Monday, March 7, 2011

2011 MLB Ace Rankings

Like Charlie Sheen, it's time to start the WINNING!
And the winning begins with the first official baseball season post of 2011: the ace rankings. The pitcher considered to be the top of the depth chart for all 30 Major League teams, with apologies to a few others who could be aces for any other team, are profiled here.
Let the winning begin...
30. Jeff Francis, Royals.
Francis has not been healthy for the last few years, but he was brought in to replace Zack Greinke and hopefully provide K.C. with a healthy season and signs of the Francis from the Rockies' 2007 World Series run. Apologies to former number one overall Luke Hochevar, whom has not taken the next step to ace level just yet. Right now, Francis is the most accomplished of the Royals' starters.
29. Joe Saunders, Diamondbacks.
What, did you think I'd pick Ian Kennedy? Saunders is a good number four or five starter on an American League team, but is considered an ace on a young, bad Arizona team. Saunders, with the Angels and D-Backs, went 9-17 with a 4.46 ERA last year. This will have to change if Arizona expects to lose less than 100 games.
28. Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles.
He will soon be replaced on this list by young stud Brian Matusz, but for now, Guthrie is probably the only "ace" on this list that has gotten away with 4+ ERA's and losing records for years now. That's because he plays for the Orioles, who are always high on offense, but extremely short on pitching.
27. John Lannan, Nationals.
With Stephen Strasburg out for the season, Lannan once again assumes the de facto role of Nationals' ace. If Chien-Ming Wang is healthy and regains the form that made him the Yankees' 19-game winning ace in 2006 and 2007, he could reach the top of the Nats' depth chart. And no, I will NOT put Livan Hernandez and his 83 mph fastball on this list.
26. Paul Maholm, Pirates.
Again, a de facto ace on a bad team. Ross Ohlendorf is simply too inconsistent, and can you name any other starting pitchers in the Pittsburgh rotation? Me neither. Steelers training camp is in 5 months (we assume).
25. Mike Pelfrey, Mets.
With Johan Santana out until at least the All-Star break, Big Pelf assumes the role of ace for the Me$$ for the first half. He has displayed signs of a future ace in the last two seasons, but needs to show more consistency if he wants to take over the #1 spot permanently.
24. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays.
Honestly, you can flip-flop Romero and Brett Cecil for the title of ace for this young pitching staff. If Kyle Drabek realizes his potential this year, he can ascend to this list quickly. Carlos Villanueva is a nice innings-eater, and Brandon Morrow has ace-like stuff, but not enough consistency.
23. Wandy Rodriguez, Astros.
Wandy is a nice number two, but not an ace in the true sense of the word. But with Roy Oswalt gone, Wandy assumes the role of ace on arguably the worst team in baseball. If Brett Myers stays healthy, he will be the ace of this staff.
22. Fausto Carmona, Indians.
Quick, name another starting pitcher on Cleveland's staff! Yep, I know. Carmona does have ace stuff, but like a few others on this list, needs to stay healthy. Expect him to be dealt elsewhere near the trade deadline.
21. Edinson Volquez, Reds.
Even battling injuries, Volquez has never recaptured the form that made him a star and compared to Pedro Martinez in his prime in 2008. If that form is regained, the NL Central should be very afraid.
20. C.J. Wilson, Rangers.
With Cliff Lee departed, Wilson assumes the role of #1. He showed flashes of brilliance in his first full season as a starter last year, and was arguably the team's best pitcher throughout 2010. If Neftali Feliz reaches his potential as a starter, he could push Wilson in the future.
19. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers.
The man Joe Torre compared to Sandy Koufax is certainly not at that level yet, but he has matured enough in the last year, finishing with a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts, to be slated as Donnie Baseball's #1 starter this season. Ted Lilly and Jon Garland are nice innings eater, and Chad Billingsley is a fine #2. But Kershaw has the stuff to be a Major League ace, and here's his chance to show us why.
18. Francisco Liriano, Twins.
Regained the form that made him a superstar in 2006, but injuries are still a concern with Liriano. Trade rumors run abound with him, especially a potential future deal with the Yankees. If healthy, he can be one of the best left-handers in baseball.
17. Trevor Cahill, Athletics.
Broke out in a big way last year, going 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA, remaining in the Cy Young conversation for the majority of the season. Could be even better this year with an improved A's team.
16. Mat Latos, Padres.
A breakout star on a young Padres team that finished one game short of the postseason last year. He will need to be better than that this year to put the Fathers over the top. Expect a 200 strikeout, 50 walk season.
15. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs.
If he stays out of trouble on and off the field, expect a huge season from Big Z. Otherwise, Matt Garza looms large behind him for the role of ace.
14. Jered Weaver, Angels.
Led the American League in strikeouts last season, along with 233 strikeouts and a 3.01 ERA, as Weaver developed into a full-blown ace in 2010. Expect a similar season in 2011.
13. Derek Lowe, Braves.
Not the true definition of an ace, but has the heart and grinding mentality of one. He stays healthy and is consistent. You always know what you are going to get out of him. A mid-season trade candidate if Atlanta can't duplicate last year's success.
12. Mark Buehrle, White Sox.
See Derek Lowe's profile. Very similar pitchers.
11. David Price, Rays.
Reached his full potential in 2010, going 19-6 with a 2.72 ERA and finishing second in the AL Cy Young race. The anchor and leader of a young, hungry pitching staff, and at age 25, is already one of the most feared southpaws in baseball.
10. Justin Verlander, Tigers.
Showed a little inconsistency last year, but is still one of the most dominant pitchers in the AL. Went 18-8 last year with a 3.37 ERA and 219 strikeouts. Once again, he will be the key to the Tigers' success.
9. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies.
Had arguably the best first half of all time in 2010, but had a mediocre second half, which cost him the Cy Young award and his team a playoff spot. Needs to show consistency through all six months of the season, not just 3 or 4. But man, how can you hit that 101 MPH fastball?
8. Zack Greinke, Brewers.
Expect a better season from Greinke than his 2009 Cy Young season in KC with a change of scenery, a clearer head, and a better team. He has already electrified Milwaukee fans without throwing a pitch, and expect him to electrify them more and more as the season goes on. And why not? Milwaukee is a perfect fit for Greinke.
7. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals.
With Adam Wainwright out for the season, St. Louis MUST have Carpenter stay healthy for them to have a chance at postseason baseball in 2011. With Albert Pujols' free agency looming, no pitcher has more pressure on him than Carpenter to lead a pitching staff this season. If he stays healthy, he is more than capable.
6. Jon Lester, Red Sox.
Might be the best left-hander in the American League and now a perennial Cy Young candidate. Josh Beckett is now an ace in name only. It is now Lester and Clay Buchholz's time to shine. Expect his first twenty win season this year and possibly his first Cy Young award.
5. Josh Johnson, Marlins.
The best pitcher you've never heard of. Consistently hits 98-100 with his fastball, and at one point last season, had a lower ERA than Ubaldo Jimenez. He finished with a 2.30 ERA and only 48 walks. Imagine if he pitched in a bigger market. He'd be a superstar.
4. CC Sabathia, Yankees.
Other than Roy Halladay, probably the best workhorse pitcher in baseball. Won 20 games last season and finished third in the Cy Young voting. With Andy Pettitte retired and Cliff Lee in Philly, the pressure will be the highest it has ever been on the big man to produce for the Bronx Bombers. Losing 20 pounds on his non Cap'n Crunch diet is a start.
3. Felix Hernandez, Mariners.
His Cy Young award in 2010 despite a 13-12 record proves the win-loss thing doesn't matter nowadays. A 2.27 ERA and 232 strikeouts helps. Too bad he pitches on a bad team that is wasting his talent.
2. Tim Lincecum, Giants.
I place Timmy a notch above King Felix because of his two Cy Young awards, and now, a World Series ring. Did not have his best season by his standards last season, going 16-10 with a 3.43 ERA. He also showed signs of a heavy workload over the last few seasons, but improved enough in time to lead the Giants to their first title since 1954.
1. Roy Halladay, Phillies.
The absolute best at what he does, without argument. Last season was one of destiny for him and the Phillies, as he won his second Cy Young award, pitched a perfect game, and became only the second man ever to throw a no-hitter in postseason play. Of course, having Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels behind isn't bad, either. A World Series win with the Phillies should punch Doc's ticket to Cooperstown.
Honorable Mentions per team:
Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
Brett Cecil, Blue Jays
Jake Peavy, White Sox
Dan Haren, Angels
Brett Anderson, Athletics
Lee/Oswalt/Hamels, Phillies
Johan Santana, Mets
Matt Garza, Cubs
Bronson Arroyo, Reds
Brett Myers, Astros
Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
Matt Cain, Giants

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Random Thoughts from the Passionate Sports Fan's Mind VII

The Carmelo Anthony-to-the-Knicks trade is finally done, and the Nets acquire Deron Williams from Utah in two mega-deals.
But, wait for it...........................
The Rangers continue to struggle mightily in February, despite last night's huge shootout win in Carolina.
Is it too late to retract me "believe in the Rangers" comments? Maybe they will continue to surprise me, but it's unreasonable for me to expect a Cup this year.
Not only are the NFL and NBA collective bargaining agreements expiring, but MLB's expires after this upcoming season.
If you listened to White Sox GM Kenny Williams' comments about the potential $30M per year contract forthcoming for Albert Pujols, it is slightly possible that the owners may demand a salary cap. If that happens, I would be three times more worried about a baseball lockout than an NFL lockout.
Hank Steinbrenner blasts the Yankees and Derek Jeter for "building mansions" instead of winning the 2010 World Series.
So Hank, I guess it's a sin that the Yankees get all the way to Game 6 of the ALCS and get beaten by a better team? Shut up, Hank. For the love of George! Do the Yankee Universe a favor and leave the baseball operation to Hal? If you actually think that the construction of Derek Jeter's new home in Tampa caused the worst season of his career, you know nothing about baseball!
There's a New York City basketball team that is relevant again!
No, I'm not talking about the Knicks, but the St. John's Red Sotrm! With all the upsets the Johnnies have been pulling off, don't surprised if they make a Cinderella run this March.
A 20 year old rookie driver, Trevor Bayne, wins the Daytona 500.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again. How does NASCAR justify their most important race on their calendar being the first race of the season, but not the last?
Adam Wainwright may be done for the year with an injured elbow.
Speaking of retractions, if the Cardinal ace does indeed need Tommy John surgery, then it may almost be paramount that the Cards sign Pujols after this season. Who knows if Wainwright will be the same again?
And for my non-sports thought of the week:
Everyone should pay attention to the Wisconsin protests. Similar happenings may occur in New Jersey very, very soon, along with any other state with public labor and union issues. But it also underscores a major underlying theme: people are getting off their collective asses and fighting for their rights. And you can thank a bunch of young, internet-savvy Egyptians for inspiring all this.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Random Thoughts from the Passionate Sports Fan's Mind VI

Pitchers and Catchers have officially reported! Welcome to Baseball season!
Words of caution: Do NOT pencil in a Boston/Phillies World Series. Championships aren't won on paper. Also, do NOT count the Yankees out despite their pitching woes.
The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement expires March 4.
Fans: DON'T PANIC if a deal isn't signed by then. It won't affect the draft, and it won't affect any games unless the lockout extends into training camp. If that happens, THEN you may panic.
Last week's Penguins/Islanders game may have been the ugliest in NHL history.
If you read Mario Lemieux's complaints about the lieniency of the suspensions handed out to the culpable Islander players, 66 should think about this: get your superstar player roommate healthy, because losing Evgeni Malkin for the season may have crippled your team's Cup hopes.
Albert Pujols' deadline for the Cardinals to sign him to a new deal has passed.
Unless he takes a hometown discount to remain in St. Louis beyond this season, don't expect him back next year, Redbird Nation. But it will NOT cripple the franchise if it does happen.
If you think the Madoff/Wilpon situation won't affect the Mets operations, think again.
Guess what? David Wright is correct. If the Wilpons lose millions in this impending lawsuit, who is paying the players?
Non-Sports thought of the week (actually, two of them this time)
After taking your wife or girlfriend out for Valentine's Day, I hope your card went something like this: "Honey, thank you for tolerating my absence the last 21 Sundays."
Plus, I normally could care less about the Grammys, but kudos to the academy by choosing Arcade Fire, the best band of the 21st century not named Radiohead (more on them soon...) and their album "The Suburbs" on winning Album of the Year over less talented corporate artists like Lady Gaga and her egg and Katy Perry. Oh, and for shutting out Justin Bieber! And to all music lovers everywhere: Radiohead's new album, The King of Limbs, is released digitally this Saturday!!!!!!!!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Super Bowl XLV Preview

After 10 postseason games, 254 regular season games, and even 65 preseason games, we've finally arrived at the only one that truly matters. The Super Bowl. Forget the hype, forget the pagentry, and even forget the weather. Steelers-Packers promises to be a classic for all-time. When was the last time you really considered the Super Bowl a toss-up? Both teams are so evenly matched, don't be surprised if we see the best Super Bowl ever played. Here is the position-by-position breakdown plus the pick for the game:

Big Ben has been here before. He has done an admirable job of dealing with all the questions regarding his checkered past leading up to the game. He led one of the great game-winning drives in NFL history two years ago in Tampa. He has the potential to do it again here. And you know for a fact he will produce a huge play or two on improvisation alone. On the other side is a pure passer with scrambling skills, Aaron Rodgers, whom as I have stated before, is better than his legendary predecessor. I expect him to put up huge numbers on a fast turf, indoor weather, and a mediocre Steelers secondary. Take your pick here. Edge: EVEN.

Running Backs
Let's not go there with Green Bay's running game producing much against the Steeler D. Don't expect many KUUUUUUUUUHN chants, either. One of the keys for the Steelers to win this game is Rashard Mendenhall. If he can produce a 100-yard plus game with efficiency the way he did against the Jets, Pittsburgh will have a chance. Big Ben can make the big plays, but Mendenhall has to set him up. Edge: STEELERS.

Wide Recievers
Like Mendenhall, Mike Wallace will also have to make a couple of big plays. Let's not forget that Hines Ward is a former Super Bowl MVP, so expect some key catches from him. Ditto rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders. With the potential absence of a running game, Aaron Rodgers will be throwing to his big play recievers all night long. Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and co. will be very busy Sunday night, and don't be surprised, if the Packers win, one of Rodgers' recieving corps will win MVP honors instead of him. Edge: PACKERS.

Tight Ends
Heath Miller just may be Big Ben's favorite target. Not to mention he is one of the most underrated tight ends in the business. Andrew Quarless has filled in nicely for the injured Jermichael Finley, but don't be surprised if Finley's absence has an impact. Edge: STEELERS

Offensive Line
All-Pro center Maurkice Pouncey has officially been ruled out for the Steelers, creating a huge void in an already depleted O-line. Doug Lagursky will make his first NFL start at center. No pressure. Flozell Adams is returning to the place he called home for more than a decade, so expect some extra motivation from him. The bottom line is, Green Bay's O-line is three times as healthier than Pittsburgh's, and if they neutralize the Steeler pass rush, it could be a long night for Pittsburgh. Edge: PACKERS

Defensive Line
Aaron Smith will not play for the Steelers, but they have survived without him. Caveman Brett Kiesel, Ziggy Hood, and Casey Hampton are all capable of wearing down the Packer O-Line with their relentless physicality. With the depleted Steeler O-line, expect B.J. Raji to be the X-factor for Green Bay. Just hope he doesn't pull one of his ridiculous dances. Edge: EVEN

James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons. The four horsemen. Pick your poison, Green Bay. Clay Matthews alone makes the Green Bay linebacking corps a force. His containment of Rashard Mendenhall and rushing of Ben Roethlisberger are vital to the Pack's success. A.J. Hawk will help as well. Edge: EVEN

Defensive Backs
Troy Polamalu is a household name. Ryan Clark ain't bad either. But if the mediocre Steeler cornerbacks can't cover the Packer recievers, the Steelers may have to engage in a shootout, something they probably are not built for like the Packers are. The Packers have three, possibly four household names in their secondary: Charles Woodson, breakout stars Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, and Nick Collins. The Steelers recievers have their hands full. Edge: PACKERS

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham is still questionable in a big spot. The coverage team, especially on punt returns, is suspect. Tramon Williams or Sam Shields are capable of bringing one to the house. Either way, neither unit is anything to write home about. Edge: EVEN

It's been there, done that for Mike Tomlin, coaching his second Super Bowl at only age 38. Mike McCarthy should probably have won Coach of the Year honors for the way he kept his team together through a litany of injuries to key players. The matchup between defensive coordinators Dick LeBeau and Dom Capers is very fascinating. Both coached together in the 90s with the Steelers, and are very good friends. Edge: STEELERS

The Pick (2-0 Championship Sunday, 27-27 overall)
The one major prediction other than the winner is that for the first time in Super Bowl history, the game will go to overtime. You read it here first. This is such a great matchup historically, logistically, and player-wise that it will only be fitting that a game made for the state of Texas will be even bigger. The keys to the game were listed above. The Steelers must run the football, and the Packers must make plays through the air. Two big plays per team on both sides of the ball will be made, and at least one team will score a defensive touchdown. A late field goal will push the game to overtime, where I believe the big game experience of Big Ben and his teammates will prevail over the young, promising Packers. The greatest Super Bowl ever played ends with the final score of..........................

STEELERS 26, PACKERS 23 (OT); PIT +2 1/2

Enjoy the game, folks!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Thoughts on Championship Sunday and BELIEVE in the New York Rangers.

Green Bay 21, Chicago 14.

- STOP!!! Stop hating on Jay Cutler!

I couldn't believe the amount of NFL players outraged over Jay Cutler not returning to the NFC title game after ripping apart his MCL. All of this anti-Cutler backlash is not about a football player not playing an enormous game hurt. It is an opportunity for those that dislike Cutler to jump all over him. Let me ask a question to these players: did you see the way Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey's ankle was injured in the AFC title game? Where's the backlash over him not playing on one leg. Also, Hines Ward, one the toughest, most hard-nosed players in the NFL injured his knee in the '09 title game and stood on the sideline the remainder of the game. Where was the backlash then? I rest my case.

-Aaron Rodgers' tackle on Brian Urlacher saved the game for the Packers.

By far the most important play of the game. If Urlacher goes all the way, it's very possible the Bears win that game. Other than the first drive of the game, Rodgers did nothing the rest of the game offensively.

-If that score had happened, Caleb Haney (who?) would have won the NFC title for Chicago.

Give the kid props. He overcame some early jitters to make some key plays in the fourth quarter, including two TD passes, to keep the game interesting. He may have earned a 2nd-string job somewhere next year.

-The Steelers should take notice on how the Bears' D flustered Aaron Rodgers.

In the Week 17 game at Lambeau and the NFC title game, Rodgers was clearly not at his best. The Steelers shoulds study game tape of both games to see how the Bears' D confused him all day long.

Pittsburgh 24, NY Jets 19.

-The Steelers are lucky they didn't complete one of the worst choke jobs in playoff history.

If not for a couple of key Ben Roethlisberger passes, and a major goal line stand in the 4th quarter, chances are we may be seeing the Jets in Dallas, and not Pittsburgh. The Steelers did NOT bring their A-game in the 2nd half. It was almost as if they were counting down the minutes instead of playing football. If they want to beat Green Bay on Feb. 6 in Dallas, they must play a FULL 60 minutes, not 30-35.

-On 4th and goal during that goal line stand, why are the Jets running an old, beat up LaDainian Tomlinson instead of the bigger and more athletic Shonn Greene or even a quarterback sneak from Mark Sanchez? I personally did not have a problem with the passes on 2nd and 3rd down; they just simply weren't executed.

-Give Mark Sanchez credit for not letting his team quit after getting down 24-3. If the second half of this game and the Patriot game are any indication, the Jet franchise is in good hands with Sanchez for the next decade. He will be better next year.

-Big Ben does not need the gaudy stats as long as he makes the big plays and show the heart of a lion.

He threw two interceptions (and should have thrown at least 4 or 5) and no TD passes. But he made many key 3rd down rushes and completed two key passes to Heath Miller and Antonio Brown on 3rd down to ice the game for the Steelers in the final minutes. He may not be glamorous, but Roethlisberger simply knows how to win.

****Full Super Bowl Preview next week!!!****

Believe in the 2010-11 New York Rangers.

I don't want to jinx anything, but this New York Rangers team is capable of something special this year. Disclaimer: I am NOT guaranteeing a Stanley Cup or even a finals apperance, but don't be surprised if either happen. Here's why:

1. This team's blue-collar work ethic is putting the league on it's toes. Their games may not always be pretty, but they will play 60 hard minutes night in and night out, and every single man in the lineup contributes, whether on the score sheet or on the intangible side. You want the greatest example? The team's leading goal scorer is Brian Boyle, a career 4th liner, with 18. He hadn't scored more than 10 in a season ever before.

2. They have proved they can beat the elite. A 1-0 grindfest against Vancouver. A 7-0 home win against Ovechkin and the Capitals, plus a 2-1 shootout win in D.C. last night. Two wins against Pittsburgh on the road, with Sidney Crosby in the lineup both times. They are capable of beating anyone at any time.

3. Martin Biron has been excellent as Henrik Lundqvist's backup. Ranger fans no longer have to cringe when King Henrik doesn't play. Biron has played like a #1 on most nights that he gives Hank a rest. This will benefit him greatly come playoff time.

4. No Ranger fan wants to admit it, but give Glen Sather credit for stocking a very, very deep farm system. This is something this franchise has never had. Interchangeable parts coming to and from Hartford to fill in for injured veterans. More than half the lineup is homegrown, and more potential stars are waiting in the wings. Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Callahan make up a core of hard-working, blue collar players that will guide the Blueshirts through the next decade. Others include Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Matt Gilroy, and Artem Anisimov. This season alone, the majority of the Rangers' top prospects have tasted NHL Life: Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan McDonagh, and Evgeny Grachev. Stepan and Zuccarello are now major components of this unit. More, such as Chris Kreider, are on the way soon. Also, give Sather credit for ridding the Rangers of some horrible contracts, such as Scott Gomez, Wade Redden, and now Michal Roszival. The only bad one remaining is Chris Drury.

5. That all being said, they need more consistent play from their best player, Marian Gaborik. A 4-goal game to break out of a slump is nice, but a goal per game for Gabby will catapult this team to the next level. Come playoff time, him and Lundqvist will have to be on their A game.

6. If this team is fully healthy come playoff time, they will be scary. Look at all their injured players. Ryan Callahan has missed a month and a half. Brandon Dubinsky is likely out until Mid-February. Vinny Prospal hasn't played a game yet. Marian Gaborik missed a month. Chris Drury nearly missed two. Erik Christensen has been out a long time. Ruslan Fedotenko is hurt. Alex Frolov is out for the season. Dan Girardi and Brandon Prust are banged up. Despite all that, the Rangers are on the verge of 30 wins before the All-Star break. They didn't reach their 30th win of last season until March 12. And they finished one point out of a playoff spot. Believe, Ranger fans. Believe. It's going to be a fun second half and playoff run.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Divisional Round Recap and Championship Sunday Preview

Pittsburgh 31, Baltimore 24.

Was this a choke job by the Ravens or simply the Steelers outplaying them? The answer is, a little bit of both. Joe Flacco played the second half of Saturday's game as if he hadn't played a game of football in his life. Three turnovers, including one by Ray Rice that changed the course of the game. Plus a holding penalty that negated a punt return for a touchdown. Easy to suggest choke, right? Well, give the Steelers more credit than that. The hallmark of the Mike Tomlin era is that this team NEVER panics. And they didn't. They stuck to their game plan in the second half despite all the first half physical and mental mistakes, and took advantage of every opportunity their opponents gave them. That is the mark of a championship-calibur team. You want another example? Big Ben's 58-yard pass to rookie reciever Antonio Brown on 3rd and 18 with less than two minutes to go, in their own territory, is one of the gutsiest calls in playoff history. THAT is how you win in January.

Green Bay 45, Atlanta 21.

Did the Falcons get the number of that truck that flattened them like a pancake Saturday night? It's ARGB12. Aaron Rodgers' postseason career, after only three starts, is beginning to mirror those of Joe Montana and Tom Brady. His counterpart, Matt Ryan, has a LOT of work to do to reach that level, after two playoff losses in three seasons. His inexplicable throw to Tramon Williams at the end of the first half to essentially put a dagger in the Dirty Birds defies logic. The Packers look like a Super Bowl winner, don't they? Everything is going their way right now. And get ready for this one, Packer Nation: your current quarterback is BETTER, yes, BETTER than Mr. Favre in his prime.

Chicago 35, Seattle 24.

All you can say about this one is that Seattle's magic simply ran out. Jay Cutler did not make any fatal mistakes during his first playoff game, but he will have to be nearly flawless next week against the Packers for Da Bearsss to have a chance to make it to Dallas. As I said last week, Seattle needed to play another near perfect game like the one they had against the Saints in the first round, and after getting down 7-0 very quickly, you could sense it was over for them.

NY Jets 28, New England 21.

On behalf of all Patriot haters worldwide, I'd just like to say THANK YOU to the Jets for knocking off football's Evil Empire. The Jets didn't just back up all their smack talk to the Pats Sunday night, but they recieved bragging rights for at least the next calendar year, no matter what happens the remainded of the postseason or next regular season! This was, without a doubt, the Jets' greatest victory since Super Bowl III (for now), and for the first time, we can actually question the greatness of Brady and Belichick! Consider this, folks. The Pats have NOT won a playoff game since the 2008 AFC title game against the Chargers. Three calendar years. They still have not recovered from the Super Bowl loss to the Giants. And with Brady nearing his mid-30s, and the remaining cornerstone from their old dynasty gone, it's time to ask yourself: can B&B win one more Super Bowl? I doubt it! This year was their best chance, and they played their worst game of the season against their archrival.

Conference Championship Picks (2-2 last week; won with PIT and GB, lost with SEA and NE; 25-27 overall)

Green Bay 34, Chicago 17. (GB -3 1/2)
Aaron Rodgers and Tramon Williams are playing the best football of their lives right now. The Packers are getting contributions from so many second-string players that they should name a string-cheese after guys like James Starks. On a historic run like this, you can't have a doubt in your mind that the Pack will go into Soldier Field against their oldest rival and take care of business on the road to Dallas. How can the Bears win this one? Generate a pass rush and attempt to fluster Rodgers. If somehow they can accomplish that, wonderful. But the other key will be, as mentioned before, if mistake-prone Jay Cutler can throw a flawless game. If these things happen, Chicago has a fighter's chance. But at the end, Green Bay is simply better, top to bottom.

Pittsburgh 17, NY Jets 13. (PIT -3 1/2)
This game is a toss-up. Both teams feature excellent defenses. One (Steelers) can stop the run better than anyone, and another (Jets) can stop the pass better than anyone. Also, the biggest difference between this game and the 22-17 Week 15 Jet win at Heinz Field: the best defensive player in the sport, Troy Polamalu, is playing for Pittsburgh. Heath Miller, their All-Pro tight end, will be playing as well. Perhaps their heart and soul on the D-line, Aaron Smith, may return from torn triceps. So what will this game come down to? The quarterbacks. Ben Roethlisberger has two Super Bowl rings to his credit already, and is arguably the best big-game quarterback in the game today. Mark Sanchez is one win away from the most road playoff wins by a quarterback in history. These players will have to make one huge play in order for their teams to have a chance. The special teams, especially if Brad Smith can't go for the Jets, will be an X-factor as well. This is going to be an exciting game.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First Round Recap and Divisional Round Preview

Seattle 41, New Orleans 36.
We just witnessed one of the great upsets in NFL playoff history, but that fact has been forgotten. Why? Everyone is still talking about Marshawn Lynch's now legendary 67-yard TD run that effectively won the game for the Hawks. In fact, the run was so epic that it made the Earth shake. Literally. And if you did not jump up and down in euphoria after that stiff arm of Tracy Porter, you are NOT, repeat, NOT a true football fan. That is included with eight, EIGHT broken tackles. It will be on highlight reels for years to come.

NY Jets 17, Indianapolis 16.
No surprise here, honestly. The Colts simply had to deal with too many injuries this year, and the Jets are simply the better team. Mark Sanchez grew up as an NFL quarterback in this game, although he did recieve a little help on the Jets' final drive from the Colts' Jim Caldwell, who will be on the hot seat next season. One immortal quarterback down for Rex Ryan, another one on deck next week.

Baltimore 30, Kansas City 7.
Again, no real surprise in terms of the victor here, but it's surprising how Kansas City unraveled so quickly. Rumors indicate that Head Coach Todd Haley stripped now-former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis of his play-calling duties. The truth is, the entire team, players and coaches, forgot how to play the game Sunday. That all being said, this Chiefs team took a huge step forward this season, and is far ahead of schedule in terms of reaching their ultimate goal: a Patriots-esque dynasty. As for the Ravens, this is their billionth postseason road win in the last couple of years, and it especially felt good for them to do it for the troubled Ed Reed.

Green Bay 21, Philadelphia 16.
It's easy to blame David Akers for this loss, missing two makable field goals that turned out to be the difference in the score. But in all honesty, the entire Eagles team fell apart after the Miracle in the New Meadowlands, losing their last three games. Michael Vick was no longer his electric self, the running game was non-existent, and the defense couldn't make the big stop when necessary. Now, my original NFC favorite is out, and a new one is in: the Green Bay Packers. This team is deep enough and talented enough despite a laundry list of injuries to make it to Dallas. If they beat Atlanta next week, bet on them heading there.

Divisional Round Picks (2-2 last week; won with NYJ and BAL, lost with NO and PHI; 23-25 overall)

Pittsburgh 20, Baltimore 16. (PIT -3)
The best rivalry in the NFL, hands down. No arguments. When these two get together, you will see the most physical, bruising football possible, and this is the way the game is meant to be played. Every single game between these two is a thriller, and this one should be no exception. Both meetings in the regular season were decided by three points, both road wins. Does this bode well for the Ravens? Probably. But if Ed Reed's family problems prevent him from playing, a bigger edge goes to the rested, presumably healthy Steelers. For now, based on the big play abilities of Big Ben and Troy Polamalu, Pittsburgh gets a slight edge.

Green Bay 27, Atlanta 21. (GB +2)
As stated before, the Packers are my new NFC favorite, and they will show why against Atlanta. If the physical defense of Green Bay can stop Atlanta's running game and put the game in Matty Ice's hands, they have an excellent chance of winning. The key here will be if Ryan can make one big play through the air to either Roddy White or Tony Gonzalez. If so, it will give the Atlanta offense confidence it can compete with Aaron Rodgers in a potential shootout. Atlanta's time will come in the Mike Smith-Matt Ryan era, but right now the Pack seem to be on a magic carpet ride.

Chicago 23, Seattle 17. (SEA +10)
A 7-9 team can't possibly make a conference championship game, can it? Well, if you watched the Seahawks last week, they looked like a completely different team than the one that played in the regular season, beating the defending champs. If they can beat New Orleans, they should have the confidence to beat anybody. But this one will not be easy. If a transformed Jay Cutler can shred apart the Seattle defense early, which may be simple for him, is it fair to expect Matt Hasselbeck to duplicate by far the best performance of his career again in this one? This one will be closer than you think, but I believe Seattle's magic runs out at Soldier Field, setting up the oldest rivarly in the NFL for the NFC title game.

New England 31, NY Jets 18. (NE -8 1/2)
Let Rex Ryan do all the smack talking he wants. His Jets are still not any better than the team he brought to Foxboro a few Monday nights ago, only to promptly get embarrassed 45-3. That won't happen again this time, but the Jets simply don't have the firepower to compete with a Tom Brady-led offense. Effectively, the Jets will have to play a game similar to what Seattle played against New Orleans last weekend. If that happens, the Jets can pull off their greatest upset since Super Bowl III. But come on, it's almost impossible to bet against Brady and Belichick in January.