Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Back To The Task At Hand

"I hope your dreams, they come alive."

Alright, we're thinking positive over here. Good to get back on here. I am applying for substitute teaching jobs. Now if I actually get a gig, which is unlikely, I'm thinking I'm going to be part Matthew Broderick in "Election" and part Donald Sutherland from "Animal House"...

"Listen I'm not joking...this is my job!"

If anything, I can assure you that I will not become Mr. Hand from "Fast Times." I'm actually going to watch that again just as a template of things to stay away from. Well alright now...


Wes Welker.

I mean really, that's all you have to say anymore. Seriously...you literally have to knock him out of a game for him to be ineffective. Welker went bonkers again against the Seahawks, and his contributions proved to be just the thing to get the Pats over the hump and sneak out of Seattle with a win. It was incredibly ugly, and the defense looked awful against Seneca Wallace for three quarters. Without an effective pass rush, the Pats are going to be in big trouble. The secondary is weak, and the linebacking core, which was in trouble to begin with, just got even worse with Tedy Bruschi hitting the IR. The Pats were lucky to survive, but you can't complain too much. A win is a win, and that's all the Pats need right now. They are going to have to win out to have any realistic chance of making the playoffs given that all of the tiebreakers are going to be against them. Plus, the wild card spots are going to be filled, again likely, by the Colts and the Ravens. So, the only way to get in is by winning the division. Here is really the only way I see this happening:
  • Pats: Wins against Oakland, Arizona, and Buffalo
  • Jets: Wins against Buffalo and Miami, Loss against Seattle
  • Dolphins: Wins against San Francisco and Kansas City, Loss against the Jets
Again, basically, the short of it is that both the Jets and Dolphins have to go 2-1 and the Pats have to win out. What I outlined above is the logical way things will shake down. In any event, a big win on Sunday, but it further magnified how spotty the defense is. It's worrisome to me, but a couple of things may help us out. For one, the schedule ahead is not overwhelmingly difficult, so saying that the Pats can go 3-0 to end the season. Second, Oakland is in the same kind of boat that Seattle is in, but JaMarcus Russell is less mobile than Seneca Wallace, which means that it's not going to be as tough of a task to get to the quarterback. The one thing they do share is their inexperience. Also, they both are being coached by two guys who apparently want nothing more than to embarrass the daylights out of their players week in and week out. Seriously, Holmgren was doing everything in his power to seem as completely uninterested in the game as possible. Not reviewing the Deion Branch catch that should have been, then urging his punt team to snap the ball before the jumbotron could review the play a few more times...that was priceless. I realize that this is Holmgren's last year in Seattle...could you at least put some effort into it? Qwest Field was going wild on Sunday, and what do they get? A coach who has given up. Had it not been for Deion Branch, Seattle would have been in serious trouble. But again, hats off to the Pats...they found a way to win a game they absolutely needed. It remains to be seen about the health of Vince Wilfork, who left the game with a shoulder injury, and Ty Warren, who missed the game all-together with a groin injury. Mike Wright and Le Kevin Smith filled in admirably, but there is no way that they will be able to hold up for the next three games. The run defense will be put to the test against Darren McFadden and Co. Oakland certainly isn't the strongest team, but this will be the second game in a row on the west coast. In the first go-around, the Pats looked decent against the Niners, then came out flat against San Diego. The key will be to set the pace early, which is something they failed to do against Seattle.

Well, that's my take on the home team. Here are some other things:
  • Remember that whole thing I said about Matt Schaub maybe being a couple of steps slow due to his extended absence?...Yeah, scratch that. Schaub exploded in Green Bay to the tune of 414 yards and two touchdowns. Boy, how low have the Packers sunk? Two in a row at home? Again, my initial thoughts were that Aaron Rodgers would have a tough time this season, and for the most part, it has been. Although you may want to chalk up the last two losses to the defense, which has looked horrendous lately. Considering that the D really anchored the Packers in their playoff run last year, they have been a huge let down, especially to a team who is starting a rookie QB in a really weak division. Steve Slaton had another fantastic game. He has been more than anything the Texans could have conceivably hoped for. Big win for the Texans. They are not going to be in it this year, but if they get another receiver, and maybe add some help on the defense, this team could hit 10 wins next season.
  • The Cowboys are holding on to the sixth seed by the slimmest of margins after their collapse in Pittsburgh. They were dominating the game despite the fact that Romo looked God awful against the stingiest defense in the league. Dallas has got major in-house issues...again. See, this would be the downside of having a ton of egos on the team, especially one Terrell Owens. What is happening is that Romo is trusting Jason Witten more than Owens, at least for now, which already is driving TO nuts. They get the Giants at home, and they need to stay on track because there are about five teams nipping at their heels for a chance to get that last wild card spot.
  • Has anyone learned not to beat against an NFC South team at home? All week long I saw people taking the Falcons and the Bucs on the road. I realize that both teams have been great this year, but you cannot go against that trend. It's up to something like 26-2 for NFC South teams at home. Just absolutely nuts. Anyway, the New Orleans/Atlanta game was an epic like everyone predicted. The key to the game was the continuing emergence of Pierre Thomas in this Saints offense. If he can keep up the kind of numbers like he has been doing, along with Reggie Bush, they will have a backfield that will be the perfect compliment to their high-octane passing game. Something has to be said about Matt Ryan, who just continues to have a major contribution in the turnaround of the Falcons. The Carolina game literally played out exactly how I thought it would in terms of what the Panthers needed to do on offense. First, Jake Delhomme had to limit the amount of times he aired the ball out in the "Tampa 2" formation. I said no more than 20, and that's the exact number he hit (he had 2 INTs anyway). Then, I figured they would try and get as close to 40 rushes from both Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart as they could. They got 34 from both, which was good for 301 yards and four scores. The Panthers' key to success from here on out will have to be their running game and their ability to stop the run on defense. Their pass defense was terrible though, especially against a team not known for that kind of aerial attack. Garcia had 321 yards and two scores. Lucas and Gamble are going to have to lock down the outside a lot better than what they showed yesterday. Again, that will all come back to winning the time of possession battle and the battle up front.
  • The last point I will make is about the Giants, who had to have been disappointed in the way they played on Sunday against the Eagles. I think people are overplaying the whole "distraction" card in terms of the Plaxico situation. What was surprising to me was how bad the Giants' receivers were on Sunday, dropping passes left and right. I thought that they could at least skate by for the time being with Burress being out, but clearly, they do not have the physical specimen that Burress is. This guy demands at least two defenders around him at all time. Without that, the defense can go one-on-one with Hixon, Toomer, and Smith, and allow the safeties to play their normal positions. Another thing is that this team is lost without Brandon Jacobs. When he went down, and they attempted to carry on with just Bradshaw and Ward, it simply was not the same. Jacobs has spear-headed the new running back. Built like a tight end, but still possessing breakaway speed. Without that presence in the lineup, and without Burress, they are without their two playmakers. Now, it will be up to someone else to step up and take over. They are going to have to figure it out, and figure it out quickly. While they have clinched the division, and appear likely to land the #1 seed in the NFC, if we have learned anything this year, it's that unless you play in the NFC South, you can be vulnerable at home. To me, they have been the most complete team in the league this year, but the stretch run will tell a lot about this team's resolve. Philly is now showing what they would have had if Brian Westbrook were to have been healthy for any amount of time this year. They have no receivers, but with Westbrook, they have a guy who demands the entire defense to be aware of him at all times. This also helps McNabb...remember him? Yeah, he was the guy everyone said was quitting on his team, but anyway, McNabb has a tremendous check-down option if the outside and the deep threats are taken away. Here's an interesting theory: Donovan McNabb is the Paul Pierce of the NFL...a guy who so desperately wants to win, and the appearance of him being frustrated by the lack of quality around him has given everyone the impression that he's selfish and cannot play at a high level anymore. Pierce eventually got the talent, while McNabb got it once, and they almost won a Super Bowl. If McNabb gets any kind of legitimate star receiver in the next two years, there is a chance Philly can get back to the big game. Philly's D was tremendous too, especially Trent Cole. The block he had on the field goal in the first half was amazing.
  • In two separate celebrations, "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" was referenced. First, Jason David of the Saints broke out the "Carlton Dance," then, on Monday night, DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart teamed up for the Will Smith/DJ Jazzy Jeff handshake. Real good stuff...what am I going to do without football?...Of course, I would be remissed if I didn't include the man himself.
Fav Five MVP Candidates:
  1. Kurt Warner, QB, Arizona
  2. Jay Cutler, QB, Denver
  3. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis
  4. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh
  5. Chad Pennington, QB, Miami
College Football

Finally, bowl season is here! Of course it is laden with controversy. Some deserved, and others...well, I'll get to that.

Deserved Controversy:
I realize that Ohio State has a big fan base, and that they will probably travel well to Tempe for the Fiesta Bowl, but please, someone explain to me how they get in and Boise State does not. Boise not only went undefeated, but was ahead of Ohio State in the final BCS rankings! So basically, the message is that the rankings, outside of #1 and #2, have absolutely no relevance on the other BCS bowl games. Thanks, heard you loud and clear. It's about money, screw the little guy. Also, Texas Tech is #7, and they get shut out? This is questionable. Sure, they got absolutely demolished by Oklahoma, but still, they too are ahead of Ohio State in the rankings. All the committee had to do would be to switch out Utah for Texas Tech in the Sugar Bowl, then put Utah against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, and that way, you would have two matchups that had not been played out this year. It's totally ridiculous. Why is the Big 10 getting so much respect anyway? This to me represents everything that's wrong with the system. If a team has a big following, they will get in over two teams who finished ahead of them in the rankings.

Undeserved Controversy:
I cannot believe how many experts have gone on TV and radio and ranted and raved about how Texas should have played in the Big 12 Championship, and because they probably would have beat Mizzou, would have gone on to the BCS title game. Enough already! Here, let me break it down for you: There was a three way tie in the Big 12 South! It's not as though Texas and Oklahoma were tied. Texas Tech was tied too! Therefore, all this talk about head-to-head matchups is irrelevant because all three beat each other. By this logic, if you say Texas should get in because they beat Oklahoma, why shouldn't Texas Tech get in? They beat Texas. If Oklahoma got in and it was just them and Texas at the top, I could totally see the outrage, but that's not how it went down. The only people Texas can blame are themselves. If they had beaten Tech, we wouldn't be having this conversation. I understand that it was a last-second play that won it for Tech, but still, they won. Don't get me wrong, I think Texas is a great team, and further more, I hope they beat the hell out of Ohio State and put them in their place, but to say that they deserved it because they beat Oklahoma earlier in the year is nonsense because it was a three-way tie in the end. Again, the Big 12 needs to get any BCS clause out of their tiebreaking system. That is way too objective, and basing a team's fate on pollsters when there are other things in place (point differential for one) tells me that the Big 12 committee never could have thought that they would be in the situation they were this year.

So, I will be previewing all the bowl games (hopefully) in the coming weeks, giving you some stats, things to look out for, and of course, predictions. Here's a look at my final Heisman standings:

Fav Five Heisman Candidates:
  1. Sam Bradford, QB, Oklahoma
  2. Colt McCoy, QB, Texas
  3. Tim Tebow, QB, Florida
  4. Graham Harrell, QB, Texas Tech
  5. Javon Ringer, RB, Michigan State
The rumours are abound as the baseball world heads to Vegas this week for the Winter Meetings. Let me get you up to speed:

Two very important free agent moves have reportedly been struck so far, and both are not too surprising. We learned on Tuesday that Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod) will be heading to the Mets for three years. I was a little surprised at how little interest there was in Rodriguez after the year he just had (62 saves, new single-season record) and how old he is (26). You would think that that combination would have got everyone pouncing on him when he became available, but it looked like the Mets were really the only suitors in the process. Switching leagues is never easy, but I will say that the transition from AL to NL, in terms of being a pitcher, is a slightly easier one than going the opposite way, and I know, you're tired of hearing about how the AL is better hitting-wise because of the DH, but it's true! I don't really have to run any kind of analyses to show that a guy whose sole job is to hit is going to be more dangerous than a guy coming off the bench to hit for the pitcher. My concern with K-Rod will be how he does in the postseason. Of course, he has been lit up by the Sox, who he obviously won't see until the World Series, but the Mets are going to be there towards the end of September, and they are going to be relying on K-Rod to close out those late September games, which will effectively be like pitching pre-postseason games, and then the real thing in October barring a Mets collapse...again. This will actually be a pennant race. You can't really tell how a closer handles that kind of situation when the team he's pitched for has been wrapping up division titles in June.

C.C. Sabathia, again not surprisingly, looks like he will be suiting up in pinstripes next year. This is a classic Yankees move in terms of attempting to bring in a big-time name and believing that move will change everything. Apparently, postseason numbers had little to do with this decision. Overall, Sabathia is 1-3 with a 7.92 ERA in five starts. Also, you know those hated Red Sox? Yeah, 0-2 with a 10.45 ERA in his two starts during the '07 ALCS. This is simply a classic Yankees move. There is no other way to describe it. Oh he'll get you 20 wins, but he has shown that once the postseason hits, he has nothing left. Sure, he may do a complete 180 and become Sandy Koufax-like this October, but still, there is no way of knowing that, especially since his past numbers suggest he won't. Also, how can you get a guy who was so bad against the Sox in the postseason to pitch for the Yankees? I don't understand that move at all. I do, however, think that this will be the move to trigger all the other deals. Players, especially pitchers, have been waiting to see how much Sabathia would get as he was designated early on as the guy who would set the market this offseason. Here's what kind of ripple down effect this will have:
  1. The Angels, having lost out on the Sabathia sweepstakes, will do everything in their power to re-sign Mark Teixiera. They have the payroll flexibility, and with C.C. off the table, Tex becomes their #1 priority. I would really be surprised if the Sox were able to pry him away from Anaheim at this point. Also, I think this move takes the Yankees off of Tex's short list.
  2. The next to go will be A.J. Burnett. Many have the Sox as having a lot of interest, but not enough interest to go any longer than three years. Atlanta is about to guarantee a fifth year to Burnett. Not only should he take that deal, he should probably up the percentage he is giving his agent (Darek Braunecker...I know, it's not Scott Boras, how strange) because given his past, there is no way any team should be banking on him going two years without getting banged up, let alone five. The Braves are reeking of desperation since John Smoltz will likely be gone, and you can't feel too confident with basically just having Tim Hudson...and that's it. Atlanta will sign him to a five-year deal somewhere in the range of $75-80 million.
  3. Next down the line will be Derek Lowe, who has to be loving this. Four years ago, after winning three series clinching games in the postseason, he only got $9 million a year from LA. Now, after a decent, but not spectacular '08 (14-11, 3.24 ERA), and in the midst of an economic recession, he's about to get $14 million a year. This is one of those moves the Yankees should do, but probably won't because Hank Steinbrener is channeling his father from like twenty years ago. However, if they lose out on Burnett, which appears likely, it will come down to the Yanks and the Phillies, and in that scenario, I can see the Yanks perhaps coming to their senses. Still, a four-year deal for a 35 year old pitcher is risky.
Speaking of setting the market, the Rangers traded one of their catchers, Gerald Laird, to Detroit for a pair of minor league pitchers. Despite this, the Rangers still have three major league ready catchers. So, it appears that they would still entertain the idea of parting with Saltalamacchia of Teagarden. For what it's worth, ESPN.com has penciled in Teagarden to be the opening day starter next year. Again, I can't hide my love for Salty. I think this guy will be a tremendous pickup, but again, you're talking about Theo Epstein. Say what you want about his free agent acquisitions (which for the most part have been terrible), but he has cashed in on trades. With that being said, the Sox had to give up a lot to get Manny out of town, including giving up Craig Hansen, who, while never living up to his full potential in Boston, the Sox were still very high on. It appears like the asking price will be Clay Buchholz to get one of the young catchers. At this point, it is all depending on how the Sox perceive their rotation will be this year. At a glimpse, you have Beckett, Dice-K, Lester, Wakefield, and a rather large question mark in the fifth position. I think there is a lot to be said about the acquisition of Ramon Ramirez in the Coco Crisp trade. To me, this is the first step in getting Justin Masterson into a starting role. If that happens, I don't see how the Sox can continue to hold onto either Buchholz or Michael Bowden at this point. Both are exceptional pitchers, but there will only be room for one whenever Wake decides to call it quits. The rest of the starters are not only young, but are under the Sox' control for at least four more years. Therefore, there simply is no room for a sixth starter, meaning that, while it will be tough to let one of these guys go, it's necessary considering our need for a catcher. Buchholz seems to be a logical move for me. The guy has great stuff, but he already has been hurt, and there are concerns about how he will do over a full season. I think a Saltalamacchia-Buchholz deal is something the Red Sox need to do. Sure, Buchholz's value may go up in the future, but history points to his value declining, meaning they need to get the most for him while his value is still relatively high. Speaking of catchers, with both the Reds and the Tigers trading for a catcher (Ramon Hernandez and Laird respectfully), the market for Jason Varitek has shrunk significantly. There is no way he is getting more than a two-year deal. He is going to have to get the whole notion of a Jorge Posada-like deal out of his head. Two years, $14-16 million. I think he should be real happy if a deal like that comes down the pike.

NFL previews will be up at some point this week. Here's the B's and C's schedule for the week:

  • Wednesday: @ Washington (7:00)
  • Friday: @ Atlanta (7:30)
  • Saturday: Atlanta (7:00)
  • Thursday: @ Washington (8:00, TNT)
  • Friday: New Orleans (8:00, ESPN)
  • Monday: Utah (7:30)
Looks like a pretty good week, especially the Hornets game on Friday. That should be something else. Hope you are doing well out there. Time to go pick up my truck from the shop (it's definitely joy-ride time...perhaps this time, with blinkers). Take care. Peace.


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