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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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.