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Sunday, August 31, 2014

NFL Preseason Preview 2014

In just a few more days, the NFL season will finally begin.  That means it is time for the 2014 edition of the Banshee Sports' NFL Preseason Preview.  Last season, the preseason preview only correctly predicted 5 of the 12 playoff teams.  That is not a strong effort.

I'm not too ashamed, though.  Even the Seers in the Desert had the Texans and the Falcons near the top of the preseason odds to win last year's Super Bowl.  I am very strict about holding myself accountable for my predictions.  At the end of the season, I gave myself a final grade of "C."  I'm looking to improve substantially on that mark this year.

So, without further ado, Banshee Sports presents the 2014 NFL Preseason Preview.

AFC East:  In last year's pre-season column, I did something incredibly stupid.  I picked against Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots.  I am not making that mistake again.  Any offense that is run by Tom Brady will be a force to be reckoned with, but the first time in a long time, the defense could be as good as the offense.  Belichick has always has good defensive schemes, but the talent acquisitions this offseason, particularly Darrelle Revis, make this a scary group.  I think the Jets are the most likely challenger to the Patriots, but they will ultimately finish around the .500 mark and fall short of the playoffs in a tight wild card race.  Division Winner: New England Patriots

AFC North:  The AFC North is possibly the most difficult division to predict in all of football.  There is a legitimate playoff argument to be made for all four teams in the AFC North.  It is fashionable this preseason to predict the demise of the Bengals due to the departure of their offensive and defensive coordinators and boredom with quarterback Andy Dalton.  But, talent still counts, and the Bengals have far more offensive talent than any team in this division and should get to ten wins.  The Ravens have the best chance to unseat the Bengals at the top of the division, but ultimately they and the rest of the division will finish around .500.  For the second year in a row, this division will only get one team into the playoffs.  Division Winner: Cincinnati Bengals

AFC South:  The AFC South is a confusing division.  Last season, the Texans were inexplicably terrible.  That allowed Andrew Luck and the Colts to win the division despite some glaring flaws.  The Colts did little to address their shortcomings this offseason.  Meanwhile, the Texans drafted Jadaveon Clowney with the first pick in the draft and hired Bill O'Brien as head coach.  While at Penn State, O'Brien transformed former walk-on Matt McGloin into a starting NFL quarterback in just one season.  If O'Brien is even half as successful with Ryan Fitzpatrick or Ryan Mallett , there is reason for great optimism in Houston.  The Texans will not be in the upper echelon of all NFL teams, but they will win enough games to win this division.  The Jaguars will make take great steps forward this year, but they will be unable to wrestle a wild card berth away from the Colts.  Division Winner: Texans  Wild Card: Indianapolis Colts

AFC West:  There is only one team with even the slightest hope to win the AFC West.  That team is the Denver Broncos.  Last season, the Broncos went 13-3 on their way to an AFC Championship.  The Broncos still have Peyton Manning under center, and they have improved on defense during the offseason.  These improvements came as the result of free agent signings and healing time for injured players.  Last season, the Chiefs made the playoffs as a wild card.  Despite the offensive mind of head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs will struggle to score this year due to a lack of weapons and the limitations of Alex Smith.  The Chargers will be challenged by multiple trips to the East Coast for likely 1:00 p.m. start times, but Phil Rivers will have another great season and lead the Chargers back to the playoffs.  Division Winner: Denver Broncos  Wild Card: San Diego Chargers

NFC East:  The Redskins and the Eagles are the past two winners of this division, and it will be those two teams who battle for the division crown again this season.  The Redskins posted a horrific 3-13 record in 2013, but there is reason for optimism in the nation's capital.  With a fully healthy RG3 and the addition of DeSean Jackson, the Redskins could be one of the most dynamic offenses in the league.  If the defense can stay healthy, the Redskins should have a solid season.  Last season, the Eagles offense under Chip Kelly took the league by storm, but NFL coaches learn fast.  The Eagles will likely find that the league will have adjusted to many of the Eagles' innovations from last year.  The timing of the schedule may be the deciding factor in this division.  The Eagles and Redskins both have to travel to San Francisco, but the Eagles get to play the Niners in Week 4.  The Niners will be without Aldon Smith and likely Ray McDonald due to suspension and will probably still be adjusting to new faces in the secondary.  By the time the Redskins head to the Bay Area in Week 12, San Francisco will be back to full strength.  Advantage Eagles.  Division Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

NFC North:  The black and blue division has long been known for physical defense and punishing running attacks.  This year, Green Bay and Chicago are the two best teams in the division, and they both have very shaky defenses.  However, they are both capable of having one of the best offenses in the league.  The big question here is which team's quarterback will stay healthy throughout the year.  I shook my Magic 8 Ball, and decided to bank on Jay Cutler.  Both teams will notch double-digit wins and make it to the playoffs, but it will be the Bears who win the division title.  Division Winner: Chicago Bears  Wild Card: Green Bay Packers

NFC South:  Last season, Carolina came out of nowhere to win the division with a 12-4 record, but free agency and age will cause the Panthers to take a big step backwards.  The Saints, on the other hand, are now fully recovered from the bounty scandal and are heading into a second year of Rob Ryan leading the defense.  As a result, New Orleans will retake its usual place at the top of the division.  Barring another rash of devastating injuries, the Atlanta Falcons should rebound this year and grab a wild card berth.  Division Winner: New Orleans Saints  Wild Card: Atlanta Falcons

NFC West:  The NFC West is home to the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks, and there is no reason to believe they will not repeat as division winners.  In fact, if Percy Harvin can stay healthy (and I do understand that is a big if) the Seahawks could be even better than last season.  Meanwhile, San Francisco is not the same team that they were in recent years.  Injuries, arrests and free agency departures have caused a near total overhaul on defense.  The bottom half of this division is simply too tough to survive that kind of handicap.  If a second team makes the playoffs from this division, it will be the Cardinals and not the Niners.  Division Winner: Seattle Seahawks

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Monday, August 25, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Firecracker Grilled Salmon

Typically, Banshee Sports is not the best place to come looking for recipes that will extend your life.  But, this salmon recipe is delicious, and it won't make you feel like you ought to update your will.  This Firecracker Grilled Salmon is incredibly flavorful.  The basics for this recipe came from  The idea for the glaze came from a commenter on that site.  Do not let the ingredient list intimidate you.  This is actually easy to make and definitely worth the expense.

Salmon Marinade Ingredients:

4 salmon fillets (8 oz each), skin removed
1/2 cup peanut oil
4 Tbs soy sauce
4 Tbs balsamic vinegar
4 Tbs green onions, chopped
1 Tbs brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 tsp salt

Salmon Directions:
Combine all ingredients besides besides the salmon in a bowl and whisk together.  Place the salmon in heavy duty gallon sized ziplock bag.  Pour the marinade into the bag.  Refrigerate for 24 hours (at least overnight), turning occasionally.  Heat the grill to medium-high heat.  Place fillets on the grill.  Baste with glaze.  Grill for 5 minutes.  Flip the fillets.  Baste again with glaze and grill for 5 more minutes or until the fish flakes with a fork.

Glaze Ingredients:
Marinade leftovers
4 Tbs dry white wine

Glaze Directions:
Remove the fish from the marinade.  Pour the marinade into a small saucepan.  Add the wine.  Simmer for 5 minutes at medium heat.

Serving Directions:
Serve the salmon over a bed of rice.  Drizzle additional glaze over the plated salmon and rice.


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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Movie Review: When the Game Stands Tall

August is drawing to a close, and football is in the air.  If you needed something more to whet your appetite, Sony Pictures released When the Game Stands Tall in theaters this weekend.

When the Game Stands Tall is inspired by the true story of De La Salle High School's football team and their tumultuous 2004 season.  If you have seen any previews for this film then you already know that the film focuses on the Spartans' attempt to bounce back after the end of their historic 151-game winning streak.

As the Contra Costa Times pointed out, this movie is based on a true story, but it is not a documentary.  As such, composite characters and composite games are used to tell the very true story of Coach Bob Ladouceur, played by Jim Caviezel, and his commitment to educating young men on the field and in the classroom.  For those people who do not understand the importance and value of football in the lives of many young men, this film provides insight.  And for those of us who still cling to the ideals of the sport we love, it gives us hope.

Although the point of the film is that life is about more than football, When the Game Stands Tall contains more pure football than most other movies in the genre.  The dialogue on the sidelines is not just about brotherhood and teamwork.  It is also about an offensive tackle getting to the second layer of the defense on a sweep and the importance of sealing the edge on run defense.  One of the pivotal plays in the film does not involve a tricky, double-reverse, halfback pass.  Instead, it involves a draw out of the shotgun after the coaches observe the opposing linebackers selling out on their blitzes.

Like most sports movies, When the Game Stands Tall is certainly overly melodramatic in parts.  But, let's face it, so are sports.  That is why we love them, and that is why I loved this movie, too.

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

NASCAR for Girls

Last week, NASCAR fans learned that there would be a new face coming to the Nationwide garage.  A very pretty new face.  RAB Racing announced that Milka Duno will be driving in select races to finish out the 2014 Nationwide Series season.  This announcement was not greeted kindly on Twitter, especially amongst female fans.  The situation got me thinking that it might be time for a NASCAR team to find a female driver who is targeted towards female fans.

Danica in her Indy days
The fact that a woman will be driving a stock car in one of NASCAR's top series is not news.  It's also not news that Duno is yet another female driver known as much for her looks as for her skills on the race track.  The most famous woman to drive a stock car is Danica Patrick.  Patrick showed some talents in the Indy Car circuit before making the switch to NASCAR, but Danica was far better known for the talents she showed during a racy series of Go Daddy ads.  Milka Duno is less famous but similarly marketed.

According to industry business insiders, women make up 35% of NASCAR's fan base, and those fans skew towards the older side.  Thirty-five to fifty-five is the predominant female demographic.  In other words 35% of NASCAR's fans are women who are raising the sport's next generation of fans.  The images crafted by Danica and Milka make it hard for these maternal fans to enthusiastically endorse devotion to these drivers.  I think there is an empty space in the market for a female driver that is targeted towards female fans.

Milka Duno
Women are complicated creatures.  Perhaps even contradictory.  And, little girls are just smaller versions of women.  Female fans want to root for girls to succeed on the race track, but they do not want that girl to give the men in their lives lustful thoughts during commercial breaks.  Women like pretty girls but they do not want to be threatened by in-your-face sexuality.   This is why women are fans of Disney princesses and Jennifer Lawrence but look askance at Jessica Alba and Penelope Cruz.

Putting a fresh-faced girl in a stock car sponsored by a product purchased by women seems like a creative way to corner the market on 35% of fans.  NASCAR is a sport.  Most of the time, talent counts for more than image, but unlike other sports, sponsorship dollars and merchandise sales are extremely important aspects to being a successful racing team.  Top line teams like Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske do not need a gimmick to garner attention.  However, if you are a team like Tommy Baldwin Racing, why not take a chance on a female driver who appeals to female fans?  Why not replace slow-running Michael Annett with Michelle Annett and put Dove or Juicy Juice or something women buy on the hood?  If you are going to finish 35th every week, why not at least be a unique 35th?

I am not a NASCAR talent scout, and I do not have a name of a qualified female to fill that role.  But, it seems to me that giving female fans a female driver that is easy to root for is a potentially a creative and fun route to success.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

NFL Pick 'Em Contest

The NFL season is only one month away.  It's time to announce Banshee Sports' newest contest: NFL Pick 'Em.

Barbecue Sauce of the Month
Hot Sauce of the Month
In this contest, you pick the winner of every NFL game every week.  These are straight up picks.  Not against the spread.  But here is the fun part.  You place confidence rankings for each pick and are scored accordingly.  The person with the most points at the end of the regular season wins.  It's that simple.

If you don't consider yourself to be a football expert, never fear.  There is enough info provided on the Yahoo! site to give everyone a fighting chance at victory.  Besides that, the prize will be well-worth any risk of embarrassment.

The winner of the inaugural Banshee Sports Pick 'Em will get a six-month subscription to either the hot sauce of the month club or the barbecue sauce of the month club.  Winner's choice.

The competition is being run through Yahoo!  They require it to be a "private" group, but here is all the info you need to sign up:

Link:  Yahoo! NFL Pick 'Em
Group Name:  Banshee Sports Pick 'Em
Group ID:  3687
Password:  banshee

Spread the word.  And good luck!

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