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Broncos go from joke to contender in 2 years

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Broncos go from joke to contender in 2 years

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Two short years ago, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen sent out a letter to season ticket holders. ``You deserve more from this franchise,'' he wrote.

Then, he went out and fixed it - first by hiring John Elway, who remembered how things worked when the Broncos were one of the NFL's premier organizations, then by bringing on John Fox as coach and, eventually, Peyton Manning to play quarterback.

On Monday, the day after the Broncos closed out a 13-3 regular season and wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the team distributed a different kind of memo, a five-page list titled ``Denver Broncos 2012 Regular-Season Superlatives'' - quite a fitting symbol for a franchise that has transformed itself from a punch line with a 4-12 record to a Super Bowl favorite in the span of two years.

How to explain a turnaround that came ahead of schedule?

``You look at Pat Bowlen and his career as owner of the Denver Broncos. He's amassed an unbelievable record. That doesn't just fall out of the sky,'' Fox said of his owner, who has brought two Super Bowl and 10 division titles to Denver since he became owner in 1984. ``John coming back to the organization, his background. Just his commitment to being successful, doesn't matter what that was, whether it was football or business. I knew what kind of competitor he was.

``And I've done it before. In Carolina. It was just a good fit and I'm happy it worked out.''

Back with the Broncos and running their front office, Elway signed Fox, citing his positive attitude and the quick-turnaround ability he showed in taking Carolina from 1-15 to the Super Bowl over the course of two years. Elway drafted Von Miller, who finished the season with a franchise-high 18 1/2 sacks. And Elway, of course, signed Manning while also jettisoning Tim Tebow, whose success in Denver created a confusing, emotional mix that might have made it difficult for a less-beloved figure to sort out.

``I don't look so much at who was here, who wasn't here, who gets credit,'' Fox said. ``It's more what that one guy in 53 can bring to the team and bring to winning a world championship.''

Of Denver's 53 guys, Manning, of course, is No. 1. The quarterback is in the hunt for his fifth Most Valuable Player award. Nearly an entire page of the five-page handout from the Broncos is dedicated to listing his achievements this season.

Among them:

-Single-season franchise records for completions (400), yards (4,659), completion percentage (68.6), touchdowns (37) and passer rating (105.8).

-Tied a personal best and set a team record with nine 300-yard games.

-Became first quarterback to make a Pro Bowl after missing the previous year due to injury.

-Led Denver to 11 straight wins by at least seven points, tied for the second-longest streak of all time.

``I had no real expectations for what this year would be like, so I don't know if you can exceed expectations if you never really had any,'' Manning said after Denver wrapped up home-field advantage with a 38-3 win over the Chiefs on Sunday. ``Some things were really kind of wait-and-see for me, but it's been a gratifying regular season and very humbling. I have to admit that.''

Fox is using the bye week to stay sharp, calling for short, crisp practices on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and a mandatory weightlifting session Saturday, mainly to keep the team ``focused, not concerned with flights to other states and those type of things, especially close states.'' (Think, Nevada.)

Meanwhile, in another telling symbol of a team's success, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will use the bye week to interview for newly vacant head coaching jobs in Arizona and Chicago.

``With team success, you get recognition,'' Fox said. ``Those guys are all professionals. They understand the focus it's going to take for us to get where we want.''

After the weekend, the Broncos will know who their next opponent is - either Cincinnati, Baltimore or Manning's old team, the Indianapolis Colts.

The playoff game is scheduled for Jan. 12 - two years minus one day to the date Fox came to the Broncos, who were a mess at the time, reeling from an embarrassing videotaping scandal, a midseason coaching change, a league-worst defense and the presence of Tebow, who was drafted by a coach who wouldn't put him in the lineup. That coach was Josh McDaniels, now offensive coordinator for the Patriots, whose name still raises hackles in Denver.

In so many ways, however, his departure feels like longer than two years ago.

``It's a lot of people with a commitment to work hard to make it happen,'' Fox said. ``It's a big commitment. Not just a little bit of interest. It's a commitment to being world champions and we've been working on it for two years. We get that opportunity again to get in the tournament and see what happens.''

Notes: Barring a change in the NFL schedule, either the Broncos or Raiders will play a Thanksgiving game at Dallas in 2013, which hosts an AFC team in the traditional holiday contest next year. Denver will also travel to Houston and New England while hosting the Washington Redskins and former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. ... The Broncos outscored opponents 299-138 in the second halves of games this season, the third-highest second-half scoring differential since the 1970 merger. ... Broncos gave up fewest sacks in NFL (21) this season while sharing the league lead in sacks on defense (52). ... Denver finished fourth in total offense and second in total defense, marking fourth time in team history finishing in top five in both categories. ... The team said the 5,000 playoff tickets it put on sale Monday sold out in nine minutes.

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One player from each AL team that could benefit from MLB's shortened season

One player from each AL team that could benefit from MLB's shortened season

Major League Baseball's decision to implement a 60-game season will come with some interesting obstacles. Players will have very little time to prepare for the end of July start date, and some who use the 162-game marathon to slowly reach their best form could enter an early-season rut and never recover.

However, the shortened season will not be negative to all. Veterans with a lot of wear and tear can avoid another grueling season, while streaky players won't have to see their early success fall off in the second half of the season.

Looking at the American League, here is a player from every squad that could benefit from fewer games.

AL EAST

Baltimore Orioles: John Means

Means, who was an All-Star in 2019, was spectacular in his first 12 starts in the rotation. He had a 2.69 ERA throughout what would essentially be a full season in 2020. However, the lefty then showed signs that he was still adjusting to the full-time starting role, as he featured a 4.69 ERA in the next 12 starts.

While he looks to be part of the future starting pitching plan in Baltimore, adjusting to a 30-start slate can take time. The Orioles aren’t looking to win big in 2020, even if the season gives them a better chance, and so fewer starts will allow Means to still get in work while also keeping his arm ready for future seasons. 

Boston Red Sox - Nathan Eovaldi

Eovaldi was an essential part of the Red Sox World Series run in 2018. He was relied upon heavily both as a starter and out of the bullpen. In 2019, he found himself struggling to stay healthy as he consistently dealt with arm problems.

A shorter season in 2020 could be just what he needs to regain form. Less wear and tear on the arm in what could only be 12 starts during the regular season lessens the risk of him once again heading to the DL and increases the chances of success in the rotation.

New York Yankees - Gary Sanchez

Sanchez is one of the most dangerous bats in the game when he’s on the field and at full health. The problem is he’s struggled to do just that throughout his career. In the last two seasons, he’s only played in 195 games. Additionally, the long seasons behind the plate have also gotten to him, as his hustle and energy have noticeably decreased at times.

With only 60 games in 2020, that all changes. Sanchez has an easier chance of remaining healthy while also having to spend less time catching, which could give him an increase in energy and fresher legs that typically wouldn’t be there as the season winds down. That combination should help the power hitter continue to crush the ball.

Tampa Bay Rays - Bullpen

Despite having the likes of Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow in the rotation, the Rays used their relievers heavily in 2019. It worked, as the bullpen was dominant and made it possible to reach the postseason.

That formula for success probably wasn’t going to disappear in 2020. Now, the extended usage won’t be as grueling. In a season where bullpens could dictate success if starting pitchers struggle to get back into game shape and build stamina, the Rays seem in good hands.

Toronto Blue Jays - Ken Giles

Giles had a solid 2019 with the Blue Jays, finishing with a 1.87 ERA and 23 saves. The only problem was a nagging elbow issue that followed him throughout the season.

The shortened season and late start should both benefit his arm, as he’ll have fewer appearances to make. Heading into the final year of his deal, the ability to still perform at an elite level while not adding mileage or more pain to his throwing arm is the ideal situation for Giles.

RELATED: NL PLAYERS THAT COULD BENEFIT FROM SHORTENED SEASON

AL CENTRAL

Chicago White Sox - Michael Kopech

It’s not a given that the highly-touted prospect will be a part of the White Sox plans in 2020, but as NBC Sports Chicago’s Vinnie Duber points out, this 60-game scenario could benefit Kopech.

Essentially, Kopech and his electric arm were being watched very cautiously in spring training due to injuries he’s dealt with in the past. With a 162-game season assumed, there was speculation that Kopech would first spend time in the minors before potentially joining the pro club later in the season, as a way to monitor his usage.

But now with a shortened season, Chicago could opt to let him start in the majors and get some work in, whether it be starting or in the bullpen. With fewer innings to get through overall, Kopech could get more action than was expected.

Cleveland Indians - Adam Cimber

Cimber had his name called upon 68 times in 2019, and the first 37 of those appearances went rather well (3.06 ERA). However, the final 31 did not (6.29 ERA).

Part of that struggle could most likely be attributed to fatigue. 2020 realistically only gives Cimber enough time to put together the body of work he had in his first 37 appearances, if that. A sample size of that nature bodes well for him and the Indians. 

Detroit Tigers - Miguel Cabrera

The veteran showed in Spring Training that he still has plenty of pop in his bat, even taking Gerrit Cole deep twice in one game. However, even in the DH role, a 162-game grind isn’t ideal.

With extended rest and a shortened season on the horizon, the right-hander could ride a hot start right into another solid year of production.

Kansas City Royals - Jorge Soler

Soler can swing with the best of them, especially when he gets rolling. That became evident during a 60-game stretch from July 24 to the end of the season when he hit .292 and had 21 home runs, as stated by MLB.com's Jeffrey Flanagan. 

Yes, that was in the middle-end of the season after seeing a lot of pitches throughout the season, but should Soler come anywhere near that during the 2020 season, he’ll have an incredible season.

Minnesota Twins - Rich Hill

Many pitchers will benefit from a shortened season, and Rich Hill is most definitely one of them. Hill entering his age-40 season, meaning his arm has been through quite a lot in 15 years of MLB action.

Additionally, the new Twin is coming off surgery that was expected to delay his debut until June. With baseball not starting until the end of July, he won’t just be ready, but he’ll be well-rested in a season in which fewer innings will be asked of him.

The Twins were looking to get value out of Hill by signing the veteran, and the shortened season may make that decision all the more plausible.

AL WEST

Houston Astros - Justin Verlander

Since joining Houston in 2017, Verlander has been an absolute workhorse and innings-eater. Not only that, but he’s been dominant throughout. In 2019, he led all of baseball in innings pitched, and that didn’t include his postseason work. 

There’s no reason to expect a steep drop-off in 2020, but a 60-game season may make it even easier for him to continue his reign as one of the best pitchers in baseball. Houston will not only expect him to go deep in games in the regular season but to do the same if they make the playoffs. Last season, Verlander shows signs of being human and dealing with fatigue in the World Series, where he had a 5.73 ERA in two games. 

Limiting his starts through 60 games should keep the arm fresh and the velocity sharp for as long as he is needed, limiting the chances of any decline when the games mean the most.

Los Angeles Angels - Shohei Ohtani

Ohtani can throw a top-end fastball and hit balls 400 feet. However, injuries have prevented him from doing both at the same time consistently in the major leagues. New manager Joe Maddon wants to see it be done, and there may be no better time to try it out then during a short season. 

If 162 games were to be played, it may be a lot to ask Ohtani to start a game and then hit the four others. It still may be a lot, but it’s much more realistic for him to contribute on the mound and at the plate in 2020.

Oakland Athletics - Sean Manaea

Manaea has been a talented starter for the Athletics over the past few years when he’s on the field. A no-hitter in 2018 showed just how dominant he could be. However, he has dealt with arm problems in the past and is coming off a season where he didn’t take the field until September.

Though he performed well upon his return (4-0, 1.21 ERA), a 60-game season will make it easier for him to remain healthy and effective.

Texas Rangers - Corey Kluber

A familiar face in a new place you may have forgotten about, Kluber was acquired by Texas in hopes that he will be its ace for the next few seasons. His past body of work shows he’s up for the challenge, but 2019 was a year filled with injuries.

Now, the 2017 Cy Young winner is back to full health, but after appearing in just seven games last year, there could have been some concerns about how his arm would fare over 162 games. That’s no longer a concern, and the Rangers should be able to rely on Kluber in a year where every team has a better chance at the postseason.

Seattle Mariners - Daniel Vogelbach

Vogelbach was an All-Star in 2019, and that was largely due to his performance in the first half of the season. During his first 70 games, Vogelbach hit an average .249 but had 20 homer runs and 48 RBI. Following that, he batted just .162 in the second half and the power numbers decreased as well (nine home runs).

For a player with a ton of power who has the ability to get off to a hot start before pitchers tend to figure him out, a 60-game season is a dream come true. Though he may never hit for an insane average (he did hit .310 through the first month of 2019), he has the ability to produce runs at a fast rate in a short timeframe.

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Report: Officials say RFK site not an option for Redskins unless team changes name

Report: Officials say RFK site not an option for Redskins unless team changes name

As the Redskins search for a new football home in the future, the RFK Stadium site is one that is at the top of the list. However, unless the team is willing to change its name, the area becoming their new field is a non-starter, The Washington Post reported on Wednesday

Speaking with several government officials, a similar message was shared throughout. The federally owned land will not be given to the franchise if the name remains what it is today.

“I call on Dan Snyder once again to face that reality, since he does still desperately want to be in the nation’s capital,” D.C.'s nonvoting delegate to the House of Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) said. “He has got a problem he can’t get around -- and he particularly can’t get around it today, after the George Floyd killing.”

“There is no viable path, locally or federally, for the Washington football team to return to Washington, D.C., without first changing the team name," D.C. Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio said.

Washington's name has been a topic of debate for years but has recently received major pushback over the past month as the nation yearns for racial justice following the murder of George Floyd.

It was also reported on Wednesday that investment firms and shareholders worth a collective $620 billion have asked Nike, FedEx and PepsiCo to terminate their business relationships with the Washington Redskins unless the team agrees to change its name.

The Redskins have expressed interest in playing on the grounds of RFK after a bill was introduced in 2019 calling for the federal government to sell the area to the city. However, the bill won't pass through Congress unless the land is used for the team under a different name. U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, referred to the current name as a "racist nickname."

RELATED ARTICLE: RON RIVERA MAKES FIRST PUBLIC COMMENTS REGARDING REDSKINS' NAME

Redskins owner Dan Snyder has stated in the past that he is not open to a name change, as he considers it to be an act of honor toward Native Americans. 

Washington currently plays its games at FedEx Fied in Landover, Md. Both sides would like to see the team return to the District, but for as long as they are called the Redskins, it won't happen.

“The time has ended,” Grijalva said. “There is no way to justify it. You either step into this century or you don’t. It’s up to the owner of the team to do that.”

“The city obviously would like the team back,” Norton said. “But it’s important that [Falcicchio] used the word ‘federally’ -- meaning that they now recognize that there is no hope unless this name is changed.”

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