Tuesday, January 02, 2007

And What A Final Week It Was

“Celebrate yeah we will, ‘cause life is short but sweet for certain.”

Hey guys. I feel bad that I didn’t make any predictions for the bowls or for the NFL this week. It’s been a rough couple of days for me and my family. So in return, I’d like to offer up some observations from the final week of the NFL season.

The Denver Broncos are the biggest choke artists since the old (and sometimes new) Phil Mickelson. Having their playoff destiny under their control, and playing at home against the, well I don’t know, somewhat upstart 49ers? They lose. Seriously, what happened? Well, Jay Cutler happened. I sincerely hope everyone in Denver is satisfied with Cutler after they discarded Jake Plummer and threw him under the collective bus. Didn’t Plummer lead them to the AFC Championship at home last year and had a winning record this season before he got benched? I know he’s “Jake the Mistake,” but Jay Cutler doesn’t have an easy nickname to rhyme with. Butler? “Cutler the Butler?” See that’s no good. Cutler was supremely overrated in last year’s draft. If you’re an SEC fan, you had to have known this. The one reason why he was so good his final season was Earl Bennett, the outstanding receiver, who will be a great pro in my opinion when he enters the draft (he’s still only a sophomore). Cutler looked, I don’t know, terrible today? Terrible is a pretty good word to describe that. The pick he threw to Walt Harris…wow. If you didn’t see it, watch the Blitz or Sportscenter tomorrow. It was horrendous. Also, I would like to re-open my “Most Underrated Pro Athlete” award, and give a portion of it to Frank Gore. Ok, how nasty was this guy this year? I mean, the Niners finished 7-9, I would credit at least five of those wins to Gore alone. He had another hundred yard game today, totaling over 1600 yards and setting a franchise record for yards from scrimmage in a year. Gore is like the Matt Cassell of running backs (figured a hometown example would be perfect). If you don’t know Cassell’s story, here it is: he was a quarterback at USC for four years, where he backed up Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Then, he gets drafted by New England in the 7th round, where he’s backing up…well you know who. Basically, the guy has never got a chance to prove himself. At least Gore, after backing up both Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis, was able to get somewhat of a shot his senior year before injuries sidelined him. He was drafted in the second round two years ago, and he has been solid right out of the gate. Gore is definitely going to be under the fantasy microscope next year. You have to figure he’s going to be a sure-fire first round fantasy pick, as not only does he get you the running yards and touchdowns, but he gets you 40-50 receptions a year. All and all, a real solid player.

Steven Jackson had four touchdowns today. Yeah, so there’s another guy who had a real good year. Jackson, in my opinion, was either the third or fourth best player in fantasy terms, behind the initial twins (LJ and LT), and maybe Alexander. Jackson is like Gore and then some. This was a guy I had hoped the Patriots would draft when he was there three years ago. Instead, the Rams took him 24th overall, and haven’t looked back since. By the way, don’t think it’s any coincidence that two of the best runners in the game (Johnson and Jackson) were understudies of amazing backs (Priest Holmes and Marshall Faulk) their first years. I mean really special players, like LT and Alexander, can be thrown into the fray in their first years and excel, but think about the NFL as a whole. Look at most of the starting running backs in the league. I would have to say a majority were able to watch other outstanding running backs their first year, and were really able to learn the offense and learn what it took to provide what was necessary for that specific offense. Jackson will now be propelled into the third spot as far as fantasy value is concerned, which is about right because this guy is an absolute stud.

Because I keep mentioning fantasy football, I can’t help but provide some insight as to how you can win your fantasy championship next year. Trust me folks, as I speak, I’m in two leagues, and in both, I’m in the championship game, so I believe I am qualified to do so. Ok, so here are some helpful hints, and even if you’re a fantasy newcomer, if you follow this, you should be ok:

1. Draft a Tight End Early: I can’t even stress this enough. Antonio Gates was the only TE worth a damn this year, and he will be off the board early. If you’re in a 10 or 12-team format, drafting this guy in the third round is not a stretch at all. Basically there are four guys that are out there that will get you any fantasy value (Gates, Gonzalez, Crumpler, Shockey), and the rest…well, good luck.
2. Do Not Wait To Draft A Team Defense: Let me tell you something, one of the main reasons I am in my championship game is the Ravens D. They were so good at forcing turnovers, getting sacks, scoring TDs, that I almost figured at least 15 points a week from them. This is another category where games are won and lost in. Again, you need to pick from a selective few teams (Bears, Ravens, Panthers, Eagles, Steelers, Patriots…yeah that’s right) in order to cash in here. Don’t wait, because there will be others who know about this, and they will pounce all over it.
3. Whoever Says That Drafting Running Backs In The First Two Rounds Is Crazy Obviously Is Just That…Crazy: Look, I know that you may have been stung in the past (let’s say, for instance, you got the Edge this year), but face it, there are so few running backs who are “one-man bands” now-a-days that you have to get two quick. If you get caught with a back who shares time with a “goal-line situation” back, you’re screwed. The other guy will rob you of valuable points. The only one to survive and put up major points was Tiki Barber, but unfortunately, he is retiring, so you’re fresh out of luck. You need guys who can do it all (LJ, LT, Alexander, Jackson, Gore, James, Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, Willis McGahee, Travis Henry, Willie Parker, Jamal Lewis, Rudi Johnson, Brian Westbrook, Chester Taylor, Kevin Jones, Ahman Green). However, be wary of injuries. Ask anyone who owned Shaun Alexander this past year, they’ll tell you all about that little panic attack. That’s why, in case one of them goes down you’ll at least have a…
4. Draft A Goal-Line Back: This applies to people who are in leagues where there are flex positions and you have at least two running back slots open. Think about a guy like Maurice Jones-Drew. He had almost a thousand yards on the ground this year. If you add in his receptions and the kick returns, this guy was a stud. Another guy you should consider is Marion Barber III from Dallas, who had 16 TDs this year. A goal line back is real valuable because you’re almost guaranteed points each week. Let the main guy do all the work, then watch your boy come in and hit the end zone.
5. Watch For The Giants Running Back Situation: With the aforementioned Tiki Barber retiring, the incumbent Brandon Jacobs, who could have been thrown into the goal-line back category, is now the favorite to take over. If this is the case, expect big things from him. In the few times where he has been thrown in to “normal” running situations, he has excelled. If he starts next year, you can expect a huge amount of production from him. Look at Barber. He’s gained over 2,000 yards from scrimmage the last two years. I mean don’t expect that much from Jacobs, but consider this: if he goes on to start, he will be the featured back on the goal-line, meaning more points for you. I think if he is available in the late second-to-early third round, definitely consider him if the Giants don’t go out and get anyone.
6. It Is Never Too Early To Get A Quarterback: With so many signal-callers getting benched this year, you have to get one that you know will stand the test of time. Brady and Manning are two guys you can always rely on, the rest is a crapshoot. If necessary, there are a few guys (Drew Brees, Marc Bulger, Matt Hasselbeck, Brett Favre (assuming he comes back, which he will), Donovan McNabb, Trent Green) you have to get if you don’t get in on those two. I’m not completely sold on Vince Young as a fantasy quarterback, even though I had him for the last six weeks, and he flourished and got me some nice points. I like him as a backup right now. If he’s available late in the draft, definitely grab him. Do not draft Michael Vick, I mean, unless you want to have brain aneurisms and take ten years off your life. And finally…
7. Update Your Team!: I mean, I do like the easy wins, but I would like it more if I knew I earned those wins. Please, if you commit to making a fantasy team, make the full commitment. I mean you don’t have to obsess over your team, but let’s say a guy goes on IR, get rid of him! This will offer up a more satisfying experience for all who are involved. Ok, that’s it for fantasy for now. I’ll be offering sleepers soon (that’s gonna be a whole article), but back to some more observations.

The Patriots are not going to lose to the Jets. There is just no way around it. There is absolutely, positively, no way that the Pats will lose twice at home to the Jets, not as long as Belichick has a breath in his body. Mangini is crafty, and he learned all his tricks from Bill, and their parting was rumored to be pretty heated, so expect Bill to come out with some new tricks for his former protégé. Look for a lot…a lot of running. With Dillon and Maroney at full health, and Tom looking better than ever, the Pats should pull out a double-digit win. I would not be surprised if New England opens at around an 8-point favorite in this one. There is just no way…none.

The Bears are the most unimpressive 13-3 team in the history of the league. If any team sums up the NFC, it’s the Bears. This is the best team in the NFC? Wow. Well, unless something catastrophic happens, expect the AFC to take its fourth straight Super Bowl. The Bears have a real quarterback problem, and that’s tough, you know, when the playoffs start next week. Here’s my opinion: Lovie will start Rex Grossman, Rex will tank, they’ll lose, and Rex will not be the starter next year. Hey, you may know that I know a lot of “where did they go to school questions,” and you know I know this one. Grossman is a Florida Gator, and you know how many Gator QBs have worked in the last twenty years? Well, Grossman is not going to break the mold. Sunday night’s game against the Packers totally proved my point. The Bears got dominated because Grossman kept making mistakes. He gave up two pick-sixes and basically cost them the game. My prediction was all along that the Bears would lose their first game, and I am definitely sticking with it after watching that game.

The Chiefs had an amazing road to get the #6 spot in the AFC. Last year, they lost on the last week, and the Steelers took advantage, slipping into the last spot, where they went on to win the Super Bowl. Ok, so here’s the wild road the Chiefs went on today:

1. Well, obviously, they needed a win in their game against Jacksonville. Luckily for them, they were playing at Arrowhead, where they have only lost one game in December in the last decade. Today was kind of a squeaker though. The Chiefs had a big lead over the Jags, but Jacksonville came back in the end, Kansas City only won by five.
2. Then, Tennessee had to lose, which they were able to do at the hands of the future champs (as I said before, the parade is already done being planned and now they are reconfiguring the banners to make room for the new one). Here’s the bizarre thing, the Titans needed four things to happen as well in order for them to get into the playoffs, and all of them, except for them winning of course, happened. Here’s what I think: I don’t see the Titans getting in next year either. I think NFL defenses are going to eventually wise up to him, and in the end, the Titans are simply not going to have the weapons for Young to be truly effective.
3. Cincinnati needed to lose to Pittsburgh. Now this team was one of the craziest stories in the entire league. I mean seemingly every week, someone got arrested from that team, or someone was getting into some kind of trouble, and yet still, they survived, winning big game after big game and were able to control their own playoff destiny with two games to go. Then, they came undone. Their collapse against Denver (you know, the choke artists) was of legendary proportions. Not only did they lose the lead late in the game to a mediocre quarterback, but basically, their season was over after a muffed extra point that would have put the game into overtime. The Bengals drove all the way down the field, got the score that they needed with just a few ticks left on the clock, and couldn’t at least force an extra period where they could have got lucky and won that game, which would have wrapped up a playoff spot for them. Then, this week, they had a shot to get into the show with a win over Pittsburgh. I mean it was an outside one, but if Kansas City lost and they had won, their in. However, they lost to their inter-division rival Steelers, who they seemingly cannot figure out. I mean Willie Parker just steamrolled that defense all game long. However, there’s nothing more embarrassing than losing on an overtime-ending touchdown. I mean if you give up a field goal, that’s understandable in the NFL. Ok, they won the toss, got a good return, got a couple first downs, kicked like a 48-yarder, you know, that kind of stuff happens. But a touchdown? That basically can be summized to a total defensive breakdown. It took the Steelers only a minute-and-a-half to end it, with a long touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes to end it. So the Bengals choked pretty good, but it wasn’t like…
4. The Broncos losing to the 49ers at Mile High. Denver was in with a win, but they also could have got in with a tie against San Fran, but got neither. I was thinking with about six minutes left “I wonder if Shanahan will just run the ball to wind down the clock?” I’m going to be under the assumption that Shanahan knew that they would be in with a tie, but you never know. I am very curious to find out if he knew or not, because if he did, he should have done exactly that. I remember one of the commentators saying that the Broncos “would have no momentum if the game ended in a tie.” Who cares? They’re in! Who cares if they don’t have momentum? At least they got in. Now their watching the game on TV instead of playing in it. First of all, Shanahan should have put Plummer in at QB in the fourth quarter, or for that matter, he shouldn’t have taken him out in the first place. Cutler looked terrible and has looked terrible in every game except for the Cardinals game. I was wrong about Cutler because I thought he would give the Broncos just enough to get in, but I was off on that, as I’ve been off about most of the NFL this year. The Broncos could have run the clock down by…running, and taking the ball out of Cutler’s hands. Oh well, they got eight months to think about it, I’m sure they’ll come up with something.

James Brown is really irritating me. No, I’m not talking about the “godfather of soul” (God rest his soul…by the way, pick up that “greatest hits” album, that’s hours of fun for the whole family), but the CBS pre-game “play-by-play” man. Ok, now I like how he is able to neutralize that cast, because when you have three guys who don’t know what they’re talking about, it’s generally difficult to do that (By the way, never get quarterbacks or anyone who was a flamboyant player in the league to do your “information” bits; if you want the supposed “inside truth” about the game from players, you need offensive linemen and secondary guys; I don’t know what it is, but those guys make a hell of a lot more sense than these other morons; look at Bradshaw, Irvin, and Boomer, now do you really think these guys know what they’re talking about? Ok, now look at Howie Long, Ronnie Lott (this was a few years ago), Rod Woodson (the same), and Mark Schlereth. These guys actually seem to get it, and they give you actual information that you can use, not pointless opinions that have no factual backing. The only guy who breaks the mold by the way is Cris Collinsworth. In fact, he’s so good, he gets his own segment during the Sunday night game, so I would be remorse if I didn’t mention that). But, I swear to you, if he says “pay dirt” one more time, I’ll flip out. Hey, it’s called the end zone! Say it once in a while! Every single time there was a break in the game, there good ol’ JB…”guys take a look at this, as Maurice Jones-Drew breaks a tackle, and hits the pay dirt…” AHHH!!! Damn it!

I know I’m probably not the first to point this out, but FOX’s overall game presentation is totally amateur. First of all, the scores are in a “March Madness motif” and you have to squint to see each score. Secondly, there are no fantasy stats. I mean come on guys, why do think all these people are buying “Sunday Ticket?” So they can tune into that Cardinals-Niners thriller? No. They get it so they can watch their fantasy players play. I have to think that CBS has some kind of patent on the whole “GameTrax/StatTrax” bottom-line they have, but I still think FOX could help you out some. At least NBC and ESPN mention a player’s stats by the score when they do something of relevance, but you get nothing from FOX. On occasion, they run something by on their “top line,” but it’s not nearly enough. They are going to have to smarten up for next year, as CBS is totally destroying them as far as presentation is concerned. Also, in the Broncos game I was watching, there was no yellow-line indicator for the first down marker. What game doesn’t have that? High school maybe? I mean come on now, we’re in the 21st Century, FOX probably has to pay a couple of billion dollars to broadcast the NFC each year, what is the deal?

There are some intriguing matchups next week. How did the Giants make it? Talk about backing your way in. Well, they get a second crack at the Eagles, who recently beat them at the Meadowlands. Why am I thinking Giants here? “Chinese Water Torture,” I’m telling you it’s for real. Seattle is playing Dallas, and the Cowboys have been reeling the last couple of weeks, and I’m not backing down from my “Seattle-in-the-playoffs” prediction. The real intriguing matchup, which was one of the reasons I was pulling for the Niners (I was playing against a guy who had the Broncos D/ST too), was that now Indy draws the Chiefs, meaning it’s their D against Larry Johnson. I love the Pats, and I love them even more when they’re not playing in a dome. Believe me, Indy has a real chance of winning two games in a row. If they beat KC, they will play the Ravens at Baltimore, which is a winnable game. If the Pats can somehow get by the Chargers on the road, they would play the Baltimore/Indy winner on the road. However, if the Chiefs, with one of the best offenses in the league (Are you starting to remember the rant I had about this a while back? If not, check the archive for the playoff predictions.) beat the Colts, the Pats will play Baltimore on the road, and the Chiefs will play the Chargers on the road. Therefore, it is at least possible that the Pats could have the AFC Championship game at home. However, I remember the last time I was thinking this was last year, and basically the same thing happened. Pittsburgh was able to dispatch the then-#1 seeded Colts, but we were unable to seal the deal against the Broncos at Mile High. If we did, we would have hosted the AFC Championship game against the Steelers last year. So, it’s something to think about, but you gotta beat that #2 seed before you can think about home games, and Baltimore appears to be no pushover with “Air” McNair at the helm. KC did lose their last meeting at San Diego three weeks ago 20-9 by the way.

Well, I think that’s it for now. Again, I know I said I would preview the rest of the bowl games, but with everything that’s happened this past week, I’m going to just tell you my BCS winners (Louisville, USC, Boise St., LSU, Ohio St.) and call it a day. I will be writing a Wild Card preview column, so be looking for that this week. Happy new year everyone! Hope this one is the best yet (the kid’s a dreamer, what can I say?). Alright, take care everyone. Peace.


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