From Comcast SportsNetDAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Danica Patrick's talking about challenges that lay ahead, Clint Bowyer and Jeff Gordon aren't saying whether they have patched their differences, and Brad Keselowski is eager to defend his Sprint Cup title.That's right, the start of another NASCAR season is just around the corner.Patrick said Thursday that she does not plan to race in this year's Indianapolis 500 because she wants to concentrate on her first full-time season on NASCAR's highest level of competition.Bowyer brushed aside questions about whether he and Gordon have made up in the months that have passed since a fight between the two drivers' crews broke out after Gordon intentionally wrecked Bowyer the week before last season's finale."Who cares? Really, who cares?" Bowyer said, addressing the media on the first day of testing of NASCAR's new "Gen 6" cars at Daytona International Speedway. "Apparently, you guys do way more than we do. I can promise you that."Keselowski is still riding high after capturing his first Sprint Cup championship in 2012. He was the first driver on the track for the start of three days of testing in preparation for next month's Daytona 500, even if he wound up running fairly low on the speed charts."I am not happy not being fast. I can tell you that, but you try to put it in perspective of how much work is yet to be done over the next month or month-and-a-half," Keselowski said. "Being first on the track ... is our little way of needling the competition to say that even if we aren't fastest we are going to be the first ones on it."Patrick, who announced on her Facebook page in November that she and her husband, Paul Hospenthal, are divorcing after seven years of marriage, also skipped the Indy 500 last year.Instead, she ran in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on the same day, which is what she intends to do again.Patrick is coming off her first full season in NASCAR, a year in which she ran full Nationwide schedule and 10 Sprint Cup Series races after leaving IndyCar."The team and I decided to focus on (Sprint) Cup. It's going to be plenty of work as it is, and it's going to be important for me running for the championship full-time for the first time to really keep myself focused with the Cup car," Patrick said. "But If I do do the Indy 500 moving forward, it will be with Go Daddy."She said her 2013 schedule also could include some Nationwide series events, although she has not yet signed a deal with a racing team or sponsor."I'm not sure if that's completely set. There have been some reports that have come out about running for Turner, and we're definitely talking to them trying to figure it out," Patrick said. "We're definitely working on that, but there's been nothing signed yet, and the exact dates and the sponsor has yet to be confirmed for all that."Essentially, the Daytona testing marks the end of the offseason for drivers.There's more testing next week in Charlotte of the cars NASCAR is counting to improve racing and re-kindle fan interest, with Speedweeks at Daytona to follow. The Daytona 500 kicks off the Sprint Cup schedule on Feb. 24."Everybody is super excited about this race car and what it brings to our sport and the identity that it brings back to passenger cars you see on the roads. ... They're certainly cool looking," Bowyer said.Bowyer declined to say whether reports that he and Gordon spent time together on a yacht on New Year's Eve."I think he was on that same boat. There were a lot of other people on that boat. It was a big time being had," Bowyer said at one point.When asked if the drivers had spent any time bonding, Bowyer responded: "Yeah, we held hands and walked off the boat, discussed the past year and enjoyed ourselves throughout the whole vacation. That was the one person that I definitely wanted to take vacation with. Yes, I could not wait to get there for that very reason. Is that what you wanted me to say?"For his part, Gordon confirmed he and Bowyer saw each other on the boat while attending what he described as the "party of the year" thrown by entertainer P Diddy in St. Barts. NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick also was there."We were just hanging out and having a good time, and on walks Bowyer and Harvick and a couple of other folks," Gordon said. "I don't know. It was a great New Year's. I enjoyed myself very much."But did they leave as friends?"I don't remember seeing him leave the boat," Gordon quipped.Well, did they at least speak to each other?"We talked," Gordon replied. "I had a great New Year's."Meanwhile, Patrick said she is looking forward to the challenge of running a full Sprint Cup challenge and reiterated it will be important to maintain realistic expectations of what she might be able to accomplish as a rookie."I think it's very difficult at this point in time to put sort of numbers to exactly where I should be finishing," she said. "I think you can look at a little bit of what happened last year as a bit of a baseline as to expectation levels and definitely areas that need work."But it's a new year; it's a new car and a lot of stuff changes. ... I think we just need to get started on the season, get these first few races out of the way and then start to create some baseline for what we are expecting and what we are shooting for."Everyone is shooting for what Keselowski has -- the championship.For him, he said it's "slowly soaking in" what it's like to be a Cup champion and the "some of the doors that open up, whether it is people showing you more respect or opportunities to do different events you may never have had before.""To me that is the most fun and more honoring moments of being a champion. I really look forward to seeing how those open up," Keselowski added. "The great thing that separates winning a championship from winning a race is that you are a champion for a whole year. I feel like I won a race, but you get to celebrate it for a whole year. That is a really good feeling."
Preseason games are about evaluations as well as fusing together the component parts of offense, defense and special teams. But for a handful of Bears, a little more is at stake, for the franchise itself, not just for themselves.
The foundation of any franchise ultimately is the draft, and the Bears are seeing at least preliminary impact from key members of this draft class, and not simply down in the lower third of the projected roster. Why that becomes particularly relevant this weekend is that preseason game No. 3 is when starters and key rotational players, and the top picks in this year’s draft are in fact already firmly ensconced in roles at the top of the depth charts.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Among the most significant:
No. 1 - OLB Leonard Floyd
The No. 9-overall pick has not dominated through two games but insiders told CSNChicago.com that Floyd has not only played the run very well, but also delivered impact pass rushes even if only netting him a half-sack on stat sheets. Floyd has played 68 of opponents’ 126 presesaon snaps already and is a critical part of the current edge rotation with Sam Acho, Lamarr Houston and Willie Young as well of the future Bears defenses.
Floyd has missed practice time with three separate issues but “we've been very, very pleased with his progress,” coach John Fox said, an extra “very” always being noteworthy.
No. 2 - LG Cody Whitehair
After a brief flirtation with him replacing injured Hroniss Grasu at center, Whitehair has resumed his upward-trending at left guard. He has been the starter there since the opening of training camp, given an opportunity with an injury to Ted Larsen, and Whitehair has never given the job up.
“He’s done well,” said quarterback Jay Cutler. “He’s a smart kid. He’s quiet, he kind of fits in with that group and he’s doing exactly what we ask him to do. He’s really talented. You can see some stuff he does, the way he passes things off, it comes natural to him.”
No. 3 - DE Jonathan Bullard
Bullard has been given significant playing time (71 of opponents’ 126 snaps) and has produced four tackles, one for loss, and a half sack. He is part of a rotation with Mitch Unrein primarily and has demonstrated starter-grade impact already. “Our expectations are big,” said Fox. “My experience has been, you don’t expect much, you don’t get much. I think he’s lived up to expectations so far.”
No. 4’s - S Deon Bush/CB Deiondre’ Hall
The Bears selected safety Deon Bush three picks ahead of Hall in the fourth round; Bush did play 44 snaps and make two solo tackles against New England but has been out with an injury this week.
Hall tied for team high with five tackles vs. Denver, plus two pass breakups, and followed that with two tackles at New England as he took over when starter Jacoby Glenn went out with a concussion.
“[Hall] has improved,” Fox said. “When you bring in rookies you don’t really know. You get them out there, they play. He’s played a lot. He’s actually shown up pretty good. We’ll see where that takes us.”
No. 5 - RB Jordan Howard
Howard was given the ball 11 times during his 31 snaps at New England and netted 46 yards along with rave reviews from scouts. His workload may diminish against Kansas City with Ka’Deem Carey back from injury and Jeremy Langford and Jaquizz Rodgers doing heavy time with the No. 1 offense. But he has already made a strong impression.
“Howard, the rookie, has kind of followed along, picked it up as he goes,” Cutler said. “So with those four guys, you’ve got a lot of options.”
Safety DeAndre Houston-Carson (No. 6) and wideout Daniel Braverman (No. 7) have played but their main work will come next Thursday in the game four at Cleveland.
Throw the names Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. all in a hat and pick one. It doesn't matter which name you pull out. They're all studs.
Anybody who plays fantasy football should know who the top wide receivers in the game are.
Check out that parity. Only one player that we disagree on.
Analyzing the top guys and telling you which one to draft isn't rocket science. That's why we're here to give you advice on who to target, which sleepers to keep an eye on and the busts for the 2016 season.
Eric Decker, NYJ: When will Decker get his due?? Dude's had his own TV show, has a celebrity wife, played with Peyton Manning and now plays in the biggest city in the U.S. and yet he's still an afterthought in fantasy. Decker has proven to be one of the most consistent players in the league over the last few seasons and there's no indication that will change anytime soon. He's had four straight years of at least 74 catches and 962 yards and scored double digit TDs in three of those four seasons. Last year, he scored 12 TDs in 12 different games, earning double digit fantasy points in nine of his final 10 games. For a guy that's going in the fifth round as the No. 24 WR, that's incredible value. — Tony Andracki
A.J Green, CIN: I know it's a little bit of a "Captain Obvious" moment to tell you that you should target Green, but I'm going to explain why anyway. Currently, Green has an ADP of 13, which has him falling out of the first round in many leagues. Outside of the "Big 3" Green is arguably the safest wide receiver to target in your draft and should be snatched up if he's available anywhere close to the end of the first or the start of the second round. Gone from the Bengals are wide receivers Marvin Jones and Muhamed Sanu, meaning the target burden is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of Green in 2016. He should easily blow his 2015 targets (132) out of the water with only Brandon LaFell, Tyler Eifert and the Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard tandem as the only trusted targets for quarterback Andy Dalton. As a WR1, Green is an excellent piece to build your team around. — Scott Krinch
Donte Moncrief, IND: Moncrief is a sixth-round pick right now, but count on a higher return on your investment than that. The third-year wideout has a rather high floor considering he's not yet an established name and his ceiling could eclipse that of teammate TY Hilton. Moncrief has a great rapport with Andrew Luck, who should be happy, healthy and back to his dominant self in 2016. Everything here spells breakout this season. — TA
Kevin White, CHI: The wait is over. Bears fans and fantasy players alike are happy to finally see White return to full health. White, the 7th overall selection in 2015 who missed all of his rookie season with a stress fracture in his shin, has been drawing rave reviews throughout the preseason, being compared to Andre Johnson/Reggie Wayne by Bears' wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson. White heads into the 2016 season as the Bears' No. 2 wide receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery. Equipped with off the charts athleticism and speed for his 6-foot-3 frame, White is expected to play a significant role in the Bears offense. His 8th/9th round ADP puts him behind wideouts like DeVante Parker, Jordan Matthews and Torrey Smith, all players that may have a higher floor than White, but don't possess the type of ceiling that he does. If you want a high upside guy in the later rounds, White is your man. — SK
Allen Hurns, JAX: I hate to label Hurns as a bust heading into the 2016 season because I really like him as a player on the upstart Jaguars offense. However, the problem I have with Hurns is the fact that he's going off the board before the likes of Tyler Lockett, Sterling Shepard and Kevin White. The three aforementioned wide receivers all have massive ceilings next season, while Hurns will undoubtedly see a decline in last season's numbers. I can't see Hurns repeating his 2015 stretch where he went seven straight weeks with a receiving touchdown. Blake Bortles is going to spread the wealth between Allen Robinson, Rashad Greene, Marqise Lee and Hurns, in addition to having a full season of Julius Thomas. If you're expecting another big year from Hurns, temper your enthusiasm. There are too many targets to go around in Jacksonville. — SK
Sammy Watkins, BUF: This isn't about Watkins' talent level. He is one of the most physically gifted receivers in the NFL. But he's being drafted in the third round and I simply don't think he will provide that kind of value. From the No. 12 WR on the board, you'd expect him to be a guy you set and forget in your lineup every week and Watkins is not that. For starters, there is his injury history (he missed three full games last season and was limited for a few others) and he already has a foot issue this season. Then factor in the fact the Bills offense under Tyrod Taylor is not a passing offense and more about ball control and letting Taylor improve or use his legs. Watkins will have some big games, but he won't be consistent enough to warrant such an investment. — TA
"Those who stay will be champions."
That's the familiar motto of Michigan football.
Well, consider that motto co-opted by the Wolverines' in-state rival.
Michigan State's director of college advancement and performance, Curtis Blackwell, tweeted out this image Thursday. Check out the slogan on the right.
Now, this is certainly nothing new, social-media flaps between the two programs. Jim Harbaugh makes a habit of going after people on Twitter, and Mark Dantonio has had his own veiled Twitter shots at Harbaugh & Co. in the past, too.
And, truthfully, Michigan State has reason to boast, as it's the program that's done the most winning in the Great Lakes State in recent seasons. Dantonio has led the Spartans to a trio of conference championships, in 2010, 2013 and 2015. In the past three seasons alone, the Spartans are 36-5 with two conference titles, wins in the Rose Bowl and Cotton Bowl and an appearance in the College Football Playoff.
Meanwhile, Michigan has won double-digit games in a single season just twice since 2006.
So while riffing on the Wolverines' motto raised a few eyebrows, the Spartans aren't wrong.