All signs suggest Harbaugh to be Michigan coach by Tuesday – USA TODAY

All signs suggest Harbaugh to be Michigan coach by Tuesday
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Unless negotiations fall apart, all signs indicate that Jim Harbaugh will be the next football coach at Michigan on Monday or Tuesday. A deal between Harbaugh and Michigan had not been signed before the San Francisco 49ers' final …
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Jim Harbaugh and 49ers part ways … next stop for coach is where?Los Angeles Times
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Aaron Rodgers Leads the Packers to the NFC North Title – New York Times

ABC News
Aaron Rodgers Leads the Packers to the NFC North Title
New York Times
GREEN BAY, Wis. — The last time the Detroit Lions won a game in Wisconsin, George Herbert Walker Bush was president, Michael Jordan had only one championship ring and “The Silence of the Lambs” was a hit movie. Since the losing streak began in …
Grading the Detroit Lions: Defensive line lays rare egg in loss to Green Bay
Preview: Lions at PackersReuters
Packers, Rodgers extend Lions' losing streak at
Detroit Free Press
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AirAsia flight QZ8501: Bishop says no Australians aboard as military help search

Australian foreign minister says it is still unclear if permanent residents or dual nationals are on board flight that went missing over Java sea

• Search for missing flight resumes – rolling reports

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AirAsia QZ8501: search for missing flight resumes at first light – rolling report

Hopes are fading that 162 people aboard an AirAsia flight that went missing in storms over the Java sea on Sunday will be found safe

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Panthers vs. Falcons: Score, Twitter Reaction as Carolina Clinches NFC South

The story of the 2014 NFC South won’t be one for the history books, but don’t tell the Carolina Panthers that they don’t matter. It wasn’t always pretty during the season, yet the Panthers did enough to secure a spot in the postseason following a dominant 34-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 17 at the Georgia Dome.    

The Panthers had some fun on Twitter after the victory. First, the team threw out the obligatory celebration tweet and one of Ron Rivera getting a Gatorade bath:

The best tweet from the Panthers had some fun at the expense of the team, at least as far as its regular-season record is concerned:

It may come as a surprise to see that the Panthers are tied with the Dallas Cowboys for the second-longest winning streak in the NFC entering the playoffs, behind the Seattle Seahawks. Rivera’s team won its last four games to capture a division title for the second consecutive season. 

In the process, Carolina became the first team to win the NFC South in back-to-back years for the first time since the NFL expanded to an eight-division format, via Trey Wingo of ESPN: 

Cam Newton continues his late-season surge, picking apart an Atlanta defense that has been overmatched all season. The former No. 1 overall pick was creating plays, even when the Falcons were getting pressure, as noted by NFL Network’s Albert Breer:

That’s been the story for Carolina during this run. Newton entered this game with 195 yards on the ground in his last three games and added another 51 today, along with a rushing touchdown.

Newton isn’t merely a threat with his legs, though, as he’s also shown a knack for throwing the ball consistently. He’s battled through injuries this season, which have hurt his numbers, but in the previous five games before Sunday he had 1,219 passing yards and nine touchdown passes. He finished the day an efficient 10-of-16 for 114 yards and a score as Carolina won the possession battle and dominated defensively.

One surprising stat for Newton coming into this game is his record in December, which was pointed out by ESPN Stats & Info:

You can add one more to Newton’s record with this victory. 

In a conference call with the Atlanta media on Christmas Day, via D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Rivera talked about what has been different about his team down the stretch:

More than anything else we’ve had some continuity for once. Up until that point we had started eight different offensive lines. Now, we’ve had the same group of guys start together for three straight games. Defensively, we settled in on what our secondary seems to be. Those guys have played three straight games together. We’ve got our running game going again with a healthy Jonathan Stewart back there…

It sounds simplistic to say, but the NFL is like jazz. Everything has to be working in concise order to make the music work. The Panthers have gotten healthy and figured out which roles work best for certain players. The results show that Rivera’s comments hold water. 

As much credit as Newton deserves for reviving Carolina’s offense, the defensive turnaround late in the year has been just as important. Since allowing 31 points against Minnesota in Week 13, Rivera’s defense has allowed 43 points during this winning streak. 

They forced three turnovers and held Atlanta to just 288 total yards on the day.

You can question the competition from the previous two weeks against Tampa Bay and Cleveland, but the Falcons entered Week 17 tied for ninth in scoring average (25.2 per game) and had arguably the league’s best receiver in Julio Jones, who had 1,535 yards when the day started. He finished with 58 yards on four catches.

Matt Ryan was on fire in the previous four games, as this graphic from the NFL on CBS shows:

The Falcons quarterback wasn’t helped out by his offensive line, which basically let Carolina’s defensive line into the backfield all day, including one instance that forced a pick-six by Roman Harper, via SportsCenter:

Ryan also threw another interception that was returned for a touchdown by Tre Boston in the third quarter. Per ESPN Stats & Info, that was Ryan’s fourth interception returned for a touchdown this season and put him in some dubious company:

Carolina’s defensive line hasn’t generated the same pass rush this year that it did in 2013, but Charles Johnson continues to love playing Atlanta, via Jonathan Jones of The Charlotte Observer:

Johnson had two quarterback hits and one sack in the first half when the Panthers broke out to a 24-3 lead. The Falcons had no answers once they got behind and the Panthers kept bringing the pressure on both sides of the ball. 

The NFC South has been a roller coaster this year, no question. But don’t sleep on the Panthers in the Wild Card Round. They may not be consistent enough in the red zone to beat one of the top teams, but there’s historical evidence that a team under .500 can win in the playoffs. 

This Panthers team is arguably better than the 2010 Seattle Seahawks group that upset New Orleans. Newton has saved his best football for late in the year, as has the defense. When you have a quarterback playing well and a physical defense, games should be close at the end. That’s all you can ask for in the playoffs. 

For the Falcons, the disappointing loss at home with a playoff spot on the line will do little to quiet the criticism surrounding head coach Mike Smith. It will be interesting to see how the team navigates the offseason as it plans for a turnaround in 2015.


If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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