October 27, 2011
It’s seven weeks into the NFL season, and the division races are starting to take shape. NFL teams like Buffalo and Detroit have thrown their hats in the ring, and others like St. Louis and Indianapolis have played their way out of it. Here’s where we stand:
It was supposed to be a battle between the Jets and Patriots, but the Bills have made it a three team race. New England’s only loss came at the hands of the Bills and their New Year’s Day rematch ought to have playoff implications. Buffalo has a few games against NFL teams at the bottom of the standings and two meetings with the Jets, so the schedule sets up well for them to stay in the race. The next month will be critical for the Jets. They play the Bills twice and New England once. One of these teams is going to be watching at home in January.
Cleveland and Cincinnati are hanging around. This is the only division with no NFL teams below .500. Wins against New England and Baltimore in the next two weeks would put the Steelers in the driver’s seat in the AFC. Things are going to get much more difficult for the Bengals with two games left against both Pittsburgh and Baltimore. We’re about to find out what this team is made of. Nov. 6 at Pittsburgh is the game of the year for the Ravens. If they can beat the Steelers for a second time, the division should be in their controls. The Browns are in the conversation at 3-3 but they haven’t beaten anyone worth bragging about. Can they steal a couple against the big boys?
All it took was one injury for the Colts to go from AFC South dominance to one of the worst teams in the league. Someone is going to take advantage and after Sunday’s beat down of the Titans, it looks like it will be Houston. The schedule sets up nicely for them with most of their tough games already behind them. If Tennessee can get back on track, the New Year’s Day rematch could be huge.
As usual, the Chargers are the heavy favorite in the West. And as usual, they let the rest of the West hang around. They host the Chiefs on Halloween in a must-win for Kansas City. The Chiefs really have to win the next three to stay in the race because they have a brutal five-game-stretch coming up. If the Raiders can get their act together during the bye week and get Carson Palmer ready to go, the West title may be on the line when they meet in the last game of the season.
There will be lots of entertaining games between now and week 17, but it almost seems like we can just skip ahead to the last day of the season when Dallas is at the Giants and Philadelphia hosts Washington. That’s when this division will be sorted out.
The Packers have already got people talking about a 16-0 regular season. It’s probably not going to happen, but as long as Rodgers is healthy, they should win the North division. Detroit still has two shots at the defending champs though so they could make things interesting. Chicago is too far back to catch Green Bay but the Bears will be in the thick of the wild card race.
The Falcons, Saints, and Bucs won a total of 34 games last year. They are on a similar pace right now, and, just like last year, one of them is going to get left out of the playoff picture. New Orleans has a one game lead and the last two at home, so they should have an edge. It could come down to which team gets knocked off by Carolina in the last month of the season.
San Francisco has five wins. The rest of the division has three. It is the 49ers‘ division to give away. And if they keep playing well with a soft schedule coming up, they could even earn an opening round bye.
October 25, 2011
A week predicted by many fans to be an abysmal set of games turned out to be surprisingly exciting. Some of the best and most entertaining teams – New England, Buffalo, Philadelphia – had bye weeks. But two games projected to be lopsided, Green Bay at Minnesota and Atlanta at Detroit, proved to be highly competitive.
My fantasy projections for Week 7 did pretty well, too. (Editor’s note: Due to a combination of laziness and incompetence in the Fathead office, Rick’s Week 7 projections were not posted last week. We stink.) Dez Bryant recorded a TD and 90 yards receiving as the Cowboys demolished the Rams, and Jimmy Graham recorded 2 TD as the Saints more-than-demolished the Colts. A game that would have been more competitive a few months ago, but without Peyton Manning, the hands-down primary option was Game 4 of the World Series (for those who do not have two televisions in their man cave, that is).
Do I dare even mention Colt McCoy? To be fair, both teams are suffering from injuries to key offensive players, but still. I couldn’t get through the whole game. In a game with nine total points scored, no one wins.
On to Week 8 predictions.
This may seem like an easy pick, but Brees has been inconsistent this year – he’ll have a huge game, then throw a few picks the next. The Saints slaughtered the Colts last week, and there’s no reason not to think the same will happen against the Rams this week. The Rams are coming off a blowout loss as well to a similarly high powered Cowboys offense. Brees, as well as his receivers, are a good play again this week.
I’ll admit, that Broncos comeback Sunday was impressive. Scoring 15 points in three minutes after scoring none the previous 57 is a feat even if you are playing the winless Dolphins. But the no-point portion of the game is a better reflection of what to expect against Detroit.
The Lions don’t have stellar defense by any means. What they do have is big play ability in their corners. The way Tebow throws the ball – lofts it like you would a Nerf football – I envision a few turnovers here, and possibly a pick six. That’s assuming the unintended receiver can get past Tebow, that is, who I assume would be able to handle himself if he needs to make a tackle.
Staying in the same game, the Broncos have a solid frontline led by defensive end Elvis Dumervil. Matt Stafford has had a great year so far, but is playing hurt (as always). If the Broncos can get to him it’ll force him to look for his tight end in Pettigrew early. If they hit him hard and force him out of the game – a strong possibility – expect backup Shaun Hill to look for Pettigrew more often.
This is an easy pick – clearly you want to start him. But this week should be especially fruitful. The Panthers have trouble stopping the run, and with a rookie quarterback at the helm, the Vikes will likely feed Peterson as much as possible. It didn’t happen that way against the Packers last week – largely because Green Bay’s secondary is depleted without safety Nick Collins – but expect that to change this week.
October 24, 2011
With news that the NBA lockout could last a while, word broke recently that several of the league’s stars are working to go on an international barnstorming tour. This makes sense since the players could not only draw an income, but stay in shape and in front of fans missing out on the NBA’s regular season. Ordinarily, this might sound like a pipe dream scenario, but reports are starting to surface that contracts have already been signed and such a tour could be a very real possibility.
So the question is, ‘can it work?’
No one could really say for sure, but if the goal is to pack a few arenas and make a little bit of money along the way, then I think it could work over the short term. Here’s what needs to happen, in my opinion, for it to be a success:
1. Keep it overseas: The way I see it, the greatest interest for a barnstorming tour would be overseas. There are plenty of fans in the U.S. that would pay to see LeBron vs. Kobe in an NBA game any day of the week, but how many would want to pay big money for an exhibition? Could it work once? Probably. But fans overseas would likely have a far greater interest in seeing players they may never otherwise be able to see play in person. The tour would have a bigger chance of constant sellouts if played internationally than if the teams made the rounds in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
2. Limit the games: These games may seem like fun at first, but how many would you actually want to see? The novelty could wear off extremely quickly and the players involved would be better off by not playing an abundance of these contests. In addition to attendance, the other thing that’s reportedly been discussed is the possibility of televised games. Networks may be interested in airing a few, but it’s hard to envision a major entity being willing to broadcast a dozen or so games. No one knows how long this lockout will last and if the players need to organize another tour, interest should still be high if the number of contests is limited the first time around.
3. Make the competition real: Much like the NHL’s and NFL’s athletes, NBA players catch a lot of heat for their All-Star games because they’re perceived to feature little defense. That’s true to a degree, but it’s hard to fault the players for that because they don’t want to get injured – especially since their break is in the middle of the season. Fans may simply be pleased with seeing exhibition-level basketball, but the tour would be an infinitely bigger success if the players went all out. In addition, the last thing the players need to do is further alienate fans. That could happen if fans in attendance or watching on TV feel they aren’t giving their all … even if the games are played in another country. There doesn’t need to a trophy or an actual league set up, but if the games are competitive, that would go a long way to restoring their credibility among fans. That said…
4. Be careful: The worst thing that could happen would be a significant injury to any of the players. It would not only be devastating to NBA teams employing any such players (especially if the lockout ends and the season eventually gets underway), but put serious doubts in the mind of the rest of the players about if they should be participating. It’s simply not worth it for these players who are at the top of their sport to suffer a major injury. That’s the type of thing that could cause an abrupt end to the tour and make it a disaster.
October 19, 2011
The Fall Classic gets underway tonight in St. Louis and the Cardinals will try to put the Hollywood ending on their unlikely run at a World Series championship. Unfortunately for the redbirds, I don’t see them having their happy ending. Here are five reasons why I think that the Texas Rangers will be the ones who are celebrating a championship at the end of the series.
Both of these teams have been to the World Series in recent years. The Cardinals won their 10th championship in 2006 and the Rangers lost to the Giants just last year. I believe the Rangers are coming into this matchup hungrier because of the way last season ended and the fact that many of the Cardinals already have a ring. Texas should have learned from the experience last year and will be ready for the big stage.
It doesn’t get much better in the middle of the order than Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday and Lance Berkman. Josh Hamilton, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz are pretty good too. That being said, the Rangers lineup is stronger from top to bottom and Texas finished the season in the top three in virtually every major offensive category. If one or two of the Cardinals’ big three struggles, they will have a tough time keeping up with Texas.
He struggled in the first round against Tampa Bay but now he has the hottest bat on the planet. He hit .364 with six home runs and 13 RBI in against Detroit. We would likely be talking about a Cardinals and Tigers rematch from 2006 if not for the numbers Cruz put up. His two extra inning home runs were the difference in the ALCS. And the Cardinals are going to have to pitch to him because of the quality of hitters around him.
Neftali Feliz’s job got much easier when the Rangers acquired Koji Uehara and Mike Adams midway through the season. The quality and depth of setup men the Rangers have now is much better than what they had last year against the Giants. The Texas relievers allowed just four earned runs in more than 27 innings against Detroit in the ALCS. If they have another series like that, they will be World Series champions.
St. Louis has certainly played a lot of great baseball over the last month, but they are lucky to be here. If not for a collapse by the Braves, the Cardinals wouldn’t have won the wild card and even been in the playoffs. Prince Fielder’s performance in the All-Star Game has given the Cardinals home field advantage in this series. Everything Tony La Russa has done has worked. Does he have enough tricks left up his sleeve to pick up four more wins?
Prediction: Rangers in six.
October 17, 2011
Sure, NFL trades aren’t all that frequent. While we as fans pay strict attention to the MLB, NBA, and NHL trade deadlines, the NFL cutoff date generally comes and goes without much fanfare. Seriously, before this week, did you have any idea that the trade deadline is Tuesday? If you did, the chances are good that you’re probably an agent, a GM, or a player.
That said, there are some moves that should happen – moves that could make teams better in the short or long run. Here are five players that should be moved in exchange for a draft pick.
5. WR Eddie Royal – Denver Broncos to Carolina Panthers: Eddie Royal’s name is one of the most widely heard when the trade deadline comes up. Royal had an extremely productive rookie year in 2008 catching 91 passes for just under 1,000 yards, but since then, has dropped off a bit – particularly with the emergence of other receivers over the years such as Brandon Lloyd and the departed Jabar Gaffney. At 25, though, Royal still should have plenty of productivity left and would make a nice target for rookie Cam Newton in Carolina who could use another wideout.
4. CB Asante Samuel – Philadelphia Eagles to St. Louis Rams: The Rams’ secondary is in need of a major boost. Arguably their top three cornerbacks, Ron Bartell, Jerome Murphy, and Bradley Fletcher, are injured and the team needs to shore up that position. Sure, the Rams aren’t likely to contend this year, but Samuel is only 30 and is still capable of being a contributor for several more seasons. The Eagles’ defense has struggled this season, but mediocre linebacker play has been a big factor in that. And with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominic Rodgers-Cromartie, the team can afford to move one of their cornerbacks. Trading Samuel to a team such as the New York Giants might make more sense, but I couldn’t see the Eagles allowing him to go to a division rival.
3. RB Joseph Addai – Indianapolis Colts to Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Addai’s had injury issues the past few years, but when healthy, he’s more than capable of being an adequate running back. Tampa Bay may not win the NFC South, but they could have a shot at a Wild Card. Leading rusher LeGarrette Blount is injured, but more than that, the Bucs could use some help in the backfield. Addai is injured himself, so he may not be immediately available himself. But a second back would provide some insurance for the team should one of them go down later in the season. Indianapolis has young running backs Delone Carter and Donald Brown on the roster and can afford to part with Addai at this point as he’s been solid, but unspectacular.
2. WR Brandon Lloyd – Denver Broncos to San Francisco 49ers: Raise your hand if you expected the 49ers to not only get off to a good start this season, but look like one of the league’s better teams at 5-1. Even San Francisco fans were probably hard pressed to expect the team’s hot start. But now that the 49ers appear to be for real, it’s time they add another receiver to the mix. Enter Brandon Lloyd, who had more than 1,400 receiving yards last season with the Broncos. Lloyd is also familiar with the area having played with San Francisco in his first three seasons. He’s a veteran and can provide immediate help to rejuvenated quarterback Alex Smith. Michael Crabtree and Ted Ginn have been serviceable at wide receiver, but adding a steady veteran to the team in Lloyd would go a long way to helping the team not only reach the playoffs, but make some noise once they get there.
1. QB Carson Palmer – Cincinnati Bengals to Seattle Seahawks: The Carson Palmer/Cincinnati saga hasn’t gone as expected for Palmer, who probably believed he would eventually have his trade request fulfilled. Six games into the season and Palmer is still sitting out while rookie Andy Dalton has taken the reins for the Bengals’ offense. Seriously, though, this is helping no one. Palmer would be better served by being able to play elsewhere and Cincinnati could get something in return for him. A move to Seattle might be ideal for Palmer who could help the Seahawks contend in the mediocre NFC West. He would also be reunited with former USC coach Pete Carroll and is an upgrade over Tarvaris Jackson.