Georgia or Alabama? Setting the table for an all-SEC 2018 National Championship Game

We have reached the finish line of the 2017 season. The College Football Playoff national championship game will pit Georgia against Alabama. The Bulldogs eked past Oklahoma in double overtime, 54–48, to claim an epic Rose Bowl, and the Crimson Tide topped Clemson, 24–6, in the Sugar Bowl to set up an all-SEC title bout at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Jan. 8. Alabama will be playing in its sixth championship tilt in nine seasons, while Georgia is aiming for its first title since 1980. Here are five storylines to track over the next week. SEC! SEC! SEC! This season marked the first time a single conference sent more than one team to the playoff, and that conference is now guaranteed to win the title: Georgia and Alabama compose the first intra-league championship tilt since the Crimson Tide beat LSU 21–0 in 2012. Entering selection Sunday, the Bulldogs were viewed as a virtual lock to make the national semifinals after winning the conference, while Alabama was a controversial selection as the No. 4 seed after falling to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, which cost the Tide the West division title. But the path each team took to get here is less important than the fact that two SEC squads will square off in the most important game of the season, in the heart of SEC country. The matchup will serve as a handy reference point for SEC partisans in the conference supremacy debates that seem to crop up every offseason, particularly in light of the Big Ten’s 7–1 showing this bowl season. The SEC placed more teams in the top eight of the final playoff rankings than any other league, it led the Football Bowl Subdivision in average S&P+ rating and, after Monday’s semifinals, its two best teams will play for college football’s ultimate prize. Whether Nick Saban adds another title to extend Alabama’s dynasty, or protégé Kirby Smart leads Georgia to its first championship in 37 years, the outcome will serve to prop up Continue Reading

Mega Man returns in ‘Mega Man Zero Collection’

There's a good chance you've completely forgotten about Mega Man Zero. The wild-haired android is sort of the red-headed stepchild of the Mega Man canon, a reploid with a little more pizzazz than Mega Man and a little more variety to his games. But Capcom wants to refresh your memory, which is why the company released "Mega Man Zero Collection" for the Nintendo DS. And if you're in the mood for an extremely challenging action platformer, and you can look past a handful of annoyances, you'll get plenty out of this anthology. "Zero Collection" includes all four Mega Man Zero games, which were released on the Game Boy Advance beginning in 2002. The first game, "Mega Man Zero," opens with Zero awakening from a century-long slumber. Stricken with amnesia, he has little clue what's going on, but he quickly winds up assisting a renegade band of reploids who are being hunted by a government organization called Neo Arcadia. The story takes a few twists and turns - as do the tales woven in the other three games in the collection - and it's clear that Capcom made every effort to make Zero's series more than an actioner. Still, the plot isn't the chief reason to play "Zero Collection." The varied - if brutally challenging - gameplay is. Zero has a few of tricks of his own, too. Likely inspired by the early-decade Pokemon craze, each Zero game contains its own gotta-catch-em-all in the form of Cyber Elves, tiny creatures that can be equipped to Zero to enhance his abilities (more health, faster movement, higher jumping) or provide one-time boosts, like saving you from a crevice. These Elves are either dropped by dead enemies or acquired by talking to various people at certain times in the mission hub. The Elves are a cool touch, and customizing them to suit Zero adds a nice wrinkle to things - at times. The menus are a bit cumbersome in the first game, but by Zero 4, Capcom seems to get a better handle on how to navigate things. There are other customization options, Continue Reading

New York Jets must solve Indianapolis Colts QB Peyton Manning in AFC championship game

So now the Jets face perhaps the best quarterback ever to play the game. Rex Ryan is 0-4 against Peyton Manning - it was Curtis Painter who took the loss in relief in Week 16. While Ryan has never beaten Manning, he should know how. Ryan has the blueprint on how to contain Manning from holding him to 15 points in two-plus quarters in December, as well as the Ravens' 15-6 loss to the Colts in the 2006 playoffs.In that game, Ryan sent every blitz imaginable at Manning and limited the Colts to five field goals. Manning was clearly rattled: Ed Reed had two interceptions and another inadvertently tipped away from him by teammate Ray Lewis. Chris McAllister dropped an interception. “I can't tell you how many different looks we studied," Manning said afterwards. “I didn't sleep well all week."Most of the time, teams that have success against Manning are able to get after him with just their front four, but that's not how the Jets are built. Last week, on the Chargers' first two pass plays alone, Ryan brought pressure from eight different players. As Bart Scott noted, simply blitzing the Colts won't be enough - because Manning is so good at studying pictures on the sideline and coming back out with adjustments, the Jets must change up the look of their blitz packages every series.The Jets do a tremendous job of disguising intent, but no one recognizes blitzes and coverages better than Manning. He'll use hand signals to communicate with his receivers and he always has a second or third option in his mind. If you show him a weakness, he'll exploit it. Nothing makes his eyes as large as zero coverage, so the Jets will have to be careful. Unlike Philip Rivers last week, Manning is certain to challenge the Jets down the field. He'll also use the short pass if nothing opens up deep, using screens and quick slants in place of what has become a non-existent Colts running game.The Jets made the Chargers one-dimensional and put them into many third-and-longs, but that is Continue Reading

AFC wild-card game: Jets rookies Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene star in 24-14 win over Bengals

Jets 24, Bengals 14 CINCINNATI - They won it for their grieving owner. They won it for their brash coach. They won it because they sensed everybody thought they couldn't. The Jets won their first playoff game in five years, advancing to the AFC divisional round with a 24-14 wild-card victory over the Bengals Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium. Led by rookie Mark Sanchez and his cast of Cincinnati Kids, the Jets announced themselves as a serious postseason contender - just like Rex Ryan had predicted. "I think this is just the first step in what we all feel is going to be a great journey," Ryan said after beating the Bengals for the second time in six days. Ryan, his eyes red, looked as if he had been crying. Indeed, it was an emotional day for the entire organization, and it culminated in a poignant locker-room scene. Ryan gathered the players and made a presentation to Woody Johnson, who attended the game with family members less than a week after the tragic death of his daughter. "There's only one game ball, and it goes to Woody," Ryan told the team, according to players. The coach choked up, they said. It culminated a roller-coaster week in which the Jets beat the Bengals in the season finale, 37-0, and grew angrier by the day as they heard "excuses" coming from the Bengals' camp. Ryan stoked the emotions Friday night with a fiery speech to the team. "(The Bengals) said they treated last week like a preseason game, but when the chips were on the table they couldn't get it done," tackle Damien Woody said. "So what's their excuse now?" The Jets' improbable run will continue on the road, as they will meet the top-seeded Colts or the second-seeded Chargers next weekend. Their opponent will be determined by the outcome of today's Patriots-Ravens game. "There is no ceiling for us," said Jets linebacker Calvin Pace. Ryan laughed when asked how far the Jets could advance into the playoffs. "We can't get much higher than what I predicted," he said, Continue Reading


WHEN PLAXICO BURRESS trotted onto the field for the Giants' first offensive series yesterday, he expected to see two defensive players staring at him from across the line of scrimmage. When he realized that the Panthers were planning to use single coverage on him, though, he figured it would be another routine day for the Giants' offense, one of the best in the NFL this season. "When I came out, I was like, 'Man, it's gonna be a great day,' " Burress said. Instead, Burress, who made 76 catches for 1,214 yards and seven touchdowns during the regular season, did not get a single reception during the Giants' 23-0 loss to the Panthers. After the game, Burress spent little time trying to come up with an explanation. Instead, he simply called his performance - and that of the entire offense - unacceptable. "It's shocking," he said. "It's embarrassing for me to come out and get shut out in a playoff game." Burress wasn't the only one who had problems yesterday. Eli Manning completed just 10 passes for 113 yards and Tiki Barber rushed for just 41 yards. Big Blue ran just 35 plays and had the ball for only 17:15. The Panthers ran 71 plays and had 42:45 of possession. To Tom Coughlin, it was that simple. "We didn't have any plays," he said. "At halftime we had 19 plays and then fell behind and started turning the ball over and things like that. We didn't run the ball the way we thought we might be able to run the ball. We didn't have any balance, we didn't make any first downs, we had no rhythm going offensively. We just didn't accomplish a whole lot." Burress, one of the most outspoken members of the Giants, said the offensive line failed to give Manning ample time to throw and also said the defense did a poor job of getting the Panthers off the field. But he also was open to the possibility that he wasn't on top of his game. "Maybe I need to reevaluate myself," he said. "Look in the mirror and ask what I can do to help us." Yesterday, he did nothing - Continue Reading

Derick Brassard should be least of Rangers coach Alain Vigneault’s concerns ahead of Game 7 vs. Lightning

TAMPA - Two days before his franchise's biggest Game 7 since 1994 and the second-largest Game 7 of Vigneault's decorated NHL career, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault was sharp and unrelenting when others might have relaxed the reins or breathed in the satisfaction of winning Game 6. He was in a surprisingly unenthusiastic mood Tuesday night despite his team's 7-3 thrashing of the Lightning to stave off elimination. Then on Wednesday morning at the team's Tampa hotel, Vigneault couldn't hide his irritation over varying issues. BONDY: FOR RANGERS-LIGHTNING GAME 7, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED There was his unsatisfied reflection on Lightning captain Steven Stamkos' boarding of Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh in Game 6, which Vigneault referred to as "the non-call." And Vigneault also engaged in some light but constant chastisement of hat-trick scoring and five-point center Derick Brassard. The coach was bothered by what he considered Brassard's tardy arrival to the 9:30 a.m. media availability, and he was disappointed his player had shared details of the coach's private motivational Tuesday meeting with Brassard and Derek Stepan. "I would always prefer that those conversations stay between a player and a coach," Vigneault said. "Sometimes players get a little excited after a big win and they share things." On Brassard's whereabouts, Vigneault quipped: "Guy gets one good game and he's late." All in good fun, but it was also a direct message from the coach: Don't take your eye off the ball for one second. Don't forget for an instant the focus required to win on Friday night. Vigneault's command of this team is fascinating to watch. He is the boss. What he should be worried about, though, is not whether Brassard is in the right frame of mind. The center of the Rangers' Blue Chips line of former NHL first-round picks is - as linemate Rick Nash said Tuesday - a "premier center." Vigneault instead should be concerned about the lopsided Game 6 shot Continue Reading

Nintendo announces new games at E3, including ‘Star Fox Zero’ and ‘Super Mario Maker’

Nintendo fans rejoice! The Japanese game maker announced an array of new video game titles set to release in late 2015 and early 2016. On Monday, Nintendo unveiled that a new "Star Fox" game for the Wii U is coming this holiday season. It was also announced that there will be a new "Metroid Prime" for the 3DS and a "Legend of Zelda: Four Swords" successor titled "Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes." Here are the most notable announcements Nintendo made at the E3: "Star Fox Zero" Fox McCloud and his crew are back. Nintendo announced that it's releasing a new "Star Fox Zero" for the Wii U this holiday season. The game's graphics look very similar to previous games in the franchise, especially "Star Fox 64" for the Nintendo 64. The latest installment will offer new vehicles and new features such as motion sensing gyroscope. "Hyrule Warriors Legends" Turns out the trailer that leaked last week was real. Nintendo confirmed at E3 that "Hyrule Warrior Legends" will be coming out for the Nintendo 3DS in early 2016. The game is a redesign of the popular Wii U game. The 3DS version will have all the content from the Wii U plus two new characters: Tetra and The King of Red Lions. "Super Mario Maker" Fans of "Super Mario" will now be able to create their own digital worlds in the Mushroom Kingdom. "Super Mario Maker" lets gamers build their own "Super Mario Bros." levels on the Wii U and share them with other players around the world. The game will come with two new amiibos-mini character figurines to celebrate Nintendo's 30th anniversary of its iconic series. "Super Mario Maker" is set to release Sept. 11. "Fire Emblem Fates" "Fire Emblem If" is coming to the U.S. under a new title, "Fire Emblem Fates." The new installment in the franchise will feature two distinct story paths to explore. The game is due in 2016. Continue Reading

CC Sabathia leads Yankees in 5-1 win over Royals to end four-game losing streak

YANKEES 5, ROYALS 1 KANSAS CITY — It wasn’t all that long ago that CC Sabathia was the guy the Yankees wanted on the mound to snap a long losing streak. Saturday, he was the perfect man for the job. Sabathia turned back the clock and played the role of stopper Saturday night, leading the Yankees to a 5-1 win over the first-place Royals on a wet night at Kauffman Stadium to end the Yankees’ four-game skid. “We’ve been playing so well and hadn’t had many bad streaks,” Sabathia said. “To get this win felt good.” The big southpaw allowed one run on six hits over seven innings, striking out five without issuing a walk to win his second straight game. Sabathia (2-5) threw only 87 pitches before turning the lead over to Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller, who locked down the win with a scoreless inning apiece. Chase Headley provided the biggest swing of the night, belting a three-run home run to left against Danny Duffy to break a 1-1 tie in the fifth. But it was Sabathia’s performance that stood out above all others on Saturday. “Whether you call him an ace or not, he’s a tremendous pitcher that’s had more success than 99% of the people that have played this game,” Headley said. “We always feel good when he goes out there that he’s going to give us a chance to win. He probably did as good a job pitching considering the circumstances as we’ve seen all year.” Alex Rodriguez added a solo shot in the ninth, the 664th blast of his career and his 1,991st RBI. He’s now four RBI behind Lou Gehrig for fifth place on the all-time list. Sabathia, who finally got in the win column on Monday against the Rays, worked methodically against the first-place Royals, the same team that made mincemeat of Michael Pineda and the bullpen Friday night and had handled lefties to the tune of a .312 average this season. Continue Reading

System Update: 6 E3 video games you’ll get to play soon

E3 has come and gone. And in its wake, it's left plenty for gamers to anxiously await. As usual, last week's Electronics Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles showcased a bright future for video games, but some of that future still feels distant. Several marquee titles — think The Last Guardian and Dishonored 2 — won't be on your consoles until 2016 at the earliest. But the present of gaming is still bright, because at least a handful of titles showcased at E3 will land in stores in time for the holidays. Here's a look at six games from E3 that you'll actually get to play in 2015: FALLOUT 4 The most exciting moment of E3 may very well have arrived a week before E3, when Bethesda Softworks announced that Fallout 4, the latest in a franchise that's mastered the art of the postapocalyptic role-player, was finally on the horizon. By the end of E3, we knew the title would sport a deep and engaging character creation module, and that nothing in the game is simply gratuitous: everything in Fallout 4 has a purpose. Release date: Nov. 10 METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN Konami's been teasing Snake's latest adventure forever, starting with last year's Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes, a sort of tutorial wrapped in a prequel for The Phantom Pain. And now the game is finally almost here. Expect a terrific story, all the more so since this is reportedly Hideo Kojima's last Metal Gear game. Release date: Sept. 1 ASSASSIN'S CREED: SYNDICATE Last year's Assassin's Creed title, Unity, was a mixed bag of a game, with an absolutely gorgeous Paris that sometimes felt like a real world. But the game didn't live up to its full potential for months, requiring several patches to clean up bugs and other issues. Still, don't rule out Syndicate. Ubisoft seems to have learned from its ups and downs with Unity and, if nothing else, it will be fun to Continue Reading

Rangers have history on their side in another do-or-die situation in Game 7 vs. Lightning

TAMPA — Everything appears to have swung back in the Rangers’ favor now that they’ve staved off elimination for the 15th time in their last 18 do-or-die games, now that they have a winner-take-all matchup on Friday at Madison Square Garden, the building they’ve made a Game 7 fortress. They are 7-0 in Game 7s at MSG, have 10 straight wins in elimination games at home, the veteran team that has been down this road so many times against a younger Lightning team that desperately wanted to avoid getting back on a plane to New York. And of course, they’ve got the King of Game 7, Henrik Lundqvist in net while the confidence of his counterpart Ben Bishop could be shaken after the Tampa Bay netminder was pulled in the third period on Tuesday. Lundqvist is 6-1 all-time in Game 7s and has won six straight. It also helps the Rangers’ cause that several Lightning players appeared to be sick this week, with Jon Cooper embracing the two-day break to get players healthy. BONDY: FOR RANGERS-LIGHTNING GAME 7, EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED Everything suggests that the Rangers will win this Eastern Conference finals and advance to the Stanley Cup Final in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1932-33, everything except coach Alain Vigneault’s mood at the team hotel Wednesday morning before his club prepared to fly home. Vigneault’s demeanor was such that he knows the series is completely up for grabs, a Rangers victory Friday far from a sure thing. Though he’s 3-for-3 in Game 7s so far as Rangers coach, Vigneault knows all too well the pain of a Game 7 defeat, losing the final game of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final at home to the Bruins when he coached the Canucks. It was evident Vigneault was in no mood to be crowned conference champs the moment he walked into a meeting room to speak, one session earlier than usual. During such off-day availabilities, normally three players will speak with the coach going last. Yet Continue Reading