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Inside The Squared Circle - WWE Raw in Memphis Review

On top of getting to do the 1st episode of the Inside the Squared Circle podcast Monday, I also got the chance to take in Raw LIVE from the FedExForum, Monday night.  With Night of Champions coming up this Sunday, AND it being the “Season Premiere” of WWE Raw, a big show was in store for all those in attendance.  Would we get to see Sting?  Would Charlotte end Nikki Bella’s chance at becoming the longest reigning WWE Divas champion ever?  Who will face the Dudley Boyz for the WWE Tag Team Championship on Sunday?  All this and more would be settled over the next three hours.
The Authority (Triple H and Stephanie McMahon) are out to start the show and are making sure to let everyone know what a big show we have coming up tonight and some talk of the future, but then they dropped the bombshell that the icon, the franchise, whatever else you may call him…STING would be in action against The Big Show later in the show!  The crowd went crazy over that news.  Before The Authority exited, WWE Tag Team Champions The New Day made their way to the ring to a very raucous response from the crowd. 
Stephanie McMahon decided to take this opportunity to dance with New Day.  Then Triple H danced with them.  Seriously.  It was awesome and terrifying all at once.  But there was serious business at hand.  Tag Team title match with New Day defending their titles against the Prime Time Players.  The crowd was split on New Day.  Xavier Woods parades around the ringside area like a cheerleader of sorts.  Part-manager and part-whatever-you-would-call-it, he took advantage of the trombone he brings to the ring with him.  At points throughout the match he played a number of different things, all of which served to distract the Prime Time Players.  I heard the Pink Panther theme, Taps and even more.  Brilliantly done as well.  In the end, New Day ended up getting the victory to retain their titles in advance of Night of Champions.  Their challengers Sunday, the Dudley Boyz made an appearance at the top of the ramp to let New Day know what was in store this weekend.
Next we went backstage to Charlotte who was getting ready for her match by giving an interview when she’s joined by the one and only “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, who is Charlotte’s dad by the way.  Charlotte’s stable mates, Becky Lynch and Paige would then head on out to the ring as Paige was set to take on Sasha Banks after the commercial break.
Paige had Becky Lynch at ringside with her but Sasha had her Team B.A.D. friends Tamina and Naomi which put the two members of PCB Paige, Charlotte, Becky) at a disadvantage.  After a few minutes of working on Paige (and a big miss on a dive to the outside), Sasha got her locked in the Banks Statement finisher and that was all she wrote.  But the victory wasn’t enough for Team B.A.D as they attacked both Paige and Becky Lynch after the match.  From here it was off to a commercial break.  Miz TV coming up after the break.
Joining Miz tonight on Raw is the Wyatt family, now consisting of Bray Wyatt, Luke Harper & Braun Strowman.  The group tried to intimidate Miz but before they could…..through the crowd, its Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose.  They run off the Wyatts (with only their words) but in the middle of that, Roman does tell us they’ve found a third man…….but won’t say who until Sunday.  With all of the big, strong, angry men in the ring, Miz ended up being the only person getting involved by getting a boot to the stomach from Ambrose.
Now was the moment in the show where the crowd really started to turn it up a notch.  Chants both supporting Cena and Sheamus, and people really voicing their displeasure with both guys.  People REALLY did not seem to be big fans of Sheamus’ hair and facial hair decisions.  Sheamus really dominated a good portion of this match, but Cena is Cena.  In the end, Sheamus hit his rolling senton that didn’t do much of anything to Cena and John hit Sheamus with an AA to pick up the victory.
We then were visited by Intercontinental Champion Ryback, who was rocking the wonderfully tacky championship-over-untucked-tee look.  Ryback started talking about Elvis, and started dancing.  For real.  It was a little strange.  Thankfully, Kevin Owens saved us from more Ryback dancing by coming out to talk to the Big Guy about The Secret.  Yes, the best-selling book, The Secret.  Ryback has said that the book was very important to him in the past and Owens felt that was a great way to attack Ryback emotionally, as well as attacking the book.  HOW DARE YOU ATTACK LITERATURE KEVIN??  But I digress.  In the end, we find out that this Sunday Owens will take on Ryback for the Intercontinental Championship at Night of Champions.
After a break, Stardust and The Ascension were making their way out to the ring when redemption-seeking Neville, along with his backup of The Lucha Dragons came out to attack Stardust and The Ascension.  This segment didn’t have much to it because that first sentence is all that happened.  Short segment.
Next up was what I like to call the co-main event of the night.  Much was made of the fact that if Nikki Bella successfully left FedExForum as Divas Champion she would become the longest reigning Divas Champion of all time.  But Charlotte was standing in her way.  And after making Nikki tap out to the Figure 8 last week, Charlotte was a serious threat to end Nikki’s quest for the record.  This was a fantastic match that unfortunately was ruined by the ending.  Chaos ensued and Nikki ended up getting pinned by Charlotte.  Except it wasn’t Nikki.  Lost in all the confusion, Brie ended up in the ring and taking the pinfall.  But the celebration had begun.  Paige and Becky Lynch are in the ring, and down comes the beaming father to celebrate with his daughter…..until Stephanie McMahon comes out.  Stephanie changes the original decision to a disqualification so Charlotte wins, but doesn’t win the title.  Memphis was not happy with this decision.  Stephanie did however make a rematch for Sunday at Night of Champions where if Nikki loses in any way (DQ, countout, however), Charlotte gets the title.  So your new longest-reigning-Divas-Champion-of-all-time is Nikki Bella.
The Cesaro Section got a nice treat, getting to watch the “Swiss Superman” Cesaro take on Rusev with Summer Rae at ringside.  Halfway through this hard-fought match, recent Rusev adversary Dolph Ziggler made his way out to ringside where he tried to present Summer Rae with a present of some kind.  Of course this distracted Rusev enough for Cesaro to score the quick victory with a roll up that you need to go on YouTube or WWE Network or wherever and see for yourself.  It was awesome.  But Ziggler wasn’t quite done with Rusev.  Before the Bulgarian could even blink, Ziggler jumped in the ring and nailed Rusev with a massive superkick to the jaw.  After the ensuing commercial we learned that there was jewelry in the box Dolph gave Summer Rae.  Hmmm.
We’ve finally gotten to the main event of the evening.  The Franchise.  The Icon.  Sting.  Sting made his way out to a thunderous ovation from the Memphis crowd.  I tweeted out during the show that unless he appeared here for TNA Wrestling, Sting hadn’t appeared at a wrestling event in Memphis since July 26th, 1999.  So obviously the crowd was pretty amped for this.  Unfortunately the match didn’t last long because United States and World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins is out to deliver a cowardly beatdown to the Icon.  Who can help Sting??  How about the man who’s squaring off with Rollins for his United States title Sunday, John Cena.  Soon Triple H makes his way out and in the vein of the great Teddy Long, who would have said, “Hold on a minute, playa,” restarts the match as a tag team contest with Cena/Sting vs. Show/Rollins.  The bad guys isolate Cena but eventually Cena gets Sting into the ring and after Cena delivered a MASSIVE Attitude Adjustment to Big Show, Sting picked up the win for his team by making Rollins tap to the Scorpion Death Lock.  Cena and Sting celebrate and we’re outta here!!!!
Except after the cameras went off the air, a very touching moment happened.  John Cena and Sting were still out in the ring when Cena brought everyone’s attention to a young fan in the audience who recently beat cancer.  Cena and Sting went out into the crowd and gave pieces of the gear they were wearing to the girl and her family.  It proved once again the power of WWE and what they can do for so many people.  A great way to end a very fun night at FedExForum.
This was the last show of 2015 for WWE in Memphis, but they’ll be back in FEBRUARY for SmackDown on February 2nd!!!!
Thanks to everybody for taking the time to listen to the podcast version of this blog and thanks for following along with me as I tweeted live from FedExForum.

Until next time.
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From The Penalty Box: Mississippi RiverKings Unveil New Logos and Jerseys

It was a word that was thrown around quite a bit at this morning’s press conference.

Today the Mississippi RiverKings made a huge change by abandoning the logo the team has used for the majority of their existence.  The RiverKings have used a picture of a giant turtle, with some slight variations, since 2001.  The new logo and branding revealed today harkens back to the logo the team used back when it was still playing games at the Mid South Coliseum and were still called the Memphis Riverkings.  Today’s new unveiling goes back to that logo with its giant ‘M’ as a centerpiece complete with a crown and RiverKings banner underneath.

“This was a change we had discussed over the course of the last 18 months and it’s very exciting to get the new mark into the community,” RiverKings Director of Business Operations David Schmoll said.  “We had such a great response from our throwback jerseys in 2012-2013 that when we sat down to discuss the rebrand, the black and gold color scheme was something we kept coming back to.  We wanted to honor the long history of hockey in the Mid-South while also creating a timeless logo that will stand the test of time.”
And there’s always going to be worry that you’re going to alienate the fan base by making such a drastic change.  Schmoll said, “If we go away from the green, what are people going to think?  We really looked at what we wanted to do.  We had such a good response to the throwback jerseys with so many fans asking if we were going back to the old logo.”  “It made the decision to change it up an easy one for everyone involved.”
To me this new logo is a beautiful way to create a new identity for the team.  Do a simple Google search, and its hard to find info on the team’s beginnings.  Even those I spoke with close to the team have said the same thing.  This new rebranding is a chance for the team to keep building their core here in the Mid-South. 
The RiverKings have raised over $500,000 since 2004 in fundraising efforts to help causes all over the Mid-South.  Next is $1,000,000.  A goal the team has said they want to acheive in much less time than the first $500,000.  It’s a fantastic goal for a franchise that has clearly made an impact on the communities around it.
The team itself will tell you they are “Proud to be the longest, continually operating sports franchise in the Memphis area.”  And with this new branding, they’re going to begin their 24th season this fall in style.
Below are images of the jerseys the team will wear this upcoming season.  I’ll have more on this whole event on tomorrow’s From The Penalty Box Podcast, right here on 929espn.com tomorrow afternoon.  You can also follow me on Twitter @GregRatliff and on Facebook.  Let me know what you think of the new branding on either of those or leave a comment below.

[Note: Story was edited to correct figures and dates related to the RiverKings' fundraising efforts.]

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From The Penalty Box: NHL Playoff Preview

So after the entire NHL season, it of course would have to come down to the wire for the playoff matches to be decided.  And I was most definitely wrong all week about the Penguins.  But now begins perhaps the best part of the year……


Now, this year’s playoffs are a little different than what pretty much every other sport is doing, in regards to playoff seeding.  However, I think these changes are terrific and as the last couple weeks played out, led to some exciting hockey at the end of the regular season.  And I’m going to make my FINAL pick for who’s winning the Stanley Cup now that we know who’s actually in the playoffs.  Let’s get to the matchups and my first round predictions.  Let’s start in the East first.
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins got the win they needed Saturday to get them into the playoffs, but this isn’t that same old Penguins team we’ve seen in the past.  I didn’t see the Pens making the playoffs the last few weeks and I don’t see Pittsburgh beating the Presidents’ Trophy winning Rangers either.  Winner: New York Rangers in 5

Washington Capitals vs. New York Islanders
I’ve been a big supporter of the Islanders all season and I’m not stopping now.  I still don’t trust the Capitals in the playoffs.  Holtby HAS been very strong in net for Washington, but I still give the edge to New York.  Plus, I think the Islanders will have a HUGE home ice advantage at Nassau Coliseum, in its final season.  Winner: New York Islanders in 6

Montreal Canadiens vs. Ottawa Senators
I feel bad for Montreal.  After being up towards the top of the East all season, the Canadiens’ reward is…the hottest team in the NHL, the Ottawa Senators.  From Bryan Murray’s courageous battle with colon cancer to the Hamburglar, the Senators have gone from a contender in the Connor McDavid sweepstakes in February to Stanley Cup contender in April.  Sens keep rolling as Montreal suffers an early playoff exit.  Winner: Ottawa Senators in 7

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings
Anyone that’s been following along with me the last few weeks and months knows I’ve been picking Detroit to win the Cup pretty much all year.  And now I’ve hit that brick wall of realizing that I probably was wrong about it.  Dead wrong.  It’s the Yzerman aspect that makes it that much more intriguing.  Beating his former team with the team he built?  Fantastic story.  And Detroit?  This could be the swan song for Mike Babcock.  But before we debate where he may possibly go, he’s got a playoff series to win.  I think this will be the only east series to end in a sweep.  Winner: Tampa Bay Lightning in 4

So now we head to the Wild Wild West where playoff seeds don’t matter and cats and dogs are living together and black is white……Sorry got sidetracked there.  The West is crazy good.  Top to bottom.  Let’s do this.

Anaheim Ducks vs. Winnipeg Jets
Bruce Boudreau has a pretty spotty resume in the playoffs.  Bruce has TONS of regular season success that has never really carried over to the postseason, in either stop of his coaching career.  Imagine what Mike Babcock could do with this team.  But that’s for another time.  Even with how strong Anaheim has looked in the regular season, I don’t see how it will carry over into this series.  Winnipeg is going to give the Ducks trouble on both ends of the ice.  And guys like Byfuglien and Ladd have proven to give teams fits in playoffs past.  Ask any team that played Chicago in 2010.  Winner: Winnipeg Jets in 6

Vancouver Canucks vs. Calgary Flames
This is probably the least talked about matchup in the playoffs.  Which isn’t necessarily a BAD thing.  The Flames have been a nice surprise this season.  But I really don’t know what to think about this series.  Could really go either way.  I think the edge will ultimately go to Vancouver.  I think their veteran leadership will guide their way into the next round.  Winner: Vancouver Canucks in 6

St. Louis Blues vs. Minnesota Wild
Congrats St. Louis!  You’ve played so well all season and to thank you, you get the Minnesota Wild in the first round!  Yikes.  Minnesota has been just about as hot as Ottawa the last couple months.  And Devan Dubnyk has been a rock.  And Minnesota will be ready for the Blues’ physical attack.  This matchup is a great example of why the new playoff format is awesome and terrible all at once.  This is a matchup that would have been great as a Conference Final.  But we get it early.  And should thank the hockey gods.  The Blues' playoff inexperience will be their undoing here.  Steve Ott can’t save you now.  Winner: Minnesota Wild in 6

Nashville Predators vs. Chicago Blackhawks
This is another one of those bad matchups in the West.  Bad for them but good for us.  Chicago has had a lot of problems scoring goals lately.  The loss of Patrick Kane’s scoring has seemed to trickle down through the rest of the team.  But every season, Chicago seems to find a way to plug through and make a run in the playoffs.  But I don’t know if the Hawks are strong enough to muscle around the Preds.  Nashville can be amazing with they have good puck possession.  Unfortunately, they’ve struggled against teams that try to just push them off the puck.  Chicago just doesn’t strike me as a team that will do that to the Preds though.  Do I have to pick a winner for this one??  Really??  Okay.  Uhhhhhhhh………… Winner: Nashville Predators in 7
So where do we go from here???  I’ll breakdown the next round once the first is over.  But I said I’d give you my pick for winning the Cup.  As you read above, my pick all year to win, Detroit, will likely be eliminated.  Of course, I could be wrong, but I need to make a new pick. 
New York Islanders…..I almost picked you.  But I’m going with Tampa Bay.  I’m a believer now. 
Send all critiques/questions/complaints to me on Twitter @GregRatliff or comment below.

See you all next time.  Watch some hockey.
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From The Penalty Box - RiverKings Fall at Home to Pensacola

The Mississippi RiverKings took on the Pensacola Ice Flyers at the Landers Center tonight, in Game 2 of their best-of-three series in the first round of the SPHL Playoffs.  On the line tonight was a chance to advance to the next round and get one step closer to the Finals.

Pensacola came out quick and tough early in the first period getting the first few chances of the game.  The Ice Flyers did a good job of working the puck behind the net and firing it out front and ended up getting a goal 2:15 into the period from Nick McParland.  Pensacola came out much more physical to start, but had difficulty in holding onto the puck for extended periods of time.  At times the RiverKings looked as if they were on the power play and turned that possession advantage into their first goal at 5:13 into the period with Matt Harrington netting the goal and Thomas and Whitehead assisting.  The rest of the period was a lot of back and forth with HUGE long entry passes that were working well for each team.  The Kings started pressing again, but Max Strang kept Pensacola tied with the Kings 1-1.  Overall, the Kings took a lot of their chances from the points and in the circles working the angles whereas the Ice Flyers created more by passing into the slot.  Pensacola closed out the period with a Too Many Men on the Ice penalty which the Kings had yet to capitalize on at the end of the first.  The Kings did lead SOG with 18 to only 7 for Pensacola.
Both teams looked a little rough to start the second.  Lots of sloppy puck possession after the First Period penalty was killed off by the Ice Flyers.  Kings finally started to pick up the physicality, using their slight height advantage.  Matt Harrington was all over the place.  Typically when something good happened, he was somewhere around it.  Then things kind of fell apart for the Kings.  Things started getting a bit chippy and Matt Whitehead seemed to be at the center of it.  He ended up drawing a double roughing penalty with Adam Pawlick of Pensacola with around 7 to go.  Both teams played 2 minutes of Four-on-Four but couldn’t convert. A few minutes later Linden Bahm picked up another penalty for the RiverKings, this one an interference call which led to the power play goal by John Puskar after a gorgeous pass from McParland to put the Ice Flyers on top 2-1 to close out the second period. 
The third got off to a quick start with Bryon Paulazzo getting his third goal of the playoffs in quick fashion at just 26 seconds into the period.  After that though, it was all Pensacola.  In the end, the Ice Flyers ended up catching up in the SOG department to actually take a 31-30 lead at the end of the period.  The Riverkings had 18 SOG in the first and only 12 the next two.  Yikes.  And where Matt Harrington was the catalyst up to the end of third for the Kings, Nick McParland was the same for Pensacola.  At the end of the third he had 4 shots, a goal and an assist and was seemingly around every time there was a big scoring chance.  But alas, the game was still tied at 3 and headed to overtime for a second straight game.
The RiverKings came out firing in OT, leading Pensacola to take their time out with about 16:40 left in the period.  From there the Kings kept on firing, making Strang make a number of huge saves to keep the Ice Flyers in the game.  Then, after a couple of icing calls that were a little close, and a possibly missed tripping penalty, Nick Lazorko got a hold of a loose puck and buried it giving Pensacola the victory, and tying the series at 1-1.  The deciding game of the series, Game 3 is tomorrow night in Pensacola.  The RiverKings hope to rebound and advance to the next round by picking up a victory tomorrow.
The 3 Stars should be no surprise, as Pensacola sweeps the podium with Jon Puskar getting the top honors, followed by Nick McParland and the man who got the game-winner, Nick Lazorko.
The Kings showed a lot of skill and talent tonight but in the end, the Ice Flyers looked exactly like the team that finished the regular season as strong as they did, winning six of their last ten.

Follow me on Twitter @GregRatliff for more and check out my podcast in the Podcast of the Day section at the top.
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From The Penalty Box: Can Detroit Really Win The East?

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these.  That’s Dad Life for you.
First, I want to extend a big thanks to everyone that listened to my podcast last week.  It was a lot of fun having Sam Fels join me to talk some Western Conference hockey.  If you haven’t listened to it yet you can check it out here.
But let’s get down to business.  I hinted in the last column about who I’m picking to win the East. 
In October I picked the Detroit Red Wings to win the Eastern Conference.  They won’t win the Cup, but I’ll get into that more in a later column.  Either way, I’ve had Detroit winning the East since day one.  As the title of this blog reads, can Detroit ACTUALLY win the East?
I still think the answer to that is yes.
But then a few other teams decided to all of a sudden remember how to play hockey.  The Bruins have been on a tear, winning 7 out of their last 10 games, including wins against Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh.  And the New York Rangers have won 10 out of 12, beating Chicago, Nashville, the Islanders, Washington, and Florida.  And Buffalo a couple times, but still.
And then I remembered again that pretty much all season I’ve been picking Detroit.  And then I looked at the standings.
Yes, the Red Wings are still 1st on the power play in the NHL.  And still top ten in goals scored.  But after going 9-3 in January, things have gone downhill slightly.  Detroit is .500 since then and is only FIVE points ahead of Boston for the 3rd playoff position from the Atlantic division.  And if you look at pretty much everyone’s power rankings, the Wings have been middle of the pack pretty much all season.  Man, I look so wrong.
So they aren’t exactly a world beater right now.  But I’m not giving up on this team.  I picked them back in October to win the Eastern Conference and I’M STICKING WITH IT. 
That just leaves the Western Conference.
Later this week I’m going to drop another column where I’ll get into that a bit more in depth.  Because as I type this I see one of my girls is trying to scale the TV in my living room.
Dad Duty calls again. 
New podcast will be up this Thursday or Friday.  My guest will be someone who will give me some insight as part of my weekly Predators Report.
See you on the Internet.
Twitter - @GregRatliff
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From the Penalty Box: NHL Trade Deadline Breakdown

You may be wondering,  “A hockey blog on ESPN929.com?”
It’s true!!!   So since this is my first blog post, on top of wondering about the question above, you may be asking, “Who’s writing this???”
If you’ve listened to Tigers Tonight on ESPN 790 you’ve heard me broadcasting that show (occasionally) with John Martin.  I also am the Executive Producer for Outdoors with Larry Rea and Bear’s Best Bets.  I’m from Illinois, grew up a HUGE Chicago Blackhawks fan, and now live here, in Memphis.  Let’s get to this.
The 2015 NHL Trade Deadline could be summed up with one word: BUSY.  The pace got to be so frenetic I could barely even keep up.  I’m going to do my best to try and make sense of what happened Monday. 
These are my picks for which teams were the BEST and WORST at the trade deadline Monday.
1. Detroit Red Wings – Anyone that wants to pretend that the Red Wings didn’t get better isn’t paying attention.  And they did it without giving up much of anything.  Both Erik Cole and Marek Zidlicky are unrestricted free agents this summer but could be brought back to Detroit since they are perfect for Detroit.  They’re both role players that play anywhere Red Wings’ coach Mike Babcock may need them.  The Wings were already a serious Stanley Cup contender, and this deal helps solidify their team.
2.Chicago Blackhawks – Win now.  That’s definitely the mindset in Chicago this year with them dealing away Ben Smith and Klas Dahlbeck (and a variety of picks) in deals to San Jose and Arizona, respectively.  In return, the Hawks bring in elite faceoff man Antoine Vermette, solid forward Andrew Desjardins and defenseman Kimmo Timmonen.  Granted, none of this probably would have happened had Patrick Kane not gone on long-term injured reserve last week with an upper body injury.  One of the Hawks’ biggest issues in the playoffs last year was faceoff deficiency and Vermette will help that immensely. 
3.Toronto Maple Leafs – Wow.  Now yes, they’re not a contender for much of anything this season.  But they were BUSY the last few days, unloading players left and right and clearing up lots of cap space.  So let’s break this all down:  They got rid of Olli Jokinen (whom they acquired only two weeks ago), Daniel Winnik, Korbinian Holzer, amd the giant contract of David Clarkson.  And they were trying to unload Dion Phaneuf, Phil Kessel, and Tyler Bozak.  The Leafs showed they aren’t messing around.  It doesn’t do much for this year, but the cap space cleared hopefully is leading to a better future for one of the Original Six teams.
HONORABLE MENTION:  New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks
1.Edmonton Oilers – This wasn’t a hard pick for number 1.  They got Rob Klinkhammer and a 1st round pick from Pittsburgh in January.  And uh…… a 2nd round pick for Jeff Petry on Monday.  That’s it.  So the Oilers have decided that as part of the rebuild they do nothing.  The massive rebuild that’s going to bring them back to the Gretzky years and open up their new downtown arena with a Stanley Cup……..yeah.  GM Craig MacTavish better hope this plan works or it could be him leaving Edmonton next.
2.Pittsburgh Penguins – Monday saw the Pens bring back blue liner Ben Lovejoy from Anaheim in exchange for Simon Desperes who was at one point a very highly touted defenseman but Pittsburgh has a ton of depth at that position.  Lovejoy was with the Pens from 2008-2013 and apparently management was a big fan.  He adds some valuable experience over Desperes but it’s not necessarily a ‘wow’ move that a ‘contending’ team usually makes.  The Pens also added another defenseman in Ian Cole, but again, it’s a rather uninspired move.  If the Pens were looking to bolster the team heading towards the playoffs they definitely swung and missed here.
3.Boston Bruins – Yet another perennial playoff team that didn’t really seem to get all they wanted by the deadline Monday.  The Bruins did get Maxime Talbot and Paul Carey from Colorado in exchange for a 6th round pick and the disappointing former 1st round pick, Jordan Caron.  Caron just never quite fit with the team, so his departure shouldn’t be a huge surprise to most Boston fans.  But that was it.  Will it put them over the hump??  Maybe???  I don’t think it will though.
DISHONORABLE MENTION:  Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, San Jose Sharks
In the next edition of The Penalty Box Blog, I’m going to break down the current race to the playoffs in the Eastern Conference or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Pick Detroit.
Sometime next week I’ll also have up a brand new Penalty Box podcast up where I’ll be breaking down the deadline with a couple (yet to be determined) guests.  Follow me on Twitter @GregRatliff where I’ll announce that when I have it confirmed.
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Ben Hogan's Fantasy Philanthropy 12/04

Fantasy Football Thursday Tidbits

by Ben Hogan


       It’s Playoff Time in Fantasy Football as Week 14 in the actual NFL season approaches.  Most fantasy leagues start the playoffs this week, to end in Week 16, but there are a few that go through this week and end in Week 17.  I am going to do something a little bit different here, because most folks have his/her roster set and would just be picking up guys to even more solidify his/her team.  I will give you rankings this week based on tiers - green are guys you should have no worries starting; yellow are risk/reward guys; red are last ditch options if you don’t have anyone better


As always, good luck and if you are still reading this, then you are in the Playoffs, congrats to you and hopefully you will be reading the next two or three weeks as well.


Here they are below:



  1. Aaron Rodgers - GB v ATL

  1. Ryan Tannehill - MIA v BAL

  1. Tom Brady - NE @ SD

  1. Andy Dalton - CIN v PIT

  1. Andrew Luck - IND @ CLE

  1. Philip Rivers - SD vs NE

  1. Peyton Manning - DEN v BUF

  1. Jay Cutler - CHI vs DAL

  1. Drew Brees - NO v CAR

  1. Ben Roethlisberger - PIT @ CIN

  1. Russell Wilson - SEA @ PHI

  1. Matt Ryan - ATL @ GB

  1. Tony Romo - DAL @ CHI

  1. Colin Kaepernick - SF @ OAK

  1. Matthew Stafford - DET v TB

  1. Eli Manning - NYG @ TEN



  1. Arian Foster - HOU @ JAC

  1. Jeremy Hill - CIN v PIT

  1. DeMarco Murray - DAL @ CHI

  1. Ryan Mathews - SD v NE

  1. Le’Veon Bell - PIT @ CIN

  1. Isaiah Crowell - CLE v IND

  1. Matt Forte - CHI v DAL

  1. Frank Gore - SF @ OAK

  1. Marshawn Lynch - SEA @ PHI

  1. Denard Robinson - JAC v HOU

  1. Eddie Lacy - GB v ATL

  1. Lamar Miller - MIA v BAL

  1. Jamaal Charles - KC @ ARI

  1. Gio Bernard - CIN v PIT

  1. CJ Anderson - DEN v BUF

  1. Latavius Murray - OAK v SF

  1. LeSean McCoy - PHI v SEA

  1. LeGarrette Blount - NE @ SD

  1. Justin Forsett - BAL @ MIA

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Ben Hogan's Fantasy Philanthropy 11/04

Fantasy Football Tuesday Tidbits

by Ben Hogan


       One more week in the books for the NFL season and Week 9 was rough as six teams were on a bye and players that you are used to performing on a high level were kept in check.  Philip Rivers turned into a turnover machine against the tough Dolphins defense, DeMarco Murray was kept under 100 yards for the first time all season by Arizona, and even though he led his team to victory, Russell Wilson didn’t account for one Seattle touchdown.  On the other hand, Jeremy Hill, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger owners finished Sunday satisfied.


Week 10 presents another challenging week as injuries continue to pile up, the guessing continues, and six more teams on a bye.  Here below are a few players to help you avoid the bye week blues and yes I know Adrian Peterson has reached a plea deal, but I am in no position to say whether or not you should pick him up because I have no idea what Roger Goodell will do.


Bye Weeks:  Indianapolis, Minnesota, New England, San Diego, Washington, Houston


Here they are below:


Pluck and Play

These are guys that are the cure for your guys that may be out a week or two, but should not be counted on to make an impact all season long.  Since the bye weeks start this week, I am also going to mix in players that are bye week players, in which you probably wouldn’t start unless other guys get injured or you have a week in which a lot of players are on a bye.

  • Mark Sanchez - Eagles

The injury to Nick Foles couldn’t come at a worse time for Foles owners, with it being on a six team bye week and this late into the season.  Most, if not all of the QBs that would be worth starting in your fantasy league are on a roster.  Mark Sanchez is worth picking up for Foles owners, as he filled in fine on Sunday and finished what Foles started in the Eagles 31-21 triumph over the Texans.  In limited action over the preseason and 2+ quarters coming in for Foles, Sanchez has looked competent and capable.  Sanchez did throw two INTs, but Foles owners are used to riding that roller coaster as he also tossed two touchdowns and threw for 202 yards.

  • Terrance West - Browns

Here we go again, taking a turn on the Browns running back merry-go-round.  Three weeks ago it looked as if Isaiah Crowell was going to seize at least the backup role to Ben Tate and West would be the odd man out.  Then two weeks ago, Crowell was basically shut down after showing problems holding onto the ball, but Tate was still the guys.  This past week, West appears to have the inside track to at least split carries with Tate.  Coach Mike Pettine will probably borrow a page out of Jeff Fisher’s book and play the “hot-hand,” and right now that’s West, who had 15 carries.  You could do worse than West if you are just looking for a guy to fill in for one of your guy’s bye weeks.

Streaming Defenses of the Week - Ravens vs Titans; Steelers @Jets


Others:  Jarvis Landry - Dolphins; Theo Riddick - Lions; Mychal Rivera - Raiders


Roster Regulars

It seems every week, whether due to injuries, off-the-field incidents, or just playing better than the guy in front of them, there are two or three guys worth picking up off the waiver wire that could be season savers.

  • Ryan Mathews - Chargers

Remember this guy?  Yeah, he has been out since Week 2 in the NFL and the Chargers have gone through Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown, and Branden Oliver.  Oliver looked like a guy who may threaten playing time from Mathews once he returned, but two lackluster games back-to-back stopped the talk barely after it got started.  Mathews will be getting 20-25 touches once he returns and is available in a little over half of the leagues and if he is out there, then pick him up.

  • Mike Evans - Buccaneers

What a rookie combo of Wide Receivers in Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans, both are bonafide studs and will be stars in this league for the next decade.  Watkins is owned in more leagues simply because Evans lines up opposite of Vincent Jackson and the thought is that V-Jax will take away looks from Evans.  Evans is now the number one receiver in Tampa Bay and should be owned in all formats.


Others:  Adrian Peterson - Vikings; Alfred Blue - Texans; Kyle Rudolph - Vikings


Cut Bait

All of these guys below are players that have underwhelmed so far this season and if you need to pick up somebody else, feel free to drop these guys.

  • Wes Welker - Broncos

I am as shocked as the next person on how much Welker has dropped off this season.  He is even droppable in PPR leagues, which being a possession receiver is the league that he is most valuable.  I understand he missed the first few games due to suspension, but he went from 73 catches on 111 targets last season to just 22 receptions on 32 targets so far this year.  Plenty of other options out there for the production you will get with Welker.

  • Branden Oliver - Chargers

It’s amazing how Oliver went from a season saver to a guy that will just be a backup once Ryan Mathews returns.  I thought maybe his one bad game was a fluke, but it seemed like his game where he broke onto the NFL scene was indeed the fluke.  I guess it should be noted that his two 100 yard games came against the Jets and Raiders (a combined one win between them).  Make room for somebody else on your roster and drop Oliver.


Others:  Cordarrelle Patterson - Vikings; RGIII - Redskins; Jordan Cameron - Browns

Backfield Battles

Predicting which running back is going to get the majority of the carries in a timeshare can be tough, so let me figure it out for you.  Each week I will break down 2 running backs by committee.

  • Buffalo Bills - Anthony Dixon and Bryce Brown

Anthony Dixon received the majority of the carries when the Bills played in Week 8, and that was due to the Bills being in control for most of the game in their 20 point win over the New York Jets.  I expect them to be in a more competitive game this week taking on the Kansas City Chiefs and in turn have Bryce Brown more involved in the offense for the Bills this week.  Dixon will still likely get the start, but if you’re in a pinch, feel comfortable with giving Brown a shot.

  • Philadelphia Eagles - LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, and Chris Polk

There is really no reason why I should be writing this as McCoy is a beast, a Top 5 pick, and has shown he can still get it done.  But, it seems Chip Kelly for some reason doesn’t want to use McCoy as much this season.  Sproles showed flashes of his old self early in the season, but has not done much since then, including missing a couple weeks with an injury.  If sharing touches with Sproles wasn’t enough, Chris Polk was all of the sudden heavily involved in the offense, collecting 50 yards on eight carries and a touchdown.  McCoy has just one touchdown, but plenty of opportunities, so keep it rolling with McCoy and wait another week on Polk.


Make sure you catch ESPN 790 Fantasy Kickoff Show on ESPN 790 every Sunday from 11 AM - Noon right up until kickoff so you are prepared for the week in Fantasy Football.  I am the host and Bennett Doyle produces.  Also, hit me up on Twitter @NotTheGolfer for all of your fantasy questions and hate.

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Ben Hogan's Fantasy Philanthropy 10/28

Fantasy Football Tuesday Tidbits

by Ben Hogan


    We are now halfway through the Fantasy Football season with the completion of Week 8, but for most of you the season will end in the next seven weeks.  The end game is always to drink from that Championship Cup at the completion of the season, but if your team isn’t one of the lucky ones to compete in the Playoffs, don’t give up because others are counting on you to provide competition until you are eliminated.  Suppose you were in the position of another owner and you were the one that needed the help, chances are you will be in the same league with the same guys next year and folks remember that stuff.  

    The bye week bonanza returns this week with six teams on bye, so roster depth is super important, here are some guys below that you may look to add to keep your momentum going.


Bye Weeks:  Atlanta, Buffalo, Tennessee, Green Bay, Chicago, Detroit


Here they are below:


Pluck and Play

These are guys that are the cure for your guys that may be out a week or two, but should not be counted on to make an impact all season long.  Since the bye weeks start this week, I am also going to mix in players that are bye week players, in which you probably wouldn’t start unless other guys get injured or you have a week in which a lot of players are on a bye.

  • Carson Palmer - Cardinals

Palmer is owned in barely over a third of the leagues, mainly because a lot of owners dropped him when he went down with the arm injury, not knowing when or even if he would see the field again.  Since his return three weeks ago, Palmer has put up fantasy totals of 18, 16, and 21 in standard leagues.  I could think of a lot worse bye week replacements for owners of Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Matthew Stafford, and Jay Cutler.  Owners of Cutler and Ryan would be able to use Palmer as a plug and play for bad matchups.

  • Kenny Britt - Rams

I would be lying if I told you that I knew I would recommend somebody to pick up Kenny Britt in Fantasy Football.  But, with the season ending injury to Brian Quick, the Rams now have to look elsewhere for their number one receiver.  Enter Britt.  He has shown himself capable as he had 52 yards last week and now with Quick out, he will be called upon to be their go-to-guy.  Britt is someone that needs a second chance like this, no surprise it is coming from the man who drafted him in Jeff Fisher.  He has the talent to succeed, it’s just all about him getting his head right.

Streaming Defenses of the Week - Chiefs vs Jets; Bengals vs Jaguars


Others:  Lorenzo Taliaferro - Ravens; Juwan Thompson - Broncos; Paul Richardson - Seahawks


Roster Regulars

It seems every week, whether due to injuries, off-the-field incidents, or just playing better than the guy in front of them, there are two or three guys worth picking up off the waiver wire that could be season savers.

  • Jonas Gray - Patriots

I wrote about Jonas in the “Backfield Battles” segment of my article last week and said he is the guy to own in the Patriots backfield.  Obviously, not enough owners picked him up because he is still available in over 95% of fantasy leagues.  Two weeks ago people were talking about Brandon Bolden or James White taking over for the injured Stevan Ridley.  Now, it’s clear that job belongs to Gray as he had 17 carries for 86 yards.  If Brady wasn’t rolling like he was, Gray would have been used in goal line situations.  Gray will be the lead back for the Patriots from here on out and if you need some help at the position, I recommend you pick him up.

  • Donte Moncrief - Colts

#FeedMoncrief.  The Colts did that in their shootout with the Steelers and were rewarded with a seven catch, 133 yard effort from the rookie out of Ole Miss.  Moncrief was filling in for the injured Reggie Wayne, and I think that his performance proved himself more than worthy of taking over that third receiver spot occupied by Hakeem Nicks once Wayne returns.  Add Moncrief now and thank me later.


Others:  Martavis Bryant - Steelers; Charles Sims - Bucs; John Brown - Cardinals


Cut Bait

All of these guys below are players that have underwhelmed so far this season and if you need to pick up somebody else, feel free to drop these guys.

  • Doug Martin - Bucs

Yes, it is that time, the Playoffs are coming around and you need to make sure you have a team that can position you to get the best draw in the playoffs.  Rumors are swirling around the Tampa area that the Bucs are looking at activating rookie Charles Sims off of the IR and could be starting within the next two weeks.  That doesn’t bode well for Martin owners who expected a lot more from a guy in which they spent their first or second round pick on.

  • Dwayne Bowe - Chiefs

A guy who seemed to be on the cusp of stardom two years ago has yet to find the end zone once this season and hasn’t hit the century mark either.  Bowe may end up finding the end zone eventually, and if you want to roll the dice with him, go for it, but I don’t think that’s a good idea.  Bowe may be the number one “receiver” in Kansas City, but Jamaal Charles is the man that will get the touches there.


Others:  Wes Welker - Broncos; LeGarrette Blount - Steelers; Owen Daniels - Ravens

Backfield Battles

Predicting which running back is going to get the majority of the carries in a timeshare can be tough, so let me figure it out for you.  Each week I will break down 2 running backs by committee.

  • Cleveland Browns - Ben Tate, Isaiah Crowell, Terrance West

First thing is Ben Tate in the number one guy no matter what for the Browns, as neither Crowell nor West have shown much of anything that would cause Head Coach Mike Pettine to make the switch.  But, at the beginning of the season, Crowell was good enough to be used as a bye week replacement, but now not so much.  Word out of Cleveland is that they don’t trust Crowell because of his fumbling problems, but are willing to give him a shot to show them something.  Right now, Tate is the only one worth starting and unless he goes down with an injury or you are wanting to handcuff, the other two are droppable.

  • Denver Broncos - Ronnie Hillman, Juwan Thompson, Montee Ball

Montee Ball will be returning to the Broncos in the next couple of weeks and with that, the running back situation becomes even cloudier than it is now.  Three weeks ago Hillman was the guy and then this past Thursday night, Thompson the vulture swooped in and took two touchdowns from Hillman who did most of the leg work.  Chances are, Ball will slowly start taking reps from Hillman, but depending on his performance, he may or may not reclaim that starting job.  It will be worth watching on who is practicing with the first and second teams during practice over the next couple of weeks in Denver.


Make sure you catch ESPN 790 Fantasy Kickoff Show on ESPN 790 every Sunday from 11 AM - Noon right up until kickoff so you are prepared for the week in Fantasy Football.  I am the host and Bennett Doyle produces.  Also, hit me up on Twitter @NotTheGolfer for all of your fantasy questions and hate.



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Ben Hogan's Fantasy Philanthropy 10/21

Fantasy Football Tuesday Tidbits

by Ben Hogan


    The end of Week 7 has brought us to over the halfway point in most Fantasy Football leagues.  If you aren’t at the halfway point, you will be after this upcoming week and if you feel like your team is on the outside looking in, don’t panic quite yet.  The reason I say that is because this season has been so unpredictable that there could be that one guy you pick up that propels you up the standings, and he could be in one of the lists below.


Quick head’s up also, Atlanta and Detroit will be playing in London and kicking off at 8:30 AM CT, so make sure you have the Falcons and Lions players ready to go in your lineup the night before.


Bye Weeks:  New York Giants and San Francisco


Here they are below:


Pluck and Play

These are guys that are the cure for your guys that may be out a week or two, but should not be counted on to make an impact all season long.  Since the bye weeks start this week, I am also going to mix in players that are bye week players, in which you probably wouldn’t start unless other guys get injured or you have a week in which a lot of players are on a bye.

  • Bryce Brown - Bills

The Buffalo Bills may have come back and won last Sunday’s matchup against the Minnesota Vikings, but they also lost their top two running backs in a span of five minutes.  CJ Spiller was lost for the year after he broke his collarbone and Fred Jackson will also be shelved for the foreseeable future.  Anthony “Boobie” Dixon picked up where they left off gaining 51 yards on 13 carries.  You may be asking yourself, “Why should I pick up a guy that hasn’t been active all season?” in Bryce Brown.  The reason is because he can break plays and Anthony Dixon can’t.  Dixon will still be used in short yardage situations, but I believe that Brown will be used more as a feature back at least for the next two to four weeks while Fred Jackson is out.

  • Travaris Cadet - Saints

Cadet is listed as a running back on the depth chart and considered a RB in fantasy football.  He has three carries all season, the value in Cadet is his part in the passing game for the Saints.  Even with Pierre Thomas in the lineup, Cadet has been targeted more often (20 times in the past 3 weeks), but now Thomas will miss up to three weeks, Cadet should see an uptick in targets to more than likely double digits.  Cadet is especially valuable in PPR leagues and should be picked up in all of those.

Streaming Defenses of the Week - Dolphins @Jaguars; Vikings @Bucs


Others:  Joseph Randle - Cowboys; Brandon LaFell - Patriots; Jonathan Stewart - Panthers


Roster Regulars

It seems every week, whether due to injuries, off-the-field incidents, or just playing better than the guy in front of them, there are two or three guys worth picking up off the waiver wire that could be season savers.

  • Doug Baldwin - Seahawks

In a surprise to most people, Percy Harvin was traded from Seattle to the Jets last Friday afternoon, and because of that, Baldwin becomes their number on receiver.  Baldwin did not disappoint in his first game as their primary receiver by hauling in seven catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.  Seattle feels pretty confident in what they have in their receiving corp (Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson, and Kevin Norwood), but the most important thing in Russell Wilson’s confidence and Baldwin has that.  Seattle will rely on the run a little bit more, but Baldwin will be just fine as the go-to-guy in Seattle.

  • Denard Robinson - Jaguars

It was Toby Gerhart first, then it was Storm Johnson, and now it’s Denard Robinson.  The difference is that Robinson looked really good as the primary back for the Jaguars.  It also didn’t hurt that the Jaguars got their first win of the season.  I know the running back pool is thin and Robinson is worth adding, so go ahead and do it without reservation.


Others:  Tre Mason - Rams;  Owen Daniels - Ravens; Ryan Tannehill - Dolphins


Cut Bait

All of these guys below are players that have underwhelmed so far this season and if you need to pick up somebody else, feel free to drop these guys.

  • Zac Stacy - Rams

All week leading up to last Sunday, fantasy football owners were well aware that Stacy would be losing carries to Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham.  But, what they did not know was that Stacy would play just one snap and it appears that Mason has won the job as the Rams’ running back.  It’s unfortunate because while Stacy’s production had declined a bit, it was also because the Rams faced tough matchups early in the season.  Whether or not Stacy gets out of Jeff Fisher’s doghouse is anybody’s guess, so go ahead and release him.

  • Jason Witten - Cowboys

He may just blow the second half of the season away, but Witten hasn’t looked like an important part of this explosive Dallas offense so far.  In fact, the other Tight End on the squad, Gavin Escobar had as many touchdowns (2) as Witten did catches in the Cowboys win over the Giants on Sunday.  I am not saying go pick up Escobar, but do feel safe telling you to dump Witten.


Others:  Jeremy Hill - Bengals;  Khiry Robinson - Saints;  Danny Amendola - Patriots

Backfield Battles

Predicting which running back is going to get the majority of the carries in a timeshare can be tough, so let me figure it out for you.  Each week I will break down 2 running backs by committee.

  • Buffalo Bills - Bryce Brown, Anthony Dixon, Fred Jackson

This one can get complicated as common sense and previous play, Bryce Brown should be the obvious answer, which I think actually will end up being the right answer.  The wrench in all of this is Dixon played well in relief of Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller and felt like he earned the starting spot.  Brown will get plenty of touches, but Dixon may end up being the one getting the touchdowns.  Fred Jackson is the number one whenever he returns, no doubt about it.

  • New England Patriots - Shane Vereen, Jonas Gray, Brandon Bolden, James White

Most fantasy owners loathe Bill Belichick in the sense that you never know what he is thinking and usually the only two constants in the lineup are Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski.  The guessing game reared its’ ugly head on Thursday as many thought Bolden would figure in the offense with Vereen.  As Lee Corso would say “Not so fast!”  Jonas Gray was pulled off the practice squad that day and got the second most carries behind Vereen.  From what I’ve read, Vereen will be the guy, and Jonas Gray will play the Ridley role as many in the organization feel he is as close to a Ridley clone you can get, minus the fumbles.  Vereen needs to be owned in every league, Gray should be rostered in deeper leagues.


Make sure you catch ESPN 790 Fantasy Kickoff Show on ESPN 790 every Sunday from 11 AM - Noon right up until kickoff so you are prepared for the week in Fantasy Football.  I am the host and Bennett Doyle produces.  Also, hit me up on Twitter @NotTheGolfer for all of your fantasy questions and hate.



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