I just can't...
There are no words.
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Atlanta Falcons guard Ben Garland and former Detroit Lions quarterback Eric Hipple are the finalists for the NFL’s Salute To Service Award.
The recipient of the award, presented by USAA, will be revealed on Feb. 2 during the NFL Honors show when The Associated Press announces its annual league awards, including MVP.
Garland and Hipple were selected for their efforts to support members of the military community.
USAA, a provider of insurance and other services to U.S. military members, veterans and their families, will contribute $25,000 in the award recipient’s honor to the official aid societies representing all five military branches. The NFL will match USAA’s donation to the award recipient’s military charity of choice.
Garland attended the Air Force Academy and just completed his fifth pro season. He recently was selected to become a major in the Colorado Air National Guard.
Garland is involved with helping veterans adjust to life after service and helping to raise awareness for PTSD. Last year, he participated in the Armed Forces Mission’s Georgia LOSS Walk, when he walked alongside veterans, service members and families for a program called “Turning the Tide on Veteran Suicide.”
Participating in the military taught Garland lessons that have helped him as an athlete and vice versa.
“Serving in the Air National Guard has been paramount to my development as a football player,” he said. “It has helped my leadership skills, mental toughness, how to work under pressure, and establish an Air Force core values mindset of integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do. I also believe my NFL career has made me a better officer. Over my career, I have had the opportunity to play for some of the best coaches in the world and in doing so was able to study their leadership methods.”
Garland works year-round with a number of military nonprofits: Merging Vets and Players, Emory Healthcare Veterans Program, Shepherd Center SHARE Initiative and TAPS. He works with Pigskin Patriots to help raise funds and donate time for camps for military children and with Children of the Fallen Patriots Foundation on granting college scholarship funds.
Hipple retired following the 1989 season after 10 seasons in the NFL. Since his 15-year-old son Jeff’s suicide, Hipple has worked to build awareness and break down the stigma surrounding depressive illnesses.
In conjunction with NAVY U.S. Fleet Forces, Hipple has conducted workshops on suicide and destructive behavior prevention during the last decade, focusing on mental fitness. His book “Real Men Do Cry” received a publisher Presidential Award.
After retiring from the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Depression Center, where he spent 11 years in outreach, Hipple serves as outreach specialist for Eisenhower Center’s “After The Impact” program, a neuro-behavioral residential treatment facility serving military veterans and former NFL players.
“There are many similarities when working with military and NFL players in regards to their mental health,” he said. “Pressure of training, stress, performance, winning and the mission comes first and at all costs, risk of injury. Most of all, it is retaining their identity and locker room camaraderie after a career is over. Some of the pitfalls are depression, PTSD and substance abuse.”
Hipple does suicide prevention workshops for U.S. Fleet Forces on Navy bases and Naval Air stations on the East Coast, in Europe and the Middle East. He has been involved with the planning of the Real Warrior Campaign of Army suicide prevention and organized public service announcements with players supporting service members. In 2008, Hipple helped organize with the players’ union for NFL Legends to speak at Army bases throughout Texas, New York, Georgia and Mississippi during the NFL playoffs, and for the Real Warrior Campaign’s presentations place at Okinawa Marine base in Japan.
Last October, the 32 NFL clubs nominated coaches, active and retired players, and team executives and personnel who best demonstrated support for the military community. Submissions were evaluated by a panel of judges, including last year’s award recipient, former Atlanta Falcons and current New York Jets receiver Andre Roberts, a 2018 All-Pro kick returner.
Other previous winners were Falcons coach Dan Quinn, Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson, Bears defensive end Jared Allen, Ravens coach John Harbaugh, Bears defensive back Charles Tillman and Titans owner Bud Adams.
NOT THEM AGAIN!
Sorry America — at least outside of New England — but the team you love to hate is headed back to the Super Bowl.
Sure, there are negatives to point out with these Patriots. They haven’t looked much more than mediocre on the road. Their defense is vulnerable, especially against dynamic passers, and Kansas City certainly has one of those in Patrick Mahomes.
New England’s coaching staff tends to take away an opponent’s biggest threat. Who is that with the Chiefs, though? Mahomes has Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins as dangerous targets. He has a running game that hasn’t really missed Kareem Hunt since he was released.
Oh yeah, Tom Brady also is 41. At times, he’s looked it this season.
And there are so many positives to list, especially when the Patriots (12-5) get this far. Such as being to eight Super Bowls with Brady at quarterback, winning five. Such as their superb demolition of the Chargers, an opponent many thought was the most balanced team in the postseason; though the Chargers’ defense looked from the outset as if it wanted no part of frigid Foxborough.
Oh yeah, Brady is 41. He’s seen pretty much everything, and will particularly like the looks of the spotty pass coverage Kansas City (13-4) provides.
The entire environment seems to work for New England.
“Yeah, I think this team thrives on it,” receiver Phillip Dorsett says. “Obviously, there’s no elephant in the room, we’re 3-5 on the road and everybody is going to criticize us for that. We’ve got our backs against the wall and we’ve just got to go out there and play our best game. That’s the only thing that really matters.”
It also matters that Chiefs coach Andy Reid rarely outsmarts the Patriots. Indeed, Reid’s only Super Bowl trip was spoiled by New England when it beat Reid’s Eagles for the 2004 title. Reid is 2-6 vs. the Patriots, and lost 43-40 on Oct. 14 at Gillette Stadium.
The Chiefs are 3-point favorites, which accounts for the home-field edge. Except in the upcoming arctic conditions, and with the pedigree of the Patriots, this is a matchup Kansas City won’t win.
UPSET SPECIAL: PATRIOTS, 27-23
Los Angeles Rams (plus 3) at New Orleans Saints
A 45-35 shootout victory for Drew Brees and the Saints on Nov. 4 came in the Superdome. These two have a return matchup Sunday to get to the Super Bowl, and with all their firepower, this one could come down to one factor: experience.
That edge clearly falls to the hosts. New Orleans (14-3) has been a postseason regular since coach Sean Payton and Brees hooked up in 2006. This is the Saints’ third NFC championship appearance — a loss at Chicago in January 2007, an overtime win over Minnesota at home three years later. The Saints won the Super Bowl that season, as well.
Los Angeles (14-3) had the only unanimous member of the All-Pro team, defensive tackle Aaron Donald. And the Saints lost key DT Sheldon Rankins to a torn Achilles tendon last weekend. Still, this side of the ball looks like a wash.
The site of this game is more critical than in the AFC. The way the Superdome rocks can be disruptive to opponents, and uplifting to the homies. Just look at the Saints’ win against defending champion Philadelphia last Sunday.
So give us Brees’ calmness and creativity over Jared Goff’s relative newness.
BEST BET: SAINTS, 34-26
Last Week: Against Spread (1-3). Straight up (3-1)
Season Totals: Against spread (134-113-9). Straight up: (174-88-2)
Best Bet: 8-11 against spread, 13-6 straight up
Upset special: 10-9 against spread, 9-9-1 straight up
The NFL conference championship games this weekend are set to be a showcase for the league. The New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs boast the four highest-scoring offenses and loads of star power — from quarterbacks Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Patrick...
ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. on Thursday unveiled his first predictions for the 2019 NFL draft and he has the Broncos selecting Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker with the 10th overall pick.
“Cornerback is the No. 1 need for the Broncos,” Kiper writes. “Baker isn’t far behind Greedy Williams as the top corner in this class.”
Denver’s once-vaunted “No Fly Zone” took hits last year, first with cornerback Aqib Talib being traded to the Rams before the season, followed by numerous injuries, including a broken leg suffered by All-Pro corner Chris Harris Jr. Kiper notes that Harris’ age — he turns 30 in June — and Bradley Roby becoming a free agent makes the position a priority for the Broncos.
“John Elway hit on his 2018 draft class, and he needs another good one to get the team back on track under new coach Vic Fangio,” Kiper writes.
Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa is predicted to go No. 1 overall to the Arizona Cardinals. As for quarterbacks, Kiper has Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins going to the Giants at No. 6, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray to the Dolphins at No. 13, and Duke’s Daniel Jones to the Patriots at No. 29.
The NFL draft takes place April 25-27 in Nashville, Tenn.