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What To Expect From The 2013 NFL Conference Championship Games

The AFC and NFC championship games are set and the two conferences are one step away from determining who their representatives will be in the Super Bowl. In the AFC, the New England Patriots host the Baltimore Ravens in a rematch of last year’s AFC title game. In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons host the San Francisco 49ers.

Baltimore At New England

Reason To Watch:

Most importantly, this game will determine who the AFC representative in the Super Bowl will be. However, the key player in this game is going to be Joe Flacco. In prior years, Flacco would have played second fiddle to players such as Ray Lewis. In other words, it was his job to not screw up what his teammates had set up for him.

This year, Flacco has done all he can to put the team on his shoulders and lead them to victory. His play on Sunday will be the reason why the Ravens are celebrating their first trip to the Super Bowl since after the 2000 season or bemoaning what could have been. Another important story worth keeping an eye on is the pending retirement of Ray Lewis. If Baltimore loses, his playing days are over.

What To Expect:

Expect the Patriots to score a lot of points and get a lot of favorable calls at home. Tom Brady is not going to let the Patriots lose this game under any circumstances. Although getting to the Super Bowl for the sixth time in his career is important, the fact that the Patriots lost to the Ravens in the regular season has to be gnawing at him as well. However, if the Baltimore defense steps up, they will give the Ravens a huge advantage.

Who Wins This Game?

If the Raven defense steps up, the Ravens should win this game because their offense is now built to keep up with any team in the league. Expect this game to be a shoot-out that Baltimore wins 35-31.

San Francisco At Atlanta

Reason To Watch:

The winner of this game will meet the winner of the Ravens-Patriots game in the Super Bowl. For the Niners, this will be their first appearance in the Super Bowl in nearly 20 years. Atlanta hasn’t been to the Super Bowl since 1998.

For viewers who are not fans of either team, Colin Kaepernick is the reason to watch. Since he took over as starting quarterback, he has added another dimension to the 49er offense. Last week against Green Bay, he rushed for a NFL record 181 yards. With the Falcon defense built more on stopping the pass as opposed to rushing the passer, he could have a lot of room to run.

What To Expect:

You can expect the Falcons to be fired up after their first playoff victory under coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan. With the home fans behind them, look for Atlanta to get off to a quick start like they did against Seattle. San Francisco will be at a bit of a disadvantage as they will have to travel all the way across the country. Jet lag and the sheer number of miles traveled could make the Niners a little groggy at the beginning of the game.

Who Wins This Game?

This will be the better of the two games this weekend. If Atlanta can tighten up on the defensive side of the ball, look for the Falcons to pull out the victory and head to the Super Bowl.

Sports fans, you are going to be in for a treat this weekend. As four teams battle it out to move one step closer to a title, everyone will be leaving everything they have out on the field. If these predictions come true, a Super Bowl match-up between the Ravens and Falcons should be one of the best in recent memory.

Hockey Is Back

Well hockey fans, the lockout is over and starting Sat. Jan 19th we will have a shortened season that will go by faster than an Al MacInnis slap shot. Soon we will be hearing Chelsea Dagger blaring from the United Center speakers! Questions abound in this shortened season, as teams will have to quickly gel in hopes of making the playoffs. Will the defending Stanley Cup champs, the LA Kings, be able to defend their crown? Or, will they be dethroned by the Chicago Blackhawks and budding young superstars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews?

The Vancouver Canucks remain a Stanley Cup hopeful thanks to the combined talents of Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond and the always-dangerous Sedin twins. With Cory Schneider now guarding the net, Hawks fans won’t have a chance to chide Roberto Luongo anymore but what happens if he joins them via a midseason trade? Several teams have fresh talent, including Zach Parise and Ryan Suter who joined forces in Minnesota while Rick Nash jetted to the Big Apple play for the New York Rangers.

Hockeytown’s own, the Detroit Red Wings, are hoping for a successful season as well, especially with new captain Henrik Zetterberg leading the charge. No team may have benefited more from the lockout than the Pittsburgh Penguins where injured players Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, arguably the best duo in all of hockey, are now healthy and well rested. The Eastern Conference will be tough as always as no team stands head and shoulders above the other. The Philadelphia Flyers are always a force as long as Claude Giroux is around but they’ll have to shore up some goaltending issues, which is a major reason they haven’t made it to the finals in the past three years. Expect Boston to play tough as well but as goaltender Tuukka Rask takes over for the departed Tim Thomas, one thing is for sure–this season will be unpredictable and exciting!

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College Hoops Takes the Court

NCAA Basketball has tipped off; March Madness has officially started in November! This is one of the best times of year for any diehard sports fan.

Is the Big Ten really the best basketball conference? The preseason polls suggest that!  The Big Ten has 5 teams in the Preseason Top 25, which include 3 in the top 5 and the Indiana Hoosiers #1 for the first time since 1979-80, when the team was coached by Bob Knight.

The Big Ten is followed by the rest of the pack, with the Big East and ACC tied with 4 teams respectively in the Top 25. Can Calipari take Kentucky to its third straight Final Four with another team full of freshmen? Your guess is as good as mine. We’ll find out soon enough. Kentucky plays early games against Maryland and Duke, so they will be tested right out of the gate.

That brings me to Tobacco Road and the NC State WolfPack with a preseason ranking of #6 and top in the ACC. Basketball on Tobacco Road just got real! NC State is positioned to overtake the stronghold Duke and UNC held on the ACC. The WolfPack play Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and UConn in the Jimmy V Classic, so they too have a tough road agead.

Now, I’m really going to step-out on a limb for real this time. I think the WolfPack will live up to the hype, beat Duke and Carolina, win the ACC Regular Season and finish by winning the ACC Tournament as well. We may even have a #1 seed this March.

Call me crazy, I have March Madness and it’s only November!

Stay tuned for more bold predictions, and be sure to check out Pro Sports Memorabilia for all your NCAA Autographed Memorabilia & Collectibles!

Early Surprises for the 2012-2013 NBA Season

If you’re an NBA fan like me, you’re just as excited to not have to wait until DECEMBER for game one of the regular season like we had to last year because of the dreadful lockout! This year’s season is already packed with excitement and a lot of surprises.

Western Conference:

BREAKING NEWS:  The Los Angeles Lakers Fire Defensive Minded Coach Mike Brown!

The first “surprise” that is more evident than the others is the win/loss column for the once mighty Los Angeles Lakers. After adding Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the fans & critics expected the Lakers to start winning right away. Now, granted Steve Nash is injured, Kobe Bryant and Howard should be more than capable to get the Lakers more W’s. They’ve been doing their part on the offensive end, but can’t seem to play good team defense. Is it time for the Zen Master, Phil Jackson, and his Triangle offense to make a comeback?

Let’s hope the Western Conference favorites can gel soon enough to play with some sort of continuity come playoff time.

We can’t forget to mention James Haden and his move to the Houston Rockets. One of the most surprising trades of the CENTURY! It’s still very early, but for now Harden is leading the NBA in scoring (30.3 PPG).The Rockets have reloaded their roster this past offseason by adding the likes of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin. They’ve gone from mediocre to one of the most exciting teams to watch. Coach Kevin McHale has plenty of young talent to work with!

Eastern Conference:

The Basketball Mecca, Madison Square Garden, is once again HAPPY! Almost all NBA players dream about playing at MSG, but only a few can take the pressure of playing for the New York Knicks. Carmelo Anthony has not only handled the pressure well, he’s playing winning basketball. New York brought back a fan favorite Raymond Felton to help take some pressure off Melo.

The Knicks have always struggled on defense, but this year they look hungrier and more assertive on that end of the court. Tyson Chandler, last year’s Defensive Player-of-the-Year, has rubbed off on the Knicks and Coach Mike Woodson couldn’t be happier!

The same can’t be said about the team on the other side of town, The Brooklyn Nets. The Nets have invested a good amount of money in revitalizing their brand, and they’ve made big moves in the past offseason while building a multi-billion dollar stadium. Unfortunately, though, they have not gotten off to the hot start their in-town rivals have. A backcourt consisting of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson is a great compliment to the Nets’ front court of Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, and Gerald Wallace.

The Brooklyn Nets are currently in 4th place in their division, however, I’m sure Ex-Coach-of-the-Year Avery Johnson has a few tricks up his sleeve to change that!

We’re only 2 weeks into the Regular 2012-2013 NBA season and have plenty of exciting basketball ahead of us! I’ve listed a few of my early predictions below. Let us know if you agree or disagree, and why? And be sure to check out tons of great NBA Autographed Memorabilia and Collectibles at Pro Sports Memorabilia!

 

Early Predictions:

Anthony Davis – ROY

Serge Ibaka – DPOY

Jamal Crawford – SMOY

Kevin McHale – COY

LeBron James – MVP

Miami Heat – 2012-2013 NBA Champions

NFL Predictions – Part 2

It’s official, the NFL season has begun, and before week 1 completes, I need to get in the my NFC picks.

NFC East – Again this year the Philadelphia Eagles look like the team to beat on paper, but I do not have the confidence in Michael Vick that others may. Eli Manning has Ahmad Bradshaw, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz to work with on offense, and with the speed and strength of their defensive line, I see the Giants taking the division. With Cam Newton’s breakout last year, teams are prepared for the scrambling offense again, so I don’t see RGIII breaking out his rookie year.

NFC North – Even though I’m a Bears guy, I have to go with the Green Bay Packers to take this division, and I would also think they will earn a bye in round 1. Aaron Rodgers, Clay Matthews, Greg Jennings…do I need to go on? I expect Rodgers to pass for over 300 and 2TDs a game, plus with addition of Cedric Benson, they may actually have a viable run game. I see Detroit being right behind them and likely one of the wild card slots, because the Stafford/Megatron connection may just be as good as Montana/Rice and Aikman/Irvin. Sorry Forte, our Bears’ defense just isn’t what it once was, and with Brian Urlacher’s health in question, I don’t see a playoff run in the future.

NFC West – If anyone in the world isn’t expecting San Francisco to run away with the division hasn’t been watching football in the last few years. The Arizona Cardinals, though have Larry Fitzgerald, lack anyone worthy of throwing the football, the Rams simply don’t have any weapons other than Bradford and Jackson, and Seattle has all their eggs in the Marshawn Lynch basket. With the best defense since the ’85 Bears, the 49ers can average 14 points a game and I would still estimate an average winning margin of 4.

NFC South – What may look to be another gimme  conference, Drew Brees should take his team far again this season, possibly earning the other bye for the NFC. Unless Matt Ryan can have a miraculous comeback from last year, I don’t see Atlanta going too far. Similar to my feelings about Washington, Carolina likely won’t go far because defenses now have a year’s worth of tape on Cam. Though Tampa may have made some nice additions in free agency and the draft, I still see this year as another to rebuild.

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NFL Predictions – Part 1

That time of the year has come. Tomorrow the NFL season kicks off, and I would like to provide you with my predictions for this upcoming NFL season. You may recall, last year I didn’t even have the New York Giants making the playoffs, and had the “Dream Team” Eagles going deep. Let’s see if I can do any better this year.

AFC East – Tom Brady is the man! Some may compare him to Lebron or Kobe, someone who simply dominates the game. With all the offensive tools he has including new fan-favorite Rob Gronkowski, the Patriots will likely make a big splash this year. The Jets, though not scoring much this offseason, has the defense to still win games, and with Tebow-mania headed to the Big Apple, you never know what type of offenses Rex Ryan will throw in the field.

AFC North – This is looking like it may be another Steelers/Ravens rivalry headlining this division, but my vote would go to Baltimore on this. Flacco has really come into his own, and with Ray Rice behind him, the defenses are stacking the box leaving him plenty of open space to throw to. Their strong defense led by Ray Lewis will again lead them to the playoffs. The Steelers will likely be in the hunt as Big Ben Roethlisberger never goes down without a fight, and look for this year’s sleeper to be the Cincinnati Bengals with tons of young talent.

AFC West – Possibly the weakest division in football, I would say none of these teams make the playoffs except one of them has to. If not for Peyton Manning joining the Broncos, I would say the spot would go to whichever team stays healthiest longest. Assuming he comes back at around 80% of what he once was in Indy, the Broncos should take the division easily, though the Chargers could surge if players like Rivers and Gates can produce up to their potential.

AFC South – Will this be the return for Chris Johnson and the Tennessee Titans? With a new quarterback behind the helm and a healthy CJ, The Titans may just have a competing team this year. Still, though, I will stick to the same pick I had last year, and go with the Houston Texans to take the South, and possibly a bye into week 1 of the playoffs. So many offensive weapons and a defense that should be ranked top 3, expect Schaub, Foster and Johnson to put up huge offensive numbers and bring Texas back on map for football (sorry, Cowboys fans).

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Baseball Players On The Move

One of the great highlights of the baseball season is the July 31st Trade Deadline. As the middle of July approaches, teams are still estimating if they have a chance to make the playoffs. It’s the time of year when teams either put up or shut up. With an extra Wild Card playoff spot for each league, more teams were active at the deadline this year. This year had an ample amount of buyers and sellers which proved to make it a great deadline. Before July 31st a handful of notable trades occurred including Kevin Youkilis to the Chicago White Sox, Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees, Hanley Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and Zack Greinke to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim; but July 31st saw its share of winners and losers.

Winners

Los Angeles Dodgers: With a new ownership group running shop, the Dodgers look to have a good head on their shoulders. They added some potent offense with former All-Stars Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino and they reinforced their bullpen by adding Brandon League and Randy Choate. The Dodgers did all of this without giving up any of their elite prospects. Look for the Dodgers to go deep into the playoffs this year.

Philadelphia Phillies: My how the mighty have fallen. After winning five straight NL East Division titles, the Phillies were sellers at the deadline. With their core group of players getting older, the Phillies saw this as an opportunity to restock their farm system. The Phillies traded Victorino to the Dodgers and outfielder Hunter Pence to the San Francisco Giants. In shipping out two players, the Phillies got back five players which will definitely help replenish their minor league system.

Losers

Washington Nationals: Although the Nationals are in first place, they did little to help them for a stretch run. National executives have kept reiterating that they are shutting down Stephen Strasburg once he hits 160 innings, but the team really has no contingency plan after that. With such a young roster and the Atlanta Braves making some moves, it would have been wise for the Nationals to add a little depth. Time will tell if their inactivity at the trade deadline will hurt them.

Chicago Cubs: The Cubs had it all planed out. They would trade Ryan Dempster early, set up some offers for Matt Garza and if they were lucky, dump Alfonso Soriano to some willing team. But the Cubs found themselves in the opposite situation of what they wanted. Dempster vetoed an early trade to the Braves, which threw a wrench in the gears. Garza then got injured and the trade market soon dried up. Dempster was traded to the Texas Rangers finally, with Geovany Soto departing as well, but it was almost too little, too late.

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Olympic Basketball at its Finest

It might not be the Dream Team, but this year’s U.S. Men’s Basketball team is looking to dominate the competition in London this summer. After defeating Spain in the final exhibition game, Team USA is looking for Olympic gold and has a cast of impressive players who can lead the charge.

Point Guards: Deron Williams, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook

With Team USA’s point guards, not only do you have play makers, you have 3 players who can build a team. Williams, Paul and Westbrook should see a lot of assists on their hands.

Russell Westbrook: A quick guard, who can play both the Point/Shooting Guard, will add his unique scoring ability to a team not shy of putting points up. With the loss in the 2012 NBA Finals still fresh in his mind, he’s ready to prove he’s a winner!

Chris Paul: His deceptive passing, leadership, and high basketball IQ makes the “Los Angeles Clippers” look like a team full of Superstars. Imagine how much fun he can have with a team constructed of so many All Stars!

Deron Williams: After singing a HUGE contract with the “Brooklyn Nets,” Deron Williams is at peace and ready to devote 100% of his mind to “TEAM USA.”

Shooting Guards: Kobe Bryant, James Harden, Andre Iguodala

Bryant might be the alpha dog of the team, but you can bet that Harden and Iguodala can bring the heat. Harden is a career 37% shooter and when he is on a roll, rival teams better watch out.

Kobe Bryant: Kobe considers himself as the O.G. of Team USA” He might be the oldest player on the team, but he can still score with the best of them. He came in a close second with the Los Angeles Lakers last season only to, now teammate, Kevin Durant.

James Harden: He might’ve been the last cut for Team USA, but don’t let Beard fool you! Harden’s deceptive Euro-Step will leave any defender in awe.

Andre Iguodala: Andre’s athleticism and defensive awareness give Team USA and edge they need with a team full of prolific scorers. Not only does he defend against many different positions, his athleticism will be on display at the start or finish of a fast break!

Forwards: Kevin Love, Kevin Durant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony

An all-around powerhouse! Team USA’s forwards are not just great players they are cornerstones to their prospective NBA teams.

Kevin Love: Only the 19th NBA player to have a 30 Point, 30 Rebound game, Kevin Love is a versatile forward that can score from every spot on the court. He won the 3-point contest in last year’s All Star Weekend, and also led the NBA in double-doubles the 2011-2012 NBA Season.

Kevin Durant: As the NBA 2011-2012 Scoring Leader, he can light up the court! Kevin Durant has already shown his arsenal of 3-pointers in the early stages of this year’s run for the GOLD! It is spectacular to see Kevin Durant play with two of his Oklahoma City Thunder teammates, in a USA 2012 Olympics Jersey.

LeBron James: LeBron just wrapped up an EXTREMELY successful NBA season. Not only did he win the regular season MVP, his team, the Miami Heat, were named the 2011-2012 NBA Champions! LeBron also earned the rights to be named the 2011-2012 NBA Finals MVP. He has expanded his game to next level, working with Hakeem Olajuwon during the offseason. With his superior strength and recently acquired post moves, he’ll be nearly uguardable!

Carmelo Anthony:   Melo’ is one of the best scorers the league has seen. He can score from multiple areas on the court. For Team USA, Carmelo comes off the bench, a role the starting forward for the New York Knicks isn’t used to. His dedication to team success has really helped him flourish, coming off the bench. His Olympic experience will definitely be an advantage for Team USA.

Centers: Anthony Davis, Tyson Chandler

The man in the middle is the person that sets the tone for the rest of the team. Chandler and Davis are a great one-two punch to have when you need a blocked shot.

Tyson Chandler:  The NBA 2011-2012 Defensive Player of the Year will hold down the post, mostly by himself. With a small, quick team, Tyson Chandler will be one of the Centers that Team USA has. His leadership and basketball knowledge on the defensive end will catapult the team’s defensive prowess.

Anthony Davis: Known as “The Rookie,” Anthony Davis is not expected to play a lot of meaningful minutes. Davis is very lucky to experience a spectacular display of basketball skill, with the greatest players from all around the world. I’m sure he is going to take this knowledge and experience and use it to his advantage as a member of the New Orleans Hornets next year In the NBA.

The Beginning of the Heat Dynsasty

LeBron James is a player who has faced a high level of scrutiny during his career. Ever since James decided to take his talents to South Beach in 2010, he has had to undergo many obstacles. James has heard criticism from sports writers, fans and even his own peers. Questions have been raised about his attitude, lack of performing in the clutch and his overall sense of drive. This is an itch James has been trying to scratch for years.

But James and the Miami Heat can finally silence their critics after winning the 2012 NBA Championship. This was no fluke championship win either as the Heat battled some of the toughest teams in the NBA. James and crew defeated the New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and the Boston Celtics to become Eastern Conference Champions. They then scrapped with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the NBA Finals. James further silenced his critics by averaging 28 points a game and was named the NBA Finals MVP as the Heat defeated the Thunder in five games despite an impressive performance by Kevin Durant. All in all, the pressure James and the Heat have faced since the 2010 NBA Offseason has been wiped away. But with all that doom and gloom out of the way it is time to celebrate.

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Bow Down to the Kings

For the first time in their 45 year history, the Los Angeles Kings can proudly call themselves Stanley Cup Champions! It has been a whirlwind year for the Kings as they have gone through coaching changes and they just barely squeaked into the playoffs. If you want to use the term Cinderella story to talk about the Kings, go right ahead.

After sputtering at the beginning of the season, the Kings let head coach Terry Murray go and replaced him with veteran Darryl Sutter. With Sutter at the helm the Kings went on a tear and they secured a playoff spot as the number eight seed in the Western Conference.

If the regular season is where the Kings had trouble, the playoffs are where they excelled. Los Angeles tore through the Western Conference defeating number-one seeded Vancouver, sweeping St. Louis and then defeated Phoenix in five games. But coming into the playoffs, a number eight seed has never won the Stanley Cup Finals. Well, the Kings made history by defeating the New Jersey Devils in six games. Goaltender Jonathan Quick was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the finals MVP and Los Angeles added another championship to their very high sport pedigree.

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