Previewing Week 1 Around the NFL

Previewing Week 1 Around the NFL

1:00s

Washington @ New Orleans
While the Eagles are taking care of
business against Cleveland (we hope), an NFC East foe will be locked in a
far different kind of battle. The Washington Redskins, winners of five
games a season ago, are pitted against New Orleans Saints to break in the
season, a perennial Super Bowl threat despite bounty scandals as long as
Drew Brees is in tow. Tough draw for our rivals to the south.

Obviously the Birds
will see the Skins twice this season, and with second overall pick
Robert Griffin III at quarterback, the expectation -- at least here --
is they can no longer be taken lightly. How he performs in his debut will
surely be a hot topic in football circles, but as for the Eagles,
Washington is not the only concern is this one. They take on the Saints
in a big Monday night contest at the Superdome in Week 9.

Unfortunately
this game will not be broadcast locally, as it's a much more compelling
match-up than Philly against Cleveland even -- at least on paper. The
much-hyped arrival of RG3 would be reason alone to tune in, along with
the added suspense of the Saints trying to win a football game now on
their interim-interim head coach. And hey, despite all that stuff, NOLA
is still a contender this year, at least they are in my eyes.

This
has the potential to be a great game, a shootout even if Bob lives up
to the hype. Brees's Saints should have little trouble putting up big
numbers against a questionable secondary (that might be a little kind), but Griffin has a chance
to begin defining his legacy from day one against a defense that's been
overhauled schematically. In all probability, New Orleans is simply too
mush for Washington, but the experiment could be fun to watch.

St. Louis @ Detroit
I'm going to throw in my first UPSET
ALERT! of the season. The Lions remain a trendy pick to make the playoffs upon
finally returning to prominence a season ago, but the Rams should not be
slept on here. With Jeff Fisher taking over as head coach in St. Louis,
they will be tougher than expected. Meanwhile, Detroit -- Philly's Week 6
opponent -- is expected be a tough customer in the NFC landscape, but they
still have plenty of holes to exploit. In all likelihood, the Rams still have too many themselves, but they could surprise.

Atlanta @ Kansas City
The
Falcons are said to be utilizing more three-wide formations on
offense this season, so the world will get its first real look at the new passer
friendly version in Arrowhead Stadium. The Birds get Matt Ryan and
Atlanta immediately following the bye, so they are a team to keep an eye on.

Indianpolis @ Chicago
The
Eagles don't have the Bears this season, but they looked an awful lot
like a playoff team last year until Jay Cutler got hurt. Chicago should
be in the mix again in 2012, and this game takes on an added dimension
with number one overall draft pick Andrew Luck making his first career
start.

Jacksonville @ Minnesota
We have eight TVs, and there are nine one o'clock games. Guess which one didn't make the cut?

4:25s

San Francisco @ Green Bay
Neither
team pops up on Philadelphia's schedule, but if the Birds plan on
playing deep into January, there is a good chance they'll run into one
of them eventually. The 49ers made it to the NFC Championship last
season, and the Packers are only one year removed from winning it all.
Including playoffs, the two of them combined for 29 victories in 2011.
This is the marquee match-up in the conference for Week 1.

As
long as Aaron Rodgers is under center, Green Bay will continue to be heavy
favorites. What's less than certain is whether Frisco's breakout 13-3
season was a fluke, but their defense should remain stingy as ever.
Great game that will be appearing in most markets.

Carolina @ Tampa Bay
Unlike
the national game above, the Eagles face both the Panthers and the Bucs
later on in the slate. Both clubs have made sweeping changes coming off
of losing seasons, so it will be interesting to see how much progress
can be measured in Week 1. With the games coming so late in the season
-- it'll be about two and a half months before Philly hosts Carolina -- a
lot can change between now and those encounters, but this should serve
as a glimpse into how successful an offseason it was for two future
opponents.

Seattle @ Arizona
Perhaps the most relevant
afternoon game to Philadelphia this Sunday, because the Birds head to
the desert themselves two weeks from now. John Skelton gets the opening
day start for the Cardinals, but it could get ugly for whoever is under
center, as Arizona's offensive line is scary.
Rookie Russell Wilson making his debut as the quarterback for the
Seahawks adds a layer of intrigue as well, and who knows, they could
even be surprise team coming out of the NFC West.

8:30

Pittsburgh @ Denver
The
big story here will be Peyton Manning making his first start for the
Broncos, but the Eagles actually have to play one of these teams, and
it's not Denver. Watching the elder Manning has always been a treat for
any true football fan, as nobody operates an offense quite like he can,
but over the long haul, the Steelers are the team Birds fans need to
worry about -- in Week 5 to be exact.

Justin Verlander powers his way through Phillies' weak lineup

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Justin Verlander powers his way through Phillies' weak lineup

BOX SCORE

DETROIT – Back on March 26, the Detroit Tigers made the trip to Clearwater to play the Phillies during the final week of the Grapefruit League schedule.
 
Justin Verlander was the Tigers’ starting pitcher that day at Bright House Field. The Phillies ended up losing that game by a run when their bullpen came undone in the late innings. But earlier in the game, the Phils had pretty good success against Verlander. They knocked him around for three runs in five innings. They had seven hits against him, four for extra bases.
 
Two months later, the Phillies came face to face with Verlander again on a warm Tuesday night in Detroit.
 
This time, the Phils had no chance.
 
They were manhandled by the 2011 American League MVP and Cy Young Award winner in suffering a 3-1 loss to the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
“Verlander pitched well,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He had a good fastball and we weren’t catching up to it.”
 
Yes, Verlander had good fastball and he knew it. Sixty-five of his 108 pitches were fastballs. He averaged 94 mph with the pitch and topped out at 97. That’s how hard his final pitch of night was. He blew it by the Phillies’ best hitter, Odubel Herrera, for his 10th strikeout of the night.
 
In all, Verlander pitched eight shutout innings and gave up just three hits against one of baseball’s worst offenses; the Phils entered the game averaging just 3.24 runs per game.
 
The loss was the Phillies’ fourth in the last five games and it dropped them to 25-21. They have opened this challenging road trip, which finishes with three against the Chicago Cubs, owners of the best record in the game, with two straight losses heading into Wednesday’s series finale against the Tigers. Aaron Nola will get the ball against Anibal Sanchez.
 
Can Nola be a stopper? The Phillies could really use a victory. To get it, they will need some offense. They got just about none until Verlander left the game Tuesday night.
 
“We just couldn’t get enough going,” Mackanin said. “Verlander really relied on his fastball and we couldn’t capitalize.”
 
Jeremy Hellickson pitched well for the third straight time for the Phillies. (He has allowed just five earned runs over 20 innings in his last three starts. He has walked just three batters and struck out 20 over that span.) But with no run support, Hellickson couldn’t afford to make any mistakes and he needed excellent defensive support – which he did not get.
 
Hellickson served up a down-the-middle fastball to Miguel Cabrera in the first inning and Cabrera swatted it for an RBI double. He has four RBIs in the first two games against the Phillies.
 
In the third inning, Hellickson struck Cabrera out on a nasty changeup for the third out. The pitch was so good that Cabrera flashed Hellickson a thumbs-up before spiking his helmet to the ground.
 
Hellickson’s changeup has been very good lately.
 
“I really feel comfortable with it right now and I’m throwing it for a lot of strikes,” he said.
 
In a close game with not much offense going against Verlander, Hellickson needed strong defense behind him. He did not get it from third baseman Maikel Franco in the fifth inning. With a runner on first and no outs, J.D. Martinez hit a bounding ball to Franco’s right. Franco tried to backhand the ball with a quick snap of his glove. Fielded cleanly, Franco probably could have started a double play. Instead, the ball got by him, was generously scored a double and led to a run. The Tigers scored twice in the inning to take a 3-1 lead.
 
“Yes, it’s makeable,” Mackanin said of the ball that got by Franco. “He got to a certain spot and then he stopped and tried to snag it instead of taking one more step toward it. I don’t think he could have gotten in front of the ball but he could have gone through it instead of stopping and trying to snag it. I thought he could have done that.
 
“It’s a potential double-play ball. He needed to take one more step instead of reaching for it.”
 
Tommy Joseph had the best at-bats against Verlander. He lined out twice to the pull side and had a base hit in the seventh. In the ninth, the Phillies rallied for a couple of hits against Francisco Rodriguez. Joseph scorched a liner to left for a sacrifice fly and the Phillies’ only run.
 
“He hit the ball on the nose four times, really good at bats,” Mackanin said of Joseph. “If that ball he hits in the ninth inning finds a gap, we have the tying run at second.”
 
Joseph has seven hits in his first 23 at-bats and has made some hard outs. He will start at first base again Wednesday and also on Friday as the Cubs will start lefty Jon Lester. After that, he could get starts against right-handers because he’s simply out-hitting Ryan Howard, who went 1 for 4 and saw his average climb to .159.
 
Before the game, Mackanin said Joseph could take playing time away from Howard if he continues to hit.

Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

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USA Today Images

Delaware hires Martin Ingelsby as new head basketball coach

Delaware has its new head basketball coach in Martin Ingelsby.

Ingelsby, a native of Berwyn, Pennsylvania, comes from Notre Dame, where he played from 1997-2001 and coached for 13 seasons, seven as an assistant.

Ingelsby played his high school ball at Archbishop Carroll and is the son of Tom Ingelsby, who played for Villanova from 1970-73.

Delaware is coming off a 7-23 season and 2-16 mark in CAA play, which led to the firing of head coach Monte Ross.

The Blue Hens, who announced the hire Tuesday, will formally introduce Ingelsby in a press conference Wednesday at 11 a.m. at Bob Carpenter Center Auditorium.

Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

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Josh Hart returning to Villanova for senior season

Villanova’s chances at repeating as national champions just got much better.

Josh Hart is returning for his senior season.

The Wildcats’ leading scorer from last season’s title-winning team tweeted this Tuesday night:

Shortly after, Villanova officially announced the news.

Hart was in the midst of going through the NBA draft process, attending the combine in Chicago and working out for teams. By not hiring an agent, he was able to test the waters without jeopardizing his final year of college eligibility. Hart had until Wednesday to make a decision, which is coming back to the defending champs.

“I enjoyed the process and learned a lot,” Hart said in a statement released by the school. “It was definitely worthwhile. I look forward to graduating next year and coming back to play with my teammates.”

As a junior, the 6-foot-5 guard averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. He put up 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists in Villanova’s 95-51 Final Four win over Oklahoma, before following it up with 12 points and eight rebounds in the national title game in which the Wildcats thrillingly won at the buzzer, 77-74, on a Kris Jenkins three-pointer.

Hart and Jenkins, the team’s two leading scorers, return along with key pieces Jalen Brunson (9.6 ppg), Phil Booth (7.0 ppg), Mikal Bridges (6.4 ppg) and Darryl Reynolds (4.5 rpg).

“Josh Hart did a great job in this process,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. “I’m really proud of the way that he showed himself. I am really happy for him that he is returning to play with his classmates and that he will graduate on time.”