Vick Back Where It All Started As Eagles Take on Falcons

Vick Back Where It All Started As Eagles Take on Falcons

Technically this isn't Mike Vick's first return to the Georgia Dome. In 2009, Vick came off the bench for a little mop-up duty against his ex-mates, a move Falcons owner Arthur Blank considered a sign of disrespect. Fans in red and black number seven jerseys cheered on their old quarterback while he piled on with a late touchdown pass, one of two scores he had a hand in during a 34-7 Eagles victory.

Of course, you might be aware a lot has changed since then, so yes, it's still a big deal when Vick breaks the huddle for the first time tonight.

As usual, Vick is saying the right things, calling the game in Atlanta a "business trip," but we all realize it's much more than that. I'm sure there will be an array of emotions as he walks out of the tunnel to what will likely be another sizable pro-Vick crowd.

All that stuff aside, the real storyline tonight is how important a test this is for the Eagles. Last week, the Eagles dispatched an overwhelmed Rams team with relative ease, but it was an uneven effort that might not fly against some of the better teams in the league.

Enter the Falcons back into the conversation, who despite an embarrassing loss in their opener, are pegged by many as a serious contender in the NFC. They have some of the same holes on defense that have plagued them for years, but continue loading up on talent on the other side of the ball, led by the franchise quarterback who was left to pick up the pieces post-Vick, Matt Ryan.

And they are desperate. Nobody wants to start the season 0-2. It's a deep enough hole to crawl out of on its own, but a quick glimpse at their schedule reveals Tampa Bay next week, and Green Bay in three. Games in Week 2 are never must-win, but it probably feels like it in Atlanta.

Add in the fact that the game is at the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons are 20-5 over the last three seasons, and the Eagles will certainly have their work cut out for them. Look for Atlanta to lean on their power running attack, try to win the time of possession game and keep Vick's high-powered offense off the field.

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

Elements will play factor for both Flyers, Penguins in outdoor game

PITTSBURGH -- The ice on Friday afternoon at Heinz Field was watery and slushy.
 
That’s because the city set a historic record at 78 degrees for Feb. 24.
 
So what were the ice conditions?
 
“They were pretty good,” said Sidney Crosby. “It was pretty bright there. Started off the practice and the sun was beating down pretty good.
 
“I’ve played in a few of these and the ice was pretty good considering how warm it was. It’s supposed to cool down and I’m sure it will get better.”
 
The Penguins will host the Flyers on Saturday night in a Stadium Series outdoor game.
 
Pittsburgh took the ice Friday at 4 p.m. The Flyers got on the ice a little more than an hour later and things started to cool down.
 
“We had a pretty good practice given the circumstances,” Jakub Voracek said. “This is a little better setup than Philly. The fans are closer.”
 
It was much hotter when Pittsburgh took the ice, but the temperature was still warm after the sun went down.
 
Shayne Gostisbehere said, “It was hot for sure. … It was fun, but it was pretty hot.”
 
Defenseman Radko Gudas said the ice surface was, “playable, but a little rough.”
 
On Saturday, rain is expected, with temperatures falling to 42 degrees by 5 p.m.
 
During the game, which begins at 8 p.m., the temperature is projected to continue to drop and there will be wind gusts up to 31 mph. By the end of the night, the forecast says temps will be in the 20s. 

Players are more concerned about the wind than the ice at this point. Crosby, who has played in three previous NHL outdoor games, said wind is a huge factor. It happened to the Penguins at the 2014 Stadium Series game in Chicago.
 
“It can definitely be a factor,” Crosby said. “I want to say in Chicago that was something we kind of had to look at. We felt it a little more there compared to the other two [outdoor games]. If it going to get windy like that, it’s something to be aware of.”
 
It remains to be seen how the NHL will handle which team goes into the wind first.
 
“Yeah, the wind,” Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet of what element will be a big factor. “I hope you don’t have to backcheck. Who gets the advantage? They change in the third period. But who picks what end? There is a wind factor.”
 
Tocchet rated the ice Friday as “a little slushy.”
 
“It was good early and then it got tough because it was hot outside,” Tocchet said. “But we got a half-decent practice out of it.
 
“The one thing, the puck didn’t bounce, which was good. Players can adapt a lot better when the puck doesn’t bounce. When things bounce, it’s a tough night.”

Brett Brown understands Nerlens Noel trade, caught off guard by Ben Simmons news

Brett Brown understands Nerlens Noel trade, caught off guard by Ben Simmons news

Nerlens Noel was essentially the beginning of The Process.

Acquired in a draft day trade with the New Orleans Pelicans in 2013, Noel was the last player remaining of those who were on the team when Brett Brown took over as head coach of the Sixers. Drafted No. 6 overall out of Kentucky, Noel missed the entire 2013-14 season recovering from a torn ACL.

That gave Brown the opportunity to work closely with Noel, most notably on his shot.

"Personally, I spent a lot of time with him," Brown said pregame Friday. "To have a whole year where you could help grow his shot. And talk about a total rebuild."

Noel on Thursday was traded to the Dallas Mavericks for a top-18 protected first-round pick, Justin Anderson and Andrew Bogut. The return doesn't seem great, but there are larger factors at play.

Noel is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer. With the emergence of Joel Embiid and Jahlil Okafor on the roster, the center position was (and still is, frankly) crowded. The chances of the Sixers' retaining Noel weren't great. Especially if a team had signed him to an exorbitant offer sheet.

Brown was naturally close to Noel, but understands the business side of the decision.

"I'm happy for him in my heart of hearts," Brown said. "[The Mavericks] have brought him in to grow him to try to be a starting center. That does equal a commensurate paycheck. He will be rewarded if that's the way it plays out.

"That wasn't gonna happen here. It wasn't gonna happen here. And so when you really study salary caps, really study design of teams and really study how to grow a program so you're not caught positionally, it was gonna be hard to allocate that amount of money to a five spot."

Brown got some more tough news when he learned No. 1 overall pick Ben Simmons won't play this season. A scan taken Thursday revealed that Simmons' Jones fracture, suffered in early October on the last day of training camp, has not fully healed (see story).

Brown, being the consummate optimist, brought up his experience with Noel in is his rookie season of how a player can still develop despite not getting on the court.

"I'm disappointed for lots of reasons that he isn't going to be able to play," Brown said. "I played text tag with him as he was going to the scan. I felt like when your wife is having a baby, pacing around, wondering, 'What's gonna happen? What's the result of the scan? What's it gonna be? What's it gonna be?' I don't mean to get too dramatic, but there's a level of anxiety that you wonder, 'What is the result gonna say?' And when it came back with the result, it caught me off guard. It really wasn't something personally I was expecting."

Sixers president of basketball operation Bryan Colangelo addressed the media Friday to disclose the news on Simmons. He also explained his thinking behind the Noel trade, which mostly hinged on Noel's impending restricted free-agent status (see story).

Brown was sad to see one of his original developmental projects go, but understood the business side of the decision.                     

"I thought he did a really good job," Brown said of Colangelo's press conference. "That is the truth. So it's connected with emotion and reality that we say goodbye to Nerlens."