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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

The Greek God of Wrestling explains how WWE’s elevation of smaller wrestlers indicates it is changing with the times. Achilles Heel also informs us of multiple title changes, tells you where you can see Dolph Ziggler on Saturday, and provides evidence that Terry Funk is still crazy at age 72.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the Eagles’ early-season success, the anticipation for the Sixers’ season and Penn State’s upcoming challenge.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the fragile nature of the Sixers’ foundation, signs that the Flyers have a bright future, and the success of two older players at Wimbledon.

Archive for July, 2018

Rough year for Hendrick Motorsports

Posted by Eric Fisher On July - 27 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

It wasn’t too long ago that Hendrick Motorsports was the dominant organization in NASCAR. Jimmie Johnson was winning championships, Jeff Gordon was challenging Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the most popular driver in NASCAR. For good measure, Kasey Kahne was usually in Chase contention.

Times have changed. With six races remaining until NASCAR’s playoffs, none of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers has a postseason berth sewed up.

The names have changed since Hendrick’s heyday. Johnson is still in the fold, but the rest of the lineup consists of rising star Chase Elliott, Alex Bowman and rookie William Byron.

None of the Hendrick drivers has a win this year, which is something they would like to change Sunday (2:30 p.m.) at the Gander Outdoors 400 at Pocono Raceway. A trip to Victory Lane would virtually assure each Hendrick driver of a playoff berth.

It’s possible to qualify for the Chase without winning a race. Drivers in the top 30 with wins automatically qualify for the playoffs. If there aren’t 16 winners, which will be the case this year due to Kevin Harvick (6), Kyle Busch (5) and Martin Truex Jr. (4) dominating the NASCAR circuit, the top drivers in points round out the playoff field until it reaches 16.

Entering Sunday’s race at Pocono, Hendrick drivers Johnson, Elliott and Bowman occupy the final three berths in the playoff field. Byron is five spots outside of a playoff berth.

Johnson has what appears to be a comfortable 97-point cushion. But Johnson knows that no lead is safe. A “did not finish” (DNF) or two could put Johnson on the playoff bubble. Elliott, with a 95-point cushion, is in similar position to Johnson. Bowman is in the final playoff position, 28 points ahead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and 29 ahead of Paul Menard.

Byron, the fourth member of Hendrick Motorsports, is 95 points behind Bowman. Like Ryan Newman (74 points behind Bowman), Daniel Suarez (94 behind) and Jamie McMurray (98 behind), Byron probably needs a win in one of the six remaining races to qualify for the playoffs. It’s unlikely any of these drivers will qualify via points. Chris Buescher, one spot behind Murray, qualified for the playoffs last year with a rain-shortened victory at Pocono and, obviously, would like to do it again.

If Stenhouse, Menard or any of the drivers in the preceding paragraph – and you can throw AJ Allmendinger (25th place) and Kahne (26th) into the mix – win at Pocono or one of the five following races, it reduces the number of playoff berths available for drivers trying to qualify through points.

The possibility that a driver might win for the first times this season highlights how precarious the situation is for the Hendrik drivers.

The idea of a NASCAR playoff without Johnson is almost inconceivable. But Johnson only has two Top 5 finishes this season. By contrast, Elliott has five Top 5 finishes.

It’s been an uncharacteristically poor year for Hendrick Motorsports. But the year could get worse if they don’t hang on to the final three playoff berths.

10 questions for Birds

Posted by Eric Fisher On July - 26 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

This Eagles training camp is historic. Never before have the Eagles entered training camp as Super Bowl champions. The question, therefore, is no longer whether the Eagles can win the Super Bowl this season, but rather can they win the Super Bowl again.

Can the Eagles become the first team since the 2003-04 Patriots to repeat as Super Bowl champion? We won’t find out the answer to that question in training camp, but we might find the answer to other questions.

The following is our annual 10 questions to consider during Eagles training camp.

How healthy is Carson Wentz?

Despite reports indicating that Wentz might start training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, he isn’t on that list as camp begins. That means the Eagles don’t think Wentz will start the regular season on the PUP list. This isn’t an assurance, though, that Wentz will be healthy enough to start Game 1 on Sept. 6 against the Falcons. We probably won’t see much of Wentz during preseason games, so observations during practice and public statements will be the methods through which we track Wentz’s progress as he recovers from major knee surgery.

Will Jason Peters be able to produce at a high level?

At age 36, Peters is attempting to come back after missing more than half of last season due to a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. Can Peters, at his age and size (he’s listed at 328 pounds), return to near-Pro Bowl form? Peters’ level of play appeared to have slipped a little bit the past few years, although one year of that could be attributed to Peters chafing under the reign of Chip Kelly. Given the importance of a left tackle to a quarterback’s health, fans should keep a close eye on Peters’ performance during preseason games.

How much of a difference will Mike Wallace make?

The 10-year veteran could combine with Alshon Jeffery – assuming Jeffery makes a successful return from rotator cuff surgery – to form the Eagles’ best starting receiver duo in recent memory. Wallace, signed to a 2-year contract as a free agent, has only had fewer than 50 receptions once since his rookie season. On the other hand, perhaps we’ll find out why the Eagles are Wallace’s fifth team in the past four seasons.

Can Darren Sproles be a dangerous weapon again?

Sproles was rumored to be considering retirement before breaking his arm and tearing his ACL on the same play during the 27-24 September victory over the Giants that was a turning point in the Eagles’ season. He decided to return this season, but the question is whether the 35-year-old can regain the explosiveness that made him a dangerous weapon out of the backfield and as a returner on special teams. If Sproles doesn’t have the explosiveness he had in the past, the Eagles will have a difficult decision regarding whether to keep him on the roster for this year while cutting younger running backs. Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement are safely on the roster, but Wendell Smallwood and Donnell Pumphrey both won’t make the roster if Sproles stays on the team. And that’s not to mention Matt Jones and Josh Adams, who join a crowded backfield.

Who will start at linebacker?

With Mychal Kendricks released, the question is who will start alongside middle linebacker Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham. The top candidates are Corey Nelson, signed away from the Broncos as a free agent, and former draft pick Nate Gerry. Kamu Grugier-Hill is another possibility. Remember, Bradham is suspended for the Eagles’ opener due to an off-field incident in 2016, so two of these players may start the opener. One should also keep an eye on Hicks, who has sustained season-ending injuries the past two years. Depth could turn out to be a factor at linebacker, although the Eagles often use defensive formations that require only two linebackers.

What role will Sidney Jones play?

The Eagles drafted Jones in the second round in 2017 even though they knew an Achilles tendon tear would likely prevent him from playing during his rookie season. But Jones is expected to contribute in his second season. Will he be a starter on the outside or be a slot cornerback? Remember, the Eagles said that drafting Jones was like having a second first-round pick because, without the injury, he certainly would have been drafted in the first round. If he doesn’t at least serve as the top slot cornerback, people will begin to question the decision to draft Jones.

Who will provide depth on the defensive line?

First-round draft pick Derek Barnett is expected to fill the defensive end spot vacated by Vinny Curry, who signed with the Bucs. Veteran Haloti Ngata is filling the roster spot of Beau Allen, who also departed for the Bucs, but Ngata may end up starting due to Tim Jernigan’s offseason surgery for a herniated disc in his back. Veteran Michael Bennett was brought in to provide depth and experience, but the Eagles, who prefer to rotate their linemen throughout the game, need more players to step up. With defensive end Brandon Graham starting the season on the PUP list while he recovers from surgery to address a high ankle sprain, there will be plenty of opportunities for players such as Elijah Qualls and Destiny Vaeao to demonstrate their value.

Will Jordan Mailata be more than a sideshow?

It’s difficult to ignore a 6-foot-8, 346 pound giant, but will Mailata make the transition from rugby to football quickly enough to contribute to the Eagles this season. Will his play earn him a roster spot or will the Eagles risk losing him by placing him on the practice squad?

Will (insert player’s name here) recover from his injury in time for the regular season?

The Eagles have numerous players trying to return from major injuries. In addition to Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles and Sidney Jones, all of whom were discussed in earlier questions, defensive end Brandon Graham, middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, safety/special teams demon Chris Maragos and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan are among the key players returning from major surgery. Will they be ready for the start of the season? Will they perform at their pre-injury level? We hope to get the answers for most of these players by the end of training camp.

Will the Eagles be complacent after winning the Super Bowl?

This may be difficult to answer during training camp. Although many will certainly try to draw conclusions based on intensity during practice, it may be difficult to gauge whether the Eagles still have the hunger to succeed until watching them play during the regular season. Ironically, one factor that may help them maintain their hunger is that so many players missed out on the Super Bowl run due to injuries. Those players should be eager to play a part in another Super Bowl championship.

Harper hits 1st home run as Phillie