Thursday, January 08, 2009

The week's happenings...

Eric Mangini is now the coach of the Browns.

Peter King pointed out something interesting here, and it appears Randy Lerner hasn't learned from past mistakes. The last time the Browns had coaching and front office changes, Lerner hired the coach he wanted, and then hired his personnel guy. The coach was from the Patriots' system (Romeo Crennel), and the general manager was plucked out of the Ravens' offices (Phil Savage). By all accounts the two didn't work well together, and, of course, Savage was forced to work with a coach who was not his pick.

Fast forward to today. Mangini, like Crennel, a product of the Belichick system, was hired by Lerner. There is no GM in place, but by all accounts it's going to be another guy out of Baltimore's front offices. Anyone else sense a pattern here?

Personally, I don't see Mangini being any more successful than Crennel was.

Pacman Jones may very well be done. I've said this before, but when the Cowboys think you're too much of a thug, then the only team left is Oakland. Even so, I'm not convinced he'll be allowed to play given the latest news hitting the wires.

Even if Jones gets off by copping a plea, in the NFL's eyes it will be admitting at least some culpability on the part of Jones who allegedly ordered a shooting. Roger Goodell made it perfectly clear that Jones was on a short leash. This has to be the last chance.

For Pittsburgh, home field advantage in the playoffs is a myth. With Ben Roethlisberger under Center the Steelers are 3-0 in road games during the playoffs, but they're only 1-2 at home. In the three home games Big Ben has thrown eight interceptions against five touchdowns. On the road he's thrown seven touch downs against only one interception. In the losses he's thrown for an average of 248 yards per game and the team has averaged 25.3 points per game while giving up 29.7 ppg. In the wins - 226.7 yards per game, and 28.7 ppg scored while giving up 17.3 ppg.

Those numbers confirm something I have always said about Roethlisberger - if the team gets into a shoot out, Big Ben is prone to the mistake that will kill the team. I just didn't realize that he was more prone to make that mistake at Heinz Field.

The Panthers have to be feeling pretty good about their match-up with the Cardinals this weekend. The Panthers went undefeated at home this season while Arizona went 2-6 on the road, beating only the lowly Rams and Seahawks on the road.

So the Sox will be signing Rocco Baldelli and John Smoltz according to reports. I like the signings. Baldelli could be a great help coming off the bench, and from what I've read, might be in better shape to play more than he did last season given that his condition was misdiagnosed.

I like the Smoltz signing. It's not a sexy signing, but with the top three of the rotation already set with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Daisuke Matsuzaka and the Sox already having Tim Wakefield, Brad Penny, and youngsters Clay Buccholz, Michael Bowden, and possibly Justin Masterson competing for the fourth, fifth, and swing-starter/long reliever positions on the staff, Smoltz will have a chance to get healthy and act as insurance on the pitching staff.

If I had to call it, by mid-season I think Masterson is the swing guy with the rotation looking like this -

Beckett, Lester, Dice, Penny, Smoltz/Wake (I figure there will be some time in the DL for Wake who has spent some time there each of the last two seasons).

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Cleaning the Junk Drawer, part 2

LaDainian Tomlinson is cooked. Yes, Tomlinson put up respectable numbers, but for the second straight year he broke down at the end of the season and has been the most talented bench warmer in the playoffs.

Each of the last two seasons Tomlinson's yards per rush average has decreased - first by half a yard, and then between this past season and the previous one, a shade under a yard. Tomlinson ran for fewer yards, produced fewer yards from scrimmage and averaged fewer rushing yards per game than at any other time in his career.

Over and above that, Tomlinson might be one of the more overrated running backs...ever. He's a regular season stud, but he's a post season dud.

Consider, for a guy who's supposed to be a game changer, he's come up flat in the big games - in six post-season appearances Tomlinson has averaged 3.6 yards per rush (regular season - 4.4), and only once exceeded 80 yards rushing (123 in a loss to the Patriots). The Chargers are 3-3 in the post season with Tomlinson, but in the team's three wins, Tomlinson has combined to rush for 95 yards (28, 42, and 25) in those three games on 33 carries (2.9 yards per carry). Not exactly an impact player in the NFL's second season.

The current rumor is that Scott Pioli is likely to land the KC position. If that happens, don't be surprised if Josh McDaniels ends up there - or Matt Cassel. It would be kind of ironic if Cassel ends up as the starter for the team that, in essence, launched his pro career, wouldn't it?

I would not be the least bit surprised if all three end up in the same place. The only issue I see is that if it is KC, that Pioli won't want to give up that first round pick because the Chiefs are desperately in need of a stud offensive lineman - unless he believes that the draft is deep enough that he will be able to get someone in the second or third round that can make a difference up front.

What the hell happened to the Celtics in the last two weeks?

I think the American League East is a lot of ifs -

If the Yankees pitching staff stays healthy, they can make the playoffs. Sure, they're likely to have a solid one-two with CC Sabathia and Chien-Ming Wang, but AJ Burnett has a history of injury, as does Joba Chamberlain when he starts (that goes back to before he was drafted - it's why the Yankees were able to get him with the 41st pick). If the Yankees have to rely on Phil Hughes and Ian Kennedy for a significant number of starts, they should forget about the playoffs in the Bronx.

If Josh Beckett returns to form, and Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka continue to develop the way they have been, then the Sox have the best staff in the East and should make the playoffs.

If the Rays staff - including the bullpen - repeats the year they just had, they should be the favorites, particularly given the signing of Pat Burrell. Burrell is not a superstar, but he is a solid middle of the order (5th, 6th) sort of batter that will knock in about 90 runs and score about 72 runs in a season.

Speaking of the Yankees - kind of offensive that they go out and commit to over $400 million in contracts and then turnaround and tell the City of New York that they need $300 million more to finish the stadium, isn't it?

As good as the Eagles and the Ravens looked this past weekend, I don't think either team will go all the way, although I give the Ravens a better chance than the Eagles. Philly has a tendency to become too one dimensional. The flip side is that I don't trust the Giants without Plaxico Burress - they just haven't been that great without him.

I'm not saying that the best team is going to win the Super Bowl, but if I were to call it, I would say that the likely winner will be whoever is left standing in the Steelers-Ravens game, as long as the winner of that contest comes out healthy. Were I to rank the remaining teams based on their chances, I think I would look at it like this -

  1. Steelers
  2. Titans
  3. Ravens
  4. Panthers
  5. Giants
  6. Eagles
  7. Cardinals
  8. Chargers
If I had to venture a guess, the winner will be from the top four listed there and that the Giants will not repeat. Just a hunch.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Cleaning out the junk drawer of my mind for the new year

Just some random observations about a variety of things...

First, I want to address the NFL MVP - Peyton Manning got that on reputation alone. He did not deserve it this season as he was as culpable in the Colts record through the first seven games as he was responsible for digging them out of the same hole. A lot of people with the MVP vote claim the Colts would have been horrible without Manning under center, but I don't buy that they would have been any worse than 3-4 through seven games before Manning came back if they had Jim Sorgi taking the snaps.

Consider - Sorgi, for his career, has seen action in 15 games (14 if you don't count the one time in 2006 when he came in to take a knee). In those 14 games, Sorgi is 99 for 156 for 929 yards, 6 touchdowns, 1 interception and a QB Rating of 89.9. As that was a lot of partial games, break that down to five games with an average of 20 completions on 31 attempts, 186 yards, and 1 touchdown per game. Certainly passable and capable of winning three or four games over a seven game season.

There are at least five players that have had a bigger impact on their respective teams - Michael Turner, Matt Ryan, Chad Pennington, Ed Reed, James Harrison all significantly change the equation if they're not on their teams, and it's unlikely that any of their teams make the playoffs without them.

The Falcons were exposed as young and inexperienced in what I thought was one of the more boring playoff games I have ever seen.

I like the way the Red Sox rotation is shaping up, and have a hunch that a lot of people are going to panic because the Sox aren't overspending to get the big, sexy names in free-agency. If this works out the way I think it will, the Sox off-season is going to be compared to the Patriots' 2001 free agent signings. A lot of really solid guys that help make a winner, but aren't the biggest names out there.

How many times does Scott Boras have to publicly screw the pooch before his clients begin to get worried. He was publicly neutered in the last Alex Rodriguez negotiations, blinked in his game of chicken with the Sox during the Daisuke Matsuzaka negotiations, he got lucky in the Mark Texiera sweepstakes in that the Yankees swooped in and pretty much bid against no one, overplayed his hand with both Jason Varitek and Manny Ramirez.

Let's look at Ramirez for a second.

It's well known that Ramirez, likely on the advice of Boras, engineered his exit from Boston in an effort to get out from under his option years. That's not going to sit well with other general managers who will wonder if Ramirez will pull the same stunt on their teams.

Reportedly, Boras told Ramirez that he could get a four year contract for an average of $25 million per year, more than the two option years at $20 million each that the Sox would have had. Since the end of the season Ramirez has received a two-year $45 million offer from the Dodgers (since rescinded), and a three-year incentive-laden deal with a club option for a fourth year from the Giants. I'm guessing the dollars aren't in the right neighborhood based on the following from KPIX in San Fran -

The chances of the Giants signing Ramirez, a 36-year-old left fielder, were unclear. A team spokesperson told CBS 5, "it's not happening."
There was a lot of speculation that Roger Clemens would get a pardon from family friend George W. Bush and in so doing, avoid the legal implications of the federal charges that are likely to stem from the FBI investigation. Looks like charges aren't even going to get filed until after Bush leaves office. Sucks to be Roger.

I look at the Yankees off-season and can't help think that they learned nothing from the Carl Pavano signing. Nor have they learned anything from the history of fat pitchers.

The CC Sabathia signing might work well for them in the regular season for the first year or two, but eight seasons? That's nuts.

Sid Fernandez, who had weight issues, last started more than 20 games at age 29. Former Red Sox reliever Rich "El Guapo/the human zeppelin" Garces was respectable until the age of 30. At 31 he posted a 7.59 ERA and was out of baseball after that season. Once dominant Bartolo Colon had an eight season stretch wherein he pitched fewer than 200 innings only once (188 in 2000) and averaged 32.6 starts per season. When he turned 33 he went away - compiling a total of 35 starts and fewer than 200 combined innings over the final three seasons of his career. Sabathia turns 30 in 2010.

The future is not bright for him.

Congrats to the Cardinals who have finally won a playoff game after a 60+ year absence from the post-season.

I don't want to hear any excuses today regarding the Colts. They were beaten by a depleted 8-8 team - a team without its best running back, their best linebacker, and with their best receiving threat, Antonio Gates, hobbled by a high ankle sprain. The Chargers didn't even play that great a game, twice giving the ball back to the Colts in the red zone while threatening to score. And then the Colts defense imploded during the final drive - that was some of the ugliest play-off football I have ever seen.

On a final note - Matt Cassel is about to cash in on a great season. More power to him. I figure we'll know the status of Tom Brady well before the draft. If Brady is on or ahead of schedule, I expect that Cassel will be packaged for draft picks. If he's not, the Patriots have a salary cap issue to address.

Happy New Year all!