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Like anything else involving a large group, there was unlikely to be a unanimous opinion among Cleveland Browns players on the coaches' decision to stick with Brian Hoyer at quarterback.
Maybe, but the Pittsburgh Steelers star did neither on Wednesday. Coach Mike Tomlin gave his quarterback a rare day off with a showdown at AFC North leader Cincinnati looming this weekend.
Roethlisberger and Tomlin said the decision to skip practice had nothing to do with the wrist Roethlisberger slammed against a helmet during last Sunday's 35-32 loss to New Orleans. While his teammates went through drills Roethlisberger watched in sweatpants wearing black gloves on both hands, though he did his customary post-workout throwing with a handful of skill position players.
The 32-year-old downplayed the idea his wrist is anything more than sore. Quarterbacks always have their hands heading toward places they're not supposed to go. So when his throwing hand smacked the helmet of New Orleans linebacker Curtis Lofton in the first quarter last weekend, he didn't panic.
''It was just loss of feeling in the two fingers and nothing that you can't play through,'' Roethlisberger said.
He didn't miss a snap while throwing for 435 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions, a performance that looked better on paper than it did in person. Both scoring tosses came in garbage time when the Steelers (7-5) were hopelessly behind and Roethlisberger struggled to find any sustained rhythm on a day he completed just 32 of 58 passes, his second-most inaccurate day of a mostly sublime season.
An MVP candidate a month ago after throwing for an NFL record dozen touchdowns in wins over Indianapolis and Baltimore, Roethlisberger has come back to earth in recent weeks. So has his team.
The Steelers (7-5) are just 1-2 since Roethlisberger's 340-yard, six-score masterpiece in a 43-23 demolition of the Ravens on Nov. 2. His quarterback rating over the last three games is a pedestrian 79.3 and he's thrown more passes to the other team (five) than he did in the first nine games combined (three).
Whether it was the wrist or the conditions or poor mechanics, Roethlisberger lacked his usual crispness against New Orleans. At least a dozen passes either sailed high and out of reach to his receivers or were batted down at the line of scrimmage. When he gambled, it didn't work. He threw a jump ball to a double-covered Darrius Heyward-Bey in the first half that was picked off in the end zone. The Saints then drove the length of the field for a touchdown to go up 14-6.
While Tomlin excused Roethlisberger's mini-slump, the 32-year-old is well aware that Pittsburgh's pursuit of a playoff spot will rely heavily on how his ability to bounce back quickly starting.
''If we're not always playing our best, me particularly, then that hurts because the ball goes through my hands every single play,'' he said. ''I need to play better and that will hopefully in turn help the rest of the offense play better.''
Seeing the Bengals (8-3-1) on the other side of the line of scrimmage generally helps. Roethlisberger is 14-6 against Cincinnati in his career and is typically at his best late in the year. Roethlisberger is 31-13 in games played after Dec. 1, though the Steelers have split with the Bengals in each of the last two years.
''I've been here a long time and so it's easy for me to know what this game means and what this part of the season means,'' he said. ''We'll keep an eye on the young guys and make sure that they understand the importance of it as well.''
A victory Sunday and Pittsburgh is right back in the mix for the division title. A loss and the Steelers likely need to win out to have any shot at the playoffs. As explosive as the offense has looked at times, Pittsburgh is averaging just 18.3 points a game on the road compared to 35 at home. It's a disparity that Roethlisberger knows needs to even out.
''We're a confident group,'' he said. ''We feel that we've got some players that are some of the best playmakers in the game of football. We just need to come out and execute and play good football when it counts.''
NOTES: LB James Harrison (knee), tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (illness) also did not practice on Wednesday. ... Rookie LB Ryan Shazier was a full participant and should play for the first time in a month barring a setback.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-2) at CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-3)
The Panthers are hoping to win their sixth straight game when they host the Patriots on Monday night.
Carolina is coming off Apuestas Breeders Cup of a defensive battle with the 49ers in which it came out on top 10-9, marking its fifth consecutive win (SU and ATS). New England, however, won a 55-31 shootout with the Steelers before last week's bye. That win moved the Patriots to 5-4 ATS for the season, but they are just 1-3 ATS on the road. The Panthers are 6-3 ATS overall, and 3-1 ATS at home. The last time these teams met was in December of 2009 when New England won 20-10, but failed to cover a 12.5-point spread at home. Since the Panthers entered the league in 1995, the Patriots hold a 3-2 SU series advantage, but Carolina is 4-1 ATS in the series. Both teams have some positive trends, as New England is 23-7 ATS (77percent) after gaining 175 or more rushing yards in their last game since 1992 and they are 79-45 ATS (64percent) as an underdog during that time. However, over the past three seasons, the Panthers are 14-4 ATS (78percent) after playing their last game on the road, and 7-3 ATS after allowing 14 points or less in their previous game. The Patriots are excited to finally have RB Shane Vereen (wrist) back on the field, but top CB Aqib Talib (hip) is still questionable for Monday night. Carolina enters this one pretty healthy, with the biggest concern being G Chris Scott, who is questionable with a knee injury.
New England finally got its offense going against the Steelers last game, racking up 610 yards of total offense. QB Tom Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns in the game, giving him 13 touchdown passes on the season and just six interceptions, a far cry from his 34 TD and 8 INT in 2012. TE Rob Gronkowski and WRs Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson all had more than 120 receiving yards and a touchdown, with the rookie Dobson scoring twice. RB Stevan Ridley extended his touchdown game streak to four with 115 yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts (4.4 YPC). Brady now plays against the Carolina defense, which has been dominant all season. New Englands defense will have to do a better job stopping the run in order to slow down QB Cam Newton and his Panthers offense. The Patriots allow 128.2 rushing yards per game (30th in NFL) and that does not bode well for them against Carolina. They are, however, a solid team against the pass as they allow just 232.8 yards per game through the air (12th in NFL). New England's defense has done a poor job of getting of the field on third down (40.3percent conversions, 24th in NFL), but has held strong in the red zone (48.3percent, 7th in NFL). CB Aqib Talib, who is the Patriots best man-to-man defender in the secondary hasn't played since injuring his hip in Week 6, and could be a key addition if he's able to suit up on Monday night. New England will be looking to strip the football, having produced 11 takeaways over the past five games.
LaDainian Tomlinson leads all-time fantasy mock draft
With this week's announcement of the new Madden cover athlete -- which included past and current superstars this year -- I thought online bingo it would be fun and interesting to create a one-man, five-round, all-time mock draft. Rather than looking at career numbers, however, I've based this draft on the greatest single statistical seasons in the NFL since 1960. As a result, fans of Hall of Famers like Joe Montana, Gale Sayers or Jim Taylor won't be pleased that their favorites didn't make this draft. That's because their best statistical seasons weren't better than the players listed. This mock will mimic what a real draft would look like, so the most productive players (based on fantasy points) aren't always the first players selected. Each numbered position represents an individual team, so no more than one quarterback, two running backs or two wide receivers will be selected for each roster.
1. LaDainian Tomlinson, RB, San Diego Chargers (2006): Tomlinson led the NFL with 1,815 rushing yards, added 508 yards as a receiver out of the backfield, scored an NFL-record 31 touchdowns and added two additional scores as a passer during what was a very memorable season. He rushed for 100-plus yards in 10 different contests and found the end zone multiple times in 10 games during what is the best fantasy football season ever for a running back.
2. O.J. Simpson, RB, Buffalo Bills (1975): Had fantasy football been prominent among NFL fans in 1975, Simpson would have been an absolute superstar. He recorded 1,817 rushing yards, 426 receiving yards and scored an impressive 23 touchdowns that season. What made his numbers even more spectacular was the fact that Simpson achieved them in just 14 games. He had one more solid season with the Bills (1976) before his career ended with a loud thud.
3. Marshall Faulk, RB, St. Louis Rams (2000): Faulk had several very productive seasons during his time between Indianapolis and St. Louis, but his best statistical campaign from a fantasy standpoint was 2000. That year, he recorded 1,359 rushing yards, 830 receiving yards and scored 26 total touchdowns. The versatile Hall of Famer is also one of just two running backs (Roger Craig) to ever record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season.
4. Priest Holmes, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (2002): Holmes, who was once stuck behind Errict Rhett on Baltimore's depth chart, exploded in the stat sheets a member the Chiefs and passed Faulk as the top overall player in fantasy football. He thrived in the offensive system of coach Dick Vermeil, recording a career-best 1,615 rushing yards with 672 receiving yards and 24 total touchdowns in 2002. Holmes recorded 373 fantasy points in 2002 and 2003.
5. Emmitt Smith, RB, Dallas Cowboys (1995): The all-time leader in career rushing yards (18,355), Smith was a fantasy superstar throughout the 1990s. His greatest season from a fantasy perspective came in 1995, when he recorded a career-best 1,773 rushing yards with 375 receiving yards and what was at the time an NFL-record 25 touchdowns. Smith, a touchdown-scoring machine, is second behind Jerry Rice in career end-zone visits with a total of 175.
6. Shaun Alexander, RB, Seattle Seahawks (2005): Alexander rushed for an NFL-best 1,880 yards and scored what was at the time an NFL-record 28 total touchdowns in 2005. He rushed for 100-plus yards 11 times and scored multiple touchdowns in nine of 16 starts. Alexander would become a victim of the now infamous Madden cover curse shortly thereafter, though, as he scored just 12 combined touchdowns over his final two seasons with the Seahawks.
7. Terrell Davis, RB, Denver Broncos (1998): While his career was short-lived due to multiple knee injuries, Davis did make some noise in his NFL tenure. His best fantasy season came in 1998, when he became the fourth running back to reach the 2,000-yard rushing mark in a single season. He also scored 23 total touchdowns. Davis rushed for 56 touchdowns in his first four pro seasons; a mark that no member of the current Hall of Fame has ever matched.
8. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots (2007): Brady exploded in the stat sheets in 2007, putting up the best single-season fantasy numbers of all time. He threw for a career-best 4,806 yards and broke Peyton Manning's record for touchdown passes in a season with 50. What's more, his 52 total scores is a record from the quarterback position. It's a statistical season that might never be duplicated by another NFL player, even in this day and age.
9. Jerry Rice, WR, San Francisco 49ers (1995) Rice had the greatest fantasy football season among wide receivers in 1995, finishing with what was an NFL-record 1,848 yards and 16 total touchdowns. He also finished his career as the NFL's all-time leader in receptions (1,549), scrimmage yards (23,540), receiving yards (22,895) and touchdowns (207). Those are some pretty impressive statistics. Rice would have been a first-rounder in fantasy leagues.
10. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans (2009): Johnson had a monster second season at the NFL level, rushing for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns for the Titans. He also broke Faulk's record for scrimmage yards in a season (2,509), further adding to his immense statistical accomplishments. The consensus No. 1 overall selection in 2010 fantasy football drafts, CJ2K has unfortunately seen his overall rushing numbers decline in recent campaigns.
11. Randy Moss, WR, New England Patriots (2007): Moss has had several solid NFL seasons during his ultra-productive NFL tenure, but none was more memorable than 2007. He finished with 1,493 yards and scored an NFL-record 23 touchdown catches, which broke Rice's previous record of 22 end-zone visits (1987). Moss, who will go down as one of the best wide receivers in fantasy football, has had 10 seasons with 1,000-plus yards during his terrific career.
12. Ahman Green, RB, Green Bay Packers (2003) Green, a solid fantasy football contributor during his salad days in Green Bay, posted a career-best 1,883 rushing yards with 367 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns as the Packers' featured running back in 2003. A versatile athlete who rushed for 1,000-plus yards in five consecutive seasons and six overall, the Nebraska product finished his successful career with 74 total touchdowns in 12 pro campaigns.
13. Eric Dickerson, RB, Los Angeles Rams (1983): One of the most graceful runners in pro football history, Dickerson had his best statistical season as a rookie with 1,808 rushing yards and what would be career bests in receiving yards (404) and total touchdowns (20). He also had an NFL-record 2,105 rushing yards in his second NFL season and finished his impressive Hall-of-Fame career sixth on the all-time list with a total of 13,259 rushing yards.
14. Charley Hennigan, WR, Houston Oilers (1961): Hennigan, who played for the Oilers before fantasy football was on the radar, posted a monster season in the stat sheets during the 1961 campaign. Catching passes from the immortal George Blanda, he posted 82 catches, 1,746 yards and found the end zone 12 times in just 14 games. The yardage and touchdown totals would become the best of Hennigan's career. He finished with three 1,000-yard seasons.
15. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers (2011): Rodgers has emerged into the most productive and reliable quarterback in the world of fantasy football. The consensus top player at his position for the last several seasons in a row, Rodgers' best statistical campaign came in 2011 when he recorded 4,643 passing yards, 219 rushing yards and scored a combined 48 touchdowns. At the age of just 29, Rodgers is still firmly in the prime of his career.
16. Lance Alworth, WR, San Diego Chargers (1965): One of the greatest wide receivers to ever grace the gridiron, Alworth would have been a fantasy superstar during the 1960s. The Hall of Famer put up his best fantasy numbers in 1965 with what would be career-bests in both yardage (1,602) and touchdown catches (14) in just 14 games. Alworth posted over 1,000 yards in seven straight seasons and finished his pro tenure with 85 touchdown receptions.
17. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints (2011): Brees had one of the greatest seasons among quarterbacks in 2011, throwing for an NFL-record 5,476 yards with an impressive 46 touchdown passes. One of the most consistent players at his position based on fantasy points, Brees has finished in the top four in five of his last six years and has ranked no worse than sixth in that time. He's thrown for 5,000-plus yards in two consecutive seasons as well.
18. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions (2011): Owners might think Megatron's best fantasy football season was 2012, when he broke the NFL's single-season record for receiving yards. In reality, his best totals came in 2011 when he had 96 catches, 1,681 yards and a personal-best 16 touchdowns. The No. 1 player at his position heading into 2013, Johnson broke the Madden curse (we hope) last season and has first- or second-round draft appeal.
19. George Blanda, QB/K, Houston Oilers (1961): Blanda would have been a fantasy star in 1961, as he recorded career-bests in passing yards (3,333) and touchdowns (36) despite playing in just 14 games. What made him such a unique fantasy option was that he was also a place kicker -- Blanda made 16 of his 26 field-goal attempts and converted on 64 extra points. All told, he finished with one of the best quarterback seasons in fantasy football history.
20. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis Colts (2004): One of the elite quarterbacks in fantasy football, Manning led countless owners to a league championship in 2004. He threw for 4,557 yards and what was at the time an NFL-record 49 touchdown passes. He set another NFL record with at least four touchdown passes in five consecutive contests (including six in less than three quarters against the Lions). Even now at age 36, Manning remains a fantasy star.
21. Isaac Bruce, WR, St. Louis Rams (1995): Bruce, who played his rookie season as a member of the Los Angeles Rams, was an absolute stat-sheet stuffer in his first year in St. Louis. He posted what would become career-bests across the board with 119 receptions, 1,781 yards and 13 touchdown catches, and he did it all with the combination of Chris Miller and Mark Rypien throwing him the football. Bruce finished his career with 91 touchdown catches.
22. Art Powell, WR, Oakland Raiders (1963): Powell, who played for five different teams in his 10 NFL seasons, would have been a top fantasy wideout during the 1960s. A touchdown machine, he averaged 12.5 touchdown catches between 1963-66. His best fantasy season was in the '63 campaign, when he had 73 receptions and career bests in both yards (1,304) and touchdowns (16) in just 14 games. Powell finished with 81 touchdowns in his pro football tenure.
23. Dan Marino, QB, Miami Dolphins (1984): The most prolific quarterback to ever grace the gridiron, Marino produced one of the greatest fantasy football seasons at his position in the Super Bowl era. He threw for what was an NFL-record 5,084 yards, and his 48 touchdown passes were also a record for 20 seasons. Marino, who completed a career-best 64.2 percent of his passes as well, went on to throw for 4,000-plus yards five more times in his career.
24. Bill Groman, WR, Houston Oilers (1961): One of Blanda's favorite options in the Houston pass attack in 1961, Groman posted 1,175 yards and what was a career-best 17 touchdowns in what would have been a monster fantasy campaign. What's more impressive is that almost 35 percent of his receptions that year ended up in end-zone visits. Groman, who played just six years total at the pro level, scored a combined seven times in his final three seasons.
25. Edgerrin James, RB, Indianapolis Colts (2000): James came into the league and made an immediate impact with 2,139 scrimmage yards and a combined 17 touchdowns as a rookie. He had quite the encore in what would be his best fantasy campaign, as James went off for 2,303 scrimmage yards and 18 total touchdowns. James, who was one of the elite fantasy running backs of his time, went on to rush for 12,246 yards with a 91 total touchdowns in his career.
26. Herman Moore, WR, Detroit Lions (1995): Moore had a nice stretch of fantasy production in the mid-1990s, as he posted 1,100-plus yards in four consecutive seasons. His most fruitful campaign came in 1995, when Moore recorded personal bests in receptions (123), yards (1,686) and touchdowns (14). While it was quite short-lived, Moore formed one of the better quarterback-to-wide receiver duos at the time with former veteran journeyman Scott Mitchell.
27. Larry Johnson, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (2005): The unquestioned No. 1 fantasy running back for a short time during the mid-2000s, Johnson produced his best totals in 2006 with 2,199 scrimmage yards and a combined 19 visits to the end zone. Unfortunately, he was also fed the football a ridiculous 416 times -- still an NFL record - and saw his fantasy totals plummet starting the very next season. L.J. finished with 61 career touchdowns.
28. Mark Clayton, WR, Miami Dolphins (1984): Clayton had a monstrous second season at the NFL level, posting what would become career bests in receptions (73), yards (1,389) and touchdowns (18) as the top target in the pass attack for Marino. The Louisville product would go on to record four more 1,000-yard campaigns as a member of the Dolphins and scored 84 touchdowns catches in his pro career. He also was part of the "Marks Brothers" with Mark Duper.
29. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans (2010): If there's a current running back with close to the skill set of Faulk, it has to be Foster. He burst onto the scene for the Texans in 2010, rushing for 1,616 yards with another 604 receiving yards and a combined 18 total touchdowns. While that has been his best fantasy season to date, Foster has finished no worse than fourth in points among runners in each of the last three years. He'll be a top pick in 2013.
30. Daunte Culpepper, QB, Minnesota Vikings (2004): One of the most versatile and punishing quarterbacks of his generation, Culpepper recorded a total of 41 touchdowns and finished with what was at the time the fifth-most passing yards (4,717) ever in 2004. Culpepper, who would also rush for 366 yards that season, scored three or more touchdowns in eight of his 16 starts. Much of his success came as part of a wicked fantasy combination with Randy Moss.
31. Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams (2006): Now a member of the Atlanta Falcons, Jackson was a fantasy star for the Rams -- he posted 2,334 scrimmage yards and 16 touchdowns in 2006.
32. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots (2011): The lone tight end in this mock, Gronkowski had the best fantasy season ever at the position with 1,327 yards and 18 scores.
33. Ricky Williams, RB, Miami Dolphins (2002): A talented runner out of Texas, Williams broke out for owners in 2002 with career bests in both rushing yards (1,853) and touchdowns (17).
34. Marvin Harrison, WR, Indianapolis Colts (2001): Harrison had 1,524 yards and found the end zone 15 times in his best NFL season, but he was a fantasy beast during most of his career.
35. Barry Sanders, RB, Detroit Lions (1997): One of the greatest running backs of all time, Sanders went off in 1997 with 2,053 yards and 14 total touchdowns. He retired two years later.
36. Torry Holt, WR, St. Louis Rams (2003): Holt went off for 117 receptions, 1,696 yards and 12 touchdowns -- all of which were career bests -- during a fantastic fantasy season in 2003.
37. Marcus Allen, RB, Los Angeles Raiders (1985): A Hall of Famer, Allen had 1,759 rushing yards (a career high) with 555 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns in his top fantasy season.
38. Jim Brown, RB, Cleveland Browns (1965): One of the greatest running backs ever, Brown's best fantasy season came in his last pro season when he had 1,872 scrimmage yards and 21 scores.
39. Jamal Anderson, RB, Atlanta Falcons (1998): Anderson had 2,165 scrimmage yards and 16 total scores in his best fantasy season, but the 410 carries he had in 1998 was very detrimental.
40. Cris Carter, WR, Minnesota Vikings (1995): All he did was score touchdowns -- 17 of them came in 1995, when Carter recorded personal bests in both receptions (122) and yards (1,371).
41. Jamal Lewis, RB, Baltimore Ravens (2003): One of just seven running backs to rush for 2,000-plus yards, Lewis averaged 129.1 rushing yards and scored 14 touchdowns in 2003.
42. Terrell Owens, WR, San Francisco 49ers (2001): While he was known for his off-field issues, T.O. was also a fantasy monster -- he had 93 catches, 1,412 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2001.
43. Muhsin Muhammad, WR, Carolina Panthers (2004): Muhammad's best statistical season was a bombshell, as he posted 93 receptions, 1,405 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Panthers in 2004.
44. Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers (2005): Once an elite fantasy wideout, Smith's best season saw him record career bests in receptions (103), yardage (1,563) and touchdowns (12).
45. Steve Young, QB, San Francisco 49ers (1998) Young posted a career-best 4,170 passing yards, 454 rushing yards and 42 total touchdowns in what was the best fantasy year of his career.
45. Robert Brooks, WR, Green Bay Packers (1995): Brooks had just two 1,000-yard seasons in his career, but his impressive 1995 totals (1,513 scrimmage yards, 13 TDs) were huge in fantasy.
47. Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions (2011): Stafford had a breakout season for fantasy owners in 2011, throwing for a career-best 5,038 yards to go along with an impressive 41 scores.
46. Carl Pickens, WR, Cincinnati Bengals (1995): A solid fantasy wideout during the 1990s, Pickens had 99 catches, 1,234 yards and a career-best 17 touchdown catches in the 1995 campaign.
48. Roy Green, WR, St. Louis Cardinals (1984): Green had just three 1,000-yard seasons in his 14-year career, but his 78 catches for 1,555 yards and 12 touchdowns in 1984 were impressive.
50. Sterling Sharpe, WR, Green Bay Packers (1992): Sharpe was a fantasy stud in the early 1990s. His best year came in 1992, when he posted a career-best 1,461 yards with 13 touchdowns.
2015 Kentucky Derby Odds
Kentucky Derby week is one of the most thrilling times of the year. This race is known as "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports Botas Moto " for its approximate time length.
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Odds to Win 2015 Kentucky Derby
March Madness Bracket
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