Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Baseball Player's Association and the new 'Roid Rage

So about 100 major league baseball players are about to be revealed as frauds.

The media-mavens are already positioning themselves. This morning on ESPN Radio Erik Kuselias, sitting in for Golic and Greenburg of Mike & Mike in the Morning fame said that he felt the fact that these players names could soon become public constituted a breach of faith with management and that players should never trust management again should those names go public, and that MLB should do everything in its power to keep their deal with the players union.

There are a few problems with that argument. One: management is not just handing over the names, the information was seized by the government. Two: management has no legal standing to contest the seizure. Posession of anabolic steroids, and most of the other performance enhancers by schmoes like you, me, and every player in MLB is illegal - a point often overlooked by too many fans and sportswriters that look for excuses to look the other way (ie: "I can only consider what the player did on the field," or, "the substances don't help you hit a ball," I'll rebut these later...). No company can legally invoke or enforce a contract which, in essence, protects illegal action - the contract is nothing more than a show piece and can not supersede law, and is therefore nothing more than, say, toilet paper. Three: the belief is that the government did this in order to nail Bonds on the perjury charge and Bonds's lawyers are already seeing this as an out, one that Bonds supporters will quickly buy into (See, Barry's not one of the names amongst that 100 or so cheaters) - problem is, what Bonds was doing (not allegedly, as papers from Victor Conte's private records already support this as fact) could not be tested for at the time.

The substances are illegal, and as such, it doesn't matter if baseball had no rule prohibiting them at the time. That's like saying, "it was okay for football player A to hide a shiv in his shoulder pads and hamstring opposing player B with it because it wasn't against football's rules." People - it's still assault.

As for the excuses - major excuse one, "doesn't help the player hit the ball." No, it doesn't. It takes a tremendous amount of skill and talent to hit a 95 mph fastball thrown by a major league pitcher. However, the substances make the player stronger, thus allowing balls that would otherwise be off the wall, or caught on the warning track to go farther. It allows that ground ball to get out of the infield faster, to get past that infielder trying to make a play. The substances also allow for quicker recoery from workouts which in turn increases energy and power. All of that results in better batting averages, elevated homerun and extra base totals and higher slugging percentages.

For the sports writers that use the defense "only what happens on the field," that's a cop-out. Especially since what happens on the field is directly affected by the use of the substances.

I know this is extreme, but in the end, as posession of these substances is illegal, I would like to see a little cooperation between the Justice Department and all of the major sports and jail time for the offenders that were caught on items like anabolic steroids. I understand the suspensions for other substances that might be banned from the games, but not necessarily illegal like the steroids. But in the case of illegal drugs, why should people like Barry Bonds be treated any differently than the crack-addict on the street?

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Rogaine Users Take Note...

Insecure bald men everywhere! Rejoice! Tell Rogaine what they can do with their ads that play on your insecurity and take a look at the 20 hottest male athletes as ranked by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED SWIMSUIT MODELS...

The following of the Folicly-challenged made the list, with three in the top five and a major cue-ball coming in at number one;

#19, Football player Jason Taylor

#13, Tennis player James Blake

#4, Soccer player Zinedine Zidane

#3, Soccer player Fredrik Ljungberg

#1, Surfer Kelly Slater

For the curious, there are photos of each posted at

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Playoff picture remains unclear...

After a weekend where all but four games could have a serious impact on the playoff race not many answers abound. However, there do seem to be a few more questions. Lets take a quick look at the playoffs by what each team did...

Division leaders W-L Div. Conf.

1. BEARS — x 12-2 4-0 10-0 Clinched NFC North and number one seed in the NFC, yet opened a whole ohst of questions about their defense heading into the playoffs.

2. SAINTS — y 9-5 4-1 8-2 Backed into clinching the NFC South with the losses by Atlanta and Carolina. Also, with their own loss needs to win out to assure themselves of the second seed, or hope that Dallas drops at least one of the final two games.

3. COWBOYS — z 9-5 2-3 6-4 NFC East Leader, if they win next weekend then they sew up the division. A loss means that they need to rely on the Eagles loss if they want the division title (Philly has the tie-breakers).

4. SEAHAWKS 8-6 3-3 6-5 NFC West Leader that opened the door to San Francisco to win the division with the loss to the 49ers over the weekend. However, still could win the division at 8-8 as long as San Fran drops one of the remaining two games. Don’t expect things to get easy for the Seahawks with a tilt against the Chargers this weekend.

Wild-card teams W-L Div. Conf.

5. EAGLES 8-6 4-1 7-3 With the upcoming game against Dallas, this team controls its own destiny and has a legitimate shot at winning the division in spite of the personell losses suffered this season.

6. GIANTS 7-7 3-2 6-4 With their loss to Philly, this under-achieving bunch will need help to get in. If they falter, they’re finished.

Still alive W-L Div. Conf.
7. FALCONS 7-7 3-2 5-5 Which Michael Vick shows up with the season on the line is anybody's guess, however, this is not the player a team should be pinning its playoff hopes on.

8. VIKINGS 6-8 2-3 6-4 Likely done after their lack-luster effort against the Jets.

9. PACKERS 6-8 3-1 5-5 With games against a demoralized Vikings team in Lambeau, and a Bears team that will be resting its starters, the Packers could leapfrog the Vikings, Falcons and Giants for the final wild card slot.

10. 49ERS 6-8 3-2 5-6 With games against Arizona and at Denver with a rookie quarterback, the 49ers have to be thinking they still have a shot and should be playing hard this week. A win this week with a Seattle loss and that week 17 matchup in Denver should be quite a game.

11. PANTHERS 6-8 3-1 4-6 Also likely done after their no-show against the Steelers at home.

12. RAMS 6-8 2-4 4-6 After a strong start, St. Louis has slipped badly and is unlikely to pass anyone still ahead of them.


Division leaders W-L Div. Conf.

1. CHARGERS — y 12-2 5-1 10-2 One more win seals the number one seed and the advantages that go with it. Expect them to seal the deal against an erratic Seattle team this weekend.

2. RAVENS — y 11-3 4-1 8-2 With an injured Steve McNair and two teams, Pittsburgh and Buffalo making some late season noise, the Ravens will have to rely on their defense more than ever this year.

3. COLTS — y 11-3 3-2 8-2 On paper, match-ups against Houston and Miami might seem an easier road than that faced by either the Patriots or the Ravens, unfortunately for the Colts, Houston has often played them tough (in spite of how bad they are) and Miami’s defense should pose problems for the Colts offense

4. PATRIOTS 10-4 4-2 6-4 Facing off against Jacksonville and Tennessee, New England has an opportunity to show that they can beat teams that are potential post-season contenders and close out their division title.

Wild-card teams W-L Div. Conf.

5. BRONCOS 8-6 3-2 3-6 With two teams on the slate fighting for their playoff lives, Mike Shanahan is about to find out how ready Jay Cutler really is.

6. BENGALS 8-6 4-1 6-4 After blowing a golden opportunity to move up and solidify their playoff standing, Cincy has put themselves in a must win position in tough games against Denver and Pittsburgh.

Still alive W-L Div. Conf.

7. JAGUARS 8-6 2-4 5-5 With this team’s inconsistency, I give the Jets a better chance to make the post-season dance.

8. JETS 8-6 3-2 5-5 I’ve said it once, will say it again: with games against Miami and Oakland remaining this team could finish 10-6 and in the playoffs. However, with this field, they could finish with that record and be out of the playoffs as well.

9. BILLS 7-7 3-3 5-5 Making a good late season surge, but, like everyone else behind them, needs a lot of dominoes to fall in front of them in order to make the playoffs.

10. TITANS 7-7 4-2 4-6 The surging Titans have a chance to be very dangerous to the Patriots, but don’t count on them making the playoffs.

11. STEELERS 7-7 2-2 4-6 Realistically, the Steelers are unlikely to make it to the playoffs, but with games against the Bengals and Ravens, they certainly can impact seeding.

12. CHIEFS 7-7 3-2 3-7 With their weak conference record they need too much to fall the right way to get in. The run is over in KC.

13. DOLPHINS 6-8 1-4 3-7 After being shut out by the Bills, the ‘Phins are done. All this team has to play for are their jobs next year.

x=clinched home-field advantage throughout playoffs
y=clinched division title
z=clinched playoff spot

At the weighing in

189 this morning, down a total of 4 pounds from the start. Should have posted yesterday when I was at 188.5. Bleah...

And as an addendum to Our Dumb Weekend, I present you with Kobe Bryant...
After being smoked for 60 points by Washington's Gilbert Arenas, whom Bryant was guarding, Bryant had this to say, "He doesn't seem to have much of a conscience. I really don't think he does. Some of the shots he took tonight, you miss those, and they're just terrible shots. Awful.
"You make them and they're unbelievable shots."

Isn't that kind of like saying, "you know, if the Patriots didn't get on that eight game winning streak at the end of the 2001 season, they wouldn't have won the Super Bowl that year"?

This from a guy who I've seen in playoff games lay more bricks than a mason.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Our Stupid Weekend...

As I sit watching the Monday Night game I decided that I would pre-empt my analysis of this past weekend's playoff race to reflect on the stupidity that was professional athletics this past weekend.

In no particular order of stupidity...

Hitting the Chicago papers on the 16th - Tank Johnson, the Chicago defensive tackle who has already had several run ins with the law is likely done in Chicago. The second round pick (47th overall) from the 2004 draft was more active in the Illinois court system than he was on the grid-iron during his time at Soldier Field. This latest incident with his childhood friend and supposed body guard shot and killed (with him reportedly present) is probably the beginning of the end.
It's possible that some team will give him another chance (I'm thinking you Cincinatti), but underachieving nose tackles are a dime a dozen.

Jim Mora the younger...what were you thinking? You're a 40+ year old man coaching a team fighting for its playoff life and you tell a radio station in Seattle that you would if the head coaching job came available at your alma mater, the University of Washington, that you would hope your resume was right at the top of the pile for consideration? And your excuse is that you were kidding around? You are officially on the idiot list.

Terrell Owens spitting in the face, of DeAngelo Hall because he was "getting in my face"? How long have you been playing football? That was completely classless. I can't wait for the time when the winning teams realize that his problems and his divisiveness far outweigh his talent and potential.
I have a hunch Parcells has figured it out, and realizes that if they don't win that ring this year, it's not going to happen next year, not with T.O.

Speaking of classless. How about that Isaiah Thomas and the Knicks. If reports are accurate that Thomas told Carmello Anthony to stay out of the paint about 30 seconds ahead of the flagrant foul by New York's Mardy Collins (who got nine games fewer than Mello), then Thomas, who is also the Knicks general manager, and as such should be held to a higher standard than a coach, needs to be fined and suspended for a significant period.
Additionally, Collins, who isn't even a regular in the Knicks rotation, was put in one other time recently and committed, guess what? A flagrant foul. A Technical. The guy is a thug that only gets playing time when Thomas wants someone taken down hard. Stern missed the boat.
And as for Isaiah - Denver wasn't embarassing you and your're doing it quite well on your own.

Meme from my sister-in-law, then tonight a look at the weekend in sports

10 Things You Don't Know About Me

1) I got my daughter watching Justice League and reading comic books for purely selfish reasons (there's a lot less Spongebob playing in the house right now), and am proud to no end that she can identify The Martian Manhunter and Hawkwoman.
2) I worry about losing my connection with my daughter as she gets older.
3) I miss coaching football, even with the stress that went with it.
4) In spite of how much I might talk, I am not really a social person, but I like to watch the comings and goings when in a bar, restaurant or some other nexus of the public.
5) I sometimes miss my students, pains in the ass that they were when I was still teaching high school English.
6) I have a soft place in my heart for Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and sometimes catch myself wishing that would actually happen in the Senate.
7) I am an avid sentimentalist.
8) I would like to once track down all my high school friends to see how each is doing. I don't need to be in touch, I would just like to know that they are doing well.
9) I get angry over the fact that disarmament demands have been made on the IRA over Sinn Fein's participation in the provisional Northern Ireland Parliament when the same demand is not being made on the UVF in regards to Ian Paisley's participation. I don't mean annoyed, I mean ball up a fist and beak something sort of angry.
10) I am a film snob, yet love certain bad films that I know are bad (The New Guy, I'm talking about you)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Parity rears its ugly head again...

With the salary cap the NFL wanted to create a system in which there were no true dynasties, no teams that would dominate the NFL for stretches like the Steelers and Dolphins did in the 70's and the 49ers did in the 80's, and, to a lesser extent, the Cowboys in the 90's. The corporate minds wanted to create an atmosphere where worst to first was not out of the question.
Last night the San Francisco 49ers (now 6-8) inched closer to making that resemble their story by ringing up 21 points on the now 8-6 Seahawks. If Seattle should lose their final two games (after last night's performance it's a distinct possibility), and the 'Niners win their last two, then the San Fran will have changed their fortunes...somewhat. They weren't last in the division last year, but they weren't far off of that. And an 8-8 record would launch them into the vast canyon of mediocrity that will be the four through six seeds of the NFC playoffs.

More on what has happened in regards to the dying dynasty later.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The potential playoff impact of Week 15

The brain trust at the NFL has to be overjoyed heading into tonight's game. This weekend features at least twelve games that could have a potential impact on the playoffs. And an argument can be made for the Browns-Ravens, and Dolphins-Bills games. If the Browns can pull the upset, and that's a big if, the game could have a direct impact on playoff seeding. While long shots, both the Bills and 'Phins have played themselves into position to possibly snag a wild-card, but that would be dependent on a lot of things going wrong for the teams ahead of them, and five teams crashing and burning in the last three games - very unlikely.
A month ago it looked like the Bears and Colts were locks for the top seeds in their respective conferences. To date, the Colts have fallen into a tie with Baltimore and behind the Chargers who are hoping to lock up the number seed. Chicago has secured one of the byes in the NFC, but could still find themselves on the road for the Championship game (if they can win their home game) depending on what happens over the next three weekends.

Right now, this is how things stand:

1. Chicago (11-2) Clinched NFC North
2. New Orleans (9-4) NFC South Leader
3. Dallas (8-5) NFC East Leader
4. Seattle (8-5) NFC West Leader
5. Atlanta (7-6) Wild Card
6. NY Giants (7-6) Wild Card
7. Philadelphia (7-6)
8. Minnesota (6-7)
9. Carolina (6-7)
10. St. Louis (5-8)
11. San Francisco (5-8)
12. Green Bay (5-8)

1. San Diego (11-2) Clinched AFC West
2. Baltimore (10-3) AFC Central Leader
3. Indianapolis (10-3) AFC South Leader
4. New England (9-4) AFC East Leader
5. Cincinnati (8-5) Wild Card
6. Jacksonville (8-5) Wild Card
7. Denver (7-6)
8. NY Jets (7-6)
9. Kansas City (7-6)
10. Miami (6-7)
11. Tenessee (6-7)
12. Buffalo (6-7)
13. Pittsburgh (6-7)

Currently 13 teams that are not in the playoffs are in position to potentially make it. This translates into a slate that could completely change the look of the playoffs between now and that first game in January. Let's list them in order of importance and impact (randomly attributed by with it)...

A quick look at the key games and some potential impact...

The Big Game

Cincinnati (8-5) at
Indianapolis (10-3)
Amazingly, the Colts have not managed to wrap up their division, and with the way their defense is playing the team is in danger of hosting only a first round game in the dome. If it weren't for a week 16 tilt against the lowly Texans, I would say that they could possibly be passed in the standings by a Jacksonville team that's beginning to get healthy.
Meanwhile, the NFL's loudest criminal contingent has begun to play their best football of the year in recent weeks and is cementing at the very least, a wild-card spot.
Look for the Bengals to be too much for a floundering Indy team.

The Undercard

Dallas (8-5) at
Atlanta (7-6)
If Dallas loses, they move into a tie for the division lead with the winner of NY-Philly, and are in second by virtue of tie-breakers. Dallas can still land a bye, but would have to move past a New Orleans team that has a weak schedule. Look for Dallas to move closer to locking up the NFC East against an Atlanta squad that's becoming unhealthy at the wrong time.
If, as expected, Atlanta loses, this opens up some serious fighting for the last wild-card spot in the NFC.

Philadelphia (7-6) at
New York Giants (7-6)
Whoever loses this one isn't done, but it certainly makes it harder. Depending on how the chips fall around the NFC, it's feasible that three playoff teams can come out of this division.
The winner here positions itself well for one of the wild-card slots, and possibly to take the division if Dallas falters down the stretch.

Pittsburgh (6-7) at
Carolina (6-7)
The Steelers' chances at the playoffs depend on too many other teams, but Carolina, with a win combined with an Atlanta loss and a loss from either the Giants or Eagles can put themselves right back in the thick of the wild-card hunt.

New York Jets (7-6) at
Minnesota (6-7)
With both teams only a game out of the wild-card, a win combined with one or two losses elsewhere could catapult one of these teams into the playoffs. A loss doesn't kill either, but with only two games to make up ground after this weekend, it might as well.

Denver (7-6) at
Arizona (4-9)
Arizona has a legitimate shot at playing spoiler to the of late struggling Broncos playoff hopes. Even if Denver wins, like the Jets, they will have to leap-frog at least one team ahead of them to get into the second season.

Jacksonville (8-5) at
Tennessee (6-7)
While the Titans have a shot at the playoffs, albeit a slim one, they have a better chance of upsetting the Jaguars bid at making some noise in the playoffs. With a resurgent Titans team, the Jags have a tougher game ahead of them than might have been thought as recently as a month ago.

Kansas City (7-6) at
San Diego (11-2)
San Diego is playing for homefield. Kansas is playing for their lives and the memory of Lamar Hunt. If they can't get it going for this game, then they're not going to get to the playoffs, it's do or die for the Chiefs right now.

Houston (4-9) at
New England (9-4)
If New England had destroyed Detroit, and at least put together a respectable showing on offense against Miami, this game wouldn't even make the list. However, this is a chance to see if the Patriots have made any progress in correcting the offensive issues (turnovers, completions) that will cause an ouster in the playoffs and have been plaguing the team this season.
Should they right the ship and win, they still have a shot at one of the byes, although they would have to leapfrog the Colts and Baltimore to do so. The way the Colts have been playing, that is possible...Baltimore is another story.

San Francisco (5-8) at
Seattle (8-5)
The fact that the 49ers with only 5 wins have not been mathmatically eliminated from the playoffs speaks volumes about the NFC. Seattle could also feasibly lose their remaining three games and win the division at 8-8.
As is, they're only one game behind New Orleans and still have a shot at the remaining bye in the NFC.

Washington (4-9) at
New Orleans (9-4)
With a win and losses by both Dallas and Seattle the Saints will all but lock up the second bye. Should they stumble here, while those teams win, it opens up a dogfight in the NFC over the final weeks of the season.


Tampa Bay (3-10) at
Chicago (11-2)
Simply put - if Chicago wins, they sew up homefield advantage through the post season. If they lose, they leave the door open to the Saints in regards to landing that home-field advantage through the championship season.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Looking like Matsuzaka will be in the fold

By the deadline at the price I thought the Red Sox would pay to get the Japanese star. Assuming Jon Lester's lymphoma stays in remission, an early look at the starters going into training camp, and maybe a preview of the Sox rotation next season;

Curt Schilling
Daisuke Matsuzaka
Josh Beckett
Jonathan Paplebon
Tim Wakefield
Jon Lester
Matt Clement
Kyle Snyder

Anyone else think that Clements days are numbered, and that Snyder is going to be the swing man out of the pen?

Sayonara Doug Gabriel, we hardly knew ya.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

I normally don't post these, but this time...

Which B-Movie Badass Are You?

Gimme some sugar baby.
Take this quiz!

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| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

Monday, December 11, 2006

A Frustrating Weekend All Around

I'll start with the light fare before I get into my football rants.

The weighing in - Technically, tomorrow is the update, so I could drop some of the weight, but right now I am at 190.5. I'm disappointed that this weekend's Christmas party did me in. On Friday I was at 189.5. I'm going to have to be aggressive with my workouts and caloric intake, between now and Christmas (targeting 185 by the Holiday) because I will be at my parents for Christmas and whenever my family gets together it's like a food, beer and wine festival.

Onto the weekend.

So I will admit, New Orleans is for real, and at this point I would have to say they're the favorites in the NFC.

The Patriots -

Not that it mattered in the end, but the roughing the passer call on Vince Wilfork as he laid on the ground, face down, falling off his block, when Joey Harrington tripped over him, might have been the worst call I have ever seen.
The reason it didn't matter in the end is that whoever is calling the Patriots offensive plays was downright...well, offensive yesterday. Whether it was Bill Belichick or Josh McDaniels, by the second half, with the struggles that the offensive line was having in pass protection, it was inexcusable for the offense to be in any empty backfield sets.
That was akin to putting a target a raw steak on Brady's chest and thinking that the wild animals were going to sit placidly waiting to be fed the steak. No. The Miami defense came after him. I don't think that any of the empty backfield sets ended well for the Patriots yesterday.
Some numbers to consider in regards to the offensive play calling...
During the time Brady was in the game 25 passes were called and 24 runs.
However, when the Patriots approached mid-field, let's say between the 30's, 17 passes were called to 9 runs. Of those 17 drop-backs Brady completed 8 passes, 47 percent, for a net of 26 yards (a 3.25 yard average), was sacked twice and the team had two give-aways.
In that same area of the field 9 running plays were called with a net of 59 yards. An average of slightly better than 6.5 yards per carry.
In that territory running plays accounted for only 35 percent of the plays called.
I know that the idea is to stay conservative in the shadow of your own end zone, but when you're averaging more than double the yardage per carry than per pass and your franchise QB is taking a beating, play to what your offensive line is doing best - run blocking.
I fail to understand the insistence of playing the empty set when the Dolphins were putting three pass-rushers where there were only two blockers whenever the empty set was being run.

And to make matters worse - the Patriots had the opportunity to pull into a tie with the Colts due to the Colts being run on like a treadmill by the Jaguars.

Seattle should be embarrassed this morning. Like the Patriots, the Seahawks had a chance to step closer to sewing up the division with a win against a losing team and failed to seal the deal. At least the Patriots didn't lose to Arizona.

Scott Boras playing this game of chicken with D-Mat is comical. Boras has absolutely no leverage. If he walks away without getting D-Mat a deal, Matsuzaka returns to Japan for a year and Boras likely has burned his bridge into the Japanese market. D-Mat will file again next year to start this same process over and would be unlikely to do it with an agent that couldn't seal the deal the first time around.
His request for $15 million over 3 years for a pitcher unproven on the Major League level is insane as any team will factor in the bid paid to the Seibu Lions as part of the annual average salary for Matsuzaka. With the Sox $51 million bid (paid to the Lions only if the Sox reach a deal with Matsuzaka). In essence, Boras is saying his client is worth almost $30 million per year to the Red Sox.
If I'm the Sox, I stick to my guns and aim for a five year deal averaging between $6 million and $7 million with incentives and option years that could boost the contract at the tail end.
In the end the average for the team spent on the player is about $16 million per year rather than double that.
Of course, Boras's logic, I'm sure, is that none of that $51 million goes to the player, so it shouldn't count against the player's salary. Unfortunately for him, no team is going to agree with that.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

And now for the AFC…

AFC West

Preseason picks 1. Broncos, 2. Chargers, 3. Chiefs, 4. Raiders

1. San Diego – Rivers has come as advertised in the pre-season. I have been impressed and surprised by both his poise and consistency…now if there were just a way to avoid “Marty-ball” come January.
2. Chiefs – With the problems at the beginning of the season on the offensive line, I didn’t think this team was a playoff contender (and they still might miss out). I was wrong.
2. Denver – Like the Redskins, but better. I expected this team to compete for a wild-card spot, but now I don’t think it’s going to happen. Maybe if Mike Shanahan went to Jay Cutler earlier, but not now.
4. Oakland – Better on defense than I expected, but a special sort of horrible on offense…so bad that front offices of other teams have doubts about taking on skill players like Randy Moss – often referred to as “unsalvageable.”

AFC South

Preseason picks 1. Colts, 2. Jaguars, 3. Titans, 4. Texans

1. Indianapolis – Beginning to show signs of wear with a narrow escape against the Bills, and losses to the Cowboys and the Titans all within a four game span.
2. Jacksonville – Too erratic to call a playoff contender. Could do it if they get on a roll, also could crash and burn in the last four games.
3. Tennessee – Could legitimately claw their way into the second spot in the division, though not into the playoffs.
4. Houston – This perennially underachieving team is only one game behind the surging Titans in the standings and three behind Jacksonville with only four left to play. It’s unlikely that this is the season they climb out of the South’s basement.

AFC North

Preseason picks 1. Bengals, 2. Steelers, 3. Ravens, 4. Browns

1. Baltimore – I honestly thought this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Ravens. Obviously, I was wrong.
2. Cincy – Possibly getting hot at the right time after sliding mid-season. Will likely have to compete with the Jets and Chiefs for two playoff spots (Denver and the Jags as well, IF those two can find that elusive winning formula on offense for the stretch run).
3. Pittsburgh – Statement is September: “IF Pittsburgh has to ride the arm of Roethlesburger all season, they might not even make the playoffs.” Guess who’s had to put the ball in the air more than any time in his professional career?
4. Ceveland – If they can get the middle of their offensive line back and healthy next year, could move to the middle of the pack. Only a game behind the Steelers with one to play against them, the Browns could move up in the division, causing the Steeltowners to go into that dreaded first-to-worst one season turn around.

AFC East

Preseason picks 1. Patriots, 2. Dolphins, 3. Bills, 4. Jets

1. New England – Still making too many mistakes right now to be considered a serious Super Bowl contender, but has time to straighten that out. Like the Ravens, are in position to fight for one of the first round byes but has to rely on other teams to make it happen.
2. New York – A solid year ahead of where I thought they would be this time of year. Could make some noise in the playoffs.
3. Buffalo – Locked in a battle to stay out of the basement. Still not sold on Losman, possibly the fourth best signal caller in the division.
3. Miami – Not going anywhere this year, but could spoil the Pats bid for a first-round bye.

Dropping the ball…literally

During the last three weeks the Patriots have turned the ball over more times than during any three game stretch under Bill Belichick. It has been ugly, sloppy, careless football. On top of the turnovers, there have been a number of times they have put the ball on the ground when they were lucky enough to recover themselves.

Not to take anything away from the defenses that the Patriots have been playing, but almost all of the Benjamin Watson related turnovers could have been avoided with better ball protection. That accounts for at least three turnovers (giving Chicago the benefit of the doubt on their first interception and leaving that as a turnover). Corey Dillon’s fumble against the Lions – avoidable. Going back to the Jets and Doug Gabriel – avoidable. Patrick Pass fumble? Avoidable. Just a small sampling here of the last four games, but that’s at least a turnover per game less.

If the Patriots don’t solve the turnover issue, they will likely be one and done in the playoffs, because in the AFC playoffs they won’t face a team with Rex Grossman at the helm.

Dropping the ball II

The NFL has seen fit to suspend Saints defensive tackle Hollis Thomas for testing positive for steroids. Both the Saints and an independent doctor have come to Thomas’s defense in regards to the issue stating that the positive test was due to a change in his asthma medication necessitated by the climate change from Philly to the Bayou, but Thomas is still to serve a suspension.

I am normally a vocal proponent of the league’s steroid testing policy (see my blog entry regarding Shawn Merriman), but this is a case where I think, if the man really has a history of asthma, then I think this either needs to be revisited now, or, if agreements prevent it, then when the league and the players have a chance to discuss the collective bargaining agreement.

The league is likely thinking that this is opening the door to a whole new excuse that will allow legions of players to cheat the system. I think as long as proof of a history exists, they have a way around that.

Dropping the ball III

I’m going to ask around, but it seems to me that with the advent of officiating teams that stay together for the course of the season that officiating has gotten worse. I feel like the number of questionable calls I have seen this year has been mind bogglingly high. For every blatantly bad call I’ve seen go against the Pats, I could probably point out one that has gone against an opponent, or a team in another game.

These haven’t been the five yard, oh well variety either. Some of them have had potentially game changing implications.

I will, however, use two calls against the Pats as an example. Against Chicago the Patriots were called for two long pass interference calls. Both calls came on plays where the defensive backs both had position on the receiver and were playing the ball. In fact, on at least one of the plays, the receiver appeared to be trying to turn the defensive back (the wonder of TiVo…I did indeed replay these plays several times to make sure I could see what the refs did). As I said, I’ve seen others go against other teams, those are just two of the more glaring examples I could think of.

I would love to get some feedback on that last observation.

Made Mike Silver's mailbag...

Written before the Chicago game and published on 12/1...

"You cited the following in your article -- 'It is true that none of the Pats' seven victories has come against teams that currently have a winning record, and New England was defeated by fellow AFC contenders Denver and Indy...' an item typically cited by reporters in hindsight (I've done it myself). But that discounts what records were of opponents at the time and the consideration of the impact of a particular game on the rest of the season (a little film exposing a flaw goes a long ways, doesn't it?). To wit: The Bengals were 3-0 when they hosted the Pats. Not including the loss to the Pats they are 2-4 since (NOTE: This letter was written before last weekend's games), with one of those wins eked out over the Panthers. The Vikings: 4-2 at the time, 0-3 since the loss to NE. Discounting the loss to Denver, because the team went into a bye immediately after they faced the Patriots and discounting Green Bay (whom I would pick against this weekend based on the following alone), no team that has faced the Patriots this season and had a game to play the next weekend is better than .500 in its subsequent two games. Indy is 1-1 (getting away with a win in Buffalo they easily could have lost), the Bills are 1-1 after each of their losses to the Pats and overall, the winning percentage of these teams .357 -- 5-9 (5-10 if you include the Jets from this past weekend dropping that to a dismal .333). Just some observations that I thought bore some consideration. BTW, as a Pats fan, I am wary of how Brady has played against some of the smaller, faster defenses this year and believe that this game could be seen as a real measuring stick.
-- Kevin Smith, Brunswick, Md.

I think what you're saying is, basically, "All my ex-girlfriends got really fat after we broke up"? Got it. I'm now a lot more interested in seeing how the Bears do against the Vikings this week.

Incidently - Chicago did win with its offense managing to score only 7 of the 23 total points scored on a 24 yard romp by Cedric Benson. The only thing that kept Minnesota from winning this was the fact that Brad Johnson was more incompetent this game than was Rex Grossman.

AFC updates and my rants on sloppy football later today.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

NFL Quarterly update and other thoughts...

Before I get started on the quarterly update - nice to see Jon Lester declared cancer-free. That being said, I am related to cancer survivors and have one thing to say to Lester - Take care of yourself and get checked regularly, this is something that will be with you the rest of your days. Good luck, I look forward to seeing you pitch again next season.

Onto the update

NFC East

Preseason picks 1. Cowboys, 2. Eagles, 3. Giants, 4. Redskins

1. Dallas - getting hot at the right time.
2. NY - Crashing and burning. With upcoming games against Carolina, Philadelphia and New Orleans, I don't like the Big Blue Wrecked Crew's chances, even with the injured returning.
2. Philly - Still could finish in second, but I'm not convinced at this point that we're looking at the division that will produce one of the wild card teams.
4. DC - About what I expected at the beginning of the season. This is a team that can barely begin the deal, let alone seal it. Gibbs went to Jason Campbell way too late.

NFC North

Preseason picks 1. Bears, 2. Vikings, 3. Lions, 4. Packers

1. Chicago -This could be one and done in the playoffs for the best record in the NFC if Grossman doesn't learn to protect the ball.
2. Minnesota - Haven't been the same since the beating they took from New England
3. Green Bay - Not quite as ugly as expected....but close.
4. Detroit - I think Marinelli needs to be given some time, but this is a team still in serious disarray.

NFC South...boy was I off here 1. Panthers, 2. Bucs, 3. Falcons, 4. Saints

1. New Orleans - Quickest rebuilding year ever. Along with Dallas, I think the most dangerous of the NFC teams heading to the playoffs.
2. Carolina - Too Jeckyl and Hyde, could make the playoffs, could be sitting at home. Seldom seem to play as if their season is on the line.
2. Atlanta - Sure the receivers have dropped a lot of balls, but Vick still isn't that good a quarterback either.
4. Tampa - When depth problems in the NFL are discussed, this is the NFC team that should be looked at.

NFC West 1. Seahawks, 2. Rams, 3. Cardinals, 4. 49ers
1. Seattle - At 8-4 the 'Hawks are running away with the division...and not looking good doing it.
2. San Fran - In a weak NFC has fought its way into playoff contention with a rousing record of 5-7. Even so, still better than I expected.
2. St. Louis - After a strong start, has crashed and burned.
4. Arizona - As I wrote back in September, a team with a suspect O-line isn't going anywhere.

Tomorrow the AFC.

Monday, December 04, 2006

A little contest...

So my sister-in-law has snared my me, my wife and her husband in a shedding pounds contest. Here are the details:

Deadline April 1
Teams-so we have accountability in and outside of the home

Scale: We are not trying to get to the same weight, so it doesnt matter that our scales are off. whats important is the weight lost.

Also, we should get measurements-perhaps even do a separate prize for inches lost(25 for most lbs, 25 for most inches?). If you want to do this, we will need to get thigh, hip, waist, chest, and upper arm measurements from all participants. I think this would be a good idea since weight loss is not always apparent in numbers. Michael and Kevin, in theory, would gain more muscle than lose weight.

Starts tomorrow.

After a particularly debauched weekend of football and feeding, I am starting from 193 pounds. I will post updates here on a weekly basis.

Also, tomorrow, the three-quarter mark observations, and a few rants about sloppy football...

Monday, November 27, 2006

There's been a lot of talk

Today about the luck the Patriots had getting away with a win yesterday.

It was not pretty.

In fact, it was pretty ugly...well, at least on the offensive side of the ball.

The Patriots offense coughed up the ball five times. Three times on four fumbles and twice on interceptions, only one of which was Brady's fault.
Corey Dillon has now turned the ball over twice in two weeks and yesterday two of the turnovers started in the hands of Watson, so I really think it's time Doug Gabriel gets out of Belichick's doghouse.

The lone turnover that was Brady's fault was a pass thrown high and slightly behind Troy Brown on an attempt where Brady had enough time to finish the New York Times Sunday Crossword puzzle. After a solid five or six seconds surveying the field, Brady finally threw the ball while under pressure - and as I said before - off target, resulting in a tipped ball and an interception.

The defense, while not exactly stout against the run (and noticeably weaker in the middle without Junior Seau), did what they needed to in order to win in spite of (and this is not something I will normally rant on, but this was particularly egregious), two of the worst pass interference calls I have seen and a weak defensive holding call that set up ten of Chicago's 13 points. On both pass interference calls the Patriots defensive player had better position on the ball than the receiver and was playing ball. On the first one, the receiver had even grabbed the defensive back and was pulling on his jersey. I would love to hear the conversation between Mike Perreira and this officiating crew this week.

Other thoughts on the weekend...

Watching the highlights of the Giants TEN MINUTE MELTDOWN, I couldn't help but think that the Giants season might well be done.
This is a team where the veterans aren't executing, and then blaming the coaching staff for their own inability to get the job done. It ain't pretty.
I think I liked Tiki Barber before he was full of himself. When Tom Coughlin arrived, the book on Barber was that he was an undersized running back, best suited to third down situations and prone to fumbling.
Before you start bitching and moaning about the way your coach uses you, you might want to remember how you were used before Coughlin started running the show in the Meadowlands, not to mention who helped you get over that fumbling issue.

Is there a better story in football right now than the Saints?

A brief reflection on preseason predictions...
The NFL's toughest division (according to the preseason), the NFC East, could have only one winning team at season's end. Currently Dallas is the cream of the crop with 7 wins, the Giants are imploding and could feasibly finish at 7-9 or 8-8. The Eagles will be lucky to finish out the string at 7-9 and the Redskins might get to 6 wins, although I think 5 is more likely.
If it all falls the way I'm guessing, Dallas will be 11-4, Giants at 7-9, Eagles at 6-10 and Skins at 5-11. If the Giants can eke out one more win than I think they have in them and get to .500 that could be enough to get into the post season in a conference that currently has five sub .500 teams only one game out of the playoffs. There is an outside chance that this could be the first season of a sub-.500 wild-card entrant.
The NFL's weakest division (according to the preseason prognostocators) was supposed to see the changing of the guard. Nick Saban was supposed to lead his Dolphins to the Super Bowl this year.
The Patriots are likely to reach the 12 win, possibly 13 win mark. The Jets are likely to make it to 10 wins...and could still miss the postseason. Miami is charging late again and looks like they will finish at 8-8 and Buffalo could feasibly have 7 wins by the end. If that happens, then the AFC East will have the winningest last place team in their division, likely finishing the season with a record that would put them ahead of the Steelers and Browns if they played in the North, the Titans and Texans if they played in the South, and the Raiders in the West.
I won't even speculate as to where they would finish in the NFC on the premise that if they played in the NFC full time, they'd probably have a better record overall (although they do seem to have the AFC South's number, beating Houston, Jacksonville and coming within a blown field goal of pulling the upset over Indianapolis).

I would like to see the Patriots use the injury to Seau as a rallying point. The man is a Hall-of-Famer and deserves the one reward he has been denied throughout his career - a Super Bowl ring. Win this one for 55 guys.

And in other news...

Am I the only Boston fan sick of the Clemens thing. Forget about signing Clemens - at this age he's not worth the special treatment, and we already went through the Rest Home Rotation last year with Schilling, Wells, and Wakefield at the top of the rotation. You've got the mentors in Schilling and Wakefield. Papelbon is going into the rotation. Get Daisuke Matsuzaka signed and have some of the youg guns fight it out for that last spot in the rotation.

Next week, the quarterly evaluation...

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Dear John letter from Pat Dunne, an Eagles Fan...

Dear Andy,

I want you to know that I still have strong feelings for the team, and Lord knows I always will. But I just don't see us working out this year.

I'm sure Jeff is a great quarterback, but without Donovan ... well ... I feel that we've grown apart.

Please don't take this the wrong way...we'll always have next season.Buck up, big guy. Here's a Big Mac.



Monday, November 20, 2006

Maybe the Patriots shouldn't be trying for homefield advantage

in the playoffs. Consider these two items presented by Peter King in his Monday Morning Quarterback column for your consideration...

"• New England's 2-3 at home. The two worst teams in creation, Detroit and Oakland, are 2-3 at home.
• New England's 5-0 on the road, and the last four wins have come by margins of 35, 24, 22 and 25 points."

That can't be normal.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

More proof we're ass-backwards and other thoughts on the week...

As the handful of you that actually visit my blog and read my rants know, I typically stick to ranting about sports. Whether you agree with a point of view or not, it's an easy subject upon which to have a good-natured argument. Other than a brief rant some time ago on the idiocy of the "No Child Left Behind" act, I have largely stayed away from anything that is truly controversial.

In light of a report today about South African politics, I just need to make this brief comment - and will not go into detail - South Africa, a country in which the majority black population received the right to vote only twelve years ago, has passed a bill that makes it legal for gays to marry. According to the Associated Press report out of Cape Town, "The National Assembly passed the Civil Union Bill, worked out after months of heated public discussion, by a majority of 230 to 41 votes..."

What is wrong with our country? All the right wingers claim to be more patriotic than the liberals (I have voted Democratic, Republican and Independent in my life), yet it seems that the right wingers are always the the first ones to throw the following statement from the Declaration of Independence out the window, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights..."

I know I'm a little rusty on my U.S. History, but the last time I checked, there wasn't any fine-print in the document about "unless their sexual preference bothers you."

I think this part of the article sums it up best;
"When we attained our democracy, we sought to distinguish ourselves from an unjust painful past, by declaring that never again shall it be that any South African will be discriminated against on the basis of color, creed culture and sex," Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the National Assembly.

I guess, considering the continued state of a black-majority New Orleans that is still waiting on promised federal aid, I really shouldn't be surprised that a country that only overcame Apartheid less than a decade-and-a-half ago is already more progressive than we are.

On to lighter fare...

What's wrong with Tom Brady and the Patriots? There are a couple of issues that I can see - some Brady's fault, some the fault of the offensive line, some the play calling.

Currently Brady is looking a lot like Bledsoe did in his last two seasons with the Patriots. To wit; in spite of the health issues along the line last year, the Patriots did a decent job of protecting Brady. I don't have the numbers, but I'm not convinced that Brady is getting hit or sacked anymore than in previous years, but he is getting more passes knocked down and tipped at the line of scrimmage. There are two reasons for this issue; One, the line is not doing a good job of clearing the passing lanes; Two, Brady's pocket awareness, for whatever reason, is not as good this season - he isn't stepping up in the pocket to create the lane.

The defense that Brady is getting used to his receivers wears a little thin when he overthrows longtime teammate and wide-open tight-end Daniel Graham by a solid five, maybe eight yards, against the Jets. Brady was not pressured on the throw, and this was not one of the receivers that joined the team during the off-season. It was a bad throw, as was a pass that was thrown behind an open Ben Watson, and the interception thrown behind Lawrence Maroney.

In the two losses, the Patriots were running the ball well, and, after being stopped for little gain, went to an aerial attack with a Tom Brady that has begun, as I said previously, to look like Drew Bledsoe did when the Patriots line wasn't giving him good protection. Not a winning formula.

The only game this year in which Brady has looked comfortable - Minnesota. If Brady can only get into a rhythm if he's throwing on every down, then the Patriots should get used to the idea of enjoying the Super Bowl from their living rooms.

As for Bledsoe - enjoy your retirement. I say this because I like Bledsoe as a person and as a player. It is time to hang up the spikes.
I believe that Bledsoe is still capable of winning in this league, I just don't think that the handful of teams that have lines that could possibly protect him are going to come calling. It's time to walk away, while your career stats are still better than Broadway Joe's.

If he doesn't, possible destinations for next year, where he could do well, are limited. The Vikings have a better line than the Cowboys, and are not in the Brady Quinn sweepstakes, but I'm not convinced they're going to come calling.
Other places that may be looking - Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Oakland. A contract in any of those locations and Bledsoe best have his cemetery plot picked out.

You were very good for the better part of a decade, and still showed flashes after that hit. Enjoy retirement.

Is T.O. the most overrated player in the NFL, or is it Chad Johnson? Johnson just doesn't get in the endzone that much and T.O. drops too many passes.

I go back and forth on the Colts chances for the Super Bowl. They were unable to put away the Patriots when they had a chance, and they got lucky against the Bills. That being said, they are winning games the way the Patriots won during their first Super Bowl run - close. Nobody gave the Pats a chance going into the post season because they weren't blowing anybody out...sound familiar?
There were all sorts of shortcomings on the defense that a good offense was supposed to be able to take advantage of. Also familiar.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Gauging the Teams at the Half-way Mark

For many teams, the second quarter has been more of the same - and moving into the third quarter of the season, it's likely to remain that way.

Let's take a real brief look -
AFC East -
1. Patriots - Still showing too much inconsistency on offense with Brady occasionally going through periods where he's throwing bad balls. In spite of the points and yardage given up by the defense, they are who gave the team a chance to win against the Colts at the end.
2. Jets - Still have a legitimate shot at the post-season, and could have won against the Browns, had they at least played mistake free football. They don't have the horses to do anything in the playoffs should they get there. They also face stiff competition from the Jaguars, the Chiefs and the loser in the Chargers/Broncos slugfest. The Bengals are also still in the mix.
3. Bills - Looked good against a bad Green Bay team. Could end up getting passed by the Dolphins by the end of the season.
4. Dolphins - Strong showing against what is beginning to look like an overrated Bears team. Even overrated, the Bears should have destroyed this Dolphins team.

AFC South
1. Colts - When a team comes up with five turnovers, the margin of victory shouldn't be one touchdown. That said, the Colts are winning ugly, and often times, just barely, but that's how the Patriots did it in 2001. However, the Patriots had a much better defense in '01 than the Colts currently have, and if that's not straightened out, it could still mean the Colts' ouster in the playoffs.
2. Jaguars - The way this team has lost and to whom has to raise questions as to any chances this team has of walking away with the Lombardi Trophy
3. Texans - I don't even know how to begin gauging how far this team is from being any good. One week they get smoked by an average and inconsistent Dallas team, the next they beat the Jaguars 27-7. Will the real Houston Texans please stand up?
4. Titans - Another work in progress that's hard to gauge with the same Jeckyll and Hyde issues of fellow AFC South cellar-dweller Houston.

AFC North
1. Ravens - Improved on offense since Brian Billick took over the play calling, but I'm still not convinced that this offense is that good. Now that they've been at it for a couple of weeks, we'll see how defensive coordinators around the league adjust. That will be the real litmus test - if they can sustain their new-found success. That being said - unless the Bengals can get their heads out of their collective asses, no one is going to challenge Baltimore for the division title.
2. Bengals - Been looking more like the Bungles of yore lately. And a note for Chad Johnson - shut up and get open. The smack talk in good fun is fine if you're backing it up, but from a career numbers perspective you're in TO land, which means you talk a better game than you play. Worry about playing the game.
3. Browns - Just not very good right now, and no telling when they might figure out how to win a few more games.
4. Steelers - Too many bad mistakes from the quarterback position. Right now the Steelers braintrust needs to ask two very important questions; Did the motorcycle accident and the emergency surgery on Roethlisberger affect him so badly that he's not the player he once was? If so, they need to write off this season, and understand the team will not be going anywhere. And; Without the punishing running game of seasons past, is Big Ben a good enough quarterback to win more games with his arm? I think the answer to that is no. Even allowing for the health problems, The Steelers have struggled to win when the game was put on their young QB's arm (see the playoff game against the Patriots in 2004). When asked to put the ball in the air only about 20 to 25 times per game, he's a different player.

AFC West
1. Broncos - First the loss to the Colts, and then a struggling Pittsburgh squad gives them problems. With a game against the Chiefs and two against the Chargers coming up, the Broncos could feasibly fall to third in their division if they don't fix the weak spot in their secondary.
2. Chargers - The Chargers' season really rests on how they are able to weather the next month of the season with the four game suspension of Shawn Merriman. Additionally, it should be interesting to see if Merriman is the same player in the substance abuse program he was before being caught for steroid use.
3. Chiefs - The way the Chiefs have been playing lately, they don't have a single game in which the other team will be heavily favored. They could feasibly finish with more than ten wins, and have almost as much a shot at the division crown as the two teams ahead of them.
4. Raiders - While showing signs of life lately, this is still not a good team, and it's still a long, long way from being one.

Likely division winners - Patriots, Colts, Ravens, Chiefs
Wild Cards - Chargers, Broncos the AFC West the toughest division in the AFC right now?

NFC East
1. Giants - So far dominating the division dubbed by many sports-writers the "toughest division in the NFL" (not by me) at the beginning of the season in spite of some erratic play in the first quarter of the season.
2. Eagles - With the way the Eagles have played and with their remaining schedule, they could feasibly win a total of ten games, or win a total of 7. Nothing is a gimme right now for this team that seems unable to put together 60 minutes of solid football on any given Sunday.
3. Cowboys - Right now? Too much like the Eagles. They have to get rid of the stupid mistakes that are killing them.
4. Redskins - Too many holes and too many problems. Would have been better for them in the future to have lost over the weekend and forced Gibbs's hand in playing Jason Campbell.

NFC South
1. Saints - Unless they fall apart in the second half, this team should finish with at least ten wins, and possibly as many as twelve. Talk about reversing a culture of losing.
2. Falcons - At least three more losses on their schedule, and maybe more depending on how well other teams can attack Atlanta's offense. A loss to Detroit should be setting off alarms in the heads of Falcons fans right now.
3. Panthers - Unless they get on a roll now, they will be fighting with four other 4-4 teams for that last playoff spot. Right now they're too erratic, but, given John Fox's history, it's too early to count this team out.
4. Buccaneers - This team could potentially loose the string of remaining games. At least they're not the Cardinals.

NFC North
1. Bears - Still a very good team, but when an undefeated team's offense can't put points on the board against the Cardinals, and then gets waxed by a bad Dolphins team, you have to assume that the team isn't really the creme-de-la-creme of the NFC. With their recent play against the Dolphins, I wouldn't be surprised to see this team suffer a four game slide by losing all three games on the upcoming three-game road trip to the Northeast.
2. Vikings - Also struggling, also not as good as advertised. With a glaring hole in their defense exposed by the Patriots, are the Vikings going to have a legitimate shot at the playoffs? Hard to say. They're playing in the NFL's JV division and a lot of teams are jockeying for that last spot. With losses already to both Buffalo and New England, they could feasibly lose both upcoming games against Miami and the Jets, both of which have tough defenses. Couple that with games against Chicago, St. Louis and two games against an erratic Green Bay team, the Vikings could easily end up no better than .500 and possibly with a losing record on the season.
3. Packers - This is not a good team. They might go 8-8, they might go 6-10, but if Brett Favre thinks this team has a legitimate shot at the playoffs, then it will only be if an 8-8 team from the NFC gets in, and I don't think that's going to happen.
4. Lions - In a win now league Matt Millen's picks, after five years, are finally showing signs of coming around. That's not the formula to win in a salary-capped league. However, the success that is beginning to show on the field might be enough for the Fords to keep him around in spite of the fact that he should have been gone at least two years ago.

NFC West
1. Seahawks - They're not the same team without Hutchinson. They can't win without Alexander (and beating the Raiders doesn't count). And, like their main competition in the division, they are struggling to put distance between themselves and their rival in the division when the opportunity presents itself. If they had beaten either Minnesota or Kansas City, they would have at least a two game cushion going into the second half.
2. Rams - Playing better than a year ago, but flawed enough that only one of their wins is against a team with a winning record (Denver) and that happened in week one before teams had records. With three of their four losses to teams with winning records, they still have a shot at the playoffs with a schedule that only pits them against two winning teams in the second half.
3. 49ers - Improved, but they still have a draft or two to go before they're going to make any real noise. They could play spoiler late in the season with an upset, possibly against Seattle or Denver, to build on for next year.
4. Cardinals - Simply put, the worst team in football right now. That's saying a lot considering the state of the Raiders. The Cards might be the most talented one-win team around, but they're still a only a one-win team.

Likely division winners (I'm man enough to admit when I'm wrong); Giants, Saints, Bears, and, going out on a limb, Rams.
Wildcards - Seahawks, Falcons

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Some thoughts as we approach mid-season

Is it just me, or is anyone else surprised that the Redskins didn't find a way to lose on their bye weekend?

Haven't we heard the, "Peyton Manning is playing the best football of his career," mantra almost every season since he was co-MVP with Steve McNair?

Why is everybody so convinced that Manning will retire with a Super Bowl ring when Dan Marino, who at least made it to a Super Bowl (with fewer offensive weapons then Manning has had) never won a ring? I will concede that Manning is a supremely talented quarterback, but until I see him really dominate in the post season against a team running a 3-4 defense, I'm going to remain convinced that he will be the second coming of Marino - the best quarterback of his era to never win the big prize.

Hey, Shawn Merriman - take a look at Guillermo Mota, see if you learn anything. Nobody believes the "tainted supplement, I didn't know" defense.

St. Louis - when you have an injured Seattle team on the ropes at home and you have a chance to seal the deal, you can't let them get into feild goal range. This is why you could end up sitting at home in January.

Does anyone else see Pacman Jones as that kid in the lab experiment who's told to find the door with the candy behind it, but insists on repeatedly trying to open the knob attached to the electrodes? How was he not drafted by the Bengals? Everytime this kid goes to a club, he gets busted for assault.
It's admirable that teammate Vince Young has come to his defense, but trouble is not following this kid around. Jones has a history, because he actively puts himself in a position to get in trouble. This is the second incident involving spitting at a club.
I understand clubbing is what he likes to do to unwind - but it doesn't appear to actually unwind him. If he had an inkling of maturity and truly understood that his extracurricular activities are interfering with any subsequent contract he may be offered, the kid would find a hobby and stay out of the clubs.
Right now he has to qualify as one of the big first-round draft busts in the last couple of years. Nobody drafts a punt returner in the first round unless they can have an impact as a starter elsewhere.

File this one under "he's the Steinbrenner of the NFL...just not as competent."

Dan Snyder just doesn't get least football. He understands marketing perfectly. How does a team that has been as consistently bad as the Redskins have over the last decade become the most valuable team in the NFL? By winning the Super Bowl during the offseason.
By overpaying for the top-impact free-agents he convinces the fans that he's committed to winning. It doesn't matter if the player doesn't fit the system, or doesn't complement the other players' style of play (see Adam Archuletta and TJ Duckett). Sometimes they give up draft picks for players that languish on the bench (once again, see Duckett).
In this day and age, a third round draft pick is often a contributing player in his rookie season, and, as such, a valuable commodity.
He also goes out and signs big name coaches to assistant contracts that don't necessarily fit the player personnel (see Al Saunders and the 700 page playbook).
These big signings have little to no impact, but they allow the fan base to believe something is being done (albeit briefly - the feeling seems to go away after a few regular season games), and gives them the offseason belief that this will be the year.
Unfortunately, expectations were raised this year because of the year-ending winning streak that propelled the team into the playoffs. They did that by playing Joe Gibbs-style football. Al Saunders does not play Joe Gibbs-style football.

Stick a fork in the Steelers. They would be better off with Batch starting - he's more accustomed to winning games without the benefit of a punishing runner like Jerome Bettis. Ben Roethlisberger is just not that good a quarterback if he has to put the ball up 30 to 40 times per game.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Game O'DaYear

This past Sunday's game against the Vikings was supposed to be "the Test."

It was supposed to be "close."

It was supposed to be a measuring stick for both teams.

The measuring stick was shattered across the collective rears of the Vikings. While Minnesota is taking a long look in the mirror this week, the Patriots sent a message to the rest of the league; After a year of injuries that would have devastated other teams, after a year in which we were ousted from the playoffs short of our goal, after a year in which some of our most important leaders on defense and the offensive line were lost for the season....we're back.
Charles Robinson wrote this week, "They weren't supposed to be an elite team. Not after losing one of their biggest locker room leaders in Willie McGinest, their top two wideouts in Deion Branch and David Givens, and yet another coach in former defensive coordinator in Eric Mangini." It has been the mantra of the press since the beginning of the 2003 season.
A reminder from Peter King - back then Tom Jackson of ESPN "looked straight into the camera and said the New England players hated coach Bill Belichick... after cutting [Lawyer] Milloy." Jackson claimed that Belichick had lost the locker room and that it was going to be a long season for the Patriots.

Since the 2001 Super Bowl, the Patriots that have left the team could make the core of a half-way decent team themselves - among them; Drew Bledsoe, Terry Glenn, Damien Woody, Mike Compton, Tom Ashworth, Milloy, Ty Law, David Patten, Antowain Smith, Ted Washington, Ted Johnson, Deion Branch, David Givens, Adam Vinatieri, Willie McGinnest, Keith Traylor, Jermaine Wiggins, Brian Cox, Joe Andruzzi and Doug Flutie as well as coaches Charlie Weiss, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Jeff Davidson, and Rob Ryan.
That means that since their first Super Bowl win, they have lost 80 percent of a starting line, a starting and back-up QB, two number one and two number two wide-outs, a potentially starting tight-end and a starting running back. On defense they have lost three linebackers and three linemen that could all start and half a starting defensive backfield. That doesn't even account for the the other important roll players that contribute on special teams like Sean Morrey.
Every year since 2001 the message from the press at the beginning of the season has been the same - the Patriots have lost too much to be a contender. This year it was Givens, Branch, McGinnest and Vinatieri.
With Branch and Givens - The myth: there's no way they can make up for the shortcomings in the passing game.
The reality - early in the season the team relied on its resurgent running game to win, now, Brady seems to be finding a comfort level with his new toys. Against the Jets they rang up 24 points with a bruising running game that gained 147 yards; against the Bengals they put 236 rushing yards in the books, almost as many as Cincy QB Carson Palmer threw for (245), while ringing up 38 points; in the first game of the season, the team gained 163 yards and got 2 points from the defense en route to a 19-17 win.
On Monday, Tom Brady and his wideouts lit up what was previously ranked as one of the league's top ten defenses to the tune of 372 yards passing and 31 points. Most of that came before the fourth quarter.
With McGinnest - The myth: Patriots are losing a locker room leader. They are losing chemistry and cohesion on that side of the line and they lack the depth at linebacker to compensate.
The reality - Only two teams have given up fewer points per game than the Patriots who are averaging a stingy 12.4 after the defense shut out the Vikings offense on Monday and only two teams are giving up fewer rushing yards per game (Pats - 78.3). They are tied for ninth in the league in interceptions, and most of them have come in the last couple of games.
With Vinatieri - The jury is still out on rookie kicker Stephen Gostkowski, but the Patriots were supposed to lose the close ones this year and right now, they're 1-0 in the close games. If Sunday night's game comes down to a field goal, it might be a nice measuring stick.

The big myth in the AFC East that the majority of the press bought into - with the addition of Duante Culpepper the Dolphins are ready to take the AFC East. The media typically pointed to Miami's end of the year win streak during which they defeated the Patriots. They either forgot, or for the purposes of supporting their position, conveniently leave out the fact that through most of the game, the Patriots played their third string quarter back (who nearly tied the game at the end), second string linemen on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball - and second stringers at other positions (hell, the second string quarterback drop-kicked for three)
So the truth was that the media was propping up a win last year against the division's number one team as proof of the advancement of the Dolphins. A win in which the Patriots back-ups played the Dolphins to what came down to one errant pass at the end of the game to send it into overtime.

What does all this mean for Sunday night against the Colts - possibly nothing. The Patriots have played one truly good offense - Cincinnati - and made it look bad. The Colts smoked the stingiest defense in the league (in regards to giving up points) last week when it seemed that Peyton Manning marched up and down the field at will against the Broncos. And they beat the Patriots last year, finally getting the monkey off their backs.
Why will Sunday night be different this year than last year? The Patriots will have their defensive leaders on the field this year. The Colts running game isn't as good as in years past. The Colts defense has slipped, becoming the worst rushing defense in the league, and the Patriots have established on more than one occassion this season that they can put points on the board in just about any manner imaginable.
Unlike last year's squad, this is a Patriots team that has found its identity and knows who it is - it is tough, it is resilient, and it is intelligent. They can beat you on the ground and in the air. right now, the Colts can beat you in the air - and when a team is one-dimensional like that, there is always a way to stop them. When a team is one-dimensional, I like the Patriots chances of finding a solution.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Looking at the pretenders and contenders at the quarter mark...

Teams around the NFL have begun to stake a claim to what they are hoping will be their identity for the rest of the season; the personality that will show who they really are. Are they resilient? How do they answer when faced with a loss? with adversity?
Ultimately, it all comes back to the question, "is the team a contender, or a pretender?" There are two levels of that question are they a contender for the division, and are they a contender for the Super Bowl? Just because a team is a legitimate contender for the East, North, South, or West in the AFC or NFC, it doesn't make them a legit contender for the Super Bowl. And I'm addressing who I think has a legitimate shot at the big prize based on the first quarter of the season.
Here it is, by conference and division, listed as they currently stand with my preseason prediction in parenthesis and notation of contender or pretender along with a brief reason...

NFC East
1) Eagles (2) - Pretender. Too reliant on a fragile, undersized running back in Westbrook to have a legitimate shot at the Super Bowl. Also, I still believe they have an over-rated secondary that can be taken advantage of.
2) Cowboys (1) - Contender. Admittedly, I could be wrong about these two teams, but I feel the Cowboys have a better defense and bring a more balanced attack on offense.
3) Redskins (4) - Pretender. Gave up 30 points to Jacksonville - not exactly an offensive powerhouse. Their secondary has too many issues with a D line that's not getting to the QB.
4) Giants (3) - Pretender. Has shown exactly the issues I mention in my preseason predictions and is unlikely to climb out of the hole they've already dug for themselves.

NFC South
1) Saints (4) - Pretender. Who knew. Evidently some of the personnel and coaching changes have worked out better than I expected, but I see this as an overachieving bunch right now. They may make the playoffs, but they're unlikely to make a lot of noise there.
2) Falcons (3) - Pretender. I've said it before, I'll say it again - No team has ever won the big game with a scrambling QB ala Vick. When it comes to playoff football, teams need to have more than one dimension on offense. Even the Ravens were able to get the ball downfield on occassion when they won it all.
3) Panthers (1) - Pretender. With their history of slow starts, I don't think anyone in Carolina is panicking. However, like with the Falcons, the Steve Smith injury revealed the Carolina offense as a one weapon team. One weapon is easily taken away by a good defense.
4) Buccaneers (2) - Pretender. No running game. No passing game. No defense. No chance.

NFC North
1) Bears (1) - Contender. With a strong defense and an improved offense (more improved than I expected), Chicago should be considered a legitimate contender for the Lombardi at the end of the season.
2) Vikings (2) - Pretender. While better than last year's squad, still too many holes on offense to make any real headway into the second season.
3) Packers (4 - Horrible offensive line translates to bad things for Brett Favre and the running game, not to mention a defense that stays on the field getting tired. AJ Hawk is going to age five years from the workload by the end of the season.
4) Lions (3) - Pretender. Mike Martz continues to demonstrate that he will try to force square pegs into round holes in order to make his offense work. Detroit and Green Bay will both be in the running for the number one pick overall at the end of the season with the Titans and the Raiders.

NFC West
1) Seahawks (1) - Pretender. Deion Branch is not the answer. The defections along the O-line have hurt and now their running back is too. If Shawn Alexander is out for a significant period, this division could go to the Rams.
2) Rams (2) - Pretender. This team improved as soon as they got rid of Martz who never had time for defense, and was a poor game manager, and it shows. Still too many problems on defense (the Mike Martz hangover?) to make a run at the title.
3) Cardinals (3) - Pretender. With their offensive line, did anyone really believe that Edgerin James was going to be a difference maker?
4) 49ers (4) - Pretender. This team is improved, and it shows, but they are not significantly improved.

Now for the AFC -
AFC West -
1) Broncos (1) - Pretender. While they always seem to get the best of the Patriots, and went deep in the playoffs last year, I have a hard time buying into Jake Plummer delivering in the clutch.
2) Chargers (2) - Pretender. One word; Martyball.
3) Chiefs (3) - Pretender. The once dominant offensive line is gone and so are the chances at a title until that problem is addressed.
4) Raiders (4) - Pretender. Arguably the worst team in the league and has a legitimate shot at going 0-16 on the season.

AFC South
1) Colts (1) - Pretender. Until I see this team perform under real pressure (ie; a playoff game), I can't, in good conscience, dub them a contender.
2) Jaguars (2) - Pretender. Not too far away, but something is still missing on offense. Could be a contender next year.
3) Texans (4) - Pretender. Kubiak will get this mess turned around, just not this year.
4) Titans (3) - Pretender. I don't even know where to start, but I'm beginning to think that slotting them into the third spot in my preseason predictions was generous.

AFC North
1) Ravens (3) - Contender. Baltimore looks like it may have found the formula again that catapulted them to a Super Bowl win over the Giants. However, I believe there are a number of teams in the AFC that are better now than the best AFC teams during the Ravens' Super Bowl run and I still have some doubts about the offense.
2) Bengals (1) - Pretender. Super Bowl teams don't give up rushing yards the way the Bengals do.
3) Steelers (2) - Contender. There's not much that I've seen from this team outside of week one that makes me think they can contend, but I can't rule out the Super Bowl champions this early in the season, nor can I rule out a team that got there the way they did last season.
4) Browns (4) - Pretender. Romeo still has a lot of work before this group is ready to contend. I think it's likely that Willie McGinnest will be retiring before this group wins anything.

AFC East
1) Patriots (1) - Contender. After a first couple of weeks where Brady looked shaky, the offense is beginning to come together, and the defense is starting to look like it did during the Super Bowl runs. The offense could still go South, but that would be out of character for a Belichick coached team.
2) Jets (4) - Pretender. Eric Mangini has this team seriously overachieving, but with their schedule, they could feasibly make it to mid-season and go into their bye with a 5-3 record and might have a legitimate shot at 10-6 if things fall their way.
3) Bills (3) - Pretender. If the chips fall in their favor, they might eke out eight wins, but I think they're looking at 7-9 with the schedule they face during the remainder of the season.
4) Dolphins (2) - Pretender. I got somewhat caught up in the preseason hype and I was wrong. This is a team that will not make the playoffs. This is a team, with all the problems on offense, that will be drafting in the top ten next year.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Time to stop blaming the receivers...

On Sunday night I saw a quarterback that consistently overthrew or shorthopped open receivers. Even during the early portion of the game when Brady completed something like ten of twelve passes, on at least three occassions he was bailed out by receivers who came back and made diving catches for balls that were underthrown - and almost a fourth (the incompletion to Graham).
While the running game wasn't there, the offensive line consistently gave Brady time to find open receivers, and he still made bad decisions, at least twice hitting defenders on the hands as he led receivers through their routes.
Had this been Bledsoe having the exact same game, the blame would have been laid at his feet - and other than Ben Coates and Troy Brown (who was generally pretty low on the totem pole in Bledsoe's day) what starting receiver tandem did he ever have for more time than Brady had with Branch and Givens.
Brady has now played like this through three games. The oft injured Terry Glenn? Brisby who started...what two, maybe three season before having serious injury issues himself? I remember a cast of immortals such as Ray Crittenden, Michael Timpson, Shawn Jefferson...none of which Bledsoe had more than three seasons with, and all with whom he was expected to produce results immediately.
I love Brady, think he's a great quarterback, but when I watch the tapes this year, so far, it's beginning to look like the problem is Brady.
He missed Watson in the deep seam, overthrowing him by a good 15 yards, he missed Brown by a solid half step down field when Brown had beaten the coverage. He skipped the ball to open receivers on a number of occasssions, including two to Watson, one to Graham, and his first attempt to Gabriel on an out pattern.
The knock against Caldwell was that he dropped passes in San Diego - I haven't seen enough passess hit him on the hands to say that Caldwell is the problem. I've seen Gabriel open several times with the ball not making it to him. In the first week I saw Brady throw balls into the raised hands of the defensive line again and again.
Personally, I have no idea what his receivers can do - through his first two games Brady has completed 50 percent of his passes, in his third he completed 60 percent, only by the grace of some great play by the maligned receivers and tight ends that dove back to balls that otherwise would have short hopped (the first reception by Watson along the sideline).
I love watching Brady play, but right now the quality of the receivers is being used as an excuse by alot of people (Mike Felger at the Boston Herald is right now the biggest fan-boy of this excuse), but I seem to remember until Terry Glenn came along, Bledsoe was always expected to produce with new sets of wideouts every couple of years.
First year - Crittenden and Timpson.
By year three I believe it was Crittenden and Brisby, four, Brisby and Glenn
By six Glenn and Jefferson - and both Glenn and Brisby consistently had injury problems. All I'm saying is before I start leveling problems at the receivers, I need to see Brady hitting them on the hands with some consistency.
Sunday I saw a quarterback that looked like he didn't want to be there and he played like it. The only time he seemed fired up was over some of the bad calls made by the zebras.
At this point, it's time to stop pointing fingers at the receivers.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

So I'm rewatching

last weekend's Pats-Bills game on NFL Replay and watching the way Maroney runs. If this guy keeps running like this - shifty, putting his head down to punish the defender before he goes down, or rather than going out of bounds...if he does this over the long haul, somebady will begin comparing him to Walter Payton. A little early for that yet - but his second run of the day he finished off like Sweetness.
This kid is going to be fun to watch.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - Writers - E.M. Swift: Smoking gun may be catching up with Lance - Tuesday September 12, 2006 12:27PM - Writers - E.M. Swift: Smoking gun may be catching up with Lance - Tuesday September 12, 2006 12:27PM

So, as I've said before, I hope that history shows Lance Armstrong to be clean. However, the more people in the sport that come forward to talk, the less likely it looks that Armstrong was the paragon of virtue he claimed to be, and more like the vindictive cheater that Greg LeMond has said he is.
Particularly damning is the part about Frankie Andreu, Armstrong's domestique in his early tours. That, combined with the information about steroids and testicular cancer, unfortunately, has a strong ring of truth.
I think we're way beyond paraphrasing the great Bernard Malamud with, "say it ain't so Lance, say it ain't so."

Thursday, September 07, 2006's Pat Kirwan hits the nail on the head with Deion Branch

Season predictions for the rest of the NFL

So, I had intended to get this post on-line over the weekend, but got caught up painting some of the rooms of the house with the wife and kid out - plus the whole Deion Branch thing distracted me a bit, but more on that later. I wanted to make sure that I got the rest of my season predictions up before kickoff tonight, so, without further ado...

As promised - The NFC North and then the rest of the NFL

NFC North - Not to knock Chicago, but this division is going to the Bears by default, isn't it. I mean, really, who else is there? Green Bay? Detroit? Minnesota?...I think not. The fabled "Black and Blue division" is now largely the "I'll be singin' the blues" division

1st - The Bears will take this division with around ten wins, although they could probably do it with eight considering the talent in the division.
2nd - I'm going to go out on a limb and say that the Vikings will find a way to be near .500, which I think is all a team needs to beat out -
3rd - Lions. If this Matt Millen is still the Lions GM after this season, I need to talk to the Ford family about a job with that company because it will officially be the hardest company to get fired from....well that, and president of the United States. That being said, I like what rookie head coach Rod Marinelli in the preseason and I liked cutting first round bust WR Charles Rogers.
4th - The Packers - Green Bay fans, I think it's time to polish the dust off the Magic Man and bring Don Majkowski back. Really, he can't be any worse under center than Favre has been the last couple of years.

NFC South - Along with the NFC East, the most likely division to produce more than one playoff team in the NFC with playoff hopefuls among three of the four candidates. My thoughts...this is the toughest division in the NFC, and maybe in football.

1st - Panthers - I think this division is going to come down to a dogfight between the Panthers and the Buccaneers, possibly with the division still up for grabs on the last day of the regular season. That being said, I wouldn't rule the Bucs out of the top position in the South.
2nd - Take a wild guess. The only reason why I gave the nod to Carolina over the Bucs is that I have more faith in Jake Delhomme to win in a shoot-out than I do in Chris Simms. Given another season of progress and maybe I call the two a toss-up.
3rd - Falcons - While think they have a legit shot at the playoffs and could win the division, I think that they're long-odds for the division with a grocery list of issues which include having the most overrated QB in the sport (who gave up on the team late last season - that stays with players), a receiving corps that was considered bolstered by the addition of...wait for it...Ashley Lelie, and an undersized defense playing in a very physical conference. Also, it's not exactly a vote of confidence in your starter when you're offered a first rounder in the off-season for your second string QB and you turn it down.
4th - Ain'ts - This team has a very outside chance at competing, but is more likely to be in a rebuilding mode. The new braintrust purged players perceived as problems and upgraded their offensive backfield with a new QB and a new addition to the running backs. That being said, this is a team that has a chance to have an unprecedented homefield advantage with many in New Orleans looking at the Saints as the distraction the city needs from the turmoil it continues to suffer. Unfortunately, that emotion I think will only carry them so far.

NFC West - Welcome to the junior varsity circuit. Seattle will probably remain pretty good, and avoid the curse of the Super Bowl loser missing the playoffs the following season, but that may be as much due to the fact that there is no one else in the division that is a lock to break even.

1st - Seahawks - In spite of some changes to the offensive line, this is a team that is still head and shoulders above the rest of its division, I'm just not convinced they will make the Super Bowl if they have to have healthy competition from the likes of the Panthers, Bucs, or even Dallas in the playoffs.
2nd - Rams - I think they'll be improved and that Scott Linehan will have them playing better than Martz did, I just think they're still a solid year away from returning to playoff contention.
3rd - Cardinals - For the two or three of you out there that actually check my blog now and then, you may remember that I thought highly of the Cards last year. I won't make that mistake again. They've got great talent at most of the skill positions - WR, RB. But they will either have an injury prone retread at QB, or a rookie, starting behind a suspect O-line. Edgerin James is not in for a good year.
4th - 49ers - I grew up when premier playoff games featured Lawrence Taylor led defenses lining up across from Joe Montana led offenses. Let's just say that the Niners still have a very long road ahead of them in order to return to anything even resembling those glory, say, a winning record.

Wild Cards - Bucs and Eagles

NFC Champ - Cowboys

And now the AFC -

AFC West - This is an easy call. Denver. The other two legit contenders went through changes in the offseason that could legitimately impact their playoff chances, and the Raiders are just the Raiders. Lately they've been to their division what Detroit has been to the NFC North.

1st - Broncos - Shanahan, as little as I like him, or his team, is consistent. Year in and year out, he fields a contender in spite of castoffs like Jake Plummer in key positions. Plus, with talent levels dropping around the division, the team doesn't need to be as good as it's been in the past.
2nd - Chargers - While Rivers has looked good under center in the preseason, I'm not convinced he's going to do that for sixteen games in his first full season as the starting signall caller.
3rd - Chiefs - This is a team that is aging at all the skill positions except for starting tailback where they still have relative youngster Larry Johnson. Johnson will run with a chip on his shoulder, but he will be behind a very different line from last year which will be missing key components in clearing out the way for the running game. In spite of his hard running style, I don't see Johnson duplicating the averages per carry and game that he demonstrated last year.
4th - Raiders - Art Shell is not the answer. Aaron Brooks is not the answer. Hell, Jeff George isn't even a piece of the puzzle. For all his business accumen and early success as a head coach, Al Davis seems to have lost track of how to put together a successful team on the field.

AFC South - This division is like clockwork - Indy, then Jacksonville, followed by Tennessee then Texas. This might have been the easiest one to call.

1st - Colts - Peyton and crew will have yet another chance to implode in January. I'm sure they will take full advantage in their disturbingly Pavlovian way.
2nd - Jaguars - Still a piece missing, but they play hard-nosed football and should be good for a playoff push for the next couple of years.
3rd - Titans - Too much turmoil at too many positions to contend.
4th - Texans - might actually challenge to get out out of the basement this season. Have improved talent levels, and has a coach that might get something out of an underachieving bunch.

AFC North - Maybe the toughest division in the AFC right now with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati as legitimate contenders and an improving Browns squad. However, there are some big "ifs" associated with the division contenders.

1st - Bengals - IF Carson Palmer isn't a head case from the damaged knee.
2nd - Steelers - They could challenge for first IF Palmer isn't a head case and IF their running game doesn't have a drop-off from Jerome Bettis's retirement. IF Pittsburgh has to ride the arm of Roethlesburger all season, they might not even make the playoffs.
3rd - The toss-up. I believe it will be the Ravens. They might even make the playoff run interesting IF McNair has anything left in the tank. IF the Ravens ground game returns to the form it showed two years ago, McNair might not need to have that much left in the tank to push the Ravens to a wild card bid.
4th - Browns - IF the Browns didn't have so many off the wall problems in the preseason, they might be improved this year. IF the veteran signees on the defensive line play to their reputations rather than age, the defense has a shot to keep the Browns in a lot of games.

AFC East - To paraphrase Mark Twain, the news of the New England's demise has been greatly exagerated. Miami is improved over last season, however, signing Duante Culpepper does not make a team with as many holes as Miami had last season go from pretender to contender in one season.

1st - Patriots - Sure, no Branch, but in an offense where even the ball boy catches thirty passes in a season, I'm not that worried about who Tom Brady will throw to. He'll find whoever is open, whether it's Branch or Tony from the old neighborhood. All the pundits point to Miami's win streak at the end of the year when the 'Phins beat the Pats, but none of them seem to remember that the starting QB of that game was Cassel - his receivers included the inestimable Bam Childress, who was also the nickel corner in that game, and Doug Flutie drop kicked for three. In spite of going against what was primarily the team's second and third stringers, Miami was still fighting them off - with their own first stringers - at the very endof the game as Cassel came one bad pass away from sending the game into overtime.
2nd - Dolphins - I don't doubt that the Dolphins are much improved, but I don't see them as legitimately challenging for the AFC East crown this year. I'm guessing 8-8, or 9-7 and maybe a shot at a wild card spot if things fall right.
3rd - Bills - This was a hard call for me because, as much as I believe the Dolphins have improved and are only one season away from seriously challenging the Patriots for dominance in the division, I believe the Bills are still slipping, while things are getting better in the Meadowlands (albeit slowly). I don't think they have a good QB. They lack good receivers and their offensive line is poor. Add to that Dick Jauron, a somewhat middling coach, and you have a recipe for a potential basement dweller on your hands. Their defense will keep them in some games, but is likely to be fatigued by the end of the year.
4th - Jets - Let's face it, Mangini was brought in to clean up a mess, and it's likely to take more than a year to do it.

Wild cards - Jaguars and Dolphins

AFC Champion - Patriots

Will revisit this come playoff time. More on Branch later.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Honestly, I don't think I could have said it even as well... - Herald Sports Columnists: It�s not about baseball anymore

Normally, I don't have an issue with Borges, but...

In dealing with Branch, Patriots have dropped the ball - The Boston Globe

I think he's dead wrong on a couple of points. Unfortunately, I also think that arbitrators have a tendency to favor players in these matters when the player has a tendency to compare apples to oranges in order to make a point, which Borges does wit...

"The sides have been mum for the past week, since the team announced Branch would be given until today at 4 p.m. to work out a trade acceptable to New England at a pay level acceptable to Branch. The latter, several league sources said late last night, has been achieved, as the Patriots will learn today. As for the former, no one knows what that will take but Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli. If their trade demands are absurd (read that a first-round pick or more when Donte' Stallworth was worth only a fourth and a backup player, and Ashley Lelie cost basically a third-round pick and a short-yardage runner), what then happens to Branch?"

So, in light of the recent trades, Stallworth and Lelie are on the level of Reggie Wayne, whom Branch's agents compared him to in regards to seeking a new contract?
Stallworth's stat line for last year - 70 rec, 945 yrd, 13.5 avg, 7 TD, 43 long
Lelie's statistics last year - 42 rec, 770 yrd, 18.3 avg, 1 TD, 56 long

Wayne's stats - 83 rec, 1055 yrd, 12.7 avg, 5 TD, 66 long

Branch - 78 rec, 998 yrd, 12.8, 12.8 avg, 5 TD, 51 long.

Is he closer to Wayne than the other two - obviously, but there's a little issue he and his agent a refusing to concede - Wayne was on the verge of being an UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT when he signed the new deal - as in, no time left on his contract. You can't come to the negotiating table, say that you're worth one thing, and then get pissed off when the team tries to obtain that worth in a trade.

Writes Borge's later in the article, "...the Patriots have said by its actions is not worth the money paid Reggie Wayne, Randle El, or Givens. That being the case, how do you ask for a first-round pick for him?
If you do, you look disingenuous, not to mention cheap." Except Branch's side is the one trying to set the value being that of a first round pick - now he and his agent want to whine that the Pats did not enter this in good faith because they didn't feel they got the offer of Branch's worth - I'm having a hard time digesting this.

At one point Borge's talks about relying on the tight ends for offense, "why then does it seem that the loss of David Givens and the apparent business decision to let Branch sit out for 10 weeks or be traded away over money not strike people in New England as a bit, shall we say, troubling? Because they have a big tight end who can run? So do the Kansas City Chiefs, and what good has it done them?" This is troubling to me, bacause Borges is primarily a football guy, and this is what it has done for a team with consistently one of the WORST DEFENSES over the last five years - the number one offense in the NFL with an average of 387 yd/game (Pats last year, 7th at 352) KC also averaged a point and a half more per game than the Pats did. If they had the defense the Patriots have enjoyed over the last four or five seasons, we might be talking about the three rings the Chiefs have.

Don't get me wrong - I'm not a Branch-basher, I just think he and his agent have handled this horribly from the beginning.

Should he win his appeal and end up on the Jets or Seattle, I really don't see catching passes from Pennington (who's likely to spend more time on his back than actually throwing the ball due to the lack of running game), or Hasselbeck (Who's still not the best decision maker out there) as being a great career move if Branch is serious about winning championships. Brady is better, more accurate QB than either of them. The only bonus to going to Seattle, is that the rest of the division is in such disarray, that there's at least a legitimate chance at maintaining the status quo in regards to his personal stats.

Next up - the next chapter in my pre-season predictions.