Colts QB Luck Nervous about Playing First NFL Action in 19 Months

andrew-luck-wont-play-2018Andrew Luck hasn’t played a snap of NFL regular season football for 19 months. The Indianapolis Colts franchise quarterback hurt his shoulder during the 2016 season and has been sidelined for a year and a half.

The good news is that Luck up is finally healthy and ready to play again. The bad news is that he’s nervous about getting back on the football field after so much downtime. Let’s discuss what he had to say along with the Colts’ prospects for the 2018 NFL season.

What’s the Shoulder Injury that Has Kept Luck Sidelined?

Andrew Luck has always been considered a quarterback who can lead Indianapolis to great things. And he definitely lived up to this billing during the first few seasons of his career, leading the Colts to identical 11-win seasons from 2012 to 2014.

andrew-luck-coltsIndianapolis won the AFC South each year and also made the playoffs every season in that span. This being said, it only felt right to give him a huge contract in 2016 when the time came.

Unfortunately for Luck, his health has been the opposite of his name. He underwent shoulder surgery in 2016 and missed the entire 2017 campaign when he had a number of mysterious setbacks.

Some wondered if he would ever get back on the field at full strength. But many reports so far indicate that he’s throwing the ball well and should reclaim his former glory.

Luck Has Jitters about Playing Again

The last time that Luck played an NFL regular season game was on New Year’s Day 2017, when Indianapolis beat the Jacksonville Jaguars to finish 8-8.

andrew-luck-playoffsWhen asked by SI’s Peter King about his feeling before the season, Luck said, “Nervous? I’ll be very nervous.”

He added, “I’m just going out there throwing balls. There is nothing holding me back.

“There are some things that feel really good, like an old sweatshirt that you put on that just fits well. And there are some things that still feel awkward and new and wobbly, per se.”

How will Luck Perform in 2019?

Many speculate that Luck is destined for more success in 2018 thanks to an overhaul of the coaching staff. Frank Reich has taken over for fired head coach Chuck Pagano, while Nick Sirianni will serve as the new offensive coordinator.

Their off-season goal for Luck will be starting out slowly and steadily increasing his passing workload. He’s only making about half as many passes as a normal NFL starter would in training camp. But he’s going full speed with strength and agility drills in the meantime.

andrew-luckThe idea here is to bring Luck’s confidence and shoulder along slowly so that he’s fully ready by the beginning of the regular season. While it’s good that he playing without pain again, it’s anybody’s guess as to what kind of season Luck will have.

When healthy, the 28-year-old is a Pro Bowl quarterback who’s capable of carrying Indianapolis to victory. He showed this during the aformentioned stretch where the Colts won their division three years in a row.

That said, it’s no surprise Reich and Sirianni want to avoid any setbacks with Luck so that he’s ready by the start of the season.

Colts 2018 Odds for AFC Championship and Super Bowl

Indianapolis hasn’t made the playoffs for three straight years. Not coincidentally, the past three years have also seen Luck plagued by injuries.

His shoulder problems began towards the end of 2015 and carried on into the 2016 campaign. It’s at this point that he elected to end the season with shoulder surgery.

Luck didn’t take a single snap in 2017, which is a big reason why the team only finished 4-12. But as long as he’s able to play, they should at least improve upon this total.

Here the GTBets odds for each AFC South team heading into the season:

  • Jacksonville +150
  • Houston +190
  • Tennessee +390
  • Indianapolis +550

andrew-luck-injury-return-2017As you can see, there is a new projected king of the AFC South. The Jacksonville Jaguars are fresh off an AFC Championship appearance. And they’ll be looking to win their division for the second straight season.

Both Houston and Tennessee are also ahead of the Colts in terms of odds. But this isn’t to say that Indianapolis is a guaranteed cellar dweller.

Much of their low ranking has to do with the fact that they’re entering 2018 with a fresh look. Nobody really knows what to expect from them due to the new coaching staff and a rusty Luck.

That said, it’ll be interesting to see how this season plays out for the Colts. It’ll also be intriguing to watch how Luck bounces back from not playing football for so long.

Coach Thibodeau Believes LeBron Makes LA a Title Contender

minnesota-tom-thibodeauMany are wondering how good the LA Lakers can be this season. After all, they added LeBron James and a few veterans to a good young core.

We’ve covered one set of projections that has the Lakers barely missing out on the playoffs. But others think that LA will do much better than this and even challenge for the NBA title.

Count Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau is one person who thinks that the Lakers are set for a very good season. See what the head coach has to say below along with more on how high this team can climb.

Thibodeau Sees LeBron and Lakers as Instant Contenders

Thibodeau spoke briefly with ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Ohm Youngmisuk on the Lakers. And he only had good things to say about his future Western Conference rivals.

“Any time a player like that comes to the West, particularly him, obviously if you got LeBron, you are an instant contender,” he said.

Few would know what it’s like matching up against James better than Thibodeau. He designed gameplans to stop LeBron many times as an assistant with the Boston Celtics and head coach of the Chicago Bulls. He’ll now see LeBron multiple times each year again while coaching the T-Wolves.

Lakers and Timberwolves Part of a Crowded West

lebron-james-lakersThe Minnesota Timberwolves earned the eighth seed in the Western Conference after winning 47 games. That said, LeBron improving the Lakers causes problems for Thibodeau and the rest of the conference.

The Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans, and Los Angeles Clippers all figure to contend for a postseason spot. Add in the Lakers, T-Wolves, and even a healthy Memphis Grizzlies squad, and this makes 12 teams battling for a playoff berth.

Outside of the Warriors and Rockets, nobody seems to be guaranteed anything in the West. This will once again be a more competitive conference than the East.

Speaking of which, LeBron has had an easier ride the past several years while playing in the Eastern Conference. It’ll be interesting to see how he deals with all of the threats out West on a nightly basis.

It’s very possible that his streak of making eight straight NBA Finals appearances could be in jeopardy this season. But based on his immense talent along with the rest of the Lakers roster, don’t expect his bid for a ninth straight Finals to end before the postseason.

Lakers Projected to Miss Playoffs in 2019, Despite LeBron Signing

lebron-james-lakersThe Los Angeles Lakers landed the biggest signing of the 2018 free agent period. They locked LeBron James up for a three-year deal, which instantly boosts their chances of making the postseason.

Strangely enough, though, one expert has the Lakers missing the playoffs in the 2018-19 season. Keep reading to find out about these projections along with if LA can overcome what the expert in question thinks.

Lakers Projected to Finish Ninth in the West

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton recently released his win projections on the 2018-19 campaign. His projections take into account midseason trades, randomness, unpredictable injuries, and a number of other factors.

That said, here’s a look at how many wins each Western Conference team will earn according to Pelton’s numbers:

  • 1. Warriors — 58.6 wins
  • 2. Jazz — 53.4 wins
  • 3. Rockets — 53 wins
  • 4. Nuggets — 50.5 wins
  • 5. Timberwolves — 49.6 wins
  • 6. Thunder — 47.2 wins
  • 7. Pelicans — 44.1 wins
  • 8. Blazers — 42 wins
  • 9. Lakers — 41.2 wins
  • 10. Spurs — 38.5 wins

lonzo-ball-lakersPerhaps the biggest surprise here is the Lakers just barely missing out on a postseason bid. This is a team that won 35 games last year with a very young roster. Many expect them to win around 50 more games with LeBron now on the team.

Many would be shocked if this LA squad doesn’t at least land one of the eighth playoff berths. But then again, the West is so crowded with good teams that anybody in the top 10 could underachieve.

Lakers Added Some Nice Offseason Pieces

LA doesn’t plan on letting projections determine their fate. This team added some good pieces in the offseason, including Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley. They also return a nice core, including Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart, and Brook Lopez.

>Of course, the key player who gives them a chance is LeBron James. The 33-year-old is coming off a season where he averaged 27.5 PPG, 9.1 RPG, and 8.6 APG.

LeBron carried the Cleveland Cavaliers to a fourth-straight NBA Finals, where they were swept by the Golden State Warriors. And while nobody expects this year’s Lakers squad to be better than Golden State, it’s at least an interesting roster.

That said, don’t be surprised if LA exceeds Pelton’s projections and graps one of the higher playoff seeds in the West. Of course, there’s going to be plenty of competition for these seeds. But the Lakers definitely have the talent to contend for a playoff spot.

Celtics Projected to Finish Second in East in 2019

kyrie-irving-celticsMany expect the Boston Celtics to win the East in the 2018-19 NBA season. After all, Boston is coming off a season in which they made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals without star players Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward.

Strangely enough, though, ESPN’s Kevin Pelton believes that the Celtics are going to finish second place in the East once again. Let’s discuss Pelton’s win projections along if Boston can exceed them.

ESPN Projections Put Boston at 53 Wins

Last season, the Celtics finished runner-up in the East during the regular season. They notched 55 wins, which was only two off the Toronto Raptors, who led the conference with 57 wins.

gordon-hayward-celticsRather than having Boston improve on their total from last season, Pelton has them falling to 53 wins. He notes that despite getting 55 victories during the 2017-18 campaign, the Celtics had a point differential that was closer to a 51-win team.

Another reason why Pelton doesn’t have lofty predictions for Boston is because he has a milder expectations for Hayward and Al Horford heading into this season.

Assuming these projections are correct, Boston would face the Washington Wizards in the first round of the 2019 Playoffs. Washington is projected to take seventh in the East.

Overall, the Celtics are expected to have the league’s fourth-best record, trailing only the Golden State Warriors (58.6 wins), Toronto (55.1 wins), and Utah jazz (53.4 wins).

Draft Pick at Stake for Celtics in 2019

The Boston Celtics will be paying close attention to how the Sacramento Kings perform this season. After all, a draft pick is at stake based on a 2017 Boston/Philadelphia trade.

al-horford-celticsThe Kings are projected to finish with the NBA’s worst record at 25.4 wins, according to Pelton. If this happens, then Sacramento would be the favorite to earn the top overall pick. The number one selection would then go to the Philadelphia 76ers based on the trade’s conditions.

In this event, Boston would receive the Sixers’ first-round pick, which only projects to be 23rd overall. The Los Angeles Clippers (pick is protected 1-14, Clippers expected to finish 10th) and the Memphis Grizzlies (pick is protected 1-8, Grizzlies expected to finish 8th) aren’t projected to give their picks up to Boston this season either.

Will Boston Exceed Projections?

If the Celtics don’t like Pelton’s projections, then they can simply play well and exceed them. It’s perfectly within Boston’s capabilities to win more than 53 games, especially with a loaded roster.

Aside from Irving, Horford, and Hayward, the team also returns Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jalen Brown, Terry Rozier, and Marcus Morris. Considering that they won 55 games without Hayward for the entire season and Irving for some of the year, many expect them to improve.

The Celtics organization also has to worry about how Sacramento will finish up the season. If the Kings play bad enough to transfer the pick to Philadelphia, then Boston will certainly be disappointed.

In any case, these are merely projections and there’s a lot of basketball to be played next season. That said, it’s very likely that Pelton’s computerized predictions won’t be spot on.

Conor McGregor vs Khabib Nurmagomedov: Lightweight Title Fight at UFC 229

Khabib-Nurmagomedov-Mcgregor-1Conor McGregor will return to mixed martial arts this October. UFC president Dana White made the announcement during a press conference for the fall fight schedule.

Following the event, White surprised viewers with a video explaining that lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov will defend his championship against McGregor. The fight will take place at UFC 229, held on October 6 at Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.

This is widely expected to become the most-lucrative UFC fight in history. McGregor, who’s become an international star after boxing Floyd Mayweather, may help the promotion achieve 2 million pay-per-views for the first time ever.

Nurmagomedov will also help build the event, because he’s currently undefeated at 26-0.

McGregor Is Eligible to Return after Misdemeanor Guilty Plea

McGregor has already created some buildup to this fight after a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge in New York. Prior to UFC 223 in Brooklyn, the Irishman threw a hand truck at a bus that Nurmagomedov was riding.

Now, the world’s two most dominant lightweight MMA fighters are scheduled to clash. This will be the first time that McGregor has stepped into the Octagon since he beat Eddie Alvarez at Madison Square Garden on November 12, 2016.

This victory gave McGregor the lightweight championship and made him the first UCF fighter to ever hold two weight class titles simultaneously. The 30-year-old already held the featherweight title before his Nov. fight with Alvarez.

The UFC 229 match will also be McGregor’s first fight of any kind since he was knocked out by Mayweather last year. He fought well against a much more experienced opponent and even won some early rounds. But McGregor was finally KO’ed in the ninth round.

As for Nurmagomedov, he’s never lost an MMA bout and now lays claim to the lightweight title that McGregor vacated by leaving to box Mayweather. Nurmagomedov is an expert grappler who looks to keep things on the ground, because he’s not one of the best fighters.

Meanwhile, McGregor is a top UFC striker whose weakness is grappling and Brazilian jujitsu. That said, the Dublin native will be looking to stay upright for most of the bout.

Nurmagomedov vs. McGregor Looks Like a Truly Special Fight

Khabib-Nurmagomedov-Mcgregor-2Aside from the pay-per-view revenue that this bout can generate, it also has the potential to be special in other ways.

First off, look for these two to fling a record amount of trash talk before October 6. Both fighters are accustomed to calling out opponents and trying to verbally humiliate them.

Nurmagomedov was particularly vocal a couple years ago about never getting a title fight. He finally got the championship match and won. Now, he steps into what may be the largest money-generating MMA fight ever.

The talent level of both fighters is off the charts. Again, Nurmagomedov has never lost an MMA fight, which is unprecedented for somebody who’s gone through 26 battles — most of them against strong competition.

McGregor has shown his skills by winning two different UFC belts and surviving a couple of wars against Nate Diaz — another one of the sport’s best athletes. That said, this upcoming fight could be MMA’s version of Joe Fraser vs. Muhammad Ali and 1971.

Ali (31-0) and Frazier (26-0) both entered the 1971 bout undefeated and looking to win the heavyweight championship.

Dubbed the “Fight of the Century,” this event saw Ali box for the first time since serving a three-year ban for refusing to go into the military. He would easily outbox Frazier and win by unanimous decision.

McGregor is similar to Ali, because he never actually lost his lightweight championship belt in the ring. And he was stripped of his featherweight belt after taking an absence to train for the boxing match.

Major Money on the Line

conor-mcgregor-training-mayweatherConor McGregor is easily known as MMA’s top star. He only furthered this reputation by fighting Mayweather in what became the second biggest pay per view ever with 4.3 million sales.

McGregor, whose record is 21-3 overall and 9-1 in the UFC, brings as high a pedigree as any fighter to the table. His only loss came at UFC 196, when he was choked out by Diaz.

This is one of the few fights in any sport that doesn’t need artificial hype. Instead, it will feature two marquee athletes who figure to create an event that’s almost on the same level of Mcgregor vs. Mayweather.

The UFC’s largest live gate was $17.7 million, which occurred when McGregor beat Alvarez at UFC 205 in 2016. The upcoming McGregor-Nurmagomedov bout could become the first UFC event to break $20 million at the live gate.

Most experts see it as a given that UFC 229 will break the promotion’s current PPV record, which is 1.65 million buys for UFC 202. Dana White echoed these sentiments.

“I think when all is said and done, this will be the biggest fight we’ve ever done,” said White. “Conor is one of the biggest superstars in the world and Khabib is the undefeated champion. These are two flat-out killers in their primes squaring off with everything on the line.”

White added, “I hate to talk about what happened in New York, but these guys have a ton of animosity and everybody saw what happened and that’s going to help this, too.

“And what I love is, you hear guys say they will fight anyone, but then it’s after I do this and after that. These two, Conor and Khabib, as soon as it was possible for them to fight, they said, ‘Let’s fight.’ I love that and I think people love that about them.”

Odds on McGregor vs. Nurmagomedov

Khabib-Nurmagomedov-McgregorThe Westgate in Las Vegas opened with Khabib Nurmagomedov as a -180 favorite, while Conor McGregor sits as a +150 underdog. In the world of MMA betting, this line is pretty close.

Nurmagomedov is being favored due to the fact that he’ll have no ring rust. McGregor, meanwhile, must overcome two years of inactivity in the Octagon.

But McGregor is also a very strong fighter who usually comes in much heavier after a weigh-in. Plus, he has the one-punch knockout ability to end the fight quickly.

No matter what happens, White is just excited to make such an event.

“It wasn’t hard putting this fight together at all,” White explained. “Conor is a guy who loves to fight and when he was able to, he said, ‘Let’s do it.’ That’s why he’s such a huge superstar.

“In boxing, everyone knows what fight should be happening. How can they not have made [Anthony] Joshua and [Deontay] Wilder? That’s always what happens. But these two guys, they’re pure fighters and that’s why this is going to be so special.”

Steelers Get Scare with Antonio Brown Practice Injury

antonio-brown-calf-injuryThe Pittsburgh Steelers recently had a little bit of a scare when All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown left practice with an injury.

He got hurt during a training camp practice at Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA. The good news for Pittsburgh, though, is that the injury is nothing serious.

Head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t discuss the nature of Brown’s injury. But he did describe it as nothing more than a “day-to-day, minor injury. Nothing to speak of.”

ESPN’s Adam Schefter spoke to a source that said Brown would be “fine in a few days.”

Brown Appears to Have Suffered a Strained Quad

ProFootballTalk reports that Brown is suffering from a minor quad strain. He’s expected to return to practice within less than a week.

antonio-brown-jaguarsThe 30-year-old receiver returned to the sidelines after sitting out Wednesday’s practice. He signed autographs and watched his teammates, but did not participate in any drills.

Brown has been incredibly durable throughout his career, missing just three regular season games over the past five years. Every game that he’s missed has come after Pittsburgh had already clinched a postseason berth.

He did, however, miss an important playoff game due to a concussion. The Steelers lost this divisional round matchup to the Broncos in January 2016.

An Invaluable Player to Pittsburgh

A lightly recruited player out of Central Michigan, Brown has quickly proven himself to be the league’s best wide receiver. He led the NFL in receiving last year after playing just 14 games. He also managed to earn his fourth consecutive first-team All-Pro honors along with a fifth-straight Pro Bowl appearance.

Brown has averaged 116.4 catches for 1569.6 yards and 10.4 touchdowns per year in the last five seasons. He also lays claim to a record five straight 100-catch seasons.

He’s currently in the second year of a contract that pays him around $17 million per year. Considering the production that Brown has put up, he definitely seems to be worth the money.

2018 Pittsburgh Steelers Odds

leveon-bell-vs-new-englandBrown is just one part — albeit a big one — of Pittsburgh’s explosive offense. The team also features All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, who’s coming off a season where he ran for 1,291 yards, tallied 655 receiving yards, and scored 11 touchdowns.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returns for his 15th season. The 6’5″ pocket passed had another fine season, ending with 4,251 passing yards, 28 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, and a 64.2% completion rate.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is an emerging receiving threat who caught 58 balls for 917 yards and seven touchdowns. Playing on the other side of Brown, Smith-Schuster is set to have another strong year.

Pittsburgh also has a solid defense that should hold opponents enough for them to win plenty of games again. The team won the AFC North last season with a 12-4 record.

According to GTBets, they have strong odds of winning the AFC Championship at +475. The only AFC team with better odds right now is New England (+250).

The Steelers odds of winning the Super Bowl sit at +800. This ranks behind New England (+550), Philadelphia (+800), and the LA Rams (+900).