are some things to chew on, while we anxiously wait for a Bedlam that should be one for the books.

Quarterback Play

 As is the case in most Big 12 games, Bedlam 2016 will feature a great quarterback matchup. OSU’s Mason Rudolph and OU’s Baker Mayfield have treated Big 12 defenses like Le Chiffre treated James Bond’s testicles in Casino Royal. They are both amongst the nations top 10 passers in yards (Rudolph 5th and Mayfield 7th), efficiency (Rudolph 10th and Mayfield 1st) and Touchdowns (tied for 4th). It’s hard to say one is better than the other, but Bedlam’s victor could find themselves receiving All-Big 12 First Team honors.

 The Ground Game

 A few weeks ago this looked like a glaring advantage for the Sooners, and it could still be. Despite injuries and suspensions, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are still one of the nations top running back committees. Baring a strong performance from the Cowboys’ front seven (don’t count on it. They’ve allowed 190 rushing yards a game, during conference play).

But now, OSU has its own two-headed monster to boast about. Justice Hill has been consistent all year, and the emergence of Chris Carson, a 215 pound bulldozer, who loves running over defenders as much as Hill loves juking them out of their shoes, has added a much needed second element to the Cowboys’ offense

The Sooners will be favorites in this game. Home filed advantage is a big reason why, but so is the running game. If the Cowboys can pull even in that category, then we may have quite a ball game on our hands.

 The ghosts of Bedlams past

 Bedlam was also a synonym for conference championship in 2015. The Sooners, of course, rolled into Stillwater and rolled over the Cowboys 58-23. Sooner fans love to bring up their 85-18 advantage in the series, and some years the Cowboys play like a little brother. But some years, most notably 2011, the Cowboys harness the scars of abuse and turn OU’s arrogance against them. History says bet the Sooners. However, if this rivalry could be predicted by history or tendencies, it wouldn’t be called Bedlam.

Mismatches in the secondary

 OU’s weakness against the deep ball has been well documented. Mike Stoops appears to be on Mason Rudolph bomb away from exploding into a million little, angry moths and flying off into nothingness.

Oklahoma State’s James Washington and Jalen McCleskey are the highlights of one of the nation’s best receiving corps. The two have to be more excited than a couple of hammerhead sharks at a blood drive. Meanwhile, Jordan Thomas, Stephen Parker and the rest of the Oklahoma secondary probably need to be taking some extra melatonin before bed to avoid nightmares of what might happen on December 3.

 Heisman hopefuls

 Frontrunner Lamar Jackson, Louisville’s sensational, dual-threat quarterback, is still the favorite to win the award. But after a couple lackluster November performances, the competition is getting tighter. Dede Westbrook’s 88 yards and 2 touchdowns against West Virginia were enough to keep him in the race, and 150 more yards and a TD or two might be just the Heisman moment he needs to impress voters and jump Jackson.

 Playoff Implications

 With a whole weekend of football to be played before Bedlam, there will be plenty of other games on between now and kickoff. Believe it or not, the Cowboys and Sooners could be playing for a whole lot more than a conference championship. They both could be playing for a playoff spot. This won’t come easy. What both teams need to root for is chaos. Particularly, a Washington loss to rival Washington State the Friday after Thanksgiving, and a Michigan State upset over Penn State. If that happens… well… only the playoff committee knows.

Next Year’s Conference Championship

 The overarching, regional storyline to this season has been the Big 12’s decision not to expand. Not only will the league stay at 10 teams next year, it will also add a conference championship game, which will be played at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Wait, there’s more. Conference officials have also decided against dividing the teams into two 5-team divisions. If those rules applied this year, like last year, the Bedlam winner would have to face the Bedlam loser in a Bedlam rematch… Woof.

This would cause the proven, best team—according to the league’s round robin format—to have to play a team that they’ve already beaten in a rematch that would hurt the Big 12’s chances at a playoff spot more than it would bolster the top team’s résumé.

Of course, that wouldn’t be the case every year. In 2014, TCU probably could have used a rematch with Baylor to snag a spot in the playoff. Whether the decision will help or hurt the conference is something that’s fun to think about, especially when your team is on a bye.

What’s next for Tony Romo?

Dak did it! In front of a hostile crowd, against a Hall of Fame quarterback playing like a Hall of Fame quarterback, and underneath the overwhelming weight of overly optimistic Cowboys fans, the fourth-round rookie came in clutch.

Sure, he had some help from fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliot and the best offensive line in the league, but he got it done, nonetheless. The 22 of 32, 319 yard, 2-touchdown performance might be Dak Prescott’s best yet. So now, in most people’s eyes, the Cowboys are HIS team. Which means the future of franchise quarterback Tony Romo is uncertain.

So what’s next for Romo? Maybe he decides to call it career. Maybe he decides to open up a chain of North Dallas Restaurants. Romo’s Roma: Italian Bistro and Cuisine has a nice ring to it. Maybe he cashes in on that ‘Tony Romo Turnovers’ meme that floods the Internet every time he throws an interception, and enters the pastry industry. Maybe he embraces the ‘artsy fartsy’ side of him we saw in that DirecTV commercial, and goes on a paper maché rampage.

Maybe not.

Conventional wisdom says the future is now in Dallas. That the Cowboys’ best move would be to trade their expensive backup quarterback, in the offseason. The transaction could help the team stockpile draft picks, and clear cap space for future free agents.

However, if there’s one thing Cowboys fans know, it’s that conventional wisdom doesn’t always apply in Jerry Jones’ office.

Sunday’s 35-30 victory in Pittsburgh and the team’s 8-1 record haven’t been enough to sway Jones into permanently giving Prescott the keys to the castle. Though Jones says he’ll continue to ride the hot hand of Prescott (as long as it stays hot), he refuses to end the quarterback controversy that so many thought ended yesterday, the second Ezekiel Elliot ran up the middle for the go ahead touchdown.

To make matters worse, Romo will likely be trading in his clipboard and headset in for a set of football pads and a helmet, for their week 11 matchup against Baltimore. The ominous raincloud that is Tony Romo should be dissipating with every Prescott victory, but instead it’s growing.

This might be unfamiliar territory for Jones, but it is not to those who have closely followed the NFL.

In 2001 the New England Patriots starting quarterback Drew Bledsoe—fresh off of signing a 10-year contract, and six years removed from a Super Bowl appearance—was injured in the second week of the season.

Bledsoe’s backup, a seventh round draft pick entering his second season named Tom Brady, was thrust into the starting position. New England went on to win 14 of its next 17 games, including a victory over the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, behind Brady. The Patriots have been his team ever since.

Funny enough, Brady was too hurt to play in the 2001 AFC title game. Enter Bledsoe, who led the Pats to a 24-17 victory over the Steelers, in his New England swan song.

Whether Romo, who also replaced Bledsoe when he took the starting job is Dallas 10 years ago, will have one last, Bledsoe-esque shining moment or not this season remains to be seen. If Prescott keeps this up; Romo will remain the starter. But one thing is for sure, at least for the 2016 season, Tony Romo remains very much in the Dallas Cowboys starting quarterback conversation.

Contending Cowboys: What a win Sunday means for the NFC playoff picture

Edward, Jacob, and Bella; Peeta, Gale, and Katniss; Barney, Ted and Robin all need to make way for America’s hottest new love triangle: Dak, Romo, and Jerry.

On one hand you have that first love. The one who has been with you through years, both thick and thin. The one you’d have no problem spending the rest of your life with, but understand that his deteriorating health will make that impossible.

It would be easy to just patch things up and try to make it work with your old flame, but during your break, you met someone else. Someone who has shown you love like you’ve never known. You don’t know how long it’s going to last, but that doesn’t matter. Right now, it just works.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned this week, it’s that what the media thinks is the big story often isn’t. This holds true in Dallas. Turn on a TV, open a newspaper, or tune into a radio, and all you will hear is talk about the Romo, Dak, and Jerry love triangle. Who should be the starter? While this might be an interesting story, that garners ratings, it is not THE story. The story in Dallas is that two rookies are leading the leagues best offense toward Super Bowl contention, coming of a 4-12 season. 4-12!

With their intermediate passing game and heavy focus on running the ball, the Cowboys may not look like an offensive juggernaut on film, but they very much are. They rank 7th in the NFL in yards per play. According to sportingcharts.com, they also have a ‘big play percentage’ (running plays of 10 yards or more, and passing plays of 25 yards are more) of 9.83%, that’s 3rd in the league. For being so often accused of having a week deep ball, only Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, and Tom Brady average more yards per passing attempt than Dak Prescott.

The Cowboys’ defense has been an even bigger surprise than the offense. Rob Marinelli’s unit may be lacking complex schemes and pro bowlers, but it gets the job done. They play a very basic cover 2 man defense on most downs, and have given up the 4th fewest big plays in the league. This provides the perfect complement for an offense that can use its borderline mythical line to control the ball and go on long scoring drives.

But for all that has gone well, Dallas still has a lot to prove. Last week’s 35-10 thumping of football’s Jerry Gergich, the Cleveland Browns, marked the Cowboys’ seventh consecutive win, and extended their lead in the NFC standings to one and a half games. However, before Jerry Jones pops the bubbly, breaks a twenty and heads to Baby Dolls to celebrate his team’s surprising success, he better understand the importance of Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh.

During the Cowboys seven game win streak, their opponents have a combined record of 17-38-1. Winning in the NFL is always tough, but when you haven’t played Denver, New England, Seattle, Atlanta, Kansas City, or Oakland—teams that are widely considered the other Super Bowl contenders—it’s that much easier.

Pittsburgh isn’t exactly an embodiment of the consistency that has eluded the Cowboy’s schedule, thus far (they’ve lost three in a row). However, they will present some challenges for Dallas. For one, the Steelers are a different team at home. They boast a 3-1 record in the familiar confines of Heinz Field. They tend to do most of their under preforming away form home.

Another thing, is that Ben Roethlisberger will be playing on Sunday. And though he was not himself last in last week’s loss to Baltimore, he should be expected to improve each week removed from the knee injury that sidelined him for two weeks.

If Roethlisberger’s health is improved he’ll be able to get the ball to superstar receiver Antonio Brown, someone the Cowboy’s thin secondary will have to use multiple men to cover.

Another thing to keep in mind is the phenomenon that the Steelers defense feeds off of the team’s offensive output. In games where they’ve scored 24 or more points (their four wins), the defense has given up just under 15 points a game. In games they’ve scored less than 24 (their four losses), the defense has allowed 28 points a game. Weirdly, If Le’veon Bell, Brown, and Roethlisberger can get the offense back on track, it could be bad news for Dak and Ezekiel Elliott.

If, on Sunday, the Cowboys make a statement and get the win, they’ll improve to 8-1 and be placed near the top of nearly everyone’s Super Bowl contenders list . The news could get even better from there. This week, Seattle and Atlanta have tough road games against New England and Philadelphia, respectively. Which means that Jerry Jones and co. could wake up on Monday morning two and a half games clear of any NFC competition.

A win over Pittsburgh would do a lot for Prescott, too. For the first time this season, Romo is healthy enough to play, and is a legitimate option for Jason Garrett. If Dak can handle the wild crowd and complicated blitz packages, he can further distance himself from shadow of Tony Romo. Something that may be necessary for the rookie to being his first run at a Super Bowl

 

The Cubs are World Series Champions, so now what?

The year is 1 A.C. (after curse), and the Cubs are now champions of the baseball world. What we thought would never happen finally happened, after 10 and half innings, in an epic 8-7 victory over the Cleveland Indians. As much as non-sports fans will tell you otherwise, the world will never be the same.

Cubs’ fans will have until March to celebrate their team’s triumph, and god knows they will. But once Spring Training starts, Northern Chicago will be faced with something as unfamiliar to them as a hotdog with ketchup: life as defending World Series Champions.

We don’t know much about life A.C. will be like, but we do know a few things. For one, we know the Cubs are still going to be good. Now that they got the monkey off their backs, they may be better than ever. Other than catcher David Ross, who decided to retire immediately after game 7, the Cubs are loaded with young talent. Rizzo and Bryant are the cornerstones of the franchise, and they’re both under 28-years-old. However, they will have to decide whether or not the want to resign Dexter Fowler, who led of their clinching win with a home run. They’ll also probably try to add a new relief pitcher to work in tandem with whatever is left of Chapman’s left arm.

Another plus is that they still have the laidback demeanor of manager Joe Maddon, who was finally able to pass the title of ‘best active coach without a championship’ to Jim Harbaugh, and arguably the best executive in the history of baseball, Theo Epstein. That’s bad news for anyone with championship aspirations in 2017.

As for the Indians, you can’t help but feel bad. Not only did they choke off a 3-1 lead, not only will their 68 year World Series drought continue, but their Cinderella story was also completely overshadowed by the Cubs and Cavaliers. Unfortunately for Corey Kluber and Carlos Santana, Willie Mays Hayes and Roger Dorn will probably end up remembered better than anyone on this Indians team.

What may end up being the toughest part about life after the Billy goat’s curse, is the image makeover Cubs’ players and fans will be forced to go through. Their national charm may be gone forever. They’ll no longer be the loveable losers. And if they’re not careful, they could evolve into unfavorable winners.

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