Attempting to stay in bounds

It has been nearly a month since Colin Kaepernick was first noticed for sitting out the national anthem. Many thought that his gesture and stance would be talked about for a few days and like many other things would fade. But Kaepernick’s movement has done everything but that.

INDIANA FEVER

On Wednesday, the WNBA’s Indiana Fever became the first professional sports team to take on the protest. Prior to its playoff game against the Phoenix Mercury, which eventually won the game, the entire team took a knee and linked arms during the national anthem. They were even joined by two Mercury players Mistie Bass and Kelsey Bone.

This isn’t the first time that a WNBA team has spoken out either. In July, prior to Kaepernick, players for the Minnesota Lynx, New York Liberty, Fever and Mercury players wore T-shirts with messages seeking change following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.

TEXAS YOUTH FOOTBALL TEAM

The movement has gained many supporters at the high school and youth level. Unfortunately these athletes aren’t immune to the backlash that comes with being involved in such a high-profile protest.

A youth football team is receiving death threats after deciding as a team to take a knee prior to a game on Sept. 11 in Beaumont, Texas. The decision to protest was brought up by the children ages 11-12 and was supported by the coaches and parents. According to a mother whose son is on the team, online comments have said their “coaches and players should be lynched. They should have burned in 9/11. There are people who are saying the n-word.”

Some say the kids don’t know what they are kneeling for, but these kids aren’t blind to what is going on around the country.

On Tuesday, Kaepernick came out saying that he has received death threats.

“To me, if something like that were to happen, you’ve proved my point and it will be loud and clear for everyone why it happened and that would move this movement forward at a greater speed than what it is even now,” Kaepernick said. “Granted, I don’t want that to happen, but that’s the realization of what could happen, and I knew there were other things that came along with this when I first stood up and spoke about it. That’s not something I haven’t thought about.”

How is this right? You may not agree with Kaepernick’s and others motives or methods, but when is it ever OK to threaten someone’s life because of it? People making death threats to Kaepernick and anyone else who have knelt in support of him are only fueling the fire.

CAM NEWTON

During a press conference Wednesday night, the Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton fielded questions regarding racial issues despite normally being hesitant. His comments came a day after the fatal shooting of Keith L. Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, which sparked protests throughout the city.

“We all have to hold each other accountable,” Newton said. “I’m a firm believer of justice. I’m a firm believer of doing the right thing. And I can’t repeat it enough of just holding people accountable. … I am not happy with what or how the justice has been kind of dealt with over the years.”

Newton has not joined the Kaepernick movement, but he is the latest NFL player to come forward and make a statement regarding the need for change. During the press conference he asked the same question that Kaepernick did in one of his first interviews: how do police on a leave of absence still get paid?

The reigning NFL MVP has commented on social issues before and knows the backlash that often comes with it. He called the place that he stands along with many other athletes a lose-lose.

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Double Standards: How my respect for Cam Newton grew while it all but disappeared for others

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Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

I have never been a Cam Newton fan. I disliked him when he was at Auburn and as far as him being in the NFL, well I forgot about him for the most part until this year. As Newton and his 18-1 Carolina Panthers continued to make their run toward the Super Bowl though, I started to notice my dislike for him disappearing.

It was his attitude that at one point made me say I was not a Newton fan, but as Super Bowl week started to gear up, I found that same attitude pulling me in. I realized that it was his attitude that helped carry his team of no names through a one-loss season. It was his attitude that got his team rallying behind him. It was his attitude that made the Panthers look like they had the most fun out of any team in the league. My respect for the team from Carolina that dealt with doubters all season, myself included, hit an all-time high.

Then came the press conferences and the slew of racially charged questions that I thought the quarterback handled well. According to the media, Newton apparently was the first black quarterback to ever grace the Super Bowl stage, even though there were five prior to him.

But the string of events that turned my dislike into respect was what took place postgame, post-Carolina loss and post-postgame press conferences.

Since football came to a close Sunday night, the media is looking for ways to keep America’s favorite sport in the headlines. And the two biggest headlines this week were: “Why Newton didn’t jump on that final fumble” and “How Newton is the world’s worst loser.”

In regards to the fumble, I don’t know why he didn’t just jump on it. I’d like to think that would be my first reaction if I was a quarterback at the playing stage, but I’ll never know.

What’s really had me going all week though is people’s reaction to his postgame press conference. He left early and gave insufficient answers. He has been called a sore loser, the world’s worst loser, disrespectful, the Donald Trump of the NFL and, well, the list goes on.

On Tuesday, Newton found himself in front of the cameras once again where he said, “Who likes to lose? You show me a good loser, and I’m going to show you a loser.”

He was upset. He just suffered the biggest loss of his career. How would you react? Knowing me, I’d be pretty pissed.

Newton wasn’t fitting the quarterback mold after Sunday’s game. He wasn’t fitting the mold that Denver’s Peyton Manning so uprightly holds. At least so they say.

Newton is being called disrespectful and bitter for leaving a press conference early, but in 2010 Manning was called competitive when he ran off the field before time expired in the Colts’ 31-17 Super Bowl loss to the Saints.

Manning didn’t wait for time to expire and he didn’t shake the hands of his opponents, but according to the reporters he reacted exactly how any competitive athlete should act. He had been working all season to get there only to fall short. So what’s the difference? Why isn’t Newton getting the same understanding?

In my eyes what Manning did in 2010 was the most unsportsmanlike thing to do, and I can thank my mom for that lesson. When I was 7 years old and extremely competitive, my soccer team lost by one goal. I was beyond pissed and refused to shake the other players’ hands. My mom saw me and before the lecture, was dragging me across the field. She made me not only shake the hand of every girl but say sorry for being a sore loser. Let’s just say I learned my lesson. Clearly Archie Manning never taught Peyton Manning that one.

Find any picture of postgame celebrations and you will see Newton shaking Peyton Manning’s hand with a huge congratulatory smile on his face. If I hadn’t watched the game, I wouldn’t have been able to tell who won.

Newton gave praise where it was due on the field and then he headed to the locker room. Instead of his normal flashy outfits for pressers, he slipped on a gray hoodie and kept the hood on. What did the media want? Him flying in with his huge megawatt smile spread across his face?

Newton is only human, yet we hold him along with all professional athletes to a higher standard, they’re heroes right? Just remember that the next time you have a problem with Newton’s Superman celebration reference or Superman T-shirt.

Super Bowl 50

This coming Sunday millions of Americans will be ingesting a variety of unhealthy foods, drinking beer and watching the most anticipated NFL game of the year, Super Bowl 50. Last year’s “Deflategate” Super Bowl drew in 114.4 million viewers setting a new U.S. viewership record. Realistically it only beat out the prior year’s Super Bowl. So if Super Bowl 50 is at least a little interesting, it is estimated that a new record will be set Sunday night.

DENVER BRONCOS: Experience, Peyton Manning, No. 1 defense in the league

The Denver Broncos have made it to this point in the season because of their stellar defense, and even Manning agrees. The Bronco defense led the league in total defense, 283.1 yards per game, and passing defense, 199.6 yards per game. They were third in the league in run defense, with 83.6 yards per game, and fourth in scoring defense, 18.5 points per game. They also led the league with 52 sacks.

So far this has been the worst season in Manning’s career. Granted he lost six games due to a foot injury, but this season he set a career low in passing yardage, touchdown passes and passer rating. Manning also threw 17 interceptions this season, and the Panthers have forced nine in postseason play alone.

CAROLINA PANTHERS: Inexperience, Cam Newton, No. 1 offense in the league

The Carolina Panthers have been proving people wrong all season. Game after game the Panthers looked like a Super Bowl contender, but many people doubted until the very end. The Panthers enter Sunday with the most complete team in the league.

Newton makes his first Super Bowl appearance of his career. The former No. 1 draft pick and Heisman Trophy winner scored 45 touchdowns this season with 35 coming through the air. Carolina averaged 31.2 points a game and is ranked sixth in points allowed. It has the strongest offense and a strong defense as well.

OUTCOME 1, Panthers blow out the Broncos: In 2014, the Broncos made it to the Super Bowl with a record-setting offense and were annihilated 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers and Seahawks play very similar with a strong run game designed around a dual-threat quarterback and an equally strong defense. The Panthers beat the Seahawks, 31-24 in the divisional round. It wasn’t the same Seahawks team from two years ago, but Carolina is a better team than Seattle was two years ago.

OUTCOME 2, Panthers win but barely: The Broncos might be able to figure out how to shut down Newton but they are going to have to get past an impressive offensive line first. Also, if Carolina’s defense dominates the line of scrimmage and attacks Manning, eliminating his much needed pocket, the Broncos will be left hoping that their defense can once again win them the game.

OUTCOME 3, Broncos win but barely: “Defense wins championships,” I’ve heard that my entire life as a sports fan and an athlete and usually I agree. Prior to 2015, 11 of the teams that went to the Super Bowl had the No. 1 defenses in the league, and nine of those teams went on to win it all. It’ll be a “barely” because the Panthers have the No. 1 pass defense in the league and Denver does not have a strong run game. Fourteen of Denver’s games this season were decided by one score.

Prediction: Panthers with the blowout.

Sunday of Quarterbacks

This Sunday is conference championships, the final step toward Super Bowl 50. It’s a Sunday of quarterbacks. We have the undeniable Hall of Famers in Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. We have Carson Palmer, who led the NFL in both yards per attempt and yards per completion through the regular season. And there is Cam Newton, the leading QB on the ground with 636 yards and 10 scores.

I’m a firm believer in the fact that the quarterback is just one of the many facets of a team, but in the case of these conference championships, the outcomes of the games will be heavily dependent on which quarterbacks show up to play.

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP, PATRIOTS AT BRONCOS: Both the Patriots and the Broncos come into the game with 12-4 season records. Denver received home field advantage due to their exciting 30-24 overtime win against New England in Week 12.

Both teams were missing key offensive assets in the Nov. 29, 2015, match on the gridiron. The Broncos played without Manning, putting Brock Osweiler under center, and the Patriots played without wide receiver Julian Edelman, who showed exactly what kind of impact he has in the divisional playoff game.

The Broncos are coming off a not-so-pretty win against an injury-heavy Pittsburg Steelers. Denver had to rely on kicker Brandon McManus to pull off the win. McManus kicked five field goals to put the Broncos over the Steelers, 23-16.

In their divisional playoff, the Patriots beat the Kansas City Chiefs by a touchdown, 27-20. After going 4-2 in the final six games of the regular season, the New England team from the first half of the season looks to be making its return. Edelman, who suffered a broken foot in Week 10, made his return against the Chiefs. He was targeted a team-high 16 times and had a team-high 10 receptions and 100 yards.

New England is the three-point favorite going into Sunday, according to Odds Shark. Sixty-seven percent of bets are being placed on the Patriots. I don’t think I can make a solid argument against either case.

This season Manning has a touchdown-interception ratio of 9-17 with only one touchdown pass at home. Brady is 36-7. The Broncos have been dealing with a shaky offense for awhile, and if it wasn’t for their No. 1 defense, I don’t think they’d even be in the postseason. Denver will need its defense to pull out all the works against New England doing everything possible to stop Brady and his support staff of Edelman, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. The Broncos look to linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to lead the charge. Miller has a team-high 11 sacks this season, and Ware has 7.5 of his own.

While it may not be the No. 1 defense in the league, the Patriots are ninth overall in yards allowed this season, which will pose some issues for a Bronco team that already has issues getting to the red zone. One thing Denver has going for it is that Patriots linebacker Jared Mayo has been placed on injury reserve with a hurt shoulder and won’t be playing Sunday.

If New England takes the win, this will be the seventh bowl appearance for the Brady and Bill Belichick team. The Patriots are 0-3 in postseason games in Denver.

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP, CARDINALS AT PANTHERS: The Arizona Cardinals (13-3) will travel to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina, to take on the Carolina Panthers (15-1) in the NFC Conference championship. This will be the first meeting of the season between these two teams.

The Panthers are coming off a big 31-24 win over Seattle in the divisional playoff. Carolina had a nearly perfect — I don’t like the word perfect — first half, outscoring the Seahawks 31-0. But then the Panthers let 24 Seahawk points go unanswered in the second half. While I don’t think that is a need for alarm, it does make me wonder if Seattle could have pulled off the upset if there was just a little more time.

Although it won the NFC West with relative ease, Arizona is coming off quite the win against Green Bay. The Cardinals were winning 20-13 with less than two minutes to go. With the game on the line, Green Bay went for it on fourth and 20 with a 60-yard throw to Jeff Janis. An illegal motion put the Packers at first and 15 with 12 seconds remaining on the Cardinals’ 41-yard line.

With no other options left, Aaron Rodgers went for the Hail Mary and connected with Janis to send the game into overtime. However, OT belonged to Larry Fitzgerald, who led Arizona to the win with a 75-yard catch and run to get inside the 10-yard line, followed by a shovel pass from Palmer to reach the end zone.

Like in the AFC, the NFC championship is predicted to come down to a field goal with the Panthers being the three-point favorite, according to Odds Shark.

Newton is the leading quarterback on the ground with 636 yards rushing and 10 scores on the ground. He also threw 35 touchdown passes in the regular season. Newton’s support staff makes the Panther offense what it is. Running back Jonathan Stewart has 989 yards rushing, tight end Greg Olsen had 1,104 receiving yards with seven touch downs and wide receiver Ted Ginn has 10 touchdown catches on his 2015-16 resume. Carolina’s offense is the reason it went 15-1 this season with the only loss coming from division rival Atlanta.

Palmer was one of the top passers in the league through the regular season, leading the NFL in both yards per attempt and yards per completion, but that quarterback didn’t really show up in the divisional playoff. Palmer threw two interceptions and struggled against the defense against Green Bay.

Palmer will need to shake off the postseason nerves and be at his best if the Cardinals want to pull off the win. Palmer threw for 4,671 yards and 35 touchdowns in regular-season play.

If the Panthers win, this will be Newton’s first trip to the Super Bowl since entering the NFL in 2011.

BETTING AGAINST THE ODDS?

I don’t disagree with the Patriots being the favored team in the AFC championship, but it’s going against a lot of the odds that some are using to bet against the Cardinals.

No road team has won a conference championship since 2012, the year when two road teams made it to the Super Bowl” the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers. Spanning the last 20 seasons, road teams are 15-25 in the conference championship.

My only argument with the odds in the AFC matchup is that I think the Patriots will win by more than three points. They have the stronger offense and a solid defense to match. New England won’t be relying on field goals to pull off this win.

The NFC championship I believe will be the more exciting of the two games. It will pit offense against offense and I look forward to seeing what these two teams are able to bring forward. I expect touchdowns to be scored and I believe the betting odds are correct: it will be a fight till the very end.

AFC PREDICTION: New England 

NFC PREDICTION: Carolina

Football Roundup

In the world of football, it was just another week. The College Football Playoff committee released another set of rankings — but again, it’s entirely meaningless until Dec. 6. And we just finished celebrating Thanksgiving, or as I like to say, “Turkey and Football Day,” but the game outcomes aren’t going to make a tremendous difference, at least at this point in the season.

NFL

The NFL has remained pretty uneventful in 2015. It’s the teams at the bottom that have created the most excitement and it’s because we are all looking to see who could be the team to knock New England or Carolina off the high horse.

The Panthers dominated their Thanksgiving game against a struggling Dallas Cowboys team that has been looking all season to make a comeback. Dallas thought that if it could take down the undefeated Panthers, playoff hopes would be reunited. But if a win were at all possible, the Cowboys knew they needed quarterback Tony Romo.

Romo returned last week to pull off a not very impressive win, but a win nonetheless against Miami. The starting QB missed seven games after suffering a collarbone break against the Eagles on Sept. 20.

Thanksgiving wasn’t all so giving to the face of the Cowboy franchise; Romo went down and stayed down following a sack by the Panthers. It has been reported that he will miss the remainder of the season, so Cowboy fans, if you haven’t already done so, say so long to the playoffs.

The only game that was exciting on turkey day was the Chicago Bears vs. the Green Bay Packers. The Packers were definitely the favorite going into the game, but I can’t say I’m all that surprised by the Bears’ 17-13 win. Since the Packers fell to the Broncos on Nov. 1, Green Bay has won one of five games.

After Week 5 of NFL play, this season was turning out to be pretty interesting. We had five undefeated teams. But after Week 6 there were only four, and now we are left with two.

Following the top tier we had six teams with 3-3 records, which although being subpar were second tier considering there were 18 teams with losing seasons by Week 5. The average in years past was 13.5.

Since Nov. 1, the league’s second-tier teams look much better than 3-3, with 8-2 and 7-3 records. The third tier are no longer the teams playing losing football, but we can’t exactly say they are playing winning football either.

The game to watch this weekend is New England at Denver. Can the Broncos be the ones to pull off the upset? The remainder of games should either be complete blowouts or have the ability to shake up the middle of the pack.

NCAA

College football definitely has all my attention right now. In Week 10 we went from 11 undefeated teams to Week 13 where only two are left standing, Clemson, No. 1, and Iowa, No. 3. Every week has been exciting with big wins and big losses, and in the last three weeks we have seen such an array of different teams in the top 10, I’m on the edge of my seat to see what goes on this weekend.

We have five matchups between top-25 opponents with four having strong promise to spark great change in the top 10 once again. The conference with the most on the line this week is the Big 12.

This weekend brings on state rivalries for the Big 12. Baylor, No. 7, at TCU, No. 19, kicks off first, and on Saturday No. 3 Oklahoma at No. 11 Oklahoma State will meet.

Baylor is the favored team in the Texas state matchup, but TCU almost pulled off an upset at Oklahoma last week, 30-29. If the Bears beat the Horned Frogs, they have a chance at moving up in the College Football Playoff rankings, but they are heavily dependent on those ahead of them to secure a playoff spot. Because the Big 12 doesn’t have a conference championship, Baylor has one more regular season game next week, against a Texas team that has not brought much to the table this season other than a win over the Sooners.

Oklahoma is the Big 12’s best chance at not being snubbed by the CFP committee for the second year in a row. Following their one-point win over the Horned Frogs, the Sooners jumped from No. 7 to No. 3. However, the 10-1 Sooners need a win at the 10-1 Cowboys to remain in playoff conversation. The Cowboys fell to Baylor 45-35 on Nov. 21. Prior to the game the Cowboys were the only undefeated team left in the conference. If Oklahoma State wins, it has a good argument to make the playoffs, especially if Baylor wins as well.

The Notre Dame at Stanford game also has the ability to cause some distress in the top 10. No. 6 Notre Dame is trying to make a claim for the playoffs but without a win over No. 9 Stanford that all but goes down the drain. The Pacific-12 has lost all playoff hopes with its conference champion most likely being a two-loss team.

After falling 17-14 to the Michigan State Spartans, No. 5, the Ohio State Buckeyes, No. 8, are out of the playoff conversation. The Buckeyes head to the Big House with hopes to take down the Michigan Wolverines, No. 10. Urban Meyer and his defending national champions need the win in order to stay in the top 10 and prove that they are still worth talking about. If the Wolverines pull off the win, the Jim-Harbaugh-is-Michigan’s-savior train will ride straight into next season.

Iowa headed to Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday to take on the unranked Cornhuskers. Nebraska’s biggest game this season was their win over the Spartans on Nov. 7. Other than that the Cornhuskers had been struggling to get something going all season.

Though Lincoln is known as one of the hardest places to play in the Big 10 and it knew it could deliver the upset following a win over MSU, Iowa still won 28-20.

The Hawkeyes were already the Big 10 West champion having secured their conference championship bid a few weeks back. They most likely be playing Michigan State on Dec. 4.

No. 2 Alabama plays Auburn and No. 1 Clemson plays South Carolina. The top two teams in the NCAA are predicted to win, but in sports we all know that on any given day, any team can win. So pull out your chips and dip and get comfortable. We have two more weeks of college football that are bound to be action-packed.