|Photo Credit: http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2013/12/15|
B is for Ballon d'Or. The three finalists for the prestigious Ballon d'Or award have been announced by FIFA: Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), France's Franck Ribéry (Bayern Munich) and Argentina's Lionel Messi (Barcelona). Messi has won the award every year since its inception in 2010 but, thanks in large part to a torn thigh muscle, is considered to be out of the running meaning Ronaldo and Ribéry are the two front runners. While Ronaldo is no surprise having been the award's runner-up the past two years, the 30 year old Ribéry is a bit of an aberration. A staple with Bayern Munich since 2007, the French winger helped lead Bayern to wins in the Champions League, and DFB Pokal (German Tournament) as well as first place in the Bundesliga this past year. The winner will be announced in January at the Ballon d’Or award ceremony at the Kongresshaus in Zurich.
|Photo Credit: http://www.uefa.org/uefa-best-player-award/news|
C is for Club World Cup. We're down to the Final Four in the 2013 FIFA Club World Cup: Guangzhou Evergrande (China), Bayern Munich (Germany), Raja Casablanca (Morocco), and Atlético Mineiro (Brazil). Raja Casablanca, the host club for this year's tournament, has pulled off a pair of upsets so far, knocking off OFC Champions Auckland City (New Zealand), and CONCACAF Champions Monterey (Mexico) by identical 2-1 margins. Guangzhou Evergrande punched their ticket to the semis by defeating Egyptian club, and the African champs, Al-Ahly 2-0. Monterey and Al-Ahly will now face one another for 5th place while the semifinal match-ups will feature Bayern Munich and Guangzhou Evergrande, and Atlético Mineiro and Raja Casablanca. Since the rebirth of the Championship back in 2005, only one country from outside of South America or Europe has reached the finals: TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of the Congo back in 2010.
|Photo Credit: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/sports/article|
D is for Dyczko. Dyczko was originally the surname of one "Iron" Mike Ditka who had his number 89 retired by the Chicago Bears this week. A first round draft pick in 1961, Ditka went on to win NFL Rookie of the Year honors in his first season, and made 5 straight Pro Bowls between 1961 and 1965. Ditka is the only person to have been involved in both of the Bears' last two championships, as a player in 1963 and a coach in 1985.
|Photo Credit: http://www.suntimes.com/sports/football/bears/24199097-606|
E is for Europa League. Thursday's matches marked the completion of the first round of the 2013-2014 Europa League. The 24 teams advancing to the next round are: Valencia (Spain), Swansea City (England), Ludogorets Razgrad (Bulgaria), Chornomorets Odesa (Ukraine), Red Bull Salzburg (Austria), Esbjerg (Denmark), Rubin Kazan (Russia), Maribor (Slovenia), Fiorentina (Italy), Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk (Ukraine), Eintracht Frankfurt (Germany), Maccabi Tel Aviv (Israel), Genk (Belgium), Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine), Sevilla (Spain), Slovan Liberec (Czech Republic), Lyon (France), Real Betis (Spain), Trabzonspor (Turkey), Lazio (Italy), Tottenham Hotspur (England), Anzhi Makhachkala (Russia), AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands), and PAOK (Greece). Tottenham Hotspur and Red Bull Salzburg were the only two teams to emerge from one of the 12 groups by winning all six of their matches. In addition to the 24 teams previously mentioned, 8 3rd-place finishers from the Champions League will also be joining the next round of the Europa League: Napoli (Italy), Benfica (Portugal), Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine), Basel (Switzerland), Ajax (Netherlands), Juventus (Italy), Porto (Portugal) and Viktoria Plzeň (Czech Republic).
|Photo Credit: http://www.uefa.org/management/finance/news|
F is for FIFA Women's Player of the Year. This year's three finalists for the women's player of the year award are German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, 5-time award winner Marta from Brazil, and last year's winner, American Abby Wambach.
|Photo Credit: http://www.womenssoccerunited.com|
G is for Green Bay. Down 29-10 late in the third quarter, the Packers staged an improbable comeback to win their second straight game without Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay defeated Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys 37-36 thanks to a late Eddie Lacy touchdown run. Matt Flynn threw for 299 yards and 4 touchdowns as the Packers manage to stay in the race for one of the final NFC playoff spots.
|Photo Credit: http://www.freep.com/article/20131127|
H is for Heisman Trophy. Florida State freshman quarterback Jameis Winston is your 2013 Heisman Trophy Winner. Winston has the Seminoles in the National Championship game where they'll take on Auburn after finishing the regular season a perfect 13-0. Just the second freshman to win the prestigious award, Winston threw for 3820 yards and 38 touchdowns while running for 193 yards and 4 more scores. He threw at least one touchdown pass in all thirteen games this season. Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron finished a distant second, followed by Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch, Boston College running back Andre Williams, Texas A&M quarterback and last year's winner Johnny Manziel, Auburn running back Tre Mason, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, and Arizona running back Ka'Deem Carey.
|Photo Credit: http://college-football.si.com/2013/12/15|
I is for Infante. Omar Infante was rumored to be a possible replacement in New York for second baseman Robinson Cano, but the 31 year old Venezuelan, who spent 2013 with the Tigers, has instead signed a 4-year deal with the Kansas City Royals worth $30M. The Yankees have signed Kelly Johnson to fill the hole Cano left, and have been linked to Mark Ellis and Brian Roberts as well.
|Photo Credit: http://www.fansshare.com/gallery/photos|
J is for Jimmy Nielsen. Nielsen is going out on top, having announced his retirement just days after anchoring a victory in a Penalty Kick Shootout to bring the MLS Cup back to Kansas City. The 36 year old Danish keeper was the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2012 and is Sporting Kansas City's all-time leader in wins (57) and shutouts (45). Nielsen's retirement leaves Sporting KC with just two goalkeepers on their roster, 20 year old Jon Kempin who has yet to play in a regular season MLS game, and 30 year old Eric Kronberg who has been with Sporting since 2006, but has only appeared in 5 games in his career. Nielsen had played in every regular season match for Sporting the past two seasons.
|Photo Credit: http://fox4kc.com/2013/12/09|
K is for Kansas City Chiefs. Jamaal Charles put on a show in California today scoring not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE TOUCHDOWNS against the Oakland Raiders in a wild 56-31 win. And he didn't even play in the fourth quarter! Charles, the Chiefs' starting running back, did most of his damage in the passing game hauling in 8 passes for 195 yards and scores of 16, 39, 49 and 71 yards. Charles entered the day with just 3 receiving touchdowns and had not scored more than two touchdowns in a game this season.
|Photo Credit: http://bleacherreport.com/articles|
L is for Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan striker added to his league lead with two more goals Sunday in Liverpool's 5-0 away win over Tottenham Hotspur. Suarez now has 17 goals on the year and Liverpool has outscored its last three opponents by a score of 14-2. Liverpool currently sits in second place in the Premier League, just two points behind Arsenal who was beaten up by Manchester City on Saturday, 6-3.
|Photo Credit: http://www.soccerbyives.net/2013/12|
M is for Mark Mulder. The former Oakland Athletic and St. Louis Cardinal hasn't pitched in a Major League game since 2008, but thanks to some changes to his throwing mechanics, he's attempting a comeback. A 6'6" lefty who just turned 36 a few months ago, he's certainly going to warrant some looks. In his prime (2001-2005), Mulder went 88-40 with 25 complete games and a 3.65 ERA. I'm pulling for the Giants to sign him so he can reunite with his former Big Three teammates, Tim Hudson and Barry Zito. Hudson signed with the Giants last month.
|Photo Credit: http://jayveep.wordpress.com|
N is for NBA Eastern Conference. The Eastern Conference is unbelievably bad this season with only three teams: Miami (17-6), Indiana (20-3) and Atlanta (12-12) posting winning percentages of .500 or better heading into play Sunday night. Compare that to the Western Conference where there are ten such squads and you can see there's once again quite a bit of disparity between the two conferences.
|Photo Credit: http://espn.go.com/blog/new-york/brooklyn-nets|
O is for Off the Market. Hearts all over the world were broken this week when U.S. Women's Soccer Star, Alex Morgan, announced her engagement to longtime boyfriend Servando Carrasco - a midfielder for the Houston Dynamo. Carrasco and Morgan have been an item since they attended the University of California together, but so far, it's Morgan who's enjoyed the more successful career on the pitch.
|Photo Credit: http://extramustard.si.com/2013/12/10|
P is for Prior. In a perfect world, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood would still be headlining the Chicago Cubs pitching rotation and the curse in Chicago would have ended years ago. Instead, both phenoms saw their careers end before their time. Wood hung them up at the end of 2012 at age 34, and now Prior too is calling it quits at age 33 after 7 years of failed comeback attempts (Prior hasn't tossed a pitch in a Major League game since 2006). Prior's career peaked in 2003 when he took the Cubs within a game of the World Series while going 18-6 with a 2.43 ERA. He fanned 245 hitters in 211 1/3 innings en route to finishing 3rd in that year's Cy Young balloting behind only Eric Gagne and Jason Schmidt. It was all downhill after that though as a series of injuries derailed his otherwise promising career.
|Photo Credit: http://sportingnews.printstown.com|
Q is for Quarterback. Eli Manning was intercepted FIVE times in Sunday's shutout loss to the Seattle Seahawks. It marked the first time since 1995 that the Giants had been shutout at home, and the five picks were a career worst for Eli.
|Photo Credit: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/giants|
R is for Roy Halladay. Harry Leroy Halladay III is hanging up his spikes at the age of 36 after dealing with back and shoulder problems the past two seasons. The 16-year veteran finishes his career with 203 wins, a perfect game, a postseason no-hitter, two Cy Young awards and was a member of eight All-Star Teams. He led his league in complete games seven times and logged over 200 innings in a season eight times, but never won a World Series. He did, however, have one of the truly great baseball names in Roy 'Doc' Halladay. Halladay signed a one day contract with the Toronto Blue Jays so he could retire with the team that drafted him and where he pitched his first 12 major league seasons. Halladay will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2019.
|Photo Credit: http://mlboffseason.com|
S is for Sacha Kljestan. The American midfielder delivered a 39th minute strike against Greek side Olympiakos on Tuesday, but his Belgian club Anderlecht couldn't overcome 3 red cards and fell in their Champions League match, 3-1. Anderlecht finished in last place in Group C, going 0-5-1 in 6 matches.
T is for Texans. After starting the season 2-0, the Houston Texans have lost 12 games in a row, their latest defeat a 25-3 drubbing at the hands of the Indianapolis Colts. Things don't get any easier for Houston next week either as they host Peyton Manning and the 11-3 Denver Broncos. On the bright side, they close out the season in Tennessee. Houston's overtime win against Houston in Week 2 was their last win.
|Photo Credit: http://chronicleclassroom.com/?p=2823|
U is for UEFA Champions League. Group Play in the Champions League is over and what was a field of 32 teams is now down to 16. Here's who's left: Manchester United (England), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany), Real Madrid (Spain), Galatasaray (Turkey), Paris Saint-Germain (France), Olympiakos (Greece), Bayern Munich (Germany), Manchester City (England), Chelsea (England), Schalke 04 (Germany), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Arsenal (England), Atletico Madrid (Spain), Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia), Barcelona (Spain), and AC Milan (Italy). Of the 16 teams remaining, only Manchester United, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid emerged without a loss. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Marseille (France) lost all six of its matches in Group Play, getting outscored 14-5. The draw date for the Round of 16 is the 16th of December with matches to pick up again the third week of February.
|Photo Credit: http://jafarjeef.deviantart.com/art|
V is the Roman Numeral for 5, as in Major League Baseball's Rule 5 Draft which was held this week. Patrick Schuster, a left-handed pitcher in the Arizona Diamondbacks system was drafted first overall by the Houston Astros, but subsequently sent to the San Diego Padres to complete an earlier trade for pitcher Anthony Bass. The other draft highlight was Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson getting claimed - yes, you read that right: quarterback - by the Texas Rangers in the AAA segment of the draft. Wilson was originally drafted back in 2010 by the Colorado Rockies as a second baseman. He spent parts of 2010 and 2011 playing in their system batting .229 with 5 home runs, 26 runs batted in, and 19 steals in 93 games.
|Photo Credit: http://www.milb.com/news|
W is for Wesley Sneijder. Wesley Sneijder was the winner of the 2010 World Cup Silver Ball and the Bronze Boot after scoring 5 goals for the Netherlands en route to a second place finish. Once a star for clubs like Ajax, Real Madrid and Inter Milan, Sneijder is now a member of Turkish powerhouse Galatasaray, and thanks to his heroics in the 85th minute on Wednesday, he's sent the top team in Italy, Juventus, home, and has Galatasaray in the Round of 16 in the Champions League. He's got a fairly familiar running mate over an Istanbul too. Remember Didier Drogba? Two-time leading scorer in the English Premier League (2007 and 2010)? Yeah, he's there too. If you're looking for a sleeper team to do some damage in the Champions League, look no further than Galatasaray.
X is for Xmas Sweater. Jonathan Papelbon wins... Or loses... I don't know...
|Photo Credit: http://wapc.mlb.com/cutfour/2013/12/10|
Y is for Yards. Nick Foles threw for 428 of them in Philadelphia's 48-30 against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the second time this year that Foles has eclipsed the 400 yard mark. Foles, who threw three touchdowns and an interception on the day, now has 23 touchdown passes against just two picks. The Eagles host the Bears next week before closing up the season at Dallas.
|Photo Credit: http://www.sfgate.com/technology/businessinsider/article|
Z is for Zero. Both the Indiana Pacers (20-3) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (18-4) enter Sunday with home records of 11-0 so far this season. The Thunder put their unbeaten streak on the line tonight against the Orlando Magic (7-16) while the Pacers will host the Detroit Pistons (11-13) on Monday night.
|Photo Credit: http://www.balldontstop.com|