Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Previewing the Two Biggest Games of the NFL Season.

Steelers v Ravens, Sunday Night.

PIT: Big Ben's numbers since the end of his suspension have been typical of his career, but he needs to get rid of the ball quicker against the relentless Baltimore pass rush, especially with a bad foot.
BAL: Joe Flacco has yet to take the next step toward superstardom, but a huge performance will go a long way.
Advantage: Steelers

Running Backs
PIT: Rashard Mendenhall has had a breakout season, but the Steelers' overall run game has been inconsistent at times.
BAL: Ray Rice is Mr. Consistency, and Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McLain will tough out the short-yardage situations.
Advantage: Ravens

Wide Recievers
PIT: Hines Ward is banged up, and they may have to rely on a big play by Mike Wallace to have a chance to win this one.
BAL: The big three of Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmanzadeh, and Derrick Mason have been inconsistent at times, but Boldin can run off a big play at any moment.
Advantage: EVEN

Tight Ends
Heath Miller and Todd Heap are mirror images of each other. Expect key roles from both players for their teams Sunday night.
Advantage: EVEN

Offensive Line
PIT: They are missing three starters, and needs to stop taking careless penalties.
BAL: Michael Oher is banged up, but is more trustworthy and healthy.
Advantage: Ravens

Defensive Line
PIT: They really miss Aaron Smith, but Lawrence Timmons and Lamarr Woodley are as feared as anyone in the game.
BAL: Haloti Ngata is one of the most underrated defensive tackles in the league.
Advantage: Steelers

PIT: James Harrison apparently could care less about being fined for helmet-to-helmet hits, and Sunday should be no exception. James Farrior is still a force at age 36.
BAL: He may be on the downside of his career, but Ray Lewis is still as feared as ever.
Advantage: EVEN

Defensive Backs
PIT: Major weakness at the corners. William Gay should not be on an NFL roster. But the long-haired one still patrols the backfield.
BAL: Ray-Ray may be the spiritual leader of the Baltimore D, but Ed Reed is the quarterback.
Advantage: Ravens

PIT: Mike Tomlin's team has shown a lack of discipline in the second half of games, especially with dumb penalties and a lack of killer instinct. They will need both if they have a lead late Sunday night.
BAL: John Harbaugh sometimes does not get the credit he deserves. All the Ravens have done under his tutelige is win.
Advantage: Steelers

Prediction: Steelers 13, Ravens 10.

Jets v Patriots, Monday Night.

NYJ: Mark Sanchez is maturing week by week and is showing remarkable poise when faced with adversity. Monday could be a defining moment in his career.
NE: Tom Brady is the NFL MVP at this point of the season.
Advantage: Patriots

Running Backs
NYJ: L.T.'s renaissance has made folks forget a disappointing season from Shonn Greene.
NE: Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead are capable, but nothing to write home about.
Advantage: Jets

Wide Recievers
NYJ: Jerricho Cotchery is banged up, but Santonio Holmes can always be counted on in crunch time.
NE: Deion Branch has resurrected his career back with the Pats and Brady, and Wes Welker is the most dangerous slot reciever there is.
Advantage: EVEN

Tight Ends
NYJ: Dustin Keller is one of the most underrated TE's in the game. He is Mr. Dependable for Mark Sanchez.
NE: Despite a great game in Pittsburgh, what else has Rob Gronkowski done?
Advantage: Jets

Offensive Line
NYJ: Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson are studs.
NE: Virtually a no-name line, but will protect Brady 100% every single play.
Advantage: Patriots

Defensive Line
NYJ: Shaun Ellis and Vernon Gholston can overpower anyone at any time.
NE: Vince Wilfork is an excellent player, but nothing to write home about besides that.
Advantage: Jets

NYJ: David Harris, Bart Scott, Jason Taylor, and Calvin Pace. 'Nuff Said.
NE: Quick! Name a Patriot linebacker!
Advantage: Jets

Defensive Backs
NYJ: We all know about Revis Island, but how about the year Antonio Cromartie has had for Gang Green? Oh yeah, Jim Leonhard is a very underrated player, and Kyle Wilson looks like the real deal.
NE: One of the worst secondaries in the league, and could be a massive liability come playoff time.
Advantage: Jets

NYJ: Don't be surprised if Rex Ryan pulls a page out of Broadway Joe's book and guarantees victory Monday. So far, his team has backed up nearly all of his talk.
NE: Bill Belichick is still Bill Belichick. You know he wants to destroy his opponent this week. When he is angry, watch out.
Advantage: Patriots

Prediction: Patriots 27, Jets 20

Picks for Week 13 (3-1 last week, 12-12 overall)
KC -8 over Den
NO -7 over Cin
Stl -2 over ARI
ATL -3 over TB

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Random Thoughts from the Passionate Sports Fan's Mind III

Jets pull off another miracle win, this time vs. the Texans.
If this isn't a sign that this may be the Jets' year, I don't know what does.

Brad Childress finally fired as Vikings coach.
If the players really hated him as much as we think, then don't be surprised if the Vikings run the table.

The current Super Bowl favorites are the Patriots and...
Not the Giants. Not the Eagles. Not the Falcons. Not the Saints. How about...
The Green Bay Packers? Yes. Even with all their injuries, look who they have beaten. Don't be surprised if they are in Dallas come February.

Victor Martinez signs a 4 year, $50M deal with the Tigers.
The Red Sox have now lost their two top catching options for 2011, along with John Buck signing with the Marlins. How does a platoon of the headcase Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the ancient Jason Varitek sound, Boston?

Jeter's agent calls Yankee tactics "baffling".
If you think these negotiations will get messy, just wait until Jorge Posada's negotiations next year.

Now that Phillips and Childress have been fired, guess who the next coach to go may be?
How about Jeff Fisher? If Titans owner Bud Adams sides with Vince Young after Sunday's disgraceful show of emotion, Fisher will be shown the door. And it will be a fatal mistake.

Mets hire Terry Collins as manager.
But the most important move Sandy Alderson SHOULD make is to trade Jose Reyes. That's right, I said it!

Josh Hamilton and Joey Votto named League MVP's.
Don't you think this means more to both than any Comeback Player of the Year award can?

And my non-sports thought of the week:
A round trip train ticket from Hamilton to New York is now $30. Thirty. Two years ago it was 20. Imagine what it will be in 2015. Nice going, New Jersey Greedsit.

Everyone have a save and happy Thanksgiving!

NFL Picks for Week 12 (3-1 last week, 9-11 overall)
NE -7 over DET
Phi -3 1/2 over CHI
SF -1 over Ari
Min +2 1/2 over WAS

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Random Thoughts from the Passionate Sports Fan's Mind II

Michael Vick accounts for 6 TD's (and 57!!!!! Yahoo Fantasy Points) in Monday night's 59-28 demolition of the Redskins.
But don't even think about voting him the NFL MVP. Also, I pose this question to Anti-Vick Eagles fans: if he wins you a Super Bowl in February, what will you think of him then?

A young New York Jets fan, 8, is tackled by a drunken Browns fan after New York's 26-20 overtime victory in Cleveland.
Let's pray something like this never happens again. God forbid this defenseless young man died in a melee in the parking lot over a football game.

Lebron James nominated for Time's Person of the Year.
Great! Maybe I could be nominated for taking my talents to South Beach while waving a sign that says WHO CARES?

The AL Cy Young winner is announced on Thursday.
Felix Hernandez does NOT deserve to win this award. CC Sabathia does. Call me a Yankee homer all you want, but Sabathia won 20 games, and effectively held the fort for a contending team while Andy Pettitte was injured, A.J. Burnett turned into Kei Igawa, Javier Vazquez was banished to the bullpen (again), and a revolving door of 5th starters put forth whatever they could. Having a miniscule ERA and astronomical strikeout total is nice, but a 13-12 record? It's a mockery of the system.

Rumor has it that Justin Upton is on the trade market, and Arizona wants a starting pitcher, relief pitcher, and outfielder in return.
If I'm the Yankees, I'm giving them Joba Chamberlain, Brett Gardner, and Ivan Nova. NOW.

Tiger Woods finishes 2010 without a victory.
Get used to it, folks. He will never be the same golfer again. Also, Jack Nicklaus' major record just might be safe.

The Devils' woes continue.
Lou Lamoriello is hailed as a genius, but did you know that in six seasons since the lockout, the Devils have only won two playoff series, while the hated Rangers have won two AFTER the fact, and once at New Jersey's expense? Just sayin'.

Brett Favre's 2011 Dog-and-Pony show is already underway.
He tells the NFL Network's Adam Schefter last week that he is done for good after this season. Sure you are, Brett.

The Cam Newton controversy gets bigger and bigger every week.
You know what the sad thing is? He is most definetly not the only college athlete that has pulled the alleged stunts he has.

And my non-sports thought of the Week:
From the Only in America department: Sarah Palin's new reality show was the highest rated program in the history of the TLC channel. Are people in this country so uneducated and brain-dead that they have to make themselves feel better by watching an hour dedicated to a politician that makes George W. Bush look like a genius?

NFL Picks for Week 11 (1-3 last week, 6-10 overall)
Atl -3 over STL
NE -3 over Ind
DAL -7 over Det
Oak +8 over PIT

Monday, November 8, 2010

NFL Midseason Report

I have been watching this sport for almost 20 years now, and I can honestly say this has been the most unpredictable NFL season in years. Basically this NFL season is like a blind date. It will either be incredibly bad or incredibly great. The girl could be pure gold or a total psycho. One week, a team could be showered with accolades and crowned the next Super Bowl champion. The next week it will be ridiculed left and right and calls from angry fans to sports radio stations calling for the coach's head fly left and right. But then again, who has a stable relationship anymore?

But if anything else, I've learned that the NFL season flys by like no other sport in the world. The baseball and hockey regular seasons are grueling, often boring marathons. The NFL season ends in the blink of an eye. We've already reached the halfway point of the season, and like a bad relationship, it's time to give praise but take a lot of shots at the same time. And for a diehard NFL fan like myself, I wouldn't have it any other way. Here's my awards, wrist slaps, and 2nd half predictions for this grueling relationship.

Biggest Surprise: AFC West
If you had told me that by Week 10 the CHIEFS and RAIDERS would reign supreme in the AFC West, Lamar Hunt would roll over in his grave and I'd advise you and Al Davis to seek some counseling. But it's true. Kansas City has emerged as a playoff contender due to outstanding running from Jamal Charles and Thomas Jones, and big plays from Matt Cassel. Not to mention their defense has staked its claim to being one of the best in the league this year. The Raiders, while half as talented, have recieved outstanding play from quarterback Jason Campbell, and the team seems to have shaken off the stench left behind by the JaMarcus Russell epic fail. Even Darrius Heyward-Bey (yeah, him) has stepped up. But the key behind the revival of the Silver and Black has been the play of the league's #2 rushing offense with a breakout year from Darren McFadden) and #3 pass defense, led by Nnamdi Asomugha. This all being said, expect a revival of the Chargers and eventual overtaking of both teams by the Bolts by the end of the season. But the revival of two old AFL rivals makes for a nice first-half story.

Biggest Disappointment: Dallas Cowboys
I was going to lump the Minnesota Vikings into this category as well, but after all the drama surrounding Mr. Favre and Mr. Moss and Mr. Childress, they saved their season with a dramatic comeback against Arizona last Sunday and set themselves up for a possible 2nd half surge. But wasn't this supposed to be the year Jerry Jones got a Super Bowl in his own back yard? Wasn't this supposed to be the year Tony Romo rose to the elite? Wasn't this supposed to be the year the Cowboys broke through with their sixth Super Bowl title, proving Wade Phillips could win? Guess what, Cowboy haters? CELEBRATE! The 'Boys are 1-7, Jones had to fire a head coach within the regular season for the first time after Sunday's 45-7 disgrace in Green Bay, Romo is possibly out for the season, and the team is not inspired to even leave the locker room on Sundays. You could point the finger at the coach, the owner, or the players, but the truth is you should point the finger at the business model of the Cowboys: make money, lots and lots of money, and pray the team on the field delivers a Super Bowl. Major changes are in store for this franchise.

Best Team
Last week it was the Patriots. The week before it was the Jets. The week before it was the Steelers. Week before the Ravens. Week beforrrreeee......
In other words, take your pick. There are no elite teams in the pack of simply good to very good teams in the league after four weeks. They are as follows: The Jets, Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Giants, Eagles, Packers, Saints, and Falcons. That's a heckofalota teams right there. As per the theme of this season in my intro, you just don't know week after week.

Worst Team
Tie between the Bills and Cowboys. The Cowboys for the reasons explained above, and the Bills simply because they are 0-8. However, the Bills come to play week after week, and are no pushover. They will eventually get a win as long as Ryan Fitzpatrick plays out of his mind. The Cowboys simply don't compete. So if you put a gun to my head, I'd lean toward Dallas. God, it feels good to be a Cowboy hater these days.

Best Player
Once again, it is Mr. Manning from Indianapolis. His offensive weapons have been decimated by injuries. His favorite target, Dallas Clark, is out for the season, and arguably the poor man's Wes Welker, Austin Collie, is hurt once again. Other than Reggie Wayne, his options are the overrated Pierre Garcon, Blair White, and Jacob Tamme. Strikes a lot of fear in your heart, doesn't it? But of course, it is Peyton's place, and he is the glue, the heart, the soul, the foundation, and the infrastructure of the Colts. Without him, they are nothing. He is showing why once again.
Honorable mentions: Tom Brady, Clay Matthews, Eli Manning, Michael Vick, Matt Ryan, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster.

Worst Player
Randy Moss. He is already on his third team this season. The circumstances behind his departure from the Patriots were simply business. The circumstances behind his departure from the Vikings are simply despicable. Whatever the situations, Moss has simply quit on two different teams this year. If he is quitting on Tom Brady and Brett Favre, how in the world can Vince Young or Kerry Collings possibly make him happy?

Best Coach
Tom Coughlin, Giants. After a 1-2 start from the Giants, Coughlin survived calls from the media and fans for his head and enormous pressure from within to lead the G-Men to the top of the NFC and a 6-2 record. Coughlin gets beaten and tortured in the media day in and day out, and is roundly criticized by fans, but he continues to go about his business with class and dignity, and has not only saved his job, but put New York in position for a Super Bowl run. Honorable mention: Mike Smith, Falcons; Mike McCarthy, Packers; John Harbaugh, Ravens; Rex Ryan, Jets; Tom Cable, Raiders; Todd Haley, Chiefs.

Worst Coach
Now that Wade Phillips is out of the picture, the overwhelming choice is Brad Childress. Amid in-fighting with his recievers, conflicts with ownership, questionable play calling, and an overall mediocre record, Chilly is the next to go with one more bad loss.

Breakout Player
If you drafted Arian Foster of the Texans for your fantasy team, you look like an absolute genius. Foster has established himself as an elite running back in the NFL, leading the league in rushing (864 yards) and touchdowns (10), including 231 yards and 3 TD's on opening day. Honorable mentions: Darren McFadden, Peyton Hillis, Kenny Britt.

Top Storylines for the Second Half

1. Can the Vikings rally for a playoff spot? Yes, but if any only if: the ancient Favre can stay upright, Brad Childress can get out of his own way, and they can beat the Bears and Packers the next two weeks. The Randy Moss drama ended, and the Brett Favre sexting drama appears to be on the shelf for now. Is this Favre's last hurrah? Please. But if so, and we're not sure, he will want to go out with a bang. They will be dangerous in the second half.

2. Can the Chiefs or Raiders or both make the playoffs? I think the Raiders will fall just short, but I believe the Chiefs are talented enough and hungry enough to squeak in. I believe the Chargers will end up winning the AFC West despite another mediocre start, but in a wide-open AFC playoff picture, it's possible Kansas City can sneak in.

3. Can Donovan McNabb lead the Redskins to the playoffs? McNabb's benching by coach Mike Shanahan in Detroit created unnecessary controversy in the Nation's Capital. With the Giants pulling away and Eagles showing signs of a playoff team, the time is now for both to co-exist and guide their new team to the playoffs. It won't be easy, though.

4. Can the Houston Texans finally take that next step? It's still too difficult to tell. They have all the talent in the world on the offensive side of the football, but it's the defense that has prevented Houston from taking that next step. Betty White could throw for 500 yards against that secondary, and how much longer can Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Arian Foster survive shootout after shootout? I still say they make it in.

5. Will the NFC West champion have a sub-.500 record? It would be sad yet fascinating at the same time. Any one of the four teams can still win this awful, awful division. Imagine, for instance, the 49ers fighting their way to a 7-9 record, finishing tied for first with Seattle. But by virtue of a tiebreaker, they miss out on the division title? I believe the division winner, no matter whom it is, will finish 7-9.

And now, my favorite part of this unhealthy relationship: the 2nd half predictions!

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Sam Bradford, Rams
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Ndamukong Suh, Lions
Offensive Player of the Year: Arian Foster, Texans
Defensive Player of the Year: Clay Matthews, Packers
Coach of the Year: Todd Haley, Chiefs
Most Valuable Player: Peyton Manning, Colts

Playoff Predictions
Seeds in ( )
AFC East: Jets (2)
AFC North: Steelers (1)
AFC South: Colts (3)
AFC West: Chargers (4)
AFC Wild Cards: Patriots (5) and Texans (6)
NFC East: Giants (1)
NFC North: Packers (3)
NFC South: Saints (2)
NFC West: Seahawks (4)
NFC Wild Cards: Falcons (5) and Eagles (6)

First Round
Colts 30, Texans 24
Patriots 20, Chargers 18
Packers 27, Eagles 21
Falcons 37, Seahawks 14

Divisional Round
Steelers 17, Patriots 14
Jets 23, Colts 21
Giants 30, Falcons 27
Packers 35, Saints 28

Conference Championships
Steelers 24, Jets 14
Giants 28, Packers 23

Super Bowl
Steelers 31, Giants 24

Picks for Week 10 (1-3 last week, 5-7 overall)

NYG -15 over Dal
Min -1 over CHI
ATL -2 over Bal
Hou +1 over JAX

Friday, November 5, 2010

MLB Free Agency Preview

Fire up the hot stove. Arguably the best time of the baseball season has arrived, and it certainly does not involve any games played on dirt and grass. With the lack of a salary cap, huge market franchises and limitless spending potential, the MLB offseason just may be better than the regular season. We'll leave the postseason out of this, as it is an entity unto itself. You know the Yankees and Red Sox will be involved, but will a sleeper team step in and make a splash? We'll find out in a matter of weeks.

Here are the top 10 free agents in MLB this offseason, and where I believe they will end up.

1. Cliff Lee, Rangers

Like his best friend, CC Sabathia, two years prior, Lee will be one of the most sought-after free agent pitchers in the history of free agency. A proven postseason performer, Lee carries a Cy Young award and a stabilizing, calming factor to any rotation he has set foot upon the last two seasons. He has catapulted two franchises in two years to World Series berths, and single-handedly carried the Texas Rangers into the ALCS with two brilliant performances against the Rays. And go figure, which team needs him the most? Not Texas, but the team he beat in the ALCS, the Yankees. And you don't think the pinstipers are prepared to wheel in at least five armored cars worth of money to his Arkansas home? When the Yankees want something, they get it, and Lee is their man.
Prediction: Yankees, 5 years, $125M

2. Carl Crawford, Rays

Here's another situation in which the Yankees can throw oodles of cash at a young, athletic, but experienced outfielder. But with Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson set in center and right, and the emergence of Brett Gardner as a cheaper alternative a year prior, and Derek Jeter possibly switching to the outfield in the next two years, will the Yankees really need him? Probably not. But if their archrivals, the Red Sox, covet him just as much, maybe the Yankees drive up the price to keep him away. That being said, should the Yankees break the bank for Lee, it will leave Boston and possibly the Phillies or Angels left to pay him. The Red Sox emphasize defense now, and who knows if Jacoby Ellsbury or Mike Cameron can stay healthy next year?
Red Sox, 6 years, $115M.

3. Mariano Rivera, Yankees.
Umm, you're kidding, right?
Yankees, 2 years with a mutual option for a third, $34M.

4. Derek Jeter, Yankees.
See 3.
Yankees, 4 years with a player option for a fifth, $90M.

5. Jayson Werth, Phillies.
With top prospect Domonic Brown being called up mid-season to the Phils, and oodles of cash tied up in their aces and homegrown core, Werth becomes expendable. The team that really needs him, the Rays, may not be able to afford him. A team like the Angels can swoop in and add his bat, especially as a DH, but his defensive liabilities may turn them off to him. You know who could use him to bolster their offense a little more? The World Series champion Giants. Pat Burrell had a nice run by the bay, but his World Series performance shows he is not the player he used to be. Werth just may be a perfect fit.
Giants, 4 years, $70M.

6. Victor Martinez, Red Sox
As mentioned before, the Red Sox want to emphasize defense, and Martinez is arguably the worst defensive catcher in the sport. It is concievable that with Adrian Beltre gone and Mike Lowell retiring, the Sox could move Youkilis to third and bring back Martinez at 1st. But will the Sox attempt again to trade for Adrian Gonzalez? If so, the only use Martinez could have is at DH, and the Sox have excersized their option on Big Papi. A team in need of a big bat would covet him, and Colorado has shown interest in the past. Here is their opportunity.
Rockies, 3 years, $44M.

7. Adam Dunn, Nationals.
If you want to talk about perfect fits, imagine a power hitter like Dunn in Yankee Stadium as a full time DH. 50, maybe 60 homers? A team that missed Hideki Matsui's big bat in the 2010 postseason, Dunn provides that ultimate fear factor in an already stacked lineup. Dunn is the perfect fit for Yankee Stadium, especially with the short porch in right field. If Cashman wants to make up for the failures of last offseason, Lee and Dunn will go a long way.
Yankees, 1 year, $13.5M.

8. Paul Konerko, White Sox
Konerko is getting up there in age, and despite a career year in 2010, it is difficult to imagine a team throwing more than 3 years and $50 million at Paulie K. He is a beloved player among White Sox fans, and if he is allowed to walk, not only will Chicago's offense suffer, but there would be a strong PR backlash, similar to what the Yankees would face if they let Jeter or Mo walk.
White Sox, 3 years, $48.5M.

9. Derrek Lee, Braves.
Similar situation in Atlanta, where Lee's big bat would provide a major boost to an already thin lineup. He'll draw interest from several National League teams, but ultimately, the Braves need him the most.
Braves, 3 years, $44M.

10. Carlos Pena, Rays.
Despite an enormous amount of power and a very good glove, Pena's stock took a major hit this past season as his batting average hovered around .200 throughout the entire season, reminding everyone why multiple organizations gave up on him in the past. The Rays, already facing free agent questions with Crawford and closer Rafael Soriano, his price just may have decreased enough for the Rays to bring him back for a shot at redemption.
Rays, 1 year with a player option for a second, $11.5M.

Honorable Mentions
Javier Vazquez, Yankees: Nationals, 1 year, $10.5M.
Rafael Soriano, Rays: Phillies, 2 years, $19.5M.
Manny Ramirez, White Sox: Angels, 1 year, $17.5M, with a mutual option for a second.
John Buck, Blue Jays: Red Sox, 2 years, $15M.
Bronson Arroyo, Reds: Dodgers, 3 years, $43M.
Kerry Wood, Yankees: Brewers, 1 year, $14M.
Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks: D'Backs: 1 year, $12.5M with a team option for a second.
Johnny Damon, Tigers: White Sox, 1 year, $9M.
Vlad Guererro, Rangers: Rays, 1 year, $12M.
Adrian Beltre, Red Sox: Angels, 1 year, $10.5M with player option for a second.

NFL Picks for Week 9 (2-2 last week, 4-4 overall)
BUF +3 over Chi
MIN -8 over Ari
GB -9 over Dal
HOU +3 over Sd