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Contender or pretender: Sizing up the 2014 AFC wild-card race

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Contender or pretender: Sizing up the 2014 AFC wild-card race

Posted on 02 December 2014 by Luke Jones

Even as the Ravens and their fans continue to seethe over a surprising 34-33 loss to the San Diego Chargers in Week 13, head coach John Harbaugh took a more pragmatic approach when addressing reporters on Monday afternoon.

The loss certainly didn’t help, but defeats suffered by several other AFC teams left six teams with a 7-5 record as we enter the final quarter of the regular season. It won’t be easy for Baltimore as it tries to survive with the NFL’s 31st-ranked pass defense, but a reasonable schedule down the stretch leaves the Ravens in good shape if — and that’s a big if — they handle their own business.

“We wake up this morning, we look at the standings and we are right in the thick of it,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to go down to the wire. And we have a huge game down in Miami this week, and it’ll be a lot on the line. They’ll be ready, and they’re good. We’ll have a great opportunity to make a move.”

There’s no understating how important Sunday’s game against the Dolphins will be as it represents another head-to-head tiebreaker scenario after the Ravens dropped one to San Diego this past week. A win pushes Baltimore to 8-5 and knocks Miami down a peg in the standings while a defeat all but guarantees the need to win out and to hope for assistance from other teams in the playoff race.

The Ravens still hold out hope for a chance to win the AFC North, but Cincinnati currently leads by 1 1/2 games over the other three teams in the division. With the Bengals playing the Steelers twice and the Browns once in the final month, the division race is far from over, but Cincinnati has firm control of its path as we enter Week 14.

Below is a look at the current wild-card field — with numbers indicating each team’s current place in the conference — as we determine who the contenders and the pretenders are:

5. SAN DIEGO (8-4) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 6-3
Remaining schedule: New England, Denver, at San Francisco, at Kansas City
Skinny: How big was Sunday’s win in Baltimore for Mike McCoy’s team? All you have to do is take a look at the Chargers’ remaining schedule and realize you wouldn’t have liked their chances at all had they fallen to 7-5. Instead, they own a one-game lead over the 7-5 teams in the AFC and remain in excellent shape if they can go 2-2 in their final four. A year ago at this time, the Chargers were 5-7 and looked all but dead before running the table — including wins over Denver and Kansas City — and receiving lots of help to sneak into the postseason. They’ll need another good finish, but they have some margin for error this year.

6. MIAMI (7-5) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 6-3
Remaining schedule: Baltimore, at New England, Minnesota, New York Jets
Skinny: It wasn’t pretty, but the Dolphins’ Monday night win over the Jets kept them in prime position to secure a playoff spot with a strong finish in the final month. A Week 15 trip to Foxborough won’t be easy, but their final two home games are very winnable against two teams with a combined seven wins. Anything can happen considering the Ravens and the Dolphins both lost their final two games in 2013, but it certainly looks like Sunday’s game in Miami could go a long way in determining who secures a wild-card spot in the AFC playoff race.

7. KANSAS CITY (7-5) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 5-4
Remaining schedule: at Arizona, Oakland, at Pittsburgh, San Diego
Skinny: The Chiefs were feeling really good about themselves a few weeks ago, but consecutive losses to woeful Oakland and powerful Denver have brought them back to the rest of the pack. Kansas City can’t throw the ball and the run defense has been gashed in recent weeks, which doesn’t make for a good combination entering the season’s final month. With three games remaining on the schedule against teams with winning records — two of them on the road — it’s hard to envision the Chiefs playing well enough down the stretch to secure one of the two wild-card spots.

8. BUFFALO (7-5) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 4-5
Remaining schedule: at Denver, Green Bay, at Oakland, at New England
Skinny: The Bills continue to hang tough in the AFC playoff race after a nice win over the Browns on Sunday. However, remaining games against the Broncos, the Packers, and the Patriots should end any serious discussion about Buffalo qualifying for the postseason. With their other game being a cross-country trip to Oakland, the Bills might be fortunate just to win one more game in the final month of the regular season. It’d be interesting to see what the Bills could do with a real quarterback even if veteran Kyle Orton has done a respectable job since taking over for E.J. Manuel. Injuries at running back haven’t helped, either.

9. BALTIMORE (7-5) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 3-5
Remaining schedule: at Miami, Jacksonville, at Houston, Cleveland
Skinny: Sunday’s loss to San Diego was brutal as it gives the Ravens little wiggle room the rest of the way as they really need to beat the Dolphins on the road. The remaining schedule is reasonable, but how do you trust a secondary that continues to be toasted by any opposing passing games with a pulse? Even a road trip against the Texans is concerning with talented receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins waiting. A lousy 3-5 conference mark doesn’t help matters for the Ravens, but we’ll see what Harbaugh’s team is made of in the next three weeks. The running game and the offense will need to come up huge.

10. PITTSBURGH (7-5) – CONTENDER
Conference record: 6-3
Remaining schedule: at Cincinnati, at Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati
Skinny: The Steelers continue to be one of the most bipolar teams in the NFL as they stubbed their toe Sunday against New Orleans, who was coming off three straight losses. When at their best, the Steelers have one of the most balanced offenses in the league, but the defense doesn’t scare anyone and could easily be exploited down the stretch. The biggest factors working in the Steelers’ favor are a 6-3 conference record and two games with the Bengals, which could catapult them into the AFC North lead. Given how unpredictable they’ve been, the Steelers could win out or lose out and no one should be surprised with either outcome.

11. CLEVELAND (7-5) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 4-5
Remaining schedule: Indianapolis, Cincinnati, at Carolina, at Baltimore
Skinny: Quarterback Brian Hoyer has really struggled in recent weeks, but a change at quarterback isn’t exactly what you’re looking for while in the playoff hunt and that’s exactly where the Browns find themselves. Maybe rookie Johnny Manziel is the spark to light the fire for Cleveland down the stretch, but nothing else about the Browns’ final month of the schedule makes you think they’re going to do enough to sneak into the playoffs. They’ll need to beat either the Colts or the Bengals at home to give themselves any decent chance at all in the final two weeks.

12. HOUSTON (6-6) – PRETENDER
Conference record: 5-3
Remaining schedule: at Jacksonville, at Indianapolis, Baltimore, Jacksonville
Skinny: Why even include the Texans on the list considering they have the worst record of the bunch? Two of four remaining games coming against Jacksonville certainly helps, and a home game against the Ravens looks more and more reasonable given Baltimore’s pass defense woes. Of course, Houston isn’t a real contender, but no one thought the Chargers were at this time last year, either. If you’re looking for that deep sleeper to finish strong — three out of four wouldn’t be out of the question — and take advantage of a slew of other teams being mediocre down the stretch, Houston is your team. A good conference record also helps.

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Five Ravens predictions for the rest of the season

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Five Ravens predictions for the rest of the season

Posted on 15 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are a good football team.

But trying to figure out just how good they are in 2014 hasn’t been easy through the first 10 games of the regular season. Their plus-80 point differential ranks fourth in the NFL, but a 3-0 mark and plus-81 margin against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Atlanta say more about the woeful NFC South than about 6-4 Baltimore being a dominant team.

All four teams in the AFC North are separated by a half game in what’s shaping up to be the most competitive division in the NFL down the stretch. To put themselves in position to make it back to the postseason after last year’s absence, the Ravens will likely need to manage at least one victory in their final three road games against New Orleans, Miami, and Houston if they’re able to run the table at home against San Diego, Jacksonville, and Cleveland.

Over their final six games, the Ravens will prove whether they’re a contender or a pretender. They’ve done a fine job beating the teams they’re supposed to in 2014 (4-0 against teams currently with losing records), but a 2-4 mark against squads currently above .500 creates doubt.

Below are five things I see happening between now and the end of the season …

1. Marlon Brown will catch three touchdowns after finally emerging as a red-zone threat. This is a bold prediction as the second-year receiver has been a total afterthought this season with just 10 total catches for 93 yards. However, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak needs to improve the league’s 22nd-ranked red-zone offense as the Ravens are scoring touchdowns on just 54 percent of trips inside the 20. The 6-foot-5 Brown seems like a logical choice to fill some of the void left behind by the injured Dennis Pitta. Many predicted Brown would see fewer opportunities this year after the offseason acquisitions of Steve Smith and Owen Daniels, but there’s no reason not to utilize his height when approaching the end zone.

2. Will Hill and Terrence Brooks will be the starting safeties at the end of the season. Hill has emerged as the only true starter at safety with what’s become a committee approach. Darian Stewart has remained a starter next to Hill in the base defense, but the Ravens are using the rookie Brooks as a single-high safety in obvious passing spots. The third-round choice has been up and down, serving as a healthy inactive in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, but he and Hill best fit the profile of the interchangeable safeties the Ravens want. Stewart and disappointing 2013 first-round pick Matt Elam will continue to be used in the platoon for now, but Brooks will eventually supplant Stewart, who is rarely around the ball in pass coverage.

3. Steve Smith and Justin Forsett will eclipse the 1,100-yard marks in receiving and rushing, respectively. The 35-year-old Smith has slowed in recent games, but his competitive drive — as well as the benefit of the bye week — will revitalize his production for at least a couple big games down the stretch. Meanwhile, Forsett continues to be one of the best stories in the NFL this season as he’s already set a career high with 721 rushing yards and leads all running backs with a 5.4 yards per carry average. You’d be concerned with most 29-year-old backs wearing down late in the season, but Forsett has plenty of tread left on the tires after years of being underutilized in his other career stops.

4. The Houston game will be tougher than anticipated while the San Diego game will be easier than expected. A month ago, the Chargers looked like one of the NFL’s best teams, but a so-so defense, a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry average, and a 1 p.m. East Coast start time will put a lot on Philip Rivers’ shoulders against a Baltimore defense that raises its play at home. The Week 16 meeting with the Texans could turn into a heck of a challenge if new starting quarterback Ryan Mallett finds his bearings and No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney can stay in the lineup to complement J.J. Watt, the best defensive player on the planet. This one could be a must-win game for the Ravens, but Houston might be a much scarier team by then.

5. The Ravens will return to the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Without giving away the game-by-game predictions, Baltimore will answer the bell to play at a level high enough to advance to the postseason for the sixth time in the last seven years under John Harbaugh. Questions remain about the secondary, but the front seven and the offense will play at above-average levels for the Ravens to win four of their last six contests. I have doubts whether this team is talented enough at key spots to make a serious run against the likes of New England, Denver, and Indianapolis, but as we’ve learned again and again in the modern NFL, the postseason is all about who gets hot at the right time. The Ravens will get the chance to roll the dice.

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Dorsey’s Dugout – NBA Free Agency Frenzy

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Dorsey’s Dugout – NBA Free Agency Frenzy

Posted on 18 July 2014 by Nick Dorsey

 

LeBron James

In one of the better sports stories in years, LeBron James returned back to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers where it all began. The King left Miami after four seasons, winning two out of four NBA Final appearances during that stretch.

The return of the King to Cleveland shocked many because there are still plenty of lingering images of destruction that come up when talking about James departure for Miami. Fans crying, burning jerseys and an owners hateful letter calling out the Akron native for his lack of loyalty. LeBron James made the best decision to go back to Cleveland for many reasons.

When the dominoes began to fall, the four-time MVP’s former team Miami looked to be dismantling with key pieces looking to move on elsewhere. With uncertainty of the quality of players that would surround him on the floor, James made the right move to leave.

Cleveland has some nice pieces on the roster as it stands, including NBA All Star MVP Kyrie Irving running the point. There are other players as well, but the future is uncertain for some of the other young Cavaliers.

There have been rumors swirling around that Cleveland might deal Dion Waiters, Andrew Wiggins and a first rounder to acquire Kevin Love from Minnesota. General manager of the Cavs, David Griffin, should make the trade for Love because it would make them a title favorite out of the Eastern Conference.

Trading a young player like Andrew Wiggins with the kind of potential he has seems like a bizarre idea, but it would be the better move for the Cavs. Wiggins is not a sure thing, but with acquiring Kevin Love you know your getting an All Star player. The former Bruin is a three-time All Star who has a great post presence with the ability to shoot from the outside as well.

As the roster currently stands, Cleveland has Wiggins playing the shooting guard position. The Jayhawk standout played the small forward position at KU and was not known as a great jump shooter. He better suits playing the three spot in the NBA, but on Cleveland that’s the spot that the King currently occupies.

If Griffin makes the trade for Kevin Love, the Cavs become the instant favorite to represent the East in the Finals. With a new big three that consists of Irving, Love and James they would be difficult to defeat in a seven game series. It is a win-win move for Griffin, especially since Love has expressed interest in signing a long-term deal in Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony

The choices were narrowed down to either the Windy City or returning back to the Big Apple and Anthony chose to return back to the Knicks. Melo decided to sign the big deal and put his faith in Phil Jackson to build a winner in New York.

While Phil Jackson certainly knows what he is doing when it comes to winning in the NBA, Melo should have chose the Bulls as his next destination. Chicago is in a much better position to win now and is a better fit than the New York Knicks.

Chicago is a playoff team already without Anthony and his skills could have elevated the Bulls to another level in the East. The Bulls have a proven coach in Tom Thibodeau whereas the Knicks are going with Derek Fisher, who is about to coach his first team ever. Not only does Chicago have the better coach, they also have the better team by far.

The Bulls are a defensive powerhouse in the NBA and their most glaring need is a player that can close. That need was definitive in their first round exit against the Washington Wizards. Some of those games in that series were close down the stretch in the fourth quarter, but Chicago was unable to find a consistent scoring threat that could close out a game.

Adding Carmelo to the mix would fill their need of a closer and help bolster their lackluster offense. One of the criticisms of Anthony throughout his career is he is not a good defensive player. The Bulls already have great defense throughout the lineup so Anthony would not of been as much of a liability on the floor for the Bulls.

Carmelo put his trust in Phil Jackson to build a winner and maybe one day his faith will be rewarded. In the short term, Chicago would have been the better opportunity for Carmelo Anthony to win a ring.

Heat Rebuild

Once LeBron bolted for his hometown, it was almost certain that Chris Bosh would take the max deal he was offered from Houston. Instead of joining Howard and Harden, Bosh made a surprising decision to stay with the Miami Heat.

A franchise that seemed as if it was going to be completely dismantled, had hope restored once Bosh re-signed. Pat Riley has built contending teams several times in Miami before and did an excellent job once the King left. Retaining Bosh was huge for the Heat and they also managed to bring back Dwayne Wade.

Two pieces of the big three remain in Miami and although Wade is not at the level he once was, it’s a nice start to retooling. Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts were not sexy enough names to woo LeBron, but they do provide solid depth for the Heat.

Miami added Shabazz Napier through the draft and brought back point guard Mario Chalmers. The pieces were coming back together and Riley did the best he possibly could at filling the James void by signing Luol Deng.

The former Duke star has been a Bull for the majority of his career until last years short stint as a Cavalier. Deng is superb defensively, but injury is a concern with Deng. Since the start of the 2011 season, Deng has missed 54 games due to injury. If Deng can stay on the floor, the Heat will be contending for the Southeast division title.

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Cruz leaves Sunday’s game after being hit on left hand

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Cruz leaves Sunday’s game after being hit on left hand

Posted on 01 June 2014 by Luke Jones

The month of June got off to a scary start for Orioles outfielder Nelson Cruz as he left Sunday’s game against the Houston Astros after being hit on the hand with a pitch.

Former Orioles starting pitcher Scott Feldman hit Cruz on the left hand with a fastball clocked at 87 miles per hour in the top of the third inning, causing the 33-year-old slugger to fall to the ground in pain. After being examined by head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, Cruz temporarily stayed in the game before manager Buck Showalter replaced him with Delmon Young in field in the bottom of the third.

A club official announced in the Minute Maid Park press box late during Sunday’s 9-4 win over the Astros that X-rays came back negative and Cruz is listed as day-to-day. The Orioles are off on Monday before beginning a three-game set with the Texas Rangers in Arlington on Tuesday night.

Cruz entered Sunday’s game leading the major leagues in home runs (20) and runs batted in (52) as he set a franchise record for RBIs through the month of May, eclipsing Chris Davis’ 50 from a year ago. He had a 12-game hitting streak entering Sunday and was 20-for-42 during the streak with eight homers, nine walks, six doubles, 15 RBI, and 14 runs scored, making his departure a scary development for the Orioles and their fan base.

The Orioles have been without starting catcher Matt Wieters for the last three weeks as he continues to recover from right elbow soreness, making Cruz’s exit on Sunday alarming for an offense already struggling more than expected so far in the 2014 season.

 

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Orioles, Astros to don Negro League unis for Civil Rights Game

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Orioles, Astros to don Negro League unis for Civil Rights Game

Posted on 07 May 2014 by WNST Staff

MLB and the Houston Astros announce details of the 2014 Civil Rights Game and ancillary activities

The Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles to Wear Negro Leagues Uniforms of the Houston Eagles and Baltimore Elite Giants, Respectively. Additional Details Include Ballpark Giveaway, Musical Performances, Roundtable Participants, Event Sponsor and More. 

Major League Baseball and the Houston Astros today announced details for the 2014 Civil Rights Game at Minute Maid Park and ancillary activities, which include the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon and the Baseball & Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion. Tickets and information for each event and the Civil Rights Game are available at MLB.com/civilrightsgame and Astros.com/civilrightsgame.

The 2014 Civil Rights Game will be played between the Houston Astros and the Baltimore Orioles at Minute Maid Park on Friday, May 30th, airing nationally on MLB Network and called by MLB Network’s Matt Vasgersian, Harold Reynolds and Sam Ryan.

Houston & Baltimore Negro Leagues Uniforms to be Worn During the Civil Rights Game

  1. Houston Eagles - The Astros will wear the uniforms of the “Houston Eagles,” which played for only two years (1949-1950) and was the only team from Texas in Negro Leagues history.
  2. Baltimore Elite Giants - The Orioles will wear the uniforms of the “Baltimore Elite Giants,” which played from 1938 through 1950.
    1. NOTES: The uniforms and caps were produced by Majestic and New Era, respectively. Both designs were approved by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

Civil Rights Game Cap Giveaway, Ballpark Fireworks

  1. Cap Giveaway - 15,000 fans to enter Minute Maid Park for the Civil Rights Game will receive a special commemorative “Civil Rights Game” cap.
  2. “Motown Fireworks” - Following the Civil Rights Game, the Astros will host a special fireworks show, presented by Marathon Oil Corporation, that will have a “Motown” theme.

Musical Performances

  1. Aloe Blacc - The chart-topping singer/songwriter will perform his hit songs “Wake Me Up” and “The Man” on-field at Minute Maid Park prior to the Civil Rights Game, with the “The Man” airing LIVE on MLB Network. Additionally, he will perform “Eyes of a Child” earlier in the day at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon at Hilton Americas Houston.
  2. Miri Ben-Ari - The Grammy Award-winning violinist and UN Goodwill Ambassador will perform her song, “Symphony of Brotherhood,” featuring the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon.
  3. “National Anthem” - Actress, dancer and singer, Jadagrace, will perform the National Anthem prior to the Civil Rights Game.
  4. “America The Beautiful” - Grammy nominee and platinum recording artist Jeffrey Osborne will perform “America the Beautiful” during the 7th inning stretch.

Baseball & Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion – Thursday, May 29th at 12:30 p.m. (CT), Union Station at Minute Maid Park

A panel of prominent individuals will discuss the pivotal role Baseball played in the civil rights movement and the game’s continued presence as a social institution, as well as present-day social issues affecting the country and the world. The Baseball & Civil Rights Movement Roundtable Discussion, which will be moderated by Harvard Law School Professor Dr. Charles Ogletree, will be streamed on MLB.com and Astros.com prior to the Civil Rights Game. The following are the participants scheduled for this year’s Roundtable Discussion:

  1. Ernest Green - Member of the “Little Rock Nine”
  2. Linda Alvarado - Member of the Colorado Rockies Ownership Group; Chief Executive Officer of Alvarado Construction
  3. Bob Kendrick - President, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum
  4. J.R. Richard - Houston Astros Legend
  5. Harold Reynolds - MLB Network Analyst; two-time MLB All-Star

MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon – Friday, May 30th at Noon (CT), Hilton Americas Houston

Baseball Commissioner Allan H. (Bud) Selig will speak at the 2014 MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon, which will be held at Noon on Friday, May 30th at the Hilton Americas Houston. At the event, MLB will honor best-selling author and poet Dr. Maya Angelou, founder of Motown and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Berry Gordy and Pro Football Hall of Famer Jim Brown. The triumvirate will each receive an MLB Beacon Award, which recognizes individuals whose lives and actions have been emblematic of the spirit of the civil rights movement, and will be recognized on the field prior to the Civil Rights Game. Additionally, Robin Roberts, co-anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” will be the keynote speaker. Two Houston-based charities, the Houston Area Urban League and Change Happens!, will be the charitable beneficiaries of the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon.

  1. NOTE: MLB and the Astros will pay special tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education at the MLB Beacon Awards Luncheon.

Principal Sponsor of the Civil Rights Game and Ancillary Activities

Houston-based law firm Andrews Kurth LLP will serve as the principal sponsor of the 2014 Civil Rights Game and ancillary activities. Recently, the firm was named a local recipient of the 8th Annual Jackie Robinson Day “Most Valuable Diverse Business Partner” Award from MLB, acknowledging the firm’s ongoing commitment to excellence and diversity.

Since 1902, Andrews Kurth has built its practice on the belief that “straight talk is good business.” Real answers, clear vision and mutual respect define the firm’s relationships with clients, colleagues, communities and employees. With more than 400 lawyers across 10 offices worldwide, Andrews Kurth represents a wide array of clients in multiple industries. For more information about Andrews Kurth, please visit andrewskurth.com.

 

ABOUT THE CIVIL RIGHTS GAME

The Civil Rights Game and its ancillary activities are a series of events developed by MLB to pay tribute to those who fought on and off the field for equal rights for all Ameri­cans. This year’s event is another example of the Houston Astros supporting MLB initiatives geared toward high­lighting diversity throughout baseball.

The 2014 Civil Rights Game is the eighth installation of an annual event that began in Memphis in 2007, centering on an exhibition game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians. After another exhibition game in Memphis in 2008, the Civil Rights Game moved to Cincinnati (2009-2010), then Atlanta (2011-2012) as regular season contests, and last year was hosted in Chicago by the White Sox. While much of the south was deeply affected during the civil rights movement with violence threatening the well-being of many, Houston played a vital role in achieving peaceful desegregation, making it a crucial part of the overall civil rights effort.

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former Texans tight end Daniels

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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former Texans tight end Daniels

Posted on 03 April 2014 by Luke Jones

After weeks of discussions, the Ravens agreed to a one-year deal with free-agent tight end Owen Daniels on Thursday.

The 31-year-old reunites with new Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison, and tight ends coach Brian Pariani after working with them during his eight-year run with the Houston Texans. Daniels was a salary-cap casualty last month and told WNST.net that the Ravens immediately showed interest in his services.

Daniels is eager for a fresh start after the Texans finished 2-14 last season with Kubiak being fired in December.

“It was definitely an experience this past season for it to go the way it went,” Daniels told AM 1570 WNST.net on Thursday. “But I’m happy to have a new start. I have a ton of respect for the [Ravens]. It’s always been a tough battle.”

The deal is pending a physical scheduled to be completed on Friday.

A fourth-round pick out of Wisconsin in the 2006 draft — the same year Kubiak was hired as the head coach in Houston — the two-time Pro Bowl selection joins Dennis Pitta to form an impressive tight-end duo for quarterback Joe Flacco. Daniels was limited to five games due to a leg injury last season but has caught 385 passes for 4,617 yards and 29 touchdowns in his career.

Kubiak has always been praised for his use of tight ends in his West Coast offense, moving them around in various formations and substitution packages and frequently using two-tight sets.

“Baltimore was always on my radar after Kubiak signed up over there,” Daniels said. “They’re a good team, obviously. Who wouldn’t want to play for them? It just came down to them being the right fit for me. I’m super excited to get out there.”

Daniels’ best season came in 2008 when he caught 70 passes for 862 yards and two touchdowns to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl. He was again invited to Honolulu in 2012 when he caught 62 passes for 716 yards and six touchdowns.

Since 2006, the 6-3, 249-pound Daniels has produced the eighth-most catches and the seventh-most receiving yards among NFL tight ends. He ranks second in career receptions, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns in Texans franchise history.

The Ravens are likely to continue looking to add a blocking tight end behind Pitta and Daniels on the depth chart as both are known for their pass-catching ability but neither is considered a strong blocker.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear new Ravens tight end Owen Daniels’ conversation with WNST.net host Nestor Aparicio HERE.

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Steve Smith not looking to be Boldin, Andre Johnson in Kubiak’s system

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Steve Smith not looking to be Boldin, Andre Johnson in Kubiak’s system

Posted on 15 March 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope that much of what new wide receiver Steve Smith brings to the field won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet every week.

That’s not to say Baltimore won’t take advantage of the remnants of the 14th-year receiver’s ability in a career that includes five Pro Bowl selections, 12,197 receiving yards, and 67 touchdown receptions, but Smith’s intangibles were equally attractive to an offense that lacked a vocal leader willing to ruffle some feathers when needed last year. Smith has occasionally come under fire for his willingness to speak his mind and tell others what they might not want to hear, but coach John Harbaugh told the veteran during his free-agent visit that the Ravens want him to be himself.

The Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $11 million contract on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve added one of the top competitors in the NFL to the Ravens,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a released statement. “Steve is a proven player who has performed his best in big games and on the biggest stages like the playoffs and Super Bowl. He adds toughness to our offense, big-play ability, and leadership to our team.”

Those intangibles aside, what should the Ravens expect from a wide receiver set to turn 35 in May?

From the start of the offseason when Newsome and Harbaugh spoke about the Ravens’ need to add a wide receiver who can move the chains and pick up the tough yards after a catch, it sounded as though they were envisioning Anquan Boldin’s replacement as someone who can line up in the slot and make difficult catches over the short-to-intermediate middle portion of the field. The similarities in attitude between Boldin and Smith are clear, but the 5-foot-9 Smith has relied more on his speed on the outside throughout his career while Boldin is bigger and slower but has always made catches in traffic.

You can hardly blame Smith for not wanting to be compared to someone else after being one of the better receivers in the NFL over the last decade.

“I’m not Anquan Boldin,” said Smith when asked if he can fill the void of the former’s departure from a year ago. “I respect the heck out of ‘Q,’ and what ‘Q’ brings to the table is what ‘Q’ brings to the table. I’m Steve Smith, and what I bring to the table as a Baltimore Raven, I have to earn that, and my time on the field will display what I bring to the table.

“We play similar games; we want to win and we go all-out. But we’re also individuals, and I’m not here to replace anyone. I’m here to be myself.”

Determining what role Smith will play isn’t easy as many believe he’s lost a step after recording only 64 receptions for 745 yards last season, his lowest totals since 2010 when the Carolina Panthers were the worst team in the NFL with a 2-14 record. And the Ravens offense will clearly present a different look under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Smith met with Kubiak to discuss what his role would be in the Baltimore offense, using the coach’s offenses in Houston as a point of reference. The former Texans coach really didn’t have any player in Houston who compared to Smith in terms of physical makeup, but the veteran made it clear he’s not expecting to have the extensive role of No. 1 wide receiver Andre Johnson during all those years he played with Kubiak.

This is good news for an offense that can’t put all its hopes in a veteran receiver whose best days are behind him. Until proving otherwise, Smith should be a complementary option to fourth-year receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta as the featured parts of the passing game while Pitta and 6-foot-4 wideout Marlon Brown profile as better red-zone threats.

Quarterback Joe Flacco certainly doesn’t need a veteran nearing the end of his career demanding to be the focal point of the passing attack, so Smith’s position had to be a breath of fresh air for Harbaugh and his coaching staff.

“I know his system. I’ve seen his system,” Smith said about his discussion with Kubiak. “I’ve seen the very creative ways they’ve gotten other guys the ball. I want to be a part of that. One of the things I’ve seen for myself — I don’t see myself in coach Kubiak’s system like Andre Johnson. I see the complementary dude of Kevin Walter. I see how he contributed and how he was instrumental in getting Andre the ball but also getting his own opportunities.”

Smith said new teammate Torrey Smith is going to be a “fantastic” player, but it was interesting that the former Panther went out of his way to compare himself to Walter, who never recorded more than 900 yards in Kubiak’s offense. Walter’s run with the Texans came to an end in 2012, but he served as Houston’s No. 2 wideout behind the Pro Bowl receiver Johnson for several years and averaged 732.8 receiving yards per season as a possession receiver from 2007 through 2010.

Kubiak’s use of Walter in the slot fluctuated from year to year as he ran 45.8 percent of his routes from that spot in 2012 but ran less than 20 percent of his routes there in 2009 and 2010, two seasons in which he eclipsed 600 receiving yards. In contrast, Smith was rarely used in the slot under current Panthers coach Ron Rivera the last three seasons — only 15.5 percent of his routes last season and less than 10 percent of the time in 2011 and 2012 –  and was only used in the slot about a third of the time from 2007 through 2010.

Given the perception of his declining speed and lack of previous work in the slot, Smith compares favorably to former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, who didn’t work very often in the slot after 2008 and caught 73 passes for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns at age 35 in 2009. The Ravens would be thrilled if Smith can post numbers even remotely approaching those of the 5-foot-10 Mason that season. He isn’t the deep-ball threat that he was in his prime, but Smith doesn’t need to be with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones as available vertical threats on the outside.

Perhaps the Ravens will simply need to rely on Kubiak’s creativity to maximize Smith’s ability at this stage of his career, but there’s no questioning how pleased they are to acquire a player with his pedigree to add to an offense that finished 29th in the league last season. And they hope his addition will be part of the solution to put Baltimore back among the elite in the AFC, even if there’s more work to be done on the offensive side of the ball.

“I believe and the Baltimore Ravens believe that I can help increase the chances of us being successful,” Smith said. “So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to swing for the fence, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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Orioles claim INF Paredes off waivers from Miami

Posted on 15 February 2014 by WNST Staff

The Orioles today announced that they have claimed INF/OF JIMMY PAREDES off of waivers from Miami.

Paredes, 25, spent 2013 in the Houston organization, batting .287/.345/.462 with 16 stolen bases in 86 games for Triple-A Oklahoma City and .192/.231/.248 in 135 plate appearances for the Astros.

In seven minor league seasons, Paredes is a career .289/.324/.428 hitter with 166 stolen bases in 219 attempts. He was originally signed by the Yankees as an amateur free agent, July 2, 2006, and was claimed on waivers by Miami from Houston on November 4, 2013.

With this move, the Orioles 40-man roster is now full.

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Former Ravens safety Reed reportedly has $50K stolen from car

Posted on 13 February 2014 by Luke Jones

Former Ravens safety Ed Reed is reportedly the victim of a crime for the second time in a little over a year.

According to multiple reports, the 35-year-old allegedly had $50,000 stolen from his car in Houston after someone broke the passenger side window as he was visiting a second bank. Reed had withdrawn the money from the first bank, and police suspect he was followed to the second location.

The future Hall of Fame safety signed a three-year, $15 million contract with the Houston Texans but was cut midway through the year and finished the season with the New York Jets, intercepting three passes but continuing to struggle in pass coverage. He was back in Houston to move out of his apartment and resolve his affairs.

Reed was allegedly the victim of another crime last year after his Maryland home was broken into during the week of Super Bowl XLVII.

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The 15-7-0 hopes no one volunteered the Houston Texans as tribute

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The 15-7-0 hopes no one volunteered the Houston Texans as tribute

Posted on 25 November 2013 by Glenn Clark

15 positive observations from the weekend of football, seven not so positive observations and we acknowledge a “zero” from outside the world of football. A reminder, there’s never any Ravens game analysis here. We do plenty of that elsewhere. It’s a trip through the weekend of football via videos, GIFs, memes, pictures, links, Tweets and shtick. This isn’t where we do Ravens stuff. You can find plenty of that…like…everywhere else on the site.

Did you know that you were exactly like a Major League Baseball GM? It’s true. For example: how many good baseball players have you acquired this offseason?

Same as Dan Duquette.

15 Positive Observations…

1. The singular purpose of Number 1 in this week’s 15-7-0 is to get to the part of Monday afternoon’s show where Ryan Chell as to pronounce the name “Seyi Ajirotutu” and then put my feet up, light a cigar and just plain enjoy being alive.

To celebrate the big win, Philip Rivers wore the lovely gift he received from Stan Marsh’s grandfather.

Here’s…I have no freaking idea what this is. NONE.

2. Navy QB Keenan Reynolds had seven touchdowns Friday night. CJ Spiller has one touchdown in 2013. It’s cool though, because I totally picked Reynolds as the second overall pick in my fantasy football draft. What’s that? I picked Spiller there? Oh I just quit.

Just when you thought Navy motivational videos couldn’t get any better.

Three weeks to go, but here’s this.

3. Towson will face the winner of Sacred Heart/Fordham in the second round of the FCS playoffs December 7th. I’m sorry, major college football fans. I probably should’ve started this post by explaining that “playoffs” are what is used by every other sport or at every other level to determine a champion. But hey! You guys are getting one soon too! Kinda.

Terrance West has 30TD’s. THIRTY. Do the Ravens have 30TD’s?

4. Oh, so Cam Newton rallied his team from down late in the second half to improve to 8-3? That’s supposed to get me to buy into him? I’ll buy into him when he beats the Bears. The ’86 Bears. Until then he’s just like every other freakishly athletic former Heisman Trophy winning specimen who has defeated the 49ers and Patriots in the last month. Dime a dozen.

Acting like LeBron James will probably be a great way to win over fans though.

5. The Steelers will come into the Thanksgiving night showdown in Baltimore winners of five of their last seven. It reminds me of a popular limerick my grandfather taught me growing up. It went like this. Ahem. “Screw the Steelers”. Wait, did I say it was a limerick? I meant “a drunken yell”. I get them confused so often.

No one will put this into words any better than Mike Polk.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6NJVFlHOIY

Also, Billy Cundiff did something familiar.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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