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Arsenal Transfer News: Gunners Shouldn't Sign Lassana Diarra in January Window

53 min 12 sec ago

Arsenal are reportedly interested in bringing back Lassana Diarra on a free transfer, but while a move for the Frenchman appears to make sense, the Gunners shouldn't sign him when the January window rolls around.

According to the Daily Express' Anthony Chapman, the 29-year-old is keen to join a high-profile club as he attempts to play his way back in France's national team ahead of Euro 2016. He's also supposedly a free agent, meaning he could sign with a new club outside the designated transfer windows.

Arsenal have a need at the holding midfielder position, and with Diarra's versatility to help out at right-back, he would present Arsene Wenger with both value and experience in two key areas currently lacking depth.

But there are many reasons why a reunion makes little sense. For starters, Wenger was unimpressed with Diarra during his first spell with the club, back in 2007-08. Per Chapman, he lasted only one season before being shipped off to Portsmouth.

In case anyone has forgotten, this is what the former Gunner had to say about Wenger after joining Pompey, via the Daily Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson:

I didn't learn anything from Wenger. All he taught me was how to doubt myself, how to doubt everything. Wenger never said a word to me until the day I left. He spoke to the others but not with me.

[...] I played only fifteen games and I did not have a good relationship with him [Wenger]. I respect the way he coaches but I learnt more with Mourinho. He looked me in the eyes when he talked to me.

People change and old feuds are forgotten, but it remains a factor against a possible reunion. Diarra isn't the easiest person to work with—there's a reason he's played for five different clubs in the past seven years.

There's also the small detail of Diarra not actually being a free agent at all. Lokomotiv Moscow never registered him to play, but he was never released either, as explained by Sport-Express' Artur Petrosyan:

As reported by The Independent's Nick Purewal, a move to Queens Park Rangers fell through after the player had already completed a medical. If Diarra were a free agent, the medical would have been the final hurdle before completing the transfer.

Free agents can be signed outside of the designated transfer windows (summer and January). Diarra has a contract with Lokomotiv Moscow, meaning he can't sign anywhere unless the Russians void his contract.

If they weren't willing to do so in order to let him join QPR, there's little reason to believe they've changed their minds three weeks later. For all intents and purposes, Diarra is stuck until January.

So, will the Gunners make their move in January? Diarra failed to convince with Chelsea and flopped with Arsenal, but he showed with Real Madrid that he can, at the very least, be a serviceable player.

If he were a free agent, his experience and versatility would make him an excellent fit for the Gunners, who need depth following Mathieu Debuchy's injury and Mikel Arteta's recent struggles.  

By the time the January window rolls around, Debuchy's injury concerns should be long gone, and while Arsenal could still use defensive depth, there will be other options available.

Diarra could be an option if Lokomotiv are willing to part with him for a much-reduced transfer fee, but Arsenal will likely prefer to turn towards a younger option with a higher ceiling. Such a player would be a far more popular choice with the fans, and a better long-term investment.

This rumour simply was too good to be true. Free agents of Diarra's caliber don't usually last this long into the season. Unless Wenger can find a way to bend the current regulations regarding transfers, Diarra won't be joining the Gunners anytime soon. And once the market reopens, there will be a long list of better candidates for the Gunners to choose from.

 

Minnesota Hockey Schedule 2014-15: Golden Gophers' List of Games, Season Preview

56 min 42 sec ago

For the Minnesota Golden Gophers and head coach Don Lucia, the 2014-15 season, No. 94 for the program, offers a chance at redemption after a loss in the NCAA championship game a season ago.

It also gives the team a chance to pursue another conference title after winning it all last year in the inaugural Big Ten regular-season championship thanks to a 28-7-6 record, which in turn led to the school's 35th NCAA tournament appearance and 21st Frozen Four.

The Golden Gophers certainly do not enter the season lacking in the talent department. Led by goalie Adam Wilcox—last year's Big Ten Player and Goaltender of the Year—Lucia's team figures to give an intriguing schedule a great run.

Below, let's look at the full schedule and preview the season.

 

Minnesota 2014-15 Hockey Schedule

 

Returning Stars and Emerging Leaders

Much of what has helped the Golden Gophers to a program-best three straight regular-season conference titles is rather simple—continuity.

So it should come as no surprise, then, that fans rejoiced when senior Kyle Rau elected to spurn the NHL in favor of returning to the team in order to pursue another Big Ten title and perhaps a shot at the NCAA title.

A third-round draft pick by the Florida Panthers this offseason, Rau later revealed in a statement that he would return to Minnesota, as captured by Marcus R. Fuller of TwinCities.com:

I love playing hockey at Minnesota and wearing the Maroon & Gold. Deep down, I know that we have unfinished business here. With the talent we have coming back and the new guys coming in, I think we can have a really special season next year. I'd also like to thank the Florida Panthers. They are a great organization, and I appreciate their understanding of my decision.

Even less of a surprise? Rau was subsequently named a captain, along with fellow seniors Ben Marshall and Seth Ambroz.

"We're happy to name Kyle, Ben and Seth as our captains for this season," Lucia said, via Gophersports.com. "They're great representatives of our program and the University of Minnesota, as is our entire senior class, and we'll rely on all of them to set the tone for our team this season."

The three are easily the foundation of the roster and potential title push this year, but the importance of Rau's return in particular cannot be understated.

Rau has played in 121 games with the team and scored 123 points on 47 goals and 76 assists. En route to winning Minnesota's John Mayasich Outstanding Student-Athlete Award last season, he led the team with 40 overall points.

Along with Wilcox, the team figures to make a major push once again thanks to its continuity.

 

Chasing History

As noted, the Golden Gophers are currently on a historic pace for the program as they look to win another conference title.

For Lucia, now in year No. 15 as coach, his all-time record of 651-344-94 has been bested by just nine men in history. At 372-189-65 as the lead man at Minnesota, he also rests just 18 wins away from matching Doug Woog as the all-time coaching wins leader at the program.

The road, even with a ton of talent returning and with another year of experience under its belt, is no easy task.

It starts right away, too, as the Gophers must open the season on the road at Notre Dame for the first time in a handful of years. Early on, the target on the team's back is even bigger than usual for one that went to the championship a year ago as they won the Ice Breaker Tournament a season ago.

Of course, road trips to locales such as Michigan State, Michigan and especially Wisconsin, with duels against various foes such as Boston College peppered in for good measure, make for a wild ride before the Big Ten Tournament to close the season.

The schedule ahead is indeed rough as the Gophers look to extend personal and program bests, and with the talent in place, anything short of another appearance in the NCAA title game will be a disappointment.

 

Schedule via Gophersports.com. Stats and info via NCAA.com unless otherwise specified.

 

Auburn vs. Kansas State: Live Score and Highlights

59 min 57 sec ago

A massive nonconference tilt takes place Thursday night, as the No. 5 Auburn Tigers travel to take on the No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas. 

This game has considerable implications in terms of the College Football Playoff. A win by either team would be a considerable coup. Gus Malzahn's funky offense against the fundamental nature of Bill Snyder's team should be extremely fun to watch. 

The game takes place at 7:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

Per Odds Shark, Auburn is favored by seven points. A full box score of tonight's game can be found here at NCAA.com. 

 

Bleacher Report appreciates you tuning in with us tonight. Stay here for score updates, social media, analysis and much more! 

Niles Paul's Updated 2014 Fantasy Outlook Heading into Week 3

1 hour 17 min ago

Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed entered the 2014 campaign with top-five upside at the tight end position. As long as he remains sidelined, there's no reason Niles Paul can't approach similar value in his stead.  

And with the way practice has been going, per the team's official Twitter feed, that seems like a realistic scenario in Week 3 against the Philadelphia Eagles:

Paul, a former wide receiver, spent his first three seasons with the Redskins toiling near the bottom of the depth chart making most of his impact on special teams. But when Reed left the opener with a hamstring injury, the backup proved to be ready for an expanded role. 

Head coach Jay Gruden talked about Paul's immense improvement in every facet of the game, via The Washington Times' Tom Schad:

Niles is one of the most improved players on this team, I believe, not just in the passing game but in the running game. The most impressive thing to me is his blocking ability both in pass protection and in the running game. He is very strong, has improved strength in the weight room with [head strength and conditioning coach] Ray Wright, and it’s just impressive. He’s really, really starting to come on and become a big factor for us.

Paul has the opportunity for a full workload of snaps. He has the athletic gifts. He has the trust of the coaching staff. And perhaps most importantly, he has a connection with quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is filling in for the injured Robert Griffin III

The duo spent the offseason working together with the backups, and their strong rapport became clear as soon as Cousins was thrown into action Sunday. The Michigan State product attempted 33 throws in Week 2, and 10 of those went to Paul for seven catches, 80 yards and a touchdown. 

Chris Cooley, who knows a thing or two about successful Washington tight ends, noted the obvious partnership:

What's more, Paul's numbers could have been even greater. He had seven receptions for 97 yards by halftime (six and 78 from Cousins), but with Washington sitting on a big lead, there was no reason to keep airing it out. He was also tackled at the 1-yard line earlier in the game. 

There are a few things worth noting for Week 3. The Philadelphia Eagles defend tight ends far better than Jacksonville, and DeSean Jackson's expected return, as per Mike Jones of The Washington Post, will mean one more mouth to feed in the passing game. 

But with Reed out and Cousins at the helm, Paul is a clear focal point of this downfield passing game. His long-term value is muddled at this point, but in Week 3, he will finish as a top-10 tight end in what should be a high-scoring NFC East battle. 

Notre Dame Hockey Schedule 2014-15: List of Games, Season Preview for Irish

1 hour 17 min ago

The 2014-15 season is all about redemption for the Notre Dame hockey team.

The 2013-14 campaign came to a heartbreaking conclusion when St. Cloud State knocked off the Fighting Irish in an NCAA regional for the second straight year. This time it came in overtime after Notre Dame came from behind earlier in the game.

That’s in the past now, though, as the Fighting Irish look toward the new season. Here is a look at the entire schedule.

Any preview regarding Notre Dame hockey has to start with coach Jeff Jackson, who is entering his 10th season at the helm. He has accumulated a 185-110-33 record, two CCHA regular-season championships (2007 and 2009) three CCHA Mason Cup Championships (2007, 2009 and 2013) and made six trips to the NCAA tournament.

Notre Dame has also been to two Frozen Fours under his direction.

The Fighting Irish should once again compete for a spot in the NCAA tournament, but they did graduate defenseman Stephen Johns, who led Notre Dame defenders with eight goals and 20 assists and was named a 2014 Hockey East Second-Team All-Star.

Throw Bryn Rust and T.J. Tynan on the list of players Notre Dame lost, and it is clear that some of the remaining talent will have to step up. 

Sophomore Vince Hinostroza was part of the Hockey East All-Rookie team a season ago and should help in that department, especially if he makes a leap from year one to year two. What’s more, incoming freshman goaltender Cal Petersen won the Dave Petersen Goalie of the Year Award as the top U.S. goaltender at the international, professional, collegiate or junior level of USA Hockey.

Petersen played for the Waterloo Black Hawks in the USHL a year ago, and Kris Baker of SabresProspects.com pointed out just how effective the goalie was in the net:

Petersen is arguably the biggest reason Notre Dame fans should feel optimistic about the upcoming season, but captain Steven Fogarty (junior center), alternate captain Peter Schneider (senior right wing) and alternate captain Sam Herr (junior left wing) will certainly provide some punch to the scoring attack.

Jackson recently discussed his choice to name those three as captain and alternate captains, via UND.com:

I'm really happy with this group of captains for the coming season.

All three - Steven (Fogarty), Peter (Schneider) and Sam (Herr) - have strong character and with two juniors as captains this year, it's a two-year process for them leading the team. All three have the heart of the team and the voice of the team. I believe they will do a great job for us.

Fogarty scored three goals and tallied eight assists as a sophomore and should see more time and improved production this season. Schneider turned in career highs last year with eight goals, eight assists and 16 points, while Herr also had a career year with 14 goals and 13 assists for 27 points.

Herr even scored four game-winning goals, while Schneider added two.

With the trio of Herr, Fogarty and Schneider, along with the promising Hinostroza, scoring should not be a serious problem for Notre Dame. Throw in Petersen in net, and the ceiling is rather high for this squad.

Here’s to hoping Notre Dame doesn’t run into St. Cloud State in an NCAA regional.

Jamaal Charles' Updated 2014 Fantasy Outlook Heading into Week 3

1 hour 25 min ago

When Andy Reid tells reporters a high ankle sprain "doesn't look to be real severe," apparently you listen. The Kansas City Chiefs coach appears right on the money with his assessment of running back Jamaal Charles, who was back at the portion of the practice open to media on Thursday. 

Charles sat out of practice Wednesday after hurting his ankle in Week 2's loss to the Denver Broncos. It's unclear how much Charles participated outside the media session; the Chiefs listed him as a "limited" participant, which typically means he went through some but not all of team drills.

There won't be any real definitive word on his status until Friday, when Kansas City will issue a distinction on where he stands. In all likelihood, Charles will remain in "questionable" purgatory until Sunday, if for no other reason than to force the Dolphins into preparing for arguably the NFL's most dynamic running back.

Either way, this is promising news for fantasy owners—a group that was undoubtedly resigned to seeing Charles sit out at least this Sunday, if not the next couple. High ankle sprains are typically given a lengthier recovery period because it entails damage to the ligaments and is thus more likely to recur or limit a player's range of motion.

They are almost never recoverable within the six-day rest period between games. For instance, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported Colts defensive lineman Arthur Jones will miss two to four weeks with his high ankle sprain suffered Monday night. That's a much more typical window for a return, and many times the effects can linger weeks or months past a player's return date.

Using history as a barometer, it was difficult to envision Charles playing. But perhaps we should have been taking Reid more seriously when he spoke to the media this week. The Chiefs coach, while at once playing coy and confirming Charles' diagnosis, downplayed the severity of the injury on Monday. 

"These things take time, but it doesn't look to be a real severe one," Reid told reporters. "What does that mean? We'll see."

Reid's degrees of severity understandably drew some laughs around the league. Grantland's Bill Barnwell and Robert Mays took to calling him Dr. Andy Reid on their podcast earlier this week. And, hearing the audio of the press conference, it's hard to not to snicker a little bit. Reid sounded like a mechanic telling you that the transmission went in your car but your model is one of the "cheaper ones" to replace.

For now, though, it seems like Andrew W. Reid M.D. had a point. Charles being in practice is a positive sign. The Chiefs being at 0-2 and their playoff hopes already dangling in a division that features Denver and San Diego also adds some desperation to the mix. They're one of a handful of teams desperate enough to maybe roll the dice and have Charles in the lineup.

Is any of this a good enough reason to do the same and keep Charles as a starter? NOOOOOPE.

First of all, there remains a slim chance Charles actually gets on the field on Sunday. He has to be cleared by team doctors, and the risk of re-injury is high without some serious rest. The chance that Charles is anywhere near 100 percent against Miami is zero.

If he's in the lineup, the best bet is him being used in limited packages as a decoy. He might receive a handful of carries to keep the defense honest, but the lion's share of the work should go to Knile Davis, who looked fine after taking over for Charles last week. Davis rushed for 79 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries and added six receptions for 26 yards.

"I don't think it will change much from what you saw [Sunday]," Reid told reporters of Davis' role. "He was involved in a lot of different areas. I'm not saying number of carries or anything, but you saw him going in and playing a few different ways."

If anything, Charles playing would only limit Davis' value. The ex-Arkansas speedster was a high-priority waiver claim in leagues he wasn't yet available and was a clear-cut starter in most expert rankings. ESPN's consensus had him 10th heading into Thursday night, and my initial outlook Monday afternoon had him 15th. We'll have to wait until Friday's practice report to get a better indication, but if Charles is looking like he's going to play, both guys will be outside my top 20.

With a 4:25 p.m. ET start, the scheduling gods aren't doing anyone any favors. There are only three late-afternoon games, and the other two feature running backs currently owned in both leagues. If Charles is active and Lamar Miller is hanging on your bench, then maybe slot him in ahead of the Kansas City guys. Davis remains an excellent play if, as expected, Charles sits out.

Just do yourself a favor and avoid this situation altogether if it's unsolved Sunday morning. Charles isn't going to be healthy enough to produce at a high level against a decent Miami run defense, and his presence alone is enough to make me wary of Davis.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Kony Ealy's Development Key to Success for Panthers Defense Without Greg Hardy

1 hour 27 min ago

There hasn't been a team in the National Football League that's had a more tumultuous 2014 than the Carolina Panthers. On top of numerous player losses in free agency and the retirement of left tackle Jordan Gross, the Panthers placed Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy on indefinite leave as he awaits a second trial on charges of assaulting his former girlfriend.

However, despite all the chaos that has engulfed the team this year, the Panthers sit at 2-0 with a chance Sunday night to potentially establish a two-game lead over the rest of the NFC South.

If the Panthers are going to keep the positive momentum on the field going even while surrounded by controversy off it, any number of players are going to have to step up their games.

Including the team's newest defensive lineman, who is probably the team's best bet at replacing Hardy's ability to harass opposing quarterbacks.

Before we go any further, it's important to get something straight: Nothing that's written here is meant to in any way take away from the seriousness of the charges facing Hardy, charges he's already been convicted of in a bench trial in North Carolina.

Hardy will have his day in front of a jury of his peers, per North Carolina law. However, with his second trial not set to even get underway until November, it's unlikely that there will be a resolution one way or another until after the 2014 season is over. In the meantime, the Panthers still have to go about the business of playing football.

And rookie Kony Ealy is going to have to grow up in a hurry.

The Panthers raised some eyeborows when they selected the 6'4", 273-pound Ealy in the second round of May's NFL draft, especially given the Panthers' needs on the offensive line and at wide receiver.

It wasn't a question of talent. Ealy was an All-SEC selection in 2013 after racking up 9.5 sacks at the University of Missouri. Nolan Nawrocki of NFL.com called Ealy a "big, athletic, ascending, pass-rush talent with the size, burst and flexibility to pressurize the edge as a right defensive end."

Still, with both Hardy and battery mate Charles Johnson on the roster, defensive end seemed to be a position for which the Panthers were more or less set.

Of course, that's all changed now.

It wasn't Ealy who started against the Detroit Lions last week. That honor went to fourth-year pro Mario Addison, who as Steve Reed of the Associated Press pointed out came up huge against the Lions:

Addison was great in that game, but Ealy gives the Panthers the best odds at long-term stability opposite Johnson.

With all due respect to Addison and Frank Alexander (who is eligible to return to the team in Week 5), they're replacement-level talents.

Addison is an undersized journeyman who just had as many sacks against Detroit as he's ever had in a season:

Alexander, on the other hand, is a third-year reserve coming off a four-game suspension who has also never logged more than 2.5 sacks in a season.

They're Band-Aids. Nothing more.

Granted, this isn't to say that Ealy is a can't-miss Pro Bowler in the making. As the NFL Network's Mike Mayock wrote after the draft, "There's a lack of consistency as you watch more game tape" with Ealy.

Of course, you could say the same about 90 percent of young ends; people railed about it with Jadeveon Clowney last year.

That inconsistency was in evidence during Ealy's 31 snaps against the Lions last week. The youngster made a stop in run support, but Ealy received a negative grade as a pass-rusher from Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

With that said, Josh Norris of Rotoworld also saw some positives from Ealy:

Head coach Ron Rivera saw them as well, according to Max Henson of the team's website. "Kony played very well for us," Rivera said. "I like the effort that he gave."

Ealy told Henson he thought he acquitted himself pretty well, although the youngster conceded he still has a way to go:

I feel like my level of play has definitely progressed. But I still have a lot to learn. Being at this level, there is never an excuse. I just have to work hard and do better. I love the rotation. We are winning, kicking butt. We are doing it together, and that's the difference maker with this D-line.

Ealy's growth should continue as the season progresses and he sees more live action, which is most assuredly a good thing, both in the short and long term.

After playing under the Panthers' franchise tag in 2014, Hardy will be a free agent next year. Johnson's cap number in 2015 is a staggering $20 million.

In other words, big changes are coming up front for the Panthers.

However, that's a bridge to be crossed on another day. For now, the Panthers' concerns are much more immediate because they have gotten off to about the best start they could hope for on the field, especially with everything going to hell around the team off it.

If the Panthers are going to keep that going and capture the NFC South for a second straight year, their trio of young ends will have to continue to fill the huge void left by Hardy's loss. If not, opponents will simply double Johnson, forcing the Panthers to blitz more and potentially expose a suspect Carolina secondary.

In short, and with apologies in advance for a cringe-worthy pun, if the Carolina Panthers are going to get back to the postseason...

The Ealy bird is going to have to get the worm.

 

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.

 

Zinedine Zidane Reportedly Under Investigation for Alleged Coaching Violations

1 hour 30 min ago

Zinedine Zidane is one of the greatest footballers in history, but even he can't skirt around the guidelines regarding coaching qualifications.    

Marca reported Thursday that Zidane may have run afoul of the rules by coaching Real Madrid's reserve team:

It all boils down to Zizou allegedly violating the rules by assuming the role of head coach of Real Madrid Castilla without being in possession of the necessary qualification. What started out as merely a monitoring exercise has now led to an investigation being opened by the Federation's Competition Committee that could see the Frenchman and even Real Madrid itself landed with a ban.

The complaint was levied by CENAFE, which is Spain's national association of coaches.

"Real Madrid is one of the most recognisable sporting institutions in the world and a symbol of this sport," said CENAFE President Miguel Galan, per the Daily Mail's Pete Jenson. "But they have to follow the same rules as everyone else otherwise the competition is not fair."

The case against Zidane reportedly includes evidence showing the 42-year-old acting as the Real Madrid Castilla manager. On Real Madrid's website, Santiago Sanchez is listed as the team's "first coach," with Zidane his assistant.

The groundwork has already been laid for Zidane to become Madrid manager one day. The club named him a special adviser to then-manager Jose Mourinho in 2010. In 2011, he revealed he was Madrid's new sporting director. Before taking a role with the reserve team in June, Zidane was an assistant for Carlo Ancelotti.

In the event Real Madrid are in fact grooming Zidane to become Ancelotti's successor or at the very least sit in the manager's chair one day, he'll need to have the requisite qualifications.

For now, Zidane's possible infraction could have serious consequences in the short term. According to Marca, he could face a suspension ranging anywhere from four to 20 games or one to six months.

Simms: 'No One Can Replace' Aldon Smith, 49ers Will Need to Be Creative

1 hour 33 min ago

The San Francisco 49ers are struggling without pass rusher Aldon Smith.

What can the 49ers do to boost their pass rush? What players on the roster may help right away?

Watch as Adam Lefkoe goes in-depth with Bleacher Report NFL Analysts Chris Simms and Jonathan Vilma in the video above.

Everton vs. Wolfsburg: Winners and Losers from Europa League Game

1 hour 48 min ago

Everton made their return to European competition after a four-year absence, Thursday, and marked the occasion by beating Wolfsburg 4-1 at Goodison Park.

They were helped into the lead by a Ricardo Rodriguez own goal but led 2-0 at the break and 4-0 before Rodriguez at least partially redeemed himself with a stunning free-kick in second-half injury time.

Steven Naismith, who has been in tremendous nick for the Toffees to start the Premier League campaign, successfully transferred his form to the Europa League, and midfielder James McCarthy also impressed over the 90 minutes.

Both players, as well as Rodriguez, will be highlighted in the following slides, which will underline some of the winners and losers from Thursday's encounter.

Begin Slideshow

Browns' Josh Gordon Has Yet to Sell 1st Car at Dealership

1 hour 51 min ago

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is apparently much better at catching footballs than selling cars.

While serving his now 10-game suspension, Gordon has been working at a local Ohio car dealership to pass the time. However, according to the dealership's owner, via NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, the 23-year-old has yet to officially sell his first car, although they've apparently enjoyed having him around.

Gordon should be back for the November 23 game against the Atlanta Falcons, but until then, he'll keep trying to sell some cars.

[Twitter, h/t SI.com]

DeAndre Jordan's 2014-15 Campaign Will Determine Los Angeles Clippers' Direction

2 hours 1 min ago

The Los Angeles Clippers are ready to go as far as DeAndre Jordan can take them.

Sure, there are other pieces to the puzzle, but this franchise's fate—both for the 2014-15 campaign and beyond—is strongly tied to Jordan's ability to protect the paint, clean the glass and provide some type of positive at the offensive end.

He is the defensive complement to the offensive wizardry of superstars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Whether Jordan can be a championship-caliber third wheel is still up for debate, though, and the question needs answering by the time he hits the unrestricted free-agent market next summer.

With the Clippers attempting to leap from good to great and Jordan waging a similar war on his own, the futures of both will be decided this season. L.A. isn't a championship favorite, but it has all the weaponry needed to pose a serious threat to the handful of teams still blocking its path.

For both Jordan and the Clippers, this will be a season of self-discovery.

The team, winners of 113 regular-season games over the past two seasons, hasn't fully established itself with the NBA's elites. The Clippers have made three straight playoff appearances but won a total of two series over that stretch.

Yet their resume still has some of the common marks of greatness.

They have a superstar pair as dynamic as any duo in the league. Both Griffin (third) and Paul (seventh) finished in the top seven of the last season's MVP voting, becoming just the fourth set of teammates to do so in the last 10 years, via ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi.

The Clippers finished tied for fourth with 23 road victories. Their net-efficiency rating of plus-7.3 points per 100 possessions trailed only that of the world champion San Antonio Spurs.

But this isn't a great team, or at least it hasn't looked like one when it has needed to the most.

Something has been holding the Clippers back. Whatever it was, it could be gone now.

Between last offseason's coaching swap (from Vinny Del Negro to Doc Rivers) to this one's welcome regime change (Microsoft executive Steve Ballmer purchasing the team from the disgraced Donald Sterling), the dominoes have been dropping for a full-fledged title run.

This roster still has its limitations, though, and the core isn't as young as some people would think. There's a sense of urgency surrounding this team, or at least there should be.

"There’s a danger in assuming that the past few seasons—positively script-flipping though they’ve been for a franchise long considered a league laughingstock—mean happy days are here to stay," wrote Bleacher Report's Jim Cavan.

Typical health risks aside, nothing threatens this franchise's standing quite like Jordan's impending free agency.

However, it isn't easy figuring out where the most damage would be done: paying a premium to keep him around or letting him walk for nothing.

Whether Jordan stays or goes next summer, he is going to put pen to paper on a significant contract. In fact, Bleacher Report's Michael Pina opined that the big man is sure to receive a max-money offer from someone:

At least one of the NBA's 30 teams (including the Clippers) will most likely lob a maximum contract in his direction. Wondering whether the flawed but effective big man will receive a huge offer is a waste of time. Jordan is a clear-cut starter with playoff experience and Defensive Player of the Year potential. He’ll finish the 2014-15 season with seven years of experience under his belt, and he will still be three years away from his 30th birthday.

Jordan is limited, but last season, his first under Rivers, he found a way to deliver elite-level production despite his deficiencies.

Rivers did two critical things for Jordan: 1) He challenged the big man to take ownership of the defensive end and 2) he didn't let his offensive flaws dictate his floor time. With more than a 10-minutes-per-game increase from his 2012-13 playing time (35.0, up from 24.5), Jordan set out to live up to the Defensive Player of the Year hype Rivers created shortly after his arrival, via Clippers.com's Eric Patten.

By season's end, Jordan had nearly made Rivers look prophetic. Jordan finished third in the voting for the most coveted piece of defensive hardware, two spots lower than Rivers felt he deserved, via ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss:

Jordan led the league in defensive rebounds (783), total rebounds (1,114) and rebounds per game (13.6). He ranked second in total blocks (203), third in blocks per game (2.5), second in total rebound percentage (21.6) and third in defensive win shares (5.8).

He had never had a better season both in terms of efficiency (18.2 PER) and overall impact (11.1 win shares). And he enjoyed his breakout despite tying the second-lowest field-goal-attempts-per-36-minutes average of his career (6.5).

The defensive fuse that Rivers lit sparked something inside of Jordan. He grabbed the keys to the Clippers defense and never let go.

"The onus is on me," Jordan said, via Jordan Heimer of ESPN.com. "I like that challenge. When something goes wrong they yell at me, because that's my end of the floor. ... Sometimes it may not even be my fault, but I need to know what happened."

He made sure his significance was felt on the stat sheet.

Despite a free-throw stroke that doesn't even grade out as functional (career 42.5 percent) and an offensive range defined by his reach, his defense was so good that his floor time was nearly as valuable as Paul's and Griffin's, via NBA.com.

Jordan's importance is impossible to overlook, and Rivers—who serves as both coach and president of the Clippers—has never hidden his view of the bouncy big man.

"He can single-handedly change a game with his defense," Rivers said of Jordan, via Markazi. "There's five guys, and that number maybe too high, that can do that single-handedly with their size and athleticism and he's one of them."

Clearly, L.A. plans on re-signing him, right?

Well, it's not that simple.

"Re-signing Jordan on the open market will push the Clippers and new owner Steve Ballmer deep into the luxury tax," wrote CBS Sports' Zach Harper. "They're slated to be $2.6 million over the tax in 2014-15, but with $71 million already committed for 2015-16, the luxury tax hit to keep Jordan will be significant."

The Big Three model is hard to sustain. Just ask the Miami Heat.

It's tough finding enough money for everyone, and the Clippers have already committed major coin to Paul and Griffin. Assuming L.A.'s superstars play out their contracts, the two will take home a combined $166 million over the next four seasons.

Is there any chance that leaves enough for Jordan?

That answer may depend on how this front office really feels about this core's championship potential.

The Clippers won't be able to replace Jordan with an impact piece right away. Even without contract options included, they have $63.3 million on the 2015-16 payroll already. And losing a season to wait around for more funds to clear up hardly seems like an option when Paul will celebrate his 30th birthday before next offseason rolls around.

If L.A. wants to stay in the title chase, it needs to keep Jordan around, even if that means overpaying to do so.

But it needs to realistically assess itself before crossing that bridge. Spending large to keep a great team intact is one thing, but heavily investing in a group that maxes out at something less could set this franchise back for years.

The Clippers are at a crossroads, and Jordan's on-court performance will decide which move they should make.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com. Salary information obtained via ShamSports.com.

Devin McCourty: 'Favorite QB I Go Against Is Tom' Brady

2 hours 5 min ago

The New England Patriots are currently have the fourth-best pass defense in the NFL.

What does starting safety Devin McCourty think of Raiders rookie quarterback Derek Carr? How does practicing against Tom Brady help the Patriots secondary?

Watch as Stephen Nelson interviews the Patriots starting safety in the video above.

Texans Need More from Clowney Replacement Whitney Mercilus

2 hours 5 min ago

A peculiar stat turned up as I was making my rounds on the division. Pro Football Focus has tallied the Houston Texans thusly: 

Wait, Texans outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus has as many hurries as defensive end J.J. Watt? The same Whitney Mercilus who was playing extensively in the fourth game of the preseason?

So I sat down with NFL Game Rewind and asked it to tell me the tale of Mercilus' improvement. 

I didn't really see much improvement as a pass-rusher. In fact, I began to get skeptical of PFF's number on hurries when I started counting on my own. Mercilus has shown some improvement, in my mind, both as a run defender and in his spatial awareness of the field. 

New defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel's system has asked Mercilus to drop into coverage much more often than previous defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did. Mercilus is hardly graceful, but he's got a knack for finding a spot in an underneath zone. I am more impressed by his growth setting the edge.

Mercilus has gotten better at moving horizontally while taking on blockers. In his rookie season, he would often overpursue as a rusher and wind up giving the entire outside of the field to backs on toss sweeps or zone runs. 

On this play, the Oakland Raiders test him by bouncing to the outside, and he's able to get off a pulling blocker and secure a jersey tackle on running back Darren McFadden to save a big gain. 

If you've read my previous work, you'll know that sometimes I talk about the idea of a hurry or a sack being extremely deprived of context. It's one of my pet peeves of creating a catch-all stat. When solid outside linebacker Connor Barwin bulldozes journeyman tackle Guy Whimper to get to frightened quarterback Blaine Gabbert, that's a sack. When All-Pro J.J. Watt turnstiles Pro Bowler Louis Vazquez to pull down All-Pro Peyton Manning, that's also a sack. Which one is more impressive? Which one leads you to have more confidence in a player going forward?

Mercilus' early numbers look nice, but the added context makes me skeptical that they're going to add up to much going forward. 

Here's Mercilus sacking Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III past offensive tackle Trent Williams. Sounds good, right? But Griffin reverted to a remedial version of his pocket awareness in this game. One step up gets him out of Mercilus' way. Griffin doesn't take that step. Does this mean Mercilus is more effective? 

Here's Mercilus hurrying Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in garbage time. The offensive tackle, Khalif Barnes, is the epitome of a replacement-level tackle. The situation lets the Texans pin their ears back and worry exclusively about getting after the quarterback. 

The fact is, outside of a tackle-end stunt hurry in the Raiders game, almost all of Mercilus' hurries or sacks have come bending the edge. There's a reason that's a tried-and-true tactic, of course. It works. But Mercilus effectively has no countermove to that as a rusher. 

Because Mercilus is a speed rusher, he rarely tests the inside of his blocker. He doesn't have the power to make plays like that. And that relates to the other main issue he has this season: He doesn't know how to use his hands to knock down the offensive lineman's. Without fail this season, when a lineman gets his hands on Mercilus, Mercilus' role as a pass-rusher is over. 

Mercilus can have a big game against the New York Giants because anybody can have a big game against that offensive line. 

But there's a reason the Texans drafted outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney No. 1 overall: Mercilus hadn't shown enough to convince Houston that he was a key contributor for their future. Heck, when Clowney went down in Week 1, Mercilus even shared passing-down rushes with OLB Brooks Reed, despite Reed having no track record of success as a rusher. 

But Clowney's absence is an important period of time for Mercilus. He needs to prove that he still has the talent to stick in this league. If not for the Texans, then at least for someone else. 

It's incredible to me that someone could play with J.J. Watt and still be so bad with his hands. Perhaps a new defensive line coach and a change of scenery could finally turn the obvious talent Mercilus has into a player worth building around. 

Rivers McCown is the AFC South lead writer for Bleacher Report. His work has also appeared on Football Outsiders and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter at @riversmccown.

Legit or Fraud: Which NFL Defenses Are for Real?

2 hours 8 min ago

Early in the NFL season, it's difficult to rely on just statistics to determine which teams are for real. 

Is the current No. 1 defense a fraud, or is it legit? The Jets are ranked third, while the Patriots are ranked fourth. Who's the fraud, and who's legit of the two?

Watch as Stephen Nelson and Jonathan Vilma break down the top-ranking defenses in the NFL.

Cordarrelle Patterson Injury: Updates on Vikings Star's Chest and Return

2 hours 9 min ago

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson looked set for a breakout in the 2014 NFL season. Unfortunately, he's suffered a setback heading into Week 3. Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune provides details on the injury:

The former Tennessee Volunteer didn't set the world ablaze in his rookie season, but his 45 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns were impressive when you consider the Vikings trotted out Matt Cassel, Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman at quarterback last year.

This year, Patterson looked to be taking on a larger role in the offense, with only Greg Jennings and Kyle Rudolph likely eating into the majority of his targets.

Head coach Mike Zimmer is no stranger to watching talented wide receivers on a daily basis, having coached for years with the Cincinnati Bengals. Zimmer said that Patterson's humility stood out after dealing with some of the prima donnas in Cincinnati, per Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

Jennings also gave a glittering review of his teammate in training camp, per ESPN.com's Ben Goessling:

I would say the sky's the limit, but there's no ceiling to his potential. There really isn't. If he's willing to put in the time, the potential is there. He has everything he needs. He's starting to mature as a player, as an individual, so his success is going to shoot straight through the roof. I'm excited. I told him this, and maybe it was a little premature, but I told him, 'At some point, I'm going to tell my kids I played with Cordarrelle Patterson.

This injury will likely be only a minor speed bump. He's obviously supremely talented, and the quicker he can get to 100 percent, the quicker he will be able to live up to his potential.

Tampa Bay Rays Set DH-Era Record for Shutouts by an American League Team

2 hours 11 min ago

With the conclusion of Monday night's 1-0 victory over the New York Yankees, the Tampa Bay Rays' pitching staff recorded its 21st shutout of the 2014 season. Per MLB Stat of the Day, this is the highest number of times an American League team has shut out their opponent in a single season since the designated hitter was introduced in 1973.

Monday's contest represented the staff's second scoreless performance in less than a week's time, and was the 11th shutout recorded since the All-Star break. Only the St. Louis Cardinals have held their opponents to zero runs scored as many times as the Rays, and the next best number in the American League is the Texas Rangers, who have recorded 17 shutouts this season.

This record has clearly proven to be a team effort, as the Rays surprisingly haven't had a starting pitcher, other than Drew Smyly, go the distance on his own to shut out the opposing team this season. Although David Price recorded two complete games before being traded to the Detroit Tigers, he was unable to prevent the opponent from scoring at least once on both occasions.

A 3.47 team ERA has certainly played in the Rays' favor, as only the Seattle Mariners (3.05), Oakland Athletics (3.25) and Baltimore Orioles (.346) have better marks in the American League. Tampa Bay has also held opponents to a .233 batting average, which is just five points shy of the AL-leading Mariners at .228.

Despite the strong pitching performances, the Rays are at risk of finishing below the .500 mark for the first time since the 2007 season—back when they were still the Devil Rays. The fourth-place Tampa Bay squad currently boasts a record of 74-9 with nine games remaining. 

All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise specified.

Europa League 2014 Results: Group Tables, Final Scores for Matchday 1 Fixtures

2 hours 15 min ago

The 2014-15 Europa League group stages kicked off on Thursday, and the second tier of European club competition gave us plenty of exciting fixtures to enjoy on Matchday 1.   

Several British teams will be active in this year's edition of the tournament, and all of them found some success in their opening matches. Celtic Glasgow earned a well-deserved point against Red Bull Salzburg and Tottenham looked unconvincing in their draw with Partizan, before Everton easily handled Wolfsburg in one of the late fixtures.

Here are the full results for Matchday 1, as well as complete group tables:

Tottenham escaped with a point against Partizan, failing to register a single shot on target in their 0-0 draw, as shared by WhoScored.com:

Spurs dominated possession but failed to create much in the attacking third, with Harry Kane blasting the visitors' best chance onto the crossbar in the second minute. Partizan were dangerous on the counter but ran into an excellent defensive unit, led by Jan Vertonghen.

Mauricio Pochettino fielded a starting XI that looked nothing like the team that took on Sunderland in Week 4 of the 2014-15 Premier League, and a lack of fluidity was evident in the attacking third.

As shared by Squawka, the team's shooting chart in the second half looked dreadful:

Kane rued his early miss, but per Tottenham's official Twitter feed, he felt like a draw was a good result:

Celtic twice took the lead against Red Bull Salzburg but couldn't hold on, battling to a 2-2 draw. Wakaso Mubarak and Scott Brown scored for the visitors 15 minutes into each half, with Alan and Jonathan Soriano tying things up for the hosts.

Soriano's goal in the 78th minute was a thing of beauty, a perfect free-kick that gave Craig Gordon no chance. ESPN FC's John Brewin still thought a draw in Austria was an excellent result for the Scots:

Both teams had chances to win it late, but after a spectacular night of football, a draw was a fair result.

Inter Milan needed a late goal from Danilo D'Ambrosio to beat Dnipro 1-0, taking advantage of their man-advantage following Ruslan Rotan's second yellow card.

The Nerazzurri looked far from convincing in Ukraine, nothing like the squad that beat Sassuolo 7-0 in their last Serie A fixture. Di Marzio's David Amoyal thinks that resounding win was more of a fluke than their lackluster performance against Dnipro:

Without the injured Mateo Kovacic, Inter struggled to create chances against a defensive Dnipro squad. The match seemed destined to end in a scoreless draw until Rotan's dismissal, and D'Ambrosio pounced on a poor clearance to give the Italians all three points.

Leighton Baines was the driving force behind Everton's convincing 4-1 win over Wolfsburg, scoring the Toffees' third goal from the spot while being heavily involved in the first two.

The hosts opened the score after a beautiful bit of buildup play ended up coming off Ricardo Rodriguez and into the back of the net, and they doubled their lead through Seamus Coleman, with the assist coming from Baines.

Wolfsburg brought on Nicklas Bendtner in the second half, which was cause for plenty of banter on social media, via Bleacher Report's Michael Cummings:

But while the visitors were the better team after half-time, Everton's lead never appeared to be in real danger, and Kevin Mirallas added a fourth goal late in the match. Rodriguez was able to atone for his earlier mistake, scoring the visitors' only goal and putting the final score on the board.

Elsewhere, Napoli survived an early scare to beat Sparta Prague 3-1 thanks to a Dries Mertens brace, defending champions Sevilla scored twice in the first half to beat Feyenoord and Villarreal and Borussia Monchengladbach shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw.

Everton and Celtic will look to build on their excellent results from Matchday 1, with the Scots in particular facing a daunting task surviving Group D.

Tottenham are still the favourites in Group C, but Pochettino's men will need to significantly improve their level to finish at the top of the standings and avoid a potential tie against one of the Champions League squads set to enter the competition in the knockout stages.

 

Partizan vs. Tottenham Hotspur: Stalemate Exposes Key Squad Limitations

2 hours 17 min ago

Tottenham's 0-0 draw with Partizan Belgrade is a solid start to the Europa League group stage but it demonstrates key weaknesses in a squad that supposedly harbours ambitions of winning the tournament. 

Mauricio Pochettino made 10 changes to his team for the trip to Belgrade. Goalkeeper and newly appointed vice-captain Hugo Lloris was the only player to retain his place from the 2-2 draw with Sunderland while summer signings Federico Fazio and Benjamin Stambouli made their first starts for the club. 

 

Both on and off the field, this was an unfamiliar scenario for Spurs. The pitch was in a poor state and far from ideal when trying to apply Pochettino's quick ball movement. The Partizan fans also created a hostile atmosphere unlike anything Tottenham's players experience in England.

In light of the squad overhaul and the nature of the opposition, a scoreless draw is an acceptable result. There is no embarrassment in failing to beat Partizan in Belgrade. They currently sit top of the Serbian SuperLiga and tonight's draw brought to an end a run of seven successive victories for the hosts. 

However, it was the nature of the performance that provokes questions about Spurs' apparent strength in depth. 

With Sunday's match against West Brom in mind, Pochettino left a number of first-choice players in London.

Pochettino's refusal to subject his key players to 90 minutes of Europa League football at Partizan's JNA Stadium was intelligent management. Erik Lamela, a late substitute and Lloris were the only starters risked in Belgrade. Most were left behind. 

Spurs have suffered from European hangovers many times in recent seasons so Pochettino's decision appears to be a smart one, but it exposed inherent weakness in his squad.

Tottenham dominated possession and were rarely threatened but failed to produce any notable attacking chances. Harry Kane, starting as a lone striker, squandered the two best chances in the first half and struggled to impose himself on the match. He has made a solid start to the season under Pochettino but wasted a rare opportunity as a starting centre-forward against Partizan.

Kane was isolated and largely uninvolved as his Spurs' attacking line failed to penetrate Partizan's defence. Aaron Lennon offered so little ambition in possession that Spurs quickly abandoned his flank as an attacking outlet. Andros Townsend did at least appear threatening and was able to take the ball past opposition defenders on occasion. He had a poor game but was arguably Spurs' most effective attacker.

In the middle, the combination of Paulinho and Stambouli was solid but uninventive. Paulinho showed his typical handful of nice touches but will never be the player to dominate a game. He is a willing runner with skill and good attacking instincts but lacks vision and patience. 

Stambouli made an impressive full debut but, like Paulinho, is a support player and not the main man. Both Stambouli and Paulinho showed their value and will rival Etienne Capoue for a starting role. 

Without the intelligence of Christian Eriksen, Spurs lacked invention. The poor performances of Spurs' wingers and the selection of the defensive Ben Davies and Kyle Naughton at full-back meant they lacked  dynamism. 

Nabil Bentaleb needed to be the man to step up in Serbia but he failed to deliver. He may be just 19, but Bentaleb is now a senior member of Tottenham's squad and, with his skills, needs to take hold of a game like this. He showed neat touches and was smart with possession but he failed to move the ball quickly and failed to get forward even as Partizan fell ever deeper. 

It is in midfield that Spurs appear to have the most strength but while there is an abundance of water-carriers, there is a shortage of creativity. Without Eriksen, Spurs are solid in possession but unlikely to unlock a solid defensive unit. Mousa Dembele is the only other member of the squad capable of driving Spurs' attack and he is yet to demonstrate that he is fully recovered from his persistent hip injury. 

Spurs' central defenders are more than adequate. Fazio and Jan Vertonghen were solid in Serbia while none of Younes Kaboul, Eric Dier and Vlad Chiriches are significant weak points. 

Neither Ben Davies nor Kyle Naughton played well against Partizan. Naughton gave his usual poor performance while Davies performed well below expectations. 

Returning to the Champions League has been Spurs' ultimate goal since making their bow in that competition in 2010. That remains the case this season and, with the Europa League now offering an alternate avenue, squad strength is more important than ever. 

The fact that Pochettino can bring seven full internationals into his lineup for a midweek fixture speaks to the strength in depth that Spurs do possess. The problem lies in key positions. Tottenham do not possess adequate depth at centre-forward or in the creative role usually occupied by Christian Eriksen. In the absence of Kyle Walker, Spurs also look weak at full-back. 

If Spurs are to make a deep run in Europe or a sustained push for the top four in England, they must avoid injuries in those key positions. Well stocked at centre-back and central midfield, Pochettino can rotate freely to avoid the otherwise inevitable burnout caused by his high-energy style of play. 

Even in Serbia, Lamela and Soldado were risked to try to snatch a result. 

It is no surprise that Spurs' quality of play fell in the absence of many of their star players. The revelation of the stalemate in Serbia was that, in order to compete in both England and Europe, he must risk his key players. 

Mets' Jacob deGrom Matches Record by Starting Game with 8 Straight Strikeouts

2 hours 18 min ago

According to MLB MilestonesNew York Mets starter Jacob deGrom tied a modern-day MLB record Monday evening by striking out the first eight batters to begin a game.

The record was originally set by Jim Deshaies of the Houston Astros in 1986.

Facing the Miami Marlins, deGrom struck out the side in the first and second innings. He retired four of the six batters swinging, while the other two went down with their bats on their shoulders.

DeGrom then opened the third inning by striking out second baseman Jordany Valdespin, followed by catcher Jeff Mathis, who also swung and missed at a third strike. As luck would have it, deGrom was unable to get the tie-breaking K, as Marlins starting pitcher Jarred Cosart singled to right to end the streak.

DeGrom ultimately pitched seven innings and struck out a career-high 13 batters. He got his first career MLB win against the Marlins back on June 21. He's now faced them four times this season, with a 2-0 record, 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings and a 1.33 ERA in those outings.

Deshaies' record-setting performance came against the Los Angeles Dodgers on September 23, 1986, which was coincidentally his fourth start against the Dodgers that year.

Deshaies recorded his first career shutout that night, allowing only two hits while striking out 10. His consecutive strikeouts streak wasn't stopped by the opposing pitcher, as Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda pulled starter Dennis Powell after only three innings for pinch hitter Larry See, who then popped out to end the streak.

 

All stats courtesy of MLB.com unless otherwise noted.