Wild Card Weekend: Previewing the Rest of This Weekend’s Matchups

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Yesterday I previewed the Chiefs-Texans wild card weekend matchup taking a look at both teams and offering up a prediction.

With the start of the NFL playoffs quickly approaching, its time to preview what you can expect for the other 3 playoff games this weekend.

Feel free to disagree with my picks and analysis in the comments section. I I look forward to hearing from my readers and generating a discussion.

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Big Ben and Antonio Brown might be the most dynamic QB to WR combo in the NFL. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images.

AFC Wild Card Game #2: No.6 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. No.3 Cincinnati Bengals

If you think the Bengals and the Steelers rivalry is intense during the season wait till you see these two physical football teams battle it out in the trenches during the playoffs.

It just gets better folks. This game in prime time on CBS makes it must watch TV. I mean come on whats better than Jim Nantz and Phil Simms?

The Teams:

Markus+Wheaton+Pittsburgh+Steelers+v+Cincinnati+4RvOhJf-H_dl

Markus Wheaton is the x factor for the Steelers offense. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images.

Steelers:

I know this is the easy thing to say but its true: the Steelers chances to win this game hinges on QB Ben Roethlisberger.

The last two weeks have to be a cause for concern. Roethlisberger has started and completed 11 games this season, and has thrown fewer than 300 yards in just two of them.

It helps when you have the best WR core in the conference and along with the Cardinals the best WR group in the NFL.

However, that really doesn’t matter if we get the Big Ben of the last three starts.

Roethlisberger has thrown six interceptions in his last three starts, and he has thrown multiple picks four of his last six starts. His 16 INT’s in 2015 is the most since 2006 when he had 23.

RB DeAngelo Williams is still day to day, and even if he plays I’m not sure how effective he is going to be against the Bengals 7th ranked run defense.

When the Steelers loose the turnover battle they are 0-5, and when they win or tie the turnover battle they are 9-1. Meanwhile the Bengals have been +11 in the turnover margin this season.

A.J. McCarron

A.J. McCarron is the biggest key for the Bengals this weekend against the Steelers. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images.

Bengals:

The Bengals will start A.J. McCarron and he is going to have to play a lot better than he did last week. However, lets be honest McCarron isn’t a downgrade when you look at how horrible Andy Dalton has been this season. Lets not forget: McCarron has started three games and won two of them.

The Bengals WR core led by A.J. Green has the potential to be just as good as the Steelers group, and Jeremy Hill is underrated at the RB position. I don’t think either running game will be able to do much. The Steelers run defense is 3rd in the NFL.

Marvin Lewis

The Bengals have stayed patient with head coach Marvin Lewis. Can he finally reward the franchise with a playoff win? Photo Courtesy: Getty Images.

Bottom Line:

Everyone is wondering if Marvin Lewis and the Bengals can finally get over the hump and win a playoff game.

This might be the unpopular pick, but I think Cincinnati gets it done. The Bengals have the most talented defense in football, and I think they will win the turnover battle. The Steelers are relying way to much on Big Ben and Brown right now.

Prediction: Bengals-23, Steelers-20

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Russell Wilson is the hottest QB on the planet. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images.

NFC Wild Card Game #1: No.6 Seattle Seahawks @ No.3 Minnesota Vikings

Congratulations to the Vikings on winning the NFC North for the first time since 2009 by dethroning the Packers on the road. It was a great win, and Coach Mike Zimmer has done a great job turning this franchise around in just two seasons.

That is where the fun ends for Minnesota.

The Seahawks, the two-time defending conference champions, and winners of Super Bowl 48 nearly won their second straight Super Bowl, a game that came down to the final play.

Other than loosing Percy Harvin in the offseason the same team coached by the game’s greatest motivator, Pete Carroll was back for 2015 ready to get back to the Super Bowl.

The Seahawks weren’t the same team for the majority of the regular season. Seattle lost four of their first six games by the slimmest of margins including two games in overtime.

Two months ago the Seahawks lost Marshawn Lynch and it looked like the team was done.

Instead, Seattle got even better. Since a loss to the 15-1 Carolina Panthers on October 18th, the Hawks have gone 8-2 including a 36-6 statement win against the Cardinals to close out the season. (I will say that one of those losses was to Arizona, and the other was to lowly St. Louis at home).

The Legion of Boom is back, and its only going to get tougher for opposing offenses with Kam Chancellor expected to return for the game this Sunday.

The Seahawks are making their fourth straight playoff appearance, and for the fourth year in a row the Hawks led the NFL in scoring defense. No defense has more talent and better playmakers.

This isn’t good news for Minnesota. If the Vikings hope to win the game, they will have to rely heavily on rushing champ Adrian Peterson to produce. That is going to be really hard against the league’s no.1 rush defense that will stack the box and take Peterson completely out of play.

The game will rest on Teddy Bridgewater, and while he has done a great job for most of the season, the Vikings just don’t have enough playmakers on offense to score enough against Seattle.

To make matters worse, Minnesota’s defense gets to go up against the league’s hottest QB. Remember when Russell Wilson won the Super Bowl MVP? He is playing better now than he was then.

That is scary folks.

This is all you need to know about Wilson’s performance as of late.

Wilson is no longer a game manger, and the Seahawks don’t win by running the ball and defense. They win because of what Russell Wilson does passing the ball.

The Seahawks have one of the best and most underrated receiving cores in the NFL led by Doug Baldwin, and the x factor Tyler Lockett.

Combine that with Marshawn Lynch coming back and the Vikings won’t have much fun.

The weather might be the only thing on the Vikings side, and I don’t expect that to be a factor.

Prediction: Seahawks-28 Vikings-10

Kirk Cousins

Kirk Cousins of the Washington Redskins. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

NFC Wild Card Game #2: No.5 Green Bay Packers @ No.4 Washington Redskins

I cant believe I am saying this but its true: I trust the Redskins offense and Kirk Cousins more than I trust Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.

Think about this: when Washington drafted Robert Griffen III Kirk Cousins wasn’t even talked about. Now he is one of the NFL’s hottest QB’s leading one of the NFL’s hottest offenses, and he will be starting his first playoff game.

This is why we love sports. I am firm believer in Kirk Cousins and you should be to.

After all since Week 8, Cousins is a better QB than Rodgers, the man many consider the best QB in the NFL.

TE Jordan Reed is going to create matchup nightmares for the Packers secondary, and Deseasn Jackson is going to have a big game.

The Packers have actually played better on defense than the Redskins as of late, but it comes down to which offense I trust, and right now everything looks hard for the Packers.

They are completely out of sync, and its clear how much the loss of Jordy Nelson has hurt this team. Pass protection has been horrible, and as a result the explosive plays just aren’t there.

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Jordan Reed is the most dangerous receiving threat on the Redskins. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Bottom Line:

I don’t trust anything the Packers are doing on offense. I will take Kirk Cousins and the Redskins in this game at home.

Prediction: Redskins-21 Packers-13

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AFC Wild Card Playoffs: Chiefs@Texans Preview + Prediction

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The job that Andy Reid has done turning around the Chiefs after a 1-5 start makes him the clear favorite to win Coach of the Year in the AFC. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Tis the season for playoff NFL football! Its the greatest time of the year NFL fans! After a wild week 17, and 265 regular season games, twelve teams-6 from the NFC and 6 from the AFC are left standing on the road to Super Bowl 50.

This year’s playoffs is shaping up to be the year of the lower seed and the wildcards, and this is especially true in the AFC.

Arguably the two most dangerous teams in the AFC are the lower seeds: the Chiefs and the Steelers.

The great thing about the NFL is that none of that matters now. The Chiefs, Texans, Steelers, and Bengals all have to play their best football for four quarters this weekend to advance to the Divisional round.

Over the next week I will offer up my predictions for the NFL playoffs culminating in who I think will win Super Bowl 50.

Today, I will offer my take on the first game taking place this Saturday as part of wild card weekend.

No.5 Kansas City Chiefs @ No.4 Houston Texans

NRG Stadium-Houston, Texas

4:35 P.M EST/2:35 P.M. MST-ESPN/ABC

The Teams:

Alex Smith

Alex Smith and the Chiefs are the hottest team in either conference heading into the postseason. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Kansas City Chiefs (10-5)

This is why I love the NFL folks. Remember when the Patriots were without a doubt the best team in the AFC? After starting 10-0 it looked like the road to the Super Bowl would once again go through New England.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs started 1-5 and lost star running back Jamal Charles for the season with a knee injury.

Its funny how quickly things can change.

Fast forward to the end of the regular season. The Patriots come into the playoffs having lost 2 games in a row and 4 of their last 6. To make matters worse, Tom Brady isn’t 100% and New England is dealing with injuries to key players on both sides of the field.

The Chiefs come into the playoffs having won 10 games in a row playing as well as any team in either conference.

Many will still pick the Patriots as the top team in the AFC simply because they have the best QB and the most experience, but after their embarrassing performances against the Jets and Dolphins, the Chiefs in my mind are the clear team to beat in the AFC.

Andy Reid is the clear coach of the year in the AFC. That is how well this team is playing.

It all starts with their defense. During their winning streak, Kansas City has allowed just 12.8 points per game. Tamba Hali and Dontari Poe will dominate the line of scrimmage, and if the Chiefs get Justin Houston back healthy the front 7 becomes even more dangerous.

In my opinion the Chiefs secondary is heavily underrated. Rookie corner Marcus Peters is one of the best in the NFL. He finished with 25 passes defended, and 8 interceptions, both NFL rookie records.

The Chiefs secondary will have to be at their best against the Texans this weekend. The matchup of Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins and Peters will be must see TV.

On the offensive side, Kansas City will feature a balanced attack. Second year running back Charcandrick West has done a phenomenal job making up at least somewhat for the loss of Charles. West finished with 634 yards and four touchdowns.

Here is what makes the Chiefs offense scary: they don’t turn the football over which is so critical in the postseason. If you don’t believe me take a look at the final play of Super Bowl 49.

Alex Smith doesn’t throw interceptions, and his offensive line protects him. Smith avoids disaster by using his legs instead of throwing dangerous passes into tight coverage. Smith has ran for 498 yards and 2 touchdowns while mastering the Andy Reid west coast offense completing 65.3% of his passes.

Smith threw for the most yards of his 11 year career (3,486) to go along with just 7 interceptions.

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J.J. Watt lead the NFL in sacks this season and is the favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images.

Houston Texans (9-7)

Its fascinating that the Chiefs opponent on Saturday will be the Texans because these two teams are almost mirror images of each other when it comes to how they win football games, and the journey it took each team to get to this point.

Like the Chiefs, the Texans looked finished and hopeless by the end of Week 7. A 44-26 loss to the Dolphins left them with a 2-5 record and a spot near the bottom of the AFC South.

Like the Chiefs, the Texans also suffered a crushing loss at the running back position losing one of the leagues most explosive backs, Adrian Foster for the season with an Achilles injury.

Like the Chiefs, the Texans also didn’t let that injury ruin their season instead the Texans defensive unit established themselves as one of the best in the NFL led by Defensive Player of the Year favorite J.J. Watt who finished with 17.5 sacks.

Despite rotating between Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer, and T.J. Yates the offense remained surprisingly stable. This is in large part due to Hopkins emergence as a receiving threat. Hoyer was the most effective under center and will get the start.

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Marcus Peters of the Chiefs. Photo Courtesy: Zimbo

Key Matchups:

This game is going to come down to which offensive line can hold up better against the elite defensive front of the other team. The loss of left tackle Duane Brown for the Texans is a significant downgrade that must be taken into consideration.

Turnovers are going to be a big part of this game, and I think the QB that can manage the offense and be efficient moving the football down the chains will give his team the best chance at victory.

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DeAndre Hopkns of the Texans. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images.

The best individual matchup in this game will be without a doubt the battle between Hopkins and Peters. Can the Chiefs lowly pass defense hold up against one of the best WR’s in the NFL.

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Tamba Hali and Dee Ford of the Chiefs. Photo Courtesy: Getty Images

Bottom Line:

Ultimately I think the difference in this game is Kansas City’s ability to not turnover the football. During their current win streak, the Chiefs are +16 in the turnover margin.

Alex Smith’s ability to run the football and spread the defense with his legs will keep J.J. Watt contained. At the point of attack, the Chiefs OL is head and shoulders above the Texans OL, and as a result Tamba Hali and the rest of the KC front should put a lot of pressure on Brian Hoyer.

The Chiefs are the least flawed team in the AFC, and the Texans are inconsistent in to many critical areas. I will take the Chiefs as the road team in a close low scoring affair.

Prediction: Chiefs win 17-16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 NFL Playoffs: AFC + NFC Schedules

Adrian Peterson

Adrian Peterson and the Vikings won the NFC North defeating the Packers on Sunday. With that the playoff schedule has been set and will begin this weekend! Photo Courtesy: AP

An incomplete pass by Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in the final seconds of the 4th quarter gave the Minnesota Vikings their first NFC North title since 2009, and ended another exciting NFL regular season.

The immense amount of parity in the NFL gives every team a chance to prove they belong among the league’s elite, but teams have to do it in just 16 games on one day of the week: Thursday, Sunday, or Monday.

With so few games every snap, every play call, and every decision matters; with so few chances in a season, teams can’t get away with very many mistakes. Unlike the other major sports, every W and L helps seal your fate.

Every game is entertaining and for that reason a must watch. The season kicked off on Thursday September 10th with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots defeating Big Ben Roethlisberger and the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers 28-21 thanks in large part to four touchdown passes from Tom Brady.

Seventeen weeks and 255 games later, the NFL is down to just 12 total teams, 6 from each conference vying for a berth in Super Bowl 50, while the other 20 teams are sitting at home wondering what could have been.

On the AFC side, the Broncos stole the no.1 seed away from Tom Brady and the Patriots after Peyton Manning came off the bench and rallied the Broncos to a win over the Chargers. Earlier in the day, the Patriots lost their second game in a row to the Dolphins stumbling into the postseason with the no.2 seed.

Both Denver and New England earned byes while the Broncos as the top seed earned home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Here is how the bracket looks like on the AFC side with dates, start times, and TV schedules:

Wild Card Weekend: Saturday January 9th

AFC: No. 5 Kansas City at No. 4 Houston, 4:35 p.m. ET (ABC/ESPN)

AFC: No. 6 Pittsburgh at No. 3 Cincinnati, 8:15 p.m. ET (CBS)

Divisional Weekend: 

Saturday January 16th:

AFC: Kansas City/Houston/Cincinnati at No. 2 New England, 4:35 p.m. ET (CBS)

Sunday January 17th:

AFC: Pittsburgh/Kansas City/Houston at No. 1 Denver, 4:40 p.m. ET (CBS)

Championship Sunday: Sunday January 24th

AFC: AFC Championship, 3:05 p.m. ET (CBS)

In the NFC, the Panthers wrapped up the no.1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs with their 38-10 win over the Bucs. The Arizona Cardinals despite stumbling into the playoffs after an embarrassing 36-6 loss to the Seahawks on Sunday at home will have the no.2 seed, a bye, and at least one home playoff game.

Here is what the bracket looks like on the NFC side with dates, start times, and TV schedules:

Wild Card Weekend: Sunday January 17th

NFC: Seahawks at Vikings, 1:05 ET (FOX)

NFC: Packers at Redskins, 4:05 ET (FOX)

Divisional Weekend:

Saturday January 16th:

NFC: Minnesota/Green Bay/Washington at No. 2 Arizona, 8:15 p.m. ET (NBC)

Sunday January 17th:

NFC: Green Bay/Seattle/Washington at No. 1 Carolina, 1:05 p.m. ET (Fox)

Championship Sunday: Sunday  January 24th

NFC: NFC Championship, 6:40 p.m. ET (Fox)

Everything leads up to the biggest sports spectacle in the world. The Lombardi Trophy will be up for grabs in Northern California.

Super Bowl 50: Sunday February 7th

AFC Champion vs. NFC Champion at Levi’s Stadium, 6:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PBA Tour: My Top Moments from 2015

Belmo

Jason Belmonte defeated Rhino Page in the 2015 Tournament of Champions title match. Photo Courtesy: Storm Bowling

Happy New Year readers and bowling fans! I hope everybody had a great New Year’s Eve with their families and friends at a party or watching the College Football Playoff National Semi Finals!

Before I completely shift attention to the 2016, I would like to take one last look at 2015 on the PBA Tour.

2015 was a breakout year for professional bowling in so many ways. Even though this list is exclusively for the PBA because I follow that Tour on a daily basis, I would be mistaken to not mention how great it is to have all the best women bowlers in the world competing in their own Tour once again.

The PWBA was formed in 1960 and after fifty-three great years the decision to cease operations in 2003 was a disservice to all the talented women bowlers that were established and coming up to the professional level.

The PBA did open up membership to PWBA members which gave Liz Johnson, Kelly Kulick, Carolyn Dorin-Ballard and other stars a chance to still bowl at a high level, but it produced limited success.

Missy Parkin was the first female to join the PBA and holds 3 regional titles. Liz Johnson was the first bowler to win a regional title, and advance to 2 separate PBA television finals.

In 2010, Kulick became the first women to win a PBA national and major event winning the prestigious Tournament of Champions defeating Chris Barnes in the title match. This was a historic moment for a sport of bowling, and showed the world that women’s bowling was alive and well and needed their Tour back.

I commend the United States Bowling Congress (USBC), and the Bowling Proprietors’ Association of America (BPAA) for reopening the PWBA with a 3 year funding agreement.

After a great year in 2015, we will get to watch Danielle Mckewan, Liz Johnson, and the rest of the ladies compete in a full schedule of events which will include the return of the PWBA Players Championship as the 4th major of the season.

Its great to have the ladies tour back!

Now on to my top 5 moments on the PBA Tour in 2015! Let the countdown and the debate begin!

Ciminelli

Ryan Ciminelli finally won his 1st career major at this year’s U.S. Open. Photo:

#5: Ryan Ciminelli Breaks Out with 1st Major title at the U.S. Open

Ryan Ciminelli had made plenty of major TV finals in his young career before this season’s U.S. Open including the 2014 USBC Masters as the #5 seed.

Ciminelli carried the momentum he earned after winning the Xtra Frame Southpoint Open during this year’s Fall Classic and captured the best win of his career, and cementing himself among the games elite.

What was most impressive about the southpaw’s performance was his total dominance during qualifying and match play on the toughest oil pattern that the PBA offers.

Ciminelli was able to figure out the lanes while every other lefty struggled to score.

Flat out, he does things with the bowling ball that most lefties cant do. Don’t be surprised if he captures 1 or 2 more majors in 2016.

Relive Ryan’s career changing moment below!

PBA League

Last seasons PBA League action was arguably the most entertaining tournament to watch on the Tour all season. Photo Courtesy: PBA LLC

#4: PBA League Takes Over Bayside Bowl in Portland, Maine.

The PBA Tour needs to have more events at Bayside Bowl in Portland, Maine.

The PBA League conducted its Elias Cup Playoffs at the 12 lane center, and it became clear pretty quickly how much Portland loves this sport.

I was honestly confused whether I was watching the Super Bowl or a professional bowling event. It’s honestly hard to describe in words: you will just have to watch the TV finals for yourself.


 

Bohn

Parker Bohn III had a great 2015. Photo Courtesy: PBA Tour LLC

#3: Sudden Death Rolloff at PBA Players Championship

No tournament on Tour in 2015 had a more dramatic finish than what took place at the end of title match of the 2015 PBA Players Championship.

A rematch of the position round would pit no.2 seed Ronnie Russell against no.1 seed and Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III who was looking to tie fellow legend Mark Roth with his 34th career title.

Russell defeated Tom Daugherty in the semi-final match to reach the final.

Bohn III left a stunning 7-10 split in the 1st frame, but not surprisingly he kept his composure and didn’t let an early open frame affect him and the southpaw was able to stay clean the rest of the game and finish with a 237.

Russell also finished with a score of 237, and thus a sudden death rolloff would be needed to determine the winner of one of the most coveted tournaments on the Tour calendar.

It doesn’t get much better than that for bowling fans.

Bohn and Russell both struck on the first shot creating even more drama. Bohn would strike again on his second shot forcing Russell to match him.

Russell threw a great shot, and it looked like a strike all the way. Instead a stubborn 10 pin failed to cooperate and Bohn III took the title.

I felt for Ronnie Russell because as a avid bowler myself, nothing is worse than leaving a 10 pin on a great shot. Sometimes I wish their wasn’t a 10 pin because it always seems to bite me.

Relieve this dramatic finish below.

Belmonte

#2: Jason Belmonte wins back to back majors in 2 consecutive years!

Before the 2015 season, Jason Belmonte had already established himself as the best bowler on the planet.

After capturing a historic 3rd consecutive USBC Masters title, something that has never been done in the PBA’s history, and successfully defending his TOC title for back to back majors in back to back seasons, Belmonte placed himself among the best ever to throw the bowling ball along with names like Roth, Holman, Anthony, and Williams Jr.

If anything with those two victories, he continued to show that the 2 handed style can work and can win at the highest level. Bowlers that criticize the 2-handed style as the wrong way to bowl need to stop because the best bowler in the world does it and look where it has gotten him.

In the PBA’s long history, there have been several significant evolution’s to the game from the plastic ball era to the reactive resin era.

Belmonte is responsible for inspiring a young generation of bowlers that want a higher rev rate to try something that never would have been thought of back in the day: hold and throw the ball with 2 hands not one.

For that, he has fostered a new era in the sport, and his impact has been cemented no matter what he does from here on out in his personal career.

Relieve his 2 major victories from 2015!

Clark and Faulkner Jr

 #1: Gary Faulkner wins historic PBA World Championship

Its quite surprising that the name Belmonte and the no.1 moment on the PBA Tour aren’t included together, but for me the top moment on the Tour in 2015 was Gary Faulkner’s breakthrough moment at the PBA World Championship.

Faulkner Jr making his TV finals debut from the no.3 spot on the traditional stepladder took down U.S. Open champion Ryan Ciminelli in the semi-finals and then defeated no.1 seed E.J. Tackett in the finals to claim his first career title, which just happened to be a major and the main event of the GEICO PBA World Series of Bowling VII.

Faulkner Jr. was making his TV debut but you couldn’t tell that by his demeanor: he acted as if he had been on TV in a major many times before. I have never seen a competitor in any sport so calm at  a big event like Faulkner Jr. was.

Faulkner Jr.’s win was historic for the PBA itself much like Kulick’s victory at the TOC in 2010. He became just the 2nd African American to win a PBA title.

Hopefully this will open the door for more minority champions in 2016!

Relieve this historic moment below:

2015 was a great year for fans of bowling. As we celebrate New Year’s Day, cheers to an even greater 2016!

Don’t forget to tune in to the Chameleon Championship this Sunday on ESPN!

 

Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year: Belmonte or Ciminelli?

Belmonte2

Jason Belmonte made history winning his third consecutive USBC Masters title in February. Should he win his third consecutive Player of the Year Award? Photo Courtesy: Green Bay Press Gazette

The 2015 PBA Tour season is in the books and that means its time for bowling fans and writers to start debating who should win the coveted Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year Award.

After talking with members of the media that cover the PBA Tour on daily basis its clear that everybody agrees on one thing: its a 2-man race between Jason Belmonte of Australia and Ryan Ciminelli of Cheektowaga, New York.

That is where the consensus ends. After winning his 3rd consecutive USBC Masters title, and successfully defending his Tournament of Champions title in back to back weeks, Belmonte was considered a lock to win his third consecutive POY award.

Belmonte continued to dominate the best bowlers in the world making his 3rd TV show in a row at the members only Players Championship, and 2015 was quickly turning into a repeat of the previous 2 seasons.

Everything started to change at the Summer Swing in Oklahoma City. Belmonte lost to Bill O’Neill of Langhorne, Pa. in the title match of the Oklahoma Open, and then O’Neill capped off his Summer with his 2nd consecutive King of the Swing title once again beating Belmonte.

O’Neill has owned the Summer Swing in recent years consistently making TV shows, and when he is not doing that, the 2005-06 PBA Rookie of the Year is finishing in the top 10.

O’Neill also finished 2nd in the Wolf Open, and 3rd in the Bear Open.

Two consecutive wins against the hottest bowler on the planet gave O’Neill confidence, and put him squarely in the race for Player of the Year.

He continued to ride his summer momentum finishing 2nd at the PBA Xtra Frame Lubbock Sports Southwest Open in late June, and at the end of July he teamed up with Shannon O’Keefe of Arlington, TX to win the PBA/PWBA Xtra Frame Striking Against Breast Cancer Mixed Doubles over Chris and Lynda Barnes.

After O’Neill’s dominating summer, Jason was no longer regarded as the runaway favorite for Player of the Year.

O’Neill quickly fell back to earth, and it Ciminelli’s turn to jump into the race. Ciminelli dominated the Fall winning the Xtra Frame South Point Open, and the lefty followed that up with a dominating performance from start to finish at this year’s U.S. Open capturing his first major title.

Don’t forget about the great season that Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III has had. At the age of 35 Bohn captured the Players Championship in February and he recently captured the Cheetah Championship for his 35th and 36th career titles.

With the announcement coming next month, I will make the case for both Belmonte and Ciminelli. Let the debating begin, and feel free to disagree with me bowling fans!

Don’t forget to leave your thoughts in the comments section with your pick to win the award that every PBA player wants more than anything else! (If you don’t believe me just ask Pete Webber).

Jason Belmonte

In 5 short years, Belmonte in his prime has become the dominating figure of the sport, and it seems that when he is at his best nobody stands a chance at beating him.

For comparison purposes, the two-hander from down under is what Rodger Federer and Tiger Woods meant in their primes for Tennis and Golf respectively.

Simply put if pro bowling is going to reach the level of popularity that it once enjoyed again, its going to because of Belmonte: his style has revolutionized the way everybody thinks about throwing a bowling ball.

I have to admit, I have tried the two-finger and two-handed styles myself largely because of Belmonte.

2015 has been another great season for the Australian sensation. He leads the Tour in the 3 most important statistical categories: In nineteen events he is first in points with a whopping 104,513.50, earnings ($176,142 total covering National and WBT events), and average (226.22). He has a chance to win his second consecutive George Young High Average Award, and Harry Smith Point Leader Award.

As you might imagine, there hasn’t been a more consistent bowler over the past 3 years than Belmonte.

Belmo also paces the Tour with eleven championship round appearances, and is tied for 1st with Ronnie Russell and O’Neill in match play appearances with eleven.

Belmonte has finished in the top 10 eleven times this season including 6 straight to start his season, and 10 of those are top 5 finishes.

By every measure that matters: stats, majors, and consistency its hard to figure out why Belmonte hasn’t been handed the honor already.

However, he does have one blemish on his resume this season that he hasn’t had in previous years: he failed to make to Match play at back to back majors: the U.S. Open, and the PBA World Championship finishing 32nd and 40th respectively. He also failed to cash in all 4 animal pattern championships at the World Series which is hard to believe.

Despite not being at his best in the latter portion of the season, Belmonte has had another great season, and has put together one of the most successful runs in PBA history.

Ciminelli2

Ryan Ciminelli

Jason Belmonte might be the best bowler over the past 3 years, but nobody has rolled the ball better in the last 3 months than southpaw Ryan Ciminelli.

Simply put the lefty has always had the talent to be a star at the highest level, and I have been waiting for him to breakout.

Folks that moment has arrived emphatically. Ciminelli absolutely owned the U.S. Open from start to finish. He finished with a 19-5 match play record, and earned the no.1 seed by 461 pins. He also was the only lefty to make the top 24.

The U.S. Open is regarded as the most demanding tournament on the schedule every year, and features the toughest oil pattern. For one man to dominate the way Ryan did was unbelievable, and its clear he had the formula that all the other lefties couldn’t touch.

Other bowlers were always watching how Ciminelli played the lanes. That is how dialed in he was that week.

Fast forward to the World Series of Bowling. Ciminelli made the TV show for the final major, the World Championship as the no.2 seed. Ciminelli was vying for his 3rd consecutive PBA title.

More importantly with a win, Ciminelli would be guaranteed Player of the Year. Instead, he lost to 3 seed and eventual champion Gary Faulkner Jr. and that is why I am writing this today.

Ciminelli won his 3rd title to close out 2015 at the Viper Championship.

Ciminelli is in the top 5 in earnings and average, but he has just 6 top 5 finishes on the season and hasn’t been as consistent despite having 1 more win.

Even if Ciminelli doesn’t win, his performance made this race a lot closer than it should have been, and he is only going to get better in 2016.

Final Decision:

For me, this is easily one of the most interesting Player of the Year races in recent memory, and one of the toughest to choose a winner. Don’t be surprised if this is the closest race in PBA history.

With that out of the way, Belmonte is my pick to win his 3rd consecutive Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year Award because of his consistency throughout the entire year.

Some people will say he was a completely different guy down the stretch but even the best players will struggle. That is part of sports.

Given the amount of games these guys have to bowl every week, its hard to do what Belmonte does, and he often makes it look easy. Ciminelli will win a POY award at some point, but right now this is Belmonte’s Tour.

One thing to watch in 2016: Can the 2008-09 Rookie of the Year figure out how to make the show at the U.S. Open or the World Championship?

 

 

WSOB: Parker Bohn III Adds to His Legacy with 35th Career Title

 

Parker Bohn III Cheetah

Hall of Famer Parker Bohn III poses with his 35th career PBA tour title after taking home the Cheetah Championship at the GEICO World Series of Bowling VII. Photo Courtesy: PBA Tour LLC

Good old Parker Bohn III continues to get the job done week in and week out on the PBA Tour, and on Sunday the Hall of Famer added to his legacy at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno, Nevada last Sunday.

Bohn III of Jackson, New Jersey defeated Paul Moor of Beverly Hull, England in a tight low scoring title match 210-206 for his 35th career national tour title at the PBA Cheetah Championship presented by PBA Bowling Challenge Mobile Game passing fellow Hall of Famer Mark Roth for sole possession of 5th on the all time titles list.

The 52-year old southpaw now only trails fellow hall of famers PDW Pete Webber (37), Norm Duke (38), Earl Anthony (43), and “Dead Eye” Walter Ray Williams Jr. (47).

Bohn talked to PBA.com after the title match and said this “is something I never, ever dreamed would be possible. But no matter how many titles I win, and hopefully I’m not done, Mark Roth will still go down in history as one of the greatest bowlers who ever lived.”

Roth who last won on the Tour at the IOF Foresters Open in 1995 has been a great ambassador for the sport since his retirement.

He has hosted the Mark Roth Plastic Ball Championship certain seasons, and most notably teaming up with his good friend and fellow PBA Hall of Famer  Marshall Holman to host the Roth/Holman PBA Doubles Championships. This years event will be aired in January.

Roth’s legacy has already been cemented and his name will always be remembered with the sport of ten-pin bowling.

However, Bohn III still has plenty of game left in him, and his eyes set on continuing to move up the career titles list.

Bohn was working on three in a row after striking in the  5th, 6th, and 7th frames and had a comfortable thirty one  pin lead heading into his half of the 8th.

Then things started to get real interesting. Bohn would come in light and leave a bucket and collect a 6 count. He would convert a critical spare and then he went through the face in the 8th leaving the 6-7 split.

Bohn would miss both pins leaving him with 190 after the open frame and suddenly the tied had turned in the match.

Moor, a very accomplished European Tour bowler, steeped up in the foundation frame needing a strike in the 9th and a double in the 10th and the title was his.

Moor delivered a clutch shot in the 9th and suddenly the deficit was just 3 pins. It would all come down to the 10th frame.

Moor would need 2 strikes and 4 pins to shut out Parker Bohn III and claim his first Tour title in the United States. Bohn could strike out for 220 and at that point the Englishmen could max out for 227.

Moor threw a really good shot and got a bad break leaving a flat 7 pin. He would convert the spare but he wouldn’t have the chance to shut the legend out. Moor, also a southpaw, finished with 206 after shooting 258 in the semifinal against Norm Duke.

Bohn stepped up in the 10th needing a mark and 7 pins (17 pins) to win.

Like he has done so many times before in pressure packed situations, Bohn was once again at his best when it mattered most: in the 1oth frame. He purred a strike in the 1-2 pocket and collected 8 pins on his second ball which was good enough for the title.

Folks there is a reason why he is usually chosen as the anchor during team competition.

Parker Bohn has always bowled well on the high scoring Cheetah pattern because you don’t need to be a power player with high revs to win. The key on Cheetah is to play the outside part of the lane on either side near the gutter, and Bohn is comfortable playing there.

Bohn won his semifinal match 204-203 over former USBC President Andrew Cain of Phoenix, Arizona.

As stated previously Moor easily took care of Norm Duke 265-224 in the other semifinal. Despite facing an experienced veteran, this result didn’t surprise me. Moor obliterated the Cheetah pattern during qualifying and match play, and that continued. Duke did come in to the TV show with the all time best average on Cheetah at the World Series of Bowling.

Bohn’s time at this year’s World Series of Bowling is not finished quite yet. He will have a chance to collect title number 3 on the season and his 36th for his career at the Scorpion Championship. A win there would move him to within one win of tying Pete Webber for fourth on the all time titles list.

If Bohn can get it done again, you have to include him in the Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year conversation. That would be his 3rd title of the season, and he currently sits second in points.


 

Viper

The Viper Championship title will be awarded to one of these 5 bowlers this Sunday with plenty on the line for many reasons. Photo Courtesy of: PBA Tour LLC

Upcoming:

World Series of Bowling animal pattern action continues on ESPN this Sunday January 27th with the GoBowling.com Viper Championship. The telecast begins at 1pm EST/11am AZ time.

Ryan Ciminelli continues his pursuit for Chris Schenkel PBA Player of the Year Honors. A win would be his third of the season after capturing the Xtra Frame South Point Las Vegas Open at the Fall Classic and the Bowlmor AMF U.S. Open for his first major.

After winning his first career PBA Tour title at the Rolltech PBA World Championship, Gary Faulkner Jr. has the chance to capture his second career title.

Kim Bolleby became the first player from Thailand to make a PBA Tour TV show, and rookie Jakob Butturff  a local guy from Chandler Arizona has had a great World Series. Both are seeking their first career Tour titles, and you can bet I will be cheering for the local guy.

Prediction: With the Player of the Year Award on the line, Ryan Ciminelli steps up and picks up his third win of the season!

 

 

History is Made: Gary Faulkner Jr Wins PBA World Championship

Gary Faulkner Jr

Gary Faulkner Jr made history tonight winning the PBA World Championship from the no.3 seed on the stepladder for his first PBA Tour title. Photo Courtesy of: PBA LLC

The no.1 bowler in the world, Jason Belmonte started his 2015 season winning back to back majors for the second consecutive year winning his third straight USBC Masters in Green Bay Wisconsin, and then he captured his second straight Tournament of Champions in Indianapolis.

Bill O’Neill dominated the Summer Swing winning the Oklahoma Open and his second consecutive King of the Swing title. Many thought O’Neill would challenge Belmonte for player of the year with the fall portion of the season coming up.

Instead over the past two months southpaw Ryan Ciminelli has been on top of the sport throwing the ball better than anybody else. He captured the Xtra Frame South Point Las Vegas Open at the Fall Classic and then won his first major title capturing the U.S. Open.

After Belmonte failed to make a top 24 at the U.S. Open and at the World Championship, Ciminelli had a great chance to take Player of the Year from the Australian if he could capture his second straight major and his third consecutive Tour title.

Coming into this tournament, Ciminelli was the clear favorite to win, and if anybody was going to stand in his way names like Belmonte or O’Neill first came to mind.

Than the unthinkable happened.

Instead a name that wasn’t known to 99% of bowling fans around the world was the reason Ciminelli wouldn’t taste the spoils of victory once again.

Under the bright lights of the National Bowling Stadium with a raucous crowd in attendance for the PBA’s first live weekday primetime show on ESPN in a decade, it was Memphis Tennessee’s Gary Faulkner Jr.’s turn to shine, and he capitalized.

Bowling on national television for the first time, the 25 year old dominated his three matches against proven PBA Tour stars Scott Norton, Ciminelli, and top qualifier E.J. Tackett with games of 262-218, 247-237, and 216-178 respectively to claim his first PBA Tour title at the Rolltech PBA World Championship.

Faulkner Jr made history a long the way becoming just the second African American in the 57-year history of the PBA to win a Tour title, and he became just the 34th player in PBA Tour history to win a Major for his first title.

Amazingly the other four bowlers who have been on TV before all struggled to repeat shots and stay calm, and Faulkner Jr making his first TV show was calm the whole time, and consistently hit the pocket.

Before his first match, Faulkner Jr told ESPN’s Kimberly Pressler that he wasn’t nervous at all and that was hard to believe. Faulkner the no.3 seed took on the 4th seed Scott Norton who took care of Rhino Page in the opening match, and threw 10 strikes in his first 11 strikes including the front four.

At that point I believed the three year Tour member and I knew that this might just be his night. The bowling gods stuck with him as Norton left single pins four times and couldn’t put together the string of strikes he needed.

After easily taking care of Norton 262-218 in a match that was never close, Faulkner Jr toughest test was waiting: U.S. Open winner and player of the year contender Ryan Ciminelli.

If you didn’t watch the match this is the only thing that is needed to sum it up: more of the same.

Faulkner Jr continued to strike much to amazement of Ciminelli who like Norton looked confused. Faulkner Jr defeated Ciminelli 247-237 ending the southpaw’s hope of becoming the first player since Hall of Famer Johnny Petraglia did it in 1971 to win three consecutive titles on American soil.

The score was not indicative of how the match felt to me: it seemed like Faulkner Jr was bowling on another pair of lanes all night long. The World Championship Oil pattern is not supposed to be that easy especially with so many lefties on the telecast breaking down the oil pattern, and playing the same line as Faulkner Jr.

It didn’t seem to matter on this cold December night at the National Bowling Stadium in Reno Nevada: the young man just kept on executing while showing no emotion.

Faulkner would meet the only right handed bowler and the tournament leader E.J. Tackett for the last major title of 2015.

Before this telecast started everybody including myself was under the assumption that Tackett’s task would be easy: as the only player throwing the bowling ball with his right hand he would be playing a completely different line with plenty of oil. That is usually not the case.

Once again that didn’t seem to matter on a night where it seemed that the bowling gods were behind Faulkner.

Instead of taking advantage of his opportunity, Tackett left three splits in his first five frames looking stunned and confused. He really never found his line which frankly left me and everybody in the crowd speechless.

Meanwhile Faulkner Jr continued to go about his business throwing six of eight strikes and he once again had a commanding lead of 49 pins early. He was able to settle in because his opponents would fall behind so big early.

Tackett made a ball change to the Octane and started striking but it was to little to late. Tackett has struggled as the no.1 seed many times. Remember he had the no.1 seed at the 2014 USBC Masters and lost to Jason Belmonte.

Let me tell you this folks: we have not seen the last of Faulkner Jr. Don’t be surprised if he starts winning frequently on the PBA Tour. I don’t know if I have seen a better mental game in all of sports let alone bowling.

As I said before Faulkner Jr joined an exclusive list last night by winning a major for his first tile. That list includes hall of famers Mike Aulby and Dave Husted, and Del Ballard Jr.

The only other African-American to win a PBA Tour title was George Branham who is now retired. He won five times including the 1993 Firestone Tournament of Champions.

Faulkner Jr has a chance to add a second Tour title at the WSOB if he can capture Go Bowling.com Viper Championship. He will face none other than Mr. Ciminelli in his opening match. The winner will get either Jakob Butturff or Kim Bolleby.

If you would have told me at the beginning of this season that Faulkner Jr an unknown till this World Series of Bowling would join Belmonte and Ciminelli as major titlists I would have called you crazy!

That prediction simply would never have been made and that is why we are all fans of sports: its fun to root for the underdog and anything can happen

Glad to have the PBA Tour back live on ESPN in primetime and congrats to Mr. Faulkner!

Clark and Faulkner Jr

PBA Commissioner Tom Clark, Gary Faulkner Jr., Rolltech Founder and CEO Richard Belsky. Photo Courtesy of: PBA LLC

Final Results from the Rolltech PBA World Championship courtesy of PBA.com:

Final Standings:

1, Gary Faulkner Jr., Memphis, Tenn., $60,000.

2, EJ Tackett, Huntington, Ind., $30,000.

3, Ryan Ciminelli, Cheektowaga, N.Y., $25,000.

4, Scott Norton, Mission Viejo, Calif., $20,000.

5, Rhino Page, Orlando, Fla., $15,000.

Stepladder Results:

Match One – Norton def. Page, 215-202.

Match Two – Faulkner def. Norton, 262-218.

Semifinal Match – Faulkner def. Ciminelli, 247-237.

Championship – Faulkner def. Tackett, 216-178.