Kobe Bryant: Facing A Reality

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THE INTRO

When I first started watching basketball, Michael Jordan was no longer that guy. Gary Payton was washed up. Karl Malone was ring chasing. John Stockton was taking up space. Charles Barkley and Hakeem Olajuwon were gone. Scottie Pippen and Reggie Miller were shells of themselves. Patrick Ewing was no where to be found, and Clyde Drexler was out. The league itself was vastly different.

When my interest in the NBA peaked, Allen Iverson was dominant. Tracy McGrady and his cousin Vince Carter were stellar. Shaq and Kobe were a hell of a tandem. Kevin Garnett was elite. Dirk and Steve Nash were coming into their own. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were making noise in the East. And Tim Duncan was just extremely boring. (I know I left off guys like David Robinson and Jason Kidd off but y’all get the point.)

Out of all of those guys though, there was no one I liked more than Kobe Bean Bryant.

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MY STORY

When it came to Kobe there wasn’t anything you could tell me.

You couldn’t diss his game, talk about his personality, or belittle him in any way without me being ready to argue.

In my family and amongst my small group of friends, everyone has had atleast that one specific guy they watched faithfully and would go to war for.

My father’s guy was Magic; my uncle’s guy was Jordan; my mom’s guy was Isiah Thomas; my great grandfather’s guy was a tie between Larry Bird and Julius Irving.

They followed their guys faithfully, like I’m doing now and tried to tell me it’s not going to be a happy ending. I didn’t really believe them until that foresight became a reality.

Personally I thought they were full of s#!% and didn’t know what the hell they were talking about; until I sat down and thought about each player.

MJ’s downfall was him coming back and playing at age 40 for the Washington Wizards. Larry Bird’s career couldn’t continue because his back was out of sorts. Isiah’s career ended after he tore his Achilles. Magic on the other hand retired due to the HIV/AIDS situation. He later came back and wasn’t the same guy.

My guy is in the same boat at this point in time.

A few years back I was in denial. I’ll own up to it. I had just witnessed the Lakers lose in five games to a hungry OKC team (2012) that featured the likes of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Russell Westbrook. In response, I looked for excuses to help Kobe out.

The thing is, there weren’t any.

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THE OBVIOUS

In that specific series, Westbrook was tearing him apart, Harden was giving him buckets, and Durant was giving him fits with his length making it hard for him to score. As a matter of fact, James Harden was playing him tough defensively as well. The whole series in general wasn’t pretty. Kobe couldn’t get to his spots, he couldn’t contain anyone and he was a step slow.

That series against OKC ended a four series stretch of Kobe struggling. Against Dallas in 2011, he struggled against Shawn Marion and others from that championship team; losing 4-0. The series prior to that, he struggled against Chris Paul and his no help Hornets; winning 4-2, and in the series against Denver prior to the OKC matchup, Kobe struggled against the fast paced Nuggets. That series went the distance 4-3 and was more about Andrew Bynum.

That series against OKC ended his Postseason career.

At that point in time, the writing on the wall was very clear to everyone else outside of me, Kobe was in his decline.

That offseason he participated in the Olympics where he was out of place and out of sorts. It was as clear as day that he didn’t belong on the court with a few of those guys. It was so obvious to the point where Coach K was reluctant to play him in certain stretches.

Even with the putrid performances in the Olympics, I still believed. Especially when the Lakers landed Dwight Howard and Steve Nash that same offseason.

When the those trades first surfaced, I was as hype as anyone. I thought Kobe would be rejuvenated and eager to play (as he always is) and I started stating a lot of other things that you generally say when a player has lost it.

But again, I was over hyped and I continued to look past the new Kobe’s obvious deficiencies in skill.

REALITY SETS IN

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During that season I wrote an article (Are You Talking About Kobe Bryant) talking about how Kobe was better than ever and stating that he was beating Father Time. From a numbers perspective I was right, but from a physical standpoint he wasn’t getting the same looks or shots that I was accustomed to seeing.

After working hard, all season long, to get the Lakers into the playoffs; Kobe’s Achilles popped days before the postseason.

I couldn’t help but shed a tear when ESPN aired his injury statement. I knew his best chance at getting ring number 6 was gone. And I also knew he was never going to be the same again.

When Kobe said he was going to comeback better and defy the odds I regained a slimmer of hope. I thought that because he was determined and hungry along with the fact that he loves to prove people wrong, then he would come back elite.

I was wrong…..

In the 2013-2014 season, after playing in 6 games Kobe broke a bone in his knee. All I could do was throw my hands up and accept it for what it was….Father Times never loses and Kobe is no longer Kobe.

He was just K.Bryant from that point on. The guy who played in six games and averaged a measly  14pts, 6ast and 4reb… No longer special.

I, as I’m sure many Lakers fans did, sulked over that demoralizing season. The Lakers were bad. Kobe was gone. What do you do now..

The NBA as a whole became unfun for me. I truly wasn’t ready to face the truth and I also didn’t have anyone else to cheer or root for. I was just uninterested.

After the season concluded and free agency along with the draft went by, I finally got over my depression. I had heard that Kobe was looking better, more fit, slimmer, and healthier.

I sat and pondered about Kobe and his recent years some more and decided I’d give it one more go. He had just turned 36 and basically had a year off.

With 36 being a fairly decent age and him having a year off for rest and to get healthy; I felt he would regain his old form…. Dumb I know.

A month or so before the season started, ESPN produced their yearly NBA Players Rankings. At first glance I was furious at how wrong they did Kobe by placing him at #40 on the list.

Guys who hadn’t accomplished anything thus far in their careers (Love, Wall, Kyrie etc) were ahead of him and I didn’t understand the reasoning until the season actually started…

This year Kobe was officially washed up. He would chuck up shot after shot. Committ turnover after turnover. And he would also get beat off the dribble damn near every defensive stance….

I mean he still had the same “I’m gonna come at you” mindset as he always did, but his ability just wasn’t anywhere close to prime Kobe.

After a series of minor injuries and players, as well as pundits, speaking out about his current style of play; Kobe became more of a facilitator.

That role suited him more since he wasn’t capable of dominating the game from a physical stand point. By using his IQ and unique passing ability he was able to prolong his season and delay the inevitable injury that was soon to come…

On Thursday, January 22nd, Kobe’s season was over. He had torn his rotators cuff in a game against the Pelicans the day before…

Three straight seasons…. Three straight season ending injuries…

TODAY

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As much as I hate to say it…. Kobe is done…

He can no longer stay healthy. He can no longer dominate games for long stretches. He can’t keep up with anyone defensively..He’s no longer that guy.. And the old guy won’t ever be returning.

Kobe’s mileage finally caught up with him: All of the long seasons that resulted in Finals apperances.. All of the playoff runs that resulted in 3rd and 2nd round exits…The hardwork he put in trying to comeback from injury… Playing in the Olympics. Everything.

ESPN was accurate when they declared that 39 players were better than Kobe. I was just too blind to see it.

Now opening my eyes I see how Rose, Bledsoe, Wall, CP3, Westbrook, Lawson, Rondo, Curry, Kyrie, Lillard, Dragic, Lowry, Parker, Beal, Ellis, Butler, Klay, Harden, DeRozan, Wade, LeBron, Durant, George, Leonard, Melo, Dirk, Love, Randolph, Griffin, Bosh, Aldridge, Davis, P.Gasol, M.Gasol, Dwight, Cousins, Noah and a few more are all better players at this point…

Now that the word is in and we know Kobe is out for nine months, we have to ask ourselves: Was that his final game?

He’s under contract for one last year after this season.. The Lakers are tanking and no one seems interested in joining a rebuilding project. I mean why should he return? He’s the 3rd leading scorer in NBA history. A 5x-NBA Champ, an MVP and is universally (peers wise) regarded as the ”Best Player” of his generation and has been deemed as the second best shooting guard to ever play the game… There is nothing left for him to prove at this point that will have any significance on where he places in NBA history.

REFLECTING BACK 

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Kobe’s demeanor and personality wasn’t liked by many.

People didn’t like the arrogance and cockiness that was coming from a sidekick (to Shaq) who wanted to be like Jordan. They would often ridicule his ambitions and aspirations as he was nothing more than a lesser version of the original. And they would also belittle his game by saying he was a ball hog and that he couldn’t pass.

It was just too soon for someone to come in and be the heir to ”His Airness”.

People often cite Kobe for piggy backing onto the likes of Shaq. They’d state that Kobe wasn’t doing anything and Shaq would do all of the work; when in reality Kobe would be the one to close games and facilitating making sure everyone was contributing. Those minor details will forever be overlooked because of how Shaq dominated the Finals’ boxscores.

By tying in the attitude factors, Kobe’s quote on quote ”Piggy Backing” on Shaq, the fallout between him and Shaq, and Phil Jackson’s quote on stating how he was ”uncoachable”, you can see why people hated Kobe so much. Throw in the rape charges and loss of endorsements and you’ll begin to see why Kobe’s fan base is a bit lackluster.

Unlike Bird, Magic, LeBron, Durant, Jordan and Doc.J, Kobe’s fan base is much smaller. Allen Iverson’s fan base may be greater because of his impact on to the whole NBA landscape.

Kobe is the NBA’s version of Tom Brady, both great players, but disliked because of their personality and accomplishments.

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ACCOLADES 

Even though his career may not fully be over, (it needs to be) he accomplished everything he should have. (Outside of two more MVPs and a few more scoring titles)

2x Olypic Gold medals

25x 50pt games

5x 60pt games

Slam Dunk Champion

MVP

2x Finals MVP

2x Scoring Champ

5x NBA Champion

9x First Team All Defense

3x Second Team All Defense

11x All-NBA First Team

2x All-NBA 2nd Team

2x All-NBA Third Team

17x Allstar Selections

4x NBA All-star Game MVP

All Rook 2nd Team

2nd Most Points in a game (81pts)

3rd All-Time Points Leader

2x Best NBA Player ESPY Award

Numerous Lakers Records

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CONCLUSION

Coming back shouldn’t be an option. He’s done enough to make a claim as a Top 10 player of all-time. The only thing he should do is accept the reality for what it is…..His time is done. Y’all have accepted it, I’ve accepted it and now he needs to accept it.

No one beats Father Time

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Ryan Fort

Twitter: RyanDFort, Fortonsports Inc

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Top 10 Outside Linebackers of All-Time

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10. Andre Tippett

Tippett was a damn good player that had his career cut short to multitude of injuries. His third year in he recorded 18 sacks and followed that season up with 16.5 sacks the next year. From that point forward he was plagued with injuries. In 1985 he was crucial to the Patriots playoff run all the way to the Super Bowl. Causing havoc in anyway he could on the defensive end. He was best known for his jaw dropping hits that looked like they were ending careers out there. Tippett is considered one of the greatest Patriots to ever live.

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9. Cornelius Bennett

Bennett came on the scene being deemed the best defensive player out of college, and to this day is the highest picked Alabama defender ever. Impressive enough especially how many pro defenders Alabama pushes out every year. His numbers aren’t as good as they could have been with Bruce Smith another Hall of Famer on his team getting most of the attention on defense but it doesn’t diminish how great of a player Bennett was. He helped 5 teams go to the Super Bowl but lost all 5. Many others could have filled out this list at the number 10 spot but Bennett’s pass rushing ability and ability to stop the run was enough for me to put him over all of the rest.

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8. Derrick Thomas

Derrick Thomas for about a four year period was second to none as a pure pass rusher. Although I have seen many other lists and questioned why some put him within the top 3 he was without a doubt. Thomas came in an made an immediate impact winning rookie of the year in 1989. Thomas gets on this list because of how good he was in a short amount of time. If he could have sustained his production for a longer amount of time then he could have easily have been higher.

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7. Terrell Suggs

Suggs is a man among boys it seems like a lot of times. Suggs was part of a great defense headlined by Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Many seem to forget about him a lot, but he deserves a lot of credit for that stout defense. He won defensive player of the Year in 2011. There really wasn’t even a close second that year when he recorded 14 sacks, 2 interceptions, 6 pass deflections, and 7 forced fumbles. He performed well in many playoff runs as well in 2010 recording 5 sacks in just two games. Suggs has been the enforcer on a great defense for many years. Hopefully he won’t be forgotten behind the other great players he got to play with.

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6. Rickey Jackson

I’m not gonna lie, if it wasn’t for his longevity he wouldn’t be over Suggs for me. Nonetheless though Jackson dominated in a different aspect it felt like every game. If he wasn’t knocking around the QB he was covering the flat and hook zones effectively. Jackson was the best thing in New Orleans for a long time. Sadly his team was awful for most of that time and when he went to the Niners he just wasn’t the same guy, but was able to get a ring he deserved just for having to play for the Saints as long as he did.

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5. Demarcus Ware

Right when I thought it was the decline for Ware he came out this past season with 10 sacks. Ware at one point was the most dominating pass rusher I’ve ever seen. Ware struck fear into QBs and it sucks that he was forced to play on a team that didn’t use his great years to their benefit. Even though I had been pulling for Brady all of this season I would have loved to see Ware get one as well. I still believe it to be an atrocity that Ware did not win defensive player of the year in 2008. He had 20 sacks that season with 6 forced fumbles, and he did all of that while be double teamed it seemed like every down.

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4. Kevin Greene

How in the hell Kevin Greene is not in the hall of fame is beyond me. Greene is 3rd in sacks and even though you can debate whether or not he was one dimensional when it came to linebackers, he is still one of the best rushers in NFL history. If you can find me a guy who got 15 sacks and 2 interceptions at the age of 36 and not in the hall of fame please come tell me. Greene was sort of a journeyman which you don’t find often within this elite class of linebackers. He started out on the Rams, then the Steelers, then the Panthers, then the Niners, and then back to the Panthers.

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3. Jack Ham

Jack Ham was the 3rd guy you thought of when thinking of the greatest defense of all time. Regardless though Jack Ham was one of the best coverage linebackers ever. His takeaways rank 1st of all non secondary players. Most of the time if you’re the 3rd best player on your unit, you tend to go unnoticed, but Ham had a flair for stepping up in the biggest of moments. The four championships the Steelers won in the 70s are in large part to Ham’s heroics in late game situations.

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2. Derrick Brooks

It’s hard to quantify how good Derrick Brooks was. He was a leader and that dominating Buccaneers defense was centered around him and Warren Sapp. In 2002 Derrick Brooks had 11 pass deflections, 5 interceptions and 4 defensive touchdowns. The way Brooks could read a QB was the way Peyton Manning can read a defense. His football IQ was just out the roof. Right as the Raiders tried to make an impossible comeback, Derrick Brooks read the route perfectly jumping it and returning Rich Gannon’s throw all the way back for a TD to seal the game. Without Brooks there is no way the Buccaneers are in that Super Bowl game.

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1. Lawrence Taylor

Let’s be honest. Did this come as a surprise to anyone? Taylor is in a very elite class of defensive players to win NFL MVP. He won defensive player of the year three times. There’s only one other guy I can think of that effected the game in as many ways Lawrence Taylor did. If it wasn’t locking down the flats or hook zones, he was right in the QB’s face it the QB managed to barely escape his grasp. LT had the strength to throw linemen out of his way, and somehow seemed quicker than everyone on the field with him. Just sit and watch an entire game from beginning to end and you’ll be as convinced as I am that there isn’t another player in the same conversation as LT outside of maybe Ronnie Lott. Many give LT the title as the greatest defensive player of all time, and any of those people have plenty of reason to do so.

Top 10 Defensive Ends of All-Time

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10. Gino Marchetti

Known as the first true pass rusher alongside Doug Atkins, Gino was ahead of his time. He was adept at stopping the run, but best know for his pass rushing techniques. Teams used to double team and sometimes even triple team Gino but to no avail, as the rest of the Colts defensive line would step up and make a play. If there was a sack stat during his time, then we would know more about how well he rushed the passer, but sadly, the sack stat didn’t come into existence until 1982.

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9. Julius Peppers

Peppers came in with a lot of hype. Some may say he hasn’t completely lived up to it do to his inconsistency, but when this man had good years he had dominating good years.For the Panthers in 2004, Peppers recorded 11.0 sacks, 2 interceptions, 9 pass deflections, and 2 defensive touchdowns. If it wasn’t for the greatness of Ed Reed, he could have easily won NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Peppers could effect the game in various ways whether it was stopping the run, rushing the passer, or dropping into coverage. If he could have done those things on a more consistent basis, then he would be higher on this list.

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8. Jared Allen

Jared Allen is the best defensive end I’ve been able to fully watch as his career has unfolded. He almost went 9 straight years with 10 sacks each year but came a little short in 2006. Allen started his career in Kansas City, but he was able to truly take off when he became a Viking in 2007; recording 15.5 sacks his first year in Minnesota. I will always remember Allen for his playoff game against the Cowboys. His stats were not outstanding, but it seemed like on every single play, he was in the backfield in Romo’s face causing havoc. As of today he is 9th all time in career sacks and playing for the Chicago Bears.

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7. Chris Doleman

Recording one of the best seasons ever by an end with 21 sacks in 1989, Doleman gave O-Lines hell. Doleman, as physical as he was, only missed two games his entire 15 year career. He is 4th all time in career sacks with 150.5. You could argue for him to be higher on this list if you only looked at the stats, because as a straight pass rusher, he has an argument as a top 5 guy.

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6. Lee Roy Selmon

This is another guy that’s hard to show his impact on the game because of there being no sack stat in existence. He battled injuries at the beginning of his career but by 1978 he found his groove. He was named to five All-Pro teams, was named the NFC defensive lineman of the year four times, and won defensive player of the year in 1979. A back injury in 1985 caused a premature end to what could have been an even greater career than it already was.

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5. Howie Long

I like to compare JJ Watt to Howie Long. Howie Long was a rare case of overall speed, size, strength, and quickness. He was an essential piece to a championship Oakland Raiders team. He was able to affect games in all kinds of ways. He was also a member of 5 all pro teams and collected over 84 sacks.

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4. Doug Atkins

It’s hard to describe how good he was. There wasn’t a sack stat until 1982. He was 6’8 playing defensive end. He used to leapfrog defenders…..at 6’8. Atkins revolutionized the position along with Gino Marchetti. He was best at batting down the ball at the line of scrimmage and causing all kinds of havoc no matter if it was against the run or the pass.

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3. Bruce Smith

Bruce Smith made a living of abusing offensive lines. He’s the all time leader in sacks with 200, has two defensive player of the year awards, and has been selected to 11 all pro teams. You could make a case for Smith to be at the top of this list because he dominated for such a long period of time, and didn’t really experience any down years until the end of his career.

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2. Deacon Jones

Deacon’s numbers aren’t great but that’s in part to the fact sacks weren’t recorded until 1982. Deacon was the one that actually came up with the term “sack”. According to Deacon he had 20 sacks in 1963, 26 sacks in 1967, and 24 sacks in 1968. Regardless of the validity of those statistics, Deacon was an unstoppable force on defense. He was the leader for arguably the greatest defensive line in NFL history, the Fearsome Foursome.

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1. Reggie White

Nobody can convince me of a better pass rusher than Reggie White. He absolutely abused any man in his way to the QB. He has two defensive player of the year awards, 198 sacks (second all time), and a super bowl ring. He was huge in that super bowl championship; as he was in Drew Bledsoe’s face the entire game. Most of his stat stuffing years were in Philadelphia with the Eagles. From 1985 to 1993 he only had one season with less than 13 sacks, and even then he had 11. He was arguably the biggest free agent signed out of all of the years of the 1990s when he went to the Packers. Think about this. Reggie White had 198 sacks in a 15 year career which is second all-time. Kevin Greene in a 14 year career, who is 3rd on on the career sacks list, has 160 total sacks. That’s 30 more sacks White has over the guy one spot below him in career sacks. I want you to try and name anyone better because I sure can’t.

Top 10 Tight Ends of All-Time

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10. Ozzie Newsome

Ozzie is one of the greatest Brown’s players ever. He held the team record for receiving yards in a game with 191 which stood for 29 years up until Josh Gordon broke it. He has over 7,000 yards, 47 touchdowns, and 662 receptions. There are other options to this spot but I decided to go with Ozzie because of his toughness and the dominance he would show when the moment called for it.

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9. Dave Casper

He started off very slow only bringing in 9 receptions in his first 2 seasons. However, he started producing heavily after those seasons. In a time that the games were battled in the trenches, Casper hauled in 52 touchdowns during his career. Casper was also involved in some miraculous moments. Telling the details of each one would be an article all of its own so I highly suggest you google Dave Casper and fill yourself in with all he’s done.

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8. Mike Ditka

Known mainly for his coaching career leading one of the best defenses of all time in the 85′ Chicago Bears and as an analyst on ESPN. Best believe he was one of the best football players to ever step on the field. His numbers aren’t just ridiculous but he was a very good blocker as well which sadly can’t be shown in the stat sheet. In his first year his presence was felt by winning rookie of the year, scoring 12 touchdowns, and having 58 receptions. Alongside Mackey, Ditka helped revolutionize the position.

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7. Jason Witten

Witten will go down as one of the greatest Cowboys of all time and could be argued that he should be higher up on this list. He broke his jaw early in his career and still continued to play. From that point onward was when the legacy started. He is the only Cowboys TE to date to record 1,000 yards in a season. He’s a leader, and the locker room in Dallas falls in line behind him. He still has the potential to go a few pegs higher on this list before he’s done.

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6. Shannon Sharpe

1996-2000 were some very good years for Sharpe. He already had some good years before then but was able to really shine in that 4 year span. In that time, he had 306 catches, 3,971 yards, and 28 TDs. The greatest moment that Sharpe ever had was his 96 yard TD in the AFC Title game which still stands as the longest TD in playoff history. You may hear him brag about himself a lot, but it is well earned by coming in as a 7th round pick and ending his career as a top 5 tight end in touchdowns.

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5. John Mackey

Mackey was the main weapon for the great Johnny Unitas. They have awards named after him as he was the first great tight end to ever play. He was a deep threat. In his first four seasons, he averaged 18 yards a reception. There are few who believe he was the best ever as his numbers can’t translate when comparing his era to the tight ends who have played in the last 20 years. We can all thank him though for what the tight end position has become.

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4. Rob Gronkowski

Gronk is just an absolute monster. In my opinion, the best receiving option in the game today. He’s had many issues staying healthy but his numbers speak for themselves. The man has only played 5 years and has more touchdowns than almost everyone on this list who have played over 10 seasons. In 2011, he had the best statistical year ever for a tight end posting 1,327 yards, 90 receptions, and 17 touchdowns. The yards and touchdowns are the most ever by a tight end in a season. I believe by the time his career is over he will go down as the greatest ever; leaving a huge gap between himself and the man I have at number one.

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3. Antonio Gates

Another guy who played basketball, Gates was undrafted out of Kent State. Damn there were so many people who wish they found this diamond in the rough. Gates redefined the tight end position. Nobody had ever seen a player at this position with that type of power and speed. He is one of only two tight ends to have four seasons with at least 10 touchdowns. Another guy I really wish could get a ring but sadly it is just out of his hands. As soon as I thought Father Time finally hit him, Gates blew up this past year with 12 touchdowns. He has a very good chance of leading all tight ends in touchdowns if he plays another two years.

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2. Kellen Winslow

Kellen Winslow was a huge weapon for Dan Fouts and the Chargers offense. Winslow had the most receiving yards by a tight end ever in the 1980 season when he recorded 1,290 yards. That record stood for 30 years until Rob Gronkowski broke it in 2011. In 1981, Winslow tied a record of 5 receiving touchdowns in a single game. All of those accomplishments are great but none of those compare to his game against the Dolphins in the 81′ playoffs. He had what I describe as the best individual performance ever in a playoff game. He caught 13 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown. He also blocked what could have been the game winning field goal for the Dolphins to send the game into overtime. To make the game even more memorable, Winslow was treated for a pinched nerve in his shoulder, dehydration, severe cramps, bruised ribs, and received three stitches to his bottom lip. The picture above is of his teammates helping him off the field.

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1. Tony Gonzalez

Without a doubt the greatest tight end of all time. His numbers are up there with top 5 wide receivers. He is 2nd all time in receptions, 5th all time in receiving yards, and 6th in receiving touchdowns. Coming into Kansas City, Gonzalez worked with a lot of below average guys. He wasn’t able to win a playoff game until his 16th year in the league when he finally was with a good team. It’s sad that he couldn’t add a ring to his ridiculous resume, but regardless Tony Gonzalez will always be remembered as an all time great.

NFL Divisional Round Preview

After a wild week in the Wildcard we’ve arrived to the Divisional Round. Within the Wildcard we saw the:

(4) Indianapolis Colts beat the (5) Cincinnati Bengals 26-10

(6) Baltimore Ravens beat the (3) Pittsburgh Steelers 30-17

(3) Dallas Cowboys beat the (6) Detroit Lions 24-20

(4) Carolina Panthers beat the (5) Arizona Cardinals 27-16

Here in the Divisional Round we have:

(6) Baltimore Ravens @ (1) New England Patriots

(4) Indianapolis Colts @ (2) Denver Broncos

(4) Carolina Panthers @ (1) Seattle Seahawks

(3) Dallas Cowboys @ (2) Green Bay Packers

Saturday 4:35 PM ET

raveeens Pats

(6) Baltimore Ravens vs (1) New England Patriots

Last week Baltimore dominated the Steelers. They were able to stifle the run game, rush the quarterback and make things tough on the receivers. Joe Flacco finished the game with 259 yards 2TDs and 0 interceptions while continuing to show us that he’s an elite quarterback. Despite Justin Forsett not having a great game the Ravens still won. If Forsett isn’t contributing this week things could get ugly.

The Patriots struggled the final two weeks of the season as they barely defeated the Jets and lost to the Bills. But even with the drop off in play to end the season New England was still a dominant team. They beat two division leaders, six teams above .500 and went 4-1 against the teams that made the playoffs.

In previous years the Baltimore Ravens have had the Patriots number. Brady is 1-2 against the Ravens, but a lot of that had to deal with presence of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. In this specific math-up give me the Patriots over Baltimore 33-24. Gronk is healthy and they have alot of weapons in the backfield along with a defense that can lockup the Raven’s receiving core.

Saturday 8:15 PM ET

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(4) Carolina Panthers vs (1) Seattle Seahawks

Last week Carolina struggled early against Arizona, but turned it up later on in the 2nd half. Cam was solid (198 yards 2TDs 1int) as was the run game. Johnathan Stewart ran for 123 yards and had a TD. Carolina’s defense was able to force three turnovers which pretty much was the difference maker.

Seattle finished the season on roll and seem to be dominant once again. (Article about them here https://fortonsports.wordpress.com/2014/12/23/they-are-back/.) The L.OB. is still hell to deal with and Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch are dominating on the ground. But even with that success late the San Diego Chargers and Dallas Cowboys provided the blueprint on how to beat them.

Earlier this season these two teams met and the Panthers lost 13-9 having turned the ball over twice and fumbling the ball four times. Johnathan Stewart was solid but the turnovers killed them. This time give me the Panthers over Seattle 23-16. Seattle still struggles to score and the Panthers have hit their stride and the run game is dominant, which is an important asset to have when playing Seattle. FUN FACT: Superbowl Champs are 0-8 the following season in playoff games.

Sunday 1:05 PM ET

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(3) Dallas Cowboys vs (2) Green Bay Packers

Last week the Cowboys had a controversial rally against the Lions. In that specific game they got dominated in the trenches resulting in them being average in the passing attack and stagnant in the run game. Defensively they forced a few turnovers  and shut down Detroit’s offense in the 2nd half keeping the game close.

The Packers were a very dominate team at home as they went 8-0. A-Rod was a monster throwing over 20+ TDs and having 0ints at home. The Packers also average slightly over 40pts at home and went 3-2 against playoff teams. ever since the infamous R-E-L-A-X quote the Packers have gone 11-2.

This match up features a team that dominates on the road (Boys 8-0) and an undefeated home team. The Packers allow around 5.0 yards per carry. Cowboys running back Demarco Murray averaged about 5.0 ypc meaning he could be primed for a big game. With Rodgers’ torn calf being an issue the Cowboys will have an advantage if they can apply an ample amount of pressure. Give me the Cowboys over Packers 34-17. They’ll dominate on the ground, force a few turnovers and of course dominate the time of possession.

Sunday 4:40 PM ET

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(4) Indianapolis Colts vs (2) Denver Broncos

Last week the Colts beat an ailing Cincinnati team that played without key weapons who pose a threat in the passing game. Luck had an alright game throwing for 376 yards and 1TD. That game was more about how the Colts had a game where they actually rushed for over 100 yards.

The Broncos have been a decent team this season. Offensively they aren’t as good as last year’s team, but this year’s defense is much better. They went 8-3 against teams .500 and above. The downside of that is the fact they went 2-3 against playoff teams.

In week one of the season these two teams played and the Broncos were victorious. The Colts turned the ball over multiple times while the Broncos were nearly flawless. But even with that it was only a seven point game. Luck and Manning are 1-1 when playing each other but this time i’m giving the edge to Andrew Luck. If he can be efficient and not turn the ball over they’ll win this game. Give me Indy over Denver 38-34.

2015 Wildcard Preview and Prediction

After months and weeks of anticipation we’ve finally arrived to the playoffs where we have a clear cut view on who the 12 teams competing for the Superbowl are.

Within those 12 teams you have the:

(1) 12-4 NE Patriots

(2) 12-4 DEN Broncos

(3) 11-5 PIT Steelers

(4) 11-5 IND Colts

(5) 10-5-1 CIN Bengals

(6) 10-6 BAL Ravens representing the AFC

and the

(1) 12-4 SEA Seahawks

(2) 12-4 GB Packers

(3) 12-4 DAL Cowboys

(4) 7-8-1 CAR Panthers

(5) 11-5 ARI Cardinals

(6) 11-5 DET Lions representing the NFC.

Seattle, New England, Denver and Green Bay all get the week off (Top 2 teams in each conference) so that leaves us with eight teams playing this weekend.

Saturday 4:20 PM ET

Cards  cam

(5) Arizona Cardinals vs (4) Carolina Panthers 

Throughout the season both teams suffered a ton of injuries. Carolina’s injury woe wasn’t as severe as the Cardinals though. Arizona lost key players on the defensive line, in the secondary and in the line-backing core. On the offensive side of the ball the Cards lost starting quarterback Carson Palmer and starting running-back Andre Ellington. Hall of Fame bound receiver Larry Fitzgerald hasn’t been as productive either because of the injuries he’s been battling. Because of the offensive injuries Arizona has been having a tough time generating points.

This season Carolina has been in a funk just like it’s fellow NFC South counterparts. After having a stellar year last season Cam Newton has failed to deliver the same type of success due to the lack of weapons he has in his current arsenal. Despite injuries (distractions Hardy) to the defense and Cam having a somewhat down year the Panthers still managed to win their awful division. Rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin has shown that he can be a solid weapon and running back Johnathan Stewart has returned to a solid form, for now. They also have tight-end Greg Olsen playing at a high level.

Coming into this game the Cards have lost 4 of their last 6 games and managed to score over 17pts one time. They are on their 3rd-string quarterback and rank 13th in stopping the run and 29th in defending the pass. The Panthers are rolling right now having gone 4-0 in December. They rank 7th in rushing the football and 12th in passing. With Arizona pretty much being a team that relies on the defense to score Carolina should be able to dictate the flow of the game as long as Cam and co. don’t turn it over. The Panthers should win 16-9 with Cam getting playoff win #1.

Saturday 8:15 PM ET

ravens steelas

(6) Baltimore Ravens vs (3) Pittsburgh Steelers

The Ravens and Steelers both faced questions going into the season. The Steelers dealt with questions surrounding the defense as well as their running game. The Ravens had to deal with the never ending, traumatizing Ray Rice debacle. With Rice gone there was a void that needed to be filled in order for Baltimore to take the next step. Journeyman running-back, Justin Forsett, stepped into the starting role and complemented Joe Flacco to near perfection. With the addition of Steve Smith SR. and the arrival of Justin Forsett the Ravens offensive dynamic changed.

The Steelers at the beginning of the season were a model of inconsistency. Midway through the season that started to change. Led by the best receiver in football, Antonio Brown and the 2nd best running-back in Le’Veon Bell along with Ben Rothlisberger the Pittsburgh Steelers became a fun, yet rather scary team to watch. They would dominate on the ground as well as kill teams in the air. They went undefeated in December and are on a roll.

Heading into this match-up these division rivals split the season series with the home team winning each game. The Steelers are 4-1 since their Bye while the Ravens are 4-2. In this specific game the Steelers will be without Bell who was the 2nd leading rusher and will also have a limited Troy Polamalu in the secondary. Baltimore on the other hand is healthier and they’ll be getting star defensive tackle Haloti Ngata back to help man the middle. With Bell being out the onus falls on the shoulders of Big Ben. The Steerlers are 2nd in passing while the Ravens are 23rd in passing yards allowed. Big Ben could very well win this game but being one-dimensional could end up costing them. The Steelers will hand Joe Flacco his 1st Wilcard loss. Big Ben is is rolling right now and has more than enough offensive weapons in the passing game to beat Baltimore. Steelers win 34-27

Sunday 1:05 PM ET

Bengals colts trip

(5) Cincinnati Bengals vs (4) Indianapolis Colts

These were two teams that people thought would take the next step, especially the Colts. Andrew Luck was basically enshrined into the Hall Of The Fame without doing anything. Nevertheless the Colts won their porous division with little to no competition. En route to going 11-5 they got dominated by the likes of Pittsburgh, Dallas, Denver and New England. They went 4-5 against teams that are .500 and 2-4 against playoff teams. No resemblance of a running game and having only one stud receiver (TY Hilton) hurts them.

The Bengals started off the season on FIRE. After a few weeks they resembled a Superbowl team but quickly faltered after their Bye week. As of late they’ve been battling injuries that have plagued A.J. Green making the offense somewhat stagnant. Depending on the day Cincy can kill you with an aerial attack led by the likes Andy Dalton with Mouhammed Sanu and Green at his helm. Or they could gash you up on the ground with Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard. You just never know with them.

Going into Sunday’s game the Colts have won 5 of their last 6. They are the best passing team in football but are top 3 when it comes to turning the football over (Andrew Luck). The Bengals have been solid as of late but got shut out earlier in the year by the Colts, losing 27-0. This game will more than likely not feature AJ Green. Dalton doesn’t have a playoff win nor does head coach Marvin Lewis. Unless Cincy runs the ball over 40 times, AJ Green suits up or TY Hilton isn’t 100% I don’t see the Bengals misfortunes coming to an end. Colts win 45-13

Sunday 4:40 PM ET

lions Triplets

(6) Detroit Lions vs (3) Dallas Cowboys

Often sought out as the most talented teams in the NFC, the Lions and Cowboys always seemed to disappoint until this year. Going into the season many predicted this would be Lion’s quarterback Mathew Stafford’s break out year. They changed coaches and gave Stafford more help by bringing in Ex-Seahawks wide receiver, Golden Tate, to complement Megatron. The Lion’s exceeded a few expectations because of how they managed to win games without Megatron. Golden Tate had a career year and the Lion’s defense was arguably the best in the league.

The Cowboys have exceeded everyone’s expectations excluding their own. They’ve discovered a new identity as I stated here (https://fortonsports.wordpress.com/2014/12/23/the-new-dallas-cowboys/) and have improved defensively. They boast arguably the best quarterback of the season in one Tony Romo, the leading rusher in football, Demarco Murray and wide-receiver touchdown leader Dez Bryant. The Cowboys also own the best offensive line in football. The game is won in the trenches and the Cowboys dominate in that aspect.

Ever since the home loss to Philly, the Cowboys have been dominant. They’ve scored 40+ points in 3 of their last 4 games (38 in one game) and are rolling on all cylinders. Dallas also went 4-0 in December. Detroit won 4 of their last 5 and have been very stout defensively. Defensive tackles N.Suh (monster) and Nick Fairley should be good to go giving the defense a boost. The Boys are the 2nd best team running the ball while Detroit is #1 in stopping it. Flipping the script, the Lions are 6th when it comes to turning over the ball and the Cowboys are 2nd in forcing turnovers. The Cowboys will win 27-14.  Stafford just isn’t efficient enough to win and is prone to turn it over multiple times resulting in Dallas getting easy scoring opportunities.

Each game this weekend is compelling and should be competitive.

Comment below with who you think will win each game.

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