About Evan Knopp

Content Specialist at TicketCity.

2014 Dallas Cowboys Season Preview and Schedule

The Dallas Cowboys have been the NFL’s most average team over the last decade, and as they come of yet another 8-8 season the team is looking for a new identity. The 2013 Cowboys had one of the worst defenses in NFL history, giving up an obscene amount of passing yards including allowing Calvin Johnson to break the NFL record for receiving yards in a game. Even with the defensive woes, the season came down to Week 17 against the Philadelphia Eagles. QB Tony Romo was lost for the game after an injury the previous Sunday, and a Kyle Orton interception with two minutes left in the 4th quarter ended the Cowboys season.

This year the Cowboys go into the season without All-Pro defensive end DeMarcus Ware for the first time in nine seasons, releasing the pass rusher before the cap hit. Ware joined the AFC champion Broncos and the Cowboys brougth in Henry Melton to help out in his absence. Miles Austin was also let go after a productive career thus far, though he might still be brought back with a smaller deal if the Cowboys decide not to pick up a wide receiver in the first couple rounds of the upcoming draft.

Will this ever be a winning combination? (USA Today)

Many of the fans complaints through the 2013 season came about the coaching staff, with Monte Kiffin’s defense playing a new system that did not work in any facet of the game. The blitzing that we saw in 2013 behind Rob Ryan was gone, with a more conservative approach being taken. On offense, Bill Callahan took over play calling duties from head coach Jason Garrett to middling success. The season began well, including a huge game passing from Romo against the Broncos in Week 5 that included 5 TDs and over 500 yards. As the season went on the offense declined, and the choice to call passing plays even with the run working baffled pundits and fans around the league.

The 2014 schedule is challenging, with home games against the 49ers, Saints, Colts and Cardinals. Those teams had a combined record of 44-20 in 2013, and the 49ers were one play away from a second consecutive berth in the Super Bowl. The Saints returned from suspension hell after the ‘Bountygate’ scandal, and were once again a force to be reckoned with — including their 32-point beat down of Dallas in Week 10.
On the road the Cowboys will see Chicago, Tennessee, and the defending-champion Seattle Seahawks. There’s no stadium in the NFL louder than Seattle’s CenturyLink Field, and the last time the Cowboys were at Soldier Field it didn’t work out too well for them. The Cowboys will also play the Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in London on November 9, with the Jags losing the home game from their schedule.

The NFC East is always a wide-open race, and this year expect the Redskins to once again challenge the Cowboys and Eagles. The Cowboys went 1-1 against the Eagles in 2013, and will need to get through divisional play with a winning record if they want another shot at the NFL playoffs in 2014.

2014 New Orleans Saints Season Preview and Schedule

The New Orleans Saints were a cat among the pigeons with their “Bountygate” scandal, but they found a way to persevere. The losing season in 2012 was followed up by an 11-5 campaign that included wins over teams like the 49ers and Panthers in the regular season, before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Seahawks in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. Drew Brees returned to the elite status he had cultivated for himself amongst NFL quarterbacks, and the Saints defense ranked 10th in the league in points allowed.  The stage is set for New Orleans to take back its place at the throne of the NFC South in the 2014 season.

A familiar face in Lance Moore has been released after having only 37 receptions in 2013, his lowest total since 2009. Moore spent eight years in the Saints organization after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Toledo. Kenny Stills looks to be the future Moore’s former position, with the 21-year old rookie hauling in 32 receptions for 641 yards and 10 TDs in 2013. The biggest signing of the off-season thus far is veteran cornerback Champ Bailey, who spent the last 10 seasons in Denver. The 35-year old made the league’s All-Decade team for 2000-09 and this will likely the last stop of his NFL career.

Sean Payton and Rob Ryan worked well together in 2013. (USA Today/Derick Hingle)

The Saints 2014 schedule is chalk full of interesting opponents, though we won’t know the dates until the April 22 release from the NFL. At home, New Orleans will host big non-divisional games against the Ravens, Bengals, Packers, and 49ers – who sported a combined record of 39-24-1 in 2013. The Saints beat the 49ers 23-20 in Week 11 last season with a field goal as time expired, so expect that one to come down to the wire once again. The last time New Orleans faced the Packers, Brees threw for 446 yards and 3 TDs in a 28-27 loss at Lambeau Field.

The road is a little friendlier, with the Saints traveling to cities like Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Dallas. New Orleans went 3-5 on the road in 2013, and had trouble getting the offense going outside of the Superdome. Expect Brees to not have the same problems against a historically-bad Cowboys secondary and a weak Lions defense, but Heinz Field in Pittsburgh is no walk in the park.

The NFC South will be an interesting race to follow, with most pundits not knowing what to expect from the Panthers and Falcons in 2014. Carolina came out of nowhere to win 12 games last season behind one of the NFL’s best defenses, but the offense was shaky at best. The Falcons were picked by many to make the Super Bowl in 2013 before injuries and a nose-dive in offensive production dropped Atlanta to a 4-12 record. A healthy Falcons team will be back this season, and wins over these division rivals are key for the Saints to get back into the playoffs and get the all-important home field advantage.

 

Best Games of the 2014 College Football Season

Michigan State vs. Oregon, September 6

The Spartans finished the 2013 season win 10 consecutive wins, and will be sexy pick to win the Big Ten. Wins over Ohio State and Stanford proved that they belonged in that Rose Bowl, but will they be able to stop Oregon’s offense? This Week 2 game will be a battle of two completely different styles of play.

Texas shocked the Sooners in 2013 in Dallas

Oklahoma vs. Texas, October 11

Last year’s Red River Rivalry was one of the biggest upsets of the season with the Longhorns obliterating the Sooners in Dallas. Texas had already lost two games to mid-tier opponents, but rocked OU early and often. The Sooners went on to lose only one more game in 2013, culminating in a shocking dismantling of the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Sugar Bowl. This is always the defining game of the Big 12 season, and it’s a must win for both teams.

Notre Dame vs. Florida State, October 18

Halfway into the season comes this matchup that could be a major upset if the defending-champion Seminoles are 6-0 heading in. Notre Dame finished last season at 9-4, including wins over Michigan State and USC. Unfortunately for the Fighting Irish, both of those wins came in South Bend. Barring a complete collapse early in the year, Florida State will be heavily favored.

Ole Miss vs. LSU, October 25

Ole Miss was as streaky as it gets in 2013, but was able to take down the Tigers in Oxford last season 27-24. Ole Miss was not very successful in SEC play, with their defining wins being over LSU and Texas. The Tigers lost to only the Ole Miss and Alabama but will be without QB Zach Mettenberger.  While Ole Miss might not look like a title contender, this will be a big step for the Tigers if they want to be in the mix in 2014.

Alabama vs. LSU, November 8

Alabama might have a more storied history squaring off against Auburn, but this fixture in the schedule always has national title implications. It’s very likely that both of these teams are undefeated coming into the game, and you know Les Miles and Nick Saban will be throw everything but the kitchen sink at each other to come out victorious. This time it’s in Baton Rouge, and there isn’t a better college football experience in the country than a night game at Tiger Stadium.

Auburn vs. Alabama, November 29

With how this game ended last season, you can Bryant-Denny Stadium will be electric for this one. A field-goal returned for a touchdown as time expired put the Tigers in the SEC title game and eventually in the National Championship, while Alabama got crushed in the Sugar Bowl by the Sooners. This is one of the best rivalries in all of sports, and it’s the last game of the regular season for both schools. All of Alabama wishes they could cram into the stadium for the Iron Bowl in 2014.

The Best and Worst Franchises in the NBA

The Best Franchise in the NBA: San Antonio Spurs

- 4 NBA Championships (since 1999)

- 11 Division Titles (since 1999)

- 17 consecutive playoff appearances

- Above .500 in 24 of last 25 seasons.

The Spurs are always a factor deep into the playoffs, they consistently win 55+ games a season, and are led by one of the NBA’s all-time greatest coaches… but you’ll very rarely see them as someone’s preseason pick to win the title. The Spurs don’t have the pizzazz, the big-free agent signing, or the guy that will drop 35+ on any given night. San Antonio has made the most out of the draft, has kept its core intact, and has kept the same man in charge for the last 18 years.  By comparison, the second-longest tenured coach in the NBA right now is Erik Speolstra, who was hired by the Heat 6 years ago.

Tim Duncan, 3-time Finals MVP and 14x All-Star

The team’s general manager is R.C. Buford, who was hired as head scout for the team in 1994 by then-GM Greg Popovich. Two years later, Popovich fired Spurs head coach Bob Hill and named himself coach. Injuries decimated the Spurs roster that season and they won only 20 games. The silver lining of that situation was a #1 pick in the NBA draft, which they used on a lanky power forward out of Wake Forest – Tim Duncan. The only other time the Spurs had a #1 pick was in 1987, which was used to draft Hall of Famer David Robinson. Popovich also had hugely successful drafts after taking over as head coach, picking up Tony Parker with the 28th pick of the 2001 draft, as well as Manu Ginobili with the second-to-last pick in 1999. Buford became general manager in 2002, and continued the Spurs penchant for drafting foreign players. The best move thus far since Buford took over was likely the draft-day trade for Kawhi Leonard, who has become one of the up-and-coming stars in the NBA.

The Spurs were mere seconds away from a fifth NBA title last season, and they will go into the 2014 playoffs as the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Label the Spurs boring, call them old, say they won’t do it again – and then watch them win another 60+ games. Duncan will go down as one of the game’s greatest players, Popovich as one of the game’s greatest coaches, and the entire team as one of the NBA’s best dynasties, and it’s because the made the most out of every opportunity. The same can’t be said for the next ball club I’ll discuss.

The Worst Franchise in the NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves

- Losing record each of the last 8 seasons

- Averaged only 22 wins from 2007-2013

- Worst record in Western Conference in 2009-10 (15-67)

- Worst record in NBA in 2010-11 (17-65)

- Lost in first round of playoffs every year for 7 consecutive seasons (1997-2003)

The Timberwolves were once a solid team, reaching the playoffs in eight consecutive seasons culminating in a #1 seed in the 2004 playoffs. That season ended in a 4-2 loss in the Western Conference Finals to the Lakers, and Minnesota hasn’t been back to the playoffs since. A combination of terrible drafts, mismanagement of coaches, and a bevy of other bad choices by general manager David Kahn put the T’Wolves in the midst of a 10-year postseason dry spell – the fourth longest in NBA history and longest current active streak.

Minnesota’s best management move was in 1995, when they took high school big man Kevin Garnett with the #5 overall pick. Garnett went on to win an MVP in Minnesota, as well as countless of other accolades. The problem was that GM Kevin McHale couldn’t seem to find any pieces to put around him. McHale made a secret deal with free agent Joe Smith to circumvent salary cap rules, and the Wolves were subsequently stripped of their next five first-round draft picks (later reduced to three). While Minnesota found some success with Flip Saunders at the helm, McHale fired him during the 2005 season, which is the last time Minnesota had a winning record.

McHale’s backroom dealing damaged Minnesota for the long haul

Garnett, who at the time had spent more seasons with one team than any other active player (12), was eventually traded to the Celtics for five players and two draft picks. Garnett went on to win a championship with the Celtics and the T’Wolves continued to fall down the standings in the years to come. The only player Minnesota got back that was of any use was Al Jefferson, who was eventually traded to the Jazz.

While the Garnett deal is the most high-profile trade Minnesota ever made , it’s the moves the Timberwolves front office has made over the last five years that were the most damaging. David Kahn was hired in 2009, and in his first draft used the first three of Minnesota’s four first-round picks on point guards. Ricky Rubio was picked #5 overall, but decided to continue playing in Spain for the next two years. Jonny Flynn was selected #6 overall and played in Minnesota for only two seasons before being traded to Houston, and now currently plays in Australia. The point guard that was picked immediately after Rubio and Flynn:  Stephen Curry.

The bad draft picks continued with drafting Wesley Johnson #4 overall in 2010, who played for the Wolves for only two seasons before being traded to the Suns. The next year, Minnesota drafted Derrick Williams out of Arizona with the #2 overall pick. Williams was also traded after two seasons. With all the bad decisions on draft day, the worst move still might be refusing to offer Kevin Love a max-year deal.  Love, one of Minnesota’s few success stories, has become one of the best players in the NBA. Kahn refused to extend Love’s deal to five years, instead giving the max deal to Rubio. Now Love will likely leave for greener pastures at the end of the 2014-15 season, likely leaving Minnesota to fall back down into the cellar of the Western Conference.

Today Minnesota sits one win away from its first .500 season since 2005. Rick Adelman has done a decent job as head coach, but with both he and Love likely departing soon, the Wolves might have missed their small window at a playoff run. If Love does head off to bigger and better things after next season, Minnesota might just break that 14-year postseason drought record after all.

Oh, and Darko Miličić.

The Big Buck Theory — There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Bracket

The NCAA tournament is famously hard to predict. So much so that Warren Buffet partnered with Yahoo! to give away $1 billion if someone nailed a perfect bracket. Your chances of winning that money are 1-in-9.2 quintillion. That number is reached when you take 9.2 billion and then multiply it 1 billion times. Now that the tournament is over, let’s look back at how quickly everyone lost.

By 2:30 PM on the second day of the tournament (still in the first round), there were only 16 perfect brackets left.  Sixteen. This point in the day was marked by Duke’s loss to Mercer, with only 2.4% of the brackets submitted having picked the Bears over the Blue Devils. Combining that upset with others like Stephen F. Austin over VCU, Dayton over Ohio State, Harvard over Cincinnati, and North Dakota State over Oklahoma and you get only 16 people with a chance at a billion dollars.

Warren Buffett is smarter than all of us.

While 16 perfect brackets remained at 2:30 PM, that number shrunk down to 1 by the end of the night. The last man standing was Brad Binder, but there was one caveat to his bracket – he filled it out on Yahoo, but did not enter it into the billion dollar pool. Sounds crazy, soon enough he was out too. In the end, no one came close. No one could even correctly predict the first two rounds of the tournament, much less every game going through the national championship. Memphis getting the win over George Washington eliminated the last three people eligible for the billion dollars, and it was all over 25 games into the 32-game first round.

The bracket that did come in first place, taking home one of the tidy $100K prizes that were awarded, got 8 first-round games incorrect. The money doesn’t go to whoever holds out a perfect bracket the longest when it comes to the smaller prizes, so because he correctly predicted 6 of the Elite 8 teams, all Final Four teams, and the national champion UConn Huskies, he won. Over on ESPN’s challenge, the champion did pretty much the same except he got 7 of the Elite 8 teams correct.

What Yahoo!, Quicken Loans, and Warren Buffett did was amazing. They offered a tangible prize to a non-existent winner. I couldn’t find the numbers behind it, but I’d guess that this was the first time in a while Yahoo had more people sign up for its challenge than ESPN. They made people believe they had a snowball’s chance in hell of winning, and we all kind of held out hope.

Want a chance next year? It looks like the trick is to stop concentrating on those first-round games, because the perfect bracket isn’t going to happen. Just give up on that dream and go backwards from the National Championship and Final Four you’re taking. Think back at the person in your office pool who was ahead after the first round… did he/she win? Probably not. The first round is a crap-shoot for the most part, and while it’s fun to watch Cinderella take down one of the powerhouses, it’s not going to win you that office pool or $1 of Warren Buffett’s money.