Thursday, April 30, 2009

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round Two

"Weeping and wailing and moaning,
You've got yourself to blame, I tell you."

Okay, Round One has come and gone. I knew there would be a giant upset...just didn't pick the right one. San Jose, the NHL leader in points, was bounced by Anaheim in six games. I can't say I was completely surprised by this given that I figured the Ducks would give the Sharks all they could handle, but the Sharks just got completely outplayed. In fact, it's a wonder they didn't get swept (won Game 3 in OT).

Carolina made one of the most dramatic comebacks in NHL history in Game 7 against Jersey, scoring two goals in the final two minutes of play to beat the Devils 4-3 in East Rutherford, advancing to the semifinals to face the B's.

Outside of that, there weren't a whole lot of surprises in the opening round. So, let's see how Round Two is shaping up:

Eastern Conference:

(1) Boston vs. (6) Carolina (BOS 4-0)

Line: BOS -215

Again, don't sleep on Carolina. They have a big-time scoring option in Eric Staal, and they are riding a hot goalie in Cam Ward. However, as was evident in the first round, the Bruins are going to be incredibly tough to bounce. Too much depth, too much D, too much scoring...just too much.

Pick: Boston in 5

(2) Washington vs. (4) Pittsburgh (WSH 3-1)

Line: WSH -110

The line on this series is a lot lower than I had envisioned (I was thinking more like 170-175). I have to attribute this to the Caps inability to close the door on the Rangers. In fact, it was looking for awhile that they wouldn't even be able to make it past Game 5. However, they persevered, and now the dream matchup is in place between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Look, there comes a point in time where you have to think about what the future matchup would look like, and with that, I'm talking about who would likely be playing in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Bruins. If you look at it like that, there is no way Washington doesn't win this series. A Boston/Washington finals is the best you can possibly get, and because the Caps were able to find a way to beat the Rangers in 7, I can't see them getting bounced here.

Pick: Washington in 7

Western Conference:

(2) Detroit vs. (8) Anaheim (DET 3-1):

Line: DET (-280)

Okay, here's my concern about Anaheim. Yes, they have probably the best defensive duo in the league, but do they have enough scoring to keep up with Detroit? The Wings possess a better all-around presence than what the Ducks bring. The lone weakness the Wings have is Chris Osgood in net. He has been inconsistent, and the Ducks could potentially take advantage of that. Ultimately though, I think Detroit is very much like the B's in that with the absolute ease they had getting by in Round One, I just cannot see a team like Anaheim beating a colossus like Detroit.

Pick: Detroit in 5

(3) Vancouver vs. (4) Chicago (Tied 2-2)

Line: VAN -130

Again, I am huge on Chicago, but the thing that makes me hesitant is that Roberto Luongo is probably the best overall goalie left in the playoffs (sorry Tim Thomas). However, I'm still going to ride the hot hand in Chicago. Also, much like what I did with the East, I'm looking down the road towards the finals, and who would be the matchup for Detroit. My thinking is that this would set-up to be the experienced (Detroit) vs. the newbies (Chicago). I think it makes a lot of sense, so I'll continue to go with the Blackhawks.

Pick: Chicago in 7

Record Last Round: 5-3

Right On The Freggin' Money: 0

So that is all for the NHL. A quick side note, because I'm becoming aware that I haven't talked about soccer in seemingly forever. Chelsea bounced Liverpool in an amazing home-and-home in the UEFA Champions League playoffs, which saw the Blues beating the crap out of the 'Pool on the road 4-1, then coming back at the Bridge to take them out in a 4-4 draw (the way the playoffs work is that each team gets a home game, and the aggregate (combined) score determines who moves on). So now, they are playing Barcelona. On Tuesday, they played in Spain in front of an estimated 95,000 people, and played them to a 0-0 tie, which was a huge feat considering Barcelona had not been shut-out at home the entire league season. Now the two will play at the Bridge on Saturday to determine who will move on to the finals. Right now, it looks as though we may have a rematch from last year, which saw Chelsea lose to the uber-popular Manchester United squad.

I have to say that the biggest difference in Chelsea from the first half of the season to the second half has to be the coaching move that was made. Luis Felipe Scolari was a decent manager, but the drama that he brought on in the in-fighting with certain players (most notably Didier Drogba, the Blues' second-best attackman behind Nicholas Anelka) got to an absolutely ridiculous level, and he had to go. As soon as Guus Hiddink took over, you could see that the club was much looser and they have played at such a high level ever since, only losing once in three months. With Drogba playing much more frequently, they have a completely different looking team. Also, credit has to go to Frank Lampard, who potentially could be one of the top four or five players in the world. Lampard has been simply amazing in the middle, and not only is he scoring in bunches, but he's creating chances for guys like Drogba, which has resulted in this lengthy streak that the Blues are on right now. Also, keep in mind that this is the Champions League, and that Chelsea is already in the FA Cup Final against Everton (which will be played on May 30), who knocked off Man U. in the semis. So, if Chelsea is able to get by Barcelona, they potentially could be playing for both the major European championships this year...not too shabby.

Well, I'm watching the Celts/Bulls Game 6 right now, and it's in OT...again. I'm pretty sure the league made some kind of overtime mandate in this series...I mean how many close games can these teams play? It's totally ridiculous, but I'm going to get back to the game. Take care everyone. Peace.


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Fallout

"Who are you to wave your finger
You must have been out of your head."

So I was at work on Draft Saturday, and we had the people working the main dining room keep us in the kitchen informed of who the Pats drafted. Needless to say, there seemed to be a common theme in each of the updates..."yeah, the Pats just traded down again." It got to the point when I was wondering if they would pick at all, or if they were attempting to compile like 40 picks for next year's draft.

In any event, the Pats had one of the most fascinating drafts in recent memory. They were slotted to pick at #23, and not only traded down once (with Baltimore), but traded down again afterward (Green Bay). Then, they traded up in the second round with Oakland, then, on Day 2, the Pats traded two of their third round picks for second-rounders next year, and, just when I thought it couldn't get any wackier, they trade Ellis Hobbs to Philly (who now has both the corners from the Super Bowl XXXIX team) for two fifth rounders, which they promptly traded to Baltimore to move up in the fourth round...keeping up with all of this was probably the most exhausting exercise I've done in years (this was like the "Boot Camp" of keeping up with draft trades).

Okay, so, how did we do? Well, for the umpteenth year in a row, this Patriots' draft will be able to be completely graded by what happens in next year's draft. I guess my read on this year was that the Pats were just not in love with anyone this year, and instead, they wanted to focus on finding value for the picks they had, and doing anything possible to get some kind of value with the picks they held onto. They popped out of the first round altogether, which makes me think that, again, there just wasn't a player that Belichick and Co. felt they wanted to throw $5-10 million guaranteed at. So, they made Patrick Chung their first selection of the draft. This speaks to how the Pats feel about their current safety situation...basically, they don't like it, and neither do I. As I have said before, James Sanders is not an NFL starter. In addition, I felt like they could have made a run at Darren Sharper before he went to New Orleans. Instead, they waited until the draft and took Chung. Chung has an interesting scouting report. Instead of boring you with the details, I'll keep it simple. Basically, he's a Rodney Harrison clone. He's not the best in coverage, and he's not the best at reading offenses, but when you ask him to hit someone, not only does he hit them...he lays them out. Considering how well Harrison made the secondary, I think this is a really good move. Also, you move Brandon Meriweather back to free safety, which is more of his game than being a strong safety.

Then, through two trades the Pats made, they ended up with back-to-back picks in the second, and took two New England college products in Ron Brace (BC) and Darius Butler (UConn). Brace, in case you were unaware, is a gigantic individual (6'3, 330). This is a smart play for two reasons. First, he adds depth in a position where they basically have none in (do you really feel comfortable with Mike Wright being the heir-apparent?), and second, if for whatever reason they are unable to sign Vince Wilfork, they now are in a position where they have a high draft pick who could have the ability to step in and start in the 2010 season if they need him.

Butler was interesting because he actually fell into the second round, which was surprising enough, but the fact that a lot of experts correctly pegged Butler as being New England-bound (with most of them having him go #23) were correct in their assumption of Belichick's presence at the UConn pro day having some significance, which I really did not believe. However, in looking at what Butler potentially can bring to the table, I'm huge on this pick. Sometimes, when a prospect is almost to the point of being arrogant, it can be a turn-off. For some reason, I like how Butler carries himself. Maybe it's because he's coming to New England and I'm completely biased, but I like his confidence. He talks a little bit, but he also can back it up (fastest 40 time at the combine). Personally, I'm not completely sold on Terrance Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite becoming every down corners. However, if Bodden plays up to his '07 level, and Butler is anything like how he was in college, the corners of the future may have fallen right into Belichick's lap here (by the way, I'm convinced that Bodden will be more than decent, which is why I hope they sign him to a fairly long-term deal before his value start going up).

I know that when Sebastian Vollmer got taken with the third second round pick, I really didn't know all that much about him. Then I remembered when they drafted Logan Mankins, I had the same feeling, so I guess it's all pretty much relative at this point. Also, I have said over and over again that the right side of the line is just terrible, and they were in need of some help. Judging by this video, I'm feeling a lot better about our situation.

The other notable pick for the Pats came on Day 2 when they went with Brandon Tate, receiver out of UNC. Tate is an impressive receiver who can also contribute on the return game. Two things that are interesting though: 1) He tested positive at the combine for pot, which doesn't say much in terms of his timing, and 2) He could miss the entire 2009 season recovering from two torn knee ligaments. It's not as though the Pats especially need a receiver this coming year with Moss, Welker, Lewis, and Galloway, but they obviously will be needing one in 2010 when Galloway will likely be gone. Also, with the Hobbs trade, the Pats will be looking for help in the return game, which Tate can help them with. Still though, it's curious that they would kind of reach for a guy when it's not known if he will be able to make a full recovery from that injury. I think this is like a John Smoltz pick, where there is little-to-no risk involved, and the reward could potentially be huge. So, the key word here is intriguing I guess.

So, that's pretty much how the draft went for the Pats. They didn't make a huge splash with anyone, but they made picks that they hope will contribute at some key areas in the future. In addition, the Pats now have a ridiculous three second round picks next year, matching the three that they had this year. Belichick officially has spear-headed the idea of not breaking the bank for rookies. He is basically initiating what the league should already have in place, which is some kind of rookie salary cap. He traded out of a first round pick twice purely because he didn't see a Jerod Mayo this year (i.e. a guy he was in love with). In addition, he saw what I was deducing when I was making the mock drafts, which was that there was a ton of value that would be hitting the top of the second round. Belichick saw this, and wound up with three picks right at the beginning portion of Round 2. So, he was able to get first round talent, and sign all of them to much less money than they would have gotten if they went in the first round. This is why when you go around the web, despite passing on guys like Clay Matthews, Connor Barwin, etc., they are universally getting a B+ and fairly high grades across the board because of the value they got where they picked at, the fact that they won't be breaking the bank for any of their incoming rookies, and they picked up two second-rounders for next year. All and all, I'm pretty happy with how everything went. My only issue is that the OLB position remains a mystery, and by how this draft went, it says two things to me: 1) The Pats are going to get Jason Taylor, or 2) They are under the impression that Shawn Crable will be able to come in and make a huge push to be a starter, because Pierre Woods as the starting outside linebacker opposite Adalius Thomas is just down-right scary to me. I guess time will tell in terms of how that on-going saga will shake down.

Okay, quick I know, but I just wanted to share my opinion about how the Pats drafted. Again, with my MTEL test coming up, and working two jobs, my time will be somewhat limited as to how much I can write. Celts made an improbable comeback last night, which was awesome. Then, Javier Lopez muffed a simple handoff from Youk when he was attempting to cover first, losing the game and the eleven game winning streak, which was not awesome. The Bruins are set to play Carolina starting Friday. This is fitting because the general formula for the Bruins making it to the Stanley Cup Finals was to beat Hartford and Montreal along the this is about as close to that as we can possibly get right now. It will be interesting to see how this series goes considering how easy the Montreal series went. I'm pretty sure Carolina will put a stronger fight, but I am so confident in the Bruins right now that I see them getting through and making the Eastern Conference Finals.

So, that's all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Peace.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

2009 NFL Mock Draft 4.0 (The Finale)

"To think we got nothing to lose
We’re losing everything but the truth."

Finally, the day is upon us. Draft Day 2009 is here...can you feel the love! Extra excited after last night's Yankees/Red Sox game, which eerily played out like a game the Yankees were going to win, and then, once again, the Sox surprised me. After grounding into about 40 double plays to start the game, they came through in the clutch. Jason Bay hits the Bernie Carbo-like homer in the ninth off Rivera (with two outs mind you), then Youk comes through in the eleventh off Demarso Marte (who almost left Fenway with an ERA under 15...oh, so close). Another instant classic in the series. I never like the Sox' chances after a great win like that though. Also, this pitching matchup includes A.J. Burnett, who I have accurately predicted would get off to a hot start, but inevitably will hit the DL right around the end of June. So, I'm seeing Burnett going like six or seven, with one earned run. Beckett, however, I'm not totally sold on as far as a pitchers' duel right now. I'm seeing a score of 4-1 heading into the eighth, but as we saw last night, all bets are off with the Yanks' bullpen.

And now, to what we've all been waiting for. The final mock draft in the 2009 series. Right now, it is right around noon, and we are only sold on one pick so far. So, let's see what might happen.

1. Detroit- Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia: Done deal. Six years, $72 million, $41.7 million guaranteed, 100% wrong.

2. St. Louis- Jason Smith, OT, Baylor: Easily one of the most intriguing subplots heading into the draft was the Rams' brass buying Mark Sanchez a plane ticket from LA to St. Louis for tomorrow. However, if you draft a QB #2 overall, don't you want to get him into the city on Saturday and not Sunday? That's why I think the Rams are attempting a "Belichick" here by screwing with other teams in hopes that a team like Denver or Washington will trade up to #2 to take Sanchez. This just looks too simple. I mean even I saw through it...shame on you St. Louis. Too many theatrics there.

3. Kansas City- Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest: All the talk seems to center around Tyson Jackson going here, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me. Just the fact that Curry is being compared to Patrick Willis should say enough for the Chiefs to take him at #3

4. Seattle- Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia: What we know is that the Seahawks are falling out of favor with the thought of taking Mark Sanchez. We also know that no one seems to want to trade into the top 5, hoping that Sanchez falls out of the first five picks so the amount of guaranteed money goes way down. So, they draft their future franchise left tackle here. Monroe will be able to replace Walter Jones when he either retires, or gets bounced a la Orlando Pace.

5. Cleveland- Brian Orakpo, DE/LB, Texas: A lot of people continue on the Crabtree bandwagon here, but after reading the reports coming out of Cleveland, citing that Mangini doesn't like the guy at all, and that Crabtree has some character issues, I think Orakpo is the safest pick here.

6. Cincinnati- Andre Smith, OT, Alabama: I realize there are a ton of questions surrounding Smith, but also realize that if you hear what's coming out of Cincy, they have Andre Smith higher than Monroe, which makes the decision at #6 really easy.

7. Oakland- Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri: I based this pick entirely on Al Davis' tendencies. He likes the speed guys...he's probably going to go with a speed guy then. Sure, Crabtree, overall, is a better receiver, but Maclin has the speed, and the return game factor going for him.

8. Jacksonville- Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern Cal: Oh trust me, it's not going to be Jacksonville taking Sanchez if he's still on the board. This is kind of like a placeholder for Washington or the Jets.

9. Green Bay- B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College: I've been sold on this one for months now, and really, nothing is changing my mind on this one. They already said they aren't drafting Crabtree, and the only other option would be a guy like Everette Brown, but I think Raji makes the most sense.

10. San Francisco- Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech: Crabtree has character issues, but we've recently learned that Mike Singletary will not be conducting the draft, meaning there is more of a chance that the best player available goes here, and not a "character" guy, which is what Singletary would do.

11. Buffalo- Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss: This is one of those picks that makes so much sense that I can totally see myself being way off here. Nevertheless, the Bills need a tackle, Oher is the best one available...I mean what would you do?

12. Denver- Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU: The Broncos have said they are not going to trade up for Sanchez...for whatever reason, which basically means they are sticking with Kyle Orton. I will give Josh McDaniels this: I am totally confused by what he's doing. So he has the unpredictability factor going for him...I guess that's nice...if it works.

13. Washington- Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee: Relax Redskins fans (especially those of you who like Jason Campbell), I don't think the 'Skins will be the ones to move up, although they are one of two or three teams that seem to get the most play to be in the Sanchez hunt. If they hold on to #13, they will get a good player here in Ayers. If they can, I would think the 'Skins would try and trade down to get some more picks, because they are lacking in that department.

14. New Orleans- Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State: I can say with like 80% certainty that a Buckeye is going here...which one is the question. I flip-flopped again on this pick because of what I'm hearing from New Orleans and where these so-called "experts" are leaning. So, I say Jenkins with some hesitancy.

15. Houston- Clay Matthews, LB, Southern Cal: It's either him or Aaron Maybin...that's pretty much all I keep hearing. I think Matthews' stock is receiving a well-timed boost right before the draft, which helps him bust into the top 15.

16. San Diego- Rey Maualuga, LB, Southern Cal: Just read a report on saying that the Chargers are likely not going with a running back at 16, contrary to every other report I've heard. They instead want an "impact" player who can step in right away. Enter Maualuga.

17. New York Jets- Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State: It would not surprise me one bit if the Jets ended up trading up into the top 15 to take Pettigrew, as apparently, the Jets are absolutely huge on him. Of course all of this goes out the window if they are able to make a deal with Jacksonville, which I expect they will do. You heard it here: The Jets will trade up to #8 and draft Mark Sanchez. Again though, if for some reason they can't work out a trade, they go with Pettigrew here, as I've heard that they're not as huge on Josh Freeman as it was originally thought.

18. Denver- Chris "Beanie" Wells, RB, Ohio State: With news of the Chargers passing on Wells at 16, it may change up the Broncos' plans in terms of who they will be going with at #18. They have an interesting decision here, which is very much reflective of how the Broncos' offseason has been so far...interesting.
19. Tampa Bay- Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas City: I know the Bucs are big on Josh Johnson, but I mean...really? A guy who has not started one game in the NFL and was a fifth-rounder last year...really? I'm going to go ahead and say I'm not sold on that at all.

20. Detroit- Brian Cushing, LB, Southern Cal: This is going to be one of the easiest ones to predict right before the pick goes down. Basically, Detroit is going to go with the best player on the board, so at this point, just look and see who's the best guy left. I had Maualuga here, but with him off, the board, all you have to do is substitute another SC linebacker in, and you're good to go.

21. Philadelphia- Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia: So Philly is in an interesting dilemma here. With all of the recent discussion about Moreno going to Denver, and the Jets' recent fascination with Brandon Pettigrew, you have two teams drafting ahead of Philly that are targetting the two guys they are big on. Plus, factor in the Eagles possibly trading for one of the big three receivers available, and who knows what could happen here.

22. Minnesota- Percy Harvin, WR, Florida: All the reports about Brad Childress showing up down in Florida to meet with Harvin basically makes this pick a lot easier to make. That is, unless the Jets makes things interesting and draft Harvin at 17. I think the Jets potentially could control how the first round of the draft shakes out...I'm telling you, those New always has to be about them.

23. New England- Aaron Maybin, DE/LB, Penn State: Maybin, LarryEnglish, Everette Brown, or Connor Barwin here, and everything will be copacetic.

24. Atlanta- Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss: The Gonzalez trade means there are no worries as far as a tight end. Great move by the Falcons. Now, they can focus on the defensive side of the ball.

25. Miami- Everette Brown, DE/LB, Florida State: This pick now makes the Jason Taylor saga that more interesting. With the Pats and Dolphins both potentially taking rush ends in the first round, who is in the lead to get Taylor now? Very interesting.

26. Baltimore- Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland: They need a receiver, the guy is from Maryland, and he's the best receiver left on the board...this is too easy, meaning that it probably won't happen.

27. Indianapolis- Evander "Ziggy" Hood, DT, Missouri: I think that because the defensive tackle position is so weak, a guy like Hood, who worked out very well, was able to become a first round pick based on the workouts and also based on need.

28. Buffalo- Michael Johnson, DE/LB, Georgia Tech: Again, the Bills get a top tackle and a top DE prospect in the first round...they're pretty psyched.

29. New York Giants- Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers: Anytime you have a guy like Britt, or Heyward-Bey, and you slot them in with a team that plays their games right by where they went to school, you get a little nervous, because very rarely does that all work out.

30. Tennessee- Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina: There exists a distinct possibility that Nicks' recent weight battle could slide him out of the first round altogether, opening up the door for Brain Robiskie or Mohamed Massaquoi sneaking into the first round. To me, Nicks is the goods, and Robiskie and Massaquoi would be gigantic reaches here.

31. Arizona- Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut: It's funny how many people share my thinking on the #31 and #32 picks. 'Zona needs RB depth, and they are big on Brown.

32. Pittsburgh- Max Unger, C, Oregon: Isn't that a good Steelers name? Max Unger? I definitely think so...although Alex Mack is another good one. I'm pretty sure one of the two will cap the first round.

Okay, now, the five teams who will be looking to move up:
  1. New York Jets
  2. Washington
  3. Dallas
  4. Philadelphia
  5. Chicago
Five teams looking to move down:
  1. Jacksonville
  2. Jacksonville
  3. Did I mention Jacksonville?
  4. Cleveland
  5. Washington (yeah, they're on both lists...weird)
Five players that teams are trying to move up to get:
  1. Mark Sanchez
  2. Andre Smith
  3. Michael Oher
  4. Brandon Pettigrew
  5. Percy Harvin
So, there you have it. There may be some changes going on right before the draft, and I will update this as such, but for right now, this is how I see it all going down. Of course I have to work today, a day where the draft is on and the Sox are playing the Yankees (which always seems to happen on the weekend of the draft for some reason). However, that will be the last of my complaining. Let's face it, I need money, I want to buy a condo/house in three gotta do what you gotta do. So, again, I hope everyone has a great draft day. I'll be thinking about everyone at work (okay I swear that's the last time I'll mention that). Cheers everyone. Peace.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Days Are Closing In (Draft Buzz)...

"But the stone that the builder refuse
Shall be the head cornerstone."

So it's Thursday, and we're two days away from the commencement of the 2009 NFL Draft. Of course the good people of the NFL decided to schedule the draft at 4:00 this year, meaning that I will see approximately one half hour of the first round before I have to go to work. If we were on the old schedule (when it started at 12), I could have seen the whole first Basically the point of that was just saying that there won't be a draft diary...again. This is what happens when you are in need of money. In any event, I'm taking my practice test for the MTEL (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure) tomorrow, so my thinking is that I would at least fill you in on some of the draft buzz going arounf, and with some luck, hopefully I'll be able to put up a final mock before the draft starts on Saturday...

Here is what is going on:

1. Detroit:
  • Carlos Monarrez of The Detroit Free Press wrote a column about how teams are better served in signing the #1 overall pick before the draft. This, of course, is relevant due to the latest news regarding the Lions trying to have a contract in place with Matthew Stafford before the draft begins.
2. St. Louis:
  • Bernie Miklasz of wrote an interesting piece about how the Rams last year, when they picked #2 overall, actually had Matt Ryan and Glenn Dorsey ranked higher than their eventual pick, Chris Long, and that the Rams' management switched up their board at the last moment to take the "safe" pick. If the Rams subscribe to this theory again, expect Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe to be off the board at #2.
  • Jim Thomas of shared parts of an interview he conducted with Jason Smith, and talked about how the Rams have not yet tipped their hand, at least to Smith, about which way they are leaning to at #2, whether it be Smith or Monroe.
3. Kansas City:
  • Kent Babb of The Kansas City Star brought up an interesting point about Aaron Curry, which was along the lines of the fact that despite everyone believing that Curry is the #1 guy in the draft, and the two teams ahead of KC, who also need help at linebacker, are likely not to go with Curry. My counterpoint to this would be that Babb says that the linebacker need is not glaring because of the additions of Mike Vrabel and Zach Thomas, to which I would reply "really?" Despite the Chiefs getting those two guys, they can still draft Curry and feel good about it because they are filling a need.
  • Babb also did a piece about what it will be like for Scott Pioli and Todd Haley in their first draft together. This draft is definitely going to fall squarely on shoulders of Pioli with Haley not having as much "war room" experience as Pioli. They did work together with the Jets way back when, but both were not at very high levels at that time.
4. Seattle:
  • Danny O'Neil of The Seattle Times wrote about the on-going draft buzz of the Seahawks taking Mark Sanchez at #4. O'Neil also brings up the possibility that Denver (picks #12 & #19) and Washington (pick #13) could be in the mix to trade up into #4 to take Sanchez.
  • Steve Kelly of the Times wrote a piece about Tim Ruskell, Seattle's GM, and about how this draft "will define him" as a GM. Kelly applauds Ruskell's ability to find talent deep in the draft (Ronde Barber in Tampa most notably)
5. Cleveland:
  • The Cleveland Plain-Dealer cites an article by Ralph Vacchiano of the New York Daily News which all but kills the rumored Braylon Edwards trade to New York. This is a big story because it could greatly alter what the Browns could be thinking about at #5 considering a lot of recent mocks have Michael Crabtree going here.
  • Adding to the movement of Crabtree perhaps not going at #5 is Tony Grossi's article about how the Browns scheduled workouts with Hakeem Nicks, Kenny Britt, and Mohamed Massaquoi in the last week, meaning that they could be opting to take a receiver in the beginning part of the second round instead of taking Crabtree, who Grossi writes as having a "world-revolves-around-me attitude."
6. Cincinnati:
  • Joe Reedy of The Cincinnati Enquirer reports on Marvin Lewis' pre-draft press conference, where he made it clear that Chad Johnson, or I guess it's Chad Ochocinco now, will not be moved. The Bengals, even if they don't move Chad, could be in the market for Michael Crabtree after the loss of T.J. Houshmandzadeh to Seattle.
7. Oakland:
8. Jacksonville:
9. Green Bay:
  • Pete Dougherty of The Green Bay Press-Gazette writes about how it seems fairly unlikely that the Pack would draft Crabtree at #9. The reason I put this in there is that there seems to be an alarmingly high number of articles coming out right before the draft about teams who will not take this guy. Not only is there the injury concerns, but now there apparently is a knock on his character.
  • Rob Demovsky writes about the tight-lipped Ted Thompson, who is entering his fifth season as the Packers' GM. Thompson won't tip his hand as to where he's leaning, but the article did make a note about how the Pack have traded down 13 times and traded up only once in the four drafts Thompson has been a part of.
10. San Francisco:
11. Buffalo:
12. Denver:
13. Washington:
14. New Orleans:
15. Houston:
  • John McClain of The Houston Chronicle talks about what the Texans are in need of, which includes a runner to compliment, a hybrid O-Lineman who can play center and guard, outside linebacker, defensive end, and a safety. Also, McClain believes that at some point in the draft, the Texans will draft a cornerback in order to perhaps find a replacement for the University of South Carolina's own Dunta Robinson, who was less than thrilled to be franchised for this season.
16. San Diego:
  • Kevin Acee of The San Diego Union-Tribune writes about the Chargers' team needs, which includes defensive end, offensive tackle, running back, safety, receiver, and inside linebacker. It's funny how Acee kicks off the column with "this is no longer seen as the loaded roster it was accepted to be for a few years," and then GM A.J. Smith is quoted as saying the Chargers "don't have a lot of starting positions open" This coming from the GM of a team that nearly missed the playoffs had it not been for a monumental Denver collapse.
17. New York Jets:
18. Denver:
19. Tampa Bay:
20. Detroit:
  • Nicholas Cotsonika of The Detroit Free Press filed a report on how the Lions could use both of their first round picks on offense.
21. Philadelphia:
22. Minnesota:
23. New England:
  • Mike Reiss of The Boston Globe takes a look at the "hybrid" type of linemen appearing in this year's group of prospects. What's fascinating is that there are more higher-ranked potential draftees that can play D-Line and linebacker (Orakpo, Ayers, Maybin, Matthews, English, Sintim, Barwin) than guys who are just traditional linebackers (Cushing, Maualuga, Laurinaitis).
24. Atlanta:
  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution writes about the Falcons' new tight end, Tony Gonzalez. Obviously, this totally flips the Falcons' needs. I had them taking Brandon Pettigrew, and now with him out of the picture, Bradley mentions two defensive tackles: Peria Jerry and Evander "Ziggy" Hood.
25. Miami:
26. Baltimore:
27. Indianapolis:
  • Mike Chappell of The Indianapolis Star writes about how Indy's preference when using a late first-rounder, which has happened quite frequently in the last decade, has been to take the best player available. Chappell also lists the Colts' biggest needs, which are D-Tackle, receiver, running back, O-Tackle, and punter.
28. Buffalo:
29. New York Giants:
  • Paul Schwartz of The New York Post submits an interesting piece about Hakeem Nicks' ongoing weight issue (he gained fourteen pounds since the combine...which was two months ago). Nicks could potentially be falling, which would work out nicely for the Giants, who desperately need a big receiver to replace Plaxico Burress.
30. Tennessee:
31. Arizona:
32. Pittsburgh:
So, that is what is going on right now. Really, the draft may not start until we hit pick #4, and then the drama may unfold. Basically all of the GMs are pretty much tight-lipped at this point, but all you really have to do is take a look at team rosters, look at a team's draft history (or better yet, the history of the guy "running the draft," and yes, I am talking about you, Al Davis), and find out where the personnel guys are going to see prospects. When I say "going," that means going to pro days or just visiting players. I wouldn't read so much into prospects going to a team's HQs. Trust me, I have seen enough Patriots drafts to basically start crossing off guys who make a pre-draft visit to New England (which, unfortunately, probably rules out Connor Barwin becoming a Patriot). So, hopefully, I will get a mock draft going right before the draft on Saturday. It will be interesting to see the kind of buzz the first round will generate given its later start time. I think it definitely helps out the west coast markets because their fans don't have to get up at 9 AM to see who the first pick is. Now, it's at a moderate 1:00 start. I think there will be a ton of action in the late rounds and, outside of Mark Sanchez, not a whole lot in the top 10. The end of the first round is where the fireworks will start happening though. For those of you who are able to watch it on Saturday, 1) I hate you in a somewhat-jokingly manner, and 2) Have fun, bring some cocktails, and wear a jersey, because not too often is it acceptable to be wearing a jersey out around the town in April (actually, it's probably not acceptable at all, but with my rather loose dress code, I say go for it).

Celts are on tonight. It will be very interesting to see how they react to Leon Powe going down. It's bad enough to play without KG, but now Powe is out too? I am not liking the situation right now. In any event, it should be fun, and at the least bit filled with incredibly anxious moments. I still think the Celts eventually will find that gear that the Bulls don't necessarily have right now (but very well could obtain as this series progresses), and I still see the C's winning in 6.

The Bruins finished off the Canadiens last night in surprisingly easy fashion, coasting to a 4-1 victory. If it's any consolation to Canada, they still do have the Canucks, who also won in four straight games, knocking the Blues out on Tuesday night. I'm telling you, you have to go back at least 15 or so years, basically whenever the B's played the Gretzky-led Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals, or when the B's took on Pittsburgh in those epic series of the early 90s, to find a team that had this good of a chance to win the Cup as the B's have right now. They are banging on all cylinders, and hopefully, the Penguins and Flyers will beat each other up a bunch before making their way to Boston for round two. Remember, and this is especially true if San Jose gets bounced by Anaheim (Ducks are up 2-1 in that series), the road to the Stanley Cup is most likely going through Boston. Having home ice advantage is a huge deal for the B's. This town is so starved for a Bruins playoff run that the amplitude of the crowd noise is only going to become more deafening with each round. Boston is officially back to being a hockey town, and it sure does feel good.

Okay, that's about all that I have for you. Be sure to check in right before the draft when I throw up my final mock draft. Until then, take care everyone. Peace.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

2009 NFL Mock Draft 3.0

"I take it upon myself to handle mine."

So now the pieces are starting to fall into place. Since the last time I was talking mock drafts, two first round picks have been moved in two separate deals (Cutler to Chicago, Peters to Philly). So, the team needs are becoming more concrete. With the draft just one week away, here is my third mock draft:

1. Detroit- Matthew Stafford, QB, Georgia: For whatever reason, the Lions could not pull off a Jay Cutler trade, and instead, they are now going to be playing against him twice a season. It was simply baffling to me that Detroit could not get any kind of deal done. If Stafford doesn't pan out, and again, I don't think he will, then the Lions are handcuffing themselves for six years and $35 million guaranteed money for a QB who might make Lions' fans reminiscent of another QB bust (Joey Harrington).

2. St. Louis- Jason Smith, OT, Baylor: For many weeks, the talk was that Eugene Monroe would be the guy going to the Rams. However, as the pro days have come and gone, and a team like the Rams have had more time to evaluate the talent on the board, it has become clear that the Rams, if they stay at #2, cannot afford to pass on Smith. He is the unanimous #1 tackle on the board.

3. Kansas City- Aaron Curry, LB, Wake Forest: This is almost too easy, which really makes me wonder, especially with Pioli at the helm now. You really never know what you are going to get with a Pioli draft. I will say this: If teams are going to trade into the top 5, they are trading up to get either Curry, or the guy going at #4...

4. Seattle- Mark Sanchez, QB, Southern Cal: I'm officially on board with the Seahawks going QB here. There are obvious question marks concerning Matt Hasselbeck's health, and despite having a nice run towards the end of the season, Seneca Wallace is not the long-term answer. Sanchez has been holding steady as a top 10 QB. Again, the 'Hawks could go for the offensive tackle, but right now, I have them taking Sanchez.

5. Cleveland- Brian Orakpo, DE/LB, Texas: I'm sticking with Orakpo here because I think Mangini is very enticed by the hybrid kind of defensive end. Remember last year, he took Vernon Gholston sixth overall, and while Gholston hasn't quite panned out yet, the Jets were huge on him going into the draft, and I feel like that kind of thinking will carry over to Cleveland. If Braylon Edwards does end up getting traded (Giants maybe?), then I see Crabtree going here. If all things stay the same, I think the Browns will focus on defense.

6. Cincinnati- Andre Smith, OT, Alabama: You have to wonder when the Bengals fans are going to start revolting kind of like the Portland fans did during the "Jailblazer" era. If this pick actually goes through, the Bengals are positioning themselves to be one of the all-time bad character teams in the history of sports.

7. Oakland- Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri: So this is kind of a surprise here, but then again, it's the Raiders...don't be surprised by anything they might do. My thinking here is that the Raiders will be looking for the speed aspect that Maclin brings. With Crabtree's foot still somewhat of a question mark, the Raiders will pass on him and take a guy who not only will be a very functional receiver, but also could factor into the return game (Johnnie Lee Higgins is already a great return man, but he may be counted on to be the #1 receiver this year, meaning the Raiders may limit the amount of returns he gets).

8. Jacksonville- Eugene Monroe, OT, Virginia: It looks like the Jags are very close to acquiring Torry Holt, and while that will not completely eliminate the need for a receiver, it definitely lessens the burden they may have been feeling to fill the spot with the eighth pick. The Jags already let their starting left tackle walk (Khalif Barnes, who signed with Oakland), and don't appear to have anyone to fill the spot in. Also, considering the recent bad luck the Jags have had with receivers in the first round (Matt Jones and Reggie Williams), you would think they would go anti-Detroit and stray away from taking a receiver here.

9. Green Bay- B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College: There is still a bit of uncertainty about whether or not Raji actually tested positive at the combine. I don't really understand the confusion. It's pretty much a black and white issue. He either did or he didn't...what's the problem? In any event, because you're supposedly innocent until proven guilty, and because I'm a gigantic homer, I'm going to just assume that it's all a hoax, kind of like Vince Young's wonderlic test.

10. San Francisco- Michael Crabtree, WR, Texas Tech: I'm going to stand pat with this pick as well. If you're the Niners, how can you really pass on Crabtree at 10? Before his injury, he was one of the options to go #1 overall to Detroit. If they are convinced that his injury will not slow him down in '09, then I don't think San Fran can afford to let him get away.

11. Buffalo- Michael Oher, OT, Ole Miss: With the Jason Peters trade, immediately left tackle becomes one of the biggest needs for the Bills. When you trade a Pro Bowl-caliber tackle, you are basically sending a message that "we are totally confident that we can find a similar type player in the first round who can step in from Day 1." I think Oher is the recipient of bad luck, going in a draft where tackle is the deepest position by far in the first round. Most other years, he's a top 5 pick.

12. Denver- Everette Brown, DE/LB, Florida State: There are two schools of thought as to what the Broncos are going to do with their two first-rounders. They could address the defense, which was just dreadful last year, with both picks, or they could go quarterback with either Josh Freeman, or package picks to move up to take Mark Sanchez. For right now, I think they will go defense with both picks, and ride out Kyle Orton as the starting QB (just saying that is scary...I can't even imagine what's going on in Denver right now).

13. Washington- Robert Ayers, DE, Tennessee: I think Washington is hoping that one of the top four tackles falls to them at 13, but in this mock, all four are off the board at this point. So, the 'Skins will look to sure up the end position. With Jason Taylor gone, and the health of Phillip Daniels up in the air, Washington has a glaring hole opposite of Andre Carter on the line.

14. New Orleans- Chris "Beanie" Wells, RB, Ohio State: I never really even thought about running back here, and then I started looking at other mocks, and re-evaluating the Saints' backfield. New Orleans has Reggie Bush, and then after that, it seems like they have an ever-changing rotation of backs like Pierre Thomas and Aaron Stecker following. The thing about Bush is that he's an explosive playmaker, but he's simply not an every-down kind of back. So, picking a running back in the first round actually makes a lot of sense.

15. Houston- Clay Matthews, LB, Southern Cal: What I hear coming out of Houston is that they are looking at two players here: Matthews and Malcolm Jenkins. Right now, the read is that they will be going linebacker, so from everything I can gather, they have Matthews #1 on the board at linebacker after Curry.

16. San Diego- Rey Maualuga, LB, Southern Cal: I seem to recall the Chargers having another Samoan inside linebacker from Southern Cal back in the day (Seau)...and I think that worked out pretty well.

17. New York Jets- Josh Freeman, QB, Kansas State: The Jets are another team that really could have benefited from a Jay Cutler deal. It really puzzles me that the Bears were able to pull that deal off. It's not like they were set at QB by any means, but they at least had two guys who have played at a decent level in the pros (Orton and Grossman). The Lions and the Jets have no one. Am I supposed to believe that the Jets can seriously contend for a playoff spot with Kellen Clemens calling the plays? This is a tentative pick for me because I just can't see the Jets entering next season with Clemens and that's it. So, they either go QB, or they use a pick in the second or third round (Nate Davis? Rhett Bomar? Stephen McGee?) to add some depth.

18. Denver- Brian Cushing, LB, Southern Cal: Again, I think the Broncos double-down on defense. Cushing gives them some linebacker depth, which they have none of, and was made evident last year when D.J. Williams was hurt.

19. Tampa Bay- Aaron Maybin, DE/LB, Penn State: From the start, everyone had the Bucs taking Freeman here. However, it's looking like the Bucs may have to trade up into the top 15 to grab Freeman (Washington at 13 is an ideal candidate). If they stay at 19, Maybin is not the worst consolation prize. The Bucs basically released their entire linebacking core, so this would address a need for sure.

20. Detroit- Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State: I think the reason Jenkins is falling is because no one knows exactly what to make of him. Can he play corner at an elite level, or does he fit the mold of a safety more? In any event, the Lions need everything, so what they do here is take the best player available, and then figure out how he will fit into the system.

21. Philadelphia- Knowshon Moreno, RB, Georgia: With Buckhalter going to Denver, the Eagles are in need of giving some help for Brian Westbrook. It's also an encouraging sign about Moreno that he was able to catch balls more fluently out of the backfield this year (he previously had not had a receiving TD until this year). If Moreno's game continues to evolve, he could step in right from the start and be a comparable #2 back.

22. Minnesota- Max Unger, C, Oregon: It appears now that the Vikings will not be screwing around in terms of finding a replacement for Matt Birk. While they could go receiver here, I think they stay on the offensive line here. I like Unger, Ebir Britton, or Alex Mack going here. I think as we get closer to the draft, I'll be able to get a better read on this one.

23. New England- Larry English, DE/LB, Northern Illinois: Despite a lot of people throwing a ton of weight on the fact that Belichick attended the UConn pro day in person (Mel Kiper has Donald Brown here, others, like Mike Mayock on NFL Network, have Darius Butler here), I still think the Pats have almost no choice but to get a playmaking pass-rusher here. If you watched one, maybe two Pats games last year, you would be able to realize just how awful the pass rush was last year.

Sorry to break away from the draft for a little bit, but I do have to mention something real quick. On Tuesday, the NFL schedules were announced, and the CBS Scene at Patriot Place was having a little shindig that included a raffle for two tickets to the home opener on Monday Night Football against Buffalo (which, not going to lie, is the only reason I went). Also, NFL Network cameras were there, Bob Kraft was there, etc. Anyway, I ran into Brian Lowe there. For those of you who do not know who that is, he is the co-anchor of "Patriots Today," a daily show that puts together. Anyway, being the pesky draftnik that I am, I couldn't help but ask him some questions about the draft.

Basically, Brian was in agreement with me in saying that the Pats should go defense in the first round. Now, the position may not be linebacker, but in running down the players that we both thought the Pats would go for there (Clay Matthews and Larry English most notably), it seems like if the Pats can get a hybrid kind of outside player, like they have with Adalius Thomas, then they would grab him at 23.

I was surprised at the fact that Brian was not very big on Aaron Maybin, who I have off the board at this point. I think he shared the same concerns as a lot of people have about Julius Peppers, or any linebacker they could potentially take here, which are the covering abilities of the linebacker they get. Peppers is a great pass-rusher, but if he were to play OLB in the 3-4, it would require him to be able to drop back into coverage. Maybin fits the Peppers mold in that he is very good at getting to the QB, but his coverage skills are a question mark.

The next topic we discussed was the idea that it was almost an impossibility that the Pats would keep all three of their second round picks. So, do they trade up, or trade out of the picks? When we recalled some of the instances the Pats moved up the board (Bethel Johnson in '03, Chad Jackson in '06), we quickly realized two things: 1) The Pats are not good going up the board, and 2.) They do not draft receivers very well. Outside of Deion Branch and David Givens, the Pats have really had no luck at drafting receivers (I was looking at a column in...I want to say the Sun-Chronicle...where they outlined the ten biggest draft busts of the Belichick era, and like five of them were receivers). So, the thought went back to trading out of the second and grabbing a first for next year. To do this, it would require that they give up either #34, which of course was the Cassel/Vrabel compensation, or #47, which they got from San Diego last year, to pull this off. A couple of issues arise with this though. The 34th pick is incredibly valuable this year, but the Pats really could use that pick to address even more of their defensive needs (we discussed Alphonso Smith, Darius Butler, Connor Barwin, Louis Delmas, and if they're lucky, Vontae Davis here).

Then, with the 47th pick, the talks immediately went to Pat White, who is probably the most intriguing prospect in the entire draft. I think many on the inside are in consensus in saying that White is not going to be an every-down QB, but what he does bring to the table is a guy you could bring in to run the Wildcat, another receiving option, and an emergency QB. Remember that right now, the Pats have Brady, Kevin O'Connell, Matt Gutierrez...and that's pretty much it. I'm not sure if the Pats have the right personnel to run a Wildcat though. The running backs they do have right now are bruisers, whereas the Wildcat requires more of a finesse style. I'm not as huge on White coming here as others are, but still, it remains a very interesting possibility.

The last question I has for Brian was who does he think is a guy, regardless of what round he is supposedly going to go in, would be able to make the transition from a college system to the Patriots' system the best. Three names that came up were English, Barwin, and Clint Sintim. I thought Sintim was a great choice, and I was in total agreement with Brian on that. Sintim played at UVA, and the Wahoos are one of the few college teams that implements a 3-4 formation in their defense. So, I would say to keep an eye out for Sintim when these second-rounders start coming up.

...and now, back to the draft...

24. Atlanta- Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Oklahoma State: If Philly passes on Pettigrew at 21, which is a real possibility because they now only have one first round pick, then Pettigrew is a slam dunk to land with the Falcons. Again, the focus should continue to be getting help for Matty Ice, and Pettigrew is easily the best tight end in this year's draft.

25. Miami- Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland: While I originally was thinking defensive back here, I have been reading about Miami going cross-country working out every receiver outside of the Crabtree/Maclin pairing that could fall to the end of the first round. Bey continues to be the third rated receiver on the board, so he goes off here to the Dolphins.

26. Baltimore- Hakeem Nicks, WR, North Carolina: I know that the Ravens need help at cornerback, but what was an even more glaring weakness watching them in the playoffs, and especially the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh, was that Baltimore simply does not have a big possession receiver. Mark Clayton has not panned out the way they thought he would. I think outside of Crabtree, Nicks will have the biggest immediate impact on whatever team he ends up on.

27. Indianapolis- Peria Jerry, DT, Ole Miss: Well, the Colts literally have no one playing defensive tackle for them right now, so this one becomes fairly easy. Still, you can never go against the Colts taking a receiver in the first round (Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Anthony Gonzalez).

28. Buffalo- Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU: So this all kind of works out for the Bills. They trade away their left tackle, but then draft Oher, and now, they get a top-5 DE as well. Not bad at all. I am between Jackson and Michael Johnson, who I had going to Buffalo in the last version at #11.

29. New York Giants- Kenny Britt, WR, Rutgers: The G-Men cut Plax, meaning that their receiving corps consists of Steve Smith, Amani Toomer, Mario Mannigham, and Domenik Hixon, and we all saw how that went against Philly in the divisional round last year. Britt is a playmaking receiver. The knock on him is his character, so it remains to be seen if that is going to keep him out of the first round. If it does, I like Percy Harvin here instead.

30. Tennessee- Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois: Again, another guy with the whole "character issue" thing going against him. However, if the Titans do take a risk, they are getting a top-15 talent at the end of the first round. The Titans have really been able to build up a nice secondary through the draft, and this would be another piece that could put them even closer to contending for the AFC crown.

31. Arizona- Donald Brown, RB, Connecticut: I think Brown sneaks into the first round because of the on-going saga going on in Arizona with Edge and the ineffectiveness of Tim Hightower. They definitely have other needs, but the running game, which was surprisingly effective in the Super Bowl run last year, still needs a boost.

32. Pittsburgh- Alex Mack, C, California: No matter what spot on the line the Steelers choose to fill here, I think it's safe to say that the Steelers almost have to go with an offensive lineman here. Pittsburgh was lucky Santonio Holmes has a long reach, otherwise, the talk would have been about the O-Line getting run over throughout the playoffs.

So, there is version number three. I will come as close to a 100% guarantee as I can in saying that there will be at least one more version up before Saturday. That's all for now. I hope all the kids out there have a good April Vacation, and also, an early happy Patriots' Day to everyone out there. This year, Patriots' Day falls on April 20th...Marathon Day, 11:00 Sox game, Celts and Bruins that night...4/20...imagine the possibilities. Anyway, take care everyone. Peace.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

NBA Playoff Predictions: Round One

"Nobody writes them like they used to
So it may as well be me."

Alright, the seeds are set, and it's on to some NBA talk. Anyone who doesn't think April is the best sports month of the year is crazy. I've done an NHL and NBA playoff preview in back-to-back days. It doesn't get much better than that. So, here are my thoughts on the first round (season series in parentheses):

Eastern Conference

(1) Cleveland vs. (8) Detroit (CLE 3-1):

Line: CLE -4000

Detroit is the third worst offensive team in the league in terms of points per game and in threes made. The Pistons do lead the league in defending the three. Cleveland is third in the NBA in threes made per game. The Cavs lead the league in points allowed per game and are second in defensive FG%. Anytime you are in a seven game series, and you have absolutely no favorable matchups, which is what Detroit is looking at, you basically have no chance. Not only do I think Detroit has no chance, but I will be surprised if they even win a game. Joe Dumars totally has egg on his face still from the Billups/Iverson trade debaucle. Sometimes, you really have to wonder what goes through GMs' heads when they make some of these moves. Are they really that more qualified than you or me? I'm not so sure about that.

Pick: Cleveland in 4

(2) Boston vs. (7) Chicago (BOS 2-1):

Line: BOS -600

It's bad enough that the Celts will be without KG for likely the duration of the playoffs, but now they get easily the toughest draw of all the higher seeds in the East with the Bulls. Sure, the Bulls have struggled lately, but they still have the pieces in play that could create some mismatches for the C's. I'm not so sure if you're going to get a better point guard matchup than Rondo vs. Rose. The Bulls also made out like bandits in their deal with Sacramento in mid-February, getting John Salmons and Brad Miller for Andres Nocioni, Drew Gooden, and Michael Ruffin. Miller is going to create some matchup problems for Perk down low, with his ability to hit the 12-14 foot jumpers. This is a real tough series for Boston to start off with, but I believe they will be able to survive based on the play of Leon Powe and Glen Davis. If those two play as well as they are capable of doing, then the C's should be able to win their home games, and then take one in Chicago. However, if the Bulls start dictating the tempo like they did in the last contest on St. Patty's day (which was easily the most confusing basketball game I've ever watched..."wait, I have to root against the green jerseys?...The Celtics aren't wearing green jerseys?...What the...), then the C's could be vulnerable of receiving a quick exit and not even getting close to trying to defend the title. It pains me to say that, but you never know...

Pick: Boston in 6

(3) Orlando vs. (6) Philadelphia (ORL 3-0)

Line: ORL -1000

Philly is the second worst team in three pointers made. Orlando is last in the league in free throw percentage. The Magic are second in threes made and allowed, and third in rebounds and FG% allowed. I definitely have a conspiracy theory about the Cavs blowing a game at home to Philly, thus giving Philly the six seed and the Bulls the seven seed. First of all, the Cavs were 39-1 at home this year, and they were about to break the all-time mark set by the '86 Celtics for best homecourt record. How could they lose to Philly? Simple. They wanted the Celtics to have the absolute toughest road to get to the Eastern Conference Finals where they would inevitably meet. This would explain why the line in the 3-6 game is bigger than the line in the 2-7 game, which is counter-intuitive to the entire seeding process (meaning that, all things considered, the higher the seed, the easier the first round least in theory). In any event, this is a series like the Cavs/Pistons series in which I would be surprised if the lower-seeded team won a game. Orlando dominates the Sixers in literally every facet of the game. I guess the one concern would be the health of Lewis and Turkoglu, but even then I can't see Philly winning a game.

Pick: Orlando in 4

(4) Atlanta vs. (5) Miami (ATL 3-1)

Line: ATL -145

Miami is the third worst rebounding team in the league. Atlanta has the third worst FT%. This is going to be an interesting series because of these two totally different philosophies as to how to win a game. Atlanta uses a team dynamic built around Bibby, Horford, Johnson, and Josh Smith, whereas Miami uses the D-Wade dynamic, basically giving him the ball, and hoping for the best. What's funny is that both styles have worked this season. While it is not a winning formula to get deep in the postseason, I honestly think that Wade will be enough for the Heat to sneak out a win in Atlanta in the first two games, and then be able to sweep the Hawks at home. Atlanta was great at home last year in the playoffs, but these are different circumstances. The Hawks were playing last postseason in an attempt to prove that they were legit, going seven games with the best team in the NBA. Now, I think they will sleep on Miami, and the Heat will be able to win this in six.

Pick: Miami in 6

Western Conference

(1) Los Angeles vs. (8) Utah (LAL 2-1)

Line: LAL -2500

Utah is third in the league in FG%. The Lakers led the league in rebounding and were the third in scoring. Of course it is a foregone conclusion that the Lakers will reach the NBA Finals. In fact, this is probably the first time since the Bird/Magic days where there were two teams that literally everyone has making the finals, and not only that, but no one had any conceivable way that it would not happen. The Cavs were benfeciaries of the KG injury, and the Lakers got the word about Manu Ginobili weeks ago. Utah is a team that can basically be characterized as "not looking right." You hear this about almost every guy on that team. Carlos Boozer "doesn't look right," Andrei Kirilenko "doesn't look right," and so on and so on.

Pick: Los Angeles in 4

(2) Denver vs. (7) New Orleans (Tied 2-2)

Line: DEN -225

Denver has the sixth best scoring offense. New Orleans has the fifth best overall defense. This series really comes down to the health of Tyson Chandler. If the Hornets can get Chandler at even 80%, then the Nuggets really don't have much of a chance. The Nuggets' best thing going for them is Chauncey Billups, who will likely be neutralized by Chris Paul. 'Melo's my man, but up to this point, he has not been able to really take over a game like he probably should (I realize Sports Guy already set that precedent up, but it is true, so sorry for the repeat). I think the Hornets have a real good shot of making a run due to the "Power of 3" theory. With Paul, Chandler, and David West, the Hornets are the sleepers of the NBA Playoffs this year. Also, did I mention a certain James Posey plays for them?

Pick: New Orleans in 6

(3) San Antonio vs. (6) Dallas (Tied 2-2)

Line: SA -145

Dallas is second in the league in FT% and second in defensive FT%. San Antonio was second in the league in scoring defense and in the threes allowed. I have to say that I absolutely hate the Spurs in the playoffs this year. They are old, and they are incredibly banged up. Meanwhile, I like Dallas for two reasons: 1) They have Jason Kidd, who is perhaps the most underrated guard of the last twenty years, and yes, I'm dead serious about that, and 2) Kidd's backup, Jose Juan Barea, the pride of Northeastern, is this year's X-Factor of the playoffs. When he gets going, the Mavs are an unstoppable force. With Barea and Terry coming off the bench, the Spurs simply don't have the kind of manpower to keep up with the Mavs over a seven-game series.

Pick: Dallas in 6

(4) Portland vs. (5) Houston (HOU 2-1)

Line: POR -140

Houston leads the league in FT% allowed. Portland allows the highest FT% in the league, but also leads the NBA in rebounds per game. This is easily the most intriguing series in the entire first round. To sum up the utter lunacy of the West, we're looking at a 4-5 matchup that features two teams with 53 and 54 wins a piece. Simply amazing. Portland obviously gets the edge in athleticism with Roy, Aldridge, Outlaw, and Fernandez, while Houston has the edge in defense with Artest, Battier, and Yao. My two biggest keys are the guard play by Houston, and Greg Oden for Portland. The Rockets traded "Skip To My Lou" to Orlando in a deadline deal for Kyle Lowry, meaning Aaron Brooks had to step up and play the point. While on paper it appears like that would be a giant leap, his minutes only when up by an average of five minutes a game after the trade, so it's not as though Brooks needed a ton of adjusting to move into the starting spot. Brooks will combine with Lowry and Artest in the backcourt. Greg Oden could be the story of the playoffs (outside of the Cleveland/LA overtones). If he plays to his potential, the Blazers could win this series, then move onto the Lakers and maybe scare them a little bit. However, if Oden cannot adjust to the pace of the playoffs, then Portland will be in big trouble. I'm banking on the latter for Oden.

Pick: Houston in 6

So, we are now up to speed on the NHL and the NBA. I wish I could have gone a little more in-depth on these, but time is actually tight now, which is definitely a good thing. Don't get me wrong, I love having free time, but there's a fine line between free time and being a bum, and I was riding dangerously close to slipping into the bum category, but now I think I have rebounded back into normalcy. So, hope you enjoy your weekend. Take care. Peace.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round One

"This is our decision to live fast and die young.
We've got the vision, now let's have some fun."

Not only do I feel like I owe it to both you the reader and myself to do a hockey column, but I'm kind of tired looking at my NCAA final prediction...yeah that didn't really go according to plan. So, it's taken me a week to get over that, and here we are. Also, with the hockey column will come an NBA column which I will produce as soon as the final seeds are announced. So, without anymore hesitation, here are my picks for round one of the NHL playoffs (season series in parentheses).

Eastern Conference:

(1) Boston vs. (8) Montreal (BOS 5-1):

Line: BOS -380

Okay, not so many stats here. This has "coke machine" theory written all over it. I will be absolutely shocked if the B's don't win in 6 or 7. I'm not so huge on them on the road, but I don't see any way that the Habs can beat the Bruins at the Garden. This is kind of like what happened with the Celts against Atlanta and Cleveland, where it seems like they were two entirely different teams on the road vs. the home court. I know that's an NBA analogy, but you have to go with what you know right?

Pick: Boston in 7

(2) Washington vs. (7) New York Rangers (WSH 3-1):

Line: WSH -300

For the rest of the matchups, I will try to bring up some key statistics. The Rangers led the NHL in hits this year. Washington was second on the powerplay, while the Rangers were 29th out of 30. However, the Rangers were first in the NHL on the penalty kill. The Rangers were dreadful as an underdog. When you think about the Caps, you obviously think about the Ovechkin factor. Combine him with Semin, and this team is offensively lethal. The Rangers obviously are a big team, and they can play some D, which could definitely cram the Caps' style. I think the Caps pull this off for two reasons: 1) Despite the Rangers' defensive efficiency, no one can hold down the Caps on offense and 2) The NHL will do everything in its power to keep Ovechkin in the playoffs for as long as humanly possible. This kid is the NHL's calling card, and if he gets bumped in the first round, I can see the ratings plummeting.

Pick: Washington in 6

(3) New Jersey vs. (6) Carolina (CAR 3-1):

Line: NJ -135

Carolina was first in the league with 4.6 power play chances per game, while the Devils were second-to-last in the league in power play chances. Carolina is 8-2 in their last 10, while Jersey is 4-5-1 in their last ten. The Devils were red hot when Brodeur returned, but they seem to be fizzling at the wrong time. If the 'Canes can steal one of the first two in Jersey, then I don't see how the Devils can win in Raleigh.

Pick: Carolina in 6

(4) Pittsburgh vs. (5) Philadelphia (PIT 4-2):

Line: PIT -165

Philly allows the second most power plays per game in the league. The Pens are 11-4 in their last 15 against Philly. This is my style right here. An instate collision of sorts with the Pens and the Flyers. When you look at the numbers, these teams are right next to each other in virtually every statistic. Obviously, you look at Pittsburgh and you think about Malkin and Crosby. With Philly, you're probably going to notice Jeff Carter, who was second in the league in scoring. This is another instance where I think the star power has to prevail though.

Pick: Pittsburgh in 5

Western Conference

(1) San Jose vs. (8) Vancouver (SJ 4-2):

Line: SJ -280

Anaheim allows the third most power plays per game, while San Jose was seond in the league in power play goals per game, and third overall with a man-advantage. This is possibly the worst draw the Sharks could have gotten while occupying the #1 seed. The Canucks are going to be a pesky team here, as indicated by the ridiculously low line. What's interesting is that Vancouver holds the experience card in this matchup. The Sharks have not been this touted for a Cup run in franchise history. I'm not going to do it this round, but I will have the Sharks getting bounced before they reach the conference finals.

Pick: San Jose in 7

(2) Detroit vs. (7) Columbus (Tied 3-3):

Line: DET -550

Columbus is last in the league in power play goals per game, while Detroit is leading the league. Detroit allowed the second fewest shots per game. Columbus was third. This is fascinating because of how huge the line is and the fact that these teams tied the season series. This is Columbus' first ever playoff appearance. There is going to be a major upset in the first round, and this is my pick. Don't forget that just over a month ago, the Blue Jackets served up at beatdown at the Joe, 8-2. Remember this as well: Columbus has the best home-ice advantage in hockey. You heard it here.

Pick: Columbus in 6

(3) Vancouver vs. (6) St. Louis (Tied 2-2)

Line: VAN -230

St. Louis was second-to-last in the league in shots per game. The Blues were third in the league on the penalty kill. Vancouver ranks seventh overall in total defense. This is another series in which I'm thinking the favorite is going to get way more than they can handle. St. Louis has a tremendous mark against teams in the West (20-8-4), and have won five of their last seven on the road. However, the Blues have struggled with the Canucks, going 2-5 in their last seven and 1-5 on the road against Vancouver. Still, the Blues split the series this year, which is convincing enough for me.

Pick: St. Louis in 6

(4) Chicago vs. (5) Calgary (CHI 4-0)

Line: CHI -155

Chicago had the third most power play chances per game. Calgary is ninth in overall scoring. Another thing of note: I love Chicago! I've never actually been to the town (I hear it's lovely, and Ferris Beuller and the Blues Brothers were both good movies based in Chicago), but their hockey team is probably in my "pseudo-like" teams. Of course I have my allegiance to the Boston teams, but in each league, there's always another team that I quietly pull for. Here's the list:
  • MLB: Red Sox; P-L: Royals
  • NFL: Patriots; P-L: Redskins
  • NBA: Celtics; P-L: Trailblazers
  • NHL: Bruins; P-L: Blackhawks
So, now you know. In any the 'Hawks!

Pick: Chicago in 4

So, not a lot there I know. I'm not going to lie, I don't have as much knowledge about the NHL as I do about most other sports, and what I do know is basically all about the Bruins. Still, I love the NHL playoffs because virtually every game goes down to the wire, and already in the first round, you have a few rivalries (Boston/Montreal, Philly/Pittsburgh) being hatched. Also, it helps that the B's are poised to make a deep run, which doesn't happen very often around here (last Stanley Cup: 1972, last Stanley Cup finals: 1990). Again, the NBA playoff preview will be up soon, and I'm cramming for the NFL Draft, which is in a week and a half! So, plenty more to come. Definitely check out the NHL playoffs though (the highlights are on Hulu, so you don't have any excuses), and I will see everyone later. Peace.